Sunni militants have reportedly seized most of Iraq’s largest oil refinery after heavy clashes with government troops. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is said to control 75 percent of the refinery in Baiji. Dozens of foreign workers have reportedly been evacuated. Seizing the refinery would be a major coup for ISIS forces, handing them Iraq’s largest source of domestic fuel. In other violence, at least 18 people were killed and over 50 wounded Tuesday in a pair of suicide bombings in Baghdad.
Speaking earlier today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran “will not hesitate” to protect Shiite holy sites in Iraq threatened by Sunni militants. Rouhani’s comments come as the Obama administration said it remains opens to cooperation with Iran on stopping the ISIS advance. U.S. and Iranian officials briefly discussed Iraq this week on the sidelines of nuclear talks in Vienna. But speaking in Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki played down expectations.
Jen Psaki: “They discussed the need to support inclusivity in Iraq and the need to refrain from pressing a sectarian agenda. In terms of where we go from here, we’re open to continuing our engagement with Iran, the Iranians, just as we’re engaging with other regional players on the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq. It is likely it would — those discussions would happen at a lower level, and we don’t expect further conversations with Iran on this issue in Vienna.”
The New York Times reports the Obama administration is considering a “targeted, highly selective campaign” airstrike campaign against Sunni militants similar to its drone attacks in Yemen. Obama has invited congressional leaders from both parties to the Oval Office today for a briefing on Iraq.
The United States has captured a suspect accused of masterminding the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Ahmed Abu Khattala was nabbed in Libya over the weekend in a raid coordinated by the FBI and the U.S. military. President Obama hailed Khattala’s capture.
President Obama: “It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible, and we will bring them to justice. And that’s a message I said the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you.”
Khattala is the first Benghazi suspect to be detained in U.S. custody. The Obama administration says he will be tried in federal court and imprisoned in the United States, not at Guantánamo Bay. The Washington Post learned of Khattala’s capture on Monday but delayed publication at the government’s request.
An Al Jazeera journalist who staged a lengthy hunger strike against his imprisonment in Egypt has been freed after 10 months behind bars. Abdullah Elshamy was arrested after covering a crackdown on a sit-in staged by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. He and 12 others were ordered released on medical grounds. Speaking outside the prison, Elshamy said his ordeal has changed him for life.
Abdullah Elshamy: “I have won, and everybody who is a freedom fighter, either a journalist or anyone doing his work credibly and with honesty, has won, because this isn’t — I mean, this experience has changed my life. I am not the person who I had been anymore. I am now more determined than before to carry on with this struggle, not just because of me, because for everyone to be able to do their job freely. A hundred and forty-nine days of hunger strike is an experience, of course, I will never forget in my life. Everyone who has been into this battle, the battle of hunger strike, has always won; there have never been any losers.”
Three other Al Jazeera journalists — Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohammed Fahmy — remain behind bars following their arrest in December. Their case is up for judicial review next week.
Israel continues mass arrests in the Occupied Territories as part of a crackdown following the kidnapping of three teenagers in the West Bank. Israel says it detained more than 65 Palestinians overnight, including 50 freed in the 2011 prisoner swap deal for a captured Israeli solider. The teens were kidnapped last week while hitchhiking from a Jewish settlement. No one has claimed responsibility.
Vice President Joe Biden was in Brazil on Tuesday months after revelations of National Security Agency spying led Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a trip to Washington. Rousseff postponed her visit after leaks from Edward Snowden showed the U.S. spied on her personal communications as well as on Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. On Tuesday, Biden said he assured Roussef the United States is taking a “new approach” to its foreign spying.
Vice President Joe Biden: “We discussed the U.S. surveillance programs that were disclosed last year. I know the issue matters a lot to people here. Quite frankly, it matters a lot to the people of the United States, as well. And President Rousseff and I had a chance to have a candid conversation about it, and I told her what she already knew, that President Obama ordered an immediate review after we learned of the disclosures, and based on his instructions, we have made real changes in our process, and we are taking a new approach on these issues.”
Biden’s visit comes two weeks after Snowden announced he has applied for asylum in Brazil. His temporary asylum in Russia is due to expire in August.
Vice President Joe Biden has announced the United States will hand over internal documents related to Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
Vice President Joe Biden: “I was pleased to announce that the United States is standing up a special project to declassify and share with Brazil’s National Truth Commission documents that shed light on Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship, which is obviously of great interest to the president. And we turned over an initial batch of those documents today to the Brazilian government. And I hope that by taking steps to come to grips with the past, we can find a way to focus on the immense, the immense promise of the future.”
The United States backed the coup that overthrew Brazil’s government in 1964 and provided support to the ensuing military regime. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was herself a political prisoner under the regime, suffering torture during her time behind bars.
Georgia and Missouri have carried out the first executions since the botched killing of a death row prisoner in Oklahoma two months ago. Marcus Wellons, a convicted murderer, was killed Tuesday night in Georgia by lethal injection. The Supreme Court had turned down a last-minute stay request from Wellons’ attorneys, who had argued secrecy around the drug’s source could lead to undue suffering. Outside the prison, a small group of protesters staged a rally against capital punishment.
Bishop Bob Wright, diocese of Atlanta: “This is a sad day in Georgia. We’re maintaining a barbaric practice. And this is not about guilt. We know that Mr. Wellons is guilty. This is about the dignity of human life.”
Shortly after, Missouri executed John Winfield, also a convicted murderer. Winfield had initially won a stay following allegations state officials threatened a prison staffer who was supportive of granting him clemency. But a U.S. appeals court waived the stay earlier on Tuesday. Another execution is planned for today in Florida.
A trial is underway after years of delays for four Blackwater operatives accused of killing civilians in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The suspects are charged for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit indiscriminately opened fire. The case has lagged for years with prosecutors accused of dragging their feet and a lower court’s dismissal of the charges in 2009. In opening statements on Tuesday, prosecutors said the operatives had lied about the presence of insurgents in order to cover up their crime.
Congressional Democrats have unveiled new legislation that would ban Internet service providers from charging media companies for faster speeds. The measure from Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Doris Matsui of California would prevent so-called “paid prioritization,” which ties Internet speeds to extra fees. This would include a recent deal that saw Netflix pay the cable giant Comcast for faster service than other content providers. In a statement, Leahy and Matsui said the measure “would help prevent the creation of a two-tiered Internet system … and ensure consumers can access all content equally.”
The Canadian government has conditionally approved a controversial pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands. The Enbridge corporation’s Northern Gateway pipeline project would bring tar sands oil to Canada’s West Coast. The project has sparked protests for its carbon-intensive extraction and proposed route through sensitive environmental areas and indigenous land. It’s seen as the main backup option should President Obama reject another tar sands pipeline, the Keystone XL. On Tuesday, the office of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the pipeline could go ahead if it meets more than 200 conditions. But none of Harper’s conditions include preventing a negative impact on climate change. Opponents say they plan to increase protests against the pipeline and organize a provincial referendum to put the project to popular vote.
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