NEW YORK (AP) — Two police officers involved in the mistaken arrest of former tennis pro James Blake, including one who tackled him to the ground, will face an administrative trial after the city’s police watchdog substantiated Blake’s excessive-force complaint.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board’s executive director, Mina Malik, said in a letter sent to Blake that investigators had substantiated complaints he made after his Sept. 9 arrest alleging that Officer James Frascatore used excessive force and Detective Daniel Herzog abused his authority.
Surveillance video showed Frascatore approaching Blake in front of a Manhattan hotel, grabbing his arm and roughly taking him to the ground. Police said Blake, who had ranked as high as No. 4 in the world before retiring from tennis after the 2013 U.S. Open, had been mistakenly identified as being part of a cellphone fraud scheme. Frascatore had mistaken Blake for a suspect who looked like him, police said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and police Commissioner William Bratton have apologized to Blake, who has said he believes Frascatore should be fired.
“It is my understanding that these officers now face an administrative trial for their roles in the respective offenses,” Blake said Wednesday in a statement that accompanied the CCRB letter. “I have complete respect for the principle of due process and appreciate the efforts of the CCRB to advance this investigation.”
Frascatore, who has been with the New York Police Department for about four years, had been named in several civil rights lawsuits alleging excessive force. He was placed on desk duty after the encounter with Blake.
A departmental trial could end in disciplinary action or termination.
Malik said Blake’s complaint had been resolved in less than 30 days, but she declined to provide further information about the probe, citing state privacy laws.
“Our commitment remains to be a fair and vigilant resource for all people who have complaints about police misconduct, and to judge the cases based on thorough, even-handed investigations which serve the public and officers alike,” she said.
The head of the largest police officers’ union said he wasn’t surprised to hear that the watchdog group, which he described as “cop-hating,” substantiated Blake’s allegations. Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said it was clear Frascatore did not intend to harm Blake.
“He used an acceptable technique to gain compliance during a complex ongoing operation in a manner that did not compromise the simultaneous arrest being made a short distance away,” Lynch said. “An objective review of the facts will vindicate the officers involved.”
CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Over the pulsating beat at an exclusive nightclub, the arms smuggler made his pitch to a client: 2.5 million euros for enough radioactive cesium to contaminate several city blocks.
It was earlier this year, and the two men were plotting their deal at an unlikely spot: the terrace of Cocos Prive, a dance club and sushi bar in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.
“You can make a dirty bomb, which would be perfect for the Islamic State,” the smuggler said. “If you have a connection with them, the business will go smoothly.”
But the smuggler, Valentin Grossu, wasn’t sure the client was for real — and he was right to worry. The client was an informant, and it took some 20 meetings to persuade Grossu that he was an authentic Islamic State representative. Eventually, the two men exchanged cash for a sample in a sting operation that landed Grossu in jail.
The previously unpublicized case is one of at least four attempts in five years in which criminal networks with suspected Russian ties sought to sell radioactive material to extremists through Moldova, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. One investigation uncovered an attempt to sell bomb-grade uranium to a real buyer from the Middle East, the first known case of its kind.
In that operation, wiretaps and interviews with investigators show, a middleman for the gang repeatedly ranted with hatred for America as he focused on smuggling the essential material for an atomic bomb and blueprints for a dirty bomb to a Middle Eastern buyer.
In wiretaps, videotaped arrests, photographs of bomb-grade material, documents and interviews, AP found that smugglers are explicitly targeting buyers who are enemies of the West. The developments represent the fulfillment of a long-feared scenario in which organized crime gangs are trying to link up with groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida — both of which have made clear their ambition to use weapons of mass destruction.
The sting operations involved a partnership between the FBI and a small group of Moldovan investigators, who over five years went from near total ignorance of the black market to wrapping up four sting operations. Informants and police posing as connected gangsters penetrated the smuggling networks, using old-fashioned undercover tactics as well as high-tech gear from radiation detectors to clothing threaded with recording devices.
