States in Unchartered Waters Using Own Terror Laws
When three suspects appear in a Chicago court Tuesday to face terrorism-related charges for allegedly plotting to hurl Molotov cocktails at President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters, it will be state prosecutors, not federal attorneys, handling the case.
Illinois was one of at least 36 states to adopt anti-terrorism laws in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in largely symbolic gestures, and most lawmakers agreed the fight was best left to the legions of U.S. government lawyers. So the decision by the Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office to test Illinois' law for the first time against activists arrested before last month's NATO summit surprised many legal experts. Some wondered why prosecutors didn't opt for standard explosives charges and questioned why federal authorities aren't more involved.
"These are completely unchartered waters," said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor. With nothing close to the manpower and expertise of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, state prosecutors' ability to win terrorist convictions is "very much in doubt," he said.
Few state prosecutors elsewhere have even tried.
The New York-based Center on National Security says states have attempted to prosecute terrorism charges no more than a few dozen times, though precise figures were not available. By contrast, U.S. Department of Justice data indicates 403 people were convicted in federal courts for terrorism from 2001 to 2010 alone.
Among the successful prosecutions under state terrorism laws was that of John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind of the 2002 "Beltway Sniper" attacks that paralyzed the Washington, D.C., area.
Other cases haven't withstood scrutiny on appeal.
FBI releases sketch of witness to abortion clinic arson
The FBI has released a sketch of a potential witness in last month’s arson fire at a Marietta abortion clinic, which is under investigation as a possible domestic terrorism incident.
Investigators hope to generate more leads with the drawing, as well as surveillance photos already released to the media of the same man and a vehicle he was seen driving in the area around the time of the May 23 fire.
The clinic that someone tried to burn down, Alpha Group GYN on Powers Ferry Road in Marietta, is well known for providing abortion services and counseling. The sidewalk outside of the building is the site of frequent anti-abortion protests.
The clinic was open during the mid-morning incident. Employees said they saw two men who went up the stairs to the third floor and then descend them in a rush shortly before a fire started on that floor.
Authorities have identified the potential witness as a black man seen in the vicinity talking on a cell phone at the time of the fire. He is described as approximately 5-feet-10-inches to 6-feet-1-inch tall, wearing a blue polo shirt with an emblem on the chest and khaki pants.
Synthetic pot crackdown begins after state renews ban
A narcotics task force on Tuesday raided four Cherokee County head shops and convenience stores, seizing more than 9,000 packages of synthetic marijuana one day after an statewide emergency directive was approved banning the controversial substance.
Agents of the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad conducted the raid following a strategy session with the Georgia Attorney General's office and the GBI, Cherokee Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Jay Baker said.
Phil Price, commander of the Cherokee narcotics squad, said, "This ‘outside the box' thinking is the perfect way to address the rapidly evolving industry."
GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the seizures "were the first of many more to come."
"We understand other local agencies in Georgia besides the Cherokee MANS made seizures after they received our information yesterday, but Cherokee MANS was one of the first," Bankhead said.
Monday's ruling by the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy came after authorities said manufacturers altered the molecular structure of the substance -- plant material sprayed with chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana -- to skirt the state's recently enacted law banning its sale.
Georgia denies KKK application to adopt highway
ATLANTA — A Ku Klux Klan group in Georgia lost its bid Tuesday to join the state's highway cleanup program, but a legal challenge to the decision may be looming. Similar groups in other states have won legal battles after initially being turned down for highway cleanup programs.
The International Keystone Knights of the KKK in Union County applied last month to the "Adopt-A-Highway" program, hoping to clean up along part of Route 515 in the Appalachian Mountains. The state program enlists civic groups, companies and other volunteers to pick up trash, and the groups are recognized with a sign along the road they adopt.
Transportation Department officials met with lawyers from the state Attorney General's Office on Monday and also consulted with Gov. Nathan Deal. The agency said Tuesday it would deny the KKK group's application, adding that the program is aimed at "civic-minded organizations in good standing."
"Participation in the program should not detract from its worthwhile purpose," the department's statement reads. "Promoting an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern to the department. Issuing this permit would have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life, commerce and economic development of Union County and all of Georgia."
The statement went on to explain that motorists who drive past signs promoting the KKK or who see members picking up trash could be distracted — creating a safety issue — and that the section of highway the group wanted to adopt is ineligible because of its 55 mph speed limit.
DEA warns public of extortion scam by law enforcement impersonators
CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. - The Camden County Sheriff's Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration are warning the public about criminals posing as DEA special agents or other law enforcement personnel as part of an international extortion scheme.
An incident of this type was recently reported by a local woman. Investigators said the scammers tried to convince her to send them $1,500 or set up a payment plan. They said the woman was even given a bogus case number.
