BAGHDAD (AP) — Sunni lawmakers pulled out of talks on forming a new Iraqi government after militants attacked a Sunni mosque in a volatile province outside Baghdad during Friday prayers, killing at least 64 people.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Shiite militiamen or the Islamic State extremist group, which has been advancing into the ethnically and communally mixed Diyala province and has been known to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to submit to its leadership.
But Sunni lawmakers pointed to powerful Shiite militias, and two major parliamentary blocs pulled out of talks on forming a new Cabinet, setting up a major challenge for prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite who is struggling to form an inclusive government that can confront the militants.
The blocs affiliated with Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlak demanded that outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the main Shiite parliamentary bloc hand over the perpetrators within 48 hours and compensate the families of victims "if they want the political process and the new government to see the light of day."
The joint statement blamed the attack on "militias" in an apparent reference to Shiite armed groups allied with the government. Sunni lawmakers could not immediately be reached for further comment.
An army officer and a police officer said the attack on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in Imam Wais village, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Baghdad, began with a suicide bombing near the entrance, after which gunmen poured in and opened fire on the worshippers.
Officials in Imam Wais said Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen raced to the scene of the attack to reinforce security but stumbled upon bombs planted by the militants, which allowed the attackers to flee. Four Shiite militiamen were killed and thirteen wounded by the blasts.
A total of at least 64 people were killed in the attack and more than 60 wounded. Al-Maliki has called for an investigation.
The officials said Islamic State fighters have been trying to convince two prominent Sunni tribes in the area — the Oal-Waisi and al-Jabour — to join them, but that they have thus far refused.
Virtually all suicide bombings in Iraq are believed to have been carried out by Sunni militants, but Shiite fighters used the tactic in Lebanon during that country's civil war. In the chaotic aftermath of a major attack it is often not immediately clear how it was carried out or who was responsible.
Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Since early this year, Iraq has been facing an onslaught by the extremist Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants. The crisis has worsened since June, when the group seized Iraq's second largest city of Mosul, in the north.
In Diyala, Islamic State fighters have clashed with Kurdish forces guarding disputed territory claimed by the Kurdish regional government in the north. The extremist group pushed Kurdish forces out of the town of Jalula earlier this month after heavy fighting.
The Islamic State group has also clashed with Shiite militiamen and security forces loyal to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. At the height of Iraq's sectarian bloodletting in 2006-2007 the province was among the country's most lethal areas.
If the attack proves to have been carried out by Shiite militiamen it would deal a major blow to al-Abadi's efforts to reach out to the country's Sunni minority, whose grievances are seen as fueling the insurgency.
Al-Abadi has until Sept. 10 to submit a list of Cabinet members to parliament for approval, but such deadlines have often passed without action because of political wrangling.
On Friday Iraq's top Shiite cleric again called upon national leaders to settle their differences in a "realistic and doable" manner and swiftly form a new government to confront the Sunni insurgency.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said the next government should be made up of candidates who care about "the country's future and its citizens" regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliations.
Al-Sistani warned that politicians' "demands and conditions could derail the forming of the new government."
The reclusive cleric's remarks were relayed by his representative, Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, during Friday prayers in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
Al-Karbalaie also called for urgent aid to be airlifted to residents of a small Shiite town which has been besieged by Sunni militants in northern Iraq.
About 15,000 Shiite Turkmen in the town of Amirli have been under a tight siege and are running out of food and medical supplies. The town is located about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Baghdad.
The United States launched airstrikes this month to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces looking to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State group.
U.S. Central Command said Friday that it conducted three new airstrikes around the Mosul Dam, where clashes with militants continue nearly a week after Iraqi and Kurdish forces retook the sprawling facility with U.S. air support.
Since Aug. 8, the U.S. has launched a total of 93 airstrikes, of which 60 were near the Mosul Dam, Centcom said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — By rejecting demands for a nine-digit payment to save kidnapped American journalist James Foley, the United States upheld a policy choice that some European and Arab governments have long found too wrenching to make themselves: ruling out ransom to rescue any citizen held captive by militant organizations, in hopes the tough stand will make Americans safer from kidnapping and attacks by extremists.
Foley's beheading by the Islamic State extremist group intensified a debate within the Obama administration and with American allies abroad about whether to pay ransoms to al-Qaida and other organizations, at the risk of encouraging more abductions and funding militancy.
