Russia ‘full-scope cyber actor’ that will remain ‘major threat’ to US ‒ intel director

Russia 'full-scope cyber actor' that will remain 'major threat' to US ‒ intel director
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has accused Russia of being a “full-scope cyber actor” that will remain a “major threat” to the US government. The DNI made the comments during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats.

Coats was joined by several other heads of the intelligence community: CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Robert Cardillo.

The panel discussed worldwide threats to the US, ranging from cybersecurity dangers by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran to international crises involving North Korea and terrorism.

“I understand that many people tuned in today are hopeful we’ll focus solely on the Russian investigation of their involvement in our elections. Let me disappoint everybody up front,” Chair Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said in his opening statement. “While the committee certainly views Russian intervention in our elections as a significant threat, the purpose of today’s hearing is to review and highlight to the extent possible the ranges of threats that we face as a nation.”

Despite Burr’s intentions, much of the focus, especially from Democrats, was dominated by discussions of alleged Russian cyber penetration into the US and French presidential elections, as well as the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. McCabe took the place of former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired on Tuesday.

Russia is ‘greatest threat of any nation on Earth’ – FBI director https://on.rt.com/8apd 

‘Russian interference’

Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Virginia) immediately began focusing on Russia, Comey’s firing and the FBI probe. He asked if the intel community’s late January assessment accurately characterized Russian interference in the 2016 election, to which the entire panel answered yes.

He also asked about the alleged Russian hacking in the French presidential election. On Tuesday, Rogers informed a different Senate committee that the US notified French officials that it had found evidence of Russian hacking. Warner wanted to know what the US is doing to prevent future Russian interference.

In his written testimony, Coats discussed how Russian interference has advanced.

“Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture,” which “was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election,” and that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the… data thefts and disclosures,” he wrote.

It has also spread elsewhere, including Montenegro and Ukraine, Coats told the senators, especially with its manipulation of social media. Russia is a “great threat to democratic process,” he said, accusing Moscow of seeking to “maintain control over Kiev and frustrating European integration” in 2017.

Pompeo also cited the importance of social media as a tool for Russian cyber interference, saying it presents a continuing threat.

“There’s nothing new, only the cost has been lowered,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in other countries’ elections and internal politics. Several members of the intelligence community have admitted that the alleged Russian interference in the US would have been about changing minds, but didn’t change physical votes.

Other cyber threats

Echoing Rogers’ testimony on cybersecurity in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the panel discussed other countries ‒ specifically China, Iran and North Korea ‒ that are involved in cyber warfare and hacking.

“Our adversaries are becoming bolder, more capable and more adept at using cyberspace to threaten our interests and shape real-world outcomes,” said Coats. “And the number of adversaries grows as nation states, terrorist groups, criminal organizations and others continue to develop cyber capabilities.”

China is targeting both the US government and American companies, Coats said, but noted that the attacks have decreased since Washington and Beijing reached a “common understanding”on cyber spying in 2015. Tehran is making use of its high-tech capabilities, Coats said, outlining a 2013 Iranian hacking incident and a 2014 data-deletion attack. North Korea “previously conducted cyber-attacks against US commercial entities,” he said in his written testimony, citing the 2014 Sony hack, and “remains capable of launching disruptive or destructive cyber attacks to support its political objectives” against both the US and its allies.

Although Rogers noted on Monday that US Cyber Command, which he also heads, is “still trying to find a way forward” on creating a cybersecurity plan, Pompeo praised the Trump administration’s headway in the area.

“This administration has reentered the battlespace in places the previous administration was absent,” the CIA director said.

Coats, however, sided with Rogers, telling Senator John Lankford (R-Oklahoma): “All of us would agree we need a cyber doctrine.”

North Korea

Amid rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, Coats described North Korea as a “very significant, potentially existential” threat to the US, while Pompeo told Sen. Angus King (I-Maine): “We haven’t seen anything that would make any of us feel any better about this threat.”

However, the CIA director told Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), “the Chinese have made efforts they have not made before” using trade, including restricting coal, but noted that Beijing can do more to pressure Pyongyang on its nuclear program. Coats agreed with that assessment, telling Feinstein that “interaction with the Chinese of late, we think, can play a significant role in terms of how we deal with this.”

