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Friday
Oct312014

NATO Intercepts More Russian Aircraft

Darko Dozet/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A number of Russian aircraft were intercepted by NATO on Friday, the second time this week that Russian aircraft prompted the scrambling of NATO fighter jets.

A U.S. defense official told ABC News that NATO tracked "multiple sets" of Russian aircraft, including fighter jets, bombers and refueling tankers. At least two TU-95 bombers were among the Russian planes tracked, after being spotted west of the United Kingdom. The planes had traveled as far south as Portugal before turning back.

The official said that the Russian planes did not violate airspace, but were tracked because they filed no flight plans.

Such incidents "pose the potential risk of escalation," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday, adding that the U.S. and NATO are watching the Russian flights "very, very closely."

NATO says that there have been approximately 100 intercepts involving Russian aircraft in 2014 -- about three times the amount in all of 2013.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

Why Upheaval in Burkina Faso Matters to US National Security

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) -- In a surprise announcement, the leader of the African nation of Burkina Faso said Friday he will end his nearly three decade rule -– marking a victory for thousands of angry protesters, but prompting some uneasiness inside the U.S. national security community, which sees the tiny West African nation as a "key ally" in anti-terror operations in the region.

“The location of Burkina Faso is strategic, if you look at the other sides of it,” a U.S. official told ABC News. “It’s an important, strategic place for CT [counter-terrorism] efforts and it’s one of those places that needs to be calm.”

One of the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Faso sits in West Africa between the two operational zones of two major terrorist organizations – al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali to the north, and Boko Haram in Nigeria to the east.

As such, the government of Burkina Faso -- like its neighbor Niger -- previously agreed to allow American spy planes and drones to operate from its airfields, according to a 2012 report by The Washington Post. The Post called Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou a “key hub of the U.S. spying network” in the region, from which the U.S. conducted a surveillance mission code named Creek Sand out of a small air base built on to the international airport there.

In its 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism, the State Department said Burkina Faso was a “strong U.S. security and defense partner in the region” and said that that year, the government “aggressively undertook measures to combat the regional danger posed by terrorist organizations.”

“The Government of Burkina Faso has recognized the importance of regional stability as an element in the fight against terrorism,” the State Department said.

With Friday’s announcement from Burkina Faso’s longtime leader Blaise Compaore, the U.S. may have lost a somewhat reliable, personal partner in power.

“He [Compaore] is a guy that we’ve sort of been able to work with to help with some of the issues in the region, in terms of being able to use Burkina strategically to counter the unsavories in the neighborhood,” the U.S. official said. “This change is a change that [the U.S. government] is going to have to contend with.”

In 2013, Gilles Yabi, the International Crisis Group's West Africa Project Director, said that Compaore and "his men [had] succeeded in positioning themselves as indispensable mediators in the resolution of regional crisis."

Yabi said that "turmoil in Burkina Faso" could mean the loss of a "key ally and strategic base” for the U.S. and France, according to the International Crisis Group's website. France has also undertaken expansive counter-terror operations in north Africa, including a major operation in Mali in 2013.

However, the U.S. official didn't see the political change in Burkina Faso as necessarily having much of an impact on American counter-terrorism operations there. After all, in return for allowing U.S. to conduct its missions from Burkina Faso, the U.S. supports the country’s own anti-terror and border security operations.

For instance, in 2013 “U.S. assistance facilitated the establishment of a 1,000-person border security task force and the training and equipping of a military counter-terrorism unit,” according to the State Department report.

It’s the kind of help -- along with millions of dollars yearly in foreign aid -- that the U.S. is counting on Burkina Faso needing, whoever is in charge.

“The military leaders, the transitional leaders don’t want what is going on in the neighborhood to spill over to Burkina Faso,” the U.S. official said. “It doesn’t appear at this moment that the new transitional government would seek to turn a shoulder to the U.S. or any Western partner.”

Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman, a spokesperson for the U.S. military’s Africa Command which runs operations on the continent, declined to discuss American counter-terrorism operations in Burkina Faso, but she said the military is “keeping a close eye” on developments there.

While she said she doesn’t “want to guess at what’s going to happen,” Hillman said the military is “hopeful” that the change of power won’t affect Burkina Faso's posture towards American forces in the region.

