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Tulane campus police have arrested three suspects, two men and one woman, in the arson fire at the dorm room door of two university students whose personal information had been spread online revealing their participation in a libertarian youth organization.

Robert Money, 21, David Shelton, 20, and Naima Okami, 20, will be facing counts of aggravated arson, according to Blake Arcuri, the general counsel of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana. It’s unclear how the police identified the three individuals.

The fire reportedly happened on Saturday at 12:20 a.m., when sophomore Peyton Lofton, 20, says he received a text from his roommate and best friend, Jackson Arnold, 20, that their dorm room was on fire.

Lofton was out with friends at the time.

“It took a while for me to process last night when they said someone lit the door on fire," says Lofton. "I was originally really angry, stormed back to campus and once I got there reality started setting in. I was a little scared, a little nervous, I could have been sleeping…"

CALIFORNIA ARSON SUSPECT SOUGHT AFTER SPILLING, IGNITING FUEL AT GAS STATION, OFFICIALS SAY

Unlike Lofton, Arnold was in the room when it happened, but was not injured.

"I was in my room, and the fire alarm goes off. I go to open my door and the sign is on fire, so it was pretty small flame I blew it out and left," said Arnold. "I was feeling pretty mad, pissed off, I guess it was less of a scared feeling and more angry."

Arnold says Lofton was definitely angrier than he was, because it felt more personal for him.

It isn’t clear what motivated the attack, but Lofton says it’s possible the dorm room was targeted as a result of him being doxed a few days earlier for being a member of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a student political organization. Doxing is where someone posts personal information for others to find.

On March 17, the Twitter account associated with the handle, @YALexposed, posted a screenshot of his Facebook and mentioned he was a Tulane student. The screenshot read "Tulane’s own Peyton Lofton seems to like YAL’s offensive Facebook page."

Exposed sign and tweets from YALexposed

Exposed sign and tweets from YALexposed

Before that alleged doxxing attempt, he says signs were posted near campus, calling YAL a racist and misogynistic organization and exposing some of its members.

It’s not clear yet if the three people arrested were behind the @YALexposed Twitter handle. Lofton said he’s also had previous altercations with a student, but didn’t want to make anyone a target until all the facts are out.

After the alleged arson attack, residents were let back in the building at 1:20 a.m. and 40 minutes later the first officer arrived on the scene.

Lofton says Detective David Harris came to their dorm around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and informed the two he was assigned to the case. They say he took the burned sign that was previously on the door as evidence and was reviewing security footage. It’s not clear if the footage he reviewed helped officers arrest the three suspects.

Lofton says the initial shock is wearing off and that his family lives 20 minutes away in case he ever feels unsafe. He says he won’t back down to people trying to spread fear.

“I don’t want to let them win, so I plan on staying on campus and not backing down and work twice as hard" said Lofton. "I trust that Tulane will handle the problem; I’m not naïve and still aware of the danger and trying to be as safe as possible.”

LOUISIANA FIREFIGHTER SAVES PREGNANT WOMAN FROM BURNING VEHICLE: GOD HAS SOMETHING MAJOR FOR YOU!

Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative advocacy group Turning Point USA, tweeted about the incident. Kirk told Fox it’s a sick and sad day that someone would attempt an arson attack on another because of their beliefs.

"It’s a traumatic thing for anyone to go through, an attempted felony arson on property," Kirk told Fox. "But he’s [Peyton] very tough and wants to have people held accountable."

An aggravated arson charge could result in up to 20 years in prison, if convicted. It’s defined in Louisiana as intentionally setting a fire where it is foreseeable that human life is endangered.

There was no mention of the incident on the Tulane Police daily crime log.

Money and Shelton are students at Tulane while Okami attends Brown University, Mike Strecker, executive director of PR at Tulane, told TulaneHullabaloo.

