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JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) -- France’s highest court has ruled against the recent ban on "burkinis" in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, saying it was a clear violation of individual and fundamental liberties.

There are similar bans in about 30 coastal towns in France and each one will remain in place until they are legally challenged. However, Friday's decision by the council of state sets a precedent.

The ruling trumps the recent decision by local authorities to ban “improper clothes that don’t respect good morals or secularism” on beaches between June 15 and Sept. 15.

"Burkinis" are a full body swimsuit worn by Muslim women.

The challenge was brought by the League of Human Rights and the Committee against Islamaphobia.

While France's prime minister supported the ban, calling the burkini an "enslavement of women," the lawyer who challenged the ban in court argued that the burkini was a veil and a wetsuit combined, adding that veils are authorized in public spaces in France.

The ban has been in the media spotlight ever since photos of a woman wearing a headscarf and leggings on a beach in Nice was widely shared on social media. In the photos, armed officers can be seen confronting the Muslim woman about her clothing.

The League of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and other groups have publicly spoken out against the ban.

Bénédicte Jeannerod, the director of Human Rights Watch in France, wrote in a statement, "Under the pretext of defending France’s republican principles and women’s rights, the burkini ban actually amounts to banning women from the beach, in the middle of the summer, just because they wish to cover their bodies in public. It’s almost a form of collective punishment against Muslim women for the actions of others.”

French President Francois Hollande has not addressed the burkini issue directly, but said in a recent speech that there must be a "need for rules and respect of those rules, without provocation and stigmatization.”

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USGS(ROME) — The ground still trembled as Italy woke up for the third day and faced an ongoing national disaster.

At least nine significant aftershocks struck the affected area overnight, including one at 6:28 a.m. local time Friday that measured 4.7 on the Richter scale.

The death toll rose to 267, with nearly 400 injured and thousands seeking shelter.

Some 1,000 aftershocks have rocked the region since the major 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck at 3:36 a.m. on Wednesday.

About 5,000 rescuers continued to work in shifts throughout the day and night as the hopes of recovering survivors grew smaller and smaller.

Thousands slept in temporary shelters in the hardest-hit areas: 2,100 slept in tent camps, more than half of them for the second night.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared a state of emergency and authorized 50 million euros to fund the recovery.

A 10-year-old girl rescued Thursday after spending 17 hours buried in a collapsed building was reported to be in stable condition after undergoing surgery.

Civil protection operations chief Immacolata Postiglione insisted that emergency workers were still in rescue mode.

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Virgin.com(MIAMI) -- English businessman and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson recently survived a horrifying high-speed bicycle crash, according to a post titled "My life flashed before my eyes" on his website.

Branson, 66, described cycling and flipping over the handlebars as he went down a hill on Virgin Gorda, an island in the British Virgin Islands.

"I really thought I was going to die," he said. "I went flying head-first towards the concrete road, but fortunately my shoulder and cheek took the brunt of the impact, and I was wearing a helmet that saved my life (however, perhaps they should build bike helmets that protect the side of the face too - does anyone know of one?)."

According to Branson, he traveled to Miami for x-rays and scans and only suffered a cracked cheek and torn ligaments.

The billionaire businessman is in a lot better shape than his bike, which he said "went flying off the cliff and disappeared," but was recovered "crumbled" and "completely destroyed."

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ABC News(PARIS) -- In a dark room in a Paris suburb, a Muslim mother shared the story of how she almost lost her son to one of the deadliest terrorist organizations on Earth: ISIS.

“I always wanted to preserve [my son] from this,” Fathima said, her face obscured in darkness to conceal her identity. ABC News has also used pseudonyms for the mother and her son.

It was Nov. 2014 -- just months after ISIS declared its caliphate across Iraq and Syria -- when her son, Omar, was first approached by Muslim men on the streets across from their suburban home.

Omar had never seen the men before, but that didn’t stop them from attempting to radicalize the teenager who was already becoming more interested in religion.

“They said this [Syria] is where we have to help the Muslim brothers,” Omar told ABC News.

Soon afterward, he said he began searching about ISIS online, coming across propaganda videos posted by the organization on Facebook. The videos showed ISIS fighters giving food to starving children and protecting the locals from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s relentless aerial bombardment.

Omar said he was intrigued by the videos and wanted to go to Syria to help. He said he had no knowledge of the violence ISIS was capable of committing around the world.

Fathima also knew about ISIS, but said she was hesitant to talk to her son about the group for fear he would go online and become tempted to travel to Syria. She said she faced the issue parents around the world can probably identify with: Tell a child not to do something, and it makes them want to do it more.

It took the terrorist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Jan. 2015 that killed 12 people to scare Omar away from a life with ISIS, or “Daesh,” an acronym of its Arabic name.

“He sent me a [text] message saying, ‘Look at the terrorist attack, look at the terrorist attack,’” Fathima said. “I smiled and said, 'He’s finally going to realize, finally.' I was very shocked by the terrorist attack. And I answered to him, ‘You see Daesh? That’s what Daesh does. Those are not Muslims.’”

Omar said he saw the ISIS recruiters only once more.

“I explained to them that Daesh said they made the attack on the Charlie Hebdo,” Omar said.

When the men acknowledged the ISIS connection, Omar said he never looked back.

“I’m very lucky because I’m very close to my son so he tells my everything. In other families, especially in Muslim culture, Muslims don’t share with their parents,” Fathima said. “A teenager that’s alone and gets a certain message … they are kind of the perfect target.”

Fathima said she fears that Muslims who are not well integrated into French society can be easily attracted to Daesh by recruiters like the ones who almost took her son.

She has watched Muslim mothers on French TV, asking for help because their sons have gone to fight with ISIS in Syria. Fathima said she would not have done the same, fearing it would push her son further away from her.

One of Omar’s friends who went to Syria is now dead. It’s a grim reminder of what could have been the conclusion to Omar’s own story.

Fathima said she doesn’t worry about her son now because “he understands.” Omar said he believes ISIS fighters are not part of Islam. He told ABC News that he hopes to own his own company someday.

When asked about how he would like to help the Syrian Muslims he was so concerned about in those ISIS propaganda videos, Omar responded simply.

“I would love to do humanitarian stuff. That’s the only way.”

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Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- For the second day in a row, Prince William and Princess Kate met with children, parents and counselors seeking to provide a safe environment for children.

The Royals visited Young Minds on Thursday in South East London. The charity operates a helpline for those needing support, and the Duke and Duchess observed at the call center and underwent training themselves. Young Minds is one of the eight charity partners of Heads Together, the mental health campaign that William, Kate and Prince Harry set up to raise mental health awareness.

Princess Kate, in a candid moment, revealed that she and William naturally have concerns as Prince George and Prince Charlotte grow up.

"We are parents ourselves, I am sure we will face worries -- we do face worries, because we've got small young children. If those worries escalate, how vital it is to get support -- and you are providing that support,” she said.

The couple have not been afraid to remind parents and teenagers that they too would seek help if their children needed it. William and Kate used the opportunity at the helpline calling center to remind those coping with the stress of growing up that there should be no shame in asking for help.

Kate added: “As a parent and as a mother, having that feeling that there is somebody there that is non-judgmental, that can provide the professional support, and that can really provide helping hand at a really difficult time.”

Duchess Kate looked regal in a scarlet red LK Bennett dress, the second day in a row she wore the designer to an engagement.

Prince William was also moved by the stories he heard on the helpline and the parents he and his wife spoke to.

"It is important that parents understand that you can’t be brilliant at everything. It is totally fine to talk about it and to seek help and to speak out because we’re not all superheroes. There is a lot of pressure on parents, and most of it is self-made by parents themselves, where you feel you have to be able to handle everything. You have to show strength and resilience to everything. But there are some times when it all gets too much and you need to reach out, and that’s totally fine," he said.

William and Kate have spent back-to-back days on a mission raising awareness on mental health. A spokeswoman for the Heads Together campaign said Prince William and Princess Kate, along with Prince Harry, hope "to change the conversation on mental wellbeing from one of fear and shame to one of support."

The Duke and Duchess met young people on Wednesday who had conquered mental health challenges ranging from suicide, self-mutilation, social exclusion, bullying, depression and overcoming the death of a parent.

Prince William comforted a 14-year-old boy at a hospice in Luton who had recently lost his mother, telling him how he too still misses his own mother, the late Princess Diana.

"I know how you feel, I miss my mother every day," he said, adding: "It's OK to feel sad."

