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Dec. 30, 2009 at 5:00 PM
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8 Americans killed in Afghanistan bombing

KHOST, Afghanistan, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- A suicide bomber detonated explosives at a U.S. facility in Afghanistan's Khost province Wednesday, killing at least eight Americans, officials said.

Afghan officials told The Wall Street Journal the bomber entered the U.S. compound and set off the explosion. However, a U.S. official in Afghanistan wouldn't confirm the blast was a suicide attack, the newspaper said.

While all of the dead were reported to be Americans, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan said none were soldiers and the attack was not on a military base, but at a facility tied to the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. Embassy officials had no comment on the deadly incident.

CNN, citing an unidentified U.S. military official, reported the suicide bomber was wearing an explosive vest and that the explosion occurred at Forward Operating Base Chapman. The U.S. news network said there were conflicting reports as to whether the attacker entered a dining room or a gym.


Blasts rock Iraq's Anbar, Diyala provinces

BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Suicide bombings Wednesday in the Iraqi city of Ramadi killed at least 24 people and wounded scores more, including Anbar province's governor, officials said.

Initial reports indicated three bombings occurred in Anbar's provincial capital, and offered conflicting reports on whether the governor, Qasim al-Fahdawi, was injured or killed.

The first blast occurred when a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint near the governor's office, The New York Times reported. When the governor went to investigate the explosion, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-laden vest detonated his load, wounding the governor and two members of the provincial council, police commander Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Dulaimi said.

The governor was taken to a U.S. military base for treatment. Police said at least 58 people were injured from the two blasts.

Sheik Hameed al-Hies, leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, told the Times insurgents "want to bring Anbar back to the past" when the western province was riddled by violence and considered a safe haven for militants.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni party, said in a statement Wednesday's attacks in Ramadi were an attempt "to bring back chaos again to Anbar territory."

Also Wednesday, a bomb exploded in Diyala province during the observance of Ashura, killing at least seven people and wounding 28 others, the Times reported. Officials said the bomb was hidden in a trash pile.

Ashura is a two-week observance that commemorates the death of Shiite martyr Imam Hussein.


Feds banned from texting while driving

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- More than 4 million federal employees are banned from texting while driving under a U.S. government-wide directive that became effective Wednesday.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on federal employees to "lead by example" in following President Barack Obama's executive order barring texting while driving when on the clock or engaged in official business.

"Every time we climb into the driver's seat, we all have a responsibility for keeping our roads safe by putting away cell phones and other distractions," LaHood said in a release. "I am proud that the federal government is leading by example, and encourage others to think about how they can set a safety example in their communities -- whether it's through employee policies, safety awareness campaigns, or just making sure your teen driver knows the risks."

Obama signed the executive order Oct. 1 after a two-day summit on distracted driving. The executive order also urges federal contractors and others doing business with the government to adopt and enforce their own policies banning texting while driving on the job.

Immediately after the summit, LaHood ordered all 58,000 Transportation Department employees to comply with the order.

"Today it's second nature to remind our friends and loved ones to buckle up and not to drink and drive, and we have to send the same message about texting and talking on the phone," LaHood said.


FBI follows up on terror accomplice claim

DETROIT, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- FBI agents have talked to a Michigan man who claims a man helped a terror suspect board a Detroit-bound jetliner in The Netherlands, his wife says.

Lori Haskell, of Newport, Mich., told The Detroit Free Press Wednesday agents spoke with her and her husband, Kurt, Tuesday morning.

Kurt Haskell went to the news media this week saying he observed an older, well-dressed Indian man help terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam without a passport on Christmas Day.

He told the Free Press the Indian man told a Northwest ticket agent that the Abdulmutallab "needs to board the plane, but he doesn't have a passport ... He's from Sudan. We do this all the time."

Abdulmutallab was arrested and charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft after witnesses said he tried to ignite an incendiary device hidden on his body. He was overpowered by passengers andsuffered severe burns.

Lori Haskell told the Free Press she was questioned by FBI agents for about 10 minutes. She told the newspaper she recognized a photograph of Abdulmutallab that agents showed her and indicated her husband was interviewed for at least an hour.


Fallen power lines blamed in Aussie fire

TOODYAY, Australia, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Power lines likely sparked a fire that destroyed dozens of homes in Western Australia, police said Wednesday.

Police investigators told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday they were confident the conflagration, in which at least 37 homes have been destroyed, was caused by fallen power lines.

Western Power managing director Doug Aberle said an independent investigator will head to the scene Saturday.

"If it's determined that it's caused by our negligence we will be paying compensation as appropriately determined as we always do," he said.

The fire, about 50 miles northeast of Perth, was first reported Tuesday and was still burning Wednesday, The Australian reported.

Roads were beginning to reopen Wednesday, Allen Gale, a spokesman for the Fire and Emergency Services Department, said. A community meeting was planned downtown in late morning.

Many residents of Toodyay, an agricultural community with fewer than 700 residents, lost their homes. One firefighter, however, got some good news -- that his house, which was in the path of the fire, had been spared.

"He didn't know where his wife was, and he's been reunited with her this morning, which was great," Gale said. "She heard the call over the radio that he was trying to find her and she got in touch, so he's a very happy man."

The fire was the first major blaze of the season in Western Australia, although the east coast has been through several major fires.


Baja quake hits 5.9, felt in San Diego

MEXICALI, Mexico, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- A pair of earthquakes measuring 5.9 and 4.9 struck Baja California Wednesday, seismologists reported, and were felt north of the border in the San Diego area.

The U.S. Geological Survey said in a written statement that the twin temblors were centered 20 miles southeast of the border city of Mexicali, Mexico, and a little more than 100 miles east of San Diego.

There were no official reports of injuries or damage. Messages posted on The San Diego Union-Tribune Web site reported the shaking was felt in the San Diego area, Phoenix and possibly the Los Angeles area.

One poster claiming to be in Mexicali said the shaking was definitely felt and many people had evacuated their buildings.

The 5.9 quake was registered by the USGS at 10:48 PST and was followed by the 4.9 event 5 minutes later. It was not immediately known if the second shaker was an aftershock or separate event.

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