Friday, March 9, 2012

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- A Washington state corrections officer has been charged with bigamy after Facebook discovered two women were connected to him and suggested they might want to "friend."

Prosecutors in Pierce County say Alan L. O'Neill married a woman in 2001, moved out in 2009, changed his name and remarried without divorcing wife No. 1.

Wife No. 1 found out about Wife No. 2 when Facebook detected their connection to O'Neill and suggested the friendship connection.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Bank of America is providing mortgage relief to about 200,000 homeowners.

Homeowners that qualify are those whose home values have fallen below what they owe on their mortgages. Bank of America will reduce the amount owed by the homeowners by as much as $100,000 in some cases.

The move will help the bank reduce the amount of penalties it owes to the government's Housing & Urban Development agency by $850 million.

The penalties were part of a broader $25 billion settlement announced Feb. 9 by federal and state attorneys general and the largest mortgage lenders in the country to resolve investigations into abusive home lending and fraudulent foreclosure practices.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- An Israeli airstrike killed a top Palestinian militant commander and a second militant in Gaza on Friday in the highest profile attack against the coastal strip in months.

The Israeli military confirmed the strike, saying the slain commander Zuhair al-Qaissi was plotting an infiltration attack into Israel similar to one his group carried out in August that killed eight people. In a statement, the military warned Gaza's Hamas rulers against any retaliation for the strike.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli drones were seen hovering above just moments before a vehicle exploded into flames, just outside of Gaza City.

Al-Qaissi was the top commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee, a large militant group aligned with Hamas. The group's spokesman confirmed his death. He identified the second casualty as Mahmoud Hanini, who hails from the West Bank and was released from an Israeli prison five years and deported to Gaza.

"The coward Zionists have committed an ugly crime and they know the price that they are going to pay," said the spokesman, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Mujahid.

Israel often targets Gaza militants it says are preparing attacks, but tensions have been relatively calm in recent months with Israel mostly targeting smuggling tunnels from Egypt and refraining from targeting individuals. Al-Qaissi, 55, who is also known as Abu Ibrahim, is the highest profile casualty in Gaza in months.

Another Gazan was seriously wounded in the attack. His identity remains unclear.

The Israeli military said that al-Qaida was also in charge of transfering funds from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to other militant groups in Gaza.
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan named a new head of intelligence on Friday, propelling a former deputy spy chief to the head of an agency crucial to American hopes of negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban and keeping the pressure on al-Qaida.

Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam replaces Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who had been in the post since 2008 and was due to retire on March 18th. The scion of a military family who is currently army commander in the city of Karachi, Islam was considered a likely man for the job.

As head of the Inter-Services Intelligence, he will be a major player in any Pakistani efforts to get the Afghan Taliban to enter peace negotiations to the end the war. ISI agents helped build up the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s, and its leaders are based in Pakistan. The ISI is believed to have some influence over them.

The ISI also works closely with the CIA in tracking and capturing members of al-Qaida, which retain a global command and training center close to the Afghan border. Many of the terrorist plots targeting the West over the last 10 years have originated from the region.

Islam is not expected to immediately, or significantly, change Pakistani policy in those areas.

The ISI falls under the control of the army, which sets policy in consultation with the elected government.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wholesale businesses increased their stockpiles in January although sales fell for the first time in eight months.

Inventories at the wholesale level increased 0.4 percent in January following an even larger 1.1 percent gain in December, the Commerce Department said Friday. Sales dipped a slight 0.1 percent, the first drop since a 0.3 percent fall last May. Sales had risen a solid 1.4 percent in December.

The inventory gain pushed stockpiles to $475.5 billion in January, up 24 percent from a low hit in September 2009.

Business rebuilding of inventories has been a major driver in economic growth so far in the recovery. But economists believe inventory rebuilding will slow in the January-March quarter, a development expected to temporarily dampen growth.

Because of that anticipated slowdown, these economists expect the economy will see slower growth of around 2 percent in the first quarter. For the entire year, economists at JPMorgan are forecasting growth of 2.3 percent, which would be a modest improvement from the 1.7 percent growth turned in during 2011.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The Fitch ratings agency has downgraded Greece to "restricted default" after the country secured a strong majority of private creditors to participate in a bond swap deal that will wipe off about euro105 billion from its national debt.

Friday's move was expected, with ratings agencies having said they considered the bond swap deal to be a default. The two other major ratings agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, have already downgraded Greece to default level.

Following weeks of intense discussions, the Greek government said Friday that 83.5 percent of private investors holding its government bonds were participating in a bond swap. Of the investors holding the euro177 billion ($234 billion) in bonds governed by Greek law, 85.8 percent joined.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Greece has cleared a major hurdle in its race to avoid bankruptcy by persuading the vast majority of its private creditors to sign up to the biggest national debt writedown in history, paving the way for a second massive bailout.

Following weeks of intense discussions, the Greek government said Friday that 83.5 percent of private investors holding its government bonds were participating in a bond swap. Of the investors holding the euro177 billion ($234 billion) in bonds governed by Greek law, 85.8 percent joined.

STANLEY, Falkland Islands (AP) -- The William-and-Kate refrigerator magnets in the gift shops are about as close as most people here have come to spotting the future king of England, who has only strolled through town once so far during his six-week tour of duty in the Falklands.

But islanders are trying to follow his every move nonetheless, proud to have royalty around as the anniversary of the April 2, 1982, Argentine invasion nears. Sharing gossip by cellphone and Facebook, they excitedly update each other on the latest sightings. Word of his gift-shop penguin purchase spread quickly, and when helicopters approach town, heads pop outside to see if it's one of the Royal Air Force's familiar yellow search-and-rescue birds, the sort that might have William at the controls.

"The ladies of Stanley have suddenly become experts on helicopters," laughed Gavin Short, the local cable guy who doubles as a legislative assembly member for the Falkland Islands Government. "They can spot a yellow helicopter now at five miles."

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez recently said William should have come in a diplomat's suit and not the "uniform of a conquistador" to the "Islas Malvinas," which is the name Argentines apply to islands they consider to be an integral part of their nation held illegally by Britain since 1833.

"Absolute rubbish," says Short.

"What kind of threat is he in a search and rescue helicopter? He's driving a machine that rescues people. It's one of the least warlike things you'll find out here," Short said.

William's bunkhouse, at least, can be seen from a distance as tourists land by air in this remote corner of the British Empire, 8,000 miles (nearly 13,000 kilometers) south of London and 300 miles (500 kilometers) off the South American coast. The Mount Pleasant airport is inside a military garrison about 1,200-strong about 35 miles (55 kilometers) from town that was built by Britain's defense ministry to take in large planes after Argentina's failed takeover.

SOKOTO, Nigeria (AP) -- An attempted rescue by British special forces and Nigerian troops of a British and an Italian hostage ended with a blood-splattered house and a dispute between two European nations.

Military forces punched through on Thursday to a house where the two hostages were held but by the time they arrived the two men were dead. Details of how and when they died were unclear, said British Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman Steve Field. But Field said "early indications were that both men were murdered by their captors before they could be rescued."

Gunfire echoed throughout the Mabera neighborhood in the northwestern city of Sokoto during Thursday's nine-hour operation, said residents. Nigeria's military also used an armored personnel carrier to attempt to storm the building.

British military and intelligence officers had been working within Nigeria for several months ahead of the operation, before a contingent of special forces - drawn from the elite Special Boat Service - were deployed in recent weeks, officials familiar with details said.

The house where Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara were found was splattered with blood on Friday. Calm had returned to the streets. McManus and Lamolinara had been working on a bank construction project in the city before they were kidnapped last May. The kidnappers claimed ties to al-Qaida.

Prescription drugs, including penicillin, anti-malarial tablets and other toiletries, were scattered on the floor of the house, suggesting the men had been there for some time.

GENEVA (AP) -- The Syrian government will allow the United Nations to assess the basic medical needs of Syrians in four areas where opposition forces have clashed with government troops and to also carry out a preliminary humanitarian needs assessment, officials said Friday.

But the rare access to strife-torn areas of Syria gained by two U.N. agencies for health and population needs depends on the cooperation of local medical students, Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers and other non-government organizations to conduct the survey.

A third U.N. agency, for humanitarian needs, announced Friday it had gained access for its own preliminary assessment.

For the past year, Syria's government has engaged in a bloody crackdown on a popular uprising inspired by the Arab Spring movements in other countries in the region. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed. Activists put the death toll at more than 8,000.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A solar storm shook the Earth's magnetic field early Friday, but scientists said they had no reports of any problems with electrical systems.

After reports Thursday of the storm fizzling out, a surge of activity prompted space weather forecasters to issue alerts about changes in the magnetic field.

"We really haven't had any reports from power system operators yet," Rob Steenburgh, a space weather forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., said early Friday. "But sometimes they don't come in until after the storm."

He said the storm reached a moderate level late Thursday, before going to a strong level early Friday. For most of Thursday, it was rated as minor.