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Monday
Oct162017

Skies above the UK, France turn an eerie orange

Rob Ball/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The skies above the United Kingdom and France glowed an eerie orange on Monday.

Winds from the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia are thought to have blown dust from the Sahara to cause the surreal skies.

Photographers alternately described the color of the sky as red, orange, sepia and yellow-ochre.

Eurocontrol said it received an unusually high number of reports of cabin fumes in U.K. airspace.

Ophelia, now a storm, has killed at least three in Ireland.

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Monday
Oct162017

Russian who says he helped meddle in US election studied hit show 'House of Cards'

Mike Marsland/WireImage via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Russian "trolls" working for a company that allegedly used fake social-media accounts to try to influence U.S. voters in the 2016 election were required to watch the political thriller TV show "House of Cards" to increase their understanding of American politics, according to an interview broadcast in Russia.

In an interview aired Sunday by independent Russian station TV Rain, a man identified only as "Maksim" says he worked for the English-language department of a so-called "troll factory" that U.S. officials say was involved in an information campaign on American social media during the election.

Maksim, who said he worked for the company around 18 months and quit in early 2015, said his department was tasked with stirring up dissatisfaction against the U.S. government and harming the election chances of Democrat Hillary Clinton by writing in the comment sections of major American media outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. He said they tried to drive discussion toward specific topics, such as past alleged scandals around the former secretary of state and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

"About her it was always bad," said Maksim, whose face was concealed during the broadcast. "The basic message was: 'Aren't you tired, my American brothers, of the Clintons?'"

He added that more broadly "our goal was to set Americans against their government ... to provoke riots, to provoke dissatisfaction. There was a goal to influence opinion, to drive the discussion."

The troll factory, located in an innocuous-looking building on the edge of St. Petersburg's city center, first attracted wide notice after a 2015 article in The New York Times magazine said the company's workers were pumping out pro-Kremlin messaging on social media and comment sections largely for a Russian-speaking audience. The article said the company has gone by different names but is best known as the Internet Research Agency.

Attention has focused on the company again since Facebook said last month that the Internet Research Agency spent $100,000 on U.S. political ads on the social network during the 2016 election.

Facebook handed over 3,000 ads it said purchased by the company to the Senate and House intelligence committees that are investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the election. The ads were purchased between June 2015 and May 2017, according to Facebook.

Maksim told TV Rain his department had been ordered to study American media to identify divisive topics. Employees were told to read through thousands of posts in the comments sections of U.S. news outlets before commenting themselves, Maksim said, with success measured in how many "likes" a post attracted from other users.

“You had to know all the basic problems of the United States of America. Tax problems, problems with the gays, sexual minorities, weapons,” he said. Inserting crude comments about homosexual men, he said, was viewed as a reliable technique for attracting "likes."

Employees were required to watch "House of Cards" as a way to learn about American politics and to improve their English.

“At the beginning, they made us watch 'House of Cards' in English,” Maksim said.

He said he and others in his department were ordered not to refer to Russia in their posts or to try to promote Moscow's viewpoint.

"We didn't have the goal to turn Americans toward Russia," he said. "You couldn't mention Russia, nor Putin. Because Americans don't talk about that. They basically don't care about Russia and Putin."

Maksim's account follows reports from Facebook, an independent Russian journalist and comments from one of the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Internet Research Agency.

Facebook told congressional investigators that the Internet Research Agency was especially busy during the U.S. 2016 campaign.

The social media giant’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said in a post on Facebook that most of the posts on his company's network that appear to have been connected to Russia did not mention a specific presidential candidate or the election, but focused on “amplifying divisive social and political messages” on immigration, gun rights and LGBT issues.

Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist and early investor in Facebook, told ABC News the Russian effort may have started as merely an attempt to sow discontent, but as the campaign unfolded, he said it became clear the effort grew increasingly focused.

“Classic Russian intelligence techniques of taking the most extreme voices and amplifying them,” he said. “It was the perfect petri dish for this kind of campaign.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News last month that based on the Facebook ads he'd seen at that point it was clear the posts included divisive messages intended to “help one candidate and potentially hurt another.” He said the ads clearly appeared to be part of a broader effort that the U.S. intelligence community has determined was designed to aid Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton in the election.

Independent Russian journalist Lyudmila Savchuk, who worked for the Internet Research Agency in 2015 to expose what the factory was doing, told ABC News that young Russians posed as Americans online, working 12-hour shifts at the company’s headquarters posting comments on U.S. political issues selected by their bosses. Facebook, she said, was one of their primary platforms.

“'Troll factory' is a very appropriate name for it because it really is a large-scale production that works around the clock, and they don't take time off for holidays, lunch nor sleep,” she said. “A huge quantity of content is being produced.”

Maksim said in the Russian TV interview that when people in his department commented on U.S. news sites, they would use VPNs — virtual private networks — that disguise a computer’s real location. Those employees who failed to conceal themselves were punished, he said.

TV Rain said that Maksim had shown the station a document certifying his employment for Internet Research Agency as proof he had worked there.

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Monday
Oct162017

Death toll in 'barbaric' bombing in Somalia rises to 300

Sadak Mohamed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Two powerful truck bombs in the heart of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Saturday killed at least 300 people and injured about 300 more, in what authorities call the deadliest attack in the country’s history.

Funerals have begun for the killed who have been found. But the death toll from the attacks is expected to rise, as rescue workers continue attempts to pull victims from the rubble.

The government has blamed the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Shabab group for the attacks, but the extremist group has not yet commented.

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo announced three days of mourning for the victims and said flags will be flown at half-mast. The Minister of Information, Abdirahman O. Osman called the attack barbaric and said that officials from Turkey and Djibouti have arrived in Mogadishu to provide support for the victims and that more than 30 injured people were flown to Turkey for treatment.

Hospitals are overextended and struggling to treat victims, many of whom sustained severe burn injuries. Volunteers have been providing first aid and have transferred many wounded to nearby medical points.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said on Sunday that he was “sickened” by the attack, which took place on a crowded street, and sent condolences to the victims.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, Michael Keating, said an “unprecedented” number of civilians had been killed.

“I am shocked and appalled by the number of lives that were lost in the bombings and the scale of destruction they caused,” he said in a statement “The perpetrators struck a densely populated neighborhood of Mogadishu. They have killed an unprecedented number of civilians. It is a revolting attack both in terms of its intent and impact.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that the attacks were a reminder of the toll the armed conflict in Somalia has had on civilians.

"Thousands of civilians lose their life in Somalia every year as a direct consequence of the ongoing conflict," said Jordi Raich, ICRC's Head of Delegation, in a statement.

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Monday
Oct162017

At least 3 killed in Ireland as storm Ophelia prompts warning of 'danger to life'

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia pummeled Ireland Monday, leaving at least three people dead in storm-related accidents, Ireland's National Police said.

A woman in her 50s was killed when a tree fell on her car as she was driving. Another woman in her 70s who was a passenger in the car was injured. A man was also killed after a tree struck his car. And, a third person died in an incident related to the storm when he suffered a serious injury from a chainsaw as he was clearing a fallen tree, police said.

The Irish Meteorological Service reported wind gusts off the south coast of Ireland as high as 109 mph and said the wind was taking down trees. It said that the storm is expected to bring further "violent and destructive" wind as well as flooding from heavy rain and storm surges to Ireland. Ophelia is likely to be the most powerful storm to hit Ireland since Hurricane Debbie in 1961, forecasters said. Ireland closed schools and hospitals ahead of Ophelia, placed troops on standby and warned people to stay inside. The government said that schools will remain closed Tuesday. More than 350,000 homes and businesses are already without power.

The very strong winds will probably extend to parts of northern England along with some southern and central parts of Scotland in the evening, the U.K.'s meteorological service said.

The Met Office issued an amber weather warning for Northern Ireland from 12:00 p.m. -- 11:00 p.m. GMT Monday, saying power cuts are likely and that cancellations and longer journey times are to be expected as some bridges might close while road, rail, air and ferry services might be affected.

Ophelia is technically no longer a hurricane, but will still pack hurricane-level wind gusts while passing over Ireland before likely crossing over to Northern Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said residents should avoid "unnecessary travel or other outdoor activities." The U.S.-based disaster modeler Enki Research said Ophelia's could cause up to $1.5 billion in damages in Ireland and up to $2.5 billion overall in the British Isles.

 

 

“By the time Ophelia reaches our latitudes, she will be weakening and will be an ex-hurricane,” said Steve Ramsdale, chief forecaster at the Met Office in the U.K,, in a statement. “However, Ex-Ophelia will be bringing some significant impacts to Northern Ireland and western and northern Britain on Monday and Tuesday.”