While the future King and Queen listened to both the teenagers and parents they met over their two days of engagements, there were some lighter moments also.

Prince William was asked by one young mother for Harry's phone number for her daughter. He joked "Oh no, you don't want that."

Kensington Palace said in a statement: "Through the Heads Together campaign, Their Royal Highnesses are keen to build on the great work that is already taking place across the country, to ensure that people feel comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing, feel able to support their friends and families through difficult times, and that stigma no longer prevents people getting help they need.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- At least one person is dead after an explosion at a sports center in Chimay, Belgium, according to the Chimay mayor's office.

Five others were wounded in the explosion, two of them seriously. Police told ABC News the facility was fairly empty at the time.

The cause of the blast is unknown.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Photos show North Korean leader Kim Jong Un overjoyed at the "success" at the alleged test-firing of a submarine ballistic missile.

Kim said the purported missile launch "was a great manifestation and demonstration of the tremendous power and inexhaustible muscle" of North Korea, the Korean Central News Agency said Thursday. They said he provided guidance from an observation post by giving the order for the submarine to submerge in and fire the missile, called "Pukguksong."

 The KCNA did not disclose the date and time the test fire took place.

Images show the self-proclaimed "Supreme Leader" of North Korea smiling as he is said to be watching the launch from a screen, sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Another photo shows Kim appearing to be elated as he celebrates with uniformed members of the military.

 "He noted with pride that the results of the test-fire proved in actuality that the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] joined the front rank of the military powers fully equipped with nuclear attack capability," the KCNA wrote.

North Korea is "bolstering" its "nuclear attack capability hour by hour" due to threats the U.S. mainland and military presence in the Pacific present, according to the state-run media. Kim "strongly" warned the U.S. and South Korea from "hurting the dignity and security of North Korea" if they want to avoid military strikes against them.

In February, Kim released video footage purportedly showing a rocket launch, which he deemed a "complete success," saying the reason for the blastoff was for "peaceful purposes."

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US Navy(NEW YORK) --  A U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf fired three warning shots on Wednesday at an Iranian small craft that had earlier come as close as 200 yards to another U.S. Navy vessel, and the Iranian boat sped away after the warning shots were fired, U.S. officials said today.

The incident was one of three encounters in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday involving U.S. Navy vessels and small boats from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy that the Pentagon is calling "unsafe and unprofessional."

They follow another close encounter between the two navies on Tuesday when four Iranian craft "harassed" the destroyer USS Nitze near the Strait of Hormuz, according to U.S. officials.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Navy coastal patrol boat USS Squall fired three warning shots at an Iranian boat that had come within 200 yards of the USS Tempest, according to Commander William Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. U.S. officials say that at the time, the Squall and Tempest were participating in an exercise with a Kuwaiti patrol boat in the northern Persian Gulf.

 The three vessels had been traveling in formation when they were approached by a Naser-class Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy water craft at high speed, according to U.S. officials. The crew of the USS Tempest fired flares to warn off the approaching vessel and was able to make brief radio contact, but the Iranian vessel continued its approach.

The Iranian boat approached the Tempest head-on coming as close as 200 yards, forcing the American ship to alter its course to avoid a collision, U.S. officials said.

The Iranian boat sped away after the USS Squall fired the three warning shots into the waters ahead of the speeding boat to warn it off. Earlier the two American ships had an earlier encounter with three other Iranian small craft that crossed in front of the bow three times, coming as close as 600 yards, U.S. officials said. Each time the Iranian vessels ignored warning flares and whistles used by the crew of the Tempest for them to alter their course.

In a later incident Wednesday, the destroyer USS Stout received what Urban called "an unsafe intercept" from the same Iranian vehicle that had received the warning shots from the USS Squall. The Iranian vessel crossed the bow of the Stout three times. Urban said the Stout had to maneuver away each time to avoid a collision with the Iranian boat.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters today that the reason for the warning shots was because the American sailors had "taken steps already to try and deescalate this situation, appropriate steps, including flares, trying to, again, warn the Iranian craft away. And so they felt the need to take an additional step to try and deescalate the situation.”

Cook said the "onus here is on the Iranians to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner like navies all over the world do."

"There is no need for this kind of, if you will, unprofessional behavior. It does not serve any purpose," Cook added.

