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ISIS Supporters Appear to Behead French Captive

ISIS Supporters Appear to Behead French Captive

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — France’s president on Wednesday condemned the apparent beheading of a French mountain climber at the hands of Algerian militants, who pledge their allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in a new video.

The video, which appeared online Wednesday, shows a man who appears to be 55-year-old Nice native Herve Gourdel kneeling in front of several armed militants as a statement is made by one of them in Arabic. Near the end of the nearly 5-minute video, Gourdel is pushed over and held down, at which point the video cuts out. When it returns, he appears to have been killed.

Before Gourdel’s death, the militant says he and his comrades will be “closer to Allah by killing this filthy Frenchman in defense of Allah’s religion,” and then addresses ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying, “we are with you… here are your soldiers fighting those you fight and making peace with those you make peace with.”

Hours after the video’s release, French President Francois Hollande said on Twitter, “Our compatriot Herve Gourdel was assassinated by a terrorist group cowardly, cruelly, shamefully. I am thinking of him.”

The video appears to be a dark copycat of several beheading videos released by ISIS showing the deaths of American and British captives in Syria.

Gourdel was captured just this Sunday after arriving in Algeria the day before. In a video released Monday, the militants threatened Gourdel’s life, saying Hollande had “24 hours to stop its offensive against the Islamic State.” The week before, the French government announced they were joining the U.S.-led effort with their own airstrikes. U.S. government officials recently said that European allies did not take part in the aggressive bombing campaign in Syria Monday night.

Regardless, in the video Wednesday, the militant says the 24-hour “ultimatum” had expired.

Gourdel was grabbed this weekend within hours of an ISIS spokesperson’s call for their supporters to target Westerners from countries in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, “especially the spiteful and filthy French.”

A spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry said the French government was working to authenticate the video and had no immediate comment.

A senior U.S. administration official noted that the group may have an affinity for ISIS, but is not necessarily under the Iraqi terror group’s control. Still, the official said that if the video is authentic, “this would be yet another horrific action that is an affront to all of humanity.”

“The United States would obviously stand in full solidarity with our French ally. We extend condolences to the people of France [and] our thoughts and prayers would be with the family,” the official said.

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US Conducts New Airstrikes on ISIS Targets in Syria

US Conducts New Airstrikes on ISIS Targets in Syria

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — New airstrikes targeting ISIS militants in Syria were conducted overnight, a U.S. official says.

There were a total of two airstrikes in Syria overnight along the border with Iraq. Four other airstrikes were conducted in Iraq, the official said.

These fresh airstrikes follow the U.S.-led coalition which began hitting ISIS targets in Syria Monday.

Fighter aircraft from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia participated in Monday night’s airstrikes, Qatar played a supporting role in the airstrikes. The overwhelming majority of the munitions dropped over Syria in the airstrikes were from U.S. aircraft.

Monday’s airstrikes also targeted the Khorasan Group, an off-shoot of al Qaeda that has concerned U.S. security officials because of its plans to conduct attacks against the U.S.

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Pope Francis Has a Ball at the Vatican

Pope Francis Has a Ball at the Vatican

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(VATICAN CITY) — Looks like Pope Francis is ready for some playoff baseball.

The 77-year-old pontiff urged an onlooking fan at St. Peter’s Square to throw him a baseball, despite his nervous-looking security detail.

The fan was behind a barrier that was just yards away from the leader of the Catholic Church, but that didn’t stop the pontiff from encouraging the fan to throw him the ball.

The ball bounced in the pope’s right hand, before falling to the floor.

The encounter took place at the end of his weekly audience at St. Peter’s Square.

When Pope Francis dropped the ball, a bevy of security guards dived to retrieve it for him. The pope, a known soccer fan of the Argentine club San Lorenzo, then signed the ball and returned it.

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British Family Celebrates First Baby Girl in over 100 Years

British Family Celebrates First Baby Girl in over 100 Years

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) — After four generations of having only male babies, a British family is celebrating the birth of a girl.

Danielle and her partner Jeremy Silverton broke the more-than-century-old family streak on Sept. 9, when Poppy was born at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

The last female born into the family was Poppy’s great aunt, Jessie, in 1913. Since then, the Silvertons have had 16 boys, including the couple’s eldest two — Harry, 6, and Oscar, 4.

“I was totally amazed. It was always boys, boys, boys. We just assumed it was going to be that way,” Poppy’s grandfather, David Silverton, who is currently writing a book on the Silverton family, told ABC News.

Jeremy Silverton is a farmer and a lecturer on agriculture and said he was similarly astounded by the news that he would be having a daughter.

When asked about why he thought the family’s fortunes had changed, the father was clear that he thought it was a matter of chance.

“We didn’t do any research or do anything different to get a girl. I don’t think there is an explanation really. It’s like tossing a coin. It just happened,” he said.

