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Thursday, December 1

Editor's Note: CNN News Update is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents, producers and Wires.CNN editors.

U.N. investigator believes torture remains widespread in China

(CNN) -- Concluding a two-week visit to China where he investigated allegations of torture by authorities, a United Nations investigator said Friday he believes inhumane treatment remains common and noted government officials hindered his efforts to gather information.

"Although he cannot make a detailed determination as to the current scale of these abuses, the Special Rapporteur believes that the practice of torture, though on the decline -- particularly in urban areas -- remains widespread," said a statement issued by the United Nations as investigator Manfred Nowak concluded his trip.

The statement said, "a number of alleged victims and family members were intimidated by security personnel, placed under police surveillance, instructed not to meet the Special Rapporteur or were physically prevented from meeting with him."

Nowak began his visit Nov. 20, nearly a decade after the initial request was made by the then-Special Rapporteur on Torture to China to visit and investigate allegations of mistreatment and torture. He visited detention centers and prisons in Beijing, Lhasa and Uriumqi, and talked with attorneys and justice officials, the U.N. statement said. (Posted 3:27 a.m.)

Iraqi electoral commission member killed

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Gunmen dressed in Iraqi Army uniforms stormed a Baquba home and killed a member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, Baquba police said.

Majid Jabbar Brisem al-Hamdani was killed in the home in northeast Baquba about 2 a.m. Friday (6 p.m. Thursday ET), police said. His brother, Hamed Jabbar al-Hamdani, also an IECI member and the head of al-Zaghamiya election center, was wounded. He received several bullet wounds, police said, and was transferred to a hospital.

However, Al-Hamdani told CNN that the incident will not stop him from doing his job, and he plans to return to his position after he recovers. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 2:14 a.m.)

U.S. Marines, Iraqi troops launch Operation Shank in Ramadi

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.S. Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers on Friday launched Operation Shank in Ramadi, aimed at disrupting a group of insurgents believed to be using an area of the city as a base for attacks on citizens as well as U.S. and Iraqi troops, the U.S. military said in a statement.

About 200 Iraqi soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 7th Division, and 300 U.S. Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, were participating in the operation, the fifth in a series with a goal of disrupting the insurgency in Ramadi and providing a stable environment for Dec. 15 elections.

Previously, the military said, operations Panthers, Bruins, Lions and Tigers discovered numerous weapons caches, and resulted in a decrease in insurgent attacks against Iraqi citizens in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's volatile Anbar province. In addition, since Nov. 16, Iraqi and U.S. forces have killed or detained numerous suspected insurgents, the military said. (Posted 1:29 a.m.)

TSA to unveil new security procedures Friday

From CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration will announce changes in screening procedures at the nation's commercial airports Friday, allowing passengers to take small scissors and tools on planes but increasing random passenger checks and the thoroughness of pat-down searches.

TSA officials briefed managers of the nation's airports on the changes Thursday in a conference call. CNN obtained a summary of the briefing. Under the new procedures, which are designed to give screeners more time to focus on detecting explosives, scissors less than 4 inches long and tools less than 7 inches long will now be allowed on aircraft.

However, knives and some tools will still be prohibited, including crowbars, drills, hammers and saws. (Posted 9:55 p.m.)

Storm-battered New Orleans neighborhood reopens

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- Residents of the Lower 9th Ward began returning to their battered, flooded-out homes as the city neighborhood hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina reopened during daylight hours Thursday.

Neighborhood residents were forced out of their homes three months ago, when Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and left 80 percent of New Orleans underwater. Returning residents had to sign in at a military checkpoint, and they were required to leave by sundown due to safety concerns.

Power remains out in much of New Orleans, and local utility Entergy says water still needs to be drained from many natural gas lines. The city's schools reopened Monday -- but with many families still displaced, administrators announced Wednesday that 7,500 teachers and staff will lose their jobs at the end of 2005. (Posted 9:40 p.m.)

Small plane missing off of Massachusetts, FAA says

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Search-and-rescue efforts are scheduled to resume Friday for passengers aboard a twin-engine plane that vanished off the Massachusetts coast Thursday afternoon, federal aviation officials said.

Flight controllers lost contact with the twin-engine, six-seat Beech Baron B-55 shortly before it was scheduled to land in Nantucket, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. No distress call was reported, and there was no word on how many passengers were aboard.

