- Associated Press - Friday, August 22, 2014

Extremists’ gains, brutality have US reassessing resistance to military action in Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) - A senior White House official raised the possibility Friday of a broader American military campaign that targets an Islamic extremist group’s bases in Syria, saying the U.S would take whatever action is necessary to protect national security.

“We’re not going to be restricted by borders,” said Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

The White House said the president has received no military options beyond those he authorized earlier this month for limited airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and military aid to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Thus far, the United States has avoided military involvement in Syria’s three-year civil war. But faced with the Islamic State making gains across the region and the beheading of an American journalist, the administration’s resistance may be weakening.

Rhodes spoke a day after Obama’s top military adviser warned the extremists cannot be defeated without “addressing” their sanctuary in Syria.

Many prominent Republicans and some Democrats have called on Obama to hit back harder at the Islamic State militants.

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Russia sends truck convoy into Ukraine; Kiev government calls it a ‘direct invasion’

LUHANSK, Ukraine (AP) - Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated sharply on Friday as Moscow sent more than 130 trucks rolling across the border in what it said was a mission to deliver humanitarian aid. Ukraine called it a “direct invasion,” and the U.S. and NATO condemned it as well.

In another ominous turn in the crisis, NATO said it has mounting evidence that Russian troops are operating inside Ukraine and launching artillery attacks from Ukrainian soil - significantly deeper involvement in the fighting than the West has previously alleged.

The trucks, part of a convoy of 260 vehicles, entered Ukraine without government permission after being held up at the border for a week amid fears that the mission was a Kremlin ploy to help the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

By late afternoon, trucks had reached the city of Luhansk, whose war-reduced population of a quarter-million people has suffered under intense fighting over the past several weeks between Ukrainian forces and the separatists.

Russia said the white-tarped vehicles were carrying food, water, generators and sleeping bags.

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Gaza militants kill 18 alleged spies for Israel to plug security breach, deter others

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Gaza militants Friday gunned down 18 alleged spies for Israel in an apparent attempt to plug security breaches and deter others, a day after Israel killed three top Hamas military commanders in an airstrike likely guided by collaborators.

In one incident, masked gunmen lined up seven men, their heads covered by bags, along a wall outside a Gaza City mosque and shot them to death in front of hundreds of people, witnesses said. A note pinned on the wall said they had leaked information about the location of tunnels, homes of fighters and rockets that were later struck by Israel.

In Israel, a 4-year-old boy was killed when a mortar shell hit two cars in the parking lot of Nahal Oz, a small farming community near Gaza. Five Israelis were hurt, one seriously, in several rocket strikes, the military said. One rocket damaged a synagogue.

The child’s death was bound to raise pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from an increasingly impatient public to put an end to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza - something Israel’s military has been unable to do after 46 days of fighting with Hamas.

Netanyahu’s office said he expressed his condolences and vowed that Hamas would pay a “heavy price.”

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Homeland Security warns retailers about hacking software, estimates 1,000 businesses affected

WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 1,000 U.S. retailers could be infected with malicious software lurking in their cash register computers, allowing hackers to steal customer financial data, the Homeland Security Department said Friday.

The government urged businesses of all sizes to scan their point-of-sale systems for software known as “Backoff,” discovered last October. It previously explained in detail how the software operates and how retailers could find and remove it.

Earlier this month, United Parcel Service said it found infected computers in 51 stores. UPS said it was not aware of any fraud that resulted from the infection but said hackers may have taken customers’ names, addresses, email addresses and payment card information.

The company apologized to customers and offered free identity protection and credit monitoring services to those who had shopped in those 51 stores.

Backoff was discovered in October, but according to the Homeland Security Department the software wasn’t flagged by antivirus programs until this month.

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As calm settles in, new fears over what happens in Ferguson if officer isn’t charged

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) - Conditions calmed this week in Ferguson after nights of sometimes violent unrest stemming from the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer. But a delicate and crucial question lingers: What happens if the grand jury now considering the case doesn’t return a charge against the officer?

The fear among some local residents and officials trying to maintain peace in Ferguson is that failure to charge the officer could stoke new anger among a community profoundly mistrustful of the legal system. Many say they just hope the grand jury’s decision, whatever it is, has irrefutable facts to back it up.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told The Associated Press she’s pushing for federal and local investigations to be completed around the same time so that all evidence in the case can be made public - a step many consider important should prosecutors decide not to charge the officer. Her office said Friday that the Department of Justice hasn’t given a timeline for the federal investigation, which centers on whether a civil rights violation occurred when officer Darren Wilson fatally shot the unarmed Michael Brown Aug. 9.

McCaskill, a former prosecutor in Missouri, said she’s hopeful the physical evidence in the case - including blood spatter patterns, clothing and shell casings - will provide “incontrovertible facts” about what happened during the shooting. She said whatever local prosecutors decide, it will be important to explain the decision by providing that physical evidence, and that won’t be possible if the federal investigation is ongoing.

McCaskill said she urged Attorney General Eric Holder during a meeting earlier this week to speed up what is typically a lengthier federal process.

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Costa Rica to investigate US program that recruited anti-government activists to work in Cuba

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - The Costa Rican government will investigate undercover U.S. programs operated from the Central American country and using its citizens in a ploy to destabilize the government in Cuba, the director of intelligence and security said Friday.

