Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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Islamic State group claims responsibility for deadly Moscow concert hall attack

Gunmen who opened fire at a Moscow concert hall killed more than 90 people and wounded over 100 while sparking an inferno, authorities said Saturday, with the Islamic State group claiming responsibility.

Attackers dressed in camouflage uniforms entered the building on Friday, opened fire and threw a grenade or incendiary bomb, according to a journalist for the RIA Novosti news agency at the scene.

Fire quickly spread through the Crocus City concert hall in Moscow‘s northern Krasnogorsk suburb, as smoke filled the building and screaming visitors rushed to emergency exits.

Alexei, a music producer, was about to settle into his seat before the start of a concert by Soviet-era rock band Piknik when he heard gunfire and “a lot of screams”.

Read moreIn pictures: Gunmen open fire in deadly attack on Moscow concert hall

“I realised right away that it was automatic gunfire and understood that most likely it’s the worst: a terrorist attack,” said Alexei, who would not give his last name.

As people ran towards emergency exits, “there was a terrible crush” with concert-goers climbing on one another’s heads to get out, he added. 

Russia‘s Investigative Committee said Saturday that 93 people had been killed, raising an earlier toll of 60, according to Russian news agencies. 

Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said 115 people were hospitalised, including five children, one of whom was in grave condition. Of the 110 adult patients, 60 were in serious condition.

The head of the FSB security service has informed Putin “about the detention of 11 people, including all four terrorists directly involved in carrying out the attack,” Russian state news agencies cited the Kremlin as saying in a statement.

Furthermore, Russian authorities said a “terrorist” investigation had been started and President Vladimir Putin was receiving “constant” updates, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

The Islamic State group said its fighters attacked “a large gathering” on Moscow’s outskirts and “retreated to their bases safely”.

Fire contained 

Telegram news channels Baza and Mash, which are close to security forces, showed video images of flames and black smoke pouring from the hall.

Other images also showed concert-goers hiding behind seats or trying to escape.

Security services quoted by Interfax said between two and five people “wearing tactical uniforms and carrying automatic weapons” opened fire on guards at the entrance and then started shooting at the audience.

A witness told AFP it was a few minutes before the start of the concert when automatic gunfire rang out.

About 100 people escaped through the theatre basement, while others were sheltering on the roof, the emergency services ministry said on its Telegram channel.

Three helicopters were involved in efforts to put out the fire, dumping water on the giant concert venue that can hold several thousand people and has hosted top international artists.

Shortly after midnight, the emergencies ministry said the fire had been contained. Andrey Vorobyov, the Moscow region governor, later said the flames had been “mostly eliminated”, and rescuers had been able to enter the auditorium.

Putin — who was informed of the attack “within the first minutes”, according to the Kremlin — wished a speedy recovery to the wounded victims, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Putin has not commented publicly on the attack.

‘Odious crime’ 

Outside the burning building, heartbroken relatives of those at the concert spoke of hopelessness as they frantically tried to contact loved ones.

Semyon, 33, whose wife was at the venue, said “nobody knows” where she is. “I’ve called five hospitals, all busy,” he said. “I’m in a complete panic, my whole body hurts.”

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it had been a “bloody terrorist attack”.


“The whole international community must condemn this odious crime,” she said on Telegram.

The US presidency called the attack “terrible” and said there was no immediate sign of any link to the conflict in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s presidency said Kyiv had “nothing to do” with the attack, while its military intelligence called the incident a Russian “provocation” and charged that Moscow special services were behind it.

The Freedom of Russia Legion, a pro-Ukrainian militia responsible for attacks on Russia’s border regions, also denied any role.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev vowed on Telegram that Ukraine’s top officials “must be found and ruthlessly destroyed as terrorists” if they were linked to the attack.

The United Nations, European Union, France, Spain, Italy and several other countries also condemned the attack.

The White House said its “thoughts are with the victims of this terrible shooting attack”, while French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed “solidarity with the victims, their loved ones and all the Russian people”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his “condolences” to his Russian counterpart, saying he “firmly supports the Russian government’s efforts to safeguard its national security and stability”, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

Orthodox church leader Patriarch Kirill was “praying for peace for the souls of the dead”, said his spokesman Vladimir Legoyda.

Previous warnings 

Moscow and other Russian cities have been the targets of previous attacks by Islamist groups but there have also been incidents without any clear political motive. 

Earlier this month, the US embassy in Russia said it was monitoring reports that “extremists” were planning “to target large gatherings in Moscow”, including concerts.

The White House said Friday that the United States warned Russian authorities earlier in March about a “planned terrorist attack” possibly targeting “large gatherings” in Moscow.

Washington had “shared this information with Russian authorities”, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.

In 2002, Chechen separatist fighters took 912 people hostage in a Moscow theatre, the Dubrovka, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region.

Special forces attacked the theatre to end the hostage-taking and 130 people were killed, nearly all suffocated by a gas used by security forces to knock out the gunmen.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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America’s failed ‘War on Terror’ in Africa is a global security crisis

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Without a drastic shift in policy that supports the emergence of strong and cohesive African societies, the world will be thrown into a global security crisis of earth-shattering proportions, Christine Odera writes.

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New shocking figures from the US Department of Defence are a glaring indictment of US policy in Africa: America’s “War on Terror” has disastrously spiked terrorism in Africa by an astonishing 100,000%, with Islamist violence alone jumping 20% in just the last year.

Decades of misguided US intervention have catapulted Africa into the epicentre of global terrorism, responsible for nearly half the world’s terrorist acts. 

This alarming trend dominated discussions at the African Union summit in Ethiopia, amidst a backdrop of escalating violence and political chaos.

Countries like Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso are already withdrawing from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after military coups — a move that threatens to plunge the region into deeper turmoil.

The so-called Islamic State, having been territorially defeated in the Middle East, is also worryingly expanding its influence in West Africa and the Sahel, reportedly even readying itself to carry out attacks abroad once more.

The harsh truth is America and the wider Western approach, no matter how well-intentioned, sought security without fostering development and tragically achieved neither.

Because of these failures, Africa is now caught in the crosshairs of Washington’s authoritarian rivals, Russia and China. 

They’re aggressively establishing military bases and deploying foreign mercenaries who commit horrific human rights violations, especially against African women, in a ruthless scramble for Africa’s riches.

