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A commander in Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has said that the Persian Gulf is “under the full control” of Iran’s military and US ships are “not a concern,” even as the US claimed victory in the Iran standoff.

“Over the years, our forces have completely surrounded the Persian Gulf, so that they (the Americans) need our permission to move in this area,” Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of the IRGC, said on Wednesday, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency.

Washington would likely dispute Fadavi’s claim that Iran has the Lincoln – a 100,000 ton behemoth carrying 90 aircraft and multiple batteries of missiles – under control, but the United States has made similar claims itself during the recent standoff.

Fresh from threatening the “official end of Iran” on Sunday, Trump seemed to reverse course on Monday, declaring there was “no indication that anything is happening or will happen,” presumably pleasing the almost two-thirds of Americans who oppose preemptive strikes on Iran, and sorely disappointing hawkish adviser John Bolton.

Washington swiftly got to work spinning the statement, with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan crediting the carrier deployment with scaring the Iranians into compliance, a statement remarkably similar to Fadavi’s boastful claim.

“Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate,” Shanahan said on Tuesday.

Tehran has parried Washington’s threats with pronouncements of its own. IRGC aerospace head Amirali Hajideh said last week that the presence of US ships in the region presented “opportunities” for Iran to test its missiles. Days earlier, Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai-Nejad warned Washington that a single missile from Iran could easily sink its “billion dollar fleet.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader dismissed the threat of open conflict between Iran and the US.

“There won’t be any war,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week, even as the US announced its military build-up. “We don’t seek a war, and they don’t either,” he added, insisting that the Americans are well aware that a military confrontation with Iran is “not in their interests.”

Despite the saber-rattling, the precise nature of the “credible threats” cited by Washington officials was never revealed.

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Mainstream news outlets have eagerly reported on a study by the Avaaz campaign group, claiming far-right disinformation groups have been spreading fake news in the lead up to EU elections — but is the group all that it seems?

The Avaaz network bills itself as social action group bringing “people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere” and it’s latest study claims that more than 500 suspicious groups and Facebook pages are operating across major EU countries and spreading election disinformation to boost far-right and anti-EU parties ahead of crucial parliamentary elections.

The disinformation networks, Avaaz claimed, are even more popular than the pages belonging to official right-wing and anti-establishment groups and parties — and that they have been engaged in everything from sharing white supremacist content to Holocaust denial.

Outlets from the Washington Post in the US to the Guardian in the UK have reported on the study, which was released just days before Europeans go to the polls — but reading the reports gives a clear impression that Avaaz is a non-partisan and independent group, when the reality is much different. Avaaz is not simply studying these elections, it is actively campaigning.

While Avaaz claims it accepts no money from governments or corporations, it is tied to other social action groups Res Publica and (which has been partly funded by left-wing Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros) — and its co-founders, Ricken Patel and Tom Perriello, have a history of supporting a US imperialist agenda. Patel has previously worked for the US State Department and Amnesty International, while Perriello is a former US congressman who voted in favor of continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soros was also a major campaign contributor to Perriello. Is this really the kind of political action group that should be cited by the media without proper context?

Independent journalists have had suspicions about Avaaz’s own activity for years, noting its strong pro-establishment and globalist leanings, which have even translated into outward support for US regime change wars around the world. When the group is not pushing for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria, or agitating for regime change in Venezuela and Iran, it is actively supporting centrist, neoliberal political figures across the EU and US. Patel told the EUobserver last year that the “majority” of people across Europe “stand with” German Chancellor Angela Merkel and has also actively supported French President Emmanuel Macron with online videos and petitions.

While Avaaz is seemingly very concerned with the plight of citizens in places like Venezuela and Iran (it was also actively involved in promoting Iran’s ‘Green Revolution’ in 2009), it appears to be less concerned with the lives of ordinary Europeans. The group has targeted the anti-Macron Yellow Vest movement in France and framed the protesters easy targets for spreading “fake news” — and to put the icing on the cake, blamed the swift spread of this alleged fake news on Russia, another of Avaaz’s favorite targets.

Indeed, unsurprisingly, media reporting on so-called election meddling ahead of EU elections has taken on an anti-Russia hue, with many suggesting that disinformation groups are simply ‘copying Russian tactics’ from the 2016 US election, when the Democratic Party claimed Russian disinformation campaigns were a major factor in Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump — a claim for which there remains exactly zero evidence.

One of these reports on the alleged copycat tactics quotes Ben Nimmo, a former NATO press officer, cited with regularity by mainstream journalists as though he is an impartial source. Like clockwork, Nimmo popped up ahead of the EU elections to claim that “domestic actors” across Europe are now simply “doing what the Russians had already been doing” — because it’s easier to blame Russia for social discord in Europe than failed leadership and unpopular policies.

Once again, it appears that many of the groups claiming to help people recognize fake news online are some of the biggest and sneakiest purveyors of disinformation themselves — and they are frequently promoted by mainstream news outlets — if they are selling the correct narrative, that is.

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Mainstream media continue to quote the founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge as credible experts on Russian disinformation tactics, even after the firm was exposed by the New York Times for having run its own disinformation campaign during a 2017 Alabama senate race. The New Knowledge crowd set up fake Russian social media accounts to ‘support’ one candidate and then worked to publicly brand him as Moscow’s pick.

By not even mentioning Avaaz’s own sketchy links, and very clear political leanings, Western news reports citing its studies as completely credible and independent are simply engaging in their own kind of disinformation.

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The United Nations has ordered Britain to give up sovereignty over a series of tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, home to a key military base. The decision was approved by a supermajority of member states.

Wednesday’s resolution called on the UK to cede control of the Chagos Islands, which it said were unlawfully annexed from the Republic of Mauritius, then a British colony, in 1965. The General Assembly gave Britain six months to leave.

An extended legal battle over the territory culminated in a ruling last February in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top UN body for inter-state disputes. The court ordered Britain to leave Chagos “as rapidly as possible,” but the decision was ignored, prompting Mauritius to turn to the General Assembly for another vote.

The latest resolution was adopted with the overwhelming support of 116 countries, with just four nations joining Britain and the United States in opposition. Seventy-one states either abstained or didn’t cast a vote.

Britain granted Mauritius independence in 1968, but held onto the Chagos archipelago. Between 1967 and 1973, the UK expelled the majority of the Chagos population to make way for a massive military complex on the atoll of Diego Garcia, which is today leased out to the United States.

The Diego Garcia atoll. ©Reuters / Stringer

American and British officials were not pleased with the decision.

“The United Kingdom is disappointed by the results in the General Assembly today,” British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce said in a statement, arguing that the number of abstentions “underscores the fact that states have concerns about the precedent that this resolution is setting.”

Pierce’s American colleague Jonathan Cohen responded in much the same way, saying the island’s “status as a UK territory is essential to … our shared security interests.”

However, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth said he was ready to offer the US and UK unhindered access to Diego Garcia, meaning that the two powers are unlikely to give up the base.

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UK Chagos Support, an advocacy group, was somewhat critical of the move, insisting that “no decisions over the future of the islands should be taken without input from the Chagossian [people] themselves.”

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A month after deadly terror attacks in Sri Lanka killed over 250 Christians celebrating Easter, investigators have revealed that the bombs used in the attack show the attackers had direct contact with Islamic State terrorists.

The backpack bombs detonated in three churches and three hotels across Sri Lanka on April 21 were constructed by local jihadists from the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) group, but utilized the expertise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists, investigators told AFP.

The link was established after the probe found triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, present at the attack sites. Due to its extreme volatility, IS militants call the explosive, which can be produced from readily available ingredients, the “Mother of Satan.

The substance was used in several attacks claimed by IS, including the 2015 bombings in Paris and the 2017 attack in Brussels.

While it is evident that IS played a role in preparing the bomb for the attack in Sri Lanka, investigators still want to know just how deep the ties go. The Sri Lankan who led the Easter attacks, Zahran Hashim, traveled to India before becoming a suicide bomber. He also appeared in the IS video that claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.

The probe has also confirmed that 220 pounds of raw TATP were seized in January, indicating that the government had even more warning signs than they previously let on. Sri Lankan security agencies had been warned by Indian and US intelligence about possible terrorist acts against churches, but apparently failed to act on the information.

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Guy Verhofstadt’s bombastic Twitter video, challenging Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini to a debate, has drawn more than a few chuckles from commenters who don’t believe the Belgian MEP can deliver on his words.

Verhofstadt, who is currently campaigning for the European Union’s top job on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group, released the awkward video in which he accuses Salvini of “being paid by Putin to destroy Europe.”

“Just like you, your extreme right-wing friends, Le Pen, Strache, Farage and Orban are constantly plotting and paid by Putin to destroy Europe,” the 66-year-old said.

“Hereby I challenge you to a one-on-one debate, as people have the full right to know what devil’s plan you have in mind,” he added.

The overwhelming majority of the respondents don’t fancy Verhofstadt’s chances should the mooted debate ever occur.

“It is not too wise to initiate a debate you are clearly going to lose,” one person responded. Another asked: “Why would he waste the very last days of campaigning to debate someone nobody in Italy knows?”

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Many others joked that the MEP had hit the bottle before throwing the gauntlet down.

Verhofstadt’s challenge came after Salvini joined a group of representatives of nationalist parties from a range of EU countries at a rally in Milan on Saturday, ahead of the EU parliamentary elections this weekend.

Euroskeptic parties are polling well ahead of the vote and look set to gain seats at the expense of the Parliament’s main groups, including Verhofsdtad’s ALDE.

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The far side of the moon is weirder than we previously thought and new research indicates that, in the distant past, the moon could have faced off against an unknown object in a massive collision that changed its face.

On the near side that faces Earth, we can see large dark areas of volcanic basalt dotting the lunar landscape. Meanwhile, on the dark side, thanks to the Soviet probe Luna 3 which orbited the Moon in 1959, we know that surface is riddled with thousands upon thousands of craters.

While many might posit that the Earth has simply protected the near side from aeons of meteorite impacts, new research suggests that the real answer may not be so simple (the Earth is too far from the moon to provide enough anti-meteor defense anyway).

Analysis of data from 2012 reveals that the dark side of the moon has an extra-thick crust (some 20km or 12.5 miles deep) which contains a 10km thick layer of magnesium and iron enriched material not found on the near side.

Previous theories suggested our moon may actually have been formed when two smaller moons merged.

Another popular theory is that a particularly large asteroid, known as a planemo, slammed into the moon, and this latest research indicates this might be the real reason our satellite looks so odd.

Researchers, led by astrophysicist Meng Hua Zhu of the Macau University of Science and Technology, ran computer simulations of 360 impact scenarios to see if they could recreate the moon’s particularly unusual asymmetry and, in one of the tests, involving an object 780km (480-mile) in diameter, they managed just that.

This object, roughly a quarter of the moon’s size, would had to have packed quite a punch, travelling at some 22,500kph (14,000mph). A slightly smaller object, 720km across and travelling at 24,500kph, could also have done the trick but in both cases the effects would be the same: a massive, dusty impact which would dramatically reshape the moon forevermore, shifting its crust and creating a five to 20km deep crust of previously foreign material. Quite the black eye.

The estimated time this celestial smash might have taken place would had to have been early enough in the solar system’s life for the Moon to have still been warm inside, allowing it to settle back into a rounded shape, erasing the giant impact crater in the process.

“This is a paper that will be very provocative,”said planetary scientist Steve Hauck of Case Western Reserve University. The research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

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Iraq will send diplomatic delegations to both Tehran and Washington, its prime minister has said, after weeks of military posturing and insult trading has prompted fears of open conflict between the two rivals.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said the teams’ aim was to help “halt tensions” between the US and Iran. It’s not an official mediation though. Iraq considers both Iran and the US as allies, with both giving substantial support to Baghdad in its battle against Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists.

“Iraq is making high-level contact, and its view to resolve the crisis is so close to the European view,” Mahdi said, referring to many European nations’ who want normalized relations with Iran. He added that both US and Iranian officials had confirmed to him that they do not want conflict with each other.

Mahdi’s push for de-escalation follows calls by several influential Iraqi Shia leaders against any military action. Prominent cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr feared a US-Iran conflict would be “the end of Iraq” and pushed for “peace and reconstruction.” Hadi al-Amiri, an Iraqi politician and former military commander warned that war would “burn everyone.”Delete

Governments in the region have been on high alert in recent weeks after Washington upped its military presence by sending a “message to Iran” in the form of an aircraft carrier group, bombers, and extra missile defenses to the Persian Gulf. Iran has repeatedly said it does not want conflict with Washington, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei believing there is a similar line of thinking in the US.

“Neither we nor they seek war. They know it will not be in their interest,” he said.

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Le Pen’s National Rally is likely to be tied with “lobbyists close to the American government,” the French president claimed as polls show his party is losing support just days ahead of the European Parliament vote.

Recent polls show Macron’s party La République En Marche (LREM) is trailing behind Le Pen’s right-wing National Rally and the president chose to lash out once again at its main rival.

Macron’s fresh rant was triggered by the figure of Steve Bannon, a former Trump’s advisor, whom French media suspect of backing the National Rally’s campaign. Bannon, who is currently visiting Paris, insists he came as an “observer” but the president clearly feels it is not the whole story.

“I see for the first time a collusion between the nationalists and foreign interests, whose objective is the dismantling of Europe,” Macron said on Monday, adding that Bannon is a “lobbyist close to the American government.”

Macron’s words were preceded by harsh remarks by his fellow party members. Nathalie Loiseau, LREM’s top contender for the upcoming election earlier said that Bannon “absolutely does not hide his desire” to interfere into the elections while National Rally members are trained according to the “Bannon method” which implies “disinformation” and “lies.” Apart from this Macron’s former political consultant and number six in the LREM list Stéphane Séjourné called Bannon’s actions “an attack on the sovereignty of elections.”

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen (while admitting that she previously used Bannon’s services as a political adviser) indicated that he “plays no role” in the current campaign. Bannon, for his part, clarified that at times he acts as an “informal adviser” who only “makes remarks to certain parties and gives advice on fundraising,” but doesn’t get paid for that.

Pressure on Eurosceptic parties across Europe is high in the final days of the electoral campaign. On Monday, a prominent liberal EP lawmaker and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt accused Marine Le Pen and four other right-wing politicians of being “paid by Putin” to destroy the EU.

The politician also urged to support the pro-European parties in order not to let “our continent become a playground for Trump & Putin’s puppets.”

The price for the US-made F16 jet fighters is “higher than expected” and “unjustified,” the Bulgarian defense minister has said as Sofia continues negotiations on the purchase of the Lockheed Martin’s warplanes.

While the price issue is not currently on the table, officials in Bulgaria think the terms of the deal are disadvantageous for Sofia. That’s according to Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov who made the point as he was speaking on local TV.

The deal is loaded with options for which it makes no sense to pay, the official lamented giving an example of language training for pilots. These courses are obsolete as all pilots have already been trained in the US, the minister said.

He also said that Bulgaria will try to bargain the deferred payment for the US aircraft as the single-time purchase would be a heavy burden to the country’s military budget that could hamper proper funding of the existing projects.

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The F-16 talks kicked off in January as Bulgarian lawmakers approved the government plan to buy eight new US fighter jets, which are expected to replace the country’s aging MIG-29s. The deal, estimated to be worth $1.05 billion will mark the country’s biggest military procurement since the collapse of the Communist rule back in 1989.

The US offer for F-16s was preferred by Bulgaria over two alternative bids, including Sweden’s new Gripens and Italy’s second-hand Eurofighters. Karakachanov earlier said that unlike the Italian and Swedish variants, the F-16 fighter jets do not need additional agreements for supplies of the necessary weaponry.

Meanwhile, many politicians in Bulgaria, including President Rumen Radev, have criticized the decision in favor of the US aircraft. Radev who previously served as a commander of the Bulgarian air force slammed the deal for the lack of transparency calling it a “triumph of lobbying.” He also noted that the maintenance of F-16s will cost twice as much as their acquisition and will place excessive demand on the military budget.

A database containing contact details and records of more than 49 million Instagram users, including popular food bloggers and celebrities, has been leaked online by an Indian marketing company, which somehow obtained the list.

Instagram has long transformed from a photo sharing social network into an ad app on which “influencers” – users with thousands of followers – promote products and services for money or barter.

READ MORE: Facebook helps phone companies gather user data, including their ‘creditworthiness’ – report

Now it has emerged that millions of phone numbers, email addresses, photographs, numbers of followers and prices per post of such users were dumped unprotected for anyone to view, IT news site TechCrunch reported.

Journalists found out that the database was linked to social media marketing company Chtrbox, located in Mumbai. It describes itself as “the leading platform for brands to discover and collaborate with all kinds of talented influencers in India,” which means it pays social media celebrities for posting sponsored content.

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None of the listed influencers contacted by TechCrunch, however, could confirm they had a contract with Chtrbox.

The firm refused to comment on the story, but soon after the request, the database was closed. Facebook, which owns Instagram, said that it was looking into the issue “to understand if the data described – including email and phone numbers – was from Instagram or from other sources.”

For Facebook users, the revelation probably didn’t come as a big surprise as the company has recently apologized for several data leaks and has been accused of privacy breaches. In April, it emerged that some 48 million people had their personal details exposed after a data search firm left a huge collection of profiles unprotected in an Amazon cloud service dump. In March, Facebook admitted that a billion users’ passwords had been kept unprotected on the company’s servers for almost a decade.

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