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Friday, February 16

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Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Standard.

Active U.S. soldier killed in roadside bombing in Baquba

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle during combat operations in Baquba, the U.S. Military announced Friday.

The soldier, 20-year-old Pfc. Branden C. Cummings was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division based in Fort Hood, Texas.

Cummings is originally from Titusville, Fla.

With his death the number of U.S. military personnel killed in the war stands at 3,131. (Posted 12:49 a.m.)

Texas refinery blast, fire injures 4 workers

SUNRAY, Texas (CNN) -- An explosion and fire at a Texas oil refinery injured at least four workers Friday afternoon, according to a statement from the Valero Energy Corporation.

A huge plume of black smoke was seen rising from the plant, located in the Texas Panhandle about 60 miles north of Amarillo, for several hours after the initial explosion, which happened around 1 p.m. CT.

Three workers were taken to hospital burn centers and a fourth was treated for chest pains, according to the company.

All of the refinery employees were accounted for by early Friday evening, according to a company statement. (Posted 7:38 p.m.)

Federal judge allows expanded competency hearing for terror suspect Padilla

MIAMI (CNN) -- A federal judge has agreed to an expanded competency hearing for terror suspect Jose Padilla, scheduled for next week, in which mental health experts and other officials will be allowed to testify.

Ruling for the defense during a pretrial hearing Friday, Judge Marcia Cooke said she will allow testimony from a variety of witnesses who have seen and spoken to Padilla during his detention at a naval brig in Charleston, S.C., and while held in several federal prisons.

The defense is arguing Padilla, who is charged with supporting terror activities overseas, is not mentally competent to stand trial.

Dr. Rodolfo Buigas, a forensic psychologist for the Bureau of Prisons, concluded in a recent report that Padilla is mentally competent to stand trial, according to a court filing by federal prosecutors. The defense was seeking access to people Buigas talked to for his study. --From CNN Senior Producer Carol Cratty (Posted 6:15 p.m.)

President has two moles removed from head; believed benign

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush had two moles removed from his head Friday, but both are believed to be benign, a White House spokesman told CNN.

Bush underwent the five-minute procedure about 3 p.m., spokesman Scott Stanzel said. A dermatologist from Bethesda/Walter Reed Medical Center and Bush's regular doctor removed the moles from the president's left temple.

Stanzel called the procedure routine. --From CNN's Suzanne Malveaux (Posted 5:08 p.m.)

2nd blast in 3 days rattles Iranian town

TEHRAN (CNN) -- A strong bomb went off Friday evening at a girl's school in the southeastern Iranian border town of Zahedan, according to the semi-official FARS News Agency.

No one was hurt or killed in the blast, a military spokesman told the Web site of Iran's state television, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

The spokesman, identified as Col. Goodarzi, told IRIB that based on initial information from the scene, a number of militants exploded a percussion bomb in the city and fired at an electricity plant before running away and hiding at a nearby house. Security forces have surrounded the building in an attempt to arrest them, he said.

According to FARS, the leader of the Jondollah group, Abdolmalek Rigy, claimed responsibility for the bombing on MKO-TV. The group also claimed responsibility for a car bomb in the same area Wednesday. --From CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr (Posted 4:53 p.m.)

House passes resolution against Bush plan to send more troops to Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Seventeen Republicans joined Democrats Friday to handily pass a two-sentence resolution slamming President Bush's plan to boost troop levels in Iraq, setting up the next phase of the debate, coming Saturday when Democratic leaders attempt to bring the same measure to the floor in the Senate.

Democratic leaders hailed the victory. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the passage of the resolution was a historic moment.

"It was a bipartisan, non-binding resolution that should send a very clear and firm message to the president of the United States: that the American people spoke in November, that they wanted a new direction in Iraq. This resolution today sets the stage for that new direction," she said.

The vote was 246 to 182 on the resolution, which says simply that Congress supports the troops but disapproves of Bush's plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. A clear majority of Republicans, however, battled to the end against it.

"One vision sees no hope for us in Iraq and counsels that we withdraw, just give up," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. and ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. "By contrast, the other vision focuses on success." (Posted 4:38 p.m.)

Turkish court sentences 7 in connection with deadly '03 bombings in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (CNN) -- A court in Turkey sentenced seven suspected al Qaeda militants to life in prison Friday in connection with bombings in 2003 that targeted a British bank, the British consulate and two synagogues in Istanbul -- the most populous city in Turkey.

Five of the seven -- Louai Sakka, Harun Ilhan, Fevzi Yitiz, Yusuf Polat and Baki Yigit -- have no chance of being paroled.

However, Adnan Ersoz and Osman Eken got life with the possibility of parole.

The seven were among dozens who received a range of sentences in the case. (Posted 3:22 p.m.)

