Iran strikes back at US with missile attack at bases in Iraq
In this Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019
file photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western
Anbar desert, Iraq.(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)
By NASSER KARIMI, AMIR VAHDAT and JON GAMBRELL
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran
struck back at the United States early Wednesday for killing a top
Revolutionary Guard commander, firing a series of ballistic missiles at two
military bases in Iraq that house American troops in a major escalation
between the two longtime foes.
It was Iran's most direct assault on
America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and Iranian
state TV said it was in revenge for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard
Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose death last week in an American drone strike
near Baghdad prompted angry calls to avenge his slaying. A U.S. and Iraqi
officials said there were no immediate reports of casualties, though
buildings were still being searched. The Iraqi government later confirmed
there were no casualties among Iraqi forces.
A presenter on Iranian state
television later claimed, without offering evidence, that the strikes killed
"at least 80 terrorist U.S soldiers" and also damaged helicopters, drones
and other equipment at the Ain al-Asad air base.
The strikes, which came as Iran
buried Soleimani, raised fears that the two longtime foes were closer to
war. But there were some indications that there would not be further
retaliation on either side, at least in the short term.
'All is well!' President Donald
Trump tweeted shortly after the missile attacks, adding, 'So far, so good'
regarding casualties. Moments earlier, Iran's foreign minister tweeted that
Tehran had taken "& concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,"
adding that Tehran did "not seek escalation" but would defend itself against
In Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei called the missile strike on the U.S. bases in Iraq a "slap in
the face" of the Americans, adding that military retaliation is not
sufficient. "The corrupt presence of the U.S. in the region should come to
end," he said.
The killing of Soleimani — a
national hero to many in Iran — and strikes by Tehran came as tensions have
been rising steadily across the Mideast after Trump's decision to
unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.
They also marked the first time in recent years that Washington and Tehran
have attacked each other directly rather than through proxies in the region.
It raised the chances of open conflict erupting between the two enemies, who
have been at odds since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent
U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis.
Adding to the chaos and overall
jitters, a Ukrainian airplane with at least 170 people crashed after takeoff
just outside Tehran on Wednesday morning, killing all on board, state TV
reported. The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport
and mechanical issues were suspected, the report said.
Iran initially announced only one
missile strike, but U.S. officials confirmed both. U.S. defense officials
were at the White House, likely to discuss options with Trump, who launched
the attack on Soleimani while facing an upcoming impeachment trial in the
Iran's Revolutionary Guard warned
the U.S. and its regional allies against retaliating over the missile attack
on the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq's western Anbar province. The Guard
issued the warning via a statement carried by Iran's state-run IRNA news
"We are warning all American allies,
who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the
starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted," the Guard
said. It also threatened Israel.
After the strikes, a former Iranian
nuclear negotiator posted a picture of the Islamic Republic's flag on
Twitter, appearing to mimic Trump who posted an American flag following the
killing of Soleimani and others Friday.
Ain al-Asad air base was first used
by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator
Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight
against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It houses about 1,500
U.S. and coalition forces. The U.S. also acknowledged another missile attack
targeting a base in Irbil in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
The Iranians fired a total of 15
missiles, two U.S. officials said. Ten hit Ain al-Asad and one the base in
Irbil. Four failed, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak
publicly about a military operation.
Two Iraqi security officials said at
least one of the missiles appeared to have struck a plane at the Ain al-Asad
base, igniting a fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from
the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity
as they had no permission to talk to journalists.
About 70 Norwegian troops also were
on the air base but no injuries were reported, BrynjarStordal, a
spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces told The Associated Press.
Trump visited the sprawling Ain al-Asad
air base, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad, in December 2018,
making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President
Mike Pence also has visited the base.
"As we evaluate the situation and
our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S.
personnel, partners and allies in the region," said Jonathan Hoffman, an
assistant to the U.S. defense secretary.
Wednesday's missile strikes happened
a few hours after crowds in Iran mourned Soleimani at his funeral. It also
came the U.S. continued to reinforce its own positions in the region and
warned of an unspecified threat to shipping from Iran in the Mideast
waterways, crucial routes for global energy supplies. U.S. embassies and
consulates from Asia to Africa and Europe issued security alerts for
Americans. The FAA also warned of a "potential for miscalculation or mis-identification"
for civilian aircraft in the Persian Gulf amid in an emergency flight
A stampede broke out Tuesday at
Soleimani's funeral, and at least 56 people were killed and more than 200
were injured as thousands thronged the procession, Iranian news reports
said. Shortly after Wednesday's missile attack, Soleimani's shroud-wrapped
remains were lowered into the ground as mourners wailed at the grave site.
Tuesday's deadly stampede took place
in Soleimani's hometown of Kerman as his coffin was being borne through the
city in southeastern Iran, said PirhosseinKoulivand, head of Iran's
emergency medical services.
There was no information about what
set off the crush in the packed streets, and online videos showed only its
aftermath: people lying apparently lifeless, their faces covered by
clothing, emergency crews performing CPR on the fallen, and onlookers
wailing and crying out to God.
Hossein Salami, Soleimani's
successor as leader of the Revolutionary Guard, earlier addressed a crowd of
supporters in Kernan and vowed to avenge Soleimani.
"We tell our enemies that we will
retaliate but if they take another action we will set ablaze the places that
they like and are passionate about," Salami said.
Soleimani was laid to rest between
the graves of EnayatollahTalebizadeh and Mohammad Hossein Yousef Elahi, two
former Guard comrades killed in Iran's 1980s war with Iraq. They died in
Operation Dawn 8, in which Soleimani also took part. It was a 1986
amphibious assault that cut Iraq off from the Persian Gulf and led to the
end of the war that killed 1 million.
The funeral processions in major
cities over three days have been an unprecedented honor for Soleimani, seen
by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard's
expeditionary Quds Force.
The U.S. blames him for killing U.S.
troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before he was
killed. Soleimani also led forces supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad
in that country's civil war. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Assad
in Syria on Tuesday amid the tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Soleimani's slaying has also led
Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world
powers while in Iraq, pro-Iranian factions in parliament have pushed to oust
American troops from Iraqi soil.
The FAA warning issued barred U.S.
pilots and carriers from flying over areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some
Persian Gulf airspace. The region is a major East-West travel hub and home
to Emirates airline and Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for
international travel. It earlier issued warnings after Iran shot down a U.S.
military surveillance drone last year that saw airlines plan new routes to
avoid the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The U.S. Maritime Administration
warned ships across the Mideast, citing the rising threats. Oil tankers were
targeted in mine attacks last year that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran
denied responsibility, although it did seize oil tankers around the Strait
of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world's crude oil travels.
The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th
Fleet said it would work with shippers in the region to minimize any
Ukrainian airplane crashes near Iran's capital, killing 176
A rescue worker searches the scene where an Ukrainian
plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran,
Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
NASIRI, NASSER KARIMI and JON GAMBRELL
SHAHEDSHAHR, Iran (AP) — A
Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday, just
minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital's main airport, turning
farmland on the outskirts of Tehran into fields of flaming debris and
killing all on board.
The crash of Ukraine International
Airlines came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi
bases housing U.S. soldiers, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials said
they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
The plane carried 167 passengers and
nine crew members from different nations. Ukraine's foreign minister,
VadymPrystaiko, said that there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11
Ukrainians on board — the Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and
the nine crew. There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and
three British nationals.
Airline officials said most of the
passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, transiting through
there to other destinations.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr
Zelenskiy extended his condolences to the families of the victims. His
office said he had cut his visit to Oman short and was returning to Kyiv
because of the crash. The country's Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk
confirmed the casualty toll.
"Our task is to establish the cause
of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of
the victims," said parliament speaker, Dmytro Razumkov, in a Facebook
Ukraine International Airlines said
it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash. "It was one
of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew," YevhenDykhne,
president of the Ukraine International Airlines, said at a briefing
following the crash.
Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president,
ordered a sweeping inspection of all civil airplanes in the country, "no
matter the conclusions about the crash in Iran."
The plane had been delayed from
taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It
took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet in the air,
according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
It remains unclear what happened.
Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran's Road and Transportation Ministry, said
it appeared a fire struck one of its engines. The pilot of the aircraft then
lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said,
according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air
crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn't
communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of
the flight. He did not elaborate.
Ukrainian authorities have offered
to help with the investigation of the plane crash. "We're preparing a group
of specialists in order to help with the search operation and the
investigation of the cause of the crash," Honcharuk said.
The plane, fully loaded with fuel
for its 2,300-kilometer (1,430-mile) flight, slammed into farmland near the
town of Shahedshahr on the outskirts of Tehran. Videos taken immediately
after the crash show blazes lighting up the darkened fields before dawn.
Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said
he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on
U.S. forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen.
Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.
"I heard a massive explosion and all
the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere," he told The
Associated Press. "At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with
missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out
and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around
The majority of the passengers were
Iranian nationals, Russia's RIA Novosti agency reported, citing Iranian
authorities. Staff at the Boryspil airport in Kyiv, told the AP that
passengers on this flight are usually Iranian students coming back to
Ukraine after winter holidays
AP journalists who reached the crash
site saw a wide field of field of debris scattered across farmland, the dead
laying among shattered pieces of the aircraft. Their possessions, a child's
cartoon-covered electric toothbrush, a stuffed animal, luggage and
electronics, stretched everywhere.
Rescuers in masks shouted over the
noise of hovering helicopters as they worked. They quickly realized there
would be no survivors.
"The only thing that the pilot
managed to do was steer the plane towards a soccer field near here instead
of a residential area back there," witness ArefGeravand said. "It crashed
near the field and in a water canal."
The Boeing 737-800 is a very common
single-aisle, twin-engine jetliner used for short to medium-range flights.
Thousands of the planes are used by airlines around the world.
Introduced in the late 1990s, it is
an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly
10 months following two deadly crashes. Boeing built the aircraft that
crashed Wednesday in 2016 and it last underwent routine maintenance on
Monday, Ukraine International Airlines said.
A number of 737-800 aircraft have
been involved in deadly accidents over the years.
In March 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800
from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia,
killing 62 onboard. Another 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India
Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India,
killing more than 150 onboard.
Chicago-based Boeing Co. was "aware
of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information,"
spokesman Michael Friedman told the AP.
Boeing, like other airline
manufacturers, typically assists in crash investigations. However, that
effort in this case could be affected by the U.S. sanctions campaign in
place on Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from
Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.
Both Airbus and Boeing had been in
line to sell billions of dollars of aircraft to Iran over the deal, which
saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of
economic sanctions. But Trump's decision halted the sales.
Under decades of international
sanctions, Iran's commercial passenger aircraft fleet has aged, with air
accidents occurring regularly for domestic carriers in recent years,
resulting in hundreds of casualties.
Commercial airlines reroute flights amid U.S.-Iran tensions
In this Aug. 20, 2015 file photo, two Qantas planes taxi
on the runway at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft,
NEW DELHI (AP) — Commercial
airlines on Wednesday rerouted flights crossing the Middle East to avoid
possible danger amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
The flight restrictions reflected
fears that the conflict between the longtime foes could ratchet up following
Iranian ballistic missile strikes Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S.
troops. Those strikes were retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad
Paris-based Air France said it had
suspended all flights over Iran and Iraq airspace indefinitely.
