Driver indicted in deadly Times Square attack, crash

FILE PHOTO: A vehicle that struck pedestrians and later crashed is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A grand jury has indicted the driver charged with killing a young woman and injuring 22 people when he careened through three blocks in New York City’s crowded Times Square, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Richard Rojas, 26, is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment on July 13.

Authorities say Rojas drove his Honda sedan down Seventh Avenue on May 18, made a U-turn and mowed down pedestrians on the packed sidewalk for three city blocks before crashing. Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old woman from Michigan, was killed.

The driver was subdued by onlookers and police as he tried to flee on foot.

The charges in the indictment were not immediately made public. Rojas, who did not appear at the Wednesday hearing, was previously charged with second-degree murder, vehicular homicide and multiple counts of attempted murder.

His defense lawyer, Enrico Demarco, declined to comment after the brief hearing.

Rojas, who served in the Navy, told the New York Post in a tearful jailhouse interview last week that he had unsuccessfully sought psychiatric care, and said he had no recollection of the incident.

He was believed to be under the influence of some intoxicating substance, a police source has told Reuters, while law enforcement officials told ABC News he was apparently high on synthetic marijuana.

Rojas has had numerous run-ins with the law over the past decade, according to Navy and public court records. He has had at least four prior arrests, two for drunken driving, and one earlier this month for allegedly threatening another man with a knife outside his apartment in New York City’s Bronx borough.

While serving in the Navy in 2013, he spent two months in a military jail in South Carolina, though records do not indicate why.

Of the 13 attack victims Bellevue Hospital received, nine have been released, the health provider said in a statement on Wednesday. One of the remaining patients is in critical condition, another is in serious condition and the other two are in fair or good shape, it said.

The last of six victims sent to Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospitals was released on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

Manchester bomber was part of a network: police

Messages and floral tributes left for the victims of the attack on Manchester Arena lie around the statue in St Ann's Square in central Manchester, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Super

By Michael Holden and Andy Bruce

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – The Manchester suicide bomber who killed 22 people at a concert venue packed with children was part of a network, the city’s chief of police said on Wednesday as troops deployed across Britain to help prevent further attacks.

Police made four new arrests and searched an address in central Manchester. A source said investigators were hunting for accomplices who may have helped build the suicide bomb and who could be ready to kill again.

“I think it’s very clear that this is a network that we are investigating,” police chief Ian Hopkins said outside Manchester police headquarters.

“And as I’ve said, it continues at a pace. There’s extensive investigations going on and activity taking place across Greater Manchester as we speak.”

Earlier, interior minister Amber Rudd said the bomber, Salman Abedi, had recently returned from Libya. Her French counterpart Gerard Collomb said he had links with Islamic State and had probably visited Syria as well.

Rudd scolded U.S. officials for leaking details about the investigation into the Manchester attack before British authorities were prepared to go public.

The Manchester bombing has raised concern across Europe. Cities including Paris, Nice, Brussels, St Petersburg, Berlin and London have suffered militant attacks in the last two years.

British-born Abedi, 22, blew himself up on Monday night at the Manchester Arena indoor venue at the end of a concert by U.S. pop singer Ariana Grande attended by thousands of children and teenagers.

His 22 victims included an eight-year-old girl, several teenage girls, a 28-year-old man and a Polish couple who had come to collect their daughters.

Britain’s official terror threat level was raised to “critical”, the highest level, late on Tuesday, meaning an attack was expected imminently.

But, just over two weeks away from a national election, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives and political parties said they would resume campaigning in the coming days.

SOLDIERS ON THE STREETS

The Manchester bombing was the deadliest attack in Britain since July 2005, when four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated attacks on London’s transport network.

Rudd said up to 3,800 soldiers could be deployed on Britain’s streets, taking on guard duties to free up police to focus on patrols and investigation. An initial deployment of 984 had been ordered, first in London and then elsewhere.

Soldiers were seen at the Houses of Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Downing Street residence and at London police headquarters at New Scotland Yard.

A source close to the investigation into the bombing told Reuters that the focus was on whether Abedi had received help in putting together the bomb and on where it had been done.

The BBC reported that security services thought the bomb was too sophisticated for Abedi to have built by himself.

