AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT


Officials: Brussels bombers may have rushed attack

BRUSSELS (AP) — As police hunted for the surviving Brussels bomber, evidence mounted Wednesday that the same Islamic State cell carried out the attacks in both Paris and Brussels, and that the militants may have launched this week’s slaughter in haste because they feared authorities were closing in on them.

On a day of mourning across Belgium following Tuesday’s bombings of the Brussels airport and subway that killed 31 people and wounded more than 270, new information emerged about the four attackers:

— European security officials said one of the suicide bombers was Najim Laachraoui, a Moroccan-born Belgian whom police have hunted as the suspected bombmaker in the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris by the Islamic State that killed 130 people.

— The other two suicide bombers were Belgian-born brothers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, and his younger brother, Khalid, both known to the police as common criminals, not anti-Western radicals.

— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ibrahim El Bakraoui was caught in June 2015 near Turkey’s border with Syria and deported, at his own request, to the Netherlands, with Ankara warning Dutch and Belgian officials that he was a “foreign terrorist fighter.” But other Turkish officials said he was released from Dutch custody due to lack of evidence of involvement in extremism.

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IS trains 400 fighters to attack Europe in wave of bloodshed

PARIS (AP) — The Islamic State group has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum chaos, officials have told The Associated Press.

The network of agile and semiautonomous cells shows the reach of the extremist group in Europe even as it loses ground in Syria and Iraq.

The officials, including European and Iraqi intelligence officials and a French lawmaker who follows the jihadi networks, described camps in Syria, Iraq and possibly the former Soviet bloc where attackers are trained to target the West. Before being killed in a police raid, the ringleader of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks claimed he had entered Europe in a multinational group of 90 fighters, who scattered “more or less everywhere.”

But the biggest break yet in the Paris attacks investigation — the arrest on Friday of fugitive Salah Abdeslam — did not thwart the multipronged attack just four days later on the Belgian capital’s airport and subway system that left 31 people dead and an estimated 270 wounded. Three suicide bombers also died.

Just as in Paris, Belgian authorities were searching for at least one fugitive in Tuesday’s attacks — this time for a man wearing a white jacket who was seen on airport security footage with the two suicide attackers. The fear is that the man, whose identity Belgian officials say is not known, will follow Abdeslam’s path.

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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. ISLAMIC STATE GROUP DEPLOYING TERROR CELLS IN EUROPE

The group has sent at least 400 attackers to the continent with orders to find the right time, place and method to carry out their missions, officials tell the AP.

2. HOW BRUSSELS SUICIDE BOMBER SLIPPED THROUGH AUTHORITIES’ GRASP

One of the attackers, named months ago by Turkey as a foreign terrorist fighter, was apparently allowed to go free after Belgian authorities failed to establish any ties to extremism.

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Cruz emboldened, but needs a near miracle to catch Trump

WAUWATOSA, Wis. (AP) — While Ted Cruz decried “gutter politics” against him, former Republican presidential contenders gave him a boost Wednesday, casting the Texas senator as the party’s last best chance to stop Donald Trump. The long and bitter 2016 campaign shifted to a new Midwestern battleground.

Ahead of Wisconsin’s April 5 primary, Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of the race last fall, declared that only Cruz can catch Trump as time runs short in the primary season. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave Cruz his endorsement — a step perhaps designed to hurt Trump more than help the unpopular Texas senator.

“For the sake of our party and country, we must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena,” said Bush, who was knocked out of the 2016 contest last month. “To win, Republicans need to make this election about proposing solutions to the many challenges we face, and I believe that we should vote for Ted as he will do just that.”

Indeed, as Democrat Hillary Clinton addressed rising national security concerns, the Republican contest was hit again by personal insults — this time involving the candidates’ families. Cruz slammed Trump during an appearance in the front-runner’s hometown for making a vague threat on Twitter the night before to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife.

“Gutter politics,” Cruz said. Trump’s warning that he would disclose something about Heidi Cruz came in response to an ad by an outside political group that featured a provocative photo of Trump’s wife, Melania, when she was a model and before they were married. Trump misidentified the Cruz campaign as the source of the ad.

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Alleged sex abuse victim may testify at Hastert sentencing

CHICAGO (AP) — An alleged sex abuse victim of Dennis Hastert could testify about his emotional trauma next month at the former U.S. speaker’s sentencing in his hush-money case, according to a transcript of an unannounced court hearing this week during which the court linked sex-abuse allegations to the Illinois Republican for the first time.