More boots on the ground won’t solve anything

For two decades, American counter-terrorism efforts in Africa have been centred on two main fronts: Somalia and West Africa. Each saw huge spikes in terrorism last year with France even recalling 1,500 troops from Niger after the recent coup.

But in a UNDP report last year, the most powerful factor pushing people into violent extremism was “disaffection with government”, with 40% of recruits into militant groups citing economic hardship specifically.

Those who live by the gun are taught that it is the only way to survive and prosper. 

This is a political message, not a religious one. Without addressing it appropriately, conflicts will fester and grow, plunging the world into endless displacement and refugee crises it cannot absorb or solve.

Global North nations must acknowledge their disastrous policies’ impact on Africa and urgently rebalance security and development strategies to prevent local terror groups from becoming emboldened enough to harbour global ambitions.

Because the solution isn’t increasing its armed presence — such as through the largest US-led joint military exercise — or forcing Western societal models onto Africa, but by embracing the continent’s unique strengths and diversity.

This means investing in Africa’s burgeoning youth, backing African-led peace and conflict resolution initiatives, empowering respected community and religious leaders over capricious and divisive politicians, and forging new economic partnerships that can counterbalance Russian and Chinese influence.

Faith-based organisations are taking the initiative

In the absence of unifying political leaders to create this counterbalance and bring Africans together, community and faith-based organisations are filling the trust deficit — and their potential and capacity to do more should not be underestimated.

For example, Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) goes beyond providing humanitarian aid: they are peacebuilders in conflict zones, offering lifelines by pairing economic empowerment with education to uproot the seeds of extremism and strengthen communities from the inside out. 

Locally in Kenya, the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) unites diverse religious groups to dismantle extremist ideologies, hosting transformative peace workshops and fostering a culture of interfaith understanding in regions plagued by violence.

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Other NGOs like the Muslim World League (MWL) work regionally to promote a tolerant vision of Islam through groundbreaking documents like the Charter of Makkah which was signed by 1200 prominent Islamic figures from 139 countries in 2019. 

The Charter is actively being implemented through counter-extremism and capacity — which supports human rights, religious tolerance, and women’s rights — to strike at the core of why individuals turn to terrorism.

The MWL’s Secretary General, Dr Mohammed Al-Issa, has already forged ties with the African Islamic Union, an organisation with an estimated 100 million followers, which is now implementing the Charter to train a new generation of Imams across the region.

We’re failing to learn from our failures

The reality is that changing behaviours and attitudes for a day only requires the kind of transactional relationships that Russia and China offer, but changing the dynamic between communities for the long term requires the kind of tireless and sensitive approach adopted by influential civil society and grassroots leaders.

The opportunity for the West to finally get things right remains: reorientate towards strengthening civil society over a cold, security-above-all-else approach that has not even contained the problem of extremism, let alone put into motion solutions to solve it.

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Failure to learn from failed policies risks a future where a continent, soon home to a quarter of the world’s population, spirals further into extremism. 

To reverse this trend, we must not only rally around leaders who have consistently demonstrated moral leadership in times of crisis but also support their mission to create new generations of African leaders who do the same.

The stakes couldn’t be higher with Russia and China looking on. Washington’s war on terror failed dramatically in Africa, and without a drastic shift in policy that supports the emergence of strong and cohesive African societies, the world will be thrown into a global security crisis of earth-shattering proportions.

Christine Odera is a Kenyan peace and security expert. She is Member of the Board of Directors (Council) for Kenya’s National Youth Service (NYS), Co-Chair of the Kenya Coalition on Youth Peace, and former Global Coordinator of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network based in London.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Pakistan recalls ambassador to Iran after air strike that killed 2 children

Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday, a day after Iran launched airstrikes on Pakistan that it claimed targeted bases for a militant Sunni separatist group. Islamabad angrily denounced the attack as a “blatant violation” of its airspace and said it killed two children.  

Tuesday’s strike on Pakistan’s restive southwestern Baluchistan province imperilled diplomatic relations between the two neighbours, but both sides appeared wary of provoking the other. Iran and nuclear-armed Pakistan have long regarded each other with suspicion over militant attacks. 

The attack also threatened to further ignite violence in a Middle East unsettled by Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran launched strikes late Monday in Iraq and Syria over an Islamic State group-claimed suicide bombing that killed over 90 people earlier this month. 

Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, announced that Islamabad is recalling the country’s ambassador to Iran over the strikes.

“Last night’s unprovoked and blatant breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty by Iran is a violation of international law and the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations,” she said in a televised address

Baloch added that Pakistan asked the Iranian ambassador, who was visiting Tehran when the attack took place, not to return. Iran did not immediately acknowledge Pakistan’s decision.

China on Wednesday urged Pakistan and Iran to show “restraint” after the strike. 

“We call on both sides to exercise restraint, avoid actions that would lead to an escalation of tension and work together to maintain peace and stability,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular briefing.

“We consider both Iran and Pakistan as close neighbours and major Islamic countries,” she said.

Iranian state media reports, which were later withdrawn without explanation, said the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard targeted bases belonging to the militant group Jaish al-Adl, or the “Army of Justice.” The group, which seeks an independent Baluchistan and has spread across Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, acknowledged the assault in a statement shared online.

Six bomb-carrying drones and rockets struck homes that the militants claim housed children and wives of their fighters. Jaish al-Adl said the attack killed two children and wounded two women and a teenage girl. 

Videos shared by the Baluch activist group HalVash, purportedly from the site, showed a burning building and two charred, small corpses. 

A Pakistani intelligence report said the two children killed were a 6-year-old girl and an 11-month-old boy. Three women were injured, aged between 28 and 35. The report also said three or four drones were fired from the Iranian side, hitting a mosque and other buildings, including a house.

Jan Achakzai, a spokesperson for Baluchistan province, also condemned the attack.

“Pakistan has always sought cooperation from all the countries of region – including Iran – to combat terrorism,” “This is unacceptable and Pakistan has a right to respond to any aggression committed against its sovereignty.”

A senior Pakistani security official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to reporters, said Iran had shared no information prior to the strike. He said Pakistan reserved the right to respond at a time and place of the country’s choosing and such a strike would be measured and in line with public expectations. 

Read moreIslamic State group claims responsibility for deadly Iran bombings

“The dangerous precedent set by Iran is destabilising and has reciprocal implications,” the official said.

