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Top ISIS Chemical Weapons Expert Killed in Coalition Airstrike


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Central Command said on Friday that a coalition airstrike near Mosul, Iraq last Saturday killed a top chemical weapons engineer for ISIS.

Centcom said Abu Malik was killed in an airstrike on Jan. 24 near Mosul.

Malik used to work at the chemical weapons facility that Saddam Hussein had at Muthanna, Iraq before joining Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2006, and then later joining ISIS.

Malik used his expertise to “pursue a chemical weapons capability” for ISIS, according to Centcom.  

His death is expected to temporarily degrade and disrupt the ability of ISIS to potentially produce and use chemical weapons.

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Gunman Opens Fire on Two Americans in Saudi Arabia


Getty Images(ALMOBARAZ, Saudi Arabia) -- Police in Saudi Arabia say two Americans were shot at while driving in the Kingdom’s eastern provinces.

The incident happened on Friday in the city of Almobaraz in the province of Ahsa, according to a report by the official Saudi Press Agency.

One of the Americans was injured in the shooting and taken to a hospital, where he is in stable condition.

In a statement through the Saudi Press Agency, police say they are hunting the attacker.

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Iraqi Oil Production Still Climbing, Despite ISIS Offensive


iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Even as the fight against ISIS continues in Iraq, the ongoing violence appears to have barely made a dent in the country’s oil production.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report on Friday that Iraq produced an additional 300,000 barrels per day in 2014 over the previous year.

“Iraq’s crude oil production grew by 950,000 barrels per day over the past five years, increasing from almost 2.4 million bbl/d in 2010 to almost 3.4 million bbl/d in 2014,” according to the U.S. EIA.

Frequent attacks have caused significant damage to production in the north and central regions, but the agency says that increased output at oil fields in southern Iraq and Kurdistan region has helped to offset the loss.

The gains are significant enough that processing and export facilities in Iraq are still hitting bottlenecks, according to the agency.

Iraq has the fifth largest proved crude oil reserves in the world, and it is the second-largest crude oil producer in OPEC.

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Two Eagles Balloon Pilots Surpass Duration Record


iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The pilots behind the Two Eagles Balloon flight over the Pacific Ocean have done it -- surpassing the distance record for gas balloons of 5,209 miles.

The flight bested the absolute world record for time aloft for gas balloons of 137 hours, 5 minutes and 50 seconds.

American Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev passed the final milestone on their checklist of world records that had originally been set by Double Eagle II on its transatlantic flight in 1978.

On Thursday, the Two Eagles team tweeted: "The pilots have just surpassed the distance needed to set a new record. 5,261 miles or 8,467km."

Although the two pilots surpassed the mark for duration of gas balloons, the record has not been officially broken. This will determined by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association and FAI after a long process of documentation and review that can take up to several weeks, or even months.

At this point in their journey, the final and most important goal for the Two Eagles pilots is to land the balloon safely.

Bradley and Tiukhtyaev are approximately 400 miles west of the Mexican border as they are flying parallel to the west coast of the United States. They are expected to land Saturday on the Baja peninsula in Mexico.

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How a Burned Koala Got Back on His Paws and Back Home


AMWRRO.org(SYDNEY) -- A koala is back on his paws and back in the wild after recovering from burns he suffered in an Australian bush fire earlier this month.

Jeremy, who became a global sensation after images of his treatment circulated online, was released Wednesday night, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The koala was rehabilitated by the Australian Marine Wildlife Research & Rescue Organisation (AMWRRO) after being rescued by a local firefighter.

"Jeremy [is] now released and loving life once again," the AMRRO said on Facebook. "Special thanks to everyone involved...and to the thousands of people who have sent sell wishes, support and strength his way."

The koala was the first of dozens sent to AMWRRO Wildlife Clinic after fires swept the Sampson Flat locality in South Australia, where it's the summer season. He was treated for second-degree partial thickness burns, the AMRRO said on Facebook.

Jeremy was originally a grumpy fellow, nervous around the caretakers, the president of AMWRRO told BBC News.

"He had a big attitude," president Aaron Macado said, adding that Jeremy became easier to handle once he realized his caretakers weren't going to eat him.

During his recovery, there was a misunderstanding that koalas under AMWRRO's care needed mittens, though this wasn't true, according to the group's website.

"[T]hey simply impede the animal’s ability to self-feed, hang onto branches or climb limbs that are in their cages," AMWRRO wrote on the site.

The organization shared the video below of Jeremy using his claws to eat to further clarify why he didn't need mittens.

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'Dragon' Dinosaur Fossil with Massive Neck Discovered in China


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Called the "dragon of Qijiang," for the Chinese city in which the fossil was found, a newly-discovered dinosaur species has a lightweight neck that spans half the length of its 50-foot body.

The dinosaur, a variety of sauropod, is believed to have lived 160 million years ago during the Late Jurassic period, according to paleontologists at the University of Alberta who excavated the fossils. Construction workers first uncovered the fossil in 2006, the researchers noted.

The physical attributes of the dinosaur, especially its long neck, are similar to the traits of mythical dragons, which inspired its name.

"I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijianglong and pictured that mythical creature," Tetsuto Miyashita, a paleontologist who worked on the project, said in a statement.

Carrying around such a long neck was surprisingly easy for the dinosaur, since paleontologists said they believe its vertebrae were filled with air, making it lightweight despite its incredible size.

The findings were published on Wednesday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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Security Firm Confirms Employment of Americans Killed at Kabul Airport


Paula Bronstein/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Three American contractors who were shot and killed, and another who was wounded Thursday at North Kabul International Airport in Kabul worked for Praetorian Standard.

The security contracting firm confirmed their employment Friday, but did not name the slain contractors and requested privacy on behalf of their families.

"We can confirm that on January 29, 2015, three employees of Praetorian Standard, Inc. were killed and one was wounded in Afghanistan while supporting the efforts of the US Government. This was a terrible day for the families involved, our company and the United States. We are shocked by the tragic nature of these deaths and offer our deepest condolences to the families of these brave men,” the company said in a statement Friday.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan said Thursday that the shooter was wearing the uniform of an Afghan nation policeman, but whether he was actually a member of the Afghan security forces was unclear.

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St. Peter's Basilica to Offer Free Haircuts, Shaves for the Homeless


Getty Images(ROME) -- Along with Catholic mass and words from the pope, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome will also soon be offering haircuts and shaves -- for the homeless, that is.

Starting in mid-February, barbers in Rome will offer their volunteer snipping services for those without permanent shelter every Monday. That's the day in Italy where barbers and hairdressers close shop.

The move comes as the Vatican has almost finished installing showers and toilets for the homeless among the towering colonnades that wrap around St. Peter's Square. A dozen other churches throughout Rome have followed suite after the Vatican announced the move.

The Vatican decided to offer the services to those without permanent shelter when a homeless man told the Vatican priest whose role it is to help the poor that he had a hard time finding a place to wash in Rome.

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New 3-D Map Could Shed Light on How Stars Blow Up


NASA(NEW YORK) -- Supernovas, the violent explosions of massive stars after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel, have long been one of the most fascinating mysteries of the universe.

Now, a new 3-D map of one of the most well-known supernovas, Cassiopeia A, reveals a bubbly interior, which could shed new light on the spectacular way these stars die, according to research published Friday in the journal Science.

Rather than having uniform layers of ejected material, the new 3-D map found the supernova remnant has frothy cavities that were possibly created by radioactive nickel during the explosion that decays to form iron.

In a star that is massive enough, the star explodes in a supernova when it runs out of nuclear fuel, combining lighter elements through fusion reactions until it reaches iron, at which point the star's inner core collapses. Elements heavier than iron are thought to be formed during the explosion.

A supernova is so violent and bright that many can be observed with the naked eye and are a common occurrence in our universe. Having exploded some 340 years ago, Cassiopeia A is relatively young and close to Earth, making it an ideal case study, researchers said.

"We’re sort of like bomb squad investigators. We examine the debris to learn what blew up and how it blew up," Dan Milisavljevic of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Smithsonian Science. "Our study represents a major step forward in our understanding of how stars actually explode."

Moving forward, scientists hope technological advances in telescopes will allow them to better study the bubbly interior -- including the presence of iron.

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Cancun to Change to Eastern Standard Time


iStock/Thinkstock(CANCUN, Mexico) -- East Coasters will no longer need to adjust their watches when they touch down in Cancun.

On Feb. 1, the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, and the popular cruise ports of Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, will switch from Central Standard Time to Eastern Standard Time. The change comes after two years of government and tourism industry efforts.

The change, the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) said, "will mean the destination will gain added sunlight each day, which according to hoteliers and service providers in Cancun, will result in economic benefits, as tourists will enjoy extra time on the beaches, consume more at restaurants and cafes, and spend longer time in parks and excursions found in and around the destination."

Putting the state in the same time zone as some of it's biggest feeder markets -- including New York, Atlanta and Miami -- could also improve airline connectivity.

“Cancun is excited to welcome this time change, which will allow our visitors to take advantage of one more hour in our beautiful destination,” said Jesus Almaguer, CEO of the Cancun CVB, in a statement. “The added sunlight should also generate reductions in electricity use for hotels and restaurants in the area, which aligns with Cancun’s turquoise conservation initiative.”

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Dinosaur's Exile from London Museum's Entrance Triggers Uproar


Getty Images(LONDON) -- Under the Victorian arches and intricately designed terracotta vault of London's Natural History Museum, the diplodocus, lovingly known as Dippy, has greeted the museum's more than five million visitors a year since it was first unveiled in 1979.

With its towering 356 bones, including the 70 vertebrae in its long tail, Dippy has enjoyed something of a cult following. But the museum now wants to move what has become one of the most iconic and beloved dinosaurs in the world away from its main entrance and replace it with a blue whale.

The decision has ignited a social media firestorm, causing an uproar among Dippy's fans, with one creating a Twitter account aptly called "Save Dippy" with the description "Natural History Museum dinosaur looking for work. Forced into retirement at the young age of 150 million. Still have life left in me #SaveDippy." There is even an online petition circulating on the Internet asking people to sign up and help keep Dippy at the museum.

Peter Townsend, a disappointed and distraught Dippy lover, explained to ABC News the significance of this dinosaur and why so many are up in arms about the decision.

"As soon as you come here you’ve got Dippy, and every kid, you watch them all, they all stop, they all have their photograph taken. The Natural History Museum is Dippy -- that’s the first thing people remember, it’s a brand, why get rid of it?" he said.

"I am going to join any group that says keep Dippy," Townsend added. "I can see it. It will be a cause celebre in London."

The first time the fossilized bones of a Diplodocus were unearthed was in 1898 in Wyoming, and by order of King Edward VII, who saw a sketch, a replica cast was commissioned to be housed in the museum.

A real skeleton of a mammoth blue whale measuring 85 feet is set to replace Dippy and grace the main entrance to the Natural History Museum in 2017. The whale will be suspended from the roof, in a diving position, mouth open to greet visitors.

"We feel that we can communicate the science that we do here at the Natural History Museum much more effectively with the genuine skeleton of a blue whale rather than to use the skeleton of a dinosaur, which is a fantastic specimen," Richard Sabin, collection manager for vertebrates in the department of life sciences, told ABC News.

"Ultimately it’s a cast and there’s only so much you can do with a cast," Sabin added, acknowledging the shock waves reverberating around the United Kingdom. "Everybody feels some kind of connection with [the Natural History Museum] when they come here."

The museum wants to inspire the next generation of scientists, marine biologists and ecologists and feel they can achieve this with a blue whale, officials said.

But there is a silver lining for Dippy fans. The museum is considering several plans for the dinosaur. Dippy will potentially go on tour around the U.K. and might even end up on the new grounds at the front of the museum.

"Dippy will still be around and very much a part of the museum," Sabin said.

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Three American Contractors Killed in Shooting at Afghanistan Airport


MatthewBrosseau/iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Three American contractors were killed in a shooting incident at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday that may have involved an Afghan security officer at the airport, U.S. military officials said.

“We can confirm that there was a shooting incident at North Kabul International Airport complex 29 January at approximately 6:40 p.m. [local time]," according to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. "Three coalition contractors were killed as was an Afghan local national."

The three contractors were Americans, a U.S. official said, noting that the shooter was wearing the uniform of an Afghan national policeman, but it was unclear if he was actually a member of the Afghan security forces or not.

The incident is under investigation, the official said, adding that it is also unclear if the Afghan listed as a fatality is someone other than the shooter who was shot dead by the security team at the airport.

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Weather Causes Course Change for Record-Seeking Balloon Pilots


Tsuyoshi Ogushi/Two Eagles Balloon Team(NEW YORK) -- On Thursday afternoon, the pilots aboard a gas balloon seeking to set records for distance and duration traveled while crossing the Pacific changed their strategy and their course by deciding to fly over Baja, Mexico, instead of Vancouver, Canada.

Pilots Leonid Tiukhtyaev and Troy Bradley remain on pace to set both of the records they targeted, but shifted course due to "changes in the weather pattern," a release said. The new course had been an option earlier, but was rejected due to concerns about storms in the area.

The release says that had they taken the southern route initially, they would have run into difficult weather. Now, however, after having taken a "detour" north, they anticipate good weather coming along the Mexican coast.

The two pilots are in "good shape" but are "understandably getting tired after nearly five days in the air," the release noted.

The pair initially set out to surpass the current records of 5,208 miles traveled and 137 hours and five minutes in the air.

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On Camera: Man Armed with Fake Gun Takes Over TV Studio, Surrenders to Police


Photo by Michel Porro/Getty Images(AMSTERDAM) --  A Dutch TV camera kept rolling as an armed man who had apparently stormed a television station paced back and forth, with what looked like a silenced pistol in hand, before surrendering to police.

The video, posted online by the Dutch outlet NOS shortly after the incident, shows the young man in a suit speaking to someone off camera for several minutes before police can be heard entering the room and yelling at the man. He calmly drops his weapon and police take him into custody.

Police in the Netherlands later said that the gun was fake.

Earlier NOS had reported that its newsroom had been evacuated. The man had demanded airtime, the station said. No shots were reportedly fired.

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British Fighter Jets Scrambled After Russian Planes Identified Near UK Airspace


Andy_Oxley/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- British fighter jets were scrambled on Wednesday after Russian aircraft were identified flying near United Kingdom airspace.

Long-range search radar detected two unidentified jets flying in international airspace near the U.K. on Wednesday. The Royal Air Force says it scrambled Typhoon fighter jets from bases in Lossiemouth and Coningsby to intercept the Russian aircraft.

The British aircraft were directed into position to identify and escort  the Russian planes through the region. At no point did the Russian jets cross into U.K. sovereign airspace.

The Russian Embassy in London said Thursday that Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was summoned to the British Foreign and Commonwealth office to discuss the incident. The embassy says that the U.K. expressed concerns over the disruption to civil aviation caused by the incident, while the Russian side said their crafts were on "routine air patrol duty."

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