BEIRUT — Loud explosions rocked Syria's capital and filled the sky with heavy smoke early Saturday after U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. Syrian television reported that air defenses responded to the attack.
Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and the sky turned orange. A huge fire could be seen from a distance to the east. Syrian television reported that a scientific research center had been hit.
Syrian media reported that air defenses hit 13 rockets south of Damascus. After the attack ceased and the early morning skies went dark once more, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.
"Good souls will not be humiliated," Syria's presidency tweeted after airstrikes began.
Trump announced Friday night that the three allies had launched military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for the alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again.
The U.S. president said the U.S. is prepared to "sustain" pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.
Trump said the joint attack was expected to include barrages of cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace. He described the main aim as establishing "a strong deterrent" against chemical weapons use.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump's second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians.
Trump chastised Syria's two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting "murderous dictators," and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. Trump called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.
The allied operation comes a year after the U.S. missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.
The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.
Friday's strikes appear to signal Trump's willingness to draw the United States more deeply into the Syrian conflict. The participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the multi-pronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.
In his nationwide address, Trump stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.
"America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances," he said. "As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home."
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Islamic State fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They are in eastern Syria, far from Damascus. A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the IS grip on both Syria and Iraq.
Lincoln kept the snow at arm's length longer than expected, but a storm that caused whiteout conditions across much of Nebraska finally swung into the capital city Saturday afternoon.
By then, the powerful spring blizzard had expended much of its energy bringing misery to the northern and western parts of the state.
Windswept snow stranded drivers, including hundreds on Interstate 80, prompting officials to close westbound lanes of the interstate for more than 300 miles. The blizzard also knocked out power and communication for thousands of people.
Several areas saw more than a foot of snow. One person reported 20-foot snowdrifts north of Mullen, deep in the Sandhills.
At least one man died during the storm. Rollo Ward, 61, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was killed after losing control of his eastbound semitrailer on I-80, entering the median and crashing into an already stranded semi near Chappell, according to the Nebraska State Patrol.
The patrol and other agencies helped more than 100 motorists who became stranded on I-80 near Sidney, ferrying them from their vehicles using Sidney Public Schools buses escorted by patrol cruisers and snow plows.
"The assembled law enforcement officers went door-to-door, knocking on all vehicles and rescuing all of the occupants in freezing temperatures," the patrol said in a news release. "The rescued motorists were taken to Light Memorial Presbyterian Church in Sidney or to a hotel of their choice."
For much of Saturday, westbound Interstate 80 was closed from Grand Island to the Wyoming state line, and the eastbound lanes were closed from Wyoming to Chappell.
“Road conditions are still not safe across the state and travel is not recommended,” said Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, in a news release Saturday morning. “Stay home and be safe.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts declared an emergency, making state funds available to local entities responding to the blizzard. And the state Emergency Management Agency worked to set up a temporary communications tower after 60 mph winds toppled a dispatch tower that served several counties in the Loup Valley in north-central Nebraska.
The Nebraska Public Power District advised people in and around Atkinson in Holt County, where high winds knocked down at least two-dozen power poles, to expect to remain without electricity until late Sunday. The utility planned to bring a portable transformer and generator there to restore power, but couldn't reach the area because of impassable roads.
The town of Newport in Rock County had 14 inches of snow as of 8 a.m. Saturday, and more was falling. At least 11 inches of snow had fallen in Valentine, and areas near Chadron and Sidney received nearly 10 inches.
But even areas with less snowfall saw whiteout conditions because of high winds. Much of Nebraska experienced wind gusts in excess of 50-60 mph. The Ogallala area clocked a 68 mph gust Friday afternoon.
Snow arrived in Lincoln at about 4 p.m. Saturday.
City crews began treating major streets and bridges with granular salt pre-wet with brine starting at noon. "The application is expected to be completed after 8 p.m. and crews will remain on patrol to monitor street conditions," city officials said in a news release.
A four-vehicle crash on Harris Overpass on Saturday evening led police to close the bridge heading out of downtown. It was one of a handful of accidents in the city after snow began to fall.
Just Friday, the high in Lincoln was 82 degrees.
Sunday, forecasts call for clouds and a local high in the mid-30s.
PLATTSMOUTH — Matthew Stubbendieck’s girlfriend told him she was dying of cancer, in pain and wanted to die. He bought her a one-way plane ticket to Nebraska from her home in Florida.
They met in person for the first time, and she met his parents. They watched the sunset at the Swinging Bridge that summer night last year and went swimming the next day at Acapulco Lake, made love and laid together in the sun.
By morning, Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan would be dead in the woods near Weeping Water.
Not long after, the 42-year-old Nebraska man ended up charged with assisting in her suicide in what reads like a sad, twisted, made-for-TV tale of love and woe.
Friday afternoon, following three hours of deliberation, a jury of eight women and four men found him guilty of assisted suicide — a charge rarely filed in the state.
“First off, actually, Alicia’s death was not inevitable at all,” Cass County Attorney Colin Palm told the jury in closing arguments that morning. “He ensured it by his actions. At many points he could have stopped this. He should have stopped this.”
At the end of Stubbendieck's three-day trial, Palm said Wilemon-Sullivan may have slit her own wrist with a knife, but he was the one who decided not to get her help.
"He didn’t call 911. He didn’t render first aid. He chose to let her lay there and bleed for hours and hours. And ultimately after hours and hours, he left her alone, mortally wounded, at nightfall in the woods in an area that she didn’t know, and chose to leave,” Palm said, as Wilemon-Sullivan’s mother quietly cried a few rows back.
But defense attorney Angela Minahan painted a different picture, one in which Wilemon-Sullivan had manipulated Stubbendieck with a web of deceit. She sent him pictures of her with IVs, with a hospital bracelet on and a bandage on her stomach where she said doctors had removed a tumor.
Minahan said Wilemon-Sullivan texted Stubbendieck 29 times to say she was sick, dying of stage-4 cancer and in pain. If he loved her, he would be there for her, she told him.
What the state described as scouting a location to die, the defense described as Stubbendieck taking the love of his life, who he believed was dying, to all the places he liked growing up.
"None of these pieces, that the state wants you to believe was part of this plan, contributed to her death,” Minahan said.
She said Stubbendieck turned around and found Wilemon-Sullivan bleeding with a knife she had taken from his house. She had cut her own wrist.
For five hours he stayed with her, holding her, comforting her, yelling at God that she had suffered enough. Twice, he even tried to cover her nose and mouth to suffocate her, but he couldn’t do it, and ultimately left her without calling for help.
That isn’t a crime, his lawyer said. He was carrying out her wishes, something people can do.
“Alicia Sullivan alone is responsible for this act of selfishness,” Minahan told the jury, calling it an unforgettable story of manipulation and deceit and of a man trying to pick up the pieces and wondering why.
She said the case is hard to understand, it's dark and has left a weight of pain that’s touched upon everyone involved.
When Stubbendieck learned his girlfriend didn’t have cancer, he told an investigator he was going to puke.
“His crime is that he loved her too much and he let her manipulate him with that love,” Minahan said.
But, Palm said, this case isn’t about whether Wilemon-Sullivan, who admittedly was a troubled woman, lied about having cancer. The law doesn’t provide exceptions for that.
“If this constellation of facts is not aiding and abetting another person either in suicide or attempted suicide then what is?” he asked the jury rhetorically.
Wilemon-Sullivan has sadly paid the ultimate price for her choices and actions, Palm said, and now the defendant needs to be held accountable for his.
The jury got the case at 10 a.m. and returned with a guilty verdict at 1 p.m.
Stubbendieck faces up to two years in prison at his sentencing, which is set for June.
In the hallway after the verdict, and after Palm had called members of Wilemon-Sullivan’s family with the news, the prosecutor said the whole experience has been trying for them. But he was pleased with the outcome.
“It’s the just verdict in this case. The evidence supported it, and it’s good the defendant will be held responsible for this,” he said.
Asked if the verdict sends a message to others, Palm said he didn’t know.
“I certainly think we as a society don’t want people taking these life-and-death decisions into their own hands. That’s why the statute is there,” he said.
Stubbendieck left the courthouse with his family without comment. He is out of jail on bond.