TIME isis

How to Financially Starve ISIS

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
Reuters A fighter from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014.

Air strikes will help but to ruin the extremist organization the U.S.-led coalition will have to cut off ISIS's sources of funding

The U.S.-led air assault in Iraq and Syria on the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria(ISIS) is just one front in the battle being waged against ISIS. The U.S. Treasury recently confirmed plans to try to bankrupt the militant group by targeting its oil businesses and imposing sanctions on those financing them. But how easy will it be to financially ruin a group now considered by analysts to be the best-funded terrorist organization in recent history?

“Like all organizations, money matters to ISIS,” says Fawaz Gerges, the Emirates chair in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics. “Napoleon once said ‘An army marches on its stomach’ and even ISIS needs to feed and arm its soldiers, to provide for their families. If you follow the trail of money and starve ISIS financially, you begin the process of degrading and ultimately paralyzing it.”

Yet following this trail of money is difficult. Experts speaking to TIME say hard figures are difficult to come by, partly because of a lack of independent researchers and journalists in the area. ISIS also deals mainly in cash and operates outside the legitimate channels that can be traced by the Treasury, says Valérie Marcel, a Middle East energy and resources expert at London-based think-tank Chatham House. As a result, estimates of ISIS’s daily revenue vary between $1 million and $3 million a day. Gerges says that ISIS has estimated funds of tens of millions of dollars, and that in the last few months the group has reportedly tried to limit its spending as much as possible to counter the coalition’s efforts to cut off its funding.

As ISIS has grown in size and taken control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, its sources of income have also shifted. Justin Dargin, a Middle East energy specialist based at the University of Oxford, says that “while funding from wealthy Gulf patrons assisted the group’s early rise, currently individual donations are not of major importance” since ISIS has developed more independent sources of income. David Butter, a Chatham House expert in the politics and economy of the Middle East, agrees, noting that ISIS benefits from being far less reliant on funds from abroad than other Islamist and Salafist jihadist groups, who made themselves overly dependent on the one-off nature of such fundraising. In fact, experts say one major difference between ISIS and other jihadist groups is ISIS’s more pragmatic outlook. Whereas al-Qaeda was more focused on setting up cells to finance anti-Western terrorist operations, ISIS has concentrated on expanding its area of control, taking hold of natural resources and commercial centers, as well as tens of thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition.

In June of this year, ISIS seized more territory in Northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. It declared itself the “Islamic State” and developed revenue streams more typically associated with a government than a jihadist group. Though it’s difficult to establish how well ISIS is running the areas under its control, Paul Rogers, a global security consultant to Oxford Research Group, says that information from social media suggests that “ISIS seem quite competent to run things in Syria” and most areas seem to be functioning reasonably well. Since ISIS has continued to provide services like water and electricity, Gerges says the group has been able to impose taxes on farmers, retail businesses and even fuel. He adds that we should not underestimate the importance of this “social income” in both Iraq and Syria, since ISIS “have been able to generate sources of income to run the provinces under their control and also to generate extra income to wage their battles.”

Yet while ISIS might attempt to act like a state, much of its money is brought in by criminal tactics, including extortion, theft and plundering. For instance, senior U.S. government official Brett McGurk told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July that even before ISIS took control of Mosul, he and other U.S. diplomatic and military officials who had visited the city shortly before it fell to ISIS had been concerned about Mosul “as it had become the primary financial hub” for ISIS, “generating nearly $12 million per month in revenues through extortion and smuggling rackets.” Hostage-taking has also played a part in filling ISIS coffers. According to an investigative report from The New York Times, kidnapping Europeans has earned al-Qaeda and its affiliates at least $125 million in ransom payments in the past five years alone. Although ISIS formally split from al-Qaeda in February, the group has continued the practice and both Gerges and Marcel have sources confirming that ISIS has received large sums of money from citizens of Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Syria in exchange for hostages. As well as Western hostages, the “kidnapping of locals is a big business”, says Gerges, and has generated tens of millions of dollars for ISIS and other militant groups like al-Nusra front, the branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria.

