ASPEN, Colo. — In June the U.S. military began moving equipment and hundreds of troops back to a military base in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. deserted more than 15 years ago, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the deployment.
Over the coming weeks the deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base, intended to counter the threat from Iran, will grow to include fighter jets and Patriot long-range missile defense systems, the officials said. The Patriots have already arrived at the base and should be operational in mid-July, while the aircraft are expected to arrive in August.
Several hundred U.S. service members are already on site preparing the facility south of Riyadh, which is controlled by the Royal Saudi Air Force, a number that will grown to more than 500 after the arrival of an air squadron.
The officials said the deployment focuses on defensive capabilities, with Patriot batteries for missile defense and the fighter jets intended to defend U.S. forces on the ground. But they acknowledged the aircraft could be used offensively as well.
The U.S. announced this increase of forces in the region in June, but did not say where the troops and equipment would be based.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the deployment to Prince Sultan air base. “U.S. Central Command continually works to manage our force posture in the region and will continue to do this in cooperation with our partners and allies in the region,” said Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Earl Brown on Thursday.
The U.S. military deployed troops and equipment to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War, and U.S. aircraft based in the Kingdom were later used to enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq.
After the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing killed 19 U.S. airmen and injured 400 others, the U.S. military moved most aircraft and service members in Saudi Arabia to Prince Sultan Air Base, where they remained until the U.S. began Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. In April 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Saudi defense minister decided to withdraw all U.S. troops from the base and turn it back over to the Saudi government.
While Prince Sultan Air Base is an active facility, portions of the base will need an upgrade to accommodate the U.S. military, including reinforcing and expanding roads and runways, one U.S. official said. Base housing will also need updating, the official said, and the U.S. will build a medical facility. Many of the U.S. service members deployed there over the past few weeks are engineers preparing the base for the new mission.
This new deployment provides the U.S. military with another location in the region to counter a possible threat from Iran. The U.S. official said the base provides the U.S. with “strategic standoff” and “defensive depth” with Iran, meaning the ability to counter Iran from a distance while not being in range of Iranian missiles.
The officials described this deployment as expeditionary rather than permanent basing, with the new presence remaining there as long as tensions remain high with Iran.
The officials said Saudi Arabia has already agreed to pay some of the costs associated with having U.S. personnel and assets there.
U.S. elected officials and presidential candidates joined the calls Friday for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign as activists planned another protest against the embattled leader.
Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have taken to the streets over the last several days, urging Rosselló to step down after corruption investigations and 889 pages of a private chat between him and some of his officials and close associates were leaked.
Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress, Rep. Jenniffer González-Colon, posted an open letter demanding Rosselló’s resignation and that he then aids a peaceful transition of power amid the growing unrest on the island.
“His leadership has been questioned to direct the destinations of the island, as well as our recovery after the hurricane,” González-Colon wrote on Facebook. “When that happens the government, the state, loses strength in its credibility and its legitimacy.”
She said stability is needed as Puerto Rico tries to rebuild after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.
“We have to put Puerto Rico first over all other considerations,” she wrote.
Sen. Rick Scott, a former governor of Florida, said Friday that he has “long advocated for the families of Puerto Rico.” Scott, a Republican, said in a series of tweets in both English and Spanish that he agreed with González-Colon that the island deserves new leadership.
“While I’ve been hesitant to weigh in too heavily on the internal political affairs of the island, it’s clear that the current leadership has lost the confidence of the people of PR,” Scott said. “The island deserves new leadership. I agree with my friend Jenniffer Gonzalez; Governor Rossello should resign.”
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, also joined the growing chorus Friday.
“I’ve been standing with the people of Puerto Rico in their protests against corruption and their governor’s behavior,” Warren said. “The people have spoken—loud and clear: @ricardorossello should resign.”
Another Democratic presidential candidate, Julián Castro, weighed in during a campaign event in New Hampshire, saying Rosselló can no longer be an effective governor.
“We’ve seen comments he and others in his administration have made, we’ve seen them using force against the people of Puerto Rico,” Castro said. “This governor can no longer be effective, and I believe that he should resign.”
Protesters have demonstrated in the streets of Old San Juan for six days after the Rosselló chat leak that included profanity-laced, misogynistic and homophobic comments, as well as barbed and cynical remarks about a variety of topics, including the deaths following Hurricane Maria.
