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Westlake Legal Group > fox-news/world/religion

Catholic bishop to rain down ‘holy water’ from helicopter in ‘mass exorcism’ over city

A Catholic bishop is reaching for new heights to save a city wrought with “evil.”

After the brutal murder of a 10-year-old girl in a port city in Colombia, Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo Montoya, the bishop of Buenaventura, announced he will perform a mass exorcism over the city beset with violence, drug smuggling, and poverty this weekend, The Guardian reported.

‘HEROIC’ VIRGINIA RABBI MISSING AFTER DIVING INTO OCEAN TO SAVE A STUDENT

“We have to drive the devil out of Buenaventura, to see if we can restore the peace and tranquility that our city has lost due to so many crimes, acts of corruption and with so much evil and drug trafficking that invades our port,” Montoya told the local radio station.

Westlake Legal Group helicopter-Reuters Catholic bishop to rain down 'holy water' from helicopter in 'mass exorcism' over city fox-news/world/religion fox-news/us/religion/roman-catholic fox-news/travel/regions/south-america fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/world fnc Caleb Parke article 55ddda4b-dc36-5048-9ed6-6a54fab74f7f

A Catholic bishop in Buenaventura, Columbia plans to use a helicopter to perform a mass exorcism over the city wrought with violent crime. (REUTERS/John Vizcaino)

He added: “We want to go around the whole of Buenaventura, from the air, and pour holy water on to it to see if we exorcise and get out all those demons that are destroying our port, so that God’s blessing comes and gets rid of all the wickedness that is in our streets.”

TEACHER FIRED FOR PRO-CHOICE ABORTION POSTS ON FACEBOOK SUES CATHOLIC SCHOOL

Colombia’s army reportedly offered the bishop a helicopter for the mass exorcism during the feast day of Buenaventura’s patron saint.

South America’s largest Pacific seaport was named as the country’s most violent place in 2014 by Human Rights Watch, which said it is “dominated by powerful criminal groups that commit widespread abuses, including abducting and dismembering people, sometimes while still alive, then dumping them in the sea.”

The local Catholic church reported eyewitness accounts containing gruesome details of “chop-up houses” where they slaughter victims.

AS SATANIC GROUPS RISE, VATICAN OPENS UP EXORCISM SUMMIT TO NON-CATHOLICS

While there has been an improvement since the report, homicides are up from last year, prompting a “pastoral emergency” from the Vatican-backed International Association of Exorcists.

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Earlier this year, the Vatican opened its annual exorcism summit to non-Catholics due to reports of a rise in demonic possessions and devil worship around the world.

Westlake Legal Group helicopter-Reuters Catholic bishop to rain down 'holy water' from helicopter in 'mass exorcism' over city fox-news/world/religion fox-news/us/religion/roman-catholic fox-news/travel/regions/south-america fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/world fnc Caleb Parke article 55ddda4b-dc36-5048-9ed6-6a54fab74f7f   Westlake Legal Group helicopter-Reuters Catholic bishop to rain down 'holy water' from helicopter in 'mass exorcism' over city fox-news/world/religion fox-news/us/religion/roman-catholic fox-news/travel/regions/south-america fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/world fnc Caleb Parke article 55ddda4b-dc36-5048-9ed6-6a54fab74f7f

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‘Look where the angel is pointing’ tip gets Vatican to open 2 tombs in decades-old disappearance of teen

Westlake Legal Group VaticanUnsolvedInner ‘Look where the angel is pointing’ tip gets Vatican to open 2 tombs in decades-old disappearance of teen fox-news/world/religion/vatican fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world/crime fox-news/us/crime/cold-case fox news fnc/world fnc Danielle Wallace article 3d8eef61-1e83-5e79-a9f2-fdeaa55294a6

The Vatican announced on Tuesday that it will open two tombs in the centuries-old cemetery next week and test the DNA  in an attempt to solve the case of a Vatican employee’s missing teenage daughter who disappeared 36 years ago.