Police arrested three people in South Manchester and another in Wigan, a town 17 miles to the west of the city on Wednesday, bringing the total number of arrests related to the attack to five. Police said they were assessing a package carried by the man in Wigan.

A man arrested on Tuesday was reported by British and U.S. media to be Abedi’s brother. A different brother was also arrested in Tripoli on suspicion of links to Islamic State, local counter-terrorism police said.

Police also said that they had searched an address in central Manchester as part of the investigation.

In London, the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, a draw for tourists, was canceled because it requires support from police officers, which authorities decided was not a good use of police resources given the threat level.

Chelsea soccer club said it had canceled a victory parade that had been scheduled to take place on Sunday to celebrate its Premier League title.

Several high-profile sporting events are coming up in Britain, including the soccer FA Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium and the English rugby club competition final at Twickenham on Saturday and the UEFA Champions League final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on June 3.

U.S. LEAKS “IRRITATING”

Britain also has a national election scheduled for June 8. All campaigning was suspended after the attack, although major parties said they would resume some activities on Thursday and national-level campaigning on Friday.

The government said a minute’s silence would be held at all official buildings at 1000 GMT on Thursday.

Greater Manchester Police said they were now confident they knew the identity of all the people who lost their lives and had made contact with all the families. They said they would formally name the victims after forensic post-mortems, which would take four or five days.

The bombing also left 64 people wounded, of whom 20 were receiving critical care for highly traumatic injuries to major organs and to limbs, a health official said.

Rudd was asked by the BBC about the fact that information about Abedi, including his name, had come out of the United States before it was cleared by British authorities.

“The British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise, so it is irritating if it gets released from other sources, and I have been very clear with our friends that should not happen again.”

France, which has repeatedly been hit by devastating militant attacks since 2015, extended emergency powers.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Costas Pitas, Kate Holton and Kylie MacLellan in London, Writing by Estelle Shirbon and William James, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Turkey orders arrest of scores of municipality, ministry staff: media

U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities ordered the detention of 139 staff from Ankara municipalities and two ministries in an investigation targeting supporters of the U.S.-based cleric accused of being behind last July’s failed coup, CNN Turk said on Wednesday.

Since the attempted putsch, authorities have jailed pending trial 50,000 people and sacked or suspended 150,000 from a wide range of professions including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links to what the government calls terrorist organizations.

Detention warrants on Wednesday were issued for 60 staff at the Ankara city council, 19 at district councils, 30 staff at the development ministry and 30 at the education ministry, broadcaster CNN Turk said.

The cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States for almost 20 years, has denied involvement in the putsch.

Ankara accuses Gulen, a former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan, of infiltrating Turkish institutions, including the judiciary, police and military in a decades-long campaign. Government critics say the post-coup crackdown has been used to crush dissent.

State-run Anadolu news agency said the municipality staff, some of whom had previously been dismissed from their jobs, were found to have used ByLock, an encrypted messaging app the government says was used by Gulen’s followers.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Richard Lough)

U.S. immigration arrests up nearly 40 percent under Trump

President Donald Trump gestures as he addresses the graduating class of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy during commencement ceremonies in New London, Connecticut, U.S. May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Mica Rosenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. arrests of suspected illegal immigrants rose by nearly 40 percent in the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, following executive orders that broadened the scope of who could be targeted for immigration violations, according to government data released on Wednesday.

The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan said that arrests by his agency jumped to 41,318 between January 22 of this year and the end of April, up from 30,028 arrests in roughly the same period last year.

Of those arrested almost two-thirds had criminal convictions. But there was also a significant jump – of more than 150 percent – in the number of immigrants not convicted of further crimes arrested by ICE: 10,800 since the beginning of the year compared to 4,200 non-criminal arrests in the same period in 2016.

That increase is a result of recent guidance given by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to implement Trump’s executive orders on interior immigration enforcement and border security signed on Jan. 25, just days after the Republican president took office.

“Those that enter the country illegally, they do violate the law, that is a criminal act,” Homan said on the call, while emphasizing that immigrants who pose a threat to national security or have criminal records are still a priority for the agency.

He said ICE will continue to target people who have been issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge even if they have not committed another crime.

“When a federal judge makes a decision and issues an order that order needs to mean something,” Homan said. “If we don’t take action on those orders, then we are just spinning our wheels.”

