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49 Killed In Christchurch, New Zealand Mosque Terror Attacks, Suspect Charged

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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — At least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack. Police also defused explosive devices in a car.

Two other armed suspects were being held in custody. Police said they were trying to determine how they might be involved.

NZ MOSQUE SHOOTING

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” and that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees.

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.

In addition to the dead, health officials said 48 people were being treated at Christchurch Hospital for gunshot wounds. Injuries ranged from minor to critical.

Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people. Police later said one of the arrests didn’t relate to the shootings.

While there was no reason to believe there were any more suspects, Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised from low to high, the second-highest level.

National carrier Air New Zealand canceled at least 17 flights in and out of Christchurch, saying it couldn’t properly screen customers and their baggage following the shootings.

Police said the investigation had extended 360 kilometers (240 miles) to the south, where homes in Dunedin were evacuated around a “location of interest.” A police statement gave no further detail of how it might be linked to the attacks.

Authorities have not specified who they detained, but said none had been on any watch list. A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the people detained was an Australian-born citizen.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said Friday night that a man had been charged with murder. He did not say whether police believed the same shooter was responsible for both attacks.

Ardern alluded at a news conference to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees, “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”

As for the suspects, Ardern said, “these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”

Bush said police had found two improvised explosive devices in one car, a clarification from an earlier statement that there were devices in multiple vehicles. He said they had disabled one and were in the process of disabling the second.

The deadliest attack occurred at the Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch at about 1:45 p.m., when 41 people were killed.

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled. He said he then went into the mosque to try to help.

“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.

“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”

He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.

A video that was apparently livestreamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes re-firing at people he has already cut down.

He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle.

The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song “Fire” by English rock band “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out.


Police and ambulance staff help a wounded man. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

During a second shooting at the Linwood mosque about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Al Noor mosque, seven people were killed.

One more person died later at Christchurch Hospital.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.

The police commissioner warned anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday to stay put.

The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organization, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.

He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.

He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”

New Zealand is generally considered to be a welcoming country for migrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on the promise of raising the intake of refugees, called the planned increase “the right thing to do.”

David Meates, chief executive of the Canterbury District Health Board, said 12 operating theaters were being used at Christchurch Hospital to treat the injured and that some patients would need multiple surgeries. He said about 200 family members were at the hospital awaiting news of their loved ones.

Home to nearly 400,000 people, Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island. Sometimes called the garden city, it has been rebuilding since an earthquake in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed many downtown buildings.

A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to start Saturday was canceled after the Bangladesh cricket team had a narrow escape.

Players and members of the team’s coaching staff were reportedly on their bus, approaching the Al Noor mosque when the shooting broke out.

Batsman Tamim Iqbal tweeted “entire team got saved from active shooters. Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers.”

Mass shootings in New Zealand are rare. Before Friday’s attack, the deadliest shooting in modern history occurred in the small town of Aramoana in 1990, when gunman David Gray shot and killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.

This story is developing, this will be updated with today’s updates, as they happen.

Terrorism

‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh Released From Prison After 17 Years

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John Walker Lindh, the first person to be convicted of a crime in the “War on Terror,” left prison a free man Thursday after 17 years behind bars, his lawyer confirmed.


The Northern California native was captured months into the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a war that has now lasted longer than his incarceration. The revelation that a young American had joined the group that harbored the 9/11 terrorists was a national shock.

Lindh pleaded guilty in 2002 to aiding the Taliban and carrying weapons. Prosecutors were unable to prove, however, that he went beyond fighting the Taliban’s Afghan enemies by aiding terrorists or trying to kill Americans.

“I did not go to fight against America, and I never did,” Lindh told U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria at the time. “I have never supported terrorism in any form, and I never will. . . . I made a mistake by joining the Taliban. Had I realized then what I know now, I would never have joined them.”

Lindh’s plea agreement capped his sentence at 20 years; he was released early for good behavior. Although that credit is built into the law for all federal prisoners, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) has called for Lindh to be kept in prison and said he had President Trump’s support.

The family of CIA operative Johnny “Mike” Spann, who was killed in a riot at the Afghan prison where Lindh was held, has been vocal in denouncing his release, although prosecutors and Ellis have said there was no evidence Lindh was involved in Spann’s death.

In a letter to the court Monday, Spann’s father asked Ellis to investigate a 2016 intelligence report that, according to the publication Foreign Policy, said Lindh has “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”

NBC News on Wednesday reported that Lindh had written to a network affiliate in 2015 and said he believed the Islamic State was “doing a spectacular job.” The report said Lindh sent three letters to the station and in one said the terrorist group was “very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle, which is the only correct method.”

Lindh has served his time in a unit of Terre Haute Federal Correctional Institution in Indiana, where interactions are highly restricted and monitored.

Officials would not say what time of day he would be released. The morning release was first reported by CNN.

“For safety, security and privacy reasons, we do not comment on individual release plans,” a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons said. “Mr. Lindh is being released in accordance with applicable statutes and BOP regulations.”

In prison, he has remained religiously doctrinaire. Going by Yayyah Lindh, he successfully challenged a policy of strip-searching detainees in his unit before visits, because in Islam “a male person is prohibited from exposing the area of his body between the navel and the knees.”

He also won the right in court to cuff his pants above the ankles and participate in daily group prayer.

“This is mandatory and not optional,” he wrote in a 2009 letter to the prison authorities of his religious obligations.

Lindh now must serve three years of supervised release, during which he cannot hold a passport, use the Internet without monitoring, view extremist or terroristic material, communicate with known extremists or converse online in any language other than English without prior approval. He must undergo mental health treatment.

