Wednesday, December 31, 2014

At Least 15 Killed as Rocket Hits Afghan Wedding; Fighting Resumes in Afghanistan after NATO Exit

A rocket fired during fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban killed at least 15 wedding guests late today (December 31, 2014) in the southern province of Helmand, highlighting the continuing conflict after NATO's combat mission ended, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

Most of the victims were women and children in the attack in Helmand's Sangin district, a Taliban stronghold where the U.S. and British troops were involved in years of fierce fighting until this week's withdrawal from Afghanistan.

NATO's war in Afghanistan formally ended on December 28, 2014.

"At least 15 people were killed and 45 wounded when the rocket struck in a firefight between Afghan security forces and the Taliban," said Fareed Ahmad Obaid, police spokesman for Helmand province.

Palestinians Join ICC, Charge Israel with Crimes; Move Irks Israel, Mars US-Palestinian Harmony

Stunned by a one-vote defeat yesterday in the UN Security Council in their effort to achieve  statehood, the Palestinians announced today (December 31, 2014) that they have joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue war crimes charges against Israel, the Washington Times website reports.

The move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set the stage for a diplomatic showdown with the U.S. and drew an angry response from Israel.

"The one who needs to fear the International Criminal Court in the Hague is the Palestinian Authority, which has a unity government with Hamas, a terror organization like the Islamic State group which commits war crimes," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

U.S. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said America strongly opposed the move and warned Palestinians it would be "counter-productive and do nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

U.N. Rejects Palestinian Statehood Resolution; Pressed for Israeli Withdrawal from West Bank

A Palestinian-backed United Nations Security Council resolution setting a deadline for a peace deal with Israel failed to garner sufficient votes for passage today (December 30, 2014), according to the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website.

The resolution was aimed at achieving a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank by the end of 2017.

Eight nations of the 15-member Security Council voted yes, two voted no, and five abstained. Nine votes were required for passage.  The no votes came from the United States -- Israel's strongest ally -- and Australia.

Had nine yes votes been obtained for passage of the resolution, the United States was expected to exercise its Security Council permanent status veto power, thus still causing the resolution to be rejected.

Md. Female Episcopal Bp. Has Fatal Hit-and-Run; Killed Baltimore Bicyclist, Placed on Admin.Leave

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland said a newly ordained bishop, Heather Cook, was the driver allegedly responsible for a hit-and-run accident that killed a bicyclist on December 27 in Baltimore, the NY Daily News website reports today (December 30, 2014).

The Right Reverend Eugene Sutton identified Cook -- who was ordained a bishop last September -- in an email. "I am distressed to announce that Bishop Heather E. Cook was involved in a traffic accident Saturday afternoon that resulted in the death of bicyclist Thomas Palermo, 41," Sutton wrote.

Cook, 58, fled the scene initially. She returned 20 minutes later after she was chased by other cyclists, who copied he vehicle registration number. Cook has been placed on administrative leave.

Cook had been charged with DUI (driving under the influence) and with possession of marijuana in 2010, according to the Caroline County Sheriff's Department, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2nd Swedish Mosque Hit By Arsonists in 4 Days; Many Swedes Seeking to Reduce Immigration

Fire ripped through a Swedish mosque early today (December 29, 2014) in the second suspected arson attack on a Muslim religious center in four days, as many Swedish citizens are seeking to reduce the country's Muslim immigration, the Jerusalem Post website reports.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in the southern town of Eslov and no one was injured.

"We are working under the assumption it is arson," police officer Marie Keismar said.

Five people were injured when fire broke out in another mosque in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna on Christmas day. The Swedish government is currently considering a new immigration policy that would reduce the number of foreigners it accepts.

Palestinian Teenager Shot Dead by Israeli Troops; Threw Rocks at Motorists, Ignored Warning Shots

A Palestinian teenager has been shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, the Euro News website reports today (December 29, 2014).

The youth was part of a group accused of throwing rocks at motorists driving on a main road.

The army says the fatal shots were fired after warning shots were ignored.

Another Palestinian -- a 16-year-old -- is also reported to have been wounded at the scene. The shootings are being investigated by the army.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

US-Led Afghanistan Coalition Ends Combat Role; Served 13 Years, Defeated Taliban Terrorist Govt.

The US-led coalition in Afghanistan formally ended its combat mission today (December 28, 2014) -- more than 13 years after an international alliance ousted the Taliban government for sheltering the planners of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on American cities -- the Reuters website reports.

About 13,000 foreign troops -- mostly Americans -- will remain in the country under a new two-year mission called "Resolute Support" that will continue the coalition's training of Afghan security forces.

The Afghan army and police are struggling to fight against Taliban militants, who this year killed record numbers of Afghans.

"Today marks an end of an era and the beginning of a new one," said U.S. Gen. John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), at the ceremony marking the end of the mission held at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

Bandits Rob Convent at Pope's Summer Retreat; Take Mother Superior Hostage, Get 5,000 Euros

Italian police are hunting for a gang of bandits who broke into a convent in Castel Gandolfo -- the Pope's summer retreat -- on Christmas Day and took the mother superior hostage, the Telegraph (British) website reports today (December 28, 2014).

Three men forced a window at the Pius XII Institute in the Alban Hills south of Rome just after midnight on Christmas Eve and began ransacking the mother superior's office on the first floor.

When the mother superior appeared in her office to investigate, the men grabbed her and walked her to her bedroom where she was forced to hand over 5,000 euros from the convent's cash box.

The men then grabbed her mobile phone and locked her in her bedroom before escaping through holes cut in the fence at the back of the convent's grounds. Outside, an accomplice was waiting with a getaway car.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Five Muslims Injured in Swedish Mosque Arson; PM: Sweden to Stand Strong for Freedom of Rel.

Sweden's prime minister says his country must stand up to threats against religious freedoms, in the wake of a Christmas Day mosque attack, the Big News Network website reports today (December 27, 2014).

Five Muslims were injured when the mosque in Eskilstuna caught fire on December 25.

The blaze is being treated as arson and is the latest in a number of attacks against mosques in Sweden. "It has been 12, one per month, which is far too much," said Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

He added, "It's totally unacceptable, and we also have had attacks against synagogues. It is very important that we stand strong for freedom of religion, to perform your religion without fear. A threat against that is a threat against our democracy."

Vandals Replace Jesus Statue with Pig's Head; Maim Nativity Display at Haverhill,MA Church

Vandals replaced a baby Jesus statue in a nativity scene display in front of a Haverhill, Massachusetts church with a bloody pig's head early Christmas morning, and police are investigating the heinous act as a hate crime, the Christian Post website reports today (December 27, 2014).

The statue was stolen from the Sacred Hearts Church in Haverhill. A neighborhood woman replaced the statue with one from her own display, making the Nativity display complete again.

"I can't change the world, but I can change my city," Brenda Burns, who donated the replacement baby Jesus statue, said. 

Parishioners of Sacred Hearts expressed disbelief that such an incident occurred. "I'm thoroughly appalled. I feel terrible about that. It's very, very sad. I can't believe anybody would do that," one parishioner said.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Pope:"There Are So Many Tears This Christmas;" Laments Many Children Abused By Trafficking

A somber Pope Francis steeped his Christmas message to the world on Christmas day in sadness for those with little cause for joy -- abused children, refugees, hostages, and others suffering from violence in the Middle East, Africa, Ukraine, and elsewhere -- the Wall Street Journal website reports today (December 26, 2014).

Anguish for children who suffer maltreatment or violence -- including the recent heartless terrorist attack on a Pakistani school -- tempered the pontiff's traditional Christmas day speech, which he delivered from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

A crowd -- estimated by the Vatican to number more than 80,000 Romans, tourists, and pilgrims -- filled St. Peter's Square for the "Urbi et Orbi" message (Latin for "to the city and to the world").

"Truly, there are so many tears this Christmas," said Pope Francis, looking solemn and smiling very little, in contrast to his usual jocular demeanor when addressing crowds. He lamented that many children are "made objects of trade and trafficking" or forced to become combat soldiers, as well as those never given the chance to be born because of abortion.

Topless Feminist Grabs Jesus Figurine at Vatican; Woman's Message on Her Torso: "God Is Woman"

A bare-breasted woman from the Ukrainian-centered feminist group Femen -- who snatched the baby Jesus figurine from the St. Peter's Square Nativity scene on Christmas day -- remained under arrest today (December 26, 2014), the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

The Ukrainian woman, Iana Aleksandrovna Azhdanova, remained under arrest in a Vatican cell awaiting trial for "disturbing the peace, obscene acts in a public place, and theft" for storming the Vatican Nativity scene on December 25.

Using Femen's topless protest dress code in order to increase public attention, Azhdanova was bare from the waist up, and sported the message "God Is Woman" on her torso to thousands of pilgrims packed into St. Peter's Square who looked on.

Azhdanova was apprehended by Vatican police after she rushed to the Nativity scene and grabbed the baby Jesus figurine while shouting anti-religious slogans.

Israeli Girl,11,Fights for Life from Firebomb Burns; Palestinian Terrorist Tossed Firebomb at Her Car

Doctors at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv said today (December 26, 2014) that there is a "slight improvement" in the condition of 11-year-old Ayala Shapira, who still is fighting for her life after a Palestinian Authority terrorist set on fire the car in which she and her father were riding last night, according to the Jewish Press website.

Her father escaped the burning vehicle with light burn wounds. Ayala suffered burns over 40 percent of her body, mostly in the upper parts and in the face.

Last month, Ayala's mother Ruth was targeted in a similar Molotov cocktail attack in the same spot of last night's attack. Her car was destroyed but she was not injured.

The girl's father, Avner, told police that he saw the terrorist lighting the firebomb and throwing it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

IS Militants Shoot Down Jordanian Coalition Pilot; Post Images Holding His Neck, Might Behead Him

A Jordanian pilot was captured by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), after his warplane crashed today (December 24, 2014) while on a bombing run over Syria -- the first such incident since a U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes against the militant group last summer -- the Washington Post website reports.

The IS militants claimed to have shot down the F-16 fighter plane with an antiaircraft missile.

The Islamic State posted images on social media sites of the man being pulled from a body of water and held by his neck while surrounded by masked militants.

The fate of the captured pilot is uncertain at this time, although it is possible that the IS militants might behead him, as they have already done with several other prisoners, including three American and two British prisoners.

