IS leader al-Baghdadi appears in first video in five years

Media captionAbu Bakr al-Baghdadi has not been seen on video for five years

The Islamic State group has released a video of a man it says is its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, vowing to seek revenge for its loss of territory.

He has not been seen since 2014, when he proclaimed from Mosul the creation of a “caliphate” across parts of Syria and Iraq.

In this new footage, Baghdadi acknowledges defeat at Baghuz, the group’s last stronghold in the region.

It is not clear when the video was recorded. IS says it was shot in April.

The footage was posted on the militant group’s al-Furqan media network.

A US State Department spokesman said the tapes would be inspected by analysts to ascertain their authenticity, adding that the US-led coalition remains committed to ensuring any IS “leaders who remain are delivered the justice that they deserve”.

What does he say?

Baghdadi says the Easter Sunday Sri Lanka attacks were carried out as revenge for the fall of the Syrian town of Baghuz.

The BBC’s Mina al-Lami points out initial IS claims regarding the Sri Lanka attacks make no reference to the town.

He also says that he has had pledges of allegiance from militants in Burkina Faso and Mali, and talks about the protests in Sudan and Algeria – claiming that jihad is the only solution to “tyrants”. Both countries have seen their long-term rulers overthrown this month.

Media captionJournalist Michael Weiss: ‘Baghdadi is sending a message he is still in charge’

However, Baghdadi’s image disappears towards the end of the video and an audio recording of him discussing the Sri Lanka attacks is played instead, suggesting that this part was recorded after the main video was filmed.

Baghdadi addressing crowd in Mosul, 2014Image copyrightAFP
Image captionBaghdadi has not been seen in public since this appearance in Mosul, Iraq in 2014

Baghdadi – an Iraqi whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri – was last heard from in an audio recording last August.

At the time, he appeared to be trying to shift attention away from his group’s crippling losses, BBC Middle East correspondent Martin Patience says.

But this latest 18-minute video addresses the losses head on.

“The battle for Baghuz is over,” he says, before adding: “There will be more to come after this battle.”

He also reportedly says the group is fighting a “battle of attrition”.

Defeated, but not giving in

Analysis by BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner

For his hardcore followers, there is almost as much symbolism in this video as there is content.

The underlying message is not just one of survival against the odds. The optics here are vintage Osama Bin Laden: the jihadist leader squatting cross-legged in an anonymous room beside a short, personalised, paratrooper version of an AK assault rifle, the quasi-military fishing waistcoat, the attentive companions calmly discussing plans, and the long, prematurely ageing grey beard (he is only 47).

Over the last five years, Islamic State has largely eclipsed al-Qaeda on the media front. At the same time, IS has been reaching out to potential jihadist affiliates in areas of Africa and Asia that have previously looked to al-Qaeda for support.

The overriding aim of this video is clear: to show that despite its resounding military defeat IS has survived and that its leader, with a $25m bounty on his head, is still at large.

What happened to the ‘caliphate’?

At its peak, IS ruled over 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) stretching across the Iraq-Syria border.

But by 2016 it was a group in retreat. The next year, it lost Mosul in Iraq, depriving Baghdadi and his followers of the city where they had declared the caliphate’s creation.

Four maps showing how the area under IS control has shrunk
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In October, they were driven from Raqqa, in Syria.

They continued to lose territory throughout 2018, culminating in the group retreating to Baghuz.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared they had taken control of the town, announcing the end of the five-year “caliphate” in March 2019.

Who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was born in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq.

As a child he is said to have had a passion for Koranic recitation and religious law, chastising members of his own family for falling short of his stringent religious standards.

But it was during his time in graduate school, when he was completing a Master’s and PhD in Koranic Studies at Iraq’s Saddam University for Islamic Studies, that he became involved with hardline Islamist groups.

By the end of 2000 he had embraced Salafist jihadism, and would go on to become involved with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) – from which the Islamic State militant group was born.

