World News: French Battle Islamic Terrorists; Dirty Air in China; Syria Update

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BEIJING (AP) -- People refused to venture outdoors and buildings disappeared into Beijing's murky skyline as the capital's air quality went off the index.
The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website Sunday that the density of PM2.5 particulates had surpassed 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of the city. Its index goes up to only 500.
The U.S. Embassy publishes data for the small particulate matter, which can penetrate deep into the lungs, but interprets the data according to more stringent standards.
In the 24-hour period up to 10 a.m. Sunday, it said 18 hourly readings were "beyond index." The highest was 886. The U.S.'s Environmental Protection Agency advises anything greater than 300 would trigger a health warning of "emergency conditions" with the entire population likely affected.

PARIS (AP) -- France is on alert for a possible terrorist attack in the wake of French military action in Africa.
French President Francois Hollande (frahn-SWAH' oh-LAWND') says the country will raise its domestic terror threat level following military operations against Islamist forces in Mali and Somalia.
Hollande is promising to increase protection at public buildings and transportation networks.
France has some of the world's most recognizable monuments and an extensive national transportation network; like the U.S., it also has an organized government response if there are specific fears of a terrorist attack.
French aircraft and troops are backing soldiers in Mali who are trying to push back Islamist offensives; in Somalia, French commandos launched a failed raid to rescue an intelligence agent held hostage there for three years.

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- France says its troops and warplanes in Mali have driven Islamist rebels from a key city and destroyed a militant command center.
France has sent its forces to the West African nation in response to an appeal from the country's president. Al-Qaida-linked militants have seized control of the vast, desert region of northern Mali over the past nine months.
Other nations in the region also are sending troops to support the government of the former French colony.
France's defense minister the militants threaten to create "a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe."
Al-Qaida's affiliate in Africa, Ansar Dine (dih-NEH'), has been a shadowy presence for years in the forests and deserts of Mali, a country hobbled by poverty and a relentless cycle of hunger. Most Malians adhere to a moderate form of Islam.

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- A commando raid to free a French intelligence agent held captive in Somalia for three years has apparently failed.
The hostage's fate is unclear. The Islamists deny French claims that the agent, code-named Denis Allex, was killed and say they have captured a wounded French soldier.
The French defense minister says Allex was killed by his captors and that one French soldier is missing and one is dead, along with 17 Islamists. The Defense Ministry earlier said two commandos were killed in the fighting in the Somali town, which has been under Islamist control for four years.
Allex was kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, on July 14, 2009 with a colleague who later escaped. They were in Somalia to train government forces, which are fighting Islamist militiamen.

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syrian troops have made advances in a strategic suburb of Damascus and been bombarding other areas around the capital today in a push to secure President Bashar Assad's seat of power as rebels make gains in the north.
A government official said regime forces have taken much of Daraya, an area on the edge of a major military air base just south of the capital. The area has been the site of heavy fighting for nearly two months, and anti-regime activists say dozens of people have been killed and tens of thousands uprooted from their homes.
Syria's pro-government media has reported that thousands of rebel fighters from an extremist group (Jabhat al-Nusra) have holed up in Daraya in preparation to storm Damascus.
The government advance comes a day after rebels and Islamic militants seeking to topple Assad took full control of an air base in northwestern Syria, and intensified their assault on a second air base and the international airport in the city of Aleppo, which includes a military base.

ROME (AP) -- Gunmen have fired shots at the car of the Italian consul in the Libyan city of Benghazi, but no one was injured.
Government officials in Rome said Saturday that Consul Guido De Sanctis wasn't hurt because he was travelling in an armored car. They insisted on not being identified because they weren't authorized to make the information public. The ANSA news agency said it spoke to De Sanctis who confirmed he was fine.
Benghazi was the site of a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Police in Athens say arsonists have attacked the home of the brother of government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou with a firebomb.
The arsonists broke down the door with a sledgehammer and threw a firebomb inside, police say.
Police say the occupants of the house -- the spokesman's brother, his wife and their 3-year-old child-- were unharmed. They added that the occupants had extinguished the fire.
Arsonists attacked the homes of five prominent journalists before dawn Friday, prompting the government spokesman, a former journalist, to condemn the attacks. Two small anarchist groups claimed responsibility for those attacks, which caused limited damage and no injuries.