ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Friday on whether an upstate New York man was plotting to kill Muslims with an X-ray device or was just a big talker unhappy with American political and social trends and led along by the FBI.
Glendon Scott Crawford, an industrial mechanic at General Electric in Schenectady, could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted. He’s accused of attempting to produce a deadly radiological device, conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and distributing information about weapons of mass destruction.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Belliss said the 49-year-old Crawford even sought support in 2013 for the device from a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard in North Carolina, who was an FBI informant. That was something the agents and undercover investigators didn’t initially know about. They began tracking Crawford in 2012 after he approached two local Jewish groups with his technological idea for how they could defeat their enemies, he said.
“Mr. Crawford hated Muslims and other politically liberal people,” Belliss told the jurors. He replayed earlier Friday the first secretly taped conversation of Crawford with another FBI informant in which Crawford said, “I think Islam is an opportunist infection of DNA” and “Radiation poisoning is a beautiful thing.”
According to the prosecutor, Crawford’s tireless pursuit of the plan drove the investigation. The evidence showed he was “cold, calculated” and “committed.” He was not “cartoonish” or “a goofy simpleton,” as the defense suggested, the prosecutor said.
In one videotape replayed Friday, when asked about the best viable local targets, Crawford mentioned an Albany storefront mosque and the New York governor’s mansion.
Defense attorney Kevin Luibrand said federal agents and their informants kept making contact with Crawford over the 13-month investigation and they eventually provided a an X-ray device in a remote warehouse that never worked. His client, a Navy veteran and family man, had no criminal history, he said.
“A government agent got the radiological device,” Luibrand said. “The government produced it, ordered it, paid for it.”
Undercover agents by law cannot be counted as part of the criminal conspiracy, which requires at least two people. While co-defendant Eric Feight has pleaded guilty to supporting terrorists by building a remote control for the machine, he and Crawford didn’t conspire to obtain the actual device, the defense lawyer said.
BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group’s demolition of the St. Elian Monastery in the central Syrian province of Homs is the latest in a long campaign that has destroyed or extensively damaged some of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological and cultural sites.
Some of the world’s most precious cultural treasures, including ancient sites in the cradle of civilization, are in areas controlled by the group and at the mercy of extremists bent on wiping out all non-Islamic culture and history. In addition to pre-Islamic sites, the militants have also targeted churches, mosques and museums.
The rampage, targeting priceless cultural artifacts often spanning thousands of years, has sparked global outrage and accusations of war crimes. The militants are also believed to be selling ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their bloody campaign across the region.
In May, the extremists captured the central Syrian town of Palmyra raising fears they would demolish the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city at the edge of the town — a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the Mideast’s most iconic archaeological sites.
Here’s a look at some of the major sites destroyed by IS in Iraq and Syria, and others under their control:
ST. ELIAN: The 1,500-year-old monastery had already been damaged by Syrian government shelling in recent weeks, according to an official with an organization representing Assyrian Christians. On Friday, IS posted photographs on social media sites showing bulldozers destroying the monastery.
PALMYRA: Islamic State fighters fully captured the central Syrian town, home to one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites, in late May. In June, the head of the Syrian government’s Antiquities and Museums Department, Maamoun Abdulkarim, said IS militants had destroyed a lion statue dating back to the 2nd century. The statue, discovered in 1975, had stood at the gate of the town’s museum, and had been placed inside a metal box to protect it from damage. In July, IS released a statement saying that six busts from Palmyra had been confiscated from a smuggler. Photographs released by the group showed IS militants destroying the busts with large hammers and the smuggler being whipped.
On Tuesday, IS militants publicly beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old Palmyra resident and antiquities scholar whose lifelong work had earned him the nickname “Mr. Palmyra in the archaeological community.
This week, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova told The Associated Press that satellite images of Palmyra revealed a network of holes dug in the area for “illicit excavations and then eventually trafficking and looting.”
NIMRUD: In the 9th century B.C., Nimrud, also known as Kalhu, became the second capital of Assyria, an ancient kingdom that came to rule much of present-day Iraq and the Levant and became a great regional power. The city, which was destroyed in 612 B.C., is located on the Tigris River just south of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, which was captured by the IS group in June 2014. The late 1980s discovery of treasures in Nimrud’s royal tombs was one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds. The government said militants destroyed the site in March using heavy military vehicles.
HATRA: One day after the destruction of Nimrud, IS militants bulldozed the 2,300-year-old ruins of Hatra, a well-preserved complex of temples south of Mosul and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The move was described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as a “war crime.”
MOSUL MUSEUM: On Feb. 26, a video emerged on militant websites showing Islamic State militants with sledgehammers destroying ancient artifacts at the museum in Mosul which they referred to as idols. They also destroyed the Nirgal Gate, one of several gates to Ninevah, the onetime capital of the Assyrian Empire.
MOSUL LIBRARIES: In January, Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul, smashing the locks and taking around 2,000 books — leaving only Islamic texts. Days later, militants broke into the University of Mosul’s library. They made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.
SHRINES: Last year, militants destroyed the centuries-old Mosque of the Prophet Younis — believed to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah — and the Mosque of the Prophet Jirjis, two revered ancient shrines in Mosul. They also threatened to destroy Mosul’s 850-year old Crooked Minaret, but residents surrounded the structure to protect it..
DURA EUROPOS: The 2,300-year-old city overlooking the Euphrates River is a remarkably well-preserved cultural crossroads, a city first founded by Alexander the Great’s successors and later ruled by the Romans and various Persian empires. It boasts pagan temples, churches and one of the earliest known Jewish synagogues. Satellite imagery taken last year show the site pockmarked with holes from pillaging and illegal digs. It also showed hundreds of people conducting illegal excavations.
MARI: An ancient city located on the site of Tell Hariri on the western bank of the Euphrates River in Deir el-Zour province. It is believed to have been inhabited since the 5th millennium B.C. and was discovered in the early 1930s. It has also been severely looted by IS.
TEL AJAJI AND TELL BRAK: Prehistoric settlement mounds in Syria’s far eastern Hassakeh province. Experts say both have been looted and destroyed, artifacts have been removed from both sites, and ancient statues — some dating back to the Assyrian period — have been smashed.
ROME (AP) — Italy’s civil aviation authority on Friday suspended the license of the helicopter pilot who flew low over Rome to drop flower petals during the over-the-top funeral of a purported local crime boss, the first head to roll in a scandal that has outraged city residents.
In addition to the flower petals, the funeral Thursday of Vittorio Casamonica featured a gilded, horse-drawn carriage carrying his casket and a band playing “The Godfather” theme outside the church.
The level of ostentation prompted Italy’s interior minister to demand an explanation from city officials — especially after reports that police and Carabinieri patrols accompanied the funeral procession.
Police identified Casamonica as a leader of the eponymous clan active in the southwest part of the capital but said he was “on the margins” of organized crime and hadn’t emerged as a suspect in recent mafia investigations.
A chastened Rome prefect Franco Gabrielli said Friday that such a scene of adulation for a purported mobster “never should have taken place.”
In an interview with the Catholic publication Famiglia Cristiana, Gabrielli blamed a breakdown in communications caused partly by August holiday absences, saying neither he nor the police chief learned about the police escort in time to do anything about it.
The civil aviation authority ENAC said it was suspending the license of the pilot as a precaution, given that single-engine helicopters are prohibited from flying over the capital. ENAC said the helicopter also flew below the 1,000-foot (330-meter) limit and violated regulations by tossing out objects without authorization.
The priest who celebrated the Mass, meanwhile, defended himself. The Rev. Giancarlo Manieri said he had no idea what was going on outside the church, that he did his job by celebrating a sober funeral of a practicing Catholic, and that he received no prohibition from doing so from his superiors.
Asked by Sky TG24 if he would do it all over again, Manieri said: “Probably, yes. I do my job.”
“It’s not up to me to block a funeral,” he said.
Manieri added that as soon as church officials saw the posters praising Casamonica affixed to the church they took them down.
One read: “You conquered Rome, now you’ll conquer Paradise.” Another featured an outsized image of Casamonica, looking very papal in white with a cross around his neck, superimposed over an image St. Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum with the words “King of Rome” underneath.
The funeral was the latest scandal to rock Rome following a summer of revelations of mafia-linked corruption among politicians and a breakdown in public transport and other services.
“It seemed like being inside a movie set. Ostentatious luxury, horses decorated in black, a carriage with golden decoration that probably not even Queen Elizabeth could afford,” resident Walter Grubissa said Friday.
Others said the service itself was sober.
“People inside the church followed the ceremony with care,” said Giovanni Segatori of the San Giovanni Bosco parish.
AP video producer Paolo Santalucia contributed.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
BANGKOK (AP) — The latest on the bombings in the Thai capital (all times local):
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says the investigation into Monday’s bomb blast that killed 20 people and wounded scores of others at a Bangkok shrine will be expedited.
In his weekly address to the nation, Prayuth also appealed Thursday to Thais to have confidence in the authorities to find the perpetrators. He said there are developments in the case, but didn’t specify them.
Prayuth also called on people to help revive Thailand’s international image, which was damaged by Monday’s attack. He said Thai people should make an impression on foreign tourists so they will tell their friends that Thailand is an attractive place.
— Papitchaya Boonngok, Bangkok
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says his government has accepted an offer from the U.S. ambassador for facial recognition technology in the investigation into Monday’s bomb attack that killed 20 people.
Embassy spokeswoman Melissa Sweeney told The Associated Press the U.S. stands ready to assist with the investigation as needed.
She says U.S. authorities “will continue to consult closely with local authorities regarding the attack and will provide assistance as appropriate.”
Prayuth, however, says the cooperation will not include U.S. investigators and is limited to the equipment.
Thai police have also raised a reward for the main bombing suspect who appears in the security camera video at the Erawan shrine shortly before the bomb went off.
Doves have been released at the Erawan shrine where a bomb blast on Monday evening killed 20 people and wounded nearly 130 others.
The doves were set free as scores of people — Bangkok residents, officials, tourists and workers — came to pay their respects to the victims on Friday. Balloons in the colors of the Thai national flag and a large banner reading “Stronger Together” were put in place at the shrine.
Thai police are stepping up patrols in a bid to ensure jittery tourists that it’s safe to visit the kingdom.
Military spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree says the number and frequency of security patrols both in uniforms and plainclothes have been increased around tourist sites.
He says security agencies have assessed that Monday’s bomb attack at the Erawan shrine in downtown Bangkok that killed 20 people and wounded scores of others was an act to damage the economy and the tourism industry as well as the image of Thailand. Another bomb was thrown Tuesday at a busy river pier but it fell into a canal and caused no damage or injuries.
Of the nearly 130 wounded, 63 remain in hospitals.
Winthai also told reporters Friday that police are in the process of tracking and arresting those sharing information on social media that create panic and confusion. He did not elaborate.
— Nattasude Anusonadisai, Bangkok
Among those taking part in the ceremonies honoring the victims of Monday’s bomb blast at the Erawan shrine are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu religious leaders.
Office worker Pratuang Limkul also came to pay her respects. She says: “(I came to) send the spirits of those in this place to rest in peace.”
— Yves Dam Van, Bangkok
Religious ceremonie are being held to honor the victims of the deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine four days ago.
High-ranking government officials and diplomats are taking part in the ceremony involving five different religions in memory of the 20 people who died. More than 120 others were hurt in the blast. No one has taken responsibility for the attack.
BANGKOK (AP) — Somber horns sounded Friday at the site of Bangkok’s deadly bomb blast as officials joined a multi-religious ceremony for victims of this week’s attack, the latest effort to show that the bustling capital was respectfully, if cautiously, moving on.
Four days after the explosion at the revered Erawan Shrine, at one of the capital’s busiest intersections, there were few solid leads into the perpetrators of the attack that killed 20 people and injured more than 120. Police were still searching for the prime suspect seen in a security video dropping off a backpack near a bench at the site about 15 minutes before the blast, a day after clearing two other men initially believed to be suspects.
Police on Friday were looking for a woman wearing a black shirt who appeared in the footage, seated near the suspect. They believe she could have valuable witness testimony, but she is not suspected of being involved in the plot, national police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thavornsiri told The Associated Press.
After being criticized for sending confusing messages, authorities Friday were more guarded in their statements. Police Col. Winthai Suvaree said on television that the police were making progress but that details couldn’t be disclosed.
Doves were released at the site of the bombing Friday afternoon, after a morning multi-religious prayer ceremony attended by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim priests and representatives. Government officials and diplomats laid floral bouquets at the shrine, an open-air Hindu temple popular with Chinese tourists.
Office worker Pratuang Limkul was among many Bangkok residents who also came to pay respects.
“I came to send the spirits of those in this place to rest in peace,” she said, after kneeling in prayer.
Many of the victims from Monday’s blast were foreigners. Among the 20 people killed, six have been identified as Thai and four as Malaysians, four from mainland Chinese, two from Hong Kong including a British citizen, one Indonesian and one Singaporean. Two victims remain unidentified.
The attack has raised concerns about safety in a city that draws millions of tourists, but life has returned to normal quickly. Subways and shopping malls were bustling and aside from bag inspections at stores and hotel entrances, there was little visible extra security.
Police have released a sketch of the main suspect, a man seen in the security video wearing a yellow T-shirt and carrying a large backpack — depicting him as a young man with eyeglasses and bushy, black hair — and offered a 2 million baht ($56,000) reward for clues leading to his arrest.
Police have described him as a “foreign” man but the military has said that it doesn’t believe the attack was the work of an international terrorist group — a mixed message that they have not yet clarified.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it. One is that the blast was a revenge attack related to Thailand’s recent deportation to China of more than 100 Uighur Muslims, or that it could have been carried out by Islamist groups expanding their reach in Southeast Asia.
Other speculation points closer to home. Muslim separatists have been waging a low-level but deadly insurgency in southern Thailand since 2004, leaving more than 5,000 people dead, but virtually all their attacks have been confined to the southernmost provinces.
There has been little violence aimed at Thailand’s coup. Political violence boiled over during 2010 protests, when the “Red Shirt” movement that supported the ousted elected government clashed with the military, leaving about 90 people dead.
Associated Press journalists Grant Peck, Tassanee Vejpongsa and Penny Yi Wang contributed to this report.
SHANGHAI (AP) — The man unveiled as principal owner of the warehouses at the center of deadly blasts in Tianjin also is on the board of a state-owned company that is ultimately controlled by the same powerful entity investigating the explosions, an Associated Press review of public documents found.
Corporate filings show that Yu Xuewei, the silent majority shareholder of Ruihai International Logistics, sits on the board of directors of a subsidiary of China Sinochem, one of the country’s most influential conglomerates. Like other large state companies, Sinochem is controlled by the State Council, the central authority overseeing the investigation into last week’s explosions at Ruihai’s chemical warehouses that killed at least 114 people and displaced thousands.
Yu’s connections hint at the extent of his political network and showcase the complexity of China’s political system, in which the entity running an investigation can be linked to the company it is investigating. Major state-owned Chinese companies often are accused of ignoring safety and other regulations, especially Cabinet-level enterprises whose chief executives have a higher status in the ruling Communist Party hierarchy than the regulators who are supposed to oversee them.
The subsidiary where Yu serves as a director, Tianjin Port Sinochem Dangerous Goods Logistics Co., also has been accused of violating safety standards at its own hazmat warehouses. The environmental group Greenpeace released an investigation this week saying Tianjin Port Sinochem and its sister company, Sinochem Tianjin Binhai Logistic Corp., operated hazardous chemical warehouses less than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from a major highway, schools and residences, in violation of Chinese safety laws.
China Sinochem has tried to distance itself from Ruihai. Two days after the explosions it published a statement acknowledging that former staff members worked at Ruihai, but disavowing any deeper links. Sinochem wrote that Ruihai “has no relationship with Sinochem or its affiliated companies” and that former employees had “all long terminated employment” with Sinochem and its affiliates.
Current corporate records, however, show that Yu was a director Tianjin Port Sinochem even after he founded Ruihai. Those records, filed with the Administration for Industry and Commerce in Tianjin, were last updated in February and no subsequent changes to the board have been recorded. The majority owner of Sinochem Logistics is Sinochem Tianjin Co., a subsidiary of China Sinochem, AIC records show.
Attempts to reach Sinochem for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. No one at Tianjin Port Sinochem answered the phone. Sinochem Tianjin Binhai Logistic Corp. referred questions to the Sinochem Group. Calls, emails and a text message to Sinochem’s spokesman were not returned.
Yu admitted to using his political influence to get around safety norms in an interview published Wednesday by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, which was granted exclusive access to him in detention. He said he masked his affiliation with Ruihai by registering his 55 percent stake in the name of his wife’s cousin.
The now-destroyed Ruihai warehouses violated Chinese law because they were less than 600 meters (2,000 feet) from a large housing complex, highway and light rail station — and for other reasons. Ruihai was licensed to warehouse hazardous chemicals only through Oct. 16, 2014, according to Administration for Industry and Commerce records. Ruihai obtained a port license in June 2015 that again allowed them to work with dangerous chemicals, but in the interim handled hazmat without a license, according to Xinhua. Ruihai also failed to file annual reports in 2013 and 2014, according to its filings.
Yu owns Ruihai with Dong Shexuan, whose father used to be chief of police at Tianjin Port and put his shares in the name of a schoolmate, according to Xinhua. Both men have been detained by police.
Dong told Xinhua, “My connections cover police and fire, and Yu Xuewei’s connections cover work safety, port management, customs, maritime affairs, environmental protection.”
Despite such stark revelations in China’s official media, the full web of interlocking interests and ownership behind Ruihai remains murky. The scope of published investigations has been largely restricted to Ruihai’s local power network. Reports in Chinese media exploring Ruihai’s connection with Sinochem have been censored.
Sinochem, founded one year after the People’s Republic of China itself was born, has interests in energy, agriculture, chemicals, real estate and financial services. Sinochem said in its latest annual report that it has 50,000 employees and more than 300 subsidiaries.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, has set up a panel to investigate the accident, which has sparked public outrage at regulatory and safety lapses and gross chemical contamination in one of China’s largest cities.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the political response has spiraled to the top levels of power. President Xi Jinping and other top leaders of the ruling Communist Party put out a statement calling the blasts “a profound lesson paid with blood” and vowed to punish those responsible, the People’s Daily reported Friday.
The government has been struggling to manage signs of deep-seated frustration about the powerful and well-connected using their status to flout rules and endanger the public. Media coverage has been tightly monitored and censorship of social media commentary has surged. Many of those impacted were middle-class homeowners who had bought into Beijing’s vision of Tianjin as a rising economic gateway to China’s northeast.
“If our homes are gone how can we have the faith to support and love the party or the country?” said Niu Guijun, who purchased a home near the blast site in 2013.
Ruihai’s links to the State Council illustrate the overlapping corporate, political and regulatory interests that are the norm in China’s one-party system.
“Who tries to monitor how the industry works — regulators — government officers who develop safety policy, and also the commercial business owners, all these interests are mixed,” said Fu King-wa, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Center. “I think a lot of people find this a problem, but there’s no channel to try and execute reform in a political manner.”
Yu and the reported frontman for his shares in Ruihai, Li Liang, played roles in at least four other companies, according to Chinese and Hong Kong corporate filings.
Though Yu Xuewei’s name does not appear in Ruihai’s corporate filings in China, Hong Kong records show that he set up a company called Hong Kong Ruihai International Logistics Co. Ltd. in January 2013, less than two months after Ruihai Logistics was registered in Tianjin. Many mainland companies also register in Hong Kong to facilitate trade financing.
AIC records also name Yu as a board member of Tianjin Henglu Biopharmaceutical Technology Co. Ltd., which was set up in January 2014 to do development and consulting work and sell chemicals, though not hazardous ones.
Associated Press video journalist Paul Traynor contributed to this report from Tianjin.