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Hundreds Killed as ISIL Seizes Ramadi; Iraq Orders Deployment of Shiite Militias

May 18, 2015

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has captured Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar province. The last of the Iraqi forces fled on Sunday as ISIL forces swept the city, killing government loyalists and seizing military equipment, including U.S.-supplied weapons. Local officials say around 500 civilians and soldiers were killed in just two days of fighting and that thousands have fled their homes. The fall of Ramadi comes despite weeks of U.S. airstrikes and is considered one of ISIL’s biggest victories since it seized territory across Iraq last June. Speaking today in South Korea, Secretary of State John Kerry said he expects ISIL’s gains to be reversed.

Secretary of State John Kerry: “In addition, their communications have been reduced. Their funding and financial mechanisms have been reduced. And their movements, by and large, in most certainly where there are air patrols and other capacities, have been reduced. But that’s not everywhere. And so, it is possible to have the kind of attack we’ve seen in Ramadi. But I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed.”

The Iraqi government has asked Shiite militias to deploy to Anbar to help recapture it as they did in Tikrit earlier this year.

U.S. Forces Kill ISIL Militants in Syria Raid

May 18, 2015

A U.S. military raid inside Syria has reportedly killed scores of Islamic State militants, including a mid-level leader. The Pentagon says the operation killed Abu Sayyaf and about a dozen others. Sayyaf’s wife was captured, and a woman said to be the couple’s Yazidi slave was also freed. The U.S. says it did not coordinate with the Syrian regime.

Saudi-Led Bombing of Yemen Resumes After Truce Ends

May 18, 2015

The Saudi-led coalition has resumed bombing Yemen after a five-day ceasefire expired. Strikes were reported in the province of Aden as Houthi fighters battled rival forces across the south. The five-day pause allowed for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid, but several cities failed to receive any assistance. The U.N. envoy to Yemen urged all parties to renew the truce.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed: “We have seen how this humanitarian truce has given us a glimpse of hope by allowing aid to reach the Yemeni people at a time when they most desperately need it. In light of this spirit, I urge all parties to renew their commitment to this humanitarian truce for at least five more days.”

Saudi Arabia is hosting a gathering of Yemeni political leaders, including the internationally recognized President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, but the Houthis have refused to attend as the airstrikes continue.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Sentenced to Death for Boston Marathon Bombing

May 18, 2015

A federal jury has sentenced 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death by lethal injection for setting off bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 260. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz welcomed the decision.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz: “Today, the jury has spoken, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will pay with his life for his crimes. Make no mistake: The defendant claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims; this was not a religious crime, and it certainly does not reflect true Muslims beliefs. It was a political crime designed to intimidate and to coerce the United States.”

The sentence was issued in Massachusetts, a state which has banned the death penalty since 1987 and has not carried out an execution since 1947. After Tsarnaev was found guilty in April, a Boston Globe poll found less than 20 percent of Massachusetts residents believed Tsarnaev should be killed. But the death penalty was allowed because it was a federal trial.

Amtrak Installs Speed Controls at Derailment Site; Train Service Resumes

May 18, 2015

Amtrak says it has installed automatic train control technology that slows trains on the stretch of track where last week’s deadly derailment occurred. Federal officials have ordered the installment of a more advanced system, positive train control, by year’s end. Full service is resuming on the Northeast Corridor train line today after repairs were made. Federal officials continue to investigate the derailment’s cause amid conflicting accounts surrounding the engineer. After interviewing crew members, Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board said one may have heard the engineer reporting the train was hit by an object.

Robert Sumwalt: “She recalled that the SEPTA engineer had reported to the train dispatcher that he had either been hit by a rock or shot at, and that the SEPTA engineer said that he had a broken windshield and he placed his train into emergency stop. She also believed that she heard the engineer say something about — she also believed that she heard her engineer say something about his train being struck by something.”

Another crew member says he doesn’t recall hearing of anything hitting the train. The engineer himself has spoken to investigators but says he doesn’t recall the moments before the crash.

