AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EDT


Criticism grows for Trump’s assailing of Muslim vet’s family

WASHINGTON (AP) — Angry and anxious, Republican lawmakers and veterans groups hastened to disavow Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of a bereaved military family Monday, but the GOP presidential nominee refused to back down. He complained anew that he had been “viciously attacked” by the parents of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who was killed in Iraq.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, led the charge, saying Trump did not have “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.” The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation’s oldest and largest veterans organization, called Trump out of bounds for tangling with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in 2004.

“Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression,” VFW leader Brian Duffy said.

Democratic President Barack Obama chimed in, too, addressing the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta. He said of families who have lost family members in the military service: “No one has given more to our freedom and our security than our Gold Star families. … They represent the very best of our country.”

A growing chorus of GOP lawmakers chastised Trump for sparring with the Khans, who appeared at the Democratic convention on behalf of Hillary Clinton. But like McCain, none revoked his support of the GOP nominee in the White House campaign.

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Military families to Trump: Apologize for comments to Khans

Their sons were killed in Iraq about a week apart.

So when Karen Meredith heard the grieving parents of a decorated Muslim Army officer being belittled by Donald Trump, she cried.

Meredith said she hadn’t wept over her son’s death for a long time, but the Republican presidential nominee “ripped the wounds right open again.”

“You don’t attack one Gold Star family, because if you do, you’re attacking a lot of us,” Meredith, 62, of Mountain View, California, said Monday.

Trump has been engaged in an emotionally charged feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber on June 8, 2004. Trump stoked outrage by implying that Ghazala Khan did not speak while standing alongside her husband at last week’s Democratic convention because of their Muslim faith. And he disputed their right to question his grasp of the Constitution.

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Pilot was able to keep flying despite drunken driving record

LOCKHART, Texas (AP) — The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Texas, killing 16 people, was able to keep flying despite having at least four convictions for drunken driving in Missouri and twice spending time in prison.

Whether the pilot’s drinking habits had anything to do with the crash was unclear. A former girlfriend described Alfred “Skip” Nichols as a recovering alcoholic. She said he had been sober for at least four years and never piloted a balloon after drinking.

Nichols, who had been stripped of his driver’s license at least twice, “couldn’t drive a car but he could pilot a hot air balloon,” said an attorney who represented a passenger who sued Nichols in 2013. The passenger said she was hurt when Nichols crash-landed a balloon in the St. Louis suburbs.

Had he been a commercial airplane pilot, Nichols probably would have been grounded long ago.

The Federal Aviation Administration might allow a recovering alcoholic to fly commercial jets if the pilot could show that he or she was being successfully treated, said John Gadzinski, an airline captain and aviation safety consultant. But the agency is unlikely to accept an airline pilot with convictions for driving under the influence, he said.

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Pilot in hot air balloon crash had convictions, complaints

DALLAS (AP) — The pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed Saturday in Texas had at least four drunken-driving convictions, two prison stays and more than 40 customer complaints in his past, records show.

Alfred “Skip” Nichols was identified by friends and colleagues as the pilot of the downed balloon, operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. Investigators said the balloon hit high-tension power lines before crashing into a pasture near the Central Texas town of Lockhart. Authorities have not publicly named any of the 16 people killed, saying it could take a while to identify the bodies.

Before setting up operations in Texas in 2014, Nichols had extensive criminal and business troubles in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. Here is a timeline of those events:

1990:

Nichols pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in St. Louis County, according to online court records.

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US launches airstrikes targeting IS militants in Libya

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States launched multiple airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya on Monday, opening a new, more persistent front against the group at the request of the United Nations-backed government, Libyan and U.S. officials said.

Fayez Serraj, the head of Libya’s U.N.-brokered presidency council, said in a televised statement that American warplanes attacked the IS bastion of Sirte on the Mediterranean in northern Libya. No U.S. ground forces will be deployed, he said.

The precision strikes, which targeted an Islamic State tank and vehicles, come amid growing concerns about the group’s increased threat to Europe and its ability to inspire attacks across the region, even though its numbers have been shrinking because of attacks from local forces and allied international troops.

“The presidency council, as the general army commander, has made a request for direct U.S. support to carry out specific airstrikes,” Serraj said. “The first strikes started today in positions in Sirte, causing major casualties.”

The strikes mark the start of a more intense American role in the fight against IS in Libya, as the U.S. steps in to assist the fragile, U.N.-backed government. They were the first strikes by the U.S. on the group in Libya since February, and they are expected to continue. But officials said they expect the air campaign will last weeks, not months.

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CDC warns pregnant women against Zika-stricken part of Miami

MIAMI (AP) — Government health officials warned pregnant women Monday to avoid a Zika-stricken part of Miami and told couples who have been there recently to put off having children for at least two months, after the number of people feared infected through mosquito bites in the U.S. climbed to 14.

In its highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented travel warning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said expectant mothers should get tested for the virus if they have visited the neighborhood since mid-June.

