About the author  ⁄ WFIN

zabelin/iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) — The militant group Islamic State, or ISIS, just achieved what is being called its most significant victory in Iraq in the past year, after militants overtook the city of Ramadi.

More than 500 people were reportedly killed as militants advanced into the capital of Iraq’s largest province, but U.S. officials looked to downplay the strategic nature of the victory, calling it a “setback.”

Watch the ABC News digital original video below to learn more about the loss of Ramadi and what it means for the fight against ISIS.

ABC News Videos | ABC Entertainment News

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

Courtesy Mueller Family(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. government is “looking into” whether an ISIS leader killed by U.S. special operations forces in Syria over the weekend had been given a 26-year-old female American hostage as a forced bride or slave, as ABC News has previously reported, according to a top American lawmaker.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, became the first U.S. official to go on the record about the potential link between ISIS oil and gas “emir” Abu Sayyaf and aid worker Kayla Mueller, of Prescott, Arizona, who was killed while in ISIS custody in February. Schiff declined to discuss the purported link further.

ABC News first reported in February that officials suspected Mueller had been given in forced marriage to a senior ISIS figure last year, and Saturday a counter-terrorism official identified that figure as Sayyaf.

Being given over to Sayyaf would have taken Mueller out of immediate danger of being beheaded on video, like three of her fellow American hostages who met that grisly fate. But on Feb. 10, ISIS announced Mueller had been killed in a coalition airstrike — with the White House quickly confirming her death but denying it was in an airstrike, without elaborating.

The Mueller family has declined to comment on the weekend Syria raid through their spokesperson, who said they are monitoring developments.

Sayyaf was the target of the first known ground force assault to capture a terrorist leader inside Syria by 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, a U.S. counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit known as Delta Force and Combat Applications Group. Officials told ABC News that the plan was to interrogate Sayyaf and possibly charge him in federal court in New York for terrorism offenses – as well as Mueller’s death, if evidence warranted it.

American commandos in a pitched firefight with a large number of ISIS defenders at a compound near an oil site — who at times engaged in hand-to-hand combat in an urban compound filled with women and children, according to officials — were forced to kill Sayyaf “when he engaged U.S. forces,” the National Security Council said in a statement announcing the operation on Saturday.

The American team rescued a young Yezidi woman held as a slave by Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife, Umm Sayyaf, who officials said is being interrogated in Iraq about “any information she may have regarding hostages – including American citizens who were held by ISIL [ISIS],” NSC spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said on Saturday.

Umm Sayyaf is being interrogated now by a team of American specialists and is so far being cooperative, two counter-terrorism officials told ABC News.

“We’ll look at the intelligence we got,” Schiff said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Tuesday. “Part of what we’ll be looking at is whether Sayyaf, the husband and wife, had a role in hostage taking or… ransoming of hostages.”

It is now believed that Mueller at times lived in the same house that was the objective of the U.S. special mission unit, one official said.

Mueller’s parents were notified of the raid prior to its launch, whereas some other families were told about it in the hours after it was over and the team had returned to Iraq with the freed Yezidi captive and the target’s wife, sources said.

“Given the number of hostile forces encountered, this was not an easy operation,” Schiff told reporters, questioning whether the raid was worth the danger of fighting in an impermissible environment. “Going into the heart of ISIS-held territory is a whole new level of risk.”

Last summer American special operations forces conducted a raid near Raqqah, Syria in an attempt to rescue American hostages. But the hostages had been moved by the time the commandos got there and each were killed over the months that followed. ISIS is not believed to be holding any more Americans.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — With voracious campaign reporters and now Hillary Clinton herself demanding to know when her emails will finally be made public, deep within the State Department lies a small factory of workers tasked with the laborious task of sorting, reading, redacting and reviewing paper copies of what now amounts to hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.

The unenviable task falls to the State Department’s Office of Information Programs and Services and its lawyers, better known as the FOIA office — which stands for Freedom of Information Act.

They’ve established a full-time staff, with one project manager, two case analysts, nine FOIA reviewers and a slew of additional information analysts who have been working since April.

The text they must analyze includes 55,000 pages encompassing more than 30,000 emails from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email account, spanning from 2009 to 2013.

They’ve also been tasked with first finding and then reviewing any all documents and communications from all of 2011 and 2012 authored by or sent to 10 separate senior State Department officials having anything to do with Libya (and not limited to Benghazi).

The first painstaking request was made by Clinton herself, when in the wake of revelations that she had used a private email server during her time as the nation’s top diplomat, she handed them over to the State Department and requested that it release all of them.

The second data mining operation comes via Rep. Trey Gowdy and the Select Committee on Benghazi, which has recently demanded to see the documents as part of its year-old investigation into 2012 terror attack. He also requested, and has already received, 300 emails from Clinton specifically regarding Benghazi, but he has chosen not to make any of that information public.

But getting the rest of the work done is far from over for the State Department.

In court papers filed Monday concerning a FOIA lawsuit over Clinton’s emails, John F. Hackett, the head of the State Department’s FOIA office, explained to a federal judge exactly just how labor intensive the work has become.

First, Hackett notes that when Clinton handed over the emails, her office provided them in paper form — 55,000 pages to be precise.

“The documents were provided in twelve bankers’ boxes (approximately 24” x 15” x 10 ¼” in size) with labels placed on the outside of the boxes that corresponded approximately to the timeframe of the documents within a given box,” Hackett wrote in the court papers.

He said the first task was to organize the records to standards provided by the National Archives and Records Administration, and then to sort out the emails — which were personal in nature and therefore not relevant to public disclosure.

“Each page of the 55,000 must be individually hand-processed in order to ensure that all information is being captured in the scanning process,” Hackett wrote in the court papers.

He goes on to say that each scanned page comes with a five-step process involving “barcodes,” “separator sheets,” “manually input bibliographic coding,” and other tedious data entry tasks. “This process was made even more complicated by the fact that some, but not all, of the paper records that the Department received were double-sided,” Hackett said.

State Department officials also point out one of the more devastating hurdles of all. The Benghazi committee has specifically stipulated that the researchers are not allowed to simply “key-word search” the documents. Everything has to be read over. And if they’re doing their jobs well … they’ll probably read it more than once.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

Mika Makelainen/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -– The timing of Iraqi forces launch a counterattack to retake Ramadi will be up to the Iraqi government, according to Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

He also acknowledged on Tuesday that a sandstorm was a factor in the fight for Ramadi that may have played into ISIS hands.

At his off-camera briefing with reporters Warren stressed, “This is an Iraqi fight. This is Iraqis fighting for Iraq. They have the lead on this they will determine the timelines, they will determine the planning, they will determine the resourcing. We are supporting them through airpower, through training and advising.”

As such he explained, “I’m absolutely not going to get into a timeline but it absolutely will be a difficult fight.”

“The Iraqi Security Forces are consolidating and reorganizing outside of Ramadi we have not seen any additional offensive operations by ISIS,” he said. That includes the several thousand Iraqi security forces that had been inside Ramadi and Shiite militia forces that are now in the area.

Warren said that the militias should be “responsible to and directly controlled by the Iraqi government, specifically the Ministry of Defense,” but he acknowledged that the Iraqi government doesn’t have control of all of them.

Warren said that Iraqi forces had left behind in Ramadi several dozen tracked vehicles and about a hundred wheeled vehicle. He said most of the tracked vehicles are armored personnel carriers, six tanks, and some artillery pieces. He said the assessment is that “a number of them are inoperable.”


Warren also acknowledged that a sandstorm was a factor in the fight for Ramadi.

“Weather is always a factor in any military operation, that goes without saying,” said Warren. “In this case there was adverse weather at the time of these combat operations so certainly they had an effect.”

“It was a factor in this military operation.” He added, “Specifically in this operation there are reports that there was a severe sandstorm and that it had an impact both on the ground and in the air. I just don’t have enough tactical detail yet to accurately describe it.”

As for how Iraqi forces have performed so far even with US training Warren noted that their capabilities are improving but “they still have a way to go.”

He didn’t know if any of the 7,000 troops trained by the coalition so far were used in the fight in Ramadi.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

welcomia/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Takata Corporation, a leading global supplier of automotive systems, announced Tuesday that an estimated 33.8 million cars will be recalled due to defective airbags manufactured by a Takata subsidiary.

This is the largest recall of a consumer product in U.S. history, followed by the 1982 Tylenol recall of 31 million bottles of the pain reliever after a poisoning scare.

