Pope shakes up Vatican communications operations

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis announced Tuesday a shakeup of the Vatican's communications operations, replacing the longtime editor of the Holy See newspaper and naming a prominent Italian journalist to coordinate the editorial line of all Vatican media. Andrea Tornielli, Vatican reporter for Turin daily La Stampa, was named to the new position of editorial … Continue reading “Pope shakes up Vatican communications operations”

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis announced Tuesday a shakeup of the Vatican's communications operations, replacing the longtime editor of the Holy See newspaper and naming a prominent Italian journalist to coordinate the editorial line of all Vatican media.

Andrea Tornielli, Vatican reporter for Turin daily La Stampa, was named to the new position of editorial director for the Dicastery of Communications, responsible for coordinating the Vatican's editorial operations.

In addition, the Vatican named an Italian writer and professor, Andrea Monda, to become editor of L'Osservatore Romano newspaper. He replaces Giovanni Maria Vian, a church historian and journalist who has headed the daily since 2007.

The Vatican's media operations have been undergoing a problematic reform process aimed at reducing redundancies and improving coordination. Among its victims was Vatican Radio and its vast multilingual broadcasts.

The first head of the revamped umbrella communications office, which gathered all Vatican media under one department, was forced to resign earlier this year after he misrepresented a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI and released a doctored photo of it.

Francis named Paolo Ruffini, who had led the broadcaster of the Italian bishops' conference, to replace him — the first time a layman had been named to head a Holy See department. In a statement Tuesday, Ruffini said both Tornielli and Monda were bridge-builders who know how to speak to various generations and develop new means of communications.

Tornielli runs a must-read Vatican blog, Vatican Insider, and is the author of several books about Francis that benefited from access to the pope himself. Tornielli's latest was a forensic critique of an 11-page document by a retired Vatican ambassador accusing Francis of covering up for a disgraced ex-American cardinal.

Monda, for his part, has taught religion and literature at various pontifical universities since 2000 and has written cultural articles for Italian Catholic publications, the Vatican said.

L'Osservatore Romano, with its storied 150-year history and daily and weekly editions, had sought to retain a certain editorial independence from the rest of the Vatican's other media operations during the reform.

Under Vian's leadership, the paper broadened its cultural coverage and launched a women's monthly magazine, "Women Church World," among other things.

Terror charges issued in France’s Christmas market attack

PARIS – A man suspected of supplying the gun used in the Christmas market shooting attack that killed five people in Strasbourg has been handed preliminary terror charges, according to a French judicial official close to the investigation.

The official, who could not be named with the case ongoing, said the individual appeared Monday before a judge and was charged with criminal association with terrorists, as well as possessing and supplying arms in connection with a terrorist enterprise.

The man is suspected of furnishing the weapon that alleged gunman Cherif Chekatt used in the Dec. 11 attack, the judicial official said. He was remanded into custody.

Chekatt, 29, died in a shootout with police in Strasbourg on Thursday.

Two other people were arrested and detained Monday as part of the terror investigation the Paris prosecutor's office is conducting into the attack. They also were suspected of "playing a role in supplying the firearm," said the official.

Their arrests bring the number of suspects in custody since the attack to three; Chekatt's parents and two of his brothers were questioned by police last week and released.

The death toll from the attack increased to five Sunday night after a Polish man died of his wounds in a Strasbourg hospital. Barto Orent-Niedzielski, 36, lived in the city, where he worked at the European Parliament and as a journalist. The other casualties include a tourist from Thailand and an Italian journalist.

According to reports, Orent-Niedzielski fought the shooter and stopped him from entering a crowded club, possibly preventing more deaths.

Polish President Andrzej Duda wrote on Twitter that "I knew him by sight. I am shocked. I had not realized that he was the one mortally wounded protecting other people. Honor to his memory. RIP."

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Samuel Petrequin in Paris and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.

‘Friends’ star David Schwimmer’s lookalike skips court appearance, warrant issued

No one told him life was gonna be this way.

