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US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward VenezuelaU.S. federal prosecutors are seeking to seize four tankers sailing toward Venezuela with gasoline supplied by Iran, the latest attempt to disrupt ever-closer trade ties between the two heavily sanctioned anti-American allies. The civil-forfeiture complaint filed late Wednesday in the District of Columbia federal court alleges that the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. “The profits from these activities support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” prosecutor Zia Faruqui alleges in the complaint.




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Russian Bounties for Killing Americans Go Back Five Years, Ex-Taliban ClaimsTaliban veterans like to laugh about the first time, according to their lore, that the Russians dumped a lot of American dollars on them. During the Taliban campaign to take over all of Afghanistan in 1995, they actually had a few fighter planes, and they used one to force a Russian cargo plane—a huge Ilyushin Il-76TD flying for a company called Airstan—to land in Kandahar. The Taliban held the Russian crew members prisoner for a year until, one day, they supposedly “escaped” and managed to take the plane with them. How many millions of dollars that took to arrange, the Taliban have never said, but after the long, bloody decade of the 1980s throwing off Soviet occupation, squeezing the Russians for money like that remains a source of amusement. Mullah Manan Niazi, who was the spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar in those days, brought up the incident when The Daily Beast asked him about reports that the Russians have offered—and perhaps paid—bounties to Taliban who kill American soldiers.“The Russians paying U.S. dollars—it’s not odd for the Taliban,” he said, his voice fraught with irony over the encrypted phone call as he recalled the Airstan incident. As for the current situation, “The Taliban have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on U.S. forces—and on ISIS forces—in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present.”In the world of intelligence gathering, such a statement from such a figure would be worth noting, and just the kind of thing that could lead to what the Trump White House has called “inconclusive” reporting the Russian offer of bounties to kill Americans. Mullah Manan Niazi was a very senior figure in the Taliban when they were in power, and also when they were driven into exile and underground after 2001. But since the death of Mullah Omar was made public in 2015, he has been a dissident and liable to be killed by the current Taliban leadership if it catches up with him. They have accused him of collaborating with the CIA and the Afghan government’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which he denies.So, Niazi speaks as someone who knows the organization and its top people very well, but who also has an agenda very different from theirs, with his own reasons for confirming the bounty story, and he does not offer further specifics on that. But he does offer details about what he says are the longstanding ties between the Taliban and the Russians as well as the Iranians, and U.S. officials have been tracking those developments.A U.S. intelligence report about Russian assistance to the Taliban has circulated on Capitol Hill and throughout the national security apparatus over the last several days. According to three individuals who have read or who are familiar with the report, the assessment is long and covers the span of several years, focusing generally on how Russia provides support, including financial assistance, to the Taliban. The report also touches on the Russian bounties first reported by The New York Times, though those who read the report say that data point is circumstantial and that the investigation is ongoing. Two individuals who spoke to The Daily Beast, though, said it is clear from the report that there’s an increased risk for U.S. troops in Afghanistan because of Russia’s behavior.In important ways, this classified report mirrors an unclassified document produced last month by the Congressional Research Service which offered a crisp summation: “In the past two years, multiple U.S. commanders have warned of increased levels of assistance, and perhaps even material support for the Taliban from Russia and Iran, both of which cite IS [Islamic State, ISIS] presence in Afghanistan to justify their activities. Both nations were opposed to the Taliban government of the late 1990s, but reportedly see the Taliban as a useful point of leverage vis-a-vis the United States.”“We introduced two Taliban to the Russians under cover as businessmen,” said Niazai looking back on operations when he was still part of the Taliban insurgent leadership. “They went to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. With Russian-supplied funds, we purchased oil, wheat and flour and imported it to Afghanistan and  then sold it there. That’s how we converted Russians funds to cash in Afghanistan.”Both men, contacted by The Daily Beast, vehemently denied such activity. “I don’t want to comment—I don’t even want to talk about Niazi,” said one of them who, as a matter of fact, pays frequent visits to Moscow. “Niazi is our enemy and playing into the hands of the NDS.”Other monies come through the hawala system, which originated in India and is used throughout South Asia and, now, in many other parts of the world. The U.S. treasury notes hawala is distinguished by “trust and the extensive use of connections such as family relationships or regional affiliations. Unlike traditional banking ... hawala makes minimal (often no) use of any sort of negotiable instrument. Transfers of money take place based on communications between members of a network of hawaladars, or hawala dealers.”A senior Afghan security officer told The Daily Beast that he is “not aware of any Russians smuggling money,” but noted that the international Financial Action Task Force combating support for terrorism recently put pressure on the Afghan government to take “practical” action against suspect hawala dealers, “so the Afghan security forces raided some of the money changers.”Many sources, including Mullah Manan Niazi, note the Russian and Iranian role supporting the Taliban in the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Khorasan (a.k.a.  ISIS-K or ISIL-K). Early on in the Trump administration, Gen. John Nicholson—then the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan—warned Congress that Russia “has become more assertive over the past year” in Afghanistan and was “overtly lending legitimacy to the Taliban to undermine NATO efforts and bolster belligerents using the false narrative that only the Taliban are fighting ISIL-K.”Russia reportedly complemented its public rhetorical support for the Taliban with a covert supply program. The Washington Post reported that year that U.S. intelligence believed Russia had sent machine guns to the Taliban. An anonymous military source told the Post that the U.S. had found Russian-provided weapons areas where the group was waging war on coalition forces and ISIS’s Afghan affiliate had little presence. “We've had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders [who] said, ‘this was given by the Russians to the Taliban,’” Nicholson said in a 2018 BBC interview. “We know that the Russians are involved.”Indeed. Various Taliban have told The Daily Beast they were quite proud of the guns they were given as gifts or rewards—whether for specific acts or simply to cement relationships—is unclear. In 2018, Russia denied reports that it sent any arms but Russian special envoy Zamir Kabulov admitted that Moscow had established contacts with the Taliban because it was “seriously worried