AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT


US vows to keep up pressure on Syria after missile strikes

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The United States is vowing to keep up the pressure on Syria after the intense nighttime wave of missile strikes from U.S. ships, despite the prospect of escalating Russian ill will that could further inflame one of the world’s most vexing conflicts.

Standing firm, the Trump administration on Friday signaled new sanctions would soon follow the missile attack, and the Pentagon was even probing whether Russia itself was involved in the chemical weapons assault that compelled President Donald Trump to action. The attack against a Syrian air base was the first U.S. assault against the government of President Bashar Assad.

Much of the international community rallied behind Trump’s decision to fire the cruise missiles in reaction to this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of men, women and children in Syria. But a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the strikes dealt “a significant blow” to relations between Moscow and Washington.

A key test of whether the relationship can be salvaged comes next week when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson becomes the first Trump Cabinet member to visit Russia.

Tillerson said he sees no reason for retaliation from Russia for the U.S. missile strikes. Russia maintains a close political and military alliance with the Assad government and has been implicated in many of the attacks against Syrians opposed to Assad’s rule, though Moscow adamantly denies such claims.

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Bereaved Syrian father: US missile strike not enough

ISTANBUL (AP) — Abdel Hameed al-Yousef woke to the sound of an early morning bombardment in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun and told his wife Dalal to take their twins Aya and Ahmed to safety outside.

He emerged to find the home covered in dust, and then a new strike exploded about 400 yards (300 meters away).

Within minutes, he said, his eyes started to water, and he soon lost consciousness.

“I estimate I came to about five hours later, he said. “And I had lost 19 of my close relatives. They were all on the ground.”

Eventually, “They found Ahmed, Aya and my wife and four other people near my house,” the 29-year-old shopkeeper recalled.

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After Syria strike, Trump’s emerging doctrine is flexibility

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s surprise strikes on Syria, his allies and adversaries have searched for some broader meaning in his decision.

Is Trump now a humanitarian interventionist, willing to wield American military power when foreign governments threaten their own citizens? Is he a commander in chief who once warned against intervention in Syria but is now prepared to plunge the United States deeper into the conflict? Is he turning on Russia, one of Syria’s most important patrons, after months of flirting with closer U.S. ties with Moscow?

Trump would say he’s simply flexible, an emerging foreign policy doctrine that leaves room for evolution and uncertainty.

“I don’t have to have one specific way, and if the world changes, I go the same way, I don’t change,” Trump said Wednesday, a day after the chemical weapons attack in Syria that compelled him to order airstrikes against a government air base. “Well, I do change and I am flexible, and I’m proud of that flexibility.”

Allies in the Middle East and Europe who panned Trump’s efforts to ban Syrian refugees from the United States cheered his decision to strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military after viewing images of young children killed in the chemical attacks. Yet they did so without any clear guidance from Washington on the next steps in Syria.

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Joining high court, the real Neil Gorsuch set to stand up

WASHINGTON (AP) — Somewhere between the Republican caricature of the next justice of the Supreme Court as a folksy family guy and the Democrats’ demonization of him as a cold-hearted automaton, stands Neil Gorsuch.

Largely unknown six months ago, Gorsuch has seen his life story, personality and professional career explored in excruciating detail since he was nominated by President Donald Trump 10 weeks ago.

The portrait that emerges is more nuanced than the extremes drawn by his supporters and critics.

Gorsuch is widely regarded as a warm and collegial family man, boss and jurist, loyal to his employees and kind to those of differing viewpoints. He also has been shown to be a judge who takes such a “rigidly neutral” approach to the law that it can lead to dispassionate rulings with sometimes brutal results.

Four times during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch invoked a “breakfast table” analogy, telling senators that good judges set aside what they have to eat — and their personal views — before they leave the house in the morning to apply the law and nothing else to the facts of the cases at hand. It was all part of Gorsuch’s artful effort to reveal as little as possible of his own opinions.

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Trump turns from resigned to resolved after Syria attack

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump first saw the photos Tuesday morning.

The images were ghastly. Men and women gasping for breath. Small children foaming at the mouth and in agony. The lifeless bodies of babies sprawled on the ground.

This was the aftermath of a chemical attack that the U.S. determined was ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad, concluding that he had unleashed sarin gas, a brutal nerve toxin, on his own people. The president peppered his advisers with questions, according to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who later said Trump was immediately focused on getting to the bottom of “who was responsible.”

By the end of the briefing, the president had dispatched his team to draw up options for a response.

The leap to considering intervention was remarkable. In 2013, Trump had argued against military intervention in Syria when it was President Barack Obama’s decision to make. He had hardly portrayed himself as a humanitarian crusader on the campaign, when he adopted the slogan “America First.”

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Norway police neutralize explosive device, arrest suspect

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Police in the Norwegian capital of Oslo said they neutralized an explosive device found in a busy area of downtown Oslo late Saturday night and said they had arrested a suspect.

Police Chief Vidar Pedersen confirmed that the device, initially described as “bomb-like,” was an explosive. The police Twitter account said it had been defused or neutralized.

Police would not give any details about the suspect, or further information about the device.

Pedersen said the device was found on the street just outside the Groenland underground station, and police swept through the area to remove people from bars and restaurants.

“Every restaurant was being closed,” said 23-year-old Malin Myrvold, who witnessed the scene from a fourth-story window. “You could see cops in heavy armor going in every store and restaurant.

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Truck attack angers Swedes, raises questions about policies

STOCKHOLM (AP) — One brutal attack by a man who drove a stolen truck into shoppers in Stockholm has brought Sweden’s open-door immigration policies under increased scrutiny — and raised the question if Swedish society, considered democratic and egalitarian, has failed to integrate its newcomers.

The suspect in Friday’s attack, a 39-year-old native of Uzbekistan who has been arrested by police, had been on authorities’ radar previously but they dismissed him as a “marginal character.” It was unclear whether he was also a Swedish citizen or resident or even how long he’d been in the country.

The attack killed four people and wounded 15. In response, hundreds gathered Saturday at the site of the crash in the Swedish capital, building a heartbreaking wall of flowers on the aluminum fence put up to keep them away from the site’s broken glass and twisted metal. Some hugged police officers nearby.

“We have been too liberal to take in people who perhaps we thought would have good minds. But we are too good-hearted,” said Stockholm resident Ulov Ekdahl, a 67-year-old commercial broker who went to the memorial.

Joachim Kemiri, who was born in Sweden to a Tunisian father and a Swedish mother, says migrants and refugees had been arriving in too large numbers.

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Venezuelans pour into Caracas streets in anti-Maduro protest

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s government fired tear gas and rubber bullets at some of the thousands of opponents of President Nicolas Maduro who poured into the streets of Caracas Saturday amid a weeklong protest movement that shows little sign of losing steam.

The demonstrations in the capital and several other cities came a day after Maduro’s government barred top opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office for 15 years.

The ban capped a tumultuous 10 day-crackdown that saw pro-government groups rough up several opposition leaders and another seek refuge in a foreign embassy to escape arrest.

The protests were triggered by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the opposition-controlled legislature of its last vestiges of power, a move that was later reversed amid widespread international condemnation and even dissent within Maduro’s normally disciplined socialist leadership.

“Nobody can disqualify the Venezuelan people,” an emotional Capriles said from a stage Saturday as he called on protesters to march to the ombudsman’s office downtown.

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APNewsBreak: FBI reviews handling of terrorism-related tips

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI has been reviewing the handling of thousands of terrorism-related tips and leads from the past three years to make sure they were properly investigated and no obvious red flags were missed, The Associated Press has learned.

The review follows attacks by people who were once on the FBI’s radar but who have been accused in the past 12 months of massacring innocents in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, injuring people on the streets of New York City, and gunning down travelers in a Florida airport. In each case, the suspects had been determined not to warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny months and sometimes years before the attacks.

The internal audit, which has not been previously reported, began this year and is being conducted in FBI field offices across the country. A senior federal law enforcement official described the review as an effort to “err on the side of caution.”

The audit is essentially a review of records to ensure proper FBI procedures were followed. It’s an acknowledgment of the challenge the FBI has faced, particularly in recent years, in predicting which of the tens of thousands of tips the bureau receives annually might materialize one day into a viable threat.

Investigations that go dormant because of a lack of evidence can resurface instantly when a subject once under scrutiny commits violence or displays fresh signs of radicalization. FBI Director James Comey has likened the difficulty to finding not only a needle in a haystack but determining which piece of hay may become a needle.

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Forget roses and birds. These folks like their big trees

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) — A horse chestnut tree towers over a busy street in New Hampshire’s main port city. It’s known for its history more than its height; legend has it that William Whipple planted it after returning in 1776 from signing the Declaration of Independence.

But at nearly 70 feet (21 meters) tall, it is also big for a chestnut, and that is what brought Keven Martin out one rainy morning. Armed with tape to measure its circumference and a laser finder to calculate its height, Martin was here to find out whether the tree remained the state’s biggest horse chestnut, a title it has held for decades.

“It is not only the biggest, but it’s been around a long time,” said Martin, who coordinates New Hampshire’s Big Tree Program when he is not building boats. More than 700 champions in the state have been crowned. And while there may not be any redwoods out here, the state is home to 10 national champions, including the country’s biggest black spruce and American mountainash.

“People appreciate a big tree more, and they have a lot of history to them. People have a connection with them, more so,” said Martin, who has written a book on the big trees found on public lands. “They are just a lot more impressive when you see them in the woods or driving by.”

Started in 1950, the state’s Big Tree Program has been part of a nationwide network run by the conservation group American Forests that has logged some 721 champions across the country — 200 species still don’t have a title holder. Created to raise awareness about protecting forest from threats like development and forest pests, as well as a way to better understand why some species grow so large, the effort today is driven by tree lovers like Martin.

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