Source: Fox News National

Lottery officials say the Powerball jackpot for Wednesday’s drawing has ballooned to an estimated $750 million , which would be the fourth-largest grand lottery prize in U.S. history.

A look at the 10 largest U.S. jackpots that have been won and the states where the winning tickets were sold:

1. $1.586 billion, Powerball, Jan. 13, 2016 (three tickets, from California, Florida, Tennessee)

2. $1.537 billion, Mega Millions, Oct. 23, 2018 (one ticket, South Carolina)

3. $758.7 million, Powerball, Aug. 23, 2017 (one ticket, from Massachusetts)

4. $687.8 million, Powerball, Oct. 27, 2018 (two tickets, from Iowa and New York)

5. $656 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (three tickets, from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)

6. $648 million, Mega Millions, Dec. 17, 2013 (two tickets, from California and Georgia)

7. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (one ticket, from Florida)

8. $587.5 million, Powerball, Nov. 28, 2012 (two tickets, from Arizona and Missouri)

9. $564.1 million, Powerball, Feb. 11, 2015 (three tickets, from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas)

10. $559.7 million, Powerball, Jan. 6, 2018 (one ticket, New Hampshire)

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Sources: AP archives, www.megamillions.com and www.powerball.com

Source: Fox News National

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been hailed on social media by Muslims around the world for her response to two mosque shootings by a white nationalist who killed 50 worshippers. She wore a headscarf at the funerals in line with Islamic custom and swiftly reformed gun laws.

An image of the prime minister embracing a grieving woman was projected onto the world’s tallest tower in Dubai over the weekend with the Arabic word for "peace."

Yet for many Muslims, Ardern’s most consequential move was immediately labeling the attack an act of terrorism.

That stands in contrast to numerous ideologically-motivated mass shootings in North America by white non-Muslim gunmen that were not labeled acts of terrorism, say Muslim leaders and terrorism experts.

For too long, terror attacks have been depicted as a uniquely Muslim problem, with acts of violence described as "terrorist only when it applies to Muslims," said Abbas Barzegar of the Council on American Islamic Relations. He works on documenting and combating anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia.

"We’ve got an issue in this country where anytime a violent act is committed by a Muslim, the media starts at terrorism and then works backward from there," added Colin Clarke, a senior research fellow at The Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank.

It’s the opposite when the shooter is non-Muslim and white, said Clarke, who’s spent his career studying terrorism, particularly Muslim extremism.

The March 15 attacks on the New Zealand mosques raised questions about whether Islamophobia and the threat of violent right-wing extremism was being taken seriously by politicians and law enforcement.

The gunman in the New Zealand massacre called himself a white nationalist and referred to President Donald Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity." Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder in the attacks.

Trump expressed sympathy for the victims, but played down the rise of white nationalism around the world, saying he didn’t consider it a major threat despite data showing it is growing.

The Anti-Defamation League found that right-wing extremism was linked to every extremist killing in the United States last year, with at least 50 people killed. The group said that since the 1970s, nearly three in four extremist-related killings in the United States have been linked to domestic right-wing extremists and nearly all the rest to Muslim extremists.

"It’s really important that this attack not be dismissed as some crazy lone wolf, isolated incident," said Dalia Mogahed, who leads research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, an organization that focuses on research of American Muslims.

"I think it needs to be seen as … a symptom of a wider problem, a transnational rising threat of white supremist violence where anti-Muslim rhetoric is the oxygen for this movement," she said.

A study by the ISPU found that foiled plots involving Muslims perceived to be acting in the name of Islam received 770% more media coverage than those involving perpetrators acting in the name of white supremacy. Another study by Georgia State University found that out of 136 terror attacks in the U.S. over a span of 10 years, Muslims committed on average 12.5 percent of the attacks, yet received more than half of the news coverage.

Mehdi Hasan, a commentator, TV host, columnist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said the public has been conditioned since the 9/11 attacks to see terrorists "as people with big beards, brown skin, loud voices shouting in Arabic."

