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Barbados PM wants to deepen cooperation with sub-regional group

Barbados PM wants to deepen cooperation with sub-regional group

By Ernie Seon

CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Jun. 19, CMC – The Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, has signaled her intention to deepen political and economic cooperation with the nine nation Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Prime Minister Mia Mottley

In her first address outside of Barbados since assuming office, Mottley told representatives of the 65th Meeting of the OECS Authority which began its working session here Tuesday, that her administration wanted mutually beneficial solutions to critical issues such as climate change, freedom of movement and transportation challenges.

She told the gathering which included leaders of all nine member OECS states, with the exception of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of  Dominica who was expected later Tuesday, of the  need to resolve climate change issues, pointing to the influx of sargassum seaweed as an opportunity for economic benefit, rather than treating it as a problem that affects our coast and tourism industry.

“We have had to confront it as you do across the rest of the region, but we believe that our best efforts are when they are cooperative and to that extent our ability to harvest the sargassum weed collectively and maximize what ever economic benefits we can get from it rather than treat it as a nuisance that affects our coasts and tourism industry, is the way in which we would like to pursue discussions.”

She said that freedom of movement was another pressing concern, and finding a way forward for the regional airline LIAT.

She said from her country’s perspective, one of the troubling concerns was the inability of persons who were in-transit in Barbados for more than two hours, to clear immigration.

“It makes no sense, because it hurts the extent to which those who visit our shores are capable of contributing to our economic activity in our country.

“To that extent prior to traveling here, I have asked what are the legal obstacles preventing the movement of people who are in-transit within our air and sea ports, who are being precluded from leaving the ports, but I am yet to receive an answer that makes sense,” she told the leaders.

“If you are at a point of entry for 6 or 8 hours there is no reason to be treated as a prisoner of war within the precincts of our region,” Motley insisted.

On the issue of inter-island transportation the Barbados leader said she looks forward to engaging with the OECS leaders, ” and particularly fellow shareholders and soon to be other shareholders in the context of regional carrier, Liat.”

She however noted that she would do so, cognizant of the fact that modalities  that were relevant decades ago cannot continue to be relevant as countries enter the third decade of the 21st Century.

Motley suggested that a review of government structures was absolutely critical if the region is to ensure the viability of an airline that serves as the lifeblood of this region.

“Similarly it is time that we stopped just talking about inter-island ferry transportation and get on with establishing this vital service.

“I am aware that unless we get to the stage where we can facilitate the movement of not just people, but vehicles and cargo we will not reap the full benefit of the space we have the honour to occupy.”

She explained to facilitate such an undertaking when it comes there needed to be mutual recognition of insurance, licenses, and the equal ability for the region to see how far it is prepared to go for mutual recognition of domestic incorporation, “so as we don’t impose on citizens the additional cost and time of having to go through these exercises again, simply to facilitate free movement across the region.”

Meanwhile,  Mottley and the heads of Governments of the OECS were also meeting Tuesday  in caucus for dialogue on better ways of collaboration between Barbados and the OECS.

The agenda for the 65th Meeting includes critical areas related to climate change among them the problem of sargassum where the OECS hopes to initiate a regional approach.

“We are going to be discussing ways in which the member states can work effectively together to do clean-ups of the beaches and areas affected by sargassum but more importantly how do we turn this problem into an opportunity,” said OECS Director General Dr. Didicus Jules told journalists Monday.

He said building resilience in the Caribbean is also high on the agenda in terms of, not just infrastructure but economic, social and community resilience.

A presentation is expected by the Caribbean Climate Smart Accelerator Group which has been assisting the Caribbean in becoming the first climate smart region. During the OECS meeting, the work programme of the OECS will also be under review.

St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Allan Chastanet will hand over to incoming chairman, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

The OECS is made up of seven full Member States, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts Nevis, St Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and three Associate Member States: the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Martinique, all of whom are expected to be represented at the summit.

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douglas-harriss

Date set for hearing diplomatic passport case against former prime minister

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Apr 20, 2018, CMC – A High Court judge Friday set May 30 for the start of the case in which the St. Kitts-Nevis government is seeking to oust former prime minister Dr. Denzil Douglas from the Parliament on the grounds that he is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Dominica.

Douglas has already called on the Court to dismiss the application noting that “in the affidavit that I have sworn, I have asked the court not only to dismiss the charges that have been brought by the Attorney General, but also with costs because they must pay for wasting the court’s time”.

