Two assailants reportedly killed a man near a military barracks in south London on Wednesday, in a shocking attack that is dominating British press coverage right now. The exact details of the what transpired in the Woolwich district are hazy, but here's what we know so far: Early witness reports describe a brutal assault in which two attackers ran over a man who may have been a soldier, attempted to behead him, and then stuck around to have their photo taken by passersby. When police arrived on the scene, the men brandished their weapons -- which may have included a handgun, a machete, and knives -- at law-enforcement officials, and both were shot and subsequently arrested and taken to the hospital.
ITV, a British television station, obtained footage of what appears to be one of the attackers explaining his motivations. In the unconfirmed video, filmed by a bystander who had been traveling by bus to a job interview, a man with bloodied hands carrying a kitchen knife and a meat cleaver says the attack was in retribution for Muslim deaths:
We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. Your people will never be safe. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying by British soldiers every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
In the clip, you can hear him add:
I apologize that women had to witness this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you.
The video, which also shows the two attackers shortly after they are shot by police, is below (warning: it's graphic).
A witness who only gave his first name, James, described a horrific scene. "These two guys were crazed. They were just animals. They dragged him from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road and left his body there," he told LBC radio.
Nick Raynsford, the member of parliament who represents Woolwich, has described the victim as a soldier, but so far there has not been an official confirmation of the man's identity. British Prime Minister David Cameron, in Paris for a meeting with French President François Hollande, has said there are "strong indications that this is a terrorist incident."
The attack is drawing a chorus of condemnations. London Mayor Boris Johnson had this to say on Twitter:
This afternoon's attack in Woolwich is a sickening deluded and unforgivable act of violence. My thoughts are with the victim and his family— Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) May 22, 2013
The Muslim Council of Britain, responding to the invocation of Allah made by the alleged attacker seen in the ITV video, has also condemned the attack:
This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the Armed Forces. Muslims have long served in this country’s Armed Forces, proudly and with honour. This attack on a member of the Armed Forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder.
We'll update as we learn more.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
You've read the stories about Sweden's excellent health care system, innovative gender-neutral day care centers, and generous parental leave policies. But here's a story that those who would like to portray Sweden as a socialist paradise are less eager to tell: For three consecutive nights, the residents of several largely immigrant suburbs have rioted, torching cars, clashing with police, and setting buildings ablaze.
The rioting -- the worst social unrest to strike the country in many years -- was sparked by the lethal police shooting of a 69-year-old, knife-wielding man last week in the suburb of Husby, the epicenter of the riots. Roaming gangs of angry youths have since clashed with police and Husby residents have complained of racist treatment by police officers, who they say have used epithets such as "monkey."
What's happening in Husby is clearly a symptom of Sweden's failed effort to integrate its massive immigrant population. Housing segregation is rampant in the country, and Husby is a case study in how immigrant populations have come to dominate Stockholm's outer suburbs. The graph below (from this paper on housing segregation) illustrates the phenomenon. Depending on your political perspective, native-born Swedes have either fled Husby or been pushed out by immigrants:
Husby also suffers from rampant unemployment -- a problem that is particularly acute for its youth. Nearly 30 percent of the city's young people are neither employed nor actively enrolled in school, a number that mirrors a broader trend of immigrant underemployment relative to the native-born population.
riots have been captured in YouTube
videos, which paint a picture of an aggressive, somewhat
ham-handed response by police. When confronted by angry residents, law enforcement officials have used dogs
and drawn pistols to intimidate the crowds. In the clip below, they can be seen charging residents -- then retreating and charging once more.
Police have also used dogs to disperse the crowds. Here, the officer tells a resident to back up or risk being bitten. The female voice at the end of the video repeatedly asks police, "Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?!"
Here's what things looked like from one of the apartment buildings in the area. As you can see in the video, Husby has massive housing structures, part of the so-called Million Program to vastly expand the country's residential properties.
And here's a panicked Swedish reporter covering a car fire in Husby. He excitedly relates how a piece of metal came flying at "high speed" toward the "exact spot" where he had been filming. When he tries to pick it up to show the camera, he declares it far too hot. The headline on the video translates as "Expressen's reporter forced to seek cover."
