Explosives near Kansas Statehouse lead to ... release of suspect?

Kansas capitol explosives
He came. He brought bombs. Kansas police let him go.
Mark it down as one of the odder-seeming terrorism scares in recent memory, at least thus far. On Wednesday morning, a Kansas state employee called police after noticing a funny-looking pickup truck parked in a restricted lot near the Statehouse.
Its hood was missing, and its front grill was crunched; it had a specialty Florida license plate solely for U.S. paratroopers; and it was smattered with bumper stickers that said such things as “Welcome to America. Now speak English.”
The truck also contained an empty gun holder — and several small homemade bombs designed to spray shrapnel, a Capitol Police spokesman said.

Police cleared the bombs from the area and, using the plate numbers, got a photo of the driver. They soon tracked him down in a tunnel between the Capitol and legislators’ offices. After interviewing the suspect, who Capitol Police said lives in Kansas and was unarmed, investigators searched his home. There, they said, they found bomb-making materials.
Open and shut case of potential terrorism, right? Not quite.
A day after the scare, the suspect, whom police will not identify, is free. In fact, according to Capt. Jimmie Atkinson of the Kansas Highway Patrol: “In this one, we did not actually take the suspect to jail and arrest him.”
Count that as one of the very few solid facts that’s been released thus far in a case that remains hazy.
When asked about the case Thursday morning, officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kansas Highway Patrol and Topeka Police Department even seemed somewhat confused about who was in charge of the investigation.
Finally, by Thursday afternoon, Atkinson said: “We are going to be going forward with the charges because the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] did not want to file charges.”
What charges would be filed? Atkinson wouldn’t say. Nor would he say why the suspect was at the Capitol.

Police said Wednesday that the man claimed to have an appointment inside the Capitol when confronted by the authorities, but no appointment was verified.
The apparent anti-immigrant stickers on the truck raised eyebrows, as the Kansas legislators were meeting that day to discuss contentious immigration legislation that would crack down on undocumented workers, who play a significant role in Kansas’ agricultural industry. A rally outside the Capitol drew about 300 protestors, according to a count by the Topeka Capitol-Journal.
When asked whether he thought the suspect, now free, posed any danger, Atkinson paused and then said he wouldn’t speculate. “Anybody could be dangerous,” he said. “I can say if we thought he’d be a continued threat, more than likely we would have kept him incarcerated, and we would have posted the bond then.”
He wouldn’t say any more.
Atkinson said the charges would be hashed out with the Shawnee County district attorney next week -- the earliest day an appointment could be arranged.
Capitol Police said the suspect did not have any connection to another man who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of making threatening phone calls to the governor.


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Homemade explosives were found in this pickup parked near the Kansas Statehouse on Wednesday. Credit: John Milburn/Associated Press

'Underwear bomber' gets life in prison for 2009 airliner attack

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who hid a bomb in his underwear on a suicide mission for Al Qaeda, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for his failed attempt to bring down a passenger airliner on Christmas Day 2009.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds imposed the mandatory sentence after rejecting a request from the defense that the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment because no one except Abdulmutallab was physically hurt in the incident.

Thursday's sentencing had been expected ever since Abdulmutallab, who became known as the underwear bomber, abruptly ended his trial in October by pleading guilty to federal charges.

Abdulmutallab, now 25, was born in Nigeria into a wealthy and privileged family. He boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in the Netherlands on Christmas Day in 2009 en route to Michigan. The flight carried 279 passengers and 11 crew members.

Plastic explosives were hidden in his underwear. Witnesses said Abdulmutallab went into a bathroom, then returned to his seat, covering himself with a blanket. He apparently tried to detonate the explosives as the plane approached Detroit, but the device failed to explode properly.

Passengers seized Abdulmutallab, who was burned in the failed explosion.

Abdulmutallab later told government investigators that he was working for an Al Qaeda group run by Anwar Awlaki, an American Muslim cleric killed in Yemen by U.S. and Yemeni forces. Awlaki's alleged role in the airline incident was one of the rationales for the U.S. attack on the cleric, who was never convicted in a U.S. court.

