USA

For the third time in the past four months, a key gauge of economic activity fell, providing another sign that the economic recovery is moving slower than expected. The Conference Board reported that its Index of Leading Economic Indicators fell 0.4 percent in July, mostly due to a precipitous fall in stock prices. The index measures where the overall US economy is headed in the next three to six months.

A secret library of Al Qaeda training videotapes were broadcast for the first time by CNN. The archive, spanning more than 10 years, shows the group's recruits practicing urban combat, handling chemicals, and conducting nerve-gas experiments on dogs. The cache of tapes was uncovered by a news correspondent in a remote area of Afghanistan where Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden reportedly had stayed. Almost all the tapes appear to predate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Senior New York Fire Department officials released a report on their five-month study of emergency response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. While the study praised the successful evacuation of more than 25.000 people from the World Trade Center's twin towers, it also recommended a number of reforms, including a more rigorously structured command system to ensure tight control of fire crews and their equipment. The report also recommended that a senior officer stay behind to oversee large-scale disasters from a remote operations center. Some 343 firefighters died while responding to the attack.

In time for a new work-week – and sooner than expected – Amtrak announced that half of its high-speed Acela trains had been cleared for service in the Northeast corridor. The passenger railroad said the Acela trains would follow a reduced schedule until all are up and running. Amtrak sidelined all 18 of the popular trains for most of last week after inspectors found cracks in the shock absorbers beneath many of their locomotives.

Residents in the southern Oregon towns of Oak Flat and Agness were watching anxiously as the southwest flank of the so-called 'Biscuit Fire' raged near homes around the Rogue River. The fire, which was started by a lightning strike in early July, has burned about 440,000 acres, many of them in the Siskiyou National Forest. More than 6500 people are battling the blaze, including a number of firefighters from overseas. Across the West, more than two dozen wildfires are still burning uncontained. Above, the Biscuit fire burns white-hot in the Siskiyou National Forest.

The US space agency said it has not given up the search for a $159 million spacecraft that has been missing since late last week. The comet-chasing Contour has been programmed to contact Earth if it receives no commands for 96 hours. If the probe is still operational, those messages were expected to appear Monday. The agency is concerned that it has broken in two.

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