Pope Rips Vatican Bureaucracy for Power,Wealth; Clerics Must Stop Hypocritical Lives,Put God First

To the Catholic Church's "seven deadly sins," Pope Francis has added the "15 ailments of the Curia," the Yahoo News website reports today (December 24, 2014).

Francis issued a blistering indictment of the Vatican bureaucracy on December 22, accusing the cardinals, bishops, and priests who serve him of using their Vatican careers to grab power and wealth, of living "hypocritical" double lives, and forgetting that they're supposed to be joyful men of God.

Francis turned the traditional, genteel exchange of Christmas greetings into a public dressing down of the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See which governs the 1.2-billion-strong Catholic Church.

Ticking off 15 ailments -- one by one -- of the Curia, Francis urged the prelates sitting stone-faced before him in the marbled Sala Clementina to use the Christmas season to repent and atone, and make the church a healthier, holier place in 2015.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bullet Fired at Window of Paris Synagogue Office; Hatred by "Anti-Jewish Criminals" Soars in France

A bullet fired from an air gun last night crashed through a window of a Paris synagogue's office, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (December 23, 2014).

The rabbi and his assistant were in the David Ben Ichay Synagogue in Belleville, in the northeastern section of the French capital, when the bullet was fired shortly after 9 p.m.

French police are searching for two suspects who were outside the synagogue about 10 minutes before the attack. Several other attacks against Jews in France -- mostly by Muslims -- have occurred during the past few months, resulting in the current year being the most anti-Semitic France has experienced since World War II.

The Bureau for National Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism -- or BNVCA -- condemned what it called the "anti-Semitic assault on a place of worship in Paris." The watchdog group has made a public call for "everything to be done to identify and question the anti-Jewish criminals."

Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Found in Israel; Excavated by Archaeologists in Town of Magdala

Catholic group the Legions of Christ have uncovered a first-century synagogue in the ancient town of Magdala in Israel, where they say Jesus Christ is likely to have preached to the people, the Christian Post website reports today (December 23, 2014).

"Eighty percent of Jesus' public life was here," Father Eamon Kelly said about northern Israel.

Kelly revealed that his organization uncovered the synagogue after starting archaeological excavations at a site in the town of Magdala, believed to be the home of Mary Magdalene, known as one of Jesus' female disciples.

"This is the first synagogue ever excavated where Jesus walked and preached," Kelly said, adding that it is a "hugely important" discovery for both Christians and Jews.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Seven of 28 Teens Get Pregnant on School Trip; Girls, 13 and 14, Spent 5 Days Visiting Museums

Seven teenagers from Bosnia became pregnant on a five-day school trip, angering parents and educators, the NY Daily News website reports today (December 22, 2014).

The teens -- from the small town of Banja Luka -- are 13 and 14 years old, said Nenad Babici, the national coordinator for reproductive health.

The school took a group of 28 girls on a trip to Sarajevo -- the capital of the predominantly Islam country of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- to see museums and city sights. A quarter of the students returned home pregnant.

Parents are demanding why there wasn't better supervision on the trip. The case has brought national attention to the increasing number of teen pregnancies in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Pakistan to Execute 500 Terror Suspects Soon; Due to Recent Killing of 149 at Pakistani School

The government of Pakistan plans to execute around 500 terror convicts in the next few weeks in response to last week's killing of 149 people -- including 133 children -- at a military-run Army Public School in the northwestern city of Peshawar by the local branch of the Taliban, the Christian Post website reports today (December 22, 2014).

Days after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's announcement about the lifting of the six-year moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism-related cases, Pakistani's interior minister is taking a tough stand against terrorism, even though at least six terrorists have been hanged since December 19.

"Interior ministry has finalized the cases of 500 convicts who have exhausted all the appeals, their mercy petitions have been turned down by the president, and their executions will take place in coming weeks," a senior anonymous government official said today.

A government spokesperson added that the "prime minister has also issued directions for appropriate measures for early disposal of pending cases related to terrorism."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gross Fraud Erodes Franciscan Order's Finances; American Head of Order Says Situation Is "Grave"

The Franciscan Order founded by Saint Francis of Assisi -- who advocated a life of poverty -- is in deep financial trouble following the discovery of massive fraud, and is appealing for help, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (December 21, 2014).

Italy's Panorama magazine said the 800-year-old order had invested tens of millions of euros in suspect firms currently under investigation in Switzerland for dodgy practices.

The Italian press has also questioned the order's financial wisdom in spending millions of euros on renovating Il Cantico, a luxury hotel it owns in Rome.

In a rare open letter, the American head of the order, Michael Perry, admitted the situation was "grave."

Inmate Forced to Attend Church Service Sues Jail; Muslim Woman Seeking Damages for Jail Practice

Sakeena Majeed, a 24-year-old Muslim woman, was sentenced to 60 days in jail on an assault charge. She is now suing Cleveland's Cuyahoga County jail for forcing her to attend Christian services against her will during her sentence, the Addicting Info website reports today (December 21, 2014).

Majeed filed the lawsuit on December 18, claiming that Cuyahoga County Sheriff Frank Bova and corrections Officer Regina Watts forced her and other inmates to be present at services held by a Baptist minister at the jail. If the inmates objected, they were threatened with solitary confinement.

Majeed also claims that when she told another supervising officer about the issue, she was ignored. She is now seeking unspecified damages.

Majeed's attorney, Matthew Besser, said: "That should be offensive to anybody, no matter what your religion is. The government can't tell you what god to pray to or to pray at all."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Israeli Aircraft Make 1st Gaza Hit Since August; Hamas Had Fired Rocket on Israel a Day Before

Israeli aircraft hit Gaza today (December 20, 2014) for the first time since an August truce ended a 50-day war, after a rocket hit the Jewish state, according to the Newsmax World website.

There were no casualties in the air strike, which came just hours after the rocket hit an open field in southern Israel yesterday without causing casualties or damage.

It was the third time a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave struck within Israel since the August 26 truce between Israel and Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, the territory's de facto rulers.

The Israeli army said the air strike in the southern Gaza Strip had "targeted a Hamas terror infrastructure site."

Syria's Vast Rel. Ancient Sites Now Being Looted; New Report:Widespread Looting at Historic Sites

Syria's vast archaeological sites have suffered extensive damage because of bombing by government warplanes and the demolition of religious shrines by Islamic State militants. But there is an increasing and perhaps more menacing problem: old-fashioned plunder, the Washington Post website reports today (December 20, 2014).

A new report has found evidence of "widespread looting" at locations that Syria has nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Under threat are the remains of a Mesopotamian trading post and a 4,500-year-old city that housed thousands of cuneiform tablets, as well as an ancient town with a chapel known for containing the world's oldest depictions of Jesus, according to the report, released this week by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Susan Wolfinbarger -- president of the association's Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, which produced the study -- said in a statement that "unlike our previous analysis of Syria's World Heritage Sites, we're seeing a lot of damage that appears to be the result of widespread looting."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Pope Gives 400 Sleeping Bags to Rome Homeless; Ascertains Francis' Enduring Concern for the Poor

Pope Francis marked his 78th birthday on December 17 by ordering the distribution of hundreds of sleeping bags to homeless people in Rome, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (December 19, 2014).

Konrad Krajewski -- the archbishop in charge of the pope's charity work -- led an operation in which a minibus packed with 400 sleeping bags carrying a papal ensign toured around the Italian capital last night looking for people who could use them.

"This is a gift for you from the pope on the occasion of his birthday," the Swiss guards who helped in the distribution were quoted as telling the recipients.

Pope Francis -- leader of the world's Catholics -- has made concern for the poor one of the most important themes of his papacy.

Pakistani Military Kills Scores of Islamic Militants; Govt. Payback for Taliban's 149 Murders at School

More than 50 suspected Islamist militants were killed in Pakistani military strikes today (December 19, 2014), and two convicted militants were hanged as the country intensified its campaign against insurgents in the wake of a Taliban assault on a school this week that killed 149 people, The National website reports.

The bloody rampage in Peshawar city on December 16 brought international condemnation and promises of swift, decisive action against militants from Pakistan's political and military leaders.

Pakistan's foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said the attack was his country's "mini 9/11" by terrorists and a game-changer in its fight against terror.

An ambush by security forces in the northwest today left at least 32 militants dead, the military said, to add to 27 killed in airstrikes and ground operations yesterday.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Palestinians Present UN Draft for Occupied Ter.; Sets End of 2017 Deadline for Israeli Withdrawal

The Palestinian leadership at the United Nations presented a draft resolution for a Security Council vote that sets a deadline of the end of 2017 for Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian occupied territories, the Voice of America News website reports today (December 18, 2014).

However, the Palestinian UN representative, Riyad Mansour, said that he would not press for a quick vote on the resolution, in order to allow for more discussion on the 15-member Security Council.

The Palestinians would need approval of nine of the 15 council members, but any one of the five permanent members -- Britain, France, China, Russia, and the United States -- can veto a resolution.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on December 16 that the U.S. has made "no determination" about any possible UN resolution regarding Palestinian statehood.

ISIS Kills 150 Women for Not Marrying Terrorists; Rights Org. States Women Buried in Mass Graves

Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights has revealed that at least 150 women were killed by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants after refusing to marry terrorists, the Christian Headlines website reports today (December 18, 2014).

The Ministry made the following statement on December 16: "At least 150 females, including pregnant women, were executed in Fellujah by a militant named Abu Anas Al-Libi after they refused to accept jihad marriage. Many families were also forced to migrate from the province's northern town of Al-Wafa after hundreds of residents received death threats."

According to the group, the women were buried in mass graves.

No other details have been released about the executions.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pope's Inspiring Role Led to US-Cuba Diplomacy; American and Cuban Delegations Met at Vatican

American President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced today (December 17, 2014) that the U.S. and Communist Cuba will soon re-establish diplomatic relations. They decided to make the announcement on December 17th, the Pope's 78th birthday, according to the Rome Reports website.

Through a statement, the Vatican announced that in the last few months, Pope Francis had written letters to both Obama and Castro, inviting them to deal with the case of some prisoners. He also called for a new phase in the relationship between both countries.

The statement added that back in the month of October, an American and Cuban delegation met secretly in the Vatican to discuss how they could move forward.

Despite Communist Cuba's known resistance towards religion, the Holy See never broke diplomatic ties with the island. The U.S. ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, after Fidel Castro seized control of the nation and set up a communist dictatorship.