The criminals call the victims, who in most cases previously purchased drugs over the lnternet or by phone, and identify themselves as DEA agents or law enforcement officials from other agencies, investigators said. They said the impersonators inform their victims that purchasing drugs over the lnternet or by phone is illegal, and that enforcement action will be taken against them unless they pay a fine.
In most cases, the impersonators instruct their victims to pay the "fine" via wire transfer to a designated location, usually overseas, investigators said. They said one victim sent more than $29,000 in wire transfers.
If victims refuse to send money, the impersonators often threaten to arrest them or search their property, investigators said. They said some victims who purchased their drugs using a credit card also reported fraudulent use of their credit cards.
Home for mentally handicapped evacuated by bomb threat
An Atlanta home for the mentally handicapped was evacuated Tuesday morning following a bomb threat.
The incident happened around 8:30 a.m. at O’Hern House, which serves 76 individuals with psychiatric disabilities, according to Jean Toole, CEO of Community Friendship Inc., the organization that runs the home.
Toole told the AJC that the call was made to the front desk at the facility on William Holmes Borders Sr. Drive in the Auburn Avenue district just east of downtown.
“They said there was a bomb in the building,” Toole said.
African man tied to Somali terror group pleads guilty
New York (CNN) -- A man from the Horn of Africa has pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked terror organization, and traveling to Somalia to receive military training from the group, federal officials announced Wednesday.
Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, a 38-year-old resident of Sweden originally from Eritrea, was arrested in Nigeria in 2009 after authorities say he traveled to Somalia to undergo bomb-making and bomb-detonation training from members of al-Shabaab, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.
Ahmed pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to provide material support to and receive military-type training from al-Shabaab, authorities said.
While he was in Somalia, Ahmed paid €3,000 to al-Shabaab and gave an AK-47 rifle and magazines to a military commander in the group, according to court documents.
7th man found guilty in North Carolina terror ring
(CNN) -- A North Carolina resident was found guilty Thursday on terrorism charges including conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure people overseas.
Anes Subasic, a 35-year old naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Bosnia, also was convicted of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. He will face up to life in prison at sentencing in August.
Subasic is the seventh member of a North Carolina group of men convicted of terror activities. They were led by Daniel Boyd, who pleaded guilty in February 2011 to conspiring to kill people abroad and to provide material support to terrorists. Boyd's sentencing was delayed so that he could testify against three other co-conspirators who were found guilty last fall.
Two of Boyd's sons also pleaded guilty and are in prison.
Terror support charges against Fla. man dismissed
MIAMI — Charges have been dropped against a South Florida man accused of raising tens of thousands of dollars with his father and brother for the Pakistani Taliban terror group.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola on Tuesday dropped terrorism support charges against Irfan Khan.
Khan, his father, Hafiz Khan, and his younger brother, Izhar Khan, were charged in April 2011 along with three others with collecting and funneling at least $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban. The group has been linked to al-Qaida and prosecutors say it played a role in a failed attempt to bomb Times Square in New York in May 2010, among other attacks.
The charges remain against Hafiz and Izhar Khan. Both are imams at local mosques.
US declassifying attacks in Yemen, Somalia
WASHINGTON – The White House is partially lifting the lid of secrecy on its counterterrorism campaign against al-Qaida in Yemen and Somalia by formally acknowledging for the first time that it is conducting lethal attacks in those countries, officials said Friday.
The White House's semiannual report to Congress on the state of U.S. combat operations abroad, delivered Friday, mentions what has been widely reported for years but never formally acknowledged by the administration: The U.S. military has been taking "direct action" against members of al-Qaida and affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.
The report does not elaborate, but "direct action" is a military term of art that refers to a range of lethal attacks, which in the case of Yemen and Somalia include attacks by armed drones. The report does not mention drones or other weapons.
The report applies only to U.S. military operations, not those conducted by the CIA.
The report does not provide details of any military operations in either Yemen or Somalia. It merely acknowledges they have happened. Killings of terror suspects overseas are acknowledged but the administration doesn't acknowledge the involvement of drones.
Coast Guard offers reward in yacht explosion hoax
(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - A reported explosion on a yacht off the coast of central New Jersey that the Coast Guard later determined was a hoax has prompted the agency to offer a $3,000 reward for the prosecution of the person responsible.
Deputy Commander Gregory Hitchen said at a news conference that the search and rescue operation on Monday evening cost at least $88,000 and lasted about four hours. He said the emergency call came from a radio that was being used by someone on land, not on the water.
Hitchen said the caller gave authorities a "specific blow-by-blow" on how the boat was filling up with water.
"Many hoax calls, you can tell immediately they're from children," he said. "This one was somewhat calm but was giving a convincing story as to what the nature of his emergency was."
