Rashed Mian

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Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: [email protected] Twitter: rashedmian

3-5 Inches of Snow Possible for Long Island

snow

As much as five inches of snow could hit Long Island Friday as a winter storm moves across the region, forecasters said.

On Friday, the National Weather Service’s Upton office said the entire region is under a winter weather advisory, including eastern Suffolk County, which had originally been placed under a winter storm warning.

Initially, the weather service said 7 inches of snow could possibly fall on the East End but a Friday morning update indicated less accumulation. The current forecast calls for 3-5 inches across the Island.

Despite the adjusted outlook, forecasters are still warning drivers of slippery roads and limited visibility of a half-mile at times.

The storm is expected to taper off to snow showers and flurries Friday afternoon. The evening is expected to be dry but temperatures are going to plunge to the mid-teens and wind chill values could be in the single digits.

The weekend forecast calls for clear skies but chilly weather. Saturday will be around 29 degrees during the day before falling into the teens at night. Same goes for Sunday.

Long Islanders who interpreted the recent warm-up as winter conceding to spring early should brace for even more winter weather. As it stands, there’s a chance of snow Monday night through Wednesday and temperatures will be near freezing.

Winter Storm Warning Issued, 7 Inches of Snow Possible on LI

blizzard
(Photo by Michael Damm/Long Island Press)

Forecasters Thursday afternoon issued a winter storm warning for parts of Long Island as snowfall totals for the region also increased.

The warning, which runs from 10 p.m. Thursday to 4 p.m. Friday, is for Suffolk County, which is now expected to get 4 to 7 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service’s Upton office. Much of Nassau County, which is under a winter weather advisory until 2 p.m. Friday, could see up to 6 inches of snow.

The winter storm warning means “severe winter weather conditions are expected or occurring,” the weather service said on its website. “Significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous.”

The storm will begin Thursday night and continue through most of the day Friday—meaning a potentially messy morning commute.

Aside from possible heavy snowfall at times, roads could become hazardous and slippery. Temperatures will be around freezing and visibility could be less than a half-mile, forecasters said.

The weather service is urging people to refrain from travelling unless it’s an emergency. Drivers are recommended to keep any extra flashlight, food and water in their vehicles, the weather service said.

Aside from the snow, drivers will also have to contend with wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour, which could contribute to reduced visibility.

The storm is expected to initially enter the region as rain before transitioning to snow overnight, forecasters said. The storm is likely to have an impact on Friday’s morning commute.

Temperatures on Friday should remain around freezing throughout the day before plunging into the teens in the evening. Gusts as high as 30 mph will make it feel more like zero to 10 degrees outside, forecasters said.

The storm should clear out by Friday night and give way to sunny skies this weekend.

And don’t look now but forecasters are eyeing yet another snow storm early next week.

Winter Storm Could Dump 5 Inches of Snow on Long Island

Long Island weather

It’s not spring yet. Long Island could get hit with up to five inches of snow as part of a winter storm that’s expected to develop late Thursday night and continue through the treacherous morning commute.

The National Weather Service’s Upton office on Thursday issued a winter weather advisory from 10 p.m. Thursday through 2 p.m. Friday. Forecasters said 3 to 5 inches of snow are possible before the storm ends. There’s currently an 80-percent chance of precipitation.

The weather service warns that travel could be hazardous and slippery due to accumulation. Temperatures will be around the freezing mark and visibility is expected to be reduced to a half-mile at times, forecasters said.

“A winter weather advisory means that periods of snow…sleet…or freezing rain will cause travel difficulties,” the weather service said. “Be prepared for slippery roads and limited visibility…and use caution while driving.”

The forecast calls for a mix of rain and snow before it turns to all snow early Friday morning.

While Long Island will be bathed in sunshine during the day Thursday, with temperatures in the 50s, the mercury should drop to near freezing at night. After the storm, Friday will be partly cloudy with a high of 38. The evening will be much cooler, with temperatures in the teens and wind chills in the single digits.

By Saturday the winter storm will be long gone but near freezing temperatures are expected to remain through the weekend.

Returning to Thursday’s sunny conditions on Long Island, the weather service issued a special warning about an “enhanced threat of fire” due to the combination of strong winds and low humidity “given near-record dry fuel levels for the time of year.”

