http://www.wsj.com/articles/sydney-cafe-siege-ends-in-deaths-questions … – Wall Street Journal

By

Daniel Stacey

Updated Dec. 15, 2014 11:19 p.m. ET

SYDNEY—The 16-hour siege of a Sydney cafe ended with three people dead, including the lone gunman whose Islamist rhetoric raised fears in Australia about the threat posed by radicalized individuals with no clear links to organized terror groups.

Police stormed the Lindt Chocolate Café in the heart of this city’s business district behind a barrage of gunfire after hours of fruitless negotiations, during which most of the captor’s 17 hostages managed to escape. Two hostages—a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman—were killed during the siege. Police, who said the raid was triggered by the sound of gunshots, didn’t say whether the victims’ wounds came from the gunman himself.

“Unbelievably, overnight we have lost some of our own in an attack we would never think we would see in our city,” said Mike Baird, premier of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.

The gunman was identified as 50-year-old Man Haron Monis , a self-proclaimed Shiite cleric with a history of run-ins with Australian law enforcement.

One of the dead hostages was identified as Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old lawyer and mother of three, who worked at Eight Selborne Chambers in nearby Phillip Street. New South Wales Bar Association President Jane Needham said Ms. Dawson was a devoted mother and “one of our best and brightest barristers who will be greatly missed by her colleagues.”

The second hostage who died was the 34-year-old manager of the cafe, Tori Johnson. “We are very proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for,” said Mr. Johnson’s family in a statement.

Lindt Australia Chief Executive Stephen Loane said Mr. Johnson had been with the company for just over two years and was a dedicated professional who had built a great rapport with his customers and was much loved by the Lindt team. “By nature he was a perfectionist and he had a genuine passion for the hospitality industry and people,” Mr. Loane said in a statement on the company’s Facebook page. “He was a really important part of our management team in Australia and his loss is absolutely tragic.”

Tuesday morning, the city was reeling from the violence overnight. Flowers were laid in the pedestrian street near the cafe, along with toys and candles. Many passersby were in tears.

The brazen attack showed how countries such as Australia are struggling to counter threats by so-called lone wolf operators—individuals who are often shunned by local religious communities, attack with little planning and often make incoherent demands of authorities.

Related Coverage

Two months ago, a man fatally shot a soldier at Canada’s National War Memorial before being killed inside the country’s parliament building, in a terror attack that shut down the capital city. Another attack in the U.K. in 2013 involved two men who hacked an off-duty soldier to death in public view on a London street. None was found to have a robust link to any terrorist group, despite their desire to align themselves with Islamist causes.

People who knew Mr. Haron described him as an outcast in Sydney’s Shiite community. His ideology appeared to be conflicted, as he identified himself as a Shiite but espoused the goals of the radical Sunni group Islamic State.

The Lindt cafe—a popular hangout for office workers and holiday shoppers this time of year—was close to the offices of Australia’s central bank and several big financial institutions, including Commonwealth Bank of Australia Ltd.

Inside, 17 people were enjoying a bright summer morning. Around them were stacked boxes of Swiss chocolates.

As Mr. Haron entered the cafe, the situation quickly changed. Police say he produced a weapon. Photos showed him wearing a black headband emblazoned with Arabic script. A staff member and another woman were forced to the front of the store, holding aloft a black flag printed with the Shahadah, a profession of Islamic faith.

Across Martin Place, a pedestrian street in Sydney’s financial district not far from the Sydney Opera House and the main ferry terminal, are the studios of Seven Network, the most popular television station in Australia. Morning television hosts turned outside and saw hostages appearing at the windows of the cafe.

For 40 minutes, their show carried a live broadcast of the siege, capturing fuzzy pictures of a man pacing inside the cafe through windows emblazoned with golden letters reading “Merry Christmas.”

Police poured into Martin Place. Soon, a 200-yard cordon was set up around the cafe. Nearby workers were evacuated, or locked into their buildings.

Australia has restrictive gun laws that ban certain semiautomatic weapons and force license applicants to show a “genuine reason” for owning a firearm, such as belonging to a shooting club or having an occupational requirement. Self-defense isn’t considered to be an adequate reason for possessing a firearm, and there is no constitutional right to bear arms like there is in the U.S.

Australia’s gun laws were tightened substantially in 1996 following the so-called Port Arthur massacre, when 35 people were indiscriminately killed by a gunman at a historic Tasmanian penal site turned tourist attraction.

Inside the cafe Monday, Mr. Haron was desperately trying to get someone to broadcast his thoughts and grievances. In his last online sermon published on what is believed to be his website on Oct. 6, Mr. Haron railed against moderate Muslims in a quasi-scholarly appeal for a staunchly literalist interpretation of the Quran.

“According to the Holy Quran, if we denounce one verse or one rule of the Holy Quran we are not Muslim,” his diatribe on sheikhharon.com read. “A member of the new religion of “Moderate Islam” is not a Muslim.”

But with media companies refusing to broadcast his message or meet his demands, Mr. Haron grew frustrated. His website was also swiftly taken down after he was identified as the assailant.

Mr. Haron ordered hostages to film videos inside the cafe and posted them online. Four YouTube videos appeared online, and Mr. Haron forced hostages to post them on their Facebook pages to gain wider coverage. The videos were quickly deleted. Copies of the videos obtained by The Wall Street Journal show female hostages making various demands on behalf of the hostage taker.