The powerful winds will probably extend to parts of northern England and some southern and central parts of Scotland in the evening as winds turn more to the southwest, said the Met Office. Heavy rain is also possible in Northern Ireland and western Scotland. The rest of the U.K. will see breezy weather, but the wind is not expected to bring widespread disruption there, the Met Office said.

 

 

Matt Crofts, a lifesaving manager with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a British charity that aims to rescue those at risk of drowning, warned people from going out to watch the big waves.

“Stormy conditions may be tempting to watch but big waves can easily knock you off your feet,” he said in a statement. “The sea is far more powerful than you think and your chances of survival are slim if you are dragged into the swell. Our volunteer lifeboat crews will always launch to rescue those in danger at sea, but to launch into conditions like these could also put their lives at risk.”

In the U.K., media have compared Ophelia to the Great Storm of 1987, which hit the country exactly 30 years ago and killed 22 people.

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Monday
Oct162017

Rescued hostage Joshua Boyle says children are 'improving'

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Rescued Canadian hostage Joshua Boyle said his children are "improving" after spending their entire life being help captive in the mountains of Afghanistan.

“The children are improving, we mentioned before that the eldest Najaeshi Jonah was doing well but that his younger brother Dhakwoen Noah was still struggling as much as ever with even just being able to look at his grandparents faces without terror,” Boyle told CP24 in an emailed statement last week.

Boyle arrived in Toronto with his wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their three children on Friday after being held hostage for five years by a Taliban-affiliated terrorist network. The family was rescued in Pakistan on Wednesday in a dramatic operation orchestrated by the U.S. and Pakistani governments, officials said last week.

He said Dhakwoen was initially afraid of his grandparents, but he warmed up to them “literally overnight” after his grandmother made him a hearty pancake breakfast.

“Obviously he's still incredibly troubled and stressed over everything, but it's a major step,” Boyle said, speaking of Dhakwoen’s newfound love for his grandma. “She's the first person he's accepted since 2015.”

He said his daughter, Ma'idah, still finds it hard to be around other men.

“She still can't be within a metre of any man except her father but if she sees a woman she starts squirming and trying to get over to her, regardless of who it is — to nestle in the love,” Boyle said.

Boyle and his wife, who was pregnant with their first child at the time, were kidnaped while on a backpacking trip in Afghanistan in October 2012.

The couple had four children while in captivity, but Boyle said their fourth child, an infant daughter, was murdered by their abductors. The Taliban has denied those claims.

Boyle said the family is currently living with his parents in Smiths Falls, Ont., located about an hour south of Ottawa, which he his children's "first true home."

"We have reached the first true “home” that the children have ever known – after they spent most of Friday asking if each subsequent airport was our new house hopefully," Boyle said in a separate statement on Saturday.

"Full medical work-ups for each member of my family are being arranged right now, and God-willing the healing process – physically and mentally can begin," he added.

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Monday
Oct162017

US father of 3 killed in Somalia was refugee who arrived in hometown hours before terror attack

KSTP.com(MOGADISHU, Somalia) -- A Minnesota father of three was one of more than 270 people who were killed in Somalia over the weekend when a pair of truck bombs went off in the country's capital, his family said. Authorities are calling it the deadliest terrorist attack in the nation’s history.

The attack left 276 people dead and around 300 others injured, the country's information minister, Abdirahman Osman, said late Sunday. The death toll is expected to rise.

Fifty-year-old Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow arrived in his hometown of Mogadishu just hours before the deadly bomb went off, according to his family. He was resting in his hotel room when the blast struck, destroying the hotel and many other buildings in the surrounding area.

"We miss him so much,” Eyow's widow, Ruun Abdi Eyow, said at a press conference on Sunday. "I want people to know that he was a great father. He has two jobs, and my husband works very hard."

Born in Somalia, Eyow became a refugee when he fled the East African nation after its government collapsed in 1991, according to his mosque. He eventually settled in Minnesota in 1998.

"Ahmed was one of our most effective and active community members in our center," Mohamed Omar, executive director of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center, said at the news conference on Sunday.

Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow leaves behind three children: Yonis, 14; Yusra, 13; and Yahya, 10.

Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow left for Somalia on Oct. 7 “with great hope, looking forward to a chance to make a difference in his home country,” according to the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., where Eyow attended daily prayer services.

“He was working as a welder but longed to return to his homeland of Somalia,” the center said in a statement on Sunday. “He thought that he could help bring back stability to Somalia by applying for a job as a representative with the UN.”

The Islamic center has set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the Eyow family.

