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Taliban Confirms Death of Leader and Names Successor

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Taliban Confirms Death of Leader and Names Successor

KABUL, Afghanistan — Four days after their leader was killed in an American drone strike, the Taliban broke their silence early Wednesday to announce that a lesser-known deputy, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, would take over and continue the group’s war against the Afghan government.

Mawlawi Haibatullah, who is thought to be in his 50s, is seen within the group as carrying deep religious credentials, and he served as a judicial leader during the days of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. But in the discussions leading up to his selection, Taliban commanders described him as a respected elder who was guiding the selection process, not as a front-runner himself.

Instead, the two men seen as the chief rivals for the leadership — Sirajuddin Haqqani, the insurgency’s operations leader; and Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, the young son of the Taliban’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar — were named as deputies on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Taliban’s core leadership council in Quetta, Pakistan.

In the statement, the council appeared to fend off the idea that any shift on entering peace talks might be coming, calling on the Taliban to unite behind Mawlawi Haibatullah and continue to fight.

The announcement was also the group’s first public confirmation that their leader for the past year, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, had been killed in an American airstrike in Baluchistan Province, Pakistan, on Saturday. The Taliban’s spokesmen, who publish regular updates from battlefields across Afghanistan, had remained silent since the strike, as the movement’s leaders convened in Quetta to discuss his burial, as well as his successor.

Taliban commanders reached by phone said that one of the group’s first meetings in Quetta was at the home of Mawlawi Haibatullah, who was said to be guiding discussions that were focusing more centrally on whether Mr. Haqqani or Mullah Yaqoub would rise to lead the insurgency. Over the past year, Mr. Haqqani had increasingly been running the day-to-day war for the Taliban as Mullah Mansour was occupied with a campaign of quashing internal dissent and with travel abroad.

Many of the movement’s leaders had pushed for a relatively obscure figure to succeed Mullah Mansour — to avoid a divisive personality and for purposes of enhanced security, keeping in mind that Mullah Omar’s reclusive ways long protected him and even concealed his death for years. It appeared on Wednesday that such criteria had served Mawlawi Haibatullah well.

Mawlawi Haibatullah is viewed as an important cleric and a spiritual authority within the Taliban ranks, but one who lacks military experience. Mullah Omar was reported to have relied on his interpretation of jurisprudence when making decisions. Mawlawi Haibatullah served as a top judge during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan, in Kandahar as well as on the Supreme Court in Kabul.

One factor that may have helped in his ascent to the leadership, in the face of competition from Mullah Yaqoub and Mr. Haqqani, was the hope that he could unite a movement that was fracturing under Mullah Mansour, analysts said.

Habibullah Fawzi, a former Taliban diplomat, said that Mawlawi Haibatullah had taught religious studies to many Taliban commanders, and that his position could inspire unity.

“One of the reasons that the Taliban chose Haibatullah as leader is that as a religious scholar, he can reunite different factions of the Taliban and prevent disintegration,” Mr. Fawzi said.

Mawlawi Haibatullah, from the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, is from the Noorzai tribe. Some of the leaders of a breakaway Taliban faction that revolted against Mullah Mansour are also Noorzais, and they are believed to have better relations with Mawlawi Haibatullah, who has been involved in trying to mediate their return.

But a spokesman for the breakaway faction, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, said on Wednesday that the choice of Mawlawi Haibatullah was unacceptable. He said that members of the faction had not been consulted, and he compared the process to the way in which Mullah Mansour rose to power last summer, leading to a revolt.

“Sheikh Haibatullah is not the right choice for us,” Mullah Niazi said, using the term for an elder scholar. “He has been selected quite similarly to Mansour with no consensus of all mujahedeen — it will never be acceptable to us.”

Mullah Niazi said that at least 300 well-known religious scholars should be present at the selection of a new supreme leader, but that only a small circle had chosen Mawlawi Haibatullah. His swift selection, along with the promotion of the “powerless” Mullah Yaqoub, was intended to create a situation in which Mr. Haqqani holds the real power, Mullah Niazi said.

It is unclear how united and strong the breakaway faction remains after Mullah Mansour sent squads of fighters to crush it, striking serious blows. The faction’s leader, Mullah Muhammad Rasool, has also disappeared in Pakistan in recent months, with the news media in the country reporting his detention.

Along with the announcement on Wednesday came the Taliban’s latest attack on the outskirts of Kabul, targeting a van that was taking employees of an appellate court to neighboring Wardak Province. The Taliban had vowed to take aim at government employees, particularly those in the judicial system, after six prisoners in Kabul were hanged recently, having been convicted on terrorism charges.

Najibullah Danish, a deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said 10 people had been killed in the attack and four others had been wounded.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

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Three Disney World Employees Among 17 Arrested in Florida Child Sex Sting

Three Disney World employees were among the 17 people arrested in a child sex sting operation in Florida, law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday.

