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AP News in Brief at 9:58 p.m. EST

By The Associated Press | Posted - Dec. 16, 2014 at 9:01 p.m.



This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Taliban gunmen attack Pakistani school, kill 141 — mostly children — in worst assault in years

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — In the deadliest slaughter of innocents in Pakistan in years, Taliban gunmen attacked a military-run school Tuesday and killed 141 people — almost all of them students — before government troops ended the siege.

The massacre of innocent children horrified a country already weary of unending terrorist attacks. Pakistan's teenage Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai — herself a survivor of a Taliban shooting — said she was "heartbroken" by the bloodshed.

Even Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan decried the killing spree, calling it "un-Islamic."

If the Pakistani Taliban extremists had hoped the attack would cause the government to ease off its military offensive that began in June in the country's tribal region, it appeared to have the opposite effect. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to step up the campaign that — along with U.S. drone strikes — has targeted the militants.

"The fight will continue. No one should have any doubt about it," Sharif said. "We will take account of each and every drop of our children's blood."

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Jeb Bush declares he'll 'actively explore' White House bid, first to step this far into 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Jeb Bush answered the biggest question looming over the Republican Party's next campaign for the White House on Tuesday, all but declaring his candidacy for president more than a year before the first primaries.

Bush, the son and brother of Republican presidents, is the first potential candidate to step this far into the 2016 contest, and his early announcement could deeply affect the race for the GOP nomination.

He is the early favorite of the GOP's establishment wing, and his move puts immediate pressure on other establishment-minded GOP contenders to start competing with him for donors, campaign staff and national attention.

The 61-year old former two-term governor of Florida declared on Facebook he would "actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States."

While his statement doesn't commit Bush to running, veterans of presidential politics described it as "a de facto announcement" that ends months of speculation about his intentions.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

1. PAKISTAN VOWS TO RETALIATE AGAINST TALIBAN

Responding to a horrific attack on a school, the government pledges to step up a military campaign that — along with U.S. drone strikes — has targeted the militants.

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Falling oil prices, Western sanctions, market panic send ruble to record lows

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin faces a major new challenge after a catastrophic fall in the value of the ruble, which hit a new low Tuesday despite the Central Bank's desperate efforts to halt the selling.

On the streets of Moscow, panicky consumers rushed out to buy home appliances before they became even more expensive.

Putin's popularity has been based on oil-driven economic growth that has helped increase incomes during his 15-year rule. The ruble's collapse, driven by a combination of slumping oil prices and Western sanctions, is denting that pillar of his power.

The Kremlin has tried to shift blame for Russia's economic woes, accusing the West of inflicting economic pain on Russia in an attempt to force a regime change.

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Sony hackers reference 9/11 in ominous threats, dump emails of Sony Entertainment chief Lynton

NEW YORK (AP) — Hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace made ominous threats Tuesday against movie theaters showing Sony Pictures' film "The Interview" that referred to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The group also released a trove of data files including thousands of emails from the inbox of Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton.

The data dump was what the hackers called the beginning of a "Christmas gift." But GOP, as the group is known, included a message warning that people should stay away from places where "The Interview" will be shown, including an upcoming premiere. Invoking 9/11, it urged people to leave their homes if located near theaters showing the film.

The Department of Homeland Security said there was "no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters," but noted it was still analyzing the GOP messages. The warning did prompt law enforcement in New York and Los Angeles to address measures to ramp up security.

"The Interview" is a comedy in which Seth Rogen and James Franco star as television journalists involved in a CIA plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Its New York premiere is scheduled for Thursday at Manhattan's Landmark Sunshine, and is expected to hit theaters nationwide on Christmas Day. It premiered in Los Angeles last week.

Rogen and Franco pulled out of all media appearances Tuesday, canceling a Buzzfeed Q&A and Rogen's planned guest spot Thursday on "Late Night With Seth Meyers." The two stars had just appeared Monday on "Good Morning America" and Rogen guested on "The Colbert Report." A representative for Rogen said he had no comment. A spokeswoman for Franco didn't respond to queries Tuesday.

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AP Exclusive: NC Gov McCrory and SC Congressman Sanford get payout from lender while in office

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Soon after taking office, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina accepted six-figure stock payouts from an online mortgage broker accused by regulators of deceiving its customers.

The two Republicans served as directors at Tree.com, the Charlotte-based corporate parent of the website LendingTree. As board members, they were entitled to large chunks of restricted company stock if they held their positions long enough. Both resigned after their election victories, which would have rendered their unvested stock worthless had the board not taken special action to provide them early payouts.

