TIME Jordan

Jordan Hangs 11 Men After 8-Year Execution Ban Ends

Since the 2006 ban, 122 people have been sentenced to death

Eleven men were hanged in Jordan on Sunday, bringing the country’s eight-year moratorium on executions to an end.

The 11 criminals, all Jordanian, had been charged in different murder cases in 2005 and 2006, Al Jazeera reported. The country’s last executions had taken place in June 2006, and since then 122 people have been sentenced to death, though none of the sentences had been carried out until Sunday.

Interior Minister Hussein Majali had stated recently that the execution ban might end, citing a “major debate” in the country on whether to reinstitute the death penalty. According to Majali, the public believed that Jordan’s rising crime was a result of the death penalty’s absence.

Several countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, allow the death penalty. China had executed thousands of people last year, more than any country, according to an estimate by Amnesty International. And capital punishment remains legal in many states in the U.S.

[Al Jazeera]

TIME Crime

Witness the Aftermath of Police Shooting in Brooklyn

Two New York Police Department officers were shot and killed Saturday afternoon, unprovoked, by a gunman who later killed himself. 

TIME Infectious Disease

WHO: Recorded Ebola Deaths Top 7,000

Grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone
A grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec. 20, 2014. Baz Ratner—Reuters

(CONAKRY, Guinea) — The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued his tour of Ebola-affected countries in West Africa on Saturday.

The three countries hit hardest by Ebola have now recorded 7,373 deaths, up from 6,900 on Wednesday, according to WHO figures posted online late Friday. A total of 392 of the new deaths were in Sierra Leone, where Ebola is spreading the fastest.

The new totals include confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola deaths. The WHO says there have also been six Ebola deaths in Mali, eight in Nigeria and one in the United States.

The total number of cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia now stands at 19,031, up from 18,569.

Ban arrived in Guinea, where the outbreak’s first cases were confirmed back in March, on Saturday after touring Liberia and Sierra Leone on Friday. After meeting with President Alpha Conde, he expressed concern about the situation in the country’s southeast forest region, where he said the number of infected people “seems to continue to grow.” The region borders Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, and Ban called for cross-border collaboration to bring the disease under control.

He urged all Guineans to commit themselves to eradicating Ebola, saying that the U.N. and its partners “are there to help you.”

“It has never been so important to work together,” he said.

Guinea has recorded 2,453 Ebola deaths and 1,550 cases, according to the WHO. This past week, officials in Conakry, the capital, announced a ban on New Year’s Eve celebrations such as fireworks displays and beach gatherings in a bid to curtail transmission.

Ban was expected to travel to Mali Saturday evening.

TIME Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Peacekeepers to Leave Somalia Mission

Sierra Leone African Union Peacekeeper Somalia
Officers from the Sierra Leonean Contingent serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Individual Police Officers (IPO) walking during a medal parade at the AU Mission's headquarters in the Somali capital Mogadishu, March 15, 2013. Sierra Leone is withdrawing from the African peacekeeping force in Somalia. AFP/Getty Images

(FREETOWN, Sierra Leone) — A Sierra Leone military official says the country is withdrawing from the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia after being blocked from rotating its soldiers over concerns about the spread of Ebola.

Maj. Gen. Samuel Omar Williams, the chief of defense staff, said Saturday the troops currently in Somalia will be sent back to Freetown in January “and will not be replaced.”

In a statement Saturday, the African Union mission said 850 Sierra Leone troops deployed for 12 months starting in 2013, but the AU halted their rotation in response to Ebola, which the World Health Organization says has killed more than 2,400 people in Sierra Leone.

The mission said Sierra Leone’s soldiers will be replaced by soldiers from other countries “until the virus has been fully contained.”

TIME Cuba

Castro Hails Thaw in US Relations, But Reasserts Communist Rule

Raul Castro
Cuba's President Raul Castro points to the press during the closing of the twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 20, 2014. Ramon Espinosa—AP

“Every country has the inalienable right to choose its own political systems"

Cuban president Raul Castro hailed “a new chapter” in U.S.-Cuban relations on Saturday, but insisted the diplomatic thaw will not break Cuba from its Communist past.

“In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours,” Castro said in a Saturday speech before Cuba’s National Assembly, Reuters reports.

The speech comes as U.S. officials prepare for a historic visit to Havana in January, where they are expected to push their Cuban counterparts to allow a greater measure of political freedom in exchange for an easing of the U.S. embargo.

“The only way to advance is with mutual respect,” Castro said.

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Transfers 4 Guantanamo Prisoners to Afghanistan

Guantanamo Bay
A U.S. military guard on the grounds of the now closed Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 22 2013. Johannes Schmitt-Tegge—EPA

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009

Four Guantanamo prisoners were transferred to Afghan authorities, the Pentagon said Saturday, as part of a continuing push by the Obama administration to close the contentious prison.

