British officials expressed outrage last week after U.S. authorities refused to extradite an American woman charged in the death of a British teenager. Anne Sacoolas, a U.S. diplomat’s wife, has admitted that she was driving on the wrong side of the road last August when she collided with 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn. Sacoolas told police she would not leave the country while the accident was being investigated, but soon fled to the U.S. She has been charged with causing a death by reckless driving. “This amounts to a denial of justice,” said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The U.S. said Sacoolas has diplomatic immunity from prosecution. “These extradition requests never go away,” said a spokesman for the Dunn family. “This will hang over Anne Sacoolas’ head forever.”
Elazig province, Turkey
Rescue workers pulled survivors from the rubble in eastern Turkey this week, after a magnitude-6.7 earthquake shook the region, killing at least 41 people and injuring more than 1,600. At least 45 people have been dug out from collapsed buildings, including a 2-year-old girl and her mother who were trapped for 28 hours. A video went viral in the country of a Turkish woman and her husband thanking the Syrian refugee who dug them out of their home with his bare hands. The quake has sparked a bitter online debate over Turkey’s poor construction standards and its lack of earthquake preparedness. Critics might be punished: The chief prosecutor in Ankara has opened investigations into 50 people for making “provocative comments” on social media.
Fugitive senator caught
Venezuelan special forces have captured the fugitive Colombian former Sen. Aída Merlano, who escaped her prison guards during a dental procedure last October. Merlano, who was serving a 15-year sentence for vote buying, was seen on surveillance footage climbing out the second-story window of the dentist’s office and shimmying down a rope to an accomplice on a motorcycle. Her escape was an embarrassment for Colombian authorities, and the head of the prison where she had been held was fired for authorizing her treatment at a private clinic. It’s unclear if Venezuela will allow Merlano’s extradition to Colombia, which does not recognize the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as legitimate.
La Paz, Bolivia
Bolivia was in turmoil again this week after interim President Jeanine Áñez, who took office following the October ouster of leftist President Evo Morales, announced that she will run for the nation’s top job in May’s election. Morales and his Socialist party were forced from power after the military backed protests against his fraud-tainted re-election. Áñez, a conservative former senator, promised at the time that she would be a placeholder leader until new elections. Now Áñez says she is the only one who can unite a fragmented country. After her communications minister quit in protest, Áñez this week fired her whole cabinet and installed a new one of loyalists. From his exile in Argentina, Morales said that Áñez’s candidacy was proof he was the victim of a right-wing coup.
Nazis in uniform
Hundreds of German troops—many of them members of elite commando units—are suspected of involvement with far-right groups, Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service announced this week. The agency said 14 soldiers were discharged last year for extremism, including eight neo-Nazis, and some 500 more were under investigation. The number of suspected extremists in the Special Forces Command is proportionally five times higher than in the rest of the military. The investigation began in 2017 after army officer Franco Albrecht was found to be leading a double life, posing as a Syrian refugee and planning a terrorist attack that would be blamed on asylum seekers. That set off fears of a “shadow army” of extremists within the military, explained counterintelligence head Christof Gramm, but he added that his investigation had found no such conspiracy.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
At least 62 people were killed and more than 30,000 forced from their homes in southeastern Brazil this week after torrential downpours triggered flooding and landslides. A state of emergency was declared in 101 towns and cities in Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second-most populous state. Nearly 7 inches of rain fell in just one day in the regional capital, Belo Horizonte. Flooded roads became rushing rivers, sweeping along cars, debris, and people, and mudslides buried whole streets. The catastrophe comes a year after a mining dam collapsed in the nearby town of Brumadinho, releasing millions of tons of toxic sludge that killed 270 people, polluted nearby rivers, and destroyed surrounding forest. January is on track to be the wettest month in Minas Gerais’ recorded history, and authorities fear the rains could cause more mining dams to fail.
Home of ‘The Base’?
