Beyond the county: UC Merced stabber had no terrorist connections, High toxin levels in Dungeness crab |

Beyond the county: UC Merced stabber had no terrorist connections, High toxin levels in Dungeness crab

This undated photo provided by the University of California, Merced shows freshman Faisal Mohammad of Santa Clara, California. Authorities say Mohammad burst into a classroom at the California school, stabbing several people before being shot and killed by police, Wednesday. (University of California, Merced via AP)
AP | University of California, Merced

Student who stabbed 4 at Merced university meant to do more harm

SAN FRANCISCO — A freshman student who stabbed four people at a California university meant to do even more harm, but he acted alone and had no connections to terrorist groups, authorities said Thursday.

Faisal Mohammad, 18, burst into his class at the University of California, Merced, and attacked a fellow student with a hunting knife Wednesday morning. He stabbed three others, including a construction worker credited with preventing Mohammad from killing anyone, before police shot him dead as he fled across campus.

Police found zip-tie handcuffs, duct tape and a hammer in a backpack near his body. It also contained two plastic baggies of petroleum jelly, which Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke called a “poor’s man” explosive if ignited.

Warnke and other officials said background checks of Mohammad and his family show the 18-year-old had no connections to organized hate or terror groups and no past behavior to suggest he would lash out violently.

“We had zero to indicate he was on anyone’s radar,” Warnke said.

Investigators also found a list of items Mohammad planned to pack in his backpack before the attacks.

“His intention was to do more damage,” school spokeswoman Lorena Anderson said. “But there is absolutely no reason to believe that this was anything more than an angry young man acting alone.”

Anderson said it’s unclear if Mohammad targeted anyone in particular in the class required of all university freshmen. All four victims are expected to survive.

Byron Price, 31, a construction worker doing remodeling work next door, interrupted the attack, rushing into the classroom to break up what he thought was a fistfight. Price said Mohammad charged at him with the knife and looked scared.

“He also looked like he was having fun,” Price, who was stabbed in the side, told the Merced Sun-Star. “His eyes, I could see fear in his eyes. He was smiling.”

His college roommate called him an anti-social loner. But a high school buddy expressed shock that Mohammad stabbed four people.

“He was quiet, but he was really friendly,” Ish Patel said. “He was intelligent, too — he performed well academically.”

Patel said Mohammad enjoyed basketball, going to the mosque to pray and playing video games with his friends. He lost contact with Mohammad after they graduated from high school in Santa Clara, California, in June.

But Mohammad’s suitemate at college paints another portrait. Andrew Velasquez told KSFN-TV in Fresno that Mohammad, who was majoring in computer science and engineering, kept to himself.

“(Mohammad) didn’t talk much. And I never saw him walk with anybody. Walking to class, I never saw him walk with anybody,” Velasquez said.

One student remained hospitalized Thursday, and a staff member who suffered a collapsed lung was recovering after surgery, the school said. Price and a second student were treated and released.

Classes would resume today at the university about 120 miles south of Sacramento in the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley.

High toxin level delays California crab season

Wildlife authorities delayed the Dungeness crab season and closed the rock crab fishery for most of California on Thursday, just days after warning of dangerous levels of a neurotoxin linked to a massive algae bloom off the West Coast.

The state Fish and Game Commission voted 3-0 on the Dungeness delay and the rock crab closure north of the Santa Barbara-Ventura county line. The panel said crabbing would resume when toxin levels dropped but did not estimate when that might be.

The recreational Dungeness season was scheduled to start Saturday and the commercial season was set for Nov. 15. Rock crabs are caught year-round.

Officials on Tuesday warned people to avoid eating Dungeness and rock crabs. High levels of domoic acid have been found in crabs from the Oregon border to the southern Santa Barbara County line, the Department of Public Health reported.

In severe poisoning cases, the neurotoxin can cause seizures, coma or death.

It was unclear how much impact the actions might have on California crabbing, which is estimated to bring in at least $60 million commercially.

