Michigan Headlines

Flint water scandal’s special prosecutor out after 3 years

DETROIT (AP) — A special prosecutor who spent three years leading a criminal investigation of the Flint water scandal has been fired, officials announced Monday, apparently part of the fallout from the recent discovery of 23 boxes of records in the basement of a state building.
Todd Flood’s contract was terminated on April 16. The Michigan attorney general’s office told a judge about the records on Friday as it seeks a six-month freeze in the case against Michigan’s former health director, Nick Lyon, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
“It recently became clear that discovery was not fully and properly pursued from the onset of this investigation,” Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said in a written statement. “The decision to terminate Mr. Flood’s contract reflects our ongoing commitment to execute the highest standards in the prosecution of the Flint water crisis. Our standards demand a full accounting of all evidence that may inform the People’s investigation.”
Flood, who was hired in 2016 by then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, declined to comment on the criticism when reached by phone but released a statement defending his work.
“This complex case of official wrongdoing and betrayal of public trust has been prosecuted with the utmost attention to the professional standards that justice demands,” he said. “I walk away knowing that I gave everything I had to give to this case. The people of Flint deserved nothing less.”
Fifteen people have been charged in how Flint’s water became contaminated with lead as well as a related outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014-15. No one has been convicted of a felony. Seven people, including key environmental regulators, have pleaded no contest to misdemeanors, and their records will be wiped clean.
In a court filing last week, the attorney general’s office said lawyers in the office who have been defending state officials in civil lawsuits related to Flint water knew about the 23 boxes of documents and computer hard drives.
They indicated that the records were duplicates of what already had been given to Flood’s team, but investigators found that wasn’t the case in some instances, Assistant Attorney General Daniel Ping wrote.
A Flint-area judge is expected to soon decide whether to affirm or throw out a decision to send Lyon to trial for the deaths of two people who had Legionnaires’. But Hammoud’s team now wants a six-month timeout while the contents of the 23 boxes are reviewed. Lyon’s defense lawyers oppose the stay.

Hawaii Headlines

State/In Brief

The Associated Press

1-year probation for Honolulu sergeant .

HONOLULU — A Honolulu police sergeant says he was trying to help a childhood friend when he gave her information from a confidential database.

Sgt. Daniel Sellers was sentenced to a year of probation Monday for disclosing confidential information to Katherine Kealoha, a former deputy city prosecutor who is fighting corruption-related charges along with her husband, former police chief Louis Kealoha. They’re accused of framing Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for theft of their home mailbox.

Sellers says he regrets looking up information about the uncle’s vehicles and passing it along to Kealoha.

Sellers was indicted with the Kealohas in 2017. Sellers is cooperating with federal investigators and accepted a plea deal. In exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disclosing confidential information, prosecutors agree to drop the other charges.


3rd rat lungworm case confirmed

KAILUA-KONA — State health officials say a resident on the Big Island’s east side has contracted rat lungworm disease.

West Hawaii Today reports the state Department of Health confirmed the case through laboratory testing earlier this month, but the person might have become infected as early as February.

Health officials say the person was hospitalized. Officials could not determine the exact location where the person contracted the disease.

The case marks the third that state health officials have confirmed this year.

The disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm. It can affect a person’s brain and spinal cord.

The disease spreads through larvae that’s accidentally ingested when people eat raw freshwater shrimp, land crabs and snails or raw produce that contains infected slugs or snails.


Dogs attack mother, child in Honolulu

HONOLULU — Two dogs attacked a mother and her 1 1/2-year-old daughter near the Children’s Discovery Center in the Kakaako neighborhood of Honolulu.

KHON-TV reported Sunday that the attack happened Thursday as the family was waiting for the center to open.

The mother, Brandy Bennett, is recovering from her injuries, which include bruising, scratches and a bite mark on her legs.

Bennett says she and her daughter were walking around the park near the center when two medium-sized, caramel-colored poi dogs rushed toward them.

Bennett says she held her daughter as high as she could during the attack.

Bystanders managed to get the dogs away and called 911.

Bennett says the dogs ran off to a nearby tent.

