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    Huge explosion flattens buildings in Wirral
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    Huge explosion flattens buildings in Wirral

    A huge explosion has flattened at least one building on the Wirral, injuring dozens of people. 
    Emergency services rushed to the scene in New Ferry, where a building, believed to be a dance studio, was reduced to rubble at around 9.15pm.
    It is not yet clear if anyone was inside the building at the time, but injured people were seen walking to ambulances, according to the Liverpool Echo, one with a "serious head bandage".
    North West Ambulance service confirmed one serious casualty was taken to Aintree University Hospital and 23 others described as walking wounded were taken to Arrowe Park and the Countess of Chester hospital.
    Most of the casualties are thought to have been customers at a nearby Chinese restaurant. The windows of a pub were also shattered by the blast.
    One resident said he believed there were people buried under the rubble.
    Lew Hopkins told the Echo: “Some people were under the rubble. It was horrific."
    He said people who live near the site were being evacuated because of fears there could be a second blast.
    He said: “They evacuated people on the street because they were scared it could happen again.
    “They were all forced to evacuate - it was horrible to see.”
    Wirral council said it had set up a refuge for people who have been displaced as part of the incident and is working with emergency services at the scene.
    Merseyside Fire Service said a suspected gas explosion had caused a building to collapse.






    A spokeswoman for the service confirmed they were dealing with a blast at two buildings covering an area of around 50 metres by 40 metres.
    “They have collapsed in a suspected explosion due to a gas leak,” she said.
    The news editor at Capital FM tweeted: “Explosion in New Ferry understood to be at a furniture shop... building flattened with other buildings around it suffering damage”
    The Liverpool Echo reports that the building was dance studio called Complete Works. A petrol station may also have been damaged.
    Nearby residents said they had felt the earth shake from the explosion, which left a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky.
    Witnesses described the scene as 'like a war zone'.
    Bino Shan, the owner of a convenience store on nearby Bebington Road, told the Telegraph: “I saw one man injured, I think a few people were injured.
    “The building is gone, my door is damaged and broken. It's really scary, it was a big explosion but I didn't see any fire.
    “The police said the gas blew up.”





    Alison McGovern, the MP for Wirral South, tweeted that she was at the scene but urged others to stay away.
    Lucy Lee, a woman who is believed to have worked at the dance studio, posted on Facebook that she was heartbroken by the accident.
    Lost for words.. I began complete works when it very first opened and to see it build how it did and go from 20 of us to hundreds of them was incredible," she said.
    "Vic & Kim put their heart and souls into that dance school and within minutes it has gone. Hoping everyone is safe.



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    Khalid Masood: How popular schoolboy became a mass murderer who brought terror to Westminster
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    Khalid Masood: How popular schoolboy became a mass murderer who brought terror to Westminster