In one, Julie Taylor, also a barrister at Eight Selborne Chambers, recites a list of demands in exchange for releasing hostages. Behind her, a male hostage holds up a black Islamic flag. Among the demands was a meeting with Australia’s prime minister. Another was to have Australian politicians confirm the siege as an official Islamic State attack.

None of those demands was apparently met.

Antiterror experts said the attack looked erratic, with Mr. Haron seemingly unable to get a grip on how many people were in the cafe when it went into lockdown. That complicated the task of police negotiators drafted in to ensure a safe conclusion.

As the hours of the siege ticked on, an eerie silence descended on Martin Place. What had been a bustling site during the day, with mobs of onlookers gathering at the police tape to catch a glimpse of the siege, simmered down to around 200 people. Negotiators appeared to be buying time to allow investigators to figure out who they were dealing with, formulate a rescue plan, and potentially wear out the hostage-taker.

Just after 2 a.m., police said they heard gunfire coming from inside the cafe. At that point, special operations police stormed the front of the building, unleashing a sustained volley of automatic gunfire.

Andrew Balfe, an 18 year-old Irish national, who arrived in Sydney at the start of November, was visibly shaken by what he saw. “It was terrifying,” said Mr. Balfe, from Wexford. “The gunfire started and the whole building lit up.”

—James Glynn, Ross Kelly, Rebecca Thurlow and Lucy Craymer contributed to this article.

Write to James Glynn at james.glynn@wsj.com and David Winning at david.winning@wsj.com

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Police in Pa. search for man suspected of killing ex-wife, 5 former in-laws – CNN

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Police descend on Doylestown, Pa., after possible sighting of suspect
  • Killings break the calm in three small towns in Pennsylvania
  • DA says suspect killed his ex-wife and five in-laws
  • Suspect identified as Bradley William Stone, 35, of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania

(CNN) — Police in Pennsylvania mounted an intense search Monday in the Philadelphia suburbs for a man suspected of killing his ex-wife and five former in-laws, the district attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, said at a Monday night press conference.

Bradley William Stone of Pennsburg killed his ex-wife and her mother, grandmother and sister, as well as the sister’s husband and 14-year-old daughter, said District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.

But Stone didn’t harm his two daughters, who were living with his ex-wife. He took them to a neighbor’s residence in Pennsburg, the last place he was seen, Ferman said.

Police name suspect in Pa. shooting

Cops barricade homes in gunman search

“We do not know where he is,” Ferman said. “We do not have vehicle information. We actually recovered his vehicle and his personal cellphone so we do not have information how he might be traveling.”

She didn’t provide a motive for the slayings. Stone was described as armed and dangerous.

Late Monday night, police agencies descended on Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to investigate a possible sighting of Stone, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. Doylestown is about 25 miles from Pennsburg.

A “shelter in place” had been ordered in the surrounding area where the sighting occurred, according to the source, and K-9 units have been asked to respond to the area as well.

Suspect led American Legion post

The killings broke the calm in several small towns in Montgomery County, the second wealthiest county in Pennsylvania and the 51st wealthiest in the United States, according to the county government web page.

Stone served as a reservist in the U.S. Marines until 2011, mainly as a meteorologist, according to the Marines. He spent a few months in Iraq in 2008.

William Schafte of Harleysville, who described himself as a friend, said Stone was a “good guy” who helped people who needed money or a hand, according to the Morning Call newspaper of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Stone served as president of the American Legion William E. Hare Post 206 in Lansdale about a decade ago, said the current post commander John Gillmer, the Morning Call reported.

“He was always on the honor guard and stuff like that for parades,” Gillmer told the Morning Call. “I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. … I never would have thought it was one of our guys.”

911 hangup call started investigation

Ferman said the investigation started at 4:25 a.m. with a 911 hangup call directing police to the town of Lansdale, 28 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

When police arrived, they found two slain women: Stone’s former mother-in-law and former grandmother-in-law, Ferman said.

At 4:55 a.m. a neighbor of Stone’s ex-wife called 911, Ferman said. Police went to an apartment in Lower Salford and found Nicole Stone, 33, dead.

Another neighbor, Michele Brewster said she heard a loud crash and shattering glass.

“Thought I heard a gunshot, but wasn’t sure,” she said. “A few minutes later I saw flashlights — it was the cops putting up police tape so I went outside.”

Brewster said she asked an officer if gunshots had been fired. He said yes.

“I asked him if she was dead,” Brewster said, “but he said he couldn’t tell me that.”

At 5:30 a.m. Stone delivered his two daughters to a neighbor in Pennsburg, Ferman said.

“That was the last time he was seen by anyone,” she said. “I think it’s of great significance the children are safe right now.”

About 8 a.m., police went to the home of Nicole Stone’s sister, Patricia Flick, in Souderton. Officers found Flick, her husband and the couple’s 14-year-old daughter dead, Ferman said.

The sister’s 17-year-old son was wounded and was being treated at a Philadelphia hospital, Ferman said.

Suspect may be wearing fatigues

Though last discovered, it appears the killings in Souderton took place first, the district attorney said.

Ferman’s office said Stone may be wearing military fatigues, in either sand or green color.

According to Montgomery County court documents found online, the Stones divorced in 2009.

In family court papers, Stone’s ex-wife said he claimed in a 2011 hearing that he was “permanently disabled,” according to the Veterans Administration, but that he had not applied for Social Security disability benefits.

The Marine Corps told CNN it has no record of Stone being injured.

