Justice Department probes Catholic Church sex abuse in Pennsylvania

Storm clouds pass over a Roman Catholic church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into child sex abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, four Roman Catholic Church dioceses said on Thursday.

The dioceses of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie and Allentown told Reuters that they had received federal subpoenas following a state grand jury report that alleged over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over 70 years. The Associated Press first reported on Thursday the Justice Department investigation.

The dioceses said they were cooperating with the investigation but declined further comment.

The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia declined to comment.

An 884-page report made public in August by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro after a two-year investigation contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by clergymen. Shapiro said at the time that it was largely based on documents from secret archives kept by the dioceses, including handwritten confessions by priests.

The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died.

In September, U.S. Catholic bishops said they would set up a hotline for accusations of sexual abuse against clergy members and lay persons employed by the Church.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Writing by Andrew Hay Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Trump says it looks like Saudi journalist Khashoggi is dead

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks after his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Jeff Mason and Bulent Usta

WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday he presumes journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead and that the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia will likely be “very severe” but that he still wanted to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.

In Istanbul, Turkish investigators for a second time searched the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi – a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was a strong critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – vanished on Oct. 2, seeking clues about an incident that has caused an international outcry.

Trump acknowledged for the first time that Khashoggi had likely been killed.

“It certainly looks that way to me. It’s very sad,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One on a political trip.

Trump spoke hours after getting an update from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the results of Pompeo’s emergency talks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Pompeo told reporters after his meeting that he advised Trump that Saudi Arabia should be given a few more days to complete its investigation into the Khashoggi disappearance. Turkish officials have said they believe the Saudi journalist was murdered at the consulate and his body chopped up and removed.

Trump said he was waiting for the results so that “we can get to the bottom of this very soon” and that he would be making a statement about it at some point.

Asked what would be the consequences for Saudi Arabia, Trump said: “Well, it’ll have to be very severe. I mean, it’s bad, bad stuff. But we’ll see what happens.”

Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in the disappearance.

The United States considers Riyadh a linchpin in efforts to contain Iran’s regional influence and a key global oil source, and Trump has shown no inclination to mete out harsh punishment to the Saudis.

Referring to the Saudis, Pompeo said he told Trump “we ought to give them a few more days to complete” their investigation in order to get a full understanding of what happened, “at which point we can make decisions about how – or if – the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi.”

By casting doubt on whether the United States will respond at all, Pompeo reflected the internal struggle among Trump and his national security advisers on what to do should the Saudi leadership be blamed for what happened to Khashoggi.

“I think it’s important for us all to remember, too – we have a long, since 1932, a long strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting with Trump, also calling Saudi Arabia “an important counterterrorism partner.”

In addition, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin abandoned plans to attend an investor conference in Riyadh, putting the high-profile event in question.

Mnuchin became the latest Western official to pull out of the investment conference in Riyadh scheduled for Oct. 23-25, joining a list of international officials and business executives. Earlier on Thursday, senior government ministers from France, Britain and the Netherlands withdrew, too.

As of Thursday, the conference was still going on. The spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is hosting the event, was not immediately available for comment. The organizers could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Umit Ozdal, Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam, Alistair Smout and Kylie MacLellan in London and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland, Daren Butler and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Will Dunham and Yara Bayoumy)

Sheriff says ‘every second counts’ in search for Wisconsin girl

Jayme Closs, 13, is shown in this undated handout photo provided October 17, 2018. Office of the Attorney General, Wisconsin Deparment of Justice/Handout via REUTERS

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Despite more than 400 tips from across the country about the disappearance of 13-year-old Jayme Closs, a Wisconsin sheriff said on Wednesday he had few solid leads about the whereabouts of the girl, whose parents were found fatally shot in their home this week.

“We believe Jayme was in the home at the time of the homicides and we believe she’s in danger,” Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, who is leading the search, told a news conference.

Police issued an Amber Alert for the girl on Monday afternoon after discovering the bodies of her parents earlier that day. The deaths of James and Denise Closs, who had suffered gunshot wounds, were ruled homicides on Wednesday, Fitzgerald said.

