Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed responsibility for last week’s massacre of Charlie Hebdo staff members and police in Paris, France.
Reuters reports AQAP said the terrorist attack was ordered in retaliation for the satirical magazine’s cartoons insulting the Islamic ‘prophet’ Mohammed.
A total of 17 people were killed in three days of terrorist violence that rocked France to its core. The attacks were led by two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, who had traveled to Yemen for weapons and other training in 2011.
“As for the blessed Battle of Paris, we … claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the Messenger of God,” said AQAP commander Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi in a video posted on YouTube and social media sites.
He added that al-Qaeda global leader Ayman al-Zawahiri gave the overall order for the attack as part of the terrorist group’s grand strategy of attacking and killing Westerners, especially those from countries participating in US-led wars in Muslim nations, wherever they are found.
Al-Ansi also credited Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born AQAP propagandist who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011. Al-Awlaki’s innocent 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also an American, was later killed in a separate airstrike.
AQAP also mocked last weekend’s solidarity rallies in Paris and throughout France as “weakness.”
“Look at how they gathered, rallied and supported each other; strengthening their weakness and dressing their wounds,” said al-Ansi.
US counterterrorism officials have long warned of the dangers of AQAP, which it has targeted with drone strikes, bombings and Special Forces attacks. But the group remains strong, as many Yemenis, spurred on by a combination of extreme poverty, radical Islamist indoctrination and US and Western policies and actions which kill tens of thousands of Muslims—including many innocent Yemenis—join the terrorist organization.
Few American officials recognize the role their government and military play in stoking Islamist terrorism, but Nabeel Khoury, a former deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, raised eyebrows and ire when he claimed in 2013 that every drone strike “generates roughly 40-60 new enemies for every AQAP operative killed.”
As France buried and mourned its dead, the nation’s parliament voted 488-1 to extend and expand its participation in the US-led war against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. Only one French lawmaker, Jean-Pierre Gorges of the center-right UMP party, voted against the measure, explaining that more war will only provoke more extremist violence.
Social media giant Facebook announced Tuesday that it will begin including missing child advisories, known in the United States as Amber Alerts, in users’ news feeds.
USA Today reports Facebook has partnered with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to launch the new initiative, which will begin on Tuesday.
With 185 million US users, Facebook believes it is in a position to help locate some of the tens of thousands of children who go missing across America each year.
“When a child goes missing, the most important thing is getting out the relevant information, the correct information, to the right people at the right time,” Emily Vacher, Facebook head of global safety, told USA Today.
The Facebook Amber Alerts will geographically target individual users, who will receive the notifications when a child is reported missing in their area. Recipients will then be able to click a ‘learn more’ button and share the notifications with their Facebook friends.
“If you see an Amber Alert delivered, it means you are actually in a position to be able to help,” said Vacher.
“This a game changer,” NCMEC founder John Walsh, best known for creating and hosting the true crime program America’s Most Wanted, told USA Today. “Facebook is the 700-pound gorilla. It will put information about missing children into the hands of Facebook users immediately.”
The Amber Alert system is named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old Texas girl who was abducted while riding her bicycle on January 13, 1996 and found dead three days later. The case remains unsolved, but when local media teamed up with police to enlist the public’s help in the search for the missing girl, the enduring notification system that now bears her name was born.
Seven years later, Congress passed the Protect Act, under which the Justice Department created a nationwide alert system. Amber Alerts are posted on electronic highway information signs, radio and television broadcasts and cell phone text messages. According to NCMEC, the alerts have helped law enforcement authorities locate 728 children.
Citing recent cyber attacks against the Pentagon and Sony Pictures Entertainment, President Barack Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to pass sweeping legislation aimed at boosting US cybersecurity.
“With the Sony attack that took place, with the [Pentagon Central Command] Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it just goes to show how much more work we need to do — both public and private sector — to strengthen our cybersecurity to make sure that families’ bank accounts are safe, to make sure that our public infrastructure is safe,” Obama said during a meeting with congressional leaders.
