France aids Mali — The international standoff with Islamists controlling northern Mali took a decisive turn Friday, as French forces engaged in an intense battle to beat back an aggressive militant push into the center of the country. Responding to an urgent plea for help from the Malian government, French troops carried out airstrikes against Islamist fighters, blunting an advance by hundreds of heavily armed extremists, according to French officials and Gen. Carter Ham, the top U.S. military commander in Africa.
Syria conflict — Syrian rebels, led by jihadist battalions, said Friday that they seized the largest helicopter base in the north of the country, a potentially significant blow against the government’s escalating air war that also highlighted lingering questions about the prominent role of Islamic extremists in the uprising.
BBC scandal — Scotland Yard and Britain’s leading child welfare group drew a horrific picture of more than 200 cases of sexual abuse of victims as young as 8 by the BBC host Jimmy Savile in a report released Friday, and prosecutors admitted for the first time that “shortcomings" in interviewing some of the victims allowed Savile to escape prosecution before his death at the age of 84 in 2011.
Aurora shooting case — The judge hearing the case against James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding dozens more at an Aurora movie theater in July, agreed Friday to postpone Holmes’ arraignment for two months at the defense’s request. The judge, William Sylvester of Arapahoe County District Court, had ruled late Thursday that there was enough evidence presented during a three-day preliminary hearing for Holmes to stand trial on 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges. But he agreed Friday to postpone the arraignment until March 12, to give Holmes’ lawyers more time to enter a plea.
Flawed rape evidence — A former New York City laboratory technician whose work on rape cases is now being scrutinized for serious mistakes said Friday that she had been unaware there were problems in her work and, disputing an earlier report, denied she had resigned under pressure. The former lab technician, Serrita Mitchell, said any problems must have been someone else’s. Earlier, the city medical examiner’s office, where Mitchell said she was employed from 2000 to 2011, said it was reviewing 843 rape cases handled by a lab technician who might have missed critical evidence.
Sandy relief — Increasing numbers of House Republicans want to link disaster relief to spending cuts or changes to aid programs, complicating efforts to provide assistance to Hurricane Sandy victims. The issue already has caused a political embarrassment for Republicans, and it takes center stage again next week when the House is scheduled to vote Jan. 15 on a second installment of Sandy-related aid.
Whale tusk trial — Two Americans on Friday pleaded not guilty to charges that they participated in a decade-long international smuggling operation that, according to federal officials, brought narwhal tusks — the long, tapered tooth that makes the elusive Arctic creature look a bit like a floating unicorn — into the United States. The defendants, Jay Conrad of Tennessee and Andrew Zarauskas of New Jersey, face four kinds of charges in a 29-count indictment filed in federal court here late last year: conspiracy, conspiracy to launder money, smuggling goods into the United States and money laundering. Two Canadians, whose names were redacted in the indictment, were also charged.