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Monday, February 26

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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.

U.S., Italian, German ambassadors receive minor injuries as rebels fire on helicopter

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- The U.S., Italian and German ambassadors to Sri Lanka received minor injuries when their helicopter came under suspected rebel artillery fire as it landed in the eastern city of Batticaloa on Tuesday, Sri Lankan military sources told CNN.

In all, 12 people were injured in the incident, including seven police and two air force personnel.

According to air force sources, the first of three helicopters ferrying the diplomats and U.N. agency heads to the region had just landed at a stadium when rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam opened fire. The two other helicopters diverted and did not land at the site.

There has been no claim of responsibility in the attack.

Italian Ambassador Pio Mariani suffered a "minor head injury," according to the sources, and was airlifted to a hospital in a neighboring district where he was being treated.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake received "minor injuries," as did German envoy Jurgen Weerth. (Posted 2:40 a.m.)

Explosion outside U.S. air base in Afghanistan, 18 casualties reported

KABUL (CNN) -- The U.S. military on Tuesday confirmed an explosion outside the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, where U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting.

"There was an attack at the front gate," said Lt. Col. David Accetta, a public affairs officer for the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

According to reporters traveling with Cheney, a plume of smoke could be seen from the base immediately after the 10 a.m. (12:30 a.m. ET) attack, but had cleared within 20 minutes.

Reporters said the vice president left the base around 11:30 a.m. (2 a.m. ET)

Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said, "The Vice President is fine."

According to Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, there were 18 casualties in the attack, including three "foreign soldiers." The vast majority of coalition forces at the base are American. (Posted 2:30 a.m.)

Clashing testimony as Padilla mental competency hearing nears end

MIAMI (CNN)-- Accused terrorist conspirator Jose Padilla is mentally competent to stand trial and assist with his own defense, a government forensic psychologist testified Monday.

The testimony by Dr. Rudolfo Buigas of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, billed as a "neutral" expert, conflicts directly with the conclusions of two experts hired by defense lawyers who testified last week.

U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke, who must weigh the arguments, could rule on Padilla's mental competence as early as Tuesday when testimony in the Miami courtroom concludes.

-- From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 8:10 p.m.)

Disgraced congressman's chief of staff pleads guilty in Abramoff probe

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A disgraced Ohio congressman's former chief of staff pleaded guilty to corruption charges Monday in the same probe that netted his ex-boss and longtime Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, prosecutors announced.

William Heaton, 28, has admitted to conspiracy to deprive taxpayers of honest services and commit wire and mail fraud, and he will cooperate with the ongoing investigation, the Justice Department said. Heaton was chief of staff to former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who admitted to trading political action for golf trips, tickets, meals and campaign donations from Abramoff.

In January, a federal judge sentenced Ney to 30 months in prison. Heaton faces a possible sentence of up to five years on the charge, but prosecutors have agreed to recommend a lighter sentence in exchange for his cooperation, the plea agreement states.

In his agreement, Heaton admitted that he and Ney solicited bribes -- including expensive meals, trips and NBA tickets -- in exchange for promises of official actions, including adding provisions that would benefit Abramoff's clients to a 2002 voting reform bill. (Posted 7:17 p.m.)

Documentary claims to have identified the tomb of Jesus

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A group of scholars and filmmakers Monday unveiled two coffins that they say may have contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and said other evidence shows that Jesus may have had a son.

A new, controversial documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron deals with a tomb first discovered in 1980 in south Jerusalem, holding ossuaries -- a type of coffin -- labeled Jesus, son of Joseph; Mary; Matthew; Joseph; Mariamene; and Judas, son of Jesus.

The two final names are the ones that have inspired the makers of the documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" to make their boldest claims. Mariamene is, according to some Christian texts, a name used specifically for Mary Magdalene. And Judas, the documentary asserts, is the name of the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Cameron and his team claim that DNA evidence recovered from human remains in the coffins, as well as statistical evidence, support the documentary's claims.

Amos Kloner, a professor at Jerusalem University and one of the first scholars to inspect the tomb after it was discovered, said the names on the coffins are not enough to support the assumption that this was the family of the Jesus of the New Testament. "The names are the most common names among Jews in this centuries we are talking about," he said.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus" will air on the Discovery Channel on March 4.--From CNN's Amy Sahba (Posted 6:11 p.m.)