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula https://on.rt.com/8b75 

Photo published for China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

Beijing has tested a new missile close to the Korean peninsula amid heightened tensions in the region, after North Korea, South Korea, and the US recently conducted military drills in the area.

rt.com

On the reclusive country’s increased testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, Stewart of the DIA warned that, although North Korea hasn’t yet carried out a complete test of ICBM with a nuclear device, “they’re going to put those two together at some point.”

The panel declined to answer many of the senators’ questions on North Korea, preferring instead to reserve their responses for a second, closed hearing on Thursday afternoon.

War on Terror

Afghanistan, where the US “war on terrorism” began shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is a major concern, Stewart told Burr. “Unless we change something, such as inserting US forces or NATO forces, that changes the balance of forces on the ground… the situation will continue to deteriorate” and all the gains of the past several years will be lost.

militants developing own social media platform, ‘its own part of the internet to run its agenda’ https://on.rt.com/8amo 

Referencing Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Coats said the terrorist group “will continue to be a threat to the US,” as it “maintains the intent and capability to direct, enable, assist, and inspire transnational attacks.”

“This threat will persist with many attacks happening with little or no warning,” he said.

5 years and billions of dollars needed to rebuild Mosul, officials say

5 years and billions of dollars needed to rebuild Mosul, officials say

  • © Muhammad Hamed
  • Reuters
3 May 2017 | 18:17 GMT

The occupation by Islamic State and the battle to oust the extremists have reduced much of Mosul to rubble. A five-year plan to get the war-torn city back on its feet has been drawn up, but finding the money is proving to be a problem.

The airport, the train station and the university are among the many buildings in Iraq’s once-proud, second-biggest city that lie in ruins. Over 100,000 precious manuscripts from the university were looted or destroyed by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) who considered them blasphemous, according to activists.

In November 2016, the Iraqi government announced plans to start rebuilding Mosul after the city’s liberation from the militants. Local officials are currently surveying the damage in liberated eastern Mosul.

“After Mosul is fully liberated, we need a working plan to restore things to the way they were before 2014 when Islamic State took over,” Noureldin Qablan, deputy chairman of the Nineveh provincial council, told Reuters.

Qablan said that he and a group of 33 other Nineveh councilors have already started planning Mosul’s reconstruction, which will be carried out in phases. The first six months will focus on bringing back power, security and running water, which will be following by a two-year rebuilding process.

The plan also includes a two-year reconciliation process and a 30-month drive aimed at attracting outside investment.

But all this will cost billions of dollars, which the Iraqi government is unlikely to be able to afford. Even repairing houses at a cost of around $5,000 apiece will stretch the budget.

“Honestly, we are not getting enough support. What has been allocated to Nineveh in 2017 was 52 billion Iraqi dinars ($44.5 million), which is a very small sum for a province this size,” Qablan told Reuters.

“In 2013, we were allocated 738 billion dinars, yet after all this destruction we get just 52. It is very hard to reach our goals with this sum, so we are counting on foreign grants.”

The Nineveh council hopes to attract international aid from organizations such as the United Nations. Italy is already helping to rebuild a hospital.

And the threat from IS remains.

Iraqi troops, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes and Shia and Kurdish militias, have liberated the whole eastern side of Mosul in a six-month offensive that began in October. But securing the west of the city, in particular the northwest and the Old City, where the militants are currently holed up, has been proving a problem as firmly-entrenched militants have put up fierce resistance through booby traps, sniper fire and mortar shells filled with toxic gas.

IS militants are still holding out in the historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque, where leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first declared his so-called caliphate in 2014.

Hundreds of civilians are being killed as the confrontation between IS and Iraqi forces intensifies, and the UN has warned of a possible “humanitarian catastrophe” if the siege conditions continue.

Pope Francis denounces religious extremism on historic Egypt visit

Pope Francis has called on Muslim leaders to unite in blocking the flow of money and arms to jihadi groups. The Catholic pontiff has also paid tribute to the victims of recent attacks on Coptic churches.

Watch video02:47

Francis calls for peace and dialogue

Pope Francis urged Muslim leaders to unite in denouncing religious extremism as he began a two-day visit to Egypt, a country that has suffered a series of brutal Islamist attacks in recent weeks.

“Peace alone… is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name,” Francis said Friday at an interfaith peace conference in Cairo.

