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U.S. Intelligence: Putin Ordered Hacking Campaign To Help Trump Win

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a "clear preference" in having Donald Trump win the U.S. presidential election, the report concludes.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hacking campaign that aimed to help President-elect Donald Trump and influence the U.S. election.

A newly declassified report released on January 6 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the effort sought to help Trump, a Republican, by discrediting his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was widely predicted to win the November 8 contest.

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency," the 25-page report said.

"We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," it said. "We have high confidence in these judgments."

The report comes amid mounting alarm among policymakers and legislators in Washington about the scope and intent of Russian cyberintrusions during last year’s election campaign.

"When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency," the report said.

Russian intelligence, the report said, did access some systems of state or local electoral boards. But the Department of Homeland Security concluded that the systems that were targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.

The report also concluded that state-run Russian media -- including the Sputnik news agency and the international television network RT -- "contributed to the influence campaign" by promoting Trump and "serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audience."

Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor-in-chief, responded incredulously on Twitter, saying: "They're joking, right?"

There was no immediate reaction to the report from the Kremlin, though Russian officials have repeatedly denied the allegations in the past.

Phone lines to the Russian Embassy in Washington were busy on January 6, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump: "This is a political witch hunt."
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump: "This is a political witch hunt."

There was also no immediate response from Trump. In the past, however, he has dismissed statements issued by the White House and U.S. intelligence agencies accusing Russian government officials of directing the hacking, which targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as well as the Republican Party.

E-mails stolen from the DNC were later published by WikiLeaks and elsewhere, embarrassing top party officials. WikiLeaks has denied it obtained the files from Russia.

Earlier on January 6, Trump lashed out at the furor in Washington surrounding the Russian allegations, calling it a "political witch hunt."

In an interview with The New York Times, Trump said that other states or individuals could have been behind the breaches.

"China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names," Trump was quoted by The New York Times as saying, referring to the theft of millions of federal government personnel files in 2014 and 2015. "How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt."

The interview was conducted prior to the report's release and shortly before he was given a classified briefing by top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Trump released a statement after the meeting, which he called “constructive.”

His statement, however, did not specifically address the findings that the Russian government directed the hacks. Instead, it stated only that Russia, China, and others were "consistently trying to break through the cyberinfrastructure" of U.S. government institutions.

"There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines," Trump said.

The report also suggested that the lessons Russian intelligence officials learned from the U.S. hacking efforts were likely to be replicated in the future, possibly in key European elections scheduled for this year.

On January 5, Clapper testified before one of three Senate committees that is investigating the Russian allegations, saying that intelligence officials are even more "resolute" about their conclusions now than they were in October, when the first public assessment was released.

"I don't think we've ever encountered a more aggressive, a more direct effort to interfere in our elections processes than in this case," Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The intelligence report was compiled on an order from Obama, who instructed officials to complete a full investigation of the alleged hacking before he leaves office on January 20.

In response to the cybercampaign, the White House last month announced new sanctions targeting Russia's leading intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB.

It also expelled 35 Russian diplomats in response to what Washington calls a campaign of harassment of its diplomats in Russia.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Mark Najarian

Migrant Arrivals In Europe By Sea Decline, But Death Toll Rises

A migrant is rescued from the Mediterranean Sea some 20 nautical miles north of Libya on October 3.

International organizations say the number of migrants arriving in the European Union by sea declined by nearly two-thirds last year but that the death toll in the Mediterranean rose to a record 5,079.

The EU border agency Frontex said in a report published on January 6 that the total number of migrants reaching Europe by sea declined to 364,000 in 2016, down from more than 1 million the previous year.

Frontex attributed much of the drop to a deal between the EU and Turkey that led to tighter border control by Turkish officials and cut the number of arrivals on the Greek islands by 79 percent.

It said, however, that the number of arrivals from North Africa to Italy rose by about 20 percent to a record 182,500. The increase reflected the rising migratory pressures mainly from West Africa, Frontex said.

Meanwhile, the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the number of fatalities and missing migrants in the Mediterranean rose 34 percent to at least 5,079 last year. It had previously said 2016 was the deadliest year for migration in the Mediterranean.