The detainees boarded a U.S. military plane and were flown to Kabul overnight, ending a decade of detention at the prison for suspected involvement in Taliban-affiliated militias, Reuters reports.

“Most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that,” an unnamed senior official told Reuters.

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009. 132 detainees are still being held at the Guantanamo complex, which President Barack Obama vowed to shut down early in his presidency–a promise he has struggled to carry through amid legal obstacles and stiff resistance from Congress.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME North Korea

N. Korea Proposes Joint Probe Over Sony Hacking

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korea on Saturday proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. into the hacking attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, warning of “serious” consequences if Washington rejects a probe that it believes would prove Pyongyang had nothing to do with the cyberattack.

The proposal was seen by analysts as a typical ploy by the North to try to show that it is sincere, even though it knows the U.S. would never accept its offer for a joint investigation.

U.S. officials blame North Korea for the hacking, citing the tools used in the Sony attack and previous hacks linked to the North, and have vowed to respond. The break-in resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files, and escalated to threats of terror attacks against U.S. movie theaters that caused Sony to cancel the Christmas Day release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Saturday, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pyongyang proposed the joint investigation with the U.S., saying the North knows how to prove it’s not responsible for the hacking. He also said Washington was slandering Pyongyang by spreading unfounded rumors.

“The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasures while finding fault with” North Korea, the spokesman said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.

“We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture, as the CIA does,” he said, adding that the U.S. lacks any specific evidence tying North Korea to the hacking.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, called the North’s proposal a “typical” tactic the country has taken in similar disputes with rival countries. In 2010, North Korea proposed a joint investigation after a South Korean-led international team concluded that the North was behind a torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors, though Pyongyang denied its involvement. South Korea rejected the North’s offer for the joint probe.

“They are now talking about a joint investigation because they think there is no conclusive evidence,” Koh said. “But the U.S. won’t accede to a joint investigation for the crime.”

On Friday, President Barack Obama declared that Sony “made a mistake” in shelving the satirical film about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, and pledged that the U.S. would respond “in a place and manner and time that we choose” to the hacking attack on Sony that led to the movie’s withdrawal.

“I wish they had spoken to me first. … We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship,” Obama said at a year-end news conference, speaking of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony said it had had no choice but to cancel distribution of the movie because theaters were refusing to show it.

U.S. options for acting against North Korea are limited. The U.S. already has severe trade sanctions in place, and there is no appetite for military action. Even if investigators could identify and prosecute the individual hackers believed responsible, there’s no guarantee that any located are overseas would ever see a U.S. courtroom. Hacking back at North Korean targets by U.S. government experts could encourage further attacks against American targets.

North Korea and the U.S. remain in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The rivals also are locked in an international standoff over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and its alleged human rights abuses.

Earlier Saturday, North Korea angrily denounced a move by the United Nations to bring its human rights record before the Security Council and renewed its threat to further bolster its nuclear deterrent against what it called a hostile policy by the U.S. to topple its ruling regime.

Pyongyang “vehemently and categorically rejects” the resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly that could open the door for its leaders, including Kim Jong Un, to be hauled before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, according to a Foreign Ministry statement carried by KCNA.

The Security Council is due to meet Monday to discuss Pyongyang’s human rights situation for the first time.

The meeting caps almost a year of international pressure, and even though ally China could use its veto power to block any action against the North, the nonbinding resolution has broad support in the General Assembly and has drawn unusually strong and vitriolic protests from Pyongyang.

TIME Media

Sony Chief Says ‘We Have Not Caved’ on The Interview

"We have not given up," Michael Lynton said after his studio cancelled the movie under pressure

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended his company’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview on Friday, even as the company refused to rule out releasing the movie in other ways.

Lynton said Sony’s decision was prompted by movie theaters opting not to show the film after hackers, who U.S. officials believe are linked to North Korea and who have wreaked havoc on the studio by disclosing emails and other company information, threatened 9/11-style attacks. Moments earlier, President Barack Obama had called the move to cancel the Christmas Day release a “mistake.”

“The unfortunate part is in this instance the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton said on CNN. “When it came to the crucial moment… the movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time. We were completely surprised by it.”

Read more: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s film critic did

Sony said in a statement later Friday that its decision was only about the Christmas Day release.

“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform,” the studio said. “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

Obama told reporters he wished Sony had reached out to him before canceling the film’s Christmas day release. It depicts a fictional assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” he said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

Lynton denied the studio had given into the hackers’ threats.

