rypson/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An Air France plane was being escorted to JFK airport in New York City Monday morning after an anonymous threat was made against the flight, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.
The Maryland State Police Fusion Center received an anonymous call of a “chemical weapons threat” aboard Air France Flight 22, which is en route from Paris and is expected to land at the New York City airport later Monday morning.
The threat is not considered to be credible at the moment, but when officials tried to reach Air France representatives they were unsuccessful because it is also a state holiday in France.
As a result, two American fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the New York-bound flight as it heads towards the airport from Paris.
Once the Airbus A-330 lands, it will be taken between two runways and locked down while the threat is investigated, the U.S. official told ABC News.
zabelin/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces have "showed no will to fight" in recent battles with ISIS, resulting in the group's alarming recent territorial gains, according to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
"We have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight [ISIS] and defend themselves," Carter said in an interview on CNN. "We can give them training, we can give them equipment; we obviously can't give them the will to fight."
The unusual public rebuke of the Iraqi military, which the U.S. has been training and equipping for years, comes after a week of significant ISIS victories. The jihadist group took control of the key provincial capital of Ramadi and the ancient city of Palmyra. ISIS is now estimated to control half of Syria and broad swaths of Iraq.
In Ramadi, the Iraqi forces "were not out numbered, but in fact they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight," Carter said.
The Pentagon has said the decision to withdraw from Ramadi was made by a local Iraqi commander for reasons that are not entirely clear.
"I don't believe anybody felt that Ramadi would fall, and I think it's of great concern to everyone," retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former Army vice chief of staff, said on ABC News’ This Week.
The White House called the episode a "tactical setback" and vowed that there will be a counteroffensive. Republican critics of the administration say the ISIS gains reflect as much a lack of coherent U.S. strategy in Iraq as alleged weakness of the country's security forces.
The "will to fight" issue among ISF is at the heart of President Obama's approach to Iraq, and one key reason why he's resisted calls for more aggressive U.S. military intervention to confront ISIS.
"I know that there are some in Republican quarters who have suggested that I've overlearned the mistake of Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well doesn't argue that we shouldn't go back in," Obama told The Atlantic this week.
"I will continue to order our military to provide the Iraqi security forces all assistance that they need in order to secure their country, and I'll provide diplomatic and economic assistance that's necessary for them to stabilize. But we can't do it for them," Obama said.
A majority of Americans support U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but fewer back deployment of more boots on the ground, according to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Photo by Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has denied earlier reports that he and Foreign Minister Zarif had told the parliament that Iran agreed to grant UN inspectors “managed access” to military sites as part of a future deal over its contested nuclear program.
Instead, TASNIM news agency reports that Araghchi and Zarif have emphasized opposing any inspection of military sites or interviews with nuclear scientists by inspectors.
Earlier on Sunday, lawmaker Ahmad Shoohani, a member of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee who attended the closed door session of parliament with Araghchi and Zarif, cited Araghchi and said "managed access will be in a shape where U.N. inspectors will have the possibility of taking environmental samples from the vicinity of military sites"
The comments raised a few eyebrows as Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed on Wednesday to not allow international inspection of Iran’s military sites or access to Iranian scientists under any nuclear agreement.
Iran's military leaders also angrily have refused such demands.
ABC News(PANMUNJOM, South Korea) -- Female activists including Gloria Steinem, Medea Benjamin, and two Nobel Peace laureates crossed the border between North and South Korea on Sunday, calling for peace and for more women to be involved in that process.
The group of 30 women arrived at Dorasan Station dressed in white with colorful traditional Korean scarves wrapped around them.
“It was an enormous, enormous triumph,” Steinem said of their trip inside North Korea. “We feel very celebratory and positive that we have created a voyage across the DMZ in peace and reconciliation that was said to be impossible.”
Some anti-North Korean groups heavily criticized the event, saying the women were naive and ignored raising human rights issues by the communist state.
“They don’t deserve to come here,” one woman shouted at a small protest near the border. “There’s no peace in North Korea and they go and praise Kim Jong-un and his family? There are millions starving to death but these women are blind to reality.”
The group repeatedly stressed that this was not a political event and the purpose was to open dialogue on the civilian level.
“It’s a very repressive country, but it was great for us to go there … and have some real dialogue and some interactions with women,” said Benjamin, the co-founder of Code Pink, a left-wing peace activist group. “I met women who’ve never met an American before in their lives and they had such terrible ideas about us and we became close friends. We were all crying when we left this morning saying goodbye.”
Hundreds of South Korean women greeted the activists at the southern part of the Unification Bridge and together marched over a mile by the barbed wire fences to a peace festival at nearby Nuri Peace Park.
The women originally planned to cross the border through the truce village of Panmunjum, where North and South Korean soldiers stand guard on each side of the military demarcation line. But the South Korean government had refused to give authorization, citing concerns over their safety.
The organizers expressed disappointment but said the crossing itself was a successful “historic event” getting “both Korean governments to communicate.”
The group made entry into South Korean by a bus instead, as recommended by the South Korean government, through a road that connects South Korea and the North Korean city of Gaesong.
This is not the first time a non-political group crossed the inter-Korean border. Bikers from New Zealand took the same route in 2013 and another group of Korean-Russians drove SUVs through the DMZ last year.
bukharova/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(OTTAWA, Canada) -- A new report into last October's attack on Parliament Hill in Canada’s capital points out some mistakes police made.
The new report says that many officers acted professionally, even heroically, that day, but not all, according to CTV News.
One Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer fled, when the shots rang out, while another accidentally fired his gun, grazing his leg.
Several members of the Ottawa Police rushed to Parliament hill in plain clothes, carrying guns and covering their faces with balaclavas, but bystanders and fellow officers didn't know if they were suspected gunmen, CTV News reports.
The area around Parliament Hill was placed under lockdown for eight hours, while police searched for any other gunmen.
Supporters react outside Dublin Castle following the announcement of the result of the same-sex marriage referendum in Dublin on May 23, 2015. Credit: IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images(DUBLIN) -- Citizens of Ireland voted on Saturday to amend the country's constitution to legalize same-sex marriage.
The nation's constitution requires a referendum to amend. The BBC News reported an "unusually high" turnout Saturday.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny tweeted saying that he had voted yes for marriage equality, and in a second tweet, said he was "amazed" by the positive turnout.
Former White House Senior Adviser under President Obama David Plouffe posted a message to Twitter calling the vote a "smashing victory for marriage equality."
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton also tweeted her support for the vote.
Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Navy released a pair of videos taken from aboard a P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane recently as it flew a daily mission over the Spratly Islands where China has allegedly been dredging islands to increase their size and build facilities there.
The videos show both the aircraft's video consoles -- which show the construction in close-up detail -- and footage from the exterior of the plane. The Navy says that during the flight, the plane's crew documented warnings from China's People's Liberation Army Navy to leave the area.
Similar flights happen regularly, and Chinese warnings are frequently documented.
SpaceX/YouTube(NEW YORK) -- SpaceX released new point of view video on Friday showing what it was like to be on board its Crew Dragon vessel, which took its first test flight earlier this month.
The test was conducted without any crew and was designed to help SpaceX engineers test the capsule's pad abort system, a vital emergency escape system that would allow astronauts to quickly get to safety if something goes wrong shortly after launch.
SpaceX said after the test that it was a success, and had humans been on board the Crew Dragon, they would have survived the pad abort test.
A dummy stood in for a human crew, allowing SpaceX to collect data on how the emergency abort procedure could potentially affect the human body.
The Crew Dragon lifted off with the power of SuperDraco engines as it moved 5,000 feet above the launch pad, accelerating from zero to 100 mph in 1.2 seconds.
Dragon detached from its rocket, deployed its parachutes and continued a controlled descent into the Atlantic Ocean, landing a mile from shore, where it bobbed in the water and waited for a recovery vessel.
NASA last year awarded multi-billion dollar deals to Boeing and SpaceX for development of spacecraft to shuttle astronauts to and from space.
Byron Motley/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While no embassy opening was announced after a fourth round of talks between the United States and Cuba, a top U.S. diplomat called the talks "very productive" and doesn't foresee the need for a fifth round.
Instead, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, said the details could be ironed out by the respective diplomatic missions.
Both U.S. and Cuban sources told ABC News they are optimistic an agreement will be reached on the fine details and an announcement made from respective capitals soon.
The talks come five months after President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced their intention to improve relations.
Prior to these talks, the major sticking point for Americans was the freedom for staff to move throughout the country; for the Cubans, it was courses provided to Cuban journalists by the U.S. government at the interests section in Havana, which they say fall outside normal diplomatic activities.
But both countries refused to get into the details of what remains to be worked out this time. Saying only they continue to work forward on how an embassy will function in each country.
"Fact is we are making progress on these areas," Roberta Jacobson said at a news conference. "But I'm not going to be specific on where we have to close."
"Still talking about the various aspects of the functioning of an embassy," she added. "It isn't a lack of measurement progress. Each time we have met we've made progress and made progress this time... Made great progress and I remain optimistic."
Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal agreed, but would not comment other than to say the talks were respectful and productive.
