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ISIS Reportedly Executes One Japanese Hostage


zabelin/iStock/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- A purported ISIS video posted online on Saturday claims the terror group has beheaded one of two Japanese hostages and will execute the second unless an al Qaeda female prisoner is freed in Jordan.

Neither U.S. nor Japanese officials were able to immediately authenticate the video, which did not contain many of the high production techniques seen in earlier ISIS videos nor the typical branding for the terror group.

The video shows a still picture of Japanese television reporter Kenji Goto holding a photo of the beheaded body of Haruna Kuwana.

“You have seen the photo of my cellmate Haruna slaughtered in the land of the Islamic caliphate,” a voice that appears to be Goto narrates.

Clearly reading a message written for him, the voice says ISIS no longer is demanding a $200 million ransom but will free him if the female prisoner is released.

“They no longer want money, so you don’t need to worry about funding terrorists,” the voice says. “They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister, Sajida al-Rishawi. It is simple, You give them Sajida and I will be released.”

The message is an apparent reference to a woman who was sentenced to death in Jordan following a suicide bomb attack on a hotel in Amman in 2005 that killed at least 60 people attending a wedding.

The voice attributed to Goto on the video concludes, “These could be my last hours in this world and I may be a dead man speaking.”

The voice also pleads for Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to help him.

The voice also pleads for help from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who called the alleged beheading "an outrageous and unforgivable act," according to the Associated Press.

In a statement, the White House expressed its support of Japan.

"The United States strongly condemns ISIL's actions and we call for the immediate release of all the remaining hostages," read the statement.

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Dozens Killed in Rocket Attacks in Ukrainian City


semakokal/iStock/Thinkstock(MARIUPOL, Ukraine) -- At least 27 people were killed following several rocket attacks in Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The rocket attacks on Saturday slammed into markets, schools, and homes in the city, which is strategically placed on the Azov Sea halfway between Russia and Crimea.

Saturday’s attacks also raised concerns that a major offensive is underway, the biggest escalation in the war there since last summer.

A top rebel commander was recorded saying the group planned plan to attack the city, but later said they had no plans to do so.

The attacks also have dashed hopes of a recent peace deal.

Ukraine has accused Russia of sending some 9,000 troops, plus tanks and heavy equipment, into Ukrainian territory to bolster the rebels. Russian officials however continue to deny the allegations.

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“Charlie Hebdo” Protests Erupt Across Southern Asia


mjbs/iStock/Thinkstock(ISLAMABAD) -- Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets throughout several countries on Friday in anger with the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the western Afghan city of Herat, an estimated 20,000 people protested the magazine’s anti-Islam satire.

Police on Friday also clashed with thousands of demonstrators in India-controlled Kashmir, while some 15,000 protesters denounced Charlie Hebdo, and France, burning the French flag in protest in the streets of Pakistan's capital.

Earlier this month, two gunmen stormed the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris killing a total of 12 people, prompting international condemnation of  Islamic extremism.

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Italian Supreme Court Orders Compensation for Gay Driving Suspension


JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- An Italian man is celebrating after winning a 14-year legal battle to get his permanent driver's license back after officials revoked it because he was gay.

It all started when then 18-year-old Danilo Giuffrida underwent a medical exam for the military service and told the doctor he was gay. At the time, Italy’s military banned gay men, and the doctor, disbelieving Giuffrida, told him to go register at the local gay rights organization.

Giuffrida did, but the military sent his medical records to the transportation ministry advising they suspend his driver's license because he was "troubled by his sexual identity" and lacked the "psycho-physical capacity to drive."

It took the better part of 14 years, but Giuffrida now has a licence to drive and a major legal victory.

Italy's highest court ruled on Thursday that the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Transportation exhibited clear homophobia against Giuffrida and will have to pay high damages.

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Cardiff, Wales' Best Restaurant Is Located In a Prison


fotokon/iStock/Thinkstock(CARDIFF, Wales) -- A restaurant located inside of a prison has been voted the best place to eat in Wales' capital, according to travelers who have dined there.

Opened just over two years ago, The Clink Cymru, which is operated by 30 category D prisoners, recently beat out 950 other establishments in Cardiff, Wales, when it assumed the number one position in TripAdvisor's Popularity Index for the locality.

Designed to help prisoners develop skills that can be put to use once they reintegrate with society, the restaurant also seeks to highlight locally grown Wales produce.

Menus, which change seasonally, offer dishes from "pressed game terrine with ciabatta croute, fruit chutney and baby cress" to "pan-seared breast of chicken with sugar snap peas, mashed potato, purple sprouting broccoli and chicken jus" to "spiced poached pear with hot chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice cream."

It even features a private dining room and AV facilities for business presentations.

One TripAdvisor reviewer noted, “The Clink offers amazing value for money, exceptional service and food that few restaurants in Cardiff can compete with. The Clink is a must visit.”

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Four Questions for Roberta Jacobson, the Lead US Negotiator in Cuba


ABC News(HAVANA) -- History was made this week when for the first time in nearly 40 years American and Cuban diplomats sat face to face in Havana to talk about restoring their relationship – one that has been virtually non-existent since the U.S. trade embargo was established 1960.

In an interview with ABC’s Serena Marshall, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who led the talks for the U.S., said this first round of talks were all about getting to know what each side wanted.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST HURDLES?


The most glaring point of contention between Communist Cuba and Washington concerns human rights. Jacobson suggested it’s an issue on which the two sides may never totally agree.

“When we talk about profound differences on human rights I don’t know that I see that as an issue that gets fixed, certainly not in the near term,” Jacobson said. “We have no illusions about this government. We would certainly like to see a major improvement in human rights, but we don’t necessarily expect that will happen right away.”

Cuba like many foreign adversaries, has suggested the U.S. ought to examine its own human rights record before making demands on others. Most recently Cuban officials have cited the police shooting death of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, as an example.

“Yes they have posed criticisms of our system, but obviously we believe that our system allows for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and all sorts of things that are not allowed here in Cuba,” Jacobson said.

WHAT DO THE CUBANS WANT?

High on the list of Cuban demands is to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

They also have said that before reopening a US embassy in Havana, the US needs to provide a way for the Cuban interest section in Washington, D.C., to make routine financial transactions. Right now they are unable to use credit or deal with US banks as a result of the embargo. Cuba has also called for an end to the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy – a product of the Clinton administration.

Cuba says the policy encourages its citizens to flee to the United States. It’s called “wet-foot, dry-foot,” because Cubans caught at sea while attempting to immigrate illegally are sent home, while Cubans caught on U.S. soil are given a chance to stay in the U.S.

DOES NORMALIZING RELATIONS REWARD CUBA?


The negotiations have faced criticism from within the U.S. Opponents to the Obama administration see the talks as a way of rewarding Cuba, despite bad behavior.

“This is not a gift, this is not some type of a concession,” Jacobson said. “This is how we advance our interests. This is how we hope to advance the interests of the Cuban people.”

DID THEY AGREE ON ANYTHING?

So far the only agreement is that the two parties will meet again.

“Yesterday’s talks were as we expected, which was to get many issues out on the table, but really not to resolve any of them,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the U.S. extended an invitation for the Cubans to visit Washington, D.C., for the next round of talks, which she hopes will occur in the coming weeks. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week his goal is to visit Cuba soon and to open a U.S. embassy there if the talks go well.


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Homeless In Philippines Moved to Resort For Pope’s Visit


fazon1/iStock/Thinkstock(MANILA, Philippines) -- Members of parliament in the Philippines are demanding an explanation after government officials revealed that hundreds of homeless people were taken off the streets of Manila during Pope Francis’ recent visit to the country.

The country’s social welfare secretary admitted on Friday that 490 people were taken to a resort near Manila that featured air-conditioned log cabins during the pope’s visit, according to a report by The Guardian.

Those taken to the resort were later placed back on the streets after the pontiff’s departure, The Guardian reports.

Pope Francis drew a crowd of six million people on Sunday to mass along Manila Bay.

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Outrage After Female Tennis Star Asked to 'Twirl' on Court at Australian Open


MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- It's a twirl that now has some heads spinning.

