Iraqi Officials Say 18 People Killed, 45 Wounded In Central Baghdad Bombing

Members with Iraqi counter-terrorism forces patrol Fallujah, Iraq last Monday, June 27, 2016. The city was declared "fully liberated" from the Islamic State group.

Members with Iraqi counter-terrorism forces patrol Fallujah, Iraq last Monday, June 27, 2016. The city was declared “fully liberated” from the Islamic State group. Hadi Mizban/AP hide caption

toggle caption Hadi Mizban/AP

A car bomb exploded early Sunday in a central Baghdad district, killing 18 people and wounding 45, according to Iraqi hospital and police officials.

The attack targeted the Karada district, a crowded commercial area frequented by young people and families after sundown during the holy month of Ramadan.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bears the hallmarks of the Islamic State group which often targets civilians in Baghdad’s mostly Shiite neighborhoods.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Nearly an hour after the attack ambulances could still be heard rushing to the site. An eyewitness said the explosion set off fires at nearby clothing and cell phone shops.

The Baghdad attack comes just over a week after Iraqi forces declared the city of Fallujah “fully liberated” from IS. Over the last year, Iraq forces have racked up territorial gains against IS, retaking the city of Ramadi and the towns of Hit and Rutba, all in Iraq’s vast Anbar province west of Baghdad.

Despite the government’s battlefield victories, IS has repeatedly shown it remains capable of launching attacks far from the front-lines.

IS still controls Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul as well as significant patches of territory in the country’s north and west.

At the height of the group’s power in 2014, IS rendered nearly a third of the country out of government control. Now, IS is estimated to control only 14 percent of Iraqi territory, according to the office of Iraq’s prime minister.

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Device Lets Police Seize Digital Cash, Raises Civil Liberties Concerns

The ERAD device lets police read prepaid cards and freeze or seize the funds on them.

The ERAD device lets police read prepaid cards and freeze or seize the funds on them. T. Jack Williams / ERAD Group, Inc. hide caption

toggle caption T. Jack Williams / ERAD Group, Inc.

The machine looks like a terminal at your local convenience store, but police agencies in a number of states are using them to read money cards seized from crime suspects. Officers can instantly freeze or seize the funds loaded on prepaid cards using the handheld device, and some civil liberties advocates say the machines may be abused.

But law enforcement officials and the device’s developer say it’s helping agencies crack down on fake cards and fraud.

The Department of Homeland Security said the device, called Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD), “is becoming a vital tool for law enforcement seizing these cards and funds associated with criminal activity.”

DHS said last summer that, during a test period, ERAD had helped state and local police seize about $1 million related to suspected criminal activity.

Using an ERAD device, a law enforcement officer can retrieve the balance of any magnetic-stripe card. If the card is determined to be a prepaid card, then the officer can instantly freeze or seize the funds loaded on the card using the device.

After gaining support from DHS, ERAD was adopted by police departments around the country — “more than a couple hundred,” says T. Jack Williams, the president of ERAD Group Inc., which makes the devices.

NPR was able to locate five agencies in possession of ERAD devices: the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona; the City of Tempe, Ariz.; the City of Augusta, Ga.; the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety; and the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Office in San Antonio, Texas.

Williams says ERAD devices are a necessary addition to the law enforcement toolbox. It is shockingly easy to steal — or download, even — credit card information and record it on to another magnetic-stripe card, be it a bank card, hotel room key, or library card. Counterfeit cards created this way, according to Williams, make up 30 percent of all cards scanned by ERAD devices.

Jim Molesa, the chief deputy of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, says ERAD devices have been worth the money: “I can assure you that we’ve caught hundreds, if not thousands, of credit card fraud incidents since then. … You have to have the [ERAD’s] capabilities to get the information on that card.”


In the past 10 years, prepaid cards have ascended from a novelty criminal tool to a popular medium for scamming and money laundering.

As Oklahoma Watch reported:

“… law enforcement officials say the devices are essentially part of the arms race between police and drug traffickers, who in recent years have been loading pre-paid cards with millions of dollars for transport as part of the drug trade, thus decreasing the likelihood of seizure by law enforcement.”