Mix of Rain and Snow Headed to Long Island, Forecasters Say

Long Island weather

The upcoming forecast is shaping up to be a wet one on Long Island.

Forecasters are calling for up to three inches of snow on Friday, followed by a brisk weekend with temperatures at or near freezing.

According to the National Weather Service, the trend of above average temperatures will continue—but not for long.

Thursday will begin with sunny skies and temperatures 10 degrees above normal before clouds and a cold front moves in. That will lead to an evening featuring a mix of rain and snow before precipitation transitions to all snow Friday morning.

“The snow will end during the day on Friday with a few inches expected,” the weather service said on its website.

As the snow exits, an arctic blast will take its place, forecasters said.

“This will lead to unseasonably cold and dry weather to begin the weekend,” the weather service said.

The weekend forecast calls for highs of 29 and 33 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

The burst of cold comes as LI enjoyed a sunny day Wednesday with temperatures topping off at 58 degrees in Islip.

Long Islanders Mark International Women’s Day with Roosevelt Field Mall Rally

International Women's Day

Dozens of women clad in red rallied in the shadow of Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City on Wednesday for International Women’s Day and to raise awareness about a range of issues, including paid leave, reproductive rights and equal pay.

Attendees chanted, “Equal pay for equal work!” and “My body, my choice!” while waving signs proclaiming, “We are the 51 percent”—a reference to the majority-female population in the United States—and endorsing Planned Parenthood, as cars zoomed passed on Old Country Road and honked in support.

Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), who is running for county executive in the November election, told the women alongside her that she wanted to inspire others to get involved.

“The Old Boys Club has been running Nassau County for far too long,” she said through a megaphone, noting that only four of the 23 elected seats in the county are held by women. “I’m running to change that.”

The South Shore Women’s Caucus, a grassroots group that grew out of protests stemming from President Donald Trump’s election, organized the rally, which also coincided with a parallel day of action called “A Day Without A Woman”—the essence of which was to shine a light on the importance of women in the economy.

Democrats have been clearly disappointed with the November election results, and thousands nationwide have responded to Trump’s ascension with acts of civil disobedience and grassroots political action. Several women Wednesday said they attended Women’s Marches a day after Trump’s inauguration and have continued to be politically active ever since.

The event on a sunny but breezy Wednesday in Garden City drew about 50 women, some coming as far as the Hamptons, and ranged from high school and college-aged women to parents of young children and retirees.

While many shared individual concerns, their motivations for demonstrating were to highlight the role of women in society and issues they consider pressing.

“I need to protect women’s rights, I need to protect Planned Parenthood, I need to protect Obamacare,” said a woman named Audrey, a member of the Bellmore-Merrick Democratic Club, who didn’t want to give her last name. “Before this election, there were many times when we only had about a dozen people attending our meetings. And since this election, people are so upset that we’ve been having over 100 people attending our meetings. People want to get involved.”

Halle Brenner, 47, of East Northport, brought along her daughter, a junior in high school, who felt compelled to rally alongside her mom.

“I just feel like so many of my values and many American values are under attack by this administration and, quite frankly, the Republican Party also,” Brenner said, mentioning various issues, including minimum wage and equal pay.

“It’s amazing to me that my daughter still has to fight for that,” she added.

Brenner said she was concerned about the impact the new administration’s policies would have on Planned Parenthood, which is in danger of losing funding as part of a Republican-led health care overhaul, adding that the group predominantly conducts preventive tests that don’t draw as much attention as its abortion procedures, such as mammograms and pap smears.

Shane Larkin, public affairs coordinator for Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, said women have the power to make a difference.

“Right now we need to embody resistance, strength and leadership; and we’re also acknowledging all the women who possess those qualities who we can’t go a day without,” she said.

For Abby Roden, 19, of East Hampton, the 80-mile journey west was necessary to send a message that her generation is up to the task of continuing the fight for women’s rights that began decades ago.

Roden, a freshman in college home for spring break, recalled a conversation she had once with Gloria Steinem in which the feminist icon said: “I don’t need to pass the torch but I’m just going to light all of yours.”

That has stuck with her.

“It is so important for us to get involved, and I’ve always felt that way,” she said. “I’m tired of people saying that our generation doesn’t care.”

For Joy Hutchins, 38, of Merrick, attending Wednesday’s rally was her way of passing the torch.

