TIME Syria

ISIS Nearly Pushed Out of Syrian Town

Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), on Jan. 16, 2015.
Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), on Jan. 16, 2015. Halil Fidan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

ISIS "is on the verge of defeat" in Kobani

(BEIRUT) — Kurdish fighters backed by intense U.S.-led airstrikes pushed the Islamic State group almost entirely out of the Syrian town of Kobani on Monday, marking a major loss for extremists whose hopes for easy victory dissolved into a bloody, costly siege that seems close to ending in defeat.

Fighters raised a Kurdish flag on a hill in the border town near Turkey that once flew the Islamic State group’s black banner. It represents a key conquest both for the embattled Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition, whose American coordinator had predicted that the Islamic State group would “impale itself” on Kobani.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan said the Islamic State group had been nearly expelled, with some sporadic fighting on the eastern edges of the town.

“The Islamic State is on the verge of defeat,” said Nassan, speaking from Turkey near the Syrian border. “Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled.”

In September, Islamic State fighters began capturing some 300 Kurdish villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of it. Tens of thousands of refugees spilled across the border into Turkey.

By October, Islamic State control of Kobani was so widespread that it even made a propaganda video from the town featuring a captive British photojournalist, John Cantlie, to convey its message that Islamic State fighters had pushed deep inside despite U.S.-led airstrikes.

The town, whose capture would have given the jihadi group control of a border crossing with Turkey and open direct lines between its positions along the border, quickly became a centerpiece of the U.S.-led air campaign in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be “morally very difficult” not to help Kobani.

The U.S.-led air assault began Sept. 23, with Kobani the target of about a half-dozen airstrikes on average each day, and often more. More than 80 percent of all coalition airstrikes in Syria have been in or around the town. At one point in October, the U.S. air dropped bundles of weapons and medical supplies for Kurdish fighters — a first in the Syrian conflict.

Analysts, as well as Syrian and Kurdish activists, credit the air campaign and the arrival in October of heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq, who neutralized the Islamic State group’s artillery advantage, for bringing key areas of Kobani under Kurdish control.

Nassan said U.S.-led coalition strikes became more intense in the past few days, helping Kurdish fighters in their final push toward Islamic State group positions on the southern and eastern edges of the town.

The U.S. Central Command said Monday that it had carried out 17 airstrikes near Kobani over the last 24 hours that struck Islamic State group infrastructure and fighting positions.

Nassan said he was preparing to head into Kobani on Tuesday and expected the town to be fully free by then.

Gharib Hassou, a representative of Syria’s powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, based in Southern Kurdistan, said fighting was still going in “two or three streets,” adding that most of the militants withdrew to the town of Tal Abyad to the east.

“There are a lot of dead bodies … and they left some of the weapons,” he said. Kurdish fighters also suffered high casualties, he said, adding that more reinforcements will be sent to reinforce control over the town.

Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Observatory, said the Kurdish force was led by Mohammed Barkhadan, theKobani commander of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Barkhadan is a well-known militia leader among Kurds and in 2013 he led an offensive that ousted Islamic militants out of the northern Syrian town of Ras Ayn, Aburrahman said.

Since mid-September, the battle for Kobani has killed some 1,600 people, including 1,075 Islamic State group members, 459 Kurdish fighters and 32 civilians, the Observatory reported earlier this month. The Islamic State group, increasingly under pressure, has carried out more than 35 suicide attacks in Kobani in recent weeks, activists say.

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group militants, in November predicted Kobani would be a defeat for the extremists.

The Islamic State group “has, in so many ways, impaled itself on Kobani,” he said in an interview in Ankara with the Turkish daily Milliyet.

TIME Music

Renowned Greek Singer Demis Roussos Dead at 68

File photo of Greek singer Demis Roussos performing in Moscow
Greek singer Demis Roussos performs in Moscow in September, 2006. Anton Denisov—Reuters

Roussos first came to prominence in the late 1960s with the band Aphrodite's Child before moving on to a solo career

(ATHENS, Greece) — Renowned Greek singer Demis Roussos, a household name in the 1970s and 1980s across Europe and beyond, has died in Athens at the age of 68, a hospital confirmed Monday.

