MOSCOW (AP) — Tajikistan authorities have opened an investigation into a high-ranking police official who allegedly has joined the Islamic State group in Syria and is calling for former comrades to rise up against the Central Asian country’s authoritarian leadership.
News reports say Gulmurod Khalimov, who had commanded the country’s OMON special police troops, made the claim in a video. The full video is no longer online, but an edited version shows Khalimov speaking from an undisclosed location accompanied by men in characteristic insurgent garb, and cradling a sniper rifle.
He challenges Tajik servicemen, saying: “Are you ready to die for this state?”
Tajik Prosecutor-General Manuchehr Makhmudzod announced the investigation Friday.
The former Soviet republic was devastated by a 1990s civil war with rebels that included Islamists.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Deep inside a four-story marble building in St. Petersburg, hundreds of workers tap away at computers on the front lines of an information war, say those who have been inside. Known as “Kremlin trolls,” the men and women work 12-hour shifts around the clock, flooding the Internet with propaganda aimed at stamping President Vladimir Putin’s world vision on Russia, and the world.
The Kremlin has always dabbled in propaganda, but in the past year its troll campaign has gone into overdrive, adding hundreds of online operatives to help counter Western pressure over its role in the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The program is drawing Serbia away from its proclaimed EU membership path and closer to the Russian orbit, and is targeting Germany, the United States and other Western powers. The operation has worried the European Union enough to prompt it to draw up a blueprint for fighting Russia’s disinformation campaign, although details have not yet been released.
Lyuda Savchuk, a single mother with two children, worked in the St. Petersburg “troll factory” until mid-March. The 34-year-old journalist said she had some idea of the Orwellian universe she was entering when she took the job, but underestimated its intensity and scope.
“I knew it was something bad, but of course I never suspected that it was this horrible and this large-scale,” she said in an interview in her apartment, which has colorful drawings on the walls for her two preschool-age children.
She described how the trolls manage several social media accounts under different nicknames, such as koka-kola23, green—margo and Funornotfun. Those in her department had to bash out 160 blog posts during a 12-hour shift. Trolls in other departments flooded the Internet with doctored images and pro-Putin commentary on news stories that crop up on Russian and Western news portals.
In some departments, she said, the trolls receive daily talking points on what to write and what emotions to evoke. “It seems to me that they don’t know what they are doing,” Savchuk said. “They simply repeat what they are told.”
She said most of the trolls are young and are attracted by relatively high monthly salaries of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($800 to $1,000).
Her descriptions of the work coincide with those of other former trolls who have spoken publicly, although Savchuk is one of the few willing to have her full name published. She quit after a little more than two months, after finding she couldn’t stand being part of a propaganda machine.
The trolls are employed by Internet Research, which Russian news reports say is financed by a holding company headed by Putin’s friend and personal chef. Those who have worked there say they have little doubt that the operation is run from the Kremlin.
St. Petersburg journalist Andrei Soshnikov, who was one of the first to report on the “troll factory,” said about 400 people work in the building. A video he posted on YouTube this spring gave a rare glimpse inside the building; in one room trolls were shown sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at their computers. The operation moved into the building when it expanded in March 2014, the month Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine and provoked the first round of Western economic sanctions.
Soshnikov, a reporter at the weekly Moi Rayon, or My Region, said there has been a new push in recent months to hire more English-speaking trolls as part of an effort to sway public opinion in the United States.
“All of a sudden, (they) switch on Russia Today and realize that this is a holy land, Obama is a bloody dictator and true freedom of speech exists only in Russia.”
In Serbia, trolls are recruited through several small right-wing parties that are both financially and politically supported by Russia, media analysts say.
When Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed in Moscow in late February, the Serbian trolls were quick to react. “Who is to gain from this assassination but America? It must have been CIA,” was the dominant mantra that took hold in discussions on Serbian news sites. “Likes” went into the hundreds, while comments such as “Putin is responsible” received widespread ridicule.
Serbs receive most of their information about Russia from Moscow-backed media, and the trolls reinforce the Kremlin line. The result is a widespread view in Serbia that the Kiev regime is neo-Nazi and that Putin was right to annex Crimea.
“One of the consequences is the fact that popular support for the EU integration has dropped below 50 percent for the first time since democratic change in Serbia in 2000,” said Jelena Milic, a political analyst at the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, in Belgrade. “It is going to be very hard to recover this public support.”