Studies show that the sex of an infant comes down to chance, except in rare cases of sex chromosome disorders.

When the mother, Danielle, had a scan to check the baby’s development, the couple were informed about its sex.

“We thought that maybe they had made a mistake, but it didn’t stop us from painting the nursery pink,” Jeremy Silverton said.

“The women in our family were really pleased,” he added. “I think they’re pleased to finally go shopping for girls’ clothes.”

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Karzai Takes a Final Swipe at US

Karzai Takes a Final Swipe at US

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai punctuated his contentious relationship with the U.S. Tuesday by claiming that Washington wanted war in his country for its own self-interests.

Karzai, who served two terms in office, will step down Monday when President-elect Ashraf Ghani is inaugurated.

In his final public remarks as president, Karzai thanked various countries for their aid and assistance in Afghanistan’s 13-year-long war against the Taliban, which began with an American-led invasion following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

However, Karzai had little nice to say about U.S. or Afghanistan’s perpetual rival, Pakistan.

Karzai remarked, “I have always said this: that If America and Pakistan really want it, it is possible to bring peace to Afghanistan.”

“War in Afghanistan is based on the aims of foreigners. The war in Afghanistan is to the benefit of foreigners. But Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims,” Karzai said.

Karzai has repeatedly criticized the U.S. and NATO for friendly fire incidents that have left Afghan civilians dead, although the overwhelming majority of people killed during the war came at the hands of the Taliban and its militant allies.

More than 2,200 American service personnel have died in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001.

The White House is eager to see Karzai depart so that a Bilateral Security Agreement can be signed, guaranteeing that the U.S. will keep a residual force in Afghanistan after nearly all coalition forces exit by the end of 2014.

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Arab Nations Downplay US Alliance in ISIS Attacks

Arab Nations Downplay US Alliance in ISIS Attacks

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Arab nations that took part in the U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State targets inside Syria made it a point Tuesday to downplay any direct association with President Obama’s efforts to destroy the Sunni Muslim extremist group.

There are concerns by Arab leaders that allying their countries closely with the U.S. could result in ISIS attacks against their own interests or stir up Islamic militants already operating within their borders.

For instance, Jordan said its reasons for conducting air strikes had to do with its own self-defense and failed to mention its partnership with the U.S. or that ISIS was specifically targeted.

The United Arab Emirates said in a statement that military operations conducted in Syria were “carried out in cooperation with the forces participating as part of the international effort.”

Meanwhile, Bahrain’s state news agency quoted an air force official as saying its participation was “in cooperation with the air forces of brotherly [Persian Gulf] states and forces of our allies.”

As understated as those comments were, neither Saudi Arabia nor Qatar issued an immediate comment about strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria.

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Osama Bin Laden’s Son-in-Law Sentenced to Life in Prison

Osama Bin Laden’s Son-in-Law Sentenced to Life in Prison

AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The son-in-law of the late Osama bin Laden was sentenced Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom to life in prison for his role in conspiring to kill Americans and assisting al Qaeda while serving as the terror group’s spokesman after the Sept. 11th attacks.

Arrested last year overseas, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is the most senior member of al Qaeda to be found guilty of connections to the 9/11 attacks in a trial on U.S. soil.

In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “Justice has been served. This outcome ensures that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a senior member of al-Qaida and an associate of Osama bin Laden, will never again set foot outside a prison cell.”

U.S. attorney Preet Bharara also called Ghaith, 48, “the mouthpiece of murder and menace” for al Qaeda.

The defense was hoping for a term no longer than 15 years, arguing that Ghaith was convicted for his words, not his actions.

During the trial earlier this year, Ghaith tried to convince the jury that he unwillingly spoke on al Qaeda’s behalf many years ago and was actually trying to curtail bloodshed.

He also denied recruiting for al-Qaeda as alleged, saying “only Sheikh Osama could do that.” Ghaith said he had no knowledge of the attacks in advance, denied being privy to Richard Reid’s shoe bomb plot and said he never discussed terrorism with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11.

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Last Shots in Syria Strikes Spotted and Destroyed ISIS Vehicles

Last Shots in Syria Strikes Spotted and Destroyed ISIS Vehicles

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The overnight airstrikes that hammered ISIS targets in Syria concluded with a pair of daylight raids that spotted and then destroyed a couple of armed ISIS vehicles, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The final shots of Monday’s barrage were fired by U.S. warplanes about 9 a.m. in Syria (2 a.m. ET), officials said Tuesday.

The air raids have bombed about 20 targets inside Syria.

In addition, officials said that the targeting of a little-known off-shoot of al Qaeda was carried out because it was in the final stages of launching a terror attack on the U.S. homeland or Europe.

