New York court watches taped confession by accused killer of Etan Patz

NEW YORK Mon Sep 15, 2014 7:10pm EDT

Pedro Hernandez appears in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Louis Lanzano/Pool

Pedro Hernandez appears in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York November 15, 2012.

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A New Jersey man accused of the murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979 calmly confessed on a videotape played in court on Monday to choking the boy and stuffing him alive in a garbage bag he tossed in an alley.

A Manhattan judge will decide whether the confession taped by police in 2012 will be allowed as evidence against Pedro Hernandez, who is accused of kidnap and murder.

Patz disappeared on his way to school on May 25, 1979, near his home in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. It was the first time he had been allowed to walk alone to a school bus stop.

The search for the boy gripped the city. Patz was one of the first children pictured on the side of milk cartons as part of an appeal for information on missing children.

Hernandez’s defense attorney argues his client does not understand his legal rights. The attorney, Harvey Fishbein, said Hernandez suffered from mental illness including hallucinations and was borderline mentally handicapped.

In the confession, Hernandez, 53, described luring the boy into a SoHo deli where he worked with the offer of a cold soda.

The tape was played in state Supreme Court before Justice Maxwell Wiley. It was the first time it had been shown in public.

Patz’ parents were in court, although his mother left before the video was shown.

Hernandez said he took Patz to the basement and strangled him.

"I grabbed him by the neck and started to choke him. I was nervous, my legs were jumping and wanted to let go but I couldn’t let go," Hernandez said. "It was like something took over me."

Hernandez said the boy fell to the floor and that he knew he was still alive because he was gasping and his legs were moving.

He said he put the boy in a garbage bag, which he put in a box and carried on his shoulder to an alley a couple blocks away.

He said he left the box in the alley and went back to work. When he returned the next day, he said the box was gone.

Patz’s body was never found, but he was legally declared dead in 2001.

'WASN'T THINKING RIGHT'

On the videotape, Hernandez spoke softly and calmly without any apparent emotion.

"Mentally I was like, I feel bad and I don’t feel bad. Half and half," he said. "I wasn’t really thinking right at the time."

In court, clad in an orange jumpsuit, Hernandez also betrayed no feelings.

He offered differing recollections on the tape of what he had intended when he approached Patz on the sidewalk.

At one point, he indicated he did not have any violent intentions, but said later under police questioning: “My mind was already made up what I was going to do.”

He told police he had been diagnosed with manic depression and schizophrenia.

His lawyer argued Hernandez was questioned for several hours before police read him his rights and made the videotape, which he said was filled with “the impossible” and “the highly improbable.”

The hearing was set to resume on Tuesday and expected to take several weeks.

Police got a tip about Hernandez, who was living in Maple Shade, New Jersey, a month after authorities in April 2012 excavated the basement in another SoHo building, which failed to yield clues.

The tip said Hernandez told family members as far back as 1981 he had killed a child in New York, police said.

Four finalists picked for future Obama library

CHICAGO Mon Sep 15, 2014 7:09pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama smiles after he awards two Medals of Honor for actions during the Vietnam War while in the East Room of the White House in Washington, September 15, 2014.      REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama smiles after he awards two Medals of Honor for actions during the Vietnam War while in the East Room of the White House in Washington, September 15, 2014.

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Four universities, including two in Chicago, one in New York and one in Hawaii, have been picked as finalists to host a future Barack Obama presidential library, the library’s foundation said on Monday.

The Barack Obama Foundation said it had issued a “Request for Proposal” to the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii. The four were picked from 13 contenders.

"These four potential partners have come the farthest in meeting our criteria and have each demonstrated a strong vision for the future Obama Presidential Library," said board chairman Martin Nesbitt.

All the contenders have ties to Obama’s life - he was born in Hawaii and attended college at Columbia. He later became a resident of Chicago, working as a community organizer, a lawyer, a University of Chicago law professor, a state legislator and a U.S. senator before becoming president.

The four finalists must submit a formal proposal that details the management and organization of the project, site development plans, potential for academic collaboration, marketing and other information by Dec. 11.

In early 2015, the board will share its recommendations with Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who will make the final decision, the statement said.

Obama, a Democrat, is due to leave office after serving two terms in January 2017. Obama supporters launched the foundation last January to plan the library’s construction.

