Ayaan Hirsi Ali still hoping to return to Australia after cancelling tour

Speaking to Channel 7 from an undisclosed location, Ms Hirsi Ali, who lives with round-the-clock security, said she does not believe ‘all immigrants and Muslims are bad’.

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“I don’t hold that view … the burqa that covers the face and that is really very much in your face … that is just like the ISIS flag, it’s like wearing a very big swastika,” she said

“I cannot think of a system of law that dehumanises an degrades women more than Islamic law,” Ms Hirsi Ali told Channel 7.

Her comments came a day after the decision to cancel a speaking tour around Australia and New Zealand, with the former politician citing fears for her safety.

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However Ms Hirsi Ali said she would endeavour to return to Australia again soon, praising the work of Australian law enforcement.

“I feel very welcome and I feel I am in a free country, the only thing I hope is for Australians not to take that freedom for granted, but to defend it,” she said.

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Earlier on Tuesday, Ms Hirsi Ali condemned a video produced by Facebook page Persons of Interest in which a number of Muslim women distanced themselves from her statements that implied they lacked autonomy.

“I just want to point my finger at all the places in the world today where Islamic law is applied and how women are treated and I want to say to these women, ‘shame on you’, she told AAP.

Watch: Muslim women respond to Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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“Shame on you for carrying water for the Islamists, shame on you for trying to shut people up who are trying to raise awareness about sharia law,” she said.

Reverend Peter Kurti from the Centre for Independent Studies told SBS he believes Ms Hirsi Ali’s views are a valuable addition to debates surrounding Islam.

“I think she is a person who is an important voice in contemporary Islam,” he said.

“I know she provokes very strong reactions from people who don’t want to hear what she has to say, but she is an important voice and a significant figure because of the courage she has displayed in all kinds of ways throughout her life.

“I think if Australia can’t host somebody like that, it’s troubling, it’s very disappointing.”

Watch: What does Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s cancellation mean for freedom of speech?

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Call for earlier government help with migrant youth

Tamara Mirzada was 13 years old when she moved to Australia as an Afghan refugee.

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“When I was growing up, I wore the hijab in high school, and I faced lots of discrimination and being called a terrorist when I just came here.”

It is something the Sydney woman says happens daily within the Muslim community, and it is part of a phenomenon migrant-support groups want to stop.

Katie Acheson is chief executive of Youth Action, one of many groups to make a submission to the government calling for more support for migrant youth.

“And there’s this idea they are criminal or have some connection to criminal behaviour, or anti-social behaviour in any way, shape or form. And, actually, white young males are more likely to be committing crime than that particular community. So we’re not seeing the vilification happening across the cultures, it’s just in particular communities, and we need to stop that.”

Apajok Biar is a youth ambassador for the Multicultural Youth of Australia Network.

She says many South Sudanese migrants are being unfairly linked to issues like gang violence and many in her community are considered guilty until proven innocent.

“The people they see in the media are just a small percentage of who the South Sudanese people are. And there are so many of us who are achieving such great things, and we are really contributing to Australia as a whole, and they should really consider that, not just profile us because of what one person has done.”

Multicultural Youth Network of Australia research has found young people in New South Wales who speak languages other than English are less likely to commit crimes than other youths.

And Victorian youths born overseas are less than half as likely to be alleged offenders compared with other young people.

Arash Bordar arrived in Australia as an Iranian refugee in 2015.

In the years since then, he says, he has encountered clear prejudice and felt excluded from society.

“And sometimes, even on the train, when they’re coming to check your ticket, you are the first person that will be asked. They might not ask everybody. We want to build the country with everyone together to be greater. But when we’re facing so many things, with the challenges that we have, it makes us a little bit depressed.”

One recommendation to the government is that migrant youths gain access to support services earlier, starting at 12 years old instead of 15.

Advocates such as Ms Acheson say earlier intervention is crucial.

“But when you don’t have that, young people feel displaced, they feel devalued, and that’s not really good, because young people will look for identity wherever they can find it.”

There is no national record of crimes connected to ethnicity, something advocates would like to change.

They say they want the statistics on crime for a true picture of the issue.

 

 

Marmite may be brain food, study says

Experiments found that volunteers who ate a daily spoonful of the dark-brown yeast extract seemed to have higher levels of a vital neuron chemical associated with a healthy brain.

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The reason could lie in Marmite’s high levels of vitamin B12, the investigators say.

In a study published on Wednesday, psychologists at the University of York in northern England recruited 28 volunteers and divided them into two groups.

One group ate a teaspoon of Marmite each day for a month; the other ate a daily teaspoon of peanut butter.

