News Wrap: African nations conduct major offensive against Boko Haram

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Three African nations battled Boko Haram militants today, in the biggest offensive yet against the Nigerian group. Troops from Chad and Cameroon reported killing more than 250 militants in two days of fighting along Cameroon's border with Nigeria.

    At the same time, warplanes from Nigeria and Chad blasted Boko Haram targets. The group declared its own caliphate in the region last year.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    One of the FBI's most wanted terrorists may have been killed in the Philippines. He's identified as Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan. The FBI said today that DNA tests indicate he died in a pre-dawn raid last month on Muslim rebels in the Southern Philippines; 44 police commandos also died. Bin Hir is linked to the 2002 night club bombing in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people, including seven Americans.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And that man who's likely to be the new Pentagon boss signaled today he'd favor giving guns to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian rebels. That came amid signs the White House may reverse its opposition to taking that step.

    Ashton Carter addressed the issue at his Senate confirmation hearing.

    ASHTON CARTER, Secretary of Defense – Designate: I very much incline in that direction, Mr. Chairman, because I think we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves. The nature of those arms, I can't say right now because I don't have — I haven't conferred with our military leaders or Ukrainian leaders.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    After a lunch break, Carter partially qualified his statement by saying that sanctions on Russia should continue as — quote — "the main center of the U.S. effort." He's expected to win easy confirmation as secretary of defense.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    At a separate hearing, a top U.S. diplomat ruled out giving the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base back to Cuba. Last week, Cuba's communist president, Raul Castro, said the return of Guantanamo is a main objective of restoring ties with the U.S.

    But Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson told a House committee today it's a nonstarter.

    ROBERTA JACOBSON, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs: The issue of Guantanamo is not on the table in these conversations. I want to be clear that what we're talking about right now is the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which is only one first step in normalization.

    Obviously, the Cuban government has raised Guantanamo. We are not interested in discussing that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. has controlled Guantanamo since the Spanish-American War, and formally established a naval base there in 1903.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Another mass sentencing in Egypt today. A court ordered 230 people to serve life in prison for their involvement in violent protests in 2011. All were tried in absentia, except secular activist Ahmed Douma. He helped lead the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    China has clamped new curbs on Internet users in a growing censorship campaign. As of March, the nation's nearly 650 million Web users will have to register their real names with service providers if they blog or use chat rooms. They will also have to pledge, in writing, not to criticize the country's communist rulers.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In Taiwan, rescue crews worked late into the night in the capital, Taipei, looking for victims of an air disaster that killed at least 26 people. The TransAsia airliner careened out of control today in a crash captured on video.

    John Sparks of Independent Television News reports.

  • JOHN SPARKS:

    It seemed to come out of nowhere, a regional passenger plane falling from the sky. Its left wing clipped a taxi on an elevated highway, then shattered on the safety barrier, before plunging into Taipei's Keelung River below.

    The crash was followed by confusion and the approaching wail of sirens, and in the water, lying motionless, the white and purple fuselage of the TransAsia turboprop. The aircraft, which had just left Taipei's city center airport, was carrying 53 passengers and five crew. And rescue workers surrounded the wreckage in attempt to reach them.

    Miraculously perhaps, some people survived, one group of passengers gathering a submerged wing, waiting for help. And this young child was hauled from the wreckage and rushed to the riverbank bungled in blankets. Many however, were trapped inside with rescuers struggling to reach submerged parts of the plane.

    "We need heavy cranes," said the head of the fire department. "We have to lift the body of the plane because we think lots of people are stuck near the nose of the aircraft."

    Rescue teams did recover the flight data recorders, but it's not known what caused the incident. The aircraft had been inspected just a few days ago. Still, a major mechanical failure seems likely. The last communication from the pilots was, "Mayday, mayday, engine flame-out."

    For TransAsia, it's the second fatal air crash in seven months, and it will come under increasing pressure from the regulator.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    At least 17 people from the plane are still missing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Back in this country, federal safety experts began investigating a deadly collision just north of New York City on one of the nation's busiest commuter railroads. The Metro-North train barreled into an SUV that had stopped on the tracks during Tuesday evening's rush hour.

    Five passengers were killed, as well as the woman driving the SUV. Witnesses said the woman got out of her vehicle, tried to lift the crossing gate, and then got back in just before the train hit.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    A federal jury in Manhattan today convicted the man behind Silk Road, a Web site that became a haven for drug dealers. Ross William Ulbricht was found guilty after just three hours of deliberations. Prosecutors say drug deals accounted for nearly all of Silk Road's sales before Ulbricht's arrest in 2013.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    On Wall Street, stocks struggled to make any headway after rising oil inventories snuffed out the rally in crude oil prices. They dropped nearly 9 percent. In turn, the Dow Jones industrial average managed to gain just six points to close a little over 1767, but the Nasdaq fell 11 points on the day, and the S&P slipped eight points.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And, finally, Charlie Sifford, the man who broke the racial barrier in professional golf, died overnight. He was a five-time national champion on the all-black tour, before challenging the PGA's whites-only clause. It was dropped in 1961, and Sifford won several tournaments, despite death threats and racial slurs.

    In later years, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the first black player in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Charlie Sifford was 92 years old.

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