Monday, December 05, 2016

Somalia Forces Kill Seven in Clash With Faction Loyal to Islamic State
By Abdiqani Hassan

Soldiers allied to the Western-backed Somali government said they killed seven insurgents from a faction loyal to the Islamic State group in a clash in northern Somalia on Saturday.

The soldiers from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland are part of a force headed to the port town of Qandala, which has been under the control of the insurgents since November.

The Puntland forces were attacked in the village of Bashaashin, which is 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Qandala.

"We killed seven IS and took their guns - now we are in the village," Captain Mohamed Saiid, head of a Puntland military unit, told Reuters by satellite phone from the scene.

"The IS fighters retreated into a hill outside the village. Three soldiers were injured from our side. We shall keep on pursuing the fighters till we eliminate them from Qandala."

The insurgents are thought to number in the low hundreds and are led by Abdiqadir Mumin, who broke away from the main al Shabaab insurgency last year and swore allegiance to Islamic State.

His group has no known operational links to Islamic State in the Middle East and Qandala is the first town where they took control.

Al Shabaab is fighting the shaky U.N.-backed government to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law in Somalia, which has been at war for more than 25 years.

(writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Susan Thomas)
Kenya Completes Border Fence With Somalia
The fencing of three kilometers of the Kenya-Somalia border is complete after the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) took over its construction over two months ago. The project, initiated by the Ministry of Interior in 2015, has since been switched to wire fencing along the porous border.

Concrete poles joined with barbed wire, mesh and razor wire have been erected on a three-kilometre stretch. Kenya decided to put up a wall after the April terror attack on Garissa University College, in the northeastern of the country, that left over 140 dead last year.

But the project stalled after the National Youth Service (NYS) personnel working on it downed their tools for what they said was lack of pay. Speaking while inspecting the ongoing works on Thursday, Maj-Gen K.T. Chepkuto from the KDF engineering department said they intend to complete the 30 kilometre-stretch in the next four months.

"We will do the first 30 kilometers within the stipulated time since people are energized," he said. He noted that the Kenyan military officials are working closely with the Somalia National Army (SNA) to ensure the work is done peacefully.

"The only possible challenge could be from Bula Hawa, but SNA are working with us to ensure the project progresses swiftly," he said.

Mandera County Governor Ali Roba lauded the progress made in two months. Earlier, he had questioned the national government's commitment in securing the county.

Mandera borders Bula Hawa, making it vulnerable to attacks by the Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorist group.

Visible work

"We are happy with the progress of the security sensitization program as visible work has been done unlike in the last two months when we visited the site," he said.

He said the fencing is not intended to lock anybody out of Mandera but it is about security by restricting human access only through identified entry and exit points.

"We want our brothers from Somalia to do business with us through the Customs border and we can ... keep unwanted elements of society out," said Mr Roba.
Somalia: Drone Crashes in Somalia, Al-Shabaab Take Wreckage
By Hassan Istiila
Dalsan Radio

A surveillance drone thought to belong to US intelligence agencies, has crashed in Bariire town in lower shabelle region of Somalia. Al Shabaab militants who still control parts of the region took the wreckage of the aircraft, residents who spoke on condition of anonymity told Radio Dalsan.

The United States uses unmanned aircraft in its campaign against al-Shabaab and over the past years several senior officials of the group were killed in airstrikes. In 2013 a suspected US surveillance drone crashed near the town of Bulo Mareer in the Lower Shabelle region of the country. The group released photos purported to be of the surveillance drone.

Previously drone strikes have targeted senior members of the group, which is fighting to topple Somalia's internationally recognised government.

In July last year the town of Baardheere, which was then under the rebels' control, was targeted by a dawn drone strike, which killed two senior commanders, according to government officials.
Sudanese Security Seizes Two Newspapers
Sudanese men look at newspapers displayed at a kiosk in the capital Khartoum on February 16, 2015. (AFP Photo)

December 4, 2016 (KHARTOUM) - Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on Sunday has seized copies of the independent daily Al-Jareeda and mouthpiece of the Sudanese communist Party (SCP) Al-Midan from the printing house without giving reasons.

Mass confiscation has emerged as a new technique of punishment by the NISS which tend to accuse affected newspapers of crossing the red lines through publishing reports that adversely impact on national security.

NISS has recently intensified crackdown on newspapers for publishing news reports and articles on the nationwide civil disobedience act which took place between 27 and 29 November. Since last Monday, it seized copies of various dailies 19 times.

Al-Jareeda has been one of the most newspapers in Sudan subject to suspension and confiscation. Last May, the NISS had confiscated copies of the newspaper four times during five days.

The NISS routinely confiscates newspapers either to prevent circulation of certain stories or to punish them retroactively on previous issues.

It uses seizures of print copies of newspapers, not only to censor the media but also to weaken them economically.

Last July, Al-Taghyeer newspaper decided to suspend publishing and laid off its staff following large financial loss incurred due to repeated confiscations.

The state-run Sudanese National Council for Press and Publications (NCPP) rarely interferes to stop the security punishments although it is the official body responsible for running the work of newspapers in the Sudan.

Sudanese Court Acquits Anti-austerity Protesters
High Secondary School students protest against the rise in drug prices in Khartoum North on 24 Nov (ST Photo)

December 4, 2016 (KHARTOUM) - A Khartoum court on Sunday acquitted 25 students and an university professor charged with offences including disturbing the peace and public nuisance for their participation in peaceful protests against rise in drug prices last November.

The defendants had been arrested following their participation in a demonstration in Africa Street near the Khartoum International Airport to protest the increase in the price of the medicines last month within the framework of an austerity plan providing also the rise in fuel and electricity prices.

The judge of Khartoum-Center Criminal Court, Osama Ahmed Abdallah, rejected the riot charges against the defendants, saying there was no any breach of public peace or disturbance to public order during the peaceful set-in.

He pointed that the prosecutor and the witnesses denied the use of force by the protesters, adding the latter didn’t stand in the middle of the street to obstruct vehicle traffic and didn’t chant slogans during the sit-in.

The judge further underlined that some defendants said they had no relations with the sit-in but were waiting for public transportation vehicles. Others said they were in the street with some colleagues when the security forces arrested them.

Last November, Sudan central bank announced it would no longer provide US dollar for drug importation at a special rate of 7,5 Sudanese pounds (SDG), forcing pharmaceutical companies to buy the dollar from the black market at 17,5 pounds.

Also, the Sudan Pharmacy Council (SPC) had issued a new list showing the price of basic medicines has drastically increased by 100 to 300 percent.

But the government sacked the head of the Council and cancelled the rise in drug prices following a large wave of protests stirred by the SPC decision across the country.

South Sudanese Refugees in Sudan Reach 263,000, Say UNHCR
South Sudanese refugees seen at Khor Omar camp for the displaced in El Daein, East Darfur on March 20, 2016 (UNAMID Photo)

December 4, 2016 (KHARTOUM) - The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the number of South Sudanese refugees in Sudan has reached 263,000, with October 2016 marking the highest monthly arrival rate.

In Sudan’s White Nile State, it said, 3,962 individuals (1,552 households) registered at the three main border reception centres of Jouda, El Keweik and El Mquiens.

The majority of new arrivals (73 per cent), it stressed, arrived through Jouda, bringing the total number of South Sudanese refugees arriving in the state in 2016 to 22,000. As of 15 November, about 263,000 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Sudan since December 2013.

"With continuing insecurity in South Sudan, a steady influx of new refugees is expected throughout December and into next year. About 263,000 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Sudan since Dec. 2013," said the agency in a statement.

