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National

    Beyond the slick, Hollywood-style cinematics, the Islamic State is targeting Western recruits with videos suggesting they, too, can be heroes like Bruce Willis' character in 'Die Hard.'That's the conclusion of The Chicago Project on Security and Threats, which analyzed some 1,400 videos released by IS between 2013 and 2016. Researchers who watched and catalogued them all said there is more to the recruitment effort than just sophisticated videography, and it's not necessarily all about Islam.Instead, Robert Pape, who directs the security center, said the extremist group is targeting Westerners — especially recent Muslim converts — with videos that follow, nearly step-by-step, a screenwriter's standard blueprint for heroic storytelling.'It's the heroic screenplay journey, the same thing that's in Wonder Woman, where you have someone who is learning his or her own powers through the course of their reluctant journey to be hero,' Pape said.The project at the University of Chicago separately has assembled a database of people who have been indicted in the United States for activities related to IS. Thirty-six percent were recent converts to Islam and did not come from established Muslim communities, according to the project. Eighty-three percent watched IS videos, the project said.The group's success in using heroic storytelling is prompting copycats, Pape said. The research shows al-Qaida's Syria affiliate has been mimicking IS' heroic narrative approach in its own recruitment films. 'We have a pattern that's emerging,' Pape said.Intelligence and law enforcement officials aren't sure the approach is all that new. They say IS has been using any method that works to recruit Westerners. Other terrorism researchers think IS' message is still firmly rooted in religious extremism.Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks messaging by militant groups, agrees that IS makes strong, visual appeals resembling Hollywood movies and video games, making its media operation more successful than al-Qaida's. And IS videos can attract hero wannabes, she said.'However, these features of IS media are only assets to a core message it uses to recruit,' Katz said. 'At the foundation of IS recruitment propaganda is not so much the promise to be a Hollywood-esque hero, but a religious hero. There is a big difference between the two.'When a fighter sits in front of a camera and calls for attacks, Katz said, he will likely frame it as revenge for Muslims killed or oppressed somewhere in the world. The message is designed to depict any terror attack in that nation as justified and allow the attacker to die as a martyr, she said.The promise of religious martyrdom is powerful to anybody regardless of whether they are rich or poor, happy or unhappy, steeped in religion or not at all, she said.Pape said he knows he's challenging conventional wisdom when he says Westerners are being coaxed to join IS ranks not because of religious beliefs, but because of the group's message of personal empowerment and Western concepts of individualism.How else can one explain Western attackers' loose connections to Islam, or their scarce knowledge of IS's strict, conservative Sharia law, he asked. IS is embracing, not rejecting, Western culture and ideals, to mobilize Americans, he said.'This is a journey like Clint Eastwood,' Pape said, recalling Eastwood's 1970s performance in 'High Plains Drifter' about a stranger who doles out justice in a corrupt mining town. 'When Clint Eastwood goes in to save the town, he's not doing it because he loves them. He even has contempt for the people he's saving. He's saving it because he's superior,' Pape said.'That's Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard.' That's Wonder Woman. ... Hollywood has figured out that's what puts hundreds of millions in theater seats,' Pape said. 'IS has figured out that's how to get Westerners.'Pape said the narrative in the recruitment videos targeting westerners closely tracks Chris Vogler's 12-step guide titled 'The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.' The book is based on a narrative identified by scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama and other storytelling.Step No. 1 in Vogler's guide is portraying a character in his 'ordinary world.'An example is a March 25, 2016, video released by al-Qaida's Syria branch about a young British man with roots in the Indian community. It starts: 'Let us tell you the story of a real man... Abu Basir, as we knew him, came from central London. He was a graduate of law and a teacher by profession.'Vogler's ninth step is about how the hero survives death, emerging from battle to begin a transformation, sometimes with a prize.In the al-Qaida video, the Brit runs through sniper fire in battle. He then lays down his weapon and picks up a pen to start his new vocation blogging and posting Twitter messages for the cause.Matthew Levitt, a terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says it doesn't surprise him that IS would capitalize on what he dubs the 'zero to hero' strategy because the organization is very pragmatic and accepts recruits regardless of their commitment to Islamic extremism.Heroic aspirations are only one reason for joining the ranks of IS, he said. Criminals also seek the cover of IS to commit crimes. Others sign up because they want to belong to something.'I've never seen a case of radicalization that was 100 percent one way or the other,' Levitt said.