The St Kitts-Nevis government, through the Attorney General, Vincent Byron, is seeking a declaration from the High Court that, since the election to the National Assembly on February 16, 2015, Douglas became disqualified from being elected as a member of the National Assembly and was accordingly required to vacate his seat in the National Assembly by reason of his becoming a person who, by virtue of his own act, is in accordance with the law of Dominica, under an acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state, namely, Dominica.

douglas-harriss
Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris (left) and
Opposition Leader Dr. Denzil Douglas (File Photo)

Additionally, the government is also seeking a declaration that Douglas has vacated his seat in the National Assembly; an injunction restraining him from taking his seat in the National Assembly and from performing his functions as a member as well as costs, and other relief as the court may deem just and expedient.

Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris has described the matter of one of grave constitutional, political and parliamentary significance to the Commonwealth.

When the matter came up for hearing on Friday, Justice Trevor Ward ruled that submissions should be made by May 11 with the matter to be heard on May 30.

Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, who is a member of Douglas defence team, said that his client had agreed to disclose the number of times that he had travelled on the diplomatic passport “because he said in his evidence he had in fact used the passport for convenience and travel….

“We insisted that we are not going to have the document disclosed in the High Court proceedings, we are not going to have it filed with the Registrar, we are not going to have it filed in the registry for copies to be made and a political pappyshow made out of the passport,” Astaphan said, describing as “absolutely deceitful, deception and fraudulent” a media report on the events that occurred in the Courts on Friday.

He told reporters that he had agreed with Trinidadian-based Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes  “that we would disclose in writing the number of times Dr. Douglas travelled , dates and so on and that after that is done we will submit the diplomatic passport to the judge for the judge to verify that the information that we are volunteering is accurate.

“Our initial position was that the Court had no jurisdiction to compel us to disclose anything and that is why the order before the judge was by consent ….and not mandatory or any order by the court imposed on us, ”he added.

Astaphan said that the media report “gives further support to us on Dr. Douglas side that this is all a piece of political manoeuvring to try score political points perhaps where things are not going the way the Honourable Prime Minister and his government would wish to go”.

Douglas has already indicated that the outcome of the Court matter will enable the main opposition St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) “to settle down and pursue a spirited election campaign to remove the dictatorship from this land led by Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris”.

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ADDITIONAL FERRY SERVICE ANNOUNCED FOR POST ST. PATRICK’S FESTIVAL EXODUS

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As a courtesy to our readers and the many who enquired about the ferry service through this medium, we provide the following submitted to us ‘for information’…

The Access Division has made arrangements to ensure persons leaving Montserrat in the coming days make their international flight connections in Antigua.

On Monday March 19th, 2018, the MV Lovely 1, with a capacity of 350, will leave Montserrat at 7:00am. Passengers are advised to check in 2 and a half hours before departure to allow early boarding of the vessel. The MV Lovely 1 will depart Antigua at 3:00pm with passengers for Luciano’s show at Salem Park.

On Tuesday March 20, 2018, the MV Lovely 1 will depart Montserrat at 7:00am. Check in time is at 4:30am to facilitate the early departure of the vessel.

The MV Jaden Sun will be on standby in the morning and will take additional passengers to Antigua if necessary. The ferry is however, scheduled to depart Montserrat at 5:00pm; leaving Antigua at 7:30pm.

On Wednesday March 21, 2018, the MV Jayden Sun will depart Montserrat at 6:30am and arrive in Antigua at 8:00am. The MV Jayden Sun will then leave Antigua at 7:00pm and arrive in Montserrat at 8:30pm.

Two trips will be scheduled on Wednesday if necessary.

For more information please contact Mr. Roosevelt Jemmotte on 496-9912 or Crenston Buffonge on 392-8731.

 

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PHOTO: Lewis Bennett is pictured in an undated booking photo released by the Broward Sheriffs office in Florida.

Husband charged with murder in high seas honeymoon disappearance

 
 
PHOTO: Lewis Bennett is pictured in an undated booking photo released by the Broward Sheriffs office in Florida.
Lewis Bennett is pictured in an undated booking photo released by the Broward Sheriff’s office in Florida.
Broward Sheriff

A British man was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the disappearance of his newlywed wife last May, who he claimed fell from their catamaran during a belated honeymoon sailing trip to the Caribbean, authorities said today.