"With continuing insecurity in South Sudan, a steady influx of new refugees is expected throughout December and into next year," it added.

The majority of the South Sudanese refugees, according to the UN body, live in the camps distributed in the states of White Nile, East Darfur, West Kordofan and Khartoum.

On March 17, the Sudanese government decided to treat the South Sudanese nationals inside the country as foreigners, saying it would adopt legal procedures against those who do not have passports or entry visas.

An armed conflict broke out in South Sudan in late 2013, causing hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to neighboring countries, including Sudan.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UNHCR’s Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) is reportedly underway across all eight camps in White Nile hosting South Sudanese refugees. JAM is a months-long process to assess whether the basic needs of South Sudanese refugees are being met by humanitarian partners.

"As part of the JAM’s initial stages, UNHCR and WFP have completed a series of assessments, including a food security assessment, a Standardized Expanded Nutrition Survey (SENS), a livelihoods assessment and a Cash-Based Transfer (CBT) market and supply chain capacity assessment," the UN Humanitarian Agency (OCHA), said.

"Preliminary findings are currently being reviewed. The aim of the JAM and the validation exercise is to improve the food security and self-reliance of South Sudanese refugees in White Nile State for the coming years," it stressed.

A final report, according to OCHA, is expected in February next year.

South Sudan Rival Leaders Decline Meeting Each Other in South Africa
December 4, 2016 (JUBA) - South Sudanese rival leaders have declined a proposal by South Africa President Jacob Zuma to bring them together. The move was an attempt to build confidence, trust and dispel personal dislike and rancour between the two leaders.

Officials close to the two leaders confirmed to Sudan Tribune separately on Sunday neither President Salva Kiir nor his main political rival, Riek Machar, had shown interest in meeting each other.

A presidential aide told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the meeting between South Sudan president and his host was delayed and pushed to Friday because South African authorities had hoped Machar would travel from Johannesburg to Pretoria for the meeting on Thursday.

“We were expecting South African governments and the ANC leadership would arrange a special meeting between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar," said the presidential aide who is in South African with President Kiir.

"There were signs that such a meeting would take place considering that the ANC (African National Congress) played a very important role in the reunification of the SPLM through the Tanzania’ ruling party,” he added.

The official who declined to be identified said the Minister of Petroleum, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth is part of the presidential delegation to play a role with Machar and South African authorities because before to split from Machar last July he came to South Africa several times with him.

“The Minister of Petroleum Ezekiel Lol went with us because of the understanding that he would play a role in the meeting of President Kiir and Riek Machar. He was one of the aides who travelled with Riek to South Africa when he was with him.

He further said that the former deputy chairman of the SPLM-In Opposition, Alfred Lado Gore is with them in Johannesburg to demonstrate the commitment of the government to implement the Arusha agreement between the factions of the SPLM to reunify the historical party.

3.5 Million People Face Severe Hunger in South Sudan, Says U.N
December 4, 2016 (JUBA) – At least 3.6 million people in South Sudan are currently facing severe food shortages, the highest levels ever experienced at harvest time with the crisis is likely to worsen when food from the current harvest runs out next year, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), announced on Friday.

The latest report says the number of people facing severe hunger is expected to rise to 4.6 million between January and April next year and increase even more from May to July unless aid is scaled up.

Renewed violence broke out in the young nation in July this year when the country’s rivals forces clashed in the capital, Juba, leaving more than 200 dead and displacing thousands on the population.

The country descended into civil war in December 2013 when a row between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, ended with fighting that often erupted along ethnic fault lines.

The conflict has prevented farmers from reaching their farms in several parts of the country, thus denting food security hopes.

"The scale of food insecurity remains unprecedented in South Sudan, despite seasonal improvements that are typical of the harvest season," partly reads WFP’s latest report on war-torn South Sudan.

The country’s hunger levels, the UN food agency stressed, have doubled since last year. For instance, it said, nearly 60% of the population of South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal state is affected, 56% in Unity, and 47% in Western Bahr el Ghazal state.

The number of people facing severe hunger is expected to rise to 4.6 million between January and April next year and increase even more from May to July unless aid is scaled up, the WFP report said.

The fighting and tumbling oil production and prices have hammered South Sudan’s economy. Inflation shot to 835 percent in the year to October, while the official value of the currency has plummeted.

Conflict and insecurity, WFP said, have also cut off trade routes and disrupted imports. Last month, however, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said there was a growing "risk of famine," especially among the country’s most vulnerable communities.

Libyan Militias Take Control of Last Islamic State Holdouts in Sirte - Spokesman
DEC 5, 2016 - 13:58

A fighter of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government looks for Islamic State militants through a hole in a wall as forces advance against the militants' holdouts in Ghiza Bahriya district in Sirte, Libya. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan militias took control on Monday of the final cluster of buildings where Islamic State militants were holding out in their former North African stronghold of Sirte, and were securing the area, a spokesman said.

Islamic State took over Sirte in early 2015, setting up its most important base outside the Middle East and extending its control along about 250 km (150 miles) of Mediterranean coastline.

Forces led by brigades from the western city of Misrata launched a counter-attack against the jihadist group in May, and since Aug. 1 the United States has carried out at least 470 air strikes to support them.

Spokesman Rida Issa told Reuters that forces led by brigades from Misrata and backed by U.S. air strikes "control all of Sirte's Ghiza Bahriya neighbourhood and are still securing the area".

The statement could not immediately be verified and there was no official announcement that Sirte had been taken.

Earlier on Monday, more than a dozen Islamic State fighters clinging on in a few dozen buildings in the Ghiza Bahriya district had surrendered to Libyan forces, and at least three women had left militant-held ground, officials said.

In recent days, Libyan forces say dozens of women and children have left the last group of buildings controlled by militants.

The presence of the families has been one of the factors complicating attempts to push forward into the final sliver of land held by Islamic State, and several women carried out suicide attacks as they were being granted safe passage.

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Libya Militias Stop Terrorists Swimming Out of Sirte
GNA forces are pressing an almost seven-month-old offensive to oust Daesh from the Mediterranean city

15:31 December 5, 2016 Gulf News

United Nations installed Government of National Accord (GNA) forces in Libya have detained at least eight Daesh group terrorists trying to swim to freedom out of their embattled former coastal bastion of Sirte, the loyalists said.

On Sunday, forces supporting the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) “thwarted the escape of two members of the terrorist Daesh group via the sea”, they said.

“The two Daesh members of Tunisian origin slipped out at dawn towards the sea and tried to escape by swimming,” the LANA news agency reported a military source within the forces as saying.

On Saturday, the GNA forces stopped “six Daesh members who tried to flee at dawn by swimming in the sea”, they said in a statement on their operation’s official Facebook page.

The GNA forces are pressing an almost seven-month-old offensive to oust Daesh from the Mediterranean city, some 450 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli.

They began the operation to retake Sirte on May 12, quickly seizing large areas of the city, but have since faced dogged resistance from Daesh fighters cornered in their last holdouts by the sea.

For several weeks, loyalists have slowly been advancing house by house in the fiercely defended seaside district of Giza Al Bahriya, but have failed to dislodge the last pockets of Daesh fighters.
GNA fighters have attempted to secure safe passage for civilians out of the neighbourhood, their Facebook page said.

Almost seven months of fighting have left nearly 700 GNA fighters dead and 3,000 wounded. The Daesh death toll is not known.

Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 counter-revolution that toppled and killed longtime Pan-Africanist leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Daesh overran Sirte in June 2015.
Hypothermia Claims Two Women as Over 700 Migrants Are Rescued Off Libya
DEC 5, 2016

ROME – Two women died of hypothermia during an operation to rescue more than 730 migrants off the Libyan coast, the Italian coast guard and medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Sunday.

