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Thursday
Oct182018

US general was target of Taliban attack that killed 3 top Afghan officials, wounded 2 US soldiers

iStock/rThinkstock(KANDAHAR, Afghanistan) -- The three top Afghan government officials in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, were killed and two Americans wounded Thursday in an attack by a man wearing an Afghan military uniform.

Killed in the attack on Thursday were Kandahar's governor, Zalmai Wessa; its police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq; and its intelligence chief, Abdul Mohmin. Kandahar Province is in the south of the country, bordering Pakistan.

Two Americans were wounded in the crossfire, a military service member and a civilian. A third person, a contractor who is not American, was also wounded. They were medically evacuated and are reported to be in stable condition.

The attack at the governor's compound in Kandahar occurred shortly after a meeting there attended by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Scott Miller. Miller was one his way to his helicopter when the attack occurred. He was uninjured in the incident.

The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the incident, said Miller had been a target. But the head of Afghanistan's army, Gen. Mohammad Yaftali, said at a news conference that the target was the police chief, Raziq.

"There was a situation at the Kandahar palace today," said Col. David Butler, spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan "Initial reports indicate Afghan officials were the targets."

"Initial reports also say the attacker is dead," said Butler.

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Thursday
Oct182018

Missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi calls for 'free Arab society' in final column

iStock/Thinkstock(ISTANBUL) -- Missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi warned of increasing efforts to silence the media in the Middle East in a column he wrote just before he vanished earlier this month. The "final column" was published online Wednesday.

Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for The Washington Post, wrote that Khashoggi’s translator sent the article a day after the journalist disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and the government, was visiting the embassy to fill out for paperwork for his impending marriage. His future wife was waiting for him in the car outside.

Officials in Turkey believe Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate, but his death has not been confirmed. The Saudi government has denied any involvement.

“The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together. Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen,” Attiah wrote Wednesday. “This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. “I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.”

The column was published in Thursday's paper.

Attiah said the article, titled “What the Arab world needs most is free expression,” was the perfect example of the writer’s “commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world,” a freedom she said he “apparently gave his life for.”

Khashoggi noted how some journalists were imprisoned for speaking out against Arab governments as leaders exercised an apparent “free rein” to silence the media.

“My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment,” Khashoggi wrote. “Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media.”

Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who fled for the U.S. amid the rise of the crown prince, praised Tunisia as the only “free” nation in the Arab world and Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait as “partly free.”

“The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as ‘not free,’” he wrote. “A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

“Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face,” he added.

President Donald Trump ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance, but he seemed to side with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, who has denied responsibility.

“I just spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia, who denies any knowledge of what took place. The king firmly denied any knowledge of it,” Trump said Monday. “I don't want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers.”

The president was forced to address the issue again on Wednesday after his previous comments sparked backlash and questions about his ties to Saudi Arabia. When asked on Wednesday if he was covering up for bin Salman, Trump said: “No, not at all, I just want to find out what's happening.”

He said he expects to have more intelligence by the end of the week.`

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Wednesday
Oct172018

Friend of Jamal Khashoggi: Journalist 'killed in a very barbaric way,' according to Turkish officials

ABCNews.com(ISTANBUL) -- In his first sit-down interview with U.S. media, a close friend of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who disappeared after being seen entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago, described to ABC News what he'd been told in briefings by Turkish security officials.

"I talked with some Turkish government and security officials and they said Jamal was killed. I didn't know what to do. I really couldn't answer. Then I called a few colleagues, again security officials, trying to have them verify it, saying 'Is this really true?'" Turan Kislakci said Wednesday. "They said, 'Yes, Turan, and let's tell you even beyond that, he was killed in a very barbaric way.' I was shocked. They not only kill him in the consulate, but also in a barbaric way."

Khashoggi, who has written critically about the Saudi government, reportedly told his fiancée to call two people if he ever got into trouble. One of those individuals was his close friend Kislakci.