The latest incidents occurred a day after four Iranian craft "harassed" the destroyer USS Nitze in approaches that one official said "came way too close for comfort."

“Four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGCN) vessels harassed the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) by conducting a high-speed intercept and closing within a short distance of Nitze despite repeated warnings as Nitze transited international waters in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz Aug. 23,” a defense official said.

The crew of the Nitze fired flares and sounded the ship's horn to warn the small craft, but they continued to approach the ship from the side.

In video of the encounter recorded aboard the Nitze showed the warning flares fired from the ship as well as the audio warnings from the ship's horn.

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iStock/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- Three people were killed in a crossbow attack Thursday in Toronto, according to police.

Just before 1 p.m., police officers responded to a call of an individual stabbed near Lawndale Road and Argo Road, Toronto Police Service spokesperson David Hopkinson told ABC News. Upon arriving, officers found two other victims suffering from what appears to be wounds from a crossbow.

An ambulance was sent to the scene after the vital signs of the victims were deemed "absent," Hopkinson said. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

One person has been taken into custody. Police are treating the case as a homicide, Hopkinson said.

Details on the individual in custody or a possible relationship between the victims and the individual were not disclosed by police.

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NOAA via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Gaston is expected to weaken later Thursday and revert from a hurricane back to a tropical storm, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Gaston is located about 1,225 miles east of the Leeward Islands and is moving northwest at about 17 miles per hour. That hurricane's path is expected to continue through Friday, although it is forecast to weaken during the next day or so.

Gaston's maximum sustained winds as of Thursday are close to 75 miles per hour.

There are no coastal warnings in effect from Gaston, according to the National Hurricane center.

Also in the Atlantic, all eyes are on a tropical wave that is expected to head in the general direction of Florida by this weekend. The tropical wave is near the Lesser Antilles and has an 80 percent chance of forming into a tropical cyclone. If it does become a tropical storm it will be named Hermine.

Some models show the tropical system closing in on South Florida by this weekend, and possibly even in the Gulf of Mexico by early next week, but the forecast remains uncertain.

Strong winds and heavy rain are expected to occur in the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and the Bahamas over the next few days as it moves in a west-northwest direction.

Meanwhile, a depression in the Pacific has strengthened to become tropical storm Lester, about 185 miles south-southwest of Socorro Island and about 475 miles south-southwest from the southern tip of Baja California, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Lester's maximum sustained winds are 40 miles per hour and it is currently moving in a west-northwest direction at about 12 miles per hour.

There are currently no coastal watches in effect from tropical storm Lester.

Lester could become a hurricane in the next couple of days, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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Mueller Family(NEW YORK) -- The MP4 video clip was only 10 seconds. Long enough for her family to recognize the young American woman in a black head scarf and green hijab but not long enough to identify where she was or who held her hostage in Syria in 2013.

"My name is Kayla Mueller," she began in a clear voice, her eyebrows arched upwards, in apparent stress, above her glassy eyes. "I need your help."

Kayla was a hostage of a terrorist group the world would come to know as the worst in history -- but she didn't say any of that.

At 10 seconds and 22 megabytes, her proof-of-life video was small enough for the hostage-takers to send by email from Syria. Kayla had been missing from the war-torn city of Aleppo for almost a month by the time this video made by ISIS was received by a friend of the 25-year-old humanitarian aid worker who gave it to the FBI, where agents sent it to her parents in Prescott, Arizona, on Aug. 30, 2013.

The video, provided by the Mueller family to ABC News for Friday’s 20/20 broadcast of “The Girl Left Behind,” is the only known image of Kayla in ISIS captivity and has never been shown publicly before now.

"You just go into almost a catatonic state, I think. You can't even stand up," Carl Mueller told ABC News in a recent interview, describing his reaction three years ago to first seeing his daughter in the ISIS video.

Few at the time had ever heard of ISIS -- a group originally known to the U.S. as "al Qaeda-Iraq" -- or knew that it was violently breaking off its alliance in Syria with a franchise of core-al Qaeda in Pakistan, which Osama bin Laden founded. ISIS needed cash and Kayla became one of the first westerners they kidnapped in Syria's war-torn streets for millions in ransom.

"I've been here too long and I've been very sick. It's -- it's very terrifying here," she said into the camera lens before the image, which showed only her covered head and shoulders, abruptly stopped.

