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Hostages safe after standoff inside Texas synagogue

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — Hostages who had been held for hours inside a Texas synagogue were rescued Saturday night, according to Gov. Greg Abbott, nearly 12 hours after the standoff began.

“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Abbott tweeted.

Abbott’s tweet came not long after a loud bang and what sounded like gunfire was heard coming from the synagogue, where authorities said a man had held people captive as he demanded the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. Details of the rescue were not immediately released and it was unclear whether the hostage-taker was dead or alive.

At least four hostages were initially believed to be inside the synagogue, according to three law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The synagogue's rabbi was believed to be among the hostages, one of the officials said. One of the officials said the man claimed to be armed but authorities had not confirmed whether he was.

The Colleyville Police Department said one hostage was released uninjured shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday. The man was expected to be reunited with his family and did not require medical attention. A law enforcement official said the first hostage who was released was not the rabbi.


Tsunami threat recedes from huge Pacific volcanic eruption

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The tsunami threat around the Pacific from a huge undersea volcanic eruption began to recede Sunday, while the extent of damage to Tonga remained unclear.

Satellite images showed the spectacular eruption that took place Saturday evening, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a mushroom above the blue Pacific waters. A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska.

In Tonga it sent tsunami waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground.

The eruption cut the internet to Tonga, leaving friends and family members around the world anxiously trying to get in touch to figure out if there were any injuries and the extent of the damage. Even government websites and other official sources remained without updates on Sunday afternoon.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there had not yet been any official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga, but cautioned that authorities hadn't yet made contact with some coastal areas and smaller islands.


Expect more worrisome variants after omicron, scientists say

Get ready to learn more Greek letters. Scientists warn that omicron’s whirlwind advance practically ensures it won’t be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.

Every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate, and omicron has an edge over its predecessors: It spreads way faster despite emerging on a planet with a stronger patchwork of immunity from vaccines and prior illness.

That means more people in whom the virus can further evolve. Experts don’t know what the next variants will look like or how they might shape the pandemic, but they say there’s no guarantee the sequels of omicron will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them.

They urge wider vaccination now, while today's shots still work.

"The faster omicron spreads, the more opportunities there are for mutation, potentially leading to more variants,” Leonardo Martinez, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, said.


The AP Interview: Taliban pledge all girls in schools soon

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers say they hope to be able to open all schools for girls across the country after late March, their spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday, offering the first timeline for addressing a key demand of the international community.

Since the Taliban takeover in mid-August, girls in most of Afghanistan have not been allowed back to school beyond grade 7. The international community, reluctant to formally recognize a Taliban-run administration, is wary they could impose similar harsh measures as during their previous rule 20 years ago. At the time, women were banned from education, work and public life.

Zabihullah Mujahid, who is also the Taliban's deputy minister of culture and information, said their education departments are looking to open classrooms for all girls and women following the Afghan New Year, which starts on March 21. Afghanistan, like neighboring Iran, observers the Islamic solar Hijri Shamsi calendar.

Education for girls and women “is a question of capacity,” Mujahid said in the interview.

Girls and boys must be completely segregated in schools, he said, adding that the biggest obstacle so far has been finding or building enough dorms, or hostels, where girls could stay while going to school. In heavily populated areas, it is not enough to have separate classrooms for boys and girls — separate school buildings are needed, he said.


Verdict soon in Djokovic's deportation case in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A court hearing for tennis star Novak Djokovic’s appeal against deportation in Australia ended Sunday and a verdict was expected within hours.

Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop said he and two fellow judges hoped to reach a verdict later Sunday. The top-ranked male tennis player needs to win the appeal to defend his Australian Open title in play that begins on Monday.

The Australian government cancelled Djokovic's visa on Friday due to issues surrounding his stance against COVID-19 vaccination.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Novak Djokovic returned to court on Sunday to fight an attempt to deport him because of what a government minister described as a perception that the top-ranked tennis player was a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment.”


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Legal risks in sedition conspiracy case against Oath Keepers

The seditious conspiracy case against members and associates of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group marks the boldest attempt so far by the government to prosecute those who attacked the U.S. Capitol, but invoking the rarely used charge carries considerable risks.

Still, legal experts who have reviewed the indictment unsealed this past week against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and 10 others said prosecutors stand a good chance of winning convictions on allegations that the defendants were working together to use force to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

The Civil War-era charge is hard to prove, and scholars say overzealousness in applying it, going back centuries, also discredited its use.

