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Kurdish Iraqi troops seized part of a highway that is used as a vital supply line for the Islamic State group

A journalist watches as smoke rises over Sinjar, northern Iraq from oil fires set by Islamic State militants as Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, launch a major assault on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. The strategic town of Sinjar was overran last year  by the Islamic State group in an onslaught that caused the flight of tens of thousands of Yazidis and first prompted the United States to launch the air campaign against the militants. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

A journalist watches as smoke rises over Sinjar, northern Iraq from oil fires set by Islamic State militants as Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, launch a major assault on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. The strategic town of Sinjar was overran last year by the Islamic State group in an onslaught that caused the flight of tens of thousands of Yazidis and first prompted the United States to launch the air campaign against the militants. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

SINJAR, Iraq (AP) — Supported by U.S.-led airstrikes, Kurdish Iraqi troops on Thursday seized part of a highway that is used as a vital supply line for the Islamic State group, a key initial step in a major offensive to retake the strategic town of Sinjar from the militants.

The town was overrun by the extremists as they rampaged across Iraq in August 2014, leading to the killing, enslavement and flight of thousands of people from the minority Yazidi community. The U.S. later launched an air campaign against the Islamic State militants, also known as ISIL, ISIS and, in Arabic, Daesh.

Hours into Thursday’s operation, the Kurdish Regional Security Council said its forces controlled a section of Highway 47, which passes by Sinjar and indirectly links the militants’ two biggest strongholds — Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq — as a route for goods, weapons and fighters.

Coalition-backed Kurdish fighters on both sides of the border are trying to retake sections of that corridor as part of Operation Free Sinjar.

“By controlling Highway 47, which is used by Daesh to transport weapons, fighters, illicit oil, and other commodities that fund their operations, the coalition intends to increase pressure … and isolate their components from each other,” a coalition statement said.

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A look at the Iraqi town of Sinjar and why it’s important

BAGHDAD (AP) — Kurdish Iraqi fighters launched a long-awaited offensive to retake the strategic town of Sinjar from the Islamic State group and in the first hours of the battle Thursday seized control of one the extremist group’s key supply lines into the town.

Here’s a look at Sinjar, which was overrun by the IS last year, and the town’s importance in the overall battle against the Sunni militant group:

SYMBOLIC VALUE

Sinjar was captured by the Islamic State group in August 2014, shortly after the extremists seized Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and blitzed from Syria across northern Iraq. Once in Sinjar, IS inflicted a wave of terror against the minority Yazidi community, members of an ancient religion whom the Islamic State group views as heretics and accuses of worshipping the devil.

Since then, the name Sinjar has evoked images of tens of thousands of terrified Yazidis fleeing into the mountains, where the militants surrounded them, leaving them trapped and exposed to scorching summer heat. The crisis prompted the United States to launch aid drops to the stranded. An untold number were killed in the assault, and hundreds of men and women were abducted — the women subsequently enslaved and given to IS militants across the group’s territory in Iraq and Syria. Many of the men were believed killed, others forced to convert. Some of those stranded on nearby Mt. Sinjar were rescued by Syrian Kurdish fighters, others eventually escaped after Kurdish fighters opened a corridor for them to the northeast.

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Police: Missouri threat mimicked 1 before Oregon attack

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A man accused of making online threats to shoot blacks on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus said he mimicked postings that preceded a deadly college shooting spree in Oregon last month, according to a probable cause statement obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.

Hunter M. Park, a 19-year-old sophomore at one of the other University of Missouri System campuses in Rolla, is charged with making a terroristic threat, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison. He was expected to make his first court appearance Thursday afternoon via a video feed from jail, where he’s being held without bond.

The threatening posts showed up Tuesday on the anonymous location-based messaging app Yik Yak, and were concerning enough that some classes were canceled and some Columbia businesses closed for the day. They were made during a time of racial unrest on campus that resulted in the resignations Monday of the university system president and the Columbia campus chancellor.

One of the threats said: “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow” — a warning campus police Officer Dustin Heckmaster said in a probable cause statement that he recognized as one that appeared ahead of last month’s Oregon college shooting involving a gunman who killed nine people and himself.

Heckmaster wrote that Yik Yak willingly gave him the cellphone number that Tuesday’s poster had used to create the account from which the threats originated. AT&T later told investigators that the number was Park’s and that cellphone towers showed that the postings came from the Rolla area, the officer wrote.

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Carson invests with business associate convicted of fraud

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ben Carson has called for harsh criminal penalties for health care fraud, but the Republican presidential candidate and his wife also have kept millions invested with a close friend who admitted defrauding insurance companies, according to an Associated Press review.

Pittsburgh dentist Alfonso A. Costa pleaded guilty to a felony count of health care fraud after an FBI probe into his oral surgery practice found he had charged for procedures he never performed, according to court records.

Though the crime carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison, Costa was sentenced to house arrest and probation after Carson helped petition a federal judge on behalf of the man he described as “one my closest, if not my very closest friend.”

That’s different from the position Carson later took as he prepared to launch his presidential campaign. In his 2013 political treatise, “America the Beautiful,” Carson wrote that anyone found guilty of health care fraud should face the “Saudi Arabian Solution.”

