E.Coli Strain Outbreak in Europe Grows, Clashes Escalate in Yemen’s Capital

In this handout photo provided by the Helmholtz Center for Research on Infectious Diseases an EHEC bacteria is visible on May 30, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo courtesy Manfred Rohde, Helmholtz-Zentrum fuer Infektionsforschung (HZI)/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization is warning that a new strain of the E. Coli bacteria is responsible for sickening more than 1,500 people and killing at least 18. The outbreak appears to be centered primarily in Germany, where some of those who have fallen ill visited, but the original source of the bacteria has not been confirmed. Two people who traveled from Germany to the United States are also ill.

According to the Associated Press:

Preliminary genetic sequencing suggests the strain is a mutant form of two different E. coli bacteria, with aggressive genes that could explain why the Europe-wide outbreak appears to be so massive and dangerous, the agency said.

Russia has moved to ban produce imports from the European Union. Early in the outbreak, there were reports that Spanish cucumbers could be to blame, although that has not been confirmed. Experts have advised those in Germany to avoid cucumber, lettuce or tomatoes until the source is identified.

The spread of the disease is likely to slow if the original contaminant is contained, but experts warn of secondary spread if those who are ill don’t take precautions like handwashing.

Clashes Escalate in Yemen’s Capital

Government troops and tribal fighters clashed in the streets of Sanaa on Thursday as shelling raised concern that the city’s airport would be closed. Tanks have been seen on the streets of the capital city as tribal fighters poured in from the north. For more than a week, fighters aligned with the Ahmar family have intensified their fight with government troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for more than three decades and continues to refuse calls from protesters and international pressure to step down. A cease-fire quickly broke down early this week.

Yemen is a key U.S. ally in fighting extremism in the region, providing Yemen with aid money for training and other anti-terrorism efforts, prompting the White House to announce it will send John Brennan, an adviser to the president on counterterrorism, to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. soon.

After two weeks of unrest, the violence escalated this week with casualties in Sanaa and the deaths of protesters in the city of Taiz, where soldiers fired upon soldiers holding a sit-in in a central square.

There are growing fears of civil war, with diverse opposition to the government from various tribal groups and demonstrators. Yemen’s government had longstanding battles with rebel groups before the recent wave of upheaval.

China Denies Google Claim that Hacking Originated in Jinan

Google acknowledged that the personal Gmail accounts of U.S. officials, including a cabinet member, as well as journalists and others were hacked, providing access to emails and other sensitive information.

According to Google’s official blog, “we recently uncovered a campaign to collect user passwords, likely through phishing. This campaign, which appears to originate from Jinan, China, affected what seem to be the personal Gmail accounts of hundreds of users including, among others, senior U.S. government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries (predominantly South Korea), military personnel and journalists.”

Robert Galbraith-Pool/Getty Images

Google said the hackers obtained passwords or introduced a virus through a phishing scheme, but emphasized that “these account hijackings were not the result of a security problem with Gmail itself.”

On Thursday, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would cooperate fully with efforts to combat hacking but called the claim that the attack originated in Jinan “groundless.”

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have been in contact with the investigation, but officials say government accounts were not affected.

Reports: Syrian Troops Kill 15 in Rastan

Following days of violence in the town of Rastan, new reports Thursday say that Syrian government troops have killed 15 more people in an ongoing crackdown, using live fire and artillery on residents. Operations are also taking place in the restive city of Homs as the two-month old crackdown continues.

Though journalists are severely restricted, human rights groups and medical officials estimate the death toll at 1,100 as international criticism of President Bashar al-Assad grows. In an effort to appease anger, the Syrian government released about 500 political prisoners and provided them with amnesty, but activists say 10,000 have been arrested in the crackdown.

Tornadoes Kill 4 in Western Massachusetts

Rescue workers in Springfield, Mass., are searching for survivors after a series of tornadoes hit western Massachusetts, with reports of damage in 19 towns and and 40 people injured. At least four people within the vicinity of Springfield, the hardest hit portion of the state.

Gov. Deval Patrick has declared a state of emergency and the National Guard has been activated to help with the cleanup and recovery. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., expressed words of condolence Wednesday night and said he expected federal aid to flow to the affected areas.

The tornadoes were part of a larger storm system in the northeast, headed toward the cost.