New Zealand prime minister says gun laws will change after attack

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed that her country’s gun laws will change in the aftermath of Friday’s mass shooting at two mosques that killed 49 worshippers and left dozens of others injured.

“While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun license and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now: Our gun laws will change,” Ardern said at a news conference.

“There were five guns used by the primary perpetrator,” she added. “There were two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. The offender was in possession of a gun license. I’m advised this was acquired in November of 2017. A lever-action firearm was also found.”

Ardern said the primary suspect, an Australian citizen charged with murder, obtained a gun license in November 2017 and began legally purchasing his guns a month later. She said authorities will probe the purchases as well as his travel in and out of the country.

Prior to Friday’s shooting, the country’s most deadly mass shooting came in 1990, when a gunman killed 13 people in Aramoana. The incident shined a spotlight on New Zealand’s gun control laws and eventually resulted in a 1992 amendment regulating military-style semi-automatic firearms.

However, observers still judge New Zealand’s gun control legislation to be light compared to other industrial countries outside the U.S. Many guns in New Zealand do not need to be registered, though potential gun owners do need licenses to own firearms and pass a police background check.

Still, gun deaths in the country are relatively low. Figures compiled by the University of Sydney show fatalities from firearms averaged in the dozens each year in the decade leading up to 2015. Those figures translate into one death per 100,000 people, while the U.S. had 12 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.

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New Zealand Mosque Shooting Suspect Brenton Tarrant Flashes White Power Sign in Court

ec3600b4-4778-11e9-b5dc-9921d5eb8a6d_image_hires_083810He made his first appearance since the massacres.

 

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand—The self-described racist who allegedly carried out massacres in two mosques flashed a white power sign during his first court appearance.

Photos from the brief proceeding showed Brenton Harrison Tarrant, flanked by police, using his shackled hand to make an “OK” symbol that has been appropriated by white supremacists and is also used by right-wing internet trolls.

The 28-year-old Australian personal trainer is charged with one count of murder in connection with the back-to-back mass shootings that left 49 people death and dozens more wounded—but authorities said more charges will be coming. His court-appointed attorney did not apply for bail, and he will be jailed until his next appearance on April 5.

The public was not allowed into the courtroom, which was packed with media. Tarrant wordlessly swayed in the dock, looking back and forth from the gallery to the bench.

Tarrant did not seek a suppression order that would have prevented media from using his name in New Zealand—perhaps not a surprise given his apparent lust for notoriety as evidenced by an online manifesto and a sickening live-stream of the attack.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the symbol Tarrant used was adopted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis “to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it.”

Tarrant did not have a criminal record before he turned Friday prayers at two mosques into a bloodbath and “was not known to authorities in connection with far-right violence,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during a press conference Saturday morning.

He began purchasing guns in December 2018, officials said, and allegedly used five legally purchased guns: two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm.

Tarrant was apprehended in a car in southern Christchurch, according to witnesses. His car had been rigged with explosives, which police said they dismantled.

The prime minister confirmed two other people were in custody though local authorities are still trying to determine if they were actually involved. One was identified as 18-year-old Daniel John Burrough of Christchurch, who was charged with trying to incite racial hatred. No other details were provided and it was unclear if he even knew Tarrant.

A fourth person arrested late Friday night turned out to be just “a member of the public” who was in possession of a firearm and was trying to help police, authorities said. That person was released.

“While the national grapples with a form of anger and grief we have not experienced before, we are seeking answers,” Ardern said on Saturday morning. “We are all grieving together.”

Tarrant allegedly began legally purchasing weapons in December 2018 while “sporadically” traveling in and out of the country, authorities said on Friday in a press conference.

In a press conference Saturday morning, Ardern revealed “the suspect” acquired a category A gun license in December 2018, and began stockpiling firearms shortly after.

“This individual has travelled around the world, with sporadic periods of time spent in New Zealand. They were not a resident of Christchurch, in fact they were currently based in Dunedin at the time of this event,” she said, though she did not identify Tarrant as the suspect.

