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Wednesday, July 2, 2014,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Posted: Jul 2, 2014 4:00 AM

Updated: Jul 2, 2014 4:00 AM

Ethnic Chechen who served in Georgian army is rising star of al-Qaida breakaway group

BEIRUT (AP) A young, red-bearded ethnic Chechen has rapidly become one of the most prominent commanders in the breakaway al-Qaida group that has overrun swaths of Iraq and Syria, illustrating the international nature of the movement.

Omar al-Shishani, one of hundreds of Chechens who have been among the toughest jihadi fighters in Syria, has emerged as the face of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appearing frequently in its online videos in contrast to the group's Iraqi leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, who remains deep in hiding and has hardly ever been photographed.

In a video released by the group over the weekend, al-Shishani is shown standing next to the group's spokesman among a group of fighters as they declare the elimination of the border between Iraq and Syria. The video was released just hours before the extremist group announced the creation of a caliphate or Islamic state in the areas it controls.

"Our aim is clear and everyone knows why we are fighting. Our path is toward the caliphate," the 28-year-old al-Shishani declares. "We will bring back the caliphate, and if God does not make it our fate to restore the caliphate, then we ask him to grant us martyrdom." The video is consistent with other Associated Press reporting on al-Shishani.

Al-Shishani has been the group's military commander in Syria, leading it on an offensive to take over a broad stretch of territory leading to the Iraq border. But he may have risen to become the group's overall military chief, a post that has been vacant after the Iraqi militant who once held it known as Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari was killed in the Iraqi city of Mosul in early June. The video identified al-Shishani as "the military commander" without specifying its Syria branch, suggesting he had been elevated to overall commander, though the group has not formally announced such a promotion.

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Extremist group leader urges Muslims to travel to Iraq and Syria to help build Islamic state

BAGHDAD (AP) The leader of the extremist group that has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria has called on Muslims around the world to flock to territories under his control to fight and build an Islamic state.

In a recording posted online Tuesday, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared he wants to turn the enclave his fighters have carved out in the heart of the Middle East into a magnet for militants. He also presented himself as the leader of Islam worldwide, urging Muslims everywhere to rise up against oppression.

The audio message came two days after al-Baghdadi's group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land it controls. It also proclaimed al-Baghdadi the caliph, and demanded that all Muslims around the world pledge allegiance to him.

His group's forceful seizure of territory and its grand pronouncement of a caliphate have transformed the Iraqi-born al-Baghdadi into one of the leading figures of the global jihadi movement, perhaps even eclipsing al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri.

The blitz across Iraq has pushed the death toll there to levels unseen since the worst sectarian bloodletting in 2006 during the U.S. occupation. The United Nations said Tuesday that more than 2,400 Iraqis were killed last month. That tally would make June the deadliest month in Iraq since at least April 2005, when The Associated Press began tracking casualty figures there.

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10 Things to Know for Today

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

1. A JOURNEY BEGUN WITH THE BEST INTENTIONS ENDS IN TRAGEDY

The mother of the boy found dead about a mile from the southern border of Texas had begged him not to leave their Guatemalan mountain village. He wanted to earn money to help her treat her epilepsy.

2. CHECHEN EMERGES AS FACE OF JIHAD IN SYRIA: "WE WILL BRING BACK THE CALIPHATE"

Omar al-Shishani, who served in the Georgian army, is a rising star of the al-Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He is described as "a fanatic of Islam with war experience."

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Court's unanimous defense of digital-age privacy mark of a less divisive term

WASHINGTON (AP) Supreme Court justices found more common ground than usual this year, and nowhere was their unanimity more surprising than in a ruling that police must get a judge's approval before searching the cellphones of people they've arrested.

The term that just ended also had its share of 5-4 decisions with the familiar conservative-liberal split, including Monday's ruling on religion, birth control and the health care law.

But the 9-0 cellphone decision last week may be the most consequential of the justices' 67 rulings this term. It signaled a high degree of skepticism about the government's authority, without any need to satisfy an impartial judge, to sweep up vast quantities of information that individuals store on computers and cellphones, as well as other records that companies keep online.

The scope of that ruling will await future cases, including possible challenges to NSA's surveillance and collection of massive amounts of Americans' telephone records. But the justices indicated that constitutional privacy protections, embodied in the Fourth Amendment, will apply strongly to cases involving computers and digital storage, said Elizabeth Wydra, the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center's chief counsel.

Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion for the court "was a broad and sweeping ruling in favor of privacy," Wydra said.

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Tropical Storm Arthur threatens July 4th plans on East Coast as it plods off Florida coast

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) A hurricane watch was issued for part of North Carolina's coast early Wednesday as Tropical Storm Arthur moved northward, threatening Fourth of July plans along the East Coast.

The hurricane watch in North Carolina covers an area from Bogue Inlet to Oregon Inlet, including Pamlico Sound. A tropical storm watch was in effect for parts of Florida and South Carolina.

