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Thursday
Sep122019

French investigators interview possible Jeffrey Epstein accusers 

Cineberg/iStock(PARIS) -- Three possible victims of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged sexual abuse have come forward in France after police there launched an inquiry into the conduct of the New York-based financier.

Epstein died by suicide in his New York jail cell last month while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges for allegedly sexually abusing dozens of girls in New York and Florida. Epstein, 66, owned property all over the world, including at least one apartment in Paris, and investigations into his alleged conduct has continued even after his death.

French police published a call on Twitter for any possible witnesses and accusers to come forward to participate in the investigation into Epstein.

The three individuals were interviewed by the investigators on Aug. 27, Sept. 3 and Sept. 9, the Paris Prosecutor’s office told ABC News on Wednesday.

Two French ministers called for investigations to be opened in France after the news of Epstein’s death, citing the "many unanswered questions" in the wake of Epstein’s suicide in jail. France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet reprimanded the ministers for their statements, saying it was not the government’s role to dictate investigations, but the probe continued.

A French advocacy group for child sex abuse victims called Innocence In Danger has also put out a call for possible witnesses and has received several testimonies as well as possible evidence tied to Epstein's conduct on French soil, the group’s president, Homayra Sellier, told ABC News.

Police said the scope of their investigation includes possible crimes committed against French citizens in France and elsewhere.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Sep112019

Asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was as powerful as 10 billion atomic bombs, new research finds

Don Davis/NASA(NEW YORK) -- Scientists have found hard evidence in massive chunks of rocks that the asteroid that doomed the dinosaurs was powerful enough to trigger wildfires, tsunamis and blast so much dust into the atmosphere that it blocked out the sun -- and they estimate the impact was as powerful as 10 billion atomic bombs of the same size used in World War II.

The impact created an inferno, enough to scorch plants thousands of miles away, followed by cooling due to all the dust being thrown into the air.

"We fried them and then we froze them," Sean Gulick, a research professor at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), said in a statement announcing their findings. "Not all the dinosaurs died that day, but many dinosaurs did."

More than two dozens international scientists contributed to the new research published Monday in the paper the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looked at hundreds of feet of rocks from from the impact crater in the Gulf of Mexico that were created within the first day that the massive asteroid struck Earth.

"It's an expanded record of events that we were able to recover from within ground zero,” Gulick added. "It tells us about impact processes from an eyewitness location."

Researchers said that studying the rocks from the impact zone shed new light on the longer-lasting effects of the asteroid impact that wiped out 75% of life on the planet.

One of their biggest findings was that there was no sulfur in the core of the asteroid impact zone, but the area surrounding the crater was full of sulfur-rich rocks, researchers said in a statement. The lack of sulfur at the core supports a theory that the impact alone of the asteroid instantly vaporized sulfur minerals at the site, releasing them into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and causing a global cooling.

While the impact of the asteroid was massive, "the real killer has got to be atmospheric," according to Gulick.

"The only way you get a global mass extinction like this is an atmospheric effect," he added.

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Wednesday
Sep112019

New Zealand firefighters perform haka in powerful tribute to 9/11 first responders

jimfeng/iStock(AUCKLAND, New Zealand) -- Firefighters in New Zealand paid tribute to the first responders who lost their lives in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

In remembrance of those first responders as well as those who have died in the line of duty in New Zealand, firefighters performed a traditional haka dance under the Sky Tower in Auckland Wednesday.

The ceremonial custom is an ancient war dance of the Maori people.

“More than any aspect of Maori culture, this complex dance is an expression of the passion, vigour and identity of the race…a custom of high social importance in the welcoming and entertainment of visitors,” according to the website for the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, known for performing the dance before their matches.

After their performance, more than 200 firefighters climbed the stairs of the 1,076-foot-high Sky Tower in memory of those lost, according to the fire department’s Facebook post.

Three New York Fire Department chiefs -- John Buckheit, Howard Hill and David Morkal -- also attended the event, according to New Zealand’s One News.

The performance was one of many tributes taking place in the U.S. and around the world to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the terror attacks.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Sep112019

Brexit crisis: Scottish court says Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament is unlawful

Vladislav Zolotov/iStock(EDINBURGH, Scotland) -- Scotland's highest court dealt British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a new setback Wednesday when it ruled his five-week suspension of Parliament, known as prorogation, unlawful.

