TIME Middle East

ISIS Video Purports to Show Killing of Second American Journalist

File photo of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff
U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. Reuters

Second time in as many weeks

A video released Tuesday by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) purports to show the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff. If the video is authentic, it would be the second time ISIS has killed an American journalist in as many weeks.

The video was first obtained and released by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the online activities of terrorist groups. The video, which TIME is not publishing and whose authenticity U.S. officials couldn’t immediately confirm, is similar to the video released last month of an ISIS militant killing American journalist James Foley. It depicts Sotloff, clearly under duress, criticizing American foreign policy before a warning from his masked killer and a threat to kill another foreign journalist.

“You, Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen,” the masked killer says into the camera, addressing President Barack Obama. “So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” the militant says.

Sotloff, a freelance journalist who had written for TIME among other outlets, had been held by ISIS since he was taken captive in Syria more than a year ago.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by reports of Steven Sotloff’s death,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs said in a statement. “Steven was a valued contributor to TIME and other news organizations, and he gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

The Obama Administration said Tuesday that intelligence officials are working to determine the video’s authenticity.

“If the video is genuine we are sickened by this brutal act taking the life of another innocent American citizen,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said the U.S. intelligence community “is working as quickly as possible to determine [the video's] authenticity.”

“Our thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, are with Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Sotloff’s family and those who worked with him,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

ISIS has for months been mounting attacks and capturing territory across Iraq and along the Iraq-Syria border, even in the face of American airstrikes. The U.S. launched a raid in Syria in an attempt to free Foley and Sotloff earlier this summer, Pentagon officials said after Foley’s death, but American forces did not find the captives at the target location. Following Foley’s execution, the U.S. officials began considering expanding the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and into Syria.

TIME Immigration

Obama Plugs ‘Immigration Rights’ in Labor Day Address

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks at Laborfest 2014 at Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee on Labor Day, Sept. 1, 2014 Charles Dharapak—AP

Off-the-cuff statement indicates Obama is laying the groundwork for unilateral executive action that could defer prosecutions for millions of illegal immigrants

Delivering a fiery address marking Labor Day in Milwaukee on Monday, President Barack Obama for the first time indicated his support for the rights of immigrants in the U.S.

“Hope is what gives us courage; hope is what gave soldiers courage to storm a beach,” Obama said, harkening back to his 2008 presidential campaign. “Hope is what gives young people the strength to march for women’s rights and workers’ rights and civil rights and voting rights and gay rights and immigration rights.”

It was the first time “immigration rights” had been included in the president’s familiar riff on civil principles, and the first time Obama has used the phrase outside the context of referring to “immigration-rights activists.”

The statement, seemingly delivered off the cuff, is the latest indication of Obama laying the groundwork for unilateral executive action that could defer prosecutions for millions who arrived in the United States illegally.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is expected to give Obama recommendations for action by the end of the summer. Activists believe the President is preparing to extend the deferred action program to millions, but the timing of the actions is uncertain given November’s midterm elections.

Speaking to a boisterous union crowd Monday, Obama criticized congressional Republicans for blocking efforts to raise the minimum wage. “Not only is it not right,” Obama said, “it ain’t right.” “I’m not asking for the moon, I just want a good deal for American workers,” Obama said.

Obama also plugged union membership, which has steadily declined in recent decades, saying that if he was “busting my butt in the service industry” or was a police officer he would join a union to secure higher wages and job protections.

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Forces Break ISIS Siege After U.S. Air Campaign

A woman and children react in a military helicopter after being evacuated by Iraqi forces from Amerli
A woman and children react in a military helicopter after being evacuated by Iraqi forces from Amerli, north of Baghdad, Aug. 29, 2014. Reuters

U.S. and allied aircraft staged humanitarian drops and targeted air strikes on Sunni militant groups

The Iraqi military announced Sunday it had broken a siege of the town of Amerli by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, hours after the United States launched an air campaign to assist Iraqi civilians there.

Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen had liberated the Shiite Turkmen town on Sunday, the AP reported, bringing to an end a months-long siege by Sunni militants.