The Catholic pontiff stressed that “demagogic forms of populism… are on the rise” and that it was essential to block “the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence.”

Read: ‘The pope of peace in the Egypt of peace:’ What can Francis achieve in Cairo?

“Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred,” he said.

The pope’s arrival marks a historic visit to the Arab world’s most populous country and his most symbolic gesture yet in promoting Christian-Muslim ties. Francis’ speech was also organized by Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University.

Watch video02:48

Morning Q&A: Pope in Egypt – Martin Gak

‘Pope of peace’

Francis also held talks with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi immediately after landing in Cairo.

The pontiff was escorted through heavily guarded streets, plastered with posters reading “Pope of Peace in Egypt of Peace.” As often the case, however, Francis eschewed traveling in an armored motorcade, riding instead in a normal car with the window wound down.

Ägypten Papst Franziskus in Kairo | (picture-alliance/AP Photo/G. Borgia)Despite the heightened security tensions in Egypt, Pope Francis traveled with his car window down

Francis pays tribute to Coptic Christians

Francis’ push for religious dialogue has taken him to a country that has seen its Coptic Christian minority targeted in a series of extremist attxacks. Three ago, two bombings perpetrated by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) jihadi group in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria killed 45 Coptic Christians who were attending Palm Sunday services.  Egypt has been under a three-month state of emergency since.

Read: Bishop Damian: Egypt terror ‘a declaration of war against Copts’

The twin bombings followed a December attack on Cairo’s main Coptic church that killed 25 people and injured around 50. Francis visited the church later on Friday to pay tribute to the victims.

“To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured,” he told a ceremony also attended by el-Sissi.

On Saturday, the pope will preside over a Coptic Mass, where security will be extremely tight.

IS has labeled Christian minorities in the region as its “favorite prey.” Last week, the group claimed an attempted attack on St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai, the site where the Prophet Moses is believed to have received the 10 biblical commandments. One police officer was killed.

Watch video02:04

Berlin Coptic Christians mourn bomb victims

dm/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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EU Parliament lost 5 million euros in Le Pen alleged jobs fraud, legal source says

Misuse of funds by Marine Le Pen’s party may have cost the European Parliament more than twice as much as estimated, a source has said. It’s just one of the charges leveled against the French presidential candidate.

Marine Le Pen

A French legal source said Thursday that the EU Parliament has accused Marine Le Pen of using funds meant for European parliamentary assistants to pay staff for party work in France between 2012 and 2017, while still leader of the far-right National Front (FN).

The allegations, which Le Pen has denied, triggered an investigation in France.

The parliament had initially estimated the amount of the contested salaries to be 1.9 million euros ($2.1 million) but now believes the FN wrongfully spent 4,978,122 euros, the source said, quoting a note to French investigators from the parliament’s legal team.

Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for the parliament, confirmed the amount to French news agency AFP.

Read: European Parliament takes first step to lifting Le Pen’s immunity over misused funds

Read: France’s election and the EU

‘Fictional’ work contracts

The parliament believes 17 FN lawmakers in the European Parliament, including Le Pen, used European money to pay assistants for work outside the assembly.

Watch video02:11

LePen steps down as FN leader

Le Pen, specifically, is accused of paying her bodyguard, Thierry Legier, and her chief of staff, Catherine Griset, with EU parliamentary funds. Le Pen is believed to have submitted a “fictional” work contract before the European Parliament presenting Legier as an assistant, while Griset was living near Paris and working on behalf of the FN in France rather than at the European assembly.

Both were questioned by investigators in February, although only Griset was charged with concealment.

Parliamentary immunity to be lifted

The European Parliament on Wednesday formally began the procedure of lifting Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity over allegations, enabling prosecutors to investigate the case.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told lawmakers in Brussels that the request “has been forwarded to the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, which is in charge of these issues.”

Watch video03:49

@dwnews – French voters take to social media to show disregard from election results

Le Pen, who will go head to head against centrist Emmanuel Macron in the May 7 presidential election, has denounced legal proceedings against her as a “bare-faced lie.”

Read: Le Pen vs. Macron – Where they stand

Punishment for separate case

The European Parliament has already sanctioned Le Pen for allegedly misusing nearly 340,000 euros of EU funds during the 2011-2012 legislature.