Since his 2014 public appearance he has remained silent for long periods, punctuated only by unconfirmed reports of his death and a few unverified audio recordings.


Cyprus: Man confesses to killing seven women and girls

Police and rescue vehicles have been investigating the grassy, hilly area where one of the bodies was found, near the village of Orounta in CyprusImage copyrightEPA
Image captionPolice and rescue vehicles have been investigating the area where one of the bodies was found, near the village of Orounta in Cyprus

A man in Cyprus has confessed to murdering seven women and girls in what local media have called the island’s “first serial killings”.

Two bodies were found in a mine shaft earlier this month and a third one was found on Thursday.

The main suspect, a 35-year-old Greek-Cypriot army officer, is then said to have admitted more killings.

Police are now looking for them based on the information he provided.

They involve a woman who was either Indian or Nepalese, as well as a Romanian woman and her eight-year-old daughter.

A six-year-old girl, the daughter of one of the murder victims, is also missing.

Investigators found the third woman’s body on Thursday after the suspect led them to the spot where he is alleged to have dumped it, near the capital of Nicosia.

The suspect is reported to have met the victim, who disappeared in December 2017, on a dating website.

The three whose bodies have been discovered are all of Filipino descent.

The man’s name has not yet been made public.

Police have extended a remand order against the suspect and called in additional help from British investigative experts.


Sri Lanka attacks: Government vows to overhaul state security

Sri Lanka’s president has vowed to overhaul state security after several bomb blasts on Sunday killed 359 people and wounded about 500.

On Tuesday, Maithripala Sirisena said warnings had not been shared with him and promised “stern action”.

The country’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the Islamic State (IS) group may be linked to the blasts.

Funerals are continuing across the country as people try to process last Sunday’s attacks.

IS has claimed the attack, although it did not provide direct evidence of its involvement.

On Wednesday, the death toll saw another rise with police giving the latest figure as 359.

Media captionVolunteers provide water, food and support to those mourning the bombing in Negombo, Sri Lanka

In a televised address late on Tuesday President Sirisena said he would completely restructure the police and security forces in coming weeks.

“The security officials who got the intelligence report from a foreign nation did not share it with me. I have decided to take stern action against these officials.”

The BBC World Service’s South Asia Editor Ethirajan Anbarasan said it was an embarrassing admission by President Sirisena that security officials did not share with him the intelligence report warning about the attacks.

With IS claiming responsibility for the attacks, Sri Lanka is now entering uncharted territory, our correspondent explains.

Authorities say they are looking into possible links between the local Muslim youths who carried out the suicide bombings and the global jihadist group.

‘Grief is all around you’

Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News South Asia correspondent, reports from Batticaloa

Poster of some of the victims at Batticoloa

In the town of Batticaloa, the grief is all around you. Posters of those who died in Sunday’s blast hang from every corner. Photos show the young children smiling in party dresses and smart shirts, and written next to their images are their birthdays, as well as the day they died.

They’d been attending Sunday school at the Zion Church, as they did every week. After the service some of them went outside for snacks, a short while later a bomb exploded.

A decade after the civil war ended this community is once again burying its dead. Wreaths of bright pink flowers were left at the freshly dug graves of some of the children. They’d barely been dug – just like the lives lost had barely been lived.

This scenic stretch of the country’s east coast has become accustomed to loss. Countless died in the country’s civil war. The 2004 tsunami claimed thousands more. Now it’s trying to process this latest wave of terror.

Follow @BBCRajiniv for updates from Sri Lanka.

‘Foreign links’

Sri Lanka’s government has blamed the blasts on local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

But Mr Wickremesinghe said the attacks “could not have been done just locally”.

“There had been training given and a coordination which we are not seeing earlier,” he said.

Police have now detained 40 suspects in connection with the attack, all of whom were Sri Lankan nationals. A state of emergency remains in effect to prevent further attacks.

