KABUL, Afghanistan

Military helicopter crashes in desert

A U.S. military helicopter returning from a mission smashed into the southern Afghan desert yesterday, killing at least 16 people in the deadliest military crash since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. An Afghan official said most of the dead appeared to be Americans.

The CH-47 Chinook was returning to the U.S. base at Bagram from a mission in the militant-plagued south when it went down near Ghazni city, 80 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul.

“Indications are it was bad weather and that there were no survivors,” said a U.S. spokeswoman, Lt. Cindy Moore. An Afghan official said there were no signs the craft was shot down.

A U.S. military statement said 16 deaths had been confirmed and two other people listed on the flight manifest were “unaccounted for” when the recovery operation was suspended at nightfall. U.S. officials said the four crew members killed were Americans, but declined to give the nationalities of the passengers. The names of the victims were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Moore said the transport helicopter was returning from a “routine mission” when controllers lost radio contact.

 

WASHINGTON

U.S. to help in reconstruction of Gaza

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the Bush administration will be helpful in the reconstruction of Gaza after Israel withdraws, but she is not ready to commit the United States to specifics in a project Israel estimates will cost it $1 billion.

Rice, in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, also urged Israel not to engage in “wanton destruction” of the homes the 8,000 Jewish settlers will leave behind after this summer’s exodus.

“There needs to be some coordination on what’s being done,” she said, “and I think there will be.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, due to meet with President Bush at his Texas ranch on Monday, sent his chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, to help plan the agenda with Rice and Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser.

The talks, held Tuesday, will be followed by meetings Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres is due to hold later this week with Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials.

CHICAGO

White supremacist Hale sentenced to prison

Avowed white supremacist Matthew Hale was sentenced to 40 years in prison yesterday for trying to have a federal judge killed — the same judge whose husband and mother were murdered five weeks ago by a deranged man with no connection to Hale.

Hale, the 33-year-old leader of a group that preaches racial holy war, was sentenced after a rambling, two-hour speech in which he claimed he was the victim and even recited part of “The Star Spangled Banner.” He showed no emotion and sat staring at the defense table as the sentence was handed down.

Prosecutors argued for the maximum sentence, saying Hale’s crime amounted to an act of terrorism.

WASHINGTON

Power plants may be vulnerable to attacks

Fuel storage pools at nuclear power plants in 31 states may be vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could unleash raging fires and deadly radiation, scientists advised the government on Wednesday.

The group of nuclear experts said neither the government nor the nuclear industry “adequately understands the vulnerabilities and consequences of such an event.” They recommended undertaking a plant-by-plant examination of fuel storage security as soon as possible.

In the meantime, plant operators promptly should reconfigure used fuel rods in the storage pools to lower decay-heat intensity and install spray devices to reduce the risk of a fire should a storage facility be attacked, the scientists said.

Congress sought the study by a National Academy of Science panel because of the heightened concerns that terrorists might seek to target nuclear power plants.

 

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