Nation and World Briefs: April 2, 2018

Pulse nightclub gunman’s widow acquitted of all charges

Artwork and signatures cover the fence that surrounds Pulse nightclub, the scene of the 2016 mass shootings in Orlando, Florida in this Nov. 30, 2016 photo.
(John Raoux | The DePaulia)

The widow of the gunman who slaughtered 49 people at a gay Orlando nightclub was acquitted Friday of helping her husband plot the attack and lying to the FBI afterward, ending the government’s nearly two-year effort to hold someone accountable.

Noor Salman, 31, sobbed upon hearing the jury’s verdict of not guilty of obstruction and providing material support to a terrorist organization, charges that could have brought life in prison.

Relying heavily on an alleged confession from Salman, federal prosecutors had charged that she and her husband, Omar Mateen, had scouted out potential targets together — including Disney World’s shopping and entertainment complex — and that she knew he was buying ammunition for his AR-15 assault-style rifle for a jihadi attack.

The government contended also that she knew Mateen had a sick fascination with violent jihadi videos and an affinity for Islamic State group websites, and that she gave him a “green light to commit terrorism.”

But the defense portrayed her as an easily manipulated woman with a low IQ and argued that she signed a false confession because she was tired after extensive questioning and feared losing her young son.

And in a blow to prosecutors’ case, the FBI itself found that receipts and cellphone signals showed the couple was nowhere near the Pulse on the day Salman said they were.

Mateen, the American-born son of Afghan immigrants, was killed by police in the nightclub attack.

David Weinstein, a defense attorney from Miami who was not involved in the case, said the lack of a recorded confession from Salman probably influenced the jury, which was shown only a written statement.

“As much as we don’t want to admit it, this is the age of the cellphone. It’s ingrained in the minds of jurors, if it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen,” Weinstein said.

Bomb kills troops from U.S. and UK in Syria

In this picture taken on Thursday, March 29, 2018, fighters from the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council stand behind a sand barrier as they look toward Turkish-backed fighters’ position at the front line of Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria.
(Hussein Malla | AP)

A roadside bomb in northern Syria killed two coalition personnel, an American and a Briton, and wounded five others in a rare attack since the U.S.-led coalition sent troops into the war-torn country, the U.S. and British militaries and a U.S. defense official said Friday.

The military did not say where the attack took place or give the nationalities of the other casualties but it came hours after a local Syrian official said that a roadside bomb exploded in the tense, mixed Arab-Kurdish town of Manbij that is not far from the border with Turkey.

Manbij is under threat of a Turkish military operation. Ankara says Syrian Kurdish militiamen it views as “terrorists” and an extension of Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey are in control of the town.

The U.S. military statement said the attack happened Thursday night and that the wounded were being evacuated for further medical treatment. The statement said details were being withheld pending further investigation.

A Department of Defense official in Washington said one of the two killed was an American service member and the other was of another nationality.

No other information about the deceased American was immediately available. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because details had not yet been publicly released.

A U.K. defense ministry spokesman said the British armed forces member was killed during an operation against the Islamic State group. The spokesman added that an improvised explosive device killed the service member who was embedded with U.S. forces on Thursday.

The U.S. military member killed was the fourth American who has died in Syria since the U.S. began attacking Islamic State militants there in September 2014, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Casualty Analysis System.

Of the three previous deaths, Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren was specifically labeled by the Pentagon as a non-combat death. Another, Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton, was killed by an improved explosive device. The third, Army Spc. Etienne J. Murphy, died in a vehicle rollover.

Earlier on Friday, U.S. military spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon couldn’t immediately say who was behind the attack.

“There is an investigation under way to identify who they could possibly be. We have our initial assessment and thoughts on that but we won’t provide until the investigation is complete,” he said.

Dillon declined to give the nationalities of the dead and wounded as well as the location of the attack until next of kin notification.

Mohammed Abu Adel, head of the Manbij Military Council, an Arab-Kurdish group in the town backed by the U.S., said the bomb went off hundreds of meters (yards) from a security headquarters that houses the council just before midnight on Thursday.

The town has seen a number of small explosions, protests and an assassination attempt on a member of the Manbij military council in recent weeks. Local officials blame Turkey and other adversaries for seeking to sow chaos in the town that was controlled by Islamic State group militants until the summer of 2016.

The military council has since been in control and U.S. troops patrol the town and area with troops based nearby.

Lawmaker takes leave after sexual misconduct allegations

Students of Mehmet Akif College in Kosovo protest the arrest and deportation of five of their teachers who had been arrested by police in Kosovo’s capital Pristina on Thursday, March 29, 2018.
(Visar Kryeziu | AP)

Kosovo’s prime minister on Friday fired both his interior minister and the country’s intelligence chief for secretly deporting five Turkish teachers and a Turkish doctor without his permission.

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said Interior Minister Flamur Sefaj and the head of the country’s intelligence service, Driton Gashi, had not told him about their decision. The six men were arrested, lost their Kosovo residence permits and deported on Thursday, and were arrested upon arriving in Ankara.

Addressing lawmakers, Haradinaj said he considered the deportations a “violation of the decision-making hierarchy.” He said it was a bilateral operation of the intelligence services of both countries.

The Turkish teachers worked with schools owned by Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for an attempted coup two years ago. Gulen has denied the claims.

Tens of thousands of alleged Gulen supporters have been arrested or lost their jobs in Turkey since the July 2016 attempted coup. Many have proclaimed their innocence.

Erdogan on Friday hailed the role his country’s intelligence police played in the deportations, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

“Our National Intelligence Organization brought six senior FETO representatives in the Balkans back to Turkey in cooperation with Kosovo intelligence,” he said.

The deportations were criticized by rights groups, the U.S. ambassador and students in Kosovo.

Scores of students at the Gulistan Education Institutions in Kosovo protested Friday in Pristina, the capital, with banners supporting their former teachers.

Leutrim Syla, a lawyer for one of the deported Turks, said they have no information on the men since they were arrested in Ankara.

“We are really concerned about their welfare, or their life,” he said.