US citizen charged with allegedly joining ISIS as sniper, weapons instructor: Feds

https://abcnews.go.com/US/american-citizen-ruslan-maratovich-asainov-charged-allegedly-joining/story?id=64440541

An American citizen who allegedly traveled to Syria and became a sniper and weapons instructor for ISIS has been charged by federal authorities with supporting the terrorist organization, prosecutors said Friday.

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Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kazakhstan, was charged with providing and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in Brooklyn federal court.

“The defendant, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in Brooklyn, turned his back on the country that took him in and joined ISIS, serving its violent ends in Syria and attempting to recruit others to its cause,” stated United States Attorney Richard Donoghue for the Eastern District of New York. “Our counterterrorism prosecutors and law enforcement partners will continue working relentlessly to hold accountable those like the defendant who have supported ISIS’s violent agenda.”

According to the unsealed complaint, Asainov, 42, first traveled to Turkey in late 2013. From there, he entered into Syria and allegedly enlisted to join ISIS as a fighter, according to the charges.

PHOTO: The Department of Justice seal is pictured in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2018.Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE
The Department of Justice seal is pictured in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2018.

Based on information from a confidential informant who said he communicated with Asainov regularly between August 2014 and March 2015, Asainov said that since joining ISIS his “faith in Islam had been renewed” and would send photos of himself holding a “large-caliber assault rifle, fitted with a scope.”

Asainov at one point allegedly tried to recruit the informant, telling him ISIS would give him “a job, housing, food and a $50 stipend per month,” according to the filing.

In a message to an associate, Asainov allegedly bragged that ISIS was “the worst terrorist organization in the world that ever existed” and expressed his hopes to die in battle.

Asainov was first detained overseas by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) before being transferred to to the U.S. and into FBI custody.

He’s expected to make his first appearance in court later Friday afternoon in Brooklyn.

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GOP lawmakers push back on Trumps intervention in possible Amazon contract

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/gop-lawmakers-push-back-trumps-threat-intervene-potential/story?id=64442751

Top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are warning President Donald Trump against intervening in a $10 billion cloud computing contract the Department of Defense is considering awarding to Amazon, according to a letter first obtained by ABC News.

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“While it is understandable that some of the companies competing for the contract are disappointed at not being selected as one of the finalists, further unnecessary delays will only damage our security and increase the costs of the contract,” writes Rep. Mac Thornberry, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Trump suggested Thursday at the White House that he could intervene in the process, which would be an unusual move, especially in light of the attacks Trump has launched against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump stands in the East Room of the White House during a ceremony, July 18, 2019.Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump stands in the East Room of the White House during a ceremony, July 18, 2019.

Companies who submitted bids for the contract included Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Amazon and Microsoft are the finalists, and the DOD is poised to make a decision next month. Amazon is viewed as the favorite to win the contract, but the process has been disputed by the competitors.

“I’m getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon,” the president said Thursday in the Oval Office. “They’re saying it was not competitively bid. This is going a long time, I guess probably before this administration. And we’re looking at it very seriously. Great companies that are complaining about it, so we’re going to take a look at it. We’ll take a strong look at it.”

Trump has often criticized Bezos, complaining that Amazon takes advantage of the U.S. Postal Service, that the company does not pay enough taxes, and that the Washington Post, which is personally owned by Bezos, covers his administration unfairly.

PHOTO: Rep. Mac Thornberry speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, DC, March 25, 2019.Sopa Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, FILE
Rep. Mac Thornberry speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, DC, March 25, 2019.

It is common practice for U.S. companies, especially defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to fight and go to court over massive defense contracts. But it is unusual for a president to become involved in the process.

In the letter, committee members say they are in charge of the process.

“Our committee has conducted oversight of this contract from the beginning,” it says.

Not all Republicans agree with Thornberry. Senator Marco Rubio wrote a letter to National Security Advisor John Bolton this week, urging a delay in awarding the contract, because it “suffers from a lack of competition.”

“Even though 200 companies were initially interested, DoD instituted such a restrictive criteria that only four companies bid on JEDI. DoD then further used the arbitrary criteria to eliminate two of the bidders, IBM and Oracle, leaving only Amazon and Microsoft,” Rubio wrote.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also expressed concerns about the process directly to President Trump while they flew on Air Force One together last week. Johnson has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest in the process, including the involvement of two DOD employees who may have had connections to one of the competing companies, and has encouraged the DOD Office of the Inspector General to investigate the matter.

“Given the significant amount of taxpayer dollars associated with this particular contract, I respectfully request DOD to delay awarding this contract to any company until DOD OIG completes its investigation,” Johnson wrote in a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

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Border Patrol has stored enough fentanyl to kill 794M, own agents at risk: Watchdog

https://abcnews.go.com/US/border-protection-stored-fentanyl-kill-794-million-isnt/story?id=64444041

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stored enough fentanyl in the past year to kill an estimated 794 million people, and now a government watchdog office is warning that the agency is “unnecessarily jeopardizing the lives” of its own agents by not sufficiently protecting them from accidental exposure to the lethal synthetic opioid.

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In a report released Friday, the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General said the amount of fentanyl seized by agents and stored in vaults has skyrocketed — from 70 pounds in 2015 to 3,500 pounds so far in this budget year. A single 2 milligram dose of fentanyl (there are 453,592 milligrams in a pound) is lethal for most people, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In some cases, the powerful drug can sit in a vault for years while the government prosecutes its case.

But when officials inspected several of the 62 vaults around the country operated by CBP, they found cases in which agents handling the powerful narcotic didn’t have access to naloxone, the drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. In other cases, inspectors found that the naloxone was locked away in boxes and agents couldn’t remember the code.

Naloxone is also known by its brand name Narcan.

“With the recent rise in fentanyl seizures, CBP staff now routinely handle fentanyl more than ever,” according to the IG report. “However, without easy access to naloxone in case of exposure, CBP is unnecessarily jeopardizing the lives, health, and safety of its staff.”

PHOTO: A Naloxone lock-boxOffice Of The Inspector General
A Naloxone lock-box

It was unclear if any CBP personnel were harmed by the fentanyl in the agency’s custody.

In a response letter, CBP said it concurred with the findings and promised that by the end of September all its vaults storing fentanyl will have Narcan kits and that its agents will be trained in how to use them.

CBP said it has trained more than 4,500 officers in how to recognize the signs of an overdose, deployed 3,300 dual-use Narcan kits in the field and outfitted its storage vaults with safety equipment such as gloves, masks and Tyvek suits.

Fentanyl may be mixed with other drugs and present in powder, tablet or liquid form, according to the IG. It is 80-100 times stronger than morphine and 30-50 times more potent than heroin. The drug can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

“Just touching fentanyl or accidentally inhaling the substance during enforcement activity or field testing the substance can result in absorption through the skin and that is one of the biggest dangers with fentanyl. The onset of adverse health effects, such as disorientation, coughing, sedation, respiratory distress or cardiac arrest is very rapid and profound, usually occurring within minutes of exposure,” the DEA said in a 2016 release.

“Canine units are particularly at risk of immediate death from inhaling fentanyl. In August 2015, law enforcement officers in New Jersey doing a narcotics field test on a substance that later turned out to be a mix of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, were exposed to the mixture and experienced dizziness, shortness of breath and respiratory problems.”

The DEA says that handling samples should be done in a well-ventilated area and that gloves should be worn at minimum.

Deaths from fentanyl in the United States climbed more than 1,000 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of fatalities was relatively stable in 2011 and 2012, with roughly 1,600 deaths each of those years, but it began to increase in 2013, reaching just over 1,900 deaths.

Then the death rate doubled each year, skyrocketing to 18,335 overdoses in 2016, the CDC stated.

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Iran seizes British, Liberian oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

https://abcnews.go.com/International/irans-islamic-revolutionary-guard-corps-seizes-british-flagged/story?id=64445522

Iran‘s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have seized a British-flagged and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, Britain’s foreign secretary said, in what appeared to be a significant new escalation between Tehran and Western countries.

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Late Friday, a management company for the Liberian tanker, Mesdar announced in a statement that “the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement he was “extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities.”

Iran’s State TV said on Saturday that the British tanker was seized after it collided with a fishing vessel and ignored calls from the smaller craft.

Late Friday evening, following meetings in Washington, D.C., with more than 60 foreign ambassadors, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced a U.S.-led maritime security initiative dubbed Operation Sentinel “to increase surveillance of and security in key waterways in the Middle East to ensure freedom of navigation in light of recent events in the Arabian Gulf region.”

The initiative, according to CENTCOM, “will nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance.” The statement does not specify the nations that have joined the coalition.

The British tanker, the Stena Impero, was crossing through the strait when it abruptly changed course and headed north towards Iran’s Qeshm island, ship tracking sites showed.

PHOTO: In this May 2, 2013 photo the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mesdar is seen at an unknown location. John Pitcher via AP
In this May 2, 2013 photo the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mesdar is seen at an unknown location.

That tanker’s owner and management companies issued a statement that the ship was “approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter” while in international waters. “We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran,” the companies, Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management, said in the statement.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said that its forces had seized the Stena Impero “due to non-compliance with international maritime law and regulations,” according to a statement carried by Iranian state news agencies. The tanker had been guided to shore and was already in port, the statement said.

The U.K. government has convened an emergency session of COBRA, its crisis committee, a senior U.K. official told ABC News, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to comment publicly. Hunt confirmed that he was attending the meeting to review “what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels.”

There were 23 crew aboard the Stena Impero, according to the statement from its owner, and currently there are no reports that any have suffered injury. Hunt said both vessels had crews comprised of a “range of nationalities,” but noted there were no British citizens on board either ship.

The seizure comes less than a month after the U.K. seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, accusing it of violating European Union sanctions by trying to ship oil to Syria.

Iran has repeatedly vowed retaliation since then and last week a British warship intervened to chase away Iranian small boats that approached another British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

PHOTO: This undated photo issued on July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran. Stena Bulk/AP, FILE
This undated photo issued on July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location, which is believed to have been captured by Iran.

Tensions have spiked in the strait again in the past few days after Iran said it had seized another Panamanian flagged tanker on Thursday accused of oil smuggling and the U.S. said it had destroyed an Iranian drone that approached ones of its warships. Iran has denied any of its drones were destroyed.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that the U.S. would be speaking to British officials about the situation and noted that the U.S. doesn’t have many tankers passing through the area.

“We heard that,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House en route to New Jersey. “The United States has very few tankers going in because we’re using our own energy now. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last two and a half years. So we don’t have very many tankers going in, but we have a lot of ships there that are warships, and we’ll talk to the U.K.”

The government did say a U.S.-flagged ship, the Maersk Chicago, was traveling through the Strait of Hormuz late Friday and was being monitored.

“We have patrol aircraft operating in international airspace monitoring the situation within the Strait of Hormuz,” said Lt. Col. Earl Brown, CENTCOM Chief of Media Operations. “U.S. Naval Forces Central Command has been in contact with U.S. ships operating in the area to ensure their safety.”

The president noted multiple times that the U.S. and U.K. don’t have a “written agreement,” but that the two countries were strong allies and that “they’ll have a new prime minister soon, which is a good thing.”

Later, he said that Iran was “trouble, nothing but trouble.”

The White House National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said the council is aware of the reports of the tanker’s seizure.

“We are aware of reports that Iranian boats seized a British oil tanker,” he said. “This is the second time in just over a week the U.K. has been the target of escalatory violence by the Iranian regime. The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior.”

ABC News’ Elizabeth McLaughlin and Cindy Smith contributed to this report.

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Hong Kong police find large cache of explosives ahead of weekend protests: Reports

https://abcnews.go.com/International/hong-kong-police-find-large-cache-explosives-ahead/story?id=64457649

Hong Kong authorities seized a large haul explosives and weapons in a raid Friday, leading to an arrest and an investigation just as the city braces for another mass protest, according to local reports.

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The discovery comes ahead of the latest of ongoing demonstrations, in part calling on the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, to resign after a widely criticized bill that would have cleared the way for extraditions to China.

PHOTO:People attend a pro-government rally outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, July 20, 2019.Tengku Bahar/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO:People attend a pro-government rally outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, July 20, 2019.

In what police said was the “largest” seizure they have ever made, they also found the highly dangerous explosive substance, tri-acetone peroxide, or TATP, which gained notoriety after it was used in the deadly London bombings in 2005. Fifty-two people were killed and hundreds were injured in the attack.

Following a tip, police on Friday carried out a late-night raid at the Lung Shing Factory Building, according to local reports.

PHOTO: Lung Shing Factory is pictured in this undated image from Google.Google Street View
Lung Shing Factory is pictured in this undated image from Google.

The Associated Press reported that 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds, of the TATP was seized along with weapons, including petrol bombs, knives and metal rods, kerosene, hard hats and googles.

Also found at the scene were banners and leaflets against the recent and controversial extradition bill, as well as T-Shirts bearing the logo of a well-known Hong Kong independence group.

The Hong Kong National Front has confirmed in a statement on the Telegram app, according to local media, that a 27-year-man was arrested and was one of its members, but that they had no knowledge of the explosives.

ABC News was not able to independently confirm that

In recent months, millions of residents in Hong Kong have protested against what they perceive as creeping Chinese influence in Hong Kong domestic politics.

While the vast majority of demonstrators have been peaceful, there have been pockets of violence where small groups have clashed with riot police.

PHOTO: Pro- Beijing demonstrators gather outside the Legislative Council Complex to show their support to the police on July 20, 2019, in Hong Kong.Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images
Pro- Beijing demonstrators gather outside the Legislative Council Complex to show their support to the police on July 20, 2019, in Hong Kong.

Opponents of the extradition bill believed it was being used as a political tool to allow mainland China to pursue political and religious opponents in Hong Kong.

After mass protests, Lam, who activists say is beholden to Beijing, announced that Parliament was suspending any action on the bill.

However, many protesters continue to demand her resignation.

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Miss Michigan stripped of her title over offensive social media posts

https://abcnews.go.com/US/kathy-zhu-miss-michigan-2019-stripped-title-offensive/story?id=64459158

A Michigan beauty queen was stripped of her title over comments she made on social media about Muslim women and black people, she said.

Executives with Miss World America told Kathy Zhu, the Miss Michigan 2019 winner, that her “offensive, insensitive and inappropriate” posts on social media were in violation of the organization’s rules and conditions, according to email screenshots posted by Zhu on Thursday.

“Therefore, and effective immediately, MWA does not recognize you as a participant of any sort or in any capacity as it relates to any and all events of MWA,” the email read.

One of the Twitter posts in question read, “Did you know that the majority of black deaths are caused by other blacks? Fix problems within your own community first before blaming others.”

The other read,” There is a ‘try a hijab on’ booth at my college campus. So you’re telling me that it’s now just a fashion accessory and not a religious thing? Or are you just trying to get women used to being oppressed under Islam?”

PHOTO: A tiara is pictured in this undated stock photo.STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images
A tiara is pictured in this undated stock photo.

It was posted on World Hijab Day in 2018.

Both posts have been deleted.

Zhu, a Donald Trump supporter and the vice chair of the University of Michigan’s College Republicans group, pushed back at the organization, saying she was discriminated against. She said the tweets were “statistics and facts.”

“This is about an organization discriminating against people with different opinions, calling people racist even when they’re not,” she said in a Twitter video Friday. “Just little attacks like those just really diminishes the value and the truth of the word racism.”

Emails to Miss World America were not immediately returned.

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Trump says hell “personally vouch” for rapper A$AP Rocky

https://abcnews.go.com/US/trump-hell-personally-vouch-rapper-aap-rocky/story?id=64458502

President Donald Trump said on Twitter he had offered to “personally vouch” for A$AP Rocky’s bail after the rapper was jailed in Sweden following a street fight.

“Just had a very good call with @SwedishPM Stefan Löfven who assured me that American citizen A$AP Rocky will be treated fairly. Likewise, I assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk and offered to personally vouch for his bail, or an alternative,” Trump tweeted early Saturday, adding that he would speak again to the Swedish prime minister in the next 48 hours.

Mayers is part of the hip-hop collective A$AP Mob, and was in Sweden for the European leg of his tour. He has been in pre-trial detention since July 2, following a June 30 street fight in Stockholm. Two other performers he was with, Bladimir Corniel and David Rispers, were also detained.

On Saturday, Sweden’s Löfven said he was aware Trump “has a personal interest in the case,” but had that it was not appropriate for the Swedish head of state to intervene, the Associated Press reported.

“I will explain that the Swedish judicial system is independent. In Sweden, everyone is equal before the law, and this includes visitors from other countries,” Löfven said.

PHOTO: A$AP Rocky performs during the 42nd American Music Awards in Los Angeles, Nov. 23, 2014.Mario Anzuoni/Reuters, FILE
A$AP Rocky performs during the 42nd American Music Awards in Los Angeles, Nov. 23, 2014.

The rapper has also found an ally in Kim Kardashian West, who has directly appealed to the Trump. Last summer, Alice Johnson, who had been serving life on drug charges, was granted clemency by Trump and released from prison after West visited the White House and appealed for Trump’s help.

Trump also said that First Lady Melania Trump asked him to help the rapper.

The State Department announced on Wednesday that Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch traveled to Sweden and is in the country currently.

The rapper is “suspected of aggravated assault,” according to a press release posted to the website of the Stockholm prosecutor’s office. But the rapper’s attorney told ABC News that he and his companions were acting in self-defense.

“This is unjust because he is incarcerated because the prosecutor is applying the rule of ‘flight right,” A$AP Rocky’s Swedish attorney, Sloban Jovicic, told ABC News in a phone interview on Friday. “There is no risk for flight risk or escape because A$AP would never jeopardize his career, brand, support from his fans, friends and celebrities all over the world,” Jovicic said.

“You have to also see this from his point of view, he came to Sweden to perform for his fans and he was attacked, followed and harassed,” Jovicic said on Friday. “My client begged and pleaded with these attackers to stop and he acted in self defense. And now he is the one in jail. That’s unjust.”

Trump’s tweets marked the second day of public presidential support for the imprisoned hip hop star — whose given name is Rakim Mayers. On Friday, Trump told reporters his office had been working with Sweden’s Löfven to get the star released.

“A$AP Rocky is a situation in Sweden. Sweden’s a great country and they’re friends of mine, the leadership. And we are going to be calling, we’ll be talking to them, we’ve already started and many, many members of the African-American community have called me — friends of mine, and said could you help?” Trump told reporters on Friday.

ABC News’ Sabina Ghebremedhin and Deena Zaru contributed to this report.

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