Sunday, August 23, 2015

US airman says train attacker 'ready to fight to the end' and 'so were we'

PARIS (AP) — Three American travelers say they relied on gut instinct and a close bond forged over years of friendship as they took down a heavily armed man on a passenger train speeding through Belgium.

U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, recounting for the first time on Sunday how a likely catastrophe was averted two days earlier, said the gunman, an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest, seemed like he was "ready to fight to the end." But he added, "So were we."

Without a note of bravado but a huge dose of humility, the three described Friday's drama on an Amsterdam-to-Paris fast train.

His arm in a sling, Stone, 23, said he was coming out of a deep sleep when the gunman appeared.

One of his friends, Alek Skarlatos, a 22-year-old National Guardsman recently back from Afghanistan, "just hit me on the shoulder and said 'Let's go.'"

___

Activists say Islamic State militants destroyed a temple at Syria's ancient ruins of Palmyra

BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants have destroyed a temple at Syria's ancient ruins of Palmyra, activists said Sunday, realizing the worst fears archaeologists had for the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city after the extremists seized it and beheaded a local scholar.

Palmyra, one of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits near the modern Syrian city of the same name. Activists said the militants used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple on its grounds, the blast so powerful it also damaged some of the Roman columns around it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday night that the temple was blown up a month ago. Turkey-based activist Osama al-Khatib, who is originally from Palmyra, said the temple was blown up Sunday. Both said the extremists used a large amount of explosives to destroy it.

Both activists relied on information for those still in Palmyra and the discrepancy in their accounts could not be immediately reconciled, though such contradictory information is common in Syria's long civil war.

The fate of the nearby Temple of Bel, dedicated to the Semitic god Bel, was not immediately known. Islamic State group supporters on social media also did not immediately mention the temple's destruction.

___

Jimmy Carter's cancer fight puts new meaning in familiar message at Sunday school

PLAINS, Ga. (AP) — The Sunday school lesson was familiar: When your burden grows heavy, ask God for strength. But the message carried a more powerful and personal meaning than usual because of who delivered it: Jimmy Carter.

The 90-year-old former president taught Sunday school in his hometown for the first time since he disclosed on Thursday that his cancer had spread to his brain.

With easygoing humor and his usual toothy smile, Carter gave two back-to-back Bible lessons to unusually large crowds totaling more than 700 people — some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles — just three days after undergoing radiation treatment.

He spent less than five minutes recapping his illness before saying, "That's enough of that subject" and beginning the lesson on faith, love and relationships.

Carter said he and his wife of 69 years, Rosalynn, resolved never go to sleep without settling their differences.

___

UAE frees British hostage held by al-Qaida in Yemen as militants advance amid conflict

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates said Sunday that its military freed a British hostage who was kidnapped 18 months ago by al-Qaida in Yemen, which has expanded its reach amid fighting between Shiite rebels and their opponents.

A statement carried by the UAE's official WAM news agency identified the British hostage as Robert Douglas Semple, after initially referring to him as Douglas Robert Semple. It said Semple, 64, had been working as a petroleum engineer in the Yemeni province of Hadramawt when he was kidnapped in February 2014. The statement did not say where Semple had been held in Yemen or provide any details on the rescue.

Yemeni security officials contacted by The Associated Press said they were not aware of any Yemeni forces assisting in the operation and did not have details about how Semple was released, suggesting his handover may have been negotiated among local tribesmen before the involvement of Emirati forces.

Al-Qaida's Yemen branch, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has been consolidating its control in Hadramawt, the country's largest province, where Semple was kidnapped. The group captured a large weapons depot, an airport, an oil terminal and the area's main military base in April, and it controls the provincial capital, Mukalla.

On Saturday, Yemeni security officials told The Associated Press that al-Qaida militants also seized control of areas in and around the southern port city of Aden, where the rebels had recently been driven out by an array of fighters backed by Saudi-led airstrikes.

___

Senate Democratic leader Reid says he's going to support Obama's Iran deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid on Sunday threw his full support behind President Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, saying "it is the best path to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

"I strongly support the historic agreement and will do everything in my power to ensure that it stands," said Reid, D-Nev., in a news release.

Reid is the 27th Senate Democrat to back the deal and the highest ranking in the Senate. His support will make it difficult for opponents to muster the veto-proof numbers needed in the Senate, and therefore, in Congress to scuttle the agreement.

Republicans and the Israeli government furiously oppose the deal signed by the U.S., Iran and five world powers, which seeks to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb in exchange for billions in international sanctions relief. They say Obama's agreement makes too many concessions to Iran and could actually enable that country to become a nuclear-armed state.

But it is looking less and less likely that opponents can garner sufficient support. Congress plans a vote next month on a resolution disapproving of the deal, which Obama has threatened to veto. Opponents would then need two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate to override.

___

After the storm, a hunger for the comforts of tradition emerges in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — I'm normally not much of a meal planner but I know what I'm going to have for lunch one week from Monday.

Red beans and rice. On Monday. It's a tradition bordering on the cliché in New Orleans, but I've grown to embrace such customs more readily in the last decade, even those that seem a little clichéd.

Parades snarling traffic? No problem. People getting tears in their eyes when they hear Louis Armstrong sing "Do You Know What it Means?" I understand.

