Three predominantly black churches burned in a single Louisiana parish in the span of just 10 days, and the news sent a shiver through the community that rippled out across the country. Though the cause of the fires was not immediately known, the destruction of three pillars of the area’s black community recalled dark memories of a not-that-distant past.
Now, the person who stands accused of setting the fires has not only been charged with arson, he is facing three hate-crime charges, too.
The St. Landry’s Parish district attorney, Earl Taylor, filed the charges against Holden Matthews on Monday. In Louisiana, hate crimes can constitute a litany of offenses perpetrated against an individual due to their race, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or other protected status. Taylor declined to comment on the charges.
Last week, the 21-year-old son of a local sheriff’s deputy was arrested and charged with three counts of arson for setting fires at St. Mary Baptist Church on March 26, Greater Union Baptist Church on April 2, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4.
Matthews pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday during an appearance in court conducted by video conference, according to the Advocate. Prosecutors have charged him with three counts of hate crimes, two counts of simple arson and one count of aggravated arson.
At the hearing, officials said they found new photo and video evidence on Matthews’s phone placing him at the scene of all three fires, the Advocatereported. Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning testified that Matthews’s phone contained photos of the fires as they were starting, and after first responders arrived.
The photos also indicated that Matthews had returned to the crime scenes after the churches had burned to nothing but smoldering rubble, officials said, and a 10-second video is said to show him discussing the fires with a friend, and mentioning that gasoline would be an effective method of starting a blaze.
Investigators said they also found news reports about the fires on Matthews’s phone, and Browning said “he superimposed himself on these news reports claiming responsibility for these fires.”
Last Thursday, at a news conference announcing Matthews’s arrest, officials and community leaders acknowledged the emotional strain the fires had placed on St. Landry’s Parish.
“It has been especially painful because it reminds us of a very dark past of intimidation and fear,” Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at a Wednesday news conference.
Authorities said they had moved swiftly to arrest Matthews so that he could not strike another church.
“I felt relieved knowing that our congregation didn’t have to worry anymore,” said Harry Richard, a pastor at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, La. “They are my main concern.”
(Reporting by The Washington Post, The Acadiana Advocate)
‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh Released From Prison After 17 Years
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)
Gunmen Storm Five-Star Hotel In Pakistan, Killing At Least One
* 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.
San Diego US Attorney Announces Federal Hate Crimes Charges Against Suspect In Deadly California Synagogue Shooting
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.
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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