Iran says it ‘unintentionally’ shot down Ukrainian jetliner
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran announced Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.
The plane was shot down early Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad. No one was wounded in the attack on the bases.
A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military centre” of the Revolutionary Guard. The military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the statement said. It apologized for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent future tragedies.
It also said those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted.
Trump ups Iran accusations, says 4 US embassies targeted
WASHINGTON (AP) — Confronted by persistent questions about his military action in the Middle East, President Donald Trump and his top officials offered a string of fresh explanations Friday, with Trump now contending Iranian militants had planned major attacks on four U.S. embassies.
Just hours earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the U.S. didn’t know when or where attacks might occur. Trump and other officials insisted anew that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani had posed an imminent threat to the U.S., but they rebuffed repeated attempts to explain what they meant by “imminent.”
Trump, meanwhile, announced additional sanctions against Iran, which he had promised after a barrage of missiles fired by the Islamic State against American bases in Iraq earlier this week.
Those Iranian missiles, which caused no casualties, were prompted by the U.S. drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week in Baghdad. That U.S. assault set off a chain of events that may have included the downing of a Ukrainian jetliner, possibly by an Iranian missile, and calls by the Iraqi government to expel U.S. troops from their country.
At the White House, Trump issued an executive order adding additional U.S. sanctions to the already long list his administration had imposed in an effort to force Iran to accept a new agreement that would curb its nuclear program and to halt support for militant groups throughout the Middle East.
White House considering dramatic expansion of travel ban
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is considering dramatically expanding its much-litigated travel ban to additional countries amid a renewed election-year focus on immigration by President Donald Trump, according to six people familiar with the deliberations.
A document outlining the plans — timed to coincide with the third anniversary of Trump’s January 2017 executive order — has been circulating the White House. But the countries that would be affected if it moves forward are blacked out, according to two of the people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the measure has yet to be finalized.
It’s unclear exactly how many countries would be included in the expansion if it proceeds, but two of the people said that seven countries — a majority of them Muslim — would be added to the list. The most recent iteration of the ban includes restrictions on five majority-Muslim nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as Venezuela and North Korea.
A different person said the expansion could include several countries that were covered in the first iteration of Trump’s ban, but later removed amid rounds of contentious litigation. Iraq, Sudan and Chad, for instance, had originally been affected by the order, which the Supreme Court upheld in a 5-4 vote after the administration released a watered-down version intended to withstand legal scrutiny.
Trump, who had floated a banning all Muslims from entering the country during his 2016 campaign, criticized his Justice Department for the changes, tweeting that DOJ “should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”
US tried to take out another Iranian leader, but failed
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military tried, but failed, to take out another senior Iranian commander on the same day that an American airstrike killed the Revolutionary Guard’s top general, U.S. officials said Friday.
The officials said a military airstrike by special operations forces targeted Abdul Reza Shahlai, a high-ranking commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps but the mission was not successful. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a classified mission.
Officials said both Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Shahlai were on approved military targeting lists, which indicates a deliberate effort by the U.S. to cripple the leadership of Iran’s Quds force, which has been designated a terror organization by the U.S. Officials would not say how the mission failed.
A U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 killed Soleimani shortly after he landed at Baghdad International Airport. Trump administration officials have justified the killing as an act of self-defence, saying he was planning military acts that threatened large numbers of American military and diplomatic officials in the Middle East. Iran, however, called the attack an act of terrorism, and on Jan. 8 it launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq that house American and coalition forces. No one was killed in that retaliation.
The State Department offered a reward of $15 million early last month for information leading to the disruption of IRGC finances, including Shahlai, a key financier in the organization. The State Department said he “has a long history of targeting Americans and U.S. allies globally,” and planned multiple assassinations of coalition forces in Iraq. It said that his activities included providing weapons and explosives to Shia militia groups and directing a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., in 2011.
Man burned as huge wildfire forms during Australia crisis
BURRAGATE, Australia (AP) — Two wildfires merged to form a massive inferno in southeast Australia on Saturday, near where a man suffered serious burns protecting a home during a night of treacherous conditions during the nation’s unprecedented fire crisis.
Authorities were assessing the damage after firefighters battled flames fanned by strong winds through the night and lightning strikes sparked new blazes in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states. Conditions were milder Saturday and forecast to remain relatively benign for the next week.
“In the scheme of things, we did OK last night,” Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters that officials were “extremely relieved” the fires were not been more destructive overnight.
A man suffered burns protecting a home near Tumbarumba in southern New South Wales and was airlifted to a Sydney hospital in serious condition to undergo surgery, Fitzsimmons said.
US dismisses Iraq request to work on a troop withdrawal plan
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s caretaker prime minister asked Washington to work out a road map for an American troop withdrawal, but the U.S. State Department on Friday bluntly rejected the request, saying the two sides should instead talk about how to “recommit” to their partnership.
Thousands of anti-government protesters turned out in the capital and southern Iraq, many calling on both Iran and America to leave Iraq, reflecting their anger and frustration over the two rivals — both allies of Baghdad — trading blows on Iraqi soil.
The request from Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi pointed to his determination to push ahead with demands for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, stoked by the American drone strike on Jan. 3 that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In a phone call Thursday night, he told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that recent U.S. actions were unacceptable breaches of Iraqi sovereignty and a violation of their security agreements, his office said.
He asked Pompeo to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism” to carry out the Iraqi Parliament’s resolution on withdrawing foreign troops, according to the statement.
“The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities, and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement added.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who modernized Oman, dies at 79
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Mideast’s longest-ruling monarch who seized power in a 1970 palace coup and pulled his Arabian sultanate into modernity while carefully balancing diplomatic ties between adversaries Iran and the U.S., has died. He was 79.
The state-run Oman News Agency announced his death late Friday on its official Twitter account. The sultan was believed to have been in poor health and travelled to Belgium for what the court described as a medical checkup last month. The royal court declared three days of mourning.
The news agency mourned the death of the Sultan and praised the “towering renaissance” he had presided over. It said his “balanced policy” of mediating between rival camps in a volatile region had earned the world’s respect.
The British-educated, reclusive sultan reformed a nation that was home to only three schools and harsh laws banning electricity, radios, eyeglasses and even umbrellas when he took the throne.
Under his reign, Oman became known as a welcoming tourist destination and a key Mideast interlocutor, helping the U.S. free captives in Iran and Yemen and even hosting visits by Israeli officials while pushing back on their occupation of land Palestinians want for a future state.
Taiwan votes with future of its democracy on the line
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The future of Taiwan’s democracy is on the line as the self-ruled island’s 19 million voters decide on whether to give independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen a second term.
Voting began at 8 a.m. Saturday and wraps up at 4 p.m. The vote count will begin soon after, with results expected later in the evening.
Tsai and her main challenger, Han Kuo-yu of the Nationalist Party, both voted shortly after polls opened. Han voted in Kaohsiung, the city in southern Taiwan where he is mayor.
“I hope every citizen can come out and vote,” Tsai said after casting her vote in Taipei, the capital. “You should exercise your rights to make democracy stronger in Taiwan.”
For many in Taiwan, months of protests in Hong Kong have cast in stark relief the contrast between their democratically governed island and authoritarian, communist-ruled mainland China.
NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the real facts:
CLAIM: Photo shows Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
THE FACTS: The image was manipulated to replace the former prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, with Rouhani. The original photo was taken in 2011. Arizona congressman Paul Gosar shared the manipulated image with Rouhani from his personal Twitter account on Jan. 6. “The world is a better place without these guys in power,” Gosar said in the tweet, which was shared more than 5,000 times.
Other Twitter users immediately highlighted the tweet as false. After being criticized for posting the false photo, Gosar tweeted: “No one said this wasn’t photoshopped. No one said the president of Iran was dead. No one said Obama met with Rouhani in person.”
Texas governor to reject new refugees, first under Trump
HOUSTON (AP) — Texas will no longer accept the resettlement of new refugees, becoming the first state known to do so under a recent Trump administration order, Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday.
Abbott’s announcement could have major implications for refugees coming to the United States. Texas has large refugee populations in several of its cities and has long been a leader in settling refugees, taking in more than any other state during the 2018 governmental fiscal year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Since the 2002 fiscal year, Texas has resettled an estimated 88,300 refugees, second only to California, according to the Pew Research Center.
In a letter released Friday, Abbott wrote that Texas “has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.” He added that Texas has done “more than its share.”
Abbott argued that the state and its non-profit organizations should instead focus on “those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless — indeed, all Texans.”
The Associated Press