Agreeing with observers and critics that prorogation was an effort to avoid scrutiny of his plan for a no-deal Brexit, the court unanimously decided Johnson’s suspension “had the purpose of stymying Parliament.”

The new ruling accuses Johnson of misleading the queen to act unlawfully when he asked her to sign off on prorogation. Although a London court ruled last week that the suspension was constitutional, Scottish judges reversed that decision.

Despite declaring the House of Commons’ recess “null and of no effect,” the Scottish court did not issue an injunction ordering Parliament to return to Westminster. The chief judge said the court would defer a decision that would force members of Parliament to come back to work. The U.K.’s Supreme Court will hear an appeal from the government next week.

Anti-Brexit politicians, including the more than 75 MPs who brought the case to the Scottish court, celebrated the decision. Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Joanna Cherry said that her side “feels utterly vindicated and confident.”

Ed Davey, the deputy leader of the pro-Remain Liberal Democrat party, told the BBC that Johnson may have to resign if he misled the queen.

Johnson’s government, however, is fighting back. His spokesperson said Johnson would not call back Parliament before the Supreme Court hears the appeal on Sept. 17.

The government is facing further backlash over accusations of questioning the court’s impartiality after a Johnson ally told The Sun newspaper, “The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason.”

Scotland voted heavily in 2016 to remain in the European Union.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Sep112019

32-year-old man in India pretends to be 81 to get into the US

Kameleon007/iStock(NEW DELHI) -- A 32-year-old man has been arrested at an Indian airport for pretending to be 81 in order to get into the USA.

Jayesh Patel was stopped as he was trying to board a flight to New York at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi by the Central Industrial Security Force. Disguised in glasses, make-up, a turban and a dyed beard, he made it through initial security checks and past immigration officials, a spokesperson for the Central Industrial Security Force told news agency IANS.

“He was planning to go to the U.S. for a job. But his profile was such that he would not have gotten a visa easily,” a senior police officer told local media. “With a fake name - Amrik Singh, a fake address, he managed to get a passport and a U.S. visa. We've never seen a similar case at the Delhi airport before," he added.

Riding through the airport in a wheelchair, Patel aroused suspicion at a second security check when he refused to get up saying he was too old. He reportedly refused to make eye contact during the exchange.

"[The Security Force] was suspicious about him as his voice didn't match his age. Despite grey hair, his skin seemed to be quite young as there were hardly any wrinkles on his face," a spokesperson told local news outlets.

Patel reportedly hired an agent who got him the documents and arranged for him to be made-up to look like an 81-year-old in a hotel in Delhi, according to local media. Patel agreed to pay the agent once he had arrived in the U.S.

The security force tweeted that they had arrested the man for impersonation and carrying dual passports, before handing him over to the Delhi police.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep102019

Russian media claim to identify alleged top CIA spy

Eplisterra/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Some Russian media outlets said Tuesday they believed they had identified the CIA spy who American news reports this week alleged had been at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s government, setting off frantic speculation in Russia over who the mole could be.

The Kremlin confirmed that a former Russian official had worked as an employee in the country's presidential administration but sought to downplay the idea he could have been a spy, dismissing the American media coverage as "pulp fiction."

CNN and The New York Times on Monday both reported that the U.S. had helped a high-value spy inside the Kremlin flee Russia in 2017, fearing that he was about to be exposed. The reports said the source had been an official working in the top levels of Putin’s administration, who had given the CIA an extraordinary vantage point into the Russian government’s decision-making.

At an unrelated briefing Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the reporting false.

"The reporting is materially inaccurate and you should know, as the former CIA director, I don't talk about things like this often," Pompeo said. "It is only the occasions when there's something I think puts people at risk or the reporting so egregious as to create enormous risks to the United States of America. I won't say anything more. I know the CIA put out a statement. Suffice it to say the reporting there is factually wrong."

Neither CNN nor The New York Times named the agent, citing requests from U.S. officials to protect the spy’s safety.

But following the reports, Russian media outlets brought to light an article from September 2017 about an official in the presidential administration who mysteriously disappeared along with his entire family in June 2017.

The 2017 report appeared on a small news site launched by former tabloid journalists with connections to Russia’s media establishment. According to the site, police had opened a murder inquiry into the family's disappearance but had found no trace of them. The official, his wife and three children were reported to have traveled to Montenegro on holiday and never returned.