The storm's maximum sustained winds early Wednesday were near 60 mph (95 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Arthur was expected to strengthen and become a hurricane by Thursday.

With the July Fourth weekend on the horizon, the Atlantic hurricane season's first named storm plodded off Florida's coast but wasn't yet spooking too many in the storm's potential path.

"I think everybody's keeping one eye on the weather and one eye on the events this weekend," said Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, the city's tourism bureau.

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In bone dry California, water fetching record prices as sellers cash in on drought

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Throughout California's desperately dry Central Valley, those with water to spare are cashing in.

As a third parched summer forces farmers to fallow fields and lay off workers, two water districts and a pair of landowners in the heart of the state's farmland are making millions of dollars by auctioning off their private caches.

Nearly 40 others also are seeking to sell their surplus water this year, according to state and federal records.

Economists say it's been decades since the water market has been this hot. In the last five years alone, the price has grown tenfold to as much as $2,200 an acre-foot enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.

Unlike the previous drought in 2009, the state has been hands-off, letting the market set the price even though severe shortages prompted a statewide drought emergency declaration this year.

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Former corporate CEO faces big task in tackling veterans agency's 'corrosive' culture

WASHINGTON (AP) A onetime Army Ranger and former CEO of a Fortune 500 consumer products company, Robert McDonald may face his toughest challenge yet in fixing the huge, scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department.

Veterans groups worry that the longtime corporate executive, nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the VA, may have trouble adjusting to a far-flung bureaucracy of more than 300,000 employees, where hundreds of hospital directors and other career executives wield great power far from the agency's Washington headquarters.

"Procter & Gamble is going to feel like a Ferrari compared to the VA," said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

A year after he was forced out as P&G's CEO, McDonald, 61, was tapped by Obama this week to overhaul an agency reeling from revelations of widespread treatment delays and falsified records to cover up months-long waits for appointments.

The White House released a scathing report last week, saying the VA was battling a "corrosive culture" of distrust, lacks resources and was ill-prepared to deal with an influx of new and older veterans with a range of medical and mental health needs. The agency serves nearly 9 million veterans with an annual budget of $154 billion, one of the largest in the federal government.

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Police arrest more than 500 at sit-in after Hong Kong stages anti-China pro-democracy rally

HONG KONG (AP) Hong Kong police arrested more than 500 people who refused to leave a street in the city's financial district Wednesday, a day after tens of thousands of people joined a massive march to demand democracy that's free from China's interference.

The march has become an annual affair held on the anniversary of the day China took over Hong Kong from Britain on June 1, 1997 with the promise to give the city a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. But there is growing unease among its residents especially the youth that the Western-style civil liberties they've know all their lives are being eroded as Beijing has increasingly tried to impose its authority over the freewheeling capitalist enclave.

The fears are only going to be heightened following the pre-dawn crackdown by the Hong Kong police, who normally do not have an antagonistic relationship with the people, unlike the security forces in mainland China.

Police said 511 people were arrested for unlawful assembly in the Central business district and preventing police from carrying out their duties. After warnings failed to dislodge them, the police moved in to remove the protesters, who lay down on the street with arms locked, taking them away one by one. The protesters had vowed to stay until 8 a.m., just before the height of rush hour begins, but the police started moving in to evict them at about 3 a.m.

Some left willingly but others were forcibly removed, taken away by officers on both arms or carried away off the ground. One officer stood behind a protester and put an arm around the man's neck as he and other officers tried to pull his hands free, knocking off the eyeglasses of the demonstrator he was clinging to.

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Tim Howard's best not enough to save US World Cup run; Belgium eliminates Americans 2-1 in OT

SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) Tim Howard kept the ball out of the net with slides, with dives and with leaps.

He couldn't do it forever.

With the United States trying to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, he saved 12 of Belgium's shots in regulation to keep the game scoreless.

But Kevin De Bruyne scored in the 93rd minute and Romelu Lukaku in the 105th to build a two-goal lead for the Red Devils, who hung on for a 2-1 win Tuesday that eliminated the Americans in the second round for the second straight World Cup.

Howard tried to sound modest.

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Class teaches seniors "parkour" a sport known for acrobatic, daredevil youths

LONDON (AP) On a recent morning in London, Lara Thomson practiced spinning on benches, swinging from metal bars and balancing off raised ledges all elements of a daredevil discipline known as "parkour."

What was unusual about the scene is that Thomson is 79 and all of her classmates are over 60.

They are members of a unique weekly class for seniors in a sport more commonly known for gravity-defying jumps than helping people with arthritis.

Invented in the 1980s in France, parkour is a sport usually favored by extremely nimble people who move freely through any terrain using their own strength and flexibility, often using urban environments such as benches, buildings and walls as a type of obstacle course. It's also known as free running.

The London parkour class of about a dozen students is taught by two instructors who have adapted the sport's main elements to a level that can be handled even by those over 60 who have replacement joints or other medical conditions.

Topics: World Briefly

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