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USGS(ROME) -- A magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit central Italy near Perugia early Wednesday local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and significant damage has already been reported.

The mayor of Amatrice told Italy's Ansa news agency that a large portion of that town had been destroyed and that residents had been buried under the rubble of collapsed homes and buildings.

The mayor of the nearby town of Accumoli reported one family of four found under debris with no apparent signs of life, as well as one other possible victim.

Tremors were reportedly felt in Rome, and La Repubblica newspaper said some buildings shook for 20 seconds, according to BBC.

Fabio Curcio, head of Italy's department of civil protection, said called it a “serious earthquake” that resulted in "wounded" and “serious damage,” Ansa reported.

The U.S. State Dept. urged Americans in the area to contact their loved ones.


US citizens in #Italy if you're safe after the #earthquake please contact family/friends, check in on social media

— Travel - State Dept (@TravelGov) August 24, 2016


The central Apennine region, a mountainous area of central Italy, has seen several significant temblors in the past, according to the USGS.

In April 2009, 6.3 magnitude quake near the town of L’Aquila killed at least 295, injured over 1,000 and left at least 55,000 homeless.

In September 1997, 6.0 magnitude earthquake in the area killed 11 and injured over 100, destroying approximately 80,000 homes in the Marche and Umbria regions.

On January 13, 1915, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake near Avezzano killed approximately 32,000 people.

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iStock/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- U.S. officials confirmed South Korea's claims Tuesday that North Korea submarine-launched a missile.

U.S. Strategic Command said it was "likely a KN-11 ballistic missile" that was launched off the coast of Sinpo, flying about 300 miles into the Sea of Japan.

The missile launch was determined to not pose a threat to North America, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

"The men and women of USSTRATCOM, NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Pacific Command remain vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and are fully committed to working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to maintain security," U.S. Strategic Command said in a statement.

The missile launch comes two days after the U.S. and South Korea began the allies' annual joint military exercises.

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PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images(RIGA, Latvia) -- While meeting with Baltic leaders in Latvia Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden told them not to take some of Donald Trump’s comments about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization seriously, saying he doesn’t believe the Republican presidential nominee fully understands the organization’s mission.

“The fact that you occasionally hear something from a presidential candidate in the other party, it’s nothing that should be taken seriously because I don’t think he understands what Article 5 is,” he said, referring to NATO’s founding principle of collective defense.

The alliance was chartered in 1949 to provide Western Europe and the United States with a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

In a July interview with The New York Times, Trump said he would make the United States’ commitment to the defense of other NATO allies contingent on those allies making adequate contributions to the alliance.

“We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself,’” he told the Times.

In a March appearance on ABC News' This Week, Trump suggested the organization was “obsolete” because it was focused on Russia, not terrorism.

"I think NATO's obsolete. NATO was done at a time you had the Soviet Union, which was obviously larger, much larger than Russia is today. I'm not saying Russia's not a threat. But we have other threats. We have the threat of terrorism and NATO doesn’t discuss terrorism, NATO's not meant for terrorism,” he said.

Trump walked back that comment in August, saying NATO had since formed “a new division focused on terror threats,” but the nonpartisan website PolitiFact said he had actually been referring to a relatively minor intelligence-sharing policy change, and that there was “no evidence” that his comments had spurred the shift.

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iStock/Thinkstock(GUANTANAMO BAY) -- Abu Zubaydah, a high-profile detainee at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, appeared publicly for the first time at a hearing Tuesday that will determine if he is still deemed a threat to the United States or whether he could be eligible for a transfer out of the detention camp. He has not been seen publicly since he was captured in Pakistan by the CIA in March 2002.

Mistakenly believed to have been one of the top officials in al-Qaeda, Zubaydah, 45, whose real name is Zayn al-Ibidin Muhammed Husay, was waterboarded 83 times and endured several other enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA in its secret detention program. It was later determined that U.S. intelligence overstated Zubaydah’s role in al-Qaeda.