— Associated Press

Russia, Egypt dismiss suggestions a bomb caused crash

LONDON — Five days after a Russian jetliner broke apart high above the Sinai, Russia and Egypt on Thursday dismissed Western suggestions that a terrorist bomb may have caused the crash that killed 224 people, saying the speculation was a rush to judgment.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who spoke to the presidents of both countries in the very public dispute, said he had grounded all British flights to and from the Sinai Peninsula because of “intelligence and information” indicating a bomb was the probable reason a Metrojet Airbus A321-200 plane had crashed Saturday in the desert.

British and U.S. officials, guided primarily by intelligence intercepts and satellite imagery, have suggested gingerly it might have been the work of the extremist Islamic State group and its affiliates in the Sinai.

“We don’t know for certain that it was a terrorist bomb … (but it’s a) strong possibility,” Cameron said.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi later stood beside him at a news conference following an awkward meeting. Cameron also spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin to explain that concern for the safety of British citizens had led the government to go public with its suspicions about a bomb.

Russia and Egypt insist the investigation into the crash must run its course before any conclusion is reached. The Metrojet plane crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for St. Petersburg with mostly Russians aboard.

The dispute arose after the U.S. and British intelligence was disclosed Wednesday, just as el-Sissi was heading to London on a previously planned visit — his first as president.

Russia complained that intelligence gathered by London and Washington about its jetliner has not been made available.

If Britain had information about a bomb on the plane, it’s “really shocking” that hasn’t been shared with Russia, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, speaking in Moscow.

British officials declined to say what intelligence was shared with other countries.

U.S. and British leaders have stopped short of a categorical assignment of blame in the crash, but Cameron said it is “more likely than not” that the cause was a bomb.

President Barack Obama said the U.S. was taking “very seriously” the possibility that a bomb brought down the plane. His comments, in an interview with a Seattle radio station, followed an earlier statement by White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who said the U.S. can’t rule out the possibility of terrorism.

The Islamic State group, which has not generally pursued “spectacular” attacks outside its base in Syria, has claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane, but Russian and Egyptian officials say the claim was not credible.

Russia is conducting an air war in Syria against Islamic State militants who have promised retaliation.

Egypt stands to lose millions of dollars from its vital tourism industry. Its tourism minister, Hisham Zaazou, met with British officials in London to persuade them to reconsider the decision to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian state-run news agency MENA reported.

Caught in the middle are thousands of tourists stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh, unable to return home because flights have been suspended due to security concerns.

Britain sent a security team to the Sharm el-Sheikh airport to determine what changes are needed to make travel there safe, but Egyptian officials maintain there is nothing wrong with the facility, which each year welcomes thousands of tourists to the resort beside the crystal-clear Red Sea.

British Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told Parliament that Egypt must put in tighter, long-term security measures before British flights will resume flying there on a regular basis. Short-term measures, including different luggage-handing arrangements, would allow the estimated 20,000 British citizens in the Sharm el-Sheikh area to fly home, he said.

El-Sissi said British officials had sent a security team to evaluate the airport 10 months ago and were satisfied with the results.

“They checked the security actions, they were happy with that,” he told a Downing Street news conference through an interpreter.

Egypt condemned the British travel ban as an overreaction. Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal insisted the country’s airports meet international security standards and said talk of a bomb was unsupported.

“The investigation team does not have yet any evidence or data confirming this hypothesis,” he said.

The Kremlin said Putin told Cameron it was necessary to rely on data yielded by the official crash investigation.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said it was mere speculation to single out one possible explanation at this early point in the inquiry.

“One cannot rule out a single theory, but at this point there are no reasons to voice just one theory as reliable — only investigators can do that,” Peskov said in Moscow.

Russia’s top aviation official, Alexander Neradko, said investigators are pursuing several theories into the crash, including looking for traces of explosives on victims’ bodies, their baggage and the plane debris, as well as studying other “aspects linked to a possible terrorist attack.”

