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HEAR THIS HOUR'S UPDATE

Friday
Jul252014

No Survivors in Air Algerie Crash, French President Says

Purestock/Thinkstock(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) -- French troops are headed to a remote area in Mali to secure the site of Thursday's Air Algerie jet crash, the third major international aviation disaster in a week.

French President Francois Hollande announced Friday that there were no survivors in the crash of the MD-83 aircraft, which disappeared from radar less than an hour after it took off early Thursday from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, for Algiers. The plane had requested permission to change course due to bad weather.

The jetliner -- owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria's flagship carrier -- had 110 passengers and six crew members on board.

President Hollande, who spoke after a crisis meeting, also announced that one of the aircraft's two black boxes have been located in the wreckage, in the Gossi region near the Burkina Faso border. It is being transported to the northern Mali city of Gao.

French forces, stationed in Mali to help combat al Qaeda and tribal separatists, are tasked with securing the crash site and gathering information. Much of the region is desert, rugged and remote, with few roads and an average high temperature of 101 degrees Farenheit this time of the year.

The airline said that among the passengers were 51 French nationals along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian. The six crew members were Spanish.

News of the plane's disappearance came when Swiftair released a statement saying the plane had not arrived at its destination.

The crash of the Air Algerie plane is the latest in a series of aviation disasters. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the southern Indian Ocean with 239 people on board. No wreckage from the plane has been found.

And last week, a Malaysia Airlines jetliner was shot down over a war-torn section of Ukraine, with U.S. officials blaming it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile.

On Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.

While fliers are jittery about the tragedies, air travel remains relatively safe. There have been two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in the last decade, excluding acts of terrorism. Travelers are much more likely to die driving to the airport than stepping on a plane.

There are more than 30,000 motor-vehicle deaths in the U.S. each year, a mortality rate eight times greater than that in planes.


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Thursday
Jul242014

EU Approves More Sanctions Over Ukraine Crisis 

iStock/Thinkstock(BRUSSELS, Belgium) -- The European Union approved further sanctions linked to the crisis in Ukraine, adding more Ukranian and Russian individuals and entities to its list Thursday.

The Council's Committee of Permanent Representatives implemented further restrictions as a result of the annexation of Crimea. The subjects of the prohibitions will have their assets frozen and undergo a visa ban.

The individuals and entities added follow 72 people already listed under EU sanctions.

"The meeting also reached agreement on extending the designation criteria," representatives said in a statement. "This will pave the way for imposing asset freezes and visa bans on persons and entities that actively support or are benefiting from Russian decision makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine."

In addition to sanctions, the group discussed additional measures to restrict trade with and investment in Crimea and Sevastopol.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

Wreckage From Algerian Jetliner Found in Mali, Says Office of French President

iStock/Thinkstock(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) -- The wreckage of an Algerian airliner that disappeared from radar Thursday was found in Mali near the border of Burkina Faso, according to a statement from the office of the French president.

"The device has been clearly identified despite its disintegrated state," read the statement.

The Air Algerie jetliner had 110 passengers and six crew members when it took off from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, en route to Algiers, the airline said.

Air navigation services lost track of the plane, an MD-83 model, about 50 minutes after it took off.

French forces, which are stationed in Mali to help combat al Qaeda and tribal separatists, sent two planes searching for the airliner.

Earlier in the day, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the aircraft "probably crashed."

A French military detachment was dispatched to the area to secure the site and gather first information on the wreckage.

The airline said that among the passengers were 51 French nationals along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian. The six crew members were Spanish.

News of the plane's disappearance came when Swiftair, the Spanish company that operated the plane, released a statement saying the plane had not arrived at its destination.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

Prince George's Birthday Gifts from President Obama Revealed in New Exhibit

John Stillwell - WPA Pool /Getty Images(LONDON) -- Ever wonder what President Obama got Prince George when he was born?

This weekend, the Buckingham Palace children's exhibit will answer that question and more.

President Barack Obama sent the son of Kate Middleton and Prince William a blue alpaca wool baby blanket shortly after his birth last year on July 22, according to the Palace.

George, who turned one earlier this week, was also sent a handmade rocking horse with the presidential seal on its saddle, and a polo mallet with a head made from the branch of an oak tree that once stood on the south lawn of the White House.