The multiagency mission was launched after authorities received an emergency radio transmission around 4:20 p.m. Monday from a boat identifying itself as the Blind Date. The caller reported the boat was 17 nautical miles east of Sandy Hook and had 21 people aboard and several people were injured.
The caller also claimed the vessel sank but everyone aboard had made it to life rafts. But Coast Guard crews and New York City police helicopters found no sign of any people or any distress in the water, and after two hours of searching it became increasingly clear there was no explosion.
"When they arrived on scene, helicopters looking down, they would have seen life rafts," Hitchen said. "And they would've seen smoke."
At about 10 p.m., the Coast Guard made the decision to call off the search.
The two calls came in on a radio positioned somewhere in New Jersey or southern New York, possibly Staten Island, the Coast Guard said. They came in on a Coast Guard channel that is not typically used for emergencies.
Man who crashed SUV into D.C. building says he was trying to get FBI’s attention
The man police said rammed a stolen Jeep with an open gasoline tank into a downtown Washington office building told officers he did it to get the FBI’s attention, according to court records.
Charles Ball, 32, of New Market in Frederick County told officers responding to the scene of the incident Friday evening at the southwest corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW that his family was in danger and the Frederick Police Department was not helping, according to court papers. A Frederick Police Department spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Ball crashed the Jeep into the building in hopes that the FBI would talk to him, the papers said. “I want to speak to the FBI,” he told an officer. “I did this to get their attention.”
When an officer asked Ball if he crashed the Jeep into the building on purpose, according to the documents, Ball responded, “Yes.”
FBI says violent crime fell 4 percent last year; but has long downward trend hit bottom?
WASHINGTON — The number of crimes reported to police dropped again last year compared with 2010, but a closer look at the numbers suggests the long annual line of declines in crime levels may have hit bottom.
Last year marked the fifth straight year of year-to-year improvement for the number of violent crimes reported to authorities. It was the ninth consecutive year of declines for property crimes, according to preliminary FBI data for 2011 released Monday.
However, the early 2011 figures show that the decline in both violent crime and property crime levels slowed from July through December of last year. Violent crime fell 6.4 percent in the first six months of last year. But for the entire year, the decline was much less, just 4 percent. The number of reported property crimes fell 3.7 percent in the first half of last year. For all of 2011, it went down 0.8 percent.
“The picture for January to June looked terrific,” said Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox. “For the entire year, it’s very different. Maybe we’re reaching the end of the trough in declining crime levels. It’s what happened in the second part of the year that concerns me.”
U.S. Security Expands Presence at Foreign Airports
SHANNON, Ireland — An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.
In a section of this airport carved out for the Department of Homeland Security, passengers are screened for explosives and cleared to enter the United States by American Customs and Border Protection officers before boarding. When they land, the passengers walk straight off the plane into the terminal without going through border checks.
At other foreign airports, including those in Madrid, Panama City and Tokyo, American officers advise the local authorities. American programs in other cities expedite travel for passengers regarded as low-risk.
The programs reflect the Obama administration’s ambitious effort to tighten security in the face of repeated attempts by Al Qaeda and other terrorists to blow up planes headed to the United States from foreign airports.
The thinking is simple: By placing officers in foreign countries and effectively pushing the United States border thousands of miles beyond the country’s shores, Americans have more control over screening and security. And it is far better to sort out who is on a flight before it takes off than after a catastrophe occurs.
“It’s a really big deal — it would be like us saying you can have foreign law enforcement operating in a U.S. facility with all the privileges given to law enforcement, but we are going to do it on your territory and on our rules,” the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, said on a flight back to the United States from the Middle East, where she negotiated with leaders in Israel and Jordan about joint airport security programs. “So you flip it around, and you realize it is a big deal for a country to agree to that. It is also an expensive proposition.”
Suspect in ’95 Tokyo Attack Is Said to Be Caught
TOKYO — The man thought to be the final suspect from the doomsday cult behind the 1995 nerve-gas poisoning in a crowded subway station here that killed 13 people and sickened thousands of others was arrested on Friday, the police said.
Investigators arrested the suspect, Katsuya Takahashi, 54, near an Internet cafe in central Tokyo after receiving a tip that a man resembling the fugitive had been spotted there, according to the public broadcaster NHK. Mr. Takahashi was arrested on suspicion of murder.
His arrest came less than two weeks after Naoko Kikuchi, who is suspected of being an accomplice, was taken into custody in a Tokyo suburb. The police had said that information gathered during her arrest had put them on the trail of Mr. Takahashi.
Both suspects had managed to elude the authorities for 17 years, though their photographs appeared on wanted posters across Japan. The manhunt gained traction after another member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult wanted in connection with the attack, Makoto Hirata, turned himself in to the police five months ago.
