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Arrest Made In LaGuardia Airport Security Breach « CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police arrested a man Thursday in a security breach[1] earlier this week at LaGuardia Airport s busy central terminal.

As CBS2 s Tony Aiello reported, the man Pano Kumar Varanasi was charged with criminal trespass. Varanasi, 41, had been visiting family in New Jersey from India. Police said they were able to track Varanasi to his brother s home in New Jersey. He came back to the airport voluntarily and was arrested, WCBS 880 s Marla Diamond reported. On Tuesday night, Varanasi allegedly caused a security breach apparently unintentionally. He walked into the Terminal B secure area through an exit right past a Transportation Security Administration agent who was supposed to stop him but did not.

Surveillance video shows the agent looking on.

He has a bulge under his sweatshirt which clearly causes serious concern, said security expert Anthony Roman. For a critical checkpoint like this, it s just unforgivable. According to the TSA, the guard on duty at the time is facing disciplinary action and may lose her job. This wasn t the only slip-up in the chain of events Tuesday, CBS2 s Magdalena Doris reported. Sources said there was a delay in getting this critical information to Port Authority police, who determined the terminal had to be cleared, searched for bombs and each passenger rescreened.

Port Authority police issued an alert for officers to be on the look out for Varanasi and scoured surveillance video which helped them match the man with an airplane ticket, Doris reported. They determined Varanasi was a passenger from India in the area to visit family and that he was confused as he walked through the exit, Doris said. Police said Varanasi is cooperating with the investigation. The breach raises serious concern and Roman says it could serve as an example for terrorists of what works.

It is just as useful for terror cells planning attacks to observe weak points in that fashion as it is to run dry runs themselves, he said.

People at the airport Thursday were disappointed in the situation.

It s terrible see something like this because you don t know their intentions, said Zach Fritzhand. And it just goes to show that you never know what the person to your left or right s going to do.

If his job is to keep people from passing through and someone passed through, yeah, that s an issue, said Quentin Hardy. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) issued a letter to the TSA demanding an explanation of what happened on behalf of the Homeland Security committee, calling the security breach extremely serious.

We saw what happened in Manchester, King said. We have to constantly be on our guard, and this was a breach that has to be explained and corrected. King said terrorists could easily take advantage of a lax security situation.

We have to have ironclad security, because ISIS is probing; they re looking. They will see an incident like this, by the way, and try to take advantage of it, he said.

Late Thursday, Varanasi s wife and sister-in-law were at Queens Criminal Court waiting for his arraignment. They declined comment. Varanasi is described as cooperative with police. He told investigators he got confused after flying to LaGuardia from Detroit, and didn t realize he was breaching security. The incident comes as the TSA is testing stricter policies at 10 airports nationwide, now asking passengers to remove items like food, paper and electronics bigger than a cell phone from their carry-ons into a separate bin.

Airport security expert Marshall McClain warns the process will cause back-ups and won t likely act as a deterrent.

To truly have something to deter, you re still going to have to have armed police officers to do that rather than worrying about whether people have too many papers in their luggage, he said. The TSA has not yet extended that pilot program to airports in the New York area. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump s proposed budget eliminates funding for TSA agents at airport exit lanes. Many in Congress said they will fight to keep that $77 million in the budget.


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In first under Trump, U.S. warship sails near China-claimed man-made island in South China Sea

The U.S. Navy has sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of China s man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea the first so-called freedom of navigation patrol under the administration of President Donald Trump a report said Thursday. The operation, which involved the USS Dewey, a guided-missile destroyer, was conducted Wednesday around Mischief Reef in the Spratly chain of the strategic waterway, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing anonymous U.S. officials. Freedom of navigation patrols (FONOPS) represent a challenge to excessive maritime claims, according to the U.S. Defense Department. The significance of 12 nautical miles marker derives from the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which generally grants coastal states jurisdiction over a 12-nautical mile territorial sea emanating from a coast.

In a statement to The Japan Times, the Pentagon refused to confirm or deny the report. However, photos posted to an official social media account of the USS Dewey appeared to show the vessel transiting the South China Sea.

We are continuing regular FONOPS, as we have routinely done in the past and will continue to do in the future, Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross said. Summaries of these operations will be released publicly in the annual FONOPS report, and not sooner. The most recent annual FONOPS report was published in February.

Ross said U.S. forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea, adding that these operations are conducted in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allow. The move is likely to anger China, which despite a pledge to the contrary, has continued to militarize the waters as it seeks to reinforce effective control of much of the waterway, through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims. China has built seven man-made islets in the hotly contested Spratlys, with three boasting military-grade airfields including Mischief Reef despite a 2015 vow by Chinese President Xi Jinping not to further militarize them. Beijing has called the moves purely defensive.

Ross, however, said any operation was not focused on a single nation.

FONOPS are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements, Ross said. In FY 2016, we conducted FONOPS challenging excessive maritime claims of 22 coastal states, including allies and partners. A think tank reported in late March that major construction at three of China s large man-made islands in the Spratly s had wrapped up, allowing Beijing to deploy fighter jets and mobile missile launchers to the area at any time. The building of military and dual-use infrastructure on the so-called Big 3 islands in the contested Spratly chain Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs had reached the final stages, with the naval, air, radar and defensive facilities largely complete, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

All three islands boast hangers that can accommodate 24 fighter jets and four larger planes, including surveillance, transport, refueling or bomber aircraft. Hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers have also been built on the three.

China has also constructed significant radar and sensor arrays on all three islands, positioning them close to point defense structures to provide protection against air or missile strikes.