The hospital said the singer died following a lengthy hospitalization, but did not give an exact cause of death.

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, in June 1946, Roussos first came to prominence in the late 1960s with the band Aphrodite’s Child before moving on to a solo career.

“He had a superb voice, he traveled in the world … he loved what he was doing,” singer Nana Mouskouri told French radio RTL in a tribute. “He was an artist, a friend. I hope he is in a better world.”

TIME

Turkey Censors Facebook Pages That ‘Insult’ the Prophet Muhammad

Turkish islamists protest Charlie Hebdo in Istanbul
Turkish islamist protestors hold placards in front of Fatih Mosque during a rally against the French magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' over the publiction of a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in Istanbul, on Jan 25, 2015. Sedat Suna—EPA

The court also threatened to block access to Facebook as a whole

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says a court has ordered authorities to block access in the country to Facebook pages that “insult” the Prophet Muhammad, in the latest move to censor the Internet.

The Anadolu Agency says a court in Ankara issued the order late Sunday. The court also threatened to block access to Facebook as a whole, if its order isn’t implemented.

The decision comes days after another court ruling to ban access in Turkey to web pages featuring the controversial cover of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo depicting the prophet.

Last year, Turkey closed down access to YouTube and Twitter after a series of leaked recordings suggested corruption by people close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s highest court later overturned the ban.

TIME england

Church of England to Ordain First Female Bishop

Church of England's First female Bishop Named As The Reverend Libby Lane
Libby Lane smiles during a visit to St. Peter's Church, where she has been a vicar since 2007, in Hale, England, on Dec. 17, 2014 Nigel Roddis—Getty Images

The Reverend Libby Lane will be the first to wear the title

(LONDON) — Male domination in the leadership of the Church of England is coming to an end, as the 500-year-old institution consecrates its first female bishop.

The Rev. Libby Lane becomes the eighth Bishop of Stockport in a service Monday at York Minster. Her consecration comes after the church ended a long and divisive dispute by voting last year to allow women to serve as bishops.

Lane has dismissed criticism that her appointment is merely a symbolic gesture, saying that she may be “the first, but I won’t be the only.”

A saxophone player and soccer fan, Lane was one of the first women to become a Church of England priest. She was ordained in 1994. Her husband is also a priest.

TIME Greece

Greece’s Syriza to Form Government After Election Victory

Parliamentary elections in Greece
Alexis Tsipras, leader of radical leftist Syriza party, greets supporters after the initial election results for the Greece general elections in Athens, Greece, on Jan. 25, 2015. Orestis Panagioto—EPA

Suprise alliance between two staunchly anti-bailout parties

(ATHENS) — Left-wing Greek election winner Syriza gained key support from an anti-bailout party Monday, allowing it to form a new government.

The right-wing Independent Greeks party said it would back Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to be the next prime minister, after he fell just short of the majority needed to govern alone, following Sunday’s poll.

The suprise alliance between two staunchly anti-bailout parties, spooked markets and triggered a loss of nearly 4 percent on the Athens Stock Exchange as well as elsewhere in Europe.

Tsipras has promised to renegotiate Greece’s massive bailout agreements, but has promised not to take any unilateral action against lenders from other eurozone countries.

With 99.8 percent of the vote counted, Syriza had 149 seats in the 300-member parliament with 36.3 percent of the vote. The ruling conservative coalition was on 27.8 percent, and the extreme right Golden Dawn party in third place with 6.28 percent.

Tsipras’ choice to negotiate with the Independent Greeks rather than the centrist Potami caused concern that he could take a tough line in negotiations with rescue lenders.

Syriza’s financial planning official, Giorgos Stathakis, confirmed Monday that the new government had no plans to meet with negotiators from the “troika” of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund and would instead seek talks directly with governments.

Greek voters swung to the once-marginal left-wing party after five years of punishing austerity measures demanded under 240 billion euro ($268 billions) bailout deals threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work and left nearly a third of the country without state health insurance.

