Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 17, 2022

The FBI identifies Texas synagogue hostage-taker as a British citizen, winter storm heads north after blasting South with snow, and more


FBI identifies hostage-taker as British citizen

The FBI on Sunday identified the man killed by agents after he took four hostages at a Texas synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen. The hostage-taker reportedly claimed to be the brother of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison sentence for shooting at soldiers and FBI agents, and demanded that she be released. Siddiqui's family said through a lawyer that the man wasn't Siddiqui's brother, and that the family condemned the "heinous" synagogue attack. The suspect's brother Gulbar said Akram was mentally ill, and that the family tried to help defuse the situation but there was "nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender."


Winter storm hits North after knocking out power in South

A vast winter storm hit much of the Southeast with heavy snow and gale-force winds on Sunday, leaving about 250,000 homes and businesses without power in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Nearly 5,000 flights into, out of, and within the United States were canceled or delayed, according to tracking website FlightAware. The storm headed north, blanketing the Eastern Seaboard with snow and freezing rain. Some hard-hit areas got nearly a foot of snow. "Power outages and tree damage are likely due to the ice," the weather service warned. "Travel could be nearly impossible."


MLK family to lead march supporting voting rights legislation

Descendants of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will lead more than 100 civil rights groups in a march on Washington on Monday, the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader, to urge Democrats to push through a bill expanding voting rights protections. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day D.C. Peace Walk comes after President Biden called on Senate Democrats to change the chamber's filibuster rule to prevent Republicans from blocking the legislation. Two key moderate Democrats, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), said they oppose the rule change, leaving Democrats without the votes they need. Democrats say the legislation would counter voting restrictions approved by Republican-controlled state legislatures. Republicans opposed the bill, calling it a partisan power grab.


Tsunami threat recedes but Tonga communications still down

The tsunami threat in the Pacific region receded Sunday after an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday sent a massive wave crashing into the Polynesian archipelago nation of Tonga, and produced a sonic boom heard as far away as Alaska. Satellite images showed a plume of ash, steam, and gas rising from the sea. The disaster cut internet connections to Tonga, leaving authorities uncertain about the extent of the damage. There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, as authorities struggled to contact some smaller islands, but two people drowned in high waves in Peru. "Communication with Tonga remains very limited," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. "And I know that is causing a huge amount of anxiety for the Tongan community here."


Businesses urge Congress to pass more coronavirus relief

A host of businesses, from hotels to minor league ball clubs, are lobbying Congress for more coronavirus relief funding as the Omicron variant drives an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 cases. The new surge has forced many companies to curtail their operations or shut down completely due to safety concerns, staff shortages, and canceled orders. Some Republican lawmakers support a fresh round of funding for certain industries, but most oppose more funding, arguing that the federal government already has provided sufficient relief. "The U.S. government has no money to give anyone," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Jason Freier, the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts Double-A baseball team in Tennessee, said that after the 2020 season was canceled and 2021 revenue fell by nearly 20 percent compared to 2019, "it is pretty urgent."


Surgeon general warns COVID wave hasn't peaked

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned Sunday that the record-setting wave of COVID-19 cases fueled by the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant had not peaked yet in the United States. Murthy said on CNN's State of the Union that hospitalizations and deaths could continue to rise for the next few weeks, with many hospitals overwhelmed with a nationwide record number of COVID-19 patients. The "good news," Murthy said, is that the surge of new infections has leveled off or dropped in the Northeast, particularly in New York City and New Jersey. "The challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace," he said. "We shouldn't expect a national peak in the coming days," adding that "the next few weeks will be tough." The seven-day average of new cases was more than 800,000 over the weekend. 


University of Michigan president fired over relationship with employee

The University of Michigan's Board of Regents has fired the school's president, Mark Schlissel, for having a sexual relationship with a subordinate that violated university policy. The relationship was conducted "in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the university," the board said. Schlissel's termination took effect immediately. The Board also canceled an agreement that would have entitled Schlissel, who is married with four grown children, to continue receiving his $927,000 base salary for two years. An investigation found that Schlissel had exchanged dozens of emails with the employee from his university account over several years. Many students said Sunday they supported the decision to boot Schlissel.


Report: Netanyahu negotiating plea deal in corruption case

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating a plea deal on corruption charges that threaten to tarnish his legacy and force him out of politics for years, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing a person involved in the talks. A deal could be signed as early as this week. If an agreement is finalized it could ignite a race for leadership of Netanyahu's conservative Likud party, but spare Netanyahu from a potentially damaging trial. One issue holding up an agreement is the inclusion of a "moral turpitude" charge that would bar Netanyahu from politics for seven years under Israeli law. Any agreement could face a challenge in court, and demonstrators gathered outside the attorney general's house over the weekend to protest the potential deal.


French lawmakers approve vaccine pass

France's parliament on Sunday voted 215 to 58 to give final approval to establish a vaccine pass and other measures to step up efforts to curb coronavirus infections. Under the new law, people will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations to enter restaurants, movie theaters, long-range trains, and other public places. The measure, which will take effect within days, was passed over the objections of anti-vaccine protesters. President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month told Le Parisien newspaper that he hoped to "piss off" unvaccinated and disrupt their lives so much that they give in and get the shots.


Ex-president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, dies at 76

Ousted Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita died on Sunday at his home in the capital of Bamako, two years after suffering a minor stroke. He was 76. Keita led the West African nation for seven years until he was driven out in a 2020 coup that followed massive anti-government protests over allegations of corruption and criticism for his handling of the economy and jihadist unrest. Keita rose to power in 2013 after coup leaders overthrew the government, and Islamist extremists took advantage of the chaos to impose Sharia law in the northern cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal. Keita, who had been prime minister in the 1990s, was seen as the honest leader the country needed, but his reputation crumbled  under corruption allegations.


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