However, there were signs Pakistan was trying to contain any anger over the strike. The country’s typically outspoken and nationalistic media covered the attack Wednesday with unusual restraint. 

Iranian state media meanwhile continued not to address the strikes, instead discussing a joint naval drill held by Pakistan and the Iranian navy in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday. Pakistani officials acknowledged the drill, but said it came earlier than Iran’s strikes.

Pakistani defence analyst Syed Muhammad Ali said the government would weigh any potential retaliation carefully.

The country’s air defence and missile systems are primarily deployed along the eastern border to respond to potential threats from India. But it might consider taking some measures to respond to such strikes from its western border with Afghanistan and Iran, Ali said.Jaish al-Adl was founded in 2012, and Iranian officials believe it largely operates in Pakistan.

The group has claimed bombings and kidnapped members of Iran’s border police in the past. In December, suspected Jaish al-Adl members killed 11 people and wounded eight others in a nighttime attack on a police station in southeastern Iran. Another recent attack killed another police officer in the area.

In 2019, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing targeting a bus that killed 27 members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Iran has suspected that Sunni-majority Pakistan is hosting insurgents, possibly at the behest of its regional arch-rival Saudi Arabia. However, Iran and Saudi Arabia reached a Chinese-mediated détente last March, easing tensions. Pakistan, meanwhile, has blamed Iran in the past over militant attacks targeting its security forces. 

Iran has fought in border areas against militants, but a missile-and-drone attack on Pakistan is unprecedented. 

It remains unclear why Iran launched the attack now, particularly as its foreign minister had met Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister the same day at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 

After the Islamic State group bombings this month, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry alleged the two bombers involved in the attack had traveled from Afghanistan into Iran through its southeastern border at the Jalg crossing – meaning they had traveled through Baluchistan.

Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, as well as Iran’s neighbouring Sistan and Baluchestan province, have faced a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades. They initially wanted a share of provincial resources, but later initiated an insurgency for independence.

Iran’s attack on Pakistan came less than a day after Iranian strikes on northern Iraq that killed several civilians. Iraq recalled its ambassador from Tehran for consultations and summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires in Baghdad on Tuesday in protest. Iran separately struck Syria as well.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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The Middle East is on fire: What you need to know about the Red Sea crisis

On October 7, Hamas fighters launched a bloody attack against Israel, using paragliders, speedboats and underground tunnels to carry out an offensive that killed almost 1,200 people and saw hundreds more taken back to the Gaza Strip as prisoners. 

Almost three months on, Israel’s massive military retaliation is reverberating around the region, with explosions in Lebanon and rebels from Yemen attacking shipping in the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Western countries are pumping military aid into Israel while deploying fleets to protect commercial shipping — risking confrontation with the Iranian navy.

That’s in line with a grim prediction made last year by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who said that Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza meant an “expansion of the scope of the war has become inevitable,” and that further escalation across the Middle East should be expected. 

What’s happening?

The Israel Defense Forces are still fighting fierce battles for control of the Gaza Strip in what officials say is a mission to destroy Hamas. Troops have already occupied much of the north of the 365-square-kilometer territory, home to around 2.3 million Palestinians, and are now fighting fierce battles in the south.

Entire neighborhoods of densely-populated Gaza City have been levelled by intense Israeli shelling, rocket attacks and air strikes, rendering them uninhabitable. Although independent observers have been largely shut out, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry claims more than 22,300 people have been killed, while the U.N. says 1.9 million people have been displaced.

On a visit to the front lines, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned that his country is in the fight for the long haul. “The feeling that we will stop soon is incorrect. Without a clear victory, we will not be able to live in the Middle East,” he said.

As the Gaza ground war intensifies, Hamas and its allies are increasingly looking to take the conflict to a far broader arena in order to put pressure on Israel.

According to Seth Frantzman, a regional analyst with the Jerusalem Post and adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Iran is certainly making a play here in terms of trying to isolate Israel [and] the U.S. and weaken U.S. influence, also showing that Israel doesn’t have the deterrence capabilities that it may have had in the past or at least thought it had.”

Northern front

On Tuesday a blast ripped through an office in Dahieh, a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut — 130 kilometers from the border with Israel. Hamas confirmed that one of its most senior leaders, Saleh al-Arouri, was killed in the strike. 

Government officials in Jerusalem have refused to confirm Israeli forces were behind the killing, while simultaneously presenting it as a “surgical strike against the Hamas leadership” and insisting it was not an attack against Lebanon itself, despite a warning from Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the incident risked dragging his country into a wider regional war. 

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon have spiked in recent weeks, with fighters loyal to Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist militant group that controls the south of the country, firing hundreds of rockets across the frontier. Along with Hamas, Hezbollah is part of the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” that aims to destroy the state of Israel.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministry said the death of al-Arouri, the most senior Hamas official confirmed to have died since October 7, will only embolden resistance against Israel, not only in the Palestinian territories but also in the wider Middle East.

“We’re talking about the death of a senior Hamas leader, not from Hezbollah or the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards. Is it Iran who’s going to respond? Hezbollah? Hamas with rockets? Or will there be no response, with the various players waiting for the next assassination?” asked Héloïse Fayet, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations.

In a much-anticipated speech on Wednesday evening, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah condemned the killing but did not announce a military response.

Red Sea boils over

For months now, sailors navigating the narrow Bab- el-Mandeb Strait that links Europe to Asia have faced a growing threat of drone strikes, missile attacks and even hijackings by Iran-backed Houthi militants operating off the coast of Yemen.

The Houthi movement, a Shia militant group supported by Iran in the Yemeni civil war against Saudi Arabia and its local allies, insists it is only targeting shipping with links to Israel in a bid to pressure it to end the war in Gaza. However, the busy trade route from the Suez Canal through the Red Sea has seen dozens of commercial vessels targeted or delayed, forcing Western nations to intervene.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Navy said it had intercepted two anti-ship missiles and sunk three boats carrying Houthi fighters in what it said was a hijacking attempt against the Maersk Hangzhou, a container ship. Danish shipping giant Maersk said Tuesday that it would “pause all transits through the Red Sea until further notice,” following a number of other cargo liners; energy giant BP is also suspending travel through the region.

On Wednesday the Houthis targeted a CMA CGM Tage container ship bound for Israel, according to the group’s military spokesperson Yahya Sarea. “Any U.S. attack will not pass without a response or punishment,” he added. 

