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News Wrap: British officials identify London attacker

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And in the day’s other news: British police identified the man who drove a car into pedestrians near Parliament yesterday, and fatally stabbed a police officer, before being shot to death himself. Officials called it a lone wolf attack.

Paul Davies of Independent Television News reports from London.

PAUL DAVIES: We know what he did. We now know his name. The man on the stretcher, the man who launched his own attack on democracy yesterday was Khalid Masood. He had been living in the West Midlands, where he hired the car he used as a lethal weapon. He was born in Kent. The so-called Islamic State say he had become one of their soldiers.

Today, because of his actions, flags were flying at half-mast over Parliament, while side-by-side a painstaking investigation into an act of terror was being conducted, as the workings of the democracy he had come to hate were continuing. The prime minister left Downing Street heading for the Commons in a show of business as usual.

THERESA MAY, British Prime Minister: We are not afraid. And our resolve will never waiver in the face of terrorism.

PAUL DAVIES: There has been a huge and deliberate effort to reflect life as normal here, an impression that’s been supported by the reopening of the bridge that was the scene of carnage yesterday.

Aysha Frade, a 43-year-old who worked at a school in London, and Kirk Cochran, a 54-year-old American tourist, had been named as the two pedestrians knocked down and killed yesterday. Seven others who were injured by the terrorist car as it crossed Westminster Bridge are still said to be in critical condition.

They include a Romanian woman seen in this footage falling into the Thames as she tried to avoid the vehicle. Last night, police raided properties in London, Wales and here in Birmingham, an operation that has continued through today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This evening, another victim of the attack died of her injuries.

In Israel, police arrested a Jewish teenager today, and said he’s the main suspect in dozens of bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the U.S. The man also holds U.S. citizenship. He covered his face with a sweatshirt at a court hearing near Tel Aviv. His lawyer said he has behavioral problems.

GALIT BASH, Attorney: This is a young person, that because of his very, very serious medical condition, didn’t serve in the army, didn’t go to high school, and didn’t go to elementary school. So, that is why the medical condition can actually affect the investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s unclear what the suspect’s motive might have been. His identity is being withheld by order of the court.

The chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives apologized today, after publicly disclosing, and sharing with the president, intelligence intercepts of the Trump transition team. Devin Nunes announced yesterday that these occurred during legal surveillance of foreign nationals.

This and his briefing of the president came without first telling committee Democrats. Today, Nunes said it was a judgment call.

But a Democrat on the committee, California’s Jackie Speier, said that’s not enough.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER, D-Calif.: He just apologized. He didn’t specify what his apology was about. He knows full well that there is grave question about his objectivity. And I think over next few days, we’re going to assess whether or not we feel confident that he can continue in that role.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats accused Nunes of trying to give Mr. Trump cover for unsubstantiated claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. We will look into the partisan fighting over this, and what happens next, after the news summary.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told U.S. embassies to begin extreme vetting of foreigners applying for visas. Reuters quotes diplomatic cables that ask U.S. officials to identify — quote — “populations warranting increased scrutiny.”

The report says Tillerson also wants mandatory social media checks for any applicant who’s ever been in a territory controlled by the Islamic State group.

The U.N. Refugee Agency is warning that the worst is yet to come for Iraqis in Western Mosul. An estimated 400,000 civilians are trapped in areas still controlled by ISIS fighters, as government troops fight to recapture the city. U.N. officials say they’re in desperate need of food, medical aid and basic supplies. As many as 12,000 have been fleeing each day.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate served notice today that they will try to block confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went to the Senate floor to announce his opposition. He also made clear that a filibuster is coming.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: After careful deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot support Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. His nomination will have a cloture vote. He will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation. My vote will be no. And I urge my colleagues to do the same.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Under the current rule, majority Republicans would need to peel off at least eight Democrats to get to 60 votes. Or they can scrap that rule, allowing Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority.

Meanwhile, the judge’s confirmation hearings wrapped up today, with lawyers, advocacy groups and others getting their say about Gorsuch, for and against.

And on Wall Street, the delay of the health care vote in the House wiped out an early rally. The Dow Jones industrial average lost four points to close at 20656. The Nasdaq fell about four, and the S&P 500 slipped two.

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Why the Trump administration is sending more troops to Syria

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JUDY WOODRUFF: United States military involvement in Syria has deepened since President Trump took office. The Pentagon has authorized the deployment of 400 more troops, some of whom are already there. Five hundred special operations forces sent by the Obama administration are also on the ground. War planners reportedly are seeking to send an additional 1,000 American troops to Syria.

Yesterday, in Tabqa, Syria, American forces aided Syrian rebel and Kurdish forces in the taking a strategic dam and road from ISIS. All this comes on a complex battlefield and under the wary eye of Syria’s northern neighbor Turkey.

