Thursday, August 7, 2014

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Obama authorizes US airstrikes in Iraq if Islamic militants advance toward Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq Thursday night, warning they would be launched if needed to defend Americans from advancing Islamic militants and protect civilians under siege. His announcement threated a renewal of U.S. military involvement in the country's long sectarian war.

In a televised late-night statement from the White House, Obama said American military planes already had carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Iraqi religious minorities surrounded by militants and desperately in need of food and water.

"Today America is coming to help," he declared.

The announcements reflected the deepest American engagement in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war. Obama, who made his remarks in a steady and somber tone, has staked much of his legacy as president on ending what he has called the "dumb war" in Iraq.

Obama said the humanitarian airdrops were made at the request of the Iraqi government. The food and water supplies were delivered to the tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a mountain without food and water. The Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, fled their homes after the Islamic State group issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.

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NCAA board approves plan giving 5 biggest conferences in college sports more power, autonomy

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The biggest schools in college sports are about to get a chance to make their own rules.

Up first is likely finding a way to spend millions of dollars in new money -- either in the form or stipends or fatter scholarships -- on athletes across the country.

The NCAA Board of Directors voted 16-2 on Thursday to approve a historic package of changes that allows the five richest football conferences -- the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- to unilaterally change some of the rules that have applied to all Division I schools for years. The 65 universities in those leagues will also benefit from a new, weighted voting system on legislation covering the 350 schools in Division I.

"It does provide degrees of autonomy for the five high-resource conferences," said Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch, the board chairman and a key architect of the plan. "This is not complete autonomy. We're still part of Division I, but I think it allows us to provide more benefits to student-athletes."

A handful of university presidents who spoke at NCAA headquarters after the vote agreed on one thing: Paying athletes to play is off the table. And it's very unlikely that the five leagues will design their own policies when it comes to infractions.

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Islamic State militants seize Iraq's largest dam near Mosul, Kurdish troops withdraw

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

The fighting has trapped tens of thousands of members of religious minorities on a mountaintop. On President Barack Obama's order, humanitarian supplies were airdropped for them, according to a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity. But Obama was still weighing whether to combine that assistance with U.S. airstrikes, officials said Thursday night.

Airstrikes would mark a significant shift in the U.S. strategy in Iraq, where the military fully withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war. Officials said Obama could announce a decision as early as Thursday night. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

Thursday's dam seizure was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 people in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam Thursday and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. US AIDING BESEIGED IRAQIS

Humanitarian assistance is flown to thousands of people threatened by Islamic extremists in Iraq's north.

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CDC director warns of magnitude of Ebola crisis in West Africa, says it can be controlled

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The current Ebola crisis in West Africa is on pace to sicken more people than all other previous outbreaks of the disease combined, the health official leading the U.S. response said Thursday.

The next few weeks will be critical, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is sending more workers into the affected countries to help.

"It will be a long and hard fight," Frieden told a congressional committee Thursday.

In his prepared testimony, he estimated it would take at least three to six months to end the outbreak, under what he called a best-case scenario.

Frieden said the outbreak, which began in March, is unprecedented in part because it's in a region of Africa that never has dealt with Ebola before and has particularly weak health systems. He said the outbreak's two main drivers are lack of infection control as both health workers and families care for the sick and risky burial practices.

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Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee becomes latest Republican to fend off tea party challenge

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Republican Lamar Alexander became the latest U.S. senator to fend off a tea party challenge in a primary race Thursday, defeating a state senator who had used a familiar tactic in trying to cast him as an out of touch insider.

Alexander's win dealt another blow to national tea party momentum after the stunning primary win over Republican Rep. Eric Cantor in Virginia in June.

In Tennessee, State Sen. Joe Carr had high-profile endorsements from tea party-allied figures, but he could not overcome Alexander's fundraising advantage and 40 years in Tennessee politics. He had about 38 percent of the vote with 24 percent of precincts reporting, compared with about 52 percent for Alexander.

In heavily Republican Tennessee, Alexander is strongly favored to win re-election in November. He maintained a moderate tone in his victory speech, touting his ability to craft compromises.

"If we want to change Obamacare, we're going to have to pass something. If we want to fix the debt, we're going to have to pass something," Alexander said. "And to do that we're going to have to work with other people to get it done."

