French jets strike in Iraq, expanding U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State
By Oliver Holmes and Alexandria Sage BAGHDAD/PARIS Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:23pm EDT
(Reuters) - French jets struck a suspected Islamic State target in Iraq for the first time on Friday, expanding a U.S.-led military campaign against militants who have seized a third of the country and also control large parts of neighboring Syria.
President Francois Hollande said Rafale jets hit "a logistics depot of the terrorists" near the city of Mosul, which has been held by Islamic State for more than three months. It promised more operations in coming days.
The French military action, which follows U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq and near the capital Baghdad, appeared to win qualified endorsement from Iraq's top Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
In a Friday sermon, delivered by one of his aides, the elderly cleric acknowledged Iraq needed foreign help but said Iraq must not become subservient to outside powers.
"Even if Iraq is in need of help from its brothers and friends in fighting black terrorism, maintaining the sovereignty and independence of its decisions is of the highest importance," Sistani's spokesman Sheikh Abdul Mehdi Karbala'i said.
Sistani speaks for millions of Iraq's majority Shi'ites and has a worldwide following.
Islamic State fighters, who have controlled much of Syria's eastern oil and agricultural provinces for more than a year, swept through mainly Sunni Muslim regions of north Iraq in mid-June, seizing cities including Mosul and Tikrit and halting only a few dozen miles (km) north of the capital Baghdad.
Iraq's army and Shi'ite militia forces have battled the Islamic State and other Sunni militants, but failed to make significant territorial gains.
Car bombs, some of them claimed by Islamic State, have been a near daily occurrence in the capital. On Friday, two car bombs killed nine people in Baghdad and a bomb in the majority Kurdish city of Kirkuk in the north killed eight people, security sources said.
Washington launched air strikes for the first time in August to halt an IS advance on the Kurdish autonomous capital Arbil. Since then it has tried to build an international coalition to destroy the radical Sunni Muslim group, saying more than 40 countries, including Arab nations, have offered assistance.
The air strikes have helped Kurds claw back lost territory. This week they retook ground in the northern province of Nineveh including villages in the Khazer area and several others further west around the town of Zummar, which remains under IS control.
Elsewhere in Nineveh, Islamic State offered another sign of its growing authority over Iraqis, creating a police force "to implement the orders of the religious judiciary" , according to a well-known militant Islamist website.
French officials said Friday's mission involved two Rafale fighter jets, a supply plane and a Navy reconnaissance plane. Four air strikes were carried out in the space of half an hour, destroying a storage facility containing vehicles, arms and fuel, a spokesman for Defense Minister Jean-Yves LeDrian said.
Hollande has said French military action would be limited to Iraq and no ground troops would be sent.
In neighboring Syria, Western powers are more reluctant to launch military strikes which could be seen to bolster President Bashar al-Assad after they repeatedly called for his departure over his military response to popular protests in 2011.
But U.S. President Barack Obama said last week he had authorized air strikes in Syria too and would not hesitate to take action, although he also stressed plans to arm "moderate" Syrian rebel fighters to help them take on Islamic State.
Exploiting the security vacuum in the north of the country, Islamic State fighters have expanded their reach, attacking mainly Kurdish villages near the border with Turkey over the last two days, driving out a wave of refugees.
Several thousand Syrian Kurds began crossing into Turkey on Friday, fleeing IS fighters who are besieging the mainly Kurdish town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.
Turkey is already sheltering more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees and fears hundreds of thousands more, waiting in the mountains on the Syrian side of the 900-km (560-mile) border, could seek to cross as fighting escalates.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks developments in the civil war, said on Friday IS had seized three more villages near Kobani, bringing to 24 the number it has taken.
The attack on Kobani prompted a Kurdish militant call to the youth of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast to join the fight against IS and came days after the U.S. military said the help of Syrian Kurds would be needed against the Islamist militants.
The president of Iraq's Kurdistan region also called for international action. "I call on the international community to use every means as soon as possible to protect Kobani," President Masoud Barzani said.
(Addition reporting by Isabel Coles in Arbil and Raheem Salman in Baghdad; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
Alien' algae explained The balls are thought to be an extremely rare species of filamentous green algae. The living organisms are known in Japan as 'Marumo' and Cladophora ball or Lake ball in English, and are sometimes found in freshwater lakes in the Northern Hemisphere. ‘Aegagropilious’ describes the habit of free living algae (algae not attached to rocks) forming into balls. Floating algae balls are thought to be brought ashore by warmer weather and the rough wave conditions. It's unknown why the algae forms into balls. One hypothesis is that a ball-shape helps protect the algae from hungry fish, another that it may help them roll back into the water and avoid drying out when they wash ashore
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Secret Service tightened security outside the White House after an embarrassing breach in which a man with a knife scaled a fence, ran across the lawn and made it all the way inside before agents stopped him.
Increased surveillance and more officer patrols are among the measures that Secret Service Director Julia Pierson ordered. She also began an investigation into what went wrong Friday evening while the first family was away from the White House.
