Taliban claim blasts that killed 8 Americans, 5 Canadians
KABUL (AP) _ The Taliban claimed responsibility Thursday for a suicide bombing at a base in eastern Afghanistan that killed eight American civilians and one Afghan, the worst loss of life for the U.S. in the country since October. A U.S. congressional official said CIA employees are believed to be among the victims.
Separately, the Taliban also said it was responsible for the roadside bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers and a journalist imbedded in their unit Wednesday in Afghanistan's south, the bloodiest single incident suffered by that country's military in 2009.
Michelle Lang, a 34-year-old health reporter with the Calgary Herald, was the first Canadian journalist to die in Afghanistan. She arrived in the country just two weeks ago.
Also Thursday, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province in the south said an airstrike by international forces killed and wounded civilians. Dawud Ahmadi said he did not have immediate information on how many died in the attack Wednesday in Babajid district, which he said occurred after an international forces patrol came under fire.
NATO said it was aware of the reports and was investigating. Claims of civilians killed by foreign forces are a highly emotional issue among Afghans and feed strong resentment of international soldiers.
It was not immediately clear how the suicide bomber at the base at the edge of Khost city was able to circumvent security.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that an Afghan National Army officer wearing a suicide vest entered the base Wednesday and blew himself up inside the gym. A U.S. official who was briefed on the blast also said it took place in the gym.
Obama to receive preliminary report, recommendations after Christmas Day terror attempt
HONOLULU (AP) _ President Barack Obama is to receive a preliminary report Thursday on how a 23-year-old Nigerian with suspected terrorist ties managed to board a plane he is accused of attempting to bomb on Christmas Day, along with recommendations on how to prevent a sequel.
The report is just the first step in what is shaping up to be an Obama-led effort to change the nation's intelligence practices after an attack that failed not because of U.S. anti-terrorism policies, but despite them. Administration officials said the system to protect the nation's skies from terrorists was deeply flawed and, even then, the government failed to follow its own directives.
White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was scheduled to send Obama a first summary of the nation's efforts to track more than half a million potential terrorists. Officials said it was unlikely Obama would speak publicly about the report, although the vacationing president probably would talk several times throughout the day with his national security team.
Obama has demanded answers on why the U.S. intelligence community never pieced together information that could have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to destroy a Detroit-bound airliner, from ever getting on the plane. Obama called the situation "totally unacceptable" when he met with reporters Tuesday and put his top intelligence officials on notice that he wanted changes.
Finnish media: Gunman in black kills 4 in mall shooting rampage
HELSINKI (AP) _ A gunman killed four people early Thursday in a shooting rampage at a mall in Finland's second largest city, police told a state broadcaster.
It was not clear whether the shooter in Espoo had been apprehended and some reports indicated he was still on the loose. State broadcaster Yle reported that the gunman was born in 1966 and was previously known to police.
Police told Yle that three men and one woman were killed in the shopping center.
A witness told the broadcaster that a man dressed in black began randomly shooting at people on the second floor of the Sello mall.
Another witness who was in the mall at the time told Finnish radio that a panic ensued as the shooting began. "There were loads of people who were crying, and many vendors who were completely panicked," the unnamed witness said.
AP-GfK Poll: Americans are hopeful about coming year despite troubled economy and wars
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The bank account is thin, but the future looks pretty good.
That, oddly enough, is the view of many Americans who predict 2010 will be a better year than this one, even if they fear that the U.S. economy and their own financial circumstances won't improve.
A whopping 82 percent are optimistic about what the new year will bring for their families, according to the latest AP-GfK poll. That sunny outlook seems at odds with other findings.
Nearly two-thirds think their family finances will worsen or stay about the same next year. And fewer than half think the nation's economy will improve in 2010, even though Americans rated 2009 as a huge downer.
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh admitted to Honolulu hospital with chest pains
HONOLULU (AP) _ Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh is resting comfortably in a Hawaii hospital after suffering chest pains while on vacation, his radio program says.
"Rush appreciates your prayers and well wishes and will keep you updated via rushlimbaugh.com and on his radio program," the program said in a statement late Wednesday night.
Limbaugh was rushed for medical treatment earlier in the day. The statement said "Rush was admitted to and is resting comfortably in a Honolulu hospital today after suffering chest pains."
Kit Carson, Limbaugh's chief of staff, told The Associated Press that he had no further information on Limbaugh's condition.
He said the 58-year-old left for his usual Christmas vacation on Dec. 23 and is due to return to his show on Jan. 4. Carson didn't have any information on whether that schedule would change.
