Middle East

Plane Crash Was A 'Terrorist Act,' Russian Officials Say

Nov 17, 2015

The Russian government has determined it was a bomb that brought down a Russian plane over Egypt, killing all 224 people on board.

"One can unequivocally say that it was a terrorist act," Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia's Federal Security Service, said at a meeting chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bortnikov said that "traces of foreign explosives" were found on the wreckage.

In the cinderblock Iraqi villages clustered around Mount Sinjar's rippling, craggy slopes, the mood is euphoric.

Fighters who retook the city late last week from ISIS — with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes — race along cratered roads, cheering children crammed in the back of their trucks, flags cartoon-bright in the pure, intense winter sunshine.

Updated at 5:45 p.m. ET

One of the suicide bombers who struck Paris on Friday has been identified as a Syrian who passed through Greece as an asylum-seeker this year and registered with European authorities.

That fact has spurred a strong reaction from many politicians here in the United States over the resettlement of Syrian refugees, with swift opposition from many Republican governors, and one Democrat, to further resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.

Christiaan Triebert / Creative Commons

The Paris bombings and shootings are the latest in a string of attacks by the Islamic State. Mourners around the world have gathered to show support for the victims and world leaders are responding politically and militarily. This hour, national security expert and Connecticut native Scott Bates discusses what the appropriate response should be.

We also hear from a University of Connecticut student responding to racist graffiti on his friend Mahmoud's door.

President Barack Obama held a press conference from a global summit in Turkey on Monday. He said reducing the territory controlled by the Islamic State group, or ISIS, in Iraq and Syria will reduce the flow of fighters and lessen the threat it poses. Watch his address and press conference below.

Friday's attacks in Paris have cast a shadow over the Group of 20 summit, which opened Sunday in Antalya, in southern Turkey. Leaders of 20 major economies agreed to step up the battle against ISIS and to ease the wider conflict in Syria.

In the wake of Friday's coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, the French people — and supporters around the world — have been grieving. More than 120 people died in explosions and gunfire when well-coordinated teams of assailants struck at least six sites across the city.

A Russian aircraft carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members has crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, according to Egyptian authorities. The Airbus A321 lost contact with both Egyptian and Russian officials after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on a flight to St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian Aviation Agency says the airliner was a charter flight carrying tourists back from a popular Russian vacation spot, NPR's Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit. The plane was operated by Metrojet, a small airline formerly called Kolavia.

Sergey Borisov/iStock / Thinkstock

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy is making another push for mental health reform in Congress that he hopes will overhaul and strengthen the mental health care system. He joins us from Washington, D.C. to explain the legislation and to discuss some recent news on the U.S. policy on Syria and use of drones. 

We also talk to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal about an Obama administration proposal to help address Puerto Rico's fiscal challenges. 

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the U.S. will begin to increase the tempo of an air campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.

"We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground," Carter said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

More than 300 people are dead the day after an earthquake hit Afghanistan and shook surrounding countries. At least 2,000 people are injured, NPR's Philip Reeves reports on Morning Edition.

"This is a very remote landscape," Reeves notes, "and it can take a long time before you find out exactly who's been impacted by a disaster of this kind."

Updated at 7:24 p.m. ET

The death toll continues to climb from the massive earthquake that rocked northeast Afghanistan near its border with Pakistan. More than 260 people are confirmed dead across the region with the majority of the reported casualties in Pakistan.

The epicenter of the magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck a remote area of Afghanistan but could be felt across the region as far north as Tajikistan and as far south as India.

In his first known international trip since civil war began in Syria, President Bashar Assad has just returned from a quick visit in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Assad reportedly briefed Putin on Syria's current and future military operations.

Assad's trip was kept secret until after Tuesday's meeting — and after the Syrian leader's safe return home.

Today marks 90 days since the United Nations Security Council endorsed the landmark nuclear accord agreed between Iran and six world powers (the U.S., Britain, France, Germany China and Russia.)

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will unfold in a series of steps that include nuclear cutbacks made by Iran and sanctions relief offered by the other countries. The phase that begins now is of special interest to nuclear non-proliferation experts.

Secretary of State John Kerry stepped before a packed auditorium Thursday. He was at Indiana University for the opening of a school of international studies.

