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Saudis blame Iran for attack

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of being behind a drone strike that shut down a key oil pipeline in the kingdom, and a newspaper close to the palace called for Washington to launch “surgical” strikes on Iran, raising the specter of escalating tensions as the U.S. boosts its military presence in the Persian Gulf. Concerns about possible conflict have flared after the U.S. dispatched warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged but unspecified threat from Iran. There also have been allegations that four oil tankers were sabotaged Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack on the Saudi pipeline. The fears have grown out of President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions — the latest levied as recently as last week — that have crippled Iran’s economy. Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman, who is King Salman’s son and the country’s deputy defense minister, tweeted that the drone attack on two Saudi Aramco pumping stations running along the East-West pipeline were “ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis” — a reference to the Yemeni rebel group. A state-aligned Saudi newspaper went further, running an editorial calling for “surgical” U.S. strikes on Iran in retaliation. Iran has been accused by the U.S. and the U.N. of supplying ballistic missile technology and arms to the Houthis, which Tehran denies.

Drones threaten Peninsula

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A Yemen rebel drone strike this week on a critical Saudi oil pipeline shows that the otherwise-peaceful sandy reaches of the Arabian Peninsula now are at risk of similar assault, including an under-construction nuclear power plant and Dubai International Airport, among the world’s busiest. U.N. investigators said the Houthis’ new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two main opponents of the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, within reach of drones difficult to detect and track. Their relatively simple design, coupled with readily available information online, makes targeting even easier, analysts say. “These installations are easily findable like on Google Earth,” said Tim Michetti, an expert on illicit weapons technology with experience in Yemen. “Once you get in the vicinity, that alone has that kind of effect of showing that the reach is there.” The drone attacks come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S., a year after President Donald Trump pulled America out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. The White House has ordered an aircraft carrier and bombers into the region over a still-unexplained threat from Iran, while nonessential employees at U.S. diplomatic posts in Iraq have been ordered to leave the country.

Trump pushes immigration plan

WASHINGTON — Unveiling a new immigration plan, President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wanted to provide a sharp contrast with Democrats, and he did — aiming to upend decades of family-based immigration policy with a new approach that favors younger, “totally brilliant,” high-skilled workers he says won’t compete for American jobs. Trump’s sweeping immigration plan is more a campaign document than anything else. It’s a White House attempt to stretch beyond the “build-the-wall” rhetoric that swept the president to office but may not be enough to deliver him a second term. As Trump heads into re-election season, his campaign sees the plan as a way to help him look more reasonable on a signature issue than he often seems — and to cast Democrats as blocking him. “We want immigrants coming in. We cherish the open door,” Trump said in a Rose Garden speech as Cabinet members and Republican lawmakers filled the front rows. Trump said his new system, with points given for those with advanced degrees, job offers and other attributes, will make it exactly “clear what standards we ask you to achieve.” Nowadays, “we discriminate against genius,” he said, using a softer tone than his usual fiery campaign rallies. “We discriminate against brilliance. We won’t anymore once we get this passed.”

Manning sent back to jail

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was ordered back to jail Thursday for refusing to testify to a grand jury, even after telling a judge she’d rather “starve to death” than cooperate with prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ordered her to remain incarcerated at the Alexandria jail either until she agrees to testify or until the grand jury’s term expires in 18 months. He also imposed fines that will kick in at $500 a day after 30 days and $1,000 a day after 60 days. Manning already spent two months in jail for refusing a previous subpoena to testify to a grand jury investigating Wikileaks. She was released last week when that grand jury’s term expired, but prosecutors quickly hit her with a new subpoena to testify to a new grand jury. Manning has offered multiple reasons for refusing to testify, but fundamentally says she considers the whole grand jury process to be unacceptable. Trenga was unimpressed with her rationale and noted that grand juries are embedded in the Constitution.