THE DRIVE: England raises threat level; budget unveiled; Cosby jury filling up

Among those taken into custody in Libya were the suspected bomber’s father and his younger brother, the latter of whom confessed to knowing “all the details” of the attack plot, Libyan anti-terror authorities said.

The Associated Press

MANCHESTER, England Security forces rounded up more suspects Wednesday in the deadly Manchester concert blast and soldiers fanned out across the country to national landmarks as an on-edge Britain tried to thwart the possibility of additional attacks. Officials scoured the background of the British-born ethnic Libyan identified as the bomber, saying he was likely part of a wider terrorist network. Additional arrests were made both in Britain and in Libya in the bombing that killed 22 people and wounded scores more. Among those taken into custody in Libya were the suspected bomber’s father and his younger brother, the latter of whom confessed to knowing “all the details” of the attack plot, Libyan anti-terror authorities said.

“I think it’s very clear this is a network we are investigating,” Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Manchester Police said as authorities raided British properties thought to be connected to Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old suspected bomber who grew up in Manchester and died in the attack.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Abedi “likely” did not act alone in the strike at the close of an Ariana Grande concert Monday night and that he had been known to security forces “up to a point.” Meanwhile, officials probed possible travel by the alleged bomber, looking for clues to new threats. Government officials said nearly 1,000 soldiers were deployed to Buckingham Palace, Parliament and other high-profile sites across the country. Britain’s terror threat level was raised to “critical” the highest level on Tuesday over concern another attack could be imminent. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Abedi was believed to have traveled to Syria and had “proven” links to the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the attack. British officials, however, have not commented on whether Abedi had links to IS or other extremist groups.

British authorities were probing whether Abedi had ties to other cells across Europe and North Africa, according to two officials familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation. They said one thread of the inquiry involved pursuing whether Abedi was part of a larger terror cell that included Mohamed Abrini, otherwise known as “the man in the hat,” with connections to the Brussels and Paris attacks. Abrini visited Manchester in 2015.

“It looks like we’re not dealing with a lone wolf situation. There’s a network a cell of ISIS-inspired terrorists,” said U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He said the bomb’s construction suggested a “level of sophistication” that might indicate foreign training. Six additional arrests were made in Britain on Wednesday as the sprawling investigation extended to Libya, where Abedi’s father and 18-year-old brother were detained in Tripoli. The father, Ramadan Abedi, denied his son had links to militants in an interview with The Associated Press before he was taken into custody, saying, “We don’t believe in killing innocents.”

The elder Abedi was allegedly a member of the al-Qaida-backed Libyan Islamic Fighting group in the 1990s, according to a former Libyan security official, Abdel-Basit Haroun.

The Libyan anti-terror force that arrested the men said in a statement that the brother, Hashim Abedi, 18, confessed that he and his brother were linked to the Islamic State group and that he was aware of the arena bombing plan. The anti-terror force said the father had not been charged, but was taken in for questioning. A second brother, Ismail Abedi, 23, was taken into custody in Manchester a day earlier. The suspected bomber grew up in Manchester’s southern suburbs and once attended Salford University there. Neighbors recalled him as tall, thin and quiet, and said he often wore traditional Islamic dress. Among investigators’ areas of interest is how often Abedi traveled to Libya, which has seen an eruption of armed Islamist groups since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011.

Before his arrest, Abedi’s father said he had last spoken to his son five days ago and he sounded “normal.” He said his son was getting ready to visit Saudi Arabia for a short Umrah pilgrimage then planned to head to Libya to spend the Islamic holy month of Ramadan with his family. He said his son last visited Libya about six weeks ago and had never gone to Syria. He denied ties to any militant groups or suggestions of extremism.

“We aren’t the ones who blow up ourselves among innocents,” he said. “We go to mosques. We recite Quran, but not that.”

At Manchester’s Didsbury Mosque, where the Abedi family worshipped, the bombing was condemned and reports that the suspected bomber had worked there were denied. Azhar Mahmoud, who prays at the mosque in southern Manchester, said it was “horrible” that Abedi was associated with it.

“Wherever he got that, he didn’t get it from this mosque,” he said, adding that the imam regularly preached against radicalization. British Prime Minister Theresa May chaired a meeting Wednesday of her emergency security cabinet group to talk about intelligence reports on Abedi and concerns that he might have had outside support. Police raided homes believed to be connected with the investigation. At one apartment building in Manchester, heavily armed police swarmed in and a controlled explosion was heard. At another property, a house a 10-minute walk from where Abedi lived, neighbors said they were awakened by a loud noise and saw a man hauled away in handcuffs.

“There was a policeman, armed policeman, shouting,” neighbor Omar Alfa Khuri said. “And I realized there is something wrong here.”

Across London, troops fanned out and authorities reconsidered security plans. The changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace was canceled so police officers could be re-deployed. The Palace of Westminster, which houses Parliament, was shuttered to those without passes, and tours and events were canceled until further notice. Armed police patrolled outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, another popular tourist spot. For a second night, a throng of people filled a Manchester square for a vigil for the victims. Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders echoed a message that extremists wouldn’t drive a wedge among the city’s religious groups. People lifted their hands in the air during a moment of silence.

“There are no divisions here tonight,” Irfan Chishti, the imam of Manchester’s biggest mosque, told the crowd. Officials said all of the bombing victims have been identified, but names were being withheld until autopsies were completed.

Still, their stories began to emerge: Michelle Kiss, a mother of three whose “family was her life;” Nell Jones, an “always smiling” teenager; Martyn Hett, who packed life “to the brim with his passions;” Jane Tweddle, a “bubbly, kind, welcoming” receptionist. The youngest known of those killed was just 8. Besides the dead, the number of people who sought medical help after the attack was raised to 119. Officials said 64 people remained hospitalized, including 20 who were critically injured.