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  • Chicago Police Investigate Torture Video

    Chicago Police are investigating an apparent torture video found on social media showing a white man being taunted, battered and cut by a group of African-Americans who were smoking, drinking and laughing.

    The suspected victim was found wandering disoriented on the West Side Tuesday evening.

    Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Wednesday four people are being questioned but no charges were immediately filed.

    Police found the suspected victim wandering disoriented after responding to a battery call at a residence where they found signs of a struggle and property damage.

    “Officers later became aware of a social media video depicting a battery of an adult male, which is believed to be the same individual [found wandering],” police said in a statement. “At this point CPD believes the video is credible and detectives are questioning persons of interest in the case.”

    Police labeled the video “disturbing.”

     

    The more than 27-minute video was live streamed on Facebook, WBBM-TV, Chicago, reported.

     

    On it, at least four African-American men are seen drinking, laughing and smoking what appears to be marijuana as they torture a white man, who was cut and hit repeatedly while the assailants shouted, “F--- Donald Trump, nigga!” and “F--- white people, boy.” The victim’s mouth was taped shut, and he has a terrified look on his face and cut on his scalp.

    The video was streamed by a young African-American woman identified as Brittany Herring, WFLD-TV, Chicago, reported.

    Police in northwest suburban Crystal Lake, 48 miles from Chicago, identified the victim as a special needs, high-risk missing person. He had traveled to suburban Carol Stream to meet a friend and wound up in a stolen car in which he was transported to Chicago’s West Side.

    The victim was hospitalized.

    The incident is just one more in a violent start to 2017. Twenty-eight people were shot New Year’s Day and 12 more Tuesday, three fatally.

    Read more »
  • Om Puri: Veteran Indian actor dies at the age of 66

    Veteran Indian actor Om Puri, star of British hit East is East, has died aged 66, a family member has told the BBC.

    The actor suffered a heart attack at his residence in Mumbai early on Friday, reports say.

    Om Puri, who acted in both mainstream and art films, was known for his gritty performances in a number of landmark Indian films in the 1980s.

    He also appeared in a number of British films, including a cameo in Richard Attenborough's epic on Mahatma Gandhi.

    A versatile actor, Puri was known for his roles in Indian, Pakistani, British and Hollywood films. He was awarded an honorary OBE for his contribution to the British film industry in 2004.

     
     

    Media captionActor Om Puri dies aged 66

    Puri, who was born in 1950 in the north Indian state of Haryana, made his film debut in the 1976 film Ghashiram Kotwal.

    He became a well-known figure in the Indian film industry in the 1980s before he found international fame in the following decade.

    His roles in American and British films included the 1999 British comedy East is East about a Pakistani immigrant adjusting to life in the north of England.

    Puri also appeared in City of Joy, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Charlie Wilson's War and most recently starred in The Hundred-Foot Journey alongside Dame Helen Mirren.

     
     

    Media captionOm Puri found international fame for his roles in films such as East is East

    At home, Puri was best-known for his performances in critically-acclaimed films like Ardh Satya, Sadgati, Paar and the satirical Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro.

     

    Media captionOm Puri spoke to the BBC in 1984 about his future career hopes

    Puri was one of India's truly successful crossover actors, doing films with stars such as Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks, the BBC's Soutik Biswas said.

    His roles in Govind Nihalani's Aakrosh as a tribal man falsely accused of murder and a policeman in Ardh Satya beaten back by the system remain among the finest performances on Indian screen, Biswas added.

    Puri is survived by his wife Nandita Puri, who he married in 1993, and their son Ishaan.

    This file photograph taken on September 3, 2014, shows Indian Bollywood actor Om Puri (R) posing with British actress Helen Mirren (L) as they attend the UK Gala Screening of the film, The Hundred Foot Journey,Image copyrightAFPImage captionOm Puri acted with Helen Mirren in The Hundred-Foot Journey

    The actor is being mourned in neighbouring Pakistan with newspapers reporting prominently on his death.

    He had recently spoken out against the ban imposed by India on Pakistani actors working in Bollywood films, following tensions over Kashmir.

    "Pakistani artists are not terrorists" he told an Indian TV channel. The remark led to criticism by sections of the Indian media.

    Om Puri as Jetender in The Canterbury TalesImage captionOm Puri appeared in BBC TV drama The Canterbury Tales

    Actor and director Ananth Mahadevan, who was a close friend of Puri, paid tribute to the star.

    He told the BBC World Service's Newsday programme: "It's a personal loss and a loss to cinema because he was truly India's international star."

    Mahadevan praised Puri's "sheer versatility", adding: "He was a man that proved that you needn't be a very handsome-looking, tall, strapping guy to be a leading man.

    "You needed loads of talent and that is what Om proved with his sensibility and sensitivity."

    In a tweet two weeks ago, the actor reflected on his life and career, saying he did not have a "conventional face" but was "proud" of his success.

     

     

    Read more »
  • 2016 'deadliest year' for West Bank children in decade

    2016 'deadliest year' for West Bank children in decade

    Israeli forces have killed more Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in 2016 than any other year in the last decade, rights group Defence for Children International (DCI) has said.

    The organisation's chapter in the occupied Palestinian territories recorded the killings of 32 Palestinian children (under 18), making 2016 "the deadliest year of the past decade" for them, the group said in a recent report.

    Many of those killings happened during Israeli military raids on Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank, confrontations with the Israeli army or during unarmed protests.

    "Israeli soldiers employ a shoot-to-kill policy. They have the green light to kill Palestinians, and the fact that they can do so with impunity and no consequences builds the foundation for such shootings to take place," Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Programme Director at DCI-Palestine, told Al Jazeera.

    Since October 2015, Israeli soldiers and settlers have been responsible for the killing of at least 244 Palestinians, including unarmed demonstrators, bystanders and alleged attackers in what has been termed the "Jerusalem intifada" or Jerusalem uprising.

