Terror Threat Extends U.S. Embassy Closures Through Aug. 10 (1)
by Michelle Jamrisko
At least 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in predominantly Muslim countries will remain closed through the week as the State Department stays on guard for potential terrorist attacks.
Yesterday's initial one-day closing of 22 U.S. outposts followed the State Department's issuance of a worldwide travel alert warning of planned attacks in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia by al-Qaeda or its affiliates. The decision to extend the selective shutdown through Aug. 10 “is not an indication of a new threat stream,” Jen Psaki, a department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we've decided to extend the closure of several embassies and consulates including a small number of additional posts,” she said. This is “merely an indication of our commitment to exercise caution.”
President Barack Obama instructed his national-security team last week to “take all appropriate steps to protect the American people in light of a potential threat occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” according to a White House press release. The terrorist threat that prompted the closure is “very credible” and “specific as to how enormous it was going to be,” lawmakers from both parties said.
Britain's embassy in Yemen, which was also closed yesterday because of heightened security concerns, will remain shut until the end of the Muslim Eid holiday this week, the Foreign Office said on its website. The mission is operating with only essential staff. The U.K. has urged all Britons to leave Yemen.
France will keep its embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, closed though Aug. 7, the Foreign Ministry in Paris said. The German mission there remains shut as well, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke told a news conference in Berlin, though he said there's no evidence of specific terror threats.
“High-level people from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are talking about a major attack,” U.S. Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, said on ABC's “This Week” program that aired yesterday. “The good news is that we've picked up intelligence.”
The information includes communications among known terrorists intercepted by the National Security Agency in recent days, according to two U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing classified intelligence matters. They declined to offer specifics about the exchanges, only saying the content is credible and disturbing.
“This threat was so specific as to how enormous it was going to be and also certain dates were given,” Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who serves on both the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, said on “This Week.” While an attempted attack is most likely to happen in the Middle East, “It could be in Europe, it could be in the United States.”
The primary focus is on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen and a remote part of Saudi Arabia, according to King and the two U.S. officials.
“This is the most serious threat that I've seen in the last several years,” Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the chamber's Intelligence Committee, said on NBC's “Meet the Press” program. “There's been an awful lot of chatter out there” among terrorists, Chambliss said, noting it's “reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.”
Twenty-two embassies and other diplomatic posts were closed yesterday, including in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. Some of them were removed from the list of closures for the week, while others were added.
“Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the department said last week. The attacks “may involve public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure.”
The warning of a potential attack by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations is unusual this time partly because the groups are so “widely dispersed,” said Michael Chertoff, who was homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush.
“It's actually quite rare to have this broad and yet so alarming and specific a warning be publicly disseminated,” Chertoff, who founded a security consulting company in Washington, told “This Week.”
The State Department pledged to increase security at embassies and consulates after the attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The Central Intelligence Agency said it had warned the State Department repeatedly of terrorist threats in Benghazi before the attack, according to e-mails released later by the White House.
The State Department had issued a similar warning of possible attacks before that.
The latest alert and embassy closures may be an effort to disrupt al-Qaeda operations, according to Michael Hayden, who served as CIA director under the George W. Bush administration.
The announcements may be designed to put al-Qaeda “on the back foot, to let them know that we're alert and we're on to at least a portion of this plot line,” Hayden said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.”
The scale of the attacks discussed in the intercepted al-Qaeda communications, coupled with the fact that the messages violated the terrorist group's known rules about avoiding mobile and satellite phones and online conversations in favor of couriers, made some intelligence officials suspicious about the group's intent, the two U.S. officials said.
The attacks the terrorists discussed were too ambitious in size and scope to ignore, both officials said, and that may have been deliberate. It's also possible the discussions were intended to put al-Qaeda back in the headlines after years of foiled plots. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to speak publicly.
At the same time, said both officials, it's not time to exhale because the list of targets and the timing in the intercepted communications may have been deliberately misleading, or the planners may have gone back to the drawing board after they learned that their plans had been discovered.
