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Military
Heavily armed Nebraska Marine arrested trying to enter Offutt on May 31

An off-duty Marine from Nebraska was arrested at Offutt Air Force Base two weeks ago after he tried to enter the base with two semi-automatic rifles, a pistol, a silencer, a bump stock, a vest with body armor and a case of ammunition.

Pfc. Ali Al-Kazahg, 22, of Milford, is in custody at Marine Corps Base Hawaii near Honolulu, a Marine spokesman said. Al-Kazahg, a landing support specialist at the Hawaii base, has not been charged. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating.

It is illegal to carry weapons at Offutt, aside from authorized members of security forces and certain military retirees. It’s not clear to base authorities whether Al-Kazahg intended to use the weapons to harm people at Offutt, said Lt. Col. William Smith, commander of the 55th Security Forces Squadron.

Al-Kazahg — who was home in Nebraska on leave — was stopped in a pickup truck May 31 at Offutt’s StratCom gate after security guards there saw his name on a law enforcement watchlist of people judged capable of doing harm. A “be on the lookout” bulletin had been circulated across Nebraska a week earlier by a coalition of federal, state and local agencies tasked with monitoring security threats.

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The bulletin, issued May 24 by the Nebraska Information and Analysis Center and later obtained by The World-Herald, said Al-Kazahg told another Marine that he would “shoot up the battalion, starting at the barracks,” if he were disciplined for certain misconduct. According to the bulletin, he also mentioned specific Marines he wanted to target.

The bulletin quoted NCIS as reporting that Al-Kazahg had previously made “suspicious statements” and been reported for “suspicious activity.” It said he had previously “shown various people large amounts of cash” and an online order he had placed for body armor, magazines, weapons parts, holsters and medical supplies, all to be shipped to a Nebraska address.

The bulletin also cited a caution about Al-Kazahg issued by the Lincoln Police Department in 2016 (before he enlisted in the Marine Corps) alleging that he was “dangerous, has an infatuation with guns and violent acts, and has a dislike for law enforcement.”

Al-Kazahg had made no threats specific to Nebraska, the bulletin said.

Al-Kazahg’s vehicle was stopped at the StratCom Gate, on Capehart Road, at 6:39 p.m. May 31. Law enforcement authorities haven’t said why he showed up at Offutt that Friday evening.

Smith said Al-Kazahg presented his military identification card at the gate. The guard who checked the Marine’s credentials saw that they were flagged with a message to detain him and contact the Office of Special Investigation, the Air Force’s investigative agency.

Agents from OSI’s Offutt detachment responded within minutes, Smith said. Al-Kazahg’s pickup was searched, and agents found the weapons and other gear.

Al-Kazahg said little about his intentions to either Offutt guards or OSI agents, Smith said. He was turned over to NCIS, which investigates criminal activity involving the Marine Corps and Navy, about an hour later.

Public records indicate that Al-Kazahg lived in Milford, about 17 miles west of Lincoln. In 2017, he served on the Nebraska Children’s Commission’s Bridge to Independence Advisory Committee, which advises the state on policies to help kids in foster care transition to adulthood.

He joined the Marines on Sept. 11, 2017. After boot camp in San Diego and additional training at Camp Pendleton in California and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he was assigned to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in August 2018. He is a member of the 3rd Marine Logistics Group, and his enlistment is up in 2021.

Al-Kazahg’s public social media posts indicate no obvious signs of anger or discontent. There are no mentions of politics or religion.

He has never posted on a four-year-old Twitter account in his name, which has just 10 followers. His Facebook and Instagram pages are private, though a cached copy of his Instagram page shows a number of photos of him posing with military weapons. His images also seem to convey pride in the Marines, his own personal fitness and his Husker heritage.

INSTAGRAM  

Pfc. Ali Al-Kazahg holds two military M4 carbines last year at Camp Pendleton in California. The caption on his Instagram page says, “These feel pretty light.” In 2016, Lincoln police alleged that he had an “infatuation with guns and violent acts.”

In one photo, he and another Marine, both in uniform, are holding up a red-and-white Husker “N” flag in front of palm trees. The caption says, “Just two pround (sic) Marines from Nebraska living in Hawaii!”

A second photo shows him posing about six months ago with Dakota Meyer, a former Marine who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in the Afghanistan War in 2009, with a caption that says they had lunch together.

A third photo shows him at Camp Pendleton last summer holding one military M4 carbine in each hand with a comment that says, “These feel pretty light.”

News videos posted on YouTube show him and other Marines drinking the blood of a freshly killed cobra and eating a scorpion during survival training conducted as part of the military’s Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand earlier this year.

Sister says man who arrived at Offutt heavily armed 'had zero intentions' of harm

“Drinking the cobra’s blood was pretty fun,” Al-Kazahg said in an interview that was part of the video.