At the Pentagon briefing Tuesday morning, senior military officials described Monday night’s airstrikes as the “beginning” of a sustained air campaign against ISIS in Syria.

“Last night’s strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” said Lt. General William Mayville Jr ., the director of Operations for the Joint Staff.

Mayville used an alternate name for ISIS, which also calls itself the Islamic State.

Mayville also predicted that ISIS will adapt to the new airstrike campaign and maintain a lower profile. He also described ISIS as a “learning organization…and they will adapt to what we’ve done and seek to address their shortfalls and gaps in our air campaign in the coming weeks.”

Initial indications are that the airstrikes were “very successful,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.

He described the participation of five Arab nations in Monday night’s airstrikes against ISIS “as a critical part of our strategy.”

Fighter aircraft from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia participated in Monday night’s airstrikes, Qatar played a supporting role in the airstrikes.

The overwhelming majority of the munitions dropped over Syria in the airstrikes were from U.S. aircraft.

Monday’s airstrikes also targeted the Khorasan Group, an off-shoot of al Qaeda that has concerned U.S. security officials because of its plans to conduct attacks against the U.S.

“We’ve been watching this group closely for some time,” said Mayville. “We believe the Khorasan group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands.”

Mayville said the group’s attention was clearly not directed at the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people. They are “establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the West and the homeland.”

Khorasan targets near Aleppo were struck in the first wave of airstrikes that included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two U.S. Navy vessels, officials said.

“The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan Group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps,” said Mayville.

Mayville also said “we are unaware of any civilian casualties” and noted the U.S. takes the prevention of civilian casualties very seriously.

“And if any reports of civilian casualties emerge, we will fully investigate them,” he added.

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After Years of Trouble, F-22 Raptor’s First Combat Mission a ‘Success’

After Years of Trouble, F-22 Raptor’s First Combat Mission a ‘Success’

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The F-22 Raptor, one of the most expensive fighters in the world, undertook and successfully completed a combat mission for the first time ever Monday in Syria.

The next-generation Raptor, which has a total program price tag north of $79 billion, had sat out two wars and at least one previous smaller conflict since going operational in late 2005 before being called on to hit a single target in Syria Monday: an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “command and control building.”

“The flight of the F-22s delivered GPS-guided munitions, precision munitions targeting only the right side of the building,” Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters, referring to presentation slides of the operation. “And you can see that the control — the command and control center where it was located in the building was destroyed.”

The stealth F-22 has had chances to fight before – during Air Force operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan as well as its role in the no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 – but in each case the Air Force said the high-tech jet was not an “operational requirement.”

The Pentagon apparently decided the U.S.-led strikes against ISIS in Syria, for which the Syrian government says it was given warning, were different.

“Basically, we look at the aircraft and the crews that we have and we make a determination on how to portion those things, based on a lot of factors: location, nature of the target, weapons that may need to be used,” Air Force Central Command Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis told ABC News. “In this case, the F-22 was the weapon that got assigned to that particular target.”

“The mission was a success,” he added.

Previously, F-22 Raptors have been reportedly stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, one of the Arab nations that the military said participated in the strikes against ISIS in Syria. Sholtis declined to comment on where the fighters were forward deployed for this mission, except that they were in the Gulf region.

While the Air Force had said the F-22’s advanced capabilities simply weren’t necessary for the previous conflicts, the plane also suffered from troubling issues of its own.

Most disturbing were instances in which pilots reported feeling the symptoms of oxygen deprivation while flying the high-performance machines. From 2008 to 2012 pilots reported experiencing confusion, sluggishness or disorientation – sometimes even blackouts – at the controls of the plane more than two dozen times. In one instance, a pilot because so disoriented that his plane skimmed treetops before he was able to pull up and save himself. In May 2012, two Raptor pilots told CBS News’ 60 Minutes they were too afraid to fly the plane.

In another, more drastic case, Air Force pilot Capt. Jeff Haney died in a crash in 2010 after the oxygen system in his plane malfunctioned. After an investigation, the Air Force faulted Haney for failing to fly the plane properly while suffering a “sense similar to suffocation.” The plane’s manufacturers eventually settled a wrongful-death lawsuit with the Haney family.

The F-22 fleet was grounded multiple times while the Air Force investigated the oxygen issue and by late 2012 the service believed it had a handle on the problems – several small ones, rather than one big one. Eventually the planes were allowed back in the air.

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Pentagon: Airstrikes ‘Beginning’ of Air Campaign Against ISIS in Syria

Pentagon: Airstrikes ‘Beginning’ of Air Campaign Against ISIS in Syria

File photo. (Purestock/Thinkstock)(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon said Tuesday that initial indications are that the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria overnight were “very successful.”

In addition, officials said that the targeting of a little-known off-shoot of al Qaeda was carried out because it was in the final stages of launching a terror attack on the U.S. homeland or Europe.

At the Pentagon briefing Tuesday morning, senior military officials described Monday night’s airstrikes as the “beginning” of a sustained air campaign against ISIS in Syria.

“Last night’s strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” said Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., the director of Operations for the Joint Staff.

Mayville used an alternate name for ISIS, which also calls itself the Islamic State.

Mayville also predicted that ISIS will adapt to the new airstrike campaign and maintain a lower profile. He also described ISIS as a “learning organization…and they will adapt to what we’ve done and seek to address their shortfalls and gaps in our air campaign in the coming weeks.”

Initial indications are that the airstrikes were “very successful,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

He described the participation of five Arab nations in Monday night’s airstrikes against ISIS “as a critical part of our strategy.”

Fighter aircraft from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia participated in Monday night’s airstrikes, and Qatar played a supporting role.

The overwhelming majority of the munitions dropped over Syria in the airstrikes were from U.S. aircraft.

Monday’s airstrikes also targeted the Khorasan Group, an off-shoot of al Qaeda that has concerned U.S. security officials because of its plans to conduct attacks against the U.S.

“We’ve been watching this group closely for some time,” said Mayville. “We believe the Khorasan group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands.”

Mayville said the group’s attention was clearly not directed at the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people. They are “establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the west and the homeland.”

Khorasan targets near Aleppo were struck in the first wave of airstrikes that included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two U.S. Navy vessels, officials said.

“The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan Group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps,” said Mayville.

Mayville also said “we are unaware of any civilian casualties” and noted that the U.S. takes the prevention of civilian casualties very seriously.

“And if any reports of civilian casualties emerge, we will fully investigate them,” he added.

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Khorasan Terror Group Linked to Summer Airline Plot

Khorasan Terror Group Linked to Summer Airline Plot

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The “imminent” threat against the West that pushed the United States to strike the Khorasan Group in Syria Monday is linked to the same terrorist efforts that ABC News first disclosed this summer, just before the U.S. government announced heightened security measures for air travelers overseas, sources said Tuesday.

The little-known Khorasan Group was “nearing the execution phase for an attack in Europe or the homeland,” and airstrikes overnight “removed their capability to act,” senior law enforcement and intelligence officials told ABC News Tuesday.

But prior to the strikes, ABC News reported earlier this year that U.S. officials learned that a particularly extreme “subset” of terrorist groups in Syria was working alongside operatives from al Qaeda’s prolific offshoot in Yemen to produce “creative” new designs for bombs packed into electronic devices like cellphones or laptops, sources said. The officials did not identify the group at the time.

Specifically, associates of the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria — the al Nusrah Front — and radicals from other groups were teaming up with elements of the Yemen-based group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to potentially down a U.S.- or Europe-bound plane, with help from one of the thousands of Americans and other foreign fighters carrying U.S. and European passports who have joined extremist groups in the region.

The group was made up of “seasoned Al Qaeda veterans” who had found a “safe haven” in Syria where they were able to “construct and test improvised explosive devices,” one senior intelligence official said Tuesday. The joint effort with AQAP, which built such innovative devices as the “underwear bomb” that ultimately failed to detonate in a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, made the threat out of Syria “more frightening than anything” else the Obama administration had seen, Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News in July.

The threat prompted airports overseas to increase security measures that month. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security announced that if some overseas passengers flying to the United States want to bring cellphones and other electronic devices onboard with them, they would have to show that the devices can turn on.

On ABC News’ Good Morning America Tuesday Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the Khorasan Group was “very dangerous” and there was “active plotting going on for an attack on the U.S. homeland.”

As part of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria, FBI Director James Comey has said the government is spending “a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to identify” anyone who’s gone to Syria, but “the challenge” is not missing anyone.

More than 12,000 foreign fighters, including more than 100 Americans, have now joined tens of thousands of other fighters operating in Syria and neighboring Iraq, where ISIS is now wreaking havoc and recruiting more Westerners to fight.

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David Cameron: Queen ‘Purred’ When She Heard Scotland Vote Outcome

David Cameron: Queen ‘Purred’ When She Heard Scotland Vote Outcome

Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON) — Does the Queen of England purr? Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron says so.

Cameron was caught on camera saying the Queen “purred down the line” out of happiness when he called to tell her that Scotland voted last week to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Cameron was describing how nervous he was about the possibility Scotland would become an independent country in a conversation with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, broadcast Tuesday on Sky News.

Upon learning that Scotland wouldn’t be seceding after all, he called Queen Elizabeth II to relay the good news, Cameron told Bloomberg.

“It should never have been that close. It wasn’t in the end,” Cameron said, adding a joke about the stress the polls brought him.

“I’ve said I want to find these polling companies and I want to sue them for my stomach ulcers because of what they put me through,” he added. “It was very nervous.”

