Austin bombing suspect blows himself up as SWAT moves in

Police officers investigate the scene where a suspected bomber blew himself up on March 21, 2018, in Round Rock, Texas, north of Austin. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Austin bombing suspect blows himself up as SWAT moves in

ROUND ROCK, Texas: The suspect in the deadly bombings that terrorized Austin blew himself up early Wednesday as authorities closed in on him, bringing a grisly end to a three-week manhunt. But police warned that more bombs could be out there.
The suspect’s motive remained a mystery, along with whether he acted alone in the five bombings in the Texas capital and suburban San Antonio that killed two people and wounded four others.
Police zeroed in on the 24-year-old man in the last 24 to 36 hours and located his vehicle at a hotel on Interstate 35 in the suburb of Round Rock. Officers were waiting for armored vehicles to arrive before moving in for an arrest when his vehicle began to drive away, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference.
Authorities followed the vehicle, which ran into a ditch on the side of the road, he said.
When members of the SWAT team approached, the suspect detonated an explosive device inside the vehicle, the police chief said. The blast knocked one officer back, and a second officer fired his weapon, Manley said.
A law enforcement official identified the dead man as Mark Anthony Conditt. The official, who has been briefed on the investigation, spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Authorities released few details about the suspect, except his age and that he was white. But online postings indicate he was home schooled. He later attended Austin Community College from 2010 to 2012, according to a college spokeswoman, but he did not graduate.
A blogger who identified himself as Mark Conditt of Pflugerville described his interests as cycling, tennis and listening to music. In blogs dated from 2012, he wrote that gay marriage should be illegal and called for the elimination of sex offender registrations.
The mayor of Pflugerville, an Austin suburb not far from the site of the first of four bombings, said the suspect lived in his city, just two blocks from his house.
Pflugerville resident Jay Schulze said he was jogging Tuesday night when he was stopped by police and asked about the bombings. He said police flew drones over a home for about six hours between Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning.
He described the home over which the drones were flying as “a weird house with a lot of people coming and going” and a bit rundown.
Austin was hit with four package bombings starting on March 2. A fifth parcel bomb went off early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio.
Citing a high-ranking law enforcement official, the Austin American-Statesman reported that authorities had identified the suspect based largely on information, including security video, gleaned after he sent an explosive device from an Austin-area FedEx store.
Police warned Wednesday of the possibility that more bombs had yet to be found.
“We don’t know where this suspect has spent his last 24 hours, and therefore we still need to remain vigilant to ensure that no other packages or devices have been left to the community,” Manley said.
Authorities initially believed the bombings may have been hate crimes because the victims of the earliest blasts were black, but they backed off that theory after Hispanic and white victims from different parts of the city were also affected.
Fred Milanowski, an agent with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said it was “hard to say” if the bombing suspect had acted alone.
“What we do know is we believe the same person built each one of these devices,” said Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Houston division of the ATF.
Asked if the suspect built bombs before the Austin attacks, Milanowski said: “We know when he bought some of the components. It’s hard to say whether he was building along the way.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler thanked law enforcement for their work in bringing down the suspect and urged residents to continue to report anything that appeared suspicious or out of place.
Isaac Figueroa, 26, said he and his brother heard sirens and helicopters early Wednesday in the area and drove toward them, then cut through nearby woods on foot after they hit a police roadblock.
Figueroa said they saw a silver or gray Jeep Cherokee that was pinned between black and white vehicles and “looked like it had been rammed off the road.” He said he saw police deploy a robot to go examine the Jeep.
President Donald Trump, who had earlier said whoever was responsible for the Austin bombings was “obviously a very sick individual or individuals,” tweeted, “AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD. Great job by law enforcement and all concerned!“
The suspect’s death followed a day of rapid-fire developments in the case.
Early Tuesday, a bomb inside a package exploded as it passed along a conveyer belt at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin. One worker reported ringing in her ears and was treated at the scene.
Later in the morning, police sent a bomb squad to a FedEx facility outside the Austin airport to check on a suspicious package. Federal agencies and police later said that package had indeed contained an explosive that was successfully intercepted and that it, too, was tied to the other bombings.
The Schertz blast came two days after a bombing wounded two men Sunday night in a quiet Austin neighborhood about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the FedEx store. It was triggered by a nearly invisible tripwire.


Kashmir shuts down over India’s ‘muscular policy’

Updated 2 min 3 sec ago
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Kashmir shuts down over India’s ‘muscular policy’

  • Activists angry over detention of rebel leader, suspension of border trade with Pakistan
  • Analysts said the arrest of activists was an attempt to sanitize the valley before polling day

NEW DELHI: Indian-controlled Kashmir observed a shutdown Tuesday over the alleged ill-treatment of a separatist leader and the suspension of border trade with Pakistan.

Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was taken into custody as part of a major crackdown following a February attack in Pulwama that killed dozens of Indian security personnel.

India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. The Pulwama attack brought both nations to the brink of war and tensions have been running high since.

Tuesday’s strike, called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), saw the shutdown of all shops, businesses and traffic in protest at his detention and ill-treatment.

There is also anger that border trade with Pakistan has been suspended after the Indian government said that many of those trading across the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir into zones under Indian and Pakistani administration, had links to militant organizations.

“News about Yasin Malik being seriously ill and being shifted to a hospital in New Delhi is very disturbing,” JRL member Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Arab News.

“The people of Kashmir are concerned about his safety and well-being. It’s sad that even his family and his lawyer are not allowed to meet him. It’s the responsibility of the state, under whose detention he is in, to ensure his well-being. It is unfortunate that the state is dealing with the political issue of Kashmir with muscular and military policy alone. This will not yield anything apart from more anger and alienation on the ground. Look at the elections. The dismal turnout proves how disenchanted and alienated common masses feel today,” said Farooq, referring to the low turnout of Kashmir voters in India’s mammoth general election.

Analysts said the arrest of activists was an attempt to sanitize the valley before polling day.

India has had three phases in its election and participation in Kashmir has been poor, with some suggesting a turnout of 15 percent compared to 34 percent in 2014.

The JRL said the shutdown was also a condemnation of the alleged “ongoing aggression of central investigation agencies against Kashmiri leaders, activists, senior businessmen, trade union leaders, kith and kin of resistance leaders and other people belonging to different walks of life.”

Its statement called the closure of the national highway for two days a week “undemocratic ... and a gross human rights violation.”

The JRL slammed the suspension of border trade and said it was putting “the lives and economy of thousands into jeopardy.”

Srinagar-based rights activists Parvez Imroz said what was happening in Kashmir amounted to political and economic repression.

“By suspending trade at the border many lives are at stake,” he told Arab News. “People who have invested heavily in business are staring at an uncertain future. The government is not leaving any breathing space for the people of Kashmir.”

He added that, despite the Indian government’s tactics and firepower, people had not been motivated to cast their vote.

“Kashmir is not a democracy but an occupation. How can you expect people to respond when New Delhi behaves like a colonial power?”

But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said separatists had no right to question the government about the treatment of Kashmiri leaders.

“The separatist leaders never treated their own people well. They always tortured people who defied them. How come they expect good treatment at the hands of the Indian government?” Hina Bhat, a BJP leader in Srinagar, told Arab News.

She defended the ban on border trade, saying it could not continue unless the relationship between India and Pakistan normalized. She also put a positive spin on polling day, saying it was a success because it was “casualty-free.”

“No doubt people have some grudges and they are not happy with the previous government, but there is no need for disappointment as poll rates in other parts of the state have been good,” she added.