Mariano Figueres told The Associated Press that the new administration, which took office May 8, has found no records or information from their predecessors about the U.S. Agency for International Development project, which starting in 2009 sent young Venezuelans, Costa Ricans and Peruvians to Cuba in hopes of stirring opposition to the island’s communist government.

Figueres said Costa Rica’s only information came from an Aug. 4 Associated Press article, which said USAID and a contractor, Creative Associates International, used the cover of health and civic programs, some operating out of Costa Rica, in hopes of provoking political change in Cuba. The AP found the program continued even as U.S. officials privately told contractors to consider suspending travel to Cuba after the arrest there of contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned after smuggling in sensitive technology.

“If we can confirm all this, of course we’re not going to agree that our national territory be used to attack a friendly government, regardless of what ideological side you’re on,” Figueres said. “It’s a matter of sovereignty and respect … and we’re very alarmed that they used Costa Rican citizens and put them at risk.”

He said that Costa Rica has yet to ask the U.S. about the program and that any findings would be relayed through the Foreign Ministry.

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Sunni lawmakers freeze talks on new Iraq government after at least 64 killed in mosque attack

BAGHDAD (AP) - Gunmen attacked a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers and killed at least 64 people, prompting Sunni lawmakers to withdraw from talks on forming a new, more inclusive government capable of confronting the Islamic extremists who have overrun large swaths of Iraq.

It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Shiite militiamen or insurgents of the Islamic State group, who have been advancing into mixed Sunni-Shiite areas in volatile Diyala province and have been known to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to submit to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

However, Sunni lawmakers quickly blamed the carnage on powerful Shiite militias out to avenge an earlier bombing, and two major Sunni parliamentary blocs pulled out of talks on forming a new Cabinet. The move creates a major hurdle for prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi as he struggles to reach out to disaffected Sunnis to form a government that can confront the Islamic State extremists.

Both al-Abadi and outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the attack and called for an investigation.

The onslaught on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in the village of Imam Wais began with a suicide bombing near its entrance, followed by a raid by gunmen who stormed the building, opening fire on worshippers, security officials said.

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Ebola outbreak widens in Nigeria; Liberia death toll tops 1,000; Experts fear “shadow zones”

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) - Two alarming new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria, widening the circle of people sickened beyond the immediate group of caregivers who treated a dying airline passenger in one of Africa’s largest cities.

The outbreak also continues to spread elsewhere in West Africa, with 142 more cases recorded, bringing the new total to 2,615 with 1,427 deaths, the World Health Organization said Friday.

Most of the new cases are in Liberia, where the government was delivering donated rice to a slum where 50,000 people have been sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

New treatment centers in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified. One center with 20 beds opened its doors to 70 possibly infected people, likely coming from “shadow-zones” where people fearing authorities won’t let doctors enter, the U.N health agency said.

“This phenomenon strongly suggests the existence of an invisible caseload of patients who are not being detected by the surveillance system,” the agency said. This has “never before been seen in an Ebola outbreak.”

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Interpol seeks clues from 5 countries to help solve mystery of Thailand’s ‘baby factory’ case

BANGKOK (AP) - Interpol said it has launched a multinational investigation into what Thailand has dubbed the “Baby Factory” case: a 24-year-old Japanese businessman who has 16 surrogate babies and an alleged desire to father hundreds more.

Police raided a Bangkok condominium earlier this month and found nine babies and nine nannies living in a few unfurnished rooms filled with baby bottles, bouncy chairs, play pens and diapers. They have since identified Mitsutoki Shigeta as the father of those babies - and seven others.

“What I can tell you so far is that I’ve never seen a case like this,” Thailand’s Interpol director, police Maj. Gen. Apichart Suribunya, said Friday. “We are trying to understand what kind of person makes this many babies.”

Apichart said that regional Interpol offices in Japan, Cambodia, Hong Kong and India have been asked to probe Shigeta’s background, beginning last week. Police say he appears to have registered businesses or apartments in those countries and has frequently traveled there.

“We are looking into two motives. One is human trafficking and the other is exploitation of children,” said police Lt. Gen. Kokiat Wongvorachart, Thailand’s lead investigator in the case. He said Shigeta made 41 trips to Thailand since 2010. On many occasions he traveled to nearby Cambodia, where he brought four of his babies.

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UN: more than 191,000 people killed in 3 years of bloodshed in Syria’s civil war

GENEVA (AP) - The death toll from three years of Syria’s civil war has risen to more than 191,000 people, the United Nations reported Friday.

The figure, covering the period from March 2011 to April 2014, is the first issued by the U.N.’s human rights office since July 2013, when it documented more than 100,000 killed.

The high death toll is a reflection of the brutality of Syria’s conflict, which has transformed into a complex, multi-layered war where various factions fight against each other.

It also reflects the recent surge in deadly attacks by the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State group targeting rival militant groups, mainstream Western-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish militiamen in northern Syria as it seeks to eliminate opponents and consolidate its hold on territory and resources.

Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s top human rights official who oversees the Geneva-based office, said the new figures are so much higher because they include additional killings from earlier periods, as well as deaths since the last report. The exact figure of confirmed deaths is 191,369, Pillay said.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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