Extremists’ gains, brutality have U.S. reassessing resistance to military
action in Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States has avoided military involvement in Syria’s three-year-civil war thus far. Faced with an Islamist extremist group making gains across the region and the beheading an American journalist, the Obama administration’s resistance may be weakening.
The White House said Friday that the president has received no military options beyond those he authorized earlier this month for limited airstrikes in Iraq and military aid to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. But a top adviser raised the possibility of a broader American military campaign that targets the Islamic State group’s bases in Syria, saying the U.S would take whatever action is necessary to protect national security.
"We’re not going to be restricted by borders," said Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
Rhodes spoke a day after Obama’s top military adviser warned the extremists cannot be defeated without "addressing" their sanctuary in Syria.
Many prominent Republicans and some Democrats have called on Obama to hit back harder at the Islamic State.
Sunni lawmakers freeze talks on new Iraq government after at least 64 killed in mosque attack
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Gunmen attacked a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers and killed at least 64 people, prompting Sunni lawmakers to withdraw from talks on forming a new, more inclusive government capable of confronting the Islamic extremists who have overrun large swaths of Iraq.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Shiite militiamen or insurgents of the Islamic State group, who have been advancing into mixed Sunni-Shiite areas in volatile Diyala province and have been known to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to submit to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
However, Sunni lawmakers quickly blamed the carnage on powerful Shiite militias out to avenge an earlier bombing, and two major Sunni parliamentary blocs pulled out of talks on forming a new Cabinet. The move creates a major hurdle for prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi as he struggles to reach out to disaffected Sunnis to form a government that can confront the Islamic State extremists.
Both al-Abadi and outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the attack and called for an investigation.
The onslaught on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in the village of Imam Wais began with a suicide bombing near its entrance, followed by a raid by gunmen who stormed the building, opening fire on worshippers, security officials said.
Gaza militants kill 18 alleged spies for Israel
to plug security breach, deter others
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Gaza militants Friday gunned down 18 alleged spies for Israel in an apparent attempt to plug security breaches and deter others, a day after Israel killed three top Hamas military commanders in an airstrike likely guided by collaborators.
In one incident, masked gunmen lined up seven men, their heads covered by bags, along a wall outside a Gaza City mosque and shot them to death in front of hundreds of people, witnesses said. A note pinned on the wall said they had leaked information about the location of tunnels, homes of fighters and rockets that were later struck by Israel.
In Israel, a 4-year-old boy was killed when a mortar shell hit two cars in the parking lot of Nahal Oz, a small farming community near Gaza. Five Israelis were hurt, one seriously, in several rocket strikes, the military said. One rocket damaged a synagogue.
The child’s death was bound to raise pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from an increasingly impatient public to put an end to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza -- something Israel’s military has been unable to do after 46 days of fighting with Hamas.
Netanyahu’s office said he expressed his condolences and vowed that Hamas would pay a "heavy price."
Russia sends truck convoy into Ukraine; Kiev government calls it a ‘direct invasion’
LUHANSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated sharply on Friday as Moscow sent more than 130 trucks rolling across the border in what it said was a mission to deliver humanitarian aid. Ukraine called it a "direct invasion," and the U.S. and NATO condemned it as well.
In another ominous turn in the crisis, NATO said it has mounting evidence that Russian troops are operating inside Ukraine and launching artillery attacks from Ukrainian soil -- significantly deeper involvement in the fighting than the West has previously alleged.
The trucks, part of a convoy of 260 vehicles, entered Ukraine without government permission after being held up at the border for a week amid fears that the mission was a Kremlin ploy to help the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
By late afternoon, trucks had reached the city of Luhansk, whose war-reduced population of a quarter-million people has suffered under intense fighting over the past several weeks between Ukrainian forces and the separatists.
Russia said the white-tarped vehicles were carrying food, water, generators and sleeping bags.
As calm settles in,
new fears over what happens in Ferguson
if officer isn’t charged
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) -- Conditions calmed this week in Ferguson after nights of sometimes violent unrest stemming from the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer. But a delicate and crucial question lingers: What happens if the grand jury now considering the case doesn’t return a charge against the officer?
The fear among some local residents and officials trying to maintain peace in Ferguson is that failure to charge the officer could stoke new anger among a community profoundly mistrustful of the legal system. Many say they just hope the grand jury’s decision, whatever it is, has irrefutable facts to back it up.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told The Associated Press she’s pushing for federal and local investigations to be completed around the same time so that all evidence in the case can be made public -- a step many consider important should prosecutors decide not to charge the officer. Her office said Friday that the Department of Justice hasn’t given a timeline for the federal investigation, which centers on whether a civil rights violation occurred when officer Darren Wilson fatally shot the unarmed Brown Aug. 9.
McCaskill, a former prosecutor in Missouri, said she’s hopeful the physical evidence in the case -- including blood spatter patterns, clothing and shell casings -- will provide "incontrovertible facts" about what happened during the shooting. She said whatever local prosecutors decide, it will be important to explain the decision by providing that physical evidence, and that won’t be possible if the federal investigation is ongoing.
McCaskill said she urged Attorney General Eric Holder during a meeting earlier this week to speed up what is typically a lengthier federal process.
