Justice watchdog says DEA botched deadly Honduras missions

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration misled the public, Congress and Justice Department officials about an aggressive strategy that led to a series of deadly confrontations involving agents in Honduras, government watchdogs wrote in a scathing report released Wednesday.

The offensive, known as Operation Anvil, involved U.S. State Department helicopters and a special team of DEA agents working with Honduran security forces to stop planes carrying cocaine into the country. The report found sweeping problems with the DEA’s response to three violent encounters associated with the effort in 2012, including a May raid that killed four people and wounded four others, whom locals said were innocent civilians traveling the river near the village of Ahuas at night.

The agency poorly planned the operation, failed to fully investigate the incidents and gave inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress, according to the report released by inspectors general for the Justice and State departments.

The DEA said in a statement that the team involved in the effort — called the Foreign Advisory and Support Team— no longer operates overseas, among other changes.

But the agency’s efforts to disrupt drug smuggling abroad continue. It said it was implementing the recommendations outlined in the report, which include more thoroughly investigating shootings that happen during work with foreign law enforcement agents.

The May 11 shooting on the river happened after a boat collided with a disabled canoe being used by law enforcement agents to carry cocaine seized earlier that day. DEA officials insisted the people on the boat were drug traffickers who fired first, and the lawmen were acting in self-defense. They maintained that account even as further information showed otherwise.

“Even as information became available to DEA that conflicted with its initial reporting, including that the passenger boat may have been a water taxi carrying passengers on an overnight trip, DEA officials remained steadfast — with little corroborating evidence —that any individuals shot by the Hondurans were drug traffickers” trying to get the drugs back.

The report found DEA’s review of the shooting, conducted only after mounting public pressure, was “little more than a paper exercise.” Investigations of two other deadly encounters in June and July were more thorough but still inadequate, it said.

DEA then failed to cooperate with investigations by the State Department and Honduran government officials. The agency also provided inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress about the May raid and mischaracterized its role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort, the report said.

DEA, Honduran and State Department officials tried to “perpetuate a self-serving narrative that was fundamentally flawed and demeaned the lives of the victims and the reputation of the United States,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “I am deeply concerned about the uninformed arrogance at these agencies that produced these failures. This raises serious questions whether these cases are isolated incidents.”

The report also says State Department officials misled the public with inaccurate talking points that mischaracterized DEA’s role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort.

Similarly, embassy officials prepared talking points for an Associated Press interview with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras reiterating that DEA agents were involved in “a supporting, advisory role only” with “highly trained and vetted” Honduran officers “who operate with advice from U.S. Government law enforcement agents.”

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Justice watchdog says DEA botched deadly Honduras missions

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration misled the public, Congress and Justice Department officials about an aggressive strategy that led to a series of deadly confrontations involving agents in Honduras, government watchdogs wrote in a scathing report released Wednesday.

The offensive, known as Operation Anvil, involved U.S. State Department helicopters and a special team of DEA agents working with Honduran security forces to stop planes carrying cocaine into the country. The report found sweeping problems with the DEA’s response to three violent encounters associated with the effort in 2012, including a May raid that killed four people and wounded four others, whom locals said were innocent civilians traveling the river near the village of Ahuas at night.

The agency poorly planned the operation, failed to fully investigate the incidents and gave inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress, according to the report released by inspectors general for the Justice and State departments.

The DEA said in a statement that the team involved in the effort — called the Foreign Advisory and Support Team— no longer operates overseas, among other changes.

But the agency’s efforts to disrupt drug smuggling abroad continue. It said it was implementing the recommendations outlined in the report, which include more thoroughly investigating shootings that happen during work with foreign law enforcement agents.

The May 11 shooting on the river happened after a boat collided with a disabled canoe being used by law enforcement agents to carry cocaine seized earlier that day. DEA officials insisted the people on the boat were drug traffickers who fired first, and the lawmen were acting in self-defense. They maintained that account even as further information showed otherwise.

“Even as information became available to DEA that conflicted with its initial reporting, including that the passenger boat may have been a water taxi carrying passengers on an overnight trip, DEA officials remained steadfast — with little corroborating evidence —that any individuals shot by the Hondurans were drug traffickers” trying to get the drugs back.

The report found DEA’s review of the shooting, conducted only after mounting public pressure, was “little more than a paper exercise.” Investigations of two other deadly encounters in June and July were more thorough but still inadequate, it said.

DEA then failed to cooperate with investigations by the State Department and Honduran government officials. The agency also provided inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress about the May raid and mischaracterized its role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort, the report said.

