AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on July 2, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 2 at 8:01 PM

Palestinians accuse Israeli extremists of killing teenager in revenge attack

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Palestinians accused Israeli extremists of abducting and killing an Arab teenager and burning his body Wednesday, sparking hours of clashes in east Jerusalem and drawing charges that the youth was murdered to avenge the killings of three kidnapped Israeli teens.

Seeking to calm the explosive situation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged a swift inquiry into the "reprehensible murder" and called on people to respect the rule of law. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was clear extremist Jewish settlers were responsible and called on Israel to bring the killers to justice.

"The settlers have killed and burned a little boy. They are well known," Abbas said, accusing Israel of tolerating settler violence toward Palestinians. "I demand that the Israeli government hold the killers accountable."

The death added to the already heightened tensions caused by the killings of the three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were discovered Monday just over two weeks after they disappeared in the West Bank. Israel accused Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, of being behind the abductions, which led to the largest ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, with Israel arresting hundreds of Hamas operatives as part of a broad manhunt.

The discovery of the bodies led to a national outpouring of grief, with tens of thousands of people attending a funeral Tuesday in which the teens were laid to rest side-by-side. As the burial took place, hundreds of young, right-wing Israelis marched through downtown Jerusalem screaming for revenge.

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Fresh off Iraq success, extremist group tries to tighten grip on land across border in Syria

BAGHDAD (AP) — Fresh from success in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group tried to tighten its hold Wednesday on territory in Syria and crush pockets of resistance on land straddling the border where it has declared the foundation of an Islamic state.

Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned that the entire region is endangered by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose gunmen have rampaged across his country in recent weeks. Facing pressure to step aside, al-Maliki said the focus must be on countering the threat — not wholesale leadership changes.

The militant group has fed off the chaos and supercharged sectarian atmosphere of Syria's civil war to seize control of a large chunk of territory there. With its recent blitz across Iraq, it has expanded its gains while also effectively erasing the border between the two countries and laying the groundwork of its proto-state.

Led by an ambitious Iraqi militant known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group this week unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land it has seized. It also proclaimed al-Baghdadi the head of its new self-styled state governed by Shariah law and demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to him.

Its assault in Iraq appears to have slowed after sweeping across the predominantly Sunni Arab areas and encountering stiff resistance in Shiite-majority regions. But in Syria, al-Baghdadi's group has forged ahead with an offensive against towns and villages held by rival rebels along the Euphrates River in the eastern province bordering Iraq.

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Amid fears about new, undetectable bombs, US calls for more security at some overseas airports

WASHINGTON (AP) — Intelligence officials are concerned about a new al-Qaida effort to create a bomb that would go undetected through airport security, according to a counterterrorism official, prompting the U.S. to call for tighter security measures Wednesday at some foreign airports.

The counterterrorism official, who would not be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, declined to describe the kind of information that triggered this warning. But officials in the past have raised concerns about non-metallic explosives being surgically implanted inside a traveler's body, designed to be undetectable in pat-downs or metal detectors.

The U.S. has been planning for additional measures for the past month, a counterterrorism official said Wednesday, adding there was no immediate threat that led to the announcement by the Homeland Security Department that it was requesting tighter security abroad.

American intelligence has picked up indications that bomb makers from al-Qaida's Yemen affiliate have traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there. The groups are working to perfect an explosive device that could foil airport security, the counterterrorism official said.

Americans and others from the West have traveled to Syria over the past year to join al Nusra Front's fight against the Syrian government. The fear is that fighters with a U.S. or Western passport — and therefore subject to less stringent security screening — could carry such a bomb onto an American plane.

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Lawyer for Libyan militant tells court she's seen no evidence tying him to Benghazi attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — A lawyer for a Libyan militant charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks said Wednesday that she had seen no evidence tying her client to the violence, but a judge nonetheless directed Ahmed Abu Khattala to remain in custody as the Justice Department builds its case against him.

The lawyer, Michelle Peterson, conceded that Abu Khattala had no reasonable chance of being released at the moment, given the terrorism-related charge he faces and his lack of ties to the United States. But she also argued that prosecutors had failed to show, in their broad and initial outlines of the case, that he was in any way connected to the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

"What's been filed has shown, quite frankly, an utter lack of evidence of Mr. Khattala's involvement in the incident in Benghazi," said Peterson, an assistant federal public defender. "We are left to glean from press reports what the government's evidence is."

Abu Khattala appeared in court wearing a green prison jumpsuit and with a long, graying beard. He listened to the proceedings through headphones as an interpreter translated the conversation into Arabic. Peterson requested that while in jail he be served a halal diet and be provided a copy of the Quran.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiLorenzo recited some of the basic allegations of the case, telling U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson that there were no conditions under which Abu Khattala could be released that would ensure the safety of the community.

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AP Exclusive: Unraveling mystery of salesman accused of molesting, raping unconscious girls

Matthew Coniglio's Georgia home held a trove of child pornography, more than 50,000 images and videos stored on laptops, external hard drives and thumb drives.

Among the stash, hidden in a bedside table turned around to conceal the doors, authorities made an even more horrifying discovery: 56 8-millimeter cassette tapes they say show him raping and molesting girls.

All were unconscious, apparently drugged, FBI Special Agent William Kirkconnell, who viewed the tapes, told The Associated Press. Some were so incapacitated they were snoring. The camera was always turned off before they awoke.

Many of the victims' faces cannot be clearly identified, so investigators don't know how many different girls were attacked. But each tape recorded at least one assault — some had more — in homes and hotels. The youngest victim appears to be about 10 years old.