He initially opposed the imposition of those conditions but ultimately acquiesced without a challenge. They were requested by his probation officer, according to an order from Ellis, “given the rare nature of the defendant’s crime and his unique personal history and characteristics.”

Lindh’s family and attorneys declined to comment. But in a question-and-answer session after the guilty plea, defense attorney Tony West said Lindh wanted to get a college degree and doctorate.

West also said prosecutors initially wanted to bar Lindh from ever leaving the country again. Lindh refused to sign any agreement that prevented him from making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

“I would hope that he would make a good transition,” Paul McNulty, former U.S. attorney, said in advance of Lindh’s release, adding that it was understood at the time of the plea that the Taliban supporter would qualify for early release on good behavior. He said the Justice Department was “confident” in its initial, stronger charges against Lindh but thought the plea agreement was “a fair and just resolution of the case.”

Lindh’s attorney, William Cummings, said Lindh must reside in the Eastern District of Virginia to comply with probation. He said Lindh aims to lie low and keep out of trouble; his family has been concerned about death threats.

Lindh, 21 at the time of his arrest, was raised outside San Francisco by a Catholic father and Buddhist mother. He converted to Islam as a teenager after reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and went to the Middle East to study Arabic and religion.

He became increasingly fundamentalist in his views. Living in Pakistan, he wrote his family, “really makes me look upon American society with pity.” At a madrassa there, he later told CNN, his “heart became attached” to the Taliban. He joined the group in Afghanistan, committing to the fight against the Northern Alliance for a “pure Islamic state.”

He trained at an al-Qaeda camp where he met Osama bin Laden, but he told the FBI he declined to join the group or participate in attacks on the United States and Israel. His jihad, he said, was in Afghanistan.

“Bin Laden’s terrorist attacks are completely against Islam,” he said at his sentencing, “completely contrary to the conventions of jihad and without any justification whatsoever. . . . Terrorism is never justified and has proved extremely damaging to Muslims around the world.”

This is a developing story.

(Reporting by Washington Post)

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Gunmen Storm Five-Star Hotel In Pakistan, Killing At Least One

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* Military says militants cornered in hotel staircase

* Gwadar is strategic port being developed with Chinese

* Chinese often stay at hotel, but none there during attack (Adds claim of responsibility)

QUETTA, Pakistan, May 11 (Reuters) – Three gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s southwestern port city of Gwadar on Saturday, killing at least one guard and battling security forces inside, officials and the army said.


Balochistan Home Minister Ziaullah Langove said most guests had been evacuated from the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel, which helicopters circled as fighting was underway. He said there were reports of casualties, but did not give details.

The military said three gunmen killed a guard at the entrance to the hotel when they entered. Security forces had cordoned off the area and cornered the attackers in a staircase leading to the top floor, the military said in its statement

Balochistan Liberation Army, a group fighting for greater autonomy in Pakistan’s poorest province, claimed responsibility in an emailed statement.

Gwadar is a strategic port on the Arabian Sea that is being developed as part of the $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is itself part of China’s mammoth Belt and Road infrastructure project.

The hotel, located on a hillside near the port, is used by foreign guests, including Chinese project staff, but there were none in the building at the time of the attack, Langove said.

Pakistani officials have said the security forces were on alert for attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began in early May.

Security across most of Pakistan has improved over recent years following a major crackdown after the country’s worst attack, when some 150 people, most of them children, were killed in an attack on a school in the western city of Peshawar in 2014.

But Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, remains an exception and there have been several attacks this year, with at least 14 people killed last month in an attack on buses travelling between the southern city of Karachi and Gwadar.

The province is rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist insurgencies, with several militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban group Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Balochistan Liberation Army and the Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Saturday’s incident follows a bombing this week that targeted police outside a major Sufi shrine in Lahore, in the north of Pakistan, that killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 20, officials said.

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San Diego US Attorney Announces Federal Hate Crimes Charges Against Suspect In Deadly California Synagogue Shooting

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FILE - In this April 28, 2019 file photo, a San Diego county sheriff's deputy stands in front of the Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, Calif. Federal officials announced Thursday, May 9, 2019, that they have filed 109 hate crime charges against John T. Earnest, accused of opening fire in the Southern California synagogue on April 27, the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Federal officials have announced 109 hate crime charges against the 19-year-old man accused of opening fire on a Southern California synagogue during Passover service.


Federal and local law enforcement officials announced the news conference in San Diego on Thursday.

Federal prosecutors say 109 hate crime charges filed against a 19-year-old man accused of shooting up a California synagogue involve the murder of one person, the attempted murder of 53 others and arson at a mosque.

U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. said Thursday the charges against John T. Earnest make him eligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors allege last month’s attack on Chabad of Poway and an earlier arson at an Escondido mosque were motivated by hatred of the Jewish and Muslim communities.


FILE – In this April 30, 2019 file photo John T. Earnest appears for his arraignment hearing in San Diego. Federal officials announced Thursday, May 9, 2019, that they have filed 109 hate crime charges against Earnest accused of opening fire in a Southern California synagogue on April 27, the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool, File)

Earnest specifically faces 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon, resulting in death, bodily injury and attempts to kill.

He also faces 54 counts involving the shooting in violation of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and one count of damage to religious property stemming from the arson.

Earnest was previously charged in San Diego County Superior Court and a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf.

Prosecutors say the gunman, identified as John T. Earnest, killed a woman and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.

In a court appearance last month, Earnest pleaded not guilty to state charges of murder and attempted murder. In a separate case, he has pleaded not guilty to burning a mosque in nearby Escondido.

Authorities say he fired at least eight shots in the synagogue before fleeing.

Read the newly-filed indictment below:

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