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Al Lewis
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US Confirms Eight More Airstrikes in Iraq, Syria


maryTR/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD, Iraq) -- U.S. Central Command confirmed eight more airstrikes conducted in Iraq and Syria by U.S. military forces and those of a partner nation.

According to a release, three strikes were conducted in Syria between Tuesday and Wednesday, using fighter jets and remotely piloted aircraft. These strikes took place near the city of Kobani and destroyed an armed vehicle, an artillery piece and a tank operated by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Five separate strikes were conducted in Irq, three of which took place near Mosul, one near the Haditha Dam and one northwest of Baghdad. The strikes in Iraq destroyed a total of five armed vehicles and a building occupied by ISIS militants, while also striking a pair of ISIS fighting positions.

The CENTCOM release notes that the United Kingdom participated in the strikes within Iraq.

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Deadly September in Iraq Sees More Than 1,000 Killed, Nearly 2,000 More Injured


Hope Milam/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD, Iraq) -- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq released its monthly report on Wednesday, noting over 1,000 Iraqis were killed and nearly 2,000 more injured in acts of terrorism and violence in the last month.

The report for September 2014 found that 854 civilians and 265 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed last month. That figure also includes 79 civilian police. An additional 1,604 civilians and 342 members of the Iraqi security forces and other forces fighting alongside the ISF were injured.

The data released in the UNAMI's monthly reports do not include casualties in the Anbar region.

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US Forces Searching for Marine Missing in North Arabian Gulf


Michael Fitzsimmons/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MANAMA, Bahrain) -- U.S. forces are searching for a Marine who was missing on Wednesday after he bailed out of an aircraft that lost power during takeoff.

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps forces are involved in the search in the North Arabian Gulf. Two crewmen bailed out of the plane into the gulf at about 5:10 p.m. local time, but only one was recovered. The MV-22 Osprey they had been flying in had reportedly just taken off from the U.S.S. Malkin Island.

The pilot of the aircraft was able to regain control and land safely aboard the ship.

The incident is under investigation by the Navy and the Marine Corps.

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Russia Explains Why It Canceled Student Exchange Program with US


iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- A popular high school exchange program between Russia and U.S. is coming to an end after Russia's Foreign Ministry pulled out of the deal as a result of conflicting student experiences.

Russian authorities cut off the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, saying some students weren't protected and wanted to return them to their home country. Officials claimed that one teenager stayed in the U.S. and was "handed over" to a homosexual couple. The teen reportedly befriended the gay couple but had not been placed with the family, according to authorities.

Russia stated the incident violated their ban on adoptions to the U.S. and put the student in moral danger.

Still, experts disagree, citing the belief that the decision is the latest in the political standoff between the two nations.

The FLEX program started more than two decades ago following the Cold War, created in part as a means to build bridges between Americans and former Soviet countries. An estimated 8,000 Russians traveled to the U.S. for year-long homestays, living with an American family and studying at an area high school.

"These young Russians have served as cultural ambassadors, representing the best of Russia, to millions of Americans throughout all 50 states," U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft said in a statement. "...We deeply regret this decision by the Russian government to end a program that for 21 years has built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States."

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Chinese Foreign Minister to US: Stay Out of Hong Kong Situation


MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- China’s foreign minister sent a clear message to the United States over the protests in Hong Kong: stay out of this.

During a photo spray before Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Li, Wang said this was a domestic issue that only concerns Hong Kong and China.

“Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs, all countries should respect China's sovereignty and this is also a basic principle of governing international relations,” Wang said.

Wang also made it clear that China would not tolerate continued protests.

“I believe for any country, for any society, no one would allow those illegal acts that violate public order. That's the situation in the U.S. and that's the situation in Hong Kong,” he continued.

For his part, Kerry reiterated the U.S. position but didn’t directly confront the Chinese on their plans of interfering with Hong Kong’s elections.