Khashoggi, who had been living in the U.S., was visiting the consulate on Oct. 2 to file paperwork for his wedding. He has not been seen since. Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed, which the Saudis have fiercely denied.

Turkish officials say 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul for just hours surrounding Khashoggi's disappearance, and they reportedly claim to have audio recordings of Khashoggi being interrogated and murdered.

When Kislakci was asked by ABC News about repeated claims that there is proof that Khashoggi was killed and that an audio recording exists, he said that security officials said they had audio.

"They said, 'We have audio on this. We know all the details about what transpired.' They said, 'We were able to access this the first day, and we have various other evidence on this,'" he said.

He said the tapes reveal that when Khashoggi walked into the consulate, he was given a document to sign but refused. He then was killed.

"I still want to wish and hope that he is alive and so on," Kislakci told ABC News. "Unfortunately, this kind of news which related with his killing in a barbaric way is coming out."

The New York Times reported that Turkish authorities said the audio tapes indicate Khashoggi was then beheaded and dismembered.

Kislakci said he didn't want to know the gruesome detail but he said he believes much of what has been reported is correct.

Turkish authorities say that Khashoggi's body was then taken to the official residency of the Saudi consul general. It's about a mile from the consular building. Turkish forensic investigators are said to be combing through the grounds.

Turkish officials released to a Turkish newspaper images of 15 Saudis that they say traveled to Istanbul the day that Khashoggi went missing. The New York Times said that among the Saudis named is an autopsy expert.

The Times also reported that several of the suspects have ties to the Saudi crown prince.

Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb was allegedly in Istanbul the day Khashoggi went missing. Mutreb was seen in Boston within a few feet of the crown prince in March. A month later, both of the men were seen in Houston and later that month they were seen traveling together in Madrid.

When asked Wednesday whether he was providing cover for the Saudis in Khashoggi's disappearance, President Donald Trump said: "No, not at all. I just want to find out what's happening."

He said that he expected to know who is at fault for Khashoggi’s alleged murder “by the end of the week.”

"With that being said, Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East," Trump said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu Wednesday but refused to express any doubt or skepticism about the legitimacy of a Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

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Wednesday
Oct172018

Three dead in Venezuela after widespread outage leaves hospitals without power

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Three people, including a newborn, have died in Venezuela after an hours-long power outage in 16 states left hospitals with no power, a persistent problem in what is already a struggling nation.

The explosion of an electrical transformer in the interior of Venezuela left most of the country without power on Monday and Tuesday, Luis Motta Dominguez, the Minister of Electric Energy, said in a video on Instagram.

Power outages in Venezuela have become common, with Venezuelans experiencing days-long blackouts that limit the ability of health professionals to care for patients. Hospitals have also struggled with a lack of medical supplies and medicine to treat those who enter their doors.

“This situation is lamentable because you feel a lot of impotence,” Hania Salazar, the president of the nursing association in the state of Zulia, told ABC News.

“How, as a human, as a health professional, can you treat a patient when you don’t have anything to offer them when you don’t know when the electricity will cut off,” Salazar said.

Salazar describes hospitals becoming large scale morgues.

“We have had patients die and before they die, they tell us ‘Don’t let me die, I don’t want to die, save me.’ Those are the words that echo in our ears and in our conscious,” Salazar said.

Venezuela, which sits in the world’s largest oil reserve, has been experiencing an economic crisis, with the IMF predicting inflation to reach 1,000,000 percent before the end of 2018. As a result, many Venezuelans are fleeing to neighboring South American countries, which have seen a 900 percent increase in Venezuelan migrants.

But for those who remain, access to food, medicine and basic goods remains a struggle.

In a 2018 survey conducted by three leading universities in Venezuela, 6 out of every 10 Venezuelans reported an average weight loss of 11 kilograms (24 pounds) over the last year. Nine out of 10 Venezuelans are unable to afford food for daily consumption, according to the survey.

In a special report by ABC News, a couple, Vanessa and Adolfo Posada, both teachers, said that they alternate meals so their son can eat.

