Top Counterterrorism Official Warns of Potential Attack, 'Innocent Lives Will Be Lost'

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, was arrested for allegedly attempting to detonate a car bomb Nov. 26 at a Portland, Ore., Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Photo Courtesy - Multnomah County Jail(WASHINGTON) -- The United States is due for a deadly terrorist attack that will likely be carried out by a new breed of extremists radicalized in America's cities and towns, the country's top counterterrorism official said Wednesday in an unusually candid press conference.

Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, warned that despite a spate of thwarted recent bomb attempts, the country is facing an evolving threat from homegrown terrorists who will one day successfully kill Americans.

"We aim for perfection," Leiter said, but "perfection will not be achieved....Innocent lives will be lost."

"Just like any other endeavor we will not stop all the attacks....To say that we will not successfully defend against all attacks is certainly not to say that we are not trying to stop all attacks, we are. It is certainly not to say that any attack is OK. If there is an attack it may well be tragic," he said.

Last week, the FBI arrested Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a Somali-born U.S. national accused of planning to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. Law enforcement officials said Mohamud was one of a growing number of Americans to self-radicalize and choose to carry out terror attacks on their own.

"We have to be honest that some things will get through," Leiter said. "And in this era of a more complicated threat, a more diverse threat and lower-scale attacks to include individuals who have been radicalized here in the homeland, stopping all the attacks has become that much harder."

Many of those Americans find inspiration online from Anwar Al Awalaki, an American radical cleric, who Leiter described as a dangerous threat directly involved in planning attacks on the U.S.

Leiter said Al Awlaki, believed to be hiding in Yemen among a dangerous Al Qaeda cell, had gone from being a propagandist to planning attacks outright. According to The New York Times, the cleric is currently the only American the government admits to having on its hit list.

The strength of Al Qaeda's central leadership, which organized the 9/11 attacks, has diminished, he said, but the group is still capable of carrying out lethal attacks, and pointed to the recent threats in Europe as originating from the group's hideout along Afghanistan's porous border with Pakistan.

Leiter said other attacks could come from splinter cells, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group affiliated with Al Awlaki, and believed responsible for last year's Christmas Day plane plot, and last month's thwarted printer-cartridge plot.

Leiter also warned against a knee-jerk reaction in the wake of an attack that would slow the country's ability to operate regularly. The country must be prepared to move forward following a deadly incident, including immediately pursuing the responsible terrorists, and reviewing the steps taken by law enforcement agencies.

He said it was essential for the country to show resilience in the wake of an attack, and not assume that terrorists posed an existential threat to the nation.

He said concerns about an impending attack and the ability to move the country forward following an attack were "very much a bipartisan sentiment."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Teaching Conditions Tied to Student Performance

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(HILLSBOROUGH, NC) – A new report shows that teacher working conditions have a direct impact on student performance and teacher retention.

The Center for Teaching Quality report, released Wednesday, was based off of teacher-led research in five states.

"The Transforming School Conditions report is important because in the past teacher insight has been rarely seriously sought when policymakers make major decisions about teaching and learning," said Barnett Berry, President of the Center for Teaching Quality.  "As our nation rightfully focuses on identifying effective teachers, it is time to consider the conditions that allow teachers to teach effectively."

The study aimed to determine if a teacher’s ability to be effective was tied to their working conditions.  Such conditions included access to material, teacher preparedness and community resources, among others.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Former New Orleans Police Officer Sentenced in Danziger Bridge Deaths

Photo Courtesy -- Department of Justice(WASHINGTON) -- A former New Orleans police officer has been sentenced for his role in a police-involved shooting just days after Hurricane Katrina that left two dead and four injured.

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that Michael Hunter will serve eight years in prison for his role in the Danziger Bridge shooting. He faced charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and concealing a known crime in the Sept. 4, 2005 incident.

According to court documents, Hunter and others officers responded to a call that the bridge had come under fire. He admitted that he and other officers fired assault weapons on unarmed civilians who did not pose a threat. Hunter also admitted to conspiring to cover up the events when an investigation was launched.
Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


All Aboard, And Bring Your Guns

Photo Courtesy - Matt McClain/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Starting December 15, Amtrak will allow passengers to travel with unloaded guns on trains. The new policy, a reversal of a ban in effect since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, is backed by conservatives and the National Rifle Association, and blasted by critics as costly and unsafe.

Starting in two weeks, train travelers will be able to check handguns, shotguns, rifles and starter pistols at stations that offer checked baggage service, including the stations in New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The guns must be unloaded and in approved locked hard-sided containers and passengers must declare their firearms and notify Amtrak 24 hours in advance. In addition, reservations that include firearms must be made over the phone.

