Bethany Clarke - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The British government Friday raised the threat level for international terrorism to “severe,” indicating a terrorist attack is “highly likely” but based on intelligence not necessarily “imminent.”
U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May released a statement Friday saying the increased threat is “related to events in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West, and that some of those attacks are likely to involve fighters who have travelled from the U.K.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was the first time in three years the threat has been raised to such a level in the U.K.
“What we’re facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before,” Cameron said in an address to the nation, noting that the terrorist group, also known as ISIS for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has recruited hundreds of British citizens to its ranks.
Western security officials have been concerned for months that ISIS recruits with Western passports could travel to Syria and Iraq and then return home with deadly skills to wreak havoc.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- More than 3 million people have sought refuge from the fighting in Syria, the United Nations’ refugee agency announced Friday.
That means the Syrian crisis, which has persisted since a civilian uprising began in 2011, is the biggest refugee operation in the UNHCR’s 64-year history, the agency said.
Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said the international effort to help Syrian refugees was insufficient to meet their growing needs and number.
“The world is failing to meet the needs of [Syrian] refugees and the countries hosting them,” Guterres said, adding that, while the response to the crisis has been generous, “the bitter truth is that it falls far short of what’s needed.”
In addition to the 3 million people who have sought shelter in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, another 6.5 million refugees have been displaced within Syria, the agency said, adding that half of those people were children. The UNHCR concluded that almost half of the Syrian civilian population has had to leave its homes.
Not only are the refugees fleeing violence, but because they frequently bounce from village to village before finally leaving their home country, they arrive in neighboring countries in increasingly “shocking states[s],” according to a UNHCR statement.
“There are worrying signs too that the journey out of Syria is becoming tougher, with many people forced to pay bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along the borders,” the statement said.
Long-term medical conditions, steep food and commodity prices and unemployment are also problems that Syrians are plagued with once they escape the areas of greatest danger, the UNHCR added.
NASA(NEW YORK) -- A Scottish distillery that enlisted the help of astronauts to develop whiskey particles on the International Space Station is now preparing for touchdown.
Ardbeg, a whiskey distillery in Scotland, partnered with a Houston-based space research company to launch some micro-compounds of their liquor into outer space in 2011.
According to the distillery's website, 20 vials of the unmatured whiskey particles were sent along with pieces of charred oak that they were treated with when they arrived at the International Space Station. The vials only contained microbes that will later be used to brew whiskey, rather than the liquor itself.
"This is indeed a research program to help us understand terpenes, which are the building blocks for flavorings, paints and yes, whiskey -- so to us, this is a very solid research project for a consumer-based company," Jeffrey Manber, the CEO of Houston-based company NanoRocks, told ABC News. "NASA approved the project since terpenes have never been grown in zero-gravity conditions."
If a difference is noted between the vials kept in zero gravity as compared to those in "control" vials in Scotland, the implications could lead well out of the liquor cabinet.
"The absence of gravity may well create a new generation of consumer products and help us understand materials, biologicals and products that are right here on Earth," Manber said.
Once the out-of-this-world particles return to Earth -- they are expected to land in Kazakhstan on Sept. 12 -- the vials will be shipped to Texas, where they will be compared to similar vials made in Scotland in 2011 to test what effect gravity had on the maturation process.
Bell County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people in a 2009 Fort Hood shooting, wrote a letter expressing interest in becoming a citizen of the Islamic State, his attorney told ABC News.
Hasan, a former major, wrote a two-page letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.
Hasan, a Muslim-American whose Palestinian-immigrant parents raised him in Virginia, has described himself as a “mujahedeen,” or Muslim holy warrior in carrying out his attack.
Hasan, 43, was sentenced to death after the Texas shooting and is on the military’s death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
News of Hasan’s letter comes days after Minnesota native Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, was said to have died while fighting with the brutal al Qaeda breakaway organization.
File photo. (iStock/Thinkstock)(CHENGDU, China) -- A real-life soap opera appears to have played out at a panda research center in China where zookeepers claim a panda may have faked her pregnancy in order to live a more pampered life.
Zookeepers at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding say Ai Hin, a 6-year-old giant panda, first showed signs of pregnancy in July, but then returned to normal at the end of this month, after just a two-month observation.
Chengdu officials say “phantom pregnancies” -- caused by progestational hormone changes -- are not uncommon for pandas, but that some “clever” pandas keep playing the pregnancy card long after.