The article at the time attracted almost no notice and was not picked up by Russia’s larger media until Monday night, when the explosive CNN and NYT stories appeared. Since then, some of Russia’s leading media have reported the official as the possible mole.

Kommersant, a leading newspaper with sources in the Russian government, said its own security services sources had confirmed a murder investigation had been opened into the official’s disappearance but it was closed after they found the family was alive and living in a "foreign country."

Asked by reporters on Tuesday, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed that the official had been an employee in the presidential administration but said he had been fired between 2016 and 2017.

"[He] did really work in the presidential administration but several years ago he was fired over internal regulations," Peskov told journalists during his daily briefing call. He said that the Kremlin was not aware whether the man had gone missing.

Asked if the official had been an agent, Peskov laughed, dismissing it as speculation.

"I can't confirm that. I don’t know whether he was an agent. I can only confirm that there was such a person in the presidential administration who was later sacked," he said. "All this U.S. media speculation about who urgently extracted who and saved who from who and so on -- this is more the genre of pulp fiction, crime reading, so let's leave it up to them."

U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed the reports about the alleged CIA asset and have not commented on the suggestion that it could have been the official named in the Russian media. ABC News has not been able to independently verify the Russian reports.

CNN and The New York Times both reported that the anonymous agent had played an instrumental role in informing American intelligence about Russia’s operation to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. They reported that the source’s information allowed the intelligence services to confirm that Putin himself had ordered the operation.

According to the Times, U.S. officials reportedly decided the source was in danger of being exposed after the intelligence community published its findings about the Russian operation and media outlets began reporting details they feared could identify him. The source initially rejected the offer to flee then, the paper reported, but eventually accepted several months later, after Barack Obama had already left office.

Sources quoted by The Times said there was no public evidence Trump's behavior affected the decision and that it was taken exclusively because of "media scrutiny of the agency's sources."

A spy inside the presidential administration would have been an extraordinary coup for American intelligence. Recruiting spies in Russia’s government has long been considered exceptionally difficult, due to the country’s extensive counter-intelligence defenses and closed nature of its administration.

The Times, citing anonymous officials, described the source as "the American government’s best insight into the thinking of and orders from Mr. Putin." The informant "was outside of Mr. Putin’s inner circle, but saw him regularly and had access to high-level Kremlin decision-making," according to the article. The source’s identity was deemed so sensitive, it said, that then-CIA Director John Brennan made the information available only to then-President Barack Obama and a tiny circle of senior officials.

Peskov on Tuesday downplayed the official’s importance, but Russian government documents published online showed that the man in fact had received a senior government rank awarded by President Dmitry Medvedev. Another publicly available State Department document showed the man had served for a time in the Russian embassy in Washington.

Attention also quickly focused on whether the official and his family may now be living in the U.S. after journalists found a real estate listing that showed a couple with the same name as the official and his wife had bought a large family home in June 2018.

It would be remarkable that a former spy in the top levels of Russia’s government would be living openly after being exfiltrated by the CIA, particularly in light of a number of recent assassinations targeting former Russian intelligence officers. In 2018, the former Russian double-agent Sergey Skripal was poisoned with a nerve agent in the British town Salisbury. British and U.S. officials have accused Russian military intelligence of carrying out the assassination attempt.

Peskov on Tuesday denied that the Kremlin is aware of the official's current whereabouts. "We don’t do manhunts for people," he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep102019

Newly released transcripts tell gruesome moments of Saudi columnist killed in embassy

CIL868/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Newly released transcripts provide insight into the final moments of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi before he was killed by Saudi agents inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The authenticity of the transcripts, which were published Tuesday in the Turkish media for the first time, were confirmed to ABC News by Turkish authorities.

The transcripts reveal gruesome details from the murder that has cast a shadow over Saudi relations with the United States.

The reported transcribed conversations show the 15-member team of Saudi officials discussing what to do with Khashoggi's body before he arrived at the consulate, seeking paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his fiancée Hatice Cengiz. It's unclear how Turkey was able to record the events in the Saudi consulate as they unfolded.

Saudi Arabia has said that the team was rogue, misinterpreting an old edict to convince Saudi dissidents to come home and killing Khashoggi by accident. Those 15 individuals have been on trial in the kingdom, but the proceedings have been closed to the public.