The volunteers wore non-invasive skullcaps fitted with electrodes to monitor brain activity while they looked at a screen with a visual stimulus — a large stripey pattern that flickered at a regular rate.

The Marmite group showed a substantial reduction of around 30 percent in response to the stimulus compared with the peanut butter group.

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The work, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, sheds a powerful light on how diet can affect brain activity, the researchers say.

How Marmite worked was not clinically investigated.

But the presumption is that it boosts levels of an important neurotransmitter called gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA).

GABA acts as a kind of brake on over-excited brain cells. It binds to neurons and reduces their activity, helping to provide balance in the brain.

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Scientists have previously theorised that GABA helps to dampen fear or anxiety, which happens when neurons are over-stimulated.

The anti-anxiety drug benzodiazepine, for instance, works by beefing up GABA’s effectiveness, and abnormal levels of GABA have been associated with epilepsy.

“This study suggests that eating Marmite is potentially good for you in that it seems to increase a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain function,” lead authors Daniel Baker and Anika Smith told AFP.

“There could potentially be beneficial effects for people with some neurological disorders linked to GABA.”

The pair said they were not clinicians or dieticians, so were unwilling to make any recommendations about what would be a healthy limit for eating Marmite.

“However, there is no evidence that normal consumption of Marmite has any negative effects,” they said.

Compared with the same quantity of peanut butter, the team found that Marmite had around 116 times more vitamin B12, three times more vitamin B6, and nearly twice as much glutamate as peanut butter.

The new study appears in a specialist peer-reviewed publication, the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Deemed a quintessential British food, Marmite has been the subject of a “love it or hate it” debate that has rumbled on for years, including a tongue-in-cheek campaign on social media to abolish the condiment.

One joke put around by detractors is thus: “I was in a good mood last week. I entered a competition and won a year’s supply of Marmite — one jar!”

UN finds racism against Indigenous Australians deeply disturbing

UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz says Australia needs a more comprehensive human rights framework to protect the rights of Indigenous people.

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In her role, Ms Tauli-Corpuz reports and advises on the human rights situation of indigenous people around the world.

At the invitation of the Australian government, Ms Tauli-Corpuz has spent the past two weeks investigating Indigenous disadvantage across Australia.

She looked at policies for reducing Indigenous disadvantage, as well as justice and detention conditions, domestic violence, land rights and the removal of children from their families.

 

Ms Tauli-Corpuz says the government needs to look at different ways of achieving Closing the Gap targets.

“They have not been looking seriously into the social and cultural determinants to explain why many of these targets are not achieved.”

The special rapporteur has also criticised the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in youth justice detention.

She says she found meeting young children, some only 12 years old, in detention the most disturbing element of her visit.

“There’s really an element of hopelessness, you know. They don’t think that they have any future, because many of them are going to be arrested again. Those children don’t deserve to be in the detention centres. I think that more resources should be provided.”

Her comments come as the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory prepares to deliver its findings.

An interim report outlines a grim picture for young, incarcerated people of the Territory, claiming detainees are leaving youth detention in worse condition than when they arrived.

The royal commission was announced after video of a hooded and shackled teenager made national and international headlines last year.

Almost nine months later, the teenager at the centre of it all, Dylan Voller, is now part of a youth-rehabilitation program in Alice Springs.

He has told NITV there needs to be more accountability.

“And I just really don’t think it’s fair. I feel let down by the system that these people got off on it. And, for example, I’ve got a three-month-imprisonment sentence just for peeling a bit of paint off the wall because I was left in a cell for three days and I got bored. So I don’t see how there is fairness in the court system. And I think that’s why a lot of young people these days, when they do get assaulted, are too scared to press charges on people. One, because they feel nothing is going to happen anyway, and, two, because once the guards find out that you’re trying to charge them, you just get worse treatment.”

Northern Territory chief minister Mike Gunner spoke to the media late last week after the release of the interim report.

“Their opening comments go to ‘a broken youth system, youth-justice system, helps nobody.’ A broken youth-justice system fails Territorians. It fails the kids in our care, and it fails Territorians, who deserve a safe community.”

The UN special rapporteur describes the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth as alarming and calls for more Indigenous-led solutions.

Around half of the children in detention in Australia are Indigenous, even though Indigenous Australians account for less than 3 per cent of Australia’s national population.

Mr Voller says incarceration traumatised him but rehabilitation programs such as the Bush Mob program, working with Indigenous mentors, has been a positive experience.

