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GOP lawmaker critically wounded in shooting at congressional baseball practice; gunman killed by police

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A gunman, who was identified by law enforcement as James T. Hodgkinson, unleashed a barrage of gunfire at a park in Alexandria, Va.

By Peter Hermann, Paul Kane and Amber Phillips

A man unleashed a barrage of gunfire Wednesday at a park in Alexandria, Va., as Republican members of Congress held a morning baseball practice, wounding five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.).

President Trump said the gunman — identified by multiple law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson III, 66, from Illinois — died after a shootout with police officers, two of whom were wounded in the gun battle.

Scalise remained in critical condition as of Wednesday afternoon, according to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where he and another victim were being treated.

The wounded also include a congressional aide, lobbyist and the two Capitol Police officers.

As people offered prayers for the victims, a profile began to emerge of Hodgkinson, a onetime home inspector. A Facebook page believed to be his includes pictures of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and rhetoric against President Trump, including a post that reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

In remarks made from the White House shortly before noon, Trump called for unity and commended the injured officers.

James Hodgkinson is seen in this undated photo posted on his social media account. via Reuters

“Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault,” Trump said.

Trump said he spoke with Scalise’s wife and offered his full support to the congressman’s family. He called Scalise a friend, patriot and fighter, and thanked the first responders who aided victims on the field.

“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said.

The incident unfolded shortly after 7 a.m. during the final practice before Thursday night’s scheduled charity game between Republicans and Democrats at Nationals Park. Players and bystanders described a horrific and prolonged attack in which wounded police officers returned fire, and Scalise, felled by a bullet to his hip, crawled across the field to get out of harm’s way.

Scalise’s office said the congressman underwent surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in the District.

What happened at the GOP baseball shooting, in maps and photos VIEW GRAPHIC
Zach Barth, a legislative correspondent for Rep. Roger Williams (R-Tex.), was shot but is expected to make a full recovery.

Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, was taken to a hospital in unknown condition, a company spokesman said.

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said his two wounded officers are in good condition and do not have life-threatening injuries. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) identified the officers as special agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner.

The FBI is now leading the investigation. Verderosa said that “it’s going to take a while to sort through all the details,” and Tim Slater of the FBI said that it is “too early to tell whether anyone was targeted. . . . It’s really raw now. We’re exploring all angles.”

But Hodgkinson’s political statements were immediately examined as a possible motive.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) told reporters that he spoke briefly with a man he thinks was the shooter, and that he “asked me if the team practicing was a Democrat or Republican team.” Duncan added, “I told him they were Republicans. He said, ‘Okay, thanks,’ turned around.”

Sanders (Vt.) said Hodgkinson volunteered on his presidential campaign and denounced the shooter’s actions.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” he said in a statement delivered on the Senate floor.

Robert Becker, who served as the Iowa director of Sanders’s presidential campaign, said that Hodgkinson had no formal role on the campaign and that he couldn’t find anyone who remembered him. “We had approximately 100 paid organizers on staff,” Becker said. “He was not one of them.”

Becker said that before the caucuses, about 10,000 people volunteered for Sanders at various times.

“No one seems to remember this guy,” he said.

Those who frequent the area around the baseball field in Alexandria said Hodgkinson had recently become a fixture in neighborhood, reporting that he was living out of a gym bag and was often seen at the local YMCA using a laptop or staring out a window in the lobby.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it is conducting emergency traces on one rifle and one handgun.

Scalise’s office, in a statement, said the congressman was out of surgery by 10:30 a.m. The statement said the whip, before surgery, was in good spirits and speaking to his wife, Jennifer, by phone. “He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues,” the statement said.

Scalise, 51, who has been in Congress since 2008, represents a district that includes some New Orleans suburbs and bayou parishes. Before entering Congress, he was a lawmaker in Louisiana for eight years. Scalise and his wife have two children and live in Jefferson, La.

Scalise is the third-highest-ranking House Republican and has a round-the-clock Capitol Police detail.