“The sensible decision is one that the vast majority of shippers I think are now coming to, [which] is to transit through round the Cape of Good Hope,” said Marco Forgione, director general at the Institute of Export & International Trade. “But that in itself is not without heavy impact, it’s up to two weeks additional sailing time, adds over £1 million to the journey, and there are risks, particularly in West Africa, of piracy as well.” 

However, John Stawpert, a senior manager at the International Chamber of Shipping, noted that while “there has been disruption” and an “understandable nervousness about transiting these routes … trade is continuing to flow.”

“A major contributory factor to that has been the presence of military assets committed to defending shipping from these attacks,” he said. 

The impacts of the disruption, especially price hikes hitting consumers, will be seen “in the next couple of weeks,” according to Forgione. Oil and gas markets also risk taking a hit — the price of benchmark Brent crude rose by 3 percent to $78.22 a barrel on Wednesday. Almost 10 percent of the world’s oil and 7 percent of its gas flows through the Red Sea.

Western response

On Wednesday evening, the U.S., Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom issued an ultimatum calling the Houthi attacks “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing,” but with only vague threats of action.

“We call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews. The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the statement said.

Despite the tepid language, the U.S. has already struck back at militants from Iranian-backed groups such as Kataeb Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria after they carried out drone attacks that injured U.S. personnel.

The assumption in London is that airstrikes against the Houthis — if it came to that — would be U.S.-led with the U.K. as a partner. Other nations might also chip in.

Two French officials said Paris is not considering air strikes. The country’s position is to stick to self-defense, and that hasn’t changed, one of them said. French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu confirmed that assessment, saying on Tuesday that “we’re continuing to act in self-defense.” 

“Would France, which is so proud of its third way and its position as a balancing power, be prepared to join an American-British coalition?” asked Fayet, the think tank researcher.

Iran looms large

Iran’s efforts to leverage its proxies in a below-the-radar battle against both Israel and the West appear to be well underway, and the conflict has already scuppered a long-awaited security deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“Since 1979, Iran has been conducting asymmetrical proxy terrorism where they try to advance their foreign policy objectives while displacing the consequences, the counterpunches, onto someone else — usually Arabs,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of Washington’s Center on Military and Political Power. “An increasingly effective regional security architecture, of the kind the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are trying to build, is a nightmare for Iran which, like a bully on the playground, wants to keep all the other kids divided and distracted.”

Despite Iran’s fiery rhetoric, it has stopped short of declaring all-out war on its enemies or inflicting massive casualties on Western forces in the region — which experts say reflects the fact it would be outgunned in a conventional conflict.

“Neither Iran nor the U.S. nor Israel is ready for that big war,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Middle East Institute’s Iran program. “Israel is a nuclear state, Iran is a nuclear threshold state — and the U.S. speaks for itself on this front.”

Israel might be betting on a long fight in Gaza, but Iran is trying to make the conflict a global one, he added. “Nobody wants a war, so both sides have been gambling on the long term, hoping to kill the other guy through a thousand cuts.”

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.



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Israel-Hamas war: the point of no return?

Our Senior International Reporter Valérie Gauriat travelled to Israel and the West Bank to hear from members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities which are more divided than ever by the unprecedented conflict.

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On 7th October 2023, the world awoke to the news of a lighting terror attack by Hamas militants who stormed from the Gaza Strip into Southern Israel killing more than 1,400 people and taking at least 240 hostages.

In retaliation, Israel launched an unprecedented military offensive on the Gaza Strip, vowing to destroy Hamas.

In the first two weeks of Operation Iron Swords, thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed, and more than a million displaced. For many, the war has also sentenced to death any hope of future cohabitation.

Our Senior International Reporter Valérie Gauriat brings you first-hand accounts of both Israeli and Palestinian families and communities living through the conflict.

The horrifying aftermath of the Hamas attack

A few days after the Hamas terror attacks, Israeli troops were gearing up for the announced ground offensive on the Palestinian enclave. Tens of thousands of reservists were called to service.

The sadly notorious kibbutz Be’eri was one of the hardest hit by the Hamas terrorists. 10% of its 1100 inhabitants were killed. 

The teams of the Israeli Zaka forensics organisation were still in shock at the atrocities they found, after the village was recaptured by the Israeli army.

“The first house that we went in, we saw a couple, father and mother, hands tied to the back, tortured, and missing body parts while they were alive,” revealed Yossi Landau, ZAKA’s Southern Israel Commander.

“And on the other side, two children, a six-year-old and a seven-year-old boy and girl, in the same position. Tortured.

“We go into the next house. A pregnant lady lies on the floor, face down. We turn her over. She’s butchered open. In her stomach, a baby. An infant. An unborn infant that is still connected with the cord. I could see the baby. It’s a mature baby. It’s just stabbed. And she was shot in the back.”

Many more accounts of alleged torture and abuse on civilians, including rapes and beheadings, would follow.

Families search desperately for missing loved-ones

More than one hundred Be’eri residents were taken hostage or reported missing. Yarden Roman Gat, a dual Israeli-German citizen, and her sister-in-law Carmel are among the civilians missing from Be’eri.

Their families and friends are working relentlessly to find them. Yarden was visiting her in-laws in Be’eri with her husband and their daughter when they were captured by the assailants.

They escaped the car taking them to Gaza and fled to the woods while being shot at by four Hamas gunmen. The young woman handed the child over to her husband, who managed to get away. But she did not run fast enough. Yarden and Carmel have not been heard of since. But Yarden’s mother-in-law was killed by the terrorists.

“How do you tell a three-year-old that her grandmother was murdered by the ‘bad people’ that got to her home? She saw them. She understands,” explained Liri Roman, Yarden’s brother.

The family has called Germany and the international community for help.

“I don’t even want to think about how they treat them, what they do with them. That’s going to be the new terror. That’s going to be everywhere in the world. Today it’s Israel. But tomorrow, who knows?” Liri added.

One week on: Tension and death toll mounts

A week after the launch of Israel’s offensive, the Hamas health ministry reported that more than 1500 people, nearly half of whom were children and women, had been killed, and thousands more injured in the Gaza Strip, under constant bombing.

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The thunder of war echoed in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. Security had been hyped up in the Old City of Jerusalem, where some 2500 police and military forces were deployed for the first Muslim Friday prayers since the 7th October. Activity was at a standstill, and security checks were constant.

