Associated Press

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Iran’s foreign minister says President Donald Trump’s aim “is to bring us to our knees to talk” — but national security adviser John Bolton and U.S. allies in the Mideast want “regime change” and the “disintegration of Iran.”

Mohammad Javad Zarif said he doubts Trump wants conflict, but what he called “the B team” of Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi and Abu Dhabi crown princes is trying to push Iran into measures that would be a pretext for “crazy” and “adventurous” actions.

He told the Asia Society Wednesday that “it’s not a crisis yet, but it’s a dangerous situation, adding: “Accidents, plotted accidents are possible.”

Zarif warned if the U.S. tries to prevent Iran from selling oil, it must be prepared “for the consequences.”

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A prosecutor says a college philosophy teacher accused of entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with gasoline cans, lighter fluid and butane lighters had also booked a hotel just 20 minutes from the Vatican.

Police said previously that Marc Lamparello had booked a flight to Rome for the next day.

Assistant District Attorney David Stuart said Wednesday that Lamparello was “planning to burn down St. Patrick’s Cathedral” when he was arrested last week. The prosecutor made no further remarks about the Rome plans.

Lamparello made his initial court appearance from a hospital. The judge ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

The New York incident happened just days after flames ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

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The train known as “The Beast” is once again rumbling through the night loaded with people headed toward the U.S. border after a raid on a migrant caravan threatened to end the practice of massive highway marches through Mexico

A long freight train loaded with about 300 to 400 migrants pulled out of the southern city of Ixtepec on Tuesday. They sat atop rattling boxcars and clung precariously to ladders alongside the clanking couplings. Most were young men, along with a few dozen woman and children. Mothers clambered up the railings clutching their infants. Migrants displayed a Honduran flag from atop the train.

The train known in Spanish as “La Bestia,” which runs from the southern border state of Chiapas into neighboring Oaxaca and north into Gulf coast state Veracruz, carried migrants north for decades, despite its notorious dangers: People died or lost limbs falling from the train. Mexican authorities started raiding the trains to pull migrants off in mid-2014 and the number of Central Americans aboard the train fell to a smattering.

But about a week ago, a longtime migrant rights activist, the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, noticed a change: Large numbers of migrants started getting off the train in Ixtepec, the Oaxaca town where his Brothers on the Road shelter is located.

Many had waited weeks for Mexican visas that never materialized, and simply decided to head north without papers. Others were part of a 3,000-person migrant caravan that was broken up in a raid Monday by federal police and immigration agents on a highway east of Ixtepec.

With dozens of police and immigration checkpoints dotting the highways, many migrants now view the train as a safer, albeit still risky, way to reach the U.S. border.

“They’re riding the train again, that’s a fact,” said Solalinde, who shelter now houses about 300 train-riding migrants. “It’s going to go back to the way it was, the (Mexican) government doesn’t want them to be seen. If the migrants move quietly like a stream of little ants, they’ll allow them to, but they are not going to allow them to move through Mexico publicly or massively” as they did with the large caravans that began in October. In fact, Solalinde predicts “they’re not going to allow caravans anymore.”

In Monday’s raid, federal police and agents detained 367 people, wrestling men, women and children into patrol trucks and vans and hauling them off, presumably to begin deportation proceedings. Many other migrants abandoned the road and fled into the surrounding countryside.

The decision to turn to “The Beast” derives from several reasons, all related to the crackdown.

With throngs of police pickups and small immigration vans parked at checkpoints up and down the narrow waist of southern Mexico, hitchhiking, taking buses or walking is no longer an option. Truckers, warned by the government that they could face fines, no longer give rides to the migrants as they did last year. Migrants are pulled off buses, and rounded up off the sides of highways when they stop to rest.

“Now we’re going by train because we can’t go on buses, because they won’t let us through,” said Rudi Margarita Montoya, the wife of a Honduran carpenter, who was perched atop a freight car with her young son and daughter and her husband.

It’s not as if the migrants think the train is safe; they acknowledge the dangers of riding through the darkness perched high atop the freight cars. Just like increased U.S. border protection, Mexico’s increased enforcement efforts push migrants into using more dangerous means of travel.

