News Brief: London Terror Attack, Several Nations Cut Ties With Qatar
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's your guide to this day's main stories. British Prime Minister Theresa May, facing an election this week, says there is far too much tolerance for extremism in our country, meaning Britain, of course.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
She made those remarks after the weekend attack at London Bridge. Three men sped into a crowd of pedestrians, then stabbed people at random. Police killed the assailants and have since arrested 12 people. Prime Minister May says each attack is inspiring more extremists to turn to violence.
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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are.
INSKEEP: Because there have been multiple attacks in recent months now. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from our studios in London. Hi, Frank.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So if things can't continue as they are, what does Theresa May intend to change?
LANGFITT: Well, she had sort of some broad policy ideas - talked about really a hearts-and-minds campaign changing minds away from extremism and back towards liberal British values, removing safe spaces on the Internet, where we know there's a lot of extremism going along. A lot of recruiting - talking about international agreements with other democratic governments to crack down - and then cracking down in real life, requiring what she called some difficult and often embarrassing conversations. Her big quote from the speech yesterday was, enough is enough.
INSKEEP: Although, if you follow British politics in recent years, some of this will sound familiar.
INSKEEP: After past attacks, haven't British officials talked about these things before?
LANGFITT: They have. You're exactly right. You know, Theresa May was home secretary for six years here - longest serving in modern times. And that handles homeland security. She had pushed legislation that could have shut down organizations for promoting extremism. But at the time, it was criticized as sort of against British values and described as a way of criminalizing people for thinking bad thoughts. I guess we'll be interested to see the details. But she may be heading back in that direction.
INSKEEP: And that gets to the dilemma here, right? It's a free society. You just mentioned...
INSKEEP: ...Something about cracking down on the internet. That means cracking down on speech, which is not something that people are necessarily comfortable with in the West. Now, regarding the attackers themselves, Frank, what more, if anything, have police said?
LANGFITT: Well, the security services know who these people are. They know the names. They're not releasing it. And they usually do that because they want to be able to round up anybody who was involved. And they're looking always at if this is part of a larger network.
Now, there have been raids this morning around London. There were raids yesterday east of London. I went out to the site of one of them. It was very dramatic talking to witnesses there. Police, you know, roared up in vehicles, guns drawn, barging into apartment - big crowd on a Sunday. And one of the men they were trying to get actually started running - trying to run across the rooftop to escape.
And there were men with rifles - cops with rifles - threatening to shoot him. And someone - one of the cops grabbed him, pulled him in the window. People there were scared, shocked. But, also, they were happy. Given what's been going on in this country, they were happy to see a show of force.
INSKEEP: Unusual, even, to see police with firearms in their hands in Britain, isn't it?
INSKEEP: So how is all this going to affect the British election this week?
LANGFITT: Well, this is going to be the issue in the final days. We wouldn't have anticipated this, but it's going to be security and terrorism. This is a problem for May. As I mentioned, she was home secretary. This was her job. She's getting a lot of tough questions today in the British press about this.
On the other hand, she's running against Jeremy Corbyn. He's the head of the Labor Party. Just yesterday, he criticized May's - the former government that May was a part of for cutting police jobs and said, you can't protect the public on the cheap. He's offering another 10,000 police.
But Corbyn isn't - he's not in the greatest position to make these arguments himself. He's been seen as soft on terror in the past. He once called members of Hamas and Hezbollah friends. So he's got his own baggage, Steve.
INSKEEP: Well, Frank, stay with us because there...
INSKEEP: ...Is a bit more to say about these attacks. And President Trump here in the United States is the one who said it.
MARTIN: Indeed. So on Twitter, the president used the attack that happened in London over the weekend to advocate for his travel ban, which is currently still blocked in the courts. President Trump also slammed the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, for saying this.
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SADIQ KHAN: Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days - no reason to be alarmed.
MARTIN: President Trump reframed the mayor's calm response there as a lack of concern.
INSKEEP: NPR congressional reporter Geoff Bennett is in our studio with us this morning. Hi, Geoff.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: And Frank is still with us. Frank, what did people in Britain think of the president's tweets?
LANGFITT: Well, they don't like his tweets at all. And this is the second time that a Trump family member has taken the mayor's comments out of context. Donald Trump Jr. did the same thing after the Westminster Bridge attack back in March. They don't like it. The thing that's really fascinating, though, Steve is the United States embassy here. Lewis Lukens - he's the acting U.S. ambassador here in London. He put out a tweet yesterday saying, I commend the strong leadership of the mayor of London as he leads the city forward.
LANGFITT: So basically a rebuttal from your own embassy in London.
INSKEEP: Well, Geoff Bennett, let me just ask because, when I heard about this, the first thing I thought about is that phrase keep calm and carry on from London from World War II.
