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Nation & World Briefs


Tuesday, March 13, 2018
3 arrested on gun charges suspected in mosque bombing

CHICAGO — Federal authorities announced on Tuesday that three men from rural central Illinois have been arrested on gun charges and that they are suspects in the bombing of a Minnesota mosque and an attempted bombing of an Illinois abortion clinic.

A statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield says the men were arrested on charges of possession of a machine gun, but it later adds that the three men are suspects in the Aug. 5 explosion at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, and an attempted bombing of the Women’s Health Practice in Champaign on Nov. 7.

The statement identifies the suspects as Michael B. Hari, 47; Joe Morris, 22; Michael McWhorter, 29. All are from Clarence, a rural community 35 miles north of Champaign-Urbana. A fourth man also faces the gun charge, but he was not identified as a suspect bombing or attempted bombing.

The Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington was bombed early on Aug. 5. No one was hurt in the explosion, which happened just before morning prayers on a Saturday. But the blast damaged the imam’s office across the hall from the worship space.

The mosque primarily serves Somalis in the Minneapolis area. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community outside of east Africa, with an estimated 57,000 people, according to the most recent census estimates.

Turkish forces surround Kurdish town in north Syria

BEIRUT — Turkey said Tuesday its troops and allied Syrian fighters have encircled the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in northern Syria, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians under siege and marking a significant military advance in the seven-week operation.

Turkey launched its assault on the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces that it views as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. The Turkish military said the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave of the same name, began Monday after the military took control of “critical areas.”

A passage out of Afrin remained partially open, and thousands of people have reportedly fled the town, heading toward nearby areas controlled by the Syrian government. Syria’s Al-Ikhbariya TV showed cars, trucks and tractors loaded with civilians driving out of the town.

Panic was spreading in the town as the Turkish forces approached, and some civilians came under fire when they tried to leave, according to residents and Syrian Kurdish officials.

Azad Mohamed, a 32-year old resident, said his relatives were fired upon as they tried to escape Monday, forcing them to turn back. He said he can’t decide whether to risk the journey out of Afrin with his two children or to remain in place.

Zinke defends plan to raise park fees amid travel flap

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke bristled Tuesday under questioning by Democrats about his travel spending as the Trump administration seeks deep cuts to conservation programs and fee increases at national parks.

Zinke testified before a Senate committee about the agency’s proposed $11.7 billion budget for 2019.

He has proposed doubling entry fees during peak seasons at some of the nation’s most popular national parks to help make up for an $11 billion backlog in needed maintenance. Meanwhile, he has proposed cutting royalty fees paid by energy companies to drill for oil and natural gas on public lands.

The former Navy SEAL flashed with anger when the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking Democrat pressed him on whether he could justify increasing access fees for working Americans when he has been spending taxpayer money on chartered airplane flights. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington asked Zinke if it was a mistake for him to spend $12,375 on a late-night trip in June from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana on a private jet.

“Well, first, insults and innuendos are misleading. I never took a private jet anywhere,” Zinke said, adding that all three flights he had taken on private planes as secretary were on aircraft driven by propellers, not jet engines.

From Associated Press