Zubaydah was among the CIA detainees transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006 when President George W. Bush ended the CIA’s secret prison network. Zubaydah has never been formally charged with a crime during his 14 years in custody.

He appeared before a periodic review board at Guantanamo that determines whether detainees remain terrorist threats or should be cleared for transfer.

Live video of the hearing was streamed to the Pentagon, where a small group of reporters and representatives from advocacy groups watched the proceedings.

According to one of the reporters who saw the feed, Zubaydah did not speak during the proceedings. Dressed in white, he sported a well-trimmed beard and wire-rimmed glasses. An eye patch he has used to cover the left eye he lost during his 2002 capture was apparently dangling from his neck.

Periodic review board public hearings consist of the reading of statements presented in advance by the government and a detainee’s representatives. The hearings then move into a closed, classified session, during which board members may question the detainee.

A statement from Zubaydah’s representative read, “Although he initially believed that he did not have any chance or hope to be released,” Zubaydah has been willing to participate in the periodic review process. “He has come to believe that he might have a chance to leave Guantanamo through this process.”

He “has no desire or intent to harm the United States or any other country, and he has repeatedly said that the Islamic State is out of control and has gone too far,” it continued.

Zubaydah has expressed a desire to be reunited with his family and is said to have “some seed money that could be used to start a business after he is reintegrated into society and is living a peaceful life.”

A U.S. government statement described Zubaydah as having played “a key role” in al-Qaeda’s communications with supporters and operatives. The White House has claimed he “closely interacted” with al-Qaeda’s second in command at the time, Aby Hafs al-Masri.

The government said that Zubaydah “probably retains an extremist mindset” and that he has not made extremist statements “probably to improve his chances for repatriation.”

In June he was expected to testify at a court proceeding for the 9/11 plotters at Guantanamo, but that testimony was delayed after his military lawyer raised objections about the testimony.

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Dmitrii Simonov(RIO DE JANEIRO) -- A flight carrying part of Russia’s Olympic team back to Moscow from Brazil was delayed for hours by a giant Russian nesting doll that was too large to be loaded onto the jet.

The plane was flying out of Rio de Janeiro on Monday following the conclusion of the Games. According to one journalist who witnessed the scene, ground crew had a hard time loading an outsized matryoshka doll from the country’s fan pavilion onto the aircraft.

Dmitrii Simonov, deputy editor-in-chief at the popular Russian sports newspaper, Sport-Express, posted photographs on his Twitter account of the bulbous doll stuck in a doorway at the airport.

“Great! The matryoshka from the Russian house is trapped in the doors at the airport. :-))) No one understands what to do )))," Simonov tweeted.

Around four hours later, Simonov tweeted again, showing the plane still on the ground. He said a second flight carrying more Russian Olympians was also delayed because of the "hellish matryoshka."

“The golden flight of Russia’s Olympic Committee hasn’t been able to take-off from Rio for 3 hours because THEY CAN’T LOAD THE MATRYOSHKA!!! On the flight indignation is already raging," Simonov wrote.

The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Aleksander Zhukov, told the TASS state news agency that the plane had been delayed at least three hours, attributing it to “a mess in the airport” but not saying whether the doll was to blame.

Eventually the plane took off, apparently with the doll on board.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) — Atlantic hurricane season is underway, and this season's seventh tropical storm, Gaston, is gaining strength off the far eastern Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Fiona is barely holding on as a tropical depression as of Tuesday morning, moving in a west-northwest direction at around 13 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Fiona is expected to decrease in forward speed over the next 48 hours.

Gaston has strengthened over the far eastern tropical Atlantic, and is expected to become a Hurricane by Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Gaston is also moving west-northwest at a speed of nearly 20 mph, although a slight decrease in forward speed is expected during the next few days.

"Even if it becomes a hurricane, it does not affect land," ABC News meteorologist Ginger Zee said Monday of Gaston on Good Morning America.

