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Mother of London Bridge attacker says the internet hardened, radicalized her son

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LONDON — The youngest of the London Bridge attackers pleaded with his mother to settle with him in Syria but instead moved to Britain where his extremist views hardened and he fell into the company of a bloodthirsty gang that launched the latest attack on British streets, his mother said Wednesday.

Valeria Khadija Collina last spoke with her 22-year-old son, Youssef Zaghba, by telephone just two days before he and two other men plowed a van into a crowd near London Bridge and went on a stabbing rampage. Eight people were killed and dozens wounded. All three of the assailants were shot dead.

Zaghba, an Italian national of Moroccan descent, initially told his mother that he wanted to go to Syria to start a family in a religious Islamic climate — not to fight. But he changed, she said, when he went to Britain about a year ago and was seduced by radical views propagated on the internet.

“Last year … when I went to England, he was … more rigid,” Collina, an Italian convert to Islam, told reporters in a series of interviews at her home in Bologna, Italy. “From his face, from his look, I could see there was a radicalization, as you say. And this happened in England, absolutely.”

The other two attackers were identified as Khurum Butt, a 27-year-old whose extremist views had been reported to police, and 30-year-old Rachid Redouane, also known as Rachid Elkhdar, a pastry chef who claimed to have dual Moroccan-Libyan citizenship.

It was not immediately clear how the three knew each other, but Collina said one of her son’s friends recognized one of the other attackers, though it wasn’t clear which one that was.

Butt, who was born in Pakistan and moved to Britain as a child, had worked in 2015 in the office at Auriga Holdings Ltd, which manages some Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in Britain. Company officials said they had no evidence that either of the other attackers worked at any of the franchises.

Both Butt and Zaghba were known to British law enforcement, raising questions about whether anything could have been done to prevent the assault.

Italian authorities said Zaghba was stopped at the Bologna airport in March 2016 and questioned, but never charged with a crime. Italian officials said suspicions about him were shared with British authorities and his name was listed in the Europe-wide intelligence-sharing system. He was also stopped at London’s Stansted airport in January, but let go.

Collina said police called her after her son was stopped at Bologna airport and asked if she knew he was going to Turkey. Collina said she urged them to detain her son and prevent him from going.

“When they asked him what he was going to do in Istanbul, rather than saying ‘tourist’ he said ‘terrorist,'” Collina told The Associated Press and other media, calling that a “mental lapse” and not a sign of intent. However, she said she and the police assumed he wanted to eventually go to Syria, given he only had a one-way ticket to Istanbul and a small backpack.

His passport and cellphone were seized, but he got them back after a court determined there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him.

Collina said Zaghba was monitored by Italian intelligence agents each time he came to Italy to visit her after that initial run-in with authorities. She said she told her son to be careful about anything he did after that, including surfing the internet, adding that she didn’t approve of his London friends and never felt comfortable in his London neighborhood.

Although news of her son’s death came as a shock, she said she could only share the pain of the victims’ families. “It’s something that has no sense, for any religion, or any ideology,” she said, choking back tears and calling her son’s actions a “deviation of terror.”

Seated cross-legged on cushions on the floor of her modest Bologna home, her head veiled, Collina said her last phone conversation with her son was “sweet.”

“He had gone to live in an outside building in the garden and was happy because he said it was bigger and when he opened the door there were trees,” she said. “And after I thought that these images of a garden were similar to the images of paradise.”

British security and law enforcement officials are investigating Butt as the potential ringleader of the cell, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the ongoing details.

Several people had alerted police to Butt’s extremist views and he also appeared last year in a documentary, “The Jihadis Next Door,” in which he is shown unfurling a black-and-white flag associated with the Islamic State group.

Butt’s family said Wednesday they were “shocked and appalled” by his actions. “Now, more than ever, we need to work together to stop the actions of the mindless few who claim to be acting in the name of Islam,” they said.

Both British authorities and Ireland’s Police Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan have said they had no evidence Redouane was involved in any terror cell during his time in both countries. Two people believed to have documents linked to Redouane were arrested in Ireland, though only one remained in custody Wednesday.

Redouane had previously been refused asylum in the UK in 2009. However, his 2012 marriage to Charisse O’Leary, a British citizen, allowed him a European Union identity card that granted him easy travel between Britain and Ireland. British officials declined to comment on why his asylum request was denied.

O’Leary said Wednesday she broke up with Redouane six months ago. They had a young daughter.

“I am deeply shocked, saddened and numbed by the actions of my ex-partner who has killed and injured so many innocent people,” O’Leary said in a statement. “My thoughts and efforts now are with trying to bring up my daughter with the knowledge that someday I will have to try and explain to her why her father did what he did.”

