ABC - World News
Subscribe To This Feed

gorodenkoff/iStock/Thinkstock(ST. PETERSBURG, Russia) -- From their desks in St. Petersburg, Russian Internet trolls at a company with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to co-opt American civil rights activists and use them to stoke racial tensions and stir political unrest, authorities said.

Congressional investigators tell ABC News that two online groups — BlackMattersUS and BlackFist — were among those used by Russian operators to reach out directly to unwitting individual Americans engaged in political activism and, in this case, encourage them to help organize rallies, train in self-defense and create music videos. In some cases, those activists even received financial support.

This effort, according to authorities, was the brainchild of the Internet Research Agency, the same St. Petersburg-based company identified by members of Congress as a key arm of the larger Russian operation aimed at influencing U.S. elections. That effort, as first reported by the the Russian publication RBC, now appears to be much broader than previously known, moving beyond the virtual world.

The Facebook and Twitter accounts associated with both groups have since been suspended, and ABC News could not reach any of the people identified online as being members of either group. Executives from both social media giants are expected to appear before Congress early next month to discuss steps they are taking to confront Russian efforts to infiltrate their platform, the scope of which is still not fully understood.

“The strategy appears to be a mix of suppressing votes, stoking fear and doing all they can to help their preferred candidate in Donald Trump and tear down Hillary Clinton,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee who has seen Russian social media posts turned over to Congress by Facebook and Twitter.

By piggybacking on the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement, Russian agitators succeeded in convincing people interested in those same social justice causes that this stealthy foreign-backed effort was legitimate.

Ronnie Houston, a hip-hop artist in Ferguson, Missouri, who goes by the name Rough the Ruler, told ABC News that someone claiming to be from BlackMattersUS contacted him on the Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram in March of 2016 and asked him to record a song for them “about the social issues that were going on.” He produced a short music video featuring video clips from marches, graphics touting the BlackMattersUS website, and lyrics describing police as “assassins” and protesters as “avengers.”

If he had known the group was not rooted in the Black Lives Matter movement, he said, he would not have agreed to record the song.

“No man I wouldn't have done it,” he said. “Wouldn't have done it at all.”

Conrad James, an activist in Raleigh, North Carolina, says he was approached in September 2016 by a woman who claimed to represent BlackMattersUS and asked him to speak at a rally they were hosting in Charlotte. James said more than 600 people turned up.

“They definitely were trying to stir-up trouble,” James said of BlackMattersUS. “Their intent was obviously to have some type of emotionally filled rally where people are adding fuel to the fire that was already happening around Charlotte.”

Nolan Hack, an activist from Los Angeles, said BlackMattersUS asked for his help organizing civil rights rallies last year and he was reimbursed for some of his travel expenses.

He said the notion of a Russia connection “never entered my mind.”

A pair of bloggers whose social media posts and YouTube videos were pushed out from the St. Petersburg troll farm carried the most pointed political messages.

“We, the black people, we stand in one unity” said one post, by a pair of bloggers purporting to be from Atlanta named Williams and Kalvin. “We stand in one to say that Hillary Clinton is not our candidate.”

Federal officials and Facebook executives confirmed to ABC News that the William and Kalvin videos, first reported on by The Daily Beast, originated not in Atlanta, but in Russia. The men in the video appear to speak with a British accent and some investigators believe they may actually be somewhere in Africa, not Atlanta.

This effort doesn’t appear to have stopped after the election. At least six American trainers paid this year by a group called BlackFist to offer free self-defense classes around the country, urging people to ““be ready to protect your rights” and to “let them know that Black Power Matters.”

Omewale Adewale, a fitness trainer in Brooklyn, New York, says he was paid $320 via TK to conduct four classes in a month.

“It’s very sneaky,” Adewale told ABC News. “It’s very underhanded.”

Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist and early investor in Facebook, says this effort is evidence of the Russian strategy “to anger both sides of the equation.”

“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.”

Swalwell said he wants Congress to find a way to address this type of interference without infringing on peoples’ rights.

“Russia was able to use our greatest strength, freedom of speech, and turn it into a weakness,” Swalwell said. “I think we have to find what is that fine line between making sure my mom can post any political opinion that she wants but an organized intelligence service of a foreign country isn't able to weaponize social media.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

PeterHermesFurian/iStock/Thinkstock(SANA'A, Yemen) -- A new school year is underway for children in the U.S., but for children in Yemen, where air strikes have been routine since March 2015, a new school year means trying to find a school.