Emanuela Orlandi was 15-years-old when she left for a flute lesson in central Rome in 1983 and never returned home. The case received new publicity last summer when an attorney for the Orlandi family received an anonymous letter with a tip. The letter suggested that the girl might be buried at the small Teutonic Cemetery where German and Austrian nationals are buried on Vatican grounds, Reuters reported.

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“Look where the angel is pointing,” the letter said, referencing a marble statue on an angel above the German prince’s tomb, UK’s The Times reported. The angel holds a sheet bearing the words “Rest in Peace.”

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Tuesday the Holy See approved the Orlandi’s family’s request to reopen the two graves. Orlandi’s relatives, family attorneys and members of the Holy See will be present when the two graves are opened on July 11. The members of the families of the tombs being opened will also be at the site.

Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela’s brother, told the ANSA news agency that “After 35 years of lack of co-operation, the start of an investigation is an important breakthrough.” Members of the Orlandi family have appeared on television and spoke to newspapers for decades to demand answers.

The Italian media speculated for years over what could have happened to Orlandi. Many Italians believe she was killed in connection with the Catholic Church’s financial scandals in the 1980s given that her father was employed by the Vatican Bank, Sky News reported.

Other believe she was kidnapped in order to negotiate the freedom of a gunman jailed for trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II. After rumors spread that Orlandi’s body might be found in the grave of Enrico De Pedis, a mobster buried in Rome, his tomb was reopened in 2012, but no DNA evidence was found.

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Last year, two sets of remains were found in the basement of a building of the Vatican’s embassy in Rome. That discovery sparked speculation that the remains might belong to Orlandi and Mirella Gregori, another teenager who disappeared the same year, Reuters reported. DNA disproved that theory.

When she first vanished, authorities said her disappearance might not be related to her father’s work at the Vatican or that she could have been a victim of human trafficking. She would be 51 if found alive today.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Westlake Legal Group VaticanUnsolvedInner ‘Look where the angel is pointing’ tip gets Vatican to open 2 tombs in decades-old disappearance of teen fox-news/world/religion/vatican fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world/crime fox-news/us/crime/cold-case fox news fnc/world fnc Danielle Wallace article 3d8eef61-1e83-5e79-a9f2-fdeaa55294a6   Westlake Legal Group VaticanUnsolvedInner ‘Look where the angel is pointing’ tip gets Vatican to open 2 tombs in decades-old disappearance of teen fox-news/world/religion/vatican fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world/crime fox-news/us/crime/cold-case fox news fnc/world fnc Danielle Wallace article 3d8eef61-1e83-5e79-a9f2-fdeaa55294a6

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Nashville man charged with LGBT hate crime in Connecticut over church vandalism: police

Westlake Legal Group Charles-Yarbrough Nashville man charged with LGBT hate crime in Connecticut over church vandalism: police Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/religion fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/tennessee fox-news/us/us-regions/northeast/connecticut fox-news/us/crime fox-news/us fox news fnc/us fnc d721a6f6-63a8-5125-8bef-bd0fd778a188 article

Police arrested a man on Monday after he allegedly caused damage to a Connecticut church because he felt the pastor was pushing an LGBT agenda.

Charles Yarbrough, 30, of Nashville, Tenn., now faces hate crime and burglary charges, according to a report from the Milford, Conn., police sent to Fox News.

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Police said Yarbrough told them he went to Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church in Milford on Monday and damaged the office door because he felt the pastor and the church as a whole were supporting the LGBT community and promoting its agenda.

In a statement, the Rev. Kristina Hansen called the incident “unfortunate and saddening.”

She added, “It does not, however, dissuade us from our affirming stance.”

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Hansen went on to say that the church stands “firmly” behind its mission statement, which recognizes and celebrates “the diversity of God’s creation and God’s gifts.”

