Pirates make off with $3.2 million ransom for ship

NAIROBI - Somali pirates freed a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and other heavy weapons Thursday after receiving a $3.2 million ransom. The U.S. Navy watched the pirates go but didn't act because the pirates still hold almost 150 people from other crews hostage.

The seizure of the MV Faina was one of the most brazen in a surge of pirate attacks on shipping off the Somali coast. Vessels from the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet quickly surrounded it after it was seized in September, to make sure the cargo did not get into the hands of Somali insurgent groups believed to have links to al-Qaida.

U.S. seamen were inspecting the pirates' departing boats to make sure they weren't taking weapons from the Faina's cargo, Mikhail Voitenko, a spokesman for the ship's owners, said Thursday.

Iraqi PM's allies win key votes

BAGHDAD - Prime Minister al-Maliki's allies swept to victory over Shiite religious parties during last weekend's provincial elections in Iraq - a rousing endorsement of his crackdown on extremists, according to official results released Thursday.

The impressive showing, which must be certified by international and Iraqi observers, places al-Maliki in a strong position before parliamentary elections late this year and could bolster U.S. confidence that it can begin withdrawing more of its 140,000 troops.

The results were a major blow to Iraq's biggest Shiite religious party - the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council - which trailed in every Shiite province including its base in the holy city of Najaf.

Israel seizes ship with aid to Gaza

JERUSALEM - The Israeli navy intercepted a ship carrying humanitarian supplies from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip and towed the vessel into port Thursday, foiling a new attempt by international activists to break Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.

It was the first time Israeli forces seized an aid ship, after the navy let some boats in and turned others around.

Hostage flown to freedom

BOGOTA - A former provincial lawmaker was helicoptered to freedom in Colombia on Thursday after spending more than six years as a captive of leftist guerrillas.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, handed Sigifredo Lopez over to a humanitarian mission led by the Red Cross and an opposition senator, Red Cross spokesman Yves Heller told reporters.