US Ground Troops in Iraq Fight ISIS for 1st Time; ISIS Tried to Overrun US Base, Forced to Retreat

American troops in Iraq had their first battle with ISIS troops, after the Islamic militants tried to overrun a base with Americans -- an encounter that left the ISIS troops decimated and in retreat -- the Inquisitr website reports today (December 17, 2014).

The attack took place near the Ein al-Asad base, which includes close to 100 U.S. military advisers. The U.S. troops -- armed with light and medium weapons -- were able to inflict casualties against the ISIS fighters, forcing them to retreat.

The American troops were also aided by fighter jets, which directed air strikes against the ISIS troops that silenced their heavy sources of fire.

The incident was the first time that American troops clashed with ISIS forces on the ground in Iraq. For several weeks, the United States has led more that 1,000 air strikes against ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria, which have hindered the militant group's ability to move about and take control of more land.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fed. Judge:Obama's Amnesty Plan Is Unconst.; Obama Violated Separation of Powers for Plan

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has released an opinion in a case of a deported illegal alien who returned to the U.S. that appears to torpedo the amnesty plan President Obama announced November 20 and implemented through memos to government officials, ruling it unconstitutional, the WND (World Net Daily) website reports today (December 16, 2014).

"President Obama's unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and therefore, is unconstitutional," said U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab.

The judge noted Obama "contended that although legislation is the most appropriate course of action to solve the immigration debate, his executive action was necessary because of Congress's failure to pass legislation, acceptable to him, in this regard."

"This proposition is arbitrary and does not negate the requirement that the November 20, 2014, executive action be lawfully within the president's executive authority," the judge wrote. "It is not."

Taliban Gunmen Kill 141 in Pakistani School; Massacre Is Worst in Pakistan in Over a Year

Pakistani officials have fended off Taliban gunmen who stormed a military school in Peshawar today (December 16, 2014), but not before the attackers killed 132 children and nine staff members, the Breaking Christian News website reports.

"Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That's what they did," military spokesman Asim Bajwa said.

Authorities say most of the victims were students in grades 1-10 at the army public school.

Today's attack is the worst in Pakistan in more than a year. Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the massacre.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pope Francis Bids to Help US Close Guantanamo; Says Vatican Global Contacts Can Place Prisoners

The Vatican today (December 15, 2014) offered to help the United States in its efforts to close its Guantanamo prison in Cuba -- a goal fervently supported by Pope Francis -- the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

The offer came during talks today between the pontiff's Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, the number two in the Vatican hierarchy, and John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See welcomed recent signs President Barack Obama appears to have accelerated efforts to close the controversial prison, where some detainees have been held for more than a decade without charge and tortured.

He also said the Vatican stood ready to "help find adequate humanitarian solutions through our international contacts" in order to help place detainees, adding that Parolin and Kerry discussed the issue in depth.

Turkey Is Blasted for Mass Arrests of Journalists; EU Says Attack on Press Defies European Values

There has been outrage both within Turkey and internationally to the mass arrests of journalists and broadcasters, the Euro News website reports today (December 15, 2014).

The EU (European Union) has condemned the current detention of more than 30 people, saying the attacks on the press are against European values.

Yesterday, Turkish police raided the offices of a leading newspaper and TV station said to have close links with opposition parties.

Mustafa Yesil -- chairman of the journalists and writers foundation -- said: "These were the only anti-government media outlets. Maybe millions were expressing themselves through these media outlets. The autocratic regime controlled by one person is now trying to prevent this too, but people have no intention of letting him."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Palestinians Set a 2-Year Limit for Occupied Land; Israeli PM Netanyahu Is Opposed to UN Proposal

The Palestinians are to present a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council on December 17 that would set a two-year deadline for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports today (December 14, 2014).

In the past, the United States has used its UN veto power to block moves it sees as anti-Israel, but U.S. officials said they drew a distinction between a unilateral step, and an effort to draw up a multilateral resolution at the UN Security Council, which would have the backing of many nations. Moreover, the Obama administration is currently considering imposing economic sanctions against Israel -- as U.S.-Israeli relations have reached an all-time low -- due to Israel's continued construction of housing on land seized from the Palestinians.

Jordan last month circulated a draft Palestinian text setting November 2016 as a deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today rejected all talk of withdrawing from east Jerusalem and the West Bank within two years. He said pulling out now would bring "Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem."

San Jose State Univ. Slams Ratio Christi Ministry; Ministry Requires Christians for Chapter Officers

San Jose State University in California has criticized Ratio Christi -- a grassroots campus student ministry -- for its decision to "de-recognize" the campus chapter as punishment for the ministry's "discriminatory" policy for leadership positions, the Christian Post website reports today (December 14, 2014).

School officials wrote to Ratio Christi, explaining their action is as per a new California State University Executive Order on how an organization selects its officers, the ministry revealed on its website.

The ministry requires its chapter officers to be Christian and holding biblical beliefs, and the state of California now deems that as "discriminatory."

"De-recognition" means that the school chapter of the ministry is no longer eligible for student funding and financial services, and cannot participate in student organization fairs, ceremonies. or training.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blast Rocks French Cultural Center in Gaza City; Attack Sends Worrying Vibes to French Officials

A powerful blast rocked the French Cultural Center in Gaza City last night, marking the second time the facility was hit by an explosion in the past two months, the France 24 website reports today (December 13, 2014).

There were no reports of injuries, but the building was partly damaged, France 24's Gallagher Fenwick reported.

"The outside of the facility has been damaged by an explosive device," he said, adding that the attack was sending worrying signals to French authorities.

"It is very symbolic," Fenwick added, because it was "the last foreign consulate left in Gaza where Palestinians could get visas for abroad."

Swastika Drawn on Hanukkah-Decorated Home; Owner Reports the Incident,Paints Over Swastika

A Jewish man found a swastika drawn on the gate to his home where he had put up decorations for Hanukkah, the Jewish Press website reports today (December 13, 2014).

David Cohen, 72, a resident of North Fort Myers, Florida, told police that he found the swastika drawn onto his gate on December 8.

Cohen reported the incident to the sheriff's office and kept the gate open in order to a  avoid seeing the swastika, and then painted over it.

He also placed a Menorah, dreidel, and a Star of David around his lawn, which so far have not been vandalized.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Palestinian in West Bank Throws Acid on 4 Girls; Girls' Father Picked Up Palestinian Hitch-Hiker

A Jewish family of six has been the victim of an acid attack in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, injuring a father and his four young girls, the Euro News website reports today (December 12, 2014).

Israeli police and military say a vehicle carrying the family picked up a hitch-hiker near a security checkpoint south of Jerusalem.

The hitch-hiker threw a liquid acid over four young girls and tried to attack the father with a screwdriver. The father escaped.

The suspect -- who the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say was a Palestinian -- was shot at the scene by a civilian. He remains in serious condition.

Rifle Shots Fired at Israeli Embassy in Greece; About 20 Shots Fired by 2 Motorcyclists at Dawn

Two gunmen on motorcycles fired 15-20 shots at the Israeli embassy in Athens before dawn today (December 12, 2014), but no one was injured, the Jewish Press website reports.

Police have closed off the area and are investigating the attack.

The bullet shells indicate that the gunmen fired Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifles.

Israel and Greece maintain good relations, but the government has been critical of Israeli policies towards the Palestinian Authority in recent months.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

RC Church in Australia Links Celibacy to Abuse; Church Leaders Ignored Clergy Abuse for Years

The Roman Catholic Church in Australia today (December 11, 2014) conceded that obligatory celibacy may have contributed to priests abusing children, and said clergy should be given "psychosexual" training, the Newsmax World website reports.

In a landmark report, an Australian Catholic Church body dealing with the legacy of child sex abuse added that some church institutions and their leaders turned a blind eye to what was going on for years.

The Truth, Justice and Healing Council also said there was often more concern with protecting the institution than the child and criticized a culture "geared to power over others" rather than service.

Under one section it noted: "Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances."

US Bishops Say CIA Acts of Torture Were Wrong; "Violated the God-Given Humanity in All People"

The U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace said acts of torture outlined in a Senate Intelligence Committee report this week "violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong," the Catholic News website reports today (December 11, 2014).

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico -- the Committee chair -- also called on President Barack Obama to strengthen the legal prohibitions against torture "to ensure that this never happens again."

The bishop joined several religious leaders who condemned the use of torture by the CIA after Democrats in the Senate released a 500-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence findings on December 9.

Sister Patricia Chappell -- executive director of Pax Christi USA -- said she was appalled by the "lack of moral integrity of a nation and individuals who justify the use of torture in the name of national security." She called the actions by the CIA a "travesty of justice and a flagrant violation of human rights, with no reverence for the dignity of human life."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Former Polish Pres.:CIA Ran a Facility in Poland; CIA Held, Tortured Al Qaeda Suspects at Facility

Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said today (December 10, 2014) that while he was in office Poland agreed to a request from Washington for U.S. intelligence agents to use a facility on Polish soil, the Global Post website reports.

Kwasniewski said he was told by U.S. officials the facility would be used by intelligence officials to obtain information from sources who were willing to cooperate.

He added that he did not know what was happening inside the facility.

According to a U.S. Senate report published yesterday, the CIA ran a facility in Poland where Al Qaeda suspects were held in 2002 and 2003, and where they were subject to interrogation methods that rights groups say amount to torture.

Palestinians Blaming Israel for Minister's Death; Hit by Tear Gas Canister Fired by Israeli Troops

The Palestinian Authority is blaming Israel for the death of a cabinet member, saying he died after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (December 10, 2014).

Arab sources said Ziad Abu Ein died en route to a hospital after being beaten by Israeli security forces during a protest in Turmus Avya near Ramallah against Israeli "land confiscations" in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said a "brutal assault... led to the martyrdom" of Abu Ein and called for three days of mourning.

Israel said in a statement that it is cooperating with the Palestinians to determine the cause of Abu Ein's death: "The coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, and his Palestinian counterpart, Hussein Al-Sheikh, have agreed that an Israeli pathologist will join a delegation of pathologists from Jordan for a joint examination of the circumstances of Ziad Abu Ein's death."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Statues of Mary, Joseph Vandalized at Ill. Church; Vandals Knock Over Statue of Jesus, Egg Manger

Police in a Chicago suburb are investigating today (December 9, 2014) an act of vandalism at a Catholic church in which the heads were removed from statues of Mary and Joseph in a convent garden, according to the Reuters website.

