Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 20, 2015

Gunmen take 170 hostages at a Mali hotel, House passes tough restrictions on Syrian refugees, and more


Attackers take 170 hostages at Mali hotel

Gunmen shouting "God is great" seized 170 hostages Friday at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali. "They have locked in about 140 guests and about 30 employees," a spokesperson for the hotel chain's owner, Carlson Rezidor group, said. Around 80 people have since been able to escape with the support of Malian special forces that penetrated the hotel. The U.S. Embassy confirmed that there was an "ongoing active-shooter operation" at the hotel. Islamist militants took control of the northern part of the West African country in 2012, but a French-led intervention drove them out in 2013.


House, defying veto threat, approves tight restrictions on Syrian refugees

The Republican-controlled House on Thursday voted 289 to 137 to approve a bill that would impose strict new screening procedures on Syrian refugees trying to resettle in the U.S. Republicans, citing the Paris terror attacks, say the bill is necessary to prevent Islamic State terrorists from hiding among refugees to get into the U.S. and stage attacks. The Senate, where Democrats could theoretically block the measure with a filibuster, will consider the bill after Thanksgiving. President Obama has threatened to veto it, but with one more vote the GOP could override it.


UnitedHealth considers pulling out of ObamaCare exchanges

UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurer, said Thursday that it was scaling back its efforts to sell insurance on the ObamaCare exchanges, and considering dropping out of the exchanges after 2016. The announcement came as the company slashed its 2015 earnings forecast, saying low enrollment and high costs was costing it millions of dollars. The news marked a major shift, coming after UnitedHealth executives said in October that they expected the exchanges to develop into "a strong, viable market for us."


Jonathan Pollard, American convicted of spying for Israel, released from prison

Jonathan Pollard was released from a federal prison on Friday after serving 30 years of a life sentence after his 1987 conviction on charges of spying for Israel. Pollard worked as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy. FBI agents arrested him in 1985 after he unsuccessfully asked for asylum at the gates of Israel's embassy in Washington. The case caused a rift between the Israeli and U.S. governments. Pollard, 61, has said he wants to move to Israel, but he can't travel abroad for five years under the terms of his release.


Belgium announces crackdown on Islamist militants

Belgium plans to introduce laws to jail Islamist extremists returning from Syria and ban unregistered mosques in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, Prime Minister Charles Michel said Thursday. The suspected mastermind of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was a Belgian Islamic State militant, and several other alleged attackers lived there. He, along with a female cousin, was killed in a French police raid this week outside Paris. The Paris prosecutor's office now says a third person, an unidentified woman, also died.


Ex-Subway pitchman sentenced to more than 15 years on sex charges

Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle was sentenced to 15 and a half years in prison on Thursday for child pornography and sex crimes. Fogle's attorneys had asked for lighter sentences, saying he had already "lost everything" since being accused of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of receiving child pornography. "I want to redeem my life," Fogle, crying, told the judge. He said he wanted to become a "good, honest person."


Immigration wave shifts as more Mexicans leave the U.S.

More Mexican immigrants are now leaving the U.S. than coming in, according to a report published Thursday by the Pew Research Center. The shift marks a first since the 1970s, at the beginning of what would become the largest wave of immigration into the U.S. in history. The change is mostly due to a sharp decline in arrivals due to several factors, such as the slow U.S. economy and the Obama administration's stepped up border enforcement, the report says. "It is much more difficult and costly to cross now than it used to be," said report author Ana Gonzalez-Barrera.


Five die in two attacks by Palestinians against Israelis

At least five people, including an American, were killed Thursday in two attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. In the first attack, a Palestinian man allegedly fatally stabbed two Israelis in a synagogue in a commercial center. A third victim was wounded before a shoe salesman overpowered the attacker. Later in the day, three people — including the American citizen, who was not immediately identified, and a Palestinian — were killed in a drive-by shooting at a southern West Bank bus stop.


Ex-Army reservist accused of stealing guns from Massachusetts armory

Former Army reservist James Walker Morales has been arrested and accused of breaking into a Massachusetts armory and stealing 16 guns, while out on bail on a child-rape charge, the FBI said Thursday. Six M4 assault rifles and 10 Sig Sauer M11 handguns were stolen from the facility last weekend. Surveillance video showed someone walking back and forth several times between the reserve center and a parked vehicle over six hours. Morales' electronic monitoring bracelet placed him "directly inside" the facility, investigators said.


New Star Wars movie breaks pre-release sales records

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already piled up a record $50 million in advance ticket sales, and the film's debut is still four weeks away, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Several people with knowledge of the figures confirmed the record advance sales. In October, the film smashed The Hunger Games previous record for sales on its first day, Fandango reported. IMAX Corp. already has doubled its old pre-sale record of $9 million. The movie opens Dec. 17.


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