Managers of the center have long been concerned about homeless encampments that have sprung up on streets surrounding their building.


Lawmakers OK ‘monster’ house bill

HONOLULU — A bill that makes it a misdemeanor to lie to a government investigator or inspector during a building inspection has won approval from both houses of the state Legislature.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports Tyler Dos Santos-Tam of HI Good Neighbor, which was formed to combat large-scale, or “monster,” houses, hails House Bill 807 as another “key enforcement tool” against unscrupulous owners and contractors seeking to hide the intent of their structures.

A person convicted of the criminal misdemeanor could spend up to a year in jail and be hit with a fine of up to $2,000.

The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. David Ige.

Hawaii Headlines

3 dead after tour helicopter crashes in an Oahu suburb

State representative calls for ending flights over neighborhoods and national parks


The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Fire and helicopter parts rained from the sky Monday in a suburban Honolulu community as a tour helicopter crashed and killed all three people aboard, officials and witnesses said.

“All you could see was fire,” witness Melissa Solomon said, explaining that she was driving on the street when she looked up to see flames and a helicopter plummeting in front of her.

She said she had turn onto another street because she was afraid more pieces were going to fall from the sky onto her and her 16-year-old daughter sitting in the front passenger seat.

“We could have been smashed by it,” she said.

Paramedics responding to an unrelated call from a patient with leg pain about 30 yards away heard “a horrific bang,” said Shayne Enright, a spokeswoman for Honolulu Emergency Medical Services. When they turned around, they saw a helicopter on fire.

“When they got there, neighbors were doing a heroic job trying to put out the fire and also trying to get the patients away from the burning aircraft,” Enright said.

The crash occurred in Kailua, a town of 50,000 people located about a 30-minute drive from downtown Honolulu.

The crash site was on a two-lane road amid one- and two-story homes.

Darel Robinson was doing construction work at a house about a half-mile from the crash site when he heard what sounded like helicopter blades thumping and then a loud boom.

“It was going nose down and parts were starting to fly off,” he said.

Megan Lacy of Alabama was visiting friends when they heard the crash. They went outside, expecting to find two cars after they had hit each other.

“We were really confused,” she said. “And then we heard screaming and the word ‘fire,’ and I saw smoke.” Debris damaged her rental car about 100 yards from the crash.

A resident said he heard the morning crash, then saw a ball of fire in the road when he ran from his house.

Leleo Knappenberger told Hawaii News Now that his mother heard the helicopter flying over the house, making a strange noise.

He said he later saw what appeared to be the tail end of the helicopter.

“It’s all smashed to pieces,” he said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency believes three people were on board the four-seat, Robinson R44 aircraft.

He said the circumstances of the crash were unknown.

No further details were available on those killed.

The helicopter, which was built in 2000, is registered to United Helicopter Leasing LLC of Honolulu, according to FAA records. State business records show Nicole Vandelaar as the manager.

A woman who answered the phone at the business and identified herself as Nicole declined to immediately comment, saying she was too busy to talk.

A website for the Honolulu tour helicopter company Novictor Helicopters identified Nicole Vandelaar as founder and CEO. The website said she is an expert pilot who is commercially licensed to fly helicopters and airplanes.

A Novictor helicopter crashed on a sandbar in Kaneohe in October after the pilot lost consciousness twice. That crash resulted in injuries to the pilot and two passengers. It was also a Robinson R44 aircraft.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who represents Kailua, said she wants the FAA to prohibit tour flights over Hawaii’s residential areas and national parks. The Republican lawmaker wants Hawaii’s congressional delegation to ask the FAA to implement such restrictions.

Thielen also called for tour helicopter flights to be grounded until an investigation into the crash is completed.

Kailua is home to a Marine Corps base. In recent years it’s become a popular destination for tourists to go to the beach, hike and shop.

Former President Barack Obama stayed at a rented beachfront vacation home in the town during the winter holidays when he was in the White House.

