USA

Investigators were treating the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Queens, N.Y., as an accident, based on an initial evaluation of the cockpit voice recorder. But they had not ruled out sabotage. The airliner crashed into a residential area minutes after takeoff en route to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Preliminary evidence pointed to a mechanical failure in the plane, whose CF6-80C2 engine already had drawn close scrutiny on safety concerns. Federal officials had taken initial steps toward requiring tougher inspections last month. At least 260 people on board were killed, nine people were missing on the ground, and 11 houses were damaged or destroyed. (Story, page 2.)

President Bush ordered the government to increase the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by millions of barrels to "strengthen the long-term energy security" of the US. The reserve, which currently holds 544 million barrels, will be filled to its capacity, 700 million barrels, Bush said. With oil prices falling, the Energy Department last month recommended funneling in more crude. Energy Secretary Abraham said potential terrorism or military strikes in Afghanistan were not factors in the decision.

White House officials hailed the Taliban retreat from Kabul as a breakthrough in the war in Afghanistan but remained concerned that Northern Alliance forces entering the capital could prompt more fighting. A senior White House official said there was concern large numbers of Northern Alliance troops would destabilize the city and its delicate balance of competing ethnic groups. (Story, page 1.)

The group that serves as the collective voice of the US's Roman Catholic bishops elected its first black president, the Rev. Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill. Gregory received 186 of the 249 votes cast, with the rest scattered among nine other candidates. Gregory has been vice president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for three years. The Chicago native was ordained in 1973. The current president, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, is ending a three-year term.

The Supreme Court ordered ex-President Clinton's name removed from the roster of lawyers approved for presenting arguments before it. Clinton asked to resign from the Supreme Court bar last week, rather than fight suspension or disbarment related to the Paula Jones investigation. Before he left office, Clinton also agreed to a five-year suspension of his license to practice law in his home state, Arkansas.

A 17-year-old student at the Adult Learning Center of Caro, Mich., held a teacher and classmate hostage at gunpoint for three hours before freeing his captives and killing himself. Chris Buschbacher did not injure the hostages. The school is 75 miles north of Detroit.

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