Other officials in the chat who were still in the administration have submitted their resignations.
Rosselló said the messages were private remarks made as a way to blow off steam after long days. But top island officials, including members of his own party, have been highly critical and gave the governor a deadline to “reflect” and prove he should stay in office
High-profile starts like Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny and Lin-Manuel Miranda have participated in protests and joined the chants of “Ricky, renuncia!” (“Ricky, resign!”). Martin tweeted a video Friday inviting people to join a protest Monday morning.
A 32-year-old former New York Giants offensive lineman and Super Bowl winner died of heat stroke after working outside in triple-digit temperatures in his native Arkansas, officials said Friday.
Mitch Petrus, who played three seasons in the NFL, was pronounced dead at 10:45 p.m. Thursday at Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock, Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs told NBC News.
The high temperature in Little Rock on Thursday was 92 degrees, with a heat index of 103 degrees, as the city like much of the nation is struggling through a brutal — and now deadly — heat wave.
“He was working at his family shop, outside … and suffered heat stroke,” Hobbs said. “He was drinking water but not enough electrolytes.”
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The 6-foot-2, 350-pound Petrus did not appear to have any serious pre-existing medical condition that contributed to his heat-stroke death, according to Hobbs.
Heat stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition characterized by symptoms that include a body temperature higher than 103 degrees Farenheit; red, hot and dry skin with no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; and a throbbing headache.
The Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department received a call for a medical emergency at the family’s towing business, X-Hog Wrecker and Roadside, at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, authorities said.
Petrus graduated from the University of Arkansas in December 2009 with a degree in agricultural business.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mitch Petrus,” according to a statement from the University of Arkansas. “He was an outstanding competitor, incredible teammate and a true Hog. He will be greatly missed by many. Rest easy Mitch.”
Chris Mortenson, who covers pro football for ESPN, said his family was close to the former player.
“We are grieving the loss of Mitch Petrus, a close friend of our family, especially my son Alex,” Mortenson tweeted.
Hobbs, a native of Carlisle, Arkansas, was an all-Southeastern Conference performer for the Razorbacks and blocked for future NFL running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
“He’s a joy to be around, he’d put a smile on anybody’s face, brighten up any room he walks into,” McFadden told KARK, an NBC affiliate in Little Rock. “He’s going to missed a whole lot. It’s really tough. It’s really hard to swallow that news.”
He played in the Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots on Feb. 5, 2012.
After his NFL career ended, he went home to central Arkansas, where he got involved in local politics and the high school football community.
He worked was chief of staff to state Sen. Jonathan Dismang in the 2018 legislative session.
“Mitch was bigger than life in every possible way,” DIsmang said in a statement on Friday. “I’ve never known anyone with more contagious energy, positive enthusiasm, or a purer outlook. And that’s still an understatement. Going to miss you, buddy.”
For the past four autumns, he worked under the Friday night lights as a high school football analyst for local Fox affiliate KLRT and its show “Fearless Friday.”
KLRT sports director Wess Moore said coaches constantly asked him to send Petrus to cover their games because they appreciated his relentlessly upbeat demeanor.
“He was a great personality, a great person,” Moore told his station on Friday. “He was just larger than life.”
A public memorial service for Petrus has been scheduled for Sunday at Carlisle High School in the gymnasium.
An increasing number of women are using cannabis before becoming pregnant, as well as early in the pregnancy, according to a new study published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The findings, from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, are based on reports from 276,991 women living in California before recreational marijuana was legalized in that state. The women were asked about their cannabis use at their first prenatal visit.
The data showed that prevalence of women who reported using marijuana during the year before pregnancy grew from 6.8 percent in 2009 to 12.5 percent in 2017.
The number of women who said they used marijuana while pregnant was much smaller; however, that prevalence also increased from 1.9 percent in 2009 to 3.4 percent in 2017.
But there’s no evidence that cannabis is safe for pregnant women.
“No amount of cannabis use has been shown to be safe during pregnancy,” said Kelly Young-Wolff, lead author of the new report and a research scientist with Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “We do know that cannabis crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus.”
The study did not address why women had been using cannabis, though there has been anecdotal evidence some women may turn to marijuana to help ease the stress and nausea associated with morning sickness.
The researchers also found that the rates of women who said they were daily users of cannabis also increased, accounting for about 20 percent of the women who used marijuana while pregnant in 2017. That’s a rise from 15 percent of women who reported using cannabis daily while pregnant in 2009.