While 82 percent of the Amber Alerts issued last year identified a car and 50 percent had specific license plate numbers, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, Closs’ case offers neither of those clues.

Fitzgerald said there were no suspects in the case.

“Is it random or targeted? I don’t know that answer. We’ve received no other threats or anything in the local area to say it was just a random act, but we do not know that answer,” he said. Barron County is in northwest Wisconsin.

“We have over 200 law enforcement workers on the ground right now,” Fitzgerald said. “Every second counts.”

In Closs’ case, law enforcement is depending on public awareness to supply evidence. The Amber Alert system, launched in 1996, is a tool to notify the public about missing children so tips can be relayed to law enforcement agencies.

“I cannot stress that tip line enough. Every tip is important,” Fitzgerald said.

In 2017, 99 percent of Amber Alert cases were solved, with only two cases outstanding at the end of the year. Of the children found, 96 percent were recovered within 72 hours of the alert.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Peter Cooney)

Israel steps up armored deployment on Gaza border

Israeli soldiers speak next to tanks as military armoured vehicles gather in an open area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

YAD MORDECHAI, Israel (Reuters) – Israel ramped up its armored forces along the Gaza border on Thursday in a daylight show of force, a day after a Palestinian rocket destroyed a home in southern Israel.

With the deployment clearly visible from main Israeli roads near the Gaza Strip, senior Egyptian security officials met leaders of the enclave’s ruling Hamas to try to calm tensions.

Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group quickly denied firing the rockets.

Much may depend on the scope and intensity of a planned Palestinian protest at the border with Israel on Friday, where often violent demonstrations have been held over the past six months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who convened his security cabinet on Wednesday after the rocket wrecked a home in the city of Beersheba, pledged to take “very strong action” if Palestinian attacks continued.

Israeli leaders have said they will not tolerate rocket attacks or attempts, during the border protests, to breach Israel’s frontier fence with the Palestinian territory of two million people.

A Reuters photographer counted some 60 tanks and armored personnel carriers at a deployment area near the border, calling it the largest number he has seen there since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

In Gaza, a Palestinian official said the Egyptian delegation was also in contact with Israeli leaders to curb the current tensions.

“The situation is delicate. No one wants a war,” he said.

“Palestinian factions are demanding an end to the Israeli blockade that strangled life and business in Gaza,” the official told Reuters.

Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948.

About 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the border protests began, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. Palestinians have launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israel and on occasion breached an Israeli frontier fence.

More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the coastal enclave. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

In addition to sporadic incidents, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the past 10 years. The internationally-mediated peace process aimed at finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all but moribund.

(Reporting by Amir Cohen, and Nidal Almughrabi in Gaza, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ori Lewis and Richard Balmforth)

Turkey searches Saudi consulate again, European ministers cancel Riyadh trip

A Turkish police with a sniffer dog examines the backyard of Saudi Arabia's Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi's residence in Istanbul, Turkey October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

By Bulent Usta

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish investigators searched Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul for a second time overnight looking for clues into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and senior European ministers pulled out of an investment summit in Riyadh amid global concern over the incident.

The team left the consulate early on Thursday after searching the building and consular vehicles, a Reuters witness said. They used bright lights to illuminate the garden.

Earlier, they spent nearly nine hours in the Saudi consul’s residence along with Saudi investigators. The Turkish search, which used a drone, included the roof and garage.

Turkish officials say they believe Khashoggi – a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was a strong critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – was murdered at the consulate on Oct. 2 and his body chopped up and removed.

He had gone to the consulate seeking documents for an upcoming marriage and has not been seen since. Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in the disappearance.

The incident has caused a global outcry but also poses a dilemma for the United States and other Western nations, which have lucrative business dealings with the authoritarian kingdom and count on it as a leading Middle East ally and opponent of their common enemy Iran.

It also wields huge influence as the world’s top oil exporter.

How Western allies deal with Riyadh will hinge on the extent to which they believe responsibility for Khashoggi’s disappearance lies with Prince Mohammed and the Saudi authorities.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he did not want to abandon Saudi Arabia and needed to see evidence of any role by Riyadh. He was waiting to hear back from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met Saudi and Turkish leaders on a mission to the region this week.

Trump, who has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and the 33-year-old prince in an effort to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East, has speculated without providing evidence that “rogue killers” could be responsible.

DESERT STORM

European governments have expressed concern about Khashoggi’s disappearance but face a similarly delicate situation.

However, three senior ministers said they were pulling out of a high-profile investment conference in Riyadh later this month, joining a list of international officials and business executives to boycott the event.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire cited concerns about Khashoggi. British trade minister Liam Fox followed suit, with his spokesman saying: “Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account.”

Dutch Finance Minister Wopka Hoekstra also scrapped plans to attend while the Dutch government cancelled a trade mission to Saudi Arabia next month.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his plans to attend would be revisited on Thursday after U.S. officials consult Pompeo.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile said Moscow did not have enough information about Khashoggi’s disappearance to justify harming ties with Riyadh. His government would wait for details, he told a forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly convinced of Prince Mohammed’s culpability in Khashoggi’s killing but have not yet been able to collect direct evidence. Saudi authorities did not immediately comment on the report.

Turkish sources have said the authorities have an audio recording indicating Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.

The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper published on Wednesday what it said were details from audio recordings that purported to document Khashoggi’s torture and interrogation.

Khashoggi’s torturers severed his fingers during the interrogation and later beheaded and dismembered him, it said.

Reuters has been unable to confirm the report with Turkish officials.

Turkey has not shared with the U.S. government or European allies audio or video evidence, seven U.S. and European security officials have told Reuters.

The United States and its allies have collected some intelligence through their own sources and methods, which partly confirms news reports based on leaks of audio recordings, four of the sources said.

FREE REIN

Turkish pro-government newspaper Sabah reported last week that investigators had identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team that arrived in Istanbul on diplomatic passports hours before Khashoggi disappeared.

Prince Mohammed has painted himself as the face of a new, vibrant Saudi Arabia, diversifying its economy away from reliance on oil and making some social changes.

But he has faced criticism including over the arrest of women activists, a diplomatic row with Canada and Riyadh’s involvement in the Yemen war during which air strikes by the coalition Saudi Arabia leads have killed thousands of civilians.

Khashoggi, a royal insider who once advised former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, has never shied away from criticising Saudi policies.

The Washington Post published a column it received from his assistant after he went missing in which Khashoggi condemns the crackdown on journalists by Arab governments and the failure of the international community to respond.

“As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate,” he wrote.

(Additional reporting by Umit Ozdal, Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam, Alistair Smout and Kylie MacLellan in London; Writing by Daren Butler and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

U.S. to merge Jerusalem consulate in to new embassy

FILE PHOTO: U.S. marines take part in the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will merge the U.S. Consulate General, which serves Palestinians, with its new embassy into a single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations,” Pompeo said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”

The consulate-general in Jerusalem is the top mission for Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem for their capital.

“We will continue to conduct a full range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem through a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside U.S. Embassy Jerusalem,” Pompeo said.

He said the Trump administration was committed to a peace effort between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump outraged the Arab world and stoked international concern by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians and Palestinian leaders accused Trump of sowing instability by overturning decades of U.S. policy.

Palestinians, with broad international backing, seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed, as its “eternal and indivisible capital,” but that is not recognized internationally. The Trump administration has avoided that description, and noted that the city’s final borders should be decided by the parties.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Putin says Islamic State has seized 700 hostages in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a signing ceremony following a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 17, 2018. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Islamic State (IS) militants had seized nearly 700 hostages in part of Syria controlled by U.S.-backed forces and had executed some of them and promised to kill more.

Speaking in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Putin said the hostages included several U.S. and European nationals, adding that Islamic State was expanding its control in territory on the left bank of the River Euphrates controlled by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces.

Putin did not specify what the militants’ demands were.

“They have issued ultimatums, specific demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met they will execute 10 people every day. The day before yesterday they executed 10 people,” Putin told the Valdai discussion forum in Sochi.

The TASS news agency reported on Wednesday that IS militants had taken around 700 hostages in Syria’s Deir-al Zor province after attacking a refugee camp in an area controlled by U.S.-backed forces on Oct.13.