These lavish gifts will be on display at the Palace for the “Royal Childhood” exhibit, which opens Saturday and lasts for eight weeks. It is a yearly tradition that starts with the Queen leaving for Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

While the Queen is on holiday, visitors can come into the palace and tour the exhibit.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

US Says Russian Military Has Fired Artillery into Ukraine

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Russian military forces have fired artillery rounds into eastern Ukraine to target Ukrainian military positions, and plans to send even more heavy multiple rocket launchers to Russian separatists, U.S. officials said for the first time Thursday.

A Pentagon official labeled the Russian activity as “a clear escalation” of the conflict in that region that has drawn worldwide attention since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the skies over Ukraine, apparently by a Russian-built missile system.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.

Harf did not provide additional information as to how the U.S. concluded that the Russian military had been shelling Ukrainian military positions. However, she said that the information that the heavier rocket launchers were headed into Ukraine had been gleaned from what she referred to as “human intelligence.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren later said, “We do know now that the Russians have been firing artillery from Russia into Ukraine to attack Ukrainian military positions.”

“This has been happening, we believe, for several days,” said Warren. “This is a military escalation, there’s no question about it.”

As evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier multiple rocket launchers to separatist forces in Ukraine, Warren referred to activity at a site in southwestern Russia where the Russian military has provided training for Russian separatists and gathered heavy military equipment for their use.

Senior intelligence officials referred to the site outside of Rostov on Tuesday when they made their case for why Russia had “created the conditions” for the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner with a Russian-built SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Since the shoot-down, “there’s been ongoing multiple rocket launcher activity at the Rostov site and multiple rocket launchers continue to depart and return to Rostov at irregular intervals,” Warren said.

For the last month, the Russian military has gathered between 10,000 and 12,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, officials said. The forces are deployed along the border at varying distances, with some elements coming as close as five miles to the border with Ukraine, one official said.

It has been difficult to determine what the Russian intent is for these forces, the official said, but the information released Thursday indicates at least some of them have been engaged in artillery fire targeting Ukrainian military positions.

Ukrainian officials have alleged direct Russian military support for separatists for weeks. Over the past 24 hours, pictures have appeared in Ukrainian media outlets that were purportedly taken by a Russian soldier displaying the artillery equipment his unit has used during its deployment to the border. The images have since been taken down from the Russian social media site on which they were originally posted.

While officials did not provide a precise time as to when the Russian military began to fire artillery across the border, a U.S. official said it began as early as July 15.

Videos posted on social media on July 16 appeared to show Grad rockets being fired from inside Russia into Ukraine. The Grad system is a multiple rocket launcher system used by the Russian military that has been provided to Russian separatists.

NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove tweeted his concerns about the videos the following day. “I am deeply concerned by this latest video that appears to show Russia engaging in military action against Ukraine,” he wrote.

Senior intelligence officials said Tuesday that the flow of Russian heavy military equipment has continued into eastern Ukraine since the crash of the Malaysian airliner.  The flow of weapons included tanks, armored personnel carriers and Grad multiple rocket launcher systems.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

Peace Corps Suspends Kenya Program 

iStock/Thinkstock(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- The Peace Corps is suspending its entire volunteer program in Kenya as a result of security concerns in the region, a U.S. State Department official announced Thursday.

The organization has been monitoring the environment in the country, along with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

"The Peace Corps plans to continue to monitor the security environment and reassess the security situation at an appropriate future date to determine if and when volunteers can return," the official said in a statement. "The Peace Corps has enjoyed a long partnership with the government and people of Kenya and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there."

Violent attacks in the country, along with the incident at Westgate Mall in 2013 that killed at least 67 people, have raised concerns over safety.

The United States has kept up a partnership with Kenya for more than 50 years, set on improving Kenya's economy and developing its health, education, and security sectors. The U.S. provides between $700 million and $1 billion in annual assistance, and the embassy in Nairobi will remain open and staffed for its regular operations.

"The commitment of the United States to Kenya is unwavering. We remain a strong and steadfast partner of the government and people of Kenya," the State Department official added.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

Official: Terrorists in Syria Now as Dangerous to US as Those in Yemen

iStock/Thinkstock(ASPEN, Colo.) -- Syria has risen as a top threat to the U.S. homeland that rivals Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate known for its innovative bombs successfully smuggled aboard airplanes, a top Pentagon official said on Thursday.