In the operation, dubbed “Operation Child Protector,” undercover officers posed as 13- and 14-year-old children on social media and online dating apps between July 27 and Aug. 1.

The undercovers made contact with each of the suspects before proposing they meet at a location in Polk County, where they were busted.

In total, the arrests led to 49 felony and two misdemeanor charges. Those arrested were aged 26 to 47. All were from Central Florida except for one 33-year-old man from California.

“What you see on this board … are deviants. Incredible deviants,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference on Tuesday, motioning to photos of the alleged pervs. “They travel from as far away as Clewiston, Florida. One even came from Los Angeles.”

“Much to their chagrin, instead of meeting with young children, they were met by law enforcement officers who were online undercover posing as children.”

Kenneth Javier Aquino, 26, a lifeguard at Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World, was arrested while still wearing his Disney polo shirt and swimsuit, according to the sheriff’s office.

Aquino engaged in an online conversation on social media with an officer, posing as a 13-year-old girl, authorities said. He then asked the “girl” to send photos, and sent her an explicit video of himself, police said.

Aquino told officers he is a Navy veteran and has a pregnant girlfriend.

Jonathan McGrew, a 34-year-old custodian at Disney World, was nabbed by an undercover officer posing as a 13-year-old girl.

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McGrew allegedly told the “girl” that he wanted her to come over and have sex with him and his girlfriend, 29-year-old Savannah Lawrence, who also works as a custodian at tourist mecca.

McGrew sent her explicit videos of him and Lawrence performing sexual acts on each other, authorities said.

A rep for Disney World didn’t immediately return a message.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

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China Reports First Human Death from Monkey B Virus

China has reported the first human infection and death in the country caused by a rare infectious disease found in primates known as the Monkey B virus.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said a 53-year-old veterinary surgeon who worked in a research institute specializing in nonhuman primate breeding in Beijing dissected two monkeys in March and became ill about a month later.

He began experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever and neurological issues, and died in May.

Blood and saliva samples were tested and researchers in April found evidence of the Monkey B virus, also known as the herpes B virus.

Researchers said a male doctor and female nurse who were in close contact with the victim tested negative for the virus.

The Monkey B virus is prevalent among macaque monkeys but infection among humans is extremely rare. Since the virus was identified in 1932, just 50 cases have been reported, with the majority of those in North America. Untreated B virus infections in humans are serious, however, with a fatality rate of about 80 percent.

Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, and progress to more serious complications such as swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

Laboratory workers and veterinarians in close contact with the animals are most at risk as people typically get infected with the virus if they are bitten or scratched by an infected macaque, or have contact with the monkey’s eyes, nose or mouth.

But the virus is unlikely to mutate in a way that poses a problem to the general population. Just one case of human-to-human transmission of the virus has ever been documented.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

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U.S. Remembers 9/11 Terrorist Attacks as The Pandemic Changes Tribute Traditions

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.

In New York, a dispute over coronavirus-safety precautions is leading to split-screen remembrances Friday, one at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner. The Pentagon’s observance will be so restricted that not even victims’ families can attend, though small groups can visit the memorial there later in the day.

Trump and Biden are both headed — at different times — to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Trump is speaking at the morning ceremony, the White House said. Biden plans to pay respects there in the afternoon after attending the observance at the 9/11 memorial in New York.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is also due at ground zero — and then at the alternate ceremony a few blocks away.

In short, the anniversary of 9/11 is a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a health crisis, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, 9/11 families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001, shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

“I know that the heart of America beats on 9/11 and, of course, thinks about that tragic day. I don’t think that people forget,” says Anthoula Katsimatides, who lost her brother John and is now on the board of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum.

Friday will mark Trump’s second time observing the 9/11 anniversary at the Flight 93 memorial, where he made remarks in 2018. Biden spoke at the memorial’s dedication in 2011, when he was vice president.

The ground zero ceremony in New York has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to speak, though they can attend. Biden did so as vice president in 2010, and Trump as a candidate in 2016.

Though the candidates will be focused on the commemorations, the political significance of their focus on Shanksville is hard to ignore: Pennsylvania is a must-win state for both. Trump won it by less than a percentage point in 2016.

Around the country, some communities have canceled 9/11 commemorations because of the pandemic, while others are going ahead, sometimes with modifications.

The New York memorial is changing one of its ceremony’s central traditions: having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes.

Thousands of family members are still invited. But they’ll hear a recording of the names from speakers spread around the vast plaza, a plan that memorial leaders felt would avoid close contact at a stage but still allow families to remember their loved ones at the place where they died.

But some victims’ relatives felt the change robbed the observance of its emotional impact. A different 9/11-related group, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, set up its own, simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying there’s no reason that people can’t recite names while keeping a safe distance.

The two organizations also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center and evoke its fallen twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus-safety concerns for the installation crew. After the Tunnel to Towers Foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chairman, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.

Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions that can be accomplished at home.

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