- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pentagon: US, partners expand airstrikes into Syria against Islamic State group targets

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. and five Arab countries launched airstrikes Monday night on Islamic State group targets in eastern Syria, and the U.S. undertook a separate, unilateral air attack on what it called an al-Qaida affiliate elsewhere in Syria.

Several hours after the Pentagon announced the airstrikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. Central Command said American warplanes launched eight airstrikes “to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests” by a network of “seasoned al-Qaida veterans” - sometimes known as the Khorasan Group - who have established a haven in Syria. It provided no details on the plotting.

Central Command said that separate bombing mission was undertaken solely by U.S. aircraft and took place west of the Syrian city of Aleppo. It said targets included training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.

The airstrikes against Islamic State targets were carried out in the city of Raqqa and other areas in eastern Syria by a mix of manned aircraft - fighter jets and bombers - plus Tomahawk cruise missiles and drone aircraft. The strikes were part of the expanded military campaign that President Barack Obama authorized nearly two weeks ago in order to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State militants, who have slaughtered thousands of people, beheaded Westerners - including two American journalists - and captured large swaths of Syria and northern and western Iraq.

In its written statement detailing the operation, Central Command said the airstrikes, which officials said began around 8:30 p.m. EDT, were conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. It said the five Arab partner countries “participated in or supported” the airstrikes against Islamic State targets. It was not more specific.

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Damascus says Washington informed Syrian UN envoy before striking Islamic State group in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - The Syrian foreign ministry said Tuesday that Washington informed Damascus’ envoy to the United Nations before launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria, attacks that activists said inflicted casualties among jihadi fighters and civilians on the ground.

A brief ministry statement, carried by Syrian state media, said “the American side informed Syria’s permanent envoy to the U.N. that strikes will be launched against the Daesh terrorist organization in Raqqa.”

The statement used an Arabic name referring to the Islamic State group, which seized large chunks of Syrian and Iraqi territory in a blitz this summer.

The airstrikes hit targets in and around the Syrian city of Raqqa and the province with the same name as well as the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, activists said, adding that there were casualties among Islamic State militants on the ground. The city of Raqqa is the militant group’s self-declared capital in Syria.

The activists said the strikes did not only target the Islamic State group but also the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

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Israeli military says it shot down a Syrian aircraft that entered its airspace

JERUSALEM (AP) - The Israeli military shot down a Syrian fighter jet that infiltrated its airspace over the Golan Heights on Tuesday morning - the first such downing in decades, heightening tensions in the volatile plateau.

The military said a “Syrian aircraft infiltrated into Israeli air space” in the morning hours and that the military “intercepted the aircraft in mid-flight, using the Patriot air defense system.”

The military would not say what type of aircraft was downed and said the circumstances of the incident were “unclear.”

A defense official identified the downed aircraft as a Sukhoi Su-24 Russian fighter plane. Perviously, it was reported to have been a MiG aircraft. He said the Syrian jet penetrated 800 meters (2,600 feet) into Israeli air space and tried to return to Syria after the Patriot missile was fired.

The crew managed to abandon the plane in time and landed in Syrian territory, the Israeli official said.

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Accused White House intruder heavily armed during arrest in Va. months before breach

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two months before Omar J. Gonzalez allegedly hopped a White House fence, dashed across the North Lawn and entered the executive mansion, he was arrested in rural Virginia, heavily armed and carrying a map of Washington tucked inside a Bible - with a circle drawn around the White House.

The 42-year-old Army veteran from Copperas Cove, Texas, had been arrested July 19 in rural southwestern Virginia after a state trooper received a call about a man in a Ford Bronco driving erratically. He was taken into custody after a brief pursuit and a trooper found an illegal, sawed-off shotgun in the gray sport utility vehicle, according to Wythe County Deputy Commonwealth Attorney David Saliba.

After his arrest, troopers and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found weapons that included two semi-automatic, military-style rifles, including one with a bipod and flashlight and one with a bipod and scope; three .45-caliber handguns; and several loaded ammunition magazines. Saliba said Gonzalez also had a hatchet and camping equipment.

Gonzalez was released from jail in Virginia on $5,000 bond and last appeared in court Sept. 11. He did not enter a plea in that case.

Authorities ran into Gonzalez again on Aug. 25, when he was stopped while walking by the south fence of the White House, his car parked nearby. He had a hatchet in his waistband but no firearms, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Mudd said during a brief court hearing Monday.

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Israeli forces kill 2 Hamas men suspected in abduction and slaying of Israeli teens

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli special forces stormed a West Bank hideout early on Tuesday and killed two Palestinians suspected in the June abduction and slaying of three Israeli teenagers, a gruesome attack that had triggered a chain of events that led to the war in Gaza this summer.

The deaths of the two suspects, identified by the Israeli military as well-known Hamas militants, ended one of the largest manhunts conducted by the Israeli security forces.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, were abducted on June 12 while hitchhiking home in the West Bank and killed soon afterward.

The teens’ abduction and slaying prompted a large Israeli crackdown on the Islamic militant Hamas group and set off a chain of events that led to a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In an operation codenamed “Brother’s Keeper,” Israel dispatched thousands of troops across the West Bank in search of the youths, closed roads in the Hebron area and arrested hundreds of Hamas operatives throughout the territory.

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Tensions running high as ambush suspect eludes hundreds of law enforcement

CANADENSIS, Pa. (AP) - A 10-day manhunt for the survivalist accused of ambushing a Pennsylvania State Police barracks has narrowed to the rural area where he grew up and his parents still live, but the suspect has managed to elude capture despite the efforts of hundreds of law enforcement officials.

State police have been closing roads in the Canadensis area as they hunt for 31-year-old Eric Frein, who’s charged with killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson on Sept. 12 and seriously wounding another trooper outside the Blooming Grove barracks.

Residents have been unable to get back to their homes due to heavy police activity in the heavily wooded region of the Pocono Mountains, and tensions are running high. The American Red Cross opened a shelter for displaced residents from two townships late Monday.

One resident, Bill Mew, said the lengthy manhunt has been nerve-wracking, especially with police choppers circling overhead.

“You start thinking to yourself, is this guy standing outside your front door? So you start looking out the windows, and then you think to yourself, that’s not such a good idea, in case he’s looking back,” he said.

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Report: Government’s own ‘white-hat’ hackers give HealthCare.gov mixed review on security

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government’s own watchdogs tried to hack into HealthCare.gov earlier this year and found what they termed a critical vulnerability - but also came away with respect for some of the health insurance site’s security features.

Those are among the conclusions of a report being released Tuesday by the Health and Human Services Department inspector general, who focuses on health care fraud.

The report amounts to a mixed review for the federal website that serves as the portal to taxpayer-subsidized health plans for millions of Americans. Open enrollment season starts Nov. 15.

So-called “white hat” or ethical hackers from the inspector general’s office found a weakness, but when they attempted to exploit it like a malicious hacker would, they were blocked by the system’s defenses.

It’s the second independent security assessment in as many weeks to find problems, and it comes on the heels of the massive breach at Home Depot stores, which affected 56 million credit and debit cards.

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6 months into the Ebola outbreak, scientists say we’re learning more about deadly virus

LONDON (AP) - Six months into the biggest-ever Ebola outbreak, scientists say they know more about how the potentially lethal virus behaves. The first cases of Ebola in this outbreak were reported in Guinea by the World Health Organization on March 23 - before spreading to Sierra Leone, Liberia and elsewhere. Here’s a look at what scientists have learned so far.

HOW DIFFERENT IS THIS OUTBREAK?

Past outbreaks have all been in rural communities and have typically been snuffed out in weeks or months. But one main difference this time is that it has hit densely packed cities in West Africa, making the current outbreak an international threat. “I always thought Ebola was really bad when it happens, but that it would kill 100 people in a remote part of Africa, and then it’s over,” said Dr. Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of Ebola. He said the severity of this outbreak could also be linked to the increased movement of people across borders and “more contact with whatever the primary source of Ebola is.” The virus’ reservoir is thought to be fruit bats, considered a delicacy in some parts of Africa. In a study released Tuesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, the World Health Organization said it was possible there could be almost 21,000 Ebola cases by early November and that cases could continue to trickle out for years if there is no change in current containment measures.

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For same-sex military spouses, a duty station in a gay-friendly state makes all the difference

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - On the wall over her bunk in Kuwait, Marine Cpl. Nivia Huskey proudly displays a collection of sonogram printouts of the baby boy her pregnant spouse is carrying back home in North Carolina. If all goes as planned, the 28-year-old military policewoman will return to Camp Lejeune in time for a January delivery at an on-base hospital.

But the space on the baby’s birth certificate marked “Father” will be left blank.

Though her wedding in Washington, D.C., to Jessica Painter Huskey is recognized by the federal government, including the military, Cpl. Huskey is assigned to a battalion based in North Carolina, where state law bans same-sex marriage. She is barred from legally adopting her spouse’s biological child, and will have no legal recognition as a parent.

Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act ensured that federal military benefits extend to same-sex partners and their children.

But about two-thirds of active-duty personnel in the U.S. are based in states that don’t recognize gay marriages, leaving thousands of military families missing out on legal rights they would enjoy if Uncle Sam had stationed them elsewhere.

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AP Exclusive: Brazil won’t sign onto to global plan to save forests, says it wasn’t consulted

NEW YORK (AP) - Despite its critical role in protecting the Amazon rainforest, Brazil will not endorse a global anti-deforestation initiative being announced at the U.N. climate summit, complaining it was left out of the consultation process. A U.N. official disputed that claim.

Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said Brazil was “not invited to be engaged in the preparation process” of the declaration. Instead, she said Brazil was given a copy of the text and asked to endorse it without being allowed to suggest any changes.

“Unfortunately, we were not consulted. But I think that it’s impossible to think that you can have a global forest initiative without Brazil on board. It doesn’t make sense,” Teixeira said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press.

Charles McNeill, a senior environmental policy adviser with the U.N. Development Program, said “there were efforts to reach out to Brazilian government people but there wasn’t a response.”

“There was no desire to exclude Brazil,” said McNeill. “They are the most important country in this area. An effort that involves Brazil is much more powerful and impactful than one that doesn’t.”

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