"Syria is probably the number one threat -- or, with... threats out of Yemen -- to the American homeland right now and elsewhere in the west," said Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s under secretary for defense intelligence.

In answer to a question by moderator Brian Ross of ABC News at a panel at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of national security veterans, Vickers, himself a former Special Forces operator, said that the foreigners flocking to Syria are hard to track and are a "serious problem."

"Foreign fighters who are western passport holders, including Americans, a subset of that, numbers in the four digits," Vickers said.

Since 2010, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen has held the top spot in the minds of counter-terrorism officials after the terror group tried unsuccessfully to use four different improvised explosive devices, hidden in underwear on a bomber or inside printer cartridges, in an effort to blow up U.S.-bound commercial passenger and cargo jets.

But a portion of the thousands of foreign fighters joining extremists for training and jihad against Syria's embattled dictator Bashar al Assad over the last few years are viewed as likely to eventually try to attack western targets, many officials have said.

Top U.S. officials have spoken more openly about the threat emanating from Syria this year.

John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, has established a prosecutors unit to focus on Americans fighting in Syria or aspiring to, because of the enormity of the threat.

"The number of foreign fighters that are already in place in Syria, and a number of other westerners in that group, is one that is unprecedented, and is a larger number than we ever saw in ungoverned spaces in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Carlin said during the panel discussion.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said it's all his European colleagues want to discuss, their fears are so pronounced.

"It's number one on the list of discussion topics," he told the security conference.

The tactical threat still remains rooted in the disturbing expertise provided by AQAP's master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, officials said.

Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole, on a separate panel, said that the type of device he worries about most, "from everything I'm aware of, [is] still a non-metallic IED."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

UN Shelter in Gaza Comes Under Fire

iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- The United Nations body responsible for Palestinian refugees  -- UNRWA -- reported Thursday that one of its designated shelters in Northern Gaza was hit.

Initial reports suggest at least 15 Palestinian civilians were killed and scores more were injured.  

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the explosion tore through the courtyard of a school in Beit Hanoun filled with Palestinian civilians waiting to obey evacuation orders.

Eyewitnesses blamed the bloodshed on an Israeli tank shell.

Gunness said Israel knew the coordinates of the school and had not granted his requests for safe passage.  

But the Israeli Army denied this. It said a Hamas rocket may have been responsible and it has opened an investigation.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

Sudanese Woman Condemned to Hang Reportedly Flies to Italy

iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- A woman sentenced to death for marrying a Christian has flown to Italy, according to a report from the BBC.

Meriem Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced to be flogged and hanged to death in Sudan for marrying a Christian and converting from the Muslim faith to Christianity. Ibrahim's story drew outrage from people across the globe as her story went viral on social media under the "#savemeriam" hashtag and world leaders condemned the harsh sentence.

Ibrahim, who was raised by her Christian mother, was eight months pregnant at the time of her sentence and has since given birth.

Ibrahim and her family flew on an Italian government plane, accompanied by Italian minister Lapo Pistelli, the BBC reports. Pistelli posted a photo to Facebook showing the group with the caption, “With Miriam, Maya, Martin and Daniel, in a few minutes of Rome. Mission accomplished.” 

Pope Francis reportedly met with Ibrahim and her family for about 30 minutes in his private residence at the Vatican. The pope thanked Ibrahim for "her steadfast witness of faith," a Vatican spokesman said, according to the Catholic News Service.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul242014

Hockey Player Shares Story Behind Queen Elizabeth's Photobomb

@_JaydeTaylor/Twitter(LONDON) -- Photobombs happen all the time. A photobomb by Queen Elizabeth -- smiling no less -- does not.

Jayde Taylor, an athlete competing in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games with the Australian women's hockey team, was warming down with her teammate Brooke Peris when the Queen stopped by to say hello. It was at that point that Taylor snapped the photo.

"Brooke and I planned it so that when she came out the door she would be behind us. And then she came out and smiled at the camera!" Taylor told ABC News. "We were in the right spot at the right time."

However, meeting the royal may have surpassed the experience of taking a photo with her.

"She asked us a bit about the pitch, how we were going and told us to enjoy our time here," Taylor said. "She was lovely. Really, really lovely."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio