Militants from the Qaeda-aligned insurgent group ISIS destroyed a Sufi Muslim shrine as they advanced on Tal Maaruf village in Syria's Kurdish-majority Hassakeh province, residents said Feb. 27. ISIS militants "blew up the shrine, and burned a mosque and a police station," said Massoud Akko, a Kurdish journalist and native of Hassakeh province, told Lebanon's Daily Star. ISIS also came under fire in their stronghold of Raqqa, as even rival jihadists criticized the group’s intention to impose a special "jizya" tax on Chrsitians and other religious minorities in their areas of control—including the provincial capital.
A group of some 50 gunmen seized control of parliament and government buildings in Simferopol, capital of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, raising Russian flags above them Feb. 27—just as the US warned Russia that military exercises planned near the border of Ukraine could "lead to miscalculation." With the top floor of the building occupied by the gunmen, Crimea's parliament voted to hold a referendum on the region's future—whether to remain in Ukraine or join Russia. Earlier, in his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, Ukraine's fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovich said he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists," and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of Ukraine. The Ukrainian parliament in Kiev meanwhile voted to send Yanukovich to The Hague to be tried over the violence that led to at least 82 deaths in Kiev last week. (AFP, The Guardian, BBC News, Globe & Mail, Feb. 27; The Guardian, Feb. 25)
Authorities in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila announced Feb. 7 that they had recovered at least 500 sets of human remains from mass graves scattered across 11 municipalities—mostly in the north of the state, along the Texas border. Most of the remains were bones, which had largely survived apparent attempts at incineration. Several vats used to dissolve the remains in acid were also found in the graves. No group has been named as responsible for the killings, but Coahuila is a battle-ground in the ongoing war between the Zetas and their rivals in the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels. The Mexican media are calling the finds "narco-graves." The state Prosecutor General's office says it will take at least four months to ascertain the number of victims among the remains, much less identify them. (Latin Times, Feb. 10; Siglo de Torreón, Feb. 8; Pulso, SLP, Feb. 7)
Veteran Black Panther Russell "Maroon" Shoatz was released from solitary confinement into the general prison population at Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford Feb. 20, ending more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. The news was confirmed by Maroon during a legal call with an attorney from the Abolitionist Law Center. Maroon’s son, Russell Shoatz III, said, "We are very excited that this day has finally come. My father being released from solitary confinement is proof of the power of people organizing against injustice, and the importance of building strong coalitions."
Mexican authorities on Feb. 22 announced the arrest of the country's top drug lord, the notorious Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo" (Shorty)—who had eluded capture for over 10 years, despite a supposed manhunt and a massive price on his head. Chapo was detained in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, and immediately transfered by Federal Police helicopter accompanied by an escort of two Armed Forces helicopters to the top-security Federal Center for Social Rehabilitation No. 1 at Altiplano, México state. The prison has since been under escalated security measures, ringed by armed troops, with nearby highways patrolled by convoys of Federal Police vehicles. (La Jornada, Feb. 22)
Peru's National Police on Feb. 4 announced the discovery of over 100,000 cannabis plants at the high Andean community of Minasel, 4,000 meters above sea level, on the border of Áncash and Huánuco regions. The plants were burned in the fields, police said, while the growers escaped into the mountains. (RPP, Feb. 4) On Jan. 15, elite troops of the Special Anti-drug Operation Division eradicated 65,000 plants of moño rojo (red bud) at the remote mountain village of San Martín de Porres, Chinchao district, Huánuco. (Peru21, Jan. 15)
More than 10 were injured as police moved to break up a road blockade by indigenous protesters in Argentina's Gran Chaco region Feb. 19. Qom indigenous peasants launched the roadblock at Pampa del Indio, Chaco province, to protest the failure of municipal authorities to provide potable water to their communities. They also charged that tank trucks that were promised as an interim measure stopped deliveries because they weren't being paid. Chaco Gov. Juan Carlos Bacileff Ivanoff said the protesters had been "tricked by pseudo-leaders," and charged that two police agents are among the wounded, hit by gunfire. Luis Saravia, local leader of the Movimiento Comandante Andresito, responded that "the indigenous brothers did not have arms." A joint statement by the National Campesino Federation, the Movement of Original Peoples and Nations in Struggle, and the Class Combat Current said the protesters were "savagely repressed" by police. (Argentina Indymedia, Diario Chaco, Diario Chaco, Data Chaco, Feb. 20; La Haine, Feb. 19)
Mexico's Network for Solidarity and Against Repression (RvsR) is calling for international support for the Zapatista base communities in Chiapas state following attacks late last month, urging, "If they touch the Zapatistas, they touch all of us." (UDW, Feb. 14; Enclace Zapatista, Feb. 13) The Zapatista Good Government Junta at the village of Morelia announced on Jan. 31 that several communities within its zone had been attacked by a "mob" of some 300 followers of the Independent Central of Agrarian Workers and Campesinos (CIAOC), who menaced residents with machetes and left three injured. (La Jornada, Feb. 1) The executive committee of CIAOC later disavowed the attacks, saying they had been carried out by the breakaway "CIAOC-Democratic" faction. (La Jornada, Feb. 15) Chiapas state police on Feb. 18 detained CIAOC leader Corazón Gómez Consuegra on charges related to factional violence within the organization in Tapilula municipality. (Es!DiarioPopular, Chiapas, Feb. 19)