Biker Gang Fight, Shootout Leaves 9 Dead in Texas

May 18, 2015

Nine people have died in a gun battle involving rival biker gangs and police in Waco, Texas. Authorities say a dispute over a shopping mall parking space descended into a fight between three different gangs. Police had been stationed at the mall in anticipation of criminal activity and moved in when gunfire began. The resulting shootout left behind a gruesome scene of blood and bodies. Waco Sgt. Patrick Swanton said it was the worst crime scene he has ever seen.

Sgt. Patrick Swanton: “I can confirm that we still have eight dead here on scene. One additional has died at the hospital, for a total of nine. Those numbers may rise. I told you earlier we had at least 16 that were transported to the hospital. Many of those had gunshot wounds and stab wounds. I will tell you that in 34 years of law enforcement this is the worst crime scene, the most violent crime scene, that I have ever been involved in. There are dead people still there. There is blood everywhere.”

All of the dead were bikers, and no officers were hurt.

Obama to Limit Military Equipment for Police Depts.

May 18, 2015

President Obama is curbing the flow of military-style gear to local police departments. Following criticism of the militarized response to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, Obama is banning the federal government from providing weaponized aircraft or vehicles, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms and tank-like armored vehicles which run on tracked wheels. Obama is also expected to restrict other military-style gear, including Humvees, drones, explosives and battering rams. He is expected to announce the measures today during a speech in Camden, New Jersey.

Colombia Halts U.S.-Backed Coca Fumigation, Citing Cancer Fears

May 18, 2015

Colombia is halting the long-running U.S.-backed toxic fumigation of its coca plant fields. Colombia has sprayed vast swaths of land with chemicals in a bid to curb the production of cocaine. But the government cited concerns the herbicide, glyphosate, causes cancer.

Egyptian Court Sentences Ex-President Morsi to Death

May 18, 2015

An Egyptian court has sentenced ousted President Mohamed Morsi and more than 100 others to death. The ruling comes in the case of a 2011 prison break, one year before Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. He has been imprisoned since being overthrown in a 2013 coup. The death term must now be confirmed by Egypt’s grand religious authority and could still be appealed to Egypt’s highest court. In a statement, Amnesty International called the trials “nothing but a charade based on null and void procedures.”

D.C. Park Police Agree to Reform Mass Arrests

May 18, 2015

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has announced an unprecedented settlement with the Obama administration to change the way the U.S. Park Police conduct mass arrests. The deal follows 12 years of litigation over the arrests of nearly 400 demonstrators, tourists, bystanders and legal observers during protests against the World Bank on September 27, 2002, when the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, working with Park Police, trapped and arrested everyone inside Pershing Park. The new policies agreed to by Park Police under the $2.2. million settlement prohibit police lines to encircle protesters, require specific probable cause for each arrest, and mandate fair notice and multiple warnings before arrests are made. In a statement, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund said, “If these reforms can be enacted here in the Nation’s Capital, they can and should be implemented in cities across the nation.”

Seattle Activists Take to Sea to Protest Shell Drilling in Arctic

May 18, 2015

About 500 environmentalists and indigenous leaders took to kayaks and small boats in Seattle on Saturday to protest Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the remote waters of the Arctic. The so-called “Paddle in Seattle” came as Shell’s massive Arctic-bound Polar Pioneer drill rig arrived at the Port of Seattle, despite local opposition. The protests are expected to culminate today with nonviolent civil disobedience to disrupt Shell’s operations. The Obama administration recently defied environmentalists by granting Shell conditional approval to drill in the Arctic this summer.

Anti-Nuke Activists Freed from Prison After Convictions Vacated

May 18, 2015

Three peace activists who infiltrated a nuclear weapons site have been freed from prison after their convictions were overturned. In 2012, the self-described “Transform Now Ploughshares” broke into the Y-12 nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They cut holes in the fence to paint peace slogans and threw blood on the wall, revealing major security flaws at the facility, which processes uranium for hydrogen bombs. The three were convicted of damaging a national defense site. Two of the activists, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, received five-year sentences, while 84-year-old nun Megan Rice received nearly three years. After two years behind bars, a federal appeals court recently vacated their convictions, saying the prosecution failed to prove the three intended to “injure the national defense.” All three were released this weekend until their resentencing on a remaining charge of damaging government property. Defense lawyers say they have likely already served more time than they are set to receive.

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