But the majority of ISIS’s revenue appears to come from the territory it controls, much of which is “very rich agriculturally”, says Rogers. For instance, the United Nations estimates that land in Iraq under ISIS control accounts for up to 40 percent of the country’s annual production of wheat. Crucially, the militant group also holds a number of oil fields in both Iraq and Syria and analysts speaking to TIME estimate that the daily revenue from ISIS oil production lies between $1 and $3 million a day. Though this is barely a fraction of the global oil trade, the income is very useful in funding ISIS’s soldiers, who number between 20,000 and 31,500 according to the CIA. As ISIS took hold of more territory in Iraq and Syria in June, it gained more opportunities to sell both crude oil and refined products through well-established smuggling networks. “There are a lot of grey market buyers of crude in the region and a large network of individuals that benefit financially. It’s harder to dismantle because – whether it’s in the KRG [Kurdish Regional Government], in Turkey or in Iran – border guards and municipal authorities have to be paid well enough and given incentives to crack down,” says Marcel.

If the U.S. and its allies continue to bomb ISIS’s oil facilities, however, the group will begin struggling to fund itself. The Paris-based International Energy Agency said in a report released Tuesday that the aerial campaign has brought ISIS oil production down to around 20,000 barrels per day, from a high of around 70,000 a couple of months ago. If oil installations continue to be hit, ISIS will not be able to use its own military vehicles that run on the diesel and gas produced by small, local refineries. Yet it is the civilian population – between 6 and 8 million people in ISIS-controlled territory – that will most acutely feel the effects of the air strikes as winter approaches. The local population relies heavily on diesel for heating, agricultural machinery, bakeries and generators. The U.K.-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has already reported that the air strikes have led to an increase in the price of diesel and petrol. Butter says that if the ISIS economy is “degraded” by the bombings, there is likely to be a nationwide fuel and electricity crisis, as well as agricultural shortages exacerbated by the lighter than normal rainfall in 2013. In addition, Marcel points out that ISIS “depends to a large extent on the willingness of the population to have them there. In the battle to win hearts and minds, you do have to provide heating fuel and petrol.”

But if the group is to lose this battle any time soon, the coalition will have to succeed in cutting all the strands of ISIS’s vast financial web. Until then, ISIS will likely remain a threat to the region and beyond.

TIME faith

What the Synod Taught Us About Pope Francis: He Takes Risks

Pope Francis Leads Ordinary Public Consistory
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis, flanked by former Vatican Secretary of State cardinal Angelo Sodano arrives at the Synod Hall for ordinary public consistory on Oct. 20, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican.

If there is a single takeaway, it may be this

The Vatican’s synod concluded Sunday with little fanfare. The bishops in the red and pink zuchettos, or skullcaps, filtered out, many departing for their different corners of the globe. The room’s burgundy, stadium-style seats were empty. The first major policy event of the Francis papacy was a wrap.

A lot happened in that windowless room in Rome over the past two weeks. What began with the Holy Father asking more than 250 participants inside the hall to speak their minds on issues of the family ended with them giving him a five-minute standing ovation. And beyond the hall, the synod prompted a dynamic conversation about where the global Catholic Church is headed under Pope Francis’ leadership.

If there is a single takeaway, it may be this: Pope Francis showed the world that he is not afraid of making mistakes. He takes risks, and his commitment to listening allows a host of voices to rise and controversy to surface.

The first big surprise came on the first day of the second week, when Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary—the synod’s organizer and a man usually seen as a conservative—read aloud a mid-Synod report that to many sounded like a shift in tone on welcoming the gay community. Liberals cried victory and conservatives urged caution. Three days later, the Vatican revised the section headline “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons”—but only in English, leaving the official Italian verb the same. The drama fostered murmurings that the mid-Synod document represented just a handful of bishops’ opinions and that Pope Francis stacked the deck of bishops composing the Synod’s report with more liberal voices.

Francis played the controversy close to the chest, but he furthered his own desire for openness and discussion in three ways. First, he requested that the synod’s concluding document be published in full, so everyone could see the vote tallies and the paragraphs that did not pass the bishops’ final approval. Only three paragraphs did not pass—the paragraph that expressed welcome toward gays fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for inclusion, and two paragraphs about divorced and remarried Catholics also did not pass by a slightly larger margin.

Second, Pope Francis did not shy away from difference and challenge. He reminded the bishops in his concluding speech that the synod was “a journey,” full of “running fast,” “fatigue,” “enthusiasm and ardor,” and also acknowledged it was “a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations.”

Third, he showed that amidst it all he maintains a sense of humor—he wryly joked about the “welcoming” gays controversy in the same concluding speech, misusing the word “welcome” and then correcting himself.

