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AP News in Brief at 12:09 a.m. EST

Trump: Aim of killing Iranian general was to ‘stop a war’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday he ordered the killing of a top Iranian general “to stop a war,” not start one, but in the tense aftermath the Pentagon braced for retaliation by sending more troops to the Middle East. Democrats complained that Trump hadn’t consulted Congress, and some worried that the strike made war more likely.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued the U.S. case with allies in the Middle East and beyond, asserting that Friday’s drone strike killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani was a necessary act of self defence. He asserted that Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered many American troops and officials across the Middle East.

The ramifications of Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani were still coming into focus Friday; they could include an end to the U.S. military partnership with Iraq in fighting the Islamic State extremist group. Some Iraqi politicians called the attack, which also killed an Iraqi general, a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and questioned whether U.S. forces should be expelled. The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, mostly to train and advise Iraqi forces fighting IS.

In brief remarks to the nation, Trump said the Iranian general had been plotting “imminent and sinister” attacks. At the Pentagon, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. had “compelling, clear, unambiguous intelligence” of Soleimani plotting violent acts.

“Oh, by the way, it might still happen,” Milley said, referring to the planned attacks.

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Iran vows revenge for US attack that killed powerful general

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran promised to seek revenge for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed the mastermind of its interventions across the Middle East, and the U.S. said Friday that it was sending thousands more troops to the region as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.

The death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Tehran, which has careened from one crisis to another since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.

Almost 24 hours after the attack on Soleimani, Iraqi officials and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq reported another deadly airstrike.

An Iraqi government official reported a strike on two vehicles north of Baghdad but had no information on casualties. Another security official who witnessed the aftermath described charred vehicles and said five people were killed. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Iraqi state television and the media arm of the Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces also reported the strike. The group said its medics were targeted.

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US long watched Soleimani, but feared risks of a strike

WASHINGTON (AP) — In 2007, U.S. commandos watched as a convoy carrying a powerful Iranian military leader made its way to northern Iraq.

It was a prime opportunity to take out Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who had been accused of aiding Shiite forces that killed thousands of American troops in Iraq. But ultimately, military leaders passed on a strike, deferring to deep concerns about the potential fallout of such a provocative attack.

“To avoid a firefight, and the contentious politics that would follow, I decided that we should monitor the caravan, not strike immediately,” retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote last year in Foreign Policy.

Fears about the repercussions and reverberations of a targeted killing of Soleimani persisted throughout the administrations of President George W. Bush, a Republican, and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, according to officials who served under both. Soleimani, they calculated, was just as dangerous dead and martyred as he was alive and plotting against Americans.

That approach came to an end this week when President Donald Trump authorized an airstrike against Soleimani. He was killed after his plane landed at the Baghdad airport.

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Australian PM calls up reservists as fire threats escalate

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia’s prime minister called up about 3,000 reservists as the threat of wildfires escalated Saturday in at least three states with two more deaths, and strong winds and high temperatures were forecast to bring flames to populated areas including the suburbs of Sydney.

Scott Morrison said 23 deaths have been confirmed so far this summer, including the two in a blaze on a highway on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. “We are facing another extremely difficult next 24 hours,” he told a televised news conference.

“In recent times, particularly over the course of the balance of this week, we have seen this disaster escalate to an entirely new level,” Morrison said.

He also confirmed that his scheduled visits to India and Japan later this month have been postponed. He was due to visit India from Jan. 13-16 and Japan immediately afterwards. Morrison came under fire for taking a family vacation in Hawaii as the wildfire crisis unfolded in December.

“Just around half an hour ago the governor general signed off on the call-out of the Australian Defence Force Reserve to search and bring every possible capability to bear by deploying army brigades to fire-affected communities,” he said.

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Q&A: How climate change, other factors stoke Australia fires

Australia’s unprecedented wildfires are supercharged thanks to climate change, the type of trees catching fire and weather, experts say.

And these fires are so extreme that they are triggering their own thunderstorms.

Here are a few questions and answers about the science behind the Australian wildfires that so far have burned about 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres), killing at least 17 people and destroying more than 1,400 homes.

“They are basically just in a horrific convergence of events,” said Stanford University environmental studies director Chris Field, who chaired an international scientific report on climate change and extreme events. He said this is one of the worst, if not the worst, climate change extreme events he’s seen.

“There is something just intrinsically terrifying about these big wildfires. They go on for so long, the sense of hopelessness that they instil,” Field said. “The wildfires are kind of the iconic representation of climate change impacts.”

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Was the drone attack on Iranian general an assassination?

NEW YORK (AP) — After Friday’s targeted killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, newsrooms struggled with the question: Had the United States just carried out an assassination? And should news stories about the killing use that term?

The AP Stylebook, considered a news industry bible, defines assassination as “the murder of a politically important or prominent individual by surprise attack.”

Although the United States and Iran have long been adversaries and engaged in a shadow war in the Middle East and elsewhere, the U.S. has never declared formal war on Iran. So the targeted killing of a high Iranian state and military official by a surprise attack was “clearly an assassination,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, an expert in international law and the laws of war at the University of Notre Dame School of Law.

Just as clearly, the Trump administration doesn’t agree.

Though a statement issued by the Pentagon said the attack was specifically intended to kill Soleimani and that it was ordered “at the direction of the President,” it also characterized the killing as defensive, to protect U.S. military forces abroad, and stated that Soleimani was actively developing plans “to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” Subsequent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump also characterized the killing as punishment of Soleimani for past blood on his hands.

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Trump stirs Mideast tensions despite talk of ‘endless wars’

WASHINGTON (AP) — With a single drone strike, President Donald Trump did more than just take out an avowed enemy of the United States. He may have have also upended a central element of his foreign policy.

The Friday strike that killed the most prominent Iranian general may have ended any chance that he would get the United States out of the “endless wars” in the Middle East that he has railed against since taking office.

The killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad has the world bracing for a possible retaliation, with many fearing it could lead to a wider conflict.

“It is probably the most profound escalation that the United States could have taken,” said Ned Price, who served on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.

Trump has been on a confrontational path with Iran since even before he took office, when he pledged to end the Iran nuclear deal signed by Obama. He insisted he doesn’t want war and the killing of Soleimani wasn’t meant to provoke the Islamic Republic.

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Ex-Nissan chief made escape to Beirut aboard charter flights

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Charter flights that spirited ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn from Japan to Istanbul and from there to Beirut — an escape made possible with the help of an airline employee who falsified records. Security camera footage reportedly showing he simply walked out of his Tokyo home hours before fleeing the country.

Details emerged Friday of the bizarre path to freedom that allowed the ex-Nissan boss to jump $14 million bail, seemingly under the noses of Japanese authorities, and evade charges of financial misconduct that could carry a jail sentence of up to 15 years.

The improbable weekend escape has confounded and embarrassed Japanese authorities, even setting off wild speculation that Ghosn was carted off inside a musical instrument case from his home, which was under 24-hour surveillance.

But on Friday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV cited investigative sources as saying security footage showed he simply walked out of the house alone around noon on Sunday. Details also emerged about the route the fallen auto industry executive took to Lebanon, where he grew up and is considered something of a national hero.

Turkish airline company MNG Jet said that two of its planes were used illegally in Ghosn’s escape, first flying him from Osaka, Japan, to Istanbul, and then on to Beirut, where he arrived Monday and has not been seen since.

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Methodists propose split in gay marriage, clergy impasse

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — United Methodist Church leaders from around the world and across ideological divides unveiled a plan Friday for a new conservative denomination that would split from the church in an attempt to resolve a decades-long dispute over gay marriage and gay clergy.

The proposal, called “A Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation,” envisions an amicable separation in which conservative churches forming a new denomination would retain their assets. The new denomination also would receive $25 million.

The proposal was signed in December by a 16-member panel, who worked with a mediator and began meeting in October. The panel was formed after it became clear the impasse over LGBTQ issues was irreconcilable. The next step could come at the church’s General Conference in May.

Methodist Bishop Karen Oliveto, the denomination’s first openly gay bishop, said the United Methodist Church leadership “was clearly at a point in which we couldn’t agree to disagree” over same-sex relationships. “I’m actually really sad that we couldn’t build a bridge that could have provided a witness to the world of what unity amid diversity and disagreement could look like.” Oliveto was challenged by the denomination’s highest court, the Judicial Council, in 2017 when it declared that the bishop’s consecration “was incompatible with church law.”

However, Oliveto was allowed to remain as the resident bishop of the Mountain Sky Conference, which includes United Methodist churches in Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and a section of Idaho. Asked what a post-separation world looks like for the church to move forward, Oliveto said, “We are no longer using LGBTQ people as scapegoats.”

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AP Exclusive: Sierra skeleton ID’d as ‘ghost of Manzanar’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A skeleton found by hikers this fall near California’s second-highest peak was identified Friday as a Japanese American artist who had left the Manzanar internment camp to paint in the mountains in the waning days of World War II.

The Inyo County sheriff used DNA to identify the remains of Giichi Matsumura, who succumbed to the elements during a freak summer snow storm while on a hiking trip with other members of the camp. Matsumura had apparently stopped to paint a watercolour while the other men, a group of anglers, continued toward a lake to fish.

His body wasn’t found for another month, and the tragedy was overshadowed in the immediate days after his Aug. 2, 1945 disappearance when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb, hastening Japan’s surrender in the war. Matsumura was one of more than 1,800 detainees who died in the 10 prison camps in the West, though it’s one of the more unusual deaths.

While his burial in the mountains was well known among members of the camp and his family, the story faded over time and the location of the grave site in a remote boulder-strewn area 12,000 feet above sea level was lost to time.

Lori Matsumura, the granddaughter who provided the DNA sample, was surprised when Sgt. Nate Derr of the Inyo County sheriff’s office contacted her to say they believed her grandfather’s remains had been discovered. After all, he had been found nearly 75 years ago and buried.

The Associated Press

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