“Earlier today we indicated that he does on occasion use a cane or a walker, but he may or may not be using those devices,” Ferman said at the press conference. “It’s been indicated to us it may not have been necessary. … If he has escaped he might be seen using a device or not.”

CNN affiliate WPVI said police originally thought Stone was holed up inside the house in Lansdale, so officers surrounded the residence.

Heavily armed SWAT teams tossed flash-bang devices into the house and stormed the residence, but police said Stone was not inside.

Fast Facts: Rampage killings in the United States

CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia and Lawrence Crook contributed to this article.

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Vivek Murthy confirmed by Senate as surgeon general – New York Daily News

Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee to be the next surgeon general, was confirmed by the Senate on Monday.Charles Dharapak/Ap Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s nominee to be the next surgeon general, was confirmed by the Senate on Monday.

The Senate confirmed Vivek Murthy as the nation’s surgeon general Monday in a small victory over the gun lobby, which is rarely defeated in Congress.

The 51-to-43 vote came after the National Rifle Association and its congressional allies blocked Murthy’s confirmation for 10 months over his views on gun regulation.

The vote, along party lines, was part of a push by Senate Democrats to confirm dozens of President Obama’s stalled nominations in the last days of the congressional session before Republicans assume control in January.

Murthy, 37, faced opposition because he was the founder of a group called Doctors for Obama and supported tougher gun laws.

He has said he won’t focus on gun violence as the nation’s lead medical spokesman, a job with little formal power.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) delayed a vote on Murthy in February, fearing Dems in tough reelection races would oppose him. The move left the U.S. without a top health spokesman during a near-panic over Ebola.

Obama applauded the confirmation, saying Murthy would bring “his lifetime of experience promoting public health to bear on priorities ranging from stopping new diseases to helping our kids grow up healthy and strong.”

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Police storm Sydney cafe to end hostage siege, three dead – Reuters

By Lincoln Feast and Colin Packham

SYDNEY Tue Dec 16, 2014 8:53am IST

New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione (R) and New South Wales Premiere Mike Baird conduct a press conference related to the siege at a Sydney cafe, hours after the siege ended December 16, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Reed

1 of 7. New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione (R) and New South Wales Premiere Mike Baird conduct a press conference related to the siege at a Sydney cafe, hours after the siege ended December 16, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Heavily armed Australian police stormed a Sydney cafe early on Tuesday morning and freed terrified hostages being held there at gunpoint, in a dramatic end to a 16-hour siege in which two captives and the attacker were killed.

Authorities have not publicly identified the gunman, but a police source named him as Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh known for sending hate mail to the families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan. He was charged last year with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife but had been free on bail.

During the siege, several videos were posted on social media apparently showing hostages inside the Lindt cafe in Sydney’s central business district making demands on behalf of Monis.

The gunman, whom hostages referred to as “brother”, demanded to talk to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the delivery of an Islamic State flag, and that media broadcast that Australia was under attack by Islamic State.

Abbott said the gunman was well known to authorities and had a history of extremism and mental instability.

Police are investigating whether the two hostages were killed by the gunman or died in the crossfire, said Andrew Scipione, police commissioner for the state of New South Wales.

Around 2 a.m. local time (1500 GMT on Monday), at least six people believed to have been held captive in the cafe managed to flee after gunshots were heard coming from inside.

Police then moved in, with heavy gunfire and blasts from stun grenades echoing from the building.

“They made the call because they believed at that time if they didn’t enter there would have been many more lives lost,” Scipione told reporters just before dawn.

CAFE MANAGER, LAWYER KILLED

Police said a 50-year-old man, believed to be the attacker, was killed. Television pictures showed he appeared to have been armed with a sawn-off shotgun.

A man aged 34 and a 38-year-old woman were also killed, police said. The man was the cafe manager, and the woman was a mother and lawyer, Sydney media reported.

At least four were wounded, including a policeman hit in the face with shotgun pellets. Among the wounded was a 75-year-old woman who was shot in the shoulder, police said. Two other pregnant women who were among the hostages were taken to hospital for assessment. All were in stable condition.

Medics tried to resuscitate at least one person after the raid, a Reuters witness said. Bomb squad members moved in to search for explosives, but none were found.

So far 17 hostages have been accounted for, including at least five who were released or escaped on Monday.

The area around the cafe remained cordoned off with police tape on Tuesday morning.

Office workers stood in long queues outside florist shops, with many bouquets already placed near the police tape. Dozens of bouquets also formed a makeshift shrine at a nearby train station, while flags flew at half mast across the country.

A memorial service, attended by community leaders including Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, was held at St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday, barely a block from where the siege unfolded.

Leaders from around the world had expressed their concern over the siege, including Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, which suffered an attack on its parliament by a suspected jihadist sympathiser in October.

NO LINKS TO TERROR GROUPS

Monis was found guilty in 2012 of sending threatening letters to the families of eight Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan as a protest against Australia’s involvement there. He was also facing more than 40 sexual assault charges.

“He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra. The prime minister did not identify the gunman.

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird declined to comment when asked by a journalist whether it was appropriate for Monis to be free on bail.

A U.S. security official said the U.S. government was being advised by Australia that there was no sign at this stage that the gunman was connected to known terrorist organisations.

Although the hostage taker was known to the authorities, security experts said preventing attacks by people acting alone was difficult.