The plane was about two and a half miles out from the airport and had been cleared to land when contact was lost about 4:45 p.m., the FAA said. (Posted 9:40 p.m.)

Jury calls for death for Florida girl's killer

(CNN) -- A Florida man convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl whose kidnapping was caught on videotape last year should die for his crimes, a jury recommended late Thursday.

The jury voted 10-to-2 to recommend a death sentence for Joseph P. Smith, 39. Smith was convicted of raping and killing Carlie Brucia after abducting her from outside a car wash near Sarasota in February 2004.

The final decision on the punishment will be up to Sarasota County Circuit Judge Andrew Owens. But before sending jurors off to deliberate, Owens noted that it is extremely rare for a judge to reject a jury's decision. (Posted 9:35 p.m.)

Singapore executes Australian for drug trafficking

SINGAPORE (CNN) -- Singapore's government hanged an Australian man for drug trafficking early Friday, hours after making an exception to prison policy by letting the condemned man's mother hold her son's hand one last time.

Van Nguyen, 25, was arrested in December 2002 at Singapore's Changi Airport after police found him carrying almost a pound of heroin. Australia, which abolished capital punishment in 1967, had urged Singapore to commute the sentence, with Attorney General Philip Ruddock calling the scheduled hanging "barbaric."

But the city-state's government refused to budge, and Nguyen (prono: NEW-in) was marched to the gallows at Changi Prison about 6 a.m. (5 p.m. Thursday ET), a government statement said Friday. (Posted 8:15 p.m.)

Border fingerprint checks turn up 152,000 suspects

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A year-old program to check the fingerprints of anyone caught trying to illegally enter the United States has led to more than 152,000 arrests, including that of a suspected member of a notorious Central American criminal gang, the U.S. government announced.

Manuel de Jesus Sandoval-Gonzales, 33, a suspected member of the Mara Salvatrucha, or M-13, gang, was arrested in Brownsville after a fingerprint check showed the Guatemalan national had an extensive criminal history and had been previously deported, the Customs and Border Protection agency said.

Since September 2004, Border Patrol agents have checked the fingerprints of every illegal entrant they detain against an FBI database to find out if they have any outstanding criminal warrants. The checks have resulted in more than 152,000 matches, including nearly 600 homicide suspects, nearly 750 people suspected of sexual assault and more than 15,800 drug suspects. (Posted 7:30 p.m.)

Alito first interviewed for high court pick in 2001

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito was on President Bush's radar screen as a possible high court pick from nearly the beginning of his administration, though he was passed over twice before finally getting the nod, according to a questionnaire Alito submitted to the Senate Wednesday.

Alito, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was first interviewed about a possible Supreme Court vacancy in June 2001, about six months after Bush had taken office, by then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. No Supreme Court vacancies opened up during Bush's first term.

Alito said he was next interviewed by Vice President Dick Cheney in May 2005, and then in July he was interviewed by the president himself. But Alito was not initially picked for either of the two court openings that came up this year. It was only after Bush's second nominee, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, withdrew her nomination that Bush turned to Alito. (Posted 6:15 p.m.)

Rice to Irish: Shannon airport not used in secret prisoner transfers

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has denied that Shannon International Airport was used by the CIA in transporting prisoners to secret European destinations, the Irish foreign minister said Thursday.

After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern told reporters that he raised the issue of reports the CIA has detained and interrogated terrorist suspects in secret Soviet-style prisons in Eastern Europe and has flown terror suspects through European airports, including Shannon.

Rice offered "categorical assurances that prisoners have not gone through Shannon" and that "Shannon has not been used for anything untoward, "Ahern said.

"We totally accept these categorical assurances as a friendly and sovereign nation," he said. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 5:43 p.m.)

State Dept., Homeland Security working on 'border crossing card' for U.S. citizens

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an effort to find a cheaper, more convenient alternative to a passport for Americans crossing U.S. land borders, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security are developing what they call a "border crossing card."

Angela Aggeler, a State Department spokeswoman in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the proposed card is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, developed in response to stricter border requirements ordered by Congress. Those requirements include tightening up on people who currently can enter the United States from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean simply by showing a U.S. driver's license or proof of U.S. citizenship.

State Department and Homeland Security officials have said requiring each of the estimated 1.1 million people who cross into the United States from those regions every day to have a passport would be too expensive and too taxing on U.S. government resources. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 4:51 p.m.)

