French Police Hunt for Assailant Who Shot, Wounded Orthodox Priest

A Greek Orthodox priest was shot and injured Saturday at a church in the center of the French city of Lyon by an assailant who then fled, a police source and witnesses said.The priest was fired on twice around 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) as he was closing the church, and he was being treated for life-threatening injuries, the source said.Lyon, FranceWitnesses said the church was Greek Orthodox. Another police source said the priest was of Greek nationality and had been able to tell emergency services as they arrived that he had not recognized his assailant.A Greek government official identified the priest as Nikolaos Kakavelakis.There was no indication from French officials that the attack was related to terrorism. The French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office had not been brought in, as is normal when law enforcement officials suspect a terrorism link, France’s BFMTV broadcaster said.Other attacksThe incident came two days after a man shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice.Two weeks ago, a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an 18-year-old attacker who was apparently incensed by the teacher’s showing of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad during a class.While the motive for Saturday’s attack was not known, government ministers had warned that there could be other Islamist militant attacks. President Emmanuel Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools.Police search for clues after a priest was shot, Oct.31, 2020, in Lyon, France. A Greek Orthodox priest was shot while he was closing his church.Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was visiting Rouen, said he was heading back to Paris to assess the situation.The Nice attack took place on the day Muslims celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Many Muslims around the world have been angered about France’s defense of the right to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet.A third person has been taken into police custody in connection with that attack, a police source said Saturday. The suspected assailant was shot by police and remained in critical condition in hospital.Macron: Violence unjustifiedMacron took to Arabic language airwaves on Saturday, saying he understood the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad might shock some people but that there was no justification for acts of violence.In an interview with Al Jazeera released Saturday, Macron said his position had been misconstrued. He said he had never supported publication of cartoons seen as insulting by Muslims but had defended the right of free expression.”I understand and I respect the fact that people might be shocked by these caricatures, but I will never accept any justification for acts of violence over these caricatures,” Macron said.The teacher killed on October 16, Samuel Paty, had shown cartoons in class to prompt discussion about free speech.

Armenia, Azerbaijan Trade Fresh Accusations of Karabakh Shelling 

Armenia and Azerbaijan once more accused each other of bombing residential areas on Saturday, in defiance of a pact to avoid the deliberate targeting of civilians in and around the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.   Shelling was reported by both sides within hours of the latest agreement to defuse the conflict, reached after talks in Geneva between the two countries’ foreign ministers and envoys from France, Russia and the United States.   The agreement with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group fell short of what would have been a fourth ceasefire since fighting began on Sept. 27. The death toll in the worst fighting in the South Caucasus for more than 25 years has surpassed 1,000 and is possibly much higher.   Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians. About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.   The Nagorno-Karabakh Emergency and Rescue Service said the central market in Stepanakert, the enclave’s largest city, had come under fire and that large parts of it had been burned.   Armenia’s defense ministry said several civilians had been wounded in attacks on the city of Shushi, 15 km (9 miles) to the south, while the human rights ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh said a civilian in Martuni region had died when a shell hit his home.   Azerbaijan’s defense ministry denied these accusations. It said that the regions of Terter, Aghdam and Aghjabedi had come under artillery fire, as had Gubadli, a town between the enclave and the Iranian border that was taken by Azeri troops this week. Azerbaijan’s recent advances on the battlefield, which also extends to seven surrounding regions, have reduced its incentive to strike a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a truce.   The conflict has also brought into sharp focus the increased influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a former Soviet region considered by Russia to be within its sphere of influence. Russia also has a security alliance with Armenia.  In response to a request by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to outline the extent of Moscow’s support, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it would provide “all assistance required” should the conflict spill onto “the territory of Armenia” — land that is outside the current conflict zone.   Nagorno-Karabakh’s army says 1,166 of its soldiers have been killed since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan, which does not disclose its military casualties, updated its civilian death toll to 91. Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.  

Security Remains High in France After Deadly Knife Attack at Church in Nice 

Security throughout France was high Saturday after this week’s deadly stabbings at a church in Nice as President Emmanuel Macron tried to ease tensions in the country. French leaders have termed Thursday’s incident an Islamist terrorist attack after the perpetrator shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) as he decapitated a woman and killed two others in Notre Dame Basilica in Nice. Thursday’s attack followed the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty earlier this month after the republication of the Prophet Muhammad by the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.  Macron triggered protests in the Muslim world after the murder of Paty, who showed a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad to his class, by saying France would never renounce its right to caricature. On Saturday, though, Macron sounded a more empathetic tone in an interview with Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera. “I can understand that people could be shocked by the caricatures, but I will never accept that violence can be justified,” Macron said. 
 