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Rodents Arrive at International Space Station Aboard SpaceX Dragon

Rodents Arrive at International Space Station Aboard SpaceX Dragon

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Twenty rodents were among the cargo that arrived at the International Space Station Tuesday aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The reusable Dragon spacecraft, which is on its fourth cargo re-supply mission to the orbiting station, docked Tuesday morning at the ISS, where it will spend the next four weeks before splashing into the Pacific Ocean, SpaceX officials said.

The trip marked the first time Dragon carried live mammals, which will live in NASA’s Rodent Research Facility where researchers will study the long-term impact of weightlessness on their bodies.

Also on board was the first 3-D printer launched into space. It could potentially crank out spare parts that will allow astronauts to one day fix their vessel on the spot.

Dragon arrived at the ISS with a total of 5,000 pounds of cargo, including science experiments, crew supplies and spacewalk equipment, according to NASA.

When it’s time to return to Earth, Dragon will be loaded up with cargo to be sent back to Earth. Once the capsule is released, it will perform three burns to send it on a path away from the ISS.

SpaceX projects that five hours after leaving the ISS, Dragon will conduct a de-orbit burn, lasting about 10 minutes. The capsule will then take about a half hour to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean, about 380 miles off the coast of California, where it can then be retrieved for future missions.

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What Is the Khorasan Group, Targeted by US in Syria?

What Is the Khorasan Group, Targeted by US in Syria?

Al Qaeda operative Muhsin al-Fadhli. (Rewards for Justice)(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. military said Tuesday that by striking a little known terror cell called the Khorasan Group in Syria, it was able to take out dangerous men who were “plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western targets to include the U.S. homeland.”

In the midst of the well-publicized campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the military’s first official announcement that a different, potentially more deadly terror group existed, that it’s members were planning an “imminent” attack on America and that those planning the attack had been killed in the U.S.-led bombing campaign all came as something of a surprise, considering that for the public, the group was virtually unheard of until a few days ago.

So here’s what we know so far about the mysterious Khorasan Group:

What Is the Khorasan Group?

The Khorasan Group is a relatively small al Qaeda unit — made up of just some 50 hardened fighters with mixing jihadist affiliations, according to a half-dozen officials with knowledge of the group. As the U.S. military’s Central Command put it, they are “seasoned al Qaeda veterans.”

Back in June, ABC News reported that an alliance had been building inside Syria between al Qaeda operatives there and those from al Qaeda’s dangerous Yemen-based branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), home to expert bomb makers. Sources told ABC News Tuesday that some of those allied jihadis, then unidentified, made up the Khorasan Group.

The group is not thought to be affiliated with ISIS, which had a public falling out with al Qaeda earlier this year. In fact, the Khorasan Group’s leader may have been tasked with fighting ISIS in Syria as well as the West, according to government documents and reports in the Long War Journal, as part of the larger, violent conflict between ISIS and al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front.

The word Khorasan denotes greater Afghanistan, parts of central Asia and China’s Xinxiang province. The term has religious significance in the context of jihad and several organizations in the region use the name in various ways.

Who’s Their Leader?

The Khorasan Group is believed to led by Muhsin al-Fadhili, a Kuwaiti native. While there’s scant information about the organization he leads, al-Fadhli has a long international rap sheet.

He’s wanted in the U.S. for his work as an “Iran-based senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier,” according to the State Department, and is suspected of being one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted operatives — one of the few aware of the 9/11 attacks before they happened.

Al-Fadhli, 33, was designated a terrorist by the U.S. back in 2005 for providing “financial and material support to the al-Zarqawi Network and al Qaeda,” the State Department said. Ironically over the years the al-Zarqawi Network in Iraq would mutate into what is now ISIS.

“…[P]rior to that [al-Fadhli] was involved in several terrorist attacks that took place October 2002, including the attacks on the French ship MV Limburg and against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait,” the U.S. Treasury said.

The United Nations added al-Fadhli to its al Qaeda Sanctions Committee list in 2005 as well. The same year, President George W. Bush mentioned al-Fadhli, then just 23, by name in a speech, saying that the U.S., working with others, would “bring him to justice.”

The State Department offers a $7 million reward for information leading to his capture. While the U.S. military said Khorasan Group individuals were killed in the recent strikes, they did not identify any specifically.

What Does the Khorasan Group Want with the U.S.?

Unlike ISIS, which is attempting to establish an Islamic kingdom centered in Syria and Iraq through large land grabs and local governance, U.S. officials say that as an al Qaeda group, Khorasan’s goal is to attack the West in spectacular fashion — and that such plots appear to be “imminent.”

“We had very good indications that this group, which is a very dangerous group, was plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western target to include the U.S. homeland,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “We knew that there was active plotting going on for an attack on the U.S. homeland.”

