USA

Seeking to stem the flow of money to terrorists, the Treasury Department announced Monday it was establishing an Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. The new agency, which combines the duties assumed by other Treasury units, grows out of a congressional directive signed into law late last year. Besides targeting terrorists, the office will enforce economic sanctions against rogue nations and assist in the ongoing hunt for Iraqi assets.

With no authority to issue marriage licences to gay couples, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels (D) has said he would do the "next best thing" - sign an executive order requiring the city to recognize the marriages of homosexual employees who get their licenses from King County or elsewhere. He said he'll ask City Council to pass an ordinance that would require contractors to recognize same-sex marriages among their employees. In Arizona, meanwhile, the controversy over same-sex marriages took a different turn: Maricopa County officials, concerned about the possibility of mistakenly issuing a license to a same-sex couple (illegal under state law) decided to stop issuing such permits by mail.

The cleric who leads Ohio's largest Islamic mosque will continue his duties, even while defending himself against federal charges that he provided false information (including concealing terrorist connections) to obtain citizenship in 1994. The Cleveland mosque's general assembly overwhelmingly opted to keep Imam Fawaz Mohammed Damra instead of forcing him to take a leave of absence. His trial, originally set for February, has been delayed indefinitely. Meanwhile, in Lubbock, Texas, the FBI and police were investigating signs of a possible hate crime - anti-Muslim graffiti and ransacked property at another mosque.

Responding to the latest US outbreak of avian influenza, poultry farmers on Maryland's Eastern Shore destroyed 300,000 chickens Sunday. The industry already is reeling from an import ban on US poultry products by more than 30 countries.

"The Passion of the Christ," the controversial Mel Gibson movie released Feb. 25, attained blockbuster stature, with $212 million in ticket sales in its first two weeks. According to its North American distributor, the film is appealing well across the geographic and age spectrum and receiving strong Latino and African-American support. It graphically depicts the hours leading up to and including the crucifixion.

Rescue workers searched Baltimore's Inner Harbor for three passengers, missing but presumed dead, after a water taxi capsized over the weekend when hit by a wind gust. One fatality, among the 25 people on board, has been confirmed.

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