Thursday, February 16, 2012

Published:

Syria rebels now include al-Qaida in Iraq, and group is tied to bombings, US officials say

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Top U.S. intelligence officials pointed to al-Qaida in Iraq on Thursday as the likely culprit behind recent bombings in Syria, the deadliest attacks against the Syrian government in the 11-month uprising.

Though the U.S. has called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, his fall could lead to a power vacuum that al-Qaida's largest regional affiliate or other extremist groups could fill, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress. And that could allow such groups to help themselves to Syria's vast stockpiles of chemical weapons, he said.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the crisis in Syria has become "that much more serious" and worrisome to the United States as a result of indications that al-Qaida has infiltrated the government's opposition.

"It does raise concerns for us that al-Qaida is trying to assert a presence there," he said. "As to just what their role is and how extensive their role is, I think that still remains to be seen."

In New York, meanwhile, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution backing an Arab League plan calling for Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations it said his government had committed. The vote, though not legally binding, reflects widespread world opinion.

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Nigerian underwear bomber gets life in prison for trying to blow up jetliner on Christmas 2009

DETROIT (AP) -- Defiantly declaring "a day of victory," a Nigerian man was given a mandatory life sentence Thursday for trying to blow up a packed jetliner with a bomb sewn into his underwear. People aboard the flight testified that the failed attack had disturbed their sleep and travels for more than two years.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was the same remorseless man who four months ago pleaded guilty to all charges related to Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He seemed to relish the mandatory sentence and defended his actions as rooted in the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

"Mujahideen are proud to kill in the name of God," he said. "Today is a day of victory."

Had the bomb not fizzled, nearly 300 people aboard the flight would probably have been killed.

The case stirred renewed fears that terrorists could still bring down an American jetliner more than eight years after 9/11, and it accelerated installation of body scanners at the nation's airports.

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New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid dies of apparent asthma attack working in Syria

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who strove to capture untold stories in Middle East conflicts from Libya to Iraq, died Thursday in eastern Syria after slipping into the country to report on the uprising against its president.

Shadid, shot in the West Bank in 2002 and kidnapped for six days in Libya last year, apparently died of an asthma attack, the Times said. Times photographer Tyler Hicks was with him and carried his body to Turkey, the newspaper said.

"Anthony was one of our generation's finest reporters," Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger said in a statement. "He was also an exceptionally kind and generous human being. He brought to his readers an up-close look at the globe's many war-torn regions, often at great personal risk. We were fortunate to have Anthony as a colleague, and we mourn his death."

Shadid's father, Buddy Shadid, said his son had asthma all his life and had medication with him.

"(But) he was walking to the border because it was too dangerous to ride in the car," the father said. "He was walking behind some horses -- he's more allergic to those than anything else -- and he had an asthma attack."

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2 dead, 1 wounded in shooting at immigration offices in Long Beach, Calif., federal building

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Two people were fatally shot and one was wounded Thursday at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Long Beach, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

The Long Beach police official said the shooter killed one person, wounded another with a shot to the stomach, and then was killed. It was not immediately clear if the shooter died from a self-inflicted wound.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the case.

It was not clear what motivated the shooting at the Glenn M. Anderson Federal Building in downtown Long Beach.

Video from a KABC-TV news helicopter showed several police officers on motorcycles escorting an ambulance to a nearby hospital.

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An aggressive Rick Santorum challenges Mitt Romney in Michigan speech

DETROIT (AP) -- An aggressive Rick Santorum went after Mitt Romney on multiple fronts Thursday, challenging the Republican front-runner's economic policies, values and consistency in the city of his birth.

Santorum criticized his rival's record on federal bailouts in particular, although both men opposed the government's decision to rescue the auto industry.

"Gov. Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit. My feeling was that the government should not be involved in bailouts period," Santorum said in an address to the Detroit Economic Club, just 23 miles from where Romney went to high school. "I think that's a much more consistent position."

Santorum spoke as Romney campaigned elsewhere in Michigan, ignoring Santorum and two other rivals for the GOP presidential nomination altogether while focusing his criticism on President Barack Obama.

Santorum, who has surged in state and national polls, is showing greater confidence in what should be safe territory for the longtime GOP front-runner. Romney not only grew up in Michigan, he is the son of a former governor. His family members also have been deeply involved in the state's politics for decades.

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Religious leaders say contraception rule violates religious freedom, Democrats protest

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Religious leaders told a House panel Thursday the Obama administration was violating basic rights to religious freedom with its policies for requiring that employees of religion-affiliated institutions have access to birth control coverage.