An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday for a British theft suspect — whose image went viral on social media due to the man's resemblance to “Friends” star David Schwimmer — after he failed to show up for a court appearance.

Abdulah Husseni, 36, failed to appear in court in Blackpool on Tuesday to face charges of theft and fraud. He was arrested in Southall in November on suspicion of theft.

The man’s face became world famous after police published surveillance footage of a man carrying what appeared to be a case of beer from a restaurant in Blackpool. He was wanted for allegedly stealing a jacket, wallet and cellphone from a restaurant.

Fans of the 1994-2004 sitcom said they knew exactly who the alleged thief was – Ross Geller, the fictional character played by Schwimmer. Many Twitter users began making “Friends”-related jokes — especially revolving around the show's catchy theme song, "I'll Be There For You."

“I don't think it's been this guy's day, his week, his month or even his year,” one fan wrote in one of the 101,000 comments that were left on the post, according to the BBC.

Police later confirmed Schwimmer was off the hook…but not before the 52-year-old actor took to Twitter in an attempt to “clear” himself.

“Officers, I swear it wasn't me. As you can see, I was in New York. To the hardworking Blackpool Police, good luck with the investigation,” he wrote below a video of him getting beer from a grocery store, a la the British suspect.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.

Vatican committee: Church credibility at risk over sex abuse

VATICAN CITY – Organizers of an upcoming Vatican summit on sex abuse prevention are warning that the credibility of the Catholic Church is in jeopardy over the abuse scandal and are urging participants to meet with victims personally before coming to Rome.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the presidents of bishops' conferences worldwide, organizers said the church must develop a "comprehensive and communal response" to the crisis, and that the first step is "acknowledging the truth of what has happened."

Pope Francis invited the church leaders to the Feb. 21-24 summit to respond to what has become the gravest threat to his papacy, as the sex abuse and cover-up scandal erupted in the U.S., Chile and elsewhere this year.

In revealing the first details of the preparations for the meeting, the Vatican said the summit would focus on three main areas: responsibility, accountability and transparency.

"Absent a comprehensive and communal response, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry on the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world," the organizers wrote.

"Each of us needs to own this challenge, coming together in solidarity, humility, and penitence to repair the damage done, sharing a common commitment to transparency, and holding everyone in the church accountable," they said.

It was signed by the four members of the preparatory committee for the meeting: Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias, as well as the Vatican's leading abuse experts Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and the Rev. Hans Zollner.

They urged conference presidents to meet with victims before they come to Rome "to learn firsthand the suffering they have endured."

The appeal was clear evidence that throughout the church, many bishops continue to deny the scope of the problem and have never met with a victim.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said that doing so "is a concrete way of putting victims first and acknowledging the horror of what happened."

Francis announced he was convening the summit in September, signaling awareness at the top of the church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem and not restricted to some parts of the world or a few Western countries.

Francis is still working to recover from his botched handling of the sex abuse scandal in the Chilean church, sparked earlier this year when he repeatedly discredited victims of a notorious Chilean predator priest.

His papacy was then jolted by accusations from a retired Vatican ambassador that Francis himself rehabilitated a now-disgraced American ex-cardinal accused of molesting and harassing adult seminarians. Francis hasn't responded to the allegations, though he has ordered a limited investigation into them.

Spanish court gears up for high-stakes trial of separatists

MADRID – A preliminary hearing in a rebellion case against Catalan separatists Tuesday displayed some of the dynamics between defense and prosecutors expected during a trial that is likely to dominate Spanish politics.

Altogether, 18 former politicians and activists from the Catalonia region are charged with rebellion, sedition, disobedience and misuse of public funds for their parts in an attempt to secede from Spain last year.

At Tuesday's hearing, a panel of seven magistrates heard from defense attorneys who argued the trial should be heard by the top regional court in Catalonia rather than Spain's highest court in Madrid.

