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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

BNSF Oil Fire Wanes

The air has begun to clear after a 106-car BNSF Railway oil train was struck by a derailed grain train yesterday afternoon, roughly one mile west of Casselton, North Dakota. The resulting explosions and fire issued thick, black smoke that coated the nearby town of 2,300 people. While no injuries were reported, more than 65 percent of the town had to be evacuated. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office told the Los Angeles Times firefighters were able to detach 50 of the 106 cars but forced to leave the rest. “They can’t fight the fire due to the extremes of the explosion and high temperatures. They’re just letting the oil burn off at this point.

By late this afternoon, Sheriff Paul Laney said air quality was improving. “Once I can stand up, look you in the eye and say they’re safe to come home, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re just not there yet.

Christian Extremist Storm DRC Capital

According to officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo at least 103 people were killed yesterday when armed forces clashed with followers of evangelical Christian pastor Paul Joseph ‘Gideon’ Mukungubila in Kinshasa and at least two other towns. Government spokesperson Lambert Mende said at least 150 people were arrested during the attacks, suggesting they had been sent on “suicide missions” by what he referred to as a “sort of guru.” But he did not name that person.

During the attacks, a group of men stormed onto the set of “Le Panier,” on Congolese state broadcaster RTNC. Two anchors for the show were taken hostage in a chaotic scene which saw men armed with machetes and sticks shouting orders in Lingala, while fielding calls on cell phones. At one point, a vuvuzela was bandied about onstage. Then the state TV service was abruptly cut, but before the transmission stopped, a voice off-camera proclaimed in Lingala, “Gideon Mukungubila has come to free you from the slavery of the Rwandan”.

Russia Buries Transit Bombing Victims

Funerals have begun for the 34 people killed this week when a brace of suicide bombings shook Volgograd. Twenty-nine-year-old Sergei Nalibayko and 27-year-old Leonid Sushchev were buried today. Following the attacks, Andrei Pilipchuk, a regional security spokesperson, said more than 5,000 officers have been deployed to the area, some reassigned from Sochi, to begin patrolling public transit and monitoring traffic in the city once known as Stalingrad. Pilipchuk said 87 people had been detained as part of “Operation Anti-terror Whirlwind,” after they resisted police or could not produce proper ID or registration documents, and that some had weapons. New Year’s Eve celebrations, typically the largest public festivals in Russia, have been cancelled in the city; residents have been counseled against the use of fireworks.

In a New Year’s Eve address to the nation, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared his administration would pursue Islamic separatists “until their destruction is complete.” The Russian leader’s promises may not be a balm to residents of the Volga City, with some worried this weekend’s attacks are a herald of violence to come. “People are afraid it will happen again; they’re trying not to go outside if they don’t have to,” said student Yulia Kuzmina. “We get a feeling that a war has started.

Judge Allows Suspicionless Laptop Searches to Continue

Three years after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit to prevent border patrol agents from searching laptops without suspicion, U.S. federal judge Edward Korman threw out the case, citing previous rulings which found the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches doesn’t cease to be relevant when confronted by government’s efforts to secure international borders from outside threats. This affirms the Obama administration policy that granted officials the authority to search such devices anywhere within 100 miles of the border. The federal government has conducted searches on travelers crossing the border for some time, but Congress recently expanded that policy with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security which then set up at least 33 checkpoints inside the country where people are stopped and asked to prove their citizenship.

The ACLU, which is considering an appeal, points out almost two-thirds of the population (197.4 million people) live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and dozens of other major metropolitan areas fall under the so-called “exemption” zone.

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