IOM said the rise was primarily due to improved research methods but that some migrant routes have also grown more deadly.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters

At Least Five Dead In Shooting At Florida Airport, Gunman In Custody

Travelers are evacuated out of the terminal and onto the tarmac after a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on January 6.

Officials say a gunman killed five people at an airport in Florida before being apprehended by authorities.

The Broward County Sheriff's office said on its Twitter feed that five people were confirmed dead as a result of the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and that eight others were wounded and taken to an area hospital.

The shooter opened fire in a baggage claim area, the airport said in a tweet.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who represents Florida, identified the shooter as Estaban Santiago and said he was carrying military identification, but it was unclear if it belonged to him.

In an interview with CNN, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief described the gunman as a "lone shooter" and said that "we have no evidence at this time that he was acting with anyone else."

"He is in custody, and we are currently investigating," Sharief said.

TV networks reported that security officials had gathered passengers into several areas at the airport, and live footage showed passengers walking across an airport tarmac. All flights were were suspended after the incident.

Ari Fleischer, a former White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, tweeted that he was at the airport when shots were fired and that "everyone is running."

Fort Lauderdale is a popular destination and travel hub for tourists vacationing in southern Florida.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP, CNN, and MSNBC

Trump Calls For Investigation Of Media Leaks From Russian Hacking Report

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump has called for a congressional investigation into an NBC News report featuring details from a classified intelligence report about alleged Russian computer hacking targeting U.S. elections.

Trump made the extraordinary call on January 6 shortly before his own scheduled briefing with top U.S. intelligence officials about the report.

"I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it," Trump wrote on Twitter.

There was no immediate response from congressional leaders, Democrat or Republican. Many lawmakers have endorsed the conclusions of intelligence agencies that Russia-government backed hackers stole e-mails from U.S. political organizations.

Trump has repeatedly voiced skepticism about those conclusions.

The e-mails are widely seen as having damaged Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, after they were published by WikiLeaks and others ahead of the November 8 election.

The NBC News report on January 5 cited two unnamed intelligence officials reportedly involved in preparing the report ordered by President Barack Obama.

NBC News reported that the intelligence document concludes, among other things, that the hacks were payback for the Obama administration's questioning of Vladimir Putin's legitimacy as Russia's president.

U.S. Tanks, Weaponry Arrive In Germany For NATO Deployment To Eastern Europe

U.S. military vehicles are unloaded from a transport ship in the harbor in Bremerhaven, Germany, on January 6.

Hundreds of U.S. tanks and other weaponry arrived by ship in Germany on January 6, the first wave of equipment to be deployed to Eastern Europe as part of NATO’s push to beef up its presence in the region.

The equipment is set to be transported by rail and convoy to staging sites in Poland ahead of the arrival of U.S. military units to Eastern Europe.

Beginning next month, the American units and equipment will fan out across NATO members Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states for training and maintenance.

The moves are aimed at reassuring U.S. allies following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has condemned what it sees as an aggressive Western buildup in in the region, accusing NATO of destabilizing actions and stoking tensions near Russia’s borders.

NATO insists the moves are strictly defensive in nature.

"The best way to maintain the peace is through preparation," U.S. Major General Timothy McGuire told reporters when asked if the action was intended to send a message to Russia.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Stars and Stripes

Protests In Kosovo After France Detains Former Prime Minister

Protests In Kosovo After France Detains Former Prime Minister
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Trump Decries 'Witch Hunt' In Russian Hacking Furor

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump: "This is a political witch hunt."

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump on January 6 called the furor over alleged Russian hacking a "political witch hunt" and requested a congressional investigation into leaks from a classified intelligence report.

Trump's media offensive came just hours before he was briefed by U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement officials who accuse Russia of trying to influence the November 8 presidential election by stealing and publishing Democratic party e-mails.

Trump later said he had a "constructive" meeting with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director James Comey, though his statement did not indicate whether he now agrees with the intelligence community that Russia directed the hacking campaign.

Trump's statement echoed his previous statements that Russia, China, or other actors could have been behind the intrusions, and he asserted that the hacking had "no effect on the outcome of the election."

In an interview with The New York Times shortly before the briefing, the Republican president-elect repeated his skepticism of Russia's involvement in the hacking, which is widely seen as having damaged the campaign of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Contradicting the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, Trump has repeatedly said that other states or individuals could have been behind the breaches.