Prosecutors countered that Madrid was the proper venue, saying the events that led regional lawmakers to make a unilateral declaration of independence on Oct. 27, 2017 had ramifications outside of Catalonia.

The country's top court also has jurisdiction, prosecutors argued, because the secession attempt affected all Spaniards.

Supreme Court judges rejected similar defense appeals during the investigative stage of the case. A final decision is expected later this week.

If the top court keeps the case, former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, activist-turned-politician Jordi Sanchez and 16 other defendants are expected to appear there when the trial proceedings get underway at the end of January.

Four defendants are three weeks into a prison hunger strike to protest what they deem unfair treatment by Spain's judiciary. Central government authorities say there is no reason for the strike and the defendants' rights are guaranteed by Spain's independent judiciary.

The "trial of the century," as it's been labeled by domestic media, has taken a high political significance. Separatists in the northeastern region have made clear that they will use proceedings to prove that they are being tried for their ideas, and in particular for advancing a secessionist agenda.

In addition to prosecutors and state attorneys, a far-right party that has recently emerged in Spanish politics sits on the prosecution bench. Vox wants to use the trial to showcase its hard stance against nationalism and its defense of Spanish unity ahead of European and local elections in May next year.

Neo-Nazi couple who named baby after Hitler sentenced to prison for being part of terrorist group

A British neo-Nazi couple who named their son after Adolf Hitler was sentenced Tuesday to several years in prison for being part of a terrorist group.

Adam Thomas, 22, was sentenced to six years and six months in prison, while Claudia Patatas, 38, was jailed for five years, Sky News reported.

Thomas and Patatas were found guilty for being members of National Action, a far-right neo-Nazi organization in the United Kingdom that was banned in 2016. Judge Melbourne Inman QC, who handed down the sentence, said the group had “horrific aims.”

"Its aims and objectives are the overthrow of democracy in this country by serious violence and murder, and the imposition of a Nazi-style state which would eradicate whole sections of society by such violence and mass murder," the judge said.

UK FAR-RIGHT COUPLE WITH NEO-NAZI VIEWS WHO NAMED SON AFTER HITLER CONVICTED

Thomas and Patatas led a not-so-secret double life, one working as an Amazon security guard and the other as a wedding photographer, while preaching neo-Nazi beliefs, prosecutors said. The couple gave their son the middle name “Adolf” in “admiration of the German dictator who slaughtered millions of Jews during World War II.

Their home contained swastika-covered cushions and a swastika-shaped pastry cutter, along with machetes, knives and crossbows near a baby crib, the BBC reported.

The couple also posed for photos that showed them holding their son while displaying a flag with a swastika on it. Thomas was seen in another picture cradling his son while wearing the white robe of the Ku Klux Klan.

Prosecutors said the couple wanted to “bring back concentration camps” and that Thomas once told another National Action member that “all Jews must be put to death” and “all non-whites [were] intolerable.” Thomas was also found guilty of having the book Anarchist’s Cookbook — considered a terrorist manual that had instructions to make “viable bombs,” Sky News reported.

Thomas and Patatas were among six people sentenced Tuesday. Daniel Bogunovic, 27, was also found guilty and sentenced to six years and four months in prison. Three other people previously pleaded guilty to being in the organization.

Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam

Fighting in Yemeni city dies down as cease-fire takes hold

SANAA, Yemen – Yemen's key port city of Hodeida was calm Tuesday morning, hours after a U.N.-mediated cease-fire went into effect between government-allied forces and the country's rebels, Yemeni officials said.

Fighting subsided as the cease-fire took effect, with only the sporadic sound of automatic weapons fire heard in the city, where the port handles about 70 percent of Yemen's imports.

Yemen's four-year conflict pits the internationally recognized government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

The government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi called for its forces to "cease-fire in both Hodeida city and the province" also named Hodeida, according to a statement from Hadi's Defense Ministry. The rebels also welcomed the cease-fire in the key port city.

