STR/AFP/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- The top U.S. general in Afghanistan says the military investigation into the mistaken airstrike of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was "a tragic but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error."
Gen. John Campbell told reporters Wednesday that the crew of an AC-130 gunship struck the hospital, mistaking it for another building several hundred meters away that had been taken over by the Taliban. Campbell said some of the individuals involved in the accident have been suspended from their duties and referred for possible disciplinary action.
"We failed to meet our own high expectations," Campbell said in releasing the findings of a 3,000-page investigation conducted by an official not under his command, U.S. Army Major Gen. William Hickman. The mistaken airstrike killed 30 and injured 37 doctors and patients at the Doctors Without Borders hospital.
The investigation determined that the airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders trauma center "was a direct result of human error compounded by systems and signals failure."
Campbell said the crew aboard the AC-130 gunship "believed they were striking a different building several hundred meters away where there were reports of insurgents."
"Those who called and conducted the strike did not take procedures to verify this was a legitimate target," Campbell said.
"I can tell you that those individuals most closely associate with the incident have been suspended from their duties, pending consideration and disposition of administrative and disciplinary matters," he said.
It was unclear how many service members had been suspended from duty.
An Afghan special operations unit had requested an airstrike on a building taken over by the Taliban that housed the National Directorate Service (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence service.
The crew aboard the AC-130 had initially been scrambled to assist ground forces engaged in combat at another location, which meant they did not receive a pre-flight briefing that would have indicated that the hospital was on a no-strike list.
When that combat situation ended quickly, the AC-130 was redirected to assist with the airstrike requested by the Afghan forces and communicated to them by U.S. special operations forces serving with them.
The aircraft's crew was also limited by technical malfunctions that prevented the transmission of videos or text communications back to its headquarters at Bagram Airfield.
Believing they had earlier been targeted by a missile, the crew of the AC-130 pulled 8 miles away, a distance that "degraded the accuracy of certain targeting systems which contributed to the misidentification of the trauma center," Campbell said.
When the aircrew input the coordinates of the NDS building into their targeting system, they saw an empty field located about 330 yards away from the target.
The crew of the AC-130 then used visual descriptions provided by the Afghan forces to visually identify a building near the field that they believed to be the NDS compound but was, in fact, the Doctors Without Borders hospital. As the plane moved in closer, a GPS system properly located the NDS building, but Campbell said the crew "remained fixated on the physical description of the facility" provided by the ground forces.
A minute prior to the airstrike, the crew of the AC-130 communicated the coordinates to its headquarters at Bagram Airfield, which did not realize the location matched a no-strike list location. Campbell said the "confusion was exacerbated" by the aircraft's inability to transmit video and electronic feeds back to the headquarters.
Doctors Without Borders notified the headquarters at Bagram 12 minutes after the airstrike began that their facility was under attack. By the time headquarters personnel had verified the "fatal mistake" 17 minutes later, the 29-minute airstrike had concluded.
Those involved in the airstrike "did not follow the rules of engagement," Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, the top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, told reporters at a briefing to release the investigation's finding.
Campbell said the U.S. special operations commander in Kunduz did not have the authority to direct the airstrike on the NDS building.
Added Shoffner: "U.S. personnel at the time were focused on doing what they had been trained to do. That said, chaos does not justify this tragedy."
"We did not intentionally strike the hospital, we are absolutely heartbroken," he said, adding that the U.S. military in Afghanistan will ensure "it does not happen again."
Responding to the U.S. military investigation's findings, Christopher Stokes, general director of Doctors Without Borders, said, "The U.S. version of events presented today leaves MSF with more questions than answers. It is shocking that an attack can be carried out when U.S. forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a no-strike list, and have malfunctioning communications systems."
"The frightening catalog of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of U.S. forces and violations of the rules of war," Stokes added.
He reiterated the organization's call for an independent investigation into the airstrike.
iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- The Russian Defense Ministry released details Wednesday about the 12-hour operation its military conducted to rescue a fighter pilot shot down by Turkish forces inside Syria Tuesday.
According to a timeline released by Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, the attack on the Russian warplane came at 10:24 a.m. Moscow time Tuesday, when a Turkish F-16 fired a “homing short range missile” that downed the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 as it was conducting a combat sortie over Syria.
The Russians have denied that the aircraft crossed into Turkey, a claim Turkish authorities dispute. Rudskoy said that the Sukhoi was never warned to leave the area before it was shot down. Turkish authorities said the Russian jet was issued 10 warnings over a 5-minute period to turn away.
