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AP Top News at 3:16 a.m. EST

Japan studying latest message in Mideast hostage crisis
TOKYO (AP) - Japan was studying the latest message purportedly from the Islamic State group, which extends the deadline for Jordan's release of an Iraqi prisoner, while officials worked feverishly Thursday to try to free a Japanese journalist held by the militants. The message, read in English by a voice the Japanese government said was likely that of hostage Kenji Goto, was released online late Wednesday after Jordan offered to hand over the al-Qaida-linked would-be suicide bomber to the Islamic State group in exchange for Jordanian air force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh. The militants have purportedly threatened to kill him and Goto.


As Iraqi Kurds gain ground from IS, local Sunnis are wary
ESKI MOSUL, Iraq (AP) - An unarmed Sunni Arab man walked along a road in a patch of northern Iraq newly liberated from Islamic State extremists, holding a white surrender flag - a signal to Kurdish fighters that he is not a militant. Cars drove by, a similar white banner flying from their windows. As they retake territory from Islamic State militants, Iraqi Kurdish fighters have found surprising ambivalence in areas they freed from the jihadis' oppressive rule. Locals have swiftly shaken off the imposed Islamic lifestyle - but as Sunnis, from the same ethnic group as the militants, many are nonetheless bracing for treatment as collaborators.


Attorney General nominee defends Obama immigration changes
WASHINGTON (AP) - Confronting skeptical Republicans, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch pledged a new start with Congress and independence from President Barack Obama Wednesday, even as she defended the president's unilateral protections for millions of immigrants in the country illegally. "If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself. I would be Loretta Lynch," the nominee told her Senate confirmation hearing as Republicans showered criticism on the current occupant of the job, Eric Holder. They said Holder was contemptuous of Congress and too politically close to Obama, and repeatedly demanded assurances that Lynch would do things differently.


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Israeli center-left alliance looks to unseat Netanyahu
JERUSALEM (AP) - When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved his unwieldy coalition and called new elections last month, he appeared almost certain to be returned once more to office. But a new center-left alliance has surged past his Likud party in the polls, turning the March 17 contest into a toss-up. After joining forces with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to create a joint grouping they call "The Zionist Camp," Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog is looking, to increasingly many Israelis, like a viable alternative to Netanyahu. He promises to reverse the country's slide toward international isolation and corrosive social inequality.


NYC mayor's vibrant deaf interpreter creates his own storm
NEW YORK (AP) - They were hanging on his every word - and gesture, body movement, and definitely the facial expressions. Jonathan Lamberton, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's sign language interpreter, is getting a blizzard of attention for his highly animated ways that were on full display during recent weather briefings.


Squatters slow Detroit's plan to bulldoze way to prosperity
DETROIT (AP) - Chris Mathews' crew showed up this month to demolish one of the thousands of vacant homes destined for demolition as part of Detroit's grand plan to bulldoze its way to prosperity when a call from his office stopped them in their tracks: Someone was living there. A middle-aged woman who watched the crew tear away the home's warped wooden steps the day before had called their company, Adamo Demolition, to point out she was living on the second floor, despite no power, heat or gas and a flooded basement.


Israel-Lebanon border calm day after escalation
SHEAR YASHUV, Israel (AP) - The Israeli-Lebanese border is calm but Israel remains on alert a day after the deadliest escalation since the two sides' 2006 war. The Lebanese National News Agency says Israeli warplanes were flying low over border villages on Thursday.


Fed sees strengthening economy but stays 'patient' on rates
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Reserve's outlook for the U.S. economy is steadily brightening. Yet the Fed will be "patient" in raising interest rates from record lows. That was the dual message the central bank sent Wednesday in a statement it issued after its latest policy meeting.


Mom wants independent autopsy after police killed daughter
DENVER (AP) - The mother of a 17-year-old girl who was shot and killed by Denver police said Wednesday that she wants a second, independent autopsy because she doesn't trust the official investigation into the death of her daughter. The demand by Laura Sonya Rosales Hernandez came as the Denver Police Department and an independent city official who monitors the agency disclosed that separate investigations were underway into policies regarding officers shooting at moving vehicles.


AP Analysis: Youth concussion laws pushed by NFL lack bite
PHOENIX (AP) - Criticized for its own handling of head injuries, the NFL launched an extensive lobbying campaign to pass laws protecting kids who get concussions while playing sports. The result: Within just five years, every state had a law on the books. But are the laws strong enough?