Saturday, February 18, 2012

Published:

GOP contenders soon to face 13-state test after brief campaign lull; 518 delegates at stake

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A resurgent Rick Santorum hopes to spring his next big surprise in Michigan. Newt Gingrich looks for a campaign revival in the Bible Belt. Mitt Romney has his home state of Massachusetts, and the luxury of picking his spots elsewhere, if not everywhere, as the race for the Republican presidential nomination roars back to life.

After a brief midwinter lull, the Republican field faces a cross-country series of nine primaries and four caucuses between Feb. 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6. At stake are 518 delegates, more than three times the number awarded so far in the unpredictable competition to pick a GOP opponent for President Barack Obama.

A debate on Feb. 22 in Arizona, the first in three weeks and possibly the last of the GOP campaign, adds to the uncertainty.

The political considerations are daunting as Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul weigh the cost of competing in one state against the hope of winning in a second or perhaps merely running well but gaining delegates in a third.

"Not all states are of equal importance," said Steve Schmidt, who helped the GOP's 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, navigate the campaign calendar as a senior adviser.

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NYPD monitored students at colleges across Northeast; sent agent on rafting trip, noted prayer

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known, at schools far beyond the city limits, including the Ivy League colleges of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, The Associated Press has learned.

Police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles away in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students' names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.

Detectives trawled Muslim student websites every day and, although professors and students had not been accused of any wrongdoing, their names were recorded in reports prepared for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Asked about the monitoring, police spokesman Paul Browne provided a list of 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the United States and abroad who had once been members of Muslim student associations, which the NYPD referred to as MSAs. Jesse Morton, who this month pleaded guilty to posting online threats against the creators of "South Park," had once tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University on Long Island, Browne said.

"As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at MSAs," Browne said in an email. He said police monitored student websites and collected publicly available information, but did so only between 2006 and 2007.

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Movie, music stars mourn Whitney Houston in NJ hometown funeral; Houston's voice soars

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- After all the testimonials from relatives and friends, the songs from legends and pop stars, the preaching and even laughter, the raw emotion of Whitney Houston's funeral came down to just one moment: The sound of her own voice.

As the strains of her biggest record, "I Will Always Love You," filled the New Hope Baptist Church at the end of the nearly four-hour service Saturday and her silver-and-gold casket was lifted in the air, the weight of the moment was too much for mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, to bear.

 As she was held up by two women, she wailed, "My baby! My baby!" as she was led out the church behind her daughter's body.

A few steps behind her was the pop icon's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, also crying uncontrollably as she was comforted by Houston's close friend, singer Ray J.

It was the most searing scene on a day with mixed moods as family, friends and a list celebrities -- sometimes one in the same -- came to the humble New Hope Baptist Church where she first wowed a congregation to remember one of music's legends, but also a New Jersey hometown girl.

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John Glenn reunites with Mercury workers who helped launch him 50 years ago this Monday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- John Glenn joined the proud, surviving veterans of NASA's Project Mercury on Saturday in celebrating the 50th anniversary of his historic orbital flight.

The first American to orbit the Earth thanked the approximately 125 retired Mercury workers, now in their 70s and 80s, who gathered with their spouses at Kennedy Space Center to swap stories, pose for pictures and take a bow.

"There are a lot more bald heads and gray heads in that group than others, but those are the people who did lay the foundation," the 90-year-old Glenn said at an evening ceremony attended by NASA officials, politicians, astronauts and hundreds of others.

"We may be up on the point of that thing and get a lot of the attention, and we had ticker-tape parades and all that sort of thing. But the people who made it work ... you're the ones who deserve the accolade. So give yourselves a great big ovation," Glenn said, leading the crowd in applause.

Glenn and fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter, 86, spent nearly an hour before the ceremony being photographed with the retirees, posing for individual pictures in front of a black curtain with a model of a Mercury-Atlas rocket. Glenn and Carpenter are the lone survivors of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts.

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US Capitol bomb plot arrest culminated yearlong probe; court papers reveal evolving plan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Within the last week, authorities say, Amine El Khalifi's plan to wreak havoc was proceeding as hoped: An al-Qaida associate handed him an automatic weapon to kill security officers inside the U.S. Capitol. A bomb-laden vest would detonate the building. He would die as a martyr.

But there was a problem: The explosives were inert, the gun inoperable and the supposed al-Qaida member was actually an undercover officer, according to court documents.

El Khalifi was arrested Friday in a parking garage on his way to carry out an attack the FBI says he kicked around for months, even detonating a practice bomb in a quarry, all with varied targets in mind.

An FBI affidavit traces the evolution of the plot from a vague plan to prepare for the "war on Muslims" to more clearly articulated visions of attacking a restaurant and synagogue to, finally, a goal of obliterating the seat of American government. The document alleges a weeks-long flurry of final activity by El Khalifi, monitored by the FBI and coordinated through an undercover agent, to scope out the building, train in explosives and arm himself for a suicide attack.

