BERLIN – Some 200 police officers raided 13 homes in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany Tuesday, in connection with the arrests last week of two suspected members of an Islamic terror cell.
Police spokesman Michael Gassen said the raids were mostly on close associates of the pair.
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“We were looking for further evidence in connection with last week’s arrests,” Gassen said, adding that the people targeted Tuesday were not accused of any wrongdoing themselves. Most were members of the same mosque in Berlin’s Moabit neighbourhood as the two suspects.
Last week’s raids were part of a monthslong investigation into a small group of Turkish extremists based in Berlin.
Police on Friday arrested the group’s leader, identified only as 41-year-old Ismet D. in accordance with privacy laws, who is accused of recruiting largely Turkish and Russian nationals to fight against “infidels” in Syria. They also arrested Emin F., 43, who is accused of being in charge of finances.
Authorities said there’s no evidence the group was planning attacks inside Germany, but that it procured funding to help send fighters to Syria, as well as military materials like night-vision equipment.
They said the arrests were unrelated to the recent attacks in Paris or raids in Belgium.
WATCH: Eric Sorensen reports on the $200-million ransom ISIS is demanding from Japan to release two hostages.
CAIRO – The Islamic State group threatened to kill two Japanese hostages within 72 hours, demanding a $200 million ransom in a video posted online Tuesday that showed a knife-brandishing masked militant standing over the two kneeling captives.
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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was traveling in the Middle East, vowed to save the men. But with his military only operating in a self-defense capacity at home, Abe faces a hard choice: openly pay the extremists or ask an ally like the United States to attempt a risky rescue inside Syria.
Tuesday’s video, released via militant websites associated with the Islamic State group, mirrored other hostage threats the extremists have made. In it, the captives, 47-year-old Kenji Goto and 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, were shown in orange jumpsuits with a rocky hill in the background, a black-clad militant standing between them.
READ MORE: Canadian special forces returned fire with ISIS in Iraq last week
The scene resembles others featuring five hostages previously beheaded by the Islamic State group, which controls a third of Iraq and Syria.
Speaking in English with a British accent, the militant demanded $200 million for the men’s release and appeared to link the ransom to a pledge Abe made Saturday of nonmilitary aid to help the government of Iraq and to assist Syrian refugees who have fled the Islamic State’s brutality.
“To the prime minister of Japan … you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade,” said the masked man, who looked and sounded like the militant shown in other filmed beheadings.
“And to the Japanese public: Just as your government has made the foolish decision to pay $200 million to fight the Islamic State, you now have 72 hours to pressure your government in making a wise decision, by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens,” he said.
“Otherwise, this knife will become your nightmare.
Japanese officials said they would analyze the video to verify its authenticity, though Abe offered no hesitation as he pledged to free the men.
“Their lives are the top priority,” the Japanese leader told journalists in Jerusalem as he wrapped up a six-day visit to the Middle East. “Extremism and Islam are completely different things.”
READ MORE: Islamic State group releases 200 Yazidis held captive in Iraq for 5 months
Abe and others in his government declined to say whether they would pay a ransom, though Abe dispatched his deputy foreign minister, Yasuhide Nakayama, to Jordan to seek the country’s support in resolving the hostage crisis.
Agreeing to the Islamic State group’s demands would run contrary to allies like the U.S. and Britain, which have a strict policy of not paying ransoms.
The State Department had no immediate comment on whether the U.S. was urging Japan not to pay. Secretary of State John Kerry planned to speak later with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on the hostage crisis, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
In a statement, she said the U.S. “strongly condemns ISIL’s threat to murder Japanese citizens,” and called for the immediate release of all hostages. “The United States is fully supportive of Japan in this matter. We stand in solidarity with Japan and are coordinating closely,” the statement said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for the immediate release of the Japanese hostages and all other captives.
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Though Abe has said he wants a more-muscular Japanese military, he has ruled out sending troops overseas and Japan’s constitution, drafted during the American occupation following World War II, commits the country to pacifism. That would put the onus on partners like the U.S. to attempt any hostage rescue.
In early July, U.S. special forces launched a secret raid into Syria to try to free American hostages held by the Islamic State group, killing several militants, but finding no captives.
The two Japanese hostages said nothing during the video.
Goto is a respected Japanese freelance journalist who went to report on Syria’s civil war last year.”I’m in Syria for reporting,” Goto wrote in an email to an Associated Press journalist in October, before he was abducted. “I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it.”
Yukawa, the founder of a private security company, was kidnapped in Syria in August after going there to train with militants, according to a post on a blog he kept.