TASS said the militants had kidnapped around 130 families and taken them to the city of Hajin.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in Sochi; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Trump warns Mexico on migrant caravan, threatens to close border

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., walk on a bridge during their travel in Guatemala City, Guatemala October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump threatened to deploy the military and close the southern U.S. border on Thursday if Mexico did not move to halt large groups of migrants headed for the United States from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught – and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump threatened to withhold aid to the region as a caravan with several thousand Honduran migrants traveled this week through Guatemala to Mexico in hopes of crossing into the United States to escape violence and poverty in Central America.

Trump’s threat came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepared to travel later in the day to Panama and then Mexico City, where he was to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday.

Mexico’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump, who has sought to curtail immigration and build a border wall on the Mexican border, this week threatened to halt aid if Central American governments did not act.

Frustrated by Congress’ failure to fully fund his proposed wall at the border with Mexico, Trump in April ordered National Guard personnel to help the Department of Homeland Security secure the border in four southwestern U.S. states.

In a string of tweets on Thursday, Trump also said the issue was more important to him than the new trade deal with Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement pact.

“The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA. Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border,” Trump wrote. He was referring to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is awaiting ratification.

More Honduran migrants tried to join a caravan of several thousand trekking through Guatemala on Wednesday, defying calls by authorities not to make the journey. The caravan has been growing steadily since it left the violent Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Saturday.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on Wednesday his government dismissed threatened constraints placed on foreign aid.

He said he had spoken with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez about ensuring the migrants who want to return home can do so safely.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Crimea mourns after fatal college attack

People attend a ceremony in memory of victims of a recent attack on a local college in the city of Kerch, Crimea October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov

KERCH, Crimea (Reuters) – Grieving residents laid flowers and lit candles in the Crimean port city of Kerch on Thursday, a day after an armed teenager went on a shooting rampage at his college, killing 20, most of them fellow pupils.

The suspected attacker was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after an attack that saw dozens injured and a bomb set off in the college canteen in the Black Sea region, law enforcement officials said.

Stunned residents gathered on Thursday to mark a three-day official mourning period declared in the region. Orthodox priests sang prayers in the street, leading a memorial service near the college.

“Where were the guards?” a tearful woman at a memorial asked. “Where were the men who were there in large numbers? Why was it children who were shot dead at point blank?”

The death toll, including suspect 18-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov, rose to 21 on Thursday, Russian agencies cited the Russian Healthy Ministry as saying.

The Investigative Committee said it was still working to establish the motive for the attack that recalled similar shooting sprees carried out by students in U.S. schools.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting international condemnation and Western sanctions, but since then there have been no major outbreaks of violence on the peninsula.

The Russia-backed government in Crimea published a list of the victims, most of whom were teenagers.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Jordan says nearly 300 Syrian ‘White Helmets’ leave for West

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Civil Defence, also known as the 'White Helmets', are seen inspecting the damage at a Roman ruin site in Daraa, Syria December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqir/File Photo

AMMAN (Reuters) – Nearly 300 Syrian “White Helmet” rescue workers and their families who fled Syria for Jordan three months ago have left for resettlement in Western countries under an U.N. sponsored agreement, Jordan said on Wednesday.

In July the rescue workers who had been operating in rebel-held areas fled advancing Russian-backed Syrian government troops and slipped over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights frontier and into Jordan, with the help of Israeli soldiers and Western powers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time he had helped the evacuation at the request of U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders and that there had been fears that the rescue workers’ lives were at risk.

Jordan had accepted them on humanitarian grounds after getting written guarantees they would be given asylum in Canada, Germany and Britain, Jordanian officials said.

The “White Helmets”, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, have been credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing by Syrian government and Russian forces in the country’s civil war.

Its members say they are neutral. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers describe them as tools of Western propaganda and Islamist-led insurgents.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Qatarneh said 279 of the 422 people who took sanctuary in the kingdom had left, with 93 others due to leave by Oct. 25, near the end of a three-month period the authorities had given them to stay.

Another group’s departure would be delayed for two weeks until mid-November as there were new-born babies and people receiving medical treatment among them, al-Qatarneh told Reuters.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Roche and Alison Williams)