"Is it possible to put the body in a bag?" asked Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a senior member of the team, 12 minutes before Khashoggi arrived on Oct. 2.

Dr. Salah Muhammed Tubaigy, who served as forensic chief at the Saudi General Security Department, responded, "No. Too heavy, very tall too."

"I know how to cut very well," Tubaigy added. "I have never worked on a warm body though, but I'll also manage that easily. I normally put on my earphones and listen to music when I cut cadavers. In the meantime, I sip on my coffee and smoke. After I dismember it, you will wrap the parts into plastic bags, put them in suitcases and take them out."

According to Turkish officials, the team did that, removing Khashoggi's body in pieces in five suitcases. His remains have never been found.

In another portion of the transcript, after Khashoggi arrived, he was told to send his son a text message. Mutreb told him to "write something like 'I'm in Istanbul. Don't worry if you cannot reach me.'"

Khashoggi responded, "How can such a thing take place at a consulate? I'm not writing anything."

"Write it, Mr. Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so we can help you, because in the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don't help us you know what will happen eventually," Mutreb fired back.

"There is a towel here. Will you have me drugged?" Khashoggi asked.

Tubaigy then stepped in and said, "We will put you to sleep."

The team then put a plastic bag over his head and suffocated him, with scuffling and struggling heard and a few commands given, such as, "Keep pushing" and "push it well."

Khashoggi's last words were, "I have asthma. Do not do it, you will suffocate me," according to the transcripts.

Shortly afterward, the sound of a bone saw is heard.

A United Nations special investigator determined in a report in June that Khashoggi's murder was perpetrated at the highest levels of the Saudi Arabian power structure and required further investigation of senior Saudi officials, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia blasted the report as based on "many unfounded accusations" and questioned "the impartiality and lack of objectivity of the report" and its author, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnès Callamard.

"The kingdom will never accept any attempt to harm its sovereignty and that it categorically rejects any attempt to derail this issue away from the kingdom's justice system or any attempt to influence it in any way," according to Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir.

President Donald Trump was equally dismissive of the investigation, saying he did not raise the issue with the crown prince in a meeting at the G-20 and telling NBC News that the murder had "been heavily investigated. ... By everybody."

The Trump administration has said it continues to collect evidence on the murder, but has largely accepted the Saudi defense that it was a rogue operation carried out by a 15-member team -- all of whom were placed under U.S. sanctions last November.

"We continue to urge the Saudi government to ascertain all the facts and hold those responsible for the murder accountable. We are awaiting conclusion of the criminal trial in Riyadh," a State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Tuesday. "If additional facts come to light, we will consider further measures."

Members of Congress -- in both parties -- have challenged Trump on his efforts to dismiss Saudi Arabia's role in Khashoggi's death in an effort to keep business as usual.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep102019

US-led coalition hits ISIS 'infested' island in Iraq with 80,000 pounds of munitions

U.S. Air Force(BAGHDAD) -- The U.S.-led coalition conducted airstrikes against an Islamic State "infested" island in Iraq on Tuesday in order to deny what had become a safe haven for the terror group, according to Operation Inherent Resolve.

U.S. F-15 and F-35 aircraft dropped 80,000 pounds of munitions on Qanus Island, located in the Salah ad Din Province, north of Baghdad, to disrupt ISIS fighters' "ability to hide in the thick vegetation," the coalition said in a statement.

"Follow-on ground clearance operations are currently taking place by the 2nd Iraqi Special Operations Forces Battalion to destroy a major transit hub for [ISIS] members moving from Syria and the Jazeera desert into Mosul, Makhmour, and the Kirkuk region" of Iraq, the coalition said.

"We're denying Daesh the ability to hide on Qanus Island," Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, the commander of the coalition's special operations forces, said in the statement, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym. "We're setting the conditions for our partner forces to continue bringing stability to the region."

Months after losing their self-declared caliphate across Iraq and Syria, thousands of ISIS fighters were building an insurgency, forming sleeper cells in the desert or in caves or blending into local populations in Iraqi towns and cities.

ABC News World News Tonight Anchor David Muir recently got exclusive access to U.S. and Iraqi troops still fighting an enemy intent on re-surging there.

