Monday, April 22, 2024

4 prisoners at large

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BAGHDAD – Four prisoners with links to al-Qaeda being guarded by American troops escaped from a maximum-security prison in Baghdad and are still at large, United States and Iraqi officials said.
The breakout from Karkh Prison, formerly called Camp Cropper, is an embarrassment for the US military, which has handed over control of all of the detention facilities it used to run to the Iraqi government. But at the request of the Iraqis, the US has retained custody over some of the most dangerous prisoners, including those with ties to terrorist groups or Saddam Hussein’s former regime.
US troops found two detainees attempting to escape from the compound on Wednesday evening, the military said in a statement. When they conducted a sweep of the whole facility, they discovered that four other detainees were missing. (AP)
Missing swimmer found
SAN ANTONIO – Authorities say one of two swimmers swept away by floodwaters near San Antonio has been found dead, pushing up the death toll from flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine.
Officials in New Braunfels say 23-year-old Derek Joel-Nelson Clemens was found dead yesterday in the swollen Guadalupe River. The search for his friend continues.
Both men went missing Wednesday as flash floods fueled by the storm hit parts of Texas before moving east.
In Oklahoma, a motorist drowned after trying to drive across a swollen creek. The Highway Patrol says 19-year-old Jackie Warford’s vehicle was swept off a road in the eastern Oklahoma town of Stilwell. (AP)
Highway deaths down
WASHINGTON – Traffic deaths have plummeted across the United States to levels not seen in more than a half-century, spurred by technology, safety-conscious drivers and tougher enforcement of drunken driving laws.
The Transportation Department said Thursday that traffic deaths fell 9.7 per cent in 2009 to 33 808, the lowest number since 1950. In 2008, an estimated 37 423 people died on the highways.
Government and auto safety experts attributed the improvement to more people buckling up, side air bags and anti-rollover technology in more vehicles and a focus in many states on curbing drinking and driving. Economic conditions were also a factor.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the new data “a landmark achievement for public health and safety” but cautioned that too many people are killed on the road each year.
“While we’ve come a long way,” he said, “we have a long distance yet to travel.”
Forty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico saw reductions in highway fatalities, led by Florida with 422 fewer deaths and Texas, down 405. (AP)
Iran to free jailed American
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said it will free Sarah Shourd, one of three Americans jailed for more than 13 months, as an act of clemency to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The imprisonment of the Americans has deepened tensions between the United States and Iran, a relationship already strained over Washington’s suspicions that Tehran is trying to manufacture nuclear weapons – something Iran denies.
Bak Sahraei, the second counselor of Iran’s United Nations mission sent an e-mail confirming the release of Shourd, following up an earlier text message from the Culture Ministry telling reporters them to come to a Tehran hotel on Saturday morning to witness the release.
The site is the same one where the three were allowed the only meeting with their mothers since they were detained in July 2009.
Iran claims they illegally crossed the border from Iraq’s northern Kurdish region and had threatened to put the three on trial for spying. Their families say they were hiking in the largely peaceful region of Iraq and that if they crossed the border, it was accidental.
“Offering congratulations on Eid al-Fitr,” the ministry text message said, referring to the feast that marks the end of Ramadan.
“The release of one of the detained Americans will be Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Estaghlal hotel.”
The gesture could be a calculated move by Iran to soften international criticism of its judiciary. Iran has faced a growing storm of protest over a stoning sentence for a woman convicted of adultery that has been temporarily suspended.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has in the past proposed swapping the three for Iranians he says are jailed in the United States, raising fears that the Americans are being held as bargaining chips. (AP)
17 dead after bomb attack
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia – A suicide car bomber hit a central market in southern Russia, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than 130 in one of the North Caucasus region’s worst attacks in years, officials said.
The bomber detonated his explosives as he drove by the main entrance to the Vladikavkaz market, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.
The death toll included the bomber, and 98 of the 133 people wounded in the explosion were hospitalised, many in grave condition, said Alexander Pogorely of the Emergency Situations Ministry.
TV images showed a shrapnel-littered square in front of the market, with blood stains on the pavement and rows of vehicles scarred by the blast.
Russia’s North Caucasus has been gripped by violence stemming from two separatist wars in Chechnya and fueled by endemic poverty, rampant official corruption and police abuses.
Vladikavkaz, a major city, is the capital of the Russian republic of North Ossetia. Although it is less plagued by violence than other republics in the region such as Chechnya and Dagestan, North Ossetia has experienced ethnic tensions and frequent attacks.
The Vladikavkaz market area has been the target of several bomb attacks over the past dozen years in which scores of people have died. It was bombed in 1999, killing 55 people. Another bombing in 2001 killed six people, and in 2004, 11 people died when a minibus near the market was bombed.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev immediately sent his regional envoy to Vladikavkaz to help coordinate efforts to help the victims. He urged investigators to “do everything to track down the beasts, the scoundrels who conducted that terror attack.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, the deadliest attack in the region since a double suicide bombing killed 12 in Dagestan in April. Twin suicide bombings on Moscow subway in March killed 40 people and wounded over 100.
Unlike most other Caucasus provinces where Muslims make up the majority of the population, North Ossetia is predominantly Orthodox Christian. It has been destabilised by long-simmering tensions between ethnic Ossetians and ethnic Ingush that exploded into an open fighting in 1992.
“The crimes like the one that was committed in the North Caucasus today are aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in televised remarks during a meeting with Russia’s top Islamic cleric.
“We mustn’t allow this.”
The regional president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, quickly sent condolences to the leader of North Ossetia on Thursday to help assuage tensions between the two ethnic groups.
President Barack Obama also condemned the attack and said yesterday’s incident further underscored the intent of both countries to work together to fight terrorism and protect their citizens.
“Our hearts go out to the people of North Ossetia, who have already suffered so much from horrific acts of terrorism,” he said in a statement.
The market attack came as Muslims were preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
North Ossetia was also the scene of the 2004 Beslan crisis, where Chechen militants took hundreds of hostages at a school – a siege that ended in a bloodbath killing more than 330 people, about half of them children.
In other violence in southern Russia, officials said Thursday that a hotel employee and another civilian were shot to death by men trying to build a bomb in their hotel room in the Caspian Sea province of Dagestan.
The shooting took place late Wednesday in the regional capital of Makhachkala, Interior Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Gasanov said. He said three armed men fled a room in the small hotel after an explosion and opened fire on a hotel clerk and another person who confronted them. He says police found several bombs and six grenades in the room. (AP)

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