Monthly Archives: September 2010

Shooter Kills Mother and Self after Standoff at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore

A man suspected of shooting a Johns Hopkins doctor has fatally shot himself and his mother, who had been hospitalized, according to Baltimore police. The shootings ended a four-hour standoff at Hopkins’ East Baltimore campus. The doctor, identified by Maryland TV stations as spinal surgeon David Cohen, was in critical condition with a bullet in the chest, but expected to live, police said. Anthony Guglielmi, Chief of Public Affairs for the Baltimore police, told reporters that the doctor was in a “critical condition” but later issued a statement saying: “The doctor is going to be OK. He’s in the best place in the world he could be.” (AFP) Dr. Cohen specializes in spine surgery, osteoporosis and scoliosis, according to his biography on the hospital’s website.

The suspect had barricaded himself on the eight floor of the hospital’s Nelson Building for about four hours, according to police. Authorities said that the shooter’s motives were still unclear, but Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton said that a source said a man was disgruntled about his mother’s spine surgery, and shot her doctor. Guglielmi said that the shooting took place at around 11:15 a.m. and added the suspect, an African-American male in his thirties. He is yet to be identified.

The Baltimore Sun reported that a nurse on the floor at the time of the shooting said, “The shooter was upset about the medical treatment of his mother. He was threatening to jump out of a window.”

Portions of the Nelson Building were placed on lockdown and other sections evacuated. Police shut down numerous roads in the area of Broadway, East Monument and North Wolfe streets. South of Monument and Wolfe was sealed off with trucks, cars and tape. Many unites are on the scene, including police, fire and SWAT teams. Snipers are set up outside the building. Visitors were escorted out of the buildings as far away as two blocks. On the streets surrounding the Hopkins complex, police and plainclothes officers and security staff were manning every corner as sirens sounded and a helicopter flew overhead. Officers were moving pedestrians, some with Hopkins badges, on Wolfe and Monument toward Broadway.

Hopkins sent out emergency e-mail and text advisories to staff at 11:15 a.m. stating “shooter on Nelson 8.” An employee at the Hopkins School of Public Health, which is across Wolfe Street from the complex containing the Nelson building, said that employees were told to stay in their offices. Across from the building, Xs could be seen on windows on the eight floor, presumably to note which rooms the suspect was not in. Students were told to stay away from the windows.

On Twitter, Baltimore Police announced to the public that the “incident is isolated to one relatively small part of the hospital. Persons who have businesses are encouraged to come,” Baltimore police said on Twitter. (Montreal Gazette)

A nurse who said she was on the floor at the time of the shooting said that the shooter was upset about the medical treatment of his mother. He was threatening to jump out of a window, she said. “I started running,” she said. “When you hear gunshots you run.” Ashley Davis said she saw the doctor come into the emergency room. “By the time I saw him, he was on a stretcher and people were all around him,” she said. She said he was conscious and she didn’t see any blood. (LA Times)

Jacqueline Billy, a nurse who works in respiratory care, said she was on the seventh floor when the shooting took place. She got in an elevator, accidentally went up to the eight floor, and when the elevator doors opened, police with guns drawn ordered her to shut the door. “I was petrified, the door opened and there are a bunch of guns. You never expect that,” she said. (LA Times)

Johns Hopkins issued a statement that said, “The Johns Hopkins Hospital is grateful to the Baltimore City Police department for its successful efforts to end this situation and protect patients and visitors. The Hospital has temporarily continued restricted access to the Nelson Building but the rest of JHH is reopened and back to business as normal.” (ABC News)


At Least 30 Survive Venezuela Plane Crash

At least 30 people are reported to have survived when a Convaisa plane carrying 47 people crashed Monday during a domestic flight in Venezuela. The aircraft went down about 10 km east of the city of Puerto Ordaz in the eastern part of Venezuela. It was heading to the Caribbean tourist island of Margarita with 43 passengers and four crew on board. The plane crashed onto property belonging to Sidor, which has a large mill and land near Ciudad Guayana, said Transportation Minister Francisco Garces. The pilot, Capt. Ramiro Cardenas, radioed to the air traffic tower that he was having trouble controlling the plane, which gave authorities time to send ambulances and fire trucks to the area before the crash. It remained unclear what may have caused the pilot to lose control.