Thousands of supporters turned out to watch the 40-year-old Tsipras speak in central Athens after his opponents conceded.

“The Greek people have written history,” he said, to cheers. “Greece is leaving behind catastrophic austerity, fear and autocratic government.”

Outside the party’s campaign tent in central Athens, supporters hugged each other and danced in celebration.

“It’s like we’ve been born again and finally feel some hope,” said Litsa Zarkada, a fired government cleaning worker. “We were thrown into the street just before we could take our pension. We have been through so much.

The new government faces an immediate cash shortage, with a dwindling primary surplus, upcoming loan repayments, and limits on the money it can raise using treasury bill auctions.

Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management, said the government will be unable to afford to run its day-to-day operations and pay back debt that falls due in March in the absence of additional cash from international creditors.

“Syriza and its creditors are stuck in a Gordian Knot, and both sides will need to cave on something. Neither Greece nor its creditors want Greece to default or exit the eurozone, so a compromise will probably be found,” Greene told the AP.

“If Syriza forms a coalition with the Independent Greeks, that suggests the new government will engage in dangerous brinkmanship with Greece’s creditors as it tries to negotiate funding to stave off utter bankruptcy over the next few months.”

TIME Egypt

Officials Say 2 Sons of Egypt’s Mubarak Freed From Prison

Gamal Mubarak, Alaa Mubarak
Combination Jan. 6, 2011 file images show Gamal Mubarak, left, and Alaa Mubarak, right, attending a Christmas Eve Mass at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo AP

Brothers will still face a retrial on corruption charges, like their father, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

(CAIRO) — Egyptian security officials say two sons of ousted President Hosni Mubarak have been released from prison, nearly four years after they were first arrested along with their father.

The officials said the two, wealthy businessman Alaa and Mubarak’s one-time heir apparent Gamal, walked free from Torah Prison in a southern Cairo suburb shortly after daybreak on Monday and were believed to have headed to their respective homes in the capital.

The two along with their father still face a retrial on corruption charges. The two sons separately face trial on insider trading. They had been acquitted of other charges.

Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 in the face of a popular uprising. He and his two sons were arrested in April that year.

TIME Japan

Japan Seeks Jordan’s Help in Gaining Hostage’s Release

Video of one hostage's death remains unverified as Japan scrambles to save another

(TOKYO) — Japan sought help from Jordan and other countries Monday in its race to save a hostage held by the extremist Islamic State group, with no signs of progress on securing his release.

The chief government spokesman refused direct comment on the contents of talks with Jordan, where a Japanese envoy is coordinating regional efforts to save hostage Kenji Goto.

The Islamic State group said in an online video on Jan. 20 that it had two Japanese hostages and would kill them within 72 hours unless it paid $200 million.

Over the weekend, a new, unverified video showed a still photo of Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, holding a picture of what appears to be the body of fellow hostage Haruna Yukawa. It included a recording of a voice claiming to be Goto, saying his captors want a prisoner exchange instead of ransom.

Asked if the latest demand, which brings Jordan into the picture, makes the situation more complex, Suga avoided a straight answer. But he said, “Naturally, Jordan has its own thoughts.”

“The government is doing its utmost as the situation is still developing,” he told reporters. “We are seeking cooperation from every possible party toward a release (of the remaining hostage).”

Japanese officials have indicated they are treating the video released over the weekend as authentic and thus accepting the likelihood that Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer captured in Syria last summer, was killed.

“It was an extremely dastardly act,” Suga said.

In Amman, Yasuhide Nakayama, the Japanese deputy foreign minister in charge of the crisis, emerged from meetings with no fresh progress to report.

“Due to the nature of is problem, please understand why I cannot disclose information such as with whom I had meetings,” he said.

Nakayama vowed to “absolutely not give up until the end.”

The Associated Press could not verify the contents of the weekend video message, which differed from earlier videos released by the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of both Syria and Iraq.

News of the likely killing of Yukawa drew international condemnation, and outrage in Japan. Goto is thought to have been seized in late October after going there to try to rescue him.

Some in Japan are critical of the two men for taking such risks. Some Japanese also are criticizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for pursuing a more assertive foreign policy, saying it may have contributed to the crisis.

Abe has pushed to expand the role for Japan’s troops — one that has remained strictly confined to self-defense under the pacifist constitution adopted after the nation’s defeat in World War II.

While on a visit to the Middle East earlier this month, Abe announced $200 million in humanitarian aid to the nations fighting the militants.

TIME Philippines

Retrieval of More Than 30 Slain Filipino Commandos Under Way

At least 21 bodies found in southern Philippines, where separatist Islamic insurgency rages

(MANILA) — Philippine police have recovered at least 21 bodies of the dozens commandos who were mowed down by Muslim rebel gunfire in a far-flung southern village where they moved in over the weekend to hunt down one of southeast Asia’s most-wanted terrorists, officials said Monday.

Army-backed police and villagers also helped take 11 wounded members of the national police’s elite Special Action Forces away from the battle scene in and around the village of Tukanalipao in Mamasapano township, where the government suffered its biggest single-day combat loss in many years, officials said.

Mayor Tahirudin Benzar Ampatuan told The Associated Press by telephone that village leaders saw the bodies of at least policemen in a clearing following Sunday’s fighting. Many of the dead were stripped to their underwear, with their assault firearms missing.

“What they described to me was gruesome,” Ampatuan said.

The commandos had sneaked into the Muslim rebel community in two groups, but apparently had “misencounter” with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Muslim insurgent group, which signed a peace deal with the government in March and has had a relatively successful cease-fire agreement with government troops in recent years, Ampatuan said.

Under the truce, government forces are required to coordinate anti-terror assaults and other law enforcement operations with the Moro rebels to prevent accidental fighting. But the aapproximately 100 police commandos did not notify the rebels before they arrived in the dark, Moro rebel leader Mohagher Iqbal said.

“If somebody barges into your house, what will you do?” Iqbal said by telephone.

He said the 11,000-strong Moro group would file a protest over the action of the police commandos, but added the incident was not likely to undermine the peace process, a view shared by Philippine officials.

“The peace process will not be affected because we’re not dealing against the MILF here,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said, referring to the Liberation Front.

“We are up against the enemies of the state,” Gazmin said, referring to breakaway Muslim rebels, called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who also have a presence in Tukanalipao and reportedly helped subdue the outnumbered commandos.

Gazmin said the police were trying to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian terror suspect, and a Filipino bomb-making expert, Abdul Basit Usman. U.S. and Philippine authorities have blamed them for several deadly bombings in the south.

Washington has offered up to $5 million reward for the Malaysian’s capture.

Ampatuan said the fighting ended when members of a cease-fire committee and foreign truce monitors intervened.

The peace pact, signed in March, aims to establish a more powerful and better-funded autonomous region for minority Muslims in the south and end a decades-long rebellion. The conflict has left 150,000 people dead and helped stunt development in the country’s poorest region.

TIME Football

Watt Gets 2 Turnovers, Dances in Friendly Pro Bowl

Pro Bowl Football
Houston Texans' J.J. Watt poses for a selfie with St. Louis Rams' Robert Quinn after Team Irvin defeated Team Carter 32-28 in the NFL Football Pro Bowl on Jan. 25, 2015 Mark Humphrey—AP

Winners received $55,000 apiece, losers $28,000

(GLENDALE, Ariz.) — Few moved very fast, no one flattened a quarterback and there were no bone-jarring hits in the gentle, friendly version of football played at the Pro Bowl Sunday.

Even in a game dominated by offense, J.J. Watt was the star.

The Texans defensive end intercepted pass, recovered a fumble and led the crowd in dances during commercial breaks.

Team Irvin defeated 32-28 Watt’s Team Carter, but the score is never important in the NFL’s all-star game. Everyone seemed to have a good time, particularly Watt, the game’s defensive MVP.

Other memorable moments came from Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who dunked over the crossbar twice after TD catches — this time with no penalty, and Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. who made a diving grab at midfield.

Graham’s second touchdown, on a 1-yard, fourth-down pass from Matt Ryan, was the winning TD with 3:10 to play.

Greg Olsen and Emmanuel Sanders also caught a pair of touchdown passes apiece. Andrew Luck was nearly perfect in his short time on the field, completing 9 of 10 for 119 yards and two scores. Matthew Stafford threw for 316 yards and two TDs and was the offensive MVP.

The Pro Bowl took a one-year hiatus from Hawaii to be played in the desert to coincide with the big game. A sellout crowd of 63,225 watched at University of Phoenix Stadium as the teams moved up and down the field, often without much resistance.

If the players missed the beach, they wouldn’t let on.

“It’s been fantastic,” Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said. “The turnout here at the stadium is just like an NFL game.”

Romo knew this wasn’t a real NFL game.

“It’s a blast,” Stafford said. “To able to play with the best in the world is a whole lot of fun, and everybody is such good people, too. I am out here having a good time.”

The NFL scrapped the AFC vs. NFC format last year in favor of having two big-name former players draft players four days before the game. This year, the honor went to Michael Irvin and Cris Carter.

There were teammates playing against teammates.

When Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson made a pretty fingertip touchdown catch from Drew Brees for Team Carter. He celebrated with his Packers teammate Clay Matthews, who was playing for the other team.

Beckham dove to the ground and gathered in Stafford’s long pass just as the ball was about to hit the ground. When Graham caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Stafford, he soared to dunk the ball over crossbar. The New Orleans tight end was fined $30,000 when he did that twice, and was penalized both times, in a preseason game. There was no penalty on Sunday.

“I really wanted to catch one here because this is I guess the only place I can dunk without a flag,” Graham said. “But you know, the league called down and told me not to hang on it, so I didn’t.”

The goal posts were narrowed to from 18.6 feet to 14 feet on all kicks, not just PATs as had been previously announced. The PATs also were moved back to make it a 33-yard kick.

The skinny posts claimed an unlikely victim when Adam Vinatieri missed two PATs. The 42-year-old Colts kicker hasn’t missed an extra point in real games in five years. He also missed a 38-yard field goal.

Another rule was no blitzing. Denver’s Von Miller violated that one and, on the next play after the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to his Indianapolis teammate T.Y. Hilton.

“It’s very special, the chemistry that we have,” Hilton said.

Winners got what amounts to pocket change for them — $55,000 apiece, losers $28,000.

TIME Crime

2 Dead After Shooting at New York City Home Depot

Police stand guard outside a Home Depot store following a shooting in the Manhattan borough of New York
Police stand guard outside a Home Depot store following a shooting in the Manhattan borough of New York January 25, 2015. Carlo Allegri—Reuters

(NEW YORK) — An employee at a Home Depot store in Manhattan argued with a co-worker before fatally shooting him and then killing himself on Sunday, police said, sending panicked workers and shoppers rushing to get away from the gunfire.

The 31-year-old man entered the store on West 23rd Street around 2:45 p.m. He exchanged words with a 38-year-old co-worker in the store’s lighting section and then pulled out a gun, shooting the other man in the abdomen and chest, police said. The man was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The gunman then shot himself in the head, said New York Police Department Capt. Steven Wren. It was unclear what the argument was about, and no identifications were released. A gun was recovered at the scene.

Wren said about 70 employees were in the store, but no one else was injured.

Sigourney Rodriguez, who works nearby, was taking a cigarette break when she saw about 100 people running out of the store. “You hear gunshots, you’re going to run,” she said.

Rodriguez heard store employees saying, “He’s dead, I tell you he’s dead.”

The Home Depot, though smaller than a suburban outpost of the chain, is a megastore by Manhattan standards, and popular with many neighborhood residents.

“This is a beautiful neighborhood and a great store,” said Sara Vogeler, who lives on the next block. “We just bought our Christmas lights here not too long ago. It’s shocking!”

Home Depot issued a statement saying, “We’re deeply saddened by this tragedy. We are fully cooperating with the authorities on their investigation of what appears to have been an isolated incident.”

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