A Facebook account for a Brenton Tarrant,  where the video of the attack was posted, used the nickname Barry Harry Tarry, an apparent play on his full name. The same nickname was used on his Vimeo account.

A Twitter account under the name Brenton Tarrant posted images of black rifles and magazine covered in white writing that matched the weapons seen in the live-streamed video. (The names were of people whose deaths he claimed he was avenging and of racist murderers who he said inspired him.) And the metadata on the online manifesto listed the author as Brenton Tarrant. An 8chan post linked to both the manifesto and the Facebook page.

The rambling manifesto is titled called “The Great Replacement.” The name is a reference to the 2012 book by right-wing French polemicist Renaud Camus that pushes the conspiracy theory that Muslims are replacing the white European and French Catholic cultures. The entire work is filled with anti-Muslim white supremacist vitriol with the clear intent that it would be widely read. He asks and answers questions he clearly wants quoted, much like his Islamophobic idol Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 69 people on a Norwegian island in 2011.

Tarrant’s Twitter account @brentontarrantprofile, from which he published his rambling manifesto was disabled shortly after his alleged shooting spree started. It was just a month old and had 2,018 followers and 63 mostly anti-immigrant tweets. He retweeted stories about white women’s low fertility rates and crimes carried out by Islamic extremists from underground websites and mainstream outlets like the New York Times and Daily Mail.

Tarrant said in the manifesto that he was traveling and “training” for the massacre for the past two years. He reportedly worked as a personal trainer at the Big River Gym in his hometown of Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. He helped disadvantaged children, according to the woman who once supervised him.

“He worked in our program that offered free training to kids in the community, and he was very passionate about that,” Gym manager Tracey Gray told Australia’s ABC news. “I think something must have changed in him during the years he spent traveling overseas.”

His travels took him across Europe and Asia, Gray said. He had worked for cryptocurrency trader Bitconnect and used the money he made to travel to North Korea, where he was photographed visiting the Samjiyon Grand Monument according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I honestly can’t believe that somebody I have probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be capable of something to this extreme,” Gray told the paper.

He described himself in the manifesto as “just a ordinary White man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family. My parents are of Scottish, Irish and English stock.” He said his childhood was normal “without any great issues.”

But he goes on to say it wasn’t without problems. “I had little interest in education during my schooling, barely achieving a passing grade,” he wrote. “I did not attend University as I had no great interest in anything offered in the Universities to study.”

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A Muslim soldier says her command sergeant major forced her to remove her hijab

WDMOZNOHC5GEDIETNM5UOZXEDQSgt. Cesilia Valdovinos has filed a complaint after her command sergeant major accused her of being out of hair regulations and ordered her to remove her hijab. (Military Religious Freedom Foundation)

 

Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos was at a chapel at Fort Carson, Colorado, for a suicide prevention briefing on March 6 when she says her command sergeant major grabbed her by the arm, took her outside and made her remove her religious head covering in front of others.

The senior noncommissioned officer believed that Valdovinos, 26, who has an approved exemption from her brigade commander to wear a hijab in uniform, was wearing her hair out of regulations underneath it, she told Army Times on Tuesday.

“To me, it was the same thing as if they had asked someone to take their top off,” the soldier, a member of the 704th Brigade Support Battalion, said.

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A rendering of proper hijab wear, per Army Regulation 670-1. (Army)

 

No one had asked her whether her hair was in a regulation bun, she added, before demanding that she remove the garment.

She took off the scarf portion of the covering first, she said, but Command Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya demanded she completely expose her hair. When she removed the cap underneath, which covers her hairline and underneath her chin, the length of hair came loose from its bun.

The battalion adjutant, who accompanied Valdovinos and Montoya for the inspection, says that the senior NCO tapped the sergeant on her shoulder before leading her outside of the chapel.

“Upon removing her hijab it was evident her hair was completely down,” Capt. Brooke Smith said in a statement. “CSM Montoya told her to get her hair back in regulation and not let it happen again. At no point did CSM Montoya touch the soldier or yell at her (at all or within earshot of other soldiers).”

Valdovinos claims her hair was tied up under the hijab. The under-cap has an extra length of fabric inside, she explained, that she wraps around her bun to secure it before pulling the cap down. That’s why her hair came loose when she removed it, she said.

It was the first time since receiving her waiver that the soldier had ever been confronted about her hijab, she said. But not the first she felt targeted as a Muslim in the Army.

In an Equal Opportunity complaint filed on March 7, she said, she described her first sergeant referring to her as “the girl with the hood.” A culinary specialist, she said, she was recently reassigned from an on-post dining facility to her battalion’s headquarters company after objecting to cooking pork products.

And previously, she added, she reported to her company commander that while deployed last year, another soldier referred to her as a terrorist. The captain did not escalate the claim, she said.

“I take all reports of soldiers disrespecting another soldier’s religious beliefs, observances, or traditions very seriously,” Col. David Zinn, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division commander who signed Valdovinos’ exemption memo, said in a statement. “There is currently an inquiry regarding Sgt. Valdovinos’ claim. I will ensure our unit continues our tradition of placing a high value on the rights of our soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”

The inspection was a blatant act of Islamophobia, according to the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which represents Valdovinos.

“Unless this CSM, who wretchedly denigrated our MRFF client by ordering her to take off her hijab in public, enjoys the extraordinary powers of X-ray vision, it would have been impossible for this CSM to have even seen the hair of our MRFF client,” Mikey Weinstein said in a statement.

The under-cap is an integral part of the approved hijab, he added.

“I wish they would just ask me if they have questions,” Valdovinos said.

Since filing her EO complaint, she added, no member of her command has reached out to her to talk about the situation. Neither has Montoya been counseled on a more sensitive approach to enforcing regulations, according to a Fort Carson spokeswoman.

“No actions have been taken at this time pending the results from the informal inquiry,” Brandy Gill told Army Times. “Once all of the facts have been gathered the command will take appropriate action.”

Since early 2017, the Army has allowed religious headgear for soldiers whose faith requires it, with written approval by a brigade commander. The regulation states that the hijab must not cover the face, must be a solid color or in matching camouflage to the uniform of the day and that the ends must be tucked into any uniform top.

The bulk of the hair must also be able to be shifted around to accommodate a combat helmet when necessary, according to the regulation.

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BREAKING! Gambino crime family boss fatally shot at Staten Island home

TODT HILL, Staten Island — Francesco “Frank” Cali, reputed boss of the Gambino organized crime family, was fatally shot on Wednesday night at his Staten Island home.

The 53-year-old Cali, who had ties to the Inzerillo Mafia family in Palermo, Sicily, was taken to Staten Island University North Hospital in critical condition, sources said. He was shot several times.

No arrests have been made.

The FDNY responded at 9:18 p.m. to a home in the upscale Todt Hill section of Staten Island.  The house is listed under the name of Rosaria Inzerillo.

Cali had been considered a unifying figure in the crime family, in the years after John Gotti was convicted and sent to prison by cooperating mob witnesses. Unlike the well-dressed Dapper Don of the late 80s and early 90s, Cali had kept a low profile.

Cali was the first New York crime family boss shot since 1985, when Paul Castellano, who owned a mansion on Todt Hill, was executed as he arrived at Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan. John Gotti and his turncoat underboss, Sammy “Bull” Gravano watched the action from Third Avenue.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Epic ‘bomb cyclone’ storm brings blizzards, floods, tornado to mid-US

A man crosses Crow Creek during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo. Heavy snow hit Cheyenne about mid-morning Wednesday and was spreading into Colorado and Nebraska. (Jacob Byk/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A window-rattling late winter storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states Wednesday, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond.