DEA, Honduran and State Department officials tried to “perpetuate a self-serving narrative that was fundamentally flawed and demeaned the lives of the victims and the reputation of the United States,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “I am deeply concerned about the uninformed arrogance at these agencies that produced these failures. This raises serious questions whether these cases are isolated incidents.”

The report also says State Department officials misled the public with inaccurate talking points that mischaracterized DEA’s role in the operation as supportive, when in fact its agents maintained substantial control of the effort.

Similarly, embassy officials prepared talking points for an Associated Press interview with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras reiterating that DEA agents were involved in “a supporting, advisory role only” with “highly trained and vetted” Honduran officers “who operate with advice from U.S. Government law enforcement agents.”

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Police arrest 5th suspect in bombing at Ariana Grande concert

British security forces raided an apartment building Wednesday in central Manchester as they investigated “a network” of people allegedly behind the city’s concert bombing. Hundreds of soldiers were sent to secure key sites across the country, including Buckingham Palace and the British Parliament at Westminster.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the bomber, Salman Abedi, “likely” did not act alone when he killed 22 people and wounded scores at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night in Manchester. She said he had been known to security forces “up to a point.”

Abedi, a 22-year-old British citizen born to Libyan parents who grew up around Manchester, died in the attack.

Manchester Police Chief Constable said four people have been arrested thus far as police raid properties thought to be connected to Abedi. A Libyan security spokesman says another brother of the alleged Manchester bomber has been arrested, this one in Tripoli.

Ahmed bin Salem, the spokesman of a Libyan anti-terror force, says a younger brother of Salman Abedi, Hashim, was detained on Tuesday.

“I think it’s very clear this is a network we are investigating,” he said, adding that an off-duty police officer was among those killed in concert attack.

Many at the concert were young girls and teens enthralled by Grande’s pop power — and those who died included an 8-year-old girl.

Officials are examining Abedi’s trips to Libya and possibly Syria as they piece together his allegiances and try to foil any new potential threats. The government said nearly 1,000 soldiers were deployed Wednesday in high-profile sites in London and elsewhere, replacing police, who can work on counter-terrorism duties.

Britain raised its threat level from terrorism to “critical” late Tuesday amid concerns that Abedi may have accomplices who are planning another deadly attack.

Police said three suspects were arrested Wednesday in south Manchester. Another suspect was arrested Tuesday and Abedi’s father confirmed to The Associated Press that was Salman’s older brother Ismail.

No one has yet been charged in the case and police have not identified the suspects.

Heavily armed police raided an apartment building in Manchester on Wednesday afternoon, blasting the door open with a controlled explosion. Neighbor Adam Prince said the raided apartment had been used as an Airbnb.

Muye Li, a 23-year-old student who lives on the same floor, said he thought officers were looking for a woman because they “asked me if I had seen the lady next door.”

Across London, troops fanned out and authorities implemented special security plans.

The changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace was canceled Wednesday so police officers can be re-deployed. The traditional ceremony is a major tourist attraction in London.

The Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament in London, was closed Wednesday to all those without passes, and tours and events there were cancelled until further notice. Armed police also patrolled outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

“(The goal) is to make our city as hostile an environment as possible for terrorists to plan and operate,” said London Police Commander Jane Connors.

The Chelsea soccer team announced it would cancel Sunday’s victory parade in London to celebrate the team’s Premier League title.

“We are sure our fans will understand this decision,” the team said, adding that the parade would have diverted police from the bombing investigation.

Speaking Wednesday from the Libyan city of Tripoli, the father of the alleged Manchester bomber denied that his son was linked to militants or to the deadly attack. Ramadan Abedi told the AP that when he spoke to his son Salman five days ago, he sounded “normal.”

He said Salman was getting ready to visit Saudi Arabia for a short Umrah pilgrimage, then planned to head to Libya to spend the Islamic holy month of Ramadan with his family.

“We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us,” the elder Abedi told the AP by telephone. “We aren’t the ones who blow up ourselves among innocents. We go to mosques. We recite Quran, but not that.”

He said his son last visited Libya a month-and-a-half ago and never visited Syria.

The senior Abedi fled Tripoli in 1993 after Moammar Gadhafi’s security authorities issued an arrest warrant for him and eventually sought political asylum in Britain. Now he is a manager for the Central Security force in Tripoli.

He denied having ties to any of Libya’s militant groups, including the Libya Islamic Fighting Group, which was linked to al-Qaida.