Young-Wolff told NBC News that more frequent use during pregnancy may be associated with worse health risks for the babies.
“There is substantial evidence that cannabis use in pregnancy is associated with lower offspring birth weight,” she said.
It’s unclear whether the women were smoking marijuana, eating food that contained cannabis, or using the drug in other ways.
“There is reason to think that perhaps the risks vary depending on how women are using, and there’s been an increase in alternative forms of cannabis consumption in recent years, like vaping and edibles,” Young-Wolff said. It’s a topic she plans to address in future studies.
The current study only looked at women in California, but a separate nationally representative survey released in June found 7 percent of pregnant women said they’d used marijuana in 2016-2017, compared with about 3 percent in 2002.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly discourages the use of cannabis by pregnant women because of concerns that it will affect the neurodevelopment of the fetus.
In a statement, the group wrote, “obstetrician–gynecologists should be discouraged from prescribing or suggesting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes during preconception, pregnancy, and lactation. Pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy for which there are better pregnancy-specific safety data.”
To be fair, the new data reflect just a snapshot of the true prevalence of marijuana use during pregnancy. It’s impossible to say whether women in the current study continued to use marijuana throughout their pregnancy, as they were asked about cannabis use at their first prenatal visit. That usually occurs between eight and 10 weeks gestation, and the women may have been using cannabis before they were aware they were pregnant.
But that’s why Young-Wolff said it’s important doctors talk with women about the potential for harms associated with cannabis long before they become pregnant. The vast majority of women who reported using cannabis while pregnant — 96 percent — said they’d also used in the year prior to pregnancy.
She said the findings represent “an important opportunity for women’s health clinicians to provide education about the potential harms with cannabis use during pregnancy to all women of reproductive age, and particularly those who are trying to get pregnant.”
TEHRAN — A British oil tanker was seized and being guided toward Iran in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday by Iranian forces, according to a U.S. official.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said in a statement that the tanker was seized for “violating international regulations.”
“On Friday a British tanker by the name of Stena Impero while passing through the Strait of (Hormuz) was seized by the IRGC due to violating international regulations,” the Guard said in a statement. “After it was seized it was transferred to Iranian shores to undergo legal procedure.”
The tanker’s owner, Stena Bulk, and Northern Marine Management, confirmed in a statement the vessel was moving toward Iran. There were no reported injuries among the 23 people aboard.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have intensified in recent weeks after U.S. officials accused the Middle Eastern nation of a “blatant assault” on two burning tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June. Iranian officials denied any involvement in the attack on the tankers.
The National Security Council spokesperson, Garrett Marquis, said in a statement Friday that it was aware of the Stena Impero’s seizure.
“This is the second time in just over a week the U.K. has been the target of escalatory violence by the Iranian regime,” Marquis said. “The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior.”
The British tanker’s seizure comes just a day after the Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and accused 12 crew members of smuggling oil. Senior U.S. officials also said that U.S. Marines jammed an Iranian drone in the Gulf of Hormuz on Thursday, bringing it down and destroying it.
The Guard said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone last month. Iranian officials said they shot down the unmanned aircraft after it entered Iranian airspace, but the United States has disputed that and said it was in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz.
U.S. and British officials accused several Iranian boats of attempting to impede a British commercial vessel sailing through the Strait of Hormuz on July 10, though Iranian officials denied any encounters with the boat.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC Nightly News’ Lester Holt on Monday that the door is “wide open” to diplomacy if President Donald Trump removes the array of sanctions he has imposed since 2017 that have slashed the country’s oil exports and damaged its economy.
“Once those sanctions are lifted, then … the room for negotiation is wide open,” Zarif said during a visit to New York for a United Nations conference.
Zarif said he did not think the two countries were on the verge of war, saying neither his government nor Trump were seeking armed conflict.
“I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe that people are around him who wouldn’t mind,” Zarif said.
Arouzi reported from Tehran, Kube from Aspen, Colo., and Madani from New York.
A 21-year-old Ohio woman accused of intentionally driving the wrong way in traffic on St. Patrick’s Day — crashing into and killing a family of three — was indicted on murder charges Thursday, officials said.
