After years of neglect and post-Mubarak security void, extremism grows in Sinai
El-ARISH, Egypt (AP) -- After decades of neglect and with the collapse of government authority the past 18 months, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has become fertile ground for Islamic extremists. Militant groups have taken root, carrying out attacks against neighboring Israel and now turning their guns against Egypt’s military as they vow to set up a puritanical Islamic state.
At a mosque in the northern Sinai village of Sheikh Zuweyid, a Bedouin tribal sheik gestures out toward the deserts that stretch outside of town. There, Sheik Arafa Khedr said, it’s well known that militants have set up training camps. Jihadists recruit young Bedouin. Palestinian militants from neighboring Gaza help in weapons training.
The danger, Khedr said, is that Sinai could become another Yemen, where al-Qaida-linked militants last year managed to take over a swath of territory in the south.
"We’re expecting the entire region to be like Jaar," he said, referring to a southern Yemeni town that militants held for months until Yemeni troops uprooted them earlier this year.
Egypt’s army and security forces on Tuesday launched an offensive to "restore control" over Sinai after a stunning attack this week made clear the militants’ growing strength. On Sunday, gunmen attacked an army checkpoint near where the borders of Egypt,
FBI: Temple gunman died of self-inflicted gunshot; motive behind attack remains elusive
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- There’s no trial to prepare, no jury to persuade, no judge to hand down a sentence.
Wade Michael Page is dead, having shot himself in the head after killing six people at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee. Although detectives have interviewed more than 100 people, combed through Page’s email and recovered hundreds of pieces of evidence from his residences to the temple, their findings might never be presented in court.
Federal investigators are developing theories but also may never know for certain why he chose to attack total strangers in a holy place.
"We’re trying to piece together, and eventually we will piece together as much as we can," said Steven Conley, assistant agent in charge of national security for the FBI in Milwaukee. "We will have a good idea of the motive by the time this investigation is done. But again, why that building, that temple, at that time, that may have died with Page."
At the moment, detectives are sifting through the gunman’s life, assembling the biography of a man who apparently had few relatives, a spotty work history and a thin criminal record. The FBI’s special agent in charge in Milwaukee, Teresa Carlson, said investigators haven’t linked anyone else to the attack or found any kind of note left by Page.
Obama’s welfare waiver upsets the political right, but will it end work rules for the poor?
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Welfare is causing a ruckus in the presidential campaign. But the program is a shadow of its old self from the 1970s, when Ronald Reagan used the image of "welfare queens" to assail government poverty programs promoted by liberals.
Nowadays government cash assistance to the poor is mainly conditioned on work. And the Obama administration waivers excoriated by Mitt Romney as gutting welfare reform are unlikely to reverse that basic policy, as even some architects of work requirements acknowledge.
"If Washington were different and ... people could sit down and reason together, it’s not impossible to think that Republicans and Democrats would come to an agreement on waivers similar to what the administration is proposing," said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families. As a senior House GOP aide in the 1990s, Haskins helped write the original welfare-to-work legislation.
The Obama administration says it does not want to waive work requirements, but instead primarily federal administrative rules, including some that tie up state caseworkers who could be serving clients.
The 1996 welfare reform law, a pillar of social policy for conservatives, replaced a federal entitlement with grants to the states, while putting a time limit on how long families can get aid and requiring recipients to eventually go to work.
As Syrian refugee camps swell, fears rise of exodus pressures along borders
YAYLADAGI, Turkey (AP) -- His two-story house with a garden became a military post when government forces moved into his village in northeastern Syria. More than a year has passed for Amin Idlibi and his family, now sharing a crowded tent in a Turkish refugee camp, and the limbo of more than 250,000 others who have fled Syria’s civil war into neighboring countries.
"Time passes so slowly here as we wait to return home," said Idlibi, a 58-year-old retired civil servant as he sat in this camp on the edge of a Turkish farming community, one of eight Turkish-run camps that have taken in thousands more refugees just in the past week.
And the numbers are likely to rise.