“I have three children: two daughters and a son. I want them to know how important women’s rights are. I want them to have rights over their own bodies,” she said. “I don’t think it belongs in politics.”

Hutchins brought along her 3-year-old son, who looked on from his stroller.

“He has to learn how to treat women right,” she said.

Holding the rally just feet from the entrance of Roosevelt Field Mall had its own kind of symbolism, especially on a day when women’s rights activists encouraged others to strike or refrain from shopping.

“Women are important in this economy. We are the shoppers,” said Beverly Visconti, of Baldwin. “If we don’t go to the stores, nothing goes. And we are trying to make a statement that we are important in this society.”

Events celebrating International Women’s Day were planned across the globe Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the day held extra significance because 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State.

“Rest assured, New York will not waiver in our commitment to women’s rights, and we will stand tall with all women to move our progress forward,” Cuomo said.

iPhones, Android Devices & Samsung TVs Vulnerable to CIA Spies, Leaks Reveal

WikiLeaks CIA dump

A major CIA leak published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday revealed that the world’s most popular smartphones and television sets from a major manufacturer are vulnerable to the covert agency’s burgeoning cyber unit.

The leak of more than 8,000 CIA documents to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks contains perhaps the most explosive set of revelations since NSA secrets were provided to journalists by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The CIA has reportedly declined to comment on the authenticity of the documents, but WikiLeaks has a long history of disclosing genuine top-secret government files.

Dubbed “Vault 7,” the document dump outlines the vast resources at the disposal of the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, the agency’s own version of the NSA. These include an arsenal of computer exploits—malware, viruses, trojans and other invasive tools—the CIA’s covert hacking operation can deploy to target Apple iPhones, Google Android devices, Samsung TVs, Microsoft’s ubiquitous operation system Windows, and other targets.

Among the most eye-opening of the disclosures is a CIA Center for Cyber Intelligence attack cryptically called “Weeping Angel” targeting Samsung smart televisions. The intrusion allows government hackers to manipulate the TVs to act as if they’re turned off while covertly recording conversations and routing audio files to a secret CIA server. The attack was allegedly developed alongside the United Kingdom’s MI5 agency, according to the WikiLeaks.

One document published by the group Tuesday titled “Weeping Angel – Things you might do” considers the possibility of extracting browser history and WiFi credentials from Samsung TVs and opportunities to remotely access devices.

Also troubling for privacy advocates, the CIA has found a way to circumvent encrypted messaging software like Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram by accessing smartphones directly and collecting communications before encryption protocols take effect, WikiLeaks revealed. In response, Telegram said it was “misleading” to suggest that its software is prone to CIA attacks.

WikiLeaks did not identify the source of the leaks, but the group said the person sought to inspire an “urgently” needed debate into the agency’s cyber division powers.

“The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons,” WikiLeaks said in a press release accompanying the disclosures.

WikiLeaks also noted that the CIA “lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal”—encompassing more than a hundred million lines of code—which would give any person in possession of the arsenal “the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.”

The CIA’s extensive hacking unit included more than 5,000 users at the end of last year. The state-sponsored hackers were so prodigious that they “utilized more code than that used to run Facebook,” according to WikiLeaks.

What the CIA achieved in terms of building its army of hackers was impressive. If what the documents indicate are true, it would mean the agency, much like the National Security Agency, is capable of large-scale cyber espionage, but without public oversight and working as rivals to the NSA instead of collaborators.

“The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive,” the organization said.

The disclosures are the most significant in the nascent Trump administration and may rival those by NSA whistleblower Snowden, who revealed massive government spying on a scale never before known publicly.

WikiLeaks was previously the source of 700,000 secret U.S. State Department cables and military documents regarding the Iraq and Afghan wars leaked by Chelsea Manning. Prior to leaving office, former President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, effective later this year.

The group’s mercurial leader, Julian Assange, has most recently made news for WikiLeaks’ release of emails from the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton, and a powerful Democratic operative during last year’s presidential election campaign. The Russian government was allegedly the source of the disclosures, though no definitive proof has yet to emerge publicly.

Now WikiLeaks is making waves again.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the revelations could trigger yet another public debate about privacy in the United States and abroad. That’s because the ubiquitous smartphones around the world are predominantly Google Android and Apple iPhone devices—both of which the CIA’s hacking division can allegedly exploit, according to WikiLeaks.

