Flashlight bombs puzzle Phoenix authorities

Posted June 08, 2012, at 8:51 p.m.

PHOENIX — Flick the switch on these flashlights and they don’t light up. They blow up.

Three of these bombs have exploded within the last month in the Phoenix area, causing minor injuries to five people and raising fears of more serious ones.

Police still have no idea who is behind them and have taken the unusual step of putting up 22 billboards across the sprawling metro area to warn residents about discarded flashlights.

“The nature of the bombings are so random,” said Tom Mangan, a special agent at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix.

Mangan said the agency has ruled out any connection to terrorism because the targets have been random and there have been no messages or demands.

The ATF said the bombs appear to have been made by the same person or people because their design was identical.

An explosive was placed inside the flashlights with a smaller battery and rigged so that turning it on would send an electrical current that triggered the blast, Mangan said. He declined to identify the explosive material.

The first bomb was spotted by a passerby on May 13 in a suburb just west of Phoenix. It was sitting behind a palm tree in a strip mall and blew up when it was clicked on.

The next day, about 10 miles away, a landscaper found a flashlight in an irrigation ditch. It, too, exploded when he flicked the switch, authorities said.

The third bomb exploded on May 24 at a Salvation Army distribution center near downtown Phoenix and about 11 miles from the first one.

Report: Tax revenue grew in states in first quarter

WASHINGTON — State tax collections rose 4.1 percent during the first three months of 2012, a faster pace than during the previous three months, as economic growth helped ease financial pressure in the nation’s capitals.

The increase is the ninth straight quarterly gain for states following more than a yearlong slide after the 2007 recession, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, N.Y. The pace was faster than the 3.6 percent rise during the last three months of 2011.

Even with the gains, the state revenue growth has slowed since jumping as much as 11 percent a year ago. Other economic indicators are showing growth may be slowing. U.S. employers last month added the fewest workers in a year and the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent. Reports released last month showed the economy grew less than initially estimated during the first quarter.

“Overall, state tax revenues are showing improvement, though the pace of growth continues to slow from its peak in the second quarter of 2011,” the Rockefeller Institute said in its report.

The revenue gains are reducing the size of budget deficits that have forced state officials to cut jobs and reduce spending on schools, welfare and public works, which exerted a drag on the economy. States faced deficits of $54 billion for the coming budget year, half what they were the year before, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group.

UN team sees massacre site in Syrian village

BEIRUT — U.N. observers could smell the stench of burned corpses Friday and saw body parts scattered around a Syrian farming hamlet that was the site of a massacre this week in which nearly 80 men, women and children were reported slain. The scene held evidence of a “horrific crime,” a U.N. spokeswoman said.

The observers were finally able to get inside the deserted village of Mazraat al-Qubair after being blocked by government troops and residents, and coming under small arms fire Thursday, a day after the slayings were first reported.

In central Damascus, rebels brazenly battled government security forces in the heart of the capital Friday for the first time, witnesses said, and explosions echoed for hours. Government artillery repeatedly pounded the central city of Homs and troops tried to storm it from three sides.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with international envoy Kofi Annan in Washington to discuss how to salvage his faltering plan to end 15 months of bloodshed in Syria. Western nations blame President Bashar Assad for the violent crackdown on anti-government protests that grew out of the Arab Spring.

The U.N. team was the first independent group to arrive in Mazraat al-Qubair, a village of about 160 people in central Hama province. Opposition activists and Syrian government officials blamed each other for the killings and differed about the number of dead.

Activists said that up to 78 people, including women and children, were shot, hacked and burned to death, saying pro-government militiamen known as “shabiha” were responsible. A government statement on the state-run news agency SANA said “an armed terrorist group” killed nine women and children before Hama authorities were called and killed the attackers.

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