Washington, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. official said Friday. The Saudi government has denied the claim.
The conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this week sanctioned 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies' conclusion was unauthorized to speak publicly about it and spoke on condition of anonymity. It was first reported by The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
This week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing.
Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince's entourage on trips abroad.
The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.
Also this week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor's announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi's death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom's leadership, primarily the crown prince.
President Donald Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince's brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince's brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.
The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, said that claim was false.
She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said.
Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi "anything related to going to Turkey."
"Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him," she said.
"You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this — in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities," Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail.
The ambassador himself tweeted: "The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim."
Chico, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — With the confirmed death toll at 71 and the list of unaccounted for people more than 1,000, authorities in Northern California on Friday searched for those who perished and those who survived the fiercest of wildfires ahead of a planned visit by President Donald Trump.
The president on Saturday is expected to get a look at the grief and damage caused by the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, and he could face resentment from locals for blaming the inferno on poor forest management in California.
In an interview taped Friday and scheduled for broadcast on "Fox News Sunday," Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, "This should have been all raked out."
Deputies found eight more bodies Friday, bringing the death toll to 71.
The number of people unaccounted for grew from 631 on Thursday night to more than 1,000 on Friday, but Sheriff Kory Honea said the list was dynamic and could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names.
He said the roster probably includes some who fled the blaze and do not realize they've been reported missing.
Some on the list have been confirmed as dead by family and friends on social media. Others have been located and are safe, but authorities haven't gotten around to marking them as found.
Tamara Conry said she should never have been on the list.
"My husband and I are not missing and never were!" Conry wrote Thursday night on Facebook. "We have no family looking for us. ... I called and left a message to take our names off."
Authorities compiled the list by going back to listen to all the dispatch calls they received since the fire started, to make sure they didn't miss anyone.
In last year's catastrophic wildfires in California wine country, Sonoma County authorities at one point listed more than 2,000 people as missing. But they slowly whittled down the number. In the end, 44 people died in several counties.
The wildfire this time all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow on Nov. 8, destroying 9,700 houses and 144 apartment buildings, authorities said.
Firefighters were gaining ground against the blaze, which blackened 222 square miles (575 square kilometers). It was 45 percent contained and posed no immediate threat to populated areas. Crews managed to stop it from spreading toward Oroville, population 19,000.
This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.
But some survivors resent that Trump took to Twitter two days after the disaster to blame the wildfires on poor forest mismanagement. He threatened to withhold federal payments from California.
"If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you're going to be accepted? You're not going to have a parade," Maggie Crowder of Magalia said Thursday outside an informal shelter at a Walmart parking lot in Chico.
But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: "I think by maybe seeing it he's going to be like 'Oh, my goodness,' and it might start opening people's eyes."
In his Fox News interview on the eve of his visit, the president repeated his criticism. Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said, "Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management."
Nick Shawkey, a captain with the state fire agency, said the president's tweet blaming poor forest management was based on a "misunderstanding." The federal government manages 46 percent of land in California.
"The thing he's tweeting about is his property," Shawkey said.
California's outgoing and incoming governors said they would join Trump on Saturday.
Democrats Gov. Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom said they welcomed the president's visit and "now is a time to pull together for the people of California." Brown and Newsom have been vocal critics of Trump.
There were also worries the presidential visit would be disruptive.
"It's already a zoo here and I don't care who the president is. He needs to wait because the traffic's already horrendous," said Charlotte Harkness, whose home in Paradise burned down. "He could just tweet something nice — three words: 'I am sorry,' and that's fine."
More than 450 searchers continued looking for human remains in the ashes.
Around 52,000 people have been driven out and have gone to shelters, motels and the homes of friends and relatives. With winter coming on, many are seeking answers on what assistance will be provided.
At the Chico Mall where the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others set up an assistance center, 68-year-old Richard Wilson sought information about lodging. His wife is nearly bedridden from lupus and fibromyalgia.
"We're having to stay at a Marriott, which is like $100 a night, and we're running out of money," Wilson said as he stood outside in rubber sandals and no socks — the only footwear he had when he fled the flames that destroyed his home.
In Southern California , meanwhile, more residents were being allowed back in their homes near Los Angeles after a blaze torched an area the size of Denver and destroyed more than 600 homes and other structures. The blaze was 69 percent contained, authorities said.
