Tag Archives: terrorism

What the 114th Congress did and didn’t do

Congress has wrapped up the 114th session, a tumultuous two years marked by the resignation of a House speaker, a fight over a Supreme Court vacancy, bipartisan bills on health care and education and inaction on immigration and criminal justice.

The new Congress will be sworn-in Jan. 3.

What Congress passed or approved

  • A hard-fought budget and debt agreement that provided two years of relief from unpopular automatic budget cuts and extended the government’s borrowing cap through next March.
  • The end of a 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.
  • A rescue package for financially strapped Puerto Rico, creating an oversight board to supervise some debt restructuring and negotiate with creditors.
  • A sweeping biomedical bill that would help drug and medical device companies win swifter government approval of their products, boost disease research and drug-abuse spending and revamp federal mental health programs. It would also include money for preventing and treating abuse of addictive drugs like opioids.
  • The first overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act since it was approved in 1976.
  • A sweeping rewrite of education law, giving states more power to decide how to use the results of federally mandated math and reading tests in evaluating teachers and schools.
  • An aviation bill that attempts to close gaps in airport security and shorten screening lines.
  • An extension of a federal loan program that provides low-interest money to the neediest college students.
  • The USA Freedom Act, which extends some expiring surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act passed after the 9/11 attacks.
  • A bipartisan measure that recasts how Medicare reimburses doctors for treating over 50 million elderly people.
  • Legislation reviving the federal Export-Import Bank, a small federal agency that makes and guarantees loans to help foreign customers buy U.S. goods.
  • $1.1 billion to combat the threat of the Zika virus.
  • Defense legislation rebuffing President Barack Obama’s attempts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and blocking the Pentagon from starting a new round of military base closings.
  • Legislation authorizing hundreds of water projects, including measures to help Flint, Michigan, rid its water of poisonous lead, and to allow more of California’s limited water resources to flow to Central Valley farmers hurt by the state’s lengthy drought.
  • Expanded law enforcement tools to target sex traffickers.
  • Legislation that would tighten several security requirements of the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without visas.
  • Cybersecurity legislation that would encourage companies to share cyber-threat information with the government.
  • A renewal of health care and disability payments to 9/11 first responders who worked in the toxic ruins of the World Trade Center.
  • A bill allowing families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts for its alleged backing of the attackers, enacted in Obama’s first veto override.
  • A permanent ban on state and local government Internet taxes.
  • A bill that boosts government suicide prevention efforts for military veterans.
  • Confirmation of Eric Fanning to be Army secretary, making him the first openly gay leader of a U.S. military service.
  • The election of a new House speaker, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

What Congress did not pass or approve

  • Confirmation of Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.
  • Confirmation of 51 federal judges nominated by Obama, including 44 district court nominees and seven appeals court nominees.
  • Gun control legislation.
  • Bills that would have halted federal payments to Planned Parenthood.
  • Comprehensive or incremental changes to immigration law.
  • $1 trillion worth of agency budget bills that will be kicked into next year, complicated by a familiar battle over the balance between Pentagon spending and domestic programs and a desire by Republicans to get a better deal next year from the Trump administration. Congress passed a four-month extension of current spending instead.
  • A bipartisan criminal justice bill that would have reduced some mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders and increased rehabilitation programs.
  • The first comprehensive energy bill in nearly a decade, which would speed exports of liquefied natural gas and create a new way to budget for wildfires.
  • War powers for Obama to fight Islamic State militants.
  • A bill forcing the president to allow construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Obama rejected the pipeline in 2015 after seven years of indecision.
  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade agreement involving 11 other Pacific Rim countries. Congress did give the president Trade Promotion Authority, allowing Congress to ratify or reject trade agreements negotiated by the executive branch, but not change or filibuster them.
  • Child nutrition bills that would have scaled back the Obama administration’s standards for healthier school meals.

Claim against Chiquita for funding Colombian death squads to go to trial in U.S.

After almost a decade of litigation, victims of Colombian paramilitary death squads funded by Chiquita are moving forward in a U.S. lawsuit against the banana giant.

This week, federal judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita’s argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States. This ruling could clear the way for the historic case to advance toward trial.

In 2007, EarthRights International and other co-counsel, filed a class action suit against Chiquita Brands International on behalf of the families of thousands of villagers, labor leaders and community organizers murdered by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a paramilitary terrorist organization.

The suit alleges that Chiquita made illegal, concealed payments to the AUC for years, totaling at least $1.6 million.