While President Barack Obama was also criticized for deporting a large number of immigrants, most of them were recent border crossers apprehended entering the country illegally.

Deportations under Trump have actually fallen by 12 percent compared to the same period under Obama, Homan said, as more people arrested in the interior typically have more complicated cases that can get slowed down in the backlogged immigration court system.

The number of people caught crossing the border with Mexico is down significantly since the begin of the year, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Immigration advocates and some cities with large immigrant populations have raised concerns about the stepped up enforcement in the interior of the country.

On Wednesday, state attorneys general from New York, California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state and Washington D.C., issued a report laying out why they have chosen to limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents.

A section of one of the president’s executive orders aimed to cut off federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” was been blocked by a federal judge in California.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Julia Edwards Ainsely; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Engineer in deadly 2015 Amtrak crash charged with manslaughter

Emergency responders search for passengers following an Amtrak train derailment in the Frankfort section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in this file photo dated May 12, 2015. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) – The engineer in a deadly 2015 Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement on Friday, even though local prosecutors had cleared the engineer of criminal wrongdoing earlier in the week.

In addition to eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, former Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian was charged with one count of causing or risking a catastrophe and numerous counts of reckless endangerment, according to Shapiro’s statement.

The attorney’s general office did not say when Bostian will be arraigned. He is expected to surrender to make a court appearance but that will not likely happen Friday night, officials said.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s office on Tuesday said it did not have enough evidence to charge Bostian and closed the case.

But a Philadelphia municipal court judge on Thursday ordered the charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment against Bostian to be revived.

The district attorney’s office had said evidence indicated the derailment was caused by the engineer operating the train far in excess of the speed limit, but it found no evidence that he acted with criminal intent.

To avoid a conflict of interest, prosecutors referred the case against Bostian to Shapiro’s office.

Under state law, Friday marks the two-year deadline to charge Bostian in the May 12, 2015, crash, which killed eight people and injured more than 180.

In May 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report that Bostian was probably distracted by radio traffic when the crash occurred.

A federal judge in October approved a record $265 million settlement for the accident victims. A lawyer for Bostian did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Leslie Adler)

Greek court blocks last extradition request for Turkish soldiers

FILE PHOTO - Four of the eight Turkish soldiers (C), who fled to Greece in a helicopter and requested political asylum after a failed military coup against the government, line up as they are escorted by police officers at the Supreme Court in Athens, Greece, January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

ATHENS (Reuters) – A Greek court on Thursday blocked a second extradition request by Turkey for the final two of eight soldiers who fled to Greece in July following a failed coup attempt, court officials said.

The decision is likely to anger Ankara, which alleges the men were involved in efforts to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan and has repeatedly demanded they be sent back.

Turkey had issued a second extradition request for the men, which it has branded traitors, in January after Greece’s top court ruled against extraditing all eight.

The drawn-out case has highlighted often strained relations between Greece and Turkey, NATO allies which remain at odds over issues from territorial disputes to ethnically-split Cyprus.

Turkey has previously threatened measures including scrapping a bilateral migration deal with Greece if the men are not returned

The three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors landed a helicopter in Greece on July 16 and sought asylum, saying they feared for their lives in Turkey where authorities have purged large numbers from the military and civil service.

They are to be held in detention until their asylum applications are processed.

Addressing the court on Thursday, the prosecutor acknowledged the ruling “may cause discomfort” in Turkey but said the reasons for rejection had not changed since January.

“Has torture stopped? Persecutions?” he asked. “If it looks itself in the mirror, modern Turkey will understand why one denial comes after another — not only from Greece but also from other countries — for the release of alleged coup plotters.”

(Reporting by Constantinos Georgizas; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Ralph Boulton)

London terrorism suspect was on Gaza flotilla ship in 2010: sources

A man is held by police in Westminster after an arrest was made on Whitehall in central London, Britain. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A man arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist act on Thursday, carrying knives near Prime Minister Theresa May’s office, was on a ship raided by Israeli soldiers in 2010, sources familiar with the investigation have told Reuters.

The 27-year-old man was arrested by armed counter-terrorism officers during a stop-and-search as part of an ongoing security operation, British police said.

No one was injured in the incident and police said knives had been recovered from the man, who was being monitored by British intelligence agents and counter-terrorism officers.

