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News Wrap: Charges Dropped Against Suspect in Case of Ricin-Tainted Letters

April 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Federal prosecutors today dropped the charges against a Mississippi man accused of sending ricin-tainted letters to President Obama and a senator. Paul Kevin Curtis went free a day after an FBI agent testified that authorities found no incriminating evidence at his home.

He spoke to reporters after leaving jail.

PAUL KEVIN CURTIS, FORMER SUSPECT: The last seven days staring at four gray walls like “Green, Green Grass of Home” tune, not really knowing what’s happening, not having a clue why I’m there, just being in a state of overwhelmed is the best way I can describe it.

When you have been charged with something and you just — you never heard of, ricin or whatever — I thought they said rice, so I said I don’t even eat rice.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, federal agents searched the home of a second Mississippi man today. And another package, possibly containing ricin, was found at a military mail facility in Washington.

The two suspects accused of plotting to derail a passenger train in Canada had their initial court appearances today. Both men denied the allegations, and one said he has been unfairly accused. Canadian investigators say the pair received — quote — “direction and guidance” from al-Qaida elements in Iran. But a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry rejected the claim.

RAMIN MEHMANPARAST, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman: No firm evidence has been released regarding the individuals who are claimed to have been arrested in Canada. Views of extremist groups, especially al-Qaida, have no compatibility with Iran either politically or ideologically. We oppose any terrorist and violent action that would jeopardize the lives of innocent people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The two suspects are not Canadian citizens, but authorities have not named their home countries. They have been under surveillance since last fall, when members of Toronto’s Muslim community tipped off police.

The U.S. secretary of homeland security argued today that immigration reform would help prevent terrorism. Opponents of the bill are trying to slow its progress in the wake of the Boston bombings. But at a Senate hearing, Janet Napolitano said people here illegally might come forward for a chance at citizenship, making immigration control more effective.

HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO, United States: The existing bill builds on that. And one of the important things the existing bill does, quite frankly from a law enforcement perspective is bringing all of the people out of the shadows who are currently in the shadows.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The brothers who allegedly carried out the Boston bombings came to the U.S. from Chechnya about 10 years ago and received asylum.

The murder trial of an abortion provider in Philadelphia took a sudden turn today. A state court judge dismissed charges that Dr. Kermit Gosnell murdered three babies during late-term abortions. Prosecutors alleged that he killed them after they were born alive. Gosnell still faces charges that he murdered four other babies, as well as a patient who died after an abortion.

In Iraq, at least 56 people died after government forces raided a Sunni protest camp before dawn. The raid sparked fierce fighting in Hawijah, about 160 miles north of Baghdad. Later, militants stormed a nearby army post, where six other people were killed. News of the violence also led to clashes elsewhere between Sunni demonstrators and police.

There were new accusations from Israel today that Syria is using chemical weapons against rebels. In Tel Aviv, a senior military official said visual evidence shows that government forces has engaged in chemical attacks more than once. The latest was last month, near Damascus.

BRIG. GEN. ITAI BRUN, Head of Research, Israeli Military Intelligence: To the best of our professional understanding, the regime used lethal chemical weapons against militants on a number of occasions in the past few months, including the most reported incident on March 19th. The pupils narrowed, the foam coming out of their mouths and other signs show in our eyes that they made use of lethal chemical weapons. Which chemical weapons? Probably sarin.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Britain and France announced in March they had evidence Assad was using chemical weapons. President Obama has said any such action would be a game-changer. But a White House spokesman said today the U.S. still wants to see conclusive evidence.

France has become the latest country to legalize same-sex marriage. The legislation easily passed today, after a disruption on the floor of the National Assembly. The Assembly president had a protester ejected, and the vote went ahead. This came after weeks of demonstrations against the proposal and an increase in hate crimes against gays. France has had civil unions since 1999.

The wealth gap in America has widened even more. A Pew Research Center report finds the wealthiest seven percent of Americans grew even richer during the first two years of the economic recovery. At the same time, the average net worth for the remaining 93 percent was down. Part of the explanation is that the wealthy hold more stocks that increased in value. The findings were based on U.S. census data.

Wall Street briefly plunged today after a fake tweet said there had been explosions at the White House, and that the president had been wounded. It turned out someone had hacked Twitter accounts of the Associated Press and posted the bogus message. The FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission planned to look into the incident. Stocks quickly recovered, and the Dow Jones industrial average gained 152 points to close above 14,719. The Nasdaq rose more than 35 points to close at 3,269.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Gwen.