According to Amtrak spokesperson Steve Kulm, the company has spent approximately $2 million updating their security measures in anticipation of the policy change.

"The important thing here is this is not a carry-on," said Kulm. "We had to make modifications to 142 baggage cars to provide a secure, safe location for the firearms as well as make modifications of many stations to ensure their safety and security."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Mother Of Murdered Sheriff Furious Her Son's Killer Has Blackberry In Prison

Photo Courtesy - Getty(OKLAHOMA CITY) -- The mother of an Oklahoma man who was shot to death is furious that her son's killer was able to get a Blackberry in his cell and has been corresponding with friends and posting photos on Facebook.

Cathy Lawrence, the mother of slain Sheriff Dwight Woodrell Jr., told that Justin Walker, the man serving a 30-year sentence for her son's murder, doesn't deserve to be alive, let alone to be updating his Facebook status.

"It probably wouldn't be printable what I think about Justin Walker having a cell phone in prison," said Lawrence from her home in Bristow, Oklahoma. "I feel like he's allowed to keep on living his life and he deprived my son of his life and his four children of a father."

Earlier this week, prison officials were notified by a local television station that Walker had managed to maintain a Facebook page from inside his cell at Oklahoma State Reformatory. He has since been transferred to a more secure prison block.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Father of Bride Allegedly Murdered on Honeymoon Scuba Diving Trip Seeks Justice

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The father of the bride who was allegedly murdered by her new husband during their Australian scuba diving honeymoon said Wednesday he wants justice for his daughter and that her accused killer is lying about what happened underwater.

Tommy Thomas, the father of Tina Watson, who was 26 when she died in 2003 while diving near the Great Barrier Reef, told Good Morning America that he wants to see his daughter's former husband held responsible for the death.

"What we want is for him to face the evidence for the very first time in front of a jury," Thomas said.

Watson was convicted and sentenced in Australia for manslaughter, and has completed an 18-month sentence.

"The standard of manslaughter that Gabe pled guilty to is a negligent manslaughter," attorney Brett Bloomston said. "Basically he pled guilty of being a bad dive buddy."

But Alabama prosecutors are pursuing a murder case because they believe he planned his wife's death before leaving the states. He has been charged with murder for monetary gain and kidnapping.

Thomas said his daughter's husband, whom she had married 10 days before she died, has changed his story about what happened during their ominous scuba diving excursion.

Watson, an experienced diver, has maintained that his wife panicked and that he was unable to save her.

But Thomas said today another diver who was with the newlyweds on the trip saw Watson ignoring Tina Watson's pleas for help, and prosecutors in the United State believe Watson, an experienced rescue diver, turned off his wife's oxygen tank in order to collect on her life insurance policy.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Florida Student Pummeled While Teacher Sits Back

Photo Courtesy - Getty(PALM BEACH, Florida) -- The pummeling of a Palm Beach, Florida middle school boy by another student has infuriated the boy's family who say the teacher did nothing but sit by his computer while the fight raged in his classroom.

Video of the fight between Joshua Poole, 13, and his Jeaga Middle School classmate shows Poole swinging wildly as he is punched repeatedly before falling to the floor. The teacher's inaction was reportedly due to a school policy that staff can only intervene after undergoing training, according to the school district.

That type of "policy run amok" is a growing problem in schools across the country, according to Carol Kochhar-Bryant, a professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

"In the past there have been many families, if the child gets injured in any way by an intervention by a teacher, there have been instances where the teachers have been reprimanded," she said. "Those policies protect the school, they protect the teacher, but we are realizing now they don't protect the child in those situations."

Palm Beach County school district officials insist the teacher followed procedure during the middle school fight, which took place last month, and that he was not properly trained per district protocol to break up such altercations.

"When the students would not stop fighting, the teacher went to the hallway to get help," read a statement released by the school district. "Assistant Principal Brent Higley responded and helped stopped the fight."

The Pooles' lawyer, Craig Goldenfarb, said he planned to sue on their behalf, charging negligence on the part of the school district. Goldenfarb said Joshua would be seen by a pediatric neurologist for repeated headaches and blurred vision.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Father of Missing Michigan Boys Is Fighting Extradition 

(MORENCI, Mich.) -- Photo Courtesy - ABC NewsThe father of the three young brothers who have been missing since Thanksgiving is fighting his extradition to Michigan where he will face charges of parental kidnapping, authorities announced today.

