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Entries in American (26)

Wednesday
Aug142013

American Runner Wins in Russia, Criticizes Anti-Gay Law

Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- American runner Nick Symmonds became the first foreign athlete to criticize Russia's new anti-gay law on Russian soil shortly after winning a silver medal at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow.

"I disagree with their laws and I disagree with their views," he told ABC News.

Symmonds said he would like to wear a rainbow flag pin during competitions to show his support for gay rights in Russia and around the world, but quickly added, "They've made it very clear that will land you in jail."

"I'm trying to tread that fine line of being respectful as a guest in this country and also speaking against some serious injustices that I see," he said. "As adamant as I am about this issue, I don't know what me sitting in jail is good for."

On Tuesday night, Symmonds burst out of the pack after the final turn to snag the silver medal in dramatic fashion in the 800 meters final. Afterward, he dedicated his medal to his gay and lesbian friends.

"I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them," he told the Russian sports website R-Sport, according to Russia's state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti.

Symmonds has long been a vocal supporter of gay rights.

"This has been an issue that has been personal for me. From day one I've always spoken out against this one. It's just so ludicrous you would give rights to some people and not to others," he told ABC News.

"It was just such a slap in the face I couldn't sit back and watch it happen to some of my friends," he added.

Earlier this month, Symmonds was criticized by some gay rights supporters for writing on his blog that he would not criticize the law during the world championships.

"The playing field is not a place for politics," he wrote in Runner's World on Aug. 6.

His comments came amid a growing concern that foreign athletes and fans attending international sporting events in Russia, including next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, could be prosecuted under the law.

The law, passed in June, bans "propaganda" of "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors. While the law is ambiguously written, many fear it will be used to persecute homosexuals and their supporters. In practice, it could outlaw even speaking about homosexuality around children or wearing gay pride symbols in public. Violators face steep fines and jail time. Foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation.

The law has sparked outrage overseas, including calls to boycott Russian products like vodka. Others have even called for a boycott of the Sochi games themselves.

The International Olympic Committee said it has received assurances from top Russian officials that athletes and fans are safe from the law, but Russian officials have sent mixed signals. On Monday, Russia's Interior Ministry said the law would remain in effect during the games.

The head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, said last Friday that the IOC was now seeking "clarification" from Russia about how the law would be applied to Olympic guests. The IOC, meanwhile, has reportedly made clear that athletes are prohibited from publicly advocating political positions during the games and could be penalized if they do.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
May242013

US Man Arrested in Murder of Family in Czech Republic

iStockphoto(WASHINGTON) -- A 20-year-old American named Kevin Dahlgren accused in the grisly murders of a family of four in the Czech Republic has been arrested in the United States.

Czech police had targeted Dahlgren and circulated a picture from his Facebook account to police stations, border posts, immigration counters and media outlets across the country. Authorities in neighboring countries had reportedly been alerted to detain Dahlgren, whose Facebook description says he is from Palo Alto, Calif. Police spokeswoman Petra Vedrova told ABC News the suspect may be armed and dangerous.

"Police took measures to stop him from leaving the country, and we're in contact with all neighboring states," she said.

Neighbors said Dahlgren had been visiting his aunt and uncle, Veronika and Martin Harok, and their two sons, 22-year-old Filip and 18-year-old David. They were all found dead by firefighters who responded to what they believe was an attempt by the alleged killer to cover up his crimes.

"We were originally called to intervene against a fire. On the spot the suspicions arose that a violent crime had been committed. We immediately called the police," firefighters' spokesman Jaroslav Mikoska told ABC News.

Veronika Harok was a Czech language teacher at the local elementary school. Martin Harok and his son Filip were musicians who played several nights a week with a local ukulele orchestra, while the youngest victim, David Harok, was described as very involved with sports.

Bozena Zikuskova, a local restaurant owner, told ABC News that Dahlgren would come every other day and always order the same meal. She noted that Dahlgren's Czech was not even good enough to order a meal.

Karel Herman, the front man of Ukulele Orchestra Jako Brno band in which Martin and Flilp Harok played, said "Dahlgren was just visiting his cousins. He arrived in early May and was a completely normal guy."

