Obama makes nostalgic trip to his Indonesia childhood home

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and his family arrived Friday in his childhood home of Jakarta on the last leg of a 10-day vacation in Indonesia, where they visited ancient temples and went whitewater rafting.

Local television news channels broadcast live coverage of the family’s arrival in the capital.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo later met Obama at the Bogor Palace in West Java. The grand Dutch colonial building about 55 kilometers (35 miles) south of Jakarta is famous for its botanical gardens and a herd of spotted deer that roam the grounds.

The two jumped into a golf cart with Jokowi at the wheel and headed off to a cafe nestled inside the lush gardens. Many Indonesians have drawn comparisons between Jokowi and Obama, who were both highly popular during their election campaigns.

After Obama became president, many here viewed him as a native son and saw him as a symbol of hope and religious tolerance because of his years living in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

A statue of the boy still remembered as “Barry” by childhood friends was erected outside the elementary school he once attended in the capital’s upscale, leafy neighborhood of Menteng.

“This is the last opportunity for us to meet with Barry, our childhood friend who has made us so proud,” said Widianto Cahyono, who sat next to Obama in the fourth grade and is hopeful the former president will visit his old neighborhood. “We have long waited for a reunion with him.”

Obama also retains a soft spot for Indonesia, where he lived from age 6 to 10. He moved to Jakarta in 1967 after his mother split up with his father and remarried an Indonesian man. They had his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is traveling with the family.

After her second marriage failed, Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, stayed on in Indonesia and Obama returned to Hawaii to live with his grandparents.

During a 2010 presidential visit, he delighted onlookers by proclaiming in Bahasa Indonesia that bakso, a savory meatball soup, and nasi goreng, flavorful fried rice, are delicious. They are two of the country’s signature dishes.

Prior to arriving in Jakarta, Obama, his wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia visited the resort island of Bali where they stayed in the tranquil mountain enclave of Ubud, touring sweeping terraced rice paddies and rafting the Ayung river. They then traveled to the island of Java to the historic city of Yogyakarta, where Obama’s mother did anthropology research. They visited Borobudur, a ninth century Buddhist temple complex, as well as the ancient Prambanan Hindu temple compound.

Obama is scheduled to speak at an Indonesian Diaspora Congress in Jakarta on Saturday.

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$10 Million Ponzi Scheme Involving Approximately 100 Investors

Mark Sellers allegedly ran a $10 million Ponzi scheme, from December 2007 through at least 2015, and involving about 100 investors through his firm, Selden Companies, LLC, according to the aforementioned Action presently being reviewed by attorneys Alan Rosca and James Booker.

Sellers then allegedly shot himself Tuesday morning Aug. 2 as FBI agents searched his home, according to reports from Kansas City.

Sellers allegedly made fraudulent misrepresentations to investors that he would implement the funds to buy companies and then turn them around to make a profit, the Action notes.

Sellers and his wife, however, allegedly spent almost all of the aforementioned invested funds to live a lavish lifestyle including life insurance policies, homes, jewelry, and credit card purchases which have allegedly been laundered through multiple bank accounts, the Action states.

Suspect identified in China kindergarten explosion; 8 killed

Police have identified a suspect in an explosion at the front gate of a kindergarten in eastern China that killed eight and struck as relatives gathered to pick up their children at the end of the day, local authorities said Friday.

Police were investigating the explosion as a criminal act and said they had “targeted” a suspect, according to a statement issued by authorities in the city of Xuzhou and the official Xinhua News Agency. It was unclear if the suspect was apprehended and no potential motive was provided. A witness cited by state media said a gas cylinder at a roadside food stall had caused the blast.

Two people died at the scene and six died after being taken to a hospital following the explosion at 4:50 p.m. Thursday at the Chuangxin Kindergarten in Fengxian.

Initial reports said 59 were injured, but Xinhua and other media reported Friday that 65 were injured including eight who remained in critical condition.

The blast occurred before school had let out for the day and no students or teachers from the kindergarten were injured, according to a statement from local authorities.

However, videos purportedly from the scene showed children — possibly relatives of the kindergartners or passers-by — among the casualties.

The videos posted by the state-run People’s Daily showed a chaotic scene outside the entrance to the school, with children and adults lying on the ground, some of them motionless and others struggling to get up off the ground. Clothing, shoes and other items were strewn on the ground beside pools of blood.

