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Tuesday
Jun202017

Explosion at Brussels train station considered terrorist attack: Belgian federal prosecutor

Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images(BRUSSELS) -- An explosion at a train station in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday that prompted the station to be evacuated but left no victims injured, is considered a terrorist attack, according to the Belgian federal prosecutor's office.

One suspect was shot by the military after the explosion at Brussels Central Station, a senior Belgian law enforcement official told ABC News. A spokesman for the Belgian federal police said the suspected attacker is dead.

No one else was injured in the explosion, which occurred around 8:30 p.m. local time, Van Der Sypt added. Police said the situation is "under control."

RemyBonnaffe/Twitter

Belgian Federal Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said the identity of the suspect is not known.

Belgian officials told ABC News that authorities are investigating whether the suspect had an explosive device or devices, potentially a suicide vest or a bag or suitcase.

One eyewitness told Belgian TV that he heard screaming and saw flames.

Eyewitness Arash Aazami told ABC News he heard two explosions and gunfire. He was sheltering inside a restaurant as he told ABC News there was a heavy presence of military, ambulances and police.

The nature of the device was not immediately clear but the bomb squad was called in for fear of additional explosives in the area.

Another eyewitness, Remy Bonnaffe, told ABC News he heard two loud detonations.

A third eyewitness said he had been evacuated from the station, but that the situation now seems under control and police were allowing people to walk freely in the street again.

Service was stopped at all three of Brussels' main train stations, officials said.

Belgium's Threat Assessment Coordination Body said the threat level remains at 3 and there is no indication of other incidents, the Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported.

This story is developing. Please check back for more updates.


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Tuesday
Jun202017

State Department takes sudden hard line on Saudis over Qatar

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It was just a week and a half ago that President Donald Trump contradicted his own secretary of state while standing in front of him in the Rose Garden, blasting Qatar for sponsoring terrorism and seeming to take credit for the Saudi-led blockade of the small Arab country. Just hours earlier, Secretary Rex Tillerson had called for restraint and an easing of the blockade.

On Tuesday, there was more whiplash.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert slammed Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others for the blockade, questioning its necessity and expressing doubt about the countries' claims.

“Now that it’s been more than two weeks since the embargo started, we are mystified that the Gulf states have not released to the public, nor to the Qataris, the details about the claims that they are making toward Qatar,” said Nauert.

“The more that time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At this point, we are left with one simple question: Were the actions really about their concerns about Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long-simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries?” she asked, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council's six member nations.

The strong statement stood in sharp contrast to Trump, who seemed to say he agreed to the blockade and made the same charges against Qatar that Nauert on Tuesday called "alleged."

"Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level," Trump said on June 9, adding that Saudi Arabia and others "came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior. So we had a decision to make. ... I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding."

When pressed on that discrepancy, Nauert pushed back, saying, "Our position has not changed on that."

"The secretary likes results, and we believe these [disputes] are because of long, long-brewing tensions among the various parties, and so we want them to resolve it," she added. "We’ve said to the parties involved, ‘Let’s finish this. Let’s get this going.’”

The new tune -- and such a public shaming for traditional allies -- may be meant to put stronger pressure on the Saudis and Emiratis to end the blockade. But for those in the region and allies watching around the world, it may also make for another confusing, if not inconsistent, moment of Trump foreign policy.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and several other Arab countries have severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, with some closing their borders or restricting their airspace, too. The diplomatic crisis is a response to Qatar's financial support for Islamic extremist terrorists, according to Saudi Arabia -- something the U.S. has expressed concern about as well, but Qatar has denied.

Nauert said Tillerson remains engaged on the issue -- having more than 20 phone calls and meetings since the diplomatic crisis began, including three phone calls and two in-person meetings with the Saudi foreign minister, three calls with the Qatari foreign minister and three calls with the Qatari emir. She reiterated that the U.S. wants all sides to constructively resolve the dispute and focus on fighting terrorism instead.

Despite that engagement, however, she also said that the U.S. believes the issue can be resolved peacefully without having to step in to mediate -- even after the State Department said Friday that Tillerson canceled his attendance at the Organization of American States summit in Mexico this week in order to mediate.