Meanwhile, French authorities detained a third man for questioning Saturday in connection with the Islamist knife attack at Notre Dame Basilica in the southern French city of Nice that left three people dead. 
 
The man, a 33-years-old, was present during a police search Friday at the home of a second young Tunisian man suspected of being in contact with the attacker. 
 
France, Tunisia and Italy are jointly investigating to determine the motive of main suspect Ibrahim Issaoui, a 21-year-old Tunisian, and whether he acted alone and whether his act was premeditated. 
 
French police have three people in custody for questioning after they found two telephones on the suspect after the attack. 
 
The first man, age 47, was detained Thursday night after police reviewed surveillance footage and observed the person next to the attacker on the day before the attack. 
 
A second detained subject, 35, suspected of contacting Ibrahim Issaoui, the day before the attack, was arrested Friday. 
 
Macron said earlier in the week he would increase the number of troops deployed to protect schools and churches from 3,000 to 7,000. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, meanwhile, strongly denounced the attacks and remarks Macron made on Oct. 21, when he said Paty “was the victim of a conspiracy of stupidity, hate, lies … hate of the other … hate of what we profoundly are.” “The comments could divide the unity of the world’s religious communities at a time when the world needs unity to curb the COVID-19 pandemic,” Widodo said Saturday during a televised news conference in Jakarta.   Tunisian authorities are reportedly investigating whether a group called the Mahdi Organization carried out the attack. The state news agency TAP reported Friday investigators were also trying to determine whether the group exists and that the probe is based on claims of responsibility on social media.   Issaoui, who transited Italy last month en route to France, remains in critical condition in a French hospital after being wounded by police as they arrested him.   Three people were killed in Thursday’s attack. French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said a 60-year-old woman was decapitated, and a 55-year-old man, the church sexton, had his throat slit. Forty-four-year-old Brazilian national Simone Barreto Silva was stabbed several times before fleeing to a nearby bistro, where she raised the alarm before succumbing to her wounds.     Issaoui was not on Tunisia’s list of suspected militants and was not known to French intelligence services.   Ricard said Issaoui arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on September 20 and traveled to Paris on October 9.   He said Issaoui was carrying a copy of the Quran. The knife used in the attack was found near him and two other knives not used in the attack were found in a bag that belonged to him.   French leaders have termed Thursday’s incident an Islamist terrorist attack and raised the country’s security alert to its highest level.   

At Least 27 Dead as Powerful Quake Hits Major Turkish City, Greek Islands

Rescue teams in Turkey working around the clock recovered another body Saturday from the rubble of a collapsed building in Bayrakli district in Izmir struck by a strong earthquake.The quake hit Turkey’s third-largest city and a nearby Greek island on Friday morning, killing at least 27 people and injuring more than 800.Haluk Ozener, director of the Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, said that Izmir was the hardest-hit and most-damaged area.Izmir’s Governor Yavuz Selim Kosger said at least 70 people were rescued from the wreckage of four destroyed buildings and from more than 10 other collapsed structures.As the quake hit, residents were seen running into the streets in panic in Izmir, which has a population of 4 million.The European-Mediterranean Seismological Center said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.9 with an epicenter 13 kilometers north-northeast of Samos and 32 kilometers off the coast of Turkey.The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 7.0. It is common for preliminary magnitudes to differ in the early hours and days after a quake.The quake triggered a surge of water into Izmir’s Seferihisar district.On the nearby Greek island of Samos, a teenage boy and girl were found dead in an area where a wall had collapsed.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all means necessary would be used to assist rescue efforts.Many of Izmir’s inhabitants, fearing for their safety, were spending the night outside, in parks and open land or in their cars. Soup kitchens have been set up to feed those in need.Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis offered his condolences to Erdogan. The quake comes amid high tensions between the neighbors over disputes over territorial waters, but Mitsotakis tweeted, “Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together.”Erdogan thanked Mitsotakis and offered assistance, “We are standing with Greece if there is anything we can do for them.”Turkey is no stranger to powerful earthquakes, developing a large pool of expertise in rescue operations.The provincial city of Izmit, close to Istanbul, was devastated by an earthquake in 1999, killing at least 17,000 people. Many of those killed died in collapsed buildings.Since the 1999 quake, stringent building regulations have been introduced, along with a program of strengthening old structures. 