“It pains me so much, being a professional and having no future, “ Vanessa told ABC. “There is no future here.”

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Wednesday
Oct172018

Meghan Markle makes homemade banana bread for Australian farmers on royal tour

Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Meghan Markle has confirmed while on a royal tour of Australia that she's the type of guest anyone would like to invite over.

When the Duchess of Sussex, 37, visited a family-run farm in Dubbo, Australia, Wednesday, she did not arrive empty handed.

The duchess brought with her for tea a homemade loaf of banana bread that she reportedly made in the kitchen of the Admiralty House in Sydney, where she and Prince Harry are staying.

Meghan is known for her love of cooking. Prior to marrying Prince Harry, she ran a lifestyle website, The Tig, that featured recipes.

In her most high-profile, solo charitable endeavor as a member of Britain’s royal family, Meghan collaborated on a cookbook with a group of female survivors of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire.

"I have a lifelong interest in the story of food – where it comes from, why we embrace it and how it brings us together: The universal connection to community through the breaking of bread," Meghan wrote in the cookbook's foreword.

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Wednesday
Oct172018

Lone 18-year-old kills 19 people, many of them teens, in shooting and bomb attack at college, Russia says

iStock/Thinkstock(KERCH, Crimea) -- At least 19 people, many of them teenagers, were killed, and over 50 others were injured in a bomb and shooting attack at a college in Crimea that local officials said was carried out by a student.

Investigators said a lone 18-year-old student at the state polytechnic college entered the school on Wednesday afternoon armed with a gun and began shooting people and also setting off a bomb planted in the college's cafeteria, before killing himself.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, the equivalent of the FBI, said it believed the attacker was Vladislav Roslyakov, a fourth-year student at the college which is in the Black Sea city of Kerch on Crimea's east coast.

Roslyakov was captured on CCTV entering the college holding a gun shortly before the shooting began, said Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the committee.

“His body was found in the school with a gunshot wound,” Petrenko said in a statement. “Judging by the picture of the crime, investigators believe the young man shot and killed people in the school before committing suicide.”

Russian authorities initially treated the incident as a terrorist attack. The Investigative Committee opened a criminal probe based around terror charges but later reclassified the case as one of “mass murder” after Roslyakov was identified.

Russia's National Terrorism Committee said investigators had later found a second explosive device in the school and disarmed it.

The death-toll for Wednesday's attack is currently 19, with 52 injured and being treated in hospital, the Centre for Medical Catastrophes and Emergencies, Sergey Astankin told the state TV channel, Russia 24.

The first indication of the attack were reports of an explosion at the college. Police said, that was a homemade bomb, packed with metal objects in the cafeteria. Inside, students who witnessed the attack said, the gunman had moved down a corridor shooting at anyone he saw.

Semyon Gavrilov, a student at the school told the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that he had looked out of a classroom and seen "a guy walking around with a rifle and shooting everyone."

Gavrilov said he shut himself in the room and about 10 minutes later police with assault rifles arrived. "In the corridor where the explosion went off the windows were broken. There were dead bodies sprawled around the floor. All the walls were charred," Gavrilov told the newspaper.

The school's director, Olga Grebennikova, said she had left the school about 5-10 minutes before the attack began.

“They were running, throwing plastic bags with explosives, then they were running with assault rifles — I don’t know with what — around the second floor, opening rooms and killing everyone they could find,” Grebennikova told KerchNet, a local Crimean television station shortly after the attack. “There are many corpses, lots of children,” Grebennikova said, starting to cry.

Videos shot by students on mobile phones during the attack have appeared in the Russian media. One, published by the popular messenger channel, Mash, showed students outside the college building first laughing when the bomb-blast appeared to go off and then growing quiet as they realise an explosion has happened and as gunshots can be heard from inside.

Roslyakov lived with his mother in Kerch. Local television news reports said she is a nurse and that she had been helping tend to the victims at the school, without knowing her son was behind the assault.