According to Rudskoy, the Russian military jet crashed inside Syria about 4 kilometers from the Turkish border. Both pilots managed to eject, but one was killed by small arms fire from the ground as he descended in his parachute. Turkmen rebels released video Tuesday that purportedly showed the body of the pilot.
Russian forces immediately launched a rescue operation, led by two Mi-8 helicopters, one of which also came under attack by small arms fire from the ground. The Mi-8 was forced to make a hard landing that killed a Russian marine. The rest of the search team was then evacuated to the Hmeymim airbase before the team's helicopter was destroyed by rebel fighters.
Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu announced Wednesday morning that at 3:40 a.m. Moscow time the mission to recover the surviving pilot was complete.
“He’s very much alive,” Shoygu said. “I would like to thank all of our boys, who with a huge risk worked all night...they have finished the job."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to cameras after he was briefed by Shoygu, identified the fallen pilot as Seaman Alexander Pozynich and the marine as Capt. Konstantin Muraktin. Both will be posthumously awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation medal, the highest state honor.
There is no word yet on how or even if Pozynich's body will be recovered and returned to Russia.
iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- The co-pilot of the Russian bomber shot down by Turkish jets on the Syrian border has said he received no warnings before the plane was fired on.
The co-pilot, Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin, spoke to the Russian state news agency Sputnik at a military base in Syria, where he was brought after being rescued by the Russian military overnight.
"There were no warnings. Not via the radio, not visually. There was no contact whatsoever,” Murakhtin told Sputnik.
Murakhtin and his pilot, Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov, were shot down on the Syrian-Turkish border by Turkish F16 fighters on Tuesday morning. Both men ejected but Peshkov was killed by Syrian rebels, according to Russian defense officials. Turkey has said the men’s Su-24 jet was downed because it violated Turkish airspace, a claim Russia has disputed.
The co-pilot’s comments disputed the Turkish version of how the shoot-down occurred. Turkish officials have said that the Russian plane was warned multiple times it was approaching Turkish airspace and to alter its course, saying that it received 10 warnings in five minutes. Russia’s defense ministry has disputed this, saying no warning was given and that the plane never crossed into Turkish airspace.
Murakhtin said that no attempt at all was made to warn the Russian crew.
“You have to understand what the cruising speed of a bomber is compared to an F-16. If they wanted to warn us, they could have shown themselves by heading on a parallel course. But there was nothing,” he said. “The rocket hit our tail completely unexpectedly. We didn't even see it in time to take evasive maneuvers."
But Turkish military officials continued to dispute the Russian claim and have passed to ABC News audio recordings that they said were the warnings issued by the Turkish jets.
ABC News was provided with recordings of six separate warnings, in which a voice can be heard repeating in English: “This is Turkish air force speaking: On guard, you are approaching Turkish airspace, change your heading south immediately.”
Each warning, which is extremely garbled, is preceded by an address to the call-sign that sounds like Khmeimim, and a distance that becomes shorter as the planes apparently approach one another. The Russian plane was based out of a Russian airbase in Syria called Khmeimim.
A U.S. military spokesman previously told ABC News that recordings of audio channels used between the two planes proved that 10 warnings had been given. NATO has also said that it backs the Turkish version events.
However, even if the recordings are authentic, it was unclear whether the Russian pilots had heard any of the warnings. In the recordings, there is no response and no Russian voice is heard.
Turkish officials have said the plane only spent 17 seconds inside Turkish airspace, meaning the fighters fired on the Russian plane almost immediately after they crossed the border.
Murakhtin, who was the plane’s navigator, also insisted that the plane at no point crossed the border into Turkey.
"Of course, having carried out numerous flights there we knew the region like the backs of our hands,” he said, adding that they had been following a usual, predetermined route when they were hit.
“I’m a navigator, I know every altitude there. I can guide the aircraft there blindfolded," the co-pilot said.
Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russia’s foreign minister has suggested that the downing of its bomber by Turkish jets Tuesday resembled a "planned provocation." But he reiterated that Moscow has no intention of fighting a war with Turkey over the incident.
"We have serious doubts that it was an unpremeditated act. It’s very similar to a planned provocation," Lavrov said during a news conference in Moscow Wednesday.
