[Updated at 12:36 a.m. ET Wednesday] Seven Taliban attacked Kabul's Hotel Inter-Continental in a brazen, carefully orchestrated operation that began Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday, ending with their deaths and those of 11 other people some six hours after it began, police said.
"We are still searching the hotel; the death number may increase," said Chief of Criminal Investigations Mohammad Zahir on Wednesday morning. Twelve people were wounded or injured, he added.
"The situation is secure," Interior Minister Bismullah Khan said. By then, the top floor of the hotel was ablaze, but within a couple of hours, the flames were gone, though smoke continued to rise from the wreckage.
Two security personnel were killed in the attack, he said.
The Taliban penetrated the hotel's typically heavy security in the attack, and one of them detonated an explosion on the second floor, said Erin Cunningham, a journalist for The Daily in Kabul. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in an e-mail that the suicide attackers entered the hotel after killing the security guards at the entrance.
The Inter-Continental is popular among international guests. A news conference had been scheduled to take place there Wednesday to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces that U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week.FULL STORY
Editor's note: CNN's Arwa Damon is reporting from Syria, where violence has prompted hundreds of people to flee to Turkey. Critics of the Syrian government accuse it of killing unarmed demonstrators; the government blames what it says are armed gangs bent on establishing an Islamic caliphate. This is a post that Damon filed Tuesday from Jisr al-Shougour, a Syrian town where some refugees are from.
We had just passed the "Homs 40km" sign when we saw the first tanks stationed along the Damascus-Aleppo highway and the sandbagged fighting positions. The closer we got to the town of Jisr al-Shoughour, the more the Syrian landscape reminded me of a military zone.
Stuffed in each vehicle in our government convoy were members of the media, official escorts and drivers packing AK-47s. By the time we were heading into downtown Jisr al-Shoughour, we'd also picked up two truckloads of soldiers, all apparently for our protection.
We are told that the foreign-backed armed gangs the government blames for the violence still pose a threat.
For weeks we had been reporting on the government crackdown from the Syria-Turkey border. We listened to harrowing stories from refugees who fled Jisr al-Shoughour and surrounding villages with just the clothes on their backs, convinced that should they have stayed, they would have been at the mercy of the full wrath of the Syrian military. Crouched under makeshift tents or crammed into refugee camps, they told of Syrian security forces indiscriminately opening fire on demonstrators, mass arrests and killings.
The conversations echoed in my mind - the tremors of terror in their voices, the fear I had seen in their eyes - as we drove through the town so many of them once called home.
U.S. President Barack Obama will hold a previously unscheduled news conference on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET in the East Room of the White House, spokesman Jay Carney announced.
The news conference comes as Obama faces mounting unhappiness over the U.S. economic performance, as well as controversy over his refusal to seek congressional authorization for U.S. participation in the NATO-led military campaign in Libya.FULL STORY
Comment of the day:
“What has happened to satire? Why are people in the U.S. so ridiculously sensitive? Why is it no longer OK to make a joke about anything? Why are people so thin-skinned? I'll tell you why: people like to complain. People like to whine.” –Barack5tar
Zacharias misses the mark
Author, journalist and public speaker Karen Spears Zacharias says the popular book "Go the F*** to Sleep" - which addresses parents’ frustration with bedtime rituals - sadly also reflects some kids' reality. She says obscenities - and worse, obscenities toward kids - is common in some households and shouldn’t be the butt of jokes.
But many people who commented on Zacharias' opinion piece on CNN.com heartily disagreed with her, saying she is taking the book too seriously.
ads98 said, “I think that laughing about a tough situation helps a lot of people deal with their problems. A parent that is overly stressed about a child's sleeping schedule might find some comfort in laughing about and realizing they are not the only one in the situation.”
Rockinruby said, “My kids, aged seven and nine, have never heard swear words in our home. They don't watch movies rated PG-13 or R. They have had bedtime stories every night since they were newborns. But you know what? I laughed until I cried when I read Adam Mansbach's book.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a joint resolution Tuesday supporting the limited use of U.S. military force in Libya for one year - a move sought by the Obama administration as it works to win clear congressional backing of the controversial North African mission.
The resolution, which explicitly rejects any introduction of U.S. ground troops, was approved 14-5. It now advances to the full Democratic-controlled Senate.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected a similar measure last Friday, but also voted down a bill restricting U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Deep congressional divisions over the mission stem from, among other things, a belief among some representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle that the White House has violated the War Powers Resolution.FULL STORY
For a certain age group, the words to the theme song of the public television children's show "Reading Rainbow" brings back warm, fuzzy memories.
Butterfly in the sky/I can go twice as high/take a look/it's in a book/a reading rainbow...
Yeah, sing along. It's OK. And now it's OK to sing it in public because the show's former host LeVar Burton is planning to lead a flash mob of people singing that sweet song.