“We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops,” Francis said in Italian, amid some laughter among the bishops. “So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.”

The Synod’s peripheral drama also shook up the traditional power players on all sides. Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a vocal advocate of relaxing rules about communion for the divorced and remarried, got caught in an odd interview and ensuing controversy for saying that African bishops “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” and he distanced himself from the remarks. Cardinal Raymond Burke—a conservative whom Pope Francis had already removed from the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops—confirmed to the National Catholic Reporter that he will be removed from his post as chief justice at the Vatican’s highest court, and when asked who told him he would be removed, he said, “Who do you think?”

Many of the subtleties of the event, and the esoteric ways of the church, were lost in the way the event was communicated with the world. Much of the global coverage confused the Synod’s possibilities and its outcomes. After news reports that the Vatican was announcing an historic welcome of gays, mainstream outlets were forced to walked back the news. Some blamed the Vatican for a reversal, when in fact no conclusion had even been reached. Reuters said the bishops “reversed a historic acceptance of gays, dropping parts of a controversial document that had talked more positively of homosexuals than ever before in Church history.”

It would be wrong to cast the Synod in terms of such reversals or failures—gay marriage was never on the table, and reaching consensus implies that that was this Synod’s primary goal in the first place. Francis sought from the beginning to listen, and in true Jesuit style, to learn together what issues are facing families in the changing global context.

It also became clear that not all the issues about the family got similar play. By the synod’s end, issues of sexual ethics like divorce and homosexuality remained the hot-button issues. Big challenges to family life like war, disease, migration and sexual abuse failed to make a real appearance in the concluding document.

While no one knows the future, Pope Francis is looking toward newness. “God is not afraid of new things!” he preached at the Synod’s closing mass on Sunday when he beatified Pope Paul VI. “Here is where our true strength is found. … It is so that we can live this life to the fullest—with our feet firmly planted on the ground—and respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way.”

The challenges to newness ahead are plenty. This Synod was just the beginning of the Church’s deep dive into global family life. Next fall a larger group of bishops will gather in Rome to conclude the process this synod started, and as Pope Francis reminded the bishops in his concluding remarks on Saturday, “We still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront.”

The intervening time will tell what taste this year’s gathering leaves in people’s mouths. Synods, in many ways, are like summer camps: pack a group of devotees together in a pressure cooker environment for a short but intense period of time, let thoughts and emotions run deep, and see what relationships and opinions last for the long term.

Pope Francis, for his part, is pressing on. Monday morning, he returned to the same windowless room with a new set of cardinals. The topic this time? Crises facing Christians in the Middle East.

TIME health

What Does It Mean for an Ebola Outbreak to End?

West Africa Ebola
Sunday Alamba—AP A Nigerian port health official speaks to a passenger at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 6, 2014.

And how does the World Health Organization decide when that happens?

Nigeria’s most recent outbreak of Ebola is over, the nation’s government and World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday.

But — with fear of Ebola continuing to grip the world — what does that even mean? How does the WHO know that Nigeria is in the clear?

The answer, it turns out, is very specific: The WHO says a country can declare their outbreak to be over when it makes it through 42 days without a new case. That’s two incubation periods for the Ebola virus, so as long as 42 days have passed, during which the country had in place active surveillance and diagnostics but discovered no new cases, the WHO says it’s enough time to confidently say an outbreak is over. For health care workers to be considered “in the clear” they have to be monitored for 21 days after their last possible exposure to the virus, even if they were wearing full protective gear. Health care workers’ date of last contact is considered the day when the final patient with Ebola tests negative for the disease.

“Recent studies conducted in West Africa have demonstrated that 95% of confirmed cases have an incubation period in the range of 1 to 21 days; 98% have an incubation period that falls within the 1 to 42 day interval,” said WHO in a statement. “WHO is therefore confident that detection of no new cases, with active surveillance in place, throughout this 42-day period means that an Ebola outbreak is indeed over.”

MORE: Nigeria is Ebola-free: Here’s What They Did Right

This is not the first time WHO has declared Ebola outbreaks over using this particular standard — Senegal was declared Ebola-free on Oct. 17, and the strategy has proven effective in prior, unrelated, outbreaks.

