AP News in Brief

AP News
Posted: Nov 12, 2009 6:19 PM

Feds move to seize 4 mosques, skyscraper owned by foundation linked to Iranian government

NEW YORK (AP) _ Federal prosecutors Thursday took steps to seize four U.S. mosques and a Fifth Avenue skyscraper owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization long suspected of being secretly controlled by the Iranian government.

In what could prove to be one of the biggest counterterrorism seizures in U.S. history, prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets of the Alavi Foundation and an alleged front company.

The assets include Islamic centers in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston, more than 100 acres in Virginia, and a 36-story office tower in New York.

Seizing the properties would be a sharp blow against Iran, which has been accused by the U.S. government of bankrolling terrorism and seeking a nuclear bomb.

A telephone call and e-mail to Iran's U.N. Mission seeking comment were not immediately answered.


Army investigators: Fort Hood shooting suspect charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder

FORT HOOD, TEXAS (AP) _ The Army psychiatrist accused in the Fort Hood shootings was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the military's legal system, making him eligible for the death penalty if convicted, officials said Thursday.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama ordered a review of all intelligence related to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and whether it was properly shared and acted upon within individual government agencies.

The announcement comes as members of Congress are pressuring for a full investigation in why Hasan was not detected and stopped. A Senate hearing on Hasan is scheduled for next week. The Senate Homeland Security Committee announced it is opening its own investigation this week.

U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Chris Grey said at a news conference that additional charges may be filed against Hasan.

Officials told The Associated Press before the news conference that it had not been decided whether to charge Hasan with a 14th count of murder related to the death of the unborn child of a pregnant shooting victim. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case publicly.


Gates redoubles effort to defuse threat from homemade bombs, the top killer of US troops

OSHKOSH, Wis. (AP) _ Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he will lead an intensive push for new ways to defuse the threat from homemade bombs, the crude ambush weapons that account for eight in 10 casualties in Afghanistan.

"The best solution isn't always the most elaborate," Gates told workers assembling rush orders of a new armored combat truck that, like many of the bombs themselves, is an improvisation.

With numerous offices and agencies working on ways to find and protect against booby-trap bombs, Gates said he wants a brainstorming review across the Defense Department that would last about six months. He will get a monthly report on the progress, Gates said.

The weapon of choice for insurgents in Iraq, improvised bombs once were unheard of in Afghanistan. Deaths among U.S. and NATO allies fighting in Afghanistan have risen sharply as insurgents there learned to adapt the bombs to Afghan terrain, and as the military's technology sometimes failed to keep up.

In September 2009, the Pentagon counted 106 effective attacks that killed 37 coalition service members and wounded 285 more. Two years earlier there were 19 successful attacks.


Rivals in abortion debate agree restrictions create tough choices for women about coverage

NEW YORK (AP) _ Millions of American women will face tough choices about abortion coverage if restrictions in the House health care bill become law, both sides in the abortion debate agree.

Divisions over abortion are a major obstacle in President Barack Obama's push for health care overhaul, with both sides arguing over how to apply current law that bars taxpayer dollars for abortions in a totally new landscape. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and abortion foes, the House added tough restrictions to its version of a health care bill.

The measure would prohibit the proposed new government-run insurance plan from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life, and bars any health plan receiving federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace from offering abortion coverage. If women wanted to purchase abortion coverage through such plans, they'd have to buy it separately, as a so-called rider on their policy.

"It forces insurance companies and women to navigate a series of chutes and ladders to get abortion coverage at the end of the day," said Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The amendment's proponents says its goal is simply to ensure that a long-standing ban on using federal dollars for elective abortions is extended to coverage plans arising from new health care legislation.


New Fed rule will bar banks from charging overdraft fees without customer consent

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Banks will have to secure their customers' consent before charging large overdraft fees on ATM and debit card transactions, according to a new rule announced Thursday by the Federal Reserve.

The rule responds to complaints from consumer groups, members of Congress and other regulators that the overdraft fees are unfair because many people assume they can't spend more on a debit card than is available in their account. Instead, many banks allow the transactions to go through, then charge fees of up to $25 to $35.

For small purchases, such as a cup of coffee, the penalty can far exceed the actual cost of the transaction.

Under the Fed's new rule, which will take effect July 1, banks will be required to notify new and existing customers of their overdraft services and give customers the option of being covered. If customers don't "opt in," any debit or ATM transactions that overdraw their accounts will be denied, Fed officials said.

Many consumers do want checks and regular electronic bill payments to be covered in the event of an overdraft, Fed officials said. As a result, those transactions aren't covered by the rule.


Lawyer: Colorado parents to plead guilty in balloon boy saga so family can stay together

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) _ The parents accused of pulling a spectacular hoax by reporting that their 6-year-old son had floated away aboard a helium balloon have agreed to plead guilty in a deal that could send them both to jail but protect the wife from deportation.

Richard Heene will plead guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, said his attorney, David Lane. Heene's wife, Mayumi, a Japanese citizen who could be deported if convicted of more serious charges, will plead guilty to a lesser charge of false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor.

Lane said the threat of deportation "fueled" negotiations with prosecutors. An attorney for Mayumi Heene said her immigration status was a factor in reaching the deal but would not comment further.

Prosecutors announced criminal charges against the couple Thursday. A spokeswoman for the Larimer County district attorney's office would not discuss whether a plea agreement had been reached.

The Oct. 15 saga gripped a global audience, first with fear for the safety of 6-year-old Falcon Heene and then with anger at his parents when authorities accused them of perpetrating the hoax to drum up attention for a possible reality show.


Gov't now estimates swine flu has sickened 22 million in US since April, killed nearly 4,000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Swine flu has sickened about 22 million Americans since April and killed nearly 4,000, including 540 children, according to startling federal estimates released Thursday.

The figures _ roughly a quadrupling of previous death estimates _ don't mean swine flu suddenly has worsened, and most cases still don't require a doctor's care. Instead, the numbers are a long-awaited better attempt to quantify the new flu's true toll.

"I am expecting all of these numbers, unfortunately, to continue to rise," said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We have a long flu season ahead of us."

And tight supplies of vaccine to combat the illness continue: Not quite 42 million doses are currently available, a few million less than CDC had predicted last week.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows nearly one in six parents has gotten at least some of their children vaccinated against swine flu since inoculations began last month. Another 14 percent of parents sought vaccine, but couldn't find any.


Palin's book confirms there was tension between her aides and those of Sen. John McCain

NEW YORK (AP) _ The rumors are true, according to Sarah Palin: The McCain-Palin campaign was not a happy family. In Palin's new memoir, "Going Rogue," she confirms reports of tension between her aides and those of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain. The vice presidential candidate confirms that she had wanted to speak on election night, but was denied the chance and says she was kept "bottled up" from reporters during the campaign.

Palin also writes harshly of CBS anchor Katie Couric, whom she describes as "badgering" and biased. Palin's series of interviews with Couric were widely regarded as disastrous, leaving the impression of an ill-informed candidate who was unsuited for the job.

The 413-page book with 16 pages of color photos but no index comes out Tuesday, Nov. 17. The Associated Press purchased a copy Thursday. "Going Rogue," with a first printing of 1.5 million copies, has been at or near the top of Amazon.com and other best-seller lists for weeks, ever since publisher HarperCollins announced that the book had been completed quickly and the release date was being moved up from next spring.

The book follows Palin from childhood to her departure last summer as Alaska governor. It includes much of what her admirers, and detractors, expected: tributes to family and faith and patriotism, and attacks against the media and other perceived opponents.

She writes about the "jaded aura" of professional campaign aides and how McCain's entourage limited her access to the media, leading to allegations _ unfounded, she says _ that she was avoiding reporters.


British man breaks world record by pulling bus with his hair nearly 70 feet

LONDON (AP) _ A British man broke the world record for pulling a double-decker bus with his hair. Manjit Singh broke the Guinness World Record on Thursday by pulling the bus weighing 8.5 British tons for 21.2 meters (69.55 feet) across Battersea Park in London with ribbons attached to his hair.

The 59-year-old Singh previously had failed to break the record to pull a double decker bus with his ears.


Decade later, Riggleman's a major league manager again, dropping interim tag with Nationals

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Jim Riggleman opened his first news conference in 10 years as a full-fledged, full-time, full-titled major league manager _ no "interim" tag to be found _ by saying he didn't want to list the people he needs to thank, lest he forget someone.

And then, not surprisingly, the man who will manage the Washington Nationals in 2010 proceeded to list those people: his family; the team's owners; president Stan Kasten, GM Mike Rizzo and their staffs; current players; players he worked with in the minors; Whitey Herzog, who brought Riggleman to the majors as a coach years ago.

On and on. Clearly, Riggleman is grateful to be a skipper in the majors once again.

"My feeling was, if there was some divine intervention that came upon me that said, 'You will never manage again,' then I would have got out" of baseball, Riggleman said Thursday, when the Nationals officially announced he would remain in their dugout. "I wanted to stay in the game, because I still wanted to manage. So if I would have strongly doubted it would ever happen, I would not have continued. And you had to wonder as the years went by."

Neither the Nationals nor Riggleman's agent _ who said he had to sign a nondisclosure agreement _ would say anything about the terms of the deal.