Lewis Bennett, 41, was arrested on Feb. 16 after an FBI investigation found evidence discrediting his story that his wife, Isabella Hellman, the mother of his 9-month-old daughter, vanished from their 40-foot vessel when it hit something in open international waters while he was asleep in the cabin below deck, according to a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News.

PHOTO: Lewis Bennett is pictured in an undated booking photo released by the Broward Sheriffs office in Florida.Broward Sheriff
Lewis Bennett is pictured in an undated booking photo released by the Broward Sheriff’s office in Florida

By examining photos and video the U.S. Coast Guard took of the catamaran before it sank, an expert hired by the FBI to help in the high-seas mystery determined Bennett’s story couldn’t be true.

“Based on the analysis it does not appear the vessel sinking was caused by accidental damage. Rather, it appears the vessel was intentionally scuttled,” an associate professor of nautical architecture and ocean engineering at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy stated in court records.

Bennett was arrested when he appeared in a Florida court on unrelated charges of transporting $5,000 of gold and silver coins, which he pleaded guilty to in November, according to the complaint.

PHOTO: Isabella Hellman is pictured in an undated photo posted to the Find Isabella Facebook page on June 1, 2017.Find Isabella/Facebook
Isabella Hellman is pictured in an undated photo posted to the Find Isabella Facebook page on June 1, 2017.

“I respectfully submit that there is probable cause to believe that Lewis Richard Bennett knowingly and unlawfully killed Isabella Hellman with malice aforethought within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” FBI Special Agent James Kelley wrote in the criminal complaint.

Investigators suspect Bennett killed his 41-year-old wife in order to collect on an insurance policy and take sole possession of their marital assets, including bank accounts and a home she owned in Delray Beach, Florida, according to court documents. He also raised suspicions when he asked the Coast Guard for a “letter of presumed death” on the day they called off the search for his wife, four days after she disappeared, according to the complaint.

Isabella Hellman’s body was never found despite a 4,900-square-mile search for her conducted by the Coast Guard.

Bennett, who had been a realtor in South Florida, and Hellman were married in February 2017 and set out on a belated honeymoon in May, according to the court papers.

Bennett told investigators that he and his wife began their sailing trip from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, journeyed to Puerto Rico and arrived in Cuba. They spent a day in Varadero, Cuba, before charting a course back to Florida on the evening of May 17, 2017, the complaint said. He claimed they had planned to either sail to Key West or Fort Lauderdale and around 8 p.m. he set the “auto pilot” on the vessel, told his wife to take watch on deck and headed below to sleep, according to the documents.

PHOTO: The 37-foot catamaran, Surf into Summer, is pictured while partially sunk, May 15, 2017 in the Florida Straits 30 miles west of Cay Sal, Bahamas.U.S. Coast Guard District 7, FILE
The 37-foot catamaran, Surf into Summer, is pictured while partially sunk, May 15, 2017 in the Florida Straits 30 miles west of Cay Sal, Bahamas.more +

“Bennett claimed that he was next awakened by a ‘crashing underneath’ a few hours later,” Kelley wrote in the court papers. “Bennett said he went to the upper deck and Hellman was not there.”

Bennett told investigators he noticed the vessel was taking on water, so he gathered his personal belongings — including unexpended parachute flares, water, a tea set, and nine plastic tubes containing silver coins — and abandoned ship, jumping into a life raft and cutting himself adrift from the sinking catamaran, the court documents state.

When asked during a May 23 interview with investigators what efforts he took to locate his wife in the water, “Bennett said that he did not do anything,” the complaint said.

Instead, he used a satellite phone to call one of wife’s sisters, leaving her a voicemail informing her of Hellman’s disappearance, the complaint said. He then contacted a friend in Australia and asked that they contact the U.S. Coast Guard on his behalf, the complaint said.

“Bennett then made telephonic contact with USCG while awaiting his rescue,” Kelley noted in the complaint.

Within days of arriving back in South Florida, Bennett purchased airline tickets for him and his young daughter and took her to the United Kingdom on May 28.

He was arrested in the stolen coin case in August 2017, when he returned to South Florida for an interview on his insurance claim, the complaint said.

Bennett was arrested for his wife’s murder on the same day Hellman’s parents and sisters sent a letter to federal Judge James Lawrence King complaining that Bennett has kept them away from his daughter, Emilia.

“We do not want to say anything bad about Lewis, but we would like him to know how much it hurts us not to be able to see and spend time with our granddaughter and niece, Emilia, since he took her out of the country,” the family wrote in the letter obtained by ABC News. “Lewis knows that Isabella’s mother was very much involved in caring for Emilia from the time of her birth here in Florida until she was lost at sea.”

