Iraqi officials say they are close to victory in an Iranian-backed offensive to reclaim the city of Tikrit from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Iraqi forces and Shiite militias have reclaimed swaths of the city without the aid of U.S. airstrikes. The gains come as ABC News reports Iraqi military units trained and armed by the United States are under investigation by the Iraqi government for war crimes. Videos and photos on social media appear to show militia members and soldiers from elite units massacring and torturing civilians and displaying severed heads.
A Syrian opposition group reports airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State have killed more than 100 civilians. The Syrian Network for Human Rights said dozens of civilians have been killed in strikes targeting oil refineries, while 51 were killed in late December when U.S. aircraft struck a building housing an ISIS prison in Al Bab.
A U.S. drone strike in Somalia has reportedly killed a senior member of the militant group al-Shabab, along with two other people. Unnamed U.S. and Kenyan officials told the Associated Press the strike killed Adan Garar, who was accused of helping to plan the 2013 mass shooting at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
Sierra Leone has seen an uptick in Ebola cases in certain areas, as the total number of deaths from the outbreak has topped 10,000. Liberia released its last Ebola patient from treatment last week, but Guinea and Sierra Leone are still struggling to contain the virus. World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward said waning attention poses a major risk.
Dr. Bruce Aylward: "In terms of the risks, the single biggest one probably at this point is the risk that the world stops looking at this disease, stops looking at these countries. We talk often about how steep the drop in cases has been. The only thing that’s dropped more quickly and more steeply has been the new contributions and financing to the program."
Meanwhile, a worker from the U.S. aid group Partners in Health and a British military aid worker have both contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone. The British aid worker has arrived in London for treatment, while the U.S. worker is due to arrive today in Bethesda, Maryland.
World powers have reportedly opened talks on a possible U.N. Security Council resolution to lift sanctions on Iran if a nuclear deal is reached. According to Reuters, the talks between the United States, Iran, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany are taking place ahead of the resumption of nuclear talks next week. A U.N. resolution could render the nuclear deal with Iran legally binding, making it harder for Republicans in Congress to undo it. Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has criticized this week’s open letter from Republican senators threatening to nix any nuclear deal.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "The team assigned by President Hassan Rouhani to the talks constitute good, reliable and sympathetic individuals who are trying to secure the country’s interests. Of course, I’m concerned because the other side (the U.S) is into deception, trickery and backstabbing."
Swedish prosecutors have issued a request to question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London on sexual assault allegations following pressure from Swedish courts and repeated requests by Assange’s lawyers. Assange, who has never been charged over the allegations, has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, fearing a Swedish arrest warrant could lead to his extradition to the United States. Assange’s lawyers have been asking Swedish prosecutors to question him in London for more than four years.
Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, held a candlelight vigil Thursday after the shooting of two police officers by an unknown gunman. Both officers have been released from the hospital. The shots were fired during a protest outside the Ferguson Police Department, but police say the shooter was about about 125 yards away. Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the shooting, which came on the heels of a Justice Department probe on rampant racial bias by Ferguson police.
Eric Holder: "What happened last night was a pure ambush. This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was a damn punk, a punk, who was trying to sow discord in an area that is trying to get its act together and trying to bring together a community that has been fractured for too long. This really disgusting and cowardly attack might have been intended to unravel any sense of progress that exists, but I hope that that does not in fact happen."
An email obtained by The Intercept news site reveals members of an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force tracked details of a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America in Minnesota last December. An email from St. Paul police officer and task force member David Langfellow cites a "confidential human source" who confirmed the date and time of the protest. An FBI spokesperson denied the agency has any interest in the Black Lives Matter campaign.
New details have emerged about two Secret Service agents accused of drunk driving into a White House security barricade. The Washington Post reports the agents allegedly drove through an active investigation, directly next to a suspicious package, which had been placed on the ground by a woman who claimed it was a bomb. While officers at the scene wanted to arrest the agents and administer sobriety tests, a superior ordered their release, without the tests. The Secret Service’s new director, Joseph Clancy, who was appointed last month after a scandal over a White House security breach, said he learned of the incident five days later. The agents have been identified as Mark Connolly, the second-in-command on Obama’s security detail, and George Ogilvie, a top supervisor in the Washington field office who issued a statement last year touting the agency’s zero-tolerance policy for drinking.