National News

Suspect in synagogue attack stuns family with radical turn

POWAY, Calif. (AP) — The lone suspect in a fatal attack on a Southern California synagogue was a star scholar, athlete and musician whose embrace of white supremacy and anti-Semitism has dumbfounded his family and others who thought they knew him well.
John T. Earnest, 19, made the dean’s list both semesters last year as a nursing student at California State University, San Marcos. In high school, he had stellar grades, swam on the varsity team and basked in applause of classmates for his piano solos at talent shows.
Earnest radicalized sometime over the last two years and is charged with murder and attempted murder in Saturday’s assault on the Chabad of Poway synagogue, which killed one woman and injured three, including the rabbi. He is also charged with arson in connection with an attack last month on a mosque in nearby Escondido.
Owen Cruise, 20, saw Earnest every day during senior year at Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego when the two were in calculus and physics together. They were in the school’s amateur radio club together.
Earnest’s piano performances drew audiences to their feet. He did a rendition of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and played Chopin and Beethoven.
“Crowds would be cheering his name,” Cruise said Monday. “Everybody loved him.”
Earnest counted Jews and blacks among his friends. His father, John A. Earnest, is a popular physics teacher at Mt. Carmel, where he has worked for the last 31 years.
“He was very close to his dad,” Cruise said. “He always hung out in his classroom, came to see him at lunch. He always seemed like a nice guy … He didn’t seem like the type of person who would go off the deep end.”
Earnest’s father volunteered to help students with exams and homework, said Cruise, who praises his former teacher for having a big impact on his life. On the morning of the shooting, the elder Earnest was hosting a study hour for the Advanced Placement exam and brought cookies, Cruise said.
Cruise, now a sophomore at the University of California, San Diego, said the suspect lived at home and saw his parents every day.
“They only raised him to be the best man he could be,” Cruise said.
The suspect’s parents said their son and five siblings were raised in a family that “rejected hate and taught that love must be the motive for everything we do.”
“To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries,” the parents said Monday in their first public comments. “Our son’s actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold.”
The parents, who are cooperating with investigators, do not plan to plan to provide legal representation to their son, whose initial court appearance was scheduled for Tuesday. According to family attorney Earll Pott, a public defender will likely be appointed.
Earnest burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday that celebrates freedom, and opened fire with an assault-style rifle on the crowd of about 100.
He fled when the rifle jammed, according to authorities and witnesses, avoiding an Army combat veteran and an off-duty Border Patrol agent who pursued him. He called 911 to report the shooting and surrendered a short time later.
Lori Kaye , a founding member of the congregation, was killed. Rabbi Yishoel Goldstein was shot in the hands, while Noya Dahan, 8, and her uncle Almog Peretz suffered shrapnel wounds.
Kaye, 60, was remembered for her kindness Monday at a memorial service at the packed synagogue in Poway, a well-to-do suburb north of San Diego.
A manifesto — written by a person identifying himself as John Earnest that was published online shortly before the attack — spewed hatred toward Jews and praised the perpetrators of attacks on mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people last month and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that killed 11 on Oct. 27.
Earnest frequented 8chan, a dark corner of the web where those disaffected by mainstream social media sites often post extremist, racist and violent views.
“I’ve only been lurking here for a year and half, yet what I’ve learned here is priceless. It’s been an honor,” he wrote.
Earnest invites followers to watch the attack live to recommended song list, including “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys and the “Pokemon Theme Song.” He says he planned the synagogue attack for four weeks.
“If you told me even 6 months ago that I would do this I would have been surprised,” Earnest wrote.
The FBI said it got tips about a social media post threatening violence against Jews about five minutes before the attack.
The tips to an FBI website and hotline included a link to the anonymous post but did not offer specific information about its author or the location of the threat. The bureau said employees immediately tried to determine who wrote it, but the shooting occurred before they could establish his identity.
A tipster told The Associated Press that he called the FBI tip line at 11:15 a.m. because the post linked to a manifesto that said the author was responsible for the mosque arson in Escondido
The tipster, who refused to provide his name because of security concerns, said the call with the FBI lasted four or five minutes. He described the FBI as quick and professional and said he doesn’t know what the bureau could have done.
The shooting happened around 11:30 a.m.
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, R.J. Rico in Atlanta and Amy Taxin in Poway contributed to this report.

