Day: May 17, 2017

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Evidence of Russian military support for Afghan Taliban is growing


Afghanistan villagers caught in Taliban territory in the northern province of Kunduz, by the border of Tajikistan, recently began reporting unmarked helicopters at night landing and leaving quickly from known Taliban hideouts, or at least areas outside of government control. 

Others spoke of smugglers bringing in shipments of small boats across the quiet river, called Panj on the Tajikistan side and Amu on the Afghanistan, between the two countries.

It didn’t take long before suspicions arose of an international outfit at play. The locals feared going close to the tightly controlled Taliban enclaves to investigate. Around the same time, reports from the U.S. started growing that Russia was once again meddling in Afghanistan — this time by arming the Taliban. 

“I believe what Russia is attempting to do is they are attempting to be an influential party in this part of the world,” Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of U.S. Central Command, told American lawmakers in March. “I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to [the Taliban] in terms of weapons or other things that may be there.”

The recent onslaught of the Taliban into the north of Afghanistan — once a relatively stable place compared to the insurgency-saturated southern and eastern areas — can be partly attributed, say many experts and officials, to Russian involvement. 

“The success of the Taliban in the north is due to Russian support. In Kunduz province, 30 miles from the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border, Taliban has control,” Kabul-based analyst Silab Mangal told Fox News. “That’s where they get Russian finance and logistics and their wounded fighters can get treatment.” 

According to Mangal, who cites personal engagement with Taliban in those areas, the Russians have given them weapons over time, including the Dragnov sniper rifle and the PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle.

Getting in such weapons or advisers smoothly, by air or land, is a hypothetically straight-forward task. Tajikistan shares a zig-zag 750-mile border with northern Afghanistan, and Russia’s largest foreign military installation, Russia’s 201st Rifle Division, is located just across the border.

“Russia has a lot of influences with all the tribes here on the border. They know all the local commanders,” one Afghan official, who previously operated in the Panj region and had direct ties to Moscow, said. “In just a few minutes, helicopters can go and come back without too much notice. And boats attract little attention.”

Another well-placed intelligence source, who also requested anonymity due to safety concerns in the Taliban-infested region, told Fox News that the mysterious weapons transfers — coming from abroad — are in due course empowering the Taliban to maintain a strong foothold in the north of Afghanistan.

According to the source, Russia tightened engagement with the Taliban during the second term of former President Hamid Karzai, around 2009, as his ties with the U.S. deteriorated. But mysterious deliveries allegedly started just prior to the first fall of Kunduz city in 2015. Although seemingly random, they have become more frequent in the past eight months. 

Moscow has openly stated that it has an intelligence-sharing relationship with the Taliban regarding the ISIS threat. But they have staunchly denied that the Russian military is aiding or arming the Taliban. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid also denied any Russian monetary or material assistance. 

The success of the Taliban in the north [of Afghanistan] is due to Russian support.

– Kabul-based analyst Silab Mangal

Sanjar Sohail, a prominent investigative journalist and publisher of a Farsi-language newspaper, has confirmed that Taliban insurgents in that area have new Russian Kalashnikovs, while previously they only had old Soviet-style guns from the invasion time.

“We know the weapons market in Afghanistan,” Sohail said. “This is a new supply.”

On Wednesday, the police chief of the northern province of Baghlan, Brig. Gen. Ikramuddin Sarai, told Pajhwok Afghan News that Russian and other foreign military advisers had arrived to support the Taliban amid heavy clashes. Similar reports surfaced last month in the southern province of Uruzgan, in which police chief Ghulam Farooq Sangari told Voice of America’s Afghan service that advisers — including two women dressed in doctor’s uniforms and guarded by four armed Taliban along with an Afghan translator — were in various locations. The accusation was denied by Russian officials. 

However, another senior Afghan government security official told Fox News that they have solid, although classified, documents indicating Russia is supporting the Taliban through its ally Iran, under the rationale that they are trying to bring the terrorist group to the negotiating table to form a peace treaty similar to the one recently signed by militant group Hezb-e-Islami. 

