FRANCE: TERROR AT A SCHOOL
-THE SHOOTING: “A VISION OF HORROR”…The southern French city of Toulouse is on lockdown at this hour as police search for a gunman who opened fire outside a Jewish school. One witness said the killer was shooting at “everything in sight”. At least four people were killed – including a 30-year-old father and his two children – and several others were wounded. The shooter, who arrived and fled from the Ozar Hatorah school on a scooter, “shot at everything he could see,” local prosecutor Michel Valet told the BBC. He identified the dead as the father and his 3- and 6-year-old sons, as well as a third child, believed to be the 8-to-10-year-old daughter of the school principal. Authorities are investigating whether the shooting is linked to two other shootings of soldiers in the same area. Last Sunday, a paratrooper was killed by a gunman on a motorbike outside a gym in a Toulouse suburb – the same town as today’s shooting. And Thursday, two soldiers were killed and a third wounded by a shooter on a motorbike as they used an ATM in Montauban, about 30 miles away. Authorities at the time said the same gun was used in both those shootings. “It is too early to link the different shootings, but there are similarities…same modus operandi, same area,” French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told ABC News. Witnesses of today’s attack describe a horrific scene at the drop-off point for children. “I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child,” a father whose child attends the school was quoted as saying. Inside, it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small children.” The killer arrived at the school carrying two weapons, including the same .45 caliber gun that killed one of the soldiers in Thursday’s attack, according to the Toulouse-based La Depeche newspaper.
-SERIAL TERROR?…Police say they have locked Toulouse down as they hunt for the killer, and the government tightened security at all religious sites in France, particularly Jewish schools. Sixty police officers, including anti-terrorist police, are helping with this investigation after they had already begun examining the attacks on the troops.
-AFGHAN SHOOTER TO MEET WITH LAWYER, CHARGES MAY BE FILED TODAY…Luis MARTINEZ reports that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales could be charged as early as today – for the massacre of Afghan civilians eight days ago. His attorney, John Henry Browne, is now in Kansas and will meet with Bales for the first time today. We continue to learn more about Bales – and what it may have been that made this well-liked soldier commit such a horrific crime.
-SPRINGTIME OFFENSIVE…The Wall Street Journal previews what it calls “the war’s final battleground” – mountainous eastern Afghanistan where the snow is beginning to melt, setting up a springtime clash between U.S. forces and the insurgents hiding there. American commanders expect the insurgents will try to kick-start their offensive as soon as the Nowrooz Afghan New Year that begins tomorrow. Fighting in the east will likely be much tougher than recent campaigns in the south of the country.
-KARZAI BACKS OFF?…The Afghan government has walked back President Karzai’s demand that U.S. troops withdraw from Afghan villages following the massacre of 16 Afghans by American Sgt. Robert Bales. Karzai’s spokesman said in an interview that the move will be the subject of negotiations that could take months. Under existing transition plans, U.S. forces are scheduled to transition to a support role next year, ahead of transferring all responsibilities to the Afghans in 2014.
-HEAVY FIGHTING IN DAMASCUS…More fighting in the Syrian capital today after a weekend marked by violence there. Several reports of a heavy firefight broke out today in Damascus between opposition fighters and regime forces. The sound of heavy machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades on Monday echoed throughout the night from the western neighborhood of al-Mezze, one of the most heavily guarded areas of the capital and home to several security installations. Haaretz reports at least 80 people have been killed in today’s clashes. This follows a dramatic surge in violence over the weekend – with car bombings in Damascus and Syria’s second largest city of Aleppo, and the arrest of members of one of the most moderate opposition groups.
-THE DIPLOMACY…A team of experts dispatched by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan has arrived in Syria, where it will remain as long as progress is made on a monitoring operation to end the bloodshed, a spokesman said Monday. “There are five people with expertise in political, peacekeeping and mediation,” Ahmed Fawzi, spokesman for Annan, told AFP. “They will be staying for as long as they are making progress.”
-THE “REAL DICTATOR”…The Telegraph takes note of the latest from the Assad family inbox: one of the regime’s leaked emails has President Assad’s wife Asma telling a friend that she’s the “real dictator.” The comment was apparently made in jest during an exchange with a friend about how to much attention spouses typical pay to each other.