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Hawaii bracing as 1st hurricane in 22 years brings rain to Big Island and second storm looms

HONOLULU (AP) -- Barely holding on to hurricane strength, Iselle's outer edges brought rain and wind to Hawaii on Thursday as it approached landfall, poised to become the first hurricane or tropical storm to hit the island chain in 22 years and whose path another hurricane closely followed.

Hurricane Iselle was expected to pass overnight across the Big Island, one of the least populated islands that is known for coffee fields, volcanoes and black sand beaches, then send rain and high winds to the rest of the state on Friday. The storm's predicted track had it skirting just south of the other islands.

Forecasters were analyzing storm data before making possible changes to its categorization, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Lau said.

"But we're not really too concerned about the track or the intensity of the system," Lau said. "We're primarily urging residents to still take proper precautions to prepare themselves to keep everyone safe."

Hundreds of people flowed into emergency shelters set up at high schools on the Big Island, and Mayor Billy Kenoi told KHON-TV that no major injuries or damage from the first bits of wind and rain have been reported.

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3 decades after shocking mass suicide-murder, remains of 9 Jonestown bodies found in Delaware

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- More than 35 years after the infamous suicide-murder of some 900 people -- many forced to drink a cyanide-laced grape punch -- in Jonestown, Guyana, the cremated remains of nine of the victims were found in a dilapidated former funeral home in Delaware, officials said Thursday.

The discovery brought back memories of a tragedy that killed hundreds of children and a U.S. congressman and horrified Americans.

The remains were clearly marked, with the names of the deceased and place of their death included on accompanying death certificates, authorities said. Kimberly Chandler, spokeswoman for the Delaware Division of Forensic Science, declined to release the names of the nine people to The Associated Press. She said officials were working to notify relatives.

She said the agency found the remains July 30 on a site visit prompted by a call from the property's current owner -- a bank, according to Dover police and public records. Officials found 38 containers of remains, 33 of which were marked and identified. Chandler said the containers spanned a period from about 1970 to the 1990s and included the remains from Jonestown, established by Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones.

"It's simply a case of unclaimed cremains at a closed funeral home," Chandler said, adding that there is no reason to believe the five unmarked containers contain remains of more Jonestown victims.

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Hamas rejects disarmament proposal, trades threats of renewed violence on eve of truce expiry

GAZA CITY, Gaza City (AP) -- With a deadline looming hours away, Hamas on Thursday rejected Israeli demands it disarm and threatened to resume its rocket attacks if its demands for lifting a crippling blockade on Gaza were not met.

The hard-line stance, voiced by a senior Hamas official at the group's first rally since a cease-fire in the Gaza war took effect on Tuesday, signaled that indirect negotiations in Cairo over a permanent truce in Gaza were not making headway. It was an ominous sign ahead of Friday's expiration of a temporary three-day truce that ended a month of fighting.

A text message from Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, warned there would be no extension of the cease-fire if there was no agreement to permanently lift the blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since the militant group overran Gaza in 2007.

Abu Obeida, the al-Qassam spokesman, appeared on the group's Al-Aqsa TV station and said Hamas was "ready to go to war again." He threatened to launch a long-term war of attrition that would cripple life in Israel's big cities and disrupt air traffic at Israel's international airport in Tel Aviv.

He also appealed to Hamas negotiators in Egypt not to accept an extension of the cease-fire without an agreement on lifting the blockade. "The resistance is capable of imposing its conditions," he said.

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Detroit-area man convicted of 2nd-degree murder for killing unarmed woman on his porch

DETROIT (AP) -- A suburban Detroit man who insisted he killed an unarmed woman on his porch in self-defense was convicted of second-degree murder Thursday after the jury rejected his tearful claim that he fired through a screen door in the wee hours because he feared his life was at risk.

No one knows why Renisha McBride ended up at the Dearborn Heights home of Theodore Wafer last Nov. 2, although prosecutors speculated that the 19-year-old woman may have been confused and seeking help, hours after she had crashed her car blocks away. An autopsy found she was extremely drunk.

The jury convicted Wafer of second-degree murder, manslaughter and a gun-related charge after deliberating for about eight hours over two days.

Wayne County Judge Dana Hathaway warned that she would lock people up for any outbursts, and the courtroom was silent after the verdict was read.

McBride's mother, Monica McBride, cried and clasped her hands as if praying. She gave long hugs to prosecutors as the courtroom emptied.

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