Google’s Android operating system, which is the software used by several leading smartphone makers, accounts for more than 80-percent of the worldwide market share as opposed to Apple’s 12-percent share.

The documents state that the CIA’s Mobile Devices Branch can deploy attacks “to remotely hack and control popular smartphones.” The person conducting the hack can gain access to the smartphone owner’s geolocation, audio and text communications, and remotely engage the phone’s camera and microphone, the documents suggest.

Included in the dump was information about a program called “Umbrage,” in which the CIA can re-use malicious attacks that originated from other countries, including Russia. If the CIA repurposes such an attack, it can appear as if it were deployed from where it originated, thus misleading investigators.

WikiLeaks said some information, such as email addresses and names, had been redacted prior to publication. The documents cover a three-year period from 2013 to 2016.

NYPD Agrees to More Civilian Protections in Muslim Surveillance Settlement

Muslim surveillance
The ACLU announcing its intention to file a lawsuit against the NYPD for spying on Muslim Americans. (Photo: ACLU)

New York City and lawyers representing several Muslim Americans agreed Monday to a revised settlement in a case stemming from the NYPD’s sweeping surveillance of Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The agreement strengthens the role of a civilian representative empowered to oversee investigations and report any infractions. The two sides had already approved the oversight position more than a year ago, but last October a federal judge demanded lawyers negotiate enhanced safeguards.

After four additional months of talks, the two sides said the revised agreement allows the civilian representative to report violations of negotiated guidelines directly to the court at any time. The civilian representative, who would be appointed by the mayor, will also have access to investigations to ensure guidelines are being followed.

The revised settlement amends the Handschu Guidelines from 1971, which protect civilians from politically motivated investigations. After 9/11, the NYPD won court approval to modify the guidelines.

If the judge overseeing the Handschu case finds the changes to be sufficient, the case will return to federal court in Brooklyn for final approval.

In June 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Clear Project at CUNY Law School introduced a lawsuit in federal court challenging the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of Muslim Americans in New York City, Long Island, and neighboring states.

Officers with the since-disbanded Demographics Unit built a Yellow Pages-like directory of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and Muslim Student Associations, and utilized undercover officers and informants to infiltrate different communities.

Despite its efforts, the NYPD failed to generate a single lead, according to testimony from the chief of the NYPD Intelligence Division in 2012.

The controversial program was hidden from the public until the Associated Press published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series about the NYPD’s covert operation.

Much of what undercover officers gleaned from their observations were uninspiring, such as innocuous activity inside shops and boring conversations officers recalled between themselves and unwitting subjects.

The Demographics Unit was disbanded in 2014.

As for the settlement, the NYPD agreed to a city-appointed civilian representative to oversee its investigations and to ensure they follow the Handschu Guidelines. The NYPD also consented to a stipulation that only high-ranking police officials authorize the use of undercover officers or confidential informants. The issue of informants befriending community members is one of the most sensitive to emerge from the NYPD’s operation as it sowed distrust, according to advocates.

“Today’s settlement is an important antidote and a major advance for everyone: for our clients and all New Yorkers who have a right to be free from discrimination and to practice their religion without fear, and for the NYPD, which will become more effective by focusing on proven policing strategies rather than ineffective, bias-based policing,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said in a blog post on Monday.

A similar lawsuit brought by New Jersey residents is still pending.

The police department’s exploits returned to the fore in December after Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) held a meeting with then President-elect Donald Trump in which he proposed a federal program styled after the NYPD’s post-9/11 dragnet.

“They were very effective for stopping terrorism,” King told reporters after his meeting with Trump. “And they should be a model for the country.”

The revised settlement comes as Muslim Americans continue to fight a misperception that their religion is inherently violent.

In his first month in office, Trump signed an executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations and temporarily halted Syrian refugee resettlement.

Thousands of protesters descended on airports across the country and lawyers for rights groups and several states challenged the executive order in court.

In February, a three-judge appeals court panel in San Francisco upheld a lower court’s ruling temporarily freezing the order.

The White House on Monday introduced a new executive order that restricts for 90 days travel and the issuance of new visas from six of the seven countries it first listed, omitting Iraq. The order also prohibits the entry of refugees for 120 days as officials scrutinize security measures.