The agreement came during U.N.-sponsored talks in Sweden last week. A joint committee led by U.N. officers will oversee the cease-fire and the redeployment of the warring parties' forces out of Hodeida, which is currently controlled by the Houthis. Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under U.N. supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

U.N. envoy Martin Griffith has said the committee is expected to start its work swiftly "to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground."

A cessation of hostilities in Hodeida would spare Yemen a significant spike in civilian casualties since the rebels have shown battlefield resilience as much larger government-allied forces backed by airpower tried for months to retake the city. The two sides fought to a stalemate after weeks of ruinous street-to-street fighting in densely populated districts on the city's outskirts.

The war has pushed much of the country to the brink of famine. U.N. officials say 22 million of its 29 million people are in need of aid.

The International Rescue Committee said Monday its analysis showed that Yemen is the country most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe next year.

"Yemen's ongoing war has led to the world's worst humanitarian crisis, which worsened in 2018 and was dominated by attacks on civilians and a breakdown of basic services that left nearly 80 percent of the population in need. 2019 could prove to be much worse still," IRC Vice President for Emergencies Bob Kitchen said in a statement.

Kitchen urged for an immediate nationwide cease-fire in Yemen, saying that "all parties to the conflict must engage meaningfully in UN-led peace talks."

Last week, an international group tracking Yemen's civil war reported that the conflict has killed more than 60,000 people, both combatants and civilians, since 2016. That figure is much higher than the U.N. figure of 10,000 civilian deaths, and has added to the urgency to find a political resolution for the four-year bloodletting.

The report from the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project said more than 28,000 people — both civilians and combatants — were killed in the first 11 months of 2018, an increase of 68 percent from 2017. More than 3,000 were killed in November, the deadliest month since the group started collecting data. It said 37 percent of civilians killed in Yemen in 2018 died in Hodeida.

The figures do not include the last few months of 2014, when the Houthi rebels captured the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and much of the country's north, nor the casualties in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition joined the war on the side of the government.

The group said it based its figures on news reports of each incident of violence in the war.

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Magdy reported from Cairo.

Sri Lankan lawmakers question Rajapaksa’s parliamentary seat

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Members of Sri Lanka's Parliament on Tuesday questioned whether Mahinda Rajapaksa, who recently quit as prime minister, can hold his seat after earlier relinquishing membership in the political party that he represented in the last election.

Lakshman Kiriella, a lawmaker from the ruling United National Front coalition, raised the question in Parliament soon after Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced that he accepted Rajapaksa as the opposition leader because President Maithripala Sirisena had withdrawn from a national unity government with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Rajapaksa last month dropped his membership of his former party, led by Sirisena, to represent the Sri Lanka People's Front, the party he formed and served as shadow leader. He took the step after Sirisena dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections, aiming to form a base independent of Sirisena.

Rajapaksa, who is popular among Sri Lankans for winning a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009, was the party's biggest crowd-puller.

However, the Supreme Court restored the same Parliament, calling its dissolution illegal.

Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister on Saturday, ending weeks of political instability in the country. The crisis was triggered by Sirisena's move to withdraw his party from a national unity government, sack Wickremesinghe as prime minister and appoint Rajapaksa in his place.

Wickremesinghe insisted that he was removed illegally, while Rajapaksa failed to secure majority support in Parliament.

Sirisena dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections, but the Supreme Court suspended the move and restored Parliament. Later, the court issued a final decision, declaring the dissolution of Parliament and the call for elections illegal.

By that time, Rajapaksa's opponents had defeated him in two no-confidence votes, but he held on to the office with Sirisena's support, until the Court of Appeal suspended him and his Cabinet from functioning in their offices.

Rajapaksa and his suspended ministers went to the Supreme Court seeking to remove their suspensions, but the court refused.

Rajapaksa was then forced to resign to avert a crisis that would have prevented the government from spending state funds from Jan. 1 without a budget.

Sirisena then restored Wickremesinghe, the man he ousted in October, as prime minister.

