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May 7, 2012 at 10:00 PM
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U.S. says jetliner bomb plot foiled

WASHINGTON, May 7 (UPI) -- The FBI said an explosive device that was removed from a U.S.-bound passenger jet before it could be detonated "never presented a threat to public safety."

U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal the device was to have been used in a suicide attack by al-Qaida's Yemeni branch, in an upgraded version of the failed underwear bomb incident over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

"There was a terrorist explosive device recovered," a U.S. counterterrorism official told the Journal. "It was intended for use by a suicide bomber on an airline."

A U.S. official told CNN al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was responsible for the plot.

"We believe AQAP produced the device, and we believe it was intended to be used by a suicide bomber on an aircraft," the official said. "The device and the plot are consistent with what we know about AQAP's plans, intentions, and capabilities. They remain committed to striking targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Homeland, and Europe."

No arrests were reported and there was no indication as to when or where the device was retrieved.

President Barack Obama has been updated regularly since being informed of the plot in April, the White House said Monday.

"While the president was assured that the device did not pose a threat to the public, he directed the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take whatever steps necessary to guard against this type of attack," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

"The disruption of this IED [improvised explosive device] plot underscores the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism here and abroad."

The FBI said the device was being analyzed and the Journal said officials described it as "very similar" to devices used previously by Yemeni al-Qaida operatives.

"The device never presented a threat to public safety, and the U.S. government is working closely with international partners to address associated concerns with the device," an FBI statement said.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Matt Chandler issued a statement saying the department was monitoring efforts by terrorist groups intent on attacking the United States, but had "no specific, credible information" about an active plot "at this time," CNN reported.

"Since this IED demonstrates our adversaries' interest in targeting the aviation sector, DHS continues, at the direction of the president, to employ a risk-based, layered approach to ensure the security of the traveling public," the statement said.

NATO to investigate Afghan civilian deaths

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 7 (UPI) -- Western authorities are investigating allegations a NATO-led airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed a mother and five children, officials said.

The deaths came during heavy fighting between insurgents and NATO forces in Afghanistan's Helmand province Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Officials in Helmand said Taliban forces attacked the village of Payan, drawing retaliation from NATO forces, during which a civilian home was accidentally hit, killing the mother and children.

Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal "harshly condemned" the deaths, his office said.

Mangal's office said NATO authorities apologized for the civilian casualties and offered financial assistance to surviving family members, though U.S. Army Maj. Jason Wagonner, a NATO spokesman, said he could not confirm the apology or promise of compensation.

NATO said Monday it was investigating the deaths.

No governing coalition for Greece

ATHENS, Greece, May 7 (UPI) -- Greece's government was mired in uncertainty Monday, the day after parliamentary elections left the country without a governing coalition, officials said.

Ekathimerini reported Conservative leader Antonis Samaras said he had failed to engineer a new coalition to lead the nation, which is in dire financial straits. The left-leaning SYRIZA group, which finished second Sunday, will now get a chance to put together a ruling coalition, the Greek newspaper said.

"We did everything we could," said Samaras, whose New Democracy Party won the biggest share of the vote. "It was impossible [to form a government]. I handed back the mandate [to President Karolos Papoulias]."

Papoulias' office said the president would meet SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras Tuesday afternoon.

While Greek law gives the front-runner three days to form a government, a New Democracy official told the private television channel Antenna that Samaras had "not wanted to waste time at such a crucial moment for the nation," The New York Times reported.

Should Tsipras fail to achieve a workable coalition, the Socialist leader, Evangelos Venizelos, would get the next opportunity to form a coalition government, the U.S. newspaper said.

If still no agreement is reached, Papoulias would bring together the leaders of all parties in Parliament in an attempt to broker a deal. If that were to come to naught, the president would appoint an interim government to bring the country to new elections in 30 days.

No update on Obama's view of gay marriage

WASHINGTON, May 7 (UPI) -- The White House had "no update" Monday on U.S. President Obama's views on same-sex marriage, after the vice president and a cabinet member said they support it.

Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriages and Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he personally supported same-sex marriages as well.

Asked during the daily news briefing whether Obama has changed his mind, press secretary Jay Carney said, "I have no update on the president's personal views."

Carney said Biden's comments made "the same point that the president has made previously: that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to roll back those rights."

Duncan, the spokesman said, was asked about his personal views on the issue and he offered them.

"Obviously, this is an issue that many people have a view on and we respect the right of all people to have an opinion -- a personal opinion," Carney said.

Asked if he had any insight into Obama's personal view on the issue, Carney said: "I think the president is the right person to describe his own personal views. He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving and I don't have an update for you on that."

Carney noted the administration opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and supports legislation to repeal it. The administration has stopped defending the constitutionality of a portion of DOMA in legal challenges.

Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" he is "absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And, quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that."

He prefaced his remarks by saying: "I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy."

When asked if the Obama administration would come out behind same-sex marriage in a second term, Biden said, "I don't know the answer to that."

His remarks made Biden the highest-ranking White House official to embrace same-sex marriage, which is legal in six states and the District of Columbia but is unrecognized by the federal government.

The Obama administration has endorsed civil unions but not marriage for same-sex couples.

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