Sergey Aksyonov, the head of Crimea's regional government said on state television that Roslyakov had never been in trouble with police. "He never stood out for some kind of aggression, he sat quiet," Aksyonov said on the state channel, Russia 24.

A three-day mourning has been declared in Crimea. President Vladimir Putin, who was in Sochi meeting with the Egypt's president Abdel-Fattah el-Siss when the attack occurred, called it a "tragic event". "It's already clear this is a crime," Putin told reporters, saying the public would be informed of the results of the investigation once security services had completed it.

In the first minutes after the explosion, local authorities in Crimea-- which Russia seized control of from Ukraine in 2014-- responded as though it was a terror attack, and state television showed armored vehicles and heavily armed troops rushing towards the college. About 200 soldiers and 10 military vehicles were deployed to assist at the bomb site, TASS reported, citing local military officials.

Kerch is a well-known city in Crimea, the arrival point to the peninsula for ferries from Russia and now for a new 12-mile-long bridge built for $7 billion at Putin's order.

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Wednesday
Oct172018

Canada moves to expedite pardons for minor marijuana convictions

iStock/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- The Trudeau administration has announced a plan to expedite pardons for Canadians convicted of minor marijuana offenses.

"We will be introducing legislation to introduce an expedited pardon process, with no fee, for those with previous convictions for simple possession of cannabis," Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Canada's Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, told ABC News on Wednesday.

The announcement comes the same day as the enactment of the Cannabis Act, which legalizes recreational marijuana in Canada, the first G7 nation to do so. Medicinal marijuana was legalized in Canada in 2001.

"The reason we're doing this is because it's now something that's legal, and the consequences of the criminal record are disproportionate to the gravity of the offense," said Bardsley, adding that pardons would apply specifically to possession for personal use and "not for trafficking. We're not talking about dealers or producers or anyone of that sort."

The proposal is subject to approval by Parliament.

Currently, anyone convicted of a minor marijuana offense can apply for a pardon after remaining crime free for five years and paying a fee of $631 Canadian.

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Tuesday
Oct162018

Trump: Saudi crown prince 'totally denied any knowledge' of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi

Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Saudi Arabia's young crown prince is again denying any involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to President Donald Trump, who tweeted that he spoke with him and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tuesday after dispatching the top U.S. diplomat to the region amid international outrage over Khashoggi's possible death.

"Answers will be forthcoming shortly," Trump added.

In photo-ops with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Pompeo greeted them warmly, even as the Saudis weigh whether to accept culpability for Khashoggi's death, a source with knowledge of their discussions told ABC News.

It was unclear what explanation they would give or when that statement would come, but Turkey has said they believe Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Saudis have fiercely denied that charge, with the Trump administration urging caution until an investigation can take place. But while the Saudis said Khashoggi left the consulate and disappeared later, there's no evidence that he ever exited the compound after entering 14 days ago.

Pompeo "made clear" to the Saudis that Trump takes the case very seriously, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, who called his meetings "both direct and candid."

But Trump seemed to have an answer he approved, tweeting that with Pompeo joining him on the phone, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate... He has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter."

On Monday, he said "rogue killers" could be responsible, even though there has been no confirmation yet that Khashoggi is dead.

Pompeo will head to Turkey's capital Ankara on Wednesday to discuss Khashoggi's case with Turkish officials, including Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu.

In his first meeting Tuesday with King Salman, Pompeo had words of thanks, Nauert said, for Saudi's "strong partnership" and "his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation." The importance of that investigation was something Pompeo and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also agreed on, Nauert said.

But it's the crown prince or "MBS," as he is sometimes known, that members of Congress and other U.S. officials worry ordered the plot against Khashoggi.

Painted as a bright, young reformer who has opened up Saudi Arabia to movie theaters, sporting events, and women driving, the crown prince has also overseen a crackdown on political opposition, including by arresting several wealthy Saudi princes, and activists, including women's rights advocates.

