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Nobel Peace Laureates Urge South Africa to Give Dalai Lama a Visa


Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Fourteen Nobel Peace Laureates sent a letter to South African President Jacob Zuma on Monday, urging him to guarantee an unconditional visa to allow the Dalai Lama into the country next month.

The letter notes that the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates will be held in Cape Town, South Africa on October 13 to 15. According to the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, Pope Francis was rejected a visa, and the Dalai Lama withdrew his application for a visa for the same event after being told it would not be approved.

The letter cited an understanding of "the sensitivities involved," but noted that the upcoming summit will be dedicated to the memory of former South African President Nelson Mandela and that the Dalai Lama holds no political office. The summit will be held on the African continent for the first time, and the laureates argue that the Dalai Lama's attendance would, "provide a platform to showcase Africa's continuing efforts to promote peace and stability throughout the continent."

The letter is signed by Nobel Peace Laureates from years between 1976 and 2011, including Amnesty International, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and former member of the United Kingdom's parliament John Hume.

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NASA Asteroid Detection Program Not Meeting Goals


ABC News Radio(WASHINGTON) -- According to NASA's Inspector General Paul Martin, the space agency is failing to adequately detect meteors heading towards Earth.

While most of the objects that approach the planet burn up before reaching the surface, detection of near-Earth objects is important to prevent incidents such as that in Chelyabinsk, Russia last year, where an 18-meter meteor exploded, damaging buildings and injuring over 1,000 people.

In 2005, Congress gave NASA the task of building a program that could track upwards of 90 percent of near-Earth objects over 140 meters in diameter by 2020. A review conducted by the Office of the Inspector General found that NASA has currently identified only 10 percent of all asteroids that size or larger.

Martin's review also stated that the agency will likely fail to meet the 2020 deadline.

The review points a finger at limited personnel and resources, insufficient NASA oversight on grants and task orders, and a lack of formal agreements with partners to help accomplish the NEO program goals.

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US Airstrike Targets ISIS Fighters Near Baghdad


Hope Milam/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD, Iraq) --  There was a U.S. airstrike southwest of Baghdad Monday, a new area of operations for U.S. fighter aircraft, ABC News has learned.

But this isn't an indicator of expanded airstrikes in Iraq, a U.S. official told ABC News.

A request was received from the Iraqis to provide air support for an Iraqi unit that was engaged in a firefight with fighters with the Islamic militant group ISIS, the official said. Six ISIS-owned vehicles were destroyed in the strike.

An aircraft was redirected and conducted a strike to support the Iraqi ground troops, the official said.

The total number of U.S. strikes conducted in Iraq has now reached 162.

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'Everyday Taxi Driver' Is Latest Threatened with ISIS Death


iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Alan Henning, the latest hostage threatened with death by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is neither a journalist nor a professional aid worker. The 47-year-old is a taxi driver from northwest England whom friends describe as a “big man with a big heart,” according to The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

"He is the nicest of nice guys who has done so much to help other people,” fellow taxi driver Kasim Jameel told the newspaper. “He is just a normal bloke, an everyday taxi driver who wanted to do good. We are thinking about him all the time and praying that he will be allowed home to his family."

Henning reportedly left his wife of 23 years, Barbara, 45, and two teenage children at home in Salford, Greater Manchester, last Christmastime to join Jameel and a group of Muslim friends in making what British newspaper The Bolton News described as a 20-vehicle, 4,000-mile journey to Syria to deliver medical supplies to refugees caught up in the country’s civil war. Masked gunmen reportedly stopped the convoy after it crossed the Turkish border on Dec. 26 and targeted Henning, separating him from the group.

"He was taking over old ambulances, just helping out as much as he could,” a close friend told the Telegraph newspaper. "There were a few of them that went out with him. They were just a group of mates that started it all off. They were supposed to be over there for about six months, but he was kidnapped just a few days after he left."

Henning was identified as the next ISIS victim at the end of the beheading video of British aid worker David Haines released Saturday.

He had reportedly previously traveled to Syria as part of two similar humanitarian aid convoys organized by the small, informal volunteer group Aid 4 Syria and the UK Arab Society. BBC journalist Catrin Nye met Henning while making a documentary about such convoys to Syria and told the Guardian how the first trip to Syria moved Henning to do more.

"It had been a life-changing experience," Nye said. "He had handed out the goods. He described holding the children ... and how that really affected him. He told me he had to go back."

Henning even permanently inked his commitment to the cause, as convoy organizer Jameel told The Bolton News: “He loved the cause so much that when he went on holiday with his family, he had a big tattoo across his arm, saying, ‘aid for Syria.’ He was that dedicated.”

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Iran Claims It Rejected US Offer on ISIS


leader.ir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran's supreme leader says his country would never help the U.S. take on ISIS.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted on Monday that the U.S. asked Iran for its cooperation in the fight against the militant group.