Media captionThe footage shows a man wearing a large backpack calmly walking towards St Sebastian’s church

The nearly simultaneous attacks targeted three churches packed for Easter services and three major hotels in the capital, Colombo.

An attack on a fourth hotel on Sunday was foiled, Mr Wickremesinghe said. He also warned that further militants and explosives could still be “out there” following the attack.

Who could be behind the attacks?

IS said it had “targeted nationals of the crusader alliance [anti-IS US-led coalition] and Christians in Sri Lanka” via its Amaq news outlet.

It provided no evidence for the claim but shared an image on social media of eight men purported to be behind the attack.

The group’s last territory fell in March but even then experts had warned it does not mean the end of IS or its ideology.

A man cries as he prays outside the St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 22, 2019Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThere were emotional scenes outside St Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo

Earlier, the country’s defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene told parliament that NTJ was linked to another radical Islamist group he named as JMI. He gave no further details.

He also said “preliminary investigations” indicated that the bombings were in retaliation for deadly attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

NTJ has no history of large-scale attacks but came to prominence last year when it was blamed for damaging Buddhist statues. The group has not said it carried out Sunday’s bombings.

The Sri Lankan government is facing scrutiny after it emerged the authorities were warned of about a possible attack.

Security services had been monitoring the NTJ but the prime minister and the cabinet were not warned, ministers said.

Who were the victims?

Family photos

The first mass funeral was held on Tuesday, as Sri Lanka marked an official day of mourning for the victims.

Most of those who died were Sri Lankan nationals, including scores of Christians attending Easter Sunday church services.

Sri Lankan officials said 38 foreign nationals were among the dead, with another 14 unaccounted for. The death toll includes at least eight British citizens and at least 11 Indian nationals.

The mass funeral for about 30 victims took place at St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, north of Colombo, which was one of the places targeted in Sunday’s blasts. Another funeral service was scheduled for later on Tuesday.

A moment of silence was also observed at 08:30 on Tuesday, reflecting the time the first of six bombs detonated.

Flags were lowered to half-mast and people, many of them in tears, bowed their heads in respect.


How parks in China want to blacklist ‘uncivilized’ visitors

Tourism authorities are hoping to crackdown on badly behaved visitors by using facial recognition technology and hidden cameras.

Tourism authorities in Beijing are looking to roll out a blacklist of bad tourists to stop “uncivilized visitors” from entering — and destroying — certain areas around the city.

According to local media, Beijing park management authorities are wanting to establish a list of unruly visitors identified through artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology. The list will allow the Beijing Municipal Administration Center of Parks to curb bad tourist behaviour during events such as the three-day holidays around Tomb Sweeping Day, also known as the Qingming Festival, which has a surge in tourists visiting the city.

The facial recognition service — as well as other surveillance technology — will monitor guests and keep out those with a record of bad behaviour.

According to CNN, previous tourists have been spotted climbing peach trees, picking flowers and damaging plants during the festival period, as well as some people fishing near the lake and selling items privately in the park.

According to the Global Times, Mi Shanpo, an official at the centre, said “facial recognition” and other technologies will be used to detect uncivilized behaviour.

The facial recognition service will assist in detecting uncivilized behaviour. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

The facial recognition service will assist in detecting uncivilized behaviour. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein/APSource:AP

In 2017, another park in Beijing installed toilet paper dispensers with facial recognition to stop visitors from taking too much paper, the BBC reported.

The machines at the Temple of Heaven park scanned visitors’ faces before dispensing a fixed length strip of paper.

The machine was installed because, according to authorities, visitors would take large amounts of toilet rolls home.

Park officials said the six machines were part of a two-week trial, with staff on standby to explain the technology to visitors.

Chinese signs on the machines ask visitors to take off their glasses and hats before scanning for toilet paper.

Chinese signs on the machines ask visitors to take off their glasses and hats before scanning for toilet paper.Source:Supplied

The amount of toilet paper dispensed was around 60 to 70cm per person. It is understood more paper wouldn’t be dispensed to the same person for another nine minutes.