Takata’s airbags have been at the center of controversy with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after the company’s airbags were linked to at least five deaths, and more than 100 injuries, according to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Takata has dodged liability of these claims until now. The admission that the airbags were defective is a big win for NHTSA, which has been pursuing the company and demanding it take responsibility since November.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement with NHTSA, which presents a clear path forward to advancing safety and restoring the trust of automakers and the driving public,” Shigehisa Takada, chairman and CEO of Takata Corporation, said in a statement Tuesday.

When an airbag deploys with too much force, it can propel potentially hazardous debris — the reason linked to Takata’s recall. Officials said they believe the problem is directly related to airbags having too much exposure to high humidity and moisture, though Takata has not identified the core cause of the defect, Foxx said.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind praised Takata for taking responsibility and said that the company is “taking a significant step forward.”

Rosekind also said motorists should continue driving their cars, but also look online to see if a car’s VIN number falls under the recall list. If it does, an individual must immediately take their car to their original dealership to get a replacement airbag. They can check their car’s VIN online at www.safercar.gov.

However, while officials believe Takata’s remedy airbags are “safer,” they aren’t sure they are safe enough for the long-haul, Rosekind said, noting that NHTSA will begin working with Takata to test the new airbags. He also said that some car owners may have to go back to have a second airbag replaced, should the new one not be up to par.

The scope of the problem is “not only large, but also very complex, and NHTSA will do its best to provide clarity to consumers,” Rosekind added.

Takata said in March it had boosted production of 450,000 replacement kits per month, up from 350,000 in December, and expects to be producing approximately 900,000 kits per month by September. Takata said it is “confident that newer inflators and those not exposed to prolonged humidity and heat are safe.” Takata said it is also working with other suppliers to further increase the availability of replacement kits for its automotive customers.

Eleven automakers have been affected by the defective products and are expected to release recalls to their customers, and also more information on how many of their cars have been affected.

In April, NHTSA estimated that 12 million vehicles may be affected by potentially defective Takata airbags, and levied about $14,000 a day in civil penalties against Takata for failing to respond to requests for information.

To date, the penalties have accumulated to over $1 million, Rosekind said, but those penalties have been temporarily suspended until they know what the plan is going forward.

Everyone’s ultimate goal is to make sure “that every American gets a safer airbag as soon as possible,” Rosekind said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

Yu Tsai/Redbook

(NEW YORK) — Sofia Vergara and her fiancé, Joe Mangianello, are set to walk down the aisle any minute now. And although the Modern Family actress previously shared much about their courtship, now she’s revealing exactly how she knew the Magic Mike XXL star was “the one.”

“I finally realized that relationships don’t need to be so much work,” she explains in the June issue of Redbook. “Ever since we met, it’s been so easy. I’m very suspicious. I’m like, ‘It’s not normal that we’ve been together for nine months and we haven’t had a big fight or anything.'”

Vergara, who has a 22-year-old son from a previous marriage, adds that the couple is thinking about expanding their family immediately.

“Joe is younger than me. He’s 38. He’s never had kids. How am I going to say no? I tell him if we’re going to do this, we have to do it, like, now, because I don’t want to be 50 with a baby,” she explains.

Vergara also tells the magazine the biggest lesson she’s learned about men.

“I have learned that I have to let them be men. I think it’s very important not to try to take over on everything — even if you think you can do it easier or better,” she says. “If you don’t let them do things, you create a cycle and then you complain that they never do anything.”

Vergara and Manganiello, who got engaged last December, celebrated their engagement earlier this month with a party in Hollywood — a telltale sign of an impending wedding. Still, they have not publicly announced a wedding date.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

welcomia/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced on Tuesday that at the Department’s insistence, air bag manufacturer Takata has acknowledged that a defect exists in its air bag inflators and it will recall nearly 34 million vehicles.

Takata has agreed to a national recall of certain types of driver and passenger side air bag inflators, which were made with a propellant that can degrade over time and has led to ruptures that have been blamed for six deaths worldwide

Secretary Foxx also announced that the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a Consent Order to the manufacturer, which requires the company to cooperate in all future regulatory actions that NHTSA undertakes in its ongoing investigation of Takata.

“Today is a major step forward for public safety,” Foxx said. “The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first. We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced.”

The actions on Tuesday will expand regional recalls of Takata passenger-side inflators, which have been limited to areas of the country with high humidity, to nationwide recalls involving more than 16 million vehicles.

They also expand the current nationwide recall of driver-side inflators to more than 17 million vehicles.