“Iran — a Shia country — has its advisers in the north,” an intelligence source told Fox News. “The small pockets of Shia in Afghanistan used to get attacked by the Taliban; now they are not harming them or forcing them to pay taxes.” 

Furthermore, U.S. intelligence also has determined that Russian weapons were used by the Taliban to attack U.S.-supported Afghan soldiers in southern Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces. In a briefing to Congress in December, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, also accused Iran of backing the Taliban. 

Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay



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Son of family who adopted girl without limbs dealt devastating cancer diagnosis


A Utah family whose blog post about the adoption of their 3-year-old daughter went viral was dealt a devastating blow recently when their young son, who is also adopted, was diagnosed with leukemia.

Adrianne and Jason Stewart, who first adopted 6-year-old Joshua from the Philippines, later returned to adopt 3-year-old Maria who was born without limbs. The couple are also parents to two biological daughters, ages 13 and 11, and shared their adoptive experience on the Facebook page “Love What Matters.”

According to an April 24 post on the family’s public Facebook page, in March the Stewarts took Joshua to an urgent care facility for a suspected case of the flu. In April, subsequent testing led to a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

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“They ran a leukemia test and it came back positive with signs of a really aggressive cancer,” Adrianne told PEOPLE. “So with aggressive leukemia, comes aggressive treatment.”

AML is an aggressive form of cancer that starts in the bone marrow but in most cases it quickly moves into the blood. It can sometimes spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, central nervous system and testicles, according to the American Cancer Society website.

“And just like that our perfect world was shattered,” she told PEOPLE. “Our entire world was turned upside down.”

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According to a post on a GoFundMe page set up for the family, Joshua will spend the next six months in the hospital receiving chemotherapy. Doctors have given him a 65 percent chance of survival, PEOPLE reported.

“It’s hard to look at that percentage and think positively,” Adrianne told the news outlet. “We’re just trying to take one day at a time.”

She said that Joshua knows that he is sick but does not know the extent of his illness.

“We do not know what is to come in the future, we hold high hopes of what he will become,” the post on the family’s Facebook page said. “While we are aware of the possibilities, we choose to focus on the positive. This has been beaten before and will be beaten again.”



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Australian man who brutally attacked two backpackers sentenced to 22 years in prison


A man who viciously attacked two backpackers on a remote Australian beach last year was sentenced to 22 years in prison on Wednesday. 

Roman Heinze, 61, was found guilty on six charges, including indecent assault, aggravated kidnapping and endangering life. He was also sentenced in a 2014 assault case involving another backpacker whom he had offered a ride, according to the BBC. He will be eligible for parole in 17 years.

In 2016, Heinze met the two women, both 24, on Gumtree, a classified advertising website, and agreed to drive them from Adelaide to Melbourne. They arrived at the beach in the CoorongNational Park and set up camp.

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Later that day, Heinze took one of the women, who was Brazilian, to another part of the beach and tied her wrists and ankles with a rope before sexually assaulting her. The other woman, who was German, woke up from her nap to her friend’s screams and ran over to help.

Heinze then took a hammer and started bashing the German woman’s head. She tried to flee, but Heinze got into his four-wheel drive and rammed her several times. She eventually jumped onto the roof of the car and hung onto the roof racks as Heinze tried to fling her off. 

The women manage to escape when a nearby fisherman heard screams, the BBC reported. 

South Australia Supreme Court Justice Trish Kelly dubbed Heinze “utterly depraved” on Wednesday as she handed him his prison sentence. She said Heinze committed the attacks “solely in pursuit of the gratification of your own perverted sexual fantasies and desires.”

“In committing these crimes you have undermined yet again the reputation of this country as a safe, friendly and attractive destination for young backpackers from all over the world,” Kelly added. 

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Heinze also breached a bond condition in relation to a 2014 assault. 

