AP sources: Northwest passenger who tried to blow up Detroit-bound flight linked to al-Qaida
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Northwest Airlines passenger from Nigeria, who said he was acting on al-Qaida's instructions, tried to blow up the plane Friday as it was landing in Detroit, law enforcement and national security officials said.
Passengers subdued the man and may have prevented him from detonating the explosives, the officials said.
"We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism," a White House official said.
Federal officials imposed stricter screening measures after the incident.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., ranking GOP member of the House Homeland Security Committee, identified the suspect as Abdul Mudallad, a Nigerian. King said the flight began in Nigeria and went through Amsterdam en route to Detroit. There were 278 passengers aboard the Airbus 330.
Closed airports and roads turn White Christmas into a headache for some in the Midwest, Plains
MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Residents across the Midwest and the Plains who made it home for Christmas were digging out on Friday after a fierce snowstorm while those who spent the night in airports and shelters tried to resume their journeys. Meteorologists warned that roads across the region remained dangerous.
The National Weather Service said blizzards would hit parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin through Saturday. The storm had already dumped significant snow across the region, including a record 14 inches in Oklahoma City and 11 inches in Duluth, Minn., on Thursday.
Slippery roads have been blamed for at least 20 deaths this week as the storm lumbered across the country from the Southwest. Ice storm warnings and winter weather advisories had been issued for parts of the East Coast on Friday, but the region was largely spared.
Paul Mews, who drove from Faribault, Minn., to a relative's home in Plum City, Wis., on Friday morning, said the first 15 minutes of the 80-mile trip were clear, but a sudden surge of heavy snowfall produced a stretch of near-whiteout conditions.
"It was snow-pocalypse. It was wicked," said Mews, 25. "We thought about turning around and going back."
Taliban video shows captured US soldier denouncing Afghanistan war; family pleads for release
KABUL (AP) _ The Taliban released a video Friday of an American soldier captured in Afghanistan, showing him apparently healthy but spouting criticism about the U.S. military operation.
In Idaho, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl's family pleaded on Christmas Day for his release and urged him to "stay strong."
Bergdahl disappeared June 30 while based in eastern Afghanistan and is the only known American serviceman in captivity. The Taliban claimed his capture in a video released in mid-July that showed the young Idaho soldier appearing downcast and frightened. He hadn't been heard from until Friday's video, in which he looks well and speaks clearly.
Although the video was released Friday, it was unclear when it was made, and NATO spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks told The New York Times it was not evidence that Bergdahl is still alive.
He suggested the video may be a pastiche of clips from earlier this year.
Vatican to review security after pope jumped by woman involved in 2008 breach
VATICAN CITY (AP) _ The Vatican will review security procedures after a woman jumped a barrier and rushed at Pope Benedict XVI for the second time in two years, this time managing to knock him down before being pulled away by guards, the Vatican spokesman said Friday.
Benedict, 82, wasn't hurt and delivered his traditional Christmas Day greetings in 65 languages from the loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square. While a bit unsteady at first, he also delivered a short speech about the world's trouble spots without problem.
The incident in St. Peter's Basilica raised fresh questions about security for the pontiff, however, after officials said the woman involved had jumped the barrier at the 2008 Midnight Mass in a failed bid to get to the pope. She even wore the same red-hooded sweat shirt.
Italian officials also remarked on the odd similarity of the breach to an assault two weeks ago on Premier Silvio Berlusconi by a man with a history of psychological problems. The attack in Milan broke the premier's nose and two teeth.
The Vatican identified the woman involved in Thursday night's incident as Susanna Maiolo, 25, a Swiss-Italian national with psychiatric problems who was immediately taken to a clinic for treatment. Interior Ministry officials said she lived in Switzerland and the ANSA news agency said she had traveled to Rome specifically for the Mass as she did last year.
Roadside bomb targets Shiite holiday procession in Iraqi capital, kills 6
BAGHDAD (AP) _ A roadside bomb killed six Shiite Muslim pilgrims Friday during a procession, the latest violence targeting the group during observances of a religious holiday, officials said.
The deaths followed heightened tensions in a northern Iraqi town after troops were deployed following a scuffle between Christians and Shiites over holiday decorations.
Observances of the ten-day Shiite festival of Ashoura, which ends on Dec. 27, coincided Friday with Christian celebrations of Christmas.
The government has been trying to assure people it can protect both Shiites and Christians during the two holidays. During Ashoura, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims converge on the holy city of Karbala.
In the days leading up to the event, large processions of men go through the streets of Shiite neighborhoods, beating their chests and using chains to flay their backs in a show of grief over the 7th-century killing of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein.
Salvation Army major fatally shot in front of his 3 young children at Arkansas center
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ A Salvation Army worker was shot and killed Christmas Eve in front of his three young children during an attempted robbery outside the charity's community center in North Little Rock, a Salvation Army official said Friday.
North Little Rock police said they were looking for the two men who accosted Salvation Army Maj. Philip Wise outside the community center about 4:15 p.m. Thursday. No arrests have been made.
The two men fled on foot into a nearby housing development, police Sgt. Terry Kuykendall said Friday. Police don't know whether Wise, who was active in the community, knew his attackers, he said.
Wise, 40, had gone to the community center with his children to pick up his wife _ also a Salvation Army major _ to drive to his mother's home in West Virginia, said Maj. Harvey Johnson, area commander of the Salvation Army. As Wise neared the side door, two men approached.
Both men were carrying hand guns, police said. One demanded money and shot Wise, Pulaski County Coroner Garland Camper told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Wise's wife, Cindy, was inside the center and called 911.
Senate bill could hurt insurers initially by spurring growth in uprofitable business
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Health insurers get some big presents in the Senate's health overhaul bill _ about 20 million new customers and no competition from a new government plan.
Taking advantage of those boons might take some time, though.
The bill imposes hefty new taxes and coverage rules that will pinch insurers by forcing them to cover more sick people without gaining enough healthy, lower-cost customers, industry insiders say. The industry is also worried the bill doesn't do enough to control health care costs.
It's a matter of figuring out how to make those new customers profitable, analysts say.
"There's opportunity," Miller Tabak analyst Les Funtleyder said. "Where the rubber meets the road is can you access that opportunity? At least some of them will figure out how to do it."
George Washington gets $400,000 from Lockheed Martin to keep crossing the Delaware River
WASHINGTON CROSSING, N.J. (AP) _ George Washington brought along a tourist for his Christmas Day ride across the Delaware River this year, and technology manufacturer Lockheed Martin brought its checkbook.
After months of financial uncertainty, the 57th annual re-enactment of Washington's daring Christmas 1776 crossing of the river _ the trek that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War _ took place without problems Friday.
Thousands of spectators came out to hear Washington's stand-in deliver stirring words to the troops and watch three boats make the crossing from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The role of Washington was played by John Godzieba, a Pennsylvanian who has been a re-enactor for 17 years.
It was the first time in three years that re-enactors were able to cross in boats. The past two years, the re-enactment was thwarted by bad weather and high water levels, which forced re-enactors to walk across a bridge.
During the crossing 233 years ago, boats ferried some 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons across the river, and the troops marched 8 miles downriver and fell on Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton. Thirty Hessians were killed, and two Continental soldiers froze to death on the march, but none died in the battle.
Stores hope gift cards provide after-Christmas boost to so-so sales this holiday season
NEW YORK (AP) _ As merchants look to this weekend and the rest of the Christmas aftermath, they're counting on droves of gift card-toting customers to return to malls.
But those numbers may be smaller as the industry braces for what some analysts believe will be a second consecutive holiday season of declines in gift card sales.
The final word on holiday gift card sales is not out. Mall of America is seeing gift cards flat through this week compared with a year ago. Mall operator Taubman Centers cited lukewarm sales heading into the final week before Christmas, but saw a rebound in recent days as threadbare shelves have left last-minute shoppers no other choice.
Overall, the recession has stolen gift cards's steam. Reduced consumer spending has extended to gift cards, but frugal shoppers are also turning to buying discounted gifts so they can stretch their budgets. Also troubling is that recipients will likely be stingy when they redeem them, focusing only on deeply discounted items, as they did last year.
That poses challenges for the critical week after Christmas and for 2010 as consumers typically spend more than the card's value. Gift card sales also are a key way for stores to drive traffic in the first quarter, traditionally a quiet time for the industry.
Boston Celtics' smothering defense leads to 86-77 win over Orlando Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Rajon Rondo had 17 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, and the Boston Celtics bullied the Orlando Magic with strong defense in an 86-77 victory Friday.
Ray Allen added 18 points and Tony Allen scored 16 in place of the injured Paul Pierce for the Celtics, who rolled to their 14th win in the last 15 games.
The only big blow for the Celtics came in the final minutes, when Kevin Garnett jumped to block a shot by Vince Carter, only to land awkwardly and go tumbling to the ground. He hobbled back to the bench holding his back and didn't return.
Carter finished with 27 points, and Rashard Lewis had 19 points for the Magic. Orlando had no answer to Boston's relentless pressure, which held Dwight Howard to five points and Orlando to a season low in points.
Even with all that, the Magic had a chance.