Police divers search San Bernardino lake

The investigation of the December 2 shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, has taken a new turn with divers searching a small lake near the scene of the massacre.

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On Thursday, a team of divers from the FBI and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department began searching the waters of Seccombe Lake Park, about 4km north of the Inland Regional Center, seeking additional clues in the mass shooting.

The search of the lake, which could last for days, stemmed from an unspecified lead “indicating that the subjects came into this area” on the day of the attack, said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.

“We put a dive team into the lake as a logical part of that lead.”

Bowdich said he would not discuss the “specific evidence we’re looking for” but said it was essentially “anything that had to do with this particular crime”.

He added: “We may come up with nothing.”

CNN reported they sought a computer hard drive that belonged to the couple.

Meanwhile, US government sources say Islamic militant groups ignored contact attempts from Pakistan-born Tashfeen Malik in the months before she and her husband killed 14 people at a California holiday party, probably because they feared getting caught in a US law enforcement sting.

The number of organisations that Malik, 29, tried to contact and how she sought to reach them were unclear, but the groups almost certainly included al-Qaeda’s Syria-based official affiliate, the Nusrah Front, government sources said.

One source said investigators have little, if any, evidence that Malik or her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, had any direct contact with Islamic State, which has seized control of large swathes of Syria and Iraq, and claimed responsibility for assaults in Paris last month that left 130 people dead.

FBI director James Comey has said Malik and Farook declared at about the time of their attack that they were acting on behalf of IS, which in turn has embraced the couple as among its followers.

But US government sources have said there was no evidence that the IS even knew of the couple before the killings.

Militant groups sought out by Malik likely ignored her approaches because they have become extremely wary of responding to outsiders they do not know or who have not been introduced to them, sources said.

The husband and wife were killed in a shootout with police hours after they opened fire with assault rifles at a holiday gathering of Farook’s co-workers.

Fourteen people were killed, and the number of wounded was raised to 22 on Thursday from 21 after a woman injured in the assault came forward, officials said.

The attack by Farook, the US-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and Malik, a Pakistani native he married in Saudi Arabia last year, has heightened security concerns in the US.

Comey, along with US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and John Mulligan, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, briefed members of both houses of congress on Thursday about the investigation in closed, classified sessions.

“The current impression is that these two people were acting alone,” US senator Angus King of Maine told CNN after the briefing.

NSW family weeps as 15yo’s bail bid fails

A 15-year-old terrorism suspect accused of boasting he would reach “paradise” by using a firearm has been refused bail in a Sydney court.

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The boy’s distraught family broke down in the Parramatta Children’s Court on Friday when the shoeless boy was led away into custody, vowing to fight for his release.

The Sydney teen is accused of exchanging hundreds of calls and texts in 2014 with a group of men allegedly plotting terror attacks on key government buildings including federal police headquarters.

His defence team argued the boy was mentally unwell and the court heard he had been left horrified, fearful and paranoid by three raids on his house.

Magistrate Elizabeth Ryan said she held concerns the boy would commit an extremely serious offence endangering others if released on bail.

“There is no doubt that if this risk should materialise the consequences for public safety would be extremely serious,” she said.

“I reluctantly come to the view that bail must be refused.”

Outside court, defence lawyer Charles Waterstreet said his client would appeal the decision.

“We’re very disappointed and we have good reason to believe we’ll be successful on bail,” he said.

“It’s not a very comforting society if the price of our safety is to lock up kids that we don’t think we can protect from doing things by almost punishing them for inconsiderable times.”

The 15-year-old’s case has been adjourned until February 5.

One of his co-accused, 20-year-old Ibrahim Ghazzawy, will also remain in custody until his next court appearance after not applying for bail in Campbelltown Local Court on Friday.

Ghazzawy, from Raby, did not appear in court, instead remaining in court cells while his lawyer Muhammmad Tehseldar requested his case be adjourned to the new year.

Ghazzawy is expected to face court by videolink on January 20.

Police have kept both Ghazzawy and the boy under surveillance for at least 18 months and allege that in one 2014 text the boy used the word “banana” as a code word for “firearm”.

“I am going to get to paradise through banana. God is great, no God but Allah,” the text read.

He also spoke of his uncle’s “banana” licence and spoke of going to check out some “bananas”, the court heard.

