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Analysis-ISIS raid gives Biden a foreign policy win as Ukraine, midterms loom

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The U.S. raid in Syria that led to the death of Islamic State’s leader is a much-needed national security win for President Joe Biden after the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan while he tries to project an image of strength in a standoff with Russia over Ukraine, analysts said.

Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, blew himself up as U.S. forces approached. The raid on the jihadist leader came after months of planning and was authorized by Biden earlier this week.

As well as dealing a blow to ISIS, the raid came at a good time for Biden, who is locked in a tense strategic tussle with Russia over Ukraine. John Bolton, a former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, said the successful operation could show strength to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It can’t hurt in the sense that it was a clear win,” he acknowledged. “A lot of people should take notice of that,” said Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

U.S. prestige suffered from the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan last August after 20 years of war. Even though his predecessor Trump also favored a withdrawal and agreed a deal with the Taliban, Biden’s poll numbers dived after the messy withdrawal.

David Gergen, a former aide to Democratic and Republican presidents, said the Afghanistan chaos still hangs over Biden’s foreign policy record despite the success against Islamic State.

“I think the trouble he faces in the international scene is stickier than it looks. It’s going to be hard to reverse public opinion,” Gergen said.

Bolton, one of the main foreign policy hawks in the former Bush administration, said going after Quraishi in northwestern Syria was “the right thing to do.” But the legacy of Afghanistan still weighs heavily on Biden despite the raid, he said.

“I don’t think it can repair the damage that was done to his credibility and America’s credibility by withdrawing from Afghanistan.”

Another stern test for Biden is the standoff with Russia over Ukraine. The United States and other Western nations say Russia’s massing of some 100,000 troops along the Ukraine border could be a prelude for an invasion.

“I think the overall question is going to be how this gets resolved with the Russians,” Gergen said. “He’s going to be tested on toughness. But he’s also going to be tested on competence.”

POLITICAL GAINS?

At home, Biden is stuck in a months-long slump in the polls, reflecting Americans’ frustration over the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation-plagued economy. That worries Democrats ahead of November’s midterm elections.

While the midterms are months away and foreign policy is not a main priority for voters, demonstrating command in the raid on Quraishi and standing up to Putin can be helpful to Biden’s position with U.S. voters, said David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama.

“One of his problems right now is that the world seems out of control – everyday events in people’s lives. They’re looking for Biden to show command, so any opportunity to do that is valuable,” Axelrod said. “These things are valuable from a political standpoint. Shows of strength are valuable.”

Biden traveled to New York on Thursday to meet with the city’s mayor, Eric Adams, a former police officer, and called for greater investments in local police departments and social services. Republicans have suggested Biden is weak on crime and tried to tie him to calls by some Democrats to “defund” the police. Biden has rejected the “defund” push.

Gergen said the Democratic president seems to be making an effort to project strength. “I do think Biden is trying to toughen up in the public eye,” he said.

Biden beat Trump in the 2020 election in part by arguing he would bring competence to the job, and he enjoyed approval ratings close to 60% during his first few months in office. They fell to the lowest level of his presidency this week according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, which found 41% of U.S. adults approved of his performance in office and 56% disapproved.

The combination of the Syria raid and the New York visit could offset some Republican criticism, said Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service.

“It’s hard to argue someone is weak on fighting terror … after they’ve taken out, you know, one of the world’s top terrorists,” Elleithee said. “He was able to show results – important results – in national security, and I think you see him appearing like the grown-up in the room on crime.”

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)

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Memorial service held for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, killed in N.S. mass shooting

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HALIFAX — An RCMP officer who was among 22 people killed in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting was remembered Wednesday during a regimental service in Halifax for her “fierce” character and brave actions.

People lined a street leading to the service for Const. Heidi Stevenson, watching as Mounties and municipal police marched, bagpipers and drummers played, and a hearse brought the officer’s urn to the ceremony at the Cole Harbour hockey arena.

COVID-19 restrictions had delayed the official ceremony, though a family funeral took place five days after Stevenson was killed.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said during the service that Stevenson would be remembered for “her courage and strength of character.”

She said the force will remember Stevenson’s “heroism that day and the bravery she demonstrated and the actions she took to protect the community she cared so deeply about.”

A public inquiry into the mass shooting has indicated that the veteran officer was racing to support an injured colleague on April 19, 2020, when the fatal encounter occurred on a highway interchange about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.

The 48-year-old officer died in a gunfight with the killer, who had jumped a lane of traffic in his replica police vehicle in order to drive the wrong way down a ramp and slam into Stevenson’s cruiser.

Public inquiry documents say bullet fragments from Stevenson’s pistol “likely” struck the killer’s head, and — about 35 minutes later — blood on his forehead tipped off an officer who shot and killed the gunman at a gas station.

The inquiry has also noted that Stevenson had at 8:44 a.m. that morning called for the public to be notified about the killer driving a replica RCMP vehicle. Her request never received a response.

During the service, four friends noted her strong personality and sense of justice.

Her longtime friend Angela McKnight described Stevenson as a “fierce woman” who chose the RCMP over kinesiology and developed physical strength through playing rugby at university.

She said Stevenson had to undergo laser eye surgery and overcome a torn knee ligament in order to make it into the RCMP following her graduation.

“Heidi surrounded herself with strong women focused on supporting each other,” she said. “I know no better … no tougher, more determined woman than her.”

Childhood friend Nona Heinbecker recalled Stevenson’s sense of loyalty to her female friends, telling those gathered how the officer had happily found a spot to sleep on a hospital floor when Heinbecker was in labour.

People watching the procession to the service also described their admiration for Stevenson, who is survived by her husband and two children.

