DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Islamic State militant group that has taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq and declared a self-styled caliphate poses one of the most significant threats to stability in the Middle East in years. But what danger does it immediately pose?
Here are some questions and answers about the Islamic State group:
DOES THE ISLAMIC STATE GROUP RUN A DE FACTO COUNTRY?
The Islamic State group holds roughly a third of Iraq and Syria, including several strategically important cities like Fallujah and Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. It rules over a population of several million people with its strict interpretation of Islamic law. It also controls many of the roads linking the communities it has conquered — although much of the territory in between is sparsely populated desert.
It claims thousands of heavily armed fighters, and has set up its own civil administrations and judiciaries.
"It acts as a state in areas that don't have a state at the moment. It's effective because it provides services, it has a military presence, it speaks as a state," said Hassan Hassan, an analyst at The Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi.
In propaganda videos, the group lays out ambitious expansion plans that include targets such as Baghdad, Damascus and Islam's holiest city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
WHAT RESOURCES DOES THE ISLAMIC STATE GROUP HAVE?
The Islamic State group controls oil fields, power plants, dams and factories in Iraq and Syria. Charles Lister, an analyst who closely tracks jihadist groups at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, estimates the group is capable of bringing in some $2 million a day just from the sale of oil. The group has long generated cash too from extortion, kidnapping for ransom, illicit businesses and other gangland-style criminal activity.
Militarily, the group has seized heavy weaponry, including tanks, artillery pieces and surface-to-surface missiles, from Iraqi and Syrian forces. Human Rights Watch has accused the group of using ground-fired cluster munitions in at least one place in northern Syria.
WHAT DANGER DOES HAVING THE ISLAMIC STATE GROUP HOLDING THIS TERRITORY IN THE ARAB WORLD POSE?
The world has seen the risk of allowing a state sympathetic to Islamic extremists exist before. Al-Qaida was able to flourish and plot the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in large part because it had a safe haven in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The Islamic State group is a far superior threat today than al-Qaida was in 2001. It is richer, operates a modern, effective media arm and holds much more territory than al-Qaida ever did. And while al-Qaida operated on the basis of a loose network of various cells in different countries — a decentralization that worked in its favor in the beginning — the group eventually could no longer centralize its command in a coherent way.
"With the Islamic State we are seeing a highly centralized command and governing structure which will require a new counterterrorism strategy in the region," said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Colin Clarke, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation who researches global security, said even without the trappings of any kind of nationhood, the territory that the Islamic State group controls "can still prove to be an incubator for extremism ... and exporter of terrorism."
WHY HAS THE ISLAMIC STATE GROUP ATTRACTED SO MANY YOUNG MUSLIMS?
Both Iraq and Syria are rife with corruption and weakened by sectarian divisions that the Islamic State group and other extremists exploit.
In an audio speech released in July, the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, listed instances of alleged oppression of Muslims around the world, describing the "Islamic State" as one that "will return your dignity, might, rights and leadership."
With its transnational agenda, the group has become a magnet for disenfranchised young Muslims from all over the world.
The group's leader has called on scholars, judges, doctors and engineers to flock to the region to help build the state. In a recent article, the group's English-language magazine offered them advice: "Do not worry about money or accommodation. ... There are plenty of homes and resources to cover you and your family."
DOES THE ISLAMIC STATE GROUP WANT TO STRIKE THE WEST?
The Islamic State group so far has shown little desire, let alone the capability, to launch major terrorist attacks in the West. But that could change.
Islamic State militants called American journalist James Foley's gruesome videotaped beheading revenge for U.S. airstrikes against the group, and they still hold at least three other Americans hostage, including freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. A video posted online Tuesday purported to show Sotloff's beheading by the group.
Apart from Foley's killing and random threats by individual fighters, however, there are few other instances in which the Islamic State group officially threatened the U.S. of the West. This sets apart the group from al-Qaida, which has long made attacks on the West a priority.
CAN THE ISLAMIC STATE GROUP EXPORT TERRORISM TO THE WEST?
Western officials are concerned about the threat posed by Islamic State sympathizers. They point to the case of Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman who authorities say fought alongside Islamic State militants before he shot four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May.
