Tag Archives: explosives

Audio captures police strategizing about Pulse shooter

Police negotiators talking to the Orlando nightclub gunman at first weren’t sure if the person they had on the phone was actually in the Pulse nightclub, according to audio recordings.

The recordings between police negotiators and shooter Omar Mateen don’t stray from transcripts of conversations released previously by the city of Orlando.

But they do capture police officials strategizing among themselves about how to talk to Mateen, who hung up several times during the three-hour standoff at the gay nightclub.

Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber ruled this week that Mateen’s calls should be made public.

But she won’t rule on releasing other 911 calls from the mass shooting until she has listened to them.

More than two dozen news groups, including The Associated Press, have been fighting the city in court over the release of more than 600 calls dealing with the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The city has released about two-thirds of the calls but is still withholding the 232 calls that lawyers for the city say depict suffering or killing and are exempt from Florida’s public records laws.

The media groups have argued that the city’s application of the exemption is too broad and that the 911 calls will help the public evaluate the police response to the shooting at the gay nightclub.

In one of the calls released, a police official can be heard early on saying he’s not convinced the person on the call is in the club.

At another point, the lead police negotiator, named “Andy,” said, “He sounds like he is in a very sterile environment, like he’s at a home or an apartment.”

But another police official said Mateen could be in an office or bathroom.

The recordings also show how the negotiators were feeling out whether they had accurately identified the suspect.

“We called him Omar,” said Andy, who was then interrupted by another police official who says, “He didn’t deny it.”

Between calls, they mulled over what Mateen had told them, such as his refusal to answer if he had an accomplice.

They discussed Mateen’s claims that he was wearing a vest and that he had explosives in a car outside the nightclub. He wasn’t wearing a bomb vest and there were no explosives in a car, but police officials didn’t know that at the time.

“He said the bombs are in a car in the parking lot. He’s not confirming anything,” a police official can be heard saying in the background as Andy implores Mateen to respond.

Andy tells another police official that Mateen had claimed to be wearing a vest but he didn’t know what type.

“A dress vest. A bulletproof vest, or a bomb vest. That’s all I got. We questioned him on it and he shut down,” the police negotiator said.

The judge allowed family members of the 49 patrons who died to testify about whether they wanted the remaining 911 calls made public. Some opposed the release while others were OK with the transcript being made public.

“It would be extremely difficult for family and friends to listen to these calls,” said Jessica Silva, whose brother, Juan Rivera Velazquez, died with his partner in Pulse. “Just listening to one of the calls … We can recognize voices. Just listening to them screaming … How are we going to feel?”

The FBI has offered no indication of when the probe into the shooting that also left 53 people seriously wounded will be done.

An FBI spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.

Aileen Carillo, whose brother, Simon Adrian Carillo Fernandez, died in the nightclub, said she would like to listen to the calls to help her understand what happened, but didn’t want them to be made public.

“I would like to know what happened. We haven’t really heard what happened. We are unaware of the facts,” Carillo said on the witness stand through a Spanish interpreter.

Bomb threat at sheriff’s office over ‘getting justice for Steven’ Avery

A caller who phoned in a bomb threat to a Wisconsin county sheriff’s office made an apparent reference to “getting justice” for the man at the center of the Making a Murderer documentary, authorities said Wednesday.

The Manitowoc Police Department said in a statement a male caller made the threat around 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, warning of bombs inside the Manitowoc County sheriff’s office building and a vehicle in the parking lot “packed with explosives.”

The caller also mentioned “getting justice for Steven,” something the statement described as an apparent reference to Steven Avery, the Wisconsin man whose prosecution in a 2005 killing was the centerpiece of the 10-part Netflix series issued in December.

The series questions whether Avery, who was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of photographer Teresa Halbach a decade ago, was treated fairly. It suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence in the case, a claim authorities have denied.

Avery had been wrongfully convicted years earlier in a rape case and served 18 years in prison. He sued Manitowoc County for tens of millions before he and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were arrested in Halbach’s death.

Authorities deemed the area around the sheriff’s office all clear around 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the courthouse was checked as a precaution. No suspicious devices were found.

A second “very similar” threat was received about 20 minutes later, the statement said. Manitowoc police responded to provide security for dispatch and sheriff’s office employees who were about to go through a shift change. Again, no suspicious activity or items were discovered.

Manitowoc police and the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation are working to determine the origin of the call and identity of the caller.

NRA-backed Republicans fight Dem bill to stop terrorists from buying assault weapons

People on the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list often can’t board commercial airliners, but they can walk into a gun store and legally buy pistols and powerful military-style rifles.

Following the Paris attacks, Democrats renewed calls for Congress to pass legislation aimed at preventing terrorists from buying guns. Similar bills — including a post-Sept. 11 measure backed by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush — have been stymied for years by the National Rifle Association and its representatives in Congress.

According to a March analysis by the Government Accountability Office, people on the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watchlist successfully passed the background check required to purchase firearms more than 90 percent of the time, with more than 2,043 approvals between 2004 and 2014. The office is an investigative branch of Congress.

The FBI is notified when a background check for the purchase of firearms or explosives generates a match with the watchlist and agents often use that information to step up surveillance on terror suspects. Under current federal law, however, association with a terrorist organization doesn’t prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives.

About 420,000 people are on the list administered by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, though only about 2 percent of those are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents legally able to buy guns.

The new Democratic push, which is considered unlikely to succeed in the GOP-controlled Congress, is focused on legislation by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would let the attorney general compile a list of known and suspected terrorists.

Federally licensed gun dealers would be barred from selling firearms to them, just as they are already prohibited from sales to people with felony convictions or serious mental illnesses. The proposed legislation would not prevent transactions that don’t involve licensed dealers, such as those between private individuals at gun shows or many sales online, which don’t currently involve background checks.

Feinstein introduced her bill in February, well before the mass killings in Paris injected new life into terrorism and public safety as top-tier political issues. 

Feinstein’s bill echoes legislation the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., proposed repeatedly over the past decade. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., also has long pushed the same legislation.

Meanwhile, Republicans took advantage of voters’ newly aroused security concerns in late November, when they easily pushed legislation through the House preventing Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States until the administration tightens restrictions on their entry.

That issue put Democrats on the defensive. Forty-seven of them voted for the bill, ignoring a veto threat by President Barack Obama, who said the current screening system is strong and accused Republicans of fanning fear among worried voters.

Democrats are hoping to turn the political tables on Republicans by focusing the debate instead on terrorists’ access to guns.

“I think this is a no-brainer,” said Feinstein, a longtime gun control supporter. “If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun.”

Congress has yet to vote on Feinstein’s proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not said whether he would be open to allowing a vote.

The GOP-run House has not held any votes on major gun control measures since the killings of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., did not respond directly when asked if he favored barring people on the watch list from buying guns. He said, “We are just beginning this process of reassessing all of our security stances.”

The NRA opposes Feinstein’s bill.

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker pointed to past instances where innocent people were added to the watchlist either in error or as the result of tenuous ties to others involved in suspicious activities. She said her group wants to ensure Americans wrongly on the list are afforded their constitutional right.

Under current law, people can try persuading the Justice Department to remove their names from a terror watch list or can file lawsuits challenging their inclusion.

Chicago LGBT Jews possible target of terrorists

An LGBT Jewish congregation is believed to have been the target of a thwarted terrorist attack.

Government officials announced Oct. 29 that two packages intercepted late last week en route from Yemen to the U.S. contained explosives and were addressed to two Chicago-area Jewish organizations.

Government officials have not revealed the intended destination of the packages, but the Chicago Tribune reported that one was addressed to Second Unitarian Church in Lakeview, where the LGBT Jewish congregation Or Chadash met for several years.

In 2004, the congregation relocated to Emanuel Congregation, located on Lake Michigan in the city’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Many online sources, however, still list the Lakeview address for Or Chadash.

Emanuel Congregation rabbi Michael Zedek was told by a Jewish community official that Or Chadash might have been the intended destination of one of the packages. Or Chadash members were informed of the rumor at Friday night Shabat services.

“The news was greeted with calm bemusement,” said Or Chadash rabbi Laurence Edwards. “I think our first thought was, ‘Why someone as small as us?’”

Although the congregation has faced protests by Westboro Baptist Church, Edwards questioned why a Jewish community of only about 100 members would be on a foreign terrorist group’s radar.

William Wahler, co-president of Or Chadash, said he and his co-president were reassuring members via e-mail that the situation was under control.

“We have to remember that this is just a rumor, first and foremost,” Wahler said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be vigilant about this.”

Area police have begun regular patrols of Emanuel Congregation’s parking lot, and officers on police boats are keeping the building under surveillance from Lake Michigan, according to Wahler.

“Ironically, there is probably no safer place to pray in Chicago than Emanuel right now,” Wahler said.

Or Chadash and other Chicago-area synagogues proceeded with business as usual over the weekend. Edwards said he would teach regularly scheduled Sunday morning classes.

“I won’t be nervous, just a bit more cautious,” he said.