Kayla had clearly lost weight since she was abducted by a group of gunmen on Aug. 4, 2013, from a Doctors Without Borders car not far from a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, run by the group's branch in Spain.

"I saw how thin she looked but I saw that her eyes were very clear and steady," her mother, Marsha, said. "It broke my heart but I also saw her strength."

The proof-of-life video was intended to serve a few basic purposes, according to Chris Voss, retired FBI chief hostage negotiator, who examined the Kayla tape.

"You look at this video and right away you can see a number of things. Basically from a pure physical health standpoint, she's not in bad shape physically. They're letting us see that. They want us to see that overall she's not in bad shape," Voss told ABC News. "They probably put makeup on her before they shot the video. They produce these the same way any media company produces videos."

The reason for showing her in good health was that, to ISIS, Kayla Mueller was a commodity.

"This is an opening offer. This is, 'We want to talk,'" Voss explained.

"They probably rehearsed that a number of times. I would imagine they shot that anywhere from no less than five times, maybe as many as 15 times. They rehearsed her. They got the lighting right. They controlled what's in the background. They controlled everything they said. Everything she said. They want to put enough out there without raising the threat level. They want to put enough out there to start a negotiation. And that's what this is intended to do," he said.

But the friend that ISIS sent the video to was not in a position to negotiate for Kayla.

The Muellers instead put their faith in the non-governmental aid organizations Kayla worked for -- the Danish Refugee Council, Support to Life and the NGO Forum, a collective of many aid groups -- who told them the U.S. government had stepped in to take care of things and would get Kayla home.

Her family trusted all "like sheep," Carl Mueller now says.

Support to Life was helpful to the Muellers but it was a small organization with limited resources or knowledge of how to handle a hostage case, the family says.

Their faith in aid groups and the government meant that the Muellers did not begin negotiations with the hostage-takers for 10 months, when Doctors Without Borders turned over an ISIS email address two months after they had received it from their own workers freed from captivity.

Negotiations began with the hostage-takers on May 23, 2014. Most American families of ISIS hostages received few emails from the hostage-takers but the Muellers received nine.

Soon after, on May 29, proof-of-life came with Kayla's voice -- but not her face -- in an audio clip.

"Mom and Dad, I still am remaining healthy. You should have already received the three answers to the proof of life questions you provided. Those detaining me are demanding an exchange of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's release for my release. If this is not achievable, they are demanding 5 million euros to ensure my release," Kayla said.

And then, abruptly, what would be her last spoken word to her mom and dad: "Goodbye."

Tune in to ABC News' 20/20 on Friday, Aug. 26, at 10 p.m. ET for the full Brian Ross report, "The Girl Left Behind."

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iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The London Zoo rounded up all of its animals, big and small, to be weighed and measured Wednesday for the zoo's annual weigh-in event.

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) zoo, home to more than 17,000 animals, said in a statement that the animals' weights will be added to an international database to share with zoos around the world.

"We have to know the vital statistics of every animal at the zoo – however big or small," Mark Habben, the zoological manager said in a statement. “This information helps us to monitor their health and their diets and by sharing the information with other zoos and conservationists worldwide, we can use this knowledge to better care for all our animals.”

Zookeepers came up with some creative methods to get the animals to cooperate. Penguins were tricked into being weighed when they had to step on the scale while they lined up for their breakfast. Meanwhile, to encourage the tigers and lions to stand up as tall as they could, breakfast was held over their heads while they were being measured.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized, potentially habitable planet orbiting our closest stellar neighbor.

Though the exoplanet is over four light years away, it's been hailed the "closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System," the European Space Observatory said Wednesday.

The "long-sought world" orbits the closest known star to the sun, a red dwarf known as Proxima Centauri, the ESO said. Accordingly, scientists have called the newly discovered planet "Proxima b."

The rocky world "has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface" and is just a little bigger than Earth, the ESO said.

"The first hints of a possible planet were spotted back in 2013, but the detection was not convincing," Guillem Anglada-Escudé said in a statement.

Anglada-Escudé, from Queen Mary University in London, was the one who led the team of astronomers examining Proxima Centauri.

"Since then we have worked hard to get further observations off the ground with help from ESO and others," he said, adding that that the recent Pale Red Dot campaign to confirm evidence of the planet "has been about two years in the planning."

