Ukraine has retracted an earlier claim to have reached a ceasefire with Russia. The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko initially said he agreed with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on steps toward a ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. But the Kremlin then denied a ceasefire agreement, saying it is not in a position to make a deal because it’s not a party to the fighting. Ukraine has accused Russia of direct involvement in the violence amidst a recent escalation. The confusion comes as President Obama visits the former Soviet Republic of Estonia ahead of a major NATO summit in Wales. More than 2,600 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since April, the majority by Ukrainian forces. The United Nations says more than one million people have been displaced, over a quarter of them internally.
The militant group Islamic State has released a video which appears to show the second beheading of a U.S. journalist in as many weeks. Steven Sotloff is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by foreign prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. He kneels in the same position as ISIL’s previous victim, James Foley. As a masked person stands over him with a knife, Sotloff speaks directly to the camera and recites what appears to be a coerced statement about “paying the price” for U.S. airstrikes against the group. The man with a knife also issues a warning that ISIL will continue to kill Americans if the strikes continue.
Unidentified: “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings in Amerli, Zumar and the Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. You, Obama, have yet again, through your actions, killed yet another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”
Sotloff was kidnapped about a year ago in Syria while working as a freelance journalist. On Tuesday, filmmaker Matthew VanDyke, a friend of Sotloff’s, said he was dedicated to reporting on the Middle East.
Matthew VanDyke: “He had a love for the region. He took time to understand the region, to understand people, to make friends and contacts there, to learn the language, to drink the tea. He was somebody that was really, really set on doing things that way and really getting — it allowed him to get stories. I mean, his story on the Benghazi attack was one of the first comprehensive investigations where he talked to witnesses and sort of began to unravel the truth of what had really happened there.”
The latest ISIS video release comes as President Obama has authorized an additional 350 soldiers to guard the U.S. Embassy and personnel in Baghdad. The United States now has well over 1,000 troops operating in Iraq. In a statement, the White House said the soldiers would not serve in a combat role. But The Daily Beast reports U.S. special operations forces may be operating on the ground in parts of northern Iraq.
The U.S. military has killed at least six people in Monday’s drone attack in Somalia. The Pentagon says it struck a meeting of leaders with the militant group al-Shabab, but is still confirming victims’ identities. In Washington, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane may have been among those killed.
Rear Admiral John Kirby: “At approximately 11:20 Eastern time, working from actionable intelligence, U.S. special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle, using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions. This operation was a direct strike against the al-Shabab network, specifically the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Aw Muhammad, also known as Ahmed Godane.”
Al-Shabab has denied Godane’s death, saying he was not at the attack site.
The United Nations and international aid groups have issued new pleas for a heightened global response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The virus has now killed more than 1,500 people and spread to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization said the outbreak is outpacing efforts to contain it.
Margaret Chan: “This is the largest and most severe and most complex Ebola outbreak ever seen in nearly 40 years’ history of this disease. No one, even outbreak responders with experience dating back to 1976, to 1995, have ever seen anything like it. As of this week, more than 3,500 cases are reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and more than 1,500 deaths. The outbreaks are racing ahead of the control efforts in these countries.”
The WHO and other groups have called on countries to send donations, doctors, biohazard experts and protective gear to the affected regions.
The contracting giant Halliburton has agreed to pay a $1.1 billion fine for its role in BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in U.S. history. A White House panel found BP and Halliburton ignored critical design flaws in the Macondo well’s cementing just before the explosion. Halliburton later pleaded guilty to destroying evidence relevant to the investigation. The bulk of Halliburton’s settlement money will go to local residents and businesses.
Two African-American half-brothers have been exonerated of rape and murder convictions in North Carolina after over 30 years behind bars. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were found guilty in 1984 of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl the previous year. There was no physical evidence tying them to the crime, but police obtained confessions that McCollum and Brown have always said were coerced. Both brothers have mental disabilities. McCollum was sentenced to death and Brown to life in prison. Police at the time failed to investigate another man, Roscoe Artis, who lived nearby and had admitted to a similar rape and murder at around the same time. After three decades, the case saw a major breakthrough last month when testing by North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission tied Artis’ DNA to the crime scene. On Tuesday, the two brothers were declared innocent and ordered freed. Prison officials say they will be released today after ordering them to remain behind bars for a final night. In a recent interview with The News & Observer after the DNA testing pointed to a likely exoneration, Henry Lee McCollum said he never lost hope that he would one day see freedom.
Henry Lee McCollum: “Since I have been here, I have never stopped believing that one day I would be able to walk out that door. I never stopped believing that. A long time ago, I wanted to find me a good wife, I wanted to raise a family, I wanted to have my own business and everything. I never got a chance to fulfill those dreams, never got the chance, because the people took 30 years away from me, and they destroyed my life. Now, I believe that God is going to bless me to get back out there.”
Over the years, death penalty supporters have cited the brothers’ case in order to back capital punishment. In 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party pasted McCollum’s mug shot on campaign mailers. In 1994, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pointed to McCollum as an example of why the death penalty is just. Henry Lee McCollum was North Carolina’s longest-serving death row prisoner until Tuesday. Today, along with his half-brother Leon Brown, he will walk out of prison after 30 years behind bars for a crime they did not commit.