"China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names," Trump was quoted by The New York Times as saying, referring to the theft of millions of federal government personnel files in 2014 and 2015. "How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt."

Trump, who has said he wants to improve ties with Moscow, has also dismissed reports citing unidentified U.S. intelligence officials accusing Russia of trying to help him win the election with the hacking campaign.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the cyberattacks.

Later on January 6, Trump called for a congressional investigation into an NBC News report featuring details from the classified intelligence report -- ordered by President Barack Obama -- about the alleged Russian hacking campaign.

The NBC News report on January 5 cited two unnamed intelligence officials reportedly involved in preparing the intelligence assessment, parts of which could be made public as early as January 6.

The intelligence document concludes, among other things, that the hacks were payback for the Obama administration's questioning of Vladimir Putin's legitimacy as Russia's president, NBC News said in its report.

Several media outlets in addition to NBC reported contents of the classified report that had been delivered to Obama earlier on January 5.

There was no immediate response from congressional leaders, Democrat or Republican, to Trump's call. Many lawmakers in both parties have endorsed the conclusions of intelligence agencies that Russia-government-backed hackers stole e-mails from U.S. political organizations.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington after Trump's tweet that he feels "confident" that the White House did not leak details of the report to the media.

In the statement released after the 90-minute meeting at his Manhattan office, Trump said that he was satisfied with the information he had received from the officials on the investigation.

The statement, however, did not specifically address the findings that the Russian government directed the hacks, instead stating only that Russia, China, and others were "consistently trying to break through the cyberinfrastructure" of U.S. government institutions.

Those targets, Trump said in the statement, included the Democratic National Committee, whose internal e-mails were later published by WikiLeaks, embarrassing top party officials. Wikileaks has denied it obtained the files from Russia.

Trump insisted, however, that hackers had "absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines."

Earlier on January 6, aides to Trump said the president-elect would have an open mind when he is briefed on the matter at his office in Manhattan.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told ABC News that the incoming president is "prepared to listen and understand how they got to the conclusions they did" but added that Trump has "a healthy skepticism of everything."

Kellyanne Conway, who is set to serve as a counselor to Trump when he assumes office on January 20, told CBS television that "we do not want any foreign government to interfere in this country."

"At the same time, let's wait until the president-elect receives the briefing of this fresh, new material," she said.

Trump's briefing came a day after Clapper told a Senate committee that intelligence agencies were even more "resolute" now about the Russian hacking than in October, when an initial report was released.

"I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers…should always have for intelligence, but I think there's a difference between skepticism and disparagement," Clapper said.

With reporting by The New York Times, Reuters, ABC, CBS, AFP, and NPR

Turkey Detains 18 In Connection With Deadly Izmir Attack

Police forensic experts examine the scene after an explosion outside a courthouse in Izmir, Turkey, on January 5.

Turkey's justice minister says authorities have detained at least 18 people in connection with an attack in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir this week that left a police officer and a courthouse employee dead.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag made the statement at a January 6 funeral ceremony for the policeman killed in the gun and bomb attack a day earlier, which officials say was carried out by Kurdish militants.

"All the information we have obtained show it was the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) terrorist organization who gave instructions for the attack, and that the terrorists were from the PKK," Bozdag said.

No group has taken responsibility for the attack, in which the gunmen exchanged fire with police before detonating their vehicle at a police checkpoint near a courthouse. Several others were wounded in the incident.

The PKK -- which Turkey, the United States, and the EU have designated a terrorist organization -- has carried out several attacks against Turkish security forces in the past year and a half.

Islamic State militants have also staged numerous deadly attacks in the country.

Based on reporting by Reuters, Anadolu, AP, and AFP

Five Wounded In Gun Attack In Pakistan

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a vehicle in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on January 6, wounding five people.

Police told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the passengers, who were travelling in a taxi, were all members of the Shi'ite Hazara minority.

The five were taken to a nearby hospital, with two of them in critical condition.

Police said it was a targeted attack and the gunmen escaped from the scene.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, but the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi extremist group has been blamed for similar attacks in the past.

Kosovo Calls On France To Release Ex-Prime Minister

Protests In Kosovo After France Detains Former Prime Minister
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Kosovo has called on French authorities to release former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj who was arrested on a Serbian war crimes warrant on January 4.

