News Wrap: Secretary Ken Salazar Announces Departure From Interior Department
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HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama is losing another member from his first-term Cabinet. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today he will step down in March, after four years on the job. Salazar pushed for greater conservation and renewable energy. And he oversaw a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill in 2010. Industry groups said the shutdown cost thousands of jobs, but Salazar defended it today in his departure statement.
Attackers in Algeria stormed a BP natural gas complex today and took dozens of foreigners hostage, including seven Americans. At least two people were killed. One was British. The nationality of the other was unclear.
We have a report from Chris Ship of Independent Television News.
CHRIS SHIP: This is the gas facility in Southern Algeria which early this morning was attacked by a group claiming to be Islamist militants.
A jihadist group with links to al-Qaida in Northern Africa claims it’s holding 40 hostages. This man, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed yesterday they were seeking retaliation for the French military action in Mali. A day later, the Algerian gas field was attacked. The gas field is at a site in southern Algeria called In Amenas. It is on the border with Libya, but Algeria also shares a border with Mali.
Across this area of North Africa, al-Qaida-inspired militants have been growing in numbers and growing in strength.
RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, Royal United Services Institute: Ultimately, across the entire North African region, a lot of these Islamist groups that we now see come from roughly the same root group, which is al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which has sort of fragmented and splintered and been sort of reinforced as mostly after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and the flood of weapons that it’s released.
CHRIS SHIP: The action in neighboring Mali against Islamist militants is led by the French, although U.K. transport planes have helped to ferry supplies. Tonight, the group claiming to have kidnapped the gas workers in Algeria demanded an end to that operation in return for their safety.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In Washington, a spokeswoman at the State Department confirmed that Americans were involved, but she wouldn’t say more.
VICTORIA NULAND, State Department Spokeswoman: I hope you will understand that in order to protect their safety, I’m not going to get into numbers, I’m not going to get into names, I’m not going to get into any further details as we continue to work on this issue with the Algerian authorities and also with their employers.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. would take — quote — “all necessary steps” to deal with the attack and hostage-taking.
In Syria, car bombers targeted the northern city of Idlib today. State media said at least 22 people died. The opposition said it was 24, most of them government troops. The attacks came a day after two large explosions killed 87 people at the main university in Aleppo. Classes there were suspended today.
Iraq witnessed its own string of bombings that killed at least 33 people. The city of Kirkuk suffered the worst attack when a car bomber blew himself up outside the offices of a major Kurdish party; 21 people were killed in that bombing and another nearby, and nearly 200 were wounded.
A U.S. Marine pleaded guilty today to urinating on the remains of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Edward Deptola submitted his plea at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Images of the incident surfaced last year, sparking an international furor and outrage in Afghanistan. Another Marine pleaded guilty to similar charges last month. Three others were given administrative punishment.
The two biggest airlines in Japan grounded all of their brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners today. The move came after one of the planes had to make an emergency landing in Western Japan. The crew reported a burning smell, and a cockpit message showed battery problems. It was the latest in a series of incidents involving the 787s. As a result, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines voluntarily grounded the jets for safety checks.
Boeing’s troubles rippled down Wall Street. The aircraft maker’s stock sank 3 percent, and that dragged the Dow Jones industrial average down 23 points to close at 13511. The Nasdaq rose six points to close at 3117.
Also today, two more big banks agreed to settle federal complaints that they abused the home foreclosure process. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley will pay a combined $557 million.
More than 8,000 school bus drivers in New York City are now on strike. They walked out early today in a dispute over job security. The strike forced 150,000 students, many of them disabled, to find alternative transportation. Most of New York City’s million-plus students take public transit or walk to school.
Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Jeff.