Later, Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters the U.S. believed Khorasan Group to be “nearing the execution phase” for an attack in Europe or the American homeland, likely using Western recruits to execute the plot.

AQAP, the terror group’s Yemen affiliate from which some Khorasan fighters are said to come and home to al Qaeda’s master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, has managed multiple times to get explosives on board U.S.-bound aircraft, but each either failed to explode or was intercepted before its final destination. In one case, a refined version of an underwear bomb was smuggled out of the terror group’s control by an insider who was actually working for allied spy agencies.

In ABC News’ June report, sources said groups inside Syria, now believed to include the Khorasan Group, were working to produce new and “creative” designs for explosives that could evade airport security. In July, the Department of Homeland Security increased security at airports and announced that “powerless” electronic devices would not be allowed on board a plane.

Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials told ABC News Tuesday that the Khorasan Group was the cause of the heightened security.

But After the Airstrikes, Are They Still a Threat?

Kirby said that the military believes that “the individuals that were plotting and planning it have been eliminated” but said the military is going to “continue…to assess the effectiveness of our strikes going through today.”

Security sources told ABC News they feared Kirby’s statement was too certain and said that the group was more likely just degraded in the strikes.

When asked if there was a continuing threat to the U.S., Mayville asked that the military be given “some time to assess” the strikes.

In an address to the nation Tuesday, President Obama said of the strikes on Khorasan that “once again it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

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White House Unveils New Landmine Policy

White House Unveils New Landmine Policy

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration announced a new policy on anti-personnel landmines (APL) Tuesday, pledging for the first time not to use them or encourage others to use them anywhere in the world outside the Korean Peninsula.

A statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby describes how the U.S. will carry out the policy: “Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel fully supports the changes to U.S. anti-personnel landmine (APL) policy announced by the president today.  The department will not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula; will not assist, encourage, or induce others outside the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity prohibited by the Ottawa Convention; and will undertake steps to begin the destruction of APLs not required for the defense of South Korea.”

The United States’ new policy is described as a step closer to signing the Ottawa Convention, a treaty signed by 160 countries against the use and production of APL.

The U.S. also plans to destroy its stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines that are not in Korea.

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Airstrikes ‘Successful’ Against ISIS Targets in Syria, US Military Says

Airstrikes ‘Successful’ Against ISIS Targets in Syria, US Military Says

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The United States launched several airstrikes against ISIS targets inside Syria for the first time late Monday in what a defense official said was a “successful” start in a new front in the battle against the terror group and, separately, in potentially averting an imminent threat to the homeland from a shadowy al Qaeda group.

While the United States is still “assessing the effectiveness” of the bombing campaign against ISIS, which included up to 20 targets, the Pentagon believes “that we were successful in hitting what we were aiming at,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

“We took out command-and-control facilities, supply depots, some training areas, some vehicles and trucks, that kind of thing. Mainly, what we were going after was this group’s ability to sustain itself, to resource itself and to, frankly, command and control and lead their forces,” Kirby told Good Morning America, referring to ISIS.

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Many of the targets were in and around Raqqa, Syria, believed to be an ISIS stronghold, a defense official said Monday. Several Arab nations took part in the U.S.-led operation: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. military’s Central Command said early Tuesday.

Separately, the U.S. military unilaterally launched eight strikes against the Khorasan Group, a little-known al Qaeda cell that Kirby said was “plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western targets to include the U.S. homeland.”

“It was on that basis that we struck targets, Khorasan targets, inside Syria. We believe the individuals [who] were plotting and planning it have been eliminated and we’re going to continue, as I said, to assess the effectiveness of our strikes going through today,” he said.

In a national address Sept. 10, President Obama said the first part of his strategy to counter ISIS was to “conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists.”

“Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL [ISIS] in Syria as well as Iraq,” Obama said. “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The stealth F-22 Raptor took part in the mission, a U.S. defense official said, marking the first time the pricey, controversial aircraft has been used in a combat operation.

In recent weeks, a self-described ISIS militant is believed to have killed two Americans on camera — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff — as well a British aid worker. The group is suspected of holding at least two more Americans and has publicly threatened a second Briton.

As of earlier Tuesday, the U.S. had launched nearly 200 strikes against ISIS in Iraq.

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power Sunday told ABC News’ This Week America would not conduct airstrikes in Syria alone. But already Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that some 40 countries, including a number of Arab nations, have offered various levels of support to the anti-ISIS effort. France announced last week it would join in airstrikes in the battle against ISIS.

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is the name taken in 2013 by what was originally an al Qaeda affiliate called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In 2011, AQI moved into Syria, taking advantage of the country’s civil war to gain power and recruits.