The destruction was discovered on December 7, while parishioners at St. Odilo in Berwyn -- a largely Hispanic suburb of Chicago -- were gathering to mark the upcoming feast on December 12 of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said Pastor Anthony Brankin.

Our Lady of Guadalupe -- a depiction of the Virgin Mary -- holds significance for Hispanic Catholics because of reported apparitions in Mexico in 1531.

Besides removing the heads, the vandals also knocked over a statue of Jesus and egged a nativity scene in front of the church, Brankin said.

Intruder in NYC Synagogue Stabs Israeli Student; Yelled "Kill the Jews," Attacker Killed by Police

It should have been a peaceful night for Levi Rosenblat, studying the Torah inside a Brooklyn synagogue. But that peace was shattered early this morning (December 9, 2014) when an intruder came into the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, stabbing Rosenblat on the left side of his head, according to the CNN website.

There would be no other victims. New York police officers quickly arrived at the scene and shot and killed the knife-wielding attacker.

Hours later, Rosenblat -- the 22-year-old student from Israel -- was in stable condition at Brooklyn's Kings County Hospital.

Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said that, "According to witnesses, (the attacker) was overheard saying repeatedly, 'Kill the Jews' or something to that effect." The attacker has been identified as Calvin Peters, a 50 year-old African-American man.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Thousands of Germans Now Protest Islamization; Assured to Preserve Germany's Western Culture

A new type of anti-immigration protest is sweeping across Germany, as thousands take to the streets against what they say is the growing "Islamization" of the country, the Telegraph (British) website reports today (December 8, 2014).

The new protests -- which began in the city of Dresden in the former East Germany -- feature no neo-Nazi slogans and have nothing to do with the traditional far right.

Instead, the demonstrators have adopted the old rallying call of the protests against the East German communist regime that brought down the Berlin Wall 25 years ago: "Wir sind das Volk," or "We are the People." They say they want to preserve Germany's Judeo-Christian Western culture.

Germany is now the second most popular destination in the world for migrants (after the U.S.), and the country is struggling to cope with an unprecedented influx of asylum-seekers.

UN Asks Nations to House 180K Syrian Refugees; Over 3.2M People Fled Since Syrian 2011 Civil War

The United Nations is calling on countries to take on 180,000 Syrian refugees. The figure represents just five percent of the projected refugee population by the end of 2015, the Euro News website reports today (December 8, 2014).

At least 3.2 million people have fled from Syria since its civil war began in March 2011, and neighboring countries are feeling the strain.

Turkey and Lebanon each host more than one million refugees.

Amnesty International blasted Persian Gulf countries that have failed to resettle a single Syrian refugee.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saudi Women Jailed for Driving a Motor Vehicle; Jailed for 6 Days, Sentenced 25 More Days in Jail

Two activists for women's rights in Saudi Arabia were arrested for violating the ban against female drivers in the Muslim nation, and authorities have extended their time in jail, the Inquisitr website reports today (December 7, 2014).

One of the women -- 25-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul -- drove across the border in Saudi Arabia from the neighboring United Arab Emirates where she holds a valid drivers license.

A second woman -- and fellow activist of al-Hathloul, 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi -- was also arrested in Saudi Arabia for violating the driving ban.

Both women have already been jailed for six days and are to be held for another 25 days, although no legal reasons were given for the extended jail time. It is believed that Saudi authorities extended their jail time in order to send a strong message to prevent other women from violating the driving ban.

Syria Says Israeli Jets Bombed Two of Its Areas; Calls Attacks on Mil. Installations "Aggression"

Syria accused Israeli jets of bombing two installations inside the country today (December 7, 2014) -- one near the capital of Damascus and the second in a town near the Lebanese border -- The Guardian website reports.

Syrian state television described the attack as "an aggression." It said the air raids occurred near Damascus's international airport and in the town of Dimas.

The state news agency Sana said: "The Israeli enemy attacked Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the area of Damascus international airport." It said no casualties were reported. Israel had no comment on the bombings.

It is believed that the target of the strikes might have been advanced Russian-made S300 surface-to-air missiles.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thieves Steal 5-Foot Crucifix from Bronx Church; Pastor Says "I've Never Seen Anything Like This"

Unholy thieves stole a 5-by-3 foot crucifix from a Bronx church during services on December 3, the NY Post website reports today (December 6, 2014).

The $5,000 German-made wooden cross was lifted from the lobby of Padau Roman Catholic Church -- near a sign proclaiming, "Jesus wants all of us to come to him" -- between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., police sources said.

"I'm distressed. That crucifix means so much to the people here... I've never seen anything like this," said Josu Iriondo, 75, pastor of the church on East 166th Street near Prospect Avenue.

The shameless sinners likely planned the heist ahead of time -- unscrewing bolts that attached the crucifix to a wall before returning to snatch it while parishioners were deep in prayer, Iriondo said.

Russian High Court Rules JW Website Extremist; Rules Ideas of Jehovah's Witnesses Incite Hatred

The Russian Supreme Court ruled on December 3, 2014 that the website of the religious organization Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) is extremist, according to the RIA Novosti (Russian) website.

Prosecutors in Russia's Tver region filed a claim last year saying that the ideas promoted by Jehovah's Witnesses incite hatred and division.

Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization that began operating in Russia and across the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The Christian sect has some 8 million members worldwide.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Obama Admin. Considers Ec. Sanctions on Israel; Due to Israel's Settlements on Palestinian Terrain

In a move that would greatly erode the friendly long-standing relationship between the United States and Israel, the White House is considering imposing economic sanctions on Israel over its West Bank settlement program, the National Review website reports today (December 5, 2014).

Yesterday, Israeli officials claimed that the White House and State Department held secret meetings to discuss punishing Israel for supporting Jewish settlement construction in the Palestinian territories -- an activity the Obama administration views as "counterproductive" to the peace process.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest refused to confirm or deny the sanction allegations, saying, "I'm not going to talk about any internal deliberations inside the administration, and certainly not inside the White House."

Earnest added that the Obama administration has been "crystal clear about our view of settlement activity," calling them "illegitimate" and "counterproductive" [to the peace process].

Vatican Card.Finds Hundreds of Millions of Euros; "Tucked Away," Did Not Appear on Balance Sheets

The Vatican's economy minister said hundreds of millions of euros have been found "tucked away" in accounts of various Holy See departments without having appeared in the city-state's balance sheets, the Reuters website reports today (December 5, 2014).

Australian Cardinal George Pell -- who was named the Vatican's economy minister last February by Pope Francis --  wrote that the discovery meant overall Vatican finances were in better shape than previously believed.

"In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet," he wrote in Britain's Catholic Herald Magazine.

Pell did not suggest any wrongdoing, but said Vatican departments had long had "an almost free hand" with their finances and followed "long-established patterns" in managing their affairs.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rebel Raid in Chechnya Leaves 20 People Dead; Islamists Responsible for Terrorism in Russia

Heavily-armed Islamist rebels stormed the Russian state Chechnya's capital, Grozny, today (December 4, 2014), resulting in at least 20 deaths in fierce gun battles that followed, according to the Euro News website.

The rebels attacked a police checkpoint before moving to a school and a building housing the media where they battled members of the security forces.

Ten policemen were killed and nearly 30 injured according to Russia's National Anti-Terrorism Committee, which said 10 suspected militants also died in the fighting.

Footage obtained by Reuters showed clashes that included persistent small arms fire and what looked like a shoulder-fired missile striking the media building. An Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the raid.

Saudi Restaurants Now Banning Single Women; Must Be Accompanied by a Male to Be Served

In a show of support for the belief that men must dominate women under Islam, Saudi Arabian restaurants have begun to ban single women and women not accompanied by a male guardian from entering their premises, the Clarion Project website reports today (December 4, 2014).

Restaurant owners claim that women in restaurants have been behaving in "a shocking way," according to one blogger who supported the ban.

The objectionable behavior included flirting, smoking, and using a mobile phone.

Rights groups expressed outrage over these new restaurant rules, which they said were illegal. "These signs [banning women without men] are against the law and reflect the personal opinions of the restaurant owners," said Khalid Al-Fakhri, secretary general for the National Society for Human Rights. "Restaurants should come up with alternative solutions if its customers are behaving inappropriately."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

France Decides to Recognize a Palestinian State; Becomes 5th Nation in 2 Months to Betray Israel

First it was the British and the Irish. Then the Swedes and the Spanish. And yesterday, the French, also, added their weight to the push for recognition of a Palestinian state, the NY Times website reports today (December 3, 2014).

The vote in the French Parliament favoring such a step was the fifth such gesture in two months -- and the most important one -- in what has amounted to a cascade of support for the Palestinian cause and a widening torrent of criticism of Israeli policy across Europe.

The vote in France is critical, because it carries particular resonance coming from a country with the largest Muslim and Jewish populations in Europe.

Moreover, France has become something of a proxy playing field for the Arab-Israeli conflict, which this summer spilled over into the streets of cities around the country with violent protests against Israel's savage military campaign against Hamas.

Kerry Welcomes Iranian Air Strikes on Iraq's IS; Says 1,000 Strikes Have Helped End IS Advance

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry today (December 3, 2014) welcomed any Iranian military action against Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Iraq as "positive" after the Pentagon said Tehran had carried out air strikes against the radical Islamist group, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

Kerry -- hosting a meeting of an anti-IS coalition in Brussels, Belgium -- said today that international airstrikes were finally stopping the advance of the jihadists across Iraq and Syria, but warned it could take years to defeat them.

Kerry told the meeting of officials from 60 nations in the coalition that a campaign of around 1,000 air strikes had had a "significant" impact on the Sunni extremist IS, which declared a caliphate (an Islamic territory) in Syria and Iraq in June.

"Our commitment will most likely be measured in years," he told the meeting at NATO headquarters, adding that the partners would "engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Three Assailants Rob Paris Home, Rape Woman; Said They Robbed Home "Because You Are Jews"

Three armed assailants invaded the home of a Jewish couple in the Paris suburb of Creteil yesterday, raped a 19-year-old woman, and robbed the home, saying it was "because you are Jewish," local French media reported today (December 2, 2014), according to the Algemeiner website.

