In brief | Nation & world 11-02-13


Officials say US drone strike killed leader of Pakistani Taliban

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A U.S. drone strike Friday killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in a major blow to the group that came after the government said it had started peace talks with the insurgents, according to intelligence officials and militant commanders.

Mehsud, who was on U.S. most-wanted terrorist lists with a $5 million bounty, is believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square and other brazen assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and security forces.

The ruthless, 34-year-old commander who was closely allied with al-Qaida was widely reported to have been killed in 2010 — only to resurface later.

But a senior U.S. intelligence official said Friday the U.S. received positive confirmation that Mehsud had been killed. Two Pakistani intelligence officials also confirmed his death, as did two Taliban commanders who saw his mangled body after the strike. A third commander said the Taliban would likely choose Mehsud’s successor on Saturday.

“If true, the death of Hakimullah Mehsud will be a significant blow to the Pakistani Taliban, an organization that poses a serious threat to the Pakistani people and to Americans in Pakistan,” said Michael Morell, a former acting CIA director who retired in August and has championed the drone program.

Obama says al-Qaida now more active in Iraq, discusses ways US can help stop threat

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama pledged Friday to help combat an increasingly active al-Qaida in Iraq but stopped short of announcing new commitments of assistance sought by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki came to the Oval Office requesting additional aid, including weapons and help with intelligence, to fight insurgent violence that has spiked in Iraq since American troops left in 2011.

“Unfortunately al-Qaida has still been active and has grown more active recently,” Obama said at the end of a nearly two-hour meeting. “So we had a lot of discussion about how we can work together to push back against that terrorist organization that operates not only in Iraq, but also poses a threat to the entire region and to the United States.”

Appeals court sides with business owners against health care law contraceptive mandate

WASHINGTON — A divided appeals court panel sided Friday with Ohio business owners who challenged the birth control mandate under the new federal health care law.

The business owners are two brothers, Francis and Philip M. Gilardi, who own Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics of Sidney, Ohio, and challenged the mandate on religious grounds. They say the mandate to provide contraceptive coverage would force them to violate their Roman Catholic beliefs and moral values by providing contraceptives such as the morning-after pill for their employees. The law already exempts houses of worship from the requirement.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of several on the birth control issue, which likely will be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Writing for the majority, Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote that the mandate “trammels the right of free exercise—a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties—as protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Brown, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said the mandate presented the Gilardis with a “Hobson’s choice: They can either abide by the sacred tenets of their faith, pay a penalty of over $14 million, and cripple the companies they have spent a lifetime building, or they become complicit in a grave moral wrong.”

By wire sources