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Saturday, September 23

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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 Daylight.

Search continues for site of reported helicopter crash; 24 people on board

From CNN Stringer Suman Pradhan

KATHMANDU (CNN) -- A helicopter with 24 people on board reportedly crashed Sunday in a remote Nepalese village but rescue workers have been unable to locate the crash site due to bad weather conditions, authorities said. A third search is scheduled once the weather improves.

The crash was first reported by an army helicopter pilot flying in Nepal's eastern district of Taplejung, said Hemant Kumar Uprety, a Taplejung airport worker. Local villagers also reported hearing two loud explosions shortly after the helicopter's take-off, he added.

Nepal's Civil Aviation Ministry said Sunday three helicopters searched for the missing chopper but the operation was called off due to bad weather and poor visibility.

Airport officials were planning for a third search mission but are waiting for weather conditions to improve. That search party will also consist of three helicopters, Uprety said. (Posted 2:19 a.m.)

Children believed to be those of slain pregnant woman found dead

(CNN) -- The bodies of three children, believed to be those of an East St. Louis, Ill., woman who was slain and her fetus removed from her womb, were found dead Saturday, police said.

The children's bodies were found about 7 p.m. in an apartment in a housing project by police responding to a tip, said Illinois State Police Capt. Craig Koehler. Autopsies were scheduled for Sunday, he said.

Searches for the children -- ages 7, 3 and 1 -- were conducted throughout East St. Louis.

The bodies were found hours after authorities announced charges had been filed against a woman in the death of Jimella Tunstall, 23, whose body was found Thursday afternoon. An autopsy showed she died from an abdominal wound -- the place where authorities believe the 7-month female fetus was removed. Tiffany Hall of East St. Louis was charged with murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child, authorities said Saturday. She was being held on $5 million bond. Hall apparently attempted to pass the child -- who died -- off as her own. (Posted 11:03 p.m.)

Venezuelan FM expresses outrage over airport incident

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the U.S. government detained and harassed him Saturday at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to retaliate for criticism of President Bush earlier this week by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the U.N. General Assembly.

"We were detained illegally by the U.S. government," Maduro told reporters. "They are responsible for this." He called the government "racist" and "Nazi," said the United States does not appreciate Latin American countries and said he has filed a complaint with the United Nations.

A senior U.S. administration official, however, told CNN there was merely a disagreement over security, triggered when Maduro showed up a half-hour before a flight and purchased a ticket in cash, raising red flags.

"The State Department can confirm there was an incident with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro at JFK airport in New York," said State Department spokesman Gonzo Gallegos. "The State Department regrets this incident. The United States government apologized to Foreign Minister Maduro and the Venezuelan government." (Posted 11:01 p.m.)

More cases of spinach-linked illness reported; recall expanded

(CNN) -- More cases of spinach-borne E. coli infection were reported Saturday, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said two more firms have issued voluntary recalls of food products.

As of Saturday, 171 cases of the O157:H7 strain of E. coli had been reported in 25 states, according to the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control. Ninety-two people have been hospitalized, and 27 have hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure, the CDC said.

One person is confirmed to have died from E. coli infection, although the CDC noted two "suspect cases" -- that of a 2-year-old Idaho boy and an elderly Maryland woman. E. coli was detected in the Maryland woman, but it was not known if it was the outbreak strain, the CDC said Saturday.

The two newest voluntary recalls were issued by Triple B Corporation, doing business as S.T. Produce, of Seattle, Wash., and Pacific Coast Fruit Company of Portland, Ore., the FDA said in a statement. (Posted 8:40 p.m.)

7 deaths blamed on Southern storms, 2 missing in Arkansas

(CNN) -- Severe storms that swept through the South for a second day Saturday killed at least seven people, forced dozens of others from flooded homes and prompted the closing of several miles of Interstate 64, authorities said.

The National Weather Service warned that from 1 to 3 more inches of rain were expected in the Louisville area -- more in isolated places. The agency issued a flood watch for most of Kentucky until Sunday.

