Facebook’s facial recognition tool faces class action suit over mishandling biometric data

Facebook’s misuse of their users’ biometric information could potentially amount to billions of dollars in damages after a federal judge greenlighted an Illinois class action suit against the firm’s facial recognition feature.

Facebook violated an Illinois state law by improperly using their photo-scanning and facial recognition technologies and storing biometric data without their users’ consent, a federal judge in California ruled on Monday, after reviewing a 2015 claim made against Facebook by three Illinois plaintiffs.

In his ruling, US District Judge James Donato determined that the “claims are sufficiently cohesive to allow for a fair and efficient resolution on a class basis.” The judge also noted that there is enough evidence to suggest that Facebook violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), enacted in 2008, which forbids companies from profiting from a person’s biometric information.

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A 3D-printed Facebook Like symbol is displayed inverted in front of a U.S. flag in this illustration taken, March 18, 2018. © Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Now, millions of Facebook users in the state of Illinois can seek up to $ 5,000 for each time the company’s “Tag Suggestions” feature was used to mark them in a photo without their explicit consent. The class suit can accommodate all “Facebook users located in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011,” the judge noted.

Facebook, which tried to get the case thrown out, said it was reviewing the ruling. “We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously,” the company said in a statement.

Monday’s ruling will likely impact the Silicon Valley giant, which has already lost billions of dollars in wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where some 87 million Facebook users had their personal data ‘mishandled’ and shared with a third party.

“As more people become aware of the scope of Facebook’s data collection and as consequences begin to attach to that data collection, whether economic or regulatory, Facebook will have to take a long look at its privacy practices and make changes consistent with user expectations and regulatory requirements,” Shawn Williams, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told Bloomberg.

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'US knew there were no toxins & risked nothing' – chemical experts on Syria strike

The US must have been well aware that there were no chemical stockpiles at Syrian facilities the coalition destroyed in their ‘retaliatory’ strike, Russian chemical weapons experts told RT, noting the absence of toxic emissions.

Announcing the early Saturday morning missile strikes, the American-British-French coalition asserted that their forces were targeting compounds associated with Syria’s alleged chemical weapons stockpiles. Now, after the dust settled, serious questions arise about the actual presence of any hazardous substances at these sites, including the bombed-out scientific facility in the Barzeh district in northern Damascus.

“This scientific research center has been inspected for several times by experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW], moreover, a decision was taken to carry out such inspections twice a year,” Anton Utkin, a Russian chemical weapons expert and former UN inspector in Iraq, told RT.

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The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018 © Omar Sanadiki

The chemical weapons watchdog’s representatives found no traces of poisonous substances inside the center, even though it was inspected “upside down, in and out.” The only reason why the Barzeh compound was put on the radar is that “residues of amines were found there,” Utkin said, explaining further that amines are not chemical weapons or nerve agents themselves, but just substances that may potentially be used as “stabilizers” in chemical weapons production.

However, since the facility in question was subject to a detailed inspection, “the Americans knew there were no chemical weapons,” Utkin emphasized. Therefore, the expert suggested, by targeting the Barzeh facility, the US-led coalition were apparently trying “to destroy Syria’s scientific capabilities as the center was pursuing various civilian-use [research] objectives.”

“Nevertheless, the strike was carried out, and the Americans knew they were risking nothing as there could be no emission of chemical weapons from this center,” he said.

If anything, the US-led strike become a major blow to the Chemical Weapons Convention – a 1997 agreement to which the US is a party – the expert argued. “All this is written down in the convention, namely how to act, how to carry out an investigation, etc,” Utkin continued, adding that Americans seem to prefer to rely on media speculations rather than established facts.

Previously, Washington claimed it had compelling evidence of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, obtained through browsing social media and other open sources – as well as classified intelligence which cannot be released. The ‘retaliatory’ missile strike came several hours before OPCW inspectors were scheduled to visit the site of the chemical incident to begin their probe.

“Well, this is at least ridiculous,” Utkin said, comparing the situation to a TV show “in which some psychics say they can tell you what happened to victims of criminal offences judging by their photographs.”

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FILE PHOTO A militray airfield in Syria. © Dmitry Vinogradov

The expert said the OPCW fact-finding mission has fairly good chances to verify if chemical weapons were actually used in Douma – or stored at the sites struck by the coalition. Collecting blood and urine samples from those allegedly injured, as well as studying their symptoms, will be crucial, as traces of chlorine or any other chemical warfare agent remain in the human body for several weeks.

Professor Valery Petrosyan, a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and former UN chemical security expert, echoed Utkin’s assessment. “It is obvious that if the strikes targeted stockpiles of chlorine or some nerve agents, there would have been a release [of such gases],” he said. It means that “either the missiles missed their targets, or such stockpiles do not exist at all.”

Earlier, an engineer at the Barzeh facility told RT Arabic that the labs were making medicine and testing toys for safety. “You can see for yourself that nothing has happened. I’ve been here since 5:00 a.m. No signs of weapons-grade chemicals,” he said. The researcher said he had worked at the facility for decades, and it used to develop medicine and household chemicals. The engineer confirmed that OPCW inspectors “several times visited the site with a thorough inspection.”

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Israeli court indicts Jewish man who dreamed of ‘decapitating Arab babies’

An Israeli man has been indicted for inciting both anti-Israeli and anti-Palestinian hatred in his Facebook posts. In the most notorious of them, he described his vivid dream of “decapitating” Arab babies with a butcher knife.

Between 2012 and 2017, Petah Tikva resident Zohar Zuaretz issued a barrage of Facebook posts urging more than one thousand of his followers to attack and kill Palestinians. The man also lashed out against the Israeli security forces over their alleged lack of commitment to protecting the Jews.

Zuaretz’s messages were not left unnoticed by the Israeli authorities. On Monday, the State Attorney’s Office charged the 33-year-old with multiple counts of incitement to violence and racism. The Israeli was also charged with supporting the Kach extremist group, a radical Orthodox Jewish, ultranationalist party banned in Israel in 1994.

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli Policemen stand guard in Jerusalem  © Pedro Ugarte

In one his most shocking posts, Zuaretz bragged about having a “rosiest” dream where he “decapitates” Arab babies at a maternity ward with a butcher knife.

Calling the Arab political party in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, “inconceivable,” in another post, the man urged his Facebook followers to “burn” the Arabs and the “leftist” Israelis.

“A true Jew will not join this evil and heretical army. Go and do things alone,” he wrote in another post, calling on Orthodox Jews to start a rebellion. “I expect all the soldiers… to aim their weapons in the right direction.”

Besides urging the Israeli settlers to have the courage to “load a weapon and spray the evil policemen and soldiers,” Zuaretz, at the same time, tagged Israeli law enforcement vehicles and public buses with anti-Arab messages.

After reviewing the charges against the Petah Tikva man, on Monday, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said that Zuaretz poses a “clear risk of continuing criminal offenses on the internet, which would endanger the security of the Arab public and security forces.”

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As WaPo & NYT win Pulitzers for ‘Russiagate’ coverage, Mueller warns of fake news

Newspapers openly opposed to President Donald Trump were just honored with prestigious US media awards for their “Russiagate” coverage, even as Special Counsel Robert Mueller warned about fake news about his probe.

The Pulitzer Prize is named after a 19th-century media mogul Joseph Pulitzer, a pioneer of yellow journalism who endowed a graduate school of journalism at New York’s Columbia University. It is the most prestigious media award in the US.

On Monday, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded the staff of the New York Times and the Washington Post in the “National Reporting” category, for their “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage… that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.”

The two papers’ coverage has certainly been relentless and their almost entirely anonymous sources, who were so deep that they give the term “Deep State” a whole new meaning. Both the Post and the Times had endorsed Hillary Clinton, and never really got over her loss in November 2016, and quickly latched onto her accusations that it was somehow the fault of Russia and its “collusion” with Trump. 

None other than James Comey once openly disputed the NY Times’ coverage of the FBI’s Russia investigation. That was when he was still the FBI director and the Democrats’ designated villain, however. After he got fired by Trump, Comey overnight became a hero of the “Resistance.”

Comey’s firing led to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel. To date, precisely zero evidence has been produced of any links between Trump and Russia, either through the initial FBI investigation of the subsequent probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Even the indictment of 13 so-called Russian trolls in February explicitly ruled out any wrongdoing by US persons.

Earlier on Monday, before the Pulitzers were announced, a spokesperson for Mueller’s team said that many of the stories about the probe “have been inaccurate.”

“Be very cautious about any source that claims to have knowledge about our investigation and dig deep into what they claim before reporting on it. If another outlet reports something, don’t run with it unless you have your own sourcing to back it up,” the spokesman told the Daily Caller and the Washington Times.

Though no specific stories were named in the comment, the warning came after a story by McClatchy News that claimed Mueller had evidence that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had visited Prague in 2016, as claimed in the notorious Steele Dossier.

The Washington Times accused Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the dossier for the Clinton campaign, of being behind the McClatchy story, adding that Fusion has “long-standing relationships” with the Post, the New York Times and CNN.

Aside from the two conservative-leaning outlets, Mueller’s warning fell on deaf ears. Instead, the Pulitzers were greeted as validation of their political activism since the 2016 election. For example, former Obama aide Ned Price gloated about the awards going to stories that Trump has been “on the wrong side” of.

This was reinforced by the Pulitzer Board’s decision to reward the Washington Post’s activism as investigative reporting. The Post won a Pulitzer for “purposeful and relentless reporting that changed the course of a Senate race in Alabama” by “revealing a candidate’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls.”

Notice the “alleged” here. The accusations against Judge Roy Moore pushed by the Post were never proven, or even discussed, in a court of law. Instead, the entire sordid spectacle played out in the court of public opinion until the special election narrowly went to Democrat Doug Jones, whom the Post had endorsed.

READ MORE: Attorney-client privilege a thing of the past’ – Trump blasts FBI in latest Twitter tirade

Meanwhile, one of the Post’s point men on the “Russiagate” story, Adam Entous, was caught on tape by conservative guerilla filmmakers from Project Veritas, saying that “there’s no evidence… that I’ve seen so far” of Trump being in league with the Russians and calling the whole affair a “crapshoot.”

The Post also had to retract the story claiming that “Russia hacked the Vermont power grid,” a typical example of the paper’s coverage for which it just won a Pulitzer. Fortunately for the Post, that particular story was ineligible for consideration, having been published on December 31, 2016.

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‘Rogue faction’ led by US, France & UK made a mockery of intl law in Syria – analysts

Slumping approval ratings and demoralized terrorists were among the largest benefactors of Saturday’s tripartite missile strikes against Syria, while parliament and international law lost ‘bigly,’ journalists and MPs told RT.

“What the West is doing is playing into the hands of terrorists that have been terrorizing Syria for seven, eight years now,” Mike Raddie, co-Editor of BSNews, told RT in reaction to the April 14 strikes. “So every time the West launches an attack, terrorists from within the country benefit from it. And they’re the only people who benefit from it.”

READ MORE: ‘No release of chemicals is best proof there were none’ – employee of bombed Syrian research site

Patrick Henningsen, the executive editor of 21stCenturyWire.com, said that the missile salvo launched by the United States, France and Britain also served to drum up public support for the faltering Western governments back home. According to Henningsen, US President Donald Trump “learned that you can get a bounce in the polls by taking some strong public military action, and certainly he did get that last year, he got that again this year.”

Bogged down by the seemingly endless Russia collusion accusations, Trump was desperate for some positive news coverage, Henningsen argued. “Donald Trump knows that if you declare war, you bomb a country, especially in the Middle East, that you will get the support of MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS –all the mainstream media outlets will line up behind the president and call him ‘presidential,’” Henningsen told RT. “These are the same people who have been attacking him over Russiagate over the last 18 months. That shows you how shallow the American media and political complex is.”

Trump may be particularly susceptible to negative media coverage – and desirous of a more cooperative, approving press – because the president “projects a sort of confidence, but I think he’s tremendously insecure,” Henningsen added.

Putin: History pinned blame on US for ‘bloody carnage’ in Yugoslavia & Iraq, same will be with Syria

The strikes were carried out by a “rogue faction within the UN Security Council” which has made a mockery of international law,” Henningsen noted.

Others who spoke with RT about the strikes agreed, pointing out that transparency and the rule of law took a pounding from the missile attack.

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FILE PHOTO: French president Emmanuel Macron and British prime minister Theresa May © Deros Anders

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to not seek parliamentary approval for the attack sets a dangerous precedent, Raddie told RT, adding that since the Thatcher years, Parliament has always been consulted before taking military action.

“And at least that means there is a debate, the evidence – if there is any – is publicized, and it’s discussed in Parliament openly and transparently. None of that has happened,” Raddie said. “The reason is because there is no evidence. Theresa May is now citing what she calls ‘open sources.’ We know who these open sources are – it’s Bellingcat, it’s the White Helmets, which is funded by the UK Foreign Office. So their own sources are themselves. So they couldn’t actually take a vote and publish that evidence because it would have looked absolutely ridiculous.”

He added that it was very revealing that the US and its allies chose to launch their missiles before the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had a chance to conduct its on-the-ground fact-finding mission in eastern Ghouta.

Andrej Hunko, a German MP from Die Linke, said that his left-leaning party condemned the strikes as a “breach of international law.”

“There was no European decision to be involved [in the attack], and this weakens as well the European foreign policy,” Hunko told RT.

READ MORE: Strike on Syria legitimate as 3 UNSC members acted – Macron

He noted that the majority of Germans “don’t want to be involved” in Syria, and called on Berlin to withdraw its forces from the country.

“There should be a return to international law, to rule-based international dealings,” Hunko said. “We are for strengthening international organizations, not putting them aside, like it was done [in this case].”

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Protests shut down Philadelphia Starbucks over arrests of black men

Protesters have taken over a Starbucks in Philadelphia to protest the arrest of two black men that were accused of trespassing at the coffee chain’s outlet last week.

Video showing the arrest of the two men went viral on Thursday after the store’s manager called police because the pair were sitting in the store without ordering anything. The two said they were waiting for a friend.

“We don’t want this Starbucks to make any money today. That’s our goal,” Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, one of the protest’s organizers and co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Collective, reportedly said.  

Protesters picketed outside the Starbucks before moving inside the store shortly after 7:00 am local time on Monday. They could reportedly be heard chanting “Starbucks coffee is anti-black” and “We are gonna shut you down” while holding banners reading “End Stop and Frisk,” referring to a controversial police practice.

“We’re politely allowing the protesters to speak and then [the baristas] will return to serving the community,” Camille Hymes, the company’s regional vice president told a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer. There were no baristas or staff on duty at the store.

READ MORE: Starbucks apologizes for coffee shop arrest of two black men (VIDEO)

The incident has heightened racial tensions in Philadelphia in recent days. Reverend Mark Tyler, pastor at Mother Bethel AME church, told the Inquirer that the arrest of the two men “demonstrates that if you’re black there’s nobody that’s safe.”

“You can’t do any less threatening as a black person than hanging out at Starbucks,” Tyler said. “It says to us that it doesn’t matter what you attain in this country, black people and black lives are treated with the same amount of disrespect.”

The incident has been a public relations disaster for the coffee chain. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson called the arrests a “reprehensible outcome.”  

READ MORE: Starbucks & co ordered to serve coffee in California with cancer warning

“I would like to have a dialogue with them to make sure we have the opportunity to really understand the situation and they can join me in finding constructive way to solve this issue,” he told ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ on Monday.

The store’s manager has now reportedly been fired, according to an ABC News  report.

Prosecutors declined to charge the two men, who have not yet been identified. They were released eight hours after their arrest. A video of the incident, posted to Twitter by Philadelphia native Melissa DePino, has been viewed more than 4 million times.

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Syrian air defenses respond to missiles over Homs province – state media

Syrian air defense systems have been activated in response to a missile attack apparently targeting Shayrat Airbase in Homs province, state media SANA reports.

Up to 10 missiles were destroyed by the Syrian Armed Forces, a military source told Sputnik. The Syrian air defenses managed to intercept some of the projectiles, according to a SANA reporter. Meanwhile, the Al Mayadeen news outlet is claiming that all the projectiles were intercepted and inflicted no physical damage or casualties at the targeted Syrian base.

The Pentagon has denied initiating strikes or conducting any other military activity in Homs province. “There is no US military activity in that area at this time,” the Pentagon’s spokesperson told Reuters. The same information was also shared with TASS news agency by Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.

According to yet unconfirmed reports, the missiles entered Syrian airspace from Lebanon, which may indicate that the Israeli Air Force could have been involved, Al-Masdar News reports, citing a military source. The outlet’s reporter also published several videos allegedly showing the launch of interceptor missiles.

While it remains unclear who launched the attack, the reported strike comes just days after Washington, London and Paris carried out a coordinated strike in Syria in the early hours of Saturday morning. It also comes roughly a week after two Israeli F-15 fighters targeted another Syria’s airbase in Homs province, Tiyas (also known as T-4 Airbase).


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Diane Abbott defends Syria airstrike tweet despite fake pic furore

Labour MP Diane Abbott has defended her use of a mock picture depicting an Israeli jet bombing Iran in a tweet regarding Syrian airstrikes, calling her critics “pathetic.”

The shadow home secretary took to Twitter on Monday to denounce the UK government’s decision to carry out an airstrike near Homs without Parliament’s approval.

In the tweet, Abbott said it was shocking to hear a Conservative Party politician support bypassing the UK Parliament with regards to military action in Syria. Abbott’s message, about Saturday morning’s coalition strikes against the Assad regime, included an image of a fighter jet bombing a town in daylight.

However, the picture has now been shown to be a composite image of Israeli F-15 aircraft blowing up buildings in Tehran. Indeed, the bombing never actually happened and it is a photoshopped picture, reportedly created by the military blog, The Aviationist.

A number Twitter denizens have since piled on to criticize and even mock the Labour MP’s choice of imagery. Abbott has since hit out at her critics, labelling them “pathetic.”

“Apparently my use of this pic is ‘important news’. Yes, UK goes to war without UN approval or even parliamentary debate. But the most important news is what pics I use in a tweet. Pathetic,” she said on Twitter.

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Troops on Mexican border can’t enforce immigration laws – California governor

After initially approving 400 troops for President Donald Trump’s border deployment plan, California Governor Jerry Brown has reportedly placed conditions on their use for immigration enforcement, angering federal officials.

Trump announced the deployment of the National Guard along the border in early April as part of a crackdown on illegal border crossings from Mexico. Until Congress approves funding for the construction of the border wall, the US president said, the military will help police the frontier.

The governors of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, all Republicans, have cooperated with the plan. Brown initially approved sending some 400 troops to the border, earning praise from Trump.

Brown’s proposal for the use of troops, however, excluded any activities that could be considered helping the US Border Patrol in immigration enforcement, AP reported Monday, citing anonymous “US officials with knowledge of the talks,” who were not authorized to discuss the matter.

As examples of tasks the governor was objecting to, AP listed vehicle repairs, operations of remotely controlled surveillance cameras, and clerical work such as payroll and fuel supply.

