Iraqi scientist and former government employee Suleiman al-Afari told The Washington Post that he was recruited to help manufacture chemical weapons for ISIS when they took over Mosul in 2014. Afari, a geologist at Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Minerals, reportedly hoped he would be able to keep his job after the Islamic State toppled the government. When ISIS asked him to help produce chemical weapons, he said he accepted and managed a mustard gas production line for 15 months. “They had become the government and we now worked for them,” he said. “We wanted to work so we could get paid.” Afari also helped the terror organization find “stainless-steel tanks, pipes, valves and tubes” made to withstand heat and corrosive substances. He told the Post he was under the impression the mustard gas would only cause fear, not actually be lethal. “They didn’t force anyone,” Afari said. “I was afraid that I would lose my job. Government jobs are hard to get, and it was important to hang on to it." After his capture, Afari reportedly provided authorities with names and locations of ISIS chemical weapons manufacturers. The Post reports that he is currently on death row inside the headquarters Kurdistan Regional Government’s Counterterrorism Department.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a temporary ruling that would allow the Trump administration’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military to take effect. The court ruled 5-4 that while litigation proceeds in the lower courts, the military should be permitted to implement the policy, and lifted several national injunctions that were preventing it from happening. The decision does not reflect the court’s opinion on the merits of the ban. The Trump administration had previously requested that the court take up its early challenge, before an appeals court weighed in. Justices Kavanaugh, Roberts, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito voted in support of not taking up the administration’s case; Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer dissented. The policy—which Trump first disclosed on Twitter in July 2017—forbids individuals who identify with a gender different from their biological sex from entering military service, unless they’re either already serving openly or are willing to enroll “in their biological sex.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Defense denied the policy would ban transgender individuals from service. “As always, we treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity,” spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason wrote in a statement tweeted by Washington Post military reporter Dan Lamothe. “DoD’s proposed policy is NOT a ban on service by transgender persons. It is critical that DoD be permitted to implement personnel policies that it determines are necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world.”
A model from Belarus who claimed that she held evidence of Kremlin interference in President Trump’s election has been freed from Russian police custody. Anastasia Vashukevich, who was deported from Thailand last week, was detained upon arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday on suspicion of forcing women into prostitution. She previously claimed to have recordings of conversations about interference in the U.S. election linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, with whom she is believed to have had a relationship. A leaked audio tape released this week allegedly shows Deripaska and his associates planned her arrest. Although she’s now been released from custody, she remains a suspect in an unrelated criminal case, Reuters reports.
Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) claimed in divorce filings that she turned down an opportunity to be President Trump’s running mate in order to placate her husband, whom she believed “hated any successes I have,” The Guardian reports. “In the summer of 2016, I was interviewed by Candidate Trump to be vice president of the United States. I turned Candidate Trump down, knowing it wasn’t the right thing for me or my family,” Ernst wrote in an affidavit. The Guardian notes that Ernst met with Trump at his golf course in Bedminister, New Jersey, in July 2016, and that after the meeting, she told Politico, “I made that very clear to him that I’m focused on Iowa. I feel that I have a lot more to do in the United States Senate. And Iowa is where my heart is.” But in the divorce filings, Ernst offers a different explanation: that her husband Gail “hated any successes I had and would belittle me and get angry any time I achieved a goal.” If the combat veteran had accepted the position, The Guardian notes, it would have been the first time in history that there were women on both presidential tickets—and the first time in history that a woman was vice president.
The Des Moines Register reported Tuesday that the filings also include allegations of cheating and domestic abuse against Gail. In the filings, Ernst reportedly claims that her husband “became physical” after she confronted him about an alleged affair with their daughter’s babysitter, injuring her throat and head so severely that a victim’s advocate wanted to take her to the hospital. Gail denied having an affair, and did not address the abuse allegation.
