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American Scene

- - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

FLORIDA

'Superhero' untangles space shuttle cable

CAPE CANAVERAL — A spacewalking astronaut freed a snagged cable on the inspection boom for Space Shuttle Atlantis on Wednesday, accomplishing the job in a matter of minutes and earning a "superhero" title.

With that behind him, Stephen Bowen whipped through a slew of space station battery replacements.

Mr. Bowen and his spacewalking partner, Michael Good, plugged in four new batteries at the International Space Station and even repaired a loose antenna.

The tangled cable had prevented the shuttle astronauts from thoroughly inspecting their ship for any damage from last week's launch. NASA wanted the snag fixed as soon as possible and added the chore to Wednesday's spacewalk, the second in three days.

MICHIGAN

4th militia member gets out of jail

DETROIT — A fourth member of a Midwestern militia accused of plotting to overthrow the government was released from jail Wednesday after prosecutors said they were confident that the strict conditions under which he was set free would ensure the public's safety.

Kristopher Sickles of Sandusky, Ohio, will be electronically monitored 24 hours a day, like three other members of the Hutaree militia who were released under the same conditions Tuesday.

Five other members of the group remain behind bars, and prosecutors have asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to keep them there while they await trial on Nov. 4.

The nine are charged with conspiring to commit sedition and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Sickles coincidentally appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Scheer for instructions about his release. He was the same judge who ordered the nine to jail on April 2, citing a threat to public safety. That decision led to a series of challenges by defense attorneys and then by prosecutors.

MISSOURI

Al Qaeda ally pleads guilty

KANSAS CITY — A Kansas City auto-parts dealer who had sworn allegiance to al Qaeda pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in a conspiracy to provide financial support to the terrorist group.

Khalid Ouazzani, 32, a Moroccan native who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2006, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of bank fraud from an original indictment charging him with 33 counts. He also pleaded guilty to an additional count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

Although he admitted that he talked with others about ways to support al Qaeda, including plans for them to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia, U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips said he did not pose a threat to the Kansas City area, where he briefly operated a business that sold auto parts and used vehicles.

"At no point prior to his arrest was he any threat to cause imminent harm or danger to the citizens of our community," Ms. Phillips said.

NEW YORK

Multiple landmarks eyed as bomb sites

NEW YORK — The Times Square car bomb suspect had considered bombing Grand Central Terminal or other New York City landmarks before settling on Times Square as his target, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Faisal Shahzad also considered Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, the World Financial Center near ground zero and Sikorsky Inc., a defense contractor with an office in his Connecticut hometown, before deciding to drive a sport utility vehicle rigged with a homemade bomb into Times Square, the official told the AP on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

The Pakistani-American eventually abandoned the other targets and did not plan any other attacks after the failed May 1 bombing, the official said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Shahzad appeared in a U.S. court for the first time since his May 3 arrest on terrorism and weapons charges. He had been under guard at a Brooklyn hotel while investigators questioned him until then, another law enforcement official told the AP on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Federal authorities released a picture Wednesday of a sullen-faced, bearded Mr. Shahzad taken shortly after his arrest.

PENNSYLVANIA

NFL fan's 'Spygate' lawsuit dismissed

PHILADELPHIA — NFL fans miffed by the New England Patriots' secret videotaping of their opponents' signals can boycott games or team merchandise, but they can't seek legal damages for "Spygate," a U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The appeals panel upheld a district judge's ruling that dismissed the lawsuit by lawyer Carl Mayer, a New York Jets season ticket holder from Princeton, N.J.

Mr. Mayer had argued that fans spent large sums to see games that were essentially rigged, and he sought $185 million in damages for Jets fans alone. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court didn't buy it.

"We do not condone the conduct on the part of the Patriots and the team's head coach, and we likewise refrain from assessing whether the NFL's sanctions (and its alleged destruction of the videotapes themselves) were otherwise appropriate," Senior Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote for the three-judge panel.

However, he said, Mr. Mayer failed to prove any legal right to damages.

TEXAS

Ex-fugitive pleads in sect slayings

HOUSTON — A polygamist sect leader's daughter who was a fugitive for nearly 20 years pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that she helped orchestrate the shotgun killings of three former sect members and an 8-year-old girl.

Jacqueline Tarsa LeBaron entered her plea during a brief arraignment hearing. U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson ordered her held without bond pending her trial after Ms. LeBaron waived her right to a detention hearing.

Ms. LeBaron's trial was scheduled for June 28 but likely will be delayed. Her attorney, David Adler, said it would be unusual for anybody to be prepared that quickly for trial, especially given how much time has passed since she was first charged.

"These are very serious allegations. We're interested in what the evidence is against her," Mr. Adler said after the hearing.

Prosecutor Terry Clark declined to comment on the case.

Ms. LeBaron, 44, was captured in Honduras last week and extradited to the U.S. after the FBI received a tip about her whereabouts.

From wire dispatches and staff reports