#Gaston no threat to land
Tropical wave in E Caribbean=60% chance of becoming tropical depression/storm next 48 hrs

— Ginger Zee (@Ginger_Zee) August 23, 2016

All eyes are on a third tropical wave over the eastern Caribbean, which has a 60 percent chance of becoming tropical depression or storm in the next 48 hours, Zee added.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. service member has died from wounds sustained Tuesday in an operation near Lashkar Gar in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirmed.

The service member was conducting “train, advise, assist” activities with Afghan counterparts when the patrol "triggered an improvised explosive device," or IED, according to a news release from U.S. Forces Afghanistan.

The Pentagon has not released the service member's name because of next-of-kin notification.

Another U.S. service member and six Afghan soldiers sustained wounds during the operation.

"On behalf of all of U.S. Forces -- Afghanistan, as well as Resolute Support, our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of those involved," Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and Resolute Support, said in the news release. “We are deeply saddened by this loss, but remain committed to helping our Afghan partners provide a brighter future for themselves and their children.”

This is the second U.S. combat death in Afghanistan this year. In January, Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, 30, died after an hours-long firefight near Marjah in Helmand Province. McClintock was assisting Afghan Special Operations troops as they defended against an intense Taliban assault.

The Pentagon confirmed Monday that a force of 100 U.S. troops had been sent to Lashkar Gar to train, advise, and assist the local Afghan police force as they face a major summer offensive by the Taliban. That group included trainers, as well as the force that would provide security and force protection for them.

In Monday's briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters the force would not be a permanent presence, and that the troops would "return to their base at some point."

There is a force of several hundred other U.S. personnel at the former Camp Bastion in Helmand Province that has been training the Afghan Army.

When pressed on the progress made in Helmand Province, Cook said that the Afghan forces had shown "resiliency" in recent months, and the decision to send additional U.S. forces to Lashkar Gar reflected U.S. support.

But Cook also warned that "there still are challenges in Afghanistan."

"There are going to be setbacks along the way," Cook said, later adding, "certainly,there's room for improvement."

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Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. sent about 100 troops to shore up defenses in a southern Afghan city in the midst of a major Taliban summer offensive that has pushed the country's security forces to the brink.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed the deployment of U.S. forces at a press briefing on Monday.

"They've gone down there to assist the police zone headquarters and their leadership team with a focused train, advise and assist mission," Cook told reporters, adding "This will not be a permanent presence."

The troops will attempt to help the Afghans hold on to the city of Lashkar Gah, the southern capital of Helmand province.

Helmand province is the epicenter of Afghanistan's illegal but lucrative opium industry, which is estimated to generate $3 billion each year in one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world.

In an effort to cut off the illicit revenues, which help fund the Taliban insurgency, the U.S. made Helmand a focus of its troop buildup that that saw the number of U.S. forces in the country quadrupled from under 25,000 in 2008 to a peak of nearly 100,000 in 2011.

Troop levels have been steadily reduced since then. As of March 2016, there were approximately 8,730 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Research Service, in addition to 28,600 Department of Defense contractors.

In 2009, approximately 20,000 U.S. Marines were based in Helmand, alongside 10,000 British troops as they tried to eliminate the insurgency, paying a heavy price. In 2010, 25 Marines were lost in one seven-month period as they took the fight to the Taliban.

Earlier this summer, the president announced we was changing his plans to draw down troops there in the face of the worsening situation, leaving more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond his time in the White House.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House is backtracking remarks by a senior administration official last week who characterized a $400 million payment to Iran as "leverage" in the release of several American prisoners.

The majority of Monday's 78-minute White House press briefing explored the semantics around the State Department's use of the word "leverage" when describing the prisoner exchange and a $400 million payment to Iran.

“Because we had concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release ... we of course naturally ... sought to retain maximum leverage until after the Americans were released,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Aug. 18. “It would have been foolish, imprudent and irresponsible for us not to try to maintain maximum leverage. So if you’re asking me ‘Was there a connection in that regard in the endgame?’ I’m not going to deny that.”

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest aimed to draw a distinction between the delivery of the payment and the exchange, insisting that U.S. officials engaged with Iran on three separate agreements: First, the nuclear deal; second, the “mutual” prisoner exchange of four Americans for seven Iranians; and third, a $1.7 billion payment to Iran for an Iranian deposit for U.S. weapons plus interest since 1979.

Earlier this year, when the White House announced that Americans had been freed from Iran, it also said that a separate, decades-old financial dispute over the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran had been settled, resulting in the $1.7 billion payment. The first installment of that payment came in a $400 million cash delivery made up of euros and Swiss francs. That initial payment was withheld until Jan. 17, a day after the American prisoners were released.

Earnest repeatedly stressed the benefits achieved through the nuclear deal, primarily that Iran no longer has the means to pursue or obtain a nuclear weapon.

“All of this was accomplished without a single shot being fired,” Earnest said. “All of this was accomplished without U.S. troops deployed, and it's an indication of how effective the president's tough diplomatic strategy has proved to be.”

Earnest also confirmed that the $1.3 billion interest payment was also made through a transaction involving unspecified central banks, but not U.S. central banks. He did not say whether the payment was a cash payment like the $400 million paid to Iran earlier this year.

“The approach to this, again as we described this in January, has been, that there was an opportunity for the United States to make progress on a variety of issues that had been a longstanding source of concern between the United States and Iran. And because of our success in completing those -- that three different sets of negotiations, the American people benefited and our interests were advanced,” he said. “What we sought to do is to try to reach these agreements, to get them done, to move it across the finish line. And clearly, Iran was in the business of signing off on agreements. So we were going to go and get as much as we could out of the deal.”

Asked to describe the difference between "leverage" and "ransom," Earnest repeatedly said "leverage" is “not a word I used,” distancing himself from the characterization made by his colleague at the State Department.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- United States officials said Monday they are "deeply concerned" over the recent government crackdown on illegal drugs in the Philippines that has led to an alarming number of extrajudicial killings. Law enforcement officials in the Philippines put the estimate at nearly 1,800 suspects.

"The United States believes in the rule of law, due process, and respect for universal human rights, and that these principles promote long-term security," U.S. Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said.

"We strongly urge the Philippines to ensure its law enforcement efforts comply with its human rights obligations," Toner added.

The State Department's remarks come after the Philippines president bashed the United Nations and the U.S. in a late-night news conference over the weekend, and shortly after the U.S. ally's national police chief disclosed on Monday the number of deaths related to the crackdown on drug suspects was 1,779.

Agnes Callamard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on summary executions, issued a statement last week strongly condemning the extrajudicial deaths in the government drug crackdown.

“Claims to fight illicit drug trade do not absolve the Government from its international legal obligations and do not shield State actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings,” Callamard said in a statement. “The State has a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offences or not."

Dainius Puras, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to health, added that “however necessary, responses to the illicit drug trade must be carried out in full compliance with national and international obligations and should respect the human rights of each person.”

Puras also added that drug dependency should be treated as a public health issue.

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Katie Paton/RZSS(EDINBURGH, Scotland) -- When Sir Nils Olav, newly minted brigadier of the Norwegian Royal Guard, surveyed his troops on Monday, he didn’t see much more than their shins.

That’s because Brigadier Sir Nils Olav is a penguin living in a Scottish zoo.

In a video posted on Facebook by the Edinburgh Zoo Monday morning, the short white, black and yellow bird can be seen marching down a line of approximately 50 Norwegian soldiers standing at attention.

A zoo worker then pins the brigadier’s insignia on his wing before leading the slightly confused-looking bird past a saluting officer.

If this story sounds familiar, you may remember hearing about Sir Nils Olav receiving a knighthood from the King of Norway back in 2008. However, the friendship between Norway and the Edinburgh Zoo stretches back much further.