The reaction of Sweden's political class to the riots has been mixed. The nativist Sweden Democrats have called on the police to deploy water cannons to disperse the rioters. Meanwhile, the head of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, made a covert nighttime visit to Husby to talk to residents. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said neither he nor any members of his government are likely to pay a visit to the suburb, and declared that "Sweden cannot be ruled by violence" (his critics might point out that police violence sparked the rioting).
In short, no one has any real idea what to do about the unrest in the country -- besides praying that Molotov cocktails don't reappear on the streets of Husby tonight.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday, the Washington Post revealed that the Justice Department obtained sweeping access to a reporter's email account and tracked his movements inside the State Department as part of an investigation into how that reporter -- James Rosen of Fox News -- got his hands on classified intelligence in 2009 about how North Korea would respond to upcoming U.N. sanctions.
In order to gain access to his emails, the FBI argued that Rosen was a possible co-conspirator in the release of a U.S. intelligence report revealing that North Korea might react to fresh Security Council sanctions by conducting another test of a nuclear bomb. It's a line of legal reasoning that now has members of the press up in arms, since designating people who receive classified information co-conspirators could put many national security reporters in the crosshairs of investigators for routine journalism work. (There's some irony in the fact that Fox News, which led the drumbeat last year against the White House and the New York Times for leaking and publishing sensitive national security information, has now morphed into a defender of the right to publish leaked intelligence reports.)
So what is it about Rosen's June 11, 2009 story that prompted federal investigators to take such aggressive and unprecedented action? A close read reveals what appears to be a fairly unexceptional piece of Washington journalism -- albeit one that probably could have been more careful in its treatment of classified information. And amid the outcry over the trampling of press freedoms, one important detail has been largely overlooked: The leaked CIA assessment at the center of the controversy was wrong.
Here's how Rosen's story begins (emphasis ours):
U.S. intelligence officials have warned President Obama and other senior American officials that North Korea intends to respond to the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution this week -- condemning the communist country for its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests -- with another nuclear test, FOX News has learned.
What's more, Pyongyang's next nuclear detonation is but one of four planned actions the Central Intelligence Agency has learned, through sources inside North Korea, that the regime of Kim Jong-Il intends to take -- but not announce -- once the Security Council resolution is officially passed, likely on Friday.
The other three actions include the reprocessing of all of the North's spent plutonium fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium; a major escalation in the North's uranium-enrichment program; and the launching of another Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile from the Yunsong military complex on the west coast of North Korea. The North last launched a Taepodong-2 on April 5; it conducted its second nuclear test in the last three years on Memorial Day.
According to the government, Rosen learned this information through an arms expert at the State Department, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim -- a conclusion investigators arrived at after looking into which U.S. officials had access to the leaked report. It's a pretty standard investigative technique -- one that may have been made easier by sloppy journalistic practices on Rosen's part.
The question, then, is whether North Korean intelligence agents could have used the same technique to track down the CIA's source inside North Korea. But in considering this question, it's important to remember that the CIA's assessment was wrong. On June 12, the day after Rosen published his story, the U.N. Security Council passed the beefed-up sanctions package referenced in the article. But North Korea didn't carry out another nuclear test until February 2012. That suggests the CIA's source in North Korea may not have been reliable or clued into official thinking, which would have made the job of our hypothetical North Korean intelligence agent charged with finding the CIA's source inside the country much more difficult.
Rosen's story continues:
The intelligence community only learned of North Korea's plans this week, prompting CIA to alert senior officials. Asked who would be briefed on this kind of data, a source told FOX News: "The top people: POTUS, DNI." "POTUS" is acronym for the president of the United States; "DNI" refers to the director of the Office of National Intelligence.
If there is a criticism to be leveled at Rosen, it is that he could -- and maybe should -- have gone to greater lengths to conceal the origin of the reported information. Not only did he reveal that the CIA received its intelligence from sources inside the country, but he also exposed the timeline of when the agency heard from its source.
