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March 17th, 2014
09:11 AM ET

What Could Have Happened to Flight 370?

Author Brad Meltzer questions conspiracy theories around the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

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Filed under: Malaysia plane crash
March 14th, 2014
09:43 AM ET

2 Killed When Suspected Drunk Driver Plows Car Into crowd at SXSW, Police Say

A crowded street at a popular festival in Austin, Texas, became a chaotic scene as a suspected drunk driver tore through the crowd, running over people and hitting other cars, leaving two people dead and others seriously injured.

Police eventually caught the driver after a foot chase, bringing him under control with a Taser. The 21-year-old suspect will be charged with two counts of capital murder, police said.

Authorities have not released names of the dead, but they were a Dutch man on a bicycle and a local woman on a moped, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said, correcting his earlier statement that the victims had been on a motorcycle.

MassiveMusic, a music agency with offices around the world, posted a statement on its website and Facebook page identifying the company's Amsterdam-based creative director, Steven Craenmehr, as a person killed Thursday in Austin.

"During the 8 years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter," the Facebook post said. "This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family, and we are grateful for the years we spent with him. Our thoughts are with Steven's family and friends."

People were jamming the street listening to music just after midnight Wednesday when the driver, attempting to flee police, plowed through a barricade into the crowd.

Close calls for many

Some people escaped by a matter of inches.

Pablo Vazquez said the suspect drove right past him.

"The car barely missed me ... I was less than a foot away," Vazquez told CNN's "New Day."

"I saw some folks die."

"It looked like something out of a movie," said Russ Barone. "A few people lying on the street ... with their friends around them trying to get them up, trying to get them back to life. Hopefully, they are."

He said the scene was grisly, with people bleeding in the streets.

"I've never seen nothing like it. I felt like I was at a war or something," Barone said. "I was down here for the music ... we were having the best time ever. And then it turned into the worst thing I've ever seen."

Dozens injured

Twenty-three others were initially hospitalized, some with multiple internal injuries. Most of the victims are in their 20s, said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, medical director at the University Medical Center Brackenridge emergency department.

As of Thursday evening, 15 of the 23 people hospitalized had been released, according to Austin police. Two patients remained in critical condition, three were in serious condition and three others remained hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Ziebell said it was fortunate the incident occurred so close to the hospital, and he applauded the Travis County paramedics, who had just undergone training for a similar scenario, for their response.

Wrong-way driver

The driver will face two counts of capital murder - Texas' highest offense punishable by the death penalty. The car hit pedestrians, a moped, a taxi, a bicycle and a van, Acevedo said.

The suspect also will face 23 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle, Acevedo said.

Austin police identified the suspect as Rashad Charjuan Owens. Police department Public Information Officer Jennifer Herber told CNN Thursday afternoon that formal charges against Owens were forthcoming.

The incident began when an officer noticed a man driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street shortly after midnight.

A patrol officer attempted to stop the car near a crowded gas station, Acevedo said. The driver, the chief said, acted as if he was pulling over into the gas station, but he continued through the parking lot and exited, accelerating down the street.

The officer attempting to pull him over couldn't follow him because the parking lot was so crowded, so he had to back his patrol car out, Acevedo said. Another officer working barricade control had to jump out of the driver's way as he accelerated for about two blocks, striking pedestrians and vehicles, the chief said.

A foot chase ensued, and an officer eventually caught the driver and used his Taser to subdue him, Acevedo said.

The incident lasted one minute, police said.

Horrific scenes

Photos and video posted to social media showed people sprawled on a street for about a block with first-responders kneeling over them. In one instance, paramedics are seen performing CPR.

Witnesses on a YouTube video said the car sped through the crowd, tossing some victims into the air and knocking others down.

Acevedo urged those posting videos on social media to turn them over to authorities instead.

South by Southwest is an annual event that features film, interactive and music festivals, and draws tens of thousands of people to the Texas capital every year.

In a statement on its website, SXSW organizers commended the first-responders and city agencies that assisted them and said their thoughts and prayer were with the victims and those affected.

"We will be making schedule and venue changes for programming in the surrounding area of last night's events. All other programming will continue as previously scheduled." the statement said.

CNN first learned of the incident via posts on Twitter.

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Filed under: SXSW
March 13th, 2014
05:57 AM ET

Indian Diplomat's Charges Dropped

The Indian diplomat whose arrest sparked a testy exchange between the United States and India won a dismissal of a federal indictment Monday, according to court documents.

Devyani Khobragade was arrested and strip searched by federal agents in New York City in December after federal authorities accused Khobragade of lying on a visa application about how much she paid her housekeeper. She was indicted on January 9 by a federal grand jury on one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements.

Khobragade then filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming she was "cloaked in diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest," according to the motion.

