U.S. recognizes militant group in Syria as al-Qaida
The State Department said Monday that a militant group that is at the forefront of the Syrian rebel movement is just another name for al-Qaida in Iraq, an acknowledgment that the uprising to topple President Bashar Assad is led in part by foreign Islamist extremists who fought U.S. troops for years in the bloody Iraq war.
U.S. officials said they would amend this week their 2004 designation of al-Qaida in Iraq as a terrorist group to include among the group’s aliases the Nusra Front, handing the terrorist designation to the militant Islamist organization that is responsible for many of the rebels’ recent advances against pro-Assad forces.
The Obama administration is expected to make a formal announcement Tuesday, on the eve of an international Friends of Syria summit in Morocco.
Analysts say that in labeling the Nusra Front, known in Arabic as Jabhat al-Nusra, as al-Qaida in Iraq, the U.S. is attempting to draw a clear distinction between nationalist Syrian rebels and foreign jihadists who have flocked to Syria after fighting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the move could backfire, analysts warned, because Nusra fighters often work in close coordination with more secular rebel groups.
Strauss-Kahn, accuser settle over sex assault allegations
Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid settled her lawsuit Monday over sexual assault allegations that sank his political career and spurred scrutiny of his dealings with women on two continents.
The housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, looked composed and resolute as state Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon announced the confidential deal. Strauss-Kahn stayed in Paris and remained mum when asked about the settlement, which came after prosecutors abandoned a related criminal case because they said Diallo had credibility problems.
“I thank everyone who supported me all over the world,” Diallo, who has rarely spoken publicly since the May 2011 encounter between her and Strauss-Kahn, said softly after court.
“I thank God, and God bless you all,” she added.
In a statement, Strauss-Kahn attorneys William Taylor III and Amit Mehta said the former diplomat was “pleased to have arrived at a resolution of this matter.”
The lawsuit stemmed from an encounter in Strauss-Kahn’s luxury Manhattan hotel suite.
Diallo, a 33-year-old housekeeper from Guinea, told police Strauss-Kahn forced her to perform oral sex, tried to rape her and tore a ligament in her shoulder after she arrived to clean his suite. The 63-year-old Strauss-Kahn, who has since separated from his wife, has said what happened was “a moral failing” but was consensual.
Architect caught with cocaine gets six-month sentence
A highly acclaimed architect was sentenced Monday to six months in prison for trying to enter the U.S. with nearly 13 pounds of cocaine hidden in his minivan’s battery.
A federal judge ordered the unusually light punishment after Eugenio Velazquez claimed drug traffickers threatened to kill him if he refused to carry drugs for them.
Velazquez, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico who lives in suburban San Diego, had a distinguished 30-year career in Mexico designing some of Tijuana’s most prominent buildings, including its new main cathedral, an expansion of the Tijuana Cultural Center, and police headquarters.
The San Diego native embraced his smiling wife, daughters and supporters outside court after being told to report to prison Jan. 11 to begin the sentence in federal custody, followed by six more months of home confinement.
“I’m very satisfied,” a beaming Velazquez told reporters. “I’m at peace with myself.”
Velazquez pleaded guilty in June to trying to bring 12.8 pounds of cocaine into the U.S. in a special lane for prescreened, trusted motorists. A drug-sniffing dog alerted inspectors to five packages hidden in the battery of his 2004 Nissan Quest at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry.
Second Powerball jackpot winner, 37, comes forward
The second winner of the $587.5 million Powerball jackpot is a 37-year-old electronics industry professional who grew up in a modest home in Pennsylvania and moved to an affluent Phoenix suburb last year before striking it rich in the lotto.
The winner is Matthew Good of Fountain Hills, who chose to remain anonymous after claiming the prize last week. Lottery winners in Arizona are a matter of public record, and The Associated Press filed a public records request to learn his name.
Good took the one-time payout of $192 million from the Nov. 28 drawing, telling lottery officials the looming fiscal cliff was the reason he claimed the winnings now and not in the next calendar year. He had 180 days to claim his share of the jackpot.
Good grew up on a working-class block in Wormleysburg, Pa., near Harrisburg. His stepmother, Charlotte Good, said that Good was “a typical kid” who has always worked hard. She said he waited until Saturday to phone his father Ray with the news.
Man defiant at sentencing in 1957 murder of 7-year-old
A man found guilty of murdering a 7-year-old in Sycamore, Ill., in 1957, was sentenced to natural life in prison Monday in DeKalb County Court.
Jack McCullough, 73, of Seattle, had been scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 30 for the murder and kidnapping of Maria Ridulph, but his attorneys asked for a new date to prepare more adequately for the hearing.
McCullough remained defiant Monday, making a 13-minute statement in which he denied committing the murder. He also said that FBI records proved he could not have committed the murder. Those records were ruled inadmissible in pre-trial rulings by Judge James Hallock.
The proof, he said, was in a banker’s box in front of him, which he said contained 4,000 pages of FBI reports compiled in the wake of the crime more than 55 years ago. Included were reports that McCullough said supported his alibi that he was in Rockford when Maria was kidnapped.
“In the name of justice and fairness, open the box and view the truth,” McCullough told the judge.
However, Hallock had ruled before trial that the FBI documents were not admissible. The testimony of the officer who completed a report is considered evidence – not the report itself. McCullough’s attorneys had argued that the reports should be allowed into evidence because the agents who completed them are dead or extremely aged.
Clay Campbell, the former state’s attorney who prosecuted McCullough, called his courtroom statement “self-serving nonsense.”
McCullough chose to be sentenced under the law as it existed in 1957. That means that he could, in theory, be eligible for parole in 20 years.
Peace-teaching tribe shaken by murderous rampage
Gravediggers work the old-fashioned way on the Tule River Indian Reservation, chipping away at the hard pan by hand with pickaxes and shoveling the dirt aside. They say it’s a sign of respect not to use machinery, but never has the crew had to dig so many graves at one time.
On Monday, the brothers who run the reservation cemetery were preparing to dig a grave for Alyssa Celaya, 8, who died Sunday following a rampage the previous day that also took the lives of her grandmother and the grandmother’s two brothers. They’ll dig five graves this week.
The killings have shaken this peace-preaching tribe because it goes against their teachings that love for family exists above all.
Authorities said the killer was Alyssa’s father, Hector Celaya, 31, who died Sunday after a shootout with sheriff’s deputies. Investigators were still searching for a motive.
Along with killing his daughter, mother and uncles, Celaya wounded his 5-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, whose injuries are life-threatening, authorities said.
“The community is a peaceful one, and the tribe tries to teach children to be nonviolent,” said Tribal Council Secretary Rhoda Hunter. “We teach our children to not even kill insects. The battle between good and evil is there. Bad is always going to be there. I tell my grandkids that. I tell them to work for good.”