There have been a string of high-profile attacks on foreign tourists in Australia in recent years. In March, a British backpacker who officials say had been sexually assaulted and held captive for weeks in the Outback was rescued after police pulled over the car she was driving.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 



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Tennessee police searching for man who drove over officer


Clarksville Police are searching for a Nashville man after he drove over a police officer’s leg on Tuesday and is still on the loose.

Clarkville Police say Officer Seth Traughber responded to a suspicious activity call at an Exxon on Highway 76.

The man had been in the parking lot for about 45 minutes and was believed to be on drugs. EMS personnel who were already on scene noted there were a couple of narcotic prescriptions on the front seat and say they had to wake the man up.

When Officer Traughber approached, he asked the driver to get out of the vehicle but the driver instead started the car and tried to shut the door. The door struck the officer and Officer Traughber grabbed the man, ordering the driver to stop. The driver told Officer Traughber “I can’t do that,” put the vehicle in drive and drove off, dragging the officer.

Offier Traughber lost his grip, fell to the ground, and was driven over his left leg with the back tire of the vehicle.

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Police have identified the driver as Billy McNeil, a Nashville resident. McNeil could still be driving the 2007 Chevrolet pictured in the video. McNeil has warrants issued for his arrest that include aggravated assault, driving on a revoked license, evading arrest, and resisting arrest.

Officer Traughber thankfully suffered no major injuries.

Read more from FOX 17.



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Student loan debt 'stubbornly high' as household debt tops '08 peak


Household debt balances rose for the eleventh-consecutive quarter in the first three months of the year, surpassing a pre-crisis peak as mortgage, as auto and student loan balances grew.

Total household debt totaled $12.73 trillion in the first quarter, representing a 1.2% increase from the final three months of 2016 and a 14.1% advance from the 2013 financial-crisis low, according to data from the New York Federal Reserve released Wednesday. It was the first time loan balances crossed the 2008 peak of $12.68 trillion.

“Performance on mortgages has continued to improve, while auto loan delinquency flows have been trending upward since 2012. Credit card transitions have also ticked up. The standout, however, has been student loans—with new serious delinquency flows that deteriorated steadily between 2004 and 2014 and have remained stubbornly high since then,” said economists at the New York Fed’s Microeconomic Studies department (which releases the report each quarter), Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally and Wilbert van der Klaauw in a post for the regional Fed’s Liberty Street Economics blog. 

Mortgages, which make up the biggest component of overall household debt, rose to $8.63 trillion while new mortgage balances declined during the quarter to $491 billion. Foreclosure rates remain low by historical standards, according to the data, but 91,000 individuals had a foreclosure notation added to their credit reports while mortgage delinquencies worsened, though transition rates (which measure balances that have newly become at least 30-days late divided by balances current in the previous quarter) were unchanged.

Auto loans grew by $10 billion during the quarter, continuing a six year trend with delinquency rates flat on the quarter but rising overall since 2012.

Student loan balances, meanwhile, added $34 billion with 11% considered 90+ days delinquent or in default. According to the report, the percentage of student loan balances that transition to “serious delinquency,” which had been in decline, has hovered around an annual rate of 10% for the last five years.

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On the whole, a record low of 203,000 consumers saw a bankruptcy notation added to their credit reports during the period, a 1.7% decline from the year prior.

The economists cautioned that while household debt levels appear similar in size to the pre-crisis era, the composition is very different from that period as mortgages take up a smaller share than they did nine years ago and balances have shifted to more creditworthy and older borrowers.

“These shifts in borrowing patters and characteristics of borrowers, paired with the long recovery and a strong labor market, have resulted in very low delinquency rates for most types of debts except for student loans,” they said.   

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Police seek man who vandalized USS Constitution


The USS Constitution is one of Boston’s most beloved landmarks.

But over the weekend, an intruder slipped on board after hours, causing some damage, and raising security concerns.

