Kenya mall siege ‘in last stage,’ vice president claims; likely
that no more hostages remain
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenyan security forces were in the final stages of flushing out Islamic extremist terrorists from a besieged shopping mall, the vice president said late Monday, two days after the upscale mall was seized by members of a Somali group linked to al-Qaida.
It is unlikely that any more hostages remained inside Westgate Mall, said another official.
But similar claims of a quick resolution were made by Kenyan officials on Sunday and the siege has continued for another day. It is not possible to independently verify their assertions.
Three attackers were killed in the fighting Monday, officials said, and more than 10 suspects arrested. Eleven Kenyan soldiers were wounded in the running gun battles. By evening, Kenyan security officials claimed the upper hand.
"Taken control of all the floors. We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them," Police Inspector General David Kimaiyo said on Twitter.
U.S. edges closer to high-level
talks with Iran; an Obama meeting with Rouhani at UN is possible
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Obama administration edged close to direct, high-level talks with Iran’s new government on Monday, with Secretary of State John Kerry slated to meet his Iranian counterpart this week and the White House weighing the risks and rewards of an encounter between President Barack Obama and Iran’s president, Hasan Rouhani.
An Obama-Rouhani exchange on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly would mark the first meeting at that high level for the two nations in more than 30 years. Such talks could signal a turning point in U.S.-Iranian relations -- but also could be seen as a premature endorsement for a new Iranian government that has yet to answer key questions about the future of its disputed nuclear program.
Obama advisers said no meeting was scheduled. But they added that the U.S. planned to take advantage of diplomatic opportunities while in New York and indicated they were not leaving a possible encounter between Obama and Rouhani to chance.
"I don’t think that anything would happen by happenstance on a relationship and an issue that is this important," Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the president to New York.
The election of Rouhani, a moderate cleric, has led to speculation about possible progress on Iran’s nuclear impasse with the U.S. Particularly intriguing to American officials are Rouhani’s assertions that his government has "complete authority" in nuclear negotiations. That would be a marked change from previous governments and their relationship with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Assad says Syria committed
to destroy chemical weapons;
rebel infighting grows
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- President Bashar Assad pledged in an interview broadcast Monday to honor an agreement to surrender Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, but he said that rebels might try to block international arms inspectors from doing their work.
As battles continued across Syria, new Associated Press video of an attack Sunday night showed the regime’s helicopters dropping barrel bombs on opposition-held areas, creating chaotic scenes of destruction.
In a sign of worsening infighting among the rebels, a top al-Qaida commander in Syria was killed in an ambush by rival, Western-backed group -- an assassination sure to raise tensions among factions seeking to topple the regime.
Assad’s comments came as world leaders gathered in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly, where the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war was high on the agenda.
The Syrian leader told Chinese state TV that Damascus is dedicated to implementing the agreement reached between Russia and the U.S. to surrender its chemical weapons to international control. Syria’s stockpile, he said, is "in safe areas and locations and under the full control of the Syrian Arab Army."
Navy officials look to close gaps
in security clearance process in wake of Navy Yard shooting
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Navy officials are moving to close gaps in the security clearance process, recommending that all police reports involving an individual must be included when a background check is done.
A week after a former Navy reservist gunned down 12 workers at the Washington Navy Yard, officials said the background report given to the Navy failed to reveal that he had shot out the tires of another person’s car during a 2004 dispute in Seattle. Instead, the report said Aaron Alexis "deflated" the tires, and did not mention the use of a gun.
Defense officials have acknowledged that a lot of red flags were missed in Alexis’ background, allowing him to maintain a secret security clearance and work as a Navy contractor despite a string of police and behavioral problems.
IRS says official at center of
tea party scandal retiring; Lois Lerner had been on paid leave
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Facing a possible firing, the Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency’s tea party scandal retired Monday, ending one chapter in a scandal that has engulfed the tax-collection agency since spring.
Lois Lerner headed the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status when she was placed on paid leave in May. While she was in charge, the agency acknowledged that agents improperly targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Lerner first disclosed the targeting at a law conference in May, when she was asked a planted question about IRS treatment of political groups. Less than two weeks later, she refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing, citing her constitutional right not to incriminate herself.
