By Martin Petty and Enrico Dela Cruz MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines vowed to destroy those behind twin bombings that killed 20 people during a Sunday church service in the country's restive south, six days after a referendum on autonomy for the mainly Muslim region returned an overwhelming "yes" vote. The attack wounded more than 100 people and was one of the deadliest in recent years in a region long plagued by instability. It came amid hope and excitement about the ratification of a devolution plan that aims to bring development, jobs and peace to one of Asia's poorest and most volatile places. The first explosion went off inside the cathedral on Jolo island, in Sulu province, and was followed by a second blast outside, which was detonated as security forces raced to the scene, officials said. "The enemies of the state have boldly challenged the capability of the government to secure the safety of the citizenry in that region," said Salvador Panelo, spokesman of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. "The armed forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals." Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack via the militant group's Amaq news agency, describing it as twin suicide bombings that it said killed 120 people. Police are investigating but suspect it was the work of Abu Sayyaf, a domestic militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and is notorious for its bombings and brutality. "They want to show force and sow chaos," national police chief Oscar Albayalde told DZMM radio, suggesting Abu Sayyaf was the prime suspect. Civilians bore the brunt of the attack, which also killed five soldiers. Police lowered the death toll from 27 to 20, after discovering duplications in initial records. Jolo is a stronghold of the group, which runs a lucrative piracy and kidnapping operation that successive governments have failed to break up. The group, which operates in the waters and islands of western Mindanao, has beheaded numerous foreign captives when ransom demands were not met. Images of the inside of the Jolo church showed several rows of wooden pews destroyed, with debris strewn across a blackened floor. Speaking in Panama, Pope Francis condemned what he called a "terrorist attack" and during a prayer for the dead and wounded said: "May the Lord, prince of peace, convert the hearts of the violent ones." 'DASTARDLY ACT' The attack followed Friday's announcement that the region, a mainly Muslim part of the predominantly Catholic Philippines, had ratified the creation of an autonomous area called Bangsamoro, with 85 percent of voters behind it. Although Sulu was among only a few areas that rejected autonomy, it will still be part of the new entity when it is fully formed in 2022. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called the attack a "dastardly act" and urged the local population to cooperate and "deny terrorism any victory". National Security Adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, called those responsible "mass murderers" and "extremist criminals". "We will not allow them to spoil the preference of the people for peace," he added. The referendum came amid concerns about the presence of extremists in the Philippines and the possibility that foreign radicals will join those of Indonesia and Malaysia in gravitating to Mindanao to capitalize on porous borders, jungles and mountains, and an abundance of arms. The Philippine military in mid-2017 encountered its biggest and longest battle since World War Two when an alliance of extremists loyal to Islamic State, among them foreigners and children, overran Marawi City and tried to establish a caliphate. Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf faction leader anointed as Islamic State's Southeast Asian "emir" and wanted by the United States, was killed during that battle. (Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Richard Borsuk and Michael Perry)
- The Week
The evenly split Senate is having a hard time agreeing who's in charge.Georgia's two new Democratic senators were sworn in Wednesday, giving Republicans and Democrats 50 senators each, with Vice President Kamala Harris as a Democratic tiebreaker. The two parties are now working out a power-sharing agreement, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) commitment to the filibuster is standing in the way.McConnell on Thursday formally acknowledged Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the chamber's new majority leader. But as he has been for days, McConnell again implored Democrats to preserve the filibuster that lets a senator extend debate and block a timely vote on a bill if there aren't 60 votes to stop it. Democrats "have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they're about to govern," Politico reports; More progressive senators do want to remove the option completely.If his filibuster demands aren't met, McConnell has threatened to block the Senate power-sharing agreement that would put Democrats in charge of the body's committees. But Democrats already seem confident in their newfound power, with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) telling Politico that "Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader." Giving in to McConnell "would be exactly the wrong way to begin," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) echoed.Other Democrats shared their resistance to McConnell's demands in tweets. > McConnell is threatening to filibuster the Organizing Resolution which allows Democrats to assume the committee Chair positions. It's an absolutely unprecedented, wacky, counterproductive request. We won the Senate. We get the gavels.> > -- Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 21, 2021> So after Mitch McConnell changed the Senate rules at a blistering pace during his 6 years in charge, he is threatening to filibuster the Senate's organizing resolution unless the Democratic majority agrees to never change the rules again.> > Huh.> > -- Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 21, 2021More stories from theweek.com 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Trump's team fired the White House chief usher right before Biden took office, maybe at Biden's request Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office
- Associated Press
Libya’s coast guard intercepted on Friday more than 80 Europe-bound migrants in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the North African country, the U.N. migration agency said. The migrants were returned to Libyan soil, said the International Organization for Migration. “So far this year, some 300 people, including women and children, were returned to the country and ended up in detention,” said the IOM.