Just moments after seventh-ranked Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard crushed her opponent in 54 minutes to advance to the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday, Australian commentator, Ian Cohen, asked her to “twirl” to show off her hot-pink outfit.

The interviewer’s request has now sparked a flood of criticism and cries of sexism.

In a video of the incident, Bouchard can be seen on the tennis court following her easy defeat of Kiki Bertens in the second round of the competition.

Cohen then tells the 20-year-old: “Now yesterday, or last night, you tweeted that you loved Serena [Williams]’ outfit. ... She was kind enough to give us a twirl. Can you give us a twirl and tell us about your outfit?”

Bouchard, who had been beaming at the beginning of the presenter’s remarks, appeared slightly taken aback by the request but she gamely complied.

“A twirl, a pirouette, here we go,” the presenter replied. The crowd cheered.

Bouchard performed a spin, covered her face, then said: “I mean I have to say, I honestly think Serena’s outfit is the best, even better than mine. I’m going to give her that.”

In a post-match interview, Bouchard called Cohen’s request “very unexpected.”

"I don't know, an old guy asking you to twirl. It was funny," Bouchard said, according to the CBC.

There was strong criticism of Cohen on Twitter, even sparking the hashtag #twirlgate, with some people asking whether male tennis stars could be asked to do twirls on the court.

 

Without condition, when a man patronizes a professional woman by asking her to "twirl" it's sexist as hell. Case closed. #EugenieBouchard

— Ashley Ratcliffe (@ashratcliffe) January 22, 2015

 

 

Okay we know @geniebouchard is pretty but why do male reporters ask her such inappropriate questions its just wrong

— candie crush (@booscott10) January 22, 2015

 

 

Last year @geniebouchard was asked whom she'd like to date. This year she is asked to twirl. @AustralianOpen commentators need to grow up.

— Mike Kim (@mikejkim) January 22, 2015


Tennis legend Billie Jean King, a 12-time grand slam champion, tweeted, "The Australian Open interviewer asking the women to 'twirl' on court is out of line. This is truly sexist. If you ask the women you have to ask the guys to twirl as well. Let's focus on competition and accomplishments of both genders and not our looks.'"

 

But some felt too much was being made of the incident.

 

If the interviewer who asked Genie Bouchard to twirl was a woman, would we be talking about this right now? @bradyfan590 @FAN590Walker

— Tyler Louden (@tjslouden) January 23, 2015

 

On YouTube, one commenter wrote: “She could've easily said no if she felt uncomfortable.“

Bouchard seems to be taking "twirl gate" in stride however, saying, "I'm not offended. I'm fine with being asked to twirl if they ask the guys to flex."


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First Round of US-Cuba Talks End


iStock/Thinkstock(HAVANA) -- The first round of high-level talks between the U.S. and Cuba ended on Friday in Havana.

"These talks were cordial and respectful. I believe that each delegation understood the importance of the task they are facing in trying to mend more than 50 years of diplomatic estrangement," said Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who led the delegation.

While the talks appear to have gotten off to a good start, Jacobson said there are still major obstacles standing in the way of a "normal" diplomatic relationship with Cuba.

"It was just a first step. We know there will need to be many more, but this is the work of diplomacy. In order to build a better and more productive relationship between our two countries," she said.

Some of the big sticking points include freedom of expression and human rights.

Meanwhile, earlier on Friday, Jacobson met with seven dissidents in Cuba. After speaking with them, the assistant secretary joined them for breakfast.

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Our 3-Million-Year-Old Ancestors Were More Handy than We Thought


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The evolutionary history of human-like hands that can grip and squeeze may go back as far as three million years, according to a new study by anthropologists that significantly pushes back the date when human ancestors acquired enough manual dexterity to manipulate tools.

It's a significant finding because Australopithecus africanus, which lived between two and three million years ago in what is now South Africa, was previously not believed to have made tools.

The skeletal fossils of the early humanoid were viewed using a powerful X-ray that allowed researchers to scan the bones. Scientists were able to observe the trabeculae, an internal sponge-like structure in the bone that can provide clues as to how the bones were used when the Australopithecus africanus individual was alive.

