Four aid workers held captive for nearly 12 days in a remote cave in Afghanistan won their freedom on June 2 after NATO forces rescued the group during a daring nighttime raid.
The group included two Afghans, a British woman, and a Kenyan woman working on nutrition and hygiene projects for the Swiss-based Medair aid group. Armed gunmen abducted the workers on May 22 as they traveled on horseback to deliver relief in remote sections of Badakhshan province.
The NATO troops launched the rescue mission during the early morning hours using helicopter support, according to a NATO spokesman. The team included British forces authorized by Prime Minister David Cameron. Five kidnappers died during the raid. NATO commander General John Allen suggested the abductors were Taliban operatives.
Medair delivers aid to some of the most dangerous parts of the world and has worked in Afghanistan since 1996. In a statement after the NATO raid, Medair CEO Jim Ingram said the rescued workers were "safe, healthy, and in good spirits." He also said that Afghans living in remote areas remain in danger: "Against a backdrop of violence, drought, and chronic poverty, the Afghan people are more vulnerable than ever."
If a government trying to get control of its finances is practicing austerity, then what France did on June 6 could be called audacity. Despite a heavy debt problem and an increasing lifespan among the French population, new President François Hollande announced that his government would lower the retirement age for many workers to 60 from 62.
The policy reverses his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's move that increased the minimum retirement age to 62. Sarkozy's reform prompted nationwide protests that helped elect Hollande in May. Under Hollande's decree, which will take effect in November, a French citizen who entered the work force at age 18 or 19 will be eligible for a full pension at age 60.
The change comes as Europe faces a mounting crisis over debt brought on by expensive pensions and social welfare programs. Other nations, such as Germany, have been raising their retirement ages amid growing lifespans and falling birth rates. (Germany's retirement age will go from age 65 to age 67 by 2029.) Life expectancy in France is 85 years for women and 78 years for men, among the longest in the world.
During his first days of freedom in the United States, blind human-rights activist Chen Guangcheng offered an assessment of Chinese officials who abuse their own citizens: "Their moral standards are rock bottom."
Chen arrived in New York City on May 19 after a harrowing escape from brutal house arrest in his home province of Shandong. He took refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing for nearly two weeks before Chinese officials allowed Chen and his immediate family to leave China for law studies at New York University.
The activist endured years of imprisonment and house arrest for protesting thousands of forced abortions and sterilizations in his home province that violated Chinese law. During a press conference at the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan on May 31, Chen told a packed audience: "China does not lack laws, but the rule of law."
Chen said that he would spend the summer catching up on news he missed during nearly seven years in captivity, and pursuing something else he hasn't enjoyed in years: "I need some rest."
Police arrested televangelist Creflo Dollar of megachurch World Changers Church International on June 8, after his 15-year-old daughter alleged that he choked and hit her when he wouldn't let her go to a party. One of Dollar's other teenage daughters confirmed the 15-year-old's account to police. Dollar, who was released on bail, denied the allegations as "sensationalism" before his congregation the following Sunday. "I should never have been arrested," Dollar told his church. "The truth is that a family conversation with our youngest daughter got emotional, emotions got involved, and things escalated from there." Dollar, a preacher of the prosperity gospel, came under a Senate investigation in 2011 for his personal use of church airplanes and credit cards.
Man knows not his time
Futuristic author Ray Bradbury, famous for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, died June 5 at age 91. Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn, tells the story of a fireman who is drawn to read the books he is forced to burn. Bradbury wrote the novel, which now has millions of copies in print, in the space of nine days.
He was prolific the rest of his career, writing more novels like The Martian Chronicles as well as short stories and scripts for movies and television series. When NASA's Phoenix spacecraft traveled to Mars in 2008, it left a digital copy of The Martian Chronicles on the red planet. Bradbury was a cheerleader for space exploration and colonization, because, he supposed, "When we do that, we will live forever."
