4 charged in N.C. flag-burning case

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 1 (UPI) — Four men are facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly burning two U.S. flags at the Occupy Charlotte protest site in North Carolina, authorities say.

One of the four charged Friday, Alex Tyler, 19, of Fort Mill, said he took part in the flag-burning “to display my utter contempt for American greed,” The Charlotte Observer reported. He said it wasn’t an act against the military and expressed sorrow for any trouble he may have caused the Occupy movement, the newspaper said.

The other three charged were identified as Jason Bargert, 28, of Charlotte, Michael Behrle, 23, of Matthews and Stephen Morris, 20, of Matthews.

While burning the American flag isn’t illegal, setting a blaze outside a fire pit is and that’s the misdemeanor the four were charged with.

The four were released after posting bail.

The flag-burning caused a rift in the city’s Occupy movement, with at least 10 members issued a statement disassociating themselves and the movement from the incident. Some members called the flag-burning “hideous,” “shocking” and “disrespectful,” and called for the four men to be expelled from the camp, the Observer said.

Where in the world is Banana Sam?

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 1 (UPI) — Banana Sam’s not on the lam, San Francisco Zoo officials say, he’s been monkey-napped.

A $5,000 reward is being offered for the safe return of the 17-year-old squirrel monkey, who zoo officials said Saturday was snatched from his cage either late Thursday or early Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“This was a criminal act of vandalism and trespassing, and we are working with the police to identify the perpetrators,” said Tanya Peterson, the zoo’s executive director.

“We are hoping he has nine lives and will be rescued again.”

Squirrel monkeys, which can weigh up to 3 pounds, do not make good pets, Peterson said.

“He has extremely sharp teeth and will definitely bite if provoked,” zoo officials said in a statement.

Paul, Santorum near Romney

DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are giving Mitt Romney a run for his money in Iowa, the latest poll tracking the Republican presidential hopefuls indicated Saturday.

With Iowa’s GOP caucuses looming on Tuesday, The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows Romney has been unable to establish himself as the dominant presidential hopeful in the first state in the nation to hold its nominating process. The poll gave the former Massachusetts governor 24 percent to 22 percent for Paul, a congressman from Texas, and 15 percent for Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich came in at 12 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 11 percent and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was at 7 percent.

The poll of 2,527 registered Republican and independent voters was conducted Tuesday through Friday and has a 4 percentage point margin of error.

The newspaper said when the final two days of polling are considered alone, Romney stays at 24 percent but Santorum moves into second with 21 percent and Paul is third at 18 percent.

Other recent polls have shown Paul in a statistical dead heat with Romney and Santorum charging hard.

“Momentum’s name is Rick Santorum,” the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer, said.

The poll also found 41 percent of likely caucus-goers say they might still change their minds.

Ohio rattled by 4.0 earthquake

AKRON, Ohio, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A 4.0-magnitude earthquake shook northeastern Ohio Saturday afternoon, seismologists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 3:05 p.m. temblor was centered near Youngstown.

Barbara Forney, 79, told the Akron Beacon Journal the jolt from the quake toppled the Christmas tree in the living room of her Akron home.

“It was like someone pushed it down,” she said.

The newspaper said state geologist Michael C. Hansen said the “pretty good-sized” quake was felt as far away as Michigan, Ontario, Pennsylvania and New York.

No injuries or major damage had been reported, he said.

The quake was the largest of 11 in the last eight months to have occurred within 2 miles of injection wells in Mahoning County used to dispose of brine wastes from gas and oil drilling, Hansen said. There is “little doubt” the quake is linked to 9,000-foot-deep wells the state and the owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC and operated by D&K Energy Inc., agreed on Friday to shut down, he said.

There are 177 such wells being used in Ohio to permanently dispose of the brine wastes.

The newspaper said geologists have long suspected injecting liquids into underground rock formations can trigger earthquakes along fault lines. Earthquakes have been linked to injection wells in Arkansas, West Virginia, Colorado and Texas, the newspaper said.

Explosives found in serviceman’s carry-on

MIDLAND, Texas, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A U.S. serviceman was taken into custody Saturday after explosives were found in his carry-on bag at Midland (Texas) International Airport, authorities said.

The Midland Reporter-Telegram reported the incident led authorities to evacuate and shut down the airport’s terminal for about an hour.

The suspect, who was being held by the FBI and had not been identified, is an active serviceman who had been home visiting family and was returning to North Carolina, Midland police Sgt. Brian Rackow told the newspaper.

The explosives, which had military-grade wrapping, were discovered by Transportation Security Administration officers while the man’s carry-on bag was going through the X-ray machine shortly before 9:30 a.m., city police said.

Grenadian cops charged in Canadian’s death

ST. DAVID, Grenada, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Two police officers were charged Saturday with fatally beating a Canadian man at a police station in Grenada, authorities said.

Officers Kenton Hazzard and Wendell Sylvester are charged with manslaughter in the death of Oscar Bartholomew, 39, of Toronto, Postmedia News reported.

Bartholomew, a Grenadian native who was back on the Caribbean island for the Christmas holidays with his wife Dolette, is alleged to have been beaten by police Monday and died a day later in a hospital.