After Abdulmutallab was apprehended, the Obama administration initially argued the airport security “system had worked.” But days later, top officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, faced questions over whether Abdulmutallab should have been prevented from boarding the flight in Amsterdam.

Abdulmutallab's family had told CIA officers in Nigeria they believed he was coming under the influence of radical  clerics. Abdulmutallab's name was entered into a database of more than 500,000 suspected terrorists, but was never investigated further and never made it to the so-called no-fly list.

There were also questions about how Abdulmutallab was able to bring the explosives on the plane. That has led to an increase in airport security.


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'Underwear bomber,' seeming unrepentant, to be sentenced today

Underwear Bomber faces a life sentence today.

The man dubbed the "underwear bomber" faces a sentence of life in prison Thursday in U.S. District Court in Detroit for trying to blow up an international flight on Christmas Day 2009 using a bomb hidden in his underwear.

Prosecutors are seeking the harshest penalty possible, arguing that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains unrepentant and defiant and would attack the United States again if given the chance.

A court-appointed criminologist who interviewed the defendant said he actually was encouraged by his failure to blow up the jetliner on Christmas Day.

"The failed martyrdom mission, in his mind, is no more than a possible test of patience imposed on him by God," Israeli criminologist Simon Perry, who has studied Islamic suicide bombers, said in a court report quoted by the Christian Science Monitor. "One can interpret this rhetoric as meaning that he has not given up on aspirations to martyrdom."

On paper, the sentencing appears routine. After all, Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to eight felonies in October and knew that a life prison term was to be expected.

But little about this case has been routine. Abdulmutallab's guilty plea was an abrupt disruption to the trial and came against the wishes of his defense team.

The Nigerian defendant and admitted Al Qaeda operative accepted responsibility but continued to justify his failed attack on the United States. The federal court case has been marked by Abdulmutallab's repeated outbursts, and he has repeatedly mocked the United States and warned the country that its judgment day was near.

"The United States should be warned that if they continue to persist and promote the blasphemy of Muhammad and the prophets," Abdulmutallab said as he entered his guilty plea, "the United States should await a great calamity that will befall them through the hands of the mujahedin soon."

The jetliner that Abdulmutallab tried to blow up was carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members. The incident became fodder for late-night talk-show jokes even as the government was embarrassed at the obvious lapses in airline security. The incident directly led to much of the heightened security seen at airports today.


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Twitter / renelynch

Photo: The so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is scheduled to be sentenced today in a federal courtroom in Detroit. Credit: U.S. Marshals Service

NYPD investigation of Muslims: Civil rights groups ask for probe


The New York Police Department found itself under increasing pressure on Friday over how it has investigated Muslims as part of its anti-terrorism probes, with angry civil rights groups asking the state attorney general to look into the matter.

In a letter to state Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman, about 32 civil rights groups called for an investigation of allegations that the department uses religion as the sole criteria in deciding surveillance of Shiite mosques. The attorney general’s office did not immediately return repeated telephone calls for comment.

The Associated Press was the first to report on a May 2006 confidential intelligence document that recommended the department focus anti-terrorism intelligence operations on Shiite mosques. The news agency also reported on the city’s surveillance operations, which monitored and built databases about usual activities in Muslim neighborhoods.

The agency’s investigative report led to a call in October by several state senators for an investigation by the attorney general.

“The report details far-reaching operations by the NYPD that include surveillance of hundreds of mosques, businesses, nonprofits and individuals by using undercover officers known as ‘rakers,’ without evidence of any criminality or wrongdoing,” said the lawmakers, who mainly represent heavily Muslim areas in Brooklyn. “The department created files tracking daily life in bookstores, restaurants, barber shops and gyms as a part of a human mapping program."

“I am greatly troubled that the NYPD seeks to criminalize an entire faith tradition,” Democratic Sen. Kevin Parker said in a prepared statement. “The message seems to be if you are Muslim, you are guilty until proven innocent. New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the nation. We face serious security challenges; unfortunately this approach by the department may not only violate the law but also focuses resources on law-abiding citizens rather than targeting those who seek to do us harm.”