He remains in custody on suspicion of terrorism offences and possession of an offensive weapon.

Sources told Reuters on Friday the suspect was Khalid Omar Ali from London.

Ali was on board the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla which was challenging an Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip when it was intercepted by the Israeli Defence Forces in May 2010, the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Nine Turkish activists were killed in the raid.

However, one source close to the current investigation said that investigators believed that Ali’s involvement in the boat protest was entirely separate from whatever might have led up to Thursday’s incident.

A man who is identified as Ali also features on a video on an activist’s website from 2010.

In the footage, he states he was among a group who said they were held against their will by the captain of the Greek-managed ship Strofades IV when they tried to take aid by sea from Libya to Gaza some months after the Mavi Marmara incident.

He also talks about joining the Road to Hope convoy which sought to take aid to Gaza in Nov. 2010 via Egypt.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Mark Hosenball in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Asylum-seekers fleeing U.S. may find cold comfort in Canada’s courts

FILE PHOTO: A woman who told police that she and her family were from Sudan is taken into custody by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers after arriving by taxi and walking across the U.S.-Canada border into Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada on February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

By Anna Mehler Paperny and Rod Nickel

TORONTO/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Migrants who applied for asylum in the United States but then fled north, fearing they would be swept up in President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, may have miscalculated in viewing Canada as a safe haven.

That is because their time in the United States could count against them when they apply for asylum in Canada, according to a Reuters review of Canadian federal court rulings on asylum seekers and interviews with refugee lawyers.

In 2016, 160 asylum cases came to the federal courts after being rejected by refugee tribunals. Of those, 33 had been rejected in part because the applicants had spent time in the United States, the Reuters review found.

Lawyers said there could be many more such cases among the thousands of applicants who were rejected by the tribunals in the same period but did not appeal to the federal courts.

The 2016 court rulings underscore the potentially precarious legal situation now facing many of the nearly 2,000 people who have crossed illegally into Canada since January.

Most of those border crossers had been living legally in the United States, including people awaiting the outcome of U.S. asylum applications, according to Canadian and U.S. government officials and Reuters interviews with dozens of migrants.

Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration, however, spurred them northward to Canada, whose government they viewed as more welcoming to migrants. There, they have begun applying for asylum, citing continued fears of persecution or violence in their homelands, including Somalia and Eritrea.

But Canadian refugee tribunals are wary of “asylum-shopping” and look askance at people coming from one of the world’s richest countries to file claims, the refugee lawyers said. (For graphic on asylum process see http://tmsnrt.rs/2nyY8CJ)

“Abandoning a claim in the United States or coming to Canada after a negative decision in the United States, or failing to claim and remaining in the States for a long period of time – those are all big negatives. Big, big negatives,” said Toronto-based legal aid lawyer Anthony Navaneelan, who is representing applicants who came to Canada from the United States in recent months.

The Canadian government has not given a precise figure on how many of the border crossers were asylum seekers in the United States.

But it appears their fears may have been misplaced. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has said that anyone in the United States illegally is subject to deportation, but there is no evidence that asylum seekers with pending cases are considered illegal under the new administration.

“LACK OF SERIOUSNESS”

The asylum seekers will make their cases before Canada’s refugee tribunals, which rejected 5,000 cases last year. The tribunals’ decisions are not made public, so the reasons are not known. An Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman confirmed, however, that an applicant’s time in the United States can be a factor in a tribunal’s decision.

Rejected applicants can appeal to Canada’s federal courts, whose rulings are published. The federal courts upheld 19 of the 33 tribunal rejections they heard last year and recommended fresh tribunal hearings for the other 14 cases.

The judges believed those claimants had a good explanation for having been in the United States first. The outcomes of the new tribunal hearings are not known.

The federal court handles only a small portion of all applications rejected by the refugee tribunals. But overall, applicants who have spent time in the United States have a higher chance of being rejected, said multiple immigration lawyers, including two former refugee tribunal counsel, interviewed by Reuters.

Last year, a federal judge upheld a refugee tribunal rejection of Sri Lankan man who had abandoned a pending U.S. claim. The tribunal said the man’s decision demonstrated a “lack of seriousness” and was “inconsistent with the expected behavior” of someone who fears persecution in their own country.

A Chadian applicant lost his 2016 appeal because he did not claim asylum “at the first opportunity” in the United States.

The asylum-seekers who have crossed the U.S border since January are still going through the claim process and many have yet to go through tribunal hearings.

WELL-FOUNDED FEAR?

Canadian officials want refugee applicants to behave the way they think people fleeing for their lives would behave, said lawyer and researcher Hilary Evans Cameron. Living undocumented in the United States for years or abandoning a pending claim, as many people among this latest refugee influx have done, are not seen as consistent with that fear, she said.

Those with failed U.S. asylum claims must prove to Canadian tribunals that the U.S. courts were wrong in their assessment, that their circumstances have changed for the worse, or that they qualify in Canada, several lawyers said.

Crucially, all applicants must show that the often years-old fears that led them to leave their home countries for the United States still exist.

Canada grants asylum if applicants qualify under the United Nations’ definition of someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on certain criteria, such as race, religion, nationality or political affiliation.

A federal judge ruled in March that the deportation of a Honduran family, who had lived in the United States for more than three years, could go forward after immigration officials found the family no longer faced a risk in Honduras.

“The longer they’ve been away (from their country of origin), the more difficult it is to establish that they’re a refugee,” said Winnipeg refugee lawyer Ken Zaifman.

Graphic on asylum process http://tmsnrt.rs/2nyY8CJ

(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington; Editing by Amran Abocar and Ross Colvin)

Anti-Putin protesters get a smart phone app to help get out of jail

Alexander Litreev, developer of the "Red Button" phone application used to tackle police detention of protesters at demonstrations across the country, poses for a picture in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Parniyan Zemaryalai

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Anti-Kremlin protesters who run the regular risk of being detained by the police are being given a helping hand: A smart phone app that allows them to instantly inform others where and when they have been arrested.

Russia faces a presidential election next year, which Vladimir Putin is expected to contest, and was last month shaken by large anti-government protests. More are planned.

The result of a collaboration between a Russian firm, a human rights group and an opposition movement, the notification system, called Red Button, automatically transmits the location and emergency contact details of a detained protester.

That, says its St Petersburg-based developer Alexander Litreev, should allow others to act quickly to help free them as it will include details of the police station where the individual is being held.

“Using this information, human rights defenders can help this person in some way, like sending him a lawyer,” Litreev told Reuters in an interview.

“When I see that people are being detained and experiencing violence at the hands of the authorities, and people can’t do anything about it, I think this must be fought against,” he said.

Litreev said he sympathized with the country’s liberal opposition and sometimes attended protests himself.

President Vladimir Putin remains by far the most popular politician in Russia, but opponents argue he keeps a check on dissent through control of the media, especially television, and limiting protest.

In developing the app, he partnered with the Open Russia foundation, founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and OVD-Info, a human rights organization that monitors detentions.

The app will also allow observers to track how protests unfold as it is linked to a special Twitter page that will generate maps and notifications.

It is currently available for devices on iOS and Android and, according to Litreev, some 4,000 users have already downloaded the app, which is free. A version for Windows will launch in the summer.

The alert system is due to go live on April 29 — the day when Open Russia has called for nationwide demonstrations against the government. Another protest, organized by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, is scheduled for June 12.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn and)

‘Straw hat bandit’ arrested in 11 Pennsylvania bank robberies

A man the FBI identified as Richard Boyle, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, known as the "Straw Hat Bandit," is pictured in this undated handout still image from video. FBI/Handout via REUTERS

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Pennsylvania bank robber who earned the nickname “straw hat bandit” for wearing colorful head wear during heists was arrested on Thursday for a string of 11 robberies, authorities said.

Richard Boyle, 57, was expected to appear in federal court on Thursday on charges that he robbed the banks in suburban Pennsylvania between 2012 and 2016.

Boyle previously served three years in prison after pleading guilty in 2008 to robbing eight banks in Pennsylvania and was released in August 2011.

U.S. authorities said Boyle made off with approximately $500,000 during his latest crime spree and used his aerial photography business to launder a portion of the proceeds.

Boyle concealed his face using a pillowcase, a bandana or a mask and sported numerous hats, including a straw hat, a bucket hat and a baseball cap, according to authorities.

Boyle was already in state prison on a probation violation and was transferred to federal custody for his court appearance.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)