At least three deaths were reported.
Schools across a large swath of the state were closed because of smoke, and San Francisco's world-famous open-air cable cars were pulled off the streets.
Washington, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — A federal judge ordered the Trump administration on Friday to immediately return the White House press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, saying Acosta suffered "irreparable harm" from the decision to bar him.
US District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, an appointee of President Donald Trump, announced his decision following a hearing. The judge said Acosta's credentials would be returned immediately and reactivated to allow him access to the White House.
CNN had asked the judge to force the White House to return the credentials that give Acosta, CNN's chief White House correspondent, access to the White House complex for press briefings and other events.
The judge granted CNN's request for a temporary restraining order. A lawsuit that CNN brought against the Trump administration over the issue is continuing.
The White House revoked Acosta's credentials after he and Trump tangled during a press conference last week.
The judge said the government could not say who initially decided to revoke Acosta's hard pass. The White House had spelled out its reasons for revoking his credentials in a tweet from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and in a statement after CNN filed its lawsuit. But the judge said those "belated efforts were hardly sufficient to satisfy due process."
The judge also found that Acosta suffered "irreparable harm," dismissing the government's argument that CNN could simply send other reporters to cover the White House in Acosta's place.
The suit by CNN alleges that Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated by suspending his hard pass. While the judge didn't rule on the underlying case, he signaled they were likely to prevail in their claims.
The judge told attorneys to file additional court papers in the case by Monday.
"Let's go back to work!" Acosta said outside the courthouse after the ruling.
Trump has made his dislike of CNN clear since before he took office and continuing into his presidency. He has described the network as "fake news" both on Twitter and in public comments.
At last week's press conference, which followed the midterm elections, Trump was taking questions from reporters and called on Acosta, who asked about Trump's statements about a caravan of migrants making its way to the U.S.-Mexico border. After a terse exchange, Trump told Acosta, "That's enough," several times while calling on another reporter.
Acosta attempted to ask another question about special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and initially declined to give up a hand-held microphone to a White House intern. Trump responded to Acosta by saying he wasn't concerned about the investigation, calling it a "hoax," and then criticized Acosta, calling him a "rude, terrible person."
The White House pulled Acosta's credentials hours later.
The White House explanations for why it seized Acosta's credentials have shifted over the last week.
Sanders initially explained the decision by accusing Acosta of making improper physical contact with the intern seeking to grab the microphone.
But that rationale disappeared after witnesses backed Acosta's account that he was just trying to keep the microphone, and Sanders distributed a doctored video that made it appear Acosta was more aggressive than he actually was. On Tuesday, Sanders accused Acosta of being unprofessional by trying to dominate the questioning at the news conference.
Beijing, Nov 16 (Xinhua/UNB)- An earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale hit 162km east of Kirakira, Solomon Islands at 2:26 p.m. (0326 GMT) Friday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The epicenter, with a depth of 33 km, was initially determined to be at 10.4 degrees south latitude and 163.4 degrees east longitude.
Magalia, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — At least 63 are now dead from a Northern California wildfire, and officials say they have a missing persons list with 631 names on it in an ever-evolving accounting of the missing after the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century.
Officials were scrambling to pinpoint everyone's whereabouts, and Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Thursday that the high number of missing people probably included some who fled the blaze and didn't realize they had been reported missing.
Authorities were making the list public so people could see if they were on it and let authorities know they were safe, Honea said.
"The chaos that we were dealing with was extraordinary," he said of the early crisis hours last week. "Now we're trying to go back out and make sure that we're accounting for everyone."
Honea released the list as others questioned the chaotic evacuations of Nov. 8.
Ten years ago, as two wildfires advanced on Paradise, residents jumped into their vehicles to flee and got stuck in gridlock. That led authorities to devise a staggered evacuation plan — one that they used when fire came again last week.
But Paradise's carefully laid plans quickly devolved into a panicked exodus last week. Some survivors said that by the time they got warnings, the flames were already extremely close, and they barely escaped with their lives. Others said they received no warnings at all.
Now authorities are facing questions of whether they took the right approach.
It's also a lesson for other communities across the West that could be threatened as climate change and overgrown forests contribute to longer, more destructive fire seasons .