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have repeatedly insisted that the department does not target Shiite Muslims as a religious group but does follow what it considers to be legitimate investigative leads.

The dispute over surveillance follows other complaints from the Muslim community, particularly over a film, “The Third Jihad,” that was shown at police training sessions. Kelly appears in the movie, which  Muslims consider offensive.


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Mark Wahlberg apologizes for 'irresponsible' 9/11 comments

Mark Wahlberg has learned the hard way: Just leave 9/11 alone.

The star of the new movie "Contraband" found himself starring in a 9/11 controversy this week when he revealed that he had been scheduled to fly on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center -- and suggested that he could have single-handedly prevented the tragedy.

"If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'OK, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry.'"

The comments, made to Men's Journal in a cover story article, met with swift criticism. It seemed especially cruel considering that the passengers on another hijacked jetliner -- United Flight 93 -- did indeed rise up against the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives and crash-landing near Shanksville, Pa., rather than allow the plane to fly into a target in the nation's capital.

Now, Wahlberg is trying to leave those 9/11 magazine comments on the cutting room floor, telling TMZ, "I deeply apologize to the families of the victims that my answer came off as insensitive, it was certainly not my intention."

He added: "To suggest I would have done anything differently than the passengers on that plane was irresponsible."

Many Americans likely tried to put themselves in that 9/11 scenario, imagining themselves getting the upper hand or taking revenge on the terrorists. But for Wahlberg to suggest that he could have somehow single-handedly stopped the hijacking, and then landed the plane safely in Manhattan (perhaps a la Captain Sully Sullenberger)? For many people, that was just too much.

And so Wahlberg become the latest celebrity to wade into treacherous 9/11 waters. Among them: Tony Bennett, Rosie O'Donnell and Jesse Ventura


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Photo: Mark Wahlberg. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times 

Prison for ex-Rep. Siljander: He aided terrorist-linked charity

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Deli Siljander
He’s a Christian, a family man and a former Michigan congressman, and now Mark Deli Siljander will also become a prisoner after helping an Islamic charity designated as a terrorist group and suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda.
"I did something wrong," Siljander pleaded with U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey before she sentenced him to a year and a day in federal prison for obstruction of justice and acting as an unregistered foreign agent, according to the Associated Press. "I mistreated the system I believe in. I mistreated my family and friends. I should have known better. I failed too many people, including myself and my family. I ask for your mercy."
The story begins in 1999, when the Columbia, Mo.-based Islamic American Relief Agency lost two federal grants in Mali.
According to the U.S. Treasury, the relief agency’s African branch had begun consorting with Osama bin Laden and the group Maktab Al-Khidamat, an Al Qaeda precursor. It would later be accused of directly financially supporting Bin Laden. 
It’s possible the Missouri office didn’t know the African branch had ties to terror groups at all;  prosecutors didn’t allege that folks in the office knew of such ties, according to the Kansas City Star.  

Instead, the American group fell into trouble for attempting end runs around the various financial clamps the U.S. has placed on adversaries in the Arab world.
As it turns out, the relief agency’s American office didn’t return all of the federal money it received. It paid $50,000 of the unreturned grant money to Siljander — who received $75,000 overall — to lobby Congress to take the charity off a Senate list of organizations accused of financing terror groups.
But Siljander, a Michigan Republican who served in Congress from 1981 to 1987, never registered as a foreign-paid lobbyist and later lied to investigators about what he was doing, claiming he was getting paid to write a book about Christian-Islamic relations.
Meanwhile, the charity’s former executive director, Mubarak Hamed, quietly funneled more than $1 million of the charity’s money to Iraq, which was then under punishing American economic sanctions.
The operation fell apart in 2004 when the U.S. Treasury suspected the larger charity was part of the global financing network that transnational terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda need to operate. The charity shut down after the government designated it a terrorist organization.
Criminal charges came three years later as officials pieced together the Missouri office’s involvement in violating the Iraq sanctions and foreign lobbying requirements.
Hamed received a five-year, 10-month sentence Monday for violating the sanctions, and three other charity fund-raisers and board members also received probation.
Siljander might have been facing a heavier sentence if not for tearful family testimony and help from some powerful friends. Former Reagan administration Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese praised Siljander’s “exemplary life of service to the public” and Democratic former American U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson added his own in sealed letters to the court quoted in a public filing by The Star.
"I came in this morning with the thought that I would sentence you to a longer time in jail," judge Laughrey said, according to the AP, but added that no real harm had been done. She laid down the sentence as a matter of course.
"For me, the real harm is that you kept lying to the government," she said.