Old Ironsides is in dry dock for a multimillion dollar restoration and has been for over two years. But over the weekend, one man got on board after hours and police are trying to find him.

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Sometime Sunday into Monday, when the ship was closed in public, The Constitution’s crew discovered an intruder below deck.

The man was escorted off the ship and he ran away before he could be identified.

A search of the Constitution revealed some damage to a state room door spindle below deck.

Police immediately issued a release to all branches asking officers to be on the lookout for the man who was caught on surveillance footage.

“It’s a failure of security somewhere along the line,” Boston 25 Security Expert Dan Linskey said. “It’s definitely a problem. Definitely a challenge no one should have been able to get on that vessel and spend any significant time there, without getting a response.”

The damage to the USS Constitution was minimal and the commander of the ship told Boston 25 it is mostly repaired.

Read more at Boston 25.



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Georgia home nightmare: Bees by the hundreds of thousands


A 6-foot long beehive with hundreds of thousands of bees inside was found in the ceiling of a Georgia home.

Lisa Ohrmundt of DeKalb County called a bee removal specialist after she saw a few bees flying in her home, according to Fox 5 Atlanta.

Bobby Chaisson, a Georgia Bee Removal employee, operated a heat sensing camera to find the location of the bees and discovered the hive in the ceiling. The expert believes the hive may have been there for a couple of years.

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A video of the removal process showed the size of the hive and amount of bees.

“You can hear it as he is pulling the sheetrock down like a buzz and then all of a sudden these bees just fall out into the room and they start flying all around the room,” Ohrmundt said. “It was incredible just a blanket of bees, I have never seen anything like it.” 

Chaisson did not expect the hive to be that massive until he began taking down the ceiling.

“Did the first hole in the ceiling and it was a little bigger and a little bit bigger and a little bit bigger and it ended up being about 6 feet long,” he said.

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The whole bee removal process took Chaisson about six hours to complete. He extracted around 150 pounds of honey and honeycomb from the ceiling.



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Israel’s public enemy No. 1 may be Iran – and tensions are escalating


Israel has often had hostile relations with its Muslim neighbors. But right now its greatest enemy may be Iran, which has one of the most powerful militaries in the region and has for years been openly hostile toward the very existence of Israel.

The situation may only be getting worse, with Iran seemingly on the rise since the Obama administration hatched a deal with the country that lifted international sanctions and gave the Islamic Republic approximately $100 billion in frozen assets.

Israel’s relations with Iran have changed since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948. Up until 1979, the two countries had relatively close ties. With Israel sometimes at war with its Arab neighbors, the non-Arab Iran was an important ally.

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But in 1979, the Islamic Revolution, with its leader Ayatollah Khomeini, took over in Iran, and Israel became the enemy.  Iran closed the Israeli embassy and cut off diplomatic relations.  It referred to Israel as “The Little Satan.” (“The Great Satan” was reserved for the United States.)

Still, even with officially hostile relations, Israel supported Iran in its war against Iraq from 1980 to 1988, selling it arms and even destroying Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in a surprise air strike in 1981.

Then, in 1989, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei assumed power and relations took a turn for the worse.  Khamenei referred to Israel as a “cancerous tumor in the heart of the Islamic world.”

While Israel and Iran have not had open military clashes, they have battled each other through proxy fights.  In the past few decades, Iran has sent weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars to anti-Israel terrorist groups, in particular Hezbollah and Hamas. The Israeli military has spent much time preventing or responding to attacks from these groups.

There have also long been rumors that Israel might strike one of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but so far this hasn’t happened.

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Nevertheless, Israel has fought against Iran in more surreptitious ways, particularly regarding attempts to stop or slow down the nation’s development of nuclear weapons.

For instance, in 2008 to 2010, the malicious “Stuxnet” computer worm, developed by Israel and the United States, severely disrupted Iran’s nuclear program.

Also, starting in 2010, a number of Iran’s nuclear scientists were assassinated, and it’s generally believed Israel and its intelligence agency Mossad were behind the killings.

