World News

Eight injured, including children, in stabbing in French Alps, interior minister says

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(PARIS) -- Eight people, including children, were injured in a stabbing in the French Alps on Thursday morning, local authorities said.

The attack took place at about 9:45 a.m. local time, in Annecy's city center, a spokesperson for the local prefecture told ABC News.

The suspect, a 31-year-old Syrian, was arrested immediately and is currently in police custody, officials said.

Four children aged between 22 months and 3 years suffered life-threatening injuries. Two adults were also injured, according to authorities.

The prosecutor said the attacker’s motives remain unknown but do not appear to be terrorism-related, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in a speech in Annecy.

"The investigation will clarify both the course, the profile of this assailant, and naturally all light will have to be shed on this," Borne said. "But today we feel emotional and we are here with the minister of the Interior, alongside the inhabitants of Annecy, to express all the support and all the solidarity of the nation."

"Several people including children have been injured by an individual armed with a knife in a square in Annecy," French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter.

The local prefecture said it had not yet released the health status or ages of the victims.

Annecy sits close to the French border and is about 20 miles south of Geneva, Switzerland. Tourists flock to the historic medieval city center to stroll alongside canals, according to the local tourist office.

ABC News' Guy Davies contributed to this story.

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Joran van der Sloot, suspect in Natalee Holloway disappearance, on plane en route to US


(NEW YORK) -- Joran van der Sloot, the main suspect in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, is en route to the United States to face extortion and wire fraud charges, according to Peruvian Interpol.

The Dutch citizen was handed over to the FBI on Thursday morning in Peru, where he had been serving a 28-year sentence for the 2010 murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores.

Van der Sloot's plane took off for the U.S. around 8:15 a.m. local time from a military base in Lima.

In the U.S., van der Sloot faces federal extortion and wire fraud charges stemming from an accusation that he tried to profit from his connection to the Holloway case.

Holloway, 18, went missing in May 2005 on a high school graduation trip in Aruba. She was last seen with a group of young men, including van der Sloot, then 17.

Van der Sloot, who was detained as a suspect in Holloway's disappearance and later released, was indicted by an Alabama federal grand jury in 2010 for allegedly trying to extort Holloway's family.

Federal prosecutors alleged that in March 2010 van der Sloot contacted Holloway's mom, Beth Holloway, through her lawyer and claimed he would reveal the location of the teen's body in exchange for $250,000, with $25,000 paid upfront. During a recorded sting operation, Beth Holloway's attorney, John Q. Kelly, met with van der Sloot at an Aruba hotel, giving him $10,000 in cash as Beth Holloway wired $15,000 to van der Sloot's bank account, according to prosecutors.

Then, van der Sloot allegedly changed his story about the night he was with Natalee Holloway, prosecutors said. Van der Sloot claimed he had picked Natalee Holloway up, but she demanded to be put down, so he threw her to the ground. Van der Sloot said her head hit a rock and he claimed she died instantly from the impact, according to prosecutors.

Van der Sloot then took Kelly to a house and claimed that his father, who had since died, buried Natalee Holloway in the building's foundation, prosecutors said.

Kelly later emailed van der Sloot, saying the information he had provided was "worthless," according to prosecutors. Within days, van der Sloot left Aruba for Peru.

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Ukraine begins counteroffensive against Russia, officials say

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(KYIV, Ukraine) -- Ukraine on Thursday began its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia, officials told ABC News.

Well-trained Ukrainian troops had been gathering at strategic locations near the front lines in recent days, Western officials said last week.

Two Ukrainian officials, including a source close to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, confirmed to ABC News that an active phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive is underway.

Arguably, Ukraine's counteroffensive was getting going a few days ago, and the Institute for the Study of War said as much on Monday, saying on Twitter that "Russian and Ukrainian officials are signaling the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive."

However there have been significant developments over the past few hours. Multiple reports said a major battle has begun in southeastern Ukraine, south of the major Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

Well-placed unofficial pro-Ukrainian sources have said the southeastern front is becoming more active and there are unconfirmed images and reports that Ukraine's new modern German-made Leopard 2 tanks are involved in the offensive.

This morning the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said "the events that are happening now on the front line signal the start of the offensive and Ukraine will intensify its efforts."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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'No letters, no calls': Concern grows for families of Belarusian political prisoners

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(LONDON) -- An increasing number of family and friends of Belarusian political prisoners say they are unable to contact their loved ones.

There are hundreds of political prisoners in Belarus, many of whom were arrested in the aftermath of the disputed 2020 presidential election, when protests and dissent were violently suppressed.

Tatsiana Komich hasn’t heard from her sister, Maria Kalesnikava since February. Kalesnikava has been in prison since September 2020 after she refused to be forcibly deported from Belarus by tearing her passport to shreds.