Australian carrier Qantas said it
was altering its London to Perth, Australia, route to avoid Iran and Iraq
airspace until further notice. The longer route meant that Qantas would have
to carry fewer passengers and more fuel to remain in the air for an extra 40
to 50 minutes.
Malaysia Airlines said that "due to
recent events," its planes would avoid Iranian airspace.
Singapore Airlines also said that
its flights to Europe would be re-routed to avoid Iran.
The U.S. Federal Aviation
Administration said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying
in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace. The agency warned
of the "potential for miscalculation or mis-identification" for civilian
aircraft amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Such restrictions are often
precautionary in nature to prevent civilian aircraft from being confused for
ones engaged in armed conflict. The FAA said the restrictions were being
issued due to "heightened military activities and increased political
tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil
Following the FAA, India's
Directorate General of Civil Aviation advised Indian commercial carriers to
avoid Iranian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace.
German airline Lufthansa said it had
canceled its flight from Frankfurt to Tehran on Wednesday and another flight
Saturday in Erbil in light of the current situation. Lufthansa subsidiary
Austrian Airlines had also canceled service to Erbil.
The Russian aviation agency,
Rosaviatsia, also issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines
to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman "due
to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights."
Russia's biggest private airline,
S7, said it would reroute its twice-a-week flight from the Siberian city of
Novosibirsk to Dubai.
Russian carrier Ural Airlines was
working up alternative routes for their flights to Bahrain, Dubai and Ras Al
Khaimah to avoid flying over Iran's airspace, the carrier's spokeswoman said
At least two Kazakh airlines — Air
Astana and SCAT — were considering rerouting or canceling their flights over
Iran following the crash of a Ukrainian plane that killed 176 people.
The plane had taken off from Imam
Khomeini International Airport in the Iranian capital when a fire struck one
of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran's Road and
Kazakhstan's officials said that Air
Astana, the country's flagship carrier, "is currently holding a meeting on
whether to reroute or ban" flights. SCAT, one of the largest airlines in
Kazakhstan, told Russia's Interfax news agency that they were also
considering rerouting flights.
United Arab Emirates-owned budget
airline flydubai said it had canceled a scheduled flight Wednesday from
Dubai to Baghdad, but was continuing flights to Basra and Najaf.
Emirates airline flights between
Dubai and Baghdad were canceled.
"The safety of our passengers, crew
and aircraft is our number one priority and will not be compromised,"
Emirates said in a statement.
Qatar Airways, however, said its
flights to Iraq were operating normally.
"The safety of our passengers and
employees is of the highest importance, and we continue to closely monitor
developments in Iraq," the airline said in a statement.
And Buta Airways, an Azerbaijani
low-cost carrier, said Wednesday it was not planning to suspend or reroute
daily flights between Baku, the country's capital, and Tehran.
Boeing now saying pilots need simulator training for 737 Max
In this Dec. 11, 2019, file photo, an United Airlines
Boeing 737 Max airplane takes off in the rain at Renton Municipal Airport in
Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing said Tuesday it is
recommending that pilots receive training in a flight simulator before the
grounded 737 Max returns to flying, a reversal of the company's long-held
position that computer-based training alone was adequate.
The recommendation is based on
changes to the plane, results from tests involving a small number of pilots,
and a commitment to the safe return of the Max, Boeing said.
The final decision on the nature of
training will be up to the Federal Aviation Administration and regulators in
other countries. The FAA said it will consider Boeing's recommendation but
also rely on upcoming further tests using pilots from U.S. and foreign
Those tests are designed to help
regulators determine flight training and emergency procedures, said FAA
spokesman Lynn Lunsford.
"The FAA is following a thorough
process, not a set timeline, to ensure that any design modifications to the
737 Max are integrated with appropriate training and procedures," Lunsford
The 737 Max has been grounded
worldwide since last March after two crashes killed 346 people. Boeing is
making changes to flight-control software and other systems in a bid to get
the plane back in the air.
Boeing long held that pilots who can
fly older 737s only needed a computer course — roughly an hour-long course
on a tablet — to fly the Max. That helped airlines avoid timely and costly
training in simulators.
Boeing even offered to pay Southwest
Airlines a rebate of $1 million per plane if pilots needed simulator
training before flying the Max.
Last year, an FAA technical advisory
board sided with Boeing and recommended that only computer-based training
was needed. However, families of victims of the two crashes lobbied for
simulator training, arguing that pilots need to experience how the Max
differs from previous versions of the 737.
"Of course this should be required,"
Nadia Milleron, a Massachusetts woman whose daughter, Samya Stumo, died in
the March 2019 Max crash in Ethiopia, said after Boeing's announcement.
"Passengers should not have to push for basic safety standards."
Similarly, the chairman of a
congressional panel investigating Boeing said the company's endorsement of
simulator training was welcome but overdue.
"It's remarkable that it took two
deadly crashes, numerous investigations and untold public pressure before
Boeing arrived at this decision," said Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of
the House Transportation Committee. He said Boeing "put production and
profits ahead of the public's safety" by assuring airlines that its 737
pilots could fly the Max without going through simulator training.
Boeing's interim CEO, Greg Smith,
said in a statement that Boeing decided to recommend simulator training
because of the importance to Boeing of gaining public and airline confidence
in the Max.
U.S. pilot unions stood by Boeing
and vouched for the Max's safety after the first crash, in Indonesia in
October 2018. The American Airlines union said last April that pilots should
practice certain emergencies in a simulator — but only as part of regular
training and not necessarily before the Max returned.
Dennis Tajer, a 737 pilot and
spokesman for the union, said Tuesday that as more revelations emerged about
the design of key systems, the union grew skeptical. He said Boeing's
endorsement of simulator training now "sounds like a step in the positive
The U.S. airlines that own Max jets
— Southwest, American and United — issued muted statements, saying they
would wait for a final decision by FAA.
It is not clear whether a
requirement for simulator training would further delay the return of the
Max, which is costing Boeing billions and forcing airlines to cancel
thousands of flights. About 800 Max jets have been built, and they were
expected to become a bigger part of the fleets at many airlines.
There are only 34 MAX flight
simulators worldwide — Boeing owns eight of them, and more are being made.
But U.S. airlines alone have thousands of 737 pilots -- Southwest has nearly
10,000, and American and United have more than 4,000 each.
The FAA could decide that pilots can
practice Max-related emergency procedures on simulators meant for older 737s
called NG or next generation. Or airlines could split their Max and NG
fleets and train just a small fraction of 737 pilots for the Max. However,
airlines want to avoid that extra complexity, according to industry
Shares of Chicago-based Boeing Co.
rose $3.54, or 1.1%, to close at $337.28. They had gained 3.1% before Boeing
announced its reversal on pilot-training requirements.
VP says Philippine president's drug campaign is a failure
Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo delivers her
statement in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, PhilippinesMonday,
Jan. 6, 2020. (Office of the Vice President via AP)
By JIM GOMEZ
MANILA, Philippines (AP) —
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs has
failed to substantially eradicate the menace and ensnare major drug lords
and should be reformed to prevent further bloodshed, the country's vice
president said Monday.
Vice President Leni Robredo, who
leads the opposition, also called for a stop to the dreaded police practice
of home inspections that have led only to the killings of petty drug
It's the latest criticism of
Duterte's notorious crackdown by the vice president and is likely to deepen
the political divide between the two leaders.
Presidents and vice presidents are
elected separately in the Philippines, resulting in candidates from rival
parties like Duterte and Robredo ending up in the country's top leadership
and often colliding on policies.
Robredo said only about 1% of the
estimated supply of methamphetamine, a powerful banned stimulant locally
known as shabu, has been seized in the last three years, since the crackdown
was launched by Duterte when he took office in mid-2016.
"Very clearly, based on official
data, despite the killings of Filipinos and all the money spent, the amount
of shabu and drug money we've seized has not gone beyond 1% of those in
circulation," Robredo said at a news conference.
"If we really want to end the
scourge of illegal drugs, we need to run after the big suppliers and not
just the small-time pushers," Robredo said, adding the campaign would not
succeed unless it's reformed to be more strategic, better organized and
closely supervised in all aspects by the president.
Her remarks were largely based on
information gathered during a brief stint in a government anti-drugs
committee, which Duterte asked her to help lead last year after being piqued
by her constant criticisms of his bloody crackdown. Robredo surprisingly
accepted the offer, but Duterte fired her after 18 days after she started
seeking confidential information about the campaign.
Presidential spokesman Salvador
Panelo dismissed Robredo's statements, saying Duterte's campaign has
succeeded in closing many drug laboratories and forcing the surrender of a
large number of drug suspects. Big-time drug lords have also been
neutralized, Panelo said, although he failed to immediately provide a list
of those key drug personalities.
"If you noticed, when she was
threatening to release this report, she implied that there were some
irregularities discovered, a bomb that would explode on your face. It's a
dud," Panelo told reporters.
Robredo, a 54-year-old former human
rights lawyer and political newcomer, has openly criticized the campaign
against illegal drugs launched by Duterte, a longtime city mayor and state
prosecutor known for his extra tough approach against criminality and brash
Robredo has said she accepted
Duterte's offer last year to help oversee the crackdown despite warnings by
her advisers and allies, so she may be able to save lives under the
One of her first moves was to
request confidential documents from law enforcers, including a list of key
drug suspects targeted under Duterte's campaign. Duterte warned Robredo
about sharing confidential information about the anti-drug campaign with his
foreign critics, including human rights advocates.
It's the latest twist in the
unprecedentedly massive crackdown Duterte launched after he took office in
June 2016. He promised to end illegal drugs and corruption in six months
during the campaign but failed and later acknowledged that he was
overwhelmed when he found out the immensity of the problems after becoming
More than 6,000 mostly petty drug
suspects have been killed in the crackdown after allegedly resisting arrests
and more than a million others have surrendered, officials say. But human
rights groups have cited a higher death toll and accused some policemen of
killing unarmed suspects based on flimsy evidence and altering crime scenes
to make it look like the suspects violently fought back.
At least two complaints for mass
murder have been filed before the International Criminal Court over the
large-scale deaths, but Duterte and the police have denied condoning
extrajudicial killings under the crackdown.
Duterte has warned that his bloody
campaign will continue up to the last day of his presidency in June 2022.
Stampede kills 32 at funeral for Gen. Qassem Soleimani
Mourners attend a funeral
ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed
in Iraq in a U.S. drone attack on Friday, Jan. 3 as Azadi (freedom) tower is
seen in the foreground, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (Office of
the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
KARIMI, AMIR VAHDAT and JON GAMBRELL
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A stampede
erupted on Tuesday at a funeral procession for a top Iranian general killed
in a U.S. airstrike last week, killing 32 people and injuring 190 others,
Iran's state television reported.
According to the report, the
stampede took place in Kerman, the hometown of Revolutionary Guard Gen.
