Milan, Mar 21 (AP/UNB) — A bus driver in northern Italy abducted 51 children and their school chaperones Wednesday, threatening the hostages' lives for 40 minutes and setting the bus on fire at a Carabinieri blockade.
Officers from the national police force broke windows at the back of the bus to reach the passengers and got all of them out without serious injuries before flames destroyed the vehicle, authorities said.
The driver was apprehended and treated for burns. Prosecutors described him as a 47-year-old Italian citizen of Senegalese origin and said he told authorities he wanted to vindicate Europe-bound migrants who have died in the Mediterranean Sea but did not plan to hurt anyone.
However, prosecutors said the suspect, identified as Ousseynou Sy, made preparations that showed his actions were premediated, such as buying a canister of gasoline and restraints on Tuesday.
He also sent a video to friends in Italy and Senegal indicating plans for a bold action and with the message, "Africa, Rise up," they said.
Sy was being investigated on suspicion of kidnapping, intention to commit a massacre, arson and resisting law enforcement, with terrorism as an aggravating circumstance since the event caused panic. Prosecutors said they have found no evidence of Islamic radicalization or ties to extremists, saying it appeared the bus driver acted alone.
Chief prosecutor Francesco Greco praised the Carabinieri for moving swiftly to block the bus and remove the children.
"They carried out an operation that we see in films with special agents," Greco said.
"Thank goodness, because by then the intent to massacre had ignited, and the man was starting to set fire to the bus, as he did," he said.
Milan's provincial Carabinieri commander, Luca De Marchis, told broadcaster Sky TG24 that the bus was ferrying two middle-school classes between school and a nearby gym in Cremona province, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Milan.
The driver threatened the passengers, telling them "no one would survive today" as he commandeered the bus, De Marchis said.
Italian news agency ANSA quoted one of the students as saying the driver everyone's phones and ordered the chaperones to bind the students' hands with cable ties, threatening to spill gas and set the bus ablaze. ANSA said the chaperones only loosely bound several students' hands with the zip ties, not everyone's.
One of the middle school students described his terror in an interview with La Repubblica TV, his face obscured due to his age. His name was not given.
"We were all very afraid because the driver had emptied the gas canister onto the floor (of the bus.) He tied us up and took all the telephones so we could not call the police," the student said.
"One of the telephones, belonging to a classmate, fell to the ground, so I pulled off the handcuffs, hurting myself a bit, and went and picked it up. We called the Carabinieri and the police."
Authorities said that an adult called an emergency operator, while one of the students called a parent, and they alerted authorities, who set up roadblocks. The bus was intercepted on the outskirts of Milan by three Carabinieri vehicles, which were able to force it into the guardrail, De Marchis said.
"While two officers kept the driver busy — he took a lighter and threatened to set fire to the vehicle with a gasoline canister on board — the others forced open the back door, breaking two windows," De Marchis said. While the evacuation was still underway, the driver started the blaze.
De Marchis credited the officers' "swiftness and courage," for getting out all the children and their teachers "with no tragic consequences."
Some of the passengers were treated at a hospital, mostly for cuts and scratches related to the evacuation, he said.
Prosecutors confirmed that Sy, who became an Italian citizen in 2004, had been convicted in 2007 and 2011 of drunken driving and sexual molestation of a minor. Sky TG24 said that the driver had worked for the bus company for 15 years without any employment-related issues.
"Investigators must clarify how the transport company permitted such a delinquent ... to drive a bus, especially one carrying children," said Riccardo De Corato, a Milan provincial official for security.
Video showed firefighters dousing the bus that had been completely gutted by flames, leaving only the charred metal frame.
New Zealand, Mar 21 (AP/UNB) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand is immediately banning sales of military style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines like the weapons used in last Friday's attacks on two Christchurch mosques.
Ardern announced the ban Thursday and said it would be followed by legislation to be introduced next month.
She said the man arrested in the attacks had purchased his weapons legally and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines "done easily through a simple online purchase."
An imam says he's expecting thousands of people at an emotional Friday prayer service a week after an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Six more funerals were being held Thursday for the 50 people killed last Friday.