As El Khalifi, 29, was making a court appearance Friday on a terrorism-related charge, the FBI executed search warrants inside a gated residential community in Alexandria and at a red-brick rambler in Arlington, though it wasn't immediately known what they found.

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Honduran inmates awoke to nightmare at blaze killed hundreds at prison farm

COMAYAGUA, Honduras (AP) -- Jose Enrique Guevara woke up to screams and a flash of heat from the fire about to engulf his prison bunk bed.

As flames devoured men around him and tore at his back, Guevara bolted for a corner, seeking to escape the conflagration. But the only door to the overcrowded barracks was locked.

"You can't imagine what it's like, knowing that everyone is burning, hearing and seeing how they cry as they're eaten by flames," said Guevara, 33, who was serving an 11-year sentence for auto theft in the Comayagua prison. "It all happened in seconds."

As scores around him died, Guevara survived only by a fellow inmate's act of heroism: the man picked up a bench and smashed the lock.

Only three of 105 inmates in his dormitory survived the worst prison fire in a century. In all, 358 perished in the blaze that broke out just before 11 p.m. local time Tuesday, including a woman who had come to the medium-security farm prison to spend Valentine's Day with her husband.

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Official: ICE agent was fatally shot in 'intense' struggle for gun at California office

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent accused of shooting a supervisor died after an "intense" struggle for his gun with a colleague who burst into the office after he heard shots fired, an official said Saturday.

The shooting Thursday happened after Ezequiel Garcia had a discussion about his job performance with ICE's second-in-command in the Los Angeles region, agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. Another agent who attended the meeting had just left the office and rushed back after the shots rang to disarm Garcia.

"There was a very, very intense struggle," Kice said. "They were physically struggling over the gun."

The agent eventually drew his own gun and shot Garcia, Kice said. ICE is not releasing the agent's name.

The supervisor, Kevin Kozak, continued to recover Saturday from at least six bullet wounds, including to the hand, knee and torso, Kice said. Kozak, 51, is the agency's deputy special agent in charge of investigations in the Los Angeles region.

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We kissed at Carnival: Brazilian blog reconnects loves found and lost during Carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- It's the typical tale of doomed Carnival romance: Boy spots girl in the sweaty crush of a street party. Moments later, they're locked in a passionate embrace. Then the crowd surges, and the human tide wrenches them apart, forever.

But this Carnival, there's hope for romances thus thwarted.

A blog offers star-crossed lovers the chance to find one another again. Called "Little Leopard, Where Are You?" in a coy reference to the kinds of colorful costumes Carnival revelers sport, the blog compiles emails from heartsick revelers seeking their lost crushes.

Rio's Carnival, which jammed into high gear on Saturday, is fertile terrain for romance and heartbreak: a five-day-long Bacchanalia where the music blasts, the alcohol flows and millions of barely dressed bodies press together into a pulsing, sweating, beer-guzzling mass of humanity where many have but one goal: To kiss as many partners as possible.

Popular wisdom has it that the celebrations are perilous for couples, though in truth probably as many marriages get their start during Carnival as end because of it.

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Muhammad Ali's life, career honored in Las Vegas with 70th birthday celebration

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Muhammad Ali had seven prizefights in Las Vegas, with his two losses there coming in the twilight of his legendary career. Now, dozens of heavyweight celebrities are back in Sin City to laud a lifetime in the spotlight and join the icon known as "The Greatest" in fighting neurological diseases.

Roughly 2,000 people were expected to attend a swanky gala to celebrate Ali's 70th birthday on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the site of most of boxing's major fights the past 20 years. Ali turned 70 last month, and had another celebration and fundraiser then in his home state of Kentucky.

Guests arriving on the red carpet included football great Jim Brown.

"America started with slavery and ended up with a black president," Brown said. "Muhammad Ali was a part of that ... a big part."

One of Ali's daughters, Rasheda Ali, says the gala is a chance for friends, family and A-listers who look up to her father to show their respect for his life and legacy as a humanitarian. In return, she says he'll be honored to see them there.

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Kyle Busch uses late pass on Tony Stewart to win wild Budweiser Shootout at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The pack is back. And so is the Big One.

Kyle Busch edged Tony Stewart in a thrilling finish to the first race of 2012, using a sling-shot pass Saturday night on the last lap of the exhibition Budweiser Shootout to beat the defending NASCAR champion to the checkered flag.

It gave Busch a victory in a wild race that included two incredible saves by the eventual winner to stay in contention in the 75-lap sprint around Daytona International Speedway.

"I don't know how many times I spun out, but I didn't spin out, you know?" smiled Busch, who gave Toyota its first Shootout victory.

The event was a preview of next weekend's season-opening Daytona 500, and showed that NASCAR has successfully broken up the two-car tandem racing that dominated restrictor-plate racing last year. Fans were overwhelmingly opposed to that style of racing -- NASCAR said earlier this month surveys showed over 80 percent of those polled hated the tandem -- and the sanctioning body worked hard through the offseason to develop a rules package that would separate the cars.