For more on what’s happening now and what may come, I’m joined by Andrew Exum. He served in the Obama administration until this January as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy. He’s also a former Army Ranger and a contributing editor at The Atlantic. And Bulent Aliriza, he’s the director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It’s a Washington think tank.

And we welcome both of you back to the program.

Andrew Exum, to you first.

How much of a change is what we are seeing right now in Syria from what was going on in the Obama administration?

ANDREW EXUM, Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense: So, significant in one way. Significant in terms of the numbers. It is clear that the Trump administration doesn’t have the same reticence that the Obama administration did in terms of putting more boots on the ground, especially conventional troops, as opposed to special operations troops.

Where it is similar is that what we are trying to do, it seems, is replicate the success we have had in Iraq working, by, with and through local forces, so no direct combat themselves, but really enabling local forces to try to win the fight.

It seems what the U.S. military is trying to do is put the same infrastructure on the ground that has proved successful in helping the Iraqi army in Mosul in Syria to help the Syrians successfully take Raqqa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, if the Trump administration seems to be headed toward 2,000, assuming this next 1,000 contingent gets there, is that where the Obama administration would have eventually gotten, or is that not even clear?

ANDREW EXUM: So, it’s a really good question.

Over the past 18 months, we have steadily ramped up our commitment in terms of resources to both Iraq and Syria, and certainly, as the fight developed in Iraq, we continued to put more troop there, for example, building up the Qayyarah West Airfield in presentation for the fight against Mosul.

So, you could say the Obama administration might have eventually done something similar to this. We really don’t know. In some ways, this is typical of the ramping up of the strategy so far.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bulent Aliriza, do you see in as a continuation or as something tangibly different?

BULENT ALIRIZA, Center for Strategic and International Studies: It is a combination, exactly as Andrew says.

It is a continuation in the sense that the Obama administration was relying on the Syrian Kurds, the YPG, which causes terribly tremendous heartburn in the context of the Syrian Democratic forces. The difference is that, in Iraq, the U.S. is relying on the Iraqi army, supplemented with Peshmerga Kurdish forces.

In this case, the primary reliance on the Syrian Kurds, with lots and lots and complications.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, expand a little bit, Bulent Aliriza, on why the Turkish government is so concerned about — or growing concerned?

BULENT ALIRIZA: The Turkish government regards the YPG, the fighting arm of the Syrian Kurdish party the PYD, as an extension of the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for over three decades.

With the Obama administration and subsequently with the Trump administration, Turkey tried to persuade the U.S. not to rely on the Syrian Kurds for this reason, and to actually look to opposition groups backed by Turkey who have actually moved into Northern Syria with Turkish backing recently, and maybe even the Turkish army to take Raqqa.

But it seems that the Obama administration’s recommendation, which was reviewed by the Pentagon, has led the Trump administration to continue with the Syrian Kurdish option.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as far as you know, Andrew Exum, how does the — you know how the Obama administration viewed Turkey’s concerns. What does it look like the Trump administration, how do they see these concerns by Turkey?


No, my colleague sketched out exactly right. We actually started meeting with the Turks in the summer of 2015 to try to see if there was any way to make use of these opposition forces that Turkey had identified.

The bottom line is that there are too few of them and they weren’t combat-ready in the same way that our other partners were ready. And the Turkish military was never on the table during the Obama administration, although, of course, Turkey committed its own forces into Northern Syria late in the day in the administration.

Unclear how this administration looks at it. I think they had been trying to see if there was some way they could do this without angering a NATO partner in Turkey. And this may be why they’re putting more U.S. forces on the ground, so that they don’t have to provide the same type of equipment to the YPG they might have to — had to have otherwise done if they had been trying to do this with fewer U.S. forces.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Bulent Aliriza, as you look, as you step back and look at this, does it look like the Trump administration is making a smart move here in the way they are handling this?

BULENT ALIRIZA: I think their primary motivation here is to try and live up to the commitment that Trump made during the campaign, to actually deal with ISIS as quickly as possible.

And, in this case, the Syrian Kurds offered the best option in order to get this done as soon as possible. Beyond that, I think there are going to be lots and lots of complications, but, frankly, this is where we are. And nobody is really thinking beyond the takeover of Raqqa from ISIL.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You assess it the same way?


I think the problems really begin in some ways after you take Raqqa, because it is clear that the Islamic State is going to retreat to Deir el-Zour. The regime has a strong toehold in Deir el-Zour. So I think the key questions going forward is, do you follow Da’esh to Deir el-Zour? Do you try to work with the regime in Russia?

I think the geography only gets more complicated the farther south you go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about — Bulent Aliriza, what about — to both of you, what about once ISIS is cleared out? Is there a plan for what to do with those spaces that are vacated, that are emptied out?

BULENT ALIRIZA: Well, the Syrian government under Bashar Assad seems to have survived.