PHOTO: Members of the Coast Guard search for Isabella Hellman west of Cay Sal, Bahamas, May 17, 2017.U.S. Coast Guard
Members of the Coast Guard search for Isabella Hellman west of Cay Sal, Bahamas, May 17, 2017.

In his statement, Kelley indicated that Bennett’s story of his catamaran crashing into something in open waters raised suspicions. He said, according to the complaint, that the catamaran’s two escape hatch portholes were inexplicably opened and that holes seen in both hulls were almost identical, according to the complaint.

“I cannot think of any item that would accidentally cause similar holes in both hulls at roughly the same time,” the FBI’s nautical architecture and ocean engineering expert noted in the complaint.

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US Coast Guard

US Coast Guard intercepts vessels with nationals of Haiti and Domincan Republic

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Jan. 10, CMC – Forty undocmented aliens from the Dominican Republic and Haiti were intercepted by the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and  the Puerto Rico Police Department on the weekendd as they attempted to reach Puerto Rico.

US Coast GuardOn Tuesday, security officials reported that on January 5, border patrol agents detected a vessel without navigational lights moving towards Aguada, Puerto Rico.

The agents coordinated for intercept with the US Coast Guard Command Center, and the PRPD Joint Forces of Rapid Action (FURA, for its Spanish acronym).

A FURA vessel intercepted a “yola” type vessel approximately four miles off the coast of Aguada, finding total of 12 undocumented migrants; four adult male Dominican Republic nationals, five adult female Dominican Republic nationals and three adult male Haitian nationals.

The group was detained and subsequently transferred to a Coast Guard Cutter.

Upon completing embarkation of 12 aliens ,the cutter crew identified and intercepted a second vessel with 28 subjects on board.

They were all detained and subsequently transferred to another vessel.

Biometric checks were conducted on all subjects and revealed that 10 aliens met the guidelines for prosecution related to prior criminal and immigration violations.

On Monday, the Coast Guard transferred 10 aliens to Border Patrol custody at the Mayaguez Port of Entry. The remaining 29 undocumented aliens were repatriated to the Dominican Republic.

So far this year, Border Patrol Agents have apprehended 89 aliens that have illegally entered or attempted to enter the United States via the Mona Passage.

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maduro

Venezuela orders cut off of air, sea traffic with three Caribbean neighbors

 

CARACAS, Jan  7, CMC – Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has ordered a temporary shutdown of air and maritime traffic with three Caribbean neighbors, accusing smugglers there of seeking to plunder his South American country.

maduroIn a televised address on Friday, Maduro said he had halted all flights and ship traffic to the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, known as the “ABC islands,” for 72 hours.

He accused the three countries of running black markets by siphoning everything from copper to food before selling the items.

“They take away gold from this country illegally, and make it legal to sell there; they take away coltan, they take away diamonds, they take away all food products,” Maduro said. “I didn’t want to take a measure like this one, but I am ready to take even more radical measures.”

The islands, which are short distances from Venezuela’s northern coast, have long hosted black markets for Venezuelan contraband, trading everything from illegally-mined minerals to narcotics, however, in recent times, the islands have become better known as the landing site of boats of Venezuelans fleeing the country.

According to reports, many refugees have fled illegally, so the closure is unlikely to stop those departures but it will prevent Venezuelans wishing to travel by air at a time when many airlines refuse to fly to the country because of safety concerns.

Aruba is the site of a large refinery that Citgo, the American subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, has been touting plans to refurbish.

“I hope that during these 72 hours the leaders of these countries will take the measures we’ve asked for more than two years” against smugglers,  Maduro said. “Mafias are waging war on our electricity, they steal our copper and they sell it legally.”

Maduro has closed borders in the past after alleging that smugglers were robbing the country, especially at times when his government faces problems.

In late 2016, Maduro shut down the border with Colombia, alleging that mobsters there were hoarding currency, the paper said, adding that, the previous year, he had ordered a longer and declared a state of emergency along the same border, saying that food, fuel and other goods were being smuggled there.

The measures had little effect on smuggling in the area, residents said, but did prevent many thousands of Venezuelans from crossing the border to buy food during shortages.

Presently, Venezuela is also struggling with hyperinflation  and the Maduro administration ordered more than 200 supermarkets to cut prices back to last month’s levels.

