Signs of the Times (3/25/16)

Security Breakdowns Failed to Prevent Brussels Terror Strikes

Explosions at the airport and a downtown metro stop rocked Brussels Tuesday, killing at least 31 people (including two Americans), wounding more than 100 and shutting down all public transportation. Belgium’s federal prosecutor confirmed the blasts at the airport were caused by a suicide attack. The explosion at the metro station was near buildings that house European Union institutions in central Brussels. More casualties were avoided when a huge bomb failed to detonate at the airport and the terrorist who brought it fled. Police, tipped by a taxi driver, raided a bomb making house in the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek and confiscated explosives. They also found a computer in a street trash can that contained a suicide note from Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers, who wrote in French that he felt increasingly unsafe and “did not want to end up in jail.” “We were fearing terrorist attacks and that has now happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said. The attack follows the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in November’s Paris attacks who was captured in Brussels last week after a four-month manhunt. A suspect in the Brussels suicide attacks was shot Friday as police carried out a major sweep in the district of the Belgian capital where investigators say the attackers hid and built their bombs.

Two days after the worst terror attack on Belgian soil, signs are growing that the Belgium government’s failure to address security warnings may have contributed to Tuesday’s bombings. Belgian authorities received a detailed warning about a planned terror attack on the Brussels airport in the days before the attack, reports Haaretz, an Israeli news outlet. Haaretz reported that other Western intelligence agencies also knew about an impending assault on the subway, planned by the caliphate of ISIS in Syria.  But law enforcement in Brussels was not prepared. The suicide bomber who blew himself up in a Brussels subway station had been wanted since December in connection with the Paris attacks, Belgium’s federal prosecutor admitted Thursday. At least one of the Brussels suicide bombers, suspected of being a terrorist, was deported by Turkey less than a year ago. “Despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter,” President Erdogan of Turkey told a news conference in Ankara on Wednesday, “the Belgian authorities could not identify a link to terrorism.” On Wednesday there were renewed calls for a pan-European intelligence agency that would effectively share information from different countries. A man arrested this week by French police for allegedly plotting an attack on the country has been linked by authorities in Belgium to the suspected ringleader of last year’s Paris terror attacks.

Hundreds of Terrorist Attacks since Paris

The Brussels terrorist attacks are the most violent to hit Europe since the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, but not the first nor even the hundredth. Since the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, there have been literally hundreds of terrorist attacks around the world. Factor out the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, and there still have been dozens of attacks over the past five months. Some, like the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., were well-reported. The attack in Ivory Coast earlier this month also was widely covered. But most attacks have flown under the radar. Below are just some of them:

  • 11/20/15: A group of al-Qaeda-linked militants took 170 people hostage, ultimately killing 20, during a mass shooting at a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali in West Africa.
  • 11/24/15: A bus loaded with Tunisian presidential guards was struck by a suicide bomber linked to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS)
  • 12/2/15: In the most prominent terrorist attack in the U.S. since Paris, two shooters, a husband and wife team, opened fire on the husband’s colleagues at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, an attack “inspired” by ISIS according to the FBI
  • 1/12/16: A suicide bombing in a popular central square in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, left 13 people dead and 14 people injured. All of the dead were foreigners. The perpetrator was identified as an ISIS follower from Syria.
  • 1/14/16: A series of suicide bombings and shootings in Indonesia’s capital left eight people dead, including four assailants. Another 24 people were wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility
  • 1/15/16: A group of al-Qaeda backed militants attacked the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. At least 30 people were killed, and another 56 were wounded.
  • 2/17/16: Kurdish freedom fighters attacked a convoy of buses, killing military personnel and civilians during evening rush hour. At least 29 people died and another 60 people were injured.
  • 2/26/16: A group of militants linked to al-Shabab killed at least 15 people and left others wounded after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the gate of the SYL hotel in Mogadishu.
  • 3/13/16: At least 18 people were killed and another 33 were injured when an al-Qaeda-linked group attacked the Étoile du Sud hotel.
  • 3/13/16: A second attack in Ankara, Turkey, this year resulted in the deaths of 37 people with another 127 people injured. As with the first attack, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for the assault.
    • The point? Terrorism is increasing and virtually all of the attacks are being carried out by adherents of Islam, the so-called ‘peaceful’ religion. Just as Genesis 16:12 prophesied about the descendants of Ishmael, they not only attack ‘infidels’ but either other as well. “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (NIV)

AP Reports Over 400 Terrorists Loose in Europe

Isis has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage, The Associated Press reports. Estimates range from 400 to 600 Isis fighters trained specifically for terrorist attacks. The head of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes , (R-CA) told reporters on Wednesday that there was some reason to believe that Tuesday’s attack in Brussels had targeted Americans. Nunes said he drew that conclusion based on location of the twin bombing sites: next to stands for U.S. airliners United, American and Delta at Brussels’s Zaventem airport, and at a downtown metro station less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. Government Admits Released Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Have Killed Americans

Prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay have killed Americans, a senior Defense Department official reported to lawmakers this week. According to the Associated Press, Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for Guantanamo detention closure, was speaking to the Republican-majority House Foreign Affairs Committee. “What I can tell you is unfortunately there have been Americans that have died because of (Guantanamo) detainees,” Lewis said. Currently, there are 91 prisoners at Guantanamo. There were 250 when Obama took office in 2009.

