July 31, 2014

Moner Mohammad Abusalha went from a basketball-playing teen in Florida to a suicide bomber in Syria, and authorities are trying to figure out how it happened.

Abusalha, 22, trained with the Nusra Front extremist group in Syria, and in May drove a truck filled with explosives into a restaurant in the northern part of the country. The New York Times reports that investigators discovered that after going to training, he returned to the United States for several months before going back to Syria for the suicide bombing.

Counterterrorism officials in the U.S. and Europe view the return of "radicalized citizens from Syria a looming threat," but with so many able to travel abroad and fly under the radar, it's hard to determine who has been trained by militants. "Although we cannot speak to details in this specific case, U.S. officials have warned for months of the difficulties of identifying Americans who travel to Syria to engage in armed conflict," F.B.I. spokesman Michael Kortan told The Times. "This incident exemplifies the challenges faced by the F.B.I. in detecting U.S. citizens who seek to travel to Syria to engage in jihad."

Authorities are attempting to get a clear picture of what Abusalha was doing in the U.S. during his last trip, and what his motivation was to join the fighting in Syria in the first place. On Monday, Nusra Front released a video of Abusalha tearing up and burning his American passport. In the tape, he mentions trying to recruit other Americans to go to Syria to fight, and said that while walking to the airport he "asked Allah the whole way to make it easy for me, and Allah made it easy for me." He also said he flew to Turkey first, and then entered Syria with just $20 to his name.

Officials said that they received information about Abusalha wanting to commit a suicide attack shortly before he went through with it. Matthew G. Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said last week that law enforcement and intelligence agencies believe there are more than 1,000 Westerners, including about 100 Americans, who have been trained in Syria. --Catherine Garcia

happy thanksgiving
11:40 a.m. ET

An estimated 1 percent of the U.S. population is catching a flight for Thanksgiving — although if their destinations are any indication, quite a few of those 3.6 million travelers aren't going home for the holiday. According to numbers crunched by The New York Times, places like Nevada and Hawaii have a large influx of incoming travelers this Thanksgiving, indicating that perhaps plenty of people across the U.S. have been pining for a little sun or slots. More than anywhere else, however, flights to Miami and Orlando have seen the biggest swell of travelers, once adjusted for populations.

To be fair, that doesn't necessarily mean everyone is racing to the beach rather than home to their families; "home to family," the Times points out, could mean visiting parents who have moved elsewhere and retired. Although that's not to say you can't kill two birds with one stone — both Orlando and Miami are expecting 80-degree Thanksgivings.

Take a look at where everyone's flying today, below. Jeva Lange

see something, say something
11:39 a.m. ET
Ty Wright/Getty Images

Speaking at a campaign event in South Carolina on Tuesday, Donald Trump suggested that Americans should call the police on new people in their neighborhoods who look suspicious while moving in.

"People move into a house a block down the road, you know who’s going in," Trump said. "You can see and you report them to the local police." He noted that "most likely" reports will be wrong, "but that's OK." In this manner, Trump added, everyone can be "their own cop in a way."

The same evening, Trump redoubled his calls for surveillance of "mosques and other places" and asked why President Obama is "so empathetic [sic] on not solving the problem." Bonnie Kristian

11:21 a.m. ET

Thanksgiving with family often features an unwanted serving of political debate, and this year the Democratic National Committee (DNC) wants to ensure millennial Democrats can give as good as they get. To this end, the DNC has published a 2015 version of, which offers comeback flashcards—with overtones of snark and undertones of rage—pertaining to five hot-button issues and five GOP presidential candidates.

While the issue selection seems pretty straightforward, the logic of which candidates were included isn't so clear: For instance, why does John Kasich, polling below 3 percent nationally, make the cut, while Ben Carson, who nears 20 percent support, is nowhere to be found? Also unclear is what users can do if their uncle fails to be persuaded by the handful of responses offered for each category — or, in the site's parlance, if he's "still talking."

The DNC released a similar site in 2013 and 2014, announcing the flashcards in the latter year with a tweet suggesting the offending uncles in question sound like this. Bonnie Kristian

out to get you
10:54 a.m. ET

It's no secret that campaigns want to know who you know. President Obama's campaign, for example, developed "Targeted Sharing" back in 2012, a tactic which encouraged users who opted in to share specific content with particular groups of friends in order to get them to register to vote, donate to the campaign, or watch a persuasive video.