Deadly Earthquake Warms Relations Between Greece and Turkey 

Rescue teams on both sides of the Aegean Sea searched Saturday through crushed buildings and concrete rubble, pulling out at least 27 dead and hundreds more injured after a powerful earthquake toppled buildings in the Turkish city of İzmir and created sea surges on at least two Greek islands.    At least 60 separate aftershocks have jolted the Greek islands of Samos and Ikaria since the deadly 7.0 earthquake hit the region, experts in Athens said Saturday.   Damaged buildings at the port town of Vathy following an earthquake, on the island of Samos, Greece, Oct. 30, 2020. (Samos24.gr via Reuters)The powerful tremor originated from a 250-kilometers-long fault line off the coast of Samos, streaming across the Aegean Sea that divides the two adversaries.   Yet just hours after Greece and Turkey were struck by the deadly quake, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis placed a rare telephone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences.   “Whatever our differences, these are times when people need to stand together,” Mitsotakis posted on Twitter.   And his gesture was met.   Turkey’s strongman replied in a twin tweet: ‘That two neighbors show solidarity and support in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life.”   Although Greece and Turkey are both members of NATO, there are perhaps no two allied, neighboring nations whose dealings have been marked with so much conflict and mistrust. And most recently, both sides have been embroiled in a heated energy standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, bringing them to the brink of war during the summer.   FILE – Warships from Greece, Italy, Cyprus and France, participate in a joint military exercise which was held from 26-28 of August, south of Turkey in eastern Mediterranean sea, Aug. 31, 2020.The European Union and the United States have been working for months in hope of sitting both sides down to negotiate their differences — but to no avail.   It remains unclear whether the deadly earthquake can warm up ties.   Unlike a set of devastating quakes that hit the two countries in 1999, both sides have settled for diplomatic niceties. Greece has not offered rescue crews and supplies to assist Turkey’s quake-hit Izmir and surrounding provinces.   Athens and Ankara only recent re-established a military hotline but diplomatic talks planned initially for the start of October were scrapped. Still, millions of Greeks kept glued to their television sets watching their neighbor’s tragedy unfold alongside their own.   Dramatic footage broadcast by Turkish television was interplayed against domestic stills of search efforts in Samos, where two teenagers were crushed to death by a building whose walls crumbled and balcony fell as the pair were walking home from school. In Izmir, cars and household contents such as refrigerators, chairs and tables were seen floating through the main streets — an almost mirror image of the calamity that cloaked port towns in Samos and Ikaria. All but two of the people killed — the two teenage students — were from Turkey. Experts anticipate the death toll will rise. Rescue workers search for survivors at a collapsed building after an earthquake in the Aegean port city of Izmir, Turkey Oct. 31, 2020.Greek seismologist Akis Tselentis warned that aftershocks could prove powerful because of the shallow depth of the quake — roughly 10 kilometers. He said post tremors were expected for as long as two months. On Saturday, France offered assistance to both countries, extending “full solidarity to both Greece and Turkey.”  

Hundreds of Romanians Form Human Chain on Fifth Anniversary of Deadly Fire

On the steps of a Bucharest court on Friday, Adrian Albu pointed to his sister among the pictures of the 65 people who died in a nightclub fire five years ago, triggering mass protests across Romania at a culture of graft and lack of accountability.Hundreds of people wearing protective masks and standing 4 meters apart lit candles and formed a socially distanced human chain between the site of the former Colectiv club and the Bucharest Court of Appeals where the trial against those responsible is still taking place.”We should know who is guilty and people should know that the same thing can happen again at any moment and we are as unprepared now as we were then,” said Albu, 43, who survived the fire but lost both his sister and his cousin.The fire broke out when fireworks used during a concert by rock band Goodbye to Gravity ignited non-fireproofed insulation foam, triggering a stampede toward the single-door exit.Prosecutors have shown the club’s owners allowed it to fill beyond capacity and that Bucharest officials gave it an operating license while safety inspectors allowed it to run despite knowing it did not have a fire safety permit.A trial resulted in preliminary prison sentences last year, but the decision is on appeal.Badly burned patients were treated in improper conditions in Romanian hospitals, where many contracted infections that are still hampering their recovery.On Friday, centrist President Klaus Iohannis signed into law a bill that covers all future medical expenses of those injured at Colectiv. Albu said the legislation does not account for hundreds of non-Colectiv burn victims Romania records every year.Romania, which has one of the European Union’s least developed health care infrastructures, currently has one of the EU’s highest coronavirus death rates.”Change must start with us citizens,” said Marian Raduna, one of the human chain organizers. “We are the ones who tolerate corruption cases and incompetent authorities, and, sadly, we forget quickly.”