Although Redouane was born in Fez, Morocco, his father was Libyan. In 2011, the younger man allegedly went to fight Moammar Gadhafi and joined a militia that sent fighters on to Syria, according to British media reports that could not be immediately confirmed with Libyan or British authorities.

Salman Abedi, the man behind the Manchester bombing last month, also had Libyan connections. His family had sought asylum in Britain but later returned to Libya, where authorities say his father belonged to a militant group backed by al-Qaida. Abedi’s younger brother was being held for questioning in Libya.

Saturday’s attack — the third in three months in which suspects had been on the radar of security officials — has prompted Prime Minister Theresa May to call for tougher counterterrorism laws even if it means changing human rights protections.

Reaction to the attack has dominated the final days of campaigning before Thursday’s general election in Britain. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and others have criticized May for cutting police numbers by roughly 20,000 during her tenure as home secretary.

Since the attack, the number of racist incidents has spiked, according to London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan. Police have made 25 arrests for hate crime offences since the attack.

“I’m calling on all Londoners to pull together, and send a clear message around the world that our city will never be divided by these hideous individuals who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life,” Khan said.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

Colorado

Western wild fires continue to rage as authorities worry over July 4 fireworks

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A growing wildfire destroyed more than 100 homes in the Colorado mountains, while other blazes across the parched U.S. West kept hundreds of other homes under evacuation orders and derailed holiday plans.

Authorities announced late Monday that a fire near Fort Garland, about 205 miles (330 kilometers) southwest of Denver, had destroyed 104 homes in a mountain housing development started by multimillionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes in the 1970s. The damage toll could rise because the burn area is still being surveyed.

Tamara Estes’ family cabin, which her parents had built in 1963 using wood and rocks from the land, was among the homes destroyed.

“I think it’s sinking in more now. But we’re just crying,” she said. “My grandmother’s antique dining table and her hutch are gone.”

“It was a sacred place to us,” she added.

Andy and Robyn Kuehler watched flames approach their cabin via surveillance video from their primary residence in Nebraska.

“We just got confirmation last night that the house was completely gone. It’s … a very sickening feeling watching the fire coming towards the house,” the couple wrote in an email Tuesday.

The blaze, labeled the Spring Fire, is one of six large wildfires burning in Colorado and is the largest at 123 square miles (318 square kilometers) — about five times the size of Manhattan. While investigators believe it was started by a spark from a fire pit, other fires, like one that began burning in wilderness near Fairplay, were started by lightning.

Nearly 60 large, active blazes are burning across the West, including nine in New Mexico and six each in Utah and California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In Utah, authorities have evacuated 200 to 300 homes because of a growing wildfire near a popular fishing reservoir southeast of Salt Lake City amid hot temperatures and high winds. Several structures have been lost since the fire started Sunday, but it’s unclear how many, said Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forest, Fire and State Lands.

Darren Lewis and his extended family planned to spend the Fourth of July at a cabin built nearly 50 years ago by his father and uncle in a wilderness area nestled between canyons and near a mountain river.

Instead, Lewis and his family will spend the holiday nervously waiting to hear if a half-century of family memories go up in smoke because of the fire, which has grown to 47 square miles (122 square kilometers).

“There’s a lot of history and memories that go into this cabin,” said Lewis, 44, of Magna, Utah. “The cabin we could rebuild, but the trees that we love would be gone. We’re just hoping that the wind blows the other way.”

Meanwhile, a wind-fueled wildfire in Northern California that continues to send a thick layer of smoke and ash south of San Francisco was threatening more than 900 buildings.

The massive blaze was choking skies with ash and smoke, prompting some officials to cancel Fourth of July fireworks shows and urge people to stay indoors to protect themselves from the unhealthy air.

At least 2,500 people have been told to evacuate as the so-called County Fire continues to spread, said Anthony Brown, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Brown said the blaze, which started Saturday and is surging through rugged terrain northwest of Sacramento, has grown to 113 square miles (294 square kilometers) amid hot and dry weather expected throughout the day. It was 15 percent contained Tuesday.

“The weather is better than what we had over the weekend. But it’s still hampering our efforts and it’s an area of concern,” he said.

So far this year, wildfires have burned 4,200 square miles in the United States, according to the fire center. That’s a bit below last year’s acreage to date — which included the beginning of California’s devastating fire season — but above the 10-year average of 3,600 square miles.

Because of the Independence Day holiday, authorities are also concerned about the possibility of campfires or fireworks starting new fires because of the dry, hot conditions. In Colorado, many communities have canceled firework displays, and a number of federal public lands and counties have some degree of fire restrictions in place, banning things like campfires or smoking outdoors.

In Arizona, large swaths of national forests and state trust land have been closed since before Memorial Day. Some cities have canceled fireworks displays because of extreme fire danger.

In New Mexico, all or part of three national forests remain closed because of the threat of wildfire, putting a damper on holiday camping plans. The forests that are open have strict rules, especially when it comes to fireworks.

“We’re just urging people to use extreme caution,” said Wendy Mason, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. “We want people to have fun and enjoy themselves, but we prefer they leave the fireworks shows to the professionals.”

____

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City; Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco; Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona; and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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News

More firefighters called in to rein in Southern Colorado fire

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Crews struggled to rein in a wildfire that was spreading in several different directions Sunday in southern Colorado.
More firefighters were arriving to battle the blaze that has prompted the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes.
“It’s a very challenging fire, I’ll be honest with you, with all the wind changes,” Shane Greer, an incident commander with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, told residents Sunday.
Authorities said the fire east of Fort Garland was estimated at 64 square miles (166 sq. kilometers) after unpredictable winds pushed the fire both north and south over the weekend.
About 500 firefighters have worked to contain the flames since the fire began Wednesday. A second team arrived in the area Sunday and plans to take over fighting the fire north of Highway 160.
The first team will focus on the area south of the highway.
“Usually with a fire we can chase it … we haven’t been able to chase this because it keeps going in at least three different directions,” Greer said.
Authorities said they began assessing some areas this weekend to track destroyed or damaged structures. But they cautioned that conditions remain dangerous and said they want to be sure that information is correct before notifying property owners.
The fire was expected to remain active and grow in intensity with a warm and dry forecast on Sunday.
Highway 160 remains closed and officials said they could not estimate when it will reopen or when the evacuation orders will end.
The Costilla County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday said a man was being held on suspicion of arson in connection with the fire. It is not clear if Jesper Joergensen, 52, has an attorney.
At Sunday’s public update, officials said they do not believe Joergensen started the fire intentionally.
State emergency management officials reported nine other fires remained active around the state on Sunday. Officials near Durango hoped that a cold front would slow down one of those. The fire began a month ago and is estimated at 77 square miles.
The Durango Herald reported that authorities planned to relocate some crews and equipment to help firefighters guarding communities as the flames moved north.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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News

Today we launch the PULP Journalism Project to Support the Capital Gazette and more

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From the Publisher of Colorado’s PULP Newsmagazine to the people who make The Capital Gazette possible.

In this space, we at the PULP had plans to launch Rocket PULP, our PULP Journalism Project. We had planned a huge roll-out of PULP Universe memberships, collaborations with national writers, universities, and local creatives. Most importantly, I wanted to talk about how we rebuild Colorado storytelling for the 21st century.

But with what happened yesterday in Annapolis, Maryland – where journalists at The Capital Gazette were attacked and five people were killed – it’s more appropriate to show you what I believe in as a local publisher to help rebuild another newsroom.

I want the PULP to stand for something more than corporate profits off of local people.
We have been fighting and scratching for Southern Colorado for years now, trying to tell the local story of us as a people. At our core, beyond breaking news and telling stories in this hard region to live, PULP is about the spirit of Southern Colorado through collaboration. I believe if we all win – we all win. In fact, this spirit of “We Are…” has been our guiding principle since 2010.

So instead of asking you to join the PULP Universe in July to fuel Colorado journalism, I’m asking you to join the PULP Universe to help the families in Annapolis. For any new PULP Membership for the entire month of July, we will give half — 50 percent — to The Capital Gazette family.

Why do this? Speaking to you as an owner and publisher, well before the shooting in Maryland, I’d often look out our massive storefront windows and think, “My god, what if we are attacked? How in the world would I take care of my people?” This shooting has affected me personally and this is what I can do to help others.

We may be the new kids on the news block in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean we should act small. In Southern Colorado, you’re taught that we may not have much here, but we are all family – so give if you can, but more importantly, always look to help when you must. Supporting the Capital Gazette is something the PULP Journalism Project must do.

Please give what you can, even if it’s just $1. Let’s show a fellow newsroom that the PULP Universe in Colorado stands for supporting the storytellers across every universe.

To learn more about the PULP Journalism Project follow rocketpulp.com for updates. Our news site can be found at pueblopulp.com, but today go to capitalgazette.com instead.

We Are Friends and Family,
John Rodriguez and the PULP Team
Owner / Publisher of PULP

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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