Leopard kills, decapitates boy, 3, in India after animal sneaks inside kitchen

The headless body of a 3-year-old Indian boy was found Tuesday after the child was snatched from his home and dragged into the woods by a serial-killer leopard, officials said.

The child, identified as Wasim Akram, was at home with his mother when the animal snuck inside, pounced on him and dragged him away, local officials told Agence France-Presse.

The child's headless body was handed over to his parents after the grisly discovery was made.

The killing was the third blamed on the same leopard in the last two months. One of the other victims was an 8-year-old boy, who was mauled to death on Dec. 7, according to the news agency.

The killing of the three-year-old boy was the third blamed on the same leopard in the last two months.

Wildlife officials equipped with tranquilizer guns have been searching the area for the leopard, while local officials in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir have called for "elimination orders" from the state government.

"The leopard was spotted this morning but we could not trap it," Jammu regional wildlife warden Tahir Ahmad Shawl told AFP.

SHOCKING VIDEO SHOWS TERRIFYING LEOPARD ATTACK IN INDIAN CITY

There are between 12,000 and 14,000 leopards in India, and an estimated 431 were killed in the last year. As development pushes into forested areas, there have been more encounters with humans.

There are between 12,000 and 14,000 leopards in India. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

Last week, a Buddhist monk was killed by a leopard while meditating in a forest in the western state of Maharashtra. It was the fifth such attack in the area this month, according to AFP.

Experts told the news agency while there are no exact figures on the number of humans killed every year, it is thought to be in the hundreds.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed

Putin: Russia has enough missiles without violating treaty

MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday rejected the U.S. claim that Russia developed a new cruise missile in violation of a key nuclear treaty, arguing that Russia has no need for such a land-based weapon because it already has similar missiles on its ships and aircraft.

Washington warned this month it would suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 60 days if Russia did not return to full compliance. The U.S. claims the 9M729 cruise missile breaches the INF, which bans all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles.)

Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusation. Speaking to Russia's top military brass Tuesday, Putin rejected the U.S. claim of developing a land-based cruise missile, saying Russia now has similar air- and sea-launched weapons to do the job.

Putin said the Russian military has successfully tested air-launched Kh-101 and sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles with a range of 4,500 kilometers (2,790 miles) in combat in Syria.

"It has probably made our partners worry, but it doesn't violate the INF treaty," Putin said.

Putin said the treaty signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev didn't limit sea- and air-launched cruise missiles, which the Soviet Union didn't have at the time and the United States did in significant numbers.

The Russian president argued that the pact represented "unilateral disarmament" for the Soviet Union, adding: "God only knows why the Soviet leadership did it."

He emphasized that with Russian strategic bombers and navy ships now armed with long-range cruise missiles, it makes the development of similar land-based weapons redundant.

"It makes no difference whatsoever if we have a Kalibr-armed submarine or aircraft carrying missiles or similar weapons ashore," he said. "We can strike any targets within the range of 4,500 kilometers from the territory of Russia."

Putin added, however, that Russia could easily build such land-based missiles if the U.S. opts out of the INF Treaty, which he described as a key stabilizing factor.

"If we have similar air- and sea-launched systems, it wouldn't be that difficult for us to do some research and development to put them on land if needed," he said.

Putin added that Russia also has other new weapons that aren't banned by the INF, such as the air-launched Kinzhal hypersonic missile and the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, saying that they have significantly bolstered Russia's military capability.

"No one has hypersonic weapons yet, but we have it," he said.

Kinzhal has already been commissioned by the military, which put them in service with a squadron of MiG-31 fighter jets.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the aircraft carrying missiles have flown 89 patrol missions over the Caspian and the Black Seas this year.

Shoigu said the Avangard will enter service with the military next year.

Putin suggested that other countries that built intermediate-range missiles should be engaged in talks on a possible new agreement.

"Why not start talks on their accession to the treaty, or discuss parameters of a new agreement?" he said.