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Photo:  Former Republican Rep. Mark Deli Siljander, center, his wife Nancy, left, and members of his legal team leave federal court in Kansas City, Mo.. in July 2010. Credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

TSA fighting back in case of the confiscated cupcake

Cupcake-ComparisonWere you among those rolling your eyes at the latest Transportation Security Administration flap, in which an agent confiscated a cupcake from a passenger in Las Vegas because the frosting was deemed a security threat? Well, the TSA would like you to hear the other side of the story.

But first, some background. The report, on its face, seemed outrageous: The TSA confiscated the cupcake last month at McCarran International Airport because there are strict limits on how much of a "gel-like" substance passengers can take aboard. In this case, the rich creamy frosting was deemed a gel-like substance, and there was too much of it.

The media made much of the killer-cupcakes story during the holiday travel season. "Cupcake Deemed 'Security Threat'" said one headline. The traveler with the offending cupcake, Rebecca Hains of Peabody, Mass., changed her Twitter bio to include "Cupcake Terror Expert!" and created a Facebook page called Rebecca and the Threatening Cupcake. It has 265 "likes" so far.

And Wicked Good Cupcakes, which made the questionable confection, got in on the fun. "Apparently we're a tasty terrorist threat," Brian Vilagie told the Boston Channel.

Now, the TSA is using its blog to weigh in on what it calls "Cupcakegate."

"I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake," TSA blogger Bob Burns wrote Tuesday. His post included the photos above to illustrate that this was not a traditional cupcake, but a cupcake-in-a-jar.

"If you’re not familiar with it, we have a policy directly related to the UK liquid bomb plot of 2006 called 3-1-1 that limits the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols you can bring in your carry-on luggage. Icing falls under the 'gel' category. As you can see from the picture, unlike a thin layer of icing that resides on the top of most cupcakes, this cupcake had a thick layer of icing inside a jar."

Let's forget, for just a moment, that there's no such thing as too much frosting on a cupcake. Burns defended the TSA officer's right to confiscate the confection. He added that such a cute container is precisely why authorities should screen it more carefully.

Exhibiting a sense of humor, he wrote that "intelligence gathered from all over the world tells us ... that unless Wile E. Coyote is involved, the days of the three sticks of dynamite with a giant alarm clock strapped to them are long gone....When you think about it, do you think an explosive would be concealed in an ominous item that would draw attention, or something as simple as a cute cupcake jar?"

The TSA blogger points to two attempted attacks involving liquid or gel-like substances -- a 1995 plot to explode a dozen passenger planes bound for the U.S., and that foiled 2006 plot, which tried to use liquid explosives to blow up at least 10 jetliners.  

Hains told The Times on Tuesday she was surprised that the TSA bothered to respond to Cupcakegate. But she believes the comments only reinforce her belief that the TSA goes overboard too often -- as in this case.

"I think there just needs to be some common sense here," she said.  

She also wondered about the uniformity of TSA's screening practices, noting that she started her Boston-to-Vegas holiday travel with two cupcakes in a jar, and both made it through Boston's security screening. She and her husband ate one on the flight west. And they planned to eat the other on the flight back. (You have to pause and appreciate such sweet, tasty scheduling.)

When the cupcake-in-a-jar was flagged in Vegas, she offered to scoop the contents into a plastic baggie. Nope. Turns out the TSA was OK with her bringing a glass jar aboard -- just not all that potentially dangerous frosting.

