Islamic State militants have reportedly kidnapped scores of Christians in northeastern Syria. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 90 Assyrian Christians have been captured, while another group put the number between 70 and 100. The captures came as ISIS militants retreated from Kurdish militia backed by the U.S.-led coalition. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is planning a major offensive in Iraq to retake the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul. Speaking in Kuwait Monday after meetings with top U.S. officials, new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter vowed to defeat the Islamic State.
Ashton Carter: “Our discussion this afternoon affirmed the seriousness and the complexity of the threat posed by ISIL (Islamic State), especially in an interconnected and networked world. Lasting defeat of this brutal group can and will be accomplished.”
Earlier this month, ISIS released video of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. Amnesty International has now accused Egyptian forces of failing to take key precautions before launching retaliatory airstrikes, which killed seven civilians in the Libyan city of Derna.
A new report has raised questions about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to thwart a nuclear deal with Iran. According to Al Jazeera, Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, contradicted Netanyahu’s own dire warnings, made before the U.N. General Assembly, about Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb within one year. The news comes as U.S. officials have reported progress in nuclear talks with Iran, and as Netanyahu is due to address Congress next month. We will have more on the story after headlines.
In the United States, a Manhattan jury has found the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization liable for allegedly supporting terrorist attacks in Israel which killed or injured Americans. The groups have denied any involvement in the attacks, which took place over a decade ago. In a statement, Palestinian Authority spokesperson Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa vowed to appeal the jury’s decision, saying, “This case is just the latest attempt by hard-line antipeace factions in Israel to use and abuse the U.S. legal system to advance their narrow political and ideological agenda.”
Israeli forces have shot and killed a Palestinian teenager in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. The Israeli military says the soldiers opened fire after they were attacked with rocks and incendiary devices during an arrest raid. But the local governor says 19-year-old Jihad Shehada al-Jaafari was shot and killed while watching the clashes from his roof.
Police in the Maldives have physically dragged environmentalist and former President Mohamed Nasheed into court to face charges of illegally ordering the arrest of a judge while Nasheed was still president. Nasheed’s arrest Sunday marked the latest chapter in a battle over his decision to arrest a judge appointed by his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years before Nasheed became its first democratically elected president in 2008. He became famous in 2009 for holding a cabinet meeting underwater to show the threat of climate change to his island nation. Nasheed was ousted in 2012 in what he called an armed coup by Gayoom’s supporters.
Senate Democrats have blocked a fourth Republican bid to defund President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, in exchange for continuing to fund the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is due to run out of money on Friday unless Congress passes legislation to fund it. But Republicans have sought to tie the funding to a rollback of Obama’s plan to spare millions of immigrants from deportation. Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland criticized the deadlock.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski: “The Coast Guard is on the job. They’re working in the cold. They’re working in the wind. They’re breaking up ice in not only Maryland, but all over to these frozen ports. And what do we say? 'Good job, guys. There they are on TV, and we love you, but we might not pay you.' What is this? They’re out there saving lives, and we’re playing parliamentary ping-pong.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced plans to end the stalemate by splitting the bid to defund immigration initiatives into a separate measure.
A court in Texas has stayed the execution of an African-American man who has been on death row for 17 years, after his attorneys presented new evidence of his innocence. Rodney Reed was scheduled to die March 5 for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, a white woman with whom he says he was having an affair. But Reed’s attorneys say a new investigation has uncovered evidence Stites was actually killed hours before state prosecutors claimed. The new timeline appears to implicate Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, a white former police officer now in prison for sexually assaulting a woman while on duty.
In Texas, officials in Houston have cleared a three-decade backlog of more than 6,600 rape kits. The testing turned up 850 DNA matches in a national database. The authorities acknowledged some suspects whose DNA was in the Houston kits committed other crimes while the evidence languished. Houston is one of several cities nationwide with massive rape-kit backlogs.
Three Los Angeles police officers have avoided criminal charges for shooting an unarmed, disabled veteran on live television. Billy Beaird was shot in December 2013 following a car chase which aired live on local news. Beaird’s father was among those who watched live as his son emerged from his car, raised his hands and was shot 13 times. Prosecutors found the fatal shots hit Beaird while he fell or while he was on the ground, but they said there was insufficient evidence to prove the officers did not fire to defend themselves or someone else. Late last year, the officers were found to have violated department rules. They have been relieved of duty without pay, pending punishment. The city has approved a $5 million settlement for Beaird’s family.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has apologized for falsely claiming he served in the U.S. special forces. McDonald made the claim last month while speaking with a homeless veteran in a segment that aired on CBS Evening News.
Robert McDonald: “Do you happen to be a veteran of military service?”
Robert McDonald: “Really?”
Robert McDonald: “Army? Navy? Air Force?”
Robert McDonald: “Army. What unit?”
Veteran: “Special forces.”
Robert McDonald: “Special forces. What years? I was in special forces.”
McDonald actually served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division — not special forces. In a statement Monday, McDonald said, “I incorrectly stated that I had been in special forces. That was inaccurate and I apologize to anyone that was offended by my misstatement.”
Top climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri has stepped down as head of the United Nations’ Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change amid an investigation in India over sexual harassment. A female researcher at Pachauri’s group, The Energy and Resources Institute, accused him of sending her harassing email and text messages. Pachauri’s attorneys say his accounts and phone were hacked.
Labor unions are heading to the Wisconsin State Capitol today to protest plans by Republican Gov. Scott Walker to sign anti-union legislation. The so-called right-to-work bill would undermine the ability of private sector unions to collect dues and collectively bargain. The Center for Media and Democracy has revealed the bill in Wisconsin is taken word for word from model legislation proposed by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.
Alaska has become the third U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana. A ballot measure passed by voters in November takes effect today, allowing people ages 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of pot.
Fifteen former students of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges system have launched what they say is the nation’s first student debt strike. The students have refused to pay back loans they took out to attend Corinthian, which has been sued by the federal government for its predatory lending. Meanwhile, an activist group has announced it has erased over $13 million of debt owed by students of Everest College, a Corinthian subsidiary. The Rolling Jubilee uses donated funds to purchase debt at discounted prices, then abolish it.