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Secret Service Guards Obama, Taking Unusually Early Step

Sen. Barack Obama, whose crowds at political rallies across the country have often numbered in the thousands, was placed under Secret Service protection Thursday, a spokesman for the agency said.

The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, authorized the protection for Obama after consulting with a congressional advisory committee that reviews security for presidential hopefuls. The decision to assign agents to Obama, nearly nine months before voting begins in the Democratic primaries for president, is the earliest the Secret Service has ever issued a security detail to a candidate.

A spokesman for the Secret Service, Eric Zahren, said the agency was not aware of any specific threat against Obama. Zahren declined to provide details of what had prompted the elevation of security for Obama, a first-term Democratic senator from Illinois.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is the only other presidential candidate who receives Secret Service protection, Zahren said. But her security comes through her role as a former first lady.

Presidential candidates often resist security protection until the last possible moment, saying it restricts movement and prevents them from campaigning directly with people. But since Obama announced his candidacy nearly four months ago, he has been accompanied by a private security detail hired by his campaign.

Court Blocks Sale of An ABN Amro Unit

The sale of LaSalle Bank, a longtime Chicago institution that has suddenly become a pivotal prize in the world’s largest banking takeover battle, was blocked by a Dutch court on Thursday.

The ruling is a blow to management at ABN Amro, which now owns LaSalle, and at Barclays, the British bank, which had negotiated a friendly acquisition of ABN Amro, the largest Dutch bank. That bid, worth 64.3 billion euros ($87 billion), is partly contingent on the separate sale of LaSalle to Bank of America. And so the deal that could create one of the world’s largest banks is now in jeopardy.

Some analysts said the court ruling, which simply requires any sale of LaSalle to be submitted to a shareholder vote, is paving the way for a rival bid from a consortium led by Royal Bank of Scotland. Last week, the consortium made an informal counterbid of 72.2 billion euros ($98.5 billion), for ABN Amro but only if the LaSalle sale to Bank of America were reversed.

ABN Amro agreed last month to sell LaSalle, one of its most attractive assets, to Bank of America for $21 billion in cash; the deadline for the deal would have been May 6. That deadline had put the Royal Bank of Scotland consortium on a tight timeline to submit a formal bid for ABN Amro before any LaSalle sale could go through.

U.S. Forces Kill High-ranking al-Qaida Member in Iraq

American forces have indeed killed a high-ranking member of the terrorist group al-Qaida in Iraq, but not the leader of the group, American military officials said Thursday.

The man killed in the raid was Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri, described as a senior minister of information for al-Qaida in Iraq who was involved in the kidnappings of Jill Carroll and Tom Fox as well as two Germans, according to Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the American military in Iraq.

Al-Jubouri’s death and subsequent events may have led to confusion that generated unconfirmed reports of the death of the leader of the group, known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, or of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of another insurgent group, the Islamic State of Iraq, Caldwell said.

He said American forces are not certain that al-Baghdadi even exists.

Al-Jubouri was involved in the movement of foreign fighters and money into Iraq from Syria, said General Caldwell, who described al-Jubouri’s death as “significant.” The general also said al-Jubouri was involved in hiding and moving Jill Carroll, the kidnapped Christian Science Monitor reporter; she was held for two months before being released.

Swedish Steelmaker Acquiring Canadian Supplier of Oil Pipes

Ipsco, a leading Canadian supplier of steel pipes to the oil and gas industry, agreed to be acquired by a Swedish steelmaker, SSAB Svenskt Stal, for $7.7 billion in cash, the two companies said on Thursday.

If the transaction is approved by the required two-thirds of Ipsco’s shareholders, the purchase will leave two major steelmakers in Canada under domestic control: Stelco, which recently emerged from a bankruptcy reorganization, and Algoma Steel, which has been seeking a buyer.

Speculation about a potential takeover of Ipsco, which is based in Regina, Saskatchewan, but has executive offices in Lisle, Ill., started over a month ago. After a Russian newspaper reported that the company was in talks with the Evraz Group, a Russian steelmaker, Ipsco announced that it was in negotiations with another company, which it did not identify.

It is not clear if that company was SSAB. In an interview, Ipsco’s president and chief executive, David S. Sutherland, declined to comment about the negotiations that led to Thursday’s announcement.

But much of Canada’s financial community was surprised by the news that the Swedish company, which itself has been viewed as a potential takeover target, was the buyer.

SSAB sells relatively little steel in North America.