State Department Office of Inspector General(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department hasn’t set a date for returning to its embassy in Tripoli, Libya and likely won’t “begin to consider such a return” until 2016, according to a recent State Department report, citing the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
The State Department Inspector General report, published online Wednesday, looked into what the department should do with 26 armored vehicles -- estimated to cost $200,000 each -- that were left in Tunisia after American officials in Tripoli had to make a hasty, overland escape from the Libyan capital last summer amid a quickly deteriorating security situation.
Beginning at dawn, it took five hours for the convoy’s black SUVs and other vehicles to slip out of Tripoli and drive 250 miles through the desert to an American airbase in Tunisia, a spokesperson for the Pentagon said on July 26, 2014. The whole time, F-16s, troop-carrying tilt-rotor aircraft and other American aerial surveillance assets were keeping an eye on the precarious expedition.
Officials said the operation came off without a hitch, but apparently in the intervening months no one at the State Department put a lot of thought into what to do with the more than $5 million-worth of vehicles that were eventually brought to Tunis and then left to collect dust. The IG report notes that armored vehicles can “deteriorate rapidly, particularly when they are stored outdoors or exposed to harsh weather conditions, such as those that can occur in Tunis.”
Embassy personnel in Tunis said they would take measures to help protect the vehicles from the elements so that they’d be good to go when the U.S. wanted to take them back to Libya, but that’s when the U.S. ambassador reportedly gave the IG the bad news: The U.S. isn’t going back anytime soon.
“However, according to the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, there is no established date for returning to Tripoli, and the earliest date for beginning to consider such a return would be 2016,” the report says.
A State Department official further told ABC News, "We take the security of our diplomatic institutions and personnel seriously."
"We are constantly assessing the security situation in every country around the world, as we continue to do in Libya," the official said. "We cannot predict when conditions will allow for the re-opening of our Embassy in Libya."
Libya has devolved into widespread unrest since the ousting and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. In 2012, the then-U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
After the Benghazi attack, the U.S. maintained its embassy in Tripoli until last July, when rival militia groups “began vying for control” of Tripoli’s international airport -- not far from the U.S. embassy. That was enough for the U.S. to pull the plug and get its people out.
Since then, the terror group ISIS has established an affiliate in Libya, which in recent days reportedly took control of Gadhafi’s old home town of Sirte.
A stark travel warning from the State Department in January painted a dire picture of the country where control of the capital has fallen to militant groups, “military-grade” weapons are in the hands of militias and regular people, and there are repeated calls for attacks on American citizens and interests.
“U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately,” the warning says.
iStock/Thinkstock(DUBLIN) -- Ireland could become the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through a referendum Friday.
Here are 10 things to know about the vote:
What is the vote for?
Since 2010, same-sex couples in Ireland can form a civil partnership. On Friday, however, voters will be asked whether the Constitution should be changed to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples. Referendums are needed when changes to the constitution are proposed. The amendment to Article 41 would be: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
Who can vote and when?
Irish citizens, over the age of 18, who are living in Ireland and registered can vote. Citizens of Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., cannot vote. Polls open at 2 p.m. ET and close at 5 p.m. ET. Results will be known on Saturday.
If members of the LGBT community already have civil partnerships, why legalize marriage?
Civil partners are recognized by law but they do not have constitutional protection. Legal protection can be amended or even revoked by a government. In addition, married couples are given rights specific to family, for issues such as taxation and social welfare.
Why is this vote a historic event?
Ireland isn't the first country to submit this same-sex marriage to a referendum: Slovenia and Croatia both had referendums. The results in both countries, however, was "no." It would be a historic event if Ireland voted "yes", becoming the first country to do so. In addition, many in Ireland see this vote as an opportunity to show a different side to its Catholic conservative image.
Why now and who is behind this vote?
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Ireland in 1993, after gay rights activist and politician Dan Norris brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights. In recent months, a coalition of organizations called Yes Equality have been canvassing the country and launching campaigns, lobbying for a "yes" vote. The campaign was led by the people, and it’s been so inspiring to see how proactive everyone has been, Joe Carlin, a gay man from Northern Ireland who has been watching the campaign closely, told ABC News.
What are Irish citizens saying?
"It's the topic on everyone's lips," Carlin said. "It's a crazy emotional day," he continued, adding that for members of the LGBT community it felt like "finally getting a voice." Celebrities such as U2 frontman Bono and Colin Farrell are among many of those who have voiced their opinions.
Is it a religious issue?
Many Catholic groups and priests have been vocal about their opposition to same-sex marriage. One of them is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin who, in a column in the Irish Times, said he did not want to impose his views on others but believed marriage should be between a man and a woman.