A grand jury indicted Abby Marie Michaels of Xenia with six counts of murder and a count of operating a vehicle while under the influence in connection with the March 17, 2019, crash on Interstate 75 in Moraine that left a couple and their daughter dead, according to a statement from Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr.
Michaels was traveling home from a bar in Miamisburg when she slammed her Kia Forte head-on into a Toyota Camry, Heck said. When police arrived, the damage to both cars was “catastrophic,” and there “was widespread debris across all three lanes of highway,” Heck’s statement said.
The people in the Toyota, Timmy Thompson, his wife, Karen, and their daughter, Tessa, 10, were returning home from vacation. “All lost their lives as a result of this defendant’s deliberate and outrageous actions,” Heck said.
Witnesses told police that Michaels didn’t attempt to slow her car but rather accelerated before hitting the Camry.
“Evidence showed this defendant knew what she was doing and what she wanted to accomplish,” he said during a news conference Thursday. “Unfortunately, what she accomplished was wiping out and murdering this family.”
Heck said Michaels was upset and had told someone about her plans to drive into traffic.
Court records show that Michaels’ husband had filed for divorce two days prior to the crash, according to NBC affiliate WDSU.
“This was an intentional act of driving into traffic the wrong way — that’s what makes this so outrageous,” Heck said. He said it’s unclear whether her intentions were suicidal or murderous or both.
While Michaels was under the influence of alcohol, Heck said inebriation was not a “contributing factor” in the crash. He said inebriated drivers who kill someone are charged with involuntary manslaughter or aggravated vehicular homicide, but “this was a murder that occurred here.”
The prosecutor’s office presented two murder charges per victim to the grand jury, which determined six counts of murder were appropriate, Montgomery County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Amos said.
It is unclear if Michaels has a lawyer. She is being held at the Montgomery County Jail awaiting her Tuesday arraignment, according to jail records.
Heck said prosecutors would seek a bond of at least $1 million. Michaels faces life in prison if convicted.
A 77-year-old murderer — back on the streets because he was deemed too old to kill again — was convicted this week of fatally stabbing a Maine woman while her twin children watched.
It took less than an hour for jurors in Auburn to find Albert Flick guilty of murdering Kimberly Dobbie, 48, outside a Lewiston laundromat on July 15, 2018.
Her twin 11-year-old sons were nearby and security cameras captured the moments they ran to their mother as she was being killed.
“I’m glad the verdict is done and over and I’m glad he’ll never be able to walk the streets again,” Dobbie’s friend James Lipps told reporters outside the court Wednesday.
Assistant Attorney General Bud Ellis said he’ll ask a judge to make sure Flick doesn’t see the light of day again.
The prosecutor told NBC affiliate WCSH in Portland that he was particularly saddened knowing that Dobbie’s children will never be able to shake the impact of their mom’s murder. The boys are now living with a grandmother in Massachusetts.
“What happened to these children is just horrific,” Ellis said. “I know there is family involvement, services and we’re hoping for the best.”
This wasn’t the first time Flick has violently attacked a woman.
Back in 1979, he killed his wife, Sandra, in shockingly similar circumstances, stabbing her to death while the woman’s young daughter was nearby. He was convicted of murder and served 25 years behind bars.
After his release in 2004, Flick was convicted of assaulting two other women in 2010. A judge sentenced Flick to almost four years behind bars — resisting recommendations of prosecutors and probation officials to give him eight or nine years, believing the man would be too old to commit any more violent acts.
“At some point, Mr. Flick is going to age out of his capacity to engage in this conduct, and incarcerating him beyond the time that he ages out doesn’t seem to me to make good sense from a criminological or fiscal perspective,” Maine Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley said at the time.
Crowley is retired from the bench and now works as a mediator through a Portland law firm. He did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment Friday.
After Flick’s release in 2014, he moved to Lewiston. Prosecutors said he was infatuated with Dobbie and followed her around town and even ate at the homeless shelter where she was staying. The killer and his victim, witnesses testified, were not in a relationship.
Dobbie was stabbed 14 times and the wounds penetrated her heart and a lung, a state medical examiner testified.
Flick’s sentencing is set for Aug. 9 and he could get anywhere from 25 years to life behind bars.
Associated Press contributed.
The man charged with the killing and rape of a prominent American scientist who was in Greece for a conference has been identified.
Yiannis Paraskaki, 27, of Crete, was identified by Greek authorities on Thursday. Police say he confessed to the crimes after police questioning earlier in the week.
