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Syrian Defector Details War Atrocities to House Panel

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers Thursday expressed horror at the alleged atrocities described by a Syrian defector, who apparently backed up his claim against Bashar al-Assad's government with photographs he took of corpses.

The Syrian known as "Caesar," who wore a disguise to protect his identity, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "What is going on in Syria is a genocidal massacre."

He said his images of thousands of dead men, women and children were the result of working as a military-police photographer. "Caesar" subsequently smuggled as many as 50,000 photos out of the country when he defected.

New York Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel said "Caesar"'s account of the campaign waged against civilians "are war crimes, plain and simple." Engel has long supported giving weapons and aid to moderate rebel groups, claiming the U.S. missed an opportunity to help depose Assad.

Other GOP lawmakers blamed the Obama administration for doing little to prevent wholesale massacres.

Meanwhile, Damascus has accused the defector of fabricating tales of government atrocities, claiming that the dead bodies in his photos were the result of crimes caused by "terrorists," the name Assad has given to all enemies of the government.

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Israel and Hamas Agree to 72-Hour Cease-Fire Beginning Friday

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UPDATE: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have declared the cease-fire officially over, blaming Hamas for continued violence even under the break from heavy fighting.

"Israel announces that Hamas has thus ended the humanitarian ceasefire and prevented the residents of Gaza from benefiting from it," a spokesperson for IDF said in a statement Friday morning.

"Israel will take strong action in response to the aggression of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip."

(WASHINGTON) -- A 72-hour ceasefire in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict was announced by the United Nations and Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, says the ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much needed reprieve from violence.

"During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief and the opportunity to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead," Dujarric said.

"Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately be going to Cairo for negotiations with the government of Egypt," Dujarric added.

Kerry, speaking in New Delhi, said, "It is a lull of opportunity. A moment for the sides, the different factions to come together with the state of Israel in an effort to try to address ways to find a sustainable ceasefire."

The ceasefire will begin at 1 a.m. ET.

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After Vicious Attack, Afghan Woman Rebounds with Support of US Family

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Bibi, the young Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off by her husband, is still healing inside and out but speaks English and calls the United States home.

Now known as Aesha and with a new nose, the once-shy girl who did not know what her future held lives with an Afghan-American family in a Maryland suburb.

For the last two-and-a-half years, the Arsalas – parents Mati and Jamila and their 16-year-old daughter, Miena – have called 22-year-old Aesha family.

Mati Arsala said Aesha had a special Pashto word for him that means "uncle."

"She call me 'Moma,'" he said. "Moma comes from the mother side, you know, which is [mother's] brother. … Sometime [she] call me Dad when she's in a good mood."

Like everyone around the world, the Arsalas had heard about the young Afghan girl, what she had been through and how she'd ended up on the cover of Time magazine.

When Aesha was 12, she was given to a Talib who married her, abused her, and forced her to sleep in the stable with animals, she said. After she tried to run away, local Taliban ordered her husband to punish her by disfiguring her face. He severed her nose and ears, she said, while his brother held her down.

Left for dead, she said she tried to crawl to an uncle's house but he refused to help her. She then staggered to her grandfather's house and he called her father. Because the local Afghan hospital could not treat her wounds, her father took her to the nearby U.S. military facility.

"Four cowarded men, to hold her hand and cut her nose and ears. [It] took two years to put her back together," Mati Arsala said. "There wasn't any justice. Nobody has done anything. Hope I have the hand to do it."

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In 2010, Aesha was photographed for a Time cover story, becoming an international symbol for women's rights in Afghanistan.

Aesha also traveled to the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills, California, to begin reconstructive surgery. She went through nine major surgeries to give her a new nose. The final journey of her surgery has taken place at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Her ears were also repaired.

Each time she awoke after surgery, the Arsalas were waiting to take her home.

"Yeah, Mati Uncle drive me [to] hospital all time. … Jamila help me all the time. Miena too," Aesha said. "Mati Uncle wash my hair."

