MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The stabbings at a Minnesota mall, attributed to a young Somali man, are being treated by federal investigators as a potential act of terrorism after the Islamic State claimed the suspect had heeded its calls for attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition.
While a motive for Saturday night’s attack isn’t clear and it isn’t clear whether the attacker was radicalized, authorities in Minnesota have struggled for years to stem recruiting of young Somali men by the Islamic State and east Africa-based militant group al-Shabab. Here are things to know about Somalis in Minnesota:
LARGEST POPULATION IN U.S.
Minnesota has the nation’s largest Somali community. Many who fled the long civil war in their east African country were drawn to the state’s welcoming social programs.
Census numbers put the state’s Somali population at about 57,000. The largest share of that group has settled in the Minneapolis area, including one neighborhood near the University of Minnesota campus that’s been dubbed “Little Mogadishu” in reference to Somalia’s capital. But significant numbers have also settled in St. Cloud, Willmar and other smaller cities.
In the past decade, Minnesota has struggled with terrorist groups luring some of its young Somali men overseas. The problem first surfaced in 2007, when more than 20 young men went to Somalia, where Ethiopian troops propping up a weak U.N.-backed government were seen by many as foreign invaders. Al-Shabab, classified as a terror group by the U.S. government, wooed young Americans with jihadist videos that appealed to patriotic and religious ideals.
In more recent years, the Islamic State has also found recruits in Minnesota, with authorities saying roughly a dozen have left to join militants in Syria. Nine Minnesota men face sentencing this fall on terror charges for plotting to join the Islamic State group.
If Saturday’s stabbings are ultimately deemed a terrorist act, it would be the first carried out by a Somali on U.S. soil, said Karen Greenburg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law.
CONCERNS, EFFORTS TO STOP RECRUITING
Federal officials have said one of their biggest fears was that a radicalized American who left the country to join the Islamic State or al-Shabab might return home to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. That was before the Islamic State began urging “lone wolf” attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led coalition against their group.
Stopping recruiting has been a high priority, with law enforcement investing countless hours in community outreach and the state participating in a federal project designed to combat radical messages.
It was not immediately clear if the extremist group had planned Saturday’s attack or knew about it beforehand. In the past, IS has claimed attacks that are not believed to have been planned by its central leadership.
Leaders in the state’s Somali and Muslim communities have been quick to condemn terror attacks wherever they occur and, though a motive wasn’t known, did so after Saturday’s mall stabbings, which wounded 10. They have said such attacks don’t represent the larger Somali community and that they fear a backlash against Somalis in the state.
MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin sees the governing party’s huge gain in parliamentary elections as a vote of confidence in his government, despite a low voter turnout which suggests broad public apathy and dismay with the political process.
United Russia, the main party supporting Putin, expanded its grip on parliament, winning three-quarters of the seats, the Central Elections Commission said Monday.
“The results of the vote reflect our citizens’ reaction to attempts of foreign pressure on Russia, to sanctions, to attempts to destabilize the situation in our country from within,” Putin said.
He pledged to continue a foreign policy “devoid of any signs of aggressiveness, but with unconditional observance of our national interests and securing the nation’s defense capability.”
Russia-Western ties have remained badly strained over the Ukrainian crisis, with the United States and the European Union slapping Moscow with sanctions over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
With 93 percent of the ballots from Sunday’s vote counted, the United Russia party was on track to get 343 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, CEC head Ella Pamfilova said. She said she expected no significant change in the results when the final count is announced Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin “once again received a massive vote of confidence from the country’s people.”
Turnout, however, was distinctly lower than in the last Duma election in 2011 — less than 48 percent nationwide compared with 60 percent. In Moscow, just 35 percent of those eligible cast ballots.
The immense gain of more than 100 seats for United Russia, which held a majority in the previous parliament, raises it above the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution on its own.
United Russia’s gains came at the expense of three other parties that had largely complied with the Kremlin’s wishes. The Communists will have 42 seats in the new Duma, a sharp drop from 92, the nationalist Liberal Democrats 39 and A Just Russia 23.
Two other seats were won by candidates from small parties and one by an independent. In contrast to the two previous elections, only half the seats in this election were chosen by national party list; the others were contested by single-seat districts.
While the new system allowed more opposition candidates to compete, the overwhelming Kremlin control over nationwide TV networks that eschewed any criticism of the government meant that Putin’s critics had little chance to deliver their message to a broad public.
“These elections were not fair, because there were no equal conditions for those who were allowed to participate,” said Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister who leads the liberal opposition party Parnas. It was left outside parliament with less than 1 percent of the vote.
The humiliating defeat of Putin’s liberal foes sent shivers through the ranks of the opposition, already weakened by years of relentless Kremlin efforts to muffle dissent.
“I feel scared for my children — I want them to live in Russia, but not this one, which I have seen over recent years and which grew even stronger last night,” said Dmitry Gudkov, a candidate for the liberal Yabloko party. He blamed his defeat in a Moscow constituency on voter apathy.
The election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe pointedly said that Russians felt widely disengaged from the political process. The mission criticized reporting on national TV channels owned or controlled by the state for focusing overwhelmingly on the incumbent authorities. The observers also noted “self-censorship encouraged by the restrictive legal and regulatory framework.”
Marietta Tidei, one of the heads of the observer mission, said Pamfilova’s leadership of the election commission, which began five months ago, “has given election stakeholders confidence that the elections can be well-run, yet the low-key campaign shows an overall lack of (public) engagement.”
The U.S. State Department also noted Monday that the election commission “administered the elections transparently,” but added that it shares OSCE observers’ concern about limitations during the candidate registration process, misuse of administrative resources by some local authorities during the campaign and harassment of opposition members.
Allegations of violations also came from around the country on election day, including charges of ballot-box stuffing and “carousel voting” in which people are transported to several locations to cast multiple ballots.
Pamfilova said state investigators had launched a criminal probe of one voting district, where video from a closed-circuit camera appeared to show a poll worker carefully dropping multiple ballots into the box. She promised that reports of other alleged violations would be investigated and that results from three precincts could be annulled.
Anger over widespread fraud in the 2011 election sparked large protests in Moscow that unsettled authorities by their size and persistence. The Kremlin responded with a slew of harsh laws that introduced hefty fines and prison sentences for participants in unsanctioned rallies and tighter restrictions for non-government organizations. There have been no protests this time.
Natalia Suvorova in Moscow contributed to this report.
ROME (AP) — The day the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement triumphed in Rome’s mayoral election, its exultant founder, comic Beppe Grillo, immediately turned his supporters’ sights on the next destination for what he calls their “mission impossible airplane” — soaring into national power.
But early reviews of the new 5-Star mayor, Virginia Raggi, have been anything but stellar, leading some to wonder if her bumbling administration might end up eclipsing the Movement’s dream of having one of its own in the premier’s office.
Raggi, a 38-year-old lawyer whose political resume before becoming Rome’s first female mayor consisted of a stint as a city councilwoman, swept away Premier Matteo Renzi’s Democratic candidate in a mayoral election runoff in June to become the “anti-party” 5-Star’s most prominent local office holder yet.
Three months into the job, Raggi is struggling to assemble her team at the city hall atop ancient Capitoline Hill.
Her choice for chief of staff exited after an uproar over an exorbitantly high salary, an embarrassment for the Movement, which rails against the political elite. While Rome sinks in debt, Raggi still is sifting through resumes to pick a budget czar.
The local mass transit agency, ATAC, has taken to cannibalizing buses for spare parts because suppliers have stopped filling orders over unpaid bills. One hot day this summer, 800 buses broke down along their routes.
Meanwhile, children in a rundown, outlying part of town took to amusing themselves on school vacation by counting rats near a trash container. “Fifteen, 16. Sixteen rats, guys,” one boy says in a much clicked-on video the children made and posted on the internet.
Rome’s patronage-tainted garbage collection agency, AMA, needs fixing, making Raggi’s choice for city environment commissioner another critical one. But earlier this month, Raggi told Parliament’s watchdog commission on criminal infiltration of environmental activities that she had known for two months that her pick for the job, a woman who had served for years as a consultant to the trash agency, was under investigation. Commission officials said Rome prosecutors told them they are investigating the commissioner for suspected unauthorized management of handling of refuse.
It was a dismaying admission for the Movement, which boasts of transparency and insists that its office-holders step down if they are implicated in criminal probes.
Instead, Raggi has dug in, refusing to fire the commissioner.
“Let’s go forward, with courage. We will change Rome and the country,” Raggi wrote on her Facebook page Friday.
Her office did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.
For sure, Raggi inherited a monumental mess.
Rome’s previous mayor, a Democrat, resigned midway through his term when some in his own party lost faith he could rescue the city from years of moral and physical filth. The mayor before him, a former neo-Fascist street fighter, has been implicated in a scandal involving allegations that local politicians, bureaucrats and criminal gangs schemed to profit off lucrative city contracts.
Grillo’s forces are widely expected to be Renzi’s chief challenger for the premier’s office in parliamentary elections in 2018, or perhaps sooner, if the center-left leader’s government stumbles on an ambitious reform agenda that has alienated some in his Democratic Party.
So opinion polls are being closely watched to see if Raggi’s inexperience might erode Movement support nationwide. Recent polls indicate her rocky start could have cost the 5-Stars a few percentage points. Grillo himself is ineligible for public office because of a manslaughter conviction resulting from a car accident.
Grillo has promised to closely monitor Raggi’s performance, essentially rebuffing some loudly grumbling lawmakers and city councilmembers who worry the mayor could taint the Movement’s reputation for change and improvement and are starting to wonder if she should go.
For now, Romans wearily wait for better times.
“These are problems that piled up over the years, so you need to give (Raggi) time,” 5-Star supporter Maria Vicentini said while waiting for her bus at a stop across from City Hall. “The broken buses need to be repaired. All the garbage rot must be removed.”
Vicentini added that the moral rot exposed in the corruption scandals “also needs time” to be removed.
Waiting at the same bus stop, lifelong Roman Sergio Fiormonte says he is not dissatisfied with Raggi, but allows “that nothing has changed from the last mayor to the one now.”
Ticking off the familiar traffic, public transportation, and trash collection problems, Fiormonte, who describes himself as apolitical, ventured: “I think you need a magic wand to resolve them” after decades of what he called “non-administration.”
Possibly tarnishing the 5-Star sheen could be a flurry of closed-door huddles over what to do about Raggi, including one led in Rome by Grillo with members of the Movement’s “directorate.” In the past, the Movement, keeping to a promise to supporters, has streamed important meetings live.
Massimo Franco, a political analyst for the Corriere della Sera newspaper, told The Associated Press that while Raggi is off to a “fragile” start, she will hang in there “because there isn’t a true alternative.”
The Movement’s rank-and-file, who pick candidates online instead of in traditional primaries, also are likely to prove fiercely loyal to their office-holders, according to Erik Jones, a professor of European Studies and International Political Economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna.
“They don’t judge them on their governing prowess,” Jones said. Instead, “they judge them on their authenticity.”
Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio
MOSCOW (AP) — Early results on Sunday showed Russia’s ruling United Russia party winning in the parliamentary election amid reports of election violations and visible voter apathy in the country’s two largest cities.
With more than 22 percent of the ballots counted, United Russia was recording 50.3 percent of the vote for party-list seats and was far ahead in single-district contests.
The Liberal Democrats and Communists were both recording about 15 percent and A Just Russia had 6 percent. Neither of the two parties which openly oppose President Vladimir Putin was seen making it into the parliament.
The results are likely to change as votes are counted from the western parts of Russia that are more urbanized and where opposition sentiment is stronger. But the election for the 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of parliament, is unlikely to substantially change the distribution of power, in which the United Russia party has held an absolute majority for more than a decade.
Perceived honesty of the election could be a critical factor in whether protests arise following the voting.
Massive demonstrations broke out in Moscow after the last Duma election in 2011, unsettling authorities with their size and persistence.
Russian Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova, who pledged to clean up the notoriously rigged system when she assumed the post earlier this year, said as the polls closed that she saw no reason to nullify the vote in any location, conceding, however, that the election “wasn’t sterile.”
Putin, who formally is not a United Russia member, turned up at its election headquarters shortly after the first results were announced and congratulated the would-be lawmakers.
“Things are tough but people still voted for United Russia,” he said. “It means that people see that United Russia members are really working hard for people even though it doesn’t always work.”
Putin referred to the unusually low turnout as “not the highest,” but said it was good enough for the Kremlin party to win an absolute majority.
Voter turnout in Russia’s largest cities appeared to be much lower than five years ago, indicating that the widespread practice of coercing state employees to vote in previous elections wasn’t as prevalent this time around.
The turnout by 6 p.m. (1500 GMT; 11 a.m. EDT) was at a record low of 29 percent in Moscow, compared to over 50 percent five years earlier, and under 20 percent in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.
Previous elections have shown that the regions with the highest turnout were where voters, mostly state employees, were pressured to cast ballots.
Independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, in remarks on the online television channel Dozhd, described the low turnout as the urbanite’s “sofa sit-in.”
“It’s a form of protest, it’s escapism,” Oreshkin said. “People want to stay away from politics.”
Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of the election monitoring group Golos, said the lower voter turnout reflected less anxiety among local authorities to produce a high turnout.
Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister and leader of the Parnas party, said after the first votes were counted that he was concerned about the low turnout: “Citizens had no faith in elections as an institution. This is the result of government policies. It’s their fault.”
Golos had received more than 2,000 complaints of suspected vote rigging from all over the country by early afternoon. Among the reported violations were long lines of soldiers voting at stations where they weren’t registered, and voters casting their ballots on tables instead of curtained-off voting booths
Videos posted on YouTube appeared to show poll workers in several regions in southern Russia dropping multiple sheets of paper into a ballot box.
In the Siberian region of Altai, a candidate from the liberal Yabloko party claimed that young people were voting in the name of elderly people unlikely to come to polling stations. Pamfilova said the results from Altai could be annulled if allegations of vote fraud there were confirmed.
In Moscow, independent election observers and opposition candidates on Sunday reported busloads of people arriving at their polling stations to vote, fueling speculations of multiple voting with the help of absentee ballots.
Melkonyants of Golos said most of the complaints the organization received from Moscow were about those groups of voters although he said he “couldn’t categorically say that this is a violation.”
“But observers perceive it as a trick which local officials could be using in order to boost the turnout in their districts,” Melkonyants said, adding that the bus passengers also may have been coerced to vote in violation of Russian law.
Pamfilova conceded that boosting the turnout in the areas where it was expected to be low might explain the voters traveling by bus and denied suggestions of multiple voting.
“It makes no difference where a person votes for the party of their choice,” she said.
This election is a departure from the two previous votes for the Duma, in which seats were distributed on a national party-list basis. This year, half the seats are being contested in single districts. Independent candidates were also allowed, although only 23 met the requirements to get on the ballot, according to the elections-monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Many voters at a polling station in southwest Moscow said the only reason to cast a ballot was to take votes away from United Russia, which has dominated the parliament for more than a decade.
Alexei Krugly, 63, said he voted for Yabloko because he “feels even more distaste for others.”
“They’re just as bad as everyone, but I stand for diversity,” he said. “This time I came (to vote) because Yabloko got its act together and I think it has chances to make it to the Duma.”
In the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, dozens of right-wing protesters gathered around the Russian Embassy, where a voting station was set up. At least one demonstrator was detained in a scuffle with police. Another demonstration took place outside the Russian consulate in Odessa, where four protesters were arrested.
In many parts of the U.S., the fall season is synonymous with sitting around a crackling campfire in the crisp night air, and enjoying s’mores with friends and family. Everyone in their hoodies just pulls up a chair, squeezes in on a bench or takes a seat on a good old-fashioned log. Sounds pretty cozy, right? Well what if we told you things in the back yard are about to get even cozier—that there’s a new kind of outdoor furniture…and it’s Terra-ific!
Created by Robino Piergiorgio and his team of artists and designers based in Italy, Terra! is a stylish and sustainable grass armchair that’s gaining international attention and demand. The idea is that instead of filling your yard with outdoor furniture that weathers, fades and ultimately ends up in a land fill, you can invest in forever-functional pieces that are also an earth-friendly part of your landscape.
The chair comes in the form of recycled cardboard pieces that are easily assembled into a sturdy frame. You then fill the frame with soil, seed and water it well, and let the sun work its magic. As the grass fills in, the structure takes shape and you’ve made your own lawn chair—literally!
The recently completed Kickstarter campaign offered backers a variety of options at a range of price points from $24 for the DIY paper pattern to nearly $800 for a three-seat sofa version. It also offered standard chairs, children-sized chairs, two-seaters and extra “cushion” accessories. And for those around the world who aren’t in an environment that’s grass-growing friendly, the company’s website suggests that the chair’s pattern can even be used with concrete or snow!
When this product hits the mass market, would you kick back and relax in a grass armchair? Vote and tell us what you think — you can even submit video comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will feature the results of the poll and some of your comments on the show!
INDANAN, Philippines (AP) — A Norwegian man freed by militants after a year of jungle captivity in the southern Philippines described the ordeal Sunday as “devastating,” carrying a backpack with a bullet hole as a reminder of a near-death experience that included the beheadings of the two Canadians kidnapped with him.
Kjartan Sekkingstad was freed by his Abu Sayyaf captors on Saturday to rebels from the larger Moro National Liberation Front, which has signed a peace deal with the Philippine government and helped negotiate his release. On Sunday, he was handed over to Philippine authorities, along with three Indonesian fishermen freed separately by the Abu Sayyaf.
Aside from the horror of constantly being warned that he would be the next to be beheaded by the brutal extremists, Sekkingstad said he survived more than a dozen clashes between Philippine forces and his captors in the lush jungles of Sulu province.
In one intense battle, in which the forces fired from assault helicopters and from the ground, he said he felt a thud in his back and thought he was hit by gunfire. After the fighting eased, he discovered that he wasn’t hit, and that his green, army-style backpack had been pierced by the gunfire instead.
Sekkingstad was carrying the damaged backpack when he walked to freedom Saturday somewhere in the thick jungle off Sulu’s mountainous Patikul town.
On Sunday, the heavily bearded Sekkingstad, clad in a rebel camouflage uniform and muddy combat boots, was asked how he would describe his horrific experience.
“Devastating, devastating,” he said, still clutching the backpack.
Philippine presidential adviser Jesus Dureza, who received Sekkingstad and the three freed Indonesians from Moro National Liberation Front rebel chief Nur Misuari in Misuari’s rural stronghold near Sulu’s Indanan town, accompanied the Norwegian on a flight to southern Davao city, where the ex-hostage met President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte told Sekkingstad that his travails were over. Sekkingstad, newly shaved but looking gaunt in a loose polo shirt, thanked all those who worked for his freedom.
“I am very happy to be alive and free,” he said. “It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Sekkingstad was kidnapped from a yacht club he helped managed on southern Samal Island on Sept. 21, 2015, along with Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall and Hall’s Filipino girlfriend, Marites Flor, sparking a massive land and sea search by Philippine forces.
The Abu Sayyaf demanded a huge ransom for the release of the foreigners, and released videos in which they threatened the captives in a jungle clearing where they displayed Islamic State group-style black flags.
Ridsdel was beheaded in April and Hall was decapitated in June after ransom deadlines lapsed. When Flor was freed in June, she recounted in horror how the militants rejoiced while watching the beheadings.
Sekkingstad said he and his fellow captives were forced to carry the militants’ belongings and were kept in the dark on what was happening around them. At one point, he said, their heavily armed captors numbered more than 300.
“We were treated like slaves,” he said.
After the militants decapitated Ridsdel, Sekkingstad was threatened by the militants, who repeatedly told him, “You’re next.”
When the negotiations for his release began in recent months, Sekkingstad said the rebels began treating him better.
It was not immediately clear whether Sekkingstad had been ransomed off. Duterte suggested at a news conference last month that 50 million pesos ($1 million) had been paid to the militants, but that they continued to hold on to him. The military said Saturday that relentless assaults forced the extremists to release the hostage.
In Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg thanked Duterte and Dureza, and said his government supports the Philippines “in their fight against terrorism.” Solberg told Norway’s NTB national news agency that “Norwegian officials had not participated in any payment of ransom or made any concessions in the matter.”
Philippine forces launched a major offensive against the Abu Sayyaf after the beheadings of the Canadians sparked condemnations from then-Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called on other nations not to pay ransoms if their citizens are abducted to discourage the militants from carrying out more kidnappings.
The three Indonesian fishermen freed by the Abu Sayyaf were kidnapped in July off Lahad Datu district in Malaysia’s Sabah state, according to regional Philippine military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan. Their release came as Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu was visiting the Philippines.
Five Indonesians, five Malaysians and a Dutch bird watcher, along with five Filipinos, remain in Abu Sayyaf custody, the Philippine military said.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the Philippines for deadly bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. Without any known foreign funding, the extremists have relied on ransom kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry, and some commanders have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State group partly in the hope of obtaining funds.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.