Analysts believes the group is foremost a regional threat but acknowledge that "lone wolf" attackers inspired by the group's ideology do threaten the West.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warned last week: "If neglected, I am certain that after a month they (IS) will reach Europe and, after another month, America." British officials have raised the country's terror threat level to "severe," its second-highest level, because of developments in Iraq and Syria.
Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Matt Small in Washington contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) — Squeezed into tighter and tighter spaces, airline passengers appear to be rebelling, taking their frustrations out on other fliers.
Three U.S. flights made unscheduled landings in the past eight days after passengers got into fights over the ability to recline their seats. Disputes over a tiny bit of personal space might seem petty, but for passengers whose knees are already banging into tray tables, every inch counts.
"Seats are getting closer together," says Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 60,000 flight attendants at 19 airlines. "We have to de-escalate conflict all the time."
There are fights over overhead bin space, legroom and where to put winter coats.
"We haven't hit the end of it," Nelson says. "The conditions continue to march in a direction that will lead to more and more conflict."
Airlines today are juggling terror warnings in Britain, the Ebola outbreak in Africa and an Icelandic volcano erupting and threatening to close down European airspace. Yet, the issue of disruptive passengers has captured the world's attention.
It's getting to the point where the pre-flight safety videos need an additional warning: Be nice to your neighbor.
The International Air Transport Association calls unruly passengers "an escalating problem," saying there was one incident for every 1,300 flights in the past three years. The trade group would not share detailed historical data to back up the assertion that this is a growing problem.
Today's flying experience is far from glamorous. Passengers wait in long lines for security screening, push and shove at the gate to be first on board, and then fight for the limited overhead bin space. They are already agitated by the time they arrive at their row and see how cramped it is.
To boost their profits, airlines have been adding more rows of seats to planes in the past few years.
Southwest and United both took away one inch from each row on certain jets to make room for six more seats. American is increasing the number of seats on its Boeing 737-800s from 150 to 160. Delta installed new, smaller toilets in its 737-900s, enabling it to squeeze in an extra four seats. And to make room for a first-class cabin with lie-flat beds on its transcontinental flights, JetBlue cut one inch of legroom for coach passengers.
Airlines say passengers won't notice because the seats are being redesigned to create a sense of more space. Southwest's seats have thinner seatback magazine pockets, Alaska Airlines shrank the size of tray tables, and United moved the magazine pocket, getting it away from passengers' knees.
But passengers aren't just losing legroom; they're losing elbow room.
Airlines sold 84 percent of their seats on domestic flights so far this year, up from 81 percent five years ago and 74 percent a decade ago, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That means there are fewer and fewer empty middle seats on which passengers can spread out.
The latest spate of passenger problems started Aug. 24, when a man on a United flight prevented the woman in front of him from reclining thanks to a $21.95 gadget called the Knee Defender. It attaches to a passenger's tray table and prevents the person in front from reclining. A flight attendant told the man to remove the device. He refused, and the passenger one row forward dumped a cup of water on him.
Three days later, on an American flight from Miami to Paris, two passengers got into a fight, again over a reclining seat, and the plane was diverted to Boston.
Then on Sunday night, on a Delta flight from New York to West Palm Beach, Florida, a woman resting her head on a tray table got upset when the passenger in front of her reclined his seat, hitting her in the head. That plane was diverted to Jacksonville, Florida.
The passengers on both the United and Delta flights were already sitting in premium coach sections that have 4 inches of extra legroom.
There were 14,903 flight diversions by U.S. airlines in the 12-month period ending in June, according to an Associated Press analysis of Department of Transportation reports. That means, 41 flights a day, on average, make unscheduled landings at other airports.
The government doesn't break out the reason for diversions, but industry experts say the vast majority occur because of bad weather or mechanical problems. And diversions remain a tiny portion of the 6 million annual flights in the U.S. — less than a quarter of a percentage point.
The decision to divert is up to the pilot. Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant says the crew must determine if the person is going to cause harm to others or has terrorist intentions.
It can cost an airline $6,000 an hour, plus airport landing fees, to divert the standard domestic jet, according to independent airline analyst Robert Mann.
"These costs are among the reasons why airlines ought to be arbitrating these in-flight issues instead of diverting, not to mention the significant inconvenience to all customers and possible disruption of onward connections," Mann says.