Qassem Soleimani, as the procession got underway. Initial videos posted
online showed people lying lifeless on a road and others shouting and trying
to help them. His funeral was later delayed but no new timing was given.
Iranian state TV gave the casualty
toll in its online report, citing PirhosseinKoulivand, the head of Iran's
emergency medical services.
"Unfortunately as a result of the
stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been
killed during the funeral processions," he earlier said. In delaying
Soleimani's burial, authorities cited concerns about the massive crowd that
had gathered, the semi-official ISNA news agency said.
A procession in Tehran on Monday
drew over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main
thoroughfares and side streets in Tehran.
Soleimani's death has sparked calls
across Iran for revenge against America for a slaying that's drastically
raised tensions across the Middle East. The U.S. government warned ships of
an unspecified threat from Iran across all the Mideast's waterways, crucial
routes for global energy supplies. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force launched a
drill with 52 stealth bombers in Utah, just days after President Donald
Trump threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.
Early Tuesday, the leader of Iran's
Revolutionary Guard threatened to "set ablaze" places supported by the
United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike
last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of "Death to Israel!"
Hossein Salami made the pledge before a crowd of thousands gathered in a
central square in Kerman before a casket carrying Soleimani's remains.
The outpouring of grief was an
unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his
work leading the Guard's expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for
the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new
attacks just before his death Friday in a drone strike near Baghdad's
airport. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad
in a long war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in
countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
His slaying already has pushed
Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world
powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the
parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi
soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a
Speaking in Kerman, Salami praised
Soleimani's exploits, describing him as essential to backing Palestinian
groups, Yemen's Houthi rebels and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. As a
martyr, Soleimani represented an even greater threat to Iran's enemies,
"We will take revenge. We will set
ablaze where they like," Salami said, drawing the cries of "Death to
Israel is a longtime regional foe of
According to a report on Tuesday by
the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans
for revenge for Soleimani's killing. The report quoted Ali Shamkhani, the
secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, as saying that even
the weakest among them would be a "historic nightmare" for the U.S. He
declined to give any details,
"If the U.S. troops do not leave our
region voluntarily and upright, we will do something to carry their bodies
horizontally out," Shamkhani said.
The U.S. Maritime Administration
warned Tuesday ships across the Mideast, citing the rising threats after the
U.S. killed Soleimani. "The Iranian response to this action, if any, is
unknown, but there remains the possibility of Iranian action against U.S.
maritime interests in the region," it said.
Oil tankers were targeted in mine
attacks last year the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied being responsible
though it did seize oil tankers around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the
narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world's crude oil
The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th
Fleet said it would work with shippers in the region to minimize any
The 5th Fleet "has and will continue
to provide advice to merchant shipping as appropriate regarding recommended
security precautions in light of the heightened tensions and threats in the
region," 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Joshua Frey told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Iranian Gen. Alireza
Tabgsiri, the chief of the Guard's navy, issued his own warning.
"Our message to the enemies is to
leave the region," Tabgsiri said, according to ISNA. The Guard routinely has
tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.
Iran's parliament, meanwhile, has
passed an urgent bill declaring the U.S. military's command at the Pentagon
and those acting on its behalf in Soleimani's killing as "terrorists,"
subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to be an attempt to mirror
a decision by Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist
The U.S. Defense Department used the
Guard's designation as a terror organization in the U.S. to support the
strike that killed Soleimani. The decision by Iran's parliament, done by a
special procedure to speed the bill to law, comes as officials across the
country threaten to retaliate for Soleimani's killing.
The vote also saw lawmakers approve
funding for the Quds Force with an additional 200 million euros, or about
Also Tuesday, Iranian Foreign
Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the U.S. had declined to issue him a visa
to travel to New York for upcoming meetings at the United Nations. The U.S.
as the host of the U.N. headquarters is supposed to allow foreign officials
to attend such meetings.
"This is because they fear someone
will go there and tell the truth to the American people," Zarif said. "But
they are mistaken. The world is not limited to New York. You can speak with
American people from Tehran too and we will do that."
The U.S. State Department did not
immediately respond to a request for comment.
Solemani will ultimately be laid to
rest between the graves of EnayatollahTalebizadeh and Mohammad Hossein
Yousef Elahi, two former Guard comrades. The two died in Operation Dawn 8 in
Iran's 1980s war with Iraq in which Soleimani also took part, a 1986
amphibious assault that cut Iraq off from the Persian Gulf and led to the
end of the bloody war that killed 1 million people.
6.4 quake strikes Puerto Rico amid heavy seismic activity
Cars are crushed under a home
that collapsed after an earthquake hit Guanica, Puerto Rico, Monday, Jan. 6,
2020.(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
By DANICA COTO
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) —
A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn on Tuesday, and
was followed three hours later by an aftershock measuring 6.0. They are the
largest in a series of quakes that have struck the U.S. territory in recent
days and caused heavy damage in some areas.
Eight people were injured in the
city of Ponce, near the epicenter of the quake, Mayor Mayita Meléndez told
Puerto Rico's power authority said
on Twitter that one of the country's main power plants, which sits near the
epicenter, had been damaged, but officials expect to restore power to the
island later Tuesday.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the
quake hit at 4:24 a.m. just south of the island at a shallow depth of 10
kilometers. It initially gave the magnitude as 6.6 but later adjusted it. At
7:18 a.m. the magnitude-6.0 aftershock hit the same area. People reported
strong shaking and staff at a local radio station said live on air that they
were leaving their building
A tsunami alert was issued for
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after the initial quake, but was
Albert Rodríguez, who is from the
southwest town of Guánica, said the tsunami sirens went off before officials
canceled the alert. He said there is widespread damage in his neighborhood.
"The road is cracked in the middle
and it lifted up," he said.
The mayor of Guayanilla, Nelson
Torres, told NotiUno radio station that the church in the public plaza of
his town collapsed.
Víctor Huérfano, director of Puerto
Rico's Seismic Network, told The Associated Press that it is hard to obtain
reports of damage or injuries because communications are down for much of
the island. He said officials in Ponce told him there was widespread damage.
"We expect that this will be the
largest quake for now," he said. "The aftershocks will continue for some
Puerto Rico's governor, Wanda
Vasquez, told station Radioisla just before 6 a.m. that there had been no
immediate reports of deaths. She ordered government offices closed for the
day and urged citizens to remain calm and not check damage to their homes
A 5.8-magnitude quake that struck
early Monday morning collapsed five homes in the southwest coastal town of
Guánica and heavily damaged dozens of others. It also caused small
landslides and power outages. The quake was followed by a string of smaller
The shake collapsed a coastal rock
formation that had formed a sort of rounded window, Punta Ventana, that was
a popular tourist draw in the southwest town of Guayanilla.
Residents in the south of the island
have been terrified to go into their homes for fear that another quake will
bring buildings down.
The flurry of quakes in Puerto
Rico's southern region began the night of Dec. 28. Huérfano told the AP that
shallow quakes were occurring along three faults in Puerto Rico's southwest
region: Lajas Valley, Montalva Point and the Guayanilla Canyon.
He said the quakes overall come as
the North American plate and the Caribbean plate squeeze Puerto Rico.
One of the largest and most damaging
earthquakes to hit Puerto Rico occurred in October 1918, when a magnitude
7.3 quake struck near the island's northwest coast, unleashing a tsunami and
killing 116 people.
Kurz sworn in as chancellor of Austria, completing comeback
New Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, left, and Chancellor
Sebastian Kurz, right, attend the swearing-in ceremony of the new Austrian
government of the conservative Austrian People's Party, OEVP, and the
Austrian Green party in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. (AP
VIENNA (AP) —
Conservative Sebastian Kurz was sworn in Tuesday as Austria's chancellor,
completing a comeback from the collapse of his previous government as the
leader of a new and very different coalition, with the Greens.
Kurz, 33, returned to the top job
after a seven-month absence. The Cabinet sworn in by President Alexander Van
der Bellen is Austria's first with a female majority and marks the first
time that the environmentalist Greens have entered the country's national
The combination of Kurz'scenter-right
People's Party and the Greens, traditional adversaries, could set an example
for other countries — in particular neighboring Germany, where polls suggest
a similar combination could emerge from the next election.
Kurz reclaims the title of the
world's youngest serving head of government from Finnish Prime Minister
Sanna Marin, 34, who took office last month.
Kurz first became chancellor at 31
in late 2017, leading a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. In May,
a video showing then-Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache offering
favors to a purported Russian investor prompted Kurz to pull the plug.
Parliament then ousted Kurz in a
no-confidence vote. Austria has been run over recent months by a
non-partisan interim government under Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein.
The People's Party and the Greens
were the big winners of an election held in September.
Weeping, Iran supreme leader prays over general slain by US
In this image taken from video, Iranian Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, openly weeps as he leads a prayer over the
coffin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone
strike on Friday, at the Tehran University campus, in Tehran, Iran, Monday,
Jan. 6, 2020. (Iran Press TV via AP)
Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others who were
killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a truck surrounded by
mourners during a funeral procession, in the city of Mashhad, Iran, Sunday,
Jan. 5, 2020. (Mohammad Hossein Thaghi/Tasnim News Agency via AP)
Mourners burn mock flags of the U.S. and Israel during a
funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who
were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the
Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan.
6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
KARIMI and JON GAMBRELL
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Weeping amid
wails from a crowd of hundreds of thousands of mourners, Iran's supreme
leader on Monday prayed over the remains of a top Iranian general killed in
a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, an attack that's drastically raised tensions
between Tehran and Washington.
The targeted killing of Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani already has seen his replacement
vow to take revenge. Additionally, Tehran has abandoned the remaining limits
of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in response to the slaying while
in Iraq, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops
from Iraqi soil.
The developments could bring Iran
closer to building an atomic bomb, set off a proxy or military attack
launched by Tehran against America and enable the Islamic State group to
stage a comeback in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and
Adding to the tensions, President
Donald Trump threatened to demand billions of dollars in compensation from
Iraq or impose "sanctions like they've never seen before" if it goes through
with expelling U.S. troops.
Soleimani's daughter, Zeinab,
directly threatened an attack on the U.S. military in the Mideast while
speaking to a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Tehran that stretched as far
as the eye could see. Iranian state TV put the crowd size at "millions,"
though that number could not be verified.
"The families of the American
soldiers in western Asia ... will spend their days waiting for the death of
their children," she said to cheers. Iranian state television and others
online shared a video that showed Trump's American flag tweet following
Soleimani's killing turn into a coffin, the "likes" of the tweet replaced by
over 143,000 "killed" with the hashtag #severerevenge.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei himself prayed over the caskets of Soleimani and others slain in
the attack. Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani, wept at
one point during the traditional Muslim prayers for the dead. The crowd
Soleimani's successor, EsmailGhaani
stood near Khamenei's side, as did Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and
other top leaders in the Islamic Republic. While Iran recently faced
nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices that reportedly
killed over 300 people, Soleimani's mass processionals has seen politicians
and leaders across the Islamic Republic's political spectrum take part,
temporarily silencing that anger.