U.S. and allied aircraft conducted humanitarian airdrops to assist thousands of Shiite Turkmen who had been surrounded by ISIS militants for weeks and had been running low on food, water, and medical supplies, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement. American aircraft also launched three airstrikes against ISIS positions near the city.

“At the request of the Government of Iraq, the United States military today airdropped humanitarian aid to the town of Amerli, home to thousands of Shia Turkmen who have been cut off from receiving food, water, and medical supplies for two months by [ISIS],” Kirby said. ‘The United States Air Force delivered this aid alongside aircraft from Australia, France and the United Kingdom who also dropped much needed supplies.”

The U.S. airstrikes, though limited, had been a decisive factor in the breaking of the siege, The Washington Post reported, allowing Iraqi forces and militia to stage a coordinated assault on ISIS-held towns in the area. About 15,000 Shiite Turkmen residents of the town of Amerli had entrenched themselves to resist the march of ISIS forces across northern Iraq.

Saturday’s airdrops were the second U.S. humanitarian effort in Iraq, following deliveries of aid to ethnic Yazidis trapped near Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq in early August. That mission ended after a week of nightly drops and strikes allowed most of the trapped Iraqi refugees to escape to safety. President Barack Obama specifically authorized the effort to assist the people of Amirli, a White House official said Saturday.

“Two U.S. C-17s and two U.S. C-130s airdropped the supplies, delivering approximately 10,500 gallons of fresh drinking water and approximately 7,000 meals ready to eat,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The airstrikes destroyed three ISIS Humvees, one ISIS vehicle, one ISIS checkpoint and an ISIS tank, the statement said.

Separately, American forces carried out five airstrikes Saturday near the Mosul Dam, a critical piece of infrastructure recaptured from ISIS hands by Iraqi forces earlier this month, CENTCOM announced, bringing the total number of American strikes in Iraq to 118 since Aug. 8.

Obama is weighing expanding the American campaign against ISIS in Iraq and extending it into Syria following the killing of American journalist James Foley, but the president indicated Thursday a decision was not imminent. Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to the region this week to build an international coalition to take on extremist group.

U.S. operations in Iraq are costing more than $7.5 million per day, Kirby told reporters Friday.

TIME

Rand Paul: Bill Would Fire Hillary

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pounds her fist as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

In a speech Friday, the likely 2016 Presidential hopeful also took a jab at Barack Obama

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is positioning himself as the GOP’s ace Clinton critic.

Speaking to the conservative Americans for Prosperity conference in Dallas Friday, the Republican 2016 hopeful escalated his verbal assault on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s fitness for service, arguing that even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, would have fired her for her handling of the Benghazi attacks.

Launching on an extended attack of Clinton’s record, Paul said Clinton had repeatedly minimized the threat to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi before the September 11, 2012 attack and didn’t act on calls to increase security at the diplomatic facility. Comparing it to the 42nd president’s handling of the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia, Paul said “If Hillary Clinton worked for Bill Clinton she probably would have been fired.”

It was hardly Paul’s first volley at Clinton. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week the non-interventionist lawmaker said the nation was “lucky” that Clinton’s push for President Barack Obama to arm Syrian rebels went unheeded. “Mrs. Clinton was also eager to shoot first in Syria before asking some important questions,” he said. Paul has also used the Clintons’ treatment of Monica Lewinsky to argue that Democrats are engaging in “hypocrisy” when they suggest Republicans for waging a “war on women.”

Paul is betting that he can distinguish himself from a crowded Republican field by proving he has the capacity and the will to take the fight to the powerful Clinton clan, a tactic that reliably draws loud cheers of support from Republican audiences.

Paul also criticized President Barack Obama’s statement Thursday that he has yet to develop a strategy for American military airstrikes in Syria.

“If the president has no strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president,” Paul said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence addressed the gathering on Friday, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz slated to speak on Saturday.