“I think the funding should be going more to youth activities and programs to stop them from having to need the police, and more youth-crime task force and stuff like that, because, if they get the programs and stuff to help them, then the youth crime won’t be going on. Like drop-in centres and stuff like that. Most people that do stealing cars and stuff, it’s because they’re on the street walking around, but, if they had a drop-in centre or somewhere like that, a 24-hour service where someone could just walk in, drop in, and hopefully get a lift home or get a feed, something like that, then they wouldn’t be doing the crimes that they’ve been doing.”

Following her 15-day tour, Ms Tauli-Corpuz will draft a report with recommendations and present it before the Human Rights Council in the United Nations in September.

The royal commission is due to hand down its final report and its findings, as well as recommendations, on August 1.

 

 

Cyclone bad news (and maybe some good news) for reef

The Great Barrier Reef has had a tough 12 months.

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Last year brought record-high ocean temperatures, followed by major bleaching events, and, now, Cyclone Debbie has caused even more destruction of the reef.

Cyclonic winds churn the sea and can cause damage to the delicate ecosystem.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority spokesman Mark Read says the reef’s outlook right now is grim.

“We had a very, very large system, an incredibly big system. Unusually, Debbie spent quite a long time crossing the Great Barrier Reef as well, where some of the other cyclones … such as Tropical Cyclone Yasi was very quick as it traversed the reef. And when we put all those things together, the prediction is that the damage is likely to be widespread and, potentially, quite severe.”

The effects of climate change mean the world will see more extreme-weather events such as cyclones.

James Cook University geoscience professor Jonathan Nott is a specialist in extreme-weather events.

Professor Nott says a changing climate means the number of cyclones battering Queensland’s coast is expected to decrease but the cyclones that do arrive will be more severe.

“The global climate models are forecasting that we will see a decrease in the total number of cyclones that we experience in the Coral Sea regions, so off the east coast of Queensland. But those cyclones we do experience are expected to increase in magnitude. And our research has shown that it appears that we’re already starting to experience a decrease. We’re not so sure about an increase in magnitude, but some studies have been done to suggest that magnitudes are increasing in tropical cyclones throughout the south-west Pacific.”

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s most valuable natural assets, and damage to the reef is likely to impact tourism and the Queensland economy.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind says the council is concerned about the reef’s health.

“Of course, the reporting and the reality that the reef is under threat is something that we are very concerned about. And the tourism industry is working very hard to do its bit to make the reef resilient, to help the reef withstand the threats, whether they are natural or otherwise.”

Last year, some of the warmest ocean temperatures on record in Australia contributed to several mass-bleaching events across the reef.

But Mr Read says there is a positive side to the cyclone, too, because those types of storms typically cool down ocean temperatures.

“Tropical cyclones can cool down the Great Barrier Reef, or the waters of the Great Barrier Reef — number one, by the cloud cover, number two, by the rainfall associated with a cyclone and, number three, because of the winds that can actually ruffle the sea surface, which improves … or reduces the ability of the water to heat up. But, also, you can have massive deep-water movements caused by the cyclones as well. All of those things can contribute to cooling the water by a couple of degrees.”

Mr Read says people also need to be reminded the reef has been around a long time and cyclones are nothing new.

“Absolutely, the reef can bounce back from a tropical cyclone. You know, we just always need to bear in mind that the reef has been there as we know it today for in the vicinity of 6,000 to 8,000 years. And tropical cyclones are nothing new. This is a natural feature that the reef had come to deal with.”

Previous studies of reef repair after cyclones show they usually recover within three to five years.

 

 

Services grow despite healthcare wane

Australia’s service sector returned to modest expansion in March, new figures show, but jobs-heavy health and community services industries contracted for a third consecutive month.

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The Australian Industry Group’s Performance of Services Index (PSI) rose 2.7 points to a level of 51.7 points in March, rising above the 50-point level signifying expansion.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said the main drivers of the expansion were rebounds in measures of sales and employment.

However, he warned that the large health and community services sub-sector remained in contraction for the third straight month.

“The heavy lifting fell on the property and business and finance and insurance sub-sectors along with wholesale and retail services, which are enjoying a return to growth,” Mr Willox said in a statement.

“The pickup in new orders during March is encouraging and services businesses will be hoping that positive momentum builds over the next few months. The reduction in business taxes negotiated in the Senate last week will provide a very welcome boost for the services sector.”

The index showed sales, new orders and employment all improved in the month after being either flat or in contraction in February.

Five of the nine services sub-sectors expanded in the month, led by property and business and finance and insurance.

The large health and community sub-sector fell a further point to 47.8 points, while the the hospitality sub-sector, which has been either flat or contracting for 16 months, rose a further 0.2 points to 44.9 points.