The women were found unconscious in a large dinghy in the Mediterranean that was partly deflated and taking on water.

“Devastatingly…, two women died of hypothermia despite huge efforts from the #Aquarius team. We are heartbroken, again,” said MSF on Twitter, referring to the Aquarius rescue boat chartered by themselves and another charity, SOS Mediterranee.

Five large inflatable dinghies and five smaller boats were rescued during the operation, which took place over a 24-hour period Saturday to Sunday.

Among those rescued were several families with young children from Aleppo, Syria’s war-torn second city.

The rescued migrants were en route to Italy on Sunday.

Italy has already seen more than 173,000 migrants arrive on its shores this year, up 12 percent on the 2015 total and outstripping the previous record of 170,000 from 2014.

The increasing risks of attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe during poor winter weather has in the past provoked a reduction in the number of boats setting sail at this time of year.

But while the number of rescue boats patrolling the seas reduces during winter, the number of boats making the crossing has abated little.

According to the United Nations, at least 4,700 people have died or disappeared this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean in boats that are often overcrowded and barely seaworthy.
Colin Kaepernick Pays Tribute to Fred Hampton (1948-1969) During Game Against Bears
Chris Kuc
Contact Reporter
Chicago Tribune

Colin Kaepernick had to duck under a massive American flag to get to the 49ers sideline moments before it was unrolled and stretched across the field for the performing of the national anthem Sunday at Soldier Field.

Later, Kaepernick didn't duck questions about why the veteran quarterback again kneeled in protest during the anthem or his subpar play that led to him being replaced in the fourth quarter of the Bears' 26-6 victory that sent the 49ers to their 11th consecutive defeat.

Some in the crowd of 46,622 jeered Kaepernick when he and teammate Eli Harold kneeled during the anthem, something Kaepernick has done before games to protest what he believes are wrongdoings against minorities in the United States.

"I will continue to do it," Kaepernick said after the game. "There are a lot of issues that still need to be addressed.

"And I do think there is significance in being here (Sunday) seeing it's the anniversary of the assassination of chairman Fred Hampton," continued Kaepernick, who was wearing a T-shirt with a photo of Hampton, a leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party who was killed during a raid by Chicago police on Dec. 4, 1969. "Being in Chicago, being able to acknowledge that a black figure, a black leader like him is very important and his role in being a leader in this community and bringing this community together is something that needs to be acknowledged."

Kaepernick's activism has received more scrutiny than his play, but when it comes to football, he has had better days than Sunday. Much better days.

With snow falling, Kaepernick failed to generate anything through the air and had one completion, a 4-yarder to tight end Vance McDonald midway through the second quarter. Kaepernick finished 1-for-5 for 4 yards and ran six times for 20 yards. He was sacked five times for losses equaling 25 yards and finished with a passer rating of 39.6.

"The weather was something that definitely played a factor," Kaepernick said. "We have to be able to do a better job of managing that, handling it and being able to throw the ball."

With the 49ers trailing 21-6 after three quarters, coach Chip Kelly pulled Kaepernick in favor of backup Blaine Gabbert.

"I thought we needed a spark on offense and needed to get something going," said Kelly, who coached despite his father's death Friday night in New Hampshire. "We knew we were going to be throwing it every down, so give Blaine a shot. That was it. Nothing more."

Despite his ineffectiveness, Kaepernick said being pulled "wasn't something I was expecting," but he didn't try to plead his case to remain in the game.

"It's not my place to really argue on the sideline," Kaepernick said. "It's not about my feelings. It's about being able to help this team win. This coaching staff didn't feel like I was out there being able to help this team win, so they made a change, whether or not I agree with that."
Imperialism Identifies Russian Federation as Main Threat to the United States
By Andrea Shalal

Russia's increasing military activities around the world have unsettled top U.S. military officials, who say they are reshaping their budget plans to better address what they now consider to be the most pressing threat to U.S. security.

"Russia is the No. 1 threat to the United States. We have a number of threats that we're dealing with, but Russia could be, because of the nuclear aspect, an existential threat to the United States," Air Force Secretary Deborah James told Reuters in an interview at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum.

James, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and Pentagon chief arms buyer Frank Kendall, all voiced growing concern about Russia's increasingly aggressive behavior in interviews late on Saturday.

Their comments come as the Pentagon finalizes a classified security assessment for President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to both pump up U.S. defense spending and build closer ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

European diplomats fear Moscow could use the time before Trump's inauguration to launch more offensives in Ukraine and Syria, betting that President Barack Obama will be loathe to response forcefully so soon before he hands off power on Jan. 20.

Kendall said U.S. policy had been centered on threats in the Asia-Pacific region and Middle East, but was now focused more on Russia. "Their behavior has caused us ... to rethink the balance of capabilities that we're going to need," he said.

None of the officials gave details about how the concerns would affect the fiscal 2018 budget request, but defense officials have pointed to the need to focus on areas such as cyber security, space, nuclear capabilities and missile defense, where Russia has developed new capabilities in recent years.

Pentagon officials have nearly completed work on a fiscal 2018 budget request, but it is likely to be reworked substantially once Trump takes office. Officials expect that budget to be submitted in April at the earliest, and possibly later. Typically, budgets are submitted in early February.

Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the conference that Russia's goal was to counter NATO, undermine its credibility and limit the ability of the U.S. military to project power around the world.

"They are operating with a frequency and in places that we haven't seen for decades," he said, adding that the buildup should be viewed in the context of its actions in Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, where they have already stepped up air attacks on eastern Aleppo.

Richardson said the Navy was seeing increased Russian naval activities around the globe, including its unprecedented deployment of a carrier strike group to the Mediterranean, the firing of missiles from ships in the Caspian Sea, increased submarine activities in the north Atlantic, and a growing naval presence in the Pacific.

He said there were continuing incidents involving Russian aircraft buzzing U.S. vessels, with some coming as close as 30 feet, and other cases where ships were behaving "erratically."

"It's all for public consumption," Richardson said, noting that Russian ships often filmed such encounters and edited them to make it appear as if U.S. ships were at fault.

Russia and the United States have an agreement to limit and discuss incidents at sea, but the accord appeared to be having little impact on curbing such incidents, he said.

Dialogue between U.S. and Russian navy officers has ceased since Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014, in contrast to the days of the Cold War, when U.S. and Russian officials were in more regular contact, he said.

"More communication with Russia would be a valuable thing," Richardson said, noting that he had regular contact with his counterpart in China, but not with those in Russia or Iran.

James echoed his concerns, citing what she called "very worrying" incidents of "very dangerous airmanship" and cyber attacks by Russian hackers on U.S. institutions.

Richardson also said he was concerned about a report by Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide that Russia now had the ability to cut off resupply routes to Europe through its activities in the Arctic region.

Army Secretary Eric Fannning told a panel at the conference that Russia was clearly acting "in a destabilizing way," and said the United States was learning from how the Russian military was behaving in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alan Crosby

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Standing Rock Protestors Celebrate as Dakota Pipeline Easement Denied
Army Corps of Engineers recommends pipeline "explore alternate routes," denies construction permits

In a decision celebrated by protestors at the Standing Rock site, the Army announced they would not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Scott Olson/Getty Images News
By Daniel Kreps

In a decision celebrated by the thousands of protestors gathered at the Standing Rock site, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that they would not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline and would instead "explore alternate routes."

"Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there's more work to do," Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army's assistant secretary for civil works Darcy said Sunday. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."

The announcement was celebrated by those gathered at the protest sites, including 2,000 U.S. military veterans that joined the protests on December 2nd to protect them from the authorities; in recent weeks, altercations between protestors and law enforcement have escalated.

Prior to Sunday's decision, federal officials had given protestors, who have reiterated that the pipeline would threaten the water supply and damage sacred sites, until Monday to leave the protest site.

U.S. Secretary for the Interior Sally Jewell added in a statement that Sunday's decision "ensures that there will be an in-depth evaluation of alternative routes for the pipeline and a closer look at potential impacts" and "underscores that tribal rights reserved in treaties and federal law, as well as Nation-to-Nation consultation with tribal leaders, are essential components of the analysis to be undertaken in the environmental impact statement going forward," the Washington Post reports.

In a statement that followed the Army's announcement that they would not approve the construction permits on the $3.7 billion project, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said, "We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision."

Archambault II continued, "We want to thank everyone who played a role in advocating for this cause. We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent, and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water. We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need."

Archambault II added that he hoped the incoming Trump administration and any other challengers "respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point."
United States Army Will Not Grant Easement for Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing
By U.S. Army
December 4, 2016

Army POC: Moira Kelley (703) 614-3992,

The Department of the Army will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, the Army's Assistant Secretary for Civil Works announced today.

Jo-Ellen Darcy said she based her decision on a need to explore alternate routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. Her office had announced on November 14, 2016 that it was delaying the decision on the easement to allow for discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation lies 0.5 miles south of the proposed crossing. Tribal officials have expressed repeated concerns over the risk that a pipeline rupture or spill could pose to its water supply and treaty rights.

"Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it's clear that there's more work to do," Darcy said. "The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."

Darcy said that the consideration of alternative routes would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is an approximately 1,172 mile pipeline that would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to an existing crude oil terminal near Pakota, Illinois. The pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and is projected to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels. The current proposed pipeline route would cross Lake Oahe, an Army Corps of Engineers project on the Missouri River.
United States Army Blocks Drilling of Dakota Access Oil Pipeline
New York Times
DEC. 4, 2016

Theresa Sandoval, of the Red Willow Tribe in northern New Mexico, bringing firewood back to her North Dakota camp early Sunday morning. Credit Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

CANNON BALL, N.D. — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won a major victory on Sunday in its battle to block an oil pipeline being built near its reservation when the Department of the Army announced that it would not allow the pipeline to be drilled under a dammed section of the Missouri River.

The Army said it would look for alternative routes for the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Construction of the route a half-mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation has become a global flash point for environmental and indigenous activism, drawing thousands of people out here to a sprawling prairie camp of tents, tepees and yurts.

“The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, said in a statement. The move could presage a lengthy environmental review that has the potential to block the pipeline’s construction for months or years.

But it was unclear how durable the government’s decision would be. Sunday’s announcement came in the dwindling days of the Obama administration, which revealed in November that the Army Corps of Engineers was considering an alternative route. The Corps of Engineers is part of the Department of the Army.

President-elect Donald J. Trump, however, has taken a different view of the project and said as recently as last week that he supported finishing the 1,170-mile pipeline, which crosses four states and is almost complete.

Though the Army’s decision calls for an environmental study of alternative routes, the Trump administration could ultimately decide to allow the original, contested route. Representatives for Mr. Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Trump owns stock in the company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, but he has said that his support has nothing to do with his investment.

There was no immediate response from Energy Transfer Partners, but its chief executive, Kelcy Warren, has said that the company was unwilling to reroute the pipeline, which is intended to transport as much as 550,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields of western North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois.

Reaction was swift on both sides, with environmental groups like Greenpeace praising the decision. “The water protectors have done it,” a Greenpeace spokeswoman, Lilian Molina, said. “This is a monumental victory in the fight to protect indigenous rights and sovereignty.”

But Craig Stevens, a spokesman for the MAIN Coalition, a pro-infrastructure group, condemned the move as “a purely political decision that flies in the face of common sense and the rule of law.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the president would, again, use executive fiat in an attempt to enhance his legacy among the extreme left,” Mr. Stevens said in a statement. “With President-elect Trump set to take office in 47 days, we are hopeful that this is not the final word on the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Representative Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota and a Trump supporter, called Sunday’s decision a “chilling signal to others who want to build infrastructure in this country.”

“I can’t wait for the adults to be in charge on Jan. 20,” Mr. Cramer said, referring to Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

Still, the announcement set off whoops of joy inside the Oceti Sakowin camp. Tribal members paraded through the camp on horseback, jubilantly beating drums and gathering around a fire at the center of the camp. Tribal elders celebrated what they said was the validation of months of prayer and protest.

“It’s wonderful,” Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock tribal chairman, told cheering supporters who stood in the melting snow on a mild North Dakota afternoon. “You all did that. Your presence has brought the attention of the world.”

The decision, he said, meant that people no longer had to stay at the camp during North Dakota’s brutal winter. The Corps of Engineers, which manages the land, had ordered it to be closed, but the thousands of protesters had built yurts, tepees and bunkhouses and vowed to hunker down.

“It’s time now that we move forward,” Mr. Archambault said. “We don’t have to stand and endure this hard winter. We can spend the winter with our families.”

Law enforcement officials and non-Native ranchers in this conservative, heavily white part of North Dakota would like little more than to see the thousands of protesters return home. The sheriff has called the demonstrations an unlawful protest, and officials have characterized the demonstrators as rioters who have intimidated ranchers and threatened and attacked law enforcement — charges that protest leaders deny.

But on Sunday, several campers said they were not going anywhere. They said that there were too many uncertainties surrounding the Army’s decision, and that they had dedicated too much time and emotion to this fight to leave now.

Federal and state regulators had issued the pipeline the necessary permits to proceed, but the Corps of Engineers had not yet granted it a final easement to drill under a stretch of the Missouri River called Lake Oahe.

The Standing Rock Sioux had objected to the pipeline’s path so close to the source of their drinking water, and said any spill could poison water supplies for them and other reservations and cities downstream. They also said the pipeline’s route through what are now privately owned ranches bordering the river crossed through sacred ancestral lands.

News of the government’s denial came after the size of the camp had swelled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Native and non-Native veterans who had arrived to support the tribe. As word spread, people who had camped out here for months, sometimes in bitterly cold temperatures, and who had clashed violently with local law enforcement, linked arms and cheered and cried.

They screamed, “Mni wiconi!” — the movement’s rallying cry — which means “Water is life.”

Jon Eagle Sr., a member of the Standing Rock Tribe, said the announcement was a vindication for the thousands who had traveled here, and for the multitudes who had rallied to the tribe’s fight on social media or donated. Millions of dollars in donations and goods have flowed into the camps for months as the tribe’s fight and the scenes of protesters being tear-gassed and sprayed with freezing water stirred outrage on social media. (Law enforcement officials have insisted the entire time that they have acted responsibly and with restraint.)

“I don’t know quite how to put into words how proud I am of our people,” Mr. Eagle said. “And I mean our people. I don’t just mean the indigenous people of this continent. I mean all the people who came to stand with us. And it’s a beautiful day. It’s a powerful day.”

Ken Many Wounds, who has served as a tribal liaison to express concerns and questions to law enforcement, said he had been standing by the camp’s main fire — one that is tended constantly — when he heard the news from the tribal chairman’s wife. He said he did not believe it at first.

“I hugged her, I cried,” he said. “Our prayers have been answered. A lot of people didn’t believe that prayer was going to be the answer. But our people stayed together. In our hearts, we knew.”

