AL QAEDA TRIO ARRESTED IN SPAIN
Three suspected al-Qaeda members have been arrested in southern Spain - allegedly carrying explosives. The trio, including one Turk and two Chechens, are thought to have been planning an attack in Spain - and the case is notable because it's the first time such suspects have been found with explosives in that country. Spanish newspaper El Pais reports al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued a message at the beginning of July looking for Spanish-speaking "lone wolves" as operatives. From Nick SCHIFRIN: The Spanish interior minister has confirmed the arrests - adding that they were believed to have been planning an attack from the air. The interior minister said they had enough explosives to blow up a bus, and that police seized documents related to light aircraft, drones and/or paragliding - it's not clear exactly. According to one report, one of those arrested was "a very important member of the international structure of al Qaeda." Spanish officials also said this was one of the largest-scale investigations that the Spanish have undertaken against al Qaeda to date. The Spanish have arrested dozens of al Qaeda suspects since the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
-HORRORS, ON BOTH SIDES… Syrian rebels claim they have found dozens of bodies in a suburb of Damascus in the aftermath of the Syrian army's house-to-house search for rebels. Video posted online shows what the opposition says is a funeral for the victims. This claim by the rebels comes after they were accused yesterday of an atrocity of their own massacre in Aleppo - the execution of captured members of the Syrian police and armed forces. As the BBC reports, human rights activists say the killings in Aleppo may have been a war crime.
-ALEPPO BATTLE…Syrian rebels on Thursday bombarded a military air base in Aleppo using a tank captured from government troops. The report was one of the first indications the rebels are starting to deploy the heavy weapons they've managed to capture in the past weeks from the Syrian army. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebel-seized tank shelled the Menagh military airport outside Aleppo, which the regime has used to launch attacks on rebel positions in the surrounding area. The report represents an escalation in the battles between the two sides, since up to this point, rebel forces have suffered from the huge disparity in armaments with Syria's well-armed military that also has fighter jets and helicopter gunships at its disposal.
-COMMUNICATIONS SHUT DOWN…The AP reports that residents of Aleppo reported Thursday that Internet and mobile phones were barely working since the night before, which has raised fears of an imminent government onslaught on Aleppo. But by early afternoon Thursday, there were only the daily, low level clashes around the rebel bastion of Salaheddine and shelling, a resident going by the name of Abu Adel told The Associated Press. There was also heavy shelling earlier in the day around the town of Azaz on the Turkish border, which has been in rebel hands for weeks along with a checkpoint crossing in the area, making it easier to deliver rebel weapons and supplies to the Aleppo battle. It would be a huge blow to the opposition if the government retook the crossing.
-OBAMA'S DIRECTIVE…Reuters reports President Obama has secretly authorized wide-ranging support to the Syrian opposition - but that the order stops short of arming the rebels.
-THE DIPLOMACY…The U.N. Security Council is set to hold closed-door meetings on Syria today - ahead of a General Assembly set for tomorrow.
-DRESSAGE THE "EVENT TO WATCH"?…Well, for some (Whitney LLOYD?). Ann Romney was in attendance as her horse, Rafalca, competed in the Grand Prix test that got underway today. Rafalca notched a score of 70.2 and is currently in 4th place, behind Great Britain, Denmark and Germany. As Whitney writes, "a very nice go." More on dressage at ABCNews.com.
-GOLD FOR U.S. ROWERS…The women's eight have successfully defend their Olympic gold from Beijing.
-OTHER AMERICANS TO WATCH…Gymnasts Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas will represent the U.S. in the all-round individual finals; swimmers Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps have another head-to-head race; tennis star Venus Williams takes on Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki; and the U.S men's basketball team plays Nigeria.
-PUTIN'S OLYMPIC DAY…As Kirit RADIA reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be at the Olympics today to take in his favorite event - judo. He'll get some diplomacy in, too, meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, who is expected to press Putin to take a tougher stance against Syrian President Assad.
-BAD MINTON…One of the Chinese badminton players disqualified from the Olympics for trying to lose a match has taken to her microblog to announce she is quitting the sport.
-DEMISE OF U.S. BOXING?…An interesting piece from the Washington Post: "One by one, they stood in the center of the ring and listened as a public address announcer read the scores. And one by one they had to watch as foes raised their gloved hands in victory. And one by one, the American boxers are heading home early from these Olympics. The U.S. boxing team lost all three of its bouts Wednesday, underscoring months of turmoil for an organization that's still reeling from a disappointing Olympics four years ago. Nine American fighters came to London and five have now lost before reaching the quarterfinal round. U.S. boxing was once a dominant force on the international boxing landscape, tallying 105 Olympic medals from 1904 to 2004. The sport's icons were molded on the Olympic stage: Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in Rome, Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal, Joe Frazier in Tokyo, George Foreman in Mexico City, Oscar de la Hoya in Barcelona. The Games were a rite of passage when the sport still had a grip on the American sporting public's imagination.