Court documents reveal the group of accused terror conspirators allegedly used “party” as code for meeting or terrorist attack and “wedding date” for the date of the attack.

Members of the group are accused of gathering firearms and ammunition in preparation for the attacks.

Police raided the accused’s house in December 2014 and allegedly seized photos of the boy brandishing a firearm, as well as photos saved to his phone of beheadings and Islamic extremists.

Study reveals Chinese medicines contain Viagra, rat poison and endangered animals

A study of 26 widely-available traditional Chinese medicines has found 90 per cent were not safe for human consumption because of undeclared illegal and dangerous substances.

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Australian researchers at Curtin University, Murdoch University and the University of Adelaide used DNA sequencing, toxicology and heavy metal testing to screen the composition of 26 traditional Chinese medicines sold as flu and general wellness treatments, purchased from the Adelaide Markets.

The brands of medicines were not disclosed, but researchers said those tested were easily found in markets and retailers around Australia.

The results, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, found 92 per cent of the medicines tested contained at least one or more substances not listed on the label. Sixty per cent of the medicines contained more than one undeclared substance.

The unlisted substances included over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol, steroids, illegal stimulants like ephedrine and even the active ingredient found in Viagra, sildenafil.

Of the 26 medicines, 12 were listed by the regulatory authority, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The remaining 14 had no listing and should not have been sold commercially.

DNA from endangered species detected

Some of the unlisted substances were DNA from plants and endangered animals such as the snow leopard and tigers. DNA from the pit viper and frogs were also found to have been deliberately added, researchers say.

Traces of DNA from the rat, cat and dog were also found in small quantities that could be from contamination during the manufacturing process.

Toxic heavy metals found in half of the medicines

More than half the medicines contained significant levels of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and cadmium. Four out of 26 contained a dosage of heavy metals over 10 times the regulatory limit set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia.

One of the medicines tested contained a substance used as rat poison and in low dosages as a performance-enhancing drug, strychnine.

Banned pharmaceuticals found

Illegal substances such as ephedrine were found in some of the medicines. Blood thinner warfarin, which should be taken under medical supervised to avoid the potential for harm, was detected.

Researchers said they were concerned that undeclared pharmaceutical substances, such as antibiotics and antihistamines, were often “tailored” to achieve a desired outcome such as weight gain by pushing the single dosage of a pharmaceutical substance above the recommended safe dose.

“Such findings are not only of concern to the consumer, but also flag the need for detailed auditing of herbal preparations prior to evaluation in clinical trials,” the study said.

Deliberately added?

The study said it was difficult to make a definitive statement on whether the unlisted substances were deliberately added or were merely by-products from contaminated soil.

But researchers said an examination of the pattern of materials suggests some substances were deliberately added. The research paper points to the example of a medicine which had ephedrine without any plant DNA.

Authors of the study recommended consumers should look for an Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) label, but said the label was not a complete guarantee of safety.

‘Light touch’ regulation criticised

The study’s authors criticised the regulation process, saying more stringent auditing and accountability were needed.

The TGA requires manufacturers of complementary medicines, which are classified as containing low-risk ingredients, to self-declare the list of substances contained in the product.

Authors said some manufacturers of traditional Chinese medicines were exploiting this system of self-reporting.

“To assess the effectiveness of this regulatory system, an accurate post-market auditing strategy of herbal medicines is required, a sentiment endorsed in World Health Organisation strategy reports,” the study said.

In a statement, the TGA said it has taken regulatory action with only four of the reported medicines remaining on its register.

It said has investigated reported cases of illegal supply and issued warnings.

The TGA said it also advises consumers to choose products that are listed by them and subject to TGA scrutiny.

Researchers say they plan to test up to 300 widely-available traditional Chinese medicines as part of the next phase of the project.

Contamination is isolated: Chinese Medicine Society

The Federation of Chinese Medicine Society of Australia said the study provides no cause for concern, saying contamination would not be widespread in Australia.

The society’s president, Professor Lin Tzi Chiang, acknowledged that some manufacturers might not be complying with standards set by the TGA, but said by and large most manufacturers would be doing the right thing.

“Unfortunately for sure, there might be one or two products that it might happen like that, but it cannot be blamed on the whole profession,” he told SBS World News. 

