WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House cast the downing of two fighter jets in Ukraine on Wednesday as part of a pattern of Russian-backed separatists using Russian weapons to pose risks to aircrafts and further destabilize the conflict in the former Soviet republic.

The Ukrainian jets were downed just 20 miles south of the wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane hit by a missile last week, suggesting the separatists have been undeterred by the international outrage over that incident. The United States has blamed the separatists for firing the missile that led to the deaths of the 298 people aboard and also pointed a finger at Russia for equipping the rebels with the technology to bring down a plane. White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Wednesday’s attack was another indication that the separatists have the capability to bring down aircraft.

“The only aircraft they’re not taking responsibility for is MH-17,” Rhodes said, referring to the Malaysia plane’s flight number. “But I don’t think anybody believes that. How could anybody believe anything that the separatists or Russia says about this when we see a clear pattern of threatening Ukrainian aircraft in eastern Ukraine?”

Rhodes said the U.S. is weighing additional economic sanctions that could be levied on Russia if it continues to arm the separatists. He left open the possibility that the U.S. could implement those penalties unilaterally, before the European Union potentially deepens its own sanctions regime against Russia.

While the U.S. has sought to levy sanctions in coordination with the EU, officials have become increasingly frustrated with Europe’s reluctance to approve penalties that could cut deeply into Russia’s key economic sectors. European leaders fear that their strong trade ties with Russia could make their own economies vulnerable to the fallout of such sanctions.

Rhodes offered no timeline for when the U.S. could levy new penalties. He suggested that the U.S. could deepen sanctions on Russian banks, as well as on energy and defense companies, all sectors the administration hit with penalties the day before the Malaysia plane was shot down.

The U.S. has sought this week to present more specific evidence tying the separatists to the shooting of the passenger jet. Officials have cited intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts, as evidence that the plane was brought down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired from a separatist-controlled area in eastern Ukraine.

However, officials have offered no direct evidence that the missile came from Russia or that Russia was directly involved in the attack.

“Do we know who pulled the trigger? No, that’s the hardest thing to determine,” Rhodes said. “But when you add up the different pieces of evidence, they’re telling one story here.”


Joseph Wood “gasped and struggled to breathe” during his execution, his attorney says. Arizona says he was sedated and “snoring.”


Whether you call the girl a “wife” or an “infidel,” abducting and molesting her is still rape with religion used as a cover to justify carnal assault.

One hundred days ago, Boko Haram, a diffuse Islamic sect, abducted 243 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno State, in northeast Nigeria They carted them off to unknown forest locations where they are still being held. Some who escaped told of gang rapes. So much for religion.

“For a group that claims to be religious, Boko Haram’s tactics are the most profane acts we can imagine,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The killing and mutilation of ordinary Nigerians, the abduction and rape of women and girls, and the use of children for fighting are horrifying human rights violations.”

Chibok, a largely Christian community, where literacy is relatively high, is located in the predominately Muslim Borno State. The abductions were not the first or the last act of thugs calling themselves Boko Haram who claimed they are against education for women, a Western imperialist imposition. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted, the horrific attacks and violence have become “an almost daily occurrence.”

Boko Haram has interpreted Islam to mean that Muslims are forbidden to take part in any political or social activity associated with the West. It has opened up schools for impoverished boys to attend, plays on their ignorance and recruits them as soldiers. The Nigerian government, many say, has done too little for education and the economic disparities. (See Council on Foreign Relations analysis)

Under an apparent belief that if you kill enough people, you will establish a caliph, the sect has attacked the police and military, Moslem and Christian clerics, and many public institutions, including a suicide attack on the United Nations building in Abuja, the capital, in 2011.

Human Rights Watch says at least 2,053 civilians have been killed in an estimated 95 attacks during the first half of 2014, compared with 3,600 deaths in the first four years of the conflict. And over the weekend, Boko Haram took over a major northeast town, Damboa, a few miles from Chibok, forcing 15,000 people to flee and leaving behind 100 dead bodies.

If the girls come home…
What happens if the girls escape, alive and perhaps pregnant? Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin of Nigeria, the executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), says his agency is organizing health workers, teachers and other skilled counselors to enable the girls to speak of their treatment and console their parents.

Dr. Osotimehin said the Nigerian people, as a whole, did not view education as Western invention and that “every decent person in the world would like to see the girls come back home and whatever it takes to make that happen.”


In an interview, he said health workers in the community have to be trained in order to get the girls to speak to them. “If they do that, they are in a position to determine what is going on what is needed to build up confidence and how to provide them psychological support,” he said.

“We will also provide immediate diagnosis and treatment to the victims to ensure their health, including their sexual and reproductive health. We will initiate programs that will encourage the girls’ reintegration into the educational system to enable them to complete their education.”

The UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda sanctions committee added Ansaru (another Nigeria militant group), Boko Haram and its leader Abubakar Mohammed Shekau to its blacklist, subject to financial and arms sanctions. The main object is to permit governments and agencies to trace and stop financial flows.

And despite the world wide protest, no one has found the abducted girls, even with the United States lending air surveillance.