But former Libyan security official Abdel-Basit Haroun told the AP that the elder Abedi was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting group in the 1990s. Although the LIFG disbanded, Haroun says the father now belongs to the Salafi Jihadi movement, the most extreme sect of Salafism from which al-Qaida and the Islamic State group both hail.

In Manchester, where residents continued to place floral tributes to the dead and injured, police arrested a man at a house near Abedi’s home.

Omar Alfakhuri, who lives across the street, said he was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by a loud noise and saw police take away the father of the family that lives there in handcuffs. He said the man, in his 40s, is named Adel and has a wife and several children.

“They arrested the father, and I think the rest of the family kind of disappeared,” Khuri said, adding that he knew the man from the neighborhood and the mosque. “In the last 15 years, I haven’t seen him in trouble at all.”

At Manchester’s Didsbury Mosque, where the Abedi family worshipped, authorities condemned the bombing and denied reports that Abedi had worked there. Azhar Mahmoud, who prays at the mosque in south Manchester, said it was “horrible” that the bomber was associated with it.

“Wherever he got that, he didn’t get it from this mosque,” he said.

Mahmoud said the imam regularly preached against radicalization.

“He always tells the youngsters, stay away from it. … I’ve prayed there Fridays, and that’s his message.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting Wednesday of her emergency security cabinet group to talk about concerns Abedi might have had outside support. France’s interior minister said Abedi is believed to have also traveled to Syria and had “proven” links with the Islamic State group.

Rudd said Britain’s increased official threat level will remain at “critical” until security services are convinced there is no active plot in place.

She also complained about U.S. officials leaking sensitive information about Abedi to the press, saying that could hinder Britain’s security services and police.

“I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again,” she said.

Manchester officials raised to 119 the number of people who sought medical treatment after Monday night’s attack, saying 20 of them had critical injuries.

Jon Rouse of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said 64 people were still hospitalized, many with serious wounds that will require “very long term care and support.”

Officials said all the dead and wounded had been identified but their names would not be made public for several days until autopsies are completed.

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Michael reported from Cairo and Katz reported from London. Sylvia Hui and Paisley Dodds in London, Rob Harris in Manchester and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

 

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Father of alleged Manchester attacker denies son linked to suicide bombing

The father of the alleged Manchester arena attacker denies his son is linked to militants or the suicide bombing that killed 22 people.

Ramadan Abedi says he spoke to his 22-year-old son, Salman Abedi, five days ago and he was getting ready to visit Saudi Arabia and sounded “normal.”

He said that his son visited Libya a month-and-a -half ago.

The elder Abedi told The Associated Press by telephone from Tripoli: “We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us.”

He said his other son, Ismail, was arrested in England on Tuesday morning.

He said Salman was planning to head from Saudi Arabia to Libya to spend the holy month of Ramadan with family.

Abedi fled Tripoli in 1993 after Moammar Gadhafi’s security authorities issued an arrest warrant and eventually sought political asylum in Britain.

Now, he is the administrative manager of the Central Security force in Tripoli.

A former Libyan security official says Abedi was allegedly member of a former al-Qaida-backed group in Libya.

Former Libyan security official Abdel-Basit Haroun said Wednesday he personally knew the elderAbedi and says that he was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting group in the 1990s. The group had links to al-Qaida.

Although the LIFG disbanded, Haroun says the father belongs to the Salafi Jihadi movement, the most extreme sect of Salafism and from which al-Qaida and the Islamic State group hail.

Haroun says Abedi, also known as Abu Ismail, had returned to the Libyan capital of Tripoli.  

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British soccer teams scrap events amid security threat

They won the English Premier League, but Chelsea’s players will not take to the streets for a victory parade following the Manchester bombing.

The club says it would be “inappropriate” to celebrate with fans near its Stamford Bridge ground in south London Sunday and is loathe to “divert important resources” given the increased security threat following Monday’s tragedy.

“Everyone associated with Chelsea Football Club offers our heartfelt condolences to those affected by Monday’s terror attack in Manchester,” said the club in a statement.

“Our thoughts go out to all the victims, and their families and friends.”

Black armbands

Arsenal has also canceled a planned screening of Saturday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea at their Emirates Stadium in north London.

The club also says it will not hold a victory parade should it win the FA Cup, given the Government’s escalation of the national security threat to “critical.”

“We are sorry for any disappointment this causes but it is in everyone’s best interests,” said Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis in a statement.

The final between the London rivals will still go ahead at Wembley Stadium.

Chelsea announced its players would wear black armbands “as a mark of respect” in the FA Cup final, as well as donating to the fund to supporting the victims of the attack.

The Europa League final between Manchester United and Ajax in Stockholm is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

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