Eaton, 59, a molecular biologist, was in Crete for a conference and is believed to have gone for a walk or jog around midday on July 2. She never returned.
A massive search to find her was launched on Crete, Greece’s largest island and a popular tourist destination, with search dogs, fire service rescuers, specialized sea equipment, and volunteers. Eaton’s husband and two sons traveled to the island to help look for her, and family and friends raised tens of thousands of dollars to aid the search effort, which lasted six days.
Her body was found on July 8 in the ventilation drain of an abandoned World War II bunker outside the port city of Chania, Crete.
When Greek police brought in Paraskaki for questioning, he admitted to raping and murdering Eaton, saying he was “motivated by sexual satisfaction.”
He said he deliberately hit Eaton twice with his car, put her in his trunk, and abducted her. After assaulting and killing her, he dumped her body and tried to scrub his vehicle of evidence, authorities said.
An autopsy showed the Eaton died from suffocation and had multiple broken bones in her ribs and face, and injuries to her hands.
She worked at the Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany, which described her as a leading scientist in her field and mourned her death in a statement. She was attending an conference at the the Orthodox Academy of Crete.
“Suzanne was an outstanding and inspiring scientist, a loving spouse and mother, an athlete as well as a truly wonderful person beloved to us all,” the institute said. “Her loss is unbearable.”
A man was caught on video scaling down the side of a Philadelphia high-rise during a fire Thursday night.
The harrowing video shows the man climb from one of the higher floors of the 19-floor building on Holden Street. He scaled about 15 stories, about 200 feet, in a little less than three minutes, according to NBC Philadelphia.
When he reaches scaffolding on the first floor he hops onto the top of it, climbs down the side and walks away, past emergency responders.
Philadelphia Chief Inspector Scott Small said the man descended the side of the building using chain-link fences that enclose balconies.
All residents of about 100 units were evacuated and waited in air-conditioned buses as police officers and firefighters worked to clear the air inside the building.
The Philadelphia Fire Department determined that the blaze began as a trash fire, and smoke traveled to higher floors through a garbage chute.
Four people who were in the building and three police officers, who were running up and down stairs to rescue people, suffered from smoke and heat exhaustion and were hospitalized, Small said.
All seven are expected to recover, and the hundreds of residents were allowed back into the building later Thursday night.
Rapper A$AP Rocky is facing another six days in a Swedish prison while police finish their investigation into a fight in downtown Stockholm, prosecutors announced on Friday.
Rocky, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, was detained on “probable grounds for serious assault” on July 3. Stockholm’s District Court granted prosecutor Daniel Suneson’s request that Rocky will continue to be held in pre-trial detention until July 25, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
The announcement followed calls from reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, British singer Rod Stewart and many other prominent figures that Sweden free the 30-year-old American rapper.
The ruling didn’t come as a surprise, said Rocky’s lawyer Slobodan Jovicic, but it was “disappointing.”
“I think it’s very unjust,” he told reporters following the hearing. “He is very tainted (by) this.”
The two-time Grammy nominee was arrested with three other people a day after headlining the Smash x Stadion hip-hop festival in the Swedish capital.
Rocky and members of his entourage were alleged to have been involved in a brawl on June 30 in which authorities said a person was beaten and cut with broken bottles. He has denied the assault accusation.
Before his arrest, videos posted to Rocky’s Instagram account shows that he and members of his entourage were arguing with two men on the street, telling the men to stop following them.
One bodyguard was released without charge soon after Rocky and two of his associates were arrested. But a judge extended the detention of Rocky on Friday after ruling that he was a flight risk.
Jovicic maintained that Rocky and his associates were acting in self-defense after being provoked by the other men on the street.
“They begged and pleaded to be left alone,” he said.
He said that designating Rocky as a flight risk was “unreasonable” because he is a well-known celebrity, and while he must travel for work, he is determined to prove his innocence.
Even if Rocky were guilty, his continued detention and financial losses are “disproportional” punishment to the crime he is being accused of, Jovicic added.
In a Twitter post on Thursday, Kardashian West thanked President Donald Trump and senior members of his administration for trying to get Rocky released.
NBC News has not confirmed Kardashian West’s claims about the Trump administration’s role in the case.
The rapper has had to cancel several shows in his European tour while he remains in custody. He is due back in court on July 25.