Reeny Victoria Breevaart, who lives in Magalia, a forested community of 11,000 people north of Paradise, said she couldn't receive warnings because cellphones weren't working. She also lost electrical power.
Just over an hour after the first evacuation order was issued at 8 a.m., she said, neighbors came to her door to say: "You have to get out of here."
Shari Bernacett, who with her husband managed a mobile home park in Paradise where they also lived, received a text ordering an evacuation. "Within minutes the flames were on top of us," she said.
Bernacett packed two duffel bags while her husband and another neighbor knocked on doors, yelling for people to get out. The couple grabbed their dog and drove through 12-foot (4-meter) flames to escape.
In the aftermath of the disaster, survivors said authorities need to devise a plan to reach residents who can't get a cellphone signal in the hilly terrain or don't have cellphones at all.
In his defense, Honea said evacuation orders were issued through 5,227 emails, 25,643 phone calls and 5,445 texts, in addition to social media and the use of loudspeakers. As cellphone service went down, authorities went into neighborhoods with bullhorns to tell people to leave, and that effort saved lives.
Honea said he was too busy with the emergency and the recovery of human remains to analyze how the evacuation went. But he said it was a big, chaotic, fast-moving situation, and there weren't enough law enforcement officers to go out and warn everyone.
"The fact that we have thousands and thousands of people in shelters would clearly indicate that we were able to notify a significant number of people," the sheriff said.
Some evacuees were staying in tents and cars at a Walmart parking lot and in a nearby field in Chico, though volunteers are planning to close the makeshift shelter by Sunday.
A Sunday closure "gives us enough time to maybe figure something out," said Mike Robertson, an evacuee who arrived there on Monday with his wife and two daughters.
On Thursday, firefighters reported progress in battling the nearly 220-square-mile (570-square-kilometer) blaze that displaced 52,000 people and destroyed more than 9,500 homes. It was 40 percent contained, fire officials said. Crews slowed the flames' advance on populated areas.
California Army National Guard members, wearing white jumpsuits, looked for human remains in the burned rubble, among more than 450 rescue workers assigned to the task.
President Donald Trump plans to travel to California on Saturday to visit victims of the wildfires burning at both ends of the state. Trump is unpopular in much of Democratic-leaning California but not in Butte County, which he carried by 4 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
The Paradise fire once again underscored shortcomings in warning systems.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in September requiring the development of statewide guidelines for Amber Alert-like warnings. A few Northern California communities are moving to install sirens after wine country residents complained they didn't receive warnings to evacuate ahead of a deadly wildfire in October 2017 that destroyed 5,300 homes.
In 2008, the pair of wildfires that menaced Paradise destroyed 130 homes. No one was seriously hurt, but the chaos highlighted the need for a plan.
Paradise sits on a ridge between two higher hills, with only one main exit out of town. The best solution seemed to be to order evacuations in phases, so people didn't get trapped.
"Gridlock is always the biggest concern," said William Stewart, a forestry professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Authorities developed an evacuation plan that split the town of 27,000 into zones and called for a staggered exodus. Paradise even conducted a mock evacuation during a morning commute, turning the main thoroughfare into a one-way street out of town.
Last week, when a wind-whipped fire bore down on the town, the sheriff's department attempted an orderly, phased evacuation, instead of blasting a cellphone alert over an entire area.
Phil John, chairman of the Paradise Ridge Fire Safe Council, defended the evacuation plan he helped develop. John said that the wildfire this time was exceptionally fast-moving and hot, and that no plan was going to work perfectly.
When the fire reached the eastern edge of Paradise, six zones were ordered to clear out about 8 a.m. But almost simultaneously, the gusting winds were carrying embers the size of dinner plates across town, and structures were catching fire throughout the city. Less than an hour later, the entire town was ordered evacuated.
"It didn't work perfectly," John said Thursday. "But no one could plan for a fire like that."
Likewise, Stewart, the forestry professor, said the wildfire that hit Paradise disrupted the orderly evacuation plan because it "was moving too fast. All hell broke loose."
Satellite images show half the town on fire less than two hours after the first evacuation order.
Stewart said experts continue to debate how best to issue evacuation orders, and no ideal solution has been found.
At the other end of the state, meanwhile, crews continued to gain ground against a blaze of more than 153 square miles (396 square kilometers) that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and other Southern California communities. At least three deaths were reported.