The shooting occurred at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, on East Monroe Avenue. The popular park — which includes the baseball diamond, soccer fields and a dog park, is in the Del Ray neighborhood, near the Potomac Yard shopping center on Route 1 and Old Town Alexandria, adjacent to a YMCA and across the street from a CVS and an Aldi grocery store.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the manager of the GOP baseball team, said there were “dozens, if not hundreds, of shots fired.” Members of the team and onlookers took cover in dugouts, got down on the ground or beneath a sport-utility vehicle.

In addition to shooting at Scalise, the team’s second baseman, the shooter fired at Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.), the third baseman. Barton described the suspect as a middle-aged man wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt.

“I think he was anglo and he had a rifle, and I think he had a semiautomatic pistol,” Barton said. “Luckily, no one appeared to be killed,” he added.

June 14, 2017 A wounded victim is evacuated. Essdras M Suarez/EMS Photography/Zumapress

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) saw the shooter and described the scene as “bedlam.” In an interview, Brooks said he heard two or three shots before he realized the danger. He was stepping up to home plate with a bat in his hand. Then he heard a scream from Scalise, whom he saw fall to the ground.

Brooks said he ran behind the batting cage and watched Scalise drag himself toward the outfield. Brooks lay down in the dirt behind the batting cage with two or three others, but then realized that if the shooter moved, “he’d have a clear shot.” So he ran to the first-basedugout and dove into it.

About a dozen people were there, including one of his staff members who had been shot in the leg. Brooks said he took off his belt and applied a tourniquet. Then he saw a man with a gun appear above him and feared it was a second shooter. Instead, it was a Capitol Police officer shooting back. He and another officer moved toward the shooter, who ran toward home plate and was shot down. “They were both wounded,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters that Scalise was awake after the shooting.

“He was coherent the whole time,” Flake said. He added that a female member of the Capitol Police security detail was airlifted out and that a staff member was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Flake said that it took almost 10 minutes to stop the shooter. Eventually, when the Capitol Police secured the area, Flake grabbed Scalise’s phone and called his wife to tell her what happened.

Still wearing his baseball uniform — a red and white baseball shirt with “Republicans” on it — Flake gave this account:

“We were doing batting practice near the end of the practice, and all of us were on the field, either in line to bat or fielding balls and all of sudden, we heard just a very loud pop, and it sounded like gunfire. It was just one, then a few seconds later it was a rally [of gunfire]. And it was clear, I just remember seeing, he had a rifle.”

Flake said the gunman was firing “at anybody he could hit. I don’t know if anybody was targeted, but I just remember seeing some of the gravel bounce up as gunfire hit. And so a lot of us went into the dugout, because we thought the gunfire was coming near the third-base dugout, just to get some cover.”

He said Williams’s aide was in right field when he was hit in the leg, and he ran to the dugout. “We had to apply pressure to that wound to try to keep the bleeding down.”

Flake said that at one point, “I looked up . . . and saw the gunman. He had come around the back, near home plate, and had a clear line of sight into the dugout, and so we had to get down again.” He said Scalise dragged himself off the field, leaving a trail of blood.

Flake said he didn’t hear the gunman say anything. He said one of the security officers used the dugout for cover as he fired at the gunman. Flake said that at first, he didn’t know whether the security officer was friend or foe. “And I kept yelling: ‘Are you friendly? Are you friendly?’ And he yelled back: ‘Yes.’ And then I could see him come around the dugout, but he was wounded. I’m not sure when he got shot. But he had a wound by his ankle.”

The congressman also said a second officer was shot, a member of the Capitol Police force. “I saw her afterward, and saw her being taken to the helicopter,” Flake said.

Alexandria resident Owen Britton described the shooter as a middle-aged man, perhaps between 55 and 65 years old, with white facial hair and wearing a blue polo shirt. Britton witnessed the man exchanging fire with police over a black sport-utility vehicle, before the man was apparently shot and then handcuffed while lying on the ground.

Katie Fillus of Alexandria had just gotten out of her car to take her dogs to the park when she said she heard “very, very loud popping sounds.”

“And I knew a baseball team was practicing, and everybody started screaming, ‘Hit the ground! Hit the ground!’ ”

She said she lay flat in the field as the gunshots grew louder — “like he was walking across the field toward all of us, the gunman, and I was screaming: ‘Can someone help me? I have my dogs and I can’t get behind anything.’ ”

Fillus said a police officer pulled out a gun and tried to shoot back. She was screaming, “ ‘Drop your weapon!’ And he shot her and she fell on the ground.

