In our news wrap Thursday, the U.S. has indicted seven computer hackers with ties to Iran’s government for malware attacks that cost American financial institutions tens of millions of dollars. Also, government troops opened an offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State.
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In the day’s other news: The United States has indicted seven computer hackers for large-scale attacks on American banks. They worked for companies tied to Iran’s government and its hard-line Revolutionary Guard. Between 2011 and 2013, they allegedly used malware to attack 46 financial institutions.
In Washington today, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the assault cost the targets tens of millions of dollars.
LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. Attorney General:
The attacks were relentless, they were systematic, and they were widespread. They threatened our economic well-being and our ability to compete fairly in the global marketplace, both of which are directly linked to our national security.
One of the hackers also allegedly accessed the controls of a small dam outside New York City, but did no damage. All of the suspects remain at large.
In Iraq, government troops opened a military offensive today to retake Mosul, the country’s second largest city.
Special correspondent Jane Ferguson is in Iraq, and reports from Irbil.
Iraqi forces spent weeks chipping away at Islamic State positions in the north. And then, this morning, came the announcement on state television.
MAN (through interpreter):
The Iraqi security troops have begun the conquest operation of liberating the Mosul region. Our troops have been waging pitched battles, and they are heading toward the drawn-up and planned targets.
Officials said Kurdish militia and U.S. airstrikes are supporting the assault. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tweeted, the first stage was swift and decisive. It began by capturing several villages near Makhmour, about 40 miles south of Mosul. The ultimate goal is to reclaim Mosul itself.
ISIS forces captured the city in June of 2014, routing government troops, who left behind troves of weapons and ammunition, even American-supplied vehicles and artillery pieces.
Since then, Iraq’s army, supported on the ground by Shiite militias and Iranian advisers, has retaken Tikrit, oil-rich Baiji and most recently Ramadi. But Mosul, which once had a population of two million, is by far its biggest challenge.
In Washington today, a State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said the U.S. is standing by its ally.
MARK TONER, State Department Spokesman:
We certainly support and share with the Iraqi government its goal of liberating Mosul as quickly as possible, but this has to be an Iraqi led effort.
Already, there’s been an American casualty linked to the battle for Mosul. A U.S. Marine was killed Saturday by a rocket attack near there. His newly deployed unit is helping defend an Iraqi military base.
By all accounts, a decisive victory in Mosul is not going to be quick. Instead, say Iraqi military officials, the battle will be a lengthy, street-by-street, hard-fought campaign. Today’s offensive is the very early stage of that battle, drawing the noose a little tighter around the biggest city under Islamic State’s control.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jane Ferguson in Irbil.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government announced its troops have fought their way into Palmyra, with support from Russian airstrikes. The Roman-era city is held by Islamic State fighters and lies at a key crossroads in Central Syria. State TV today showed military units entering the outskirts of Palmyra. But they’re too late to save ancient temples, tombs and other artifacts already destroyed by the militants.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked up prospects for peace in Syria today. The two men met in Moscow. Kerry welcomed Russia’s withdrawal of most of its military forces from Syria. Putin said that U.S./Russian cooperation has helped bring progress. Meanwhile, the latest round of Syrian peace talks ended in Geneva. They’re to resume on April 9.
President Obama spent a final day in Argentina, paying tribute to victims of brutal military rule. And he acknowledged the United States was slow to condemn it. He visited a memorial to thousands killed in the so-called Dirty War from 1976 to 1983. It began with the overthrow of Argentina’s government 40 years ago today, and Mr. Obama discussed it later at a briefing.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
The United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies as well and its own past. Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for. And we have been slow to speak out for human rights, and that was the case here.
The president pledged to declassify more military and intelligence documents on the issue. There’ve been protests against his visit, accusing the U.S. of backing the former military dictatorship.
Back in this country, a spring blizzard that blasted Denver is moving on, into the Northern Plains and the Midwest. High winds and heavy snow were reported today from Wyoming to Michigan. Up to a foot of snow blanketed Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and parts of Colorado got 30 inches. Denver International Airport was fully operational after canceling almost all its flights yesterday.
Vice President Joe Biden charged today that Senate Republicans have distorted his past remarks to justify blocking the President Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee. In 1992, then-Senator Biden warned that the first President Bush not name a court nominee until after that year’s election. Today, he said he was simply urging consultation to get a — quote — “moderate nominee.”
Wall Street finished a shortened workweek in quiet trading. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 13 points to close at 17515. The Nasdaq rose four points, and the S&P 500 slipped a fraction. The markets are closed tomorrow for Good Friday.
Actor and comedian Garry Shandling died today in Los Angeles of an undisclosed cause. He’s perhaps best known for his Emmy-winning “Larry Sanders Show,” which debuted in 1992. Shandling later won an American Comedy Award in 1999. He also hosted the Emmy Awards show in 2004. Garry Shandling was 66 years old.
And, finally, after years of rumor, archaeologists have concluded that yes, William Shakespeare’s skull seems to be missing. They used ground-penetrating radar to scan the playwright’s tomb at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. Until now, scholars dismissed claims that grave robbers stole the skull in the 18th century.
It’s good to have all that cleared up.
Still to come on the “NewsHour”:
The U.N. finds a former Bosnian leader guilty of genocide; how North Carolina signed a bill called the most anti-LGBT law in the country; why anger over economics fuels front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign; and much more.