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Who are Boogaloo Bois, antifa and Proud Boys?

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More than three weeks since the death of George Floyd, anti-racism protests are continuing across the US.

While in many cases peaceful, the protests have also featured scenes of police brutality, looting and violence.

Politicians, law enforcement and commentators on the left and right have accused a number of fringe groups of encouraging and participating in acts of violence.

BBC News has been examining these groups on social media platforms.

Boogaloo Bois

This relatively new anti-government subculture is perhaps the most dangerous of the bunch. Steven Carrillo, a 32-year-old US Air Force sergeant from California, has been charged with the murder of two officers during the George Floyd protests, one in Oakland and another in Santa Cruz.

Before being arrested, he wrote in his own blood the terms “boog” and “I became unreasonable” on a car. Both terms are commonly used by the movement.

Rooted in a bulletin board dedicated to firearms on 4chan – called the /k/ board – Boogaloo Bois is a loose, leaderless movement.

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Members of the Boogaloo Bois often wear Hawaiian shirts and Boogaloo-patched military fatigues in public. “Alphabet” is a reference to US federal agencies that use acronyms, such as the FBI

The group’s name is a reference to a poorly-reviewed 1984 film, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The phrase “Electric Boogaloo” has since become an online meme meaning a low-quality sequel.

But Boogaloo Bois use it to refer to armed conflict with authorities, something akin to a second US Civil War.

Relatively small on 4chan in its early days, the movement has since considerably grown in size, notably helped by dozens of Facebook groups and pages with tens of thousands of members and followers. In order to evade Facebook restrictions on the word “Boogaloo”, alternate terms like “Big Igloo”, “Boog” and “Big Luau” are also frequently used.

Like other online movements born out of 4chan, Boogaloo Bois are steeped in the vernacular of internet memes and in-jokes.

Some in the movement refer to themselves as “boojahideen”, a parody of the term “mujahideen” which is frequently used to refer to radical Islamist militants.

Followers have a variety of views and levels of seriousness towards the movement, but most could be described as extreme libertarians and sign up to two fundamental beliefs: A desire for an armed overthrow of the government, and an unwavering commitment to gun ownership.

Boogaloo Bois were overwhelmingly opposed to coronavirus lockdowns, which they saw as an alarming sign of tyranny. When anti-lockdown gatherings were held in several states in April and May, some armed members of the Boogaloo movement were seen in the rallies, often wearing Hawaiian shirts – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hawaiian luau celebrations.

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Boogaloo Bois are often seen carrying this flag in the protests

Black Lives Matter protests have caused a divide in the group. While many support the protests and are anti-police, some in the movement’s more radical circles are conflicted.

Facebook groups and pages post footage of armed members in Hawaiian shirts attending the protests carrying Boogaloo flags, claiming they are there to protect the protesters from police. Some even suggest that the demonstrations might trigger the “Boogaloo” that they’ve been waiting for.

Videos and hashtags sympathetic to the group have also appeared on TikTok in recent weeks. They are often posted by young men with firearms who call for an uprising. One video features captions such as “becoming more and more willing to die” and “cops showing at your door will be targeted first”.

Some members are capitalising on the protests to engage in acts of violence against authorities. Three Boogaloo members were charged with terrorism offences in Nevada this month for alleged attempts to “spark violence” in protests.

Facebook has since limited the reach of Boogaloo-themed groups and pages. Several have been removed – or “got Zucced”, as members call it – in the last few days.

Antifa

Antifa, short for “anti-fascist”, is a loose affiliation of mostly far-left activists.

They include anarchists, but also communists and a few social democrats. What sets them apart is their willingness to use violence – they say, in self-defence or to defend their communities.

The movement, which at one point almost entirely disappeared in the US, saw a surge of interest after the election of Donald Trump. They routinely clash with the far right.

During the recent protests, there’s some evidence that they’ve been involved property damage and looting. Authorities in Texas, for instance, say three alleged looters in Austin were antifa affiliates.

But right-wing activists and President Donald Trump have made much bigger claims – that they are the driving force behind the violence.

