AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2009 6:08 AM

Obama orders review of airline safety procedures; officials acknowledge failures

HONOLULU (AP) _ President Barack Obama has ordered a review of how U.S. intelligence organizations keep the skies safe _ or don't, as demonstrated by a failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam.

Obama has not yet tapped someone to head the multi-agency probe, but White House officials acknowledge the recent incident involving a 23-year-old Nigerian with alleged ties to terrorists has made clear there are plenty of failed areas to examine. The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was on one advisory list, but never caught the attention of U.S. counter terrorist screeners despite his father's warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month.

"The gathering of information, as it relates to the watch lists, has begun," said Denis McDonough, the chief of staff to the National Security Council. "We began to gather that data, and we'll continue to gather more."

But no one is yet running the investigation, said McDonough, one of the president's top advisers, who spoke to reporters traveling with the vacationing president in Hawaii.

The separate Obama-ordered review of security procedures facing the millions of airline travelers each year is under way under the authority of the Homeland Security Department. That probe, officials said, centers on how Abdulmutallab was able to get aboard a United States-bound plane with materials that might have brought down the plane during its final hour in the air.

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Key US security agencies lack permanent leaders as administration focuses on air safety

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two federal agencies charged with keeping potential terrorists off airplanes and out of the country have been without their top leaders for nearly a year.

It took the Obama administration more than eight months to nominate anyone to lead the Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Protection agency.

The attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner has prompted a review of U.S. security policies. The acting heads of those agencies _ both created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks _ will be at the forefront of these discussions.

Bogged down with health care reform, the Senate has yet to set a date to hold hearings for the Customs position. And Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has placed a hold on the president's choice to head the TSA over the senator's concern that the new leader would let TSA screeners join a labor union. This has some Democrats blaming politics for the vacancy.

Former U.S. attorney Alan Bersin is nominated to run CBP, and former FBI agent and police detective Erroll Southers is the president's pick for TSA.

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Iran accuses West of fomenting deadly clashes, summons British ambassador to protest

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran on Tuesday accused Western countries of fomenting deadly anti-government protests in the capital this week and said it was summoning Britain's ambassador to file a complaint.

The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mahmanparast added to growing tensions between Iran and the West, which is threatening to impose tough new sanctions over Iran's suspect nuclear program and has criticized the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in Tehran.

Iran has said as many as eight people were killed in Sunday's clashes in Tehran. There was no serious violence reported Tuesday, but opposition Web sites said several activists were arrested, including a prominent journalist and the sister of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Speaking to reporters, Mehmanparast said the deadly clashes in Tehran were the work of a tiny minority, and he accused outside countries, including the U.S. and Britain, of "miscalculating" by siding with the protesters.

"Some Western countries are supporting this sort of activities. This is intervention in our internal affairs. We strongly condemn it," he said. "In this regard, the British ambassador will be summoned today."

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China says it carries out execution of Briton convicted of drug smuggling, despite UK pleas

URUMQI, China (AP) _ China brushed aside international appeals Tuesday and executed a British drug smuggler who relatives say was mentally unstable and unwittingly lured into crime.

Britain's prime minister quickly criticized the execution _ China's first of a European citizen in nearly 60 years.

"I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

The press office of the Xinjiang region where Shaikh had been held confirmed the execution in a faxed statement.

Shaikh, 53, first learned he was about to be executed Monday from his visiting cousins, who made a last-minute plea for his life. They say he is mentally unstable and was lured to China from a life on the street in Poland by men playing on his dreams to record a pop song for world peace.

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Death toll from bombing on Shiite procession in Pakistan's Karachi rises to 43

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Authorities appealed for calm Tuesday after a bombing against a Shiite Muslim procession killed 43 in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi, setting off riots and igniting fears of sectarian unrest.

Security was tight as thousands of people gathered in central Karachi for funerals of some of those killed in Monday's bombing of a Shiite procession marking the key holy day of Ashoura.

The attack sparked riots as people rampaged through the city, setting fire to markets and stores. Firefighters were still battling the flames Tuesday, with authorities calling for reinforcements from the city of Hyderabad, 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Karachi, Pakistan's main commercial hub.

Karachi Mayor Mustafa Kamal said the city's largest wholesale market was on fire, and that hundreds of shops had been destroyed, with damages estimated to run into millions of dollars.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who visited Karachi on Tuesday, said authorities were still trying to determine whether the attack had been carried out by a suicide bomber, as he had said Monday.

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Confusion fills skies in wake of attempted airliner bombing; some restrictions eased

CHICAGO (AP) _ You are now free to move about the cabin. Or not. After a two-day security clampdown prompted by a thwarted attempt to bomb a jetliner, some airline officials told The Associated Press that the in-flight restrictions had been eased. And it was now up to captains on each flight to decide whether passengers can have blankets and other items on their laps or can move around during the final phase of flight.

Confused? So were scores of passengers who flew Monday on one of the busiest travel days of the year. On some flights, passengers were told to keep their hands visible and not to listen to iPods. Even babies were frisked. But on other planes, security appeared no tighter than usual.

The Transportation Security Administration did little to explain the rules. And that inconsistency might well have been deliberate: What's confusing to passengers is also confusing to potential terrorists.

"It keeps them guessing," transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said.

By not making public a point-by-point list of new security rules, federal officials also retain more flexibility, the DePaul University professor added, enabling them to target responses to certain airports or flights seen as more vulnerable.

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Fewer law enforcement officers died on job in 2009 while decade was safer despite 9/11 attacks

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Law enforcement deaths this year dropped to their lowest level since 1959, while the decade of the 2000s was among the safest for officers _ despite the deadliest single day for police on Sept. 11, 2001.

The drop in deaths, cited in a police group's report Monday, was tempered by an increase in firearm deaths. In one horrific November shooting, four officers were executed as they discussed their upcoming shift in a Lakewood, Wash., coffee shop.

Through Dec. 27, the report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found:

_124 officers were killed this year, compared to 133 in 2008. The 2009 total represents the fewest line-of-duty deaths since 108 a half-century ago.

_Traffic fatalities fell to 56, compared to 71 a year ago. The report said the decline was partly attributed to "move over" state laws, which require motorists to change lanes to give officers clearance on the side of a road.

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Assailed by cable and the Web, broadcast TV looks to build a new business model

NEW YORK (AP) _ For more than 60 years, TV stations have broadcast news, sports and entertainment for free and made their money by showing commercials. That might not work much longer.

The business model is unraveling at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox and the local stations that carry the networks' programming. Cable TV and the Web have fractured the audience for free TV and siphoned its ad dollars. The recession has squeezed advertising further, forcing broadcasters to accelerate their push for new revenue to pay for programming.

That will play out in living rooms across the country. The changes could mean higher cable or satellite TV bills, as the networks and local stations squeeze more fees from pay-TV providers such as Comcast and DirecTV for the right to show broadcast TV channels in their lineups. The networks might even ditch free broadcast signals in the next few years. Instead, they could operate as cable channels _ a move that could spell the end of free TV as Americans have known it since the 1940s.

"Good programing is expensive," Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox, told a shareholder meeting this fall. "It can no longer be supported solely by advertising revenues."

Fox is pursuing its strategy in public, warning that its broadcasts _ including college football bowl games _ could go dark Friday for subscribers of Time Warner Cable, unless the pay-TV operator gives Fox higher fees. For its part, Time Warner Cable is asking customers whether it should "roll over" or "get tough" in negotiations.

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Charlie Sheen's wife tells police he put knife to her throat, threatened to kill her

DENVER (AP) _ Charlie Sheen's wife told police the actor pinned her on a bed, put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her in a Christmas Day fight in Aspen that began when she said she wanted a divorce.

An arrest warrant affidavit released Monday quotes Brooke Mueller Sheen as saying that the actor straddled her on a bed with one hand grasping her neck and the other holding the knife. She said Sheen told her: "You better be in fear. If you tell anybody, I'll kill you."

He also told her, "Your mother's money means nothing, I have ex-police I can hire who know how to get the job done and they won't leave any trace," according to the affidavit.

The 44-year-old Sheen denied threatening his wife with a knife or choking her, and told officers they had slapped each other on the arms and that he had snapped two pairs of her eyeglasses in front of her, according to the affidavit. An ambulance was sent to the house in Aspen, but police say no one was taken to the hospital.

Charlie Sheen, who is listed in the affidavit as Carlos Irwin Estevez, told police he and his wife have been having marital problems and that she abuses alcohol.

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Cutler TD pass to Aromashodu lifts Bears over Vikings 36-30 in OT

CHICAGO (AP) _ Brett Favre cranked up and made one more impossible throw, zinging a touchdown pass in the fading seconds. Too bad for the Minnesota Vikings, that merely put them into overtime.

The Vikings lost again Monday night, beaten by the Chicago Bears 36-30 when Jay Cutler tossed a 39-yard strike to Devin Aromashodu. Minnesota fell for the third time in four games, and the defeat gave the New Orleans Saints homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

"I know we're fortunate to be in the playoffs but we have to play better than we did the last few weeks or we'll be home fairly quickly," Favre said. "I'm just being honest as I can be."

Playing for the first time since the dustup between the star quarterback and coach Brad Childress became public, the Vikings' late rally wasn't enough.

After Favre's stunning, fourth-down pass to Sidney Rice with 16 seconds left in regulation, Cutler threw the game-winner with just over 9 minutes left in overtime to prevent the Vikings (11-4) from locking up a first-round playoff bye.