-NEW U.S. SANCTIONS…The House approved new sanctions against Iran by a wide margin last night. The sanctions, introduced by President Obama, target the country's oil sector and step up efforts to cut off Iran's financial transactions. The measure now heads to the Senate.
-WILL ISRAEL STRIKE?…Another weigh-in on this long-standing question, this one from the New York Times. "After a flurry of high-level visits, including one by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to Israel on Wednesday, a number of administration officials say they remain hopeful that Israel has no imminent plans to attack and may be willing to let the United States take the lead in any future military strike, which they say would not occur until next year at the earliest. The conversations are part of delicate negotiations between the United States and Israel that have intensified over the past month. On Wednesday they continued with Mr. Panetta, who appeared with the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, and declared that the United States would stand by Israel if Iran developed a nuclear weapon.
U.S., AFRICA, AND TERROR FEARS
As Hillary Clinton continues her travels in Africa, the AP reports that growing concerns about persistent terrorist threats from splintered al-Qaida groups across Africa have triggered an increase in U.S. military funding and more focus on a handful of African nations. Already this year, the Pentagon has poured more than $82 million into counterterrorism assistance for six African countries, with more than half of that going to Uganda, and much of the rest going to Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti - all key allies in the fight against the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab in Somalia. The assistance, according to the State Department's latest report on terrorism, may be starting to show some results in Somalia. But across Africa, the number of terrorist incidents increased by about 11.5 percent last year, including in Nigeria.
-ATTACK THWARTED…From Muhammad LILA and Aleem AGHA: Afghan police killed five alleged insurgents who were planning a major attack on Kabul. The police discovered the men were massing weapons at a location just outside the city, and ambushed them overnight, leading to a five-hour gun battle. Security forces recovered three cars full of explosives, ammunition, rocket launchers, and machine guns. It's believed they were going to attack three sections of Kabul - the Parliament, and two areas downtown that house embassies. The Taliban has denied any involvement.
-TOP US COMMANDER IN PAKISTAN…From Habibullah KHAN: General John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, is visiting Pakistan today for a regularly scheduled meeting with the head of Pakistan's army. It comes just days after the two reluctant allies signed a long term agreement for NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. Despite the renewed optimism, the relationship remains strained, with Afghanistan accused Pakistan of firing rockets into Afghanistan, further complicating the messy U.S.-Pakistan-Afghanistan triangle.
WORLD MARKETS WAIT FOR WORD FROM EUROPE'S CENTRAL BANK
Global markets have been mostly lower this morning - as the European Central Bank holds key meetings on the Eurozone debt crisis. The meeting comes just days after ECB head Mario Draghi raised expectations for action by the central bank when he promised to do whatever it takes to save the euro. Bankers are debating reactivating the ECB's bond-buying program for Spain and Italy - a move which would push down the high borrowing costs that are threatening those countries with financial collapse.
PRESIDENT OBAMA RELATED TO FIRST DOCUMENTED U.S. SLAVE?
From Bazi KANANI: President Obama wrote about his Kenyan father and East African heritage in his autobiography, "Dreams from my Father," and now it has been discovered that he has West African ancestors, too. Researchers at Ancestry.com have found the connection on his white mother's side. They say the President is the 11th great-grandson of a man named John Punch who in 1640 became the first documented slave in America when he was sentenced to slavery for life for trying to escape indentured servitude.
EVEN FISH GET SKIN CANCER
More proof from the Los Angeles Times of how dangerous a tan can be. Scientists found 15 percent of coral trout in Australia's Great Barrier Reef had cancerous lesions on their scales. It's likely due to the fact that Australia is under the Earth's biggest hole in the ozone layer.
PALM TREES? IN ANTARCTICA?
A study in the journal Nature suggests palm trees once grew in Antarctica. Scientists drilling there have pulled up proof that palm trees grew there in the early Eocene period, about 53 million years ago. During that period, summer temperatures in Antarctica were thought to have reached 77 degrees.
HEADS ROLL AFTER TEDDY BEARS DROP FROM THE SKY
The President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko fired two generals this week on charges they allowed a Swedish advertising firm to invade the country's airspace and drop teddy bears from planes. Those bears were adorned with signs promoting democracy and knocking Belarus's authoritarian government. Lots of video of the drop here.