While US presidents can designate individuals or groups as foreign terrorists, legal experts have questioned whether Mr Trump has the authority to label antifa a “domestic terrorist organisation”.

There’s little evidence for the sweeping claims. Antifa activists are relatively rare – their numbers are tiny compared to the size of the US protests.

Proud Boys

Founded in 2016 by Canadian-British right-wing activist Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys is a far-right, anti-immigrant, all-male group with a history of street violence against its left-wing opponents, notably antifa.

The group’s name is a reference to a song from the Disney film Aladdin. Members often wear black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts along with red “Make America Great Again” hats.

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Reuters

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A Proud Boy wears an “Antifa hunting permit” sticker

A member must declare that he is “a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologise for creating the modern world”.

The Proud Boys and affiliated groups have faced off against antifa in a number of violent street rallies in the last two years, most notably in Oregon, Washington and New York. Two members were jailed last year for beating up antifa activists in New York.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a prominent civil rights group, describes the Proud Boys as a hate group.

Although Mr McInnes quit the group in November 2018, he filed a lawsuit against the SPLC three months later. Enrique Tarrio is the group’s current chairman.

Proud Boys members are vehemently opposed to BLM protests. Describing attempts to bring down statues of Confederate leaders as a left-wing plot to “destroy American history”, members have been seen “guarding” statues of historical figures in a number of states.

Following the establishment of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, a police-free district in Seattle, Proud Boys members – some armed – turned up to confront what they called “authoritarian behaviour” by the protesters.

Photos and videos of clashes between the group and antifa members near the zone have gone viral.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have all banned the group from their platforms. But accounts associated with the movement have popped up again during the protests. This week, 358 Facebook accounts and 172 Instagram accounts tied to Proud Boys were removed.

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US Embassy says Covid-19 threat in Tanzania’s main city ‘extremely high’

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Wednesday’s health alert notes that the Tanzanian government has not released any data on Covid-19 since April 29.

“Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania.”

The embassy alert did not provide sources for its assessment.

CNN has reached out to the Tanzania government spokesman for comment and has yet to receive a response.

President John Magufuli has suggested his citizens “pray the virus away,” and allowed places of worship to remain open while schools closed. The President vowed he wouldn’t put the country under any lockdown, but did make social distancing and mask-wearing mandatory.

Zambia temporarily closed its border to Tanzania this week after it reported an increase in cases in the town of Nakonde, local media reported.

The US Embassy said, “Limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for medical care, including for those with COVID-19.”

The embassy urged all US government personnel and their families remain at home except for essential activities, and substantially limit the entry of nonresidents into private homes.

It signaled that US citizens in Tanzania should expect to remain in the country for an “indefinite period” as the government “does not anticipate arranging additional repatriation flights in Tanzania at this time.”

The last coronavirus report to come from the Prime Minister’s office on April 29 had the confirmed case toll at 480. According to the World Health Organization, Tanzania has recorded 509 cases and 21 people have died.

Fragile health systems

WHO warned that coronavirus would devastate health systems in Africa, killing as many as 190,000 people on the continent in the first year of the pandemic.

It predicted 5.5 million could require hospital treatment, a number that would overwhelm the medical capacity of most places on the continent.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement last week that while cases in Africa may not spread to the extent as other places, coronavirus could be a permanent fixture if governments are not proactive about their containment strategies.

“Covid-19 could become a fixture in our lives for the next several years unless a proactive approach is taken by many governments in the region. We need to test, trace, isolate and treat,” Moeti said in the news release.



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Sumo wrestler, 28, is sport’s first coronavirus death

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Shobushi, whose real name was Kiyotaka Suetake, died from multiple organ failure after a bout of pneumonia, the Japan’s Sumo Association (JSA) announced.

The wrestler first developed a fever on April 4 but struggled to get treatment at hospital because of a deluge of similar complaints from other potential patients.

After being turned away by a few hospitals, Shobushi was only admitted to hospital on April 8.

He had been in intensive care since April 19, but his condition deteriorated, and he passed away on Wednesday.

