Europe warned of possible attacks; Benin PM Lionel Zinsou escapes from helicopter crash; ISIS leader mocks coalition in rare message; ‘Star Wars’ smashes Christmas Day box office record; ‘Technically’ we have defeated Boko Haram . . .
Europe warned of possible attacks
Unnamed ‘friendly’ intelligence service: Several cities at risk
An unnamed “friendly” intelligence service has warned several European cities of possible terror attacks, according to a statement released Saturday by police in Vienna, Austria.
The attacks would involve explosives or guns and occur sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, according to the statement, which did not name the cities that have been warned.
The warning did include the names of several possible attackers the Vienna police have investigated without finding “concrete further results.”
“Overall, this is a lead, which stipulates a higher than general abstract state of danger,” the Vienna police said.
In response to the terror threat warning, Vienna and other police in Europe have heightened the security alert by increasing police observation and surveillance at public venues, especially at key events and high-traffic areas.
9th suspect in Paris terrorist attacks arrested in Belgium
Among the precautions, police will initiate more thorough security checks, ensure quick readiness in case of an emergency, and increase vigilance in terms of empty suitcases and bags, Vienna police said in the statement.
French National Police refused to comment on the warnings when contacted by CNN, but did say that more than 48,000 police officers are dedicated to security at sensitive sites during the school holidays from December 19 through January 4, and France plans to recruit 2,000 new police officers next month.
A Belgian prosecutor who serves as a government spokesman on terrorism issues also refused to comment when contacted by CNN.
CNN received no immediate responses to requests for comment from officials of European cities.
Benin PM Lionel Zinsou escapes from helicopter crash
Benin’s Prime Minister walked away unscathed after the helicopter in which he was travelling crashed in the country’s northwest, his daughter said.
It is unclear why the helicopter carrying Lionel Zinsou crash-landed in a stadium.
“My father is fine. There were no victims in the helicopter accident in Djougou,” Marie-Cecile Zinsou tweeted.
Earlier this month, Mr Zinsou confirmed he would run as a candidate in Benin’s 2016 presidential elections.
The helicopter crashed while landing at a stadium in the city of Djougou, a spokesman for Benin’s interior ministry Leonce Houngbadji told the AFP news agency.
He said no-one in the helicopter was hurt.
Mr Zinsou, a former private-equity executive, was appointed prime minister of Benin in June.
He has said he will run for president in February’s election as a candidate of the ruling Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party.
Reuters reported in early December that Mr Zinsou’s announcement put an end to speculation Benin’s president Thomas Boni Yayi was seeking a third term.
ISIS leader mocks coalition in rare message
ISIS leader purportedly tells fighters: ‘You are on the right path’
As ISIS fends off ground attacks around places like Ramadi and airstrikes by U.S., Russian and other forces, its leader purportedly fired back in an audio message that surfaced online Saturday, mocking the Western coalition aligned against him, threatening Israel and trying to boost his own forces’ morale.
“Soldiers of the Islamic State be patient because you are on the right path,” says the man, who is identified on ISIS-affiliated social media accounts as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “Be patient, because God is with you.”
CNN could not independently verify the man speaking is indeed Baghdadi, the much-reviled head of the group that calls itself the Islamic State.
He isn’t often heard from or seen, the last such example coming last May in a reported online audio statement — a reclusiveness that could be traced to the fact he’s a wanted man for leading fighters in carrying out atrocities and taking over swaths of Syria and Iraq, not to mention inspiring or pulling off attacks elsewhere in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Regardless, those who posted the audio message that appeared Saturday appeared to believe it came from Baghdadi. And it has a marker consistent with other ISIS media and was produced by the group’s al-Furqan Media wing.
It’s not clear when the 24-minute tape was recorded, as it makes no reference to recent ISIS-related operations such as the terror attacks in Paris or the downing of a Russian commercial jet out of Egypt.
The speech appears to focus mostly on ISIS fighters, trying to boost their spirits in the face of ongoing fighting, according to analysts.
Yet there are also references to the U.S.-led coalition, which has carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIS but has not dispatched combat troops — something that the man attributes to armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also promises a battle aimed at Israel and in support of Palestinians, who have been in conflict for centuries in the Middle East.
“The Jews think we forget about it and got distracted from it,” the ISIS leader purportedly said. “No, oh Jews. We have not forgotten Palestine and never will.”
‘Star Wars’ smashes Christmas Day box office record
The latest “Star Wars” film has smashed yet another box office record, raking in $49.3 million on Christmas Day in North America — the highest total ever on the holiday, industry figures showed Saturday.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” easily bested the previous Christmas Day record take of $24.6 million set by “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey, Jr, which opened on December 25, 2009.
“‘Star Wars’ continues to be a bright, shining beacon of light at the box office,” Jeff Bock of industry tracker Exhibitor Relations told AFP by email.
So far, “The Force Awakens” — the highly anticipated seventh installment in the blockbuster space saga — has taken in a whopping $890.3 million worldwide, with $440.4 million in the United States alone, Bock said.
‘Star Wars – The Force Awakens’ . AFP
The film has received mostly glowing reviews, and is being credited with breathing new life into the Hollywood juggernaut franchise launched by creator George Lucas in 1977.
It had already set a number of other box office records — highest-grossing domestic opening night, biggest domestic single-day sales and biggest global opening weekend.
As far as all-time box office sales, two films by James Cameron hold the record — “Avatar” ($2.79 billion) and “Titanic” ($2.19 billion) — and it is expected that “The Force Awakens” might unseat both.
‘Technically’ we have defeated Boko Haram – Buhari
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari says his country has “technically won the war” against Islamist Boko Haram militants.
In an interview with the BBC, he said the militant group could no longer mount “conventional attacks” against security forces or population centres, and were reduced to setting off explosive devices and remained a force only in their heartland of Borno state.
President Buhari had given the army until the end of this year to defeat the group. Critics say the government has exaggerated the scale of its success.