“This is a very epic cyclone,” said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. “We’re looking at something that will go down in the history books.”

In Colorado, a state patrol officer was hit and killed by a car as he was helping another driver who slid off Interstate 76 near Denver.

Corporal Daniel Groves, 52, was outside his patrol car when he was struck. He died at a hospital.

Hundreds of drivers were stranded on Colorado highways, including 500 in the Colorado Springs area alone. Gov. Jared Polis activated the National Guard to help find and rescue snowbound drivers.

Scores of motorists took refuge at truck stops in eastern Wyoming, and blowing snow forced portions of major highways to close in Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at Denver International Airport, and nearly 40 were grounded in Colorado Springs.

“It caught me completely off guard,” said Sarah Brin of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who was stranded at the Denver airport.

It was supposed to be a brief layover on her flight home from the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, but it turned into an overnight stay.

She booked a room in a downtown hotel and reserved a spot on a shuttle van, but some shuttle trips were canceled because of the weather.

“We’ll see if they actually show up,” she said.

Many schools and government offices closed for the day. Xcel Energy said high winds caused about 184,000 homes and businesses to lose electricity, mostly in the Denver area. Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said zero visibility made conditions difficult for repair workers, and it could take days to restore power to everyone.

In North Texas, severe thunderstorms damaged buildings and flipped over small planes parked at an airport.

Flooding forced evacuations in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa, including a retirement home in Pierce, Nebraska. Residents of Avoca, Iowa, were filling sandbags to keep floodwaters from spreading, and the American Red Cross set up a shelter for anyone who was displaced.

Parts of seven states were under blizzard warnings, and 20 states were under some level of high wind alert, Carbin said.

A tornado in New Mexico ripped roofs from buildings in the small town of Dexter, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southwest of Albuquerque. Authorities said five people were hurt, but none of the injuries were life-threatening. A dairy euthanized about 150 cows injured by the tornado.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington said the tornado “took out” about 10 homes on one street.

High winds knocked 25 railroad freight cars off a bridge into a mostly dry riverbed near Logan in northeast New Mexico. No one was injured, New Mexico State Police said.

A wind gust of 92 mph (148 kph) was recorded in the mountains northwest of Denver.

The storm was expected to drop up to 22 inches (56 centimeters) of snow in Wyoming, 14 inches (36 centimeters) in South Dakota and a foot (31 centimeters) in Colorado.

Forecasters said the winds would pile snow into deep drifts.

The vast storm stretched at least 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers), said meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com.

“It looks beautiful on satellite as long as you are not caught on it,” he said.

The culprit was a sudden and severe drop in ground-level air pressure in Colorado, the most pronounced dive since 1950, Carbin said. It was caused by a combination of the jet stream and normal conditions in the wind shadow of the Rockies.

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Air rushed into the low-pressure area and then rose into the atmosphere.

“It’s like a vacuum cleaner, really,” Carbin said. When that much air rushes higher into the atmosphere, it causes severe weather.

Meteorologists call the rapid change in pressure a “bomb cyclone” or “bombogenesis.”

Forecasters had warned about the storm for days, Maue said.

“Everybody saw it coming. Some people underestimated it so they’re stranded and that’s unfortunate,” he said.

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Police: Man takes AK-47 to middle school after receiving call from crying son

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) – A West Palm Beach man has been arrested after he was accused of bringing a loaded AK-47 to a middle school after receiving a call form his crying son.

According to WPBF, 28-year-old Christopher Freeman told school police he had received a Face Time phone call from his son during school hours. Freeman said the boy, who was in tears, told him a teacher had slammed him.

While speaking to his son, Freeman said the boy was grabbed by an adult, and he saw his son’s phone fly from his hands.

Police said Freeman then headed to the school to check on his son.

School officials said when Freeman arrived at the campus, he threatened violence because of what happened.

The school was placed on lockdown and Freeman was arrested.

According to WPTV, police said they found a loaded Romarm/Cugir AK-47 Mini Draco pistol.