TIME Military

Pentagon: Iraq Operations Costing U.S. More Than $7.5 Million A Day

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby Holds Press Briefing
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby listens during a press briefing at the Pentagon August 29, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia. Alex Wong—Getty Images

But the daily costs have been ramping up recently

The U.S. air and advisory campaign against the militants in Iraq is costing American taxpayers more than $7.5 million per day, the Pentagon said Friday.

The daily cost of the effort, which has included airstrikes and sending American military advisors to assist the Iraqi military on the ground, has hit $7.5 million on average, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. The daily cost in recent weeks has been higher.

“So as you might imagine, it didn’t start out at $7.5 million per day. It’s been—as our [operational tempo] and as our activities have intensified, so too has the cost,” Kirby told reporters, offering the government’s first official assessment of the cost of the operation.

U.S. ground advisors were ordered into Iraq in June, while U.S. Central Command began airstrikes against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), as well as humanitarian drops to assist encircled Iraqi minorities in early August. CENTCOM announced Friday that it had conducted four airstrikes in the vicinity of the critical Mosul Dam on Friday, bringing the total number of strikes since August 8 to 110.

Kirby said the Pentagon continues to believe it will be able to fund the operations through the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30 using its existing resources.

The dollar figure comes as the Pentagon is drawing up plans to expand the military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and potentially into Syria following the killing of American journalist James Foley more than a week ago. President Barack Obama said Thursday that no decision on strikes in Syria is imminent, but said he may have to ask Congress to provide additional funding for the campaign against ISIS for the next fiscal year.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Says ‘We Don’t Have a Strategy Yet’ for Fighting ISIS

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse"

+ READ ARTICLE

President Barack Obama seemed to commit the worst of Washington gaffes Thursday when he updated the American people about the ongoing threat from Islamist militants wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: we don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said of the effort to combat the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in its safe haven in Syria. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of what we’re at than what we currently are.”

Obama’s comment that “we don’t have a strategy,” delivered to reporters at the White House before the Labor Day holiday weekend, prompted immediate mockery from Republicans — not to mention quick damage control from the White House.

“In his remarks today, [Obama] was explicit — as he has been in the past — about the comprehensive strategy we’ll use to confront [ISIS] threat,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a series of Twitter posts. “He was referring to military options for striking [ISIS] in Syria,” Earnest added in a hastily scheduled CNN appearance.

Obama was set to meet with the National Security Council on Thursday evening, and he said his Administration is working hard to develop a plan for stemming ISIS’s spread from Iraq to Syria.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them,” he said. Obama said he’s ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to begin assembling a coalition to strike back at ISIS, while he has tasked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to present him with military options. “We’re gonna cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy,” Obama said. “There will be a military aspect to that.”

The President defended his decision not to seek authorization from Congress before beginning strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq three weeks ago, saying the urgency of the threat to the U.S. consulate in Erbil required immediate action. “I can’t afford to wait in order to make sure that those folks are protected,” Obama said. Since Aug. 8, the military has conducted 106 air strikes in Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command.

Obama suggested that once he has a strategy for tackling ISIS, he would seek authorization from Congress, particularly since it may require additional funding. “It is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people,” he said.

“This should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to [Shi‘ite], to everybody, that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Obama said. “And as a consequence, we’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out.”

Obama also condemned continued Russia aggression in Ukraine, following U.S. and NATO confirmation of Russian ground troops and heavy equipment fighting against the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine, but he stopped short of calling it an invasion. The President ruled out American military action in Ukraine, but said the U.S. stands with its NATO allies in the region and suggested that additional sanctions on Russia will be forthcoming.

“We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem,” Obama said. “What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia. But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.”

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton on Ferguson: ‘We Are Better Than That’

"We can't ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system that undermine our most deeply held values of fairness and equality"

+ READ ARTICLE

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her first public comments Thursday on the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., calling for the country to address “inequities” in the criminal-justice system.

The likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate addressed both the shooting and the days of often violent protests that followed, saying, “This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray.”