The fighting between the Saudi-led military coalition and the Houthi rebels has left many colleges and schools damaged or destroyed, with others closed out of fear.

According to Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and Africa, 1,600 schools have been damaged or destroyed, and 170 are being used for military purposes or as a shelter for displaced families.

“For those children who can attend school, malnutrition and the trauma of displacement and violence have seriously affected their ability to learn,” Cappelaere said.

Officials fear that without schools, which can provide a safe haven for the vulnerable, children could be susceptible to recruitment for fighting or early marriage.

Yemen plunged into civil war when the Houthis seized the capital Sana'a in September 2014, forcing Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee and leading a Saudi Arabia-led coalition to launch a military campaign on his behalf.

Yemen's instability has created fertile ground for militant groups, such as al Qaeda and ISIS, who have launched attacks on both sides of the crisis.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

ABC News (NEW YORK) -- Verlyn Peter picked her way through the wreckage of her home, searching for anything she and her family could save.

“This used to be what we call our living room,” she said, then gestured to another area she said used to be her daughter's bedroom.

“It’s all gone,” Peter said. “We tried to salvage some of the school books.”

The wooden frame and scattered belongings were all that remained of their home of 20 years on Dominica, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last month. Without warning, the storm rapidly accelerated from a Category 3 to a Category 5, and residents said they could do little to prepare.

In one night, life on this tiny island was turned upside down.

"There was lightning, there was heavy rain...[it was like] the hurricane was in the house," said Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. “We have lost everything that money can buy, and that is a fact.”

Another now displaced resident named Emmanuel Peter said he can still remember the roar of the hurricane-force winds.

"It was just whistling, whistling,” he said. “I thought it would burst my eardrums.”

Many countries, including the United States, have suffered from this year’s brutal hurricane season. But the one with the highest death toll per capita was Dominica -- a close-knit, mostly Christian nation that was left at the mercy of a hurricane that shared a name with the mother of Christ: Maria.

To date, 26 people are confirmed dead, 31 are still missing, and more than 50,000 people are displaced on an this island that has a total population of roughly 74,000.

When ABC's "Nightline" visited Dominica six days after the storm, the only way to reach its interior was with the U.S. military. Upon arrival, many who had the option to evacuate the island were in the process of departing -- including 1,300 students at Ross University Medical School, an American college based in Dominica.

“I do feel sadness for the people of Dominica,” said Carey James, the college’s associate dean of operations, analysis and admissions. “My wife’s family is from Dominica … and it’s hard to see a place that you love go through that kind of a storm.”

Others who were evacuating from the island faced the difficult decision of separating their family. Gervan Honore put his girlfriend and their infant son on a ferry while he stayed back, determined, he said, to rebuild his country.

“It is hard to let him go, but as a father, you just have to do what you have to do,” Honore said. “Right now, I don’t think it is pretty safe for them.”

No one on the island has access to running, drinkable water, and with sewage systems destroyed, residents are contending with fears of diarrhea and dysentery. Much of the island remains without power, too.

For the vast majority of Dominicans, the choice to leave their home country isn’t available. More than 85 percent of houses have been damaged, and of those, more than a quarter simply do not exist anymore, leaving many homeless.

Not even the country’s prime minister was spared – the roof of Roosevelt Skerrit’s house was blown away and its floors flooded. On the night Hurricane Maria hit, Skerrit took to Facebook to post updates including one that said, “I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding” and another that said, "The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God!" Later he posted, “I have been rescued.”

“You can still see the shock, the anxiety, the fear the trauma in the eyes and the expressions of people every day,” he told "Nightline." “Their entire life investments, life's savings, blown away.”

While on the island, "Nightline" also met with resident Robert Benjamin, who stayed behind with his 83-year-old mother. Benjamin showed “Nightline” their family home, which remained standing with the roof intact, but their basement had been flooded and their furniture and belongings caked in a thick layer of mud. The flood waters rose so high that they covered the counter tops in a basement kitchen.

“But we have our life and we can at least house people down here once it’s cleared,” he said. “Like I said, there’s a lot of homeless.”