Morenci Police Cheif Larry Weeks said that John Skelton will have a hearing on Dec. 14 and is being held on a $3 million bond. He is fighting his extradition from Ohio to Michigan, where the alleged crimes are believed to have been committed.

Skelton was placed in police custody Tuesday after being released from the hospital where he was undergoing treatment following his failed suicide attempt.

"Information we have doesn't indicate [the case] will have a positive outcome," Weeks said again today. "But we continue to be be out and active in multiple areas."

The three young boys -- Andrew Skelton, 9; Alexander Skelton, 7; and Tanner Skelton, 5 -- have been missing since Thanksgiving.

Earlier this week, new details emerged about the relationship between the boy's father and his wife, Tanya Skelton. It was revealed that a nasty custody battle may have led to the disappearance of the three brothers. The couple married eight years ago, but decided to separate earlier this year. Both sought permanent custody of their three sons.

John Skelton argues that his wife is an "unfit parent," citing her status as a registered sex offender, since she was convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old boy more than a decade ago, according to court documents. Tanya Skelton argues her husband's long absences as a truck driver make him an unfit parent.

Morenci police asked that anyone with any information about the boys' whereabouts or who might have seen John Skelton with them any time after Thursday, contact them at (517) 263-0524.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Are Republicans Beginning Speak Out Against Sarah Palin?

Photo Courtesy - Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC(WASHINGTON) -- When television host and former Florida congressman Joe Scarborough published a scathing op-ed piece in Politico against Sarah Palin on Tuesday, he was not only trying to put a dent in her presidential ambitions. He was also encouraging Republicans to break what has largely been a vow of silence among GOP leaders when it comes to criticizing her.

"The same leaders who fret that Sarah Palin could devastate their party in 2012 are too scared to say in public what they all complain about in private," wrote Scarborough, the host of MSNBC's Morning Joe. "Enough. It's time for the GOP to man up."

Scarborough joined other prominent conservative columnists and political strategists, including Peggy Noonan and Karl Rove, who have raised questions about Palin's presidential prospects, but his comments also show how rare it is for influential Republicans to say anything less than polite about her.

Even Rove, who has voiced criticism of the former Alaska governor in the past, has recently showed signs of softening. In an appearance on Fox News last week, he said that Palin's decision to make several stops in Iowa while on tour for her new book was a wise choice.

"She's going to make three stops out of 16 stops on her book tour -- three stops are going to be in the state of Iowa," Rove said. "That's a pretty smart move if you're thinking about running for president."

It's unclear whether Scarborough's blunt assessment of Palin's, in his words, "dopey dream" of running for president will embolden other prominent Republicans to deliver similar assessments. But at least as far as the field of potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates is concerned, almost everyone is practicing good manners -- especially when it comes to Palin.

All the friendly appearances and niceties of GOP leaders will no doubt seem downright tame six months or a year from now, when many of these Republicans are likely to be in the midst of a scrappy fight for the GOP nomination. And although Republicans may be walking on egg shells around Palin, in particular, Scarborough's op-ed points to deep divisions within the party about the wisdom of choosing her as the nominee.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Zahra Baker Case: Warrant's Grim Details on Body Disposal

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(HICKORY, N.C.) -- Grim new details have emerged in the death of disabled 10-year-old Zahra Baker in a police search warrant in which the girl's stepmother told police that bits of bone and bodily fluids could be found in a bathtub drain.

According to the documents, released Tuesday night, Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, told North Carolina police through her lawyer that after the girl's death, Zahra was dismembered before her body parts were placed in trash bags and rolled into a comforter and car cover. Elisa Baker also directed police to a dumpster where she and husband Adam Baker dumped Zahra's mattress, the warrant said.

Investigators eventually found Zahra's prosthetic leg, wrapped in a white trash bag and tossed in a separate dumpster. She had lost her leg, along with most of her hearing in a battle with bone cancer.

Though the warrant offers new information in how Zahra's body was dumped, it does not shed any light on how or why the child died.

In a jailhouse letter obtained by ABC News last month, Elisa Baker wrote, "We really didn't kill her, but what he [Adam Baker] did after the fact is kinda horrifying."

A second warrant revealed that police investigated a secondhand tip that Zahra had been raped by two men before her death when the men hit her on the head. Hickory police would not comment on the warrants, except to say the investigation is ongoing. They are expected to release a statement later today.

Elisa Baker is currently in jail one charge of felony obstruction of justice after allegedly admitting she penned a $1 million ransom note which was discovered Oct. 9, the day Zahra went missing from her Hickory, N.C. home. Adam Baker was held in prison on unrelated charges, but is free on bond.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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