“He fought tenaciously against the disease, enduring the pain and suffering for more than a month like a sumo wrestler,” said Japan’s Sumo Association in a statement on Wednesday.

“We hope he will rest in peace now. We are very grateful to everyone in the medical institutes who treated him with utmost care.”

Shobushi made his professional debut in 2007, and reached the No. 11 rank in the Sandanme Division.

The wrestler belonged to the Takadagawa stable and competed in sumo’s seventh division. There are eleven divisions in all.

Last month, Takadagawa’s stablemaster — a sumo wrestlers’ trainer — also tested positive for coronavirus. So far, six members of the sumo association have been diagnosed with the virus.

“I can only imagine how hard it must have been, battling illness for over a month, but like a wrestler he endured it bravely and fought the disease until the end,” JSA chairman Hakkaku said.

The Sumo Association held its annual March tournament without spectators after the Japanese government requested the cancellation of significant sports events.

Earlier this month, the sumo association canceled the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament and changed the venue of its July 2020 tournament. It will now take place at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan behind closed doors.



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US accuses China of hacking coronavirus research

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The University of Washington immunology labs have been looking for coronavirus antibodies in their work to control the virus

China-linked hackers are targeting organisations researching the Covid-19 pandemic, US officials say.

The FBI said it had seen hacking attempts on US groups researching vaccines, treatments and testing.

The US has long accused the Chinese government of cyber-espionage, something Beijing denies.

The pandemic has worsened tensions between the two countries, which have both accused each other of failing to contain the outbreak.

More than 4.3m people around the world have been infected by Covid-19, with over 83,000 US deaths and 4,600 deaths in China, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (Cisa), a division of the homeland security department, issued a rare joint warning on Wednesday.

In what was billed as a public service announcement, they said “healthcare, pharmaceutical and research sectors working on Covid-19 response should all be aware they are prime targets” of hackers.

The cyber-thieves had “been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data” on treating the coronavirus, the statement added.

China has repeatedly denied US accusations of cyber-espionage.

Earlier this week, foreign affairs ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “We are leading the world in Covid-19 treatment and vaccine research. It is immoral to target China with rumours and slanders in the absence of any evidence.”

At a press briefing on Monday, President Donald Trump referred to China’s alleged cyber-activities.

“What else is new with China? I’m not happy with China, could have stopped it at the source, should have,” he said.

“Now you’re telling me they’re hacking. What else is new? We’re watching very closely.”

US officials have long accused China of hacking and intellectual property theft.

In 2009, the US alleged that China-linked hackers managed to infiltrate the sensitive data from the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet. Shortly afterwards, China announced it was developing a similar jet, the Shenyang J-31.

Intelligence officials have also in the past accused China of using “non-traditional collectors”, who steal technology from US firms.

Bill Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Centre, has said China’s theft of US intellectual property amounts to about $400bn a year.

The UK and US had already issued a detailed joint warning about other countries targeting research back on 5 May.

On that occasion, they did not officially name names but sources indicated China, Russia and Iran were among those responsible.

Now, in a widely trailed move, the US has decided to single out China specifically with this new advisory.

So far they have not been joined by the UK and the new alert does not contain any new details of what has taken place.

That means this may well be interpreted as a means of both playing to a domestic audience and of raising the pressure on China as part of the growing tension between Washington and Beijing.



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North Korea shuts down hotlines with South

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North Korean students held a rally to denounce defectors on Monday

North Korea has said it will cut off all inter-Korean communication lines with the South, including a hotline between the two nation’s leaders,

The North said this was the first in a series of actions, describing South Korea as “the enemy”.

Daily calls, which have been made to a liaison office located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, will cease from Tuesday.

The two states had set up the office to reduce tensions after talks in 2018.

North Korea “will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the North and the South, which has been maintained through the North-South joint liaison office… from 12:00 on 9 June 2020,” the Korean Central News Agency report said.

When the liaison office was temporarily closed in January because of Covid-19 restrictions, contact between the two states was maintained by phone.

The two Koreas made two phone calls a day through the office, at 09:00 and 17:00. On Monday, the South said that for the first time in 21 months, its morning call had gone unanswered, although contact was made in the afternoon.

Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, threatened last week to close the office unless South Korea stopped defector groups from sending leaflets into the North.

She said the leaflet campaign was a hostile act that violated the peace agreements made during the 2018 Panmunjom summit between the South’s Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un.

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Media captionSouth Korean activists launch propaganda balloons over border (2014 video)

North Korean defectors occasionally send balloons carrying leaflets critical of the communist region into the North, sometimes with supplies to entice North Koreans to pick them up.

North Koreans can only get news from state-controlled media, and most do not have access to the internet.



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The way these states handled coronavirus shows India’s vast divide

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But Kerala, a thin strip on the country’s southern coast, has appeared to buck that trend.

Even accounting for their different population sizes, the states have very different outbreaks. Maharashtra has around 19 cases per 100,000, while Kerala has about 1. By way of comparison the United States, which has the world’s highest reported death toll, has around 415 cases per 100,000 people.

Experts say part of Kerala’s success is thanks to swift action and learning from past outbreaks. But Kerala also shows how disparate India is — and how much a person’s chances against the virus depend on where in the country they live.

What Kerala did right

At the center of Kerala’s response was woman who has been nicknamed “the coronavirus slayer.”

In the second week of January — before the state, and by extension India, had reported its first coronavirus case — Kerala’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare, KK Shailaja, noticed reports of a virus spreading in Wuhan, China.

With many students from Kerala studying in Wuhan, KK Shailaja suspected it was just a matter of time before the virus arrived in the state. In late January, the ministry set up 18 expert groups for different facets of the outbreak control, covering everything from contact tracing and screening, to logistics and mental health. “We planned everything,” she says.

From January 24, the government screened all passengers returning from China, and sent all symptomatic patients to designated isolation facilities. On January 30, Kerala confirmed its first coronavirus patient — a student who had been studying in Wuhan.

Authorities identified the first patient by screening all 172 passengers on a plane from Wuhan, and isolating three students who had minor symptoms in hospital. They were also able to trace more than 70 people who had been in close contact with the students, Shailaja said.

And even when there were no new cases, the state continued being vigilant.

“Some asked us why we were being so overactive because there were no cases now in Kerala,” she says. “We were told we over reacting but we didn’t withdraw our teams because we were reading about this virus going to other countries.”

As Oommen Kurian, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, put it: “(Kerala) reacted as if it’s a very deadly disease from the beginning when people were actually doubtful across the world about the deadliness of the virus.”

Back in 2018, the state was hit by an outbreak of Nipah virus, which killed 18 people within a few weeks. There is no treatment or vaccine for Nipah, which has a fatality rate of between 40 to 75% — much higher than Covid-19.

Kerala managed to contain the disease in a short space of time — and the most important thing was contact tracing, Shailaja said.

Indian citizens evacuated from Maldives arrive at the Cochin port in Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala on May 10, 2020.

“We understood that for any contagious virus, the first thing we have to do is contact tracing and to break the chain,” she said. “If we trace the contact properly, we can isolate the person from others and we can break the chain and flatten the curve of the epidemic. This is the same thing we applied here.”

“Kerala acted from the beginning … and has not lowered its guard yet,” said Rajeev Sadanandan, Kerala’s former health secretary and the chief executive of non-profit Health Systems Transformation Platform. “No other Indian state did anything remotely comparable.”

How Kerala compares

Hundreds of miles north in the state of Maharashtra, health authorities haven’t seen the same success. The state — which has roughly the same population size as Japan — has the largest number of cases of anywhere in India. Many of those are in Mumbai, one of India’s most populous cities, which is home to a number of slums.

According to Amey Ghole, Health Committee Chairman of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the city took the outbreak seriously “from day one.”

“On February 19, we found our first patient and admitted them to hospital. We were the first to stop flights from China. Maharashtra was the first state to lockdown the cinemas and malls,” he said.

Social distancing is a privilege of the middle class. For India's slum dwellers, it will be impossible

The state took other measures. On March 16, the state health minister, Rajesh Tope, announced that it would use indelible ink to stamp the hands of individuals who have been asked to self-quarantine at their own homes to prevent them from going out.

