National Intelligence Director John Negroponte delivered his first terrorist-threat assessment to Congress Thursday and said much of Al Qaeda's leadership from 2001 has been eliminated. But he also said the group "remains our top concern" and that it still pursues chemical, biological, and atomic weapons. "The states of highest concern," Negroponte added, are North Korea and Iran. The former, he said, probably has nuclear weapons, while the latter probably doesn't have them yet.

A Pentagon team assigned to analyze potential nuclear attacks on the US was to make its first public presentation Thursday at a conference in Denver. The New York Times said the program's objective is to trace the origins of nuclear explosions as quickly as possible to clarify options for striking back and, possibly, serve as a deterrent to terrorist groups.

"We're going to check for unsafe conditions before we mine another lump of coal," Gov. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia said after two more miners were killed Wednesday in separate accidents. Manchin called for operations at the state's 229 surface and 315 underground mines to be halted as the number of fatalities rose to 16 since Jan. 2. There was no word on how long safety checks would take.

In announcing more than 30 arrests for trafficking in New York, Florida, and North Carolina, the Drug Enforcement Administration said an investigation revealed that Colombian smugglers had implanted liquid heroin in live puppies as well as human swallowers.

The productivity of American workers slowed to 2.7 percent in 2005, down for the third straight year - this time by 0.7 percent, the Labor Department reported. Separately, the department said merchants enjoyed better-than-expected sales last month, thanks to mild temperatures and brisk use of gift certificates. Discount department stores did especially well. Target store sales rose 5.2 percent and those at Wal-Mart outlets increased by 4.7 percent.

Newly sworn-in Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sided with the majority in his first case, refusing to allow Missouri to execute inmate Michael Taylor, who has argued that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor, who was often the swing vote in capital punishment decisions.

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