Saudis foil attack on Grand Mosque in Mecca

Saudi security forces on Friday prevented an imminent attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the country’s Interior Ministry said on state-run TV.

A suspect in the planned attack on the mosque blew himself up in a nearby neighborhood when security forces surrounded a home where the man was hiding, according to the ministry.

The suspect refused to comply with demands to surrender, opened fire on security forces and then killed himself, officials said.

The explosion caused the partial collapse of the building in which the suspect was hiding. Six expatriates were injured and taken to a hospital, and five security personnel received minor injuries, a Saudi Press official in London told CNN.

Five people, including one woman, suspected of involvement in the plot were arrested. Three groups, two based in Mecca and one in Jeddah, planned the attack, the Interior Ministry said.

The Grand Mosque, or the Masjid al-Haram, is the largest mosque in the world and surrounds Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba — a cube-shaped shrine that worshipers circle during the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that brings millions of people to Mecca.

Foreign involvement suspected

The Interior Ministry said the identity of the attacker was still being verified but pointed to foreign involvement, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

“They obeyed their evil and corrupt selves serving schemes managed from abroad whose aim is to destabilize the security and stability of this blessed country,” the ministry was quoted as saying.

“The security people, with the help of Almighty Allah, and then the unlimited support of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince, will be able to foil these criminal schemes and arrest those involved in them.”

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan condemned the attempted attack and said his country stood with Saudi Arabia in combating terrorism.

“This heinous crime exposes the extent of terrorism and the savagery of those terrorist groups, and no one in their right mind can justify or explain it,” he said in a statement Saturday.

Mosques targeted

Saudi Arabia has suffered a string of terror attacks in recent years, as well as thwarting a number of alleged plots.

In October, the Interior Ministry said Saudi security forces had arrested two separate terrorist cells, one of which planned to attack a football World Cup qualifying match in Jeddah that month. Four Pakistani nationals were arrested in connection with that plot, while four Saudi nationals were detained from the other cell.

Three suicide bombings were carried out in July last year — in Medina, Jeddah and Qatif. Saudi authorities identified the Jeddah bomber as a Pakistani; two guards were wounded in the attack, close to the US consulate. The Medina attack, close to one of the holiest sites in Islam, killed four security guards. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Saudi officials blamed local cells sympathetic to ISIS.

A Shia mosque in al-Ahsa was targeted in January 2016 in an attack that claimed at least four lives. No claim of responsibility was made, but the attack was believed to have been carried out by ISIS or one of its affiliates.

At least 13 people were killed in an explosion at a mosque in the Asir region of southwestern Saudi Arabia in August 2015 and five more in an attack on a Shia mosque in Saihat, on the country’s east coast. ISIS or an ISIS affiliate were blamed.

The kingdom was rocked by two attacks in May 2015, both claimed by ISIS. One suicide bomber killed 21 people at the Imam Ali mosque in Qudayh and another, a man disguised as a woman, claimed three lives when he blew himself up outside a mosque in Dammam.

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New York’s highest court gets first openly gay judge

Lauded as a “trailblazer,” Justice Paul G. Feinman became the first openly gay judge confirmed to the New York Court of Appeals.

Senator Brad Hoylman, one of five openly gay members of New York’s State Legislature who urged the governor to appoint an LGBT person to the Court of Appeals, called the confirmation “an important perspective that has been missing on the court.”

“It is a watershed moment for the LGBT rights in the state of New York,” said Hoylman. “It comes at a time when gay rights are under assault from Washington, DC and LGBT people and their families feel under siege.”

Two of the seven candidates recommended to take the open seat were openly gay. But it was 57-year-old Feinman whose seat was confirmed amid Pride Month celebrations of the progress the LGBT community has made. He is the first openly LGBT justice to be confirmed in the Court of Appeal’s 170-year history.

“Certainly my entire career has been about promoting equal access and equal justice for all, and I hope to add to the diversity of perspectives that the court considers,” he said.

Feinman, the newest justice on the Court of Appeals, is a Long Island native and the third of five children. He first took interest in matters of law while navigating the “maze that is the social services network” as an intern in Columbia University’s legal internship program.

“I learned being a lawyer is a helping profession,” he said before the Senate at his confirmation hearing.

His robust legal career began as an attorney at Legal Aid Society, where he provided legal aid to low-income New Yorkers as a public defender. He served the law in a host of positions, including civil court judge, acting New York State Supreme Court justice and, most recently, associate justice for New York’s Supreme Court.

After working for 31 years in state courts and 20 years as a judge, Feinman finds himself confirmed to serve a 14-year term on New York’s highest court.

The seat was left vacant by another trailblazer: the late Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was the first African-American woman to serve on New York’s highest court. Abdus-Salaam was found dead in April when police pulled her body from the Hudson River. In May investigators concluded her death was likely a suicide, but family members challenged the idea she would take her own life.

Feinman joins six other judges on the diverse Court of Appeals, three of whom are women.