    Thirty-six Israelis have also been killed in stabbing and shooting incidents carried out by Palestinians.

    "Due to the political situation, especially the Jerusalem uprising since October 2015, the numbers have gone up with tension and clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinians increasing," said Abu Eqtaish.

    Out of the 32, 19 were between the ages of 16 and 17, while 13 were in the age group of 13 to 15 years old, according to DCI-Palestine.

    In 2015, the total number of civilians under the age of 18 killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem stood at 28. In 2014, 13 Palestinian children were killed, while four were killed in 2013. 

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  • Five arrested in connection with Bengaluru sex assaults Police file complaint after widespread outcry over mass molestation of women on New Year's Eve in southern city. Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker Share via Facebook Share via Twitter Comments Pr

     

    At least five people have been detained in connection with complaints of widespread sexual assaults on women during New Year's eve celebrations in the Indian city of Bengaluru, police said on Wednesday.

    The detentions came amid widespread outrage as female revelers complained they were groped and assaulted by a mob of men on MG Road in Bengaluru's city centre.

    The police, who initially dismissed the incidents saying it had not received complaints, took up the matter two days after the incident as videos of men assaulting women went viral on social media.

     

    On Wednesday, television channels aired fresh footage from the same day, said to be from the closed circuit security camera of a private house, that showed two men on a scooter assaulting a young woman while some bystanders lurked at a distance.

    The video is being taken as evidence by the police as they investigate complaints. "We have taken action by registering an FIR (first information report). Investigation is in progress, the city's police chief Praveen Sood told DPA news agency.

    Criminal action 

    Sood said the police had found "credible evidence in a case of wrongful confinement, molestation and attempt to rob" in relation to the MG Road complaints.

    Five men had been detained and were being questioned, an officer at the police control room said.

    Regarding the attack caught on CCTV footage, Sood said: "Criminal action is in motion. We are sure of arresting the accused."

    READ MORE: India minister blames 'Western dress' for sex assaults

    "Two things really stand out here. One is that India has a lot of laws dealing with such things, but policing is still not efficient – there is not enough fear for the law and for legal repercussions," Dhanya Rajendran, the Editor-in-Chief of thenewsminute.com, said.

    "The second is the patriarchal mindset that people have which reflects when the minister says that the woman should be blamed for the clothes that she wears," Rajendran said from Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state.

    Sexual harassment of women in India has been in the limelight since the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in the Indian capital in December 2012.

    Despite stricter laws and measures to increase security of women, a high number of crimes against women continue to be reported every year.

    Women's activists say the number of incidents is likely much higher as women most often tend not to report such incidents to the police.

    Outrage over the New Year's Eve reports has grown in recent days, especially on social media after the home minister of Karnataka state, G Parameshwara, was seen saying: "These kind of things happen." Bangalore is the capital of Karnataka.

    Parameshwara, who made the comments on local news channel on Tuesday, later said they were misinterpreted.

    Regional Samajwadi Party lawmaker Abu Azmi invited even more outrage when he said: "It was bound to happen. Women call nudity a fashion. They were wearing short dresses."

    "The minister's statement is as usual blaming women for the clothes they wear and women for going out in the night, women for not taking precautions," Rajendran said.

    "It's now time for us to see this as not only a women’s issue but as a clear law and order issue, as a problem with our mindset and deal with it like that."

    Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

    Read more »
  • 'The Rohingya Alan Kurdi': Will the world take notice now?

    Face down in the mud, a baby boy lies still after washing up on a river bank.

    His name is Mohammed Shohayet, a 16-month-old Rohingya refugee whose family fled their home for Bangladesh to escape the violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State, only to drown during the journey along with his mother, uncle and three-year-old brother.
    "When I see the picture, I feel like I would rather die," Mohammed's father, Zafor Alam, told CNN. "There is no point in me living in this world."
    The image has parallels with that of the young Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, who was found dead on a Turkish beach in September 2015, after trying to flee the civil war at home.
    The conflicts the two boys left behind are different, but the desperation of their families to escape is all too familiar.
    Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas are considered one of the world's most persecuted minorities. The Myanmar government views them as Bengali immigrants, despite the fact that they've lived for generations in Myanmar's Rakhine State.
    "In our village, helicopters fired guns at us, and the Myanmar soldiers also opened fire on us," said Alam. "We couldn't stay in our house. We fled and went into hiding in the jungle."
    "My grandfather and grandmother were burnt to death," he added. "Our whole village was burnt by the military. Nothing left."
    Zafor Alam inside the Leda camp, Teknaf, Bangladesh.
     

    'The military was searching for Rohingyas'

    Zafor Alam said they ran from village to village trying to escape the violence.
    Who are the Rohingya?

     

    • The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar's Rakhine state thought to number about one million people
    • Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens or one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups living in the country
    • Much of this is rooted in their heritage in East Bengal, now called Bangladesh
    • Though many Rohingya have only known life in Myanmar, they are widely viewed as intruders from across the border
    • According to Human Rights Watch, laws discriminate against the Rohingya, infringing on their freedom of movement, education, and employment
    • They are denied land and property rights and ownership, and land on which they live can be taken away at any given time

     

    "I walked for six days. I couldn't eat rice for four days. I could not sleep at all for six days," he said. "We constantly changed our location as the military was searching for Rohingyas."
    Alam became separated from his family during the journey and made it to the Naf River which runs between Myanmar and Bangladesh. He says he began swimming and was picked up by Bangladeshi fishermen who took him across the border.
    Then, he says he started the process to get his family across to safety.
    "I contacted a boatman and asked him to help my wife and sons so that they could cross the river. They were waiting on the other side," Alam said.
    "I called (my family) on December 4. They were very desperate to leave Myanmar," Alam said. "They were the last words I had with my family. When I was talking to my wife over phone, I could hear my youngest son calling 'Abba-Abba' (father-father)."
    Just a few hours after that phone call, Alam said his family tried to make their escape.
    "When the Myanmar police got a sense that people were preparing to cross the river, they opened fire," Alam said. "Hurriedly, the boatman took all people on board to escape the firing. The boat became overloaded. Then it sank."
    A day later, on December 5, he learned what happened.
    "Someone phoned me and said my son's dead body was found," Alam said. "He took a photo of my son by mobile phone and sent it to me. I was speechless."
    "It's very difficult for me to talk about my son. He was very fond of his father," he added. "My son was very affectionate. In our village, everyone used to love him."
    Rohingya men inside the Rohingya camp, Teknaf, Bangladesh.
     