Ben Baldanza, CEO of Spirit Airlines, says that if airlines install seats that can recline, passengers should have the right to recline. Of course, Spirit and Allegiant Air are the only U.S. airlines to install seats that don't recline.
"People should lose the emotion," Baldanza says. "We've never had to divert because of legroom issues."
ATLANTA (AP) — Tougher laws have led to a decline in boating accidents and incident-related fatalities for a second straight year, but not all the numbers are promising.
Boating under the influence citations are up, and there's been a significant uptick in drownings — 33 so far in 2014, up from 22 the year before. There was nearly another drowning Monday on Chattahoochee River where, according to WSB-TV, a unidentified female kayaker tipped over and was hospitalized in critical condition.
Still, the overall trend lines are moving in the right direction. There have been only six boating incident-related fatalities in 2014, one-third the annual average of 18 since 1985. While the drownings have risen since 2013, the totals are still well below the average of 52 each of the past 15 years, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The uptick in BUIs reflect new laws that lowered the blood-alcohol content threshold from .10 to .08, state law enforcement officials say, but the 158 citations issued is still a far cry from the annual average of 274 over the last two decades. Legislators strengthened boating laws following two well-publicized incidents on Lake Lanier in 2012 that killed three children, including two brothers.
Taking note of the stricter standards, Vince Smith apparently drew the short stick as he celebrated the holiday with 23 friends on a rented houseboat.
"I'm the designated driver," said Smith, 24, as his friends sipped cocktails with music booming from the radio, "so I'm not too worried."
Also this year, the state began mandating safety courses for boaters born after July 1, 1998. Also, renters of boats with a 10-horsepower engine or larger are now required to take safety classes.
"The Labor Day weekend is not usually as busy as Memorial Day or the July 4th weekends," said Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, assistant director of DNR's Law Enforcement Division. The volume appeared manageable Monday on Lanier — which draws 7.5 million visitors annually — even in Sunset Cove, a popular destination for revelers.
"We were planning on going to a quieter cove by now but it really hasn't been that crowded here," said Ashley Elliott, 39, of Cumming.
Elliott said she's noticed an increase in law enforcement on the lake, a development she said she welcomes, "to a point."
DENVER (AP) — Colorado's pot regulators are trying to make sure the state's marijuana growers aren't producing more pot than they can legally sell — a hedge against Colorado-grown pot ending up in states where it's not legal.
WALDO, Fla. (AP) — The north Florida town of Waldo has long had a reputation as a speed trap, and it's no wonder. A small segment of highway that runs through Waldo requires drivers to speed up and slow down six times: 65 mph becomes 55 mph; 55 becomes 45; then goes back to 55; then back down to 45; to 55 again and eventually, 35 mph.
AAA named the tiny town between Jacksonville and Gainesville one of only two "traffic traps" nationwide and even placed an attention-getting billboard outside the limits of the town to warn drivers to slow down before entering.
Now Waldo faces a scandal following allegations that the town victimizes motorists to turn a profit. Two police chiefs have been suspended, the police department has rebelled and the state is investigating possible wrongdoing.
The situation simmered for years until this month, when Police Chief Mike Szabo was suspended Aug. 12, apparently in response to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into suspected improprieties in the way officers write tickets.
The issue then burst into the open two weeks later at a Waldo City Council meeting, when a group of police officers said they had been ordered by Szabo to write at least 12 tickets per 12-hour shift or face repercussions.
The officers also leveled allegations at the Aug. 26 meeting against Cpl. Kenneth Smith, who had been picked to fill in for Szabo. The officers complained that Smith had, among other things, mishandled evidence. The city council then suspended Smith.
Not surprisingly, things are tense at the tiny stucco storefront office that serves as Waldo City Hall. On Friday morning, Mayor Louie Davis and City Manager Kim Worley met in a small cluttered office to discuss the controversy, slamming a door shut with a "no comment" when a reporter walked in seeking information.
Waldo has long had a reputation as a speed trap, but the allegations made by the police officers were particularly stunning since ticket quotas are illegal under Florida law.
In 2013, Waldo's seven police officers filed 11,603 traffic citations, according to records obtained by the Gainesville Sun newspaper. That compares with 25,461 citations in 2013 for much larger Gainesville, which has 300 officers and 128,000 residents, including thousands of college students.
The fines paid by motorists are a big money-maker. According to the city's 2013 budget, about half of its $1 million in revenue came from "court fines" from tickets issued.
After council appearance, the officers filed a complaint with the Florida Inspector General's Office seeking protection under the Florida Whistleblower Act. The officers said they were forced to go public because Worley failed to conduct an investigation after they told her about the quotas, the mismanagement of evidence and other problems, according to the complaint.
"City manager Worley broke the trust of the concerned members and went straight to Chief Szabo," the officers said in the complaint. "Chief Szabo then took a retaliatory stance against the members for approximately six months."
In a written statement released after the council meeting, Worley said the city takes the officers' allegations seriously but will not comment further. She has requested that a commander from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office take over leadership of the department.
The State Attorney's Office in Alachua County said it is waiting for the FDLE to finish its investigation of ticket quotas and other wrongdoing before deciding whether to file charges against either Szabo or Smith. The FDLE did not return a message seeking comment.
The Florida Department of Transportation is in charge of setting speed limits, but says it did factor in requests from Waldo officials when setting up speed limits there.
Because the stretch of highway with six different speed limits runs by schools and a popular flea market that draws many pedestrians, the department said the speed changes are legal. But enforcing speed limits is Waldo's responsibility, said Tony Falotico, a traffic operations engineer at FDOT.
Waldo residents said many people do drive through town too quickly, but hope the multiple speed limit changes could be reduced to make it easier to comply with the law.
Some welcomed news of the state's investigation, saying people are tired of the harassment.
"I'm glad they're doing something about it," said Mike Barrs, 35, a longtime Waldo resident who said he's gotten at least 20 tickets. "If I had a light out on my trailer they'll pull me over for that, for anything."
AAA, which named Waldo and nearby town of Lawtey as the nation's two worst speed traps, said it opposes traffic enforcement practices designed to raise revenue rather than increase road safety.
"AAA condemns all practices," spokeswoman Karen Morgan said, "whereby law enforcement agency rates the efficiency of its officers based upon the number of arrests made or citations issued."
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal investigation that included surprise inspections was unable to substantiate 16 accusations by advocacy groups that the government packed into frigid cells children caught crossing the border alone, made them sleep on hard floors and provided inadequate food or medical care. Other claims about treatment of the children are still under review, according to the Homeland Security Department.
Inspector General John Roth said in a memo made public Tuesday that immigrants alternately complain that detention facilities are too cold or too hot, but either way, there are cloth or disposable blankets. Likewise, Roth said food service has also improved since the American Civil Liberties Union and four other advocacy groups in June made 116 allegations of wrongdoing, mistreatment and abuses by border agents. Among the complaints was a lack of food.
In the memo to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Roth said his investigators couldn't substantiate any of 16 allegations it investigated. Its investigative findings were presented to federal prosecutors, who declined to prosecute "based on the absence of criminal activities," Roth said.
Roth told Johnson that the remaining 100 complaints are still being investigated by the Immigration Enforcement's Office of Professional Responsibility, CBP's Office of Internal Affairs and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
In June, the ACLU and others complained of "systematic abuse" of immigrant children caught crossing the border alone. The groups said more than 80 percent of the immigrants complained that they received inadequate food and water, about half were denied medical care, and about one of every four was physically abused.
The complaints included a 13-year-old boy who said he was threatened by an official with a metal rod and was later sexually molested while in custody, a 14-year-old girl who reported her asthma inhaler was confiscated, and a 14-year-old boy who said he was unable to sleep for five days because the lights were always on. A 16-year-old boy said an official told him, "You are in my country now, and we are going to bury you in a hole."
The ACLU did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
Roth's memo said most of the 41 Border Patrol facilities where investigators made 57 unannounced visits in Texas and New Mexico were complying with laws and department policies about treatment of the children. The requirements include providing access to clean toilets and sinks, adequate food and water and access to emergency medical care and telephones.
Since last Oct. 1, more than 62,000 child immigrants have been caught crossing the border alone, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. The wave of unaccompanied children overwhelmed the Border Patrol's facilities, prompting the agency to house children in temporary holding cells. Thousands of children were also transferred to other Border Patrol facilities along the border.
Roth said investigators from his office also made three unannounced visits to a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, where more than 600 immigrant women and their children have been held since late June. He said investigators did not see any misconduct during any of the site visits.