Initially, the Obama administration, like Turkey and many other countries, was committed to his ouster. With Russian backing, with Iranian backing, they have survived.

But in this process, ISIL emerged and began to be the problem within Syria and beyond that it has. Now, even if you take Raqqa, even if you take Mosul across the border in Iraq, unfortunately, the problem posed by radical jihadists is going to continue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which spells — go ahead.

ANDREW EXUM: I think that is right.

I think that, unfortunately, I think that we have already put our U.S. special operators in a very difficult position in Northern Syria already. You can see them refereeing between the Turkish-aligned forces and U.S.-backed forces.

I have real concerns about their ability to enable local forces to not just seize Raqqa, but then to hold Raqqa. And what is unclear to me is, what is the endgame? How do we eventually exfiltrate U.S. forces out of a very complicated situation in Northern Syria, once we have defeated the Islamic State?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, for folks who are watching this, Bulent Aliriza, and they are wondering, OK, what are the risks that the Trump administration is taking, how would you describe them?

BULENT ALIRIZA: Well, the risks in Syria to the U.S., to the Trump administration are minimal. It is the risks beyond Syria posed by ISIL and other organizations like that.

And so dealing with them in Syria, as I said, is relatively easy. But it might actually make the difficulties posed by the radical jihadists beyond Syria’s borders even more intractable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in just a few words, you see it the same way?

ANDREW EXUM: Well, I think what the United States is going to try to do after this is, we have figured out a way to squeeze Da’esh from multiple directions in Iraq and Syria. I know our military planners are now thinking through, what does that mean on a global scale? How do you avoid exactly the situation that my colleague is describing?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Making it much worse elsewhere, once you get rid of them, so to speak.


JUDY WOODRUFF: If that happens in Syria.

Andrew Exum, Bulent Aliriza, we thank you both.


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Watch: ‘A Drop of Blood’ – A documentary about Fakher Haider

Photojournalist Matt Moyer created this 8 minute film to memorialize his colleague Fakher Haider.

The post Watch: ‘A Drop of Blood’ – A documentary about Fakher Haider appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Everything we know about the London attack

A police officer stands guard in the Westminster area of London on March 23. Photo by Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

A police officer stands guard in the Westminster area of London on March 23. Photo by Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

British police have identified the person responsible for Wednesday’s attack on Parliament as Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old native of England.

Police believe Masood was the driver who plowed through pedestrians walking along Westminster Bridge before crashing in front of the houses of Parliament and stabbing a security guard. At least four people died and as many as 40 were injured in the attack.

The Kent-born Masood was known to police and had been previously convicted of assault and possession of weapons, but was not the subject of any current investigations or convicted of any terrorism offenses.

Here’s what else we know:

The Attack:

A police officer reaches out to floral tributes in Westminster the day after the attack in London. Photo by REUTERS/Hannah
         McKay - RTX32CM8

A police officer reaches out to floral tributes in Westminster the day after the attack in London. Photo by REUTERS/Hannah McKay – RTX32CM8

  • On Wednesday, a driver, now identified by police as Masood, plowed a car through pedestrians walking along Westminster Bridge, leaving a trail of injuries and deaths. The car crashed in front of the houses of Parliament, which entered lockdown.
  • Masood then allegedly fatally stabbed a guard, Keith Palmer, before being shot dead by police. Palmer, a husband and father, was unarmed.
  • A media outlet associated with Islamic State militants said the attack was committed by one of its “soldiers.”
  • The Associated Press reported that the car used in the attack was rented from the car rental company Enterprise in Birmingham

READ MORE: 4 dead, more than 2 dozen wounded in attack near UK Parliament

The victims:

  • One of the dead was identified as American Kurt Cochran of Utah. His wife Melissa was seriously wounded on the bridge. President Donald Trump tweeted that Cochran was “a great American” and “my prayers and condolences are with his family and friends.”
  • A British teacher, Aysha Frade, also died on the bridge. She had two young daughters and a husband.
  • About 40 other people from 11 different countries were injured. Among them were 12 Britons, four South Koreans, three French high school students, two Romanians, two Greeks and one citizen each of China, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the United States, according to the New York Times.

The reaction:

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  • Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted his condolences about the attack. His office told the Associated Press that he and UK Prime Minister Therea May “reasserted their “determination” to jointly combat terrorism and share intelligence.”
  • President Trump also offered his condolences to Prime Minister Theresa May and praise for British police and first responders.
  • In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the citizens of Britain and the entire civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism,” noting that “the citizens of Israel were among the first to face the challenge of vehicular ramming and stabbing attacks.”

What’s next?

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  • Police have arrested eight additional people in raids around Britain.
  • Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords resumed their sessions today.
  • “We will all move forward together, never giving in to terror or allowing the voices of hate [and] evil to drive us apart,” May tweeted.
  • May said police believe the attacker acted alone and there was “no reason to believe” further attacks on the public were planned.

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