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Cuba blames US for instigating surge of migrants from island

Cuban officials blamed the United States late Tuesday for instigating a surge in the number of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. through Central America amid ongoing efforts to normalize relations between the former Cold War foes. In a statement aired on the government’s nightly broadcast, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations said U.S. policy allowing nearly all Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil to stay contradicts ongoing efforts to renew relations between the countries.

“This policy encourages illegal emigration from Cuba to the United States and constitutes a violation of the letter and spirit of the migration accords,” the statement read. The statement marked Cuba’s first official response to the swell of migrants fleeing the island since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced plans to restore diplomatic ties nearly one year ago.

The situation intensified Sunday when Nicaraguan troops forcefully pushed Cuban migrants trying to cross the border en route to the United States back into neighboring Costa Rica. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said in a radio interview Tuesday that there are nearly 2,000 people currently at the border being blocked by Nicaraguan soldiers from entering the country. He proposed the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” for Cubans transiting Central America.

“We have to do something with them, give them a solution,” Gonzalez said. “They want to continue. Even though a government sends the army after a peaceful migrant population, they are going to find a way to go.”

More than 45,000 Cubans arrived at U.S. checkpoints along the border between Texas and Mexico in the fiscal year that ended in September. Many migrants from the island fear that the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana may bring an end to the “wet-foot, dry foot” policy permitting most Cuban migrants to stay. Those who flee Cuba on raft and are caught by the U.S. Coast Guard at sea are usually returned.

U.S. officials have stated they do not have any intention of changing current immigration policy toward Cuba. The U.S. and Cuba have held regular meetings on migration accords since the 1990s. Cuban officials have repeatedly asked that Washington rescind the “wet-foot, dry foot” policy, saying it encourages Cubans to attempt perilous trips that have claimed an untold number of lives. Dagoberto Fernandez, a Cuban mechanic traveling with his pregnant wife, said they began their journey from Ecuador and had no problems until now.

“Everyone that we have encountered since leaving Ecuador is behaving well. The problem began upon arriving at the border with Nicaragua,” Fernandez said.

“We don’t want to stay. We don’t want problems,” he said. “We’re a group of human beings trying to achieve their dream: arrive in the United States.”

Costa Rica announced Friday that it was issuing special seven-day transit visas for Cuban migrants. The proposed humanitarian corridor would seek to protect their rights as they travel north through Central America. Ecuador does not require Cubans to obtain visas, so many begin their journey there. Immigration authorities in Costa Rica say another group of 1,500 Cubans who crossed into the country Saturday from Panama are making their way north.

About 300 Cubans are expected to arrive at Costa Rica’s southern border each day. Before Cuban officials released their statement, a group of about a dozen young adults gathered on a busy Havana intersection to demand the government address the situation early Tuesday evening.

“Many people don’t have any idea what is going on,” said Taylor Torres, 30, a blogger who said he found out about the swell of Cubans pushed away from the Nicaraguan border only after reading a story on the Internet, which many Cubans do not have access to. Taylor and others convened after word spread online calling for “flashmob without borders” via social media. Such spontaneous gatherings are highly unusual in Cuba.

The demonstration quickly dispersed after it began to rain.

The Greatest Terrorist Threat

The Greatest Terrorist Threat

In The Arena[1]

How to stop nuclear material from falling into the wrong hands. By Sam Nunn , Richard Lugar and Des Browne

November 17, 2015

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Let there be no doubt: If the radical jihadists responsible for the latest assault on innocents in Paris get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, they will not hesitate to use them. There is no limit to the horrible acts terrorists will carry out in pursuit of their ideological agenda. The best way to stop a WMD attack is to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials in the first place. If terrorists were able to detonate a crude nuclear weapon built with materials they stole or bought on the black market, the catastrophic consequences could easily include the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, the wide-scale destruction of property, the disruption of global commerce and restrictions on civil liberties worldwide. Citizens and leaders alike would be left to ask: What could we have done, and what should we have done, to prevent it?

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The good news is that leaders and governments have been focused on this concern for a number of years and can point to progress in better securing and removing some of the world s most dangerous nuclear material the highly enriched uranium and plutonium that could be used to build a bomb scattered across the globe. Thanks to work that began in the early 1990s and has intensified through biennial Nuclear Security Summits since 2010, we ve reduced the number of countries possessing nuclear materials from 52 in 1992 to 24 today. Yet as leaders prepare for the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., in March 2016, there is still ample cause for concern. Today, more than 1,800 metric tons of weapons-usable materials remain stored in countries around the world, some of it still too poorly secured and vulnerable to theft. A recent report[4] on a sting in southeast Europe exposed another chilling reality: a black market in nuclear materials. Compounding the threat is the fact that it doesn t take much material to build a bomb and the technical know-how needed to do it is more accessible than ever. We also know that, despite leaders efforts, there is still no effective global system in place for how all weapons-usable materials should be secured. Implementation of existing international guidelines remains far from universal, and no mechanism exists for holding countries accountable for lax security at nuclear facilities. Moreover, even those mechanisms that do exist apply almost exclusively to a small fraction of all weapons-usable nuclear materials the 17 percent used for peaceful, civilian applications. The remaining 83 percent are commonly characterized as military materials[5] and are therefore outside the scope of current international security standards and mechanisms.