- Yahoo News
Counterintelligence official Michael Orlando joins a growing chorus of voices on both sides of the political aisle who point to China as a major national security threat, particularly in terms of technology and cybersecurity.
Twitter has locked the account of China's U.S. embassy for a tweet that defended China's policy towards Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, which the U.S. social media platform said violated its stand against "dehumanizing" people. China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it was confused by the move and that it was the embassy's responsibility to call out disinformation and clarify the truth. The Chinese Embassy account, @ChineseEmbinUS, posted a tweet this month that said that Uighur women had been emancipated and were no longer "baby-making machines", citing a study reported by state-backed newspaper China Daily.
- Architectural Digest
800 feet up in the sky, the Dreamy 6,000 square foot space offers panoramic views from the East River to the HudsonOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
- The Telegraph
Thousands of national guardsmen were turfed out of the Capitol building on Thursday and sent to sleep in car parks, before being allowed back in late at night after complaints from lawmakers. Despite the quick reversal, two Republican governors commanded their troops home in protest. US Capitol police had ordered the reservists to vacate the building and set up camp outdoors or in nearby hotels, with thousands ending up stationed outside or in car parks. “Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed,” one of the guardsmen told Politico. The National Guard were brought into the US capital to provide security after Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6.
- Yahoo News Video
President Joe Biden issued a warning Wednesday to his appointees that a hostile workplace will not be allowed in his administration.
- Associated Press
A powerful earthquake shook parts of the southern Philippines on Thursday night, but authorities said it was too deep to cause major damage and no tsunami warning was issued. The quake measured magnitude 7.0 and was located 95.8 kilometers (60 miles) below the sea and about 210 kilometers (130 miles) southeast of Pondaguitan in Davao Occidental province, the U.S. Geological Survey said. In Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, some residents ran out of their houses as the ground shook and power cables and business signs swayed, but there were no reports of damage or injuries.
- Yahoo News 360
Recent history shows the opportunity to pass major bills can disappear quickly. What should Democrats’ top priority be?
Nearly 130 migrants from Central America were discovered in the back of a shipping truck in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz on Thursday after officials heard pounding and screams for help, Mexico's National Guard said. The driver of the truck was pulled over for not using a seatbelt on a highway in the southern part of Veracruz, the National Guard said in a statement. The incident occurred days after the latest major U.S.-bound caravan of nearly 8,000 migrants was broken up by officials in Guatemala after it crossed into the country from Honduras.
- Associated Press
The latest jackpot-winning Powerball ticket, worth $731.1 million, was sold in a struggling coal mining town whose biggest previous claim to fame was being the hometown of baseball legend Lefty Grove. The store will get a $100,000 bonus for selling the ticket to the fifth-largest lottery prize in U.S. history. An even larger Mega Millions jackpot will be up for grabs Friday night.
- The Week
Trump's team fired the White House chief usher right before Biden took office, maybe at Biden's request
When President Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden arrived at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, there was no chief usher to greet them. He had been fired at about 11:30 a.m., half an hour before Biden was sworn in as president, The New York Times reports. Former first lady Melania Trump had hired the chief usher, Timothy Harleth, from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2017, after the previous chief usher, Angella Reid, was dismissed a few months into Donald Trump's term.The White House chief usher is in charge of the first family's residence, overseeing everything from personnel issues to budgets. It is typically an apolitical job, and ushers typically stay through several administrations. Reid, hired in 2011, was only the ninth chief usher since 1885, though she was the first woman hired for the job. The Bidens had communicated to the White House counsel that they intended to bring in their own chief usher, a person familiar with the process told the Times. A Biden White House official told CNN that Harleth "was let go before the Bidens arrived," though CNN reports it was the Bidens who gave him the ax.Harleth was already in hot water with Trump's team, though. He "had found himself in an untenable position" since the election, "trying to begin preparations for a new resident in the White House, even as its occupant refused to concede that he would be leaving the premises," the Times reports. And Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was "unhappy" with Harleth "for trying to send briefing books about the residence to the Biden transition team in November." Harleth "had worked with Jill Biden's staff for weeks to organize the move of household belongings," The Washington Post adds.The absence of a chief usher was one manifestation of the chaotic transition period, but it doesn't entirely explain the curious breach in protocol where nobody opened the doors for the BIdens when they arrived at the White House, the Times notes. The doors, which awkwardly stood closed for about 10 long seconds as the Bidens watched, are typically opened by Marine guards.Once the Bidens passed through the doors into the newly sanitized White House, things got better, the Post reports. "Awaiting Biden in a room adjacent to the Oval Office were two trays stacked with chocolate chip cookies, each one in plastic wrap with a gold presidential seal."More stories from theweek.com 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office The Catholic hierarchy fractured over the inauguration of America's 2nd Catholic president
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa will resign next week to campaign in regional elections in Catalonia, an official from his party said on Thursday, while national authorities reported a record 44,357 new daily coronavirus cases. Illa, who has overseen Spain's response to the coronavirus pandemic, had said he would step down when campaigning got underway for the election, which is set to take place on Feb. 14. Spain has been routinely reporting record daily coronavirus infections since the end of December, but a top health official said the recent surge appeared to be stabilising.
