Behind the ISIS group that ambushed US forces in Niger

The Defense Intelligence Agency assesses it is “highly likely” that the group behind the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. service members was ISIS in the Greater Sahara, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News.

Other terror groups operate in that region, but none have claimed the Oct. 4 attack, the official said.

The recent death of four U.S. troops in Niger has highlighted the American military presence in West Africa.

U.S. Army Green Berets are in Niger as part of a counterterrorism mission to train that country’s military to help fight Islamic extremist groups, including ISIS in the Greater Sahara, in neighboring countries like Mali.

ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) was established in 2015 after the group’s current leader, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, broke from an al-Qaeda group and pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

According to the Pentagon, ISIS leaders in Syria have acknowledged al-Sahrawi’s allegiance through their Amaq news agency, but ISGS “has not been formally recognized as an official branch of ISIS.”

The group’s first confirmed terror attack occurred in September of last year when fighters targeted a customs post in Burkina Faso.

Since then, the group has continued to carry out attacks against regional security forces in Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as in Mali, where ISGS targets pro-government militias that support the French and United Nations forces in that area.

The Pentagon said ISGS typically uses “small arms and mortars to conduct ambushes and complex attacks.”

Since 2015, the al-Qaeda-aligned Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) has conducted attacks killing Westerners at hotels in Bamako, Mali, Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, and Grand Bassam, Cote d’Ivoire.

The Pentagon said there is a high risk of kidnapping in the region due to the operation of extremists groups like ISGS and JNIM.

In October 2016, JNIM abducted an American aid worker from his home in Abalak, Niger. He is one of six hostages believed to be currently held by JNIM.

The others are from Australia, Romania, Switzerland, Colombia, and France. All were abducted in Burkina Faso, Niger or Mali.

“JNIM recently released two Western hostages held for over five years, and received multi-million dollar ransoms for each,” the Pentagon said.

Another terror group in the region is Boko Haram, a pledged ISIS affiliate, which operates in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

ABC News’ Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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Body of missing protester may have been found in Argentina

Argentine investigators think they have found the body of a protester whose disappearance more than two months ago prompted large demonstrations demanding the government find him alive, officials said Wednesday.

Coast Guard divers discovered the body in a river in southern Argentina and an investigator involved said there are reasons to believe it is Santiago Maldonado. He said Maldonado’s national identity card and a jacket that a witness said he was wearing when he went missing were found with the body. The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity because he lacked authorization to speak publicly.

The details about the ID and the jacket were later confirmed by family members during a news conference, but they said they had not yet identified the body.

“Right now, we can’t confirm if it’s Santiago’s body or not,” said Maldonado’s brother, Sergio Maldonado. “Until I’m 100 percent sure, I’m not going to confirm it, even when we have some of his personal belongings.”

The body was found near the location of the protest Aug. 1, when Maldonado was last seen. Protesters were demanding the release of a jailed Mapuche indigenous leader and the return of lands belonging to Italian clothing company Benetton that are claimed by the Mapuche as their ancestral territory.

People at the protest said they saw police beat and detain Maldonado after he and others blocked a road in Chubut province, about 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) southwest of the Argentine capital.

Police never confirmed the arrest and denied wrongdoing.

But the case struck a chord in Argentina, where thousands died or were forcibly disappeared during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Maldonado’s disappearance prompted tens of thousands to protest and led to expressions of concern by international rights groups. U2 lead singer and social activist Bono raised the issue last week with President Mauricio Macri, whose government has been accused by some rights groups of being part a cover-up.

Federal Judge Gustavo Lleral told journalists the body had been found after an “ardous” search of the Chubut river. Lleral said he could not provide details about the state of the body or any other information out of respect for Maldonado’s family.

The discovery led political parties running in a midterm election on Sunday to suspend campaigning. Politicians from opposing parties had demanded the safe return of the 28-year-old artisan and tattoo artist.

Some had accused Macri’s government of failing to act in the case. Macri has yet to comment on the discovery of the body.

An attorney for Maldonado’s family said the body will be transferred by plane to Buenos Aires for identification on Wednesday or Thursday.

Members of Maldonado’s family blame border police for his disappearance and question how the body could have been found in an area of the river that had been searched before.

Activist Mabel Sanchez of Argentina’s Permanent Human Rights Assembly said she had been present with the family in previous searches, leading her to believe the body had been planted in the area. Maldonado’s brother, Sergio, also repeated this claim during the Wednesday press conference.