The White House issued a statement detailing measures the president will reportedly propose during next week’s State of the Union Address. These include improving consumer confidence by tackling identity theft, safeguarding student data through the Student Digital Privacy Act, passing the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and adopting a voluntary code of conduct for utilities and third parties in order to “improve consumer awareness, choice and consent, and controls on access.”
Obama also called for more law enforcement tools to fight cyber crime, including prosecuting individuals who sell botnets, criminalizing the foreign sale of US financial information like credit card and bank account numbers, expanding federal authority to shut down botnets engaged in criminal activity and deterring the sale of spyware used to commit identity theft.
Additionally, Obama proposed greater information sharing between the government and the private sector on cyber threats. Under the president’s proposal, corporations would be granted protection from liability related to the sharing of private data.
“Neither government nor the private sector can defend the nation alone,” the president said during a Tuesday afternoon visit to the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center in Arlington, Virginia. “It’s going to have to be a shared mission — government and industry working hand in hand.”
The White House said the new proposal “promotes better cybersecurity information sharing between the private sector and government, and it enhances collaboration and information sharing amongst the private sector.”
CBS News reports Obama discussed the issue of cybersecurity with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the hope that Democrats and Republicans could work together to tackle the problem.
“I’m hopeful that in the spirit of cooperation and putting America first, we can be in position where, at the end of this year, we’ll be able to look back and say we’re that much better off than we were when we started the year,” Obama said.
Boehner countered that the Republican-controlled House has already passed numerous measures aimed at preventing cyber attacks against private corporations, but that these bills often died in the Senate, which until this month was controlled by Democrats.
US District Judge Karen Schreier ruled in favor of six couples, whose “fundamental right to marry” is being denied by the state’s gay marriage ban.
“South Dakota law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and without sufficient justification,” Schreier wrote in her 28-page ruling.
Nancy Rosenbrahn, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, was pleased by the decision, but had a mixed reaction.
“On one hand, this is like the best present ever,” Rosenbrahn told the New York Times “On the other hand, you go back and you say ‘Well, yeah, it should be a yes,’ because we are no different than anybody else. There is no reason to say we can’t get married. There is no valid reason to do that anymore.”
Schreier’s ruling does not mean LGBT couples can go out and get married today, as she placed the decision on hold pending appeal.
The South Dakota ruling came on the same day the US Supreme Court, which is currently considering whether to take up the issue of same-sex marriage, declined to hear a challenge to Louisiana’s gay marriage ban.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley issued a statement expressing his disappointment at Judge Schreier’s ruling.
“It remains the state’s position that the institution of marriage should be defined by the voters of South Dakota and not the federal courts,” Jackley’s statement read.
Jackley said the state will appeal the decision to the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Josh Newville said Schreier’s ruling is the last chance for the state’s “elected officials to be on the right side of history” by declining to appeal the case.
“I would say that Attorney General Jackley needs to consider very seriously the amount of money that he’s pouring into this lawsuit on behalf of the state to keep a discriminatory law in place,” Newville cautioned, according to the New York Times.
Currently, 36 states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
In a moment completely befitting the sometimes scatological nature of Charlie Hebdo’s satire, surviving staff members of the French magazine struggled to suppress their laughter as a pigeon pooped on President François Hollande during Sunday’s memorial.
Hollande was emotionally embracing Patrick Pelloux, a Charlie Hebdo columnist and doctor who rushed to the scene of last week’s deadly terrorist attack, at Sunday’s unity march in Paris when the bowel-bursting bird used the president’s shoulder as a toilet.
Video of the aerial avian assault shows multiple Charlie Hebdo staffers’ expressions turning from grief to gaiety in an instant, as they vainly attempted to thwart an onset of the giggles.
“Hollande could join Charlie, because, despite himself, he made the entire team laugh in five seconds,” Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz, who was late to work when Islamist gunmen massacred 10 of his colleagues last Wednesday, is quoted in the Guardian.
“François Hollande can come to the office whenever he wants. The pigeon too,” added Luz.
As estimated 3.7 million people rallied and marched in cities and towns across France on Sunday, with around 40 world leaders gathering in Paris to take part in memorial events there. Some 1.6 million people are believed to have taken part in the Paris unity march. The French government said the turnout was the highest ever recorded.
Thousands of people also gathered in cities around the world in a show of solidarity.
Britain’s conservative prime minister called a terrorism ‘expert’ on America’s dominant right-wing news network a “complete idiot” for making completely untrue remarks about the failure of multiculturalism in the UK.
A Fox News report on Sunday asserted that there are “hundreds of no-go zones” in Europe that are “off-limits to non-Muslims.” Guest Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, claimed “Muslim religious police” in London “beat and seriously wound anyone who doesn’t dress according to… religious Muslim attire”.
Emerson also said that the entire city of Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city, is “totally Muslim.”
David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative prime minister, took notice of Emerson’s deceitful commentary and took the rare step of publicly refuting the American network’s report.
“This guy is clearly a complete idiot,” Cameron told ITV News. “When I heard this, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fool’s Day.”
“What he should do is look at Birmingham and see what a fantastic example it is of bringing people together of different faiths, different backgrounds,” the prime minister added.
Birmingham City Councillor James McKay told the BBC that his city is “incredibly diverse.”
“That’s one of the things that makes us brilliant,” said McKay. “All this fuss is a reminder of how it’s always best to check your facts before getting into a debate.”
He added: “Maybe Fox News could come and visit some time, and see for themselves what a great city we have here?”
According to the 2011 census, Birmingham is home to 494,358 Christians, 234,411 Muslims, 32,376 Sikhs, 22,362 Hindus and 2,205 Jews, as well as more than 200,000 non-religious residents.
Emerson later apologized “to all the residents of Birmingham” for his false remarks, calling it a “beautiful city” and announcing he would make a donation to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. He admitted that he “made an egregious error here in not doing my homework.”
But the damage had been done, and the hashtag #FoxNewsFacts quickly trended on Twitter.
Salim Kassam tweeted that, “After much lobbying from jihadists, [Birmingham] band Duran Duran is to change their name to Quran Quran. #FoxNewsFacts.”
Lewis Bush tweeted a photo of the old Mecca Theater, with the caption, “Mecca Bingo, probable proof of the Islamic domination of Birmingham according to #foxnewsfacts.”
Another Twitter user posted a photo of a car with a cloth covering roughly resembling a burqa, with the caption, “You’re only allowed to drive like this if you’re a Muslim woman #foxnewsfacts.”
Yet another user Tweeted a photo of Queen Elizabeth II wearing a kerchief, with the caption, “Legislation passed in Islamified Britain forcing the Queen of England to don a traditional headscarf #FoxNewsFacts.”
Bedfordshire resident James Gleave, noting Emerson’s apology, tweeted, “The Fox News guy has apologised and called the city of Birmingham ‘beautiful’. The guy can’t get anything right, can he? #FoxNewsFacts”
A US-led coalition airstrike, most likely American, targeting a headquarters of Islamic State militants in northern Syria has killed at least 50 civilians being held prisoner by the terrorist group.
McClatchy Newspapers reports the December 28 strike occurred in Al Bab, 42 km (26 miles) northwest of Aleppo. It targeted the Al Saraya government center, where many of the slain civilians were being jailed for petty offenses, such as smoking or wearing blue jeans, under Islamic State’s severe interpretation of Islamic law.
US Central Command (CENTCOM), which had not previously announced the airstrike, confirmed the attack on Saturday after repeated media inquiries.
“Coalition aircraft did strike and destroy an ISIL headquarters building in Al Bab on Dec. 28,” Col. Patrick S. Ryder said in an email to McClatchy.
Witnesses confirmed the high civilian death toll. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 80 people — including 25 Islamic State guards — were killed in the evening bombing. The group said the other 55 victims were civilians or imprisoned fighters from other rebel groups.
Civil defense volunteers spent days recovering bodies from the rubble. The remains of 50 prisoners were turned over to relatives in Al Bab, while nine bodies were released to families in Baz’a and one to a family from Ikhtrin. Islamic State militants claimed 13 of the bodies, a witness told McClatchy.
In a shift that surprised some observers, the Pentagon announced last week that it is investigating credible reports of civilian casualties caused by US and coalition attacks on Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. Rear Admiral John Kirby said CENTCOM reviewed the credibility of 18 separate allegations of coalition airstrikes killing or injuring civilians between August 8 and December 30 and found five of them credible.