Iman Gamal Fouda says he's been discussing plans for the prayer service with city officials and lawmakers and expects it will take place in a park across from Al Noor mosque, where at least 42 were killed.
Fouda expects 3,000 to 4,000 people, including many from abroad. He said members of the Linwood mosque, where the gunman killed seven people, also would attend the joint prayer.
He says mosque workers have been feverishly working to repair the destruction from the attack. They will bury the blood-soaked carpet.
Utrecht, Mar 18 (AP/UNB) — A gunman killed three people and wounded nine others on a tram in the central Dutch city of Utrecht, sparking a manhunt that saw heavily armed officers with sniffer dogs zero in on an apartment building close to the shooting.
Authorities immediately raised the terror alert for the area to the maximum level, and the city's mayor said a "terror motive" was the most likely theory. Dutch military police went on extra alert at Dutch airports and at key buildings in the country as the Utrecht manhunt took place.
A few hours after the shooting, Utrecht police released a photo of a 37-year-old man born in Turkey who they said was "associated with the incident." The photo showed a bearded man on board a tram, dressed in a dark blue hooded top.
Police warned citizens not to approach the man, whom they identified as Gokmen Tanis, but call authorities instead.
The Utrecht attack came three days after 50 people were killed when an immigrant-hating white nationalist opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand during Friday prayers. There was no immediate indication of any link between the two events.
Police, including heavily armed officers, flooded the area after the shooting Monday morning on a tram at a busy traffic intersection in a residential neighborhood. They later erected a white tent over an area where a body appeared to be lying next to the tram.
Utrecht police said trauma helicopters were sent to the scene and appealed to the public to stay away.
Heavily armed anti-terror officers gathered in front of an apartment building close to the scene. A sniffer dogs wearing a tactical vest with a camera mounted on it was also seen outside the building.
Mayor Jan van Zanen confirmed three deaths and said that nine people were wounded, three of them seriously.
"We cannot exclude, even stronger, we assume a terror motive. Likely there is one attacker, but there could be more," van Zanen said.
"Our nation was hit by an attack in Utrecht," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. He said that "a terror motive is not excluded."
Rutte said that, throughout the country, "there is a mix of disbelief and disgust."
"If it is a terror attack then we have only one answer: our nation, democracy must be stronger that fanaticism and violence," he added.
Police spokesman Bernhard Jens said one possibility "is that the person fled by car." He did not rule out the possibility that more than one shooter was involved.
The Netherlands' anti-terror coordinator raised the threat alert to its highest level around Utrecht, a city of nearly 350,000 people. Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said the "threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province."
Dutch political parties halted campaigning ahead of provincial elections scheduled for Wednesday that will also determine the makeup of the Dutch parliament's upper house.
In neighboring Germany, police said they had stepped up surveillance of the Dutch border. Heinrich Onstein, a spokesman for federal police in North Rhine-Westphalia state, said additional officers had been detailed to watch not only major highways, but also minor crossings and railway routes.
German authorities were initially told to look out for a red Renault Clio compact sedan, but were later informed it had been found abandoned in Utrecht, Onstein said.
Indonesia, Mar 18 (AP/UNB) — The number of people killed after torrential downpours triggered flash floods and mudslides that tore through mountainside villages in Indonesia's easternmost province has climbed to 79, with dozens of others missing, officials said Monday.
On Sunday, the disaster-prone country was hit by an earthquake, triggering a landslide that hit a popular waterfall on the tourist island of Lombok, killing at least three people and damaging hundreds of homes.
The worst-hit area from the flooding was Sentani subdistrict, where tons of mud, rocks and trees from a landslide on a mountain early Sunday rolled down to a river that burst its banks, sweeping away residents, National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference in the capital, Jakarta.
Floodwaters and landslides destroyed roads and bridges in several areas of Papua province's Jayapura district following days of torrential rains, hampering rescue efforts, Nugroho said.
"The combination of natural factors and human activities has caused this fatal disaster," he said.
Nugroho said 79 bodies had been pulled from the mud and wreckage of crumpled homes by Sunday. Another 74 people were hospitalized, many with broken bones and head wounds.
Nugroho said the number of dead and injured would likely increase since affected areas had not been reached and rescuers were still searching for dozens of people reportedly still missing.
"We are overwhelmed by too many injuries," said Haerul Lee, the head of the Jayapura health office, adding that some medical facilities had been hit by power outages. "We can't handle it alone."
Papua military spokesman Col. Muhammad Aidi said rescuers saved two injured infants who had been trapped for more than six hours. The parents of one of the babies were washed away and died.
Nugroho said rescuers evacuated more than 4,200 people to temporary shelters as more than 600 houses and buildings were damaged and submerged.
Television footage showed hundreds of rescuers and members of the police and military evacuating residents to shelters at a government office. Others were carrying bodies in black and orange body bags. Ambulances and vehicles were seen carrying victims on muddy roads to several clinics and hospitals.
Seasonal downpours cause frequent landslides and floods and kill dozens each year in Indonesia, a chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood plains.
Meanwhile, a moderately strong earthquake triggered a landslide on Lombok island on Sunday. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 5.5 and struck at a depth of 23 kilometers (15 miles).
The earthquake was felt across the island, located next to Bali, panicking residents still recovering from a major quake last August that killed more than 300 people and left thousands homeless.
Sunday's quake triggered a landslide from Mount Rinjani and hit dozens of tourists at the Tiu Kelep waterfall located in the foothills of the active volcano, said Nugroho, the disaster agency spokesman.
Two Malaysians and a 14-year-old Indonesian boy were killed in the landslide, Nugroho said.
He said rescuers managed to evacuate 22 Malaysians and 14 Indonesians from the waterfall site, and 56 others — mostly local surveyors from government institutions, the military and the police — from the mountainous area.
At least 182 people were injured in the quake, including 26 Malaysians, Nugroho said. About 525 homes were damaged, including 32 that were flattened.
Indonesia sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire" and has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations was ready to help Indonesia cope with the disasters.
"The United Nations expresses its solidarity with the Indonesian authorities and stands ready to work with them as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from both natural disasters," the spokesman for the secretary-general said in a statement.
New Zealand, Mar 17 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman says three more Pakistanis have been identified among those killed in the attacks on two mosques in New Zealand. That brings the number of Pakistanis killed to nine.
Spokesman Mohammad Faisal? in his latest tweet Sunday said Zeeshan Raza, his father Ghulam Hussain and mother Karam Bibi are now confirmed to have killed in the terrorist attack in Christchurch.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Saturday that six Pakistanis were confirmed dead. They were identified as Sohail Shahid, Syed Jahandad Ali, Syed Areeb Ahmed, Mahboob Haroon, Naeem Rashid and his son Talha Naeem.
Rashid and Naeem gave their lives attempting to snatch the attacker's gun.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the bodies of the 50 people killed in Friday's mosque attacks will start being released to family members beginning Sunday evening.
Ardern says only a small number of bodies will be released initially, and that authorities hope to release all the bodies by Wednesday.
Islamic law calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours.
Anguished relatives have been anxiously waiting for authorities to release the remains.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush says they are working as quickly as they can, but authorities have to be absolutely clear on the causes of death and confirm identities before they can release bodies.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reiterated her promise that there will be changes to the country's gun laws in the wake of a terrorist attack on two mosques and said her Cabinet will discuss the policy details on Monday.
At a Sunday news conference, Arden used some of her strongest language yet about gun control, saying that laws need to change and "they will change."
New Zealand has fewer restrictions on rifles or shotguns than many countries, while handguns are more tightly controlled.
Unlike the U.S., the right to own a firearm is not enshrined in New Zealand's constitution.
Ardern declined to discuss more details until she'd talked to her Cabinet, the group of top lawmakers that guides policies.
Friday's mass shootings in Christchurch killed 50 people.
New Zealand police say they have found another body at one of the mosques that was attacked, raising the death toll in the shootings to 50.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced the latest death in a news conference Sunday. He says 36 victims remain hospitalized, with two of them in critical condition.
Bush also said that two people arrested around the time suspect Brenton Harrison Tarrant was apprehended are not believed to have been involved in the attacks on two mosques Friday.
He says one of those people has been released and the other has been charged with firearms offenses.
Tarrant is 28 and was arraigned Saturday on the first of many expected murder charges.