“Why don’t people steal very often in Saudi Arabia?” asked Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Obviously because the punishment is the amputation of one or more fingers. I would not advocate chopping off people’s limbs, but there would be some very stiff penalties for this kind of fraud, such as loss of one’s medical license for life, no less than 10 years in prison and loss of all of one’s personal possessions.”

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Olympic boycott ruled out, Russians to admit some wrongdoing

MOSCOW (AP) — With an Olympic boycott ruled out, Russia is planning to at least partially admit it has a doping problem.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told The Associated Press on Thursday that there will “not in any case” be a boycott of next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A short time later in a separate interview, the acting president of the Russian track federation told the AP he is ready to own up to some of the charges leveled in the World Anti-Doping Agency commission’s massive report on doping in the country.

“We admit some things, we argue with some things, some are already fixed, it’s a variety,” said Vadim Zelichenok, declining to provide further details. “It’s not for the press.”

The governing body of track and field is expected to rule Friday on whether to suspend Russia from competition because of the doping scandal. If Russia is banned, the country’s track and field team could be excluded from next year’s Olympics.

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How and why Myanmar’s Suu Kyi plans to be ‘above president’

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Coming from a politician who has spent her career fighting military rule, the statements seem rather authoritarian: “I’ll be above the president,” who “will be told exactly what he can do.”

Though officially barred from the presidency, Aung San Suu Kyi says she will effectively lead Myanmar if her party wins elections that it has so far dominated. Some observers are dismayed by her willingness to place herself above not just the president but the law. Others say she’s obeying the will of the people and subverting a military-dictated constitutional clause intended to lock her out of power.

Votes from Sunday’s general election have not been fully tallied, but by Thursday evening, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had nearly clinched the combined parliamentary majority needed to take over the government early next year.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and longtime political prisoner fought for decades to end dictatorship, and remains her party’s unquestioned leader. However, the military added a provision to the country’s 2008 constitution designed to bar her from the country’s highest office, preventing anyone with foreign family members from being president. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British, as was her late husband.

No problem, Suu Kyi said at a news conference shortly before the election. She wanted to assure supporters that she would hold power if her party won — that she would be “above the president,” in her words.

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EU free travel in danger as borders tighten, fences go up

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Passport free travel in Europe is under threat as countries reintroduce border controls, toughen security and build fences in response to the biggest refugee emergency the continent has seen in decades.

The Schengen open-borders zone uniting 30 countries is a pinnacle of European achievement. It underpins the EU economy, allowing goods, services and people to cross frontiers without checks.

But Sweden says security at its borders cannot be assured and announced that checks were resuming on Thursday, while tiny Slovenia has begun erecting a fence to stem the flow of people from Croatia, the second nation, after Hungary, to resort to such a measure.

These uncoordinated and unilateral actions in response to unpredictable movements of thousands of people have raised fresh doubts about whether the passport free area can survive the migrant challenge.

“Saving Schengen is a race against time,” EU Council President Donald Tusk warned on Thursday after a migration summit with European and African leaders in Malta.

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Big beer merger leaves future uncertain for competitors

LONDON (AP) — It’s no fun being in the middle.

Heineken, Molson Coors and Carlsberg are storied brewers that trace their roots back hundreds of years and have loyal drinkers around the world. But the merger of their two biggest competitors leaves such mid-size competitors without a clear way forward.

They find themselves squeezed between a Goliath that will produce almost a third of the world’s beer and a growing army of craft brewers.

Some experts say the mid-sized brewers should respond by pursuing takeovers of their own. Others argue that would do little good because the underlying problem is that consumers are increasingly drinking craft beers, not mass market brands.

“There are so many craft beers out there,” said Jonny Forsyth, a global drinks analyst at Mintel. “They can’t buy them all up.”

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VW offers some employees amnesty for information on cheating

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Volkswagen is telling non-managerial employees they can come forward with information about how the company cheated on U.S. emissions tests and they won’t be fired.

In a move aimed at getting to the bottom of the scandal more quickly, Volkswagen brand manager Herbert Diess told staff in a letter that the company won’t seek damages or fire employees for what they might reveal.

Workers could be transferred to other duties, however, and the company stressed it cannot get anyone off the hook for ongoing criminal probes.

The offer is valid until Nov. 30 and only applies to workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. “Managers are not included,” said company spokesman Eric Felber.

In the letter, made public by the company Thursday, Diess says the offer was being made in the interests of “full and swift clarification” of the scandal, which has seen revelations trickle out over weeks.

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Obesity still rising among US adults, women overtake men

NEW YORK (AP) — Obesity is still rising among American adults, despite more than a decade of public-awareness campaigns and other efforts to get people to watch their weight, and women have now overtaken men in the obese category, new government research shows.

For the past several years, experts thought the nation’s alarming, decades-long rise in obesity had leveled off. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report Thursday that the obesity rate climbed to nearly 38 percent of adults in 2013-14, up from 32 percent about a decade earlier.

“This is a striking finding” and suggests that a situation that was thought to be stable is getting worse, said Dr. William Dietz, an obesity expert at George Washington University.

But another authority, the University of North Carolina’s Barry Popkin, urged caution, saying the participants selected for the study may not have been representative of the nation as a whole.

Experts said they had no explanation for why the obesity rate appears to be rising.

 

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