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Maryland man who US says joined al Shabaab pleads not guilty to terrorism charges

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A Maryland man who prosecutors say traveled to Somalia to join the Islamist militant group al Shabaab and fought against Kenyan soldiers pleaded not guilty to U.S. terrorism charges on Wednesday.

Maalik Alim Jones, 31, entered his plea in a soft voice in federal court in Manhattan, two days after prosecutors announced his indictment on five counts including that he conspired to provide material support to al Shabaab.

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“We intend to go ahead and fight these charges,” Irving Cohen, his lawyer, told reporters after the hearing.

If convicted at trial, Jones faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and a maximum term of life.

Al Shabaab, which seeks to overthrow Somalia’s Western-backed government and impose a strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, has links to al Qaeda and has carried out attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia.

According to authorities, Jones, who was born and lived in Maryland, traveled in 2011 to Kenya. Once there, authorities said, he traveled by taxi to Somalia, where he was brought to an al Shabaab training camp.

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Jones subsequently trained with al Shabaab for three months, reading and interpreting the Koran and learning how to handle weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades, authorities said.

Following his training, Jones became a member of a specialized fighting force within the militant group known as Jaysh Ayman that carried out attacks and raids across the border in Kenya, prosecutors said.

He participated in a battle against Kenyan soldiers in the Somali town of Afmadow, where he was injured by a missile, resulting in him being hospitalized, Jones told authorities, according to court papers.

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Jones also appeared in at least two al Shabaab videos, including one with fighters who participated in a June 14, 2015, attack on a Kenyan Defense Force base in Lamu County, Kenya, in which two Kenyan soldiers were killed, prosecutors said.

He was taken into custody by Somali authorities on Dec. 7 while he was attempting to procure a boat to depart for Yemen, authorities said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

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‘A deeply disappointing moment’: Trump’s new national security adviser is ‘big fan’ of John Bolton

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President Donald Trump named Robert C. O’Brien as national security adviser on Wednesday even though his worldview is similar to that of former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“I am pleased to announce that I will name Robert C. O’Brien, currently serving as the very successful Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department, as our new National Security Advisor,” the president announced in a tweet.

O'Brien's appointment comes a week after the firing of Bolton, who was known to clash with Trump because of his hawkish foreign policy positions.

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Black woman confronts racist tow truck driver over slurs: ‘I bet you this goes viral’

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A Massachusetts tow truck driver was caught on camera last weekend hurling racist abuse at a black man.

The woman, identified online as Nene Judge'mayo, shared video of the incident Sept. 14 with a driver from Robert Towing in Brighton.

"Because of your f*cking n*gger husband," says the driver, whom she identified as Jeff, as he walked toward his truck.

The woman confronts the driver about the racial slur, and the driver confirms that's what he said and then pulls out his own phone to record the incident.

"Look me up -- my last video of a white man went viral, of the motorcycle girl that hit the news," she tells the driver. "I bet you this goes viral, too."

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Christian conservatives are giving Americans an ‘allergic reaction’ to religion: researchers

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The number of Americans identifying as atheists is increasing -- and recent social science research suggests that the Christian Right is playing a key role in making that happen.

As reported by Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, new research has found that distaste for Trump-loving Christian conservatism has not just turned some Americans off from individual churches but from religion altogether.

"As recently as the early 1990s, less than 10 percent of Americans lacked a formal religious affiliation, and liberals weren’t all that much likelier to be nonreligious than the public overall," FiveThirtyEight notes. "Today, however, nearly one in four Americans are religiously unaffiliated. That includes almost 40 percent of liberals — up from 12 percent in 1990, according to the 2018 General Social Survey."

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