Clinton’s comments came at the end of a paid speaking appearance in San Francisco. She said her “heart just broke” for Brown’s family after the unarmed 18-year old was shot by police officer Darren Wilson more than two weeks ago. She also condemned the “terrible” images on television of heavily armed police facing off with largely peaceful protesters. “Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone,” she said. “Not in America, we are better than that.” And Clinton called for a renewed focus on reforming the nation’s criminal justice system, saying the country must confront lingering unfairness.

“We can’t ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system that undermine our most deeply held values of fairness and equality,” she said.

“Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers, instead of the other way around,” Clinton said, “if white offenders received prison sentences 10% longer than black offenders for the same crimes, if a third of all white men — just look at this room and take one third — went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans and so many of the communities in which they live.”

Clinton noted that her remarks fell on the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington. “That mission is as fiercely urgent today as when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the hot August sun all those years ago,” she said. “So we have a lot of work to do together.”

TIME Ukraine

Russian Forces Fighting Alongside Separatists in Ukraine, NATO Says

NATO releases satellite imagery that they say shows Russian combat troops inside Ukraine
A satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe and made available to media by NATO on Aug. 28, 2014, shows what NATO says are self-propelled artillery at an undisclosed location inside Ukraine at the time the image was made NATO/DigtalGlobe/EPA

Satellite pictures show convoy of Russian artillery units on Ukrainian territory

Western officials confirmed Thursday that Russian military forces are directly involved in combat alongside Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine, as the months-long civil war escalated in recent days.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced Thursday that it has photographic proof of Russian regular army forces participating in fighting against the Ukrainian military, saying the situation is “increasingly grave.” The Russian movement follows months of fighting following Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year.

“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Dutch Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of NATO’s Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Center. “The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory.”

The State Department said Thursday that Russia had stepped up its supply of heavy weaponry to pro-Russian separatists, even after a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July, reportedly by pro-Russia separatist groups.

“It’s clear that Russia has not only stepped up its presence in eastern Ukraine and intervened directly with combat forces, armored vehicles, artillery and surface-to-air systems, and is actively fighting Ukrainian forces as well as playing a direct supporting role to the separatist proxies and mercenaries,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

At the U.N., the Security Council convened an emergency meeting on the crisis in Ukraine. “Russia has come before United Nations Security Council to say everything except truth,” said U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. “It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied.”

Russian officials have said that the Russians fighting in Ukraine are on leave, a claim Power rejected. “A Russian soldier who chooses to fight in Ukraine on his summer break is still a Russian soldier,” she said.

U.S. and European nations have already put in place sanctions on individuals and key sectors of the Russian economy, but they have yet to deter the Russian government.

Western officials have stopped short of calling the Russian action an invasion, wary of further escalating the situation, calling the situation “aggression” or an “incursion.” On Thursday afternoon President Barack Obama is scheduled to convene a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria, as well as Ukraine.

TIME 2014 Election

Secret Koch Event Audio Could Be Gift for Senate Democrats

Koch Brothers Protest
Members of the "Save Our News'' coalition rally before delivering a 500,000-signature petition urging the Tribune Co. management to reject any offers by the Koch Brothers to buy The Los Angeles Times newspaper outside the newspaper headquarters in Los Angeles on May 29, 2013. Damian Dovarganes—AP

It's not what Republican candidates said that has Democrats salivating, but who they said it to

There was little revealed in the new, illicitly recorded audio tapes of top Senate Republican candidates addressing a group of high-dollar Republican donors, but their very existence may give Democrats a needed boost going into the fall’s midterm elections.

On Tuesday, The Nation released audio of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell addressing a June meeting in Dana Point, Calif. convened by the Koch Brothers, the billionaire energy magnates who have become Democratic bogeymen this fall. Early Wednesday, the Huffington Post followed with audio from a trio of Senate hopefuls: Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, and Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner.

The muffled surreptitiously-recorded audio from the closed-door summit is hard to make out, not that it matters. McConnell repeated his longstanding opposition to campaign finance restrictions. Ernst and Cotton thanked the donors at the confab for their support. Gardner not-so-subtly suggested that their outside money efforts would decide his fate. None of this is news to anyone, but the optics of the candidates appearing to kowtow to the Kochs is enough to send Democrats into overdrive.