“As China knows we support universal suffrage in Hong Kong,” Kerry said. “We have high hopes that the Hong Kong government will exercise restraint with respect to protestors.”

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Amanda Knox's Murder Trial to Reach Italy's Highest Court in March


Ida Astute/ABC News(ROME) -- The murder trial of Amanda Knox will reach Italy's highest court in March, almost eight years after she and her Italian ex-boyfriend were first found guilty of killing British student Meredith Kercher.

Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were first found guilty of the murder in 2007 and sentenced to 26 and 25 years in prison, respectively. They were then acquitted on appeal in 2011 after four years behind bars.

Last January, another trial in Florence, Italy found them guilty.

Italy's high court could either uphold the Florence verdict or order yet another retrial.

If the verdict is upheld, Italy will likely attempt to extradite Knox, now 27, from the U.S. to carry out her prison sentence in Italy.

The latest trial will be heard in Rome starting on March 25. 

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Hong Kong Protesters Threaten to Occupy Government Buildings


Thomas Campean/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- Protesters in Hong Kong vowed to ramp up their efforts, possibly including the occupation of government buildings, if the territory’s leader doesn’t resign by the end of Thursday, protest leaders told ABC News.

Student leaders of the pro-democracy protests say they’re willing to speak with government officials, but not Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

[SLIDESHOW: HONG KONG PROTESTS DRAW THOUSANDS]

A challenge for the movement will come Friday, when many of the protesters will be expected to return to work, with Hong Kong returning to its normal work mode.

Activism continues, with thousands gathering in the streets of Hong Kong amid holiday celebrations.

 

Smartphone vigil beginning at #OccupyHongKong. Crowd singing HK anthem, singing, clapping, cheering. Feels festive pic.twitter.com/c7C5b8SXnO

— Muhammad Lila (@MuhammadLila) October 1, 2014

 

Wednesday marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong’s leader attended National Day celebrations, including a flag-raising ceremony. Protesters watched from behind police barricades, yelling at him to step down.

Volunteers are handing out prayer bracelets.

 

#UmbrellaRevolution volunteers handing out prayer bracelets. pic.twitter.com/jEkdn3KzbW

— Muhammad Lila (@MuhammadLila) October 1, 2014

 

The protests are drawing attention overseas. In Sydney, Australia, well-wishers posted colorful notes in support of the activists on the Hong Kong government office.

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Pregnant Duchess Kate Cancels Another Public Event


Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The Duchess of Cambridge was forced to cancel another event at a London primary school Wednesday morning as she continues to suffer from the effects of hyperemesis gravidarum, a rare but extreme form of morning sickness.

Kate’s pregnancy, her second with husband Prince William, was announced by the Palace last month after Kate was unable to travel to an event with William due to her condition.

Kate was scheduled Wednesday to attend the opening of a new location of The Art Room, a charity of which she is a Royal Patron.

"I am truly sorry that I cannot be with you all today as you celebrate this milestone. As Patron of The Art Room I feel great pride to see the work that the charity is doing,” Kate said in a statement released by the Palace.

The Palace did not provide on an update on Kate’s condition but said in the same statement, “The decision to undertake engagements is being kept under review on a case by case basis.”

Last weekend, Kate was forced to cancel a visit to Malta on behalf of Her Majesty, the Queen. It was to have been Kate’s first solo, foreign royal tour. Prince William went to Malta in her place and later traveled to Gloucestershire without his wife to attend the wedding of a longtime family friend.

The Duchess, who is being treated by doctors at Kensington Palace, has not been seen in public since her pregnancy was announced on Sept. 8.

News of Middleton’s first pregnancy, with son Prince George, broke in December 2012 when she was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London with hyperemesis gravidarum. She gave birth to George, now 1, the following July.

It is believed Kate is about 10-12 weeks along in her pregnancy.

It remains unclear when Kate may return to Royal duties.

