World Briefs: Lebanon holds militant leader

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BEIRUT -- Lebanese military authorities have detained the Saudi leader of an al-Qaida-linked, Sunni militant group that claimed responsibility for a double suicide bomb attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in November, according to Lebanese news media.

The militant, Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, is the head of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an offshoot of al-Qaida. He was taken into custody Wednesday, just three days after Saudi Arabia pledged a $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese army. The gift was widely seen as a Saudi attempt to counter the influence of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia and political party that is allied with the Shiite government of Iran and with Syria's president, Bashar Assad.

The detention, which U.S. national security officials confirmed to news agencies, provoked an array of political responses in the region -- the latest sign that the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is helping to drive the bloody war in Syria, is intensifying in neighboring Lebanon.

While founded well before the conflict in Syria, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades has allied itself with extremists among the rebels fighting Assad there.

Antarctica rescue OK'd

CANBERRA, Australia -- Passengers on board a research ship that has been trapped in Antarctic ice for more than a week are expected to be rescued by helicopter today after three icebreakers failed to reach the paralyzed vessel, officials said.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre, which is handling the operation, said early today that weather conditions had improved in the area since Wednesday and rescue flights were likely to commence shortly.

The scientific team on board had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica.

Kim says purge correct

SEOUL -- North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un said Wednesday that unity had strengthened "by 100 times" following the purge of "counterrevolutionary factionalists" -- an apparent reference to his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who was executed last month for treason.

The acknowledgment of potential dissent is noteworthy because Pyongyang for decades has used its propaganda to project a sense of unquestioned loyalty to the Kim family.

Somalia bombing kills 6

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Two car bombs exploded Wednesday night outside a hotel in Somalia's capital that often is used by foreigners and government officials, killing at least six people and wounding eight, police said.

The explosions occurred one day after al-Qaida-linked Islamic rebels had warned Mogadishu to brace for an attack.

France seeks to spur hiring

PARIS -- President Francois Hollande, seeking to reduce France's high unemployment rate, on Tuesday called for a "responsibility pact" with businesses that would reward companies that hire more people with lower taxes and greater flexibility.

France's hourly labor costs are among the highest in Europe, owing in part to employer-borne social charges that on average add nearly 34 percent on top of a worker's wages. That has become a source of intense concern in France amid a national debate on the country's declining competitiveness.

-- Compiled from news services

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