Germany bans ultraconservative Islamic organization amid raids across the country
BERLIN – German authorities launched a nationwide crackdown Thursday on an ultraconservative Islamic organization, raiding homes, meeting halls and mosques, while banning one related group and opening in an investigation of two others.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he had banned the Salafist organization Millatu Ibrahim, saying that it has been calling on Muslims to fight against Germany's "constitutional order."
The raids, conducted by 850 police officers in seven of Germany's 16 states, focused on two other groups — DawaFFM and DWR, whose initials are the German abbreviation for "The True Religion" — to determine whether evidence exists to ban them as well.
Friedrich said a "comprehensive collection of evidence" had been seized — videos, laptops, cellphones and other things. "All these things will be evaluated over the coming days, and we will see to what extent the evidence is sufficient to ban the two organizations which are being investigated," he said.
Friedrich said authorities believed there are "preparations for the founding of replacement organizations" and warned that anyone who does so can expect to face prosecution.
Among other things, Millatu Ibrahim taught followers to reject German law and follow Islamic Sharia law and that "the unbelievers are the enemy," a German security official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Al Qaeda in Yemen advertises for Western recruits
(CNN) -- Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate has posted several messages on jihadist forums in a recruitment campaign directed at supporters already living in the West.
It's a further sign of what has been a consistent campaign by what U.S. officials believe is at the moment the most ambitious and threatening element of al Qaeda, to communicate and influence potential empathizers residing in the West.
One such message -- in Arabic -- was posted by a user indentifying itself as the military committee of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on the Shumukh and Al-Fidaa jihadist forums, according to Flashpoint Global Partners, which monitors jihadist web content.
"Corresponding with those who yearn for martyrdom operations and the brothers who are searching to execute an operation that would cause great damage to the enemies the goal now is to activate those brothers who reside in the land of the enemy ... whether Jewish, Christian or apostates as clearly individual jihad or the so-called lone wolf has become popular," the posting stated.
The posting provided three e-mail addresses for interested parties to contact AQAP, which the posting said should be done by using downloadable encryption software. The e-mails corresponded to ones previously published in the group's English-language magazine Inspire.
The ninth issue of Inspire, released last month, included a "how-to" section directed at those seeking to carry out "martyrdom operations" in the West entitled "Rise Up and Board with Us."
It stated the top priority was to attack the United States then, in descending order of importance, Israel, France, Britain and "apostate" regimes in the Muslim world.
Attacks on Western targets in Libya sow fears of Islamist extremists
TRIPOLI, Libya — A recent string of attacks on Western diplomats and international organizations has sparked fears that extremists are trying to destabilize Libya’s first post-revolution national elections.
The attacks included a bombing last week outside the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi and a rocket-propelled grenade attack there on a convoy carrying the British ambassador, which injured two bodyguards.
Explosions have also targeted offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a U.N. vehicle, as well as British Embassy cars visiting the southern city of Sabha last week.
A Libyan group called the Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman has asserted responsibility for some of the attacks. It is not clear whether all the attacks are linked or whether elements from outside Libya are involved, though experts say those responsible are probably Libyans. Abdel Rahman, known as the blind sheik, is an Egyptian Muslim cleric who is serving a life sentence in the United States on conspiracy charges that grew out of an investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Islamist militants taking advantage of chaos in Mali
Sevaré, Mali (CNN) -- The town of Niafunke, on the banks of the River Niger, was made famous by the legendary Ali Farka Toure, one of a legion of great guitarists to emerge from Mali.
But nowadays, Niafunke is known as a battleground as Mali disintegrates and a mix of hard-line Salafi Islamists and ethnic Tuareg rebels tighten their grip on the northern two-thirds of the country.
Malik, an English teacher from the town, knows just how hard-line the new arrivals are. He said a friend was brutally beaten on a Niafunke street after Salafists caught him with a flask of alcohol in his pocket. Malik also enjoys beer, a cigarette and music -- all "vices" abhorred by the Salafists of a movement known as Ansar Dine -- so he fled.
His story is all too typical. Mali, traditionally a tolerant society, has become bitterly divided in the wake of a rebellion by the Tuareg, a nomadic people who inhabit the north of this country as well as areas of Niger, Libya, Burkina Faso and Algeria.
Niafunke was one of the initial towns the Tuareg attacked in January, sparking a coup by disgruntled Malian soldiers. The soldiers, running low on ammunition and food in the face of rapid rebel advances, abandoned their northern bases en masse. They felt that political elites in the far-off capital of Bamako had virtually abandoned them.
Into the chaos has stepped Ansar Dine, a Tuareg-led Islamist militant group whose primary objective is to impose sharia law in Mali, and an exodus of well-armed Tuareg from Libya, where many fought for Moammar Gadhafi. No longer welcome in post-Gadhafi Libya, these battle-hardened Tuareg fighters traversed Saharan pistes to return to their homeland in northern Mali, which is known as Azawad in their indigenous language.