For al-Qaida and some other militant bands, ransoms paid to free kidnapped Europeans over the past decade have surpassed donations from private supporters as a source of funding, according to the United States and Britain.
The British government, like the U.S., adheres to a longstanding policy against paying ransoms to extremists.
Foley's Islamic State captors had demanded $132.5 million (100 million euros) from his parents and political concessions from Washington. Neither obliged, authorities say.
The Islamic State also demanded a $132.5 million ransom each for two other American hostages the militants are holding, according to a person close to the situation who spoke late Thursday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the information by name. The demand to the families of each hostage came only once, late last year.
Foley, 40, a freelance journalist from New Hampshire, was killed within the past week inside Syria, where he had been held since his disappearance there in November 2012. Extremists revealed his death in a video released Tuesday showing his beheading.
Extremists said they killed Foley in retaliation for what by Thursday were 90 U.S. airstrikes since Aug. 8 targeting Islamic State positions in northern Iraq. But the ransom demands began late last year, even before the Islamic State, one of the world's most financially prosperous extremist groups, had begun its brutal march across much of western and northern Iraq.
Whether or not it was their primary motive in killing the freelance reporter, the Islamic State militants — already savvy self-promoters on Twitter and in slickly produced videos — since then have moved squarely to the front of the U.S. agenda and international attention, said Matthew Levitt, a counterterror expert at the Washington Institute think-tank.
It's "the kind of coverage you can't really buy," Levitt said. "From their perspective, this has been a tremendous success."
A senior Obama administration official said Thursday the Islamic State had made a "range of requests" from the U.S. for Foley's release, including changes in American policy and posture in the Mideast.
At the State Department, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the militancy — which controls a swath of land across northern Syria and Iraq — has collected millions of dollars in ransoms so far this year alone.
"We do not make concessions to terrorists," Harf told reporters. "We do not pay ransoms."
"The United States government believes very strongly that paying ransom to terrorists gives them a tool in the form of financing that helps them propagate what they're doing," she said. "And so we believe very strongly that we don't do that, for that reason."
The issue of payments by American families or U.S. corporations is now under debate within the Obama administration, according to a U.S. official familiar with the conversations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss them by name.
The USA Patriot Act prohibits any payment or assistance to terror groups that could boost their support. The families of three Americans held by a rebel group in Colombia for five years, for example, were repeatedly advised against sending even medication and sneakers to the hostages to avoid potentially breaking the law.
But prosecution in those types of cases is rare.
"I never saw, in my time as an FBI agent, where the U.S. government threatened to prosecute a family for paying a ransom," said Clinton Van Zandt, the FBI's former chief hostage negotiator.
He said government-paid ransoms help create "a growing cottage industry in kidnap ransoms."
"You may get that person back that time, but what you've done is put a price tag on the head of every American overseas," he said. "And you've advertised that we pay to get Americans back."
European governments, in particular, cite more domestic pressure than felt in the U.S. to free kidnapped nationals, even by ransoms. Qatar, a small Persian Gulf country that often seeks a regional and international role as a mediator, also has interceded in paying or helping to arrange payment for Western governments, U.S. and British officials say.
In January, the U.S. and Britain secured a U.N. Security Council resolution appealing to governments not to pay ransom to terror groups. The Group of Eight, a bloc of some of the world's most developed economies, made the same pledge a year ago, also under U.S. and British pressure.
The Treasury Department has estimated at least $140 million worth of ransoms have been paid to al-Qaida and other terror groups in Africa and the Mideast since 2004.
France, the country most frequently accused of paying ransoms, has denied doing so, as have Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. All are accused by security experts, diplomats and others of having paid or helped arrange ransoms.
Qatar typically refuses to comment on the issue of ransoms, and Spain has neither confirmed nor denied that it pays terrorists for hostages' release.
Despite its insistence that it does not make concessions to terrorists, the U.S. did just that earlier this year in securing the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban, critics say. In exchange for Bergdahl, the Obama administration released Taliban prisoners from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including some that critics called among the most hardened terrorists.
Rather than pay ransoms, the United States often tries to rescue its hostages with covert military teams trained to raid extremist camps. That was how the three hostages in Colombia were freed in 2008 in a joint operation with Colombian spies and U.S. intelligence.
And a secret operation was launched in early July to rescue Foley and other U.S. hostages being held by the Islamic State in Syria. U.S. special forces engaged in a firefight with the Islamic State, and killed several militants, but did not find any American hostages at the unspecified location.
