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In brief: Bodies found in Mexico where three Texans missing

From wire reports

MATAMOROS, Mexico – Four bodies were found Wednesday east of the border city of Matamaros, near where three young Americans went missing more than two weeks ago, a Mexican state official said.

Tamaulipas state investigator Raul Galindo Vira would only confirm that four bodies had been recovered and declined to discuss who they might be.

A second state official said investigators were trying to determine if the dead include three siblings from Progreso, Texas, who disappeared with a fourth person Oct. 13. The official, who said the bodies were badly decomposed, insisted on speaking anonymously.

Mexican authorities on Wednesday asked the siblings’ father what they were wearing when they disappeared, mother Raquel Alvarado told the Associated Press.

Alvarado said witnesses saw armed men take her daughter, Erica Alvarado Rivera, 26, and her sons, Alex, 22, and Jose Angel, 21, in El Control, a small town near the Texas border west of Matamoros. The three were visiting their father in Mexico.

According to Alvarado, her daughter drove her black Jeep Cherokee across the border Oct. 12 and dropped it at her father’s house in El Control. She visited her boyfriend there and the next morning called her brothers to ask them to bring the Cherokee to a roadside restaurant where the couple was eating. The three siblings planned to return to Progreso together from there.

When Alex and Jose Angel Alvarado arrived to pick up their sister, they saw men “pushing their sister and her boyfriend and hitting her,” Raquel Alvarado said. The brothers tried to intervene, witnesses said, but were taken away with their sister and her boyfriend.

Witnesses said the armed men identified themselves as Grupo Hercules, a police security unit for Matamoros city officials, and were traveling in military-style trucks. Alvarado said witnesses also saw federal highway police, “but no one did anything.”

NATO sees spike in Russian military flights

BRUSSELS – NATO on Wednesday reported an “unusual” spike in Russian military flights over the Black, Baltic and North seas and the Atlantic Ocean during the past two days.

Alliance military spokesman Lt. Col. Jay Janzen said four groups made up of Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers, MiG-31 fighters and other Russian warplanes had been conducting large-scale maneuvers in international airspace.

He said Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish and Turkish fighters were scrambled in response, as well as planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden.

No incidents were reported, but Janzen said the maneuvers were unusual in their size. He said NATO was still tracking some of the Russian planes as of midafternoon Wednesday.

Tensions have been running high between NATO and Russia since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March. According to NATO officials, alliance pilots have conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year, or about three times more than in 2013.

Zambian president dies after long illness

LUSAKA, Zambia – Zambian President Michael Sata, once dubbed “Mr. King Cobra” for his sharp-tongued remarks, has died in a London hospital after a long illness. Vice President Guy Scott, a white Zambian of Scottish descent, became the country’s acting president Wednesday, making him the first white leader of a sub-Saharan African nation since 1994 when South Africa moved to majority rule.

Sata, 77, had largely dropped out of public view months ago as his health deteriorated. The government did not divulge details of his condition, but some Zambian media outlets said he suffered multiple organ failure.

Rumors that Sata was deathly ill had long gripped Zambia, and opposition groups had questioned whether he was fit to lead a country of 15 million people that has enjoyed robust economic growth but suffers widespread poverty. He had served as president since 2011.

Under the constitution, Scott, a 70-year-old former agriculture minister who also worked in Zambia’s finance ministry, cannot run for president because his parents were not Zambians by birth or descent.

Biker shoots Jewish activist in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM – A gunman on a motorcycle shot a prominent hard-line Jewish activist on Wednesday, Israeli police and legislators said, seriously wounding the man and then fleeing in a suspected assassination attempt.

Moshe Feiglin, a lawmaker with the Likud party, identified the man as Yehuda Glick, an American-born advocate for greater Jewish access to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The shooting threatens to further heighten tensions in Jerusalem, which has been fraught lately with clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police.

Feiglin said the shooting took place outside a conference promoting Jewish access to the holy site, a hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City that has been a flashpoint for violence in the current tension over Jerusalem.

He said a man approached Glick outside the conference and spoke to him in “heavy Arabic-accented Hebrew.” He then opened fire at point-blank range and fled.

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