"The Jewish community is in shock over this," a journalist who covered the story said.

An hour after the beginning of the attack, the thieves fled with cash, jewelry and other items.

Police investigators managed to track down and arrest two of the suspected assailants, but the third member of the gang is still at large, according to French media.

Al-Shabab Mil. Murder 36 Non-Muslims in Kenya; Same Area Where 28 Were Shot on Bus Last Week

Al-Shabab Muslim militants have killed 36 non-Muslim quarry workers in the Kenyan town of Mandera, the Euro News website reports today (December 2, 2014).

Residents of the area close to the Somali border say the assailants separated Muslims from non-Muslims before carrying out the killings.

The latest carnage comes after 28 people were shot dead on a bus in the same area last week. Again, non-Muslims were the targets.

The deaths have caused outrage across Kenya and the government is coming under fire for its failure to protect its citizens.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Palestinian Woman Stabs Israeli Man in W. Bank; Woman Shot by Police, Now in Serious Condition

A Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli man in the occupied West Bank today (December 1, 2014), and was then shot and wounded by police, according to the Reuters website.

Violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories has risen significantly in recent months.

Attacks carried out by Palestinians have killed 11 Israelis. Twelve Palestinians have been killed, including several of the assailants.

The stabbed Israeli man was lightly wounded. The woman who carried out the attack is in serious condition at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital.

Canada Says Female Citizen May Be IS Prisoner; Gil Rosenberg,31, Had Been in Syria Fighting IS

Canada is trying to confirm reports that a Canadian citizen has been captured by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the Daily News website reports today (December 1, 2014).

Israeli media reports said a Canadian-Israeli woman, Gil Rosenberg, has been captured. The reports cited jihadist websites and have not been confirmed by Israeli officials.

"I cannot confirm that and I hope that it isn't true," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon told an Israeli television channel when asked about the reports.

Rosenberg, 31, told Reuters that she was in Syria in November. A source linked to the Kurds' fighting force in northern Syria said in early November that she was their first female foreign recruit and had crossed into Syria to fight Islamic State militants.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Finland's Parliament OKs Gay Marriage Equality; Law Gives Same-Sex Couples Rights of Marriage

Finland's parliament approved a bill establishing marriage equality on November 28 by a vote of 105 to 92, the Advocate website reports today (November 30, 2014).

Although same-sex couples have had access to "registered partnerships" since 2002, the new law will end legal distinction between opposite-sex and same-sex partnerships, giving same-sex couples equal access to the rights affiliated with marriage, including adoption and name-change privileges.

Finland's Prime Minister, Alexander Stubb, supported the measure, authoring an open letter urging Parliament to approve the legislation ahead of the vote.

The new law is not expected to take effect until 2016, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Parliament's approval makes Finland the 12th European country to embrace marriage equality, and the last Nordic nation to do so.

Grafitti Sprayed on Walls of Tel Aviv Synagogue; Pile of Books Is Also Torched in the Synagogue

A synagogue led by a rabbi from the Tzohar movement has been vandalized in Tel Aviv, the Jewish Press website reports today (November 30, 2014).

Grafitti was discovered sprayed on the walls of the synagogue today, reading among other things, "In a place where a 'national law' is legislated -- the books should burn!"

In the synagogue was a pile of books that had been torched.

The "national law" referenced in the grafitti is the Jewish nation-state law now being discussed by the Knesset that was brought before the government by the Likud party.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

ISIS Using Kids as Human Shields, Blood Donors; UN Says Syrian Children Doing Dangerous Roles

United Nations officials are saying that ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has created new and more barbaric ways to use children in the Syrian conflict, including using them as human shields and forcing them to donate blood to injured Muslim extremists, the Christian Post website reports today (November 29, 2014).

UN International Children's Fund regional child protection adviser, Laurent Chapuis, said that Islamic State militants are recruiting children -- including those of younger ages -- to join the caliphate by providing them with various paying roles within the caliphate.

Although some of the children are used in more civil roles -- like cooking, cleaning, bringing water and medical aid to wounded -- other children are thrust to the front lines and used in military roles like combatants or human shields.

"There is conclusive evidence that children in Syria have and continue to be used by all parties to the conflict -- as combatants, human shields, messengers, spies, guards, [and] porters," Chapuis said.

Pope:"I Ask You to Bless Me and Church of Rome;" Tells Ecumenical Patriarch We're Brothers in Hope

Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I prayed for unity of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul today (November 29, 2014), according to the Rome Reports website.

The most powerful moment of the two Christian leaders came when Pope Francis made this request to the Patriarch: "I ask you a favor, to bless me and the Church of Rome." After such a crucial request, they prayed together the Lord's Prayer in Latin.

During the gathering both religious leaders addressed each other. The Patriarch said he welcomed Pope Francis with joy, honor, and recognition. He added that he hopes his visit will help both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches come closer.

Pope Francis answered to the Patriarch's address explaining that they are "brothers in hope." Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics around the world, while Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Christianity became divided in 1054AD in what is called the Great Schism, which tore apart the Christian Church into Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) branches.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Austin Man Fires Ammo at Mexican Consulate; Against US Immigration Policy, Killed by Police

A Texas man -- upset about U.S. immigration policy -- was fatally shot by police today (November 28, 2014), after firing more than 100 rounds of ammunition at buildings including the Mexican consulate, a U.S. courthouse, and police headquarters in Austin, Texas, the Telegraph (British) website reports.

Police identified the gunman as Larry McQuilliams, 49, an Austin resident with a criminal history.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the targets indicated the attack was probably over U.S. immigration policy.

"When you look at the national debate right now about immigration, that ... comes to mind. Sometimes our political discourse becomes very heated and sometimes very angry," Acevedo told reporters.

UN Torture Com. Urges US to Probe Police Abuse; Concerned with "Frequent" Police Brutality in US

The United Nations Committee Against Torture urged the United States to investigate police abuse, as protests continue over a grand jury decision not to charge a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in the state of Missouri, the VOA (Voice of America) News website reports today (November 28, 2014).

In a report released today, the U.N. committee said it is concerned about "numerous reports" of police brutality and excessive use of force -- especially against minority racial and ethnic groups.

It described police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals as "frequent" and "recurrent."

The committee also expressed concern over "numerous" and "consistent" reports of police using taser guns against unarmed people resisting arrest. It emphasized that tasers should only be used in life-threatening situations.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Suicide Car Slams on UK Embassy Vehicle, Kills 5; Taliban Assumes Blame for Afghan Terrorist Attack

At least five people were killed today (November 27, 2014) when a suicide bomber slammed a car packed with explosives into a vehicle belonging to the British embassy in the capital of Afghanistan, according to the Telegraph (British) website.

At least 37 civilians -- including several children -- were injured in the explosion that rocked east Kabul this morning, pelting nearby buildings with debris and sending a thick column of smoke rising into the air.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a statement, Afghanistan's government confirmed the deaths of at least five people and criticized the Taliban's "inhuman act."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

British Brothers Are Jailed for Terrorist Offenses; Two Attended a Terrorist Training Camp in Syria

Two British Muslim brothers have been jailed for conspiring to attend a terrorist training camp in Syria and unlawfully possessing ammunition -- the first British citizens to be jailed for terrorist offenses -- the Big News Network website reports today (November 26, 2014).

Mohommod Nawaz, 30, and Hamza Nawaz, 24, admitted leaving their homes in Stratford, East London, to visit a terror training camp in Syria.

The sentencing comes as the British government introduced a new counterterrorism  law on November 19 to increase surveillance on people suspected of involvement in jihad.

Mohommod was jailed for four-and-a-half years and his younger brother Hamza sentenced to three years after both pleaded guilty to conspiring to attend a place used for terrorist training between January 1, 2012 and September 16, 2013.

Two Female Suicide Bombers Kill 40 in N. Nigeria; Islamist Militants Blamed for Bombings in Market

Two teenage girls wearing suicide belts blew themselves up in a market in northern Nigeria yesterday, killing at least 40 people, The Daily Beast website reports today (November 26, 2014).

It was the latest in a string of horrific attacks in Nigeria for which Islamist militants are blamed.

Yesterday's attack took place in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri.

The first girl detonated hidden explosives, killing about three people. When a crowd gathered, the second teen blew herself up, killing dozens.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pope Will Visit Patriarch Bartholomew on Nov. 28; Cath.-Orth. Dialogue May Lead to Christian Unity

Reunification of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches could be near, an Orthodox spokesman said, as Pope Francis prepares his visit to Turkey on November 28, the Catholic News website reports today (November 25, 2014).

Pope Francis' meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church will be the latest effort to heal the millenium-old schism of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Christian Church split into Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) branches in 1054 AD in what is called the Great Schism.

Pope Francis is expected to meet privately with Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew -- spiritual leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians -- during his November 28-30 trip.

Dositheos Ananostopoulos -- spokesman of Istanbul's Orthodox Church -- said that the meeting of the heads of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches indicates that the "reunification of both churches" could be near.

Col. High Court OKs Day of Prayer Proclamations; Says Atheists Are Not Forced to Attend Ceremony

The Colorado Supreme Court yesterday rejected a legal challenge to the governor's right to issue Day of Prayer proclamations, finding that non-believers who objected to the annual events did not suffer harm and do not have grounds to sue, the Religion News website reports today (November 25, 2014).

The ruling reversed a state Court of Appeals decision two years ago that said the proclamations violated constitutional protections for religious freedom by sending the message that the government endorses religion.

The Colorado justices ruled that the Freedom from Religion Foundation -- including four of its Colorado members -- did not have the right to sue because the government spent only nominal amounts to issue the annual proclamations.

Opponents also were not forced to participate in the prayer day and did not suffer negative consequences from the government, the court said.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Student Rapes Three Girls at Okla. High School; Raped Girls Bullied, Threatened, Mostly by Girls

A group of Norman (Oklahoma) High School students walked out of class today (November 24, 2014) to protest the district's inefficient response to rape and bullying accusations against students, according to the UPI website.

The protest campaign -- known as Yes ALL Daughters -- began after three girls at the high school were bullied after being raped by the same male student.

Kim Wright -- one of the protesters -- said one of the raped victims faced bullying by other students when she tried to come back to school after reporting the rape.

"She was verbally attacked when she walked into school," said Wright. "It was a group of girls who threatened her. She had just made it to the doors on her first day back."

