Signs of the Times (6/14/16)

Orlando ISIS Terrorist Had Been on FBI Watch List – Summary of Latest Info

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the shooting at the Pulse nightclub Orlando that killed 49 people and wounded at least 53 others in the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11. ISIS said in a radio broadcast Monday that “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America” carried out the attack at the gay nightclub. American-born Omar Mateen, 29, from Fort Pierce, Fla., pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call shortly before the assault. After a standoff of about three hours, while people trapped inside the club desperately called and messaged friends and relatives, police crashed into the building with an armored vehicle and stun grenades and killed Mateen after failed attempts at negotiation. “It appears he was organized and well-prepared,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said Sunday. Negotiators described Mateen as “cool and calm.”

Other people are also being investigated in relation to the attack, U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley said. Some eyewitnesses were purported to say that others were involved in the shootings. Several regulars at the Pulse nightclub offered a startling revelation: They had seen Mateen there before, they said, drinking, arguing and talking about his family, reports the USA Today, possibly for surveillance. One man also said he recognized Mateen from an app used to arrange dates and hookups for gay men, supporting rumors that Mateen was gay, reports Fox News.

Mateen was a U.S. citizen; his parents are from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. The ex-wife of the slain Orlando nightclub shooter described him late Sunday as a mentally and emotionally unstable — and possibly bipolar — spouse who physically abused her during their brief marriage. Mateen was described by a former colleague as an “unhinged and unstable” person who repeatedly made racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. “There was never a moment where he didn’t have anger and rage,” Daniel Gilroy told “The Kelly File”. Gilroy described Mateen as a devout Muslim who brought a prayer mat to work and prayed several times a day. A Muslim speaker at the mosque in Orlando called for the death of homosexuals on a video shown by WFTC 9.

Two years his divorce, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in after reports from Mr. Mateen’s co-workers that he, the American-born son of Afghan immigrants, had suggested he may have had terrorist ties. The F.B.I. interviewed him twice, but after surveillance, records checks and witness interviews, agents were unable to verify any terrorist links and closed their investigation. Then, in 2014, the F.B.I. discovered a possible tie between Mr. Mateen and Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who had grown up in nearby Vero Beach and then became the first American suicide bomber in Syria, where he fought with the Nusra Front, a Qaeda-aligned militant group. Again, the F.B.I. closed its inquiry after finding “minimal” contact between the two men.

The security firm that employed Omar Mateen said it carried out two background checks on him and found nothing of concern. G4S said it had employed Mateen since Sept. 2007 and that he was off-duty at the time of the shooting early Sunday. Mateen was an armed security officer for G4S and the firm was trying to ascertain whether any guns used in the attack were related to his employment. The company, the largest security firm in the world, operates in more than 110 countries and has over 623,000 employees. G4S is headquartered in Britain.

Muslims Attempt to Establish Sharia Court in Irving, Texas

The group of Muslims who attempted to establish the first Islamic Sharia court inside the United States in the town of Irving, Texas received a devastating blow when the town’s mayor stood strong and refused to back down. Mayor Beth Van Duyne made a public Facebook post stating that she backs the new Texas law which prohibits any kind of foreign law from being practiced in the state of Texas. There were a multitude of illegal activities taking place behind the attempted formation of the Sharia court, including the fact that all four of the “voluntary” Sharia lawyers were not licensed to practice law in Texas, reports the Conservative Tribune. The rules of the Sharia court had different guidelines for women and men, with typical Islamic humiliation tactics to be used against women, which is constitutionally illegal. The Sharia court “lawyers” also conveniently failed to inform the city of Irving that they were operating a court inside of the town — again, illegal. “We don’t care about the bill. It’s not going to affect us in any way, shape or form. The bottom line is the foundation of this bill is anti-Islamic,” Zia Sheikh said.

Target Continues to Suffer for Transgender Bathroom Policy

Life continues to grow gloomier by the day for Target CEO Brian Cornell, who was reportedly called out by shareholders at the company’s annual meeting of investors this week for his refusal to admit that his transgender bathroom policy has cost the company billions. “Target’s shareholder meeting was appalling from beginning to end,” investor Justin Danhof, director of the National Center Free Enterprise Project, said in a statement released after the meeting, according to Breitbart. “Cornell just kept repeating the same vacuous lines about diversity and inclusion,” the statement continued. “He doesn’t seem to get that he has offended the sensibilities of millions of Americans.” Nor does he seem to comprehend that his company’s stock price has dropped by 18 percent since April, as he repeatedly tried to claim that Target has suffered “zero negative financial implications” from its policy.

