---- — Al-Qaida group claims responsibility for last week’s Beirut bombing
BEIRUT (AP) — An al-Qaida linked group claimed responsibility yesterday for a suicide car bombing last week in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon, as its fighters fought other rebels in neighboring Syria in the most serious infighting since the uprising began.
It was the first time at the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for an attack in Lebanon, underscoring how the ever more complex Syrian war is increasingly spilling over into its smaller neighbor.
The group may have rushed to claim responsibility to try to divert attention from the infighting in Syria, said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on the country’s militant groups.
At least five people were killed in the Thursday attack that targeted a south Beirut neighborhood that is bastion of support for the Shiite group Hezbollah.
ISIL vowed more attacks.
City center of Fallujah falls into hands of al-Qaida-linked group
BAGHDAD (AP) — The city center of Iraq’s Fallujah has fallen completely into the hands of fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, police said Saturday, yet another victory for the hardline group that has made waves across the region in recent days.
ISIL is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. Also on Saturday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.
Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force, said police had left the city center entirely and had positioned themselves on the edge of town.
“The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL,” he said, speaking on Arabic language satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya.
Fallujah, along with the capital of Anbar province, Ramadi, was a stronghold of Sunni insurgents during the U.S.-led war. Al-Qaida militants largely took both cities over last week and have been fending off incursions by government forces there since.
Rodman names team of former NBA players for exhibition in North Korea
Dennis Rodman has named a team of former NBA players to participate in an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Rodman leads a team that includes former NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, and Vin Baker. Craig Hodges, Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith are on the team, as well. They will play against a top North Korean Senior National team on Jan. 8, marking Kim Jong Un’s birthday.
Rodman is the highest profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power from his father in late 2011.
Rodman calls the game his version of “basketball diplomacy.”
“My previous travels have allowed me to feel the enthusiasm and warmth of fans,” Rodman said. “The positive memories and smiles on the faces of the children and families are a testament to the great efforts we have put into fulfilling our mission wherever we go voiding any politics. We are all looking forward to arriving in Pyongyang, meeting the citizens, visiting various charities and using the opportunity to develop new relationships that result in our annual return.”
Building collapse in India leaves 7 dead, dozens more trapped under rubble
PANAJI, India (AP) — A five-story building under construction in the southern Indian state of Goa collapsed yesterday, killing at least seven workers and leaving dozens more feared trapped under the rubble, police said.
Authorities were trying to determine how many people were at the construction site when the structure crumpled in Canacona, a city about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the state capital of Panaji, Police Superintendent Shekhar Prabhudessai said.
Witnesses said about 40 workers were at the site.
“It was like an earthquake when the building fell,” witness Ramesh Naik said. “You could not see what exactly had happened because of the dust.”
Police and residents pulled seven bodies from the wreckage, while firefighters and rescue workers were sifting through the debris for survivors.
New Cuban law easing car sales takes effect, car prices soar
HAVANA (AP) — Talk about sticker shock!
Cubans are eagerly flocking to Havana car dealerships as a new law takes effect eliminating a special permit requirement that has greatly restricted vehicle ownership in the country. To their dismay on Friday, the first day the law was in force, they found sharply hiked prices, some of them light years beyond all but the most well-heeled islanders.
A new Kia Rio hatchback that starts at $13,600 in the United States sells for $42,000 here, while a fresh-off-the-lot Peugeot 508 family car, the most luxurious of which lists for the equivalent of about $53,000 in the U.K., will set you back a cool $262,000.
“Between all my family here in Cuba and over in Miami, we couldn’t come up with that kind of money,” said Gilbert Losada, a 28-year-old musical director. “We’re going to wait and see if they lower the prices, which are really crazy. We’re really disappointed.”
Cuba’s Communist-run government traditionally has placed huge markups on retail goods and services paid for with hard currency, a policy that amounts to a tax on people who can afford such goods. The practice applies to everything from dried pasta, to household appliances, to Internet access.
With Olympics a month away, ‘Putin’s Games’ could still become compliment or curse for Russia
After a journey of joy across nine time zones and into space, the Olympic torch relay is approaching something the Winter Games’ organizers and Russia’s leaders didn’t plan for and certainly didn’t want: A city in mourning.
The Russian city of Volgograd is burying its dead this week — 34 victims of twin suicide bombings that went off just 400 miles (640 kilometers) from where the Sochi Games will be held. And in less than three weeks, the Olympic torch reaches Volgograd, stop 117 on an epic route toward the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
These Olympics are being dubbed “Putin’s Games.” For Russia’s top man, eager to impress the world and show he can pull off a major multinational event safely and successfully, that moniker could turn out to be a compliment or a curse.
President Vladimir Putin’s reputation on the global stage has already been battered in the run-up to the Olympics by the denunciation of Russia’s new anti-gay law, boycott calls, mounting costs and environmental concerns.
But more than anything, particularly with the soccer World Cup to come in 2018 across the nation, Russia has to ensure Sochi is remembered only for sporting feats.