The Department has established a new website for drivers — www.SaferCar.gov/RecallsSpotlight — to provide regular updates on the status of the Takata recall.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(WAGGA WAGGA, Australia) — Baby spiders are falling from the sky in a town in Australia, according to a local media report.

Millions of spiders seemingly dropped from above earlier this month in the town that is about 125 miles southwest of Sydney, the Goulburn Post reported. It quoted a local resident, Ian Watson, who reportedly posted on the Goulburn Community Forum page:

“Anyone else experiencing this ‘Angel Hair’ or maybe aka millions of spiders falling from the sky right now? I’m 10 minutes out of town and you can clearly see hundreds of little spiders floating along with their webs and my home is covered in them. Someone call a scientist!”

The scenario, nightmarish as it may be for those who suffer from arachnophobia, is entirely plausible, experts said.

“It’s a phenomenal event, but it’s not unprecedented,” said Rick Vetter, a retired research associate of entomology at the University of California, Riverside.

The main reason this happens is because of a dispersal technique called ballooning, Vetter said. Ballooning occurs after a mother spider lays her eggs and they hatch.

The Crab spider, or Xysticus audax, exhibits behavior prior to ballooning in the video below.

“[The babies] want space to themselves, you got 1,000 brothers and sisters sitting right around you, you’re not going to go close and make a web — there’s too much competition,” Vetter said.

That’s when the babies climb off the ground to something like the top of a fence post, they release silk and the updraft carries them away.

While ballooning happens often, mass ballooning like the one reported in Australia doesn’t. In cases like this, it’s multiple mothers, a big population of spiders, and maybe even more than one species, according to Mike Draney, an arachnologist and biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The weather plays a big factor in an event like this, Draney said.

“It can’t be too windy and there needs to be warm rising air currents,” he said.

Draney also pointed out that people most likely don’t have to worry about these baby spiders.

“Spiders can’t bite humans until they get to be a certain size,” Draney said. “When spiders are born, they’re small and can’t break human skin. I’d be very surprised to hear any ballooning spiders can bite.”

And that may be reassuring to arachnophobes — or not so much.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

File photo. Hemera/Thinkstock(SYDNEY, Australia) — A baby gorilla is the newest addition to an Australian zoo, the second gorilla born at the zoo in seven months.

The Taronga Zoo in Sydney announced the gorilla’s birth on its website, describing the baby and its mother as “healthy” and “bonding well.”

The gender of the gorilla, born about six days ago, is not yet known because the mother is “keeping the baby very close to her,” zoo officials said.

The newborn gorilla is the seventh child for its mother, Frala.

“All’s well in hand with Frala. She has years of experience being a mother,” the zoo’s primate supervisor, Lou Grossfeldt, said in a statement. “She’s very comfortable and relaxed after another text book birth.”

The other gorilla born at the zoo within the last seven months is named Mjukuu, a male born late last year to a gorilla named Mbeli.

Zoo officials said that the two births represent “vital” progress for the zoo’s Western Lowland Gorilla breeding program. There are only 100,000 of the gorillas remaining in the wild due to hunting, poaching, forest clearance and illegal mining, the zoo said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(GREENSBORO, N.C.) — Two weeks from her due date, Juliet Smith was sitting with her family and friends at a restaurant the night before college graduation when she felt a “pop.”

Smith told ABC News that, even though she wasn’t due until June 9th, her water broke on Friday evening, approximately 12 hours before she had to be at her Guilford College graduation the next morning. As she stood to leave for the hospital, flanked by her fiance and her best friend, a neighboring table of students realized what was happening and started cheering.

By 11:57 that night, baby Milo was born. He was 5 pounds, 7 ounces. Needless to say, Smith missed her commencement ceremony.

“I was kind of bummed out all morning sitting in my hospital bed and at the same time couldn’t be that upset because he was so perfect,” Smith told ABC News.

Guilford’s dean of students was going to stop by to hand-deliver Smith’s diploma, but then something even more magical happened: in a makeshift graduation ceremony, one professor brought a tuba to play “Pomp and Circumstance” (followed by “Happy Birthday” for Milo); another professor then pushed mother and baby in a wheelchair down a hospital aisle to receive her diploma as nurses cheered them on, and someone else brought refreshments and a cheesecake.

“It was really incredible,” Smith said. “I still can’t even believe that it happened.”

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More →