AP News in Brief

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 30, 2009 11:50 hrs

HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama is demanding answers on why information was never pieced together by the U.S. intelligence community to trigger red flags about an alleged terrorist and possibly prevent his botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner.

Administration officials are poring over reams of data, looking for failings that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian with suspected ties to al-Qaida, to board the Northwest Airlines flight from Nigeria by way of Amsterdam.

Obama's criticism came as senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press that intelligence authorities now are looking at conversations between the suspect in the failed attack and at least one al-Qaida member. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the conversations were vague or coded, but the intelligence community believes that, in hindsight, the communications may have been referring to the Detroit attack. One official said a link between the suspect's planning and al-Qaida's goals was becoming clearer.

The New York Times reported in Wednesday's editions that the government had intelligence from Yemen before Christmas that leaders of a branch of al-Qaida there were talking about "a Nigerian" being prepared for a terrorist attack. The newspaper said the information did not include the name of the Nigerian.

Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, is due to present the president with an early report by Thursday, based on recommendations and summaries from across the government.


Leader of presidential delegation: Afghan civilians killed by foreign troops

KABUL (AP) — The head of a presidential delegation investigating the deaths of 10 people in eastern Afghanistan concluded that civilians — including schoolchildren — were killed in an attack involving foreign troops, disputing NATO reports that the dead were insurgents.

Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press by telephone that eight schoolchildren between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house in the Narang district of Kunar province.

A NATO official has said initial reports from troops involved in the fighting on Sunday indicated that those killed were insurgents — all young males.

Civilian deaths are one of the most sensitive issues for foreign troops in Afghanistan, especially now when some additional 37,000 U.S. and NATO troops are being deployed to the war-ravaged country. Although far more civilians are killed by the Taliban, those blamed on international forces spark widespread resentment and undermine the fight against the militants.

Several hundred Afghans protested the deaths Wednesday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and in the capital of Kabul. In Jalalabad, they burned President Barack Obama's effigy and an American flag, chanting "death" to Obama and Karzai.

In Kabul, the protesters chanted, "Unity, unity, death to the enemy of Islam!" and a protester with a bullhorn called on Obama to "take your soldiers out of Afghanistan."

Wafa said that he was convinced that all those killed in the Kunar incident were innocent civilians.

"I have talked to the principal of the school in the village and he gave us details about the killed children," Wafa said. "The schoolchildren cannot be al-Qaida. I confirm they are innocent people killed by mistake. I talked to Karzai about the findings."


Officials: Bombs kill 21 in Iraq's western Anbar province

BAGHDAD (AP) — Staggered explosions killed 21 people Wednesday and injured the governor of Anbar, Iraqi officials said, in the latest violence to roil a turbulent province that is still struggling to stamp out the remnants of the al-Qaida insurgency.

The western province of Anbar is strategically important because it was once the heartland of support for al-Qaida linked militants before American officials paid Iraqi fighters to join a pro-government force.

Police official Lt. Col. Imad al-Fahdawi said two bombs exploded in Anbar's capital of Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad. He says a suicide bomber in a car caused the first blast on the main road near the provincial administration buildings.

Gov. Qassim al-Fahdawi, the deputy police chief and other officials came to inspect the damage, the police official said, when a suicide bomber on foot detonated a vest full of explosives nearby.

The deputy police chief was killed and the governor and other officials wounded, al-Fahdawi said. Police have put a curfew in place, he added.


Iranian hard-liners plan demonstrations in show of strength against reformist movement

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian hard-liners called a series of state-sponsored demonstrations on Wednesday in what they hoped would be a massive show of strength against the reformist movement, while the country's police chief threatened to show "no mercy" in crushing any new opposition rallies.

Wednesday's hardline protests, planned in Tehran and several other cities, were the latest official response to what has become the boldest challenge to the ruling system since the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago.

Iran's police chief says more than 500 opposition protesters have been arrested since clashes on Sunday that left at least eight dead.

Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said Wednesday the number of arrests may be higher because hardline Basij militiamen and intelligence agents may have apprehended more people on their own.

The government has been systematically arresting top opposition activists, including the sister of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, limited the movement of a top opposition leader and heavily restricted media coverage in the wake of opposition rallies that left eight people dead early this week.

Iran's police chief, Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said authorities had exhausted their patience with the opposition and promised tough new action.

"In dealing with previous protests, police showed leniency but given that these currents are seeking to topple (the ruling system), there will be no mercy. We will take severe action," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying. "The era of tolerance is over. Anyone attending such rallies will be crushed."


Intelligence report says Iran is seeking to smuggle 1,350 tons of uranium from Kazakhstan

VIENNA (AP) — Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained by The Associated Press. The assessment is heightening international concern about Tehran's nuclear activities, diplomats said.

Such a deal would be significant because, according to an independent research group, Tehran appears to be running out of the material, which it needs to feed its uranium enrichment program.

