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10 things you need to know today: December 30, 2016

The U.S. retaliates against Russia's alleged election meddling, Syria cease-fire takes effect, and more


Obama unveils sanctions against Russia over alleged election meddling

The Obama administration on Thursday struck back at Russia for allegedly directing cyberattacks to influence the November presidential election. The U.S. expelled 35 suspected Russian "intelligence operatives," closed two Russian-owned compounds linked to intelligence gathering, and imposed economic sanctions against six individuals, two Russian intelligence services, and three companies. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked Democrats and leaked their emails to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign and help her rival, Donald Trump, although Russia denies involvement. President-elect Trump reiterated his call to "move on to bigger and better things."


Syria cease-fire takes effect

A marksman looks out over a destroyed Syrian city

Getty Images

A cease-fire negotiated by Russia, Iran, and Turkey took effect in Syria at midnight Friday, hours after the Syrian government and opposition groups signed onto the agreement on Thursday. The truce does not cover the Islamic State and the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deal appeared to be holding in its first hours, despite scattered clashes. The Syrian National Coalition said rebel factions would respect the cease-fire but retaliate if the government and its allies resumed shelling and airstrikes in rebel areas.


Germany confirms authenticity of suspected Berlin attacker's video

The German federal prosecutor said Thursday that investigators had concluded that a video reported to show suspected Berlin Christmas market attacker Anis Amri pledging allegiance to the Islamic State is authentic. In the video, released a week ago, Amri proclaims his allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and vows to slaughter "crusaders who are shelling the Muslims every day." Twelve people were killed and at least 48 injured when a truck plowed through the market on Dec. 19.


Trump press secretary says 'business as usual is over'

Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a Thursday interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that "business as usual is over" in terms of how the president interacts with the media and the American people. "I think the thing you've seen with Donald Trump is that ... he doesn't look to the past and say, 'I've got to conform to these precedents,'" Spicer said. Instead, Spicer said, Trump will figure out "the best way" to interact with the American public, which could include Facebook town halls or getting "input from Twitter."


Ex-officer's retrial scheduled for March in Walter Scott killing

Former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager's retrial for the fatal shooting of a black man, Walter Scott, has been set for March 1, according to a notice filed in a U.S. District Court in Charleston. Slager's first murder trial ended in a mistrial earlier this month, with jurors unable to agree on whether to convict him of murder or manslaughter, or find him not guilty. 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson vowed a swift retrial. Slager fatally shot Scott after a routine traffic stop as Scott ran away. Slager said he feared for his own life, thinking Scott had his stun gun. A video recorded by a witness sparked outrage, and fueled protests over the use of police force against African-Americans.


Dylann Roof to get second competency hearing

Dylann Roof, the admitted white supremacist convicted earlier this month of killing nine black Charleston churchgoers, will undergo a second competency hearing before the penalty phase of his trial starts next week. Jurors found Roof, 22, guilty of 33 federal counts, mostly involving hate crimes and obstruction of religion, and now must decide whether he will be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Roof plans to represent himself during the penalty phase, but a standby counsel filed the motion requesting a hearing to determine whether Roof is fit to proceed. A previous competency hearing delayed jury selection in November before Roof was found competent to stand trial.


U.S. incarceration rate drops to lowest since 1997

The U.S. imprisonment rate fell in 2015 to the lowest level since 1997, the Department of Justice said Thursday. The decline came as the federal and state prison population fell by 35,500 to 1.53 million. That marked a 2.3 percent drop from the previous year, the biggest decline since 1978. The shift came as federal and state corrections policies changed, with fewer nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to prison.


Amazon applies for patent of airborne distribution facilities

Amazon has filed a patent application for the use of airships to serve as distribution centers for products to be delivered by drones. According to the application, which was filed two years ago but only spotted by research firm CB Insights analyst Zoe Leavitt this week, drones launched from "airborne fulfillment centers" would use much less power than drones taking off from the ground. The airships would hover at 45,000 feet, with smaller airships restocking them. Amazon, which has plans to start using drones for some deliveries next year, was not available for immediate comment.


Coroner rules 1994 Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam's death a suicide

A county coroner said Thursday that 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, who was found dead in a Boulder, Colorado, park earlier this month, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. A toxicology report said Salaam, 42, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit for drivers in the state, and he had traces of THC, the psychoactive property of marijuana, in his system. Salaam won the Heisman as a University of Colorado running back, and went on to play four seasons in the NFL. The coroner's report said he had "a history of depression; and recent life stressors," which were not specified. Salaam's brother, Jabali Alaji, said earlier this month that his brother battled depression and showed symptoms of football head trauma, including memory loss.


Tennis great Serena Williams engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian

Tennis superstar Serena Williams on Thursday announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Reddit, which bills itself as "the front page of the internet," marked the engagement with a post showing its mascot, Snoo, dressed as Ohanian, kneeling and holding a diamond while a tennis-skirt-wearing female Snoo representing Williams floats above him. A Williams spokeswoman said the couple, who started dating last fall after knowing each other for a while, had not set a wedding date yet.


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