Hastert, 74, pleaded guilty on Oct. 28 to violating bank laws as he sought to pay $3.5 million to ensure someone referred to in the 2015 indictment only as “Individual A” stayed quiet about past misconduct by Hastert against Individual A. The misconduct dated back decades to around the time Hastert was a high school wrestling coach.

The Associated Press and other media outlets, citing anonymous sources, previously reported that Hastert wanted to hide claims he sexually molested someone, but the issue hadn’t been raised in unsealed filings or in court until this week.

The transcript of Tuesday’s federal court hearing, provided Wednesday to the AP by the presiding judge’s court reporter, doesn’t mention Individual A or raise the prospect that that person might speak at sentencing. Instead, it recounts the judge speaking to prosecutors and attorneys about “Individual D.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block informs Judge Thomas M. Durkin that prosecutors only recently learned “Individual D” is an alleged victim and was leaning toward testifying at sentencing, the transcript says.

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North Carolina reins in local governments, transgender rule

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly took action after Charlotte city leaders last month approved a broad anti-discrimination measure. Critics focused on language in the ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.

McCrory, who was the mayor of Charlotte for 14 years and had criticized the local ordinance, signed the legislation Wednesday night that he said was “passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette.”

Although 12 House Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the bill in the afternoon, later all Senate Democrats in attendance walked off their chamber floor during the debate in protest. Remaining Senate Republicans gave the legislation unanimous approval.

“We choose not to participate in this farce,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh said after he left the chamber.

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Prosecutor: No prison for NY officer in stairwell shooting

NEW YORK (AP) — A prosecutor said Wednesday that he has asked a judge not to give any jail time to a New York City police officer convicted of accidentally firing a stray shot into a public housing stairwell that killed an unarmed man.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said justice will be served if the officer, who was fired from the force last month, is sentenced to probation and six months of house arrest.

“From the beginning, this tragic case has always been about justice and not about revenge,” Thompson said in a news release announcing his recommendation.

He said that while the officer, Peter Liang, 28, acted recklessly, he didn’t intend to kill the victim, Akai Gurley.

“Because his incarceration is not necessary to protect the public, and due to the unique circumstances of this case, a prison sentence is not warranted,” Thompson said.

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Australia: Mozambique debris “highly likely” from Flight 370

SYDNEY (AP) — Two pieces of debris recently discovered along the coast of Mozambique are “highly likely” to have come from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australian and Malaysian officials said Thursday.

An analysis of the parts by an international investigation team showed both pieces are consistent with panels from a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft, Transport Minister Darren Chester said in a statement.

“The analysis has concluded the debris is almost certainly from MH370,” Chester said.

The dimensions, materials and construction of both parts conform to those of a 777, and the paint and stenciling on both parts match those used by Malaysia Airlines, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in a separate statement.

The discovery of the two pieces provides another piece of the puzzle into the plane’s fate, and bolsters authorities’ assertion that the plane went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean. But whether the debris can provide any clues into exactly what happened to the aircraft and why is uncertain.

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Denver airport reopens after powerful blizzard moves east

DENVER (AP) — A powerful spring blizzard stranded travelers at Denver’s airport and shut down hundreds of miles of highway in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska as it spread into the Midwest on Wednesday.

Snow blown by gusts up to around 50 mph made it unsafe for planes to land or take off at Denver International Airport, leading officials to close it around midday. The airport reopened about seven hours later.

Airport spokesman Heath Montgomery says two of the six runways are open, and the airport will be fully operational by Thursday morning.

More than 1,300 of Wednesday’s 1,500 scheduled flights were canceled, he said.

The closure came hours after long flight delays caused by power outages at the airport’s fuel depot and deicing supply and the cancellation of about a third of the airport’s daily flights.

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Hello, Buenos Aires: The Obamas do the tango

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Less than 24 hours in Buenos Aires, and Barack Obama is already doing the tango.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama were attending a state dinner in the Argentine capital Wednesday evening when they were pulled abruptly onto the dance floor on by a pair of tango dancers hired to provide the entertainment.

At first, the woman in the shimmering gold dress seemed to content to twirl with her partner, but then she made a beeline for the president and beckoned him to the floor.

“No, no,” Obama’s face seemed to say, as he declined her invitation not once but multiple times. But the dancer wasn’t to be deterred.

She got her way, and Obama was soon sashaying across the floor. Flawless it was not, but the president eventually caught on. By the time the music slowed to a halt, the two were in lockstep, arms high in the air as an audience of hundreds looked on.

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