A French court on January 5 ordered Haradinaj, a former guerrilla commander during Kosovo's 1998-99 war, to remain in custody pending an extradition request from Belgrade.

Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said on January 6 that the French government should "take into consideration that such warrants are fully political and have no legal or juridical base."

Justice Minister Dhurata Hoxha told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that she sent a letter to her French counterpart on January 6 demanding Haradinaj's release.

Serbia accuses Haradinaj, who served briefly as prime minister of Kosovo in 2004 and 2005, of committing war crimes during the conflict in the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.

His arrest upon arrival at an airport in eastern France on a flight from Pristina has triggered outrage in Kosovo, where the government called the Serbian charges "illegal, unfair, and tendentious."

With reporting by AP

Gunmen Kill 13 Miners In Northern Afghanistan

The deadly attack occurred in Tala wa Barfak in Afghanistan's northeastern Baghlan Province.

An Afghan official says unidentified gunmen have killed at least seven coal miners in northern Afghanistan, revising the death toll which was earlier put at 13.

Faiz Mohammad Amiri, the district governor of Tala wa Barfak, in Baghlan Province, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the miners were killed on January 6. He said three other miners were wounded in the attack.

Amiri said the miners were all members of the Shi'ite Hazara minority.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

But Amiri said the attack was likely carried out by the Islamic State (IS) militant group, which has carried out a string of deadly attacks on Shi'ite Muslims in the country.

In July, the Sunni extremist group targeted Kabul's Shi'ite community in a suicide bombing that killed more than 80 people and wounded 130, the deadliest attack in the capital since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

IS militants were largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan, one year ago, but the government says they have greatly expanded their presence since then.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Calls For Dismissal Of Judiciary Head

Iranian rights activist Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 (file photo)

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has called for the sacking of the head of Iran's judiciary for being directly responsible for "all injustices, corruption, and insecurity" in the judicial system and in the country.

Ebadi, a co-founder and the president of the Center for Human Rights Defenders (DHRC), called on Iranian rights activists "to say no" to Judiciary head Sadegh Larijani and demand his dismissal.

The center said in a January 5 statement that under Larijani the judiciary was "overseeing a miscarriage of justice" in the "name of religion or under the excuse of national security."

Ebadi, who lives in exile mainly in the United States and Britain, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that instead of being independent, Iran's judiciary has turned into "one of the branches of the intelligence ministry."

Under Larijani, the arrest and pressuring of activists, intellectuals, and rights defenders has continued and the number of executions has increased.

"Civil and social activists, researchers and thinkers who express criticism are condemned to lengthy prison sentences, torture and harassment, while criminals, serial killers and those involved in embezzlement are enjoying worldly pleasures under the shadows of a corrupted judicial system," the center headed by Ebadi said.

The DHRC has continued to issue reports on Iran's rights situation since it was raided and shut down in 2008.

Tajik Human Rights Lawyer's Prison Term Extended

Imprisoned Tajik lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov (file photo)

A court in Tajikistan has extended the prison term handed down to a prominent human rights lawyer.

In October, the Dushanbe City Court found Buzurgmehr Yorov guilty on charges of issuing public calls for the overthrow of the government and inciting social unrest.

He was sentenced to 23 years in prison. The court's decision on January 6 extends his term to 26 years.

Yorov pleaded not guilty and called his trial politically motivated.

Yorov was a lawyer of 13 members and leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, a group that was banned in 2015 as a terrorist organization.

Dozens of party members have been arrested.

Yorov is among at least five human rights attorneys who have been targeted by authorities in Tajikistan in connection with their work, prompting the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and other rights groups to call for their immediate and unconditional release.

Biden Calls On Trump To 'Grow Up,' Criticizes Spat With Intelligence Community

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (file photo)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has told President-elect Donald Trump to "grow up" and criticized his public spat with the intelligence community.

Biden's remarks come as Trump is slated to receive a formal briefing on January 6 on Russia's alleged cybercampaign to meddle in the U.S. presidential election, claims that the president-elect has cast doubt on.

Biden told PBS NewsHour in an interview on January 5 that it was time for Trump "to be an adult" and said it was "absolutely mindless" for a president not to have confidence in or listen to the intelligence agencies.

