It’s Tuesday July 11, 2017



The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday that it had "confirmed information" that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed. Russia's Defence Ministry said back in June that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of Islamic State commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa, but Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials have been skeptical. Baghdadi's death had been announced many times before but the Observatory has a track record of credible reporting on Syria's civil war. Observatory sources in Syria's eastern town of Deir al-Zor had been told by Islamic State sources that Baghdadi had died "but they did not specify when". Iraqi and Kurdish officials did not confirm his death. The U.S. Department of Defence still says it has no immediate information to corroborate Baghdadi's death.The death of Baghdadi, who declared a caliphate from a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, would be one of the biggest blows yet to the jihadist group, which is trying to defend shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq.



An active duty U.S. soldier is in custody on terrorism charges after authorities say he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and said he wanted to "kill a bunch of people." The FBI arrested Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika (ee-ky-kah) Kang in a suburb of Honolulu over the weekend after a yearlong investigation. Kang made an initial appearance in court Monday. A 26-page affidavit from an FBI Special Agent filed in court Monday detailed how Kang thought he was dealing with people working for Islamic State but who were actually undercover agents. Kang's defense attorney says it appears his 34-year-old client may suffer from service-related mental health issues of which the government was aware but neglected to treat. Lawyer Birney Bervar declined to elaborate.



China hit back on Tuesday in unusually strong terms at repeated calls from the United States to put more pressure on North Korea, urging a halt to what it called the "China responsibility theory", and saying all parties needed to pull their weight. U.S. President Donald Trump took a more conciliatory tone at a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday, but he has expressed some impatience that China, with its close economic and diplomatic ties to Pyongyang, is not doing enough to rein in North Korea. That feeling has become particularly acute since Pyongyang launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that some experts believe could have the range to reach Alaska, and parts of the U.S. West Coast. Asked about calls from the United States, Japan and others for China to put more pressure on North Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it was not China ratcheting up tension and the key to a resolution did not lie with Beijing. He also said China has been making unremitting efforts and has played a constructive role, but all parties have to meet each other half way.



The man who organized a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign says it occurred at the behest of a Moscow-based singer with family ties to Trump's businesses. Trump Jr. acknowledges he made time for the meeting, organized by music publicist Rob Goldstone, hoping to get information about Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that Goldstone told Trump Jr. in an email ahead of the meeting that the Russian government was behind the information on Clinton. The Times cites three unnamed people with knowledge of the email.



Officials say a U.S. military plane used for refueling crashed into a field in rural Mississippi, killing at least 16 people aboard and spreading debris for miles and creating a fiery wreckage.16 bodies had been recovered after the KC-130 spiraled into the ground about 85 miles north of Jackson in the Mississippi Delta. A Marine Corps spokesperson said in a statement that a KC-130 "experienced a mishap" Monday evening but provided no details. The KC-130 is used as an in-flight refueling tanker for helicopters. The tanker aircraft was based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The station is about 115 miles southeast of Raleigh, N.C. and about 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.



An apparent close call last week involving an Air Canada flight at San Francisco International Airport has sparked investigations from the airline and U.S. aviation authorities. The FAA said an Air Canada Airbus A320 on a flight from Toronto, was cleared to land on one of the runways just before midnight on Friday when the pilot "inadvertently" lined up instead for a taxiway which runs parallel to the runway. The FAA said there were four other aircraft lined up on the taxiway waiting for departure when the incident occurred. An air traffic controller became aware of the problem and told the Air Canada pilot to pull up and go around. The FAA said the Air Canada jet made another approach and landed without incident. Air Canada said 135 passengers and five crew members were aboard its plane, but gave little other information, citing its ongoing investigation.



The U.S. Navy said on Tuesday it has temporarily relieved, for medical reasons, the commander of a warship involved in a crash with a container vessel in Japanese waters that killed seven American sailors. The collision between the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the Philippine-registered ACX Crystal on June 17 resulted in the greatest loss of life on a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed by Islamist militants in Yemen's Aden harbor in 2000. The U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet said in a press release that Cmdr Bryce Benson is recovering from injuries he suffered in the collision and has been temporarily relieved of his command. At least six investigations have been launched, including two U.S. Navy internal hearings and a probe by the United States Coast Guard. None of the investigations has apportioned blame for the accident, or explained how an advanced U.S. warship with sophisticated radar and trained lookouts sailing in clear, albeit dark, conditions was struck by a vessel more than three times its size.



A Northern California wildfire has destroyed 37 structures, at least some of them homes. The figure is up from 17 destroyed structures previously reported by state fire officials. However, the blaze weakened significantly Monday and waves of the thousands of Oroville residents whose homes were evacuated at the fire's peak were being allowed to return. Officials say five more structures were damaged by the wildfire north of Sacramento that has burned 9 square miles and is 40 percent contained. They would not say how many of the burned structures were homes. It's among several large wildfires burning around California and throughout the West.



Republican leaders hope to stage a climactic vote on their health care bill next week. But internal rifts over divisive issues like coverage requirements and Medicaid cuts still leave the measure's fate in doubt. No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas says "We need to start voting" on the party's bill annulling much of President Barack Obama's law. But no one is certain it will be approved.



The puppeteer who has voiced and controlled the Muppets' Kermit the Frog has departed the show after nearly 30 years. Steve Whitmire has been the man behind Kermit since 1990 in the various Muppets TV programs and films but, according to Hollywood entertainment news website Deadline, has left the role and will be replaced by puppeteer Matt Vogel. A Muppets Studio spokesman confirmed the news of the changes. The reason for Whitmire's departure has not been revealed. Whitmire had been in control of Kermit since 1990 following the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson. He had also voiced Ernie of the Sesame Street double act Bert and Ernie. He had worked on the Muppets since 1978 and over the years has portrayed Rizzo the Rat and several Fraggle Rock characters, as well as appearing in Henson movie projects such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The new voice - Matt Vogel has been a Muppets puppeteer since the 1990s and previously took on the role of Constantine, a Kermit imitator, in the 2014 film 'Muppets Most Wanted'.