The Muslim Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has reportedly been killed in Yemen. The Yemeni government claims its forces successfully targeted al-Awlaki in a raid near the capital of Sana’a, but sources on the ground say he was likely killed in a U.S. air strike. State Department cables previously released by WikiLeaks have shown Yemen has taken credit for U.S. bombings within its borders to avoid public anger. It’s believed Awlaki was the first U.S. citizen added to a CIA list of targets for capture or killing. He’s been accused of ties to a number of plots, including the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people. Awlaki was previously targeted in a U.S. bombing of Yemen earlier this year.
The Obama administration has condemned an attempted assault on the U.S. ambassador to Syria and other U.S. officials in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Dozens of supporters of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad targeted the U.S. officials’ motorcade as they headed to meet with an opposition leader and then trapped them inside the office where the meeting was held. In Washington, White House spokesperson Jay Carney accused the Syrian government of involvement.
Jay Carney: "These kinds of assaults against diplomatic personnel, including our ambassador, are unwarranted and unjustifiable. This is clearly a part of an ongoing campaign to intimidate and threaten diplomats attempting to bear witness to the brutality of the Assad regime. Day after day, Ambassador [Robert] Ford puts himself at great personal risk to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."
The targeting of U.S. diplomats comes amidst an ongoing Syrian government assault on the town of Rastan. At least 27 people have reportedly been killed in a three-day siege by Syria forces. An other 17 people were reportedly killed in attacks in the town of Homs.
Forces backed by Libya’s transitional government have seized the airport in the city of Sirte, the birthplace of ousted leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The airport’s capture is a key breakthrough for government fighters seeking to control one of Gaddafi’s last remaining strongholds.
The fighting in Libya comes amidst a visit from a delegation of U.S. congressional leaders. Speaking in Tripoli, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said the United States is eager to do business in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Sen. John McCain: "American investors are more than eager to come and invest here in Libya. And we hope that and believe that they will be given an opportunity to do so, and it’s pretty clear that as long as fighting is going on it will be more difficult to attract that investment."
The Afghan government says it is rethinking its ties with Pakistan, as well as negotiations with the Taliban, following a number of recent attacks. A former Afghan president was killed last week during talks with the Taliban while a number of people were killed in a Kabul attack tied to the Pakistan-based Haqqani group. The Wall Street Journal reports the Afghan government has decided to suspend a three-way effort with Pakistan and the United States to hold talks with the Taliban. In other Afghan news, the U.S.-led NATO occupation force has sparred with U.N. officials over figures showing a surge in recent violence. On Thursday, the United States disputed a U.N. report that violence has increased 40 percent over the last year. At the United Nations, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said that while military incidents may have declined, civilian casualties are on the rise.
Staffan de Mistura: "There is no question, from a number point of view, that there has been a substantial reduction of military incidents. So we are not questioning those figures, and we are talking about different figures. Now, if you are asking me instead whether there has been a decrease or an increase of civilian casualties, we will then have to say, and everybody agrees, there has been a substantial unfortunate increase."
Bahrain continues to sentence prisoners for taking part in the unrest that swept the Gulf nation earlier this year. On Thursday, a prisoner was sentenced to death for the alleged killing of a police officer. Bahrain has also come under international criticism for the harsh sentences of 20 medical workers who treated demonstrators. The group of doctors, nurses and other medics were given sentences ranging from five to 15 years. In a statement, the group Physicians for Human Rights called for the medics to be freed, saying quote: "To imprison them as part of a political struggle is unconscionable." Also Thursday, hundreds of Bahraini women rallied in the capital Manama to protest the sentences.
Protester: "We ask for all women prisoners to be freed and for all charges against them to be dropped, these cruel sentences of our doctors, nurses and teachers—Rola al-Safar, Jalila al-Salman and Dr. Nadi Thayf, and everyone else."
Amnesty International is claiming to have uncovered new evidence of Lithuania’s involvement in the George W. Bush administration’s use of rendition flights and secret CIA prisons. The group says investigators have discovered a previously undisclosed rendition flight pointing to the detention of al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, at one of the two known CIA prisons on Lithuanian soil. Amnesty researcher Julia Hall said Lithuanian investigators should reopen a probe.
Julia Hall: "This is a flight that does not appear in the parliamentary inquiry report. We have never heard any explanation from the prosecutor general about this flight. And so it begs the question: If Crofton Black, a professional investigator from Reprieve, and Amnesty International, with its staff of professionals, who have been able to verify this flight, can do it, why couldn’t the prosecutor general uncover this flight with its resources and its own professional staff?"
A Brazilian court has again halted construction of a major hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforest. The $11 billion Belo Monte dam project was approved for construction over the objections of indigenous communities who have brought numerous challenges, citing environmental concerns.
In California, prisoners taking part in a renewed hunger strike are being threatened with disciplinary action. The inmates at Pelican Bay and other state prisons resumed their hunger strike this week after winning promises of changes to conditions in long-term solitary confinement in July. The prisoners are now being threatened with the loss of personal items for refusing to eat. Those identified as strike leaders also face confinement in an "administrative segregation unit."
A coalition of civil rights and immigrant rights groups has appealed a federal judge’s ruling upholding key portions of Alabama’s controversial immigration law. This week, Chief U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn backed provisions that would require police to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status, prevent courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants, and allow public schools to determine the immigration status of enrolled students. The appeal is led by the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, which is seeking an injunction to block the law’s provisions from taking effect while they are under review.
The Washington Post reports Justice Department lawyers are considering bringing lawsuits against anti-immigrant measures in Utah, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina.
A federal judge in Kansas has refused to block a new state law that restricts health insurance coverage for abortions. The law bars insurance companies from covering abortions under general health plans, unless the mother’s life is at risk. The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the law, calling it unconstitutional. Also Thursday, the ACLU filed a separate appeal seeking to block a North Carolina law that forces women to be shown an ultrasound image of the fetus before getting an abortion.
Two Arkansas men have been sentenced to prison for hate crimes in an attack on a group of Hispanic men last year. Frankie Maybee and Sean Popejoy were sentenced to 11 and four years apiece. They were convicted for attacking the victims, yelling racial epithets, and then pursuing them in a dangerous car chase that caused life-threatening injuries.