A day after the hearing she was placed on paid leave at the age of 62.
Lerner’s retirement came as a review board was set to propose that she be fired, said a statement by Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Report urges OB/GYNs to ask pregnant women about exposure
to risky environmental chemicals
WASHINGTON (AP) -- From mercury to pesticides, Americans are exposed daily to environmental chemicals that could harm reproductive health, the nation’s largest groups of obstetricians and fertility specialists said Monday.
The report urges doctors to push for stricter environmental policies to better identify and reduce exposure to chemicals that prove truly risky. But it’s likely to scare pregnant women in the meantime.
That’s because during the first prenatal visit, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wants doctors to ask mothers-to-be about their exposure to different chemicals. They’re also supposed to teach women how to avoid some considered most worrisome during pregnancy.
"What we’re trying to get is the balance between awareness and alarmist," said Dr. Jeanne Conry, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Specialists with ACOG and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine examined research about industrial chemicals and pollutants that people can absorb from the air, water, food and everyday products. Few chemicals hit the market with good information about safe levels -- something the groups hope to change. But certain chemicals are linked to infertility, miscarriages, birth defects and other problems, the committee said.
Officials: 79-year-old woman
found dead along river after Colorado flood; death toll is 8
DENVER (AP) -- A 79-year-old woman whose house was swept away by the Big Thompson River was found dead on the river bank, authorities said Monday, bringing to eight the death toll from the massive flooding in Colorado.
As the number of people unaccounted-for dwindled to six, Vice President Joe Biden viewed the devastation from a helicopter before meeting with disaster workers.
"I promise you, I promise you, there will be help," Biden said, trying to mute concerns that a possible federal government shutdown could derail relief efforts.
The latest victim was identified as Evelyn M. Starner. Larimer County authorities said she drowned and suffered blunt force trauma.
Starner was previously listed as missing and presumed dead. Authorities initially said she was 80.
Hit by past attacks in Kenya, Israel sends experts to advise on Nairobi shopping mall standoff
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Scarred by memories of a pair of attacks on Israeli targets in Africa a decade ago, Israel has dispatched a team of experts to its close ally Kenya to advise authorities on the bloody standoff at a Nairobi shopping mall.
While officials refuse to discuss the precise nature of the assistance, Israeli leaders have made it clear they believe the defeat of the al-Qaida militants behind the mall attack will have great meaning around the world.
"Israel is always ready to help other countries, other friendly countries, in combating terrorism. I think that terrorism has become a threat to the entire world and therefore countries -- United States, Israel and other Western countries -- should cooperate," Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s cabinet minister for strategic affairs, told The Associated Press.
Israel has had strong commercial interests across Africa for decades. But only in recent years has it begun to view Africa, particularly eastern Africa, as being of vital strategic interest in the battle against Islamic extremists. One of those groups, Al-Shabab, has claimed responsibility for the Nairobi attack, which has left dozens dead.
Kenya has been a leading player in this Israeli effort, although it is certainly not alone. The two countries exchange intelligence, and Israel has provided security training to the eastern African country, according to experts and officials.
BlackBerry agrees to sell to group led by largest shareholder, Fairfax, for $4.7 billion
TORONTO (AP) -- BlackBerry has agreed to a $4.7 billion sale to a group led by its largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., after new smartphones failed to turn the company around.
BlackBerry Ltd. said Monday that a letter of intent has been signed and that its shareholders will receive $9 in cash for each share. The deal comes just days after the Canadian company announced plans to lay off 40 percent of its global workforce.
The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, was once the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other consumers. It could be so addictive that it was nicknamed "the CrackBerry." President Barack Obama couldn’t bear to part with his BlackBerry. Oprah Winfrey declared it one of her "favorite things."
But then came a new generation of competing smartphones, starting with Apple’s iPhone in 2007. The BlackBerry, that game-changing breakthrough in personal connectedness, looked ancient suddenly.
Although BlackBerry was once Canada’s most valuable company with a market value of $83 billion in June 2008, the stock has plummeted from more than $140 a share to less than $9, giving it a market value of $4.6 billion, just short of Fairfax’s offer.