DAMASCUS, Syria

Government, rebels trade charges of chemical attack

Syria’s government and rebels traded accusations Tuesday of a chemical attack on a northern village for the first time in the civil war, although the U.S. said there was no evidence it had happened.

The use of such weapons would be a nightmare scenario in the 2-year-old conflict that has killed an estimated 70,000 people, and the competing claims showed a willingness by both sides to go to new levels to seek support from world powers.

One of the international community’s biggest concerns is that Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons could be used by one side or the other, or could fall into the hands of foreign jihadi fighters among the rebels or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime of President Bashar Assad.

President Barack Obama has declared the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons would be a “red line” for possible military intervention by the U.S. in the Syrian conflict.

The accusations emerged only a few hours after the Syrian opposition elected a prime minister to head an interim government that would rule areas seized by rebel forces from the Assad regime.

The state-run SANA news agency said “a missile containing a chemical substance” was fired at the village of Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province by “terrorists” – the term it uses for rebels. Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad said 31 people were killed.

SANA added that more than 100 others were wounded, some of them critically, and it published pictures showing casualties, including children, on stretchers in what appears to be a hospital ward. None showed signs of physical injuries.

BERLIN

Researchers sequence genome of Neanderthal

Researchers in Germany said Tuesday they have completed the first high-quality sequencing of a Neanderthal genome and are making it freely available online for other scientists to study.

The genome produced from remains of a toe bone found in a Siberian cave is far more detailed than a previous “draft” Neanderthal genome sequenced three years ago by the same team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

“The genome of a Neanderthal is now there in a form as accurate as that of any person walking the streets today,” Svante Paabo, a geneticist who led the research, told The Associated Press in an email.

Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University in California who was not involved in the study, said it was “a monumental achievement that no one would have thought possible 10 or perhaps even five years ago.”

The Leipzig team has already been able to determine which genes the Neanderthal inherited from its mother and which from its father. It now hopes to compare the new genome sequence to that of other Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans – another extinct human species whose genome was previously extracted from remains found in the same Siberian cave.

HAWTHORNE, Nev.

Mortar shell blast during training kills seven Marines

A mortar shell explosion killed seven Marines and injured a half-dozen more during mountain warfare training in Nevada’s high desert, prompting the Pentagon to immediately halt the use of some of the weapons worldwide until an investigation can determine their safety, officials said Tuesday.

The explosion occurred Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a facility used by troops heading overseas, during an exercise involving the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Several Marines from the unit were injured in the blast, authorities said.

The mortar round exploded in its firing tube during the exercise, said Brigadier General Jim Lukeman at a news conference at Camp Lejeune. He said investigators are trying to determine the cause of the malfunction.

ORLANDO, Fla.

Student in foiled plot had working checklist for attack

The student behind a foiled attack plot at a Florida university was working off a checklist that included plans to get drunk, pull a fire alarm and then “give them hell,” authorities said Tuesday.

James Oliver Seevakumaran was crossing items off his list ahead of his planned attack his classmates with guns and homemade explosives, University of Central Florida Police Chief Richard Beary said at a news conference.

The list found along with his dead body early Monday included drinking at a bar near campus and pulling the fire alarm – which investigators believe was meant to flush out victims. Beary says the final item was “give them hell.”

Instead, Seevakumaran shot and killed himself as police officers arrived in response to the fire alarm and a 911 call from a roommate.

PONTIAC, Mich.

Woman, 75, convicted in grandson’s shooting death

A 75-year-old woman was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder for killing her teenage grandson last spring in her Detroit-area home, after jurors rejected her claim that she shot him six times in self-defense.

Sandra Layne cried quietly when she heard the verdict, which was delivered during the first full day of jury deliberations.

She was also found guilty of using a firearm during a felony and likely faces at least 14 years in prison for the death of her grandson, Jonathan Hoffman.

Defense attorney Jerome Sabbota said later that Layne was “devastated” by the verdict.

But some family members had harsh words. Hoffman’s mother, Jennifer Hoffman, said her mother was a “monster” who deserved to go to prison.

“I’m glad she’s put away and can’t do harm to anyone else,” Jennifer Hoffman said outside court.

“He was a great kid and didn’t deserve this.”

His father, Michael Hoffman, said the verdict was a “final vindication for my son.”

As Layne was handcuffed and being led out of court, some family members sitting with her 87-year-old husband, Fred, waved in a show of support. But she couldn’t make eye contact because there was a deputy in between blocking the view.

Layne fired 10 shots at her 17-year-old grandson, striking him six times over a six-minute span during an argument last May in her home in West Bloomfield Township.

She never disputed that she killed him, but she testified that she did so because he had hit her and she feared for her safety.

The evidence included a recording of Jonathan Hoffman’s desperate call to 911 in which he pleads for help, even as more shots are fired.

“My grandma shot me. I’m going to die. Help. I got shot again,” he told the dispatcher as he gasped for air.