AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EDT

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Associated Press

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Angry over journalist's death, world powers consider new front against Islamic State

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States launched a new barrage of airstrikes Wednesday against the Islamic State extremist group that beheaded American journalist James Foley and that has seized a swath of territory across Iraq and Syria. President Barack Obama vowed relentless pursuit of the terrorists and the White House revealed that the U.S. had launched a secret rescue mission inside Syria earlier this summer that failed to rescue Foley and other Americans still being held hostage.

In brief but forceful remarks, Obama said the U.S. would "do what we must to protect our people," but he stopped short of promising to follow the Islamic State in its safe haven within Syria, where officials said Foley had been killed. Later, though, the administration revealed that several dozen special operations troops had been on the ground in Syria briefly in an effort to rescue the hostages, but did not find them.

And looking forward, the State Department refused to rule out future U.S. military operations in Syria, where Obama has long resisted intervening in a three-year civil war.

Western nations agreed to speed help to combat the militants — most notably Germany, which bucked public opposition by announcing it would arm Iraqi Kurdish fighters to battle the Islamic State. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was outraged by the beheading, deeming it evidence of a "caliphate of barbarism." Italy's defense minister said the country hopes to contribute machine guns, ammunition and anti-tank rockets.

The Islamic State called Foley's death a revenge killing for U.S. airstrikes against militants in Iraq, and said other hostages would be slain if the attacks continued. Undeterred, the U.S. conducted 14 additional strikes after a video of the beheading surfaced, bringing to 84 the number of airstrikes since they began on Aug. 8.

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Special forces tried to rescue American hostages in Syria this summer but didn't find them

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them, the administration disclosed Wednesday.

Officials said the rescue mission was authorized after intelligence agencies believed they had identified the location inside Syria where the hostages were being held. But the several dozen special operations forces dropped by aircraft into Syria did not find them at that location and engaged in a firefight with Islamic State militants before departing, killing several militants. No Americans died but one sustained a minor injury when an aircraft was hit.

"The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens," said Lisa Monaco, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, in a statement. "Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present."

The administration revealed the rescue operation a day after the militants released a video showing the beheading of Foley and threatened to kill a second hostage, Steven Sotloff, if U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq continued.

Despite the militants' threats, the U.S. launched a new barrage of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria Wednesday. The Obama administration did not rule out the prospect of a military operation in Syria to bring those responsible for Foley's death to justice.

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

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

1. OFFICIALS: RESCUE MISSION FAILED

Obama sent special forces to Syria this summer to save Americans held by the Islamic State, but they failed to locate any — including journalist James Foley.

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Social media pushes back at gruesome propaganda by Islamic militants

BEIRUT (AP) — The extremists of the Islamic State group have turned their social media into a theater of horror, broadcasting a stomach-turning stream of battles, bombings and beheadings to a global audience.

The strategy is aimed at terrorizing opponents at home and winning recruits abroad. But there are increasing signs of pushback — both from companies swiftly censoring objectionable content and users determined not to let it go viral.

Public disgust with the group's callous propaganda tactics was evident following the group's posting of the beheading video of American journalist James Foley — chilling footage that spread rapidly when it appeared online late Tuesday.

The slickly edited video begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes in Iraq, before switching to Foley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, a black-clad Islamic State fighter by his side.

The fighter who beheads Foley is then seen holding another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, threatening to kill him next. "The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision," he says.

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Attorney general visits Ferguson, says he understands why black Americans mistrust police

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder sought Wednesday to reassure the people of Ferguson about the investigation into Michael Brown's death and said he understands why many black Americans do not trust police, recalling how he was repeatedly stopped by officers who seemed to target him because of his race.

Holder made the remarks during a visit to the St. Louis suburb that has endured more than a week of unrest fueled by the fatal shooting of the black 18-year-old by a white officer. The Obama administration intended the trip to underscore its commitment to civil rights in general and the Ferguson case in particular.

The attorney general described how he was stopped twice on the New Jersey Turnpike and accused of speeding. Police searched his car, going through the trunk and looking under the seats.

"I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me," Holder said during a meeting with about 50 community leaders at the Florissant campus of St. Louis Community College.

Holder also met with federal officials investigating Michael Brown's Aug. 9 death and with Brown's parents.

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Airstrike kills Hamas leader's wife and child; Israel demands the rocket fire stop

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas' shadowy military chief escaped an apparent Israeli assassination attempt that killed his wife and infant son, the militant group said Wednesday as Israel's prime minister warned that the bombardment of Gaza will continue until rocket fire out of the Palestinian territory stops.

The airstrike on a home where Mohammed Deif's family members were staying — and the tough talk from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — came after the collapse of cease-fire talks in Cairo on Tuesday.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu showed little willingness to return to the negotiating table after six weeks of war with Hamas.