"I don’t think anyone can deny that the entire War on Terror has fed into this idea (of) Muslims as a threat, as ‘the other’, as inherently violent," Hasan said.

Additionally, when non-Muslim white gunmen are the perpetrators of violence, there are often attempts at examining their mental health or childhood in ways not consistently afforded to others, Hasan said.

Some of the most notorious recent attacks by white assailants with racist or extremist views— the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 people in October and the church shooting that killed nine black worshippers in Charleston in 2015 — were not labeled terrorism and the assailants were not tried as terrorists. Neither was the shooting by a white assailant at a mosque in Quebec, Canada in 2017 that killed six Muslims.

Clarke, the terrorism expert, said he’s been called to testify on Capitol Hill three times in the past two years about jihadi terrorism. "Where are the hearings about right-wing violence?" he asked.

Meanwhile, sectarian, cultural and ideological differences among the world’s Muslims complicate efforts to uniformly push back against negative stereotypes — including the perception by some that Islam condones or encourages violence.

Such biases have been exacerbated by multiple attacks by Islamic extremists in European capitals and by years of conflicts that seem to pit Sunni and Shiite Muslims against each other. In the Middle East, the victims of extremist violence have often been fellow Muslims, targeted by groups like Islamic State or al-Qaida because they don’t share their hard-line ideology.

The Islamic State group, which promoted an extremist version of Sunni Islam, terrorized millions of people during a five-year reign in parts of Syria and Iraq that only ended Saturday, with the loss of the last speck of land of its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Some leaders of majority-Muslim countries have been accused of exploiting the debate.

Las week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stirred controversy when he was seen as politicizing the New Zealand attacks to galvanize Islamist supporters during a campaign ahead of municipal elections. The attacker had livestreamed the shootings on social media, and Erdogan screened clips of the attack— despite New Zealand’s efforts to prevent the video’s spread.

Mogahed, who co-authored a book called "Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think" based on interviews with tens of thousands of Muslims around the world, said it’s important to ask whether someone needs to be speaking for Islam, particularly when other groups of people are afforded the presumption of innocence when horrific acts are carried out in their name.

Some Muslim community leaders, like Dawud Walid, an imam in Detroit, said they are troubled by demands that Muslims condemn extremism carried out in the name of Islam. This suggests that Muslims share some sort of collective responsibility for the actions of extremists.

Hasan says this "subliminally reinforces the idea that terrorism is a Muslim problem."

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Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ayaelb

Source: Fox News World

When Lorena Delgado approached the Venezuelan consulate in Colombia’s capital on a recent afternoon hoping to extend the life of her expiring passport, she found the metal gates to the languishing building shuttered.

Days earlier, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro had severed ties with the neighboring Andean nation where over a million of his compatriots have fled in recent years, recalling all his diplomats and leaving the consulate and embassy buildings closed.

The man challenging Maduro’s claim to the presidency had appointed a new ambassador, but he was at a loss about how to help her. Despite the fact that Colombia recognizes Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, the ambassador he sent does not have access to the consulate or the ability to issue passport extensions.

"You feel trapped," said Delgado, 32, who needs to travel abroad to apply for a work visa. "We’re in limbo."

As Venezuela’s power struggle stretches on, a parallel dispute for control of embassy buildings in the countries recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s true president has taken root. While new opposition-appointed diplomats are being recognized around the world, the United States is the only nation where they control a consulate building. In no country do Guaido’s envoys have the ability to carry out basic tasks like issuing a passport, as Venezuela’s civil registration agency remains under the control of Maduro.

The diplomatic duel has left the estimated 3.4 million Venezuelans who now live abroad stuck between two administrations. In most countries holdover consular employees continue to carry out tasks like registering births abroad while new, Guaido-appointed ambassadors remain outside embassy walls, symbols of their movement’s lagging advance.

"At this moment, we don’t have a solution from either side," said Paola Soto, 25, who is trying to reunite with her 5-year-old son in Chile.

The battle for diplomatic recognition is largely taking place behind closed doors, but it has occasionally spilled out into public.

In February, the Guaido-appointed ambassador to Costa Rica, Maria Faria, announced she had taken control of the embassy in San Jose, proudly posting on Twitter a photograph of herself standing in front of a Venezuelan flag inside the building. A shouting match erupted outside when the Maduro-appointed diplomats tried to get in.

Costa Rica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, despite recognizing Faria as Venezuela’s ambassador, issued a statement deploring her actions, saying she’d broken an established protocol allowing Maduro appointees 60 days to leave.

In March, a similarly confusing incident took place in Lima, Peru when workers were spotted at night removing chairs and even a stately bust of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar from the Venezuelan embassy. The furniture was put back inside after anti-government protesters decried them.

"You’ve robbed enough in Venezuela!" one angry woman shouted.

More recently, on Monday, Guaido’s U.S. ambassador announced he was taking control of the New York consulate and two military-owned buildings in Washington where images of Maduro have now been replaced with portraits of Guaido.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza accused the United States of violating articles of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that require host countries to protect foreign embassy buildings even when ties are severed.

He warned that if the U.S. doesn’t fulfill its international obligations, the Venezuelan government could pursue legal action and retaliate with reciprocal action – a not so veiled threat that they might occupy the recently vacated U.S. Embassy in Caracas. The U.S. withdrew all embassy personnel from Caracas due to safety concerns after Maduro severed ties with the U.S. over its support for Guaido.

Gustavo Marcano, an exiled Venezuelan mayor who now works for the Guaido-backed Venezuelan embassy in the U.S., said the building acquisition is one of several attempts to ensure Venezuela’s assets abroad are protected. The U.S. is also working to transfer other prized belongings, like Houston-based CITGO, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, to Guaido.

"This is the first step toward ending usurpation," he said from inside the Manhattan consulate, where photos of the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez still hung on the walls.

He added that while they cannot issue documents like passports, the Guaido-led consulate does plan to look for other remedies to help the increasingly large number of Venezuelans who possess no valid form of identification. One idea being floated is the creation of a consular-issued identification card that would be recognized by the host nation.

In other countries, the Guaido-named ambassadors are taking a gentler approach, choosing to slowly work toward eventually taking control of consulates in conjunction with the host nation’s foreign relations ministry – or avoiding the topic altogether.

Humberto Calderon, the appointed ambassador to Colombia, said he’s focused more on tending to Venezuelan migrants, viewing occupying the buildings as a potential agitator that could harm Colombians living in Venezuela.

"It’s our decision," he said. "We haven’t wanted to do it."

Calderon once served as Venezuela’s energy minister and is working from a hotel. He said that when Maduro severed diplomatic relations with Colombia, nearly all the consular staff left, boarding a government-sent plane and flying home. He’s had no access to anything they left behind in the buildings.

In other countries, some Maduro employees have stayed on, gingerly sidestepping the higher-voltage political fight.

In Peru, five Maduro-appointed envoys will remain in place to carry out consular functions, according to a high-ranking Venezuelan official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation. He said that after talks with Peru’s foreign ministry, an agreement was reached allowing them to remain in the country and continue working in the embassy, even though the nation recognizes Guaido’s ambassador.

"The objective is to maintain consular relations," he said. "Not diplomatic ones."

That’s a scenario that’s likely to play out in most countries: Even as more than 50 heads of state declare their allegiance to Guaido, necessity will inevitably compel them to maintain a range of ties to the Maduro government.

"Ultimately it’s not in any country’s real interest to maintain an embassy that’s run by staff that have no ability to advance commercial or consular interests," said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America.

He pointed to the case of the Netherlands, which despite backing Guaido, has pledged to keep the Maduro consular staff intact in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, which stands about 40 miles from Venezuela’s coast. The Netherlands has joint ventures with Venezuela’s giant state-run oil company at stake.