The videos showed ambulances arriving, medics wheeling people into an emergency room and medical personnel treating what appeared to be a child.

Kindergartens in China have been attacked before by suspects authorities have said were mentally ill or bore grudges against their neighbors and society.

A witness identified only by the surname Shi told the state-run Global Times in the hours after the explosion that a gas cylinder at a roadside food stall had caused the blast. The force of the blast sent people flying several meters (yards) into the air, Shi was quoted as saying.

In 2010, nearly 20 children were killed in attacks on schools, prompting a response from top government officials and leading many schools to beef up security by posting guards and installing gates and other barriers. Last year, a knife-wielding assailant injured seven students outside a primary school in a northern city.

China maintains tight control over firearms and most attacks are carried out using knives, axes or homemade explosives.

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At least 90 killed, Americans among wounded after bomb rips through Kabul

At least 90 people were killed and 400 injured today after a car bomb tore through central Kabul, striking at the heart of the Afghan capital’s highly secure diplomatic neighborhood, the Afghan government said.

An official with the U.S. Department of State confirmed to ABC News that 11 Americans working as contractors for the U.S. embassy in Kabul were among those wounded in the blast. Their injuries are said to be non-life-threatening, the official noted.

The car bomb appeared to have detonated near a busy intersection in the city’s Wazir Akbar Khan district, which is in close proximity to a number of foreign embassies and government buildings, including the presidential palace and the foreign ministry.

A security message from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the explosion happened near the German Embassy, which is also near the British, Canadian, Iranian, Turkish and Chinese embassies.

A statement to the Associated Press from the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs condemned “in the strongest terms the terrorist attack” that killed so many Afghan civilians.

“These heinous acts go against the values of humanity as well values of peaceful Afghans,” the interior ministry said in its statement. “These attacks also demonstrate the extreme level of atrocity by terrorists against innocent civilians.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the devastating blast. But the Afghan Taliban, which has previously claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in Kabul, issued a statement denying any involvement in today’s bombing.

ISIS is also active in the country and has previously utilized similar high-profile attacks on densely populated areas.

ABC News’ Aleem Agha, Conor Finnegan, Chad Murray and Marcus Wilford contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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US ignores evidence of atrocities by blacklisted Iraqi military unit

The U.S. military continues to work with a blacklisted Iraqi special forces unit despite overwhelming evidence that its officers have engaged in human rights abuses for at least two years.

In hours of footage captured by Iraqi photojournalist Ali Arkady, licensed by ABC News and broadcast on World News Tonight with David Muir and Nightline last week, officers of an elite Iraqi unit called the Emergency Response Division (E.R.D.) are shown directing the torture and execution of civilians in Mosul late last year. A U.S. military spokesman said that while an investigation of new evidence of atrocities committed by the E.R.D. is warranted, there is no legal reason the U.S. cannot continue to work with the unit.

The unit had already been blacklisted in March 2015 under the Leahy Act, which requires foreign military units to be banned from receiving U.S. military aid if there is “credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Top American commanders, however, have continued to praise the successes of the E.R.D. and boast of a “fruitful partnership” between the U.S. military and the unit, including coordinating airstrikes on ISIS.

“The photos are sickening. They clearly depict war crimes,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who authored the federal law 20 years ago, said in a statement to ABC News. “That they were brazenly lauded by the unit’s leader suggests that they were far from aberrations. It is my understanding that the United States no longer supports the Iraqi unit involved, but we should insist that the individuals responsible, and particularly the leaders, be prosecuted and appropriately punished. The fact that U.S. military personnel praised the Iraqi unit’s cooperation is deeply disturbing and requires further investigation by the Pentagon.”

A spokesperson for the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve in Baghdad said officials were not previously aware of the atrocities documented by Arkady, and the U.S. military has since contacted Iraqi officials to discuss the incidents exposed by ABC News. The spokesperson also defended, however, the U.S. military’s legal right to work with a unit deemed essential to the campaign to liberate Mosul.

“The Emergency Response Division was disqualified from receiving U.S. equipment and training in March 2015,” U.S. Army Col. Joe Scrocca, a spokesperson for the coalition, told ABC News. “Leahy vetting does not prevent the U.S. from working with the E.R.D., as we do with other elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, to help ensure a coordinated effort among different elements of the ISF in the fight to defeat ISIS in Mosul.”