A photograph published online by Globovision showed the charred wreckage of the plane, an ATR-42 turboprop. The aircraft broke into pieces after coming down in an abandoned yard outside the gates of the country’s largest steel mill, owned by Siderurgica del Orincoco. Control tower workers at the airport in Ciudad Guyana, 330 miles southeast of Caracas, said the plane’s captain reported problems controlling the turboprop shortly after takeoff, Rangel Gomez said. (Bloomberg) The crash occurred about 6 miles from the airport. “We still don’t know the exact cause,” Gomez told state TV, adding that the pilot had radioed warning the plane was in difficulty. (CBC)

Bolivar state Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez told Venezuela-based television network Telesur that survivors were being treated in local hospitals. A Reuters witness at a nearby Puerto Ordaz hospital said 30 survivors – and two corpses – had been brought in from the crash site where wreckage was still smoldering after the mid-morning accident, hampering rescue efforts. Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib, reporting from Caracas, said: “Two hospitals in the city have said they are finding it difficult to cope with the situation. They are asking people to donate blood to help speed up medical assistance to the injured. The plane fell onto a local metal factory inside a huge industrial zone and it fell onto an area of waste. We have no confirmed that no one on the ground was hurt… all the injured and dead were on the plane.” Aljazeera’s correspondent said the “pilot did report he was having problems; we assume they were mechanical as there were no reports of bad weather.” Jose Bonalde, head of fire services and the scene, told Reuters that 13 corpses had been removed from the plane. Hospital director Yanitza Rodriguez said many of the survivors were seriously injured. Two of the injured died, while 21 others were being treated, Rodriguez said.

Convaisa  is Venezuela’s state-owned airline, headquartered near Caracas. It has been in operation since 2004. President Hugo Chavez created Convisa airlines in 2004 to promote tourism, both local and international, according to the airline’s website, which said it has a fleet of 18 planes. Buenos Aires, Argentina is one of Conviasa’s international destinations. Its most worthy and mysterious flight is a weekly one that began in 2007 between Caracas and Damascus-Tehran. The flight has raised concerns that it’s being used for political reasons and not tourism. Chavez maintains good relations with Iran despite warnings from the U.S. According to ACAS, Conviasa has operated the aircraft for exactly four years – since September 2006. The aircraft is owned by Conviasa and was purchased by the government-owned carrier from its previous operator, Air Wales. The aircraft was initially owned by Gill Airways. ATR, which makes 40-70 seat twin-engined turboprops, is a joint venture between Airbus parent company EADS and Italian aerospace group Finmeccanica.

The last plane crash in Venezuela happened in February 2008, when an airplane belonging to Santa Barbara Airlines crashed in the Andes mountains near the city of Merida, killing all 46 people on board.


Growing Resentment Over Florida Pastor’s Plan to Burn Qur’an on Sunday

Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay says a U.S. church’s plan to burn the Qur’an on Saturday – the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks – will put soldiers from Canada and other countries at risk in Afghanistan. MacKay’s comments regarding the plan by The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., are similar to those made earlier this week by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Petraeus said images of burning Qur’an could be used for the extremist cause. “I do believe that in Canada we are quick to embrace people’s expressions of freedom, but burning a Qur’an is no different than burning a Bible,” MackKay said Wednesday. “This is a book of faith… It’s important to point out that we are not fighting Islam or Muslims writ large in Afghanistan. We are fighting extremists,” he said from Victoria. (CBC) In a statement MacKay said, “This initiative is insulting to Muslims and Canadians of all faiths who understand that freedom of thought and freedom of religion are fundamental to our way of living.” (Reuters) Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs has also condemned the plan.

The White House and the U.S. State Department slammed the church’s plan on Tuesday, saying it would jeopardize U.S. lives in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton used a foreign policy talk to weigh in on hot button political issues Wednesday, slamming the pastor for his “disgraceful” plan. Clinton warned about the long-term consequences of rising federal budget deficits, arguing that they will eventually diminish U.S. power and impair America’s ability to act effectively in the global arena. Her remarks came during an appearance before the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations. It was her second major foreign policy speech there as secretary of state. Clinton said sadly that, “that’s the world we live in right now.” (CNN)

At the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Robert Gates told staff in a morning meeting that he “strongly endorsed” the view of his military commanders that any Qur’an-burning plan could endanger U.S. lives, said a Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Dave Lapan. General Ray Odierno, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said the event would only provoke Muslim extremists and increase threats to U.S. troops. “What this does is feed right into what they want. And they’ll use this to generate more hate. And what that will turn into is potentially more violence against U.S. troops,” Ordierno told NBC’s “Today” show. “I think there will be some backlash. I think you’ve started to see some already. And I’m worried that it will turn into violence against our troops (in) Iraq, Afghanistan and other places as well.”

