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Libya militia held Lockerbie suspect before handover to US

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Libya militia held Lockerbie suspect before handover to US

CAIRO (AP) — Around midnight in mid-November, Libyan militiamen in two Toyota pickup trucks arrived at a residential building in a neighborhood of the capital of Tripoli. They stormed the house, bringing out a blindfolded man in his 70s.

Their target was former Libyan intelligence agent Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, wanted by the United States for allegedly making the bomb that brought down New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, just days before Christmas in 1988. The attack killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground.

Weeks after that night raid in Tripoli, the U.S. announced Mas’ud was in its custody, to the surprise of many in Libya, which has been split between two rival governments, each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

Analysts said the Tripoli-based government responsible for handing over Mas’ud was likely seeking U.S. goodwill and favor amid the power struggles in Libya.

Four Libyan security and government officials with direct knowledge of the operation recounted the journey that ended with Mas’ud in Washington.

The officials said it started with him being taken from his home in the Abu Salim neighborhood of Tripoli. He was transferred to the coastal city of Misrata and eventually handed over to American agents who flew him out of the country, they said.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Several said the United States had been exerting pressure for months to see Mas’ud handed over.

“Every time they communicated, Abu Agila was on the agenda,” one official said.

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In Libya, many questioned the legality of how he was picked up, just months after his release from a Libyan prison, and sent to the U.S. Libya and the U.S. don’t have a standing agreement on extradition, so there was no obligation to hand Mas’ud over.

The White House and Justice Department declined to comment on the new details about Mas’ud’s handover. U.S. officials have said privately that in their view, it played out as a by-the-book extradition through an ordinary court process.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with briefing regulations, said Saturday that Mas’ud’s transfer was lawful and described it as a culmination of years of cooperation with Libyan authorities.

Libya’s chief prosecutor has opened an investigation following a complaint from Mas’ud’s family. But for nearly a week after the U.S. announcement, the Tripoli government was silent, while rumors swirled for weeks that Mas’ud had been abducted and sold by militiamen.

After public outcry in Libya, the country’s Tripoli-based prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, acknowledged on Thursday that his government had handed Mas’ud over. In the same speech, he also said that Interpol had issued a warrant for Mas’ud’s arrest. A spokesman for Dbeibah’s government did not answer calls and messages seeking additional comment.

On December 12, the U.S. Department of Justice said that it had requested that Interpol issue a warrant for him.

After the fall and killing of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in a 2011 uprising-turned-civil war, Mas’ud, an explosives expert for Libya’s intelligence service, was detained by a militia in western Libya. He served 10 years in prison in Tripoli for crimes related to his position during Gadhafi’s rule.

He was released in June after completing his sentence. After his release, he was under permanent surveillance and barely left his family home in the Abu Salim district, a military official said.

The neighborhood is controlled by the Stabilization Support Authority, an umbrella of militias led by warlord Abdel-Ghani al-Kikli, a close ally of Dbeibah. Al-Kikli has been accused by Amnesty International of involvement in war crimes and other serious rights violations over the past decade.

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After Mas’ud’s release from prison, the Biden administration intensified extradition demands, Libyan officials said.

At first, the Dbeibah government, one of the two rival administrations claiming to govern Libya, was reluctant, citing concerns of political and legal repercussions, said an official at the prime minister’s office.

The official said U.S. officials continued to raise the issue with the Tripoli-based government and with warlords they were dealing with in the fight against Islamic militants in Libya. With pressure mounting, the prime minister and his aides decided in October to hand over Mas’ud to American authorities, the official said.

Dbeibah’s mandate remains highly contested after planned elections failed to happen last year.

“It fits into a broader campaign being conducted by Dbeibah, which basically consists of giving gifts to influential states,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. He said Dbeibah needs to curry favor to help him remain in power.

More than a decade after the death of Gadhafi, Libya remains chaotic and lawless, with militias still holding sway over large territories. The country’s security forces are weak, compared to local militias, with which the Dbeibah government is allied to varying degrees. To carry out the arrest of Mas’ud, the Dbeibah government called on al-Kikli, who also holds a formal position in the government.

The prime minister discussed the Mas’ud case in a meeting in early November with al-Kikli, according to an employee of the Stabilization Support Authority who had been briefed on the matter. After the meeting, Dbeibah informed U.S. officials of his decision, agreeing that the handover would take place within weeks in Misrata, where his family is influential, a government official said.

Then came the raid in mid-November, which was described by the officials.

Militiamen rushed into Mas’ud’s bedroom and seized him, transporting him blindfolded to a detention center run by the SSA in Tripoli. He was there for two weeks before he was given to another militia in Misrata, known as the Joint Force, which reports directly to Dbeibah. It’s a new paramilitary unit established as part of a network of militias that support him.

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In Misrata, Mas’ud was interrogated by Libyan officers in the presence of U.S. intelligence officers, said a Libyan official briefed on the interrogation. Mas’ud declined to answer questions about his alleged role in the Lockerbie attack, including the contents of an interview that the U.S. says he gave to Libyan authorities in 2012 during which he admitted to being the bomb-maker. He insisted his detention and extradition are illegal, the official said.

In 2017, U.S. officials received a copy of the 2012 interview in which they said Mas’ud admitted building the bomb and working with two other conspirators to carry out the attack on the Pan Am plane. According to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, Mas’ud said that the operation was ordered by Libyan intelligence and that Gadhafi thanked him and other members of the team afterwards.

Some have questioned the legality of Mas’ud’s handover, given the role of informal armed groups and a lack of official extradition procedures.

Harchaoui, the analyst, said Mas’ud’s extradition signals the U.S. is condoning what he portrayed as lawless behavior.

“What the foreign states are doing is that they are saying we don’t care how the sausage is made,” he said. “We are getting things that we like.”

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Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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