Nobuo Kimoto, an adviser to Yukawa’s company, told Japanese television station NHK that he had worried “something like this could happen sooner or later.”
Tuesday’s video marks the first time the Islamic State group has publicly demanded cash. The extremists requested $132.5 million from hostage James Foley’s parents and political concessions from Washington, though neither was granted, U.S. authorities say, and Foley was subsequently beheaded. They asked for a similar amount for two other American hostages, authorities have said.
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The Islamic State group has suffered recent losses in U.S.-led airstrikes, and with global oil prices down, their revenue from selling stolen oil has dropped. The extremists also have made money from extortion and robbing banks during its August offensive in Iraq.
Before the oil price drop, the Islamic State group made as much as $2 million a day selling pilfered oil, and used the funds to pacify as many as 8 million people living in its self-declared caliphate, said Greg Ohannessian, an analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
“Now with oil dropping by 60 percent, that is going to be cutting into their income,” Ohannessian said. “That is definitely going to have an impact on their capacity to maintain the population.”
The group released some 200 mostly elderly Yazidi hostages in Iraq over the weekend, fueling speculation by Iraqi officials that the group didn’t have the money to care for them.
Besides Foley, the Islamic State group has beheaded American hostage Peter Kassig, Israeli-American Steven Sotloff, and British captives David Haines and Alan Henning.
The group has also shot dead hundreds of captives — mainly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers — and has celebrated its mass killings in graphic videos.
The extremists still hold British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has appeared in other extremist propaganda videos, and a 26-year-old American woman. U.S. officials have asked that the woman not be identified out of fears for her safety.
This is Abe’s second Mideast hostage crisis since becoming prime minister. The first came two years ago when al-Qaida-affiliated militants attacked an Algerian natural gas plant, killing 37 foreigners, including 10 Japanese. Seven Japanese workers survived.
What Abe and others in Japan fear is a replay of 2004, when followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheaded a Japanese backpacker, Shosei Koda, over the country sending troops to Iraq to do humanitarian work. A video by al-Zarqawi’s group, which later became the Islamic State group, showed Koda begging Japan’s then-prime minister to save him.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM – Israel is on high alert for possible attacks from the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah following an airstrike on Hezbollah fighters in Syria, Israeli defence officials said Tuesday.
Israel has boosted deployment of its “Iron Dome” anti-missile aerial defence system along its northern frontier, which borders Lebanon and Syria, and has increased surveillance activities in the area, the officials said. Israel’s Security Cabinet is scheduled to meet to discuss a potential escalation in violence, they said.
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The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss security deliberations publicly.
Hezbollah claims Israel carried out Sunday’s strike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which killed a prominent Hezbollah fighter, a senior Iranian general, and five other Hezbollah members. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its role in the strike.
The prominent fighter killed, Jihad Mughniyeh, was the son of Imad Mughniyeh – a top Hezbollah operative widely considered to have built Hezbollah’s military operations infrastructure and the second most revered figure inside Hezbollah. He was assassinated in 2008 in Damascus in a bombing that Hezbollah says was carried out by Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
Thousands of mourners marched in a Beirut funeral procession Monday for Jihad Mughniyeh, chanting “Death to Israel.”
Since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011, Israel has reportedly carried out several airstrikes in Syria that have targeted sophisticated weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, believed to be destined for Hezbollah.
The last such airstrike was in early December, when warplanes struck near Damascus’ international airport, as well as outside a town close to the Syria-Lebanon border. Israel has not commented on its role in those strikes.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in an interview last week, said Hezbollah reserves the right to retaliate for those attacks. He also reiterated that Hezbollah may retaliate at any time for the assassination of Mughniyeh senior.
MILWAUKEE – Terrence Ross finished what he failed to start Monday night.
Kyle Lowry scored 18 points and was one of six Toronto players to reach double figures in the Raptors’ 92-89 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Ross, who did not start for just the second time in the last 104 games after he was held scoreless for the only time this season in a 95-93 loss against New Orleans on Sunday, scored his team’s final two baskets to end up with 16 points.
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“That’s how I started off in the league, so I’m used to it,” Ross said.
Added Toronto coach Dwane Casey: “He played well. He came off the bench relaxed and with a lot of confidence. I thought when he came in in the first half, he got us jump-started. I don’t know if it’s going to be a permanent thing, but I like the way he came in and played, especially on the defensive end.”
Milwaukee (21-20), playing for the first time since beating New York 95-79 on Thursday in London, got 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals from Brandon Knight.
The Bucks, whose biggest loss this season was 124-82 at Toronto on Nov. 21, also got 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds from Ersan Ilyasova. O.J. Mayo scored 13.