“After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care. They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life," panda expert Wu Kongju told state news agency Xinhua.
The false pregnancy caused the Chengdu Base to call off its planned live broadcast of Ai Hin giving birth.
The director of animal programs at the Memphis Zoo says that zookeepers must prepare pandas for birth at the first sign of pregnancy, even if it is hard to tell if they are actually pregnant.
“Pandas and other bears don't make it real easy to tell whether or not they are pregnant,” Matt Thompson told ABC News. “But we treat her as though she's pregnant whether she's pseudo pregnant or actually pregnant.”
“We just want to be ready in either case,” he said.
iStock/Thinkstock(CANBERRA, Australia) -- Papua New Guinea's Tavurvur volcano spewed smoke and volcanic ash into the air Friday, with residents in the South Pacific nation evacuated and flights disrupted.
Communities near the volcano were evacuated, while residents of the town of Rabaul were advised to remain indoors to avoid falling ash, according to a statement from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Australia’s Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre issued an advisory due to the eruption. Authorities there are making sure that air travel in the region is safe. Qantas flights in the area are taking special care to avoid the volcanic cloud.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(HOLUHRAUN, Iceland) -- A volcanic eruption in northern Iceland began early Friday morning local time, prompting airspace closure of much of the area.
According to the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, the fissure from which the eruption occurred is about 300 meters long. There has not yet been any detection of volcanic ash, and the seismic data seems to indicate that the eruption is effusive, and not explosive.
Still, the Icelandic Air Traffic Control closed down airspace from the earth up to 18,000 feet within the area around the eruption site.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MONROVIA, Liberia) -- The number of probable and confirmed cases of the Ebola virus in West Africa surpassed 3,000, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, with more than 1,550 at least suspected to have died of the disease.
The WHO updated its figures on the spread of Ebola, which looks at the number of probable and confirmed Ebola cases and deaths in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Thus far, 1,752 confirmed cases and 897 confirmed deaths have been linked with Ebola. An additional 1,317 cases and 655 deaths are considered either "probable" or "suspected" to be related to the disease.
The largest part of the Ebola outbreak remains in Sierra Leone and Liberia, though cases have begun to spring up in Nigeria within the last two weeks.
More than 40 percent of the total number of Ebola cases have been identified in the last three weeks.
Purestock/Thinkstock(MOSUL, Iraq) -- The U.S. military conducted another series of airstrikes against targets related to militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on Thursday, with five more strikes confirmed.
Fighter aircraft conducted the strikes near the Mosul Dam, destroying an ISIS Humvee, a tank, four armored vehicles, and a construction vehicle, and damaging a checkpoint. The aircraft all escaped the area safely.
The U.S. military has been undertaking the strikes with the intent of supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces that are squaring off with ISIS forces, as well as to protect infrastructure and American interests in the area.
Since strikes began earlier this month, U.S. Central Command says that 106 airstrikes have been conducted across Iraq.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BRUSSELS, Belgium) -- In case the actual war in Ukraine wasn’t enough, there’s also a Twitter battle raging between the Canadian and Russian missions to NATO.
It all started with the Canadian mission's Twitter account, which on Wednesday tweeted a snarky map intended to “help” the Russian soldiers who ended up in Ukraine but reportedly claimed they didn’t know where they were going.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko cancelled a trip to Turkey on Thursday, citing the ongoing "Russian invasion," prompting a United Nations Security Council meeting.
Heavy fighting was reported in the southeastern Ukrainian town of Novoazovsk Thursday as pro-Russian rebels allegedly opened up a new military front. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for the U.N. Security Council meeting, noting the "growing military threat from Russia," and claiming that "Putin started a war in Europe."
The U.N. Security Council expressed outrage at the latest actions by Russia. In a statement, the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the international community "cannot allow the situation to escalate further, nor can a continuation be allowed of the violence and destruction that the conflict has wrought in eastern Ukraine."
The U.S. ambassador for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe released a harsh statement on Thursday as well, calling the crisis "man-made" and blaming the Kremlin for showing "disregard for international law."
Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, called the latest tensions a "military invasion" in a statement. Calling the latest actions anything else, they said, "is to inhabit President Putin's Orwellian universe."
"This is a moment to speak and act with clarity," the senators said, "a sovereign nation in the heart of Europe is being invaded by its larger neighbor. This runs completely contrary to the civilized world that America and our partners have sought to build since World War II."
Also on Thursday, President Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the situation in Ukraine. According to a readout of the call, the two agreed that Russia is to blame for the latest violence. They also agreed that the U.S. and the European Union must consider additional sanctions while working towards a diplomatic solution.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GOLAN HEIGHTS, Syria) -- The United Nations said Thursday that three peacekeepers were detained by an armed group in the Golan Heights area of Syria.
The kidnapping occurred "during a period of increased fighting...between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces," the U.N. said. A U.N. statement also noted that 81 more peacekeepers with the U.N.'s Disengagement Observer Force were "restricted to their positions."
The U.S. State Department later confirmed that the group that kidnapped the peacekeepers was Jahbat al-Nusra, which has been designated a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. condemned the action, demanding the "unconditional and immediate release of all U.N. peacekeepers."
UNDOF forces are in Syria as a means of helping to maintain a cease-fire between Syria and Israel, agreed to after their 1973 war. The mission's mandate was recently extended through the end of December.
Peacekeepers from the same U.N. group were held by armed elements in March 2013 and May 2013 and were safely released. The UNDOF encompasses 1,223 peacekeepers from six nations.
Most orbital debris is in low Earth orbit, where the space station flies. NASA(NEW YORK) -- A proposed new facility in Western Australia will provide a clearer picture of just how much space junk is orbiting earth.
The facility, which is a partnership between Lockheed Marin and Australia's Electro Optic Systems, will use lasers and optical systems, like those found in telescopes, to detect and learn more about man-made space junk. This includes how fast the debris is moving, what direction its spinning and what it's made of.
The space junk facility won't act as a space janitor -- but will instead make sure government and commercial organizations are aware of the location of junk so they can protect their investments in space, according to Rick Ambrose, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Space Systems.
Space junk, or as NASA calls it, "orbital debris," can range from items as small as flecks of paint released by thermal stress to as large as pieces from satellite explosions and collisions, according to NASA's Orbital Debris Programs Office.
More than 21,000 pieces of space junk larger than 10 centimeters are known to exist, according to figures released by NASA in 2012. There are an estimated half-million pieces of debris that range in size between one and 10 centimeters, while the number of particles smaller than the size of a fingernail is estimated to be more than 100 million.
iStock/Thinkstock(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Ukraine’s president called an emergency meeting of the nation’s security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday because of what he described as a “Russian invasion,” with rebel forces opening up a new front in the conflict.
Heavy fighting was reported in the southeast of Ukraine near the town of Novoazovsk.
Petro Poroshenko canceled a visit to Turkey for the inauguration of newly elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and called a snap session of Ukraine's security council.
"I have decided to cancel my visit to Turkey because of the sharp escalation of the situation in the Donetsk region ... as Russian forces have entered Ukraine," he said.
Control of the area would give Russia a direct land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula. The maneuver points to long-term strategic planning by Russia, a spokesman for the Ukrainian anti-terrorist command told ABC News.
Colonel Konstantin Hivrenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said Ukraine has “proof beyond any doubt” that Russian troops are now directly involved in the fighting.
“There are now steady and large-scale deliveries of Russian hardware. Armored convoys are crossing the border day and night,” he said. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also claims there are “uncountable” Russian tanks and artillery pieces at the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian troops have been battling against separatist rebel forces in the region since April.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the Polish parliament that NATO had concrete proof of Russian troops operating on the territory of Ukraine. In a phone call early Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded an explanation from Russian President Vladimir Putin. French President Francois Hollande called a news conference Thursday morning saying that Russian incursions into Ukraine were “intolerable.”
The prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, told Russian TV that 3,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers were supporting the rebels.
“We have never hidden from anyone that there are many Russians amongst us,” he said. “Without their help, we would have struggled and it would have been more difficult to fight.”
In reaction to Russia’s continuing military build-up on NATO’s eastern flank, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the preparation of a Readiness Action Plan. In an interview with German newspaper Suedduetsche Zeitung, Rasmussen said NATO would form a quick reaction force to counter a possible Russian threat to countries on NATO’s eastern border.
Ukrainian PM Arseny Yatseniuk appealed to the United Nations to call a Security Council meeting in response to "growing military threat from Russia."