about possible terror threats for the Russian mission and Russian citizens in Afghanistan." But in September 2019, Russia elevated its talks with the insurgents to a formal visit by a Taliban delegation in September.According to a well-placed Taliban source, after some of the group’s representatives made a trip to Moscow they were given 30 state-of-the-art guns, apparently large caliber sniper rifles powerful enough to shoot through walls. “I personally saw three of them in Helmand,” said the source. “They were still full of grease,” which is to say brand new out of the box.As military scholar David Kilcullen points out in his recent book The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, the U.S. obsession with its “global war on terror” after 9/11 created an opportunity for Russia and other hostile powers. They were “exploiting our exclusive focus on terrorism, seeking to fill the geopolitical, economic, and security vacuum we had left as we became bogged down in the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.”In the present day, it serves Russia’s interests to keep the United States bogged down there, despite official Russian statements to the contrary. Trump Officials Didn’t Want to Tell Him About the ‘Russian Bounties’GOP Deny, Downplay Questions About Russian Bounty Scandal What others call “hybrid warfare” Kilcullen defines somewhat differently as exploitation of situations in flux, which certainly is the case in Afghanistan with a U.S. president determined to declare he’s made a complete exit, even though there are only 8,600 U.S. troops left on the ground at the moment.“Things that are in limbo, transitioning, or on the periphery, that have ambiguous political, legal, and psychological status—or whose very existence is debated—are liminal,” write Kilcullen. “Liminal warfare exploits this character of ambiguity, operating in the blur, or as some Western military organizations put it, the ‘gray zone.’”That, precisely, is where the Russians have learned to thrive.—with additional reporting by Sam BrodeyRead more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? 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'We're not going anywhere': Seattle's Chop zone dismantled but cause lives onThe special police-free zone set up by protesters has now been cleared, but activists say they won’t stop the fight for justiceThe occupied protest zone near downtown Seattle known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or “Chop”, effectively came to a swift end early on Wednesday morning when officers largely cleared the area of people and encampments, despite some protests lingering overnight into Thursday.Now activists say the relationships built and lessons learned over the last three weeks in the self-proclaimed police-free zone have already had a lasting impact that will live on past the physical presence of Chop.“We won, we’re winning, we made history,” said Rick Hearns, who had become head of security at Chop. “Look what we did here. The world saw it.”But the protest area also became the location of a series of night-time shootings, which left a 16-year-old boy and a 19-year-old man dead and several others seriously injured.In a series of tweets on Wednesday afternoon, Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, highlighted the violence in the zone, saying “the recent public safety threats have been well documented” and “this violence demanded action”.She said: “Our conversations over the weekend made it clear that many individuals would not leave, and that we couldn’t address these critical public safety concerns until they did.”The autonomous zone emerged organically following a series of dangerous clashes between protesters and law enforcement during marches against police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd, and African American, by a white police officer, in Minneapolis in May.Officers in Seattle abandoned their east precinct building as demonstrations closed in, after which protesters camped out around it, with the intention of protecting the building from possible destruction that might be blamed on them.In the days that followed, hundreds more joined, and suddenly several blocks of the city’s streets were teeming with people of different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, focused on calling for the defunding the city’s police department – echoing such protest cries emerging coast to coast, which can mean diverting money budgeted for police departments to social and education services, or even dismantling an entire department and restructuring the law enforcement system.And they wanted an end to police brutality against black people, explained Tarika Powell, an organizer with Seattle Black Collective Voice.> We’re going to organize sit-ins, we’re going to spam the city officials, we’re going to show up> > Jessie Livingston“It was a space where people came to learn. We screened documentaries, we put on people’s assemblies every day where people had the opportunity to speak and share their feelings and ideas … we put on educational events every single day,” she told the Guardian.“We had a space called the conversation cafe where people could come to learn about racism and to talk about it in ways they don’t get to do in their daily lives.”It spurred not only important conversations and learning, but also lasting bonds, which have since resulted in the organizing of anti-racist protests and the creation of social justice groups.The Seattle Black Collective Voice, for example, was formed after a group of organizers and protesters met in the Chop, explained Powell.Today, there are about 40 people involved with the collective, and they hold weekly educational events, and organize neighborhood cleanups and mental health outreach for people in the African American community.“We would have not been able to come together and engage in the work that we’re doing if it had not been for Chop,” she said.Pay the Fee Tiny Library was launched in a tent at the Chop, and now organizers have set up the library, which includes black, indigenous and people of color and LGBTQ literature, around the city and held events. And a garden started in the Cal Anderson Park is now expected to become a permanent addition to the neighborhood.Protesters have repeatedly stressed that the shootings and violence was not directly connected with Chop, and may have happened anyway . But it resulted in a dramatic decline in occupiers, it concerned local businesses and residents, and amplified officials calling on occupants to disperse.By the time police cleared Chop on Wednesday, following Mayor Durkan’s emergency executive order, the area had largely been reduced to a small number of activists and many homeless people, explained Powell.The truth is they “went in and did a violent sweep on homeless people, throwing away their tents and belongings”, she said.“Those homeless people had come into Chop to be safe from the sweeps. That is the vast majority of people that were in that space since the shooting started.”Officers reported on Twitter that they arrested 31 people during the sweep.Some activists have argued that the police precinct was needed as a bargaining chip in order to get their three main demands met, which involve defunding the police, using that money to invest in community health and services, and dropping criminal charges against protesters. Others say another occupation in the city could be a future possibility.Jessie Livingston, 36, a protester who has been camped at Chop almost every day since it was founded, said she didn’t know exactly the form the movement might take, but said: “We’re going to organize sit-ins, we’re going to spam the city officials, we’re going to show up to city council meetings, we’re going to do everything we know how to do.”She added: “We’re not going anywhere.”