As recent security breaches at military facilities in the United States and elsewhere have made clear, lax regulation on military materials is incredibly dangerous. Just consider the case of the 82-year-old nun and her fellow peace activists who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 2012. Known as the nuclear Fort Knox, the Y-12 facility is operated by the Department of Energy and houses thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium. These activists spent nearly 1 hours on the facility compound before a single guard noticed and arrested them for trespassing. Next time the intruders might not be so harmless. Radiological materials, such as those used in medical equipment and scientific research, pose another largely unaddressed threat. These are materials that could be used to build a dirty bomb that would not kill thousands but could spread radioactive materials and contaminate and deny access to major portions of one of the world s great cities or ports, causing billions of dollars in damage and sowing terror. Already, there are claims that Islamic State extremists may have stolen enough material to build one of these bombs. As the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit approaches, we applaud leaders for engaging on the threat and for taking the steps they have already taken to remove and secure vulnerable materials, but we have a long way to go.

In addition to minimizing and eliminating these dangerous materials and the number of facilities where they are located, leaders must work to build a strengthened global security system. The system should cover all nuclear materials, including military materials, and apply international standards, best practices and measures that build confidence in the effectiveness of each state s materials security. States also should work to:

  • Secure all nuclear materials and facilities to the highest standards, including screening personnel with access to sensitive materials and facilities; and strengthen tools to prevent and detect the trafficking of nuclear materials across borders.
  • Ensure accountability through independent oversight and build a strong security culture that includes peer reviews, best practice exchanges and realistic security exercises and assessments.
  • Strengthen international cooperation on nuclear security, which should include reviving cooperation between the United States and Russia and enhancing intelligence and law enforcement cooperation.

Leaders also must do more to counter the dirty bomb threat. Last year, 23 countries at the Nuclear Security Summit agreed to secure their most dangerous radiological materials. Next March, additional countries should join the pledge. In addition, hospitals should replace blood irradiators that use the most dangerous material, cesium-137, with now available alternative technologies that achieve equivalent medical outcomes.

Now, as we mourn the victims of the Paris attacks and as France and its allies avenge their loss, we call on world leaders to dramatically step up efforts to tighten security around the dangerous materials needed to build weapons of mass destruction and disruption. In the face of escalating threats, leaders have an obligation to their citizens, to their neighbors, and to the wider global community to do all that they can to prevent catastrophe.

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Sam Nunn is a former U.S. senator.

Richard Lugar is a former U.S. senator.

Des Browne is a former UK secretary of state for defence. All three serve on the Board of Directors of the Nuclear Threat Initiative[8].

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References

  1. ^ In The Arena (www.politico.com)
  2. ^ Share on Facebook (api.addthis.com)
  3. ^ Share on Twitter (api.addthis.com)
  4. ^ report (bigstory.ap.org)
  5. ^ military materials (www.nti.org)
  6. ^ Share on Facebook (api.addthis.com)
  7. ^ Share on Twitter (api.addthis.com)
  8. ^ Nuclear Threat Initiative (www.nti.org)

Over 1200 European jihadis have returned in past 2 years

Lori Hinnant and Raf Casert, Associated Press

Updated 7:26 pm, Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Photo: Michel Euler, AP

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A security officer guards the entrance of a hotel in Alfortville, outside Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A French judicial official says two brothers linked to the Paris attacks both rented residences in the days prior to Friday’s carnage. The official, who has knowledge of the case, told The AP that one of the Abdeslam brothers used an online rental site to book lodging at a long-stay hotel in the southeastern suburb of Alfortville Wednesday

A security officer guards the entrance of a hotel in Alfortville, outside Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A French judicial official says two brothers linked to the Paris attacks both rented residences in the

A woman walks past a banner reading “We are Paris” outside a hotel in Alfortville, outside Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A French judicial official says two brothers linked to the Paris attacks both rented residences in the days prior to Friday’s carnage. The official, who has knowledge of the case, told The AP that one of the Abdeslam brothers used an online rental site to book lodging at a long-stay hotel in the southeastern suburb of Alfortville Wednesday.

A woman walks past a banner reading “We are Paris” outside a hotel in Alfortville, outside Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A French judicial official says two brothers linked to the Paris attacks both rented

Residents discuss with police officers guarding a house, left, where one of the attackers supposedly stayed, in Bobigny, near Paris, France, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A French judicial official says two brothers linked to the Paris attacks both rented residences in the days prior to Friday s carnage.The official told The AP that one of the Abdeslam brothers used an online rental site to book lodging at a long-stay hotel in the southeastern suburb of Alfortville and the other brother rented a house in the northeastern suburb of Bobigny, the day before, on Tuesday Nov. 10.