"Marriage is about love, marriage is about commitment and marriage is about family. You cannot talk of family without talking about children," Martin said.
The Marriage Bill 2015, which could be enacted, provides that priests will not be obliged to perform same-sex marriages. Justice Kevin Cross, chair of the Referendum Commission, told the Irish Times that this referendum was solely about marriage, not about religion: "This referendum is about marriage -- who may marry, who may not marry. If it passed it would have the effect that I have described." Cross refuted the arguments that same-sex marriage would have an effect on surrogacy and adoption, which are, he said, regulated and protected by law.
Is it a generational issue?
An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI same-sex marriage referendum poll states that 71 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 who are registered intend to vote "yes" compared to only 34 percent of those who are 65 or older. Not everyone thinks there's a generational divide however, and many believe there is more of a rural and urban divide in Ireland.
What are the polls predicting?
The IrishTimes/Ipsos MRBI poll shows that, excluding those who are undecided, 70 percent are in favor of a change, with 30 percent against. The Millward Brown poll for the Sunday Independent puts the yes at 69 percent, and the Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post puts the yes at 73 percent.
Could the polls get it wrong?
Voting results are often unpredictable, especially when it comes to referendums on social issues. Some voters may feel their views are not publicly acceptable and therefore not necessarily come forward during polling. Turnout will be influential in the result, as certain demographic groups are more likely to vote. The level of undecided is relatively low, at 13 percent.
NASA/JPL-Caltech(NEW YORK) -- A galaxy so bright it shines with the luminosity of 300 trillion suns has been discovered by a NASA spacecraft.
A black hole is believed to be at the center of the galaxy, which NASA has named WISE J224607.57-052635.0. WISE is an acronym for the spacecraft, which is officially known as the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.
"We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution," Chao-Wei Tsai, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt of the galaxy's black hole."
While black holes are common at the center of galaxies, researchers said finding one this distant is incredibly rare. It's believed the light from the brilliant galaxy has traveled 12.5 billion years -- almost as old as the age of the universe itself.
WISE has found several galaxies that are extremely luminous in the infrared spectrum, known as ELIRGs. By determining the masses of their black holes, scientists hope they will stumble upon new insights about the history of the cosmos.
Czech TV show takes family back in time to live under Nazi control. (Czech TV)(NEW YORK) — A controversial new Czech TV series is asking a modern family to go back in time to live as they might have had to under Nazi rule, to show the brutality ordinary people had to endure during German occupation.
“Holiday in the Protectorate” asks one three-generation family to live as if it were 1939 to 1945. The family was selected from among 200 candidates after a “rigorous audition,” show officials said.
Their struggles will range from normal tasks, such as harvesting crops and milking cows, to specifically wartime demands — sewing blackout curtains, fortifying a basement air-raid shelter, and dealing with food rationing and frequent hunger. The family will also live through "simulated air-raids, intimidation by Nazi informants and interrogations by the Gestapo," shows officials said.
Eight one hour-long episodes of "Holiday in the Protectorate" will air from May 23 to June 13.
While the horrors the family will face are only re-enactments of what confronted Czech citizens during World War II, their reward will be real: 1 million Czech Krunas, worth a bit more than $40,000, if they survive the two-month ordeal.
The show, produced by Czech Television, will surround the 20th century household with a realistic setting of old-fashioned furniture and period-accurate costumes, matched to those of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia — an ethnic Czech puppet state set up by Nazi Germany after it occupied and absorbed Czechoslovakia in March of 1939. Professional actors play German soldiers and Gestapo informers. There will be no running water, no refrigerator and even the rare old currency of the Nazi mini-state will be used.
The show was shot under the supervision of a “war cabinet” composed of two historians, two psychologists and an architect who saw that everything about the show seems authentic to historical reality.
“I was inspired by the horrific wartime stories of my maternal grandparents, who lived in a small town in the highlands of Bohemia. I wanted people to see what hardships ordinary people had to go through to survive Nazi occupation,” Zora Cejnkova, the show's director, told ABC News from Prague. “It was interesting to see how people make decisions under such psychological pressure, in front of TV cameras.”
But Czech Television, the show’s producer, has drawn criticism, for trivializing the real tragedies of WWII. Critics wonder what audiences would be entertained by watching people being intimidated by Nazi soldiers and their informers.
“What are they going to do next? Big Brother Auschwitz?” wrote one critic.
“I tried to show that period with seriousness and with utter respect for its tragic character," Cejnkova told ABC News.
"Of course we cannot completely recreate the real danger, but the aim is to show life as it was, and," she said, "if people re-live those times, perhaps future conflicts can be prevented."
“The point about the World War II period is that there was always a possibility of violent death for everyone, something that is impossible to replicate artificially," said Jan Kral, a car designer. "Holiday in the Protectorate recreated some inconveniences of the Nazi occupation, but the real fear was death. The show replicates wartime living the way a Formula One computer game replicates being Michael Shumacher — you get everything except the risk."
Kristel Tan(NEW YORK) — “Twerking," "emoji" and "hashtag" are just three of the more than 6,500 new words added Thursday to the Collins Official Scrabble Wordlist — the official dictionary used by international Scrabble tournament players.
The list was "influenced by all parts of life including social media, slang, technology and food, plus English from around the world," Collins Dictionary wrote in a blog post Thursday.
The World English-Language Scrabble Players Association is going to officially adopt the new wordlist in September — after professional players get some time to study and get comfortable with words like "ridic" and "lolz," according to Collins.
And just in case you have any plans on fighting for about $8,000 (AU$10,000) at the 2015 World Scrabble Championship in Australia this November, here's a list of the 38 most surprising new words you can use to your advantage:
1. AUGH Meaning: interjection expressing frustration Point value: 11
2. BEZZY Meaning: best friend Point value: 18
3. BLECH Meaning: interjection expressing disgust Point value: 12
4. CAKEHOLE Meaning: mouth Point value: 17
5. CAZH Meaning: casual Point value: 18
6. CHECKBOX Meaning: small clickable box on a computer screen Point value: 28
7. COQUI Meaning: type of tree-dwelling frog Point value: 16
8. DENCH Meaning: excellent Point value: 11
9. DEVO Meaning: short for devolution Point value: 8
10. EEW Meaning: exclamation of disgust Point value: 6
11. EMOJI Meaning: digital icon used in electronic communication Point value: 14
12. FACETIME Meaning: talk with (someone) via the FaceTime application Point value: 15
13. GEOCACHE Meaning: search for hidden containers using GPS as a recreational activity Point value: 16
14. GRR Meaning: interjection expressing anger or annoyance Point value: 4
15. HACTIVIST Meaning: person who hacks computer systems for political reasons Point value: 22
16. HASHTAG Meaning: a word or phrase preceded by a hashmark on Twitter, used to denote the topic of a post Point value: 14
17. IXNAY Meaning: no Point value: 15
18. LOLZ Meaning: laughs at someone else’s or one’s own expense Point value: 13
19. LOTSA Meaning: lots of Point value: 5
20. NEWB Meaning: newbie Point value: 9
21. OBVS Meaning: obviously Point value: 9
22. ONESIE Meaning: one-piece garment combining a top with trousers Point value: 6
23. PACKZI Meaning: round, filled doughnut Point value: 23
24. PODIUMED Meaning: to finish in the top three places in a sporting competition Point value: 14
25. PWN Meaning: to conquer or to gain ownership Point value: 8
26. QUINZHEE Meaning: shelter made from hollowed-out snow Point value: 29
Meaning: to sweat Point value: 24
28. SEXTING Meaning: practice of sending sexually explicit text messages Point value: 15
29. SHIZZLE Meaning: a form of US rap slang Point value: 18
30. SHOOTIE Meaning: type of shoe that covers the ankle Point value: 10
31. THANX Meaning: thank you Point value: 15
32. TUNAGE Meaning: music Point value: 8
33. TWEEP Meaning: person who uses Twitter Point value: 10
34. VAPE Meaning: to inhale nicotine vapor (from an electronic cigarette) Point value: 9
35. WAHH Meaning: interjection used to express wailing Point value: 10
36. YEESH Meaning: interjection used to express frustration Point value: 11
37. WARBOT Meaning: any robot or unmanned vehicle or device designed for and used in warfare Point value: 11
Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LONDON) — The U.K. branch of People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA) has taken aim at the oldest pub in Britain, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, claiming the name of the establishment that has been operating since 793 -- yes, 793 -- has offensive to chickens. In an official letter, PETA UK representative Dawn Carr wrote to the owners of the historic pub, "to propose that Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub in St. Albans adopt a new name: Ye Olde Clever Cocks."
The change, Carr expresses would, "reflect society’s rejection of needless violence and help celebrate a fascinating but often abused and misunderstood animal, the chicken."
The bar has gone by its current name since 1872. According to its owners, they're not budging. "Firstly, we would just like to go on record and say that we are big fans of the work PETA do, their campaign for banning fur was spot on and something they managed magnificently," the owners posted on the bar's site.
"However, when it comes to the naming of historic English pubs, on this occasion, we think we might have pass them up on the offer of help!"