The state created containment zones and cordoned off areas, Ghole said. Authorities have been testing in slums — which have been a big concern in India — and increased the number of beds in quarantine facilities, he said.

But according to Kurian, Maharashtra didn’t act as quickly as Kerala. Like much of the rest of the world, they were biding their time. “Maharashtra was reactive,” he added, rather than proactive.

Sadanandan said Maharashtra had no contact tracing system, so when cases showed up at hospitals, they had no way of using information about their contacts to prevent further spread.

Once infection reaches the community, prevention doesn’t work, said Sadanandan. In places where community spread has taken hold, it’s already too late to put in place Kerala’s strategy of quarantining high-risk people, testing and treating them, and tracking everyone they have had contact with.

Groom Vitthal Koditkar, left, of Hirpodi village speaks with his bride Vrushali Renuse, right, of Pabe village and family members after their wedding during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown at Pabe village in Pune district in Maharashtra, India.

“Slums or any community are the endpoints. The battle is lost when it has reached the community,” he said.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has repeatedly denied any community transmission across India.

Unlike Kerala, Maharashtra hadn’t dealt with a recent viral outbreak, so they weren’t as prepared for the onslaught, Kurian said. Now, it’s too late to bring in strong contact tracing, he said. If Maharashtra were to start contact tracing now, it would have an uphill task — it now has more than 23,000 confirmed cases, who have likely each been in touch with a number of people.

“The thing about contact tracing is that it is very easy to get overwhelmed if you go over the threshold,” he said. “The silent spread has already happened in Maharashtra.”

Why Kerala’s success isn’t a surprise

In a way, it’s no surprise that Kerala has had success against the coronavirus — it already has some of the best healthcare outcomes in India.

According to government statistics, Kerala has a comparatively high number of public healthcare centers. It also has the lowest maternal mortality rate, one of the lowest infant mortality rates, and the highest life expectancy at birth of any Indian state, at 74.2 for a man.

According to Sadanandan, Kerala has a good primary care system and well-trained health workers. Those things, in turn, meant the government health system had credibility and trust with the public, Sadanandan said.

It also helped that Kerala’s literacy rate is high, with around 94% of the population literate, according to the 2011 Census, compared with the national average of 73%. That improved the state’s ability to communicate the risk, said Kurian.

“Education was seen as an investment in Kerala for a long time,” Kurian added.

Nurses light candles at Rajiv Gandhi hospital in Kochi, Kerala, on May 12, 2020, to mark International Nurses Day, celebrated on the birthday of Florence Nightingale.
And Kerala is relatively well-off. In 2017-2018, the latest year for which statistics are available, it had a per capita GDP of 184,000 Indian rupees, compared with a nationwide average of 114,958.

Kerala’s health outcomes are not the norm. Healthcare — and social indicators such as access to safe drinking water that influence healthcare outcomes — vary widely between different states, Sadanandan said.

Maharashtra’s health outcomes fall far behind Kerala. Male life expectancy is 69.9, and its infant mortality rate is almost twice as high as Kerala’s, with 19 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 10.

Although Maharashtra has some of the best hospitals in India, according to Kurian, some of those have been compromised because the virus has spread to health care workers and within hospitals. Last month, the Indian Medical Association said doctors in India faced challenges of being attacked and had a lack of personal protective equipment.

“Many doctors have tested positive for the virus already and those of us working on the frontlines at government hospitals live in hostels where effective social distancing is not possible,” a Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors spokesperson said.

What the future holds

While Kerala has flattened the curve for now, the challenges aren’t over. “We are bracing ourselves for the 3rd wave,” Isaac, the state’s finance minister, tweeted. Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, has a similar sentiment: “Til those who are undergoing treatment are fully cured and those under observation complete their quarantine period, we cannot let our guard down one bit.”

India’s lockdown is set to lift later this month, and some experts expect cases to increase.

India stopped commercial flights into the country in March, but last week it began repatriation flights for Indians overseas who are stranded or lost their jobs. Kerala has large numbers of people working and living overseas, meaning many of those being repatriated will be headed for Kerala.

And Kerala has the oldest population in India, making its population potentially more vulnerable — 13% of the population are aged 60 or older, compared with the nationwide average of 8.2%. In Maharashtra, for comparison, 9.1% of the population are 60 or older.

Indian citizens evacuated from Maldives look outside the Indian Navy INS Jalashwa ship as it arrives to Cochin port in Kochi on May 10, 2020.

Kurian warns that it’s not the time to be complacent.

“The real fight is just coming. Once the international travelers come back and the migrants come back and the local economy starts operating again, That is when the next wave will hit Kerala, and if they’re caught napping, it will look a lot like Mumbai.”

In 2017, Indian workers around the world sent $69 billion back home — and 19% of those remittances went to Kerala, the highest proportion of any state, according to India’s Central Bank. But Kurian points out that if some of Kerala’s overseas workers have now lost their jobs, that could impact Kerala’s overall economy.

“Kerala is best practice sponsored by the rest of the world,” he said. “The money that is supporting Kerala’s public sector response, that tap has been turned off.”

But Sadanandan is more optimistic — he thinks the same prevention strategy that worked before can continue to work now.

“If prevention works with one, it can work with millions,” he said. “There would be hiccups but I expect the inherent strength of Kerala to survive the threat.”

CNN’s Vedika Sud, Swati Gupta and Esha Mitra contributed to this story from New Delhi.





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Typhoon Vongfong rapidly intensifies as it nears the Philippines

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With typhoons or hurricanes, rapid intensification is an increase in maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) in 24 hours.

From Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon, Vongfong easily met that definition, strengthening from a modest tropical storm with winds of 60 mph (95 kph) to the equivalent of a major hurricane. Maximum sustained winds are now up to 120 mph (195 kph) and the storm is still strengthening.

This area of the world is no stranger to rapid intensification. Many storms undergo rapid intensification each year due to the extremely warm sea surface temperatures.

But this is the first named storm of the season in the West Pacific.

It didn’t exist until Tuesday, and now it will hammer the Philippines as the equivalent of a category 3 or 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Vongfong’s impact

Weather models had difficulty forecasting the intensity of Vongfong, in part because of the small size of the storm.

Now that the storm has intensified so quickly there is no doubt that it will be more than a rainmaker when it reaches the coast.

“Very heavy rainfall, damaging winds, and powerful storm surge are all major concerns with this storm,” CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater said.

“One silver lining with this being a small storm is that the strong typhoon strength winds only extend out about 25 kilometers from the center.”

While the damaging winds will only occur right along the immediate path of the storm, heavy rain will have a more widespread impact.

Rainfall amounts of 100 to 250 mm (four to 10 inches) will impact vast areas of the Visayas and Bicol Regions through northern Luzon.

Vongfong will pass just offshore of Samar province Thursday, before making its first landfall in the Bicol region, north of Legazpi Thursday night local time.

After hitting the Bicol region, the storm will retain most of its strength and move into northeastern Luzon Friday night.

“There is a possibility that the center of the storm could stay just offshore,” Sater said. “It’s not a great chance, but if the forecast shifts just 50 kilometers to the east, it would keep the worst of the winds and storm surge offshore.”

Slow start to the 2020 typhoon season

The West Pacific typhoon season doesn’t have a defined beginning and end like the Atlantic hurricane season, as storms can form throughout the year.

While the peak of the typhoon season is late summer, there are frequently named storms in the winter or early spring due to the warm waters of the Pacific.

This is the eighth-latest start to the season since 1950, according to Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University. The last time we had a later start was 2016 when the first named storm of the season didn’t arrive until the first week of July.

The Philippines are located in the prime breeding grounds of the tropical Pacific. In an average year, the region is impacted by eight to nine storms.

Late-starting seasons tend to be slightly quieter, but the evidence is weak, according to Klotzbach.



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Trump’s police scanner tweet fact-checked

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President Donald Trump has suggested a man pushed over by police during protests in the US city of Buffalo last week was trying to “scan police communications in order to black out the equipment”.