“The situation for us in the last week, because of the war, has been very hard in the Old City,” said Ali Jaber, a resident of East Jerusalem. “They have orders, a green light to shoot and to beat us.”

Meanwhile, a mass exodus had started from northern Gaza, after Israel’s military gave more than one million people 24 hours to evacuate to the southern part of the Hamas-controlled territory. The United Nations warned the world that an unprecedented human catastrophe was unfolding.

Hamas rockets kept pounding southern and central Israel, also under fire from Lebanese Hezbollah in the north. More than 120,000 people were displaced. The country was under alert.

“They [Hamas] don’t want just the South, they want Tel Aviv, and Jaffa, and Haifa and everywhere,” said one Israeli woman.

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“We say to the civilians, go! Save your life. Go from the Hamas,” an Israeli man told Euronews, adding that, “Europe, they don’t understand this! You’re next! They will not finish in Israel!”

Anger turns towards the Israeli government

For some in Israel, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s government policies contributed to the current situation. On the first Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, since the Hamas attacks, hundreds had come to protest against the government in front of the Israeli defence ministry in Tel Aviv.

They rallied with families of hostages, demanding their immediate release.

“This is my daughter, Liri Elbag. She was kidnapped in her pyjamas. Early morning, to Gaza. And I want her back now!” said Liri’s mother Shira Elbag.

“She’s 18 years old. She doesn’t want to fight! I believe also in Gaza they don’t want to fight. Nobody wants to fight. Everybody just wants to live!”

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“To be against Hamas does not mean that we have to kill one child in Gaza,” stressed Ronit Chitayat Kashi, a human rights activist at the protest.

The West Bank takes up arms

Violence was soaring in the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinians were arrested. According to the United Nations, more than 50 Palestinians were also killed in clashes with the Israeli army or with settlers, in the space of ten days. A figure that would more than triple in the following weeks.

The city of Beitar Illit, a few kilometres south of Jerusalem, is one of the biggest of the Gush Etzion bloc of Jewish settlements and home to some 70,000 people.

Fear of attacks from the nearby Palestinian villages ran high among the population, after a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza hit the town, on the 9th October.

Residents welcomed the move from the Israeli government to provide 10,000 free weapons to West Bank settlers and relax rules on gun licences. The municipality also organised self-defence training programmes.

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Firearms sales have reached record highs since the 7th October Hamas attack. Scores of civilians were also coming to train at a shooting range at Israel’s largest self-defence training centre near Beitar Illit. Many had never handled a gun before.

“As a first responder, my number one thing that I want to do is save lives. And I don’t want to hurt people,” said Kalanit, an Emergency Medical Technician. 

“But sometimes you don’t have a choice. It’s either kill or be killed. And it’s horrific. I hope to never, ever, need to use my gun!”

Divisions deepen in Israel’s mixed cities

In the mixed cities of Israel, communities were more divided than ever. Freedom of movement and expression was restricted for the two million Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship.

Like in one of the mixed cities close to Tel Aviv: Lod for Israelis, Lydd, for Palestinians. Those who call themselves the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Jewish people call the Israeli Arabs, represent 20% of the population of Israel.

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Yet in the mixed cities, people feel that their fate is more than ever compromised.

Ghassan Monayer, a human rights activist and social worker, is one of the rare Palestinian citizens of Israel in Lydd to have agreed to talk to us

“People are afraid to say anything that might get them arrested. We, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, we are in a very delicate situation. Because we see and hear both sides. In Israel, we know, we acknowledge that innocents were killed and we are against it. But there are 2.2 million people in Gaza. They need hope! They need liberation! They cannot live in a cage.”

Talking to us is also a risk for Maha Nakib, a women’s rights activist we meet near a wall separating an Arab neighborhood from a Jewish one in Lod. Her husband lost 20 family members, killed in the bombings in Gaza.

“We are now in that circle of hate and war, we have to stop that!” she cries out.

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We need a real solution for two people! I don’t care if it’s going to be a solution of two states or one state, equal for all people. But it has to be a political solution.”

A solution in which Chani Luz, a religious Jewish Orthodox activist no longer believes. Relations between communities in her neighbourhood were hard hit by the violence that erupted in Lod and other mixed cities of Israel in May 2021, she says. And any trust that was regained was crushed by the 7th October attacks.

“The pogrom that we had in the heart of the country brings back scenes and memories of the Holocaust. You cannot live with a society that coins death as there as their slogan. Death for the Jews, is not something that a Jew can live with.”, she stated.

“There’s no justification for the terror and  horrific atrocities they did. And there’s no way that we can continue living with them as our neighbours. So please, Arab nations, take your Gaza brothers in! If you’re really scared that they’re going to be killed by the Jews and if you care for your Arab brothers, open the gates and take them in!” 

At the time of our broadcast, Israel’s air and ground offensive on Gaza was in full blow.

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The Gaza health ministry said the death toll was over 10,000, among which at least 4,000 children.

Demanding the unconditional release of all hostages, Israel rejected growing international calls for a humanitarian truce.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and Israel’s army continued to exchange fire along the countries’ shared border, leaving the world to dread a regional conflict.

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The EU can’t hope for unity until it solves its Schengen conundrum

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

A chain is as strong as its weakest link, as the saying goes, and Brussels can’t afford a lack of unity or coherence regarding free movement. If a country deserves to be part of Schengen, it should be allowed in, Cristian Gherasim writes.

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It’s 2023, and the world seems to be sitting on a powder keg about to explode, and it’s hardly the time for ambiguity and loose ends. 

Still, the European Union has been dragging its feet in sorting out one of the more contentious yet fundamental principles that stand behind its existence – the free movement of its citizens. 

The Schengen Agreement sits at the core of this principle, with the area abolishing all types of checks at mutual borders for as many as 23 of its member states.

However, over the years, the agreement which came into existence in 1985 and kept expanding as the bloc grew has become a bone of contention among some due to two main issues: a clause in the treaty which allows member states to temporarily reintroduce border controls, and the enlargement process of the Schengen Area that demands a unanimous vote by all member states.

The broad conditions stipulated in the Schengen Agreement sometimes do end up being misused, with politics playing a big part, and the question of open borders can quickly become a major talking point on the campaign trail. 

Who is suspending Schengen and why?

