Putin makes 1st trip to Crimea since annexation; at least 3 killed in battle in east
SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (AP) -- Presiding over a triumphant spectacle of warships and fighter jets, President Vladimir Putin hailed the return of Crimea to Russia as the restoration of "historic justice" before a jubilant, welcoming crowd Friday on the holiday that Russians hold dearest.
In Ukraine’s east, where pro-Russia insurgents have seized government buildings and fought with Ukrainian forces, fatal fighting broke out in the city of Mariupol as a police station was set ablaze. The Associated Press saw at least three dead and Ukraine’s Interior Minister said around 20 "terrorists" and one policeman were killed.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, a few weeks after Ukraine’s president was toppled and fled to Russia, was a key event in Ukrainian’s months-long crisis, which has now descended into violence.
Putin’s visit to the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based, was strongly criticized by both NATO and Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, which said it trampled on Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law.
Ukraine is struggling with its most serious crisis in decades as insurgents in the east are grabbing buildings and territory, fighting the central government and preparing to hold a referendum Sunday on secession.
GOP names team for new House probe, while Dems hold out for more-even terms
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite Democratic complaints, Republicans jumped into a new election-season investigation of the deadly Benghazi assault on Friday, naming majority members of a special House committee. Democrats mulled a boycott of the panel, which is inspiring bitter partisanship before even starting its work.
House Speaker John Boehner immediately took to social media to highlight his seven-member Republican team. Democrats have five seats to fill, if they decide to participate at all in what Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi derided as a "political stunt."
"For whatever reason, everything seems to be partisan," acknowledged Rep. Trey Gowdy, a second-term Republican and former prosecutor from South Carolina whom Boehner picked last week to head the committee. Gowdy expressed his hope that a fair Benghazi investigation would transcend politics, but he also suggested Democrats would have to accept that "one side gets more strikes than the other side when you’re constituting a jury."
The Republicans’ roster includes veterans of previous House examinations of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
The House approved the formation of the committee Thursday, with every Republican voting in favor and only seven Democrats crossing party lines to join them. It is the eighth investigation thus far on Benghazi. The panel is authorized to work through the end of the year, past November’s midterm elections when the GOP hopes to win control of the Senate.
British, U.S. experts join search for kidnapped Nigerian girls; report criticizes Nigerian army
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- The international effort to rescue the 276 schoolgirls being held captive by Islamic extremists in northeastern Nigeria was boosted Friday when British security experts joined the Nigerian and American forces trying to rescue the missing students.
As the worldwide effort got underway the weakness of the Nigerian military was exposed in a report issued by Amnesty International.
Britain said its aim was not only to help with the current crisis but to defeat Boko Haram.
"The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram," the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said in a statement Friday.
The American team was joined by six additional military officers and more are expected soon, said Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby. The U.S. officers will do a "gap analysis," an assessment to identify what the Nigerian military needs that the U.S. could provide in the search for the girls, he said.
In emotional return, residents check on damaged homes after rebels leave Syrian city
HOMS, Syria (AP) -- Hundreds of Syrians, some snapping photographs with their cell phones, wandered down paths carved out of rubble in the old quarters of Homs on Friday, getting their first glimpse of the horrendous destruction that two years of fighting inflicted on rebel-held parts of the city.
The scenes that greeted them were devastating: City blocks pounded into an apocalyptic vista of hollow facades of blown-out buildings. Dust everywhere. Streets strewn with rebar, shattered concrete bricks, toppled telephone poles and the occasional charred, crumpled carcasses of cars.
For more than a year, President Bashar Assad’s troops blockaded these neighborhoods, pounding the rebel bastions with his artillery and air force. Under a deal struck this week, the government assumed control of the old quarters, while in return some 2,000 rebel fighters were granted safe passage to opposition areas north of Homs.
The final piece of the agreement fell into place Friday afternoon as the last 300 or so rebels left Homs after an aid convoy was allowed into two pro-government villages in northern Syria besieged by the opposition. The aid delivery was part of the Homs agreement.