Feds: Commack Terror Sympathizer Threatened To Behead His Mother

Commack terror
US District Court in Central Islip.

The portrait federal investigators have begun to paint of a Commack resident accused of twice trying to join terrorist groups in Syria is one of a troubled man with a history of low-level offenses who harbored visions of grandeur.

In documents submitted at U.S. District Court in Central Islip Monday, alleged terrorist sympathizer Elvis Redzepagic is accused of threatening to behead his mother, bragging about outsmarting the CIA in Facebook communications, and envisioning returning from abroad with an army of fellow fighters.

His past exploits, however, reveal a far less sinister life.

Redzepagic, who was denied bail, was recently nabbed for trying to skirt subway fees and for previously beating a victim and stealing their cell phone. According to the New York Daily News, Redzepagic had been arrested in New York City six times on a variety of offenses.

“This kid’s not normal,” Redzepagic’s uncle Ricky Redzepagic told the newspaper. “He never works. He does drugs.”

And then he was arrested again. Suffolk County police collared Redzepagic on Feb. 2 for a drug offense.

In subsequent interviews with police, he allegedly told officers he was going to “leave this country and [he was] going to come back with an Army—Islam is coming.” Last week, he attempted to slice off his tattoos with a knife and threatened to cut off his mother’s head, authorities said. After he was taken into federal custody Friday on charges of attempting to provide material support to a terror organization, he allegedly told officers: “I really feel like stabbing you right now.”

Redzepagic’s pursuit of a new life in Syria was detailed in court documents federal prosecutors in Central Islip used Monday to argue against his release prior to trial.

Investigators said the 26-year-old twice traveled abroad with the hopes of entering Syria by crossing the border in Turkey in 2015, and Jordan in 2016. He was unsuccessful on both occasions, authorities said. When he failed crossing into Syria from Turkey, he became frustrated and returned to the United States, prosecutors alleged.

After returning from the first time, he allegedly wrote on Facebook: “since I got back from turkey from trying to perform Jihad and join Jabhat Al Nursa the [CIA] has been bothering me. Its annoying but i out smarted them.” What caused Redzepagic to believe the CIA was aware of his travels is unclear.

The circumstances surrounding his return from Jordan were entirely different. While there, he was questioned by authorities and sent back to the United States, where he told border agents he’d traveled to Jordan with the hope of learning Arabic.

The two groups Redzepagic hoped to join were the so-called Islamic State, aka ISIS, or al Nusra Front, which recently broke with al Qaeda.

It’s unclear when Redzepagic went from committing low-level crimes to allegedly expressing support for terrorism. According to court papers, Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical cleric killed in a drone strike in 2011, served as a source of inspiration. Also slain in the same strike was Samir Khan, an al Qaeda propagandist who spent his teenage years in Westbury.

Court documents indicate that Redzepagic had taken several international trips over the last past decade, including to Montenegro—where he has familial ties—and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Turkey and Jordan.

Redzepagic’s family twice called 911 requesting he be removed from his parents’ home “due to his violent behavior,” according to court documents.

During interviews with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Redzepagic said his ultimate goal was to “engage in Jihad…which Redzepagic stated could take many forms beyond simply active warfare or violence,” according to court filings. “Redzepagic further stated that, at the time he attempted to enter Syria from Turkey, he was prepared to strap a bomb on and sacrifice himself for Jihad.

“Redzepagic stated that fighting in Syria was different than committing a terrorist attack in the United States and that he didn’t want to harm ‘innocent’ people.”

New Travel Ban Targets 6 Muslim-Majority Nations, Suspends Refugee Program

Muslim travel ban

Let’s try this again.

That’s essentially what the White House said Monday with the announcement of its revised executive order banning travel from a half-dozen Muslim-majority nations.

The new directive, which Trump signed on Monday morning, prohibits for 90 days people from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya from receiving new visas to enter the United States and suspends the country’s refugee resettlement program for 120 days.

Absent within the revised mandate is Iraq as one of the nations from where travel to the United States is blocked, the exclusion of religious minorities, and the banning of Syrian refugees specifically from entering the country. Unlike the original version, green card holders will not be impacted.

The revamped executive order will go into effect March 16.

