NORTH KOREA
U.S. Pacific Command's chief sounds warning

North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear capability may require new U.S. investments in missile defense for the westernmost United States, the top U.S. military official for the Pacific said Wednesday.

Adm. Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had made “rapid and comprehensive improvement” in its missile and nuclear programs in the past year, posing an unprecedented threat to the United States and its allies.

The testimony comes as the Trump administration seeks to intensify global pressure on North Korea to set aside its nuclear ambitions.

Kim’s government has repeatedly threatened the United States and has said that it has the ability to deliver a missile strike on the U.S. territory of Guam.

U.S. officials have said that if left unchecked, North Korea may be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States in a matter of months.

Scrambling to counter the threat, the Trump administration is seeking additional resources for missile defense programs.

Harris suggested that existing missile defense systems may need to be augmented in Hawaii, whose position in the Pacific makes it particularly vulnerable to North Korean threats.

— Missy Ryan

FRANCE
1 acquitted, 2 convicted in terrorism trial

A court in France has acquitted a man charged with harboring Islamist extremists after they carried out the 2015 Paris attacks, bringing a surprising end to the first criminal trial linked to the country’s deadliest extremist violence since World War II.

The presiding judge said Wednesday that the Paris court found 31-year-old Jawad Bendaoud not guilty of providing lodging to two of the attackers and helping them hide from police. Two co-defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison terms.

The Nov. 13, 2015, attacks killed 130 people.

Bendaoud denied knowing the identity of the men to whom he rented a flat in Saint-Denis. One of them was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the attacks.

Co-defendant Mohamed Soumah, accused of acting as an intermediary with Bendaoud to secure lodging for the two fugitives, received a five-year sentence. Youssef Ait-Boulahcen, accused of knowing the extremists’ whereabouts and not informing authorities, was sentenced to three years in prison plus a suspended year.

The prosecutor’s office said it was appealing the whole verdict.

Of the nine men who directly carried out the attacks, seven died at the scene. The two surviving killers fled and were killed Nov. 18, 2015, during a police siege at the Saint-Denis apartment.

During the trial, Bendaoud said he had rented the apartment to the two men only to make money. He said he had thought that all the extremists had died in the attacks.

— Associated Press

PAKISTAN
Officials seizing assets linked to wanted cleric

Amid increasing pressure from the international community, Pakistan on Wednesday began seizing assets and funds belonging to Islamist charities linked to a radical cleric wanted by the United States, officials said.

It was the first step against Hafiz Mohammad Saeed since he was freed by Pakistani authorities in November on a court order. He is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry issued a notification Wednesday requiring authorities to immediately seize the assets of Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa organization and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is believed to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The United States has offered a $10 million reward for Saeed’s arrest. Saeed denies involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

— Associated Press

Besieged area near Syrian capital gets relief: The United Nations said the first aid convoy in months has entered a besieged suburb east of the Syrian capital carrying supplies to about 7,000 people. The convoy entered Nashabiyah, one of a number of towns in the besieged Eastern Ghouta area. It is the first humanitarian convoy to enter the region, controlled by rebels, since the end of November. The government has not been granting permission for such convoys.

Expelled Ukrainian opposition leader flies to Netherlands: Ukrainian opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili flew to the Netherlands, his wife's home country, after being ejected from Ukraine into Poland. It was not clear how long he planned to stay in the Netherlands. Saakashvili was Georgia's president from 2004 to 2013 and was later given a governorship in Ukraine by President Petro Poroshenko, then an ally. He has since led protests against Poroshenko over official corruption.

— From news services