At least three Americans are still being held in Syria. Two of them are believed to have been kidnapped by the Islamic State group. The third, freelance journalist Austin Tice, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to be in the custody of Syrian government forces.
Knickmeyer reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Michael Melia in Boston, Greg Keller in Paris and AP staff from around Europe contributed to this report.
MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Craft-beer manufacturer Red Hare Brewing Company has begun packaging its brew in an almost entirely recycled-content aluminum can from Novelis Inc., a multi-national aluminum manufacturer. It's a first for the beverage industry.
The brand name for the product is evercan, with a lowercase 'e'. It is certified by Scientific Certification Services as the only aluminum can sheet to contain not less than 90 percent recycled content.
"We're working on the technical performance, the alloy chemistry of the can, as well as continuing to build up our recycling capacity," said Novelis vice president and chief sustainability officer John Gardner. "And in the next few years we will be at 100 percent recycled content."
The unlikely partnership began when Novelis contacted the Marietta, Georgia-based brewer, which is packaged exclusively in cans since the founding of the company in 2011. The brewery's managing partner, Roger Davis, saw it as a perfect fit.
"Sustainability now with a can just sort of slid right into the fabric. It was easy to do ... we've always thought about packaging in cans. Never really considered anything else."
Gardner agrees with the sustainability model and thought introducing the evercan brand to the beverage industry might best be accomplished though a small company with big ideas.
"For our first evercan customer we chose to work with Red Hare, who were small but very fast growing craft-beer producer here in Georgia. They have got a very sustainable outlook."
Thomas Sanders, an aluminum expert with Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering also thinks the introduction of a high recycled content beverage can to a small audience makes sense.
"So, I think that it's a first start — you have to begin somewhere — and once people begin to see that it is a profitable way to operate more and more people will get involved."
Sanders said average aluminum beverage cans have between 50-68 percent recycled content.
In addition to Novelis being headquartered in Atlanta, they have a research and development facility in the metro area as well as a recycling plant 80 miles east in Greensboro, Georgia.
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — As the Ebola crisis in West Africa continues to escalate, MAP International is sharpening its focus on getting medical aid to where it is needed most.
With the number of deaths reaching into the thousands, the epidemic's profile has heightened in the U.S. recently after the two infected American patients were brought to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment. Although some in this country are only now beginning to pay attention, MAP has been involved with the fight against Ebola from the beginning.
Since the initial outbreak at the end of March, the international relief aid organization headquartered in Brunswick had sent more than 24,000 personal protection kits and $6.6 million worth of medicines and essential supplies to the affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
And the organization is about to send more. Partnering with American Leprosy Missions of Greenville, South Carolina, MAP shipped out another 5,600 personal protection kits and another $1.6 million worth of MAP Medical Mission kits to Liberia, a hot bed of Ebola activity -- both in terms of the disease as well as the panic it has created.
The personal protection kits include infectious disease protection suits, goggles and masks that are key in providing protection for health care workers dealing with Ebola patients, says Kipp Branch, MAP's global essential medicines and supplies manager. They provide both a physical barrier to inhibit the spread of the disease as well as a sense of security for frightened workers. Several hospitals in Africa have closed due to employees afraid to come to work.
"MAP has a Liberia country office, and our representative there will facilitate the clearance for this shipment in customs over there, hand it over to the Liberian Ministry of Health and they will get the shipment rushed to the most needed areas," Branch said. "I spoke with our representative last Friday, actually, and he was telling me about a few more hospitals closing and just the general panic in the country right now. People are starting to die of basic health care things that aren't Ebola affected, and that's why we're sending the medical mission kits as well. People still have basic health care needs that aren't being met (because of the focus on Ebola)."
The medical mission packs include just about everything, Branch says, from antibiotics to oral rehydration salts to basic analgesics like Advil and Tylenol. A total of 150 boxes will be packed with medicine in Monday's shipment, with each box supplying at least 350 treatments to basic health care problems.
"Last week alone, we had 11 new relief shipments going to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and now we have today's. It's exciting to be able to provide the supplies needed so often, but it's so tough because we're a mission-based organization -- when people are suffering is when we're busy like this," Branch said.
And it's just getting started, he adds. Requests continue to pour in, and he expects regular shipments to continue as often as financially possible. That will be for some time, he said. Aid doesn't end when a disaster stops being a headline on the nightly news, he added.
"I've taken two trips to the Philippines in just the last eight months," Branch said of MAP's continued efforts in the country rocked by a typhoon in November 2013. "We're actually sending out a shipment of more relief supplies this week to the Philippines. It'll mean we'll reach somewhere near the $11 million mark in support."
With the shipment to Liberia, MAP will reach the $8 million mark in relief aid given to various countries in the Ebola crisis.
BANGKOK (AP) — Interpol said Friday it has launched a multinational investigation into what Thailand has dubbed the "Baby Factory" case: a 24-year-old Japanese businessman who has 16 surrogate babies and an alleged desire to father hundreds more.
Police raided a Bangkok condominium earlier this month and found nine babies and nine nannies living in a few unfurnished rooms filled with baby bottles, bouncy chairs, play pens and diapers. They have since identified Mitsutoki Shigeta as the father of those babies — and seven others.
"What I can tell you so far is that I've never seen a case like this," said Thailand's Interpol director, police Maj. Gen. Apichart Suribunya. "We are trying to understand what kind of person makes this many babies."
Apichart said that regional Interpol offices in Japan, Cambodia, Hong Kong and India have been asked to probe Shigeta's background, beginning last week. Police say he appears to have registered businesses or apartments in those countries and has frequently traveled there.
"We are looking into two motives. One is human trafficking and the other is exploitation of children," said Thai police Lt. Gen. Kokiat Wongvorachart, Thailand's lead investigator in the case. He said Shigeta made 41 trips to Thailand since 2010. On many occasions he traveled to nearby Cambodia, where he brought four of his babies.
Shigeta has not been charged with any crime. He is trying to get his children back — the 12 in Thailand are being cared for by social services — and he has proven through DNA samples sent from Japan that he is their biological father. He quickly left Thailand after the Aug. 5 raid on the condominium and has said through a lawyer that he simply wanted a large family and has the means to support it.
Kokiat said Shigeta hired 11 Thai surrogate mothers to carry his children, including four sets of twins. Police have not determined the biological mothers, Kokiat said.
The founder of a multinational fertility clinic that provided Shigeta with two surrogate mothers said she warned Interpol about him even before the first baby was born in June 2013.
"As soon as they got pregnant he requested more. He said he wanted 10 to 15 babies a year, and that he wanted to continue the baby-making process until he's dead," said Mariam Kukunashvili, founder of the New Life clinic, which is based in Thailand and six other countries. He also inquired about equipment to freeze his sperm to have sufficient supply when he's older, she said in a telephone interview from Mexico.
As for Shigeta's motives, Kukunashvili said he told the clinic's manager that "he wanted to win elections and could use his big family for voting," and that "the best thing I can do for the world is to leave many children." Kukunashvili declined The Associated Press' request to talk to the clinic manager.
Kukunashvili, who is based at the company's headquarters in the country of Georgia, said she never met Shigeta but received reports from her Thai staff.
She said that in April 2013, she sent faxes in English and French to Interpol's head office in Lyon, France, and an email through the agency's website, but they went unanswered. Apichart of Interpol in Thailand said the local office never saw the warnings. An Interpol spokesman in Lyon did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Kukunashvili also sent Shigeta an email to express suspicion, and attorney Ratpratan Tulatorn responded on his behalf in an Aug. 31, 2013, email that the clinic owner provided to the AP.
The attorney said Shigeta was involved in "no dishonesty, no illegal activities." He said his client hoped to keep using New Life, but the company then stopped working with him.
Shigeta's activities drew no attention until early this month, when an Australian couple was accused of abandoning a baby with his Thai surrogate mother — but taking his twin sister — after learning the boy had Down syndrome. Though the couple disputes the allegation, the case prompted a crackdown by Thai authorities on what had been a largely unregulated industry.
After the Australian case emerged, police received a tip that prompted the raid on Shigeta's Bangkok apartment.
Ratpratan, the lawyer, appeared during the raid to insist that Shigeta had done nothing wrong.
"These are legal babies, they all have birth certificates," Ratpratan told Thailand's Channel 3 television station. "There are assets purchased under these babies' names. There are savings accounts for these babies, and investments. If he were to sell these babies, why would he give them these benefits?"
Ratpratan is no longer Shigeta's lawyer, and his replacement has not responded to requests for comment. Shigeta's current whereabouts are unknown.
Associated Press writers Yuri Kageyama and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this report.