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“As disciples of our Lord, we publicly acknowledge, welcome and support people of all races, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities, ages, nationalities, ethnicity, abilities and socio-economic situations.”

Westlake Legal Group Charles-Yarbrough Nashville man charged with LGBT hate crime in Connecticut over church vandalism: police Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/religion fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/tennessee fox-news/us/us-regions/northeast/connecticut fox-news/us/crime fox-news/us fox news fnc/us fnc d721a6f6-63a8-5125-8bef-bd0fd778a188 article   Westlake Legal Group Charles-Yarbrough Nashville man charged with LGBT hate crime in Connecticut over church vandalism: police Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/religion fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/tennessee fox-news/us/us-regions/northeast/connecticut fox-news/us/crime fox-news/us fox news fnc/us fnc d721a6f6-63a8-5125-8bef-bd0fd778a188 article

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Serbia-Montenegro church row fuels Balkan tensions

Westlake Legal Group og-fox-news Serbia-Montenegro church row fuels Balkan tensions fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc Belgrade (Serbia) Associated Press article 5110a5a5-1b01-55f3-bbca-514b4cbe7470

A Serb official has branded Montenegro a “criminal” state and threatened a “fierce” response over the neighboring country’s plans to introduce a church law.

The draft law calls for all religious communities in Montenegro to provide proof that they owned their property before 1918 when the small Adriatic state lost its independence and became part of the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. If they don’t, the property becomes state owned.

The Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian officials reacted with fury, saying Montenegro wants to “steal” hundreds of Serb churches and monasteries. Montenegro, which split from Serbia in 2006, denies the claims.

Serbian government minister Nenad Popovic said Wednesday the draft law is a “hostile act” against Serbia.

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Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-3f1287eb760d43aca5790b00834993b7 Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women KATHY GANNON fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc Associated Press article 652d3931-2624-5f80-8ac6-91087bde94d3

With waves of arrests, Pakistani investigators are trying to unravel trafficking networks that convince impoverished Pakistanis to marry off their daughters to Chinese men for cash, and they say evidence is growing that many of the women and girls are sold into prostitution once in China.

At least two dozen Chinese nationals and dozens of their Pakistani partners have been arrested in recent weeks in raids by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. Pakistani government officials, however, have ordered police to remain quiet about the extent of the networks, fearing it could hurt increasingly close economic ties with Beijing, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.

“We are interested only in stopping the trafficking. Make no mistake, this is trafficking,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the government order. “We think the majority are sold as prostitutes,” he said of the women married in the trafficking schemes.

The AP spoke to seven girls who had been forced to marry Chinese men, four of them still in China. Each described how their new husbands handed them over to paying clients to be raped.

“I was living in hell-like conditions, silently weeping, silently praying for help,” said 20-year-old Natasha Masih. She told of how her husband locked her in a hotel in the remote northwest Chinese city of Urumqi and forced her into prostitution. The AP does not name rape victims, but Masih agreed to her name being used and now after her escape works to help other victims speak out.

Pakistan became a focus of Chinese marriage brokers last year, and activists say that since then as many as 1,000 women and girls have been married off to Chinese men. Most of the women are from Pakistan’s small Christian community, who are among the country’s most desperately poor. Brokers offer families cash to give their daughters as brides, promising them well-off Chinese husbands who would give them a good life. The business is fueled by demand in China, where men outnumber women.

In Pakistan, some Christian pastors are paid to help brokers lure members of their flock into marriages, and the girls — married against their will — become isolated in China, vulnerable to abusive husbands, previous AP reporting found .

China’s ambassador to Pakistan, speaking on local television, denied girls are trafficked to China and sold into prostitution. Trafficking was not discussed during a visit to Pakistan this month by China’s vice president, Wang Qishan. In comments carried in the Pakistani press, Wang denied trafficking was taking place.

“China is denying it is happening, but we are showing the proof,” said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped bring girls back from China.