Asked whether he thought the incident could escalate into a conflict, Lavrov said, "We do not intend to fight with Turkey; our relationship with the Turkish people has not changed. There are just questions that have arisen for the Turkish government."
Lavrov made the comments as Russia’s military announced it had recovered the second pilot from the downed bomber.
Speaking at a televised briefing, Vladimir Putin confirmed the pilot, who was the plane’s navigator, had been rescued.
Russia’s defense minister earlier told a briefing that the man, Konstantin Murakhtin, had had been found after an all-night search, during which one rescue helicopter was downed by rebels and a Russian marine killed. The bomber pilot was now “alive and well’ at Russian airbase in Syria, the ministry said.
The plane’s other pilot was killed by rebels after he ejected, according to Russian defense officials. Putin said the deceased pilot will be awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of Russia medal, one of Russia’s highest military honors.
Simultaneously, Russia’s defense ministry announced it would be deploying advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, close to where the incident happened to prevent further attacks of its planes conducting strikes there.
The men’s Su-24 jet was brought down by Turkish fighters in the northern mountains of Syria’s Latakia province, close to the border with Turkey, where it had been bombing Syrian rebel militants. Turkey has insisted the plane was destroyed because it violated Turkish airspace, a claim Russia has disputed.
The shooting down -- the first of a Russian plane by a NATO aircraft since the 1950s -- has prompted a diplomatic crisis between Russia and Turkey and added yet another tangle to the intractable Syrian conflict.
Russia has been supporting the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with an air campaign for the past two months. Turkey, which is deeply opposed to Assad, has been supporting rebel groups with arms and money.
Putin called the downing of the plane a “stab in the back” and has accused Turkey of supporting terrorism, calling it an “accomplice of terrorists.” The incident has caused a sharp breach in Russian-Turkish relations, with Russia’s foreign ministry recommending Russian citizens stop visiting Turkey and most major tour operators halting sales of trips there.
Turkey has defended its actions, insisting it had given the Russian plane multiple warnings and that it had crossed over a mile into Turkish territory. But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said this morning his country would not escalate the situation.
neneos/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- As Pope Francis arrives in Africa, shortly after a rash of terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris and Bamako, there is huge concern for his safety.
So, what is His Holiness worried about?
“I’m scared of the mosquitoes,” he told reporters traveling with him on the papal plane, cracking a big smile.
Francis arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday, kicking off a five-day trip to Africa, his first visit to the African continent. He’ll visit Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic before returning to Rome next Monday.
All three countries have seen more than their share of violence.
In Kenya, Islamist militants have staged violent attacks on shopping malls and embassies in recent years.
In Uganda, the self-proclaimed Lord’s Resistance Army has terrorized the population.
The Central African Republic is embroiled in a bloody civil war, with Christian rebels fighting a Muslim government. Amnesty International has reported massacres of Muslim civilians, and other sources have reported instances of Muslims being cannibalized.
Concern is so great for Pope Francis’ security in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, that Vatican officials said they have considered cutting short the trip there.
As is his custom, Pope Francis shook hands with everyone traveling on the papal plane.
At a welcoming ceremony with the Kenyan president, he expressed his hope of helping to heal divisions there and renew the commitment to protect the region’s wealth of natural resources.
Speaking in English, the pope said: “Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration."
“I encourage you to foster a spirit of solidarity at every level of society," he added. “I ask you in particular to show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young, and a just distribution of natural and human resources."
In the former British colony, Pope Francis addressed his remarks in English but concluded in Swahili.
“Mungu abariki Kenya,” he said, which means "God bless Kenya."
Belgium Police Fédérale(PARIS) -- Authorities in Belgium and France are looking for a man Belgian authorities say was seen with suspected Paris attacker and fugitive Salah Abdeslam two days before the massacre.
Mohamed Abrini, 30, was caught on camera at a gas station with Abdeslam on Nov. 11, two days before the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Belgian authorities said. Abrini was driving a Renault Clio that was used two days later to commit the attacks in Paris, authorities said.
Abrini should be considered armed and dangerous, said authorities. Anyone who sees him or has information on his whereabouts is asked to contact the police immediately.
More than 300 people were injured in the Paris attacks and 161 remain in the hospital, including 26 in intensive care or resuscitation, French Health Minister Marisol Touraine said Tuesday.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday that police have conducted over 1,000 searches and raids in France since the country's state of emergency was implemented. One-hundred sixty five people have been detained and 230 weapons have been seized, said Cazeneuve.
