Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 23rd of May, 2017 :-
1. Islamic State claims responsibility for Manchester attack :-
The Islamic State group today claimed responsibility for Tuesday bombing of a pop concert in the British city of Manchester which killed 22 people and injured at least 59 others.
The group said in a statement published on its social media channels that “one of the caliphate’s soldiers placed bombs among the crowds,” and threatened more attacks.
An eight-year-old girl was among the 22 people killed in the bomb attack on a packed Manchester pop concert late Monday, a local authority said Tuesday.
Lancashire County Council, in north-west England, named her as Saffie Rose Roussos from Leyland, near Preston.
Meanwhile, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on worldwide threats on Capitol Hill said he did still hadn’t verified ISIS connection to the Manchester attack.
“I might mention that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack in Manchester although they claim responsibility for virtually every attack. We have not verified yet the connection,” Dan Coats told a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, using an acronym for Islamic State.
On Monday evening screaming fans, many of them teenagers, fled the Manchester Arena in panic after the explosion at the end of a sold-out concert by US star Ariana Grande in the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena, in northwestern England.
UK police arrested a 23-year-old man on Tuesday morning in connection with the attack.
Witnesses reported being near the arena’s ticket machines and merchandise stores, as chaos ensued inside the concert hall.
While 22 people have been confirmed dead, many of the 59 people injured have life-threatening conditions.
2. Indian Air Force fighter jet goes missing over the state of Assam :-
An Indian Air Force Su-30 MKI fighter jet has gone missing in Tezpur in India’s eastern state of Assam.
Tezpur Air force station is located 172 km from the China border.
The plane apparently went off the radar, the authorities have sent a search party to locate the plane. The plane went missing at 11:30am(local time), around 60 km north of the Tezpur Indian Air Force base from where it had taken off, said a defence spokesman and the deputy commissioner of Sonitpur district where the IAF station is located.
Defence public relations officer (Guwahati/Shillong), Lt. Col. Suneet Newton told PTI that the aircraft had lost radar and radio contact with the airbase.
Sonitpur district Deputy Commissioner Manoj Kumar Deka told reporters in Tezpur that the Air Force base had informed him that the Su-30 MKI plane with two pilots had taken off from the airbase at 10:30am(local time) for a regular sortie and lost contact with the IAF air traffic control over Dubia in nearby Gohpur.
The DC said he then immediately alerted the neighbouring district administrations about the missing plane.
The first of the Su-30 planes were inducted by the IAF in the late 1990s. Since their induction, seven crashes have taken place. An inquiry into the plane accidents has primarily indicated technical failure as their cause.
The last Sukhoi crash occurred on March 15 when a Su-30 MKI had crashed in Rajasthan’s Barmer, hours after a Chetak helicopter crash landed and toppled in Kaushambi near Allahabad.
3. At least 10 Afghan troops killed after militants attack army base :-
At least 10 Afghan soldiers were killed when militants attacked their army base in the southern province of Kandahar, the defence ministry said Tuesday, in the latest attack on Western-backed forces.
The assault in Shah Wali Kot district late Monday came just a day after 20 Afghan policemen were killed when Taliban fighters stormed their outposts in the neighbouring province of Zabul.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the Kandahar attack. But Taliban insurgents are intensifying their annual spring offensive and their strength is growing, more than 15 years after they were toppled from power in a US-led invasion.
“Last night the enemies of Afghanistan attacked Achakzai camp of army corps 205 in Shah Wali Kot district,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
“Ten brave army soldiers were martyred and nine others wounded. The wounded soldiers were taken to hospital and they are in stable condition.”
The attack marks another setback for NATO-backed Afghan forces. It comes just a month after the Taliban killed at least 135 soldiers in the northern province of Balkh in the deadliest insurgent attack on an Afghan military base since 2001.
During the Zabul attack early Sunday, local officials made desperate calls to Afghan television stations to seek attention because they were unable to contact senior authorities for help, highlighting the disarray in security ranks.
Taliban militants launched their annual “spring offensive” in late April, heralding a surge in fighting as the US tries to craft a new Afghan strategy and NATO considers sending more troops to break the stalemate against the resurgent militants.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month warned of “another tough year” for security forces in Afghanistan.
The White House is considering sending thousands more troops to break the deadlock.
US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies. The foreign forces mainly serve in an advisory capacity.
The troop strengths are a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.
4. Ex-US National Security Advisor refuses to comply with subpoena from Senate Intelligence Committee :-
Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn declined on Monday to comply with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee as it investigates possible Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
Flynn invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, according to a letter to the Senate committee from his attorney, which was obtained by Reuters.
The retired lieutenant general is a key witness in the Russia probe.
Flynn`s attorneys did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the top Republican and Democrat on the panel, said in a statement they were disappointed by Flynn`s decision, but would “vigorously pursue” his testimony.
The committee is conducting one of the main congressional probes into US intelligence agency reports of Russian meddling in the election and whether there was any collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations and Trump denies any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.