The court agreed, stating that Khobragade was "appointed a Counselor to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, a position that cloaked her with full diplomatic immunity," according to court documents. She was appointed to that position on January 8, a day before she was indicted.

"Even if Khobragade had no immunity at the time of her arrest and has none now, her acquisition of immunity during the pendency of proceedings mandates dismissal," U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote.

"The government may not proceed on an indictment obtained when Khobragade was immune from the jurisdiction of the court," Scheindlin continued.

Khobragade's attorney, Daniel Arshack, said in a statement that Khobragade is pleased that "the rule of law has prevailed."

"We are heartened that the court agreed with our legal analysis and rejected the prosecution's arguments by dismissing the case," he said.

James Margolin, spokesman for the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, did not rule out the possibility of further charges.

"As the court indicated in its decision, and as Devyani Khobragade has conceded, there is currently no bar to a new indictment against her for her alleged criminal conduct, and we intend to proceed accordingly," he said in a statement.

Khobragade, who left the United States in January, is now working for the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Delhi.

Her case drew international attention, with Indian officials demanding apologies from Washington, and the United States announcing it would withdraw one official from its embassy in New Delhi.

March 12th, 2014
05:56 AM ET

D.C. Mayor Says He Won't Resign Over Scandal

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said on Tuesday he would not resign as prosecutors for the first time sought to tie him to a political scandal.

In an interview with CNN, Gray again denied any wrongdoing following the biggest guilty plea so far in the federal probe of a nearly $700,000 unlawful "shadow campaign" that was part of his successful 2010 mayoral run.

In court on Monday, prosecutors claimed that Gray was aware of the illegal fundraising and helped cover it up.

While the U.S. Attorney's office openly accused Gray of wrongdoing, it has not filed any charges at this point.

Gray denies any tie to the scheme that prosecutors said was masterminded by businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Monday.

"I've made the clear for months now years, that I knew nothing about this and I had nothing to do with it," Gray told CNN on Tuesday.

He said he doesn't feel that he did anything wrong in the 2010 campaign, has operated "openly and honestly," and has no plans to step down.

"I have no intention of resigning. I haven't done anything and there is no reason to do that," Gray said in his downtown office.

"Remember, I am in the last year of my term, first of all, and I am not just going to walk away like that. I don't have a reason to walk away," he said.

Gray is running for reelection.

Four other top campaign aides have pleaded guilty to felonies related to the shadow campaign.

Thompson, 58, used his companies to funnel millions of dollars in off-the-book contributions to various federal and city candidates, court papers said.

Regarding Gray, Thompson and his unnamed co-conspirators allegedly disbursed "approximately $668,800 in excessive and unreported corporate contributions to pay for campaign services and campaign materials in coordination with and in support of" Gray's campaign, the court papers said.

According to prosecutors, Thompson used the code name "Uncle Earl" when dealing with Gray.

Gray said he and Thompson did employ the code name, but only because Thompson's business relied on government contacts and he feared retribution from Mayor Adrian Fenty, the incumbent who Gray defeated in Democratic primary balloting.

Gray said he didn't think this arrangement was odd because he "knew the incumbent had a reputation for seeking retribution."

In the upcoming Democratic primary, the incumbent Gray is facing challenges from at least 10 candidates, including four Democratic council members.

Gray told CNN that it appeared he was being made to take the fall for something he didn't do. He called the process "infuriating," especially considering the way the upcoming election has amplified the knocks on his ethics.

"I think it has resonated during the campaign already," Gray said about attacks on ethics. "People have brought it up and my suggestion to them is if they have anything that is factual associated with this, go down to see the U.S. attorney and report it."

Gray said that he believed voters would trust his leadership and the way he steered the city for the past three years, adding that these allegations don't fit with his history of public service.

"I think if you look at my life," Gray concluded, "my life is one that I am very proud of and this situation is one that, at best, I can describe as an anomaly."

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Filed under: Gray • Washington mayor
March 11th, 2014
05:45 AM ET

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Mystery Passenger ID'd

Amid the multitude of questions about the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, one small part of the story became clearer Tuesday when police said they have identified one of the passengers who used a stolen passport to board the plane. And it's unlikely, they said, that he was part of a terrorist group.

He is a 19-year-old Iranian man, named Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, who was trying to emigrate to Germany, said Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar of the Royal Malaysian Police.

The use of the stolen passports by two passengers on the plane, which vanished from the skies early Saturday, raised fears that its disappearance could be linked to terrorism.

But Khalid said authorities don't think the young Iranian posed a threat.

"We have been checking his background. We have also checked him with other police organizations of his profile and we believe that he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group," Khalid said.

After he failed to arrive in Frankfurt, the final destination of his ticket, his mother contacted authorities, Khalid said. According to ticketing records, the ticket to Frankfurt was booked under a stolen Austrian passport.

Authorities are still investigating the identity of the other passenger who used a stolen passport.

The bigger piece of the puzzle

The identification of one of the men helps peel away a thin layer of the mystery surrounding the passenger jet, which disappeared about an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

But in the bigger puzzle of the missing plane's whereabouts, there were no reports of progress Tuesday.

Every lead that has raised hopes of tracing the commercial jet and the 239 people on board has so far petered out.

The challenge facing those involved in the huge, multinational search is daunting; the area of sea they are combing is vast.

And they still don't know if they're looking in the right place.

"As we enter into Day 4, the aircraft is yet to be found," Malaysia Airlines said in a statement Tuesday.

Days, weeks or even months

Over the past few days, search teams have been scouring tens of thousands of square miles of sea around the area where the plane was last detected, between the northeast coast of Malaysia and southwest Vietnam.

They have also been searching off the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, in the Strait of Malacca, and north into the Andaman Sea. The airline said Tuesday that authorities are still investigating the possibility that the plane might have tried to turn back toward Kuala Lumpur.

The search also encompasses the land in between the two areas of sea.

But it could be days, weeks or even months before the searchers find anything that begins to explain what happened to the plane, which disappeared early Saturday en route to Beijing.

In the case of Air France Flight 447, which disappeared over the Atlantic in 2009, it took five days just to locate the first floating wreckage.

And it was nearly two years before investigators found the bulk of the French plane's wreckage, and the majority of the bodies of the 228 people on board, about 12,000 feet below the surface of the ocean.

The Gulf of Thailand, the area where the missing Malaysian plane was last detected is much shallower, with a maximum depth of only 260 feet and an average depth of about 150 feet.

"If the aircraft is in the water, it should make recovery easier than the long and expensive effort to bring up key parts of the Air France plane," Bill Palmer, an Airbus A330 captain for a major airline, wrote in an opinion article for CNN.

But if Flight 370 went down farther west, it could have ended up in the much deeper waters of the Andaman Sea.

No possibilities ruled out

Aviation officials say they haven't ruled out any possibilities in the investigation so far. It's hard for them to reach any conclusions until they find the plane, along with its voice and data recorders.

Malaysian police are focusing on four particular areas, Khalid said Tuesday: hijacking, sabotage, psychological problems of the passengers and crew, and personal problems among the passengers and crew.

He said police were going through the profiles of all the passengers and crew members.

Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told CNN's Jim Clancy that those involved in the search for the plane are determined to carry on.

"We just have to be more resolved and pay more attention to every single detail," he said Tuesday. "It must be there somewhere. We have to find it."

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Filed under: Flight 370 • Malaysia
March 10th, 2014
05:40 AM ET

Reports: 13 Nuns Freed by Kidnappers in Syria

Thirteen nuns and three workers kidnapped in late November from a Greek Orthodox monastery in Syria were freed Sunday, a pro-Syrian government news network and Lebanese state media reported.

A convoy of around 30 vehicles picked up the nuns and workers in one part of Syria and took them into Lebanon, the country's National News Agency reported late Sunday. The convoy traveled through Lebanon to another border crossing into Syria, the hillside village of Jdaidet Yabous. There, the group will be met by Greek Orthodox church officials, who will welcome them back into Syria, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

The convoy was at one point delayed several hours for "logistical reasons" but later resumed en route to Jdaidet Yabous, Public Security Director Gen. Abbas Ibrahim told NNA.

When they did arrive overnight, the nuns - some smiling, some solemn and at least one of whom appeared to be being carried - were mobbed by an enthusiastic crowd that included church officials.

Ibrahim said that no money was paid to secure the release of the nuns, adding that it was part of a deal in exchange for 150 females that the Syrian government was holding.

Qatari intelligence chief Saadeh Kobeisi reportedly crossed deep into Syrian territory to obtain the release of the Syrian nuns. He crossed into Syria as part of a Lebanese Internal Security delegation, the state news agency said.

Senior Orthodox Bishop Lucas al-Khoury earlier Sunday spoke to pro-Syrian government Ikhbariya television. He stood on the Syrian side of the border hoping to greet the nuns and said the negotiations for their release took several months because the kidnappers "made false requests intended to stall the process."

See more at CNN.com.

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Filed under: kidnappers • nuns • Syria
March 7th, 2014
10:32 AM ET

See Asteroid Fall Apart

Amazing new pictures from space document the end of an asteroid.

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Filed under: NASA • Space
March 7th, 2014
10:28 AM ET

Minnesota Bus Driver Battles Flames

A Minnesota school bus driver is being called a hero this morning for doing the right thing and possibly saving some lives.

Alfred Lewis was driving four special needs students near Minneapolis on Thursday morning when a heater on the bus began to smoke.

He pulled over and got the kids, including two in wheelchairs and a nurse, off the bus just as the heater burst into flames.

Lewis even went after the flames with a fire extinguisher but wasn't able to put them out.

Luckily, everyone got away safely and another bus quickly arrived to take the students to school.

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Filed under: Bus driver • Hero
March 6th, 2014
09:32 AM ET

Crimea Lawmakers Vote to Leave Ukraine for Russia, Set Referendum Date

Lawmakers in Ukraine's Crimea region voted Thursday in favor of leaving Ukraine for Russia, which already has the Black Sea peninsula under de facto control, and set a referendum on the move for 10 days' time.

Citizens of Crimea will face a simple choice: Stay in Ukraine or join Russia.

It's not clear how easily the region could split off if the referendum endorses the move.

The autonomous region has a 60% ethnic Russian population, having been part of Russia until it was ceded to Ukraine in 1954 by the Soviet Union.

But not everyone may be as keen on coming under Moscow's direct influence. A quarter of the peninsula's population is Ukrainian and about 12% Crimean Tatars, a predominantly Muslim group.

The parliament in Crimea installed a new, pro-Moscow government late last month. It had previously said a referendum would be held at the end of March on greater autonomy for Crimea.

Citizens will now be asked on March 16 if they want an autonomous republic of Crimea within Russia; or within Ukraine.

Michael Crawford, a former long-serving British ambassador in Eastern Europe, cautioned that whatever the result, it may be meaningless.

"It does not follow that if Crimea votes to join Russia, that anyone will accept it," he said.

"For Russia to start cherry-picking bits of the former Soviet Union, cranking up referenda in Kazakhstan or Latvia or wherever you like, to try to carve off bits, would be against international law, and it would be something Vladimir Putin has said he doesn't want to do."

Putin, the Russian President, has insisted Russia has the right to use military force in Ukraine if necessary to protect ethnic Russians.

But he has denied claims by Ukrainian officials and Western diplomats that Russia has sent thousands of troops into the region in recent days. Russia says the heavily armed troops, in uniforms without insignia, are local "self-defense" forces.

The deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament, Rustam Temirgaliev, said Thursday at a news conference that the only forces allowed in Crimea are the Russian military - and that all others will be considered to be occupying forces.

He said he'd advised Ukrainian troops to swear allegiance to the Russian army or leave Crimea under safe passage.

In the regional capital, Simferopol, residents have demonstrated this week against the interim government in Kiev, with crowds chanting in favor of Putin.

For more, visit CNN.com. 

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Filed under: Crimea • Ukraine
March 6th, 2014
09:27 AM ET

Lawyer: General Accused of Sex Crimes to Plead to Some of the Lesser Charges

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair - once one of the U.S. Army's top commanders in Afghanistan and accused of "sodomy ... by force" and other military crimes - is to set to plead guilty Thursday to some charges but not the most serious levied against him, his lawyer said.

Sinclair will plead guilty on three of the eight charges he's facing in military court, according to the office of lawyer Richard Scheff. These include "wrongfully engaging in ... inappropriate relationships" with three women soldiers from 2009 to 2012 overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany as well as domestically at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Hood, Texas.

He'll also admit to having requested and possessed "pornographic and sexually explicit photographs and movies," having "sexually explicit communications with a female Army captain, and trying "to engage in an inappropriate relationship" with another woman. And the brigadier general will plead guilty to impeding the investigation into him by deleting nude photographs and an e-mail account, his lawyer said.

But Sinclair will not admit to the most serious accusations against him, including the sodomy charge and that he threatened "to kill (one of the soldiers) and her family if she told anyone about their relationship, or words to that effect."

He is also charged with "using his rank and authority to coerce and compel" a woman "subject to his orders ... to maintain a sexual relationship with him and prevent her from ending (that) relationship."

"The government now has a big problem: It took pathetically weak assault charges and put a fancy wrapper around them," Scheff said. "We just tore the wrapper off. The prosecution team no longer gets to distract us with salacious details about acts that aren't even criminal in the civilian world."

Yet Sinclair could still be found guilty on all the charges against him.

It's up to a military judge to accept the guilty pleas as is, though Scheff's office indicates that they expect he'll do so. Moreover, the full trial is still set to proceed as planned with opening arguments kicking off at some point Thursday.

Sinclair was sent to Fort Bragg from Afghanistan in 2012, the same year the last alleged incidents occurred and when he was originally charged. He had been deputy commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Scheff said Wednesday that his client "has consistently admitted his shortcomings and taken responsibility for them."

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Filed under: Army
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