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Justice Dept: 2 Milwaukee men charged with support for ISIL
Jason Michael Ludke, 35, of Milwaukee, has been charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Yosvany Padylla-Conde, 30, also of Milwaukee, was charged in the same complaint with aiding and abetting Ludke’s attempt to provide material support to ISIL.
The announcement was made by assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin and U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Ludke and Padylla-Conde were arrested near San Angelo, Texas. The complaint alleges they were traveling from Wisconsin to Mexico, where they intended to acquire travel documents necessary to travel overseas to join ISIL.
“The United States is committed to identifying and arresting persons intent on providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations. Those organizations pose a threat to United States’ interests at home and abroad.” said Haanstad.
Special Agent in Charge Justin Tolomeo of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division stated in a news release, “The arrest of these two individuals from Wisconsin, underscores how the real threat of terrorism can occur anywhere, at anytime.”
If convicted both men face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.00.
A criminal complaint is an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes.
Twitter suspended 360K accounts over ‘violent extremism’
Twitter says it has suspended 360,000 accounts since mid-2015 for violating its policies banning the promotion of terrorism and violent extremism.
The San Francisco-based company said in a blog post it has also made progress in preventing users who were suspended from immediately returning to the platform using different accounts, which has been a problem in the past.
It said its rate of daily suspensions is up 80 percent since last year, though it did not provide specific numbers. The suspensions spike immediately following terrorist attacks, it said.
Twitter noted that there is no magic formula for identifying extremist accounts.
Like other social media companies, it uses a variety of tools, including spam-fighting technology, automatic identification as well as reports from users, to help combat abuse.
The report on its efforts come after Twitter has been criticized for not doing enough to keep extremist groups like Islamic State from using the short-messaging service to crowdsource supporters and potential attackers.
In August, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Twitter that accused the company of supporting Islamic State by allowing it to sign up for and use Twitter accounts.
The judge agreed with Twitter that the company cannot be held liable because federal law protects service providers that merely offer platforms for speech, without creating the speech itself.
At the same time, Twitter stressed that it was working to combat violent extremism on its service.
Rubio campaign reeling after sharp attacks during last Republican debate
Marco Rubio faced withering criticism of his readiness to be president and his policy depth in the last Republican debate before tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and other candidates launched an aggressive campaign to slow the Florida senator’s rise.
Rubio’s responded with an uneven performance on Saturday night that could hurt his bid to emerge as an alternative to Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. If anything, his showing gave new hope to Christie, Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, all of whom need strong finishes in New Hampshire to keep their White House bids afloat.
Cruz, the Iowa caucuses winner, also took criticism at the debate for controversial political tactics, with one candidate disparaging him for having “Washington ethics” and being willing to test the campaign’s legal limits.
New Hampshire’s primary could further winnow an already shrinking GOP field or leave the primary muddled. Hard-fought, expensive and far-ranging, the campaign has become a fight for the future of the Republican Party, though the direction the GOP will ultimately take remains deeply uncertain.
Rubio, a first-term senator from Florida, has sought to appeal both to mainstream Republicans and those eager to upend the status quo. But his rivals, particularly Christie, have been blistering in their criticism of what they see as his slim qualifications to serve as commander-in-chief.
“You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable,” Christie said. “You just simply haven’t.”
Christie has built his closing argument around his criticism of Rubio, and he kept up that approach on the debate stage. He accused the senator of being a candidate governed by talking points — then pounced when the senator played into his hands by repeating multiple times what appeared to be a planned response to criticisms about his qualifications.
“That’s what Washington D.C. does,” Christie said. “The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.”
Rubio wavered in defending his decision to walk away from the sweeping immigration bill he originally backed in the Senate — perhaps the legislation he’s most closely associated with — and said he wouldn’t pursue similar legislation as president.
“We can’t get that legislation passed,” Rubio said of the bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of people in the United States illegally. The senator found his footing later in the debate when outlining his call for more aggressive action to fight the Islamic State and emphasizing his anti-abortion stance.
Cruz was the victor in Iowa, triumphing over billionaire Trump by drawing heavily on the support of evangelical voters. But he’s faced criticism for messages his campaign sent to voters ahead of the caucuses saying rival Ben Carson — another favorite of religious conservatives — was dropping out and urging the retired neurosurgeon’s supporters to back him instead.
Cruz apologized for his campaign’s actions Saturday, but not before Carson jabbed him for having “Washington ethics.”
Those ethics, he said, “say if it’s legal, you do what you do to win.”
