With warnings about continued threats to US, Obama seeks to open secretive terror policies
WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid lingering concerns about his national security policies, President Barack Obama is outlining measures to clarify the deadly use of drones against terror suspects, make good on a pledge to close the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay and warn Americans about dire threats they continue to face — even from fellow citizens.
On the eve of a speech Thursday at the National Defense University, the Obama administration revealed for the first time that a fourth American citizen had been killed in secretive drone strikes abroad. The killings of three other Americans in counterterror operations since 2009 were known before a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy acknowledged the four deaths.
Obama’s speech is expected to reaffirm his national security priorities — from homegrown terrorists to killer drones to the enemy combatants held at the military-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — but make no new sweeping policy announcements. The White House has offered few clues on how the president will address questions that have dogged his administration for years and, critics say, given foreign allies mixed signals about U.S. intentions in some of the world’s most volatile areas.
Obama will try to refocus an increasingly apathetic public on security issues as his administration grapples with a series of unrelated controversies stemming from the attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and government monitoring of reporters. His message will also be carefully analyzed by an international audience that has had to adapt to what counterterror expert Peter Singer described as the administration’s disjointed and often short-sighted security policies.
“He is really wresting with a broader task, which is laying out an overdue case for regularizing our counterterrorism strategy itself,” said Singer, director of the Brookings Institution’s 21st Century Security and Intelligence Center in Washington. “It’s both a task in terms of being a communicator, and a task in term of being a decider.”
UK emergency response committee meets after man butchered in daylight attack in London
LONDON (AP) — The British government’s emergency committee met Thursday after two attackers butchered a man in a daylight attack in London that raised fears terrorism had returned to the capital.
Prime Minister David Cameron says there are strong indications it was an act of terrorism, and his top advisers will be examining the potential security implications of the attack, which took place near a London military barracks.
One of the attackers went on video to explain the crime — shouting political statements, gesturing with bloodied hands and waving a meat cleaver. Police shot and wounded the unidentified assailants and took them into custody.
Authorities did not identify the victim by name, but French President Francois Hollande referred to him as a “soldier” at a news conference in Paris with Cameron, who was visiting. Cameron would not confirm that, but British media say the victim was wearing a shirt in support of troops and Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it was investigating whether a U.K. soldier was involved.
Security has been tightened at military barracks and authorities say they are updating their guidance for military personnel.
Man killed in Fla. by FBI shares similar background to deceased Boston bombing suspect
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Chechen immigrant shot to death in central Florida after an altercation with an FBI agent had several ties to that of one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects who authorities were questioning him about at the time.
Ibragim Todashev’s Chechen roots and mixed martial arts background mirror that of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect killed in a shootout with police last month. The two also had lived in the Boston area.
Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter, was fatally shot by authorities early Wednesday at his Orlando home during a meeting with the agent and two Massachusetts state troopers, authorities said. The agent was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Three law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Todashev had lunged at the FBI agent with a knife. However, two of those officials said later in the day it was no longer clear what had happened. The third official had not received any new information.
The FBI gave no details on why it was interested in Todashev except to say that he was being questioned as part of the Boston investigation. However, two officials briefed on the investigation said he had implicated himself as having been involved in a 2011 triple-slaying in a Boston suburb that authorities believe may have been connected to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old Boston bombing suspect killed in a shootout with police days after the April 15 terrorist attack.
As Scouting’s leaders vote on allowing gay youth, group faces fraught moment, uncertainty
GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America’s national leadership will vote Thursday whether to allow openly gay Scouts in its ranks, a critical and emotionally charged moment for one of the nation’s oldest youth organizations and its millions of members.
About 1,400 voting members of BSA’s national council are to cast ballots Thursday on a resolution that would end a policy that allows youth Scouts to be excluded based only on sexual orientation. The ban on gay adult leaders would remain in place.
The vote is taking place at a resort in Grapevine, Texas, not far from BSA’s headquarters, during the national council’s three-day annual meeting. While the meeting was closed to the public, it was closely watched by supporters and opponents of a change. Both sides on Wednesday made a final effort to explain their positions. Gay-rights supporters and others who want the policy changed held a summit at a nearby resort, while opponents held signs on the street next to the entrance and a rally nearby.
The results are expected to be announced shortly after 5 p.m. CDT Thursday.
Both sides have waged an effort resembling a political campaign in the months leading up to Thursday’s vote. Supporters of allowing gay scouts used a political consulting firm and targeted about 120 local Scouting councils that they thought were the most competitive — the “swing districts” where they thought votes could be won. Opponents cited Texas code to obtain the names and addresses of voting members from BSA officials so they could send out mailings. They also held rallies across the country on the same day last week.
In Jerusalem, Kerry and Netanyahu raise hopes for possible Mideast peace talks restart
JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States and Israel raised hopes Thursday for a restart of the Middle East peace process, despite little tangible progress so far from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s two-month-old effort to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
As they met in Jerusalem, Kerry praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the “seriousness” with which he is looking at ways to revitalize peace hopes. Kerry expressed optimism without outlining any concrete strategy for ending a stalemate between the two sides that has seen them hardly negotiate one-on-one at all over the last 4½ years.
“I know this region well enough to know there is skepticism, in some quarters there is cynicism and there are reasons for it,” Kerry told reporters. “There have been bitter years of disappointment. It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient — but detailed and tenacious — that we can lay on a path ahead that can conceivably surprise people and certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace.”
“That’s what we’re working towards,” said Kerry, who was to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later Thursday in Ramallah.
Netanyahu said his conversation with the top American diplomat would touch on mutual concerns about Iran and Syria. “But above all,” he said, “what we want to do is restart the peace talks with the Palestinians.”
Lost in bloom of youth, Oklahoma tornado’s youngest victims remembered by family and friends
MOORE, Okla. (AP) — Nine-year-old Sydney Angle was “everywhere at once” when she was out on the softball field. Kyle Davis, 8, was nicknamed “The Wall” because of his size and presence on the soccer field. JaNae Hornsby, also 9, was the life of the party.
The three were among seven small children pulled lifeless from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School after a monstrous tornado raked across the building, leaving the one-story building a heap of bricks, broken concrete and twisted metal. In all 24 people were killed — including 10 children — when Monday’s storm ravaged Moore and a slice of Oklahoma City.
Landon McNeill, Angle’s softball coach, lovingly called the charismatic kid “a pickle.” He said he was with Sydney’s parents Monday night as they waited at a church for news about their daughter. Her older sister, who was also at the school, made it out safely, and they held out hope that Sydney had ended up with someone else and would turn up.
“Sydney was real quirky,” McNeill said. “She could be anywhere and have fun doing it.”
The family also lost their home in the tornado, and players and parents from Sydney’s softball league fanned out across intersections in south Oklahoma City Wednesday afternoon collecting donations for her family.
Stricken Japan nuke plant struggles to keep workers in setback for decommissioning
TOKYO (AP) — Keeping the meltdown-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in northeastern Japan in stable condition requires a cast of thousands. Increasingly the plant’s operator is struggling to find enough workers, a trend that many expect to worsen and hamper progress in the decades-long effort to safely decommission it.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that melted down in March 2011 after being hit by a tsunami, is finding that it can barely meet the headcount of workers required to keep the three broken reactors cool while fighting power outages and leaks of tons of radiated water, said current and former nuclear plant workers and others familiar with the situation at Fukushima.
Construction jobs are already plentiful in the area due to rebuilding of tsunami ravaged towns and cities. Other public works spending planned by the government, under the “Abenomics” stimulus programs of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is likely to make well-paying construction jobs more abundant. And less risky, better paid decontamination projects in the region irradiated by the Fukushima meltdown are another draw.
Some Fukushima veterans are quitting as their cumulative radiation exposure approaches levels risky to health, said two long-time Fukushima nuclear workers who spoke to The Associated Press. They requested anonymity because their speaking to the media is a breach of their employers’ policy and they say being publicly identified will get them fired.
TEPCO spokesman Ryo Shimizu denied any shortage of workers, and said the decommissioning is progressing fine.
Japanese stocks plunge 7.3 percent on bond yields, worse-than-expected China manufacturing
BANGKOK (AP) — Japanese stocks plummeted Thursday after a spike in government bond yields and unexpectedly weak Chinese manufacturing spooked investors sitting atop months of massive gains in share prices. The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo nosedived 7.3 percent to close at 14,483.98, its worst drop since the 2011 tsunami.
Japan’s 10-year government bond yield rose above 1 percent for the first time in a year, unnerving financial markets at a time when Japan’s already overburdened government finances are vulnerable to rises in interest rates. It later slipped back to about 0.9 percent.
The spike in long-term debt comes despite the Bank of Japan’s aggressive efforts to keep interest rates down. It followed overnight news that some officials of the U.S. Federal Reserve are willing to scale back the American central bank’s stimulus effort as soon as June if the economy perks up.
Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, said the Nikkei has been on such a tear this year that all it took was the convergence of a few negative events to spark a sharp correction. The Nikkei, even after Thursday’s fall, is up 39 percent so far this year.
“If everyone is standing on one side of the ship, it doesn’t take too much to make it tip. All we needed was a cluster of negative events,” he said.
80-year-old Japanese extreme skier becomes oldest climber to reach summit of Mount Everest
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An 80-year-old Japanese mountaineer became the oldest person to reach the top of Mount Everest on Thursday — although his record may last only a few days. An 81-year-old Nepalese man, who held the previous record, plans his own ascent next week.
Yuichiro Miura, who also conquered the 29,035-foot (8,850-meter) peak when he was 70 and 75, reached the summit at 9:05 a.m. local time, according to a Nepalese mountaineering official and Miura’s Tokyo-based support team.
Miura and his son Gota made a phone call from the summit, prompting his daughter Emili to smile broadly and clap her hands in footage on Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
“I made it!” Miura said over the phone. “I never imagined I could make it to the top of Mount Everest at age 80. This is the world’s best feeling, although I’m totally exhausted. Even at 80, I can still do quite well.”
The climbers were going to take pictures at the summit before starting to descend, his office said.
Philadelphia bicyclist teams up with cat for tandem rides that turn heads, garner YouTube fame
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — For bicyclist Rudi Saldia, you could say a cat is his co-pilot.
Saldia often buzzes around Philadelphia with his year-old feline Mary Jane perched on his shoulder. Their urban adventures have turned heads on the street and garnered big hits on YouTube.
The 26-year-old bike courier didn’t intend to become Internet-famous. He originally shot footage of the outings only to prove to his mom that he was taking Mary Jane — nicknamed MJ — for a spin.
“She said, ‘No way! You’re not taking your cat out for the ride,’ which is the reaction I still get even after people see this video,” Saldia said.
Saldia used a GoPro sports camera mounted on his bike to capture images of him and MJ, a brown and black tabby with bright yellow eyes. She seems to take the trips in stride, even nuzzling her owner as he pedals, though she gets a bit spooked by sirens and buses.