We’re learning more about the Manchester Arena bomber, Salman Abedi. French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb today said that Abedi did, in fact, have “proven” links to ISIS, and an unnamed US source told NBC that Abedi had known ties to al-Qaeda. It seems pretty certain that he’d recently been in Libya, and Collomb said that he may have also recently been in Syria. In an effort to proclaim Abedi’s innocence, his father noted that he had been planning to go on Hajj in Saudi Arabia–making the Hajj is something all Muslims are supposed to do at least once in their lives if they’re able, so in itself that’s not much of a tell, but combined with his other travels it’s also not nothing. Interestingly, I can’t find any information suggesting that he’s visited Iran, even though I’ve been told that Iran is the source of all terrorism in the world. British Home Secretary Amber Rudd told reporters that it’s “likely” he did not act alone, and British police have so far arrested five people in connection with the bombing, at least one of whom was reportedly carrying a “suspicious package.”
By the way, you know how I mentioned Abedi’s father up there? He’s also been arrested, along with Abedi’s brother, by militia forces in Libya. Abedi’s parents fled Libya in the 1990s, but Ramadan Abedi, his father, allegedly fought during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, in the al-Qaeda-aligned Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The family, sans Salman I guess, reportedly moved back to Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, and Libyan authorities are saying that the brother, Hashem Abedi, is also suspected of ISIS ties and may have known of his brother’s plan beforehand.
Given all of this information, one serious question has to be answered: why weren’t British police on this guy? That Telegraph piece up there says that at least two people who knew Salman Abedi in college told police about him because of his extremist views, and look at what NBC is reporting:
Members of his own family had even informed on him in the past, telling British authorities that he was dangerous, according to the intelligence official.
The U.S. official said Abedi’s bomb was “big and sophisticated,” using materials hard to obtain in Britain — meaning “it’s almost impossible to see he didn’t have help.”
Additionally, the mosque he attended in Britain is alleged to have raised money for jihadist causes in the past, and Abedi was known to have been radical even within that community–his imam says that Abedi hated him because he sometimes preached against ISIS. So you have a guy from a problematic mosque who recently traveled to a couple of known al-Qaeda/ISIS hotbeds and built a “sophisticated” bomb, all after members of his own family had informed on him to authorities, and…what? For all the unfair bullshit that Muslims living in the West get about supposedly not informing law enforcement about potential threats, here’s a guy whose own family dropped a dime on him, to apparently no effect. You can’t blame the Muslim community for not helping law enforcement if law enforcement isn’t going to do shit when the Muslim community tries to help.
By the by, Theresa May reportedly has plans to confront Donald Trump about the continuous and, frankly, baffling leaks about this case that are coming from US officials, when the two of them are in Brussels for this week’s NATO meeting. It’s been remarkable how much information about this case has been shared with the media by American sources when this is a British investigation and British authorities have told the Americans to knock it off.
Whatever comes of the deliberations over increasing the US and/or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan, it appears the Pentagon has already decided to escalate its air campaign there:
U.S. warplanes dropped more weapons on Afghanistan in April than in any other single month since 2012, according to new statistics, as military officials press U.S. President Donald Trump to send thousands more troops to the country.
The escalation in the use of American air power was partly due to an effort by U.S. commanders to wipe out a nascent Islamic State presence before the group can establish more of a foothold in the county, a military spokesman said.
The U.S. Air Force unleashed 460 bombs, missiles, or other ordnance last month in Afghanistan, more than double the 203 weapons dropped in March and more than seven times the quantity deployed in April last year.
Of course you all remember that last month the US dropped a BIG-ASS BOMB on Afghanistan in order to FUCKING ANNIHILATE ISIS, which it definitely did except inasmuch as ISIS appears to have carried on mostly as if nothing happened. But I’m sure all these other bombs really made a difference. God bless them, every one.
A US drone strike in Afghanistan’s Khost province on Wednesday reportedly killed three Pakistani Taliban fighters–and, presumably, lent some credence to Pakistan’s complaints that the Pakistani Taliban have been operating out of Afghanistan.
Pakistani forces, meanwhile, have captured a Pakistani Taliban leader, Saeed Ahmed Badani, who is believed responsible for three major terrorist attacks in Balochistan in 2016. Badani reportedly told interrogators that he received support from both Indian and Afghan intelligence services.
Two suicide bombers killed three police officers and injured ten other people in a Wednesday night attack on a bus station in Jakarta. This is probably another in a series of attacks like this from Indonesia’s nascent ISIS branch, but so far there’s been no claim of responsibility.
The Intercept has obtained a transcript of last month’s phone conversation between President Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and I have to tell you some of it is just ridiculous. For example:
“You are a good man,” Trump told Duterte, according to an official transcript of the April 29 call produced by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and obtained by The Intercept. “Keep up the good work,” Trump told Duterte. “You are doing an amazing job.”
Trump began the call by telling Duterte, “You don’t sleep much, you’re just like me,” before quickly pivoting to the strongman’s drug war.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the beginning of their call, according to the document. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
“Thank you Mr. President,” replied Duterte. “This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.”
Duterte’s police have killed thousands of people, including opposition politicians, under the guise of his extrajudicial drug war. Duterte has compared himself to Adolf Hitler, and meant it as a compliment, only he’s massacring drug users instead of Jews. That’s what Trump is praising here.
That’s not the only thing that’s batshit nuts in this transcript, though. Check this out:
“We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has times 20, but we don’t want to use it,” Trump told Duterte. (In fact, the U.S. has 6,800 nuclear warheads and North Korea is thought to have about 10.) “You will be in good shape,” he added.