The unity of the religious leaders contrasted with the partisan divide among lawmakers on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, with Democrats saying they had been denied the ability to present witnesses who might support the government stance or speak for the rights of women to reproductive health coverage. They asked why women weren't better represented among the 10 witnesses at the hearing.

The issue has sparked a political firestorm for the administration, with Catholics and other religious groups strongly protesting an original Health and Human Services ruling that religion-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities must include free birth control coverage in their employee health plans. The churches themselves were exempted from the requirement.

Obama last Friday modified that policy so that insurance companies, and not the organization affiliated with a church, pay for birth control costs, but that didn't satisfy those testifying at the hearing.

Bishop William E. Lori, representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, compared the ruling to a law that would force all food providers, including kosher delicatessens, to serve pork.

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NC school: Teacher's mistake at school lunch led to upset calls of government meddling

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- It was a tale of government meddling that outraged radio talk show hosts and a pair of Congress members: A 4-year-old was forced to dump her packed lunch and eat a state-dictated cafeteria lunch of chicken nuggets. Now school officials are blaming a teacher's error in making sure the child had a nutritious meal.

The incident happened two weeks ago at an elementary school in Raeford, near Fort Bragg. The girl's parents anonymously tipped off a Raleigh TV station and a conservative blogger after the girl brought home her packed lunch uneaten.

Conservatives who see it as yet another example of government overreach leaped on the story, and it reached a pair of North Carolina's U.S. representatives, Republican Renee Ellmers and Democrat Larry Kissel. They wrote a letter asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to investigate.

"The content of a school lunch provided to a child by their parents should be governed only by the child's parents, not another government bureaucrat," they wrote in the letter.

"This is also kind of adding on to a lot of things that we're seeing coming out of the Obama Administration" that conservatives oppose, like requiring insurance coverage of contraceptives, Ellmers' press secretary Tom Doheny said. "We're joining this bipartisan call to get any and all information. It's one of those things that if it looks like a rat, and smells like a rat, odds are it could be."

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Ohio couple receive 8-year prison terms son's cancer death after he begged to see a doctor

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The parents of an 8-year-old boy who died from Hodgkin lymphoma after suffering for months from undiagnosed swollen glands were sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday following their guilty pleas to denying him medical treatment.

Attorneys for Monica Hussing, 37, and William Robinson Sr., 40, had said the parents had financial problems and tried to get checkups for their son but couldn't afford it.

The couple was given the maximum sentence by Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Astrab, who accepted their guilty pleas last month to attempted involuntary manslaughter in a last-minute plea deal before their trial was about to begin. They were handcuffed and taken into custody immediately. Both plan to appeal the sentence.

"I loved my son," Robinson told the judge, occasionally wiping his eyes with a tissue. He said he was sorry.

"I tried to help my son," Hussing said as family members in the courtroom quietly sobbed.

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Don Cornelius honored as engineer of 'Soul Train' that transcended TV, changed nation

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Through music, scripture and song, Don Cornelius was remembered Thursday as the man who elevated black culture and entertainment with his "Soul Train," demolishing barriers of race and culture, and changing the nation's history.

Hundreds of family, friends, entertainers, sports figures and even some former "Soul Train" dancers gathered to honor Cornelius' legacy and recall their recollections of the baritone-voiced host and entrepreneur. The nearly three-hour memorial service featured plenty of laughter and music, including a rousing performance of "Love's In Need of Love" by Stevie Wonder.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered a eulogy that centered on how Cornelius' creation created a platform for black music and culture that hadn't been seen on television when "Soul Train" debuted in 1970.

"Don, we say thanks for being conductor of the 'Soul Train' and laying the tracks," Jackson said. "We thank you because we needed you so badly and you helped us so much."

Several speakers noted that Cornelius didn't just give a platform to performers such as Wonder, Aretha Franklin and the Jackson 5, but he also gave opportunities to black cameramen and demonstrated that television programming aimed at black audiences was viable.

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Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, whose smile, personality made him a joy to watch, dead at 57

NEW YORK (AP) -- Gary Carter was nicknamed "Kid" for good reason.

His smile, bubbly personality and eagerness to excel on a ballfield made him a joy to watch at the plate and behind it.

Even his Hall of Fame bronze plaque at Cooperstown shows him with a toothy grin -- the Kid forever.

The star catcher, whose single for the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series touched off one of the most improbable rallies in baseball, died Thursday. He was 57.

Carter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last May, two weeks after finishing his second season as coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said Carter died at a hospice in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area.