In 1995, there was an Ebola outbreak in the country then called Zaire (today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo); it was declared clear on Aug. 25 of that year. The New York Times reported at the time:

The World Health Organization declared today that an outbreak in Zaire of the deadly Ebola virus was officially over after killing 244 of its 315 known victims.

The United Nations agency, which is based here, said that 42 days, the equivalent of two maximum incubation periods, had passed without any new cases reported. It said it was still not known where the Ebola virus existed between human epidemics, although samples from some 3,000 birds and mammals collected in the Kikwit area, the center of the outbreak, were now being analyzed.

It’s important to have definitive parameters for declaring outbreaks over because, as the current and former outbreaks have shown, oftentimes an outbreak will appear to be extinguished, only to reappear in full force a couple weeks later. This past April, Guinea’s health ministry thought the outbreak was slowing, which turned out to be false; in the 1995 outbreak, public health experts were also fooled. As TIME reported:

For a while last week it looked as though the outbreak might soon be brought under control. The plague police-medical teams dispatched by who in Geneva, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and other public health groups-had set up an effective isolation ward at the main hospital in Kikwit, where the first case had been identified. Belgium’s Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) rushed in loads of gloves, gowns, masks and other essential equipment to restore hygiene to filthy clinics. But when the strike forces, aided by local medical students, fanned out through the countryside around Kikwit, trying to follow the path of the fever, it became clear that the danger was far from past.

In an announcement made Monday morning, WHO called Nigeria a “spectacular success story,” citing proof that Ebola can be contained. “The story of how Nigeria ended what many believed to be potentially the most explosive Ebola outbreak imaginable is worth telling in detail,” WHO says in a statement.

To read more about how Nigeria contained their most recent outbreak of Ebola, check out our coverage, here.

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Says Russian Health Inspectors Target 200 Restaurants

Inside Burger King And Subway As McDonald's Faces Growing Challenge From Rivals
Andrey Rudakov—Bloomberg / Getty Images A logo hangs on display outside a McDonald's food restaurant in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, April 7, 2013.

Russian courts also ordered 9 to close

More than 200 McDonald’s restaurants in Russia are being audited by health inspectors, the company said in a public statement over the weekend.

McDonald’s vowed to challenge a court-ordered closure of nine restaurants, according to a Russian-language statement released by the Illinois-based company, Bloomberg reports.

Health inspections of the Russian branches — there were at least 440 as of August — began shortly after countries in the West imposed sanctions against Russia during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Regulators argue the searches are part of a widening investigation of sanitary violations, but critics in August dismissed the probes as an exercise in political retaliation.

[Bloomberg]

TIME India

India’s Modi Exploits Oil Price Collapse to End Diesel Subsidies

India Fuel Reforms
Tsering Topgyal—AP A man fills diesel in a car at a fuel station in New Delhi, India, Oct. 19, 2014. India freed diesel prices from government control Sunday while raising natural gas tariffs in the biggest-yet reform by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, as it aims to boost the country's economy and overhaul its energy sector.

Move comes as victories in key state elections gives Modi’s government more freedom to make bold reforms

India’s government said it will stop fixing the price of diesel, in a move that will cut the bill for fuel subsidies and send a strong signal of its commitment to liberalize the economy and attract investment.

The move is one of the most radical to date by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and will mollify critics who say he has been too timid since taking power in Asia’s second-largest economy. It will also add substance to the barnstorming speeches he has made from Tokyo to Madison Square Gardens in recent weeks in an effort to drum up investment in his country.

“Henceforth—like petrol—the price of diesel will be linked to the market,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after the cabinet approved the measure Saturday . “Whatever the cost involved, that is what consumer will have to pay.”

Two factors appeared to have influenced the timing of the move: firstly, the collapse in the price of crude oil to its lowest level in over three years means there will be no painful shock for the millions of consumers–most importantly, small-scale farmers–who depend on cheap fuel. Secondly, the politically bold move came as it became clear that Modi’s BJP party would win important regional elections in the states of Maharahstra and Haryana (home to the megacities of Mumbai and Delhi, respectively).

Indian commentators noted that the two elections had limited Modi’s freedom of action somewhat, but said that, with no more big votes due for a year, there is now a clear window to press ahead with the kind of reforms he promised. Under India’s constitution, central government has to share many powers with state government, so having his party in control of two of India’s most important state legislatures (albeit most likely in a coalition in Haryana) is an important advantage for Modi.