  • A Georgia mother whose toddler has been waiting for a kidney transplant his whole life was gifted a car on Tuesday -- hours before a kidney donor was found. >> Read more trending news  Carmellia Burgess brought her son home from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on Nov. 8, where he’d been since Oct. 29.  Burgess’s son, AJ, battled a potentially deadly infection, contracted pneumonia, had surgery to implant a new port for his dialysis treatments and received blood transfusions before he was released from the hospital, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. MORE: Toddler heads home from hospital to wait for kidney transplant But his mother didn’t have a car to get AJ to his hemodialysis appointments three times a week, she wrote on Facebook. That trouble ended Tuesday, when actor Tyler Perry gifted Burgess with a new car. The family later learned a deceased donor kidney would be given to AJ this week, attorney Mawuli Davis said.
  • A federal lawsuit set to go to trial next month marks the latest legal action brought against former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio over allegations that he pursued a trumped-up criminal case to get publicity and embarrass an adversary.The political opponent in this case: U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.One of Flake's sons filed a malicious-prosecution lawsuit, saying Arpaio pursued felony animal cruelty charges against him and his then-wife in a bid to do political damage to the senator and gain publicity.Austin Flake and his wife were charged in the heat-exhaustion deaths of 21 dogs in June 2014 at a kennel operated by his in-laws. The Flakes were watching the dogs when the in-laws were out of town.The dogs died when an air conditioning unit failed in a small room where the animals spent the night.The case against the Flakes was dismissed at the request of prosecutors, and the owners of the kennel pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges after an expert determined the air conditioner failed because the operators didn't properly maintain it.The lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial on Dec. 5, alleges that Arpaio was intent on linking the Flakes to the deaths, going so far as to conduct surveillance on the senator's home. The suit also says Arpaio's investigators examined phone records to see if the younger Flake called his father during the time he was watching the dogs.Lawyers for Austin Flake and his then-wife have said the senator disagreed with Arpaio over immigration and was critical of the movement questioning the authenticity of then-President Barack Obama's birth certificate.In a deposition, Arpaio didn't accept responsibility for bringing the charges against the couple and was unable to cite any evidence to support the allegations. But he still expressed confidence in his investigators.'I am going by what my detectives accomplished during their investigation,' Arpaio said during the July 2016 deposition. 'They had the nuts and bolts already. I defend my people. I have confidence in them. I don't have to know everything that's going on.'Arpaio and Jeffrey Leonard, an attorney representing Maricopa County and the former sheriff, declined to comment on the case.Stephen Montoya, an attorney for Austin Flake and his former wife, Logan Brown, said the sheriff's office didn't have evidence showing his clients intended to hurt the dogs, yet still charged them with crimes that devastated them and contributed to the demise of their marriage.'It splashed their names across the internet as the murderers of 21 dogs. It really ravaged them emotionally,' Montoya said, noting that Austin Flake was 21 and his wife was 20 at the time.A ruling in August by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake dismissed a defamation allegation from the lawsuit but determined investigators didn't have probable cause to charge the couple.'A factfinder could thus reasonably find that the prosecutors initially charged the Flakes based on pressure from Arpaio,' Wake wrote.The prosecutor who brought the allegations said in a court filing that she wasn't pressured by Arpaio's office to prosecute the couple and that the decision to present the case to a grand jury was made by her and her supervisors. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office isn't named as a party in the lawsuit.The lawsuit doesn't specify how much money the younger Flake and his ex-wife are seeking. But they previously sought $4 million in a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit.It isn't the first time Arpaio has been accused of trumping up charges in an animal cruelty case.He launched an investigation against a police officer from the Phoenix suburb of Chandler over a 2007 death of a police dog that was left in a hot vehicle for 12 hours in blistering summer heat.The officer was charged with animal abuse but eventually acquitted. He filed a lawsuit alleging Arpaio brought the criminal case so the sheriff could exploit the publicity.Taxpayers paid $775,000 to the officer to settle the case.___Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/jacques%20billeaud .
  • British police said they were responding to reports of an incident at the Oxford Circus subway station, one of London’s busiest, Friday evening. >> Read more trending news
  • A woman accused of mailing potentially deadly homemade bombs to then-President Barack Obama and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2016 was arrested, in part, due to cat hair, a cigarette box and an almost-destroyed shipping label bearing her address.Julia Poff, 46, mailed the devices in October 2016, along with a third package that she sent to the Social Security Administration, near Baltimore, according to an indictment. Of the three packages, only Abbott opened his. It did not detonate because 'he did not open it as designed,' court documents said.A grand jury indicted her this month on six counts, including mailing injurious articles and transporting explosives with the intent to kill and injure, according to documents filed this week in district court in Houston.Federal investigators said the improvised explosive device sent to Abbott contained a cellphone, a cigarette packet and a salad dressing cap, according to a court document from a Nov. 17 detention hearing. It says a similar device was sent to Obama and that 'the same' device was sent to the Social Security Administration.The device sent to Abbott came in a package still bearing an 'obliterated shipping label' addressed to Poff, the court document said. The cigarette box used in the device bore a Texas tobacco stamp that identifies the store where the cigarettes were bought. Poff's bank card records showed a purchase of cigarettes at that store. The two incendiary powders in the box matched materials found in Poff's home, federal court documents showed.Investigators traced Poff to the package sent to Obama because of cat hair found under an address label, according to the detention hearing court document. An FBI crime lab compared the hair to some from two of Poff's cats and found it 'microscopically consistent' with the hair of one of those animals, according to the court filing.At the hearing, a federal agent testified that Poff was angry with Abbott because she did not receive support from her ex-husband when Abbott served as Texas Attorney General, before he was elected governor in 2014. According to court documents, Poff's application for social security benefits was denied.The agent also testified that Poff said she just didn't like Obama.Katie Hill, a spokeswoman with the former president's private office, declined to comment Friday. A call by The Associated Press to Abbott's public affairs office in Austin was not returned.Poff is being held at the Houston federal detention center. Poff's attorney, Ashley Kaper, declined to comment except to say she had been unable to keep her client out of custody.A criminal background check shows Poff has a misdemeanor conviction for theft. She was also convicted for state felony fraud. In both cases, she was given probation.A pretrial conference in the case is scheduled for early next year.___Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed to this report from Chicago.___Sign up for the AP's weekly newsletter showcasing our best reporting from the Midwest and Texas: http://apne.ws/2u1RMfv
  • Members of Native American tribes from around New England gathered Thursday in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the town where the Pilgrims settled, for a solemn observance of National Day of Mourning. >> Read more trending news Thursday's gathering served to acknowledge and remember the disease, racism and oppression that European settlers brought. This year was the 48th year that the United American Indians of New England organized the event on Thanksgiving Day. Moonanum James, a co-leader of the group, said native people have no reason to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. 'We say, 'no thanks, no giving,'' he said. Along with prayers and public speeches, participants condemned environmental degradation and government restrictions on immigration. They also planned a 'stomp dance' to symbolically stomp out opioid addiction, which has ravaged many native communities.
