BAGHDAD (AP) — The Islamic State group is conducting a purge, killing dozens of former policemen and soldiers living in areas of Iraq under its control, in a campaign apparently aimed at preventing any uprising against its extremist rule.
Former officers have been gunned down in their homes, rounded up and shot in groups or killed in public squares as an example to others in recent weeks, particularly in the northern city of Mosul, the largest city in the swath of territory bridging Iraq and neighboring Syria that the militant group controls.
The campaign appears aimed at shoring up the extremists' hold at a time when theu are being hit by the U.S.-led international air campaign and have lost some ground to Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias.
In one recent killing, Islamic State group gunmen last week stormed the home of former police Col. Mohammed Hassan, in Mosul. Hassan and his son fought back, killing three attackers before they were gunned down.
The militants then hung his mutilated body from a fence for several days near his home as an example, according to two residents who witnessed the battle and were aware of the events leading up to it. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Hassan was among some Sunnis in the security forces who surrendered, handed over their weapons and pledged to cut ties with the police when the Islamic State group overran Mosul in June. In return, the militants gave them "repentance badges" granting them some safety. But now, the Islamic State group suspected Hassan was engaging in activities against it.
The campaign of killings adds a new bloody chapter in the Islamic State group's legacy. In its blitz capturing a swath of Iraq and neighboring Syria, it gained a grisly notoriety for butchering its opponents and members of sects it considers heretical.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday said that the extremists carried out a mass killing of around 600 Shiite Muslim inmates being held in Mosul's main prison when the group captured the city in June. The Shiites were separated from several hundred Sunni and Christian inmates who were set free, then the Shiites — along with a number of Kurds and Yazidis — were forced to kneel on the edge of a nearby ravine and were mowed down with automatic weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report, based on interviews with survivors.
But killings of former police are of a new, different sort — a campaign to eliminate those who the extremists fear could become the nucleus of a revolt against their control.
In new killings, the militants on Wednesday paraded 30 Sunni tribal fighters through the western city of Hit then shot them all to death on a main street, according to a provincial official and other residents. Their bodies were found later that day, followed by another mass grave of 48 tribal fighters discovered on Thursday. The fighters, mostly from the Al Bu Nimr tribe, were captured when the extremists overran Hit earlier in the month.
Mosul, the largest city in the group's self-styled "caliphate," has seen increased killings. Last week, Mosul's governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, who was driven out of the city in the militant takeover, said pro-government Sunni militias were being formed in the city, made up of mainly of former army and police officers.
Soon after, Islamic State group militants rounded up 20 former police officers from villages south of Mosul. Hours later, their bodies — all with gunshots to the head — were handed over to the morgue, according to morgue officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
In a separate incident, the militants shot to death police Col. Issa Osman after parading him through Mosul's streets. Osman's battalion was the last unit to give up fighting in Mosul during the June takeover, and afterward he also renounced ties to the security forces, receiving a "repentance badge" from the extremists.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim also said anti-IS militant groups have been formed in Mosul. Whether they are part of armed groups or not, former police and army officers are a potential threat to the militants because they "have the expertise on how to plan an armed uprising and they have good knowledge of weapons and military operation," Maan told AP.
There have been similar slayings elsewhere under the extremists' domain the past week. Three days ago, IS fighters shot to death two former army officers and three policemen in a public square in the northern city of Beiji, residents said. They announced to a crowd that the men had carried out mortar attacks on the militants' positions in the city, according to the residents.
At the same time, about 20 former policemen and army officers were rounded up by IS fighters in the town of Shurqat and taken to an unknown location, with no word since on their fate, said an official in Salahuddin provincial council.
On Wednesday, IS fighters beheaded policeman Bahjat Salman in a public square in Ana, a town west of Bagdad, proclaiming him a "traitor," residents said. The residents of Ana and Beiji and the Salahuddin official spoke to AP on condition of anonymity for their own safety.
So far, there has been little sign of an armed revolt in Mosul or other parts of northern and western Iraq under IS control. But the killings could be a sign the extremists' confidence has been shaken by the air campaign.
The group was able to expand with lightning speed across Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq starting in June, in large part because of the minority community's deep hatred of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Sunnis have long complained the government discriminates against them and marginalizes them. Government forces collapsed as the extremists swept over Mosul, then south toward the capital, capturing towns and cities along the way.
But there has been resentment among some Mosul residents fueled by the group's enforcement of its extremist interpretation of Islamic law, a lack of public services and stagnation in business.