A Norwegian family gave the Edinburgh Zoo its first king penguin in 1913, and members of the Royal Norwegian Guard adopted a king penguin at the Edinburgh Zoo in 1972, naming him their mascot. He was made a corporal in 1982, and whenever the Royal Guard visits the Edinburgh Zoo, the penguin is promoted, leading to his current appointment as brigadier.

“We are honored to host His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard as they bestow a prestigious new title upon our king penguin, Sir Nils Olav,” Barbara Smith, acting chief executive officer for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said in a statement. “It is a very proud moment and represents the close collaboration between our two countries, Scotland and Norway.”

(It’s worth noting that this Sir Nils Olav is actually Sir Nils Olav III; King penguins have a lifespan of approximately 15-20 years.)

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iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- After being relatively quiet for almost two years, violence has broken out on the Israeli-Gaza border.

On Sunday, a fringe terror group in Gaza fired a rocket on Sderot, home to 20,000 Israelis. The rocket crashed between two homes, hurting no one.

In response, the Israeli Air Force carried out dozens of airstrikes overnight in Northern Gaza, targeting Hamas positions. At least five Palestinians were injured.

Not since the 2014 Gaza War have we seen such firepower unleashed, though Israeli officials say they have no intention of further escalating the situation.

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iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- Leaders of the Eurozone's most powerful countries are gathering for a meeting Monday off the tiny Italian island of Ventotene.

Once together, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will do their best to come up with a plan to keep the European Union strong and united.

Economic growth is almost at a standstill in many E.U. nations, with some 20 million unemployed in the region.

A wave of terror attacks has also led to a sense of internal insecurity that's exasperated by fear in some countries of the growing number of refugees and migrants.

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iStock/Thinkstock(GAZIANTEP, Turkey) — Turkey seeks to "cleanse" the country's Syrian border area of ISIS militants after a wedding bombing that killed at least 51 people.

A child believed to be between the ages of 12 and 14 was employed in the suicide bombing, which targeted the wedding party in the southeastern city of Gaziantep on early Sunday morning. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the attack to ISIS.

At least 29 of the victims in the Gaziantep blast were under the age of 18.

"Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that," Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu said at a news conference in the Turkish city of Ankara. Daesh is an alternative name for ISIS.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities are working to ascertain the identity, nationality and gender of the child used in the bombing.

The attack came as the country is still reeling from last month's failed coup attempt, which the government has blamed on U.S.-based Muslim cleric and writer Fethullah Gülen and his followers.

Selahattin Demirtas, a leader in the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), released a statement saying that "all of those killed [at the wedding] were Kurds."

The bride in the wedding that suffered the attack on Sunday, Besna Akdogan, has been released from the hospital, according to Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News.

"They turned our wedding into blood," Akdogan told the paper.

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Danny Lawson - WPA Pool / Getty Images(LONDON) -- Olympic champion Usain Bolt received special birthday wishes -- and a challenge -- from Prince Harry on Sunday.

Bolt, of Jamaica, cemented his title as the world’s fastest man by winning gold in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4 x 100-meter relay at the Rio Olympics.

Harry, the fifth-in-line to the British throne, is known for his cheeky sense of humor. He congratulated Bolt on his 30th birthday via Twitter and threw down the gauntlet by challenging Bolt to a rematch of their 2012 race in Jamaica.

Congratulations @usainbolt - now you're officially the greatest you might be ready for a re-run! ???? Happy 30th -H.

— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) August 21, 2016

Prince Harry, 31, may be the only man who has beaten Bolt on the track, in Jamaica, no less. But, there was a catch: Harry got off to a fast start in his race against Bolt at Jamaica’s University of West Indies in 2012.

Harry was in Bolt's home country as part of a 10-day trip to mark Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.

Bolt, who has won nine Olympic gold medals in all, has not yet responded to Harry's tweet for a royal rematch in the U.K. or Jamaica.

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