"I rejected US offer to #Iran abt #ISIS because US has corrupted its hands in this issue," he tweeted.

The State Department admitted the U.S. did approach Iran about taking on ISIS "on the margins" of talks over Iran's nuclear program. While officials maintain military coordination is off the table, they hope to restart talks with Iran soon.

The Ayatollah told reporters the U.S. has "dirty intentions" in Iraq and Syria, and Iran would never take part. 

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Oscar Pistorius Can Still Be an Olympian Despite Homicide Conviction


Jemal Countess/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted of culpable homicide after a marathon trial, is still eligible to represent South Africa in the Olympics and the paralympics, officials from both sports bodies have ruled.

The only catch may be whether Pistorius is in prison at the time of the competitions, they said.

Pistorius, 27, has won six gold medals in three Paralympic Games. The next games would be held in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pistorius was such a powerful runner on his prosthetics that he was dubbed the Blade Runner and won the right to compete in the regular Olympics as well.

He was convicted earlier this month for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2012 and a sentencing hearing will begin on Oct. 13. His sentence possibilities range from a maximum of 15 years to a fine and a suspended sentence.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) said the conviction will not prevent Pistorius from competing.

"Dependent on the verdict delivered by the judge in South Africa, if Pistorius is found guilty of cuplable homicide, once he has served that sentence he would be free to compete at IPC events," IPC spokesperson Craig Spence said Friday prior to the verdict.

Pistorius is not looking ahead to racing yet, his spokeswoman told ABC News.

"There is absolutely no talk about competing at this stage. It would be premature and inappropriate to talk about, or even think about, returning to the track, until the sentencing is behind us," spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said.

An aide said Pistorius is only training at a gym at the moment and has not spent any time on the track since his trial started in March.

In another blow for the man dubbed the Blade Runner, the world's largest athletic shoe and apparel maker, Nike, terminated its endorsement contract with Pistorius after suspending it in February last year.

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Hurricane Turns Mexico Honeymoon into Nightmare for Family


Courtesy Hess family(SEATTLE) -- A Seattle-area couple expecting their first child had just arrived in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to celebrate their honeymoon when Hurricane Odile struck, wreaking havoc on the resort area and their vacation, their family said.

Siegfried Hess told ABC News that his son, Stephen Hess, and his newlywed wife, Julie, landed Saturday night at Los Cabos International Airport and arrived at the Cabo Villas Beach resort, where they planned to stay for a week. But only a day into their romantic trip, the storm walloped the coast, and Siegfried Hess hadn't been able to reach his son until Monday.

"I feel very relieved, and my wife, of course, is so emotional," Hess said. "Having heard his voice and talked to him. ...Of course, you can only talk for ten seconds and the line shuts off."

The hurricane damaged phone lines and cellphone service is spotty. Odile, a Category 3 hurricane, slammed the southern Baja California peninsula overnight, flipping cars, downing trees and breaking windows.

Stephen and Julie Hess married last weekend and this trip is Stephen's first time out of the country, his sister said. Their daughter is due in November.

"They sustained damage, of course, but they have plenty of food and water," Siegfried Hess said.

He's glad the couple is safe, but furious that they were put in danger in the first place.

The airlines shouldn't have let people land in Mexico if they knew a storm was coming, Hess said.

"I'm not a storm-tracker. I depend on airlines or the resorts or somebody to contact us and let us know that something of this magnitude is on its way to Cabo," he said. "They put my family in the eye of the storm."

Alaska Airlines did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Many vacations were ruined when Odile struck the Mexican coast, forcing travelers to hunker down on air mattresses or cots in shelters and designated safe areas of hotels.

Sarah McKinney of Bentonville, Arkansas, live-tweeted the storm, posting updates about the deafening noise from the wind, and water seeping into her hotel room, forcing her and her 4-month-old daughter to seek shelter in the bathtub.

Other vacations were ruined before they started. Valerie Cos of Maryland was supposed to leave for Cabo Tuesday morning, but her flight was canceled. On the flip side, some travelers escaped the storm just in time -- like Alexander Harris of Atlanta, who said he was on the last flight out of Los Cabos International Airport.

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Chinese City Creates Sidewalk for Smartphone Addicts


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Chinese city has created a smartphone lane for pedestrians where they can tweet, text and surf the Internet without having to worry about where they're walking or who they're blocking.

While the 165-foot path located in Chongqing is meant to make a statement, pedestrians are warned to use them at their "own risk."

A sidewalk split down the center is clearly marked with a mobile phone icon showing it is acceptable to multi-task, while the other side of the sidewalk makes it clear that smartphone multitasking isn't welcome.

The inspiration for the bifurcated sidewalk is said to have come after National Geographic Television conducted a behavioral experiment in Washington, D.C., using the concept.

While it may be more of a curiosity than a routine now, there are a few people who may benefit from a smartphone lane.

One distracted smartphone user reportedly fell into a fountain in a shopping mall in Reading, Pennsylvania, while another was so engrossed in her phone that she reportedly walked off a pier in Melbourne, Australia, in December.

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Migrants Feared Drowned After Boat Capsizes Off Libyan Coast


iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- A small fishing boat crammed with migrants -- many women and children -- capsized off the coast of Libya Monday, with more than 200 feared drowned.

With Libya in chaos, the country's navy is almost non-existent, so the rescue attempt was carried out by borrowed fishing boats and tug boats from the oil industry.

The incident comes just days after another migrant boat sank near Malta, with survivors saying as many as 500 drowned when traffickers purposely sank the ship.

United Nations spokesperson Carlotta Sami said since the start of the year, 2,500 people -- fleeing violence in Syria and beyond -- have died or gone missing attempting the perilous crossing.

"They are terrified by the violence that is spreading across country and see the only way to survive is to leave Libya by crossing the sea. They know that they are risking their life because they heard the stories of people that died," Sami said.

Since January, the Italian naval operation, the largest in the Mediterranean, has rescued upwards of 100,000 people crossing on the rickety boats to Italy.

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Cairo Talks on Israel, Hamas to Resume


iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- The deadline for another round of Egyptian-mediated talks between Israel and Hamas is fast approaching.  

According to the Gaza truce that was signed, negotiations are to begin by Sept. 25. While no official start date has been announced, both sides are gearing up to resume negotiations.

Senior sources on both the Israeli and Palestinian side tell ABC News a second round of Cairo talks will begin sometime next week.

The prime minister's office in Jerusalem says Israel is ready to ease restrictions on building materials entering Gaza and that the negotiating team will recommend international organizations supervise building projects to ensure cement and steel go to housing projects and not attack tunnels.

Palestinian sources said disagreements with Hamas were narrowing and would not hold up the Cairo talks.

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Pope Francis Marries 20 Couples at Vatican: Why It's Important


Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) -- In another signal that Pope Francis’ Catholic Church is not your mother’s Catholic Church, the transformative pontiff married 20 couples at the Vatican on Sunday, some of whom had lived together and one who had a child out of wedlock.

Yes, you read that right. Couples who had lived together, couples who had sex before marriage, even one with a grown child were married in the Vatican by the pope himself.

All of those things remain a sin in the Catholic church. But the pope's message Sunday was not one of blame. In his homily before the exchange of vows, the pope stressed forgiveness for past sins.

"To spouses who 'have become impatient on the way' and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment," the pope said to the brides and grooms, "God the Father gives his Son Jesus, not to condemn them."


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So why is it important?

1. It's another signal that Pope Francis is changing the church to be more open and inclusive. Last July, Pope Francis suggested that that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation. The pope has also said the church is too focused on issues such as abortion, contraception and divorce. In an interview last year, the pope warned that "the church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules." The church's teaching "must be more simple, profound, radiant," he wrote. Sunday's wedding ceremony appears to be a practical application of that philosophy.

2. Being married by the pope is incredibly rare. Pope John Paul II was the last pope to publicly perform the rite of marriage, when he married eight couples in 2000. So rare is the event that one couple said that "when we discovered that it was happening, that it wasn't a dream -- well, it transformed us," The New York Times reported. The marriage of those, by the pope himself, who might have been shunned just a couple years ago, sends a powerful message not only to those couples but also to the rest of the world.

3. He wanted to stress the importance of marriage for all Catholics, whatever their situation. He also want to encourage local priests to follow his example and marry couples in similar situations. Pope Francis has long emphasized the importance of the family and marriage between a man and a woman and these topics will be discussed at a Vatican meeting of bishops later this year.

Marriage, the pope said, "is a symbol of life, real life: it is not fiction." It's also not fiction that the Catholic Church is changing -- and changing from the top down.

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British PM on New ISIS Beheading: 'They're Not Muslims, [But] Monsters'


Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(LONDON) -- British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday that the brutal beheading of a British aid worker by the terror group ISIS, which follows the execution of two American journalists, showed exactly why the U.K. needed to work to destroy the organization, "the embodiment of evil."

"The fact that an aid worker was taken, held and brutally murdered at the hands of ISIL [ISIS] sums up what this organization stands for," Cameron said in an address to the British people. "They boast of their brutality; they claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims, they are monsters."

Cameron spoke hours after a video emerged online that appeared to show the murder of British citizen David Haines at the hands of a black clad ISIS militant. Before his death, Haines reads from a scripted statement, saying Cameron is "entirely responsible" for his impending murder.

"You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State [ISIS], just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst British Prime Ministers who can't find the courage to say no to the Americans," Haines says.