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Sunday
Oct152017

Met Police investigating new assault claims against Harvey Weinstein

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Harvey Weinstein is facing new sexual assault allegations that could lead to criminal charges in London.

Police in London are investigating claims against the movie mogul that go back more than 20 years, ABC News has learned.  Metropolitan Police confirmed at least three alleged victims have come forward, but they would not confirm Weinstein's involvement nor the women's names.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Lysette Anthony, a British actress and soap opera star, said she told police she was raped by the Miramax co-founder in the late 1980's and reportedly gave evidence to officials last week.

There is no statute of limitations for sex crimes and other serious cases in the U.K.  In the U.S., the law varies by state. The state of New York does not have a statute of limitations for rape claims and the New York Police Department said it is conducting a review of incidents related to Weinstein.

More than 35 women have have accused Weinstein of sexual harrassment or assault.  In a previous statement to the New Yorker, Weinstein denied "any allegations of non-consensual sex."


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Sunday
Oct152017

Hundreds killed in Mogadishu truck bomb attack

Sadak Mohamed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(MOGADISHU, Somalia) -- Hundreds are dead after a truck packed with explosives detonated in the capital of Somalia on Saturday.

At least 276 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in the explosion near the entrance of the Safari Hotel in Mogadishu, according to a government spokesperson. The death toll is expected to rise.

Abdirahman Osman, spokesperson to Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, said on Twitter that Al-Shabaab was responsible for the "barbaric attack."  No terror group has claimed responsibility.

The president declared three days of mourning for the victims of the blast.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned the attack in a statement on Sunday: "In the face of this senseless and cowardly act, the United States will continue to stand with the Somali government, its people, and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity."

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Sunday
Oct152017

Freed hostage says Taliban-linked captors killed infant daughter, raped American wife

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images(TORONTO) -- After being held hostage for five years by a Taliban-affiliated terrorist network in the mountains of Afghanistan, a Canadian man, his American wife and their three children born in captivity arrived in Toronto Friday night.

Joshua Boyle -- who arrived at Toronto's Pearson International Airport with his wife Caitlan Coleman and their children -- told reporters inside the Air Canada terminal that the Haqqani network killed a fourth child born in captivity, an infant daughter, and raped his wife.

"The stupidity and the evil of the Haqqani networks, kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter, Martyr Boyle," Boyle said, revealing the murder of his daughter.

He added, revealing the rape of his wife, "As retaliation of the repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani had made to me. And the stupidity and evil of the subsequent rape of my wife, not as the lone action of one guard, but assisted by the captain of the guards and the commandant."

Speaking about the couple's children, Boyle said, "Obviously it would be of incredible importance to my family that we are able to build a secure sanctuary for our 3 surviving children to call a home, to focus on edification," Boyle told reporters. "And to try to regain of the childhood that they had lost."

The Government of Canada issued the following statement on the arrival of Joshua Boyle, his wife Caitlan Coleman and their children at Toronto's Pearson International Airport: "Today, we join the Boyle family in rejoicing over the long-awaited return to Canada of their loved ones. Canada has been actively engaged on Mr. Boyle’s case at all levels, and we will continue to support him and his family now that they have returned."

The couple and their children were rescued in a dramatic operation orchestrated by the U.S. and Pakistani governments, officials said Thursday.

The couple were abducted in October 2012 while in Afghanistan as part of a brief backpacking trip and held by the Haqqani network, which has ties to the Taliban and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Coleman was pregnant at the time.

The operation came after years of U.S. pressure on Pakistan for assistance. It unfolded quickly and included what some described as a shootout and a dangerous raid. U.S. officials did not confirm the details.

The family arrived in Toronto after flying from Islamabad, Pakistan, with a stopover in London. The family was seated in business class next to U.S. State Department officials.

Boyle also expressed his displeasure with U.S. foreign policy by gesturing to one of the U.S. State Department officials and saying, "Their interests are not my interests."

Boyle said one of his children is suffering from health issues and needed to be force-fed by rescuers.

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Sunday
Oct152017

Astronaut tweets photo of 'beautiful' Puerto Rico from International Space Station

Joseph M. Acaba/Twitter(NEW YORK) -- For astronauts onboard the International Space Station, there are countless magnificent sights to see as they orbit the Earth.

But NASA's Joe Acaba, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, was waiting for the moment that the International Space Station would pass over his family's hurricane-ravaged homeland -- and that moment was finally realized on Saturday.

Acaba, 50, tweeted a pair of photos of the island, along with a message to the people still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Maria.

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