National News

Trump says he wants asylum seekers to pay a fee to apply

By JILL COLVIN Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is proposing charging asylum seekers a fee to process their applications as he continues to try to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants seeking to cross into the U.S.
In a presidential memorandum signed Monday, Trump directed his attorney general and acting homeland security secretary to take additional measures to overhaul the asylum system, which he insists “is in crisis” and plagued by “rampant abuse.”
The changes are just the latest in a series of proposals from an administration that is struggling to cope with a surge of migrant families arriving at the southern border that has overwhelmed federal resources and complicated Trump’s efforts to claim victory at the border as he runs for re-election. Most of those arriving say they are fleeing violence and poverty, and many request asylum under U.S. and international law.
As part of the memo, Trump is giving officials 90 days to come up with new regulations to ensure that applications are adjudicated within 180 days of filing, except under exceptional circumstances.
And he is directing officials to begin charging a fee to process asylum and employment authorization applications, which do not currently require payment.
The White House and Department of Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond to questions about how much applicants might be forced to pay, and it is unclear how many families fleeing poverty would be able to afford such a payment.
A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, at a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, said he had no information on the fees and other measures in the proposal from Trump. But seeking asylum, spokesman Charlie Yaxley said, “is a fundamental human right, and people should be allowed to exercise those rights when seeking to seek asylum.”
Trump’s memo says the price would not exceed the cost of processing applications, but officials did not immediately provide an estimate for what that might be.
Trump also wants to bar anyone who has entered or tried to enter the country illegally from receiving a provisional work permit and is calling on officials to immediately revoke work authorizations when people are denied asylum and ordered removed from the country.
The Republican president also is calling on Homeland Security to reassign immigration officers and any other staff “to improve the integrity of adjudications of credible and reasonable fear claims, to strengthen the enforcement of the immigration laws, and to ensure compliance with the law by those aliens who have final orders of removal.”
Arrests along the southern border have skyrocketed in recent months, with border agents making more than 100,000 arrests or denials of entry in March, a 12-year high.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in early April amid Trump’s increasing frustration over how many Central American families were crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

