Thursday January 17, 2019
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ISIS vows to attack Washington, Europe in new video

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A new propaganda video released by the ISIS has warned of attacks on Washington D.C. and other countries involved in the international coalition bombing its militant strongholds in Syria and Iraq, days after the terrorist outfit took responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead and scores injured.

“We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day God willing, like France’s and by God, as we struck France in the centre of its abode in Paris, then we swear that we will strike America at its centre in Washington,” one ISIS man in the video can be seen as saying.

Another man also warned Europe that more attacks were in the offing.

“I say to the European countries that we are coming, coming with booby traps and explosives, coming with explosive belts and (gun) silencers and you will be unable to stop us because today we are much stronger than before,” he said.

Meanwhile, a total of 23 people are in custody with seven detainees identified following a massive manhunt that continued on Monday for surviving members and accomplices suspected to be involved in the Paris terror attacks that claimed 129 lives, media reported.

Belgian special operations forces made an arrest during a raid in Molenbeek, a suburb of Brussels, but failed to apprehend main suspect Belgian-born French national Salah Abdeslam, sought by French authorities, the Belgian federal justice was quoted as saying by state broadcaster RTBF.

However, conflicting reports by another Belgian state-broadcaster RTL claimed that Abdeslam, 26, was arrested after he was seen at a window of a building with his arms up in the air, before police used tear gas to neutralise him.

Details of how Abdeslam was involved in the attack were not disclosed.

The search for the perpetrators of the Paris attacks led authorities across the Belgian border to Molenbeek, impoverished suburb of Brussels with a history of links to terror plots, CNN reported.

At least two roads in Molenbeek, a suburb of the Belgian capital with a substantial Muslim population of mostly Moroccan and Turkish immigrants, were cordoned off by the police in an active standoff since the early hours of Monday.

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said there would be “more action” in Molenbeek — and urged intelligence services across the rest of Europe “to exchange more and more intelligence”, Sky News reported.

The stand-off came as Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud was named the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks. Abaaoud, currently in Syria, was reportedly also linked to thwarted attacks on a Paris-bound high-speed train and a church.

Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said “war” had been declared on France, and that “Anybody who attacks the Republic, the Republic will fight back”.

Cazenueve has ordered 104 people to be put under house arrest since the Paris attacks. More than 150 police anti-terror raids conducted in cities across France.

Five of the detainees were identified over the weekend, and on Monday another two were named by the Paris prosecutor as Ahmad al-Mohammad and Samy Amimour.

Al-Mohammad is the name on a Syrian passport found with the remains of one of the attackers, though the man’s identity has not yet been verified. The other attackers so far named are all from Europe.

Amimour was said to be facing terrorism charges in France.

Three teams of terrorists staged coordinated attacks at six locations across Paris on November 13, including a concert hall, the Stade de France and at least two restaurants. At least 129 people were killed and 352 others wounded in the attacks. Ninety-nine of the wounded are reported to be in very serious condition.

Two of the total seven dead attackers were identified as Ismael Omar Mostefai, 29, and Bilal Hafdi, aged 20.

In retaliation, the French Air Force carried out bombing missions over ISIS’ stronghold in Syria Raqqa on Sunday and Monday against strategic targets. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

(With inputs from IANS)

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The Government Shutdown in Washington D.C

At a recent event to sign the LOVE act into law, Bowser – flanked by grateful newlyweds – said, “Just so my team knows, we’re probably going to want to keep that power.”

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District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, seated, holds the LOVE Act she signed, Jan. 11, 2019. VOA

No city experiences a shutdown quite like Washington.

Besides the economic impact, a shutdown warps the nation’s capital on a cultural, recreational and logistical level — touching everybody from garbage collectors to young parents, prospective newlyweds to aspiring Eagle Scouts.

The current partial shutdown , now in a record fourth week, has also provided a quiet boon for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government, which rushed into the void to claim unprecedented new powers while making a public show of literally cleaning up the federal government’s mess.

The economic situation is, of course, brutal. Recent surveys estimate that the federal government directly employs more than 364,000 people in the greater Washington area including northern Virginia and southern Maryland. The District of Columbia alone — population 700,000 — contains more than 102,000 jobs in agencies that are now without appropriations funding.