In the wake of state elections in Germany, the ruling “traffic light” coalition has decided to try and appear tough on immigration by reinstating border controls with Poland and the Czech Republic, stating it was part of a push to stop human trafficking. 

Slovenia had also intensified surveillance at the border with Croatia citing illegal immigration concerns. Notably, one year into the job, the ruling liberal party in Ljubljana has taken a nosedive in the polls — and it’s becoming clear that the idea behind the move is that playing the immigration card could help reverse it.

The populist party Smer which won the recent general election in Slovakia is now calling for border checks with Hungary invoking immigration.

Poland’s populist PiS party also hoped to cling to power by instating border controls with Slovakia over the issue of immigration. Although they lost out on forming the new government, PiS is still expected to be a strong anti-immigration voice in the domestic parliament and the EU alike.

On top of that, there are also concerns voiced by Denmark and Sweden, the two northern countries that also decided to reinstate border checks after recent Quran burnings.

The recent terrorist attack in Brussels — said to have been triggered by the Quran burnings in Sweden — and the Hamas’ violent incursion into Israel on 7 October has also spurred Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni to take full responsibility for reinstating border controls with Slovenia, citing concerns of further violent extremism.

What does this mean for aspiring members and what does the EU stand to lose?

Why are Bulgaria and Romania being left out in the cold?

One of the most contentious issues of recent years linked to Schengen is the blocking of both Romania and Bulgaria by Austria and the Netherlands, respectively, in joining the border-free area.

The Dutch argument for keeping Bulgaria out revolved around the presence of organised crime and corruption in the Balkan nation, an EU member since 2007. 

However, Bulgaria and Romania have both successfully completed the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, and according to the European Commission, both countries have made progress in the fight against corruption and in judicial reform. For Bulgaria, this also meant renewed hopes towards Schengen accession.

Over the past years, both the European Commission and the European Parliament have repeatedly said that the two have met the requirements to become Schengen members and urged all member states to vote them in.

Yet, Austria — which has no border with Romania — justified its veto by saying that the country is an entry point for migrants into Austria and the EU. All this, despite the fact that according to Frontex, Romania, just like the rest of the bloc’s eastern border, does not represent a major migratory risk.

This summer, the European Parliament issued a press release highlighting the economic burden that keeping both countries outside Schengen has on business and populations, contributing to the increased price of goods and travel. 

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Interestingly enough, the European Parliament also believes that obstructing the free flow of goods between European member states adds to pollution and acts as an additional burden to the EU’s climate neutrality goals.

There’s always room for improvement

All is not rosy though. While both Bucharest and Sofia have indeed fulfilled all requirements to be a part of the Schengen Area, despite improvements, Bulgaria is still regarded as the most corrupt country in the EU, with Romania following suit. 

Romania’s eastern border with Ukraine is amongst the most lucrative borders in terms of cigarette smuggling and illicit trade in the EU. 

Some progress has been made as Stop Contrabanda, a website monitoring cigarette busts, reported that authorities seized millions of contraband cigarettes last year. Yet the problem persists, and can indeed prove to be a liability for the EU and NATO in a time of conflict.

Still, a Schengen accession of both countries would make more sense for the EU. It would help manage external borders better by pooling resources and securing crucial routes for getting grain out of Ukraine. 

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With the Black Sea Grain Deal in tatters and Ukrainian ports shelled almost every day, Romania is playing a pivotal role in getting grain out of Ukraine. 

Delaying transport across EU borders could impact food supplies, possibly leading to shortages and even price hikes.

What can be done?

A chain is as strong as its weakest link, as the saying goes, and Brussels can’t afford a lack of unity and coherence when it comes to free movement. 

If a country deserves to be part of Schengen, it should be allowed to do so. With the rise of populism, the EU surely doesn’t need member states thinking that they have been unfairly treated, or seeking other partners outside of the bloc.

This finally brings the conversation to the unanimity vote which might need to be reconsidered. 

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It might not be in the EU’s best interest that in a time of war and great need for more unity a country’s whims should prevail against the decisions of all the other member states. 

After all, the EU’s future is at stake, and together with it, that of its 27 member states.

Cristian Gherasim is an analyst, consultant and journalist with over 15 years of experience focusing on Eastern and Central European affairs.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Is cryptocurrency helping Hamas fund terrorism?

The US and Israel have stepped up their efforts to limit cryptocurrency transfers to Hamas since the group’s brutal October 7 attacks on Israel. Bitcoin, Dogecoin and Ethereum are increasingly blamed as conduits of funding for Islamist groups, but to what extent is this justified?

In the wake of Hamas’s attacks on Israeli territory on October 7 that were unprecedented in scale, the role of digital currencies like Bitcoin and Dogecoin and crypto exchange platforms in financing the radical Islamist movement are increasingly under scrutiny.

On October 19, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) proposed new regulations identifying “Convertible Virtual Currency Mixing (CVC mixing) as a class of transactions of primary money laundering concern … to combat its use by malicious actors including Hamas [and] Palestinian Islamic Jihad”.

These online services, known more casually as “mixers” or “tumblers”, mix cryptocurrency of illicit origin with other cryptocurrency funds. As such, “the risk of employing crypto mixers to launder money or conceal earnings is pretty considerable”, acknowledges crypto industry news site Cointelegraph.

Appeals for Bitcoin via Facebook, Instagram and Telegram

In the wake of the October 7 assault, the Israeli defence ministry claimed it had seized virtual wallets linked to Hamas that had received $41 million (€39 million) between 2019 and 2023. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, for its part, has raised $94 million (€89 million) in cryptocurrency in recent years, according to Elliptic, a British firm that analyses virtual currency transactions.

And that’s not all. Washington also decided on October 18 to sanction “Buy Cash”, a Gaza-based company accused of “facilitating” cryptocurrency transfers to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“Hamas’s use of crypto first came to light in January 2019,” writes David Carlisle, co-founder of Elliptic, in a blog post published on October 11. The al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, was caught red-handed while organising a call for Bitcoin donations via Facebook and Instagram

At first, these “funding 2.0” initiatives only raised a few thousand dollars, but Hamas has increasingly used social networks as funding channels ever since. And the Palestinian group formally listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US is not alone in its actions. “Using crypto in conjunction with social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, and I’ve seen Telegram mentioned recently – has become quite popular,” says Nicholas Ryder, a professor of law and specialist in terrorist financing networks at Cardiff University.