He said the investigation is likely to take several months.

Metrojet suspended all flights of Airbus A321 jets in its fleet after the crash. The company has ruled out a pilot error or a technical fault as a possible cause, drawing criticism from Russian officials for speaking with such certainty too soon.

Images from U.S. satellites detected heat around the jet just before it went down Saturday, two U.S. officials told The Associated Press. The infrared activity could mean several things, including a bomb blast or an engine exploding because of a mechanical breakdown.

Another U.S. official briefed on the Metrojet crash told the AP that intercepted communications played a role in the tentative conclusion that the Islamic State group’s Sinai affiliate had planted an explosive on the flight.

The official added that intelligence analysts don’t believe the operation was ordered by Islamic State leaders in Raqqa, Syria, but was possibly planned and executed by its affiliate in the Sinai. The U.S. officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss intelligence matters publicly.

Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, said a bomb could be placed on a plane in a variety of ways, including by someone with access or by those on catering teams or maintenance crews.

“The options are almost too many to consider,” he said in a telephone interview from Gambia.

Several airlines announced plans to start flying tourists from Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday.

EasyJet said it will run nine flights from the Red Sea resort to London and one to Milan, while Monarch will have two scheduled flights and three additional flights. Neither carrier is operating passenger flights from the U.K. to Sharm el-Sheikh.

Cameron’s office said additional security measures will be in place, including only allowing passengers to carry hand baggage, while checked luggage will be transported separately.

The government has said it could take a week to 10 days to bring home the 20,000 British tourists.

Italy’s civil aviation authority said it asked Italian airlines to conduct their own extra security checks at the airport as a precaution.

At the airport, travelers lined up as usual for metal detectors, searches of luggage and X-rayed baggage.

“Belgium authorities are telling me that it’s not safe in Egypt and they have to cancel the flight for safety reasons, which I think it is stupid because it is safe and there is no problem at all,” said Belgian tourist Bart Tecker.

Anger among travelers may be boiling over. Emma Smyth said there was at least one confrontation between staff at the Aqua Blue hotel and a distraught English family that didn’t want to pay for its extra days of lodging.

“The hotel set a charge and the tourists cannot understand why they are being charged,” she said. “They said they should be allowed to stay, and with that, one man grabbed one of the managers — they ripped his shirt, ripped his name-badge off and everything.”

Very different emotions were on display in Russia.

In the ancient city of Veliky Novgorod, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of St. Petersburg, family and friends said a tearful goodbye to 60-year-old Nina Lushchenko, the first victim to be buried.

Christie, Huckabee relegated to undercard at GOP debate

NEWARK, N.J. — Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee have been bumped from the main stage at next week’s GOP presidential debate, while George Pataki and Lindsey Graham have been cut from the lineup altogether. Debate sponsor Fox Business Network announced the moves Thursday evening, dealing a blow to Christie and Huckabee as they struggled to stand out in the crowded Republican field amid signs of momentum in states where the first primary contests will be held.

The decision underscores concerns about the pivotal role that national opinion surveys have been playing in shaping the contest for the GOP nomination. Statistically, pollsters say, there is no significant difference between candidates lumped together near the bottom of the pack in national polls.

“I tell people, ‘Ignore the national polls and just follow those early states,’” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who argues that early opinion surveys are notoriously unreliable. “Except that now national polls drive the debates, and debates drive the polling.”

According to debate criteria issued by Fox Business last week, candidates must score 2.5 percent or higher in an average of the four most recent major polls conducted through Nov. 4 to be featured in the prime-time debate.

— Associated Press

Netanyahu appointment casts cloud over US visit

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly appointed spokesman on Thursday apologized for a series of insulting comments about U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, days before his boss heads to Washington on a fence-mending mission.

The apology from Ran Baratz, issued by Netanyahu’s office, cast a cloud over Monday’s visit. Netanyahu and Obama have had a chilly relationship over the years, and the meeting is meant in part to repair ties after repeated clashes over the U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran. In Washington, the State Department called Baratz’s comments “troubling and offensive,” and claimed the prime minister had promised to “review” the appointment.

Netanyahu announced Baratz’s appointment as his chief spokesman late Wednesday, and soon after, old Facebook posts had emerged in which Baratz suggested that Obama is anti-Semitic and Kerry cannot be taken seriously. He also derided Israel’s popular president as “marginal.”

Baratz’s appointment still needs Cabinet approval. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue, said a vote had not yet been scheduled, and that Baratz would not be joining Netanyahu on the trip to Washington.

“I have just read Dr. Ran Baratz’s posts on the Internet, including those relating to the president of the state of Israel, the president of the United States and other public figures in Israel and the United States,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Those posts are totally unacceptable and in no way reflect my positions or the policies of the government of Israel. Dr. Baratz has apologized and has asked to meet me to clarify the matter following my return to Israel.”

Baratz is the latest in a series of controversial Netanyahu appointees. His ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, is a former Republican operative in the U.S. and spearheaded Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March arguing against the nuclear deal with Iran. The speech, arranged with Republican leaders in Congress, angered the White House and Obama did not attend.

Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, is a strong supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and an equally fervent opponent of the establishment of a Palestinian state, putting him at odds with the international community.

Baratz, himself a West Bank settler, is a former academic and founding editor of a conservative website. Baratz recently said on his Facebook page that Obama’s response to the Netanyahu speech to Congress this year was an example of “modern anti-Semitism in liberal Western states.”

Baratz, 42, has also taken jabs at Kerry, saying he should seek out a job as a stand-up comedian, insinuating his speeches are laughable.

In a 2004 column, Baratz voiced support for extremists pushing for a greater Jewish presence at a Jerusalem holy site. Israel is currently wracked by a wave of violence fueled by Palestinian allegations that Israel is plotting to take over the holy site. Israel denies the allegations.

Baratz’s comments also generated anger at home for a Facebook post about Israel’s largely ceremonial but much-admired president, Reuven Rivlin. He poked fun at Rivlin’s penchant for flying coach on official trips, saying he is able to do so from a security standpoint because he is a “marginal figure.” Rivlin’s office said it asked the prime minister’s office for clarifications.

In a new Facebook post, Baratz apologized for the “hurtful remarks” he had posted.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t inform the Prime Minister in advance about them. These postings were written hastily and sometimes humorously, in a manner appropriate for a private person writing on the Internet,” he said. He said he would behave differently in his official role and would try to clarify things with Netanyahu.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Baratz’s comments about Obama and Kerry were “troubling and offensive.”

“We obviously expect government officials from any country, especially our closest allies, to speak respectfully and truthfully about senior U.S. government officials,” he said, adding that Kerry had spoken with Netanyahu earlier in the day.

“We understand the prime minister will be reviewing this appointment when he returns from his visit to the United States,” he said. “Obviously name-calling and insults certainly aimed at individuals doesn’t do anything to help advance and deepen the relationship. … It’s a rule you learn in kindergarten about name-calling, and it’s simply not a polite thing to do.”

The appointment was derided by commentators and questioned even by Netanyahu’s allies. Two Cabinet ministers urged him to reconsider.

“This is the man the prime minister chose to be my mouthpiece, all of our mouthpieces, to talk to the world in our names. This man, with his words dripping with poison, his mouth is our mouth now,” wrote satirist Mika Almog in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

If the Cabinet approves the nomination, Baratz will be Netanyahu’s communications chief and become a close adviser. Another Netanyahu spokesman deals with the foreign press.

Study: ‘Happiness advantage’ over age 30 vanishing

Are you happy? Very happy? If you’re in your 30s or older, a new study has found that you’re less likely to answer “yes” than your parents were.