Jack Healy reported from Cannon Ball, and Nicholas Fandos from Washington. Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York, and Coral Davenport from Washington.
Death Toll in Fire at Oakland Artist Collective Rises to 33
NBC News

The death toll in the massive fire at an Oakland, California, warehouse party climbed to 33 by Sunday afternoon, officials said, and the growing list of victims included teenagers as young as 17 and the son of a first responder.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also said at a news conference Sunday afternoon that criminal investigators from the Alameda County District Attorney's Office were at the site of the blaze and working with law enforcement.

"I want to confirm that we have activated the criminal investigation team," Schaaf said. "That means that we are engaging in protocol that allows a criminal investigation to be conducted."

Schaaf stressed that "it is far too early for us to have any suspicions about what caused this fire" and that only the district attorney's office could announce any possible charges.

Officials identified seven of the victims on Sunday night:

Cash Askew, 22
David Cline, 35
Nick Gomez-Hall, 25
Sara Hoda, 30
Travis Hough, 35
Donna Kellogg, 32
Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32

Authorities have made their way through about 35 percent to 40 percent of the building, and there was much more work to do, Kelly said earlier.

Kelly also said the tragedy at the warehouse had personally affected one of the first responders.

"This tragedy has hit very close to home for our agency — one of our deputies that we work with lost his son in this fire," he said. "Our family and our department are hurting from that."

Kelly also said some of the victims whom they recovered were minors.

"We do have some children in the ages of 17 years old, possibly younger," he said.

The victims were teenagers to people in their 30s, he said. Some were from other countries, Kelly said, and authorities were getting in contact with those embassies and consulates.

Kelly described the painstaking process of identifying victims, saying the 24/7 operation was working to match fingerprints with identification they have found on some of the victims, in wallets, purses and backpacks.

The coroner's office asked the families of the missing to preserve objects with possible DNA for evidence.

Kelly said that he had "no idea" how many more victims were in the warehouse but that the number could continue to rise.

"We are finding people throughout the entire square footage of that structure," he said. "It's so random. We're finding victims where we least expect them."

The sergeant said responders had come across a trailer within the structure "that looked like they were being lived in, inside the warehouse."

The first floor of the warehouse was an artists' collective made up of divided work spaces, which Fire Operations Chief Mark Hoffman described Saturday as a "labyrinth."

Max Ohr, creative director of the art collective that leased the warehouse, told NBC's TODAY on Sunday that he was working the door for a party on the night of the inferno and that about 70 people were "in the venue enjoying music" when he heard someone say there was a fire.

Ohr said there were no sprinklers in the building before the art collective began leasing the warehouse, and Hoffman said Saturday night that he saw no evidence of sprinklers.

The structure was last permitted for legal use as a warehouse, officials said, and it did not have the permits necessary for people to live in the building, known as the Ghost Ship.

Shelly Mack, 58, a former tenant who lived at the Ghost Ship for several months two years ago, described it to The Associated Press as a ramshackle structure where water and power were sometimes siphoned from neighbors and where a generator once exploded.

Mack said that she was told to describe it as a 24-hour work space for artists — rather than a dwelling — and that when inspectors dropped by, tenants hid their belongings.

"It's a good example of people taking advantage of people because they had no other options," Mack, a tech sales worker and jewelry maker, told the AP. "People make businesses off scamming people online when they're looking for a place."

In a Facebook post, a musician who said he had performed at the Ghost Ship said such spaces were the product of artists across the country being "pushed to the periphery, if not wholly exiled, by real estate speculation."

"Artists will perform in the few spaces made available to us, and audiences will go to those spaces they feel comfortable, even if those are spaces are totally dangerous," the post said.

"If we don't want this to happen again, we ought to focus less on blaming the persons who operated this one particular warehouse, and more on how to carve out other types of alternative spaces in our cities, so we don't have to hold our parties in death traps," he wrote.

The AP identified Derick Ion Almena, 46, and his wife, Micah Allison, 40, as the Ghost Ship's operators. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment from NBC News on Sunday night.

In a statement to NBC Bay Area on Saturday, the daughter of the warehouse's owner said the family had no comment.

"We are also trying to figure out what's going on like everyone else. We're so sorry to hear about the tragedy," Eva Ng said in an email attributed to her mother, building owner Chor Ng. "Our condolences go out to the families and friends of those injured and those who lost their lives."

The building's owner told NBC News on Sunday that they did not know people were living inside the structure. 
Act in Tribute to Fidel Begins in Santiago de Cuba
Presided by Army General and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Raúl Castro Ruz, the people of Santiago and other eastern provinces are accompanied by friends, presidents and personalities from across the world

National news staff |
December 3, 2016 20:12:36

Photo: Cuban television images

Fidel is in Santiago. His Santiago of the Moncada assault, of November 30, of the Sierra Maestra and of the revolutionary triumph, the same city he awarded the honorific title of Hero of the Republic of Cuba, extensive to all its people.

These same people fill the Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo this evening, where the act in tribute to the Comandante en Jefe has just begun, before his ashes are finally laid to rest in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery tomorrow.

Friends, presidents and personalities from other parts of the world accompany Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, who will offer the central remarks.

Leaders of mass and social organizations and the Young Communist League will also participate as representatives of the Cuban people.

Fidel rests in Santiago

Santiago de Cuba’sPlaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo now bears the remains of the Comandante. The square will host a commemorative act in honor of Fidel this evening, with the presence of the people of Santiago, Party and government representatives, leaders of mass organizations and heads of state and important figures from across the world

Granma |
December 3, 2016 17:12:44

Around 1:50pm this December 3, the funeral procession bearing the Comandante’s remains completed the last stretch of its journey from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, arriving at the city’s Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo. Fidel’s ashes will rest here until his burial at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery tomorrow, close to Cuban National Hero José Martí.

Later this evening, the people of Santiago and other eastern provinces, will gather in this square to pay tribute to the leader of the Revolution.

While this site was built in honor of Antonio Maceo, a sculptural tribute to another hero of Cuba, Comandante Juan Almeida Bosque, can also be found here, on one of the walls of the surrounding Heredia Theater.

The funeral procession bearing Fidel’s ashes traveled a total distance of more than 1,000 kilometers over four days from Havana to Santiago de Cuba.
Throughout this funeral procession across the island, retracing in reverse the route of the triumphant Caravan of Liberty of 1959, hundreds of thousands of Cuban men, women and children have lined the streets to bear witness and pay their last respects to the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution.

Posthumous commemoration, today, for the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution in Santiago de Cuba

After the moving, unforgettable voyage of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro's ashes, following the Caravan of Liberty's route of January, 1959, the valiant people of Santiago, along with representatives of other eastern provinces, will honor the leader of the Cuban Revolution

National news staff |
December 3, 2016 08:12:29

After the moving, unforgettable voyage of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro's ashes, following the Caravan of Liberty's route of January, 1959, from Havana east, the valiant people of Santiago, along with representatives of neighboring provinces, will honor the leader of the Cuban Revolution, today, December 3, at 7:00pm, in Antonio Maceo Plaza la Revolución.

Present at the event will be heads of state and important figures from all parts of the world. Speaking in the name of our people will be leaders of mass organizations, social associations, and the Young Communists League.

The central remarks will be made by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and President of the Councils of State and Ministers.