Demonstrators burned Israeli and
U.S. flags, carried a flag-draped U.S. coffin or effigies of Trump. Some
described Trump himself as a legitimate target for Iran's revenge.
Mohammad Milad Rashidi, a
26-year-old university graduate, predicted more tension ahead.
"Trump demolished the chance for any
sort of possible agreement between Tehran and Washington," Rashidi said.
"There will be more conflict in the future for sure."
Ghaani made his own threat in an
interview with Iranian state television aired Monday. "God the Almighty has
promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions
will be taken," he said.
Markets reacted Monday to the
tensions, sending international benchmark Brent crude above $70 a barrel.
The Middle East remains a crucial source of oil and Iran in the past has
threatened the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf
through which 20% of all the world's oil traded passes.
Ghaani, a longtime Soleimani deputy,
has now taken over as the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, an
expeditionary arm of the paramilitary organization answerable only to
Khamenei. Ghaani has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2012 for his work
funding its operations around the world, including its work with proxies in
Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
Those proxies likely will be
involved in any operation targeting U.S. interests in the Mideast or
elsewhere in the world.
Already, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi
Arabia warned Americans "of the heightened risk of missile and drone
attacks." In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group
Hezbollah said Soleimani's killing made U.S. military bases, warships and
service members across the region fair game for attacks. A former Iranian
Revolutionary Guard leader suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and others
could be targeted should the U.S. attack Iran.
"We promise to continue down martyr
Soleimani's path as firmly as before with help of God, and in return for his
martyrdom we aim to get rid of America from the region," Ghaani said.
The head of the Guard's aerospace
program, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, suggested Iran's response wouldn't stop
with a single attack.
"Firing a couple of missiles,
hitting a base or even killing Trump is not valuable enough to compensate
for martyr Soleimani's blood," Hajizadeh said on state TV. "The only thing
that can compensate for his blood is the complete removal of America from
the region and taking away their evil from the oppressed people of the
On the nuclear deal, Iranian state
television cited Sunday a statement by Rouhani's administration saying the
country would not observe the nuclear deal's restrictions on fuel
enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its
research and development activities.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel,
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
specifically urged Iran to "withdraw all measures" not in line with the 2015
agreement that was intended to stop Tehran from pursuing its atomic weapons
Iran insisted that it remains open
to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did
not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn't seek a nuclear weapon.
However, the announcement represents
the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since Trump
unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions last
year. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran's longtime foe Israel has
promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.
Iran did not elaborate on what
levels it would immediately reach in its program. Tehran has already broken
some of the deal's limits as part of a step-by-step pressure campaign to get
sanctions relief. It already has increased its production, begun enriching
uranium to 5% and restarted enrichment at an underground facility.
While it does not possess uranium
enriched to weapons-grade levels of 90%, any push forward narrows the
estimated one-year "breakout time" needed for it to have enough material to
build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.
The International Atomic Energy
Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran's program, did not
respond to a request for comment. However, Iran said that its cooperation
with the IAEA "will continue as before."
Soleimani's killing has escalated
the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of back-and-forth
attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge. Iran has
promised "harsh revenge" while Trump has vowed on Twitter that the U.S. will
strike back at 52 targets "VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. "
He doubled down on that threat
Sunday, dismissing warnings that targeting cultural sites could be a war
crime under international law.
"They're allowed to kill our people.
They're allowed to torture and maim our people. They're allowed to use
roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we're not allowed to touch their
cultural sites? It doesn't work that way," Trump told reporters.
The processions for Soleimani mark
the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not
even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received
such a processional with his death in 1989.
Soleimani will be buried in his
hometown of Kerman.
Australia commits billions of dollars to wildfire recovery
A child is helped onto a helicopter as the fire ravaged
community of Mallacoota is evacuated, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. The wildfires
have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.
(Corporal Nicole Dorrett/ADF via AP)
People walk to board a helicopter as the fire ravaged
community of Mallacoota is evacuated, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. The wildfires
have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.
(Corporal Nicole Dorrett/ADF via AP)
In this Jan. 4, 2020 photo provided by the Australian
Department of Defence, a woman and three children prepare to board an
Australian Army Blackhawk helicopter in Omeo, Victoria, Australia, for
evacuation from the wildfire effected area. The wildfires have so far
scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. (Corporal
Nicole Dorrett/ADF via AP)
By NICK PERRY
and KRISTEN GELINEAU
SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's
government on Monday said it was willing to pay "whatever it takes" to help
communities recover from deadly wildfires that have ravaged the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said
the government was committing an extra 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4
billion) toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of
dollars that have already been promised.
"The fires are still burning. And
they'll be burning for months to come," Morrison said. "And so that's why I
outlined today that this is an initial, an additional, investment of $2
billion. If more is needed and the cost is higher, then more will be
Morrison's announcement of the
funds, which will go toward rebuilding towns and infrastructure destroyed by
the fires, came as authorities said two more people were missing in remote
parts of New South Wales. Nationwide, at least 24 people have been killed
and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes, which have so far scorched an area
twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.
Rain and cooler temperatures on
Monday were bringing some relief to communities battling the fires. But the
rain was also making it challenging for fire crews to complete strategic
burns as they tried to prepare for higher temperatures that have been
forecast for later in the week.
"With the more benign weather
conditions it presents some wonderful relief for everybody, the firefighters,
the emergency services personnel, but also the communities affected by these
fires," Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire
Service, told reporters. "But it also presents some real challenges when it
comes to implementing tactical and strategic back-burns and other techniques
to try and bring these fires under control."
More than 135 fires were still
burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that were not contained.
Officials have warned that the rain won't put out the largest and most
dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorate again.
Victoria state Emergency Services
Minister Lisa Neville said at least 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rain would
need to fall over a short period of time in order to snuff out the fires —
around 20 times what has fallen across the region in the past day. And
officials warned that the country's wildfire season — which generally lasts
through March — was nowhere near its end.
"No one can be complacent. We've got
big fire danger coming our way toward the end of this week," Victoria state
Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne. "We are by no means out
of this. And the next few days, and indeed the next few months, are going to
New South Wales Premier Gladys
Berejiklian also urged Australians not to let their guards down.
"Unfortunately, overnight, it's
become apparent that we have two people unaccounted for in New South Wales,"
she said at a news conference, adding she still held out hope for some good
news to emerge about them.
Australia's capital, Canberra, had
the worst air quality of any major city in the world on Monday. The
Department of Home Affairs, which is responsible for coordinating the
country's response to disasters, told all non-critical staff to stay home
because of thick smoke choking the city.
The prime minister said the military
was attempting to get food, fuel and water to burned-out communities, and
engineers were working to reopen roads and resupply evacuation centers. On
Kangaroo Island, a refuge off the coast of South Australia for some of the
country's most endangered creatures, teams had arrived to help euthanize
livestock and wild animals injured in the blazes. Hundreds of millions of
animals are believed to have died already in the fires across the country.
Heavy smoke, meanwhile, was
hampering the navy's efforts to airlift people out of Mallacoota, a coastal
town in Victoria cut off for days by fires that forced as many as 4,000
residents and tourists to shelter on beaches over the weekend. Around 300
people were still waiting to be evacuated on Monday.
The prime minister's announcement of
relief funds comes as he finds himself under siege for what many Australians
have viewed as his lax response to the crisis. On Saturday, he announced he
would dispatch 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists to help battle the
fires and committed 20 million Australian dollars ($14 million) to lease
firefighting aircraft from overseas.
But the moves did little to tamp
down the criticism that he had been slow to act, even as he has downplayed
the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say
helps supercharge the blazes.
Wildfires are common during the
southern hemisphere summer, and Australians generally take a pragmatic view
of them. But this year's fires arrived unusually early, fed by drought and
the country's hottest and driest year on record.
Scientists say there's no doubt
man-made global warming has played a major role in feeding the fires, along
with factors like very dry brush and trees and strong winds.
Environmental group Greenpeace said
the relief funds announced by Morrison were "a drop in the ocean," given the
widespread devastation from the fires.
"Every single cent of that money
should be contributed by the coal, gas and oil companies whose carbon
pollution has caused the climate crisis that has created these extreme fire
conditions, right across the country," Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of
Campaigns Jamie Hanson said in a statement. "Slugging everyday taxpayers
with the bill for this just adds insult to injury. These big polluters have
become rich by trashing our climate and it's time that they started coughing
up for the repair bill."
Trump returns to Washington to face a pair of challenges
President Donald Trump's motorcade returns from the Trump
International Golf Club located in West Palm Beach, to Mar-a-Lago, Sunday,
Jan. 5, 2020 (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)
WASHINGTON (AP) — His 17-day
holiday stay at his Florida resort over, President Donald Trump has returned
to the White House facing twin challenges: the fallout from the strike he
ordered to kill an Iranian general and his looming impeachment trial in the
The dueling images — one of
potential chaos in the Middle East, the other a politicized ritual occurring
for only the third time in the nation's history — will shape a defining
month of Trump's presidency, one that comes just before the first votes of
the 2020 campaign are cast.
Even before Air Force One touched
down outside the divided nation's capital Sunday night, Trump faced growing
questions from Democrats fearful that the killing of Revolutionary Guard
Gen. Qassem Soleimani endangered Americans in the region and may have been
an effort to distract from the president's political crisis back home.
"Next week, the president of the
United States could be facing an impeachment trial in the Senate. We know
he's deeply upset about that. And I think people are reasonably asking, 'Why
this moment?'" Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat running for president, said on
CNN's "State of the Union."
"Why does he pick now to take this
highly inflammatory, highly dangerous action that moves us closer to war?"
the Massachusetts senator said.
In the hours before Trump's return,
tensions simmered half a world away as hundreds of thousands flooded streets
Sunday in Iran to walk alongside a casket carrying the remains of Soleimani
while Iraq's parliament voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end of
the foreign military presence in their nation, an effort aimed at expelling
the 5,000 U.S. troops stationed there over the war against the Islamic State
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who
appeared on the full gamut of Washington Sunday morning news shows, defended
the strike, which killed Soleimani at the Baghdad airport, as part of a
deterrence "strategy to convince the Iranian regime to behave like a normal
"The American people should know
that we will not waver. We will be bold in protecting American interests and
we will do so in a way that is consistent with the rule of law," Pompeo told
The conflict is rooted in Trump
pulling out of Iran's atomic accord and imposing sanctions that have
crippled Iran's economy. But it was not at the forefront of Trump's agenda
when his vacation began.
Trump departed for Mar-a-Lago,
nestled against the Atlantic Ocean in tony Palm Beach on Dec. 20, just two
days after the House of Representatives voted largely on party lines to
approve two articles of impeachment against him over his pressure of Ukraine
to investigate a potential political foe, former vice president Joe Biden.
During his stay, the president
visited his nearby golf course nearly every day and kept his public
appearances to a minimum. But behind the scenes, he held a series of
meetings and phone calls to prepare for what lies ahead.
Trump spoke to some of his closest
Republican allies in the Senate, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina,
about the upcoming trial. Though the details of the trial remain unclear,
including when it will begin, the outcome seems all but certain, as the
Republican-led Senate will almost surely not remove Trump from office.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,
has delayed transmitting the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber, a
necessary step before the trial can begin, because she has demanded
assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the
proceedings be fair.