Since February the far-right nationalist’s monthly salary as an MEP has been cut by half to around 3,000 euros and other allowances have been withdrawn. The current investigation aims at establishing whether other sanctions are warranted.

Last month, Le Pen was also stripped of her parliamentary immunity in a separate case, allowing a Paris court to prosecute her for posting images of “Islamic State” (IS) brutality on Twitter in 2015. In France, the offense can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($79,567).

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‘Mother of all bombs’ – what has it achieved?

The US has dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an “Islamic State” (IS) target in Nangarhar. DW examines the reasons behind the attack, its timing, and whether IS really poses a big threat to the US in Afghanistan.

USA Bombe GBU-43/B in Florida (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/US Air Force)

Residents of Achin district, where the US dropped the “Massive Ordinance Air Blast” or MOAB – touted as the “mother of all bombs” – described the explosion as the biggest they had ever seen. And the Afghans have definitively seen a lot of colossal bombings in the past few decades, particularly during the US invasion of their country in 2001 and after the consequent fall of the Taliban’s Islamist regime.

Defense experts say the MOAB is a successor to the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” used during the Vietnam War and the start of the post 9/11 Afghanistan conflict.

“What it (MOAB) does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” said Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, to an American journal.

“It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”

But President Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to drop such a huge bomb in the war-ravaged Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province raises a number of questions.

Watch video01:29

US drops ‘mother of all bombs’ on IS caves

First of all, does the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) pose such a massive threat to US interests in the region that justified the use of the MOAB against the group?

Secondly, what did Washington achieve by killing some 36 IS fighters in Afghanistan through this very expensive explosion?

“I’m familiar with the area and I believe the US military did not need to use such a huge bomb to target a small number of IS fighters,” Attiqullah Amarkhail, a Kabul-based retired military general, told DW.

“When you drop 11 tons of explosives and kill only 36 of your enemies, it is a waste of your weaponry, unless you have some other targets to achieve,” Amarkhail added.

‘IS’ in Afghanistan

According to US’ own estimates, there are between 600 and 800 IS fighters in Afghanistan, primarily in Nangarhar province. The militant group is much more active and has a much bigger presence in Iraq and Syria. The US has never used the MOAB in these Middle Eastern countries.

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US drops largest non-nuclear bomb on ‘IS’ target in Afghanistan

The Pentagon has confirmed the first-ever combat use of the GBU-43, also known as the MOAB, or “mother of all bombs,” in a targeted attack on ‘Islamic State.’ Afghan officials said the bomb killed at least 36 fighters. (13.04.2017)

Opinion: A calculated step toward the apocalypse?

What makes MOAB Mother of All Bombs?

Nangarhar: Gateway to Afghanistan for ‘Islamic State’

An Afghanistan conference without Afghanistan

But that certainly does not mean IS is not expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan.

Reports of IS presence in Afghanistan emerged in early 2015. In 2014, the Afghan government and US military officials acknowledged that the terror group was recruiting fighters in eastern Afghanistan, using the power vacuum in the Taliban leadership.

“If this group is not stopped here [in Nangarhar province], it will pose a danger not only to Afghanistan but also to other countries in the region,” a resident of Achin district told DW in 2015, calling on the Afghan government to support their fight against the terror group.

The scene in Achin district in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, which shares a border with Pakistan’s tribal areas, bears resemblance to parts of Syria and Iraq under IS command. Members of the terror group control large parts of the district, killing opponents, looting houses and spreading fear among residents with the help of their recently-launched propaganda tool, “The Caliphate Radio.”

IS members broadcast threats to harshly punish those who oppose Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the self-declared “caliphate” extending over parts of Iraq and Syria.

“The MOAB was clearly meant to telegraph a message of intent, that the US will come after IS militants wherever they may be, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere,” Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW. “That said, we shouldn’t assume that this bomb will set some type of precedent for assaults on IS elsewhere around the world.”

The American expert admits that the group’s presence in Nangarhar has been weakened in recent months. “The US and Afghanistan have been leading a joint effort to eliminate IS fighters there for quite some time, and in fact just earlier this week they took out a large number of fighters in the very district where the bomb was dropped. My sense is that this bomb was meant to eliminate those fighters that survived the earlier US-Afghan operation and had fled into the tunnels that the bomb targeted,” Kugelman noted.

