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F.B.I. Treating Attack in San Bernardino Shotting as an Act of Terrorism

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F.B.I. Treating Attack in San Bernardino Shotting as an Act of Terrorism

WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. is now treating the San Bernardino shooting by a husband and wife that killed 14 and wounded 21 as an act of terrorism, an agency official said Friday.

“As of today, based on the information and facts as we know them,” the agency is investigating this “as an act of terrorism,” David Bowdich, the assistant F.B.I. director in charge of the Los Angeles office, said at a news conference. The agency will be taking over the investigation from local officials.

Mr. Bowdich did not offer any details about why the bureau had made the determination, saying only that “there’s a number of pieces of evidence that has pushed us off the cliff.”

The shift in the investigation game shortly after federal law enforcement officials said the woman who helped carry out the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Tashfeen Malik, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a Facebook posting.

There is no evidence the Islamic State directed Ms. Milik , and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, to stage the attacks, the officials said. But the Facebook post has led investigators to believe that the couple took inspiration from the group, they said.

“At this point we believe they were more self-radicalized and inspired by the group than actually told to do the shooting,” one officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Islamic terrorists have used the oath of allegiance, called a bayat, to declare their loyalty to specific groups and leaders. To become a member of Al Qaeda, for instance, terrorists historically swore their devotion to Osama bin Laden.

The posting, which had been removed from the social media site, provides one of the first significant clues to the role that Ms. Malik, 27, played in the attacks.

She was born in Pakistan, and traveled on a Pakistani passport, but grew up in Saudi Arabia, according to Dr. Mustafa H. Kuko, director of the Islamic Center of Riverside, which Mr. Farook attended for a few years.

“They were living in Saudi Arabia, but they were Pakistanis,” he said. “They had been in Saudi Arabia for a long time. She grew up in the city of Jeddah.”

Ms. Malik returned to Pakistan for college, graduating in 2012 from Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan with a degree in pharmacy, according to local officials in the Layyah District of Punjab Province. They said that her family was originally from a town there, Karor Lal East, and that her father, Malik Gulzar Aulakh, moved with his family to Saudi Arabia about 20 years ago, later moving to the United States. Officials in Layyah said intelligence officials had visited on Friday and were looking for relatives of Ms. Malik.

Pakistani officials consider the area a center of support for extremist jihadist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba. Some of the most high-profile attacks against the Pakistani military in 2009 were led by a native of the same rural area: Umar Kundi, a medical doctor who became an operative for Al Qaeda. In addition, Multan, an ancient city in Punjab, is considered a hotbed of radicalism.

A Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an continuing investigation, said security officials were looking into Ms. Malik’s time in Pakistan, as well as possible travel there by Mr. Farook.

In recent months, the F.B.I. has been particularly concerned that so-called homegrown extremists might be inspired by the Islamic State to stage attacks in the United States, law enforcement officials say. Even before the attacks in Paris last month, the agency had heavy surveillance on at least three dozen individuals who the authorities were concerned might commit violence in the group’s name.

The F.B.I. refocused its efforts on these individuals earlier this year in response to a shift in tactics by the Islamic State, law enforcement officials said. Instead of trying to persuade Americans to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, the group began calling on its sympathizers and followers in the United States to commit acts of violence at home.

“We’ve especially focused on the portfolio of people we’re investigating for the potential of being homegrown violent extremists,” the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said last month at a news conference. “That is, people consuming the propaganda. So those investigations are designed to figure out where are they on the spectrum from consuming to acting.”

“Within that group we’re trying to focus on those we think might be at the highest risk of being a copycat,” Mr. Comey said, referring to those who may try to follow the attackers in Paris. “And so we are pressing additional resources, additional focus against those. That’s the dozens.”

On Friday morning, the landlord of the building where Mr. Farook and Ms. Malik lived in Redlands, Calif., allowed journalists into the cramped townhouse near San Bernardino, which investigators had spent nearly two days scouring, leading to the rare sight of dozens of reporters and photographers trampling through what, the day before, had been a crime scene they were not even allowed to approach. Plywood was nailed over the openings where the police and F.B.I. knocked out the doors and windows of the duplex townhouse, but the sheet of wood across the front entrance had been pried off to allow entry.

In an upstairs bedroom documents including driver’s licenses, credit cards and a Social Security card, all in the name of Mr. Farook’s mother, were strewn across a bed, while tabletops and other surfaces held more papers and books, including copies of the Quran. In the small living room, furniture shared space with a treadmill, a baby bouncer, rolled-up blankets and suitcases, and in the kitchen there was a sink full of dirty dishes and a refrigerator full of food, as if the occupants were expected back at any moment.

When asked whether there was a concern about the scene, and any evidence it contained, being secure, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. office in Los Angeles said “our search is over,” and refused to comment further.

In the days leading up to the shooting, the couple took several steps to delete their electronic information, in an apparent effort to cover their tracks, officials said. The efforts — along with the 12 pipe bombs the couple had made — have led authorities to believe that the shooting was premeditated.

As investigators search for signs of a political or religious motivation for the massacre, the discovery of Ms. Malik’s Facebook posting has forced them to consider whether any radical impetus for it came from her more than from the husband, or from both. The couple were killed in a shootout with the police after the attack.

Mr. Farook, 28, was a United States citizen, born in Illinois, whose parents were from Pakistan. F.B.I. officials came up with no hits when they searched agency databases for his name, according to law enforcement officials. That is significant because it meant that not only was Mr. Farook never the focus of an investigation, he was also never mentioned by anyone else interviewed by the F.B.I., even in unrelated cases.

The bureau, however, has uncovered evidence that Mr. Farook had contact with five individuals on whom the F.B.I. had previously opened investigations for possible terrorist activities, law enforcement officials said. It was not clear, however, how significant the contacts were.

One individual contacted was associated with the Shabab, the Islamist militant group in Somalia. Another was associated with the Nusra Front, the Qaeda wing in Syria. None of the other three were tied to the Islamic State or core Al Qaeda. All five inquiries was closed, and the contacts were made a few years ago, not recently, the authorities said.

A cellphone Ms. Malik had with her on Wednesday had almost nothing on it — no social media apps or encrypted apps — leading investigators to suspect that it might have been a “burner phone,” meant to be used and discarded, the officials said.

Mr. Farook had posted profiles on Muslim dating websites, and apparently the couple met online. He told co-workers last year that he was traveling to Saudi Arabia to meet his bride, and both American and Saudi officials have confirmed that he spent more than a week in that country in July 2014.

Mr. Farook, was an American citizen, and he and Ms. Malik traveled to the United States together in July 2014, David Bowdich of the F.B.I. in Los Angeles said at a news conference. He said she had traveled with K-1 visa, a special visa that allows people to come to the country marry an American citizen. A couple has to marry within 90 days; after that the K-1 visa expires.

Mr. Farook applied for a permanent resident green card for Ms. Malik on Sept. 20, 2014, within the legal 90-day limit, a federal official said. She was granted a conditional green card in July 2015. As a routine matter, to obtain the green card the couple had to prove that their marriage was legitimate. Ms. Malik also had to pass criminal and national security background checks that used F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security databases.

Entrepreneur, contributor, writer, and editor of Sostre News. With a powerful new bi-lingual speaking generation by his side, Sostre News is becoming the preferred site for the latest in Politics, Entertainment, Sports, Culture, Tech, Breaking and World News.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

In the operation, dubbed “Operation Child Protector,” undercover officers posed as 13- and 14-year-old children on social media and online dating apps between July 27 and Aug. 1.

The undercovers made contact with each of the suspects before proposing they meet at a location in Polk County, where they were busted.

In total, the arrests led to 49 felony and two misdemeanor charges. Those arrested were aged 26 to 47. All were from Central Florida except for one 33-year-old man from California.

“What you see on this board … are deviants. Incredible deviants,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference on Tuesday, motioning to photos of the alleged pervs. “They travel from as far away as Clewiston, Florida. One even came from Los Angeles.”