Residents discuss with police officers guarding a house, left, where one of the attackers supposedly stayed, in Bobigny, near Paris, France, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. A French judicial official says two brothers

This undated file photo released Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, by French Police shows 26-year old Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted by police in connection with recent terror attacks in Paris, as police investigations continue. The notice, released on the national police Twitter account, says anyone seeing Salah Abdeslam, should consider him dangerous and call authorities immediately. The notice reads in French: “Call for witnesses – Police are hunting a suspect : Salah Abdeslam, born on Sept. 15, 1989 Brussels, Belgium. …Dangerous individual don’t intervene yourself”. (Police Nationale via AP)

This undated file photo released Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, by French Police shows 26-year old Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted by police in connection with recent terror attacks in Paris, as police investigations

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PARIS (AP) More than 1,200 Europeans who joined Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq have returned home in the past two years, an Associated Press count shows. Many have been jailed but others absorbed into the underbelly of some of the continent’s biggest cities are living unhindered, with apparent impunity.

All five Frenchmen linked to Friday’s attacks in Paris four strapped with suicide vests and the fifth on the run spent time with the IS group in Syria before returning to Europe, according to officials linked to the investigation, redoubling fears that the returnees form a pool of potential terror attackers. Many remain off the radar, and France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve[5] acknowledged Tuesday that “the majority of those who were involved in this attack were unknown to our services.”

The Belgian IS activist believed to have masterminded the Paris attacks bragged about his ability to return home from Syria, saying an ID check by police raised no flags. Two of the Frenchman responsible for the rock concert bloodbath had apparently done the same back and forth unnoticed, despite having files linking them to terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

France has the uncomfortable distinction of being Europe’s leading exporter of jihadis nearly 1,600 out of a continental total of over 5,000, according to government figures. And despite the government’s promises after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January to block and prevent citizens from leaving for the war zone, the pace of departures has remained essentially unchanged, and even increased slightly .

An AP analysis of government figures puts it at about 13 a month in the first 10 months of the year compared to an average of 12 a month in 2014.

Neighboring Belgium has sent more young men and women per capita than anywhere in the West. And the two groups of foreign fighters are bound together by a common tongue and nearly as often a common background, often living in the same compounds and entering the same combat units.

Both countries have paid the price in blood: last week’s attacks in central Paris left at least 129 people dead; the coordinated assaults in January on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket killed 17; the attack against a Jewish museum[6] in Brussels that killed four last year. All the attacks were carried out by Frenchmen with close links to extremists abroad and all too often Brussels, and neighboring Molenbeek, on their itinerary.

“With the conflicts in Syria and Iraq in particular, there has been a radicalization that we have never seen before,” said Molenbeek Mayor Francoise Schepmans[7] in her office Monday. And the government knows the neighborhood has long had trouble to contain it, as too many terror cases show.

“I see there is nearly always a Molenbeek link. There is a gigantic problem,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel[8].

The French government’s most recent figures put the number of returnees to that country at 250, but the number is clearly far higher. With the attacks on Paris and the coordinated assaults in January, French citizens have become both the leading killers among European extremists and its primary victims.

French officials estimate about 520 citizens are currently with extremists in Iraq and Syria, a number that has climbed steadily despite government promises to make blocking departures a priority. The numbers of departures exploded by 2014 young people spurred in part by the chemical weapons attack that killed as many as 1,400 Syrians in August 2013 who said they wanted to help Syrian civilians and fight President Bashar Assad[9]. The vast majority ended up with the Islamic State group.

Look beyond France, and there is a sense of the scale of the problem, and of the rising alarm of European intelligence officials. And because of Europe’s open borders, returns appear to be nearly as fluid as departures.

“Syria has become the biggest factory of terrorists that the world has ever seen,” French President Francois Hollande[10] said Monday.

According to an AP count, Britain has an estimated 350 returnees. Germany has documented about 250 returnees while Belgium puts its figure at about 130. Sweden has a total of 115 as the only other European Union[11] nation with triple digits.

Most ex-jihadis who return to France are arrested and charged with terrorism. With justice system moving at a snail’s pace, people who left in 2013 and returned quickly are only just going on trial next month, according to Xavier Nogueras[12], a lawyer who represents more than two dozen of them. He spoke with the AP in an interview before Friday’s attacks.

“The justice system is trying to make the effort to figure out who is dangerous and who is not, but because they don’t have the manpower, they put them all in prison, and that can make them dangerous,” he said. “There are so many of these people who now wait in prison, without knowing their fate They are going to get more frustrated, ask ‘why are you leaving me in prison to rot?'”

He estimates that two of his 25 cases are truly dangerous, and he said he has no interest in defending committed terrorists: “There’s going to come a time when I’m going to have to stop this.”

In Britain, 114 are awaiting trial while 21 have been convicted.

Petter Nesser[13], a senior researcher at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment[14], said those who commit terror attacks in Europe are both former foreign fighters and others who are simply inspired by the radical rhetoric. But the deadliest attackers, he said, have a background in jihadi warfare.

Nesser said that there are many ways of tackling returnees, and one way “is to combine prosecution and preventive moves.”

“Right now, we do not know what actions really help,” he said.

___

Casert reported from Brussels, and Jamey Keaten[15] and Thomas Adamson[16] in Paris contributed to this report.

References

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