“We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines — the best in the world — we have two nuclear submarines — not that we want to use them at all,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like they are, but we don’t have to use this, but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.”
Imagine the US Navy’s surprise and delight to find that their president is sharing the location of their nuclear submarines with other world leaders! Particularly ones who are on speaking terms with more adversarial world leaders, like Vladimir Putin! We may be at a point where the military and intelligence services start withholding information from the president because he’s likely to parrot that information back to the next person who walks into the Oval Office, which is probably not a great place to be.
In actual Philippines news, ISIS-affiliated fighters continue to terrorize the city of Marawi on the country’s southern Mindanao island. They’ve reportedly killed at least 21 people so far, while 13 of the militants have reportedly been killed by Philippine security forces. Duterte is reportedly considering expanding his declaration of martial law for Mindanao–which was already overly broad–to the rest of the country. This would probably not be a positive step, considering that Duterte feels empowered to murder drug users on the regular, without martial law being imposed.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
An American destroyer, the USS Dewey, reportedly sailed within 12 miles of the Mischief Reef, a part of the Spratly Island chain that’s claimed by China. This sort of operation, basically trolling China over its claims to sovereignty in the SCS, isn’t unusual, but this particular operation comes at an unusual time, as President Trump is trying to improve relations with Beijing in order to tighten the screws on North Korea.
Algeria has a new prime minister, former housing minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune. The country just had a parliamentary election earlier this month, which voters commemorated by abstaining from voting. The election, and Tebboune’s appointment, don’t really matter, since Algeria is run by its military and a cabal of unelected civilians, but with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika getting up there in years and already of questionable mental status, I suppose Tebboune could find himself in line for a promotion at some point.
It turns out that President Salva Kiir’s magnanimous gesture of a unilateral ceasefire coincides with the onset of South Sudan’s rainy season, when fighting has traditionally dropped off anyway. Just in case you really thought he meant it.
Al-Shabab carried out its own suicide bombing today in Mogadishu, killing five people and injuring six others.
Al-Shabab also killed eight Kenyan security officers on Wednesday via two separate roadside bomb incidents in Mandera and Liboi. Kenya has been an al-Shabab target for several years due to its involvement in the African Union mission in Somalia.
Donald Trump met Pope Francis today–let’s see how that went:
Oh, ha, OK then. Nice to see everybody having a good time. Pope Francis gave the president a copy of his environmental encyclical, which Trump pretended he would read, and…look, I don’t think it’s any surprise that the bar has been set kind of low at this point. Trump didn’t reignite the Investiture Controversy or anything, so I think we can just call this a win and move on.
Trump’s next stop after the Vatican was Brussels, in preparation for the NATO meeting on Thursday, and he certainly got a warm reception there:
As 6,000 protesters took to the streets to show their anger at the presence of the US president on Belgian soil, Trump and his wife, Melania, were welcomed at the Palace of Brussels by King Philippe and Queen Matilda, who he spoke to for 20 minutes, before talks with the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel.
Why did Belgians come out to protest Donald Trump? I mean, apart from the obvious reasons? Well, as it so happens, Candidate Donald Trump had some lovely things to say about Brussels last year:
Elsewhere in the city, however, protesters made clear their displeasure at Trump’s visit. During his campaign for the White House, Trump had said of Brussels it was “like living in a hellhole right now”.
Among the signs held aloft by those in the crowd amassed outside Brussels Gare de Nord, following an earlier “Trump not Welcome” march around the city, one said: “Trump says Brussels is a hellhole. Brussels says Trump is an ass-hole”.
Again, nice to see everybody just getting along and having a nice time.
I don’t have any Trump scandal news tonight, but I do have some news on the thoroughly scandalous Trump budget that applies to international affairs:
U.S. President Donald Trump’s bid to slash funding for the United Nations would make it “impossible” for it to continue its essential work, a U.N. spokesman said on Wednesday, adding that the organization was ready to discuss reform with Washington.
The Trump proposal cuts about a third from U.S. diplomacy and aid budgets, or nearly $19 billion. This includes cutting some $1 billion from a U.N. peacekeeping funding and a steep cut to funding for international organizations.
The United States is the biggest U.N. contributor, paying 22 percent of the $5.4 billion core budget and 28.5 percent of the $7.9 billion peacekeeping budget. These assessed contributions are agreed by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.
“The figures presented would simply make it impossible for the U.N. to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights and humanitarian assistance,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement.
The UN isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s often the only organization in the world trying to do what it does, and shutting it down is going to benefit nobody. The Trump budget is being rightly excoriated for brutalizing the poor in the name of a gigantic upper class tax cut, but while we’re talking about its effect on Americans I think we should also note that it aims to do horrible things to people in other parts of the world as well.
The political crisis in Brazil may be reaching a tipping point. An estimated 25,000 people marched to the presidential palace in Brasilia today demanding Michel Temer’s resignation and reportedly setting fire to at least one government ministry office. Temer, enmeshed in a massive corruption scandal and probably staring at an impeachment if he doesn’t spare the country the turmoil and fucking resign already…is, of course, still refusing to resign, and has given the Brazilian army police powers in the capital for the next week in an effort to quash the uprising. Temer, a conservative, engineered the impeachment of leftist former president Dilma Rousseff last year, which Rousseff has said was orchestrated by Temer to stifle the investigation into the very corruption charges that are now about to bring him down. It’s possible that Temer won’t even be around long enough to be impeached–there’s a case before the country’s supreme court that would annul the Rousseff-Temer ticket’s 2014 victory on grounds of campaign finance irregularities. In technical political science terms, I believe this is what’s known as a “giant clusterfuck.”
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