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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Maryland Gunman Wrote in Diary About Killing People

For more than a year, the 19-year-old gunman who opened fire at a shopping mall in Columbia, Md., last Saturday, killing two skateboard store employees, made sporadic references in his journal about killing people and showed awareness that he struggled with mental illness, police officials said Wednesday.

But he did not mention either victim in his writings. Nor did he offer clues about why he chose the mall to execute his plan.

On its Twitter account and Facebook page, the Howard County Police Department released details Wednesday about the journal entries from Darion Marcus Aguilar, raising more questions than answers. Mr. Aguilar, who lived with his mother in College Park, Md., committed suicide after the shootings.

On Facebook, the police department published:

He indicates he thought he needed a mental health professional, but never told his family. He also mentions using marijuana.

He expresses thoughts of wanting to die, says he is ready to die, and has a general hatred of others.

Aguilar mentions killing people, but in general terms. He does not mention the victims, or any other person. He does not mention targeting specific people, locations, ethnicities or groups.

He expresses that his plan is set, but does not indicate what he’s referring to. Included in his writings is an apology to his family for what he is planning to do.

The police department also posted a burst of Twitter updates offering more details from the investigation.

As my colleague Emma G. Fitzsimmons reported, the victims, Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, worked at Zumiez, a skateboarding and snowboarding store on the second floor of the mall.

Ms. Benlolo was an assistant manager at the store and the mother of a young son. Mr. Johnson had worked at the store only since November. He was active in a local 12-step program and visited a high school to warn students about the dangers of drugs.

Mr. Aguilar, who graduated from high school last year, was working at a Dunkin’ Donuts store near his home. A family spokesman told WBAL-TV in Baltimore on Tuesday that his family saw absolutely no warning signs.

Video From Snowden’s German TV Interview

In excerpts from an interview with German television made available to The Lede on Wednesday, the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden said that he sleeps well in Russia, where he enjoys temporary asylum, despite reading recently on Buzzfeed that some of his former colleagues in United States intelligence would like to kill him. “I don’t lose sleep because I’ve done what I feel I needed to do,” Mr. Snowden said. “It was the right thing to do and I’m not going to be afraid.”

In another part of the interview, which was broadcast Sunday night on the public television network ARD, Mr. Snowden told the documentary filmmaker Hubert Seipel that President Obama’s proposed reforms to the N.S.A.’s vast surveillance programs constituted just “minor changes to preserve authorities that we don’t need.” He added that while “there’s some politics and some pressure on the president that make it difficult for him to say I’m going to end these” programs, Americans should keep in mind that “the National Security Agency operates under the president’s executive authority alone.”

Asked how someone of his age and experience had been given such unfettered access to information about the agency’s spying, Mr. Snowden, who is 30, said that his case “highlights the dangers of privatizing government functions.” Even though he once worked directly for the Central Intelligence Agency, he was a private contractor when he assembled the trove of secret documents he provided to journalists last year.

“What that means,” Mr. Snowden said, “is you have private, for-profit companies doing inherently governmental work like targeted espionage, surveillance, compromising foreign systems. And anyone who has the skills, who can convince a private company that they have the qualifications to do so, will be empowered by the government to do that. And there’s very little oversight, there’s very little review.”

As my colleague Mark Mazzetti reports, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, insisted during congressional testimony on Wednesday that Mr. Snowden’s disclosures had done grave damage to the country’s security and had led terrorist groups to change their behavior to elude American surveillance. He did not cite any specific examples.

According to the transcript of the interview, Mr. Snowden cited previous testimony from Mr. Clapper, in March of last year, as a prime factor in his decision to leak information to the public about the agency’s work. “I would say sort of the breaking point was seeing the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress,” Mr. Snowden said. “There’s no saving an intelligence community that believes it can lie to the public and the legislators who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions. Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back.”

In an interview via encrypted Internet chat with the New Yorker correspondent Jane Mayer last week, Mr. Snowden mocked such claims by public officials, and the uncritical way they have been reported.

“It’s not the smears that mystify me,” Snowden told me. “It’s that outlets report statements that the speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.” Snowden went on to poke fun at the range of allegations that have been made against him in the media without intelligence officials providing some kind of factual basis: “ ‘We don’t know if he had help from aliens.’ ‘You know, I have serious questions about whether he really exists.’ ”

He also called claims by American lawmakers that he was a Russian spy “absurd.”

If he were a Russian spy, Snowden asked, “Why Hong Kong?” And why, then, was he “stuck in the airport forever” when he reached Moscow? (He spent forty days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport.) “Spies get treated better than that.”

Mr. Snowden insisted to Ms. Mayer that he had no desire to stay in Russia and had done nothing to harm his native country.

From Moscow, Snowden explained that “Russia was never intended” to be his place of asylum, but he “was stopped en route.” He said, “I was only transiting through Russia. I was ticketed for onward travel via Havana â€" a planeload of reporters documented the seat I was supposed to be in â€" but the State Department decided they wanted me in Moscow, and cancelled my passport.”

As for why he remains there, he said, “When we were talking about possibilities for asylum in Latin America, the United States forced down the Bolivian President’s plane.” If he could travel without U.S. interference, “I would of course do so.”