” ‘They’re basically using pre-paid cards instead of carrying large amounts of cash,’ said Lt. John Vincent, public information officer for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.”

Unlike cash, Williams says, the funds on prepaid cards can be moved “anywhere in seven to 10 seconds.” He says preventing criminals from remotely accessing confiscated funds would be difficult without ERAD.

Even so, critics of the device fear the potential for abuse.

“Why should I have to prove to the government when we’ve been taught since elementary school that we’re innocent until proven guilty?” says Oklahoma state Sen. Kyle Loveless.

Civil asset forfeiture, a descendant of a 17th-century British maritime law, has been controversial since the dawn of the war on drugs.

Matt Miller, a managing attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm, explains that civil asset forfeiture occurs “whenever the police seizes cash or property and they pursue a court action against it.”

A typical civil forfeiture case comes with a bizarre name like U.S. v. $124,700 or South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats and demands that the owner of the property prove her own innocence. Those who cannot afford to engage in a court battle lose their property by default.

According to “Policing for Profit”, a report published by the Institute of Justice, “88 percent of DOJ civil forfeitures are processed administratively rather than judicially, meaning the cases never see a judge and the property owners never have their day in court.”

Miller says ERAD, coupled with civil asset forfeiture, poses a threat to users of prepaid cards.

“Why Americans Use Prepaid Cards”, a Pew research report, says “28 percent of [prepaid] cardholders have income directly deposited” and “41 percent [do not have a checking account], compared with just 8 percent of the American public overall.”

Miller says that regular users of prepaid cards are ill-equipped to fight against civil asset forfeiture. According to the Pew report, “42 percent of prepaid cardholders have no emergency savings” and 21 percent “have used a payday loan, approximately four times the rate as those in the general population.”

But how often are ERAD devices used for civil asset forfeiture?

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety came under scrutiny amid news reports that the agency had acquired ERADs to seize funds on criminal suspects’ prepaid cards.

“We’ve been mischaracterized,” Capt. Paul Timmons of the Oklahoma DPS said in June. “We’ve only had it for about 3 weeks. … We are not in the business of seizing people’s money.”

Brooke Churchman, an attorney at the Oklahoma DPS, confirms that the department has not been involved in any ERAD-powered civil asset forfeiture cases. Molesa says the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office has used ERAD for civil forfeiture no more than 15 times. The Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Office in Texas — whose records show a September 2015 payment of $5,834 to the ERAD Group — declined to comment.

A preliminary agreement between the Navajo County agency and ERAD Group shows that in addition to equipment charges, the company also gets “5.7 (percent) of the total dollar amount seized” using its products. Under a contract with the Oklahoma DPS, the company collects 7.7 percent of the amounts forfeited. The ERAD Group’s Williams says it’s fair for his company to collect a fee, just like credit card companies do.

Williams says the connection between ERAD and civil asset forfeiture is overblown. “People think this machine can read their home addresses and take money off their bank accounts!” he says. Each jurisdiction, he explains, can set its own permission levels for read, freeze, and seize functions on an ERAD device. This way — in theory, at least — only those with the legal authority would be able to use the seize function.

Indeed, Timmons says that nobody in the Oklahoma DPS can use the seize feature, even though every officer is allowed to use the freeze feature. Molesa says that nobody in the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office can freeze or seize on the spot, adding that a quick drive to the county attorney’s office is required. Seizing, Molesa says, requires a separate trip, with a longer review process.

Every access attempt on an ERAD device is vetted by ERAD Group’s servers, which are pre-loaded with authorizations from the jurisdictions that use the devices. The card data retrieved by devices are uploaded to ERAD Group’s servers as well, which law enforcement officers can download to compile reports. The uploaded data, Williams says, is owned by the jurisdiction in question, and ERAD Group is legally forbidden from selling the information.

