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
A day after President Trump shuttered two of his business councils, he announced he was giving up on a third. "The President's Advisory Council on Infrastructure, which was still being formed, will not move forward," a White House official confirmed Thursday. The council would have offered Trump advice on his visions for improving the nation's roads and bridges.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he'd decided to disband his American Manufacturing Council and his Strategy and Policy Forum, though it seems that was already happening with or without his blessing. Members of the Strategic and Policy Forum had already announced the council was breaking up because of the president's response to the weekend's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump's American Manufacturing Council had been rapidly losing members, with seven business leaders quitting the council by Wednesday over Trump's response to the Charlottesville protests. Becca Stanek
The Dow Jones closed Thursday afternoon down more than 274 points as investors were rattled by the chaos engulfing the Trump White House in addition to a deadly terrorist attack in Barcelona. The 1.2 percent drop in the Dow made for the index's biggest drop in three months and its second-worst day of the entire year. The Nasdaq Composite also posted a 1.9 percent slide, while the S&P 500 plunged 1.5 percent.
The market was particularly spooked by the idea that former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn could resign from President Trump's National Economic Council, Barron's reports, given Cohn is in charge of the administration's tax reform efforts. Cohn was reportedly "disgusted" by Trump's tepid response to the white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, which resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Kimberly Alters
A van jumped the curb and plowed into a crowd in the center of Barcelona on Thursday. Thirteen people were killed and at least 100 were injured, Catalonian authorities said. Police have confirmed that the incident was a terrorist attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency.
The driver of the van reportedly fled on foot after plowing into pedestrians in the city's historic Las Ramblas district, a popular tourist destination. Two suspects have been arrested. Local authorities in the Catalonian town of Vic — almost due north of Barcelona — have said they identified a second van linked to the attack in Las Ramblas, The Guardian reports.
Police have dismissed earlier reports that two armed men were hiding out in a bar following the attack. Becca Stanek
BREAKING: Spanish Police say "massive" van crashes into tourist center in Barcelona injuring multiple people https://t.co/IdO5sJPr3p
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 17, 2017
— Yahoo News (@YahooNews) August 17, 2017
This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) thinks it's about time for President Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon to leave the White House. "I think it's important for the president to fire Steve Bannon. He should go," King, an ardent Trump supporter, said Thursday in an interview with WABC.
The tipping point for King was Bannon's latest interviews, in which he relished in the fact that the left is making the debate over Confederate monuments a discussion about race, contradicted Trump on North Korea, and openly talked about his fights with colleagues. "The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it's all racist. Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can't get enough of it," Bannon told The New York Times in the aftermath of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
For King, a man who once held hugely controversial hearings on the alleged radicalization of American Muslims, Bannon's comments went too far. "I mean, what he said the other day, where he was saying that he hopes the Democrats use race as an issue because that's a win for Republicans, that to me is exploiting a racial issue," King said. "That can't be allowed."
Watch it below. Becca Stanek
Star Wars Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi could be getting his very own movie. The Hollywood Reporter revealed Thursday that Disney is in the very early stages of developing a standalone film about the man who trained Anakin Skywalker.
There's not yet a script for the project, but Disney is reportedly in talks with Stephen Daldry, the Oscar-nominated director of Billy Elliot and The Hours, to direct. It's not yet clear whether Ewan McGregor, who has played Obi-Wan in the prequel trilogy, would reprise his role.
The Obi-Wan Kenobi movie apparently isn't the only Star Wars spinoff that Disney is considering: Other projects in development include standalone movies centered on Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. And, of course, there's the next installment in the series, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, due out Dec. 15. Becca Stanek
Watch CNN's Kate Bolduan shut down a Republican Senate candidate for claiming the problem is 'the violent left'
Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart on Thursday tried to defend President Trump's condemnation of "both sides" for the violence at the Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalist rally, only to be promptly shut down by CNN's Kate Bolduan.
Stewart, who is running to challenge Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D), acknowledged that the people at the rally shouting, "Jews will not replace us," should be condemned. But he then argued that those individuals were "not the issue here." "The issue is you've got the violent left," Stewart said.
He questioned the fact that "not even establishment Republicans have come out and condemned the far left group, Antifa, which has been espousing violence and attacking people." "Is it possible that it's because someone died who was counter-protesting?" Bolduan asked, noting that a woman was killed Saturday after a white supremacist demonstrator drove a car into a group of counter-protesters.
Stewart tried to twist that comment around. "You're trying to use this poor women's death to say that Confederate monuments should be taken down," Stewart said. "That's exactly what you're trying to say, Kate."
Bolduan attempted to explain this was actually not at all what she was trying to say, only to be repeatedly interrupted by Stewart. She eventually put her foot down: “Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking for a second. You're the guest on my show. I would like to continue the conversation with you, respectfully," she said.
With Stewart finally quiet, Bolduan clarified that she does believe there is "a time and a place to have a debate and a conversation about the appropriate place for Confederate statues." However, Bolduan said, "it stopped being about statues when people showed up with swastikas."
Watch the heated exchange below. Becca Stanek
Here's Kate Bolduan shutting down Corey Stewart: "Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking for a second. You are the guest on my show." pic.twitter.com/g1GT8bYsSz
— David Mack (@davidmackau) August 17, 2017
President Trump hailed Gen. John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing in a tweet Thursday, promoting the myth that the Philippine-American War officer had used bullets dipped in pigs' blood to shoot Muslims as a method of discouraging terrorism:
Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
Trump has previously touted Pershing as a disturbing example of how to deal with terrorism, telling the unproven story at a South Carolina rally in 2016: "[Pershing] took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig's blood," Trump claimed. "And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person he said, 'You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.' And for 25 years there wasn't a problem, okay?"
The fact that there is no evidence at all to support the myth of Pershing's appalling executions — MSNBC writes that "the story appears to be a hoax spread via e-mail forwards" — is being highlighted by critics who note "the president said two days ago he waits for the facts before talking about attacks," as BuzzFeed News' David Mack points out. Jeva Lange