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
Top Democrat on House intelligence panel says there's 'more than circumstantial evidence' linking Trump campaign to Russia
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) added a new wrinkle Wednesday to the multiple lines of investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and whether members of President Trump's team were involved. After being briefed by Nunes, Trump said he felt "somewhat" vindicated by the congressman's unsubstantiated assertion that he'd seen "intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored," legally and apparently incidentally, between the election and inauguration.
The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), said it's "deeply troubling" that Nunes shared his information with Trump, a subject of the investigation, rather than the committee doing the investigation. But on MSNBC Wednesday evening, Schiff told Chuck Todd that he's already seen "more than circumstantial evidence" of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. "I can tell you that the case is more than that," he said. "I don't want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigation, so that is what we ought to do."
On Monday, FBI Director James Comey said publicly for the first time that the FBI is investigating possible Trump campaign participation in Russian attempts to sway the election away from Hillary Clinton and toward Trump. There has so far been no evidence made public to tie Trump associates to Russia's hacking of Democratic and Clinton campaign officials and the dissemination of that material. Peter Weber
President Trump is the best predictor. The greatest. And in a new interview with Time magazine, foresight is Trump's favorite talking point. When pushed by reporter Michael Scherer on his ability to tell the truth, Trump repeatedly returned to his knack for getting things "right." Here are 10 times Trump bragged about his clairvoyance. Jeva Lange
1. "I predicted a lot of things, Michael. Some things that came to you a little bit later. But, you know, we just rolled out a list. Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary's email on his thing. NATO, obsolete, because it doesn't cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels. I mean many other things, the election’s rigged against Bernie Sanders. We have a lot of things." [Time]
2. "The other one, election, I said we are going to win, we won. And many other things." [Time]
3. "Look. I predicted a lot of things that took a little of bit of time." [Time]
4. "I'm a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right." [Time]
5. "I said no I think I am going to win, and people smiled, George Stephanopoulos laughed, you remember. He thought it was very cute, and very funny. Other people smiled. And some people, the smart people or the people that know me didn't laugh at all." [Time]
6. "I predicted Brexit." [Time]
7. "Brexit, I predicted Brexit, you remember that, the day before the event. I said, no Brexit is going to happen, and everybody laughed, and Brexit happened. Many many things. They turn out to be right." [Time]
8. "Brexit. Wait a minute. I predicted Brexit." [Time]
9. "I got attacked on Brexit, when I was saying, I said long before the day before, I said the day before the opening, but I was saying Brexit was going to pass, and everybody was laughing, and I turned out to be right on that." [Time]
10. "And then people said you know Trump was right. What am I going to tell you? I tend to be right." [Time]
Republicans say they still plan to put the American Health Care Act up for a vote on Thursday, even as the White House and House Republican leaders worked through the night to whip up enough votes to ensure passage. "There is no Plan B," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday. "There's Plan A and Plan A. We're going to get this done."
Late Wednesday, the White House and the conservative House Freedom Caucus reportedly reached a deal to strike ObamaCare's requirement that insurance plans cover 10 "essential health benefits" — including hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health, emergency services — and the Freedom Caucus will press their other demands in a meeting with President Trump on Thursday morning. They want to scrap at least some of ObamaCare's Title One provisions, which include prohibitions against denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions and annual or lifetime coverage limits. Even with the changes, many members of the caucus would not commit to voting yes on the bill.
After news of the Freedom Caucus deal spread, House GOP moderates met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team and balked at the changes. The House moderates say they are concerned that the AHCA will cause people to lose health insurance and raise costs for the poor and elderly, and the fact that Freedom Caucus members wouldn't sign on even with the hard-to-swallow changes made them even worse. "Everybody's frustrated," one lawmaker in the meeting told Politico. "Some moved; some stayed the same.... Nobody goes closer to the bill on that one."
The changes demanded by House Freedom Caucus members aren't opposed by most Republicans, but they would make passage in the Senate, already facing long odds, even more difficult, as they could render the bill ineligible for the filibuster-proof "reconciliation" process. Mike DeBonis explains the situation at The Washington Post: "The White House and GOP congressional leaders have told the Freedom Caucus that meeting their demands would essentially kill the American Health Care Act before it is born, but the Freedom Caucus, egged on by several conservative Republican senators, refuses to believe that is the case." House Republicans can't lose more than 22 votes. Peter Weber
U.S. Treasury Department agents investigating former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's work in Eastern Europe have received information this year about Manafort's offshore financial transactions in Cyprus, The Associated Press reported early Thursday, citing "a person familiar with the case." Cypriot investigators reportedly turned over the documents to the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the Cyprus attorney general was aware of the U.S. request. Manafort declined to comment to the AP and a Treasury spokesman said he could not confirm or deny potential investigations.
