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Romanista/iStock/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) — The operation to liberate Iraq’s second largest city from the Islamic State is advancing “more quickly” than expected, Prime Minister Haider Alabadi said Thursday as an Iraqi-led coalition of forces captured several more villages around Mosul.

On the fourth day of the massive military offensive, Kurdish forces known as peshmerga bombarded ISIS positions in areas north and east of Mosul with artillery and mortar fire before launching a fresh ground assault at dawn this morning.

According to peshmerga commanders, their forces have so far taken the towns of Barima, North Smaqa, South Smaqa, Fazilya, Nawaran, Imam Razil and the village of Dere. The troops are working to clear booby traps and IEDs from all the settlements under ISIS rule.

The peshmerga commanders told ABC News that Thursday morning’s operation aimed to clear more of the outlying villages around Mosul and to tighten the noose around the Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

Meanwhile, to the south of Mosul, the Iraqi army is carefully pushing forward. They’re encountering booby-trapped explosives and fierce resistance from ISIS militants in some villages on the outskirts.

Iraqi special forces joined the fight for Mosul Thursday morning. Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi said the elite troops, also known as counterterrorism forces, advanced on the town of Bartella with the aid of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery. The special forces are expected to lead the way into Mosul.

“God willing, we will take this town today,” he said of Bartella, which ISIS seized in 2014.

On Monday, about 18,000 Iraqi forces, 10,000 peshmerga and a few thousand Iraqi federal police launched the operation to free the strategic city from more than two years of ISIS control. Roughly 100 American advisers are also involved in the mission, which is divided into two fronts — one west of the Great Zab River and the other just north of Qayyarah.

Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, the top U.S. military ground commander in Iraq, said 13 Iraqi villages were liberated from ISIS rule on Wednesday during the operation to retake Mosul.

“The Iraqis are ahead of where I thought they would be when this operation started,” Volesky told reporters at a press conference. “They want to get there quickly. But again, it’s a hard fight.”

On the first day of the offensive, ISIS fighters used car and truck bombs to defend against Iraqi and Kurdish forces. On the second day, the militants used them to attack the forces to cover the pullback of their own fighters into Mosul’s urban areas — a tactic that’s not been seen before, Volesky said.

As the fighting intensifies, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis” looms as up to a million civilians are expected to flee Mosul in the coming days and weeks.

“The challenges in this scenario are unprecedented. We don’t often have up to one million people potentially on the move; it’s very rare in scale and size,” said UNICEF regional emergency adviser Bastien Vigneau.

At least 200,000 people are expected to be displaced in the first two weeks of the operation to free Mosul and as many as 1.5 million civilians are estimated to remain in the city. Of the 1 million who could become displaced, approximately half are children.

The first trickle of people fleeing the fighting was spotted on Thursday. Mostly women and children were seen escaping towns and villages around Mosul as they picked their way across perilous battle lines while trying to evade ISIS fighters. Many of them carried a white flag as a sign of peace and waved it over their heads while crossing over no-man’s land, hoping it will identify them as unarmed civilians.

According to the International Rescue Committee, many refugees have told the aid agency stories about residents buying as much white cloth as they can find and preparing their escape plans for when the time comes. Many have also lost loved ones and are struggling to secure enough food to feed their families.

“People are very scared that they will be accidentally hit by missiles and many residents can’t sleep at night because of the noise of heavy bombardments in the city,” Paul Donohoe, senior media officer at International Rescue Committee, told ABC News.

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Desiree Navarro/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — MetLife just put Snoopy in the dog house.

For over 30 years, Snoopy has been the face of MetLife Insurance, appearing on sales and marketing materials and even the company’s blimps. On Thursday the “Peanuts” character was given the pink slip.

The insurance company announced that it was ending its 31-year relationship with the beloved cartoon character in 2017, as it shifts its brand strategy toward “a clean, modern aesthetic.”

“We brought in Snoopy over 30 years ago to make our company more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant. Snoopy helped drive our business and served an important role at the time,” said Esther Lee, global chief marketing officer of MetLife, in a statement.

“As we focus on our future, it’s important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers,” Lee added.

The company said it wanted to bring “contemporary blue and green colors together in a symbol of partnership to form an M for MetLife” in its new branding.

Snoopy’s exact age isn’t known, though he came onto the scene when his first cartoon was reportedly published in October of 1950. He’s the creation of cartoonist Charles Schulz.

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Mahmud Rslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) — A photo of a young Syrian boy covered in dust and blood in an ambulance that was viewed by millions and became the face of Aleppo’s suffering is being called fake by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a claim that contradicts numerous witness accounts on the ground in Syria.

The boy, five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, was pulled from a destroyed building in the besieged part of Aleppo’s Qaterji neighborhood after a Syrian or Russian airstrike on Aug. 17, according to locals, including medical sources and the White Helmets, a volunteer civil defense group that rescued the boy. On social media, many users said that they were particularly moved by his photo because he looked dazed and confused and wasn’t crying despite the obvious injury to his head.