Snowden was adamant that he wants to help, not hurt, the United States. “Due to extraordinary planning involved, in nine months no one has credibly shown any harm to national security” from the revelations, he said, “nor any ill intent.” Moreover, he pointed out that “the President himself admitted both that changes are necessary and that he is certain the debate my actions started will make us stronger.”

Mr. Snowden hesitated at some points in the German television interview, saying that he did not want to pre-empt the reporting of journalists who have been working through the large set of documents he leaked last year. One of those points was in response to Mr. Seipel’s question about industrial espionage: “Does the N.S.A. spy on Siemens, on Mercedes, on other successful German companies for example?” Mr. Snowden paused and then replied: “There’s no question that the U.S. is engaged in economic spying. If there’s information at Siemens that they think would be beneficial to the national interests, not the national security of the United States, they’ll go after that information and they’ll take it.”

Mr. Seipel, who obtained an interview with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria last year, is very familiar with how the levers of power work in Russia. His last film, “I, Putin,” was an intimate portrait of the Russian president.

Messages of ‘Relentless, Spiraling Bloodshed’ from the Central African Republic

The emergency director for Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert, has documented some of his most vivid warnings yet on the killing in the Central African Republic, describing a country in the “relentless, spiraling bloodshed” of sectarian retaliation on the civilians left behind as rebels withdraw.

On his Twitter account @bouckap, Mr. Bouckaert â€" whose job is to focus on protecting civilians caught in armed conflict â€" has reported extensively and firsthand on the country. On Wednesday, he shared an image of a mob attack and described other scenes of horrific attacks on both Muslim and Christian communities. But some of the worst recent retaliatory attacks have been carried out by anti-Muslim militias.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that thousands of jubilant residents took to the streets of Bangui, the capital, to celebrate after peacekeepers escorted dozens of mostly Muslim rebels from military bases. As my colleague Somini Sengupta reported, United Nations officials have also described a spiraling conflict, with the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels disarmed and rival Christian gunmen going on retaliatory rampages.

In an interview with BBC Africa, Mr. Bouckaert said there were sectarian killings throughout the country. Christian populations have suffered “tremendous abuses” under Seleka in the last 10 months, but those militias are now withdrawing. Now, Muslim communities are being “wiped off the map” as the rebels leave, with children being “slaughtered in front of their Muslim parents with machetes all over the place,” he said. “It really is an orgy of bloodshed.”

listen to ‘CAR eyewitness: Horrific mob attack on Muslim men’ on Audioboo

In the BBC interview, he described a mob mutilating the bodies of Muslim men as heavily armed French soldiers nearby did nothing to intervene. Excerpts:

It was an absolutely horrific scene when we arrived at the entrance to the airport in Bangui. We found a large mob of people and French soldiers at the scene. The crowd was mutilating two bodies of Muslim men that they had just killed with machete. The French soldiers were there just 50 meters away and didn’t stop this horrific mutilation from taking place. They cut one man’s genitals off and put them in his mouth. It really was a scene of absolute horror.

The people who were mutilating the body probably were about a dozen men with machetes and knives. They were probably members of the anti-balaka Christian militia. But large crowds of people had gathered including children. People were filming this on their cellphones and many were laughing. As we left the scene they said keep on filming because we are not yet done.

There is no more safe part of the city for Muslims. We see them being killed everywhere in Bangui, and Christians as well.

In a report published on Tuesday, Mr. Bouckaert wrote:

The death records of the Bangui morgue read like a chapter from Dante’s Inferno, page after page of people tortured, lynched, shot, or burned to death. The smell of rotting corpses is overwhelming, as when people die in such numbers, it is impossible to bury them immediately. On really bad days, the recording of the dead just stops: no names are recorded, just the numbers of dead. In the 15 minutes we managed to remain amid the stench and horror, two more bodies arrived: A Muslim hacked to death with machetes, and a Christian shot dead by the Seleka.

Jerome Delay of The A.P. has also been thoroughly documenting the story.

Laura Jepson of International Medical Corps shared this image from her colleagues:

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

A Dutch Jihadist in Syria Speaks, and Blogs

Battlefields of Syria/Tumblr “Half of Jihad is media.” A Dutch jihadist’s Tumblr photograph of the weapons he uses in Syria: His knife, his gun and his Instagram account.

Last summer, a Dutch public television producer scanning the Internet for information on foreign fighters in Syria stumbled on something he had never seen before: Instagram photos of a man wearing the uniform of the Royal Netherlands Army who appeared to be fighting alongside Islamist rebels against government forces.

Although Instagram disabled the account soon after it began to attract attention, the producer, Roozbeh Kaboly, remained in contact with its owner, a former soldier who was so appalled by the West’s failure to halt the killing in Syria that he had quit the Dutch army to join the jihad against President Bashar al-Assad. After eight months of coaxing, the ex-soldier â€" a Dutch citizen of Turkish descent named Yilmaz who now posts his dispatches from the Syrian battlefield on Tumblr, and responds to questions from fans and critics on Ask.fm â€" finally agreed to answer Mr. Kaboly’s questions.