But their successes were undercut by striking shortcomings: Kingpins got away, and those arrested evaded long prison sentences, sometimes quickly returning to nuclear smuggling, AP found.
For strategic reasons, in most of the operations arrests were made after samples of nuclear material had been obtained rather than the larger quantities. That means that if smugglers did have access to the bulk of material they offered, it remains in criminal hands.
The repeated attempts to peddle radioactive materials signal that a thriving nuclear black market has emerged in an impoverished corner of Eastern Europe on the fringes of the former Soviet Union. Moldova, which borders Romania, is a former Soviet republic.
Moldovan police and judicial authorities shared investigative case files with the AP in an effort to spotlight how dangerous the black market has become. They say a breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it is much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia’s vast store of radioactive materials.
“We can expect more of these cases,” said Constantin Malic, one of the Moldovan investigators. “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.”
The FBI declined to comment. The White House and the U.S. State Department would not comment on the specifics of the cases.
“The United States government is committed to counter the threat of nuclear smuggling, and ensuring that terrorist groups who may seek to acquire these materials are never able to do so,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “Seizures of nuclear and radioactive materials in Moldova demonstrate the Moldovan government’s commitment to countering these tactics.”
Wiretapped conversations exposed plots that targeted the United States, the Moldovan officials said. In one case, a middleman said it was essential the smuggled bomb-grade uranium go to Arabs, said Malic, an investigator in all four sting operations.
“He said: ‘I really want an Islamic buyer because they will bomb the Americans.'”
“HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF URANIUM?”
Malic was a 27-year-old police officer when he first stumbled upon the nuclear black market in 2009. He was working on a fraud unit in Chisinau, and had an informant helping police take down a euro counterfeiting ring stretching from the Black Sea to Naples, Italy.
The informant, an aging businessman, casually mentioned to Malic that over the years, contacts had periodically offered him radioactive material.
“Have you ever heard of uranium?” he asked Malic.
Malic was so new to the nuclear racket that he didn’t know what uranium was, and had to look it up on Google. He was horrified — “not just for one country,” he said, “but for humanity.”
“Soon after, the informant received an offer for uranium. At about that time, the U.S. government was starting a program to train Moldovan police in countering the nuclear black market, part of a global multi-million dollar effort.
In Malic’s first case, three people were arrested on Aug. 20, 2010, after a sample of the material, a sawed-off piece of a depleted uranium cylinder, was exchanged for cash. That kind of uranium would be difficult to turn into a bomb.
Authorities suspected, but couldn’t prove, that the uranium had come from the melted down Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine, Malic said.
Malic transported the seized radioactive material in a matchbox on the passenger seat of his car. It did not occur to him that the uranium should have been stored in a shielded container to protect him from possible radiation.
When FBI agents came to collect it, they were stunned when he simply proffered the matchbox in his uncovered hand: “Take it,” Malic said.
“Madman!” the American officers exclaimed.
The uranium, fortunately, turned out not to be highly toxic.
PLUTONIUM FOR FREE
Several months later, a former KGB informant, Teodor Chetrus, called Malic’s source, the Moldovan businessman. Chetrus told him he had uranium to sell, but was looking for a Middle Eastern buyer.
Unlike Malic’s first case, this one involved highly enriched uranium, the type that can be used to make a nuclear bomb.
Smarter and more cautious than the members of the previous gang, Chetrus was a bit of a paradox to the investigators. He was educated and well dressed, yet still lived in his dilapidated childhood farmhouse in a tiny village on Moldova’s border with Ukraine.
In many of the smuggling cases, the ringleaders insulated themselves through a complex network of middlemen who negotiated with buyers in order to shield the bosses from arrest. In this case, Chetrus was the go-between.
But he had his own agenda. Chetrus clung to a Soviet-era hatred of the West, Malic said, repeatedly ranting about how the Americans should be annihilated because of problems he thought they created in the Middle East.