McClatchy Newspapers reports an accused torturer who served as a member of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s secret police force worked for the Pentagon’s top university for 13 years. Jaime García Covarrubias returned to Chile last year. He remains there under a Chilean judge’s order amid a probe into his alleged masterminding of the murders of seven people in the weeks after the U.S.-backed coup that brought Pinochet to power September 11, 1973. An alleged victim of García Covarrubias said he used to wield a horsewhip while presiding over sexual torture and electric shocks. Despite repeated complaints over García Covarrubias’ past, officials with the State Department and Pentagon let him teach at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, while immigration officials let him remain in the United States.
A Palestinian activist accused of immigration fraud has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. A U.S. judge in Detroit called Rasmea Odeh a terrorist as he sentenced her for concealing her conviction on bombing charges by an Israeli military court more than 40 years ago. Odeh says her confession to the bombings was obtained through torture and sexual assault in Israeli custody. Her supporters say she was targeted by U.S. authorities over her support for Palestinian liberation. Odeh served as associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago and has lived in the United States for 20 years. She will be deported after her prison term.
In Secaucus, New Jersey, more than two dozen people were arrested at the offices of the clothing retailer The Children’s Place as they called for compensation for victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. The Children’s Place is among the retailers whose products were found in the factory’s ruins, and protesters say they have contributed just $450,000 of the $30 million owed to workers’ families. Next month marks the two-year anniversary of the disaster, which killed more than 1,100 people. Bangladeshi activist Kalpona Akter stood with 18-year-old Mahinur Begum, a survivor of the collapse, and called on The Children’s Place to pay.
Kalpona Akter: "Please care about these workers. Don’t let them die in these factories and wait for this compensation years and years. Please pay. Please pay. When you say Children’s Place care about the children, those lost their parents in the deadly building collapse. So please step forward and pay."
The protest came as a cement factory run by a subsidiary of the Bangladeshi army collapsed south of the capital Dhaka, killing at least seven people and injuring 30.
Brown University is facing protests over its handling of sexual assault after two students said their drink was laced with date rape drugs at a fraternity party. Brown suspended the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, but dropped charges against the student accused of administering the drugs, whose father is a Brown trustee and donor. The accused student hired his own expert, who questioned toxicology tests ordered by the school, leading to revelations Brown had selected laboratories with a history of inaccuracy. Meanwhile, a second student accused of sexually assaulting one of the women was found "not responsible" after Brown said the woman’s foggy memory — a symptom of drugging — made it difficult to disprove her alleged assailant’s account. On Wednesday, 400 students marched silently through campus with dollar bills over their mouths, bearing a red IX, a reference to Title IX. Brown is one of 94 colleges under federal investigation for possible violations of Title IX due to its handling of sexual violence.
The civil rights leader Rev. Willie Barrow, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma 50 years ago, has died at home in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 90. Nicknamed "Little Warrior," she was a fixture of the civil rights movement in Chicago where she helped found Operation Breadbasket, which became the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Democracy Now! interviewed Willie Barrow in 2008 on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, where she was a superdelegate. She explained how then-nominee Barack Obama came to be her godson.
Rev. Willie Barrow: "Well, he came to—we have a broadcast every Saturday morning, and—from 10:00 to 11:00, and he was bringing those two little girls every Saturday morning alone. ... And he said to me one Saturday, 'Reverend Barrow, could I talk with you?' I said, 'Do you want to make an appointment?' He said, 'No, I want to talk with you now.' I said, 'Come on over.' And he said, 'Do you have godchildren?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Could I be one?' I said, 'Of course.' And that’s how we started."
Juanita Nelson has died at the age of 91 in Greenfield, Massachusetts. She was a longtime civil rights activist, war tax resister and farmer. She was first arrested in the early 1940s protesting lunch counter segregation in Washington, D.C. During World War II, she met her future husband, Wally Nelson, while he was in jail for refusing to fight in the war. In the late 1940s, they helped organize the first Freedom Rides in the South. At the same time, they stopped paying taxes for war. In 2005, Democracy Now! interviewed Juanita about war tax resistance.
Juanita Nelson: "A group called Peacemakers had been started, and we became members of that, either the first or second year that it was formed, and it saw nonviolence as a way of life, not simply against war, but the things it made for war, the things it made for poverty, all that sort of thing. And so we just didn’t pay taxes, and we never filed after that. And neither of us had paid taxes very much anyway. We never had much money anyhow. But I always wanted to make at least 10 cents more, so I could thumb my nose at the government."