The Arsalas said it was not an easy decision to take in Aesha, whose traumatic experience left her with a host of psychological issues.

"We tried to show her that we are her family and how a family functions," Jamila Arsala said. "I think it was the best thing what we did in our life for Aesha, that we took her. … She's now a part of our family."

They said they now wished for her to see her independence. The Arsalas have helped Aesha take night classes and have supported a burgeoning interest in making jewelry.

"I'd hope that she has a normal life," Mati Arsala said. "Because she's really sociable and she likes to dress up and go out, and I'd hope she can do that without feeling uncomfortable or anything. … My wish is that once, one day, I take her hand and walk her somewhere toward the other man, like any other human being."

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White House: UN School Shelling 'Unacceptable' and 'Indefensible'

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In its strongest statement yet, the White House on Thursday said there’s little doubt that Israeli artillery hit a United Nations school in Gaza Wednesday and called the deadly strike “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.”

“While we underscore the importance of a full and prompt investigation of this tragic incident, as well as a shelling of other U.N. facilities and schools that have been hit, it does not appear there’s a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing.

While stopping just short of blaming Israel, Earnest said the “Israeli military can and should do more to protect the lives of those innocent civilians.”

“There is a difference in approach between what Hamas is perpetrating on the Israeli people and what Israel is doing to defend their country,” he said. "But the shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible. And it is clear that we need our allies in Israel to do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves."

While State Department spokesperson Marie Harf went further in assigning responsibility than she did Wednesday, she, like Earnest, refrained from actually blaming Israel for the attack.

“We’ve condemned the shelling of the school and we’ve said there’s not a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved,” she said.

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Tribe Emerges from Brazilian Jungle Possibly for First Time

iStock/Thinkstock(RIO DE JANEIRO) -- A remarkable video shows a group of indigenous people coming into contact with the outside world, possibly for the very first time.

The group of men are believed to be natives of Peru but they were filmed in northern Brazil on the banks of the Envira River, which runs near the Peruvian border. It's not clear when the encounter took place, but the video was released on Thursday by the Brazilian indigenous authority FUNAI.

The tribal men are naked except for belts and loincloths and carrying different weapons at points in the eight-minute video.

A few of the tribal men are seen with markings on their faces and they all have styled their dark black hair in a similar bowl-cut fashion.

Some are holding bows-and-arrows or spears, and at one point one of the men blatantly steals a machete-type knife while another takes an ax from a settlement, despite shouts of protest by the villagers. Another member of their group grabs a blue material that looks like either a towel or a piece of clothing.

Brazilian authorities have not identified the group, but were able to determine that the dialect of the language that they're speaking is a form of the Panoan linguistic group.

The people they are interacting with are believed to be part of the Ashaninka ethnic group who reside in the area where the video was shot.

One Ashaninkan man, seen shirtless with a pair of baggy athletic shorts, wades into the river to hand the tribe members some bananas.

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Quadruplets a Sign of Hope Amid Gaza Bloodshed

Pixland/Thinkstock(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) -- A Palestinian woman gave birth to quadruplets in Gaza Wednesday, a sign of optimism amid ongoing bloodshed in the region that has claimed more than 1,400 lives.

Dr. Bassel Abuwarda posted a photo online showing the babies to Twitter, with a doctor giving a thumbs up to the camera as he stands next to the babies' incubator.

ABC News confirmed that the mother, who is from Rafah near the southern tip of Gaza, gave birth to three boys and one girl, all of whom are doing well on Thursday.

“Despite the pain, Palestinian mother gave birth to quadruplets last night,” Abuwarda tweeted.

Dr. Qadoura: Despite the pain, Palestinian mother gave birth to quadruplets last night in #Gaza.

— Dr.Bassel Abuwarda (@DrBasselAbuward) July 31, 2014

Gaza’s hospitals have taken direct hits in fighting between Hamas and Israel over the last week, and have been damaged as medical staff care for the thousands of people who have been injured in the conflict.