Thousands in Warsaw Join Biggest Protest so far Against Abortion Ruling

Tens of thousands of Poles joined a march Friday in Warsaw, the biggest in nine days of protests against a ruling by the country’s top court last week that amounted to a near-total ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.Defying strict rules that restrict gatherings to five people during the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrators walked through central Warsaw streets carrying black umbrellas, a symbol of abortion rights protests in Poland, and banners that read “I think, I feel, I decide” or “God is a woman.”Military police, some in riot gear, lined the streets as the demonstration began.Organizers and the city of Warsaw said some 100,000 people took part, one of the largest protest gatherings in years, following a Constitutional Court ruling on Oct. 22 outlawing abortions because of fetal defects. It ended the most common of the few legal grounds left for abortion in Poland and set the country further apart from Europe’s mainstream.Daily protests have taken place across the country in the past week and have turned into an outpouring of anger against five years of nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) rule and the Roman Catholic church, which is an ally of the government.Far-right groups which support the court ruling also turned out in small gatherings in Warsaw on Friday, and TV footage showed police clashing with them to keep one group away from the protesters.The leader of the abortion rights movement in Poland, Marta Lempart, told activists to report any attacks and to resist any threats of prosecution or fines for taking part. “We are doing nothing wrong by protesting and going out on the streets,” she told a news conference.After the ruling goes into effect, women will only be able to terminate a pregnancy legally in the case of rape, incest or a threat to their health.Dancing on tramsIn an effort to ease tensions, President Andrzej Duda proposed legislation on Friday reintroducing the possibility of terminating a pregnancy due to fetal abnormalities, although only limited to defects that are immediately life-threatening.Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki pledged lawmakers would proceed with the legislation quickly, but demonstrators were unimpressed.”This is an attempt to soften the situation for PiS, but no sane person should fall for it,” activist and leftist lawmaker Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus told Reuters.The government has accused demonstrators of risking the lives of the elderly by defying strict pandemic rules against large gatherings. Poland reported a daily record of more than 21,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday.Health Minister Adam Niedzielski drew comparisons between the Polish protest and the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality, saying demonstrations across the United States caused an “escalation” of the pandemic.Public health experts say there has yet to be conclusive evidence of large-scale spread from the U.S. events.Five women were charged with organizing an illegal protest which attracted 850 people in the town of Police on Thursday, officials said.The Roman Catholic Church has said that while it opposes abortion, it did not push the government or the court to increase restrictions.PiS, however, has sought to instill more traditional and Catholic values in public life, ending state funding for in vitro fertilization, introducing more patriotic themes into school curricula and funding church programs.It has also launched a crackdown on LGBT rights and a reform of the judiciary the European Union says subverts the rule law. PiS says it seeks to protect traditional Polish values against damaging western liberalism.Opinion polls have shown its support falling sharply in recent weeks.

Pope Francis Focused on Fighting Vatican Corruption

Pope Francis said he is focused on fighting corruption in the Catholic Church, despite the challenges.”I know I have to do it (fight corruption), I was called to do it, but it will be the Lord to decide if I did well or not. Sincerely, I am not very optimistic,” he said during an interview Friday with Italian news agency AdnKronos.Pope Francis also said he is not deterred by criticisms in whatever area, noting he takes them “on board because it can lead to self-examination.” He added he will not let himself be “dragged down by every non-positive thing written about the pope.”In 2013, Pope Francis was elected by cardinals on a mandate to clean up the Vatican’s finances, after a series of corruption scandals.Last month, Francis fired a former top Vatican official, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, for alleged embezzlement in the purchase of a luxury London building for the Vatican. Becciu has denied all accusations.A former worker of Becciu, 39-year-old Cecilia Marogna, was released Friday after spending at least two weeks in jail. Marogna is awaiting a judge’s decision on extradition from the Vatican.Francis says he is worried the “cases of malfeasance, of betrayals” hurt believers of the Catholic faith.