When challenged on that, Nauert said Tillerson had one meeting in Washington Monday night on the issue, but wouldn’t say who it was with.

The UAE has said the blockade could last for years unless Qatar meets a list of demands to be revealed shortly. For its part, Qatar says it will not negotiate until the travel and trade boycotts are removed.

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Tuesday
Jun202017

Russian jet came within five feet of US plane

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A Russian fighter jet came within five feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft over the Baltic Sea on Monday, in an encounter the American pilot determined was unsafe.

The incident occurred Monday morning as an RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft flew in international airspace above the Baltic Sea.

It was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet, which approached at a high speed.

The Russian fighter “came within several feet” of the RC-135, according to Capt. Joseph Alonso, a spokesman for U.S. European Command. A separate defense official said the fighter came within five feet of the RC-135 as it flew alongside it for several minutes.

The pilot of the American aircraft determined that the Russian aircraft’s actions were “unsafe” because of its “high rate of closure speed and poor control of the aircraft” said Alonso.

He added that the RC-135 was flying in international airspace with its transponder on, making it identifiable to other aircraft.

"We were flying in international airspace and did nothing to provoke this behavior," said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Tuesday.

"Such unsafe actions have the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all involved," he added. "Russia is certainly within its right to exercise within international airspace but we want them to respect international standards for safety to prevent accidents."

The Russian Defense Ministry countered with a different narrative of the intercept.

According to the Russian news agency Interfax the Russian Defense Ministry accused the RC-135 of performing provocative maneuvers toward the Russian fighter.

"During the escorting, the RC-135 crew made an attempt of closing with the Russian fighter, performing a provocative turnaround toward the Su-27," the agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying.

"The Russian pilot reacted to the maneuver of the RC-135 and then continued escorting the U.S. reconnaissance airplane until the latter changed the direction of its flight away from the Russian border," the ministry said.

The ministry added that after the 10-minute encounter, another RC-135 entered the same area and was also intercepted by a Russian Su-27 fighter.

After the incident, the RC-135 pilot determined the Russian's pilots actions were unsafe. Various factors go into determining whether an incident should be ruled unsafe including distance, speed, altitude, rate of closure and visibility.

Davis noted that the "vast majority" of intercepts of American aircraft by the Russian military are safe encounters. He labeled Monday's incident "the exception, not the norm."

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Tuesday
Jun202017

What you need to know about the 3 Americans still detained in North Korea

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The death of U.S. student Otto Warmbier has brought a wave of sorrow and a new stumbling block to any sort of negotiations between the United States and North Korea. But as the United States determines how to retaliate, if at all, there is another enormous risk to consider: the three U.S. citizens still detained by the country's authoritarian regime.

North Korea revealed on May 7 that Kim Hak-song had been detained on charges such as espionage and crimes against the state, making him the third American now being held and the 10th in total to be detained by North Korea's current leader, Kim Jong Un. Only one country has detained more Americans than North Korea: Iran, where five Americans are missing or detained.

Although Donald Trump tweeted during the campaign that similar detentions would not happen if he became president, Kim Hak-song is also the second American to be detained since Trump's inauguration.

As the Trump administration works to secure their release and thwart the North's nuclear and missile program, it will have to weigh pushing the regime too far on bringing these three men home. Here is what we know about the U.S. citizens detained in North Korea.

Kim Dong-chul

The American who has been held the longest in North Korea at this time is Kim Dong-chul. A naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea, he is a businessman in his mid-60s who at one time lived in Fairfax, Virginia.

He was living in China near the border with North Korea and working in a special economic zone in North Korea as the president of a trade and hospitality company. After years of openly crossing the border, he was detained in October 2015, accused of being a spy for South Korea and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.

He has a wife and two daughters in China. His detention wasn't publicly known until January 2016, when a CNN crew was allowed to interview him.

Tony Kim

Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name, Kim Sang-duk, is a 58-year-old U.S. citizen who was temporarily teaching an accounting course at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, North Korea’s only private university.

He was detained at the airport while trying to fly to China with his wife on April 22. It is unclear what prompted his detention, but he has been charged with hostile criminal acts with an aim to subvert the country.

He was the first American detained under Trump.

Kim Hak-song

Little is known about Kim Hak-song.