A few of the rooms in the house are still habitable, and Benjamin and his mother opened their home to three other families forced out by the storm.

“They are very, very good to us,” said Ursula Peter, one of people the Benjamin family took in. “If it wasn’t for Mrs. Benjamin and her son, we would not know what would have happened to us. We all live together as one family.”

All of the island’s agriculture was wiped out, and entire forests were flattened in Maria’s wake. Tourism, a driving force in its economy, will be scarce in the months to come.

As one ferocious storm followed another this hurricane season, Skerrit told “Nightline” that his country was on the front line of climate change and that its very survival was in question. Its future could serve as a warning to the world on the destruction global warming could bring.

“To deny climate change … is to deny a truth we have just lived,” he told the United Nations five days after the storm, telling the world body that island nations like Dominica are paying the heaviest price for a phenomenon they had little to do with.

“No generation has seen more than one Category 5 hurricane. We’ve seen two in two weeks,” Skerrit told Pannell. “So if you want to have information that … climate change is a real phenomenon,

For those still on the island, trying to reclaim their lives is now the task at hand.

“How we’re going to build up again, we don’t know,” Verlyn Peter said. “But we try to keep our spirits high, because if we break down, we break down.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The back and forth about President Donald Trump's condolence calls to the families of four fallen American soldiers in Niger has raised questions about the U.S. military presence in the West African country.

Here are some answers to questions you might have about the U.S. military presence in Niger, West Africa, and the circumstances about the incident that killed the four US soldiers and wounded two others.

Wondering why there are Army Green Berets in Niger? They are there as part of a counter terrorism mission to train Niger’s military to help fight Islamic extremists in neighboring countries, namely Mali.

When did US forces arrive in Niger?
In early 2013 to help the French military that had intervened in neighboring Mali the year before. The French had moved into Mali after an Al Qaeda affiliated group and tribal groups took over the vast northern part of the country and were moving towards the capital of Mali. As part of the U.S. effort to assist that mission President Barack Obama ordered 150 U.S. military personnel to set up a surveillance drone operation over Mali that would fly from Niger's capital of Niamey.

How many US troops are there in Niger? About 800, but the vast majority of them are construction crews working to build up a second drone base in Niger’s northern desert. The rest run a surveillance drone mission from Niger’s capital of Niamey that helps out the French in Mali and other regional countries in the fight against Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and now ISIS. A smaller component, less than a hundred, are Army Green Beret units advising and assisting Niger’s military to build up their fighting capability to counter Al Qaeda and ISIS. There are an additional 300 U.S. military personnel in neighboring Burkina Faso and Cameroon doing the same thing. They are there as part of what’s known as the mission in the Lake Chad Basin.

What does that Green Beret mission mean? Green Berets are elite Army soldiers who are highly skilled and trained to operate on their own with few resources in remote areas. One of their primary missions is to train foreign militaries in fighting skills, that’s a worldwide mission. Iraq and Afghanistan have been the exception where large-scale training of the local militaries has been carried out by regular US Army and Marine troops.

What was their mission/patrol when attacked two weeks ago? There is still a lot of confusion about what happened on October 4. One narrative describes a team of about 12 soldiers from a Green Beret unit accompanying 40 Nigerien soldiers to meet with locals at a village close to Niger’s border with Mali. They had driven to a local village and were walking to or from the meeting when they were ambushed by about 50 fighters from ISIS in the Greater Sahara. Another version of events indicates a team of eight to 12 American and Nigerien forces conducted the meeting in the village and were the ones that came under attack. The Nigerien platoon was nearby but not a direct part of the mission to the village nor was it involved in the firefight. Pentagon officials have said Army Special Forces have carried out 29 previous missions like this one over the past six months without encountering any problems.

Why were there so few Green Berets on patrol with Niger soldiers when they came under attack? Green Berets typically operate in 12 man teams known as ODA’s (Operational Detachment Alpha). Not all of the soldiers on this patrol were actual Green Berets, they were a mix of Green Berets and support staff attached to the Green Beret unit.

Why was a soldier missing for more than a day following the firefight? The ambush occurred in a remote area along Niger’s border with Mali. Nigerien troops had the lead on the ground and a day later found the remains of Sergeant La David Johnson, 25, in the vicinity of the firefight. Sergeant Johnson had gone missing in the immediate aftermath of the firefight. A large scale effort was conducted by U.S., French and Nigerien forces to find him. The firefight was apparently a fluid battle scene that extended over a large area and wasn’t localized in one area. That is why the remains were found at the scene of the battle but possibly not at the site where the ambush initially happened.

Why didn’t the Green Berets have overhead drone surveillance for their patrol?
A question that’s been asked is why there the mission did not have a drone overhead to provide reconnaissance. A U.S. Africa Command spokesman said last week that the ambush was not expected and if it had been anticipated “more resources would have been dedicated to it to reduce risk.” French military aircraft arrived a half hour after the ambush ambush began and provided combat air support though it did not drop bombs or missiles.

What about the Golden Hour to evacuate combat wounded to medical treatment? The different branches of the U.S. military operate all over the world either in joint training missions, unilateral combat operations or military exchanges. The Pentagon takes the Golden Hour seriously and strive to meet what is essentially a a goal, but not a requirement. Given there are U.S.troops worldwide, American helicopters and planes can’t be everywhere. On this patrol, French military helicopters responded shortly after the attack and a U.S. reconnaissance drone was overhead a half hour after the attack. It’s likely that French helicopters medevac’d the wounded to Niamey and a U.S. military aircraft that flew the wounded to a military medical facility in Germany.

When did the remains of the U.S. soldiers return to the US following the attack on October 4? The remains of Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, were returned to the U.S. on the night of Oct. 5. Sergeants La David Johnson's remains, located two days after the attack, returned to the U.S. in the early morning hours of Oct.7.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- In ongoing standoff following a referendum for an independent state separate from Iraq, Kurds in northwestern Iraq have suffered significant losses, including areas that supply much of the region's revenue.

Iraqi Kurds lost another major territory on Tuesday to Baghdad, surrendering the town of Sinjar -- one day after losing the oil-rich Kirkuk.

Kurdish troops, known as the Peshmerga, abandoned the town to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iran-backed and predominantly Shia militia coalition that operates as part of the Iraqi security apparatus.

Iraqi forces have continued their advance on Peshmerga positions in disputed territories, exactly one year after the now-warring sides jointly launched the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS, backed by the United States.

The current confrontation between Iraqis and Kurds was spurred on by an independence referendum that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held in defiance of the government in Baghdad and against the advice of the international community.

Kurdish President Masoud Barzani and his ruling KDP party were determined to begin movement toward the long hoped-for Kurdish independence.

Instead, “KDP hubris has generated the greatest Kurdish setback since 2003” according to Emile Hokayem, senior fellow for Middle East security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, Colonel Dillon, told reporters on Tuesday that the current standoff is “distracting” from the war against ISIS.

But the losses for the Kurds, who have been reliable U.S. partners in the fight against ISIS, in these days of conflict have been substantial. Losing Kirkuk, which is responsible for 13 percent of Iraq’s oil production, is existential for Kurds; the KRG has barely any revenue without it.

Late Iraqi President and leading Kurdish politician Jalal Tabalani once referred to Kirkuk as their "Jerusalem." Yet military forces loyal to Tabalani's son and heir cut a deal with Baghdad and withdrew from their positions in the disputed city and nearby oilfields and airbase, facilitating an almost bloodless Iraqi takeover.

The United States has made brief statements calling for restraint, after it downplayed Kurdish warnings last week of an imminent attack by Iraqi forces. At a press conference on Monday, President Trump said, "The United States won’t take sides."

“Essentially, the United States has decided that supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi and safeguarding him against more pro-Iran competitors in the upcoming Iraqi election is more important than the Kurds right now,” according to Dr. Renad Mansour, an Iraq research fellow at The Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, an independent think tank also known as Chatham House.

The General Command of Peshmerga Forces accused a special force unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being part of the military operation in Kirkuk. President Trump had announced on October 13 that the United States was imposing new sanctions on the IRGC.

Forces loyal to Barzani surrendered Sinjar Tuesday, a town in north-western Iraq the Peshmerga took control of in 2014 after ISIS attacked and sexually enslaved its population, a minority known as the Yazidis. At the time, Barzani vowed never to leave.

They also retreated from the Bai Hasan and Avana oilfields north-west of Kirkuk, two crucial revenue sources for the KRG.

Two days after the Kurdish independence referendum was held, one of the demands made by the Iraqi Parliament to avoid a military escalation was that those oilfields and disputed territories be surrendered. At the time, Barzani's only public compromise was to call for dialogue.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government has indicted two Chinese nationals for allegedly manufacturing and shipping illegal cocktails of the drug fentanyl into the United States, which authorities said has contributed to a national crisis with an "extraordinary death toll."

Xiaobing Yan, 40, and Jian Zhang, 38, both of China, were indicted in separate cases in recent weeks, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

The move represents the first time U.S. authorities have filed charges against major fentanyl traffickers based in China, where authorities believe the vast majority of illegal fentanyl is being made or otherwise sourced.

"[It's] an extraordinary epidemic and crisis that has been building for some time," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas in an exclusive one-on-one interview.

In the United States last year, a third of all fatal drug overdoses came from fentanyl alone -- 20,000 of the 64,000 fatal drug overdoses in total.

One Nation, Overdosed: Snapshots of Americans struggling under the opioid crisis

"The fentanyl that we see in the United States is believed to all be coming in some way from China. In some cases it's manufactured in China and then shipped, either through the mail or through other countries to the United States. In other instances the precursor chemicals come from China, and the fentanyl is manufactured in Mexico, for example."

Yan allegedly used different company names online to sell fentanyl and similar drugs directly to customers across the United States, and he even tracked changes to U.S. drug laws so he could tweak his recipe and evade U.S. law enforcement.

"Chemists can make just a slight modification so that the new version is not identical to the previous version" and is therefore not banned by current U.S. law, Rosenstein told ABC News.

Yan faces federal charges in Mississippi.

Zhang allegedly ran a network of labs in China that manufactured fentanyl and sold the drug online. He and eight others -- five Canadian citizens, two residents of Florida, and a resident of New Jersey – have been indicted by a federal grand jury in North Dakota for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in the United States and other drug-related conspiracies. Zhang allegedly sent thousands of packaged to U.S. customers since 2013.

Rosenstein warned that those buying fentanyl have little way of knowing what they’re truly getting, and "just a few grains of pure fentanyl can actually case death."

The acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Robert Patterson, said that while "overdose deaths are at catastrophic levels [I] challenge all of us to look beyond the statistics."

"Instead, focus on the individuals behind those numbers," he said at a press conference in Washington. "Part of the solution related to this unnecessary loss of life has to come from discussions, which can be difficult and uncomfortable. Each one of these deaths impacts real people, from the immediate victim to all those whose lives they've touched."

Chinese authorities have been assisting the Justice Department in their investigations, but U.S. investigators have faced challenges because the ingredients used to make fentanyl are not necessarily illegal in China, according to Rosenstein.

"The situation now is that some of these labs operate legally in China, but they're violating U.S. law when they ship it here," he told ABC News. "We’re hoping that [China] will step up now that we’ve demonstrated that Chinese nationals are [distributing] this poison and causing deaths in the United States."

Chinese authorities, however, have apparently not taken Yan or Zhang into custody.

"We don't know exactly what the Chinese are going to do," Rosenstein said, noting that the United States does not have an extradition treaty with China. "They might be willing to hold them accountable there ... so we’re going to share the evidence with them."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI is helping authorities in Malta investigate a car bomb that killed a journalist who exposed the nation's ties to offshore tax havens through the leaked Panama Papers.

Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, was reportedly killed Monday as she drove away from her home near Mosta, on Malta's main island, according to the BBC.

U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned Galizia's death as "appalling violence in the strongest terms possible" in a press briefing Tuesday.

Nauert called for a "thorough, transparent" investigation, saying that the FBI is providing "specific assistance as needed" at the request of Maltese authorities.

Muscat described Galizia's death as a "barbaric attack" and a "political murder," as well as an assault on freedom of expression.

Galizia was "was one of my harshest critics, on a political and personal level," Muscat said. Galizia wrote that Muscat's wife, along with the country's energy minister and the government's chief of staff, had offshore holdings in Panama to receive money from Azerbaijan, according to the AP. Muscat and his wife denied that they had companies in Panama.

Thousands of people gathered in Sliema Monday night for a candlelight vigil in tribute to Galizia.

The slain journalist had been a columnist for The Malta Independent for more than 20 years and also wrote a blog called the "Running Commentary." She is survived by her husband and three sons.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images(VIENNA) -- On Sunday, Austria’s center-right People’s Party (ÖVP) won the parliamentary elections, putting its 31-year-old leader Sebastian Kurz on a track to become Chancellor of Austria and Europe’s youngest national leader.

Kurz, dubbed “wunderwuzzi” meaning “wonderkid,” called for a snap election back in May and announced his candidacy for chancellor in June in a bold gamble that he won when voters handed his party about 32 percent of the vote.

He currently serves as the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration, a position he was appointed to in 2013 at the age of 27 -- the youngest to hold the post in Europe.

As Foreign Minister, Kurz hosted a conference on nuclear weapons in 2014 and later hosted the talks that lead to the Iran nuclear deal, signed in Vienna in 2015. The year before, he invited 30 foreign ministers to Vienna to negotiate solutions to the Ukraine crisis.

Domestically, he has introduced and supported policies that lean more right-wing than center-right, politically.

In January, he called for a ban on the Islamic headscarf for school teachers and other public servants in Austria. He was also one of the decision-makers behind legislation that banned full face veils such as the burqa in public places in Austria. The ban came into effect earlier this month and Kurz vowed that it would be strictly enforced. In August last year, he told The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, ORF, that the full body veil is "hindering integration" and that it is "not a religious symbol, but a symbol for a counter-society."

He has also criticized Austria’s large neighbor Germany for its “open-door policy” that has welcomed a million refugees from Syria and Iraq since 2015. Kurz went in the opposite direction of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that Austria couldn’t take anymore migrants and that he was prepared to send troops to the Balkans to close the border. Kurz claims that he has reduced migration to Europe by taking the initiative to close the Balkan migration route, shut last year.

Some criticize Kurz for mimicking the policies of Austria’s extreme-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), despite his leadership in what is billed as a more centrist party, while others praise him, arguing that his tough stance on migration appeals to voters and reduces the actual power of the radical right.

Before Kurz took over leadership of his party in May, polls predicted that the Freedom Party could win the election. In Sunday’s election, the Freedom Party’s vote share increased, but they came third with about 26 percent of the vote.

“By election day, the FPÖ had faded to the background behind the ÖVP’s charismatic new leader,” wrote Alex Jarman, a Fulbright-Schuman fellow in the Institutions Unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies, in an analysis published by the London School of Economics. In the same analysis, Jarman argued that Kurz' strategies may work in the short-term to stop the far-right from dominating Austria’s politics, but that Merkel’s approach in Germany will work better in the long-term.

Austria’s electoral system makes it difficult for a party to gain a majority on its own, which is the case for Kurz’ People’s Party that will need to form a coalition to govern the country. Kurz will likely attempt to form a coalition with the Freedom Party, by some to make a lot of demands rather than act as a friendly partner.

“Kurz’s actions do not address the underlying factors fueling radical right-wing populism in Austria," Jarman wrote. "While Kurz has reduced the FPÖ’s prominence in the short term, he has also brought radical right-wing populist ideas into the mainstream of Austrian politics. This action will not easily be undone, and future populists will be able to take advantage of it to bring more instability to Austrian politics."

The contrast between Kurz' tactics with Austria and recent policies in Germany, he added, will likely result in different long-term outcomes.

"Germany, meanwhile, has taken the opposite approach," Jarman said. "It faces greater risks from radical right-wing populists in the short term, but is less likely to see a long-term populist impact on its political system."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed, Australia) -- X, the organization known as Google's "moonshot factory," announced Monday that is using drone technology to deliver burritos and over-the-counter medicines to rural communities in Australia.

Project Wing said is working in collaboration with communities and business partners in the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales to test out drone deliveries to rural communities, James Ryan Burgess, the co-lead of the project, wrote on X's company blog.

In the blog post, Burgess wrote that Project X has partnered with Guzman y Gomez, a Mexican food chain, and Chemist Warehouse, a pharmacy chain, for deliveries to rural areas where people "face a 40-minute round trip in the car for almost anything.”

“Almost all said that they’d value having medicine delivered to their door, especially when they’re unwell,” wrote Burgess.

Some of those who have received burritos so far include alpaca farmers, artists, young families and retirees, Project Wing said, and they are listening to customers' comments on how to make the technology better.

