Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cameron in thwarted Afghan peace talks push

By Andrew Osborn

KABUL (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron flew into Afghanistan on Saturday to try to inject momentum into stalled peace talks, but left empty-handed after the Afghan president said his country could break up if a deal was done with the Taliban.

Cameron, who hosted President Hamid Karzai for talks in February about Afghanistan's future, has cast himself as an honest broker able to use Britain's relations with Afghanistan's influential neighbour, Pakistan, to get the Taliban to talk peace.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Kabul after a visit to British troops in the southern province of Helmand, he said the moment to pursue peace had come.

"There is a window of opportunity and I would urge all those who renounce violence, who respect the constitution, who want to have a voice in the future prosperity of this country to seize it," he said.

His comments come barely a week after the United States revealed the Taliban were to open a long-anticipated office in Qatar, making a meeting with the Afghan state and the Taliban a possibility. Those talks collapsed within days after Karzai objected to the manner in which the office was opened, however, and Taliban militants later attacked central Kabul.

On Saturday, Karzai said he hoped peace talks could begin as soon as possible. But he complained about foreign peace plans, sounded a defiant note against the United States, and warned of the dangers of doing a deal with the Taliban.


He also made it clear he was sceptical of Pakistan's motives in the peace process.

"Any system that is imposed on us ... the Afghan people will reject," he told a news conference inside his palace. "Delivering a province or two to the Taliban will be seen by the Afghan people as an invasion of Afghanistan, as an effort from outside to weaken and splinter this country."

When a reporter asked Cameron why he was willing to talk to the Taliban at the same time as British soldiers were fighting the insurgents, Karzai praised the question.

A British source told Reuters Karzai remained "furious" about the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar this month replete with its own flag and plaque, symbols that he felt accorded the Taliban a degree of global legitimacy.

The Afghan leader suspended talks on a long-term security deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 Washington said it was ready to talk to the Taliban and the Qatar flap. Karzai accused the Americans of duplicity.

On Saturday, he said he had held a video conference with President Barack Obama to discuss the matter, and that the U.S. leader had told him he hoped a deal could be struck by October.

Karzai's response was ambiguous. "I noted and reminded him (Obama) that Afghanistan continues to hold its unchangeable principles. If these conditions are met, the nation of Afghanistan will definitely be ready to agree to a security agreement with the U.S.," he said.

Karzai's stance underlines a dilemma for the West.

As it prepares to pull its troops out next year, it is caught between wanting to safeguard its legacy in Afghanistan - improved women's rights and access to education among other things - and allowing the Karzai government to roll back some changes to pave the way for talks with the insurgents.


Britain is trying to magnify its diplomatic clout at the very moment it is reducing its contingent of some 7,000 troops.

Aides said Cameron was keen to boost political stability ahead of next year's presidential election, which he hopes will result in the first peaceful transition of power since 1901.

Karzai is not eligible to stand under the constitution and Cameron said he welcomed Karzai's "commitment to a democratic succession" after his second term expires.

Cameron flew on to Islamabad on Saturday evening for talks about Afghanistan with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan could play a major role in any peace process. Its security forces backed the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and continue to serve as gatekeepers to insurgent commanders living on its territory.

Cameron said he was working to try to persuade both countries they needed to cooperate, but said only "some" progress had been made.

Cameron also used his Afghan visit to reinforce the message that British troops really would be pulling out next year and that only limited financial and other aid would be made available to Afghan forces after that time.

Four hundred and forty-four British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

A senior military source had said earlier that Western troops would have to undertake follow-on missions after 2014 that could last up to five years.

But Cameron suggested no British soldiers would be involved.

"There will be no (British) combat troops after the end of 2014. British troops are coming home," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Dylan Welch; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


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Insurance commissioner urges companies to adjust to extreme ...

