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CREIL, France (AP) — In a secretive compound north of Paris, colored blips and blotches on a computer-screen map of Damascus depict an armored vehicle at a highway, tanks, a blown-up building in a suburban field. An unusual glimpse at France's military intelligence headquarters demonstrates how closely the French are watching what's happening in Syria — and how involved the French government is in ending Syria's civil war.

As French President Francois Hollande keeps up the threat of military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, he isn't just acting as President Barack Obama's poodle, as some critics maintain. France, Syria's onetime colonial ruler and a country eager to maintain its place as a military and diplomatic power, has plenty of reasons to be out front on Syria.

HISTORY

The Middle Eastern country took its current shape as a French mandate after being chiseled out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as did neighboring Lebanon, and French is spoken by many in both countries. France has particularly close ties to Lebanon and wants to prevent it from being sucked further into Syria's chaos.

The ties to the region also make Syria a particularly attractive place for homegrown French extremists. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said this month that about 110 citizens or residents of France have joined up with jihadist fighters in Syria — about half the total number from European Union countries. French authorities fear they will return home to carry out terrorism.

Also, fear of chemical weapons runs deep in France, which is why France has hardened its line since the Aug. 21 attack in which the U.S. and some allies believe Assad's regime used sarin gas against Syrian citizens. Many French people have ancestors who faced mustard gas in World War I, as chemical weapons scarred public consciousness for the first time.

INDEPENDENCE AND INTELLIGENCE

Dating back to the presidency of Gen. Charles de Gaulle in the midst of the Cold War, France has long sought to show it makes military decisions independently. A nuclear power, it has also built up one of the world's more robust intelligence machines, in part to show that it doesn't just rely on the United States for information.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tried to drive home that point to a small group of journalists invited to the headquarters of DRM, France's military intelligence agency, in Creil north of Paris, and taken inside the high-security computer nerve center where images are beamed down from France's Helios and Pleaides satellites. The message was aimed mostly at domestic audiences, who are disillusioned with Hollande and wary of an intervention in Syria.

Screens bore labels of Damascus, the Syrian capital; a nuclear facility at Bushehr, Iran; and Gao, Mali — in the vast desert zone that was controlled by al-Qaida-linked Islamic radicals until French troops ousted them this year.

The images from Damascus appeared to date from late August, and military officers in the image-monitoring center quietly acknowledged that tracking movements of chemical weapons in Syria was difficult by satellite. The DRM also collects intelligence from human sources and through electronic monitoring.

A high-ranking officer with the 13th RDP special forces regiment explained how French troops parachuted secretly into Mali — not showering for days beforehand because dogs can smell soap. Another showed a fake cinder block with a camera inside that could be planted near the suspected hideout of enemy fighters. A bogus stone made of plastic resin about the size of a volleyball hid a GPS beacon inside, to help with targeting. Defense Ministry escorts said the officers' names could not be used for security reasons.

THE MALI MODEL OF MILITARY MUSCLE

France's intervention in Mali has emboldened the government on other overseas operations. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb was largely ousted from northern Mali. Only seven French soldiers died in the months-long intervention, while French officials say hundreds of militants were killed. The operation paved the way for elections generally seen as legitimate.

The Mali intervention offered France "an assertion of French military capabilities outside of an operation dominated by the U.S.," said Marc Pierini, a Frenchman who served 35 years as a European Union diplomat, including four years as its ambassador to Syria at the start of Assad's tenure.

SOLE STRENGTH IN EUROPE?

After Britain's parliament blocked any potential British military participation in a Syria strike earlier this month, France stood alone as the European country most willing to wield the military threat alongside the United States against Assad's regime.

From a military standpoint, "none of the other European countries are needed," Pierini said. "The only European country that has Tomahawks is the U.K. — it's paralyzed politically — so the next best thing is the French Scalp," an airplane-fired cruise missile.

Former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said France also wants to give more teeth to the EU.

"The other Europeans are not in the mindset of 'Europe power,' but one of 'Big Switzerland' — that's to say an isolationist, pacifist evolution," and want to avoid "all foreign dramas and intervene as little as possible," he said in a phone interview.

Not so France.

WANTING TO BE HEARD

A permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France is often seen as a fading, if not already faded, power. Hollande wants to counter that, and is using France's vast diplomatic network to do so.

It's also propelled by a French Revolution-era belief in universal values of human rights, which has played a role in French military interventions from Bosnia to Afghanistan. An exception was Iraq a decade ago, when then-President Jacques Chirac opposed the U.S.-led operation in Iraq, saying it wasn't justified.

"C'est la France, Monsieur!" said Pierini, referring to France's impulse to intervene. "It's in part the issue of principle."

Added Vedrine, the former foreign minister: "The question is not, 'Do we side up with the United States?' It is, 'Can we let this massacre happen without reacting?'"
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   Investigators believe Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist, was the lone gunman in the shooting spree at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. earlier today in which 12 people were killed before the suspect was killed in a firefight with police, and authorities have lifted a shelter in place for the remaining residents in the area.

   The 12 deceased shooting victims range in age from 46 to 73 years old, Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said at an evening news conference. Officials are still notifying the families of about half of the 12 people who were killed, he said.

   "We have no evidence that any active military are amongst the victims," Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.

   Police identified the seven victims whose families had been notified as: Michael Arnold, 59; Sylvia Fraiser, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; and Vishnu Pandit, 61.

   The death of Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, Texas, brought the toll of the carnage at the Navy Sea Systems Command headquarters to 13. The shooter's identity was confirmed based on a partial finger print analysis, authorities said.

