Hundreds of people are feared to have drowned in what may be the deadliest migrant disaster ever in the Mediterranean Sea. As many as 700 people perished after their boat capsized after departing from Libya. Only 28 people were rescued. The warmer weather has increased the number of journeys by people fleeing to Europe from violence and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The latest tragedy comes after a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration had already warned the Mediterranean death toll has increased tenfold, from about 90 last year to 900 this year.
Joel Millman: “We’re talking about a death toll this year that’s already 10 times what it was last year. And when you recall that we reported, I think, 3,179 deaths in the Mediterranean last year, if this trend were to continue, we’d be talking about over 30,000. And that’s quite alarming.”
European officials are holding urgent talks on the migrant crisis in Luxembourg today.
In Iraq, an estimated 90,000 people have fled the province of Anbar over a period of several days, as the city of Ramadi appears to be on the verge of falling to the self-proclaimed Islamic State. ISIL forces have seized towns around Ramadi, which lies 60 miles west of Baghdad. Meanwhile in northern Iraq, Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes say they have made progress against ISIL around the city of Kirkuk.
ISIL has released video it says shows the executions of about 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. The footage shows one group of captives in orange jumpsuits being beheaded on a beach, while another group of captives is shot to death in a different region of Libya.
Iran’s foreign minister has published an op-ed in The New York Times calling for a ceasefire and dialogue to resolve the crisis in Yemen. As U.S.-backed Saudi airstrikes rock the capital Sana’a, which is held by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif writes, “One cannot confront Al Qaeda and its ideological siblings, such as the so-called Islamic State … in Iraq, while effectively enabling their growth in Yemen and Syria.” On Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized U.S. foreign policy.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “The myth of Iranian nuclear weapons was created by the Americans, with the Europeans and others, with the purpose of showing Iran as a threat. No, America is itself the threat. The American regime is the greatest threat to the world today, with its irrelevant interference anywhere it pleases in the world, without any control, without any commitment, religious or moral, interference that compromises security.”
Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers resume Tuesday.
In Somalia, the militant group al-Shabab has killed nine people in a bomb attack on a van carrying workers to a United Nations office in the region of Puntland. The dead include four staff members from UNICEF. It was the third deadly attack by al-Shabab on foreign personnel in three days, following earlier attacks on African Union peacekeepers and a Kenyan convoy.
A new report by The Intercept and Der Spiegel has revealed the U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany, is the “high-tech heart” of the U.S. drone program. While U.S. and German officials have sought to downplay the base’s role, documents obtained from an anonymous source show the base serves as a crucial satellite relay station, beaming signals from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to drones over Yemen, Somalia and other countries.
FBI agents have arrested six people in Minnesota and California as part of what they say is a terrorism investigation. The FBI has provided no details so far. The news comes after a 23-year-old Ohio man was arraigned last week for allegedly traveling to Syria to aid the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front. Prosecutors say Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud boasted of his skills to a government informant and planned to attack a military facility or prison within the United States. Meanwhile, Australian and British police say they have arrested a number of teenagers, including a 14-year-old boy, over an alleged plot to attack a war memorial ceremony in Australia.
The State Department has acknowledged it reached out to corporate media executives for help countering narratives put forth by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and by Russia. An email published by WikiLeaks as part of a trove of hacked Sony documents shows State Department official Richard Stengel telling Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton that countering such narratives is “not something that the State Department can do on its own.” Stengel suggests a meeting of media executives to “help us think about better ways to respond.” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf acknowledged the administration has talked with social media and entertainment organizations about its efforts against ISIL.
Marie Harf: “We were very clear that we talked to a host of government and nongovernmental actors about the anti-ISIL coalition. This is certainly a very, very small part of that. I wouldn’t sort of draw any — I wouldn’t draw any big analytical statements from this, other than we’re very clear that we believe people who have platforms, who can speak out against ISIL, should do so. But their content, what they choose to say, what they choose to print, what they choose to make in terms of movies, is obviously entirely up to them. And I think Sony would say the same thing.”
Other Sony emails from the WikiLeaks trove reveal actor Ben Affleck asked the creators of the PBS documentary series “Finding Your Roots” to conceal the fact he had a slave-owning ancestor. The film’s host, Henry Louis Gates, consulted Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton for advice, and ultimately the fact was left out of the film. Gates and PBS say the omission was based on editorial grounds.
Tens of thousands of people marched around the world Saturday on a global day of action against a massive free trade deal being negotiated between the United States and Europe. Opponents of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, say it would threaten European GMO restrictions and undermine health, environmental and financial regulations by letting corporations sue countries in private trade tribunals over laws they claim threaten their profits. Over 600 protests took place Saturday against the TTIP and other secretive free trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Congress recently reached a deal to grant President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP with countries in South America and Asia.