    As fears grew that Khalid Masood had not been the lone wolf many had originally assumed, more details emerged of the seemingly rootless, troubled life of the Westminster terrorist attacker.
    The locations varied from Tunbridge Wells, byword for bourgeois respectability, to prison.
    The perceptions of those he encountered on the way veered from “all-round nice guy” to troubled – and troubling – violent thug
    Khalid Masood began as plain Adrian, born on Christmas Day 1964 in Erith on the Kent-London border, to Janet Elms, a white 17-year-old single mother and a black father.
    Within two years, there was a stepfather: Janet married Phillip Ajao in 1966 in Crawley, West Sussex.  
    The family moved on to the St James’ Park area of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and here Masood, now going by his stepfather’s surname as Adrian Ajao, appears to have been a happy and popular schoolboy.
    Aged 15, at Huntley School for Boys, he was among a group of lads smiling for the camera as they took part in a 24-hour sponsored five-a-side tournament for charity.
    “He was a very nice guy, down to earth, liked by everyone around him,” said Stuart Knight, one of the other boys in the photograph, now a 52-year-old butcher.
    “He was a very good sportsman, his mother was a Christian, he was an all-round nice guy.”
    ajao-adrian-school-khalid-masood.jpg 
     Khalid Masood during his school days, when he was known as Adrian Ajao(Huntley School)
    Yet after leaving school at 16, and moving to Rye, East Sussex, Masood began what was to become a lengthy criminal career.
    His first conviction was just before his nineteenth birthday, in November 1983, for criminal damage.
    At some point, there was also an estrangement from his respectable family, which is thought to have included two half-brothers.
    His mother moved to rural Trelech in Carmarthenshire, West Wales, about 15 years ago and ended up running a business selling handmade bags and cushions from her farmhouse. Her home was blocked by a police van and officers.
    A mechanic at the garage in the tiny village insisted that whatever the son had done, the mother and her husband Phillip, now thought to be in poor health, were “good people”.
    Masood appears to have tried to find respectability himself, having a child in 1992 and moving to the quiet Sussex village of Northiam “to give his family and himself a better and more tranquil way of life”, as a court would later hear. It didn’t work.  
    Some locals found him intelligent, but unsettling.
    Alice Williams, 59, landlady of the Rose and Crown pub in the nearby village of Beckley where Masood would sometimes drink, recalled a man who was “very intelligent, but always slightly sinister”. 
    “He would do The Telegraph crossword and would make intelligent conversation,” said Ms Williams. “But he was a bit racist. He always had a chip on his shoulder.”
    In an incident that – in Masood’s mind if no one else’s – may have led to a sense of alienation and grievance, he was convicted in 2000 of wounding and criminal damage.
    After a row at the Crown and Thistle pub in Northiam, Masood, who had drunk four pints during the afternoon, slashed café owner Piers Mott with a knife, leaving him with a face wound that needed 20 stitches.
    It was said at the time that Masood had been one of only two black men in the village. And Alexander Taylor-Camara, Masood’s defence barrister, told Hove Crown Court: “There were racial overtones in the argument between himself and the victim. He let that get to him – unusually, because in the past he has been able to shrug off that sort of abuse.”
    “His wife and family have now become ostracised in the village,” added Mr Taylor-Camara. “It is a very small community and his wife and family have been extremely affected by this.


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    #Fallujah #IRAQ Observers Fear 'Dirty Brigade' Atrocities After ISIS Fight in Fallujah

    Observers Fear 'Dirty Brigade' Atrocities After ISIS Fight in Fallujah



    As the Iraqi military digs in against ISIS in the battle for Fallujah, American human rights advocates and Iraqi activists are voicing alarm about the potential for more sectarian atrocities from some Iraqi forces and their militia allies in the event of victory – a possible continuation of captives being tortured and executed with impunity, often on camera.
    Over the weekend Iraqi officials confirmed that Iraq's controversial Popular Mobilization Forces [PMFs], Shiite-dominated militia groups, are participating in the fight for Fallujah, just west of Baghdad in central Iraq.
    Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense have reported continued instances of war crimes over the past year in Sunni areas north of Baghdad such as Tikrit — showing that some groups in the military and militias on Baghdad's payroll have not stopped committing abuses sincean ABC News  revealed widespread atrocities posted on social media 14 months ago.
     neck according to one analyst -- from what looks like an Iraqi military base guard tower. The image was posted on Instagram.more +
    Ali Khedery, a former senior U.S. official who was the longest-serving diplomat in Baghdad, said last week, "It will not surprise me if the city [Fallujah] is leveled and a lot of people are killed at the hands of the Iraqi  and militias."
    If Shiite militias sack Fallujah, it will inspire revenge by Sunnis against Shiites in "a race to the bottom," he added.
    Officially, the Pentagon says U.S. forces in Iraq do not support sectarian militias with airstrikes or otherwise assist them as Iraqi troops close in on Sunni-dominated cities and do not even know what specific role these irregular fighters will play in the Fallujah campaign.
    But Pentagon spokesman and Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said last week, before the beginning of the battle for Fallujah, that PMF fighters positioned north of the city "have largely a relationship of co-existence with Iraq forces and are aligned against ISIS."
    When it comes to the Iraqi military, another Pentagon spokesman, Marine Maj. Adriane Rankine Galloway, told ABC News last week that some Iraqi units and individual commanders continue to be barred from receiving U.S. military aid under a federal law that prohibits it from going to any foreign forces for which there is "credible evidence" of human rights violations.
    Galloway said, "Some Iraqi units have been restricted from receiving assistance because their commander didn’t pass vetting" — echoing what officials told ABC News more than a year ago for an investigation that started in the dark corners of Iraqi social media.