The lawsuit also alleges that the AUC shipped arms and drugs through Chiquita’s ports and on Chiquita boats.

In March 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty to the federal crime of funding a designated terrorist organization and paid a fine.

“Chiquita profited from its relationship with the AUC and paid the Department of Justice $25 million, but the victims of their conduct have received nothing — it is past time Chiquita compensates the families in Colombia,” said Marco Simons, ERI’s general counsel.

“We are pleased that the court agreed that ‘the United States has a strong interest in monitoring and deterring unethical and illegal conduct of American corporations in supporting foreign terrorist organizations.’ The plaintiffs sued Chiquita here in its home court where Chiquita will get a fair hearing on the merits, something the company seems to have been trying to delay for a decade,” said co-counsel Agnieszka Fryszman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

Chiquita has pulled out of Colombia and now has no operations or assets there. Still, Chiquita argued that it was more “convenient” to litigate in Colombia than the United States.

The court rejected this claim, finding Colombia to be an inadequate forum in light of serious security risks for plaintiffs and their lawyers.

“Our clients chose to litigate in the United States because it is the only forum where they can litigate safely and where they can be sure that Chiquita will pay,” said Simons.

The plaintiffs also sued several former Chiquita executives who were allegedly responsible for making, approving and concealing the payments to the AUC.

On June 1, Marra ruled the claims against those executives, including claims for torture and extrajudicial killing under the Torture Victim Protection Act, could continue. That case now moves into the discovery phase.

In addition to ERI, the plaintiffs are represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP and attorneys Judith Brown Chomsky, Arturo Carrillo and John DeLeon.

The case, Doe v. Chiquita Brands International, No. 08-MD-80421, is joined with several lawsuits against Chiquita proceeding before Marra.­

Trump appointments signal national security hard line

If there was any doubt about whether Donald Trump meant business with his hard-line campaign pronouncements on immigration, race, terrorism and more, the president-elect went a long way to dispel them Friday with his first appointments to his national security team and at the Justice Department.

It wasn’t just talk.

Trump’s trifecta in selecting Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for national security adviser and Rep. Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA sent a strong message that Americans are going to get what they voted for in electing a Republican whose campaign talk about national security matters largely toggled between tough and tougher.

There has been ongoing mystery about what to expect in a Trump presidency: Even some of Trump’s own supporters wrote off some of his more provocative campaign comments. Trump’s own policy statements have zigged and zagged depending on the audience. And his first two appointments to the White House staff — GOP Chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff and onetime Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon as a senior adviser — sent a mixed message with the choice of an establishment figure and a flame-throwing outsider.

But Friday’s picks offered a concrete indication that Trump’s presidency may in fact be headed sharply to the right on issues of national security.

“If you believe in personnel as policy, it’s pretty clear where the arrows are pointing,” says Calvin Mackenzie, a presidential scholar at Colby College in Maine.

Princeton historian Julian Zelizer says the three choices all represent conservative figures with track records in government, not “wildly out-of-the-box people who don’t even come from the world of politics.”

“That’s a message not just about him following through on his campaign promises, but it’s about partisanship,” says Zelizer. “He’s giving a signal to the Republicans to stick with him because he’ll deliver.”

Trump still has plenty of big appointments yet to make, including secretary of state, that could telegraph other directions. And Congress, too, will have a say in setting national security policy.

Trump’s three latest all have sharply differed with Obama administration policy:

  • Sessions, the Alabama senator and former federal prosecutor, is known for his tough stance on immigration enforcement. He’s questioned whether terrorism suspects should get the protection of the U.S. court system, opposes closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and has highlighted concerns about voting fraud, which the Obama administration sees as a non-issue. He has said Obama’s counterterrorism policies have “emboldened our enemies” and those concerned about warrantless wiretaps have “exaggerated the extent to which this is somehow violative of our Constitution.” His appointment to a federal judgeship in 1986 fell through after he was accused of making racially charged statements while U.S. attorney in Alabama.
  • Pompeo, the three-term congressman from Kansas, is an outspoken opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, has said NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a traitor who deserves the death sentence and has said Muslim leaders are “potentially complicit” in terrorist attacks if they do not denounce violence carried out in the name of Islam.
  • Flynn stepped down as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in April 2014 and said he’d been forced out because he disagreed with Obama’s approach to combatting extremism. Critics said he’d mismanaged the agency. Flynn has pressed for a more aggressive U.S. campaign against the Islamic State group, and favors working more closely with Russia.