Interpol seeks clues from
5 countries to help solve mystery over Thailand ‘baby factory’ case
BANGKOK (AP) -- Interpol said Friday it has launched a multinational investigation into what Thailand has dubbed the "Baby Factory" case: a 24-year-old Japanese businessman who has 16 surrogate babies and an alleged desire to father hundreds more.
Police raided a Bangkok condominium earlier this month and found nine babies and nine nannies living in a few unfurnished rooms filled with baby bottles, bouncy chairs, play pens and diapers. They have since identified Mitsutoki Shigeta as the father of those babies -- and seven others.
"What I can tell you so far is that I’ve never seen a case like this," said Thailand’s Interpol director, police Maj. Gen. Apichart Suribunya. "We are trying to understand what kind of person makes this many babies."
Apichart said that regional Interpol offices in Japan, Cambodia, Hong Kong and India have been asked to probe Shigeta’s background, beginning last week. Police say he appears to have registered businesses or apartments in those countries and has frequently traveled there.
"We are looking into two motives. One is human trafficking and the other is exploitation of children," said Thai police Lt. Gen. Kokiat Wongvorachart, Thailand’s lead investigator in the case. He said Shigeta made 41 trips to Thailand since 2010. On many occasions he traveled to nearby Cambodia, where he brought four of his babies.
Ebola outbreak widens
in Nigeria; Liberia death toll tops 1,000
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Two alarming new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria, widening the circle of people sickened beyond the immediate group of caregivers who treated a dying airline passenger in one of Africa’s largest cities.
The outbreak also continues to spread elsewhere in West Africa, with 142 more cases recorded, bringing the new total to 2,615 with 1,427 deaths, the World Health Organization said Friday.
Most of the new cases are in Liberia, where the government was delivering donated rice to a slum where 50,000 people have been sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to contain the outbreak.
New treatment centers in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified. One center with 20 beds opened its doors to 70 possibly infected people, likely coming from "shadow-zones" where people fearing authorities won’t let doctors enter, the U.N health agency said.
"This phenomenon strongly suggests the existence of an invisible caseload of patients who are not being detected by the surveillance system," the agency said. This has "never before been seen in an Ebola outbreak."
U.S. officials intensify scrutiny of Islamic State backers, fearing a domestic threat
NEW YORK (AP) -- Officially, the FBI agents who swarmed Donald Ray Morgan at Kennedy Airport this month were there to arrest him on a mundane gun charge. But they whisked him away to their Manhattan office and grilled him for two hours on an entirely different topic: Islamic State extremists.
Over and over, they asked Morgan, a 44-year-old North Carolina man, converted Muslim and author of pro-extremist tweets, whether he had traveled to Syria to support the militant group. More important, they wanted know whether he could identify any fighters with U.S. ties who had left the region to return to America.
The questioning, recounted in a recent court hearing, offered a glimpse into U.S. law enforcement’s intensifying efforts to identify Islamic State sympathizers who could help export the group’s brand of violent jihad to the United States.
They come amid a new barrage of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State group that beheaded American journalist James Foley. The group called Foley’s killing revenge for previous strikes against militants in Iraq.
Federal and New York Police Department officials have estimated that at least 100 Americans could be fighting with the Sunni extremists who have seized territory in northern and western Iraq. In April, a Colorado woman and convert to Islam was arrested before she could travel to Syria to marry a fighter she had met online. More recently, a Texas man who was arrested trying to board a flight to Turkey pleaded guilty to terror charges alleging he wanted to join the group.
UN: more than 191,000 people killed in 3 years
of bloodshed in Syria’s
GENEVA (AP) -- The death toll from three years of Syria’s civil war has risen to more than 191,000 people, the United Nations reported Friday.
The figure, covering the period from March 2011 to April 2014, is the first issued by the U.N.’s human rights office since July 2013, when it documented more than 100,000 killed.
The high death toll is a reflection of the brutality of Syria’s conflict, which has transformed into a complex, multi-layered war where various factions fight against each other.
It also reflects the recent surge in deadly attacks by the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State group targeting rival militant groups, mainstream Western-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish militiamen in northern Syria as it seeks to eliminate opponents and consolidate its hold on territory and resources.
Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s top human rights official who oversees the Geneva-based office, said the new figures are so much higher because they include additional killings from earlier periods, as well as deaths since the last report. The exact figure of confirmed deaths is 191,369, Pillay said.
Oklahoma City policeman accused of assaulting at least 6 women during traffic stops
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An Oklahoma City police officer is accused of sexually assaulting black women while he should have been patrolling the city -- sometimes targeting women walking alone and at other times assaulting motorists he pulled over on city streets.
An affidavit filed Friday says 27-year-old Daniel Ken Holtzclaw took one woman to a different location for an assault, while some occurred in his patrol car. Holtzclaw was arrested on charges including rape, sexual battery and indecent exposure.
Holtzclaw was assigned to a patrol division north and east of the Oklahoma state Capitol building. Capt. Dexter Nelson said Friday that while all of the alleged victims are black, that might be because the officer was assigned to a predominantly black neighborhood.
Police officials said Holtzclaw had been on patrol about a year.