The quadruplets were delivered in the same hospital where many of the conflict’s victims have been treated.

At least 1,390 people have died in Gaza and more than 8,000 have been injured in the three-week conflict, according to the Palestinian health ministry. In Israel, 59 people, including 56 soldiers, have died.

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Prince Harry's New Mission

Alex Huckle/GC Images(LONDON) -- Prince Harry is a man on a mission, but Thursday morning, instead of fighting for his country on the battlefield he’s fighting to raise awareness for our wounded heroes.

The 29-year-old prince is spearheading the upcoming Invictus Games.

The games, taking place at London’s Olympic Park from Sept. 10-14, will showcase injured service men and women from 14 countries competing in everything from cycling, wheelchair basketball and rugby to sitting volleyball and swimming.

Invictus means “unconquered” and Prince Harry hopes the games will help motivate those who fought together and are now working to overcome their injuries.

Coldplay’s Chris Martin has penned the opening anthem for the Invictus Games and the competition will culminate with a concert headlined by The Foo Fighters and some of music’s most famous acts.

The cause of helping wounded soldiers is one close to Harry’s heart. He joined the British Army in May 2005 and rose to the rank of Apache helicopter commander in July after three years of training. The British Defense Ministry named Harry the best front-seat pilot, or co-pilot gunner, in February 2012 from his class of more than 20 fellow Apache helicopter pilots.

The prince returned to England in January 2013 from a five-month deployment to Afghanistan with the Royal Air Force’s 662 Squadron of the Army Air Corps, where he served as an Apache co-pilot gunner.

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Young Israelis, Gazans Live-Tweet Raw But Different Versions of Conflict

David Silverman/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- While the Israeli military and Hamas continue to fire rockets across the Israel-Gaza border Thursday, regular citizens on both sides are using Twitter to launch a war of words about the conflict.

Raw accounts of buildings being bombed and rockets going off have become a hallmark of this ongoing conflict, allowing regular people to voice their opinions and the possibility of peace.

Israeli citizen Ido Daniel, 27, has been tweeting about Hamas rockets being fired at Israel and intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome.

He has also tweeted about Hamas's tactics in using tunnels and storing weapons at civilian buildings.


2 successful #IronDome interceptions above Ashdod & Ramat Gan. Rockets ere fired during Mohammed Deif speech on Hamas TV #IsraelUnderFire

— Ido Daniel (@IdoDaniel) July 29, 2014



Air raid sirens in central Israel right now. I'm running for cover. #IsraelUnderFire

— Ido Daniel (@IdoDaniel) July 29, 2014


His impassioned tweets have led to arguments with those criticizing Israel.


It only took them 5 MINUTES to break the humanitarian #ceasefire: air raid sirens now in Ashkelon & Ashdod #IsraelUnderFire

— Ido Daniel (@IdoDaniel) July 30, 2014


The first-person accounts and photos that fill Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds have allowed the rest of the world to hear from people most-affected by the conflict.

Earlier this week, thousands followed along as 16-year-old Gaza resident Farah Baker tweeted about airstrikes in her neighborhood -- posting photos and short videos that allowed people around the world to see the destruction in Gaza first-hand.


3:04am it should be too dark but as u can see flares turned darkness into light #Gaza

— Guess what (@Farah_Gazan) July 29, 2014


In Gaza City, 24-year-old Mohammed Suliman has been tweeting about how the conflict looks from his side of the border, painting a stark picture of destruction and death around him.


I have lived in Gaza for almost all of my life. War is something not new to us. These, however, are the scariest moments we have ever lived.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 28, 2014



The newest airstrike next to me targeted a civilian building which belongs to Al Shurafa family. Several families live there. No warning.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 28, 2014



We've been without electricity for two full days. Managed to secure some fuel to run the generator for a couple hours before I'm off again.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 30, 2014


Suliman, too, has engaged in pointed political criticism. His tweets have been favorited and retweeted thousands of times, showing how a Palestinian in the midst of the conflict can have an significant platform to communicate his views.