In Germany, the foreign ministry has tried to counter the propaganda by issuing a memo to its diplomats on how to debunk some of the standard Russian arguments about the Ukraine conflict.
For instance, the memo answers the statement that “fascists are in power in Kiev” by noting that radical and far-right groups made up only a small proportion of the demonstrators who ousted the Russia-friendly president, and that far-right parties did very poorly in subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections.
Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) — There’s a new bird’s eye view of New York City.
The One World Trade Center observatory is officially opening to the public on Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Visitors will get a view of the city and its surroundings from above 1,250 feet, with sight lines stretching 50 miles past the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty to the Atlantic Ocean.
The observatory takes up levels 100, 101, and 102 of the building, the nation’s tallest, at 1,776 feet. The main public viewing space is on the 100th floor, with restaurants on the 101st floor, and an event space on the 102nd floor.
Visitors reach the observatory via one of five elevators called ‘skypods’ that zip them to the observatory in 60 seconds. Along with a spectacular view, they will see a video called ‘Voices’ about those who built One WTC. There’s also a virtual time lapse that recreates the development of the New York City skyline and beyond from the 1600s to present day.
Those not fond of high elevations can walk on video screens that show the dizzying view below.
Tickets are $32 for adults and $26 for children ages 6 to 12 and $30 for seniors. Admission is free for family members of those who died on Sept. 11, as well as those who worked in the rescue and recovery.
Officials expect 3 million to 4 million visitors a year.
Tickets are available at the observatory ticket booth and online.
For tickets and more information, visit: ONEWORLDOBSERVATORY.COM
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The Franklin County prosecutor’s office will thoroughly review a massive report on the February killing of an unarmed Mexican man who was shot by police in Pasco, Washington, the head prosecutor says.
The report submitted Thursday by a police special investigative unit contains thousands of pages, 1,500 slides from cellphone videos of the shooting and more than 80 witness interviews, Prosecutor Shawn Sant said.
The Tri-City Herald says the report is expected to be released to the public in the next couple of weeks.
Sant said his office will decide whether criminal charges are warranted against any police officers, a process likely to take months.
The investigative unit, made up of members of area police agencies, was asked to look into the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, who was shot at a busy intersection on Feb. 10 after he threw rocks at cars and police.
Captured on video, the orchard worker’s shooting sparked weeks of protests with some critics saying police were quick to shoot because Zambrano-Montes was Hispanic. The death drew the attention of the government of Mexico.
“I’ve made a commitment to the public that we will be as transparent as possible,” Sant said Thursday at a news conference. “Going forward, I have to figure out if we have enough information to proceed to a trial.”
Sant wouldn’t commit to a timetable for making that decision.
“We need to get this right,” he said. “I’m not going to sacrifice quality for speed.”
Among other things, prosecutors will consider whether the shooting was reasonable, within the law and justified.
Pasco police officers Ryan Flanagan, Adam Wright and Adrian Alaniz fired 17 times after Zambrano-Montes threw at least one rock at them at a busy intersection. He was struck by at least five bullets. The man was not carrying a gun or knife. A rock was found near his body.
The officers have been placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Officials have said the next step could be a coroner’s inquest that would allow a jury of six civilians to determine the cause and manner of death. The jury also would decide if the shooting was justifiable.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel attended the news conference with Sant. Blasdel confirmed he plans to move forward with the inquest, the Herald reported.
Sant will review the jury’s recommendation when considering whether to file charges.
An inquest is not likely to happen before August, officials said.
Sant also said his office is arranging a meeting with the victim’s parents, who live in Mexico, to discuss the case. Zambrano-Montes moved to Pasco a decade ago.
Pasco is a mostly Hispanic, agricultural city of 68,000 people located 130 miles southwest of Spokane.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google’s next version of its Android operating system will boast new ways to fetch information, pay merchants and protect privacy on mobile devices as the Internet company duels with Apple in the quest to make their technology indispensable.
The upgrade will give Android’s personal assistant, Google Now, expanded powers of intuition that may be greeted as a great convenience to some and a tad too creepy for others.
Most of the renovations unveiled Thursday at Google’s annual developers’ conference won’t be available until late summer or early fall, around the same time that Apple is expected to release the latest overhaul of the iOS software that powers the iPhone and iPad.
The annual changes to Android and iOS are becoming increasingly important as people become more dependent on smartphones to manage their lives. Android holds about an 80 percent share of the worldwide smartphone market, with iOS a distant second at 16 percent, according to the research firm International Data Corp.