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    [In an image posted on Instagram, six uniformed men, who appear to be Iraqi special operations forces from the Golden Brigades, surround an alleged ISIS suspect, who has been dragged with a rope or cable tied to his foot.]

    Horrific Abuse, Executions Posted Online

    The ABC News investigation broadcast in 2015, "Dirty Brigades: No Clean Hands in Iraq's ISIS Fight," included dozens of shocking photos and videos of torture, beheadings and roadside executions by Iraqi government special operation forces, Iraqi counterterrorism forces and special weapons and tactics police units trained and armed in many cases by the U.S.
    Shiite militia allies were also often photographed carrying U.S.-made Colt M4 rifles manufactured in Connecticut or driving Humvees made in Indiana while torturing victims or proudly displaying severed heads. The U.S. equipment ended up in their hands presumably courtesy of the Iraqi military. In some U.S. military and Iraqi circles, the Iraqi units and militias in question are referred to as the "dirty brigades."
    Shiite-dominated Iran is widely believed to support many of the PMFs. Philip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher and an expert on Shiite militias and Iran, said he and many U.S. officials suspect that Iran’s notorious elite Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was behind some of the accounts in the grotesque social media campaign — a twisted effort to build support for the militias after the Iraqi army suffered humiliation at the hands of ISIS in Mosul two years ago.
    The barring of military aid to foreign allies on the basis of human rights abuses, unless the foreign government is bringing the responsible individuals to justice, falls under a vetting program operated by the Departments of Defense and State. ABC News last year disclosed that "certain Iraqi units," which U.S. officials declined to name for classification reasons, had been denied weapons and training under the Leahy Law because of suspected or known human rights violations.
    Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the law's author, said Iraq's government "should insist that members of the Iraqi security forces who commit such crimes are appropriately punished."
    "Iraqi security forces have a history of violating human rights with impunity, and it is incumbent on the Departments of Defense and State to make every effort to prevent U.S. weapons from ending up in the wrong hands," he told ABC News last week.
    [The patches worn by the men in one of the photos posted to Instagram appear to match the patches of the Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade, a counterterrorism unit under the Interior Ministry.]

    ‘Extrajudicial Killings’

    Leahy isn't the lone voice noting the total lack of accountability in Baghdad for atrocities similar to those committed by ISIS — which the world has condemned.
    The State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor last month strongly criticized the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose forces and militia allies committed atrocities and got away with it, according to an annual human rights assessment.
    "Numerous reports continued during the year [2015] of Shia PMF killing, torturing, kidnapping and extorting civilians," the State Department country report on Iraq said. "Security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings, although identification of specific killers was rare."
    The Iraqi government "rarely investigated" allegations of human rights violations in 2015, the State Department report said, even when presented with photographic evidence and eyewitnesses by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and journalists at ABC News.
    [A uniformed individual holds the severed head of a purported Saudi ISIS fighter atop a U.S.-made Humvee in Iraq. In the background, a man wears two patches signifying the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s Emergency Response Brigade.]

    'Do You Want a Civil War in the Streets?'