The top U.S. intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, told a Senate hearing on January 5 that U.S. agencies were more confident than ever that Moscow interfered in the November election.

"I think there is an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policymakers...should always have for intelligence, but I think there's a difference between skepticism and disparagement," Clapper said.

The U.S. intelligence community has publicly accused the Russian government of directing the campaign to influence the American electoral process and concluded that the alleged Russian effort was aimed at tilting the election toward Trump.

Both the Russian government and Trump have dismissed that conclusion as absurd.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Russian Military Says It Has Begun Drawdown Of Forces In Syria

The Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov and other ships in Russia's fleet will reportedly begin the withdrawal from Syria. (file photo)

Russia’s military has begun a drawdown of its forces in Syria, media reports quoted the chief of Russia’s general staff as saying.

"In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander of the Russian armed forces [President] Vladimir Putin, the Russian Defense Ministry is beginning the reduction of the armed deployment to Syria," Russian news agencies quoted General Valery Gerasimov as saying on January 6.

Gerasimov was reported to have said that Russia's naval fleet led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, which has been operating in the Mediterranean Sea off the Syrian coast, would be the first to return from Syria.

Putin said on December 29 that Russia had agreed to reduce its military deployment in Syria under the terms of a cease-fire agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

The fragile cease-fire has largely held despite sporadic violence near Syria's capital, Damascus.

A car bomb in the government-held coastal town of Jableh on January 5 that killed 10 people was the first major incident since the cease-fire went into force on December 30.

The truce is slated to be followed by peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, later this month.

Russia has waged a potent air campaign in Syria since September 2015, bolstering the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and turning the tide of the war in the government’s favor.

Last month, Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes took full control of the northern city of Aleppo, forcing out rebels who had held the eastern part of the city since 2012.

Putin had already announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March.

Around half its fixed-wing strike aircraft flew out in the days that followed. But Russia continued to ship significant quantities of military supplies to Syria.

The five-year conflict has killed more than 250,000 Syrians and displaced about half the country's prewar population, or around 11 million people.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Earthquake Kills Afghan Laborers In Iran

Iranian media has reported that a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit a village in the country's south, killing four people, according to state television.

State TV said the earthquake struck in the early hours of January 6 in the village of Saifabad near the town of Khonj, about 1,000 kilometers south of the capital, Tehran.

State TV said the dead were all Afghan laborers working on local farms.

Mokhtar Abbasi, the governor of Fars Province, said rescue workers were at the site.

The epicenter of the quake was in a mountainous and sparsely populated area.

The U.S. Geological Survey described the earthquake as a 5.3 magnitude quake, striking at a depth of 10 kilometers.

Earthquakes are frequent in Iran, which is located on seismic faults.

In 2003, a magnitude-6.6 earthquake killed about 26,000 people and flattened the historic southeastern city of Bam.

Based on reporting by AP and ISNA

Reports: Trump To Nominate Former U.S. Senator As New Intelligence Chief

Former Senator Dan Coats has previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany (file photo)

U.S. media are reporting that President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate former U.S. Senator Dan Coats (Republican-Indiana) to be his director of national intelligence.

Coats, 73, is a former U.S. ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush who recently finished finished a six-year term in the U.S. Senate.

Several media outlets -- including the New York Times, USA Today, and The Associated Press -- cited unidentified sources in the Trump transition team as confirming Trump's intention to nominate Coats.

The pick is expected to be announced as early as January 6, the New York Times reported.

The reports come amid Trump's standoff with the U.S. intelligence community, led by current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, over an alleged Russian cyber campaign aimed at meddling in the U.S. presidential election that Trump won in November.

Trump has publicly questioned the assessment by Clapper and the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies he oversees that top Russian officials ordered cyberintrusions that resulted in Democratic party e-mails being leaked during the presidential campaign.

Russia denies any involvement in the leaks, which were widely seen as having damaged Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the election.

If nominated, Coats would have to be confirmed by the Senate before assuming the post.

Based on reporting by the New York Times, AP, USA Today, and Reuters

U.S. Transfers Four Guantanamo Detainees To Saudi Arabia, Says More Likely

Presdient Barack Obama had vowed to close the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba (file photo)

Four Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo Bay arrived in Saudi Arabia on January 5, news agencies reported, with the White House saying additional transfers are likely before President Barack Obama leaves office later this month.