The findings, being published online Thursday in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, come on the heels of another recent report that found that death rates of middle-aged white Americans have been rising, largely due to suicide and substance abuse.

“Age is supposed to bring happiness and contentment. For that not to be true anymore is somewhat shocking,” says Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University who is the study’s lead author.

She also wrote the book “Generation Me,” a look at young adults and the attitudes and influences that have helped shape them.

Starting with data in the early 1970s, Twenge and her colleagues found that adults 30 and older used to be happier than younger adults and teens. But that “happiness advantage” has steadily declined as the older adults have expressed less satisfaction with their lives and the younger cohort has gotten a little happier.

Other experts who study happiness say the findings fit with their own research. They attribute the shift to everything from growing financial pressures — and what some call “economic insecurity” — to the fact that real life has been a rude awakening for a generation of young adults who were told they could do anything and are discovering that often isn’t true.

Geena Kandel, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, says she and her peers already worry that even a good college education won’t be enough to help achieve what their parents have. “It puts a lot of pressure on people my age,” the 21-year-old says.

Before you get too bummed out, consider another finding of the study: One in three of all American adults still report being “very happy.”

Twenge and her colleagues found, for instance, that 30 percent of those in the 18- to 29-year-old range gave that response in the 2010s, compared with 28 percent in the early 1970s.

There’s also been a notable uptick in “very happy” teens. In the 1970s, for instance, 19 percent of 12th graders chose that response, compared with 23 percent in the 2010s.

Adults age 30 and older, however, have seen a five-percentage-point drop, from 38 percent in the early 1970s to 33 percent today.

The findings — which are from University of Chicago’s longstanding General Social Survey and the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey — ring true for Emily Valdez, a 49-year-old mom in Seattle.

“I thought that life would be simpler,” she says. “My parents’ marriage, children, child-rearing just seemed – and still seems in their eyes – less fraught with indecision, second-guessing and maybe just less insecurity.”

Some say the onslaught of information at our fingertips every day is one factor making us feel overwhelmed.

It is, of course, also impossible to ignore the economic downturn in the last decade. Shigehiro Oishi, a researcher at the University of Virginia, has documented a growing dissatisfaction with the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

Others have linked unhappiness to “income insecurity.”

“The more competitive and market-driven society becomes, the more people are on their own to survive and flourish, the more insecure they are in their day-to-day lives, the more unequal things become — quality of life tends to decline,” says Benjamin Radcliff, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame who has researched this topic.

Twenge, the study’s author, also said that, beyond income factors, people who were single parents, and presumably had fewer social supports, said they were less happy.

She and her co-authors also speculated that young people were less stressed by economic factors until they hit adulthood.

In addition, Tim Bono, a psychologist at Washington University who teaches and studies happiness, thinks there’s something to that “rude awakening” theory for his generation of young adults.

A while back, the 32-year-old professor came across a box of school papers and other relics from his past — worksheets, assignments and notes sent home that all reinforced “how special I was and how I could do anything I set my mind to.” He also found many of the ribbons and trophies he’d received as a kid, not only for winning but for simply participating in sports.

“My generation has been bathed in messages of how great we are and how anything is possible for us,” Bono says, noting that that mindset can easily lead to disappointment.

In this Nov. 4 photo, psychologist Tim Bono poses for a photo with childhood ribbons and awards in his office at Washington University in St. Louis.

Yosemite to waive fee in honor of Veterans Day

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Yosemite National Park will waive its entrance fee on Nov. 11 in honor of Veterans Day.

The Fresno Bee reports that the park will also lower its seven-day pass rate to $25 for private vehicles from November through March.

Park officials say the reduced entrance fee is to entice visitors to see the park outside of the busy summer season. The private vehicle entrance fee is $30 from April through October.

Yosemite National Park raised entrance fees earlier this year as part of an initiative to standardize entrance fees to parks across the country. The park has adopted a seasonal entrance fee based on input received from the public.

— Associated Press

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