“We are entering a new phase of terrorism that is far more dangerous and more difficult to defeat than al Qaeda ever was,” ​said Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin, speaking in New York.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has been on high alert for attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East or their supporters.

News footage showed hostages in the cafe holding up a black and white flag displaying the Shahada, a declaration of faith in Islam. The flag has been popular among Sunni Islamist militant groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.

The incident forced the evacuation of nearby buildings.

In September, anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and, days later, a teenager in the city of Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.

The siege cafe is in Martin Place, a pedestrian strip that was revealed as a potential location for the thwarted beheading.

Muslim leaders urged calm. The Australian National Imams Council condemned “this criminal act unequivocally” in a joint statement with the Grand Mufti of Australia.

A social media movement showing solidarity with Australian Muslims was also gathering steam.

(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell, Matt Siegel, Swati Pandey, Wayne Cole and Jason Reed in Sydney and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Dean Yates and Paul Tait; Editing by Will Waterman)

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Iraq war veteran suspected in 6 fatal Pennsylvania shootings still at large – Los Angeles Times

An Iraq war veteran suspected in a shooting rampage that left six of his estranged family members dead remained at large late Monday as the manhunt continued north of Philadelphia.

The victims included his ex-wife, her mother, her grandmother, her sister, her brother-in-law and a niece. A nephew was wounded.

Former Marine Sgt. Bradley William Stone, 35, also may have abducted his two daughters from his ex-wife’s home, a witness said, but dropped them off with a neighbor before he vanished. By late Monday night, the manhunt had spilled from Montgomery County into Bucks County, leading residents in Doylestown to shelter indoors.

Stone, of Pennsburg, was being sought on suspicion of shootings in the towns of Lansdale, Lower Salford Township and Souderton. The communities are 35 to 50 miles north of Philadelphia.

Montgomery County law enforcement officials described a series of attacks that began at 3:30 a.m. and continued until 5 a.m., until Stone dropped off his daughters and disappeared, abandoning his vehicle and his cellphone.

A possible sighting of Stone took place Monday night: The township of Doylestown said an attempted armed robbery took place about 7 p.m. local time involving a man whose description was similar to that of Stone. A white man dressed in camouflage clothing and carrying a knife demanded car keys from a person walking a dog, the township said on Facebook. The victim had a gun and fired at the man, who ran away, the township said.

On Monday morning, Stone’s ex-wife, Nicole Stone, 33, was found dead in her home in Lower Salford Township.

Nicole and Bradley Stone had divorced in 2009.

“They’ve been fighting for years, real bad,” a neighbor, Michele Brewster, told the Allentown Morning Call. “He’s been tormenting her. She’s gone to the police, and she has told everybody, ‘He’s going to kill me.”’

The Stones had been involved in a protracted custody battle over their two daughters, according to a friend of Bradley Stone.

“She was trying to hold the kids from him, and he just snapped,” theorized Matthew Schafte, 42. “But to snap by killing her family members is not the Brad that I know.… He was a nice guy.” Schafte, of Harleysville, said he has known Stone for 20 years.

Stone was seen around 5 a.m., when he “delivered” his two daughters to a neighbor in Pennsburg, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman told reporters at a brief news conference.

The girls were safe, Ferman said. But much of their extended family is now dead.

The first attack apparently began at 3:30 a.m. in Souderton, where Nicole Stone’s sister, Patricia Flick, Flick’s husband, and their 14-year-old daughter were found dead, Ferman said.

Flick’s 17-year-old son was injured in the attack and was apparently not found until shortly before 8 a.m., when authorities visited the home and took him to a hospital, Ferman said. His name was not released and the extent of his injuries was not known.

Nicole Stone’s mother and grandmother were found dead at a home in Lansdale after a hang-up 911 call was placed to police at 4:25 a.m., Ferman said. Officials did not give their names.

Nicole Stone was found dead in Lower Salford Township after a 911 call from a neighbor at 4:55 a.m., Ferman said.

“I heard a ‘pow,’ and I thought, ‘Was that a gun?'” Brewster, Nicole Stone’s neighbor, told the Morning Call.

Another neighbor, Ashley Deane, told the newspaper she heard what sounded like four gunshots and could hear children screaming for their mother.

Deane said she could hear her neighbor’s ex-husband telling the children that they had to leave. She said she looked out the front window and saw him with the children, ages 5 and 7, who were in their pajamas.

The ex-husband looked at Deane and said, “She’s hurt,” referring to his ex-wife, Deane told the Morning Call, adding that the ex-husband and the children then got in a car and sped off.

The manhunt forced local schools to shelter in place as authorities spent the day hunting for the balding, red-haired Bradley Stone, whom officials consider armed and dangerous. Local media reported that SWAT teams swarmed his home in Pennsburg, but he remained at large.

A Facebook page under Stone’s name said he had a son and showed a photo of him kissing the bride at a wedding. Among favorite quotes listed on the Facebook page: “If you [expletive] with me, I’ll kill you all,” and “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Stone’s friend Schafte described him as being focused on the Marines and on his children, including a son with a new partner.

“He loved life, he loved his country, he went to serve, he was so proud of his babies, especially when he got married to Nicole,” Schafte told The Times, adding that around town “he’d be a bartender or help out or go to the local legion or VFW — it was all about veterans.”

The Marine Corps confirmed Stone’s service, telling the Los Angeles Times that he enlisted as a reservist in 2002 and left duty in 2008, but remained on individual ready reserve in case of a call-up until 2011.