Brig. Gen. William Seely, the U.S. commander of Task Force-Iraq in Baghdad, told Muir that ISIS had already started planning its way back into the country, even before its territorial defeat.

"As they withdrew back into Syria, they looked at their future. And so they started sending out fighters, sending out logistics, sending out groups of people to either get back into maybe (internally displaced people) camps or refugee camps and try to blend back (in)," Seely said. "They're trying to get logistics set up. They're trying to conduct operations. They're trying to refinance their operations."

The U.S.-led coalition conducts airstrikes against the terror group but on the ground the approximately 5,000 American troops in Iraq are primarily in a train and advise role supporting Iraqi Security Forces.

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Tuesday
Sep102019

An Iranian female soccer fan caught trying to enter stadium set herself on fire and died

Iranian women wait behind the gates of Tehran's Azadi Stadium trying to convince security officers to let them in, Nov. 10, 2018. (Somaye Malekian/ABC News)(TEHRAN, Iran) — A female Iranian soccer fan who had been caught trying to enter the country's Azadi Stadium has died after setting herself on fire to protest her arrest.

Sahar Khodayari, 30, had disguised herself as a man so she could watch Esteghlal, an Iranian soccer team, play against the UAE’s Al Ain in March. But once a stadium security officer wanted to carry out a physical inspection, Sahar told the officer she was a woman. She was then arrested by authorities.

According to MizanOnline, the judiciary news agency, the reason for Sahar’s arrest was “damaging public chastity and insulting a judiciary officer.”

Iranian women are not allowed to watch men's sporting events at local stadiums.

Sahar set herself on fire last week to protest her possible imprisonment. She died at a hospital Monday after suffering severe burns on 90 percent of her body. Iranian and international social media reacted to her death and the hashtag BlueGirl, the color of her favorite team, Esteghlal, has gone viral.

Parvaneh Salahsouri, a reformist lawmaker, said Sahar was "Iran's girl."

“She was not just a #blue-girl, Sahar was #Iran’s_girl," Salahsouri posted on Twitter. We are all responsible for the imprisonment and burnings of Sahars of this land, where men command women and take away their primitive human rights.”

Some have said Sahar’s mental condition was the reason she set herself on fire.

Sahar was bipolar, according to her sister, who was interviewed by Rokna, a local news outlet, on Wednesday.

“We had presented the medical documents to the court, but she was treated as a healthy person after she insulted one of the officers,” the sister said.

Last November, authorities allowed hundreds of Iranian women to attend Azadi Stadium to watch an official soccer match for the first time. The permission was granted after Gianni Infantino, head of FIFA, urged Iranian sport officials to allocate some seats for women.

Some claimed on social media that the presence of women during that game was largely arranged and most of the seats in the women’s section had been filled by female police officers in plain clothes.

In August, Forough Alaei, an award-winning photojournalist who had photographed an Iranian girl disguising herself as a man to attend a stadium, was arrested. Alaei was released on bail a few days later.

Sahar's death has added to the growing chorus of criticism of segregation in Iranian sports. Some are asking male fans not to attend the stadiums while others suggest men should protest by shouting slogans and holding signs. Some argue that FIFA, the world's soccer governing body, should ban Iran’s soccer federation.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep102019

French court rules employer responsible for worker’s death after sex

DNY59/iStock(PARIS) -- The Paris Court of Appeal made a ruling that during a business trip, an employer is liable for any employee accidents -- or an employee's death -- in just about any circumstance.

Xavier, a railway construction technician, died of a heart attack while on a business trip in the Loiret province, about 60 miles south of Paris. The man was found dead at the home of a woman with whom he had just had sex.

The case dates back to 2013. In its judgment dated May 27, 2019, relayed by labor lawyer Sarah Balluet, the court ruled the death a "workplace accident," setting a pathway for workplace compensation.

The worker's health insurance fund (Cpam), a party in the case, particularly stressed the fact that sexual intercourse "relates to acts of everyday life like to take a shower or a meal."

The fact that the employee had sex in a place other than the hotel room booked by his employer does not, according to the court, signify "that he had placed himself outside the sphere of authority of the employer."

Xavier had worked for TSO, a railway construction company, reported Quartz. The company failed to sway the court with its argument that the worker's death "occurred when he had knowingly interrupted his mission for a reason solely dictated by his personal interest, independent of his job."

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