As was often the case in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, Pentagon officials initially denied killing any civilians, then announced an investigation when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The US-led coalition has launched around 1,400 airstrikes since the start of its campaign against Islamic State militants, who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity as they fought for control of a large swathe of territory in Syria and northern Iraq.
As many as 200,000 Syrians have died as a result of the nearly four-year civil war in which government troops and forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad are fighting a revolt by Islamic State and other rebel groups. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 63,000 civilians, including 10,377 children, are among the dead.
That same human rights group says it has documented at least 40 civilians killed by US-led coalition forces. The alliance includes troops from Kurdistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Turkey, Bahrain, Britain, Australia, France, Canada and the Netherlands.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights lists a September 23 airstrike which killed 13 civilians in Idlib province, as well as another 23 innocents killed in Deir el Zour, among the incidents attributed to coalition forces.
In addition to the dead and wounded, Syria’s civil war has precipitated one of the worst refugee crises in modern history. According to the United Nations, more than 3.3 million Syrians have fled the horrors of their homeland, mostly to neighboring and nearby nations. Tiny Lebanon, population 4.46 million, has taken in 1.16 million refugees.
A $2 billion fund run by a team of Silicon Valley superstars is getting into the the lucrative marijuana business with a multi-million dollar investment in a Seattle private equity firm focused on cannabis products and services.
The Associated Press reports Founders Fund, established in 2005 by PayPal co-founders Ken Howery and Peter Thiel, is making what the investors describe as a “multi-million dollar” investment in Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based private equity firm seeking to raise $75 million.
Founded by Yale University MBA graduates Brendan Kennedy and Michael Blue, Privateer Holdings is believed to be the first private equity firm to focus strictly on marijuana-related companies. Its holdings include the Canadian medical marijuana producer Tilray and Leafly, the popular online resource and app for medical cannabis information.
One of the most promising projects in Privateer’s pipeline is a line of marijuana products to be launched with the family of Bob Marley called Marley Natural.
Founders Fund partner Geoff Lewis, who is spearheading the firm’s investment in Privateer, told the AP that he believes marijuana legalization is inevitable.
“Public sentiment is there, and it crosses political lines,” said Lewis.
Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana. Four states — Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon, plus the District of Columbia — have fully legalized recreational marijuana, although Washington, DC’s move has been blocked by Congress. There are also campaigns underway to legalize cannabis in 14 additional states by 2017.
While the tide of legalization slowly sweeps the nation, Lewis’ claim of “inevitable” legality for the plant seems all but certain. As public acceptance of marijuana continues to grow — beginning in late 2013, public opinion polls began showing majority support for legalization — more states will repeal bans on the plant, which remains classified as a Schedule I narcotic by the federal government.
One of the last remaining major barriers faced by state-legal marijuana businesses is access to the banking system and the credit it controls. But there are measures afoot to address the issue, and even the Obama administration and some conservative lawmakers, pro-business as ever, have taken up the cause of banking access for legal cannabis companies.
These developments are seemingly at odds with the government’s continued insistence that marijuana remain ranked among the most dangerous, addictive and medically useless drugs, a category which includes heroin and LSD. But the general atmosphere is one of inexorable legalization, and “ganjapreneurs” like Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy see plenty of green in their future.
“There will be a lot of people who wake up [now] and realize they need to look at this industry just as they have looked at other emerging industries around the world,” Kennedy told the AP.
Founders Fund, which is based in San Francisco, was an early investor in Facebook. It currently has investments in Elon Musk’s Space X, Spotify and Airbnb.
Uncle Sam may not be showing up at your door with a clipboard in hand come the next census, as the US government is preparing to test 21st-century tools allowing it to accurately count the nation’s population using Internet and smartphone technology.
The Associated Press reports Americans may soon be filling out their census forms online instead via US Mail, as has been done for decades. Census-takers may soon be using smartphones to complete their counts, instead of filling out paperwork like in centuries past.