Army Reserve officer arrested as part of Iraq contracting fraud probe

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Army Reserve officer who was on active duty in Iraq two years ago has been arrested in Wisconsin and charged in a conspiracy to defraud the Coalition Provisional Authority in reconstruction contracts.

The CPA was in charge of leading the Iraqi reconstruction before the United States handed over autonomy to Iraqi authorities.

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Michael Wheeler, 47, of Amherst Junction, Wis., is in custody after federal authorities filed charges in Washington involving allegations of bribery, money laundering and wire fraud in a wide-ranging investigation into irregularities in U.S. contracts in Iraq.

In an affidavit made public by federal prosecutors, Wheeler is accused of accepting money and gifts in return for using his official position to award contracts to a particular firm. --From CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 4:36 p.m.)

FBI says jewel-theft gang's take now tops $5 million

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI Thursday enlisted the public's help in searching for members of the highly sophisticated "Gate Cutters Jewelry Crew," which officials say has successfully robbed 56 jewelry stores and made off with more than $5 million in necklaces, watches and assorted gems in the Eastern United States.

Top FBI officials released photos, sketches and surveillance video to the public in hopes of getting tips to catch the fast-moving thieves, who have hit closed jewelry stores in shopping malls from New Hampshire to Florida over the past two and a half years.

"They're in and out in four minutes," said Assistant FBI Director Chris Swecker, who announced formation of a Gate Cutters Task Force to catch them. As FBI officials Wednesday were finishing preparations to announce establishment of the Task Force the thieves struck again. This time they hit a mall jewelry store in Bayshore in Suffolk County, N.Y.

Swecker said the robbery crew appears to consist of a core group of five or six "very knowledgeable" and "highly efficient" individuals who employ counter-surveillance techniques, defeat security systems, and even disable mall security vehicles to ensure their success. --From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 4:01 p.m.)

Jury deliberates fate of Smith, convicted of murdering 11-year-old girl

(CNN) -- After hearing several days of witness impact statements, a Florida jury Thursday is expected to make its sentencing recommendation for Joseph P. Smith, convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering 11-year-old Carlie Brucia nearly two years ago.

Before the jury began deliberations, the prosecution argued for the death penalty, while Smith's attorney asked the jurors to recommend life in prison.

Judge Andrew Owens will make the final decision on Smith's sentence. Before sending the jury to deliberations, Owens noted that it is extremely rare for a judge to reject a jury's decision.

Brucia's abduction on Feb. 1, 2004, captured national attention when videotape from a security camera outside a car wash showed her being led away by a man in a blue shirt. She had been walking home from a friend's house. (Posted 3:39 p.m.)

Judge refuses to put aside legal fight over BlackBerry patents

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CNN) -- A federal judge has refused to halt proceedings in the legal dispute over whether the company that provides BlackBerry text paging service violated patents, raising the prospect an injunction could be imposed that could shut down the service.

However, prospects are that the legal fight will continue and interruptions in Research In Motion's BlackBerry service may be delayed or prevented entirely.

RIM asked that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia stay its ruling on a suit by NTP Inc. charging RIM with violating its patents. RIM based its request on the fact that U.S. Patent and Trademark office is re-examining the patents in dispute. But Federal District Judge James Spencer said he did not have to wait on the USPT office to proceed with the case before him -- NTP's suit against RIM.

RIM said it will take the case the the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Meanwhile, the company said that "as a contingency, RIM has also been preparing software workaround designs which it intends to implement if necessary to maintain the operation of BlackBerry services in the United States." --From CNN's Paul Courson (Posted 3:03 p.m.)

Operation Iron Hammer takes aim at roadside bombs

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.S. and Iraqi officials conducting an operation near Hit in western Iraq on Thursday worked to rid the area of roadside bombs, the U.S. military said.

"Today, Iraqi and U.S. forces used specialized explosive charges to clear paths through routes suspected to be seeded with roadside bombs. Secondary explosions caused by hidden mines or bombs were observed. One antipersonnel mine was also discovered during the clearing," a news release said.

Also, a local sheikh and an Iraqi commander from 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division held a meeting with citizens to explain the operation. (Posted 1:54 p.m.)

Bush to reschedule jury duty summons

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has been called to jury duty in his home county in Texas, White House and McLennan County officials said Thursday.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the administration learned of the summons in the media and called the court to discuss it.

"The summons was for Monday, Dec. 5," he said. "We called the court to let them know the president has other commitments on Monday, and he would like to reschedule. We will be working with the court to reschedule. The judge indicated he would work with us." (Posted 1:28 P.M.)

Bush praise of U.S. anti-AIDS effort met with criticism

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush used Thursday's observance of World AIDS Day to give the United States high marks for fighting the AIDS pandemic, but AIDS activists lambasted his administration's efforts as lacking.

"The United States Congress and the American people have been generous in this effort, and Americans can know that their generosity is making a significant difference," he told an audience that included the directors of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bush said the federal government is spending more than $17 billion per year "to help people in America living with HIV/AIDS." Still, an estimated 40,000 new infections occur each year in the United States, with gays and African-Americans accounting for nearly half of new infections.

"This is not inevitable -- and it's not acceptable," the president said about the preventable illness, which is spread primarily through unprotected sex and needle sharing by drug users.

The disease's impact has been catastrophic in sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than two-thirds of the estimated 40.3 million HIV infections worldwide. But, Bush said, signs of progress are evident even there. The Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, he said, has boosted the number of the 4 million people in sub-Saharan Africa whose immediate needs for AIDS treatment are being met from 50,000 to 400,000.

But Sally Cowal, spokeswoman for Youth AIDS, said that although drugs are indeed extending the lives of a small percentage of those infected worldwide, the pandemic is worsening, with infection rates going up in most of the world. (Posted 1:24 p.m.)

UAE's first-ever elections to be limited DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

(CNN) -- In a step toward its first political reforms, the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday it will hold the first elections for its consultative council since the nation was founded in 1971.

The elections are for only half of the Federal National Council, the country's president said Thursday.

"The next stage of our march requires giving a wider role to the Federal National Council (FNC), allowing it to support and guide the executive authority," said President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, quoted by state news agency, WAM.

"In light of the changes and reforms our region is witnessing ... we decided to begin activating the National Council by electing half of its members," he said in a speech marking the UAE's national day. The president did not announce a specific time in for these elections, which come as part of a broader reform movement. (Posted 12:13 p.m.)

Boyfriend of alleged 'cellphone bandit' pleads guilty

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The boyfriend of the alleged "cellphone bandit" pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges in connection with four bank robberies in Northern Virginia.

Dave Williams, 19, admitted to conspiring with Candice Martinez to rob branches of Wachovia Bank, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Virginia.

Martinez, also 19, gained national attention after being pictured on surveillance tape having a cellphone to her ear throughout a robbery. In each of the robberies, which took place in October and November, Martinez entered the bank and then presented a note to a teller, prosecutors said. After receiving the demanded money, she fled in a car driven by Williams, the U.S. attorney's office says.

Officials say Martinez and Williams were talking to each other by cellphone during all four robberies. --From CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn (Posted 12:02 p.m.)

Hostages' group hopes four have explained opposition to Iraq war, occupation

(CNN) -- The Christian Peacemaker Teams humanitarian group said Thursday it hopes its four members taken hostage in Iraq last week have been able to communicate their anti-war opinions to their captors.

The group also released more information from friends and family about the four men that emphasized their work and worldview, with one hostage's family saying he regarded the U.S.-led occupation as a "mistake."

"We were very distressed to see the recent video of them. We hope that Harmeet (Sooden), Jim (loney), Norman (Kember), and Tom (Fox) have been able to explain their work and their opposition to the war and the occupation of Iraq," the group's Toronto office said in a written statement.

"We are heartened by the many public statements of support from CPT's friends in Iraq and from our partners in other parts of the world who join us in this work for peace." (Posted 11:53 a.m.)

Military focusing on Ramadi region as insurgents thought to be gravitating there

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. military spokesman said troops working to establish stability ahead of the Dec. 15 elections are focusing their efforts in the Anbar provincial capital, Ramadi, because insurgents escaping other towns along the Euphrates River corridor have been gravitating toward that city and the surrounding region.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch -- noting that insurgents affiliated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq have been heading toward that region -- said Thursday that over the next two weeks "we will conduct detailed operations to ensure" that people in the city can go out to vote.

Speaking to reporters, Lynch said that in "every operation" staged in Anbar, al-Zarqawi "and his thugs will stir up the problem and at the point of the operation, they'll run away and leave the locals to conduct the fight.

"We've watched that starting in Tal Afar, working our way through al Anbar, and we've watched the gravitation for those who are able to escape toward Ramadi," he said. "That's why operations right now are focused on Ramadi and Falluja and that corridor."(Posted 10:42 a.m.)