A Japanese electric utility is likely to pay more in damages for its ongoing nuclear crisis than all the profit it made off nuclear power over 38 years, a study says.
The study by Kenichi Oshima, an environmental economist at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, estimates that Tokyo Electric Power Co. earned nearly 4 trillion yen from the time the Fukushima 1 plant opened in 1970 until the end of the 2008 business year, the Kyodo News Agency reported in The Japan Times.
The damages TEPCO will be forced to pay evacuees, farmers, fishing businesses and others hurt by the nuclear disaster will run into the trillions of yen, perhaps as high as 8 trillion to 11 trillion, according to Kyodo.
Three of TEPCO's reactors experienced full meltdowns after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and continue to leak radiation.
Nevertheless, shareholders on Tuesday rejected a motion for the company to abandon nuclear power, Kyodo reported.
About 3,000 Greek riot police faced off against demonstrators in Athens as thousands marched to protest proposed austerity measures on the first day of Greece's two-day strike.
Some protesters threw rocks at security forces. One demonstrator and three police officers have been slightly injured, police said. Law enforcement fired tear gas at some demonstrators.
Most of the clashes are outside the Greek Parliament building in the center of the country's capital, where lawmakers are set to vote Wednesday on a tough five-year package of tax increases and spending cuts. European Council President Herman van Rompuy urged them to pass the measures to help ease Greece's serious financial problems.
"There are decisive moments and the coming hours will be decisive, crucial for the Greek people, but also for the Eurozone and the stability of the world economy," he told the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday. Read developments in this story and more about how Greece's money woes are affecting its relationship with the EU and economies throughout the world.
The errant emperor penguin that showed up on a New Zealand beach a week ago appears to be feeling better after emergency treatment, New Zealand media report.
The lost Antarctic bird, the first seen in New Zealand in 43 years, had shown "feisty" behavior and eaten fish after veterinarians and a physician at the Wellington Zoo flushed more than 5 pounds of sand and sticks from its belly, TVNZ reported.
"Every day he survives, we have more confidence," Mauritz Basson, the zoo's general manager for operations, told TV One on Tuesday morning.
Although Basson used a masculine pronoun, the penguin's sex is not known.
"They do use ice to cool themselves down," Basson said by way of explaining the sand in the bird's belly. "I think he was probably trying to cool down sitting on Peka Peka Beach, which is slightly warmer than Antarctica this time of year.
"He consumed the sand, which didn't melt, didn't cool him down, so he ate it until he was full and he deteriorated quickly from there."
Experts are debating what to do next if the bird recovers. For now, it's being kept alone in a cold room with a blanket of ice on the floor. Keepers are reluctant to move it into a population for fear of spreading some undetected disease.
One such expert, John Cockrem, suggest releasing the penguin into the sea, point it toward Antarctica and let it find its own way home if it can.
"The bird had swum here naturally and in spring the juveniles would normally turn around and head south," he told TVNZ. "So if the bird is back in the water it can make its own way south as it would have normally done."
The city that moves the least is Lexington, Kentucky.
The magazine based its rankings on data from various sources. The publication considered how often people exercise, as calculated by Experian Marketing Services, and the percentage of households that watch more than 15 hours of cable a week and buy more than 11 video games a year, information gathered by Mediamark Research. The rankings also relied on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings regarding the rate of deaths from deep-vein thrombosis, a condition linked to staying in a seated position for a long time.
The remaining top four least active cities are Indianapolis; Jackson, Mississippi; Charleston, West Virginia; and Oklahoma City.
The most active city is Seattle, the magazine says.
Think you have a bad commute? It's nothing compared with the one that several hundred employees have at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station near Omaha, Nebraska.
The toughest part of their trip to work begins immediately when they arrive. First there's the employee parking lot. Like much of the facility, it's flooded.
Fort Calhoun is one of two Nebraska nuclear power plants under threat from severe flooding. The plant has been kept offline since April and will likely remain inactive until floodwaters subside. But workers must show up to help cool spent-radioactive fuel at the facility.
Their work conditions are tough. Floodwaters are 2 feet higher than the ground floor of the plant. It's only through a system of berms, flood gates and towering sandbag walls that workers at Fort Calhoun have avoided being swamped. Read the latest news about flooding in Nebraska.
But the same barriers that keep the water out also keep everything else out, too. So how are the hundreds of employees getting to work every day? A long catwalk carries workers over the berms and floodwaters to the plant, according to Jeffrey Hanson, a spokesman for the Omaha Public Power District, which operates the plant.
Using the catwalk, workers leave dry land and walk over flooded outer buildings not deemed important enough to save from the rising water. The system of bridges is the only way to get out to the main plant. The plant's reactor and volatile spent-fuel will be kept away from the water, plant operators said, no matter how many sandbags have to be stacked.
