Nation & World Briefly Sept. 30

Could model airplanes become a terrorist weapon?

BOSTON (AP) - Model airplanes are suddenly on the public's radar as potential terrorist weapons. A Muslim American from suburban Boston was arrested Wednesday and accused of plotting to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol with remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives.

These are not balsa-wood-and-rubber-band toys investigators are talking about. The FBI said Rezwan Ferdaus hoped to use military-jet replicas, 5 to 7 1/2 feet long, guided by GPS devices and capable of speeds over 100 mph.

Federal officials have long been aware of the possibility someone might try to use such planes as weapons, but there are no restrictions on their purchase - Ferdaus is said to have bought his over the Internet.

Counterterrorism experts and model-aircraft hobbyists said it would be nearly impossible to inflict large-scale damage of the sort Ferdaus allegedly envisioned using model planes. The aircraft are too small, can't carry enough explosives and are too tricky to fly, they said.

"The idea of pushing a button and this thing diving into the Pentagon is kind of joke, actually," said Greg Hahn, technical director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

Report: Insurgent attacks trending downward in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - International forces in Afghanistan released new data Thursday showing violence trending downward in their favor, only a day after the U.N. reported considerably more clashes and other attacks per month than last year.

The quick scheduling of the news conference to unveil the statistics underscored NATO's sensitivity about how the war is perceived back home as the U.S. and other nations start to withdraw some forces with an eye toward pulling all combat troops out by the end of 2014.

The new statistics show that insurgent attacks in the first eight months of the year were down 2 percent compared with the same period last year.

The U.N. report, by contrast, found that the monthly average number of clashes and other attacks was running nearly 40 percent higher than last year. The U.N. study measured not only Taliban attacks but also assaults by NATO and Afghan forces on insurgents; it did not provide a breakdown between the two.

The coalition cited methodological differences between the two surveys: The U.N. report counted a wide range of security incidents that the NATO report did not, including arrests and seizures of weapons caches.

Gingrich outlines 10-point plan

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Hoping to revive his flagging bid for the Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling for an overhaul of the way Americans pay taxes, buy health care and contribute to the Social Security system.

Gingrich mapped out the 10-point plan, which he's calling The 21st Century Contract with America, in a speech at a Des Moines insurance company Thursday. Key elements include repealing President Barack Obama's health care plan, giving taxpayers the option of paying a flat tax and allowing young people to opt out of Social Security.

Gingrich is putting the new Contract with America at the core of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, betting it will set the tone for the campaign discussion going forward.

"This is the essence of, hopefully, the next 10 years," Gingrich said. "It shows you the direction, I think, the country has to go, it shows you how I think we can get there."

Gingrich's floundering presidential bid has fractured what was once a rock star Republican image. Not long ago he was the sought-after intellectual guru of the GOP. Now, all but broke, he's finding himself fighting for air time - if not respect - at Republican presidential primary debates. Polls have generally put him toward the back of the pack, although he ran third in a recent CNN poll behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Jackson bodyguard: Doctor took medical vials from nightstand

LOS ANGELES (AP) - One of Michael Jackson's bodyguards had barely stepped into the singer's bedroom when he heard a scream: "Daddy!" Jackson's young daughter cried.

A few feet away, the singer lay motionless in his bed, eyes slightly open. His personal doctor, Conrad Murray, was trying to revive him when he saw that Jackson's eldest children were watching.

"Don't let them see their dad like this," Murray said, the first of many orders that bodyguard Alberto Alvarez testified Thursday that he heeded in the moments before paramedics arrived at Jackson's home in June 2009.

What happened next - after Alvarez said he ushered Jackson's eldest son and daughter from the room - is one of the key pieces of prosecutors' involuntary manslaughter case against Murray.

According to Alvarez, Murray scooped up vials of medicine from Jackson's nightstand and told the bodyguard to put them away. "He said, 'Here, put these in a bag,"' Alvarez said.

Fugitive hijacker lived openly in Africa in 1980s

LISBON, Portugal (AP) - A convicted American killer who disappeared after a 1972 hijacking lived openly in West Africa under his real name for years and even socialized with U.S. embassy officials there, a former U.S. ambassador said Thursday.

The comments by John Blacken, a retired U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau, raised new questions about a decades-long FBI manhunt for George Wright, who managed to elude authorities for 41 years until being arrested Monday in Portugal.

Blacken told The Associated Press he was stunned to hear about Wright's arrest because he knew him and his wife - who might have even worked on translation projects for the U.S. embassy. But Blacken had no idea that Wright was a fugitive.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.

Wright's years on the lam took him across the globe - from New Jersey to Detroit to Algeria to France to Guinea-Bissau and then Portugal, at the very least.

Amanda Knox defense lawyer in final arguments

PERUGIA, Italy (AP) - An Italian defense lawyer argued Thursday that Amanda Knox is an innocent girl "crucified" in the media and wrongly convicted of killing her roommate, urging an appeals court not to be afraid to correct a mistake.

Carlo Dalla Vedova told the court in his closing arguments that Knox has been the victim of a "tragic judicial case" and has spent more than 1,000 days behind bars as a result. The highly anticipated verdict in the appeals case is expected Monday.

Knox was convicted of murdering Meredith Kercher, a British student in Perugia, and sentenced to 26 years in prison, while co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito was sentenced to 25 years. They deny wrongdoing and have appealed.

"Knox has been crucified, impaled in a public square, subjected to the most sinister of speculations," Dalla Vedova said. "All, regardless of their nationalities, have offended Amanda Knox."

Soon after her arrest on Nov. 6, 2007, Knox became a media sensation, depicted either as a manipulative girl-gone-wild or as a naive young woman caught up in a judicial nightmare. The media remained hooked on the case, and hundreds of reporters, cameramen and photographers have descended on the central Italian town in anticipation of the verdict.


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