By 2013, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had spread his group’s influence back into Iraq and changed the group’s name to ISIS, “reflecting its greater regional ambitions,” according to the State Department.

The group, which is no longer affiliated with al Qaeda after a public falling out earlier this year, is believed to have up to 30,000 members, including thousands of foreign recruits, hundreds of them Westerners. Using brutal tactics including the alleged mass execution of civilians and captured soldiers, the terror group has been able to control territory in Syria and cut a swath through Iraq.

ISIS, as the group has been identified by ABC News and other news organizations, refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Different translations of the Arabic name al-Baghdadi gave his organization have spawned other English-language versions, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (also ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

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Attack on ISIS: Dispatches on the Way from the Syrian Border

Attack on ISIS: Dispatches on the Way from the Syrian Border

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Turkish-Syrian border remains in flux as thousands of distressed families who fled ISIS are now debating whether or not it is safe to return in the wake of the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.

The clashes between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces drove families into refugee camps just across the Turkish border.

Some of those refugees are expecting immediate results from Monday’s airstrikes. As ABC News’ Alexander Marquardt reports, many are heading back to their homeland, hoping that the strikes were effective at pushing back the extremists.

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Here are some of his dispatches from along the border:

Pentagon says 14 strikes carried out in #Syria near Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, Hasakah and Abu Kamal. Hit #ISIS fighters, training, HQs, storage…

— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) September 23, 2014

Beautiful scenery on the way out to the #Syria border from Gaziantep #Turkey pic.twitter.com/R7XIPLV2IA

— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) September 23, 2014

UNHCR now saying 138,000 Kurdish refugees now crossed into #Turkey from #Syria since the mass exodus began 5 days ago.

— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) September 23, 2014

#Turkey troops at the Mursitpinar crossing with #Syria. Fairly calm, no one crossing. pic.twitter.com/3pu68pL5v8

— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) September 23, 2014

A field of new tents for Kurdish refugees from #Syria, just outside Suruc #Turkey pic.twitter.com/xK3sZrTMBk

— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) September 23, 2014

Inside one of the new refugee tents outside Suruc #Turkey pic.twitter.com/UQKlK9DHYH

— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) September 23, 2014

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Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

By the Numbers: US Strikes ISIS in Syria

By the Numbers: US Strikes ISIS in Syria

ABC News(TAMPA, Fla.) — The United States and its allies expanded its fight against ISIS with airstrikes in Syria on Monday that included a barrage of firepower using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and F-22 Raptor fighters, officials said.

The operation marks the first time the United States has launched strikes in Syria, a new front in the battle against the terror group.

Here is a look at the weapons the U.S. used Monday in Syria, per U.S. Central Command, and the ongoing fight in Iraq:

THE AIRSTRIKES

  • Total airstrikes in Syria overnight: 22
  • Total airstrikes against ISIS in Syria overnight: 14
  • Total airstrikes against Khorasan Group in Syria overnight: 8
  • Total new airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq (carried out Monday): 4
  • Total airstrikes that have been carried out against ISIS in Iraq: 194

ISIS TARGETS HIT IN SYRIA

  • Fighters
  • Training compounds
  • Headquarters
  • Command and control facilities
  • Storage facilities
  • Finance center
  • Supply trucks
  • Armed vehicles

ISIS TARGETS DESTROYED IN FOUR NEW U.S. STRIKES IN IRAQ

  • 2 Humvees
  • 1 armed vehicle
  • 1 fighting position (southwest of Kirkuk)

TARGETS OF EIGHT U.S. STRIKES ON KHORASAN GROUP IN SYRIA

  • 1 explosives and munitions production facility
  • 1 communication building
  • Training camps
  • Command and control facilities

WHAT THE U.S. USED TO CARRY OUT THE STRIKES

  • 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched by 2 U.S. ships
  • U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter, remotely piloted and bomber aircraft deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations (F-22 Raptor fighters, B-1 bombers, F/A-18 Navy fighters, Air Force F-15E’s, F-16’s and F-22’s)
  • Predator and Reaper drones were also flying, but only one dropped bombs.

COUNTRIES INVOLVED

  • Countries involved in Syria strikes: 6
  • Number of Arab nations joining the U.S. in Syria strikes: 5

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In Syria Strikes, US Also Targets Al Qaeda’s Shadowy Khorasan Group

In Syria Strikes, US Also Targets Al Qaeda’s Shadowy Khorasan Group

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Airstrikes by the U.S. and its allies not only pounded the powerful ISIS terrorist army, but also a shadowy al Qaeda unit known as the Khorasan Group, formed in Syria to strike both Western civilian aviation targets as well as their former allies who formed the Islamic caliphate stretching across northern Iraq, U.S. officials said.