"It’s very much a dual diplomacy situation for many of these countries," Ramsey said.

Soto said she doesn’t know how to explain the standoff to her son, who left by plane from Venezuela with his father over a year ago. Ever since she’s been trying to meet up with him in Chile but has gotten stuck in Colombia.

"There’s no solution," she said. "Not here, not in Venezuela, nowhere."

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Associated Press writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this report.

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Follow Christine Armario on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cearmario

Source: Fox News World

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan spent much of the second and last day of their visit to Lebanon touring historical churches and a centuries-old citadel in this coastal city Saturday.

The tour in Byblos and a nearby village came a day after Pompeo blasted the militant Hezbollah group and called on the Lebanese people to stand up to its "criminality."

His visit came amid tight security as roads were closed before his motorcade drove through Byblos and Beirut while Lebanese army sharpshooters took positions on rooftops. Some of the sites he visited, including churches, were closed to the public during his hourslong tour.

Pompeo began his day by visiting the site where a new U.S. embassy compound is being built then drove to the village of Behdaidat northeast of Beirut where he visited the 13th century Mar Tadros, or St. Theodore church. The State Department awarded a $44,000 grant through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation to support the conservation of the church.

Later, he visited two other churches in this coastal city renowned for its ancient Phoenician, Roman, and Crusader ruins where he was greeted by priests who briefed about the history of each church.

The last site to be visited in the ancient city was the Byblos Citadel built by the Crusaders. Pompeo toured the citadel as Tania Zazen, director general of antiquities in Byblos, accompanied him recounting the city’s history.

In 2011, the State Department awarded a grant $93,895 to support the conservation of the main tower of the 12th century citadel at the archaeological site of ancient Byblos, a World Heritage site.

The delegation afterward went to a restaurant by the Mediterranean where they had a meal of cold and hot authentic Lebanese dishes, known as Mezza, and grilled lamb chops and chicken.

Pompeo also met Lebanese Armed Forces commander Gen. Joseph Aoun and Beirut Metropolitan of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi.

"Spoke about the importance of protecting and defending religious diversity and opportunity" with Bishop Audi and how they enrich every country," Pompeo tweeted after the meeting.

Around sunset, his plane took off back to the U.S. ending a Mideast tour that also included visits to Kuwait and Israel.

Pompeo renewed his attack on Hezbollah and its main backer Iran, blasting the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, saying their aim is to control Lebanon.

"They want to control this state. They want access to the Mediterranean. They want power and influence here," Pompeo said in an interview with Sky News. He added that "the people of Lebanon deserve better than that, they want something different from that, and America is prepared to help."

When told that the Lebanese president and prime minister are not on the same page, Pompeo responded: "Yeah, I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s false."

Speaking on President Donald Trump’s abrupt declaration that Washington will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Pompeo told Sky News that "what the President did with the Golan Heights is recognize the reality on the ground and the security situation necessary for the protection of the Israeli state. It’s that – it’s that simple."

When told the Trump’s decision comes in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions Pompeo, defended him saying: "No, this is – this is deeply consistent with the reality on the ground, the facts on the ground."

Source: Fox News World

Mexican immigration authorities say 21 migrants have been rescued in the northeastern state of Coahuila after wandering near the U.S. border for seven days.

The National Migration Institute said Saturday that its assistance unit, Grupo Beta, received a call for help after the migrants were abandoned by a guide.

It said the all-male group was located by officials near the city of Piedras Negras, which lies about 6 kilometers (4 miles) south of Eagle Pass, Texas.

The migrants, among whom was a minor, are all in good health.

Source: Fox News World

A statue of a Confederate soldier is being removed from a Florida park.

The statue had stood at the center of Lakeland’s Munn Park for 109 years. City officials began dismantling the monument Friday.