"Most Mosul people want to get rid of this savage organization," said a resident speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "We are waiting for any effort to save us."
DENVER (AP) — As a season of campaigning enters its intense final weekend, a new Associated Press-GfK poll illustrates the challenge ahead for candidates and their allies trying to rally voters around traditional wedge issues such as abortion and gay marriage. This fall, voters just have other matters on their minds.
Social issues are eclipsed by concerns about the economy, health care, the Islamic State group and Ebola, the poll finds. And hovering over each of these individual issues is a broad dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.
Only 32 percent of likely voters called gay marriage an important issue, compared with 91 percent ranking the economy important, 78 percent with similar concerns about health care and 74 percent naming Ebola important. The issue that some Democrats have emphasized most of all — abortion rights — also has been a relatively low priority, with only 43 percent of likely voters in a September poll ranking it important.
Yet women's health and reproductive rights have been at the center of campaigns for U.S. Senate in Alaska, Iowa, North Carolina and especially Colorado. There, half of the ads aired by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and those backing his re-election have criticized his GOP opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, on women's health issues. They include a contention that the 40-year-old congressman from eastern Colorado wants to ban some forms of birth control.
"Democrats this year clearly think that all that you need is that silver bullet of social issues," said Katy Atkinson, a GOP political consultant in Denver. "It's not. You need more."
Voters' views on domestic issues ahead of Tuesday's elections:
ACCESS TO BIRTH CONTROL
Gardner may have been able to parry the offensive by proposing that birth control pills be sold over the counter. After he began airing an ad on his proposal last month — as security concerns rose amid U.S. military action against the Islamic State group in the Middle East and the West Africa outbreak of the Ebola virus — Gardner moved ahead in public polls.
Gardner isn't the only Republican to propose the sale of birth control without a prescription. So, too, have Republicans running for Senate in North Carolina, Virginia and Minnesota.
The poll shows this birth control pill plan is more popular with Democrats than Republicans nationally. Overall, 50 percent of likely voters are in favor of allowing the sale of oral contraceptives over the counter, including 60 percent of Democrats and just 42 percent of Republicans.
At the same time, a narrow majority of all likely voters back the Affordable Care Act requirement that prescription contraception be fully covered by insurance. Notably, that latter provision means selling birth control pills without a prescription would actually raise the out-of-pocket costs for consumers.
One domestic issue that remains a priority for Americans is health care. Only 3 in 10 say they support the overhaul passed in 2010, while nearly half (48 percent) oppose it.
More Americans overall trust the Democratic Party (33 percent) than the Republican Party (24 percent) to handle the issue, but among likely voters the Democratic advantage narrows to 4 points, 36 percent to 32 percent.
If forced to choose a fate for the law, more voters say it should be repealed completely rather than implemented as written, 58 percent to 40 percent. On the other hand, most believe the law will go into effect in something close to its current form: 16 percent think the law will be implemented as passed and 47 percent expect only minor changes. Just a third expect major changes or a complete repeal.
Even among those who expect Republicans to control both the House and Senate after this year's election, 51 percent expect at most minor changes to the law.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriages to proceed in five states where federal judges had overturned state-level bans. The issue remains a low priority for voters.
A majority of likely voters (56 percent) say they think such rulings are inappropriate and 59 percent say laws about same-sex marriage ought to be the responsibility of state governments. Voters are divided on same-sex marriage in their own state, however, with 44 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed, while 10 percent are neutral.
Still, most see the fight over gay marriage as one that's largely decided. Nearly two-thirds say same-sex marriage is likely to be legal nationwide in the next five years.
The poll suggests immigration is fading from voters' minds as campaigns and the government in Washington have focused elsewhere.
Sixty-five percent of likely voters and 57 percent of all Americans now call immigration an extremely or very important issue. The number among all Americans is down slightly from 62 percent in a July poll that was conducted amid news of a rising number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border.
Six in 10 likely voters (61 percent) say illegal immigration is an extremely or very serious problem for the country, and the share of adults saying so has fallen 12 points since July, from 67 percent to 55 percent. Fifty-three percent favor providing a way for immigrants already in the United States illegally to become citizens.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
Agiesta, AP's director of polling, reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Stacy A. Anderson and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.