The two law enforcement officials said one of the trafficking networks raided by police, based in the city of Lahore, had been operating for at least a year. It was protected by corrupt policemen, and the son of a former senior police official served as the lynchpin between the Chinese and Pakistani operatives, the officials said.

One woman, Sumaira, told the AP how her brothers were paid by brokers and forced her into such a marriage in July last year. The 30-year-old said her husband took her first to a house in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and there she was raped each night by Chinese men for a week.

Before they were to leave for China, she convinced her husband to allow her to go home to say farewell to her sisters. There, she refused to return to the husband and screamed at her brothers, “Why did you sell me? How much money did you get for me?'” she said. The brothers beat her, but she managed to escape to the home of an uncle.

Before her marriage, Sumaira had run a beauty salon in a poor, mostly Christian neighborhood of the Punjab town of Gujranwala. “I was a very different person than what you see now,” she said. “Then I had hope. I believed in my future. Now I don’t know.”

Masih told the AP she was married off in November and soon after left her home in Faisalabad, flying to China with her husband. He took her to the northwest of the country, to a small house in a forested area. Three male and two female friends of her husband shared the house.

Her husband forced her to have sex with the men. Then he took her to the Urumqi hotel, where he confined her to a room and sold her into prostitution.

“I bought you in Pakistan,” she said her husband told her. “You belong to me. You are my property.”

Natasha made furtive calls to her parents on her mobile phone, and her mother turned to her church for help. One parishioner, Farooq Masih, formed a group of men from the congregation to try to recue Natasha. One of the men had a younger brother who was a student in China, said Masih, who is not related to Natasha. The brother agreed to pose as a client and pay him to sleep with Natasha.

Instead, when the student went to the hotel in a taxi, he called Natasha and told her to slip out to meet him.

“I saw him and quickly I took my clothes and got into his taxi,” she said. “I didn’t ask his name. I didn’t ask anything, I just said, ‘Brother, thank you.'” Soon she was on a plane to Pakistan.

Farooq Masih and the men from the church have since dedicated hours to unearthing trafficking networks. They recently conducted their own sting operation in Faisalabad, orchestrating a fake marriage that led the Federal Investigation Agency to the brokers and the pastor who solemnized the unions for a fee.

“I am lucky,” Natasha said. “Many girls who were taken there by their husbands are still living a terrible life. … Now I know what is freedom and what is slavery. In China, I was treated as a slave by my husband.”

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-3f1287eb760d43aca5790b00834993b7 Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women KATHY GANNON fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc Associated Press article 652d3931-2624-5f80-8ac6-91087bde94d3   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-3f1287eb760d43aca5790b00834993b7 Pakistan police seek to unravel networks trafficking women KATHY GANNON fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc Associated Press article 652d3931-2624-5f80-8ac6-91087bde94d3

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Pope dons helmut to enter earthquake-hit cathedral in Italy

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-b5ad3dc60bbc4fc4bef54fcad349b2bb-1 Pope dons helmut to enter earthquake-hit cathedral in Italy fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc d6a6142e-0669-52da-886c-6740c47afee6 CAMERINO, Italy Associated Press article

Pope Francis has donned a white firefighter’s safety helmet to enter a damaged cathedral during a visit to central Italy, where he is giving encouragement to people still struggling three years after devastating earthquakes struck.

Francis traveled Sunday to the town of Camerino, which was shaken so badly in 2016 that people are still not allowed into the town center as work continues to stabilize buildings.

