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FBI Arrests ISIS Sympathizer Accused of Plotting to Blow Up Christian Church

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A Syrian refugee, suspected of planning to bomb a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been arrested and charged with an attempt to provide material support to the Islamic State and spreading manuals on explosives.

The suspect, identified as 21-year-old Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, arrived in the US in August 2016. It is unclear if the man was radicalized while in the US or initially arrived in the guise of a refugee, but three years after setting foot on US soil, he devised a meticulous plan to attack a church on the North Side of Pittsburgh with an improvised explosive device, the US Department of Justice says.

Alowemer told a fellow ISIS sympathizer, who was in fact an FBI agent, that he wanted to avenge the killing of “our [ISIS] brothers in Nigeria” as well as inspire other ISIS supporters to carry out similar attacks all over the US. He gave the undercover agent a document titled “Beginners Course for Young Mujahedeen” and a manual on how to build a bomb to be used in an attack planned for July. The guide contained detailed instructions on how to build Molotov cocktails, landmines, IEDs, sodium bombs and other potentially deadly explosives.

He also provided the agent with satellite images of the church and hand-written notes detailing escape and arrival routes. The Syrian allegedly planned to deliver the timer-equipped bomb to the site in his backpack and then have his accomplices drive him to a mosque so they could be seen there after the explosion.

It took Alowemer at least three months to hone the details of his nefarious plan, during which he met with the FBI agent, whom he believed to be his henchman, four times. In late May or early June, Alowemer purchased what he believed were essential parts for the future bomb, including nails, batteries, ice packs and nail polish remover. His final meeting with the agent, in which he hoped to finalize the details of the attack, was scheduled for June 19, the day he was arrested.

The target of his thwarted attack was the Legacy International Worship Center, a small Christian church at 2131 Wilson Ave, which the suspect described as “Nigerian” in his recorded conversations with the undercover agent.

“Alowemer was aware that numerous people in or around the Chruch could be killed by the explosion,” the criminal complaint states.

Before nurturing a plot to blow up the church, he graduated from a local high school. While he arrived as a refugee, the failed bomber did not have permanent resident status, nor did he obtain a US passport.

Alowemer came onto law enforcement’s radar after he left a message in support of the terrorist cause online and later crossed paths with another ISIS sympathizer who was already known to the authorities. Prior to being effectively set up by the FBI, Alowemer was monitored for month. The authorities insist he has never posed a risk to public security.

Alowemer will appear before a judge on Friday to determine the conditions of his detention.

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Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access

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Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.

The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.

In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.

Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.

The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.

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HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.

“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”

The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.

There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”

Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”

The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.

Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”

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Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party

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Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.

Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”

A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.

The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.

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