The move comes nearly a month since a federal appeals court in San Francisco declined to reinstate Trump’s original immigration ban, which had been temporarily frozen by a lower court in Washington State. That ruling emboldened protestors, who had hit the streets and the nation’s airports for near-daily protests against the ban, criticizing it as unconstitutional and blatantly un-American.

Administration officials who spoke to several media outlets prior to Trump signing the revised order insisted that the measure is not a “Muslim Ban,” but rather, meant to keep America’s borders safe.

Those opposed were quick to dismiss it as discriminatory.

“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies—it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe.”

“My office is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate,” said Schneiderman, whose office last month joined lawsuits challenging the original immigration ban.

Following a barrage of criticism arguing the original ban was ambiguous and hastily written, the administration appeared intent to avoid a repeat of the chaotic first few hours after the original ban was implemented, when some travelers, including green card holders, were detained and subsequently deported. In some cases, travelers were aboard U.S.-bound planes when that order was announced. Adding to that confusion were customers and border agents working off of sweeping orders that did not clearly indicate whether people with proper immigration documents were allowed entry into the country.

Thousands of protesters had descended on terminals to lend support to detained travelers in opposition to Trump’s ban. Lawyers also responded to the call, turning waiting areas into mobile offices.

The scenes that played out across the country signaled a deep rift in U.S. politics, with top politicians joining protestors in demonstrations and openly criticizing the travel mandates. While new policies were being put in place in the name of protecting America’s borders, opponents contended that the country’s doors should remain open.

If what was playing out inside terminals and outside airport gates wasn’t surreal enough, hundreds flocked to a federal court in Brooklyn where lawyers for the government and American Civil Liberties Union were debating the merits of the law. The court responded by ordering an emergency stay on deportations—the first indication that the order was vulnerable to scrutiny from the courts. When one of the attorneys emerged to tell the hundreds gathered outside what had happened, they exploded in exuberant cheer.

The most damning blow to Trump’s original travel ban came on Feb. 9, when three appellate judges in San Francisco decided against reinstating it after a separate court in Washington ordered it halted.

The government sought to have the challenge from the states of Washington and Minnesota thrown out, arguing that the president has such broad authority over America’s borders that they’re “unreviewable” by courts.

“There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court ruled.

The White House has all but decided against continuing the court challenge from a month ago, instead issuing this latest order that in theory would not be as easily rebuked by the courts. Trump defended its implementation, arguing that any delays would allow people with ill intentions to enter the United States. This time around, the White House was more deliberate in signing off on its restrictions.

There had been reports that Trump was going to sign the executive order last week, but following his Feb. 28 address to Congress, the White House reportedly decided instead to delay its announcement to avoid overshadowing his speech’s generally favorable response.

Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” as human rights and civil liberties groups have dubbed it, first emerged during his campaign for the White House, and originally encompassed the complete ban of all non-U.S. Muslims entering the country. The controversial proposal drew heavy criticism, but Trump remained steadfast. He later softened his language, instead referring to his plan as “extreme vetting.”

MS-13 Gang Arrests: 3 Brentwood Teens Murdered In Acts Of Vengeance

MS-13
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini requested tips in the murder of two teens on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016 (Long Island Press photo)

Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens were walking through their hometown of Brentwood on a Tuesday night last September after leaving Cuevas’ home when four alleged gang members riding in a car spotted them on Stahley Street.

Inside were two 19-year-olds and a pair of juveniles who allegedly belonged to the notorious MS-13 gang and had been whipping around Brentwood searching for rival gang members who’d apparently wronged them. After recognizing Cuevas, who the gang had already marked for death because of a pre-existing feud that had recently escalated over social media and at school, they allegedly reported their discovery to two of the gang’s leaders, who gave the go-ahead to end their lives.

Armed with a machete and baseball bats, they exited the car and brutally beat Mickens.

Cuevas ran for her life, slipping into a nearby fenced-in backyard as her attackers pursued her on foot. She was trapped.

Like her best friend, Cuevas was beaten unconscious and left to die.

Mickens’ body was discovered first. The next day, police came across Cuevas’ body up against a fence. The spot on Stahley Street where Mickens was found was almost instantly turned into a makeshift memorial honoring the fallen teens, festooned with flowers and items representing the lives they lived. Someone left birthday balloons for Mickens, who was a day away from turning 16.

“I’m supposed to have a Sweet 16 dance with my daughter,” Mickens’ distraught father Rob said as friends, families and strangers alike gathered to pay respects two days after her brutal murder. “They took that away.”

Nearby, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini wrapped up a press conference at which he called the slayings an “act of savagery” and appealed to the community for help catching the assailants.

The childhood best friends had been beaten to death, Sini said. But the extent of their injuries would not be revealed until later. Mickens’ cause of death was “significant sharp force trauma to the face and blunt force trauma to the head,” federal prosecutors said this week. Cuevas succumbed after sustaining “significant blunt force trauma to the head and body and lacerations.”

“These are some of the worst wounds I’ve seen,” Sini said at the time.

When they were done, the attackers hopped back inside their car and escaped into the night, fleeing to the Central Islip home of their alleged leaders to return the murder weapons, according to authorities.

Charged in their alleged roles in the murders of Mickens and Cuevas were Selvin Chavez, Enrique Portillo, both 19 and from Brentwood, and two juveniles who were not identified.

That the friends were killed together was especially heartbreaking given their close relationship. Last Christmas they each purchased individually engraved dog tags that read “Ride” and “Die”—an indicator of how tight their bond was.

Law enforcement officials on Thursday announced a sweeping indictment charging 13 members of the notorious MS-13 gang with seven murders, including those of Cuevas and Mickens on Sept. 13, and Jose Pena-Hernandez on June 3. The superseding indictment absorbed a previous indictment from a year ago that charged several members with four other murders. The new 41-count indictment charges various members with a total of seven murders since 2013, attempted murders, racketeering, assaults, conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and firearms and conspiracy charges.

The investigation into Cuevas and Mickens’ untimely deaths launched in September. Since then, more than 125 alleged MS-13 gang members have been arrested for various crimes as part of multi-agency crackdown on gang activity. In response to the murders, police flooded the streets, said they planned to introduce new license plate reading technology to track vehicles in Brentwood, Central Islip, and Bay Shore, and developed a list of known gang members.

The investigation was a collaborative effort by the Long Island Gang Task Force, which encompasses federal, state and local agencies, including Nassau and Suffolk police.

In a show of force, about a dozen members of the task force stood behind Robert Capers, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, during Thursday’s announcement, many appearing stone-faced. This was law enforcement fulfilling a promise they said they made to Brentwood residents and the surrounding community five months ago: that the tragic murder cases of two teens would not go cold.

What hardened investigators said they uncovered in pursuit of justice was a particularly disturbing level of violence and brutality—a sadistic criminal underground justice system that made corpses of young people for their perceived infractions, however minor.

“For far too long on Long Island MS-13 has been meting out its own version of the death penalty against members of their own gang who violate their so-called rules—against rival gang members…and anyone else who they decide they want to seek revenge against,” Capers said.

In an effort to blunt MS-13’s growth at the beginning of the century, the FBI created the MS-13 National Gang Task force in 2004 that would be based out of its headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 2008, the FBI released an MS-13 threat assessment, which indicated that the gang’s ranks included upwards of 10,000 members in at least 42 states.

“They perpetrate violence—from assaults to homicides, using firearms, machetes, or blunt objects—to intimidate rival gangs, law enforcement, and the general public,” the threat assessment read. “They often target middle and high school students for recruitment. And they form tenuous alliances…and sometimes vicious rivalries…with other criminal groups, depending on their needs at the time.”

The group originated in Los Angeles but splintered into “cliques” as they migrated east, the FBI said. Although they fall under the MS-13 umbrella, two cliques were allegedly involved in last year’s murders: Freeport Locos Salvatruchas and the Sailors Locos Salvatruchas Westside, the latter of which was allegedly connected to the deaths of Cuevas and Mickens.

In the case of Cuevas and Pena, their transgressions amounted to a death sentence. Mickens met the same fate despite having no bad blood with the gang, officials said.

Federal authorities on Thursday declined to provide details about the feud between Ceuvas and the gang. But whatever it was, the gang wanted retribution. Authorities attributed Mickens’ death to a case of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”—by her best friend’s side, like she had for years.

“Mickens never had a chance,” Capers said at a press conference Thursday.