Reuters and AFP reported that the detainees arrived at a Riyadh airport after being released from the U.S. naval base in Cuba that Obama vowed to close when he came into office.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington on January 5 that there will likely be more transfers "between now and January 20," Obama's last day in office.

The move comes despite calls by President-elect Donald Trump to halt the releases from Guantanamo, where around 40 detainees remain.

The facility gained notoriety over allegations that suspected terrorists detained there were tortured, and Obama has called the prison a "recruiting tool" for terrorists.

The Obama administration decided to send the Yemenis to Saudi Araba instead of their homeland, which is engulfed in civil war and where Al-Qaeda is active.

Yemenis previously released from Guantanamo into Saudi custody have undergone rehabilitation programs there aimed at integrating them back into society.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Train Crushes Rickshaws, Killing 7 Schoolchildren In Pakistan

According to police, rickshaw drivers appeared to have misjudged the speed of an oncoming train due to heavy fog while attempting to cross the tracks (file photo).

Pakistani officials say a train has crushed two rickshaws at a railway crossing, killing seven schoolchildren.

Local police said another five schoolchildren were in critical condition after the early morning accident on January 6 in the town of Lodhran, in central Pakistan.

Police said all the victims were between five and eight years old and were on their way to school in the rickshaws.

Police added that the rickshaw drivers appeared to have misjudged the speed of the coming train due to heavy fog while attempting to cross the tracks. The train was heading to Karachi from the eastern city of Lahore.

Authorities said an investigation has been launched to determine who was responsible for the deadly incident.

More than 60 people died in incidents involving trains in 2015, said railway spokesman Ashraf Lanjaar.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Turkey Urges UN To Consider Sanctioning Parties Violating Syrian Truce

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

Turkey's foreign minister said he and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed imposing sanctions on parties that violate the week-old cease-fire in Syria.

"There should be sanctions because otherwise you cannot control this and you cannot go to the political talks," Mevlut Cavusoglu said after meeting with Guterres on January 5.

Cavusoglu said UN staff were "working" on the possibility of sanctions, but nothing has been finalized yet.

"Maybe we need another Security Council resolution" on the matter, he said.

Cavusoglu warned once again that cease-fire violations are jeopardizing peace talks being organized by Russia and Turkey to occur in the capital of Kazakhstan on January 23.

Syrian rebel groups allied with Turkey announced this week that they were suspending discussions about joining the peace negotiations because of cease-fire violations by the Syrian regime.

If the talks in Astana proceed as scheduled, Cavusoglu said "the UN will have a leading role" and UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will be there.

Cavusoglu stressed that both sides, but especially the Syrian government, must respect the cease-fire agreement that was brokered by Turkey and Russia and went into effect on December 30.

Based on reporting by AP

Turkey Says Reconsidering U.S. Coalition's Use Of Strategic Air Base

U.S. Air Force tanker planes at Turkey's Incirlik Airbase

Turkish officials are suggesting that they may stop the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) militant group from using a strategically important air base near its border with Syria.

The coalition has used the Incirlik base for staging air strikes against IS while allied Syrian Kurdish militias have battled the extremists on the ground. But Turkey regards the coalition's Kurdish allies as "terrorists" because they have ties to Kurdish separatist groups that have waged bloody attacks in Turkey.

"Their presence [in Incirlik] is being questioned by our people and nation, and this issue is on the agenda of the government," Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told broadcaster A Haber on January 5.

Kaynak complained that the coalition has rarely used the Incirlik base to provide backup to Turkey as it battles IS with its own allies in Syria -- Sunni rebel groups.

Turkey's presidential spokesman, defense, and foreign ministers have expressed similar sentiments this week, and said that Turkey has raised the issue with President-elect Donald Trump in hopes he will change course.

Turkey's complaints prompted strong assurances from the Pentagon and White House in recent days that Ankara can count on support from U.S. planes as it engages IS around the Syrian town of Al-Bab.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Iranian, Azerbaijani Wrestlers Banned For Four Years After Failing Drug Tests

Iran's Bashir Asgari Babajanzadeh Darzi (R) wrestles Ali Nadhim Salman of Iraq during their London 2012 Olympics

The governing body of wrestling has imposed four-year doping bans on athletes from Iran and Azerbaijan.