In Finland, a millionaire former telecommunications executive who advocates austerity policies has won election as the next prime minister. Juha Sipilä will likely need to form a coalition government with the right-wing, anti-immigration Finns Party, which wants to expel Greece from the European Union.
In Mexico, a new investigation has revealed federal police massacred 16 civilians in January in the state of Michoacán. Authorities had described the incident in Apatzingán as a shootout with a civil defense force. But a report published in Mexican outlets based on interviews with dozens of people reveals federal police attacked an encampment of members of an anti-cartel rural defense group, who had staged a sit-in after the federal security commissioner in the state dissolved their group without pay. The police reportedly yelled, “Kill them like dogs,” as they descended on the protesters, none of whom fired a shot. Hours later, the federal police opened fire on vehicles carrying civil defense members and their families. A witness described seeing someone killed while on his knees.
Witness: “They shouted at me, 'Put your hands up! Get on your knees!' When I went to put my hands up and get on my knees, a person who was further down, toward Tres Hermanos, a person who was on his knees, I saw how they shot him in the face, and he fell. The compañero fell. They shot him, while he was on his knees, surrendering, unarmed.”
In Maryland, a 27-year-old African-American man has died one week after an arrest by Baltimore police that left him in a coma. Freddie Gray’s family and attorney say his voicebox was crushed and his spine was “80 percent severed at his neck.” Police have not said why they arrested Gray. Video shot by a bystander shows him screaming in apparent agony as police drag him to a van. You can hear a bystander’s voice.
Bystander: “His leg looks broke! Look at his f—ing leg! Look at his f—ing leg! That boy’s leg looks broke! His leg’s broken! Y’all dragging him like that!”
Police say officers placed additional restraints on Gray while he was in the van, then called paramedics to take him to the hospital half an hour later. Gray died on Sunday, amid protests demanding answers. His family has called for a federal probe.
Police in St. Louis County, Missouri, shot and killed a 23-year-old African-American man after his mother called them for help. Police say Thaddeus McCarroll emerged from his house with a knife and charged at them, after his mother reported he was behaving abnormally and talking about a “black revolution.” Audio from a police body camera shows McCarroll repeatedly asking the police to go, saying he is “pissed off because you guys won’t leave me alone.” Police fired a rubber bullet, then, seconds later, opened fire with an automatic weapon.
Thaddeus McCarroll’s death in Jennings, Missouri, comes as new information has emerged about the militarized response to mass protests over the police killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson last year. Documents obtained by CNN show the Missouri National Guard used the terms “enemy forces” and “adversaries” to refer to the protesters.
In Arizona, a police officer who ran a suspect over with his cruiser will not face charges. Footage from a police dashboard camera shows Marana police Officer Michael Rapiejko running down a suspect police say was armed with a stolen gun. The suspect, Mario Valencia, was hospitalized but survived. Prosecutors say they lacked evidence to prove the officer had “the requisite criminal intent for aggravated assault.” He is a former NYPD officer who was previously sued for excessive force.
The Justice Department has admitted almost every member of an FBI unit specializing in forensic hair samples gave exaggerated testimony in nearly every case where they testified against suspects. According to The Washington Post, a review has found 26 out of 28 examiners overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of trials examined so far. The trials took place over a 20-year period before 2000. They include 32 cases in which prisoners were sentenced to death, including 14 who were executed or died in prison.
Oklahoma has become the first U.S. state to approve the untested use of nitrogen gas for executions. A new law signed by Governor Mary Fallin establishes gas as a backup method if lethal injection drugs are unavailable, or if that method is blocked by a court. Nitrogen gas works by depriving the body of oxygen. It’s banned for use on animals in some states, and there is no record of it ever being used to execute humans. Executions remain on hold in Oklahoma as the Supreme Court considers its three-drug lethal injection method following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who took 43 minutes to die.
The 61-year-old mailman who entered restricted airspace to land his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn in a protest calling for campaign finance reform says public attention has focused too heavily on his methods rather than his message. Speaking after he returned home to Florida, Doug Hughes said money in politics should be the real concern.
Doug Hughes: “We need to be worried not about whether or not somebody can fly into D.C.; we need to be worried about the piles of money that are going into Congress.”
Reporter: “Do you consider yourself a patriot?”
Hughes: “No, I’m a mailman.”
And Dr. Irwin Schatz, who became a lone critic of the now-notorious Tuskegee syphilis study years before it was exposed in the press, has died at the age of 83. For four decades until 1972, the U.S. government studied the long-term effects of untreated syphilis on poor, black men. After reading of the study in a medical journal in 1964, Schatz wrote, “I am utterly astounded by the fact that physicians allow patients with potentially fatal disease to remain untreated when effective therapy is available.” But a study co-author dismissed his letter, saying it was the first of its kind they had received. Schatz died of cancer at home in Hawaii.