Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 4, 2022

Biden says "horrible" ISIS leader died in Syria raid, the U.S. says Russia plans to justify Ukraine invasion with fake video, and more

1

Biden says 'horrible' ISIS leader died in Syria raid

President Biden said Thursday that Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi blew up himself and members of his family during a counterterrorism raid by U.S. Special Forces in northwestern Syria. "This horrible terrorist leader is no more," Biden said at the White House. There were no U.S. casualties during the operation. U.S. forces had to destroy a disabled helicopter before leaving the ISIS safe house. The operation came as concerns rise about a possible resurgence of the Islamist extremist group. The raid was the second that has targeted an ISIS leader in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. Then-ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died after detonating a suicide belt during an October 2019 U.S. raid on his compound.

2

U.S. says Russia planning video of fake Ukrainian attack to justify invasion

The Biden administration on Thursday said Russia was planning to produce a fake video purporting to show Ukrainians attacking inside Russia or targeting Russian-speaking people in Ukraine, to give Russian forces an excuse to invade Ukraine. "The production of this propaganda video is one of a number of options that the Russian government is developing as a fake pretext to initiate and potentially justify military aggression against Ukraine," State Department spokesman Ned Price said. A spokesman for the Kremlin, which claims the U.S. and its allies are the ones trying to force a war, dismissed the claims, saying Americans have made similar allegations before, "but nothing ever came of them."

3

Facebook-parent Meta suffers $250-billion stock crash

Meta Platforms shares plummeted 26 percent Thursday following a disappointing earnings report, erasing more than $250 billion in market value in the biggest one-day loss ever for a U.S. company. The Facebook parent reported weaker-than-expected earnings after the market closed Wednesday. The last quarter was the first ever in which Facebook lost users. Analysts said the painful quarter reflected tough competition from Tiktok and other rivals, while the magnitude of the stock's plunge demonstrated how much mammoth tech companies have to lose if they run out of room to grow. Bloomberg noted that Mega's Thursday loss exceeded the market value of 470 of the companies in the S&P 500.

4

Winter storm heads toward Northeast after hammering South, Midwest

A winter storm system hit a large swath of the South and the Midwest with rain, sleet, ice, and snow on Thursday, leaving at least three people dead and more than 300,000 without power from Texas to the Ohio Valley. Airlines canceled thousands of flights, and more than 91 million people were under winter weather warnings or advisories. The bad weather also triggered tornado threats. One part of New Mexico got more than three feet of snow. Several Midwestern states got one foot. The storm was expected to move into the Northeast on Friday and blanket northern New York and northern New England with ice and up to a foot of snow.

5

New Zealand announces easing of anti-COVID border restrictions

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday that her country would soon start phasing out border restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Beginning Feb. 27, fully-vaccinated New Zealand citizens, residents, and certain visa holders will be allowed in from Australia, and will not need to undergo a 10-day quarantine at a government-run facility. Travelers will still have to self-quarantine. Two weeks later, vaccinated people from anywhere in the world will be allowed entry, with self-quarantine. By October, after nearly two years of shuttered borders, all pandemic travel restrictions should be lifted. "We must turn to the importance of reconnection," Ardern said. "Families and friends need to reunite. Our businesses need skills to grow."

6

Biden details measures to fight gun violence 

President Biden met with New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday to discuss ways to fight gun violence, about two weeks after two New York Police Department officers were shot and killed by a man who had an illegal gun. The Justice Department will work with state and local law enforcement to address "drivers of violence," Biden said. The department also is sending more resources to task forces working to shut down the Iron Pipeline, the route used to illegally funnel guns from the South to the northern United States. "The answer is not to defund the police," Biden said. "It's to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors and community leaders."

7

4 of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aides resign

Four top aides to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned on Thursday, adding to a political crisis over a series of parties at Johnson's Downing Street office and residence in apparent violation of the government's own coronavirus lockdowns. Johnson's head of policy, Munira Mirza, chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, and communications director Jack Doyle quit just days after a damning report that blamed the scandal on a "failure of leadership." News of the parties fueled angry calls for Johnson to step down. He said he was staying but apologized, and promised change. Mirza said she was resigning over what she called an inappropriate comment Johnson made about the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer.

8

Putin and Xi show solidarity in Beijing after U.S. warning over Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met in Beijing on Friday in a show of solidarity just hours after the Biden administration warned China not to help Russia evade potential sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border in what the U.S. and its allies say is preparation for an invasion. Western nations are threatening sanctions, and State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. and its allies "have an array of tools" to target "foreign companies, including those in China" that try to get around them. Putin is attending the Friday opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. The U.S. is observing a diplomatic boycott of the Games.

9

Amazon profits nearly doubled in critical holiday quarter

Amazon on Thursday reported that its profits nearly doubled in the crucial holiday quarter despite higher costs from labor and supply crunches stoked by the Omicron coronavirus variant surge. The online retail giant also got a $12 billion operating-income boost from its investment in electric-vehicle maker Rivian, and from gains in its cloud-computing and advertising businesses. The company's quarterly revenue reached $137.4 billion, up from $125.6 billion in the same period last year. Profit came in at $14.3 billion, up from $7.2 billion a year earlier. Amazon shares jumped by more than 14 percent in after-hours trading following the report.

10

Beijing Winter Olympics launch under Western diplomatic boycott

The Beijing Winter Olympics officially start Friday with the Opening Ceremony, making the Chinese capital the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games. These Olympic Games are among the most controversial in decades. The United States and some other Western governments have declared a diplomatic boycott to protest China's "genocide and crimes against humanity" in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has cracked down on Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities. China also has been stamping out pro-democracy activism in Hong Kong. China halted ticket sales for Olympic events due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is only allowing some groups of invited spectators to view in person under strict coronavirus-prevention measures.

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