Brussels attacks expose vulnerability of Europe’s cities

By Josef Federman And Paisley Dodds

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

JERUSALEM _ Despite the high death toll and dramatic scenes of destruction, this week’s attacks in Brussels appear to have been surprisingly easy to carry out, requiring little more than some careful preparation, a handful of motivated militants and ingredients that are readily available on store shelves.

Security experts say Europe’s major cities filled with soft targets and home to hundreds of Islamic militants who have fought or trained in Syria, Iraq and Libya will remain vulnerable to similar attacks without changes in their security procedures.

The assailants in Brussels were well-prepared for the suicide bombings in the airport and subway, which killed more than 30 people. They chose crowded, easy-to-reach targets that were poorly secured in a country whose forces have already been stretched by a string of crackdowns on suspected Islamic militants. Belgium’s chief prosecutor said the investigators found 15 kilograms of TATP an inexpensive and hard-to-detect explosive material at an apartment where the attackers had stayed, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether it was used in the blasts.

“It doesn’t require sophistication, but it requires preparation and planning,” said Yoram Schweitzer, a former head of the Israeli military’s counter-terrorism desk. “There is a need for suicide belts, a safe house, or perhaps baggage with explosives.”

Schweitzer, an expert at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think-tank , estimated that an attack like the one in Brussels would take weeks, perhaps several months, to plan.

Israel faced a wave of suicide bombings during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s before taking a series of measures that halted the attacks. These included construction of a massive separation barrier to block attackers from the West Bank, a military crackdown and stepped up intelligence, including the use of Palestinian informants, that allows Israel to nab suspects before they carry out their operations.

Equally critically, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who took office in late 2004, has maintained a system of security co-operation with Israel, even during times of heightened tensions. This co-operation has been motivated by shared concerns over the Islamic militant Hamas group.

Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport has not experienced an attack in decades, thanks to a sophisticated multilayered system of security checks that include inspections of every vehicle entering the site and armed guards both inside and outside the terminals. Schools, supermarkets and shopping malls all have security guards who check visitors’ bags. Racial profiling is common, and Arab travellers and visitors are often frisked or aggressively questioned.

While Israelis have become accustomed to these inconveniences, bringing such measures to continental Europe, with its larger territory and diverse population, would be difficult.

Citizens can pass freely across European borders without stringent identity checks, and transport hubs contain very few security checks. Profiling suspects is challenging in Europe due to its racial diversity, and extremist groups like IS actively recruit people of European descent.

Armed guards patrol many of Europe’s train stations, airports and landmarks, but their presence is significantly less onerous than similar hubs in the U.S. and Israel. There is also direct train access with little to no security into many European airports. The Belgium attackers appear to have entered the Brussels airport posing as travellers with suitcases.

“Getting a bomb on a plane or through the security at the airport is tough, but getting one into the airport or a train station is relatively simple,” said Matthew Henman, managing editor at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre in the U.K. “But imagine if you had everyone’s bags searched before they entered at train stations during peak rush-hours. Soon, there would be long lines and those gathered crowds would become the new target.”

The United Kingdom is better protected because of its physical separation from continental Europe, allowing for better border controls and greater difficulty smuggling weapons into the country.

Still, homegrown suicide bombers struck London in simultaneous attacks that killed 56 people in 2005. Since then, Britain has invested in placing protective barriers around buildings, improved communications systems in the London subway system and an extensive network of security cameras around transport hubs and landmarks.

Recently, British counter-terrorism teams have been planning for an even scarier scenario: a chemical or biological attack.

“Groups like IS learn on their feet,” Henman said. “Once one set of additional measures are introduced, they’ll learn from the changes and will soon alter their operations.”

One of the biggest challenges for European authorities will be improving intelligence gathering. Security experts estimate hundreds of militants who have fought in Syria are now in Europe, many of them in Brussels. They tend to live in insular immigrant communities that have been difficult for law enforcement agencies to penetrate.

Authorities will have to learn how to foil these attacks as they are being planned, said Elias Hanna, a former Lebanese brigadier general who is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut. “You have to be ahead of them in time and preparation,” he said.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Israeli intelligence assistance to Belgium.

