Australian al-Jazeera Reporter Freed, Deported from Egypt

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images(CAIRO) -- Jailed al-Jazeera English reporter Peter Greste was released and deported from Egypt after more than a year of imprisonment, Egypt's Interior Ministry said on Sunday.

Greste left Cairo with his brother on a flight bound for Cyprus, airport authorities told ABC News. They are expected to continue on to Australia.

“We’re pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited," Mostefa Souag, acting director general of al-Jazeera, said in a statement. "It has been an incredible and unjustifiable ordeal for them, and they have coped with incredible dignity. Peter’s integrity is not just intact, but has been further enhanced by the fortitude and sacrifice he has shown for his profession of informing the public."

The Australian national was jailed for exactly 400 days after being arrested on Dec. 29, 2013. Two other al-Jazeera employees - Mohamed Fahmy, a dual-Canadian citizen, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian cameraman - remain behind bars in Egypt.

The Interior Ministry did not provide additional details on reports that Fahmy's release will follow Greste’s.

All three have consistently denied charges they faced, which included spreading false news and collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood, and maintain they were working as journalists.

“We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom," Souag said. "The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do.”

Greste and Fahmy were handed seven-year sentences, while Mohamed received an additional three years for a bullet found in his possession, which he had picked up at a protest site, according to al-Jazeera.

On Jan. 1, 2015, Egypt's Court of Cassation accepted a retrial, but the three journalists did not appear at the hearing and were not granted bail.

The imprisonment has provoked criticism from press freedom advocates around the world and sparked the successful online campaign #FreeAJStaff.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has helped lead the charge to free the journalists and repeatedly called on President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to free all three immediately. According to CPJ, more than 65 journalists have been detained since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July of 2013.

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Praetorian Standard Contractors Identified as Three Americans Killed in Kabul

mustafabilgesatkin/iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- The Americans killed in a shooting at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, were three contractors working for Praetorian Standard, the company said on Saturday.

The three employees, all aircraft mechanics, were killed "while supporting the efforts of the U.S. Government," Praetorian Standard said.

They were identified as Walter Fisher of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Jason Landphair of Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Mathew Fineran of Summerville, South Carolina.

"These brave men died protecting their fellow Americans," Praetorian Standard Executive Director Richard Davis said in a statement. "They are heroes, and we are deeply saddened by their tragic deaths."

Another man, Bradley James of Atlanta, Georgia, suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries, Praetorian Standard reported.

The shooter was wearing the uniform of an Afghan national policeman, but it was unclear whether he was actually a member of the Afghan security forces, a U.S. official said.

The shootings were on the civilian side of the airport, the official said.

The incident is under investigation, the official said. It is also unclear whether the Afghan listed as a fatality is someone other than the shooter who was shot dead by the security team at the airport.

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New ISIS Video Purports to Show Beheading of Japanese Reporter

Obtained by ABC News(TOKYO) -- A 66-second ISIS video purports to show the beheading of Japanese reporter Kenji Goto, a gruesome end to a week of failed negotiations.

There was no immediate comment from Japanese or U.S. intelligence officials on Saturday, but the video appears to show the detached head of the 46-year-old reporter who was captured late last year by the terror group while on assignment in Syria.

The video, titled “A Message to the Japanese Government,” begins with Goto on his knees in a river valley. A masked man with a knife in his hand speaks with a British accent, addressing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Let the nightmare for Japan begin,” the executioner says as he puts a knife to Goto’s neck.

Shortly after the video's release, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he felt "very sorry for this matter," according to Japan's NHK news outlet.

"The government has tried its best to deal with this matter, but we are deeply saddened by this despicable and horrendous act of terrorism and we denounce it in the strongest terms," he said. "To the terrorists, we would never, never forgive them for this act." He said Japan would continue fighting against terrorism.

Prior to Abe's comments, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called it an "atrocious act of terrorism," according to Japan's NHK news agency. Suga said his government is "outraged" by the act.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the White House is aware of the video and is "working to confirm its authenticity."

"The United States strongly condemns [ISIS's] actions and we call for the immediate release of all remaining hostages. We stand in solidarity with our ally Japan," spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said.

Before his death, audio messages from Goto were published online by ISIS last week, relaying ISIS's offer to free Goto, but only if Jordan released a convicted female al Qaeda member, Sajida al-Rishawi, from death row. If the Jordanians did not release al-Rishawi, ISIS said through Goto, then Goto and a Jordanian pilot also held captive by the terror group would be killed. The Jordanian government publicly said they would release al-Rishawi, but only in return for the pilot.

Al-Rishawi has been in prison for a decade for her role in an al Qaeda bombing attack in Jordan in 2005 that killed dozens, including many at a wedding party.

ISIS set a hard deadline for al-Rishawi's release for sunset on Thursday, but the Jordanians didn't budge, saying ISIS had not provided proof of life their pilot was alive. Amid the tense negotiations, top Japanese officials had said they were working closely with Jordan to find a way to gain freedom for their citizen.

The status of the Jordanian pilot is unclear, but Goto now joins a number of Western civilians, and scores of locals who were murdered by the terror group.

