MOSCOW (AP) — The latest developments as Russia and other nations counter Islamic State militants in Syria. All times local:
French President Francois Hollande says only one Russian strike on Raqqa hit at the Islamic State group. The others, he said, were in areas held by other opposition groups.
Hollande met with Putin in Paris earlier Friday, before Russia had announced its latest sorties. It wasn’t immediately clear which day’s strikes he referred to.
Russian news agencies cited Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenov as saying Russian warplanes carried out 14 missions in Syria Friday.
He said one attack destroyed a large facility for IS bomb-making in Maaret al-Numan.
He also said an IS command post, bunker and storage depot were hit in Hama province.
The office of the U.N. Special Envoy to Syria says the U.N. has suspended its planned humanitarian intervention in the country due to the recent surge of military activities in concerned areas.
Staffan de Mistura’s office said the U.N. team had made all necessary preparations to immediately implement the humanitarian provisions as part of the implementation of a ceasefire agreement.
The deal was to allow Sunni insurgents and their families’ safe passage out of the border area of the southwestern city Zabadani in return for safe passage for Shiite civilians in the northern villages of Foua and Kfarya, which have been besieged by insurgents.
Foua and Kfarya are in Idlib province where Russian warplanes have carried out several airstrikes over the past two days.
Syria’s foreign minister says airstrikes alone are not enough to defeat the Islamic State group if there is no cooperation with his country’s army.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem spoke to a U.N. gathering of world leaders Friday, calling Russia’s airstrikes in Syria “effective” because they support his country’s efforts to combat terrorism.
He also declared that his country’s army “is capable of cleansing the country of those terrorists” and warned about the threat of a growing “caliphate state, which as you know, will not be limited to Syria or Iraq.”
Syria’s foreign minister says his country will participate in U.N.-led working groups toward a third round of Geneva talks on the fate of the country.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem addressed a U.N. gathering of world leaders Friday as the international community scrambled to respond to Russia’s new airstrikes in his country.
Al-Moallem stressed that the working groups proposed by the U.N.’s special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, are non-binding. The foreign minister described them as “brainstorming” sessions meant to prepare for the launch of new talks sometime in the future.
But he added “How can we ask the Syrian people to head to the ballot box while they are not safe in the streets?”
Activists are reporting intense fighting between Syrian troops and members of the Islamic State group in the contested eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says IS gunmen launched an offensive Friday on government-held neighborhoods in Deir el-Zour.
It said Syrian warplanes are taking part in the battles and that the extremists are believed to have blown up two car bombs in the city.
The Local Coordination Committees reported “very intense” clashes on different fronts in the city that is partly controlled by the government and partly by IS fighters.
IS fighters have launched several attacks in attempts to capture government-held parts of the city and nearby airport over the past weeks without success.
A jihadi cleric based in Syria has warned Russia that the Arab country will be a “graveyard for invaders.”
Abdullah al-Muhaysini, a Saudi militant linked to al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate the Nusra Front, warned the Russians that Syria will be another Afghanistan.
In a video released Friday, al-Muhaysini said that the Russian intervention will boost the morale of fighters in Syria.
The cleric asked the Russians: “Oh Russian people, did you forget the Afghan quagmire? Do you want to enter a new quagmire. The people of the Levant will stand up to you.”
So far, Russian warplanes have not attacked the Nusra Front that is active in northern Syria.
A French diplomat says Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande have discussed airstrikes by both of their countries in Syria and efforts for a political transition in Syria.
The two leaders, meeting in Paris on Friday after a tense week, made “efforts to bridge the differences” over the Syrian leadership issue, the official said. Their talks focused on the airstrikes by Russia and the U.S.-led coalition, protecting civilians and a political transition.
The two countries are not officially “coordinating” their airstrikes but inform each other to avoid problems, the official said.
The official was not authorized to be publicly named and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The meeting was previously scheduled to discuss Ukraine’s conflict but frenzied activity around Syria this week dominated the bilateral meeting.
Activists say the Islamic State group did not hold Friday prayers in several mosques in its de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria, fearing Russian airstrikes.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a drone carried out strikes on an IS-run camp near Raqqa on Friday. It had no word on casualties.
A Raqqa-based collective called Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered said several mosques were evacuated for fears of airstrikes.
The Observatory said air raids near Raqqa Thursday killed 12 extremists including a Tunisian and an Iraq. The Observatory said it was not clear if the nine air raids were carried out by Russian warplanes or those of the U.S.-led coalition.
Syrian activists say warplanes believed to be Russians have attacked a central town that was recently captured by the Islamic State group.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that air raids on Qaryatain occurred before midnight Thursday.
Qaryatain, a key town in central Syria, was captured by the extremist group in August, following clashes with President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Syria-based activist Bebars al-Talawy said on Friday that the air raids were carried out by Russian warplanes, adding that there were no casualties.
The Russian Defense Ministry says its aircraft have carried out 18 sorties in Syria in the past 24 hours, including 10 overnight in which seven sites were bombed.
The ministry said all of the targets belonged to the Islamic State group, although Russian officials have acknowledged that other unidentified groups have previously been targeted as well.
Since the airstrikes began Wednesday, Russian jets have primarily bombed central and northwestern Syria, regions that are the gateway to government strongholds in Damascus and the coast.
Friday’s statement said the latest wave of airstrikes destroyed a command post near Daret Azzeh in the Aleppo region and hit a field camp near Maaret al-Numan in the Idlib region, wiping out bunkers and weapons stores.
Also in Idlib, the strikes destroyed a temporary warehouse and major arms depot, the statement said. Idlib region is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups that includes the al-Qaida-linked Jabbat al-Nusra.
In the Hama region, jets destroyed a command post and dozens of heavy weapons near the town of Kfar Zeita.
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Philip Montgomery has experienced more than his share of shootouts in his nearly two decades as a football coach, both on the high school level and later at Houston and Baylor.
The first-year Tulsa coach should feel right at home in the American Athletic Conference’s West division — where offenses of all shapes and sizes have put up touchdown after fan-pleasing touchdown so far this season.
Entering this weekend’s play, four of the top 22 scoring offenses in the country are in the AAC West, where things are definitely wild.
Memphis, with the nation’s third-longest winning streak at 11 games following last week’s 53-46 win over Cincinnati, leads the way with an average of 53.8 points per game entering Friday night’s game with South Florida.
The Tigers are hardly alone, with Houston (48.3), Tulsa (41.7) and option-based Navy (40.3) displaying their high-powered versions of new-millennium football.
“I don’t really like (shootouts),” Memphis coach Justin Fuente joked. “I like the fact we’ve found a way to win.”
Winning and lots of points have gone largely hand-in-hand so far for the West’s high flyers, with the division’s top four teams entering this weekend boasting a combined 12-1 record. And that one loss was Tulsa’s 52-38 setback at No. 15 Oklahoma two weeks ago, a game in which the Golden Hurricane gained 603 total yards of offense against a Sooners defense that entered allowing only 240 per game.
Perhaps even more remarkable was that video game-like offensive output wasn’t enough to even match Tulsa’s season average of 607 yards of total offense per game. That’s the third-highest average in the country, behind only Baylor and TCU, and helps give the AAC West three of the top eight teams in the country in total offense.
The Golden Hurricane’s offensive surge comes a year after the school finished 2-10 overall and averaged nearly 200 yards fewer per game, leading to its preseason pick at the bottom of the West standings.
Quarterback Dane Evans started all 12 games for Tulsa last season, throwing for an average of 258.5 yards per game with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Under the guidance of Montgomery, the junior is third in the country this season with an average of 390.7 yards passing per game. It’s a dramatic turnaround in performance and fortune Evans credited to a return to his high school roots, back when he and his dad — also his offensive coordinator in Sanger, Texas — would study up-tempo offenses at schools such as Oklahoma State and Texas Tech while developing their playbook.
Tulsa won its season opener 47-44 over Florida Atlantic, and it has scored 40 or more points in each of its three games entering Saturday’s game with Houston — an expected shootout where two of the AAC West’s best offenses will be on display.
“I guess as an offensive player, (the high-scoring games are) normal to me,” Evans said. “They’re fun to play in, and I know as a fan they’re fun to watch.”
Houston is also in its first year of an offensive overhaul this season, with former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman taking over a team that averaged 414.2 yards per game last season on its way to a 7-5 record.
The early results have been nothing short of spectacular, with the Cougars sixth in the country while averaging 590.7 yards per game. That includes a 34-31 win at Louisville and an almost 700-yard offensive performance in a 59-14 win against Texas State last week — numbers Herman hopes continue well into AAC play.
“I hope they do; that’s the plan,” Herman said. “If we’re putting up yards and scoring points, I think that’s always a good thing.”
As entertaining as the AAC West’s offensive brand of football is, even Montgomery said the style does have the potential to take a toll on the confidence of defensive players.
He said, though, that many players have grown up playing in exactly those kind of games during high school and are accustomed to the back-and-forth nature of the games — and that his staff has adjusted defensive goals to focus on limiting big plays, and on stopping teams on third down and in the red zone.
“Today’s game has changed a little bit, in my opinion, from a coaching standpoint,” Montgomery said. “You’re not going to shut people out like you used to. There’s just too much talent on the field, and guys do a great job of scheming people up and doing things.”
ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis County police must strengthen policies for handling protests, improve training on diversity and community policing, and do a better job of hiring and promoting minorities and women, according to a report released Friday by the Department of Justice.
It was the third and final federal review stemming from the unrest in Ferguson that followed the fatal shooting last year of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services examined the 1,100-employee department at the request of Police Chief Jon Belmar.
The report makes 109 recommendations intended to “make St. Louis (County) a model for the rest of the country,” said COPS office director Ronald Davis.
The department “demonstrated complete transparency in providing data for the COPS office,” Belmar said in a written response.
“As with any critical analysis, we will evaluate the recommendations, and move forward in ways that will ensure our commitment to serve and protect the citizens of St. Louis County, while continuing to set an example of leadership for other agencies to follow,” he said.
Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed Aug. 9, 2014, during a confrontation with white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, prompting months of unrest in the St. Louis suburb. Wilson resigned in November, but a grand jury and the Justice Department declined to prosecute him.
The latest assessment found St. Louis County police “to be a competent, professional police department, well trained and disciplined in the technical skills.” And it acknowledged that the events in Ferguson were difficult.
“Before August 2014, St. Louis County had never been challenged with the array of large-scale disturbance issues that it faced after the shooting death of Michael Brown,” the report stated.
It found that county police failed to anticipate the extent of the anger officers would face.
“By not identifying the potential for large-scale violent protests, officers reacted to problems instead of taking a proactive approach to preventing them,” the report stated.
Law enforcement personnel were too quick to deploy rifles and administered tear gas at the protests, the report found. Written policy should govern use of guns and tear gas, the report recommends, adding that tear gas should be used only with the approval of the incident commander, with video documentation, and only after a warning to the crowd.
The report recommended that police include community leaders in response planning and be more open and transparent with the public about those plans. Training manuals should be updated to emphasize ways to de-escalate unrest.
The report indicated that county police learned from mistakes made in August 2014. In preparation for the grand jury announcement three months later, police leaders sought advice from departments across the country and met regularly with community leaders, including many who were active in protests. They became more proactive in use of social media.
When protests broke out after the decision not to indict Wilson, county police took a different approach. The report noted that only officers properly trained in demonstration control were deployed; protective gear was worn only when a threat occurred; a clear chain of command was established.
The report found that while 24 percent of the county’s population is black, African Americans make up just 10 percent of its commissioned officers. Few supervisors are black. It found that women are also under-represented.
The report said recruits are insufficiently instructed in community engagement, diversity, and community policing. Similar concerns were raised about in-service training for active officers.
The report also cited statistics indicating that black drivers are disproportionately pulled over, and recommended further analysis to determine if those stops are warranted.
A DOJ report released in March focused on the city of Ferguson. That report found bias in policing and a profit-driven municipal court system that made money largely at the expense of poor and minority residents. That report prompted the resignations of several officials, including the police chief and municipal judge.
The second report, released last month, evaluated the overall police response to unrest and rioting, finding that it offered lessons in how not to handle mass demonstrations.
CAIRO (AP) — Yemen’s internationally recognized government withdrew media statements by its Foreign Ministry officials saying it cut ties with Iran, a government spokesman said Friday.
“Cutting ties with Iran does not align with Yemen’s supreme interests,” said Rageh Badie.
The internationally recognized government has long been accusing Iran of arming and training the country’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis. Tehran admits to supporting and advising the rebels, but denies any military aid.
Several government officials blamed the diplomatic mix-up on Foreign Minister Riyad Yasin, with multiple officials telling The Associated Press that Yasin lacks political experience.
Yemen has been torn by a ferocious war between government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis allied with army units loyal to a former president. The U.N. says at least 2,355 civilians have been killed in fighting in Yemen since March, when the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes.
Earlier in the day, pro- government forces captured a key Houthi encampment near the Bab al-Mandab straight, the strategic southern entrance to the Red Sea and the gateway to the Suez Canal, security officials said.
Friday’s fighting in the strategic area has killed 46 fighters and wounded dozens so far from both sides of the conflict, added the officials — who remain neutral in the war that divided the country.
The aim, pro-government officials said, is to open a new front lin in the battle for Yemen’s third largest city of Taiz, northeast of the straight. The battered city of Taiz, which lies in a province of the same name largely controlled by the Houthis, has long been the site of civilian casualties as Saudi airstrikes as well as rebel mortar shells often hit homes.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.
Also Friday, a senior operative in Yemen’s al-Qaida affiliate condemned the recent bombings of local Shiite mosques by the Islamic State group.
Both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group regard Shiite Muslims as apostates. But in a video released early Friday, Khaled Batarfi said that al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri had both banned the practice of attacking mosques.
The IS group has claimed responsibility for two bombings outside Shiite mosques that killed more than 20 people, saying the attacks were a blow against the Shiite rebels who control the capital, Sanaa. Batarfi said the bombings, “killed far more Sunnis than Shiites.”
ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) — This small town in southern Oregon’s timber country strongly supports gun rights, and that hasn’t changed for the county’s top law enforcement officer since a gunman killed nine people at a local community college.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin told CNN on Friday that his position on gun control had not shifted following Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, which is in a politically conservative region west of the Cascade Range.
He spoke out against state and federal gun control legislation last year, telling a legislative committee that mandating background checks for private, person-to-person gun sales would not prevent criminals from getting firearms.
Hanlin also sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013, after a shooter killed 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school. Hanlin said he and his deputies would refuse to enforce new gun-control restrictions “offending the constitutional rights of my citizens.”
The community, where people like to hunt deer, elk and bear, echoes his push to protect gun rights.
“I carry to protect myself — the exact same reason this happened,” said Casey Runyan, referring to the Thursday’s shooting. Runyan carries a Glock 29 automatic pistol everywhere he goes.
“All my friends agree with me. That’s the only kind of friends I have,” said Runyan, a disabled Marine Corps veteran.
Retired U.S. Army nurse Donice “Maggie Rose” Smith, who also hosts a talk show on Internet radio, said she and her husband, a retired Army captain, chose Douglas County for their retirement because of a low crime rate and strong local support for First and Second Amendment rights.
J.C. Smith said barring people from carrying guns on campus made it particularly vulnerable to a “lone wolf” attack.
“With current world events, (armed people) would keep the ground safer,” he said.
The school has a policy of no guns on campus and did not feel the need for an armed security presence, Umpqua Community College interim President Rita Cavin said.
“This is an anomaly and a tragedy,” she said of the shooting.
At a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting, former student Sam Sherman said Roseburg was a “poor town, a mill town.” Oregon’s timber industry went into a tailspin 25 years ago as protection for the northern spotted owl reduced national forest logging and automation took over jobs.
“People don’t generally aspire to greater things here,” he said. “So having a place you can go to do that is a big deal. For something that terrible to happen at such a small school is frustrating.”
Associated Press videographer Manuel Valdes contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) — Will Smith is getting jiggy with music again.
The Grammy-winning rapper and Oscar-nominated actor appears on a remix of Colombian band Bomba Estereo’s song, “Fiesta.” The remix was released digitally on Friday.
The collaboration marks Smith’s return to music since his 2005 album, “Lost and Found.” Smith discovered Bomba Estereo, known for its blend of Latin, tropical and electro sounds, on a recent trip to Colombia. He then asked the group to collaborate.
“When I was told that Will Smith wanted to collaborate on a remix with Bomba, I couldn’t believe it,” band founder and multi-instrumentalist Simon Mejia said in a statement. “This opportunity to work with Will was beyond anything we have dreamed of. … It’s just magic.”
Smith, 47, raps in both English and Spanish on the song. He recently shot a music video for the remix with Bomba Estereo.
“Fiesta” is nominated for record of the year at next month’s Latin Grammy Awards. Bomba Estereo’s album, “Amanecer,” is up for best alternative music album.
When the nominees were announced last month, Smith posted a selfie with the quartet on his Facebook page and wrote: “Felicidades to BOMBA ESTEREO on their Latin Grammy Nominations!”
Bomba Estereo also includes singer Liliana Saumet, drummer Andrés Zea and multi-instrumentalist Julian Salazar. They formed in 2005 and have performed at major music festivals, including Coachella, Glastonbury and Lollapalooza.
Smith’s hits include “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” ”Miami,” ”Wild Wild West” and 2005’s “Snatch.”
The 16th annual Latin Grammys will air live on Nov. 19 on Univision from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.