Obama’s Net Neutrality Rules Upheld by Court

A federal court upheld net-neutrality regulations designed to preserve equal access to the internet, handing a victory to the Obama administration and a defeat to telephone and cable providers. The Washington-based court Tuesday denied challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s rules, which were backed by President Barack Obama. Broadband providers “act as neutral, indiscriminate platforms for transmission of speech,” the court wrote in its opinion. The ruling is a win for Alphabet Inc.’s Google, online video provider Netflix Inc. and others who championed the notion of an open internet where internet service providers are prevented from offering speedier lanes to those willing to pay extra for them. Challengers including AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. had said the rule would discourage innovation and investment.

Economic News

Retail sales grew more slowly in May after surging the previous month but still posted a solid gain. Driven partly by rising gasoline prices, sales increased 0.5%, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding volatile autos and gasoline, sales increased 0.3%. In May, gasoline station sales climbed 2.1% as prices continued to edge up. Partly offsetting the gains were declines of 0.9% at department stores, 1.8% at building material stores and 0.1% at furniture stores. After shopping with restraint in the first quarter, Americans splurged in April. That, along with higher pump prices, pushed up retail sales 1.3% in the second quarter, a 13-month high. But payroll growth slowed in April and was even more anemic in May as employers added just 38,000 jobs, leading some economists to predict a pullback in consumer purchases.

A surprising factor has helped lift oil prices back to the $50 threshold: militants blowing up oil facilities in Nigeria. The recent wave of sabotage on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure has knocked nearly 1 million barrels of daily production off line, adding to the country’s financial stress and dethroning it as Africa’s biggest producer. Nigeria’s oil production plunged to an average of 1.4 million barrels a day in May, its lowest monthly pace since the late 1980s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The attacks, carried out by a militant group known as the Niger Delta Avengers, combined with wildfires in Canada to deliver a powerful one-two punch to world oil supplies. Now the huge surplus that sent crude crashing to $26 a barrel in February appears to be fading, with oil nearing a balance between supply and demand.

Americans have set a new record for charitable giving. U.S. individuals, estates, foundations and companies donated $373.3 billion in 2015, according to the annual report Giving USA. That’s 4% more than the previous record of $359 billion set in 2014. Individual donors were, by far, the biggest source of charitable contributions, according to the report, increasing nearly 4% to $264.6 billion last year. Meanwhile, donations from foundations jumped 6.5% to $58.5 billion and charitable bequests rose 2% to $31.8 billion. Corporate giving totaled $18.5 billion, an increase of 4%.

Women continue to have a tough time when it comes to being appointed to a corporate boards, a new survey finds. Men land four of every five board seats, finds the survey by Catalyst, which specializes in finding ways to promote women within organizations. It’s even worse when it comes to female CEOs. They hold only 4.2% of the elite top jobs. “Our new Census shows little progress has been made at the board level, and even less progress has been made in the pipeline for women officers and directors – suggesting women are nowhere near the path to parity with men,” says Deborah Gillis, CEO of Catalyst.

Israel

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon made history on Monday by being elected chairman of the UN Legal Committee, the first time an Israeli has assumed that position since Israel was admitted to the UN in 1949. The appointment came despite fierce opposition to the idea from the self-described Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as several governments. “Israel is a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism,” Danon said. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the countries of the world.”

Islamic State

The U.S.-led air campaign is ramping up its strikes against Islamic State truck bombs and the facilities that make them as the militant group is increasingly resorting to suicide attacks against civilian targets after being forced out of territory across Iraq and Syria. “They’re kind of regressing back to being a terrorist organization,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, who commands U.S. air forces in the Middle East. The Islamic State has managed to detonate massive car and truck bombs inside Baghdad in recent months. In April and May, coalition pilots struck 112 car and truck bombs in Iraq and Syria, about 20% of the total 550 vehicle bombs targeted in the nearly two-year old air campaign, according to military statistics.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State said Tuesday it could not confirm reports that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in a U.S. airstrike. Army Col. Chris Garver, the top spokesman for the coalition in Iraq, told USA Today he was aware of the reports from the Islamic news agency AlhlulBayt and other sources. Garver said that, if true, Baghdadi’s death would be welcome news but would not signal the end of the fight. AlhlulBayt reported that the militant leader had been killed Sunday in an air strike in the Raqqa, Syria.