Texas flight center evacuated

FORT WORTH, Texas — At least 100 flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport have been delayed after the partial evacuation of a nearby government air traffic control center because of a rank odor. The incident began late Thursday morning at the FAA flight control center near the airport, where controllers manage high-altitude flights. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman says the stench was a sewer issue and that plumbers were working on the problem. Air purifiers and fans were set up in the building, and an FAA statement says air traffic was being managed at a slightly reduced rate as employees were rotated in and out of the building. No illnesses were reported. The FAA website says flights arriving at DFW were being delayed an average of about 45 minutes.

Pregnant Chicago woman slain

CHICAGO — A pregnant woman who had gone to a Chicago home in response to a Facebook offer of free baby clothes was strangled and her baby cut from her womb, police and family members said. The newborn was in grave condition and not expected to survive, and three people were taken into custody, including a woman who pretended the baby was hers, police said. Charges including murder were expected to be filed Thursday afternoon, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. The body of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez was found early Wednesday behind the house, more than three weeks after she disappeared. The nine-months-pregnant woman was last seen leaving her high school on April 23, the same day paramedics were called to the home several miles away on the Southwest Side about a newborn with problems breathing. “We believe that she was murdered, and we believe that the baby was forcibly removed following that murder,” Guglielmi said, calling it an “unspeakable act of violence.” Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said a 46-year-old woman called 911 reporting that her newborn baby was in distress. When paramedics arrived “the baby wasn’t breathing, the baby was blue,” said Merritt. Paramedics tried to resuscitate the baby on the way to the hospital, he said.

US pursues obscure trade cases

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s high-profile trade offensives have grabbed headlines and rattled financial markets around the world. He’s battling China over the industries of the future, strong-arming Canada and Mexico into reshaping North American trade and threatening to tax cars from Europe. But his trade warriors are fighting dozens of more obscure battles — over laminated woven sacks from Vietnam, dried tart cherries from Turkey, rubber bands from Thailand and many others. Under the radar, the Trump administration has launched 162 investigations into allegations that U.S. trading partners dump products at cut-rate prices or unfairly subsidize their exporters — a 224% jump from the number of cases the Obama administration pursued in the same time in office. If the U.S Commerce Department finds that U.S. companies have been hurt — and ultimately if the independent International Trade Commission goes along — the offending imports are slapped with duties that can price them out of the market. On Thursday, for instance, the department announced levies of up to 337% in combat over kitchen and bathroom countertops — or at least over the imported quartz slabs from China that many of them derive from.

ETA chief arrested

SALLANCHES, France — A longtime chief of the Basque militant separatist group ETA was arrested Thursday in a French Alps town after being on the run for 17 years, Spanish authorities said, proudly announcing the capture of a man accused of crimes against humanity. Jose Antonio Urruticoetxea Bengoetxea, known by the alias Josu Ternera, has been the most wanted ETA member since 2002. Interpol, the global police body, had issued a red alert against him. Spanish authorities also accuse him of multiple killings and belonging to a terrorist organization.

ETA, whose initials stand for “Basque Homeland and Freedom” in the Basque language, killed more than 850 people during its decades-long violent campaign to create an independent state in northern Spain and southern France. The militant group gave up its arms in 2017 and disbanded last year after being weakened by a sustained police effort to dismantle its operations and arrest its leaders. Spain’s Interior Ministry said Ternera’s arrest took place early Thursday in Sallanches, a town of 16,000 in the French Alps, with both French intelligence services and Spanish Civil Guard agents taking part. Spanish authorities said Ternera, 69, had been living near Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, a French winter sports haven close to the borders of France, Switzerland and Italy. The Paris prosecutor’s office said Ternera was arrested by France’s domestic intelligence service DGSI, based on a 2017 French conviction in absentia for involvement in a terrorist group. That verdict carried a sentence of eight years in prison and barred him from French territory.

