News briefs: Iranians shot down jetliner

(Photo: Peter Buschmann, United States Forest Service, USDA. Some additional editing by W. Carter. [Public Domain])

The Associated Press

As wildfires get worse, smoke spreads, stokes health worries

WASHINGTON (AP) — Evidence indicates it is "highly likely" that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed a Ukrainian jetliner near Tehran late Tuesday, U.S., Canadian and British officials said Thursday. They said the strike, which killed all 176 people on board, could well have been a mistake amid missile launches and high tensions throughout the region.

The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over the U.S. drone strike that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general. Four U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, said they had no certain knowledge of Iranian intent and the airliner could have been mistaken for a threat.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said in Toronto: "We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile." 

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, "There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile."

Earlier Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested he believed Iran was responsible for the shootdown and dismissed Iran's initial claim that it was a mechanical issue with the plane

Trump turns to those he has scorned for help on Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — As tensions fester with Iran, President Donald Trump finds himself turning to the very people and entities he's spent three years dismissing or alienating: NATO, Western allies and U.S. intelligence agencies.

Trump, who once said that U.S. spy agencies should "go back to school," has praised the intelligence that led to the fatal air strike against Iran's most powerful general. After three years of dismissive comments about NATO and other European allies, Trump says he wants them to help more in the Middle East. He even suggested a new possible name of "NATOME" to add emphasis on the Middle East.

Following his order to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and the dangerous aftermath of Iran launching missiles at U.S. military installations, Trump said he would like to see more NATO troops in the Middle East because the problems there are international in scope.

His latest entreaty is also the freshest test of whether he can bend other nations and international alliances to his will and convince them to join with him after years of letting many of those relationships wither. 

"I think NATO should be expanded and we should include the Middle East, absolutely...Right now the burden is on us and that's not fair," Trump said Thursday. 

Iraq is caught in the middle as Iran and U.S. trade blows

BAGHDAD (AP) — For months, Iraqis have watched with deepening anxiety as tensions between Iran-backed militias and U.S. forces soared, fearing their long-beleaguered country would turn into a battleground for direct and open conflict between America and Iran.

Those fears were realized in the past week when a U.S. airstrike killed Iran's top military commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, after he landed at Baghdad airport, and Iran responded by firing over a dozen missiles at Iraqi military bases housing American troops. 

From the country's top leadership down to the street, many Iraqis are irate at what they see as blatant violations of their sovereignty, yet are helpless as Iran and the U.S. trade blows on Iraqi soil. At every tumultuous turn, Iraq's independence has seemingly been ignored by its two closest allies, who happen to be bitter enemies.

Tensions eased on Wednesday when U.S. President Donald Trump signaled that Washington was stepping away from escalation. 

But it remains to be seen what effect the clashes will have on Iraq's willingness to allow American troops to remain on Iraqi soil.

On streets of Tehran, relief for now at no wider conflict

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian newspapers proclaimed the country's attack on U.S. forces in Iraq to be "a dark night for Americans," and Washington's "first admission of failure in history." On the bustling streets of Tehran, however, there was relief Thursday that neither side appeared primed for war.

"War is not something like the 'Call of Duty' game," said Dara Shojaei, a 23-year-old architecture student. "It's not a game you can play to win. There's no winner." 

But with the relief came some mixed feelings about how far Iran should go to avenge the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleiman, the country's most powerful commander who was slain by a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad last week. His death brought an outpouring of grief across the country, and Iran responded early Wednesday by firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing American troops.

The dramatic blast of more than a dozen missiles caused no casualties at the two bases, although Iranian state TV claimed that some 80 U.S. soldiers had been killed — a death toll repeated Thursday by a top Iranian military general.

At the White House, President Donald Trump said Iran "appears to be standing down," while Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the missile attack as "a slap" against America.

With 'Megxit,' Harry and Meghan aim to control media image

The relationship between Britain's royals and the media is awkward, mistrustful — and seemingly inescapable. But now Meghan and Harry want out.

After years of growing tension with the press, the prince and his wife have announced plans to quit their senior royal duties, move part-time to North America, seek financial independence and withdraw from regular media scrutiny.

The couple — who have complained of intrusive media coverage and accused some British media commentators of racism — slammed the country's long-standing arrangements for royal media coverage, saying they prefer to communicate directly with the public through social media.

The British press was stung by the snub, reacting Thursday with articles, columns and editorials that ranged from disappointment to fury.

The Daily Mirror said in an editorial that the couple's failure to tell Harry's grandmother Queen Elizabeth II about their plans "shows shocking disregard for a woman whose entire life has been ruled by a sense of public duty and honor." The Times of London accused Harry of "petulance and hot-headedness," while the Daily Mail said the couple wanted "the status of being 'senior' royals but the privacy and freedom of being private citizens."

Searchers find third body buried by Idaho avalanche

Buried under about 10 feet (3 meters) of snow after an avalanche this week at an Idaho ski resort, Bill Fuzak made peace with his predicament and prepared for death.

"I had already relegated myself to the inevitable as I knew the air would not last long,'' Fuzak, 62, wrote on a public Facebook page for skiers. "I'm really surprised how calm I felt but knew there was nothing I could do but wait and pray.''

His prayers were answered and Fuzak became one of four survivors extricated from Tuesday's avalanche at the Silver Mountain Resort near Kellogg, Idaho. Two other skiers were killed and the body of a third skier was recovered on Thursday. The resort remained closed Thursday as about 120 searchers with dogs and a helicopter located the body of a third person buried by the avalanche.

Fuzak, a skier who lives in the nearby Spokane, Washington, area, said he was entombed in the snow for about 50 minutes, much longer than most avalanche survivors.

Unable to move anything but his right hand, he cleared snow from his face and mouth. At some point, he passed out.

Video in apparent Epstein suicide attempt is lost, US says

NEW YORK (AP) — Video footage of the area around Jeffrey Epstein's jail cell on a day he survived an apparent suicide attempt "no longer exists," federal prosecutors told a judge Thursday. 

Officials at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York believed they had preserved footage of guards finding Jeffrey Epstein after he appeared to have attempted suicide, but actually saved a video from a different part of the jail, prosecutors said. 

The FBI also has determined that the footage does not exist on the jail's backup video system "as a result of technical errors," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maurene Comey and Jason Swergold wrote in a court filing. 

The revelation came despite assurances prosecutors made that jail officials were preserving the footage at the request of a defense attorney for Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer who shared a cell with Epstein in July when the wealthy financier was after discovered with bruises on his neck and then placed on suicide watch. 

Epstein later hanged himself in jail Aug. 10 while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, officials said.

First came the flames ... then came the smoke

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — First came the flames, a raging firestorm propelled by 50 mph (80 kph) wind gusts that incinerated Kelsey Norton's house and killed 85 people in her community.

Then came the smoke — not just from the forest but also from some 14,000 houses and their contents that burned, generating a thick plume that enshrouded portions of Northern California for weeks and left Norton gasping.

"I don't want to have cancer in my 50s because I inhaled smoke in my 30s," she said.

The immediate toll of lives and property lost in 2018 when a fire tore through the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Paradise, California is well documented. Still unknown is the long-term impact of the intense smoke exposure suffered by the tragedy's survivors and the hundreds of thousands of people living in communities downwind of the blaze.

Increasingly intense wildfires are scorching forests from California to Australia and stoking concern among residents and health professionals about long-term health impacts from smoke exposure.

In Ohio, Trump to hold 1st campaign rally of election year

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump heads into his first campaign rally of the election year flush with cash, chafing at impeachment and hoping to capitalize on his order to take out Iran's top general.

Trump will be in northern Ohio for Thursday night's rally, taking to the campaign trail a day after pulling back from the brink of war with Iran.

The campaign event in Toledo offers Trump an opportunity to spotlight before a friendly crowd his decision to order the fatal drone strike against Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, while keeping the U.S. -- at least for the moment -- out of a wider military conflict.

The president's reelection campaign has already used Facebook ads to highlight Trump's decision to strike Soleimani, regarded as Iran's second most powerful official.

"We caught a total monster, and we took him out, and that should have happened a long time ago," Trump said before departing Washington.

Did Fox's Tucker Carlson play role in calming Iran pressure?

NEW YORK (AP) — Here's a point to ponder: To what extent is Fox News Channel's Tucker Carlson responsible for President Donald Trump stepping away from a potential war with Iran?

From his prime-time perch on the top-rated cable network, Carlson has advocated restraint in dealing with Iran, and resisted cheerleading the Trump-ordered drone killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Shortly after the story of Iran's counter-attack broke on Tuesday, Carlson hosted a show that mixed coverage of the story as details became known, emphasizing early reports of a lack of American casualties, and interviews with experts on the Middle East. Some of those guests pointed out the dangers of spiraling escalation.

"I continue to believe the president doesn't want a full-blown war," Carlson said. "Some around him might, but I think most sober people don't want that."

Trump, who announced his decision not to retaliate against Iran's missile strikes in a nationally televised address 14 hours later, told some close to him that he watched Carlson's show, according to BuzzFeed News. He told confidants in recent days that Carlson's strong advocacy not to escalate the situation in Iran played a role in his decision-making, two White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing told The Associated Press on Thursday.

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