Carlos Marroquín, a mechanic from El Salvador, and his wife Brenda Gómez, 24, clambered onto the train with their son, 5 and daughter, 10. Marroquin ticked off the dangers facing them on the rails: “There are drug traffickers, gangs, thieves, but we’re putting everything into this, because it means everything.”

“If we can’t walk, if we can’t take the bus, we’ll go on the train,” Marroquin said.

Denis Funes, a migrant from central Honduras whose sun-beaten skin and leathery hands betray his past as a farmworker, says he saw a fellow Honduran knocked off the train the previous night by a low-hanging branch that caught the man in the face and sent him hurtling to the tracks below. Funes and his companions could do nothing to help the man; the train was moving too fast to jump off. “He’s still back there somewhere,” Funes said. But he remains undeterred. “We’re going to rely on the train, despite everything we know that can happen to us.”

Gomez and many others were also driven to desperation by another change in Mexican policy. Whereas in late 2018 and early 2019 authorities were handing out humanitarian visas and processing asylum requests, they have now largely stopped doing so, instead making migrants wait weeks in the southern town of Mapastepec for visas that never seem to come.

Gomez said “They lied to us, they made us spend a month at the shelter, they told us they were going to give up papers but they never did.”

Enrique Valiente, a 19-year-old roofer from El Salvador who came to the U.S. at 3, spent much of his life in Nevada and was deported last May after a traffic stop. He said Mexico had flatly refused to consider him for asylum. He is afraid to return to his native country — which he knows little about and where he has almost no remaining relatives — because he isn’t familiar with complex rules of getting along with street gangs in El Salvador, and could fall afoul of them.

He doesn’t even plan to sneak back into the United States; his dream is to use his perfect English to find work at a call center in the border city of Tijuana. But he can’t do that without papers.

“I asked them to consider me for asylum and they just said ‘No, you’ve been rejected.”

The train was popular for years, back when “caravan” just meant small Holy Week demonstrations by migrants on the Guatemala-Mexico border. Now, the train is popular once again. Solalinde compared it to trying to squeeze off a leaky garden hose: Wherever Mexican authorities crackdown, the migrants find an alternate route.

“Nobody is ever going to be able to stop the flow of migration,” Solalinde said.

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A New Jersey police officer and a New York City high school teacher are among 16 men who allegedly tried to set up sexual encounters with people they thought were teenage boys and girls.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir announced the arrests Wednesday. They were made as part of “Operation Home Alone,” a multiagency undercover sting that targeted people who allegedly used social media in an attempt to lure children.

Gurbir said most of the defendants were arrested when they arrived at a residence in Bergen County, where they expected to find the victim home alone. The arrests were made from April 11-15.

The defendants face various charges including luring and attempted sexual assault.

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Before the undertakers could move in, Anusha Kumari wrested herself away from her sisters and flung herself on the three coffins, wailing. In an instant on Sunday, the 43-year-old woman was left childless and a widow when suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack on churches and luxury hotels in and near Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo.

The toll was highest at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. Of the more than 350 people killed by the suicide bombings that the government blamed on Muslim extremists, about a third of them died at the church in the seaside fishing town while attending Easter Mass.

And perhaps no one lost more relatives than Kumari, whose daughter, son, husband, sister-in-law and two nieces were killed.

They were buried three days later near the church on some vacant land that has quickly become a cemetery for the victims.

SRI LANKA’S LEADER CALLS FOR OFFICIALS’ FIRINGS AS EASTER SUICIDE BOMBERS REVEALED TO BE ‘WELL-EDUCATED PEOPLE’ WHO STUDIED ABROAD

Anusha Kumari, second from left, weeps during a mass burial for her husband, two children and three siblings, all victims of Easter Sunday's bomb attacks, in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

Anusha Kumari, second from left, weeps during a mass burial for her husband, two children and three siblings, all victims of Easter Sunday’s bomb attacks, in Negombo, Sri Lanka. (AP)

Kumari, who is still injured from the blast, left the hospital to bury her family. Afterward, she reclined in a cane chair at her home, hooked up to an IV dangling from an open window. Gauze bandages covered the bridge of her nose and her right eye. There was still shrapnel in her face.

