NEW YORK (AP) — Investigators found an Islamic State flag and a passport wrapped in $2,400 in cash when they arrested a young Bronx man Tuesday on charges that he tried to support the terror organization, a prosecutor said.
Sajmir Alimehmeti, a onetime plumbing assistant who has studied funeral services, was ordered held without bail after Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Quigley argued that the U.S. citizen was a flight risk and a danger to the community after assisting law enforcement undercover operatives who posed over the last half year as men eager to support the Islamic State.
Quigley said investigators found a passport Alimehmeti claimed he had lost wrapped in cash when he was arrested in an early morning raid at his apartment. The flag, he said, was in the man’s apartment, too.
Assistant Federal Defender Sylvie Levine said her client was not unusual.
“In many ways, he’s just like any other 22-year-old, college-age student,” she told U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein in Manhattan.
She noted there was no conspiracy charge and said he had not conversed with anyone who was not a member of law enforcement.
“None of these statements appear to be followed by any action,” Levine said.
In rejecting bail, Gorenstein cited Alimehmeti’s “very strong ties” to Albania, where he was born and where his parents currently reside, the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence, the cash and combat-style knives found in his apartment and prior convictions for assault and robbery as proof that he was at risk to flee and a danger to the community.
The case evolved after Alimehmeti twice was rejected trying to enter the United Kingdom after authorities saw his camouflage clothing and nunchakus at Manchester Airport in October 2014 and Islamic State flag images on his cellphone in December 2014 at Heathrow Airport, authorities said.
A criminal complaint signed by an FBI agent described Alimehmeti as repeatedly demonstrating support for the Islamic State.
According to court papers, Alimehmeti tried this month to provide advice and assistance to an undercover operative he thought was traveling from New York to Syria to train and fight with the Islamic State.
The FBI complaint described how employees of the FBI and New York City Police Department, posing as Islamic State recruits, gave Alimehmeti numerous opportunities to demonstrate his enthusiasm.
The FBI said Alimehmeti helped the undercover law enforcement operatives buy equipment needed to work for the Islamic State. Authorities said Alimehmeti repeatedly expressed his desire to help the group, even claiming that music videos including one depicting its fighters decapitating prisoners kept him motivated while he exercised.
According to the court papers, Alimehmeti was told that one of his undercover law enforcement contacts was going to join the Islamic State and Alimehmeti “expressed his excitement at this and inquired whether he could travel,” as well.
The FBI said Alimehmeti told the law enforcement operatives that he had saved $2,500 for his own travel but needed to get a passport in a different name because his name was “already in the system.”
The court papers said Alimehmeti told the undercover contacts he and his brother “had our own plan” to travel from Albania to Syria but that his brother had been arrested in Albania.
In a footnote, the FBI said in court papers that Alimehmeti’s brother was arrested on weapons and assault charges in Albania last August.
NEW YORK (AP) — Twitter is making some big changes, at least in the context of 140 characters or fewer.
The social media service said Tuesday that in coming months, photos, videos and other media won’t count toward Twitter’s 140-character limit. Now, for example, when a user posts a photo, it counts for about 24 characters.
That means slightly more wordy tweets are on the way.
The change, announced Tuesday, is yet another attempt by the San Francisco company to make its messaging service easier to use, and to attract new users.
Twitter did not, as many had speculated in recent months, abolish its character limit. Nor are weblinks exempt from the 140-character limit, which was also rumored.
But replies to another user, which start with the “@” symbol and the user’s name, will not count against character limits. Names with the @ symbol in the middle of a tweet, however, will still count against the limit.
And people will be able to retweet and quote their own tweets.
In another change, any new tweet beginning with an @name will be seen by all followers. Previously, a tweet that started with a person’s handle did not become part of their feed. If a user wanted this to happen, they had to put a period before the @ symbol.
Confusing? Some users thought so.
Twitter has tried to keep all users happy, those for and against relaxing character limits, by sticking to the current count while allowing more freedom to express thoughts, or rants, through images and other media.
Above all, Twitter Inc. hopes that the changes will re-ignite user growth.
The company, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday, is dwarfed by its rival, Facebook. Its current number of users, about 310 million, trails even the professional networking service LinkedIn.
Facebook has 1.65 billion users. Even though many people are familiar with Twitter, at least that it exists, the company has been unable to convert them to active users. Twitter remains hard to understand for many, with its own lingo of hashtags and symbols.
The changes announced Tuesday are the latest put in place with hopes of spurring growth.
“It’s a very user friendly change and it’s about time,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. While he said the changes are not likely to bring back users who have abandoned the site, new users might be less alienated.
Abandoning the 140 character limit altogether would be going too far, he added.
“They want to be purists and stick to the original vision,” he said “Baby steps. Let’s start with that.”
Late last year, as it continued to struggle, Twitter brought back co-founder Jack Dorsey. In addition to staff and cost cuts, it launched a channel called “Moments” that brings together hot topics in one place. Earlier this year, it tweaked its timeline to show users tweets that they may have missed while they were away.
Yet company shares continue to hemorrhage, falling almost 40 percent this year.
Twitter’s stock hit an all-time low of $13.73 on Tuesday before recovering some ground. It ended the day down 38 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $14.03.
AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson contributed to this report.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Don’t expect to hear or read anything about dropped passes or interceptions that take place during Buffalo Bills practices.
Mentioning what might be said during a post-practice team huddle is also out. And forget about learning who opened practice at quarterback, or any other position for that matter.
Those are among the items the Bills are restricting from being mentioned as part of their wide-ranging media policy unveiled Tuesday, when reporters began arriving for the team’s first week of voluntary minicamps.
Under the heading, “Practice Reporting,” the Bills are barring media from reporting on personnel groupings, including which player is practicing with the starters. Other items that cannot be reported during practice include dropped passes, interceptions and a quarterback’s completion percentage.
Media members are barred from revealing any conversations that take place between players, coaches or team executives during practice. Videos and pictures also cannot be snapped in and around the locker room without team approval.
Team spokesman Scott Berchtold said most of the rules apply to practices closed to the public, not training camp, even though the policy does not spell out a distinction in some cases.
In an email to The Associated Press, Jeff Legwold, President of the Professional Football Writers of America, described the Bills’ new rules as “a vast over-reach of the guidelines in the (NFL’s) current media policy.” Legwold added, the Bills’ policy is “not only unnecessary, it is not in compliance.”
The PFWA works with the NFL in establishing a league-wide media policy that includes rules on what can be reported during practice, and when teams must make players and coaches available to the media.
The NFL’s media policy states teams can limit the videotaping or photographing of certain portions of closed sessions. As for open practices, the NFL policy states: “Clubs must allow reporting (tweeting, blogging, etc.) of newsworthy events, such as VIP visitors to practice, exceptional catches, standout rookie performers, etc.”
Teams can establish their own media policies, which must still comply with the NFL’s.
The New Orleans Saints bar reporters from bringing cellphones to practice. The media also can’t report on injuries that occur during training camp until coach Sean Payton provides an update or, in the regular season, once the team releases its injury report.
The New England Patriots ban reporters from revealing who’s practicing with the first- and second-team units.
All teams reserve the right to restrict media from reporting on some portions of practice — such as trick plays or formations — to maintain a competitive edge and not tip off opponents.
Legwold said the Bills’ rules do not meet that standard.
“Its full implementation has little impact, by any objective standards, on a team’s prospective on-field results in the regular season,” Legwold wrote.
Following practice, Berchtold told reporters they can make reference to interceptions or dropped passes, for example, so long as it’s not part of a string of play-by-play reporting.
Berchtold said the Bills drafted a media policy because the team’s current one had not been updated for several years.
He also noted that reporters keeping stats on players such as a quarterback are unfair, because it’s simply practice, when mistakes happen. As an example, Berchtold said an interception in practice could be the result of a bad throw or a receiver running the wrong route.
Offensive guard Richie Incognito had fun with the stir the media policy created by posting a note on his Twitter account: “Not sure if I’m supposed to be tweeting this with the new media policy, but since we started practice there are cookies in the lunch room.”
The Bills responded to Incognito with a note posted on their account, reading: “Our Cookie Media Policy allows players to tweet accurate information on type and formation of cookies consumed.”
NOTES: WR Sammy Watkins was on crutches and had his left foot in a walking boot after having surgery to repair a stress fracture last month. … Coach Rex Ryan said he’s had no conversations and has no indication why RB Dri Archer declined to report to the team last week after being claimed off waivers. … CB Stephon Gilmore was absent, and is working out on his own while he attempts to negotiate a long-term contract.
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel and Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP—NFL
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Michelle Plante scoured a surveillance video for clues, trying to identify the man seen shooting at someone in a Hartford playground recently in broad daylight. Luckily, no children were there, and the man fled into a nearby house after missing his target.
Plante, who works in the new Real-Time Crime and Data Intelligence Center for Hartford police, determined the address of the house and who lived there. She ran names through databases, hoping to determine the name of the shooter.
Similar work is going on across the country at police real-time crime centers, where walls of flat-screen monitors are fed by surveillance cameras, and computers take in data from shotgun detection systems and license plate readers. Intelligence from the centers is sent to officers on the street, helping them find suspects and avoid harm by having crucial, real-time information, police officials say.
In Hartford, Plante quickly found a booking photo of one of the residents of the house who looked like the shooter. That information gave police a major lead they may not have had otherwise. Authorities say they are now building a case against the man.
New York City opened its Real Time Crime Center — the first of its kind — in 2005, and other large cities followed suit. Smaller cities are now opening their own centers after acquiring surveillance cameras, gunshot detectors and other technology. Civil liberties advocates, meanwhile, have privacy concerns and are calling for better regulation of police surveillance operations.
Such facilities have opened in the past year in Hartford; Wilmington, Delaware; and Springfield, Massachusetts. Others are in the works in Bridgeport, Connecticut; Modesto, California; and Wilmington, North Carolina.
“It’s such a great asset having everybody under one roof,” said Sgt. Johnmichael O’Hare, who’s in charge of Hartford’s center, which officials unveiled in February. “It’s all about transfer of information.”
Although open only a few months, the center has assisted officers in hundreds of criminal cases that have resulted in arrests, O’Hare said.
“It’s huge,” he said about the new capabilities. “It provides them real-time intelligence.”
Staff members at the centers can monitor surveillance video and tell officers at crime scenes about suspects’ movements. They can enter names into criminal and private company databases and relay virtual dossiers on people to police. They also tap into surveillance cameras at schools and businesses — after getting permission in a process agreed upon beforehand — to help police respond to active shooters and other crimes. Much of the information, including video feeds, can be sent to officers’ cellphones.
The centers reflect law enforcement’s growing reliance on technology. Many cities are using federal grants and drug forfeiture money to help pay for the centers, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up.
The American Civil Liberties Union says there is a lack of general rules to limit privacy invasions and abuse of surveillance technology by police. The ACLU also is concerned about how long police departments retain camera footage and other surveillance data.
“The public really needs to be consulted, and there needs to be a debate,” said David McGuire, legislative and policy director of the ACLU of Connecticut, which is keeping an eye on real-time crime centers in the state.
In December, the ACLU of Northern California criticized Fresno police for using social media surveillance software without the public’s consent. One software program, the ACLU said, suggested identifying potential threats to public safety by tracking hashtags related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Another program assigned “threat levels” to residents, the ACLU said.
Police told The Fresno Bee newspaper that they were only testing the software during free trials for possible use against violent crime and terrorism and were not tracking Black Lives Matter on social media.
Civil liberties advocates also have concerns about airports and many police departments now using facial recognition software to track and identify people, saying such software is known for mistakes.
The Hartford center doesn’t use facial recognition, but officials say that could come in the future.
Hartford Police Chief James Rovella said city officials are well aware of privacy concerns.
“We have to respect people’s civil rights at all times,” he said.
This story has been corrected to show no arrest has been made in the case of a man firing a gun at someone at a playground.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — U.S. authorities say they will not try to force four men accused of walking onto a sensitive hot spring at Yellowstone National Park to return from their homes in Canada for prosecution.
The men are charged with misdemeanors that don’t meet the legal standard to force their return to face prosecution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming said.
“That’s not anything that’s extraditable usually from another state, let alone another country,” spokesman John Powell said.
The men were traveling in a recreational vehicle with British Columbia license plates and are believed to be back in Canada.
“I’m sure that they’re aware of what’s going on, and I would hope that they reach out and try and take care of this in some manner, come back and go to court and get it off their plate,” Powell said.
If they don’t, the four can either be arrested if they attempt to cross the U.S. border or denied entry into the United States, he said.
The criminal complaint accuses Charles Ryker Gamble, Alexey Andriyovych Lyakh, Justis Cooper Price-Brown and Hamish McNab Campbell Cross of leaving a boardwalk that visitors are required to stay on and stepping onto a geothermal feature on May 14. The men were traveling together as part of a group called High on Life SundayFundayz that posts video and selfies of their travels on social media.
Several of the group’s members are from Vancouver, British Columbia, and have a clothing line that they promote.
A witness provided photos and video of the incident to park rangers that show four men going about 25 yards off the boardwalk at the spring, according to the complaint. In addition, postings on social media showed some of the men taking selfies while on the hot spring. The postings were later deleted.
In response to messages seeking comment about the matter, an email from one member of the group said they could not comment now and referenced an apology they had posted on their social networks. In the apology, they expressed regret for their actions and offered to donate up to $5,000 to the park.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A SWAT team with guns drawn screened a jet as a precaution Tuesday at Los Angeles International Airport after a non-credible threat was received about the flight from Houston, officials said.
Passengers were escorted from an American Airlines twin-engine regional jet more than an hour after it landed without incident. Seven SWAT officers and a police dog drove up in an armored vehicle and went through the plane, which was kept on a remote stretch of runway during the search.
The threat against American Eagle Flight 5931, operated by Compass Airlines, was not legitimate, American Airlines spokeswoman Polly Tracey said.
The Transportation Security Administration received the threat, LAX police Officer Rob Pedregon said. Officials did not release details about it, and the TSA referred inquiries to local law enforcement.
The FBI would try to determine “the person or group responsible for making the threat,” spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
The plane took off from Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport. When it landed in LA, airport police, city police and fire crews responded. The SWAT team searched the outside of the plane before walking up a staircase and into the aircraft to screen it.
Eventually, the 76 passengers and four crew members exited down a portable staircase and got on buses to be taken to a terminal.
“We hope to have our passengers on their way soon,” Tracey said.
Jerry Bridges, a construction worker building hangars at LAX, said he thought the large law enforcement response was part of a drill at first.
He took pictures and video of the SWAT team boarding the plane after he heard there might be a bomb threat.
“If that thing did have a bomb, we’re not even an eighth of a mile away,” he said. “It’s pretty scary.”
Bridges said he has noticed more drills at the airport since EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed overseas last week. Investigators are trying to determine what brought down the jet during a trip from Paris to Cairo.
“LAX has heightened our security posture and enhanced our counter-terrorism security measures” in light of the EgyptAir 804 crash, airport officials said in a statement May 19.