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Descendants of Confederate soldiers sue city over removal of Florida’s oldest Civil War statueDescendants of Confederate soldiers have sued St. Augustine city leaders over their decision to remove a monument honoring the fallen ancestors.




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Trump reportedly briefed on Russia paying militants to kill US troops the same day he had a 45-minute meeting on the dramatized CPAC play 'FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers'President Donald Trump denies he was briefed on a Russian military intelligence unit paying Taliban-linked militants to kill US forces in Afghanistan.




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Finland's air force drops swastika emblem after century in useFinland’s air force has quietly removed the last swastikas from unit emblems after over a century in use. Until recently the country’s Air Force Command emblem depicted a pair of wings around a swastika, a symbol which pre-dates its associations with Nazism. The change was first observed by Teivo Teivainen, a politics professor at the University of Helsinki, who argued its negative associations made the swastika's ongoing use politically fraught. Professor Teivainen, who has written widely on the issue, said using the swastika could cause difficulties for the Nato country, particularly if worn on the uniforms of deployed personnel. “I have not found many reasonable arguments to support its military usefulness,” Mr Teivainen wrote on Twitter on Thursday. The symbol’s association with Finland’s air force dates to its founding in 1918, when Swedish count Eric von Rosen donated a plane painted with swastikas to the newly independent country. The German Nazi Party adopted the swastika as its logo in 1920. Finland removed the swastika from its aircraft following a postwar armistice with the Soviet Union, but until recently the symbol remained on Air Force Command emblems and some flags and decorations. A spokesman for Finland’s air force told the BBC, "as unit emblems are worn on uniform, it was considered impractical and unnecessary to continue using the old unit emblem, which had caused misunderstandings from time to time."




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Turkey: Up to 60 migrants feared dead in lake after sinkingUp to 60 migrants may have been trapped in a boat that sank in an eastern lake last week, Turkey’s interior minister said Wednesday. Turkey launched a search-and-rescue mission involving helicopters and boats after the boat carrying migrants across Lake Van was reported missing on June 27. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who traveled to Van to oversee the rescue operation, told reporters Wednesday that authorities estimated the boat was carrying between 55 and 60 migrants when it went down in stormy weather.




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Weibo deletes Indian Prime Minister's social media accountSina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, said it had deleted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's account at the request of the Indian embassy, as tensions between the two countries continue to simmer over a border skirmish. Since posting on Sina Weibo the first time in 2015 during a visit to China, Mr Modi has been an infrequent user of the Chinese social media platform. He had more than 200,000 followers and 100 posts before the account was shut. Sina Weibo announced the closure of the account late on Wednesday and the removal comes a few days after India banned dozens of Chinese apps, including Sina Weibo and ByteDance's TikTok, following the border clash between the two nations. The Indian embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment. Mr Modi was among a handful of foreign leaders with a Weibo account. Others include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. Notably, Mr Modi revealed the birth dates of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang by wishing them "Happy Birthday" on Weibo. The discussion of senior leaders' private lives is extremely rare in China and the exact birth dates of most of them are not revealed publicly. In contrast, Chinese leaders are rarely active on social media. Foreign social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China. READ MORE: China annexes 60sqkm of India in Ladakh as simmering tensions erupt between two superpowers




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