The diesel subsidy, which cost over $10 billion in the last fiscal year, had been one of the defining symbols of excessive government interference in the economy, discouraging both foreign and domestic investment in India’s fuel sector. That’s important because India is dependent on imported fuel, having few resources of its own. Energy security is one of Modi’s top priorities.

In the same vein, the government also raised the regulated price of natural gas at the weekend, hoping to encourage more interest in auctions for oil and gas exploration blocks that the government is aiming to hold.

Modi isn’t the only Asian leader who needs to wean his country off fuel subsidies. A similar challenge facesIndonesia’s new president Joko Widodo, who was finally sworn into office Monday after a contested election victory in the summer. Indonesia is lagging India in this area, as subsidies hold down prices not only for diesel but also for gasoline.

Widodo has the tougher challenge: unlike Modi, his opponents have majority control of parliament. And unlike India, gasoline prices are still fixed at below market levels, meaning that liberalization will hit middle-class urban voters.

TIME North Korea

A Former Doctor to North Korea’s Founder Thinks He Passed on Health Problems to Kim Jong Un

Kim Il Sung
AP North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, Oct. 10, 1980.

Kim Il Sung had an obsessive drive to live to the age of 100

A former physician to North Korea’s f0unding leader Kim Il Sung speculated in a new interview that the ailments which afflicted the elder Kim may explain the recent public absence of his grandson and the country’s current leader, Kim Jong Un.

Kim So-Yeon, a phyisician who defected to South Korea in 1992, told CNN that Kim Il Sung suffered from a range of maladies, including stress, obesity, diabetes and heart problems, as well as an obsessive drive to live to the age of 100. She observed the same symptoms in his son, Kim Jong Il.

Examining photographs of the youngest Kim to make claims that can’t be verified in the opaque country, the physician speculated that Kim Jong Un recent reappearance in public, limping with a cane after a prolonged absence for unspecified medical treatments, appeared to match the symptoms of his father and grandfather.

[CNN]

Read next: Sorry, North Korea Conspiracists: Kim Jong Un Is Probably Just Sick

TIME Turkey

Turkey Will Help Iraqi Kurds Join Fight Against ISIS in Syria

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-CONFLICT
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images Kurdish people watch the Syrian town of Kobane from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 19, 2014.

A shift in Ankara

Turkey said Monday that it will help Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross its border to fight militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) who have besieged a city in Syria.

“We are helping peshmerga forces cross into Kobani,” the BBC quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying in a news conference. He didn’t give any further details.

Turkey has come under pressure to increase its support for the international coalition fighting ISIS, and the announcement represents a significant shift from Ankara. Until now, Turkey has refused to allow Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria because of links between Syrian Kurds and Turkey’s own separatist rebels. The announcement came just hours after the U.S. made multiple airdrops of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish forces in Kobani, who now appear to be gaining the upper hand against ISIS.

[BBC]

TIME Nepal

Death Toll in Nepal Blizzards Rises to 40 as Authorities Wind Down Search

The body of a victim is moved from an ambulance to the morgue after it was brought back from Annapurna Region in Kathmandu
Navesh Chitrakar—Reuters The body of a victim is moved from an ambulance to the morgue after it was brought back from Annapurna Region in Kathmandu October 17, 2014.

More than 600 people have been rescued, but a few locals are still reportedly missing

Nepalese authorities are being thwarted in their hunt for more survivors of the Himalayan snowstorms that have killed at least 40 people over the past week.

After minor avalanches hampered the search for stranded climbers Monday, Keshav Pandey, of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, admitted, “After this we can only hope that those who are missing will establish contact with us or their families,” Reuters reports.

Some 600 people have been rescued so far by the Nepalese army and other groups. Pandey believes it unlikely any more tourists are missing but said that some local porters and guides had not yet been traced.

Casualties from the blizzards, which took place unexpectedly during peak trekking season and are said to have been triggered by a cyclone that hit eastern India the previous week, included trekkers from Israel, Japan, Canada, Poland and Slovakia along with several locals.

Baburam Bhandari, chief of Nepal’s Mustang district on the Annapurna mountain circuit where the blizzards hit, told Reuters that army rescuers dug out the body of another Israeli tourist on Monday.

This is the second major disaster this year in Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains. (Annapurna ranks in 10th place.) Sixteen local guides lost their lives this April in an avalanche on the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.

