AP photographer killed, reporter wounded in shooting in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan police commander opened fire Friday on two Associated Press journalists inside a security forces base in eastern Afghanistan, killing prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding veteran correspondent Kathy Gannon.

Niedringhaus, 48, who had covered conflict zones from the Balkans in the 1990s to Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and was part of a team of AP photographers who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, died instantly of her wounds.

Gannon, who for many years was the news organization’s Afghanistan bureau chief and currently is a special correspondent for the region, was shot three times in the wrists and shoulder. After surgery, she was in stable condition and spoke to medical personnel before being flown to Kabul.

“Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking in New York.

Niedringhaus and Gannon worked together repeatedly in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, covering the conflict from some of the most dangerous hotspots of the Taliban insurgency. They often focused on the war’s impact on Afghan civilians — and they embedded several times with Afghan police and military, reporting on their determination to build up their often underequipped forces to face the fight with militants. Gannon also knows several leading Taliban well, and was one of the few Western reporters allowed into Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s.

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AP PHOTOS: A look at the distinguished career of AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus

Anja Niedringhaus, a courageous and immensely talented Associated Press photographer who has covered everything from sports to war, was killed while covering elections in Afghanistan on Friday.

Niedringhaus was in a car in eastern Afghanistan with AP reporter Kathy Gannon when, according to a freelancer who was with them, an Afghan policeman approached them, yelled “Allahu Akbar” — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47. Niedringhaus was killed instantly and Gannon was wounded.

“Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking in New York.

Niedringhaus has long been recognized for her expertise in gaining a subject’s trust and photographing them with a style that is immediately recognizable. Her attention to detail, composition and light come together to not only tell insightful stories but also to create works of art.

Niedringhaus covered conflict zones including Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Gaza and the West Bank during a 20-year stretch, beginning with the Balkans in the 1990s. She had traveled to Afghanistan numerous times since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

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Fort Hood gunman had argument with other soldiers before opening fire on Texas Army base

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — The Fort Hood soldier who gunned down three other military men before killing himself had an argument with soldiers in his unit before opening fire, and investigators believe his mental condition was not the “direct precipitating factor” in the shooting, authorities said Friday.

The base’s commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, made the remarks about Spc. Ivan Lopez’s health a day after officials said his mental condition appeared to be an underlying factor in the attack.

On Friday, Milley said that an “escalating argument” precipitated the assault.

Also Friday, Lopez’s father said his son had struggled with the recent deaths of his mother and grandfather and the stress of being transferred to a new base.

Lopez’s father, who shares the same name, said his son was receiving medical treatment but was a peaceful family man and a hard worker.

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After Fort Hood rampage, security experts say there is no practical way of preventing attacks

DALLAS (AP) — After three mass shootings at military bases in the U.S. over the last five years, security experts say the sad truth is that there is probably no practical way of preventing members of the armed forces or civilian employees from carrying guns onto big installations like Fort Hood.

The kind of searches that would have prevented Army Spc. Ivan A. Lopez from driving onto Fort Hood with a pistol in his car and killing three fellow soldiers would paralyze access to a major post and create huge traffic jams among the tens of thousands of workers commuting to and from their jobs, officials and experts said.

“Trying to secure a base from guns is a very, very difficult proposition at best — probably impossible,” said Robert Taylor, who is head of the University of Texas-Dallas public affairs program and has been a security consultant for the Justice Department and police forces.

“You could do spot checks. You could have people walk through metal detectors,” Taylor said. But searching so many people would create big practical difficulties, he said.

Dan Corbin, mayor of neighboring Killeen, said base workers would have to leave for their jobs four hours early just to get through the base’s checkpoints if searches were instituted.

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Nuclear Missteps: Leader of new probe led review that praised nuke professionalism, discipline

WASHINGTON (AP) — A retired general chosen to explore flaws in U.S. nuclear forces signed off one year ago on a study describing the nuclear Air Force as “thoroughly professional, disciplined” and performing effectively — an assessment service leaders interpreted as an encouraging thumbs-up.

The overall judgment conveyed in the April 2013 report by a Pentagon advisory group headed by retired Gen. Larry Welch, a former Air Force chief of staff, appears to contradict the picture that has emerged since then of a nuclear missile corps suffering from breakdowns in discipline, morale, training and leadership.

That same month last year, for example, an Air Force officer wrote that the nuclear missile unit at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., was suffering from “rot,” including lax attitudes and a poor performance by launch officers on a March 2013 inspection.

It’s unclear whether the Air Force took an overly rosy view of the Welch assessment, which was not uniformly positive, or whether his inquiry missed signs of the kinds of trouble documented in recent months in a series of Associated Press reports.

Whichever the case, Welch is again at the forefront of an effort — this time at Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s personal direction — to dig for root causes of problems that Hagel says threaten to undermine public trust in the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The most recent such problem is an exam-cheating scandal at a nuclear missile base that prompted the Air Force to remove nine midlevel commanders and accept the resignation of the base’s top commander. Dozens of officers implicated in the cheating face disciplinary action, and some might be kicked out.

