WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Wednesday continued its sharp criticism of Iran, labeling Tehran the world’s top government sponsor of terrorism.

In a new report, the State Department said terrorist attacks and deaths from terrorism declined worldwide last year. The Islamic State militant group remained the most active “non-state” perpetrator, the report said, despite having suffered a significant loss of territory.

The document, formally titled Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, is issued annually under congressional mandate.

A section on state sponsors of terrorism highlights Iran, its arming of the Hezbollah organization based in Lebanon and anti-Israel groups like Hamas, plus its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the U.S. accuses of committing numerous atrocities against his citizenry.

“Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Justin Siberell, the State Department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism, said in a briefing for reporters.

Iran has been on the list since 1984.

The report noted that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps served as the government’s “primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.”

Hezbollah also made an appearance in the report in discussion about Venezuela, which came under heaviest criticism among Western Hemisphere countries.

“For the 11th consecutive year, the Department of State determined … that Venezuela was not cooperating fully with U.S. counter-terrorism efforts,” the report said, noting the leftist Caracas government had provided safe haven for Hezbollah “supporters and sympathizers,” along with other militants like Colombian guerrillas and Basque separatists.

The State Department report, citing statistics compiled by the University of Maryland, said the total number of terrorist attacks in 2016 decreased by 9 percent from 11,774 in 2015 to 11,072. Deaths from terror attacks fell 13 percent in the same year, from 28,328 to 25,621. Sixteen of the dead were American citizens.


House members demand apology from Turkish president

WASHINGTON — Standing on the site of a recent violent altercation between protesters and bodyguards of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, members of Congress from both parties condemned what they said was an assault on American values and demanded an apology from the Turkish leader for flouting U.S. law.

“We will not stop until the dictatorship that’s being formed in Turkey is defeated,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who has faced criticism from both sides for defending Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Rohrabacher spoke along with Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, Jim Costa, D-Calif., John Sarbanes, D-Md., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., at an event organized by the Armenian National Committee of America and Sheridan Circle May 16.

“I join with each and every one of you here this morning for a principle that is the cornerstone of America and that is our First Amendment rights — our freedom of speech, our freedom of assembly, our freedom to protest,” Costa said. “And on May 16 those freedoms were violated — they were violated, sadly, by security guards of the Turkish government.”

In May, during Erdogan’s official visit to Washington, Erdogan supporters and members of his security detail clashed with protesters near the Turkish ambassador’s residence at Sheridan Circle in Washington’s Embassy Row. The incident sent nine people to the hospital. D.C. Metropolitan Police chief Peter Newsham called it a “brutal attack.”

“As an American citizen, I was violated from exercising (my) First Amendment right of freedom of speech,” said Sayid Reza Yasa, one of the protesters injured.

The State Department said in a statement following the incident that it was communicating its concerns to Turkey in “the strongest possible terms.” The Turkish Embassy said Erdogan’s bodyguards were provoked by demonstrators and acted in self-defense.

In June, the House passed a resolution condemning the violence, 397-0.

—McClatchy Washington Bureau


Parents sentenced to up to 7 years in Pennsylvania ‘gifted’ girls case

PHILADELPHIA — Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, parents of a teenage girl “gifted” to a Bucks County, Pa., man convicted of sexually abusing several of their daughters, were sentenced to up to seven years in jail Wednesday on child endangerment counts in a case that generated national attention.

Bucks County Judge Jeffrey Finley, who sternly lectured the couple, ordered both to undergo therapy and mental health evaluations.

Daniel Stoltzfus, 44, who pleaded no contest to the child endangerment in April, was sentenced to 3 { to seven years in prison; his wife, 43, who had entered a guilty plea, was sentenced to three to seven years.

Two of the Stoltzfus’ daughters watched with somber faces as their parents were sentenced, along with an older brother who had led a delegation of 26 Amish adults and two infants into the courtroom.

A Stoltzfus daughter asked Finley to consider the children’s love for their parents, saying they have “no supporting adults … in this time of great need.”

Finley admonished Daniel Stoltzfus, saying he allowed his children to become what some would call “sex slaves” and exposed them to unimaginable trauma. “You continued letting your children crawl into the bed of that man when you knew what was going on,” he told Savilla forcefully.

Daniel Stoltzfus said, “I regret having to put my children through what they’ve been through this past year and wish to reunite with my children.”

The couple had met Kaplan, now 52, at an auction, and the man helped them “transition from the Amish lifestyle” while assisting them financially, according to prosecutors. Stoltzfus then “gifted” his oldest daughter to Kaplan.

Savilla said she felt “very, very lost” when they met Kaplan. “Forgive me for the fact that I put my children at risk.”

—The Philadelphia Inquirer


Katherine Berman, wife of ESPN personality Chris Berman, died from blunt trauma, drowning

HARTFORD, Conn. — Katherine Berman, the wife of ESPN personality Chris Berman, died from injuries she suffered after her car struck the back end of another vehicle in Middlebury in May, the state medical examiner has determined.

Dr. James Gill, the chief state medical examiner, ruled Berman’s death was an accident and said she died from blunt trauma and drowning. He declined to release toxicology results.

Berman crashed into a car operated by Edward Bertulis, 87, of Waterbury, who later died at a hospital.

State police are still investigating the crash. Katherine Berman, of Cheshire, was coming from lunch at the Good News Cafe in Woodbury prior to the crash.

The 2003 Lexus SC 430 driven by Berman hit the rear of the 2003 Ford Escape driven by Bertulis, veered off the road and down an embankment and overturned in a small body of water, state police have said.

The Ford struck a utility pole and flipped, landing in the middle on its roof. Berman had a seat belt on and was found in her vehicle. Bertulis wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was partially thrown from his car, state police said.

—The Hartford Courant

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