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Fictional disaster, made to sound real, draws FCC fine

WASHINGTON — The familiar, piercing tone of an emergency alert jolted television viewers to attention. Then came the frightening images: the White House surrounded by terrorists, landmarks in flames in the nation’s capital and military convoys patrolling the city. “THIS IS NOT A TEST,” read the on-screen advisory.

It was, however, a hoax.

The warning, intended to summon viewers not to shelters but to movie screens, was a commercial for “Olympus Has Fallen,” an action thriller released last March to middling reviews but decent box-office results. And the Federal Communications Commission was not amused.

On Monday, the commission leveled fines totaling $1.9 million on three of the nation’s biggest media companies — Comcast, Viacom and Disney — for “willfully and repeatedly” violating federal law by carrying the commercial.

—Edward Wyatt, The New York Times

Deadly suicide attack on court rattles Pakistan’s capital

ISLAMABAD — In a rare strike in the heart of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, militants killed at least 11 people at the district court complex on Monday, shaking the government just as prospects for talks with the Taliban seemed to be improving.

An obscure militant cell, calling itself Ahrar-ul-Hind and thought to be a splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, just a day after the Pakistani government announced that it would halt airstrikes against Taliban militants who had declared a cease-fire. But the group gave no motive for the attack.

A senior judge, Rafaqat Ahmed Awan, was among those killed in the assault, carried out by gunmen with explosive vests who also wounded at least 25 people and set off a chaotic mass rush from the court complex and a busy market nearby, police officials said.

Afterward, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held an emergency meeting with the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam. No details of the meeting were made public, and it was unclear what effect the attack might have on often-derailed efforts to open negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban.

Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, denied any role in the assault on the court complex.

—Salman Masood, The New York Times

Court to consider

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether prison officials in Arkansas may prohibit inmates from growing beards in accordance with their religious beliefs.The policy was challenged by Gregory H. Holt, who is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery. Holt said his Muslim faith required him to grow a beard.

The state’s policy allows trimmed mustaches, along with quarter-inch beards for those with dermatologic problems. Prison officials said the ban on other facial hair was needed to promote “health and hygiene,” to minimize “opportunities for disguise” and to help prevent the concealment of contraband.

Holt sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that requires prison officials to show that policies that burden religious practices advance a compelling penological interest and use the least restrictive means to do so.

The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in St. Louis, ruled in June that the justifications offered by the officials satisfied that standard.

—Adam Liptak, The New York Times