California National Guard spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Keegan told AP on Monday that the state had not rejected the troop deployment. Brown sent the federal government a Memorandum of Agreement outlining the restrictions on the use of troops, and is waiting for a response, Keegan said.

Talks between federal and California officials “soured” on Friday and over the weekend, AP reported, after the federal officials were presented with Brown’s document outlining the restrictions on troop functions. The anonymous officials who spoke to AP described the restrictions as “onerous.”

The governor reportedly wanted to focus more on drug and firearms smuggling and fighting transnational criminal gangs, suggesting the use of about 40 troops for marijuana eradication across California.

Dominated by Democrats, the state has been at the forefront of opposing Trump’s immigration policies since the very beginning of the president’s term. In October 2017, the state legislature adopted a bill declaring California a “sanctuary state,” barring officials from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has threatened businesses who cooperate with the federal government with fines and imprisonment.

In response, Trump floated the idea of withdrawing all immigration enforcement from California, saying the state would “beg” to have them back after the resulting crime wave. Eventually, however, he decided on deploying the National Guard in areas where the US Border Patrol said it needed support due to lack of the border wall.

Several wall prototypes were built south of San Diego, California, but Congress did not approve much in the way of wall funding in the $ 1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. Trump signed the bill to avoid a government shutdown, but his base was displeased by all the concessions to the opposition Democrats.

Trump campaigned on the platform of securing the border with Mexico and reforming the US immigration system. Last year, the White House proposed giving amnesty to 1.8 million immigrants in the US illegally in exchange for building the wall and abolishing “chain migration” and the diversity visa lottery. Democrats have denounced the proposal as “racist.”

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Real targets of US-led strike were Syrian airfields, not research centers – MoD

The US-led missile strike against Syria on Saturday targeted research centers and military facilities, including airfields, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, adding that none have received severe damage thanks to the air defenses.

“The real targets of the attacks of the US, Britain and France on April 14 were not only Barzah and Jaramani research facilities, but also Syrian military infrastructure, including airfields,” Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said during a briefing in Moscow. “None of the airfields suffered significant damage” in the attack due to being protected by the air defense systems, he added.

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© Nicholas Kamm

All of the US-led coalition missiles targeting the Duvali, Dumayr, Blai and Shayrat airfields were intercepted by the Syrian military, Konashenkov said. The Homs airfield was hit by three missiles out of the 13 that were fired at it, with five out of nine rockets downed before reaching the Mezzeh airbase, he added.

Washington and its allies also used 30 missiles against the much less protected Barzah and Jaramani research facilities, with only four of them being intercepted, the spokesman said.

The Syrian air defense required 112 surface-to-air missiles to bring down most of the 103 missiles launched against the country by the US, UK and France. The Russian-made Pantsir-S1 and Soviet-made S-125, S-200, Buk, Kvadrat and Osa systems, used by the Syrian military, intercepted a total 71 rockets, Konashenkov said.

During his appearance at a tax event in Florida on Monday, Donald Trump claimed that all of the coalition missiles fired at Syria hit their targets, with none of them being intercepted. The US president previously praised the attack, calling it “a perfectly executed strike” that “couldn’t have had a better result.”

The US and its allies carried out the massive missile attack on Syria on Saturday morning, firing more than 100 missiles on civilian and military facilities in the country. The Pentagon claimed that the attack targeted chemical weapons sites of the Syrian government, despite the fact Damascus had destroyed all of its chemical stockpiles in 2013 and 2014 under international supervision. The missile strike was called a response to an alleged use of poisonous gas in Douma on April 7, which the West blamed on Bashar Assad’s government.

READ MORE: Trump wanted to bomb Russian & Iranian targets amid Syria strikes – report

Damascus and Moscow rejected claims that the Syrian authorities may have been behind the chemical attack and questioned whether the attack indeed took place, calling for an immediate impartial probe. Russia also provided evidence, which it said shows and that the alleged incident was fabricated. Incidentally, the missile strikes occurred on the same day that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) experts arrived in Damascus to investigate the claims of a chemical attack.

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