McConnell, who has been dismissive
of the request, has begun negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Chuck
Schumer of New York over the contours of the trial, including whether
witnesses would be called. The president had pushed to call witnesses to
make it a showy trial — including Biden's son and the whistleblower who
first reported the pressure to Ukraine — believing he can convince the
American public of his innocence. But Graham and others have implored him to
let the Senate handle the matter as expeditiously as possible.
Trump has fumed that impeachment
will be a permanent stain on his legacy but he has listened to advisers who
believe it could be a political opportunity, pointing to polling that shows
it playing poorly with independents in a trio of vital Rust Belt
battleground states. The president has also mused about holding a series of
rallies after the likely Senate acquittal.
But even as Trump held meetings at
Mar-a-Lago about the trial and his upcoming re-election campaign, which will
move into a new phase when the Iowa caucus is held in less than a month, the
Iran matter moved to the forefront.
Tensions between the nations erupted
after an attack killed an American contractor at a joint U.S.-Iraqi base.
And after days of deliberations with his inner circle of national security
advisers, Trump opted for the most dramatic response, the drone strike that
Despite Tehran's call for vengeance,
Trump did not back away from his trademark bellicose bluster.
"The United States just spent Two
Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment," Trump tweeted early Sunday. "We are
the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American
Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful
equipment their way...and without hesitation!"
But linking the two crises shadowing
the White House, Democrats said the heightening tensions with Iran would not
dissuade them from Trump's impeachment.
"I think our system is strong enough
that we can do both," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told Fox News Sunday. "I
very much worry about what the president is doing right now to escalate
tensions and the likelihood of war in Iran, but our country will have to
deal with both these issues at the same time."
Attackers beat protesting students at Indian university
A dog rests next to shattered glass of a student hostel
building after Sunday's assault by masked assailants at the Jawaharlal Nehru
University in New Delhi, India, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Emily
In this late Sunday, Jan.5, 2020 photo, police arrive at
the Jawaharlal Nehru University after masked assailants beat students and
teachers with sticks in New Delhi, India. (AP Photo)
SCHMALL and SHEIKH SAALIQ
NEW DELHI (AP) — Masked assailants
beat students and teachers with sticks on the campus of a prestigious
university in India's capital, injuring more than 20 people in an attack
opposition lawmakers are trying to link to the government.
Videos that emerged after the
assault late Sunday showed people in masks roaming inside the corridors of
Jawaharlal Nehru University and beating students who were protesting against
a fee hike.
Most of the injured were treated at
a hospital for cuts and bruises, said Aarti Vij, a spokeswoman at the All
India Institute of Medical Sciences.
New Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya
Patnaik said the incident was a clash between rival student groups.
Opposition parties and injured
students blamed the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a student
organization linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata
"The fascists in control of our
nation are afraid of the voices of our brave students. Today's violence in
JNU is a reflection of that fear," tweeted Rahul Gandhi, a leading
politician from the main opposition Congress party.
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad,
which includes students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, released a statement
saying they didn't start Sunday's violence and insisted their members were
attacked first by students with links to communist groups.
organizations at the university have led recurring protests against the fee
increase, which went into effect in November. Opponents say the fee hike
makes education too expensive for many.
The government was quick to condemn
"Horrifying images from JNU — the
place I know & remember was one for fierce debates & opinions but never
violence. I unequivocally condemn the events of today," Finance Minister
Nirmala Sitharaman, a member of the prime minister's party, said on Twitter.
Surya Prakash, a 25-year-old
research scholar at the university's Sanskrit school, said that he had been
brutally beaten in his dorm room despite crying out that he is blind.
"They first broke the door and
windows of the room and barged inside and hit my head with a rod," Prakash
One floor up from Prakash, above the
dorm warden's residence, students said two Kashmiri Muslim students living
in adjacent rooms were targeted. While the attackers used a fire
extinguisher to ram one door open, one student climbed over his balcony into
the room next door while another jumped onto the ground below, sustaining an
injury, according to Mukesh Kumar, a research scholar who lives across the
An ambulance carrying injured people
off campus was attacked by a group of men with sticks while police stood by,
several bystanders told The Associated Press.
Students said the masked attackers
also entered women's wings in the dorms.
The AP accessed an audio clip
recorded by a student during the attack in which the apparent assailants
could be heard shouting while they smashed windows and asking students to
open the doors of their rooms.
Expressing fear, Geeta Thatra, a
32-year-old history student accused the administration of giving "free rein"
to the attackers.
"We saw the brutal vandalizing at
the Jamia university. There they used police to do it and here they have
used other forces, the so-called mobs, to do it," she said, referring to
December violence in which police barged inside Jamia Millia Islamia
university in New Delhi, tear-gassing protesting students and beating them
Hours after the attack, students
across the country took to the streets to protest the incident. Some
gathered outside police headquarters in New Delhi and accused police of
In Mumbai, students from several
educational institutions gathered at the Gateway of India and demanded that
the government act against the assailants.
Students at a university in Uttar
Pradesh state held a candlelight march to protest the incident.
Amnesty International said the
attack is "not an isolated incident and must be seen amidst the larger
pattern of pushback as massive protests continue unabated across the
The violence comes amid simmering
anger over the government's new citizenship law, which has resulted in a
series of violent protests and clashes around the country that have left at
least two dozen people dead.
With hours' notice, US fast-response force flies to Mideast
This photo provided by the U.S. Army, paratroopers
assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division walk as they
prepare equipment and load aircraft bound for the U.S. Central Command area
of operations from Fort Bragg, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Spc. Hubert
Delany III/U.S. Army via AP)
By SARAH BLAKE
MORGAN and JONATHAN DREW
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) —
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers deployed Saturday from Fort Bragg, North Carolina,
to Kuwait to serve as reinforcements in the Middle East amid rising tensions
following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general.
Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for
the 82nd Airborne Division, told The Associated Press 3,500 members of the
division's quick-deployment brigade, known officially as its Immediate
Response Force, will have deployed within a few days. The most recent group
of service members to deploy will join about 700 who left earlier in the
week, Burns said.
A loading ramp at Fort Bragg was
filled Saturday morning with combat gear and restless soldiers. Some tried
to grab a last-minute nap on wooden benches. Reporters saw others filing
The additional troop deployments
reflect concerns about potential Iranian retaliatory action in the volatile
aftermath of Friday's drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the
head of Iran's elite Quds Force who has been blamed for attacks on U.S.
troops and American allies going back decades.
President Donald Trump ordered the
airstrike near Baghdad's international airport. Iran has vowed retribution,
raising fears of an all-out war, but it's unclear how or when a response
Reporters weren't able to interview
the soldiers leaving Fort Bragg on Saturday, but an airman loading one of
the cargo planes told an Army cameraman he was making New Year's plans when
he got a call to help load up the soldiers, according to video footage
released by the military.
"We're responsible for loading the
cargo. Almost our whole squadron got alerted. Like a bunch of planes are
coming over here," the unnamed airman said. "I was getting ready to go out
for New Year's when they called me."
In the gray early morning light
Saturday, Army video showed soldiers dressed in camouflage fatigues filing
into planes, carrying rucksacks and rifles. Humvees were rolled onto another
cargo plane and chained in place for the flight to the Middle East.
Burns said the soldiers within the
Immediate Response Force train constantly to be ready to respond quickly to
crises abroad. When called by their superiors, they have two hours to get to
base with their gear and must maintain a state of readiness so that they can
be in the air headed to their next location within 18 hours.
"So whether they were on leave,
whether they were home drinking a beer, whether they were, you know, hanging
out, throwing the kids up in the yard, you get the call and it's time to
go," he said.
He said that soldiers typically keep
individual "go-bags" of their personal gear with them at their living
The wife of a member of the 82nd
Airborne who deployed earlier this week said his departure was so abrupt she
didn't have the chance to say goodbye in person or by phone.
April Shumard said she was at work
on New Year's Eve and he was watching their five children when he texted her
that he had to rush to base. He wasn't sure if it was a drill or a
deployment. She said her husband has been in the military since 2010 and has
already deployed twice to Afghanistan. But with those prior deployments, the
family had much more time to prepare and say goodbye. This time, she got a
second message confirming he was leaving, and he departed in a plane on the
afternoon of New Year's Day.
"The kids kept going, 'When's Dad
going to be home?'" said Shumard, 42. "It's literally thrown me for a loop.
And him as well. He's still in disbelief of where he's gone. Our heads are
She said that Fayetteville is a
tight-knit community, and she expects people to work together to support
families who are suddenly missing a parent.
"This was so last-minute," she said,
urging people to reach out to 82nd Airborne families. "Just try to help out
whoever you know who might need some babysitting or help or just get some
groceries and bring it to their house."
Similarly, Bri'anna Ferry's husband
got the call on New Year's Eve, and she said he was on a plane to the Middle
East within hours. She fears he could miss milestones with their young
daughter but also wants him to focus on his mission.
"I told him, don't worry about us.
We'll be fine," she said. "Focus on your mission."
Wildfires threaten unique critters on Australian 'Galapagos'
In this undated photo taken and provided by Mike Barth,
Daniella Teixeira, who is working on a doctoral degree about the birds at
The University of Queensland, holds the shiny black-cockatoo in Kangaroo
Island, Australia.(Mike Barth via AP)
This image made from video shows dead kangaroos and
sheep after wildfires hit the Kangaroo Island, South Australia Sunday, Jan.
5, 2020. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)
By NICK PERRY
SYDNEY (AP) — It has been
described as Australia's Galapagos Islands and has long been a refuge for
some of the country's most endangered creatures. But devastating wildfires
over recent days have undone decades of careful conservation work on
Kangaroo Island and have threatened to wipe out some of the island's unique
Experts working on the island say
the fires have killed thousands of koalas and kangaroos, and also have
raised questions about whether any members of a mouse-like marsupial species
that carries its young in a pouch have survived. Similarly, it remains
unclear how many from a unique flock of glossy black-cockatoos got away from
the flames and whether they have a future on an island where much of their
habitat has gone up in smoke.
Located off the coast of South
Australia state, Kangaroo Island is about 50% larger than Rhode Island and
home to 4,500 people and what was a thriving ecotourism industry. But the
wildfires that have been ravaging swaths of Australia have burned through
one-third of the island, killing a father and his son and leaving behind a
scorched wasteland and a devastated community.
They also have left people
scrambling to help the critters that have survived.
"Caring for all these animals is
quite amazing," said Sam Mitchell, co-owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife
Park. "However, we are seeing a lot that are too far gone. We are seeing
kangaroos and koalas with their hands burned off — they stand no chance.
It's been quite emotional."
Inspired in part by the late
Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, Mitchell and his wife, Dana, bought
the commercial park seven years ago in their early 20s, and have been
renovating the place and taking in rescue animals since.
On Friday night with the fire
approaching, Dana fled with their 18-month-old son, Connor, while Sam stayed
behind to defend the park and their dream. A wind change spared the park
from the wildfire's path.
Mitchell said the fires have killed
thousands of koalas on the island, a particularly devastating loss because
the creatures have remained largely disease-free there, while many koalas on
mainland Australia suffer from chlamydia.
The couple are currently caring for
about 18 burned koalas, and they've had to euthanize many more.
Meanwhile, Heidi Groffen could do
nothing, as all eight monitoring stations she and her partner had set up to
keep track of the mysterious Kangaroo Island dunnart, the mouse-like
marsupial, melted in the flames.
An ecologist and coordinator for the
nonprofit Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, Groffen said the population of
300 or so dunnarts may have been wiped out altogether because they are too
small to outrun wildfires, although she remains hopeful that some may have
sheltered in rock crevices.
"Even if there are survivors, there
is no food for them now," she said. "We're hoping to bring some into
captivity before they are completely gone."
She said the creatures have long
fascinated her because so little is known about them.
Also uncertain is the future for the
400 or so Kangaroo Island glossy black-cockatoos. Once prevalent on the
South Australia mainland, the birds retreated to the island after humans
destroyed much of their traditional habitat.
"Unlike some of the other animals,
the birds are in the best position to escape. They can get away from the
fires a bit more," said Daniella Teixeira, who is working on a doctoral
degree about the birds at The University of Queensland.
But much like the dunnarts, the
cockatoos could find they don't have enough food left on the island,
particularly because they eat only from a single type of tree known as a
drooping she-oak. And many hot spots on the island continue to burn.
Teixeira said careful conservation
work over the past 25 years has seen the glossy black-cockatoo population
increase from 150, but those gains have been wiped out in the space of a
She said she is currently writing
the final chapter of the thesis she began in 2016, but that suddenly
everything has changed.
"It's pretty hard to sit here and
write a paper on them when I don't know their status today," she said.
Death toll surges as Cambodian building collapse search ends
Emergency workers carry a
survivor from the debris after a building collapsed in Kep province,
Cambodia, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. At least two construction workers were
killed when a seven-floor building collapsed in the southern Cambodian town
of Kep on Friday, according to the police. (Kep province Authority Police
By SOPHENG CHEANG
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) —
The death toll from the collapse of a building under construction in
Cambodia has surged to 36, even as an additional survivor was pulled from
the rubble, officials said Sunday.
At least a dozen bodies were found
in overnight operations at the site in the coastal province of Kep, where
the building toppled on Friday.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the
end of the rescue operation, confirming that 23 injured survivors were
A statement from Kep provincial
authorities said that at least 13 women and six children were among the
Women are often employed as
construction workers in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand, and families of
workers also often live at the construction sites.
At a news conference at the site,
Hun Sen said the couple who owned the building and hired the construction
crew had been detained and sent to court to face charges. He did not specify
the charges. A committee was being set up to determine the cause of the
Hun Sen said that according to
preliminary findings, the building collapsed because the construction work
failed to adhere to safety standards.
He said that plywood that is
normally put underneath the concrete separating each floor is supposed to
remain in place for about one month to allow proper setting, but instead was
removed after roughly 10 days. He also indicated that the rebar — the steel
rods assembled in a mesh to reinforce the concrete — were not of a strong
A senior provincial police officer
had said Friday that the accident occurred after concrete had been poured on
the top level of the building.
Hun Sen called the incident a
tragedy, but added that building collapses take place all over the world,
including the United States,
"This is a grievous event for our
nation, that it met with this unfortunate incident," Hun Sen said.
The survivor found Sunday morning
was a young woman pulled from the rubble by members of Rapid Rescue Company
711, a military unit that is the country's elite specialized emergency
rescue team. "RRC 711," as it is generally known, is attached to Hun Sen's
military bodyguard unit.
Hun Sen posted a video of the rescue
on his Facebook page. He traveled to the site Friday "to lead the rescue
team," he announced on Facebook. He also visited the provincial hospital
where the injured were being treated.
Last June, a seven-story building
collapsed in Sihanoukville, another coastal area in Cambodia, leaving at
least 28 people dead and 26 injured.
Such accidents underline concerns
about the area's rapid development to cater to a booming tourism industry
and inattention to safety.
In December, a Buddhist temple
collapsed while under construction in Siem Reap, home of Cambodia's famed
Angkor temples, killing at least three people and injuring 13, including two
60 dead in landslides, flash floods in Indonesia's capital
A woman rides a tricycle on a flooded street in Jakarta,
Indonesia, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/DitaAlangkara)
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) —
Landslides and floods triggered by torrential downpours have left at least
60 people dead in and around Indonesia's capital, as rescuers struggled to
search for people apparently buried under tons of mud, officials said
Monsoon rains and rising rivers
submerged a dozen districts in the greater Jakarta area and caused
landslides that buried at least a dozen people.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency
spokesman Agus Wibowo said most of the fatalities included those who had
drowned or been electrocuted since rivers broke their banks early Wednesday
after extreme torrential rains hit on New Year's Eve. Three elderly people
died of hypothermia.
It's the worst flooding in the area
since 2007, when 80 people were killed over 10 days.
Rescuers recovered more bodies as
flash floods and mudslides destroyed several villages in Lebak, a district
in neighboring Banten province, Wibowo said. Rescuers were still searching
for two villagers reportedly missing in the landslide, he said.
The number of fatalities was
expected to increase, with rescuers and villagers also searching for at
least three people believed to be buried in another landslide in Cigudeg
village in Bogor district, said Ridwan, the village's secretary, who goes by
a single name.
Ridwan said bad weather, blackouts
and mudslides were hampering rescue efforts. He said rescuers on Saturday
managed to reach eight hamlets that had been isolated for days by cut-off
roads and mudslides and rescued more than 1,700 villagers in weak condition.
Four days after the region of 30
million people was struck by flash floods, waters have receded in many
middle-class districts, but conditions remain grim in narrow riverside
alleys where the city's poor live.
Government data showed that some
92,200 people were still unable to return home and were crammed at damp
emergency shelters, mostly in the hardest-hit area of Bekasi. The number was
sharply reduced from 173,000 as the muddy waters which submerged much of the
city up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) high were receded.
Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology
and Geophysics Agency said that more downpours were forecast for the capital
in the coming days, and that the potential for extreme rainfall will
continue until next month across the vast archipelago nation. The government
on Friday started cloud seeding in an attempt to divert rain clouds from
reaching greater Jakarta to prevent possible flooding, the agency said.
Indonesia is hit by deadly floods
each year, and Jakarta, the capital of Southeast Asia's largest economy, is
not immune. But this year's floods have been particulary bad, with about
397,000 people seeking refuge in shelters across the greater metropolitan
area as floodwaters reached up to 6 meters (19 feet) in some places.
Some flee, others restock before Australian wildfires worsen
In this image released
Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, from the DELWP Gippland, shows massive smoke rising
from wildfires burning in East Gippsland, Victoria. (DELWP Gippland via AP)
By TRISTAN LAVALETTE
PERTH, Australia (AP) —
Thousands of tourists fled Australia's wildfire-ravaged eastern coast
Thursday ahead of worsening conditions as the military started to evacuate
people trapped on the shore further south.
Cooler weather since Tuesday has
aided firefighting and allowed people to replenish supplies. Vehicles formed
long lines at gas stations and supermarkets, and traffic was gridlocked as
highways reopened. But fire conditions were expected to deteriorate Saturday
as high temperatures and strong winds return.
"There is every potential that the
conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw (on Tuesday),"
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
Authorities said 381 homes had been
destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast this week and at least eight
people have died this week in the state and neighboring Victoria,
Australia's two most-populous states, where more than 200 fires are
New South Wales authorities in the
morning ordered tourists to leave a 250-kilometer (155-mile) zone along the
picturesque south coast. State Transport Minister Andrew Constance said it
is the "largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we've ever
In Victoria, where 68 homes have
burned this week, the military was helping thousands of people who fled to
the shore as a wildfire threatened their homes Tuesday in the coastal town
of Mallacoota. Food, water, fuel and medical expertise were being delivered
and about 500 people were going to be evacuated from the town by a naval
"We think around 3,000 tourists and
1,000 locals are there. Not all of those will want to leave, not all can get
on the vessel at one time," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The early and devastating start to
Australia's summer wildfires has led authorities to rate this season the
worst on record. About 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land have
burned, with at least 17 people dead and more than 1,300 homes destroyed.
Prime Minster Scott Morrison said
the crisis was likely to last for months. "It (fires) will continue to go on
until we can get some decent rain that can deal with some of the fires that
have been burning for many, many months," Morrison told reporters on
Smoke from the wildfires made the
air quality in the national capital, Canberra, the world's worst in a
ranking index Thursday and was blowing into New Zealand.
Copter crash kills Taiwan's top military officer, 7 others
In this March 7, 2019, file photo, Taiwanese top military
official Shen Yi-ming salutes as he is introduced to journalists during a
press conference in Taipei, Taiwan. (AP Photo/Johnson Lai, File)
In this image made from video, emergency teams work at
the crash site of a military helicopter in the mountains of Yilan, north
eastern Taiwan, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. (Yilan Fire Bureau via AP)
By RALPH JENNINGS
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) —
Taiwan's top military official was killed in an air force helicopter crash
Thursday morning that killed seven other people, the defense ministry said.
Five people survived the crash in mountains outside the capital.
As chief of the general staff, Gen.
Shen Yi-ming was responsible for overseeing the island's defense against
China, which threatens to use military force to annex what it considers it
The helicopter was flying from
Taipei to the northeastern city of Ilan for a new year's activity when it
According to Taiwan's Ministry of
National Defense, 13 people were on the UH-60M Blackhawk helicopter, which
took off shortly after 7:50 a.m. from Taipei's Songshan air force base on
its way to a base in Yilan county on the east coast. Just over 10 minutes
later, it dropped from the radar screen and went down in the mountainous,
heavily forested Wulai area southeast of the capital.
Shen, 63, had taken over as chief of
the general staff in July after serving as commander of Taiwan's air force,
which is undergoing a substantial upgrade with the arrival of the most
advanced version of the U.S. F-16V fighter.
Alexander Huang, a strategic studies
professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan who had known Shen for a decade,
said he had stood out as a pilot and an officer.
"He was very calm and very stable
and unlike other army guys he was always smiling, so he got a specific
leadership style that also made him a popular leader in the entire
military," Huang said.
It will likely be months before the
cause of the crash is known, but the pilots, both of whom were killed,
appeared to have been highly experienced.
"Of course, reasonable people would
think in the direction of mechanical failure or maintenance problem, but
without proof you can't say anything," Huang said.
Taiwan's military has operated
Blackhawks for decades and in 2010, completed a sale for another 60 UH-Ms
from the U.S. for $3.1 billion. The Blackhawk that crashed was a model
dedicated to search and rescue and had been delivered in 2018, according to
The loss of Shen and other
high-ranking officials for require a rapid reshuffle of positions, but
should have a minimal effect on Taiwan's Jan. 11 elections for president and
lawmakers, said Andrew Yang, a former Ministry of National Defense deputy
minister for policy who also worked with Shen .