"We are determined to continue the campaign with all means and as is needed," he said, his defense minister by his side. "We will not stop until we guarantee full security and quiet for the residents of the south and all citizens of Israel."

More than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, most of them civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian medical officials. Sixty-seven people have died on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

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Obama meets with business, tech leaders, weighs broader executive move on immigration

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is considering key changes in the nation's immigration system requested by tech, industry and powerful interest groups, in a move that could blunt Republicans' election-year criticism of the president's go-it-alone approach to immigration.

Administration officials and advocates said the steps would go beyond the expected relief from deportations for some immigrants in the U.S. illegally that Obama signaled he'd adopt after immigration efforts in Congress collapsed. Following a bevy of recent White House meetings, top officials have compiled specific recommendations from business groups and other advocates whose support could undercut GOP claims that Obama is exceeding his authority to help people who have already violated immigration laws.

"The president has not made a decision regarding next steps, but he believes it's important to understand and consider the full range of perspectives on potential solutions," said White House spokesman Shawn Turner.

One of the more popular requests among business and family groups is a change in the way green cards are counted that would essentially free up some 800,000 additional visas the first year, advocates say.

The result would be threefold: It would lessen the visa bottleneck for business seeking global talent; shorten the green card line for those being sponsored by relatives, a wait that can stretch nearly 25 years; and potentially reduce the incentive for illegal immigration by creating more legal avenues for those wanting to come, as well as those already here.

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AP NewsBreak: Navy kicks out 34 sailors in nuclear cheating ring that operated for 7 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — At least 34 sailors are being kicked out of the Navy for their roles in a cheating ring that operated undetected for at least seven years at a nuclear power training site, and 10 others are under criminal investigation, the admiral in charge of the Navy's nuclear reactors program told The Associated Press.

The number of accused and the duration of cheating are greater than was known when the Navy announced in February that it had discovered cheating on qualification exams by an estimated 20 to 30 sailors seeking to be certified as instructors at the nuclear training unit at Charleston, South Carolina. Students there are trained in nuclear reactor operations to prepare for service on any of the Navy's 83 nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

Neither the instructors nor the students are involved in handling nuclear weapons.

After further investigation the Navy determined that 78 enlisted sailors were implicated. Although the cheating is believed to have been confined to a single unit at Charleston and apparently was not known to commanding officers, the misconduct had been happening since at least 2007, according to Adm. John M. Richardson, director of naval reactors. The exact start of the cheating was not pinpointed.

"There was never any question" that the reactors were being operated safely, he said in an AP interview, yet the cheating was a stunning violation of Navy ethics.

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APNewsBreak: Bank of America reaches $17B settlement with US over sale of securities

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bank of America has reached a record settlement of nearly $17 billion to resolve an investigation into its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis, officials directly familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

One of the officials, who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the announcement isn't scheduled until Thursday at the earliest, said the bank will pay $9.65 billion in cash and provide consumer relief valued at $7 billion.

The deal is the largest settlement arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. It follows agreements in the last year with Citigroup for $7 billion and with JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $13 billion.

Like the Bank of America deal, those settlements were a mixture of hard cash and "credits" for various forms of consumer aid that the banks promised to provide in coming years.

The Bank of America settlement was negotiated through a joint federal and state working group established by President Barack Obama two years ago with the Justice Department and other federal and state authorities. Individual states are expected to share in the settlement.

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Ukraine takes over large part of Luhansk from rebels; 52 reported killed near Donetsk

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — After days of street battles and weeks of shelling, Ukrainian troops made a significant push Wednesday into rebel-held territory, claiming control over a large part of the separatist stronghold of Luhansk and nearly encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city.

The advance of the Ukrainian army against pro-Russian separatists comes as the civilian death toll is mounting from sustained artillery strikes and rebel cities are slipping into a humanitarian disaster. At least 52 deaths were reported Wednesday, along with 64 wounded — and due to the dangers of the war zone in eastern Ukraine, no deaths were reported from Luhansk, meaning the actual toll could be even higher.

Ukrainian troops have been trying for weeks to drive the rebels out of Luhansk and cut off Donetsk, a city of 1 million that has shrunk by a third as frightened residents fled. In the last few days, several neighborhoods in Donetsk have been hit with sustained artillery fire and fighting on the city's outskirts has become more intense.

The death toll mounted quickly on Wednesday. In the Donetsk region, 43 locals were killed and 42 wounded in less than two days, including in two deadly artillery attacks Wednesday afternoon in the capital of Donetsk, local authorities said. In addition, nine troops died and 22 were wounded in fighting in a town outside Donetsk.

Luhansk city authorities reported running battles between the two sides. By early evening, government forces took control of "significant parts" of Luhansk, an eastern city just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Russian border, said Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council.

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