Randy Stevenson, a military veteran, and Jan Hill, whose husband had worked with the constable, were among those waiting on the sidewalk for the procession.

The veteran, who is not related to the fallen Mountie, described her as exemplifying “what the police and the military are about,” while Hill praised the officer’s deep involvement in her community of Dartmouth, N.S.

Heidi Stevenson grew up in Antigonish, N.S., and attended university in Nova Scotia. She was with the Mounties for 23 years, developing expertise in drug recognition, general duty policing and communications. She also spent time in Ottawa as part of the RCMP musical ride, even though she had no previous experience with horses.

In a statement provided to the inquiry, the Stevenson family said community support was helpful following her killing. “There were months of meals provided and seeing the Nova Scotia Strong stickers on everyone’s car meant so much. The phone call from the Prime Minister was very personal,” the family said in their statement.

Police estimated about 1,300 people attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live.

The Anglican minister presiding at the service noted Stevenson’s Christian faith, and quoted from a New Testament text emphasizing that hope, faith and love “abide,” and that love is the greatest of the three due to its eternal nature.

Rev. Katherine Bourbonniere said during her homily that even in death, “she (Stevenson) will constantly be trying to touch you in different ways.”

She recalled accompanying Stevenson when she drove to homes to notify next of kin of a death. “I saw her love in her job and in her position many a time. She would show compassion for every person she met, and it was … beautiful,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Explosive devices found in a vehicle connected to B.C. bank robbers killed

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SAANICH, B.C. — Multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle related to the two suspects who were gunned down outside a bank in Saanich, B.C.

Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie said Wednesday an RCMP explosive disposal unit was able to transfer the devices from the vehicle to a local landfill and destroy them.

Police had evacuated the area shortly after the shooting on Tuesday as the RCMP’s explosives disposal unit was called in.

Six officers were shot and two suspects were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday.

Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care, while another officer will require more surgeries.

He said he spoke with one of the officers in hospital and said the police department will be there to support him.

“We’re here for his family … to let him know that the policing community is behind him 100 per cent.”

The chief said police are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect, although they don’t believe there’s a risk to the public.

He said police were acting on vague information.

“Our goal was to keep the public safe,” he said of police ordering residents near the bank to stay inside on Tuesday.

Police said in a statement that they aren’t able to confirm identities, background or motive of the suspects.

Duthie said work is underway to try to confirm the suspects’ names.

Duthie has looked at much of the video footage of the incident and said it’s a miracle that no one else died.

“It’s astonishing that there was no other citizen or member of the public injured,” he said, crediting the quick actions of officers who responded.

“Both patrol officers and Greater Victoria emergency response officers (put) themselves in harm’s way to bring it to a successful and safe conclusion as quickly as possible.”

A woman trapped inside the bank during the robbery told CFAX radio she was in a meeting with the manager when she heard a loud explosion and then silence.

Shelli Fryer, 59, of Langford said she looked from the doorway and a few feet from her was “a man in full assault gear, holding an assault rifle.”

Fryer said the masked man was wearing all black, had an armoured vest over his jacket and was holding a black rifle that was shorter and stockier than what she was used to seeing in the media.

“The energy from them was completely calm,” she said.

She heard one gunman quietly say to the manager, “vault,” and the manager handed him the keys and they both walked out of the office, she said.

Fryer said the other suspect was pacing the floor, just walking back and forth past the office, “like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something.”

The robbers put all 22 people who were in the bank against a wall in a back hallway and they waited for what felt like an eternity, she said. “We heard nothing at all of what was transpiring outside, we couldn’t hear sirens.”

She heard in a loud voice, “Police!” and then a hail of gunfire, and everybody ran to hide.

Fryer said every one of the police officers involved in the “absolutely insane incident” handled themselves professionally, and then later treated those who were in the bank with kindness and concern.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Montreal police announce second arrest in drive-by shooting that killed 15-year-old

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Montreal police announced Wednesday they have arrested a second person in the drive-by shooting death of a 15-year-old girl last year.

Cmdr. Paul Verreault, head of the Montreal police service’s major crimes division, said a 27-year-old man was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with the February 2021 killing of Meriem Boundaoui.

Police believe the suspect arrested Wednesday and Salim Touaibi, who was arrested Monday, were “directly involved” in the shooting, Verreault told reporters Wednesday.

“These two people were in the vehicle at the time of the event,” he said, but he declined to comment further on what role each of them is alleged to have played in the crime.

“We’re still very early in the investigation,” he said. “This is an investigation that is still ongoing.”

Touaibi, 26, faces one charge of first-degree murder and four charges of attempted murder.

Verreault said he couldn’t say when the man arrested Wednesday, whose name was not released, would appear in court. He said police arrested four other people Wednesday morning who are allegedly part of a criminal group linked to the two men.

He said the shooting came after the escalation of a conflict between that group and another criminal group, but he did not provide more details. The four other people arrested will face charges of drug trafficking, uttering threats and assault, he said.

Boundaoui was sitting in a car with another person when a second car drove up and someone opened fire. Boundaoui and a 21-year-old man who was on the sidewalk were hit by bullets. Boundaoui had no link to the conflict, Verreault said.

Montreal’s interim police chief, Sophie Roy, said she hopes the arrests will give Boundaoui’s family some comfort.

“Like the rest of the public, we were shocked by the murder of young Meriem and other young people,” she told reporters. “We may be police officers, but we’re also humans with families and children.”

Boundaoui was the first of several young people to die violently in the past year and a half in Montreal, prompting widespread concern and calls to do more to reduce gun violence in the city.

Montreal has had one of the lowest homicide rates of major cities in Canada. In 2020, the most recent year for which data was available, the homicide rate in Montreal was less than half the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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