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AP Top News at 3:04 a.m. EDT

A look at the Islamic State militants in Syria
BEIRUT (AP) - As the U.S. strikes Islamic State targets in Iraq, extremists belonging to the same militant group across the border in Syria are capturing new territory and becoming bolder by the day. There, in its power base, the Islamic State group controls thousands of square kilometers (miles) of territory, including most of Syria's oil-producing region. In the areas under its control, it has established an elaborate governing system that oversees every aspect of people's lives.


Mother of US reporter in Syria begs for his life
BEIRUT (AP) - The mother of a hostage American journalist pleaded for his release Wednesday in a video directed at the Islamic State group, while new images emerged of mass killings, including masked militants shooting kneeling men after the capture of a strategic air base in Syria. Shirley Sotloff's plea came as a U.N. commission accused the group, which dominates a broad swath of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, of committing crimes against humanity and President Barack Obama weighs options for targeting the extremists' stronghold in Syria.


On Syria, Obama faces questions on Congress' role
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama faces a familiar question as he contemplates airstrikes in Syria: Should Congress have a say in his decision? Just last summer Obama was barreling toward strikes in Syria when he abruptly announced that he first wanted approval from congressional lawmakers. But Congress balked at Obama's request, and the strikes were eventually scrapped.


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US to consider spousal abuse in immigration claims
WASHINGTON (AP) - A government immigration board has determined for the first time that domestic violence victims may be able to qualify for asylum in the United States. The ruling comes in the case of a Guatemalan woman who crossed into the U.S. illegally in 2005 after fleeing her husband. She said she called local police in Guatemala to report the abuse but was repeatedly told that the authorities would not interfere in her marriage. She argued that the abuse and the lack of police response should make her eligible for asylum.


Tim Hortons a big part of Canadian identity
TORONTO (AP) - Few things unite Canadians the way Tim Hortons does. For half a century, they have warmed themselves on chilly mornings with the chain's coffee and Timbits - or doughnut holes to Americans. So news this week that Burger King will buy Tim Hortons served as a bittersweet reminder of how beloved the homegrown chain is in Canada, where 75 percent of the all the coffee sold at fast food restaurants comes from "Timmy's," as it is affectionately known. Tim Hortons is found in just about every small town and large city across Canada, and hockey-mad Canadians often head to their local Timmy's before or after their kids' games.


AP ANALYSIS: A grim stalemate at war's end in Gaza
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) - The third Gaza War in six years appears to have ended in another sort of tie, with both Israel and Hamas claiming the upper hand. Their questionable achievements have come at a big price, especially to long-suffering Palestinians in Gaza. In a sense, Israel got what it wanted: Hamas stopped firing rockets in exchange for mostly vague promises and future talks. But the cost to Israel was huge: Beyond the 70 people killed - all but six of them soldiers - the economy has been set back, the tourism season destroyed, its people rattled for 50 days and its global standing pummeled by images of devastation in Gaza.


Gun tourism grows in popularity in recent years
LAS VEGAS (AP) - The death of an Arizona firearms instructor by a 9-year-old girl who was firing a fully automatic Uzi displayed a tragic side of what has become a hot industry in the U.S.: gun tourism. With gun laws keeping high-powered weapons out of reach for most people - especially those outside the U.S. - indoor shooting ranges with high-powered weapons have become a popular attraction.


Battle for Ukraine's southeast coast heats up
NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine (AP) - Pushing west in a new offensive along Ukraine's strategic coastline, heavily armed Russian-backed separatist forces captured new territory Wednesday far from their previous battles with government troops. The bold offensive along a new southeastern front raised the prospect that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea, which also would give them control over the entire Azov Sea.


White House preps legal case for immigration steps
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's lawyers are carefully crafting a legal rationale for executive actions on immigration as a self-imposed, end-of-summer deadline to act approaches. Whatever Obama does will face intense opposition and potential legal challenges, so lawyers are working on a plan that they believe will withstand scrutiny.


Q-and-A on Westerners who join the fight in Syria
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Douglas McAuthur McCain, an American killed in Syria while fighting with the Islamic State group, was part of a growing number of Americans and other foreigners recruited by terror groups to help them wage war in the Mideast. White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Wednesday that McCain was fighting for ISIL in Syria in a conflict that now includes thousands of combatants from around 50 countries.