Several dead in shooting at Jehovah’s Witness church in Germany
A gunman believed to have been acting alone killed several people on Thursday in a Jehovah’s Witness church in the German city of Hamburg, police said, as they focussed their investigation on the motive for the attack, Reuters reported.
Police declined to say how many people had been killed but said the gunman was believed to be among the dead.
The Bild newspaper reported that seven people were dead and eight wounded in the shooting at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witness in the northern city that is home to Germany’s biggest port.
“According to the current state of affairs, we assume that there is one perpetrator,” police said in a message on Twitter.
“Police activities in the surrounding area are being successively discontinued. Investigations into the motives behind the crime are continuing.”
Earlier, Germany’s DPA news agency, citing a reporter on the scene, said that residents in the city’s northern Alsterdorf district had received warnings on their mobile phones of a “life threatening situation” and that streets had been sealed off, read the report.
Television footage showed dozens of police cars as well as fire engines blocking off streets and some people, wrapped in blankets, being led by emergency service workers into a bus.
“We heard shots,” one unidentified witness told reporters. “There were 12 continuous shots,” he said. “Then we saw how people were taken away in black bags.”
Police said they had received a call soon after 9 p.m. (2000 GMT) and officers arrived at the scene to find several people seriously injured and some dead, Reuters reported.
“Then they heard a shot from above, they went upstairs and found one further person,” said a police spokesperson.
Germany has been shaken by a number of shootings in the last few years. In February 2020, a gunman with suspected far-right links shot dead nine people, including migrants from Turkey, in the western town of Hanau before killing himself and his mother.
In October 2019, a gunman killed two people when he opened fire outside a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, read the report.
The mayor of Hamburg expressed shock for Thursday’s bloodshed.
“I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. The forces are working at full speed to pursue the perpetrators and clarify the background,” Peter Tschentscher said on Twitter.
NATO criticizes Putin for ‘dangerous and irresponsible’ nuclear rhetoric
NATO on Sunday criticized Vladimir Putin for what it called his “dangerous and irresponsible” nuclear rhetoric, a day after the Russian president said he would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Putin announced the move on Saturday and likened it to the US stationing its weapons in Europe, while insisting that Russia would not violate its nuclear non-proliferation promises, Reuters reported.
Although the move was not unexpected, it is one of Russia’s most pronounced nuclear signals since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, and Ukraine called for a meeting of the UN Security Council in response.
While Washington, the world’s other nuclear superpower, played down concerns about Putin’s announcement, NATO said the Russian president’s non-proliferation pledge and his description of US weapons deployment overseas were way off the mark.
“Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments,” a NATO spokesperson said in emailed comments to Reuters on Sunday.
“Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments, most recently suspending its participation in the New START Treaty,” the unnamed spokesperson said.
New START caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy, and the deployment of land and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.
A top security adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Oleksiy Danilov, said Russia’s plan would also destabilize Belarus, which he said had been taken “hostage” by Moscow.
Experts said Russia’s move was significant since it had until now been proud that unlike the United States, it did not deploy nuclear weapons outside its borders. It may be the first time since the mid-1990s that it has done so, Reuters reported.
Another senior Zelenskiy adviser on Sunday scoffed at Putin’s plan, saying the Russian leader is “too predictable”.
“Making a statement about tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, he admits that he is afraid of losing and all he can do is scare with tactics,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Washington appeared to see no change in the potential for Moscow to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, and it and NATO said the news would not affect their own nuclear position.
“We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own,” the NATO spokesperson wrote.
Trump holds first 2024 election rally in Texas
Facing a potential indictment, Donald Trump took a defiant stance at a rally Saturday in Waco, Texas, disparaging the prosecutors investigating him and predicting his vindication as he rallied supporters in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
With a hand over his heart, Trump stood at attention when his rally opened with a song called “Justice for All” performed by a choir of people imprisoned for their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Some footage from the insurrection was shown on big screens displayed at the rally site as the choir sang the national anthem and a recording played of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Associated Press reported.
The extraordinary display opened Trump’s first rally of his 2024 Republican presidential campaign. He then launched into a speech brimming with resentments and framed the probes, including a New York grand jury investigation, as political attacks on him and his followers.
“You will be vindicated and proud,” Trump said. “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced.”
Trump’s event at the airport grounds in Waco was part of a broader effort by the former president to use the potential indictment as a rallying cry for supporters to maintain his status as the GOP frontrunner in what is expected to be a crowded primary. It came one day after Trump raised the specter of violence should he become the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges.
Trump declared Saturday that his “enemies are desperate to stop us” and that “our opponents have done everything they can to crush our spirit and to break our will.”
He added: “But they failed. They’ve only made us stronger. And 2024 is the final battle, it’s going to be the big one. You put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again.”
Biden warns Iran after tit-for-tat strikes in Syria
President Joe Biden on Friday warned Iran that the United States would “act forcefully” to protect Americans, after the U.S. military carried out air strikes against Iran-backed forces in retaliation for an attack in Syria.
Later, officials said that another U.S. service member was wounded on Friday in the latest tit-for-tat strike between Iran-backed forces and U.S. personnel in Syria, Reuters reported.
That comes on top of seven casualties on Thursday, which Washington blamed on a drone of Iranian origin, and included an American contractor being killed and five U.S. troops and another contractor being wounded.
Suspected U.S. rocket fire on Friday targeted new areas in eastern Syria, according to two local sources, with no casualties reported. Pro-Iranian forces in Syria said in an online statement late Friday that they have a “long arm” to respond to further U.S. strikes on their positions.
The violence could further aggravate already strained relations between Washington and Tehran, as attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers stalled, and Iranian drones being used by Russia against Ukraine.
Although U.S. forces stationed in Syria have been attacked with drones before, deaths are rare.
“Make no mistake: the United States does not … seek conflict with Iran, but be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people,” Biden told reporters during a visit to Canada.
Asked whether there should be a higher cost for Iran, Biden replied: “We’re not going to stop.”
The Pentagon had said U.S. F-15 jets on Thursday attacked two facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said the U.S. strikes had killed eight pro-Iranian fighters. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the toll.
Iran’s state Press TV said no Iranians had been killed and quoted local sources as saying the target was not an Iran-aligned military post, but that a rural development center and a grain center near a military airport had been hit.
The U.S. strikes were a response to a drone attack earlier on Thursday on a base near Hasakah in northeast Syria operated by a U.S.-led coalition battling the remnants of Islamic State.
Three service members and a contractor required medical evacuation to Iraq, while two wounded American troops were treated at the base. On Friday, the Pentagon said the injured personnel were in stable condition.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it appeared that the defensive system on the base had failed.
The Pentagon said the U.S. military had a complete site picture in terms of radar, though one official told Reuters troops on the ground did not appear to have had enough time to react to the drone.
A U.S. base at the Al-Omar oil field in Syria was attacked on Friday morning, according to the Lebanese pro-Iranian TV channel Al Mayadeen and a security source.
It is not uncommon for Iranian-backed groups to fire missiles at U.S. bases in Syria after they are hit with air strikes.
U.S. forces first deployed into Syria during the Obama administration’s campaign against Islamic State, partnering with a Kurdish-led group called the Syrian Democratic Forces. There are about 900 U.S. troops in Syria, most of them in the east.
U.S. troops have been attacked by Iranian-backed groups about 78 times since the beginning of 2021, according to the U.S. military.
While Islamic State has lost the areas of Syria and Iraq it ruled over in 2014, sleeper cells still carry out hit-and-run attacks in desolate areas where neither the U.S.-led coalition nor the Syrian army exert full control.
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