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UK raises Northern Ireland terror threat rating to 'severe' ahead of Biden visit
The UK government raised the terror threat level in Northern Ireland to "severe" on Tuesday, ahead of an expected visit by US President Joe Biden to mark the 25th anniversary of a landmark peace accord.
The domestic spy agency MI5 judged that the risk of an attack had gone from "substantial" to "severe", meaning an incident is judged "highly likely", Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said.
Northern Ireland saw three decades of sectarian conflict over British rule, known as "The Troubles", that claimed some 3,500 lives.
But the province stands transformed since the Good Friday Agreement was adopted on April 10, 1998.
"However, a small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence," Heaton-Harris told parliament.
He urged the public to "remain vigilant, but not be alarmed" at the announcement.
It follows a police officer being shot and seriously wounded in front of his son last month, while November saw a failed bomb attack on two officers.
Both attacks have been blamed on a dissident militant group called the "New IRA", which wants reunification with the Republic of Ireland.
The threat level was lowered to "substantial" a year ago -– the first change since 2010.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne, head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said the new alteration was "part of an ongoing process of monitoring".
He vowed to "relentlessly pursue those who seek to cause harm and terrorize our communities, and attack my officers and staff".
Heaton-Harris, who insisted there would be "no return to the violence of the past", drew no link to the planned trip by Biden.
The US leader intends to visit both Ireland and Northern Ireland.
It is expected to coincide with the anniversary of the peace deal, which was brokered with US mediation.
The anniversary comes with the territory locked in political paralysis, as pro-UK unionists refuse to re-enter government in objection to a post-Brexit trade deal agreed by London and the European Union.
More extreme militants in the pro-UK camp have issued periodic warnings about the consequences of the agreement, which they argue leaves Northern Ireland at risk of political and economic divorce from Great Britain.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended a recent renegotiation of the elements of the pact, dubbed the Windsor Framework, as he urged the pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to resume power-sharing in Belfast's Stormont assembly.
"I believe the Windsor Framework represents a fantastic foundation for us to move forward and actually just build that brighter future for Northern Ireland which is there for the taking," he told MPs in London.
"The anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement gives us a chance to reflect on the progress we've made, and the opportunities that lie ahead," Sunak added.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson called the ruling by MI5 "bad news".
"I look forward to a day when the threat level is removed, but to get there the community must stand with the police and demonstrate there is no space for terrorism in Northern Ireland in 2023," he said.
Donaldson urged the UK government to make good on a commitment to help fund the hiring of 7,500 extra police officers in the territory.
Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill, who is set to become first minister if power-sharing is restored, said there is "no place or space for paramilitary groups".
"They must go," she tweeted.
'Noah's wounds were not survivable': Parents allow detailed view of AR-15 carnage
On Monday morning, The Washington Post published a series of 3D animations to show "how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart."
A few hours later, a 28-year-old shooter armed with two assault rifles and a handgun killed six people at a private Christian school in Nashville.
In the wake of that massacre—the 129th mass shooting in the United States in 2023—the Post's exposé has received sustained attention, with one person calling it "the most powerful article you will read this week" and another characterizing it as "one of the most important pieces of journalism ever produced."
Noting that the lethal wounds caused by AR-15s "are rarely seen" by the public, the newspaper demonstrated "the trajectory of two different hypothetical gunshots to the chest—one from an AR-15 and another from a typical handgun—to explain the greater severity of the damage caused by the AR-15."
Then, after obtaining permission from the parents of two school shooting victims, a team of visual reporters created 3D models to depict how bullets fired from "many mass killers' weapon of choice" obliterated their children's bodies.
Noah Ponzer was one of the 26 people who were killed by an AR-15-wielding gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. The 6-year-old was shot three times.
"Noah's wounds were not survivable," the Post reported, citing 2019 court testimony from Wayne Carver, who was the state's chief medical examiner at the time.
Peter Wang was one of 17 people murdered when an attacker armed with an AR-15 opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. The 15-year-old was shot 13 times.
As the Post reported: "The combined energy of those bullets created exit wounds so 'gaping' that the autopsy described his head as 'deformed.' Blood and brain splatter were found on his upper body and the walls. That degree of destruction, according to medical experts, is possible only with a high-velocity weapon."
"This is the trauma witnessed by first responders—but rarely, if ever, seen by the public or the policymakers who write gun laws," the newspaper noted.
Instead, many GOP lawmakers glorify assault rifles, including U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), whose congressional district is home to the Nashville school where Monday's deadly shooting took place.
Another right-wing member of Tennessee's congressional delegation—Republican Rep. Tim Burchett—baldly stated that "we're not gonna fix it" just hours after the shooting.
There are more guns than people in the United States. Due to National Rifle Association-bankrolled Republicans' opposition to meaningful gun safety laws—bolstered by a 2022 ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court's reactionary majority—it is relatively easy for people to purchase firearms in many states.
Two years ago, Tennessee became one of several states that allow most adults to carry handguns without a permit.
There have been thousands of mass shootings since Noah and more than two dozen other individuals suffered gruesome deaths at Sandy Hook, including last year's slaughter at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, among hundreds of others. Research shows that U.S. states with weaker gun control laws and higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of mass shootings.
Research also shows that gun regulations with high levels of public support, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, help reduce the number and severity of fatal mass shootings.
Guns recently became the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States. A study published last year found that roughly 26,000 kids could still be alive today if the U.S. had the same gun mortality rate as Canada.
Donald Trump raised eyebrows with a pair of posts on his Truth Social platform suggesting some type of deal he had reached with the Internal Revenue Service.
The former president criticized the purported visit by an IRS agent to Substack writer Matt Taibbi's home the day he voluntarily testified before Congress on the alleged "weaponization" of the federal government, saying the move was "just plain dangerous and stupid."
"But even more dangerous & stupid is the way they have handled me, leaking information (which is illegal!) &, making a deal & then breaking it for strictly political reasons," the ex-president posted in all capital letters. "I had a 'done deal' before running for president -- they broke it! Treated worse than Tea Party & evangelicals."
IN OTHER NEWS: Tempers flare at Tennessee Capitol in aftermath of Nashville school shooting: report
The House Ways and Means Committee issued a report in December, following a yearslong fight to obtain his tax records, that found the IRS had failed to pursue mandatory audits of him on a timely basis during his presidency, although congressional investigators produced no evidence Trump had directly discouraged the agency from reviewing his taxes.
"I could have easily made a very good deal with the IRS during my 4 years as President, but thought it inappropriate to do so," Trump posted. "Besides, I already had a deal from before my Presidency -- A deal which they choose not to honor. So now I am demanding the original deal, without late changes in the rules & regulations so that deal would be harder to make. Most people would say that after watching the Biden family take advantage of government, I should have made deal during my term. To me, CONFLICT."