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September 18th, 2013
04:32 AM ET

Washington Navy Yard Shooting: A Deeper Look At The Victims

Here are the stories of just some of the twelve victims who were at work at Washington's Navy Yard Monday and never made it home.

Financial Analyst Kathy Gaarde,62, was a die-hard fan of the Washington Capitols. Her daughter says she would do anything for anyone she loved.

Gaarde

Martin Bodrog, 54, had retired from the Navy but kept working as a civilian, designing war ships.  He leaves behind a wife and three daughters.

bodrog

Mary Francis Knight was an IT contractor who taught at a local community college. The 51-year-old's eldest daughter just got married two weeks ago.

Knight

Richard Michael Ridgell, 52, a private contractor, who retired from the Maryland State Police and served three years as a contract security worker in Iraq.

Ridgell

SEE FULL STORY  
 
September 17th, 2013
04:44 AM ET

Tragedy At Washington Navy Yard

A 34-year-old contractor opens fire at a Washington Navy Yard Monday and kills twelve people. CNN's John Berman reports.

The chaos started just after 8 a.m., when authorities say Aaron Alexis from Fort Worth, Texas, used his military contractor I.D. to get into a building at the Washington Navy Yard, walked to an atrium and began firing.

But who is Aaron Alexis? CNN's Pamela Brown says the subcontractor entered building 197 legally with an intent to kill armed with three weapons.

Alexis was born in Queens, New York, and joined the Navy as a reservist in May 2007.  According to pentagon officials, he was discharged in January 2011 following a"pattern of misconduct."

While it's unclear what that misconduct was, he did have several run-ins with the law.

Alexis was arrested in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out the tires of another man's vehicle, described in the police report as an anger-fueled "blackout."  His father said his son was suffering from PTSD after helping post 9/11 rescue efforts at ground zero.

In 2008, he was cited and briefly jailed for  disturbing the peace in Georgia.

And he was arrested again in 2010 for discharging a gun in public in Fort Worth, Texas, where he lived until recently. He was never charged in that case.

One of Alexis's friends in Fort Worth, Kristi Suthamtewakul, said he was locked in a financial dispute with the company that contracted him to work for the Navy .

"He did some civilian contract stuff or maybe government contract stuff in Japan for about a month  and then he came back over here.  I was excited because I was the one that picked him up from the airport and he's like a brother to me.  After that, he just didn't feel like he was getting paid the correct amount, or just issues with that."

A motive for the massive shooting is still unknown.

SEE FULL REPORT: 

For more on this story, visit CNN.com

September 16th, 2013
09:21 AM ET

United Nations Will Reveal Chemical Weapons Report

U.N. inspectors will release their official report Monday on the use of chemical weapons from an August attack in Damascus, Syria. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may have thought he wasn't on camera Friday when he said this of today's vital report:

"I believe the report will be an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used even though I cannot say publicly at this time."

The U.N. leader added Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had committed many crimes against humanity and would eventually face a "process of accountability."

One official tells Walsh it's likely the report was complete by that meeting and Ban Ki-moon may have already seen the findings before giving his statement.

The U.N. inspectors report on the August 21st gas attacks will be presented to the security council at 11 a.m.  in enough detail for others to work out who was behind the attacks, though it's not the inspectors job to do so.

The U.N. says Syria now has officially joined the chemical weapons convention, whose rules mean it must declare all those weapons by mid-November.

That's not fast enough for the United States or Russia who agreed in Geneva, Switzerland, that Syria must tell reveal their weapons in a week.

In Syria's first major comments on the deal, its information minister told ITV News it wants to wait for a U.N. resolution to set the timing of its disarmament.

Now another round of negotiations begins, perhaps fast, perhaps torturous, to find a wording for a resolution that can back up what was agreed in Geneva last week.

Some major questions remain to be negotiated.  A diplomat reveals one major point is: will a U.N. resolution blame Assad and demand a trial for those who ordered the attacks?

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September 13th, 2013
05:53 AM ET

Iconic NJ Boardwalk Engulfed In Flames

One year after residents in a Jersey Shore community faced the decimation of their neighborhood by Superstorm Sandy, a massive fire causes another devastating scene.  CNN's Don Lemon reports.

A massive fire that started small, as amateur video shows it erupting at an ice cream stand around 2pm, swelled with the wind Thursday.

In Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, New Jersey, many businesses are damaged or destroyed and many lives upended with six blocks of boardwalk gone.