"Many exoplanets have been found and many more will be found, but searching for the closest potential Earth-analogue and succeeding has been the experience of a lifetime for all of us," Anglada-Escudé said.

Most exoplanets that have been discovered are gas giants, like Jupiter in our solar system, because astronomers look for the wobble in the star caused by a massive planet's orbit. Detecting Earth-sized planets is much more difficult, requiring extremely sensitive instruments and longer periods of observation.

But the discovery of Proxima b isn't the end.

"The search for life on Proxima b comes next," Anglada-Escudé said.

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MARCO ZEPPETELLA/AFP/Getty Images(PESCARA DEL TRONTO, Italy) — It took 17 hours and several firefighters to rescue her, but 10-year-old Giulia was pulled from the rubble alive Thursday after an earthquake struck central Italy Wednesday.

As rescue workers raced to find survivors beneath the crumbled buildings in the town of Pescara del Tronto, about 100 miles northeast of Rome, they spotted Giulia’s legs and carefully removed wreckage around the trapped girl to get her out Thursday morning.

Her last name has not been released and the extent of her injuries, if any, is unknown.

Giulia’s dramatic rescue was captured on footage. The girl emerged caked with dirt and dust, and people clapped and cheered as a firefighter carried her away from the flattened building in one of the towns hit hardest by the powerful quake.

The 6.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked central Italy early Wednesday killed at least 247 people, injured hundreds more and left thousands homeless, according to Italy's Civil Protection agency.

Several aftershocks have occurred since the initial quake struck, around 3:30 a.m. local time, and tremors were felt as far away as Rome, more than 100 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.

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iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) — A deadly attack on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul has ended, according to a government spokesperson.

General Abdul Rahman Rahimi, Kabul's police chief, said early Thursday that 12 people were killed. Of the 12 killed, he said seven were students, three were police officers and two were American University of Afghanistan guards.

Rahimi said 35 students and nine police officers were injured.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack.

Three attackers were involved in the attack, Rahimi said. The first attacker detonated a suicide car bomb at the entrance the other two managed to enter the campus, he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the attackers were armed with grenades and automatic weapons. The siege of the university lasted almost nine hours, before police killed the two assailants around 3:30 a.m., he said.

"Most of the dead were killed by gun shots near the windows of their classrooms," Sediqqi said.

The U.S. State Department acknowledged reports Wednesday morning of the attack on an official Twitter account, posting, "Reports of attack on American University in Kabul. Exercise caution, avoid unnecessary movement in the area & monitor news for updates."

State Department Director of Office of Press Relations Elizabeth Trudeau later read a statement saying that they "condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms."

"An attack on a university is an attack on the future of Afghanistan. Our embassy in Kabul, as well as our NATO counterparts of the Resolute Support Mission, are closely monitoring the situation as we are. We understand this situation is ongoing.

"We do understand there are small numbers of Resolute Support advisers who are assisting their Afghan counterparts as Afghan forces are responding as this situation develops. These advisers are not taking a combat role but advising Afghan counterparts," she said.

"We are in the process of accounting for all chief of mission personnel and working to locate and assist any U.S. citizens affected by these attacks. The U.S. embassy in Kabul did issue a security message warning U.S. citizens of the attack and advising them to avoid the area until further notice. Our travel warning for Afghanistan warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan because of the continued instability and threats by terror attacks against U.S. citizens," she said.

The attackers managed to enter Noor Hospital, adjacent to the school, according to eyewitnesses.

The American University of Afghanistan opened in 2006 and was a pet project of former first lady Laura Bush, who helped launch the institution on a 2005 visit to Kabul, the capital.

Much of its funding has come from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers civilian foreign aid, and today the school has more than 1,700 full- and part-time students. It has produced 29 Fulbright scholars and maintains partnerships with many U.S. colleges, such as Stanford, Georgetown and the University of California system.

The school says on its website that it "embraces diversity and community" in Afghanistan. But it has been no stranger to threats of violence since its creation.

Two professors at the university — one American and one Australian — were abducted at gunpoint outside the campus earlier this month, underscoring the deteriorating security situation in the capital and across the rest of the country.

Also, two people employed by the university were killed in 2014 when a suicide bomber set off an explosion in a Kabul restaurant that was popular with expats.

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