STR/AFP/Getty Images(KUNDUZ, Afghanistan) -- A U.S. military investigation has determined that a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was mistakenly targeted by the crew of an AC-130 gunship that believed it was targeting another compound several hundred yards away that had been taken over by the Taliban, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
The hospital was targeted by mistake based on visual descriptions provided by U.S. and Afghan special operations forces that seemed to match the other compound seized by the Taliban, said the U.S. officials familiar with the contents of the report. Doctors Without Borders has said that the airstrike killed at least 30 doctors and patients at the hospital.
On Wednesday, Gen. John Campbell, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is set to release conclusions of a 3,000-page investigative report into the airstrike. Shortly after the airstrike occurred, Campbell told Congress that it had been a mistake and soon after President Obama apologized to the president of Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières.
The investigation found that the mistaken targeting of the hospital occurred as the result of visual descriptions of another compound in the same general area that had been seized by the Taliban, according to the U.S. official, who noted that the AC-130 crew had also not received a full pre-flight briefing prior to the mission as they had been redirected from another location. Such a briefing could have contained information that the location of the Doctors Without Borders hospital was a protected site. The New York Times first disclosed the investigation's conclusions on Tuesday.
The airstrike on the hospital in Kunduz occurred as Afghan forces continued to retake the city that had been seized by the Taliban days earlier. U.S. special operations teams served as advisers to the Afghan forces involved in clearing the city of Taliban fighters.
The crew aboard the AC-130 gunship was flying over Kunduz in the early morning hours of Oct. 3 when it was contacted by a U.S. special operations team working with Afghan special operations forces, the U.S. official said.
The Afghans requested an airstrike on a building compound in the city that housed the National Directorate of Security (NDS) -- Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the U.S. official said, noting that the Afghans believed the compound had been taken over by the Taliban and was being used as a base of operations.
The U.S. special operations team relayed a general location for the NDS compound and relayed visual descriptions of what it looked like to the crew of the AC-130 gunship flying overhead, the U.S. officials said. This was done to help the AC-130 crew locate the compound because of technical issues with targeting equipment aboard the plane.
Using the visual details provided by the American team on the ground, the crew of the AC-130 located what they believed to be the NDS building compound.
Unknowingly, the crew had located the Doctors Without Borders hospital that had similar features to the NDS compound described by the teams on the ground, the U.S. official said. While in the same general area as the NDS compound, the Doctors Without Borders compound was several hundred yards away from the NDS compound.
Doctors Without Borders had called for an independent investigation into what it had labeled a war crime. The organization's own investigation into the incident included details that updated GPS coordinates for the hospital in Kunduz had been provided to the U.S. military in Afghanistan just days prior to the airstrike.
Seeking to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest in the U.S. military's investigation into the attack, Gen. Campbell ordered a two-star general, not under his command, to head an exhaustive investigation into the airstrike.
The 3,000-page investigative report will be used for potential actions of accountability for U.S. military personnel involved in the airstrike, according to the U.S. official.
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An al Qaeda operative convicted of planning to bomb a U.K. shopping mall and accused of working with men who conspired to attack the New York City subway was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Tuesday in a Brooklyn court, federal officials said.
Abid Naseer, a Pakistani national, was found guilty on three terror-related charges, including conspiracy to use a destructive device, in March. He is the eighth person to face federal charges in the U.S. for what U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin called an “al Qaeda conspiracy that targeted Western countries.”
Naseer was originally arrested by British authorities in 2009, but was released after prosecutors there said that admissible evidence against him was “very limited” and that they lacked “evidence of training, research or the purchasing of explosives… [and they] had no evidence of an agreement between Abid Naseer and others which would have supported a charge of conspiracy in this country.”
In announcing the sentencing Tuesday, U.S. federal officials took pains to connect Naseer to Najibullah Zazi, the ringleader of the failed 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway system, saying that the U.S. and U.K. plotters communicated with the same handlers in Pakistan and followed similar attack timelines – evidence of the ocean-spanning “conspiracy” that prompted American officials to extradite Naseer in 2013 and prosecute him stateside under American legal code that allows foreigners to be tried for foreign terror-related acts. A New York jury voiced their agreement with U.S. prosecutors with their March guilty verdict. Zazi pleaded guilty in 2010.
During Naseer’s American trial, a slew of British special agents appeared to testify in disguises and were directly cross-examined by Naseer, who represented himself, according to the BBC. The trial reportedly was the first to use evidence gathered from the May 2011 U.S. Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound that killed the al Qaeda leader.