The three appointments sync up with messages that Trump voters sent in the exit polls on Election Night.

Trump’s backers put a higher priority on addressing terrorism and immigration than did Clinton’s supporters. Three-fourths of them said the U.S. was doing very badly or somewhat badly at dealing with IS. Just 2 in 10 thought blacks are treated unfairly in the U.S. criminal justice system. Three-fourths backed building a wall on the southern border to control illegal immigration.

Trump’s positions, meanwhile, have gone through different iterations, continue to evolve and still have big gaps.

On immigration, his views have arrived at a policy that sounds much like Washington as usual. The approach he sketched out in a post-election interview on 60 Minutes would embrace the Obama administration’s push to deport the most serious criminals who are in the U.S. illegally as well as the call by many Republican lawmakers to secure the border before considering any legal status for those who’ve committed immigration violations but otherwise lived lawfully. He even pulled back a bit on his vaunted southern wall, suggesting a fence may be enough for part of it.

Trump the campaigner also moved away from his inflammatory vow to freeze the entry of foreign Muslims into the U.S., settling late in the race on “extreme” vetting of immigrants from countries and regions plagued by violent radicalism.

He’s vowed to crush the Islamic State group, but he won’t say how.

Trump has also said he believes in enhanced interrogation techniques, which can include waterboarding and other types of torture that are against the law and that many experts argue are ineffective.

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on Friday dismissed Trump’s comments about waterboarding as the talk of a “first-time neophyte running for office.”

“Water-boarding coming back, I find that hard to believe,” he said.

Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Calvin Woodward contributed to this report.

 

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.

Once lauded as a peacemaker, Obama’s tenure fraught with war

Seven years ago this week, when a young American president learned he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into his first term — arguably before he’d made any peace — a somewhat embarrassed Barack Obama asked his aides to write an acceptance speech that addressed the awkwardness of the award.

But by the time his speechwriters delivered a draft, Obama’s focus had shifted to another source of tension in his upcoming moment in Oslo: He would deliver this speech about peace just days after he planned to order 30,000 more American troops into battle in Afghanistan.

The president all but scrapped the draft and wrote his own version.

The speech Obama delivered — a Nobel Peace Prize lecture about the necessity of waging war — now looks like an early sign that the American president would not be the sort of peacemaker the European intellectuals of the Nobel committee had anticipated.

On matters of war and peace, Obama has proven to be a confounding and contradictory figure, one who stands to leave behind both devastating and pressing failures, as well as a set of fresh accomplishments whose impact could resonate for decades.

He is the erstwhile anti-war candidate, now engaged in more theaters of war than his predecessor. He is the commander-in-chief who pulled more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops out of harm’s way in Iraq, but also began a slow trickle back in. He recoiled against full-scale, conventional war, while embracing the brave new world of drone attacks and proxy battles. He has championed diplomacy on climate change and nuclear proliferation and has torn down walls to Cuba and Myanmar, but also has failed repeatedly to broker a lasting pause to more than six years of slaughter in Syria.

If there was consensus Obama had not yet earned his Nobel Peace Prize when he received it in 2009, there’s little such agreement on whether he deserves it today.

“I don’t think he would have been in the speculation of the Nobel committee now, in 2016, even if he had not already won,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and a close watcher of the Nobel committee. Harpviken said he views Obama’s foreign policy as more conventional and limited than he expected, particularly when it comes to using multilateral cooperation and institutions.

When it comes to finding new instruments for peace, he said, “Obama has been stuck in the old paradigm.”

In many respects, Obama’s tenure has been a seven-year debate over whether the president has used the tools of war to try to make peace too much or little.

Obama has been sharply criticized for his refusal to use force to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, cripple his air force or more aggressively engage in diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. Many view Obama’s policies as an unfortunate overcorrection from the George W. Bush-era Iraq war.

“The president correctly wanted to move away from the maximalist approach of the previous administration, but in doing so he went to a minimalist, gradualist and proxy approach that is prolonging the war. Where is the justice in that?” said Ret. Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and the author of the book, “Just War Reconsider.” Obama should have worked harder to rally a coalition around a shared vision of a stable Middle East, he said.

“Part of the requirement of leadership,” Dubik said, “is to operate in that space between where the world is and where the world ought to go.”

The president’s advisers dismiss such critiques as a misguided presumption that more force yields more peace. Cold-eyed assessments of the options in Syria show no certainty of outcomes.

