Homemade guns can no longer fly under the radar in the Golden State.
Bryan SchatzJul. 22, 2016 4:22 PM
Today, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 857 into law, requiring Californians who build their own firearms to apply for a state-issued serial number. Previously, guns assembled from parts kits officially flew under the radar. No background checks were required, and no serial number had to be stamped into the finished firearm, making them effectively untraceable.
In 2013, I attended a "gun build party" in southern California, in which I and a dozen others built AK-47s and other Kalashnikov variants from parts kits. My AK, according to the host of the build party, was an Egyptian "Maadi." Its parts had traveled to the United States by way of Croatia, which most likely received the weapon some time during the Yugoslav wars. He told me that often parts kits come from former conflict zones, and that sometimes the wooden stocks have tally marks notched in them. From my Mother Jones story about the gun build party:
Although US customs laws ban importing the weapons, parts kits—which include most original components of a Kalashnikov variant—are legal. So is reassembling them, as long as no more than 10 foreign-made components are used and they are mounted on a new receiver, the box-shaped central frame that holds the gun's key mechanics. There are no fussy irritations like, say, passing a background check to buy a kit. And because we're assembling the guns for our own "personal use," whatever that may entail, we're not required to stamp in serial numbers. These rifles are totally untraceable, and even under California's stringent assault weapons ban, that's perfectly within the law.
Now that's no longer the case in California. Homemade weapons have long been a pastime for gun enthusiasts, but some law enforcement agencies have become concerned as they've started showing up more frequently at crime scenes.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, today's bill is part of a more sweeping package of gun safety proposals that California Democrats recently pushed through, including a ban on semiautomatic assault rifles with detachable magazines and requiring background checks for ammunition purchases. Brown signed several of these bills earlier this month, which has been met with an effort to overturn them.
Accounts from locals, plus photos and videos, point to more than 50 deaths.
Bryan SchatzJul. 19, 2016 3:39 PM
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani following an airstrike by the US-led coalition in November 2014.
Suspected airstrikes by the United States-led coalition in Syria recently killed at least 56 civilians, including 11 children, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The death toll from airstrikes targeting two villages near the Islamic State-controlled city of Manbij could be as high as 200, which would make it the coalition's deadliest attack in two years.
In an interview with the non-profit journalism outlet Syria Direct on Tuesday, a local citizen journalist said the school housed displaced people and that 124 dead had been counted so far. A day earlier, 21 people were killed in raids also believed to be carried out by coalition aircraft north of Manbij. The airstrikes coincided with a ground offensive launched by ISIS against the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces, according to the New York Times.
In a statement, Amnesty International stated that the United States needs to do more to prevent civilian casualties. "The bombing of al-Tukhar may have resulted in the largest loss of civilian life by coalition operations in Syria," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's interim deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program. "There must be a prompt, independent and transparent investigation to determine what happened, who was responsible, and how to avoid further needles loss of civilian life. Anyone responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice and victims and their families should receive full reparation."
United States Central Command (CENTCOM) has not commented on the latest reports of civilian deaths. The Pentagon's estimates of civilian casualties from its anti-ISIS campaign have long been at odds with those of reputable monitoring groups.
A crisis is unfolding in Turkey after an attempted military coup.
Max J. Rosenthal, Bryan Schatz, and Kanyakrit VongkiatkajornJul. 15, 2016 4:38 PM
Supporters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan protest in front of soldiers in Istanbul's Taksim square.
Update, July 16, 2:17 p.m. ET: The death toll by Saturday morning rose to at least 265, with 1,440 people wounded, in the failed military coup in Turkey. The Turkish government has arrested thousands of military personnel thought to be involved.
On Saturday morning, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan again placed blame on his former ally turned long-time rival, Fethullah Gulen, the 75-year-old Muslim cleric now living in the United States, and his loyalists embedded within the Turkish military. "You have engaged in enough treason against this nation," said Erdoğan. "If you dare, come back to your country."
Erdoğan called on the United States to extradite Gulen to Turkey "if the US is a strategic ally."
Gulen denies the accusations. "I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey," he wrote in a statement following the failed coup. "As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations."
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities imposed a security lockdown on Incirlik Air Base in the southern province of Adana. It is home to 80 nuclear weapons and is used by the United States and other coalition nations as a vital launchpad for airstrikes targeting ISIS in Syria. All American military flights in and out of Incirlik have been grounded.
Update, July 15, 11:20 p.m. ET: At least 42 people have died in the attacks on Turkey's capital, including 17 police officers killed in the helicopter attack on the police special forces headquarters, according to local agencies. There are also an unknown number of casualties from clashes in Istanbul.
Update, July 15, 9:30 p.m. ET:Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in an appearance on NTV from Ataturk airport in Istanbul early on Saturday morning, said that coup plotters loyal to his rival, the controversial Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, "will pay a heavy price for their treason." Erdoğan blamed Gulen and his followers for the attempted coup, and added: "The Turkish armed forces must be cleansed. We have called them a terrorist organization, an armed organization, and that has now proven itself and they are using this nation’s arms to shoot at this nation." (The Alliance for Shared Values, the group led by Fethullah Gulen, issued a statement condemning "any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey.")