Trump was back on the debate stage after skipping the last contest before the Iowa caucuses. After spending the past several days disputing his second-place finish in Iowa, he sought to refocus on the core messages of his campaign, including blocking Muslims from coming to the U.S. and deporting all people in the country illegally, all while maintaining he has the temperament to serve as president.
“When I came out, I hit immigration, I hit it very hard,” Trump said. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, the temperament,’ because I talked about illegal immigration.”
Kasich, who has staked his White House hopes on New Hampshire, offered a more moderate view on immigration, though one that’s unpopular with many GOP primary voters. He said that if elected president, he would introduce legislation that would provide a pathway to legalization, though not citizenship, within his first 100 days in office.
The debate began shortly after North Korea defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket that the United Nations and others call a cover for a banned test of technology for a missile that could strike the U.S. mainland.
Asked how he would respond to North Korea’s provocations, Bush said he would authorize a pre-emptive strike against such rockets if it was necessary to keep America safe. Cruz demurred, saying he wouldn’t speculate about how he’d handle the situation without a full intelligence briefing. And Trump said he’d rely on China to “quickly and surgically” handle North Korea.
Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
UN: Nearly 19,000 civilians killed in Iraq in under 2 years
At least 18,802 civilians were killed and another 36,245 were wounded in Iraq between the start of 2014 and Oct. 31 of last year as Iraqi forces battled the Islamic State group, according to a U.N. report released this week.
The report documented a wide range of human rights abuses, including the IS group’s conscription of some 3,500 people into slavery, mainly women and children from the Yazidi religious minority captured in the summer of 2014 and forced into sexual slavery.
It said another 800 to 900 children were abducted from Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, for religious and military training. It said a number of IS child soldiers were killed by the extremists when they tried to flee fighting in the western Anbar province.
The reports called the civilian death toll in Iraq “staggering.” It also detailed the various methods the IS group has employed to kill its enemies, including public beheadings, running people over with bulldozers, burning them alive and throwing them off buildings.
Such acts are “systematic and widespread… abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law,” the report said. “These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”
Iraqi forces have advanced against the IS group on a number of fronts in recent months and driven them out of the western city of Ramadi.
But U.N. envoy Jan Kubis said in a statement that “despite their steady losses to pro-government forces, the scourge of ISIL continues to kill, maim and displace Iraqi civilians in the thousands and to cause untold suffering.”
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said the civilian death toll may be considerably higher.
“Even the obscene casualty figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians are suffering in Iraq,” he said in a statement.
IS swept across northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014 and still controls much of Iraq and neighboring Syria. It has set up a self-styled caliphate in the territories under its control, which it governs with a harsh and violent interpretation of Islamic law.
AP’s top 10 stories of 2015
The far-flung attacks claimed by Islamic State militants and the intensifying global effort to crush them added up to a grim, gripping yearlong saga that was voted the top news story of 2015, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.
The No. 2 story was the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that led to legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But several of the other stories among the Top 10 reflected the impact of the Islamic State, while another group of major stories related to the series of mass shootings in the United States.
Among the 100 voters casting ballots, first-place votes were spread among 17 different stories. The Islamic State entry received 37 first-place votes and same-sex marriage 13. The No. 3 story — the deadly attacks in Paris in January and November — received 14 first-place votes.
A year ago, the top story in AP’s poll was the police killings of unarmed blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere — and the investigations and protests that ensued. In this year’s poll, a similar entry, with more instances of blacks dying in encounters with police, placed fifth.
The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII.
Here are 2015’s top 10 stories, in order:
1: ISLAMIC STATE: A multinational coalition intensified ground and air attacks against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including expanded roles for Western European countries worried about IS-backed terrorism. For its part, IS sought to demonstrate an expansive reach by its operatives and supporters, claiming to have carried out or inspired the bombing of a Russian airliner, attacks in Beirut and Paris, and the deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California.
2: GAY MARRIAGE: Fifteen years after Vermont pioneered civil unions for same-sex couples, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June enabling them to marry in all 50 states. Gay-rights activists heralded it as their movement’s biggest breakthrough, but there were flashes of disapproval. A county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, spent a few days in jail after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in her jurisdiction.
3: PARIS ATTACKS: The first attack came just a week into the new year. Two brothers who called themselves members of al-Qaida barged into the offices of the satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and later attacked a Jewish market, gunning down 17 people in all. Nov. 13 brought a far deadlier onslaught: Eight Islamic State militants killed 130 people in coordinated assaults around Paris. Targets included restaurants, bars and an indoor rock concert.