A government offensive Wednesday against rebel strongholds in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, could touch off another major exodus into nearby Turkey. In Jordan, authorities are straining to build more camps to accommodate refugees from Syria’s south -- where the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began more than 17 months ago. On one recent night alone, an estimated 4,000 Syrians arrived in Jordan.
In Jordan’s Zataari camp, opened just two weeks ago on a desolate desert plain, some 3,300 displaced Syrians have raised complaints about conditions that include dust storms and tents that are home to snakes and scorpions.
Egyptian president fires intelligence chief over militant killings of 16 soldiers in Sinai
CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s president fired his intelligence chief on Wednesday for failing to act on an Israeli warning of an imminent attack days before militants stormed a border post in the Sinai Peninsula and killed 16 soldiers.
The dismissal, which followed Egyptian airstrikes against Sinai militants, also marked a bold attempt by the Islamist leader to deflect popular anger over the attack. It pointed to a surprising level of cooperation with the powerful military leaders who stripped the presidency of significant powers just before President Mohammed Morsi took office June 30.
In a major shake-up, Morsi also asked Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi to replace the commander of the military police, a force that has been heavily used to combat street protests since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 18 months ago. Rights activists have accused the military police of brutality against protesters.
Morsi also fired the commander of his presidential guards and ordered new chiefs for security in Cairo and the police’s central security, a large, paramilitary force often deployed to deal with riots.
The decisions were announced hours after Egyptian attack helicopters fired missiles at militants in Sinai as part of what the military said was the start of an offensive, to "restore stability and regain control" over the desert territory bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip. The use of air power marked a sharp escalation in Egypt’s fight against the militants, who have become increasingly active in the mountainous terrain since last year’s uprising.
Survey changes would drop use of ‘Negro,’ count Latinos as a separate group to blacks, whites
WASHINGTON (AP) -- To keep pace with rapidly changing notions of race, the Census Bureau wants to make broad changes to its surveys that would treat ‘Hispanic’ as a distinct category regardless of race, end use of the term "Negro" and offer new ways to identify Middle Easterners.
The recommendations released Wednesday stem from new government research on the best ways to count the nation’s demographic groups. Still it could face stiff resistance from some racial and ethnic groups who worry that any kind of wording change in the high-stakes government count could yield a lower tally for them.
"This is a hot-button issue," said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino policy in New York City and a community adviser to the census. "The burden will be on the Census Bureau to come up with evidence that wording changes will not undermine the Latino numbers."
The research is based on an experiment conducted during the 2010 census in which nearly 500,000 households were given forms with the race and ethnicity questions worded differently. The findings show that many people who filled out the traditional form did not feel they fit within the five government-defined categories of race: white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native; when questions were altered to address this concern, response rates and accuracy improved notably.
For instance, because Hispanic is currently defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos -- or roughly 37 percent -- used the "some other race" category on their census forms to establish a Hispanic racial identity. Under one proposed change to the census forms, a new question would simply ask a person’s race or origin, allowing them to check a single box next to choices including black, white, or Hispanic.
Syria launches ground assault in Aleppo to try to oust rebels
TEL RIFAT, Syria (AP) -- Syria launched a ground assault Wednesday on rebel-held areas of the besieged city of Aleppo, the center of battles between government forces and opposition fighters for more than two weeks.
It was not immediately clear if the offensive was "the mother of all battles" that Syria’s state-controlled media vowed last month would take place for control of Aleppo. In recent weeks, the regime’s blistering attacks on rebel positions seem to have slowly chipped away at the opposition’s grip on its strongholds in the country’s largest city.
The official SANA news agency said regime forces have fully regained control of the Salaheddine neighborhood, the main rebel area in Aleppo. It claimed the "fall" of hundreds of "armed terrorists," the government’s catchall term for its opponents, without specifying what that meant.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said troops met resistance in the offensive.
About 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syrian fighter jets carried out airstrikes early Wednesday on the village of Tel Rifat, hitting a home and a high school and killing six people from the same family, residents said.