Six fatalities were in Kentucky, and one in Arkansas, officials said. Two other people were missing in Arkansas after a park flooded.

Parts of Kentucky and Evansville, Ind., had received at least 5 inches of rain as of Saturday afternoon, according to CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf. Local television reports in Louisville showed people carrying sand bags and walking in water up to their knees. (Posted 8:08 p.m.)

Pakistani president undergoes checkup at Texas hospital

(CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited a Paris, Texas, hospital for a routine checkup Saturday, where he was found to be "in excellent health," a hospital spokesman said.

After the checkup at Paris Regional Medical Center, Musharraf lunched with community members, said spokesman Derald Bull. During the visit, security was tight around the hospital, and a highway was closed briefly to accommodate Musharraf's motorcade.

The hospital did not say why Musharraf chose it, but CNN spoke to a cardiologist at the hospital, Dr. Arjumand Hashmi, who said he is an old friend of the president's. Hashmi initially said the visit was for purely social reasons. (Posted 6:51 p.m.)

Helicopter carrying 24 people missing in Nepal

KATHMANDU (CNN) -- A helicopter with 24 people onboard is missing in Nepal's eastern region and the fate of the passengers is unknown, rescue officials in Kathmandu said on Saturday.

The chopper, operated by Shree Air, was carrying Nepal's State Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation, Gopal Rai, his wife, and government and conservation officials from international aid agencies. It was chartered by the Nepal office of the World Wildlife Fund.

Local radio reports said the chopper disappeared in Taplejung in bad weather. The area is about 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Kathmandu, the capital. (Posted 3:45 p.m.)

34 die in gas station bombing in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A car bomb exploded at a busy gas station Saturday morning, killing 34 people and wounding 29 in Sadr City, Baghdad's Shiite district, Iraqi emergency police said. The bomb detonated near a fuel line, causing a tanker to explode.

Markets and gas stations have been crowded with Iraqis stocking up for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, CNN's Arwa Damon in Baghdad reported. Saturday was the first day Sunnis began observing the religious holiday, and Sunday will mark the first day for Shiites.

Meanwhile, the heads of nine policemen were found Saturday evening in the industrial city of Beiji in northern Iraq, Tikrit police said. No further details were immediately available. (Posted 12:20 p.m.)

Greek police recover 700-year-old icon of Virgin Mary

ATHENS (CNN) -- Greek police on Saturday retrieved one of the most sacred symbols of Greece, a 700-year-old icon of the Virgin Mary that was stolen from a remote monastery in a stunning robbery more than a month ago.

The icon, depicting a baby Jesus in the embrace of the Virgin Mary, was found in a village in the southern Peloponnese where the thief, a 28-year-old Romanian national, had hidden it after waging a spectacular robbery from the Elona monastery in August, according to officials.

"The icon was dug out from the innards of a chapel," said Anastasios Dimoschakis, Greece's national police chief. "It had been placed in a wooden box, installed into one of the walls, and then covered with rocky plaster."

Details of the Romanian's identity were not released. Still, Dimoschakis told reporters that the robber confessed to his crime after resisting arrest during a raid at his home, south of Athens, late Friday. (Posted 11:28 a.m.)

Video shows slaying of Turkish hostage, possibly by head of al Qaeda in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyoub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, purportedly appears in a video on Islamic Web sites as the executioner of a Turkish hostage, according to information posted with the recording on the Internet.

The Turkish embassy said they received a video almost two months ago showing the execution of a Turkish national reportedly at the hands of al-Masri, an embassy spokesman said Saturday.

The Turkish hostage was identified as Murad Bujer of Ankara. In a banner under the image, the site identifies the shooter -- who is flanked by two other masked men -- as Abu Hamza Al Masri.

The authenticity of the tape cannot be independently verified. (Posted 11:13 a.m.)

French president comments on unconfirmed bin Laden report

PARIS (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac said on Saturday he would investigate the leak of confidential French defense ministry documents containing a report that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead, and said that report has been in no way confirmed.