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashikbayev denied Wednesday his government was involved, saying that the ex-Soviet nation has fully observed its international obligations. "All Kazakhstan's activities in the uranium sphere have been under the IAEA control," he told the AP.

A spokesman for Kazatomprom, the Kazakh state uranium company, also denied involvement.

Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York described the report as "a fabrication and completely baseless," in a statement faxed to the AP in Tehran.


Yemen investigates Nigerian suspect's contacts with al-Qaida in months before airline attack

SAN'A, Yemen (AP) — Officials in Yemen are investigating whether the Nigerian suspected in the attempted Christmas Day attack on a U.S. airliner spent time with al-Qaida militants in the country in the months leading up to the botched bombing.

Administrators, teachers and fellow students at the San'a Institute for the Arabic Language, where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had enrolled to study Arabic, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he attended school for only the month of Ramadan, which began in late August. That has raised questions about what he did during the rest of his stay, which continued into December.

Abdulmutallab, 23, told U.S. officials after his arrest he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen, a law enforcement official has said.

According to Yemeni officials, Abdulmutallab spent another extended period in Yemen, from 2004-2005.

People at the school who knew Abdulmutallab said he was not openly extremist, though he expressed anger over Israel's actions against Palestinians in Gaza.


Obama issues order to limit number of classified records held from public

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents could be declassified as the federal government responds to President Barack Obama's order to rethink the way it protects the nation's secrets.

Among the changes announced Tuesday by Obama is a requirement that every record be released eventually and that federal agencies review how and why they mark documents classified or deny the release of historical records. A National Declassification Center at the National Archives will be established to assist them and help clear a backlog of the Cold War records by Dec. 31, 2013.

Obama also reversed a decision by President George W. Bush that had allowed the intelligence community to block the release of a specific document, even if an interagency panel decided the information wouldn't harm national security.

Advocates for a more open government are cautiously cheering the move.

"Everything will depend on implementation," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. But the order "has tremendous potential to reduce the level of secrecy throughout the government."


Colorado mother, baby revived after nearly dying during Christmas Eve birth

DENVER (AP) — Mike Hermanstorfer was clutching his pregnant wife's hand in a Colorado hospital on Christmas Eve when she stopped breathing, her life apparently slipping away. Then he cradled his newborn son's limp body seconds after a medical team delivered the baby by Cesarean section.

Minutes later he saw his son show signs of life in his arms under the feverish attention of doctors, and soon he learned his wife had inexplicably started breathing again.

"My legs went out from underneath me," Hermanstorfer said Tuesday. "I had everything in the world taken from me, and in an hour and a half I had everything given to me."

Hermanstorfer's wife, Tracy, went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing during labor on Thursday, said Dr. Stephanie Martin, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, where the Hermanstorfers had gone for the birth of their son.

"She had no signs of life. No heartbeat, no blood pressure, she wasn't breathing," said Martin, who had rushed to Hermanstorfer's room to help. "The baby was, it was basically limp, with a very slow heart rate."


Man with world's 'Best Job' as caretaker of Australian island survives deadly jellyfish sting

ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Trouble struck paradise this week when a British man who has the "Best Job in the World" as the caretaker of a tropical Australian island was stung by a potentially lethal jellyfish.

Ben Southall — who won a contest to blog for six months about life on Australia's Hamilton Island to promote tourism — wrote Tuesday that he was lucky to have survived his brush with the extremely venomous Irukandji jellyfish.

Earlier this week, Southall was getting off a Jet Ski in the ocean when he felt "a small bee-like sting" on his arm. When he later noticed a tingling in his hands and feet, island staff took Southall immediately to the doctor.

Progressive symptoms of fever, headache, lower back pain, chest tightness and high blood pressure led the doctor to diagnose that Southall had been stung by an Irukandji jellyfish. He was given pain medication and slept off the venom's effects overnight.

"I thought I'd done particularly well at avoiding any contact with any of the dangerous critters that consider this part of the world their home," Southall wrote. "This was not what I'd wanted at all and had caught me little off guard to say the least — I'm supposed to be relaxing in my last few days on Hamilton Island."


Person familiar with negotiations: Mets, free agent slugger Jason Bay reach preliminary deal

NEW YORK (AP) — The Baywatch is set to begin at Citi Field. Free agent slugger Jason Bay and the New York Mets have reached a preliminary agreement, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Bay must pass a physical for the deal to be completed. The three-time All-Star is expected to sign a four-year contract for about $65 million.

Bay set career highs with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs last season for Boston. The 31-year-old outfielder is a lifetime .280 hitter and has averaged 30 homers and 99 RBIs in his six full seasons in the majors.

Bay fills a huge hole in left field for the Mets, who skidded to a 70-92 mark during an injury-plagued year. They especially needed a bopper after hitting a major league-low 95 homers in the first season at their spacious, new ballpark.

The deal was first reported by WFAN.