She was a key figure in the 2020 election against President Alexander Lukashenko and remained an active protest leader even after most prominent activists had fled the country. She is serving an 11-year sentence, charged with extremism and trying to seize power.

“There are no letters, no calls, which previously were allowed also and no visits as well,” Khomich, who lives outside Belarus, said.

Their father sought answers from authorities but he was told that no restrictions on communication had been put in place. Kalesnikava simply did not want to communicate with them.

But Khomich says she knows that isn’t true.

“It’s definitely been done on purpose to isolate her, to cut off any communication with the outside world,” she said.

Kalesnikava’s is not a unique case. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus’ de facto opposition leader in exile, ran against Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential elections after her husband, Siarhei -- who had intended to run -- was imprisoned on trumped up charges.

She has posted to her social media accounts that she hasn’t heard from her husband in nearly three months.

Belarusian human rights organization, Viasna, says there are 1,513 recorded political prisoners in Belarus.

Dziyana Pinchuk, a human rights activist who works for Viasna, says Lukashenko has long hoped silence would stop people from asking questions about political prisoners.

“The regime supposedly erases these people from our lives, as if they are dead. But more than 1,500 political prisoners are alive and held in prisons only because they yearned for a democratic Belarus and opposed the war in Ukraine,” she told ABC News.

She added that while several high profile prisoners are bringing the issue to the mainstream, there are probably many more instances of contact being cut off between prisoners and family members “because Belarusian society is in a state of extreme fear, so relatives are afraid to tell human rights activists and journalists such facts under the threat of persecution.”

Khomich echoed this, saying relatives inside Belarus walk a fine line and that “people in Belarus cannot have any public protests or publicly actually express their opinion. It's a very complicated situation because you need to find the balance so that these relatives who are in Belarus, they are not imprisoned.”

Pinchuk added that Viasna continues to help families file complaints. They also work with the United Nations and other international organizations to both raise awareness for Belarusian political prisoners, and try to improve conditions amidst the increasing repressions.

But, despite their endeavors, answers about this latest crackdown on already limited freedoms continue to remain elusive.

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FBI arrives in Peru for extradition of suspect in Natalee Holloway's disappearance to US: Sources


(NEW YORK) -- The FBI agents who will be escorting Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, back to the United States have arrived in Peru, sources told ABC News.

Upon arrival in the U.S., van der Sloot will face a federal trial on extortion and wire fraud charges stemming from an accusation that he tried to profit from his connection to the Holloway case.

Van der Sloot has been serving a 28-year sentence at the Challapalca prison in Peru for the 2010 murder of 21-year-old college student Stephany Flores. The Dutch citizen was transferred to another prison in Lima over the weekend to await his extradition to the U.S., scheduled for Thursday.

The flight carrying the FBI agents arrived in Lima around 4 p.m. local time Wednesday, sources said. Sixteen people were on the flight -- including eight federal agents and eight crew members, the sources said.

Following a medical check and other extradition processes, van der Sloot and the FBI agents are expected to depart for the U.S. between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. local time. The Peruvian government told ABC News they will provide footage "showing his transfer."

Van der Sloot lost his extradition appeal earlier this week, according to the Peruvian Supreme Court. He had filed "a habeas corpus application against the citizen extradition process," according to a court document, and on Monday he refused to sign the laissez-passer that would allow him to be extradited, his lawyer told ABC News.

Van der Sloot was indicted by an Alabama federal grand jury in 2010 for allegedly trying to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Holloway's family after her disappearance.

Holloway, 18, went missing in May 2005 while on a high school graduation trip in Aruba. She was last seen driving off with a group of young men, including van der Sloot, then 17.

Van der Sloot was detained as a suspect in the teen's disappearance and then later released without charge due to a lack of evidence.

An Alabama judge later declared Holloway dead, though her body was never found. No charges have been filed in the case.

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Pope's night 'passed well' after intestinal surgery in Rome


(ROME) -- Pope Francis' night "passed well" after he underwent intestinal surgery on Wednesday, Vatican officials said Thursday morning.

The Holy See Press Office had said Wednesday evening local time that the surgery was over and that "it took place without complications and lasted three hours."

The pope then "spent a quiet night managing to rest for many hours," Matteo Bruni, director of the press office for The Holy See, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Francis was "in good general condition, alert and breathing on his own. Routine follow-up examinations are good," Bruni said.

The pontiff is expected to spend several days in the hospital recovering.

After his general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope went to Gemelli hospital in Rome and underwent "a Laparotomy and abdominal wall plastic surgery with prosthesis under general anaesthesia," Bruni said in a statement in Italian on Wednesday.

The surgery was arranged within the last few days, the Vatican said. He's expected to stay in the hospital for several days to make a full recovery.