“If we encounter guests who have diarrhoea or any other situation in which they urgently require toilet paper, then our staff on the ground will directly provide the toilet paper,” a park spokesman told Beijing Wanbao.

According to CNN, Chinese police placed 20 people with a history of bad behaviour on a blacklist in 2016, restricting their ability to travel.

The list included two people who caused a plane from Bangkok to the Chinese city of Nanjing to return halfway after they got into an argument with fight attendants. Another incident was also on board a plane, when a passenger tried to prevent an aircraft from taking off by forcing open its emergency exit.

A screen shows visitors being filmed by AI (Artificial Intelligence) security cameras. Picture: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP.

A screen shows visitors being filmed by AI (Artificial Intelligence) security cameras. Picture: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP.Source:AFP

In 2018, China’s dictatorship proposed social scorecards by which all citizens will be monitored 24/7 and ranked on their behaviour.

The Communist Party’s plan is for every one of its 1.4 billion citizens to be at the whim of a dystopian social credit system, and it’s on track to be fully operational by the year 2020.

Under the social credit scheme, points are lost and gained based on readings from a sophisticated network of 200 million surveillance cameras — a figure set to triple in 18 months.

An active pilot program has already seen millions of people each assigned a score out of 800 and either reap its benefits or suffer its consequences — depending on which end of the scale they sit.

Tourism New Zealand is wrong to suspend marketing of the country

In the wake of New Zealand’s worst-ever mass shooting, the tourism board has made a decision that could cost the country thousands.

How Jacinda Ardern became the world’s most inspirational leader


Tourism New Zealand has suspended the marketing of the country. In doing so, it has made a mistake.

This is not to be confused with social media platforms that are under renewed pressure from a variety of advertisers who see their lack of action around hate speech, live streaming and general mayhem as something that needs addressing.

Tourism New Zealand, sadly, is part of a group of corporates that don’t know what they are and don’t believe in themselves enough to stand firm, far less tall. What this country has gone through these past two weeks is not our fault. It’s not unique, or anywhere close to being unique, and the last thing we should be doing is looking like we are afraid or second guessing ourselves.

This country is as much a tourist destination today as it was a month ago, a year ago, or will be a year from now. You might like to argue, given our response in the past 14 days that has gone around the world to any number of plaudits and admiring reviews, we have sent a very powerful message that adverse events and calamity are not reasons to pack up and duck for cover. Just this week, inquiries to move here are through the roof.

Tourism New Zealand has suspended the marketing of the country.

Tourism New Zealand has suspended the marketing of the country.Source:Supplied

No, you do not want to go out to the world if you’re Tourism New Zealand with a new campaign or overtly enhanced messaging. But equally, you do not want to look like you’ve panicked. Will the numbers of tourists dip? Probably, but not for long. And once again, we have the advantage of history. The time immediately after 9/11 was full of fear and trepidation. Why, so many asked, would anyone ever get on a plane again? And yet not only did they, but we travel like we never have. And so it will be here.

I guess, from Tourism New Zealand’s point of view, there is a respect issue. Is it crass to promote our country at a time of such tragedy? Not, I would argue, if that promotion was no different now than it was before. Not if it was the norm. If we, by suspending business, are somehow arguing everything has changed, then we are the losers. Because everything hasn’t changed. The same way it hasn’t changed in any of the other cities around the world that have faced any sort of adversity driven by hatred.

Tourism NZ is a legitimate business promoting a legitimate service and product, and Christchurch doesn’t change that. Picture: AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File.