“We have not caved. We have not given up,” he said. “We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Read next: Obama Says Sony “Made a Mistake” Pulling ‘The Interview’

TIME Australia

Australian Woman Arrested in Deaths of 8 Children

Australia Children Killed
Emergency services workers cover off the perimeter fence of a house where eight children have been found dead in a Cairns suburb in far north Queensland, Australia, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Graeme Bint—AP

(SYDNEY) — An Australian woman was arrested for murder in the killings of eight children, seven of whom are believed to be her own, police said Saturday. The children were found dead inside the woman’s home.

The 37-year-old woman, who is recovering in a hospital from stab wounds, was under guard and speaking with police, Queensland Police Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said. She has not yet been charged.

Police haven’t said how the children died. But Asnicar said they’re examining several knives in the home that may have been the weapon used to kill them.

The children ranged in age from 18 months to 14 years, Asnicar said. The woman is thought to be the mother of seven of the children. The eighth is believed to be her niece.

Queensland police were called to the home in the Cairns suburb of Manoora on Friday morning after receiving a report of a woman with serious injuries. When they got to the house, they found the bodies of the children.

The woman, whose name has not been released, was also found in the home with the children, suffering from stab wounds to the chest. Asnicar said she is in stable condition, lucid and talking to police.

“We’re not looking for anybody else — we’re comfortable that the community at large is safe,” Asnicar said.

A coroner was conducting autopsies to determine the causes of death, and police were continuing to comb through the house for evidence.

“They’re looking to establish 100 percent what happened in that house when these offenses were committed,” Asnicar said.

He dismissed rumors that the house had been the subject of calls from the Department of Social Services.

“It’s not a problem house as has been speculated,” he said. “This is an ordinary neighborhood — a lot of good people, a lot of kids in the area. This is something that has caught everybody by surprise. It’s just an absolutely tragic thing.”

Lisa Thaiday, who said she was the injured woman’s cousin, said earlier that one of the woman’s other sons, a 20-year-old, came home and found his brothers and sisters dead inside the house.

“I’m going to see him now, he needs comforting,” Thaiday said. “We’re a big family … I just can’t believe it. We just found out (about) those poor babies.”

The tragedy comes as Australia is still reeling from the shock of a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe. On Monday, a gunman burst into the cafe in the heart of the city and took 18 hostages. Two hostages were dead along with the gunman after police stormed in 16 hours later in a bid to end the siege. Police had earlier said there were 17 hostages in the cafe, but revised the number after a new count.

“The news out of Cairns is heartbreaking,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement. “All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened. This is an unspeakable crime. These are trying days for our country.”

TIME Libya

Egyptian Involvement Sparked Libya Oil Port Battle, Expert Says

General view of the industrial zone at the oil port of Ras Lanuf on March 11, 2014.
General view of the industrial zone at the oil port of Ras Lanuf on March 11, 2014. Esam Al-Fetori—Reuters

Islamists suspected Libya's government in Tobruk was receiving reinforcements from Egypt

An ongoing battle for two of Libya’s key oil ports began last weekend because Islamist-leaning militias feared Egypt planned to reinforce the Libyan elected government based in the eastern city of Tobruk, according to a Tripoli-based analyst.

The fighting that has closed the oil terminals at Ras Lanuf and Sidra underscores how fears of Egyptian meddling in Libya is leading to an escalation of the country’s armed conflict. “They had information or belief that the Tobruk side was being reinforced in its military capacities,” says Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst based in Tripoli with International Crisis Group. “The more evidence there is of Egyptian involvement, the greater the risk the opposing side might make abrupt strategy choices, like the one we saw over the weekend.”

Libya’s internationally-recognized government in Tobruk is locked in armed conflict with a rival government run by the Islamist-leaning Libya Dawn movement, based in Tripoli. The Tobruk government is allied with Khalifa Heftar, a general who declared war earlier this year against Libya Dawn. Heftar’s campaign, dubbed Operation Dignity, has triggered some of the deadliest fighting since the 2011 armed uprising that overthrew the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

Egypt is concerned about instability from Libya spilling over into its territory. Egypt shares a long desert border with Libya that has been used to smuggle weapons, particularly since the 2011 uprising. More broadly, the Egyptian government led by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who led the military’s 2013 overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist government, regards the Tobruk government as one ally in what they see as a regional struggle against political Islam in which policy is guided primarily by religious rather than practical considerations.

“They want to reshape Libya’s political landscape where the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islamists don’t have a powerful role,” says Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. “The larger fear of having a country next door or where the Brotherhood is dominant is a real political concern for them.”

Though Egyptian officials deny direct military involvement, Egypt has taken a number of steps to aid the Tobruk side. In August, U.S. officials confirmed that Egypt allowed its airbases to be used in surprise airstrikes by the United Arab Emirates on targets in Libya. In November, Egypt sent special forces on two raids inside Libya, according to Western officials quoted by the New York Times.