Before he entered the cathedral, a firefighter’s safety helmet was placed over Francis’ skullcap. Inside the cathedral, he was surrounded by firefighters and clergymen also wearing helmets. He placed flowers at a statue of the Virgin Mary, which was damaged in the earthquake. The statue’s head and arms are missing.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-b5ad3dc60bbc4fc4bef54fcad349b2bb-1 Pope dons helmut to enter earthquake-hit cathedral in Italy fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc d6a6142e-0669-52da-886c-6740c47afee6 CAMERINO, Italy Associated Press article   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-b5ad3dc60bbc4fc4bef54fcad349b2bb-1 Pope dons helmut to enter earthquake-hit cathedral in Italy fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc d6a6142e-0669-52da-886c-6740c47afee6 CAMERINO, Italy Associated Press article

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Notre-Dame to celebrate first Mass since April fire

Westlake Legal Group og-fox-news Notre-Dame to celebrate first Mass since April fire Paris fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc Associated Press article 1f600f7a-289d-5111-abf7-f3bef3ee2644

The Notre Dame cathedral is holding its first Mass since the April fire that ravaged the edifice’s roof and caused its masterpiece spire to collapse.

Saturday’s mass at the Gothic building will be celebrated by Paris archbishop Michel Aupetit amid reduced attendance. For security reasons, only about 30 people — mainly priests, canons and church employees — will be admitted inside the cathedral. Aupetit will be wearing a construction worker’s helmet in addition to his miter.

Worshippers won’t be authorized in the cathedral but can watch the Mass on a Catholic TV station that is broadcasting the service. Aupetit has also invited some of the workers hired to rebuild the church.

French President Emmanuel Macron has set a goal of rebuilding the cathedral in just five years, which some experts consider impossible to reach.

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Pope Francis accepts resignation of Chilean auxiliary bishop

Westlake Legal Group og-fox-news Pope Francis accepts resignation of Chilean auxiliary bishop SANTIAGO, Chile fox-news/world/world-regions/americas fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc Associated Press article 2bee3e4b-c273-5c85-a316-e32a9e979759

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the auxiliary bishop of the Chilean capital city just 24 days after he appointed him to the post.

Carlos Eugenio Irarrázabal became embroiled in controversy after he recently said there were no women at the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples and “we have to respect that.” He also said that perhaps women “like to be in the back room.”

The Santiago Archdiocese said in a statement Friday that the pope’s decision came after talking with Irarrázabal.

Irarrázabal joins the more than 30 Chilean bishops who presented their resignation in 2018 when a report ordered by Francis revealed a culture of abuse and cover-ups for decades in Chile’s church.

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AP Explains: The rocky rise of LGBT rights in Latin America

Despite a dark past, today many LGBT citizens in Latin America are enjoying the right to marry, choose their gender identity and adopt children. But while laws in several of the region’s biggest countries are changing that doesn’t necessarily translate into a broader societal shift toward acceptance.

Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court ruled Thursday that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in the nation’s anti-discrimination law, providing a new layer of protection for LGBT people.

The decision comes at a sensitive moment in Brazil’s history: Leading the country is a president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has openly expressed his disdain for same-sex couples, going so far as to say he’d prefer to have a dead son than a gay one. Studies of homicide reports indicate Brazil is the most dangerous place in the world to be transgender.

Experts say Latin America needs to address long-standing cultural biases, racial and income inequality in order to make the region safer for LGBT people. Here’s a look at how far Latin America has advanced in protecting gay and transgender rights and what gaps in equality remain.

___

THE RIGHT TO BE GAY

Decades ago, several Latin American governments were ruled by iron-fisted governments that considered homosexuality a scourge to the silenced.

In Argentina, a far-right military dictatorship disappeared tens of thousands of suspected leftist dissidents. Advocates have long contended that gay activists suffered disproportionately, though their cases have received far less attention.

In the late 1970s during Brazil’s military regime, a nascent LGBT community was similarly muted by a government with strict censorship laws that pushed gay publications and demonstrators to quit or go underground.

Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas penned an anguishing account of the harassment and confinement he endured as a gay man in post-revolutionary Cuba, where homosexuality was seen as a remnant of the detested bourgeoisie.

Today most Latin American nations no longer consider homosexuality a crime, but in the Caribbean that is not the case. In former British colonies like Jamaica, a law declaring the “abominable crime of buggery” punishable with up to 10 years in jail remains on the books.