France

The terrorist who killed a police officer and his partner in Magnanville, France, broadcasting it on Facebook Monday night also threatened the Euro 2016 football championship in the Facebook video posted from the scene of the attack, reports CNN. Larossi Abballa, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS, said that the tournament currently underway in France “will be like a cemetery.” Police investigating the killings of a French police officer and his partner by the terrorist who pledged allegiance to ISIS, found a list of targets at the scene of the Monday attack in Magnanville, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Tuesday. The list included celebrities, rappers, police officers, prison guards and journalists, he said.

Syria

At least eight people were killed and more than a dozen injured Saturday in suicide bomb attacks in a predominantly Shiite suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Syrian State TV and Syria’s state news agency SANA said the blasts in the Sayyida Zeinab area just south of Damascus killed eight people and wounded 13. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people were killed and dozens were wounded in the two explosions. Police told SANA that the first blast, at the entrance to the town, came from a suicide attacker wearing an explosive belt. The second blast was from a booby-trapped car in the town. The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Libya

Libyan forces have retaken parts of Sirte from ISIS militants, gaining ground in the extremist group’s most significant stronghold outside Syria and Iraq, according to a Libyan military group. However, Libyan forces encountered fierce resistance Sunday, which included three suicide car bombs. One detonated near a field hospital in the city. In the ongoing offensive, forces supporting the U.N.-brokered government gained control of a port late Friday after fierce clashes with ISIS militants and are in complete control of the al-Sarawa area east of Sirte. The offensive has lasted almost two weeks and has left more than a hundred fighters dead and about 400 others wounded.

Yemen

A suspected U.S. drone killed three alleged al-Qaida fighters in an airstrike in the central Shabwa province, Yemeni security officials said Monday. The officials said the overnight attack hit the men’s vehicle as they were travelling near the town of Haban. The officials also said that in the onetime al-Qaida stronghold of Mukalla, on Yemen’s southern coast, troops from the United Arab Emirates and others in the Saudi-led coalition who are primarily fighting Yemen’s anti-government Shiite rebels conducted raids on homes seeking al-Qaida operatives. They say some 150 suspects were detained. Activists close to al-Qaida said the men were being tortured in prisons run by Emirati forces.

Philippines

Philippine officials confirmed Tuesday that Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded a Canadian man, the second Canadian hostage to be killed in two months after their demands for a large ransom were not met. The hostage, Robert Hall, was abducted from a marina last September along with another Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filipino. The other Canadian, former mining executive John Ridsdel, was beheaded in April. An Abu Sayyaf deadline for the payment of a large ransom lapsed Monday and police later found the severed head outside a Roman Catholic cathedral in Sulu province’s main Jolo town.

Weather

Severe weather and flash flooding struck parts of the Plains this weekend, causing flooding and prompting water rescues in Oklahoma. Sunday morning, water rescues took place in the Paoli and Maysville areas of Oklahoma, which saw up to 8 inches of rainfall Saturday. Water up to three feet deep was reported across State Highway 19 in Gavin County and numerous streets in Pauls Valley had to be closed due to water up to a foot deep. Flooding forced water rescues early Monday morning in Navarro County southeast of Dallas. In Trophy Club, north of Fort Worth, five homes caught fire due to lightning strikes. The slow-moving cluster of thunderstorms dumped torrential rainfall across parts of central Oklahoma Sunday morning. Rainfall rates were well over an inch per hour in some places.

Six people were injured and more than 40 homes were damaged after an EF-3 tornado touched down in Baker, Montana, on Saturday night. No fatalities were reported in Baker, with the most serious injury being a broken hip suffered by a resident during the storm. The electric substation in the town also sustained damage, so it is likely that power will not be restored until Monday.

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