City commissioners voted in December 2017 to start the process to move the statue after receiving complaints from residents. In November, commissioners approved funding the $150,000 cost of moving the statue with citations issued as part of the city’s red-light camera program.

The Ledger reports the statue is being relocated to a different park where the city honors soldiers and first responders. Veterans Park is adjacent to a city-owned convention and entertainment complex.

The director of the city’s parks and recreation department, Bob Donahay, says dismantling the monument and relocating it will take several days.

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Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com

Source: Fox News National

Lottery officials say the Powerball jackpot for Saturday’s drawing has climbed to an estimated $625 million, which would be the seventh-largest lottery grand prize in U.S. history.

A look at the 10 largest U.S. jackpots that have been won and the states where the winning tickets were sold:

1. $1.586 billion, Powerball, Jan. 13, 2016 (three tickets, from California, Florida, Tennessee)

2. $1.537 billion, Mega Millions, Oct. 23, 2018 (one ticket, South Carolina)

3. $758.7 million, Powerball, Aug. 23, 2017 (one ticket, from Massachusetts)

4. $687.8 million, Powerball, Oct. 27, 2018 (two tickets, from Iowa and New York)

5. $656 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (three tickets, from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)

6. $648 million, Mega Millions, Dec. 17, 2013 (two tickets, from California and Georgia)

7. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (one ticket, from Florida)

8. $587.5 million, Powerball, Nov. 28, 2012 (two tickets, from Arizona and Missouri)

9. $564.1 million, Powerball, Feb. 11, 2015 (three tickets, from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas)

10. $559.7 million, Powerball, Jan. 6, 2018 (one ticket, New Hampshire)

___

Sources: AP archives, www.megamillions.com and www.powerball.com

Source: Fox News National

An estimated $625 million jackpot is on the line in Saturday’s Powerball drawing.

It would be the seventh-highest U.S. lottery jackpot ever. The estimated lump sum payout would be $380.6 million before taxes. The odds of winning are roughly 1 in 292.2 million.

No one has won the Powerball jackpot since the day after Christmas. Twenty-four drawings since then have failed to produce a winner, including the drawing on Wednesday.

The buyers of three tickets shared the country’s largest jackpot. It was a nearly $1.59 billion Powerball prize drawn on Jan. 13, 2016. A South Carolina purchaser won a $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot. That was the nation’s second-largest lottery prize ever.

Source: Fox News National

The Islamic State group has lost all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, but its shadowy leader and self-proclaimed "caliph" is still at large.

With a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the world’s most wanted man, responsible for steering his chillingly violent organization into mass slaughter of opponents and directing and inspiring terror attacks across continents and in the heart of Europe.

Despite numerous claims about his death in the past few years, al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts remain a mystery. He appeared in public only once, in 2014. Since then, many of his top aides have been killed, mostly in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

He is among the few senior IS commanders still at large after two years of steady battlefield losses that saw the self-styled "caliphate" shrink from an area the size of Britain to a tiny speck in the Euphrates River valley.

Although largely seen as a symbolic figurehead of the global terror network — he was described as "irrelevant for a long time" by a coalition spokesman in 2017 — al-Baghdadi’s capture would be a coveted prize for the various players across both Syria and Iraq.

But so far, he has eluded the Americans, Russians, Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds.

In the last days of IS, as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces zoned in on the last slice of territory held by the militants in eastern Syria — a couple of villages and farmlands near the Iraqi border — the possibility remained that al-Baghdadi would turn up there. Several hundred IS leaders and hardcore fighters, many of them Iraqis, made a last stand in the enclave before surrendering.

The last pocket, in the eastern village of Baghouz, was declared liberated on Saturday after weeks of fighting. During the siege, civilians streamed out of the pocket and surrendered — estimated at more than 30,000, mostly family of IS. But there has been no sign ofal-Baghdadi.

"The Coalition is not holding him nor do we know where he is," U.S.-led coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told The Associated Press.