Cuban radio and television will broadcast the event live.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Qatar Partner in Tunisia's Democratic Transition, Says Rached Ghannouchi of Ennahda
03 Dec 2016 - 21:18
The Peninsula, Qatar

Qatar partner in Tunisia's democratic transition, says Rached Ghannouchi of Ennahda
Ennahda Party chief Rached Ghannouchi (Right) with The Peninsula journalist Mohammed Osman

By Mohammed Osman
The Peninsula

The just-concluded International Investment Conference- Tunisia 2020-  held in Tunis under the initiative of Qatar has reflected the importance Qatar has given to Tunisia and its democratic experience, says Rached Ghannouchi, chief of Ennahda Party, a member of Tunisia’s ruling coalition.

In an exclusive interview with The Peninsula in his office in Tunis, the Ennahda ideologue shared his views about the democratic process in Tunisia and Qatar’s role in developing the Tunisian economy.

“It is a historical event and I expect, after this conference Tunisia will not be the same as it was before. Our people have great confidence in the positive effects this conference will have in bringing opportunities for economic prosperity and a new life to them,” said Ghannouchi.

He said this international conference has presented Tunisia as a country of promise, attractive, stable and worth confidence because the event has hosted one third of the world’s countries.

Ghannouchi described Qatar’s participation and support as “extremely exciting” considering the size of the Qatari delegation and attendance of the Emir HH Shiekh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in the conference.

“This is not the first Qatari initiative to support Tunisia, but Qatar has been incredibly generous and supportive and a partner in our revolution through the support we have got from Al Jazeera for the democratic transition in Tunisia.Al Jazeera introduced our cause, revolution and its figures to the world.” said Ghannouchi.

Qatar’s moral and financial support to Tunisia continued after the revolution to all successive governments, as Tunis has seen multiple transitions of power since 2011.

Qatar provided with generous loans, and deposits of $1bn in the Central Bank of Tunisia whose due time has been extended to contribute to balancing the budget of the state, Ghannouchi added.

“When Qatar gave millions of riyal to support Tunisia, it is not making a gift to a party but rather to the Tunisian government and administration, and we are happy to have Qatar as a partner and ally,” he said.

He added that Qatar being one of the leading economies in the world, its support has encouraged the world economic and financial institutions to invest in Tunisia.

Underlining the importance of the conference for Tunisia, Ghannouchi said that the international financial institutions like World Bank, IMF, European Banks and counties like Germany, France, Canada and many others have restored their confidence on Tunisia.

Another factor is the strong participation of the GCC states, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE thanks to the Qatari efforts that played a significant role in mobilizing their support.

Asked about the differences between this conference and the first conference held in 2014, Ghannouchi noted that Tunisia has now become stable.

“In 2014, the country was not stable, Ennahda decided to step down from power to maintain stability and the country was facing terror attacks and it was at a crossroad. We are very lucky to have overcome that difficult period and the country approved the constitution and elected President and established a coalition government of five parties. Tunisia today is more stable and managed to curtail terrorism and began to lay the foundation for economic growth and investment,” said Ghannouchi.

“ All these developments have made the country gain confidence of the international community  in the Tunisian democracy,” he added.

“This is not a conference asking for loans but for investment,” he said adding that Tunisia wants to present a win-win situation to the investors convincing that that it is a good deal to invest in a stable country.

“ We hope to increase our partnerships with Qatar, of course. The $1.25bn that the Emir has given to Tunisia need to be invested across various projects, farming, infrastructure etc, and we hope to do much more to promote Tunisian exports. The  Qatari support for Tunisia is a clear signal of its support for not only the democratic changes in Tunisia but also for the economic revolution which our country is moving towards,” said Ghannouchi.

“ Now, as 2016 comes to a close, the Tunisian government, representing liberal and conservative parties, is signaling to the world that it is ready to move forward on building its economy with  security, stability and peace. This has encouraged investors to come, who were not here before,  and countries who have already been investing have increased the volume of their investment,” he added.

Asked about fear of some counties about the Tunisian democratic experience, Ghannouchi said, “Tunisian democracy is not for export, it is only for domestic consumption and for cure of local diseases”.

“Tunisian democracy is not exclusive, it is built on a combination of Islam and democracy. The Tunisian experience in fighting terrorism has proved that fighting terror through democracy is more effective and cost less compared to military solutions,” said Ghannouchi.

“As I travel around the world, I have seen and felt the impact of the Tunisian example in building bridges between Islam and modernity, in combating terrorism through social cohesion, peace, and national consensus,” he added.

Asked about the fair distribution of the upcoming investments Ghannouchi pointed out that the revolution started in the  impoverished regions that had been marginalized for decades under the Ben Ali and Bourguiba regimes.

“Now, we need to pay special attention to building up these regions, to build their infrastructure and encourage greater investment through large-scale infrastructure projects that will make these regions desirable investment locations. We need to build roads, highways, railways, airports, hospitals and schools. Saudi Arabia is going to build a big hospital in the city of Kairouan, and France will do the same in Kasserine,” said Ghannouchi.

About the international award he received from Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation in India recently, Ghannouchi said that the award was for promoting Gandhian values outside of India.

“ In the past this award to given  to Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and many other notable international personalities who have used peaceful means to solve problems and resolve crises. This gift was not to me as an individual, but to the people of Tunisia and their experience in democratic transition.”

“ This award has opened new prospects for Tunisia –India ties. India is the largest democracy in the world, with more that 700 million voters, a democracy which never experienced rigging or attempt of coup,” he added.
Tunisia Breaks Up 160 Militant Cells in First 10 Months of 2016: Ministry
Tunisian security forces dismantled 160 jihadist cells in the first 10 months of this year, about 45 percent more than during the whole of 2015, the interior ministry said on Friday.

Tunisia has been the only Arab state to achieve a relatively peaceful democratic transition since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 but has struggled to contain Islamist militancy, partly because of a spillover of instability from neighboring Libya.

An interior ministry statement said the number of terrorism suspects arrested between January and October this year was 850, compared with 547 for all of 2015.

Security forces stepped up efforts to track down militants after the North African country suffered three major deadly attacks last year, including two targeting foreign tourists.

In March this year, security forces repelled an attempted Islamic State takeover of the town of Ben Guerdan near the border with Libya.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Mark Heinrich)
US Defense Secretary Says Pentagon Should Continue to Occupy Iraq

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — The American military, along with its international partners, will need to remain in Iraq even after the expected defeat of the ISIS group, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Saturday.

Carter said the U.S. and its coalition partners must not stop after completing the current campaign to expel ISIS from Mosul.

He said the militants are on a path to lasting defeat.

"But there will still be much more to do after that to make sure that, once defeated, ISIL stays defeated," he said, using an alternative acronym for the ISIS group, which is also known as Islamic State. "We'll need to continue to counter foreign fighters trying to escape and ISIL's attempts to relocate or reinvent itself. To do so, not only the United States but our coalition must endure and remain engaged militarily."

"In Iraq in particular, it will be necessary for the coalition to provide sustained assistance and carry on our work to train, equip and support local police, border guards and other forces to hold areas cleared from ISIL."

He did not say how long this continued U.S. military presence might be necessary or how many troops would be required. At any rate, those decisions are likely to fall to the Trump administration after it takes office in January.

In describing recent Pentagon actions to put a stranglehold on the ISIS worldwide, Carter said the Obama administration has directed the secretive Joint Special Operations Command to prioritize destroying the militant group's ability to conduct attacks in the West.

Carter said that in his final weeks in office he is focused on ensuring a smooth transition to his successor. Earlier this week, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he intends to nominate retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be his defense secretary.

Carter congratulated Mattis, who is a former commander of U.S. Central Command overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I've worked with Jim for many years, he's a friend, and I hold him in the highest regard," Carter said.