Iran supreme leader spurns U.S. overture to fight Islamic State

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters check the direction before launching rockets towards Zummar, controlled by Islamic State (IS), near Mosul September 15, 2014. REUTERS-Ahmed Jadallah
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters check a map during clashes with Islamic State (IS) fighters in Zummar district near Mosul September 15, 2014. REUTERS-Ahmed Jadallah
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS-Caren Firouz

1 of 5. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters check the direction before launching rockets towards Zummar, controlled by Islamic State (IS), near Mosul September 15, 2014.

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Iran’s supreme leader said on Monday he had personally rejected an offer from the United States for talks to fight Islamic State, an apparent blow to Washington’s efforts to build a military coalition to fight militants in both Iraq and Syria.

World powers meeting in Paris on Monday gave public backing to military action to fight Islamic State fighters in Iraq. France sent jets on a reconnaissance mission to Iraq, a step toward becoming the first ally to join the U.S.-led air campaign there.

But Iran, the principal ally of Islamic State’s main foes in both Iraq and Syria, was not invited to the Paris meeting. The countries that did attend - while supporting action in Iraq - made no mention at all of Syria, where U.S. diplomats face a far tougher task building an alliance for action.

Washington has been trying to build a coalition to fight Islamic State since last week when President Barack Obama pledged to destroy the militant group on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

That means plunging into two civil wars in which nearly every country in the Middle East already has a stake. And it also puts Washington on the same side as Tehran, its bitter enemy since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

In a rare direct intervention into diplomacy, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Washington had reached out through the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, requesting a meeting to discuss cooperation against Islamic State.

Khamenei said that some Iranian officials had welcomed the contacts, but he had personally vetoed them.

"HANDS ARE DIRTY"

"I saw no point in cooperating with a country whose hands are dirty and intentions murky," the Iranian leader said in quotes carried on state news agency IRNA. He accused Washington of "lying" by saying it had excluded Iran from its coalition, saying it was Iran that had refused to participate.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was “not cooperating with Iran”, but declined to be drawn on whether it had reached out through the embassy in Baghdad for talks.

"I am not going to get into a back and forth," he said. "I don’t think that’s constructive, frankly."

Islamic State fighters set off alarms across the Middle East since June when they swept across northern Iraq, seizing cities, slaughtering prisoners, proclaiming a caliphate to rule over all Muslims and ordering non-Sunnis to convert or die.

IS fighters, known for beheading their enemies or captives, raised the stakes for the West by cutting off the heads of two Americans and a Briton in videos posted on the Internet which showed the prisoners bound in orange jumpsuits.

French officials said they had hoped to invite Iran to Monday’s conference but Arab countries had blocked the move.

"We wanted a consensus among countries over Iran’s attendance, but in the end it was more important to have certain Arab states than Iran," a French diplomat said.

Calling the decision regrettable, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Baghdad had wanted Iran to attend.

Iran sponsors the governments of both Iraq and Syria and has been at the center of defenses against Islamic State in both countries. The United States reached out to Iran last year when secret talks led to a preliminary deal on nuclear issues.

Iran has occasionally played down its conflicts with the West since President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected last year. Khamenei’s intervention, including his statement that some Iranian officials welcomed the U.S. overture, was a rare public acknowledgment of division but also a reminder that powerful interests in Iran oppose a wider thaw.

"THROAT-SLITTERS"

At Monday’s international conference in Paris, the five U.N. Security Council permanent members, Turkey, European and Arab states and representatives of the EU, Arab League and United Nations all pledged to help Baghdad fight Islamic State.

"All participants underscored the urgent need to remove Daesh from the regions in which it has established itself in Iraq," said a statement after the talks. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the group which now calls itself Islamic State.

"To that end, they committed to supporting the new Iraqi Government in its fight against Daesh, by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance…." it said.

Several Western and Arab officials said no concrete commitments were made and that talks on the different roles of those in the coalition would take place bilaterally and over the next 10 days at the United Nations General Assembly.

"This conference was like a mass. A big gathering where we listen to each other, but it’s not where miracles happen," said another French diplomat. "It was a strong political message of support for Iraq and now we prepare to fight."

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said French aircraft would begin reconnaissance flights over Iraq. A French official said two Rafale fighters and a refueling aircraft had set off.

"The throat-slitters of Daesh - that’s what I’m calling them - tell the whole world ‘Either you’re with us or we kill you’. When one is faced with such a group there is no other attitude than to defend yourself," Fabius said at the end of the talks.

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum told Monday’s conference he hoped the Paris meeting would bring a “quick response”.

"Islamic State’s doctrine is either you support us or kill us‎. It has committed massacres and genocidal crimes and ethnic purification," he told delegates.

VOTE OF CONFIDENCE

Monday’s conference was an important vote of confidence for the new Iraqi government formed last week, led by a member of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and also including minority Sunnis and Kurds in important jobs.

Iraq’s allies hope Abadi will prove a more consensual leader than his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite whose policies alienated many Sunnis, and that the new government will win back support from Sunnis who had backed the Islamic State’s revolt.

The broad international goodwill toward Abadi shown at Monday’s conference means Washington will probably face little diplomatic push back over plans for air strikes in Iraq.

Syria, however, is a much trickier case. In a three-year civil war, Islamic State has emerged as one of the most powerful Sunni groups battling against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a member of a Shi’ite-derived sect.

Washington and its allies remain hostile to Assad, which means any bombing is likely to take place without permission of the Damascus government. Russia, which backs Assad, says bombing would be illegal without a resolution at the U.N. Security Council, where it has a veto.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Paris that Moscow was already providing military assistance to both Iraq and Syria, suggesting Western countries were guilty of a double standard by helping Assad’s foes.

"Terrorists can’t be good or bad. We must be consistent and not involve our personal political projects, not prioritize them over the general goal of fighting terrorism."

The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops. Obama’s plans, announced last week, involve stronger military action in Iraq and extending the campaign to Syria.

U.S. officials said several Arab countries had offered to join air strikes against Islamic State, but declined to name them. Ten Arab states committed last week to a military coalition without specifying what action they would take.

Britain, Washington’s main ally when it invaded Iraq in 2003, has yet to confirm it will take part in air strikes, despite the killing of British aid worker David Haines by Islamic State fighters this past week.

France has said it is ready to take part in bombing missions in Iraq but is so far wary of action in Syria.

Turkey weighs ‘buffer zone’ against Iraq, Syria threats

by Natalie de Vallieres and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

ANKARA Mon Sep 15, 2014 5:29pm EDT

Turkey’s military is drawing up plans for a possible “buffer zone” on the country’s southern border, where it faces a threat from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, Turkish media quoted President Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Monday.

The government will evaluate the plans and decide whether such a move is necessary, Turkish television stations quoted Erdogan as telling reporters on his plane as he returned from an official visit to Qatar.

A presidency official confirmed that Erdogan had made such remarks but did not specify where along the border the zone might be established and gave no further details.

Turkey, a member of the NATO military alliance, has made clear it does not want a frontline role in a military coalition which the United States is trying to assemble to fight Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria.

Government officials have said Turkey is hamstrung by 46 hostages, including diplomats, soldiers and children, being held by Islamic State after they were seized from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June.

But Ankara is under pressure to stem the flow of foreign fighters crossing its territory to join the jihadists and to prevent the group from profiting from a trade in smuggled oil, some of which analysts say comes through Turkish territory.

U.S. officials have said several Arab countries have offered to join air strikes against Islamic State but declined to name them. Ten Arab states committed in Jeddah last week to the military coalition without specifying what action they would take. Turkey did not sign the final communiqué.

Scotland will exit from EU, NATO if it secedes

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BRUSSELS — If Scottish voters this week say Yes to independence, not only will they tear up the map of Great Britain, they’ll shake the twin pillars of Western Europe’s postwar prosperity and security - the European Union and the U.S.-led NATO defense alliance.

In breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland would automatically find itself outside both the EU and NATO, and have to reapply to join both, officials from those Brussels-based organizations have stressed.

For the EU especially, Scottish re-entry could be a long and arduous process, with other countries dead set against letting the Scots retain the privileges awarded Britain: the so-called opt-outs from being required to use the euro single currency and to join the multination Schengen zone where internal border controls have been scrapped.

For NATO’s admirals and generals, the current Scottish government’s insistence on a sovereign Scotland becoming free of nuclear weapons would pose enormous strategic and operational headaches, even if a transitional grace period were agreed on. A new home port would have to be found for the Royal Navy’s four Trident missile-carrying submarines and their thermonuclear warheads, currently based on the Clyde.

This “risks undermining the collective defense and deterrence of NATO allies,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense has said. In what might be read as a warning to the Scots, the ministry has said a nuclear-free stance could constitute a “significant” hurdle to Scotland being allowed back into NATO.

Until Scotland rejoined the alliance, to which it’s belonged with the rest of Britain for 65 years, new arrangements would also need to be found to patrol vital shipping routes in the North Atlantic and North Sea. If Scotland were to choose not to rejoin, it would pose a conundrum for NATO for which there is no real precedent: what to do following the loss of a developed, democratically governed part of alliance territory that has opted for neutrality, said Daniel Troup, research analyst at the NATO Council of Canada.

Asked how NATO would react to secession, alliance secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen told The Associated Press that “should the Scottish people vote in favor of independence and should they decide to seek membership in NATO, in that case, such an application will be addressed like other applications and eventually it will need consensus, that is, unanimity among NATO allies to accept a new member of our alliance.”

Rasmussen refused to say Monday what the military consequences of Scotland’s independence might be for the alliance, saying, “I’m not going to interfere with the Scottish debate, and it is a hypothetical question at this stage, because we don’t know the outcome of the referendum.”

Emergence of a new Western European country of 5 million inhabitants with roughly the land area of the Czech Republic or the U.S. state of Maine or would also set in motion political and social forces whose effects are impossible to predict. Because of British voting patterns, the political groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are seeking Britain’s exit from the European Union would become proportionately stronger in Parliament.

Meanwhile, on the continent, from Catalonia in Spain to the Dutch-speaking Flemish areas of Belgium, other European peoples that do not have their own states would likely be emboldened to follow the Scots’ example.

Loss of Scotland would also weaken the influence of Britain inside the 28-nation European Union. For the moment, the British, along with the Germans and French, constitute the trade bloc’s Big Three. Without Scotland’s population, Britain would drop to No. 4, behind Italy.

That would mean fewer British members of the European Parliament, as well as a reduced say in population-weighted decision-making in the EU’s executive.

"In the European Union, size matters," said Almut Moeller, an EU expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations. "It will be a rump United Kingdom."

This would have major policy implications. A whittled-down Britain would have a weaker hand in pressing for the kind of EU it favors: more of a free market, and less of a political union.

Simultaneously, said Professor Richard G. Whitman, director of the Global Europe Center at the University of Kent, politicians and civil servants in London would be “massively preoccupied” for years in disentangling England from Scotland, following more than three centuries of political and economic unity.

The result would be “a much-reduced bandwidth for defending a more liberalistic agenda” in Europe, Whitman said, including the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the United States.

Under both NATO and EU rules, any existing member could blackball Scotland’s application for admission, and some might find domestic political cause to do so. Spain, for example, might want to discourage independence-minded Catalans. For the English, divvying up the common assets with the Scots might turn as acrimonious as a Hollywood divorce, Whitman said.

If Scotland sought special arrangements while trying to get back into the European Union, that could provide a wedge for other countries to demand renegotiation of their own terms of membership, and calls to revise the treaties that are EU’s constitutional basis, Moeller said. Germany, the bloc’s richest and most influential nation, would be adamantly against that, she said.

A dissenting prediction comes from a Swedish expert on the EU. The 18-month interlude between Thursday’s vote and the start date of actual Scottish independence would be enough to allow the Scots and EU to negotiate a deal so that on the very day it became a country, Scotland could seamlessly become an EU member in its own right, said Niklas Bremberg, a research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

The most fateful consequence of a Scottish vote in favor of independence could be very close to home: in neighboring England. The English have already soured sufficiently on the European Union to the extent that in the March elections for the European Parliament, they cast more votes for the anti-EU UKIP party than any other.

Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank, predicted the Scots this Thursday could set an example of sorts-for the English.

"The exit of Scotland from the UK would increase the chances of the exit of the UK from the EU," Zuleeg said.

Young Scots favor independence from UK

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GLASGOW, Scotland — Across Scotland, dinner table talk is getting heated as families argue over how to vote in Scotland’s independence referendum. A generation gap has opened up, with younger voters more inclined to back independence and their elders tending to say they want to remain in the United Kingdom.

Support for the status quo is strongest among the over-60s, who worry about the consequences that breaking free would have on pensions, health care and savings; the pro-independence movement is largely being driven by under-40s. Neck-and-neck in the polls, the rival campaigns have called on core supporters to make a last ditch attempt to swing the vote by making the debate a family affair.

The young have been urged to visit parents and grandparents to explain why they should support separation. The No camp has launched a counteroffensive by asking seniors to win young hearts and minds with their wisdom.

"I was so proud of my grandpa when he told me he was voting Yes that I burst into tears," said 23-year-old Miriam Brett, a campaigner for Generation Yes. "A Yes vote means so much to my generation. We want to let all our grandparents know that their future is secure in our hands, and with a Yes we can build a better future for ourselves and for our children."

Some polls suggest the No camp is trailing in every age group except the over-60s. Opinion surveys indicate more than 63 percent of that age group is expected to vote in favor of the union. As older people are more likely to be on the electoral roll, there has been a huge drive to get younger people engaged in the Yes campaign.

Interest in the referendum is sky high. A total of 4,285,323 people, or 97 percent of the voting-age population, have registered to vote in the referendum. That’s an increase of 300,000 compared to registration figures in 2012.

The turnout for Thursday’s ballot could exceed 85 percent, compared to the just over 50 percent who voted in the last Scottish Parliament elections in 2011, and the 63.8 percent who turned out for the 2010 British parliamentary election.

Many people in the rest of Britain have recently awakened to the possibility that Scotland might leave. Thousands of Union Jack-waving demonstrators gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square on Monday in a last-minute show of affection for England’s northern neighbor.

Musician Bob Geldof and comedian Eddie Izzard were among speakers at a rally that organizer Dan Snow said was designed to show “that England cares.”

Among the electorate deciding Scotland’s fate are 124,000 16- and 17-year-olds who will be voting for the first time. Many of these new voters are expected to support independence. But conventional wisdom holds that older voters are more likely to actually cast their ballots, a factor that could help the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who leads the pro-independence forces, described the Generation Yes campaign as “inspired” and said young voters now have a great excuse to pop around their grandparents’ house for a traditional Sunday lunch.

However, with polls suggesting that as many as 40 percent of families are divided over the referendum - and with at least 20 percent saying the debate has led to heated family arguments - the art of friendly persuasion has not exactly been easy.

"My Dad stopped talking to me when I said I was going to vote Yes," said 21-year-old student Laura Brown. "He even blocked me as a friend on Facebook."

The “Better Together” camp says older voters have a wealth of experience to impart on younger ones.

"Scotland’s 1 million pensioners should use their vote and their voice to remind their children and grandchildren of how the National Health Service and pensions were secured by the power of working together," said former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a major figure in the No campaign.

"I urge you to use both your vote and your voice to remind your children and grandchildren of suffering endured together, sacrifices made together and achievements earned together with friends, neighbors and relatives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland," Brown said. "Tell them how we fought and won two world wars together."

It’s a message that resonates with older voters.

"They haven’t lived long enough to see what we have," said Liz Mullen, a 68-year-old retired office worker. "A lot of young people think independence is going to be some sort of miracle cure. … They think it is some kind of adventure without any risks, but this is not a video game."

Kerry says US might work with Iran against IS

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PARIS — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he won’t shut the door on the possibility of working with Iran against a common enemy in the Islamic State militant group, but the two nations won’t coordinate on military action.

Kerry also ruled out coordinating with the Syrian government, although he vaguely described ways to communicate to avoid mistakes should the U.S. and its allies begin bombing the Sunni extremist group’s safe haven there.

He spoke to a small group of reporters Monday after international diplomats met in Paris, pledging to fight the Islamic State group “by any means necessary.”

Neither Iran nor Syria, which together share most of Iraq’s borders, were invited to the international conference, which opened as a pair of French reconnaissance jets took off over Iraqi skies.

During the meeting, Iraq asked allies to thwart the extremists wherever they find sanctuary.

"We are asking for airborne operations to be continued regularly against terrorist sites. We must not allow them to set up sanctuaries. We must pursue them wherever they are. We must cut off their financing. We must bring them to justice and we must stop the fighters in neighboring countries from joining them," Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said.

With memories of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq still raw, the U.S. has so far been alone in carrying out airstrikes and no country has offered ground troops, but Iraq on Monday won a declaration by the conference’s 24 participant nations to help fight the militants “by any means necessary, including military assistance.” An American official said Sunday several Arab countries had offered to conduct airstrikes, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

A French diplomat, speaking only on condition of anonymity after the conference because of protocol, said Paris was awaiting a “formal request” from Baghdad about possible French airstrikes.

"The threat is global and the response must be global," French President Francois Hollande said, opening the diplomatic conference intended to come up with an international strategy against the group. "There is no time to lose."

The killing of David Haines, a British aid worker held hostage by the militants, added urgency to the calls for a coherent strategy against the brutal and well-organized Sunni group, which is a magnet for Muslim extremists from all over the world. The group rakes in more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts.

Massoum called for a coordinated military and humanitarian approach, as well as regular strikes against territory in the hands of the extremists and the elimination of their funding. Details of the military options have not been made public.

After the conference ended, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met privately with Massoum at the Iraqi Embassy in Paris, telling him that the drive for an inclusive Iraq government had been key to Monday’s pledges.

"So I hope you feel that the push and the risk was worth it," Kerry said.

"We are beginning to feel it," Massoum said through a translator.

Fighters with the Islamic State group, including many Iraqis, swept in from Syria and overwhelmed the Iraqi military in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, capitalizing on long-standing grievances against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

When the militants arrived in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, the U.S.-trained military crumbled and the militants seized tanks, missile launchers and ammunition, steamrolling across northern Iraq. The CIA estimates the Sunni militant group has access to between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Muslim-majority countries are considered vital to any operation to prevent the militants from gaining more territory in Iraq and Syria. Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and U.S. officials opposed France’s attempt to invite Iran, a Shiite nation, to the conference in Paris.

Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking on Iranian state television, said his government privately refused American requests for cooperation against the Islamic State group, warning that another U.S. incursion would result “in the same problems they faced in Iraq in the past 10 years.”

But Kerry said the U.S. and Iran have discussed whether there was any way they could work together against IS.

"I’m just going to hold open the possibility always of having a discussion that has the possibility of being constructive," Kerry said.

A French intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, last week told The Associated Press that “it would please a certain number of countries for Iran to step in to establish order” in Syria. He said that was the view of some Western powers.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Monday that Syria and Iran are “natural allies” in the fight against the extremists, and therefore must be engaged, according to Russian news agencies.

"The extremists are trying to use any disagreements in our positions to tear apart the united front of states acting against them," he said.

Iraq’s president, who has said he regretted Iran’s absence, appeared ambivalent about Arab participation, saying his country needed the support of its neighbors - but not necessarily their fighter jets or soldiers.

Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have some of the region’s best-equipped militaries, and they could theoretically provide air support to a broader international coalition. U.S. officials say the Emirates and Egypt were behind airstrikes against Islamic-backed militants in Libya last month.

Asked about those countries in an AP interview Sunday, Massoum said: “It is not necessary that they participate in air strikes; what is important is that they participate in the decisions of this conference.”

Speaking in his first interview since becoming Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi told state-run al-Iraqiyya in comments aired Sunday that he had given his approval to France to use Iraqi airspace and said all such authorizations would have to come from Baghdad.

Two French fighter planes carried out France’s first reconnaissance missions over Iraq on Monday, allowing for the collection of digital images and video at high-speeds, the French Defense Ministry said in a statement. It said similar missions could continue in the coming days.

"This was about French military forces acquiring intelligence about the terrorist group Daesh (Islamic State) and to reinforce our ability to carry out an independent analysis of the situation," the statement said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would continue offering logistical help to U.S. forces and that counterterrorism efforts will increase, describing the Islamic State group as a “massive” security threat. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the threat goes beyond just the recent killings.

"This group poses even more of a danger as it risks exporting terrorists to our countries," he said in his outgoing speech as NATO’s top civilian official. "It also controls energy assets. And it is pouring oil on the fire of sectarianism already burning across the Middle East and North Africa."

Islamic State group bans art and music from schools in Mosul in Iraq

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Interactive Iraqi Communities in the U.S.

BAGHDAD  — The extremist-held Iraqi city of Mosul is set to usher in a new school year. But unlike years past, there will be no art or music. Classes about history, literature and Christianity have been “permanently annulled.”

The Islamic State group has declared patriotic songs blasphemous and ordered that certain pictures be torn out of textbooks.

But instead of compliance, Iraq’s second largest city has - at least so far - responded to the Sunni militants’ demands with silence. Although the extremists stipulated that the school year would begin Sept. 9, pupils have uniformly not shown up for class, according to residents who spoke anonymously because of safety concerns. They said families were keeping their children home out of mixed feelings of fear, resistance and uncertainty.

"What’s important to us now is that the children continue receiving knowledge correctly, even if they lose a whole academic year and an official certification," a Mosul resident who identified himself as Abu Hassan told the BBC, giving only his nickname for fear of reprisals. He and his wife have opted for home schooling, picking up the required readings at the local market.