“Much to their chagrin, instead of meeting with young children, they were met by law enforcement officers who were online undercover posing as children.”

Kenneth Javier Aquino, 26, a lifeguard at Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World, was arrested while still wearing his Disney polo shirt and swimsuit, according to the sheriff’s office.

Aquino engaged in an online conversation on social media with an officer, posing as a 13-year-old girl, authorities said. He then asked the “girl” to send photos, and sent her an explicit video of himself, police said.

Aquino told officers he is a Navy veteran and has a pregnant girlfriend.

Jonathan McGrew, a 34-year-old custodian at Disney World, was nabbed by an undercover officer posing as a 13-year-old girl.

disney-world

McGrew allegedly told the “girl” that he wanted her to come over and have sex with him and his girlfriend, 29-year-old Savannah Lawrence, who also works as a custodian at tourist mecca.

McGrew sent her explicit videos of him and Lawrence performing sexual acts on each other, authorities said.

A rep for Disney World didn’t immediately return a message.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

He began experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever and neurological issues, and died in May.

Blood and saliva samples were tested and researchers in April found evidence of the Monkey B virus, also known as the herpes B virus.

Researchers said a male doctor and female nurse who were in close contact with the victim tested negative for the virus.

The Monkey B virus is prevalent among macaque monkeys but infection among humans is extremely rare. Since the virus was identified in 1932, just 50 cases have been reported, with the majority of those in North America. Untreated B virus infections in humans are serious, however, with a fatality rate of about 80 percent.

Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, and progress to more serious complications such as swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

Laboratory workers and veterinarians in close contact with the animals are most at risk as people typically get infected with the virus if they are bitten or scratched by an infected macaque, or have contact with the monkey’s eyes, nose or mouth.

But the virus is unlikely to mutate in a way that poses a problem to the general population. Just one case of human-to-human transmission of the virus has ever been documented.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

In New York, a dispute over coronavirus-safety precautions is leading to split-screen remembrances Friday, one at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner. The Pentagon’s observance will be so restricted that not even victims’ families can attend, though small groups can visit the memorial there later in the day.

Trump and Biden are both headed — at different times — to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Trump is speaking at the morning ceremony, the White House said. Biden plans to pay respects there in the afternoon after attending the observance at the 9/11 memorial in New York.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is also due at ground zero — and then at the alternate ceremony a few blocks away.

In short, the anniversary of 9/11 is a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a health crisis, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, 9/11 families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001, shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

“I know that the heart of America beats on 9/11 and, of course, thinks about that tragic day. I don’t think that people forget,” says Anthoula Katsimatides, who lost her brother John and is now on the board of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum.

Friday will mark Trump’s second time observing the 9/11 anniversary at the Flight 93 memorial, where he made remarks in 2018. Biden spoke at the memorial’s dedication in 2011, when he was vice president.

The ground zero ceremony in New York has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to speak, though they can attend. Biden did so as vice president in 2010, and Trump as a candidate in 2016.

Though the candidates will be focused on the commemorations, the political significance of their focus on Shanksville is hard to ignore: Pennsylvania is a must-win state for both. Trump won it by less than a percentage point in 2016.

Around the country, some communities have canceled 9/11 commemorations because of the pandemic, while others are going ahead, sometimes with modifications.

The New York memorial is changing one of its ceremony’s central traditions: having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes.

Thousands of family members are still invited. But they’ll hear a recording of the names from speakers spread around the vast plaza, a plan that memorial leaders felt would avoid close contact at a stage but still allow families to remember their loved ones at the place where they died.

But some victims’ relatives felt the change robbed the observance of its emotional impact. A different 9/11-related group, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, set up its own, simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying there’s no reason that people can’t recite names while keeping a safe distance.

The two organizations also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center and evoke its fallen twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus-safety concerns for the installation crew. After the Tunnel to Towers Foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chairman, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.

Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions that can be accomplished at home.

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