Islamic State Militants Planning for ‘Large-Scale’ Attacks on Europe, Police Agency Europol says

Compliments of ABC 

The Islamic State group has honed the ability to launch global attacks and is set to focus more on Europe following the Paris massacre, the chief of EU police agency Europol says.

Rob Wainwright told a news conference that “the so-called Islamic State had developed a new combat-style capability to carry out a campaign of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global stage — with a particular focus in Europe”.

Mr Wainwright was unveiling the findings of a new Europol report on changes in how the jihadist group operates, coinciding with the launch of the agency’s new counterterrorism centre in The Hague.

“So-called Islamic State has a willingness and a capability to carry out further attacks in Europe, and of course all national authorities are working to prevent that from happening,” he added.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the November 13 Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed, releasing a video on Sunday purporting to show nine of the jihadists in which they threaten “coalition countries” including Britain.

A US-led coalition has been fighting the militant group in Iraq since August 2014, and in Syria since September that year.

“IS is preparing more terrorist attacks, including more ‘Mumbai-style’ attacks, to be executed in member states of the EU, and in France in particular,” the Europol report said.

“The attacks will be primarily directed at soft targets, because of the impact it generates.”

Soft targets refer to people or things that are vulnerable and unprotected.

“Both the November Paris attacks and the October 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner suggest a shift in IS strategy towards going global.”

The IS group has developed an “external action command” that was trained for “special forces-style attacks” internationally, the report said.

But the report played down fears that jihadists were smuggling themselves into Europe as part of the huge wave of refugees and migrants that the continent is dealing with, many of whom are fleeing the war in Syria.

“There is no concrete evidence that terrorist travellers systematically use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed,” it said.

It warned however that many new arrivals were vulnerable to radicalisation or recruitment, with evidence that extremist recruiters were specifically targeting refugee centres.

One of the main tasks of the new Europol counter-terrorism centre was to collect details on the estimated 5,000 Europeans who have gone to fight with IS in Syria and Iraq, Mr Wainwright said.

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Zika Virus: Outbreak ‘Likely to Spread Across Americas’ Says WHO

Compliments of BBC

The Zika virus is likely to spread across nearly all of the Americas, the World Health Organization has warned.

The infection, which causes symptoms including mild fever, conjunctivitis and headache, has already been found in 21 countries in the Caribbean, North and South America.

It has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains and some countries have advised women not to get pregnant.

No treatment or vaccine is available.

The virus was first detected in 1947 in monkeys in Africa. There have since been small, short-lived outbreaks in people on the continent, parts of Asia and in the Pacific Islands.

Zika spread

But it has spread on a massive scale in the Americas, where transmission was first detected in Brazil in May 2015.

Large numbers of the mosquitoes which carry the virus and a lack of any natural immunity is thought to be helping the infection to spread rapidly.

Mosquito

Zika is transmitted by the bite of Aedes mosquitoes, which are found in all countries in the region except Canada and Chile.

In a statement, The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the WHO, said: “PAHO anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found.”

PAHO is advising people to protect themselves from the mosquitoes, which also spread dengue fever and chikungunya.

It also confirmed the virus had been detected in semen and there was “one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission” but further evidence was still needed.

Around 80% of infections do not result in symptoms.

But the biggest concern is the potential impact on babies developing in the womb. There have been around 3,500 reported cases of microcephaly – babies born with tiny brains – in Brazil alone since October.

PAHO warned pregnant women to be “especially careful” and to see their doctor before and after visiting areas affected by the virus.

Graphic showing babies' head size

Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica last week recommended women delay pregnancies until more was known about the virus.

Although officially PAHO says “any decision to defer pregnancy is an individual one between a woman, her partner and her healthcare provider”.

Maria Conceicao Queiroz said there was a sense of fear where she lives near the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro: “Every one is at risk, we’re all scared of getting Zika.

“We’re surrounded with dirty water, polluted water, but what can we do but put repellent on, to try to keep the mosquitoes away.”

Global threat

Prof Laura Rodrigues, a fellow of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said some data suggested that up to one-in-fifty babies had birth defects in one of the worst hit areas – Pernambuco state in Brazil.

She said: “Until November we knew nothing, this has caught us by surprise and we’re trying to learn as fast as we can.

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Pretend to be Christians: ISIS Urges UK Jihadis to Cut Beards, Shun Mosques & Wear Crosses

Compliments of Express

The booklet, called Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen, offers a chilling insight into the levels of preparation expected of those wishing to cause carnage in Europe.

The 58-page terror manual, which has burning western-style buildings on the front cover, gushes about the importance of surprise when launching an attack to cause maximum impact.

It urges home-grown terrorists to carry out attacks as they are less likely to be noticed.

