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April 15, 2012 at 5:00 PM
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Tornadic storms recharging in Midwest

TULSA, Okla., April 15 (UPI) -- Tornadic thunderstorms were reorganizing from the Upper Midwest to the southern Plains following overnight storms that killed five, meteorologists say.

Madison, Wis., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, lie in the heart of the threat, where the potential is high for more tornadoes, Accuweather reported Sunday.

At least five people are dead in Oklahoma after more than 100 reported tornadoes ravaged Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa late Saturday and early Sunday, the National Weather Service said.

Five people died in Woodward, Okla. -- two children at a trailer park, two people near the Tangier area and one who died at the hospital, The Oklahoman reported. City Manager Alan Riffel said about 10 people are in critical condition.

The Woodward News said some 3,900 homes in the city of 12,000 people were without power early Sunday.

Keli Cain, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said early reports from the area northeast of Oklahoma City were grim.

"We're hearing of what sounds to be significant damage in the area," she said.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of disaster emergency as twisters tore through the state late Saturday.

In Iowa, emergency officials told The New York Times 75 percent of the town of Thurman was obliterated by a tornado Saturday.

By early Sunday morning, about 7,000 homes were without power throughout Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported. The town of Creston was struck Saturday night, with Greater Regional Medical Center and Southwestern Community College both sustaining damage.

Attacks on Kabul defeated; meaning unclear

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 15 (UPI) -- The commander of Western forces in Afghanistan said officials were analyzing the significance of Sunday's blunted Taliban raid on Kabul.

Guerrillas overran a major hotel in the city and attacked diplomatic compounds, including the U.S. Embassy, but were by and large driven off by the end of the day.

The Taliban announced the attacks were part of a major spring offensive; however, U.S. Gen. John Allen said in a written statement the circumstances were still being scrutinized. "No one is underestimating the seriousness of today's attacks, and we'll work hard to determine the circumstances that led to today's events," said Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force.

Afghan security officials said in a written statement that the attacks were "ineffective" and said about 13 militants had been killed and 15 captured, including two alleged suicide bombers who were nabbed before they could reach their targets.

Allen credited the skills of Afghan security forces in quelling the attacks, and said the attacks were a sign the Taliban was losing its ability to prevent Afghanistan from stabilizing.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker went so far as to question whether the attacks were even the work of the Taliban or rather the Haddaqi terror network. "The Taliban are very good at issuing statements, less good at fighting," he told CNN.

Syria bombards rebel posts in Homs

DAMASCUS, Syria, April 15 (UPI) -- The Syrian military pounded the western city of Homs with artillery Sunday in a bid to roust pro-democracy rebels, human rights officials said.

Although the government of President Bashar Assad has permitted few journalists into the country since rebellion began in January 2011, a report Sunday from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London said there was "widespread mortar and heavy machine gunfire," Voice of America reported.

The group said in a release from London artillery shells were being fired into Homs at a rate of three per minute.

There was no report of fatalities or casualties, although the United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have died as a result of the political upheaval since last year.

Meanwhile, the 15-member U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously authorized the deployment of 30 unarmed monitors to Syria, with an option to deploy as many as 200 more.

In Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there would be a U.N. summit there April 20 to address how to deal with at least 1 million people displaced by the violence in Syria.

Pakistan pursues hundreds of escapees

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 15 (UPI) -- Pakistani officials said they launched a dragnet Sunday after nearly 400 prisoners were freed in a Taliban raid on a prison in Bannu.

About 30 of the 384 inmates who fled the lockup were back in custody as Pakistani authorities rallied from the brazen large-scale attack.

"This is the largest jailbreak in Pakistan's history," Malik Naveed Khan, a former police chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told The New York Times. "It's a very serious failure."

Officials said about 100 Taliban fighters traveling in pickup trucks forced their way into the prison in order to rescue a former commander who had attempted to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf. Sources told the Times the guards offered little resistance, causing no casualties among the Taliban and only a few injuries among the staff.

"Such a large number of people barging into a jail in the middle of the night raises serious questions," said Khan.

Police responded by shutting down cell phone service in the area. It was believed the militants who fled -- their number remained unclear -- were likely headed to the neighboring Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan, the Times said.

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