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Tuesday
Jan272015

UN Says 3,000 Child Soldiers in South Sudan to Be Released

PeterHermesFurian/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The United Nations says that 3,000 child soldiers in South Sudan are to be freed thanks to the United Nations Children's Fund.

According to a U.N. statement, the first group of 280 children were released on Tuesday at the village of Gumuruk. Ranging from 11 to 17 years old, the children were recruited by the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction and have been fighting for up to four years. Many of them have never attended school, the U.N. says.

The U.N. further claims that 12,000 children have been recruited and used as soldiers by armed groups in South Sudan in the last year.

"These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience," UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch said. "The release of thousands of children requires a massive response to provide the support and protection these children need to begin rebuilding their lives."

The children being released by Cobra Faction will be supported with basic health care, protection, food, water and clothing.


Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan272015

Lawyers for Billionaire Sex Offender Linked to Prince Andrew Scandal Ask Judge to Keep Documents Sealed

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Attorneys for convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein claim in a new court filing that the billionaire financier will be "irreparably harmed" if emails and letters his lawyers sent to federal prosecutors during plea negotiations are made public, and they're asking a judge to order that the correspondence remain sealed.

Epstein's legal brief, filed in U.S. District Court in Florida late Monday by attorneys Roy Black and Martin Weinberg, represents his first formal statements since explosive allegations emerged last month that he had forced a then-17-year-old girl to have sex with Britain's Prince Andrew and other powerful men.

Epstein's court filing is peppered with references to "the gossip media" and "grocery store tabloids," and contains thinly-veiled accusations that the lawyers for recognized victims of Epstein's alleged sexual crimes are feeding a media frenzy.

"This is a widely watched and reported case," the court motion states. "Mr. Epstein and a host of other individuals have been the subject of the most outlandish and offensive attacks, allegations, and plain inventions."

Virginia Roberts, 31, recently reignited worldwide interest in Epstein's controversial non-prosecution agreement when she claimed in court documents that Epstein had kept her for sex for years as a teenager, and -- in turn -- trafficked her for sex with a host of his prominent associates, including three times with Prince Andrew, the middle son of Queen Elizabeth II, and at least six times with longtime Harvard legal professor Alan Dershowitz.

In an affidavit filed last week, Roberts offered to appear before the court for sworn testimony and vowed to "pursue all reasonable and legitimate means to have criminal charges brought against these powerful men for the crimes they have committed against me and other girls."

Both the prince and Dershowitz have strenuously denied the allegations.

"Every single word in her affidavit about me is a deliberate and categorical lie," Dershowitz told ABC News in an interview last week, and he also filed a sworn declaration in court asserting that he had never even met Roberts.

Dershowitz said he wants Roberts to come forward with dates and times on their alleged encounters so he can use his travel records to prove his innocence, he said. "She picked on the wrong innocent person, because I have the will, the determination and the resources to fight back and prove that what she's saying is false," he said.

Buckingham Palace issued a strongly worded statement on behalf of the prince, categorically denying Roberts' allegations as "false and without foundation." And then the prince himself, speaking last week before an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, referred vaguely to the "events that have taken place in the last few weeks," before saying that he wished to "reiterate and reaffirm the statements" already made by the Palace.

Roberts made her claims in court as she seeks to join a case filed by two other women against the U.S. government. Those women contend that the deal with Epstein violated their rights as crime victims to be consulted and treated with fairness in the administration of justice. Epstein is not a party to the case but has been permitted to intervene on a limited basis to argue motions that affect him directly.

The government has opposed Roberts' entry into the case, which was first filed in July 2008 as an emergency motion to stop the deal from taking place without their input. Unbeknownst at the time to the victims, the agreement had already been signed nine months earlier. The government asserts that Roberts waited far too long before seeking to join the lawsuit.

Epstein, an enigmatic financier who has palatial homes in Florida, New York, New Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, was the subject of wide-ranging state and federal investigations, beginning in 2005, looking into claims that he had illegal sexual contact with dozens of minor girls at his Palm Beach mansion and elsewhere. By mid-2007, he was facing a potential federal indictment for alleged sex crimes involving nearly three dozen teenage girls. If charged and convicted, he could have faced 10 years to life in prison.