U.S. Cities Ramp Up Security in Wake of Brussels Attacks

U.S. cities and airports have stepped up security in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Brussels on Tuesday. Airports in cities across the country — including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia ramped up security in the wake of the attacks, though there are no known threats, according to officials. In Washington, police across the Metropolitan Transportation Authority metro system will increase K9 sweeps and police patrols. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed state law enforcement officials to “step up security at high-profile locations around the state, including our airports, bridges, tunnels and mass transit systems.” “The department has deployed additional counterterrorism resources across the city including the Counterterrorism Response Command, the Strategic Response Group and Hercules Teams,” said a New York Police Department spokesman.

U.S. Border Chief says Feds Fudging Numbers/Nationalities of Illegals

The number of arrests made at the border of people from Afghanistan and Pakistan is up significantly this year compared to last, the president of the National Border Patrol Council said when he testified during a House hearing on Tuesday, reports the Daily Caller. Brandon Judd, who served as a Border Patrol agent for nearly 20 years, also told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security that he has witnessed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials fudge alien apprehension statistics by low-balling the number of “got aways” — illegal border-crossers who enter the country but avoid being apprehended by border agents. Judd began by denying what he says is the Obama administration’s claim that “the border is more secure today than it’s ever been.” “As a Border Patrol Agent, I will tell you the exact opposite,” Judd said. The Obama administration fails “to give the American public key indicators such as the number of arrests of persons from countries with known terrorist ties or from countries that compete economically with our interests,” he added.

Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee Favored by Abortion Proponents

The media has been quick to brand President Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a “moderate” who won’t tip the ideological balance of our nation’s highest court. But the truth is, President Obama has nominated a Justice who will reverse the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy of defending the unborn’s right to life, reports the National Pro-Life Alliance. Ilyse Hogue, President of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) is pushing for the Senate to confirm Garland. And Cecile Richards, President of the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood, met with Obama immediately following his announcement of Garland’s nomination. Shortly after their meeting, Planned Parenthood launched a nationwide social media campaign advocating for Garland’s confirmation as well.

  • In Garland’s tenure as a judge, he hasn’t had to deal with the topic of abortion, so his public position is now known. However, we can infer his leanings based on the people and organizations supporting him.

U.S. Charges Iran-Linked Hackers with Targeting Banks, N.Y. Dam

The Justice Department on Thursday announced it has indicted seven hackers associated with the Iranian government and charged them with cybercrimes. The crimes include disrupting U.S. banks’ public websites from late 2011 through May 2013 and with breaking into a small dam in Rye, N.Y., in an apparent attempt to stop its operation. The indictment marks the first time the government is charging people linked to a national government with disrupting or attempting to disrupt critical U.S. infrastructure or computer systems of key industries such as finance and water. According to an 18-page indictment, the hackers were working for two Iran-based computer security companies — ITSec Team and Mersad Co. — on behalf of the Iranian government. The institutions and businesses affected included Bank of America, the Nasdaq composite index, the New York Stock Exchange, Capital One, AT&T and PNC, the indictment alleges. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the attacks caused tens of millions of dollars in losses.

Chinese Hackers Stealing Defense Secrets

A Chinese businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles to helping two Chinese military hackers carry out a damaging series of thefts of sensitive military secrets from U.S. contractors. The plea by Su Bin, a Chinese citizen who ran a company in Canada, marks the first time the U.S. government has won a guilty plea from someone involved with a Chinese government campaign of economic cyberespionage. The resolution of the case comes as the Justice Department seeks the extradition from Germany of a Syrian hacker — a member of the group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army — on charges of conspiracy to hack U.S. government agencies and U.S. media outlets.

Hackers Hitting U.S. Hospitals with Ransomware

Last week, yet another American hospital was tossed into chaos after its computers were infected by hackers. Methodist Hospital, an averaged-sized medical facility located in western Kentucky, got hit with ransomware, a particularly nasty type of computer virus that encrypts computer files. Hackers don’t give you a key to unlock documents until they are paid a ransom. It’s only the latest medical facility to be hit this way, falling in line with a prediction by cybersecurity firm Trend Micro (TMICF) that “2016 will be the year of online extortion.” An email laced with ransomware managed to make it past the hospital’s email spam filter, according to hospital spokeswoman Brandi Schwartz. Someone opened the email, which spread the infection into the network. The hackers demanded to be paid in Bitcoin (XBT), an electronic money that’s difficult to trace.

Obamacare Online Portal Logged 316 Cybersecurity Incidents

The web portal used by millions of consumers to get health insurance under President Barack Obama’s law has logged more than 300 cybersecurity incidents and remains vulnerable to hackers, nonpartisan congressional investigators said Wednesday. The Government Accountability Office said none of the 316 security incidents appeared to have led to the release of sensitive data on HealthCare.gov, such as names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers, financial information, or other personal information. Although GAO said the administration is making progress, its report concluded that security flaws “will likely continue to jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity and availability of HealthCare.gov.” The report also found “significant weaknesses” in health insurance sites operated by states, which connect to the data hub. Currently, 12 states and Washington, D.C., run their own websites.

Federal Appeals Court Slams IRS in Tea Party Case

In a blistering rebuke of the IRS, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court has ordered the tax-collecting agency to quit stalling and produce the names of organizations it targeted based on their political leanings. The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit gave the IRS two weeks to turn over the documents sought as part of a class-action lawsuit brought by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots. The NorCal Tea Party Patriots sued the IRS in 2013 after a Treasury inspector general concluded the IRS had unfairly singled out for extra scrutiny conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. “The lawsuit has progressed as slowly as the underlying applications themselves: at every turn the IRS has resisted the plaintiffs’ requests for information regarding the IRS’s treatment of the plaintiff class, eventually to the open frustration of the district court,” the judges stated in court documents.

Unhappy 6th Birthday for Obamacare

A February poll conducted by National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that only 15% of respondents said that they have benefitted from Obamacare while 25% say they have been harmed by the law. With Obamacare now six-years old, enrollment figures are also a disappointment: only 12.7 million people have signed up, just about half of original government projections. The New York Times noted that, “for many consumers, the sticker shock is coming not on the front end, when they purchase plans, but on the back end when they get sick; sky-high deductibles that are leaving some newly insured feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage.”

Temple of Baal Coming to Times Square

The New York Times reported that, “Next month, the Temple of Baal will come to Times Square. Reproductions of the 50-foot arch that formed the temple’s entrance are to be installed in New York and in London, a tribute to the 2,000-year-old structure that the Islamic State destroyed last year in the Syrian town of Palmyra. The group’s rampage through Palmyra, a city that reached its peak in the second and third century A.D., enraged the world, spurring scholars and conservationists into action. Numerous nongovernmental organizations are now cataloging and mapping damaged cultural heritage sites in the region.” Of course, most nonreligious Americans don’t understand who Baal was, nor do they really care, notes Charisma News. “But the truth is that many of the elements of ancient Baal worship are being mirrored in our society in 2016.” In ancient times, child sacrifice and bisexual orgies were common practices at the altars of Baal.

  • With growing support for abortion and the gay agenda, Baal is alive and well in the U.S.

Economic News

Red flags are rising on Corporate America’s debt. The average rating on U.S. corporate debt has hit nearly a 15-year low, according to a new report by Standard & Poor’s. “We believe corporate default rates could increase over the next few years,” according to S&P. The average rating on companies that issue debt has fallen to ‘BB,’ or junk status. That is even below the average S&P rating for U.S. corporate debt during and in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. There are already concerns about energy companies defaulting on loans due to low oil prices. But new tech firms like Solera and media companies like iHeart too have had their credit rating downgraded this year, according to S&P.

U.S. oil stockpiles skyrocketed by 9.4 million barrels last week to 532.5 million barrels, according to figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s roughly triple what analysts had been bracing for and adds to “historically high” inventory levels. Last week crude climbed above $40 a barrel for the first time since early December amid hopes that global producers will freeze their production at current levels. Now, oil prices are dropping once again. Fracking now accounts for more than half of all U.S. oil output, according to the Energy Information Administration. It’s a stunning feat considering fracking made up less than 2% of American oil production in 2000.

