World Headlines
Subscribe To This Feed

STR/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- An estimated 10,000 people have been evacuated from a hip-hop festival on the Croatian island of Pag after a fire broke out in a nearby pine forest on Monday night.

Video posted on social media shows people running from the beach as flames were visible in the background.

"The wildfire at Fresh Island Festival right now is mad," one attendee tweeted. "Whole thing been locked off."

Police ordered revelers to leave the popular beach music festival as more than 60 fire fighters, along with 45 police officer and 22 vehicles were dispatched to try to bring the blaze under control, with strong Bora winds from the Adriatic Sea fanning the fire.

“It’s only after dawn, when three fire fighting planes were dispatched the fire was put under control,” a local police spokeswoman told ABC News. ”No one was injured in the fire or in the process of evacuation.”

Attendees were escorted to a nearby parking area to wait for shuttle buses to transport them to the nearest town of Novalja, but there was a long wait for the evacuees and festival organizers informed people that the main road to Novalja was closed due to the fire.

Some buses were later escorted through by police.

The road reopened on Tuesday morning as the fire was contaminated.

“I don’t know the exact time, maybe little after midnight you could see the smoke," one of the waiters on the nearby Zrce beach, who wishes to remain anonymous, told ABC News. "The fire was spreading really fast, flames were billowing as high as 25 meters. "There were a lot of people (attendees of the Fresh Island Festival). They did not panic. The guests behaved as if nothing was happening."

“The concert ended up in fire, literally! Around 2 a.m. the guests were told to evacuate," he added.

The three-day festival was due to end on Wednesday, and festival organizers have not yet announced if the “Fresh Island Festival” will continue.

"Rest assured we're doing everything we can to go ahead as planned to continue the parties,” the organizers posted.

"They are saying I can't perform," tweeted the British rapper Not3s, who, along with the American performer Tyga, was due to take to the main stage at 11 p.m. Monday. "I'm backstage been here since 12:30am.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Istimages/iStock(ATHENS, Greece) -- Greek police have arrested a suspect in the murder of an American scientist who was found dead in an abandoned World War II bunker on the island of Crete last week.

The unnamed suspect is a 27-year-old Greek man who was brought in for questioning Monday and was later arrested after he "confessed his crime," according to Maj. Gen. Constantinos Lagoudakis, director of Police General Directorate of Crete.

"He admitted his guilt and today he will be brought to justice," Lagoudakis said in a statement Tuesday.

The suspect claimed that he spotted Eaton during the afternoon of July 2 and, "motivated by sexual satisfaction," hit her twice with his car to stop her, according to Eleni Papathanassiou, a spokeswoman for Crete's police department.

The suspect claimed he put Eaton, who was apparently unconscious, in the trunk of his vehicle and drove to a shelter's ventilation drain, where he raped her and abandoned her there, according to Papathanassiou. He then blocked the entrance to the drain with a wooden palette and drove to a nearby graveyard where he "carefully cleaned" the trunk of his car, Papathanassiou said in a statement.

Papathanassiou told ABC News that the suspect is from the town of Kissamos, about 20 miles from the port city of Chania where Suzanne Eaton was staying. The suspect, whose father is a priest, lives with his wife and two small children in the village of Maleme, some 10 miles from Chania, according to Papathanassiou.

The man was detained just days after police obtained DNA evidence from nearly a dozen people who live nearby.

"Following the criminal proceedings, the perpetrator has been led to the District Prosecutor's Office, while awaiting the results of the forensic, clinical and toxicological results of the examinations," Papathanassiou said in a statement Tuesday.

A high-level police source who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity said a security camera in the area where Eaton's body was found captured images of the suspect's vehicle, a key piece of evidence that ultimately led police to him.

The suspect initially told police he had not been in the area for over a month but eventually broke down during the interrogation and confessed, the source told ABC News. The man claimed he committed the murder and intentionally hit Eaton with his car, the source said.

Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist and mother of two, was attending a conference in northwest Crete when she vanished on July 2. Eaton's running shoes were missing from her hotel room while all her other belongings remained there, leading her family and colleagues to believe she may have gone for a run.

Greek authorities, joined by volunteers and Eaton's loved ones, launched a large-scale search for her in the area, using dogs and helicopters. Her body was found on July 8 in the cave-like bunker, built by Nazis after they occupied Crete in 1941. Her cause of death was ruled a murder by asphyxiation, police said.

Eaton's body showed signs of "a violent criminal act and possibly sexual abuse," according to Lagoudakis.

She had "many broken ribs and face bones as well as multiple injuries to both hands," Papathanassiou said in her statement Tuesday.

Greek state coroner Antonis Papadomanolakis, who examined the body, told Greece's ANT1 News that "something complicated happened" during Eaton's death, stating that it was "not immediate" and "there was duration involved."

A police source told ABC News that Eaton fought for her life when she was attacked with someone with a knife. Her body had substantial injuries from a blade that was "defensive" in nature, the source said.

Investigators searched for men with muscular builds and the ability to overpower Eaton, who was an avid runner and had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. They also requested data records from local mobile phone companies in hopes that they may identify the person or people who left Eaton's body in the bunker.

Police sources told ABC News they have discovered traces of blood at the site where they believe Eaton was killed. The site is about one mile from the Orthodox Academy of Crete in the village of Platanias, where Eaton was attending the conference.

Eaton, a native of Oakland, California, is survived by her husband and two sons. Her remains will be returned to the United States for burial.

Eaton was a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. She was also a professor at the Biotechnology Center of the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, known as TU Dresden. Her colleagues there described her as "an outstanding and inspiring scientist, a loving spouse and mother, an athlete as well as a truly wonderful person beloved to us all."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Guinness World Records(LONDON) -- Locals from the sleepy town of Harlech, Wales, celebrated as they were awarded the rather niche accolade of having the "world's steepest street" Tuesday, with the honor going to Ffordd Pen Llech road.

The previous record holder was Baldwin Street in Dunedine, New Zealand, but after an extensive campaign by Harlech locals, Guinness World Records officially recognized Ffordd Pen Llech as the world's steepest street.

An independent surveyor concluded that the street's gradient was 37.45% on June 6 this year, which beat Baldwin Street's gradient of just 35%.

In order to qualify for the prestigious record, the street must be a "a public thoroughfare, fully paved and contain buildings running alongside the thoroughfare," according to Guinness World Records.

Harlech resident Gwyn Headley, who led the campaign for Ffordd Pen Llech to be recognized, said he felt "utter relief" to have finally won out.

"And jubilation!" he added, according to a press release. "Guinness World Records were ultra-specific in the criteria they demanded for Ffordd Pen Llech to qualify as the steepest street in the world, and although we were confident in meeting or exceeding nine of them, I was worried about the 10th. I feel sorry for Baldwin Street and the New Zealanders — but steeper is steeper."

Another local resident, Sarah Badham, who runs the town's Facebook page, said she realized Gwyn "was onto something" when he posted in the group suggesting the street may be the world's steepest.

"[I] decided to get behind him as did the whole community," she said, according to a Guinness World Records release. "As somebody who was born and raised here, I can't really say how special it is. It's amazing."

And Craig Glenday, the editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, praised the intrepid spirit of the locals who did not give up on their dream.

"The local community in Harlech has shown sheer will-power in their quest to earn Ffordd Pen Llech the title," he said when announcing the award, per the records. "We know the anticipation has been building for quite some time now and I'm pleased to see the outcome has brought such joy to the residents. I hope Harlech enjoys the celebrations and that the new title brings lots of people to the beautiful town, to experience the world's steepest street for themselves!"

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

BalkansCat/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The United Nations Refugee Agency says it is concerned about changes made to the asylum rules by the United States, which it says will endanger those in need of protection.

"We understand that the U.S. asylum system is under significant strain," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Monday. "But...this measure...will put vulnerable families at risk. It will undermine efforts by countries across the region to devise the coherent, collective responses that are needed."

"This measure is severe and is not the best way forward," Grandi added.

The rule change implemented this week would make any individual who passed through another country and didn't seek asylum there ineligible for protection in the U.S. It does not take into consideration whether those transit countries would provide effective international protection.

Many refugees that arrive at the southern border of the U.S. are fleeing horrific violence at the hands of gangs, economic deprivation, or persecution.

Last month, the UNHCR called on the governments of countries in the Americas to meet urgently to develop and implement a coordinated regional response to the situation.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Dan Abbott(LONDON) -- A pair of lucky divers filmed their experience swimming with a "huge" barrel jellyfish off the coast of Cornwall in the U.K., describing the moment they came face-to-face with the marine giant as "breathtaking."

Biologist and wildlife presenter Lizzie Daly was diving off the coast of Falmouth, Cornwall, when underwater cinematographer Dan Abbott captured the image as part of Wild Ocean Week, a fundraising measure for the Marine Conservation Society.

The picture, taken from the Facebook video, shows Daly swimming just feet away from the barrel jellyfish.

Abbott told ABC News that the pair had dived with seals, Minke whales and sea birds throughout their week but swimming with the barrel jellyfish was a "humbling" experience.

"We estimate the jellyfish to be around 1.5 meters (5 feet) long, the same size as Lizzie," he said. "The feeling seeing a jellyfish that size was incredible. Neither of us had ever seen one that big before and it was a humbling and beautiful experience to be able to share its home for a few moments."

Daly has since said she is delighted with the response to the images, which have received global coverage from various media outlets.

"I started Wild Ocean Week with the intention of inspiring a wider audience about the wonderful nature on our doorstep," she posted on Facebook. "I wanted to show people that you really can see some pretty phenomenal things here in the UK and we should be celebrating it, protecting it, inspired by it!! Giant jellyfish you have done just that. So THANK YOU!! I feel humbled to have shared the same space as you."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Wellington District Police(LONDON) -- A pair of penguins have been released from police custody in New Zealand after being discovered hiding out in a sushi stand on Saturday.

The penguins, described as "waddling vagrants" by Constable John Zhu, were apprehended after receiving a report that the penguins had taken "refuge" at the stand on Featherston Street, Wellington.

Following a period of "temporary detainment," Wellington Police contacted New Zealand's chief governmental wildlife body, the Department of Conservation (DOC), and the penguins have now been taken into their care.

"Wellington's little blue penguins with a taste for sushi have been moved to a nesting box," the DOC posted on Twitter Tuesday. "Our rangers report that they seemed to like it and were making cooing noises which is a good sign."

