Guards implicate Iraq's fugitive VP

BAGHDAD - Former bodyguards for Iraq's fugitive vice president testified Tuesday that they were ordered to kill security officials and plant roadside bombs as a politically charged terror trial against the Sunni leader began.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who was in Turkey but faced trial in absentia, has denied all charges against him. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The case threatens to paralyze Iraq's government by fueling simmering Sunni and Kurdish resentments against Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Hashemi is an ardent critic of Maliki, whose government issued a warrant for the vice president's arrest the day after U.S. troops left Iraq in December.

Hashemi has been accused of playing a role in 150 bombings, assassinations, and other attacks from 2005 to 2011, according to the judicial council. The government alleges that Sunni death squads were largely composed of his bodyguards and other employees. - AP

U.S. troops assist Yemeni offensive

SAN'A, Yemen - Yemeni warplanes and troops backed by heavy artillery waged a four-front assault Tuesday against the strongholds of al-Qaeda extremists in the south, with U.S. troops for the first time helping direct the offensive from a nearby desert command center.

Yemeni military officials said that dozens of U.S. troops were operating from al-Annad air base, about 45 miles from the main battle zones, coordinating assaults and air strikes and providing information to Yemeni forces.

The officials said it was the most direct American involvement yet in the country's expanding campaign against al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen, which has been blamed for directing a string of unsuccessful bomb plots on U.S. soil from its hideouts in the impoverished country at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

- AP

Ex-official is hurt in Colombia blast

BOGOTA, Colombia - A bomb targeting a hard-line former interior minister killed two of his bodyguards and injured at least 31 people in Bogota's uptown commercial district Tuesday in the type of brazen attack not seen in the capital in years.

The former minister and morning radio host, Fernando Londono, suffered minor shrapnel wounds and was out of danger, authorities said. Video footage showed a stunned Londono, his face bruised, being led from the wreckage in a dark suit.

Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro said a pedestrian attached an explosive to a door of Londono's armored SUV and set it off remotely. He said authorities had video of the attack. It was the first fatal bombing of an apparently political nature in the capital in nearly a decade.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Indonesian special forces have found the "black box" flight recorder of a Russian passenger jet that slammed into a mist-shrouded dormant volcano last Wednesday, killing all 45 aboard. Search and Rescue agency spokesman Gagah Prakoso said Wednesday that it was found at the bottom of a 1,500-foot ravine.