DWEIR SHEIKH SAAD, Syria (AP) — The posters of slain Syrian soldiers, put up by families to commemorate their sons killed in the fight against rebels, are plastered on walls throughout the coastal province of Tartous, forming impromptu murals of death that illustrate the price supporters of President Bashar Assad are paying to defend his rule.
The khaki-clad men often pose with guns, with Assad's image often imposed above the slain soldier.
For government supporters, Assad is synonymous with Syria itself, particularly in Tartous, a scenic Mediterranean port that is majority Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that is the faith of Assad's family. For Syria's Alawite minority, there is no other way out but to back the president, despite rumblings of dissent. Rebels often indiscriminately target Alawites because they are seen as the firmest pillar of Assad's rule — and because extremists among the rebels consider them heretics.
More soldiers have been killed from Tartous than any other region in Syria in the fighting to quell the armed rebellion seeking to topple Assad, now in its fourth year.
"This is the price we must pay for the country," said Ramadan Haidar, whose 23-year-old son Mahmoud was killed fighting in northern Syria. "Because if the country doesn't regain its sovereignty, then I have lost my son and my home."
It's unlikely that need for the sons of Tartous will ease, with the government seemingly desperate for soldiers as the conflict grinds on.
Some 4,000 soldiers from Tartous have been killed in the war, according to a Syrian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to media.
The death toll forms some 10 percent of the estimated 40,400 soldiers killed, even though Tartous' population is fewer than a million people — less than one-twentieth of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million. Alawites form some 13 percent of Syria's population, concentrated in the coastal provinces and the central city of Homs.
They are not the only ones to die in the fighting. Syria's army represents the sectarian makeup of the country: it is largely Sunni Muslim, fighting mostly Sunni Muslim rebels. But Alawite troops are the most trusted by leadership.
School teacher Haidar's son Mahmoud was killed two years ago in a suicide bombing. The family home in the town of Dweir Sheikh Saad in Tartous province is now a memorial for the young man, strung with photos of Mahmoud in his army uniform, with his girlfriend, with his two sisters.
Haidar's wife Ibtisam, 43, stashed away her son's belongings, including red love-heart cushions his girlfriend gave him. She wore a necklace with a pendant of Mahmoud's face, often clutching it as she described her pride in her son for joining the Syrian army.
"He was sacrificed for the homeland," she said, smiling. "He is in my heart. I talk to him and it makes me feel better," she said.
The town, nestled amid olive groves, has lost 34 men so far, said mayor Mohammed Shaban.
Reflecting a broader trend, Shaban said most of the men were killed in the past two years, mostly by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and in mass killings perpetrated by the extremist Islamic State group as they seized a string of military bases in the country's northeast.
Among the massacres was the killing of more than 150 government troops captured when the militants took the Tabqa base in Raqqa province, in August. The militants stripped the soldiers to their underwear and forced to run through the desert before they were shot.
"We can't live with them. We are fighting ignorance and terrorism" said Issa Mariam, 54, whose son Abdullah was killed two years ago fighting in Aleppo.
Posters of Abdullah, 25, were plastered around the house, alongside his framed death certificate. His mother also bore a gold pendant bearing Abdullah's image.
There appears to be growing resentment toward Assad, particularly after the mass killings by militants. Some families say they felt their sons were sacrificed for the survival of one family.
But as Islamic militants become more powerful, many Syrians see little choice — better Assad's rule than the extremists.
An aid worker who works closely with Syrian officials said because the fate of Alawites was tied with Assad's rule, some were demanding the government pound rebel areas harder.
"If anything, their critique of Bashar is that he is too weak, so they would rather have a hard-line guy in power," said the aid worker, who requested anonymity because he wasn't meant to speak to reporters.
A demonstration in early October in an Alawite-dominated neighborhood of the central Syrian city of Homs may be instructive. After twin bombings killed 25 children there, hundreds of Assad supporters held a rare protest, accusing the Homs governor of not doing enough to stop rebel attacks on their neighborhood.
Haidar, the school teacher who lost his soldier son, suggested there was weariness.
"Certain provinces are motivated to go to the army, and perhaps they are affected more," Haidar said, referring to Tartous. "Many people were killed, and they are buried here in this cemetery."
The government appears to be trying to mitigate potential dissent.
A Syrian economics expert said the state was prioritizing social affairs spending on families of slain soldiers. But a decision to grant first priority in civil service jobs to those families was cancelled this week, said the Health Minister Nizar Yaziji. It appeared that the decision had caused an outcry.