Postmedia News said Bartholomew’s death certificate stated he died of increased intracranial pressure, subdural bleeding and trauma to the head with skull fractures. A second autopsy was to have been conducted Saturday, the family’s lawyer said.

The attack allegedly occurred when the couple stopped at the police station seeking to use the washroom. Bartholomew was reported to have mistaken a female police officer for an old family friend and picked her up in a hug before putting her down when he realized it wasn’t his friend.

It’s alleged other officers, who considered the incident an assault on an officer, then beat Bartholomew in the police station.

One of two alleged witnesses to the beating said in a written statement that five officers restrained Bartholomew’s hands and feet before assaulting him.

The other alleged witness was in police custody and was reluctant to recount what he saw, the family’s lawyer said.

Police were unavailable for comment Saturday, Postmedia News said.

Nigeria declares state of emergency

ABUJA, Nigeria, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Attacks by the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country Saturday.

Jonathan said in a televised address the emergency declaration would be in force in parts of Yobe and Borno states in the northeast, Plateau state in central Nigeria and Niger state in the east, Voice of America reported.

Borders will be temporarily closed in those areas so the country can respond to security challenges as it tries to restore normalcy, Jonathan said.

“All Nigerians will collectively fight this terror,” Jonathan said. “We will crush [Boko Haram]. We know what happens in other countries. That is why I always say, ‘Yes, there has been a terrorist attack, but there is not a magic wand to wave it off’ because we know it has been happening in other countries.

“But collectively, we’ll bring it under control and finally crush it. We begin from tonight to take some different measures, different approach to fighting Boko Haram.”

The address came after Christmas Day attacks in northeastern Nigeria, including four that killed about 40 people, most of them Christians.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” has claimed responsibility for multiple bombings and shootings in the north and in the capital, Abuja.

The attacks have heightened concerns the militant group is attempting to incite sectarian strife.

The militant group seeks to impose Sharia law throughout Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous nation, divided between a largely Muslim north and a mainly Christian and animist south.

The Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella group of churches, said this week Christians would defend themselves if security forces could not protect its members, the BBC reported.

Islamic Jihad founder’s son said captured

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Ibrahim Fathi Shaqaqi, son of the late Palestinian Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shaqaqi, was arrested by security forces in Syria, a relative alleged.

Ynetnews, in a report attributed to an unidentified Egyptian newspaper, said Shaqaqi, 20, was arrested at his home in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

A relative said security forces had detained his son without allowing family members to see him or providing information on his whereabouts or those of other Jihad operatives imprisoned in Syria.

It wasn’t reported when the younger Shaqaqi was taken into custody.

Though the Syrian government and the militant group have close ties, Syrian authorities denied the group’s request to release militants when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March.

The violent Syrian crackdown on protesters has continued despite the arrival of Arab League monitors. Al-Arabiya reported up to 43 people died in Friday’s violence, including five members of Syria’s security forces.

The elder Shaqaqi was shot dead in Malta Oct. 26, 1995.

Va. AG seeks to add names to GOP ballot

RICHMOND, Va., Dec. 31 (UPI) — Virginia’s attorney general is preparing emergency legislation to rectify the lack of candidates who were able to qualify for the state’s Republican primary.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said he is intervening in the GOP primary process because only two candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, were able to secure the 10,000 signatures — with a minimum of 400 from each congressional district — to gain access to the March 6 primary, Fox News reported Saturday.

“Recent events have underscored that our system is deficient,” Cuccinelli said in a statement Saturday. “Virginia owes her citizens a better process. We can do it in time for the March primary if we resolve to do so quickly.”

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined a lawsuit filed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry asking the Board of Elections for access to the ballot. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former New Mexico Gov. Jon Huntsman also joined the suit.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, said: “Virginia’s laws regarding ballot access are well known and have been in place for many years. All candidates seeking to be listed on the Virginia primary ballot in a statewide race have known the requirements well in advance. … It is unfortunate that this year, for whatever reasons, some Republican candidates did not even attempt to make the Virginia ballot, while others fell short of submitting the required number of valid signatures.

“That leaves Virginia voters with only two Republican choices in the March primary, and the governor certainly would have preferred a broader field. He is always open to reviewing how Virginia’s primary system can be improved to provide voters with more choices.”

Two former Democratic attorneys general, a former Democratic state party chairman and a former Republican state party chairman have expressed support for Cuccinelli’s action, Fox News said.

“Virginia’s onerous and restrictive ballot access rules do create serious constitutional problems and undermine the rights of citizens and candidates,” the Perry campaign said.

Bomb kills 2 children, injures 13 people

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A bomb blast in the tribal area of northwestern Pakistan Saturday killed two schoolchildren and injured 13 other people, 10 of them children, authorities said.

The blast occurred in the Landi Kotal area of Khyber province, which borders Pakistan, in the compound of a local tribal leader during a tribal council meeting, DawnNews reported.

The two children killed by the blast were passing the compound on their way too school.

The injured victims were admitted to the Khyber headquarters hospital.

Among those injured in the blast, during a council meeting on the auction of a local bus stop, were three tribal leaders, DawnNews said.