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Hostages At US Synagogue Freed, Armed Man Sought Pak Terrorist's Release

COLLEYVILLE, Jan 16: All four people taken hostage in a more than 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue have been freed unharmed, police said late Saturday, and their suspected captor is dead.

The hostage siege in the small Texas town of Colleyville -- in which the suspect was apparently demanding the release of a convicted terrorist -- had sparked an outpouring of concern from US Jewish organizations as well as from the Israeli government.

Colleyville police chief Michael Miller told a news conference that a "rescue team breached the synagogue" Saturday evening and rescued the three remaining hostages being held inside. A first hostage had been released unharmed a few hours earlier.

"The suspect is deceased," Miller told reporters.

FBI Dallas Special Agent Matt DeSarno said the four hostages -- who included a much-loved local rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, were not in need of medical attention, would soon be reunited with their families.

"He did not harm them in any way," he said.

There were reports from journalists at the scene of a loud explosion and gunshots at the synagogue shortly before the press conference.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott had announced that the remaining hostages were "out alive and safe" at 9:30 pm (0330 Sunday GMT).

That was more than 10 hours after police were alerted to the emergency at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas.

ABC News reported that the hostage-taker was armed and had claimed to have bombs in unknown locations. That was not confirmed by police although Miller said that "bomb techs are clearing the scene."

Quoting a US official briefed on the matter, ABC reported the man was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who has been dubbed "Lady Qaeda" by US tabloids.

DeSarno told the news conference the suspect had been identified but did not disclose his identity.

The FBI special agent did not confirm the suspect's demands, but said they were "focused on one issue that was not specifically threatening to the Jewish community" -- and that he did not believe there was an ongoing threat.

ABC initially said the man claimed to be Siddiqui's brother, but later clarified her brother is in Houston -- while other experts said the word the man used in Arabic was more figurative and meant "sister" in the Islamic faith.

Aafia Siddiqui's lawyer said she "has absolutely no involvement" in the hostage situation in a statement to CNN. The lawyer confirmed that the man was not Siddiqui's brother and said she condemned his actions.

Siddiqui, a former Pakistani scientist, was in 2010 sentenced by a New York court to 86 years in prison for attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan. The high-profile case sparked outrage in Pakistan.

She is currently being held at Federal Medical Center (FMC) prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

US discourages India from proceeding with S-400 missile deal with Russia

WASHINGTON, Jan 13: The US has made clear to India that it is "discouraging" it from proceeding with its acquisition of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia but Washington will have to weigh "important geostrategic considerations" while taking a decision on growing calls for a presidential CAATSA waiver to New Delhi, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Coordinator for Sanctions Policy has told lawmakers.

In October 2018, India signed a $5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, despite a warning from the then Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.

The Biden administration has not yet clarified whether it will impose sanctions on India under the provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for procuring the S-400 missile systems.

CAATSA is a tough US law that was brought in 2017 and authorises the US administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia.

James O’Brien, President Biden’s nominee for the US State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy was asked at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday if the US experience with Turkey provided any warning or lessons on how to proceed with India.

The US has already imposed sanctions on Turkey under the CAATSA for the purchase of a batch of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia.

Following the US sanctions on Turkey over the procurement of S-400 missile systems, there were apprehensions that Washington may impose similar punitive measures on India.

Russia has been one of India’s key major suppliers of arms and ammunition.

19 Dead In New York's 'Worst' Apartment Fire In Decades

NEW YORK, Jan 10: Nine children were among at least 19 people killed and dozens injured when a fire tore through a high-rise apartment building in New York on Sunday in one of America's worst residential fires in recent memory.

At least 200 firefighters responded to the blaze, which broke out just before 11:00 am (1600 GMT) on the second and third floors of a 19-story building in The Bronx.

Witnesses reported seeing trapped residents screaming for help from windows during the deadly inferno that the city's fire chief said had been caused by a portable electric heater, leaving victims on "every floor."

The mainly working class borough of The Bronx is home to a large number of immigrants and Adams said "many" of the building's residents had been Muslims who moved to New York from Gambia.

Photographs and video posted on social media showed flames and thick black smoke billowing out of a third-story window of the brick building at East 181st Street as firefighters operated on a nearby ladder.

New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters that the fire started in a bedroom in a portable electric heater.

He said that flames quickly engulfed much of the structure and that the smoke was so dense as to be "unprecedented."

Nigro added that "very heavy" fire and smoke "extended the entire height of the building."

"Members found victims on every floor, in stairwells," he said.

"The last time we had a loss of life that may be this horrific was a fire which was over 30 years ago, also here in the Bronx," Nigro added.

Nigro said the fire was the worst in the city since a blaze at Happy Land nightclub in 1990 in the Bronx, which killed 87 people and had been caused by arson.

In December 2017, 13 people were killed in a blaze in an apartment building in the Bronx in New York City's deadliest fire in 25 years.

It had been started by a three-year-old boy playing with a gas stove.

Sunday's inferno came just four days after a fire in Philadelphia killed 12 people, including eight children, in a three-story public housing building.

Joseph, the resident who escaped the fire, says he mourns for the community.

"It's really tragic and especially a new year just started and for people to lose their young children it's sad."

Hospitalisations might stress healthcare systems: Anthony Fauci's warning on Omicron

WASHINGTON, Jan 2: The omicron variant of Covid-19 shows signs of causing milder illness but the “really unprecedented” rise in cases is still likely to cause serious sickness in many unvaccinated Americans, Anthony Fauci said.

“When you have so, so many cases, even if the rate of hospitalization is lower with omicron than it is with delta, there’s still the danger that you’re going to have a surge in hospitalizations that might stress the health-care system,” U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re still going to get a lot of hospitalizations.”

Fauci was referring to the delta variant of the coronavirus, which caused a deadly wave of infections around the U.S. last year.

Now hospitalizations are rising again, and average daily infections are at a record 400,000, Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week.” Several states have mobilized their National Guards to help provide medical care amid staffing shortages and, like Texas, asked for federal help.

Almost 73% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, and 36.3% of adults have received a booster shot, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fauci said that despite omicron’s rapid spread, schools should remain open, though with masking and other rules, and he urged parents to get eligible children vaccinated.

Mitigation strategies including masking and vaccines are working in schools, which should remain open if possible, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Sunday.

“Our default should be in-person learning,” Cardona said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” citing the benefits of classroom education over virtual learning.





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