    Last year both the Iraqi military and al-Abadi promised to investigate and hold accountable anyone committing war crimes, though the vast majority have been perpetrated by ISIS rather than the government. Repeated inquiries over the past 14 months, including last week, by ABC News to Baghdad Operations Center spokesman Gen. Saad Maan about any results have gone unanswered.
    "Information about investigations or prosecutions of abuses by government officials and members of the security forces was not publicly available. Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security forces personnel," the State Department report said.
    Joe Stork, a senior investigator at Human Rights Watch, recently visited Baghdad and went straight to the top to address the fact that no one has been held responsible for war crimes.
    "I met with the Prime Minister Abadi and raised the impunity and accountability issues," Stork told ABC News. "He said he shared our concerns. We asked why there has been no accountability, and he said, 'Do you want a civil war in the streets?'"
    A social media superstar in the Shiite militias is the gregarious weightlifter known as Abu Azrael (the Angel of Death), a fighter wielding a U.S.-made M4 who has declared he will "grind to dust" ISIS jihadis in Fallujah. He appeared in a new video last week with militia fighters, comparing the coming Fallujah offensive to the successful liberation of Baiji he participated in last year.
    But it was in Baiji where Abu Azrael — called the Shiite Rambo by his fans — made international headlines last August, when he used a sword to slice off pieces of a charred alleged ISIS fighter strung up by his feet by PMF troops.
    Asked about the incident, Basam al-Hussaini, the representative in the U.S. of the PMFs, said Iraq "is not a civilized, perfect country. We can only do so much."
    Weeks after the Abu Azrael incident, the top U.S. envoy in the region, Brett McGurk, praised the militias under the government's umbrella for the fight to retake Baiji in northern Iraq. "The U.S. commends progress by Iraqi security forces & Popular Mobilization Forces against #ISIL terrorists in #Bayji," he said on Twitter.
    Sunni activists, therefore, are especially alarmed amid Iraq’s ongoing offensive against ISIS. They fear Shiite retribution against their people in western Iraq after ISIS fighters are driven out of Sunni cities and towns, where they have received varying degrees of food and succor.
    "We firmly oppose any involvement of Shiite militias to liberate Fallujah, whether through their participation in operations or under the umbrella of the Iraqi security forces, as was the case in Ramadi last year," a prominent Sunni activist, Sheikh Khamis al-Khanjar from the Office of the Arab-Sunni Representative for Iraq, said in a statement last week.
    Al-Khanjar accused top leaders from two prominent Iranian-backed militias — the Badr Organization and Kata'ib Hezbollah, known for killing many U.S. troops in the Iraq War of 2003 to 2011 — of being "involved in crimes against humanity" in past operations.
    A Human Rights Watch report published last September said that in the case of Tikrit, after it was retaken by Iraqi forces, "officials and residents in Tikrit also alleged that the militias were involved in widespread looting and extrajudicial killings."
    Al-Hussaini, a Shiite Iraqi-American, told ABC News that militias "are involved in Fallujah" but only a "tiny" percentage of them participated in war crimes.
    "There are going to be some bad apples, whether you are an American soldier or PMU [Popular Mobilization Unit]. It's going to happen," he said in an interview. "There is no control. It's a battlefield. It is chaos."
    ABC News' Luis Martinez and Lee Ferran contributed to this report.
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    U.S. Congress: Resolution for MEK protection in Camp Liberty
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    BY Keyvan Salami
    A number of prominent members of the United States House of Representatives have submitted a new resolution concerning the rights of those members the People's Mujahidin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) residing currently in Camp Liberty near Baghdad Airport for adoption in Congress. The resolution "H. RES. 650" was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 17. It is sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe and co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Brian Higgins, Albio Sires, and Brad Sherman.
    The MEK members have repeatedly been attacked since 2009. In seven deadly assaults 140 members have lost their lives and more than 1,300 have been wounded. The latest one, on October 29 was carried out aiming a mass murder and a mass destruction, deploying 80 heavily strengthened missiles causing 24 killed, hundreds injured and destruction of large sections of the camp. These attacks occurred despite assurances for protection provided in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by both the United States government and the United Nations and also the Iraqi government. The Iraqi side, however, has fallen largely to fulfill this obligation and has failed to launch any investigation with respect to those who caused the attacks, those who collaborated with the agents of the Iranian regime in order to kill those in Camp Liberty.
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    Therefore, the members of MEK in this camp now find themselves in a dangerous situation. The Camp's residents, having been forced to entrust their security to the Iraqi government, are at risk of further attacks being carried out by the Iranian government and its proxies.
    The bi-partisan resolution proposed by Rep. Poe, would be a major step forward towards ensuring safety and safe resettlement of the residents.it asks the U.S. administration to work with the Government of Albania and the UNHCR to facilitate and provide suitable locations for housing of the remaining Camp Liberty residents.
    Athwart the mullahs’ status quo in Tehran who after the JCPOA and the recent elections are deeply entangled with factional crises and regional isolation, MEK has begun receiving the righteous consideration it deserves after a decade of bitter renunciation and deprivation. Challenging the diehard terrorism under the tag of religion will eventually welcomes genuine democratic options.

    Keyvan Salami tweets at @SalamiKeyvan

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