It also explains how nightclubs, full of loud music and drunk people, are the perfect place to discuss terror plans without being recorded or snooped on.

The main thrust of the instruction booklet is the necessity to blend in with the western way of life and to avoid ‘looking like a Muslim’ so as to stay below the radar of the security services.

It has even been translated into English for those in the West who don’t speak Arabic.

The introduction says: “No doubt that today, at the era of the lone wolves, brothers in the Westneed to know some important things about safety in order to ensure success in their operations.

“We thought a lot of non-Arabic speaking brothers would find it interesting and may apply it in their blessed operations.”

Readers are urged to wear a Christian cross, splash on the aftershave, cut off beards and even shun prayer meetings and mosques to avoid detection.

There is even advice about what jewellery to wear and on which hand to wear a watch.

Potential terrorists are told: “If you can avoid having a beard, wearing qamis, using miswak and having a booklet of dhikr with you, it’s better.

“It is permissible for you to wear a necklace showing a Christian cross.

“As you know, Christians – or even atheist Westerners with Christian background – wear crosses on their necklaces.

“But don’t wear a cross necklace if you have a Muslim name on your passport, as that may look strange.

The terror manualTWITTER

The 58-page terror manual

“If you want to use perfume, don’t use the oily, non-alcoholic perfume that Muslims use, instead use generic alcoholic perfume as everyone does, and if you are a man, use perfume for men.

“If you are wearing a watch, don’t wear it on your right hand, as this is a sign that you are religious.

“If you have an engagement ring or something like that, it’s better to wear one in gold or better yet, don’t wear any ring at all.

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Tuberculosis Outbreak in Papua New Guinea Worsens, as Health Workers Plead for Promised Funding

Compliments of ABC 

More than 160 of the 15,000 people living on the island of Daru, near the PNG–Australia border, have drug-resistant tuberculosis — the highest rate in the world.

The PNG Government has not yet delivered on promised funding for an emergency response, and a prevailing dry weather pattern is intensifying the problem, as sick people can no longer travel for treatment.

“We’re seeing an outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis that we haven’t seen the scale of before,” Brendan Crabb from the Burnet Institute, a communicable disease research centre in Melbourne, said.

Poverty, overcrowding and people failing to complete their treatment are adding to the problem, but researchers are now wondering if those are the only factors.

“So, is that an environmental factor that’s allowed that to happen, or more worryingly, is that a bacterial factor?” Professor Crabb said.

“Is there something about this organism that makes it a superbug?”

Daru Hospital’s Australian-funded tuberculosis ward is full — and the chief executive of the hospital, Orpah Tugo, said there were still many cases the hospital could not take.

“I can’t [take any more patients] at the moment, and it’s very serious now that they’re with their family in the community,” she said.

“The spread will go on. It’s very contagious.”

El Nino drives community inland

Health authorities are supervising people’s treatments in their own communities, to take the pressure off the hospital.

“They are diagnosed [at the hospital] and then they are sent back to the community, so that we in the community can take care of these tuberculosis patients,” Sonia Madjus from World Vision said.

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Sandra Bland’s Family Reacts To Trooper Indictment, Firing

Compliments of ABC 

Sandra Bland’s family is reacting to the news that the Texas state trooper who arrested Bland during a traffic stop has been charged and will be fired.

“I feel and our family feels it’s long overdue. It’s something that should have happened at the inception of this case and this entire situation,” said Sharon Cooper.

Instead, the process to fire Trooper Brian Encinia started Wednesday after a grand jury charged Encinia with perjury, alleging he lied – in writing – about Sandra Bland’s traffic stop.

“I feel like it’s acknowledgement for some of his actions, but not the totality of it. And that’s the problem that we have,” Cooper said.

“It’s an assault on her and he should have been indicted for a lot more than perjury,” said Larry Rogers Jr., attorney for the Bland family.

Trooper Encinia wrote in a probable cause affidavit that Bland was “combative and uncooperative.” A grand jury indicted him for what unfolded.

“The indictment was issued in reference to the reason he removed her from her vehicle,” Special Prosecutor Shawn McDonald said.

The reason, Trooper Encinia wrote, was to “conduct a safer traffic investigation.” The grand jury found that to be false. Outside the Texas courthouse, two dozen protesters showed up.

“To give him a perjury, he did more than that. He assaulted her. She should have never been pulled over or arrested in the first place,” protester Jinaki Muhammad said.

Bland died three days later inside the Waller County jail. The coroner ruled her death a suicide after she was founding hanging in her cell. But now that the grand jury investigation is over, the family hopes to learn more.

“It’s the end of their investigation, but it also puts in a position like we have wanted to from the onset, to get the evidentiary information that we have asked for from the very beginning,” Cooper said.