A top adviser to Sen. Leahy, however, disagreed, questioning whether the military is adhering to the spirit of the law, given the credible evidence of human rights violations committed by E.R.D. soldiers.

“If we are providing advice or coordinating airstrikes, clearly we are assisting the actions of that unit,” Tim Rieser, senior foreign policy aide to Leahy, told ABC News on Tuesday. “One of Senator Leahy’s purposes in writing the law was to prevent the U.S. from being associated with or implicated in the actions of those who the law is intended to address.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East executive director at Human Rights Watch, who has worked in Iraq since 1991, agrees.

“The U.S. government is playing a clunky shell game, pretending to move its assistance away from abusive Iraqi units like the E.R.D., while still working with them, training them and coordinating with them,” Whitson said. “The bottom line is that the U.S. is dangerously close to complicity in the disgusting torture and violence these forces are perpetrating on Iraqi citizens, and in reality, ensuring that the fight in Iraq will not be ending any time soon.”

At a Pentagon press briefing in January, U.S. Army Col. Brett Sylvia, then the commander of Task Force Strike in Baghdad, told reporters that American officers had recently advised the E.R.D. and called them “a very effective fighting force.”

This month, even as officers at Operation Inherent Resolve were responding to questions raised by ABC News in its investigation of Arkady’s footage, a top U.S. commander in Iraq tweeted praise for the Emergency Response Division.

“Watch the #Iraqi ERD send a message to #ISIS on #saturdaymorning in Western #Mosul,” tweeted U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin on May 13, with a link to a battlefield video on the E.R.D.’s official Facebook page showing the Iraqi troops in combat.

Despite the ban, the E.R.D. was also included in the latest request to Congress for millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for the Iraq Train and Equip Fund in March. Scrocca claims that request was merely designed “to keep options open in the event E.R.D. … overcame Leahy vetting issues.”

“Requesting funding for such a unit, when there’s been no action to hold people accountable, sends the wrong message,” Rieser countered.

Whether the soldiers themselves will be held accountable for their actions remains unclear.

According to an E.R.D. officer, the U.S. military convened a meeting earlier this month with the E.R.D. soldiers who were to be named in the ABC News report. Scrocca confirmed that several such meetings took place with Iraqi officials, including representatives from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office.

Iraq’s Ministry of Interior said last week it “ordered the formation of an investigation committee” to look into the reports and “encouraged the investigators to conduct an honest and clear investigation.”

Iraqi officials told ABC News they have recalled all the officers implicated in the investigation from the field and dispatched a team of medics and social workers to the neighborhoods to interview victims’ families.

Though he had already confirmed much of ABC News’ reporting in an extraordinary on-camera interview, E.R.D. Capt. Omar Nazar attempted to refute some of the allegations in a 10-minute video posted to YouTube last week. Dressed in civilian clothes, Nazar asked a man who was shown being tortured in the footage about being abused by an E.R.D. intelligence team led by a different officer.

“You guys took me for interrogation, just interrogation, and you roughed me up. I don’t have any health issues, it was just an interrogation, I wasn’t hurt badly,” the man says, with Nazar at his side. “My sons joined ISIS. One of them blew himself up, the other turned himself in, that was their choice. They took their own path, but I don’t have any problem with you guys. My life has been much better since the liberation.”

Several experts told ABC News that the sectarian violence against Sunni Muslim civilians in Mosul depicted in Arkady’s videos is a major reason why ISIS captured Mosul so easily in 2014, so U.S. support for the E.R.D. —  which has ties to Iran’s espionage service, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the strongest U.S. adversary in the region — might be counterproductive.

“Partnering with clearly sectarian forces backed by a radical and often sectarian state like the Islamic Republic of Iran, only helps fuel Anti-American extremism,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on the militias and Iran at the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, “and gives more reason for distrust, if not hatred for the U.S. within some Sunni communities.”

Ali Khedery, the longest-serving U.S. diplomat in Baghdad who also advised three commanders of U.S. Central Command, told ABC News that the U.S. is just supporting one bad actor instead of another.

“It is strategic folly,” Khedery said, “for the U.S. to attempt to defeat ISIS — a terrorist group — by backing another band of terrorists.”

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