"People don't trust campaigns. They don't even trust media organizations," Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign's digital director, told Time in 2012. "Who do they trust? Their friends."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich gets that — or, at the very least, his super-PAC New Day for America does. They're working with a New York data company, Applecart, to construct "webs" of influencers in order to target potential voters, Bloomberg reports. But instead of limiting themselves to who is active on Facebook, Applecart is taking an old-school approach, combing high school yearbooks, local newspapers, community sports rosters, and published staff lists to discover who might be receptive to who:

When volunteers arrive at New Day phone banks either in New Hampshire or Kasich's political base of Columbus, Ohio, they are given call sheets prioritized by who the voters know. The targets are prospective "anchors," those whom statistical models have identified as open to Kasich (even as a second or third choice) and also whose connection scores showed them as likely to be interacting with others. The idea is to convert these anchors into de facto campaign surrogates. "It doesn't take too many people who are connected to a persuadable target to say nice things to them about John Kasich," to start to close the deal, says Matt Kalmans, a 22-year-old co-founder of Applecart. [Bloomberg]

Applecart uses social graphs, where each voter is webbed to their known contacts — Bloomberg notes that a dozen such voters in New Hampshire were deemed "hermits," with no significant interpersonal links. Although to be fair, anyone being bombarded by old high school friends who have suddenly got nothing to talk about but John Kasich might be wishing they were a hermit, too. Jeva Lange

Watch this
10:42 a.m. ET

For nearly a century, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has endured as one of America's most recognizable Thanksgiving traditions. But over the years, the parade's iconic inflatable floats have also caused plenty of problems. What happens when a balloon goes haywire? In 1997, one parade-goer managed to capture the moment that strong winds sent the Barney the Purple Dinosaur balloon careening out of control over 51st Street, where it was finally stabbed and pulled out of commission by the NYPD:

It's a bizarre and fascinating thing to watch, but in the wrong conditions, wayward parade balloons really can pose a danger to attendees. Following the 1997 parade, The New York Times reported that the wind had reached a speed of up to 43 miles per hour, and one parade-goer was seriously injured when a six-story Cat in the Hat balloon knocked over a lamppost.

Since 1997, New York City has imposed stricter safety limitations on the parade, including smaller balloons, much more extensive training for volunteers, and an ordinance requiring the balloons to be pulled if the wind speed exceeds 23 miles per hour. In 2013, the balloons were nearly grounded before the wind died down in time for the parade to begin as planned. Scott Meslow

Presidential polling
10:41 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Iowa Democrats may like Bernie Sanders, but they're not putting their money on the Vermont senator winning the general election. A Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday finds that despite Sanders polling well in certain areas, only 54 percent of Iowa Democrats are convinced he has a good chance of winning the general election, compared to 85 percent thinking the same of Hillary Clinton.

Despite the large discrepancy in general-election confidence, Clinton didn't sweep Sanders in every other category in the poll. In fact, 47 percent of Iowa Democrats said they thought Sanders was the best candidate to handle the economy — the most important issue to 36 percent of Iowa Democrats — compared to only 42 percent saying the same about Clinton.

Iowa Democrats also favored Sanders when it came to selecting a candidate who shares their values and is considered trustworthy. Eighty-nine percent said Sanders was "honest and trustworthy," leading Clinton by a 21-point margin in that category. Eighty-four percent of voters said Sanders shared their values, compared to Clinton at 76 percent, and 92 percent said Sanders cared about their needs and problems, compared to Clinton's 80 percent. As The New York Times aptly put it, the poll essentially shows that "Hillary Clinton wins Iowans' heads, but not hearts."

"It's not that Iowa Democrats are in love with Secretary Clinton right now. They even think Sanders would be better handling the economy, generally the hallmark of the candidate who wins the Democratic nomination," Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement. "But despite all the things about Clinton that give Democrats pause, there is one thing that unites them: She looks like a winner in November." Becca Stanek

Watch this
9:56 a.m. ET

At this time tomorrow, Americans across the country will be preparing to gorge themselves on turkey and football. Thanksgiving is a great holiday for getting together with family and friends. It's also a great holiday for getting so stuffed that you can't move — and if that happens, why not plop down in a movie theater to catch up on everything you've missed this month?

Looking for a brilliant, heavy-hitting Oscar contender? Check out Spotlight, the riveting drama about the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the sexual abuse committed by clergy in Boston's archdiocese. Looking for an inspirational sports drama that doesn't pull any punches? Check out Creed, the clever sequel/spin-off of the beloved Rocky franchise. Looking for something the whole family can enjoy? Check out The Good Dinosaur, Pixar's latest, about a world where people and dinosaurs live side-by-side.

Looking for something else? Fortunately, there should be no shortage of options. Click here to check out our full November film guide. Scott Meslow

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