Egypt has bombed what it calls Islamic State targets in Libya after the group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. The victims are led on to a beach dressed in orange jumpsuits like the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. They are then beheaded one by one. The lead executioner points his knife at the camera and delivers a message to what he calls the “crusaders.”
Unknown: “O people, recently, you’ve seen us on the hills of as-Sham and on Dabiq’s plain, chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time, filled with spite against Islam and Muslims. And today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message: O crusaders, safety for you will be only wishes, especially when you’re fighting us all together.”
The prisoners were all migrant workers from Egypt kidnapped over the past two months. Egypt has declared a week of mourning and bombed what it described as Islamic State training camps and facilities. Another group of Egyptian workers were kidnapped in Libya over the weekend. The video is the first to be released showing an ISIS beheading outside of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. ISIS is one of several militant groups that have emerged inside Libya since the U.S.-backed ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
A ceasefire is under threat in eastern Ukraine after taking effect this weekend. Sporadic fighting has broken out in several areas. The Ukrainian military says separatists have continued attacks, while the rebels accuse Ukrainian forces of deploying heavy artillery. The pact calls for an end to attacks and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front lines. Ukraine says it will not withdraw some heavy artillery, and shelling from both sides continues in the city of Debaltseve.
The U.N. Security Council has called on Houthi rebels to give up control of Yemen’s government. The Houthis dissolved parliament earlier this month and named a new president after forcing the ouster of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The British ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant, called for Hadi to be restored to office.
Mark Lyall Grant: “Today we have made clear that those who use violence and intimidation to try to dictate Yemen’s future are undermining the security of all Yemeni citizens and are eroding the political progress made since 2011. The Houthis must take responsibility for their actions and stop using violence and coercion as political tools. They must ensure the immediate and safe release of President Hadi, Prime Minister Baha and members of the cabinet from house arrest.”
The measure does not authorize military action to ensure its enforcement. The United Nations warned last week Yemen is on the brink of civil war and political collapse.
The United States has escalated military operations in Afghanistan despite a formal end to its combat mission in December. According to The New York Times, American Special Operations forces have carried out a “significant increase” in night raids over the past several months. The NATO occupation declared an end to combat operations in December, but the United States secretly expanded its role to ensure American troops continue fighting. U.S. forces have directly engaged in combat roles during joint operations with Afghan counterparts. Afghanistan’s recently elected president, Ashraf Ghani, has eased restrictions on night raids imposed by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.
Danish police have shot and killed a man they say carried out attacks on a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen. Local media identified the suspect as 22-year-old Omar al-Hussein, who had reportedly been released from prison just weeks earlier. Two other people have also been charged with aiding him. The presumed target of the attacks, Swedish artist Lars Vilks, has received death threats for depicting the head of the Prophet Muhammad on a dog. Vilks was unharmed, but a Danish film director was shot dead and three police officers injured. Hours later, the gunman attacked a synagogue, killing a guard outside and injuring another two police officers. The attacks in Copenhagen come a month after gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. We will have more on the Denmark shootings after headlines.
President Obama has condemned the murders of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, last week. In a statement, Obama called the killings “brutal and outrageous,” adding, “No one in the U.S. should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.” The FBI has announced a probe as the local police investigation continues. Suspected gunman Craig Stephen Hicks had frequently posted anti-religious comments on his Facebook page. On Friday, dozens of Muslims paid tribute to the victims in a prayer gathering outside the White House.
Ali Hassan: “You know, it could have been any of us. It could have been my fiancée, who covers her hair. It could have been my mother, who covers her hair. And what hurts the most is that they weren’t killed for any other reasons other than the fact that they were Muslims.”
On Saturday, the brother of Chapel Hill shooting victim Deah Barakat joined thousands of people in the capital of Raleigh for the Moral March. Organizers called it “the largest civil rights rally in the South since the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.”
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania has issued a moratorium on the death penalty in his state. Wolf cited what he called an “error prone” justice system and “inherent biases” in the court process. The moratorium will remain in place until a task force on capital punishment submits a final report. In a statement, Amnesty International said: “Pennsylvania is now moving toward the national consensus that the death penalty is broken, costly and needs to be abolished.”
An Indian immigrant has filed suit over an alleged assault from an Alabama police officer that left him partially paralyzed. Sureshbhai Patel was walking outside of his son’s home in the city of Madison when someone called police reporting a suspicious person. In an incident caught an video, an officer who arrived on the scene throws Patel to the ground. Patel, who speaks no English, was severely injured and underwent spinal surgery. His lawsuit says race factored into his mistreatment. The officer has been charged with assault, and police officials have apologized. The FBI is also investigating.
Hundreds of people rallied in Washington state this weekend over the fatal police shooting of a migrant worker from Mexico. Antonio Zambrano-Montes was allegedly throwing rocks at police when they shot him dead. Video shows Zambrano falling to the sidewalk with his arms in the air after police open fire. Police Sergeant Ken Lattin acknowledged Montes was unarmed and said the killing is being investigated.
Sgt. Ken Lattin: “Antonio Zambrano-Montes was not armed with a gun or a knife. We know, we all know, based on the videos we’ve watched on social media, that he did at one point at least have a rock in his hand and threw that rock. The investigation continues on whether he was armed with a rock at the time that he was shot. That is still an ongoing investigation.”
Zambrano worked in an apple orchard after migrating to the United States a decade ago. The Mexican government has condemned his death as a “disproportionate use of lethal force.”
New England has been hit with its fourth major snowstorm in less than a month. Two feet of snow fell in some areas, adding to up to six feet already on the ground. February has already become Boston’s snowiest month since records began in 1872, with reports the city has now recorded more snow in three weeks than Chicago has ever seen in an entire winter. Climate scientist Michael Mann noted the link between record snowfall and climate change, tweeting: “If you deny that warmer ocean temps lead to greater snowfall with coastal winter storms, you are not a climate denier. You are a physics denier.”
A Mexican national has been awarded a $500,000 settlement for being shot in the back by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2010. The agent initially acknowledged Jesus Castro Romo was unarmed, but later said he had threatened to attack him with a rock. The agent has since been imprisoned for working with drug cartels. The U.S. government was ordered to pay for Castro’s medical costs and loss of income over four decades. A judge reduced Castro’s damages by 10 percent because he was illegally crossing the border when he was shot.
A top adviser has confirmed President Obama faked his opposition to same-sex marriage in order to help his 2008 presidential campaign. In a new book, campaign strategist David Axelrod says Obama was always for marriage equality, but lied in order to win votes. Obama reportedly said: “I’m just not very good at B.S.’-ing.” But near the end of Obama’s first term, Axelrod said the president told aides he would no longer hide his true position.
David Axelrod: “There’s no doubt that his sympathies were very much on the side of allowing gay couples to marry. He also recognized that the country wasn’t there yet and that we needed to bring the country along. This was always the most vexing issue, because there was some part of him that so wanted to say, 'You know what? I just don't believe this.’ And in 2012 — 2011, really, he basically said to us, 'Look, I'm just telling you, if I get asked the question, if I were a state legislator, how would I vote, I’m going to say I would vote for gay marriage, and you guys better prepare for it.’”
After claiming his position had evolved, President Obama declared his public support for marriage equality in 2012, becoming the first president to do so.
Protests were held across Bahrain this weekend to mark the fourth anniversary of a pro-democracy uprising. Opposition activists began protesting the U.S.-backed Sunni regime on February 14, 2011, amidst political upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia. The protests were crushed by martial law and a U.S.-backed invasion of Saudi Arabian forces. Bahrain is a key U.S. government ally in the Gulf, hosting the Navy’s 5th Fleet.