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tax havenn

St. Lucia to introduce new tax measures to deal with EU blacklisting

 
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Dec 11, CMC – The St. Lucia government says it will soon introduce new tax reform measures after the island was included among 17 countries worldwide on a new global list of tax havens by the European Union.

Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Ubaldus Raymond said the new tax rules are likely to be unveiled in the new budget and denied that the island is a tax haven.

tax havennRaymond said that Castries has complied with all the requirements of international regulatory institutions and that Prime Minister Allen Chastanet signed the automatic exchange of information in November 2016.

Raymond said the main issue involves a harmonization of taxes which St Lucia is currently working to improve.

“St Lucia and other countries that were blacklisted, I want to make it clear, these were not institutions dodging the agreement or the requirements of these international institutions but it had more to do with the imbalance in the tax regime.

“Fortunately for St Lucia our government, the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, we have already been engaging our local departments, Ministry of Finance, Inland Revenue Department, in working on a more harmonized tax system.”

Raymond said St. Lucia is hoping to be off the European Union tax haven blacklist “very soon,” adding that the island is awaiting official notification of the blacklisting from the European Union.

“I can say safely and very confidently, it will not take long before we are off that list because we are already, as a government, thinking in line of harmonized tax system,” Raymond added.

St. Lucia is among four Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries named last Tuesday in the new list of global tax havens. The other Caribbean countries are Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago.

EU finance ministers said the new list was drawn up after 10 months of investigations by EU officials.

They said the countries on the blacklist were not doing enough to crack down on offshore avoidance schemes. Potential sanctions that could be enforced on members of the list are expected to be agreed in the coming weeks.

The EU said that as a first step, a letter will be sent to all jurisdictions on the new list, explaining the decision and what they can do to be de-listed.

The other Caribbean islands listed as tax havens have also denounced the EU position and called for their removal as soon as possible.

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Lethem Airstrip. Photo: Andrew Short

Guyana to build third international airport at frontier town with Brazil

Lethem Airstrip. Photo: Andrew Short

By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor

GEORGETOWN, Guyana — The government of Guyana plans to secure financing to upgrade and extend the runway and build a modern terminal at the Lethem airstrip with the intention of turning the airport into a “regional hub and international airport”. Lethem is a town close to the frontier of the Brazilian state of Roraima.

When the project is completed, Guyana will have three international airports.

The government is actively seeking a US$15 million loan to finance the project, which may finally open the frontier of Guyana to human settlement and development. This is important since the capital of Guyana, and low-lying areas along the coast are frequently inundated by heavy rainfall. For this reason, there has been a push to move the capital to the Essequibo region of Guyana.

Finance Minister Winston Jordan said on Monday during his 2018 budget presentation that the upgrade of the Lethem airstrip will allow for flights originating from Brazil and other Latin American neighbours to land there.

Meanwhile, the government has allocated GY$5 billion (US$24 million) to complete the upgrading of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), which includes the runway, rehabilitation of the arrivals terminal, and the construction of a departure terminal. The upgraded airport will be able to accommodate larger aircraft and handle an increased number of passengers, Jordan noted.

The upgrading of the Lethem airstrip to accommodate regional flights will definitely spur development of the sleepy frontier town in the hinterland of Guyana that borders Brazil.

There is no air connectivity between Guyana and Brazil despite sharing a long border. People must travel to Suriname, Panama or Miami to get to Brazil from Guyana.

The government did not disclose the length of the planned extended runway. The current runway is about 6,000 ft and can easily be extended due the favourable geography and availability of land. The length of the runway will indicate what type of aircraft will land there.

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plane crashh

Plane crash may have been due to engine failure-Report

 CHARLOTTE AMALIE, St. Croix, Dec 8, CMC – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says engine problems may have contributed to the fatal crash of a private chartered plane that killed all five people on board last Thursday.

The plane crashed soon after taking off from the Rohlsen Airport on Thursday night and the FAA in its preliminary report noted that the aircraft, which was on its way to St. Thomas, returned to the St. Croix airport because of engine problems.

plane crashhThe Beech aircraft with registration number N449A, was destroyed by fire on airport property, according to the FAA preliminary report.

A statement issued by the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) said the incident occurred at 8.45 pm (local time) and VIPA director, David Mapp, told reporters that no one had survived the wreck of the private plane.

Media reports said that among the casualties was a member of the Stylee Band, one of the territory’s premier groups, which is a highlight of the festival season.

