AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on June 28, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Updated Saturday, Jun 28 at 10:30 PM

Libyan militant suspected in Benghazi attacks pleads not guilty in federal court appearance

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Libyan militant accused of masterminding the deadly Benghazi attacks that have become a flashpoint in U.S. politics appeared briefly for the first time in an American courtroom on Saturday, pleading not guilty to a terrorism-related charge nearly two weeks after he was captured by military special forces

In a 10-minute hearing held amid tight security, Ahmed Abu Khattala spoke just two words, both in Arabic. He replied "yes" when asked to swear to tell the truth and "no" when asked if he was having trouble understanding the proceeding.

Abu Khattala becomes the most recent foreign terror suspect to be prosecuted in American courts, a forum the Obama administration contends is both fairer and more efficient than the military tribunal process used at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The case is being tried in Washington despite concerns from Republicans in Congress who say he should not be entitled to the protections of the U.S. legal system.

A grand jury indictment handed up under seal Thursday and made public Saturday accuses Abu Khattala of participating in a conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

That crime is punishable by life in prison. The government said it soon would file more charges against Abu Khattala.

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Iraq forces launch biggest push yet to retake northern city of Tikrit from Sunni insurgents

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government launched its biggest push yet to wrest back ground lost to Sunni militants, as soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships began an offensive Saturday to retake the northern city of Tikrit.

There were conflicting reports as to how far the military advanced in its initial thrust toward Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein. Residents said militants were still in control of the city by nightfall, while Iraqi officials said troops had reached the outskirts and even pressed deep into the heart of Tikrit itself.

What was clear, however, was the government's desire to portray the campaign as a significant step forward after two weeks of demoralizing defeats at the hands of insurgents led by the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The militants' surge across much of northern and western Iraq has thrown the country into its deepest crisis since U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011, and threatens to cleave the nation in three along sectarian and ethnic lines.

Iraq's large, U.S.-trained and equipped military melted away in the face of the militant onslaught, sapping morale and public confidence in its ability to stem the tide, let alone claw back lost turf. If successful, the Tikrit operation could help restore a degree of faith in the security forces — as well as embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is fighting to keep his job.

Saturday's fighting began before dawn with helicopter gunships carrying out airstrikes on insurgents who were attacking troops at a university campus on Tikrit's northern outskirts, Iraqi military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said. The government forces had established a bridgehead on the university's sprawling grounds after being airlifted in the previous day.

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Hobby Lobby's religious objection to covering contraceptives among last cases at Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is poised to deliver its verdict in a case that weighs the religious rights of employers and the right of women to the birth control of their choice.

The court meets for a final time Monday to release decisions in its two remaining cases before the justices take off for the summer.

The cases involve birth control coverage under President Barack Obama's health law and fees paid to labor unions representing government employees by workers who object to being affiliated with a union.

Two years after Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal vote that saved the health care law in the midst of Obama's campaign for re-election, the justices are considering a sliver of the law.

Employers must cover contraception for women at no extra charge among a range of preventive benefits in employee health plans.

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Warrant: Georgia man whose son died after being left in hot SUV searched Web on deaths in cars

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man charged with murder after his 22-month-old son died in a hot SUV searched online for information about kids dying in cars and told police he feared it could happen, according to documents released Saturday as the boy's family held his funeral in Alabama.

The warrants released by the Cobb County Police Department provide more insight into the investigation of Cooper Harris' death on June 18.

Justin Ross Harris, 33, has told police he was supposed to drive his son to day care that morning but drove to work without realizing that his son was strapped into a car seat in the back.

In an interview after his son's death, Harris told investigators that he had done an online search on what temperature could cause a child's death in a vehicle. The warrant doesn't specify when Harris did the searches.

"During an interview with Justin, He stated that he recently researched, through the internet, child deaths inside vehicles and what temperature it needs to be for that to occur. Justin stated that he was fearful that this could happen," one of the four warrants released to The Associated Press stated.

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US and rainbow flags fly together as Obama takes gay rights global, despite uncertain welcome

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — President Barack Obama has taken the U.S. gay rights revolution global, using American embassies across the world to promote a cause that still divides his own country.

Sometimes U.S. advice and encouragement is condemned as unacceptable meddling. And sometimes it can seem to backfire, increasing the pressure on those it is meant to help.

With gay pride parades taking place in many cities across the world this weekend, the U.S. role will be more visible than ever. Diplomats will take part in parades and some embassies will fly the rainbow flag along with the Stars and Stripes.

The United States sent five openly gay ambassadors abroad last year, with a sixth nominee, to Vietnam, now awaiting Senate confirmation. American diplomats are working to support gay rights in countries such as Poland, where prejudice remains deep, and to oppose violence and other abuse in countries like Nigeria and Russia, where gays face life-threatening risks.