Christine Hemingway, an employee at Kohr's Frozen Custard Shop, escaped the fire but says, "My manager came in the stand and told me to get out because there was smoke coming up through the boardwalk. We ran away and turned around again and there were just flames coming out of the building."

Hundreds of firefighters eventually containing the fire by building a 20-foot wide trench.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, "I said to my staff I feel like I want to throw up."

While repairs to the boardwalk after the massive storm Sandy let the attraction be open for the summer season in May, the state's resolve will be tested once again now.

Christie:  "And listen, this is us. So as soon as this is over, we'll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and we'll get back to work."

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September 12th, 2013
10:23 AM ET

Should World Trust Putin After Open Letter?

He says he hopes his "friends" in Syria bring their chemical weapons under control and also "have them destroyed" but Vladmir Putin's role as the last, best hope for diplomacy in this crisis isn't winning believers in Washington. CNN's Brian Todd reports.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Armed Services Committee says, "the Russians are part of the problem in Syria. They are not credibly part of the solution."

This skepticism builds as President Putin writes an open letter in the New York Times  saying it is not the Syrian government that should be blamed for the use of chemical weapons in the country. He writes:

"There is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons."

France says the United Nations will probably publish its report on the August chemical attack on Monday.  The country says there will be indications in the report the Assad regime was behind the attack.

Senators Cornyn, John McCain and others have been ticking through laundry lists of why they believe Putin won't follow through on getting the Syrians to give up their alleged chemical weapons.

They cite planeloads of Russian weapons sent to the Syrian regime for hefty profits, nearly $1 billion worth in 2011 alone.

There's also a Russian naval base in Syria.

Julia Ioffe, senior editor at the New Republic, spent three years as a journalist in Russia. She says Putin views his role in the world "to be a counterweight to America."

Though Senator Diane Feinstein and others believe Putin does want to reach a deal to end this crisis and that he doesn't want Syria to have chemical weapons.

Ioffe says Putin wants to be the cause of attention and show President Obama that he has the ability to end this issue peacefully.

The reporter notes the Russian president wants "to be center stage, to be somebody that you reckon with, somebody that you have to come to and seek his approval and you have to come and kiss his ring."

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Filed under: Russia • Russian • Syria
September 11th, 2013
05:50 AM ET

President Obama: Let's Try Diplomacy First

President Obama spoke from the East Room of the White House to the American people and the world Tuesday night in a speech giving his position on Syria. CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

The President laid out some of his case for military strikes against Syria but also cautiously embraced a Russian plan to try diplomacy first.

First, the commander in chief told Americans why his administration is certain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is responsible for a sarin gas attack the U.S. government says killed more that 1,400 civilians.

President Obama: In the days leading up to the August 21st, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.

While he made the case for a military response saying "even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver" later in the speech, he argued against taking action as he pointed to a new Russian brokered proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

President Obama: I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.

Keilar says many observers doubt Syria will actually turn over its extensive chemical weapons stockpiles and the administration is concerned the Assad regime may just be stalling.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday, "It has to be swift, it has to be real, it have to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic."

The diplomat will head to Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Thursday.

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September 10th, 2013
10:02 AM ET

Obama Considers Option Where Syrians Turn Over All Chemical Weapons

As President Obama prepares to address the nation Tuesday night, it had seemed a military strike was the only option on the table for the U.S. to stand against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Now what had sounded like a misguided comment that Secretary of State John Kerry made at a news conference, may have turned into a viable alternative diplomatic option.

President Obama told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday, "If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action that would be my preference."

Kerry proclaimed, "He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done obviously."

While a U.S.  official quickly chalked up Kerry's statement as "a rhetorical argument" Russia saw a real game plan in what some considered a gaffe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "We're calling on the Syrian authorities to not only agree on putting chemical weapons storage under international control, but also for its further destruction."

Syria responded just an hour later, their foreign minister Walid Moallem saying, "I declare that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia's initiative."

On Tuesday morning, the minister added his country had agreed to the Russian proposal after what Interfax quoted him as calling a "very fruitful round of talks" with Russia's Lavrov a day earlier.

International relations expert Aaron David Miller outlines the details and skepticism many feel.

"You'd have to have a cease-fire. You'd have to have a prolonged period where UN weapons inspectors would come in and it seems to me almost unimaginable."

For now, the Senate has delayed their vote from Wednesday on Syria to consider this new Russian proposal.

President Obama is scheduled to speak to the nation at 9 p.m ET Tuesday night. CNN will carry that speech live.