The time period covered under the requested documents isn't clear, AP says, though federal prosecutors have been interested in Manafort's actions in relation to stolen Ukrainian assets since one of his clients, pro-Moscow former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014. (No U.S. charges have been filed in that case.) AP — which reported on Wednesday that Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract in 2006 with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin — says U.S. investigators are expected to examine millions of dollars in wire transfers to Cyprus. Manafort is known to use Cyprus to route money, AP says, including from Deripaska, as detailed in a 2014 lawsuit. Those secretive transfers are not in themselves illegal.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says President Trump was unaware of Manafort's work for Deripaska. Democrats said the Trump-Russian connections keep piling up. AP's reporting "undermines the groundless assertions that the administration has been making that there are no ties between President Trump and Russia. This is not a drip, drip, drip," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements." You can read more at AP. Peter Weber
British police arrest 7 after London attack, say assailant likely acted alone, 'inspired by international terrorism'
On Thursday morning, Britain's Metropolitan Police counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley said that seven people have been arrested in overnight raids in London and Birmingham in connection with Wednesday's deadly attack outside Parliament and on Westminster Bridge.
"It is still our belief — which continues to be borne out by our investigation — that this attacker acted alone and was inspired by international terrorism," he said. "At this stage we have no specific information about further threats to the public." At least four people, including the attacker, were killed when the unidentified man ran down civilians on the bridge in an SUV, scaled the fence around Parliament, and fatally stabbed a police officer, before being shot. Rowley said 29 people were hospitalized and seven remain in critical condition. Peter Weber
"For weeks now, Republicans have been pushing their ObamaCare replacement plan, but the bill has a pre-existing condition," Stephen Colbert said Wednesday on The Late Show: "Everybody hates it." Having trouble selling TrumpCare to Republican lawmakers, much less Democrats or the public, GOP leaders are "rebranding, they're introducing the 'three-bucket strategy,'" Colbert said. "So no health care, but with all those buckets, think of how much you'll save on urns."
"Maybe it's not literal buckets," Colbert said. "You know, since so many people are losing health care they're just saying, 'Quick, do the first three things on your bucket list.'" The "failing" health-care bill isn't Trump's only problem, he added, noting that to soothe Trump's anger after a federal judge halted his second travel ban order, aides played him a news report suggesting it won't survive Supreme Court review. They treat the president like a 5-year-old, Colbert said, "but if positive coverage helps calm down the big angry man with the launch codes, I say do it." He played a clip form his delightful "Real News Tonight" team.
"But you know, I talk too much about Donald Trump," Colbert said. "I talk about him every night, it makes me miss out on some other aspects of my life. There's so many other things to talk about." He spent the rest of the monologue joking about the "Fat Leonard military sex scandal" — which suggest that, once again, Colbert taped this show last week. Watch below. Peter Weber
With Megyn Kelly no longer on the air occasionally pushing back against President Trump's treatment of women, Fox News viewers are channeling their ire toward Shepard Smith, who anchors the news and opinion network's afternoon and breaking news coverage. "Smith's persistent fact-mongering has made him persona non grata among some parts of the Fox News faithful," says Paul Farhi at The Washington Post.
Smith's past comments affirming human-influenced climate change, supporting same-sex marriage, urging reasoned calm on terrorism and disease, and defending rival network CNN from "fake news" attacks from Trump have raised hackles among some network viewers, but it was this throwing cold water on Andrew Napolitano's theory about Britain wiretapping Trump that really "made him an apostate to the conservative Fox News orthodoxy," Farhi says.
Shep Smith: "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that POTUS was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop." pic.twitter.com/GxKSJJGD7D
— Axios (@axios) March 17, 2017
Neither Fox News nor Smith, who has been with the network since 1996, responded to The Washington Post's request for comment, but as Smith-haters are pushing for his firing on social media, two theories are gaining traction: Smith is on his way out and feeling free to speak his mind, or Fox News actually wants Smith to put a bit of space between the network and Trump.
"If I'm Fox News, I would view [Smith's commentary] as a good thing right now," said Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist who wrote a book on Fox News, espousing the second theory. "It builds the credibility of a news organization," as the Murdoch clan wants for their network. Besides, he adds, since Trump fans have no other cable-news options, "Fox isn't worried about its ratings."
Subscribing to the first theory is Tim Graham at the conservative Media Research Center, who argues that Smith is set to bolt to CNN or MSNBC. "His aggressive defense of the liberal media suggests he's looking at Greta Van Susteren and saying, 'Yeah, I could do that,'" Graham told The Post. "To me, it sounds like he's advertising to other networks. It just seems bizarre for him to be sticking up for CNN and MSNBC. It's like Jif peanut butter taking an ad sticking up for Skippy." You can read more about the war on Shep at The Washington Post. Peter Weber