As the war grinds on, with no decisive winner and no political headway, the military is becoming low on personnel resources, meaning there'll be no rest for Alawites soon.
"They will have to be patient, what can they do?" said Assad adviser Bouthaina Shabaan. "We all in Syria have to be patient, and we all have to persist in our resilience. What is the alternative?"
This week, soldiers at checkpoints in Tartous began stopping men aged between 23 and 42 years old, examining their ID cards and ordering some of them to report for reserve duty. Men were taking alternative routes to avoid being caught.
There was no formal announcement of the move, and an official on state-run television this week denied what he called "rumors" that men were being seized.
Parents of slain Alawite soldiers said they would allow their other sons to volunteer service if they wanted.
But the price is clear. In the provincial capital city of Tartous, an informal mural made of the posters of slain soldiers stretched for meters on a wall.
Further down, there was an official memorial: it was a large billboard featuring Assad's face, and thousands of names of slain soldiers scrawled on either side.
Across the road there was another billboard, also listing names of the killed. It too, was full.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. soldier returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa would have to spend 21 days being monitored, isolated in a military facility away from family and the broader population. A returning civilian doctor or nurse who directly treated Ebola patients? Depends.
The Pentagon has put in place the most stringent Ebola security measures yet, going beyond even the toughest measures adopted by states such as New York, New Jersey and Maine and much further than the guidance set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for travelers returning from the afflicted region.
"I have one responsibility and that is the security of this country," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday. "And that means the security of our men and women and their families."
He called the Pentagon's step a "smart, wise, prudent, disciplined, science-oriented decision."
Yet, the policy far surpasses federal government standards. The CDC recommends that only people at the highest risk — those who've had direct contact with an Ebola patient's body fluids, for example — avoid commercial travel or large public gatherings for 21 days. Anyone who develops symptoms would be hospitalized immediately.
The differences are partly a function of the military's unique role, the constitutional authorities granted to individual states and the federal government's desire not to discourage health care workers from volunteering to help confront the deadly Ebola virus at its source in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
But the varying approaches have raised questions about whether and how different levels and agencies of government are coordinating the response to Ebola in the United States.
For now, the questions are mostly academic.
Only one Ebola patient has died in the U.S. and he contracted the disease in Liberia. Two nurses who were infected by that patient have recovered and have been declared Ebola-free. One doctor who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa has been diagnosed with the virus and is being treated at a hospital in New York.
IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT ARE THE VARIOUS PROTOCOLS?
— The Pentagon: Returning troops would have to undergo a 21-day quarantine even though their jobs do not require them to be in contact with Ebola victims. The military facilities could be in the U.S. or overseas. Already a group of 42 returning soldiers, including a two-star Army general, are in supervised isolation at a military base in Vicenza, Italy.
— The states: Not all have developed responses, but among those who have New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Georgia, Florida and Maine are imposing 21-day quarantines for health care workers and other travelers from West Africa who had direct contact with people with the Ebola virus but show no symptoms of the disease.
— The federal government: The CDC recommends 21-day isolation and monitoring for people who show no symptoms but who have had direct contact with an Ebola patient's bodily fluids, either through exposure or a needle prick, for instance. For those who have been in close contact with patients but have not been directly exposed to a patient's fluids, the CDC recommends daily self-monitoring for 21 days. Those recommendations are supposed to serve as guidelines for state policies.
WHY IS THE PENTAGON STRICTER?
Defense officials maintain that the Pentagon rules are necessary because even through troops will not treat Ebola patients, they will spend more time in the Ebola hot zone than health care workers.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. troops comprise the largest portion of the U.S. contingent in Liberia and will be staying there for six months at a time, compared with the 30-day to 60-day stays for U.S. civilian health care workers. Pentagon officials also note that the troop presence in West Africa will likely grow to up to 4,000 over time.
"Being in the hot zone is like being in a war zone; the longer you're there the greater the chances of being injured or killed," said James G. Hodge Jr., a professor of public health law at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
WHY NOT THE SAME POLICY FOR CIVILIANS?
It's a question some military spouses are certainly asking. Rebekah Sanderlin, a board member of the Military Family Advisory Network, said she hasn't heard complaints about the 21-day policy for service members. But, she added: "There is a lot of confusion over the quarantine policy because the military and civilian guidelines do not match. I do think if a quarantine period is justified for one group, it is justified for all."