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Notoriously Violent Prisoner Selling 'Sensitive' Artwork


J.P. Humbert Auctioneers(LONDON) -- A notoriously violent inmate serving a life prison sentence -- much of it in solitary confinement -- is now selling almost 200 pieces of his artwork, a collection that an auctioneer claims "displays sensitivity" and "kindness."

Charles Salvador, best-known under the name Charles Bronson, has been called “Britain’s most violent prisoner." Born Michael Peterson in 1952, Salvador has spent most of his adult life in prison, where he became famous for fighting both prison guards and fellow inmates, often attacking several men at a time.

Although he has never killed anyone, Salvador's repeated violent behavior over the years, including taking prison workers hostage, resulted in a life sentence. He first went to jail as a 22-year-old for robbing a post office of roughly $40.

Now, as the 61-year-old Salvador announces the adoption of a new, non-violent identity, he has asked his family to sell his old artwork and effects, including drawings, music, photographs,and even clippings of his beard.

Jonathan Humbert, the auctioneer dealing Salvador’s work, said that despite his violent reputation, Salvador’s art is surprisingly complex.

“His artwork displays sensitivity, empathy, kindness, and humor that you wouldn't associate with a man of his fearsome reputation,” Humbert told ABC News.

Salvador announced in a hand-written letter in August that he would cast off the persona of Charles Bronson, the name he’d been using since 1987, and renounce the violence for which he’d been known for so long.

“It’s non-violent all the way,” he wrote. “It’s a peaceful journey from here on."

As part of his new identity, he asked his family to sell all of the artwork associated with his old name, said Humbert. The collection is being offered by his mother Eira Peterson, 85, and other family members. An undisclosed portion of the proceeds will go to the UK-based Brain Tumour Charity and Keech Cottage Hospice in Luton, Salvador's childhood hometown.

“Despite spending some 38 years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, his art is very intelligent,” Humbert said. “The human condition still shines through. He still retains a sense of humor.”

Three pieces of Salvador's art at a previous auction each sold for around £1,000 (approximately $1,600).

The auction of Salvador’s work will take place on Oct. 9. More examples of his art can be found at www.the-saleroom.com/jphumbert.

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Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protesters Turn to FireChat App to Organize


iStock/Thinkstock(HONG KONG) -- Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continued Wednesday despite the Chinese government blocking social media websites, including Facebook and Instagram in mainland China and cell phone networks getting overloaded in the protest area, the central business district.

How do thousands of protesters communicate with the rest of China and the world if they can't use those websites or even get a cell phone or Wi-Fi signal?

"Using chats," said Ryan Ashton in Hong Kong reached by ABC News through the mobile app "FireChat," which has been gaining considerable traction in the past few days. On Sunday alone, 100,000 new sign-ups from Hong Kong were registered on the mobile app, which uses a "mesh network" in which each individual cell phone acts as a mini-transmitter using a Bluetooth signal.

It all started when Joshua Wong, a young protester with thousands of followers on social media, urged people to use the app. "Police will cut off [cellular] network[s]," he wrote in Chinese on Facebook. "Please go to the AppStore or PlayStore installation and download FireChat."

While protesters can still use Twitter and WhatsApp when they have a cell or Wi-Fi connection, many say FireChat works best because it requires only a Bluetooth connection.

"When you're right in the crowd the cell networks get overloaded so it's difficult to use," Ashton said. Joining the conversation with ABC News, another FireChat user based in Hong Kong called "UDI" said the tool was useful because it had a "nearby" function enabling communication with people in the same vicinity.

Chats are organized by theme and you can see everyone's location.

The app, launched in March, is owned by a San Francisco-based startup called Open Garden. The app recently gained popularity in Brazil, Spain, Taiwan and Iraq.

One problem with FireChat is that all messages are public. Staff at Open Garden have warned users about this and urged them to use pseudonyms.

"We hope FireChat will serve you well," Open Garden wrote in a Facebook post. "Please remember messages are not encrypted at this point. Please be cautious about what you say and do not use your real name."

