U.S. suspects some Afghan ‘insider’ attacks linked to network with ties to al-Qaida
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Haqqani insurgent network, based in Pakistan and with ties to al-Qaida, is suspected of being a driving force behind a significant number of the "insider" attacks by Afghan forces that have killed or wounded more than 130 U.S. and allied troops this year, American officials said Friday.
Until now, officials had said the attacks seemed to stem either from personal grievances against the allies or from Taliban infiltration. The Taliban has publicly claimed to be orchestrating the campaign to subvert the U.S.-Afghan alliance.
New data provided to The Associated Press this week also reveal that in addition to 35 U.S. and allied troops killed in insider attacks last year, 61 were wounded. Those included 19 in a single attack in the eastern province of Laghman on April 16, 2011, in which six American servicemen were killed. Thus far in 2012 there have been 53 killed and at least 80 wounded, the figures showed.
Haqqani involvement in the plotting would add a new dimension to that group’s insurgent activity, which has been marked largely by spectacular attacks against targets inside Kabul.
Haqqani leaders have pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but the group largely operates independently. The two groups have a shared interest in evicting foreign forces.
Syrian regime opens new urban front, hits Homs with intense artillery barrage
BEIRUT (AP) -- The Syrian military opened a second urban front Friday, attacking the rebel stronghold of Homs with the most intense artillery barrage in months and putting opposition fighters there and in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, increasingly on the defensive.
Syria’s civil war has been locked in a bloody stalemate, and embattled President Bashar Assad could extend his hold on power if he retakes Aleppo and Homs. Amateur video from Homs, a symbol of resistance, showed black columns of smoke rising from the city, as loud explosions went off every few seconds.
While Assad stepped up attacks at home, tensions with neighboring Turkey flared again Friday, reviving fears that the 18-month-old conflict in Syria could ignite a regional conflagration.
The crisis began on Wednesday, when a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town and triggered unprecedented artillery strikes by Turkey, coupled with warnings that Turkey would no longer tolerate such acts. On Friday, a Syrian mortar round again hit inside Turkey, causing no injuries, and Turkish troops returned fire, the state-run news agency Anadolu said.
In the past, Turkey did not respond to stray Syrian shells, but Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Friday that those days are over. "I once again call on Assad’s regime and its supporters: Do not try to test Turkey’s patience, do not try to test Turkey’s limits," Erdogan said.
Union boss: A real possibility friendly fire could have played part in border shooting
PHOENIX (AP) -- The shooting of two U.S. Border Patrol agents near the Arizona-Mexico border may have been a case of friendly fire, a union chief for border agents and law enforcement officials said Friday.
The development could shake up the investigation into the death of one of the agents that re-ignited the political debate over security on the border.
George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing about 17,000 border agents, said Friday that he has learned new details that make him believe friendly fire could have played a part in the shooting.
"The only thing I can say is that the possibility of friendly fire is a higher likely scenario," McCubbin said, declining to elaborate on the new details.
Two law enforcement officials also told The Associated Press that the FBI is investigating the possibility that the fatal shooting of 30-year-old Agent Nicholas Ivie and the wounding of another agent early Tuesday morning five miles from the border was a case of friendly fire.
Mexican expert: Mayan ball court at Chichen Itza was celestial observatory
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexican archaeologists say they have determined that the ancient Mayas built watchtower-style structures atop the ceremonial ball court at the temples of Chichen Itza to observe the equinoxes and solstices, and they said Friday that the discovery adds to understanding of the many layers of ritual significance that the ball game had for the culture.
The structures sit atop the low walls of the court, where the Mayas played a game that consisted, as far as experts can tell, of knocking a heavy, latex ball with their elbows, knees or hips, through a stone ring set in the walls.
The bases of the structures -- essentially, look-out boxes set atop the walls, each one with a small slit running through it --had been detected before, but archaeologist hadn’t been sure what they were used for. Since the ball court was built around 864 A.D., the boxes and the stairs leading to them had crumbled.
The government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History announced Thursday that the boxes had been 90-percent reconstructed, based on the stone footings that remained. Late last year and early this year, a team led by archaeologist Jose Huchim confirmed that the sun shone through the slit-like openings when the setting sun touches the horizon at the winter solstice.
The sun’s rays also formed a diagonal pattern at the equinox in the slit-like openings, which are about tall enough to stand up in.
Calif. refinery back online amid soaring prices; cost of gallon up 20 cents overnight
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Californians woke up to a shock Friday as overnight gasoline prices jumped by as much as 20 cents a gallon in some areas, ending a week of soaring costs that saw some stations close and others charge record prices.
The average price of regular gas across the state was nearly $4.49 a gallon, the highest in the nation, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge report.
In Southern California, the price jumped 20 cents a gallon overnight to $4.53 in Ventura. And in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area prices went up 19 cents to nearly $4.54. It wasn’t any better to the north, as a gallon of regular gas in San Francisco averaged nearly $4.60.
In many areas, prices have jumped 40 cents in a week as refinery problems have created shortages and helped send wholesale prices soaring. Some stations ran out of gas and shut down Thursday rather than pay those costs.
Even Costco Wholesale Corp., the giant discount store chain that sells large volumes of gas, decided to close some stations