Turkish Pres. Claims Women Not Equal to Men; Says Feminist Movement Belittles Motherhood

The president of Turkey -- speaking at a global justice and women's summit meeting in Istanbul -- declared in a speech that women are not equal to men, the Euro News website reports today (November 24, 2014).

Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- a devout Muslim -- also criticized the feminist movement, claiming it does not accept or value the concept of motherhood.

An English translation of his speech at the event said: "You cannot make an equality between men and women; they are not equal. They are of a different nature. Their system is different."

One prominent Turkish women's rights activist has slammed Erdogan's comments as being against the constitution and the law.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wellesley Students Say Anti-Semitism Haunts Col.; School Fires Its Hillel Director and Jewish Chaplain

Jewish students at Wellesley College -- an elite Boston-area school for women -- say that anti-Semitism is growing on campus following what they call the school administration's slow response to the anti-Israel activities of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), as well as its decision to fire the school's Hillel director and its Jewish chaplain, the JNS (Jewish News Service) website reports today (November 23, 2014).

"I firmly believe this college is becoming increasingly anti-Semitic," Jordan Hannink, a junior at Wellesley, told the news media.

Several posters have been plastered on walls around the campus "with images of Palestinian children who were killed or wounded during the Gaza war." Another poster in the student center asks, "What does Zionism mean to you?" Responses to that question that were written on the poster include "genocide," "apartheid," and "murder."

Jewish students said they had turned to the school's Hillel branch for support in their fight against campus anti-Zionism, but that those efforts were undermined by the school's decision to fire Hillel director Patti Scheinman and Jewish chaplain David Bernat. School officials cited "restructuring" as the reason for the firings.

At Least 14 Killed, 35 Wounded in Afghan Attack; Believed US-Afghan Defense Pact Caused Bombing

At least 14 people were killed and 35 wounded today (November 23, 2014) in a suicide bomb attack at a volleyball ground in Paktika province of Afghanistan, according to the Big News Network website.

"Army rescue teams evacuated 14 bodies and 35 injured people were sent to military and government hospitals," an army source said.

Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, deputy minister of Interior affairs, said that 10 people were killed and 30 others were injured. But unofficial sources put the number of casualties as high as 50 killed and 60 injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack may have been sparked by the Afghan parliament endorsing a security and defense agreement with the United States and a similar pact with NATO earlier in the day.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Razing Homes of Terrorists' Families a War Crime; HRW Warns Israel to Halt the Practice Forthwith

Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian terrorists' homes constitutes a war crime and must be halted immediately, rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today (November 22, 2014), according to the Times of Israel website.

HRW said the practice "deliberately and unlawfully punishes people not accused of any wrongdoing." Such collective punishment in occupied territory such as the West Bank and East Jerusalem is considered a war crime, HRW stressed.

"It is a basic principle of law that one person should not be punished for another's crime," the group's deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Stork said. "Punitive home demolitions are blatantly unlawful. Israel should prosecute, convict, and punish criminals, not carry out vengeful destruction that harms entire families."

"Justifying punishment of people who are not responsible for a criminal act just because they might 'support' it would set a dangerous precedent which could come back to haunt Israelis," HRW warned.

Turkey Plans to Build a Bridge across Dardanelles; Bridge Would Ease Traffic Congestion in Istanbul

Turkey is planning to build a bridge across the famed Dardanelles strait to help ease traffic congestion in Istanbul -- the home of the Patriarch of Constantinople, who is the head of the world's 350 million Greek Orthodox Christians -- the Yahoo News website reports today (November 22, 2014).

The Dardanelles -- which separate Europe and Asia -- were last bridged by Xerxes the Great, the Persian "king of kings" in 480 BC on his way to wage war against Greece at Thermopylae.

"We are planning to construct a new bridge across the Dardanelles strait," Transport Minister Lutfi Elvan said in an interview with Turkish television on November 20.

The Dardanelles lead into the Sea of Marmara which then goes into the Bosphorous in Istanbul itself. The waterway is three-quarters of a mile wide at its narrowest point. The new bridge will be about 30 miles long. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Exclusive:Obama Secretly OKs US Afghan Combat; Signed Order Allowing US Troops to Fight in 2015

President Obama signed a secret order in recent weeks authorizing a more expansive mission for the U.S. military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned -- a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year -- the NY Times website reports exclusively tonight (November 21, 2014).

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Obama said that American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the "remnants of Al Qaeda."

But Obama's secret order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government -- a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military, and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision.

The secret order also allows American jets, bombers, and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Prayer Ban Ends on NC Commissioners' Meetings; Court Decides Policy for Prayer Includes All Faiths

County commissioners in Forsyth, North Carolina are now allowed to have prayers before meetings, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (November 21, 2014).

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge James Beaty Jr. removed a 2010 order banning commissioners from having clergy deliver prayers that refer to Jesus Christ or other deities.

The American Civil Liberties Union had argued the prayer policy was discriminatory, but Forsyth County says the policy is pro-actively inclusive of all faiths and said persons of any faith are welcome to offer a prayer.

"It was a long battle but it was worth it," Gloria Whisenhunt, vice chairwoman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, said.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

UCLA Student Govt. Votes for Israel Divestment; Due to Israel's Occupation of Palestinian Regions

The UCLA student government has voted to support a measure that urges the UC system to sell off stock in companies that do business with Israeli military and profit from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, the LA Times website reports today (November 20, 2014).

The issue attracted about 250 people to the UCLA meeting on November 18. The council approved the measure on an 8-2 vote.

These resolutions, however, have no power in relation to UC finances, and the UC Regents have said they have no intention of making any divestments in Israel.

Similar efforts have been brought up in recent years with varying results. Student governments at UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego have approved similar resolutions.

Pope Demands a More Just Distribution of Wealth; Tells UN Food Is a Human Right,Not a Profit Item

Pope Francis demanded a more just distribution of the world's wealth for the poor and hungry today (November 20, 2014), telling a U.N. conference on nutrition that access to food is a basic human right and should not be subject to market speculation and quests for profit, the Huffington Post website reports.

"We ask for dignity, not charity," Francis told the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

"It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by 'market priorities,' the 'primacy of profit,' which have reduced foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature," Francis said.

The U.N. estimates that a third of all food produced is lost to waste and spoilage.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pope's Gifts to Be Raffled Off to Support the Poor; Top Prize Is New Fiat Car Worth More Than $23K

Pope Francis is accustomed to receiving gifts from dignitaries: Bikes, even a car are among the many presents that have been given to the Pontiff, the Zenit website reports today (November 19, 2014).

All these expensive gifts will soon be raffled off and the proceeds will go to needy families in Rome. Tickets will be sold for 10 Euros ($13) at Vatican Post Offices around St. Peter's Square.

The top prize is a brand new Fiat Panda worth more than $23,000. Among the other prizes are a racing bike, a Panama hat, a digital camera, and several other papal prizes.

The raffle is another example of the Pope's immense care for the poor. The drawing for the raffle will occur on January 8, 2015.

Sharpton Denies NY Times Story on Unpaid Taxes; Times Says He and His Business Owe $4.5M Taxes

Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton today (November 19, 2014) dismissed as "misleading" a New York Times report that he owes millions of dollars in unpaid taxes and an organization he heads did not pay federal payroll taxes for its employees, the Reuters website reports.

The Times reported yesterday that Sharpton -- an American Baptist minister -- and his for-profit business face state and federal tax liens of more than $4.5 million.

It also said that Sharpton travels first class, that he and his National Action Network (NAN) repeatedly failed to pay hotels and landlords, and his personal finances were intermingled with those of the non-profit NAN to pay for his two daughters' private school tuition.

"I would have to be the most inept charlatan in the world," Sharpton said at a news conference, referring to the Times report saying he was drawing a $200,000 annual salary while his organization was struggling. In response to Sharpton's denial, a NY Times spokeswoman said, "We stand by our story." 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Virginia Woman Charged with Supporting ISIS; Arranged for Man to Get into Syria to Join ISIS

A Virginia woman faces a federal charge after being accused of promoting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in social media and offering to help an undercover agent get a friend into Syria to join the radical Muslim group, the Fox News website reports today (November 18, 2014).

Heather Elizabeth Coffman of Henrico County made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court yesterday and was ordered held until a November 19 hearing, court documents show. She is charged with making a materially false statement about an offense involving terrorism.

According to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent, Coffman promoted the organization known as ISIS on several Facebook accounts she maintained under various names. Those posts prompted a sting by the agent, who posed as an Islamic State backer.

The agent wrote in the affidavit that Coffman talked about making arrangements for a man she identified as her husband to train and fight with ISIS in Syria. She said the man -- who is not named in court papers -- backed out when the couple split up.

Four Rabbis Killed in Jerusalem Synagogue Attack; Police Kill 2 Attackers with Gun, Ax, Meat Cleaver

Four rabbis -- three of them U.S.-born -- were killed in an attack on a West Jerusalem synagogue today (November 18, 2014) by two Palestinians wielding a gun, an ax, and a meat cleaver, according to the USA Today website.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "respond harshly." He immediately ordered the demolition of the attackers' homes, although the attackers had been shot and killed by police.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said eight people were wounded in the assault during morning prayers, including police officers. She added that the attackers were Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem identified the dual American-Israeli citizens as Aryeh Kupinsky, Cary Levine, and Mosheh Twersky. The fourth victim is Avraham Goldberg, who was born in the United Kingdom.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nonprofit Group Sues Harvard for Racial Profiling; Says Univ. Discriminates against Asian Americans

A nonprofit group filed a lawsuit today (November 17, 2014) against Harvard University, accusing the world-famous Ivy League institution of racial profiling in its admissions policies, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website.

Students for Fair Admissions says Harvard limits the number of Asian Americans it admits while giving preference to other races, according to the Project on Fair Representation (PFR), a legal defense fund supporting the lawsuit.

"The university is engaging in a campaign of invidious discrimination," PFR said in a statement.

"White, African American, and Hispanic applicants are given racial preferences over better qualified Asian Americans," it added, accusing Harvard of breaching civil rights laws and undermining the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution.

Church of England Allows Women to Be Bishops; First Women Could Be Ordained as Early as 2015

The Church of England has formally adopted legislation which opens the door for women to become bishops, the Euro News website reports today (November 17, 2014).

The first ones could be ordained as early as next year.