“She fell on the ground in front of us, and we were all just trying to lay as flat we could. And I belly-crawled, dragging through the mud. I got to the car and I ducked under the car and I laid as close as I could under the car to hide from the person. Then the police seemed to come.”

Susanne Stratton, 28, of Alexandria, was playing with her dog in the dog park next to the baseball field when the shooting began.

“We heard people yelling to get down. We saw people running, some into the dog park, some jumping over the fence,” she said. She said the people in the dog park immediately got down on the ground and pushed their dogs down, as well.

She said there was a burst of shots, then a brief pause, then more shots — she estimated about 20. “It must have been a semiautomatic,” she said.

Reba Winstead, 43, who lives on street adjacent to ballpark, said she heard about 30 shots fired in bursts and saw two people running down her street in exercise clothes.

“One of the bullets whizzed down our street. That’s when I jumped inside, when I heard the whiz,” she said. “It’s just scary, because you don’t hear shots fired in Alexandria very often.”

Charles Halloran, who lives about a block from the park, arrived at a YMCA next to the baseball field at 7:30 a.m.

“Bullet holes in the glass and people were shaking,” Halloran, a former congressional staff member, said in a telephone interview from inside the facility. Bullets went through the YMCA’s building and into the pool.

Reports of violence are extremely rare in Del Ray, a quiet, upscale neighborhood known for its shops, art and craftsman-style houses.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), in a suit and tie, stopped by the crime scene to pray, and was viscerally angry about his colleagues being attacked.

“America has been divided,” he said, “and the center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left.” King indicated that it was impossible to separate the hyperpartisan climate in Washington — especially people protesting Trump — and Republican members of Congress being gunned down at a baseball practice.

“The divisions within the country, people that can’t accept the results of the election that are determined to try to take this country down, take this organization down,” King said. “This city was filled up with demonstrations the day after the inauguration, where you couldn’t drive down the streets.”

Brooks said he thinks the shooting was targeted.

“I can’t imagine him going here for any other reason than to kill as many congressmen as they can,” he said. “We understand we’re high-profile targets.”

Speaker Ryan was at the gym on Capitol Hill when he was informed of the shooting, said two GOP lawmakers who saw him there. They said he immediately stopped his workout and headed out, guided by his Capitol Police detail, which is always with him. The lawmakers spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the speaker’s movements.

As Ryan left — and Capitol Police briefly told members about the shooting — the gym quickly quieted and members packed up their belongings and headed to their offices, the lawmakers said.

“Nobody knew what the hell was going on,” one of the Republicans said. “People just left.”

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Briefing Room

US Targets Islamic State in North Eastern Somalia

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WASHINGTON / PENTAGON / LONDON — A U.S. airstrike has targeted Islamic State in northern Somalia, defense officials told VOA Friday.

The strike resulted in at least one casualty, a U.S. defense official said, without elaborating on the target of the attack.

The chairman of the town of Qandala, Jama Mohamed Qurshe, told VOA Somali that several missiles hit a base for IS militants at Buqa village, 60 kilometers south of his town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

“According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area. Local residents and pastorialists were shocked and fled from the area,” Qurshe said.

He said that prior to the strike, residents reporting hearing airplane sounds.

Details of the strike are still not clear due to the remoteness of the area, which locals said was only accessible to the militants; however, local officials and residents suspect the airstrike targeted the group’s senior leaders and perhaps even its top leader.

The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.

Since the emergence of the IS faction in October 2015, the militants have claimed responsibility for at least four deadly attacks in Puntland.

In late October of last year, the militants briefly seized Qandala, before they were driven out by Puntland’s government.

No cutoff in funding

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has denied reports that it is planning to cut funding for the Somali government.

Somali media reports said the U.S. might reduce funding because unnamed Somali officials helped facilitate the October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.

There were also reports that linked the alleged cut to an internal State Department finding that the department’s Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that U.S. funding is not diverted to al-Shabab militants.

In an email, a State Department official told VOA the reports were “incorrect.”

“Reports of funding being suspended to the Somali army due to alleged facilitation of the bombings by Somali officials are incorrect,” the official wrote. “The United States continues to provide extensive support to Somali security forces in their efforts to combat al-Shabab.”

On Wednesday, the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, quoted a report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. The report said the Africa Bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programs in countries where militant organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram operate.

In his email, the State Department official said, “The United States prioritizes transparency and accountability in its partnership with Somalia, echoing one of the top priorities articulated by President Farmaajo upon his taking office earlier this year.”

“We have communicated conditions for U.S. security assistance to the federal government of Somalia, which includes enhanced measures to ensure proper oversight of our support,” he added.

Meanwhile, Somali leaders and the governors of Somali states are meeting for the fourth straight day in Mogadishu, in an effort to agree on implementation of a joint security plan.

The government is said to be preparing for a major offensive against al-Shabab.

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Somali News

Egypt’s Sisi stresses unity, sovereignty of Somalia

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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi stressed on Wednesday his country’s firm stance towards the unity and sovereignty of the Somalia.

Sisi’s remarks came during a phone call with his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, state-run MENA News Agency reported.

During the phone conversation, the two leaders discussed means of enhancing joint ties besides promoting bilateral cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism and extremism.
They also reviewed the latest developments in Somalia and the efforts of the Somali government to restore security and stability so as to fulfill the aspirations of the Somali people in achieving development.

For his part, Farmajo lauded the Egyptian stance backing his country and the support it offers in attaining stability.

He further voiced his keenness on continuing the high-level coordination and consultations with Egypt pertaining to various issues of common interest topped by combating terrorism and bolstering joint cooperation in various domains.

Egypt and Somalia have been facing rising waves of terror acts carried out by Islamist groups that left hundreds of civilians, army personnel and policemen dead.

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Opinion

Opinion: Reasons Why Somalia’s president Farmaajo is becoming Africa’s Most Popular Beloved President

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Suud Olat is Minnesota Based freelance journalist and refugees advocate founder of Refugees Forum and Advocacy.

Ever since his historic election in February as a President of Somalia Mohamed A  Farmajo has been a subject of public fascination. At first, his war on graft promised to cleanse the state of corruption, while his patriotic thrift inspired millions of Somali people.

Despite terrorism attacks recently the deadly  on October 14,2017 president vows to eradicate Alshabab terrorists out of Somalia declaring full preparations for large-scale offensive against Al-Shabab..

Months ago he turns down $80m to cut ties with Qatar

He has been offered $80 million in exchange for his agreement to sever diplomatic relations with the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Qatar.

President Farmaajo improved rapidly Somalias relations to the rest of the world we all know all sovereign states in today’s world are interdependent regardless of how small or big are. What guides each sovereign state in relation to others or even international organisations is the foreign policy, whose one of the main contents is about diplomacy.

President Farmaajo has prioritize building strong relations nations like Turkey. Much credit to Turkeys had played a key role and take a lion share on supporting Somali people. Weeks ago Turkey opens military base in Mogadishu to train Somali soldiers. Turkeys’s biggest overseas military base. As Experts and political analysts say Diplomacy is to a nation what brain is to a person. President Farmaajo”.quickly,appointed,capable,competent,good and able prime minister Hassan Ali Khayre Despite in office less than a year he gained widespread public support for several innovations, including halving the size of the cabinet and seeking to increase transparency in government.

Still despite major terrorist attacks government has made long strides in creating a peaceful Somalia, making  to be named Somalia’s prime minster among ’most influential politicians in Somali’s history. Government efforts at advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms in Somalia were cited as the reasons for the government progress a truth that is globally acknowledged, and which earned massive confidence Somali people and the mainly government donors and friends international community .

However, Somali government has also faced numerous external setbacks that prevented holding the entire

Somalia in control, especially from Al Shabaab, which had conducted terrorism attacks both in Somalia and  in Kenya. Now government is putting up measures aimed at curbing the insecurity challenges. The neighboring governments, of Djibouti,Kenya and Ethiopia on the other hand, are trying now to assist Somali Federal government in eliminating Al Shabaab once and for all, and this is worth mentioning.

Somali Federal government has also faced internal setbacks- conflicts among with the Somali regional leaders on the issue regarding , the recent federal government neutral position on the Arab Gulf crisis which most corrupt regional leaders try to undermine federal government leadership neutral positions.

While majority of Somali are happy with the current political situation in Somalia. Recently, President of Somalia recently joined with the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutress and other world leaders in Kampala, Uganda at the major refugees in the region donor Confrence were historic Somali President generously donated 100,000 US dollars. And have also ordered foreign affairs and internal ministry to review numerous occasions previous government signed past agreements on the voluntary repatriation of the half a million Somali refugees in Dadaab camps. The assumption was that Somalia was eventually standing on its feet.

Knowing  unilaterally Kenya government ordered for the closure of Dadaab camps  after adjournment of the tripartite agreement, which had met an outcry from the international community. Still, the Somali refugees are receiving an orgy of threats from the Kenyan government.

Federal Government of Somalia set up  plans and committees to collaborate the UN refugees agency UNHCR and regional governments especially Jubaland were most refugees returning. Assuring Federal government to ensure the safety of the refugees upon their return back to Somalia, although that seems impossible if the current insecurity and terrorism attacks continue.

To keep Somali people dreams alive and real the only way out for the president to meet the expectations of the Somali people. while being very careful in making decisions was who will he appoint a prime minister although mistakes are the order of the day in politics, repeating the same mistakes will have surely cost the government to lose trust among the people. President Of Somalia knew that the nation needs a strong prime minister who knows how to solve the Somali problems since he was  previously being tested the waters of politics. He had chosen as a prime minster Hassan Khayre a qualified; patriot, intellectual, bureaucrat, who feels the pain of the people. Although it’ was  difficult to know such a person. President Farmaajo seek suggestions from the Somali intellectuals, religious groups and even  fellow politicians. A knew path avoid culture of future infighting between prime minster and president which had hindered in the past administrations as well on clan basis, competitiveness the core of the prolonged Somali conflicts.

Considering the fact that the Somali youth are entitled to take part in making political decisions, and his campaign pledges

May he Rest In Peace Abbas Siraji was among the cabinet young minister ever in the history of Somalia on May 3, 2017 gun men with government uniforms gunned and killed minster Abass down town Mogdishu. Speaking at the UN general assembly Somalia prime minister uses Abass Siraji as a role model and good example for the Somali youth.

Upon getting vote of confidence from

Somali parliament prime minister Hassan Kheyree government has made remarkable progress. strong support from the Somali people. Although the killing of Abass  immediately met with anger and solidarity protests from the general public and from many lawmakers. Now Somali government now gain trust among the Somali people. And the government approval getting up day by day.

Vast administration experience.

c) Government strictness and familiarity with the protocols of classical democracies.

d) His diplomatic demeanor.

e) completed its first monthly payment of stipends to government soldiers, and it has also initiated the implementation of a biometric register for the security forces within a window of four months. This was a great achievement that had proved Somali Federal government seriousness and its capability to make Somalia stable.

f) On  dispatching a high level federal delegations defuse clan-based tensions in several regions. This way has returned back the cordiality among different Somali clans, paving way for peaceful relations.

g) To improve transparency in the government, cabinet ministers fully disclosed transparency and signed a code of ethics.

h) An Anti-Corruption Commission with the power to carry out formal investigations and to review government decisions and protocols was also established so as to monitor public officials more closely

i) Unnecessary trips to abroad have been fully prohibited and all travels required the Premier’s consent.

j) On the war front, his tenure managed to secure control of 90% of Mugadishu, the capital of Somalia.

With his  Excellency, President Farmaajo administration creates unique protocols that will definitely make sure Federal government to fulfill the promises it had made to the Somali people. We hope that President farmaajo and the Somali prime minister, to keep this momentum and address refugees issues more closely Dadaab will be a dead story and for Somalia will regain peace and stability, and the refugees will then return back to their country.

Suud Olat is Minnesota Based freelance journalist and refugees advocate founder of Refugees Forum and Advocacy.

Follow him on Twitter @SuudM or email him SuudOlat@gmail.com

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