Trump revenue steady

NEW YORK — Revenue from President Donald Trump’s sprawling business empire largely held steady last year amid his turbulent presidency, according to his financial disclosure Thursday, with a drop in business at his Mar-a-Lago resort and small gains at his Washington hotel and Doral golf club. The mixed bag provided validation to neither those who predicted Trump would reap massive profits off the presidency nor to Trump himself, who earlier this year claimed he has “lost massive amounts of money doing this job.” Overall, revenue from Trump’s business empire in 2018 was roughly the same as in 2017 — at least $453 million. Revenue tallied from more than 200 businesses was down more than $30 million from the previous year, due partly to a drop in management fees at hotels that cut ties to the president’s company. That shortfall was made up from sales of various properties last year, including a stake a housing project in Brooklyn and land near Los Angeles and in the Dominican Republic. Trump’s Doral golf course and club in Miami took in the most among his golf properties, generating about $76 million in revenue last year, about $1 million more than in 2017. His Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, took in nearly $23 million, a drop of more than $2 million.

San Francisco homeless count up

SAN FRANCISCO– A federal count shows the number of homeless people increased by double-digit percentages in three San Francisco Bay Area counties over two years. In San Francisco, the number of homeless people jumped 17% to more than 8,000 in 2019. The homelessness point-in-time count is conducted every two years. It is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara County, the homeless population increased 31% to about 9,700 this year. In Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland, the homeless population increased 43% to more than 8,000 people this year. The San Francisco Bay Area is grappling with a homelessness crisis driven in part by a historic lack of housing. Homes that are available are too expensive for many to rent or buy.

School safety drill criticized

HARRISON CITY, Pa. — A Pennsylvania school district is defending itself after video surfaced of a safety drill that had a teacher posing as a shooter and donning what appeared to be a Middle Eastern headdress. The video appears to show the actor wearing a kaffiyeh (keh-FEE’-yuh). The Penn-Trafford School District said Wednesday that organizers didn’t intend to portray the shooter as Arab or Muslim at the January training. The district says that volunteers were provided costumes by a consultant group and that there was no intent to represent any particular culture or religion. The statement pointed out that the person portraying the shooter also wore a long blond wig and a paintball mask. The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh says “to stereotype the shooter is appalling given the data on active shooters and the recent shootings at the Tree of Life and Christ Church.” The video was for internal teacher training only, but footage was posted on social media this week.

Cartel drug trafficker sentenced

ATLANTA — The head of the U.S. arm of the cocaine transportation and distribution network of Edgar Valdez-Villareal, also known as La Barbie, has been sentenced to federal prison for trafficking cocaine and money laundering. In a news release Thursday, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May sentenced Carlos Montemayor, of Tamaulipas, Mexico, to 34 years and three months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release. Pak says Montemayor in 1992 established a successful trucking and logistics company in Laredo, Texas, that specialized in moving goods from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, into the United States. He partnered with Valdez-Villareal in 2002 and soon, his company began moving up to 300 kilograms of cocaine a week to stash houses in Atlanta; Memphis, Tennessee, and other cities.

F-16 fighter crashes

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A pilot ejected moments before an F-16 fighter jet crashed Thursday into a warehouse just outside March Air Reserve Base in California, military officials said. The pilot was not hurt and there were no immediate reports of injuries on the ground, said Maj. Perry Covington, director of public affairs at the base. Interstate 215, which runs between the base and the warehouse, was closed in both directions, backing up rush-hour traffic for miles. Television news showed a large hole in the roof and sprinklers on inside the building about 65 miles (105 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. The jet’s cockpit canopy was on a runway and a parachute had settled in a nearby field. The pilot, believed to be the only person on board the jet, was being medically evaluated, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office. The F-16 is assigned to the Air National Guard, officials said. The base is home to the Air Force Reserve Command’s Fourth Air Force Headquarters and various other units.

Writer arrested for drugs

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Police in West Virginia have arrested a popular self-published romance writer on drug charges following a traffic stop. The Exponent Telegram reports 28-year-old Kelly Ann Scyoc of Lumberport was charged Wednesday with conspiracy and felony possession with intent to deliver. Scyoc writes under the pseudonym K.A. Robinson. Her books have included the “Torn” and “Ties” fiction series. At least one of them made The New York Times best-seller list. Court records show a Bridgeport police officer pulled over a vehicle driven by Scyoc on Interstate 79 for an improper lane change. Authorities say a vehicle search turned up bags containing a crystal-like substance believed to be methamphetamine, powder-like substances and digital scales. A passenger also was arrested.

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