The first female priests were ordained in 1994, but to date have not been able to take on the Church's most senior roles.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the move meant the start of "a new way of being in the church."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Patriarch Kirill Rips Europe's Wane of Christianity; Russian Orth. Head Says Europe Abandoned Christ

As he received an honorary degree at the University of Belgrade in Serbia on November 14, Patriarch Kirill -- the head of the Russian Orthodox Church -- sounded the alarm over the rapid de-Christianization of European society, which "gave up on the fundamental Christian values in its life and activities," the Interfax website reports today (November 16, 2014).

He cited prominent 20th century Serbian Orthodox cleric, Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Ohrid and Zica, who said that "Christ is leaving Europe."

"Today, when the process of secularization, the denial of absolute truth, the elimination of the concept of sin from the public consciousness reaches unprecedented, apocalyptic dimensions, we regret to note that many European states have actually abandoned their Christian identity," Patriarch Kirill said.

The recognition of gay marriage, euthanasia at the legislative level, and the growing number of abortions indicates that Europe -- which used to be a stronghold of Christianity -- "has become a locomotive of destructive processes," Patriarch Kirill added.

Obama Confirms Beheading of American by ISIS; Pres. Says IS "Revels in the Slaughter of Innocents"

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group released a video today (November 16, 2014) that shows American aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded in Syria -- along with a dozen Syrian soldiers -- in the latest killing by the group posted on the Internet, according to the USA Today website.

The White House later said a review of the video confirms Kassig's death.

President Obama -- in a statement issued as he flew back to Washington from Australia -- said the Islamic State "revels in the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims, and is bent only on sowing death and destruction."

Obama added that Kassig "was a humanitarian who worked to save the lives of Syrians injured and dispossessed" by war. He called Kassig's death "an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity."

Turkish Pres. Says Muslims Discovered Americas; Claims They Arrived in 1178,Built Mosque in Cuba

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that the Americas were discovered by Muslims in the 12th century -- nearly three centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot there -- the Al Jazeera (Arabic) website reports today (November 16, 2014).

"Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus," the president said in a televised speech during an Istanbul summit of Muslim leaders from Latin America.

"Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast," Erdogan said.

The president also said that Turkey was willing to build a mosque at the Cuban site mentioned by the Italian explorer.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pope Francis Denounces Right to Die Movement; Says Euthanasia Is a Sin against God and Creation

Pope Francis denounced the right to die movement today (November 15, 2014), saying it's a "false sense of compassion" to consider euthanasia as an act of dignity when in fact it's a sin against God and creation, the Yahoo News website reports.

Francis made the comments to the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors.

Earlier this month, the Vatican's top bioethics official condemned as "reprehensible" the assisted suicide of an American woman, Brittany Maynard, who was suffering terminal brain cancer and said she wanted to die with dignity.

Francis did not refer to the Maynard case specifically. But he did say, "Beware, because this is a sin against the creator, against God the creator."

National Cathedral Hosts Islamic Prayer Service; Did So to Reconcile Christian-Muslim Relations

The Washington National Cathedral hosted its first Muslim prayer service yesterday afternoon, in an effort to promote interfaith prayer and improved global relations between Muslims and Christians, the Christian Post website reports today (November 15, 2014).

The Muslim prayer service was briefly disrupted by a protester. "Jesus Christ died on that cross over there!" a woman said loudly at the beginning of the service. "He is the reason why we are to worship only Him. Jesus Christ is our lord and savior!"

The protester was escorted out of the cathedral.

The Episcopal church set in Washington, D.C. altered its visitor tour schedule in order to host traditional Islamic Friday prayers called Jumu'ah. The service was led by South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, and held in the Cathedral's north transept -- an area considered mosque-like because of its arches and limited iconography.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Germany Says "Hatred of Jews" on Rise in Europe; Soaring Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts Spark Hatred

Germany's foreign minister said at an international conference on anti-Semitism yesterday that "hatred of Jews" was on the rise once more in his country and across Europe, fueled by spiraling violence in the Middle East, the Religion News Service website reports today (November 14, 2014).

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Germany's Jews were subjected to threats and attacks at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and the conflict between Israel in Gaza must not be used as justification for anti-Semitic behavior.

"Bold and brutal anti-Semitism has shown its ugly face again," Steinmeier told an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) event.

Among the speakers was Karen Polak, from Amsterdam's Anne Frank House, who told delegates there had been "lots of outspoken violence against Jews who obviously have no responsibility for the policies of the state of Israel." Frank -- a Jewish girl who died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 -- wrote a posthumously published diary while in hiding that has helped teach post-war generations about the Holocaust -- the murder of six million Jews by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany during World War II.

NYC Hasidic Family Charged in $20M Fraud Case; Irving Rubin Lied,Received $1M in Public Benefits

More than a dozen members of a prominent Satmar Hasidic family in New York City were charged with lying to obtain $20 million in mortgages, while also receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in public benefits, the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports today (November 14, 2014). (Satmar Hasidic Jews are Ultra-Orthodox Jews -- the most conservative and most spiritual members of the Orthodox branch of Judaism.)

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, the assistant director of the New York field office of the FBI, announced the indictments yesterday, charging 14 defendants with conspiracy to commit bank fraud related to mortgages on properties in three counties, two in New York City.

The defendants include real estate developer Irving Rubin, as well as his brothers, sons, wife, and various in-laws. A real estate lawyer and real estate appraiser are also charged in the case.

The defendants are accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $20 million in loan proceeds in connection with more than 20 fraudulent loans. The majority of the loans went into default and were not repaid. At the same time, the defendants claimed that they had little or no income and assets and were entitled to receive public assistance, including Medicaid, food stamps, and Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) benefits.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Poll:Latin Americans Quit Cath. Faith in Droves; Many Are Now Protestants, Only 69% Are Cath.

A survey released today (November 13, 2014) shows that Latin Americans born into Roman Catholic families have increasingly left the faith for Protestant churches, while many others have dropped organized religion altogether in a major shift in the region's religious identity, according to the Newsmax World website.

While 84 percent of Latin American adults report they were raised Catholic, only 69 percent now identify as such, said the Pew Research Center in Washington. At the same time, Protestants have gained a multitude of converts, due mainly to Protestantism being less rigid than Catholicism (for example, Protestantism allows a person the right to remarry after a divorce, but Catholicism does not).

About one in 10 Latin Americans were raised Protestant, but nearly one in five now call themselves Protestant. About 4 percent of Latin Americans report they were raised with no religion, but 8 percent say they have no tie to any faith.

The survey -- conducted between October 2013 and February 2014 -- outlines the challenge for Catholic leaders in a region that was once a stronghold for the faith. Latin America still has about 425 million Catholics -- or 40 percent of Catholic adherents worldwide -- according to the poll. But the exodus from the Catholic Church continues to occur.

Kentucky Baptists Expel Church for Gay Weddings; Claim Louisville Church Promotes Homosexuality

A church in Kentucky has been ousted from the Baptist denomination for performing gay weddings. The Kentucky Baptist Convention decided on November 11 to expel Crescent Hill Baptist Church of Louisville, stating that it could not be affiliated with a church that promotes homosexuality, the Christian Headlines website reports today (November 13, 2014).

Director of the Convention, Paul Chitwood, said, "We're all sinners and we recognize that, but for a church to say 'we're going to endorse the sin, we're going to call what the Bible calls wrong, [and] call it right,' that becomes the issue."

According to the Crescent Hill website, the church believes, "God loves all people without condition."

Crescent Hill pastor Rev. Jason Crosby attended the meeting that decided the fate of the church. Only a few members of the Convention voted in favor of Crescent Hill.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

W.Bank Mosque Badly Damaged in Arson Attack; Petrol Bomb Strikes W.Bank Ancient Synagogue

A mosque in the West Bank was extensively damaged in an arson attack today (November 12, 2014), according to the Euro News website.

The incident is likely to further fuel tensions in the area after a series of fatal stabbings of Israelis and the deadly use of motor vehicles by Muslims to ram Jewish pedestrians during the past few days.

Palestinian officials blame Jewish settlers for the arson.

In a separate attack today, a petrol bomb was thrown at an ancient synagogue, causing slight damage.

Three US Sailors Attacked By Turkey Nationalists; Attacked in Istanbul, 12 Turkish Youths Arrested

A group of nationalist Turkish youths today (November 12, 2014) attacked three visiting U.S. sailors in Istanbul, trying to force sacks on their heads in an assault angrily condemned by the U.S. government, the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.

Several dozen members of the nationalist youth group Turkiye Genclik Birligi (Turkish Youth Union) attacked the sailors in the Eminonu district on the Istanbul waterfront -- a popular tourist hub -- shouting "Yankee Go Home" and "Down with US Imperialism."

The youth group tried to force white hoods onto the heads of the sailors -- a reference to an incident from the 2003 Iraq war that outraged many in Turkey when U.S. forces in northern Iraq arrested a group of Turkish soldiers, forced hoods on their heads, and held them for three days.

The sailors were from the USS Ross guided missile destroyer, which was moored in Istanbul after returning from military exercises in the Black Sea, U.S. officials said. According to NTV television, 12 people were arrested for the attack.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Palestinian Pres. Says Israel Fueling a "Rel. War;" Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Hits Dangerous Phase

The Palestinian president today (November 11, 2014) accused Israel of provoking a "religious war" as new violence between both sides broke out in the West Bank, leaving a Palestinian man dead, and mounting concerns that the long-running conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase, according to the Drudge Report website.

Mahmoud Abbas blamed the latest tensions on a series of visits by Jewish worshipers to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site.

Abbas' remarks -- at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- came as Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian demonstrator in clashes in the West Bank today.

The shooting occurred a day after a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus stabbed and killed a 20-year-old Israeli soldier at a crowded Tel Aviv train station, and another Palestinian assailant stabbed three people at a bus stop next to a West Bank settlement, killing a 25-year-old Israeli woman and wounding two others.

Ex ISIS Member:Turkey Supporting Islamic State; Both NATO Member Turkey and ISIS Hate Kurds

Although Turkey has told the U.S. that it is helping to defeat ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants, the fact is that Turkey has been secretly supporting ISIS. Testimony provided by a former member of Islamic State in Syria indicates that ISIS militants view NATO member Turkey as their ally, and that the Turkish government has been coordinating its military efforts with ISIS -- including ISIS' free use of Turkish soil -- the Christian Post website reports today (November 11, 2014).

