Day: March 26, 2017


London attacker used WhatsApp, firm must help police get access – VIDEO: Terror back on Americans' minds after London attack

British security services are pleading with the creators of a popular messaging service for help accessing one of the final communications sent by Westminster Bridge terror attacker Khalid Masood before his deadly assault on Wednesday.

Masood sent an encrypted message on WhatsApp just minutes before he began the rampage that killed three pedestrians and a police officer and wounded dozens of others.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Sunday urged those behind WhatsApp — and similar apps — to make their platforms accessible to intelligence services.

“We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp — and there are plenty of others like that — don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” she said.

Rudd did not provide any details about Masood’s use of WhatsApp, saying only “this terrorist sent a WhatsApp message and it can’t be accessed.”

But her call for a “back door” system to allow authorities to access information is likely to be met with resistance throughout the industry.

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The British plea mirrors one made by the FBI following the San Bernardino terror attack in December 2015. After that incident, investigators asked Apple — to no avail — to help unlock one of the terrorist’s iPhones.

Eventually, the FBI found its own way into the device.

Masood drove a rented SUV into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before smashing it into Parliament’s gates and rushing onto the grounds, where he stabbed a policeman to death before he was shot dead. A detailed police reconstruction has found the entire attack lasted 82 seconds.

Police say he acted alone but they are trying to pinpoint his motive and identify any possible accomplices, making the WhatsApp message a potential clue to his state of mind and his social media contacts.

Rudd said attacks like Masood’s would be easier to prevent if authorities could penetrate encrypted services after obtaining a warrant similar to the ones used to listen in on telephone calls or — in snail mail days — steam open letters and read their contents.

Without a change in the system, she said terrorists would be able to communicate with each other without fear of being overheard even in cases where a legal warrant has been obtained.

Rudd also urged technology companies to do a better job at preventing the publication of material that promotes extremism. She plans to meet with firms Thursday in a bid to set up an industry board that would take steps to make the web less useful to extremists.

British police investigating the attack say they still believe Masood, a 52-year-old Briton, acted alone and say they have no indications that further attacks are planned.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said it may never be possible to fully determine Masood’s motives.

“That understanding may have died with him,” Basu said Saturday night as police appealed for people who knew Masood or saw him to contact investigators. “Even if he acted alone in the preparation, we need to establish with absolute clarity why he did these unspeakable acts, to bring reassurance to Londoners.”

ISIS, which is losing territory in Iraq and Syria but still has radical followers in other parts of the world, has claimed Masood was a “soldier” carrying out its wishes to attack Western countries. The group has been known to communicate with followers on WhatsApp, as well as other messaging apps.

Masood had convictions for violent crimes in the U.K. and spent time in prison. He also worked in Saudi Arabia teaching English for two years and traveled there again in 2015 on a visa designed for religious pilgrimages.

One 58-year-old man remains in custody in the case after being arrested in Birmingham, where Masood had been living. He has not been charged or named. Nine others arrested after the assault have been freed without charges and one has been freed on bail.

The family of slain police officer Keith Palmer, meanwhile, released a statement thanking those who tried to save his life.

“There was nothing more you could have done. You did your best and we are just grateful he was not alone,” the statement said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Gwen gets flirty on TV

Chris Blue and R.J. Collins of Team Alicia duked it out in the battle rounds on Tuesday’s “The Voice,” and things got a little unexpectedly flirtatious between Gwen Stefani and the two hopefuls.

After the pair delivered a stirring performance of Miguel’s “Adorn,” it was apparent that both singers had talent, but Chris was the clear standout. But when it came time for the coaches to give some feedback, Gwen had a hard time focusing on the actual vocals.

WATCH: Gwen Stefani & Blake Shelton Prove Romance Hasn’t Made Them Less Competitive on ‘The Voice’ Season 12 Premiere

“Chris, you let yourself completely get absorbed into the music, almost as an out-of-body experience,” she marveled. “I don’t even know if I was listening to your voice because I was so mesmerized by your body.”

This was not a comment that Adam Levine or Stefani’s boyfriend and fellow coach, Blake Shelton, were going to let go of right away.

“Hey! What the-?” Blake said, giving a jokingly angry glare at “The Voice” hopeful.

“I’m sorry Blake,” Chris said, laughing.

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As Gwen tried to backpedal with an explanation as to what she meant, Levine shot back, “It’s hard to talk your way out of that one.”

