By Rafiq Sherzad JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber in Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad killed 33 people and injured more than 100 on Saturday, setting off a blast outside a bank where government workers collect salaries, the city's police chief said. President Ashraf Ghani blamed Islamic State militants, without giving further detail. If true, it would be the first such major attack carried out by the group in Afghanistan, marking a significant step in its expansion into South Asia. Up until now militants claiming allegiance to Islamic State in Afghanistan have been widely identified as former Taliban fighters disillusioned with their leadership. The Taliban itself condemned Saturday's attack as "evil". The explosion smashed windows and sent debris flying across a tree-lined street, filling the air with smoke and dust. "It was a suicide attack," police chief Fazel Ahmad Sherzad told a news conference. He added that officials were investigating witness reports of a second explosion after people had rushed to the area to help the wounded. Police said a later blast that shook Jalalabad was a controlled detonation after experts discovered a further bomb close to the scene of the initial explosion. Local media said a former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility on behalf of the Islamic State in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The spokesman could not be reached and his connection to the group could not be verified by Reuters. Islamist militants of various hues already hold sway across restive and impoverished areas of South Asia, but Islamic State has started to draw support from younger fighters in the region, impressed by its rapid capture of territory in Syria and Iraq. President Ghani visited Washington last month and warned that Islamic State posed a "terrible threat" to his country. TALIBAN EXECUTIONS Taliban insurgents denied responsibility and did not comment on the alleged Islamic State link. The militants, who were ousted from power by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, rarely claim attacks that kill large groups of civilians, saying they target foreigners or the Afghan military and government. "It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it," the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters. Elsewhere, in the eastern province of Ghazni, the Taliban announced the execution of three men accused of murdering a couple during a robbery, saying they had been tried by an Islamic court. The men were shot dead in front of a crowd by Taliban fighters, according to a Reuters witness. A video of the killings showed the men were made to sit with their eyes blindfolded and their hands tied at the time of their execution. "(They) killed a female doctor and her husband ... inside their house and then they took all their assets, jewelry and cash," the Taliban said in a statement. After the initial shots were fired, one fighter continued to shoot at the bodies while the crowd of villagers cheered. This is the first year Afghan forces are facing the Taliban with very limited international support on the ground, although help with intelligence and special operations will continue through 2016. On Saturday, parliament approved the nomination of 16 ministers, leaving only the position of defense minister vacant because the president and his coalition have been unable to agree on a candidate. The vacancy has frustrated military officials who say the army has been left rudderless in the face of escalating violence by the Taliban. NATO, which at its peak had 130,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, has only a small contingent of around 12,000 troops left and most are involved in training. (Reporting by Rafiq Sherzad in Jalalabad and Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Mark Potter and Crispian Balmer)
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden will continue his flurry of executive orders on Monday, signing a new directive to require the federal government to “buy American” for products and services. Why it matters: The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.What they're saying: "President Biden is ensuring that when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars they are spent on American made goods by American workers and with American-made component parts," the White House said in a fact sheet.The big picture: Biden’s action kick offs another week in which the president will seek to undo many Trump policies with executive actions, while signaling the direction that he wants to take the country. * Biden will also reaffirm his support for the Jones Act, which requires maritime shipments between American ports to be carried on U.S. vessels. * Last week, Biden signed an order to attempt to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors and workers to $15 an hour.The bottom line: Former President Trump also attempted to force the federal government to rely on U.S. manufacturers for procurement with "buy American" provisions. * But supply chains — with some parts and components made outside of the U.S. — require long and complicated efforts to boost domestic manufacturing. Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
- The Telegraph
Israel will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday for a week as it seeks to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants. "Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign," said Benjamin Netanuahu, the Israeli prime minister. It came as a study in Israel reported a 60 per cent drop in over-60s being hospitalised with coronavirus three weeks after being vaccinated, in the latest sign that the jabs are effective. According to Maccabi, an Israeli healthcare provider, there was a significant decrease in hospitalisations from day 23 onwards, which was two days after patients received their second jab. Also on Sunday, Israel expanded its rapid vaccination drive to include 16-18 year-olds in an effort to get them back in schools to take their winter examinations. The winter matriculation certificate is a significant part of university and military admissions. At least one dose has been administered to around a quarter of Israel’s 9 million-strong population. The vaccine is generally available to over 40s or, with parental permission, those aged between 16 and 18. Israel struck a deal with Pfizer at the beginning of January that allowed them to expedite delivery of the vaccine, in return for sharing extensive data on their vaccination campaign with the rest of the world. Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli health minister, told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the data from their vaccination programme suggests a first dose offered around 30 per cent protection from coronavirus.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
- National Review
President Biden will sign a fresh round of executive orders during his first full week in office, including actions loosening restrictions around abortion and immigration. Biden will issue and order to rescind the Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. funding for foreign organizations that perform or promote abortions. The administration also dodged last week on whether Biden plans to scrap the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions under Medicaid. On immigration, Biden plans to establish a task force focused on reuniting migrant families who were separated as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, according to a memo outlining the upcoming executive actions obtained by The Hill. Biden will order an immediate review of the public-charge rule, which denies U.S. entry to migrants considered likely to become dependent on the government. The president also plans to roll back Trump administration policies on asylum and take “other actions to remove barriers and restore trust in the legal immigration system, including improving the naturalization process.” At the same time, Biden will take a page from the Trump administration’s playbook and sign an order directing federal agencies to tighten requirements on buying goods and services made in America from American businesses. Trump signed a similar directive during his first months in office. The president will also sign orders related to racial equity, including establishing a commission on police and bringing back Obama-era rules on transferring military-style equipment to local law enforcement. Another order will direct the Justice Department to improve prison conditions and begin the process of eliminating private prisons. Biden may also sign an order reversing a ban on transgender troops serving in the military. On climate change, Biden is expected to sign an order installing regulations to “combat climate change domestically and elevate climate change as a national security priority.”
