Caught off guard by Libya attack, US braces for more violent fallout from anti-Muslim film
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration was caught by surprise by the ferocity of the Sept. 11 attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the ambassador and three other Americans. Now it is bracing for another potential eruption of violent demonstrations in parts of the Muslim world after Friday's weekly prayers — traditionally a time of protest in the Middle East and North Africa.
Angry demonstrations over an anti-Islam video already have occurred in Egypt and Yemen, and officials theorize that well-armed Libyan extremists hijacked a similar protest in Benghazi, where several Libyan security guards also were killed. The U.S. put all of its diplomatic missions overseas on high alert, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered an explicit denunciation of the video as the administration sought to pre-empt further turmoil at its embassies and consulates.
"The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," she said before a meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco at the State Department. "We absolutely reject its content and message."
"To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible," Clinton said. "It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage."
U.S. officials said they suspect that the attack at the Benghazi consulate, which had also been the target of an unsuccessful attack in June, may have been only tangentially related to the film.
4 arrested as official describes 2-pronged militant operation in US consulate attack
BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Heavily armed militants used a protest of an anti-Islam film as a cover and may have had help from inside Libyan security in their deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate, a senior Libyan official said Thursday.
As Libya announced the first four arrests, the clearest picture yet emerged of a two-pronged assault with militants screaming "God is great!" as they scaled the consulate's outer walls and descended on the compound's main building.
The rampage killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Eastern Libya's deputy interior minister, Wanis el-Sharef, said a mob first stormed the consulate Tuesday night and then, hours later, raided a safe house in the compound just as U.S. and Libyan security arrived to evacuate the staff. That suggested, el-Sharef said, that infiltrators within the security forces may have tipped off the militants to the safe house's location.
The attacks were suspected to have been timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strike in the United States, el-Sharef added, with the militants using the film protest by Libyan civilians to mask their action.
US law enforcement: Nakoula is filmmaker of anti-Muslim movie blamed for violence
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal authorities identified a Southern California man who is on federal probation for financial crimes as the key figure behind an anti-Muslim film that has spawned mob violence against American embassies across the Mideast, a U.S. law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday.
There was no sign of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, at his family's home Thursday in Cerritos outside Los Angeles, as details slowly began to emerge about his checkered past, his connections among Southern California's right-wing Christian organizations and his central role in the production of the film.
Excerpts from the movie, which the filmmaker said was called "Innocence of Muslims," enraged Islamic protesters in Egypt, Libya and Yemen over its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad.
Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed Thursday that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats killed during an attack on the American mission in Benghazi. It was not immediately clear whether authorities were focusing on Nakoula as part of that probe.
Much about the film remains a mystery, including who financed it. Several actors have come forward and claimed they were duped about their roles, and that incendiary language was dubbed over their lines.
With Arab protests, foreign policy suddenly dominates Obama's attention
WASHINGTON (AP) — His sights fixed firmly on securing a second term, President Barack Obama had hoped that the rest of the world would wait until after the election if it had to grow restless and demand his attention.
The eruptions in the streets of the Arab world, inflamed by an anti-Muslim video made in the U.S., mean Obama can put it off no longer. The protests are testing the president's foreign policy skills and giving voters a pre-election view of how he handles a crisis.
The turmoil also offers an opportunity — a risky one — for Obama to appear presidential in the midst of the election campaign, to contrast himself with a challenger less experienced in foreign policy and to illustrate that being president is not just about being a steward of the economy.
Even with a rebellion in Syria and tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions, no international image can be more searing and demand more public attention than that of a U.S. embassy under attack and American civilians in peril. This week's angry demonstrators, flag burnings and imperiled civilians already were drawing comparisons to 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 60 hostages and held them for 444 days, helping erode President Jimmy Carter's public support.
For Obama, the timing of the violent demonstrations less than two months before the election creates further complications.
Romney shifts back to economic argument as Obama vows 'no act of terror will go unpunished'
FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama on Thursday of "failing American workers" by ignoring Chinese trade violations, and seized on new Federal Reserve attempts to boost the economy as proof the administration's policies are not working.
Obama campaigned as commander in chief after the violent deaths of four U.S. officials at a diplomatic post in Libya. "No act of terror will go unpunished ... no act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," he said.
The president spoke in Colorado and Romney in Virginia with less than eight weeks remaining in a close campaign for the White House in tough economic times. The two states are among a handful likely to settle the race, and most polls rate Obama a shaky favorite.
With campaign costs mounting, Romney and Obama competed for the most innovative fundraising appeal.
The Republican challenger's campaign urged people in an email to make a $15 donation for a chance to join "Mitt on board the campaign plane for an exciting day on the campaign trail — at 30,000 feet!"
Fed to buy mortgage bonds, plans to keep rates ultra-low into 2015, says more action may come
WASHINGTON (AP) — Alarmed by the chronically weak U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve launched an aggressive new effort Thursday to boost the stock market and make borrowing cheaper for years to come.
