Kenya police chief: gunmen may still be at large in suspected 'terror attack'

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya police chief Joseph Boinnet said on Tuesday that an attack in the capital of Nairobi was a suspected militant attack.

“A group of unknown armed assailants attacked the Dusit Complex in what we suspect could be a terror attack,” he said.

There could still be armed assailants in the building and the police operation was ongoing, he told reporters in a short briefing.

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China says countries should end 'fabrications' about Huawei

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Monday urged countries to end “fabrications” about Huawei, after an official in Poland said his country could limit the use of the company’s products by public entities following the arrest of a Huawei employee there on spying allegations.

Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecommunications equipment, faces intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with China’s government and U.S.-led allegations that its devices could be used by Beijing for espionage.

No evidence has been produced publicly and Huawei [HWT.UL]has repeatedly denied the accusations, but several Western countries have restricted Huawei’s access to their markets.

Poland arrested a Chinese Huawei employee and a former Polish security official on spying allegations on Friday, officials and sources told Reuters.

A Polish government official responsible for cyber security, Karol Okonski, told Reuters on Sunday that “abrupt” policy changes toward Huawei were not warranted after the arrests, but that the use of the company’s products by state entities could be reviewed.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, responding to the remarks at a regular news briefing in Beijing, said China hoped the Polish side would work to create mutual trust and maintain relations.

Hua said “some people” seek to use groundless accusations about security threats to “suppress and restrict Chinese technology companies’ development abroad”.

“We urge relevant parties to cease the groundless fabrications and unreasonable restrictions toward Huawei and other Chinese companies, and create a fair, good and just environment for mutual investment and normal cooperation by both sides’ companies,” Hua said.

“Using security reasons to hype, obstruct or restrict normal cooperation between companies in the end will only hurt one’s own interests,” she added.

Seeking to distance itself from the incident, Huawei said on Saturday it had sacked the employee arrested in Poland, Wang Weijing, adding that his “alleged actions have no relation to the company.”

A LinkedIn profile for Wang showed he has worked for Huawei’s Polish division since 2011, and previously served as attache to the Chinese General Consul in Gdansk from 2006-2011.

A spokesman for the Polish security services said that the allegations related to individual actions, and were not linked directly to Huawei.

Poland’s internal affairs minister, Joachim Brudzinski, has called for the European Union and NATO to work on a joint position over whether to exclude Huawei from their markets.

In August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill that barred the U.S. government from using Huawei equipment and is considering an executive order that would also ban U.S. companies from doing so.

Australia and New Zealand have also blocked it from building 5G networks amid concerns of its possible links with Beijing.

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Poland arrests Huawei employee, Polish man on spying allegations

WARSAW/LONDON (Reuters) – Poland has arrested a Chinese employee of Huawei and a former Polish security official on spying allegations, officials and sources told Reuters on Friday, a move that could fuel Western security concerns about the telecoms equipment maker.

However, a spokesman for the Polish security services told Reuters the allegations related to individual actions, and were not linked directly to Huawei Technologies Cos Ltd [HWT.UL].

Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, faces intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government and U.S.-led allegations that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying.

No evidence has been produced publicly and the firm has repeatedly denied the claims, but the allegations have led several Western countries to restrict Huawei’s access to their markets.

Stanislaw Zaryn, a spokesman for the Polish security services, said the country’s Internal Security Agency (ISA) detained a Chinese citizen and a former Polish security official on Jan. 8 over spying allegations. The two men have heard charges and will be held for three months, he said.

“This matter has to do with his actions, it doesn’t have anything to do with the company he works for,” Zaryn said of the Chinese man.

A person with knowledge of the matter said a Huawei employee called Wang Weijing had been arrested but not charged.

A LinkedIn profile for Wang showed he has worked for Huawei’s Polish division since 2011 and previously served as attache to the Chinese General Consul in Gdansk from 2006-2011. Wang did not immediately respond to a request for comment via the social media site.

Polish public TV channel TVP said the Polish man was a former ISA officer and that security services had searched the offices of his current employer, telecoms firm Orange Polska (OPL.WA) (ORAN.PA). Huawei’s local offices were also searched, TVP reported.

China’s foreign ministry said it was “greatly concerned” by the reports, and urged Poland to handle the case “justly.”

Huawei said in a statement it was aware of the situation but had no immediate comment.

“Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries where it operates, and we require every employee to abide by the laws and regulations in the countries where they are based,” it said.