In a bid to apply modern technology to a practice as old as America itself, census workers will be conducting a test in which they will ask residents of Savannah, Georgia and Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona to submit information via the Internet rather than by mail. In the follow-up home visits to those who do not reply online, census-takers will input data into their Android smartphones for real-time collection and analysis.
In 2013, US Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson issued a statement titled “Ensuring an Accurate and Affordable 2020 Census” in which he promised to fundamentally change the paper-based census system that has been in place since the 19th century.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the cost of counting each US household during the 2010 census was $98, up from $16 in 1970, or a 600 percent increase. Over the same period, the mail response rate, considered a key indicator of cost-effectiveness, fell from 78 percent to 63 percent. This, despite considerable government expenditure on census outreach before and during the 2010 count.
“In many ways, the Bureau has had to invest substantially more resources each decade just to try and match the results of prior enumerations,” the GAO said in a report.
Pew Research Center believes part of the decline in public responsiveness to census-takers is attributable to “growing public reluctance to answer surveys.” But that reluctance may be counterproductive. There’s much at stake in getting the count right — census data is used to allot congressional seats and to determine how much the government will spend on infrastructure, programs and services in a given area.
The real-time capability of census-takers utilizing smartphones will allow managers to deploy workers on the ground more efficiently.
“You now can electronically control the flow of information all the way, from when you get people to self-respond, hopefully by the Internet, to when you give it to the interviewers to when you get it back from the interviewers,” said Thompson.
The operators of an Alabama shooting range have raised eyebrows and ire by posting a Facebook photo of an infant holding a semiautomatic handgun.
Photos posted by Montgomery Indoor Shooting Complex in Montgomery have apparently been deleted, but not before going viral and sparking a firestorm of criticism over what many viewers believe is irresponsible handling of deadly firearms.
One of the photos shows a baby who appears to be no more than a couple of months old lying in a University of Alabama jacket surrounded by rifles and shotguns and holding a semiautomatic pistol.
Lilly Ann Gibbs, who works at the 10-lane shooting facility on Carmichael Parkway, explained that the photo was meant to highlight the need for gun safety.
“Primarily here at Montgomery Indoor Shooting Complex, we promote firearm safety, so in order to stimulate a little dialogue, we put a controversial picture in effort to get people’s feedback and get some awareness about that topic,” Gibbs told WHNT.
“In the Journal of Pediatrics, they estimate that 10,000 children are harmed by firearms a year. And so we at Montgomery Indoor Shooting Complex are participating with the national shooting sports foundation in a child safe program,” Gibbs added.
The range’s Facebook page includes a link to Project ChildSafe, a nationwide program promoting “safe firearms handling and storage practices.”
The range’s owners told reporters they do not condone the photos, but want to stimulate conversation about gun safety.
Public reaction to the story has been mixed.
“I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s correct,” Octavius Combs told WAKA. “I don’t think that’s a good picture because it kinda sends out a lot of messages in the wrong way.”
“It’s not appropriate at all for anything,” agreed Annette Coleman.
But some parents expressed their support for the controversial photos.
“Following y’all in support of your picture post,” commented Facebook user Haley Jo Hosmond Woolard. “Saw it on our local news channel & there wasn’t a thing wrong with the picture. Hope the complaints of the thin skins bring more business through your doors! God bless!”
“As long as the guns aren’t loaded then who cares,” Andrea McKemey Ingram told WAKA.
The story broke as numerous shootings by young children made headlines around the nation.
On Thursday, a Tallahassee, Florida man was charged in connection with the death of his 3-year-old nephew, who on December 29 fatally shot himself with a pistol he found in a box in the man’s home.
On Wednesday, a 3-year-old Kansas City, Missouri girl was rushed to a local hospital after shooting herself in the stomach with a gun found in her family’s home.
Even children under the strict supervision of certified expert firearms instructors can be involved in deadly accidents. Last September, a 9-year-old girl firing an Uzi submachine gun at the Bullets and Burgers shooting range in Dolan Springs, Arizona accidentally shot and killed 39-year-old instructor Charles Vaca, who was standing next to her teaching her how to use the gun, when the child could not control the powerful weapon’s recoil, or kick.