FOX News is withholding some details about the sources and methods by which American intelligence agencies learned of the North's plans so as to avoid compromising sensitive overseas operations in a country -- North Korea -- U.S. spymasters regard as one of the world's most difficult to penetrate.
A White House official, contacted by FOX News, declined to comment, saying only that the U.S. government never speaks publicly about intelligence matters.
Following this section on withholding sources and methods, Rosen's piece moves on to a fairly technical discussion of missile movements inside North Korea. The article certainly provides a window into the intelligence community's thinking on a crucial issue. But I doubt Rosen will look back on the scoop as the capstone of his career in journalism.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
The Venezuelan opposition on Monday released a recording of what it says is a conversation between Mario Silva, a prominent Venezuelan television host and a favorite of the late Hugo Chávez, and a Cuban intelligence officer, in which Silva details a feud within the government between Chávez loyalists and Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly.
In the conversation with Aramis Palacios, a lieutenant colonel in the G2, the Cuban intelligence agency, Silva, the host of the state television program "La Hojilla," describes a government deeply divided against itself, with rival factions competing for power amid rampant corruption.
The conversation was allegedly recorded for the benefit of Cuban President Raúl Castro, but its authenticity has not been independently verified. Writing on Twitter, Silva dismissed the recording as a Zionist plot.
Assuming that's not the case, set against the backdrop of the recent highly contested presidential election and Chávez's death, Silva sketches a portrait of a government in turmoil marred by high-level corruption, shares rumors of a coup d'état against President Nicolás Maduro, and says he fears that Maduro is being manipulated by his wife. Additionally, according to Silva, on election day the Venezuelan National Electoral Council was the victim of a cyberattack that brought down its security protocol for at least an hour, an allegation that would seem to further call into question the integrity of the vote.
The full audio (a transcript, in Spanish, is here) is available below:
Prior to being selected by Chávez as his heir apparent, Maduro engaged in a bitter power struggle with Cabello, and if Silva's account is correct, a great deal of tension remains between the two men. At one point, Silva, who might be described as the country's de facto propaganda minister, says that "Maduro is obligated to follow the path of el Comandante and is obligated to put Diosdado Cabello against the wall," a statement that is difficult to read as anything other than a suggestion to put Cabello before a firing squad.
But it's not entirely clear that Silva trusts Maduro either. "I am afraid, Palacios, that Nicolás ... is feeling manipulated by Cilia [his wife]," Silva tells the Cuban officer. "This is a continent of caudillos [strongmen], my friend, and the woman has to stay in the shade." Silva then compares Maduro's tendency to appear in public alongside his wife and to kiss her to the worst tendencies of an American poltician. "This isn't a North American campaign," he says. "This is a Latin American campaign." Elsewhere in the conversation, Silva wonders why Chávez didn't make a tape recording of his decision to anoint Maduro as his successor.
Although Chávez used the armed forces to consolidate his power, according to Silva, the army is now divided, with some factions in favor of staging a coup. According to Silva, Maduro has managed to alienate Diego Molero, the country's defense minister, whom Silva describes as an "operator" and a "commando." The strained relationship resulted in rumors circulating in Caracas that Molero was about to launch a coup attempt, leading Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores, to dispatch Silva via intermediaries to find out if the rumours were true. They were not.
But for the man charged with selling the idea of the Bolivarian Revolution to the Venezuelan people, Silva speaks like a man who has become disillusioned with what has become of the government. He describes rampant corruption and officials dipping into public funds for their personal benefit. "We are in a sea of shit, my friend, and we have not yet realized it, Palacios," Silva says.
Despite the explosive nature of the conversation between Silva and Palacios -- never mind the crazy fact that he is having in-depth conversations with Cuban intelligence agents in the first place -- it is far from clear what repercussions this recording will have on the ground in Venezuela. Writing at Caracas Chronicles, Juan Nagel makes a compelling case that this recording may strip some of the revolutionary veneer off Maduro:
The important thing to keep in mind is that we are not the target audience for this recording.