An associate at the Florida church said Wednesday he doesn’t believe the burning will lead to any deaths. “I don’t believe that anyone would die as a result of something we do,” Wayne Sapp told CBC News. “People have to be accountable for their own actions… If a radical element of Islam is violent, if it’s out to take American lives, today it will use this as an excuse. Tomorrow it will find something else.” Despite the criticism, the church appears undaunted. “We feel like the Qur’an is a very deceptive, very violent teaching,” Sapp said. “It leads people in a direction that as we see in radical Islam, brings about a very violent nature.” (CBC) Sapp said the plan has brought worldwide attention to the issue of radical Islam.

The Dove World Outreach Center is led by Pastor Terry Jones, who appeared on CBS’s Early Show, to say the burning will proceed. “We are still determined to do it, yes,” Jones announced. He said he wanted the Qur’an-burning event to send a “warning” to what he called hard-line Muslims, who he said were intent on exerting influence over the United States. “We are sending a message to them that we don’t want them to do as they appear to be doing in Europe,” Jones said. “We want them to know if they’re in America, they need to obey our law and constitution and not slowly push their agenda on us.” (Reuters) Jones is a mustachioed pastor with mutton-chop sideburns who has authored a book titled “Islam is Of the Devil.”

Other religious groups are firing back, planning their own events in response. Larry Reimer, a pastor at the United Church of Gainesville, said Jones has about 30 people worshiping with him. “He represents virtually no one.” Reimer called the plan dangerous, hurtful and harmful. “It’s disrespectful and has nothing to do with God, who tells us to love one another,” Reimer said. (CBC) He planned to deliver a 3,000-signature petition to Jones on Friday asking him not to burn the Muslim holy book. Authorities in Gainesville say they are stepping up special security measures for Saturday’s event at Jone’s church. Law enforcement officials said a number of death threats, including one reported to be from a known “terrorist organization,” have been made against Jones, and the FBI and federal agencies were working with Gainesville authorities. Local authorities have warned Jones that he would violate city ordinances if he went ahead without proper authorization. City officials have denied his request for a burn permit.

In addition, Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders say they will read passages from the Qur’an at services this weekend.

Actress Angelina Jolie, visiting Pakistan to highlight the plight of millions of people devastated by the country’s worst floods, said on Wednesday she “hardly had the words” to express her opposition. (Reuters)

In Iran, the planned Qur’an-burning drew protest from a leading cleric. “I along with 1.5 billion Muslims… condemn this brutal and savage spirit… I warn about its consequences,” Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpaygani told Iran’s Students News Agency ISNA. “If it happens, Obama should be tried for it and this priest should be arrested immediately and his church must be shut down forever,” he said. (Reuters)

The planned Qur’an-burning on the anniversary of September 11, 2001, attacks on United States has attracted worldwide condemnation and touched off protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. It also comes near the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and amid heightened tensions in the United States over a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York. Opponents of the building plan say it is insensitive to families of the victims of the attacks by militant Islamist group al-Qaeda.

With anger growing in Afghanistan over the proposed Qur’an-burning, Afghan police went on alert to guard against more protests. The United Nations called the event “abhorrent” and the Vatican also added to a growing chorus of global criticism.


Hurricane Earl Continues to Head North, Threatening Atlantic Canada

No storm has threatened such a broad spectrum of the United States shoreline since Hurricane Bob in 1991, hurricane spokesman Dennis Feltgen said Wednesday as Hurricane Earl made its way north. The category four storm was downgraded to a category three, but  was still considered to be a “large hurricane,” causing power cuts and heavy rains along its path. As of 11:00 a.m. ET, Earl was more than 800 kilometres east of Miami, Florida and traveling at approximately 28 km/h. Over the past week, Earl caused $50 million to $150 million in insured losses in the Virginia Islands, St. Maarten, St. Martin and Puerto Rico when it blew through the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, risk modeling company AIR Worldwide said.

Officials have warned that the storm could cause surges and flooding. The U.S. National Hurricane Centre issued a warning at 11 a.m. ET that extended northward into Cape Henlopen, Delaware. An earlier warning extended only from Bogue, N.C. to the North Carolina-Virginia border. Forecasters predicted the core of the hurricane would pass east and northeast of the Bahamas on Wednesday.

The storm could land anywhere between Main and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Canadian Hurricane Centre said. CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said it is still too early to tell the impact Earl will have on Atlantic Canada, “but forecasters are fairly confident that it will still be a hurricane when it reaches Canadian waters for the weekend.” The Canadian Hurricane Centre is urging people in the Atlantic region to pay very close attention to weekend weather forecasts as the storm approaches.