The recent attention paid to funds transferred to Hamas in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies may give the impression that without this windfall, the Islamist movement would be bankrupt or would, at least, have had a much harder time financing its attacks on Israel.

Secondary means

“There is a degree of hyperbole about this topic. It’s relatively new, has cachet and is unknown by many people, so of course it attracts attention. You cannot ignore it, but if you think about the pros and cons of [using it for] raising or moving funds, crypto is not the best,” says Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime Research and Security Studies at the Royal United Service Institute, one of the UK’s leading think tanks on security issues.

For example, Hamas, which Forbes magazine ranked in 2014 as “one of the richest terrorist groups in the world”, has an estimated annual budget of nearly $1 billion. Most of the money comes from “expatriates or private donors in the Gulf region”, points out German news channel Deutsche Welle.

In this respect, the $41 million in cryptocurrencies seized by the Israeli authorities may seem like a drop in the bucket for Hamas. What’s more, these amounts should be taken with a grain of salt: it can be very difficult to separate funds intended to finance terrorist activities from others in a virtual wallet, Chainalysis, an American blockchain analysis company, notes in a blog post.

“[It’s] impossible to quantify how much money is transferred via crypto, but it has become a more and more prominent funding method,” says Ryder.

The rise of Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin in the world of terrorism can be explained first and foremost by the simplicity of making a transaction, notes Keatinge: “It’s easy, and I can make a donation from my couch at home.” It’s also much quicker than having to open a bank account and find intermediaries willing to transfer the fund. “You just need a smartphone and/or a laptop,” adds Ryder.

International authorities are also putting more effort into countering traditional terrorist financing channels, so these groups are trying to compensate with new ways of raising money. “The more we put pressure on traditional ways of financing, the more they’ll find alternative ways like crypto. And we are becoming better at fighting against the traditional means of financing. It’s like a balloon: when you squeeze one part, the other gets bigger,” says Keatinge.

Not so anonymous

Hamas, al Qaeda and Hezbollah don’t hesitate to combine the best of both worlds, either. For example, there can now be a cryptocurrency dimension to the use of fake NGOs, a classic means of funding for terrorist groups. “They can cut the top 10 to 15 percent and convert it into crypto, and then transfer it in order to make it more difficult to trace,” explains Ryder.

However, these movements’ interest in such new funding methods is not as strong as current media noise might suggest, because they are not ultimately as anonymous as we’ve been led to believe. “It may seem as though crypto is some kind of secret way to channel funds, but it has vulnerability. As soon as you start blockchain transactions, they are traceable. They’re not as secretive as many people think,” says Keatinge.

Indeed, all Bitcoin transactions pass through the blockchain, which is the digital equivalent of a ledger that is accessible to all. Admittedly, the names of those transferring or receiving the funds do not appear, but it is possible to track every movement of funds, and companies such as Chainalysis and Elliptic have become masters in the art of tracing their origin.

Of course, there are ways of making these transactions more anonymous, but they come at the expense of ease and speed – the main advantages of the use of cryptocurrencies for terrorists and other criminals. In the end, it’s still easier and more anonymous to hand-deliver suitcases full of cash.

This article is a translation of the original in French

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Arras school stabbing: what do we know about the suspect?

A man of Chechen origin who was under surveillance by French security services over suspected Islamic radicalization stabbed a teacher to death at his former high school and critically wounded three other people Friday in northern France, authorities said.

The attack was being investigated by anti-terror prosecutors amid soaring global tensions over the war between Israel and Hamas. It also happened almost three years after another teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by a radicalized Chechen near a Paris area school.

The man arrested as the main suspect in Friday’s stabbings had been under surveillance since the summer on suspicion of Islamic radicalisation, French intelligence services told The Associated Press. He was detained Thursday for questioning based on the monitoring of his phone calls in recent days, but investigators found no weapon or threat or indication that he was preparing an attack, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

“There was a race against the clock. But there was no threat, no weapon, no indication. We did our our job seriously,” Darmanin said on TF1 television.

The suspect was reportedly refusing to speak to investigators. Several others also were in custody Friday, national counterterrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said. Police said the suspect’s younger brother was held for questioning.

Victim of attack was French teacher

A colleague and a fellow teacher identified the dead educator as Dominique Bernard, a French language teacher at the Gambetta-Carnot school, which enrolls students ages 11-18. The victim “stepped in and probably saved many lives” but two of the wounded – another teacher and a security guard – were fighting for theirs, according to French president Emmanuel Macron.

Sliman Hamzi, a police officer who was one of the first on the scene, said the suspected attacker, a former student at the school, shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.

Hamzi said he was alerted by another officer, rushed to the school and saw a male victim lying on the ground outside the school and the attacker being taken away. He said the victim had his throat slit. “I’m extremely shocked by what I saw,” the officer said. “It was a horrible thing to see this poor man who was killed on the job by a lunatic.”

The National Police force identified the suspect in the attack as a Russian national of Chechen origin who was born in 2003. The French intelligence services told the AP he had been closely watched since the summer with tails and telephone surveillance and was stopped as recently as Thursday for a police check that found no wrongdoing.

Friday’s attack had echoes of Paty’s slaying on October 16, 2020 – also a Friday – by an 18-year-old who had become radicalised. Like the suspect in Friday’s stabbings, the earlier attacker had a Chechen background; police shot and killed him.

Martin Doussau, a philosophy teacher at Gambetta-Carnot, said the assailant was armed with two knives and appeared to be hunting specifically for a history teacher. Paty taught history and geography.

“I was chased by the attacker, who … asked me if I teach history. (He said), ‘Are you a history teacher, are you a history teacher?'” said Doussau, who recounted how he barricaded himself behind a door until police used a stun gun to subdue the attacker. “When he turned around and asked me if I am a history teacher, I immediately thought of Samuel Paty,” Doussau told reporters.

Prosecutors said they were considering charges of terror-related murder and attempted murder against the suspect.

Suspect’s radicalisation was known to authorities

Julie Duhamel, an official with the the Unsa teachers’ union in the Pas-de-Calais region that includes Arras, told radio network Franceinfo that teachers had flagged the suspect’s radicalisation “a few years ago.”

The suspect’s telephone conversations in recent days gave no indication of an impending attack, leading intelligence officers to conclude that the assailant decided suddenly on Friday to act, intelligence services told the AP.