He made no mention of the aspect of the Mattis selection that has drawn the most attention: the fact that his nomination will require legislation by Congress to exempt Mattis from a legal prohibition on a retired military officer serving as secretary of defense before he has been out of uniform for a minimum of seven years. Mattis retired in 2013.

Carter made his remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. 
Ronald Glasser Shot Unarmed Joe McKnight--Hours Later, the Police Released Him
McKnight was the second former NFL player shot to death in a road rage incident in Louisiana this year.

12.02.16 4:40 PM ET

“I told you don’t you fuck with me.”

Standing over his victim, according to a witness, 54-year-old Ronald Gasser fired a final shot. No one knows how the verbal altercation began, but a former NFL running back was shot dead in the middle of the day Thursday in what authorities say was a “road rage” incident in Terrytown, a suburb of New Orleans. Witnesses say Joe McKnight, who once played for the New York Jets, was attempting to apologize as Gasser kept shouting at him.

The coroner will not say how many times the 28 year old was hit. Paramedics attempted to revive him, but McKnight, who was unarmed, died at the scene.

Despite statements from multiple eyewitnesses who say McKnight was not the aggressor, his killer has been released from custody after questioning. The Jefferson Parish sheriff’s department said they could see no reason to hold him. “Authorities said [McKnight] got in an argument with Gasser on a highway in the suburb of Terrytown and was shot outside his vehicle,” according to NBC News.

Witnesses say McKnight —who was the top running back recruit in the country when he came out of John Curtis Christian School in Louisiana—was actually pulled from his vehicle before he was shot.

Sheriff’s deputies plan to consult with prosecutors, who may consider taking the case to a grand jury. Charges in the killing are far from guaranteed.

A witness, who was leaving a nearby store on Thursday afternoon, told the Times-Picayune that she saw a man believed to be Gasser yelling at McKnight near the intersection of Beherman Highway and Holmes Boulevard. Their cars—Gasser’s blue Infinity and McKnight’s silver Audi SUV—were seen parked side-by-side at a traffic light. McKnight was standing next to his car trying to defuse the situation and apologize, she said, when Gasser, who was yelling, shot him.

The Louisiana native never stood a chance.

“He didn’t deserve it,” said Roxanne Lundy, McKnight cousin who came to the scene. “He was a good guy. It was 100 percent unnecessary.”

There is no way to know if race played a role in McKnight’s fatal shooting or how law enforcement has chosen to approach the investigation. But, the strictures of race are easily felt in the suburban New Orleans enclave of less than 25,000. Situated along the westerly banks of the Mississippi River, African American and white residents both account for around a third of the population.

Gasser is white. McKnight was black.

Gasser—who remained at the scene and turned over his gun to police—was held briefly overnight before being released. They let him go based, in part, on how Gasser described the incident.

Investigators plan to meet Friday to review the case to decide if any charges will be brought and will seek a search warrant for his car.

“There’s no timeline for when this has to be done,” Col. John Fortunato of the parish sheriff’s office told the Daily News. “We want to get it right.”

Those assurances were widely met with derision and disbelief. Reaction was swift and passionate from McKnight’s former NFL teammates.

“I don’t get it,” Antonio Cromartie, who played with McKnight tweeted. “How in hell do you release someone who killed my brother, my friend a father a son a brother without charging him. Bull Crap.”

Family and friends rushed to defend Gasser, who was described by those who know him as a “loner” and a å“generous” man who works in telecommunications. But, if witnesses are correct, he was anything but generous when he took McKnight’s life. Gasser allegedly stood over McKnight—already bleeding from the first shots—and pumped another round into his body.

“This is some bullshit!!! He stood over him and shot him in broad daylight!!!” Kyle Williams, a former Kansas City Chiefs teammate tweeted. “And fucking stayed there!! Released and not charged!!?!?!?”

McKnight’s stepfather said he son always dreamed about playing professional football. “I’ve been knowing him from six, and this is just senseless, and it has to stop. Somewhere it has to stop.”

Video of the aftermath shows paramedics attempting to revive McKnight but, by then, it was too late.

A woman’s voice called out from behind the camera.

“It could have been any one of us,” she can be heard saying. “That man just got out and shot that man.”

McKnight, who spent four seasons in the NFL before joining the Canadian Football League, became the second person who’d played in the NFL to die in a road rage incident in Louisiana this year.

Retired Saint Will Smith was shot and killed in April, in Orleans, after a fender bender. His wife was also shot in the leg.

McKnight was about to be signed by the Minnesota Vikings, said his stepfather Elmo Lee. “I just want people to know that this was not a troubled kid. The boy was just trying to make it back in the NFL, that’s all he wanted to do.”

McKnight, a young father who turned 28 last April, will never get that chance.
Joe McKnight's Shooter, Ronald Gasser, Released From Custody
Residents in Ronald Gasser's Gretna neighborhood identified the man shown in this photo, taken by a witness, as Gasser. The photo was taken minutes after former NFL player Joe McKnight was gunned down at the corner of Behrman Highway and Holmes Blvd. in Terrytown on Thursday, December 1, 2016. (Handout Photo)

Jonathan Bullington,
The Times-Picayune
By Jonathan Bullington
December 02, 2016 at 5:14 PM

Ronald Gasser, the man authorities say shot and killed former NFL player Joe McKnight, was released from custody overnight without being charged, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office authorities said Friday morning (Dec. 2).

Gasser, 54, has not been formally charged, said JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato. Investigators are consulting with the district attorney's office on the decision whether to formally charge Gasser, Fortunato said.

As the investigation into McKnight's death continues, Fortunato asked anyone with information about the shooting to contact department homicide detectives at 504-364-5393.

McKnight, 28, was shot about 3 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 1) at the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown. A witness, who declined to give her name, said she saw a man at the intersection yelling at McKnight, who was trying to apologize. The man shot McKnight more than once, the witness said. She said he shot McKnight, stood over him and said, "I told you don't you f--- with me." Then the man fired again, she said.

Evidence and autopsy results show Gasser, the man authorities say admitted to fatally shooting Joe McKnight, did not fire on the former NFL player while standing over him, Jefferson Parish authorities said.

Authorities named the shooter as Ronald Gasser, 54, and said he stayed at the scene and turned his gun in to officers. Gasser was in custody and was being questioned, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said. The sheriff said McKnight did not have a gun, and deputies did not find a gun outside McKnight's vehicle.
Ex-Panther, Now 80, Sees His Hopes for Freedom Fade as Board Again Denies Parole
By Tanasia Kenney
Atlanta Black Star
November 30, 201602193

Former Black Panther, Sundiata Acoli, was sentenced to life in prison for the death of a N.J. state trooper.

Just one week shy of his 80th birthday, former Black Panther Sundiata Acoli got the news he’d be spending the next 15 years of his life in jail. Acoli, who is serving a life sentence for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper, was denied release from prison yet again.

According to The Guardian, New Jersey state police have fiercely opposed the former Black Panther’s release from jail since he first became eligible for parole in the fall of 1992. Still, this latest denial was a shocking blow to supporters who’ve fought time and time again to get him out of prison.

“This is a punch to the gut,” said Soffiyah Elijah, an attorney and executive director of the Alliance of Families for Justice ,who has represented Acoli for many years and successfully handled countless other cases to free former Black Panthers.

On that fateful day in May 1973, Acoli and his companions, Assata Shakur and Zayd Malik Shakur, were ambushed by state troopers while driving on the New Jersey turnpike. Both Zayd Malik and state trooper Werner Foerster were killed in the gunfire, while Assata Shakur was wounded and arrested. She later escaped to Cuba and has been there under asylum since 1979.

Acoli was captured by authorities days later.