Bildergalerie IS in Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)IS is expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan

Experts say the Thursday bombing in Afghanistan could also be a message to Afghanistan’s neighboring country Pakistan, which many policymakers in Washington believe is supporting Afghan militant groups, including the Taliban and IS.

Despite the fact that the “IS” presence in Afghanistan seems quite limited, there is a possibility that the militant group is getting assistance, and possibly fighters, from neighboring Pakistan. In the past few months, IS has claimed a number of deadly attacks on Pakistani soil.

The Islamic country also has a reputation as a breeding ground for Sunni militant groups. Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government.

Moscow conference

Observers find it interesting that the US chose to use the biggest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal at a time when Russia is hosting an Afghanistan conference in Moscow.

Twelve countries, including Afghanistan, China, India, Iran and Pakistan, are participating in the Friday conference. The US was invited to take part, but it turned down the invitation.

In December last year, representatives of Pakistan, China and Russia met in Moscow to discuss the Afghan conflict but they excluded Afghan officials from the gathering.

Geostrategic relations are rapidly changing in southern Asia. Former Cold War rivals India and the US are bolstering their defense and trade ties amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness in the region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea. On the other hand, Islamabad and Washington, who were allies against the former Soviet Union and collaborated in the 1980s Afghan War, are drifting apart. Simultaneously, Islamabad and Moscow are reviving their ties, as the two Cold War-era foes held their first-ever joint military drills last year.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Gipfel in Ufa Premierminister Nawaz Sharif und Präsident Wladimir Putin (picture alliance/dpa/SCO Photoshot/Ria Novosti)Pakistan is seeking to forge closer ties with China and Russia to counter New Delhi’s growing influence in Kabul

The changing geopolitics has also prompted Pakistan to forge closer ties with its long-time ally China. Beijing is expanding trade and military cooperation with Islamabad in view of the New Delhi-Washington maneuvers.

Experts say the US does not want Russia and China to increase their presence and influence in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan and Iran. They note that the Nangarhar bombing was a message from the Trump administration to these countries that they should not take Washington’s somewhat minimal role in Afghanistan as its weakness.

“The US is showing its military power to Russia and China. The timing of the use of MOAB is very important to understand the situation. Moscow is hosting a conference on Afghanistan and the US has sent a warning to everyone participating in the meeting,” underlined Afghan expert Amarkhail.

But Amarkhail believes that the Nangarhar bombing will exacerbate the security situation in Afghanistan.

“The militants will use this bombing to recruit more fighters.”

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Washington’s ‘unilateralism’ in Syria undermines UN – head of Iraqi WMD probe to RT

Washington should have waited for the findings of an impartial probe and international authorization before unilaterally striking Syria on the pretext of chemical weapons use, according to Hans Blix who led the UN commission searching for Iraqi WMDs in 2003.

“It would have been desirable to have an impartial investigation of the attack first, as they were discussing in the Security Council,” Blix told RT.

The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency gained the world media’s attention after his team of experts from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Possible possession of chemical weapons was used as a pretext by the US in 2003 to invade Iraq. Over the years, that false pretense has cost the lives of up to one million Iraqis according to some estimates.

On Friday, the US carried out missile strikes on the Shayrat Airfield near Homs in response to an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province which Washington pinned on the Assad government. Damascus firmly denied the accusations, saying that its Air Force attacked an arms depot where chemical weapons might have been stockpiled by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front militants.

Blix stressed that Washington’s airstrikes ran contrary to the common practice of international law which requires the approval of the UN before carrying out any form of aggression against another state.

“The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of other states. And the US is not at war with Syria. So they should not attack them,” Blix said.

“In the time when big power ignores the Security Council and ignores the Charter, they are also undermining the organization, and that is also regrettable,” he added.

On Thursday, before Washington unleashed 59 Tomahawk missiles on Syria, Russia tried to convince the UN Security Council to send in a team of experts into Syria to investigate the latest chemical attack reports. Instead of waiting for the result of the impartial UN probe, the US went on to strike Syrian government positions, a move condemned by Moscow and Damascus.

