AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

Private lander makes first US moon landing in more than 50 years

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“We can confirm, without a doubt, our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

___

Some Republicans are voicing doubt over Alabama IVF ruling. Democrats see an opportunity

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Republicans joined Democrats in expressing alarm over a ruling this week by the Alabama Supreme Court that jeopardized future access to in vitro fertilization, giving allies of President Joe Biden new fuel for their efforts to center abortion access in the presidential election.

“We’ve got to talk about making sure we don’t take away women’s rights to IVF, women who are childbearing age and want to give birth to children,” said GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, who was campaigning this week for former President Donald Trump in South Carolina. She added, “I’ll be working very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Democrats and left-leaning interest groups have banked on abortion rights as a major motivator for voters in the upcoming presidential election and fight for control of Congress. They believe abortion can be a winning issue as the debate widens to include increasing concerns over miscarriage care, access to medication, access to emergency care and now IVF treatments.

The GOP has struggled to talk about the issue while abortion-rights advocates have won races even in conservative-leaning states. Reproductive rights groups on Thursday compared the Alabama ruling to the impact of the Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and nullified a federally guaranteed right to abortion.

“This has hit a nerve in a way I haven’t seen since Dobbs,” said Mini Timmaraju, head of the abortion rights group Reproductive Freedom for All. “And it’s because folks didn’t believe this could happen but it’s happening.”

___

Mideast cease-fire efforts gain steam as US envoy visits. Mediators report 'encouraging' signs

JERUSALEM (AP) — International efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appeared to gain new momentum Thursday as the White House said a visit by a senior envoy with Israeli leaders was “going well” and other mediators reported encouraging signs from the warring parties.

The new signs of progress came ahead of an expected summit this weekend in Paris, where mediators plan to present a new proposal. The U.S., Egypt and Qatar have been struggling for weeks to find a formula that could halt Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza, but now face an unofficial deadline as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches.

White House Mideast envoy Brett McGurk held talks throughout the day with Israeli leaders and families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

“The initial indications we’re getting from Brett are these discussions are going well,” said White House spokesman John Kirby.

A Western diplomat involved in the efforts said both sides want a pause. “What we have heard from our partners is that they are willing to give concessions,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door diplomacy. “Time is pressing them.”

___

Ex-FBI source accused of lying about Bidens and having Russian contacts is returned to US custody

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former FBI informant who claims to have links to Russian intelligence and is charged with lying about a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden's family was again taken into custody Thursday in Las Vegas, two days after a judge released him.

Alexander Smirnov, 43, was arrested Thursday morning while meeting with his lawyers at their offices in downtown Las Vegas. It came after prosecutors asked a judge in California, where the case originally was filed, to reconsider Smirnov's custody status while he awaits trial. No hearing was held before he was arrested.

His attorneys, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, said in a statement they want an immediate hearing on his detention and will again push for his release. A judge in Las Vegas gave prosecutors until Friday afternoon to respond to Smirnov’s motion for a new hearing.

A copy of the arrest warrant that Smirnov's lawyers included as an exhibit in their request for the new hearing shows he was arrested on the same charges — making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record.

Prosecutors have accused Smirnov of falsely telling his FBI handler that executives from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma had paid President Biden and Hunter Biden $5 million each around 2015. The claim became central to the Republican impeachment inquiry of President Biden in Congress.

___

4 charged in transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons. 2 SEALs died in intercepting the ship

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Four foreign nationals were arrested and charged Thursday with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons on a vessel intercepted by U.S. naval forces in the Arabian Sea last month. Two Navy SEALs died during the mission.

The criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Richmond alleges that the four defendants — who were all carrying Pakistani identification cards — were transporting suspected Iranian-made missile components for the type of weapons used by Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks.

“The flow of missiles and other advanced weaponry from Iran to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen threatens the people and interests of America and our partners in the region,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a news release.

U.S. officials said that Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers was boarding the boat on Jan. 11 and slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft. As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to U.S. officials familiar with what happened.

“Two Navy SEALs tragically lost their lives in the operation that thwarted the defendants charged today from allegedly smuggling Iranian-made weapons that the Houthis could have used to target American forces and threaten freedom of navigation and a vital artery for commerce," Monaco said.

___

AT&T says the outage to its US cellphone network was not caused by a cyberattack

AT&T said the hourslong outage to its U.S. cellphone network Thursday appeared to be the result of a technical error, not a malicious attack.

The outage knocked out cellphone service for thousands of its users across the U.S. starting early Thursday before it was restored.

AT&T blamed the incident on an error in coding, without elaborating.

“Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyber attack,” the Dallas-based company said.

Outage tracker Downdetector noted that outages, which began at about 3:30 a.m. ET, peaked at around 73,000 reported incidents. AT&T had more than 58,000 outages around noon ET, in locations including Houston, Atlanta and Chicago. The carrier is the country's largest, with more than 240 million subscribers.

___

Texas school legally punished Black student over hairstyle, judge says

ANAHUAC, Texas (AP) — A Black high school student’s monthslong punishment by his Texas school district for refusing to change his hairstyle does not violate a new state law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, a judge ruled on Thursday.

Darryl George, 18, has not been in his regular Houston-area high school classes since Aug. 31 because the district, Barbers Hill, says the length of his hair violates its dress code.

The district filed a lawsuit arguing George’s long hair, which he wears in tied and twisted locs on top of his head, violates its policy because it would fall below his shirt collar, eyebrows or earlobes when let down. The district has said other students with locs comply with the length policy.

After about three hours of testimony in Anahuac, state District Judge Chap Cain III ruled in favor of the school district, saying its policy is not discriminatory because the CROWN Act does not say that exemptions for long hair can be made for hairstyles that are protected by the law, including locs. And he said courts must not attempt to rewrite legislation.

“Judges should not legislate from the bench and I am not about to start today,” Cain said.

___

Ohio mom who left toddler alone when she went on vacation pleads guilty to aggravated murder

An Ohio mother who left her 16-month-old daughter home alone in a playpen for 10 days last summer while she went on vacation pleaded guilty on Thursday to aggravated murder.

Kristel Candelario, 32, also pleaded guilty to child endangerment as part of a plea deal with Cuyahoga County prosecutors, who agreed to dismiss two murder counts and a felonious assault charge. Candelario now faces a life term when she's sentenced March 18.

Authorities have said Candelario left her daughter, Jailyn, in their Cleveland home when she went on vacation to Detroit and Puerto Rico in June 2023. When she returned 10 days later, she found the girl was not breathing in the playpen and called 911. Emergency responders found the child was “extremely dehydrated” and pronounced her dead shortly after they arrived.

An autopsy by the Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office determined that the toddler had died of starvation and severe dehydration.

___

Atlanta is the only place in US to see pandas for now. But dozens of spots abroad have them

SAN DIEGO (AP) — It will still be months before the San Diego Zoo gets new pandas, the first such bears sent to the United States by China in decades.

For now, the only U.S. zoo left with any is in Atlanta. But globally there are many places to check out the cuddly black-and-white bundles of fur as they munch on bamboo, climb trees and lounge on their backs.

The bear is native to China, where it is considered a national treasure.

Here are some of the places where pandas can be seen, including possibly in the wild in China.

Zoo Atlanta has four pandas, including the first twins born in the United States in more than a quarter century. Giant pandas typically care for only one cub when twins are born in the wild, which usually leads to just one twin surviving.

___

Wendy Williams diagnosed with same form of dementia as Bruce Willis

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former talk show host Wendy Williams has been diagnosed with the same form of dementia that actor Bruce Willis has, a statement released Thursday on behalf of her caretakers says.

The statement said the 59-year-old's diagnoses of primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia “have already presented significant hurdles in Wendy’s life” and have behavioral and cognitive impacts.

“Wendy is still able to do many things for herself. Most importantly she maintains her trademark sense of humor and is receiving the care she requires to make sure she is protected and that her needs are addressed. She is appreciative of the many kind thoughts and good wishes being sent her way,” the statement attributed to her care team said.

The statement on Williams’ health was issued on PR Newswire. A representative listed on the release, Jennifer Hanley, referred questions back to the statement when contacted by The Associated Press.

The announcement came a day after a cover story in People magazine quoted Williams’ family about the nature of her struggles, ahead of a Lifetime documentary set to air Saturday.

The Associated Press