- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

Egypt warplanes strike IS targets in Libya after video of mass killing of Christian hostages

CAIRO (AP) - Egyptian warplanes struck Islamic State targets in Libya on Monday, just hours after the extremist group released a grisly video showing the beheading of several Egyptian Coptic Christians it had held hostage for weeks.

An armed forces spokesman announced the strikes on state radio, marking the first time Cairo has publicly acknowledged taking military action in neighboring Libya, where extremist groups seen as a threat to both countries have exploited the chaos following the 2011 uprising against dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The statement said the warplanes targeted weapons caches and training camps before returning safely. It said the “intense strikes” were “to avenge the bloodshed and to seek retribution from the killers.”

“Let those far and near know that Egyptians have a shield to protect and safeguard the security of the country and a sword that amputates terrorism and extremism,” it said.

Egypt is already battling a burgeoning Islamist insurgency centered in the strategic Sinai Peninsula, where militants have recently declared their allegiance to the Islamic State and rely heavily on arms smuggled across the porous desert border between Egypt and Libya.


Danish police: 2 men arrested on suspicion of helping suspect in Copenhagen attacks

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) - Danish police said Monday that they have arrested two men suspected of helping the gunman who carried out two deadly shooting attacks over the weekend in Copenhagen.

Police in Copenhagen said the arrests were made on Sunday and that the two men will face a custody hearing on Monday.

The defense attorney for one of the two suspects, Michael Juul Eriksen, told public broadcaster DR that the two were accused of giving the gunman shelter and getting rid of a weapon.

The suspect killed two people in his weekend attacks, including a Danish filmmaker and a member of Denmark’s Jewish community. He first opened fire Saturday at a cultural center hosting a seminar on free speech with an artist who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad and then later at security forces outside a synagogue, police said. Hours later the suspect was killed in a gun battle with a SWAT team.

Police say the slain gunman was a 22-year-old with a history of violence and may have been inspired by Islamic terrorists - and possibly by the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. They have not yet released his name.


After attacks on synagogue, cemetery, market, France fights call for mass migration of Jews

PARIS (AP) - French leaders say they will defend the Jewish community against attacks, after growing unease and calls from the Israeli leader for a mass immigration.

French President Francois Hollande said Monday he will not allow people to believe that “Jews no longer have a place in Europe” after this weekend’s deadly shooting at a Danish synagogue and the desecration of hundreds of graves at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France.

European Jews were already on edge after the killings in January at a kosher market in Paris and a shooting at a Belgian Jewish museum last year.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also said Monday that the government would defend French Jews, saying that every person who leaves “is a piece of France that is gone.”


Battles persists for east Ukraine railway hub, threatening to dash cease-fire agreement

LUHANSKE, Ukraine (AP) - Intense artillery exchanges between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists around a strategic town in the east persisted Monday in fighting that threatens to dash a cease-fire deal brokered last week.

The warring sides are under an agreement negotiated by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line Tuesday. That plan already looks at risk with the rebels saying they are not satisfied the conditions are in place for the process to go ahead.

Associated Press reporters in Luhanske, a government-held town about 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of the bitterly contested railway hub in Debaltseve, heard sounds of sustained and regular shelling. Some of the artillery appeared to be outgoing, suggesting it was being fired by Ukrainian troops.

A loaded Grad rocket launcher was seen pointing in the direction of Debaltseve, but it was not fired while AP journalists were present.

Despite the cease-fire, Debaltseve still remains in contention as rebels insist the town should automatically revert to their control as it has been encircled by their fighters.


FACT CHECK: Sen. Rand Paul takes heat for remarks on vaccines, aid to Israel, McCain, Ebola

WASHINGTON (AP) - As Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky eyes a presidential race, he’s likely to face questions about several contested or disproven statements he has made on various subjects. Here’s a sample:


While a measles outbreak was spurring new calls for vaccinations, Paul said in a Feb. 2 TV interview: “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

Pediatric groups called the remarks irresponsible, saying the benefits of child vaccines greatly outweigh the risk. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, says vaccines are not free from adverse effects, “but most are very rare or very mild.”

The next day Paul, an ophthalmologist, said he wasn’t implying a direct link between vaccines and profound mental disorders.


Greece and its European creditors to hold new bailout talks, but expectations on deal low

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Greece’s new radical left government and its European creditors are heading into new talks on the country’s stuttering bailout program, but expectations are low.