McCrory and Sanford deny they did anything improper by accepting the stock payouts, which were not fully described in their ethics statements. Their timing and total value are only being revealed now, as the result of an Associated Press investigation into the company's financial records and interviews with Tree.com officials.

Early vesting of restricted shares for departing directors is not unheard of in the corporate world.

However, more than a dozen securities lawyers and ethics experts told the AP that such stock payouts are uncommon for elected officials, and raise significant concerns. These experts gave differing opinions about whether laws were broken.

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Los Angeles prosecutors reject child molestation charges against Bill Cosby over 1974 claim

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles prosecutors on Tuesday declined to file any charges against Bill Cosby after a woman recently claimed the comedian molested her around 1974.

The rejection of a child sexual abuse charge by prosecutors came roughly 10 days after the woman, Judy Huth, met with Los Angeles police detectives for 90 minutes.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office rejected filing a misdemeanor charge of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18 because the statute of limitations had passed.

Days before Huth spoke to police, she accused Cosby in a civil lawsuit of forcing her to perform a sex act on him in a bedroom of the Playboy Mansion when she was 15 years old. Cosby's attorney said that Huth attempted to extort $250,000 from the comedian before she sued and that she'd attempted to sell her story to a tabloid a decade ago.

Cosby is seeking a dismissal of Huth's lawsuit, arguing it is blocked by the statute of limitations.

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Ex-Marine wanted in 6 killings near Philadelphia commits suicide; body is found in the woods

PENNSBURG, Pa. (AP) — An Iraq War veteran suspected of killing his ex-wife and five of her relatives in a shooting and slashing frenzy was found dead of self-inflicted stab wounds Tuesday in the woods of suburban Philadelphia, ending a day-and-a-half manhunt that closed schools and left people on edge.

Bradley William Stone's body was discovered a half-mile from his Pennsburg home, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The 35-year-old former Marine sergeant had cuts in the center of his body, and some kind of knife was found at the scene, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said.

Locked in a custody dispute so bitter that his ex-wife feared for her life, Stone went on a gruesome, 90-minute killing rampage before daybreak Monday at three homes in three nearby towns, authorities said. He bashed in the back doors of the first two homes and then smashed his ex-wife's sliding glass door with a propane tank.

The killings set off the second major manhunt to transfix Pennsylvania in the past few months. Survivalist Eric Frein spent 48 days on the run in the Poconos after the ambush slaying of a state trooper in September.

"There's no reason, no valid excuse, no justification for snuffing out these six innocent lives and injuring another child," Ferman said. "This is just a horrific tragedy that our community has had to endure. We're really numb from what we've had to go through over the past two days."

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Curiosity rover detects spikes of methane in atmosphere of Mars, not necessarily biology-based

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected spikes of methane in the planet's atmosphere. That suggests something is producing or venting the scientifically tantalizing gas, but no one knows what.

Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life, and the environment itself. So the Martian methane raises the question of past or present microbial life. Or the gas elevations could come from geological sources, comet impacts or something else entirely.

The latest study, released Tuesday by the journal Science, indicates there's less than half the expected amount of methane in the atmosphere around Curiosity's location in Gale Crater. But over a full Martian year, the rover measured fairly frequent occurrences of elevated methane levels — tenfold increases.

"This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source," the University of Michigan's Sushil Atreya, part of the Curiosity team, said in a statement. "There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock."

In addition, Curiosity detected other organic molecules when it drilled into a rock. Scientists said it's believed to be the first confirmation of organic carbon in a Martian rock. The identity of the organic material is unknown.

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Australian leader concedes security system failed to track gunman responsible for deadly siege

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's prime minister acknowledged Wednesday that the nation's security system failed to keep track of a gunman responsible for a deadly siege at a Sydney cafe, and promised a transparent investigation into why the man was not on any terror watch list despite having a long criminal history.

Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old Iranian-born, self-styled cleric described by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as deeply disturbed, took 17 people hostage inside a downtown Sydney cafe on Monday. Sixteen hours later, the siege ended in a barrage of gunfire when police rushed in to free the captives. Two hostages were killed along with Monis.

"The system did not adequately deal with this individual," Abbott conceded on Wednesday. "Two very decent people are dead, others are injured, others are traumatized because of a madman who was roaming our streets."

Monis was convicted and sentenced last year to 300 hours of community service for sending what a judge called "grossly offensive" letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009. He later was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife. Earlier this year, he was charged with the 2002 sexual assault of a woman. He had been out on bail on all the charges.

Just three days before Monis began his deadly rampage, Australia's highest court refused to hear his appeal against his convictions for sending the letters.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press

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