"[Burkina Faso is] a key ally," Hillman said. "In a region that’s so unstable at times, it’s good to have an ally."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

Italy to Cease Missions to Save Migrants Crossing Mediterranean

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(ROME) -- Italy announced on Friday it will stop conducting search and rescue missions to save migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Since January, naval patrols between Italy and North Africa have saved more than 150,000 people in rickety boats escaping war and violence. But Italy says it can no longer afford the $11 million a month operation and will stop it at the end of the year.

The European Union is set to start its own patrols on Saturday, but human rights groups say it's not big enough to replace the Italian rescue mission and that thousands more lives could be lost.

The E.U. has also had trouble getting member countries to contribute to the new mission. Britain says it won't be part of it because the patrols will only encourage more migrants to risk the dangerous crossing. 

So far this year, more than 3,300 people have drowned trying to make it to Italy.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

Canada Won't Issue Visas to Individuals from Ebola-Impacted Countries

PhenomArtlover/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- Canada has instituted a visa ban on individuals from West Africa seeking temporary or permanent residence, in an effort to prevent the spread of Ebola.

Noting the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the potential for "introduction or spread of the disease," the Canadian government opted to enact the visa ban as of Friday. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will neither process new visa applications nor continue to process pending applications for temporary residence for workers, students or visitors who have been in an Ebola affected country within three months of their application date.

The decision applies to those nations designated by the World Health Organization as having widespread and persistent/intense transmission of Ebola.

The rules apply to those seeking permanent residence as well.

The decision, reported by the Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the government of Canada, aim to "assist in the prevention of the transmission and spread of the Ebola Virus Disease in Canada."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

President of Burkina Faso Steps Aside Following Protests

Photo by Stan Honda-Pool/Getty Images(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) -- Following violent protests over his attempt to extend his presidential term, Blaise Compaore, leader of Burkina Faso, stepped aside on Friday, dissolving his government and called for democratic elections and a return to tranquility.

Compaore had been pushing a bill that would have extended his term as president by five years. He has served in that position for 27 years.

On Thursday, protests turned violent, with the country's parliament set on fire.

Compaore said he would remain in his role during the transitional period.

The U.S. "calls for a transfer of power in accordance with the constitution," National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said Friday. "We regret the loss of life stemming from the recent violence in Burkina Faso." She also noted that the U.S. is "concerned about reports that Military Chief Gen. Honore Traore has announce he is acting as head of state...we strongly condemn any attempt to seize power through extra-constitutional means."

The Washington Post notes that a hub of the U.S. spy network is based in Ouagadougou.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

Clashes in Jerusalem, West Bank Amid Rising Tension

iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- Scattered clashes erupted around Jerusalem and the West Bank following Friday’s midday Muslim prayers as tension and violence grow with the shooting death by Israeli police of a Palestinian man and Thursday’s closure of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam.

At least eight Palestinians were reported wounded in clashes with Israeli forces on Friday at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah. There had been calls by Palestinian leaders for a “Day of Rage” after Muataz Hijazi, 32, was gunned down Thursday morning by Israeli border police, suspected of trying to assassinate a prominent right-wing Israeli activist.

The same day, Israeli authorities closed down the compound of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews. It was the first time since 1967 that the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City had been completely closed off.

With Palestinian anger on the rise, it was announced that the compound would be re-opened on Friday, but for only for male Muslim worshippers over the age of 50 , as well as women of any age.

On Friday morning, Israeli police in riot gear encircled the Old City and lined its alleyways before the prayers, as people filed through barricades toward the mosque.

But as the prayers ended, the skies opened up, dampening the violence the city had been bracing for. Many of the police reinforcements that had been called in were seen leaving as the rains got heavier and it became clear there wouldn’t be confrontations there.

As the drizzle continued, police and protesters clashed elsewhere, including the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Hebron, as well as Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz and Abo Tur neighborhoods, near the home of Muataz Hijazi.

Hijazi is suspected by Israeli police of shooting four bullets into the torso of American-born Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a well-known activist who advocated the building of what’s known as the Third Temple on the site of the al-Aqsa mosque, as well as campaigning for the rights of Jews to pray in the compound, which is forbidden.