And it made clear it won't stop there and is ready to try other stimulative measures if hiring doesn't pick up.
Stock prices rocketed up in approval. But economists said the Fed's plans to buy mortgage bonds for as long as it deems necessary and to keep interest rates at record lows until mid-2015 — six months longer than previously planned — might provide little benefit to the economy.
Chairman Ben Bernanke himself cautioned that the Fed's actions are no panacea for slow growth and high unemployment, and said the economy will probably need help even after the recovery strengthens.
"The idea is to quicken the recovery," Bernanke said at a news conference after the Fed lowered its outlook for growth this year.
Guatemala volcano erupts outside tourist center, officials order 33,000 evacuated
ESCUINTLA, Guatemala (AP) — A long-simmering volcano exploded with a series of powerful eruptions outside one of Guatemala's most famous tourist attractions on Thursday, hurling thick clouds of ash nearly two miles (three kilometers) high, spewing rivers of lava down its flanks and prompting evacuation orders for more than 33,000 people from surrounding communities.
Guatemala's head of emergency evacuations, Sergio Cabanas, said the evacuees were ordered to leave some 17 villages around the Volcan del Fuego, which sits about six miles southwest (16 kilometers) from the colonial city of Antigua, home to 45,000 people. The ash was blowing south-southeast and authorities said the tourist center of the country was not currently in danger, although they expected the eruption to last for at least 12 more hours.
Hundreds of cars, trucks and buses, blanketed with charcoal grey cash, sped away from the volcano along the a two-lane paved highway toward Guatemala City. Dozens of people crammed into the backs of trucks. Thick clouds of ash reduced visibility to less than 10 feet in the area of sugarcane fields surrounding the volcano. The elderly, women and children filled old school buses and ambulances that carried them from the area.
The agency said lava rolled nearly 2,000 feet (600 meters) down slopes billowing with ash around the Volcan del Fuego, a 12,346-foot-high (3,763-meter-high) volcano whose name translates as "Volcano of Fire."
"A paroxysm of an eruption is taking place, a great volcanic eruption, with strong explosions and columns of ash," said Gustavo Chicna, a volcanologist with the National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology. He said cinders spewing from the volcano were settling a half-inch thick in some places.
NYC bans supersized sodas at restaurants, theaters and concession stands
NEW YORK (AP) — New York City cracked down on the sale of supersized sodas and other sugary drinks Thursday in what was celebrated by some as a groundbreaking attempt to curb obesity but condemned by others as a blatant intrusion into people's lives by a busybody mayor.
Public health experts around the nation — and the restaurant and soft-drink industry — will be watching closely to see how it goes over among New Yorkers, a famously disputatious bunch. Barring any court action, the measure will take effect in March.
The regulations, approved easily by the city Board of Health, apply to any establishment with a food-service license, including fast-food places, delis, movie and Broadway theaters, the concession stands at Yankee Stadium and the pizzerias of Little Italy. They will be barred from serving sugary beverages in cups or bottles larger than 16 ounces.
No other U.S. city has gone so far as to restrict portion sizes at restaurants to fight weight gain.
"We cannot continue to have our kids come down with diabetes at age 6," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Buyers in impulse mode as last 'tax-free' shopping day for Californians on Amazon looms
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Online retailer Amazon.com has tried to become all things to all consumers, but in California, it is about to take on a role it has fought against for years: tax collector.
The change, which takes effect this weekend, comes after years of bitter back and forth between the world's largest online mall and the California Legislature over whether Internet retailers should have to charge sales tax. The two sides reached a deal in 2011 that included a one-year grace period set to end Saturday.
The deadline has spurred at least some consumers into impulse-buying mode, making big-ticket purchases and stocking up on essentials before the tax collection kicks in.
"Even the mailroom is laughing at me," said Derek Daniels, 37, who has had Amazon packages delivered to his Los Angeles office every day this week. He's loading up on household supplies like trash bags and collecting birthday and Christmas presents for his Superman-loving 2 year-old.
"We are hoping he won't fall in love with Batman by the time November rolls around," Daniels said.
Sally Struthers charged with drunken driving in Maine, where she's appearing in musical
OGUNQUIT, Maine (AP) — Actress Sally Struthers denies driving drunk in Maine, where she's appearing in a musical.
Police say Struthers was arrested early Wednesday after being pulled over on U.S. Route 1 in the southern resort town Ogunquit (oh-GUHNG'-kwit). She was charged with criminal operating under the influence and posted $160 bail.
The 65-year-old Struthers is best known for her role as Gloria Stivic in the 1970s TV sitcom "All in the Family" and later for heart-tugging ads seeking money for children's charities. She has been performing at the Ogunquit Playhouse in the musical "9 to 5."
A publicist says Struthers denies the charges against her.
Publicist Pamela Sharp said Thursday that Struthers is working and is fine and loves the playhouse and her yearly time in the town.