Shelton decided to rib the singer.

“What’s your problem man?” he asked from his chair.

“I don’t want any trouble,” Chris defensively replied while laughing. “I don’t have any problem.”

WATCH: ‘The Voice’: Blake Shelton Tells Gwen Stefani to ‘Quit Dropping My Name’ During Blind Auditions

And it wasn’t just Chris that Gwen seemed to be stunned by. Speaking with his competitor, the No Doubt frontwoman said, “R.J., I did not know you were 18 years old. I mean, you look like a man, ya know?”

“Once again, here we go,” Levine quipped.

When it came to feedback, Shelton said that, while both singers did an admirable job, he could already feel that Chris had what it takes to make it to the finals. It was a suggestion that might have been motivated by the fact that he wanted Chris to win the round so Stefani couldn’t snag him for her team.

“By the way, I hope you’re not available to steal, because I’d probably lose my girlfriend,” Shelton joked.

WATCH: Adam Levine Calls Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani’s ‘Voice’ Arguments Like a Sportscaster

Before fellow coach Alicia Keys weighed in with her final decision, Gwen made it clear she wanted more.

“I wanna see it again!” she exclaimed.

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” Adam joked.

“That is enough!” Blake yelled.

WATCH: ‘The Voice’: 7 Things You Didn’t See on TV Between Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton During Her Big Return

Eventually, Chris ended up winning the battle round while R.J. was eliminated.

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Iraqi PM vows ISIS will be defeated 'within weeks' – US-backed forces battling for ISIS-held air base in Syria

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi predicted Sunday that his country will defeat Islamic State military forces “within weeks,” but acknowledged the terror group will continue to exist until it’s eradicated in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“We are defeating them militarily,” al Abadi told “Fox News Sunday.” “As a terrorist organization … they will try. So that’s where we need the efforts of others. Flush them out of Syria and other places.”

Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led international coalition, early this year drove Islamic State fighters from the eastern part of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. And the fight has now moved to Mosul’s densely populated western neighborhoods.

Iraqi and coalition forces have increasingly turned to artillery and airstrikes in the difficult fight. The U.S. military, in fact, is being held responsible for a March 17 strike in which at least 100 people were purportedly killed. U.S. officials have opened an investigation.

Al Abadi also suggested Sunday that President Barack Obama didn’t want to get involved in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, but was forced into the situation when the terror group crossed the Syrian border and occupied 40 percent of Iraq.

In 2003, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. However, the effort lasted roughly eight years.

“He just wanted just to forget Iraq,” the prime minister said. “I mean, slaughtering people. There was a lot of pressure on President Obama.”

He also said the United States appears determined to defeat ISIS and that the U.S. and Iraq are allies, which made President Trump’s original travel ban on his country unacceptable.

“We are allies. We are victims of terrorism,” al Abadi said. “It’s not acceptable to us, especially when you have U.S. soldiers … working with Iraqis in Iraq. It was very tough for them to tell Iraqis, ‘I’m working with you, but I consider you as a threat to the U.S.’ ”

Trump campaigned on a promise to dramatically ramp up the assault on Islamic State militants and has vowed to eradicate it. His revised travel ban, held up in federal court like the first one, does not include Iraq.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently met at the State Department with al Abadi and foreign officials to explore new ideas to expand the fight against ISIS in Mosul.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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'FOX & FRIENDS WEEKEND': Vet speaks up at VA after spotting 'disrespectful' blank space for Trump pic

Vietnam War veteran Joe Carollo didn’t stay silent when he walked into his local Veterans Affairs hospital and spotted a “disrespectful” blank space where the president’s portrait should be.

Carollo said on “Fox & Friends Weekend” that when he visited the Port Saint Lucie, Fla. VA hospital, in the spot on the wall where the president’s and the veterans’ affairs secretary’s photographs should be, there was only a potted plant and a picture of former Secretary Robert McDonald.

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“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Carollo said, calling the sight “disrespectful.”

He asked the receptionist why they had not posted a photograph of President Trump and Secretary Dr. David Shulkin.

The receptionist told him she had to call an office in Palm Beach County before anything could be changed in that regard.

Carollo said he was shocked by the response, but added that eventually, the pictures were posted.

Three or four other Florida facilities had not posted the requisite pictures either, he said.

Carollo’s actions came a short time after Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), a double-amputee and veteran, came across a similar circumstance in West Palm Beach.

