Militiamen withdraw from US Embassy but Iraq tensions linger
BAGHDAD — 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.
Year-end violence highlights danger of worshiping
NEW YORK — When a machete-wielding attacker walked into a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, during Hanukkah and a gunman fired on worshipers 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.
Some flee, restock before Australia’s wildfires grow
PERTH, Australia — 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 currently burning.
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 seen.”
Air crash deaths fall by more than half in 2019
FRANKFURT, Germany — The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019, according to a report by an aviation consulting firm.
The To70 consultancy said Wednesday that 257 people died in eight fatal accidents in 2019. That compares to 534 deaths in 13 fatal accidents in 2018.
The 2019 death toll rose in late December after a Bek Air Fokker 100 crashed Friday on takeoff in Kazakhstan, killing 12 people. The worst crash of 2019 involved an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX plane that crashed March 10, killing 157 people.
The report said fatal accidents in 2018 and 2019 that led to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX raised questions about how aviation authorities approve aviation designs derived from older ones, and about how much pilot training is needed on new systems.
From wire sources
The group said it expects the 737 MAX to eventually gain permission to fly again in 2020.
Israel PM seeks immunity, buying time until after vote
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he would seek immunity from corruption charges, likely delaying any trial until after March elections, when he hopes to have a majority coalition that will shield him from prosecution.
Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. After failing to assemble a governing majority following back-to-back elections last year, he will get a third shot at remaining in office in March.
Wednesday’s announcement essentially turns the upcoming election into a referendum on whether Netanyahu should be granted immunity and remain in office, or step down and stand trial. A recent poll indicated that a majority of Israelis oppose giving him immunity.
In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu repeated his assertion that he is the victim of an unfair conspiracy, lashing out at prosecutors, the media and his political enemies. Claiming credit for a series of economic and security achievements on his watch, he said he would seek to invoke the law that would protect him from prosecution as long as he remains in office.
“In order to continue to lead Israel to great achievements, I intend to approach the speaker of the Knesset in accordance with chapter 4C of the law, in order to fulfill my right, my duty and my mission to continue to serve you for the future of Israel,” he said.
Bobbi Kristina Brown’s ex-partner Nick Gordon dies at 30
ATLANTA — Nick Gordon, who was found liable in the death of his ex-partner Bobbi Kristina Brown, has died. He was 30.
Gordon’s attorney Joe S. Habachy confirmed his client’s death in a statement Wednesday to The Associated Press. The Atlanta attorney did not give a cause of death or say where it occurred.
Gordon’s death comes nearly five years after Brown, the daughter of singers Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, was found face-down and unresponsive in a bathtub in January 2015. The 22-year-old died after six months in a coma.
Investigators with the medical examiner’s office were not able to determine exactly how Bobbi Kristina Brown died. An autopsy showed that she had morphine, cocaine, alcohol and prescription drugs in her body, but the medical examiner couldn’t determine if she killed herself, if someone else killed her or if her death was accidental.
Her family blamed Gordon, accusing him in the lawsuit of giving her a “toxic cocktail” before putting her face-down in the water.
Pete Buttigieg raises $24.7 million during 4th quarter
DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg’s campaign says he raised more than $24.7 million in the last three months and now has a campaign staff of 500 people nationwide, a show of financial and organizational strength heading into the presidential primaries.
In a memo from campaign manager Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg’s campaign said Wednesday it had received more than 2 million contributions from over 733,000 people and had raised $76 million since he launched his bid for president. It’s a notable feat for the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana — Buttigieg gave up the position Wednesday when his successor was sworn in.
Buttigieg has come under fire for holding big-dollar fundraisers with wealthy donors that, until recently, he kept private. But in the fundraising announcement, Buttigieg’s campaign touted that its average contribution was about $38. And the big-dollar fundraisers have paid off — Buttigieg’s 2019 fourth-quarter haul is far beyond the $19.2 million he raised during the third quarter of the year.
Schmuhl also touted the fact that the campaign has opened 65 field offices across the four early primary states, including 35 in Iowa, the first state where Democrats make their primary preference known, next month. Buttigieg has been polling among the top three candidates in Iowa, though he still polls in the middle of the pack nationwide and faces lingering questions about his ability to broaden his support beyond white voters.
Apes, monkeys among 30 animals killed in German zoo fire
BERLIN — 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.