Smith praised his personnel at Offutt for their diligence in quickly detaining Al-Kazahg.

“This was one of those seamless events from start to finish,” he said. “This was an opportunity where we could have saved lives.”

Maj. Gen. Daniel Karbler, U.S. Strategic Command’s chief of staff, went a step further in a post on StratCom’s unclassified internal computer network.

“This service member was out to hurt people,” Karbler said. “Thank a Security Defender next time you come through the gate.”

Notable crime news of 2019

Articles
Superbugs take 2-part approach to outsmarting antibiotics
SCIENTISTS STUDY ENEMY

Scientists have discovered yet another way that single-celled organisms have outsmarted us.

The tiny bacteria that live inside our guts have an ingenious way of withstanding the onslaught of antibiotics we throw at them, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Science. The two part system allows bacterial cells to stay alive until another bacterium can deliver a lifeline, packaged in a snippet of DNA.

Microbes 1, Humans 0. "I'm afraid our findings are great news for bacterial cells — not so good for us," said study leader Christian Lesterlin, a researcher in the Molecular Microbiology and Structural Biochemistry program at Université Lyon in France.

Lesterlin and his colleagues already knew that superbugs could repel even our most modern medicines. What they didn't know was how they managed to pull it off.

"These are amazing abilities they have, to be able to adapt and survive in harsh environments with antibiotics," he said. "But the more we understand about it, the more we can do for human health."

For most of human history, bacteria have had their way with us. Though some of them are helpful, others cause dangerous diseases like pneumonia, cholera and meningitis. The bacterium Yersinia pestis wiped out about 20% of the world's population in the mid-1300s during the pandemic known as the Black Death.

When scientists first developed antibiotics in the early 1900s, humans enjoyed the upper hand — for a while. Some of the drugs target the machinery that maintains a bacterium's all-important cell wall. Others rob bacteria of the proteins they need to carry out essential functions or damage the DNA needed to reproduce.

It took just a few decades for the first drug-resistant strains to appear. Since then, the invention of each new antibiotic invited a jeering reply.

Doctors responded by prescribing another antibiotic drug, and another. Then two drugs together. Then three. But now the arsenal is all but depleted, and there are strains of E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, a cinetobacter and enterococcus that have evolved to overcome almost every medicine thrown at them.

So scientists are racing to understand superbugs' tactics. Among the most urgent questions is this: How does antibiotic resistance spread between bacteria cells, even — or especially — in the presence of antibiotics that are designed to knock them back?

Bacteria don't wait around for a random mutation in their DNA that will protect them from antibiotics. Those mutations will come but not often: For some drugs, only about 1 in 10,000 bacteria will develop resistance that way. For other drugs, only about one in a billion will do so. Either way, that's not very efficient.

Luckily for bacteria, they have plasmids at their disposal. These are circular snippets of DNA, and they can include genes that carry instructions for repelling specific antibiotics. Bacteria can swap useful plasmids with one another while socializing together in the human gut.

(Imagine having an anti-cancer gene and being able to pass out copies of it to everybody you bump into at the grocery store. Like I said, bacteria have outsmarted us.)

Lesterlin's team wanted to visualize exactly how the exchange worked. They put a regular strain of E. coli bacteria in one petri dish and a strain that is resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline in another dish.

Then they saturated both plates with tetracycline and watched closely.

Logic suggested the bacteria cells lacking the ability to resist the drug would die. Instead, they simply went to sleep. After several hours, the researchers combined the contents of the two dishes and used a technique called live cell microscopy to watch in real time as plasmids were transferred in just two minutes from tetracycline-resistant bacteria cells to tetracycline-sensitive ones.

Less than two hours later, the plasmid produced a protein called TetA resistance factor, which makes bacteria impervious to tetracycline. That was "shockingly counter-intuitive," Lesterlin said, because tetracycline blocks the production of proteins by binding to the machinery required to make them.

The next question was this: How could bacteria get away with producing drug-resistance proteins right there in the presence of a protein-inhibiting drug?

As the hosts on QVC might say, one can never have too many accessories.

That's especially true for something called the AcrAB-TolC multidrug efflux pump, which sits on the cell's outer membrane and ejects various toxic antibiotics that have invaded the cell's interior.

Despite the pump's fancy-sounding name, it's not sufficient to keep the cell thriving amid a surge of antibiotics. But it buys vital time for the groggy cell to acquire a plasmid with an all-important resistance gene.

In the team's experiments, the pump kept tetracycline levels low enough to give the cell a chance to translate the resistance gene into a version of the TetA protein that was immune to the antibiotic.

Then that TetA protein took the reins in sustaining the newly drug-resistant cell, which went on to grow and multiply.