A House committee is scheduled to vote June 20 on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for the Justice Department's unwillingness to hand over numerous documents relating to the Operation Fast and Furious program.
California Republican Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the documents pertain to the claims of whistleblowers and why it took the Department nearly a year to "retract false denials of reckless tactics."
Operation Fast and Furious was a bungled program by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that distributed more than 2,000 guns to a Mexican drug-trafficking network. Agents used taxpayer funds to purchase the semi-automatic weapons and then sold them to at least one cartel. The guns later turned up at numerous violent crime scenes in both Mexico and the United States, including one attack that killed a U.S. border agent.
Congress has been investigating the operation since last year. The Justice Department admitted it was a "botched" operation during which agents had "lost track" of the weapons.
Holder, in testimony given in May 2011, said, "I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks." But several memos released since then "raise significant questions about the truthfulness of the Attorney General's testimony," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama last fall.
A contempt vote by the full House would likely follow the committee vote unless the Justice Department turns over the requested information. The Justice Department called the vote unwarranted.
Bryson takes leave
Authorities in Los Angeles are investigating Commerce Secretary John Bryson's involvement in two hit-and-run crashes in the Los Angeles area on June 9. The Obama administration said Bryson, 68, suffered a seizure, but did not elaborate. On June 11, Bryson announced that he would take a medical leave of absence from the Commerce Department.
According to the police report, Bryson rear-ended a Buick, got out and talked to the Buick passengers, then got back in his car and crashed into the Buick again. He drove off and hit another car, and police found him unconscious behind the wheel, according to the report. Police said they didn't find any indication that Bryson had used drugs or alcohol and a local hospital treated him for "non-life-threatening" injuries. "We're still in the process of gathering information," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "There's more that needs to be learned."
Attacks in Nigeria
Two attacks on Christians in Nigeria continued a pattern of strikes by Islamic terror groups against churches in central and northern states of the most populous country in Africa. On June 10 an Islamic extremist ran a car full of explosives at a Pentecostal church in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, killing two-or three, according to some reports-Christians and injuring more than 40 others. In Borno state the same day, gunmen reportedly killed at least two Christians during church worship. Boko Haram, a terrorist organization now linked to al-Qaeda, took responsibility for both assaults.
The attack in Jos on Christ's Chosen Church of God was the second suicide bombing of a church in two Sundays and the third church bombing in Jos in the past six months. The death toll was expected to increase, reported Compass Direct News, "as injuries were severe." It also spawned reprisal attacks in Jos that killed six motorcycle taxi drivers who reportedly were Muslims. "It does not help anybody to attack people because of an attack on a place of worship," said the Anglican archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, warning that it would lead to more violence.
Full-scale in Syria
On June 12 the UN peacekeeping chief in Syria made official what many observers already knew: that Syria is now in a full-scale civil war. "Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory, several cities to the opposition, and wants to retake control," Herve Ladsous, the UN chief, told reporters.
A UN monitoring team near Homs, the center of months of sporadic fighting between Syrian forces and rebels, caught on video fresh shelling of houses with blood in the entryways. As helicopter gunships hovered overhead and billows of black smoke rose across the city skyline, residents described continual shelling and showed peacekeepers through destroyed homes: "What is this? We are people ... nobody help us, why? We are people, not animals," one Homs resident told the UN team.
The prolonged conflict that has killed over 9,000 took another critical turn after the June 1 massacre near the town of Houla, which killed an estimated 108-among them 49 children and 34 women. Since then Syrians across the country have testified to stepped-up violence and government shelling in civilian areas. But experts disagree over whether the militias responsible for the Houla massacre were allied with the government or with rebels. According to a new report in Germany's leading daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, anti-Assad Sunni militants carried out the massacre, and most victims were Alawite and Shite minorities, which have been largely supportive of Assad. The report cited Assad opponents as eyewitness sources, but they declined to have their names in print for fear of reprisals.