Defense secretary — Barring any new, damaging information, Chuck Hagel has secured the necessary votes for the Senate to confirm him to be the nation’s next defense secretary. A vote ending the bitter fight over President Barack Obama’s choice for his revamped second-term, national security team is expected next week. Hagel cleared the threshold when five-term Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said he would vote for the former GOP senator from Nebraska after joining other Republicans last week in an unprecedented filibuster of the Pentagon nominee.
Syria bombing — A car bomb exploded Thursday near Syria’s ruling party headquarters in Damascus, killing at least 53 people and scattering mangled bodies among the blazing wreckage in one of the bloodiest days in the capital since the uprising began almost two years ago. Elsewhere in the city, two other bombs struck intelligence offices, killing 22, and mortar rounds hit the army’s central command, activists said.
Big snowstorm — Powdery snow, up to a foot and a half in some places, bombarded much of the nation’s midsection Thursday, impeding travel and shutting down airports, schools and state legislatures. The widespread winter storm system swirled to the north and east Thursday night, its snow, sleet and freezing rain prompting winter storm warnings in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. The storm was expected to be centered in the upper Midwest by this morning.
Peterson sentenced — Drew Peterson — the swaggering Chicago-area police officer who gained notoriety after his much-younger fourth wife vanished in 2007 — was sentenced to 38 years in prison on Thursday for murdering his third wife. The sentence came moments after Peterson shocked the courtroom with a rare public outburst of anger as he proclaimed his innocence in the death of Kathleen Savio. Illinois does not have the death penalty, and the 59-year-old Peterson had faced a maximum 60-year prison term.
Pistorius case — South Africa’s top detective was appointed lead investigator in the Oscar Pistorius case Thursday, replacing a veteran policeman who was charged with attempted murder in the latest shock development to hit a case being watched closely by the nation. The decision to put police Lt. Gen. Vinesh Moonoo in charge came soon after word emerged that the initial chief investigator, Hilton Botha, is facing attempted murder charges, and a day after he offered testimony damaging to the prosecution in Pistorius’ bail hearing. Pistorius, an Olympic runner whose lower legs were amputated when he was less than a year old, killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the predawn hours of Valentine’s Day.
Four charged — Four former peanut company employees have been charged with scheming to manufacture and ship salmonella-tainted peanuts that killed nine, sickened hundreds and prompted one of the largest recalls in history in 2009. The indictment by a federal grand jury in Georgia was characterized by Justice Department officials as a warning to food manufacturers who may compromise consumer safety in search of higher profits.
India bombings — A pair of bombs exploded in a crowded shopping area in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, killing at least 13 people and wounding scores of others in the worst bombing in the country in more than a year, officials said. The blasts occurred about two minutes apart at around 7 p.m. Thursday outside a movie theater and a bus station, police said. The bombs were attached to two bicycles about 500 feet apart in a crowded shopping area.
— From wire reports