Privacy concerns remain, nevertheless. Williams admits that some ERAD Group employees have access to the raw data stored on the company’s servers. Miller of the Institute of Justice says ERAD’s ability to scan card data raises “serious Fourth Amendment concerns” — the no “unreasonable searches and seizures” clause.

In June, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is legal for the police to scan or swipe a seized card. But Miller contends that ERAD’s ability to retrieve private financial information without consent will continue to be an issue — and may end up in the Supreme Court.

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Thick, Putrid Algae Bloom Overwhelms Miles Of Florida Coastline

Algae covered water at Stuart's Central Marine boat docks on Thursday in Stuart, Fla.

Algae covered water at Stuart’s Central Marine boat docks on Thursday in Stuart, Fla. Terry Spencer/AP hide caption

toggle caption Terry Spencer/AP

A massive bloom of blue-green algae has hit four southern Florida counties, blanketing beaches in foul-smelling muck and raising health and environmental concerns.

The green goo along Florida’s “Treasure Coast” prompted Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties earlier this week, and he later added Lee and Palm Beach counties. Scott “blamed the federal government for neglecting repairs to the lake’s aging dike that’s considered one of the country’s most at-risk for imminent failure,” as The Associated Press reported.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and his Democratic colleague Bill Nelson both visited the impacted areas earlier this week and expressed alarm.

The bloom is caused by discharge from the polluted Lake Okeechobee, some 35 miles away. The New York Times explains:

“An aging dike system forces the Army Corps of Engineers to release controlled discharges through channel locks east and west from the lake to protect nearby towns from flooding. However, those discharges, which carry pollutants from agricultural lands that flow into the lake from the north, pour into rivers and lagoons downstream, which eventually dump into the ocean.”

But when there’s “too much polluted discharge,” the Times reports, “the blend of fresh and salt water creates giant phosphorescent plumes of algae, making the water unsafe for human and aquatic life alike.”

On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers said it would reduce the flow from Lake Okeechobee “beginning this weekend.” In a statement, the Corps’ Jacksonville District Commander Col. Jason Kirk makes the argument that they’re in a difficult position. This year, he said, “our water managers have dealt with such large quantities of rain and runoff entering the lake that it would cover the entire state of Delaware.” However, they felt “compelled to take action” after seeing the algae firsthand.

The Corps says it is managing a delicate balance, as spokesman John Campbell tells the Times: “We’re constantly having to balance the potential of an environmental impact from releasing water against the very real public safety hazard of containing the water and the hazard that poses by putting pressure on the dike itself.”

You can see the green ribbons of algae snaking along the shoreline and around docks and boats in this helicopter video released by Martin County:


And take a closer look at the thick muck here:

Here’s an up close view of the#bluegreenalgae at Central Marine in #Stuart #Florida #toxic @WPTV @NBCNightlyNews

— EricP_WPTV (@EricPasquarelli) June 29, 2016

The Times describes local residents in St. Lucie staying indoors because of the noxious odor or leaving the area altogether to stay with friends.

Other local residents are staging protests. According to the Martin County Sheriff, thousands gathered Saturday with a straightforward message:

3500 people and a message that anybody can understand

— MartinCountySheriff (@MartinFLSheriff) July 2, 2016

They want to see Florida’s Legislature purchase “land around Lake Okeechobee for water storage,” using “money approved by state voters for environmental projects,” as the AP reported. According to member station WQCS, “There was an agreement in the works when former Gov. Charlie Christ left office in 2011,” which fell through.

As WQCS reports, it’s not just the smell that people are worried about. An emotionally-charged emergency community meeting on the issue packed the hall “beyond capacity at 9 a.m. on a work day with people who wanted their voices heard.”

Many of these residents are worried about the health impacts of the algae and some complained of itchy eyes and respiratory problems. Former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla told them,

“We all know there’s a health risk. But unless there are a half a dozen of you willing to fall in and die, somebody’s going to be saying a year from now that you were hysterical, that there’s no serious problem. I think, for those of you who have read the information on toxins that come from these algaes, it is an emergency. But we’re going to need the EPA, we’re going to need the CDC, we’re going to need all the resources of the state of Florida, and we’re going to need them to work together.”

The Florida Department of Health said that at high levels, this type of algae can “affect the gastrointestinal tract, liver, nervous system, and skin.” It said people should avoid contact with the bloom, and adds that “children and pets are especially vulnerable.

Conservation groups are also raising concerns about the impact of the blooms on local marine life. This widely-shared video shows a manatee surfacing above the slime and getting hosed off by a local family:

Florida couple frees manatee stuck in algae and struggling to breath by hosing him off

— ABC News (@ABC) July 2, 2016

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Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor And Nobel Laureate, Dies At 87

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winning author, smiles during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, in 2009.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winning author, smiles during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, in 2009. Bela Szandelszky/AP hide caption

toggle caption Bela Szandelszky/AP

Holocaust survivor, Nobel laureate and author Elie Wiesel has died at the age of 87. Wiesel survived the World War II Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After liberation, he went to France, then Israel and the United States, where he advocated on behalf of victims of hate and persecution around the world.

Wiesel’s son, Elisha, confirmed his death in a phone call with NPR.

Elie Wiesel was called many things during his life: a messenger of peace, a humanitarian, a survivor. He liked to call himself simply a witness. And as a witness, he said, it was his duty to never let those who suffered be forgotten.

“To forget the victims means to kill them a second time,” he told NPR in April 2012. “So I couldn’t prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death.”

Wiesel spoke out for victims of war and political tyranny around the world. But it was his advocacy on behalf of his fellow Holocaust survivors that was the work of his life.

Never Forget

When he was just 15, his family was taken from their small town in Romania to Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald.

His younger sister and mother were sent immediately to the gas chambers. Wiesel’s father died shortly before the camp was liberated by U.S. soldiers in 1945.

It took Wiesel 10 years before he could write about his experience in his most famous book, Night.

Children and other prisoners liberated by the U.S. Army march from Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945. The tall youth in the line at left, fourth from the front, is Elie Wiesel.

Children and other prisoners liberated by the U.S. Army march from Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945. The tall youth in the line at left, fourth from the front, is Elie Wiesel. Byron H. Rollins/AP hide caption

toggle caption Byron H. Rollins/AP

“Never shall I forget that night that first night in camp that turned my life into one long night. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever,” he read from his book during a trip back to Auschwitz with Oprah Winfrey in 2006. “Those moments that murdered my god and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never.”

Wiesel lived in France immediately after the war and worked as a journalist before immigrating to the U.S. in 1956. He became a citizen seven years later and in 1985 he received one of the highest honors awarded a civilian, the Congressional Medal of Honor. The soft-spoken Wiesel took advantage of the highly public occasion by making an impassioned plea to then-President Reagan not to visit a cemetery where SS soldiers were buried.

A year later Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian committee called Wiesel a messenger to mankind. A man, who it said, climbed from utter humiliation to become one of our most important spiritual leaders and guides. In his acceptance speech, Wiesel said the world should never remain silent while humans suffer, for neutrality, he said, only aids the oppressor, never the victim.

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” he said. “Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”

Greatest Roles

Despite all the accolades and honors, Wiesel said he was happiest in his role as a teacher. He taught at several U.S. institutions, including New York’s City University and Boston University.

At an annual visit to the Chapman College in Orange County, Calif., Wiesel sat in front of a rapt group of religious studies students in the school’s small Holocaust remembrance library. Most asked him questions about Judaism and his public struggles with faith during difficult times.

“I still have questions for God and I still have problems with God, absolutely,” he told the students. “But it is within faith, not outside faith, and surely not opposed to faith.”

Later that day, Wiesel said he felt privileged to receive such warm welcomes and so many honors.

“Look, honors are very, very pleasant to receive, but it all depends what you do with them,” he said. “If simply to use them for your own benefit then you’re not worthy of it.”

In his later years, Wiesel refused to slow down, even after quintuple-bypass surgery and the loss of his personal and philanthropic foundation’s fortune to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. In 2012, he wrote his last book, Open Heart, touching on both experiences.

But Wiesel said his greatest role in life was as a witness, and he found great comfort among those like himself who witnessed the Holocaust. He said he worried who would be its last witness, who would have that burden.

“But to listen to a witness is to become a witness and that consoles us,” he said.

And it consoled him, he said, to know that many have listened and there are many more generations of witnesses, ready to stand guard against tyranny and hate — long after he is gone.

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Clinton Interviewed By FBI Investigators In Email Probe

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a Digital Content Creators Town Hall at the Neuehouse Hollywood in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a Digital Content Creators Town Hall at the Neuehouse Hollywood in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Andrew Harnik/AP hide caption

toggle caption Andrew Harnik/AP

The FBI interviewed Hillary Clinton for the probe into her use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State on Saturday morning, according to a spokesman for Clinton.

Spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement that the interview about her email arrangements was “voluntary” and adds, “She is pleased to have had the opportunity to assist the Department of Justice in bringing this review to a conclusion.”

He says Clinton will not comment further about the interview “out of respect for the investigative process.”

“Hillary Clinton spoke with investigators for about three-and-a-half hours at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C, according to a campaign aide,” as NPR’s Tamara Keith tells our Newscast unit.

Tamara explains the context:

“While Secretary of State, Clinton exclusively used a private email server for both official business and personal communications. That arrangement is what’s being looked at by investigators.

“A large shadow was cast on the FBI’s investigation when, earlier this week, former President Bill Clinton chatted for about 20 minutes with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on a tarmac in Arizona. She says they didn’t discuss the case and she fully expects to take the recommendations of the FBI and career prosecutors working on the case. A law enforcement source tell NPR’s Carrie Johnson they don’t foresee an indictment.”

And as Carrie reported, Clinton’s “close aides have already sat for FBI interviews.” Carrie adds: “Clinton has said she is ‘100 percent confident’ she has nothing to fear from the criminal probe of the State Department emails.”

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How Africa's 7 Newest Nations Mark Their Independence Days

Prime Minister Dileita Mohamed Dileita, surrounded by dancers in traditional dress, celebrates the 30th anniversary of Djibouti's independence.

Prime Minister Dileita Mohamed Dileita, surrounded by dancers in traditional dress, celebrates the 30th anniversary of Djibouti’s independence. Patrick Robert/Corbis via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Patrick Robert/Corbis via Getty Images

For many African nations, their independence is so recent that people still remember the day it happened. Here’s how the continent’s seven most recently independent countries, all of which have declared independence since 1975, celebrate — or, in one case, decide not to hold festivities.

South Sudan

Independence Day: July 9, 2011, from Sudan

Happy Independence Day to all #SouthSudan keep the hope&faith work together 4 a peaceful #SouthSudanAt4

— Asantewaa lo-Liyong (@AsantewaaLo) July 9, 2015

The world’s youngest nation previously marked its independence day with military parades. But this year, the government canceled its plans for an official celebration. South Sudan’s first few years have been marred by ethnic clashes, a return to conflict with neighboring Sudan, civil war and an ongoing economic crisis.

“We decided not to celebrate Independence Day because we don’t want to spend that much,” said Michael Makuei, the minister of information, according to a report in Al Jazeera. “We need to spend the little that we have on other issues.”

The government will mark the day with a presidential statement. Officials are encouraging citizens to hold private celebrations if they can afford to.


May 24, 1993, from Ethiopia

#Asmara residences came out in tens of thousands to celebrate #Eritrea/s Independence Day 2016

— Hagerawi (@Hagerawi24) May 24, 2016

In May, Eritrea celebrated its 25th anniversary in an hours-long spectacle kicked off by the lighting of an Olympic-style flame by its most famous athlete, Zersenay Tadese.

Tadese — a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist in the 10,000-meter run and the only Eritrean to earn an Olympic medal — bowed to the assembled crowd from a two-story-tall platform before he lit the cauldron with the Torch of Independence, which had been touring the country for the previous four months.

Eritrea was officially recognized by the United Nations 23 years ago, after a referendum on independence. But this anniversary celebration was pegged to 1991, when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front captured Ethiopia’s capital and formed a provisional government in Eritrea. The diaspora community of roughly half a million Eritreans who have sought asylum from forced labor and military service also celebrated with events from Chicago and Winnipeg to Oslo and Tel Aviv.


March 21, 1990, from South Africa

Happy Independence Day to my beautiful country ! #Namibia26 #independencedayNamibia #TheLandOfTheBrave #Namibia

— Elzaan de Wee (@Elzaan_) March 21, 2016

The crowd at this year’s independence celebration in Windhoek was entertained by skydivers, military parades and musical performances of both the Namibian national anthem and the African Union anthem.

President Hage Geingob announced government reforms to increase transparency in the country’s “war on corruption.” Geingob’s predecessors — former president Hifikepunye Pohamba and the founding president Sam Nujoma — were present.

Celebrations in past years have included a week of concerts, boxing and soccer matches and, in 2012, the launch of a currency redesign that put Nujoma’s portrait on the N$10 and N$20 bills.


April 18, 1980, from the United Kingdom

Zimbabweans sing and dance during a ceremony at a sports stadium in Harare marking the country's 36th independence anniversary.

Zimbabweans sing and dance during a ceremony at a sports stadium in Harare marking the country’s 36th independence anniversary. Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images

It has been 36 years since Bob Marley chartered a plane with 21 tons of musical equipment to serenade the ecstatic crowd on Zimbabwe’s first night of independence. That night, he sang, “Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny.”

In April, President Robert Mugabe, the man who has been deciding Zimbabwe’s destiny since then, was front and center at the stadium events celebrating the nation’s self-determination.

The crowd waved flags, wore yellow berets and novelty hats, and displayed birthday banners. The 92-year-old Mugabe lit a towering golden torch called the Independence Flame and delivered an address, asking citizens to pull together for a better nation.

“One of the greatest tributes we can pay to Zimbabwe is to shun corruption, shun regionalism and avoid nepotism,” he said. He also bowed to a portrait of himself.


June 27, 1977, from France

Click here to subscribe to our weekly global health and development email. NPR hide caption

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Men in suits and ties and women in vibrantly colored head coverings filled the bleachers by the thousands at Djibouti’s Independence Day parade this year. They heard military bands, participated in marching songs from parading troops across all branches of the Djibouti military, and watched police perform acrobatics — like saluting the crowd while standing on the back of a motorcycle.

Foreign troops were in attendance as well. France, the country’s former colonial ruler, and the U.S. and Japan have bases in the country. China has recently arranged to create its first-ever overseas base in Djibouti.


June 29, 1976, from the United Kingdom

Happy Independence Day, Seychelles!!! Congratulations to all Seychellois on the occasion of the 40th National Day.

— India in Seychelles (@hci_seychelles) June 30, 2016

On the 40th anniversary of independence, the streets in and around Victoria, the capital city, were lit with LED displays of blue, yellow, red, white and green, the colors of the nation’s flag.

The main island of the 115 in this archipelagic nation also hosted a national trade show to showcase the diversity of the economy. Kids posed with statues of Batman and Superman, got up close to Herbie the Love Bug and rode tiny paddleboats around an inflatable lagoon.

Crowds also paused by the Liberty monument, which was unveiled on the 38th anniversary. The bronze statue, situated on the main avenue in Victoria with the imposing 1,500-foot-tall Trois Frères mountain as a backdrop, depicts a couple holding the nation’s flag above their heads, gazing into the future.


Nov. 11, 1975, from Portugal

???????? happy Independence Day Everyone… Viva Angola ??

— Osmar Mutindi (@josedasdores) November 11, 2015

In November, Angola celebrated 40 years of independence from Portugal, which had ruled it as a colony for 400 years. A civil and military parade passed through Independence Square, the same site where the nation issued its proclamation of independence and raised the Angolan flag to break with Portugal in 1975.

Festivities culminated around midnight in the sky above Baía de Luanda, the beach alongside Angola’s capital city. The light show began with the release of 18,000 flaming paper lanterns, symbolizing the 18 provinces, and wrapped up with fireworks.

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Bangladesh In Mourning After Gunmen Kill 20 Hostages In A Cafe

A relative tries to console Semin Rahman (covering face), whose son is missing after militants took hostages in a restaurant popular with foreigners in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A relative tries to console Semin Rahman (covering face), whose son is missing after militants took hostages in a restaurant popular with foreigners in Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

Bangladeshi forces raided an upscale cafe early Saturday in the capital Dhaka, ending an hours-long standoff with a group of gunmen.

The Bangladeshi military said 20 civilians were killed, along with two police officers and six attackers. Police arrested one of the militants at the scene.

The gunmen stormed into the Holey Artisan Bakery café late Friday and took a group hostage, including foreigners. The posh neighborhood called Gulshan is home to many foreign embassies.

Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina has announced two days of national mourning, as the BBC reported. In a televised address, she vowed to eradicate terrorism. As we reported, she also said security forces rescued 13 of the hostages from the cafe.

Now, the atmosphere in the neighborhood is eerie and frightening, as Syed Zain al-Mahmood of the Wall Street Journal told Weekend Edition Saturday. He described the scene:

“When we’ve been close to the scene, we’ve seen streets completely empty, stores shuttered, people have closed their windows, drawn their curtains. No one out and about. A very, very heavy police presence with armored carriers. And of course, the sound of sustained gunfire.”

Bangladesh has seen a recent string of attacks on secular writers and religious minorities. Those previous attacks targeted individuals. Mahmood said Friday’s attack “was something that’s new to Bangladesh – an armed group storming a very popular café and taking hostages.”

Bangladeshi policemen patrol the area around the site of the attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Saturday.

Bangladeshi policemen patrol the area around the site of the attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Saturday. A.M. Ahad/AP hide caption

toggle caption A.M. Ahad/AP

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said nine Italians have been “confirmed dead” from the attack, Italian news agency ANSA reported. “We have identified nine (Italians) killed, there is another person who is missing and could be hiding himself or could be among wounded people … we are looking for him,” Gentiloni told reporters, according to Reuters.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a group of seven Japanese nationals remain unaccounted for, the country’s public broadcaster NHK reported. These are “people who have devoted themselves to Bangladesh’s development,” he said, and added that another Japanese man was “wounded, but rescued.”

At least three students attending U.S. universities are among the victims. Emory University said in a statement that undergraduate student Abinta Kabir and business school student Faraaz Hossain were killed during the attack. The statement said Kabir was from Miami and Faraaz was from Dhaka, without specifying either of their nationalities. “The Emory community mourns this tragic and senseless loss of two members of our university family,” it added.

Our thoughts and prayers go out on behalf of Faraaz and Abinta, their friends and family for strength and peace at this unspeakably sad time

— Emory University (@EmoryUniversity) July 2, 2016

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said 19-year-old Indian national Tarishi Jain was killed in the attack. She added that Jain studied at the American International School in Dhaka and was currently a student at U.C. Berkeley.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement through its Aamaq news agency, though U.S. officials have not been able to independently verify that claim. There are multiple armed groups operating in Bangladesh.

And as Mahmood reported, “The Bangladeshi government line out of Dhaka has very much been that Islamic State and al-Qaida don’t have a presence in Bangladesh, and that [recent attacks are] domestic political opposition making mischief.”

He added that Friday’s dramatic attack are stoking concerns that “this is just a sign of things to come.” Here’s more:

“The security analysts who have been following these terror attacks, and journalists like myself, have been fearing this for a while, because these groups have gotten more and more sophisticated. And yesterday’s attack shows that they have the training and the weapons to carry out attacks of this style in an area which is heavily guarded. There are police checkpoints on all sides, but these militants were able to get in with weapons and carry out this attack in a brazen manner.”

As CNN reported, the Bangladeshi government is trying to crack down on militant activity after the recent string of attacks. Last month, authorities launched raids and arrested thousands of people, including “145 suspected Islamist militants.”

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