"Thanks to the multidrug efflux pump, bacteria have the ability to remain dormant — not quite dead but not quite alive — just waiting for a little help from a neighbor," Lesterlin said.

Understanding basic cell functions could reveal gaping holes in our strategy to combat antibiotic resistance — and weaknesses of their own that we might exploit.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria already kill at least 23,000 people in the United States per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Public-safety
Officials deny Omaha police union claim that violent juveniles are released to 'artificially deflate' numbers

Returning to her northwest Omaha apartment on June 1 with her 11-month-old baby, a 37-year-old woman was confronted by a group of armed teens.

The youths threatened her and demanded the keys to her 2002 Toyota Prius. Clutching her baby, she complied. The youths drove off.

Omaha police officers who responded to the theft near 108th and Fort Streets tracked the car and found two kids hiding under a nearby deck. They later arrested a third teen and recovered a realistic-looking fake gun.

Officers took the youths to the Douglas County Youth Center, and, according to the Omaha Police Officers Association, the youths were released within hours.

In the past week, the police union has highlighted that case and other recent carjackings after which, they contend, violent youths have been released prematurely. Those releases, they say, threaten the safety of officers and the public.

The union is raising these issues as city and county officials consider building a juvenile justice center downtown. The union thinks the center should have a larger capacity than the proposed 64 beds, which is 32 fewer than what the existing center can hold. Leaders say more beds are necessary to detain the juveniles accused of the most violent crimes and keep the public safe.

Juvenile justice reform advocates say the number of detained youths has declined by more than half over the past 10 years. They also say plans for more programming will provide better interventions and outcomes for kids.

Juveniles who face violent felony charges should be detained until a judge in a detention hearing determines the best placement for them, said Anthony Conner, the police union’s president. The juveniles shouldn’t be released before officers even finish reports, which the union says has happened in some cases.

“Officers feel like hamsters on a hamster wheel. They’re running and not getting anywhere,” Conner said. “They’re arresting the same juveniles that (detention officials) just let out two days before.”

There’s no indication that the juvenile offenders in the June 1 incident have since been accused of new crimes, though union officials said that has happened in other cases.

The union made its concerns public ahead of the Omaha City Council vote, which is set for Tuesday, on a proposal to issue $114 million in bonds to build a courthouse annex and juvenile justice center at 17th and Harney Streets.

More than 40 people testified at a Tuesday council meeting about the Douglas County project.

The current juvenile detention center, the Douglas County Youth Center, is near 42nd Street and Poppleton Avenue and can hold 96 people. As of Friday, 75 youths were housed there.

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The County Board and the Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission have voted for the project, which would be paid for mostly with bonds issued by the commission and repaid by Douglas County property taxpayers. City Council approval is required to borrow the money.

In Conner’s remarks to the council Tuesday, he said juvenile probation is releasing kids to “artificially deflate” the number of youths held at the youth center so officials can justify the lower number of beds in the proposed center. He asked council members to vote no on the proposal, solely on the space issue.

“Reducing detention by limiting the ability to detain appears to be the goal. We think that’s risky,” he said during the public hearing. “If we need 100 beds, or even 150 beds, to keep challenged youth safe, the public safe and to provide them with enhanced rehabilitation, then that’s a good thing and that’s what we need.”

Douglas County Board Chairman Chris Rodgers, speaking at the end of the public hearing, disputed Conner’s claims. Rodgers said that in recent weeks, 16 youths have been arrested in connection with carjackings, and 13 were detained. Three, he said, were placed on a home GPS-monitoring program.

“In all due respect to the police, their job, the hardness of it, they are not experts in juvenile justice,” Rodgers said. “They’re conflating and putting a fear factor in regards to this issue that happened with the carjackings.”

Juvenile justice reform advocates said that such alternatives as GPS monitors, placements in group homes or at-home programming are better alternatives to incarceration for juveniles who commit low-level offenses.

“Each day that a youth who doesn’t need to be confined in detention, it has a detrimental effect on their personal growth and social development,” said Thomas Warren, president and CEO of the Urban League of Nebraska and former Omaha police chief, who spoke in favor of the new justice center.

However, he and others acknowledge that detention is needed for violent juveniles.

“As a former police officer, I am well aware of the fact that we have violent youth offenders, and that is who the juvenile detention facility is designed for,” Warren said.

The police union said that in recent weeks, violent juveniles haven’t been detained properly. The smaller proposed center, the union says, will exacerbate the issue.

“My fear is that the juvenile detention center will have no choice but to release these violent offenders simply because they do not have the brick and mortar to house them,” said Dan Martin, who serves on the union’s executive board and is a sergeant in the Omaha Police Department’s gang unit.

Juvenile probation officers assess offending youths in an intake interview and use a standardized screening that looks at the youth’s risk of re-offending or failing to show up for court, said Mary Visek, the chief probation officer for juvenile probation in Omaha.