Remarkably, the sushi-seeking penguins apprehended last weekend were not the first food-related penguin call Zhu received this week. Police received another call regarding a penguin taking refuge in a food stand near Wellington Rail Station Monday morning.

After "sensing something fishy," according to Wellington Police, Zhu discovered the nesting penguins. They were then released back into Wellington Harbour, with the assistance of the DOC and Wellington Zoo.

Little blue penguins, known locally as korora, are a protected species in New Zealand. Adult little blue penguins weigh around 2.2 pounds and grow to an average height of about 11.8 inches. Although they are spread widely along the New Zealand coast line, the population is declining and they are rarely seen during the daytime.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Franco Origlia/Getty Images(ROME) -- Another twist was added to the already perplexing mystery and 36-year search for Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old Italian girl who went missing in 1983 without a trace in the center of busy Rome.

The Vatican announced Saturday that following research and further investigation, two containers were found under a stone slab at the Teutonic Cemetery that could contain the missing bones of two 19th -century German princesses.

Last week, acting on a tip in the Orlandi case, Vatican officials opened two tombs belonging to two the noblewomen, but found no remains, either of the noblewomen or missing girl.

When the tombs turned up empty the Vatican recalled that there had been structural work done on the cemetery as recently as the 1960’s and 70’s, and suggested that perhaps the bones had been moved during this work.

The Vatican said the area and containers have been sealed until this coming weekend, when forensic experts, representatives of the Orlandi family, descendants of the German princesses and Vatican officials will gather to open them. Experts should be able to roughly date the bones in the first few hours but more extensive forensic tests could take up to 60 days.

The Orlandi family lawyer, Laura Sgro, told ABC News today that she and the family had been invited to the unsealing appointment Saturday. She said she thought it was "necessary that this be done as the remains of the two princesses has to be confirmed."

The Vatican has always denied its involvement in or knowledge of what happened to Emanuela, whose father was a Vatican employee. Vatican officials insist they do not have information to solve the mystery and maintain they have always been close to the family and always been supportive of them.

Theories have circulated in Italy for decades as to what may have happened to Emanuela and if she died, where her body may lie. Multiple false leads, anonymous letters, conspiracy theories and supposed sightings of Emanuela in distant countries have been pursued; none leading to anything concrete so far.

This is also not the first time tombs or possible burial sites have been exhumed in search of Emanuela’s remains. Last November, Roman prosecutors announced that bones found in annex to the Vatican’s Embassy to Italy were not Emanuela’s.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

pabst_ell/iStock(LONDON) -- A police investigation is underway at Heathrow, London’s biggest airport, after a 12-year-old boy managed to slip past security and board a plane headed to Los Angeles despite not having a ticket.

The British Airways cabin crew found the boy on board the aircraft on July 14 and asked to see his boarding pass.

The boy is believed to have been screened at airport security. Investigators, however, are looking into how he managed to bypass checks at the gate and board the plane.

“He was identified by cabin crew during pre-flight check. He did not have a ticket or any travel documents," a spokesman for Scotland Yard said. "The boy was an unaccompanied minor. He is not a UK national. As a security precaution, passenger de-planed following a discussion between police and the captain. The child is believed to have arrived at Heathrow as a transit passenger.”

According to passenger Rachel Richardson, the incident caused several hours of delays. She said she saw police with dogs arriving on the scene shortly after all passengers were escorted off the plane.

“So I survived my six hour wait at Heathrow but am now delayed on the tarmac because a young boy made his way onto our plane – BA269 – without a ticket," she tweeted. "Big security breach. So much fun for everyone on board. We were meant to take off at 4.15pm. It’s nearly 6pm.”

Passengers reported that the entire plane was screened by security again after the breach. The plane took off five hours after its original departure time.

British Airways said in a statement: “We have apologized to our customers for the delay to their flight after an issue during boarding. The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our top priority and everyone who had boarded the aircraft had been subject to security checks. We conducted additional precautionary screening as soon as this issue came to light and we are assisting the police with their inquiries.”

The Telegraph reported that the boy refused to leave the aircraft at first but was eventually removed from the plane by police officers who arrived to assist the British Airways flight crew.

A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport said in a statement, “We are working with our police colleagues and British Airways to understand how an unauthorized passenger boarded the incorrect aircraft. The individual did not represent a security risk and, purely as a precaution, the aircraft in question was re-screened and has since departed. We apologize for the disruption and will continue working closely with the authorities and our airline partners to keep the airport safe.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Mathematician and World War II codebreaker, Alan Turing, has been honored by the Bank of England as the new face of the 50 pound note.

Turing, who died at 41 in 1952, was best known for helping to defeat Nazi Germany by cracking their codes at Bletchley Park, the top-secret facility in the U.K. known as the “Home of the Codebreakers.”

Despite his tremendous contributions to computer science and his role in the war effort, Turing was later arrested and charged under a British law that criminalized homosexuality. As part of a deal to avoid prison time, Turning agreed to hormone therapy, which was in effect a form of chemical castration. He died on June 7, 1954, in what is widely considered a suicide by eating an apple poisoned with cyanide.

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, said that Turing was chosen to be on the 50 pound note because he was “an outstanding mathematician whose works had an enormous impact on how we live today.”