PASADENA - Rather than adjust to the extreme effects of climate change, many insurance companies are simply not insuring properties in low-lying coastal zones due to the threat of flooding and are canceling policies of homeowners living near hillsides that may catch fire, said insurance and government experts Friday.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, speaking at a forum examining insurance and climate change at the Pasadena Central Library's Wright Auditorium, urged insurance companies not to cancel policies but instead to plan for the inevitable changes to the planet and increasing damage claims as a result of climate change.

"This is the biggest and most fundamental problem we face as a people," Jones told an audience of about 100 people. "And there is room for the insurance industry to take a leadership role as well."

Out of 184 survey responses from insurance companies sent to the commissioner's office, only 23 had a comprehensive climate change strategy. "That is way too low," he said.

At stake is how insurance companies respond to huge payouts from increasingly frequent and more extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires, Jones said.

For example, when climatologist models predict more frequent and intense wildfires in Southern California due to longer periods of drought, drier conditions and extended fire seasons, some insurance companies are "pulling back" because they can't manage the risk. "That is a real problem. If a homeowner cannot get insurance, that creates real problems and risks for them," Jones said.

Recent statistics illustrate the problem insurance companies face.

Since the mid-1970s, the average length of the fire season in California and the western United States has increased by 78 days, said panelist Fire Chief Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "Twelve of the 20 most damaging wildfires in California occurred in the last 10 years," he added.

Jones said the budget for CalFire increased from about $400 million a year when he was a state legislator to $1 billion a year today. So far this year, CalFire responded to more than 2,000 wildfires that burned 50,000 acres. Last year at this time, the number was 1,100 wildfires and less than half as much acreage.

Pimlott said there will never be enough engines and firefighters to put out all the wildfires in the state -- not now and not in the next few decades when global warming is expected to get much worse. "We have to learn to be resilient and live with fire," he said. He urged cooperation from cities and citizens to better prepare homes for eventual wildfires.

Also, cities must consider global warming in land use decisions, especially when weighing new developments in flood plains or near wildlands, he said. Insurance companies should help shape land-use decisions to reduce climate change's effects and reward owners of green buildings by offering them lowered premiums.

Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., a division of Allianz, a Munich-based conglomerate, does offer incentives to policy holders who practice conservation, but Jones said it is only one of a handful.

Steve Bushnell, senior director of Fireman's Fund, said planning for risk is much tougher when the climate varies from historical patterns. But that's no excuse for not planning for more extreme weather events and how to shape insurance policies.

"We are right in the cross-hairs of climate change," he said.

In 2011, worldwide losses from natural disasters reached a record high $400 billion, That spring, insurance companies in the U.S. experienced $21.3 billion in insurance losses, the fourth highest in U.S. history, after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Andrew in August 1992.

"Parts of the world, including parts of Florida, are becoming uninsurable," said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas programs at Ceres, a "green" investment group that advocates for a sustainable economy. "If we don't get our act together fairly soon, the future will be worse and the damage from climate change will grow," he told the audience.

Besides insurance claims, climate change will hurt the broader economy. Logan said Hurricane Sandy along the New York and New Jersey coastline caused $60 billion in damage. "These physical impacts (from climate change) are a threat to large swaths of the economy," Logan said.

State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, who organized the event, said it is part of her effort to begin a dialogue on climate change in her district and in the state.

"It is a conversation. It is an awareness," Liu said. "You can't stop it but we can do something."


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Iran, Shiites' protector - sometimes

The savage beating to death this week of four Shiite Muslims by a Sunni mob in Egypt set off a predictable chain reaction in Iran, which has long cast itself as the protector of Shiites around the world.

Iran condemned the Cairo killings and ?any act of extremism and violence which contradicts Islam,? and called upon ?the sensible and revolutionary Egyptian nation, through its prudent leaders [to] exercise vigilance vis-?-vis plots to foment discord among various schools of Islam.?

A prominent Shiite cleric in Iran?s religious center of Qom went further, speaking about an ?anti-Shia project in Egypt [which has] caused the intensification of sectarian [violence], emergence of crimes and legalization of bloodshed.?