But is this even possible?

Footage of 75-year-old Martin Gugino shows him approaching police lines holding up what appears to be a mobile phone.

One of the police officers then pushes Mr Gugino over, who was later taken to hospital. He left hospital today but is not well enough to comment.

From the clip, it’s not possible to tell what he was doing with the phone. We’ve seen no evidence to suggest he was trying to scan police devices. It is also not clear how police equipment could be interfered with in this way.

There are plenty of apps claiming to be able to listen into police audio that have been popular during the recent wave of protests in the United States.

But these apps wouldn’t allow you to interfere with a police device – or “black out police equipment” as the president suggested.

Buffalo police say their dispatch channels are not encrypted, and there are even websites that broadcast police calls.

If you were attempting to jam police radio signals, you wouldn’t need to be physically close to an officer.

However, most modern radio systems used by emergency services have defences against such jamming, says Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber security expert at Surrey University.

“In any event, even if you were attempting to scan police radios in order to jam them using a mobile phone, which is what the man appeared to be holding, this is not the equipment you would use. You would need much more sophisticated scanning equipment.

“In terms of interfering with police communications frequencies, mobile phones simply don’t have components that work at those frequencies,” he adds.

Twitter, which has censored previous tweets by the president, said this post did not violate its rules.

The claim appeared to first gain traction from a widely shared conservative blog post published on 6 June also claiming that Antifa, the anti-fascist group the president has blamed for acts of violence during the protests, uses this technique to track police movements or “black out” communication.

These then appeared on conservative outlet One America News Network (OANN) before ending up on the president’s social media profiles.

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Google spotlights more suspected gadget-scam ads

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Fresh evidence that scam stores are exploiting Google’s Shopping service to appear at the top of its search results has been discovered by the BBC.

Two sites offering hard-to-find gadgets at a discount were found to be using bogus checkout facilities that encourage customers to pay via a direct bank transfer.

This prevents users from recovering funds if they have second thoughts.

Police investigators have expressed frustration about Google’s role.

One officer who spent years investigating online crime told the BBC that the tech firm could introduce checks to better deter fraudsters, if it made this a priority.

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Shopzeal

Google believes the sites were indeed engaged in fraudulent behaviour and told the BBC it had removed the ads involved.

It said it would now make unspecified changes to its automated and human-based review processes.

“Our priority is to protect our users, and we continue to update our enforcement policies and technologies to target fraudulent and bad actors,” a spokeswoman said.

“In 2019, our team took down approximately 2.7 billion bad ads.”

Bogus payment box

Both Techziox.com and Shopzeal.co.uk went offline after the BBC contacted them. They did not respond to requests for comment.

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On Thursday, Techziox was the highest-ranked store for several Oculus-related searches

The sites had earlier run ads for Oculus virtual-reality headsets, which are sold out or priced at a premium on most other sites.

The two stores claimed to have the products in stock and priced them at 15-23% below the norm.

In some cases, the ads took up most of the screen when viewed on a smartphone, increasing their chance of being clicked.

This mirrored the tactics of an earlier suspected scam site – MyTechDomestic – which also placed ads for Oculus headsets and was flagged to Google earlier this week.

But while MyTechDomestic only presented shoppers a way to pay by bank transfer, Techziox and Shopzeal both appear to provide an option to use a credit card.

If selected, the tool asks for the card’s details including its CVV security code, and displays a “Powered by Stripe” logo – referring to a California-based internet payment processor.

However, Stripe told the BBC that the box was not linked to its system and it did not handle payments for the sites.

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A credit-card payment tool did not process the details via Stripe, as indicated

An independent security researcher, who tracks scam sites, confirmed that the sites’ code indicated the card details were instead sent to the stores’ operators.

In any case, when users tried to use the service, it brought up an error message saying: “Unfortunately, this payment method is not possible for new customers. Please choose another payment method.”

The only other choice was bank transfer, and both Techziox and Shopzeal presented details of the same account at a Swindon-based bank.

This is a common tactic used by scam sites to obtain funds.