Instead, Epstein entered into the unusual and, at the time, confidential non-prosecution agreement with the federal government that resulted in him pleading guilty to two comparatively minor sex crimes in a Florida state court. He pleaded guilty to a count of solicitation of a prostitute and a count of solicitation of a prostitute who is a minor. He served 13 months in jail and must now register as a sex offender for the rest of his life -- in any state where he owns a home.

Dershowitz was among a group of prominent attorneys who helped Epstein secure the deal, which also granted federal immunity to any possible co-conspirators who may have assisted Epstein in the commission of the alleged crimes. The deal also required Epstein to pay the costs of a private attorney to assist the alleged victims who wished to negotiate financial settlements without litigation.

Roberts' attorneys have alleged that Epstein used his wealth and influence with prominent people to secure the favorable deal.

Kenneth Marra, the federal district court judge overseeing the case brought by the victims, has already ruled that the government had an obligation to inform Epstein's victims about the deal, but has reserved judgment about whether the government failed to meet its obligations until a more complete factual record is developed. Marra has indicated that, if he finds the government violated the victims' rights, one possible remedy he would consider is a rescission of Epstein's deal.

The plaintiffs' attorneys, Bradley Edwards and former federal judge Paul Cassell, have long argued that the correspondence between Epstein's attorneys and federal prosecutors is "central to this lawsuit" and argued in a motion filed late Monday night that sealing it "would prevent the public from learning about matters of considerable public concern."

When reached by ABC News, Cassell declined to comment on Epstein's allegations that the victims' attorneys were engaged in a "frolic with the media."

Last fall, Judge Marra unsealed a small portion of the correspondence from Epstein's attorneys that had been kept under seal for several months after being filed. One excerpt -- a one-line email from an Epstein attorney sent just as the terms of the non-prosecution deal were being finalized -- reads simply: "Please do whatever you can to keep this from becoming public."

Marra has not set a hearing date, and it is unclear when he might rule. If he were to side with the plaintiffs, the immediate effect could be the unsealing of a 23-page letter written in part by Dershowitz and sent to federal prosecutors two months before the agreement was signed. That letter was filed under seal by the plaintiffs last week.


Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan272015

American Among Dead in Tripoli, Libya, Hotel Attack

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- Several gunmen wearing ski masks stormed the Corinthia Hotel, a hotel popular with western diplomats and journalists in Libya’s capitol, Tripoli, on Tuesday, taking a number of hostages and leaving at least eight people dead.

The U.S. State Department and a Libyan government source confirmed to ABC News that a U.S. citizen was among the dead.

The American fatality was identified as David Berry. Berry was an employee of Team Crucible, a U.S. security and training company based in Virginia.

In a statement Tuesday, Team Crucible said it "mourns this extraordinary loss."

Security services told the AFP they managed to surround the gunman on the 23rd floor of the hotel, which is when the men then detonated their explosives.

An eyewitness described the harrowing attack to the BBC, saying, "I suddenly heard shots and saw people running towards me, and we all escaped from the back [of the hotel] through the underground garage. The hotel did a lockdown after that."

Images purportedly showing the gunmen from the hotel's surveillance video have shown up on social media, but there has been no official confirmation on who the attackers were.

A Twitter account affiliated with ISIS claimed responsibility, saying the attack on the Corinthia Hotel was in revenge for the death of a Libyan jihadist by the name of Abu Anas al Libi. Al Libi was linked to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.


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Tuesday
Jan272015

Holocaust Survivors Return to Auschwitz, 70 Years Later

State Dept(WARSAW, Poland) -- About 300 people returned to Auschwitz on Tuesday for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp in Poland where more than one million people were slaughtered during World War II.

They are old. And they are the last who can testify to us about what it was like -- the darkness, the unspeakable darkness. For others, the smell of burning bodies, human smoke from the crematoriums, lingers forever in memory.

Tuesday’s commemoration was noticeably smaller than those in previous years. Only a few world leaders came and the U.S. sent the Treasury secretary.

However, as the terror attacks in Paris and other recent anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and elsewhere have demonstrated, Jews are once again being targeted in Europe, just because they are Jews.

"For a time, we thought that the hatred of Jews had finally been eradicated," Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, told those assembled at Tuesday's ceremonies. "But slowly the demonization of Jews started to come back.

"Once again," Lauder said. "young Jewish boys are afraid to wear yarmulkes on the streets of Paris and Budapest and London. Once again, Jewish businesses are targeted. And once again, Jewish families are fleeing Europe."

Added Roman Kent, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, fighting back tears, "We do not want our past to be our children's future."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Tuesday that the U.N.'s mission was "shaped by the tragedy of the Second World War and the Holocaust," and that he and his organization remain "committed to protect the vulnerable, promote fundamental human rights and uphold the freedom, dignity and worth of every person."

"Humankind united to overcome the Nazi menace," the secretary-general said, "Today, we are being tested again." According to Ban, "Minorities everywhere often face bigotry. Sectarian tensions and other forms of intolerance are on the rise. Anti-semitic attacks continue, with Jews being killed solely because they are Jews."

"Vulnerable communities around the world," he said, "continue to bury their dead while living in fear of further violence."


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Tuesday
Jan272015

ISIS Hostage Says He'll Be Killed Within 24 Hours

Ahmed Muhammed Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The Japanese journalist held by the terror group ISIS said in a chilling new video that he and another captive have been given 24 hours or less to live unless a convicted terrorist is freed from prison.

In a new video uploaded online early Tuesday, journalist Kenji Goto tells the camera he has been told it is his "last message" and that "time is running very short."

"It is me for her," he says, referring to Sajida al-Rishawi, a female would-be suicide bomber who confessed to her role in a string of deadly al Qaeda attacks in Jordan in 2005. She has been on death row in Jordan ever since. In a previous video, ISIS first made the demand for al-Rishawi's release.

Goto says first ISIS will kill a Jordanian pilot they've been holding captive, and then himself if the terrorists' demands aren't met.


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Tuesday
Jan272015

Watch: What Lightning Looks Like from Space

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — This is a storm-watching vantage point like none other. A newly released video taken from the International Space Station shows stunning flashes of light as a lightning storm strikes Earth.

Taken from an altitude of 250 miles, the time-lapse footage was created using several dozen images captured in 2012 by an astronaut at the ISS. The video was released Tuesday on YouTube by the European Space Agency.

Since the space station moves at nearly 18,000 miles per hour in low-Earth orbit, it would be impossible to get a crisp image using a normal video camera.

The video was created using the agency's Nightpod camera, which accounts for the motion of the station and keeps the area being photographed in the center of the frame. The result: Breathtaking images, just like those seen here.


Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan272015

Russia Says 'No Evidence' of NYC Spying, Despite FBI Tapes

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia has rejected accusations that one of its citizens, Manhattan banker Yevgeny Buryakov, and two of its diplomats were actually spies for Russian intelligence, as alleged by the FBI following the arrest of the banker Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said there was “no evidence” to support the charges and blamed the incident on Washington’s hostility during an “anti-Russian campaign."

“We demand that provocations against Russian representatives started by U.S. security services stop, that consular workers have immediate access to Yevgeny Buryakov, that the rights of the Russian citizen be strictly observed and his release from custody be ordered,” Lukashevich said.

He warned Buryakov's arrest will “aggravate” U.S.-Russia relations.

The FBI, however, contends it has reams of evidence against the three men, including candid recorded conversations of some of the spies talking to each other and other alleged secret agents about operations and potential sources of information.

In one recorded conversation, the two “diplomats,” Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, discussed the problems recruiting young females in New York City as spies.

“I have lots of ideas about such girls but these ideas are not actionable because they don’t allow [someone] to get close enough,” Sporyshev says, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday. “And in order to be close you either need to f*** them or use other levers to influence them to execute my requests. So when you tell me about girls, in my experience, it’s very rare that something workable will come of it.”

Sporyshev and Podobnyy were not arrested in connection with the alleged spy ring, as they no longer live in the U.S. and have diplomatic immunity. However, Buryakov was allegedly a “non-official cover” agent -- a spy who comes into a target country in the guise of a private citizen without the protection of diplomatic immunity.

As described in another court document, "in many cases [NOCs] are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government. As a result, a NOC is an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR."

Mark Stout, a former CIA analyst, said the tradecraft described in the criminal complaint seemed straight out of the Cold War.

“This is really a classic case of espionage, I think, in terms of how it was conducted both on the Russian side as well as on the FBI side,” Stout told ABC News Monday. “The FBI is very good at this. I would not run up against the FBI trying to run an espionage operation in the United States.”


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Tuesday
Jan272015

Massive Asteroid Zooms Past Earth with a Surprise Moon

NASA/JPL-Caltech(NEW YORK) — The first images showing an asteroid whizzing past Earth on Monday reveal the mountain-sized mass brought with it a surprise moon.

Asteroid 2004 BL86 made its closest approach to Earth on Monday morning, coming within 745,000 miles -- about 3.1 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.

The first images released by NASA show the asteroid has a moon measuring about 230 feet wide. As many as 150 asteroids have a companion moon, with some even having two, according to NASA.

While the latest asteroid pass was not visible to the naked eye, it brought with it plenty of excitement as it made what is believed to be its closest brush with humanity for the next two centuries.

The next time an asteroid will brush this closely past Earth will be in 2027 when asteroid 1999 AN10 zooms by our planet.


Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jan272015

Unleashed 'Polar Bear' Delights London Residents

Daniel Lewis/Rex Features(LONDON) — New York City may have gotten the snow, but London is where the "polar bear" lives.

London residents got a special surprise this week when a "polar bear" was unleashed on the city streets and even in the Underground.

Rather than cause alarm and frantic calls to animal control, the bear -- actually a high-tech puppet -- was greeted with delight and wonder.

The 8-foot-long bear is part of an ad campaign by U.K. network Sky Atlantic to draw attention for their arctic drama Fortitude.

Instead of sticking to the usual advertisements, Sky Atlantic worked with special effects experts to create the life-like polar bear. It took 19 prop specialists eight weeks to design and build the animal from 60 kinds of material.

To make the bear extremely life-like individual hairs were placed on the bear's head and then an electro static current was run through them so they would stand on end.

To bring the animal to life, two puppeteers trained for days to get the right polar bear "gait" down.

"To launch our new Arctic-noir thriller we wanted to bring a realistic polar bear to the streets of London to give people an up close experience of what it must be like to come face to face with one of the biggest, but uncredited stars of our new show,'" Zai Bennett, Director of Sky Atlantic, said in a statement.


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Tuesday
Jan272015

Astronomers Discover Ancient Solar System with Earth-Like Planets

Tiago Campante/Peter Devine/University of Birmingham(NEW YORK) -- The discovery of a solar system as old as the Milky Way, and with five Earth-like planets, could shed new light on the possibility of ancient life forms in the galaxy.

The planets orbit around Kepler 444, which at 11.2 billion years old, is more than twice as old as the sun, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham in Britain who published their findings Tuesday in the Astrophysical Journal.

Despite being 117 light-years away from Earth, in the direction of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, researchers were able to learn more about the solar system using a practice called astroseismology.

Listening to the hum of Kepler 444, the team was able to notice the slight changes in brightness created by the noise, which enabled them to measure the star's diameter, mass and calculate its approximate age.

Researchers studied the brightness of the star over time and detected planets passing in front of it, creating a slight dimming effect. Depending how much the light was dimmed, researchers were then able to measure the size of the planets, using Kepler 444 as a baseline.

"There are far-reaching implications for this discovery," lead researcher Tiago Campante said in a statement. "We now know that Earth-sized planets have formed throughout most of the Universe's 13.8 billion year history, which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the Galaxy."

Since the newly discovered planets are older than Earth is, researchers hope that by studying them, they may learn more about planet formation -- including what could be in store for our home.


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