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Jan. 18, 2013 at 5:10 PM   |   Comments

Report: 2/3 of foreign hostages freed

IN AMENAS, Algeria, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Algerian forces freed more than 600 hostages held by Islamic militants at a gas plant in In Amenas, Algerian television reported.

Nearly 100 of the 132 foreign hostages and 573 Algerians were freed in an assault by government forces, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The militants took the hostages Wednesday and Algerian forces with aircraft attacked the complex the following day.

Alexandre Berce told Europe 1 radio he hid under the bed in his living quarters for 40 hours, opening his door only to Algerian co-workers who brought him food and water.

"I heard an enormous amount of fire but I had no idea what was happening," Berceaux said. "I was afraid. I could see myself ending up between four planks of wood."

It was unclear how many hostages were killed or exactly how many were still being held at the Tigantourine facility -- operated jointly by BP, the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach and Norway's Statoil.

Algerian Radio reported there was "ongoing activity at various locations" near the plant that some of the hostage-takers were using as a hideout.


Hillary Clinton busy in last days at State

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to appear before Congress twice next week, to testify about Benghazi and to introduce her nominated successor.

Clinton's testimony about the attack on the Benghazi consulate -- in which U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed -- was postponed from December. Her appearance is scheduled for Wednesday, CNN reported.

On Thursday, she will introduce Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as President Barack Obama's choice to succeed her as secretary of state. Since Kerry chairs the committee, her introduction will be ceremonial.

Clinton returned to work this month after being hospitalized for treatment of a virus infection complicated by a fall that left her with a concussion. Her staff says she has been meeting with Kerry frequently to discuss the job.

Clinton's exact departure date has not been announced. The Senate committee has to wait a week before voting on Kerry's nomination, which must also pass the full Senate.


Muslims attack Coptic church in Egypt

AL-MARASHDA, Egypt, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Security forces in al-Marashda, Egypt, fired tear gas to disperse Muslims attacking a Coptic church, a security official said.

The attack on the church Friday was a reaction to tensions between Muslim and Coptic Christians in the Upper Egypt village, after a Muslim family accused a 45-year-old Coptic shop owner of sexually abusing their 4-year-old child, the Cairo newspaper al-Masry al-Youm reported Friday.

The news website Ahram Online described the alleged victim was a 6-year-old girl.

The church had been attacked about dawn, and a number of shops in the village were burned by Muslims, Ahram Online reported Friday.

As violence mounted, the village's Muslim imam, Sheik al-Hafez called on local youth to form security groups to prevent looters from breaking into stores operated by Coptic Christians.

Christian Bishop Kirollos said the young girl had been seen by a medical official and had not been sexually abused, adding the accused shop owner was under police protection.


Special court to try five men in rape case

NEW DELHI, Iceland, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Five men charged in the rape and killing of a young woman last month will be tried in a fast-track court next week, an Indian magistrate has ordered.

Namrita Aggarwal ordered the trial to begin Monday in New Delhi in a case that ignited demonstrations across India in protest of cultural attitudes about women, the British newspaper The Guardian reported Friday.

The men, aged 18 to 35, are accused of assaulting a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus Dec. 16. The woman was dumped in a field and she died two weeks later in a hospital.

The men were arrested two days after the assault. Police said they linked the men to the crime through DNA.

The court that will hear the case is designed to bypass the delays and corruption sometimes present in the Indian legal system.

V.K. Anand, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said he did not think his client could get a fair trial in New Delhi and he would try to get the case moved out of the city.

Lawyers for the men charge police tortured them to confess.


Aviation officials eye Dreamliner battery

TOKYO, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Japanese and U.S. aviation safety officials say they're examining the battery in Boeing's 787 Dreamliner aircraft that has caused several problems.

In Washington, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the planes will not go back into service "until we are 1,000 percent sure that they are safe to fly."

In the latest incident, Japanese aviation safety officials said Friday high heat caused a battery on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner to char and swell, filling the aircraft with smoke and prompting an emergency landing Thursday, Asahi Shimbun reported. The All Nippon Airways plane landed at Takamatsu Airport in Shikoku.

Hideyo Kosugi, a deputy investigator-general for aircraft accidents, said all eight cells inside the battery were carbonized and swollen, and the battery weighed less than normal.

Representatives of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing Co. arrived at Takamatsu Airport Friday to investigate the latest Dreamliner incident.

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