"I was rather surprised to see that a confidential note from the DGSE (General Directorate for External Security) was published and I have asked the minister of Defense to start an investigation immediately."

U.S. intelligence officials said Saturday they could not confirm the report suggesting that bin Laden might be dead, and a Saudi intelligence source told CNN's Nic Robertson that there had been credible reports in the past few weeks that bin Laden was ill with a water-borne disease, but that he was not dead.

The leaked information was published in the French regional newspaper L'Est Republicain Saturday. The article said that a French foreign intelligence document dated Sept. 21 quoted a "usually reliable source" as saying that Saudi Arabian authorities had received confirmation that bin Laden died of an acute case of typhoid in Pakistan Aug. 23.

Laid Sammari, the journalist who wrote the article, told CNN in a phone interview he was confident of the authenticity of the confidential document. He said the only thing the Saudis were trying to confirm was the burial place of the al Qaeda leader, before they would make an official announcement.

Bin Laden's brother-in-law and a friend also said they knew nothing about his possible death. (Posted 1:24 p.m.)

U.S. contractor killed in rocket attack in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. contractor was killed in a rocket attack in the southern Iraqi city of Basra Friday, a U.S. Embassy official confirmed Saturday.

"We extend heartfelt condolences to the family of this American citizen," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor. "We are in contact with the employer of the deceased. Out of respect and consideration for the family during their time of grief, we are not releasing additional details." (Posted 8:37 a.m.)

Iraq nets terror group commander and 2 aides

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A leader of the Ansar al-Sunna terrorist network, which is loosely aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq, was arrested by Iraqi forces in east Baquba early Saturday, Iraqi general command spokesman Brig. Qasim al-Musawi said.

Muntasser Hmoud al-Jbouri was arrested, along with two of his aides, in the town of Muqdadiya, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said.

The capture lasted about an hour and said the Iraqi forces faced no resistance from the terrorists during their arrest, al-Musawi told reporters at a news conference Saturday. (Posted 7:46 a.m.)

North Korea speeds up plans for nuclear bomb in bid to return to negotiations

BEIJING (CNN) -- A senior North Korean official said his country plans to unload fuel rods from its nuclear reactor and "reprocess the fuel into plutonium to make nuclear weapons" as a way to leverage a return to bilateral talks with the United States, American scholar Selig Harrison told reporters at a Beijing news conference Saturday.

Harrison, one of the few U.S. scholars granted access to senior North Korean officials, said he spoke with Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan who told him Pyongyang planned to unload the rods from the Yongbyon reactor.

Kim reportedly said the government has been "unhappy with the financial sanctions the U.S. has imposed," but is eager to negotiate with the U.S. and return to the six-party talks. The talks include Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea and the United States.

"The financial sanction policy is working against the very objective that we say we have with North Korea, which is to get them to open up to the outside world," Harrison said. (Posted 6:35 a.m.)

Iraq nets terror group commander

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A leader of the Ansar al-Sunna terrorist network, which is loosely aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq, and two aides were arrested by Iraqi forces in east Baquba, Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf told CNN Saturday.

The arrest of Sheikh Muntasser Hmoud E'laiwi El-Jbouri was made in the town of Muqdadiya, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, Khalaf said. He did not specify when the arrest was made.

The U.S. military has not confirmed the arrest.

In its latest global survey of the state of human rights, "Human Rights Watch World Report 2006" cited Ansar al-Sunna for targeting "civilians for abductions and executions."

The terrorist cell was also blamed for the 2004 suicide bombing at a U.S. military mess hall in Mosul that killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. troops. The group has been linked to assassinations, car bombings and beheadings.

In August 2005, Iraqi police announced the capture of Ansar al-Sunna's top commander in the Diyala province, Majid Mohammed Ahmeen.

He and two other commanders -- Abass Hussain Faissal and Rahd Mohamed Mahmood -- were also captured during the police raids. (Posted 4:14 a.m.)


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