Joint Chiefs chairman says there's no option but victory in 'long war'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday urged defense personnel, civilian and military alike, to step forward to explain to the American people President Bush's strategy to achieve victory in his war on terrorism.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace spoke to students at the National Defense University at Fort McNair to "punctuate" the publication Wednesday of Bush's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," a document that underscored the president's commitment to "stay the course" in that Middle Eastern country.

"We cannot say, 'We win and get on to the next event,'" he said. "We can say, 'We are winning, and we will stay at it because our children and grandchildren deserve to live in the kinds of freedom you and I have enjoyed all our lives.'" (Posted 10:27 a.m.)

Suspected Islamic militants carry out bombing in Bangladesh; 1 dead, 10 injured

(CNN) -- Bangladeshi police Thursday have arrested the suspected bomber believed to be responsible for a deadly explosion -- the third this week in Bangladesh -- which killed at least one person and injured 10 others, authorities said.

The attack happened around 10 a.m. at a police checkpoint in Gazipur, near a group of attorneys protesting a suicide bombing in Gazipur earlier this week.

Several police and attorneys were among those wounded in Thursday's attack, police said. Tuesday's suicide bombing at Gazipur's court library and another in the port city of Chittagong, killed at least 13 people and wounded scores more, police said.

Police believe the Gazipur bombings are linked to the banned Islamic militant group Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB). --Journalist Tasneem Khalil contributed to this report. (Posted 8:16 a.m.)

Online job ads reach record high

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -- Employers posted more job openings online than ever before in November, according to Monster Worldwide, with the call for help from the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast leading the way.

But it wasn't just Hurricane Katrina that was helping to lift job postings nationwide, according to the online job listing service that reviews 1,500 Web sites to compile its monthly index. The index shows gains in postings in 32 states, with job offerings from retailers, utilities and information technology firms leading the way.

The company's index rose to a reading of 149 from 143 in October, the highest level in the two years the firm has been collecting data. Job offerings in the West South Central region, which includes New Orleans and the Texas Gulf Coast that was hit by Hurricane Rita in September, had the biggest gains in postings. Among the job categories showing the greatest increases were sales, construction, and a category that includes installation, repair and maintenance, said Steve Pogorzelski, group president at Monster Worldwide. Employers involved in the recovery effort are having trouble finding the workers they need locally due to the large number of residents still displaced by the storm, he said. (Posted 7:23 a.m.)

South Africa's highest court rules marriage laws unconstitutional

JOHANNESBURG (CNN) -- South Africa's Constitutional Court has ruled the country's marriage laws unfairly discriminate against same-sex unions.

In the 9-1 ruling issued Thursday, the court -- the country's highest -- referred the issue to South Africa's Parliament, giving lawmakers one year to amend the country's Marriage Act.

Two cases on the issue were merged. In the first, two women claimed "the law excludes them from publicly celebrating their love and commitment to each other in marriage," said a court statement. In the second, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project's challenge to the country's Marriage Act. The challenged section says marriage officers must ask of the parties whether they take their partner as their lawful wife or husband. That reference, the Equality Project contends, is unconstitutional because it excludes same-sex couples, the statement said. (Posted 7:06 a.m.)

Attack report in Ramadi; Marines say rumors rife there

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Gunmen used mortars and machine guns early Thursday to attack a government building in Ramadi, a citizen and eyewitness told CNN.

The citizen did not know how many gunmen participated in the attack on the al-Andalus and al-Mu'allimeen neighborhoods in the city center.

However, the 2nd Marine Division's Capt. Jeffrey Pool, at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, said as of 2 p.m. today, "there were no signs of any significant insurgent activity anywhere in the city" despite rumors of widespread attacks in Ramadi.

He said that a rocket-propelled grenade was fired around 9:30 a.m. at a joint U.S.-Iraqi observation post. There were no casualties or damage, he said. (Posted 6:48 a.m.)

U.S., Iraqi troops nab 33 suspects in Operation Thunder Blitz

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A surprise operation along the Tigris River on Tuesday resulted in the arrest of 33 suspected insurgents, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Operation Thunder Blitz in southern Baghdad involved U.S. and Iraqi troops, the military said. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and Iraqi forces from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Commando Brigade (Wolf Battalion), secured seven different objective areas along the river, taking the suspected insurgents by surprise, according to a military statement.

The operation was focused on stabilizing the area before the Dec. 15 elections. (Posted 5:43 a.m.)

Police: Belgian woman believed to be Iraq suicide bomber

(CNN) -- Police believe a Belgian-born woman and convert to Islam, pictured and identified Thursday in a Belgian newspaper, was the first Western woman to carry out a suicide bombing in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Belgian police's terrorism investigation team confirmed to CNN Thursday that Muriel Degauque, identified and pictured by Le Derniere Heure newspaper, was believed to be the suicide bomber who targeted an American patrol Nov. 9. No one was killed but the bomber, who media reports said left a passport behind identifying her. Le Derniere Heure reported Degauque was born and raised in Charleroi, Belgium.

The U.S. military in Baghdad said that on Nov. 9, a female suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. military patrol just north of Baghdad, killing herself and slightly wounding one soldier. Goris was killed in Iraq in a separate incident, according to media reports. Officials on Wednesday said they had arrested a total of 15 people on suspicion of terrorism. (Posted 5:12 a.m.) --CNN Producers Pierre Bairin and Arwa Damon and CNN's Jim Bittermann contributed to this report.

U.S. Marines, soldier die in separate incidents in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Two U.S. Marines and a U.S. soldier died Wednesday in separate incidents in Iraq, the military said Thursday.

The first Marine was assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). He died from wounds received from small arms fire during combat operations in Falluja, the military said.

The second Marine was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and died in what the military says was a "non-hostile" vehicle accident near Taqaddum, about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Baghdad.

The soldier, assigned to Task Force Baghdad, died as a result of a gunshot wound north of Baghdad, the military said. The incident was under investigation.

The troops' names were withheld pending notification of relatives. Since the start of the war, 2,113 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. (Updated 3:25 a.m.)

Williams: 'I'm prepared for life and not death'

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- A former gang member who became an anti-gang crusader while on Death Row said Wednesday he is "prepared for life and not death."

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the founder of the Crips street gang, spoke after the California Supreme Court refused 4-2 to block his Dec. 13 execution. He is set to die by lethal injection for four slayings.

"The fact of the matter is, I'm prepared for life and not death," Williams told a Los Angeles audience listening to readings of some of the children's books he has authored, speaking into a cell phone held up to a microphone by actor Jamie Foxx.

"My love goes out to all of you. And I know that you will continue to strive to not only help me, but help other people who are in trouble," he said.

After his imprisonment, Williams denounced gang violence and began writing children's books with an anti-gang message, donating the proceeds to anti-gang community groups.

"The only thing that I was doing was destroying my own kind," he said Wednesday. (Posted 12:05 a.m.) -- CNN's Rob Ade contributed to this report.

Poll: Most Americans don't think Bush has a plan for Iraq victory

(CNN) -- As the White House launches a new offensive in the public opinion battle over the Iraq war, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Wednesday night finds that most Americans do not believe President Bush has a plan that will achieve victory in Iraq.

However, the poll also found that nearly six in 10 Americans believe U.S. troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq until certain goals are achieved, while just 35 percent want to set a specific timetable for their exit, as some Democratic critics of the war have suggested.

Wednesday, the White House unveiled a 35-page plan to achieve success in Iraq, and Bush used a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy to tout what he sees as progress in getting Iraqi security forces in place to protect their own country.

The poll does not directly reflect how Americans are reacting to Bush's speech, because only 10 percent of those polled had seen it live, and two-thirds had not even heard about it.

But it does indicate the scope of the battle ahead as Bush seeks to regain support for the war among an increasingly skeptical public. Among poll respondents, 55 percent said they did not believe Bush has a plan that will achieve victory for the United States in Iraq; only 41 percent thought he did. (Posted 11:25 p.m.)

Medical center will pay $73 million to settle fraud case

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Beth Israel Medical Center has agreed to pay $72.9 million to resolve charges that it defrauded the federal government by falsifying costs to get inflated reimbursements from Medicare, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said Wednesday.

In agreeing to the settlement, Beth Israel admitted no wrongdoing or liability.

The civil complaint alleges that from 1995 through 1999 Beth Israel submitted several unreimbursable expenses for items such as salaries, fundraising, marketing, supplies, equipment, administrative overhead, employee housing and parking.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the alleged offenses were committed by the hospital's Kings Highway Division in Brooklyn. (Posted 11:21 p.m.)

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