Orange Polska said in a statement security services had on Tuesday gathered materials related to an employee, whom it did not identify. The company said it did not know if the investigation was linked to the employee’s professional work, and that it would continue to cooperate with the authorities.

HEIGHTENED SCRUTINY

Huawei has come under intense scrutiny in recent months as countries including Australia, New Zealand and Japan have followed U.S. moves against the company, citing security concerns.

Canadian authorities in December also arrested Huawei finance chief Meng Wanzhou at the behest of U.S. authorities as part of an investigation into alleged violations of U.S. trade sanctions, raising tensions with China at a time when Washington and Beijing are engaged in a broader trade war.

The West’s security concerns surrounding Huawei, and fellow Chinese telecoms equipment firm ZTE Corp (0763.HK) (000063.SZ), center around China’s National Intelligence Law. Approved in 2017, the law states that Chinese “organisations and citizens shall, in accordance with the law, support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.”

This has sparked fears Huawei could be asked by the Chinese government to incorporate “backdoors” into their equipment that would allow Beijing access, for spying or sabotage purposes. Some experts also see a risk that Chinese intelligence may develop an ability to subvert Huawei’s equipment.

Ewan Lawson, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the arrests in Poland could bolster Western concerns.

“It does point at the sort of connections that may exist between the state intelligence enterprise and private Chinese companies,” he said.

The European Commission is aware of the reports of the arrests and will reach out to the Polish authorities for further information, spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels.

Norway said on Wednesday it was considering whether to join other Western nations in excluding Huawei from building part of the country’s new 5G telecoms network.

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U.N. struggles to implement deal over disputed Yemeni port city

DUBAI (Reuters) – The guns have mostly fallen silent around the Yemeni port of Hodeidah and the skies are clear of warplanes, but a U.N.-sponsored deal for the warring armies to quit the city has stalled, risking efforts to end a conflict that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

The Iranian-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed government agreed to a ceasefire in Hodeidah and to withdraw forces at peace talks in Sweden in December following months of diplomacy and Western pressure to end the nearly four-year-old war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

But the agreement did not spell out who would control Hodeidah city, which is now held by the Houthis while thousands of Saudi-led coalition troops are massed on the outskirts. Both sides were to withdraw their troops by Jan. 7 under the deal.

Sporadic skirmishes have taken place but the truce has put on hold an anticipated assault by the Saudi-led coalition that aid agencies feared would have terrible consequences for civilians.

The air strikes that had rained death and destruction on Hodeidah have also paused, although they have continued in other regions.

In New York on Wednesday, U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths told the United Nations Security Council that both sides had largely stuck to the ceasefire but substantial progress would be needed before more peace talks could be held.

“There has been a significant decrease in hostilities,” he said.

Griffiths had met the rival leaders in recent days and he said both had expressed determination to find a way forward but all shared the view that “substantial progress, particularly on Hodeidah, is something we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations”.

The Stockholm pact had stipulated that Houthi forces leave Hodeidah port and two other ports and that international monitors be deployed. The monitors would then oversee a complete withdrawal of troops of both sides from the city, which would be run by “local authorities” under U.N. supervision.

“I am afraid that agreement did not spell out how to build that authority nor who will control what,” a Western diplomat involved in the peace talks told Reuters.

The Houthis said late last month their fighters quit Hodeidah port and handed control to local coast guards units in place before the war. The Saudi-led coalition disputed the move, believing those units were loyal to the Houthis.

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The Houthi withdrawal from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa would have been met with a retreat by coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of the city, where battles had raged before the ceasefire went into effect on Dec. 18.

Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, head of the Redeployment Coordination Committee tasked with overseeing implementation of the deal, told U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and his envoy Griffiths it was not possible to verify the neutrality of the coast guards in position since the withdrawal of Houthi fighters, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Allegiances among Yemen’s many factions have shifted several times during the conflict that pits the Houthis against the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which was ousted from the capital Sanaa in 2014.

The Houthis control most urban centers in the Arabian Peninsula country. Hadi’s government is based in the southern port of Aden and controls some western coastal towns.

AVERTING FAMINE

Disagreements over control of Hodeidah, the main entry point for the bulk of commercial imports and vital aid supplies to Yemen, have delayed the opening of humanitarian corridors needed to reach millions of Yemenis facing starvation.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading the Sunni Muslim Arab coalition that intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government.