Asked if he expects a solution at Monday’s meeting in Brussels, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that what he’s heard of weekend technical-level discussions makes him “very skeptical.”

A Greek government official said Sunday the talks with finance ministers from the other 18 euro countries will be tough, and may not result in a decision.

The official said efforts to win over European creditors to Greece’s anti-austerity drive would be an “endurance course.”

But time is running out. No deal by Feb. 28, when Greece was supposed to conclude a review of its bailout with Europeans, could leave its banks without access to affordable funding.


Kayla Mueller’s boyfriend says he tried to free her, but she told the truth to save him

PHOENIX (AP) - Kayla Mueller was in a detention cell in Syria, face to face with her boyfriend who was posing as her husband. Had she told her captors she was married to Omar Alkhani, she might have been freed from the hands of Islamic State militants, he said. Instead, she denied being his wife.

Alkhani had persuaded a string of people to let him plead for her release, but he left empty-handed. He said he saw Mueller’s face for just a few seconds when guards uncovered it to show it was the American hostage from Prescott, Arizona.

The guards told Mueller, 26, that Alkhani would not be harmed if she told the truth, so she apparently stuck to honesty to save him rather than take the slim chance to save herself, he said.

“Since she’s American, they would not let her go anyway. No sense to stay here, both of us,” Alkhani said. “Maybe she wanted to save me. Maybe she didn’t know I came back to save her.”

Thinking about others first was Mueller’s nature. She had long been content without spending the wages she earned as an international aid worker on new clothes, a hair dryer or makeup so she could use her money to help others instead, Alkhani said.


APNewsbreak: Senior Democrats seek sign-up extension for people facing health law penalties

WASHINGTON (AP) - The official sign-up season for President Barack Obama’s health care law may be over, but leading congressional Democrats say millions of Americans facing new tax penalties deserve a second chance.

Three senior House members told The Associated Press that they plan to strongly urge the administration to grant a special sign-up opportunity for uninsured taxpayers who will be facing fines under the law for the first time this year.

The three are Michigan’s Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, and Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, and Lloyd Doggett of Texas. All worked to help steer Obama’s law through rancorous congressional debates from 2009-2010.

The lawmakers say they are concerned that many of their constituents will find out about the penalties after it’s already too late for them to sign up for coverage, since open enrollment ended Sunday.

That means they could wind up uninsured for another year, only to owe substantially higher fines in 2016. The fines are collected through the income tax system.


‘Saturday Night Live’ celebrates its big 4-0 with a gala anniversary TV bash (live, of course)

NEW YORK (AP) - With a measure of anniversary hoopla perhaps exceeded only by the nation’s bicentennial, “Saturday Night Live” celebrated its 40th season on Sunday with a 3½-hour gala of stars, laughs and memories.

It aired live from New York’s Studio 8H at NBC, which has been “SNL” HQ since premiering on a Saturday night in October 1975. It was a black-tie event so jammed with “SNL” alumni and other celebs they fueled an hour-long red carpet event before the big show even began. Some 80 names were listed in the opening credits.

It started with a medley of catchphrases, music and characters performed by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake that concluded, inevitably, with their pronouncement, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Who was the rightful host? Steve Martin stepped up first, but was joined one by one by stars including Peyton Manning, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crystal, Melissa McCarthy, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon to dispute his selection.

Among the night’s many tributes, Jack Nicholson noted that “when ‘SNL’ started, the last helicopter had just flown out of Vietnam, Watergate was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and New York was broke.”


EU publishes names of 19 more individuals, 9 entities on its Ukraine-Russia sanctions list

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Union has added 19 more individuals, including a Russian deputy minister of defense, on its sanctions list for their actions linked to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The EU published the list, which also included nine entities, on Monday, one week after the EU foreign ministers decided on the issue. There was a week’s lapse in the publishing of the list because of the negotiations which led to an agreement between Ukraine and Russia last Thursday.

The additions bring the total of individuals hit with a travel ban and asset freeze to 151 while 37 entities are now also hit with restrictive measures.

The latest batch includes Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, an outspoken critic of Ukraine, two more high-level officials linked to the military, and two state Duma officials who backed the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula last year.

Among the officials from the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, was Iosif Kobzon, who has been supportive of the separatists, and is also well known as a crooner.

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