Nation and World briefs for March 14

Trump views designs for border wall while bashing California

SAN DIEGO — President Donald Trump on Tuesday eagerly inspected eight towering prototypes for his long-sought wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and accused California of putting “the entire nation at risk” by refusing to take tough action against illegal immigration.

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Trump, making his first trip to California as president, said he preferred a fully concrete wall because it was the hardest to climb, but he noted that it needed to be see-through. He said the first thing he noticed on the drive to the border was the patched-up holes in part of the existing fence.

“We have a lousy wall over here now, but at least it stops 90, 95 percent,” Trump said. “When we put up the real wall, we’re going to stop 99 percent. Maybe more than that.”

Trump’s visit was greeted with peaceful protests by demonstrators both for and against his planned wall. The trip came amid an escalating battle between his administration and the liberal state, which has refused to help federal agents detain immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

The president renewed his criticism of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, saying Tuesday that he was presiding over sky-high tax rates and that the state’s sanctuary policies “put the entire nation at risk.”

Turkish forces surround Kurdish town in northern Syria

BEIRUT — Turkey said Tuesday its troops and allied Syrian fighters have encircled the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in northern Syria, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians under siege and marking a significant military advance in the seven-week operation.

Turkey launched its assault on the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces that it views as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. The Turkish military said the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave of the same name, began Monday after the military took control of “critical areas.”

A passage out of Afrin remained partially open, and thousands of people have reportedly fled the town, heading toward nearby areas controlled by the Syrian government. Syria’s Al-Ikhbariya TV showed cars, trucks and tractors loaded with civilians driving out of the town.

Panic was spreading in the town as the Turkish forces approached, and some civilians came under fire when they tried to leave, according to residents and Syrian Kurdish officials.

Azad Mohamed, a 32-year old resident, said his relatives were fired upon as they tried to escape Monday, forcing them to turn back. He said he can’t decide whether to risk the journey out of Afrin with his two children or to remain in place.

“Most of the time, I swear, I am acting like a mad man. When I sit down for two minutes, I get up again and start pacing to ease the tension,” he told The Associated Press in a series of text messages. “Every time I remember they (Turkish forces) are closer, I think of my wife and kids and parents. I am afraid and I feel like there is a volcano in my belly.”

Col. Moataz Raslan, commander of one of the Turkey-allied opposition groups, said the Kurdish fighters in Afrin should surrender or leave the area. He said it was the Kurdish fighters who were preventing civilians from leaving and firing on those who do.

But Mohamed said most of the Kurdish fighters come from the area and would never give up their hometown. “Their families will never forgive them if they leave,” he said.

A top Syrian Kurdish official, Fawza Yousef, described intense Turkish shelling of the town and said Turkish forces were expected to “invade” soon.

Elsewhere in Syria, dozens of civilians were evacuated from the besieged, rebel-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, arriving on foot and in buses at an army checkpoint set up by the Syrian and Russian militaries.

Families of 2 Austin package bomb victims knew each other

AUSTIN, Texas — Families of two people killed by package bombs left on their doorsteps in Austin knew each other and were connected through local activism in the black community, a civic leader said Tuesday. But it was not clear how they might be tied to a third household where a package bomb also exploded.

Investigators have said the three blasts that killed two people and wounded two others could have been hate crimes since all the victims were black or Hispanic. But they also said they have not ruled out any possible motive.

Draylen Mason, 17, was killed and his mother wounded when a package bomb was opened Monday in their kitchen. The teen’s grandfather is Norman Mason, a prominent dentist in east Austin. He was friends with Freddie Dixon, stepfather of 39-year-old Anthony House, who died in a similar attack in another part of the city on March 2, said Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Linder said, explaining that he was concerned by the fact that the families were acquainted.

Still unknown is what connection — if any — the two families had to a third household where another package bomb exploded Monday, wounding a 75-year-old Hispanic woman who remains hospitalized in critical condition but has not yet been identified.

3 Illinois men charged with Minnesota mosque bombing

CHICAGO — Federal authorities on Tuesday charged three men from rural central Illinois with the bombing of a Minnesota mosque last year and said one of the suspects told an investigator the goal of the attack was to “scare” Muslims out of the United States.

A statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield, Illinois, says the men also are suspected in the attempted bombing of an abortion clinic in November.

The Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, was bombed just before morning prayers on Aug. 5, causing a fire and extensive damage although no one was injured or killed. There was an attempted bombing of the Champaign, Illinois, Women’s Health Practice on Nov. 7.

The three men are identified as Michael B. Hari, 47; Joe Morris, 22; Michael McWhorter, 29. All are from Clarence, a rural community 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of Champaign-Urbana. A fourth man was charged with a gun offense, but he was not identified as a suspect in the bombing or attempted bombing.

A complaint said a tip in December led authorities to investigate the three men, after a person sent the local sheriff photos of guns and bomb-making material inside Hari’s parents’ home, where Hari often stayed. In January, a second informant told authorities that the three men had carried out the mosque bombing and the failed clinic bombing, according to the complaint.

Ropes, phone lights used in rescue after deadly bus plunge

LOXLEY, Ala. — Lulled asleep by the humming of their Texas-bound charter bus following a trip to Disney World, members of a high school band were jarred awake before dawn Tuesday when the rig ran off a highway and plunged into a deep ravine.

One person died, driver Harry Caligone, and about three dozen others were hurt, three seriously, authorities and the bus company said. Interstate 10 didn’t reopen in both directions for about 10 hours after the accident occurred between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.

The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known.

First responders used ropes to rappel down the more than 50-foot (15-meter) ravine in the middle of I-10 and then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack.

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The Channelview Independent School District said 40 students and six adults from the school were on board. Medical officials said at least 37 people, most of them teenagers, were treated at hospitals or other facilities in Pensacola and southwest Alabama for injuries that ranged from minor to very serious.

The sheriff said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the bus to enter the grassy median. First Class Tours Inc., the bus operator, identified Caligone as a longtime driver with the company.