The withdrawal was a major victory for the government in a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people since March 2011. The deal handed Assad control of the city once known as "the capital of the revolution," as well as a geographic linchpin in central Syria from which to launch offensives on rebel-held territory in the north.
Imprisoned California moms spend time with kids in trip organized around Mother’s Day
FOLSOM, Calif. (AP) -- "Hi, baby," Catherine La France cooed as she swept granddaughter Arianna into her arms and danced around the prison yard with the 3-year-old.
She pulled her two daughters into a bear hug, and the girls burst into tears. La France hadn’t seen Arianna’s mother, 18-year-old Samantha La France, in six months, and she last saw Summer La France, 14, nearly three years ago.
They soon dropped into easy banter as barbed concertina wire high above them glinted in the sun and guards armed with pepper spray discreetly patrolled nearby.
"This is my birthday present and Mother’s Day at the same time," Catherine La France said at the stark, concrete-block-walled prison for low-risk offenders where she has been locked up for nearly two years. La France, who has prior residential burglary convictions, turned 39 two days earlier and won’t be released for three more years, when she completes a sentence for repeatedly using a bogus credit card to defraud businesses.
Three generations of La France women got 4 1/2 precious hours together at Folsom Women’s Facility east of Sacramento more than a week before Mother’s Day, which is Sunday. It happened through a free, nonprofit program called Get on the Bus that arranges for children to visit their incarcerated parents in California prisons around Mother’s and Father’s days.
Scientists still working to ID remains from Sept. 11 attacks
NEW YORK (AP) -- Thousands of vacuum-sealed plastic pouches filled with bits of bone rest in a Manhattan laboratory. These are the last unidentified fragments of the people who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Saturday, the 7,930 pouches are to be moved in a solemn procession from the city medical examiner’s office to the new trade center site. They will be kept in a bedrock repository 70 feet underground in the new Sept. 11 Memorial Museum that opens May 21.
The remains will be accessible only to families of the dead and to the forensic scientists who are still trying to match the bone slivers to DNA from the more than 1,000 victims who never came home and have never been identified.
"Our commitment to return the remains to the families is as great today as it was in 2001," said Mark Desire, who oversees the four-member World Trade Center team in the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The death toll stemming from the attacks at the World Trade Center stands at 2,753. Of those, 1,115 victims, or 41 percent, have not been identified through a DNA match to items provided by families -- toothbrushes, combs, clothing or swabs from relatives.
Defense lawyer says Marine Corps investigators raided office, may harm many cases
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- In a rare move, military criminal investigators raided Marine Corps defense counsel offices at Camp Pendleton and opened case files during a 2 1/2-hour search that could compromise scores of military criminal cases if confidential and privileged information was seen, the attorney who oversees the branch’s defense lawyers for the western United States said Friday.
Investigators raided the offices last week in search for a cellphone tied to a case being tried at the base, north of San Diego, Lt. Col. Clay Plummer told The Associated Press.
"This is just unacceptable," Plummer said. "Just think of the U.S. federal marshals or FBI raiding a public defender’s office, that’s what this is the equivalent to. It’s crazy."
Marine Corps officials say they plan to conduct an independent review of the evidence seized.
Marine Corps spokesman Jeffrey Nyhart called it a rare but lawful and valid search. Nyhart was working on getting details of the circumstances before commenting further.
Deputies: Florida man shot wife and 2 kids, set upscale home ablaze before killing himself
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- A Florida man shot his wife and two teenage children in the head, then scattered gasoline and fireworks around the mansion they rented before setting the home ablaze and killing himself, deputies said Friday.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Col. Donna Lusczynski said at a news conference Friday that Darrin Campbell had purchased fireworks, gas cans and gasoline in the days before the family was killed.
Campbell shot his wife, Kimberly, 19-year-old son Colin Campbell and teenage daughter Megan each in the head with a.40-caliber handgun he bought last year before setting the house on fire and shooting himself in the head.
"This is certainly disturbing," Lusczynski said.
Investigators are still working to determine what drove Darrin Campbell to kill his family.