A former IS communications technician working out of the ISIS communications bureau in the Syrian stronghold of Raqqa said in an interview with Newsweek magazine on November 7 that the Turkish government allowed ISIS convoys to cross freely over its border and travel through the country to avoid combat in Kurdish-controlled regions in Syria, in efforts to attack more vulnerable Kurdish troops in Syria's northeastern region.

Speaking under the pseudonym of "Sherko Omer," the former ISIS communications technician -- who managed to escape -- further added that the basis for the Turkish cooperation is that ISIS and Turkey share a common enemy: the Kurds.

"ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria," Omer said. "The Kurds were the common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey."

Monday, November 10, 2014

W.Bank Stabbing Kills Israeli Woman, Wounds 2; Muslim Affiliated with Terror Org. Shot, Arrested

A young Israeli woman was killed and two others were injured in a stabbing attack in the West Bank today (November 10, 2014), the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) website reports.

The attack occurred early this evening at the Alon Shvut junction in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, where the three Israelis were waiting for rides.

The dead woman was identified as Dalia Lemkos, about 25, from the West Bank settlement of Tekoa. The others suffered light stab wounds.

The assailant -- who was shot and wounded -- has been identified by police as Maher Hamdi Hashalamum, 30, of Hebron. He is affiliated with the terror organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Suicide Bomber Kills 47, Wounds 79 in Nigeria; Believed Islamic Extremists Planned the Attack

Several dozen people were killed today (November 10, 2014) when a suicide bomber detonated an explosion at a school in northeast Nigeria, according to the USA Today website.

The incident occurred at Government Technical Science College in the city of Potiskum, the capital of Yobe state.

National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said, "There was an explosion detonated by a suicide bomber. We have 47 dead and 79 injured."

He added the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram was believed to be responsible for the attack.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bahamas Faith Ministry Head Dies in Plane Crash; Pastor, Wife, 7 Others Killed on Grand Bahama Is.

The leader of Bahamas Faith Ministries, Dr. Myles Munroe, and his wife Ruth were killed today (November 9, 2014) in a plane crash in Grand Bahama, according to the Breaking Christian News website.

The crash occurred this afternoon and killed all nine people on board the private jet.

The plane struck a crane at the Grand Bahama Ship Yard, exploding on impact and crashing into the ground near a junkyard area.

A police source said it was believed the group was heading to a conference hosted by Pastor Munroe.

Coptic Orth. Church Pope Calls for Christian Unity; Says Dialog Needed between Cath., Orth. Churches

The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, today (November 9, 2014) called for unity and dialog between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, the Egypt Independent website reports.

During a golden jubilee celebration in Austria organized by Pro-Orienta -- an establishment launched to promote dialog between Catholic and Orthodox churches -- Egypt's pope said unity among churches comes with theological dialog as well as partnership in several fields including education, monasticism, and social development.

"We hope all churches around the world could agree on a unified day to celebrate the Feast of  the Resurrection," the pope said during the event attended by Austria's Catholic archbishop, Christoph Schonborn, and the head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Koch.

The Christian Church became divided in 1054 in what is called the Great Schism, with a Roman Catholic (or Western) Church led by the Pope in Rome, and a Greek Orthodox (or Eastern) Church led by the Patriarch of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul).

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gorbachev: Ukraine Crisis Causing New Cold War; Rips UN for Failing to Take Any Action on Ukraine

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev -- who is credited with forging a rapprochement with the  West that led to the demise of communist regimes across eastern Europe -- warned in a speech in Berlin today (November 8, 2014) that East-West tensions over the Ukraine crisis were threatening to push the world into a new Cold War, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, according to the Reuters website.

"The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some say that it has already begun," said Gorbachev, 83, who is honored in Germany for his pivotal role in helping create the conditions for the Berlin Wall's peaceful opening on November 9, 1989, heralding the end of the Cold War.

"And yet, while the situation is dramatic, we do not see the main international body, the UN Security Council, playing any role or taking any concrete action," Gorbachev added. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 4,000 people since the start of the uprising by pro-Russian separatists in mid-April.

Russia blames the Ukrainian crisis on Kiev and the West, but NATO says it has overwhelming evidence that Russia has aided the rebels militarily in the conflict. Russia also added fuel to the fire by seizing control of Ukraine's Crimea -- a crucial peninsular on the Black Sea.

IS Militants' Iraqi "Cultural Cleansing" Is Horrid; Non-Islamic Cultures from Early Civ. Are at Risk

The Christian Science Monitor website reports today (November 8, 2014) that the so-called Islamic State's "cultural cleansing" of minority groups uprooted from their northern Iraq homelands has led to fears that entire cultures from the cradle of civilization are under the biggest threat in recorded history, the United Nations' top cultural official warns.

"It can be compared to the Nazi methods, and here I think it goes all across the board," says Irina Bokova, director general of the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). "Either they conform to their (Islamic radicals') views of religion or belief or they have to disappear. I don't remember anything like that in contemporary history."

She says Interpol (International Police) and antiquities authorities are taking steps to halt a lucrative trade in the smuggled artifacts of these ancient civilizations, which the Islamic State (IS) uses to help fund its operations.

As IS militants took over large parts of northern Iraq, more than one million Iraqis fled their towns and villages, many of them from religious minorities living in communities that date back to the earliest days of their faiths. The IS militants have also destroyed and damaged a plethora of  churches and religious shrines, in an effort to "delete" Christian and other non-Islamic cultures.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pope: Some Christians Are Christians in Name; Money, Vanity, Pride Depict "Pagan Christians"

Not all those who claim to be Christians really are, said Pope Francis today (November 7, 2014). Some are Christians "in name only," he said. "They bear the name of Christians but live a life of pagans," the Breitbart website reports in quoting the Pope.

In his homily at Mass today, the Pope said that there have always been two types of Christians -- those who truly followed Christ and those who only pretended to follow Him.

At the time of St. Paul, there were "worldly Christians, Christians in name only, with two or three Christian features, but nothing more." The Pope called this sort of people "Pagan Christians," whom St. Paul called "enemies of the cross of Christ."

"If you love money and are attached to it, if you love vanity and pride, you are headed down a bad road," the Pope said. If, instead, he continued, "you try to love God and serve others, if you are gentle, if you are humble, if you are the servant of others, you are on the right path. Your citizenship is in heaven."

Kiev: Russia Is Sending More Tanks into Ukraine; Russian Tanks, Artillery, Trucks Head to Luhansk

Ukraine's military accused Russia of sending more tanks into the east of the country yesterday to support Russian separatists, the Euro News website reports today (November 7, 2014).

NATO says it has seen an increase in Russian troops and equipment along the border between the two countries during the past few days, and is looking into reports that tanks crossed into Ukraine.

The Ukrainian authorities also claim government forces killed some 200 rebels at Donetsk airport yesterday.

"The convoy headed towards the town of Krasny in the Luhansk region. The movement of military equipment was reported, consisting of 32 tanks, 16 howitzer artillery systems, and 30 trucks carrying ammunition and fighters," Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense and Security Council, told a news briefing.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Obama Secretly Wrote Letter to Iran's Khamenei; Sought Iran Leader's Aid against IS,Nuclear Deal

The Slate website reports today (November 6, 2014) that President Barack Obama secretly wrote Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in mid-October and described a shared interest in fighting Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria, according to people briefed on the correspondence.

The letter appeared aimed both at buttressing the IS campaign and nudging Iran's religious leader closer to a nuclear deal. Khamenei holds the highest office in Iran for life.

Current relations between the U.S. and Iran are not nearly as bad as they've been in the past, and U.S. officials say this is not the first time Obama has secretly written to Khamenei.

The two countries are involved in nuclear negotiations, and Iran's current president (Hassan Rouhani) is a relative moderate whose election is believed to indicate a desire by Iranian citizens to reconnect with the rest of the world.

Rob O'Neill Is Navy SEAL Who Killed Bin Laden; Says Shot Split Bin Laden's Skull Assuring Death

Former Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill said in an interview with The Washington Post that he was the one who fired the final shot to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011, the CNN website reports today (November 6, 2014).

The 38-year-old Montanan also said other SEAL team members were involved in the raid, including Mark Bissonnette, who detailed the group's experiences in his memoir, "No Easy Day."

O'Neill -- who had been serving as a SEAL for 15 years at the time of the bin Laden raid -- had participated in critical missions before, but said he feared this mission would be his most difficult. "I didn't think I would survive," he told the Post.

He said it was clear that bin Laden had been killed and not merely injured from his shot when he fell to the floor with a split skull. Before he was shot, bin Laden "had his hands on a woman's shoulders pushing her ahead," O'Neill recounts, likely to deflect the attack.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Amnesty Int'l Report:Israel Guilty of War Crimes; Israel Claims Gaza Report Is Biased against Jews

Israeli officials blasted an Amnesty International report accusing the Jewish state of war crimes during the war in Gaza last summer, calling it the latest example of the organization's bias against the Jewish state, the Fox News website reports today (November 5, 2014).

The report -- which was released today -- accused Israel of "callous indifference" in conducting attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal area, where the Israel Defense Forces conducted an operation to stop rocket attacks and tunneling in an offensive that the UN says left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.

But Israeli officials said, "The report does not mention the word terror in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks."

Israel launched the Gaza operation in early July, following a crackdown by Israeli forces in the West Bank, where troops arrested scores of Hamas members, in response to the kidnapping and killings of three teenage Israelis in June by Hamas operatives. Several weeks later, Jewish extremists kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager in east Jerusalem in an apparent revenge attack.

Muslim Driver Plows Auto into Jerusalem Crowd; At Least 1 Killed, 14 Injured, Driver Is Shot Dead

An Arab Muslim driver plowed his vehicle into a crowd of people at a light rail station along the seam-line between East and West Jerusalem today (November 5, 2014), killing a Border Police officer, and injuring 14 more people, according to the Times of Israel website.

"Ten people were wounded, one of whom is in critical condition," emergency services spokesman Zaki Heller said.

The fatality was named as Border Police officer Jedan Assad, 38, from Beit Jann, a Druze village. Assad was a father to a three-year-old boy; his wife is five months pregnant.

The terrorist driver was identified as 48-year-old Ibrahim al-Akary from Shuafat in East Jerusalem, a father of five. He was shot and killed by Israeli police.