Alabama town prays as nightmare drags
by Robbie Brown and Kim Severson
MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — Many things hold little Southern towns together. There is a common love of the region, the peace that comes with a rural life and, often, prayer.
In this town of 2,300, people drew on all of those as they endured what by last night had stretched into an unimaginable situation.
A relative newcomer to town — a man who fought in Vietnam and appeared to harbor a deep distrust of government and a grudge against every neighbor — shot and killed a bus driver, grabbed a 5-year-old boy named Ethan and then took the boy into a well-equipped bunker he spent several months digging in his yard.
By all accounts, the man whom neighbors and a sheriff's office official identified as Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, had no connection to the boy.
“He just wanted a child for a hostage situation,” said Michael Senn, a pastor at the Midway Assembly of God Church who comforted some of the children who escaped from the bus.
Like so many clerics here, Senn has been leading prayer services as the hours stretched into days.
By last night, no end was in sight. The FBI stayed in contact with Dykes by day and let him sleep at night, said Police Chief James Arrington of Pinckard, a nearby city.
“They're taking time and trying to wear him out,” he said. “He may do harm if they try to rush him.”
Hostage negotiators were speaking to him through a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe. James Arrington, police chief of the neighboring town of Pinckard, said the shelter was about
4 feet underground, with about 6-by-8 feet of floor space and a PVC pipe that negotiators were speaking through.
The police chief said the captor has been sleeping and told negotiators that he has spent long periods in the shelter before.
“He will have to give up sooner or later because (authorities) are not leaving,” Arrington said.“It's pretty small, but he's been known to stay in there eight days.”
Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said he has been briefed by law enforcement and visited with the boy's parents.
“He's crying for his parents,” he said. “They are holding up good. They are praying and asking all of us to pray with them.”
No one is sure exactly why he took the boy.
“He don't care too much for the government,” Arrington said. “That's all we know.”
The boy is reportedly doing well in the bunker, Alabama state Sen. Harri Anne Smith said in a TV interview early yesterday. Food and autism medication were delivered to the bunker through a 60-foot plastic pipe.
Still, state Rep. Steve Clouse said, the family is “just holding on by a thread.”
Prayer vigils abounded, and it did not take long for churchgoers to join the Salvation Army and the Red Cross in efforts to feed law-enforcement officers from at least eight agencies.
“Everybody wants to help. Everybody is talking about the boy,” said Lisa Boatwright, a secretary at a nearby church. “But there's only one thing we can do: pray this ends safely.”
Oregon man found guilty in 2010 Christmas tree-lighting terror plot
. -- A federal jury found an Oregon man guilty of federal terrorism charges on Thursday, rejecting the defense team's argument that Mohamed Mohamud was entrapped or induced by a yearlong FBI sting that began to target him when he was a teenager.
Mohamud was accused of leading a plot to detonate a bomb at Portland's 2010 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. But the device he thought was a bomb was a fake, supplied by undercover FBI agents posing as members of al Qaeda.
Mohamud sat still, giving no visible reaction as Thursday's verdict was read. His attorney, Steve Sady, later said an appeal was being planned for after the scheduled May 14 sentencing.
"We are disappointed with the verdict," Sady said. "We obviously though he was entrapped."
Prosecutors argued that Mohamud was predisposed to terrorism as early as 15 years old.
Mohamud, now 21, traded emails with an al Qaeda lieutenant later killed in a drone strike. He also told undercover agents he would pose as a college student while preparing for violent jihad.
Mohamud was never called to testify. Instead, the jurors saw thousands of exhibits and heard hours of testimony from friends, parents, undercover FBI agents and experts in counterterrorism, teenage brain development and the psychology of the Muslim world.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight told the jury earlier this week that the decision would be easy. Mohamud pressed a keypad button on a black Nokia cellphone and intended to kill people. Whatever else they might think about the methods of undercover agents or the government's decision to investigate a teenager, the underlying decision was Mohamud's and the motivation was hatred of the West.
Sady had argued that Mohamud wasn't radicalized by online recruiters or friends with jihadist leanings, but rather by a Justice Department hungry for convictions that ignored every caution sign along the way. Undercover agents manipulated Mohamud's faith and plied him with praise and the promise of a life leading other jihadis, Sady said.
Mohamud could be ordered to serve life in prison.
Eye for an eye: rough justice in Mexico's Wild West
by Simon Gardner
EL MEZON, Mexico (Reuters) - Wielding machetes and rusty shotguns, a motley crew in face masks escorts dozens of captives onto a basketball court to face a public "trial" for suspected ties to criminal gangs.
This is Wild West justice, Mexican-style.
Outraged at relentless extortion, kidnapping and theft as a wave of drug-related violence washes over Mexico, farmers, shopkeepers and other residents in the mountainous southern state of Guerrero are taking the law into their own hands as " community police ."
Both state and federal police as well as the military leave them to their own devices, manning checkpoints at entries to towns, but venturing no farther.
T-shirts pulled over their faces with holes cut for the eyes and nose, dozens of gunmen on Thursday flanked the tiny square in the hamlet of El Mezon, where more than 50 prisoners were paraded in public and accused of crimes from murder to rape to theft. No real evidence against them was presented.
The vigilante justice underscores a serious challenge facing new President Enrique Pena Nieto , who has vowed to shift the focus away from a head-to-head fight with drug-smuggling cartels that has killed up to 70,000 people in the past six years and to a more effective campaign against extortion and violence.
He plans to create a civilian-led police force made up of former military personnel that will replace the armed forces in the field, although until then, the government will keep troops out on patrol to deter violence.
Many Mexicans have little faith in police forces or the justice system. In this corner of the country, they are taking on the job themselves.