With the shot clock running down, Ross hit a baseline jumper from the right side to give Toronto a 90-87 lead with 26.4 seconds to go.
After Knight drove down the court for a layup, Ross was able to sneak behind the defence for a breakaway dunk and a 92-89 lead with 15.9 seconds left. The Atlantic Division leaders (27-14) went on to win for the third time in 10 games.
“I don’t know what happened with the defence, but I kind of just got out in front of them,” said Ross, who shot 7 of 12 from the floor.
Knight then missed a 3-pointer, but Lowry helped Milwaukee’s chances by missing two free throws with 5.8 seconds to play.
Ilyasova grabbed the rebound and passed to Mayo, who dribbled past midcourt into Toronto traffic and lost control of the ball to Lou Williams. Toronto was then able to run out the clock.
“(Knight’s miss) was a wide-open shot,” Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said. “That’s all you can ask for. As a team, we had a great look and had one of our best shooters shooting the ball. Unfortunately it just didn’t go in.”
Raptors: Toronto has won its last six against Milwaukee after losing 10 straight to the Bucks. … The Raptors snapped a season-high, three-game losing streak on the road. Five of the team’s next seven games are away from home.
Bucks: Kenyon Martin was signed to a second 10-day contract. … Milwaukee is 6-2 against Atlantic Division opponents, with both losses to Toronto. … This was the team’s first home game on a Monday this season.
SANDERS STARTS SUSPENSION
Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders began serving his 10-game drug suspension. He had missed the previous 11 games due to illness and personal reasons.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (20 years, 44 days) became the youngest Bucks player to reach 1,000 career points, surpassing Brandon Jennings (20 years, 170 days).
Casey was asked to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. before the game and said it is amazing what the NBA represents. “Whether it is gender, race, creed or nationality, the NBA represents all of those,” he said. “The league has done a great job with diversity, and that is what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about and preached. He preached opportunity, and this league is about opportunity.”
Raptors: At Memphis on Wednesday.
Bucks: Host Utah on Thursday.
LONDON, Ont. – Federal Liberals posted their best fundraising haul in a decade last year, filling their party’s war chest just in time for this year’s election.
The final numbers for the fourth quarter of 2014 are to be filed with Elections Canada by the end of the month.
But party insiders say the Liberal take for the last three months of the year topped $5.6 million, bringing the total for the year close to $16 million.
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That’s likely not enough to beat the Conservatives, who are on track to exceed their 2013 fundraising haul of $18.1 million.
But it will take a big bite out of the Tories’ fundraising advantage, which the ruling party has enjoyed since 2006, when corporate and union donations were prohibited and severe restrictions on individual donations were imposed.
The Liberals, who had been heavily reliant on donations from corporations and wealthy individuals, struggled for years to raise money under the new regime. But they have been steadily closing the fundraising gap since Justin Trudeau took the party’s helm 21 months ago.
Trudeau and his 34 MPs are to get an update on the party’s fundraising efforts today during the first of a two-day caucus retreat to plot strategy for next week’s resumption of Parliament and for the election, scheduled for October.
For the first time in years, the winter retreat is being held outside of Ottawa – another sign that the party is flush with cash, for a change. The Liberals have chosen the location – in the midst of Ontario’s battered manufacturing heartland – deliberately.
Liberals were shut out of southwestern Ontario entirely in 2011, when they were reduced to a third-party rump. But strategists believe the area is now a fertile staging ground for a national comeback.
In a speech to party faithful tonight, Trudeau is expected to launch a critique of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic policies, a message Liberals believe will resonate in an area that has been hard hit by factory closures, most recently the historic Kellogg’s plant.
Trudeau will not, however, unveil any detailed economic policy proposals of his own, continuing to wait until closer to the election to release the party’s platform.
He’s been heavily criticized for being light on policy, particularly since last fall when NDP Leader Tom Mulcair began unveiling major planks of his party’s platform.
But Trudeau’s refusal to commit himself months before the election is beginning to look prudent as plunging oil prices suck billions from federal coffers. That’s prompted the government to delay its budget until at least April and raised doubts about its ability to balance the budget in the coming fiscal year.
It’s also prompted questions about how Mulcair intends to pay for the NDP’s big ticket promises, including a $5-billion per year day care plan and a vow to restore a six per cent increase in annual health care transfer payments to the provinces.
While no planks will be unveiled, Liberal MPs will spend some time discussing some of their own suggestions for the party’s eventual platform.
Following the caucus retreat, Trudeau and his MP plan to fan out across southwestern Ontario.