Media reporting of his alleged involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance and possible death has strengthened that darker image of a ruthless young leader.

"I'm not going back to Saudi Arabia as long as this guy's in charge," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch supporter of U.S.-Saudi relations and close ally of Trump's. "This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it – I feel used and abused."

"I'm going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia. You know, we deal with bad people all the time, but this is in our face. I feel personally offended. They have nothing but contempt for us," Graham told Fox News Tuesday, adding the crown prince "has got to go."

That kind of language was once unheard of from a high-level Republican official, especially one as senior in foreign policy circles.

The tone from Pompeo's trip was noticeably different. He smiled and shook hands with King Salman and the crown prince, with whom he joked about jetlag.

"We are really strong and old allies, so we face our challenges together -- the past, the day of, tomorrow," MBS told Pompeo, who nodded along and responded, "Absolutely."

Pompeo's meetings during the day all lasted around 30 minutes, but in the evening he'll have dinner with the crown prince, which is expected to be a longer affair.

Ahead of Pompeo's visit to Ankara, the U.S. had welcomed Turkey and Saudi Arabia announcing a "joint inspection" of the consulate, and the first Turkish police officials were able to enter the compound Monday.

So far the investigation has not yielded any publicly released results, but an official told ABC News on Monday that the Saudis are considering whether to claim involvement.

The U.S. has declined to comment on that possibility.

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Tuesday
Oct162018

US service member killed in fighter crash in Ukraine

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. military service member was killed in the crash of a Ukrainian Air Force fighter jet in Ukraine on Tuesday. A Ukrainian Air Force pilot was also killed during what the Ukrainian Defense Ministry called "a training and combat flight."

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed in a statement that an SU-27 fighter jet had crashed Tuesday afternoon "in the area of Ulanov, between the settlements of Berdychiv and Khmilnyk."

According to an English translation of the statement "the airplane Su-27UB of the Air Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has crashed during the training and combat flight."

"We regret to report that according to the information of the search and rescue team, the bodies of two pilots have been found," said the statement.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) confirmed that an American military service member was aboard the Ukrainian Air Force SU-27 that crashed.

“We have seen reports claiming a U.S. casualty and can confirm a U.S. service member was involved in this incident," said a USAFE spokesperson. "It is currently under investigation and we will continue to provide more information as it becomes available.”

U.S. Air Force pilots are currently in Ukraine participating in a large-scale multi-national aviation exercise known as "Clear Sky" involving close to 1,000 personnel from NATO countries.

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Tuesday
Oct162018

US military says 60 militants killed in Somalia airstrike

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. military airstrike in central Somalia this weekend killed 60 Al Shabab fighters, the largest airstrike targeting the al-Qaeda affiliated terror group in more than a year, officials said Tuesday.

U.S. Africa Command said in a statement that the strike occurred on October 12 near Harardere, a town 250 miles north of Mogadishu.

“We currently assess this airstrike killed approximately sixty (60) terrorists,” said the statement. “This precision airstrike was the largest airstrike against al-Shabaab since November 21, 2017, when U.S. forces conducted an airstrike against an al-Shabaab camp killing approximately 100 terrorists.”

“We also currently assess this airstrike did not injure or kill any civilians,” it added.

Airstrikes in Somalia are usually carried out by unmanned Reaper drones and are small in scope.

U.S. Africa Command is authorized to conduct self-defense strikes in situations when African Union or Somali government troops accompanied by U.S. advisers came under attack.

They are also authorized to conduct offensive airstrikes in the southern part of the country targeting al Shabab safe havens.

Africom had disclosed the airstrike on October 12, but had provided no details other than to say “we are currently assessing the results of this airstrike.”

The Nov. 21, 2017, airstrike targeted an al Shabab training camp in southern Somalia and occurred during a time when there was an uptick in the number of airstrikes against the militant group.

There are about 500 U.S. military personnel in Somalia participating in an advise and assist mission with the Somali military.

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