Hodge, who is western director of the Network for Public Health Law, notes that service members, unlike civilians, can have their liberties curtailed. As White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted this week, "There might be some members of the military who think that the haircut that's required may not be their best, but that's a haircut that they get every couple of weeks because it is in the best interest of their unit and it maintains unit cohesion, and that is a policy of the military."
President Barack Obama has urged states to consider how their policies will affect the willingness of civilian doctors and nurses to volunteer for Ebola work in West Africa. Unlike those civilians, Obama said this week, the troops are not there voluntarily. "It's part of their mission that's been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the commander in chief," he said.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The biggest Pentagon deployment is in Liberia with 1,000 troops. There are about 120 in Senegal, where they operate a staging base for operations in Liberia. Dempsey said Thursday that the troop presence is intended to grow to about 4,000.
As for civilians, since the CDC began tracking travel from West Africa, it has detected fewer than 100 people a day entering the United States, most of them U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, according to CDC Director Thomas Frieden. He said about 5 percent have been identified as either health care workers or someone who had been in contact with an Ebola patient, but not exposed to bodily fluids.
Seven out of 10 of those returning civilians go to six states: New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey and Virginia.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A SOLDIER CONTRACTS THE DISEASE?
Pentagon officials say any individual diagnosed with the disease would be transferred to the United States for treatment. Right now, however, there is only one aircraft designated to transport a sick individual from West Africa to the U.S. and it can only hold one person at a time and make only four trips a week, according to Maj. Gen. Lariviere, who testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week.
He said the Pentagon has a plan for isolation pods that could carry 15 people at a time inside C-17 military transport planes. He said purchase of those pods would not begin until January.
PAHOA, Hawaii (AP) — Ten miles from the Hawaii town of Pahoa that is being menaced by a stream of lava from Kilauea volcano, there's another community that was almost entirely swallowed by the molten rock nearly 30 years ago.
Today, a few dozen recently built homes sit on Kalapana's rolling black fields — offering a glimpse of life after lava.
"It's like nothing else. It's the newest land on Earth," said Hank Powers, a 47-year-old tour guide who is building a house on 24 acres of Kalapana lava fields.
Their example may be of little comfort to nearly 1,000 residents of Pahoa on the Big Island, who are watching as lava threatens to set fire to homes and split their small, rural town in half. As of late Thursday, the lava was 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road, which runs through downtown.
But Kalapana's residents show how some adaptability can make living with lava possible, albeit in some extreme conditions.
Powers said he moved in after getting accustomed to lava while taking people to view it as a tour guide. He's lived in Montana, Colorado and elsewhere in Hawaii, but he declares Kalapana's windy black plains his favorite.
The 47-year-old said he would be excited if lava returned. He's also prepared: He built his house so it could be loaded on a truck and moved away from a fresh flow if necessary.
That allows him to skip insurance. People in high-risk lava zones can buy insurance, but they usually have to pay a higher premium. The homes are covered by a fire policy due to the threat of the lava's heat.
Inexpensive real estate is a draw for some. A 7,500-square-foot lot in Kalapana Gardens sells for $5,000 to $8,000, according to Bill Parecki of Savio Realty in Pahoa. The average price of a home in the area is just over $55,000.
That's a fraction of what a home costs in Leilani Estates, a subdivision closer to Pahoa, where the average price is $207,000.
Ed Elarth, a 51-year-old who makes stone carvings and shell necklaces, said the new land has an energy that has made him feel healthier and younger since he moved in three years ago.
Life is rustic. People rely on solar and wind to power their homes, capture rain in tanks to wash with and truck in drinking water. Most people use composting toilets.
"A lot of people come out here and they can't handle it. It just drives them nuts," Elarth said. "Pele's got a way of weeding out the ones that don't belong here," he said, referring to the Hawaiian volcano goddess.
Elrath said people in the outpost are like family, which he has not felt while living in other parts of the Big Island.
Robert Keliihoomalu, who has lived in Kalapana for all his 75 years, said lava reminds people to be humble, kind, understanding and open because it can't be controlled.
"It brings everybody close," said Keliihoomalu, whose home has been spared from past flows.
All of Hawaii's islands were formed by lava that emerged from a hotspot in the Pacific Ocean where magma has been poking through the Earth's crust for millions of years.
Powers said he could move his house to another spot on his 24 acres in Kalapana if another flow came. Or to a different lot he owns nearby. But he vows he would return after the new flow built more land.
"I'd just bring it back later. It would just be a little higher up," he said.