Shlomo Harnoy, a former senior official at Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, said that global airport security remains focused on preventing attacks on airplanes, a remnant of the 9-11 attacks, while ignoring security inside and outside terminals.

It was a 2006 trans-Atlantic bomb plot which introduced bans on liquids being carried through airport security and onto planes. He said authorities must do a better job detecting bombers, not just bombs.

“When you are busy taking a bottle of mineral water away from an old woman, you miss the big picture,” said Harnoy, a founder of Sdema Group, a homeland security consulting firm. “They are too busy with the routine checks instead of scanning for suspects.”

canada-press

 

Record flooding and violent tornadoes in the U.S.; worst floods for parts of the U.K. since 2007

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It’s not over: Victims of Hurricane Patricia issue plead for aid

It’s not over: Victims of Hurricane Patricia issue plead for aid

Source: Mexico Daily News

LA MANZANILLA, Mexico — Hurricane Patricia

The unpredictability of Hurricane Patricia’s exact path may have spared the highly populated cities of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, but the area between them, known as Costalegre, was hit for at least two hours by the full force of the record-breaking storm.

The main activities of the inhabitants of the Costalegre area are fishing and ecotourism, based in six small beach villages: Arroyo Seco, Melaque, Barra de Navidad, Boca de Iguana, Tenacatita and La Manzanilla.

It was in that last coastal village, located within the Jalisco municipality of La Huerta that the newspaper El Universal interviewed some of its residents in the aftermath of the Category-5 hurricane.

María de Jesús Pérez is the owner of a small, 12-room hotel right on the beach. The building is still standing, but the storm shattered windows and dumped sand, water and debris into the rooms and her home.

Until her daughter, Rocío Ramírez flew down from California she and a friend had been struggling on their own to clean up the mess.

Yolanda Moreno and her family also travelled to La Manzanilla after Patricia had swept through the area, in their case to find out how their beach house had fared. What they found was disheartening: all the doors and windowpanes were gone, their clothing and household goods were destroyed, as was their kitchen.

Othon Salvador, the owner of several beach bungalows, voiced the discontent of the residents of La Manzanilla in the aftermath: “Navy and Army officials came here early Saturday morning. They cleaned and opened the entrances and the main street of the town, but that was the extent of their aid. The rest we’re paying for ourselves, or doing it with our hands.”

Conditions are bleak: 11 small hotels were damaged, as were many homes. Walls and palapa roofs were blown down, and sand covers everything in sight. Unusable mattresses and even a boat litter the streets.

Moreno concurred with Salvador’s sentiment, adding that “government officials only came here to take a picture and to pledge their help, but the people aren’t receiving anything. [The government] claimed they were prepared; then why are those who are most in need starving?

“There’s no power, no water; a blanket and a few groceries and supplies are worthless if you don’t have a place to cook or to sleep at night.”

Moreno is also worried about structural damage to her home, as the foundations were clearly affected during the hurricane. The floors have risen in places, and the underlying ground has sunk. “Someone has to come and tell us if the place is still safe if the house will fall or not, anything to avoid an accident.”

Ramiro, a father of six, added his complaint: “You can see lots of Civil Protection officials at the crossroads, but they should be here, where we need them, helping remove the sand, trash and water. We have to fix everything fast so we can get back to business as soon as possible.”

The restaurateurs and hotel owners of La Manzanilla aren’t expecting gifts from the government, even as they estimate that their losses could amount to between 150,000 and 250,000 pesos (US $9,000 to $15,000) each.

What they would like is credit and reasonable payment terms as they have lost the fruit of a decade’s worth of work and investment, and can’t begin to recover if they can’t offer lodgings and services to tourists.

Enrique Macedo was the most severely affected of the restaurant owners: the winds blew down all the walls and destroyed the washrooms. He would like the government to help by providing workers to clear the debris and rebuild. “I don’t have enough money to pay for them myself. I lost everything.”

***Please don’t forget it’s also the smaller towns that are greatest affected by Hurricane Patricia.***

  1. Miguel Hidalgo Nuevo & Viejo, Jalisco

  2. Melaque / Barra De Navidad

  3. Arroyo Seco
  4. Emiliano Zapata

Noticias Puerto Vallarta: Hello, these are some of the pictures were taken today (Monday, 26 October 2015) in the village Miguel Hidalgo again, municipality of the orchard. There are still without light, phone, are held incommunicado, and the aid has not arrived.

The food that we are donating, where are they? The Camomile, hot water nine and old, rebalcito, the Rose, Arroyo seco and others are forgotten, abandoned and away from the aid.We are asking for by this means that the relevant authorities come to the place to provide aid. Isn’t it possible that three days or by mistake get our authorities “.

The photos that speak the truth. Miguel Hidalgo

Miguel Hidalgo - Hurricane Patricia

Miguel Hidalgo – Hurricane Patricia

 

Miguel Hidalgo - Hurrican Patricia

Miguel Hidalgo – Hurrican Patricia

PHOTO CREDIT: Noticias Puerto Vallarta

Five British nationals die when whale watching boat sinks off B.C. coast

By Dirk Meissner

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TOFINO, B.C. All five people who died after a whale-watching ship sank off the west coast of Vancouver Island were British nationals, Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed Monday.

“My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected by this terrible accident,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement, adding consular staff in B.C. are supporting grieving family members.

The B.C. Coroners Service said Monday those who died ranged in age from 18 to 76, and that four of them were men.

Three of the dead where from Britain, while two of the British Nationals were living in Canada. The woman was from B.C., and a man lived in Ontario, the service said.

A tour boat with 24 passengers and three crew members on board sank Sunday afternoon about 15 kilometres northwest of Tofino, B.C.

First responders managed to rescue 21 passengers, some of them injured. The search for one person still missing was called off Sunday night.

Boats from the nearby Ahousaht First Nation that answered the ship’s mayday call on Sunday around 4 p.m. found it partially submerged.

Authorities have not said what might have caused the boat to sink.

Kelsey Rix and two other health-care workers were on a Tofino dock Monday preparing to leave for the village of Ahousaht.

The community health nurse said they’ll be checking on the well-being of those who tried to help people thrown into the water.

“The local First Nations were the first in the water and the first to pull out the victims,” she said.

Valerie Wilson, with the Island Health authority, said four people remain in different hospitals around the province. All of them are listed in stable condition, she said.

Wilson said 18 other people aboard the vessel have been assessed, treated and released from hospital in Tofino.

Robert Burridge of Nanaimo, B.C., was in Ahousaht on Sunday afternoon and estimates that every available vessel in the village was in the water searching for missing people.

“The Ahousahts were the first on the scene,” he said. “They know these waters. They have a custom not to leave a body out at sea.”

Ahousaht First Nation Coun. Tom Campbell was on the Tofino waterfront and watched as rescue personnel brought several of the survivors ashore.

“Their looks tell the whole story,” he said by phone from Tofino. “You can’t describe looks on people that are lost. They look totally lost  shocked and lost.”

The 20-metre boat the Leviathan II belonged to a local whale-watching company called Jamie’s Whaling Station.

It issued a statement saying its entire team was heartbroken by the tragic day.

“We are doing everything we can to assist our passengers and staff through this difficult time,” owner Jamie Bray said. “We are co-operating with investigators to determine exactly what happened.”

Bray also offered his thanks to first responders, Tofino residents and local First Nations communities that helped with the rescue.

The mayor of Tofino also commended locals for their contributions.

“Everybody’s heart is just breaking for what’s going on here and wanting to be as helpful as possible,” Josie Osborne said by phone late Sunday.

Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watching Association, said the whale-watching community is in shock over the incident.

He said tour operaters go above and beyond to make sure their passengers are safe.

Harris said the first thing operators do when passengers get on board is explain safety, including where the life jackets are kept. It’s unclear if the passengers on the Leviathan were wearing life-jackets.

Both Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier Christy Clark issued statements about the tragedy.