One of the challenges that Project Wing said it faces in delivering straight to people's homes is customizing where the goods are dropped -- the drones must navigate trees and other objects to get to the right spot in people's yards. The solution, Burgess wrote, is developing algorithms that will allow the company to make safer deliveries.

“We’re grateful to the communities in the ACT and Queanbeyan regions who’ve let us into their yards, so we can learn even more about building a delivery network ready to fly in the open skies,” wrote Burgess.

Project Wing has made successful drone deliveries already, like last year's Chipotle deliveries to Virginia Tech students.

X, Guzman y Gomez and Chemist Warehouse have not responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Prince William and Duchess Kate have announced their third child is due in April 2018.

The new baby will join the couple's older children, Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2.

"The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to confirm they are expecting a baby in April 2018," Kensington Palace said in a statement Tuesday.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to confirm they are expecting a baby in April 2018.

— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) October 17, 2017

William and Kate, both 35, have not yet announced where Kate will give birth, but it is expected she will use the same hospital as with her previous deliveries. Both George and Charlotte were born at the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.

Kensington Palace announced Kate's pregnancy on Sept. 4 when she was forced to cancel a planned engagement as a result of hyperemesis gravidarum. Kate also missed George's first day of school a few days later.

Kate has gradually added royal engagements back to her schedule as she feels up to it.

On Monday, Kate made a surprise appearance alongside William and Prince Harry at a children's charity event. Kate, sporting a new hair style, danced with Paddington Bear on the platform of Paddington Station in London.

"Her condition is improved, but the duchess does continue to be affected by hyperemesis gravidarum," a royal aide told ABC News Monday. "She is making decisions day to day but is keen to do as much as she can."

Kate also attended a Buckingham Palace reception on Oct. 10 to mark World Mental Health Day.

William and Kate were scheduled to go on a royal tour of Scandinavia later this fall. Kensington Palace announced today that instead William will visit Finland alone in November, a trip he will make at the request of the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Kate will join William on an official visit to Norway and Sweden in early 2018, according to Kensington Palace.

Earlier this year, William and Kate visited Poland and Germany with their children as part of a "Brexit" charm offensive as the U.K. negotiates its withdrawal from the European Union.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed YORK) -- This week Beijing marks the opening of China’s most important political event: the 19th Communist Party Congress. This gathering, held every five years, brings together China’s top Communist Party members and the country's top leaders. It is the Super Bowl of Chinese politics, if the the Super Bowl is played largely behind closed doors.

Presiding over the proceedings is Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Communist Party - a title that is more influential domestically than the "president" title he is associated with abroad.

Xi's unprecedented and ruthless anti-corruption campaign affected over 1.3 million officials, and he holds unquestionable sway over his party. He has strengthened the Communist Party’s influence in the Chinese government to an extent not seen in almost 40 years.

Xi is all but certain to be nominated by his fellow members for a second five-year term, consolidating his position as the most powerful Chinese leader in generations. He joins the pantheon of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

What is the Party Congress?

The Communist Party technically provides guidance and direction to China’s government: the State Council. The party uses these gatherings to discuss and approve the party’s long-term goals as well appoint top leadership. This is the 19th nation-wide Congress held by the Chinese Communist Party since its founding in 1921.

The gathering has been used in recent history to reshuffle and announce the party’s leadership transition. More than 2,000 party members will meet to elect 205 of its members to the Central Committee and at least 11 new members into the 25-seat Politburo. Party members will also decide who gets to a seat in the inner sanctum of party power: the Politburo Standing Committee. This is the top decision-making body in China and is made up of five to nine members.

For example, after much of his adult life in local-level politics, Xi Jinping was first elevated on to the national stage at the 16th Party Congress in 2002 and then elected into the Standing Committee in 2007 during the 17th Party Congress, marking him a next generation top leader. Then at the 18th Party Congress, he successfully rose to the top in an opaque jockeying process. 2012 was famously known as one of the most tumultuous years in party politics, but you would have hardly known observing from the outside.

What to expect this week

Xi will open the Congress in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People with a "work report" - a speech recapping the achievements of the party under his leadership over the past five years. He will also lay out out his vision and priorities for the next five years and possibly beyond. Then much of the proceeding will retreat behind closed doors. The party is expected to amend its charter to include Xi Jinping by name, alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, who opened up China’s economy, enshrining Xi’s place in history.