"He was highly respected throughout
his career," Yang said.
"I don't think the crash will have a
strong impact over the elections but certainly it will affect the armed
forced because so many senior officers passed away as a result of this
Taiwan's ruling Democratic
Progressive Party has been strongly critical of China's attempts to increase
economic, military and diplomatic pressure and incumbent President Tsai
Ing-wen appears on track to win a second term over her more pro-China
opponent, Han Kuo-yu of the main opposition Nationalists.
British ex-PM skipped 'street cred' of Olympics for cricket
In this Aug. 25, 1996 file photo, Britain's
Prime Minister at the time, John Major watches play at the Oval as Pakistan
played England in the third and final test between the two sides. (David
Cheskin/PA via AP, File)
LONDON (AP) — For one British prime minister,
choosing between the Olympics Games and cricket was a no-brainer.
Archival records released by the U.K. government on
Tuesday reveal that aides tried to persuade Prime Minister John Major that
attending the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta would be good for his "street
Major, who was prime minister between 1990 and 1997,
would have been scheduled to make a three-day trip in late July that
included the rowing pairs final that would bring Britain it's only gold
medal at the Atlanta Games.
Trying to make the Olympics more appealing to the prime
minister, one aide mentioned that South African President Nelson Mandela,
U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac were all due
to be there.
Downing Street staff also appealed to Major's ego,
according to the newly released records. Private secretary Rachael Reynolds
told the prime minister that making the trip across the pond "is worth
doing, if you can bear it."
"Some of the best pictures we see of you in the media
are in relaxed, jacket off mode and there would be plenty of opportunity for
that in Atlanta," Reynolds wrote.
"You have established your street cred in this area so
well, it would be a pity to miss an opportunity which only comes up every
four years," she added.
The appeals were to no avail. Major decided to stay
home in London to watch a cricket Test match that England ended up losing to
The details came from a wave of archival records the
British government released to comply with a law requiring certain records
to be made public 20 to 30 years after they were created.
China sentences Protestant pastor to 9 years for subversion
In this 2016 photo provided by ChinaAid, pastor
Wang Yi, left, toasts with his wife at their home in Chengdu, China. (ChinaAid
BEIJING (AP) — China has sentenced a prominent pastor who operated
outside the Communist Party-recognized Protestant organization to nine years
in prison for subversion.
Wang Yi had led the Early Rain Covenant Church and was
arrested a year ago during China's ongoing crackdown on all unauthorized
religious groups in the country. The government requires Protestants worship
only in churches recognized and regulated by the party-led Three-Self
Patriotic Movement. A separate body regulates the Catholic church in China,
which has no formal relations with the Vatican.
The People's Intermediate Court in the southwestern
city of Chengdu on Monday convicted Wang of incitement to subvert state
power and involvement in illegal business operations and said he was fined
and his personal assets were seized.
Si Weijiang, a lawyer hired by Wang's mother, said the
charge of illegal business operations involved printing of books about
"It is actually about the freedom of publication and
there has been no social harm," Si said in a phone interview.
The charge of incitement "involves preaching and is an
issue of speech, which has also inflicted no social harm," he said.
Even within the narrow confines it has established,
China's officially atheist ruling party has been seeking to rein in
religious expression, including removing crosses from official and
More widely, the party has demolished places of
worship, barred Tibetan children from Buddhist religious studies and
incarcerated more than a million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in
what are termed "reeducation centers."
Early Rain is believed to have had several hundred
members who met in different locations around Chengdu, the sprawling capital
of Sichuan province. Many of those were taken from their homes overnight in
lightning raids, including Wang's wife, Jiang Rong, who was later released
Wang had been critical of Communist Party leader and
state President Xi Jinping and made a point of holding a prayer service on
June 4 each year to commemorate the 1989 bloody assault on pro-democracy
protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Beijing's hard line on religion has underscored its
contrast with other culturally Chinese societies, such as Hong Kong and
Taiwan, where most follow Buddhism and traditional Chinese beliefs, but
where Christianity and other religions also thrive.
At least two members of Early Rain fled to Taiwan, the
self-governing island democracy that China claims as its own territory.
Wang's sentencing was condemned by Amnesty
International China researcher Patrick Poon as making a "mockery of China's
supposed religious freedoms."
"Wang Yi was merely practicing his religion and
peacefully standing up for human rights in China," Poon said in an emailed
statement. "Wang Yi is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and
Australia sending aid to wildfire towns as death toll rises
In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State
Government of Victoria, a helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland,
Victoria state, Australia. (State Government of Victoria via AP)
In this photo provided by the Australian Department of
Defense, HMAS Choules departs from a fleet base in Sydney, Wednesday, Jan.
1, 2020. (ABIS Benjamin Ricketts/ADF via AP)
Kangaroos graze in a field as smoke shrouds the
Australian capital of Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP
This Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, photo provided by Twitter
user @AvaTheHuman shows red sky from wildfires burning, in Victoria,
Australia. (@AvaTheHuman via AP)
In this image dated Dec. 31,
2019, and provided by NSW Rural Fire Service via their twitter account,
firefighter and police officer hold a possum and her baby after they rescued
them under a car at a bushfire in Charmhaven, New South Wales.([email protected]
The Australian flag flies above Parliament House as smoke
shrouds the Australian capital of Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 1,
2020. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
By TRISTAN LAVALETTE
PERTH, Australia (AP) — Australia
deployed military ships and aircraft Wednesday to help communities ravaged
by apocalyptic wildfires that have left at least 17 people dead nationwide
and sent thousands of residents and holidaymakers fleeing to the shoreline.
Navy ships and military aircraft
were bringing water, food and fuel to towns where supplies were depleted and
roads were cut off by the fires. Authorities confirmed three bodies were
found Wednesday at Lake Conjola on the south coast of New South Wales,
bringing the death toll in the state to 15.
More than 175 homes have been
destroyed in the region.
Some 4,000 people in the coastal
town of Mallacoota fled to the shore as winds pushed a fire toward their
homes under a sky darkened by smoke and turned blood-red by flames. Stranded
residents and vacationers slept in their cars, and gas stations and surf
clubs transformed into evacuation areas. Dozens of homes burned before winds
changed direction late Tuesday, sparing the rest of the town.
Victoria Emergency Commissioner
Andrew Crisp told reporters the Australian Defence Force was moving naval
assets to Mallacoota on a supply mission that would last two weeks and
helicopters would also fly in more firefighters since roads were
"I think that was our biggest threat
in terms of what are we doing with the children if we need to go in the
water to protect ourselves given the fact that they are only 1, 3 and 5,"
tourist Kai Kirschbaum told ABC Australia. "If you're a good swimmer it
doesn't really matter if you have to be in the water for a longer time, but
doing that with three kids that would have been, I think, a nightmare."
Conditions cooled Wednesday, but the
fire danger remained very high across the state, where four people are
"We have three months of hot weather
to come. We do have a dynamic and a dangerous fire situation across the
state," Crisp said.
In the New South Wales town of
Conjola Park, 89 properties were confirmed destroyed and cars were melted by
Tuesday's fires. More than 100 fires were still burning in the state
Wednesday, though none were at an emergency level. Seven people have died
this week, including a volunteer firefighter, a man found in a burnt-out car
and a father and son who died in their house.
Firefighting crews took advantage of
easing conditions on Wednesday to restore power to critical infrastructure
and conduct some back burning, before conditions were expected to
deteriorate Saturday as high temperatures and strong winds return.
"There is every potential that the
conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw yesterday," New
South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
The early and devastating start to
Australia's summer wildfires has led authorities to rate this season the
worst on record and reignited debate about whether Prime Minister Scott
Morrison's conservative government has taken enough action on climate
change. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and liquefied
natural gas, but Morrison rejected calls last month to downsize Australia's
lucrative coal industry.
Morrison won a surprise third term
in May. Among his government's pledges was to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030 — a modest figure compared to the center-left
opposition Labor party's pledge of 45%.
The leader of the minor Australian
Greens party, Richard Di Natale, demanded a royal commission, the nation's
highest form of inquiry, on the wildfire crisis.
"If he (Morrison) refuses to do so,
we will be moving for a parliamentary commission of inquiry with royal
commission-like powers as soon as parliament returns," Di Natale said in a
About 5 million hectares (12.35
million acres) of land have burned nationwide over the past few months, with
at least 17 people dead and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.
Some communities canceled New Year's
fireworks celebrations, but Sydney's popular display over its iconic harbor
controversially went ahead in front of more than a million revelers. The
city was granted an exemption to a total fireworks ban in place there and
elsewhere to prevent new wildfires.
Smoke from the wildfires meant
Canberra, the nation's capital, on Wednesday had air quality more than 21
times the hazardous rating to be reportedly the worst in the world.
The smoke has also wafted across the
Tasman Sea and into New Zealand.
Militiamen withdraw from US Embassy but Iraq tensions linger
Iraqi army soldiers are deployed in front of the U.S.
embassy, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Iran-backed militiamen
have withdrawn from the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad after two days of
clashes with American security forces. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Protesters burn property in front of the U.S. embassy
compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalid
Iraqi army soldiers are deployed in front of the U.S.
embassy, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
In this photo released by the official website of the
office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
speaks during a meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Khamenei
criticized the U.S. airstrikes on the Iran-backed Iraqi militia on Sunday.
He accused the U.S. of taking revenge on Iran for the defeat of the Islamic
State group, which he said was an American creation. He condemned U.S.
"wickedness," according to the remarks carried by the semi-official ISNA
news agency. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and JOSEPH KRAUSS
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran-backed
militiamen withdrew from the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Wednesday
after two days of clashes with American security forces, but U.S.-Iran
tensions remain high and could spill over into further violence.
The withdrawal followed calls from
the government and senior militia leaders. It ended a two-day crisis marked
by the breach of the largest and one of the most heavily fortified U.S.
diplomatic missions in the world.
The attack and its volatile
aftermath prompted the Pentagon to send hundreds of additional troops to
the Middle East an d U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delay a European
and Central Asian trip.
In an orchestrated assault, hundreds
of militiamen and their supporters broke into the embassy compound,
destroying a reception area, smashing windows and spraying graffiti on walls
to protest U.S. airstrikes against an Iran-backed militia over the weekend
that killed 25 fighters.
The U.S. blamed the militia for a
rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in the northern city of Kirkuk last
week that killed a U.S. contractor.
The protesters set up a tent camp
overnight and on Wednesday set fire to the reception area and hurled stones
at U.S. Marines guarding the compound, who responded with tear gas. There
were no injuries on either side and no American staff were evacuated from
The Popular Mobilization Forces, an
umbrella group of state-allied militias — many backed by Iran — called on
its supporters to withdraw in response to an appeal by the Iraqi government,
saying "your message has been received."
By late afternoon the tents had been
taken down and the protesters relocated to the opposite side of the Tigris
River, outside the so-called Green Zone housing government offices and
foreign embassies. U.S. Apache helicopters circled overhead.