Officials have ordered the evacuation of an island off the coast of North Carolina. Visitors to North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island left the area on ferries and those visiting Cape Hatteras were also told to leave; both are part of the Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands along the state’s coast with long stretches of sandy beaches popular with vacationers. Federal authorities also warned people on the coast to be prepared to evacuate if necessary. Hyde County emergency officials asked 5,000 visitors to begin leaving Ocracoke Island at 5 a.m. ET on Wednesday. The order is not compulsory, but emergency services director Lindsay Mooney said officials hope the island’s roughly 500 year-round residents will follow tourists to shore. “A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical storm force winds,” the U.S. Hurricane Centre said in a statement. Preparations to protect people and property should be “rushed to completion” when a warning is issued, the centre said. (CBC)

On Hatteras Island, visitor John Gusciora of Leesburg, Virginia was reluctant to leave the village of Salvo, where he had rented a cottage with three families. The weather was sunny on Wednesday, with little to no breeze. “It’s disappointing. We’ve been coming down here for years and this is the best weather we’ve had until today. Now we have to try to pack our bags and beat the rush off the island,” Gusciora said. “It’s sad to go, but it’s better to be safe.” (Reuters)

On Wednesday morning the National Hurricane Centre also issued a new advisory on Tropical Storm Fiona, which is intensifying as it approaches the northern Leeward Islands. The centre issued warnings to several islands in the Caribbean in Fiona’s path. Meanwhile, a tropical depression formed in the Atlantic 1300 kilometres west-southwest of the Cape Verde Islands and was expected to become Tropical Storm Gaston in the next day or two. It was forecast to move west toward the northeast Caribbean Islands.


U.S. Combat Mission in Iraq is Finally Over

Almost seven and a half years ago, President George W. Bush launched a blistering “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq. The goal was to eliminate a perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction while replacing a hostile, tyrannical regime with a friendly democracy in the heat of the Middle East. The quick removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ushered in years of grinding sectarian violence, war, terrorist attacks and, according to some observers, increased Iranian influence in the region. But it also paved the way for nationwide elections and increasing economic development. Whether the war was worth the price remains a subject of debate both at home and abroad, but both nations are hopeful that a transition in American control will stem into a brighter future for Iraq.

The equipment which was vital to the US Army during its campaign in Iraq is being shipped out of the country as the operation comes to an end. Tons of gear and hundreds of vehicles are being steadily loaded onto massive container ships at Kuwait’s al-Shualba port. NCO John Kelly said the logistical challenge would mean around 12 to 15 ships would be loaded up with equipment to return to the US every month for some time.

50,000 troops are staying on to train and advise Iraqi security forces. A much reduced force is still based at Forward Operating Base Warrior in the northern city of Kirkuk. As of Wednesday, U.S. soldiers will no longer be allowed to go on combat missions unless asked and accompanied by Iraqi soldiers. The combat mission formally ended at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Hundreds of U.S. bases have already been turned over to the Iraqi military and most U.S. soldiers have returned home. The remaining U.S. troops in Iraq are due to leave by the end of 2011, and it is not unlikely that they will see more combat before then.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq to mark the end of the U.S. combat role, and he was appealing to Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to break the political deadlock. Biden’s national security adviser Tony Blinken assured that the United States would come through with its promise of full withdrawal by the end of 2011. “We committed to the Iraqis to be out of Iraq’s cities last summer on a deadline, and we were. We committed to change the mission, end our combat mission and be down to 50,000 troops by August 31, and we are. And we have an agreement with the government of Iraq to remove our forces, all of our forces from Iraq, at the end of 2011, and we will. We are bound by that agreement and we will make good on it.” (Washington Post)

Mr. al-Maliki proclaimed Iraq as “sovereign and independent” during a national address Tuesday to mark the official end of the U.S. combat mission. Al-Maliki praised the strides made by Iraqi forces in fighting terrorism, attributing their efforts to making the U.S. drawdown possible. “If these achievements were not real, we would not have been able to move to executing the bigger and more important step, which is the withdrawal of American forces that is happening today,” he said. “We do not view the withdrawal as an accomplishment of one person, or one party or one sect or one ethnicity; it is an achievement for all and a starting point to build Iraq after decades of destruction and suffering,” he said. (CNN)

Al-Maliki also sought to assure Iraqis that the country’s security forces are ready to secure Iraq, vowing that the country will not slip back into the sectarian war that has gripped it for years. He addressed doubts about the U.S. withdrawal and capabilities of security forces, calling those who make such statements “enemies of Iraq.” Al-Maliki maintained that his forces were able to protect the country. “I assure you that Iraqi security troops are capable and qualified to shoulder the responsibility and the cowardly terrorist acts that targeted civilian and state institutions that are but a desperate attempt by al-Qaeda and remnants of the former regime to prove their presence,” he said. “We promise you a full withdrawal next year.” (The Globe & Mail)

United States President Barack Obama spent the day meeting with troops at Fort Bliss, Texas – a base which has supplied soldiers at all stages of the conflict. Obama called Bush for a “few minutes” from Air Force One while en route to Texas, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton.

Addressing the country from the Oval Office for the second time since coming into power over a year ago, President Obama began his speech by assuring Americans that the future is optimistic. “This milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape; if we move forward with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a message to the war that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young country… If there has been one constant amidst these changing times; at every turn, America’s men and women in uniform served with courage and resolve. As commander in chief, I am incredibly proud of their service.” (CNN)

Speaking to the issue of Iraqi leadership Obama said, “Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over. The Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country… Tonight, I encourage Iraq’s leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency; to form an inclusive government that is just representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people.” Obama promised that, “Our combat mission has ended, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” (CNN)

Many still feel that the American mission is not yet complete. Former national security adviser Michael O’Hanlon said a sigh of relief of Iraq came a couple of years ago, when the Bush era’s surge started to bring more stability to the country. “Americans have moved on,” said O’Hanlon. “We’ve got bigger problems.” (CBC) O’Hanlon said Obama leads the U.S. out of Iraq leaving a more sophisticated political culture behind as alliances are no longer drawn exclusively along sectarian lines. However, O’Hanlon is worried because of the fact that six months after a parliamentary election, there is still no government in place. “The wounds of sectarian war are still healing,” he said. “So any kind of political dynamic that leads to suspicion of renewed sectarian competition or potential for violence is very, very destructive.” (CBC)

While the U.S. is shifting its attention to the situation in Afghanistan, some Iraqis are worried about the future. “They should go, but the security situation is too fragile for the Americans to withdraw now,” said Mohammed Hussein Abbas, a Shia resident of the town of Hillah, south of Baghdad. “They should wait for the government to be formed and then withdraw.” (CBC)

Other Iraqis are concerned that the U.S. departure will leave a power vacuum that will be filled by Iraq’s neighbours, mainly Iran. “The U.S. withdrawal will put Iraq into the lap of Iran,” said Baghdad engineer Ali Mussa, 46. (CBC)

Top Republicans were reluctant to give the Obama White House any credit for Tuesday’s milestone. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a speech delivered Tuesday to the American Legion in Milwaukee Wisconsin, that “some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for their results.” (CNN)

“If the war is ‘over,’ what happens if a Black Hawk goes down net week, God forbid?” asked Paul Rieckhoff, a veterans advocate.

As the U.S. military has been scaling down, the U.S. civilian presence has been ramping up. Iraqi officials are struggling to form a new ruling coalition in the wake of last March’s closely contested national elections. Al-Maliki warned last Friday of the likelihood of continuing attacks across the country. His warning came two days after a wave of 20 bomb attacks struck 13 Iraqi cities, mostly targeting police. The bombs killed 48 and wounded at least 286. Al-Maliki said there were indications that “al-Qaeda and remnants of (Saddam Hussein’s) Baath party with foreign backing are planning to carry out a series of bombings in Baghdad and the other provinces.” (CNN)

Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party crowed that the U.S. pullback was a result of “devastating” strikes against U.S. troops by Iraqi resistance fighters. “They withdrew dragging tails of failure and defeat, leaving by the same roads they used as invaders,” it said in a statement carried by Iraqi websites. “The end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is a useless attempt to save face, if any is left.” (New York Times)

Defence Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, asserted during a speech Tuesday to the American Legion that, despite the recent spate of attacks in Iraq, “overall levels of violence this year remain at their lowest point since the beginning of the war in 2003. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been largely cut off from its masters abroad.” (CNN) But Gates stressed that he was not “saying that all is, or necessarily will be, well in Iraq. Sectarian tensions remain a  fact of life. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is beaten, but not gone. This is not a time for premature victory parades or self-congratulation,” he said. (CNN) Mr. Gates’ voice seemed to choke as he said, “The courage of (our) men and women, their determination, their sacrifice – and that of their families – along with the service of so many others in uniform, have made this day, this transition, possible. And we must never forget.” (New York Times)