“In Syria, there is no international basis to go to war against the Assad regime. Similarly, there’s no clearly articulable objective as to how it would play out. What is the end that we’re seeking militarily? “ said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “The president doesn’t believe you can impose order through military force alone.”

But Obama has in many other cases been willing to use limited force to achieve limited objectives, even risking unintended consequences.

He has ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria, actions that that have killed civilians and sparked tension in those countries and across the international community. What began as a secret program has become more transparent and Obama has aimed to leave legal limits for his predecessor on the use of unmanned warplanes.

But he has left unanswered the question of how or when those actions will lead to peace, some argued.

Looking back on his Nobel speech, that dilemma was already there, said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert and former State Department official.

“What’s strikes me most is how different our concept of war was seven years ago,” he said. “We are engaged in a whole series of infinitely sustainable, low-level actions that have no logical endpoint. When do we stop doing drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan? What level of terrorism is acceptable? … We’re engaged in battles with a whole range of groups that are never going to surrender, so how do you decide to stop it? How do you decide what winning looks like?”

15 years after Sept. 11: How the unity we forged broke apart

For a time, it felt like the attack that shattered America had also brought it together. After Sept. 11, signs of newfound unity seemed to well up everywhere, from the homes where American flags appeared virtually overnight to the Capitol steps where lawmakers pushed aside party lines to sing “God Bless America” together.

That cohesion feels vanishingly distant as the 15th anniversary of the attacks arrives Sunday. Gallup’s 15-year-old poll of Americans’ national pride hit its lowest-ever point this year. In a country that now seems carved up by door-slamming disputes over race, immigration, national security, policing and politics, people impelled by the spirit of common purpose after Sept. 11 rue how much it has slipped away.

Jon Hile figured he could help the ground zero cleanup because he worked in industrial air pollution control. So he traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to volunteer, and it is not exaggerating to say the experience changed his life. He came home and became a firefighter.

Hile, who now runs a risk management firm, remembers it as a time of communal kindness, when “everybody understood how quickly things could change … and how quickly you could feel vulnerable.”

A decade and a half later, he sees a nation where economic stress has pushed many people to look out for themselves. Where people stick to their comfort zones.

“I wish that we truly remembered,” he says, “like we said we’d never forget.”

Terrorism barely registered among Americans’ top worries in early September 2001, but amid economic concerns, a Gallup poll around then found only 43 percent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going.

Then, in under two hours on Sept. 11, the nation lost nearly 3,000 people, two of its tallest buildings and its sense of impregnability. But out of the shock, fear and sorrow rose a feeling of regaining some things, too _ a shared identity, a heartfelt commitment to the nation indivisible.

Stores ran out of flags. Americans from coast to coast cupped candle flames and prayed at vigils, gave blood and billions of dollars, cheered firefighters and police. Military recruits cited the attacks as they signed up.

Congress scrubbed partisanship to pass a $40 billion anti-terrorism and victim aid measure three days after the attacks, and approval ratings for lawmakers and the president sped to historic highs. A special postage stamp declared “United We Stand,” and Americans agreed: A Newsweek poll found 79 percent felt 9/11 would make the country stronger and more unified.

“I really saw people stand up for America. … And I was very proud of that,” recalls Maria Medrano-Nehls, a retired state library agency worker in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her foster daughter and niece, Army National Guard Master Sgt. Linda Tarango-Griess, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004.

Now, Medrano-Nehls thinks weariness from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and combative politics have pried Americans apart, and it pains her to think of the military serving a country so torn.

Larry Brook can still picture the crowd at a post-9/11 interfaith vigil at an amphitheater in Pelham, Alabama. The numbers seemed a tangible measure of an urge to come together.

Now? “I don’t think we’re anywhere close,” says Brook, who publishes Southern Jewish Life magazine. To him, political partisanship and clashes over Middle East policy are walling off middle ground.

Three days after 9/11, Joseph Esposito was at smoldering ground zero as Republican President George W. Bush grabbed a bullhorn and vowed the attackers “will hear all of us soon.” The moment became an emblem of American strength and resolve, and Esposito, then the New York Police Department’s top uniformed officer, was struck by “the camaraderie, the unity” of those days.

He remembers the support police enjoyed then, and how much the tone had changed by the time of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, when police arrested hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom said cops unjustly rounded and roughed them up. Now the city’s emergency management commissioner, Esposito has watched from the sidelines as a national protest movement has erupted in recent years from police killings of unarmed black men, and as police themselves have been killed by gunmen claiming vengeance.