“Nebraska State Probation has a great relationship with the Omaha Police Department, and we collaborate with them on a daily basis toward our mutual goals of community safety and youth rehabilitation,” Visek said in an email.

She and other officials in the juvenile probation office declined to respond directly to the police union’s claims or specific questions sent by a reporter and instead responded with general information about juvenile court proceedings.

Janet Bancroft, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Judicial Branch, which includes probation, denied that youths were being released for a political purpose.

“Probation is not intentionally releasing people to reduce the numbers for some political gain in terms of building a detention center,” Bancroft said.

Omaha Deputy Police Chief Ken Kanger said the Police Department works “tremendously well” with the probation office. He said representatives from both entities spoke after police officials raised concerns after the June 1 incident involving the release of the young carjacking suspects.

During the discussion, Kanger said, he decided that from now on, the Police Department will require that detectives speak to probation officers about juvenile crimes such as robberies that are being investigated by the detective bureau. Sometimes, he said, a patrol officer who takes a youth to the youth center won’t have all the context of a case.

Information from the detectives will assist probation officers in determining whether to keep the youth at the center, he said.

Kanger said police officials don’t think the probation office is releasing the youths early to skew the numbers, as the union alleges. Kanger also declined to specify a number of beds the Police Department would like to see in a new juvenile justice center.

“The bottom line is we want to make sure there’s programming in place for the youth and an adequate facility to hold the most dangerous youth,” he said. “With the city growing like it’s growing, we need the ability to detain individuals (to protect) public safety.”

Notable crime news of 2019

Cws
BASEBALL
College World Series off to festive start with fireworks, fan camaraderie

The next week and a half will feature the country’s best college baseball teams slugging it out to win the College World Series. But Friday — well, Friday was all about the fans.

During the daylong celebration to kick off the CWS, families lined up for autographs, kids raced through the stands to catch foul balls and fans paused in front of TD Ameritrade Park for a selfie with the statue from the old Rosenblatt days.

As the sun dipped low in the sky that evening, fans of all eight teams lined Mike Fahey Street to cheer on a parade of players and coaches. Paul and April Sheridan, who live in the Millard area, brought their 10-year-old neighbor Hunter to see the action.

Listening to Paul Sheridan’s cheers during the parade, you’d never know he’s pulling for Michigan out of a sense of duty to the Big Ten Conference; he knew the fan chants of every team in the series.

“We welcome it,” he said of fan camaraderie. “It’s Omaha.”

For Ben Howell, attending the CWS is a “bucket list event.” Howell traveled to Omaha with his parents; his wife, Amanda; and 2-year-old son, William, from a town near Nashville to cheer on Vanderbilt.

“I’ve seen it on TV for years — from the old Rosenblatt Stadium. I can’t wait to see the stadium,” Howell said. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

The Howells stopped by an NCAA merchandise tent near the stadium to look through souvenirs for William and picked up a mini bat — a popular choice among children enjoying Fan Fest.

Julie Gale, who has sold CWS merchandise for four years, said it’s too early to know which souvenir will be the fan favorite.

“There’s always going to be one top dog, we’re not sure which team that’ll be yet,” Gale said.

As Shaun Naidoo headed into the ballpark Friday, he was trailed by a dozen little leaguers: the Mesquite Rangers, a travel team of 11-year-olds from the Dallas area.

The Rangers, who also competed this week in the Little League games that coincide with the CWS, raised more than $12,000 to make it to Omaha for the first time. They planned to watch a pair of games this weekend — cheering for Texas Tech, of course — before returning home Monday.

Naidoo said he’s happy the young ballplayers will see college baseball at its peak — at “the pinnacle of what they’re trying to achieve.”

Jason Perez and his 12-year-old son Gavin were among fans lined up for the free autograph session after Texas Tech’s open practice, snagging an autograph from third baseman Josh Jung. The two traveled from Kansas City for their eighth CWS.

“It’s kind of a father-son trip,” Dad said.

Gavin chimed in: “I think it’s pretty fun coming here every year. Especially the fireworks.”

Jason Perez said baseball is big in the Perez family. Gavin plays on two teams, and Perez said his 7-year-old twins “will be playing ball pretty quick.”

The autograph session was one of many free activities offered through Fan Fest, a tournament-long “festival within a festival.”

Friday also featured former Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs and two-time World Series champion David Eckstein. The night ended with a performance by the Eli Young Band, the U.S. Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Team and a fireworks finale.

World Series MVP pitcher Tom Glavine will be available for autographs Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the AT&T tent in Lot C.

Fan Fest opens at 11 a.m. each day in Lot C outside TD Ameritrade Park.

The first game of the series is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday between Texas Tech and Michigan, followed by a 6 p.m. game between Arkansas and Florida State.