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US Carries Out Six Additional Airstrikes Against ISIS Targets in Syria, Iraq

Andrey Moisseyev/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military and coalition forces continue their campaign against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), conducting strikes against six targets in Iraq and Syria, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

Two of the strikes took place near Kobani, Syria, where two ISIS fighting and staging positions were destroyed, including an ISIS vehicle, according to CENTCOM.

In Iraq, one strike took place near the town of Al Asad, where an ISIS firing position was targeted.

Three strikes near Tal Afar struck two ISIS fighting positions, and destroyed an ISIS building, bunker, and shipping container. The six strikes took place on Thursday and Friday, according to CENTCOM.

All the aircraft involved in the operations managed to exit the areas safely.

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Egyptian President Blames Muslim Brotherhood for Attacks

Kostyantin Pankin/iStock/Thinkstock(CAIRO) -- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi blamed the Muslim Brotherhood on Saturday for a deadly attack of Egyptian soldiers earlier this week.

The statements came two days after the deadly attack in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, which killed 31 soldiers. The president cut short a visit to an African Union summit to return to Egypt after the attack.

"This battle will be difficult, strong, evil and will take a long time," he said in comments broadcast on state TV, the BBC reports.

An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.

It is the second major deadly attack in the last six months in the region, as insurgents continue to target police and military personnel.

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Two Eagles Balloon Lands Off Mexican Coast

Popartic/iStock/Thinkstock(BAJA, Mexico) -- The pilots behind the Two Eagles Balloon flight over the Pacific Ocean landed off the Baja peninsula in Mexico a day after surpassing the distance record for gas balloons.

Recovery teams were en route to American Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev on Saturday morning, said officials with Two Eagles Balloon. They landed about four miles off the coast.


Their trip - which began in Japan - lasted 160 hours, and 37 minutes, besting the absolute world record for time aloft for gas balloons of 137 hours, 5 minutes and 50 seconds. They traveled a total of 6,646 miles, better than the previous record of 5,209 miles.

Earlier in the flight, Bradley told Mission Control he was "not nervous at all about the mission," according to the Two Eagles Balloon team.

Although the two pilots surpassed the mark for duration of gas balloons, the record has not been officially broken. This will determined by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association and FAI after a long process of documentation and review that can take up to several weeks, or even months. 


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Top ISIS Chemical Weapons Expert Killed in Coalition Airstrike

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Central Command said on Friday that a coalition airstrike near Mosul, Iraq last Saturday killed a top chemical weapons engineer for ISIS.

Centcom said Abu Malik was killed in an airstrike on Jan. 24 near Mosul.

Malik used to work at the chemical weapons facility that Saddam Hussein had at Muthanna, Iraq before joining Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2006, and then later joining ISIS.

Malik used his expertise to “pursue a chemical weapons capability” for ISIS, according to Centcom.  

His death is expected to temporarily degrade and disrupt the ability of ISIS to potentially produce and use chemical weapons.

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Gunman Opens Fire on Two Americans in Saudi Arabia

Getty Images(ALMOBARAZ, Saudi Arabia) -- Police in Saudi Arabia say two Americans were shot at while driving in the Kingdom’s eastern provinces.

The incident happened on Friday in the city of Almobaraz in the province of Ahsa, according to a report by the official Saudi Press Agency.

One of the Americans was injured in the shooting and taken to a hospital, where he is in stable condition.

In a statement through the Saudi Press Agency, police say they are hunting the attacker.

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Iraqi Oil Production Still Climbing, Despite ISIS Offensive

iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Even as the fight against ISIS continues in Iraq, the ongoing violence appears to have barely made a dent in the country’s oil production.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report on Friday that Iraq produced an additional 300,000 barrels per day in 2014 over the previous year.

“Iraq’s crude oil production grew by 950,000 barrels per day over the past five years, increasing from almost 2.4 million bbl/d in 2010 to almost 3.4 million bbl/d in 2014,” according to the U.S. EIA.

Frequent attacks have caused significant damage to production in the north and central regions, but the agency says that increased output at oil fields in southern Iraq and Kurdistan region has helped to offset the loss.

The gains are significant enough that processing and export facilities in Iraq are still hitting bottlenecks, according to the agency.

Iraq has the fifth largest proved crude oil reserves in the world, and it is the second-largest crude oil producer in OPEC.

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Two Eagles Balloon Pilots Surpass Duration Record

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The pilots behind the Two Eagles Balloon flight over the Pacific Ocean have done it -- surpassing the distance record for gas balloons of 5,209 miles.

The flight bested the absolute world record for time aloft for gas balloons of 137 hours, 5 minutes and 50 seconds.

American Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev passed the final milestone on their checklist of world records that had originally been set by Double Eagle II on its transatlantic flight in 1978.

On Thursday, the Two Eagles team tweeted: "The pilots have just surpassed the distance needed to set a new record. 5,261 miles or 8,467km."

Although the two pilots surpassed the mark for duration of gas balloons, the record has not been officially broken. This will determined by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association and FAI after a long process of documentation and review that can take up to several weeks, or even months.

At this point in their journey, the final and most important goal for the Two Eagles pilots is to land the balloon safely.

Bradley and Tiukhtyaev are approximately 400 miles west of the Mexican border as they are flying parallel to the west coast of the United States. They are expected to land Saturday on the Baja peninsula in Mexico.

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