National News

Buttigieg making new effort to reach black voters, talk race

NEW YORK (AP) — From lunch with a civil rights leader in Harlem to meetings at a historically black university in South Carolina, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is making a new, concerted effort to appeal to African American voters and put behind him criticism of his record on race.
His main strategy: Talk less, listen more.
“I know what I believe, I know what my values are, I’ve got policy ideas,” the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana said. “But I know I’ve got a lot to learn and I’m ready to make sure I’m understanding the concerns that are top of mind for the different audiences I speak to, to make sure what I have to say rhymes with what they’re most concerned about.”
The approach is aimed at addressing one of the biggest questions about Buttigieg’s upstart campaign : Can he win over black voters who are key to a Democratic victory in 2020?
As he’s risen to the top tier of candidates in the crowded 2020 field , the growing crowds at Buttigieg’s events have been overwhelmingly white. That included rallies with hundreds of people in South Carolina, where black people make up the majority of Democratic voters, and at his campaign launch in South Bend, a community of roughly 100,000 people that’s about 27% black and 13% Hispanic.
Buttigieg also has faced growing scrutiny of his record leading the city since 2011. Critics, including many residents, have blasted him for firing the city’s first black police chief shortly after taking office, for prioritizing South Bend’s downtown over its neighborhoods and for issues of housing, crime and inequality.
Buttigieg said Monday his campaign is now “working to broaden our coalition.”
He had lunch at the iconic soul food restaurant Sylvia’s with the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader, who encouraged him “to engage with people who may not find their way to me who I need to go out and find my way in front of,” Buttigieg said.
He’ll spend May 5 and 6 in South Carolina, where he’ll meet with African American leaders in Charleston and participate in a round-table discussion at South Carolina State University, the state’s only public, historically black university. A stop also is planned at a conference of clergy focused on equity and justice in Columbia. Buttigieg’s campaign says he won’t have a speaking role.
South Bend resident Bobbie Woods, whose son was shot and killed in 2003, was part of an anti-violence group Buttigieg created early in his first term in response to the rising number of murders in the city. Like many other black residents, her opinion of the mayor is mixed.
The anti-violence initiative, which included face-to-face meetings between victims and inmates, gave offenders second chances but didn’t do enough to help families and neighborhoods dealing with the trauma of violence, and who feel forgotten, she said. The revitalization of downtown was good for the city but needs to be extended to black neighborhoods as well.
But the biggest lingering issue has been the firing of the police chief, whom Buttigieg said was under federal investigation for improperly recording several white officers’ phone conversations. A police employee who heard the tapes described them as including “discriminatory racial comments.”
“You had some people really angry about that, and who are still angry,” Woods said of the firing. “I don’t know if he can say enough or do enough to ever justify that.”
How does Woods think Buttigieg would do as president?
“I think he will have good intentions,” she said. “Will he be able to make those come to pass is a good question.”
Solomon Anderson, a banker from South Bend, said he didn’t like what happened with the police chief but he likes what Buttigieg is doing with his hometown, and he believes the mayor has learned from his mistakes. He’s leaning toward supporting Buttigieg in 2020, but still wants to hear more from him, as well as some other candidates.
“Irrespective of who’s in office, no one is going to be everything to everybody,” Anderson said. “I like how the city has moved forward. We’re turning the page on a new era.”
Buttigieg also has had to explain his use of the phrase “all lives matter” in the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement. He said at a meeting of Sharpton’s National Action Network that he meant to show solidarity with the movement. He said he stopped using it when he realized it was seen by some as minimizing black people’s specific grievances, and that some who opposed the Black Lives Matter movement used it to antagonize supporters.
Charlene Carruthers, an activist from Chicago who helped form Black Youth Project 100, said she’s troubled by Buttigieg’s focus on data when making political decisions, including the signature project of his first years in office: Fixing or demolishing 1,000 vacant and abandoned properties in his first 1,000 days as mayor.
Buttigieg says the large number of vacant and abandoned homes was the main issue he heard from voters as he campaigned. But critics have said the process, particularly early on, was too aggressive and displaced some property owners who didn’t have the money to quickly fix the homes.
“This is a politician who’s driven by data. When I hear that . that automatically, for me, sends a red flag that they may not actually look at the people and the systemic issues that underlie the data,” Carruthers said. “Being president of the United States and being mayor of a small-sized city, the impact is exponentially greater. Frankly, our people can’t afford to deal with more mistakes from elected officials.”
Buttigieg said he learned early on in his political career that “having good intentions is not enough and that things don’t look the same depending on your life experience.”
He said racial justice and quality are important to him, and he believes his easy re-election to a second term “was the result of a lot of listening, learning and willingness to adjust on things.”
Buttigieg says he will speak in South Carolina about his agenda for America as a whole and black Americans in particular, ranging from home ownership to health, criminal justice reform and voting rights.
“But I’m also there to listen, especially in this relatively early stage,” he said.
Burnett reported from Chicago.

National News

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams won’t run for Senate in 2020

By BILL BARROW Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams says she will not run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2020, dimming her party’s hopes of a Senate majority and renewing speculation about her political future after last year’s unsuccessful run for governor catapulted her to national acclaim.
Abrams, 45, came within 60,000 votes of being the first black woman elected governor in U.S. history. She told The Associated Press she hasn’t ruled out a presidential bid, though she’s in no rush to join a Democratic field that already includes 20 candidates .
“I’m going to continue to watch how the national conversation around the presidency unfolds,” Abrams said in an interview after she told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, her chief Senate advocate, of her plans. “I’m not taking myself out of that conversation, but I’m not ready to make a determination, and I don’t think one is necessary at this moment.”
Abrams said she was “deeply gratified” to Schumer for recruiting her to run for the Senate and giving her ample time to make a decision. A Senate seat, she said, is “an extraordinarily persuasive idea” and a “critical role” but “not the role that I want to play.”
For now, Abrams said her emphasis remains on two advocacy groups — one focused on voting rights, the other on educating residents ahead of the 2020 census — that she helped launch after her November loss to Republican Brian Kemp.
She also will consider a rematch against Kemp in 2022, and some of her confidants say that office still rests at the center of her near-term ambitions. Separately, Abrams has been floated as a potential vice-presidential pick for an eventual Democratic nominee, particularly if former Vice President Joe Biden, a 76-year-old white man, claims the nomination. The two met recently in Washington, but Abrams later downplayed the idea of teaming up, at least for now. “You don’t run for second place,” she said on ABC’s “The View.”
Abrams met Schumer on Monday in Washington, ending months of eager courting by the hard-charging New Yorker and leaving him to plot another uphill path to reversing Republicans 53-47 Senate advantage.
“He was extraordinarily gracious,” Abrams said.
Georgia is among a handful of states with Senate races where Democrats need an upset to have hopes of a new majority. Schumer has been open in his belief that Abrams would have the best shot to defeat Republican Sen. David Perdue, who in his first term has become one of President Donald Trump’s most loyal Capitol Hill allies.
Schumer also is looking to Montana and Texas for unlikely but possible victories. But as with Abrams, he has not yet landed headliner candidates. Democrats in Washington want Gov. Steve Bullock to take on Republican Sen. Steve Daines, but Bullock, twice elected governor in a state Trump won, is eying a presidential run instead.
In Texas, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is running for president instead of reprising his 2018 Senate bid that fell short against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Texas Democrats could turn to Rep. Joaquin Castro as their best shot to unseat Sen. John Cornyn. Castro’s brother, Julian, is running for president.
Beyond Senate implications, national Democrats had hoped an Abrams candidacy would fuel turnout among young and nonwhite voters to help the party’s presidential nominee in an emerging battleground state. Trump won Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016 but fell short of a majority.
Schumer began his Georgia recruiting effort by inviting Abrams to deliver Democrats’ response to Trump’s State of the Union address in February, making her the first black woman to give an opposition response and further elevating her status in the party despite her loss.
“I began with skepticism,” Abrams said of her deliberations, influenced in part by the years she spent leading the Democratic minority in Georgia’s General Assembly.
Abrams said she could envision “the best day and the worst day” in a chamber known for its slow pace and increasingly bitter partisanship.
“But for me it was what do I do every day, and is this the role I want to play for six years? Is this the role I want to play for 12 years or 18 years?” she said. “Because this is a job, and you focus on not the title but the job itself and the job that has to be done.”
Republicans crowed Tuesday over Abrams’ decision — and Schumer’s miss. Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, called it Schumer’s “most embarrassing recruiting fail of the cycle” and leaving “second-tier candidates” to choose from.
Democrats answered with optimism, insisting they’ll mount a serious challenge to Perdue.
“Stacey and Georgia Democrats laid a strong foundation for 2020, and Senator Perdue will be held accountable for driving up health care costs, giving big corporations and millionaires like himself a tax break, and putting the president ahead of what’s right,” said Stewart Boss, a spokesman for Senate Democrats’ campaign operation.
Democrats’ next Georgia option may be Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, the state’s second largest city. Tomlinson has made clear she would seek the seat if Abrams did not. Sarah Riggs Amico, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor last year, also is said to be considering a bid.
Tomlinson has been building ties with donors and activists around the state for several years, and Amico traveled the state in her 2018 campaign. But neither has the in-state organization, name identification or the national fundraising base that Abrams would have brought to the race.
Abrams said she will work to build Democrats’ field operation for whoever challenges Perdue, but said she doesn’t plan to make any primary endorsement.
Follow Barrow on Twitter at

International Headlines

In video message, IS chief emulates other hunted leaders

By TAMER FAKAHANY Associated Press
They make threats from their hideaway lairs and celebrate mass attacks. The ending isn’t scripted for these hunted men with horrifying death tolls on their hands.
When the reclusive Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in a video Monday, he was the latest in a series of most-wanted figures to use the medium to communicate with the outside world.
Al-Baghdadi’s goal was to dismiss suggestions of the extremist group’s defeat and his own often-reported demise, claim responsibility for the recent Sri Lanka bombings on Easter and warn of a “long battle” ahead.
In the video, released by an IS-run media outlet, al-Baghdadi — like others before him, such as Osama Bin Laden — wanted to show he’s alive and assure followers that the battle against “infidel enemies” continues.
“Audio and video messages by hunted figures is their way of rallying and reassuring followers that the group must carry on,” said Colin P. Clarke, a senior research fellow at the Soufan Center. “In some cases, these messages could be intended to motivate supporters to launch attacks, either as individuals on in small groups.”
With a bounty on their heads, the fugitives record their videos clandestinely. Props are important. Al-Baghdadi in his latest video mirrored a picture of bin Laden — sitting cross-legged with an assault rifle kept against the wall next to him.
Here’s a look at some infamous and in some cases, chilling video and audio communications from terror leaders to a deposed president on the run:
One of the most notorious figures in modern history, the al-Qaida chief bin Laden orchestrated various attacks building up to the September 11 attacks. Shortly after U.S. and NATO forces attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, a video statement emerged of him saying Allah had hit America at its “most vulnerable point … destroying its most prestigious buildings.”
Two months later, Washington released an explosive video which featured bin Laden speaking with associates in Afghanistan discussing the 9/11 attacks in more detail. Speaking of the bombers, bin Laden says: “We did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.”
“Bin Laden really perfected the use of audio and video tapes,” Clarke said. “When a new bin Laden tape was released, everyone stopped what they were doing to listen and see what the world’s most wanted man had to say.”
After he was killed in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, another video of bin Laden emerged — cutting an isolated figure as his group became divided and directionless, watching cable news and railing against his enemies.
Years later, his son Hamza bin Laden now finds himself squarely in the crosshairs of world powers. He has been featured in about a dozen al-Qaida messages, delivering speeches on everything from the war in Syria to President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. His style, heavy on poetry and religious symbolism, mirrors his father’s.
The current al-Qaida leader and bin Laden’s successor has had far less of a global presence and has released few audio or video statements, in which he mostly appears in his trademark white robe and turban.
Al-Qaida was in many ways supplanted in recent years by al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State group and its brutal march through Iraq and Syria, holding large swaths of territory — something al-Qaida never managed to do.
There was also displeasure from al-Zawahri over IS’s frequent targeting of Muslims.
Zarqawi led the precursor to the Islamic State group, Al-Qaida in Iraq, as the insurgency against the U.S. occupation raged there after the 2003 invasion. He claimed various attacks against the U.S.-led coalition and his group released gruesome videos showing the beheading of Americans and Britons. A video posted to the internet just months before his death showed him striding in the desert, calling on Sunnis to fight against U.S. forces. He was killed by an American airstrike in Baqouba, Iraq, in 2006.
The Iraqi leader and his sons split up and fled Baghdad as U.S. forces closed on them in the spring of 2003. Saddam released a series of short audio statements while on the run, extolling the Iraqi resistance and urging his countrymen to battle.
In his waning days, Saddam resorted to increasingly religious rhetoric to whip up support. In one audio statement, he noted the loss of his sons, Uday and Qusay, killed in the city of Mosul that summer, praising their brave martyrdom for Iraq. He was caught later that December and the world saw a video of a disheveled once all-powerful dictator who had been hiding in a hole in the ground near his birthplace village. His subsequent trial and execution were broadcast around the globe.
Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

International Headlines

Enigmatic Beluga whale lets people pet it in Artic Norway

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A beluga whale found in Arctic Norway with a tight harness that is believed to have links to a military facility in Russia is so tame that residents can pet the mammal on its nose.
The white whale has been frolicking in the frigid harbor of Tufjord, a hamlet near Norway’s northernmost point, and has become a local attraction. It is so comfortable with people that it swims to the dock.
Resident Linn Saether told Norwegian broadcaster NRK on Tuesday the whale “is so tame that when you call it, it comes to you.”
On Friday, a fisherman removed the harness, which has a mount for a camera. It wasn’t clear why the strap was attached to the mammal or whether it was part of any Russian military activity in the region.

International Headlines

Memory center takes visitors through 4 decades of Afghan war

By RAHIM FAIEZ Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A teary-eyed Hameed Rafi said he’ll never forget the day he joined a panel of civilian war victims and family members and spoke about the suicide bombing in Kabul that killed his sister last August.
Sharing his story with them in March at the Afghanistan Center for Memory and Dialogue, Rafi recalled how all of the wounded in the attack had been taken to hospitals, so he began searching lists of wounded hanging on hospital walls. But he couldn’t find the name of his sister, 18-year-old Rahila, who had been studying in an education center for her college entrance exam when the attack happened.
Then, a doctor suggested Rafi also search lists of those killed.
“That shocked me, I had never considered that my sister wouldn’t be alive anymore,” he said. But as he learned later, Rahila had perished, he told those who attended the panel discussion.
Rafi’s chance to share his story is at the heart of the memory center’s mission. Launched in February by the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, it seeks to salvage, protect and share memories and stories of civilian victims of the country’s four decades of war.
The center, located in a small basement of a rental house in west Kabul, contains exhibits reminding visitors of the years of carnage and loss, including drawings, garments, photos and toys with accompanying personal information such as names, places and causes of death or injury.
But the center is also a safe space for family and friends of civilian victims like Rafi to share their stories and preserve the memories of their loved ones. Each family has its own story, but when they listen to the narratives of others they realize they’re not alone in their pain.
Afghanistan has experienced some 40 years of continuous wars and the center has divided them into periods, starting with the former communist regime from 1978-1992, which led to the 1979 invasion by the former Soviet Union to support the government and Afghanistan’s subsequent spiral into war.
That period was followed by the civil war in the Islamic State of Afghanistan, from 1992-1996. During these years, many of the warlords, who were later returned to power by the international community in 2001, waged a brutal war against each other for power, killing 50,000 people in Kabul alone.
The Taliban regime, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, ruled the country from 1996-2001. The years 2002-present represent the current period that followed the collapse of Taliban rule.
More than 2 million civilians are estimated to have been killed in the fighting in Afghanistan between 1978 and 2001, with thousands more killed and wounded in the past 17 years, since the U.S.-led NATO intervention.
The center grew out of the concept of the “memory box,” in which survivors or family members would bring favorite items of victims and put them in boxes of different sizes and materials, many of them ornately decorated. As they met other victims’ family and friends, they began to exchange stories.
Later, the center asked survivors to write letters to their lost loved ones and to the larger Afghan community to let them know about their pain. This took place over about eight years, during which hundreds of memory boxes were constructed with more than 4,000 personal objects and stories.
Strolling through the memory center, visitors see in one exhibit a Barbie doll and accompanying make-up table that belonged to a young girl named Saima, who was killed in a suicide car bomb attack near the former parliament building in April 2015.
In another exhibit, a wristwatch still shows the time for visitors, but not its owner, who is unidentified. The watch belonged to the victim of suicide bombing attack in Kabul that killed and wounded dozens. Center organizers were unsure of the date of the attack.
In yet another exhibit, a small piece of paper has a handwritten note from a prisoner to his family, who has not seen or heard from him in decades. Family and friends still hope he will return home one day.
“Unfortunately, in Afghanistan there was not a policy of remembrance for thousands of war victims that we have in this country,” said Hadi Marifat, the human rights organization’s director.
The memory center is “a tribute to the war victims and it is for them (and survivors) to come here and share their stories and to, of course, at the same time get acknowledgement, which is very, very important in a context like Afghanistan,” Marifat said.
Rafi, whose sister was one of 50 students killed in the Islamic State group’s suicide attack on the Mawood Educational Center in western Kabul, understands the need to pay tribute to the lost.
Upon returning home a day after Rahila’s burial, he went through her diary and discovered her love for books and education. In a short note, she writes that education is the only way out of the crisis in Afghanistan.
The note inspired Rafi to establish a library on Oct. 25 in Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood in west Kabul, not far from where Rahila lost her life, to encourage a culture of reading and studying among youths. The Rahila Library has more than 7,000 books with a separate reading space for visitors. So far, more than 4,000 people have visited the library since it opened.
“We lost Rahila, but we hope Rahila’s name and kindness will be remembered by people through this library,” he said.