Flynn apparently misled Pentagon investigators about his foreign connections when he sought to renew his security clearance in early 2016, according to a document obtained by congressional Democrats and released in part on Monday.
Flynn, interviewed as part of the clearance renewal process, said that all of his foreign trips as a private citizen “were funded by U.S. companies,” according to excerpts of a March 14, 2016 report compiled by security clearance investigators.
In fact, a trip Flynn made to Moscow in December 2015, where he attended a gala dinner and sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was paid for by Russia Today, which U.S. officials consider a state-run propaganda arm, according to documents previously released by the House Oversight Committee.
The document is the latest to shed light on how Flynn received a security clearance and was subsequently hired as Trump`s national security advisor. He was forced to resign from the job in February after less than a month for failing to disclose the content of his talks with Sergei Kislyak, Russia`s ambassador to the United States, and then misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
Excerpts were released by Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the House committee.
Flynn`s decision to decline to comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena was first reported by the Associated Press.
The Senate committee first requested documents from Flynn in an April 28 letter, but he declined to cooperate with the request. Then it issued a subpoena.
In response, his attorney wrote to the committee that “the context in which the Committee has called for General Flynn’s testimonial production of documents makes clear that he has more than a reasonable apprehension that any testimony he provides could be used against him.”
Flynn’s legal team said that he was rejecting the subpoena because the committee spurned his offer, made by the retired Army general in a May 8 letter, “to give a full account of the facts and to answer the committee’s questions, should the circumstances permit, including assurances against unfair prosecution. We stated that, absent such assurances, General Flynn would respectfully decline your request for an interview and for production of documents.”
It was not clear what the committee would do if Flynn decided not to comply.
On Monday, Senator James Lankford, a Republican member of the intelligence panel, said on Twitter that Flynn was within his rights to invoke the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“We will get to the truth one way or another,” Lankford said on Twitter. “We need facts, not speculation & anonymous sources.”
Congress has the constitutional authority to enforce a subpoena.
A Congressional Research Service report outlined three main options: seeking criminal prosecution through the executive branch, asking the courts for a civil judgement and using a dormant power of “inherent contempt” to detain and imprison an individual.
The latter option has not been used in 75 years, the report said, with Congress more often relying on the criminal contempt statute recently.
US intelligence agencies concluded in January that Moscow tried to sway the November vote in Trump`s favour. Russia has denied involvement, and Trump denies any collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Reuters reported on Thursday that Flynn and other advisers to Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the US presidential race.
Two other former Trump associates – one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Republican operative Roger Stone – have turned over documents the Senate panel had requested, while a third – campaign adviser Carter Page – had not yet complied, NBC News reported, citing a congressional source.
Flynn has acknowledged being a paid consultant to the Turkish government during the campaign.
5. Ousted South Korean President Park goes on trial :-
South Korea’s ousted president Park Geun-Hye went on trial Tuesday over the massive corruption scandal that led to her downfall.
A grim-faced Park, wearing a blue trouser suit, a badge with her prisoner number, and no make-up, walked into the courtroom at Seoul Central District Court, avoiding meeting the glance of her longtime secret confidante and co-accused Choi Soon-Sil.
The trial, expected to last for months, is the final act in the drama that engulfed Park, the daughter of a dictator who went on to be elected president herself before she was sacked by the country’s top court in March.
Presiding judge Kim Se-Yun asked her: “What is your occupation, the accused Park Geun-Hye?”
She responded: “I don’t have any occupation.”
The fallen head of state was brought to the building in handcuffs, transported from a detention centre in a justice ministry bus, with at least six guards.
Park, 65, was impeached by parliament following revelations of her involvement in a massive graft scandal centred on Choi, her friend of 40 years, and implicating some of the country’s top businessmen, including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong.
Soon afterwards she was detained and indicted.
Tuesday’s opening session was Park’s first public appearance since she was taken into custody in March.
The trial could shed new light on the ties between Park and the bosses of the family-run conglomerates who allegedly bribed her.
Park faces 18 charges including bribery, coercion and abuse of power for offering policy favours to tycoons who bribed her secret confidante.
Choi, the daughter of a shadowy religious figure who was Park’s mentor for years, is similarly accused of using her presidential ties to force top firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations which she then used for personal gain.
Park is also accused of letting Choi, who has no title or security clearance, handle a wide range of state affairs including senior nominations and even her daily wardrobe choices.
Choi is currently on trial for bribery and abuse of power, as is Samsung’s Lee.
Park has denied all wrongdoing, blaming Choi for abusing their friendship.
Park Young-Soo, who led the special prosecutors who investigated the case, has said the proceedings will be “the trial of the century”.
Park is the third former South Korean leader to stand trial for corruption following Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo, who served jail terms in the 1990s for charges including bribery and treason.
In addition, ex-president Roh Moo-Hyun — the mentor of new leader Moon Jae-In — killed himself after being questioned over graft.