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Kerry declares it’s ‘reality check’ time for Mideast talks after fruitless months of efforts

WASHINGTON (AP) — With Mideast peace talks on the verge of collapse, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared Friday that “it’s reality check time” on whether an agreement can be reached anytime soon after decades of bitterness between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The U.S. will re-evaluate its role as mediator, he said.

It was Kerry’s most pessimistic take yet on the peace effort after nearly nine months of frustrating talks with little progress to show.

Kerry made clear that his push for peace is not yet over, and he said both sides claim to want to continue negotiating. But he also said that continuing setbacks in the process — culminating this week with tit-for-tat moves by Israeli and Palestinian officials that have upended good-faith bargaining — could force the U.S. to shift focus to other crises where Washington might have more success.

“We have an enormous amount on the plate,” Kerry told reporters during a diplomatic visit to Rabat, Morocco, the end of a marathon trip that saw him jumping back and forth between Israel, Ramallah and Europe. He noted that the U.S. is also dealing with challenges in Ukraine, Iran and Syria, and he said, “There are limits to the amount of time and effort the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward.”

The nine months of talks are scheduled to end April 29, and Kerry has been pressing to have them continue through much of the rest of the year. “But we’re not going to sit here indefinitely,” he said. “So it’s reality check time, and we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be.”

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Slow comeback: 6 years later, US finally regains the private-sector jobs lost in the recession

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy has reached a milestone: It has finally regained all the private-sector jobs it lost during the Great Recession.

Yet it took a painfully slow six years, and unemployment remains stubbornly high at 6.7 percent.

The comeback figures were contained in a government report Friday that showed a solid if unspectacular month of job growth in March.

Businesses and nonprofits shed 8.8 million jobs during the 2007-09 recession; they have since hired 8.9 million. But because the population has grown since the big downturn, the economy is still millions of jobs short of where it should be by now.

Also, government jobs are still 535,000 below the level they were at when the recession began in December 2007. That’s why the overall economy still has 422,000 fewer jobs than it did then.

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Cuban media tout revelations of ‘secret Twitter’ as confirmation of US hostile intentions

HAVANA (AP) — Revelations of a secret U.S. government program to set up a cellphone-based social network in Cuba are being trumpeted in the island’s official media as proof of Havana’s repeated allegations that Washington is waging a “cyber-war” to try to stir up unrest.

The findings of an Associated Press investigation, published Thursday, featured prominently on multiple Cuban state TV newscasts and occupied a full page in Communist Party newspaper Granma on Friday. They also were to be the focus of the nightly two-hour news analysis show “Mesa Redonda,” or “Roundtable.”

State news agency Prensa Latina recalled a Jan. 1 speech in which President Raul Castro warned of “attempts to subtly introduce platforms for neoliberal thought and for the restoration of neocolonial capitalism.”

“Castro’s denunciations of the U.S. government’s destabilizing attempts against Cuba were corroborated by today’s revelation of a plan to push Cuban youth toward the counterrevolution, with the participation of a U.S. agency,” Prensa Latina said.

U.S. officials defended the program as being in line with the mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversaw it.

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Ships search for missing Malaysian plane’s ‘black boxes’ as mystery passes 4-week mark

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Four weeks after the Malaysia Airlines jet vanished, two ships deployed sound locators Friday in the southern Indian Ocean in a desperate attempt to find the plane’s flight recorders before their signal beacons fall silent.

Officials leading the multinational search for Flight 370 said there was no specific information that led to the underwater devices being used for the first time, but that they were brought into the effort because there was nothing to lose.

The air and sea search has not turned up any wreckage from the Boeing 777 that could lead searchers to the plane and perhaps its flight data and cockpit voice recorders, or “black boxes.”

The recorders could help investigators determine why the Malaysia Airlines plane, which disappeared March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, veered so far off-course.

Beacons in the black boxes emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the batteries only last about a month.

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NC judge rebuffs Duke Energy request to shield coal ash records during criminal investigation

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina judge on Friday denied Duke Energy’s motion seeking to shield records related to groundwater pollution leeching from 33 coal ash dumps in the state while a separate federal criminal investigation is ongoing.

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway’s ruling came after Duke defense lawyer Jim Cooney scaled back the company’s request to restrict access to documents in a civil case filed last year by state regulators over environmental violations.

Duke had initially argued potential public disclosure of company documents handed over through the discovery process could taint the criminal probe. A federal grand jury in Raleigh has issued at least 23 subpoenas to state environmental officials and Duke following a Feb. 2 coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic gray sludge.

A coalition of environmental groups has intervened in the state’s case against Duke. Cooney expressed concern that lawyers for those private groups might file sensitive company documents as exhibits in court briefs or introduce them as evidence in open court hearings, thereby making them available to the media.

Cooney asked Ridgeway to approve a “prophylactic” order to seal the records and prevent news stories that might present the company in an unfavorable light and potentially influence members of the grand jury.

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