The experts who examined the indictment against the 11 Oath Keepers members and associates said the government’s case is supported by detailed allegations that participants in the plot discussed their plans in encrypted chats, traveled to the nation's capital from across the country, organized into teams, used military tactics, stashed weapons outside Washington in case they felt they were needed and communicated with each other during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

“This is as good a case as you could bring,” said Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California at Davis who is an expert in treason law.


Woman killed in subway shove at Times Square

NEW YORK (AP) — A woman was pushed to her death in front of a subway train at the Times Square station Saturday, police said, a little more than a week after the mayor and governor announced plans to boost subway policing and outreach to homeless people in New York City's streets and trains.

The man believed responsible fled the scene but turned himself in to transit police a short time later, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at a news conference with Mayor Eric Adams at the station.

The 40-year-old victim, identified as Michelle Alyssa Go of New York, was waiting for a southbound R train around 9:40 a.m. when she was apparently shoved, according to police.

“This incident was unprovoked, and the victim does not appear to have had any interaction with the subject,” Sewell said.

A second woman told police the man had approached her minutes earlier and she feared he would push her onto the tracks.


University of Michigan removes Schlissel as school president

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Mark Schlissel has been removed as president of the University of Michigan due to an alleged "inappropriate relationship with a university employee," the school said Saturday on its website.

The removal was effective “immediately,” the University of Michigan Board of Regents said, adding that members learned Dec. 8, 2021. about the relationship from an anonymous complaint and that an investigation revealed that “over the years,” Schlissel used his university email account to “communicate with that subordinate in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the university.”

“As you know, the Regents received an anonymous complaint regarding an alleged sexual affair between you and a subordinate,” the board wrote in its letter to Schlissel informing him of his removal. “An investigation has revealed that your interactions with the subordinate were inconsistent with promoting the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan.”

The Associated Press sent an email Saturday night to Schlissel's university email to seek his comment, but it was not clear if he had access to the inbox anymore.

The letter from the board dated Saturday included excerpts of emails exchanged between Schlissel and the employee.


Biden backers 'not seeing the results' a year into his term

NEW YORK (AP) — Just over a year ago, millions of energized young people, women, voters of color and independents joined forces to send Joe Biden to the White House. But 12 months into his presidency, many describe a coalition in crisis.

Leading voices across Biden's diverse political base openly decry the slow pace of progress on key campaign promises. The frustration was especially pronounced this past week after Biden's push for voting rights legislation effectively stalled, intensifying concerns in his party that fundamental democratic principles are at risk and reinforcing a broader sense that the president is faltering at a moment of historic consequence.

“People are feeling like they’re getting less than they bargained for when they put Biden in office. There’s a lot of emotions, and none of them are good," said Quentin Wathum-Ocama, president of the Young Democrats of America. “I don’t know if the right word is ‘apoplectic’ or ‘demoralized.’ We’re down. We’re not seeing the results.”

The strength of Biden's support will determine whether Democrats maintain threadbare majorities in Congress beyond this year or whether they will cede lawmaking authority to a Republican Party largely controlled by former President Donald Trump. Already, Republicans in several state legislatures have taken advantage of Democratic divisions in Washington to enact far-reaching changes to state election laws, abortion rights and public health measures in line with Trump's wishes.

If Biden cannot unify his party and reinvigorate his political coalition, the GOP at the state and federal levels will almost certainly grow more emboldened, and the red wave that shaped a handful of state elections last year could fundamentally shift the balance of power across America in November's midterm elections.


Bengals hold on, finally win in playoffs, 26-19 over Raiders

CINCINNATI (AP) — Paul Brown Stadium nearly shook in triumph. The city of Cincinnati might have, too.

Its latest hero, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, merely seemed to shrug after leading his team to its first playoff victory in 31 years, 26-19 over Las Vegas on Saturday in an AFC wild-card game.

"It’s exciting for the city, for the state, but we are not going to dwell on that, we are moving forward," said Burrow, who threw two touchdown passes. “This is expected, this isn’t like the icing on top of the cake, this is the cake. So we are moving on."

Burrow led an efficient offense that scored on six drives, Evan McPherson became the first rookie to make four field goals without a miss in a postseason debut, and Germaine Pratt sealed it with a fourth-down interception in the dying seconds.

It was a victory three decades in the making for the Bengals (11-7). After going from worst to first in the AFC North with a generally young roster, they ended that embarrassingly long postseason drought that included eight consecutive defeats.

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