“I can’t be sure of it, but I think it’s possible,” he said.

Political and activist groups planned to stage marches in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires on Wednesday to demand answers on Maldonado’s disappearance.


Associated Press writer Almudena Calatrava contributed to this report.

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'It's all gone': Hurricane-ravaged Dominica fighting to survive

Verlyn Peter picked her way through the wreckage of her home, searching for anything she and her family could save.

“This used to be what we call our living room,” she said, then gestured to another area she said used to be her daughter’s bedroom.

“It’s all gone,” Peter said. “We tried to salvage some of the school books.”

The wooden frame and scattered belongings were all that remained of their home of 20 years on Dominica, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last month. Without warning, the storm rapidly accelerated from a Category 3 to a Category 5, and residents said they could do little to prepare.

In one night, life on this tiny island was turned upside down.

“There was lightning, there was heavy rain…[it was like] the hurricane was in the house,” said Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. “We have lost everything that money can buy, and that is a fact.”

Another now displaced resident named Emmanuel Peter said he can still remember the roar of the hurricane-force winds.

“It was just whistling, whistling,” he said. “I thought it would burst my eardrums.”

Many countries, including the United States, have suffered from this year’s brutal hurricane season. But the one with the highest death toll per capita was Dominica — a close-knit, mostly Christian nation that was left at the mercy of a hurricane that shared a name with the mother of Christ: Maria.

To date, 26 people are confirmed dead, 31 are still missing, and more than 50,000 people are displaced on an this island that has a total population of roughly 74,000.

When “Nightline” visited Dominica six days after the storm, the only way to reach its interior was with the U.S. military. Upon arrival, many who had the option to evacuate the island were in the process of departing — including 1,300 students at Ross University Medical School, an American college based in Dominica.

“I do feel sadness for the people of Dominica,” said Carey James, the college’s associate dean of operations, analysis and admissions. “My wife’s family is from Dominica … and it’s hard to see a place that you love go through that kind of a storm.”

Others who were evacuating from the island faced the difficult decision of separating their family. Gervan Honore put his girlfriend and their infant son on a ferry while he stayed back, determined, he said, to rebuild his country.

“It is hard to let him go, but as a father, you just have to do what you have to do,” Honore said. “Right now, I don’t think it is pretty safe for them.”

No one on the island has access to running, drinkable water, and with sewage systems destroyed, residents are contending with fears of diarrhea and dysentery. Much of the island remains without power, too.

For the vast majority of Dominicans, the choice to leave their home country isn’t available. More than 85 percent of houses have been damaged, and of those, more than a quarter simply do not exist anymore, leaving many homeless.

Not even the country’s prime minister was spared – the roof of Roosevelt Skerrit’s house was blown away and its floors flooded. On the night Hurricane Maria hit, Skerrit took to Facebook to post updates including one that said, “I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding” and another that said, “The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God!” Later he posted, “I have been rescued.”

“You can still see the shock, the anxiety, the fear the trauma in the eyes and the expressions of people every day,” he told “Nightline.” “Their entire life investments, life’s savings, blown away.”

While on the island, “Nightline” also met with resident Robert Benjamin, who stayed behind with his 83-year-old mother. Benjamin showed “Nightline” their family home, which remained standing with the roof intact, but their basement had been flooded and their furniture and belongings caked in a thick layer of mud. The flood waters rose so high that they covered the counter tops in a basement kitchen.

“But we have our life and we can at least house people down here once it’s cleared,” he said. “Like I said, there’s a lot of homeless.”

A few of the rooms in the house are still habitable, and Benjamin and his mother opened their home to three other families forced out by the storm.

“They are very, very good to us,” said Ursula Peter, one of people the Benjamin family took in. “If it wasn’t for Mrs. Benjamin and her son, we would not know what would have happened to us. We all live together as one family.”

All of the island’s agriculture was wiped out, and entire forests were flattened in Maria’s wake. Tourism, a driving force in its economy, will be scarce in the months to come.

As one ferocious storm followed another this hurricane season, Skerrit told “Nightline” that his country was on the front line of climate change and that its very survival was in question. Its future could serve as a warning to the world on the destruction global warming could bring.

“To deny climate change … is to deny a truth we have just lived,” he told the United Nations five days after the storm, telling the world body that island nations like Dominica are paying the heaviest price for a phenomenon they had little to do with.