The 86-year-old pontiff spent three days in the hospital in March after he complained he was having difficulty breathing.

The pontiff's March hospital stay had gone well "with normal medical progress," as he recovered from bronchitis, Vatican officials said at the time.

Francis also had intestinal surgery two years ago for diverticular stenosis. That three-hour operation included an hemicolectomy, which is the removal of part of the colon.

Francis often uses a wheelchair or walker during public events, including when he presided over the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, his retired predecessor, in January.

Vatican officials said on Thursday they planned to release additional information on Wednesday's procedure.

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'Catastrophe': Experts fear dramatic consequences from Ukraine dam collapse

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(KHERSON, Ukraine) -- The collapse of Ukraine's Kakhovka dam has left behind vast quantities of beached fish, contributing to fears of an environmental disaster along the country's Dnipro River.

Video verified by ABC News showed large quantities of beached fish lying on the depleted shoreline of the Dnipro River.

In a video posted to Telegram by Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine's presidential office, a man's voice can be heard stating that the date is June 7 and that his location is "Mar'yans'ke, Dnipropetrovsk region." ABC News geolocated the video to Mar'yans'ke, which lies on the Kakhovka reservoir around 65 miles upstream from the dam.

The dam and hydro-electric power plant in Russia-occupied southern Ukraine breached early Tuesday, prompting mass evacuations and fears of widespread ecological devastation with Ukraine accusing Russia of committing an act of "ecocide."

Russia has denied responsibility for the collapse, instead blaming Ukraine.

The area of Ukraine's southern Kherson region beneath the dam continues to reel from extreme flooding, but upstream of the dam, water levels have sharply receded in the Kakhovka reservoir feeding the river.

Roman Novitskyi, who studies fish at Ukraine's Dnipro State Agrarian and Economic University, told ABC News he was "not surprised" by the videos.

"Unfortunately this is exactly the kind of development we expected," Novitskyi told ABC News. "The Kakhovka reservoir is shallow, so as soon as the water recedes, large areas are immediately drained."

"In the video," Novitskyi said. "I see a lot of crucians, gobies, carps— valuable species of fish."

"This shows damage is being done to the fishery," he added.

Novitskyi said the Kakhovka reservoir contains some 10-15,000 tons of fish, while the smaller Dnipro reservoir to the north contains at least 4,000 tons of fish.

Contamination fears

Yevhen Korzhov, a hydrologist from Ukraine's Kherson State Agrarian and Economic University, told ABC News that the summer temperatures worsen the health risks from the dam breach, with living matter breaking down faster and in turn further contaminating water supplies.

"In the coming months, we will observe the deterioration of the quality of drinking water and the infection of fish, birds and aquatic animals," Korzhov said.

Korzhov said that early calculations suggested some 3,600 square kilometers of water in southern Ukraine were at risk of contamination.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Public Health on Wednesday informed residents to expect "a plague of fish," warning residents against collecting fish owing to the risk of botulism and intestinal infection.

And in a post on the messaging app Telegram, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that hundreds of thousands of people who normally rely on the Kakhovka reservoir have been left without access to clean drinking water.

Claims of 'ecocide'

Kateryna Polianska, an ecologist from the Ukrainian Environment People Law NGO told ABC News that the dam collapse will bring widespread habitat disruption to important national parks such as the UNESCO- protected Black Sea Biosphere Reserve, and even on the wider region including Romania, Georgia, Turkey and Bulgaria.

"This will change the population of birds and fishes in the region. It will destroy their breeding systems," Polianska said.

"It is a huge catastrophe for the ecosystem. It is so very hard. It's our nature, it's our Ukraine," she added.

Ukraine's country's public prosecutor told Reuters on Tuesday that it is investigating a possible case of "ecocide" in connection with the collapse of the dam.

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Questions remain over the disappearance of FBI informant in Russia

Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Forrest speaks to ABC News about his book "Lost Son." -- ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The detentions of U.S. citizens, like reporter Evan Gershkovich, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan by Russia, has kept tensions between the U.S. and Russia high as the war in Ukraine rages on.

Wall Street Journal national security reporter Brett Forrest has taken a look at another case, the 2015 disappearance and murder of Billy Reilly, an FBI informant in his new book, "Lost Son: An American Family Trapped Inside the FBI Secret Wars."

Forrest spoke about the case and his book with ABC News Live Monday. The FBI didn't immediately comment on the book and Forrest's reporting.

ABC NEWS LIVE: So your book dives into the post 9/11 world and the FBI's Confidential Human Source program. Explain what that program is and how Billy Reilly got pulled into it, and the world of global intelligence.

BRETT FORREST: Well, the FBI, since its foundation, has used cooperators and informants as a fundamental part of its work. But after 9/11, when Congress and the administration mandated that the FBI do more to be proactive in its prevention of terrorist conspiracy, the bureau really stepped up its game with such people and reconfigured their approach with them.

They created something called the Confidential Human Source program, which ultimately they used to gather not just evidence to be used in courtrooms, but intelligence to be used outside of DOJ.
ABC NEWS LIVE: And your book is based on an article that you wrote back in 2019 called "The FBI Lost Our Son," where you followed Billy's tracks up until the point where he was found without revealing what happened to him. Can you explain how he went missing?

FORREST: Billy Reilly was a young man growing up outside Detroit, and he came of age after 9/11 and was fascinated by global conflict and world religions and foreign languages. And that brought him to the attention of the FBI, as internet traffic did ultimately after the war in Ukraine broke out in 2014.

A year after that, Billy traveled to Russia. His parents weren't sure why he went and he disappeared there.

ABC NEWS LIVE: How do you hope or perhaps expect people to react at home when hearing his full story?

FORREST: Well, I think fundamentally the lesson we have here is that the FBI and other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to demand our scrutiny, and they need oversight.

In the case of Billy Reilly, the FBI has not been forthcoming with the family, nor with myself and others who are trying to get answers, including folks on Capitol Hill. And his story, the ending, at least, and the FBI's involvement in it remains a mystery.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Your colleague, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, is still being held. From your research, what can families like his hope for when it comes to dealing with Russia?

FORREST: Well, not every American who goes missing or is detained in Russia gets the same treatment from the U.S. government. Evan, despite the negative experience that he's undergoing, at least has the support of the U.S. government who has designated him as wrongfully detained.

There are other people, other Americans in Russian prisons who have been there for years under questionable circumstances, who have been forgotten. Nonetheless, all these people face a terrible fate of not really being able to affect their circumstances.

ABC NEWS LIVE: You've also been on the ground in Ukraine covering the many brutal battles of the Ukraine-Russia war more than a year into this conflict. What's your biggest takeaway from your time in the field there?

FORREST: Well, I have had quite a number of years in both countries, so for me, it's been a terrible personal experience as well. And we all just want to figure out how this could possibly end. And that remains a big question mark because both sides have told themselves that they're winning, at least to some degree. And that makes it very difficult for them to come to the negotiating table.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Would you go to Russia at this point for work or personal reasons or otherwise?

FORREST: I think that's probably not a good idea, especially given what's been happening with Evan. This is something I think many of us were afraid of as a possibility once the war began and the worst forces in Russia came to the fore.

The genie is out of the bottle in Russia. And I don't think it's necessarily a good idea for folks to go over there and work there at least Americans.

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Conservative group seeks Prince Harry's US immigration documents; judge tells DHS to respond

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(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge on Tuesday directed the Biden administration to take action after a conservative group sued to reveal government records about Prince Harry's immigration to the U.S.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols urged the government to decide how it will respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, that aims to obtain documents related to the duke of Sussex's visa and legal status in the U.S.

Harry, who married Meghan Markle in 2018, moved to California in 2020 after stepping back from the British royal family.

Visa applications are not typically disclosed publicly due to privacy concerns.

But the Heritage Foundation filed a lawsuit last week to get Harry's immigration documents, calling for the Department of Homeland Security to expedite its FOIA process because of media coverage of the prince's admitted drug use when he was younger.

The Heritage Foundation has said in court filings that the drug use “surfaced the question” about whether Harry received favorable treatment in being granted entry to the U.S. and whether Harry disclosed his past in his visa application, as required.

The question of whether immigration authorities must release the documents has not been taken up by the federal court. Judge Nichols said Tuesday that he was “frustrated” he was instead forced to consider a “highly technical and procedural” freedom of information question instead of getting straight to the merits of the case.

DHS now must decide whether it can release any of the requested documents, expedite the FOIA process or deny The Heritage Foundation request. If the foundation is denied, they could seek to have the judge release the paperwork in the public interest -- a claim the government has played down.

Federal lawyers argued on Tuesday that the U.K. tabloids noted by the Heritage Foundation as significant examples of public interest were not “mainstream media” to most Americans.

Multiple sub-agencies of DHS, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, have already denied the foundation's request, according to a Justice Department attorney.

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Strategically vital Nova Khakovka dam blown up near border with Ukraine and Russia-controlled Crimea

ABC News

(LONDON) -- A section of a strategically vital Ukrainian dam and hydroelectric powerplant under Russian control has been blown up. Ukraine and Russia are blaming each other for the breach.

The Nova Kakhovka dam, which was built in 1956 and traverses the enormous Dnipro River in southern Ukraine, suffered an explosion overnight at approximately 2 a.m. local time as a deluge of water could be seen bursting through the dam that had previously held back more than 18 cubic kilometers of water -- comparable to the size of the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

The dam's breach could have a massive impact on the wider war effort between Russia and Ukraine.

A defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held an emergency meeting of his National Security Council on Tuesday and blamed "Russian terrorists" for the dam explosion. In an address to the nation later in the day, Zelenskyy called the attack on the dam "an environmental bomb of mass destruction."

"The whole world will know about this Russian war crime, the crime of ecocide," he said in his speech. "For the sake of their own security, the world should now show that Russia will not get away with such terror."

Zelenskyy said he is awaiting a meeting with the UN Security Council about the situation.

The UN said it is rushing support to Ukraine, which includes drinking water, water purification tablets and other "critical" assistance.

"The United Nations has no access to independent information on the circumstances that led to the destruction in the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam," the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement Tuesday. "But one thing is clear: this is another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine."

Meanwhile, an estimated 16,000 residents who live downriver were told to leave immediately after the explosion as the governor of Kherson ordered an immediate evacuation of citizens. Officials told residents they had five hours to get out, instructing them only to take essential documents and directing them to buses that would take them to higher ground.

Zelenskyy said crews are working hard to save as many people from the nearby areas and provide drinking water to those who received it from the Kakhovka reservoir.

"It is very important now to take care of each other and help as much as possible," he said.

The explosion at the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, which seems to be beyond repair, could also affect the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant which is located approximately 100 miles upstream.

The reservoir provides cooling water to the plant and the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it is "closely monitoring" the situation surrounding the dam.

The IAEA said later in the day that the water level at the plant has been falling throughout the day, but the facility has back-up options available and there is no short-term risk to nuclear safety and security.

"If and when the level goes below 12.7 metres, the ZNPP will no longer be able to pump water from the reservoir to replenish the reserves at the site. As the full extent of the damage to the dam is not yet known and the water loss rate is fluctuating, it is not possible to predict exactly when this might happen," the IAEA said in a statement. "If the current rate were to continue, however, this level could be reached in the next couple of days."

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi noted that Ukraine had carried out stress tests following the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, including the scenario of the Nova Kakhovka dam failing.

“There is a preparedness for events like this at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, which will help staff to handle this new challenging situation. But, clearly, this is making an already very difficult and unpredictable nuclear safety and security situation even more so," he said in a statement.

Zelenksyy said he spoke with Grossi about the situation at the plant.

"I called on the IAEA Director to directly and unequivocally condemn today's Russian act of terrorism and to maximize our efforts to liberate the ZNPP," Zelenskyy said.

Grossi said he will lead a IAEA rotation next week to assess the situation.

Editor's note: The headline has been adjusted to better indicate the border location.

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Joran van der Sloot, suspect in Natalee Holloway disappearance, loses appeal; will be extradited Thursday

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(NEW YORK) -- Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, has lost his extradition appeal and will be sent to the United States on Thursday, according to the Peruvian Supreme Court.

Van der Sloot had filed "a habeas corpus application against the citizen extradition process," according to a court document, and on Monday he refused to sign the laissez-passer that would allow him to be extradited, his lawyer told ABC News.

The Dutch citizen has been serving a 28-year sentence in Peru for the 2010 murder of 21-year-old college student Stephany Flores. Van der Sloot left the Challapalca prison in Peru on Saturday to be transferred to another prison in Lima to await his extradition to the U.S.

In the U.S., van der Sloot faces extortion and wire fraud charges stemming from an accusation that he tried to profit from his connection to the Holloway case.

Holloway, 18, went missing in May 2005 while on a high school graduation trip in Aruba. She was last seen driving off with a group of young men, including van der Sloot, then 17.

Van der Sloot, who was detained as a suspect in the teen's disappearance and then later released, was indicted by an Alabama federal grand jury in 2010 for allegedly trying to extort Holloway's family.

Federal prosecutors alleged that in March 2010 van der Sloot contacted Holloway's mother, Beth Holloway, through her lawyer and claimed he would reveal the location of the teen's body in exchange for $250,000, with $25,000 paid upfront. During a recorded sting operation, Beth Holloway's attorney, John Q. Kelly, met with van der Sloot at an Aruba hotel, giving him $10,000 in cash as Beth Holloway wired $15,000 to van der Sloot's bank account, according to prosecutors.

Then, van der Sloot allegedly changed his story about the night he had been with Natalee Holloway, prosecutors said. Van der Sloot claimed he had picked her up but that she had demanded to be put down, so he threw her to the ground. He said her head hit a rock and she was killed instantly by the impact, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said van der Sloot then took Kelly to a house and claimed that his father, who had since died, buried Natalee Holloway's body in the building's foundation.

Kelly later emailed van der Sloot, saying the information he had provided was "worthless," according to prosecutors. Within days, van der Sloot left Aruba for Peru.

ABC News' Jack Date and Nadine El-Bawab contributed to this report.

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Prince Harry addresses James Hewitt rumors in day one of testimony in tabloid phone hacking case

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(LONDON) -- Prince Harry took to the witness stand in a U.K. courtroom on Tuesday, becoming the first British royal to do so in more than a century.

The Duke of Sussex was grilled by the defense team in his lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Daily Mirror.

Harry and 100 other celebrities, including the estate of the late George Michael, are suing Mirror Group Newspapers for alleged misuse of private information between 1991 and 2011, including phone hacking and intercepting voicemails.

In a prepared witness statement released Tuesday, Harry said the articles published about himself and his family played a destructive role in his childhood and provoked feelings of paranoia in him.

"As a teenager and in my early 20s, I ended up feeling as though I was playing up to a lot of the headlines and stereotypes that [the tabloid press] wanted to pin on me mainly because I thought that, if they are printing this rubbish about me and people were believing it, I may as well 'do the crime,' so to speak," Harry said in the statement. "It was a downward spiral, whereby the tabloids would constantly try and coax me, a 'damaged' young man, into doing something stupid that would make a good story and sell lots of newspapers."

He continued, "Looking back on it now, such behavior on their part is utterly vile.”

Harry, the youngest child of King Charles III and the late Princess Diana, also addressed the tabloid rumors that he was born from an affair between Diana and James Hewitt.

Harry said in his witness statement that he wondered if the rumors were planted by the tabloids so that he would be "ousted from the Royal Family."

"Numerous newspapers had reported a rumour that my biological father was James Hewitt, a man my mother had a relationship with after I was born. At the time of this article and others similar to it, I wasn’t actually aware that my mother hadn’t met Major Hewitt until after I was born," Harry said in his statement. "This timeline is something I only learnt of ... around 2014, although I now understand this was common knowledge amongst the Defendant’s journalists."

He continued, "At the time, when I was 18 years old and had lost my mother just six years earlier, stories such as this felt very damaging and very real to me. They were hurtful, mean and cruel. I was always left questioning the motives behind the stories. Were the newspapers keen to put doubt into the minds of the public so I might be ousted from the Royal Family?"

Harry's legal team has accused Mirror Group Newspapers of unlawfully gathering information on an "industrial scale."

Mirror Group Newspapers is contesting the claims, saying in the 33 articles being examined by the court that its reporters found the information through lawful reporting.

Harry's testimony in the case is expected to continue on Wednesday.

The prince traveled to the U.K. just prior to his testimony Tuesday because of a late flight to the U.K. after celebrating the birthday of his daughter, Lilibet, who turned 2 on Sunday, according to his attorney.

Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, live in California with Lilibet and their 4-year-old son, Archie.

Since stepping down from his role as a senior working royal in 2020, Harry has made no secret of his disdain for the British tabloid media. In his witness statement, Harry said it he has "a very difficult relationship with the tabloid press in the U.K."

"Harry is somebody that is very clear in what he wants to achieve. He believes he has been treated badly by this newspaper group," said ABC News royal contributor Robert Jobson. "He believes he's had his phone hacked by this newspaper group and therefore is determined, as he is right, to be compensated for it, and to receive an apology."

The lawsuit against the Mirror Group Newspapers is one of six lawsuits that Harry is currently waging against the British tabloids.

He made an unexpected appearance in a U.K. courtroom in March for a hearing on a lawsuit that he, Elton John and other celebrities have brought against Associated Newspapers Ltd., the publisher of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline.

The case, first announced last year, alleges the celebrity defendants are "the victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy," according to a press release shared last year by Hamlins, the London-based law firm representing Harry in the case.

Harry told ABC News' Michael Strahan in January that the lawsuits he is involved in are his attempt to bring about real change when it comes to the media coverage of celebrities and the royal family.

"I'm in this to be able to say, 'Draw a line. Enough. We can all move on and get on with our lives,'" he said. "But if this continues, then I'm naturally, deeply concerned that what has happened to us will happen to someone else."

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Finnish businessman handed €121,000 speeding ticket

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(LONDON) -- A wealthy man in Finland has been handed a whopping €121,000 fine ($129,544) for speeding.

Andres Wiklöf -- one of Finland’s richest men -- was driving on Finland’s Åland Islands on the Järsövägen headed towards the Åland Island capital, Mariehamn, when police caught him driving approximately 50 mph in a 30 mph zone.

Speaking to local media, Wiklöf said that he was aware he was over the speed limit which changed “suddenly” and was attempting to slow down, but did not manage to slow down fast enough.