Millennials are graduating from college, starting new jobs, getting married and having kids. But one life goal that’s eluding a lot of Millennials is homeownership, according to a new NerdWallet analysis. It’s not that young people don’t want to own homes. In fact, most Millennials would like to buy a home but haven’t yet done so because they think they can’t afford it. A 2014 Fannie Mae survey found that 57% of young renters cited financial reasons for not buying a home. Those reasons included poor credit, high down payment costs, a low monthly income and too much existing debt as the main obstacles. Home affordability could also be a roadblock to Millennials as interest rates climb and the median price of existing homes keeps rising. In February, the median price rose 4.4% to $210,800 year over year, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Islamic State

ISIS launched a series of attacks Monday on Iraqi military interests, claiming its suicide bombers were responsible for the deaths of dozens of soldiers from Anbar province to northern Iraq. In some of the attacks, the Iraqi military said its troops responded and managed to kill the ISIS militants. Several of the terrorist attacks took place near the town of Albaghdadi, about 10 miles north of the large al-Asad military base in Anbar province. According to ISIS, five suicide vehicle bombers attacked an Iraqi military barracks near the town, killing more than 60 Iraqi soldiers. Three of the attackers were believed to be foreign, Separately, ISIS said a British suicide bomber named Abu Musa al-Britani detonated his car bomb as an Iraqi military convoy was leaving the al-Asad base, killing 30 Iraqi forces and destroying 11 military vehicles. from France, Jordan and Turkey.

A U.S. special operations team killed the Islamic State’s second-in-command in a pre-dawn raid early Thursday morning inside Syria, two senior defense officials confirmed to Fox News. Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Abu Ala al-Afri, had a $7 million bounty on his head by the U.S. government. Al-Afri is a former physics professor from Iraq who originally joined Al Qaeda in 2004. After spending time in an Iraqi prison, he was released in 2012 and traveled to Syria to join up with what is now ISIS. He was the top deputy to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and was considered the man most likely to take over for al-Baghdadi if he were captured or killed.

Syria

The Syrian army closed in on the Islamic State-controlled city of Palmyra on Thursday. The army identified three directions from which to storm Palmyra and was clearing all roads leading to it of mines and explosives. “We might witness in the next 48 hours an overwhelming victory in Palmyra,” an army spokesman said. “The army is advancing in a precise and organized way to protect what is possible of monuments and archaeological sites.” Since seizing the historic city in May, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has destroyed a number of ancient monuments at the Greco-Roman site. The group controls vast swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq. Syrian troops have entered the ancient city of Palmyra Thursday and are now poised to retake it from ISIS militants, Syrian state media reported.

Yemen

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike Tuesday against an Al Qaeda training camp in Yemen, causing dozens of casualties, a Pentagon spokesman said. The training camp was located in the mountains, and was being used by more than 70 terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The airstrike hit a former military base that had been taken over by AQAP militants about 47 miles west of the terror group’s stronghold city of Mukalla. A tribal member at the site said about 40 people were killed and wounded.

Cuba

President Barack Obama called for the U.S. embargo against Cuba to be lifted and for Cubans themselves to embrace change in a historic address from Havana. “But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba,” he said. Obama noted that there were still “very real differences” between the two countries, stretching from their political systems to their economic models, and made an extended appeal for greater freedoms on the Communist island. He said that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear” — a line that drew applause. He also said that people should be able “to organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully,” and that they should not be arrested for doing so. Obama told the crowd that democracy allows for the fullest expression of the ideals of any revolution.

Wildfires

Extreme fire conditions enabled several wildfires to spread Wednesday in the Plains states, scorching thousands of acres of land and forcing residents from their homes. In one Kansas county alone, about 180,000 acres were torched by a single wildfire. No injuries have been reported in any of these fires. Strong winds associated with Winter Storm Selene blasted across the Plains on Wednesday, which combined with low humidity to make for dangerous wildfire conditions. But there is hope in sight, as long as the weather cooperates. Conditions were expected to become more favorable for firefighters as the weekend neared, giving them a better chance to gain control over these infernos.

Weather

Winter Storm Selene clobbered areas from Denver to southeastern Wyoming Wednesday morning, dumping large amounts of snowfall at a very rapid rate. Up to 16 inches of snow was recorded in the California mountains as the system made its way across the West Coast. In parts of Wyoming and Colorado, more than a foot of snow has already fallen as of Wednesday morning. Interstate 25 was closed from Wellington, Colorado to the Wyoming state line Wednesday morning as the snowfall and winds picked up. More than 57,000 customers were without power Wednesday morning. Denver International Airport was working to get back on track Thursday after a fierce blizzard forced the airport to close for the first time in a decade on Wednesday.

A round of severe weather that moved across the southern U.S. Thursday spawned several tornadoes, including an EF2 that left damage to several mobile homes in northwestern Arkansas and injured at least two people. The storms are expected to continue moving through the south on Friday. The storms also dropped damaging hail in North Texas Wednesday night. Strong winds damaged at least 13 mobile homes in the Tampa area. In the Florida Panhandle, an 18-wheeler blown over during a storm shut down northbound I-65. Melbourne reported golf ball-sized hail.

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