CAIRO — Egyptian security forces stormed a Cairo mosque Saturday after a heavy exchange of gunfire with armed men shooting down from a minaret, rounding up hundreds of supporters of the country’s ousted president who had sought refuge there overnight after violent clashes killed 173 people.
The raid on the al-Fath mosque on Ramses Square was prompted by fears that deposed President Mohammed Morsi’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood, again planned to set up a sit-in, security officials said, similar to those that were broken up Wednesday in assaults that killed hundreds of people.
The arrest of the brother of al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri came in connection to the raid on the mosque. Officials said that he planned to bring in armed groups to provide support to those holed up inside the mosque.
Mohammed al-Zawahri, a Morsi ally, is the leader of the ultraconservative Jihadi Salafi group which espouses al-Qaida’s hardline ideology. He was detained at a checkpoint in Giza, the city across the Nile from Cairo, the official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists about the arrest.
Poll: Standardized tests have support from parents
WASHINGTON — Often criticized as too prescriptive and all-consuming, standardized tests have support among parents, who view them as a useful way to measure both students’ and schools’ performances, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Most parents also say their own children are given about the right number of standardized tests, according to the AP-NORC poll.
They’d like to see student performance on statewide exams used in evaluating teachers, and almost three-quarters said they favored changes that would make it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers.
“The tests are good because they show us where students are at, if they need help with anything,” said Vicky Nevarez, whose son Jesse just graduated from high school in Murrieta, Calif. “His teachers were great and if there were problems, the tests let me know.”
The polling results are good news for states looking to implement increased accountability standards and for those who want to hold teachers responsible for students’ slipping standing against other countries’ scores. Teachers’ unions have objected to linking educators’ evaluations to student performance.
Certified Naturally Grown adopted by more than 700 farms
SCHAGHTICOKE, N.Y. — Justine and Brian Denison say they adhere to all the growing practices required for organic certification, yet if they label their beans and tomatoes “organic” at the farmer’s market, they could face federal charges and $20,000 or more in fines.
Because the Denisons chose not to seek organic certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Denison Farm, which has been under organic management for more than 20 years, is banned from using that term. So they and hundreds of other small direct-marketing farms across the country have adopted an alternative label: Certified Naturally Grown.
Started by a group of organic farmers in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley as a backlash against federal takeover of the organic program in 2002, Certified Naturally Grown has expanded over the past decade to include more than 700 farms in 47 states, executive director Alice Varon said.
“Certified Naturally Grown is tailored for direct-market farmers producing food without any synthetic chemicals specifically for their local communities,” Varon said. “It’s a particular niche of the agricultural world. It’s not in direct competition with the national organic program.”
Many small farmers previously certified organic by an independent organization have declined to participate in the federal program. They voice a variety of objections: extensive record-keeping requirements; fees that can amount to 6 percent of a small farm’s gross sales; and philosophical objections to joining a monolithic government-run program that also certifies huge operations that ship produce across the country.
Fire crews face difficult task battling Idaho blaze
HAILEY, Idaho — Fire crews on Saturday faced another challenging day battling a rapidly growing wildfire burning closer to two posh, central Idaho resort communities, while other blazes in the West charred homes, dry grass and brush.
In northern Utah, several manufactured homes were destroyed when a wildfire raced through the community of Willow Springs late Friday, jumping a state highway and fire lines, authorities said.
As of early Saturday, the Patch Springs Fire had burned about 33,000 acres, or more than 50 square miles. It was estimated at 20 percent contained.
In Idaho, the Beaver Creek Fire grew by 15 square miles late Friday and early Saturday, to 144 square miles. Overnight, flames moved closer to homes and subdivisions in the mountains west and north of the communities of Hailey and Ketchum, and the Sun Valley Resort.
So far, authorities have issued mandatory evacuations for 1,600 residences in this smoke-shrouded valley. More homeowners, along with the growing camp of firefighters and support staff, could be asked to move Saturday depending on fire activity, fire officials said.
Divers search sunken ferry in Philippines for dozens missing
CEBU, Philippines — Divers combed through a sunken ferry Saturday in search of dozens of people missing after a collision with a cargo vessel near the central Philippine port of Cebu that sent passengers jumping into the ocean and leaving many others trapped. At least 31 were confirmed dead and hundreds rescued.
The captain of the ferry MV Thomas Aquinas ordered the ship abandoned when it began listing and then sank just minutes after collision late Friday with the MV Sulpicio Express Siete, coast guard deputy chief Rear Adm. Luis Tuason said.
Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Abaya announced official passenger figures following confusion over the actual number of people on the ferry.
He said the ferry carried 831 people — 715 passengers and 116 crew — fewer than the numbers given earlier by the coast guard and ferry owner, 2Go. He said the death toll has risen to 31 with 629 rescued.
There were foreigners on board “but they are all OK,” except for a New Zealand citizen who was in a hospital, Abaya said.
Drug lord’s release brings new pain for relatives of victims
MEXICO CITY — On a sunny winter morning in 1984, two young American couples dressed in their Sunday best walked door to door in the western Mexican city of Guadalajara, trying to spread their faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses. A few hours later they disappeared.
The next month an American journalist went out with a friend at the end of a yearlong sabbatical writing a mystery novel. The two men also vanished.
Within 10 days, Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was kidnapped too, then tortured and killed by Mexico’s most powerful drug cartel, setting off one of the worst episodes of U.S.-Mexico tension in recent decades. As DEA agents hunted for Camarena’s killers, some witnesses told them that the cartel had mistaken the other six Americans for undercover agents and killed them just like Camarena.
Cartel leader Rafael Caro Quintero walked free this month, 12 years early, after a local appeals court overturned his sentence for three of the murders. For the U.S. and Mexico, Caro Quintero’s secretive, pre-dawn release has set off a frantic effort to get the drug lord back behind bars. For the families of the six Americans slain before Camarena, the decision has awakened bitter memories of the brutality that ushered in the modern era of Mexican drug trafficking.
“I just never imagined that this would happen, that Caro Quintero would be walking around free at the age of 60,” said journalist John Clay Walker’s widow, Eve, who lives in Atlanta. “There’s probably not been a day in the last 30 years that I haven’t missed my husband and wished that he was here to see the girls grow up.
Indiana task force carves out national reputation for breaking up child pornography rings
INDIANAPOLIS — In a cluttered office cubicle in a nondescript building on Indianapolis’ derelict east side, a man with rolled-up shirt sleeves scans email attachments of videos that depict startlingly young children being sexually tormented in ways that can make even federal judges weep.
Detective Kurt Spivey is trying to find the people who record or collect such images. He has 30 days to locate as many as he can. After that, the trail could go cold as the data on the hard drive dissolves.
Spivey is a 43-year-old police detective who parlayed his nine years in vice and experience with computers into a position on the city’s cybercrime unit. It’s part of central Indiana’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, which has become one of the nation’s most aggressive and effective child pornography hunters, with a reach that extends around the globe.
“They are really cutting-edge,” said Francey Hakes, who worked for three years as a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General overseeing child exploitation units in various agencies within the Justice Department. “I would say that most districts that have learned of some of the techniques and tactics used there have tried to model and adopt them as best they can.”
At first blush, Indiana isn’t a likely location for such a group. Though it has its share of violent crime, the state is better known for its hospitality, auto racing and love of basketball than as an international hotbed of perversion.