One of the gunmen watching over the alleged criminals on Thursday wore a Mexican "lucha libre" wrestler's mask, another a Spider-Man hood and a shotgun slung over his back. Some curled their fingers nervously over triggers.
They paraded the accused in groups of five in front of hundreds of onlookers. A collective gasp rose when one man was accused of murder by dismembering, a common trademark of gruesome gangland killings. He stared back at the crowd with an impassive smile.
Some local leaders gave testimony about how they themselves had been kidnapped by the accused. Sentencing will come later, organizers say.
"Many people saw it when they grabbed me. They stroked my shoulder and said they would kill me," one community police leader told the assembly.
"In my mind, I am dead, I haven't been able to get over it."
Communities in the folds of rugged mountains east of the once-thriving and now gang-infested beach resort of Acapulco say police are often in cahoots with criminals, do nothing when crimes are reported and ask for bribes themselves.
Extortion has flared in and around Acapulco over the past five years after two cartels clashed and one fragmented, creating a series of mini-cartels and kidnap gangs.
"We are victims of extortion, of injustice. We have been abused," said Bruno Placido Valerio, who coordinates community police groups in 20 towns and villages - a total of about 240 gunmen.
"The people are indignant at so much abuse. But we are not seeking anarchy or aiming to take justice into our own hands, but rather find a way out from the problem we are living with."
While community self-protection is a tradition in some parts of Mexico, these more radical community policing groups are an offshoot that started to form in early January.
His eyes peering out from behind a black ski-mask and clutching an aging .22-caliber rifle, a man who goes by the nickname "El Ciclon" or "The Cyclone," kept watch over residents of nearby communities attending the start of Thursday's "trial."
He and others covered their faces to remain anonymous and avoid reprisals from friends of the captives, or from government authorities.
"The people are fed up," the 45-year-old farmhand said. "Our government doesn't back us, so we decided to try to clear away all the bad people. We have to get rid of these animals."
On the eve of the trial, Guerrero state officials staged a last-ditch push to defuse the situation, but to no avail. The communities must now debate whether to impose their own punishments, or opt to turn them over to the real courts.
Some are demanding an eye for an eye.
RAPISTS 'SHOULD BE RAPED'
"They must be punished in line with the crime," said Odila Gonzalez Rios, who oversees community policing in the settlement of Copala, near the Pacific coast. "If they have raped, then they should be raped to see how it feels."
"If they have killed? The same. ... They must die, because otherwise this will never end," she said. "Do to them what they have done to others."
Acapulco last year earned the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of Mexico.
Police pickup trucks patrol Guerrero state, bristling with semi-automatic weapons. Sandwiched between supermarket advertisements on the radio, advice is broadcast on how to anonymously denounce organized crime.
The community policing "people power" approach comes at a cost. With so many guns openly held against the law, school absenteeism has soared.
"Closing schools is no way to combat the social cancer of insecurity," said Silvia Romero Suarez, Guerrero state's education minister. "It impacts our schools because teachers are afraid and parents fear sending their children to class."
The flourishing of community police groups in Colombia was a major factor in a deep spiral of violence that country grappled with as drug gangs co-opted them in the fight against Marxist guerrillas.
Mexico's government now faces a careful balancing act in handling the issue to avoid stoking demands for self-determination elsewhere, like in the southern state of Chiapas.
In the meantime, it is allowing gunmen to operate outside the law.
"This is a violation of human rights. They are violating people's right to freedom," said Oscar Ortiz, a law professor based in Acapulco. "The Mexican state, and that of Guerrero in particular, should get into gear because you cannot permit the law to be broken like this."
But some local officials insist the push for justice is forcing criminals to think again and making the area safer.
"They have filled us, the authorities, with courage, I can't hide or deny that," said Severo Castro Godinez, mayor in the town of Ayutla.
"Fortunately today, thanks to this movement, Ayutla is at peace. ... The community police are good people. They are responsible citizens. They are not looking to kill, they are looking to correct social behavior."
DUI rides part of community policing
Officer protocol for handling people cited for driving under the influence includes giving courtesy rides if an officer is available and citing and releasing the suspect, according to the Maricopa Police Department.
Residents questioned whether Councilman Bridger Kimball received special treatment after InMaricopa.com reported Wednesday he received a citation for a DUI on Dec. 15 and was given a ride home by an officer.
InMaricopa.com Facebook readers wondered if Kimball was being treated differently because he's a councilman.
Acting Maricopa Police Chief James Hughes said in a press release Thursday that DUI policy “does not require mandatory booking in jail” and that “a majority” of people arrested for DUIs are given courtesy rides home, especially if they live within city limits.
“If we can't find somebody to come get them, or they don't have the means to get a cab, we extend that courtesy,” police spokesman Ricky Alvarado said in a phone interview.
Besides being part of “community policing,” Alvarado said, “it comes down to safety.”
The police department doesn't want a potentially intoxicated person attempting to cross State Route 347 or the train tracks, he said.
Courtesy rides are not limited to DUI arrests. Officers, if available, also provide rides to motorists whose cars have broken down, Alvarado said.
According to city statistics, there were 154 DUI arrests last year and 76 drivers were given a ride home from an officer. Thirty-two were transported by family or friends, three took a taxi, five went to the hospital and the remaining 28 reports did not indicate a mode of transportation.
Out of the 154 DUIs, 144 drivers were cited and released and 10 were booked into jail.
According to the press release, City Manager Brenda Fischer did not know about the courtesy ride policy until Kimball's citation.
“Once I was aware of it, I asked the acting chief to compile the statistics for 2012 so that I can ascertain how often this was occurring,” she said in the release. “My directive to all staff is to always follow standard operating procedures and not give anyone special or preferential treatment, regardless of who they are.”
The city is reviewing its courtesy ride procedures and analyzing it based on liability, officer down time and other ways it may be impacting police service, according to the press release.