    'Only the river knows'

    Alam's story of his family being torn apart trying to escape is one familiar to many Rohingya families who have made it across the border to Bangladesh. The International Organization for Migration says some 34,000 people have crossed the border in recent weeks and months.
    "Only the river knows how many dead bodies of Rohingyas are floating there," Alam said.
    Now at the Leda refugee camp in Teknaf, southern Bangladesh, Alam is struggling to come to terms with what happened.
    "I have no one left. My two sons and my wife died. All are finished," he said.
    "We are also suffering here in Bangladesh. There is no house here to live in. There is no food. People who have been living in the camp for a long time, they have given us shelter."
    But at least, it's a respite from the violence.
    "We used to live in constant fear of losing our lives in Myanmar," he said. "We don't have any fear in Bangladesh."
    Zafor Alam's 18-year-old sister and 14-year-old brother are both with him in the camp in Bangladesh.
     
    CNN is unable to independently verify Zafor Alam's account, as access to northern Rakhine State is still heavily restricted.
    In a written response to CNN, Aye Aye Soe, Myanmar government spokesperson, called the testimony "propaganda" and "false."
    She did confirm that Myanmar military helicopters fired on a Rohingya village on November 12, but said this was a rescue mission aimed at dispersing an "armed mob of suspected perpetrators and collaborating villagers" who ambushed Myanmar troops.
    The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied claims of human rights abuses, saying they are only carrying out "clearance operations" against suspects involved in an attack on Myanmar border guards on October 9.
    This week, the government made a rare announcement that it would investigate police brutality after a video emerged showing officers beating Rohingya villagers.
    On Wednesday, Myanmar's government published the results of its interim investigation into the recent violence. The report denied accusations of genocide and said the government was still investigating reports of rape, arson and illegal arrests of the villagers in Rakhine State.
     

    'Nothing has changed'

    In September, the government set up the Rakhine Commission, led by Kofi Annan, to look into problems in the region.
    Zafor Alam said that the commission is a smokescreen.
    "The commission has been formed to deceive the whole world," he said. "The military drives people out of the villages when the commission visits the area."
    "When the elections took place in Myanmar, I thought as Aung San Suu Kyi won, it would be beneficial for us," Alam said. "But the dream and the reality is completely different. Since she assumed power, nothing has changed. We are still being persecuted."
    "Aung San Suu Kyi and the military want to eliminate Rohingyas from Rakhine State. She is denying the atrocities committed by the military," he said.
    Amnesty International has released a lengthy report which says the "systematic campaign of violence" against the Rohingya people "may amount to crimes against humanity." Aye Aye Soe told CNN these claims are "unsubstantiated."
    Myanmar state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi held a meeting with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Yangon this month to discuss the situation.
    Aung San Suu Kyi told the ministers that the government is committed to resolving the issues in Rakhine State, but said that "time and space are critical for the efforts to bear fruit," according to state newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar.
    But Zafor Alam said allowing the government more "time and space" will only end in more bloodshed.
    "I want to let the whole world know," he said. "The Myanmar government should not be given any more time.
    If you take time to take action, they will kill all Rohingyas."
    Read more »
  • The spy with no name

    In 1977, Johanna van Haarlem finally tracked down the son, Erwin, she had abandoned as a baby 33 years earlier. She immediately travelled to London to meet him. What followed, writes Jeff Maysh, is an unbelievable story of deception and heartbreak.

    It was a cold Saturday morning in April 1988 when a van full of detectives arrived outside the North London home of Erwin van Haarlem. The self-employed art dealer, 44, lived alone in sleepy Friern Barnet, a smattering of brick homes beside the grim North Circular ring road.

    The Dutchman's apartment building on Silver Birch Close had become the centre of an investigation led by the British intelligence agency MI5. It suspected that Van Haarlem - whom neighbours described as an "oddball" - was not in the art business at all, but a sinister foreign agent.

    Inside, Van Haarlem was hunched over a radio in his kitchen. He was still wearing his pyjamas, but his hair was parted neatly to one side. He was tuned in, as he was every morning, to a mysterious "number station". In his earpiece, a female voice recited numbers in Czech, followed by the blip-bleep of Morse code.

    Erwin van Haarlem's radioImage captionErwin van Haarlem listened to a station broadcasting numbers in Czech

    At 09:15 detectives from Special Branch, the anti-terror unit of London's Metropolitan Police, crashed into his apartment. Van Haarlem tried to lower his radio's antenna. It jammed. When he pulled open a drawer and grabbed a kitchen knife, an officer tackled him, and yelled: "Enough! It is over! It is over!"

    Hidden among his easels and paintings, detectives discovered tiny codebooks concealed in a bar of soap, strange chemicals, and car magazines later found to contain messages written in invisible ink. Investigators suspected Van Haarlem was not really from the Netherlands, but was a spy for the UK's Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union.

    Under a bright spotlight at a police station in Central London, Van Haarlem protested his innocence. Then, 10 days later, things turned really strange: a visitor arrived claiming to be the prisoner's mother. Johanna van Haarlem was a Dutch woman in her early sixties, who peered at detectives from behind huge glasses. Her son was no spy, she insisted, but an honest Dutchman - the child she had abandoned in 1944 and rediscovered 11 years earlier. The baffled detectives allowed her to visit their suspect.

    "Tell me, I'm hearing all these strange stories," she said. "You're not really a spy, are you?"

    "We have a saying that where you see the smoke, there will be a fire," Van Haarlem told her. "But this time it is not true. Too much of the smoke and no fire. I did absolutely nothing that could harm England."

    Johanna sighed with relief. "But why? Why all of this, then?" she said.

    "Don't ask me. Ask them."

    And then he noticed a tiny red spot on her forearm. The DNA blood test results from the Home Office laboratory indicated, with near certainty, that they were not related. Johanna van Haarlem broke down in tears as her world collapsed.

    Johanna and Erwin van HaarlemImage captionJohanna van Haarlem was 52 on her first visit to London to meet Erwin

    On 6 February 1989, at London's Old Bailey, prosecutor Roy Amlot told a jury that the defendant had stolen her son's identity.

    "You may think that if he knew all along, it was a cruel thing to do to her," he said.

    The trial captivated the press. The Daily Express described Van Haarlem as "an old-fashioned... slick-suited spy who inhabited a world of dead letterboxes and secret codes". Exotic beauties came forward to kiss-and-tell about their love affairs with the spy. But the most wounded victim stood in the witness box, the tragic Dutchwoman, Johanna van Haarlem.

    On 4 March 1989, at 11:45, the judge sentenced Erwin van Haarlem to 10 years in prison for espionage. "He is probably the first person to be tried at the Old Bailey under an alias," one senior Scotland Yard officer told a reporter. The "spy with no name", as the newspapermen called him, would take his secrets with him to his cell.

    grey_new

    After months of negotiation and false starts, I met Erwin van Haarlem on a spring day in Prague, in 2016. Although he had lived quietly as a free man for the past 23 years, spies famously do not talk. Introduced to me by the Czech crime journalist, Jaroslav Kmenta, Van Haarlem arrived at a restaurant near the city's Old Town Square, wearing a smart blue blazer. After carefully checking my identification he began, in accented English, to tell me his story.

    Erwin van Haarlem

    It began on 23 August 1944, when he was born Vaclav Jelinek in Modrany, a small village near Prague. His father had owned a small bakery there, selling biscuits and ice creams, until the Communists took power. Young Jelinek enlisted in mandatory military service, and, as the Cold War intensified, he graduated to a position in the Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior. He dreamed of military valour and excitement. But what he got was mind-numbing shifts and grunt work.

    One day his superiors caught him studying German vocabulary instead of guarding a checkpoint in the snow. They marched him to an upstairs office where he expected disciplinary action. Instead he was introduced to two members of Statni bezpecnost - the Czechoslovak secret State police. The StB was a shadowy spy agency that reported directly to the Soviets.

    The StB agents had studied his file and learned that Jelinek was defiant, a womaniser, highly intelligent, prone to violence, patriotic, and a risk-taker. In other words, perfect spy material. After careful training, they decided he was ready to begin an undercover mission abroad, spying on the West.

    The StB searched through its files of missing persons and assigned Jelinek a false identity - that of a Dutch boy, abandoned at an orphanage in Holesovice, Prague, at the end of World War Two. The child had been born just one day before Jelinek.

    "Your new name," they told him, "is Erwin van Haarlem."

    Image of van Haarlem's Dutch passportImage captionVan Haarlem's Dutch passport

    He applied for a Dutch passport, and arrived in London by train in June 1975. To the boy from Prague, it was an alien city swarming with traffic, fashion, and danger. He took a job at the 24th-floor Roof restaurant at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, Mayfair, hoping to spy on the Royals down the road at Buckingham Palace.

    At night, he exchanged coded messages with his home country via radio. One of his first ideas was to try planting listening devices in the Queen's furniture, he recalls, though he and his bosses realised it was technically unrealistic.

    Hilton, Park LaneImage copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionThe Hilton Hotel on Park Lane

    His secret career was running smoothly until late 1977, when he received a disturbing message from Prague: "YOUR MOTHER IS TRYING TO FIND YOU IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA WITH THE HELP OF THE RED CROSS. SHOULD THE RED CROSS FIND YOU, A MEETING IS TO BE AGREED WITH."

    He read the message over and over again. In October of that year, Van Haarlem received a handwritten letter from Johanna van Haarlem. The Dutch embassy had given her his address, she wrote. She was thrilled to find him. As he had been ordered, the spy politely replied in November, enclosing some photographs. He began the letter: "Dear mother". When he sent a cordial invitation to visit him in London, she left immediately.

    grey_new

    Johanna woke up early on 1 January 1978, in a West London hotel. Her stomach was knotted with nerves. She stepped on to the street littered with the detritus of New Year's Eve. It was her plan to arrive early and check out her son's address. But on the opposite side of the street a familiar-looking young man walked past.

    "Are you Mrs van Haarlem?" the spy said, stopping in his tracks.

    "Yes," she said.

    "Hello Mother, it's your son."

    They embraced in the middle of the street. Johanna stepped back to look at him. Tears were rolling down her face.

    "Your father did not have such a dark hair," said Johanna, studying him. Then she commented that he was shorter than his father.

    Inside his apartment a champagne cork popped as Johanna breathlessly told him her life story. The bottle had frozen in the refrigerator but Van Haarlem managed to pour a couple of glasses.

    She had grown up in The Hague, in Holland, and was an 18-year-old virgin when she met his father on a train, in November 1943. Gregor Kulig was a Nazi. He was blue-eyed, 23, and Polish. Handsome. At a party four weeks later, she said, he raped her.

    Johanna van Haarlem as a young womanImage captionJohanna van Haarlem as a young womanWhite line 10 pixelsGregor KuligImage captionGregor Kulig

    And when her father discovered she was pregnant, he exploded. "You are a sinner!" he told her. He ordered her to take the child to a distant town and give him away.

