Saturday April 20, 2013

Experts: Ricin like that mailed to president, U.S. senator is relatively easy to make

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- The ricin mailed to the president and a U.S. senator is relatively easy to make but generally can’t be used to target a large number of people, experts say.

A Mississippi man, Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, has been charged with mailing letters laced with the naturally occurring toxin to President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker. Authorities say he sent a third threatening letter to a Mississippi judge, though that letter is still being tested for the presence of ricin. Curtis has denied making the ricin and mailing the letters.

The FBI has not yet revealed details about how the ricin was made or how lethal it may have been. It was in a powdered form inside the envelopes, but the FBI said no one has been sickened by it so far. A senate official said Thursday that the ricin was not weaponized, meaning it wasn’t in a form that could easily enter the body.

More than a dozen officials, some wearing hazardous materials suits, were searching the home Friday where Curtis was arrested in Corinth, Miss. FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden would not say if authorities have found ricin or materials used to make it in Curtis’ home, and officials have not provided details about how Curtis may have either obtained or made the ricin.

Law enforcement agents should be able to test the toxin found in the letters to determine its potency and purity, as well as learn what chemicals may have been used to extract it from widely available castor beans, said Murray Cohen, the founder of the Atlanta-based Frontline Foundation, which trains workers on preparedness and response to bioterrorism and epidemics. Those chemicals might then be able to be linked to purchases made by Curtis or materials found in his home.

Boy Scouts propose to lift ban on gays as youth members, keep it for adult leaders

NEW YORK (AP) -- Searching for compromise on a divisive issue, the Boy Scouts of America is proposing to partially lift its long-standing exclusion of gays -- allowing them as youth members but continuing to bar them as adult leaders.

The proposal, unveiled Friday after weeks of private leadership deliberations, will be submitted to the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council during the week of May 20 at a meeting in Texas.

The key part of the resolution says no youth may be denied membership in the Scouts "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." A ban would continue on leadership roles for adults who are openly gay or lesbian.

Gay-rights groups, which had demanded a complete lifting of the ban, criticized the proposal as inadequate.

"Until every parent and young person have the same opportunity to serve, the Boy Scouts will continue to see a decline in both membership and donations," said Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the gay-rights watchdog group GLAAD.

LAPD Revcnge killings: Dorner transcripts show deputies
held fire at end

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Sheriff’s transcripts released Friday indicate deputies didn’t fire a single shot during the final two hours of a standoff with Christopher Dorner, a former Los Angeles police officer who authorities said killed four people in a nearly weeklong rampage.

The standoff came after a furious gunbattle that erupted as Dorner arrived at a cabin on Feb. 12 in the San Bernardino Mountains.

One deputy was killed and another seriously wounded in the exchange.

Flames eventually broke out, and six minutes later a single gunshot was heard from inside the cabin. Authorities believe it was Dorner taking his own life.

The transcripts provide the most detailed glimpse yet of the final hours of the manhunt that covered several states and grabbed the attention of the nation.

The radio dispatch transcripts from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department cover the roughly nine hours following a 911 call from Jim and Karen Reynolds, who were tied up by Dorner in their Big Bear condo. The audio was not provided.

The transcripts show law enforcement officers poured in and deputies were told not to fire unless they saw Dorner. They tried using tear gas to force him out of the dwelling and when that failed, seven canisters of incendiary tear gas were used.

The 30-page transcript describes a chaotic scene where information was being relayed from multiple sources -- a 911 call, carjacking victim, concerned neighbors, and the owner of the mountain cabin -- to law enforcement officers on the ground.

Deputies were provided details by the cabin’s owner about the floor plan and told there was no other way out of the basement, where authorities later found Dorner’s body.

A school camp director called in to say 550 students were on lockdown and had provisions for the night if necessary.

Law enforcement officers described blood spatter on the cabin walls and mattresses up against them as a barricade.

Multiple agencies offered resources, including high-powered weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles. Fifteen members of the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team dressed in black landed in the nearby hills only to be turned back to the airport, the transcript says.

Near the end of the standoff, as SWAT officers in an armored BearCat methodically tore down the walls of the cabin, they saw "green smoke" coming from the inside. Authorities believe Dorner was throwing smoke grenades to obscure any view of him.

Former Pakistani military ruler Musharraf vows to fight allegations following his arrest

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf vowed on Friday to fight what he called politically motivated allegations against him, following his arrest in a case involving his decision to fire senior judges while in power.