All 14 cases are thought to have occurred in Miami’s Wynwood arts district, a trendy, fast-gentrifying neighborhood of warehouses, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

Gov. Rick Scott asked for a CDC emergency response team to help Florida combat Zika, which has been sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean in recent months and now may be gaining a long-dreaded foothold in the U.S. The White House said a team will be sent quickly.

Health officials last Friday announced that mosquitoes have apparently started spreading Zika on the U.S. mainland, citing four cases they strongly believe were caused by bites. Ten more cases were announced Monday, even though Florida authorities have yet to find any mosquitoes actually carrying the virus.

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Historic Maryland town faces long recovery after flooding

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — The picturesque main street of Ellicott City — quaint with brightly colored storefronts — was in shambles Monday, two days after a catastrophic storm ripped through town, shattering glass windows, swallowing cars, demolishing structures and devouring their foundations.

Severely damaged were antique shops, restaurants, a toy store and a beloved bar steps from the Patapsco River that local officials say opened their doors to feed rescue crews who responded to a fatal train derailment, the small city’s last disaster.

This disaster though, was different: The magnitude of the storm threatened to wash away the historic boulevard, leaving behind waterlogged remnants of what stood there before.

The storm claimed the lives of two visitors, Jessica Watsula and Joseph Blevins, whose cars were swept into the Patapsco River’s raging waters.

As the rain fell and the waters rose, residents rushed into harm’s way to rescue each other. One group formed a human chain to save a trapped motorist; Jonathan Butkus, 37, raced into the waist-deep water and carried a teenager out of a car on his shoulders.

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Billionaire Warren Buffett ready to take on Donald Trump

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says he’ll do whatever it takes to defeat Donald Trump — including escorting people to the polls himself.

Campaigning with Hillary Clinton in Nebraska Monday, Buffett savaged Trump’s business record, questioning his bankruptcies and asking why the Republican presidential candidate won’t release his tax returns. The so-called “Omaha Oracle” then announced a new campaign called “Drive 2 Vote,” designed to bring out voters in Nebraska’s second congressional district, which offers a single Electoral College vote to the district winner.

“I will take at least 10 people to the polls who would otherwise have difficulty getting there,” said Buffett, adding that he had reserved a 32-seat trolley for the day with a goal of getting the highest-percentage turnout of any congressional district in the country. “Let’s give America a civics lesson.”

Nebraska is one of two states that assign some electoral votes based on the results within congressional districts. While the state is Republican overall, President Barack Obama won a vote here in 2008 in the more liberal district where Clinton appeared Monday, which includes Omaha and the suburbs. The boundaries have since been redrawn to make the district less blue.

The Midwestern stop came amid a clash between Trump and a Muslim-American family who spoke against him at the Democratic National Convention. Trump responded by attacking Khizr and Ghazela Kahn, whose son served in the U.S. Army and was killed in Iraq in 2004.

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Judge blocks North Dakota’s voter identification law

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday blocked North Dakota’s voter identification law after a group of American Indians said it unfairly burdens them — the latest court ruling against voting laws that critics say disproportionately affect minorities.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland issued a temporary restraining order and criticized the state for its 2013 repeal of provisions that let people without valid IDs vote if someone vouched for them or if they signed an affidavit swearing they were a qualified voter.

“The public interest in protecting the most cherished right to vote for thousands of Native Americans who currently lack a qualifying ID and cannot obtain one, outweighs the purported interest and arguments of the State,” Hovland wrote.

He added: “There are a multitude of easy remedies that most states have adopted in some form to alleviate this burden.”

It was the latest setback in the courts for Republican efforts that critics say are intended to restrict voting rights but that supporters tout as anti-fraud measures that keep non-citizens from voting. In three separate rulings on Friday, a federal appeals court blocked North Carolina’s law requiring photo ID, a federal judge in Wisconsin ordered changes to make it easier for voters to get a valid ID, and a Kansas judge said the state must count thousands of votes from people who didn’t provide proof of citizenship when they registered. Earlier in July, a federal appellate court ruled that Texas’ voter ID law was discriminatory.

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Russian helicopter shot down in Syria, killing all 5 onboard

MOSCOW (AP) — Rebels in Syria shot down a Russian combat helicopter Monday amid fierce fighting around Aleppo, killing all five people on board in the deadliest single incident for the Russian military since it became embroiled in Syria’s civil war 10 months ago.

The helicopter downing came as the Syrian army, under Russian air cover, fought to repel a rebel attempt to break the government’s siege of Aleppo, killing more than 800 militants, according to the Russian military.

The Mi-8 helicopter was shot down in Idlib province while returning to Hemeimeem air base on Syria’s coast after delivering humanitarian goods to Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry said. It said all three crewmembers and two military officers on board died.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Videos uploaded online by Syrian opposition activists showed the burning wreckage of a Russian helicopter in footage seemingly taken in the first moments after it crashed.

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