- The Independent
Reality TV show winner and foster parent said she wanted to use $25,000 winnings ‘for our adoption’
- Associated Press
Indonesian authorities on Thursday ended the search for remaining victims and debris from a Sriwijaya Air jet that nosedived into the Java Sea, killing all 62 people on board. Transportation minister Budi Karya Sumadi said retrieval operations have ended after nearly two weeks, but that a limited search for the missing memory unit from the cockpit voice recorder will continue. The memory unit apparently broke away from other parts of the voice recorder during the crash.
Beau Biden, who served in the Guard, is buried at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church cemetery in Greenville, Delaware.
- The Week
Majority of House GOP reportedly supports removing Liz Cheney from leadership after impeachment vote
House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney is facing an internal resistance after splitting from her party on former President Donald Trump's impeachment.Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, was one of only a handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in inciting the Capitol riot. More than a majority of GOP House members have since indicated they'd support ousting Cheney from her leadership spot, while at least two other Republicans have lined up to replace her, Politico reports.At least 107 House members — more than half the caucus — privately support removing Cheney from power, multiple GOP sources involved in the effort told Politico. Meanwhile New York Reps. Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin, who defended Trump during both of his impeachments, are reportedly looking to replace her.House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have said they don't intend to remove Cheney. But McCarthy also echoed Republicans' reported anger that Cheney voiced her support of impeachment the day before the House vote, giving Democrats time to use her views in their own arguments. "Questions need to be answered," such as the "style in which things were delivered," McCarthy told reporters Thursday.Many other Republicans, including some who voted against impeachment, meanwhile don't want Cheney removed just for "vot[ing] her conscience," as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) put it. Others argue removing Cheney would fly in the face of the party's unification message in the post-Trump era — something Cheney herself is trying to counter by making "making calls to all corners of the conference to hear lawmakers out," Politico reports.More stories from theweek.com 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Trump's team fired the White House chief usher right before Biden took office, maybe at Biden's request Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved Avril Haines as the Director of National Intelligence, the nation's top intelligence job, making her the first of President Joe Biden's nominees to be approved. The vote was 84-10, with all the "no" votes coming from Republicans. Both Democrats and leading Republicans issued statements praising the nominee.
- Associated Press
In a final swipe at China, the Trump administration’s outgoing U.N. ambassador tweeted that it's time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing. To make the point even more graphic, Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself in the U.N. General Assembly Hall where the island is banned.
- National Review
Biden Admonishes Reporter for Questioning Whether Vaccine Goal Is Ambitious Enough: ‘Give Me a Break’
President Biden pushed back on a reporter at a press briefing on Thursday, who questioned whether the new administration’s coronavirus vaccine goal is ambitious enough. Biden has set a goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans during his first 100 days in office. During the press conference, Biden called the Trump administration’s distribution of coronavirus vaccines a “dismal failure so far,” warning that “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.” However, the seven-day rolling average for coronavirus vaccine doses administered to Americans currently sits at 912,000, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. (On Wednesday alone, 1.6 million doses were administered.) This indicates that the Biden administration is not far from its goal of vaccinating one million Americans per day. On Thursday, Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller asked Biden if the vaccination goal was “high enough,” since “that’s basically where the U.S. is right now.” “When I announced it you all said it wasn’t possible. Come on, give me a break, man,” Biden responded. “It’s a good start, a hundred million.” Internal projections from the Trump administration showed that the U.S. could administer at least 170 million doses by the end of April, two Trump administration officials told Bloomberg. During the press conference, Biden also announced that he would invoke the Defense Production Act to “accelerate the making of everything that’s needed to protect, test, and vaccinate and the care of our people.” Biden warned that the death toll from coronavirus infections would hit 500,000 in February. Over 408,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 as of Thursday.