I'm nauseated by Israeli civilians pathetically whining about Hamas rockets penetrating their walls. Your missiles obliterate whole areas.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 30, 2014



Hamas killed zero Israeli children. Israel defended itself murdering 300 Palestinian children. What self-defense. Stop talking about Hamas.

— Mohammed Suliman (@imPalestine) July 30, 2014


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Rebels Won't Let Observers Near Flight 17 Crash Site

UPDATE: On Thursday, OSCE SMM monitors reached the MH17 crash site for the first time in almost a week, accompanied by several Dutch and Australian experts.  They used a new route to access the crash site after turning away each day amid fierce fighting in the region.

A Russian team of experts also arrived in Kiev Thursday with plans to reach the wreckage, according to Russian media reports.

A rebel leader was quoted by Interfax Thursday denying reports Wednesday that seperatists had placed mines around the crash site cutting off access to investigators.

(UNITED NATIONS) -- Pro-Russian separatists are still keeping international observers away from the area where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed two weeks ago, killing all 298 on board.

A team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was not allowed to visit the site Wednesday.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that it is imperative that observers access the crash site to investigate key evidence.

Furthermore, the bodies of some victims have not been located and it's feared the hot weather will deteriorate their remains.

Adding to the crisis are fears that anti-government rebels have booby-trapped the area with land mines that would put the lives of observers in danger.

It has been alleged by Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western nations that the rebels shot down Flight 17 with a surface-to-air missile provided by Russia.

However, a poll conducted in Russia found that 82 percent of respondents feel Ukraine's military downed the passenger jet.

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Inflatable Frog Censored After Comparisons to China's Ex-Leader

WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images(BEIJING) -- China’s newest celebrity is a large inflatable toad floating in the middle of a Beijing pond, but mentions of the giant frog have disappeared from some of China's news and social media sites after some netizens pointed out similarities to Jiang Zemin, China's retired leader.

The 72-foot-tall inflatable golden toad has been the center of attention at Beijing’s Yuyuantan Park this summer. Children clustered around the lake, waiting to take photos with it. A toad is a good luck sign in China, with tales of them being able to spit out gold coins. “Wealth-beckoning toad” statues have long been popular in Chinese homes and businesses.

But reports of the yellow toad on China’s official Xinhua News Agency and Sina, a popular Internet portal, have disappeared.

The reports disappeared after Chinese internet users compared the toad to Jiang, former Chinese president and ex-head of the ruling Communist Party. One netizen even photoshopped the toad wearing a large pair of square, dark-rimmed eyeglasses, something the former president is often seen wearing.

This is not the first time references to toads were made about the former party leader. During Jiang’s 13-year-long rule in China from 1989 to 2002, Chinese people have sometimes referred to him privately as “hama jing,” a toad that has assumed the form of a human.

No official reasons were given for the disappearances. A Xinhua official who works in the editing office and declined to identify himself told ABC News that the Xinhua agency handles hundreds of articles a day, and he knows nothing about why the reports disappeared. Another administrative official, who also declined to identify herself, declined to answer questions regarding the reports on the toad altogether. Xinhua’s website simply said, “Sorry, this news has been deleted.”

Other sites have not taken down posts making the comparison, including Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

It seems that the over-sized amphibian has a serious message. At the entrance of the park, an information board explains that the inflatable frog is called “fuxing chan,” or “revival-bringing toad,” echoing Chinese president Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” of “national revival.”

Others, however, have mocked the frog. Poet Qingshan from Tianjin wrote a poem that described the inflatable toad as “empty,” “useless,” and “dependent on a gust of gas.”

Mega-sized inflatable animals became a nationwide fad in China after a giant rubber duck attracted huge crowds when exhibited in Hong Kong last year. Created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, the duck inspired imitations in several Chinese cities. Wuhan, Shenzhen, Foshan, Tianjin, and Dongguan have all “quacked up” their own versions of the duck.