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September 9th, 2013
06:42 AM ET

Congress Heads Back to Washington

Members of the House and Senate will return to Capitol Hill Monday for the first time since a purported chemical weapons attack in Syria.

CNN's Katie Murray reports.

The debate on a resolution giving President Obama the go-ahead to take military action in Syria is expected to top the agenda.

Though it's far from certain how events will unfold.

What does seem clear is the uphill battle the President faces to convince a divided Congress.

Though for once, the divide is not down party lines.

Democratic Representative Jim McGovern told CNN's Candy Crowley Sunday, Obama should withdraw his request for authorization.

The lawmaker said, "We're being told that there's two choices. Do nothing or bomb Syria. Clearly there have to be some other choices in between. We ought to explore them."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has already passed a rewritten authorization measure, and the Senate could vote on it as early as Thursday or Friday.

The timeline for activity in the house is more vague, but GOP leaders say they will wait for the Senate to approve the measures first.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, supports Obama's call for military action in Syria, but says the administration has failed to make its case to Congress and the American people.

On CBS's "Face the Nation, " Rep. Rogers said Sunday:

"It is a confusing mess up to this point, and that has been, I think, their biggest challenge on what is an incredibly important issue, and this cannot be about Barack Obama.  It has to be what is in the best interest of the United States of America."

President Obama hasn't said whether he would proceed with a strike should Congress vote against his resolution though White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the President has the final say.

"The President ultimately is going to make this decision in consultation with Congress on our timeline, as best suits our interests."

President Obama  will speak to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

The commander in chief is expected to address the nation on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET.

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September 6th, 2013
09:35 AM ET

At G20, Pres. Obama Fights Amid Tension For Action In Syria

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin's relationship is still chilly as they go into day two of the G20 summit. CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

President Obama's first one-on-one interaction with Putin lasts 17 seconds, Keilar says.

While they are all smiles, there is an evident chill in the air as tensions deepen between the two nations over Syria, gay rights and NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

When President Obama is asked if there's been any progress in his push for a U.S. led strike against Syria, he responds, "We were talking about the economy this afternoon."

So far, Putin hasn't commented on Syria publicly but his press secretary tows the Russian line saying, "We all need a convincing and legitimate evidence of proof."

Though Syria is the proverbial elephant in the room, it's not even on the official agenda for the economics-driven summit.  That leaves all discussion on foreign policy to be in the margins and behind closed doors.

Still, Obama says, "I think our joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy, but also a violation of international law that must be addressed."

Aides to the President say behind the scenes, Obama is out to convince skeptical foreign leaders that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Damasacus.

At home, while many members of Congress are undecided, quite a few lawmakers have already said they plan to vote against supporting military action in Syria.

Things got heated at Senator John McCain's town hall in Phoenix. McCain supports action in Syria but some of his constituents voiced their opinions against action.

The same is true for Democratic head of Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein who says her followers who are against action in Syria have been calling her every day with "overwhelmingly negative" responses.

SEE CNN's ATHENA JONES' FULL REPORT:

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September 5th, 2013
09:16 AM ET

Obama-Putin Rift On Eve of G-20

Thursday marks the beginning of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, but with tension between President Obama and President Putin  mounting on Syria, gay rights and NSA leaker Edward Snowden, some say Obama is walking into the lion's den.

President Obama, commenting on the relationship, has said, "We've kinda hit a wall in terms of additional progress," CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

President Obama defended his position to launch strikes in Syria Wednesday in Sweden saying "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line when governmnets representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent."

Putin remains vehemently opposed to a military response against the Assad regime, casting doubt over the evidence the U.S. government says it has on chemical weapons use in the country.

Putin saying, "If we have objective, precise data of who is responsible for these crimes, then we'll react.

This is the highest tensions have been between the two world powers since the cold war.

Former ambassador and expert on international peace James F. Collins says, "We will have a very bad patch if there is a military attack on Syria and I think we can expect some pretty frosty times."

Russia and Syria have been strong allies for decades. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson says, "Russia is very close to Syria. They provide and buy weapons from each other, they kind of are a client state."

Though Russia is not alone in its refusal to endorse military action, Britain and Germany are also no's.

Syria is just one of the issues brining tension between the countries . President Obama canceled his private meeting with Putin several weeks ago after the Russian leader's refusal to extradite NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

While in St. Petersburg, Obama also plans to meet with gay rights activists on Putin's turf as outrage spreads over Russia's new law banning any promotion of gay relationships to minors.

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