US official: More airstrikes in Iraq since video of journalist's death was released
WASHINGTON (AP) — American fighter jets and drones continued to pound Islamic State militants in Iraq on Wednesday, and military planners weighed the possibility of sending a small number of additional U.S. troops to Baghdad, U.S. officials said, even as the insurgents threatened to kill a second American captive in retribution for any continued attacks.
The airstrikes came in the hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded and underscored President Barack Obama's vow Wednesday afternoon to continue attacks against the group despite its threats.
According to a senior U.S. official, the number of additional troops currently under discussion would be fewer than 300, but there has been no final decision yet by Pentagon leaders. Officials said that the forces were requested by the State Department and, if approved, would mainly provide extra security around Baghdad.
The 14 latest airstrikes were in the area of the Mosul Dam and were aimed at helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces create a buffer zone at the key facility. The strikes, which now total 84 since operations began, have helped Iraqi and Kurdish troops reclaim the dam from the insurgents.
The militants threatened to kill Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who is also being held captive, if the U.S. continued to conduct airstrikes.
Outraged over death of journalist, world powers consider new front against Islamic State
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States launched a new barrage of airstrikes against Islamic State extremists Wednesday and weighed sending more troops to Iraq as President Barack Obama vowed to be relentless in pursuit of the terrorist group that beheaded an American journalist and is holding other U.S. citizens hostage.
In brief but forceful remarks, Obama said the U.S. would "do what we must to protect our people," but stopped short of promising to follow the Islamic State into its safe haven in Syria, where officials said Wednesday that James Foley was killed. However, when pressed, the State Department refused to rule out future U.S. military operations in Syria, where Obama has long resisted intervening in a three-year civil war.
The Islamic State called Foley's death a revenge killing for U.S. airstrikes against militants in Iraq, and said other hostages would be slain if the attacks continued. Undeterred, the U.S. conducted 14 additional strikes after a video of the beheading surfaced, bringing to 84 the number of airstrikes since they began on Aug. 8.
Foley's mother said she is praying for other hostages being held by the Sunni-dominated terror group, and described her son's slaying as "just evil."
Social media pushes back at gruesome propaganda by Islamic militants
BEIRUT (AP) — The extremists of the Islamic State group have turned their social media into a theater of horror, broadcasting a stomach-turning stream of battles, bombings and beheadings to a global audience.
The strategy is aimed at terrorizing opponents at home and winning recruits abroad. But there are increasing signs of pushback — both from companies swiftly censoring objectionable content and users determined not to let it go viral.
Public disgust with the group's callous propaganda tactics was evident following the group's posting of the beheading video of American journalist James Foley — chilling footage that spread rapidly when it appeared online late Tuesday.
The slickly edited video begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes in Iraq, before switching to Foley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, a black-clad Islamic State fighter by his side.
The fighter who beheads Foley is then seen holding another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, threatening to kill him next. "The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision," he says.
AG Holder arrives in Ferguson, meets with officer in charge of security since police shooting
CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Ferguson Wednesday to meet with federal investigators and reassure residents of the suburban St. Louis community torn by several nights of racial unrest since the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer.
While walking through Drake's Place Restaurant in Ferguson, Holder told diners concerned about the recent clashes in the street, "we can make it better."
He also met briefly with Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who has been in charge of security after the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown sent protesters into the street with nightly, occasionally violent clashes with law enforcement officers. The National Guard has been called in to help keep the peace.
"We're rallying against the criminals," Johnson said. Asked whether he had confidence in the local investigation of the police officer, Johnson said: "General Holder, by being here, is a guarantee on that."
The visit came the same day a grand jury in nearby Clayton was expected to begin hearing evidence to determine whether the officer should be charged in Brown's death.
Airstrike kills Hamas leader's wife and child; Israel demands the rocket fire stop
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas' shadowy military chief escaped an apparent Israeli assassination attempt that killed his wife and infant son, the militant group said Wednesday as Israel's prime minister warned that the bombardment of Gaza will continue until rocket fire out of the Palestinian territory stops.
The airstrike on a home where Mohammed Deif's family members were staying — and the tough talk from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — came after the collapse of cease-fire talks in Cairo on Tuesday.
In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu showed little willingness to return to the negotiating table after six weeks of war with Hamas.
"We are determined to continue the campaign with all means and as is needed," he said, his defense minister by his side. "We will not stop until we guarantee full security and quiet for the residents of the south and all citizens of Israel."
More than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian medical officials. Sixty-seven people have died on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.
Obama meets with business, tech leaders, weighs broader executive move on immigration
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is considering key changes in the nation's immigration system requested by tech, industry and powerful interest groups, in a move that could blunt Republicans' election-year criticism of the president's go-it-alone approach to immigration.
Administration officials and advocates said the steps would go beyond the expected relief from deportations for some immigrants in the U.S. illegally that Obama signaled he'd adopt after immigration efforts in Congress collapsed. Following a bevy of recent White House meetings, top officials have compiled specific recommendations from business groups and other advocates whose support could undercut GOP claims that Obama is exceeding his authority to help people who have already violated immigration laws.
"The president has not made a decision regarding next steps, but he believes it's important to understand and consider the full range of perspectives on potential solutions," said White House spokesman Shawn Turner.
One of the more popular requests among business and family groups is a change in the way green cards are counted that would essentially free up some 800,000 additional visas the first year, advocates say.
The result would be threefold: It would lessen the visa bottleneck for business seeking global talent; shorten the green card line for those being sponsored by relatives, a wait that can stretch nearly 25 years; and potentially reduce the incentive for illegal immigration by creating more legal avenues for those wanting to come, as well as those already here.
AP NewsBreak: Navy kicks out 34 sailors in nuclear cheating ring that operated for 7 years
WASHINGTON (AP) — At least 34 sailors are being kicked out of the Navy for their roles in a cheating ring that operated undetected for at least seven years at a nuclear power training site, and 10 others are under criminal investigation, the admiral in charge of the Navy's nuclear reactors program told The Associated Press.
The number of accused and the duration of cheating are greater than was known when the Navy announced in February that it had discovered cheating on qualification exams by an estimated 20 to 30 sailors seeking to be certified as instructors at the nuclear training unit at Charleston, South Carolina. Students there are trained in nuclear reactor operations to prepare for service on any of the Navy's 83 nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.
Neither the instructors nor the students are involved in handling nuclear weapons.
After further investigation the Navy determined that 78 enlisted sailors were implicated. Although the cheating is believed to have been confined to a single unit at Charleston and apparently was not known to commanding officers, the misconduct had been happening since at least 2007, according to Adm. John M. Richardson, director of naval reactors. The exact start of the cheating was not pinpointed.
"There was never any question" that the reactors were being operated safely, he said in an AP interview, yet the cheating was a stunning violation of Navy ethics.
APNewsBreak: Bank of America reaches $17B settlement with US over sale of securities
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bank of America has reached a record $17 billion settlement to resolve an investigation into its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis, officials directly familiar with the matter said Wednesday.
One of the officials, who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the announcement isn't scheduled until Thursday at the earliest, said the bank will pay $10 billion in cash and provide consumer relief valued at $7 billion.
The deal is the largest settlement arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. It follows agreements in the last year with Citigroup for $7 billion and with JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $13 billion.
Like the Bank of America deal, those settlements were a mixture of hard cash and "credits" for various forms of consumer aid that the banks promised to provide in coming years.
The Bank of America settlement was negotiated through a joint federal and state working group established by President Barack Obama two years ago with the Justice Department and other federal and state authorities. Individual states are expected to share in the settlement.
Ukraine takes over large part of Luhansk from rebels; 52 reported killed near Donetsk
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — After days of street battles and weeks of shelling, Ukrainian troops made a significant push Wednesday into rebel-held territory, claiming control over a large part of the separatist stronghold of Luhansk and nearly encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city.
The advance of the Ukrainian army against pro-Russian separatists comes as the civilian death toll is mounting from sustained artillery strikes and rebel cities are slipping into a humanitarian disaster. At least 52 deaths were reported Wednesday, along with 64 wounded — and due to the dangers of the war zone in eastern Ukraine, no deaths were reported from Luhansk, meaning the actual toll could be even higher.
Ukrainian troops have been trying for weeks to drive the rebels out of Luhansk and cut off Donetsk, a city of 1 million that has shrunk by a third as frightened residents fled. In the last few days, several neighborhoods in Donetsk have been hit with sustained artillery fire and fighting on the city's outskirts has become more intense.
The death toll mounted quickly on Wednesday. In the Donetsk region, 43 locals were killed and 42 wounded in less than two days, including in two deadly artillery attacks Wednesday afternoon in the capital of Donetsk, local authorities said. In addition, nine troops died and 22 were wounded in fighting in a town outside Donetsk.
Luhansk city authorities reported running battles between the two sides. By early evening, government forces took control of "significant parts" of Luhansk, an eastern city just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Russian border, said Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council.
Liberia seals off slums as West Africa's caseload tops all previous Ebola outbreaks combined
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Riot police and soldiers acting on their president's orders used scrap wood and barbed wire to seal off 50,000 people inside their Liberian slum Wednesday, trying to contain the Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,350 people and counting across West Africa.
Hundreds of slum residents clashed with the gunmen, furious at being blamed and isolated by a government that has failed to quickly collect dead bodies from the streets. One 15-year-old boy was injured trying to cross the barbed wire as security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd.
The World Health Organization said the death toll is rising most quickly in Liberia, which now accounts for at least 576 of the fatalities. At least 2,473 people have been sickened across West Africa, which is now more than the caseloads of all the previous two-dozen Ebola outbreaks combined.
The U.N. health agency also warned of shortages of food, water and other essential supplies in West Africa's population centers.
And if it's bad in these capitals, it's much worse inside West Point, a densely populated slum surrounded by floating sewage that occupies a half-mile (kilometer) long peninsula in Liberia's seaside capital.