‘Russia doesn’t intend to get into armed standoff with US in ’ – Head of Defense, Security Committee https://on.rt.com/88fj 

“The US would have needed an authorization by the Security Council. And that was missing. This is unilateralism. A unilateralism of the same kind that many in the US wanted in [2013] with the attack outside Damascus,” Blix added.

Blix advised that in order to avoid further bloodshed in Syria, Moscow and Washington should focus on diplomacy, just like in 2013, when Russia convinced Syrian President Bashar Assad to surrender his chemical weapons stockpile to the UN. In 2013 the Syrian government surrendered its entire chemical weapons arsenal, except for the stockpiles located in the inaccessible rebel-and terrorist-controlled areas, which was confirmed by the UN-affiliated Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

READ MORE: Trump’s decision to hit Syrian airfield was outside UN framework – Belgian foreign minister

“They removed enormous quantities of chemical weapons in the midst of a civil war,” Blix said, expressing doubts that Damascus surrendered all of its unconventional arsenal but still praising the “terrific operation that the US and Russia together have managed to get going.”

At the same time, the Swede warned that it will be harder to return to constructive negotiations because of the “harsh words from Washington” and Moscow’s reaction to the American rhetoric. The sad alternative to further negotiations might be that eventually, the US gets “deeper” involved in the ongoing conflict.

“The war will then go on simply,” Blix warned.

‘US said it had proof of WMDs, 1mn people died’ – UN slams Syria strike (FULL VIDEO) http://on.rt.com/88a3 

Despite the widespread condemnation to the US strikes, the White House on Monday said new missile strikes on Syria is possible in case of chemical attacks on civilians.

READ MORE: ‘$64 question: Where is US evidence Assad behind Idlib chemical attack?’

“The sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a news conference.

Russia has meanwhile called for an expert investigation into the chemical attack, saying, it is “the only way to receive and present to the whole international community any objective evidence on the alleged presence of poisonous substances.”

ISIS executing civilians for trying to flee Mosul – eyewitnesses

ISIS executing civilians for trying to flee Mosul – eyewitnesses
Islamic State militants have been killing scores of civilians attempting to flee the war-torn city of Mosul in Iraq, according to eyewitness reports, with as many as 50 people being put to death in the latest mass execution.

Fighting in western Mosul has been intensifying in recent weeks as Iraqi troops, backed by Shia and Kurdish militias as well as airstrikes from the US-led coalition, close in on the Old City, a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

As it loses territory, IS has told the local population that the approaching forces will kill or imprison them in an attempt to deter people fleeing. But when this doesn’t work, the militant group has turned to mass executions of would-be refugees. In the latest incident, 50 civilians were executed in western Mosul on Saturday, a local source told Alsumaria News.

Another witness, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters he found a relative’s mutilated body left hanging on an electric pole in the Tenek district, along with three others who tried to flee.

“Their appearance was shocking. We weren’t able to get them down and they have been there for two days,” he said.

A woman who successfully made it out of IS-occupied territory described her narrow escape.

“They took our bags thinking there was gold or money in them and as they were busy checking the contents, we fled through the houses taking advantage of the pitch darkness,” she told Reuters. “I fear those families who stayed in Daesh’s [pejorative term for IS] grip met a terrible fate.”

The Kurdistan Regional Security Council has said that 140 civilians were killed trying to flee IS-controlled areas on Monday and Tuesday.

US military sources say that IS is using the civilian population as human shields in order to maximize casualties, giving the militants a propaganda boost.

“They brought the civilians back into the fight,” Brig. Gen. John Richardson, a coalition deputy commanding general in Irbil, told the Stars and Stripes, adding that Iraqi soldiers had recently found nine headless bodies at a traffic circle, along with a sign threatening more killings if anyone else tried to flee. “They’re actually telling them to stay in the neighborhoods.”

Some 150,000 civilians have fled the city, with a further 600,000 still in Mosul, 400,000 of whom are trapped in the embattled Old City, according to the United Nations.

But while the US-led forces might shift the responsibility for civilian casualties onto IS, scores have been reportedly dying in coalition airstrikes as well. In March, a Pentagon spokesman admitted the US “probably had a role” in a single bombing that killed around 240 people alone.

“You know that at the end of the missile there are four flaps, on that cartridge was written ‘made in USA’,” one man, who lost his wife and whose four-year-old child was left badly disfigured in separate airstrikes, told RT.