Yes, we all knew that Cabello was a crook, Maduro a nincompoop, Silva a marxist Cuban mole, Rangel an evil power broker, and Flores a scheming Lady Macbeth. But the important thing is that rank-and-file chavistas … didn’t. Up until now, they have been immune from these facts because of the messenger.
Either way, take a moment to revel in the sweet irony of the fact that Chávez's favorite propagandist is now responsible for providing the most stinging critique to date of the Maduro government.
Things seem to be going remarkably well for Germany recently. The country remains one of the few in the eurozone not to have slipped into recession, its two top soccer teams -- Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund -- are squaring off in the final of the Champions League, and it has succeeded in imposing steep demands for austerity as part of the many bailout deals it has financed.
But Germans are now worrying that as a result their fellow Europeans just don't seem to like them very much. On Saturday, Germany's entry into the annual Eurovision singing competition finished near the bottom of the pack and managed to garner points from just five other countries: Austria, Israel, Spain, Albania, and Switzerland. Is this the dreaded Angela Merkel-effect in action?
First, let's have a look at Germany's entry, "Glorious" by Cascada:
Not so bad, right? (Especially by the standards of the generally terrible quality of most acts.) For comparison's sake, have a look also at this year's winner, the Danish entry "Only Teardrops" by Emmelie De Forest:
There's clearly not a great deal separating the two acts, and if Germans are feeling aggrieved about their defeat at the hands of yet another inoffensive Scandinavian country, they may be correct in blaming politics. As I wrote on Friday, the voting system for the Eurovision competition has long been deeply political. The Scandinavian, Balkan, and former Soviet countries all typically vote for each other, for instance, while the Greeks and Cypriots refuse to vote for the Turks.
That dynamic was on display once more on Saturday. The former Soviet states broke heavily in favor of Azerbaijan and Ukraine, propelling them to second and third place, respectively. Did they deserve that placement? Well, you can judge for yourself. Here's Azerbaijan's entry, "Hold Me" by Farid Mammadov:
And here's Ukraine's entry, "Gravity" by Zlata Ognevich.
After scoring only 18 points to Ukraine's 214, the Germans are understandably looking for someone to blame, and it looks like Merkel might become the scapegoat. "There's obviously a political situation to keep in mind -- I don't want to say 'this was 18 points for Angela Merkel'," said Germany's ARD TV network coordinator Thomas Schreiber. "But we all have to be aware that it wasn't just Cascada up there on stage [being judged] but all of Germany."
The idea that Europeans might be punishing Germany for imposing austerity on its European brethren doesn't seem so far-fetched on its face. There aren't many ways for Europeans to get back at Germans these days -- they're beating everyone at soccer now, too -- so perhaps a silly singing competition is the only outlet remaining for the continent's debtors.
But even if Merkel is to blame, German Eurovision angst is something of an annual tradition, one that predates the eurozone crisis. Here's how Reuters summed it up in a 2007 headline: "Germans blame Eurovision failure on bloc-voting." And in 2008: "Germans fret no one likes them after Eurovision dud." In 2009, they didn't even bother sending a German, packing an American off to notch another subpar finish. In 2010, Germany finally won, but the desperation-laden headlines haven't gone away.
Has any superpower ever been so desperate to be liked?
Ragnar Singsaas/Getty Images
On Saturday night, Europe will grind to a halt to mark its annual celebration of the cheesy and the saccharine: the Eurovision finals. This year, the singing competition is being held in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, and the field features the typical collection of over-the-top Europop, earnest acts, and strange sub-plots (the bassist in the Swiss act is 95 years old).
The competition was first held in 1956 and conceived as a way of bringing Europeans together around an entertainment program. That hasn't exactly happened, and every year the competition is riven by petty national rivalries. The Scandinavian, Balkan, and former Soviet countries vote for each other, and the Greeks and Cypriots refuse to vote for the Turks.
Politics also tends to rear its head outside the venue. This year, for instance, there were calls to boycott Israel's inclusion in the contest. And last year, controversy erupted when Azerbaijan, that year's host, arrested a group of 50 anti-government protesters hoping to use the competition to draw attention to government abuses.