Police Commissioner Delroy Richards told the media that the aircraft, a private chartered plane, took off from the St. Croix airport and soon after started experiencing engine problems, with flames coming from one of its two engines.

The names of the deceased have not yet been released.

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EGYPT-UNREST-SINAI

At least 235 killed in Egypt mosque attack

CBS News

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers in the Sinai Peninsula, setting off explosives, spraying worshippers with gunfire and killing at least 235 people in the deadliest ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt.

The attack targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of Islam’s mystical movement, in the north Sinai town of Bir al-Abd. Islamic militants, including the local ISIS affiliate, consider Sufis heretics because of their less literal interpretations of the faith.

The ISIS affiliate has been waging a stepped-up campaign of violence in northern Sinai for years and has claimed deadly bombings on churches in the capital, Cairo, and other cities, killing dozens of Christians. It also is believed to have been behind the 2016 downing of a Russian passenger jet that killed 226.

But this was the first major militant attack on a Muslim mosque and the startling bloodshed eclipsed any past attacks of its kind, even dating back to a previous Islamic militant insurgency in the 1990s.

EGYPT-UNREST-SINAI

Egyptians walk past bodies following a gun and bombing attack at the Rawda mosque, roughly 40 kilometers west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, on November 24, 2017. A bomb explosion ripped through the mosque before gunmen opened fire on the worshippers gathered for weekly Friday prayers, officials said. 

Stringer / AFP/Getty Images

The militants opened fire from four off-road vehicles on worshippers inside the mosque during the sermon, blocking off escape routes from the area by blowing up cars and leaving the burning wrecks blocking the roads, three police officers on the scene said.

Victims including some 130 wounded were rushed to local hospitals, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters.

No one claimed responsibility immediately following the attack, but ISIS has targeted Sufis several times in the area in the past, notably beheading a leading Sufi religious figure, the blind sheikh Suleiman Abu Heraz, last year and posting photos of the killing online.

President Donald Trump condemned the “cowardly” attack on Twitter, and took the opportunity to tout the need for a border wall and travel ban, even though his most recent ban doesn’t affect Egypt. He also said he would be speaking with Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, later Friday.

Images circulating on social media showed dozens of bloodied bodies wrapped up in sheets laid across the mosque floor, while others revealed dozens of relatives queuing up outside the hospital as ambulances raced back and forth.

Resident Ashraf el-Hefny said many of the victims were workers at a nearby salt firm who had come for Friday services at the mosque, which had contained some 300 worshipers.

“Local people brought the wounded to hospital on their own cars and trucks,” he said by telephone.

Egypt’s state news agency reported the casualty toll, citing “official sources,” revising it upward several times following the officials’ initial reports.

MENA reported that Egypt’s presidency declared a three-day mourning period, as President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi convened a high-level meeting of security officials.

Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has condemned the extremist attack on a mosque in the troubled Sinai Peninsula, calling it “criminal” and “cowardly” and expressing condolences to the victims and their families.

In a statement after the meeting, el-Sissi said the attack “will not go unpunished” and that Egypt will persevere with its war on terrorism. The suffering of the victims was not in vain, he added, and will only “add to our insistence” to combat extremists. Addressing the nation later on television, he repeated his view that Egypt was fighting a battle for the rest of the world.

Cairo’s international airport boosted security following the attack, with more troopers and forces seen patrolling passenger halls, conducting searches and manning checkpoints at airport approaches.

 

State condolences poured in for Egypt, including messages from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the U.S., Russia, France and Britain condemning the violence.

Security forces have been battling militants in northern Sinai for years, but attacks to date have focused on military and police assets, although assassinations of individuals ISIS considers government spies or religious heretics are not uncommon.

Hundreds of soldiers and militants have been killed in the conflict, although exact numbers are unclear as journalists and independent investigators are banned from the area.

In September, ISIS militants ambushed a police convoy in Sinai, killing 18 police and wounding seven others in one of the deadliest attacks this year in the restive region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip. 

The ongoing violence in Sinai shows the resilience of the militants there in the face of a years-long campaign to eradicate them by the military and police, which between them command far superior firepower, air support, heavy armor and larger numbers.

Egypt is also facing a growing number of attacks by militants in its Western Desert, including an attack last month that killed 16 police, according to an official tally issued by the Interior Ministry. Security officials have told journalists that dozens more, including high-ranking counterterrorism officers, perished in the Oct. 20 attack some 135 84 miles southwest of the capital, Cairo.

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