A video showing Omran touching his wounded head and wiping away the blood without shedding a tear went viral and has come to symbolize the humanitarian suffering in Aleppo. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton mentioned the boy’s story in two of the presidential debates, including last night’s.

Now, the Syrian president has said that the photo of Omran is fake. When confronted with the photo in an interview with Swiss TV SRF1 and asked what he would say to Omran and his family, Assad responded: “We have real pictures of children being harmed, but this one specifically is a forged one.”

Assad makes the claim about nine minutes into the televised interview.

Medical sources in Aleppo confirmed to ABC News in August that they treated Omran following the airstrike.

“Omran was scared and dazed at the same time. He wasn’t crying at all. It seemed like he had been asleep when it happened,” Mohammad, a surgeon in Aleppo who treated him, told ABC News at the time. “He was very lucky. He only had a simple wound in the scalp. We cleaned and stitched the wound and cleaned his face and clothes. There was no brain damage, and he was discharged after two hours,” Mohammad said.

Mohamed Abu Rajab, a radiologist who treated the 5-year-old, told ABC News that “Omran looked very, very shocked and frightened. In the beginning, he didn’t speak at all. But after his treatment, he started crying and yelling, “father, mother.’ His parents were very, very affected and scared for their son and crying. But we comforted them and told them that the wound was superficial. But he wasn’t speaking so it seemed like his condition was very serious. It seemed like he was unconscious and like the wound had affected his brain. But it turned out that he was fine.”

Omran’s older brother later died from his injuries from the same attack, according to monitoring groups, activists and doctors in Aleppo.

The hospital where he was treated has since been completely destroyed by repeated airstrikes and is now out of service, according to medical staff who worked there and the Syrian American Medical Foundation, which supported the hospital.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Jobless claims slumped last week, increasing by 13,000, according to the latest figures released Thursday by the Labor Department.

For the week ending Oct. 15, the number of people filing for benefits climbed from the previous week’s revised level of 247,000 the previous week to 260,000, marking the 85th consecutive week initial jobless claims came in below 300,000. It’s the longest streak since 1970fj, the Labor Department says.

The Labor Department said there were no “special factors” impacting that week’s figures.

The four-week moving average decreased by 2,250 to 251,750.

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Amnesty International(LONDON) — International human rights group Amnesty International released dramatic drone footage and satellite imagery showing whole areas of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo in ruins, in a plea to the United Nations and the international community to put a stop to the “bloodshed and destruction,” it says is being wrought on the civilian population there.

“The world’s inaction in the face of the continuing carnage and blatant violations in Aleppo city must end,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office. “Syrian government forces, with the support of Russia, have launched relentless attacks that have flagrantly disregarded fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.”

Calling the Russian and Syrian governments’ self-imposed humanitarian pause in the bombings “woefully inadequate,” Amnesty called for “impartial humanitarian relief and an end to unlawful attacks.” Russia has said the rebel groups and civilians should evacuate the besieged area. The rebel groups have rebuked Russia’s call to leave, saying it amounts to surrender.

The group released drone footage showing craters and large areas of the densely-populated city that have been leveled. At least 600 airstrikes targeted the city in the span of just three weeks after the collapse of the U.S.-Russia backed ceasefire on September 19, Amnesty said, resulting in at least 400 civilian deaths.

Some 90 separate locations were damaged or destroyed over a one-week period in an area roughly the size of Manhattan, New York City, the group said, adding that it documented a series of attacks that appear to have purposefully struck civilian targets such as residential homes, medical facilities, schools, markets and mosques.

Since Sept. 21, 14 medical facilities have been hit by airstrikes, putting many of them out of service, according to the Syrian American Medical Society.

“I arrived at al-Sakhour hospital three hours after the attack had happened,” a witness to one of the strikes told Amnesty. “The closest front line is around 300 meters away.”

In some instances, Amnesty says, internationally-banned Russian-made cluster munitions were used in attacks.

“Syrian government forces claim to be attacking non-state armed groups but the real objective is clear: to inflict severe suffering on the civilian population in order to drive them out,” Maalouf added.

Amnesty says that some 70 countries will call for a “clear message” to be sent in a meeting today to the United Nations Security Council, urging it to do everything in its power to “bring an end to the cycle of war crimes in Syria.”

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Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — California Attorney General Kamala Harris has launched a criminal investigation into whether Wells Fargo employees committed false impersonation and identity theft as part of an accounts scandal that has engulfed the bank in recent weeks.

The opening of the investigation comes more than a month after the bank was fined $185 million amid allegations that employees had opened as many as 2 million credit and deposit accounts without customers’ knowledge or permission.

Documents shared with ABC News include a search warrant requesting, among other things, documents and data related to bank products and services “that have been identified as being created or issued for the Customer without the Customer’s consent,” between May 2011 and July 2015.

According to the warrant, investigators are also requesting the the names and other identifying information for employees and managers who may have opened or authorized the opening of accounts allegedly without customers’ permission.

Asked about the California investigation, a Wells Fargo spokesman said that the bank was cooperating by providing the requested information.

A spokesperson for the California Attorney General’s office did not offer further details.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — U.S. stocks closed higher Wednesday for a second day, as oil prices rallied.