What they found was a structure that is remarkably similar to the same one that allows modern humans to grip with the opposition of their thumb and fingers.

It's not clear if the human ancestor used stone tools or utilized its possible gripping abilities in other ways, however researchers said the findings could support previous archaeological evidence for stone tools use during that time.

The study was published in the journal Science and was a collaboration that also included researchers at various universities in England, Germany and Austria.

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Miss Universe Canada Scores with Wacky Hockey Costume


Johnny Louis/Getty Images(MIAMI) — Well this is a new one.

Behold Miss Universe Canada in all her hockey-themed “national costume” glory, proudly strutting her stuff at a preliminary show in Miami on Wednesday.

It’s no secret that Canadians love hockey, but contestant Chanel Beckenlehner took it to a whole new level, wearing hockey sticks for wings, a Stanley Cup crown and of course, a maple leaf corset. Her boots were even tied up with hockey laces, and to top it all off, a working scoreboard was attached to her back.

Needless to say, photos of the outlandish ensemble went viral.

“I am honestly blown away by the support!,” Beckenlehner, 26, wrote on her Facebook page. “I am a Top 5 Finalist for the National Costume.”

No word on if the hockey-tastic costume earned her a winning goal with the judges, but it’s safe to say she certainly got the Internet’s attention.


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How Can Turkey Prevent Jihadists from Heading to Syria?


iStock/Thinkstock(ISTANBUL) — Sealing Turkey’s border to prevent jihadists from traveling to Syria is impossible, according to the country’s prime minister.

Closing the 600 mile border, says Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, is not feasible, especially with the thousands of refugees who continue to cross from Syria into Turkey every day.

In an interview with the Times of London, the prime minister asked, “All those people who are escaping by walking, should we close the border to them? Is that ethically acceptable?”

Turkey has come under fire from the international community about the number of would-be fighters that have crossed the porous border in Syria to join the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

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Italian PM Promises Economic 'Turbo-Changes' at Meeting with German Chancellor


ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images(ROME) — The young leader of Italy has promised Germany “turbo-changes” after Europe’s central bank pumped billions into Europe’s wilting economy.

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Renzi’s Renaissance hometown of Florence, Italy, where he promised he would implement a series of reforms to reduce Italy’s staggering debt and kickstart its economy.

Germany has made it clear over recent years it wants Italy to clean up its economic act by loosening its labor laws, cutting red tape and clamping down on tax evasion. Though Italy and Germany share some of the same goals, the two countries differ over the austerity measure Germany has been championing.

Italy also wants Europe’s economic policy to be more about jobs and growth. This week, it welcomed the move by Europe’s bank to buy up huge amounts of government bonds to counteract deflation and the ongoing recession. In a move called quantitative easing, the bank bought the bonds with new money that it hopes banks will lend to businesses who will, in turn, create jobs — at least that’s the theory.

Germany’s Merkel is clearly not crazy about the idea. She fears it will make it too easy for countries like Italy to pay back their debt and therefore take their time on the structural changes that Germany wants at-risk countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece to make.

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As Deadline Passes for ISIS Hostages, Skepticism over Ransom Demand


zabelin/iStock/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- The 72-hour deadline ISIS imposed on a $200 million ransom demand for the lives of two Japanese hostages passed on Friday, but intelligence officials and experts on the Islamist terror group said the extortion ploy was political and not financially motivated.

The ISIS executioner "Jihad John" -- so named because of his British accent and the belief he was part of a quartet of British guards who tortured western hostages held in Syria -- specifically cited a pledge the day before by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to donate $200 million in non-military aid to countries fighting ISIS and said the hostages' lives carried the exact same price.

"Otherwise, this knife will become your nightmare," Jihad John said, waving his blade in a video released by core-ISIS on Tuesday.

The video showed the Japanese men kneeling on the desert floor in orange jumpsuits with the black-clad terrorist in between them.

"It's more political than financial extortion," one intelligence official deeply familiar with ISIS strategy and tactics told ABC News.