A member of the House Homeland Committee said Sunday that it was astonishing, at a time of concerns about terrorist attacks, that "someone could actually get into the White House without being stopped."
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the intrusion was "absolutely inexcusable" and he expected congressional hearings into the incident at one of the world's most heavily secured buildings.
"This demands a full investigation, an investigation as to what happened, why it happened and what's being done to make sure it never happens again," he told "Fox News Sunday."
Officials first said the fact that the intruder, identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, appeared to be unarmed may have been a factor in why agents at the scene didn't shoot or have their dogs pursue him before he made it inside.
But a criminal complaint issued late Friday revealed Gonzalez had a small folding knife with a 3 ½-inch serrated blade with him at the time of his arrest.
At a hearing late Saturday afternoon in D.C. Superior Court, the assistant public defender representing Gonzalez said Gonzalez had no convictions or arrest warrants, had tested negative Saturday for drug use and had been in the military for 18 years, including three tours in Iraq, according to The Washington Post.
"This is someone who has provided service to his country and shown commitment in his life," said the lawyer, Margarita O'Donnell, as she tried unsuccessfully to get Gonzalez released.
Gonzalez was expected to appear in federal court Monday to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon.
According to a criminal complaint, Gonzalez told Secret Service agents after his arrest that he was "concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing" and needed to contact the president "so he could get word out to the people."
Obama and his daughters had just left the White House by helicopter Friday evening when the intruder hopped the fence. He ran toward the presidential residence unimpeded, ignoring orders from officers to stop, until being tackled just inside the doors of the North Portico — the grand, columned entrance overlooking Pennsylvania Ave.
"Every day the Secret Service is challenged to ensure security at the White House complex while still allowing public accessibility to a national historical site," the agency said in a statement Saturday. "Although last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez's arrest is not acceptable."
With questions mounting, President Barack Obama tried to allay concerns about whether the Secret Service is still up to the task of protecting him and his family.
"The president has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House," White House spokesman Frank Benenati said late Saturday.
He said the White House expected Pierson's review to be conducted "with the same professionalism and commitment to duty that we and the American people expect from the U.S. Secret Service."
The Secret Service said its Office of Professional Responsibility was carrying out the review.
The breach triggered a rare evacuation of much of the White House. Secret Service agents drew their weapons as they hurried White House staffers and journalists out of the West Wing through a side door.
Less than 24 hours after Gonzalez's arrest, a second man was apprehended after he drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said, prompting bomb technicians in full gear to search the vehicle as agents briefly shut down nearby streets.
There were no indications the two incidents were connected. But they only intensified the scrutiny of the Secret Service, which is struggling to rehabilitate its image following a series of allegations of misconduct by agents in recent years, including agents on Obama's detail.
Portsmouth, England – A UFO appeared over the skies of this Southern English city of 205,000 along the English Channel. The silver saucer-like object matched the traditional descriptions of a “flying saucer” that have become part of extraterrestrial lore for generations. The object also remained true to the letter “U” meaning unidentified. Neither meteorologists nor even a senior cosmologist at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation were able to put their finger on the object.
Karen Masters, the university cosmologist, stated that most of the UFO sightings being reported are actually the planet Venus being seen in the sky. However, she admits this UFO has her stumped. She did point out that the distances in space between planets are so large that it is not possible the vessel is being manned by space aliens taking in the sights. The conclusion Masters is leading towards is that if the sighting was in fact an aircraft, it is driven by or otherwise under human control. All who witnessed it say that it was flying relatively low and moved about much faster than any military aircraft they’ve seen. Some residents say the sighting is starting to make UFO believers out of them.
By Bill Hand, Sun Journal Staff Published: Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 08:20 PM.
A New Bern woman and her son saw a triangular UFO shortly after leaving church Wednesday evening, and reported the incident on the national radio talk show, Coast to Coast AM, hosted by George Noory.
The woman was later interviewed by the National UFO Reporting Center and stated that the incident happened at about 8:50 a.m. According to the report, her son pointed and told her there was “something very big in the sky.”
“When I looked up,” she told NUFORC, “I saw a large dark triangular mass blocking out the sky. Its dimensions were 300 feet by 200 feet. The only color you could see was a yellow light at each corner of the triangle.”
“The mass moved very slowly and if you weren’t paying attention it would just look like a dark night out because the mass was almost camouflaged in the sky. It didn’t make any sound and headed in a south west direction.”
The site noted that “she sounded to us to be quite credible.”
If you are that woman, or someone else who has seen the UFO, would you contact Bill Hand at the Sun Journal?
You can contact Bill at 252-635-5677 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAVEN spacecraft set to explore Martian atmosphere
by Ashley Yeager 10:14am, September 22, 2014
Mars has a new visitor from Earth. MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, entered into orbit around the Red Planet on September 21 and is now preparing for its primary mission — to study the planet's upper atmosphere. The goal of the mission is to understand how the climate of Mars has changed over time. "It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. MAVEN is slated to study the Martian atmosphere for at least one Earth year.