INSKEEP: It's on coffee mugs in the United States. People know this attitude and have normally approved of it - in fact, universally approved of it until this moment. What was the president thinking?
BENNETT: You know, one wonders. And just looking at the various degrees of disapproval across the board - I mean, in one way, the president was acting in a way that we've now come to expect.
BENNETT: But, you know, people are reacting negatively to the president's apparent impulsive reaction and his willingness to use this London attack to his political advantage. Rachel mentioned the tweet about the travel ban.
BENNETT: The context there is that, you know, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to essentially revive the travel ban. And the court is weighing that decision right now. So that's the context for that. We should mention, though, that, last night, President Trump spoke at the Warner Theatre here in Washington. And he used words that one would expect to hear from an American president. He described the London attack as horrific. He said he spoke with the prime minister to express this country's unwavering support.
INSKEEP: So mixed messages even from the president himself.
BENNETT: That's right. And the messages on Twitter - yes, they're tweets. But they are still statements from the president of the United States and should be considered as such.
INSKEEP: Unfiltered, so far as we know, anyway. Not the only news affecting the president of the United States - this is a big week because James Comey, the former FBI director - FBI director until President Trump fired him - is going to be testifying this week about the Russia investigation before Congress. Is that really going to happen?
BENNETT: It really is going to happen. There was this idea that the Trump administration would try to invoke executive privilege. But the White House has apparently shot down that trial balloon. Two senior administration officials are now telling The New York Times that the president will not invoke executive privilege after all, the caveat being that President Trump can, you know, always change his mind.
But there are a couple issues here. First is that Comey is a private citizen, so that would've been a challenge for the White House. The second is that legal experts have said that, you know, Trump has a weak case in the first place because he's already spoken publicly about conversations with Comey, first on NBC and then on Twitter, saying that he had those tapes. Remember that from last month.
INSKEEP: Yeah. So very briefly, let's think about what the questions are. What do we want to hear as citizens from James Comey?
BENNETT: First - a number of things. This question of a loyalty pledge - you know, did the president ask James Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn? - and, frankly, if there are any signs of collusion between the Trump administration and the Russian government.
INSKEEP: OK - so questions that have been dealt with in anonymous sources and news stories. We have a chance to hear from one of the actual players.
BENNETT: That's right.
INSKEEP: Geoff, thanks very much. Really appreciate it. That's our congressional reporter, Geoff Bennett, and also NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks to you.
Some other news now. Several countries are suspending diplomatic relations with the Gulf country of Qatar or Qatar.
MARTIN: Yeah. So Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and the UAE - United Arab Emirates - all these countries say they have broken ties with Qatar. They blame what they say is that country's support of terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is trying to downplay all this, though.
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REX TILLERSON: I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally.
MARTIN: Even so, this clearly affects multiple countries that are allied with the U.S.
INSKEEP: So we've brought in BuzzFeed's Middle East correspondent - longtime correspondent - Borzou Daragahi. Hi.
BORZOU DARAGAHI: Hi.
INSKEEP: So what triggered this, Borzou?
DARAGAHI: Well, it's really not clear in terms of the timing. But the tensions between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and their hangers-on to some extent on the other have been brewing for years, really. And, you know, there's disagreements over Libya. There's disagreements over Iran. There's severe disagreements over Egypt. It's not exactly clear what the direct impetus was. But one possibility is that the Saudis and the Emiratis, which are leading this drive, felt rather emboldened by the recent Trump visit to take this rather assertive and rather severe move.
INSKEEP: Oh, because President Trump visited Saudi Arabia and seemed very much to take Saudi Arabia's side in regional conflicts. But let me ask about the actual allegation made against Qatar - that it has been supporting terrorism. Is there evidence that that is in any way true?
DARAGAHI: I mean, they have - there have been accusations that Qatar was a primary supporter of Jabhat al-Nusra. That is the al-Qaida affiliate - or former al-Qaida affiliate - in Syria. The Qataris have good relations with Hamas. They have good relations with Iran. They've been accused of supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen and other Shia rebels in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. But there's been no evidence to that effect. It remains really unclear what the exact intelligence or spark was for this.
INSKEEP: And, of course, people raise questions about the Saudis and their involvement with various groups or, at least, people who are - who have been in Saudi Arabia or Saudi citizens. Let me just ask you in a couple of seconds, Borzou, could this affect the U.S. war against terrorism?
DARAGAHI: Well, absolutely. It really complicates things. And just for one thing - in one example, it actually may push Qatar closer to Iran because it lacked allies - as well to Turkey, which opposes the U.S. policy in northern Syria. So this could have a big domino effect in terms of what happens in the region. Let's not forget that Qatar hosts the largest U.S. base in the Middle East.
INSKEEP: Good point. BuzzFeed's Borzou Daragahi, thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.