4: MASS SHOOTINGS: Throughout the year, mass shootings brought grief to communities across the U.S. and deepened frustration over the failure to curtail them. There were 14 victims in San Bernardino. Nine blacks were killed by a white gunman at a Charleston, South Carolina, church; a professor and eight students died at an Oregon community college. In Chattanooga, four Marines and a sailor were killed by a Kuwaiti-born engineer; three people, including a policeman, were shot dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
5: BLACK DEATHS IN ENCOUNTERS WITH POLICE: In Baltimore, riots broke out after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man loaded into a van by police officers. In Chicago, Tulsa and North Charleston, South Carolina, fatal police shootings of black men prompted resignations and criminal charges. The incidents gave fuel to the Black Lives Matter campaign, and prompted several investigations of policing practices.
6: TERRORISM WORRIES: Fears about terrorism in the U.S. surged after a married couple in California — described by investigators as radicalized Muslims — carried out the attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people. The rampage inflamed an already intense debate over whether to accommodate refugees from Syria, and prompted Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to call for a ban on Muslims coming to the U.S.
7: US ELECTION CAMPAIGN: A large and varied field of Republicans launched bids for the presidency, with billionaire Donald Trump moving out to an early lead in the polls and remaining there despite a series of polarizing statements. He helped attract record audiences for the GOP’s televised debates. In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders surprised many with a strong challenge of Hillary Clinton, but she remained the solid front-runner.
8: CLIMATE CHANGE: Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a first-of-its kind agreement in Paris on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Many questions remain over enforcement and implementation of the accord. But elated supporters hailed it as a critical step toward averting the grim scenario of unchecked global warming.
9: CHARLESTON CHURCH SHOOTING: A Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, suddenly turned into carnage when a white gunman opened fire, killing nine blacks, including the pastor. The alleged killer’s affinity for the Confederate flag sparked debate over the role of Civil War symbols in today’s South. In less than a month, the flag was removed from the South Carolina State House grounds.
10: EUROPE’S MIGRANT CRISIS: Fleeing war and hardship, more than 1 million migrants and refugees flooded into Europe during the year, overwhelming national border guards and reception facilities. Hundreds are believed to have drowned; 71 others were found dead in an abandoned truck in Austria. The 28-nation European Union struggled to come up with an effective, unified response.
Was the Planned Parenthood shooting an act of political terrorism?
The man accused of killing three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic brought several guns, ammunition and propane tanks that officials say he assembled around a car.
For hours, he holed up inside the clinic, unleashing a fusillade that wounded nine people and sent shoppers scattering inside surrounding buildings during a standoff with police.
To some in the community, the attack resembled an act of domestic terrorism, sparking a debate over what to call Robert Lewis Dear’s rampage even before he was taken into custody.
But the legal system may not resolve that question.
Dear faces state charges of first-degree murder, and the federal criminal code has no specific, catchall charge for acts of domestic terrorism. That means federal prosecutors pursuing charges for ideologically motivated violence often turn to other statutes — such as those for firearms, explosives, hate crimes or murder — to cover offenses that could arguably be labeled as terror. The punishment may be the same, but generally without the branding more often associated with international terrorism.
“There has long been some interest in defining acts of domestic terrorism as terrorism. It’s become quite a partisan issue,” said William Yeomans, a former high-ranking official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
But given the number of laws already available to federal prosecutors, he added, “Whether it’s domestic terrorism or not, it doesn’t really matter.”
Police have not yet detailed a motive in the killings of one police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, though a law enforcement official said Dear said “no more baby parts” during rambling comments after his arrest.
Dear used a rifle in the shooting and also brought other firearms and ammunition, according to an official familiar with the case who was not authorized to talk publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has called the killings a “form of terrorism,” and Planned Parenthood has said witnesses believe the gunman was motivated by opposition to abortion. But Dear also has been described by acquaintances as a loner who once gave neighbors anti-Obama literature but never any indication he would target a clinic.
A coalition of advocacy groups is calling on the Justice Department, which is reviewing the case, to investigate violence against abortion clinics as domestic terrorism. Federal authorities have the option of filing their own charges but haven’t yet said whether they will do so. Among the federal government’s potential avenues is a 1994 law known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it a crime to injure or intimidate abortion clinic patients and employees.
Federal law defines domestic terrorism as dangerous acts that take place inside the U.S. that are intended to intimidate the public or coerce government policy or conduct — a description meant to encompass, among others, anti-government anarchists, white supremacists and animal-rights activists.
But without one all-encompassing statute, the actual charges can vary.
In the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, for instance, Timothy McVeigh faced charges including conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, malicious destruction of federal property and the murders of law enforcement officials. A Florida man in 2012 was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of arson and damaging a reproductive health facility after firebombing an abortion clinic.
While the Justice Department consistently charges individuals who look to join organizations like the Islamic State with providing material support for a foreign terror organization, there’s no comparable statute for prosecuting domestic crimes motivated by extremist ideologies and no catchall “domestic terrorism” charge or offense in the federal criminal code.
That lack of clarity can make it hard to count the number of domestic terror prosecutions, or differentiate that crime from other illegal activity, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report.
“Individuals considered to be domestic terrorists by federal law enforcement may be charged under nonterrorism statutes, making it difficult to grasp from the public record exactly how extensive this threat is,” the report said.
The issue arose in July when the Justice Department brought federal hate crime charges against Dylann Roof in the massacre a month earlier at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Asked at a news conference about the absence of domestic terrorism charges, Attorney General Loretta Lynch replied, “Well, as you know, there is no specific domestic terrorism statute.” But she did describe hate crimes as “the original domestic terrorism.”
The Justice Department in the last year has paid added public attention to the domestic terrorism threat. Last year, it revived a domestic terrorism executive committee that had fallen into disuse after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as the government shifted focus to international terrorism. More recently, officials appointed a domestic terrorism counsel to coordinate the flow of information.
Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Dear “should be charged with crimes that take him away forever” and that the federal government has many tools to do just that.
But, she added, “I think it’s very important for the government to call a terrorist, a terrorist. I think a reluctance to do that is a terrible thing.”
Mid-size U.S. cities are largely unprepared for Paris-style terrorist attacks
For Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there are lessons to be learned from the terror that gripped Paris just over a week ago.
After the Islamic State attacks, Democratic Mayor Walter Maddox took note of the Parisian security staff that prevented a suicide bomber from entering the French national soccer stadium. His thoughts turned to Bryant-Denny Stadium — where more than 100,000 people gather for University of Alabama football games. He considered the impact a terrorist attack could have on his 95,000-person city.
But experts say that unlike Maddox, many chief executives and police departments in midsize U.S. cities may not realize that terrorism could put their people and infrastructure at just as much risk as high-profile targets like New York City and Washington, D.C.
“The larger cities understand and grasp this,” Maddox said. “I’m not sure that at the midlevel cities the awareness is that high.”
Terrorism can and does happen in those places. This year, two men suspected of communicating with overseas terrorists were killed when they attempted to attack a free-speech event in Texas. A gunman killed four people at a military recruiting center in Tennessee, though it was unclear if he had worked with known terrorist organizations.
In the days following the Paris attacks, New York City deployed the first 100 officers in the city’s new Critical Response Command. The 500-officer program will be dedicated to counter-terrorism in the city, which spent $170 million this year to bring 1,300 new police officers to its 34,500-officer force.
Conversely, in Wichita, Kansas, where an airport worker was arrested after he tried to execute a suicide attack at the local airport in 2013, the 437-officer police force was struggling to stay fully staffed this summer.
While it’s difficult to know just how prepared every state and municipality is for a potential terrorist attack, security specialists say the ability to prevent and react well depends on a communication system and local counter-rism efforts that are still underdeveloped, even 14 years after 9/11.
Chet Lunner, a security consultant and former senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the FBI has counter-terrorism investigations in every state, but most places probably lack the resources to prevent or respond to an attack.
“You might think that all 50 states are responding to that kind of warning, but I’m not sure that they are at the appropriate level,” Lunner said.
The Paris attacks on “soft” targets like the restaurant and the concert hall — places with minimal security — should signal to local governments in the U.S. that they, too, could be at risk.
Lunner and Michael Balboni, a security consultant and former New York State senator who wrote homeland security laws for his state, say even if smaller cities and towns aren’t at high risk for violence and are short on the financial resources that big cities have, they should still plan and practice for terrorist attacks.
“State and local personnel are literally the tip of the spear,” Lunner said. “They owe it to themselves as well as the communities they serve” to be as prepared as possible.
Communication is key
Despite repeated efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on collecting and sharing information nationwide about potential terrorist threats, questions remain about how much filters down to local officials, especially in smaller municipalities.
In 2003, DHS and the U.S. Department of Justice began creating fusion centers to encourage and ease the sharing of information between federal law-enforcement and counter–rism officials in states and major urban areas. But a 2012 U.S. Senate subcommittee report found the centers yielded little counter-terrorism intelligence.
In 2011, the White House released the first national strategy and plan to empower local governments to prevent domestic violent extremism and homegrown terrorism. The plan advocates enhancing federal engagement with local communities that may be breeding grounds or targets for violence, though it has been criticized for disproportionately focusing on and alienating Muslims.
Until there is centralized information-sharing between the national and local governments, it will be difficult to get localities invested in sustained anti-terrorism work, Balboni said.
Balboni, who also served as a New York State homeland security adviser, said the fusion centers need to morph into what he calls “command and control centers” that gather intelligence and work in places where a potential threat or terrorist activity surfaces.
Outside big cities
People who don’t live in big cities typically viewed as likely terrorist targets may not think about terrorism affecting their communities or about devoting the resources to countering the possibility they could be hit. But they ought to.
Less-populated locales are where terrorists may settle in to plan or practice attacks, Lunner said. It is up to local police to get to know people and seek out information about potential threats.
“In this country, if you dial 911, the CIA does not show up at the end of your driveway,” Lunner said.
In Minot, a North Dakota city of less than 50,000, dealing with terrorist threats became a reality in the wake of the Paris attacks as the names of six people stationed at the Minot Air Force Base appeared on an Islamic State hit list.
The biggest challenge in responding to such a threat, Police Chief Jason Olson said, is the limited amount of resources his department has to focus on gathering intelligence and analyzing data.
Minot is a good example of a place that most people would not consider at risk for terrorism. And all Olson and local officials can do is push for relevant and timely information from the federal government.
But, Lunner said, they are probably not as informed as their counterparts in places like New York City.
Although states were quick to spend billions of federal dollars funneled to them after 9/11, they couldn’t sustain salaries needed to run long-term local surveillance programs with that one-time infusion of money. Since then, local spending on anti-terrorism has been reduced, said Doug Farquhar, a program director with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“The problem is that they knew this was one-time dollars,” Farquhar said. “You can buy a firetruck or build a building, but you can’t hire employees.”
Localities have also been unlikely to pay more attention to anti-terrorism because of the infrequency of attacks, he said.
Maddox said Tuscaloosa is unique in its willingness to dedicate money and resources to prepare for terrorism and disaster. He credits much of that willingness to training that he and his staff received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in 2009.
“It’s getting your team to believe that we need to prepare for a moment that may or may not ever come,” he said.
Disaster prep equals terror prep
For many states and municipalities, counter-terrorism has become just a part of general disaster preparation, Farquhar said.
Maddox, who has been credited with an exemplary response to a 2011 tornado that destroyed 12 percent of the city, said the same elements of responding to a natural disaster or a major violent crime — providing emergency medical care, shelter and food, and good law-enforcement — extend to counter-terrorism.
“Whether we have a natural disaster or an active shooter situation, my protocols are going to be nearly identical in how we approach that situation,” he said.
And in Minot, which has suffered a number of disasters in recent years — including a train derailment and subsequent ammonia spill, a chemical warehouse fire and historic flooding — Olson said responding to terrorism has become just a part of the disaster preparedness plan.
Stateline is a news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Feinstein: U.S. must increase efforts in Syria, Iraq
The United States needs to increase its efforts in Syria and Iraq “directly” and expand its support to other nations where Islamic State militants operate, U.S. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement responding to the Paris attacks.
“It has become clear that limited air strikes and support for Iraqi forces and the Syrian opposition are not sufficient to protect our country and our allies,” said Feinstein, who is the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and a leading Democratic voice on foreign affairs.
From Reuters Media Express service
PHOTO: Messages are left in a chalk memorial to the victims of the attacks in Paris, in Union Square Park in the Manhattan borough of New York Nov. 14. | REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Scott Walker open to sending U.S. troops to combat Islamic State
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he is open to sending U.S. troops to the Middle East to combat Islamic State fighters, but the potential Republican contender for 2016 presidential nomination isn’t calling for them immediately.
Walker told ABC’s “This Week” on Feb. 1 that he wouldn’t rule out sending American forces abroad to confront threats to the United States or its allies.
He also says President Barack Obama has not been aggressive enough in confronting threats from Islamic State fighters.
Walker, who is enjoying a burst of attention from the party’s right-wing base, has announced he is forming a political nonprofit to help him organize ahead of a likely White House run.
The governor spent the weekend in Washington meeting with potential aides for and donors to a presidential campaign.