Ten years ago next Monday, the storm was two days' past. Whole neighborhoods had all but disappeared under water that was still flowing in through failed levees. Thousands were stranded. No power. No running water. Food and drink in short supply.

Lives were being lost and ways of life were in danger.

___

Thousands of EU-bound migrants board trains and buses in Macedonia a day after storming border

GEVGELIJA, Macedonia (AP) — Thousands of beleaguered migrants — mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing bloody conflicts — crammed into trains and buses in Macedonia that brought them one step closer to the European Union on Sunday, a day after they stormed past police trying to block them from entering the country from Greece.

On Saturday, about 2,000 rain-soaked migrants rushed past baton-wielding Macedonian officers, who had been sealing the border for three days. Police fired stun grenades and dozens of people were injured as the migrants leapt over barbed wire or ran across a field not protected by the fence to enter Macedonia.

After the incident, police decided to allow migrants to cross the border freely again from Greece, which is also overwhelmed by the human tide. Police officials said that the blockade was imposed to try and stem the overflow of people that had caused chaotic scenes at a railway station in the Macedonian town of Gevgelija as thousands tried to secure places on overcrowded trains.

On Sunday, the migrants — many with children and babies — orderly boarded trains and buses that took them to the border with Serbia before heading farther north toward EU-member Hungary, which is building a razor wire fence on its frontier to prevent them from entering. If they manage to enter Hungary, the migrants could travel freely across the borders of most of the 28 EU-member states.

The more than 5,000 migrants who reached Serbia overnight faced an overcrowded refugee center where they have to apply for asylum — the paper that allows them three days to reach Hungary. State Serbian TV said that a woman gave birth overnight inside the center and that many people are sick and injured from Saturday's clashes.

___

Advances in panda breeding mean twin cubs at National Zoo have good chance of survival

WASHINGTON (AP) — In more than three decades of trying to breed pandas at the National Zoo, there's been plenty of heartbreak. More cubs born in Washington have died than survived, and news of a birth has often been greeted warily.

But on Sunday, zoo officials were nearly giddy. They don't just have an apparently healthy pair of twins, born Saturday night to panda mom Mei Xiang. They have a template to follow that gives the cubs a strong chance of survival.

Pandas won't usually nurse twins if left to their own devices. They'll care for one and allow the other to die. But in the past decade, Chinese breeders have come up with a system: Every several hours, they swap out the cubs, giving each one the critical time it needs to nurse and bond with its mother. Meanwhile, the other one is kept in an incubator.

Panda keepers at the Smithsonian's National Zoo will continue performing these delicate swaps as long as it's needed and as long as Mei Xiang lets them. By late Sunday afternoon, the twins had traded places three times without incident, with Mei Xiang cradling them in turn.

"If she gets aggressive toward us, we're not going to get that close," giant panda biologist Laurie Thompson said Sunday.

___

Boaters mapping garbage patch in Pacific Ocean return to San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Scientists and volunteers who have spent the last month gathering data on how much plastic garbage is floating in the Pacific Ocean returned to San Francisco on Sunday and said most of the trash they found is medium to large-sized pieces, as opposed to tiny ones.

Volunteer crews on 30 boats have been measuring the size and mapping the location of tons of plastic waste floating between the West Coast and Hawaii that according to some estimates covers an area twice the size of Texas.

"It was a good illustration of why it is such an urgent thing to clean up because if we don't clean it up soon then we'll give the big plastic time to break into smaller and smaller pieces," said Boyan Slat, who has developed a technology that he says can start removing the garbage by 2020.

A 171-foot mother ship carrying fishing nets, buckets, buoys and bottles, among other items, and two sailing boats with volunteers who helped collect the garbage samples arrived in San Francisco's Piers 30-32. The boats went on a 30-day voyage as part of the "Mega Expedition," a major step in an effort to eventually clean up what's known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The expedition was sponsored by The Ocean Cleanup, an organization founded by Slat, a 21-year-old innovator from the Netherlands.

___

'Straight Outta Compton' tops box office for second week with $26.8 million weekend

NEW YORK (AP) — "Straight Outta Compton" easily maintained its box-office lead with an estimated $26.8 million in ticket sales over a sleepy late summer weekend at North American multiplexes, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Universal's N.W.A biopic, a much buzzed-about hit, dominated over the late August releases that often characterize Hollywood's dog days of summer. It has now made $111.5 million in two weeks, and continued to drive moviegoers, both male and female, despite renewed charges of misogyny in N.W.A lyrics and the film overlooking claims of Dr. Dre's abuse of women.

In a statement Friday, the rapper and producer of "Straight Outta Compton" said: "I apologize to the women I've hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives."

Of the weekend's new releases, the low-budget horror sequel "Sinister 2" fared best, opening with an estimated $10.6 million for the Blumhouse production — well below the $18 million the 2012 original debuted with. The result was good enough for third place, behind Paramount's "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation," which made $11.7 million in its fourth weekend of release.

Fox's assassin thriller "Hitman: Agent 47," the second attempt in eight years to adapt the popular video game, disappointed with $8.2 million. It will hope to do better abroad, where the 2007 original made $60.3 million. It began with $8.5 million over the weekend internationally.

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.