- Associated Press
As the House prepares to bring the impeachment charge against Donald Trump to the Senate for trial, a growing number of Republican senators say they are opposed to the proceeding, dimming the chances that former president will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the U.S. Capitol. House Democrats will carry the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol Monday evening, a rare, ceremonial walk to the Senate by the prosecutors who will argue the case. Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside at the trial, as he did during Trump’s first impeachment.
Turkey received 6.5 million further doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech on Monday, several local media reports said, allowing a nationwide rollout to continue. The new shipment adds to an initial consignment of three million doses which Turkey received nearly a month ago. It has so far vaccinated 1.257 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people, according to health ministry data.
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
India said it will administer homegrown coronavirus vaccine COVAXIN in seven more states from Monday as it seeks to inoculate 30 million healthcare workers across the country. The government this month gave emergency-use approval to the vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd and state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
- Business Insider
Barely any time has passed since President Biden's inauguration, and Republicans have already returned to their bag of shenanigans.
- The Week
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) didn't provide a clear hint about how he'll likely vote as a juror in former President Donald Trump's upcoming Senate impeachment trial, telling CNN's Dana Bash on Sunday's edition of State of the Union that he'll wait to see the facts and evidence. But he did at least seem open to the possibility of voting to convict, which would be familiar territory for the senator. Romney, of course, was the lone Republican senator to do so in Trump's first impeachment trial, joining his Democratic colleagues on one article.First, Romney explained that, unlike some of his Republican colleagues, he believes a post-presidency impeachment trial is constitutional and that the House was well within grounds to impeach Trump after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. If inciting an insurrection isn't an impeachable offense, Romney asked, then what is?> GOP Sen. Mitt Romney says his impeachment vote will be "based upon the facts and the evidence as is presented."> > Romney also says he believes "that what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense. If not? what is?" CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/Niu44zbdPU> > -- State of the Union (@CNNSotu) January 24, 2021Bash also asked Romney about his fellow Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who played significant roles in propping up Trump's unfounded claims that the presidential election was stolen from him by launching Electoral College challenges, which were interrupted by the Capitol siege. Romney didn't appear to be in favor of some form of formal punishment for Cruz and Hawley, but said he thinks history and voters will provide judgment. > Romney on Cruz and Hawley: "I think history will provide a measure of judgment with regards to those that continued to spread the lie that the president began with ... the reality is this is something that was made up." pic.twitter.com/SUbLzgnhXW> > -- Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 24, 2021More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
- Associated Press
Chinese state media have stoked concerns about Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, despite rigorous trials indicating it is safe. A government spokesperson has raised the unsubstantiated theory that the coronavirus could have emerged from a U.S. military lab, giving it more credence in China. As the ruling Communist Party faces growing questioning about China's vaccines and renewed criticism of its early COVID-19 response, it is hitting back by encouraging conspiracy theories that some experts say could cause harm.
Drugmaker Merck & Co said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments, with initial data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March. Merck was late to join the race to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2 million people and continues to surge in many parts of the world including the United States. The company will record a pre-tax discontinuation charge in the fourth quarter for vaccine candidate V591, which it acquired with the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, and V590, developed with nonprofit research organization IAVI, Merck said in a statement.
- The Week
Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday."Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing