Islamic militants take dozens of foreigners hostage in Algeria


The group of armed Islamic militants that kidnapped several dozen foreigners at a gas field in southern Algeria is demanding the end of the military offensive in Mali in exchange for guaranteeing the well-being of the hostages, which they say number 41.

In a second communique sent to the private Mauritanian news agency ANI, the group, which is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, said that it is holding seven Americans and a number of French and Britons, as well as other Europeans.

Algerian authorities acknowledged that "more than 20" hostages were taken by gunmen in the attack on a gas processing plant in the southeastern province of Ilizi, and they added that they had information that there were also Norwegians and Japanese in the group of hostages.

It is not clear whether the group is affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In the second communique, the "Signers with Blood" say that the recently-launched French offensive against the Islamists who occupy northern Mali is "a world campaign of combat by the Jews and the crusaders."




Obama issues 23 executive orders to tighten gun controls


U.S. President Barack Obama announced 23 executive orders to tighten gun controls, among them prohibiting the sale of assault weapons, mandatory criminal background checks on all gun purchasers and increased medical coverage for mental health issues.

The measures, which do not require congressional approval, were announced by Obama in response to the Dec. 14 massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and eight adults died.

In addition, Obama will restrict access to high-capacity ammunition clips and urge states to share their databases on criminal records on the federal level.




Interior Secretary Ken Salazar leaving Cabinet, Obama says


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, one of the highest-ranking Hispanics in the federal government, is leaving the Cabinet and will return to private life in Colorado, President Barack Obama said.

Obama thanked Salazar for his "hard work and leadership" and said that he "helped usher in a new era of conservation for our nation's land, water, and wildlife" in a statement released by the White House.

U.S. media outlets say that Salazar will leave his post as interior secretary in March.




Attacks kill over 30, wound 218 in Iraq


At least 33 people were killed and 218 others were wounded in several attacks in different parts of Iraq, some against Kurdish targets, police told Efe.

The deadliest attacks occurred in Kirkuk, a city 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad where at least 15 people died and 105 were wounded by a car bomb driven by a suicide attacker near offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP.

Shortly afterward, another vehicle loaded with explosives detonated when a convoy of KDP leader Mohamed Kamal, member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, was passing by en route to the site of the first attack. That blast left one dead and 37 wounded, including the politician.




At least 22 dead, 11 hurt in Alexandria building collapse


At least 22 people died and 11 others were injured when a building collapsed in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, the state-run Mena news agency reported.

Mena, citing the head of Civil Protection in Alexandria, Gen. Emad Khaier, said that rescue crews continue searching for victims in the rubble.

A member of the security forces told Efe that the eight-story building had 24 apartments in it and collapsed about 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), adding that it is thought that between 75 and 100 people were inside it at the time.




Russian mob's godfather killed by sniper in Moscow


Aslan Usoyan, the godfather of Russian organized crime, was shot and killed by a sniper in central Moscow leaving a power vacuum in the world of post-Soviet crime.

The 75-year-old mobster, known as "Ded Hasan" (Grandpa Hasan), died in a hospital after being shot in the neck as he was leaving the Karetni Dvor restaurant, not far from Arbat Street, a well-known business area, Russian media reported, citing police.

The godfather, a Kurd born in Georgia who had survived a murder attempt in 2010, died in the intensive care unit at Botkinskaya Hospital 10 minutes after being admitted in a deep coma.




18 Civilians die in tribal area in western Pakistan


Eighteen civilians died violently in northwest Pakistan in the Khyber tribal zone, officials told Efe.

The deaths of the civilians on Tuesday night prompted a protest in the nearby city of Peshawar, where about 1,000 people gathered in front of the office of the provincial governor of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region with the bodies of the slain.

No details were available about the circumstances under which the people were killed, but police spokesmen and officials told Efe that the shootout occurred in the Malakhel zone.

A member of the coordination organization for the tribal zones said from Peshawar that on Tuesday afternoon there was an explosion in the Malakhel zone and that shortly thereafter security forces launched an operation against members of the local insurgency.




Florida's governor ripped for returning dog he adopted for campaign


Shortly after taking the oath of office in January 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott returned a dog he had adopted while he was campaigning, something that became known this week and sparked criticism and jokes on the Internet and in the local press.

Not long after he became a candidate in 2010, the Republican politician announced that his family had decided to adopt a Labrador and even asked via the social networks for the public to help select a name for him. Eventually he was named Reagan.

The last time anything was heard of the pooch was a day before Scott was sworn in as governor of Florida, in January 2011, when he was last seen walking the animal.