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
On Tuesday's Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon asked Justin Bieber why he cried at the end of his performance at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. "It was just so overwhelming for me, everything," Bieber said: "The performance; I missed some cues, so I was disappointed at that; and just everyone.... I wasn't expecting them to support me in the way that they did." The last time he was at an awards show, the crowed booed him, he added. "I worked so hard at this album, I worked so hard at just becoming the man I want to become," that the moment overwhelmed him.
Fallon lightened the moment with a joke about harnesses, but then it got back to why everybody was booing Bieber before: He was acting like an immature jerk. Bieber blamed that on the "knuckleheads" he was hanging around with, and the fact that his period to "test the waters" was in the spotlight. Fallon said that part of becoming a man was picking yourself up after being knocked down — which Bieber has, apparently, with his new single. If this were a less sympathetic interview, Fallon could have added that adults also take responsibility for the times they acted like idiots (and remember when their albums are coming out). You can watch the friendly discussion of Bieber's maturity below. Peter Weber
On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping used a speech during a parade showcasing China's military strength to announce that he is cutting 300,000 personnel from China's massive army. He described the reduction of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army as a gesture of peace, saying that China will always "walk down the path of peaceful development." Analysts suggest the move is unlikely to reduce regional tensions over China's expanding military presence, and probably has more to do with Xi's efforts to modernize the armed forces.
Xi made his announcement during a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II. The parade featured more than 12,000 soldiers, including some from Russia and elsewhere, tanks, advanced fighter jets and bombers, and a range of powerful missiles, some being shown off in public for the first time. Along with the show of force, China was also spotted for the first time deploying warships off the coast of Alaska, in international waters. Peter Weber
The free publicity apparently wasn't enough for Jeb Bush, so he turned his spot on Stephen Colbert's inaugural Late Show into a fundraiser for his already well-funded presidential campaign: If you send in $3, you'll be entered into a raffle for a ticket to the show and dinner with Woody Johnson, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets. "I think the contest is a great idea," Colbert said, in what he suggests will probably be his last pre-show online video, "but here's the thing: No one from Jeb's campaign asked me if this was okay with me, to raise money off my first show."
So Colbert responded with some jokes about the Bush political dynasty, Bush's political base — "if you can't afford $3, you're probably not voting for Jeb Bush" — and the wisdom of tying your campaign to the "winning tradition of the New York Jets." And then he announced his own contest, the winner of which gets to submit one (non-vulgar) question that Colbert will ask Bush. Shot, fired:
...and returned. Probably glad to be sparring with somebody other than Donald Trump, Bush tweeted this video to Colbert, managing to both rib Colbert and dampen his own fundraising efforts by lowering the contest fee to $1:
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) September 3, 2015
Well, Amy Schumer is funny. Maybe Colbert has found his stand-in host. Peter Weber
Congratulations, Queens! In addition to being the most diverse urban area in the U.S., boasting a massive beer garden, and hosting the city's best Chinatown, the borough of Queens is also home to seven of the 10 worst subway stations in New York City, according to a report by the Citizens Budget Commission.
The report evaluated the stations by the number of structural components in disrepair, weighted that against the total number of structural components at the station, then gave each station a percentage. Of the 33 stations in worst shape, roughly half are located in Queens, Capital New York reports. Here's the map:
(Citizens Budget Commission)
Lest non-Queens residents begin to gloat, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is ruining basically every New Yorker's commute. As New York notes, it will be 2067 before all 467 MTA subway stations are in a “state of good repair." Perhaps in the intervening 52 years, we can all learn to actually leave enough time for subway delays in our morning commutes. Kimberly Alters
The six Baltimore police officers who were charged with the death of Freddie Gray, 25, while in their custody have had their defense motions rejected by a Baltimore judge on Wednesday. The officers' trial will begin next month; a pretrial hearing on September 10 will decide whether the case should be removed from Baltimore due to its publicity, Reuters reports.
Earlier Wednesday, protesters gathered outside the Circuit Courthouse to wait for the judge's decision. Gray's death in police custody — which was ruled a homicide — has become one of several centerpieces in the national discussion over police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. Jeva Lange
Golden boy quarterback Andrew Luck isn't afraid of fans hating him one day: 'You have to have skin like an armadillo'
There are plenty of things that set Andrew Luck, 25, apart from other football players. As the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, Luck is posed to become the next football superstar in the vein of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — he's destroyed passing records, bringing his team closer and closer to the Super Bowl each year. And, maybe most noteworthy of all, Luck is actually immensely likable and down-to-earth, both on the field and off.
He's always been this way, too: Luck was a star player at Stanford, and graduated as his high school's co-valedictorian. In a profile by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, he humbly added that he had never thought, "I'm good enough to play in the NFL," taking his early successes and goals step by step. Now known for being bookish and weirdly friendly on the field ("Luck routinely compliments the NFL players who sack him or knock him down, saying things like 'Hey, nice hit!' as they try to beat his head in," Taibbi notes), Luck can't really imagine a time when the tides might turn against him:
Americans love to turn on their celebrities. In sports especially, we root for them on the way up, then pelt them on the way down. Once-adored superstars like LeBron and Brady became villains after too many years in contention. I ask Luck about that phenomenon given that it might be in his future. His answer is hilarious.
"I bet Tom Brady doesn't give a shit about what people think about him," he says. "Or Peyton. You play quarterback long enough, you hear some things. You have to have skin like an armadillo." [Rolling Stone]
Luck won't settle for simply being thick-skinned, like the rest of us mortals. Jeva Lange
President Obama isn't the only one making a visit to Alaska this week, according to a new report from Pentagon officials. The U.S. military has spotted five Chinese navy ships off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea, heading in the direction of the Aleutian Islands. The presence of the Chinese ships, including three combat ships, a replenishment vessel, and an amphibious ship, marks the first time that the U.S. military has reported seeing "any such activity in the area," The Wall Street Journal reports.
Although China's defense ministry could not be reached by the Journal for comment, the presence of Chinese warships close to U.S. territory is likely connected to China's efforts to ramp up its military activity as its economic power expands. "I don't think we'd characterize anything they're doing as threatening," one defense official told The Wall Street Journal.
Other officials theorized that the ships' presence could be due to China's growing interest in using the Northern Sea Route to transport goods, since that route between Asia and the West can be up to several days faster than the Suez Canal route. "It's difficult to tell exactly, but it indicates some interest in the Arctic region," one Pentagon official said. "It's different." Becca Stanek