ISIS and the religious rape brigade
ISIL or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in Iraq also uses religion to justify rape.

“We are deeply concerned by recent reports that four women have committed suicide after being raped or forced to marry ISIL militants as well as reports of men committing suicide after being forced to watch their wives and daughters being raped,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa, the executive director of UN Women.

Obviously violence against women and girls is not confined to religious or Islamic groups but is widespread around the world. (Child marriage in Asia and elsewhere is also rape by another name.)

But the jihadists in Nigeria and Iraq have the audacity to contend their interpretation of Islam or Sharia law justifies rape.

Abducted girls in video by Boko Haram, May 12, 2014


As soon as Malaysia Airlines confirmed it lost contact Thursday with Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, at least one Ukrainian official said the plane had been shot down. An adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry on a Facebook post blamed “terrorists” for shooting down the Malaysia Airlines plane with 283 passengers and 15 crew aboard.


The lawmaker died Wednesday in a drive-by shooting in Mogadishu, the capital, a police official said, in the fourth killing of a Somali lawmaker this year.


An extension of flight restrictions to Israel means more uncertainty for travelers in a six-day span marred by the shooting down of a commercial flight over Ukraine and a rocket strike near Israel’s gateway international airport.


What does Narendra Modi’s emphatic win portend for India’s natural riches? Covering just 2.2 percent of Earth’s land, India harbors close to 13 percent of Earth’s bird species, 7 percent of mammals, 5 percent of reptiles and 4 percent of amphibians. Of the 240 species of living carnivores, 25 percent occur in India. Imagine any single country in which tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos, brown bears, elk, wolves, and hyenas all roam free.

These natural riches are compellingly summed up as “our bountiful mother nature, clad in deep greenery” in the nationalist lyric Vande Mataram, which was Modi’s rallying call in his march to power.

The rugged slopes of the Western Ghats are blanketed in dense rainforests that are home to thousands of unique plant and animal species (photo © Rohit Rao).

Seventy million years ago, gigantic continental plates broke apart and rammed each other, causing the mighty Himalayas to erupt. The sacred river Ganga flowed a few million years later. India’s exceptional biodiversity results from such ancient accidents of geology and evolution.

In contrast, humans arrived only 60,000 years ago and spawned the Hindu culture a mere 3,000 years ago. That culture was more deeply inspired by wild nature than any other on Earth. Unlike Western creeds, Hinduism does not believe other species were created only to meet human needs. Such an affirmation of the intrinsic right of other species to exist is a precursor to the modern idea of species conservation.

The social tolerance emerging from this tenet is a primary reason why threatened wildlife species continued to survive in the Hindu heartland well into the 20th century, even as they were being extirpated elsewhere.

More than two decades of conservation work in Nagarahole, India, has led to a tiger population increase of 400 percent (photo © Kalyan Varmer).

Hopefully, Mr. Modi will recognize that the fragile nature he holds in temporary custody is a product of millions of years of evolutionary Karma. Grandmother Nature gave birth to Mother India, which he has sworn to serve.

Modern science recognizes that protecting biodiversity must become integral to the economic development process if it is to be sustainable. This idea is accepted universally in theory and flouted widely in practice. India is no exception. During his campaign Modi shrewdly articulated goals of “security and development” to overcome portrayals of him as just another religious zealot.

Most observers believe achieving the right balance between economic growth and social harmony will be Modi’s biggest challenge. Conserving India’s nature will be an even harder challenge. Over a billion citizens will loudly demand the “security and plenty for all” that he promised. Grandmother Nature will suffer in silence.

Dholes are Asiatic wild dogs found in India and other parts of South and East Asia (photo © Center for Wildlife Studies)

If he accepts that challenge, Modi faces a grim reality: Nature reserves occupy less than 5 percent of India. Beyond these last refuges of globally threatened species lies an additional 10 percent of the nation’s land with degraded forest cover and sparse wildlife. Even these fractured natural remnants are under a pincer attack.

The adverse impacts of modern development from mines, dams, and industry are well recognized. However, even more widespread negative impacts of rural communities are shielded by a conspiracy of silence among many “greens” in India.

As the first politically viable prime minister to emerge from India’s subaltern castes, Modi embodies their work ethic and common sense. It should be clear as daylight to him that sacrificing this 5 to 10 percent of Indian land harboring remnants of nature cannot even make a dent in resolving the huge problems of growth, equity, and historical injustices.

The WCS India program has conserved the largest wild Asian elephant population — more than 5,000 animals in the Western Ghats of Karnataka and adjacent areas (photo © Kalyan Varma).

How much better off would Modi’s native Gujarat have been today if a hundred years ago the Nawab of Junagadh had decided to kill off the last wild lions and farm their habitats, as other rulers around him were doing?

If Modi decides to secure wild India, in practical terms the path is clear: The network of nature reserves must be scientifically redefined, expanded, and perpetuated as “sacred groves” for the 21st century and beyond. This means strengthening the conservation laws enacted by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

These laws have been chipped steadily away by all her successors. Populist acts of the United Progressive Alliance, which Modi dethroned, contributed significantly to the weakening of nature conservation in India.