“Justice Feinman will be an exceptional addition to New York’s highest court,” New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “He is a talented jurist who has dedicated his career to public service and standing up for a fairer and more just New York.”

Feinman was the former president of the International Association of LGBT judges. He is a member of the Richard C. Failla LGBT Commission, which promotes fair treatment of LGBT issues and LGBT members of the court community.

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Yellowstone grizzlies now off endangered species list

The Yellowstone grizzly bear population has recovered enough to be delisted from the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday.

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke called the recovery “one of America’s great conservation successes.”

“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming,” he said in a statement. “[It’s] very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region.”

The bears received endangered species protection in 1975, when their population was about 136. Today, there are estimated to be 700, more than enough to meet the criteria to be removed from the endangered list, the government said. Management of the bears will be returned to states and tribes.

Not everyone is celebrating.

Once off the endangered list, federal protections for the bear will be removed, meaning bears that wander off of national park boundaries will be subject to hunting laws in portions of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Grizzly bears outside of the Yellowstone area — in the lower 48 states — will continue to have protection.

Matt Bishop, a staff attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, said the group plans to put forward a lawsuit.

“We’re going to be challenging the decision,” he said. “We just don’t think it’s science based.”

According to Bishop, removing the protections would be a big step back, and the decision to do so was political, not science-based.

“Why not just wait 10 years,” he said. “I don’t know what the rush is.”

The lifting of protection will become effective 30 days after it is published in the federal register, which is expected to happen in the coming days.

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George Clooney is selling his tequila brand for up to $1 billion

George Clooney got rich off his movies. Now his tequila business is making him even richer.

The actor is selling his Casamigos tequila brand to Diageo, the owner of Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Cîroc, for up to $1 billion.

“If you asked us four years ago if we had a billion dollar company, I don’t think we would have said yes,” Clooney said in a statement.

The “Ocean’s Eleven” star (and, as of this month, father of twins) launched the brand with two partners in 2013. He plans to stick around after the sales closes.

“We’re not going anywhere. We’ll still be very much a part of Casamigos. Starting with a shot tonight. Maybe two,” Clooney said.

Diageo, which is based in the U.K., said in a statement that Clooney and pals will remain involved in promoting the brand, as well as handling “leadership and vision.”

The spirits giant will pay $700 million for Casamigos upfront, with the option for an additional $300 million based on the brand’s performance over the next 10 years.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Diageo to strengthen its participation in the fast growing tequila category, as well as expand the brand internationally,” the company said.

Cheers, George. You’re having a solid June.

— CNN’s Chloe Melas contributed to this report.

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Police: Muslim girl may have been sexually assaulted

Investigators in Virginia say a Muslim teenager who was attacked and killed early Sunday as she and a group of teenagers walked back to a mosque may have been sexually assaulted.

Fairfax County police spokeswoman Tawny Wright said Tuesday that police were investigating the possibility that Nabra Hassanen, 17, was sexually assaulted.

At a news conference Monday evening, when asked if Hassanen had been sexually assaulted, Fairfax County Police Lt. Bryan Holland responded that “there was an assault that occurred in Fairfax County and we had another assault that occurred in Loudoun [County].”

Police said Darwin Martinez Torres saw the group walking and riding bicycles in the street and on the sidewalk. Torres became so enraged after arguing with one teen he drove up on a curb, police said. He later found the group in a nearby parking lot, chased them on foot with a baseball bat and allegedly beat Hassanen in what local police are calling a “road rage incident.”

Torres, 22, put the injured teen in his car, officials said. Her body was found Sunday evening in Loudoun County.

Torres entered the United States illegally, according to an immigration official. ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said Torres will be “afforded all legal processes.” Typically that means he will go through criminal court proceedings and serve any corresponding sentences if convicted. Then, based on the detainer, he would be transferred to ICE custody and take his case through immigration court, according to Cutrell.

Authorities in Fairfax County said there’s no evidence the killing was a hate crime. Hassanen’s father said he believes she was killed because she was wearing an abaya, a traditional black cloak. The Virginia Commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, Raymond Morrogh, declined to discuss the evidence of the case, and would not say whether he believed a hate crime occurred.

“These cases evolve, the investigation is ongoing — who knows what will come up — so I would be loath to characterize it one way or the other,” he said. “Everything is on the table until we get all the evidence.”

Torres has been charged with murder and faces a maximum punishment of life in prison.

Morrogh declined to comment on the possibility that Hassanen was sexually assaulted, but added that “in any case, it’s not unusual to add charges.”

Torres appeared by videoconference from jail for an arraignment Monday in a Fairfax County juvenile court, Morrogh said. In court, Torres was appointed a federal defender, though the 22-year-old told the judge that “his aunt may hire him a lawyer; he was hoping she would,” Morrogh said.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set for July 19 in Fairfax County.

James Ware with the Fairfax County Office of the Public Defender declined to provide the name of Torres’ court-appointed attorney and added he had “no comment” on the Torres case.

Hassanen’s funeral prayer service will be held at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling on Wednesday, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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