“I really regret the matter,” he told Åland Island’s main newspaper, Nya Aaland. Wiklöf was also issued with a 10-day driving license suspension.

Under Finland’s “Day-Fine” system, an individual's income is a key determinant in the size of the fine they are subsequently issued with by law enforcement. Finland was the first Nordic nation to introduce the income-based “Day Fine” system in 1921, and several European nations have followed suit since.

Further, under the Finnish “Day-Fine” system, the more a driver is over a speed limit, the higher the number “day fines” received.

It is not the first speeding fine Wiklöf has been issued. He is reported to have previously been issued with a €63,000 fine in 2018 and, in 2013, he received a €95,000 fine -- together amounting to a grand total of €279,000 over the last decade.

Other massive fines from Finland are former Nokia Boss, Anssi Vanjokki, who was issued a €116,000 for speeding on his motorbike, and Remia Kuisla, a Finnish businessman who was fined €54,000 for driving 64 mph in a 50 mph zone.

Wiklöf says he hopes the fine will be used positively.

“I have heard that they are going to save one and a half billion on healthcare in Finland, so I hope that the money can fill a gap there,” said Wiklöf.

Wiklöf, an Åland native, is ranked among Finland’s richest men. He is the chairman of Wiklöf Holding, his business empire that includes businesses in logistics, real estate and trade. It is estimated to be worth over $10 million.

According to the European Road Safety Observatory, drivers in Finland are “more supportive” for stringent legislation on speeding and drunk driving compared to their European counterparts.

The world-record speeding-ticket is currently held in Switzerland which has a similar “day-fine” system. Here, a total fine of $1,091,340 (3,600 Swiss franks per day for 300 days) was issued to a Swedish motorist caught driving 170 kilometers per hour (105 mph) over the speed limit.

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Amid military aggression, China ramps up diplomacy with US

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(WASHINGTON) -- Although U.S. officials have accused China's military of carrying out dangerous provocations in recent days, diplomats from both countries are ramping up engagement at the same time -- a two-prong approach that seems to be increasingly driven by Beijing.

On Monday, White House spokesperson John Kirby condemned a close call in the Taiwan Strait over the weekend when a Chinese warship crossed just about 150 yards across an American destroyer's bow, a move the Pentagon described an "unsafe maritime interaction."

"We urge them to make better decisions about how they operate in international airspace, and sea-space," Kirby said, adding that this incident as well as a Chinese fighter jet recently coming within 400 feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace speaks to an "increasing level of aggressiveness" demonstrated by Beijing's military.

But despite that public chastisement by the Biden administration, high-level U.S. officials from the State Department and the National Security Council held private talks in Beijing -- the latest sign that tensions between the powers are easing, at least on the diplomatic front.

The State Department's deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel described the meetings as "candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication," and an effort to build on other recent high-level engagements.

"President Biden has been clear we don't seek any kind of new Cold War and our competition must not spill over into conflict," Patel said.

While the Biden administration has been consistent in seeking to maintain open lines of communication across areas of government, Beijing's split-strategy has become more evident in recent weeks as it apparently seeks to thaw relations with Washington while continuing to show its military might in the Indo-Pacific.

China's reticence to participate in military-to-military communication with the U.S. across senior and working levels is a longstanding tradition, and one on display last week when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's request for a face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterpart at the annual Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore was rejected.

A reason for that hesitancy, sources and experts say, is that the Chinese government sees military communication between the countries as dominated by the Taiwan issue -- a matter where Beijing sees virtual zero room for compromise, and thus, little need for conversation.

But in other arenas, Beijing sees plenty of potential benefits in engaging with Washington -- particularly when it comes to the U.S.-China trade relationship.

Although China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has periodically sent mixed messages about its posture towards the U.S., its actions in recent weeks have displayed a renewed enthusiasm for diplomacy. In May, Beijing appointed an ambassador to the U.S. after the post was left vacant for months and sent a delegation to Detroit to participate in trade talks.

Officials from both countries also see the recent visit by U.S. officials to Beijing as an important precursor for rescheduling Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip the city, which was scrapped in February after a Chinese surveillance balloon was identified over the U.S. mainland.

Sources say that getting that trip back on track is something that both countries want to see happen, and that it may be added to the calendar before the end of the summer.

While there are examples of progress in the bilateral relationship, American officials have warned that a gap in military-to-military communication may still result in a dangerous blind spot, which could lead to additional close-calls between countries and dangerous escalation.

"It won't be long before somebody gets hurt," Kirby said of the intercepts. "They can lead to misunderstandings. They can lead to miscalculations."