This year, the hottest political story involves a lesbian kiss in the Finnish act. Finland's parliament recently decided not to take up a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and Krista Siegfrids plans to kiss one of her dancers on stage as an act of protest (her song, "Marry Me," seems at first blush to be about a woman desperate for a proposal from her boyfriend, but she's now conveniently turned it into a more subversive message).
But let's face it: The real draw isn't politics -- it's the outlandish performances. Without further ado, here are the 10 best (or worst, depending on your perspective) acts this year.
Denmark: One of the favorites to win this year. Note the totally earnest, totally awful tin whistle in the opening (thanks to reader FranzLiebkind for identifying the instrument).
Ukraine: Being carried onstage by a giant is certainly one way to start a performance.
Montenegro: Techno-dubstep astronaut rap, where have you been all my life?! Sadly, the act didn't make the finals.
Ireland: Embodying every bad trend in European music, complete with shirtless, tattooed drummer-dancers.
Latvia: These guys didn't make the finals, but I love them.
Macedonia: Is this the most unlikely looking duet in the history of Eurovision? I'm not sure, but I find it rather endearing.
Greece: Ska lives!
Norway: One of the other favorites to win this year.
Finland: Providing the hot political story of the year via a lesbian kiss protest.
Albania: Just the worst.
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
British consular officials are completely fed up with fielding stupid requests for assistance from Britons abroad. Or, at the very least, that's the clear subtext of a ridiculous press release by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that lists the most bizarre requests British diplomatic posts have received in 2012 and 2013 (it also makes the U.S. State Department's press releases look incredibly boring).
The release describes the requests as "often good natured" but notes that they "can take valuable time away from helping those in genuine distress." To put it less politely: "Dear Britons, we are far too busy dealing with real problems to help you pick out a perfect tattoo during your debauched romp through the Mediterranean."
Here, in all its glory, is the full list:
So, Britain, please stop bothering your country's harried diplomats with your inane requests. They don't care about your tattoo.
BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images
Vladimir Putin has finally decided to make a concession to his critics. But he isn't exactly bending over backwards. Instead, he's having a helipad installed at the Kremlin.
Sure, it may not be the most meaningful reform. But it does cater to widespread anger at the Russian leader. Muscovites have in recent months grown furious about the delays caused by the president's motorcades, which often stop traffic and clear the streets for hours on end. Now, according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin may commute to work more often by Mi8 helicopter.
According to a report by the GPS manufacturer TomTom, the traffic in Moscow is the world's worst. And drivers in the Russian capital deeply resent that Putin and a cadre of senior officials have taken to closing roads to get around congestion. In an act of protest, drivers in Moscow have begun honking at the presidential motorcade while they sit at a stand-still and watch Putin speed by. Thanks to Russia's ubiquitous dashboard cameras, the phenomenon is well-documented:
But Putin isn't the only one trying to circumvent Moscow's gridlock. Lower-level officials are allowed to place blue lights on the roofs of their cars and use them to skirt traffic laws, including driving on the opposite side of the road. That system has been widely abused, and self-important Muscovites have taken to placing blue lights on their vehicles regardless of whether they possess a permit to do so (the abuse inspired drivers in the capital to place blue buckets on the roofs of their cars to object to the practice). Last year, Putin vowed to drastically reduced the number of officials granted the right to use the blue lights.
When Putin was asked about these very issues in an interview back in October, he was apologetic but didn't exactly seem overly concerned. "I truly feel bad about it," he said. But when asked about French President François Hollande's decision to stop at all the red lights en route to his inauguration in Paris, Putin bristled at the suggestion he could do more to alleviate the problem. "He’s a good guy, but I don’t engage in populism," Putin said. "There’s work to be done."
For kicks (and contrasts), here's RIA Novosti's unbelievably patriotic video of Putin's motorcade arriving for his inauguration ceremony last year. Note the utter lack of either red lights or human beings of any kind along the parade route:
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.