A senior intelligence official added that Washington is primarily focused on any remaining American hostages, noting that a female aid worker in her late 20s is still believed to be in ISIS hands. Ransom demands for her and others later murdered were never taken seriously given the enormous figure demanded by the group and minimal email communication with hostages' families.

Three U.S. hostages, James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Peter "Abdul-Rahman" Kassig, have been beheaded in gruesome ISIS videos by Jihad John since Aug. 19, as well as Britons David Haines and Alan Henning.

"I don't think there is any real question of any ransom being paid for the Japanese hostages," said terrorism expert J.M. Berger, author of a forthcoming book on ISIS.

Notably, Jihad John didn't offer contact information or make payment arrangements even if the Japanese government had wished to pay up -- though Japanese leaders explicitly said they would not fork over any cash in the effort to spare journalist Kenji Goto and adventurer Haruna Yukawa.

“The situation is dire, but the government is determined to continue its utmost efforts toward an early release of the hostages,” Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said at a news conference in Japan Friday. "And Japan will continue to contribute to the international fight against terrorism."

"I think that this is part of the ISIS strategy to increase the cost of participation [in the U.S.-led coalition] for anyone who opposes them," Berger told ABC News. "It's about imposing a political cost, not a financial cost, and to make Japan's political leaders suffer."

The deadline expired in the early hours of Friday morning, but there have not yet been any public announcements from the captors about the fate of the two men. A video is anticipated, however, one official said.

Goto's mother also made a plea for her son's safety during a news conference Friday in Japan, saying that he should be saved because he has a wife and 2-week-old baby.

"Kenji is not the enemy of Islamic State," his mother, Junko Ishidou, told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo.

The 72-hour demand -- a first by ISIS -- followed a similar video demand that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued early last month, when the rival terror group based in Yemen gave President Obama three days to meet unspecified demands or they would execute journalist Luke Somers. Somers and another western hostage were killed by AQAP militants during a failed hostage rescue mission by Navy SEALs as the deadline expired.

ISIS demanded $150 million last year for American journalist James Foley's release but sources in the U.S. government and others close to his family later said the astronomical figure was not considered a serious demand. Foley was beheaded by Jihad John in an ISIS video on Aug. 19.

Some deadlines communicated privately to families of U.S. hostages came and passed without incident and in other cases they were slain by the terrorists, sources have told ABC News.

U.S. and British officials say they know the identity of Jihad John, but have not made it public as they are actively seeking ways to capture or kill him.

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Rosetta Probe Reveals New Facts About Comet 67P


ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA(NEW YORK) -- After a decade long journey to intercept a speeding comet, the real work is just beginning for the Rosetta probe.

The spacecraft made history in November when it sent its Philae lander to the surface of 67P, a comet that is whizzing through space at speeds as fast as 80,000 miles per hour.

After a less than ideal landing that included a few bounces, the Philae lander came to rest in an area where it could not get good, direct sunlight, forcing the European Space Agency to rely on batteries that have since been depleted.

Since then, the Rosetta probe has continued to orbit the 2.5-mile wide comet, collecting data and making observations to send back to the team on Earth.

Several reports published in the journal Science on Thursday shed new light on the comet's composition and behavior as it continues to approach the sun.

The rubber-duck shaped planet was leaking 1.2 liters of water per second into space through the "neck" area of the comet in August. Researchers estimate the rate has increased since Philae landed in November.

Samuel Gulkis, the principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who worked on Rosetta's instruments, said the comet is incredibly active.

"That situation may be changing now that the comet is getting warmer," Gulkis said.

Perhaps the most exciting discovery: Rosetta has the building blocks of life.

Researchers expected to find organic molecules in the comet's halo, however "the molecules Rosetta has detected are more complex than those seen on other comet," they wrote.

The comet also emits a diverse variety of gases in certain areas, while other parts of the oddly shaped mass only leak water.

Gulkis said there's plenty more to learn as Rosetta continues its "up close and personal" orbit around 67P.

Rosetta "has provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to see how comets transform from cold, icy bodies to active objects spewing out gas and dust as they get closer to the sun," he said.

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