Stone served in Iraq from April 17, 2008, to July 2, 2008, the only deployment on his record, according to a spokeswoman for the Marines.

He earned an Iraq Campaign Medal — indicating service in Iraq — in addition to a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and other commendations. His job included monitoring weather conditions for artillery.

His record did not mention any injuries suffered in the service, a Marines spokeswoman said.

But in court documents relating to a child support disagreement filed in Montgomery County that was obtained by the Morning Call, Stone described himself as “permanently disabled according to the Veteran’s Administration.”

Montgomery County law enforcement officials said Stone often used a cane or a walker and, as a fugitive, may be wearing military fatigues. Officials say he may have shaved off his reddish facial hair.

“I’m totally shocked, I’m upset,” Schafte told The Times. “I just can’t see him doing this because, you know, he was the type of kid that loves life, man.”

By Monday night, as the search moved into Bucks County, locals and officials were jittery, reporting possible sightings or noises.

“It would be best if everyone in the Doylestown area please stay locked in, turn on your outside lights!” tweeted a Doylestown EMS director, Chuck Pressler. “PLEASE STAY INDOORS.”

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Military at 'turning point," Obama says at N.J. base – Philly.com

Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer

Last updated: Monday, December 15, 2014, 10:59 PM
Posted: Monday, December 15, 2014, 10:51 AM

In a crowded aircraft hangar at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, President Obama told thousands of military service members Monday that they “are the backbone of the greatest nation on Earth,” and thanked them for their “selfless character.”

Obama also praised base personnel for flying supplies and building infrastructure as part of the fight against Ebola in West Africa, and aerially refueling U.S. warplanes degrading “the brutal terrorist group ISIL in Iraq and Syria.”

“When the world calls on America, we call on you – our men and women in uniform – because nobody can do what you do,” the president said.

At the same time, he told the crowd, the nation is at a “turning point” as it reduces its military footprint in Afghanistan and Iraq, and disengages from nation-building overseas.

“When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops” in the two countries, he said. “By the end of this month, we’ll have fewer than 15,000.”

Obama said this month marks “an important milestone” for the United States in Afghanistan.

“This month, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” he said.

U.S. and NATO troops closed their operational command in Afghanistan last week. But the president said the United States would “have a limited military presence there because we’ve got to keep training and equipping Afghan forces, and we’ve got to conduct counterterrorism missions because there are still remnants of al-Qaeda there.”

“After all the sacrifices you’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you’ve made,” he said. “We want a stable and secure Afghanistan.”

Going forward, Obama said, “our military will be leaner. But as your commander-in-chief, I’m going to make sure we keep you ready for the range of missions that we ask of you. We’re going to keep you the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped military in the history of the world, because the world will still be calling.”

Obama was joined by Gov. Christie, Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, U.S. Reps. Jon Runyan, a Republican, and Donald Norcross, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep.-elect Tom MacArthur, a Republican.

“They were already lobbying me about the base on the way in,” MacArthur quipped.

The base is home to 32 KC-10 refueling aircraft. Air Force and Defense Department officials have signaled the Obama administration’s intention to phase out the planes. more than half of which are stationed at the Joint Base.

Elimination of these aircraft “would decimate the installation’s crucial refueling mission and the valuable human capital that supports it,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith wrote to Obama in a Dec. 12 letter. “Accordingly I urge you to again reject this misguided proposal.”

The visit also came as New Jersey works on strategies for inoculating the Joint Base and other military installations from being closed by the Defense Department.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno chairs the New Jersey Military Installation Growth and Development Task Force, which includes Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff, adjutant general for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton.

The 60-square-mile base in Burlington and Ocean Counties provides about 40,000 military and civilian jobs and contributes $7 billion each year to the state economy, according to a Rutgers University study. It also supports 65,000 off-base jobs. About $118.7 million in annual state tax revenues is generated from the operation of the base.

“This is one of our nation’s premier joint military bases,” said Obama, who then recalled an earlier visit to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. “People across this state – including those of you here at this base – you had to pick yourselves up, pull together, rebuild, show that here in New Jersey, here in America, we are stronger than any storm.

“Like a friend of mine from New Jersey likes to say, ‘Wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own.’ That’s what we do here in New Jersey,” the president said. “That’s what we do all across America. And this facility exemplifies that spirit. For nearly a century, our flag has flown right here.”

On Monday, Obama was warmly greeted by service members during his stopover. “It’s great for citizens to see the president,” said Sgt. First Class Joe Coker, who lives on the base. “It’s definitely special.

“He’s taken time out of his busy schedule,” Coker said. “I didn’t even know he knew where McGuire was.”

Obama summed up a key reason for his visit: “Part of the message I’m here to deliver on behalf of the American people is very simple: It’s just to say thank you. Thank you for your extraordinary service.”


ecolimore@phillynews.com

856-779-3833 InkyEBC

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Iraq war veteran suspected of 6 fatal shootings in PA remains at large – Los Angeles Times

An Iraq war veteran suspected in a shooting rampage that left six of his estranged family members dead remained at large late Monday as the manhunt continued north of Philadelphia.

The victims included his ex-wife, her mother, her grandmother, her sister, her brother-in-law and a niece. A nephew was wounded.

Former Marine Sgt. Bradley William Stone, 35, also may have abducted his two daughters from his ex-wife’s home, a witness said, but dropped them off with a neighbor before he vanished. By late Monday night, the manhunt had spilled from Montgomery County into Bucks County, forcing residents in Doylestown to shelter indoors.