In previous cases, the police have said scammers use personal accounts belonging to individuals who are either complicit or have been coerced into sharing their bank details, and the money is typically withdrawn straight away over the counter or via cash machines.

The two sites were both built using WordPress’s web-publishing software, looked similar and listed the same team members alongside email addresses that did not work.

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Google

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Google places Shopping ads at the top of some desktop searches – in this case Techziox came second

However, they gave different residential addresses as their respective headquarters – one in Southampton the other in Huddersfield – and used different domain registrars.

They also provided different VAT numbers. In both cases, HM Revenue and Customs said the details were invalid.

‘Upsetting and wrong’

Techziox appears to have been in operation for longer, and had been accused of being “straight-up scammers” by users of Trustpilot’s review site.

One customer, Nicky Jones, told the BBC her 15-year-old daughter attempted to buy an Oculus Quest after saving for a long time and doing jobs to earn the cash.

“My daughter searched online and this company came up, so we purchased the item. I sent emails to the company and I had no emails back,” she said.

“The most upsetting thing is we have lost £329. I would never take this money from my daughter, so I have lost the money. [It’s] upsetting how people can do this and get away with this. It’s wrong.”

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Attempts to pay by credit card brought up a warning notice directing users to use a bank transfer option instead

According to Whois records, Techziox’s site was set up using a Netherlands-based registrar on 18 April, while Shopzeal used a US-based registrar on 7 May.

A security blogger who anonymously tracks electronics goods scams said: “It’s horrendous. This is the first time I’ve seen them use Google Shopping. Previously it was just Adwords.”

Google Shopping lets advertisers use images as well as words and is typically more prominent, he noted.

Scam sites can be “difficult to identify,” he added. “But maybe Google shouldn’t allow a website that’s been registered in the last two months to be one of its Shopping results, if it wants to provide a trustworthy customer experience.”



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Angela Merkel ‘pained’ by Russian hacking

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Getty Images

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Mrs Merkel was taking questions in the Bundestag

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed that she was targeted by hackers thought to be Russian military intelligence (GRU).

She was asked in parliament about a German magazine report that the GRU had obtained emails from her constituency office in a hacking attack in 2015.

“It pains me,” she said, describing the hacking as “outrageous”.

But the German chancellor added that she would continue to “strive for good relations with Russia”.

The 2015 hacking reported by Spiegel magazine involved a theft of data from computers in the German parliament.

In 2018, the government’s IT network also came under attack, amid reports that Russian hackers were also to blame.

The Russian government has denied hacking the German parliament’s data.

What is the GRU alleged to have obtained?

According to Spiegel, which did not cite its sources, German experts managed to partially reconstruct the hacking attack and found that two email inboxes from Mrs Merkel’s office had been breached. They reportedly contained emails from 2012 to 2015.

In 2016, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency publicly accused a hacker group thought to work for the Russian state of being behind the cyber attack.

The group, known as Fancy Bear or APT28, is also thought to have been behind cyber attacks on the 2016 US election.

“Every day I try to build a better relationship with Russia and on the other hand there is such hard evidence that Russian forces are doing this,” Mrs Merkel was quoted as saying by AFP news agency on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately the conclusion I have reached is that this is not new,” she said, adding that “cyber-disorientation, the distortion of facts” were all part of “Russia’s strategy”.

Two years ago, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denied Russia had hacked the German parliament (Bundestag) with a cutting joke: “We broke into the Bundestag only once, in 1945, while liberating Berlin from the Nazi scourge. At that time, it was called the Reichstag.”

Why would Russian hackers target Germany?

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency believes that Russian attacks on German state organisations and institutions were carried out to gather intelligence data.

Relations between Russia and the EU’s economic powerhouse, and Mrs Merkel and President Vladimir Putin, are complex.

On the one hand, Mrs Merkel was swift to condemn Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and has defended continuing EU sanctions.

But she has also championed – despite opposition at home and further afield – the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will double the amount of Russian gas coming into Europe via Germany.

Thousands of German companies still do business with Russia and some lobby against sanctions, which they argue cripple trade.



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