The U.S. warning came days after al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged his followers in a speech posted on jihadist websites to attack U.S. sites as a response to American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist groups.
Fort Hood shooting trial: 5 things you need to know
The trial of Major Nidal Hasan begins Tuesday, nearly four years after the horrific shooting at the Ft. Hood Army base. Hasan's 2009 shooting rampage left 13 dead and more than 30 others wounded. The court-martial proceeding has been authorized to consider the death penalty as punishment.
Here are five things you need to know about the trial:
How is this trial different from a civilian trial?
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He faces a panel of 13 senior Army officers -- including nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels and one major -- who will hear evidence and render a verdict in the case. The panel consists of two women and 11 men, with the highest ranking officer being a female colonel who will act as the president of the panel. The panel must unanimously convict Hasan of murder in order to sentence him to death, but even a unanimous death penalty conviction would likely face years, if not decades, of appeals.
Why did it take so long for this trial to begin?
While charges were filed in this case just days after the shooting, the proceedings have been delayed for almost four years by pre-trial motions, changes in defense counsel, and a six-month-long controversy about Hasan's right to appear in court with a beard, in violation of proper military grooming standards.
The judge in the case was also replaced halfway through the proceedings. On December 3, 2012, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ordered the removal of Col. Gregory Gross. He was removed due to the "appearance of bias": A court ruled that a reasonable person "would harbor doubts about the military judge's impartiality."A new judge, Col. Tara Osborn, was appointed the following day to preside over the trial. Judge Osborn is a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, who has served in the Active Duty Army since 1988.
Why is Hasan defending himself?
After dismissing multiple defense attorneys, Hasan requested to waive his right to counsel and represent himself. At a pre-trial hearing on May 29, 2013, Judge Osborn noted that, "[A] prior inquiry into Hasan's mental health indicated that he had the mental capacity to conduct and assist in his own defense." However, Hasan was injured during the shooting and has since been confined to a wheelchair, so the judge ordered a medical exam to assess his physical ability to conduct his own defense.
After hearing testimony from an Army physician on Hasan's ability to handle the physical a stain of representing himself at trial, Judge Osborn ruled that Hasan could represent himself. Over objections from Hasan, the judge ruled that he will have stand-by counsel on hand throughout the trial. Lt. Col. Kris Poppe and Major Joseph Marcee will sit at the defense table, and Lt. Col. Christopher Martin will remain in the gallery.
What is his defense?
Hasan argues that he was acting in defense of others when he went on a shooting rampage in November 2009. He argues that he sought to protect the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the leadership of the Taliban, including Mullah Mohammad Omar. Judge Osborn has rejected Hasan's defense, stating that there was no "evidence to support an immediate threat by anyone at Fort Hood to anyone in Afghanistan." She also held that, as a uniformed Solider in the U.S. Army, Hasan had no justification to kill other U.S. Soldiers, and therefore Hasan will not be allowed to present that defense at trial.
Even if he is convicted and sentenced to death, what are the odds Hasan would ever be executed?
It has been more than 50 years since the U.S. military executed a U.S. service member. Army Private First Class John A. Bennett was the last service member to be put to death, on April 13, 1961m after being convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl.
In 1983, the Armed Forces Court of Appeals ruled that military capital punishment was unconstitutional, but it was reinstated in 1984 when President Reagan signed an executive order adopting new rules for capital courts-martials. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there have been 16 military death penalty convictions since 1984, but 11 of those sentences have been overturned. The remaining five service members remain on death row.
Cops shoot and kill 14-year-old gunman in the Bronx
Shaaliver Douse opened fire on Melrose street; responding rookie officers ordered him to drop his gun, police said. When he did not comply, one of the officers shot him in the face. Detectives are investigating how Douse obtained the gun.
by Barry Paddock, Ryan Sit AND Joseph Stepansky
A rookie cop shot and killed a 14-year-old gunslinger on a Bronx street early Sunday — just days after Mayor Bloomberg railed against a flood of firearms falling into the wrong hands.
Shaaliver Douse was shot to death just after 3 a.m. in Melrose when he kept firing a black Astra 9-mm. pistol after two uniformed police officers yelled at him to drop the gun, said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Kelly said the teen — who was due in court on a gun-possession rap and had been arrested in May on an attempted murder charge — is the youngest person to die in a police-involved shooting that he can recall.
Douse was chasing an unknown man down E. 151st St. when the officers intervened.
“It is undetermined at this time whether he fired at the officer or the unknown male,” Kelly said at a Sunday evening press conference.
The commissioner said the gun Douse had was made in Spain and detectives were investigating how it ended up in the teen's hands.
While police don't yet know where Douse got the weapon, Kelly suspected it came from out of state.
“The mayor had a press conference last week. He talked about (how) 90% of the guns we confiscate come from out of state,” Kelly said.
“We don't know the history of this gun. It will take us a while, but we will get a history on it,” he vowed. “But most likely, if 90% of the guns we're confiscating come from out of state, most likely this gun has been purchased out of state or somehow obtained out of state, stolen, and brought to New York City.”
The deadly encounter Sunday unfolded after two rookie cops — a 26-year-old white officer and his black 27-year-old partner — heard gunfire while on patrol on E. 151st St. near Courtlandt Ave.
The officers encountered a terrified man running for his life in the middle of the street with Douse in pursuit, firing wildly at his foe, Kelly said.
He said Douse would have killed the man if the officers hadn't been there to stop him.
“These officers stopped that from happening,” said Kelly. “I don't see what the officers could have done any differently.”
He said that while the shooting appeared justified, a full investigation was under way.
But Douse's distraught aunt, Quwana Barcene, 35, said cops didn't have to kill her nephew — who she said was a sophomore at the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx.
“That's was my sister's only baby,” Barcene said. “I'm tired of the police getting away with murder.
“Trayvon Martin is never going to end. Sean Bell happened to my nephew,” she said. “This rookie cop — please bring him up on charges as a murderer.”
The names of the cops, who both joined the NYPD in January, were not immediately released. They were part of an Operation Impact patrol assigned to the high-crime area.
Police were still searching for the unidentified man whom Douse appeared to be intent on killing.
The incident started in front of the Hizam Family Deli on Courtlandt Ave. at E. 151st St., where a security camera captured Douse firing at least three shots at his target from 40 feet away, Kelly said.
Another security camera film showed Douse, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, chasing the man, dressed in a black T-shirt and black shorts, up E. 151st St.
When the teen fired a fourth shot after the officers told him to drop the gun and freeze, the 26-year-old white officer fired a single fatal shot, police said. The suspect was hit in the lower jaw and died at the scene.
One 9-mm. shell casing was found near his body, matching the other three collected in front of the deli.
“We don't know why he was shooting,” said Kelly, who expressed condolences to Douse's mother, Shanise Farrar. Douse lived with her in the Morris II Houses on E. 170th St..
Asked if he planned to reach out directly to the victim's family, Kelly said, “I'm not planning to do that at this juncture. I may.”
Douse, at only 14, had a growing rap sheet. He was scheduled to appear in Bronx Supreme Court on Aug. 23 on a felony charge of possessing a loaded gun, stemming from a Bronx arrest in October 2012.
On May 16, police say, Douse shot a 15-year-old boy in the left shoulder at Boston Road and Jefferson Place, just a mile and a half from where Douse died Sunday.
His alleged victim was treated at Lincoln Hospital and survived.
Douse was arrested a week later and charged with attempted murder, assault, menacing and criminal possession of a weapon, officials said.
“There was insufficient evidence,” said Steven Reed, spokesman for Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson. “The complaining witness could not make an identification.”
Bloomberg last week listed the top 10 states where guns pouring into the city originated. The No. 1 state was Virginia, where 322 guns involved in crimes in the city were traced to.
“To those who say, ‘Stay out of our state.' Our answer is, “We'd love to. Just as soon as you stop letting guns seep into the black market and land in the hands of criminals and be used to murder our citizens,” the mayor said.