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Pro-Beijing Carrie Lam chosen to be Hong Kong's first female leader

The candidate favored by China’s Communist leadership was chosen as Hong Kong’s new leader on Sunday, in the first such vote since huge pro-democracy protests erupted over the city’s election system in 2014.

A committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites selected Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong government’s former No. 2 official, as the financial hub’s chief executive. Lam received 67 percent of the vote and will become Hong Kong’s first female leader and its fourth since British colonial control ended in 1997.

China’s leaders had lobbied behind the scenes for the 59-year-old Lam, so her victory came as no surprise. After the votes were counted, she bowed to the crowd and shook hands with the second-place finisher, former Finance Secretary John Tsang.

Some pro-democracy supporters in the official seating area yelled slogans and held up a yellow umbrella, the symbol of the 2014 protests, as the results were announced. The elite election committee was at the root of the protests as activists decried the lack of a direct choice by Hong Kong’s 3.8 million registered voters.

Lam is an efficient and pragmatic administrator, but is unpopular with Hong Kongers because she’s seen as a proxy for Beijing and out of touch with ordinary people. Tsang, in contrast, is highly popular because of his easygoing persona and deft use of social media. He has been nicknamed “Pringles” or “Uncle Chips” in Cantonese for his signature mustache that draws comparisons to the snack food mascot. His followers call themselves “small potatoes.”

Lam received 777 of the 1,163 votes. Tsang got 365 votes, or 31 percent, while the third candidate, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, had 21 votes.

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As the next leader of the Asian financial center, Lam will inherit a city split by political divisions and saddled with sluggish economic growth. Many fear that Beijing is tightening control and undermining the “one country, two systems” framework that guarantees Hong Kong high autonomy. Those fears have been amplified by cases in recent years such as five booksellers secretly detained on the mainland and a Chinese tycoon’s mysterious disappearance.

Lam’s ability to soothe tensions relies on how much public support she can gain.

“My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustrations and to unite our society to move forward,” she said at a news conference after the results were announced.

Lam said she would not immediately revive attempts to revamp the electoral system, a potential political flashpoint that could rekindle protests by pro-democracy supporters. She said she wanted to focus on other more pressing issues such as housing, education and health care.

“There is a serious divide in Hong Kong, so why don’t we start with the easier subjects and try to reach consensus” on how to tackle those other problems first, she said.

Lam will take office on July 1, succeeding current leader Leung Chun-ying, who cited family reasons when he ruled out a second term. Political analysts suspect Beijing asked Leung, a highly polarizing figure, to step aside for someone better liked.

Members of the Hong Kong’s election committee include tycoons like Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest person. They represent industry and trade groups such as finance, accounting, real estate and textiles. Most support China’s Communist leaders and are expected to vote according to their wishes.

Hong Kong lawmakers, local councilors and delegates to China’s rubber-stamp parliament also have votes, and some 326 seats, mostly in the education, legal, health and social welfare sectors, are held by pro-democracy supporters.


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Bigfoot blamed in Idaho car crash

A northern Idaho woman told police she crashed into a deer because she was distracted by a sasquatch in her rearview mirror.

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports that the 50-year-old Tensed woman was driving south on U.S. Highway 95 on Wednesday when she struck a deer near Potlatch.

The woman told Benewah County Sheriff’s officials that she saw a sasquatch chasing a deer on the side of the road while driving. She says she checked one of her mirrors to get a second look at the beast and when she looked up, the deer ran in front of her.

Sheriff’s officials marked the incident as a vehicle versus deer collision but did not report any evidence of Bigfoot.

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Missing ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson: Family files lawsuit vs. Iran – Iran imposes sanctions on 15 US firms

The family of a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran a decade ago on an unauthorized CIA assignment has filed a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic, accusing it of using “cold, cynical and false denials” to torture his loved ones.

The lawsuit by Robert Levinson’s family in U.S. federal court comes years after the last hostage photos and video of the 69-year-old investigator surfaced in emails they say were sent by Iran so the country “would not be held responsible for his ultimate fate.” The lawsuit also describes in detail offers by Iran to “arrange” for his release in exchange for a series of concessions, including the return of a Revolutionary Guard general who defected to the West.

“Iran has, for many years, established a pattern of seizing and holding hostages in order to extract concessions from the hostage’s home country,” the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington reads. “That Robert Levinson’s seizure is a part of that pattern is reflected in Iran’s multiple attempts to use Robert Levinson’s imprisonment to extort concessions from the United States.”

The family’s lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages from Iran.

Iran’s mission at the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment Sunday, amid Iran’s long celebration of the annual Nowruz holiday that marks the Persian New Year and the arrival of spring. Iranian media previously carried international reports on the lawsuit, without elaborating.

Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. For years, U.S. officials would only say that Levinson, a meticulous FBI investigator credited with busting Russian and Italian mobsters, was working for a private firm on his trip.

In December 2013, The Associated Press revealed Levinson in fact had been on a mission for CIA analysts who had no authority to run spy operations. Levinson’s family had received a $2.5 million annuity from the CIA in order to stop a lawsuit revealing details of his work, while the agency forced out three veteran analysts and disciplined seven others.

The lawsuit said emails to Levinson’s family and friends began in August 2007, though the only photos and video of Levinson emerged in 2010 and 2011. The video message included a demand for $3 million and the release of “certain named individuals,” the lawsuit said.

Iranian authorities also used a meeting with an American religious organization to ask for the release of a report on its nuclear program to be delayed in exchange for Levinson, the lawsuit said. At another time, Iran asked for the exchange of the defecting general, while Levinson remained held all the while, it said.

“For the past 10 years the Iranian government has held Robert Levinson captive while at the same time denying any knowledge or involvement in the circumstances of his capture,” the lawsuit said. “In order to maintain its false story, Iran has held Robert Levinson incommunicado.”

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4-year-old gets star treatment as honorary Boston police officer

A 4-year-old was smiling ear to ear Saturday while he got to be an honorary Boston Police officer for the day and member of their basketball team at a local cancer research fundraiser. 

“We won’t know where we’ll be a year from now, but today my son’s he’s happy as he can be,” said dad David Higgins. 

Declan Higgins, a huge BPD fan, and is being treated for a stage III brain tumor. He’s had surgery and radiation at Dana-Farber for the tumor. 

“It’s one day at a time,” said David. 

On Saturday, complete with a hat and mini badge, Declan was picked up from his Medfield home and escorted to West Roxbury for a day of fun and basketball. 

Boston Police officers were playing in the annual A Shot For Life: Battle of the Badges to raise money and awareness for brain cancer research at the Stephen E. and Catherine Pappas Center for Neuro-Oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Declan got the chance to be part of their team as an honorary player as officer said Boston firefighters. 

“I’m honored that he’s here – he’s my favorite player today,” said nonprofit leader Mike Slonina.

Slonina started the nonprofit following his mother’s brain cancer diagnosis in 2010. 

“It’s supposed to united people through basketball,” he said. 

And that it did – a large crowd of people were in West Roxbury to cheer Declan on as he arrived before the game. There were posters, cheerleaders and plenty of police officers giving the 4-year-old the basketball star treatment. 

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Reynolds and Fisher honored with humor, music and dance

 Laughter, music and the tapping of dancing shoes reverberated throughout a public memorial to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, which loved ones say is just how the actresses would have wanted it.

There were few tears throughout the two-hour ceremony Saturday, which honored the mother-daughter duo’s impact on film, culture and those who knew them with a mix of photos, videos, and anecdotes that kept the audience laughing and applauding.

Todd Fisher led the ceremony, which he said was intended to bring fans an intimate view of his mother and sister. He called it a show, saying his mother hated to attend memorials.

Hundreds of fans — some wearing “Star Wars” attire — attended the public ceremony that featured numerous family photos and Reynolds’ final interview reflecting on her life and philanthropy, and one of Fisher’s high school friends sharing some her off-color emails to him.

A troupe from Reynolds’ dance studio performed an homage to “Singin’ in the Rain,” the film that catapulted Reynolds to stardom at age 19. After an opening film that was an ode to Fisher’s “Star Wars” role, a working R2D2 unit came on stage, mournfully beeped and parked next to a director’s chair with Fisher’s name on it. Across the stage, near a piano, sat an empty chair with Reynolds’ name on it.

Fisher, 60, an actress and writer who starred as Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, died Dec. 27 after suffering a medical emergency days earlier aboard a flight from London. Reynolds, an Oscar-nominated actress for her role in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” died the following day at age 84.

Todd Fisher recounted his mother’s final moments and her remark that she wanted to be with her daughter.

“It was a very peaceful exit that only my mother could have orchestrated,” he said to booming laughter. “She was trained in Hollywood where they teach you to make a great entrance, and exit.”

Fisher and Reynolds had a complex relationship, with some years of estrangement before they reunited and became close confidantes.

Actor Dan Aykroyd described Fisher, his one-time fiancée, as a chatterbox who never let him speak. He described using the Heimlich maneuver on her once, and joked that if he had been on the plane where Fisher fell ill in December, he “might have been able to save her again.”

He echoed a sentiment expressed by many early in his remarks. “We really shouldn’t be here this soon,” he said.

The ceremony was attended by several stars, including Rene Russo, Beverly D’Angelo, “Dallas” actress Morgan Brittany, actor-director Fisher Stevens, “Brady Bunch” actress Susan Olsen and actor Griffin Dunne.

Dunne recounted living with Fisher in New York when they were both young actors, and her initial reactions to working on “Star Wars.” He recounted Fisher’s assessment of the film: “It’s stupid and it’s terrible.”

After the first screening, they both knew she had been wrong. “We knew movies would never be the same, and you just knew Carrie’s life would never be the same.”

When speakers weren’t delivering one-liners — some that had been uttered or penned by Fisher and Reynolds — music and dance took over the stage. The ceremony featured a new song James Blunt wrote after Fisher’s death, and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles performed a somber rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” that celebrated Fisher’s status as a feminist icon.

Actress Ruta Lee celebrated Reynolds’ philanthropy in her eulogy, which included her singing to troops during the Korean War and her later efforts raising millions to help those suffering from mental illness. Carrie Fisher battled mental illness and addiction, exploring her struggles in the book “Postcards from the Edge.”

Fisher discussed her mother’s charitable work in a video clip, joking: “She sort of started what this town was going to need quite a bit of, which was treatment for the mentally ill.”

Lee said it was OK to feel sadness at the deaths of Reynolds and Fisher, but not to dwell on it. “Debbie the unsinkable and her beautiful daughter would never want us to mourn,” she said.

Author Gavin de Becker, who attended high school with Fisher and recounted how his infatuation with her turned into a lifelong friendship, said his friend “zoomed through time” and made so many people’s lives better. He recounted how Fisher took him on international trips and “gave me so many firsts.”

“The first time I had sex was at Carrie’s house,” de Becker said. “It wasn’t with Carrie, but she arranged it.”

It was one of many tales about the actresses that drew boisterous laughter.

After the service, fans were invited to see the actresses’ final resting place at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills, a storied cemetery where numerous celebrities, including Bette Davis and Liberace, are buried or interred.

Many also paused to snap photos with some of the actresses’ memorabilia that was displayed outside the theater, including two dresses Fisher wore while filming “Star Wars” and “When Harry Met Sally,” and two of Reynolds’ costumes from “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

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Massachusetts sixth-grader going to bus stop cited for trespassing

A sixth-grader in Massachusetts was served by police with no-trespass orders after neighbors grew wary of the girl cutting through their properties to get to and from her school bus stop.

The mother of 11-year-old Autumn Blanchard told the Cape Cod Times her daughter received three pink no-trespass notices from the Harwich Police Department on March 2.

Krystal Blanchard said she was unaware neighbors had an issue until the police arrived at her door and asked why she wasn’t informed by the neighbors or school officials, who also knew about the problem.

“I am beyond distressed by this situation,” she told the newspaper. “I can’t imagine why it had to go to this level. Someone should have spoken to me.”

According to the notices, Autumn could be arrested and fined up to $100, imprisoned up to 30 days or both, if she steps onto the properties listed in the no-trespass orders.

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Blanchard said she wonders if the fact her family is new to the area and she and her daughter have brightly colored hair may be causing neighbors to discriminate against them. The mother has pink hair and piercings, while her daughter’s hair has multiple colors.

“That’s the only thing I can think of, which I think is ridiculous,” said Blanchard, who contends Autumn is a “nice, polite kid.”

Harwich Police Chief David Guillemette blamed a “breakdown in communication” for the situation in an interview with the newspaper. He said police should have met first with the mother to discuss her daughter’s trespassing.

“I would have preferred it would have been handled with more tact,” Guillemette said.

The 11-year-old girl said the cut-through shortened her walk to and from the bus stop, adding how she “just wanted to get home and be warm inside my house.”

A neighbor told the paper she was previously sued because a girl fell in her yard, and became concerned when she saw Autumn climbing over debris from a fallen tree.

Read more from The Cape Cod Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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