"I have managed to completely forget that when running for president in 2004, I was crushed in Indiana," he quipped.

Kerry was welcomed Thursday as he promoted the Obama administration's recent international agreements, like deals on Pacific trade and Iran's nuclear program.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President Obama said on Thursday that slowing down the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is "the right thing to do."

"Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be," Obama said, so the United States will leave 9,800 troops in the country through most of 2016. By 2017, about 5,500 troops will remain in a few bases across the country.

Obama said that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan will remain focused on two non-combat objectives: to train Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida.

Pete Souza / White House

Senior administration officials say President Barack Obama will keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017.

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Recent weeks of violence between Israelis and Palestinians have left dead a total of nearly 40 people from both sides. A former Connecticut resident is among those critically injured.

Iran's Guardian Council on Wednesday approved the deal intended to control Iran's nuclear program. The approval is a final step before implementation, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The 12-member group of senior clerics' OK followed passage by Iran's Parliament on Tuesday.

Israel has started deploying soldiers to cities in an effort to quell escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

NPR's Emily Harris reports that in recent weeks, at least seven Israelis and more than two dozen Palestinians have been killed.

As The Associated Press reports, the deployment comes after a particularly bloody day in Jerusalem in which Palestinians killed three Israelis.

The AP adds:

Iran's Parliament voted Tuesday to support the implementation of the nuclear deal struck by world powers in Vienna in July.

Updated at 4:10 a.m. ET

Imprisoned American journalist Jason Rezaian has been convicted, according to an Iranian Judiciary spokesman who appeared on state TV Sunday night. The spokesman did not say on which charges Rezaian had been convicted or whether a sentence had been imposed.

It's the latest development in a case that's been marked by secrecy and uncertainty. Rezaian, The Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief, was arrested in Tehran in 2014 and accused of espionage, a charge the Post denies.

Updated at 1:27 p.m. ET.

The United States has shelved a program that was intended to train moderate Syrian rebel fighters.

As we've reported, the $500 million program, which sought to train 5,400 fighters, has failed. At last count, the U.S. said it had been able to train only about 60 fighters.

Russian cruise missiles that were fired from warships in the Caspian sea and were intended to hit Syrian targets crashed in Iran, instead, a U.S. official tells NPR's Tom Bowman.

Tom reports that the missiles landed in a rural area of Iran. Local television, Tom reports, said "that something crashed and exploded near the northern city of Tekab, shattering windows and leaving a large crater."

The international aid group Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is calling for an international investigation into what it calls a war crime in Afghanistan — Saturday's U.S. airstrikes that killed 22 people, including medical staff and patients at the organization's hospital in Kunduz.

Updated at 3:25 p.m. ET

NATO in Afghanistan says it will lead an investigation into an airstrike in Kunduz this weekend that hit a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, killing 22 people — an attack that the humanitarian organization, also known as Doctors Without Borders, has called "a war crime."

A U.S.-led airstrike on the northern Afghan city was carried out Saturday, but the circumstances surrounding it remain murky. NATO acknowledges only that the raid occurred near the charity's hospital.

Taliban forces stormed the Afghan city of Kunduz on Monday; after several days of fighting, Afghan forces claimed to have retaken the city.

Updated at 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

An aerial attack carried out by U.S. forces appears to have badly damaged a Médecins Sans Frontières trauma center in the Afghan city of Kunduz in the early hours on Saturday, killing 19 people — 12 staff working for the international aid organization and seven patients, including three children.

Thirty-seven were injured in the attack, according to MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders.

"All indications currently point to the bombing being carried out by international Coalition forces," MSF said.

Updated at 11:20 a.m. ET

In a new development that could change the dynamic of Syria's civil war, Russian military began carrying out airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday. Russia says it will target ISIS fighters as part of a plan to fight terrorism.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby says a Russian official informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad about the missions and also requested that American military aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during Russian operations.

Updated 9:20 p.m. ET

A senior Obama administration official described Monday's 90-minute meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin as "productive," though it left several key issues unresolved.

The official said it was a "business-like back and forth. I think they worked through a lot of different issues. This was focused."

The first half of the meeting focused on Ukraine, while the second centered on Syria.

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