St. Petersburg, Russia
The leader of the American white supremacist group The Base apparently runs the extremist outfit from Russia, an investigation by The Guardian revealed last week. The group shot into the headlines last month when seven alleged Base members were arrested by the FBI and charged with plotting to kill anti-fascist activists and to stage terrorist attacks at a gun-rights rally in Richmond, Va. Documents passed to The Guardian by a whistleblower indicate that The Base—an English translation of al Qaida—is headed by Rinaldo Nazzaro, alias “Norman Spear” and “Roman Wolf.” A former New Jersey resident who ran a security-consulting business in the U.S., Nazzaro is now thought to live in St. Petersburg with his Russian wife. The Base, which recruits members online, wants to start a race war in the U.S. and establish a white homeland in the Pacific Northwest.
Heavy fighting broke out between troops loyal to Libya’s rival governments this week, obliterating the cease-fire brokered in Berlin just days earlier. The forces of rebel Gen. Khalifa Haftar—who is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russian mercenaries—seized the town of Abugrein, which had been under the control of the United Nations–recognized Government of National Accord. That government, which has links to political Islam, is backed by Turkey, Italy, and Qatar. Haftar’s forces also shelled the GNA-controlled capital, Tripoli. “With the enemy’s repeated violations of the cease-fire, the foe is rendering the cease-fire useless,” said GNA military spokesman Mohamed Gnounou. Planeloads of weapons were still being delivered to areas in Libya’s east and south, which are controlled by Haftar, even though an arms embargo was agreed to at the Berlin summit.
Victims’ families threatened
The Iranian regime is warning the grieving relatives of people who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, the passenger jet mistakenly shot down by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in early January, to stay silent about the tragedy—or else. Javad Soleimani Meimandi’s wife, Elnaz Nabiyi, was among the 176 people who died when the plane was hit by missiles, and he was furious when a Revolutionary Guard commander and a representative of the regime attended Nabiyi’s funeral. Soleimani Meimandi called the men “shameless” on social media and hours later received a message on his phone “telling me to shut my mouth, and that this is my first and last warning.” He was summoned to a government office but instead fled to Canada, where he and his wife were graduate students.
U.S. plane crash
Deh Yak, Afghanistan
American troops this week recovered the bodies of two U.S. service members who died when their surveillance plane crashed in Taliban-controlled territory in eastern Afghanistan. “The remains were found near the crash site, treated with dignity and respect by the local Afghan community, in accordance with their culture,” the U.S. military said in a statement. The two-person Bombardier E-11 plane is an advanced communication aircraft that helps ground troops and commanders keep in contact, which can be difficult in the mountainous country. The plane went down in bad weather, and the Pentagon said there was no indication that enemy fire played a role.
Warning the U.S.
Philippine President Roberto Duterte said last week that he will terminate the deal that lets American troops operate in the country unless the U.S. restores the visa of a close Duterte ally accused of human rights violations. As national police chief from 2016 to 2018, Philippine Sen. Ronald dela Rosa directed Duterte’s brutal anti-drug crackdown, in which officers killed thousands of suspected drug dealers and users. Duterte has given the U.S. a month to restore dela Rosa’s visa or he’ll tear up the Visiting Forces Agreement. “I’ll end that son of a bitch,” he said in a speech. If the VFA is scrapped, said political scientist Jeffrey Ordaniel, “it will be virtually impossible for the U.S. to preposition troops, defense equipment, and supplies” if trouble erupts in the South China Sea.
Plague of locusts
Billions of desert locusts are chomping their way across East Africa in the worst swarms that the region has experienced in decades. One megaswarm in Kenya covers some 930 square miles and could contain up to 200 billion locusts. Over the past few months, the insatiable insects have eaten at least 175,000 acres of cropland in Ethiopia and Somalia and more than 1 million acres in Kenya. “Corn, sorghum, cowpeas, they have eaten everything,” said Kenyan farmer Ndunda Makanga. Unusually heavy rains in October and November drove the population explosion—locusts like to lay their eggs in moist soil—and when the rainy season begins in March, the insects’ numbers could swell by a factor of 500. ■