In addition, forces allied to the Tobruk government have received weapons from Egypt. Gazzini says that in October she observed an Egyptian ship unloading in Tobruk port and that officials there confirmed that the ship delivered light arms.

In interviews in Cairo, Egyptian officials acknowledge that Egypt shares intelligence with the Tobruk authorities, but deny direct military operations. “Our position on the crisis in Libya is clear: to provide information, expertise and training,” says Hossam Khairallah, a former general in Egypt’s intelligence service. “But the conditions do not permit or favor intervention in Libya.”

Libya is just one arena where Egypt joins the wealthy Gulf monarchies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in what Egyptian officials see as a regional power struggle with the forces of political Islam. Opposing them are other states, including Qatar and Turkey who are regarded as more sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The rivals also back competing rebel groups in Syria, as well as rival factions in Lebanon and in Palestinian politics.

“It’s clear that Egypt is involved in supporting Heftar’s forces in some respects,” says Chris Chivvis, a senior political scientist at the Santa Monica-based Rand Corporation. “Libya is at risk of becoming a proxy war for this conflict between authoritarian militarism and conservative Islamism, with different regional powers backing different sides.”

Inside Libya, analysts say the perception of Egyptian assistance for the Tobruk government is driving the calculations of the warring factions. “It has a very damaging effect for the country, because if it’s not true it gives the impression to the Heftar side that they have the military capacity, or will have the military capacity to carry out this military strategy for the liberation of Tripoli,” says Gazzini.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdelatty says Egypt is prepared to offer training and capacity building for the internationally-recognized government and its military forces, but denied reports of direct intervention. “We are coordinating with neighboring countries to empower the legitimate government, legitimate institutions, namely the House of Representatives and current government in Tobruk,” he says. “We are not going to intervene militarily in Libya. This is not our business.”

Alaa Youssef, the spokesman for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, also denied Egyptian intervention in Libya. “President Sisi has made it clear several times that the Egyptian army will only secure the borders. In no way could it go beyond that,” he says.

Egypt is also concerned about the emergence of a militia in the eastern Libyan city of Derna that proclaims its allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the militant group that overran large parts of Iraq and Syria this year. The group is just one of dozens of individual militias operating throughout the country since the implosion of Libyan state institutions following the 2011 civil war. Since 2011, insurgents have exploited Libya’s vast desert borders to smuggle weapons into Egypt and other neighboring countries. “It’s on the top of our priorities here in Egypt. We cannot afford having a failed state on our western border,” says Abdelatty.

In Egypt, the military and police face persistent deadly attacks carried out by insurgents based in the Sinai Peninsula who also pledged loyalty to ISIS this year. Those attacks accelerated following the military’s July 2013 overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the takeover, the authorities have jailed thousands in a vast crackdown on the Brotherhood and other political opponents.

As a result, some Egyptian officials characterize the battle in Libya as an extension of the domestic fight against political Islam. “It’s imperative to deal with all terrorist groups with the same firmness,” says Abdelatty. “There is no difference from our point of view between ISIS, Fajr Libya [Libya Dawn], the Muslim Brotherhood, Jabhat An-Nusra, or Ansar Al-Sharia. They are all the same.”

Heftar, the general spearheading the current assault on the Islamists, is a former commander in Gaddafi’s army who trained under the CIA in the 1980s with the aim of toppling the Libyan dictator. In his current campaign against the Islamists, Heftar has modeled his rhetoric on that of Egypt’s President el-Sisi, a popular former military commander viewed by some Egyptians as a national savior and reviled by others as a new despot. Framing his campaign as an assault on terrorists, Heftar has said the viability of his campaign depends on the level of outside support, according to Wehry.

But after more than six months of fighting, Heftar’s forces have failed to dislodge the Islamists, and some Egyptian officials have lost their enthusiasm for the general. “I’m somehow disappointed,” says Sameh Seif el-Yazal, a retired general from Egypt’s General Intelligence service. “He should have interfered in some occasions where he did not,” he says, naming as an example the Libyan town of Derna, which was taken by extremists in late November. “We saw Derna falling to ISIS without any work from his side.”

Analysts say that Egyptian policy has also been influenced by lobbying from members of the former Gaddafi regime. “We know that senior members of the old regime are very close to the Emirati royal family and also to Egyptian security officials,” says Gazzini. “They are part of this process of creating the movement for the support for the Tobruk faction.” Gaddafi’s cousin and former aide Ahmed Gaddaf Al-Dam, lives in exile in Egypt.

For the Tobruk government and its allied forces, a victory on the battlefield would only yield more problems. “These Islamist groups are not going to go quietly,” says Wehrey. “They’ll probably shift to a different set of tactics, a terrorist campaign. They’ll go underground. It’s entered a dangerous phase.” In Libya, the only certainty is continued bloodshed.

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