"After achieving the intended aim,
we pulled out from this place triumphantly," said Fadhil al-Gezzi, a militia
supporter. "We rubbed America's nose in the dirt." Trump has vowed to exact
a "big price" for an attack he blamed squarely on Iran.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iran-backed
militia targeted by the U.S. airstrikes, initially refused to leave but
later bowed to demands to disperse. The militia is separate from the
Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, though both are backed by Iran.
"We don't care about these planes
that are flying over the heads of the picketers. Neither do we care about
the news that America will bring Marines," said Mohammed Mohy, a spokesman
for Kataeb Hezbollah. "On the contrary, this shows a psychological defeat
and a big mental breakdown that the American administration is suffering
from," he said, before withdrawing from the area.
The violence came as Iran and its
allies across the region have faced unprecedented mass protests in recent
months and heavy U.S. sanctions have cratered Iran's economy.
Iraq has been gripped by
anti-government protests since October fueled by anger at widespread
corruption and economic mismanagement, as well as Iran's heavy influence
over the country's affairs. Those protesters were not involved in the
The Pentagon sent an infantry
battalion of about 750 soldiers to the Middle East. A U.S. official familiar
with the decision said they would go to Kuwait. Pompeo postponed a trip that
was scheduled to start in Ukraine late Thursday so that he can monitor
developments in Iraq and "ensure the safety and security of Americans in the
Middle East," said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
Iran denied involvement in the
attack on the embassy. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted by
media as saying that "if the Islamic Republic makes a decision to confront
any country, it will do it directly."
Iran later summoned the Swiss charge
d'affaires, who represents American interests in Tehran, to protest what it
said was war-mongering by U.S. officials.
Public consular operations at the
embassy were suspended and future appointments cancelled, it said in a
Tensions have steadily risen since
Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and
embarked on a campaign of maximum pressure through economic sanctions. Iran
has responded by abandoning some of its commitments under the deal.
U.S. officials have blamed Iran for
the sabotage of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and a drone attack on Saudi
oil facilities in September that caused a spike in world oil prices. But the
Trump administration has not responded with direct military action,
apparently fearing a wider conflict.
The U.S. has sent more than 14,000
additional troops to the Gulf region since May in response to concerns about
Iranian aggression. At the time of the attack, the U.S. had about 5,200
troops in Iraq, mainly to train Iraqi forces and help them combat Islamic
The U.S. and Iran have vied for
influence over Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam
Hussein. Iran has close ties to Iraq's Shiite majority and major political
factions, and its influence has steadily grown since then.
Iran helped to mobilize tens of
thousands of mostly Shiite militiamen to battle the Islamic State group when
it stormed across northern and western Iraq in 2014 as the armed forces
collapsed. The U.S. and Iran both provided vital aid to Iraqi forces, who
eventually declared victory over the extremists in December 2017.
The political influence of the
Popular Mobilization Forces has risen in recent years, and their allies
dominate the parliament and the government. That has made them the target of
the anti-government protesters, who have attacked Iranian diplomatic
missions and the local headquarters of parties affiliated with the militias
across southern Iraq.
They have also set up a sprawling
protest camp in central Baghdad, and for weeks have been trying to enter the
Green Zone. Iraqi security forces have beaten them back with tear gas and
live ammunition, killing hundreds.
The militiamen and their supporters,
however, were able to quickly enter the Green Zone and mass in front of the
embassy, with little if any resistance from authorities.
Iraq's government vehemently
condemned the airstrikes on the militia, saying it violated national
sovereignty. But Iran and its allies might have also seen the attack as a
way of diverting attention from the anti-government protests.
"Iran has been trying to provoke the
U.S. into helping it solve its Iraq problem," said the Crisis Group, an
international think tank. "The Trump administration, by responding to the
attacks in Kirkuk and elsewhere with airstrikes, has obliged.".
Year-end violence highlights danger of worshipping
In this Oct. 28, 2018, file photo, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers,
right, of Tree of Life/Or L'Simcha Congregation hugs Rabbi Cheryl Klein,
left, of Dor Hadash Congregation and Rabbi Jonathan Perlman during a
community gathering held in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree
of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
In this Nov. 10, 2017, file photo, family and friends
gather around a makeshift memorial for the victims of the First Baptist
Church shooting at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs,
Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
By GARY FIELDS and DAVID CRARY
NEW YORK (AP) — When a
machete-wielding attacker walked into a rabbi's home in Monsey, New York,
during Hanukkah and a gunman fired on worshippers at a Texas church 14 hours
later, the two congregations in different regions of the country joined a
growing list of faith communities that have come under attack in the U.S.
It is a group that crosses
denominations and geography and has companions around the world. The
frequency of attacks has faith leaders and law enforcement grappling with
how to protect people when they are at their most vulnerable.
FBI hate crime statistics show that
incidents in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques increased 34.8%
between 2014 and 2018, the last year for which FBI data is available.
"For a person bent on hate crime
against a particular religion or race, you go to a place where you know a
lot of people in that group will be congregating — and vulnerable," said
James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Boston's Northeastern University. "One
place you can go to find people of a certain religion is where they
worship." Most congregations, he said, do not have security.
Three of the deadliest attacks on
congregation members have occurred since June 2015, when a gunman killed
nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston,
South Carolina, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press,
USA TODAY and Northeastern University. The database includes attacks where
four or more victims are killed.
However, the database wouldn't
include the most recent attacks that have refocused attention on the
security vulnerabilities at religious institutions.
The FBI's hate crime highlights
list a number of crimes, including a Colorado plot to blow up a synagogue,
an Oregon man sentenced to federal prison for targeting a Catholic Church
and two guilty pleas in the bombing of an Islamic Center in Minnesota where
congregants were worshipping in the mosque.
A five-year compilation of AP
reports showed the frequency of attacks countrywide.
Recent stories included the stabbing
of an Orthodox Jewish man as he approached the driveway of his synagogue in
Monsey in November, as well as a Las Vegas incident where a suspect torched
a Buddhist temple, then shot toward at least one monk fleeing the fire.
The data is definitive enough that
the FBI invited faith leaders to its Washington, D.C., headquarters last
June to discuss how to protect themselves and their congregants from
Mark Whitlock Jr., pastor of Reid
Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Maryland, said his own staff and volunteers
have met five times in the last month to discuss safety.
"Our first responsibility is to make
sure our congregants have faith in God and second, that they are safe,"
Whitlock said. "We must not create an environment of fear but we also must
not fail to recognize things do happen and evil is present."
Reid has a paid security staff of
about 20 who wear uniforms and are armed. There are volunteers as well, made
up of former and current federal agents, law enforcement officers and
military who also provide security, Whitlock said.
Even with the protection, he is
watchful. On Sunday, he was in the pulpit and saw the security force
reacting to something. They explained later it was a stranger they wanted to
"When you're looking at thousands of
people and you see your security force walking around, your mind begins to
wonder," he said.
The new spate of anti-Semitic
attacks has added to the sense of urgency that's been felt by Jewish
security experts since the 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life
synagogue, where 11 people were killed.
"The greatest adversary we truly
face is not an external threat, it's a sense of denial," said Michael
Masters, national director of the Secure Community Network. It was formed by
leading Jewish organizations in 2004 to coordinate a response to security
"The conversation prior to
Pittsburgh was whether safety and security was necessary," Masters said.
"Now it's a question of how do we effectuate that — there's now a reality
that these events can happen anywhere."
Sunday's attack in White Settlement,
Texas, in which the gunman was shot dead by a highly trained leader of the
church's security team, came barely two years after more than two dozen
people were killed at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. That remains
the deadliest shooting at a house of worship in the U.S. in modern times.
The two Texas attacks have
heightened worries among churchgoers in neighboring Oklahoma, said the Rev.
Derrek Belase, a former police officer turned pastor who coordinates
security training for the more than 480 United Methodist churches in
"Texas is close to home for us,"
Belase said. "People see it on the news and think, 'That could be us.'"
Under Oklahoma law, houses of
worship are among the places where adults are allowed to carry firearms,
whether concealed or openly. Churches may ask worshippers not to bring guns
with them, but Belase says that's not a common request.
When Belase is advising churches on
security, his core recommendations are to work in tandem with local law
enforcement, be wary of for-profit security consultants, and be sure that
members of any church security team are thoroughly trained.
The security team leader in White
Settlement "wasn't just a guy with a gun," Belase said. "He was trained to
Pardeep Singh Kaleka, executive
director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, said his own
Sikh temple has armed guards and an evacuation plan, the result of a 2012
attack in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, that killed six worshippers, including his
father. He said the conference members talk regularly about how to prevent
the next tragedy. "All faiths want to remain open, Buddhists, Sikhs,
Muslims, Jews, Christians, but you also have to be vigilant and institute
Apes, monkeys among 30 animals killed in Krefeld Zoo fire
Firefighters stand in front of the burning monkey house at Krefeld Zoo,
in Krefeld, Germany, Wednesday Jan 1, 2020. (Alexander Forstreuter/dpa
By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER
BERLIN (AP) — A fire
raced through a zoo in western Germany in the first few minutes of the
new year, killing more than 30 animals, including apes, monkeys, bats
and birds, authorities said. Police said paper sky lanterns launched
nearby to celebrate the arrival of 2020 were probably to blame.
Several witnesses saw
cylindrical paper lanterns with little fires inside flying in the night
sky shortly after midnight Wednesday near the Krefeld Zoo, Gerd Hoppmann,
the city's head of criminal police, told reporters.
"People reported seeing those
sky lanterns flying at low altitude near the zoo and then it started
burning," Hoppmann said.
He said investigators also found
used lanterns on the ground that hadn't burned entirely. They were 34
centimeters (over 13 inches) long, made out of white paper with an
opening at the bottom where a small fire would be suspended. The fire
heats the air inside, making them fly and shine at night.
Police and firefighters received
the first emergency calls at 12:38 a.m.
The zoo near the Dutch border
said its entire ape house burned down and more than 30 animals —
including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several
monkeys — were killed, as well as fruit bats and birds.
Only two chimpanzees were able
to be rescued from the flames by firefighters. They suffered burns but
are in stable condition, zoo director Wolfgang Dressen said.
"It's close to a miracle that
Bally, a 40-year-old female chimpanzee, and Limbo, a younger male,
survived this inferno," Dressen said, adding that many of the zoo's
animal handlers were in shock at the devastation.
"We have to seriously work
through the mourning process," Dressen said. "This is an unfathomable
He said many of the dead animals
were close to extinction in the wild..
The zoo said the Gorilla Garden,
which is near its devastated Ape House, didn't go up in flames and that
gorilla Kidogo and six other members of his family are alive.
Germans usually welcome in the
new year with fireworks at midnight and people are allowed to buy and
launch fireworks. Sky lanterns, however, are both illegal and uncommon
in Krefeld and most of Germany. The mini hot-air balloons made of paper
have been used in Asia for centuries.
After requests by police for
witnesses to come forward, Krefeld police said several people had come
in and were being interrogated. Police said they would not release
details on them.
Hoppmann said some of the
partially burned lanterns had handwritten notes on them.
The Krefeld zoo, which opened in
1975, attracts 400,000 visitors each year. It closed after the fire and
plans to remain closed Thursday.