terrorism
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

Bieber Roast
3:55 a.m. ET

Comedy Central broadcast its much-anticipated roast of Justin Bieber on Monday night, and on Tuesday night's Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jeff Ross, one of the head roasters, explained how he prepared to whack his easy target. His gleeful preparations included a chance encounter with Bieber's ex-girlfriend, Selena Gomez.

"Excuse me, my name is Jeff Ross and I'm America's roastmaster general, I'm on official business to roast Justin Bieber vicariously for the whole world, and I need some advice," Ross said he told Gomez when they met at a party at his agent's house. Her response, according to Ross: "Tell Justin the truth. The truth always worked for me." Ross' response doesn't match that level of class, obviously:

On Tuesday's Late Night, fellow roastmaster Chris D'Elia related his totally different Gomez experience — her fans inadvertently goaded him into making lots of Selena Gomez jokes at the roast, he told Seth Meyers. Watch D'Elia explain why roasting strangers is more perilous than mocking your loved ones, and why he gets delighted at the idea of dying at the hands of a 12-year-old Gomez fan. —Peter Weber

RIP
3:24 a.m. ET

In 1975, a freelance copy writer named Gary Dahl got the idea for the Pet Rock — an ordinary rock, packaged in a pet carrier, requiring no food or care — at a California bar, and the Pet Rock's astronomical success made Dahl an overnight millionaire. He died on March 23 in Jacksonville, Oregon, at age 78, and The New York Times remembers him in a delightful obituary posted late Tuesday.

"Despite the boon Pet Rocks brought him, Mr. Dahl came to regret the brainstorm that gave rise to them in the first place," notes Margalit Fox. And it wasn't just because he lost a six-figure lawsuit to one of his two investors:

Though the rock made him wealthy, it also made him wary, for he was besieged ever after by hordes of would-be inventors, seeking his advice on the next big thing. "There's a bizarre lunatic fringe who feel I owe them a living," Mr. Dahl told The Associated Press in 1988. "Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life wouldn't have been simpler if I hadn’t done it." [New York Times]

Simpler, it should be noted, isn't necessarily better. Read the entire obit of Dahl in The New York Times.

Last Night on Late Late Night
2:45 a.m. ET

When Parks & Rec ended its heroic run on network TV, Aubrey Plaza gave each of her costars little vials containing her blood, fingernails, and hair, she confirmed to James Corden on Tuesday's Late Late Show. That sounds a little creepy — at least to Corden's other guests, Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon — but Plaza's explanation is kind of sweet, in an offbeat sort of way. Sort of like Parks & Rec. Watch below. —Peter Weber

Clemency
2:07 a.m. ET
Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images

On Tuesday, President Obama granted commutations to 22 people serving time in federal prison for drug-related crimes, mostly involving the sale of cocaine.

"Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. "Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

Tuesday's acts of clemency roughly double the number of sentences Obama has commented while in office, to 43 total. George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences over his two terms, Eggleston notes; he doesn't mention that Bush pardoned 189 people, versus Obama's 64 pardons so far.

Get Well Soon
1:21 a.m. ET
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was rushed to a hospital in the Los Angels area on Tuesday, her official website confirmed early Wednesday:

Mitchell, 71, was reportedly taken to the hospital by an ambulance at about 2:30 p.m. from her Bel Air home. While no cause for her hospitalization has been provided, Mitchell said last December that she has a rare skin disorder called Morgellons disease that keeps her from performing.

Puppies!
12:39 a.m. ET

Hey, if a German octopus can predict World Cup soccer matches, is using puppies to predict the winner of the NCAA men's basketball tournament so crazy? No, if you are Jimmy Fallon, as he had seven adorable pups preemptively crown a victor on Tuesday night's Tonight Show. Yes, if you are a fan of Duke, which got nothing more than a puppy tease. Watch, for the betting tip or for the puppies, below. —Peter Weber

Iran and the bomb
March 31, 2015
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The six-day marathon of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program went into overtime in Lausanne, Switzerland, blowing past a midnight Tuesday deadline and formally being extended to the end of April 1. Iran and Russia sounded optimistic notes late Tuesday, before talks broke for the night early Wednesday, but the U.S. said it will "walk away" if key elements in the political agreement can't be resolved and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared he will return to France until his presence would be "useful."

"One can say with enough confidence that (foreign) ministers have reached a general agreement on all key aspects of a final settlement to this issue," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia's TASS news service. "It will be put down in writing over the next few hours, maybe during the day." No other negotiator was quite that upbeat. The main sticking points, Reuters says, are how quickly United Nation sanctions would be phased out, whether they could be automatically re-instated, and if Iran would get the unfettered right to research and develop nuclear centrifuges after a 10-year window.

See More Speed Reads