Neighbors said the crime had shocked the community.

"It's not something you expect from the neighborhood," said , Jan Kral, 56, who said he had lived in the area for 30 years. His wife, Paulina, agreed. "It's frightening," she said. "Very frightening."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell offered no more information than the Czech authorities, saying, "We are aware of this tragic incident and are working with Czech authorities. For any information about the investigation, we refer you to the Czech National Police."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov282012

Seven Bolivian Officials Arrested, Accused of Extorting Jailed American Man

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia) -- Seven Bolivian government officials were arrested on Tuesday after being accused of a plan to rob and extort an American who has been jailed without charge in the South American country for 18 months, according to Bolivia's interior minister.

Jacob Ostreicher, a businessman from Brooklyn who has maintained his innocence, has long said that Bolivian officials targeted him for his successful rice-growing venture they seized when he was arrested last year after being accused of money laundering.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero announced the arrests of the seven officials, including the Interior Ministry's director of legal affairs, Fernando Rivera, and the judge who first jailed Ostreicher. But he offered few details other than to say those detained were suspected of illegal enrichment and extortion, among other crimes.

In May, Nightline traveled to Palmasola, the Bolivian prison where Ostreicher had been held since his arrest in June 2011, to hear his story first-hand.

"Absolutely 100-percent innocent," Ostreicher told Nightline anchor Terry Moran at the time. "And the prosecutors know I am 100-percent innocent."

In Palmasola, there are no guards inside the walls. Prisoners govern themselves. They walk around the streets and alleys between the pavilions of cells. Some bring their wives and children to live with them. Murders are common, as are drugs and prostitution.

"I never, never go out at night," Ostreicher said at the time. "It is absolutely frightening, walking around, like what you -- wherever you walked today, at night, it's very scary."

Despite the arrests, Ostreicher's wife, Miriam Ungar, today told Nightline exclusively that she is keeping her expectations for her husband's freedom tempered, saying she was not getting her hopes up that the arrests meant her husband would be released.

Jacob Ostreicher, a 53-year-old former flooring contractor, turned to growing rice in Bolivia in 2008 after he said a family friend -- a prominent lawyer in Switzerland -- told him it would be a promising investment opportunity.

Ostreicher said he put $200,000, his life savings, into the venture and became a very junior partner in a $25 million project. He said things went well for a year or so. The first harvest yielded nearly 40 million pounds of rice. More than 200 Bolivian workers were employed. Ostreicher helped manage it, traveling frequently to Bolivia.

Then in 2011, Bolivian police arrested one of Ostreicher's former employees and accused him of being involved with drug criminals. Ostreicher said he cooperated fully with police -- and then was arrested himself.

Prosecutors claimed they were investigating whether the $25 million that started the rice business came from drug money, but they have yet to produce evidence to support their allegations.

"So we spent close to $20,000 to get together 1,300 documents to show them the origin of the money," Ostreicher told Nightline. "We provided that to the judge. And the judge gave me my freedom."

But six days later, the judge reversed his decision and Ostreicher was sent back to prison. The judge was later promoted to the appellate court, further delaying proceedings.

Today, Ostreicher is in a hospital after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, but remains in Bolivian police custody. Bolivian authorities said that Bolivian law allows for the incarceration of people without charge for up to 18 months.

He has been in prison for 545 days and at his most recent hearing, on Aug. 30, a judge denied his request to be released on bail, according to his website.

Miriam Ungar visits her husband frequently in prison and said leaving him to return home is "torture." The Ostreichers have five children and 11 grandchildren, and she said the little ones don't understand what happened to their grandfather.

On the wall in the dining area near his cell, Ostreicher's fellow prisoners painted an American flag for him. It is an emotional talisman for him -- a slender, essential lifeline home.

"It means everything to me," he said. "This is what I got, is my flag. I will never look at the American flag the same way again.... Basically I'm hoping, one day, I will see this flag in my country."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar192012

Al Qaeda Group Kills American Teacher in Yemen

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TAIZ, Yemen) -- An American working in Yemen was murdered on the streets Sunday by a gunman reportedly working for the al Qaeda offshoot group, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law).