The fall of Mosul on June 10 was a turning point in Iraq’s war against the jihadi group that calls itself the Islamic State. The U.S.-trained Iraqi military, harassed for months by small-scale attacks, buckled almost instantly when militants advanced on the city. Commanders disappeared. Pleas for more ammunition went unanswered. In some cases, soldiers stripped off their uniforms and ran.

The city would come to represent the expanding power and influence of the extremist group, which was born in Iraq but spread to Syria, where it grew exponentially in the chaos of the country’s civil war. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s reclusive leader, made his first video appearance in Mosul in July to announce his vision for a self-styled caliphate - an Islamic state - of which he would be the caliph, or leader.

Part of the Islamic State group’s core strategy is to establish administration over lands that it controls to project an image of itself as a ruler and not just a fighting force. In parts of Syria under its control, the group now administers courts, fixes roads and even polices traffic. It recently imposed a curriculum in schools in its Syrian stronghold, Raqqa, scrapping subjects such as philosophy and chemistry, and fine-tuning the sciences to fit with its ideology.

In Mosul, schools have been presented with a new set of rules, advertised in a two-page bulletin posted on mosques, in markets and on electricity poles. The statement, dated Sept. 5, cheered “good news of the establishment of the Islamic State Education Diwan by the caliph who seeks to eliminate ignorance, to spread religious sciences and to fight the decayed curriculum.”

The new Mosul curriculum, allegedly issued by al-Baghdadi himself, stresses that any reference to the republics of Iraq or Syria must be replaced with “Islamic State.” Pictures that violate its ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam will be ripped out of books. Anthems and lyrics that encourage love of country are now viewed as a show of “polytheism and blasphemy,” and are strictly banned.

The new curriculum even went so far as to explicitly ban Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution - although it was not previously taught in Iraqi schools.

Abu Hassan and his fellow residents acknowledge the risks involved in keeping the children at home, but say that protecting their minds is equally important. “They will brainwash them and contaminate their thoughts,” he said.

This past weekend, some families said that a new statement from the Islamic State group began circulating through the city, demanding that students show up for class on Tuesday. Others said they never received the notice.

Since the earliest days of the militant onslaught on Mosul, some residents who have remained have welcomed the insurgents wholeheartedly, while others have risked death to protect their city and assert their defiance. In July, militants threatened to blow up its most prominent landmark, the 840-year old Crooked Minaret that leans like Italy’s Tower of Pisa. Residents sat on the ground and linked arms to form a human chain, protecting the ancient structure from sharing the fate of more than half a dozen mosques and shrines flattened by the militants who declared them dens of apostasy.

Even as foreign intervention, led by U.S. airstrikes, begins to take form and make headway, the group’s tight grip on Mosul appears, for now, unrelenting, with many of the militants burying themselves in heavily populated city centers.

It was unclear whether teachers and school administrators have also stayed home rather than show up for work.

In the Sept. 5 statement posted across Mosul, the “caliph,” al- Baghdadi, calls upon professionals in Iraq and abroad “to teach and serve the Muslims in order to improve the people of the Islamic state in the fields of all religious and other sciences.”

Gender-segregated schools are not new to Iraq, which legally prohibits co-ed classes beyond age 12, with some segregating from a much younger age. However, in Mosul, the new guidelines declared that teachers must also be segregated, with men teaching at boys’ schools, and women teaching girls.

The Education Ministry in Baghdad says it has virtually no contact with Mosul and other towns and cities in nearly one-third of the country ruled to some degree by the Islamic State group. “The situation in Mosul is so difficult because it is far too dangerous for us to know exactly what is happening,” said Salama al-Hassan, a spokeswoman for ministry.

Students also face hardships elsewhere across Iraq amid growing pressure to cater to more than 1.8 million people people displaced by the militants’ advance. Nationwide, the school year has been delayed by a month, because many schools have been converted into makeshift shelters for displaced people from regions seized by the Islamic State group. In Baghdad alone, 76 schools are occupied by displaced Iraqis, al-Hassan said.

"All of this has a serious impact on the psychology of the students," she added. "We want to approach this subject in a way that boosts the confidence and spirit of the students and helps them to understand what is happening in the country without instilling them with fear."

For residents in Mosul and other areas now ruled by the militant group, fear is unavoidable.

The education statement put out by the militants in Mosul ends with a chilling reminder of its willingness to use brutal force. “This announcement is binding,” it concludes. “Anyone who acts against it will face punishment.”