These days, Esposito hopes his job can be unifying. He wants people to feel that the city helps neighborhoods equally to handle disaster. “The 1 percenters should not be better prepared than the 99 percent,” he says.

“If everyone feels they’re getting their fair share,” he adds, “it fosters better feelings toward one another.”

For all the signs of kinship after Sept. 11, the first retribution attack came just four days later, authorities said.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot dead while placing flowers on a memorial at his Mesa, Arizona, gas station. Prosecutors said the gunman mistook Sodhi, an Indian Sikh immigrant, for an Arab Muslim.

Seeing hundreds of people gather in solidarity on the night of his brother’s death showed me “the greatness of unity,” says Rana Singh Sodhi, of Gilbert, Arizona. But in the last two years, he’s felt a “change toward hatred again.” He worries politicians are stirring animosity toward immigrants and minorities.

So does Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali.

After 9/11, he invited first responders for tea and coffee at the Northeast Denver Islamic Center to show appreciation and emphasize that Muslims “are regular Americans.” Now, Ali, who is African-American, believes Muslims and people of color are being demonized with “incendiary and divisive” remarks.

“We can’t act like racism hasn’t been a part of all this,” he says.

Can the United States feel united again?

Some Americans fear it will take another catastrophe, if even that can shift the climate. Others are looking to political leaders to set a more collaborative tone, or to Americans themselves to make an effort to understand and respect one another.

When Sonia Shah thinks about the push and pull of American unity since the attacks that killed her father, Jayesh, at the World Trade Center, she pictures a rock hitting a pond.

The innermost ripple, that’s the tight circle of support that came together around the people most directly affected by tragedy. Outside it, bigger and more diffuse, are bands of debate over policies and politics in the wake of 9/11.

“We usually see the outer rings of the arguments,” says the Baylor University senior. “But I think there always is a current of unity that goes underneath things.”

 

Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists P. Solomon Banda in Denver; Nati Harnik in Lincoln, Nebraska; Mike Householder in Farmington Hills, Michigan; Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky; David R. Martin in New York; Jay Reeves in Pelham, Alabama; and Brian Skoloff in Gilbert, Arizona.

Across the world, shock and condemnation at Orlando massacre

From across the world, officials and public figures are expressing condemnation and shock over the Florida mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub on June 12, when police say a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle opened fire, killing at least 49 people and wounding dozens.

FRANCE

The Eiffel Tower shined in the colors of a rainbow starting at 10:45 p.m. June 13 to honor victims of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Paris City Hall paid respects when U.S. and rainbow flags flew.

France feels deeply the horror of deadly attacks after the November terror attacks on a music hall, restaurants and bars and the main sports stadium killed 130. That was preceded by attacks on a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery store. All were claimed by the Islamic State group.

BRITAIN

J.K. Rowling says one victim of the Orlando killings worked on the Harry Potter Ride at the Universal Studios theme park.

The author tweeted a picture of 22-year-old Luis Vielma in a Hogwarts school tie, and said: “I can’t stop crying.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron have sent messages of condolence from Britain for the attack.

Buckingham Palace says the queen sent a message to President Barack Obama saying: “Prince Philip and I have been shocked by the events in Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected.”

GERMANY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s important to continue with “our open, tolerant life” following attacks such as the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Speaking during a visit to China on June 13, Merkel said that “we have a heavy heart” over the fact that “the hatred and malignancy of a single person” cost so many lives.

She added: “We are firmly determined, even when such murderous attacks put us into deep sorrow, to continue with our open, tolerant life.”

In downtown Berlin, dozens of people came together in front of the U.S. Embassy to mourn the victims of the Orlando shooting. People were setting white lilies and pink roses next to teddy bears in front of a rainbow flag and a U.S. flag.

“We are very much in shock, but we also want to show that nobody will succeed in intimidating us,” Joerg Steinert from the Lesbian and Gay Association said. “We’re here today to condemn this act.”

Djuke Nickelsen, carrying a bouquet of cornflowers and chamomile, said she’d come to show her solidarity with the victims and their relatives.

“I was very touched and sad these people were killed — all they did was embrace and enjoy life.”

UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF

The U.N. human rights chief has denounced the mass shooting.

Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, commenting at the opening of the three-week Human Rights Council session in Geneva, chronicled a number of human rights abuses and concerns.

He added: “I also condemn with the greatest possible force the outrageous attacks by violent extremists on innocent people, chosen at random, or because of their presumed beliefs, or opinions, or — as we saw — their sexual orientation.”

