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Jan. 17, 2013 at 12:00 PM   |   Comments

Report: Hostages, kidnappers fired on

AMENAS, Algeria, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Algerian soldiers may have killed hostages and kidnappers at a natural gas facility complex as they tried to flee Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Times, citing a report by a Mauritanian news organization, said a militant spokesman reported 35 foreigners and 15 kidnappers died as they tried to leave the complex in Amenas from gunfire from helicopters. The spokesman said the group's leader was among the dead.

Details weren't immediately available.

The militants reportedly threatened to blow up the gas facility at Amenas, near the Libyan border, if government commandos attempted to free the hostages taken Wednesday by Islamic militants demanding an end to military action against Islamists in Mali.

France 24 television reported a male hostage said in a telephone interview attackers forced some hostages to strap on suicide belts. Whether the man was a hostage couldn't be confirmed.

Various media reports indicated a number of hostages -- anywhere from 40 to 50 -- have escaped, but the exact number and their nationalities could not be pinned down.

Hundreds of Algerian soldiers surrounded the facility and helicopters flew overhead, the Los Angeles Times said. Algerian officials earlier said they would not negotiate with the militants, who sought safe passage into Libya.

The captives are believed to be from the United States, France, Japan, Norway and other countries. Reports Wednesday indicated up to 41 foreigners were being held by the Signed-in-Blood Battalion, a group that has ties to al-Qaida.

Algerian officials said two people were killed in the assault, which began with an ambush on a bus taking workers to an airport.

British officials in London told The New York Times Algerian authorities informed them an "operation" was under way but provided no more details.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in Europe for a NATO meeting, told ABC News Thursday as many as 100 hostages were taken, including seven or eight Americans.


Rand Paul vows to fight executive action

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he will try to kill parts of President Obama's executive actions to curb gun violence, implying the president has a "king complex."

Rand said on Fox News Wednesday he will seek to nullify any of Obama's executive actions announced Wednesday "that smacks of legislation."

"I'm very concerned about this president," Paul said of Obama before discussing executive actions taken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his tenure in the White House. Roosevelt served three full terms and died in office during his fourth.

"FDR had a little bit of this 'king complex' also," Paul said. "We had to limit FDR finally because he served so many terms that I think he would have ruled in perpetuity, and I'm very concerned about this president garnering so much power and arrogance that he thinks he can do whatever he wants."

A summary provided by Paul's office said his initiatives would try to nullify any executive actions that could be construed as breaching the Second Amendment, Roll Call reported. Paul said he also wants to ensure he or others have legal standing to challenge the executive actions in the federal court system.

Paul's efforts also would try to block funding to implement executive orders on gun control or related to restrictions on the Second Amendment, Roll Call said.

Paul said he thought his proposals concerning executive action had little chance of moving in the Senate, but that he believes he has more opportunity to block gun-control legislation from advancing in the Senate.

"I think there are a few Democrats that will worry about going home to West Virginia or other states like that and voting for a ban on guns," he said.

Among the things Obama called for Wednesday was congressional action on several gun-control measures, including restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines and an assault weapons ban.

National Rifle Association President David Keene told ABC News, "All bets are off when a president really wants to go to war with you. We're gonna be there and we're gonna fight it."


U.S. Navy ship stuck on Philippine reef

MANILA, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- A U.S. Navy minesweeper based in Japan has run aground on a reef off the southwestern Philippines, Navy officials said Thursday.

No one aboard the USS Guardian was injured when the vessel hit the Tubbataha Reef about 2:25 a.m. local time, the Stars and Stripes reported.

The 224-foot Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship has a crew of 80.

A Navy spokesman said attempts were being made to free the ship, which was stuck about 80 miles east-southeast of Palawan Island. Information about damage to the vessel was not immediately available.

The Guardian, based at Sasebo Naval Base in Japan, was crossing the Sulu Sea between the southwest Philippines and Malaysia after a port visit to Subic Bay, the statement said.

The Philippine government has been notified of the incident.


Curfew still on for U.S. troops in Korea

SEOUL, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- A two-year-old off base curfew for U.S. service members in South Korea has been extended indefinitely by the commander of U.S. forces in the country.

The curfew will be "reviewed as needed," said Gen. James Thurman in issuing the order, Stars and Stripes reported Thursday.

The order replaces a similar one issued in December 2011 that said the curfew would be reviewed quarterly.

Thurman wrote the curfew was "imposed due to operation and mission-readiness requirements."

"I expect USFK will maintain an appropriate state of awareness and mission preparedness for a significant period," he said.

The curfew prohibits the 28,500 U.S. service members in South Korea from being in off-base establishments between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. daily.

A previous commander lifted a nine-year-old curfew in July 2010, but Thurman reinstated it three months later after a series of incidents, including two high profile rape cases, involving U.S. service members.


Israel raids Palestinian protest village

BETHLEHEM, Israel, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Police said Israeli forces following a high court ruling tore down tents that Palestinians had erected in the E1 area of the West Bank.

Activist Ali Abedat told the Palestinian Ma'an news agency that Israeli forces arrived with bulldozers, sealed entrances to the village with cement blocks and cleared the area overnight Wednesday.

The tents, which were put up as part of a Palestinian protest by a new village council, the Bab-al-Shams, had remained standing in accordance with an Israeli court order while judges considered a Palestinian claim of ownership of the land.

The Israeli Supreme Court approved the removal of the tents Wednesday, agreeing with the government's argument that the village could be a magnet for violent Palestinian protests.

The Bab al-Shams who lived in the village, said their display was a non-violent implementation of Palestinian rights.

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