Postage rates to increase

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Postal Regulatory Commission on Monday released its recommendation of a 2-cent increase in first class postage, along with creation of a 'forever stamp' that would be useable for first class postage even when rates rise again.

The commission announced rates should rise to 41 cents from 39 cents, one cent lower than the U.S. Postal Service requested. But along with that increase for a 1-ounce letter, it said, the rate for a 2-ounce letter should drop from 63 cents to 58 cents.

The Postal Service filed the rate increase request last May to avoid losing an anticipated $5.9 billion in revenues in 2008, and to satisfy the fiscal year 2008 "break-even" requirement that postal revenues match costs.

The matter will now go back to the board of governors of the Postal Service. The earliest they could implement the rate increase is in May. --From CNN's Kate Kairies (Posted 5:45 p.m.)

Army looking into allegations charitable contributions were misdirected by former chief

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Army's Criminal Investigative Division has opened a probe into the Medical Family Assistance Center at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Army officials have confirmed to CNN.

The probe is centered around allegations that personnel at the center may have diverted charitable contributions for wounded troops to other organizations to which they have family ties. The initial details of the criminal probe were first reported last week by the Washington Post.

The center helps distribute financial and other charitable contributions to wounded soldiers and their families.

According to several Army sources familiar with the criminal investigation, the Army is looking into the activities of the former head of the assistance center. He has not been charged with any crime and CNN has been unable to reach him, so CNN is not naming him. But the man, a civilian, left Walter Reed recently and is now working, reportedly, for a private charity. (Posted 5:25 p.m.)

WH to Congress: Don't micromanage Iraq war

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House said Monday it does not want Congress to "micromanage" U.S. commanders in Iraq by limiting the 2002 resolution that authorized President Bush to invade that country, as Democratic senators have proposed.

"I've not heard anybody say that they want to amend the resolution so nothing will change," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. "Instead, amending that language seems to be a device by which members of Congress themselves would try to get involved in micromanaging the activities of military officials."

He said the 2002 authorization remains relevant, because of its "extended conversation about the global war on terror and the fact that there are terrorist elements that the previous government had supported."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said senators are working on a draft of a binding resolution that would set a March 2008 goal for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops and limit the mission of remaining units to training and supporting Iraqi troops and hunting al Qaeda terrorists. (Posted 4:57 p.m.)

Court stays custody order for Smith's body

MIAMI (CNN) -- Florida's 4th District Court of Appeals has stayed a lower court order granting custody of Anna Nicole Smith's body to the guardian ad litem of her 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn.

Attorneys for Smith's partner and lawyer, Howard K. Stern, and Richard Milstein, the guardian ad litem, have until 2 p.m. Tuesday to file responses, said court clerk Marilyn Beuttenmuller.

Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, requested the stay of Judge Larry Seidlin's original ruling.

Milstein and attorneys for Stern and Smith's ex-boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, agreed Friday that the body of the former Playboy playmate would be buried in the Bahamas next to her son, 20-year-old Daniel, who died just days after Dannielynn's birth.

Arthur wants to take the body to Texas to be buried with other family members. (Posted 4:28 p.m.)

Suicide car bomber strikes police station in Ramadi; 14 dead, 9 wounded

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives outside a police station in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing 14 people -- including four police officers, two women and a child -- and wounding nine Monday evening, an Iraqi interior ministry official said.

Three police were among the wounded, the official said.

The attack happened at the al-Warar police station in Ramadi, about 60 miles (100 km) west of Baghdad in Iraq's Sunni-dominated Anbar province. -- From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 3:28 p.m.)

Fights over Smith's daughter and burial rage as doctors probe death

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNN) -- Attorneys for Anna Nicole Smith's mother tried Monday to have a court overturn a decision allowing Smith to be buried in the Bahamas.

Virgie Arthur's legal team filed a motion in a West Palm Beach appellate court over her estranged daughter's body, hours before Arthur herself walked into a Nassau court to fight for custody of Smith's baby.

Crowds of onlookers cheered outside the court in Nassau, watching the latest stage in what some call a "real-life soap opera." Those seen filing in for the custody hearing included Arthur, Larry Birkhead -- one of several men claiming to be the father of the 5-month-old girl -- and an attorney for Smith's boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, who also says he is the father.