Activists have presented several legal challenges and are optimistic such laws will soon be obsolete.

“In all those countries organizing is happening,” said Mauro Cabral Grinspan, executive director of the Global Action for Trans Equality advocacy group. “And I really believe that we are going to see change in the next five years.”

___

SAME-SEX UNIONS

Today a half-dozen nations in Latin America formally recognize same-sex marriage, with Ecuador joining the list on Wednesday.

Argentina was the first country in Latin America to approve gay unions and today has some of the most progressive LGBT policies in the world.

A handful of other cities and nations grant similar benefits but do not accept gay marriage.

There are various influences driving what scholars like Bard College professor Omar Encarnacion refer to as “Latin America’s gay rights revolution.”

He points to both a new surge in activism that followed the end of Latin America’s military dictatorships and the fading sway of Catholicism.

While four of every 10 Catholics worldwide reside in the region, they are no longer a majority in several countries, according to the Pew Research Center. The number identifying as non-Catholic Christians in turn has soared.

Some worshippers are fleeing the pews entirely while others are migrating to evangelical churches offering more contemporary services.

A widening gulf from the Catholic Church has made it easier for some political and community leaders to back policies like gay marriage.

“Unquestionably, Latin America is the champion of LGBT rights in the Global South,” Encarnacion said, referring to low and middle income nations.

___

GAY RIGHTS REVOLUTION

In a few places, the wave of activism is going beyond marriage to grant rights like allowing more expansive definitions of gender identity and permitting same-sex couples to expand their families by subsidizing in vitro fertilization.

Argentina is particular is considered a global pioneer in expanding LGBT rights and has one of the region’s most open gender identity laws. Individuals who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth can change it without authorization from a doctor or a judge.

More and more Latin American nations are also allowing LGBT people to serve in the military.

Before Brazil’s recent Supreme Court ruling, several countries already had anti-discrimination laws on the books that included protections for gender and sexual orientation.

Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College, said despite the ruling’s shortcomings it has important implications.

“It conveys to all actors the importance of respecting sexual and gender diversity,” he said. “Brazil is not the first. But it is not late.”

___

INTOLERANCE PERSISTS

Even as laws change, scholars and advocates are quick to note that discrimination and violence remain rampant across the region.

South American nations like Brazil, countries in Central America and the Caribbean in particular are signaled out as poor environments for LGBT people.

According to the rights group the Grupo Gay da Bahia, 420 LGBT people were killed across Brazil in 2018, while at least 141 have been killed so far this year.

“Crime is complex,” Corrales said. “And it requires more than good laws.”

Evangelical groups that helped buoy Bolsonaro to the presidency remain an influential bloc likely to continue resisting any legislative initiatives.

Overall, it remains to be seen how strictly Brazil will enforce its anti-discrimination law.

Cabral Grinspan said many in the LGBT community are skeptical of criminalizing homophobia because it gives power to distrusted institutions like the judiciary. Rather than boosting a sense of security, the activist fears the new measure will be utilized as another way for police to put poor Brazilians behind bars, without addressing the root causes of violence and harassment against gay and transsexual individuals.

“It’s giving more power to corrupted police institutions,” Cabral Grinspan said, “and doesn’t contribute at all to social change.”

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-8d1320fd845045aface59864aa453298-1 AP Explains: The rocky rise of LGBT rights in Latin America fox-news/world/world-regions/americas fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc CHRISTINE ARMARIO Associated Press article 87a9017d-d039-58d2-bc52-767a465c0b68   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-8d1320fd845045aface59864aa453298-1 AP Explains: The rocky rise of LGBT rights in Latin America fox-news/world/world-regions/americas fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fnc/world fnc CHRISTINE ARMARIO Associated Press article 87a9017d-d039-58d2-bc52-767a465c0b68

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Islamic State expands reach in Afghanistan, threatening West

The Islamic State group has lost its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, but in the forbidding mountains of northeastern Afghanistan the group is expanding its footprint, recruiting new fighters and plotting attacks on the United States and other Western countries, according to U.S. and Afghan security officials.

