Tuesday May 7, 2013

Syrian rebels down regime helicopter, killing 8 troops

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian rebels shot down a military helicopter in the country’s east, killing eight government troops on board as President Bashar Assad’s troops battled opposition forces inside a sprawling military air base in the north for the second straight day, activists said Monday.

The downing of the helicopter was a welcome victory for rebels fighting to oust Assad as the two sides remain locked in stalemate in the more than 2-year-old conflict.

In Geneva, a U.N.commission probing alleged war crimes and other abuses in Syria on Monday distanced itself from claims by one of its members that Syrian rebels have used the nerve agent sarin, but not the regime.

The panel said it has no conclusive evidence about the alleged use of sarin as chemical weapons.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said it’s highly likely that the Assad regime and not the Syrian opposition was behind any chemical weapons use in Syria.

Israeli airstrikes in Syria send message to Iran

BEIRUT (AP) -- From Israel’s perspective, its airstrikes near Damascus were more about Iran than Syria: Tehran’s shipment of guided missiles destroyed in the weekend attacks would have posed a potent threat had the weapons reached Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.


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While Israel says it has no interest getting involved in the Syrian civil war, it could find itself drawn into the conflict if Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s Iranian patrons continue to use his territory to ship arms to Hezbollah.

Repeated Israeli strikes would almost certainly prompt Syrian retaliation, yielding a nightmare scenario in which Israel finds itself in a Syrian morass teeming with jihadi rebels, sectarian hatred and chemical weapons.

For the West, it offers another compelling argument that the Syrian war must somehow be brought to an end.

Since the uprising in Syria began in March 2011, Israel has carefully avoided taking sides.

Friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect released while awaiting trial for allegedly lying

BOSTON (AP) -- A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been released from federal custody while he awaits trial for allegedly lying to federal investigators probing the April 15 bombings.

Robel Phillipos was charged last week and faces up to eight years in prison if convicted. The 19-year-old was a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with Tsarnaev.

Prosecutors initially asked that Phillipos be held while he awaits trial, arguing that he poses a serious flight risk.

But prosecutors and Phillipos’ lawyers said Monday in a joint motion they now agree that Phillipos can be released under strict conditions, including home confinement, monitoring with an electronic bracelet and a $100,000 secured bond.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler agreed to the request during a hearing Monday afternoon.

Heritage study on immigration bill’s cost
sets off squabble among conservatives

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bipartisan Senate immigration bill would cost the government a net $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years to provide benefits for millions of people now living in the U.S. illegally, the Heritage Foundation said in a report Monday, setting off a fierce dispute with fellow conservatives who attacked the study as flawed and political.

The Heritage study said immigrants granted new legal status under the bill would eat up more than $9 trillion in health, education, retirement and other benefits over their lifetime, while contributing only around $3 trillion in taxes. Republicans and conservative groups who support the bill quickly countered that the study failed to measure broader economic benefits from an immigration overhaul, including a more robust workforce that would boost the gross domestic product.

"The Heritage Foundation document is a political document; it’s not a very serious analysis," said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican who’s part of a task force with the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center that supports the bill. "This study is designed to try to scare conservative Republicans into thinking the cost here is going to be so gigantic that you can’t possibly be for it."

Former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the Heritage Foundation’s new president, dismissed such criticism.

"It’s clear a number of people in Washington who might benefit from an amnesty, as well as a number of people in Congress, do not want to consider the costs," DeMint said. "No sensible thinking person could read this study and conclude that over 50 years that it could possibly have a positive economic impact."

Investigators seek answers in deadly limo fire that killed 5 on San Francisco Bay bridge

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) -- Authorities searched for answers Monday in the fire that roared through a stretch limo packed with women on a girls’ night out, hoping to learn what sparked the blaze and why five of the victims could not escape the fast-spreading flames.

The women who were killed were found pressed up against the partition behind the driver, apparently because smoke and fire kept them from the rear exits of the extended passenger compartment.

The position of the bodies suggested they were trying to get away from the fire, said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. His office planned to begin autopsies later Monday.