As for the alleged perpetrator, a 46-year-old traveling salesman who worked and lived in cities across Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, "he often looks back at the camera and even speaks," Kirkconnell said. "There's no doubt it's Matthew Coniglio. None at all."

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US ship leaves Italian port to destroy Syrian chemical weapons at sea

GIOIA TAURO, Italy (AP) — A United States cargo vessel loaded with hundreds of tons of Syria's chemical weapons left an Italian port Wednesday to destroy the arms at sea as part of the international effort to rid Syria of its chemical weapon stockpile.

The MV Cape Ray steamed out of the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro after a 12-hour operation to transfer the chemicals from a Danish ship, the Ark Futura.

It was heading into the open sea where it will neutralize the chemicals — including mustard gas and the raw materials for sarin nerve gas — with special machinery outfitted in its cargo hold.

A statement late Wednesday from the U.S. Defense Department said "neutralization operations will soon begin" in international waters and is expected to take several weeks to complete.

The chemicals had crossed the Mediterranean aboard the Ark Futura, which steamed into Gioia Tauro as the sun rose Wednesday. Throughout the day 78 containers were transferred, with cranes lifting each container onto a flatbed truck that then drove into the cargo hold of the U.S. vessel.

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With July 4th on horizon, North Carolina, other areas keep an eye on tropical storm's path

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — As one of the year's busiest travel weekends approaches, so does another visitor: Tropical Storm Arthur, expected to grow into a hurricane by the Fourth of July and hit most harshly at North Carolina's Outer Banks, a popular getaway spot of thin barrier islands along the shore.

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season prompted a hurricane warning for a wide swath of the North Carolina coast and had officials, hotel owners and would-be vacationers as far north as New England carefully watching forecasts.

The Outer Banks will be especially vulnerable, forecasters said. The area's tourism agency expects about 250,000 people to travel there and stay in hotels and rental homes for the long holiday weekend.

"We want everybody to be safe and prepared, but we are not overly concerned at this point," said Lee Nettles, the executive director the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. He noted that forecasters were predicting the storm would move fast and be less severe than others in locals' memories.

But flooding concerns remained: Twice in recent years, storm-driven waves have sliced North Carolina Route 12, the main road along the islands, rendering it unpassable. On Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was announced.

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Studies that reported simple way to make stem cells withdrawn after 'extensive' errors found

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. and Japanese scientists who reported that they'd found a startlingly simple way to make stem cells withdrew that claim Wednesday, admitting to "extensive" errors in the research.

In two papers published in January in the journal Nature, the researchers said that they'd been able to transform ordinary mouse cells into versatile stem cells by exposing them to a mildly acidic environment. Someday, scientists hope to harness stem cells to grow replacement tissue for treating a variety of diseases.

While researchers have long been able to perform such transformations with a different method, the newly reported technique was far simpler, and the papers caused a sensation — and some skepticism — in the research community. They were also widely reported in the media, including by The Associated Press.

But before long, the government-funded Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Japan accused one of its scientists, Haruko Obokata, of falsifying data in the research. Obokata, the key author of the papers, defended the results during a televised news conference in April while apologizing for using wrong and altered images in the published reports. She also said she opposed withdrawing the papers, a process called retraction, and the 30-year-old attributed her mistakes to inexperience.

On Wednesday, Nature released a statement from Obokata and the other authors of the papers that retracted the papers, a rare occurrence for the prestigious journal. The scientists acknowledged "extensive" errors that meant "we are unable to say without a doubt" that the method works. They noted that studies of the simpler method are still going on by other researchers.

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Hong Kong police clear hundreds from disorderly protest highlighting rising fears about China

HONG KONG (AP) — In a rare scene of disorder, Hong Kong authorities cleared out hundreds of protesters who blocked part of the city's financial district early Wednesday, a high-profile reflection of rising anxiety over Beijing's tightening grip on the little enclave of incomplete democracy at the southeastern edge of Communist China.

Police arrested 511 people who staged an unauthorized overnight sit-in on an avenue running through the heart of the city after a rally the day before in which tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in the streets to push for the right to elect their leader free of limits Beijing wants to impose.

The protesters wanted to "occupy" the street until 8 a.m., just before the height of rush hour, as a rehearsal for a larger demonstration planned by the group Occupy Central with Peace and Love to shut down the financial district if the Hong Kong government fails to come up with satisfactory democratic reforms.

Police started moving in at around 3 a.m. to take people away from Chater Road after they ignored warnings. One by one, demonstrators who had locked arms with each other were forcibly removed by hundreds of officers and taken away, some carried off their feet, to waiting police vans.

The protest's messy aftermath is the latest sign of worries that, with Hong Kong only a third of the way through a 50-year period in which mainland China is supposed to stay largely hands-off from the city's affairs, Beijing is failing to keep its end of the bargain.

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5 things to know about the 1964 Civil Rights Act on its 50th anniversary

WASHINGTON (AP) — On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most significant civil rights achievements in U.S. history. This new law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; It ended school, work and public facility discrimination, and barred unequal application of voter registration requirements.

Five hours after Congress approved the law, Johnson signed it, then turned and handed pens to various key figures in getting the legislation passed, including Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He went on to address the country in a nationally televised address, saying the law was a challenge for the United States to "eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country."

In observing the law's 50th anniversary Wednesday, President Barack Obama said "few pieces of legislation have defined our national identity as distinctly, or as powerfully."

"It transformed the concepts of justice, equality, and democracy for generations to come," Obama said.

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