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World

    An American soldier killed in an ambush in Niger with three comrades but recovered days later wasn't captured alive by the enemy or executed at close range, The Associated Press has learned, based on the conclusion of a military investigation. It found evidence he apparently fought to the end.Dispelling a swirl of rumors about how Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, died, the report has determined that he was killed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire as he fled the attack by an offshoot of the Islamic State group about 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of Niamey, the capital of the African country. The attack took place Oct. 4; Johnson's body was recovered two days later.U.S. officials familiar with the findings spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to describe details of an investigation that has not been finalized or publicly released.A 12-member Army special forces unit was accompanying 30 Nigerien forces when they were attacked in a densely wooded area by as many as 50 militants traveling by vehicle and carrying small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.The officials familiar with the investigation said Johnson was hit as many as 18 times from a distance by a volley of machine gun rounds, and that he was returning fire as he and two Nigerien soldiers tried to escape.All told, four U.S. soldiers and four Nigerien troops were killed in the ambush. Two U.S. and eight Nigerien troops were wounded.The bodies of three U.S. Green Berets were located on the day of the attack, but not Johnson's remains. The gap in time led to questions about whether Johnson was killed in the assault and not found, or if he was taken away by the enemy.According to the officials, a medical examination concluded that Johnson was hit by fire from M-4 rifles — probably stolen by the insurgents — and Soviet-made heavy machine guns. It is believed he died in the attack.The officials said Johnson was found under thick scrub brush where he tried to take cover. There were no indications he was shot at close range, or had been bound or taken prisoner, as several media reports have suggested.A U.S. Africa Command began its investigation with a team headed by Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, the command's chief of staff. The team visited locations in Niger to collect evidence and information about the attack, and will soon submit a draft of Cloutier's report to Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of Africa Command. Waldhauser could ask for additional information. The final report is expected to be released next month.The officials familiar with the report's conclusions said that during the attack, Johnson and two Nigerien soldiers tried to get to a vehicle to escape, but were unable to do so, became separated from the others and were shot as they were running for safety.The report concluded that Johnson, who was athletic and a runner, was in the lead and got the farthest away, seeking cover in the brush. Officials said there were a number of enemy shells around Johnson, and evidence that he appeared to fight to the end. His boots and other equipment were later stolen, but he was still wearing his uniform.As news of the ambush came out, the U.S. military sent in rescue teams to search for Johnson, not making his status public in the hope he might have gotten away and was still alive and hiding. The Pentagon only acknowledged that he was missing after his body was located two days later by local forces.The Pentagon has declined to release details about the exact mission of the commando team. U.S. officials have previously said that the joint U.S.-Niger patrol had been asked to assist a second American commando team hunting for a senior Islamic State member, who also had former ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The team had been asked to go to a location where the insurgent had last been seen, and collect intelligence.After completing that mission, the troops stopped in a village for a short time to get food and water, then left. The U.S. military believes someone in the village may have tipped off attackers to the presence of U.S. commandoes and Nigerien forces in the area, setting in motion the ambush.U.S. special operations forces have been routinely working with Niger's forces, helping them to improve their abilities to fight extremists in the region. That effort has increased in recent years, the Pentagon said.The three other Americans killed were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.Johnson's combat death led to a political squabble between President Donald Trump and a Democratic congresswoman from Florida after Trump told Johnson's pregnant widow in a phone call that her husband 'knew what he signed up for.' Rep. Frederica Wilson was riding with Johnson's family to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone. The spat grew to include Trump's chief of staff, who called Wilson an 'empty barrel' making noise.
  • The Israeli military says it has opened an investigation into the fatal shooting of a paraplegic Palestinian man who was shot in the head during a violent demonstration in the Gaza Strip last week.Palestinian health officials say Ibrahim Abu Thraya was shot while demonstrating along Gaza's border with Israel. The area has experienced continued unrest since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital earlier this month.Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, on Sunday blamed Gaza's Hamas rulers for instigating violent demonstrations that posed a 'significant threat' to soldiers and justified the use of live fire.Still, he says 'allegations of the killing of a paraplegic Palestinian rioter are under investigation.' He says the probe is expected to take several days.
  • A British woman who worked at the U.K. embassy in Beirut was found strangled by the side of the road east of the Lebanese capital and authorities are investigating whether she was also sexually assaulted, officials said Sunday.Britain's Foreign Office in London confirmed the death of the embassy staffer, who worked for the British Department for International Department. British officials declined to provide further details. She was named by British media and her friends as Rebecca Dykes.In a statement released by the Foreign Office, the family requested that the media respect their privacy 'at this very difficult time.'We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened,' her family said.'The whole embassy is deeply shocked and saddened by this news,' said British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter in a statement, 'Our thoughts are with Becky's family, friends and colleagues for their tragic loss.'A spokesperson at the embassy in Beirut also confirmed the death but didn't name the woman.Friends said she was flying home for Christmas Saturday.A Lebanese security official confirmed that the body of a woman was found by the side of a road east of Beirut early Saturday and that she was later identified as a staffer at the British embassy in Lebanon.A forensic official told The Associated Press authorities are investigating the exact cause of the woman's death, and whether she was sexually assaulted. He said the woman, believed to be 30-years old, had been strangled with a rope.The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to reporters.
  • Iran's state TV aired a report on Sunday in which an Iranian researcher confesses to relaying information to a foreign intelligence service about Iranian nuclear scientists who were later assassinated in 2010.Ahmad Reza Jalali, in jail since April 2016, said in the report that during his studies in a European country, a man he identified as 'Thomas' approached him with a job offer and ultimately recruited him to that country's foreign intelligence service. He added that the service promised to make him a citizen of the country.He did not name the country, but the broadcast carried images of a Swedish ID card and Rome's Colosseum.Jalali added that he also worked for Iran's Defence Ministry, and that the foreign intelligence service he worked for had threatened to reveal his dual role if he did not continue to comply with them.In the report, produced by counter-espionage department of Iran's intelligence ministry, the narrator says Jalili gathered information on physics scientists Masoud Ali Mohammadi and nuclear scientist Majid Shariari who both were assassinated in 2010. He adds that Jalali met with officers from Israel's Mossad intelligence agency abroad over 50 times and received 2,000 Euros per meeting.Iran executed Majid Jamali Fashi for the assassination of Ali-Mohammadi. Fashi also confessed on Iranian state television, saying he had trained for the operation at a Mossad facility near Tel Aviv.At least four Iranian scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012. Iran accuses Israel and the United States of plotting the assassinations.Iran had said in October that a 'Mossad agent' it did not name had been sentenced to death, saying the suspect had given the Mossad information about dozens of nuclear and military scientists including Ali-Mohammadi and Shahriari.Rights groups have condemned the detention of Jalali, saying it follows a pattern of Iran detaining dual nationals indefinitely without due process.Jalali is a physician and researcher in disaster relief and has worked on several of research projects abroad.
  • A billionaire businessman appeared to be in an unexpectedly tight race for a return to Chile's presidency on Sunday in a vote that could either swing the world's top copper-producing country to the right or maintain its center-left path.Former President Sebastian Pinera easily topped last month's first round presidential election, but his 36.6 percent vote share fell far short of what polls had projected.He faces Sen. Alejandro Guillier, a center-left former journalist who got 22.7 percent in the first round and is counting on support from backers of other left-leaning candidates who were eliminated.Public opinion polls have been banned since November's first round, so it's unclear where either candidate stands now.'It will be the election with the greatest uncertainty in the history of Chile,' said Congressman Pepe Auth, an electoral expert.The 64-year-old Guillier is backed by outgoing President Michelle Bachelet, but many Chileans have been disillusioned by lagging economic growth under her watch, a problem based largely on lower international prices for copper, which is the backbone of Chile's economy. Many leftists also feel she wavered on her promises of profound social changes in labor and education policies.Pinera, 68, struggled with large protests over Chile's inequality and demands for education reform and ended his first term in office in 2014 with low popularity ratings. But he also oversaw annual economic growth of about 5 percent a year.'I think we'll win these elections and better times will come for all Chileans,' Pinera said after casting his vote in the Chilean capital.The conservative politician proposes slashing taxes on business to revive growth and vows to launch a $14 billion, four-year spending plan that includes fresh investments in infrastructure.The Harvard-educated entrepreneur may benefit from low turnout; voting was made voluntary rather than mandatory in 2012 in the country of 17 million people.In recent weeks, Pinera has compared Guillier to Nicolas Maduro, the president of crisis-torn Venezuela. The scare tactic seems to have backfired by rallying support for Guillier from hard left factions who had been cool on him earlier.Guillier, a former TV anchor, promises to continue Bachelet's plan to increase corporate taxes to partly finance an education overhaul, reform the constitution and improve the pension and health care system.'I came to vote for Guillier because he will continue Bachelet's reforms, and thanks to her I have a son studying industrial engineering for free,' said Genaro Rodríguez, 43, an electrician in Santiago.Guillier also wants to diversify Chile's copper-dependent economy and develop alternative sources of energy to lower investment costs.'I think we're going to win by a tight but clear margin,' Guillier said after casting his vote in his northern desert region of Antofagasta.During the first round, Beatriz Sanchez of the Broad Front coalition came in third with 20 percent of the vote. She has pledged her support to Guillier.__Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao contributed to this report from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned U.S. President Donald Trump Sunday to thank him for a CIA tip that helped thwart a series of bombings in St. Petersburg, the Kremlin said.During the call, the two leaders' second in three days, Putin expressed gratitude for the CIA information. The Kremlin said it allowed Russia's top domestic security agency to track down a group of suspects that planned to bomb Kazan Cathedral and other crowded sites this weekend.'The information received from the CIA proved sufficient to find and detain the criminal suspects,' the Kremlin said.It added that Putin asked Trump to convey gratitude to the CIA and assured him that 'if the Russian intelligence agencies receive information about potential terror threats against the United States and its citizens, they will immediately hand it over to their U.S. counterparts via their communications channels.'The CIA's tip to Russia comes even as Russia-U.S. ties have plunged to their lowest level since the Cold War era — first over Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine, more recently over allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump.While Russian officials have said the two countries were continuing to exchange a terror-related intelligence, Sunday's statement from the Kremlin was Russia's first