About the author  ⁄ WFIN

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. military announced Wednesday that it would undertake a formal investigation into an airstrike in northern Syria that may have resulted in civilian casualties.

“That credibility assessment is complete,” Col. Christopher Garver, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said during a news conference with Pentagon reporters. “The result was that the information available was credible enough to warrant formal investigation, which we have initiated.”

Garver indicated that evidence used in such investigations comes from both public sources as well as the military’s own internal data, such as reviewing where the rounds struck.

“We know where we are shooting,” Garver said.

The death toll estimates from the alleged airstrike near the town of Manbij have varied widely, with Garver saying he had seen numbers in the media ranging from 10 to more than 70. According to local observers and activists, the number could be above 200. ABC News has not been able to independently verify the numbers killed.

Garver also revealed that a second initial investigation is now underway to determine the credibility of allegations surrounding civilian deaths during an alleged strike on July 23 to the east of Manbij.

More than 520 airstrikes have been conducted by the U.S.-led coalition in support of the battle to rid Manbij of ISIS, according to U.S. officials.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two teenagers who killed a Catholic priest in France purportedly in the name of ISIS are seen in a new video pledging allegiance to the terror group’s leader, according to an ISIS-linked propaganda outlet.

In the video, which circulated online Wednesday, the two young men sit on stairs while one speaks softly, pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who he calls the “emir of the believers.” The man promises to “listen and obey,” according to a translation by the extremist monitoring firm SITE.

The two men pose with an Islamist flag often associated with Islamic extremist groups including ISIS, but the flag’s colors apparently have been inverted, turning the usually black flag white.

Just days ago, anti-terror authorities in France issued an alert warning of a potential imminent attack by an unnamed man. The notice included a photo of the suspect who closely resembles the silent man from the video.

Two attackers were killed by police after storming a church in the city of Rouen, France, about 80 miles north of Paris, and stabbing to death an 86-year-old priest.

One of the attackers has been identified by authorities as 19-year-old Adel Kermiche, who investigators said had twice attempted to travel to Syria, the nation from which ISIS is based. He had been placed on house arrest.

While authorities did not immediately comment on the video’s release, French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday said the killers had “claimed allegiance to ISIS.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Image(LONDON) — Prince William and Princess Kate have jetted to France for a private holiday with Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

The Cambridges touched down Tuesday at the Pau Pyrénées Airport in southwestern France. The airport is located 60 miles from the resort area of Biarritz and close to the border with Spain.

It is unclear if the family’s Spanish nanny, Maria Teresa Borrallo, accompanied them on the vacation. The couple’s royal protection team was spotted at the airport by local press.

The family reportedly traveled in style, borrowing the jet of the duke of Westminster, a billionaire who has previously loaned his jet to the royals.

William and Kate, both 34, have had a busy few months of activities, including the queen’s 90th birthday events and Wimbledon. Their public engagements were capped off with a private celebration for George’s third birthday on July 22.

The royal family will have time on their vacation to unwind before a busy fall when they will visit Canada. Kensington Palace announced Wednesday that the Cambridges will visit British Columbia and the Yukon at the invitation of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“The Duke and Duchess are delighted to be returning to Canada. They hold very happy memories from their visit in 2011 – their first overseas tour as a married couple. They are really looking forward to seeing other parts of this beautiful country and having the opportunity to meet many more Canadians along the way,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.

It’s quite possible that George, 3, and Charlotte, 1, could join them on the trip although an announcement on whether or not the children will come along will likely be made closer to their departure.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images(CZESTOCHOWA, Poland) — Pope Francis took a fall as he arrived for Holy Mass at Poland’s holiest shrine of Jasna Gora on Thursday.

Francis, 79, was walking toward an altar when he missed a step and fell to the ground. A group of other priests raced to assist the pontiff, who got back up on his feet quickly.

The mass proceeded as planned and the pope delivered a sermon before thousands in the southern city of Czestochowa.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Google(NEW YORK) — It’s out with the old and in with the new at Google Maps.

The tech giant has removed nonessential elements from its navigation app’s display and has also added shaded “areas of interest” to highlight popular places.

Among the elements removed, Google says roads will no longer be outlined, allowing better visibility for important information such as traffic and transit.

The text identifying streets, transit centers and points of interest will get an improved look as well.

To help users find popular areas, the app will mark such spots with a shade of orange and show things to do.

Google Maps users will need only to zoom in on a neighborhood and look for the orange shading. Zooming in further on the areas will reveal more details about these locales.

Google Maps is determining “areas of interest” by their concentration of restaurants, bars and shops.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The jackpot for Wednesday’s Powerball drawing has soared to an estimated $422 million thanks to nearly three months without a winner of the big prize.

But that could change. The numbers drawn Wednesday were 10, 47, 50, 65, and 68. The Powerball is 24.

If anyone matches the five balls and red Powerball in Wednesday’s drawing, it will be the game’s first jackpot winner since May 7.

A case of large jackpot déjà vu? The #Powerball jackpot is $422 million tonight! #CALottery pic.twitter.com/ORmnXBcQGE

— California Lottery (@calottery) July 27, 2016

The chance of winning the big prize is 292.2 million-to-1, according to The Associated Press.

A jackpot winner could opt for a $422 million annuity paid out over 29 years or a $291 million lump sum. The prize would rank as the nation’s 11th largest.

The big Powerball prize comes less than three weeks after a player in Indiana won a $536 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The U.S. military says it has recovered and used “massive amounts” of intelligence materials from retreating ISIS militants in the city of Manbij, Syria, a town the Pentagon describes as one of the terror groups last connecting points to it’s stronghold of Raqqa.

“We think this is a big deal,” Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters in a video briefing from Baghdad Wednesday.

Garver said coalition forces battling ISIS have gathered over 10,000 different items holding valuable information, such as thumb drives, laptops, textbooks and notebooks from the battlefield.

Over four terabytes of data was gleaned from the digital devices, Garver said. “We’re learning about how they ran Manbij as a strategic hub,” Garver said, calling it an orientation center for foreign fighters just joining ISIS. “As foreign fighter would enter, they would screen them, figure out what languages they speak, assign them a job — and then send them down into wherever they were going to go, be it into Syria or Iraq, somewhere,” Garver said.

So far they have not uncovered any evidence, in this data, of fighters being launched to Europe or further west, Garver added.

He said they also found textbooks that were rewritten to reflect the teachings of ISIS.

The town of Manbij is, for now, still a heavily contested area. Over the course of the past few weeks the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 520 airstrikes in the area and anti-ISIS forces have the town surrounded on the ground.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — When the Federal Reserve announced Wednesday afternoon that it was going to take the cautious step and leave interest rates unchanged for the time being, it also said that “near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished.”

So what concerns might the Fed have? And why are they being so cautious?

According to Barclay’s Chief U.S. Economist, Michael Gapen, it goes back to the exceptional nature of the recent Great Recession.

“There are recessions and then there are recessions,” he told ABC News, noting that the recession and financial crisis of the late 2000s was much more intense than typical, cyclical recessions.

Gapen said, “The Fed believes that the economy will need more monetary support than it normally would, which means that interest rate rises start later, proceed slower and end at a lower level.”

And while many parts of the economy have bounced back, Gapen said that Federal Reserve officials will be paying special attention to the labor market.

“I really think right now it’s about labor markets, so employment growth still has to be fairly solid,” he said. “Labor markets are the most clear, consistent signal about expansions and contractions more than any other variable,” when it comes to measuring the health of an economy.

So what could make the Federal Reserve feel confident enough to raise rates?

The answer, experts say, is a higher inflation rate.

“If labor markets keep improving, eventually you would get some wage growth and therefore it would support inflation,” Gapen said.

And since the Federal Reserve is charged with controlling inflation, any significant increase in that could spur them to also increase interest rates.

Robert Johnson, Director of Economic Analysis at Morningstar, told ABC News that while overall inflation sits at about 1 percent right now, certain segments are much higher — most notably, core inflation (which excludes food and energy) is about 2 percent. Johnson predicted that overall inflation could also rise to 2 percent by December.

But the Fed will be cautious to act because changes in the interest rate have effects from Wall Street to Main Street.

One notable way that the rate affects everyday life is its influence on mortgage rates.

The housing market has been acting as a “key driver of the recovery” from the recession, Johnson said, and it “has been exceptionally sensitive to mortgage rates over the past few years.”

“Even the small hike in December slowed housing sales in January and February,” he said. “Not until the Fed put off another rate hike this spring, causing mortgage rates to fall again, did the housing market start acting better.”

Another consideration is the interest rates’ potential affect on the dollar’s value and foreign exports. If the U.S. raises rates, while other countries are slashing theirs, the dollar could become very strong, which would in turn harm U.S. exports.

So, while the Fed appears to be taking a cautious approach in leaving interest rates unchanged, Johnson said they are “playing with fire.”

“If some geo-political event were to send oil soaring or we had another crop failure, inflation could get out of hand very quickly,” he said. “With more retiring baby boomers, low unemployment rates and potential labor shortages pushing wages higher, the underlying inflation rate is moving higher and may prove difficult to control.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images(KRAKOW, Poland) — Pope Francis was greeted by shouts of welcome and waving crowds Wednesday as he arrived in the Polish city of Krakow to celebrate the Catholic Church’s “World Youth Day.”

But on his flight there from Rome, a worried pope emerged.

“The world is at war,” he said in reference to recent terror attacks in Europe and elsewhere.

But this war is not one of religion, he clarified, instead one of interests, money, natural resources and to control people.

During the official welcoming ceremony with Poland’s leaders at the historic Wawel Castle, the pope urged them to welcome migrants fleeing wars and hunger.

Poland is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe. Ninety-eight percent of Poles have been baptized, and Poland has one of the highest church attendance rates in the Catholic world, with some 40 percent of people going to weekly mass.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(PRINCE ALBERT, Saskatchewan) — An oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River is threatening the drinking water supply for tens of thousands of Canadians.

Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, City Manager Jim Toye says his city has already turned off the taps, telling residents to fill bathtubs and sinks and use the water sparingly.

Workers closed the intake pipes in the North Saskatchewan River, after about 53,000 gallons of heavy crude contaminated the water and soil.

Efforts to contain the spill have so far failed. It could be months before things are back to normal.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →