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Arizona mountain town mourns for American woman held by IS after parents confirm her death

PRESCOTT, Arizona — The small Arizona town where Kayla Jean Mueller grew up gathered in grief Tuesday upon learning that the 26-year-old aid worker who traveled the world on a quest to help others had died while in the hands of Islamic State militants.

A memorial of flowers and handwritten notes took shape on the courthouse plaza in Prescott near a sign calling on people to pray for her.

In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged to bring Mueller's captors to justice "no matter how long it takes."

Muller's 18-month captivity had largely been kept secret in an effort to save her. The Islamic State group claimed Friday that she had died in a recent Jordanian airstrike targeting the militants.

On Tuesday, her parents and U.S. officials confirmed her death. The Pentagon said U.S. officials don't know how or when she died but are certain it was not in the Jordanian airstrike.

AP Exclusive: US says foreign fighters flock to join Islamic State, other extremists in war

WASHINGTON — Foreign fighters are streaming into Syria and Iraq in unprecedented numbers to join the Islamic State or other extremist groups, including at least 3,400 from Western nations among 20,000 from around the world, U.S. intelligence officials say in an updated estimate of a top terrorism concern.

Intelligence agencies now believe that as many as 150 Americans have tried and some have succeeded in reaching in the Syrian war zone, officials told the House Homeland Security Committee in testimony prepared for delivery on Wednesday. Some of those Americans were arrested en route, some died in the area and a small number are still fighting with extremists.

The testimony and other data were obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Nick Rasmussen, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the rate of foreign fighter travel to Syria is without precedent, far exceeding the rate of foreigners who went to wage jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia at any other point in the past 20 years.

U.S. officials fear that some of the foreign fighters will return undetected to their homes in Europe or the U.S. to mount terrorist attacks. At least one of the men responsible for the attack on a satirical magazine in Paris had spent time with Islamic extremists in Yemen.

10 Things to Know for Wednesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:


Travel by fighters to Syria far exceeds the rate of foreigners who went to wage jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia.

NBC suspends Brian Williams as managing editor and anchor of 'Nightly News' for 6 months

NEW YORK — NBC announced Tuesday that it is suspending Brian Williams as "Nightly News" anchor and managing editor for six months without pay for misleading the public about his experiences covering the Iraq War.

NBC chief executive Steve Burke said Williams' actions were inexcusable and jeopardized the trust he has built up with viewers during his decade as the network's lead anchor. But he said Williams deserved a second chance.

Williams apologized last week for saying he was in a helicopter that was hit by a grenade while covering the Iraq War in 2003. Instead, another helicopter flying ahead of his was hit, and some veterans involved in the mission called him out on it.

NBC News President Deborah Turness said in a memo that Williams "misrepresented" events that occurred while he was covering the war.

"It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues," Turness said. "This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian's position."

Comedy Central announces Jon Stewart leaving 'The Daily Show' later this year

LOS ANGELES — Jon Stewart, who turned his biting and free-wheeling humor into an unlikely source of news and analysis for viewers of "The Daily Show," will leave as host this year, Comedy Central said Tuesday.

His departure was announced by Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless after Stewart, host of the show since 1999, broke the news to the audience at Tuesday's taping in New York.

"Through his unique voice and vision, 'The Daily Show' has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come," Ganeless said in a statement.

She called Stewart, 52, a "comic genius." He will remain as host until later this year, she said, but did not specify his exit date or what led to his decision.

Stewart's influence is seen in the work of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Larry Wilmore, who went on to earn shows of their own. Other "Daily Show" alumni include Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Josh Gad and new "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update anchor Michael Che.

It's snow joke: New England braces for even more digging with another storm expected Thursday

BOSTON — As New Englanders dug out from 2 more feet of snow Tuesday, there appeared to be no relief in sight. Meteorologists predict more snow is on the way Thursday and perhaps this weekend in the snow-choked region.

Here's how the region is coping:


Boston-area subways, trolleys and commuter rail trains remained idle Tuesday, with only limited bus service continuing.

Fighting intensifies in eastern Ukraine, 12 dead in artillery attack ahead of peace talks

SARTANA, Ukraine — Fighting intensified Tuesday in eastern Ukraine as pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian troops sought to extend their gains ahead of crucial peace talks, and the government accused the separatists of shelling a town far behind the front lines, killing 12 people and wounding scores.

Germany, which has joined with France to try to broker a peace deal, urged Russia and Ukraine to compromise and called on the warring parties to refrain from hostilities that could derail a four-way summit Wednesday in Minsk, Belarus.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the talks were "one of the last" opportunities for ending the fighting that has killed more than 5,300 people since April.

Poroshenko told parliament in Kiev that the separatists launched a rocket strike Tuesday on the town of Kramatorsk, more than 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the nearest front line, hitting a regional military command center with the first salvo and then striking a nearby residential area.

Rebels denied any involvement in the attack and said it was a "provocation" by the Ukrainian authorities. Kramatorsk was the site of major fighting until July, when pro-Russian separatists retreated.

Mother of dead infant says 11-year-old murder suspect asked if baby could spend the night

CLEVELAND — The mother of a 2-month-old who police suspect was beaten to death over the weekend by a friend's 11-year-old daughter said Tuesday it was the girl who asked that the baby stay overnight with her and her mother.

Trina Whitehead, 31, of Cleveland, told The Associated Press that she and the girl's mother were best friends and that she never saw anything in the girl's behavior that concerned her. Whitehead said her two daughters, who are 8 and 7 years old, previously stayed the night at the friend's home in suburban Wickliffe without any reported problems.

She said the 11-year-old seemed like a normal, sweet girl.

"I definitely trusted her," Whitehead said. "I never thought my baby would be put in some type of harm."

The 11-year-old has been charged with murder and is being held in a juvenile detention center. A judge entered a not guilty plea for the girl on Monday and has ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

Not all Alabama counties handing out gay marriage licenses, prompting another legal fight

MOBILE, Alabama — Same-sex marriage spread farther across Alabama on Tuesday as more courthouses issued licenses to gays and lesbians, yet some counties still defied a federal judge's order, so couples took their fight back to court.

The dispute and confusion headed toward a showdown in federal court set for Thursday in Mobile, where gay couples have waited for two days in a courthouse after officials quit issuing marriage licenses altogether — even for heterosexual couples — rather than sell them to same-sex couples.

Jim Strawser and his partner John Humphrey sat outside the shuttered marriage license window at the Mobile County courthouse.

"Come on, you've got a federal court order. Open those windows," Strawser said to no avail.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore threw the state into disarray when, at the 11th hour, he ordered probate judges not to allow gay marriages. He gave the order even though a federal judge ruled the state's ban was unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the marriages to begin Monday.

'Fifty Shades of Grey' author on new film: "I had to fight for a lot of things really hard"

NEW YORK — "Fifty Shades of Grey" devotees, know this: Whether you end up loving or hating the new movie, author EL James had your back.

"I was thinking about the readers," James says about the sometimes fraught process of adapting her steamy book to the screen — a process that reportedly involved creative differences, to put it gently, with director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Out this Friday for Valentine's weekend, the R-rated film stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

"I understand what it's like to be in fandom," she says. "I had to fight for a lot of things really hard. And I did." (As a producer on the film as well as the trilogy's author, James had an unusual amount of creative clout.)

James, 51, who wrote the erotic trilogy for her own enjoyment and ended up launching a global phenomenon, sat down over the weekend with The Associated Press to chat about the new film and the fans whose devotion has brought her such stunning commercial success. (Editor's note: Director Taylor-Johnson was not made available for this article.)

AP: What was the hardest thing about adapting your book?

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