US air passengers willing to trade privacy for security as feds ramp up use of body scanners
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ As Ronak Ray hunted for his flight gate, he prepared for the prospect of a security guard peering through his clothes with a full body scanner. But Ray doesn't mind: what he gives up in privacy he gets back in security.
"I think it's necessary," said Ray, a 23-year-old graduate student who was at San Francisco International Airport to fly to India. "Our lives are far more important than how we're being searched."
Despite controversy surrounding the scans, Ray's position was typical of several travelers interviewed at various airports Wednesday by The Associated Press.
Airports in five other U.S. cities are also using full body scanners at specific checkpoints instead of metal detectors. In addition, the scanners are used at 13 other airports for random checks and so-called secondary screenings of passengers who set off detectors.
But many more air travelers may have to get used to the idea soon. The Transportation Security Administration has ordered 150 more full body scanners to be installed in airports throughout the country in early 2010, agency spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino said.
Police arrest senior Pakistani Taliban commander linked to deadly market bombing
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) _ Authorities arrested a senior Pakistani Taliban commander who led the group's network in the key central province of Punjab, where violence has been increasing in recent months, police said Thursday.
The arrest strikes a blow as militants have stepped up their efforts to wage attacks far from their sanctuary in Pakistan's lawless tribal area near the Afghan border in response to a major military offensive there.
Khalil Ullah, whose arrest was announced Thursday, was the mastermind of a market bombing in Punjab's provincial capital, Lahore, on Dec. 7 that killed 49 people, said senior police investigator Chaudhry Shafiq. He declined to say where or when Ullah was arrested.
More than 500 people have been killed in attacks throughout the country since the army launched an anti-Taliban offensive in the South Waziristan tribal area in mid October. The military has secured much of the territory in the area, but operations continue.
Soldiers raided a hospital used by militants in South Waziristan on Thursday, killing five foreign fighters, intelligence officials said. The troops captured 27 militants, 10 of whom were wounded in a gunbattle that broke out during the raid, they said.
Same-sex couples to celebrate New Year saying 'I do' in NH, 5th state to legalize gay marriage
FRANCONIA, N.H. (AP) _ Jeffry Burr and Neil Blair are just hours from their wedding, but there are no typical prenuptial jitters. After all, this is the third time they've exchanged vows.
They first committed to each other before scores of relatives and friends on June 24, 2006, in an emotional ceremony that didn't even count under New Hampshire law. Then, at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2008, the first moment they were legally able to do so, they became civilly committed in a more subdued ceremony.
This time, the two will finally be legally married Friday, when New Hampshire becomes the fifth state to allow gay couples to wed.
Instead of a $5,000 weekend celebration like they had in 2006, they'll have a brief rereading of their earlier vows, pop the cork on some champagne and have dinner together.
"It's the third time," Blair said. "How excited are you supposed to be?"
Australian revelers gather to be among the first to celebrate New Year's Eve
SYDNEY (AP) _ The first of an expected 1.5 million New Year's revelers pitched tents and opened picnic baskets in Sydney on Thursday to get one of the world's biggest parties started _ bidding farewell to a tough year and welcoming a new decade.
The annual fireworks extravaganza over the city's landmark harbor bridge and opera house are the centerpiece of Australia's celebrations, and generate some of the most striking images from a night of revelry across the globe.
Smaller fireworks displays and partying are planned across Australia and the South Pacific, the first region to greet each new day because of its proximity to the International Date Line.
In New Zealand, dance parties, bands and fireworks were planned in the main cities, and live entertainment in many holiday spots, including the southern tourist spot of Queenstown. In the capital, Wellington, celebrations will include a display by world unicycle games competitors.
Asia will be partying, too, though probably not as hard as most of Europe and the Americas. The world's most populous nation, 1.3-billion-strong China, uses a different calendar that will mark the new year in February. Islamic nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan also use a different calendar.
'Shovel ready' remembered as a presidential favorite, though ubiquity led to grammatical grave
DETROIT (AP) _ The phrase "shovel ready," incessantly invoked by the Obama administration this year as a way to sell its $787 billion federal stimulus bill, died Thursday.
The official cause of death was overuse, according to Lake Superior State University, which announced the phrase's demise in its annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness, released Thursday.
"Shovel ready" dug its own grave by forcing its way into speeches and out of the mouths of the president and too many other politicians in past months.
"Stick a shovel in it. It's done," seethed Joe Grimm of loomfield Hills, Mich., in his nomination to the university's Word Banishment Committee. Grimm is a visiting journalist at Michigan State University and a former recruiter and editor at the Detroit Free Press.
The exact age of the phrase isn't known, but it had been a quiet favorite of economic development types for at least a decade _ a fondness that led a utility company in upstate New York to secure the shovelready.com Web site in the late 1990s.