Glick was coming out of a conference called “Israel Returns to the Temple Mount” at Jerusalem’s Begin Center when a man on a motorcycle shot him. Hijazi’s cousin told the BBC that he was executed by police on the roof of his home.

All this comes after months of almost daily clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem, sparked in July after a Palestinian teen was burned to death by Jewish extremists, believed to have been motivated by the killing of three Israeli teens by Palestinians from Hebron.

The growing violence has raised fears of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising. After the closure of the al-Aqsa compound, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was tantamount to “a declaration of war.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

UK Fireworks Factory Blaze Caught on Camera

Jacob Willcox/YouTube(STAFFORD, England) — A large blaze at a fireworks factory in the United Kingdom sent two people to the hospital, with one person missing.

Video shows fireworks exploding and smoke pouring from the building in Stafford Thursday night.

About 50 firefighters battled the blaze at its peak. Firefighters remained at the building overnight after extinguishing the blaze.

One person remains missing.

The building will be searched as investigators try to figure out what caused the fire, Staffordshire police said.


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Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

US Military Conducts Eight Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria, Iraq

Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock(TAMPA, Fla.) -- The U.S. military continued its attack against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Iraq and Syria, launching eight more airstrikes on Thursday and Friday.

According to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), four of the strikes were in Syria, near Kobani. They damaged four fighting positions and one building.  

The remaining four airstrikes in Iraq hit a small unit near Fallujah; struck a small unit near Bayji; destroyed a checkpoint and one vehicle near Al Qaim; and destroyed three ISIS-occupied buildings and hit a large unit near Tikrit.

CENTCOM said all the aircraft used in the attacks managed to exit the areas safely.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

Monster Costumes Could Lead to Arrest in Beijing on Halloween

iStock/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Dressing up as a monster or a zombie for Halloween might get you arrested Friday night in Beijing because authorities fear the costumes could cause "panic."

Expats in Beijing had organized Halloween parties on the subway in the past two years. Each year, the weekend before Halloween, “ghouls” and other Halloweeners would hop on subway Line 2 carrying bottles of beer and mixed drinks. When subway security personnel tried to stop the crowds, they were often swallowed up in the throngs of revelers -- which included many people dressed up as subway security guards.

Halloween is not celebrated in China and the Beijing government discourages superstitions. The warning against spooking subway riders was carried in the Beijing Times, which said authorities feared the gruesome costumes could cause "panic."

The Beijing Times quotes police as warning trick-or-treaters that if they “insist on getting on the subway, or the chaos is serious and causes a stampede or other public safety incident, the police will deal with it severely in accordance with the law.”

The crackdown comes ahead of Beijing hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference next month. Leaders from all over the world will be gathered in the capital for what is being hailed as the biggest international event there since the 2008 Olympics.

In order to make sure the APEC summit runs smoothly, the Beijing government has been taking some tough measures.

Factories in and outside of Beijing have been shut down for air-quality control.

Starting from Saturday and running until Nov. 12, the city will begin widespread traffic controls, and cars can only hit the streets every other day, depending on their license plate numbers.

Authorities will also increase general security measures, including banning monsters and zombies that usually jam the subway line each Halloween.

Many people in China have commented on the Internet and expressed little sympathy for the Halloween partiers.

One Internet user from Nanjing wrote: “Please consider children and old people in public places.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct312014

An ISIS Group Ashamed of Its Name

iStock/Thinkstock(HALIFAX, Nova Scotia) — For years, the Immigrant Settlement & Integration Services agency in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has assisted new arrivals in settling in the Canadian province. As CBCNews reports, the agency will continue to do its work but under a new name since its acronym ISIS is apparently scaring off people.

ISIS, as the world has come to know, also stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the militant Sunni extremist group that has become the new scourge of the Mideast.

Gerry Mills, the head of ISIS Nova Scotia, said that while his employees are now reluctant to tell others the name of their organization, what really precipitated the decision to drop ISIS was the reaction it got from Syrian and Iraqi immigrants.

Meanwhile, Halifax International Airport has also taken down a sign that reads, ""Starting your new life in Canada? Contact ISIS."

Mills says a new, non-controversial name should be picked out within a week or two "that will outlive all of us, we hope.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio