'Bangladeshi' held after blast at New York bus terminal

Police respond to a reported explosion at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York yesterday. New York police said they were investigating an explosion of "unknown origin" in busy downtown Manhattan, and that people were being evacuated. Media reports said at least one person had been detained after the blast near the Port Authority transit terminal, close to Times Square. Photo: AFP

 

A Bangladeshi man with a homemade bomb strapped to his body set off an explosion at a New York commuter hub during rush hour yesterday, wounding himself and three others in what New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called an attempted terrorist attack.

The suspect in the incident at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a block from Times Square, was identified as Akayed Ullah, the New York Police Department commissioner said. The suspect had burns and lacerations while three other people, including a police officer, sustained minor injuries, according to a report by Reuters.

Akayed Ullah

Ullah is from Chittagong and is a US resident, said the country's police chief. He had no criminal record there and last visited Bangladesh on September 8, the chief said.

Ullah had a black cab/limousine driver's license from 2012 to 2015, after which it expired, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission said.

The weapon was based on a pipe bomb and attached to the suspect, police said. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking at a news conference near the site, described the device as "amateur-level."

 

De Blasio told the same news conference that the incident, which happened at the start of the city's rush hour, was "an attempted terrorist attack."

New York City was a target, said John Miller, deputy police commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

"When you hear about a bomb in the subway station, which is in many ways one of our worst nightmares, the reality turns out better than the initial expectation and fear," Cuomo told reporters. Later on CNN, he said the attacker apparently used the internet to obtain information on how to make a bomb.

WABC reported the suspect was in his 20s and that he has been in the United States for seven years and has an address in New York's Brooklyn borough. Police shut down the entire block and there was a heavy police presence outside the home.

First reports of the incident began soon after 7 am (1200 GMT). New York in December sees a surge of visitors who come to see elaborate store displays, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and Broadway shows.

The bus terminal is the busiest in the United States, according to the Port Authority. On a typical weekday, about 220,000 passengers arrive or depart on more than 7,000 buses.

More than 200,000 people use the Times Square station, the city's busiest, each weekday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The bus terminal is connected to different sections of the sprawling Times Square subway station - which serves 10 train lines - through a long, narrow below-ground tunnel that carries thousands of commuters during rush hour. Buskers and other entertainers at entrances to the tunnel often draw crowds.

Talking to The Daily Star, Shamim Ahsan, Consul General at Bangladesh Consulate in New York, said that they came to know from the media that the suspect was a Bangladeshi. He was in touch with the authorities and was awaiting confirmation of the attacker's identity.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington after the terror incident, reiterated the country's commitment to zero tolerance against terrorism.

Alabama Senator Shelby: State 'Deserves Better' than Election of Republican Roy Moore

FILE - Sen. Richard Shelby, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington.

Sen. Richard Shelby, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill, Sept. 20, 2017 in Washington.

Alabama's senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, said Sunday the state "deserves better" than the election of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of sexual improprieties with teenage girls four decades ago when he was in his 30s.

Shelby, in the Senate for three decades, told CNN he has already cast an absentee ballot ahead of Tuesday's special election, writing in the name of "a distinguished Republican" he declined to name.

“I’d rather see the Republican win, but I would hope that Republican would be a write-in," Shelby said.

"I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore. I’d rather see another Republican in there, and I’m going to stay with that story," Shelby said. "I'm not going to vote for the Democrat, I didn’t vote for the Democrat or advocate for the Democrat. But I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore."

Moore, accused of sexual misconduct by two women, one of whom was 14 during the time he was a local prosecutor, is locked in a tight contest with Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor. The winner will fill the remaining three years of the Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions, who resigned to join President Donald Trump's Cabinet as attorney general, the country's top law enforcement position.

FILE - Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a campaign rally, Dec. 5, 2017, in Fairhope, Ala.
FILE - Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a campaign rally, Dec. 5, 2017, in Fairhope, Ala.