Trooper Encinia’s perjury charge is a misdemeanor. He could face on year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

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Internal Email: Michigan ‘Blowing Off’ Flint Over Lead in Water

Compliments of NBC 

Six months before Michigan’s governor declared a state of emergency over high lead levels in the water in Flint, his top aide wrote in an email that worried residents were “basically getting blown off by us.”

“I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint,” Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder, wrote in the email to a top health department staffer obtained by NBC News.

“I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving,” Muchmore said.

“These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight).”

The problem began in April 2014 when Flint switched from Detroit’s water supply to save money and began using water from the Flint River, which has a high salt content.

That corroded the pipes it flowed through and lead from those pipes — which had been undisturbed by Detroit’s less corrosive water — leached into the system.

Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech who has been testing Flint water, says treatment could have corrected much of the problem early on — for as little as $100 a day — but officials in the city of 100,000 people didn’t take action.

“There is no question that if the city had followed the minimum requirements under federal law that none of this would have happened,” said Edwards, who obtained the Muchmore email through a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request.

Even after tests in February 2015 showed alarming levels of lead in a Flint home, officials publicly assured residents there was no threat.

Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha didn’t buy it. She began an independent study and discovered that lead levels in children had doubled or even tripled since the city switched its water supply.

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The North Pole is Famous For Many Things. 24-Hour Darkness, Polar Bears, and of Course, Being the Home of Santa Claus.

Compliments of Upworthy 

One thing it’s definitely not known for, though, is balmy, casual, “Hey, how cold is it? Do you think I need a light jacket?” type temperatures.

The north pole is freezing. It’s one of the coldest places on Earth. In fact, it’s sometimes colder than Mars. Mars!

But according to scientists, a storm the likes of which few have ever seen is about to raise north pole temperatures to as high as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s about 50 degrees warmer than usual and is, according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, “absolutely terrifying.”

It’s always comforting when a scientist uses the words “absolutely terrifying.”

The biggest reason behind that terror? Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. But if it gets warmer than that, ice melts. If the North Pole (which is covered in sea ice) begins to melt, less sunlight can be reflected off the ice. Thus, arctic temperatures rise even faster in a viscious cycle.

Also, if the continental ice sheets in that region start to melt, sea levels everywhere could quickly rise to dangerous levels.

Rising sea levels have already started to affect areas like Robbins, Maryland. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The storm is on its way to becoming one of the strongest in the North Atlantic’s history.

It’s a “meteorological marvel” that has so far ripped through Texas in the form of brutal tornados, dumped record amounts of rain onto the Midwest, and is now moving on with the intention of flooding an already soaked U.K. … and bringing hoodie weather to one of the coldest places on the planet.

Hurricane-force winds and alarmingly low barometric pressure are pushing it into the category of “bombogenesis…” a term used to describe “meteorological bombs” that often devastate large areas.

One piece of good news, though: The 230-mile-per-hour jet stream that the storm caused in the North Atlantic actually shortened flights from New York to London to a little over five hours. (It usually takes six or seven.)

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Obama Prepares to Use Executive Powers on Gun Control

Compliments of SBS

President Barack Obama says he will meet US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss ways of reducing gun violence amid reports he intends to take executive action on the issue.

Obama, in his weekly recorded address on Friday, said he has received “too many letters from parents, and teachers, and kids, to sit around and do nothing.”

He has repeatedly urged Congress to tighten gun laws, with his calls growing louder following the 2012 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and again this year after mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and San Bernardino, California.

“A few months ago, I directed my team at the White House to look into any new actions I can take to help reduce gun violence,” Obama said in the address. “And on Monday, I’ll meet with our attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to discuss our options.”

The Washington Post, citing several individuals briefed on the matter, said Obama and Lynch would “finalise a set of executive actions on guns that he will unveil next week.”

Frustrated with little action from Congress, Obama has vowed to use “whatever power this office holds” to put in place gun control measures through executive action, which does not require congressional approval.

“We know that we can’t stop every act of violence,” Obama said. “But what if we tried to stop even one? What if Congress did something – anything – to protect our kids from gun violence?”

The Post said Obama would use his executive authority in several areas, including expanding new background-check requirements for buyers who purchase weapons from high-volume dealers.

“Change, as always, is going to take all of us,” said Obama, who is on vacation with his family in Hawaii.

“The gun lobby is loud and well organised in its defence of effortlessly available guns for anyone. The rest of us are going to have to be just as passionate and well organised in our defence of our kids.”

On Thursday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama was aware Congress was unlikely to act on gun reform.

“That is why he has asked his team to scrub existing legal authorities to see if there’s any additional action we can take administratively,” Schultz said.

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