“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing’s contributions were far-ranging and path-breaking,” Carney said. “His genius lay in a unique ability to link the philosophical and the abstract with the practical and the concrete. All around us his legacy continues to build.”

Turing's exploits during World War II were the subject of the 2014 movie The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

Aside from his codebreaking, Turing was known for his work inventing the "Turing Machine," a theoretical computational device that is considered one of the foundations of computer science.

In 1950, he devised a test for artificial intelligence based on whether or not people can detect if they are conversing with computer instead of a human. In order to pass, a computer must be mistaken for a human by 30 percent of judges during a series of five-minute keyboard conversations.

Turing was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.

He is the first openly LGBTQ figure from British history to make an appearance on a Bank of England note.
John Leech, a former lawmaker from the Liberal Democrat Party who campaigned extensively for Turing's posthumous pardon, expressed his delight on Twitter about the decision to honor Turing.

"Very emotional seeing this for the first time today -- genuinely over the moon that Turing has been chosen as the face of the £50 note. A massive acknowledgement of his mistreatment and unprecedented contribution to society," Leech tweeted.

Some of the U.K.’s most senior institutions and lawmakers celebrated the news, lamenting the tragedy Turing endured during his lifetime, while celebrating the move to honor his legacy.

GCHQ, the U.K. government’s premier intelligence and security agency, said they were delighted that Turing had been chosen.

"Turing was the father of modern computing, a pioneer in #artificialintelligence and instrumental in the breaking of Enigma @bletchleypark during #WWII#Turing50," the agency wrote.

Ed Davey, a prominent lawmaker for the Liberal Democrat Party, applauded the decision, and lamented the tragic end for the British hero.

“Right we honour Alan Turing -- a brilliant man & national hero whose mistreatment is a stain on our history. We must never again allow such injustice,” Davey tweeted.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Cesare Ferrari/iStock(LONDON) -- The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has spread to the city of Goma, a major transportation hub along the Rwandan border that's home to more than two million people.

The confirmed Ebola case in Goma was announced late Sunday by the Democratic Republic of the Congo's health ministry. The patient, a 46-year-old pastor from South Kivu province, was admitted to an Ebola treatment center in Goma, but then transferred to one in Butembo on Monday morning, according to a statement from the health ministry.

It's the first Ebola case to be confirmed in Goma since the ongoing outbreak began nearly a year ago. The city, located on the nation's eastern border with Rwanda, is the bustling capital of North Kivu province, one of the two affected provinces in the epidemic. It receives a large number of travelers from across the country and the greater region.

The World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations, has decided three times not to declare the current outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, which would mobilize more resources and command global attention.

However, the WHO's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the identification of a confirmed case in Goma "could potentially be a game-changer in the epidemic" and he would reconvene the emergency committee as soon as possible to reassess the situation.

"Just when we start to get control of the virus in one area, it appears in another," Ghebreyesus said at a press conference Monday at the United Nations office in Geneva.

The pastor traveled from Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, to Butembo, a city in North Kivu province, on July 4 for an evangelical mission, passing through Goma on the way. While in Butembo, which is a major hot spot in the Ebola outbreak, the pastor delivered sermons at seven churches where he laid his hands on worshipers, including those who were sick, according to the country's health ministry.

The pastor began showing signs of illness on July 9 when he was still in Butembo. He was cared for by a nurse until he left by bus for Goma on Friday. The bus went through three health checkpoints en route to Goma, during which the pastor did not appear to show symptoms of Ebola. He gave different names at each checkpoint, possibly "indicating his desire to hide his identity and state of health," the health ministry said in a statement.

Upon arriving in Goma on Sunday morning, the pastor checked into a health center, feeling ill with a fever. No other patients were in the health center at the time, according to the health ministry.

The health center staff recognized the symptoms of Ebola and immediately alerted the response teams in Goma, who transferred the pastor to the city's Ebola treatment center. A laboratory test came back positive Sunday afternoon, according to the health ministry.

"It is important that people keep calm," the country's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said in a statement Sunday night. "Due to the speed with which the patient has been identified and isolated, as well as the identification of all bus passengers coming from Butembo, the risk of spreading into the rest of the city of Goma remains low. However, caution remains."

Although officials expressed alarm at the confirmation of Ebola in Goma, the Congolese health ministry and the WHO said they have been preparing for this for months. Since November, more than 3,000 health workers in Goma have been vaccinated for Ebola and trained in the detection and management of Ebola patients. The Ebola treatment center in Goma has been up and running since February, health officials said.

A total of 2,489 people have reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's northeastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri since ‪Aug. 1, 2018. Among those cases, 2,395 have tested positive for Ebola virus disease, which causes an often-fatal type of hemorrhagic fever, according to the latest bulletin from the country's health ministry.

The current outbreak has a case fatality rate of about 67%. There have been 1,665 deaths so far, including 1,571 people who died from confirmed cases of Ebola. The other deaths are from probable cases, according to the health ministry.

Two people, including a 5-year-old boy, who tested positive for Ebola after traveling home to neighboring Uganda have also died, according to the Ugandan health ministry. The boy was the first cross-border case in the ongoing outbreak.

Since Aug. 8, more than 161,400 people have been vaccinated against Ebola in the outbreak zone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, using an experimental vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical company Merck.

This is the 10th outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the most severe seen in the Central African nation since 1976, when scientists first identified the virus near the eponymous Ebola River. It's also one of the worst outbreaks ever, second only to the 2014-2016 epidemic in multiple West African countries that infected 28,652 people and killed 11,325, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At Monday's press conference, the WHO's director-general described the current outbreak as "even more complicated" than the West African epidemic, due to the region's violence and insecurity, sporadic attacks on health workers, a highly mobile population, political instability, community mistrust and misinformation.

"All of these challenges make this outbreak one of the most complex humanitarian emergencies any of us have ever faced," Ghebreyesus told reporters, noting that the risk of spread within the country and in the region remains "very high."

It's the first Ebola outbreak in history to occur in an active war zone. The WHO has recorded at least 198 attacks on health facilities and health workers in the region since January.

"We are dealing with one of the world's most dangerous viruses in the one of the world's most dangerous areas," Ghebreyesus said. "Every attack sets us back."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

JeanUrsula/iStock(NEW YORK) -- When Ali al-Nimr was 17, he says he was suddenly rammed by a Saudi Arabian government vehicle while riding his motorcycle through the eastern district of Qatif.

What happened next would change his life forever.

Al-Nimr was taken to a local police station, where he was beaten so badly he had to be transferred to a hospital, his lawyer said.

Initially, al-Nimr was hit with relatively minor charges related to his participation in the widespread 2011 to 2012 Arab Spring demonstrations against Shia repression in the eastern part of the country, where most of the population resides.

But when his uncle, the reformist Shia cleric and protest leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was arrested, prosecutors ramped up their case. Instead of minor infractions related to the protests, al-Nimr now stood accused of joining a terrorist organization, throwing Molotov cocktails and arson.

After being moved to an adult prison at the age of 18, he confessed to a string of crimes under extreme torture, according to his lawyer, Taha al-Hajji. At trial, al-Nimr rescinded his confession, but this was ignored by the presiding judge, according to al-Hajji.

Then, in May 2014, al-Nimr was sentenced to death by "crucifixion," contrary to Article 37 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that no individual should be sentenced to death for crimes committed under the age of 18. Saudi Arabia is one of the 196 countries that has ratified the CRC.

Al-Nimr, now 24, is not alone. In fact, he is one of three Saudi Arabian men known to be on death row who were arrested and charged with crimes allegedly committed when they were minors.

The cases of al-Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher, 23, and Dawood al-Marhoon, 24, follow the brutally familiar pattern of arrest, torture and then, once they could be tried as adults, being sentenced to death for crimes against the state committed before they turned 18, according to Reprieve, the human rights advocates campaigning for their release.

The U.N.'s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, an independent body that investigates "cases of deprivation of liberty," stated in 2017 that the Arab Spring protests were "recognized by the international community as peaceful" and that the trio "did not engage in any violent or hostile acts." The men were not arrested during the protests -- only after -- and no warrants were presented at the time of their arrests.

The Saudi Ministry of Justice has not responded to ABC News' request for comment for this story.

According to Reprieve case files, al-Zaher and al-Marhoon underwent an ordeal nearly identical to al-Nimr. Reprieve said that on March 3, 2012, 15-year-old al-Zaher was arrested, beaten, shot at and held in solitary confinement in Dammam after allegedly participating in protests.

"In prison, Saudi police tortured Abdullah -- including beating him with wire iron rods -- and forced him to sign a paper that he had not read, without allowing him to speak to his family or a lawyer," Reprieve wrote.

In May of that year, at 16, after refusing to "spy" on protesters, al-Marhoon was arrested in Dammam Central Hospital, where he was receiving treatment for injuries sustained in a traffic accident, Reprieve said.

"The Saudi authorities tortured him for weeks and refused to allow him to communicate with anyone on the outside world," the organization said. "For two weeks, Dawood's family had no idea where Saudi authorities were holding him, and he was prevented from speaking to a lawyer."

Both were transferred to adult prison at the age of 18 and allegedly tortured into confessing to the crime of "herabah," meaning banditry, according to the U.N. and Reprieve. The men were tried jointly and sentenced to death by crucifixion on Oct. 21, 2014, according to Reprieve case files.

Inhumane treatment of three young men in government custody, as reported by an unnamed source, was relayed in a report by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2017, in which the men are referred to as "Minors A, B and C," but their birth dates match those of al-Nimr, al-Marhoon and al-Zaher.

The Working Group concluded that their detentions were "arbitrary," and that "the adequate remedy would be to release all three minors immediately and to accord them an enforceable right to reparations, in accordance with international law." Their appeals were rejected in 2015.

In its response to the Working Group, the Saudi government denied the allegations of torture, unfair trial and trumped-up charges and said "its criminal justice system provided all the guarantees of fair trial and fair procedures that were consistent with its international obligations in the field of human rights under the general principles of an independent judiciary."

The government also said that the men were "fully fledged adults" and that there were "no violations of its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child."

All of the men were tried and sentenced in the non-Sharia Specialized Criminal Court, or SCC, which was set up in 2008, purportedly to deal with terrorism and state security offences. Generally, the law in Saudi Arabia is Sharia, which is based on Islamic traditions.

According to the American Bar Association, the court has been acting primarily in concert with the "longstanding pattern of misusing counterterrorism resources to stifle dissent" while failing to "effectively investigate and prosecute terrorism financing emanating from the Kingdom."

"Indeed, in several judgments reviewed, Shia protesters were given the death sentence solely on the basis of confessions alleged to have been produced through torture," the Bar Association wrote.

In a review of seven such cases, including al-Nimr's, the Bar Association found that "the SCC convicted every defendant on the basis of their 'confessions' alone, absent any additional evidence of the alleged crimes and although such evidence should have been readily available based upon the prosecution's assertions."

Al-Hajji painted a grim picture of the court as well: armed guards at every turn, no one but the defendant's attorney and a family member allowed in, surrounded by heavily fortified concrete walls and barriers.

"When I first saw Ali, he looked different than he did in the pictures that his mother always posts of him," al-Hajji, who attended the first hearing at the SCC alongside al-Nimr's father, told ABC News. "He was pale, his head was shaved, and his nose looked swollen and unnatural. I learned later this was because of the treatment he was exposed to during detention."

Al-Hajji and Reprieve allege that al-Nimr, as well as al-Zaher and al-Marhoon, were coerced into signing false confessions and denied fair trials. Both al-Hajji and al-Nimr's father attempted to visit Ali in prison "many times," the lawyer said, but were always refused entry, from when he was first assigned to the case in until his client's sentencing in May 2014. Al-Hajji said the prison would claim it had not received an order from the court, while the court would tell him it had in fact sent the order. This wrangling meant al-Nimr's own lawyer was never allowed to meet Ali in person during his case.

Unable to present a defense to the court, al-Nimr was sentenced to death without a right to a fair trial, al-Hajji alleges.

Al-Hajji, along with numerous other human rights activists, left Saudi Arabia to seek asylum in Europe in March 2016. That was two months after al-Nimr's uncle was killed along with 46 other prisoners in January, in a mass execution.

'Their situation is very dangerous'

The official status of al-Nimr, al-Zaher and al-Marhoon is "at risk of imminent execution," according to the U.N., having not been among the 37 people killed in a mass execution in April of this year. Six of the 37 executed then were minors at the time of their arrests, according to the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, a Europe-based organization that documents human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

The status of "at risk of imminent execution" is used when a defendant has exhausted all legal remedies. Since there is no notice of an execution date in Saudi Arabia, a defendant in that position is always at risk of execution.

Al-Zaher and al-Marhoon are being held in solitary confinement in Riyadh's Al-Ha'ir Prison, while al-Nimr is being held in the General Directorate of Investigations Prison in Dammam, according to Reprieve. The psychological impact is "horrible" for the men and their families, al-Hajji said.

"Ali, Abdullah and Dawood's position is now even more difficult than someone who is scheduled to die, because that person knows he may be executed at any moment," al-Hajji said. "Their situation is very dangerous. Their families live in constant dread, never knowing who has been killed. In the midst of such terrifying and brutal anticipation, some of them may wish for death to end these horrible feelings."

Since 2014, all three men have awaited their executions and "crucifixion," which in Saudi Arabia means the public display of the body after beheading. According to Bloomberg, crucifixion is rare in Saudi Arabia. A man from Myanmar was executed and crucified in 2018 after being accused of stabbing a woman to death, the outlet said.

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest numbers of executions each year worldwide, according to ESOHR, with 149 in 2018 and 122 so far in 2019.

Calls from the United Nations for Saudi Arabia to amend its death penalty were heeded to a certain extent: in 2018, the country amended its juvenile code, formally commuting the death penalty for those who committed crimes under the age of 15 to "placement in a home for a period of no more than 10 years."

But U.N. human rights experts said the change wasn't enough, arguing "children should never be subject to the death penalty." Under the the new rule, the death penalty is still in effect for al-Nimr, al-Zaher, and al-Marhoon, who were 17, 16 and 15, respectively, at the time of their arrests.

In April of this year, three men also arrested for allegedly committing crimes while were minors were executed among a group of 37, ignoring a call from the UNHCR to halt their sentences.

Those men, Mujtaba al-Sweikat, Abdulkarim al-Hawaj and Salman Qureish, had been charged with offenses that U.N. human rights experts "previously have considered to represent criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and expression, when they were aged less than 18 years old."

The execution of al-Sweikat, a prospective U.S. college student arrested in the kingdom at the age of 17, when he was on his way to attend Western Michigan University, drew especially sharp condemnation from Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

"Saudi Arabia's ruler MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] tortures & executes children," she posted on Twitter on April 24. "Already this year, he has killed 100 people. At least 3 today were arrested as teenagers & tortured into false confessions. He killed them for attending protests! Think about that."

The Arab Spring

The current wave of repression dates back to the 2011 Arab Spring and the former King Abdullah, according to Ali Adubisi, director of ESOHR, who himself spent over a year in prison between 2011 and 2012, before he fled.

"In 2011, the eastern region of Saudi Arabia was affected by the Arab Spring, especially as it suffered from economic and social deprivation as well as religious discrimination," he said. "The Saudi government's response to these moves was violent. Live weapons were used against demonstrators and participants, and then large-scale arrests were carried out … in prisons, the situation was also worse, more violent as torture and violence increased."

The policies have been continued under the current power axis of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman.

Despite the pair's initially promising a reform agenda, called Vision 2030, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi cast doubts on that effort.

International pressure is key

Sherif Azer, who leads Reprieve's Middle East team, said that the roles of the U.S. and U.K. are essential if there is going to be a change in the cases.

The Trump administration in particular has drawn criticism for failing to condemn Saudi Arabia's human rights record, with the president's saying bin Salman has done "really a spectacular job" at the G-20 summit and defending the kingdom amid its war in Yemen and the slaying of Khashoggi. The administration also approved two nuclear technology transfers to the kingdom after Khashoggi's killing, which a U.N. report said was the work of Saudi leadership.

"While Mohammed bin Salman glad-hands world leaders at the G-20 summit, young men arrested as teenagers sit on Saudi death row, wondering if they will be beheaded next. The Saudi regime appears to believe it is exempt from international law, and can execute children with impunity," Azer told ABC News. "Its western partners, particularly the U.S. and U.K., must stress that there will be consequences for such lawless and repugnant acts."

In a statement, a U.S. State Department spokesperson condemned the prospective executions.

"We call on the Government of Saudi Arabia, and all governments, to ensure that no death penalty is imposed in any case involving a defendant who was a minor at the time of the arrest or alleged crime," the spokesperson said. "We have spoken out publicly about our concerns, including in the Human Rights and International Religious Freedom reports, and continue to do so in our private diplomatic engagements as well."

In the 2018 report, the State Department mentioned the cases of the three men and said that "senior embassy and consulate general officials continued to press the government to respect religious freedom, eliminate discriminatory enforcement of laws against religious minorities, and promote respect and tolerance for minority religious practices and beliefs."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also just unveiled the Commission on Unalienable Rights at the State Department to reinvigorate the country's global approach to human rights in pursuit of a "moral foreign policy." Yet in an article for The Wall Street Journal, Pompeo highlighted the cases of Iran and Cuba but made no mention of Saudi Arabia.

So far this year, 122 people -- six were minors at the time of their sentencing -- have been executed in Saudi Arabia, double the number of executions carried out by this time last year, according to the EOSHR.

In the U.K., the High Court ruled last month that continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia were illegal in the context of the Yemen conflict. A U.K. Foreign Office source told ABC News that the country is opposed to the death penalty in all cases where international standards are not met, and no aspect of its commercial relationship prevents them from speaking frankly to Saudi Arabia about human rights.

"Certainly, international public opinion has turned more towards the reality of what is happening in Saudi Arabia away from the official Saudi promotion of reforms," Adubisi told ABC News. "But is it enough? As a number of states have emphasized in the Human Rights Council, there must be a binding mechanism to hold violators accountable in Saudi Arabia. This may contribute to the protection of dozens of lives."

It may take such radical change, either from within Saudi Arabia or because of pressure from Western nations, to save al-Nimr, al-Zaher, and al-Marhoon.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Biotechnology Center of the TU Dresden(NEW YORK) -- Greek police are questioning a suspect in the murder of the American biologist who was found dead in an abandoned World War II bunker on the island of Crete last week.

The suspect is a 27-year-old man from Kissamos, a town about 20 miles away from Chania, where Suzanne Eaton was attending a conference, Eleni Papathanassiou, spokesperson for Crete's police department, told ABC News. He was detained just days after police obtained DNA evidence from nearly a dozen people who live nearby.

A high-level police source who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity said the suspect claimed he committed the murder and intentionally hit Eaton with his car.

Crucial evidence was left behind in the bunker, which was built by Nazis after they occupied Crete in 1941, a police source told ABC News on Sunday. The source would not give details on exactly what the evidence was but said it would shed more light on the identity of the killer.

Eaton, a U.S. citizen and a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, was in Crete to attend a conference and vanished on July 2.

Investigators were searching for men with muscular builds and the ability to overpower Eaton, who was an avid runner and held a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. They also requested data records from local mobile phone companies in hopes that they may identify the person or people who left Eaton's body in the bunker.

Eaton fought for her life when she was attacked with someone with a knife, a police source told ABC News. Her body had substantial injuries from a knife that was "defensive" in nature, the source said.

Her cause of death was ruled a murder by asphyxiation, police said.

Coroner Antonis Papadomanolakis told Greece's ANT1 News that "something complicated happened" during Eaton's death, stating that it was "not immediate" and "there was duration involved."

It has not been determined whether Eaton died in the bunker or if she was killed somewhere else and had her body left there.

Eaton is native of Oakland, California, and is survived by her husband and two sons. Her remains will be returned to the U.S. for burial.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Biotechnology Center of the TU Dresden(LONDON) -- A crucial piece of evidence left behind in the abandoned World War II bunker in Greece where an American professor was found dead last week may identify her killer, according to authorities.

A high level police source, who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, said that investigators are confident the evidence will shed more light on the identity of the killer but would not give details on exactly what the evidence was.

At least 10 locals from the area on the island of Crete where 59-year-old Suzanne Eaton was attending a conference before she vanished, have been questioned, the source said.

Investigators took DNA samples from all of the persons of interest and have requested data records from local mobile phone companies in hope that they may identify the person or people who left Eaton's body in the bunker, which was constructed by Nazi troops after they occupied Crete in 1941 to protect from air raids.

Results from the DNA tests from the crime scene are expected to be available in a matter of days, the police source said.

Investigators are specifically interested in men with muscular builds and the ability to overpower someone as physically strong as Eaton, who was an avid runner and held a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Eaton fought for her life against an attacker armed with a knife, a police source told ABC News, stating that her body had substantial knife injuries described as "defensive" in nature.

Coroner Antonis Papadomanolakis told Greece's ANT1 News that "something complicated happened" during Eaton's death, stating that it was "not immediate" and "there was duration involved."

Officials have not determined whether Eaton was murdered at the bunker or if she was killed somewhere else and her body left there. Her death resulted from a "criminal act," Papadomanolakis said, and her cause of death was asphyxiation.

Investigators are aware of a claim by one potential eyewitness who said she saw "someone from far away" on the day Eaton disappeared, according to the police source. Authorities have not yet determined whether that information is related to the case.

Eaton, a U.S. citizen and a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, vanished on July 2. Her body was found nearly a week after she disappeared.

The Oakland, California, native is survived by her husband and two sons. Her remains will be returned to the U.S. for burial.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

Tracy Jerome Jester Jr(WASHINGTON) -- An American man died while vacationing in the Dominican Republic in March, the U.S. State Department and the man's family told ABC News this week -- making him the 11th American tourist to die in the Caribbean country since June 2018.

Tracy Jerome Jester Jr. of Forsyth, Georgia, died on March 17 of "respiratory illness," after a day of sightseeing while vacationing at a resort, his mother Melody Moore, told ABC News.

Jester, who was 31, was vacationing with his sister on the island, Moore said.

The name of the resort was not immediately available.

"We can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen in the Dominican Republic in March 2019," a state department spokesperson told ABC News in a statement. "We offer our sincerest condolences to the family for their loss. Out of respect for the family during this difficult time, we do not have additional information to provide."

There was no immediate evidence linking his death to any of the other tourists who have died. U.S. State Department officials say there has been no "uptick" in American deaths in the Caribbean country despite a sudden rise in media attention on the country.

In June, a couple from Maryland, Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, were found dead in their hotel room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana Resort in San Pedro de Macoris. Autopsy results revealed the cause of death as respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, officials said.

Moore said she spoke to her son around 7:40 p.m. on the night before he died. Jeter had told her he'd been out sightseeing that day and planned to leave at 10 a.m. the next morning to fly home.

Shortly afterwards, her daughter called to say Jester was vomiting and complaining he couldn’t breathe, Moore said.

Moore said she instructed her daughter to call 911.

“I was panicking because I couldn’t get to my children,” Moore told ABC News.

Her daughter told her Jester "just dropped to his knees and started throwing up blood, and was calling for Mama,” she said. By 4:40 a.m., she said, “he was gone.”

Although Jester's body was returned home on April 4, Moore said she knows nothing but what’s written on the death certificate: "respiratory issues." She confirmed that her son had lupus.

ABC News has not viewed the certificate.

Moore said the family has not ordered a toxicology report because Jester died before the other reported deaths in the Dominican Republic.

Moore said she feels compelled to share her story.

“I would like to know the truth" about Jester's death, she said.

She has reached out to the FBI, but has not yet met with anyone from the agency.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Subscribe To This Feed

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. service member was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday.

The announcement was made in a statement by NATO's Operation Resolute Support, but offered no further details about how the service member was killed.

"In accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, the name of the service member killed in action is being withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin is complete," officials said in a statement.

On Sunday morning, the U.S. Army identified the service member as a decorated Green Beret.

Sgt. Maj. James G. "Ryan" Sartor, 40, was from Teague, Texas. He joined the Army in June 2001 and was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, the Army said in a statement.

He had been deployed to Iraq several times in recent years; he was deployed to Afghanistan, too, in 2017 and this year.

“We’re incredibly saddened to learn of Sgt. Maj. James “Ryan” Sartor’s passing in Afghanistan. Ryan was a beloved warrior who epitomized the quiet professional,” said commander of 10th SFG (A), Col. Brian R. Rauen. “He led his Soldiers from the front and his presence will be terribly missed."

He earned several awards and decorations, and will be posthumously awarded with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star medal, the Army said.

Sartor's death was the first by a service member in Afghanistan this month.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it used an improvised explosive device, or IED, to target a U.S. vehicle in the Sayedabad District, a city in the Wardak Province.

The most recent service member death in Afghanistan was on June 30, which came during a non-combat incident. He was identified as 31-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Elliott Robbins of Ogden, Utah.

Two U.S. service member were killed on June 26 when attacked by the Taliban under small arms fire in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, the Pentagon said. They were identified as Master Sgt. Micheal B. Riley, 32, from Heilbronn, Germany, and Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, from Trumansburg, New York.

The death on Saturday was the 10th U.S. service member to die under hostile fire and the 12th overall this year.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Local News

WJTN News Headlines for July 16, 2019

Serious injuries have been reported in a two vehicle crash -- involving a State Police cruiser -- on Interstate 90 in the westbound lanes between Dunkirk and Silver Creek.....   Troopers say t...

Read More

Join Us Facebook