Nearly two decades after the U.S.-led invasion, the extremist group is seen as an even greater threat than the Taliban because of its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities and its strategy of targeting civilians, both in Afghanistan and abroad. Concerns run so deep that many have come to see the Taliban, which has also clashed with IS, as a potential partner in containing it.

A U.S. intelligence official based in Afghanistan told The Associated Press that a recent wave of attacks in the capital, Kabul, is “practice runs” for even bigger attacks in Europe and the United States.

“This group is the most near-term threat to our homelands from Afghanistan,” the official said on condition of anonymity to preserve his operational security. “The IS core mandate is: You will conduct external attacks” in the U.S. and Europe. “That is their goal. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It is very scary.”

Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, sees Afghanistan as a possible new base for IS now that it has been driven from Iraq and Syria. “ISIS has invested a disproportionate amount of attention and resources in Afghanistan,” he said, pointing to “huge arms stockpiling” in the east.

___

A ‘PROVINCE’ OF THE CALIPHATE

The Islamic State affiliate appeared in Afghanistan shortly after the group’s core fighters swept across Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, carving out a self-styled caliphate, or Islamic empire, in around a third of both countries. The Afghanistan affiliate refers to itself as the Khorasan Province, a name applied to parts of Afghanistan, Iran and central Asia in the Middle Ages.

The IS affiliate initially numbered just a few dozen fighters, mainly Pakistani Taliban driven from their bases across the border and disgruntled Afghan Taliban attracted to IS’ more extreme ideology. While the Taliban have confined their struggle to Afghanistan, the IS militants pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of the group in the Middle East, and embraced his call for a worldwide jihad against non-Muslims. Within Afghanistan, IS launched large-scale attacks on minority Shiites, who it views as apostates deserving of death

The group suffered some early stumbles as its leaders were picked off by U.S. airstrikes. But it received a major boost when the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan joined its ranks in 2015. Today it counts thousands of fighters, many from central Asia but also from Arab countries, Chechnya, India and Bangladesh, as well as ethnic Uighurs from China.

The group has long been based in the eastern Nangarhar province, a rugged region along the border with Pakistan, but has a strong presence in northern Afghanistan and of late has expanded into neighboring Kunar province, where it could prove even harder to dislodge. The mountainous province provided shelter for Osama bin Laden for nearly a year after the Taliban’s ouster, and U.S. forces struggled for years to capture and hold high-altitude outposts there, eventually all but surrendering the region to the Taliban.

The area comprising the provinces of Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman was so dangerous that the U.S.-led coalition assigned an acronym to it in the years after the invasion, referring to it as N2KL. Militants launching shoulder-fired rockets from Kunar’s peaks downed a U.S. Chinook helicopter in 2005, killing 16 Navy SEALs and special operations forces in one of the deadliest single attacks of the war.

Ajmal Omar, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, says IS now has a presence in all four provinces.

“Right now in Kunar, the right side of the road is Taliban, the left side is Daesh and the government is in the middle,” he said, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym. Speaking inside his heavily fortified home in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, he said neighboring Kunar would soon replace the Middle East as the IS group’s center of gravity.

“When they began in Afghanistan they were maybe 150 Daesh, but today there are thousands and thousands,” he said.

“The bad news is their acquisition of key terrain, height concealment, where they can have easy access to money, weapons, equipment . . .and from where they can plan, train, stage, facilitate and expedite attacks,” said the U.S. intelligence official. “I think expansion of territory in eastern Afghanistan is their number one military objective,” with the goal of eventually encircling Jalalabad, he said.

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TURNING TO THE TALIBAN

It’s been nearly 18 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, which had harbored al-Qaida when bin Laden and his lieutenants were planning the Sept. 11 attacks. Now military and intelligence officials see the Taliban as a potential ally against a similar threat.