He warned against over-regulation of traditional Chinese medicines, saying it would place an unfair burden on the industry and profession.

Boxing Priest’s fight for peace in Syria

Father Dave Smith is a priest who knows how to pack a punch.

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Known as Fighting Father Dave, the 53-year-old priest has long tried to help troubled youths through his boxing.

“Kids who come in with, say, a heroin issue, by the time they get inside of a ring for an amateur fight, they’re not doing drugs, they’re not in trouble with the law anymore,” Father Smith said.

“Now why is that? Well, they’ve learnt self-discipline. They’ve got fit. They’ve set goals for their lives. There’s a personality change.”

Boxing is known as one of the more aggressive sports around, but Father Dave Smith said he uses it to promote peace.

He said boxing was all about channelling the violence into something positive.

Boxing for peace in Syria 

Starting in 2013, the priest and fighter has taken boxing to the war-fractured streets of Syria on four separate trips.

Father Smith is training hundreds of displaced children in his program, Boxers for Peace, in refugee camps across the country. He is trying to give them hope.

“The Syrian situation’s complex, you know, and I think you’ve got to be pretty game to try and address the political situation there, and I’m not in a position to do that,” Father Smith said.

“So rather than banging on the political front door, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just go through the back door of sport?'”

Joining him in the fight are boxers Kaveh Arya and Jacob Najjar.

Mr Najjar, 28, moved to Australia from Iraq in 1990.

Six years ago, his father returned to Iraq for a business trip and was killed in a bombing attack. 

“I just want to give the same hope to someone else who has lost his father in a bombing, or in a war-torn country. So that, itself, was just another connection,” Mr Najjar said.

“That’s what drove me into Syria.”

Kaveh Arya fled his homeland Iran and spent 18 months in a Turkish refugee camp before resettling in Australia.

Now he too is reaching out to others in need.

“We went to Syria to try to help people have a moment where they forget about the grim reality that they’re surrounded by,” Mr Arya said.

“And it might not be the long-term solution; boxing might not be the answer, per se, but, for a moment, there is a space opened in their reality in which they can escape. And that escape provides the beginning for empowerment for some people.”

The priest and his fellow boxers have another trip to Syria planned for next year.

Folkes fights for his right to barbie

Controversial far-right activist Nicholas Folkes has had his “memorial” rally shut down but still plans on enjoying a non-halal snag at a barbecue in Cronulla this weekend.

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Mr Folkes and his anti-Islam Party For Freedom had planned to hold a rally and a procession on Saturday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Cronulla riots.

But a NSW Supreme Court judge has banned the rally and Mr Folkes has given a sworn undertaking not to address any gathering in the southern Sydney beachside suburb.

Instead he wants to throw a halal-free barbecue.

“As a citizen and as a free man of Australia, I have the right to go down there and throw a barbecue,” Mr Folkes told the Federal Court.

Speaking outside court, Mr Folkes said he did not intend to defy the Supreme Court prohibition, nor contravene his undertakings in the Federal Court.

He said he was shocked by the outcomes of the twin proceedings.

“This is sharia law in action. Where’s the freedom of speech?” Mr Folkes said.

“There was talk about a barbecue. I don’t know in legal terms if I’m actually allowed to mention it or say that there is going to be a barbecue, but it doesn’t stop me from going down there. I will be down in Cronulla tomorrow … it’s going to be an interesting day.”

Wearing jeans, a striped shirt and a bow tie, Mr Folkes gave an undertaking to the Federal court to alert Party for Freedom supporters – who refer to themselves online as “patriots” – via his websites and Facebook page that a planned rally at Don Lucas Reserve had been cancelled.

Party supporters sitting in the public gallery of the courtroom broke into chuckles as Mr Folkes pondered: “Is there any law stating that I’m not allowed to have a barbecue?”

If he breaks with the undertakings offered he could be prosecuted for contempt and his property – including his home in the inner west suburb of Rozelle – may be seized.

Earlier on Friday in the NSW Supreme Court Justice Christine Adamson agreed to prohibit the planned event following an application by the NSW Police Commissioner.

Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce said the decision was a win for the community.

“The community has spoken and has taken on these people and the law was on our side,” he said.

He was confident police would deal with anybody who decided to ignore the court’s decision.

“Tomorrow is business as usual … people just need to be able to go about their business as normal,” he said.