Sunday, Cameron said the U.K. would not be cowed.

"We cannot just walk on by if we are to keep this country safe; we have to confront this menace," he said. "Step by step, we must drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL [ISIS] and what it stands for. We will do so in a calm and deliberate way, but with an iron determination. We will not do so on our own, but by working closely with our allies, not just the United States and in Europe, but also in the region because this organization poses a massive threat to the entire Middle East."


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Australia To Send Personnel, Aircraft to Join International Coalition Against ISIS


iStock/Thinkstock(CANBERRA, Australia) -- Australia will send personnel and aircraft to the United Arab Emirates in an effort to assist in the international coalition against ISIS, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Sunday.

In response to a request from the U.S. government, the country's Defence Force is set to prepare a Special Operations Task Group to help security forces in the region.

"We are not deploying combat troops but contributing to international efforts to prevent the humanitarian crisis from deepening," Abbott said in a statement.

The announcement comes one day after the release of a video showing the apparent execution of a British hostage at the hands of the militant group.

"The ISIL [ISIS] death cult threatens the people of Iraq, the region and the wider world. The conflict has reached out to Australia, with at least 60 Australians fighting with ISIL [ISIS] and other terrorist groups and another 100 or so supporting these extremists," the prime minister continued. "This situation is as much a matter of domestic security as it is of international security."

Australia has already provided air-lift assistance to Iraq, including humanitarian air drops to stranded residents and the movement of arms and munitions.

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ISIS Appears to Kill British Hostage in New Video


iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The terror group ISIS appears to have executed a British hostage, as seen on a video released online Saturday, making David Haines the third Western hostage the group is believed to have killed in such a public, brutal fashion.

Prior to his apparent beheading, Haines is seen kneeling in an orange jumpsuit next to an armed militant clad entirely in black. Haines gives a statement in which he says British Prime Minister David Cameron is “entirely responsible for [his] execution.”

“You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State [ISIS], just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst British Prime Ministers who can’t find the courage to say no to the Americans,” Haines says.

In another section of the video, the would-be executioner says, “This British man has to pay the price for your promise, Cameron, to arm the peshmerga against the Islamic State.” The peshmerga are Kurdish forces who, along with Iraqi forces and heavy American air support, dealt ISIS a major blow by wresting from the terror group control of the Mosul Dam last month.
 
The new video is similar to two previously released by ISIS in which two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, appeared to be separately beheaded. In those videos, a black clad militant addresses President Obama, warning America to stop its aggressive bombing campaign against ISIS.

Haines, a 44-year-old aid worker, was previously seen at the end of the Sotloff video, ISIS implying that he would be next. Similarly, another hostage appears at the end of this new ISIS video.

"David has been murdered in the most callous and brutal way imaginable by an organisation that is the embodiment of evil," Cameron said in a statement. "We will hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes."

"We are a peaceful people. We do not seek out confrontation, but we need to understand: we cannot ignore this threat to our security and that to our allies," he continued. "There is no option of keeping our heads down that would make us safe. The problem would merely get worse, as it has done over recent months, not just for us but for Europe and the rest of the world. We cannot just walk on by if we are to keep this country safe; we have to confront this menace."

Haines’ brother, Michael, issued a statement about David who he said “was recently murdered in cold blood.”

“David was like so very many of us, just another bloke,” Michael Haines said in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office. “David was a good brother, there when I needed him and absent when I didn’t…He helped whoever needed help, regardless of race, creed or religion.

“David was most alive and enthusiastic in his humanitarian roles… He was and is loved by all his family and will be missed terribly,” Michael Haines said.

Earlier Saturday, before the video emerged online, Haines' family released a public plea through the British government, urging his captors to contact them.

President Obama issued a statement saying the U.S. "strongly condemns the barbaric murder."

"The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve," Obama said.

In addition to the second hostage shown at the end of the video, ISIS is believed to be holding at least one other Westerner, a 26-year-old American woman.

Military special operations veterans told ABC News that in addition to the overt message delivered by Haines and his purported killer, the circumstances of the video’s production could be signal to Western intelligence. By filming in broad daylight and in open desert, the officials said ISIS could be saying that it feels safe from the long reach of Western and allied militaries and intelligence.


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Terror Cell Discovered in Uganda, 'Imminent Attack' Planned


iStock/Thinkstock(KAMPALA, Uganda) -- Ugandan authorities discovered an al-Shabaab terrorist cell in the country's capital, U.S. Embassy officials announced Saturday.

The findings appear to be linked to plans "for an imminent attack," with officials warning U.S. citizens to remain at home or in a safe location until the issue is cleared.

"At this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe International Airport," the statement reads.

Citizens are cautioned to be aware of surroundings, avoid crowds, monitor local news stations and "maintain a high level of vigilance."

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