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

March 23, 2018
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George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to President Trump, communicated with top Trump campaign officials like Stephen Bannon and Michael Flynn about his foreign outreach efforts and received encouragement from a senior-level official to make contact with Russians, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts last year, was reportedly urged to accept an interview with a Russian news agency by the campaign’s deputy communications director, Bryan Lanza. "You should do it,” Lanza wrote, per an email that was "described" to the Post. The message further touted the potential gains to be had from a U.S. “partnership with Russia.”

Trump and his staffers have sought to downplay the role that Papadopoulos played in the campaign, calling him a "low-level volunteer" and merely a "coffee boy." But emails revealed to the Post show that Bannon, then the campaign CEO, and Flynn, then a top campaign adviser, were frequently in touch with Papadopoulos to discuss possible meetings between Trump and foreign officials.

Papadopoulos is cooperating in the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian election interference and whether the Trump campaign was involved. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

March 23, 2018

As the national conversation on gun violence comes to a head, 63 percent of gun owners maintain they keep guns for self defense. Others point out times the "good guy with a gun" argument went wrong.

A new story from BuzzFeed News looks at those times.

Since 2015, at least 47 people have been shot by someone who mistook them for an intruder, per an analysis by BuzzFeed News and gun violence-focused newsroom The Trace. The victims were actually family members, friends, or emergency responders — and 15 of them died.

BuzzFeed News turned four of these stories into a harrowing Twitter thread describing the moment each shooter realized what they'd done, like this snippet of Alexis Bukrym's story:

Bukrym's story continues, describing how she learned gun safety as a child and kept a handgun under her pillow while living with the roommate she shot. She knew about the risk of an accident, but her roommate didn't have a gun, and it seemed worth the risk to protect them both.

Read the rest of the story — including Bukrym's views on guns after the accident — at BuzzFeed News. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 23, 2018
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President Trump's newest hire is already wrapped up in the administration's scandal of the moment.

Incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton's super PAC in 2014 bought Cambridge Analytica data collected from Facebook profiles, per a contract obtained by The New York Times. That makes Bolton's super PAC one of the firm's first customers, the Times noted.

The John Bolton Super PAC spent almost $1.2 million on "behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging," which used data compiled from Facebook users. Bolton's PAC was aware the data came from Facebook, whistleblower Chris Wylie confirmed to the Times.

Connections to Cambridge Analytica have surfaced in multiple Republican campaigns since Saturday, when Wylie revealed how the company breached Facebook to build databases of user information. Trump's campaign was the most notable, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as well as now-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson both paid the firm during their presidential runs in 2016, ABC News reported. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 23, 2018

South Korea wants its government workers to stop working so hard.

Federal employees are putting in too many overtime hours, BBC reports, so the local government is taking extreme measures to make sure they head out on time: Employee computers will be automatically powered down at 8 p.m. sharp every Friday.

The local government in Seoul, South Korea's capital city, is rolling out the new initiative starting later this month, BBC reports, in an effort to stop a "culture of working overtime." In April, the shutdown will start a bit earlier, at 7:30 p.m. By May, the initiative's final phase, the workday will end at 7 p.m.

Government employees in South Korea work an average of 2,739 hours a year, about 1,000 hours more than their counterparts in other developed countries. Lawmakers have been trying to crack down on overworked employees, reducing the maximum for weekly work hours from 68 to 52 earlier this month.

The South Korean government will consider exemptions for the new lights-out policy, reports BBC, and more than two-thirds of government workers have already asked to be excluded. The Verge reports that this is not the first instance of government-regulated screen time in the country: Children were previously barred from playing online video games past midnight unless they had parental permission. Read more at BBC. Summer Meza

March 23, 2018

Foreign adoptions by U.S. parents dropped 12 percent in 2017, per State Department statistics released Friday.

American families only adopted 4,719 children from other countries last year, down from 5,372 in 2016. And it's only the latest fall in a chronic decline; international adoptions peaked at 22,884 in 2004 and they've fallen dramatically ever since, per The Associated Press.

Nearly 40 percent of adopted children came from China in 2017, which is consistently the No. 1 home country for foreign-adopted children.

Russia usually took the No. 3 spot until the U.S. banned Russian adoptions in 2014. Adoptions from several other countries have also seen suspensions in the past few years, AP notes.

The decline in foreign adoptions is a worldwide trend, though AP notes that the U.S. still accounts for half of that shrinking number. Read more here. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 23, 2018

President Trump announced plans to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities during his signing of the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Friday, pledging to create the "most powerful nuclear force on Earth."

The president leaned heavily on his praise of increased military and defense funds within the federal spending bill, which he said he signed reluctantly after threatening a veto earlier Friday.

"We're spending a lot of money on nuclear, our nuclear systems, to upgrade and in some cases brand new, whether it's submarines, nuclear submarines, and others," he said.

Trump claimed that building up the U.S. nuclear arsenal would mean that no other country would "come even close" in capability.

"We'll have by far the most powerful nuclear force on Earth and it will be absolutely in perfect shape and condition and hopefully, praise be to God we don't ever have to use it," he said. Watch his remarks below, via Fox News. Summer Meza

March 23, 2018
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In his usual disappointing fashion, Punxsutawney Phil spotted his shadow on Groundhog Day and promised six more weeks of winter.

That was seven weeks ago. So with the Northeast freshly coated by another massive storm, a Pennsylvania sheriff is coming after the dishonest rodent.

The Monroe County Sheriff's office put up a wanted poster accusing a brown-haired, 20-pound suspect of "deception," WBRE reported.

The groundhog is still at large, but the public is encouraged to phone in tips on the fugitive's whereabouts. Kathryn Krawczyk

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