But even though Iran has stepped up the rhetoric, it has done little else ? evidence that the Islamic Republic?s willingness and ability to intervene on behalf of embattled fellow Shiites depends more on strategic than religious calculations, analysts say.

RECOMMENDED: Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do you know the difference? Take our quiz.

The Cairo killings come amid an escalation of sectarian tensions between the two main denominations all over, especially in Syria. That divide presents a dilemma for Iran, which has always presented its 1979 Islamic revolution as a pan-Islamic model for Sunnis and Shiites alike.

For example, although Iran?s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is officially referred to as the ?Leader of the World?s Shia," in a 2008 speech he says, ?Even those who were not Shia Muslims were attracted to the Islamic revolution. Millions of our Sunni brothers in Arab, African, and Asian countries were attracted to the Islamic revolution, and this [1979 revolution] was a blow to the enemies.?


?Iran?s response to this massacre in Egypt is quite typical of how it has approached sectarian division,? says Roxane Farmanfarmaian, who teaches politics and international relations at Cambridge University in Britain.

?Iran has consistently stated that Muslims must act and stand together, and that any division or conflict between the Sunni and Shia only plays into Western hands that think of Islam as violent,? says Ms. Farmanfarmaian. ?It will support Shia when it?s geopolitically important and useful, but it has to have that extra dimension before it supports Shia per se.?

Mr. Morsi has condemned the killing of Shiites as a ?heinous crime.? And the country?s leading Sunni religious establishment, Al-Azhar, said the killings were against Islam and urged the ?harshest punishment.? But Morsi ? the Muslim Brotherhood president who will mark one year as Egypt?s first democratically elected president on June 30 ? is also accused of giving free rein to fundamentalist Sunnis known as Salafists, who consider Shiites heretics.


Many of the most troublesome sectarian tensions today are spilling over from the Syrian war, afflicting Lebanon and Iraq. Iran?s critics accuse it of deepening those divisions with its support of the Syrian government, even though fellow Syria allies Russia and China have no pro-Shiite agenda.

Speaking in April, Khamenei sought to minimize the split. He said that the Assad regime is not Shiite (although its Alawite roots are a Shiite sect), nor are its opponents Sunni, even though ?Western propaganda and dependent regional media? try to depict it that way.

Yet even the fighters themselves have increasingly described their battle as a sectarian fight. As Iran and Hezbollah (with Russia) have enabled Assad?s forces to make recent military gains, the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Jordan (with the US and Europe) have bolstered support for the opposition.


Iranian leaders have long recognized that specific talk from them about defending Islam?s minority Shiites does not go over well with majority Sunnis, and adds stress to religious faultlines that date back 14 centuries.

And in apparent recognition of the new risks of sectarian hatred spiraling out of control, Iran?s President-elect Hassan Rohani has stated that a top priority after he is sworn in will be mending relations with Saudi Arabia. He took similar conciliatory steps a decade ago as the head of Iran?s Supreme National Security Council.

The pragmatism in Iran's selective support of fellow Shiites can be found in Bahrain, the tiny Persian Gulf sheikhdom where Shiites began pro-democracy protests in early 2011. Iran did nothing to prevent Saudi Arabia from sending military forces to bolster the government as it crushed the protests.

Such signals from Tehran means Iran ?is not going to go out on a limb for Shia per se, it?s going to go out on a limb for unity,? says Farmanfarmaian. ?When it comes down to being ?Shia vs. political expediency,? as in the case of Bahrain, [Iran] certainly sees no reason to show up on those beaches and get into a war.?

In March 2011, Khamenei said: ?Do not make [Bahrain ] a Sunni and Shia issue; this would be the biggest favor ? for the enemies of the Islamic nation?. There exists no Sunni-Shia conflict.?

Then last February, Khamenei explained the result: ?The rulers of Bahrain claimed that Iran is involved in the events of Bahrain. This is a lie. No, we are not involved,? he said. ?If we had interfered, the conditions would have been different in Bahrain.?