Both Google and Apple are vying to make their products even more ubiquitous by transplanting much of their mobile technology into automobiles and Internet-connected televisions and appliances. Google hopes to play a prominent role in the management of home security and appliances with a new operating system called Brillo that will interact with Android devices.
Here’s a closer look at some of the key features in the upcoming Android upgrade, currently known simply as “M”:
NOW ON TAP
Google Now currently learns a user’s interests and habits by analyzing search requests and scanning emails so it can automatically present helpful information, such as the latest news about a favorite sports team or how long it will take to get to work.
With the M upgrade, users will be able to summon Google Now to scan whatever content might be on a mobile device’s screen so it can present pertinent information about the topic of a text, a song, a video clip or an article.
The new Android feature, called “Now on Tap,” will be activated by holding down the device’s home button or speaking, “OK Google,” into the microphone. That action will prompt Now on Tap to scan the screen in attempt to figure out how to be the most helpful. Or, if speaking, users can just say what they are seeking, such as “Who sings this?”
Google is hoping to provide Android users with what they need at the precise moment they need it without forcing them to hopscotch from one app to another.
MOBILE PAYMENT DO-OVER
Android M will include an alternative to the mobile payment system that Apple introduced last fall. Google’s response, called Android Pay, will replace Google Wallet for making mobile purchases in stores and applications. Google Wallet, which came out in 2011, will still work for sending payments from one person to another.
Like Apple’s system, Android Pay can be used to store major credit and debit cards in smartphones that can be used to pay merchants equipped with terminals that work with the technology. Android Pay will also work on devices running on the KitKat and Lollipop versions of Android released the past two years.
Android M will be compatible with fingerprint scanners so device users can verify their identities by pressing a button instead of entering a passcode. Apple’s iPhones began using a fingerprint reader in 2013.
Besides supporting fingerprint scanners, Android M will make it easier to users to prevent mobile applications from grabbing their personal information. Permission will only need to be granted to each app if the access is needed for a specific action. That means Android users won’t be asked to share information about their contact lists, photo rolls or locations until an app won’t work without it.
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Investigators recovered multiple guns as well as a fake training gun from the empty model home where police said a Georgia sheriff shot and critically wounded a woman, according to law enforcement documents.
Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill faces a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct in the May 3 shooting, which critically wounded real estate agent Gwenevere McCord, 43, Gwinnett County police have said. Hill was released from jail on a $2,950 bond and has vowed to stay on the job.
Police have said the two were alone in the model home roughly 50 miles northeast of Hill’s office when the shooting happened.
A list obtained by The Associated Press of items taken from the home by investigators includes a “gun, badge and knives from front porch,” a .22-caliber handgun, a .40-caliber handgun, a blue training gun, a bloody shirt, a shell casing, a glass jar, blood swabs and a backpack with books and an iPad in it.
Hill called 911 and reported he accidentally shot McCord, whom he identified as a “female friend,” while they were “practicing tactics,” an investigator wrote in multiple requests to a judge for permission to do various searches. Officers who arrived at the scene found McCord just inside the front door of the home, the investigator wrote.
Hill’s lawyer told investigators his client would not give any statements about the shooting, and McCord has been unable to give any statement to police because of the serious injuries she suffered, authorities have said.
Investigators asked for and received permission from a judge to take DNA samples from both Hill and McCord so they can compare them with DNA samples taken from the guns and fake gun found at the home.
Hill was on the phone when police arrived, and an investigator took his phone for evidence. The investigator got a judge’s permission to gain access to Hill’s contacts, call logs, Internet activity, photos, videos, text messages and phonebook activity, an investigation document shows.
Police also searched a black Chevrolet Camaro at the home that Hill’s attorney identified as his client’s work vehicle and a white Nissan Altima belonging to McCord but didn’t take anything from either vehicle.
In a statement released two days after the shooting, Hill called McCord a dear friend and said he’s been praying for her and her family. He called the shooting a tragic accident.
Hill’s time as sheriff in Clayton County, just south of Atlanta, has been filled with controversy. On his first day a decade ago, he fired more than two dozen deputies. He also used a military tank on drug raids as part of a tough-on-crime message.
He was voted out of office in 2008 but won it back again in 2012 despite facing more than two dozen criminal charges in a corruption case. A jury later acquitted him of all 27 charges, including theft and giving false statements. That cleared the way for Hill to continue as sheriff.