The group announced later that it targeted 29-year-old Joel Shrum because of his Christian "proselytizing.”

According to witnesses, Shrum was in his car traveling through the city of Taiz when a man riding on the back of a motorcycle pulled up next to his vehicle and shot him to death.

The teacher was an adviser at a Swedish-affiliated institute.  Local police said he died instantly.

In Washington, State Department officials condemned the murder and promised to work with Yemeni authorities to capture Shrum’s killers.

Taiz, south of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, turned volatile during the revolt last year to remove Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has since resigned.

With Yemen going through a political vacuum, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have become emboldened, launching frequent attacks on Yemeni security forces.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb142012

American Detained in Pakistan After Trying to Board Plane with Bullets

Photodisc/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(PESHAWAR, Pakistan) -- An American was briefly detained in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday after trying to board a plane with a magazine and 17 bullets for a 9mm pistol, according to Pakistani police and U.S. officials.

Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, posted a picture of the American’s passport identifying him as Charles Arthur Williams, a 41-year-old from Mississippi.

Without confirming Williams’ name, a U.S. official said the American detained Tuesday morning has diplomatic immunity and works for the embassy in Islamabad, but was on “temporary duty,” or TDY, in the United States’ Peshawar consulate.

Williams has been released by Pakistani police and is now at the consulate, according to police.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec202011

Exclusive: Father of American 'Spy' Calls Iran's Claims 'Bunch of Lies'

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The father of the Iranian-American who appeared to confess to being a spy for the CIA on Iranian television called the allegations of espionage "a bunch of lies" and said he's convinced the Iranian government forced his son to lie.

Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a 28-year-old U.S.-raised dual citizen of Iran and America, was featured on an Iranian television program Sunday, saying he had been trained in intelligence by the U.S. military and sent to Tehran to become a double agent for the CIA from within the intelligence ministry.

"It was their [the CIA's] plan to first burn some useful information, give it to them [the Iranians] and let Iran's Intelligence Ministry think that this is good material," Hekmati says in the video.

However, an unidentified announcer claims Iran's intelligence apparatus detected the plot and arrested Hekmati.  In addition to the alleged confession, Iranian television showed images of Hekmati sometimes in uniform posing with weapons and American military officers.  In another pair of images, identity cards with Hekmati's name and picture identify him first as a U.S. Army soldier and then an "army contractor."

But Hekmati's father, Ali Hekmati, a biology professor at Mott Community College in Flint, Mich., told ABC News any idea that his son is a spy is "absolutely, positively" wrong.

"My son is no spy.  He is innocent.  He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Hekmati said in an exclusive interview.  "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."

Ali Hekmati said his son did join the military in 2001, but served the U.S. Marines, not the Army, and worked in linguistics as an Arabic translator, not in military intelligence.  According to his father, Amir Hekmati never did any intelligence work for the Pentagon or the CIA.

Public records show a man with Hekmati's first and last name apparently lived for years at or near prominent American military bases, including one home less than half a mile from the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, Calif.  At ABC News' request, the U.S. Marines are checking service records for possible information on Hekmati.

After the military, Amir Hekmati went to work for a private security contractor, Ali Hekmati said.

The CIA declined to comment for this report, but one U.S. official said, "Whoever this young American is, he is obviously under duress and in the hands of an enemy.  His safety is paramount."

Ali Hekmati said that since his son's arrest, he's had no direct contact and Amir was only allowed a couple visits by his Iranian grandmothers while in custody.  He has not been provided a lawyer, Ali Hekmati said.

"[I'm] absolutely afraid to death," the elder Hekmati said.  "I don't know what they're going to do with him."

Ali Hekmati said his relatives contacted the U.S. State Department after his son was arrested and were told the government would investigate.  State Deptartment spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Monday the State Department has been providing consular assistance to Hekmati's family, who first reported his detention in September.  Nuland declined to elaborate on Hekmati's wellbeing, citing privacy concerns.

The U.S. has requested access to Hekmati but has yet to receive it, Nuland said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec092011

Kidnapped Former FBI Agent Seen In New 'Proof of Life' Video

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new "proof of life" video emerged Friday of former FBI agent Robert Levinson who disappeared in Iran in 2007, the first substantial piece of public evidence that he is alive and being held as a captive by an unknown group.