"It is incredible. I am amazed by what the U.S. is doing to help us," said Mariusz Kurc, the editor of a Polish gay advocacy magazine, Replika, which has received some U.S. funding and other help. "We are used to struggling and not finding any support."

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Europeans declare start of peaceful century in Bosnia, where World War I started 100 years ago

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Artists and diplomats declared a new century of peace and unity in Europe on Saturday in the city where the first two shots of World War I were fired exactly 100 years ago.

On June 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian crown prince Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, where he had come to inspect his occupying troops in the empire's eastern province.

The shots fired by Serb teenager Gavrilo Princip sparked the Great War, which was followed decades later by a second world conflict. Together the two wars cost some 80 million European their lives, ended four empires — including the Austro-Hungarian — and changed the world forever.

Visiting the assassination site Saturday, Sarajevan Davud Bajramovic, 67, said that in order to hold a second of silence for every person killed just during WWI in Europe, "we would have to stand silently for two years."

A century later, Sarajevans again crowded the same street along the river where Princip fired his shots. And the Austrians were also back, but this time with music instead of military: The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was scheduled to perform works of European composers reflecting the century's catastrophic events and conclude with a symbol of unity in Europe — the joint European hymn, Beethoven's "Ode of Joy."

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US man rows across Atlantic to honor brother who died of AIDS, reaches Caribbean in 4th try

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Three times, Victor Mooney tried to row across the Atlantic. Three times he failed. One boat sank. Another lost its freshwater system. A third sprang a leak and left him drifting on a life raft for two weeks. As he planned for a fourth attempt, his wife made it clear it would be the last.

"I'm going to give you all the support you need, but this is it. We have to close the book on this one,'" Mooney recalled her telling him.

Now the 48-year-old Brooklyn native has finally completed the roughly 3,000-mile (4,800 kilometer) journey.

Mooney was recovering Saturday in the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten, a day after reaching shore and ending a 128-day ordeal during which he lost 80 pounds (36 kilograms).

The trip was fueled by his desire to bring attention to the need for HIV testing and to honor a brother who died of AIDS in 1983.

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Mars 'flying saucer' vehicle splashes down after NASA test in Earth's atmosphere

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A saucer-shaped NASA vehicle testing new technology for Mars landings rocketed high over the Pacific on Saturday and deployed a novel inflatable braking system, but its massive parachute failed to fully unfurl as it descended to a splashdown.

Control room cheers that greeted successful steps in the complex test rapidly died as the parachute appeared to emerge tangled.

"Please inform the recovery director we have bad chute," a mission official ordered.

NASA planned to hold a news conference on the flight Sunday.

The vehicle, called the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, was testing methods for slowing big, heavy spacecraft hurtling into the thin Martian atmosphere.

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From Morocco to Jakarta, world's 1.6 billion Muslims get ready for Ramadan

BEIRUT (AP) — Across a wide belt that stretches halfway around the globe, the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims will mark the beginning of Ramadan this weekend. The holy season is marred by unprecedented turmoil, violence and sectarian hatreds that threaten to rip apart the Middle East, the epicenter of Islam.

Syria is bleeding. Militants have taken over large parts of Iraq. Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt are all battling Islamic extremists. Millions of war refugees are scattered across the landscape.

Although the bloodshed has eroded much of the Ramadan joy, millions of Shiite and Sunni Muslims will fast for grueling hours, both hoping for God's acceptance.

Some facts about Ramadan:

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No satisfaction: Michael Bradley says US needs to advance farther than 2nd round at World Cup

SAO PAULO (AP) — Maybe this is a sign the U.S. national team has matured: While much of America celebrated advancement to the World Cup knockout stage, Michael Bradley thinks the accomplishment has to be viewed with perspective.

"It's something to be proud of, getting out of the group, especially given how difficult it was, but we want more," the 26-year-old midfielder said Saturday. "There's no feeling of satisfaction at the moment. We want to be here for another few games. We want to continue to push and push and see how far we can take this."

In the knockout phase of consecutive World Cups for the first time, the Americans play Belgium on Tuesday and hope to meet Argentina or Switzerland in a quarterfinal. Bradley said the U.S. is proud to have survived a first-round group that included second-ranked Germany, fourth-ranked Portugal and nemesis Ghana. But he also concludes "it's not anything yet."

"You get to this point in the tournament and you understand that to keep it going and to take it even further, every guy has to find more," he said. "Every guy has to look at himself and physically find more to give, mentally be that much sharper."

Bradley hasn't scored any goals and has had some heavy touches in Brazil. But the son of former U.S. coach Bob Bradley has been the tournament's Energizer Bunny. He covered a World Cup-leading 23.6 miles (38 kilometers) during the first round. Asked whether he realized he'd nearly run a marathon in Brazil, Bradley offered a quick "Ha!" and hustled to a practice field.

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