“He said multiple times that this substance must have a real buyer from the Islamic states to make a dirty bomb,” Malic said.
Chetrus and the informant hammered out a deal to sell bomb-grade uranium to a “buyer in the Middle East” over months of wiretapped phone calls and meetings at Chetrus’ house.
The informant would show up with a recording device hidden in a different piece of clothing each time. On the other side of the road would be Malic, disguised as a migrant selling fruit and grains from a van — watching the house for signs of trouble.
In one early phone call, the informant pressed Chetrus to find out whether he had access to plutonium as well as uranium, saying his buyer had expressed interest, according to wiretaps. But Chetrus was suspicious, and insisted that before big quantities of either substance could be discussed, the buyer had to prove that he was for real and not an undercover agent.
Chetrus’ boss decided to sell the uranium in installments, starting with a sample. If the buyers were plants, he reasoned, the police would strike before the bulk of the uranium changed hands — an acceptable risk.
“I have to tell you one thing,” Chetrus told the informant in a wiretapped phone call. “Intelligence services never let go of the money.”
Eventually they worked out the terms of a deal: Chetrus would sell a 10-gram sample of the uranium for 320,000 euros ($360,000). The buyer could test it and if he liked what he saw, they could do a kilogram a week at the same rate — an astonishing 32 million euros every time until the buyer had the quantity he wanted. Ten kilograms of uranium was discussed — about a fifth of what was used over Hiroshima.
The two later met in the dirt courtyard of Chetrus’s house to discuss plutonium. The informant had a video camera hidden in his baseball cap. Chetrus can be seen in an army-green V-neck, talking animatedly as a rooster squawks in the background.
“For the plutonium,” Chetrus said, “if they prove they are serious people, we will provide the sample for free. You can use a small amount to make a dirty bomb.”
He spread his hands wide. Then waved them around, as if all before him was laid to waste.
Malic found the video chilling. “I was afraid to imagine what would happen if one of these scenarios happened one day.”
A REAL BUYER IN SUDAN
The man behind the bomb-grade uranium deal was Alexandr Agheenco, known as “the colonel” to his cohorts. He had both Russian and Ukrainian citizenship, police said, but lived in Moldova’s breakaway republic of Trans-Dniester.
A separatist enclave that is a notorious haven for smuggling of all kinds, Trans-Dniester was beyond the reach of the Moldovan police.
In a selfie included in police files, the colonel is balding, mustachioed, and smiling at the camera.
In June 2011, he arranged the uranium swap. He dispatched a Trans-Dniester police officer to smuggle the uranium to Moldova, according to court documents. At the same time, he sent his wife, Galina, on a “shopping outing” across the border to the capital.
Her job was to arrange a handoff of the uranium to Chetrus.
Galina Agheenco arrived in downtown Chisinau in a Lexus GS-330, parking near a circus. She met the police officer, who handed her a green sack with the uranium inside.
Meanwhile, the informant and Chetrus, sporting a dark suit and striped tie, pulled up at the Victoriabank on the city’s main drag in a chauffeur-driven gray BMW X5. Inside the bank, Chetrus inspected a safe deposit box with 320,000 euros, court documents show. He counted the bills and used a special light to check whether they were marked.
Satisfied, Chetrus went to collect the uranium package from the Lexus, where the colonel’s wife had left it. When he turned it over to the informant, the police pounced.
The bust, captured on video, shows officers in balaclavas forcing Chetrus to his knees and handcuffing him. Galina was arrested, too.
But the police officer-turned-smuggler managed to escape back to Trans-Dniester, where he and the colonel could not be touched by Moldovan police.
The arrests took Malic by surprise. He and the informant had been told that police would allow the sample exchange to go forward, so they could later seize the motherlode of uranium and arrest the ringleaders.
Malic was furious. Instead of capturing the gang leaders intent on selling nuclear bomb-grade material to extremists, his Moldovan bosses had jumped the gun.
“What they did was simply create a scene for the news media,” Malic said. “We lost a huge opportunity to make the world safer.”
Tests of the uranium seized confirmed that it was high-grade material that could be used in a nuclear bomb. The tests also linked it to two earlier seizures of highly enriched uranium that investigators believed the colonel was also behind.
A search of Chetrus’ house showed just how dangerous the smugglers were. After police made their arrests in Chisinau, Malic combed through documents in the farmhouse.
He found the plans for the dirty bomb. Worse, there was evidence that Chetrus was making a separate deal to sell nuclear material to a real buyer.
Investigators found contracts made out to a Sudanese doctor named Yosif Faisal Ibrahim for attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers, government documents show. Chetrus had a copy of Ibrahim’s passport, and there was evidence that Chetrus was trying to help him obtain a Moldovan visa. Skype messages suggested that he was interested in uranium and the dirty bomb plans.
The deal was interrupted by the sting, but it looked like it had progressed pretty far. A lawyer working with the criminal ring had traveled to Sudan, officials said. But authorities say they could not determine who was behind Ibrahim or why he was seeking material for a nuclear bomb. AP efforts to reach Ibrahim were unsuccessful.
Consequences for the smugglers were minimal. Galina Agheenco got a light 3-year sentence because she had an infant son; and Chetrus was sentenced to a 5-year prison term. Interpol notices were issued for the colonel and the Trans-Dniester policeman who got away.
Moldovan officials say there were indications from a foreign intelligence agency that the colonel fled with his infant son through Ukraine to Russia shortly after the bust.
The authorities don’t know if the colonel also took a cache of uranium with him.
“Until the head of the criminal group is sentenced and jailed, until we know for sure where those substances seized in Europe came from and where they were going to, only then will we be able to say a danger is no longer present,” says Gheorghe Cavcaliuc, the senior police officer who oversaw the investigation.
A COOL FACE, A POUNDING HEART
In mid-2014, an informant told Malic he had been contacted by two separate groups, one offering uranium, the other cesium. The Moldovan police went directly to the FBI, who backed up their operations.
Malic volunteered to work undercover, posing as an agent for a Middle Eastern buyer. He did not have much training, and struggled with his nerves, resorting to shots of vodka before each meeting. He went into them with no weapon — showing a cool face while taming a pounding heart.
The FBI fitted him with a special shirt that had microphones woven into the fabric, so that even a pat-down could not reveal that he was wired. They also set him up in a white Mercedes S-Class to look like a gangster.
It worked. At one point, the unwitting smuggler said in text messages obtained by the AP that his gang had access to an outdated Russian missile system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The man said he could obtain two R29 submarine-based missiles and provide technical background on how to use them.
Following the same script as in 2011, the team wrapped up the investigation after a sample of 200 grams of unenriched uranium was exchanged for $15,000 on Dec. 3, 2014. Six people were arrested, five got away.
What worried Malic was what appeared to be a revolving door of smugglers. Three criminals involved in the new case had been taken into custody following the earlier investigations. Two of them had served short sentences and immediately rejoined the smuggling network, helping the new ring acquire the uranium. A third criminal was none other than the man who drove Chetrus to make his uranium deal.
The investigators tracked the new uranium for sale to an address in Ukraine. Although they reported it to the authorities, they never heard back.
As Malic’s frustration grew, so did the danger to him and his colleagues.
Early this year, at the Cocos Prive nightclub in Chisinau, the stakes became apparent. The middleman, Grossu, warned that his cesium supplier was a retired FSB officer with a reputation for brutality.
If there was any trouble, Grossu told a wired informant, “They will put all of us against the wall and shoot us,” Malic recalled.
Grossu’s bosses wanted the cesium to reach the Islamic State. “They have the money and they will know what to do with it,” he said.
The sellers claimed to have a huge cache of cesium 137 — which could be used to make a dirty bomb. As in previous cases, they insisted that the buyers prove their seriousness by first purchasing a sample vial of less-radioactive cesium 135, which is not potent enough for a dirty bomb.
They were busted on Feb. 19. Grossu and two other men were arrested. The suspected FSB officer and the remaining cesium disappeared.
It is not clear whether the Moldovan cases are indicative of widespread nuclear smuggling operations.
“It would be deeply concerning if terrorist groups are able to tap into organized crimes networks to gain the materials and expertise required to build a weapon of mass destruction,” said Andy Weber, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, who oversaw counter-proliferation until a year ago.
On May 28, the FBI honored Malic and his team at an awards ceremony for the two recent investigations. But by then the Moldovan police department had disbanded the team amid political fallout and police infighting.
Chetrus’ 5-year prison sentence was supposed to run into next year. But Chetrus’ sister said this summer that he had been released in December, which the AP confirmed.
He had served barely three years for trying to sell a nuclear bomb to enemies of the United States.
On Twitter: Desmond Butler at https://twitter.com/desmondbutler
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Ben Carson’s call for those caught in mass shootings to rush the attacker is drawing criticism from public safety experts and little support Wednesday from his presidential rivals.
Speaking days after an Oregon community college shooting left 10 dead, the Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon offered advice to potential victims of future attacks.
“I want to plant in people’s minds what to do in a situation like this. Because unfortunately this is probably not going to be the last time this happens,” he told CBS. Earlier, Carson had said that if he had been present at the Oregon attack, he would “not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.'”
Rushing the shooter should only be used as a last resort, advise public safety experts, including the FBI. Carson’s presidential rivals either didn’t respond to his comments or dismissed them.
“I think Mr. Carson has no idea what he would do” in a mass shooting, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in an interview on CNN. “That’s not what we need to be saying as leaders of the country,” he added. “You have no idea what you would do.”
Carson’s guidance to attack the shooter is consistent with what the federal government has recommended for responding to a situation with a gunman on the loose— but only if other avenues fail, said John Cohen, a Rutgers University professor who led the Department of Homeland Security’s programs on how to respond to these situations.
The program advises people to “run, hide, fight,” Cohen said. “As a last resort, fight for survival.”
In an active shooter situation, he said that people should run to escape a gunman if it’s possible to do so safely. If not, they should find a place to hide and barricade themselves.
Only as a last resort, he said, are people advised to fight.
In those cases, according to an FBI video on “Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” people should fashion weapons out of whatever items are available and, “commit to taking the shooter down, no matter what.”
Carson also told to SiriusXM radio host Karen Hunter on Wednesday that he was once held at gunpoint at a Popeye’s fried chicken fast food restaurant in Baltimore. But his approach was nothing like the one he advocated.
“Guy comes in, puts the gun in my ribs. And I just said, “I believe that you want the guy behind the counter,'” Carson recounted in his usual, laid-back tone. “He said, ‘Oh, okay,’ and moved on.”
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no political background, has been climbing GOP opinion polls, fueled by voters fed up with Washington and looking for an outside voice. His campaign has been punctuated by a series of controversial remarks on such topics as whether Muslims should be elected to the White House. Carson’s campaign says his remarks have only fueled support from donors.
When it comes to the issue of gun violence, the Republican presidential contenders are generally opposed to further restrictions on gun owners’ rights, blaming incidents like the Oregon shooting on a weak mental health system they say should be fixed.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has been far less critical of Carson than his other GOP rivals, said Carson’s words had been misinterpreted.
“Ben Carson was speaking in general terms as to what he would do if confronted with a gunman, and was not criticizing the victims. Not fair!” he wrote on Twitter.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio did not respond directly to questions about Carson’s fight-the-shooter remarks.
A gun rights supporter, Carson says one solution is more aggressive intervention for people with psychological problems and keeping guns from people declared dangerous by psychiatrists.
Associated Press writers Eileen Sullivan in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Muscatine, Iowa contributed to this report.
As educators, we do everything we can to create a nurturing classroom environment for our students — but sometimes, they face obstacles we just don’t know about. That’s why we’ve created the following lesson plan, designed to help you establish and maintain positive connections within your class. Last spring, Channel One News reported about the “I Wish My Teacher Knew” activity as the story broke. Let this video help your class understand what this exercise has done for other students.
Invite your students to:
Watch: Wish My Teacher Knew That
Discuss: How did Ms. Schwartz’s “Wish My Teacher Knew” assignment make a difference in her classroom? What makes this a valuable activity for teachers? For students?
Model: Share an interesting or important fact about yourself by filling in one (or more) of your own “Wish My Students Knew” notes. Share aloud with your class, inviting students’ questions or comments.
Write: Have students fill out their own “Wish My Classmates Knew …” notes. Invite students to write one interesting, surprising or important fact about themselves to share with their classmates.
Share: In small groups, students share their notes with one another. If time allows, have students switch groups and share responses again. If time is limited, call on one student volunteer from each group to share aloud. You may also wish to create a classroom bulletin board to display student work.
Expand: Invite students to complete a second note: “Wish My Teacher Knew.” Inform them that only you will see these. Give students the option to write their names on their notes or remain anonymous.
Reflect: Ask students to complete a written reflection based on what they’ve heard and shared during this lesson. You may choose to use students’ reflections to inform future instruction, or to assist you in furthering connections among your students. Suggested writing prompts: What did you learn about your classmates? Which responses surprised you the most? With whom do you share something in common? Who would you like to get to know better and why? How can you help one or more of your classmates, based on a challenge they’ve shared?
We know how challenging it can be to find grade-appropriate, multi-media content that meets your students’ varying academic needs. That’s why we’ve curated Channel One New’s Curriculum and Video Library, with more than 3,000 videos, slideshows, discussion questions and writing prompts to support learning around current events. To gain access to our entire Curriculum and Video Library, contact your local HMH rep.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired cruise missiles Wednesday as Syrian government troops launched a ground offensive in central Syria in the first major combined air-and-ground assault since Moscow began its military campaign in the country last week.
The missiles flew nearly 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) over Iran and Iraq and struck Raqqa and Aleppo provinces in the north and Idlib province in the northwest, Russian officials said. The Islamic State group has strongholds in Raqqa and Aleppo, while the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front has a strong presence in Idlib.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Russia was continuing to strike targets other than Islamic State militants, adding that he was concerned about the Syrian ground offensive backed by Moscow’s airpower.
The latest developments came a week after Russia began airstrikes in Syria, its longtime ally, on Sept. 30, and added a new dimension to the complex war that has torn apart the Mideast country since 2011.
Activists and rebels say the targets have included Western-backed fighters and other groups opposed to President Bashar Assad.
A Syrian official and activists said government troops pushed into areas in the central province of Hama and south of Idlib in the boldest multipronged attack on rebel-held areas, benefiting from the Russian air cover. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Moscow has mainly targeted central and northwestern Syria, strategic regions that are the gateway to Assad’s strongholds in Damascus, and along the Mediterranean coast where Russia has a naval base.
The Russian airstrikes strikes appear to have emboldened Syrian troops to launch the ground push after a series of setbacks in northwestern Syria in recent months.
The Islamic State group is not present in the areas where the ground fighting is underway.
The offensive in central Syria and the ensuing clashes with militants, including the Nusra Front, was the first major ground fighting since the Russian campaign began.
Appearing on television with President Vladimir Putin, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 26 missile strikes were conducted from four warships in the Caspian. Shoigu insisted the operation destroyed all the targets and did not launch any strikes on civilian areas.
The launches marked the combat debut of the Russian Kalibr long-range cruise missiles, equivalent to U.S. Tomahawk missiles.
“The fact that we launched precision weapons from the Caspian Sea to the distance of about 1,500 kilometers and hit all the designated targets shows good work by military industrial plants and good skills of personnel,” Putin said.
Andrei Kartapolov of the Russian General Staff told Russian news agencies the strikes were planned so that the cruise missiles would fly “over unpopulated areas.” Shoigu also said Russia has carried out 112 airstrikes on IS positions since Sept. 30.
Iranian state TV, citing Russian media, reported that the Russian missiles flew through Iran’s airspace and hit targets in Syria.
“The Russian military operation in support of the Syrian army continued at new higher technological level,” said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, adding that the Syrian army began an offensive “with our fire support.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a government offensive began early Wednesday on four fronts in Idlib and neighboring Hama provinces in what the group’s director Rami Abdurrahman called “the most intense fighting in months.”
In Syria, the leader of a U.S.-backed rebel group Tajammu Alezzah confirmed the ground offensive in a text message to The Associated Press, saying Russian and Iranian soldiers were involved in the operation.
Russian officials deny sending any ground troops to the battlefield. Iran has been bolstering Assad by sending weapons and advisers, and helping arrange the deployment of Shiite fighters from Iraq and Hezbollah, as well as sending financial aid.
Last month, an intelligence sharing center was set up in Baghdad by Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria to coordinate efforts to combat the Islamic State group.
Maj. Jamil al-Saleh said the offensive, accompanied by air cover and shelling, came from three fronts, including Latamneh, north of Hama province where his Tajammu Alezzah group is based, and Kfar Zeita to the north. The offensive targeted rural areas of Hama and Idlib that are almost totally controlled by rebel groups, he said.
Activist Ahmad al-Ahmad, who is in Idlib, said government troops “heavily” shelled central areas after rebels attacked an army post and destroyed a tank. He said the advance covered an area of over 16 kilometers (10 miles), and was a coordinated, multipronged attack, the boldest in the area in months. The rebels repulsed government troops, al-Ahmad said.
The Observatory, which has a network of activists in Syria, said the main launching point for government forces was the town of Morek on a highway linking Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its former commercial hub. Rebels have controlled areas on the highway since 2012.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said rebels were able to destroy two tanks and an armored personnel carrier in northern Hama province near Idlib. Video on social media by rebel fighters showed government tanks burning, apparently after being hit by U.S.-made TOW missiles.
The Observatory said 37 Russian air raids hit on Wednesday alone.
Syrian state TV quoted an unidentified Syrian military official as saying Russian warplanes attacked IS positions in the towns of Al-Bab and Deir Hafer in Aleppo province.
Two low-flying helicopters were seen in Morek but escaped militant fire, the Observatory said. It was not immediately clear if the pilots were Russians or Syrians. Assad’s air force has Russian-made helicopters.
Although the Islamic State has no presence in the areas hit by airstrikes Wednesday, the Nusra Front is active in central and northern parts of the country — as are the Western-backed rebels. Russian officials have said the Nusra Front is among the groups it is targeting.
At a news conference in Rome, Carter said the U.S.-led coalition that also is conducting airstrikes in Syria has not agreed to cooperate with Russia in the fight against the Islamic State, and no collaboration is possible as long as Moscow continues to hit other targets.
He said the U.S. will conduct basic, technical talks with Russia about efforts to ensure that flights over Syria are conducted safely and, “That’s it.”
Washington is not prepared to cooperate with Russia’s strategy that is “tragically flawed,” he said.
“They continue to hit targets that are not ISIL,” Carter said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “We believe that is a fundamental mistake.”
Since September 2014, the coalition has been hitting Islamic State positions mostly in northern and eastern parts of Syria, as well as in Iraq. U.S. aircraft are still flying missions daily over Syria, the Pentagon said.
Russia’s entry into the crowded and sometimes uncoordinated air wars in Syria is making the U.S. increasingly nervous, reflecting concern at the Pentagon and in Europe about the risk of accidents or unintended conflict.