US Coronavirus Cases Surpass 9 Million

The U.S. surpassed 9 million confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, recording 1 million new cases in just two weeks, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.Previously, it had taken the country three weeks to jump from 7 million cases to 8 million.As of Friday afternoon, the U.S. had more than 9,018,500 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 229,356 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. The increase in cases has been a result of a resurgence of the coronavirus since mid-October, health officials said.The death rate attributed to the virus has risen 14% over the past two weeks, with more than 800 every day.Confirmed cases are on the rise in 47 U.S. states, and dozens of states set records Thursday for new infections in a single day, including the Midwestern states of Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio, according to Johns Hopkins. Record daily highs were also reported in Texas, California and Florida.The rising tide of new coronavirus cases worldwide is forcing leaders to consider new lockdown measures to contain an increase in infections.Great BritainBritish Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in an interview with BBC television Friday a national lockdown in his country is not inevitable to prevent the further spread of the disease, adding that a localized approach would be efficient if rules for each area were strictly observed.Raab’s statement followed announcements by leaders of France and Germany earlier in the week to impose new lockdowns.FranceFrench President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide, monthlong lockdown that will take effect Friday. Macron said restaurants, bars, cafes and other nonessential businesses will be closed, while citizens will be allowed to leave their homes only for work, shopping and doctor appointments.Officials in Paris said people eager to escape the effects of the new lockdown created traffic jams Thursday evening with a total length of 730 kilometers.GermanyGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a set of similar measures in her own monthlong lockdown, which takes effect Monday. In addition to restaurants and bars, all gyms, theaters and opera houses will be closed under Merkel’s order, while the majority of businesses, shops and hair salons will be allowed to remain open.Schools in both nations will remain open during their respective lockdowns.The restrictions were announced by Macron and Merkel as both nations struggle with a record number of new COVID-19 cases almost every day.France and Germany joined several other European nations that have been forced to impose a new set of restrictions to deal with a second and growing wave of the virus as the cold weather season approaches in the Northern Hemisphere.Ukraine reported Friday a record 8,312 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, up from the October 23 high of 7,517, with total infections at 378,729. The deaths also jumped by a record 173, for a toll of 7,041.In Japan, the health ministry said Friday that the coronavirus cases topped 100,000, nine months after the first case was reported in mid-January. Japan has more than 1,700 deaths.EuropeEuropean countries, meanwhile, are calling on the global community to grant the World Health Organization greater authority to independently investigate outbreaks after the pandemic exposed the agency’s deficiencies.After European Union ministers met to discuss the matter, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday that countries should give the agency more political and financial support.WHOThe WHO does not have the authority to independently investigate epidemics, forcing it to rely on countries to approve their lists of suggested experts and to abide by the agendas developed by them.As of Friday, there are more than 45 million total coronavirus cases worldwide, including more than 1.18 million COVID-19 deaths. India has reached the milestone of more than 8 million cases, second only to the U.S.

Hackers Could Unleash Ransomware Attacks on US Health System, US Officials Warn

Cyber criminals could soon unleash a wave of ransomware attacks targeting U.S. hospitals and health care providers, according to a statement released by three federal agencies, including the FBI.In the statement, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned they had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers” with the goal of “data theft, and disruption of healthcare services.”Ransomware scrambles data, and it can only be unscrambled if the target pays the attacker a sum of money.Alex Holden, CEO of Hold Security, told the AP he warned federal authorities about the impending attacks Friday after seeing “infection attempts at a number of hospitals.”He added that the hackers were demanding ransoms of over $10 million per target and that he had seen attackers discuss plans to infect “more than 400 hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities.”“One of the comments from the bad guys is that they are expecting to cause panic and, no, they are not hitting election systems,” Holden told AP. “They are hitting where it hurts even more, and they know it.”In a statement reported by AP, Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said the U.S. is “experiencing the most significant cyber security threat we’ve ever seen.”He pointed the finger at a criminal gang called UNC1878, adding it was deliberately targeting and disrupting U.S. hospitals, forcing them to divert patients to other healthcare providers.”  He said the eastern European group is “one of most brazen, heartless, and disruptive threat actors I’ve observed over my career.”Ransomware attacks have risen 40% this year with a particular spike in September, technology website CNET reported, citing data from cybersecurity firm SonicWall.  Last month, a chain of U.S. hospitals run by Universal Health Services was attacked, resulting in doctors and nurses resorting to pencil and paper at 250 facilities, AP reported. Employees said the attacks resulted in emergency room delays and problems with wireless vital signs monitoring equipment.Brett Callow, an analyst with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, told the AP that “a total of 59 U.S. healthcare providers/systems have been impacted by ransomware in 2020, disrupting patient care at up to 510 facilities.”