In the video, posted by his family on their website, Levinson appears gaunt, addresses "my beautiful, my loving, my loyal wife Christine," and says his diabetes medication is running out.

"I am not in very good health," says Levinson.

He does not name his captors but pleads for the United States to deal with them.

"I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three and a half years," he said, wearing a thin shirt and sitting on the floor in front of a rock facing.

"Please help me get home. Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something. Please help me," Levinson said on the tape, his voice breaking.

Christine Levinson told ABC News that her husband's appearance on the tape made her sad. "He has probably lost 75 pounds," she said, "and the shirt he was wearing is actually the shirt he wore when he disappeared. But I was happy at the same time because it was Bob."

Levinson has seven children and two grandchildren, and this December will mark his fifth holiday season without his family.

"The frustration is that every day passes," said Christine Levinson, "and he's still not home with us, and I don't know how to get him home."

American officials thought Levinson was dead until the hostage video was sent to his wife via e-mail accounts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The family reportedly received the tape last November but is making it public only now.

"It could be that he was captured without authorization and now the group that's holding him is kind of embarrassed by it but they haven't figured out a way yet to let it go," said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism official and now an ABC News consultant.

In a statement on the family website, Levinson's wife, Christine, and son, David, seek to send a message to the group holding the former FBI agent.

"We tried to contact you but you never responded," Levinson's son said.

"No one can help us but you," he said.

Levinson disappeared in March 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish where he had gone as part of his work as a private investigator.

U.S. officials say Levinson was not operating in any way on behalf of the U.S. government or any of its agencies at the time of his disappearance.

Iran has repeatedly denied any knowledge of what happened to Levinson, despite the evidence he was last seen in Iran.

U.S. diplomats have repeatedly pressed Iranian officials about Levinson with little success.

A State Department spokeswoman said Friday it was the family's idea to release the tape, and that she was "hopeful" that the publicity would bring more leads.

"We have been sharing relevant information that we have about his case with many governments to see what we can do," said Victoria Nuland.

However, the State Department currently has no further leads on Levinson's whereabouts.

"We're not in a position to confirm even where he is," Nuland said.

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Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug242011

Pakistani Cops Arrest 3 in American Kidnapping

Pakistan police have released a sketch of a person they believe to be involved in the abduction of Warren Weinstein. Handout(WASHINGTON) -- Pakistani police have arrested three men in connection with the kidnapping of 70-year-old American Warren Weinstein more than 10 days ago.

Police officers declined to give details about who the men are and what their connection to the Aug. 13 abduction may be. The three were detained by police Tuesday but were not officially arrested until Wednesday, authorities said.

No group has come forward to claim the kidnapping or issue demands in exchange for Weinstein's return -- an unusual development which sparked concern among some officials over Weinstein's fate. But one Pakistani intelligence official told ABC News last week there was no evidence to suggest the abductors had intended to kill Weinstein or that he had been accidentally killed.

"The Pakistanis are leading a very vigorous investigation," U.S. Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Wednesday, noting that the FBI and the U.S. Embassy are assisting in efforts to track Weinstein down.

Weinstein, a private U.S. citizen who has lived in Pakistan for seven years, was sleeping in his bed when assailants burst into his home to snatch him. The former USAID worker is currently employed by the private U.S.-based development firm J.E. Austin Associates.

All three suspects are from the same province in which Weinstein lived, an area far from the turbulent tribal regions near the Afghan border more usually associated with violent attacks. The men were arrested after investigators managed to track their cellphone numbers, the Lahore police chief said without elaborating.

Weinstein's friends and colleagues describe him as a diligent worker dedicated to helping Pakistani people.

"He is a tireless worker for development in Pakistan," Geoff Quartermaine Bastin, who worked with Weinstein after meeting him six years ago, told ABC News. Bastin said Weinstein "worked 18-hour days, three phones at once while talking to a fourth person at the table."

"He is very smart, very motivated and loved Pakistan and its people. He is careless of his health and safety, going everywhere to push his projects," Bastin said.

