Tennessee church-shooting suspect had note referencing Dylann Roof attack

A man who opened fire in a Tennessee church on Sunday may have been motivated by a quest for revenge for an earlier shooting that targeted black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Police said the suspect, Emanuel Kidega Samson, was wearing a mask when he entered Burnett Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, a small community outside Nashville, and began shooting. One parishioner was shot in the parking lot and died; six other people, including the minister, were wounded.

People close to the investigation said a note found in the gunman’s car indicated he may have been seeking revenge for the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME, a historically black church in Charleston. In that attack, avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black worshipers at an evening Bible-study session. Roof was convicted and is awaiting execution.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division and the FBI have opened a hate-crimes probe into the Tennessee attack. Samson is facing a state murder charge.

Investigators have not publicly identified a motive in the shooting, though they are also examining whether Samson had mental health problems that may have contributed to the violence, according to people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing case.

Further details about the suspect’s note, whose existence was first reported by the Associated Press, were not immediately available.

Samson, 25, came to the United States from Sudan as a child, and church members said he had previously attended services there.

Nashville police said Monday that no one in the church recalled the gunman saying anything during the attack. Police said Samson’s rampage ended when a church usher grappled with him, resulting in the gunman being shot.

Steve Anderson, the Nashville police chief, said at the same briefing that Samson admitted to being at the church and firing his weapon there, but that was all the information the suspect had provided investigators at that time. It was unclear whether he had spoken with investigators since then.

— The Washington Post

Planned HealthCare.gov outages this fall are comparable to 2016, HHS says

The Health and Human Services Department came under fire last week after announcing that the federal website to buy coverage under the Affordable Care Act would be unavailable for 12 hours nearly every Sunday during this year’s open enrollment season.

With the upcoming enrollment season just half as long as last year’s, the schedule for HealthCare.gov renewed criticism that the Trump administration is trying to keep consumers from signing up for 2018 health plans.

On Friday, HHS released new data that showed this year’s planned outages mean the website will be down roughly 11 percent longer compared to a similar six-week period last year. The site is slated to be unavailable for a total of 60 hours, compared to 53.5 hours last year, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15.

“This year’s potential maintenance schedule is consistent with last year’s under the previous administration,” HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd said in an email. That maintenance helps federal agencies ensure the information consumers enter into the system can be verified, he explained. “System downtime will continue to be planned for the lowest-traffic time periods on HealthCare.gov, including Sunday mornings.”

The department did not give outage times for the second half of last year’s 12-week enrollment period, but an HHS official said the site’s overall downtime was “similar throughout the rest of open enrollment.”

HHS supplied a chart showing that HealthCare.gov is set to be unavailable later in the morning on four different Sundays compared to last year. An agency official said actual outage times always could be shorter than planned.

— The Washington Post

DoE hands $3.7B lifeline to last U.S. nuke project

The Trump administration has thrown a lifeline to the last hope for a U.S. nuclear power revival, offering $3.7 billion in additional loan guarantees for Southern Co.’s troubled reactor project in Georgia.

The conditional guarantees announced Friday by the Energy Department come at a critical time for Southern. Georgia regulators are weighing whether to allow the company and its partners to continue building two new reactors at Plant Vogtle after costs soared above $25 billion amid construction delays, caused in part by the bankruptcy of contractor Westinghouse Electric Co.

“This is great news,” said Stan Wise, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission. “It gives us an important piece for continuing the project and it’s important in lessening the impact on ratepayers.”

The project represents the last, best chance for a much-hyped nuclear renaissance that has failed to materialize in the U.S. following Japan’s Fukushima accident in 2011 and amid weak wholesale power prices. Scana Corp. this year canceled its plans to build two new reactors in South Carolina after expenses spiraled above $20 billion.

Loan guarantees alone, though, won’t save the Vogtle expansion: Regulators also want to see a promised payment from Westinghouse parent Toshiba Corp. and federal tax credits for new nuclear generation.

Southern’s Georgia Power Co. and its partners constructing the Vogtle plant were already recipients of $8.3 billion in federally-backed loan guarantees, but asked the Trump administration to come to their aid amid ballooning costs and setbacks.

“I believe the future of nuclear energy in the United States is bright and look forward to expanding American leadership in innovative nuclear technologies,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement announcing the additional aid.

The Energy Department announced conditional loan guarantees of $1.67 billion to Georgia Power, $1.6 billion to Oglethorpe Power Corp. and $415 million to three subsidiaries of Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. Separately, the department proposed a rule aimed at helping coal and nuclear plants compete in wholesale power markets.

The offered aid comes after President Donald Trump’s administration suggested ending the loan guarantee program, which has been under fire from conservative critics since it famously backed a half-billion-dollar guarantee to failed solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC.

Southern shares rose as much as 1 percent to $49.43 in New York.

Securing the additional money will help Atlanta-based Southern make its case to state regulators, who must weigh Southern’s recommendation to continue against concerns from environmental groups and consumer advocates. The loans are one of three “important pieces” that are critical to the review of Southern’s proposal, with the others being an extension of federal tax credits for new nuclear units and a $3.7 billion payment guarantee from Westinghouse’s parent Toshiba, the PSC’s Wise said.