According to, the ex-Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member was ultimately convicted in Foerster’s death and sentenced to life plus 30 years in the Trenton State Prison. In July 1987, he was transferred to the federal maximum-security prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

The judicial board swiftly denied Acoli’s request for parole when he first became eligible for release in 1992, ignoring the fact that he’d done excellent work while behind bars, had an outstanding academic and disciplinary record and received thousands of letters that spoke favorably of him, the website stated. Instead, he was handed a 20-year hit, the longest in New Jersey state history, that required he serve another 12 years before becoming eligible for parole again.

The Guardian reports that in 2014, a panel of New Jersey judges ordered the board to “expeditiously set conditions” for the ex-Panther’s release. The judges cited his good behavior, remorse for his involvement in the state trooper’s death and an expert’s testimony that Acoli now posed only a “low to moderate” risk of re-offending.

However, a higher court invalidated the the judges’ order in February — a decision New Jersey state police deemed “a victory for law enforcement.” According to The Guardian, the overturned order led to a new parole hearing in June, which was ultimately denied.

“[It was] primarily about the events on the turnpike and almost nothing about my many positive accomplishments,” Acoli wrote of the June hearing. He recalled one of the board members asking him, “Aren’t you angry that they broke Assata out of prison instead of you?” to which he responded, “I don’t or wouldn’t wish prison on anyone.”

In March 2015, Cuban officials issued their final word on Shakur, asserting that they would not extradite her back to the states. Atlanta Black Star reported that U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement have vigorously been trying to get their hands on Shakur, who has spent the past 30 years under the protection of the Cuban government, especially since President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced plans to normalize relations between the two countries last year.

Meanwhile, Acoli has spent the past four decades of his life locked up in “supermax” federal facilities.

“They are determined to bury him alive,” Elijah told The Guardian. “[But] we are equally determined to get him out.”

ABS has reached out to Elijah for further comment on Acoli’s previous requests for parole and efforts for his release but have not heard back yet.
Gen. Wesley Clark’s Son With Veterans’ Group To Protest Dakota Access Pipeline
Reporter, The Daily Caller
1:57 PM 12/03/2016

The son of retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark heads a veterans’ group committed to preventing law enforcement from evacuating Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. The group plans to arrive at the encampment Sunday.

The group will supplement the few veterans who already arrived at one of the encampments earlier in the week and and demanded that law enforcement lay down their firearms.

Wesley “Wes” Clark Jr. and former U.S. Marine Michael Wood Jr. lead Veterans Stand for Standing Rock. Clark’s father was also a 2004 Democratic presidential primary candidate.

The younger Clark graduated from Georgetown University and served four years in the Army before moving to Hollywood to pursue a writing career. (He does not appear to have any screenwriting credits in his 20-year career.)

Clark, whose Facebook page lists his interests as “history, music, gaming, futurology, foreign affairs, sex and saving the planet,” is a climate activist who protests against oil companies. Law enforcement claims he “supports activists who commit crimes to stop oil pipelines, which he believes is supported by his Christian beliefs.”

He claims the Standing Rock protests are more about issues related to clean water and the U.S. Government acknowledging a promise to pay the tribe revenue created by a river dam. Clark has claimed he would “instantly” turn over to police any protesters committing violence, but then claimed it’s the police who are instigating violence.

However, the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council sent a letter to the “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock” group asking them not to go to the southern part of the state where the protest camps are located, the Associated Press reported, because tension would likely increase and place a burden on law enforcement, Council president Russ Stabler said.

Stabler, who said that the Council has no opinion on the pipeline, also said the veterans coming to Standing Rock have been misinformed and should not be advancing a movement that has “broken laws, destroyed property and attacked law enforcement.”

But, he added, “They intend on coming anyhow.”

There are a “lot of different emotions and opinions” about the protest, and the veterans from across the country aren’t going to be swayed by the letter from Stabler, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock spokeswoman Ashleigh Jennifer Parker told The AP.

The main protest camp, Oceti Sakowin, is on federal land. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said because of the severe cold winter ahead, all federal lands north of the Cannonball River – including the camp — will be closed to the public on Monday, and Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued a mandatory evacuation of the camp, but both have said that protesters will not be forced to evacuate.

Read more:
U.S. Veterans Build Barracks for Pipeline Protesters in Cold
Veterans have a demonstration on Backwater bridge during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Ernest Scheyder and Terray Sylvester

U.S. military veterans were building barracks on Friday at a protest camp in North Dakota to support thousands of activists who have squared off against authorities in frigid conditions to oppose a multibillion-dollar pipeline project near a Native American reservation.

Veterans volunteering to be human shields have been arriving at the Oceti Sakowin camp near the small town of Cannon Ball, where they will work with protesters who have spent months demonstrating against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, organizers said.

The Native Americans and protesters say the $3.8 billion pipeline threatens water resources and sacred sites.

Some of the more than 2,100 veterans who signed up on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group's Facebook page are at the camp, with hundreds more expected during the weekend. Tribal leaders asked the veterans, who aim to form a wall in front of police to protect the protesters, to avoid confrontation with authorities and not get arrested.

Wesley Clark Jr, a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, met with law enforcement on Friday to tell them that potentially 3,500 veterans would join the protest and the demonstrations would be carried out peacefully, protest leaders said.

The plan is for veterans to gather in Eagle Butte, a few hours away, and then travel by bus to the main protest camp, organizers said, adding that a big procession is planned for Monday.

Protesters began setting up tents, tepees and other structures in April, and the numbers swelled in August at the main camp.

Joshua Tree, 42, from Los Angeles, who has been visiting the camp for weeks at a time since September, said he felt pulled to the protest.

"Destiny called me here," he said at the main camp. "We're committed."


The protesters' voices have also been heard by companies linked to the pipeline, including banks that protesters have targeted for their financing of the pipeline.

Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) said in a Thursday letter it would meet with Standing Rock elders before Jan. 1 "to discuss their concerns related to Wells Fargo's investment" in the project.

There have been violent confrontations near the route of the pipeline with state and local law enforcement, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses on the protesters, even in freezing weather.

The number of protesters in recent weeks has topped 1,000. State officials on Monday ordered them to leave the snowy camp, which is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, citing harsh weather, but on Wednesday they said they would not enforce the order.

"There is an element there of people protesting who are frightening," North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said on Thursday. "It's time for them to go home."

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier spoke by phone on Friday with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, but assistance for law enforcement and a timeline for a resolution to the situation were not offered, the sheriff's office said.

Lynch said in a statement that the U.S. Department of Justice has been in communication with all sides in an effort to reduce tensions and foster dialogue. She said senior department officials will be deployed to the region as needed.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said on Thursday he supported the completion of the pipeline, and his transition team said he supported peaceful protests.

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said on Wednesday it was "probably not feasible" to reroute the pipeline, but he would try to rebuild a relationship with Standing Rock Sioux leaders.

On Friday, Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz said his office has been working in conjunction with the governor's office to meet with tribal leaders soon.


Since the start of demonstrations, 564 people have been arrested, the Morton County Sheriff's Department said.

State officials never contemplated forcibly removing protesters, and Dalrymple said his evacuation order stemmed mainly from concerns about dangerously cold temperatures.

The temperature in Cannon Ball is expected to fall to 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius) by the middle of next week, according to forecasts.

The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline project, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP.N), is mostly complete, except for a segment planned to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.

Protesters, who refer to themselves as "water protectors," have been gearing up for the winter while they await the Army Corps decision on whether to allow Energy Transfer to tunnel under the river. The Army Corps has twice delayed that decision.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago and David Gaffen in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)