Mohammed Kheder, co-founder of the Sound and Picture group which documents IS, said the last time al-Baghdadi was spotted in the area was about 15 months ago, citing sources on the ground and the testimony of the people who left the area.

In Twitter posts, Kheder’s group has said it cannot rule out the possibility al-Baghdadi was detained long ago — "especially since many of American airdrops and night operations targeting IS leaders along the Iraqi border have not been disclosed by the coalition."

Iraqi intelligence officials believe al-Baghdadi is hiding somewhere in the desert stretching across the Syrian-Iraqi border, using tunnels to move around.

"He does not use any communication equipment or internet to avoid detection by coalition planes," a senior intelligence official said. "When he wants to see someone from the organization, they are brought to him individually in cars that stop around two hours away from where al-Baghdadi is, and then they are brought to him individually on motorcycles."

Another official, a colonel, said the Americans recently targeted some of al-Baghdadi’s closest people, including his personal bodyguard Khaled al-Saudi — known as Khallad — who was killed last week near the area of al-Baaj along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Khallad’s wife was arrested. Another close aide to al-Baghdadi was also recently killed and his wife captured, the colonel said, adding that the Americans believe such targets will soon lead them to al-Baghdadi. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to share intelligence information.

Al-Baghdadi was born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq, and adopted his nom de guerre early on. According to IS-affiliated websites, he was detained by U.S. forces in Iraq and sent to Bucca prison in February 2004 for his anti-U.S. militant activity.

He was released 10 months later, after which he joined the al-Qaida branch in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He later assumed control of the group, known at the time as the Islamic State of Iraq.

After Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011, al-Baghdadi dispatched comrades to the neighboring country to create a like-minded Sunni extremist group there. The group, which came to be known as the Nusra Front, initially welcomed moderate Sunni rebels who were part of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Over time, more of his fighters and possibly al-Baghdadi himself relocated to Syria, pursuing his plan to restore a medieval Islamic state, or caliphate. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced what amounted to a hostile takeover of the Nusra Front, saying he was merging it into a new group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Nusra Front’s leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani refused to accept the takeover — as did al-Qaida’s central leadership, which broke with al-Baghdadi.

Al-Baghdadi’s fighters went onto to capture a contiguous stretch of territory across Iraq and Syria, including key cities such as Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. In June 2014, the group announced its own state, or caliphate. Al-Baghdadi became the declared caliph of the newly renamed Islamic State group.

The group ruled with a virulently extreme interpretation of Islamic law. The atrocities, massacres and beheadings by al-Baghdadi’s militants that followed — many broadcast in grisly and macabre video postings on militant websites — secured IS a spot in some of the darkest, most brutal annals of modern history.

Throughout it all, al-Baghdadi was in the shadows.

His only known public appearance on video was on June 29, 2014, when he appeared as a black-robed figure to deliver a sermon from the pulpit of Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri in which he urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.

"It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you," he says in the video. "I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God."

Little is known about al-Baghdadi’s family. An ex-wife, Saja al-Dulaimi, and her daughter from al-Baghdadi, were detained in Lebanon in 2014. She was released a year later as part of a swap with al-Qaida in exchange for kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and policemen. In July 2018, IS announced that al-Baghdadi’s son, Huthaifa al-Badri, had been killed fighting government forces in central Syria.

None of the subsequent reports of al-Baghdadi being killed or wounded were confirmed. In 2017, Russian officials said there was a "high probability" he had been killed in a Russian airstrike on the outskirts of Raqqa, but U.S. officials later said they believed he was still alive.

He resurfaced in late September 2017, calling in an audio message on followers to burn their enemies everywhere. Another audio was posted last August in which al-Baghdadi urges followers to "persevere" in fighting IS’ enemies — the speech was sprinkled with references to current events to show it was recent.

Experts tracking militant figures said the voice in the recordings was al-Baghdadi’s.

It was the last time he was heard of.

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Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News World


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