Update, July 15, 8:31 p.m. ET: A bomb has hit Turkey's parliamentary building, according to the Associated Press. According to an AFP photographer, Turkish military forces opened fire on crowds gathered at the entrance to Istanbul's Bosphorus bridge.
Update, July 15, 7:32 p.m. ET: President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have come out in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the "democratically-elected Government of Turkey," urging all parties to "show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed."
Update, July 15, 7:18 p.m. ET: Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported that 17 police officers have been killed in a helicopter attack on the police special forces headquarters on the outskirts of Ankara, according to the Associated Press.
Update, July 15, 6:58 p.m. ET: The leaders of a third opposition party, the left-wingPeople's Democratic Party, or HDP, have also announced their opposition to the coup. "HDP is under all circumstances and as a matter of principle against all kinds of coups," said the party's co-chairs in a statement. The announcement is significant: The HDP was attacked and repressed by Erdoğan's government after it won 13 percent of the vote in last summer's parliamentary elections and blocked Erdoğan from changing the constitution to give himself more power.
Update, July 15, 6:37 p.m. ET: Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have responded to his call for people to gather in the streets to try to block the military's coup attempt. Images and reports from Turkey show crowds gathering in public spaces like Istanbul's Taksim Square and chanting against the military.
Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News also reported that two parties, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party and the secularist Republican People's Party, expressed their opposition to the coup.
Update, July 15, 5:30 p.m. ET: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a statement on Turkish TV stations urging supporters of him and his Freedom and Justice Party, known as the AKP, to take to the streets and gather at airports to resist the military coup. "I am commander in chief in this country," he said. "Those who attempted a coup will pay the highest price." In a surreal moment, Erdoğan delivered his speech via video chat, with TV anchors holding their phones up to the camera to broadcast his message.
The Turkish military announced on Friday that it has taken over the country from Turkey's civilian leadership. "To regain our constitutional, democratic, and human rights, we are now officially controlling the country," the military announced on Turkish television.
It's still unclear the military's commanders authorized the coup or if the attempt was made by a smaller faction of the military. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, speaking on Turkey's NTV station, had said earlier on Friday afternoon that at least some Turkish military units were attempting a coup against the country's civilian leadership, but insisted it was a "a group within the military" and downplayed the presence of soldiers in the streets of Istanbul.
Just minutes later, the military took over the airwaves, shutting down state broadcaster TRT and making its announcement. Several outlets also reported that the military has closed Istanbul's Atatürk airport, with no flights currently leaving. Later, after the military's takeover, Reuters reported that the "statement made on behalf of armed forces was not authorized by military command."
Modern Turkey has a long history of military coups dating back to 1960. The Turkish military has typically acted as a guardian of the secular vision espoused by the country's founder, Kemal Atatürk, and stepped in when it believed civilian governments were violating those principles. But under Prime Minister and now-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, religion has played a much larger role in Turkish public life and there had not been a coup attempt since 1997. Erdoğan has also attempted to consolidate power, cracking down heavily on journalists and protest movement while attempting to change the constitution to give his office more power. Erdoğan was reportedly on vacation when the coup attempt began.
Images and videos of Turkish military units in Istanbul blocking bridges to the city's Asian side and apparently telling motorists to return to their homes began appearing on social media around 3:30 p.m. Eastern time on Friday.
Turkish soldiers block both bridges on the Bosphorus in Istanbul and jets flying low in Ankara. Reason not clear yet pic.twitter.com/tMG7KKYvGh
While there was at first confusion about whether the military presence was due to a terror alert or some other event, Yildirim said military units had attempted an uprising and would "pay the highest price."
There's no smoking gun, but plenty of crazy stories.
Max J. Rosenthal, AJ Vicens, and Bryan SchatzJul. 15, 2016 2:56 PM
The House Intelligence Committee has released 28 previously classified pages of a congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks that detail the potential involvement of Saudi citizens and government officials.
People including former members of the investigation, called the Joint Inquiry Committee, and lawyers for victims of the 9/11 attacks, have pushed for the release of the pages for years. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies had long resisted on national security grounds.
The report (which contained some redactions), did not, as some critics suspected, implicate the Saudi government directly in the attacks. "Neither the CIA nor the FBI was able to definitely identify for these Committees the extend for terrorist activity globally or within the United States and the extent to which such support, if it exists, is intentional or innocent in nature," the report reads.
But the report did detail intelligence that linked a handful of Saudi citizens to the hijackers. "While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government," the report said. "There is information, primarily from FBI sources, that at least two of these individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers."
The FBI believed that one of the men, Omar al-Bayoumi, might have helped two of the 9/11 hijackers while they were living in San Diego. Bayoumi, who apparently co-signed a lease and paid the security deposit for the hijackers, had also worked for the Saudi government in the past. He was in frequent contact with senior Saudi officials, and was receiving large amounts of money from the Saudi government, according to the documents.