Input prices continued to rise and wage growth improved for an eighth straight month, albeit at a slower pace again.

Selling prices lifted 3.3 points to 51.3 points in March, with Ai Group noting the rise had come in an environment of very weak price inflation.

Payne says Afghan president not asking for more troops

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani is in Australia on a state visit, discussing security with the minister and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

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President Ghani has praised Australia’s assistance in his country’s long-running conflict with the Taliban.

Australia’s defence minister, Marise Payne, has met Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, in Canberra.

She showed him a device manufactured in Queensland used to counter improvised explosive devices.

More than 100,000 of them have been sent to Afghanistan for the local soldiers to use.

But Ms Payne says she has not received any request for more troops and any escalation of Australia’s involvement would probably depend on the actions of Australia’s allies.

“We have no current request for increased engagement, but, of course, that is always an ongoing discussion in the NATO context, other members of the operation, and we will participate in that when it comes to the appropriate time.”

While many of Australia’s combat troops have been withdrawn, the Defence Force says around 270 military people remain in Afghanistan.

Most are there to advise and assist local troops.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also met with the visiting president on his visit and says he has promised to maintain a presence until at least next year.

“I advised him that we have decided, and this was decided some time ago, to extend our … continue our military commitment for another year through to 2018. And he’s very appreciative of that. As you heard his remarks, he paid tribute to the 42 Australians that have paid the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan.”

The war in Afghanistan is Australia’s longest.

Australian soldiers were deployed after the September 11 attack on the United States in 2001, sent to help a US-led coalition overthrow the ruling Taliban.

Ashraf Ghani paid his respects to those who have died, and he thanked Australia for its ongoing support.

“You’ve always assumed a burden of responsibility where you’ve not been directly threatened.”

Also visiting Canberra is Afghanistan’s first-ever female governor, Habiba Sarobi.

She says, after nearly four decades of conflict in her homeland, it may be some time yet before Afghanistan can be fully self-reliant.

“We have lost everything — infrastructure, human resources, from the civilian up to military — so it is a necessity that we have to get the support from the international community, especially Australia.”

 

 

Ultrasound holds promise for Alzheimer’s

Australian researchers say they have made a promising step in the future treatment of Alzheimer’s disease after discovering ultrasound can effectively and safely deliver drugs to the damaged brain.

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Scientists at the Queensland Brain Institute found the non-invasive technique successfully penetrated the blood-brain barrier to deliver a therapeutic antibody to the brain.

This then slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mice, according to a study published in journal Brain.

One of the major challenges inhibiting the treatment of Alzheimer’s is that the majority of drugs designed to treat the brain disease don’t make it into the brain.

“Ultrasound safely opens up the blood-brain barrier just a tiny bit and just for short time to let the antibody into the brain and importantly into the nerve cells where the damage occurs,” said Professor Jurgen Gotz lead researcher at the QBI.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, with the number of dementia cases in Australia expected to rise to 900,000 by 2050.

Using scanning ultrasound technology, researchers at QBI delivered an antibody that specifically binds to a protein called tau implicated in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Combining ultrasound with the antibody treatment was more effective than either treatment alone in removing the toxic protein clumps, say the researchers.

“We ultimately hope in the coming years to develop an ultrasound device that is not too bulky and can also be used to treat local patients. This device may clear toxic tau in patients on its own or it may be used by delivering therapeutic agents such as drugs or antibodies,” said Prof Gotz.

This will have enormous benefits by making expensive treatment more cost-effective, says lead author Dr Rebecca Nisbet.

“You’re increasing the amount of therapeutic agents that can enter the brain thereby reducing the number of a doses and the amount that needs to be delivered,” Dr Nisbet said.

QBI director Professor Pankaj Sah said it was exciting research that could one day help millions of Australians.

“The discovery is another promising step made towards future therapeutic treatments for dementia,” Prof Sah said.

The ultimate hope is that the technique will also allow for the effective treatment of other brain diseases like Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease.

Spieth makes easy work of return to scene of Masters collapse

Spieth, who was leading the Masters last year until his debacle at the par-three 12th, stuck his tee shot about a foot from the pin on the same hole on Tuesday.

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“I really could have used that one about 12 months ago,” an amused Spieth turned and said to the crowd, prompting laughter, before going on to tap in for a birdie.

Those two shots, the first time he has played the hole in front of a crowd since last year, could prove just the tonic for the former world number one as he chases a second Masters title.

Spieth took a five-shot lead into the back nine last year in his bid to become the first player to lead from start to finish at Augusta National in successive years.

The Texan reached the 12th tee with a one-stroke lead and walked off the green after a quadruple-bogey sitting three shots behind new leader and eventual winner Danny Willett.

While Spieth has moved on from the most memorable moment of last year’s Masters, he admits it is one he will not forget.

“It will surely be there and it has been,” Spieth told a news conference on Tuesday. “It is one of many tournaments I’ve lost given a certain performance on a hole or a stretch of holes. It happens in this game.

“But I’m excited about the opportunity ahead, which is now I can go back and really tear this golf course up.”

The 23-year-old world number six has one win and two runner-up finishes in his three Masters appearances.

He enters the year’s first major, which begins on Thursday, with a win and four top-10 finishes this season and said he was not worried about last week’s missed cut in Houston hindering his chances at Augusta National.

“I feel very comfortable out there,” said Spieth.

“I feel like we have it mapped out and, as we dissect the golf course, we know the spots to go, where not to go and therefore the commitment on shots.

“Certain shots you hit versus others, you obviously feel more comfortable, but I feel like we’re freed up because we know where those spots are and where they aren’t.”

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

Russia identifies metro bomber as St Petersburg mourns 14 dead

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that Djalilov “carried out an explosion” in the carriage of a train travelling between two busy stations on Monday afternoon.

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Djalilov’s “genetic trace” was also found on a bag containing a second bomb left at another metro station and later defused, the statement said.

Authorities in Central Asian Kyrgyzstan said that Djalilov was an ethnic Uzbek who was born in its southern city of Osh but was a citizen of Russia and had lived there since the age of 16.

The remains of the bomber were found at the scene of the blast, but it was not clear if he is included in the official toll of the attack.

Flags flew at half-mast in Russia’s second city and flowers and candles piled up at an impromptu memorial outside the metro station rocked by the attack, as authorities beefed up security on the busy underground transport system.

The Kremlin said the bombing was “a challenge to every Russian”, including President Vladimir Putin.

The bombing raised jitters ahead of the Confederations Cup football tournament in June, with the opening game and final set to be held in Saint Petersburg as Russia gears up towards hosting the World Cup next year.

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Commuters on the busy Saint Petersburg metro remained on edge after the system temporarily shut down Monday in the wake of the attack.

“Everyone in the metro can only think of this,” said 45-year-old Svetlana Golubeva as she entered the underground.

Resident Dmitry Leonov said there was a sense of shock that terror could strike the city as he picked his way through the candles and flower tributes lining the gates of the station.

“Now we’re all under threat,” he said.

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‘Food for thought’

Putin, who hails from Saint Petersburg, was holding a meeting near the city at the time of the bombing and later on Monday added his own floral tribute at the scene.

“The fact that the act of terror was perpetrated at the moment that the head of state was in the city is food for thought,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan’s security services, Rakhat Sulaimanov, told AFP in Bishkek that authorities of the ex-Soviet republic were in contact with their Russian counterparts over the case.

There has not been a claim of responsibility for the attack, which came after the Islamic State group called for attacks on Russia in retribution for its military intervention in Syria against the jihadists.

Russia has long been battling an Islamist insurgency in its volatile Caucasus region and has suffered a string of bloody terror attacks over the years.

Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said the toll from the blast had climbed from 11 to 14 Tuesday as three people succumbed to their injuries, adding that 49 more people remained in hospital.

Those hurt include citizens of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as Russians from 13 different regions, according to the Saint Petersburg authorities.

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The chief of the Saint Petersburg metro, Vladimir Garyugin, said Tuesday that quick actions by staff prevented a much higher toll and that passengers had helped each other instead of panicking.

The second bomb was an explosive device fashioned from a fire extinguisher and hidden in a bag, he said.

“A metro employee quickly cordoned off the area and called in experts,” Garyugin said in televised remarks.

‘Barbaric act’

In the wake of the attack Putin spoke to a string of leaders around the globe — including holding only his second phone call with US President Donald Trump overnight.

Trump offered Putin the “full support of the United States Government,” according to a White House statement.

Putin also talked up cooperation in the fight against terrorism with leaders in Germany, France, Turkey and the king of Saudi Arabia.

The attack in Saint Petersburg is the first in several years to hit a major city in Russia.

In October 2015, a bomb attack claimed by IS downed a plane carrying holidaymakers back to Saint Petersburg from Egypt in October 2015. All 224 people onboard were killed.

Russian ground transport has also been hit by extremists before, including in the Moscow metro and the Domodedovo airport, where a blast claimed by Islamic insurgents killed 37 people in 2011.

In an apparently unrelated incident, two traffic policemen were killed overnight in the southern city of Astrakhan when unidentified assailants opened fire on them, the regional governor said, calling them “radical Islamists.”