United World Wrestling said on January 5 that a ban on Bashir Babajanzadeh took effect on August 31, two weeks after the Iranian had competed at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where he lost in the quarterfinals of the Greco-Roman 130-kilogram class.

The governing body said Babajanzadeh tested positive for testosterone in May at a Greco-Roman World Cup event in Shiraz, Iran. The 27-year-old wrestler won a world championship bronze medal in 2011.

Azerbaijan's Zubair Dibirov tested positive for stanozolol in September at the junior worlds hosted in Macon, France. His ban took effect on October 5, the wrestling organization said.

Based on reporting by AP

Reports: U.S. Knows Which Russians Provided Hacked E-Mails To WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied receiving hacked U.S. Democratic e-mails from Russia (file photo).

U.S. media are reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies have identified the Russians they say provided hacked e-mails to WikiLeaks in an effort to influence the November presidential election.

The Washington Post and Reuters reported on January 5 that the CIA has identified Russian officials who fed material hacked from the Democratic National Committee and party leaders to WikiLeaks at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin via third parties.

Reuters said the findings are contained in a secret briefing document intelligence agencies gave to President Barack Obama on January 5 and are scheduled to give to President-elect Donald Trump on January 6.

The findings are important because WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied getting the leaks from Russians and Trump has pointed to Assange's denials in saying he doubts Russia was involved.

Reuters said hacked material in some cases followed "a circuitous route" from the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, to WikiLeaks in an attempt to make the origins of the material harder to trace, a common practice used by all spy agencies.

These handoffs enabled WikiLeaks to say the Russian government was not the source of the material published on its website, Reuters said.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Washington Post

Top Republican Senator Believes Trump Will Abide By Iran Nuclear Deal

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

A leading Republican senator says he expects President-elect Donald Trump to enforce the landmark deal with Iran that curtailed its atomic programs in exchange for lifting crippling sanctions.

Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said January 6 that ripping up the deal would create a crisis.

"To tear it up on the front end, in my opinion, is not going to happen," Corker told reporters attending an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor newspaper.

Trump criticized the deal during the election campaign, and several of his top advisers, including his nominee to head the CIA, are strident critics of engagement with Tehran.

The comments by Corker came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned the incoming Trump administration against scrapping the Iran nuclear deal, saying it has made the world safer by leaving Tehran technically unable to build a nuclear weapon.

"Nobody can predict what choices [Trump] is going to make," Kerry said on January 5, but the United States had only "very bad choices" of a nuclear-armed Iran or a conflict in the Middle East before the deal was signed last year.

"To be crystal clear, terminating that agreement now would leave us with those same bad choices," Kerry said.

Corker also criticized some of the media leaks about the final White House report on Russia’s alleged computer hacking during the election campaign.

But he said he believed that the report, which he will receive next week, "is going to be very incriminating."

"I believe the Russians have done very nefarious things,” he said.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and

Pakistan To Free 218 Indians Caught Fishing In Territorial Waters

Indian fishermen who were arrested after allegedly straying into Pakistan's territorial waters in 2014 (file photo).

Pakistan on January 5 began releasing 218 Indian fishermen who had strayed into its waters, with officials calling it a "goodwill gesture" aimed at easing tensions with its neighbor.

The men were arrested more than a year ago, accused of entering Pakistani waters in an area of the Arabian Sea where the border is disputed.

A further 100 fishermen remain in prison, waiting for the Indian High Commission to confirm their nationality as they serve sentences of at least six months each, officials said.

Dozens of Indian and Pakistani fishermen are captured in the Arabian Sea each year after straying across maritime borders.

They often languish in prison even after serving their sentences, as poor diplomatic relations between the nuclear-armed rivals hampers the resolution of their cases.

Relations between India and Pakistan have plummeted since a deadly attack on an Indian army base in the disputed Kashmir region in September that New Delhi blamed on the Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Since then, intermittent talks on a range of issues, including their disputed maritime border, have stalled.

In the past, gestures such as the release of imprisoned fishermen have helped to improve the atmosphere for a resumption of talks.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

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