RECOMMENDED: Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do you know the difference? Take our quiz.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Electronic media reanimate magazine - Lifestyles - The Times-Tribune

While electronic media are often viewed as the Grim Reaper for traditional print publications, they also can breathe new life into fading titles. Such is the case with the former Life magazine, which now exists as an electronic publication at

Life became famous for its photojournalism, chronicling world-changing events, such as war and politics, as well as the popular culture of the day. Portraits of presidents, starlets, athletes and artists all graced its cover and inside pages over the years. The iconic image of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York City on VJ Day in 1945 first appeared in Life.

Life started in 1883 as a humor and general interest magazine full of the work of the best writers, illustrators and cartoonists of the day. It was transformed in 1936 by its new owners - who also published Time Magazine - into a photographic news magazine that was popular for decades. Eventually the magazine's circulation started dropping and it stopped and restarted publishing in various forms several times.

Electronic resuscitation

The printed version of Life has been deceased since 2007, but it has been reborn on the Internet. After brief partnerships with Google and Getty Images, Life now lives on as a photo website run by Time Warner.

The Internet always has had a split personality. On the one hand it's a valuable tool for research and commerce. On the other, it can be a mind-numbing time waster of incessant posts, likes, tweets and cat videos. exists somewhere between the two sides of the Web. While it's easy to burn up a good chunk of time browsing through the decades of photos in the site's archives, it's not necessarily wasted time. Because of the historical and cultural significance of many of the pictures, the time spent perusing them is a bit like research. You'll end up learning something in the process.

Looking back at Life

The website is basically just a collection of Life photo galleries, chronicling all aspects of life, going back to the 1930s. The galleries are organized into several categories: History, Culture, Icons, Curiosities and Photographers. Clicking on the links for one of the main categories brings up a list of clickable subcategories.

For instance, clicking on History brings up a list containing major wars, world leaders, politics, crime and more. Select Culture and you get numerous options including art, fashion, literature, sports, movies and many more. Icons consists of actors, actresses, athletes and musicians. Curiosities is a collection of images of unusual subjects, such as mutant bicycles or a honey bee market in the Netherlands. And finally, Photographers showcases the work of a long list of notable shutterbugs who have provided images for Life over the past eight decades.

Once you choose a category, a grid of related images is displayed. A large, featured subject is pictured at the top of the grid, with a series of smaller images arrayed below. Under each picture is a gray block with white numbers designating the decade the images are from and a brief description of the subject.

Click on the photo for the subject you want to view to bring up the gallery page. The gallery pages have a headline at the top with a large photo beneath it. The photo can be enlarged further to full-screen size. Forward and back arrows appear when you hover the cursor to the right or left of the image to navigate through the gallery. Each picture has a caption beneath it describing the circumstances and date. Under the gallery is an essay giving background information on the subject.

Easy living is easy to look at and easy to use. It has a simple yet dynamic color palette featuring a black background with white and gray type, and selected red text. The typography is unified with a clear hierarchy. The navigation is logical and intuitive. A search field and links to more content round out the site.

Viewing the site is a pleasant and even educational way to spend some time. Looking at historic events and notable people through the eyes of Life's talented photographers provides additional insight that just reading about them can't do.

KEVIN O'NEILL is a graphic artist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at with links to your favorite websites.


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Berlin police shoot naked man wielding knife

BERLIN (AP) ? Police have shot a naked man who brandished a knife at officers in a landmark Berlin fountain.

The man later died.

Police spokesman Stefan Redlich said passers-by reported early Friday that a man was behaving strangely and carrying a long knife in the Neptune fountain, near Berlin's city hall.

Officers tried to persuade the man to put the knife away, but instead he started cutting himself. A policeman climbed into the water to try to stop him, whereupon the man advanced on the officer with the knife.

Another officer shot the man after he ignored calls to back off. He died at the scene.

Police say an autopsy was being conducted to determine whether the man, apparently aged around 20, died from the shot or his self-inflicted injuries.


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Hernandez headed back to court day after arrest

ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) ? Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez will be back in court for a bail review hearing, a day after he was charged with murder.

A spokesman for the Bristol County sheriff says the 23-year-old Hernandez will be in a Fall River court Thursday afternoon.

A judge ordered Hernandez held without bail on Wednesday on a charge of murder and five weapons counts.

Hernandez is accused in what a prosecutor called the execution-style shooting of Odin Lloyd, a friend and a semi-pro football player. Prosecutors say Hernandez was upset that Lloyd had talked to certain people at a nightclub.

Hernandez's lawyer called the case against his client circumstantial.

Hernandez was arrested Wednesday morning and cut by the Patriots less than two hours later.


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Friday, June 28, 2013

Violence flares in Egypt before weekend rallies

CAIRO (AP) ? Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi rallied Friday in Cairo, and both sides fought each other in the second-largest city of Alexandria, where two people were killed ? including an American ? and 85 were injured, officials said.

The competing camps were trying to show their strength before even bigger nationwide protests planned by the opposition Sunday ? the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration ? aimed at forcing his removal.

The opposition says it will bring millions into the streets across Egypt, and more violence is feared.

The Cairo International Airport was flooded with departing passengers, an exodus that officials said was unprecedented. All flights departing Friday to Europe, the U.S. and the Gulf were fully booked, they said.

Many of those leaving were families of Egyptian officials and businessmen and those of foreign and Arab League diplomats ? as well as many Egyptian Christians, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Opposition protesters in Alexandria broke into the local headquarters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and set fires, throwing papers and furniture out the windows.

For several days, Brotherhood members and opponents of Morsi have battled in cities in the Nile Delta. With Friday's deaths, at least six have been killed this week.

"We must be alert lest we slide into a civil war that does not differentiate between supporters and opponents," warned Sheik Hassan al-Shafie, a senior cleric at Al-Azhar, the country's most eminent Muslim religious institution.

Morsi opponents massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests in 2011 that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. The crowd shouted, "Leave, leave" ? this time addressing Morsi. Tents were put up on the grass in the middle of the historic square.

Dozens of protesters also gathered at the gates of the presidential palace in the Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo, urging him to resign, Egypt's state news agency reported.

At the same time, tens of thousands of Morsi supporters, mainly Islamists, filled a public square outside the Rabia el-Adawiya Mosque, not far from the palace.

"They say the revolution is in Tahrir," said young activist Abdel Rahman Ezz, a Morsi supporter who addressed the crowd. "It is true the revolution started in Tahrir. But shamefully, today the remnants of the old regime are in Tahrir. The revolutionary youth are here."

The palace is one of the sites where the opposition plans to gather Sunday and has been surrounded by concrete walls. Islamist parties have decided to hold a sit-in at nearby Rabia el-Adawiya.

In Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, fighting began when thousands of anti-Morsi demonstrators marched toward the Brotherhood's headquarters, where up to 1,000 supporters of the president were deployed, protecting the building.

Someone on the Islamist side opened fire with birdshot on the marchers, and the melee erupted, according to an Associated Press cameraman. Security forces fired tear gas at the Brotherhood supporters, but when the two sides continued battling, they withdrew. Protesters later broke into the building and began to trash it.

Alexandria security chief Gen. Amin Ezz Eddin told Al-Jazeera TV that an American was killed in Sidi Gabr Square while photographing the battle. The U.S. Embassy told The Associated Press it was trying to confirm the report.

A medical official said the American died of gunshot wounds at a hospital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The Alexandria health department reported an Egyptian also died from a gunshot wound to the head. It was not immediately known if that victim was a Morsi opponent or supporter.

The country witnessed a wave of attacks against Muslim Brotherhood offices across the country. The Brotherhood's media spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, said on his Twitter account that eight of his group's headquarters were attacked and looted, and two were burned down.

He accused thugs, remnants of the old regime, including members of Mubarak's disbanded National Democratic Party of being behind the attacks.

Much of the violence was in the provinces of the Nile Delta, north of Cairo.

Protesters stormed an office of the Brotherhood, attacked members inside, injuring 10, and set the office on fire in the city of Shubrakheit, the state news agency said. Others stormed a Brotherhood office in the coastal city of Baltim, destroying electronic equipment, and another of the group's branches was torched in the city of Aga.

Hundreds of protesters in the city of Bassioun threw stones at Freedom and Justice Party offices, tearing down the party sign.

The Brotherhood says at least five of those killed this week were its members. Some people "think they can topple a democratically elected President by killing his support groups," el-Haddad said earlier on his Twitter account.

There were reports of violence from the Islamist side in the Delta as well.

At least six people were injured when an anti-Morsi march was attacked by the president's supporters in the city of Samanod, according to a security official. Attackers fired gunshots and threw acid at the protesters as they passed the house of a local Brotherhood leader, the official said.

In the city of Tanta, four men believed to be Morsi supporters tried to attack a mosque preacher during his sermon, in which he called on worshippers to stand with Al-Azhar's calls to avoid bloodshed.

In Qalioubia, north of Cairo, "popular committees" charged with managing traffic stopped a caravan of more than 90 Islamists heading to Cairo, according to a security official. The group, traveling in a bus and three minibuses, carried Molotov cocktails, clubs and gas cans, the official said.

One small bus escaped, but the others were turned over to police, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk with the press.

Each side has insisted it is peaceful and will remain so Sunday, blaming the other for violence.

Tamarod, the activist group whose anti-Morsi petition campaign evolved into Sunday's protest, said in a statement it opposed "to any attack against anybody, whatever the disagreement with this person was," and accused the Brotherhood of sparking violence to scare people from participating Sunday.

Tamarod says it has collected nearly 20 million signatures in the country of 90 million demanding Morsi step down.

"We are against Morsi because he does not govern in the name of the Egyptian people, but in the name of the Brotherhood group," said Ayed Shawqi, a teacher at an anti-Morsi rally in Alexandria.

Outside the Rabia el-Adawiya Mosque, the pro-Morsi crowd waved Egyptian flags while speakers addressed them from a stage. A banner proclaimed, "Support legitimacy," the slogan Morsi's supporters have adopted, arguing that protests must not be allowed to overturn an elected president.

They also waved the Brotherhood's flag ? a green banner with two swords ? and carried Morsi posters and portraits.

"This is a revolution, and there is no other one!" they chanted. Speakers onstage praised the military and the crowd responded with, "The army and the people are one hand," seeking to keep the military on the side of the president.

"Those who burn and those who kill are the traitors of this nation," Brotherhood preacher Safwat Hegazi told the crowd. "Mr. President, use a heavier hand, your kind heart won't be any use. ... We want to complete our revolution and purify our country."

Assem Abdel-Maged, leader of the formerly militant Gamaa Islamiya group, threatened to "sever heads" of opposition supporters if they attacked the military. Rafai Taha, one of the leading figures of Gamaa Islamiya, was also onstage, next to Brotherhood leaders.

In his Friday sermon, the cleric of Rabia el-Adawiya warned that if Morsi is ousted, "there will be no president for the country," and Egypt will descend into "opposition hell."

Pro-Morsi marchers ? many wearing green headbands with the slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood ? chanted religious slogans. "It is for God, not for position or power!" they shouted. "Raise your voice high, Egyptian: Islamic Shariah!"

The anti-Morsi demonstrators in Tahrir Square also waved Egyptian flags. They cheered, clapped, whistled and chanted, "Egypt, Egypt, Egypt. Long live Egypt!" and "The people want the fall of the regime," a phrase heard repeatedly in 2011.

One banner depicted President Barack Obama and said, "Obama supports terrorism."


Associated Press writer Steve Negus and Mohammed Khalil of Associated Press Television News contributed to this report from Alexandria.


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