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The Islamic State is claiming kidnapped aid worker Kayla Mueller, its last known remaining American hostage, has died in Syria. On Friday, ISIS claimed Mueller was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on the city of Raqqa. Mueller’s family says it has yet to see proof and maintains hope she is still alive. Jordan has dismissed the ISIS claim as a PR stunt, and the United States has not confirmed her death. Mueller disappeared in August 2013, but her kidnapping was not publicly revealed until Friday’s announcement. Mueller reportedly moved to the Turkish-Syrian border in late 2012. She had previously traveled to the Middle East to work with the International Solidarity Movement in the Occupied Territories. Mueller graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2009. In Mueller’s hometown of Prescott, Arizona, a family spokesperson paid tribute to her aid work overseas.
Dr. Todd Geiler: “This was part of a life plan and a life path for her. She has gone down this, helping others, being a humanitarian. It was something in her heart that she went on ahead and ingrained early in her childhood and has carried through as she has matured into a young lady. Her final quote before she left was: 'For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. I will not let this be something we just accept.' It defines the young lady when she was in her adolescence, and it defines her as a woman today.”
According to Foreign Policy, Kayla Mueller’s parents had pleaded for the Pentagon not to attempt a rescue mission, saying it would jeopardize her life. U.S. forces carried out a failed bid to free Mueller and other captives inside Syria last summer. The parents reportedly urged the United States to seek a negotiated release. ISIS had reportedly demanded a ransom of more than $6 million and sent her parents a video showing her pleading for her life.
Fighting continues in eastern Ukraine as a last-ditch peace effort enters a critical phase. Leaders from France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia will meet in Minsk on Wednesday following a weekend of talks in Kiev and Moscow. Preparatory talks for the Minsk summit are continuing today in Berlin. Ukraine says it wants a return to the terms of a September ceasefire while Russia says any new truce must reflect the gains of separatist rebels over Ukrainian forces. French President François Hollande says the ongoing talks mark “one of the last chances” to avoid a wider war inside Ukraine.
Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Ukraine crisis can be traced to a U.S. refusal to accept any challenge to its global dominance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin: “It’s a fact that there clearly is an attempt to restrain our development with different means. There is an attempt to freeze the existing world order which formed in the decade which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, with one incontestable leader who wants to remain as such, thinking he is allowed everything while others are only allowed what he allows and only in his interests. This world order will never suit Russia. If someone likes it, if someone wants to live under conditions of semi-occupation, let him. We will never do this.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet with President Obama in Washington today. Obama will reportedly decide on whether to send U.S. military aid to Ukraine in the coming days, as many top officials favor. Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Secretary of State John Kerry said Putin’s meddling in Ukraine threatens global order.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Hopefully, he will come to a point where he realizes the damage he is doing is not just to the global order and the process, but he is doing enormous damage to Russia itself. And I’m convinced, I think most people are convinced, that each month that goes by, that will catch up to him ultimately in Russia itself.”
Some top administration officials, including incoming Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, have backed military aid for Ukraine. At a security summit in Germany, Republican Senator John McCain said arming Ukraine against Russian-backed rebels is a U.S. obligation.
Sen. John McCain: “If we help Ukrainians increase the military cost to the Russian forces that have invaded their country, how long can [Russian President Vladimir] Putin sustain a war that he tells his people is not happening? That’s why we must provide defensive arms to Ukraine. Putin does not want a diplomatic solution. He wants to dominate Ukraine, as well as Russia’s other neighbors. He may make tactical compromises here or there, but just as a prelude to further aggression. Mark my words.”
Talks are resuming in Yemen today to resolve a power vacuum created with the resignation of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Houthi rebels have threatened to seize power after forcing Hadi’s ouster. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Hadi should be restored to office.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “The situation is very, very seriously deteriorating with the Houthis taking power and making this government vacuum in power. There must be a restoration of the legitimacy of President Hadi. I am concerned that these Houthis and the former President Saleh have been undermining the transition process. We have to address this one through the Security Council and GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] initiatives.”
At least 40 people have died in Egypt after supporters of a soccer team clashed with police during a game. The Egyptian government has indefinitely suspended the Egyptian Premier League in response.
Nigeria has postponed this week’s presidential election until late March amidst a wave of violence from the militant group Boko Haram. The chair of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission said security concerns prompted the move.