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Pentagon Announces More than 300 Airstrikes Against ISIS Since August


Department of Defense/YouTube(WASHINGTON) -- Since August, the U.S military has launched more than 300 air strikes targeting Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby announced at press briefing Tuesday.

Kirby stressed that the attacks on the Sunni extremist group are planned carefully to avoid the risk "of collateral damage or civilian causalities."

His announcement came as Britain undertook its first military campaign against ISIS Tuesday by giving air support to Kurdish fighters in northwestern Iraq.

Although the U.S. and its allies have had some measure of success in helping to stop the advance of the militant group, Kirby warned it would not be a swift operation.

He told reporters, "No one said this would be easy or quick and no one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate air strikes. We will not --we cannot -- bomb them into obscurity."

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Bum Ankles May Have Sidelined Kim Jong-un


Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who hasn't been seen in public since early September, reportedly underwent surgery on both ankles and is still recuperating at an exclusive hospital.

A South Korean newspaper said that a source familiar with Kim's condition claimed surgery was necessary after Kim injured one ankle last June but neglected treatment. Subsequently, he suffered cracked bones in both ankles.

If the report is true, Kim, who has been in power for three years, could be laid up for a while since it can take many months for ankles to return to pain-free motion and strength.

Although Pyongyang remains typically secretive about where Kim has been, its state television said he was experiencing “discomfort."

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Yonhap News said Kim might be suffering from gout, a painful and debilitating condition, that can be relieved through surgery.

This development comes as the U.S. and South Korea have been pressing North Korea to its end its illicit nuclear program. However, at least one Japanese expert on the North says that the government may decide to show its nuclear muscle during Kim's supposedly unexplained absence.

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Australian Police Arrest Man Accused of Sending Money to American in Syria


TkKurikawa/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- Australian police arrested a 23-year-old man on Tuesday and charged him with financing terrorism.

According to a media release put out by the Australian Federal Police and the Victoria Police, the unidentified man allegedly made about $12,000 available to an organization that he was aware was a terrorist organization.

The arrest was the result of an operation that got under way earlier this year, when the FBI provided a tip to the Australian Federal police that a Melbourne man was providing funding to a U.S. citizen who later traveled to Syria to participate in the fighting.

AFP National Manager of Counterterrorism Neil Gaughan said that "providing funding is equally criminal as actually travelling to participate and we will use all our resources to cut off the supply of funds to terrorists."

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World Wildlife Fund Says Animal Populations Showing Drastic Decline


1xpert/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The World Wildlife Fund released its annual Living Planet Report on Tuesday, noting that the number of animals on Earth has dropped drastically in just two human generations.

Since 1970, the WWF says, population sizes of vertebrate species have diminished by 52 percent. The most dramatic figures were among freshwater species, which saw populations drop by 76 percent in that timespan.

A WWF statement notes that while protecting nature may seem to be a luxury to some, the opposite is true: "For many of the world's poorest people, [nature] is a lifeline."

Interestingly, even though high-income countries tend to have among the largest carbon footprints and low-income countries have the smallest, the WWF's measure of biodiversity shows an inverse relationship. High-income nations showed a 10-percent jump in biodiversity, while low-income nations saw a marked (58 percent) decline.

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UK Conducts First Airstrikes in Iraq


Spiderninja/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The United Kingdom announced that it had conducted its first airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria targets in Iraq on Tuesday.

According to a release from the U.K. government, the two fighter jets were tasked with providing assistance to Kurdish troops under attack by ISIS terrorists. The release says that a guided bomb was used to attack an ISIS ground position and a Brimstone missile was used against an armed pickup truck believed to be operated by ISIS militants.

U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the Royal Air Force "have been flying day and night since Parliament gave that authority last Friday...gathering intelligence, deterrents against [ISIS] terrorism, driving them back from the villages, as well as being there in close support when they are tasked to go down and help."

U.S. and coalition forces have conducted over 220 airstrikes in Iraq and at least 66 in Syria.

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