The Party Congress will run from Oct. 18 to Oct. 24. The "main event" for China watchers will likely take place on the morning of Oct. 25: the lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee. Members of the committee will be unveiled to the public one by one, in the order of seniority, starting with Xi and then followed, most likely but not certain, by current Premier Li Keqiang. Only Xi’s place is secure.

Will Xi elevate a potential successor?

Xi was seen as the next leader-in-waiting exactly 10 years ago. Will he do the same for an appointed successor? If, by the end of the Congress, there is no clear rising star among the ranks of the Standing Committee, it may signal that Xi intends on staying beyond the unofficial retirement age of 68. Xi will be 69 at the next Party Congress in 2022.

Will Wang Qishan stay on?

Wang is a current member of the Standing Committee, Xi’s longtime friend, and most importantly, Xi’s anti-corruption czar who spearheaded his relentless campaign. Wang is 69 years old and beyond the unofficial retirement age for a Chinese official Because it’s unofficial, Xi could opt to break this rule and thus pave a precedent for himself in 2022.

Where will Xi take China?

If Xi’s first term was about consolidating power within the party and instituting an aggressive and active foreign policy, where will he take the country once he’s got his allies on board? When Xi came to power, it was hoped that he would tackle much needed economic and social reforms in the face of a slowing and changing Chinese economy. That, however, has taken backseat to Xi’s power grab. The stewardship of Chinese economy is seen as Xi’s most pressing challenge in his second term. It will underpin the very legitimacy of the party and no amount of nationalistic fervor can distract from that for very long.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- About 50 ISIS fighters were killed in U.S. military airstrikes in Yemen targeting two training camps in the country's central region. One of the camps had gained notoriety last week as the scene of an ISIS training video that showed images of ISIS recruits appearing to be kicked in the groin to demonstrate their physical toughness.

"U.S. forces killed dozens of ISIS members in a strike on two ISIS training camps, Oct. 16, in Al Bayda Governorate, Yemen, disrupting the organization's attempts to train new fighters," the Pentagon said in a statement.

"ISIS used the camps to train militants to conduct terror attacks using AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and endurance training," it added.

A U.S. official said the American airstrikes were the first targeting ISIS in Yemen, a country better known as the home of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The U.S. military has conducted more than 100 airstrikes this year against AQAP, almost triple last year's strikes. Carried out mostly by drones, the strikes are part of an increased effort to rein in the al Qaeda affiliate's terror and territorial ambitions.

Both manned and unmanned aircraft were involved in Monday's airstrikes against the two ISIS camps that were about 20 miles apart, said the U.S. official.

One of the camps earned notoriety last week in an ISIS propaganda video that showed a line of ISIS recruits seeming to be kicked in the crotch to demonstrate their mental and physical toughness.

Some local fighting groups in Yemen first aligned themselves with ISIS in 2014, the year that ISIS had its most significant territorial gains in Iraq and Syria.

"Strikes against ISIS targets disrupt and destroy militants' attack-plotting efforts, leadership networks, and freedom of maneuver within the region," said the Pentagon statement.

Yemen is involved in a civil war where military forces from Gulf allies have been fighting against Houthi rebels to restore Yemen's government to power. That power vacuum led to a resurgence by AQAP and the emergence of ISIS in Yemen.

"ISIS has used the ungoverned spaces of Yemen to plot, direct, instigate, resource and recruit for attacks against America and its allies around the world," said the Pentagon statement. "For years, Yemen has been a hub for terrorist recruiting, training and transit."

The U.S. military coordinates with the Yemeni government to carry out counterterrorism operations in Yemen against ISIS and AQAP to prevent both groups from carrying out external terror attacks and limit the territory they control in Yemen.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

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.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

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.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

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.

over 30 injured people were flown to Turkey to receive medical assistance. Thanks to Turkey for it is readiness as always to assist #Somalia. Turkey won the hearts and minds of Somali people

— Abdirahman O. Osman (@engyarisow) October 16, 2017

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.

Sickened by attacks in Mogadishu. I send condolences to the victims and urge unity in the face of terrorism and violent extremism.

— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) October 15, 2017

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.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Find Us On Facebook