Other women say that Moore pursued them for dates when they were teenagers, but Shelby said the "tipping point" for him were allegations made by the then-14-year-old, now in her 50s. "That was enough for me," he said.

Trump on Moore

Trump in recent days has mounted a full-bore campaign for Moore, ignoring the allegations of sexual improprieties against him and the fact that he was twice deposed as an Alabama state supreme court judge for refusing to adhere to federal court rulings. Trump says Jones would be a "puppet" for the top Democratic congressional leaders, Senator Charles Schumer and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

"We can’t have a Pelosi/Schumer Liberal Democrat, Jones, in that important Alabama Senate seat," Trump said in one of several pro-Moore Twitter comments. "Need your vote to Make America Great Again! Jones will always vote against what we must do for our Country."

Trump has recorded a robocall phone conversation supporting Moore that Republicans plan to use in the state on Monday.

To no avail, numerous key Republican leaders in Washington called for Moore to end his candidacy and said they will try to expel him from the Senate if he wins Tuesday's vote.

But Dean Young, Moore's chief strategist, predicted Sunday, "Judge Moore's going to go to Washington. Judge Moore's going to win, and I highly doubt there's going to be a Senate investigation."

White House Fully Briefed on Possible Security Fallout From Jerusalem Decision

People take part in a protest against Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Athens, Greece, Dec. 8, 2017.

People take part in a protest against Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Athens, Greece, Dec. 8, 2017.

 

The White House was fully briefed on the potential security fallout from officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing plans to move the U.S. embassy there.

The outgoing director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nicholas Rasmussen, said while intelligence officials offered no advice as to whether the move would help achieve U.S. policy goals, President Donald Trump was informed of the national security ramifications.

“Our role is limited to spelling out with as much precision and care as possible our assessments of what particular courses of action will lead to in terms of threats,” Rasmussen said Friday during an appearance at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“I can certainly say in the case of this particular policy decision [on Jerusalem], that was done,” he added.

Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Nicholas Rasmussen speaks during the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on worldwide security threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 30, 2017.
Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Nicholas Rasmussen speaks during the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on worldwide security threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 30, 2017.

Protests across Arab, Muslim world

Protests have broken out across parts of the Arab and Muslim world, from Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, in response to Trump’s announcement Wednesday.

Violence also erupted in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinians declared a day of rage Friday.

Militants in Gaza fired a series of rockets at Israeli towns. Israeli military officials responded with a series of airstrikes that reportedly wounded 25 people.

A Palestinian man was also killed by Israeli forces during clashes along the Israel-Gaza border.

Response from terror groups

Terrorist groups have also been quick to respond to Washington’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Al-Qaida’s Al-Sahab Media Foundation on Thursday called the move an act of “blatant aggression … against the sanctities of Muslims — a high-voltage shock,” and called on Muslims to target U.S. vital interests.

“Just as you kill us, you shall be killed; just as you bomb us, you, too, shall be bombed,” the statement said according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Islamic State also called for supporters to help “liberate” Jerusalem by waging jihad, against Israel and the West, in it’s weekly, digital Al Naba newspaper, SITE said.

State Department issues caution

Following Wednesday’s announcement on Jerusalem, the State Department issued a “worldwide caution,” saying, “U.S. government facilities worldwide remain in a heightened state of alert.”

“There’s no doubt but that in the short term, the near term there will be an increase in violence and we are at greater risk in certain places around the world,” Rasmussen, of the counterterrorism center, said Friday.

“Certainly, from a diplomatic security perspective, our men and women serving in difficult spots overseas, this will add to the security problem and add to the security complexity,” he said. “I can’t tell you how long that will extend.”

Still, at least some former U.S. officials said the Trump administration can help ease raw emotions gripping parts of the Middle East by reaching out to Palestinian and Arab officials.

“Say, publicly, we’re not prejudging the negotiations and we respect and understand that the Palestinians and the Arabs have claims and needs and rights in Jerusalem that have to be addressed,” former U.S. Ambassador and Middle East envoy Dennis Ross said.