Nepalese Tourism Minister Dipak Amatya said he would do everything possible to ensure that the country never again encountered a tragedy of this nature. “There is no point blaming the hostile weather for the disaster,” Amatya said.

[Reuters]

TIME The Philippines

Philippine-U.S. Ties Tested After Visiting Marine Accused of Murder

CORRECTION Philippines US Killing
Aaron Favila—AP Julita Laude, mother of killed transgender Jennifer Laude, talks to reporters during a rally near the USS Peleliu, where U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton is said to be held, at the Subic Bay free port, Zambales province, northern Philippines. Oct. 18, 2014.

Protesters have been chanting 'U.S. troops out now'

The alleged murder of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude by a U.S. Marine has sparked outrage in the Philippines, with some calling into question the U.S. military’s presence in the country.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the U.S. military is allowed to conduct drills in the Philippines. The accord also gives the Philippines the power to prosecute American service members if they fall foul of the law, but they can remain in U.S. custody until the end of judicial proceedings, the Associated Press reports.

Several small protests took place in the country’s capital, Manila, and the city of Olongapo, where the alleged murder took place, and in the former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay free port Saturday, where the suspect Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, is being kept on the U.S.S. Peleliu. He has been summoned by the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office to attend a hearing Tuesday.

Protesters have been chanting “U.S. troops out now” and calling for the Visiting Forces Agreement to be abolished.

But authorities say the case is isolated and not related to the treaty.

Read the full story here.

[Associated Press]

TIME sweden

Sweden’s Military Scours for Possible Russian Submarine in Its Waters

Marko Savala—TT News Agency/Reuters Swedish corvette HMS Visby patrols the Stockholm Archipelago October 19 2014, searching for what the military says is a foreign threat in the waters.

A man-made object has been spotted deep inside the Stockholm archipelago, and encrypted communication with Kaliningrad intercepted

A large military operation is under way in waters off Stockholm to sweep for a “foreign underwater activity” widely speculated to be a damaged Russian submarine, in what could be the gravest violation of Sweden’s maritime sovereignty since the Cold War.

The intelligence operation, involving helicopters, minesweepers, corvettes, fast-attack crafts, a submarine and 200 service personnel, started on Friday, after a “man-made device” was sighted deep inside the Stockholm archipelago and encrypted radio communication was intercepted between that position and Kaliningrad — the base of Russia’s Baltic Sea fleet.

Sweden’s military said Sunday it had made a total of three credible sightings within two days and released an image taken by a passerby showing a partially submerged object, but has yet to comment on whether it is a Russian submarine. A suspicious black-clad man was also photographed wading in the waters outside the island of Sandön. On Oct. 2, a navy ship collided with an object in the vicinity, which some believe could have been a submersible that has since fallen into distress.

Intelligence expert Joakim von Braun told the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter that the spotted object could be an advanced mini submarine of the model Triton-NN, and that the stranded crew could have hidden themselves on one of the many nearby islands while waiting to be picked up.

“It could very well be the case that a Swedish sleeper agent is activated since the embassy personnel is too monitored to carry out such a mission,” he said.

Russia has recently been increasingly bullish against its Baltic and Nordic neighbors, prompting some to speculate that they are trying to discourage these countries from deeper cooperation with NATO. In September, Russian fighter jets reportedly violated Swedish airspace, and Finland claims that the Russian navy harassed one of its environmental research ships in international waters last week.

However, maritime incursions have not been apparent since the 1980s, when Sweden’s military was frequently scrambled to investigate, and sometimes hunt, suspected Russian submarines in its waters. International law allows warships to cross maritime borders, while submarines may only do so while surfaced unless previous notification has been given.

Tomas Ries, a researcher at the Swedish National Defense College, says it would be a serious violation if a Russian submarine were located this far into Swedish waters.

“When the Russians violate airspace it’s a political signal, when they practice strategic bomb attacks it’s a political signal,” he told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.

“But if they are going on like this in Swedish waters it suggests that they are preparing something,” he adds, suggesting perhaps mines or reconnaissance equipment. Alternatively, says Ries, they may have “left something there during the Cold War that they want to update,” describing all explanations as “severe.”

An unnamed Kremlin military source apparently denied that the mystery craft was Russian when speaking to state-backed news agency RT. “No extraordinary, let alone emergency situations have happened to Russian military vessels,” said the source.

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