Three months prior, Pena, an MS-13 member himself, was also killed. After leaving school, Pena was lured into a vehicle and was driven to the abandoned Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center, an apparent gang hangout. When he exited the car, Pena was confronted by people he once considered friends. They turned on him, taking turns stabbing and slashing his body with a machete.

Like Cuevas, Pena’s fate was pre-determined. Prior to the encounter, gang members had convened a meeting in which the topic of discussion was Pena, who was accused of being a government informant and violating other gang rules, authorities said. His death warrant was sealed. Pena died on June 3. He was reported missing on June 13. His decomposed body wasn’t discovered until Oct. 17 in a wooded area outside the abandoned complex.

The Cuevas and Mickens killings came seven months into Sini’s tenure as police commissioner. With the community on edge, the teens’ deaths marked Sini’s first test as a leader of a department whose culture he was trying to change after the arrest of ex-Chief of Department James Burke, who was sentenced to 46 months in prison for beating a heroin addict chained to the floor of a police precinct because he’d unknowingly stolen the police chief’s duffel bag containing his gun, ammo, porn and sex toys. Burke also ordered subordinates throughout the department to then cover it up. A 2012 Press investigation uncovered that SCPD detectives were unceremoniously pulled from the all-important and extremely successful joint Long Island Gang Task Force under Burke’s command.

After assuming the position, Sini decided to bring the FBI closer into the Long Island Serial Killer investigation and gang probes.

Meanwhile, a community already plagued by gang violence in recent years recoiled at yet another wave of violence.

Stephanie Spezia, 52, a Brentwood resident and member of the community group, Uplift Brentwood, said last year’s slayings were different than others in the past.

“I don’t think that people in the community actually felt the impact of the gang stuff because it was always somebody else,” she said, adding that the girls were “stolen off the streets.”

Their deaths sparked unfounded rumors amid a palpable fear that the community was in the clutches of the gangs. Some parents didn’t want to send their kids to school, she said. Others grew concerned when they heard helicopters whirring overhead.

“It was mass hysteria and it was fueled by social media and it was fueled by ignorance and it was fueled by fear,” Spezia said.

Marcos Maldonado, 35, an Uplift Brentwood member, said Thursday’s indictment and the arrests of some of the alleged perpetrators brought “relief and happiness.”

“Brentwood was always a melting pot. Brentwood always welcomed cultures of all kinds, people of all types in order to have a better community,” he said. “That was one of the things that was always celebrated about Brentwood.”

He doesn’t want that mosaic to be a casualty of the violence.

Spezia, who’s lived in Brentwood since 1974, said the neighborhood she remembered became unrecognizable. She wanted to make a difference. So nearly every day since the September murders, she’d carry around Crime Stoppers posters requesting anyone with knowledge of the incident to contact police.

Hearing about how the murders were handed out rattled her.

“Why would you do that to a child?” she said. “And it just goes to show how deliberate and just how angry these folks are…and I think it goes past angry. They have no empathy…to be able to do that to someone, to make this child unrecognizable, that’s just horrible.”

At Brentwood High School in the days following the girls’ tragic deaths, school officials alerted parents that police would increase their presence around the school and new metal detectors would be used to ensure no weapons entered the building.

“The next few weeks will be a difficult period for all of us,” Brentwood Union Free School District Superintendent Dr. Levi McIntyre wrote to parents. “Although individual response to this news may be different, please know that the District stands unified in its effort to provide a nurturing and safe environment for all our students.”

Standing just feet away from where her daughter was struck down, Mickens’ mother, Elizabeth Alvarado, seemed to channel the grief of an entire community.

“How many more lives do they need to take?” her voice cracked. “How much more blood do they really need to have on the street? I mean, my daughter’s blood is on the street, it’s stained right there.

“When is it going to finish?”

For Brentwood residents like Spezia and Maldonado, the road to change begins with the community.

“The police can only do what they can do, they can only enforce,” Spezia said.

It’s important for residents to realize “they do have a voice,” she added. “That they do have a responsibility as well to use their voice.”

She and others use theirs to keep Cuevas’ and Mickens’ spirit alive.

Related Stories:

13 MS-13 Gang Members Charged In Brentwood Teens’ Murders & Other Slayings

Plea for Tips, Peace After 2 Brentwood Teens Slain

Is SCPD Playing Politics By Leaving FBI’s LI Gang Task Force?