   The suspect had a security clearance that allowed him onto the Navy Yard as part of his civilian subcontracting work, officials said.

   Alexis and members of the subcontracting team, according to law enforcement sources, were staying at a Residence Inn about a mile from the Navy Yard. The suspect's car was found on the Washington Navy Yard, law enforcement sources said.

   A senior law enforcement official said he used his security clearance to get on campus and it appeared he did not force his way onto the property. Officials were in the process of getting a search warrant to search the vehicle, which was described as a rental car.

   Authorities had earlier said they were searching for a possible second suspect, but officials said at the evening news conference said the search for a black suspect in olive-drab uniform age 40 to 50 has been exhausted.

   Earlier Monday, Lanier praised the works by police officers who responded to the incident.

   "I think the actions by the police officers, without question, helped to reduce the number of lives lost," she said.

   Lanier said police and the suspect exchanged gunfire "multiple times" before he was shot and killed in a final gun battle.

   Valerie Parlave, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington D.C. field office, said investigators were trying to learn everything they can about Alexis.

   "No piece of information is too small," Parlave said.

   She asked anyone with information about his recent movements, contacts and associates to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.

   Another man who was sought for a possible connection to the shooting was located this afternoon and was no longer a "suspect or person of interest," according to a tweet from the Metropolitan Police Department.

   Lanier declined to discuss what evidence led police to believe the massacre could have potentially been carried out by more than one person.

   "We have reason to believe these people may be involved and we want to talk to them," Lanier said at an afternoon news conference. She said there was "no known motive" for the massacre.

   Among the wounded was a law enforcement officer who was shot in an exchange with the gunman.

   The shooting brought parts of Washington D.C. to a standstill.

   The Washington Nationals, whose stadium is a couple blocks away from the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, said the team's game tonight against the Atlanta Braves was postponed until Tuesday.

   The Senate complex was placed under a temporary lockdown this afternoon "in light of the uncertainty surrounding the shooting" and the possibility that a second shooter might have been at large, Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer wrote in a note to the Senate community.

   At nearby Reagan National Airport this morning, a ground stop was imposed by the FAA. All planes have since resumed flying out of the airport, a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokeswoman told ABC News.

   Nine D.C. public schools were placed on lock downs this morning, according to the District of Columbia Public Schools' Twitter account, but all schools were dismissed as scheduled this afternoon.

   Washington D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton told reporters the district has not "had a day like this since 9/11."

   President Obama ordered the flags at all federal and military installations to be flown at half-staff through Friday in honor of the victims.

   At the beginning of a news conference today, Obama said he was briefed on the shooting.

   "We are confronting yet another mass shooting, and today it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital," he said.

   Obama said he wanted a "seamless" investigation into the shooting and was standing with the victims and their families affected by what he called a "cowardly act."

   "It targeted our military and civilian personnel, men and women who were going to work, doing their job protecting all of us. They are patriots and they know the dangers of serving abroad," Obama said. "But today they faced the unimaginable violence that they won't have expected here at home."

 

   Two Officers Among the Injured

   Two law enforcement officers were among the injured when the suspect fired shots inside the 3,000-person building at 8:20 a.m. Law enforcement officials initially told personnel to evacuate the building but they were later told to shelter in place.

   A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent a team of special agents to help secure the scene. This is the same team that helped apprehend Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, according to the spokesman.

   Three gunshot victims were taken to Washington Medical Center with "severe injuries," according to Janis Orlowski, chief medical officer at the hospital.

   The victims were described as a male Metropolitan police officer who had "multiple gunshot wounds to his legs," a woman who was shot in the head and the hand and another woman who was shot in the shoulder.

   Orlowski said all three were in critical condition, however they were conscious and were expected to survive.

   

   Navy Yard Witnesses Heard Series of Loud Pops

   Patricia Ward, a logistics management specialist at the Navy Yard, said she heard a series of shots, at least seven, in rapid succession.

   "A few of us just ran outside the side exit," Ward said.

   Outside the building she saw a security guard with her gun drawn who told them to run and shelter.

   Ward said the building has security.

   "You need a card to enter the building. It's very hard to get in without a card," she said.

   "Being with the incident that happened today, not secure enough for me," Ward said.

   Frank Putzo, an attorney at the Navy Yard, told ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV he was on the fourth floor of the building when the shooting began.

   "We heard three sounds, it sounded like a table collapsing on the ground," he said.

   He said he came out of his office and heard a "very loud pop" about a minute later that he estimated was about 100 feet away.

   "When that happened everyone said, 'This is no drill, go, go, go,'" he said. "And a whole bunch of us were able to make it to the emergency exits. And we heard several more shots."

   The Naval Sea Systems Command, the largest of the Navy's five commands, is responsible for engineering, building, buying and maintaining ships, submarines and combat systems in the Navy's fleet.

 

  

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  SAN DIEGO (AP) - A San Diego judge has ordered the frontman of the Grammy-winning Christian metal band As I Lay Dying to stand trial on charges he tried to hire someone to kill his estranged wife.

   San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert Kearney handed down his decision Monday in the case against Timothy Lambesis after several hours of testimony by witnesses for the prosecution, including an undercover officer who posed as a hitman.

   Howard Bradley testified that Lambesis met him believing he was a hitman and told him he wanted his wife, Meggan Lambesis, dead. Bradley says Lambesis gave him his wife's name, photo and address, along with $1,000 cash.

   Lambesis has pleaded not guilty to solicitation for murder. He'll be arraigned on Oct. 22, when the date for his trial will be set.

Read more...

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