“I was shocked and saddened to hear of the sinking of a whale-watching boat near the B.C. coast and the passengers aboard who have lost their lives in the incident,” Trudeau said.

Both Trudeau and the premier thanked people who helped in the rescue effort.

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board were expected to be in Tofino by Monday afternoon.

Tofino residents Sean and Deddeda White arrived with flowers at the dock on Monday as an RCMP dive team prepared to leave for the accident scene.

Deddeda White said she gathered cedar bows, salal and flowers from her garden to make the bouquet she left at the dock.

“This affects the whole town,” she said.

canada-press

Aon: California wildfire claims breach $1bn as peak season begins

CHICAGO, Oct. 8, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Impact Forecasting, Aon Benfield’s catastrophe model development team, today launches the latest edition of its monthly Global Catastrophe Recap report, which evaluates the impact of the natural disaster events that occurred worldwide during September 2015. Aon Benfield is the global reinsurance intermediary and capital advisor of Aon plc (NYSE:AON).

The report reveals that several wildfires impacted California during the month; the Valley Fire, which occurred northwest of San Francisco, was the third-most damaging wildfire in state history, killing four people and destroying 1,958 homes and other structures. Forecast economic losses from the fire were in excess of USD1.5 billion, with preliminarily insured losses estimated at more than USD925 million.

Meanwhile, the Butte Fire, which occurred southeast of Sacramento and was the seventh-most damaging wildfire in state history, killed two people and caused total estimated economic losses of at USD450 million, with insurance losses expected to be above USD225 million.

With peak U.S. wildfire season in California having started in late September and lasting through early November, wildfires in 2015 have already caused more damage and financial loss in the U.S. than in any other year since 2007.

Adam Podlaha, Head of Impact Forecasting, said: “The severity of the September wildfires in California serves as a reminder of how costly the peril can be for the insurance industry. With insurers facing more than USD1.0 billion in claims payouts for the Valley and Butte fires alone, it makes it the costliest year for the peril since 2007. The peak of the California wildfire season is just beginning, and Impact Forecasting remains well suited to help our clients assess their risks given our brushfire model for the region.”

Elsewhere in September:

  • Officials in Indonesia declared 2015 as the worst year for wildfires since 1997, following a reported USD4.0 billion in direct and secondary economic losses from fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
  • A magnitude-8.3 earthquake impacted central Chile on September 16, triggering tsunami waves and killing 14 people. Over one million residents were evacuated as economic losses neared USD1.0 billion.
  • A magnitude-6.6 earthquake struck eastern Indonesia on September 25. Dozens of individuals were injured as nearly 2,500 homes and other structures were damaged or destroyed.
  • Extensive flooding affected portions of Japan, killing eight people and damaging or destroying 20,000 homes. Three large insurers in Japan estimated payouts of at least JPY30 billion (USD250 million).
  • Damaging floods were reported in the U.S., India, Myanmar, China, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Spain, and throughout Central America and the Caribbean.
  • Typhoon Dujuan struck Taiwan and China, killing at least three people in Taiwan and injuring hundreds of others. Combined economic losses were listed at USD680 million; insured losses were USD79 million.
  • Severe thunderstorms in Italy prompted economic losses of more than USD2.2 million as widespread damages were reported to structures, vehicles, and crops.
  • 32 people were killed by lightning strikes in eastern India.
  • Drought conditions intensified across western Canada, as annual insurance claims in Alberta alone were estimated at up to USD675 million. Nationally, economic losses were estimated beyond USD1.0 billion.
  • A severe sandstorm killed 12 people as it swept through areas of the Middle East.

To view the full Impact Forecasting September 2015 Global Catastrophe Recap report, please follow the link:

http://bit.ly/1Q5YlS1

Along with the report, users can access current and historical natural catastrophe data and event analysis on Impact Forecasting’s Catastrophe Insight website, which is updated bi-monthly as new data become available:

www.aonbenfield.com/catastropheinsight

Further information

For further information please contact the Aon Benfield PR team: Andrew Wragg (+44 207 522 8183 / 07595 217168) David Bogg or Alexandra Lewis

   

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