ABC's Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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Ukrainian counteroffensive 'shaping-up' amid attempts to destabilize Russian forces

A billboard promoting contract army service is pictured in the Russian city of Belgorod, some 40 km from border with Ukraine, on May 27, 2023. -- Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

(SLOVYANSK, Ukraine) -- Well-trained, well-equipped Ukrainian combat forces are now in "assembly areas," close enough to front line areas, meaning they could launch a concerted attack on Russian positions in a relatively short time period, according to Western officials.

In the meantime, Ukraine has already increased its offensive operations, both within its own borders and in Russia and beyond, in order to attempt to create more favorable conditions ahead of a much-anticipated counteroffensive.

Current operations were part of a "bigger plan," which would eventually lead to a major offensive, a senior Ukrainian commander said in a recent interview with ABC News.

Unconfirmed reports indicated on Monday that Ukrainian offensive actions in certain areas of the front lines were increasing.

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed to have repelled a number of Ukrainian attacks, however the leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Ukrainian forces had advanced around the settlement of Berkhivka, to the north of the Ukrainian eastern city of Bakhmut.

"The troops are fleeing," said Prigozhin in an audio message posted online.

It's unclear whether fresh offensive actions by the Ukrainian military will evolve into larger assaults on wider areas of the Russian front lines or whether they are more localized -- or even diversionary operations -- aimed at testing and wearing down the Russian defenses in preparation for a more substantial offensive later on.

In an online briefing this week, Western officials cautioned that, even though Ukraine now has the military weaponry and equipment it needs to punch through the Russian lines, a large-scale assault could still be "weeks" away.

The officials said Ukraine was currently engaged in "shaping operations," which refers to a series of actions on and off the battlefield aimed at destabilizing the Kremlin and the Russian military in order to create the optimal conditions for the counteroffensive.

Despite officially denying involvement in a drone attack last week on Moscow, in private Ukrainian officials have indicated that Ukrainian intelligence was behind that strike and a number of other recent attacks inside Russia.

Officials in the Russian region of Belgorod have also reported a spike in Ukrainian artillery and drone attacks in recent days.

The assessment from Western officials given to reporters was that the series of attacks inside Russia are "difficult for the Russian leadership" as the Kremlin has to strike a balance between recognizing the seriousness of what had been happening, but also not reinforcing the notion that the war in Ukraine is now having a tangible impact in Russia.

The officials said they were now "tracking" Russian media sources to see whether criticism of the Russian leadership might become "a less taboo thing."

Over the past two weeks ABC News has interviewed four middle-ranking and senior Ukrainian commanders, as well as low-ranking soldiers about the forthcoming counteroffensive.

Most of the men said preparations for the counteroffensive are moving into the final stages.

Colonel Oleksandr Bakulin, who commands around 6,000 men positioned near the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut said Ukraine was "pushing" in some frontline areas, however he cautioned that in other areas, Russian forces were doing the same.

Bakulin said recent Ukrainian gains in areas near to Bakhmut were part of a "bigger plan" which would "eventually lead to the counteroffensive."

In recent weeks Ukraine has also stepped-up long-range missile strikes on areas of occupied territory deep behind the Russian lines.

The efficacy of such strikes is impossible to judge, given that there is little public comment about the strikes and claims by either side cannot be verified.

However verifiable videos circulating online fit the same broad pattern seen in the run-up to Ukraine's counteroffensive on the city of Kherson back in November which was preceded by Ukrainian strikes on Russian military assets and logistics.

Officials in the United Kingdom said their Storm Shadow missiles are now being used by the Ukrainian military.

Those missiles have a range of around 155 miles, which is roughly triple the range of the missiles which the United States has supplied to Ukraine for use with the HIMARS missile-launchers.

In order not to reveal sensitive information to the Russians the quantities of long-range missiles supplied to Ukraine has not been revealed.

ABC News contributing military analyst, retired Col. Steve Ganyard questioned whether Ukraine's stocks of Storm Shadows will be sufficient to substantially weaken Russian forces.

"Continued attacks on fuel storage areas and ammunition dumps will eventually prove useful in weakening Russia's ability to wage war," Ganyard said.

However he was skeptical about whether this can be achieved to a sufficient level over the next few weeks.

Russian defensive fortifications are also now, in places, "potentially formidable," said Western officials.

Ganyard said he agreed with that assessment. He said there are still question marks about whether the Ukrainians "have the overwhelming force required to advance against a well dug-in opponent."

However, he said, it was also important to bear in mind "how surprisingly poorly the Russian military has performed in this war."

"It will all come down to how good Ukrainian and western supplied intelligence is, and how well Ukraine is able to exploit the Russian weaknesses they find," Ganyard said.

Senior Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have in recent days given a number of interviews and statements in which they have said that Ukrainian forces are now ready for the pending offensive.

However, as Western officials conceded, a major attack might still be weeks away.

Keeping the Russian military waiting and guessing is an important part of the Ukrainian game plan.

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