Today, some fear if Iran becomes more powerful—and especially if it attains nuclear weapons—clashes may escalate.

At present, in addition to bad blood between Iran and Israel, the Islamic world itself is split, with centuries-old Islamic denominational strife coming to the fore.  Iran is the heart of the minority Shia denomination, while most of the Middle East is Sunni, with its center arguably being in Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.

Iran and Saudi Arabia’s relations have become increasingly strained, and many Arab nations fear the rise in influence of Iran. This may cause them to look toward Israel, with its powerful military, as a helpful entity that contains Iran’s power and perhaps even stabilizes the region.



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Notorious MS-13 gang targeted in pre-dawn sweep across Los Angeles


Hundreds of federal and local law enforcement fanned out across Los Angeles in pre-dawn sweeps, serving arrest and search warrants as part of a three-year investigation into the ultra-violent street gang MS-13.

Federal prosecutors unsealed a sweeping indictment Wednesday morning charging dozens of members and leaders of the brutal street gang with a variety of crimes, including murder.

Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said the anti-racketeering indictment targets 44 members and associates of the gang, including the one-time leader of a Los Angeles faction of MS-13. Three people accused of murder could face the death penalty, she said.

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Twenty-one people named in the indictment were arrested in pre-dawn raids across Los Angeles and Brown said warrants were served at more than 50 locations. Jail officials around the region also conducted cell searches, as some of those indicted were already in custody on unrelated charges.

Heavily armed agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raided a storefront along a strip of dilapidated buildings near downtown just before 4 a.m. and found at least seven people locked in a room. FBI Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike said those people are being investigated as possible human trafficking victims.

The early morning raids and the indictment are part of a multi-agency case led by the FBI that started in 2014. More than half of those arrested and charged in the case are in the country illegally, Fike said. It was unclear how long they had been in the United States or what countries they are from.

MS-13 has become a primary target of the Justice and Homeland Security departments amid the Trump administration’s broader effort to crack down on illegal immigration and violent crime. President Donald Trump and members of his administration have repeatedly said MS-13 poses a particular risk to American communities and is among the most ruthless street gangs.

Trump signed an executive order in February specifically directing federal law enforcement to focus resources on combating street gangs and transnational criminal organizations.

MS-13 leaders in El Salvador were targeted for financial sanctions by the Obama administration in 2012 as part of an earlier executive order targeting such groups.



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Georgia executes killer who quotes movie in his final statement


A convicted murderer who was executed in Georgia early Wednesday morning quoted from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” before getting a lethal injection of compounded barbiturate pentobarbital.

J.W. Ledford, 45, was convicted of murder in the January 1992 stabbing death of his 73-year-old neighbor, Dr. Harry Johnston. He died at 1:17 a.m. at the state prison in Jackson, Warden Eric Sellers told witnesses.

Ledford smiled to witnesses upon entering the viewing area where he was to be executed before making a final statement.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach,” Ledford said. “I am not the failure. You are the failure to communicate.”

“You can kiss my white trash ass,” he added, continuing to smile.

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When the warden left the execution chamber, prior to the injection, Ledford started talking again but the audio had been cut off so his words were not heard. He could then be seen speaking to a guard to his right before he rested his head, closed his eyes and took several breaths before falling still.

After killing Johnston in 1992, Ledford took the body to another part of the man’s property and covered it up. He then went to Johnston’s house with a knife, demanded money from Johnston’s wife and left the home with money and four guns, according to court filings. He tied up Johnston’s wife prior to departing the scene in Johnston’s truck but was arrested later in the day.

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Ledford’s lawyers and relatives had asked the parole board to spare him, citing a rough childhood, substance abuse from an early age and his intellectual disability. After holding a hearing Monday, the board declined to grant clemency, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The challenges were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected them shortly after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Georgia executed nine inmates in 2016, more than any other state and the most Georgia had executed in one calendar year since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume 40 years ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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