    Full of sadness and desperation, in autumn 1944 Johanna travelled to Czechoslovakia by train. After a brief effort to survive there as a single mother, she walked into an orphanage in Holesovice, Prague. Sobbing, she kissed baby Erwin goodbye, and returned to Holland alone.

    Her father - a Jew who had joined the National Socialist Movement to protect his family - destroyed the adoption papers and banned her from ever speaking about her son.

    Over the years, dozens of letters arrived from the orphanage asking Johanna to take back her child. They went unanswered. But every year on his birthday, Johanna silently remembered her missing son, his name she could not even speak: Erwin van Haarlem.

    Now she had found him. As they finished their champagne, he took her hand in his.

    "You have to believe it," he told her. "I am your son."

    Shortly after their emotional "reunion", Johanna invited Erwin to meet the Van Haarlem family in Holland. When the spy arrived at her bungalow in early 1978, one-by-one he shook hands with the whole family. They studied him like a specimen in a zoo. Johanna's niece approached Van Haarlem, and seemed to scan him from head to toe. Did she know?

    "He has the nice Van Haarlem legs," she told the crowd, approvingly.

    Erwin van Haarlem (circled) at a family gatheringImage captionJohanna van Haarlem gathered her family to meet Erwin (circled)

    Back in London, having a Dutch, Jewish mother only improved Van Haarlem's cover. His main task, the spy told me, was to gather information about Refuseniks, the Jews held in the Soviet Union despite their requests to emigrate, who had become political pawns in Cold War peace talks. He also gained prize information about underwater sonar chains, which alerted Nato to Soviet submarine movements.

    British defence journalist Kim Sengupta later described Van Haarlem in this era as "a brilliantly successful deep penetration agent", who, over the years, visited the Polaris submarine base at the British Admiralty's Underwater Research Unit, as well as "a string of sensitive military installations".

    For these fantastic intelligence scores, Van Haarlem received a medal from the Soviet Union at a private party held in his honour in Prague.

    "He moved a lot," Johanna later told a Dutch radio station. "From that small apartment I visited the first time to bigger, fancier places… I had no idea why he moved so much. He was doing better and better, you could tell by his clothes, shoes and houses that he was going in the right direction."

    grey_new

    Erwin showered Johanna with presents including a Wedgwood vase, a gold and sapphire ring, and a gold coin. But at heart he was tiring of this relationship with his "fake" mother. In his mind she was a Nazi, a fascist, and a collaborator with foreign soldiers. He recalls travelling to Holland to introduce a girlfriend to Johanna - keeping up appearances.

    Erwin van Haarlem with a girlfriendWhite line 10 pixelsErwin van Haarlem with a girlfriend

    Inside the Dutch restaurant, folk music played and locals danced. Johanna got carried away, he said. A local man whirled her around the dance floor, and suddenly the spy saw her as a young girl, dancing with the Nazi soldiers.

    A blind rage swept over him like a fire. "She is at that again," he thought. "She never changes. She is 60!" One of the men held Johanna close, and gave a friend a suggestive wink. It nearly tipped van Haarlem over the edge.

    Some time later, back in London, Van Haarlem's telephone shrieked. The blissful silence in his apartment was shattered. He sat up in bed and checked the time. It was 03:00.

    "Dear son, I could not help it, I had to hear your voice." Johanna was slurring. Van Haarlem guessed she had been drinking. "I will sell my house and come to London," she said. "We will live together."

    "I absolutely understand why you are so upset, Mum," he said. "Of course it would be wonderful to live together, especially since our fate prevented us doing so in the past. Mum, you know what? Let's go to bed now and think about it overnight. I will call you tomorrow."

    He slammed down the phone but could not drift back to sleep. He was growing increasingly concerned about her behaviour. He simply couldn't afford her to be a liability. His life depended on it. But there was little he could do - he was stuck with her.

    Johanna and Erwin van Haarlem

    On her next visit, mother and son were driving through Golders Green in North London when Van Haarlem forgot to give the right of way to another car. The other driver slammed on his brakes to avoid a crash.

    "Sorry, friend!" said Erwin pleasantly, with a wave of his hand.

    Johanna snapped. "Why are you apologising?" she shouted. "You are so yielding, so soft! A typical Slav!"

    Van Haarlem was shocked. "He had the right of way," he said.

    "Right of way! Right of way!" she parroted.

    Gripping the wheel, the spy fumed. "You'll pay with interest for that," he thought. But he would never get the chance.

    One afternoon in autumn 1986 Van Haarlem noticed two cars driving closely behind him, pulling manoeuvres he recognised from his spy training.

    "They must be tailing someone," he thought. Then the penny dropped: "They are tailing you! You stupid ass!"

    He had by now quit his job at the Hilton - after rising from a lowly waiter to assistant purchase manager. He had set up himself up as a freelance artist and art dealer, and paid cash for the unassuming flat in Friern Barnet.

    Aerial view of Friern BarnetImage copyrightALAMYImage captionFriern Barnet, looking west from Arnos Grove

    It should have been the last place anyone would look for a foreign spy, but it soon became a hotbed of chicanery. There was the technician who came to "fix" his telephone, the new postmen, and the dedicated window cleaners who washed his windows not weekly, but seemingly daily.

    Van Haarlem was not the only one who noticed peculiar goings-on.

    Mrs Saint, 61, who co-ordinated the local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme, said she telephoned the police in November 1987 to report strange noises and a "Morse code" interference which affected her television reception every night at 21:20.

    Soon afterwards, in April 1988, that mysterious van parked outside Van Haarlem's apartment.

    grey_new

    Johanna van Haarlem heard about the arrest on BBC radio. Then investigators arrived at her home and asked her to testify against the spy at his trial.

