Thousands gathered in North Carolina on Thursday for the funeral of three Muslim students shot dead by a gunman who had posted anti-religious messages online. Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Yusor’s husband, Deah Barakat, were killed execution-style in what family members call a hate crime. Suspected gunman Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Hicks had frequently posted anti-religious comments on his Facebook page. Police say an early probe suggests the killings resulted from a parking dispute, a claim the victims’ family and friends reject. The FBI is also investigating. A crowd of more than 5,000 packed a soccer field at North Carolina State for Thursday’s service, paying tribute to the victims and demanding justice for their murders.
Eight Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and several dozen wounded in continued fighting in eastern Ukraine. The violence comes just after Ukraine and Russia agreed to a new ceasefire at a summit in Belarus. But the truce will not take effect until Sunday. New shelling has been reported today in the rebel strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said despite the ceasefire, the United States has not ruled out new sanctions on Russia or sending military aid to Ukraine.
Jen Psaki: "An agreement is a piece of paper, unless it’s implemented. And so, what we’ve seen to date is that Russia and Russian-backed separatists have not taken the steps to implement. We will see what they do from here. We have had long ongoing conversations with our European partners about additional steps that could be taken. And if it’s not implemented or there is additional aggression, that’s something we will continue to discuss."
The European Union has also threatened new sanctions on Russia if the deal is broken.
The United Nations has warned Yemen is on the brink of civil war and risks complete political collapse. Yemen has been in limbo since Houthi rebels forced the resignation of the Yemeni cabinet and then seized power. Addressing the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Yemen faces a host of additional issues, including an al-Qaeda insurgency and a major humanitarian crisis.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Let me be clear. Yemen is collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch. The country is facing multiple challenges. A dangerous political crisis continues in Sana’a. There are more widespread and lethal attacks by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, with increasing hostilities between AQAP and the Houthis in various provinces south of Sana’a, such as Damar and al-Bayda. There are increasing secessionist tendencies in the South, and an acute humanitarian crisis."
The United States, Britain and France have closed their embassies in the capital Sana’a over security concerns. On Thursday, al-Qaeda-linked fighters seized an army base in southern Yemen and held soldiers captive.
At least 19 people have been killed and more than 60 wounded in an attack on a Shia mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least four suicide bombers wearing the uniforms of state forces reportedly hit the mosque during prayers.
A federal judge has ordered the enforcement of her earlier decision striking down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling went into effect this week, but the state’s Supreme Court justice, Roy Moore, sowed confusion after ordering judges and officials to ignore it. The new ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade was directed to just one judge in Mobile County but is seen as a signal to judiciaries across the state. Judges in just one-third of Alabama’s 67 counties have issued marriage licenses to LGBT couples so far. With the new federal ruling, Mobile County resident Marc Stewart said he intends to marry his partner.
Marc Stewart: "We go to church every Sunday. We work like regular folks, and we go and pay our taxes. We go home and watch TV like everybody else. And this is just our town, and we just want to be recognized in this town as being us. I’ve been with him 18 years, and, yeah, he’s going to be stuck with me now."
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas has repealed a measure that protects state employees from workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Brownback’s executive order undoes a move by his predecessor that widened safeguards for LGBT public employees.
The Pentagon has approved hormone therapy treatment for the gender transition of U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, previously known as Bradley. Manning announced she identified as a woman and planned to seek hormone replacement treatment after her 2013 conviction for passing cables to WikiLeaks. She sued the Pentagon last year for denying gender-transition medical care and failing to follow other protocols for treating gender dysphoria. In a memo this month, a military official confirmed hormone therapy will be added to Manning’s treatment plan.
The Senate has confirmed Ashton Carter as the new secretary of defense. President Obama tapped Carter after forcing the ouster of Chuck Hagel late last year. Carter has a long history at the Pentagon, where he once served as the chief arms buyer. In 2006, he backed a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if the country continued with a planned missile test. Carter has recently voiced support for arming Ukraine and opposing the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. The Senate approved his bid with an overwhelming 93-to-5 vote.
Students at Harvard University are staging a sit-in to demand their school join the growing list of institutions divesting from fossil fuels. The campus-led divestment movement calls for purging investment portfolios of assets tied to companies that drive and profit from global warming. Harvard’s endowment is the largest of any school in the world, at $36.4 billion. The students launched their sit-in inside a building housing the offices of school administrators, including President Drew Fast. Hundreds of actions are expected around the world today and Saturday as part of Global Divestment Day.
FBI Director James Comey has called on police nationwide to confront what he said is unconscious racial bias in the wake of a spate of killings of unarmed African Americans. In an unprecedented speech for an FBI chief, Comey said the nation’s "endemic" racism must be addressed.
James Comey: "Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. … Police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of goodwill working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible, and maybe even rational by some lights. … We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve."
Comey is known to keep a copy of the FBI’s wiretap order targeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a reminder of the agency’s past misdeeds.
The media columnist David Carr of The New York Times has died. Carr collapsed at the Times’ offices Thursday night and was pronounced dead shortly after. Hours before, he had moderated a panel discussion on the documentary "Citizenfour" along with director Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and the film’s lead subject, Edward Snowden. Carr overcame a major addition to crack cocaine in the late 1980s and went on to become a celebrated writer on media and culture. He was 58 years old.