  • The famous Atlanta Trap House is back for the holidays. >> Read more trending news Grammy-nominated artist 2 Chainz’s management agency, Street Execs, posted a video on its Facebook page on Thursday announcing the return of the house. Over the summer, the house, located on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta, was painted pink with the word “TRAP” above the door, and a pink car was placed out front. The stunt was intended to promote 2 Chainz’s new album, 'Pretty Girls Like Trap Music.'  Crowds of people showed up to see and take pictures at the house. It was painted back to its original white color in the summer after the lease ran out, but it appears it will soon make its return in holiday style. Street Execs held a grand opening of “Trap Wonderland” Thursday night at a new location -- 1740 Defoor Place. It’s unclear how long the new attraction will be active. Watch the teaser video below:
  • A Georgia man touched by a restaurant employee’s kindness has shared the message with the world. >> Read more trending news Dallas Smith Jr., of Sylvester, Georgia, was at Huddle House restaurant in Douglas, Georgia, on Wednesday around lunchtime, when he saw a customer trying to eat his pancakes, with one hand. Smith said the man who was dining with him moved his plate to reach out and help the customer, but then a cook stepped in. “She was on the other side of the counter and she saw that he was trying to cut his pancakes and she said, ‘I’ll get it,’” Smith said. Smith said the employee put down what she had and walked over to the table, which is when he had the thought to start recording a video with his phone. “It was kind of a warm feeling in there anyway because everyone knows everybody,” Smith said. “It threw me so far off-guard when she did it. For me, it was just a blessing to see.” Smith said he posted the video on Facebook to share what he had witnessed with his friends and family. Since then, nearly 3,000 people have shared it.  “This day and time, when you see that, it gives you hope,” he said. “I’m a Christian, and it’s the closest thing to Jesus I’ve seen in a long time.” Smith said a family dining beside him noted that the man is a veteran. He said that he is glad people are seeing the humble action the employee took, adding that we should help one another no matter race or age. 
  • Hunting guide Mike Clark normally has more than 20 clients lined up each fall for trips deep into Wyoming's western wilderness to shoot mule deer, prized by hunters for their size and impressive antlers.But unusually cold weather and heavy snowfall that blanketed much of the Western U.S. last winter killed off many young deer. And that prompted wildlife officials throughout the Rocky Mountain states to take measures such as reducing the number of hunting permits to try to help devastated wildlife populations rebound.Clark took only six mule deer hunters out in September and October who were lucky enough to get permits. He estimated that he lost 40 percent of his income as a result. If it wasn't for the hunters he was guiding this year to shoot elk that generally survived the brutal winter, Clark said, 'We'd pretty much be selling out.'In one remote part of Wyoming's backcountry where peaks soar to 11,000 feet (3,300 meters), state wildlife managers documented the loss of all fawns they had been monitoring in a mule deer herd.To help the herd recover, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission reduced the number of deer permits for out-of-state residents from 600 to 400 in the area where Clark operates, cut the hunting season to 22 days and limited hunters to killing older bucks.Officials won't know how effective their efforts will be until hunting season ends in January and hunters submit reports saying how many deer they killed.Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington state also imposed hunting limits to help isolated wildlife herds recover from the winter. Deer were hit hardest in most of those states, while Washington had severe losses among several of its elk herds.In southern and central Idaho, last winter's fawn survival rate was just 30 percent, prompting a reduction in deer hunting permits to help herds boost their numbers, said Mike Keckler, spokesman for the Idaho Fish and Game Department.'We're trying to bring them back up,' he said.And in Washington, the number of elk hunting permits was cut drastically in some parts of the state where elk died in droves, said Brock Hoenes, statewide elk specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.The area of Wyoming where Clark takes hunters is known as one of the best places in the world to hunt mule deer, state Game and Fish spokesman Renny MacKay said. He added that the decision to limit permits was difficult for state officials to make.Clark said his business will survive the downturn but that his future guiding hunters is uncertain if wildlife managers reduce the number of mule deer hunting permits for nonresidents again next year.'Otherwise, none of us are going to have any deer hunters,' he said.
  • Holiday bargains were scooped up at some stores before customers could buy them. Hopeful Black Friday shoppers in Indiana, Pennsylvania, told WPXI an online company allegedly took advantage of store bargains with plans to sell the discounted items at a profit. Customers were not happy about it. >> Read more trending news One shopper told WPXI a third-party company sent people into a local Walmart before the store's sale started, loaded up and then cashed out at 6 p.m. with all the sale toys and items. 'It's very frustrating because I saw a lot of young, hardworking people up here,' said Edmund Porta, who sent photos and videos of the alleged incident. 'I just think, at that point, Walmart should say, 'I'm sorry, we can’t let you buy all that stuff.' Like, you can only have five of each item,’ or something like that.' Walmart couldn't confirm what happened, but said it's looking into it.