Tourism NZ is a legitimate business promoting a legitimate service and product, and Christchurch doesn’t change that. Picture: AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File.Source:AP

Europe has been in the middle of this for the past few years. I’ve still been to London and Paris, and I’ve still been to America and so have millions of others. And if we have, of what is Tourism New Zealand afraid? Of what is any corporate afraid? Tourism NZ is a legitimate business promoting a legitimate service and product, and Christchurch doesn’t change that. It doesn’t change what’s on offer, who we are, or the experience of the three-and a-half million who come here. By suspending business, you highlight something that doesn’t need highlighting. You suggest something is wrong, when it’s only wrong if a lack of courage has led you to your action. And who wants to be known for a lack of courage?

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and was reproduced with permission

Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft crashes on Moon

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet of the moon's cratered surface before it crashedImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionOne of the last photos taken by Beresheet of the moon’s surface before it crashed

The first privately funded mission to the Moon has crashed on the lunar surface after the apparent failure of its main engine.

The Israeli spacecraft – called Beresheet – attempted a soft landing, but suffered technical problems on its descent to the Moon’s surface.

The aim of the mission was to take pictures and conduct experiments.

Israel hoped to become the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the Moon.

Only government space agencies from the former Soviet Union, the US and China have made successful Moon landings.

“We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried,” said project originator and major backer Morris Kahn.

“I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous, I think we can be proud,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, watching from the control room near Tel Aviv, said: “If at first you don’t succeed, you try again.”

After a seven-week journey to the Moon, the unmanned spacecraft approached a final orbit at 15km (9m) from the surface.

Tensions were high in the command centre as communications were lost before Opher Doron, the general manager of Israel Aerospace Indurstries’ space division, announced there had been a failure in the spacecraft.

“We unfortunately have not managed to land successfully,” he said.

Worried reactions from people watching outside the control room at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) site in YehudImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionReactions from people watching outside the control room at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) site in Yehud

The audience outside had been through a turbulent journey themselves as they watched the first part of the landing go to plan.

As Mr Doron announced that the engine had cut out, groans filled the room.

“We are resetting the spacecraft to try to enable the engine,” he said.

The engine came on seconds later and the audience applauded, only for communication with the spacecraft to be lost shortly after. The mission was over.

The project has cost about $100m (£76m) and has paved the way for future low-cost lunar exploration.

Dr Kimberly Cartier, an astronomer and science news reporter, tweeted that she was “sad about how #Beresheet ended” but “proud of the entire @TeamSpaceIL”.

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Beresheet, which is Hebrew for “in the beginning”, was a joint project between SpaceIL, a privately funded Israeli non-profit organisation, and Israel Aerospace Industries.

Why did it take weeks to get to the Moon?

In space terms, the Moon is a mere hop from the Earth, and most missions take a few days to get there.

But the Beresheet mission, which launched on 22 February from Cape Canaveral in Florida, spent weeks reaching its destination.

Its journey took it on a series of ever-widening orbits around the Earth, before being captured by the Moon’s gravity and moving into lunar orbit on 4th April.

Launch of BeresheetImage copyrightSPACEX
Image captionThe spacecraft launched on a SpaceX rocket in February

The average distance to the Moon is 380,000km (240,000 miles) – Beresheet travelled more than 15 times that distance. And the main thing driving this was cost.

Instead of sitting alone on a rocket that would put it on the perfect trajectory to the Moon, it blasted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket along with a communications satellite and an experimental aircraft.

Sharing the ride into space significantly reduced its launch costs – but it meant the spacecraft had to take a more convoluted route.

Journey to the MoonImage copyrightSPACEIL
Image captionThe spacecraft enlarged its path around Earth until it was captured by the Moon’s gravity

How hard was it to land?

A controlled landing on the lunar surface was the major challenge for the Israeli spacecraft.

The engine was British-built, developed by Nammo in Westcott, Buckinghamshire. It provided the power to get the spacecraft all the way to the Moon, but it also took Beresheet on its final descent.

The 1.5m-tall spacecraft had to rapidly reduce its speed, so a final firing of the engine in effect slammed on the brakes, hoping to take the spacecraft to a gentle stop.

Before the landing, Rob Westcott, senior propulsion engineer at Nammo, said “We’ve never used an engine in this kind of application before”.

He said the big challenge would be “the fact that the engine is going to have to be switched on and get very hot, then switched off for a short period of time when all that heat is remaining in its thermal mass, and then fired up again, very accurately and very precisely such that it slows the craft down and lands very softly on the surface on the Moon.”

That landing process took around 20 minutes. All of the controls for this were uploaded and performed autonomously with mission control watching on.

What was the spacecraft supposed to do on the Moon?

Its first job was to use its high resolution cameras to take some photos – including a selfie – which it did manage before the crash.

It was then going to measure the magnetic field of the spot it landed in, an area known as Mare Serenitatis.

A picture of the moon taken by Beresheet as it made its descentImage copyrightSPACEIL
Image captionPictures of the moon plus a selfie taken by Beresheet as it made its descent

Monica Grady, professor of planetary and space science at Open University, said it would be “looking at the landing site really closely”. This would help “work out how the magnetic measurements of the Moon fit in with the geology and geography of the Moon, which is really important to understand how the Moon formed”.

The lander also carried a reflector from Nasa to help scientists make accurate measurements of the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Temperatures on the Moon are extreme, and as the Sun rose the spacecraft would have been unlikely to survive the heat.

BeresheetImage copyrightBERESHEET
Image captionThe spacecraft will study the Moon’s magnetism while on the lunar surface

How significant was this mission?

Over 60 years of space exploration, only three nations have made it down onto the Moon.

The former Soviet Union achieved the first soft landing with its spacecraft Luna 9 in 1966. Nasa followed this by getting the first humans to the Moon in 1969. Then, China’s Change-4 spacecraft touched down on the far-side of the Moon earlier this year.

Israel would have been the fourth nation to join this elite club.

But it was the low-price tag – and the fact that the mission was not funded by a major space agency – that was significant.

A photo taken by the spacecraft of the earth from a distance of 37,600 km (23400m)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionA photo taken by the spacecraft of the earth from a distance of 37,600 km (23400m)

Beresheet was not alone in pursuing low-cost lunar exploration.

Its origins lie in the Google Lunar XPrize, an international challenge offering $20m for the first privately developed spacecraft to land on the Moon.

And while the competition ended last year after no-one was able to meet its deadline (the foundation has subsequently announced they will award the Beresheet collaboration $1m for their achievement), other teams involved are also continuing with their efforts to get to the Moon.

Both Nasa and Esa have also announced their intention to use commercial landers to deliver scientific payloads to the lunar surface.

Graphic shows spots where missions have landed on the moon

South Korea abortion ban ‘unconstitutional’

Protesters hold placards reading 'Abolish punishment for abortion' as they protest South Korean abortion laws in Gwanghwamun plaza in Seoul on July 7, 2018Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionCampaigners say the law stigmatises women and endangers their health

South Korea’s ban on abortion has been ruled unconstitutional in a historic court decision.

The country’s constitutional court ordered that the law must be revised by the end of 2020.

Under the 1953 ban, women who procured abortions could be fined and imprisoned, except in cases of rape, incest, or risk to their health.

South Korea is one of the few developed countries where abortion is criminalised.

The abortion law was reviewed after a challenge from a female doctor who said the ban endangered women and limited their rights.

BBC Seoul Correspondent Laura Bicker, who is at the court, says hundreds of protesters gathered outside – some calling for the ban to end, and others for it to remain.

Pro-choice activists celebrated when the ruling was announced, while anti-abortion campaigners were left in tears.

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The push for the ban to be lifted comes from a burgeoning movement fighting for women’s rights in South Korea, our correspondent reports.

Campaigners who favour an end to the ban say it is part of a broader bias against women in the country.

South Korea is home to a large number of evangelical Christians, however – and some wanted abortion to remain illegal because they say it forced women to think deeply about the decision.


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