For months Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and an array of outside groups have tried to turn the Koch brothers into household names. “Republicans are addicted to Koch,” Reid declared in March on the Senate floor. The DSCC, which owns kochaddiction.com has placed the the billionaires at the center of their midterm messaging, arguing GOP candidates are beholden to the donors at the expense of their states. Meanwhile, Senate Majority PAC, funded by the Democrats’ own high-dollar donors, is blasting GOP candidates on the air for their ties to the Kochs.

The Democratic message has long had two aims: drive up Democratic fundraising, while turning swing voters away from Republican candidates. On the first front, the effort has clearly been successful. Senate Democrats maintain a strong fundraising advantage over Republicans, while their outside efforts have progressed mightily since 2010. Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidates have managed to maintain polling advantages as the fall campaign heats up.

“It makes it much harder for them to try to hide their agenda,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky. “Stuff like this audio recording helps tie them to their records.”

Barasky wouldn’t preview the virtually guaranteed onslaught of ads to incorporate the latest audio. “I would say that Democrats will continue to tie GOP senate candidates to the highly damaging Koch brothers agenda that they’re all pushing,” he said.

McConnell’s team tried to turn lemons into lemonade, touting the fact that he said the same thing behind closed doors as he does in public. “In contrast to Alison Lundergan Grimes’ failure to defend Kentucky coal from the EPA behind closed doors with Obama donors, Senator McConnell fights for Kentucky wherever he goes. Earlier this summer Grimes failed to utter a word of support after promising Kentuckians she would defend Kentucky coal at a Harry Reid fundraiser and lord knows what she said to Tom Steyer and anti-coal billionaires when she attended their conference in Chicago,” said McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore.

Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the Democratic attacks are “blatantly hypocritical.” “Harry Reid’s Majority PAC and other Democratic outside groups are outspending Republicans by millions including Put Alaska First – a front group for Reid’s PAC in Alaska where Democrats have poured in more than $5 million in a desperate attempt to save Mark Begich,” she said. “The reality is while Democrats are distracting themselves with their contrived baseless attacks that don’t resonate with voters, Republicans are talking about their solutions and reminding folks that a vote for Democrats like Mark Begich, Mark Udall and Kay Hagan are votes are Harry Reid and Barack Obama’s failed agenda.”

Both audio records were posted by The Undercurrent, a self-described “grassroots political web-show” hosted by Lauren Windsor. The show is affiliated with the progressive Young Turks Internet network, and sponsored by the progressive nonprofit group, American Family Voices. The method of the recording has not been disclosed.

TIME Foreign Policy

Mother of American Held by ISIS Pleads for His Release

Shirley Sotloff Michael Sotloff ISIS
Shirley Sotloff, mother of American journalist Steven Sotloff who is being held by ISIS, pleads with her son's captors to release him in this undated video released on Aug. 27, 2014 Al Arabiya

"I ask you to please release my child"

The mother of an American journalist held hostage by Islamist militants issued an emotional plea for her son’s release Wednesday.

In a video broadcast on al-Arabiya TV network, Shirley Sotloff directly addresses Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). She asks him to free her son Steven Sotloff after a year in captivity.

“Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants,” Shirley Sotloff says, adding that her son has no influence over U.S. government policy and should not be held accountable for its actions. “He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak.

“I ask you to please release my child,” she says, citing Muslim teachings on mercy.

Steven Sotloff is a freelance journalist who has written in the past for TIME and other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013. His family initially kept word of his disappearance secret, but Sotloff was pictured in a video showing the execution of American journalist James Foley released by ISIS last week.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. would not rest until justice had been carried out against Foley’s killers. “Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple,” Obama told a veterans group in Charlotte, N.C. “America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that “the thoughts and prayers of everyone here in the White House and the Obama Administration are with the Sotloff family.” Earnest said he wasn’t sure if Obama has seen Shirley Sotloff’s video, but that “members of this Administration have been in contact with the Sotloff family on a regular basis.”

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