Attahiru Jega: “This concern is limited not just to the areas in the northeast part of Nigeria experiencing insurgency. The risk of deploying young men and women, and calling people to exercise their democratic rights, in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed, is our innermost responsibility. Under such circumstances, we believe that few election management bodies across the world, if any, would contemplate proceeding with the elections as scheduled under these circumstances.”
President Goodluck Jonathan faces a tight race against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress. The delay could stoke unrest in opposition strongholds. In the capital Abuja, dozens of protesters rallied against the postponement.
Aisha Yusufu: “Right now, I’m very angry. I’m a very, very angry Nigerian. I’m not even angry at the government alone. I’m angry at citizens who sit down and take these things being thrown at them and do nothing about it, the impunity of the Nigerian citizen sitting down and doing nothing and expecting there will be a change. Where are we? We need to hit the streets. We need to ensure that we matter.”
New details have emerged on the global bank giant HSBC’s tax-sheltering and money-laundering services for wealthy and sometimes criminal clients. According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, HSBC used its private Swiss arm to hide more than $100 billion in accounts used by weapons dealers, tax dodgers, dictators and celebrities. Leaked files reportedly include evidence that HSBC helped its clients avoid taxes in their home countries. The documents have sparked criminal probes in several countries, including the United States. In 2012, HSBC reached a $1.9 billion settlement in the United States for a massive money-laundering scheme used by drug cartels and other illegal groups. Among other allegations, the bank reportedly supplied a billion dollars to a firm whose founder had ties to al-Qaeda and shipped billions in cash from Mexico to the United States despite warnings the money was coming from drug cartels.
At least five people are dead and two people injured following a shooting in Georgia. The gunman killed his ex-wife and two children as well as another adult before turning the gun on himself. Douglas County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Glenn Daniel announced the attack.
Glenn Daniel: “This is a tough situation. Anytime you have children involved in a shooting or anything like that, or children hurt at all, it’s just tough. It pulls at your heart and tears on your heart. But, you know, it just don’t make no sense.”
The chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has ordered judges to ignore a federal court ruling allowing same-sex marriages. In a memo to courts across the state, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore says no judge or official “shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent” with the Alabama Constitution or state law. Moore’s order comes just hours before same-sex marriages were set to begin. Moore is known for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from in front of a judicial building in the early 2000s, a showdown he eventually lost.
Thousands of people opposed to the oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking” marched in Oakland, California, Saturday in what organizers called the largest anti-fracking protest in the United States. Demonstrators called on California Gov. Jerry Brown to ban fracking, citing concerns over pollution, poisoning of water supplies and climate change. A day earlier, 12 people were arrested as protesters blocked the entrance to Brown’s San Francisco office and erected a 16-foot fracking rig in the middle of an intersection. Brown was sworn in for a fourth term last month with a promise to address climate change.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams has taken a leave of absence as he faces an internal probe over false statements on air. Williams apologized last week after it emerged he had wrongly claimed he was aboard a helicopter downed by rocket fire during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. U.S.soldiers had publicly challenged Williams’ account, saying he was nowhere near the aircraft that came under fire. Williams has blamed the “fog of memory” for his mistake. On Saturday, Williams announced he will step down for a few days as NBC conducts a fact-finding investigation into the 2003 incident and several other reports, including Williams’ coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
More than a dozen St. Louis-area residents have filed lawsuits accusing two suburbs of creating an illegal debtors prison by targeting African Americans with arrests and fines. A study last year found a large part of the revenue for several St. Louis counties comes from fines paid by African-American residents disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and other low-level offenses. The lawsuits seek class-action status against Jennings and Ferguson, the site of Michael Brown’s killing last August. In Ferguson, fines and fees were the city’s second-largest source of income in fiscal year 2014. Ferguson issued on average nearly three warrants per household last year — the highest number of warrants in the state, relative to its size. The report’s author, the ArchCity Defenders, is helping bring the case. The plaintiffs want an end to the targeting as well as compensation for the victims.
The Black Lives Matter movement took center stage at the Grammy Awards Sunday as a number of performers referenced police killings of unarmed African Americans. During a performance of his hit song, “Happy,” Pharrell Williams and his backup dancers, who wore black hoodies, raised their hands in the air in the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture, which has become a symbol of police violence since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. During Beyoncé’s performance of the gospel song, “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” the all-male choir behind her raised their hands in the air. And the musician Prince, who presented the Album of the Year Award to Beck, said: “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, they still matter.”
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