“The more that can be emphasized the better it will be for trying to create a different atmosphere,” Ross said.

US Congress Passes Emergency Spending Bill

U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Dec. 7, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Dec. 7, 2017.

 

Congress has passed an emergency spending bill to fund the federal government for two more weeks, avoiding a partial shutdown that would have taken effect Friday night.

Thursday's 235-193 vote in the House split mainly along party lines. The Senate later passed the bill 81-14 and sent it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The stopgap spending measure will give congressional leaders a couple more weeks of breathing room to work with the White House and produce a final spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year.

Before Thursday's votes, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, both Democrats, held what appeared to be a cordial White House meeting with Trump, one week after they refused to meet with him when he said there could be no deal.

"Funding the government is extremely important, helping our soldiers is very important and helping average citizens is very important," Schumer said. "So, we're here in the spirit of 'let's get it done.' "

Pelosi outlined some of the issues she said had bipartisan support, including battling the opioid crisis, funding children's health insurance and supporting veterans.

While many Republicans want more spending on the military, Democrats demand equal spending hikes for domestic social programs.

Help for young immigrants

Pelosi also insisted that any final bill include help for immigrants, specifically young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children and now have led full lives in the U.S.; they've been educated and have begun careers here, and some have even joined the military.

Trump signed an executive order lifting federal protection for the dreamers, meaning many now face deportation. He has given Congress until March to come up with a better plan.

Many Democrats want immediate action on the dreamers, while Republicans want to put off the matter until tax reform and a budget bill are passed.

Last week, Trump tweeted that Schumer and Pelosi "want illegal immigrants flooding into our country unchecked, are weak on crime."

He had kinder words for them Thursday, though, praising them for coming to the White House to meet with him, and choosing to "put their responsibility to the American people above partisanship."

For American Politician, Opioid Issue is Personal

Josh Bell, flanked by his parents, Margaret and Delegate John Bell, in Loudoun County, Va., Nov. 6, 2017, is a recovering opioid addict. He credits his recovery to his family’s unfailing love and support.

Josh Bell, flanked by his parents, Margaret and Delegate John Bell, in Loudoun County, Va., Nov. 6, 2017, is a recovering opioid addict. He credits his recovery to his family’s unfailing love and support.

 

Virginia Delegate John Bell politely greets people at a town hall meeting, asking them about their concerns, which range from local road repairs to women’s rights to affordable health care. His focus in the Virginia General Assembly, however, has been battling the opioid addiction crisis that has been sweeping the nation.

It all started when his son, Josh, became an addict.

“He was in a car accident seven years ago and in the car accident he injured his neck,” Bell said. “And when he came out of the emergency room, he came out with an opioid prescription for 90 days, with five refills.” By the time his son finished the first prescription, he was addicted.

Unlikely addict

Josh, who lives in Texas, says unscrupulous caregivers helped fuel his addiction.

“The doctors never took an X-ray or a CAT scan ... all they did was the doctor looked at my neck for a second and then he gave me some Vicodin.

“I remember when I got home that night and I took it … it’s like the first time experiencing love.”

That’s when Josh developed an opioid addiction, which quickly turned from expensive pain pills to heroin.

“Heroin at that point saved me so much money, and the high was so powerful, I felt like I felt early in my addiction. It just got terrible from there.”

Josh says his addiction became so bad, “I was just doing whatever I needed to support my habit.”

The 32-year-old’s life started to crumble. His wife left him and he lost his job.

“I couldn’t enjoy anything because all I cared about was trying to get heroin,” he said.

Josh Bell, a recovering opioid addict, is pictured in Loudoun County, Va., Nov. 6, 2017. He became addicted to heroin soon after he was given powerful pain pills at the emergency room after he hurt his neck in a car accident.
Josh Bell, a recovering opioid addict, is pictured in Loudoun County, Va., Nov. 6, 2017. He became addicted to heroin soon after he was given powerful pain pills at the emergency room after he hurt his neck in a car accident.

Pill mills

Josh sought help at pain management clinics, but says it was a deeply disappointing experience.

“The doctors spent very little time with us as patients,” he recalled. “We never talked about recovery, we never talked about therapy. ... There were no warnings; they never told me that this was going to be leading to something greater than this or that I’m going to keep wanting more.

“They made me feel bad whenever I asked questions. So it was a pill mill is basically what it was,” he said.

Josh remembers the huge waiting area where he was surrounded by others struggling with addiction.

“Everyone was just sitting there hurting, and by the time you had the prescription in your hands, you were already experiencing a high ((because)) you know you are about to get back into your addiction full force,” he said.

During his entire ordeal, Josh’s family was unaware of what he was going through.

“Looking back,” his father said, “we didn’t really understand the addiction and we didn’t know what signs to look for to know he was addicted during this period.” But when he did find out, Josh says his father “literally flew down to Texas that day and that’s when my road to recovery started.”

Josh Bell, seen here with his girlfriend, Brianna Fauley, in Loudoun County, Va., Nov. 6, 2017, is a recovering opioid addict. He became addicted to heroin soon after being given powerful pain pills at the emergency room after he hurt his neck in a car accident.
Josh Bell, seen here with his girlfriend, Brianna Fauley, in Loudoun County, Va., Nov. 6, 2017, is a recovering opioid addict. He became addicted to heroin soon after being given powerful pain pills at the emergency room after he hurt his neck in a car accident.

A family disease

“When I visited him and he explained to me what had been going on, the first thing I told him is that I loved him and I supported him,” the elder Bell said. “Drug addiction or any addiction is commonly called a family disease. And I think that’s an accurate description because it’s not just the person who’s addicted who suffers, it’s the whole family,” he added.

Josh was lucky. Many who misuse opioids lack family or other support systems to help them deal with their addiction.

Opioid overdoses killed about 64,000 people in the United States in 2016, making it the leading cause of death for Americans younger than 50. And opioid addiction is rising.

That’s why having a support network in place is so important, John Bell said.

“Once someone becomes addicted to a drug — and with many opioids it can happen in a matter of five to seven days — there no longer is a choice; it’s a disease,” he said.

Bell and his wife, Margaret, found help and support to deal with their son’s disease from Nar-Anon. Known officially as “Nar-Anon Family Groups,” the organization is a 12-step program for friends and family members who are affected by someone else’s addiction.

Along with the emotional cost and social stigma associated with addiction — families are often reluctant to talk about the issue with others — they struggle with the high cost of treatment. While there are programs that provide assistance, it simply isn’t enough, John Bell said. He and his family spent thousands of dollars for Josh, but acknowledges not all families are as fortunate. He wants more programs for low-income families.

Effective legislation

As a state lawmaker, Bell has tried to use his experience and position to bring about change, often working with experts in the legal and medical professions.

“We put in a limit on how many pain pills can be prescribed for acute pain at the emergency room,” he said. They also put in money into Narcan, a nasal mist spray that, if administered quickly, reverses the effect of an opioid overdose. “So $2.4 million was put towards that so we make sure all of our first responders have the ability to provide that life-saving drug,” he said.

Life-saving measures

Those efforts are already having an impact.

Fatal heroin overdoses in Bell’s district of Loudoun County, Virginia, decreased 27 percent compared with the same time last year. And nonfatal overdoses decreased 14 percent over the same time period, according to Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman.

Bell, who recently won reelection in his district, says he’s just getting started.

“Because this is a problem that spans age groups,” he said. “I have met 13-year-old children who are addicted; I met a 78-year-old grandmother who is addicted, and everything in between.”

“I’m no one special,” Bell said. “I’m just someone who has a son who suffers from addiction. And there are so many people like me. And the more we can share this story, the more we can take this out of the shadows and get it out into a place where we can do some good with it and help those who are struggling.”

Josh Bell has been sober for nine months and is eager to use his experience to help others.

“All we want to do is once we find recovery is help someone else find recovery because we know how dark it was, and how good it feels not to live a lie anymore,” he said.

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