Hains, an assistant professor of communications at Salem State University in Massachusetts and author of a new book called "Growing Up With Girl Power," was probably the wrong person to mess with. After the cupcake-in-a-jar was confiscated, she proceeded to her destination -- but not before writing this little missive and sending it to Boing Boing. Needless to say, it went viral.

A funny aside: When Wicked Good Cupcakes learned of the flap, they gave Hains a dozen cupcakes to make up for her trouble.

What do you think about this showdown? Do you think TSA went too far? Or do you think Hains made too big of a deal out of this sweet controversy? 


Doomsday Clock edges toward midnight

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What's in a name? Maybe Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-bop-bop

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch 

Photo comparison: Regular cupcake versus cupcake-in-a-jar. Photo credit: TSA

Doomsday Clock edges toward midnight: Hello? Anyone listening?

Doomsday is one minute closer, folks. 

The hands on the face of the symbolic Doomsday Clock have been repositioned to five minutes before  midnight -- signaling how close we may be to a global catastrophe unless we get our act together.

On Monday, the Doomsday Clock read six minutes before midnight. But on Tuesday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, self-tasked with informing the public about the pending threat from nuclear weapons, climate change and emerging technologies, decided to push the clock up a minute. It now reads five minutes before  midnight -- in recognition of a growing nuclear threat and damage from climate change.

"Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock," Lawrence Krauss, co-chairman of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists board, said in a statement released Tuesday.

The statement added: "As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity's survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions."

The Bulletin was established in 1945 by the scientists and engineers who worked on the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb. So the folks behind it are familiar with the effects of nuclear weapons -- and the potential for overwhelming destruction.

The use of the symbolic clock dates back to 1947, when the Bulletin used the imagery on the cover of its magazine. The clock struck a chord with the public -- at that time anyway. "The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe," the group's website says.

The clock's hands have jumped around quite a bit over the years. It launched at seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, alarmed scientists pushed it up to two minutes before midnight in recognition of the U.S. pursuit of the hydrogen bomb. 1999 was a good year for the clock: The hands were pushed back to 17 minutes before midnight in the wake of the end of the Cold War. Since then, as this timeline shows, the clock's hands have been in a near-steady march toward midnight.

The hands were pushed to five minutes before midnight in 2007 due to the perils of nuclear weapons. When the long-term prospects for life on Earth appeared to be improving, the clock moved back to six minutes before midnight. That was in January 2010.

"Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face," the scientists explained in a statement, adding, however, that "in many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed."

Now, the clock is back to five minutes before midnight.

The world still has about 19,500 deployed nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the world's inhabitants several times over, the scientists say. And unless global leaders throw their weight behind alternatives to carbon-emitting energy technologies over the next five years, "the world is doomed to a warmer climate, harsher weather, droughts, famine, water scarcity, rising sea levels, loss of island nations, and increasing ocean acidification," the group says.

The question is this: Is anyone listening?


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Photo: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists keeps watch over a symbolic Doomsday Clock. The closer to midnight it ticks, the closer humanity is to a global disaster. Credit: Getty Images

Florida man charged with plotting attacks to avenge Muslims

LxjkafpdA naturalized American citizen who was born in the former Yugoslavia has been charged with plotting to use explosives against heavily populated areas as part of a campaign for vengeance for misdeeds he says were committed against Muslims, federal officials say.

Sami Osmakac, 25, of Pinellas Park, Fla., near Tampa, was arrested Saturday. On Monday, in his first appearance in federal court, he was charged with one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He was kept in custody after he waived a hearing and bond, said Amy Filjones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, in a telephone interview with The Times.

If convicted, Osmakac faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to the criminal complaint, Osmakac, who was born in Kosovo, recorded an eight-minute video explaining why he was planning the attacks.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of a hotel room, the document says, Osmakac describes Muslim blood as more valuable than that of those who are not adherents of Islam, and he says he wants “payback” for wrongs done to Muslims. He is holding a pistol and has an AK-47 behind him, according to the complaint.

In a statement, U.S. Atty. Robert E. O’Neill thanked all of those who worked on the investigation, including unnamed members of the Muslim community.

“This investigation was also predicated, in part, by assistance from the Muslim community,” O’Neill said without giving details. “I would like to thank them as well.”

According to the complaint, Osmakac was arrested after he allegedly bought inoperable explosive devices and firearms from an undercover agent. The investigation began in September when a confidential source contacted federal authorities after Osmakac entered the source’s business looking to buy Al Qaeda flags, officials say. Later contacts between the two were recorded by law enforcement officials.

Two months later, Osmakac allegedly asked the source for help in obtaining firearms and explosives for an attack.

The source put Osmakac in touch with an undercover FBI employee who said he was willing to sell automatic weapons, grenades and an explosive belt. Osmakac gave the undercover agent a $500 down payment for the weapons, officials say.

In a Jan. 1 meeting, officials say, Osmakac told the undercover agent he wanted to bomb nightclubs, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and a business in Tampa. He said he wanted to detonate a car bomb and use the explosive belt to go somewhere “where there’s a lot of people” and even take hostages.

Osmakac also suggested he would bomb bridges that link Tampa to neighboring Pinellas County, according to officials.

During the Jan. 1 meeting, officials say, the undercover FBI employee noted that Osmakac could change his mind and back out of the plot.

According to the complaint, Osmakac shook his head no and said, “We all have to die, so why not die the Islamic way?”


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Photo: Sami Osmakac, 25, has been charged with plotting to attack crowded locations in the Tampa, Fla., area. Credit:  Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office


Lori Berenson returns to U.S. from Peru for holiday visit


Lori Berenson returned to the United States Tuesday morning for the first time after spending 15 years in a Peruvian prison for supporting revolutionary groups during a brutal civil war.

Now 42, Berenson arrived with her 2-year-old son, Salvador, at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, was greeted by her parents and a taken to a waiting car to go to Manhattan. She did not speak with the gaggle of reporters.

Rhoda Berenson, Lori’s mother and Salvador’s grandmother, earlier clutched a Bloomingdale's bag containing a winter coat for her grandson.

“We are looking forward to the first holiday at home in a long, long time and many relatives who haven't met Salvador are excited to see him,” she told the Associated Press. “This is not a political time; this is a time for family, friends and holidays.”

Mark Berenson told the news agency that his daughter was looking forward to showing her son around New York City and acquainting him with Hanukkah traditions. He said the toddler loves snow, which he has rarely seen in Peru.

To some, Berenson was the face of a social activist in Latin America while others saw her as the face of modern terrorism years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She was a college student when she became involved in social justice issues in Latin America, first in El Salvador where she worked with rebels on the 1992 peace accords. From there, she moved on to Peru, where a fierce civil war between the government and rebels eventually claimed about 70,000 lives.

She became involved with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a junior group to the Maoist Shining Path, which was the leading proponent of revolutionary violence in Peru. Tupac Amaru grew from a group that distributed food for the poor to a more violent entity that was responsible for the 1996 raid on the Japanese Embassy in Lima where 72 hostages were held for months before a government raid killed the rebels.

Berenson had finished a visit to the Peruvian Congress when she was pulled off of a bus in 1995 and accused of helping plan an attack that never took place. She was also charged with collaborating with the terrorist group, some of whose armed members stayed in the house she rented.

Berenson was never convicted of any violent act but was judged guilty by a military tribunal in 1996 of supporting the Tupac Amaru and sentenced to life in prison. The judge wore a hood to hide his identity.

“It would be nice if people didn't see me as the face of terrorism, but I can't change that. I live with it. It's not easy, especially because I don't think that I'm a terrorist,” Berenson said at the time.

Her conviction ignited human rights groups around the world and in the United States who saw it as a flagrant violation of her legal rights because she was unable to examine the government’s evidence.

Under pressure from human rights groups and the U.S. government, and following a change in the Peruvian government in 2000, Berenson’s conviction was overturned and she received a new trial in a civilian court. She was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In November 2010, she was paroled and ordered to stay in Peru.

A court approved her departure to New York but she must return to Peru by Jan. 11. Peruvian prosecutors fought the ruling, arguing there was no way to guarantee that she would return as promised.


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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