public assertion that information from the United States helped prevent an attack.The conversation was the second between the Russian and U.S. presidents since Thursday, when Trump thanked Putin for his remarks 'acknowledging America's strong economic performance,' according to the White House.During the first call, they also discussed during ways to work together to address North Korea's nuclear and ballistic weapons program, the White House said.The Federal Security Service, or FSB, announced Friday that seven suspected followers of the Islamic State group had been arrested for allegedly planning to carry out terror attacks in St. Petersburg this weekend.The agency said the suspects were plotting a suicide bombing in a church and a series of other explosions in the city's busiest areas this coming weekend on IS orders. It said a search of a St. Petersburg apartment found explosives, automatic weapons and extremist literature.Russian news reports said that Kazan Cathedral, a landmark 19th century Russian Orthodox church on St. Petersburg's central Nevsky Prospect, was the prime target.If the suspects succeeded in bombing the cathedral, it would have been the first major attack on a Russian Orthodox Church by Islamic terrorists, who have blown up apartment buildings, passenger planes and transport facilities in Russia.In April, a suicide bombing in the St. Petersburg's subway left 16 dead and wounded more than 50.Russian TV stations have aired footage daily since Friday of the suspects in the foiled attacks being apprehended and questioned. One segment showed FSB operatives outside a St. Petersburg apartment building detaining a suspect, who appeared later saying he was told to prepare homemade bombs rigged with shrapnel.'My job was to make explosives, put it in bottles and attach pieces of shrapnel,' the suspect, identified by Russian media as 18-year old Yevgeny Yefimov, said in the footage released by the FSB.Several other suspects came from mostly Muslim regions in Russia's volatile North Caucasus, and one man was from the ex-Soviet nation of Tajikistan that borders Afghanistan.The TV reports included footage of a metal container, which the suspects used as a laboratory for making explosives, according to the FSB. Another video showed operatives breaking the doors and raiding an apartment used by other suspects.Last week, the FSB said it also arrested several IS-linked suspects in Moscow, where they allegedly were plotting a series of suicide bombings to coincide with New Year's celebrations.The latest calls between Putin and Trump came after the Russian leader praised his U.S. counterpart during a marathon news conference on Thursday.Putin hailed Trump's achievements, saying that global markets have demonstrated investors' confidence in Trump's economic policies. He said he hoped the U.S. president would be able to follow through on his campaign promises to improve ties with Russia despite pressure from his political foes at home.During the news conference, Putin also reaffirmed his multiple denials of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and argued that the U.S. is only hurting itself with investigations of alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. The allegations were 'invented' by Trump's foes to undermine his legitimacy, Putin said.Alexei Chepa, a deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, hailed the CIA tip as a 'step toward cooperation.'The more such actions we have, the better it will be for both our countries,' Chepa told the state RIA Novosti news agency.
  • Thousands of supporters of Libya's military strongman Khalifa Hifter rallied Sunday in several cities, calling on him to take charge of the country following the expiry of a two-year mandate of a U.N.-backed administration based in the capital, Tripoli.The rallies in Benghazi, Tobruk and Tripoli called on the Moammar Gadhafi-era general to become the country's ruler to fill the political void. The U.N. maintains that its mandate for the Tripoli government, one of two rival administrations in Libya, remains in effect until a new one is introduced.In a televised address earlier Sunday, Hifter strongly hinted that he might step in to fill the void, although he stopped short of saying clearly that he would run in presidential elections if a vote is held next year, or that he might take the reins before that. His address appeared to deliberately leave all options open.The rallies on the streets, however, were a show of force that could be used to his advantage. Hifter did not explicitly call on his supporters to take to the streets, but such rallies have in the past been organized rather than spontaneous.He said the expiry of the U.N. mandate for the Tripoli administration signaled the demise of all attempts to reach a political solution that would reunite the vast, oil-rich nation. He has already entertained many attempts to do that, but they all failed, he explained.'We declare very clearly that we will fully obey the orders of the free Libyan people and no one else,' said Hifter, speaking from the eastern city of Benghazi.He is at odds with the administration based in the east that he was once linked to and is a rival of the one backed by the United Nations in Tripoli.Likely in response to Hifter's recent bluster, the head of the eastern-based, internationally recognized parliament, Agila Saleh, called on Sunday for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in 2018. That chamber acts as a de facto government in eastern Libya.'I call upon the Libyan people to participate in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections,' he said in a TV broadcast, 'It is the only way to peacefully and democratically transfer power.'The United Nations, meanwhile, said in a statement Sunday that it was 'intensively trying to establish the proper political, legislative and security conditions for elections to be held before the end of 2018.'Hifter, leading the so-called National Libyan Army, has been fighting Islamic militants in the east and occasionally threatening to march on the rest of the country. He is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.The presence of two rival governments and a strongman with military muscle attest to the chaos prevailing in Libya following the 2011 uprising against Gadhafi's rule. Alongside the two rival administrations, mostly Islamic militias wield considerable influence and control large swathes of territory in the vast North African nation.
  • Turkey's president slammed a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militant group Sunday and said he'll clear his country's border with Syria of 'terrorists.'President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a rally in the central province of Karaman his country would not allow 'terror nests' near its border, referring to areas held by the People's Protection Units or YPG in northern Syria.Turkey considers the YPG an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders, and launched an operation in August 2016 to clear part of its border of their and the Islamic State group's presence.Erdogan announced an expanded list of areas to be cleared. 'We will clean Afrin of terrorists, we will clean Manbij of terrorists. We will clean Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli of terrorists,' he said.Turkey has a military presence in the western Syrian province of Idlib as part of a de-escalation agreement struck with Russia and Iran. The province borders YPG-controlled Afrin and Turkey has threatened to attack the group there.Erdogan has frequently expressed frustration with the Syrian Kurdish militant group's presence at Turkey's border. But it's rare that he mentions Qamishli, a town further east controlled by both the Syrian Kurds and Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.Turkish officials regularly criticize the U.S. for backing and arming Syrian Kurds in combatting IS, a sticky issue in already tense bilateral relations.Last month, Turkey's foreign minister said President Donald Trump promised to stop arming the militant group but the Pentagon said it was reviewing the process, stopping short of announcing a halt to weapons transfers.Erdogan chided the NATO member's allies, saying they 'will really be our allies when they stop working with structures we consider terror organizations in Syria.
  • About 5,000 supporters of opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili rallied in Ukraine's capital Sunday, pushing for the ouster of the nation's president and briefly attempting to seize a public building.Saakashvili's followers marched across Kiev and then rallied with the former Georgian president and ex-Ukrainian governor on Independence Square to call for President Petro Poroshenko's impeachment.'I'm offering Poroshenko to have public negotiations to discuss just one thing: his resignation and the removal of oligarchs from power,' Saakashvili told the crowd.He then suggested setting up a headquarters for the protest in the October Palace, a performing arts and conference center overlooking the square.People in the crowd shattered windows and tried to break the doors open, but police prevented them from getting inside.City officials said hundreds of children were attending an event in the October Palace at the time.Ukraine's Interior Ministry said more than 30 police officers were injured in scuffles with some of Saakashvili's supporters, who allegedly fired tear gas and threw flares and bottles.After the protesters' actions to enter the building failed, Saakashvili reversed course and called for peace.Some Western diplomats in Ukraine criticized the attempt to seize the building.Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk said on Twitter that 'attempts to seize and damage public buildings are an abuse of the right to peaceful protest.' British Ambassador Judith Gough seconded his assessment.Saakashvili served as governor of Ukraine's Odessa region and then quit the post, accusing Poroshenko of blocking his anti-corruption efforts.He was briefly detained this month on allegations that he colluded with Ukrainian businessmen tied to Russia to topple Poroshenko. He denies the allegations and a court released him.
  • Taliban insurgents attacked checkpoints in the southern Helmand province early Sunday, killing 11 police, an official said.Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor, said Afghan forces eventually repelled the attack in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. He said the insurgents also suffered casualties, without providing figures.The Taliban, who have a strong and growing presence in Helmand, claimed the attack. The insurgents launch near-daily attacks across the country, mainly targeting security forces.In the southern Kandahar province, a suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of foreign forces, killing an Afghan woman and wounding five other civilian bystanders, said Gen. Abdul Raziq, the Kandahar police chief. He said he did not know if any foreign forces were killed or wounded.U.S. Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman for the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, Resolute Support, confirmed the attack in a statement, saying there were no casualties among the international forces. 'We can confirm a suicide bomber attempted an attack on a patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan earlier today. However, there were no fatalities or injuries sustained by coalition forces. The attacker has died as a result of the detonation,' Gresback's statement said.No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Kandahar, but Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks against both the Afghan and coalition forces across the country.