The Khorasan Group — consisting of about 50 or so hardened fighters of mixed past and current jihadi affiliations — has been holed up in Aleppo, Syria under the protection of al Qaeda’s official wing in the country, Jabhat al-Nusra, developing cutting edge weapons of terror with the help of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, according to a half-dozen officials with knowledge of the group who spoke to ABC News.

The U.S. — acting alone rather than with Arab coalition partners such as in the ISIS strikes — undertook at least eight strikes on the Khorasan Group’s hideouts Monday night in the Aleppo area west of the ISIS strongholds in Raqqa, which were hammered in the sudden air offensive, U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said in a statement.

The strikes on the Khorasan Group were made “to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans… who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations,” Centcom said.

The tiny group’s potential threat to the U.S. homeland stemming from experiments with next-generation undetectable bombs — consisting of non-metallic components — made the massive airstrikes critically urgent to thwart a clear and present danger, several officials told ABC News.

“They are taking the knowledge of [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] AQAP’s master bombmaker and experimenting with their own designs for undetectable IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices],” one senior counterterrorism official recently told ABC News regarding the Khorasan Group’s threat.

Over the past year, the U.S. and European allies have tightened up airline security measures because of intelligence that terrorists were making new, nearly-undetectable improvised explosive devices within toothpaste tubes or with clothing dipped in liquid explosives, as ABC News has reported since mid-2013.

The operatives in the terror team in Khorasan — the colloquial name al Qaeda uses for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region — waged jihad under Osama bin Laden’s leadership and migrated to Syria under the command of a wanted terror leader with a $7 million U.S. bounty named Mushin al-Fadhli, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official. The 33-year old Kuwaiti also goes by “Abu Samia” and was designated for U.S. asset freezes in 2005 as a facilitator for al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before leading al Qaeda in Iran despite being under house arrest by that nation’s ruling mullahs, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

After al-Nusra and al Qaeda’s relationship with ISIS soured last year — which was originally slain leader Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq group — al-Fadhli was tasked with not only planning against Western targets but also targeting the terrorists he once worked to support in Iraq, according to government documents and the Long War Journal.

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Paris Locks Down on Bridge ‘Love Locks’

Paris Locks Down on Bridge ‘Love Locks’

iStock/Thinkstock(PARIS) — Tourists around the world know Paris as the city of love. But the river Seine will soon be without some of its most popular symbols of romance.

For years, visitors to the French capital have expressed their undying love by attaching padlocks, often with names or messages inscribed on them, to the railings of some of the city’s iconic bridges. But city officials in Paris announced a plan this weekend to remove the lock-laden railings and replace them with thick glass panels, paving the way for a potential end to the practice.

Authorities and residents of the City of Light have voiced disapproval for the budding tradition since the practice began. One of the leading critics of the locks is Lisa Taylor Huff, whose “No Love Locks” campaign began in January.

“Parisians, most of them, really hate these love locks,” Huff told ABC News. “It’s vandalism, and it’s taken the ambiance away from the bridges.”

François Charlottin, a graduate student in Paris, agreed. “Most people here find those locks really ugly,” he told ABC News. “Imagine you’re trying to get a perfect picture on the Seine and you can’t see past the locks on the bridge.”

The locks first started appearing on bridges in Paris around 2008, shortly after young couples in Italy began attaching padlocks to the Ponte Milvio, a bridge over Rome’s Tiber River, apparently mimicking the protagonists of a popular Italian novel.

“This really captured people’s imaginations,” Huff said. “After Rome started banning the locks, couples from all over Europe were coming to Paris.”

In Italy, officials began to crack down after the padlocks began to pile up, along with graffiti and chains, which damaged the ancient Roman bridge. A similar process is now under way in Paris.

Although groups like Huff’s have been petitioning the city government for months, it was only after a parapet on the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of the locks in June that the city got serious about putting an end to the practice. Another rail collapsed a month later, requiring repairs.

Now, city officials in Paris are experimenting with panels of thick, shatterproof and graffiti-resistant glass to protect the bridges from further lock-related damage. Two panels were put up on the Pont des Arts, replacing the older railings. Huff said she expected a third panel in the next few weeks.

“The Pont des Arts is a lightweight pedestrian bridge,” Huff said. “Some of the railings have 500 kilograms of locks by the time the city removes them. The one that collapsed in June weighed 700 kilograms.”

Other Parisians see the locks as a tourist gimmick that damages the legacy of the city’s architectural history.

“It’s becoming a part of city life, but it’s not a Parisian symbol,” said Charlottin. “It’s really only for the foreign tourists.”

Add those aesthetic concerns, the mounting costs of maintaining the bridges and replacing the railings every few weeks as they filled with locks, and the city’s decision appeared inevitable to lock critics such as Huff.

“They’re a costly problem for the city and also a safety hazard,” Huff said. “To us, this riverfront is something the city has an obligation to preserve.”

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