The additional loan guarantees “will help us continue to reduce our financing costs,” Paul Bowers, chief executive of Georgia Power, said in a statement. With more than $5 billion in guarantees promised to Southern, the utility owner said its customers will get $500 million in “benefits” for its customers.

Georgia’s Public Service Commission will likely give its OK to the Vogtle project if Southern and its partners receive the Toshiba payments, according to Tim Echols, a member of the commission.

“The additional loan guarantee money, monetizing the Toshiba payment, and tax credit extension are music to my ears,” Echols said. “Without these it will be difficult to finish our Vogtle reactors and I hope the U.S. Senate knows that.”

— Bloomberg

American troops escape serious injury after Marine Corps aircraft crashes in Syria

A Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey crashed in Syria on Friday, injuring two American troops in a combat zone where the United States maintains a small footprint of Special Operations forces and artillery support.

The aircraft was left “inoperable,” a Pentagon spokesman told The Washington Post, though it is unclear whether responding personnel deliberately destroyed sections of the sophisticated Osprey to prevent its sensitive technology from falling into enemy hands.

The two injured service members were transported for medical treatment and released, according to U.S. Central Command. A Marine Corps official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the aircraft belonged to that service.

Other passengers and crew were uninjured, though it’s unclear how many personnel were on board. The Pentagon will not disclose either the names or service affiliation of those involved in the mishap.

The number of U.S. military personnel in Syria is capped at 503, though the Pentagon makes liberal use of temporary deployments to augment the forces who are there.

Earlier this year, Marines established an outpost in Syria to pound Islamic State forces in the operation to retake their stronghold in the northern city of Raqqa. U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces secured Raqqa’s Old City on Sept. 4, with intense fighting still expected to topple the Islamic State’s de facto capital.

U.S. troops have been on the ground in Syria since October 2015 to support Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition effort to roll back militant control of territory linking Syria and Iraq.

— The Washington Post

Puerto Rico’s roadways alone are a disaster, and it will cost at least $240 million to fix them

More than a week after Hurricane Maria stormed through Puerto Rico, road conditions remain unsafe in many parts of the island, and transportation officials are warning that the road to recovery could be long and expensive.

More than 1,500 cases of damaged roads and bridges had been found in Maria’s aftermath, not including problems on a vast majority of traffic signals, Puerto Rico’s transportation chief Carlos Contreras said this week.

Contreras said preliminary estimates put the cost for road repairs at $240 million, according to Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día newspaper.

On Thursday the Federal Highway Administration issued $40 million in emergency relief to begin work on restoration of critical road infrastructure, including highways and bridges.

All across the island, dangerous debris was being cleared; some residential streets remained impassable due to fallen trees and branches. Emergency crews were being mobilized to rebuild guardrails and traffic signal systems and repair damages caused by mudslides and flooding.

“It is critical to get the island’s infrastructure in working condition as soon as possible so relief supplies and other assistance can be delivered to the people of Puerto Rico,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement on Thursday.

The storm was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years. It was so powerful that it disabled radar, weather stations and cellphone towers, and knocked down the island’s power grid. Gasoline supplies are low and about one-third of the stations remain closed Friday.

The air traffic control system was so damaged that restoring flight operations remains a challenge. Officials say Federal Aviation Administration crews continued to repair radar units, navigational aids and other equipment damaged. As of Thursday, seven of the eight commercial airports were operating on very limited capacity.

Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan was operating 32 flights on Friday.

— The Washington Post

22 dead, 32 injured in stampede near Mumbai railway station

NEW DELHI — At least 22 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge near a railway station in Mumbai on Friday after heavy rains, officials said.

The stampede broke out during morning rush hour on a bridge connecting the Lower Parel and Elphinstone stations.

Police said the staircase on the bridge became overcrowded amid surging crowds and people not exiting due to the heavy downpour.

“Some witnesses say the stampede was triggered due to rumors in the crowd that the bridge had collapsed or people had got electrocuted, others say women slipped off the stairs, setting off panic in the crowd,” police officer Sunil Deshmukh said.

“There was chaos all around on the narrow bridge, people jumped over each other and many were seriously injured.”

In all, 22 people had died, regional health minister Deepak Sawant told reporters. Some 32 more were hospitalized, and with many in a serious condition, the death toll could increase, he added.

Footage on television channels showed people on the ground, many not moving at all, with locals attempting to revive them with water and first aid.

The two stations are used by many of Mumbai’s train commuters and there are a number of offices in area.

Media reports said there had been calls for widening and repairing the bridge, which was not strong enough to take the huge rush between the stations.

“It was a disaster waiting to happen,” a local resident told broadcaster NDTV, saying that the station has been overcrowded and there have been multiple demands for more such bridges.

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal offered condolences and ordered a high-level probe into the tragedy.

“There were several inspections by railway officials and local politicians following the complaints, but nothing happened. There was a delay in addressing the problem,” Sawant admitted.

The tragedy has again put the spotlight on the criticism surrounding the country’s aging railway infrastructure.

Mumbai’s local railway system is the lifeline for the 20 million inhabitants of the metropolis and accidents are common on the busy network.

— dpa