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Dec. 24, 2012 at 4:31 PM
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3 die in fire shooting

WEBSTER, N.Y., Dec. 24 (UPI) -- A gunman who served time for killing his grandmother set a trap for firefighters in Upstate New York Monday and opened fire, killing two, police said.

William H. Spengler Jr. 62, the alleged shooter, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head outside the burning home in Webster, The (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle reported.

The dead firefighters were identified as Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43, and Tomasz Kaczowka. Chiapperini was a volunteer firefighter and the public information officer for the Webster Police Department. The two were among the first to arrive at the fire, which broke out at 5:45 a.m., The Democrat and Chronicle reported.

Two other firefighters, Joseph Hofsetter and Theodore Scardino, were injured. They were reported in guarded condition at Strong Memorial Hospital. Greece police officer Jon Ritter, who was driving near the scene, suffered a shrapnel injury to his arm and left chest.

"These people get up in the middle of the night to fight fires. They don't expect to be shot and killed," Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering told a news conference.

Police said Spengler spent 17 years in prison for the beating death of Rose Spengler, 92, in 1980.

Because firefighters were unable to fight the fire after the shooting started, seven other homes also were engulfed in flames and were destroyed.

Fiscal cliff would hit poor hardest

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Economic researchers at the Tax Policy Center said low income U.S. households with children would be the hardest hit by the so-called "fiscal cliff."

The impact of the federal budget that would become law Jan. 1 if a compromise deal is not reached by House Republicans and the White House is not equal among income brackets.

The budget includes $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts. Spending cuts generally affect lower-income earners the hardest.

In this case, for example, the Head Start program would serve about 100,000 fewer children and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program would lose $271 million out of a budget of $3.4 billion.

Then there are the tax hikes. "It is striking how large some of the (tax) increases are," said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, which is a think-tank jointly run by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institution, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Brahimi, Assad meet in Damascus

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Syrian President Bashar Assad Monday to discuss a plan to de-escalate the country's civil war.

"The president expressed his view regarding the current situation and I briefed him on the meetings I had in several capitals with officials from different countries inside and outside the region," Brahimi said following the meeting in Damascus. "I also told him about the steps that in my view need to be taken to help the Syrian people find a way out of this crisis.

Brahimi has previously stated his plan for the country is based on the so-called Geneva communique that was issued in late June by the Action Group for Syria, the U.N. News Service said.

The Geneva communique outlines key steps in a process to end the fighting in Syria where at least 44,000 people, mostly civilians, have died so far.

"The situation in Syria is still worrying and we hope that all parties would adopt a solution that would meet the aspirations of the Syrian people," Brahimi added.

Iraq arrests 66 suspected terrorists

KARBALA, Iraq, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Iraqi security forces arrested 66 members of an al-Qaida affiliate planning attacks against Shia Muslims, a security chief said.

The members of a terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq were rounded up Sunday in a sweep in the Iraqi central province of Karbala, Staff Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi, head of al-Furat al-Awsat operations command told the Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

He added police seized weapons and munitions in the sweep.

The group was formerly led by Jordanian militant Abu Musad al-Zarqawi, killed in June 2006, and allegedly was planning attacks against Shia Muslims marking Arbaeen, a religious observance which includes a pilgrimage to Karbala, the Iraqi Press TV reported Monday.

Ghanimi said 35,000 soldiers have been deployed to Karbala, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Baghdad, to provide security for the Arbaeen ceremonies Jan. 3.

Petition to deport CNN host reaches goal

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- A petition calling for the deportation of CNN personality Piers Morgan to be deported for criticizing U.S. gun laws has collected more than 46,000 signatures.

The White House petition needed to reach 25,000 signatures by Jan. 20 to receive a response from the White House, Politico reported.

The petition against Morgan, a British citizen, came after his criticism of gun advocates in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, in which 20 students and 6 educators were slain.

"British citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment," the authors of the petition wrote. "We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens."

As of Monday afternoon, the petition had 46,207 signatures.

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