Jake Thomas Patterson, the suspect arrested for the kidnapping of 13-year-old Jayme Closs and the October murder of her parents in their Wisconsin home, allegedly held a Christmas party in his house while Closs was trapped under a bed upstairs. Although Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald would not confirm the story, two law-enforcement sources independently told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the suspect held the “Patterson Retreat” gathering, and that his houseguests were unaware that the teen was being held under his twin bed. “The family was there,” said one of the sources. Patterson “told (Jayme) that if she made a noise or tried to escape, he would kill her,” the source added. The Journal Sentinel notes that Closs was in captivity for 16 more days, before she eventually escaped and was discovered on January 10. Patterson was arrested the same day, and has since been charged with kidnapping, armed burglary, and two counts of first-degree murder.
Members of the executive board of the FBI Agents Association gathered Tuesday for a press conference to discuss the consequences of the ongoing partial government shutdown on FBI operations and national security. “I want to make one point clear: Agents were working cases yesterday, are working cases today, and will be working cases tomorrow. They are doing so without pay and under increasingly challenging conditions,” said FBIAA President Tom O’Connor in his opening statement. O’Connor went on to stress how the lack of funding affects essential FBI operations, such as investigations into crimes against children and terrorism. The association compiled stories from anonymous FBI special agents about how the shutdown has impacted their work in a report titled “Voices from the Field.” One agent, who identified themselves as a Joint Terrorism Task Force coordinator, said that during the shutdown agents are unable to pay confidential human sources, hindering counter-terrorism investigations. “We have lost several sources who’ve worked for months, and years, to penetrate groups and target subjects, these assets cannot be replaced,” the agent said. “Serving my country has always been a privilege, but it has never been so hard or thankless.”
The shutdown has now gone into its fourth week without any resolution in sight. President Trump offered to end the government shutdown with concessions on DACA, but it was not seen as a substantive trade by Democrats. “The shutdown has eliminated any ability to operate... it’s bad enough to work without pay,” said another Western Region agent. “The fear is our enemies know they can run freely.”
Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the man they believe shot and killed 18-year-old Javon Britten at the Orland Square Mall in Illinois Monday night, according to a Tuesday report from CBS2. Authorities said they are now searching for 19-year-old Jakharr Williams, whom they consider to be armed and dangerous. Police believe that Williams and Britten got into a physical altercation at the mall around 6:45 p.m. Monday night, which grew deadly when Williams allegedly pulled out his gun and fired at Britten. Britten was struck in the chest and taken to a hospital, where he later died; one other bystander suffered minor injuries. Authorities believe the boys knew each other, and that it was an isolated incident. But the shooting still horrified other mall-goers. “We were panicking,” one witness, who was shopping with her four children when she heard the gunshots, told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s hell…You feel like you’re going to die.”
This month, the United States deported an MS-13 informant back to El Salvador despite warnings that members of the violent gang would hunt him down and kill him, ProPublica reports. The 19-year-old informant, identified only as Henry, became an informant to help law enforcement arrest other MS-13 members, but his FBI gang task force handler broke a vow to help him, and immigration authorities revealed his identity. This month, Henry was reportedly forced to go into hiding after being deported. His deportation, ProPublica notes, shows how difficult it is for immigrants fleeing MS-13 to get asylum in the U.S., and how a new Trump administration directive that immigrants targeted by gangs should not be granted special status has stacked the odds against them in immigration court.
The immigration judge presiding over Henry’s case issued an emotional decision. Judge Thomas Mulligan wrote that he was “very sympathetic” to him and found his testimony “truthful.” Nevertheless, Mulligan ruled that he had no choice but to deport Henry under the law, because Henry had admitted to participating in two MS-13 murders when he was 12-years-old, and because his chances of being tortured in El Salvador were less than 50 percent.
Researchers have identified another secret ballistic missile base in North Korea, one of an estimated 20 that the communist state has not declared. The discovery comes just days after the White House announced that President Trump would hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February. Trump on Saturday told reporters that “things are going very well with North Korea,” and that Washington and Pyongyang “have made a lot of progress as far as denuclearization is concerned.”
The secret base, called Sino-ri, was disclosed in a report released Monday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a D.C.-based think tank. CSIS reported on the existence of 13 of the 20 undeclared missile bases in November. The newly identified facility is one of the oldest in existence, according to Monday’s report. Sino-ri is located 132 miles north of the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea and provides “an operational-level nuclear or conventional first strike capability against targets located both throughout the Korean Peninsula and in most of Japan,” according to the report.