An older brother was arrested in the summer of 2019 by the DGSI – France’s counter-terrorism intelligence service – on suspicion of being involved in the planning of an attack that was thwarted, and is in jail, French intelligence said.

The older brother also was a former pupil at the high school targeted Friday, according to legal records from his trial earlier this year on terror-related charges. Investigation records show that during a school class in 2016 about freedom of expression, the older brother defended a terror attack in 2015 that killed 12 cartoonists at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The older brother is serving a 5-year prison term for terror offences. He was convicted this year of involvement in a plot for an armed attack around the presidential Élysee Palace in Paris that was thwarted by the intelligence services. Other members of the radical Islamist group were also jailed for up to 15 years. He was the group’s only Chechen.

Friday’s attack came amid heightened tensions around the world over Hamas’ attack on southern Israel and Israel’s blistering military response, which have killed hundreds of civilians on both sides. Darmanin on Thursday ordered local authorities to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations amid a rise in antisemitic acts.

France is estimated to have the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the US, as well as the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

A moment of silence was held at the opening of a France-Netherlands soccer match Friday night to honor the slain teacher. France’s National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, held a minute of silence for the victims at the opening of its Friday session.

Macron said the school in Arras would reopen as soon as Saturday morning, and he urged the people of France to “stay united.”

“The choice has been made not to give in to terror,” he said. “We must not let anything divide us, and we must remember that schools and the transmission of knowledge are at the heart of this fight against ignorance.”

(AP)

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Mohammed Deif, the elusive architect of Hamas’s attack on Israel

Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, organised the deadly assault on Israel over the weekend. The attack plunging Israel and Gaza into a new war brings to the forefront a little-known character who has managed to elude Israel’s intelligence services for over 30 years.

Issued on:

4 min

Mohammed Deif has been on Israel‘s ‘most wanted’ list for nearly three decades. The leader of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, is unlikely to lose the designation anytime soon.

Deif is behind the military operation launched from the Gaza Strip that caught Israel off guard on Saturday, October 7. After intense fighting that caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare war on Hamas, Deif, perhaps more than ever, is in Tel Aviv’s crosshairs.

As Deif’s bounty rises, his star in Gaza is expected to rise too. His “prestige” was already strong, says Omri Brinner, an Israel and Middle East analyst at the International Team for the Study of Security Verona (ITSS). “But with this operation – the most successful in the history of Palestinian resistance – his legacy will live forever. He can fail now, Israel can assassinate him now: his legacy will outlast him.”

‘Nine lives’

As someone who has escaped multiple assassination attempts, Deif is the “ultimate survivor of Palestinian resistance”, says Brinner. His ability to evade Israeli intelligence services has earned him the nickname “the man with nine lives”.

Considered an international terrorist by the United States since 2015, Deif has represented a direct and constant threat to the internal security of Israel for over 30 years. “Militancy against Israel is a field with low life expectancy. It’s quite remarkable that he has been able to survive so long. He is a long-lasting stain on Israel’s reputation of taking down designated targets,” says Jacob Eriksson, a specialist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of York.

The trick to survival lies in remaining hidden. The only official photo of Deif in circulation is over twenty years old. However, he is far from unscathed. Deif is said to have lost his sight, one arm, and one leg after an Israeli attack in 2006.

The only known photo of Mohammed Deif, taken sometime around the year 2000 in an unknown location. Handout file photo, AFP

His real name is also unknown, although several media outlets suggest it is Mohammed al-Masri. “Deif” is, in fact, an Arabic moniker that translates literally to “guest”. “It’s a reference to the fact he doesn’t stay more than one night in the same place to avoid being caught by Israel,” explains Eriksson.

Other details about Deif’s life are scarce. Deif was born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza in the 1960s, according to an Israeli intelligence official who spoke with the Financial Times.

In 2014, the Washington Post reported that Deif studied at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he frequented members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas would later become an offshoot.

Attack from both above and below

The future architect of Hamas’s military operations joined the Islamist organisation in the late 1980s with the help of Yahya Ayyash – known as “the Engineer” – one of Hamas’s main explosives experts with whom “Deif was very close”, according to Eriksson.

After orchestrating suicide bombing attacks in the 1990s, Deif became increasingly important within Hamas after Ayyash’s assassination by Israeli intelligence services in 1996. He was appointed head of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades in 2002.

One of his early achievements as a leader was to apply lessons from the second intifada in the early 2000s. He masterminded the construction of underground tunnels allowing Hamas fighters to launch incursions into Israeli territory from Gaza. He also emphasised the use of rockets as extensively as possible.

“In response to Israel’s fortifying the border with walls, he developed Hamas’s ‘below and above strategy’, meaning digging tunnels for Hamas militants to go into Israel and sending rockets,” explains Brinner. 

His modus operandi has “always been to directly hit Israeli territory by any means possible to make it pay the highest price for its treatment of the population in Gaza”, notes Eriksson.

Deif’s ideology is about making any purely political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible, says Brinner. “His philosophy is about a military solution to the conflict.” It’s no coincidence, Brinner adds, that Deif organised a major campaign of suicide bombings in the mid-1990s, shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accords.

A matter of prestige

This reputation for using purely military means also partly explains “why he enjoys unparalleled popularity among the Gaza population”, says Brinner. In 2014, in a poll conducted by a Palestinian news site, “Deif was voted more popular than Khaled Meshal, the overall leader of Hamas, and Ismail Haniyeh, the group’s top political leader in Gaza – both highly visible personalities and known to every Palestinian,” reported the Washington Post.

“He is a military leader, so he is immune to critiques of how Hamas has handled the humanitarian and social aspects of Gaza’s administration,” says Eriksson.

“He is also the only one who lives in Gaza and has educated his children there,” adds Brinner. This is significant from the perspective of Gaza residents, who accuse Haniyeh of leading Hamas from a “luxury hotel in Qatar”.

Deif’s personality and the respect he inspires in Gaza can also partly explain how the ambitious attack succeeded despite the Israeli intelligence services’ widely recognised effectiveness. “The fact that Hamas planned this operation for a year – according to the latest estimations – without any information leaking speaks to the loyalty the select few who were involved in the planning of the operation have to Deif,” says Brinner.

This loyalty has already resulted in the deaths of more than 1000 Israelis and 830 Palestinians since the start of the attack on Saturday.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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