The women were celebrating the wedding of a newlywed friend when the rear portion of the Lincoln Town Car went up in flames Saturday night on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge over San Francisco Bay. The driver and four women were able to escape. The newlywed was among the dead.

The driver, Orville Brown, 46, of San Jose, said at first he misunderstood what one of the passengers in the back was saying when she knocked on the partition between the passenger area and the driver and complained about smelling smoke.

Closed pretrial hearing in WikiLeaks case a rare ‘dry run’ for classified information testimony

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) -- Government secrecy reaches a new level this week in the court-martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst who sent 700,000 classified U.S. documents to the WikiLeaks website.

A military judge, Col. Denise Lind, has ordered what prosecutors say is an unprecedented closed hearing Wednesday at Fort Meade to help her decide how much of Manning’s upcoming trial should be closed to protect national security.

An unidentified prosecution witness will testify during that closed hearing in a "dry run." Defense attorneys say that could allow the judge to find ways to avoid closing the courtroom to the public during the presentation of classified evidence. Lind and attorneys for both sides have suggested there are a number of options to shield sensitive material, including closing parts of the trial; redacting documents; using written summaries as evidence to omit sensitive details; or even using code words for classified information.

The sensitive evidence includes Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables Manning has acknowledged leaking, along with official communications about those classified documents. The government says the leaks in 2009 and 2010 endangered lives and security. Manning’s lawyers contend there was little to no damage.

Lind’s decision to hold the practice run out of public view has drawn mixed reactions from national security and legal experts. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. David Frakt, who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh law school, called it a "great idea" for minimizing disruptions such as those at U.S. military commissions’ cases involving terrorism detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Frakt defended Guantanamo detainees Mohammed Jawad and Ali Hamza al Bahlul in 2008 and 2009. Bugged by the billions: East Coast about to see power of big numbers in coming cicada invasion

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Any day now, billions of cicadas with bulging red eyes will crawl out of the earth after 17 years underground and overrun the East Coast. The insects will arrive in such numbers that people from North Carolina to Connecticut will be outnumbered roughly 600-to-1. Maybe more.

Scientists even have a horror-movie name for the infestation: Brood II. But as ominous as that sounds, the insects are harmless. They won’t hurt you or other animals. At worst, they might damage a few saplings or young shrubs. Mostly they will blanket certain pockets of the region, though lots of people won’t ever see them.

"It’s not like these hordes of cicadas suck blood or zombify people," says May Berenbaum, a University of Illinois entomologist.

They’re looking for just one thing: sex. And they’ve been waiting quite a long time.

Since 1996, this group of 1-inch bugs, in wingless nymph form, has been a few feet underground, sucking on tree roots and biding their time. They will emerge only when the ground temperature reaches precisely 64 degrees. After a few weeks up in the trees, they will die and their offspring will go underground, not to return until 2030.

Murder investigation
opens against owner as death toll from Bangladesh accident hits 675

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- Bangladeshi police are investigating possible murder charges against the owner of a shoddily built factory that collapsed nearly two weeks ago after the wife of a garment worker crushed in the accident filed a complaint.

The development comes as officials said Monday that the death toll from the country’s worst industrial disaster had reached 675.

Sheuli Akter, the wife of Jahangir Alam, filed the complaint with Dhaka magistrate Wasim Sheikh, saying her husband and other workers were "pushed toward death" by building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and two others.

Alam was employed in New Wave Styles Ltd., one of the five garment factories housed in the eight-story Rana Plaza that collapsed April 24 as workers started their morning shift even though cracks had developed in the building.

New Wave Styles owner Bazlul Adnan and local government engineer Imtemam Hossain were the two others accused in the case.

Utah district attorney weighs charges against teenager in soccer referee death

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Utah prosecutor says he plans to decide within a day or two what charges to file against a teenager accused of punching a soccer referee who later died after slipping into a coma.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says he and his team are reviewing the evidence and state statutes to determine appropriate charges. Gill says there are strict rules to follow because the suspect is a juvenile.

Police say the 17-year-old, whose name hasn’t been released, struck the 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo in the side of the head during a recreational soccer league match after the referee called a penalty.

Portillo died Saturday after a week in a coma.

The teen is in juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. He may face more severe charges.