Freeman has since been charged with possession of a weapon on school property, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill and disturbing the peace.

He is currently being held on a $75,000 bond. He has also been ordered to stay away from the school.

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Former Vatican treasurer Pell jailed for six years for sexually abusing choir boys

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in jail on Wednesday by an Australian court for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in the 1990s, and will be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said there was a real possibility that at age 77, Pell could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Pell, a former top adviser to Pope Francis, is the most senior Catholic to be convicted for child sex offenses.

His downfall brings to the heart of the papal administration a scandal over clerical abuse that has ravaged the Church’s credibility in the United States, Chile, Australia and elsewhere over the last three decades.

“In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance,” said Kidd in handing down the sentence after Pell was convicted of five charges of sexually abusing two children.

“Viewed overall, I consider your moral culpability across both episodes to be high,” he told the packed court room.

Pell, who showed no emotion during the sentencing hearing that ran for more than one hour, has maintained his innocence and has filed an appeal that is scheduled to be heard in June.

The offenses against two 13-year-old boys took place after Sunday mass in late 1996 and early 1997 in a room and a corridor at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Pell was archbishop.

One of the victims died in 2014. The other victim, who testified and was cross-examined at the trial, issued a statement through his solicitor saying he found it hard to take comfort in the verdict for now.

“Being a witness in a criminal case has not been easy. I am doing my best to hold myself and my family together,” said the victim, who cannot be identified under Australian law protecting sex abuse victims.

During the trial the victim described how Pell had exposed himself to them, fondled their genitals and masturbated and forced one boy to perform an oral sex act on him.

Pell was found guilty by a jury on four charges of indecent acts and one of sexual penetration. He faced a maximum of 10 years in jail for each charge.

“Cardinal Pell, I find beyond reasonable doubt that, on the specific facts of your case, there was a clear relationship of trust with the victims, and you breached that trust and abused your position to facilitate this offending,” Kidd said.

Kidd said as archbishop Pell would have “cast a powerful shadow” and thought he could control the situation if caught. He also probably believed his victims would not complain.

During his trial, Pell’s own lawyer described the burly 1.9 meters (6 foot and 3 inches) tall cardinal as the “Darth Vader” of the Catholic Church.

Kidd said that as Pell had maintained his innocence, which was his right, he had not shown remorse or contrition for his actions and that his sentence reflected that.

CATHOLIC CHURCH NOT ON TRIAL

After the sentence was handed down, Pell signed paperwork related to his registration as a sex offender, bowed to the judge and then, aided by a walking stick, was escorted out of the court by five corrections officers.

Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, ended a conference on sexual abuse in February by calling for an “all-out battle” against a crime that should be “erased from the face of the earth”.

Kidd made it clear that Pell’s sentence was based solely on the crimes he was convicted of by the jury, and that Pell was not to be made a scapegoat for the failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.

“In my view, the first episode in the priest’s sacristy involved a brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims,” Kidd said.

“The acts were sexually graphic. Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending,” he said, adding Pell’s behavior had a “nasty element” to it.

He set a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Pell would be registered as a sex offender for life.

“I am conscious that the term of imprisonment…carries with it a real, as distinct from theoretical, possibility that you may not live to be released from prison,” the judge said.

Pell’s sentencing was shown live on television, reflecting the high level of interest in the case, although only the judge was shown and the broadcast was cut immediately after the sentence was delivered.

“It’s not enough. Thank God he got a sentence; it should have been at least 10 (years),” said 82-year-old Marge Crawford, who was outside the court as part of Care Leavers Australasia Network, a support group for adults who suffered abuse and neglect in foster care and orphanages.

Pell was convicted in December, but the verdict was suppressed from being made public in Australia by a court order until Feb. 26, when further child sex offense charges against Pell dating back to the 1970s were dropped.

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Pell has been close adviser to Pope Francis in recent years.

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Many people travelled to the court to hear the sentence.

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