Stone, of Pennsburg, was being sought on suspicion of shootings in the towns of Lansdale, Lower Salford Township and Souderton. The communities are 35 to 50 miles north of Philadelphia.

Montgomery County law enforcement officials described a series of attacks that began at 3:30 a.m. and continued until 5 a.m., until Stone dropped off his daughters and disappeared, abandoning his vehicle and his cellphone.

Stone’s ex-wife, Nicole Stone, 33, was found dead in her home in Lower Salford Township.

Nicole and Bradley Stone had divorced in 2009.

“They’ve been fighting for years, real bad,” a neighbor, Michele Brewster, told the Allentown Morning Call. “He’s been tormenting her. She’s gone to the police, and she has told everybody, ‘He’s going to kill me.”’

The Stones had been involved in a protracted custody battle over their two daughters, according to a friend of Bradley Stone.

“She was trying to hold the kids from him, and he just snapped,” theorized Matthew Schafte, 42. “But to snap by killing her family members is not the Brad that I know.… He was a nice guy.” Schafte, of Harleysville, said he has known Stone for 20 years.

Stone was seen around 5 a.m., when he “delivered” his two daughters to a neighbor in Pennsburg, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman told reporters at a brief news conference.

The girls were safe, Ferman said. But much of their extended family is now dead.

The first attack apparently began at 3:30 a.m. in Souderton, where Nicole Stone’s sister, Patricia Flick, Flick’s husband, and their 14-year-old daughter were found dead, Ferman said.

Flick’s 17-year-old son was injured in the attack and was apparently not found until shortly before 8 a.m., when authorities visited the home and took him to a hospital, Ferman said. His name was not released and the extent of his injuries was not known.

Nicole Stone’s mother and grandmother were found dead at a home in Lansdale after a hang-up 911 call was placed to police at 4:25 a.m., Ferman said. Officials did not give their names.

Nicole Stone was found dead in Lower Salford Township after a 911 call from a neighbor at 4:55 a.m., Ferman said.

“I heard a ‘pow,’ and I thought, ‘Was that a gun?’“ Brewster, Nicole Stone’s neighbor, told the Morning Call.

Another neighbor, Ashley Deane, told the newspaper she heard what sounded like four gunshots and could hear children screaming for their mother.

Deane said she could hear her neighbor’s ex-husband telling the children that they had to leave. She said she looked out the front window and saw him with the children, ages 5 and 7, who were in their pajamas.

The ex-husband looked at Deane and said, “She’s hurt,” referring to his ex-wife, Deane told the Morning Call, adding that the ex-husband and the children then got in a car and sped off.

The manhunt forced local schools to shelter in place as authorities spent the day hunting for the balding, red-haired Bradley Stone, whom officials consider armed and dangerous. Local media reported that SWAT teams swarmed his home in Pennsburg, but he remained at large.

A Facebook page under Stone’s name said he had a son and showed a photo of him kissing the bride at a wedding. Among favorite quotes listed on the Facebook page: “If you [expletive] with me, I’ll kill you all,” and “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Stone’s friend Schafte described him as being focused on the Marines and on his children, including a son with a new partner.

“He loved life, he loved his country, he went to serve, he was so proud of his babies, especially when he got married to Nicole,” Schafte told The Times, adding that around town “he’d be a bartender or help out or go to the local legion or VFW — it was all about veterans.”

The Marine Corps confirmed Stone’s service, telling the Los Angeles Times that he enlisted as a reservist in 2002 and left duty in 2008, but remained on individual ready reserve in case of a call-up until 2011.

Stone served in Iraq from April 17, 2008, to July 2, 2008, the only deployment on his record, according to a spokeswoman for the Marines.

He earned an Iraq Campaign Medal — indicating service in Iraq — in addition to a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and other commendations. His job included monitoring weather conditions for artillery.

His record did not mention any injuries suffered in the service, a Marines spokeswoman said.

But in court documents relating to a child support disagreement filed in Montgomery County that was obtained by the Morning Call, Stone described himself as “permanently disabled according to the Veteran’s Administration.”

Montgomery County law enforcement officials said Stone often used a cane or a walker and, as a fugitive, may be wearing military fatigues. Officials say he may have shaved off his reddish facial hair.

“I’m totally shocked, I’m upset,” Schafte told The Times. “I just can’t see him doing this because, you know, he was the type of kid that loves life, man.”

By Monday night, as the search moved into Bucks County, locals and officials were jittery, reporting possible sightings or noises.

“It would be best if everyone in the Doylestown area please stay locked in, turn on your outside lights!” tweeted a Doylestown EMS director, Chuck Pressler. “PLEASE STAY INDOORS.”

But even staying indoors was hazardous for officials, who received a report of a possible sighting or attempted burglary from a local resident. “That homeowner is a little freaked out,” one official warned his colleagues over emergency dispatch. “He’s armed inside the house.”

Twitter: @mattdpearce 

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Sydney Hostage Siege Ends With Gunman and 2 Captives Dead as Police … – New York Times

Slide Show | Hostage Standoff in Sydney, Australia The man who took hostages in the city’s business district was described by the prime minister as “an armed person claiming political motivation.”
By MICHELLE INNIS
December 15, 2014

SYDNEY, Australia — Heavily armed police officers ended a hostage siege in Sydney early Tuesday, storming a downtown cafe where an armed man had held employees and customers for more than 16 hours.