The report even mentioned a theory that Saudi intelligence may have had a direct line to Osama bin Laden through Bayoumi. "[He] acted like a Saudi intelligence officer, in my opinion," one agent told the committee. "And if he was involved with the hijackers, which it looks like he was, if he signed leases, if he provided some sort of financing or payment of some sort, then I would say that there's a clear possibility that there might be a connection between Saudi intelligence and [Osama bin Laden]."
Another frightening passage described what seemed to be a dry run or information-gathering mission for the eventual hijackings. 1999, Saudi citizens Mohammed al-Qudhaeein and Hamdan al-Shalawi flew from Phoenix to Washington, DC to attend a party at the Saudi embassy. After the plane departed, they asked flight attendants suspicious technical questions about the flight. Qudhaeein twice attempted to enter the cockpit, and the plane made an emergency landing. The two men claimed the flight was paid for by the Saudi Embassy. The FBI investigated the incident and ultimately decided not to pursue a prosecution, but did uncover that both men had "connections to terrorism."
Perhaps more damning were comments about the state of American intelligence on Saudi Arabia before the 9/11 attacks. "Prior to September 11th, the FBI apparently did not focus investigative resources on…Saudi nationals in the United States due to Saudi Arabia's status as an American 'ally,'" the report stated. For their part, the Saudis refused to give intelligence help to the United States without demanding sensitive information in return that could have damaged sources or intelligence collection. "According to some FBI personnel, this type of response is typical from the Saudis," the report said. One FBI agent told the committee that "the Saudis have been useless and obstructionist for years."
After the release of the pages on Friday, members of Congress cautioned that the document contained information and evidence that the commission had collected at the time, but no proven conclusions.
Lawmakers stressing that released 9/11 report info is info, leads -- but not conclusive of official Saudi involvement #28pages
A new lawsuit accuses Syria of deliberately targeting Marie Colvin to silence her.
Bryan SchatzJul. 13, 2016 6:07 PM
Marie Colvin, the American-born, London-based war correspondent in 2011
As the Syrian government launched a scorched-earth siege of Homs in early 2012, the American war reporter Marie Colvin holed up in a clandestine media center inside the city, sending out live broadcasts on the attack's heavy civilian casualties. "There are rockets, shells, tank shells, anti-aircraft being fired in parallel lines into the city," she said in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper in the pre-dawn hours of February 22, 2012. "It's a complete and utter lie they're only going after terrorists. The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians."
It was Colvin's last call to CNN. Later that morning, the Syrian military fired directly at the makeshift media center. Using a targeting method called "bracketing," rockets and mortars landed on each side of the center, the rounds inching closer until eventually, a rocket struck outside the front door as Colvin and her colleagues attempted to evacuate. Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed immediately, and shrapnel and debris severely injured the French reporter Edith Bouvier and Colvin's colleagues, Paul Conroy and Wael al-Omar.
At the time, the Syrian Information Ministry said that the government was unaware that Colvin and Ochlik were in the country. However, a federal lawsuit filed over the weekend on behalf of Colvin's family alleges that the Syrian government targeted the media center "with premeditation" to silence Colvin and other media critics of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The civil complaint claims that Colvin was deliberately assassinated by high-ranking officials within the Assad government. "Marie Colvin was killed for exposing the Assad regime's slaughter of innocent civilians to the world," said attorney Scott Gilmore of the Center for Justice and Accountability, which is representing her family, in a statement. "The regime wanted to wage a war without witness against the democratic opposition. To do that, they needed to neutralize the media."
The suit accuses high-ranking officials within the Assad regime of deliberately assassinating Colvin.
The case, which is the result of a three-year investigation that draws on captured government documents and statements from defectors,seeks unspecified financial damages from the Syrian government. The suit alleges that Syrian intelligence officers got a tip that foreign reporters were staying at the media center in Homs and tried intercept Colvin's broadcast satellite signal. After pinpointing her location, Syrian forces shelled her position with artillery strikes, the complaint states.
Colvin, who was 56 at the time of her death, had a reputation for courageousness while covering some the world's most violent conflicts over the two decades that she reported for the London-based Sunday Times. She wore an eye patch after suffering an injury in an explosion while covering Sri Lanka's civil war in 2001.
Her family's suit is the firstcase yet that aims to hold the Assad regime responsible for war crimes. It was filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a relatively obscure federal law that allows Americans to sue nations that are designated as sponsors of terrorism. "It's very hard to hold a foreign state accountable for war crimes," says Dixon Osburn, the executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability. But with the Colvin case, says Osburn, "we had the jurisdictional perfect storm of being able to have the plaintiff and defendant that both fit the statute."
"The Colvin family recognizes that they're in a unique position to bring this lawsuit, and there are so many others who have lost sons and daughters who don't have the same kind of opportunity," says Osburn. "The hope is to provide some voice about what's happening in Syria, about what happened at the siege of Homs, and to shed light on the atrocities that have been committed."