At least one U.S. military aircraft changed its route over Syria recently to avoid coming dangerously close to Russian warplanes, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. He could not provide details, including how many times this has happened.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu renewed criticism of Russia, insisting the airstrikes were mainly targeting the moderate Syrian opposition and thus helping strengthen IS. He urged Moscow to respect Turkey’s airspace, saying the country would not “make any concessions” on its border security.
Russian warplanes violated Turkey’s borders twice over the weekend, drawing strong protests from Turkey’s NATO allies. Turkey scrambled F-16s in response and also summoned the Russian ambassador to lodge protests.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said it had proposed a meeting between Turkish and Russian military officials in Ankara on avoiding Russian infringements of its airspace.
Vasilyeva reported from Moscow. Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Sarah El Deeb and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Lolita C. Baldor in Rome contributed to this report.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Southern California woman is suing the city of Carlsbad, alleging police in the San Diego suburb unjustly beat her after she was pulled over for a seat belt violation.
Cindy Hahn’s attorneys released a bystander’s video that shows an officer punching her and kneeing her body as another officer struggles to handcuff her on a patch of grass. Hahn is lying on her side, pleading for help, while an officer orders her to stop resisting. The officers eventually tie her wrists and escort her to a squad car.
The complaint, filed Friday in federal court in San Diego, says Hahn was diagnosed with head and brain contusions during a visit to the emergency room after the incident on July 31, 2013, and subsequently diagnosed with a concussion. It says the altercation caused permanent memory loss, brain trauma and other physical and emotional harm.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Carlsbad, a coastal city of 110,000 people north of San Diego, and five police officers. It alleges violation of civil rights, negligence and battery.
Carlsbad Police Chief Neil Gallucci said the lawsuit prohibited him from publicly discussing specifics.
“I want to assure the public that we are prepared to provide a complete and detailed account of the facts of this incident in a courtroom, including what is not shown on the video released by the plaintiff’s attorney,” he said.
Four of the five officers named in the lawsuit remain employees of Carlsbad police, said Kristina Ray, a city spokeswoman. One officer who didn’t figure prominently in the complaint left the department last year for reasons that Ray would not disclose.
Hahn, who is represented by high-profile Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos, claims officers retaliated against her for calling a nonemergency police hotline to report that she felt harassed by Officer Kenyatte Valentine. Hahn, then 40, was leaving a birthday party with her 11- and 7-year-old children and asked Valentine what he was doing in front of a car whose alarm had sounded. According to the lawsuit, the officer responded with a profanity.
Valentine followed Hahn in her car after she called to complain, stopped her for a seat belt violation, ordered her to leave the vehicle, and beat her while her children waited in the back seat, according to the lawsuit. Another officer, identified in court documents as Jody Knisley, joined Valentine and allegedly punched Hahn in the face “until she was limp” and her “clothes were almost ripped off.”
The San Diego County district attorney’s office charged Hahn with resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer — both felonies — but dropped the case in July. Geragos said prosecutors dropped the case after he gave them the video.
Steve Walker, a spokesman for the district attorney, said, “When we dismiss charges, it is because we cannot prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Geragos said he also shared the video with the city of Carlsbad, whose attorneys responded that they saw “no problem” with the officers’ behavior.
“The video alone clearly, clearly shows felonious behavior on behalf of the officers,” Geragos said.
Geragos said he waited to file the lawsuit and share the video until police officers testified at a preliminary hearing in Hahn’s criminal case, calling it a strategic decision.
“I wanted to get the cop on the record testifying, which is astonishing if your read his testimony. He saw no hitting, didn’t see anybody hit her in the face, blah, blah, blah,” Geragos said.
The Carlsbad Police Officers Association, the union representing the city’s officers, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
Hahn, who is from the Los Angeles suburb of Valencia and the daughter of a reserve police officer, told KCBS-TV in Los Angeles that her son still talks about the confrontation.
“The only thing that he’ll talk to me about is, ‘I couldn’t protect you, Mom,” she said.