CYPRUS

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has condemned the Orlando attack, saying that such “cowardly attacks” incite the revulsion of the international community.

In a written statement, Anastasiades said the killings further galvanize the world’s determination to combat terrorism.

Anastasiades also expressed his and his government’s condolences to the victims’ families, the government and the American public.

ISRAEL

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin says in a letter to President Barack Obama that Israel stands “shoulder to shoulder with our American brothers and sisters” after the attack on the LGBT community. Rivlin sent his condolences, saying there is “no comfort for those who have had their loved ones torn away from them.”

The Orlando attack has dominated news in Israel, which has seen a wave of Palestinian attacks in recent months.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah says the mass shooting in U.S. history is a “senseless act of terror and hate” and that “Palestinians stand with the American people in this difficult time.”

The statement made no direct reference to the LGBT community. Homosexuality is deeply taboo in the conservative Palestinian society. Gay Palestinians tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live openly safely.

The sentiment is reflected throughout the Arab and Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia, judges can issue the death penalty for same-sex relations.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told the Cabinet as he opened the weekly meeting live on television on June 13 that the Orlando attack “tells us that terrorism knows no religion, boundary and geography. Terrorism must be eliminated.”

He says that Afghans “do not support terrorism but the victims of terrorist attacks” and offered his condolences to the people and government of the United States. “Our hearts and minds are with our U.S. partners.” He also urged “collective actions to end such attacks.”

PAKISTAN

Pakistan’s former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the Orlando shooting, saying ‘this is a sobering reminder that extremism and terrorism are on the rise.’

Musharraf, who is facing court cases at home but left Pakistan in March for treatment abroad, says on his Facebook page the world must “address the root causes of global terrorism to suck the oxygen out of the extremist narrative of hate, intolerance, bigotry and the promotion of obscurantist ideology that is radicalizing vulnerable Muslims around the world.”

KUWAIT

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry says the government strongly condemns the “terrorist attack” that took place in Orlando, adding that the escalation of such assaults requires a doubling down of efforts on the part of the international community to eliminate “this disgusting phenomenon.”

Last year, 27 people were killed by an Islamic State suicide bomber in Kuwait during prayer at a mosque in the capital.

QATAR

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Orlando mass shooting and called for concerted international efforts to “face criminal acts that target civilians.”

EGYPT

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Orlando attack “in the strongest possible terms,” and offered condolences to the American government and people. “Egypt stands next to the American people in these difficult times, offering sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishing the injured a speedy recovery.”

Egypt’s statement urged for international solidarity and a “firm, comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism, which knows no borders or religion, and is incompatible with all humanitarian principles and values.”

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The United Arab Emirates condemned “the terrorist attack” in Orlando, expressed its solidarity with the United States and called on the international community to work to “eliminate the scourge of terrorism.”

LEBANON

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry is strongly condemning the “cowardly” attack in Orlando, expressing solidarity with the victims and the U.S. government and blaming the massacre on the Islamic State group. It says no country or person is safe from “this global blind terrorism.”

The ministry statement says that “once more, this terrorist organization carries out a sordid terrorist act that clearly reflects the truth of its existing project based on animosity to civilization and humanity.”

The Islamic State’s radio on June 13 called the Orlando mass shooter “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America,” though IS has not officially claimed the attack.

The Lebanese statement doesn’t explicitly mention attacks on homosexuals. But the religiously-mixed Lebanon is the most liberal among the region’s Arab nations regarding same-sex relationships, with an active LBGT community. Although technically homosexuality is against Lebanese law, activists have strongly challenged it in courts.

CHINA

China’s official Xinhua News Agency issued a statement saying President Xi Jinping had telephoned his American counterpart Barack Obama to express his condolences over the Orlando shootings.

Xi was quoted as saying that “on behalf of the government and people of China, I convey to President Obama and the American government and people my deepest sympathies, sincere condolences and deep grief for the victims.”

JAPAN

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has condemned the Orlando nightclub attack and expressed condolences to the victims and their families.

Abe told reporters in Oita that “Japan stands together with the people of the United States” and that “this despicable act of terror cannot be tolerated.”

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the Orlando mass shooting was “an attack on all of us — on all our freedoms, the freedom to gather together, to celebrate, to share time with friends.”

He said he spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Australia, John Berry, “and formally conveyed to him Australians’ sympathy, condolences and resolute solidarity in the face of this shocking act of hate and terror.”