Weinstein suffers from a heart condition, and J.E. Austin Associates released a long list of medications that he takes, appealing to his abductors to provide them for him.

Some in Pakistan have speculated privately that Weinstein was not a development worker, but instead worked in intelligence for the U.S. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah publicly announced his suspicions last week, telling local media that Weinstein was involved in "quite suspect" intelligence-gathering for the U.S. government and compared him to Raymond Davis, the American CIA contractor who was jailed in Pakistan earlier this year for shooting two men on the streets of Lahore.

U.S. diplomats said Weinstein is not connected to any U.S. intelligence groups.

Weinstein is the first private citizen to be kidnapped in Pakistan since al Qaeda operatives abducted and murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug182011

Pakistani Cops Release Sketch of Suspect in Kidnapping of American

Pakistan police have released a sketch of a person they believe to be involved in the abduction of Warren Weinstein. Handout(ISLAMABAD) -- Pakistani police Thursday released a sketch of a person believed to be involved in the abduction of an American citizen in Pakistan, even as local investigators and the FBI admit they have no solid leads as to the whereabouts of 70-year-old Warren Weinstein.

The black-and-white sketch shows a young man with a boyish round face, dark stubble and medium-length dark hair. The FBI is investigating the case along with no less than six different groups of Pakistani officials, both police and U.S. officials admit they do not even know whether the American development expert is still alive. Investigators said they will be administering lie detector tests on Weinstein's local guards and drivers, who provided initial details of the kidnapping.

Weinstein was snatched out of his home in Lahore, where he has lived for the last seven years, over the weekend but no group has come forward to claim the kidnapping or issue demands in exchange for Weinstein's release in the following days -- an unusual development which nurtured fears by some officials over Weinstein's fate. But one Pakistani intelligence official told ABC News there was no evidence to suggest the abductors had intended to kill Weinstein or that he had been accidentally killed.

The intelligence official said there was evidence of a struggle and likely a head wound, but the amount of blood found in the home was not unusual following a kidnapping.

Weinstein, who worked with USAID in the 1990s, has been living privately in Pakistan and working for the U.S.-based J.E. Austin Associates, a company that "assists businesses and governments to achieve sustainable, equitable, business-led economic growth," according to the company's website.

Weinstein's friends and colleagues describe him as a diligent worker and dedicated to helping Pakistani people.

"He is a tireless worker for development in Pakistan," said Geoff Quartermaine Bastin, who worked with Weinstein after meeting him six years ago. Bastin said Weinstein "worked 18-hour days, three phones at once while talking to a fourth person at the table."

"He is very smart, very motivated and loved Pakistan and its people. He is careless of his health and safety going everywhere to push his projects," Bastin said.

Weinstein suffers from a heart condition, and his employer released a long list of medications that he takes, appealing to his abductors to provide them for him.

Some in Pakistan have speculated privately that Weinstein was not a development worker and worked in intelligence for the U.S. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah publicly announced his suspicions, telling local media that Weinstein was involved in "quite suspect" intelligence-gathering for the U.S. government and compared him to Raymond Davis, the American CIA contractor who was jailed in Pakistan earlier this year for shooting two men on the streets of Lahore.

U.S. diplomats said Weinstein is not connected to any U.S. intelligence groups, and no Pakistani official has publicly said so other than Sanaullah.

Weinstein's kidnapping comes as U.S. and Pakistani officials are attempting to mend a rocky relationship strained first by the Raymond Davis affair and later by the U.S.'s unilateral raid of Osama bin Laden's compound deep in Pakistani territory in May.

"We consider our relationship with Pakistan to be of paramount importance," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday at the National Defense University. "We think it is very much in America's interest. We think it is in the long-term interest of Pakistan for us to work through what are very difficult problems in that relationship."

Weinstein is the first American working privately in Pakistan to be kidnapped since Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was abducted in January 2002 and later beheaded on camera by al Qaeda operatives.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun092011

American Soldier Killed in Western Afghanistan

ABC News(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- An American soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Thursday.

"One United States Forces-Afghanistan service member was killed on June 7 in western Afghanistan during an operation," a release from the ISAF said.

The soldier's identity was not immediately released.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio