Athletic group benching ref who told wrestler to cut dreads
Saturday, December 22
BUENA, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s athletic association said Saturday that a referee who told a high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit, which drew ire from an Olympian, the state’s governor and many others, won’t be assigned to any matches until the incident is reviewed.
Michael Cherenson, spokesman for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the organization had reached out to groups that assign referees “and they’ve all agreed” not to assign Alan Maloney to any event until further notice.
Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is black, had a cover over his hair Wednesday night during a match. But Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn’t do. An SNJ Today reporter tweeted a video of Johnson getting his hair cut minutes before the match. Johnson went on to win but appeared visibly distraught.
The video was shared widely on social media, with users calling the incident “racist,” ”cruel” and “humiliating.”
Jordan Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, posted and spoke on social media early Saturday about the incident, saying he had never seen anything like it in a quarter-century of wrestling.
“This is nonsense,” a message on Burroughs’ Twitter account said. “My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.” In a video posted on Instagram, he criticized parents and coaching staff at the match for not intervening, calling it “absolutely shameful.”
Burroughs called Johnson “courageous” for his performance in the match despite “all of the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment.” The fellow southern New Jersey wrestler said Maloney had been the referee for some of his high school matches growing up.
Gov. Phil Murphy weighed in on the issue on Twitter, saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the story.
“No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity and playing sports,” he said.
The state attorney general’s office has confirmed an investigation by the Division on Civil Rights. The school superintendent said in a letter to the community that they support and stand by all student athletes.
Maloney came under fire in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier Post newspaper. Maloney told the newspaper he did not remember making the comments. After the incident was reported, he agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. A one-year suspension was overturned.
A woman answering the phone Friday at a listed number for Maloney said the ordeal is being blown out of proportion and the referee was simply following rules.
Gatwick flights resume; UK police question 2 drone suspects
By GREGORY KATZ
Saturday, December 22
LONDON (AP) — London’s Gatwick Airport was plagued by long lines and flight delays Saturday but no new drone sightings, allowing British officials to hope the worse was over after two people were arrested in connection with the drone invasion that had shut down the country’s second-busiest airport.
Check-in lines at Gatwick stretched the length of the departures hall as harried travelers tried to make good on Christmas plans upended by three days of extended shutdowns caused by drones being spotted over the airfield.
The persistent drone crisis at Gatwick, 30 miles (45 kilometers) south of London, has had a ripple effect throughout the international air travel system since Wednesday night, when the first drone was spotted.
A Gatwick spokesman said Saturday that “things are going in the right direction” and should be back to normal by the end of the weekend after a horrendous few days that saw tens of thousands of travelers stranded or delayed.
Sussex police released few details about the two suspects arrested late Friday in the worst drone-inflicted travel chaos to hit Britain. Police say the investigation is ongoing and the military was still deployed to prevent further drone incursions from shutting Gatwick’s airspace.
Police said Saturday the drone suspects are a 47-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman from Crawley, a town 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the airport. They were arrested on suspicion of disrupting civil aviation.
The suspects, who have not been named or charged, were being questioned in custody. Sky television showed footage of police searching a house, reportedly where one suspect was living.
British police have not said if they think the two suspects acted alone or as part of a larger group. The motive for their aggressive drone flights has not been established, but officials say there are no indications it is “terror related.” There have been no new drone sightings since the arrests.
Gatwick’s arrival and departure boards showed that most flights operated Saturday but there were still a significant number of delayed takeoffs and landings. In all, the airport hoped to run 757 flights, serving just under 125,000 passengers.
Still, Gatwick authorities urged passengers to check the status of their flights Saturday with their airlines before heading to the airport, which handles 43 million passengers a year.
“Passengers should expect some delays and cancellations as we continue to recover our operations following three days of disruption,” a Gatwick spokesman said.
New drone sightings Friday evening caused fresh problems for holiday travelers at Gatwick, which had just reopened in the morning after a 36-hour shutdown. Authorities then had to hastily suspend flights for more than an hour Friday afternoon on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Officials said extra military capabilities allowed flights to resume Friday night after the 70-minute halt but did not say what equipment had been put in place to counteract the drones.
“Our investigations are still ongoing, and our activities at the airport continue to build resilience to detect and mitigate further incursions from drones,” said Superintendent James Collis, who urged the public to contact authorities immediately if they had any relevant information about the drones.
Hundreds of people had to sleep at Gatwick on Thursday night, and many noted how freezing and uncomfortable it was. In response, officials said Saturday they are keeping the airport’s two main terminals heated.
Trump call with Turkish leader led to US pullout from Syria
By MATTHEW LEE and SUSANNAH GEORGE
Saturday, December 22
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies, and over strong objections from virtually everyone involved in the fight against the Islamic State group, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.
Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, two U.S. officials and a Turkish official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.
The Dec. 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, provides insight into a consequential Trump decision that prompted the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It also set off a frantic, four-day scramble to convince the president either to reverse or delay the decision.
The White House rejected the description of the call from the officials but was not specific.
“In no uncertain terms, reporting throughout this story is not true,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said. “It is clear from the context that this false version of events is from sources who lack authority on the subject, possibly from unnamed sources in Turkey.”
The State Department and Pentagon declined to comment on the account of the decision to withdraw the troops, which have been in Syria to fight the Islamic State since 2015.
Despite losing the physical caliphate, thousands of IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, and the group continues to carry out insurgent attacks and could easily move back into territory it once held if American forces withdraw.
The Dec. 14 call came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed to have the two presidents discuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.
Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.
But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.
In the following days, Trump remained unmoved by those scrambling to convince him to reverse or at least delay the decision to give the military and Kurdish forces time to prepare for an orderly withdrawal.
“The talking points were very firm,” said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the U.S. and Turkey work together to address security concerns. “Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that.”
Erdogan, though, quickly put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for U.S. troops to be in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State and that the group had been 99 percent defeated. “Why are you still there?” the second official said Erdogan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants.
With Erdogan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials. Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.
Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.
Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdogan.
Caught off guard, Erdogan cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal, according to one official. While Turkey has made incursions into Syria in the past, it does not have the necessary forces mobilized on the border to move in and hold the large swaths of northeastern Syria where U.S. troops are positioned, the official said.
The call ended with Trump repeating to Erdogan that the U.S. would pull out, but offering no specifics on how it would be done, the officials said.
Over the weekend, the national security team raced to come up with a plan that would reverse, delay or somehow limit effects of the withdrawal, the officials said.
On Monday, Bolton, Mattis and Pompeo met at the White House to try to plot a middle course. But they were told by outgoing chief of staff John Kelly and his soon-to-be successor Mick Mulvaney that Trump was determined to pull out and was not to be delayed or denied, according to the officials. The trio met again on Tuesday morning to try to salvage things, but were again rebuffed, the officials said.
The White House had wanted to announce the decision on Tuesday — and press secretary Sarah Sanders scheduled a rare briefing specifically to announce it. But the Pentagon convinced Trump to hold off because the withdrawal plans weren’t complete and allies and Congress had not yet been notified, according to the officials. The first country aside from Turkey to be told of the impending pull-out was Israel, the officials said.
Word of the imminent withdrawal began to seep out early Wednesday after U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel started to inform his commanders on the ground and the Kurds of the decision.
Following the official announcement the White House emphasized that the U.S. will continue to support the fight against IS and remains ready to “re-engage” when needed. But in a tweet, the president said U.S. troops would no longer be fighting IS on behalf of others.
“Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!”
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.