Ansar Dine Islamist rebels have taken control of the central city of Konna, situated northeast of Mali’s capital, moving further into government-held territory. The capture of Konna is a significant advance for Mali rebels. There have been no official comments yet from the Mali army. The rebels identify with a strict version of Islam and have already occupied the vast desert of northern Mali, making good use of a power vacuum after the last democratically elected president was overthrown in March.
At least 63 people have been killed and 127 others wounded in three bomb blasts in Pakistan. Twin blasts killed at least 52 people when they exploded at a billiards hall in the town of Quetta. More than 100 people were wounded. Earlier Friday, a bomb in a market killed 11 people and injured 27 others. Militant group United Baloch Army claimed responsibility for that attack. The region is plagued by sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The Taliban also carries out attacks in the area.
Tens of thousands of supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have rallied outside his presidential palace on Thursday on what was supposed to be his inauguration day. Wearing T-shirts with the slogan “I am Chavez”, people waved flags while upbeat music from speakers kept proclaiming: “Chavez, heart of the people!” The show was organized by the country’s government to show support for the cancer-stricken leader, as his swearing-in ceremony has been indefinitely postponed. Chavez is currently in a Cuban hospital fighting a severe respiratory infection more than a month after cancer surgery.
Australian police have arrested an alleged associate of the jailed international arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Richard Ammar Chichakli has been arrested at the request of US authorities. The alleged associate is believed to be holding both Syrian and US citizenship and is charged with conspiring with Bout to try to purchase two aircraft from companies located in the United States and use them to ship arms. The Russian businessman, who was convicted by a US court in 2011 of conspiring to sell arms to Colombia's FARC rebels, is now serving a 25-year jail term in the US. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers the "Bout case" politically motivated.
Five children, three men and two women were killed and many people injured in an attack on Kibuso village in eastern Kenya, a Kenyan Red Cross spokeswoman reported. About 20 houses were set on fire during the attack that appeared to be a revenge raid for an assault on Wednesday, which left 7 people dead. In just the last four months more than 200 people have been killed in fighting between the two communities.
Damascus was surprised by the recent comments made about Assad’s standing by UN and Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The pro-Assad al-Watan newspaper referred to Brahimi as "a tool for the implementation of the policy of some Western countries". The international peace envoy told the BBC that he didn’t see Bashar al-Assad as a part of a transitional government and called for him to quit. Brahimi added that “ruling for 40 years is a little bit too long”, referring to Assad, who inherited the presidency from his father, who’s tenure lasted 30 years.
11 people have been killed after a blast in the Baacha Khan Chowk area in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. 40 people were also reportedly injured in the incident. The bomb, which detonated in a market in Quetta, targeted a police patrol, but mostly killed sellers of vegetable and second-hand clothes, according to law enforcement agencies. Another 21 people were killed and around 60 more injured in an explosion in Mingora, the largest city in the northwestern province of Swat. The blast was initially considered to have been caused by an exploding gas cylinder, but later police chief Akhtar Hayat said it was a bomb.
Scotland Yard has arrested four men as part of an investigation into travel to Syria in support of terrorist activity. One of the men was detained while trying to take a flight from London's Gatwick airport on Wednesday. The others were arrested at addresses in East London on Thursday, police said in a statement. The men, aged 18-33, are being held by the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command. Two men who have previously been charged in connection with the investigation are due to go on trial in Britain in June over the kidnapping of two Western journalists by Islamic extremists in Syria.
Heavy rainfall along the Egypt-Gaza border has caused the collapse of a smuggling tunnel Ma’an News Agency reports . A bus vehicle fell into a seven-meter wide hole causing injuries and damaging goods being transported illegally across the border. The tunnels are used to supply Gaza’s economy due to Israel’s restrictions imposed as part of the cease fire with Hamas.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has said it is of paramount importance to prevent destabilization in Venezuela over the health condition of President Hugo Chavez. “This should be the target of efforts of all political forces inside and outside of the country,” the ministry’s information and press department said in a commentary on Thursday. Moscow urges “their balanced and responsible approach,” it said, adding that they should closely adhere to the country’s constitution. The commentary also expressed hope that the Venezuelan leader will overcome the trials of life and return to his duties.
Japan will consider giving 10 patrol vessels and a communications system to Manila's coast guard, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has said. He discussed with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida ways to bolster trade, and maritime security cooperation. Tokyo is wrangling with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Beijing and the Philippines were also in a tense standoff last year over Scarborough Shoal, a dispute that strained relations.
Police and federal agents have said in a Colorado courtroom that James Holmes had amassed guns and ammunition during the weeks before a mass shooting that occurred on July 20, 2012, at a Century movie theater in Aurora. Prosecution witnesses also testified that Holmes started assembling an arsenal in early May and in early July, he took some interior and exterior photos of the theater. The preliminary hearing ended Wednesday so that state District Judge William Sylvester could determine whether prosecutors' case is strong enough to put Holmes on trial, the AP said. Holmes faces more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder. It is not clear if he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Indian troops have shot dead a Pakistani soldier in the disputed state of Kashmir, Pakistani military said. It comes just two days after two Indian soldiers were killed in a firefight in the flashpoint area. Islamabad denied that its troops were behind the Tuesday killings.
Police beat the five suspects arrested in the brutal gang rape and killing of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, a lawyer claimed Thursday. Manohar Lal Sharma accused authorities of tampering with evidence in the case that provoked protests in India. The lawyer assumed the authorities could convict the suspects, adding that “the police will manipulate the facts,” the AP said. Sharma added, “What happened to this woman was so heinous, so horrible.”
At least 11 people were killed after a blast in the Baacha Khan Chowk area in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, on Thursday. Officials say 27 others were injured in the explosion. Women, children and four Frontier Corps personnel were among those injured. The explosives were planted under a car, local media say, citing security sources. The blast damaged shops, buildings and several cars.
The Jerusalem Municipality has announced the closure of schools and kindergartens due to the heaviest snowfall in 20 years. The police shut the Jerusalem –Tel Aviv highway at the entrance of the capital on Thursday morning due to icy conditions, the Jerusalem Post reports. Public transport has come to a halt after 10 to 15 cm of snow piled up in the city center and outlying areas.
Government troops in Mali have forced Islamist rebels out of the important northeastern town of Douentza, army officials said. The army has retaken the town, and the jihadists withdrew following the clash, Reuters quoted a senior army officer as saying on Thursday. Wednesday’s seizure is the first major pushback by government since insurgents took the north last year. Some residents in Douentza said that the Islamists withdrew, but the army was not inside the town.
The jobless rate in Greece has reached record highs, with October 2012 figures at 26.8 per cent. This is a major increase from the same month in 2011, the Statistical Authority said Thursday. The unemployment increased from the 26.2 per cent in September 2012. It also marked a significant jump from the 19.7 per cent of October 2011. The worst affected were the young, with 56.6 per cent of those aged between 15 and 24 out of work in October 2011.
An international coordination and flagging demand have led to a drop in food prices for the third consecutive month in December, a UN agency said Thursday. The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization edged down 1.1 per cent with drops in the international prices of major cereals, oils and fats. It was down 7 per cent for 2012 as a whole from 2011. The announcement was a reversal from July’s estimate, “when sharply rising prices prompted fears of a new food crisis.”
A NATO official claimed Thursday that a short-range ballistic missile was fired inside Syria the previous day. “We detected the launch of an unguided, short-range ballistic missile inside Syria yesterday,” Reuters quoted the official as saying. It allegedly followed similar launches on January 2 and 3. “All missiles were fired from inside Syria and they impacted in northern Syria,” the official said. NATO has not identified immediately the type of missile used.
Three Russian climbers have died in an avalanche in Georgia’s Kazbegi Mountains, media reports say. A child who was also with the group has been rescued and taken to hospital with frostbite, RIA Novosti said. The tourists, reportedly from Moscow, had been in the mountains since January 2 and were hit by an avalanche, local authorities say.
A Russian helicopter supporting the UN peacekeeping mission has reportedly been attacked in South Sudan. A bullet hole on the helicopter’s fuselage was discovered, media reports say, citing security sources. The helicopter crew managed to complete a flight in the Wau region. The helicopter is used for transportation of UN cargo. In December, another Russian helicopter was shot down in eastern Jonglei state, and all four Russian crew members were killed. The UN blamed the government forces for that attack.
A car bomb explosion near a bus stop killed five people and wounded 15 others in Baghdad on Thursday morning, Iraqi officials say. The blast took place near a bus stop in the mainly-Shiite neighborhood of Hurriyah. Five minibuses were damaged in the attack.
Two more planes from Lithuania will be searched for explosives on Thursday at Moscow airports after an anonymous call about an alleged bomb threat. The unidentified person called from Minsk to Vilnius Airport, media reports say, citing security sources. Two planes from Vilnius were already searched in Moscow early in the morning.
Malian troops have clashed with armed Islamist groups that have been occupying the country's vast desert north for nine months. The clashes on Wednesday included heavy-weapons fire, AFP reported. They came less than 48 hours after the West African nation's army put down an attempted Islamist attack on the same town, Konna, near the edge of the government-controlled area. The Economic Community of West African States has 3,300 troops for a mission to reclaim northern Mali. NATO said Wednesday that it had not been asked to assist the African forces.
US drones have fired missiles, killing five suspected militants in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region, intelligence officials said. Thursday’s attack took place in a village near Mir Ali in the North Waziristan. The tribal area is the main sanctuary for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in the country.
The Department of Defense decided Wednesday to abandon conspiracy charges against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is accused of orchestrating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, as well as against four other defendants. The decision fell on a legal technicality, with conspiracy not subject to the jurisdiction of America's military court system, which tries non-US citizens without providing them the rights afforded Americans. The system can only charge defendants for crimes considered war crimes; conspiracy is not one of these. The move is not likely to make much difference for the defendants, who remain accused of murdering 2,976 people. Attacking civilians, one of the charges they face, is considered a war crime.
Officials in Spring City, Utah are mulling a municipal resolution that would advise residents to own a gun. An initial version would have required gun ownership, but city councilors decided on only recommending that each of the 325 homes in town own a firearm. The city councilman who proposed the resolution said he was motivated to push the issue in light of the massace in Newtown, Connecticut and the national discussion about guns that followed. The councilman, Noel Bertelson, told local newspaper Deseret News that the public response had been positive. Speaking of Spring City's residents, he said,"they would like other cities to follow suit. They just, in general, think it's a good idea."