Apparent al Qaeda video shows plans, execution of alleged attack

(CNN) -- An al Qaeda video, posted on Islamist Web sites Friday, shows armed fighters meticulously planning and executing an operation against what they say are U.S. and Afghan forces at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan.

The 24-minute video, which bears the stamp of as-Sahab, al Qaeda's production company, features a short introduction from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the propaganda video, which has English subtitles. CNN located the video Thursday.

The video allegedly shows fighters preparing for and conducting an operation at what they say is the Arghandab checkpoint in the Zabul province of southern Afghanistan. The video shows few, if any, signs of anyone who might have opposed their operation.

CNN terror analyst Peter Bergen said the video appeared to be shot in Zabul, deep in Taliban territory. "It's quite unusual that al Qaeda would be operating so deep inside Afghanistan, which makes it interesting," he said.

A report from Pajhwok Afghan News, posted on the Afgha.com news site, says that Taliban fighters captured Arghandab district in southern Zabul on Sept. 6, 2006. A Taliban spokesman said the militia captured Arghanbad "very easily without any resistance or fighting overnight," according to the report.

Under the U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force, Zabul is the resposibility of NATO troops, not U.S forces. NATO has released little on the alleged incident, and an ISAF spokesman said it had no intelligence on a large enemy force being in Zabul. (Posted 3:19 p.m.)

34 bodies found dead in Baghdad over last 3 days

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Police in Iraq on Friday said they had found nearly three dozen slain bodies in Baghdad over the previous three days.

They found 14 bodies across the capital on Friday, 15 on Thursday and five on Wednesday.

The dumping of bodies in the capital has been commonplace over the last year during the escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq.

These numbers are slightly lower than other daily tolls. A U.S. military commander said Friday that a decrease of violence has been seen in the capital with the advent of the new security plan. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 3:14 p.m.)

Reports: GM in talks to buy Chrysler Group

NEW YORK (CNNmoney.com) -- General Motors is in talks to buy DaimlerChrysler AG's struggling Chrysler Group in its entirety, according to several reports.

According to the reports, sources in Germany and the United States said high-level talks between GM and DaimlerChrysler executives are taking place.

Its German parent confirmed Wednesday it is looking at strategic options for the North American unit. When asked if those options included a sale or spin-off of the unit, DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche responded "this means all options are on the table." (Posted 3:12 p.m.)

Anna Nicole Smith's will names only deceased son as heir

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNN) -- Anna Nicole Smith's will, released Friday, appears to leave no one as an heir to her estate in the wake of the death of the only heir named in it, her son Daniel.

Daniel, 20, died in September, three days after the birth of Smith's daughter, Dannielynn.

The will, written in 2001, indicates that all of her assets should be held in trust for Daniel, and makes no provision for secondary heirs in the event of Daniel's death.

Not only does the will refer only to Daniel, it also carries phrasing saying Smith had "intentionally omitted to provide for my spouse and other heirs, including future spouses and children."

Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom said that language appears to exclude Dannielynn from any inheritance. However, Bloom said, the fact that there is no living heir means that a court battle over the estate is virtually guaranteed. --From CNN's Susan Candiotti (Posted 2:22 P.M.)

Bush, al-Maliki have a long-distance discussion

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Bush talked Friday via closed-circuit satellite TV about security in Baghdad and the rest of the country.

According to a statement about the discussion from al-Maliki's office:

Al-Maliki stressed that the recent security effort to impose law has achieved impressive successes in its early days and the government will deal with every lawbreaker in a firm manner, regardless of affiliation.

The prime minister noted the key role played by tribal leaders in Anbar province to confront al Qaeda in Iraq. He said the government will provide support to these tribes as they try to eliminate insurgents from Iraq and work to restart the process of rebuilding the province.

Bush renewed his support for al-Maliki, saying he is filling a leadership role at a sensitive juncture in Iraq. Support will be provided to ensure the success of al-Maliki's plans, Bush said. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 11:33 a.m.)

Troops in Baghdad creating pedestrian zones around vulnerable marketplaces

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. army commander in the strife-torn Iraqi capital of Baghdad said Friday that troops are creating pedestrian zones around busy marketplaces that are and have been vulnerable to attack from car bombers targeting civilians.

"We're right now in the process of blocking those off, making them pedestrian-only zones," Army Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commanding general of Multi-National Division Baghdad and the 1st Cavalry Division.

Fil -- who briefed reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference -- focused on the new Baghdad security crackdown, which he indicated appears to be yielding some results, such as "reduction in the violence" in recent days.

But the military forces have no illusions about their tenacious enemy; Fil observed that "we also do believe they are watching us carefully" to determine their next moves. (Posted 10:28 a.m.)