The gaur, sometimes referred to as the “Indian bison,” is a forest-dwelling bovine species found across South and Southeast Asia (photo © K. Ullas Karanth).

If the political strongman Modi is to rebuild the foundations of India’s ecological security, he has to marshal all his inner strengths: tolerance inherent to his Hindu faith, personal experience of poverty, trust in nongovernmental creativity, appreciation of technology, and skill at governing.

Modi can do this only if he recognizes that he cannot serve Mother India unless he takes care of Grandmother Nature too.


DETROIT — As a prosecutor showed a jury photos of Renisha McBride, her father rushed out of the court room. The photos of the 19-year-old — first smiling, and then lying lifeless on a porch — were shown in quick succession at the beginning of one of the most highly publicized and racially charged trials of the year.

Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of Theodore Wafer, the 55-year-old Dearborn Heights, Michigan, man charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of McBride.

Wafer is accused of shooting her with a shotgun through his locked screen door around 4:40 a.m. on Nov. 2. His attorney seeks to show that he was in fear for his life and shot her in self-defense, while the prosecutor has maintained Wafer had no reason to be fearful, and killed an unarmed, impaired woman.

“His actions that night were unnecessary, unjustified and unreasonable,” Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Danielle Hagaman-Clark said.

Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter said what happened to McBride was “horrible” but that the jury should set aside their feelings and focus on the law.

“It’s not about Renisha, it’s about what her actions and other persons’ actions did to make Ted in fear for his life that night,” Carpenter said. “You always need to go back and look at this through Ted’s eyes.”

McBride is black and lived in Detroit; Wafer is white and lived in the suburbs. While the victim and defendant’s skin color aren’t expected to be discussed in the trial itself, the racial implications of the incident have been at the forefront for many who have followed the case. Civil rights leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) have called for justice. Some have said her and others’ deaths point to a system that marginalizes or incriminates black victims while giving leeway to their attackers.

On Wednesday, Carpenter revealed new details about Wafer’s state of mind before the shooting. He fell asleep early in front of the TV and was woken in the middle of night to loud, repeated banging on his side door and then front door, Carpenter said.

First, he looked for his cell phone — he doesn’t have a landline — but couldn’t find it. He turned off the TV and lights to hide the fact that he was home. He looked out of his peephole and saw “a shadowy figure” leaving his porch and going around his house. He believed multiple people were trying to get into his house. There was more banging, hard enough to rattle a window. Carpenter said getting a gun wasn’t Wafer’s first action, but came after he continued to be afraid for his life.

Wafer opened the door, saw someone very close to him and shot. Afterward, he found his phone in the pocket of his pants hanging in the bathroom.

It’s likely that expert witnesses testifying on either side will present differing accounts of what happened leading up to McBride’s death. Hagaman-Clark said they will show there were no signs of someone breaking into the house. Carpenter referenced evidence, including that Wafer’s peephole was shattered, to show he had reason to fear a break-in.

Several hours earlier, McBride crashed her car nearby in Detroit. Carmen Beasley, who heard the crash outside her home and went outside to check on the situation, said McBride appeared “discombobulated” after the accident. McBride was holding her head in her hands and unable to find her cell phone to call for help. Beasley went inside to call 911, but McBride had left the scene by the time EMS arrived. It’s not completely clear what happened to McBride between the accident and arriving on Wafer’s porch.

“I don’t believe there will be any real argument [that Wafer caused McBride’s death],” Hagaman-Clark said in her opening statement, after playing the 911 call in which Wafer says he shot a woman on his porch. “It’s not the People’s position that he intended to kill Renisha McBride. … [But that he] knowingly created a situation where death or great harm is likely to occur.”

McBride’s mother Monica testified, as did her best friend Amber Jenkins, who was with her earlier that night. Jenkins said she and Renisha McBride played drinking games at the latter’s house, together consuming about half of a fifth of vodka and three marijuana blunts. Jenkins left after the two had a disagreement. But McBride is “laid-back” and “chill” when she drinks and smokes, Jenkins said. Monica McBride arrived home after work, snapped at her daughter for not doing certain chores, and told her not to leave the house. She went upstairs to change, and when she came back down, Renisha McBride was gone.

McBride has been compared to others black victims, most notably Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teen shot to death by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder. Last year, Jonathan Ferrell was shot to death in Charlotte, North Carolina, by a police officer while looking for help after a car accident. The officer, Randall Kerrick, was indicted for voluntary manslaughter.

Writer Dream Hampton organized a rally for McBride in Detroit last year.

“I think that this is racism no matter who does or doesn’t frame it this way,” Hampton said at the time. “That’s what [we're taught]: Black bodies … even at their most vulnerable, even when they are coming to you for help, even when they’re female, they are a possible danger.”

Theodore Wafer’s trial began Monday with jury selection in Wayne County Circuit Court. It is expected to last into next week.


The trial of Theodore P. Wafer, who is facing second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Renisha McBride, began in Detroit.


A headless body of a man found in a wooded Michigan park had local police in Michigan wondering how — and why.