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People rally to call for an end to the partial government shutdown in Detroit, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue made the analogy to the main plant shutting down in a factory town — with the subsequent knock-on effect through the service industries like restaurants, food trucks, entertainment and taxis.

“What keeps us up at night is not the work we know we have to do in weeks one and two,” Donahue said. It’s the unpredictable impacts of weeks four and five and onward, he said, with the potential for mass restaurant closures or residents missing payments on rent, mortgages, car loans or school fees.

Most immediately, the shutdown created a logistical and public health problem. The district is riddled with National Park Service land, ranging from the National Mall to urban green spaces like Dupont Circle and dozens of neighborhood parks.

Washington sanitation crews now empty the trash bins at 122 separate NPS sites — three times a day in the case of the bins at the National Mall. It’s costing at least $54,000 per week in overtime, and Donahue said there’s a handshake agreement dating back to previous shutdowns that Washington will be compensated when the government reopens. The NPS recently announced it would tap into other funds to resume its own trash pickup at some — but not all — of the Washington sites.

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A U.S. Internal Revenue Services employee holds signs in front of the federal building at a rally against the U.S. federal government shutdown, in Ogden, Utah, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

“There’s a past practice of reimbursement,” Donahue said. “But they don’t have a legal obligation to compensate us.”

Given Washington’s tortured relationship with the federal government, which can essentially alter or block any local law, city officials have seemingly relished the chance to highlight the ironies of the moment. They frequently claim they are treated by Congress as if they can’t handle their own affairs; now they’re taking over and covering for a dysfunctional central government.

“When the federal government shuts down, we step up,” Bowser said during a Jan. 4 news conference with Washington’s nonvoting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to announce a renewed push this year for district statehood.

The shutdown cuts a cultural swath through the lives of city residents. The entire Smithsonian network of museums, including the zoo , closed their doors about a week into the shutdown, and quasi-federal entities like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have severely cut back their hours.

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Air passengers heading to their departure gates enter TSA precheck before going through security screening at Orlando International Airport, June 21, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (VOA)

On a recent weekend, the usual Saturday morning kids’ drumming workshop at the BloomBars cultural center in Columbia Heights drew nearly triple the usual crowd, with parents and strollers lined halfway up the block in the rain. The reason: desperate parents searching for something to occupy their kids in a city where more than a dozen free museums and the zoo have been shuttered.

“It happens every time,” laughed BloomBars founder John Chambers, who recalls an identical spike during the 16-day 2013 shutdown. “But this time it feels like there’s more of a panic among people because (this shutdown) genuinely seems open-ended.”

The district is littered with shutdown specials — offering furloughed federal employees discounts on everything from food and drink to live theater and medical marijuana .

Examples of unexpected shutdown fallout are all around. High school senior Yosias Zelalem was all set to secure his Eagle Scout rank with a project to repair park benches along the Mount Vernon Trail. But his liaison at the NPS has been furloughed and the project is frozen.

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Tourists arrive to visit the U.S. Capitol on a rainy morning in Washington, Dec. 28, 2018, during a partial government shutdown.. VOA

“I didn’t really think about it until New Year’s came and went,” said Zelalem, who needs to complete the project before he turns 18 on March 27. “I honestly didn’t expect it to go on this long. Now everybody’s talking like this could go for months.”

One of the more random side-effects of shutdown: the closure of the marriage bureau.

Bowser told The Associated Press that even she was surprised to learn that local couples couldn’t get their marriage licenses because Congress funds the local court system. Divorce proceedings, however, were unaffected.

Also Read: Democrats in Congress Squarely Responsible for the Shutdown: Donald Trump

Bowser quickly tapped allies on the Council of the District of Columbia to pass emergency legislation called the Let Our Vows Endure (LOVE) act, which granted her administration the right to issue marriage licenses. In addition to an enjoyable public victory that drew national attention, Bowser’s administration just stepped into the federal void to claim a whole new power ahead of an impending district statehood push.

At a recent event to sign the LOVE act into law, Bowser – flanked by grateful newlyweds – said, “Just so my team knows, we’re probably going to want to keep that power.”

Nobody laughed and she didn’t seem to be joking. (VOA)