Judge says Anna Nicole Smith should be embalmed today

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNN) -- After hours of debate with attorneys representing diverse interests, the Broward County Circuit judge handling U.S. court matters following the death of Anna Nicole Smith signed an order Friday to have her embalmed.

But the issue of who will receive the body for burial remained unresolved.

"We're beginning to give her peace," Judge Larry Seidlin said. He said the procedure should be done Friday. Smith died Feb. 8. (Posted 10:05 a.m.)

International Organization for Migration: 1 million people could become displaced in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An estimated 1 million additional people in Iraq could be displaced from their homes this year, a world migration agency said on Friday.

The International Organization for Migration, which is tracking the plight of internally displaced people in Iraq, made the estimate, saying there is "no sign of further displacement ending" and cited "the possibility of surrounding borders being closed to Iraqi refugees."

"The needs are enormous. Emergency supplies such as shelter and food are needed urgently for these people who are suffering both physically and psychologically from their ordeals," said Rafiq Tschannen, IOM's chief of mission for Iraq.

"We have to remember that those who are internally displaced are largely people who don't have the financial resources to leave the country to seek safety and who have very few means to help themselves." (Posted 9:03 a.m.)

U.N. agency confirms 107 bodies found in Yemen after boat capsizes

GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) -- The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that it has received confirmation that 107 bodies were found on the Yemeni coast earlier this week, deaths related to the capsizing of a smuggler's boat crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.

People in the Horn of Africa nations of Somalia and Ethiopia have been fleeing their countries across the Gulf of Aden for Yemen in the Arabian peninsula because of hostilities.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says around 27,000 people made the journey to the peninsula last year, with 330 deaths and another 300 missing. (Posted 7:06 a.m.)

Iraqi security forces net 35 members of Shiite cult in targeted raids in Hilla

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraqi security forces arrested 35 members of a violent messianic Shiite cult and confiscated a large weapons cache while conducting early morning raids on 15 targets in various neighborhoods in Hilla Friday, a Hilla police official told CNN.

The official said security officials raided a number of districts after members from the group, called Soldiers of Heaven, tipped off security officials on other members' locations.

The operation was carried out by Scorpion Forces under command of the Iraqi National police.

The members detained were part of the same cult that gathered near Najaf city at the end of January. The group attempted to seize control of Najaf city and Najaf province and kill Shiite religious figures, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite leader. -- CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report (Posted 7:05 a.m.)

Court in Italy rules that 35 should stand trial in U.S. 'rendition' case

ROME (CNN) -- An Italian court ruled Friday that 35 people should stand trial in connection with a CIA "extraordinary rendition" program that involves the alleged kidnapping and transfer of terror suspects to third countries, where critics say they are tortured.

The ruling is symbolic because none of the Americans is in custody in Italy and the Italian government has not asked for their extradition to Italy.

Of the 35, 26 Americans and six Italians would stand trial for kidnapping and three Italians would stand trial on a charge of complicity in the kidnappings. (Posted 6:59 a.m.)

U.S. military casts doubt on claim al Qaeda in Iraq leader wounded in battle

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The U.S. military on Friday casts doubt on a report from the Iraqi government that al Qaeda in Iraq's chief, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was wounded in clashes with police in Iraq Thursday.

A senior U.S. official, who requested anonymity, told CNN those reports are "believed to be false" by the U.S. military.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf told CNN on Friday that despite U.S. doubts, the ministry stands by its initial report that police wounded al-Masri -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's successor.

Americans would not know about the operational details, Khalaf said, because the incident involved only Iraqi police. He underscored this was not a joint U.S.-Iraqi military engagement. -- From CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and Jomana Karadsheh in Baghdad (Posted 6:27 a.m.)

Convoy of Iraqi foreign minister attacked north of Tikrit; 3 bodyguards killed

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Gunmen attacked the convoy of Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari Thursday afternoon, killing three of his bodyguards and wounding four others, officials with the Foreign Ministry and the Salaheddin Joint Coordination Center told CNN.

Zebari was not traveling with the convoy when it was attacked around 4 p.m. on a road near Suliman Beq, about 60 miles (100 km) north of Tikrit. -- CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this story. (Posted 6:09 a.m.)

Israel deploys more police to quell possible violence after Friday prayers in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli authorities beefed up security Friday in anticipation of a backlash after Friday prayers from Muslims opposed to continued Israeli construction on a nearby historical site holy to both Islam and Judaism.

Israeli officials told CNN some 3,000 police officers have been deployed, the level of alert has been raised and participation in Friday prayers at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City will be limited to men older than age 50. Women, the officials said, have no age restriction.

Friday's security precautions come a week after Palestinian youths threw stones and rocks at police after Friday prayers in protest of Israel's attempt to renovate a ramp that will lead to the Mugrabi Gate, an entrance to the holy sites. (Posted 5 a.m.)


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