“Together, at home and abroad, we continue the fight against terrorism and stand up for the values of our free nations,” Turnbull said.

SINGAPORE

The mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub happened shortly after a same-sex kiss was removed from a production of the musical “Les Miserables” in Singapore, and after the government said it would look into rules of foreign funding for gay pride parades like Pink Dot.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Facebook: “Another senseless shooting. … It just goes on and on. The madness is not going to stop.”

MALAYSIA

The prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia, Najib Razak, said he was “horrified” by the Orlando mass shooting. “Islam abhors killing of innocent people,” he tweeted.

A few Malaysians, using pseudonyms, wrote on social media that they approved of the attack at the gay nightclub because the victims were “sinners,” but they were quickly condemned by many others.

Transcript: The president’s remarks on the attack in Orlando

President Barack Obama delivered remarks June 13 on the attack in Orlando, Florida, from the Oval Office at the White House. The following is a transcript of his remarks, and the questions and answers that followed.

THE PRESIDENT:  I just had the opportunity to get the latest briefing from FBI Director Comey, as well as Deputy Attorney General Yates and the rest of my national security team about the tragedy that took place in Orlando.  They’re going to be doing a more extensive briefing around noon — just a little bit after noon over at FBI headquarters.  So I will allow them to go into all the details, but I thought it was important for you to hear directly from me.

First of all, our hearts go out to the families of those who have been killed.  Our prayers go to those who have been wounded.  This is a devastating attack on all Americans.  It is one that is particularly painful for the people of Orlando, but I think we all recognize that this could have happened anywhere in this country.  And we feel enormous solidarity and grief on behalf of the families that have been affected.

The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community I think is also relevant.  We’re still looking at all the motivations of the killer.  But it’s a reminder that regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.

With respect to the killer, there’s been a lot of reporting that’s been done.  It’s important to emphasize that we’re still at the preliminary stages of the investigation, and there’s a lot more that we have to learn.  The one thing that we can say is that this is being treated as a terrorist investigation.  It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet.  All those materials are currently being searched, exploited so we will have a better sense of the pathway that the killer took in making the decision to launch this attack.

As Director Comey I think will indicate, at this stage we see no clear evidence that he was directed externally.  It does appear that, at the last minute, he announced allegiance to ISIL, but there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by ISIL.  And there also at this stage is no direct evidence that he was part of a larger plot.  In that sense, it appears to be similar to what we saw in San Bernardino, but we don’t yet know.  And this is part of what is going to be important in terms of the investigation.

As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time.  It also appears that he was able to obtain these weapons legally because he did not have a criminal record that, in some ways, would prohibit him from purchasing these weapons.  It appears that one of those weapons he was able to just carry out of the store — an assault rifle, a handgun — a Glock — which had a lot of clips in it.  He was apparently required to wait for three days under Florida law.  But it does indicate the degree to which it was not difficult for him to obtain these kinds of weapons.

Director Comey will discuss the fact that there had been some investigation of him in the past that was triggered, but as Director Comey I think will indicate, the FBI followed the procedures that they were supposed to and did a proper job.

At the end of the day, this is something that we are going to have to grapple with — making sure that even as we go after ISIL and other extremist organizations overseas, even as we hit their leadership, even as we go after their infrastructure, even as we take key personnel off the field, even as we disrupt external plots — that one of the biggest challenges we are going to have is this kind of propaganda and perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet, and the capacity for that to seep into the minds of troubled individuals or weak individuals, and seeing them motivated then to take actions against people here in the United States and elsewhere in the world that are tragic.  And so countering this extremist ideology is increasingly going to be just as important as making sure that we are disrupting more extensive plots engineered from the outside.

We are also going to have to have to make sure that we think about the risks we are willing to take by being so lax in how we make very powerful firearms available to people in this country.  And this is something that obviously I’ve talked about for a very long time.

My concern is that we start getting into a debate, as has happened in the past, which is an either/or debate.  And the suggestion is either we think about something as terrorism and we ignore the problems with easy access to firearms, or it’s all about firearms and we ignore the role — the very real role that that organizations like ISIL have in generating extremist views inside this country.  And it’s not an either/or.  It’s a both/and.

We have to go after these terrorist organizations and hit them hard.  We have to counter extremism.  But we also have to make sure that it is not easy for somebody who decides they want to harm people in this country to be able to obtain weapons to get at them.