In recent months the Taliban have said they have no ambitions to monopolize power in a post-war Afghanistan, while IS is committed to overthrowing the Kabul government on its path to establishing a global caliphate. The Taliban and IS are sharply divided over ideology and tactics, with the Taliban largely confining their attacks to government targets and Afghan and international security forces. The Taliban and IS have fought each other on a number of occasions, and the Taliban are still the larger and more imposing force.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months in a bid to end America’s longest war. The two sides appear to be closing in on an agreement in which the U.S. would withdraw its forces in return for a pledge from the Taliban to keep the country from being used as a launch pad for global attacks.

“One of the hopes of a negotiated settlement is that it will bring the Taliban into the government and into the fight against IS,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “They know the mountains, they know the terrain. It’s their territory.”

But a negotiated settlement could also prompt an exodus of more radical Taliban fighters to join IS. That process is already underway in parts of northern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban have attacked IS only to lose territory and fighters to the rival extremist group.

Russia, which occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s before being driven out by U.S.-backed Islamic insurgents, has been sounding the alarm about IS for years, and had reached out to the Taliban even before the U.S. talks. During a visit to Kyrgyzstan last month, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu described Afghanistan as a “launch pad” for IS after the group was pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

Russia, like the United States, sees a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government as the best way of countering the threat posed by IS, and Moscow has held two rounds of informal talks involving the Taliban, government representatives and other prominent Afghans.

But as peace efforts have stumbled in recent months, Russia has turned to more lethal means of containing the threat. Shoigu said Russia has sent heavy equipment, including helicopters and armored vehicles, to Kyrgyz forces, and has boosted combat readiness in its bases in the former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

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THREATENING THE WEST

Without an aggressive counterterrorism strategy, Afghanistan’s IS affiliate will be able to carry out a large-scale attack in the U.S. or Europe within the next year, the U.S. intelligence official said, adding that IS fighters captured in Afghanistan have been found to be in contact with fellow militants in other countries.

Authorities have also already made at least eight arrests in the United States linked to the IS affiliate in Afghanistan.

Martin Azizi-Yarand, the 18-year-old Texan who plotted a 2018 attack on a suburban mall, said he was inspired by IS and was preparing to join the affiliate in Afghanistan. He was sentenced in April to 20 years in jail.

Rakhmat Akilov, the 39-year-old Uzbek who plowed his truck into pedestrians in Stockholm in 2017, also had links with the Afghanistan affiliate, the intelligence official said. “During interrogation he said ‘this is my commander in Afghanistan and he is telling me what to do,'” he said.

Inside Afghanistan, the group is actively recruiting at universities, where it is more likely to find tech-savvy Afghans able to travel abroad, use social media and help plan sophisticated attacks, according to the intelligence official.

The group’s brutal tactics have been on vivid display inside Afghanistan for years. Suicide bombings have killed hundreds of Shiite civilians in Kabul and elsewhere, and residents who have fled areas captured by the group describe a reign of terror not unlike that seen in Syria and Iraq.

Farmanullah Shirzad fled his village in Nangarhar in late April as IS fighters swept through the area.

“I was terrified to stay,” he said. “When Daesh takes over a village, they kill the people, they don’t care about the children and they come into the homes and they take the women.”

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Associated Press writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-5771d549fc904ddc934bb59a37fe51f3 Islamic State expands reach in Afghanistan, threatening West KATHY GANNON fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/world-regions/americas fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fox-news/us fnc/world fnc Associated Press article 153b36ac-a0aa-54f9-b91b-1702f6033b41   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-5771d549fc904ddc934bb59a37fe51f3 Islamic State expands reach in Afghanistan, threatening West KATHY GANNON fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world/world-regions/asia fox-news/world/world-regions/americas fox-news/world/religion fox-news/world fox-news/us fnc/world fnc Associated Press article 153b36ac-a0aa-54f9-b91b-1702f6033b41

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