See how some are comparing Nebraska's nuclear plant situation to that of the recent troubles at a Japanese power plant.
Elmo would think he'd gone to heaven.
The world's first tickling spa has opened in Spain, Time.com reports.
For $35 for a half-hour or $45 for an hour, discreetly covered clients lie down on a massage table and subject themselves to a professional tickling.
Clients of Cosquillarte, which opened in Madrid in December, swear it's relaxing.
The name of the spa can be translated "Tickle yourself" or "Tickle Art," Time's Lisa Abend reports.
"My dad used to tickle me to get me to go to sleep, so it's always relaxed me," owner Isabel Aires told Abend. "One day I just thought, why can't I pay someone to do this, in the same way as I can pay for a massage?"
Aires and two trained massage therapists developed a treatment.
"There's no school for tickling," she said. "We had to invent it ourselves."
"We use a variety of strokes," therapist Lourdes Nieto told Abend. "If someone is super ticklish, we'll press harder. The idea is to relax them, not stress them out."
Residents of flooded Minot, North Dakota, remained under orders to severely limit their water use Tuesday, a day after rushing floodwaters apparently broke a main water line, a city spokesman said.
Utility crews were able to wade to the site of the break and divert the water flow, but it would likely be Tuesday night or Wednesday before they could install a new line to restore normal flow, said Dean Lenertz, a spokesman for the city.
About a third of Minot's population of nearly 36,000 has been evacuated due to record flooding from the Souris River, which bisects the city.
The Souris crested over the weekend at nearly 13 feet over flood stage. It has since fallen about a foot, but remains more than 2 1/2 feet above the previous record flood from 1881, according to the National Weather Service.FULL STORY
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who's long been an outspoken anti-war voice in Congress, is visiting volatile Syria to explore whether there is a resolution to the violence spiraling across that country.
Kucinich is part of a small delegation on a fact-finding mission to Syria and neighboring Lebanon.
He said in a statement on Monday that he pursued the trip because his constituents, a Cleveland-area district that includes many Arab-Americans, asked him to look into "conditions on the ground" and see if there's a solution to a situation that's "spinning out of control."
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said President Bashar al-Assad met with Kucinich and the accompanying delegation Monday.FULL STORY
The meter reader who discovered Caylee Anthony's remains could testify Tuesday as a defense witness in the murder trial of her mother Casey, his attorney said.
Roy Kronk has been ordered to report to court at the start of the day, according to his attorney David Evans.
In his opening statement, Anthony defense attorney Jose Baez pointed the finger of responsibility at Kronk, who discovered Caylee's body on December 11, 2008, according to a sheriff's detective.
According to the defense, Kronk actually discovered the remains months earlier. Baez called Kronk "a morally bankrupt person who took Caylee's body and hid it ... he thought he had a lottery ticket. ... He can't be ignored in this."
Evans denied the accusations made by Baez.
In developments Monday, Anthony, who is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2008, was determined competent to proceed with her capital murder trial after she was examined by two psychologists and a psychiatrist over the weekend, the judge said.FULL STORY
Bulger goes to court – A hearing for reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger is expected Tuesday afternoon in Boston. A federal judge will decide if Bulger can afford to pay for his own attorney. The U.S. attorney's office in Boston is challenging the notion that the federal government can pick up his legal tab. Investigators say they found more than $800,000 in cash hidden in the walls of his home when they arrested Bulger last week in Southern California.
New Mexico wildfire – A blaze is creeping close to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which will remained closed Tuesday. Thousands of people who live nearby are being evacuated. Officials said all nuclear and hazardous materials at Los Alamos are protected. The lab in Los Alamos, a center of American nuclear science, is one of the nation's top national-security research facilities.
The International Criminal Court is still trying to link Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son and his brother-in-law to rapes but it does not yet have enough evidence to do so, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Tuesday.
It has evidence that rapes have taken place in Libya's civil war, but he cannot prove Gadhafi ordered them, he said.
Learn about Eman al Obeidy, a Libyan woman who says she was gang-raped earlier this year by Gadhafi's militiamen. Her story is among several reported by human rights organizations working in and near Libya.FULL STORY
The Casey Anthony trial continues in Florida, while the debate over Libya heats up on Capitol Hill. Watch CNN.com Live for continuing coverage of these developing stories.
Today's programming highlights...
8:30 am ET - Casey Anthony trial - Testimony resumes in the trial of the Florida woman accused of killing her young daughter.
10:00 am ET - DREAM Act hearing - A Senate judiciary subcommittee holds a hearing on the DREAM Act, which would give students in the U.S. illegally a chance to remain in the country.
10:00 am ET - Libya war powers hearing - The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on the controversy regarding U.S. involvement in the Libyan conflict.