The captor and two hostages died during the confrontation and four other people were wounded, the New South Wales Police said Tuesday morning.

Live television images of the scene showed intense flashes of gunfire and loud concussions from stun grenades as police officers raced into the building at about 2:10 a.m. local time with weapons drawn, followed later by medics with stretchers.

Andrew Scipione, the New South Wales police commissioner, said the police moved quickly to enter the cafe after gunshots were heard inside. “They made the call because they believed that at that time, that if they didn’t enter, there would have been many more lives lost,” he said. Before the gunshots were heard, he said, the police believed that no one in the cafe had been injured.

Police officials identified the hostage-taker as Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed sheikh with a criminal record. 

Just before the police entered the building, at least six hostages were seen running from the cafe. The police said later that there had been 17 hostages in all.

The police statement reporting the deaths identified the hostage taker as “a 50-year-old man” but did not give his name. Mr. Scipione referred to the man as a “lone gunman” in his remarks at a news conference on Tuesday.

Earlier, the police confirmed reports that the hostage-taker was Man Haron Monis, an Iranian-born man around 50 with a criminal record who called himself Sheikh Haron.

The hostages who died were a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, the police said. One of the injured people was a police officer, who was treated for an injury to the face and was in good condition, the police said.

Mr. Monis’s former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in a televised interview before the siege ended that he believed Mr. Monis was acting alone. “His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” Mr. Conditsis said, calling his former client “a damaged-goods individual who has done something outrageous.”

Even so, it remained unclear whether Mr. Monis had any accomplices.

The armed man took control of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe on Martin Place in central Sydney around 9:45 a.m. Monday, trapping employees and customers inside. He had a black flag with white Arabic script, similar to those used by Islamic militants on other continents, which was later displayed in a cafe window.

During the day Monday, five people fled the cafe, including two employees, but it was not clear whether the assailant had allowed them to leave or they had escaped.

Map | Hostages Held in Sydney Cafe

Auto and rail traffic was halted and nearby buildings like the New South Wales Parliament and the Reserve Bank were evacuated or locked down, and helicopters circled overhead. Police officials said they made contact with the hostage-taker and tried to negotiate an end to the siege.

Mr. Monis was known to the police. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, he was free on bail in two separate criminal cases. He was charged in November 2013 with being an accessory before and after the fact in the murder of his ex-wife, Noleen Hayson Pal, and in April 2014, he was charged with the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney in 2002. Forty more counts of indecent or sexual assault relating to six other women were later added in that case.

Mr. Monis pleaded guilty in 2013 to 12 charges related to the sending of poison-pen letters to the families of Australian servicemen who were killed overseas, local media reports said. He was reportedly sentenced to probation and community service.

The police have said that Mr. Monis presented himself as a spiritual healer and conducted business for a time on Station Street in Wentworthville, a western suburb of Sydney.

A website apparently associated with Mr. Monis included condemnation of the United States and Australia for their military actions against Islamic militants in Iraq and Afghanistan. News reports said the site also contained a posting saying Mr. Monis had recently converted from Shia to Sunni Islam, and SITE, an organization that monitors Islamic extremist groups, said he posted a pledge of allegiance to the “Caliph of the Muslims.” The posting appeared to refer to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State militant group, SITE said, though the posting did not mention them by name.

Mr. Monis apparently emigrated to Australia from Iran around 1996, and was previously known as Manteghi Boroujerdi or Mohammad Hassan Manteghi. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said he was granted political asylum. In a broadcast interview in 2001, he claimed to have worked for the Iranian intelligence ministry and to have fled the country in fear for his life, leaving behind a wife and family.

A Muslim community leader in Sydney, Dr. Jamal Rifi, said in a televised interview that “everything he stands for is wrong.”

“It has nothing to do with Islam as a religion whatsoever, and we have all seen that by his previous action and his current actions,” Dr. Rifi said of Mr. Monis.

Dr. Rifi said that he did not know Mr. Monis personally, but that he did know his family well. He said Mr. Monis was not a sheikh.

“He had no religious qualifications whatsoever,” Dr. Rifi said. “He has never been associated with any mainstream mosque, and he is not associated with any of our religious leaders whatsoever. He is self-proclaimed.”

In September, a spokesman for the Islamic State, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, issued a statement calling on Muslims in Australia to carry out attacks of their own. Facing an increase in threats to the country, Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, raised the country’s alert level that month and tightened restrictions on news reporting concerning national security matters.

The grand mufti of Australia, Prof. Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, and the Australian National Imams Council issued a joint statement about the hostage siege on Monday, saying they “condemn this criminal act unequivocally.”

At the news conference on Tuesday, Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales, said: “Today we must come together as never before. We will get through this.” He described his country as “a harmonious society that is the envy of the world.”

In a show of solidarity, thousands of Australians offered in social media messages to accompany people who dress in traditional Muslim clothing and are concerned about a backlash from the siege. The hashtag #IllRideWithYou was used more than 250,000 times on Twitter by late Monday evening.

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Patrick J. Lyons contributed from New York.

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President Obama Thanks Troops At New Jersey Military Base – CBS Local

By Cleve Bryan

MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., (CBS) — Addressing a packed aircraft hanger, President Barack Obama gave troops at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst a holiday thank you.

“We can gather with family and friends because you’re willing to hug yours goodbye and step forward to serve,” said Obama, “you never stop serving, you never stop giving. You guys are like Santa in fatigues.”