Bahamian legal experts told CNN it's unlikely a decision would be issued immediately.

Amid all this, yet another piece of news introduced new questions into the story. U.S. law enforcement officials had an appointment with Dr. Hubert Minnis, Smith's obstetrician-gynecologist in the Bahamas, to ask about any drugs Smith may have been taking that he was not prescribing, a Bahamian official close to the case told CNN. (Posted 2:36 p.m.)

Clashing testimony as Padilla mental competency hearing nears end

MIAMI (CNN)-- The high-profile hearing on whether accused terrorist conspirator Jose Padilla is mentally competent to stand trial resumed Monday with government attorneys attacking Padilla's attorneys over their claims of "outrageous prosecution misconduct."

Government attorneys also disputed assertions Padilla had been tortured while in military confinement.

In what may be the final day of clashing testimony on Padilla's capacity to assist in his own defense, defense counsel Andrew Patel took the witness stand to declare it would be "extraordinarily difficult" for Padilla to help his own cause.

Prosecutor Brian Frazier pressed Patel under tough cross-examination, getting him to admit that during years of representing Padilla, Patel had not previously raised any issue about his mental condition. -- From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 2:15 p.m.)

Iraqi leaders OK proposed oil law, sharing wealth and opening industry

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq's government have agreed on a plan to divide the country's oil wealth and open the industry to international investment, a move seen as necessary to a political settlement of the nearly 4-year-old war, ministers announced Monday.

"This law will guarantee for Iraqis -- not just now, but for future generations, too -- complete national control over this natural wealth," Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.

The draft law still faces a vote in Iraq's parliament, but the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad hailed Monday's agreement as a step toward a national settlement of the country's divisions.

Iraq's constitution, adopted in 2005, declares that oil and gas reserves are "owned by all the people of Iraq." But nearly all of that oil is concentrated in the Kurdish north and Shiite Arab south, raising fears in the Sunni Arab provinces of northwestern and central Iraq -- the heart of the insurgency that has raged since 2003 -- that they would be shut out of the country's wealth.

"This law affirms ... all the revenues will be shared at the federal level and redistributed equitably among all Iraqis," Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told CNN. (Posted 2:05 p.m.)

Military holding a top leader of Iranian force in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. troops in Iraq are holding a top leader of an Iranian special forces group believed to be supplying weapons to insurgents who are targeting and killing U.S. forces in Iraq, U.S. officials said Monday.

Brig. Gen. Mohsen Chirazi, said to be the third-ranking officer in the Iranian Quds Force, was arrested in late December during a raid at the home of a man connected to the leader of the top Shiite party in Iraq with deep ties to the Iranian government, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, according to U.S. officials.

The Quds Force is a paramilitary arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and has helped direct attacks on Iraqi and U.S. forces inside Iraq, President Bush, Defense Secretary Gates and other senior military leaders have said.

U.S. officials would not say where the general is being held in Iraq. The arrest was among the first in a series of raids and arrests by U.S. forces on Iranians in Iraq, who the United States blames for meddling in the security situation inside that country. --From CNN Pentagon Producer Mike Mount (Posted 12:55 p.m.)

3 French nationals shot, killed in Saudi Arabia

PARIS (CNN) -- French Foreign Minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy issued a statement Monday condemning the killing of three French nationals in Saudi Arabia.

Douste-Blazy called the killings a "horrible act" and expressed his condolences to the victims' families. He said French officials are working with Saudi authorities to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

The French nationals were part of a group of Saudi Muslim pilgrims heading toward Mecca for a minor religious pilgrimage, or "umrah," a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry told Arabic-language network Al-Arabiya.

They had split from a larger group when they were attacked by gunmen at a rest area about 30 miles (50 km) outside Mecca, said Maj. Gen. Mansour Turqi told Al-Arabiya. -- CNN Senior Arabic Affairs Editor Octavia Nasr contributed to this report (Posted 12:31 p.m.)

Libby juror dismissed; 11 will continue deliberations

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A juror in the criminal trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby was dismissed Monday after the judge determined she had been compromised by exposure to information about the case outside the courtroom.

The third full day of deliberations continues with 11 jurors despite objections by the prosecution that were dismissed by Judge Reggie Walton.

"Rather than throwing away the two days of their efforts to decide this case," Walton announced he would let 11 jurors continue their deliberations.

Two alternate jurors who heard the entire trial were told to remain ready to substitute if needed, but if one joined the jury deliberations would have to begin anew. --From CNN's Paul Courson (Posted 11:10 a.m.)

Iraqi president hospitalized

AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was placed in the intensive care unit of a Jordanian hospital on Monday after doctors performed a catheterization procedure on his heart, hospital officials told CNN.

But Talabani's son Qubad Talabani denied that his father had undergone the procedure.

"He has not had a heart catheter inserted," Qubad Talabani said in a telephone interview with CNN from the United States. He said he had spoken with his father and mother and his father's medical team earlier Monday about what he described as a bout of dizziness and low blood pressure experienced Sunday by his father.

"He had been working very hard over the last week or so; they put it down to fatigue or exhaustion," he said.

Talabani, 73, was flown Sunday from the northern Iraq town of Sulaimaniya to Amman's state-of-the-art King Hussein Medical Center as "a precautionary measure," Qubad Talabani said. There, he has undergone several CT scans, which have detected no abnormalities and "his vital organs seem to be functioning well," Qubad Talabani said. (Posted 11:03 a.m.)

Britain to send nearly 1,400 more troops to Afghanistan

LONDON (CNN) -- Britain will send nearly 1,400 more troops to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Des Browne said Monday.

Most will be deployed over the summer, he told the House of Commons.

The additional personnel will raise Britain's force in Afghanistan from about 6,300 to about 7,700, Browne said. (Posted 10:53 a.m.)

Israeli crackdown on Nablus enters 2nd day; 1 Palestinian dead

NABLUS, West Bank (CNN) -- A massive Israeli military operation in the old city of Nablus continued Monday, leaving tens of thousands of Palestinian residents confined to their homes by the daytime curfew imposed by the soldiers, according to Palestinian security sources.

A Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli forces during Monday's operation, but Palestinians and Israelis offered two different accounts of his death.

Palestinian medical sources said Anan Tibi, 42, was killed inside his Nablus home when a passing Israeli jeep fired into the home. His son was injured in the gunfire, the sources said.

The Israeli army said its forces fired on three men who were spotted climbing on a rooftop in Nablus and were about to move to another rooftop, an army spokesman told CNN. One man was killed, one was wounded, and another escaped, the spokesman said.

The Nablus operation began overnight Saturday, when dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles rolled into the West Bank city, which is under Palestinian Authority control, according to Palestinian witnesses.Later in the day, they blocked major roads throughout the city.

Palestinian security sources said the Israeli soldiers were searching for seven wanted Palestinians. -- CNN's Shira Medding and Michal Zippori contributed to this report (Posted 8:55 a.m.)

Dhaka office building fire kills 2, injures 200

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Fire engulfed an 11-story office building housing several media outlets in a Dhaka business district Monday, killing at least two people and injuring 200 others, authorities said.

According to the Dhaka Fire Brigade, firefighters were trying to get the blaze under control and three Bangladeshi army helicopters were assisting. The fire began around 10:30 a.m.

Initial reports said about 1,000 people were trapped inside the building, but Dhaka fire officials later said everyone was accounted for.

The facility houses two private television networks NTV and RTV, as well as the Amar Dash newspaper, which are all owned by former member of parliament Mossadeq Ali. A third network, Islamic TV, also has offices in the building, but had not yet become operational. (Posted 8:47 a.m.)

U.S. military's ability to respond to additional crisis at greater risk

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has upgraded to "significant" the risk facing the U.S. military's capability to respond to another crisis in a timely manner, according to two U.S. military sources familiar with the matter, CNN has confirmed.

Gen. Peter Pace sent the classified assessment in the last several days to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. By rating the risk as "significant," Gates under law, was then compelled to send his own classified report to Congress on how the military would deal with such a risk. Officials said they did not know the last time, if ever, the risk previously was labeled "significant."

They emphasized that the U.S. military could still muster forces and equipment to deal with another contingency, but said the Gates report details the measures that would required. An additional deployment would cost more and require the use of troops who might not initially be well trained as front line combat forces, the officials said. For example, an additional crisis could require a massive mobilization of the National Guard, depending on the contingency.

The assessments by both Pace and Gates focus on a potential third crisis that might erupt while U.S. forces remain engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. --From CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr (Posted 8:37 a.m.)

Accused Madrid bombing mastermind again denies any involvement in incident

MADRID (CNN) - An accused mastermind of the Madrid train bombings took the stand again Monday and strengthened his denial of any involvement in the attacks in March 2004 that killed 191 people, at one point seeming to compare himself with Pope Benedict XVI.

Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed, 35, alias Mohamed the Egyptian, was the first defendant to testify when the trial began Feb. 15. At that time, he condemned the attacks and denied any link.

But his defense lawyer asked the court for time to study audio tapes of Italian police wiretaps of Ahmed in Milan in the spring of 2004, which show he boasted to an associate that the Madrid bombings were his "project."

On Monday, Ahmed, 35, under questioning from his lawyer, again denied involvement, while admitting he knew a few suspects in the attacks.

"I have no involvement with the people in these attacks. I am absolutely innocent," Ahmed testified. He said the police had misinterpreted the content of his wiretapped conversations in Italy -- where an Italian court last November sentenced him to 10 years in prison for terrorist activities in a separate case. -- From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman(Posted 6:51 a.m.)

Iraqi vice president wounded in bombing; attack kills 12, wounds 42

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A bomb struck Iraq's Ministry of Municipalities on Monday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 42, including Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, an Iraqi Health Ministry official said.

According to the official, the vice president is being treated at Ibn Sina Hospital in the Green Zone. The extent of his injuries were not immediately known.

Two Municipalities Ministry officials were also among those wounded in the late-morning attack on the building, located in the western Baghdad district of Mansur. -- From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 6:50 a.m.)

U.S. forces, Iraqi police uncover weapons cache

BAQUBA (CNN) -- U.S. forces and Iraqi police uncovered a large weapons cache in a palm grove in the village of Jedida near Baquba over the weekend, following a tip by citizen, a U.S. military statement released Monday said.

The cache found on Saturday included deadly armor-piercing explosives and the elements to construct more of the weapons known as EFPs or explosively formed projectiles. Also in the cache were components and explosives used in the construction of roadside bombs

"The vigilance of the Iraqi Police and the willingness of the people of Diyala to end the cycle of violence led to this discovery," said Col. David Sutherland, a senior U.S. Army officer in Diyala province.

Some of the munitions were destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal unit, but most of the cache was being transferred to a U.S. base, the statement said.

"The terrorists and sectarian fighters who use these explosives have no other desire than to stop the progress of the country," Sutherland said. "Their hatred manifests itself in the weapons that these supplies would have been used for." (Posted 5:45 a.m.)

Gore global-warming film wins Oscar

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Sure, the White House slipped from former Vice President Al Gore's grasp, but how many politicians end up on stage at Oscar night?

"An Inconvenient Truth," which turned Gore's lectures on the threat of global warming into a highly touted theatrical release, won the Academy Award for best documentary feature Sunday night. He used the award as another opportunity to plug the cause, telling the Hollywood audience and an estimated 1 billion television viewers worldwide that resolving the threat posed by a warming climate is "not a political issue, it's a moral issue."

"We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act," he said. "That's a renewable resource. Let's renew it." (Posted 11:50 p.m.)

Olympic wrestler Gardner survives Utah crash

PANGUITCH, Utah (CNN) -- Olympic wrestling champion Rulon Gardner and two companions survived the weekend crash of a small plane into southern Utah's frigid Lake Powell, spending a night in the open before they were found Sunday, sheriff's deputies said.

Gardner was a passenger in a single-engine Cirrus SR22 that went down in Lake Powell, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, Saturday afternoon, the Garfield County, Utah, Sheriff's Department reported Sunday.

Gardner, pilot Randy Brooks, of American Fork, Utah, and Brooks' brother Leslie spent more than an hour in 44-degree water before reaching shore, then spent the night without shelter and in wet clothes, sheriff's spokeswoman Becki Bronson said.

All three suffered from hypothermia, and Leslie Brooks suffered "quite severe" frostbite to his toes, she said. "Logic says they should have died from exposure," Bronson said. "The fact that they survived with just a little bit of frostbite to their feet is nothing short of miraculous." (Posted 10:20 p.m.)


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