“No generation has seen more than one Category 5 hurricane. We’ve seen two in two weeks,” Skerrit told Pannell. “So if you want to have information that … climate change is a real phenomenon,

For those still on the island, trying to reclaim their lives is now the task at hand.

“How we’re going to build up again, we don’t know,” Verlyn Peter said. “But we try to keep our spirits high, because if we break down, we break down.”

ABC News’ Bruno Roeber, Scott Munro and Lauren Effron contributed to this report.

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Putin warns against cornering North Korea

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has warned against driving North Korea into a corner.

While condemning Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, Putin said the standoff should be settled through dialogue, without “cornering North Korea, threatening to use force or going down to outright boorishness and swearing.”

Speaking Thursday to international policy experts at the Valdai forum in Sochi, Putin criticized the U.S. and its allies for missing a chance to build a safer and more stable world after the Cold War.

The Russian leader also noted that the U.S. has been slow to dismantle its chemical weapons arsenals in line with an international treaty, while Russia last month wrapped up the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

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Ousted Venezuelan prosecutor leaks Odebrecht bribe video

Venezuela’s ousted chief prosecutor leaked a video Thursday purporting to show an Odebrecht executive saying he agreed to pay $ 35 million toward President Nicolas Maduro’s campaign in exchange for prioritizing the Brazilian construction giant’s projects.

Luisa Ortega Diaz, who fled Venezuela in August after being removed from office by a new, all-powerful constituent assembly, said on her website that the video shows Venezuela Odebrecht president Euzenando Prazeres de Azevedo speaking to Brazilian prosecutors.

In the video, a man identified as Azevedo says a Maduro aide asked for $ 50 million for the socialist leader’s 2013 campaign. The special presidential election was convened shortly after the death of Hugo Chavez and Maduro was running a tight race with opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

Azevedo said he agreed to pay $ 35 million in exchange for assurances that if Maduro won, Odebrecht projects would receive “priority.”

“We negotiated, I agreed to pay and the resources were released,” he said.

Odebrecht acknowledged in a U.S. Justice Department plea agreement that it paid bribes throughout Latin America to secure lucrative contracts.

Maduro did not immediately remark on the claim, but Tarek William Saab, who replaced Ortega after her dismissal, said there is an order for Azevedo’s arrest. He added that Venezuelan authorities will be alerting Interpol in hopes of obtaining his capture.

The same statement noted that former lawmaker German Ferrer, Ortega’s husband, is also a wanted man. The government has accused him of running a $ 6 million extortion ring with corrupt prosecutors under Ortega’s supervision.

Shortly after fleeing Venezuela, Ortega told a group of Latin American prosecutors she believed Maduro had ordered her removal in order to halt an ongoing probe linking him and his inner circle to nearly $ 100 million in bribes from Odebrecht.

A longtime government loyalist, Ortega has become one of Maduro’s fiercest critics after breaking with his government in late March. She declared that a Supreme Court ruling stripping the opposition-controlled congress of its last powers violated the constitution.

Ortega has repeatedly claimed that she has evidence implicating Maduro and other top officials in corruption involving Odebrecht but has provided few details.

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Liberia expects provisional election results Thursday

Liberia’s provisional election results are expected Thursday, the election commission said Wednesday, as the West African nation waits to see who will succeed the Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the country’s recovery from Ebola and civil war.

A runoff election was widely expected with 20 candidates vying to replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president.

The National Election Commission said local vote counting had ended after a largely smooth election. It apologized for delays in some areas and said it had quarantined materials from one precinct and will investigate reports of alleged compromised voting.

Former soccer star George Weah, Vice President Joseph Boakai, former rebel leader Prince Johnson and former Coca-Cola vice president Alexander Cummings were leading in various parts of the country, local media reported.

A presidential candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round. Final results should be known within two weeks. A runoff election, if needed, would come two weeks after that announcement.

International observers said Tuesday’s vote went smoothly despite late starts in some counties. More than 2.1 million voters had registered to vote throughout Liberia, established by the United States in the 19th century for freed black slaves.

The United States called the election “an important step toward achieving Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected head of state to another in decades.”

Sirleaf will step aside after two six-year terms in office. She led the country’s recovery from a 14-year civil war and guided it through the Ebola crisis in 2014-15 that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.

Voters commended her leadership but said they were ready for change.

The election turnout was impressive, especially among younger generations, said Christopher Fomunyoh of the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, which was monitoring the elections.

“All of these people are saying they want change and improvement, and that explains why almost all of the candidates are presenting themselves as candidates for change,” Fomunyoh said.


Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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