A photo of her children was on the wall, while on the shelf were small statues of Jesus, Mary and St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr riddled with wounds from Roman arrows.

She could see her son’s drum kit on the upstairs landing, a gift from his father after doing well on exams, and a school portrait of her daughter. All day, relatives, neighbors and nuns wandered in and out of the large house, offering food, consolation and prayer.

“You won’t believe it, but I had the perfect family,” Kumari said. “In 24 years of marriage, my husband and I never argued. All four of us slept in the same room. Now I have lost everything.”

Tears mixed with blood from her bandaged right eye.

“All these people, they have their own families. They’ll go home and I’ll be alone,” she said.

CLERIC ‘MASTERMIND’ BEHIND SRI LANKA ATTACKS KNOWN FOR HATE-FILLED ONLINE SERMONS, POSSIBLE ISIS TIES

Anusha Kumari holds portraits of her daughter Sajini Venura Dulakshi and son Vimukthi Tharidu Appuhami, both victims of Easter Sunday's bomb blasts.

Anusha Kumari holds portraits of her daughter Sajini Venura Dulakshi and son Vimukthi Tharidu Appuhami, both victims of Easter Sunday’s bomb blasts.

A brother-in-law, Jude Prasad Appuhami, said his extended family, one of the oldest and most prominent in Catholic-majority Negombo, marked all the religious holidays and rituals at St. Sebastian’s, a Gothic-style church patterned after Reims Cathedral in France.

On Easter, though, he wasn’t in church with his 15 relatives because he had to drive a vehicle carrying a statue of Christ for a parade after Mass.

Appuhami arrived midway through the service and heard the blast from the parking lot. He rushed in and was overwhelmed by the sight of so much blood. One of his sisters-in-law, who survived, shouted for him to help their niece.

He found her with her eyes open, picked her up and rushed to the hospital, only to realize she was dead.

Appuhami’s wife and 10-year-old daughter, sitting in an alcove to the left of the altar, escaped with minor injuries. His 17-year-old daughter, Rusiri, who was sitting at the front of the church because she was going to do a reading from Scripture, also survived, but she was left with nerve damage that makes eating painful.

On Wednesday, she struggled to grasp what she has seen.

“I don’t know how to think of it. It’s like a dream,” she said.

During the funeral at the makeshift cemetery near St. Sebastian’s, where mourners had to pass through security checks, a military drone buzzed overhead as the Rev. Niroshan Perera led prayers for the dead.

Perera, who grew up with Kumari’s husband, Dulip Appuhami, and his siblings, recalled going as a boy with his friends and family to the church’s well, where the faithful believed the water could cure them of diseases.

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When the funeral ended, Perera encouraged everyone to go home quickly, fearing another attack.

Perera, who lost 16 relatives and friends in the blast, said he no longer trusted the Sri Lankan government to protect his flock.

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On Sunday, 43-year-old Anusha Kumari was left childless and a widow when suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka.

More than 350 people were killed in the near-simultaneous bombings. About a third of the victims were celebrating Easter Mass at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo.

Kumari lost her daughter, son, husband, sister-in-law and two nieces.

They were buried three days later on some vacant land near the stricken church that has quickly become a cemetery for some of the bombing victims.

Sri Lanka’s president has asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and national police chief after acknowledging that some intelligence units were aware of threats to churches before the Easter bombings.

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The U.S. had no prior knowledge of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed over 350 people, the American ambassador said Wednesday, despite local claims that foreign officials had been warned an attack was looming.

As the investigation into Sunday’s Islamic State-claimed attack continues, FBI agents and U.S. military personnel are in Sri Lanka assisting the probe, Ambassador Alaina Teplitz said.

While declining to say whether U.S. officials had intelligence on the local extremists and their leader who allegedly carried out the assault, Teplitz said America remained concerned over militants at large.

She also said that “clearly there was some failure in the system” that caused Sri Lankan officials to fail to share the warnings they received prior to the attack.

“I can tell you definitively we were not warned and we did not have any prior knowledge of this,” Teplitz told foreign journalists from her office at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo. “We did not know because believe me, if we had, we would have tried to do something about it.”

