Former student confesses to Florida school shooting

Nikolas Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Former student confesses to Florida school shooting

A teen has confessed to gunning down 17 people at his former high school in Florida, court documents showed Thursday, as the FBI admitted it had received a tip-off about the 19-year-old gunman yet failed to stop him.
As Americans reeled from the country’s worst school massacre since the horror at Sandy Hook six years ago, President Donald Trump suggested the root cause of the violence was a crisis of mental health — and defied calls to address gun control.
Terrified students hid in closets and under desks on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, texting for help as the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, stalked the school with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.
Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, appearing Thursday afternoon via video link before a judge who ordered him held without bond. More than a dozen other people were injured in the shooting spree.
“Today is a day of healing. Today is a day of mourning,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.
After being read his legal rights, “Cruz stated that he was the gunman who entered the school campus armed with a AR-15 and began shooting students that he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds,” court documents showed.
Cruz arrived at the school in an Uber at 2:19 pm, authorities said. Less than three minutes later, he started spraying multiple classrooms with bullets. At 2:28 pm, he left the campus, according to an official timeline.
Cruz told police that he discarded his rifle — which he bought legally in Florida — and tactical gear in order to blend in with the crowd so he could flee, the documents showed.
After the shooting, he stopped at a Wal-Mart and then McDonald’s, Israel told reporters. He was detained 40 minutes later, after police identified him using school security camera footage.
In a somber televised address to the nation in response to the 18th school shooting so far this year, Trump vowed to make mental health a priority — after tweeting about the “many signs” the gunman was “mentally disturbed” — while avoiding any talk of gun curbs.
Earlier in the day, Trump had asserted that “neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!“
Expelled from school for disciplinary reasons, Cruz was known to be fixated on firearms — and had reportedly been identified as a potential threat to his classmates.
But US authorities themselves were under scrutiny, after the FBI confirmed it was alerted last September to a message posted on YouTube, in which a user named Nikolas Cruz vowed: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”
In a statement, the FBI said it had carried out “database reviews and other checks” but was unable to identify the person who made the post.


Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, in this May 19, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 34 min 12 sec ago
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Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

  • “Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats

QUITO: Ecuador in 2017 gave Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a diplomatic post in Russia but rescinded it after Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity, according to an Ecuadorean government document seen by Reuters.
The aborted effort suggests Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had engaged Moscow to resolve the situation of Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy for six years to avoid arrest by British authorities on charges of skipping bail.
The incident was revealed in a letter by Ecuador’s foreign ministry to a legislator who had asked for information about Ecuador’s decision last year to grant Assange citizenship.
Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.
“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.
But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.
Ecuador abandoned its decision shortly after, according to the letter.
British authorities have said they will arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy, meaning he would have needed to be recognized as a diplomat in order to travel to Moscow.
Lawyers for Assange in the United States and Britain did not respond to requests for comment. WikiLeaks website did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Ecuadorean foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.
The plan to make Assange an Ecuadorean diplomat was made public last year, but the effort to send him to Moscow has not been previously reported.
US intelligence agencies in 2017 said they believed WikiLeaks was an intermediary used by Russia to publish emails hacked from top Democrats to embarrass 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
US President Donald Trump faces an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to win that election. Assange denies receiving the emails from Russia, but has not ruled out having obtained them from a third party. Trump and Russia deny collusion.
The Guardian newspaper on Friday reported that Russian diplomats held secret talks in London to help Assange flee Britain through an operation tentatively scheduled for Christmas Eve, 2017.
The story, which cited unidentified sources, said “details of the plan were sketchy” and that it was aborted because it was deemed too risky.
“The Embassy has never engaged either with Ecuadorian colleagues, or with anyone else, in discussions on any kind of Russia’s participation in ending Mr.Assange’s stay within the diplomatic mission of Ecuador,” Russia’s embassy in London wrote on its web site in a response to The Guardian story.
It was not immediately evident if Ecuadorean officials had any contact with Russia as part of the Assange appointment.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Russia’s foreign ministry on Ecuador’s plan to make him a diplomat there.
The letter from Ecuador’s foreign ministry was a summary of 28 documents that were sent to Vintimilla in response to her request.
Among those documents is a Dec. 4 letter from Assange in which he renounced his request for political asylum from Ecuador in preparation to become an Ecuadorean diplomat. The letter, which was seen by Reuters, said he ultimately planned to travel to Ecuador.
Vintimilla, who discussed some of the documents during a Thursday press conference, said Assange should lose his citizenship as a result of that letter.
Assange sought asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questions about allegations of sex crimes, accusations that were later dropped.
Ecuador’s president Moreno has said Assange’s asylum cannot be eternal, but has also been reluctant to abruptly halt it on concerns that Assange’s human rights could be at risk.