The President last visited the base during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. This trip comes two weeks prior to completion of America’s 13 year combat mission in Afghanistan.

“There are people here who have lost really good friends, patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice, including 54 fallen heroes from this base who we will honor forever,” said Obama.

In January there will be only about 11,000 troops left in Afghanistan and half that by the end of next year.

The President talked about the need to eradicate ISIS from the Middle East saying, “make no mistake, our coalition isn’t just going to degrade this barbaric terrorist organization, we’re going to destroy it.

Here at home some fear cuts to military spending, in particular phasing out KC-10 refueling aircraft could put the Joint Base at risk in the future.

“It’s an important base to keep active and keep driving critical missions here,” says Tom MacArthur (R) the Congressman elect for the 3rd District.

Several members of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation as well as Governor Chris Christie met with the President.

“They were already lobbying me about the base on the way in, so they’re doing a good job,” said Obama to the thousands of servicemen and women representing each branch of the military.

Service members said it was a thrilling afternoon.

“That was the first for seeing all of us together, it’s nice to be together as a group,” says Abby Mullen, U.S. Air Force.

“I felt like it was a great experience, it’s something I didn’t every think I’d get to experience growing up right outside of here in Camden, New Jersey,” says Nigel Jones, U.S. Navy.

Must Read Today’s Top Stories

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Sydney hostage-taker called himself a cleric — and had a criminal record – CNN

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Man Haron Monis was accused of committing fraud when he fled Iran, Fars News reports
  • Hostage-taker had history of “infatuation with extremism and mental instability,” Abbott says
  • An official says Man Haron Monis was the gunman who took hostages at a Sydney cafe
  • On Monis’ apparent website, there is a pledge of allegiance to ISIS

(CNN) — Before he was killed in a Sydney cafe, the gunman who held hostages there for more than 16 hours was no stranger to police.

The hostage-taker was Man Haron Monis, an official with direct knowledge of the situation said Monday.

“He had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters.

Australian media reports paint a harrowing picture of Monis and his lengthy criminal history.

The self-styled Muslim cleric, also known as Sheikh Haron, pleaded guilty last year to writing offensive letters to the families of Australian troops.

Gunman made hostages use social media

Firefight occurs during hostage crisis

Sydney gunman identified

Witness: Woman screamed, ‘He has a gun’

That same year, he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, the Australian news reports said.

In April, sex crimes detectives arrested Monis and charged him with sexually assaulting a woman in western Sydney in 2002, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Other sex-related charges were added regarding six additional victims, the newspaper said. Police reportedly said Monis was using the name Mohammad Hassan Manteghi and claimed to be a “healer.”

Monis was out on bail, the reports said. He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service after sending letters to the families of Australian soldiers who died in Afghanistan. The letters were “sadistic, wantonly cruel and deeply wounding,” one High Court judge said at the time, according to CNN affiliate Seven News.

And the criminal accusations against him began before he came to Australia.

Monis was born in Iran and fled the country in 1995 while being sought for allegedly committing fraud, Iran’s semi-official Fars News reported.

An extremist theology

He used the Internet to spread extremist beliefs, officials said Monday.

“He posted graphic extremist material online,” Abbott said.

And during the siege, Abbott said, the hostage-taker “sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the (ISIS) death cult,” Abbott said.

In social media posts, Monis appears to embrace a radical Sunni extremist theology.

On his apparent website, there’s a pledge of allegiance to the so-called Islamic State terror group.

The site describes Monis as a Muslim cleric and activist based in Sydney who has “continuously been under attack & false accusation by the Australian government & media since he started his political letter campaign from 2007.”

There’s a graphic photo of slain children at the top of the site. Under the image, it reads, “This is an evidence for the terrorism of America and its allies including Australia. The result of their airstrikes.”

A description on the site portrays Monis as a victim of a political vendetta and compares him to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who has claimed the sex crime allegations he faces are politically motivated.

A YouTube video posted in November shows Monis standing on a street corner, chains draped over him, carrying a sign that says, “I have been tortured in prison for my political letters.”

His former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian public broadcaster ABC that Monis was an isolated figure who was probably acting alone.

“His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” Conditsis said.

The ABC report said Monis had been granted political asylum in Australia.

The Australian government granted him asylum, Iran’s Fars News said, despite Iranian police pursuing his return to Tehran through Interpol.

He was born Mohammed Hassan Manteghi and later changed his name, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said.

Crisis in a cafe

Monday’s hostage situation began around 10 a.m. Hundreds of police officers, including snipers, took position around the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney’s central business district.

Australian media captured haunting images of hostages pressing their hands against the cafe’s windows. They were reportedly taking turns holding a black flag with Arabic writing on it that said, “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.”

The man holding the hostages demanded to speak to Abbott. Police were monitoring social media because hostages appeared to be posting information about the man’s demands.

Hours into the crisis, at least five hostages managed to escape, running terrified toward police in riot gear. That made the hostage-taker furious, reported Chris Reason, a correspondent for CNN affiliate Seven Network. Reason said he could see the gunman become “extremely agitated” when he realized what had happened, and he “started screaming orders” at the remaining hostages.

Gunfire erupted early Tuesday as police stormed the cafe where the gunman had been holding hostages.

Two hostages were killed during the standoff. Police later announced that the siege was over and that the lone gunman had been killed.

CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph, Hamdi Alkhshali and Sara Mazloumsaki contributed to this report.

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