And my hope is, is that over the next days and weeks that we are being sober about how we approach this problem, that we let the facts get determined by our investigators, but we also do some reflecting in terms of how we can best tackle what is going to be a very challenging problem not just here in this country, but around the world.

Again, my final point is just to extend our deepest sympathies to the families of those who were affected and to send our prayers to those who are surviving and are in hospitals right now, and their family members hoping that they get better very soon.

 

But in the meantime, you can anticipate sometime around noon that Director Comey and Deputy Attorney General Yates will provide you with a more full briefing about this.  Okay?

Questions for the president

Q    Mr. President, is there anything more to the LBGT angle to this?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think we don’t yet know the motivations.  But here’s what we do know — is organizations like ISIL or organizations like al Qaeda, or those who have perverted Islam and created these radical, nihilistic, vicious organizations, one of the groups that they target are gays and lesbians because they believe that they do not abide by their attitudes towards sexuality.

Now, we also know these are organizations that think it’s fine to take captive women and enslave them and rape them.  So there clearly are connections between the attitudes in an organization like this and their attitudes towards tolerance and pluralism and a belief that all people are created equally regardless of sexual orientation.  That is something threatening to them.  Women being empowered is threatening to them.

So, yes, I’m sure we will find that there are connections — regardless of the particular motivations of this killer — there are connections between this vicious, bankrupt ideology and general attitudes towards gays and lesbians.  And unfortunately, that’s something that the LGBT community is subject to not just by ISIL but by a lot of groups that purport to speak on behalf of God around the world.

Q    What are your thoughts about the fact that after all of these incidents over these years, that there has not been any move to reform gun control in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  April, I think you know what I think about it.  The fact that we make it this challenging for law enforcement, for example, even to get alerted that somebody who they are watching has purchased a gun — and if they do get alerted, sometimes it’s hard for them to stop them from getting a gun — is crazy.  It’s a problem.  And we have to, I think, do some soul-searching.

But again, the danger here is, is that then it ends up being the usual political debate.  And the NRA and the gun control folks say that, oh, Obama doesn’t want to talk about terrorism.  And if you talk about terrorism, then people say why aren’t you looking at issues of gun control.

The point is, is that if we have self-radicalized individuals in this country, then they are going to be very difficult oftentimes to find ahead of time.  And how easy it is for them to obtain weapons is, in some cases, going to make a difference as to whether they’re able to carry out attacks like this or not.  And we make it very easy for individuals who are troubled or disturbed or want to engage in violent acts to get very powerful weapons very quickly.  And that’s a problem.

It’s a problem regardless of their motivations.  It’s a problem for a young man who can walk into a church in South Carolina and murder nine people who offered to pray with him.  It’s a problem when an angry young man on a college campus decides to shoot people because he feels disrespected.  It’s certainly a problem when we have organizations like ISIL or al Qaeda who are actively trying to promote violence and are doing so very effectively over the Internet, because we know that at some point there are going to be, out of 300 million, there are going to be some individuals who find for whatever reason that kind of horrible propaganda enticing.  And if that happens, and that person can get a weapon, that’s a problem.

Transcript: President’s remarks on the shooting in Orlando

President Barack Obama delivered remarks on the mass shooting in Orlando from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room on June 12, shortly before 2 p.m. The following is a transcript of the president’s statement, as provided by the White House.

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder — a horrific massacre — of dozens of innocent people.  We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts.  We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city.  Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate.  And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.

I just finished a meeting with FBI Director Comey and my homeland security and national security advisors.  The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation, in partnership with local law enforcement.  I’ve directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.

We are still learning all the facts.  This is an open investigation.  We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer.  The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism.  And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what — if any — inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups.  What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred.  Over the coming days, we’ll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.

 

This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed the condolences of the entire American people.  This could have been any one of our communities.  So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need — they are going to get it.  As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow and for all the days to come.

 

We also express our profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed into harm’s way.  Their courage and professionalism saved lives, and kept the carnage from being even worse.  It’s the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals make every single day for all of us, and we can never thank them enough.

 

This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live.  The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

 

So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.  And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

 

Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history.  The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle.  This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub.  And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.  And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.

 

In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy.  Their names.  Their faces.  Who they were.  The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world.  Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families — that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable.  And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change.  We need to demonstrate that we are defined more — as a country — by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

 

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts — friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives.  In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another.  We will not give in to fear or turn against each other.  Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning.  May He comfort their families.  May God continue to watch over this country that we love.  Thank you.