The Dow added 40.68 (+0.22 percent) to finish at 18,202.62.

The Nasdaq gained 2.57 (+0.05 percent) to close at 5,246.41, while the S&P 500 finished at 2,144.29, up 4.69 (+0.22 percent) from its open.

Crude oil rose about 1 percent with prices hitting under $52 a barrel.

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Courtesy Chris Kiley(NEW YORK) — A man in Connecticut figured out how to turn Samsung’s nightmare – exploding Galaxy Note 7s that had to be recalled and ultimately taken off the market, reportedly costing the company billions – into his Halloween costume.

Chris Kiley, 32, said he is a lifelong Apple fan who got the idea to give Samsung “a little bit of ribbing” this Halloween when he realized he could use his vaporizer to create smoke.

The Note 7s were first under an exchange program and then recalled after multiple reports of the smartphones overheating and exploding while charging. When reports surfaced of similar incidents with the replacements, Samsung permanently halted production on the model and the FAA banned them from flights to, from or within the U.S.

“There was so much misinformation and unclear information about what to do,” Kiley said of Samsung’s response. “So it’s topical and when the idea came to me with the vaporizer I thought, ‘Oh that would be amazing.’”

To make his costume, Kiley collected a handful of discarded Note 7 boxes. He drilled holes into the boxes and then used hot glue to attach them onto an old t-shirt.

He used connectors to split plastic tubing into the different Note 7 boxes on his shirt. The tubing then goes up to his mouth and he can create smoke by exhaling into the tube.

A Facebook video Kiley posted of his costume has received more than 2.5 million views since Friday.

“Overall, people get it for the lighthearted joke that it is,” he said about the huge response. “Samsung does normally make a good phone so it’s not really punching down.”

He said he thinks the company can handle the joke. “They’re on top, so they can take a little bit of ribbing.”

Samsung is telling customers they can exchange their Galaxy Note 7 phones for another Samsung smartphone, or receive a refund.

Kiley said the idea of creating a smoking Note 7 costume also appealed to him because he was looking for a couple’s costume. His fiancé now plans to dress up as a firefighter.

“The costume hasn’t left my room since I made it but now I’m looking at some costume contests,” he said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A suspected Russian hacker has been arrested in the Czech Republic for his alleged role in a cyber-attack on social media giant LinkedIn, sources told ABC News.

The man, so far unidentified by U.S. authorities, was taken into custody by Czech National Police in Prague, based on a “red notice” issued by Interpol, the FBI said in a statement.

While the FBI has not confirmed the alleged hacker’s ties to the LinkedIn breach, the agency’s statement said he is “suspected of conducting criminal activities targeting U.S. interests.”

In May, LinkedIn announced it “was the victim of an unauthorized access” four years earlier that exposed email addresses and passwords of more than 100 million users — which were reportedly offered for sale on the dark web.

The 27-year-old suspect was arrested two weeks ago in the restaurant of a Prague hotel, sources told ABC News. During the arrest, they said, he collapsed and was then taken to a nearby hospital.

U.S. prosecutors are asking Czech authorities to extradite him to the U.S. so he can face federal charges in San Francisco.

The Russian government said it will try to block the extradition, amid growing tensions between the United States and Russia over cyber-attacks on U.S. targets that the government believes originate in Russia.

“We don’t accept U.S. policy of imposing its extraterritorial jurisdiction on all countries,” Alexei Vladimirovich Kolmakov, a spokesman with the Russian Embassy in Prague, told ABC News. “We insist that the detained Russian citizen is transferred to Russia.”

In its statement, the FBI vowed to go after hackers wherever they may be.

“As cyber crime can originate anywhere in the world, international cooperation is crucial to successfully defeat cyber adversaries,” the statement said.

The arrest in Prague comes only days after U.S. authorities made a rare public accusation, blaming the Russian government for an onslaught of cyber-attacks on Americans political targets including the Democratic National Committee. Sources have also blamed Russian hackers for targeting voter-related systems in nearly half of the U.S. states.

As ABC News first reported, hackers were able to successfully access voter-related information in four states by targeting not only government systems, but also by breaking into computers associated with private contractors hired to handle voter information.

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T-Mobile(WASHINGTON) — The nation’s number three wireless carrier was fined Wednesday after touting “unlimited” plans that weren’t so unlimited.

The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday T-Mobile will pay $48 million “as part of a settlement resolving an investigation into whether the company adequately disclosed speed and data restrictions for its ‘unlimited’ data plan subscribers.”

According to the agency, T-Mobile would slow down the Internet speeds of heavy data users without telling customers how much use would trigger the lower speed.

“Consumers should not have to guess whether so-called ‘unlimited’ data plans contain key restrictions, like speed constraints, data caps, and other material limitations,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc said in a statement. “When broadband providers are accurate, honest and upfront in their ads and disclosures, consumers aren’t surprised and they get what they’ve paid for.”

The settlement includes $35.5 million in “consumer benefits” offered to T-Mobile and Metro PCS customers and a $7.5 million fine.

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