He was being held for "hostile acts against the country," the regime's official news agency said, although details about the alleged acts were not provided by North Korean authorities.

Kim had also been working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, in agricultural development with its "experimental farm," the university said in a statement. He was arrested May 7 as he was "about to leave … after a visit of several weeks," it added.

The university said that Kim Hak-song, like Tony Kim, was detained not because of his university work but for other unspecified reasons.

Other Americans Next?

The number of Americans in North Korea at any given time fluctuates and is difficult to determine. But one of them could easily become the next detainee in a country where a brutal regime monitors its denizens' every move.

As of last month, there were around 40 Americans, the majority of whom are ethnic Koreans, on the faculty of the Pyongyang University of Science & Technology, where both Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song worked.

In addition, between 800 and 1,250 Americans visited North Korea annually in past years, according to tour companies working in the reclusive country. Those numbers may decline after Warmbier's death, especially because Young Pioneer Tours -- the group that organized Warmbier's tour -- has canceled future trips for Americans.

Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea for more than 17 months and was returned home to Ohio last week in a coma, died this week, his family said Monday.

The State Department strongly recommends Americans not travel to North Korea.

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Tuesday
Jun202017

Princess Kate laughs off royal fall at Royal Ascot

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Princess Kate quickly laughed off a fall by a fellow royal at Tuesday's Royal Ascot.

Kate, 35, was seated in a carriage alongside Prince William when Sophie, the countess of Wessex, stepped into the carriage and lost her balance, falling right into Kate’s hands.

Kate’s mouth opened in shock as she braced for Sophie, the wife of Prince Edward. Both women were then seen laughing off the incident, while William and Edward smiled in the background.

William, Kate, Edward and Sophie joined other members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, for the first day of the famous horse racing event.

The queen, dressed in a bright green outfit and hat, led race attendees in observing a moment of silence for the victims of the Manchester and London terror attacks as well as the Grenfell Tower fire.

Queen Elizabeth, 91, went for a horseback ride herself on Monday in record-breaking heat on the grounds of Windsor Castle, near the Thames. She was photographed wearing a scarf over her head as she rode her pony alongside Head Groom Terry Pendry.

Queen Elizabeth started riding at age 4 after receiving a pony named Peggy and is still seen regularly riding her horses in rain or shine, winter or summer.

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Tuesday
Jun202017

Two elephants rescue baby elephant from zoo's swimming pool

YouTube.com/Seoul Grandpark(SEOUL) -- Two adult elephants rescued an elephant calf from drowning in a swimming pool at the Grand Park Zoo in Seoul, South Korea.

As seen in the CCTV footage, the calf is playing in the water next to one of the adult elephants. Suddenly, the calf falls into the enclosure's pool.

The calf tries unsuccessfully to swim, and one adult elephant tries to help from outside of the pool.

Another adult elephant runs to the area and walks into the swimming pool with the other adult elephant in an attempt to rescue the panicked calf.

Together, they're able to guide the calf to the side of the pool. Once at the edge, the adult elephants hold up the calf by their trunks.

Then, side-by-side, the adult elephants guide the calf out of the pool and back onto solid ground.

Zoo officials said none of the elephants were injured during the close call.

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Tuesday
Jun202017

Pro-Syrian regime drone shot down by US fighter jet

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An armed pro-Syrian regime drone was shot down late Monday night by a U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter jet after the drone was detected approaching U.S. military forces in southeastern Syria.

It is the second downing of a pro-regime drone in the area and comes amid heightened tensions in the region following the U.S. shootdown of a Syrian fighter jet.

"The armed pro-regime Shaheed-129 UAV was shot down by a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle at approximately 12:30 a.m. after it displayed hostile intent and advanced on Coalition forces," according to a statement issued by Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS.

"The Coalition forces were manning an established combat outpost to the northeast of At Tanf where they are training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS," said the statement. "This is the same location where another pro-regime UAV dropped munitions near Coalition forces before it was shot down, June 8."

The armed drone was determined to be a threat and was shot down by a U.S. Air Force F-15E after the drone "continued to advance on the Coalition position without diverting its course it was shot down."

The statement emphasized that the coalition "has made it clear to all parties publically and through the de-confliction line with Russian forces that the demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated."

The drone shoot down comes amid heightened tensions in Syria following the shoot down on Sunday of a Syrian fighter jet that had dropped bombs on local forces backed by the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

That incident led Russia's defense ministry to declare that it would track as targets any American or coalition aircraft that flew west of the Euphrates River.

In light of that the coalition announced that it would re-position its aircraft flying over Syria as a prudent measure.

Last week, another Iranian-made drone flown by pro-regime forces was shot down after it dropped munitions close to U.S. and partner forces. The bomb landed a few hundred yards away and did not explode but the action was deemed a threat and the drone was shot down.

Tensions have escalated in the At Tanf area as an Iranian-backed militia force has pushed into a deconfliction zone that surrounds the At Tanf garrison where training conducted. The U.S. has conducted three airstrikes over the past month against those forces as they entered the deconfliction zone and moved towards At Tanf.

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Tuesday
Jun202017

Tropical Storm Bret pounds Trinidad 

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Tropical Storm Bret delivered a direct hit to Trinidad and Tobago early Tuesday morning, leaving a trail of devastation behind.

Bret began pounding away at the small twin-island republic late Monday night, with the southern part of Trinidad being hardest hit.

According to the National Hurricane Center, maximum sustained winds neared 40mph, with higher gusts, at times.

Disaster response officials say crews will be out working to restore power on Tuesday, after the storm left many homes in the dark, some of them without roofs.

So far there haven't been any reports of storm-related deaths. However, elderly patients at a psychiatric hospital narrowly escaped injury, after a tree came crashing through the roof, according to published reports.

Posts on social media showed widespread flooding on streets and even in homes. Some roads becoming impassable because of fallen trees and utility poles.

Up to early Tuesday, officials said all flights out of Trinidad and Tobago have either been "suspended or canceled." However, the country's two airports remained open with limited operations.

The storm hasn't done the usually unreliable public transportation system any favors, as officials say there will be limited bus service on Tuesday, depending on whether roads are accessible.

Coming off a long weekend -- Monday was Trinidad's Labor Day holiday -- students are getting an extra day off, as all public schools, as well as university campuses will be closed on Tuesday. Banks will also be closed. However, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said there was no need to close government offices.

The effects of the storm were also felt along the northeast coast of Venezuela and in some parts of Grenada.

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Monday
Jun192017

London mayor on attack against Muslims: 'Terrorism is terrorism'

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- London's Metropolitan Police commissioner announced that the Muslim community attending prayers will see police protection in the wake of a man driving a van into a crowd of people outside a mosque in what authorities called a terrorist attack.

One person who had been receiving first aid before the attack, which occurred just after midnight prayers on Monday, died on the scene, but it is unclear at this time whether he died as a result of what took place.

At least 11 people were injured in the incident, and the London Ambulance Service said in a statement Monday that it took nine patients to three hospitals in the city and treated others at the scene for minor injuries.

A 48-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder. No other suspects have been identified, police said.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the incident, near Finsbury Park in the north of London, was "quite clearly an attack on Muslims."

She later told reporters Monday, "The people in the Muslim community attending prayers will see their police protecting them in the coming days and nights."

Prime Minister Theresa May called the incident, which mirrored other high-profile terror attacks in which vehicles were used as weapons, "every bit as sickening as those that have come before."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said "terrorism is terrorism."

"It doesn't matter whether you're inspired by a perverse force of Islam -- a perverse version of Islam -- or by you're inspired by some other motives to try and terrorize others. The intention is the same, to divide communities, to make us stop leading the lives that we do," he said.

Khan said there has been a spike in hate crime, including against Muslims, since the recent London bridge attack.

Eyewitnesses interviewed by ABC News said people had gathered outside the mosque after prayers when the van drove into them.

A man identified as Jermain Jackman told the BBC the sidewalks were "packed with people walking home" when the incident occurred.

"It was a van that mounted the pavement as men and women were leaving the mosque to go home to their families and friends and their loved ones," Jackson said.

The Muslim Council of Britain called the incident a "terror attack" and the "most violent manifestation" of Islamophobia.

"During the night, ordinary British citizens were set upon while they were going about their lives, completing their night worship," the Muslim Council said in a statement, adding that "Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia" over the past weeks and months.

"We urge calm as the investigation establishes the full facts, and in these last days of Ramadan, pray for those affected and for justice," the statement concluded.

Shortly after the incident took place, Khan referred to it as a "horrific terrorist attack."

Khan also called it "a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.

"While this appears to be an attack on a particular community, like the terrible attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge it is also an assault on all our shared values of tolerance, freedom and respect," Khan said in a statement.

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Monday
Jun192017

Timeline of Otto Warmbier's saga in North Korea

iStock/Thinkstock(CINCINNATI, Ohio) -- The American college student who had been imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year has died after returning to the U.S. in a state of unresponsive wakefulness, according to a statement from his family.

Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 after being accused of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his Pyongyang hotel while visiting the country. The details of his detention and what led to the unresponsive wakefulness are still unknown, but he passed away Monday -- just days after U.S. officials secured his release and returned him to his family in Ohio.

Here is the timeline of Warmbier’s ordeal.

January 2016

Warmbier, then 21, was visiting North Korea as part of a tourist group arranged by Young Pioneer Tours, a tour agency based in Xian, China. He was arrested on Jan. 2 at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport on the last day of a five-day tour.

Three weeks later, North Korea announced it was holding Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia, for a “hostile act” against the state. In late February, Warmbier appeared in a video released by North Korea’s state news agency.

“I committed my crime,” he said in the video, asking for forgiveness. It is not known if Warmbier had delivered those statements under duress.

The video could not be independently verified.

March 2016

Warmbier, of Wyoming, Ohio, reportedly said in a tearful statement ahead of the trial in Pyongyang that he tried to steal the poster in exchange for a $10,000 used car.

"I have made the worst mistake of my life," the student said in a March 16 court hearing.

He also said that the Z Society, a secret club at the University of Virginia, promised him membership if he was successful at stealing the poster, according to The New York Times, citing North Korean state media. A member at the Z society at UVA that the organization had never been in contact with Warmbier.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Since his detention, American officials have repeatedly urged North Korean officials -- in public and in private -- to give the Swedish consulate access to Warmbier and the three other American citizens now detained. These pleas come amid regular pushes for their release.

February 2017

After he was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson briefed President Donald Trump on the situation and Trump directed Tillerson to take all appropriate measures to secure the release of American hostages in North Korea, State Department officials said Tuesday. Tillerson began the effort and routinely updated the president, the officials said.

May 2017

The special representative for North Korea policy at the U.S. State Department met high-level representatives from the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, Norway, the State Department said. North Koreans reportedly agreed to authorize the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang to pay a consular visit to all four detainees, according to the State Department -– although it is unclear if they were ever able to conduct that visit.

Student released from North Korea has been in a coma for more than a year, family says

Sometime afterward, North Korea then urgently requested an in-person meeting with the United States in New York City, the State Department said.

June 6, 2017

State Department Special Representative Joseph Yun met with DPRK UN Mission Ambassador Pak in New York City. During this meeting, Yun learned about Warmbier's medical condition, the State Department said.

June 6 through June 11, 2017

After consulting Trump, Tillerson instructed Yun to prepare to travel to North Korea to bring Warmbier back to the United States, according to the State Department, which promptly organizes a medical team and an airplane to travel to North Korea.

Sometime during that week, Warmbier’s family was notified of his condition, according to a statement released by the family.

June 12, 2017

North Korean officials met the American delegation in Pyongyang, the State Department said. Upon arrival, Yun and two doctors were able to visit Warmbier that morning, according to the State Department. The visit was the first time the United States was able to confirm Warmbier's status after he was sentenced.

The State Department said that Yun demanded Warmbier's release while on the ground, but sources tell ABC News that Yun and others made the arrangements for his release prior to Yun's trip.

June 13, 2017

Warmbier was evacuated from North Korea, accompanied by a medical team and a State Department representative. He arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the evening, and was to be transported by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

June 19, 2017

Otto Warmbier passed away surrounded by his family at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, according to a statement from his family. He was 22 years old.

In their statement, his family said Warmbier was "unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands" when he returned to the U.S., appearing "very uncomfortable -- almost anguished." That changed within a day, they said. "He was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that."

The family remembered Otto as "a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds."

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