ISRAELIS REACHING OUT TO IRANIANS – ON FACEBOOK
Haaretz takes note of an interesting online call for peace - initiated by an Israeli couple – that’s managed to win the support of a thousand Israelis and Iranians. Ronny Edry and his wife uploaded posters to Facebook that show pictures of themselves and their children alongside the words, “Iranians, we will never bomb your country, we [heart] you.” Attached to each poster: the caption, “For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you. I don t even know you. No Iranian ever did me no harm.” Messages of support have begun to roll in from Iran; one response read, “The Iranian people, apart from the regime, do not hold a grudge nor animosity against anyone, especially not the Israelis… We never saw Israelis as our enemies. As such, the regime cannot gain public support for war.”
YEMEN’S DEADLY “SPRING”
Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights says 2,000 people have been killed in the year-long uprising, the AP reports. That’s far higher than human rights groups have reported. If true, that figure would make Yemen’s the third bloodiest Arab Spring uprising – after Libya and Syria.
AHEAD OF POPE’S VISIT, ARRESTS IN CUBA
A week ahead of a visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict, the BBC reports Cuban police have arrested dozens of members of the well-known protest group, the Ladies in White. The women, who hold weekly protests demanding the release of political prisoners, were arrested as they staged a march in Havana. The protesters have become more vocal ahead of the Pope’s visit and the government has reacted accordingly, cracking down on their actions. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17423837
KONY 2012: UGANDA’S LEADER WEIGHS IN
From Bazi KANANI: The Prime Minister of Uganda is using social media respond to the Kony 2012 campaign drawing much attention to his country. In a 9-minute YouTube video, Amama Mbabazi says the Kony 2012 video that has been viewed online more than 100 million times did not make clear that warlord Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda. He is concerned about the effect the video is having on the reputation of his country. Mbabazi sent messages to a number of celebrities’ Twitter accounts—including Rihanna, Ryan Seacrest, and Tim Tebow– saying “I invite you to visit the Pearl of Africa & see the peace that exists in our wonderful country.” Mbabazi’s YouTube response came two days after Kony 2012 filmmaker Jason Russell’s bizarre public meltdown in San Diego. On Friday, Russell was arrested and hospitalized after allegedly running in the streets naked.
DOCUMENTARY: STATE DEPT. PAYING RUSSIAN PROTESTERS
The Washington Post reports several hundred protesters turned out in Moscow yesterday to shout their disapproval of a documentary suggesting they’re being paid off by the U.S. State Department. The film, “Anatomy of a Protest” takes on protesters who have demonstrated against electoral fraud and president-elect Putin. The film suggests they’re being given cash or food by the State Department to turn out at protests. More than 100 people were arrested in yesterday’s demonstration.
NEW ZEALAND…UNDER WATER
Parts of Northern New Zealand are underwater after receiving more than two months of rain in 36 hours. More rain is predicted today. This is the same area that flooded in 2007.
RARE OUTING FOR MARGARET THATCHER
And photos of Baroness Thatcher, too – outdoors at a London park (photos were taken last week)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SYDNEY’S HARBOR BRIDGE
One of Australia’s most recognizable landmarks, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, celebrates its 80th birthday today. The 3,769-foot long bridge, which took almost 10 years to build, officially opened on March 19, 1932. To mark the occasion, musicians from the brass section of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra played from the top of the bridge’s 439-foot tall arch. Video includes previously unseen footage of the bridge’s construction.
EINSTEIN’S DOCUMENTS TO BE RELEASED
Alex MARQUARDT reports from Jerusalem: today Hebrew University is launching a first-ever online archive of 80,000 of Albert Einstein’s documents. Now open to the world, the new documents include an “original solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict” and a letter to his young mistress, Betty Neumann.
DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE GIVES HER FIRST SPEECH
The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton gave her first public speech today – at the formal opening of a children’s hospice facility in Ipswich. And – she wore her mother’s dress. You can watch it here. Kate will also plant a tree, tour the facility and meet with patients, parents and staff members.