Sunday’s bombings ripped through Christian worshippers at church celebrating Easter and at hotels in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern tip of India. The attacks killed at least 359 people and wounded some 500 others, marking Sri Lanka’s worst violence since its 26-year civil war ended a decade ago.

Authorities have blamed a local Islamic extremist group called National Towheed Jamaat, whose leader, alternately known as Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary speeches online.

On Tuesday, the Islamic State group asserted responsibility for the attack, sharing images of the leader and other men with their face covered before an IS flag to bolster its claim. The extremist group, which has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, has made unfounded claims previously.

Asked about whether American officials received warnings or knew about the group and its leader before the bombings, Teplitz declined to comment, saying she would not discuss intelligence matters.

“If you look at the scale of the attacks, the level of coordination, again, the sophistication of them, it’s not implausible to think there are foreign linkages,” she said. She added that the U.S. believes “the terrorist plotting is ongoing” and said that’s why America continued to warn its citizens in Sri Lanka to be careful.

Prior to the bombings, Sri Lankan officials received intelligence reports and warnings that such an attack could be looming. However, that information failed to stop the assault.

Teplitz said the current political situation in Sri Lanka could have exacerbated that. President Maithripala Sirisena ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in October and dissolved the Cabinet, but Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court later reversed his actions.

“Certainly the fractious and fragmented political environment has not been good on a number of fronts,” Teplitz said.

She later added: “The Sri Lankans themselves have said they received information . and they had their own lapses that resulted in a failure to either mitigate or warn. So that’s incredibly tragic.”

Wickremesinghe has said some people might lose their job over the intelligence failures.

Teplitz also acknowledged that she heard “legitimate” concerns about civil rights in Sri Lanka after the government announced that it was allowing the military to conduct warrantless searches and hold prisoners for 14 days before bringing them before a judge.

“There is a legacy from that conflict era of human rights abuse, again an issue that the government here has been struggling to move past,” she said. “We definitely remain concerned about human rights here and democratic policing; the ability to respect people’s rights even in the midst of a crisis like this.”

Teplitz said the U.S. also was concerned that the bombings could spark reprisals targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist-majority country of 21 million, which includes large Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities, is rife with ethnic and sectarian conflict.

“I think the recognition that this could be a spark is out there and that there’s a pretty significant effort to try and blunt that,” Teplitz said.

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An official says a fire in a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh has destroyed more than two dozen huts and a mosque.

The official in Cox’s Bazar district, Mikaruzzman Chowdhury, says no injuries occurred in the fire, which broke out Wednesday in a camp in Kutupalong. He says 28 huts and a mosque were destroyed.

Chowdhury says firefighters were able to douse the blaze before it spread further.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state to escape an army-led crackdown on the minority group that started in August 2017. Critics have described the campaign as ethnic cleansing, or even genocide, on the part of Myanmar security forces.

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German prosecutors say they’ve indicted a 21-year-old woman on suspicion of membership in the Islamic State group and of keeping three Yazidis as slaves in Syria.

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that the German-Algerian woman, identified as Sarah O. for privacy reasons, traveled to Syria as a teenager in 2013, joined IS and married a fellow German IS recruit.

Both allegedly received firearms training and conducted “guard and police duties” in IS-controlled areas. They also forced a Yazidi girl and two Yazidi women to work in their household and convert to Islam.

She was arrested in September upon her return to Germany.

O.’s parents-in-law, 51-year-old Ahmed S. and 48-year-old Perihan S., allegedly helped their sons supply IS with equipment such as firearms magazines and scopes. They are indicted on suspicion of aiding IS.

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Jurors have resumed deliberating in the trial of a wealthy stock trader charged with murder in the fire death of a man who was helping him dig tunnels for a nuclear bunker beneath a Maryland home.

The 12 jurors deliberated for more than two hours Tuesday after hearing attorneys’ closing arguments in the case against 27-year-old Daniel Beckwitt. He’s charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the September 2017 death of 21-year-old Askia Khafra.

Defense attorney Robert Bonsib told jurors Khafra’s death was an accident, not a crime.

Montgomery County prosecutor Marybeth Ayres said Beckwitt sacrificed safety for secrecy and created the “death trap” conditions that prevented Khafra from escaping the trash-filled house in Bethesda, a Washington suburb.

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