Federal officials on Tuesday described a letter found in bin Laden’s home from a high-level al Qaeda figure in Pakistan who the officials had linked to both the subway and mall plots. The al Qaeda figure purportedly discussed Naseer and his co-conspirators’ arrests in the U.K.
(PARIS) -- The suspected ringleader of the deadly Paris terror attacks planned to strike again on a major business district in the city's metropolitan area just days later, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Tuesday.
Suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was killed in a police raid, and another suspected attacker, found dead in a Saint-Denis apartment, were planning to attack French business district La Defense, northwest of the city, on Nov. 18 or Nov. 19, Molins said Tuesday.
Molins also released further details on the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, including how Abaaoud and another man came back to the scene of the attacks later that night.
Abaaoud’s cellphone was traced to the 10th, 11th and 12th Districts while the hostage situation at the Bataclan concert hall continued, Molins said.
Molins also shed light on the role of suspected attacker Salah Abdeslam, who remains at-large, saying he was “likely” the driver for the team that attacked the Stade de France soccer stadium.
The prosecutor also said that there were at least nine attackers, more than the eight originally believed to be involved.
Yassine Gaidi /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(TUNIS, Tunisia) -- At least 12 were killed when a bus carrying presidential guards in Tunis was hit by an explosion, said officials.
According to BBC, the explosion happened at a bus stop where staff are picked up and dropped off by the guard. It was also reportedly during rush hour on a main street in the city near the former party headquarters of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, reported BBC.
A presidential source believes the explosion was a terrorist attack, according to BBC, and led Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi to declare a state of emergency in the country a few hours after the attack.
ISIS recently targeted Tunisia in June with an attack at a resort in Sousse that killed 38. In March, terrorists attacked the Bardio National Museum in Tunis, killing 20.
iStock Editorial/Thinkstoc(MOSCOW) — Vladimir Putin has accused Turkey of a “stab in the back” and warned of “serious consequences” after Turkish military jets shot down a Russian fighter plane close to the border between Syria and Turkey.
The Russian Su-24 jet was hit by rockets fired from Turkish F-16s whilst it was conducting airstrikes on militants in north-west Syria. Turkish officials have said that the plane had violated Turkey’s airspace and that its jets had warned the Russian plane repeatedly to leave. Putin called the shooting down a “stab in the back.”
“Today’s losses is connected with a blow, that was delivered as a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists. I cannot qualify what happened today in any other way,” Putin said during a televised meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan.
Putin insisted the Russian plane was operating 1 km inside the Syrian side of the border when it was hit and Russian officials have said that it never crossed into Turkish airspace. Putin said that the plane had been striking ISIS militants and had posed no threat to Turkey. He said that this was “an obvious fact.”
The Russian president went on to accuse Turkey of aiding terror groups by allowing them to house smuggled oil products on Turkish territory, a trade that is a major source of revenue for many militant groups in Syria. Russia’s Defense ministry has summoned the Turkish military attaché in Moscow to discuss the incident.
Turkey is a NATO member and strongly opposes the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which Russia has been backing with an air campaign for the last two months. NATO has announced it will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday evening at Turkey’s request to discuss the shooting down. The military alliance follows a principle of collective defense that means if one member is attacked, the entire alliance will respond.
Putin lashed out at Turkey’s decision to involve NATO so quickly, accusing Turkey of acting as though to “put the alliance in the service of ISIS.”
Turkey is known to back some rebel groups in Syria, although it says it does not support ISIS. Russia has been broadly targeting many of the groups opposed to the Assad government, including the Free Syrian Army.
The fate of the plane’s two pilots was still unclear, as Turkish officials said they believed both were still alive. A senior Turkish official told ABC that Turkish authorities were working to recover both pilots alive from rebels who now held them. It was not clear which rebel group.
Turkey had already warned Russia to halt its airstrikes in the area close to border where the plane was brought down, on Friday summoning the Russian ambassador and warning of serious consequences if the strikes, which are in support of a Syrian government offensive against Turkmen rebels in the area, continued.
Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images(BRUSSELS) — Belgium's foreign minister tells ABC News that the country's primary concern right now is to find about 10 individuals whom Belgium authorities believe could launch a Paris-like attack with "heavy weapons" and "suicide bombs."
Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said intelligence seems to indicate that commercial centers and shopping malls are targets — not schools or metros.
He said that while intelligence-sharing among countries is improving, it’s still not enough.
Brussels will remain on high alert through next Monday, Belgian's prime minister said Monday. Belgian schools and the country's subway system are currently closed, but are set to reopen Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Paris' prosecutors office told ABC News that a second person was seen on a Paris subway with Abdelhamid Abaaoud on the night of the Paris attacks. Abaaoud is presumed to be the mastermind of the Nov. 13 attacks.
iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- Italy has moved to expel four men accused of spreading terror propaganda.
The four men, originally from Morocco, live in the northern Italian city of Bologna. They are accused of circulating jihadist propaganda, manuals about carrying out attacks and songs celebrating martyrdom.
Authorities say one of the documents uncovered involved a discussion on how to attack the European Central Bank.
The suspects bring the total number of terrorist group members kicked out of Italy this year to 59.
Earlier this month, Italian police arrested 17 men alleged involved in a European-wide jihadist network planning attacks in Norway and other countries.
Italy has increased funds for surveillance after the Paris attacks and an FBI tip off that attacks were being planned against monuments in Milan and Rome.
ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images(BEIJING) — The arid winters in Beijing have a reputation of being very cold but relatively light on snow. When Beijing put in its winning bid for the 2022 Winter Games, many of its promotional videos had to feature computer-generated snowscapes.
So it was a surprise this past weekend when Beijing's residents woke up to a winter wonderland. A rare, early snowstorm had blanketed the Chinese capital.
ABC News’ Bob Woodruff took a ride to the Forbidden City to see how his neighbors were coping with the heavy snowfall.
Out of town tourists shielded the falling snow with umbrellas while some workers had to shovel with what they could find, including brooms and dustpans.
Beijing International Airport, China’s busiest, cancelled over 300 flights Sunday and closed its runways to inbound flights.
Beijing authorities mobilized 40,000 people to help clear the roads for traffic.
All this is a just warm-up for a deep freeze expected in Beijing this week, with temperatures expected to drop to the single digits.
Fatih Akta/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The downing of a Russian fighter plane Tuesday near the border between Syria and Turkey has thrust the Turkmen into the international spotlight.
One of the Russian pilots plummeted on to land claimed by Syria’s Turkmen. The plane was hit by Turkish F16s while it was conducting airstrikes on militants in northwest Syria.
The Turkmen there claim to have captured the dead Russian pilot and posted video and photos to social media of their soldiers surrounding his limp body.
So, who are the Turkmen?
THEY’RE NOT TURKISH The Turkmen, not to be confused with the Turkish, are located across Central Asia in Turkmenistan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.
There are approximately 12 million to 18 million Turkmens across the globe.
Turkmen in Iraq, Syria, and other Arab countries (Western Turkmen) are more closely related to the people of Turkey, but maintain their own language and ethnic identity.
In Syria, they are a minority population living alongside Arabs and Kurds.
THEY DON’T LIKE ASSAD The Turkmen in northern Syria, who claim to have captured the dead Russian pilot, are part of a rebel group called Alwiya al-Ashar that are fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The rebel group is one of nearly a dozen that have formed to fight back against Arab nationalism promoted by the Assad regime, particularly, assimilation policies aimed at eliminating the Turkmen’s language and culture in Syria.
Assad’s assimilation policies seek to destroy the Turkmen’s language and culture in Syria.
Turkey, which has aligned with the U.S. to fight ISIS and does not support Assad, directly supports some Turkmen militias.
TENSIONS HAVE BEEN BUILDING IN TURKMEN AREAS On Friday, Turkey ordered Russia to stop bombardments over Turkmen villages in the area where the plane is reported to have crashed.
The area along the Turkish border with Syria is north of Latakia, where Russia has established an air base for Russian fighter aircraft to provide air support for Syrian ground offensives.
Turkey summoned Russia’s ambassador on Friday to formally complain about Russian airstrikes. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was expected in Turkey tonight, but after the downing of the Russian plane, that meeting has been cancelled.
THEY ARE REFUGEES On Sunday, a Turkish official said that 1,500 Turkmen in Syria have fled to the Turkish border to escape fighting.
Turkey has welcomed the Turkmen and is reportedly sending tents, blankets, food, and medical supplies to the border region.
Tens of thousands of Turkmen from Syria’s northwest have already been displaced due to Russian airstrikes, according to a Turkish news agency.