    "When we finally made eye contact I felt hurt. I didn't see any sign of remorse, not a wink, no warmth, nothing," she said of the trial. A part of her was in denial, continuing to look in vain for a son's affection. "He showed me coldness," she said, "and looked at me like this was the end."

    Van Haarlem was sent to Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight. After five years, the end of the Cold War, and a hunger strike, he was released and deported to what had by then become the Czech Republic.

    Parkhurst PrisonImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

    I asked if he ever felt any compassion for Johanna.

    "I had no pity whatsoever," he said.

    "She was rather dominant and I had to put up with her. Sometimes I had enough of her," he added, describing many real mother-son relationships.

    During the five years he spent in a prison cell, he went on, one thing about his case remained a puzzle. It was a statement that Johanna made about how she found him. "Without being asked," he told me, "she said only on her own, from her own will, she started the whole action, trying to find me."

    From her own will. It was a funny thing to say, he thought.

    Was it a coincidence that Johanna's motherly instincts awakened just months after his application for a Dutch passport? Who else might have inspired her to track down her son, and why? We may never know, as Johanna van Haarlem died in 2004. However, the spy has his own theory.

    "We thought she was under the guidance of MI5 or the Dutch security service," he said.

    Could Johanna also have been a spy? Though it seems unlikely, in this world of disguise and deception, anything is possible.

    Adapted from The Spy With No Name by @JeffMaysh (Amazon Kindle Singles), published today.

     

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  • Indonesia suspends military co-operation with Australia

    Indonesia has suspended all military co-operation with Australia, saying "a lot of things needed to be improved".

    Army spokesman Maj Gen Wuryanto said the halt came into force in December and a broad range of activities were affected, including joint training.

    Australian Defence officials confirmed Indonesia had halted all defence co-operation over "teaching materials".

    Bilateral relations have been tense at times in recent years, although there were recent signs of improvement.

    "All forms of co-operation with the Australian military, including joint training, have been temporarily withheld. I hope it can be resolved as soon as possible," Maj Gen Wuryanto said.

    Australia's Defence Minister Marise Payne said later in a statement: "Late last year concerns were raised by an Indonesian TNI (Indonesian National Armed Forces) officer about some teaching materials and remarks at an Army language training facility in Australia."

    "The Australian Army has looked into the serious concerns that were raised and the investigation into the incident is being finalised."

    'Offensive material'

    Indonesian special forces group Kopassus trains with the Special Air Service in Perth, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC).

    An Indonesian newspaper, Kompas, reported that a Kopassus instructor had found "laminated material" at the training facility which he considered to be offensive to the Indonesia's founding principle of Pancasila.

    When asked about this, Maj Gen Wuryanto said there were many reasons for the suspension, without giving further details.


    What is Pancasila?

    • The official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state.
    • Consists of two Javanese words, originally from Sanskrit: "panca" meaning five and "sila" meaning principles.
    • The principles are: The one God system (monotheism), just and civilised humanity, the unity of Indonesia, democracy and social justice for all.
    • Ignoring these principles is illegal. For instance, Indonesians must hold a religion because of the first one - being an atheist is illegal in the country.

    The countries' navies had been expected to take part in multinational training exercises next month.

    "Whether or not we will continue with the joint exercise, I will have to get back to you on that," First Admiral Jonias Mozes Sipasulta, from the Indonesian navy, told the ABC.

    Defence ties

    Australia has stopped conducting joint training exercises with the Kopassus before, after accusations of abuses by the unit in East Timor in 1999 in the lead-up to the former Indonesian territory's independence.

    The co-operation resumed in 2006 amid a renewed focus on counterterrorism after two Bali nightclubs were bombed in 2002, killing 202 people including 88 Australians.

    In addition to the 2013 allegations of Australian spying, ties were also strained in 2015 following Indonesia's executions of Australian drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, and its criticism of Australia's border protection policy.

    In December 2015, the nations signed a "memorandum of understanding" after Indonesia arrested nine people over an alleged terror threat following a tip-off that reportedly came from Australian Federal Police.

    In September last year, the first joint training exercise on Australian soil since 1995 was staged in the northern city of Darwin.

    In November, the nations flagged the prospect of joint military patrols in the South China Sea - something Australia already does with the US and India.

    Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said at the time that maritime co-operation between the nations was strong and included training and personnel exchanges.

    Rela

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  • Donald Trump backs Julian Assange over Russia hacking claim

    President-elect Donald Trump has backed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in casting doubt on intelligence alleging Russian meddling in the US election.

    Mr Assange said Russia was not the source for the site's mass leak of emails from the Democratic Party.

    Mr Trump has now backed that view in a tweet. He wrote: "Assange... said Russians did not give him the info!"

    The president-elect has repeatedly refused to accept the conclusions of the US intelligence community.

    Several US agencies including the FBI and the CIA believe Russia directed hacks against the Democratic Party and the campaign of its presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

    The information, released through Wikileaks and other outlets, was intended to help Mr Trump win the election, say the FBI and CIA.

    On Tuesday evening, Mr Trump said an intelligence briefing he was due to receive on the issue had been delayed.

    "Perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!" he wrote.

    But US intelligence officials insisted there had been no delay in the briefing schedule.

    In an interview with Fox News, Mr Assange repeated his claim that Russia was not behind the leak.

    He also said a 14-year-old boy could have carried out one of the hacks, on the email account of John Podesta, a top aide of Mrs Clinton.

    In 2010, several leading Republican figures were calling for the Wikileaks founder to be imprisoned after his website published thousands of embarrassing diplomatic cables leaked by former Army Pvt Chelsea Manning.

    Mr Trump tweeted twice on Wednesday morning in support of what Mr Assange said on Fox News.

     

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  • Inside China's 'mosquito factory' fighting Zika and dengue


    He wants to rid China -- and potentially the world -- of mosquitoes, specifically the ones that carry devastating diseases like Zika and dengue. And he's doing it in the classic style of good versus evil.

    "We're building good mosquitoes that can help us fight the bad ones," the entomologist said in his 3,500-square-foot laboratory in Guangzhou, China.
    Decked out in white scrubs, Xi, a soft-spoken researcher from Michigan State University, gestures at hundreds of trays, each filled with about 6,000 squirming mosquito larvae. The room reeks of ground beef liver powder cut with yeast, a superfood for the tiny creatures.
    This "mosquito factory" is on Sun Yat-Sen University's science campus, about an hour's drive from the bustle of Guangzhou city center.
    The center's full name is the Sun Yat-Sen-Michigan State University Joint Center of Vector Control for Tropical Disease, and here, lab technicians are breeding up to 5 million Aedes albopictus mosquitoes a week -- a species more common in Asia, responsible for spreading both dengue and Zika.
    A lab technician looks at trays of larvae in the "mosquito factory's" mass production facility.
     
    The mosquitoes have been infected with bacteria that prevent them from transferring viruses such as dengue to humans. Only the males of the group are being released because the bacteria, Wolbachia, makes them sterile, so the wild females they mate with lay eggs that won't hatch.
    These males have now been released on Shazai island, a village 37 miles (60 kilometers) from the factory. A 300-meter (984 feet) bridge separates the village of 1,900 people from the mainland, and according to Xi, the isolated location keeps incoming mosquito populations at bay: Mosquitoes can fly 50 to 75 meters (164 to 246 feet) at most.
    Xi expects this technique to lead to a massive reduction in the number of mosquitoes.
    Although his method is unconventional, some scientists are hailing it as one of the most promising ways to eliminate two of the most common mosquito-borne diseases that affect millions each year.

    Mosquito vs. mosquito

    The Zika virus has spread to more than 60 countries and territories. Pregnant women are most at risk because the virus can cause the devastating birth defectmicrocephaly and other neurological deficits that require a lifetime of care.
    It's the only known mosquito-borne disease to cause a birth defect.
    As is the case with Zika, most people infected with dengue fever don't know it, because they don't have symptoms. Dengue infects 390 million people a year, and although unusual, it can be fatal.
    But tackling both of these diseases has been tricky.
    An anti-dengue vaccine is licensed for use in six countries in Asia and Latin America, however, some experts warn that it could actually lead to an increase in cases if not rolled out correctly, as it's more likely to be severe the second time someone contracts dengue.
    A vaccination for Zika is still being developed.
    "Vaccine development is a long journey," said Eng Eong Ooi, the deputy director of the Emerging Infectious Disease program at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.
    "It not only takes time to develop vaccine candidates, but showing that the vaccine is safe and protects against disease in humans will also require a few years."
     
    Aware of the pitfalls of developing vaccinations, Xi is part of a growing task force of researchers who prefer instead to turn dangerous mosquitoes against one another.
    Xi has worked with Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes since 2005, and in China, he's adapted his methods to deal with the Aedes albopictus, which are more common in Southeast Asia.
    He'll soon be taking his technology global. With the help of a $1 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development, he plans to set up a similar mosquito factory in Mexico in March.
    But Xi isn't the only researcher exploring this promising field.
    Eliminate Dengue, a nonprofit research collaboration that's been active in Indonesia and Australia, received an $18 million grant in October to launch a Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti mosquito release program in Brazil and Colombia. It focuses on establishing a new population of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes -- that will be unable to spread these viruses -- into the environment as opposed to eliminating them like Xi does.
    In the world of biotechnology, UK-based company Oxitec received authorization from Florida Keys residents to release genetically modified mosquitoes there in the fight against Zika in early 2017.

    A truly 'surreal place'

    Zhang Dongjing displays a container of sterile adult male mosquitoes that are ready to be released in a lab in the mass production facility.
     
    As Xi spends most of his time in the US, it's mainly an army of young lab technicians with bioengineering, entomology and pharmaceutical backgrounds who staff his factory.
    Chen Chunping, whose eyes were barely visible behind a voluminous face mask and scrub cap, said she was initially shocked when she saw the factory, a labyrinthine space with multiple rooms dedicated to the research and mass production of mosquitoes.
    "I thought it was a surreal place that came out of a science fiction plot, but I soon got used to it," said Chen, who heads the mosquito feeding program.
    But mass-rearing millions of mosquitoes is no easy task.
    Lab technician Chen Chunping places pupa into a cage in the mass production facility.
     

    Making the mosquitoes

    Researchers start by injecting Wolbachia into mosquito eggs under a microscope to establish their first generation of infected mosquitoes. These mosquitoes then breed and produce more eggs to be harvested, which are grown in water-filled trays until they morph into larvae.
    Once they become pupae, researchers manually separate the males from the females through a glass sieve-like contraption in the "sex separation" room for about four hours each day.
    The larger females get caught in the sieve while slimmer males slide into the water beneath. Lab assistants destroy the females while males are packaged in plastic containers so that they can grow into adult mosquitoes that can be readied for release.
    In the factory, lab assistants take swipes at rogue female mosquitoes that have escaped their cages with electric rackets.
    "We get bitten all the time," entomologist Li Yongjing said with a grin.

    Island lab

    Xi's team of lab technicians makes the hour-long journey to Shazai Island three times a week.
    The community assistants who live alongside the villagers here also monitor the population of mosquitoes on Shazai Island to evaluate the program's success rate.
    They dot ovitraps -- lantern-like devices that mimic the preferred breeding ground for female mosquitoes -- around Shazai. Each week, they extract eggs laid in the ovitraps and place them in incubators to see if they will hatch. Another set of traps is designed to capture wild female mosquitoes, whose numbers should also be in decline.
    "Based on the number of eggs laid in the trap and the hatch rate, we know how well the population has been suppressed," Xi said.
    Villagers weren't always welcoming of the scientists and their buzzing friends.
    Perched on a small red stool outside her home, Ruiying Liang said she'd initially felt uncomfortable about the idea of researchers releasing yet more mosquitoes on an island already infested with them.
    But her fear of contracting dengue, a painful disease sometimes called break-bone fever, helped her eventually overcome her skepticism. In 2014, Guangdong province had its most serious dengue outbreak in decades, with a record 45,224 cases.
    "It felt strange at first, but I did notice fewer mosquitoes around with time," she said.
    These days, Liang barely registers when the community assistants ride by on their two-seater motorbikes, releasing mosquitoes as they pass.
    Chen Shourongon paddles her boat on Shazai Island, where the field release program is underway.
     
    Keeping the community's trust, however, remains an issue. Before releasing the mosquitoes, Xi and his team spent a year telling the villagers about the release program to convince them of the benefits of his research.
    A permanent outpost of community assistants are on hand to respond to queries from locals and to act as goodwill ambassadors for Xi's project, assuaging any concerns.

    Does it work?

    A female mosquito under a microscope at the Sun Yat-Sen University-Michigan University Joint Center of Vector Control for Tropical Disease.
     
    So far, members of Xi's team claim that they have suppressed the mosquito population on the island by a whopping 96%, but scientists have questioned whether he will be able to scale up his island experiment in larger areas.
    Raman Velayudhan, an infectious disease expert at the World Health Organization, said that although Xi's research was promising, he must bear in mind the Aedes mosquito's tenacious survival skills.
    "It really isn't that easy to eliminate a population of mosquitoes," he said.
    Velayudhan says that Xi might succeed in suppressing the mosquito population in a particular area, but Aedes mosquitoes can lay up to 150 eggs every three days up to 10 times during their lifespan.
    These eggs, he warned, can remain alive for up to a year in secluded dry spots, hatching when they encounter moisture.
    "How will (Xi) scale up the control method?" Velayudhan asked.
    Aware of the challenges, Xi said that his project will consider the rate at which mosquitoes return to the island -- if they do -- once the current population has been eliminated.
    However, Velayudhan says that in some cases, a decline in mosquito populations still doesn't stop diseases from spreading.
    "The main problem with Zika is that even when the number of infected mosquitoes is low, they can sustain disease transmission," he said.
    "This is one of the biggest challenges that we have in the scientific world."
    But despite the obstacles, Xi's techniques recently impressed a visiting team of Mexican researchers, who were being trained to release their own Zika-fighting mosquito army in 2017.
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    "We've seen how the people in China reacted to Xi's method, and we also think we'll have a good reaction in Mexico," said Pablo Manrique, a biologist from the Autonomous University of Yucatan.
    Next, Xi wants to expand his project to more densely populated areas and use drones and helicopters to drop the mosquitoes onto cities being targeted.
    "It's just like in the military where you need an air force and troops on the ground," Xi said. "Ultimately, we want to scale up our operations to save lives."

     

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  • Syria conflict: Ceasefire agreed for midnight, backed by Russia and Turkey

    The Syrian government and rebel groups have agreed to a ceasefire from midnight (22:00 GMT) across the country, followed by peace talks.

    The deal was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin and confirmed by the Turkish foreign ministry.

    Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides in the bitter conflict, will act as guarantors.

    Turkey said all fighting including air strikes would be halted. However, some jihadist groups are excluded.

    The Syrian army said in a statement that so-called Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) "and the groups affiliated to them" were excluded.

    An opposition spokesman confirmed the agreement but a rebel source quoted by Reuters news agency said only IS areas were not covered by the truce.

    The ceasefire reportedly does cover the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, which had been a sticking-point in negotiations.

    Earlier this month, Moscow and Ankara negotiated a ceasefire in Syria's second city, Aleppo, that led to tens of thousands of rebel fighters and civilians being evacuated from an enclave besieged by government forces.

    Previous ceasefire initiatives this year brokered by the UN, or the US acting with Russia, quickly collapsed.

    The Turkish foreign ministry said it was crucial for all states with influence over the groups in Syria to comply with and to support the ceasefire.

    That could be seen as an obvious plea to Washington, among others, the BBC's Selin Girit reports.

    'Fragile' deal

    Mr Putin announced in Moscow that three documents had been signed:

    • An agreement between the Syrian government and the armed opposition on a ceasefire
    • Measures for overseeing the ceasefire
    • An agreement to start peace talks

    He described the deal as "fragile" but he praised the agreements as the result of the work of Russia's defence and foreign ministries with Moscow's partners in the region.

    Map showing control of Syria and Iraq (19 December 2016)

    He added that he agreed with a proposal by the defence ministry to reduce Russia's military presence in Syria but made it clear Moscow would "continue fighting international terrorism and supporting the Syrian government".

    A spokesman for the Syria's leading opposition body, the National Coalition, told news agencies it backed the ceasefire.

    "The National Coalition expresses support for the agreement and urges all parties to abide by it," Ahmed Ramadan told AFP.

    He said that key rebel groups including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham and Army of Islam factions had signed the ceasefire deal, though there was no immediate confirmation from rebel officials, AFP notes.

    Speaking to AP, he added that members of the Free Syrian Army, a loose alliance of several moderate rebel factions, would abide by the truce but retaliate to violations by government and forces and their allies.

    'They got what they wanted'

    Speaking before the agreement was reached, Diana Darke, a Middle East expert, said she was optimistic as Russia and Iran had achieved their war goals.

    "Potentially everybody has finally reached the stage where they are ready," she told the BBC World Service's Newsday programme.

    "They can see that there is nothing further to be gained. I mean Russia does not want to be sucked more and more in to the Syrian quicksand. They've got what they wanted. The same for Iran. The Syrian government itself is incredibly weak."

    At least 300,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting which followed the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

    Fifteen civilians, including six children, were reportedly killed by air and artillery strikes on Eastern Ghouta on Thursday.

    A further four million have fled the country to seek refuge in neighbouring states or Europe.

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