Musharraf was detained after he made a dramatic escape from court in a speeding vehicle on Thursday and holed up in his heavily guarded house on the outskirts of Islamabad. He is now being held at police headquarters in the capital and is expected to appear before an anti-terrorism court.

Musharraf seized control of Pakistan in a coup in 1999 when he was army chief and spent nearly a decade in power before being forced to step down in 2008.

He returned to Pakistan last month after four years in self-imposed exile to make a political comeback despite Taliban death threats and a raft of legal challenges. But he was disqualified from running in the May 11 parliamentary election earlier this week, and his fortunes have gone from bad to worse since then.

Musharraf’s arrest is a significant act in a country where senior army officers have long seemed untouchable. The army is still considered the most powerful institution in Pakistan, but it’s aura of impunity has declined in recent years, especially in the face of an activist judiciary.

Arkansas turns to different lethal injection drug

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- After surrendering its supply of a lethal injection drug to federal agents in 2011, Arkansas turned to a somewhat surprising place to look for another drug: a list prepared by lawyers for several death row inmates.

The state Department of Correction told The Associated Press this week that it decided to switch to phenobarbital after lawyers for several inmates said in a lawsuit that it might be an available drug.

Phenobarbital is used to treat seizures. It has never been used in a U.S. execution. Some death penalty critics fear it could lead to inhumane deaths for condemned prisoners.

But as drugmakers object to their products’ use in lethal injections, more death penalty states may be headed for similarly uncharted territory in the search for alternatives.

Diplomats: Top aide to UN nuke chief resigns

VIENNA (AP) -- A top aide to the chief of the U.N. nuclear agency has unexpectedly resigned, suggesting tensions among the organization’s top leadership, diplomats said Friday.

The move by IAEA Assistant Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi comes at a critical time for the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is the outside world’s only window on Iran’s nuclear program, which some nations fear is close to the ability to make atomic arms -- a goal Iran strenuously denies.

IAEA inspectors monitor Tehran’s known nuclear facilities including its expanding uranium enrichment program, which Tehran says is meant only to produce nuclear power and for other peaceful uses. But the United States, Israel, their allies and other nations fear the Islamic Republic could use the technology to make the core of a nuclear weapon.

The agency also is trying to kick-start a probe of suspicions that Iran has secretly worked on developing nuclear weapons after more than five years of stagnation. Iran denies such work and says the allegations are based on falsified intelligence from Israel and the West. The two sides plan to resume talks on the issue in mid-May.

Two diplomats demanded anonymity in exchange for speaking to The Associated Press about the resignation because they were not authorized to discuss internal IAEA matters with reporters.

One of them said Grossi told Amano he was quitting earlier this week after being told that his contract was not being extended. He said Grossi would now become the chief delegate of his country, Argentina, to the IAEA and other Vienna-based U.N.organizations. He was also expected to become Argentine ambassador to Austria.

IAEA officials said the agency had no comment.

Chile says Chinese ship still burns in Antarctica

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- A Chilean air force plane is checking on a Chinese ship that caught fire in Antarctica.

The Kai Xin vessel burned off the coast of Antarctica on Wednesday and its 97 crew members were rescued by a Norwegian ship.

Then it began to drift unmanned, zigzagging dangerously close to sharp glaciers.

Chile’s air force said Friday that the ship is still in flames at Bransfield Strait in the Antarctic peninsula.

A Chilean navy tugboat is on its way to tow the ship to harbor before it crashes into the glaciers and causes an oil spill.

A Panamanian-flagged Chinese ship, Skyfrost, is also nearing the area to help tow the disabled craft.

The Kai Xin left port in Uruguay. Chilean officials don’t know how much fuel it carries.

Man dies as UK measles epidemic spreads

LONDON (AP) -- U.K. authorities say a 25-year-old man is suspected to have died from measles as an epidemic continues to sweep across south Wales.

The outbreak has led to more than 800 infections and renewed discussions over the failure of some parents to vaccinate their children against the potentially fatal virus.

The most effective way of fighting it remains the measles mumps and rubella vaccine, often abbreviated MMR, but a vocal anti-vaccine movement has helped push measles cases to an 18-year high in England and Wales.

It’s not yet clear whether the man died of the virus. Public health officials in Wales said tests had shown he was infected with measles at the time of his death but that the cause was still being investigating.