“Houthi manipulations threaten the Sweden agreement and the next steps in the political process,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs AnwarGargash tweeted on Wednesday.

Houthi spokesman Yahya Sarea said the United Nations must play a stronger role to avoid “the other side taking advantage”.

Guterres has asked the U.N. Security Council to approve the deployment of up to 75 observers to Hodeidah for six months. The council will need to decide by about Jan. 20, when a 30-day authorization for an advance monitoring team expires.

“I don’t think any country will send monitors before a full withdrawal of forces,” one diplomat said.

Yemen descended into war after pro-democracy unrest forced late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Hadi was elected to a two-year term to head a transitional government but the Houthis drove him into Saudi exile. The Houthis say they are waging a revolution against corruption.

The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran.

The Saudi-led coalition receives weapons and logistical support from the United States, Britain and other Western countries, but their involvement has come under increased scrutiny following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October, and over the civilian toll from the air campaign.

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Both sides largely sticking to Yemen ceasefire, more progress needed: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Both sides in the conflict in Yemen have largely stuck to a ceasefire agreed last month, but substantial progress is still needed before more talks can be held on ending the war, the U.N. special representative to the country said on Wednesday.

Martin Griffiths told the United Nations Security Council he had met the leaders of the two sides in recent days and both had expressed determination to find a way forward.

“I am pleased to report that both sides have largely adhered to the ceasefire we agreed in Stockholm,” Griffiths said. “There has been a significant decrease in hostilities since then.”

He said while there had been some violence, it had been remarkably limited compared with in the lead-up to Stockholm.

However, while there was a sense of tangible hope and optimism, there was also concern, Griffiths said.

He said he and the leaders of both parties shared the view that “substantial progress, particularly on Hodeidah, is something we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations.”

“I am still hopeful that we can proceed to a next round of consultations within the near future and I am working with both parties to make sure that that will happen at the earliest possible date,” he said.

At the end of peace talks in Sweden, the United Nations said another round of consultations would be held in January on a wider truce in the country, a framework for political negotiations and transitional governing body.

Griffiths said he had met the President of the Saudi-backed government Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted from the capital Sanaa in 2014, in Riyadh on Tuesday and with Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi, whose forces control most urban centers in Yemen including Sanaa and Hodeidah, on Sunday.

A major challenge lies in securing an orderly troop withdrawal from Hodeidah, the main port used to feed Yemen’s 30 million people that has been the focus of fighting over the past year.

Griffiths said the United Nations was working with both parties to finalize a list of prisoners to be exchanged as part of a prisoner swap agreed in December and he hoped a meeting of the supervisory committee for this could be held in Amman next Monday.

He said work was continuing to try to secure support for the central bank and to reopen Sanaa airport before the next round of talks, both of which would significantly ease humanitarian suffering.

The central bank, split into two rival head offices, has been slow to finance imports of food needed to fend off widespread hunger and is struggling to pay public-sector wages as foreign exchange reserves dwindle.

Sanaa airport is in Houthi territory but access is restricted by the Saudi-led military coalition, which controls the air space. Hadi’s government wants international flights inspected before flying in or out of Sanaa, but the two sides did not reach agreement in Sweden on where that would happen.

The war and the ensuing economic collapse has left 15.9 million Yemenis facing severe hunger.

Western nations, some of which supply arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government, have pressed for an end to the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned an urgent humanitarian crisis.

U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that while the Stockholm agreement was having an impact, the humanitarian situation remained “catastrophic,” with millions of Yemenis hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable than a year ago.

He said that while the situation with fuel imports had improved, commercial food imports had plummeted in December and he called on the government and others to allow unimpeded flow of imports including humanitarian aid.

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Dozens killed in ethnic violence in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – About 46 people were killed in ethnic clashes in central Burkina Faso this week, the government said on Friday.

After nightfall on Dec. 31, armed men on motorbikes descended on the village of Yirgou, made up largely of people of Mossi ethnicity, and killed seven people, the government said.

The following day, Yirgou residents killed 39 people in Fulani herding communities across the region in retaliation.

The government earlier this week told Reuters that only 13 people had been killed.

To the north of Burkina Faso, in Mali, ethnic clashes are being fueled by the presence of Islamist militants as Fulani communities are accused of hiding jihadists.

Burkina Faso has seen a spike in Islamist attacks in recent months as jihadists seek to increase their influence across the Sahel. On Dec. 31, the Burkinabe government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali, though these did not include the region around Yirgou.

(This story was refiled to change emphasis of headline.)

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Ethnic clashes kill 13 in Burkina Faso as security worsens

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Thirteen civilians have been killed in ethnic violence in central Burkina Faso, the government said on Wednesday, echoing a rise in inter-communal conflicts in neighboring Mali linked to Islamist violence.

Burkina has seen a spike in Islamist attacks in recent months as jihadists seek to increase their influence across the Sahel. On Dec. 31, the government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali.

Attacks this week show how that violence may be fuelling ethnic clashes for the first time in Burkina.

After nightfall on Dec. 31, armed men on motorbikes descended on the village of Yirgou, made up largely of people of Mossi ethnicity, and killed six people, including the village chief, government spokesman Jean Paul Badoun said.

The following day, Badoun said, Yirgou residents killed seven Fulani herders in apparent retaliation. The residents blamed the herders for sheltering the men who attacked them the day before.

The ethnic violence echoes problems seen in neighboring Mali where Fulani have been accused of hiding Islamists who have carried out attacks across the region in recent years. Armed men killed 37 Fulani civilians there on Tuesday.

Ten gendarmes were shot dead near the Malian border last week in an attack claimed by Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), an umbrella group for al Qaeda-linked militants in the Sahara.

JNIM claimed responsibility for other attacks this year, including one in the capital Ouagadougou in March that killed about eight security agents and wounded dozens of others.

Thousands of people have fled their homes due to the attacks and reprisals by security forces.

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Dutch judge extends custody of attack plot suspects

ROTTERDAM (Reuters) – A Dutch judge on Monday extended the detention of four men suspected of plotting a militant attack in the Netherlands, two days after they were arrested in Rotterdam, police said.

The men, aged 20 to 30, had “non-Western” backgrounds, police said, without going into further details.

“They were brought before a judge who decided they should remain in custody,” the force said in a statement.

“The investigation will continue in the coming days, with the emphasis on uncovering the nature and scale of the terrorist threat,” it added.

There was no immediate comment from any lawyer representing the men.

Officers said they seized laptops and other devices during the raids, but no explosives or bomb-making equipment were found.

As part of the same operation, German police arrested a 26-year-old Syrian man in western town of Mainz on Saturday. The arrest was based on an extradition request by Dutch authorities, German police said..

In a separate case, police on Monday said they had detained a 24-year-old suspect in Rotterdam also believed to be involved in “a terrorist crime”.

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Three Central Asians charged in Sweden with plotting terrorist crime

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Three Central Asian men have been charged in Sweden with plotting to commit a terrorist crime as well as – along with three others – financing the Islamic State militant group, prosecutors said on Thursday.

“Three (of the suspects) acquired and stored large quantities of chemicals and other equipment in order to, among other things, kill and harm other people. If the terrorist crime had been carried out, it could have seriously hurt Sweden,” the Stockholm prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

It said the six men were from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, both mainly Muslim, former Soviet republics.

Five are in Swedish custody while the sixth man was freed pending trial; all have denied wrongdoing, the statement said.

Thomas Olson, lawyer for one of the accused, told Swedish Radio his client had bought a large amount of chemicals from a bankrupt firm in order to try to sell it on, without success.

“My client left very detailed explanations as to why he was in possession of these chemicals, explanations that have been confirmed by all outsiders,” Olson said.

Prosecutors were not available for further comment.

In June, Rakhmat Akilov, an Uzbek asylum seeker in Sweden, was sentenced to life in prison for killing five people in Stockholm with a hijacked truck in 2017.

He stated during the trial that he wanted to punish Sweden for its part in the global fight against Islamic State, which has claimed a string of deadly attacks across western Europe since 2015.

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Two dead, 11 wounded by car bomb in northern Iraqi city Tal Afar

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least two people were killed and 11 wounded on Tuesday by a car bomb in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, a former Islamic State stronghold, the military said.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack hours later, via its Amaq news agency.

Tal Afar, about 80 km (50 miles) west of Mosul, experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and produced some of Islamic State’s most senior commanders.

The city, which had about 200,000 residents, came under the militants’ control when Islamic State overran swathes of Iraq’s north in 2014.

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It fell to Iraqi Security Forces, backed by the U.S.-led coalition, in August 2017, the last area to be retaken in the north before fighting moved to the Syrian border.

A heavy security presence has remained since then and the city has been mostly quiet.

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