Nation digest 2/13

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Former student takes hostages at university

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- A former student claiming to have a bomb took nearly two dozen students and an associate professor hostage Tuesday but released them hours later, authorities said.

At one point, there were 23 people inside the Fairfield University classroom. The suspect, identified only as a recent graduate, remained in the classroom late Tuesday, police said. They said they planned to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff.

The suspect released five of the hostages shortly after taking over the religious studies classroom at the Roman Catholic school in southwestern Connecticut. He freed the others, including the professor, over the next few hours.

Prosecutor: Man lied about links to hijacker

PHOENIX -- A man charged with lying about his association with a Sept. 11 hijacker repeatedly changed his story during interviews with FBI agents over two days, a prosecutor charged Tuesday.

Faisal Al Salmi first told agents he didn't know hijacker Hani Hanjour, said Peter Sexton, assistant U.S. attorney, during opening statements in Al Salmi's trial.

Al Salmi also told agents he had been with Hanjour on 10 occasions over several years, Sexton said. He later said he had only met Hanjour twice at mosque during late 2000.

Victims inspect damage of California wildfire

FALLBROOK, Calif. -- As firefighters got close Tuesday to gaining control of a blaze that had already destroyed 34 homes, victims surveyed the reminders of its haphazard path. An American flag flew untouched outside one destroyed home; in the rubble of another, a small statue of the Virgin Mary lay unscathed.

Fierce Santa Anna winds had pushed the fire through Fallbrook, about 40 miles north of San Diego. It destroyed 34 homes, 20 vehicles, one motor home and two fire engines. By Tuesday the fire, which has blackened more than 5,000 acres, was 60 percent reported contained.

Woman charged in license scheme dies

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A driver's license examiner charged in a scheme with some Middle Eastern men to sell fraudulent licenses died the day before her first court appearance in a fiery car wreck prosecutors called "most unusual and suspicious."

Forensics tests were being performed on Katherine Smith's car to determine what caused the fire, FBI spokesman George Bolds said.

"We're looking at everything ... whether it was an accident, whether it was a suicide or whether it was something else," said Bolds.

Industry to remove arsenic-treated products

WASHINGTON -- Lumber companies agreed on Tuesday to stop using arsenic-based preservatives in the wood used to build decks, playground equipment and picnic tables.

The agreement, which followed discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency, would end the use of chromated copper arsenate by December 2003 in almost all the lumber used for residential projects. CCA is a powerful pesticide used to protect lumber from decay and insect damage.

Between now and then, the industry will reduce the amount of CCA-treated lumber produced, replacing it with wood treated with preservatives without arsenic.

Sick ex-workers at arms plants await federal aid

PITTSBURGH -- Steelworker Stephen Kaurich remembers those mysterious shipments to his mill in the two years after World War II, the strange metal bars he and his crew were told to roll down to a smaller, more usable size.

When the work was finished, the factory was washed down with acids, and the boxcars left as mysteriously as they came. "They didn't tell us they were uranium bars," he said. Now, 80, Kaurich is convinced his cancer was caused by exposure to radiation. But six months after workers could apply for the $150,000 lump sums, many are still waiting.

-- From wire reports

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