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Rape trial of Indian ‘godman’ triggers security lockdown

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The trial of a self-styled Indian “godman” accused of rape has triggered a security lockdown, with police closing schools and converting a cricket stadium into a jail in case his followers erupt into violence if he is found guilty.

Thousands of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s supporters have begun assembling close to the court in the state of Punjab, where he is on trial for raping two women in cases that date back to 2002 . A verdict is expected on Friday.

“The verdict could lead to potential large-scale unrest and violence,” Ajay Kumar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, in Panchkula city, told Reuters.

Singh, a burly, bearded man who has scripted and starred in his own films, commands a near-devotional following – he claims in the millions – in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, where his Dera Sacha Sauda group is based.

He denies all the charges against him, and has called on his followers to remain peaceful.

“We will block mobile internet services if needed as concerns spread over the stockpiling of weapons including lathis (wooden sticks) at the different prayer centers,” Kumar said.

Police patrol next to concertina wire barricade outside a court in Panchkula in the northern state of Haryana, India, August 24, 2017.Ajay Verma

Trains would also be suspended for several hours, while a cricket stadium in state capital Chandigarh had been commandeered as a temporary detention centre.

In 2014, the attempted arrest of another guru on murder charges ended with his followers attacking police with clubs and stones.

Indian godmen can summon thousands of supporters onto the streets at the drop of a hat . Their systems of patronage and quasi-religious sermons are hugely popular with people who consider the government to have failed them.

But few are as controversial as Singh.

The top domestic security agency is investigating whether Singh convinced 400 of his male followers to undergo castration, allegations he denies .

A variety of reasons have been given for why the men agreed to castration, including promises of becoming closer to god.

He has also irritated the Sikh religious community by dressing like one of their gurus.

Singh’s two films, “Messenger of God” and its sequel, include sequences in which he fights off villains and tosses burning motorbikes into the air.

Reporting by Rupam Jain and Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie

Dozens of cyclists queue for bike security marking kits

Dozens of cyclists queued up this morning to receive free security marking kits for their bikes. The initiative was launched by The States of Jersey Police to help reduce theft in the island. Officers were seen tagging pedal bikes with a unique ID number at Victoria Avenue in Jersey this morning.

The security marking kits, funded by the Channel Islands Co-operative Society, will make it easier for islanders to recover their bike if it is stolen. So far Jersey Police have marked more than 2,000 pedal bikes in the island. The States of Jersey Police tweeted a video this morning of one cyclist owner sharing her thoughts on the importance of bike security marking.

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The States of Jersey Police will be holding more security marking events on the following days:

Islamist militants rapidly increasing in Sweden

STOCKHOLM The number of Islamist militants in Sweden has soared to thousands in recent years but only a few pose a security threat to society, the head of the country’s security services said on Friday.

Sweden is still in shock after five people were killed and 15 injured when a hijacked truck ploughed into a crowd on a busy shopping street and crashed into a Stockholm department store on April 7.

Police are holding an Uzbek man who has admitted to driving the vehicle.

Anders Thornberg, the head of the Swedish Security Service (Sapo), said only a handful of militants had the desire and capacity to carry out attacks . He blamed propaganda by Islamic State for the problem.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” Thornberg told national news agency TT.

He said the numbers included those who merely sympathise with violent militants to those who spread the message, recruit and collect funds.

“The growth in extremism is a challenge of historical proportions,” he said.

The biggest concentrations of militants are in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmo and Orebro, according to Sapo.

The government has tightened laws and promised more funding for police and security services . It is planning further measures, including increased CCTV surveillance.

But Thornberg said the security services faced a new environment where attacks no longer needed months of planning and preparation.

“Today, if you decide to act, you maybe buy two knives or hire a truck and drive into a crowd,” he said.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson, editing by Pritha Sarkar)