Hofman’s yellow duck has also been subjected to online censorship in China. Last year, a photoshopped version of the famous Tiananmen Square "tank man" -- the protester who famously confronted a tank -- appeared online, with the man confronting a row of yellow ducks rather than Chinese Army tanks. Subsequently, the term “Big Yellow Duck” was blocked during last year’s anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

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Turkish Women Laugh at Official Who Doesn't Want Them to Laugh

iStock/Thinkstock(ANKARA, Turkey) -- Thanks to a bizarre remark made earlier this week by a leading government official, women in Turkey have a lot to laugh about these days.

They've been posting photos of themselves on social media smiling and laughing in response to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc's contention that women who laugh out loud in public have contributed to the country's moral decline.

Essentially, Arinc tried to link a woman's laughter with being loose sexually.

Trying to quell the uproar, the Turkish official explained Wednesday that he was only referring to "good manners" and was only opposed to women who "laugh artificially."

Well, that didn't do the trick as the volume of women who posted pictures of themselves not only increased in Turkey Wednesday but from those around the world who are in solidarity with Turkish women.

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US Has Sold Ammunition to Israel Since Start of Gaza Conflict

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In the last week, the United States has provided Israel with mortars and ammunition for grenade launchers requested as part of a foreign military arms sale. The weapons came from a $1 billion stockpile of ammunition stored by the U.S. military in Israel for that country's use if needed for an emergency.

However, a U.S. defense official stressed the delivery of weapons from the existing stockpile in Israel was more a matter of convenience to rotate U.S. ammunition stocks than an emergency request from Israel.

Since the 1990's, U.S. European Command has maintained a little -known stockpile inside Israel officially known as War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel (WRSA-I). While ostensibly for use by U.S. or Israeli forces, the stockpile is essentially available for Israel's use if it makes a request for an emergency foreign military sale. Such an emergency sale can be authorized by the president as was the case in 2006, when Israel was conducting its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

On July 20, Israel made a foreign military sales request for munitions that included an undisclosed amount of 120mm mortar rounds and 40mm ammunition for grenade launchers. The defense official said the ammunition was sold to Israel as a "routine" foreign military sales request and not an emergency request to tap into the U.S. military stockpile in Israel.

The Israeli request to purchase the ammunition was made just days after Israel launched its ground offensive into Gaza. The fighting in Gaza since has resulted in the deaths of 1,340 Palestinians and 59 Israelis, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 7,200 have been injured.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed the transfer of the two requested munitions from the stockpile.

"Both munitions had been in WRSA-I stock for a few years, well before the current crisis," said Kirby. All stocks in WRSA-I, as required by law, are, "in excess to U.S. requirements." Issuing munitions from the WRSA-I stockpile was, "strictly a sourcing decision and White House approval was not required."

Kirby said the U.S. is committed to Israel's security, "and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. This defense sale is consistent with those objectives."

A U.S. defense official told ABC News the requested ammunition was approaching the end of its shelf life at the stockpile and would have needed to be restocked anyway.

The location of the stockpile as well as the types and quantities of ammunition it stores are classified.  However, a Congressional Research Service report from April says, "the United States stores missiles, armored vehicles and artillery ammunition" in the stockpile.

The Congressional Research Service Report says, "the government of Israel pays for approximately 90% of transportation, storage and maintenance costs associated with the WRSA-I program."

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Peace Corps Pulling Volunteers from Ebola-Affected Countries

iStock/Thinkstock(MONROVIA, Liberia) -- The United States Peace Corps is removing all personnel from countries where the Ebola virus has broken out and has placed two of its volunteers in isolation, program officials said Wednesday.

The Peace Corps cited the "increasing" spread of the deadly Ebola virus in its decision to remove volunteers temporarily.

The two Peace Corps volunteers under isolation have no symptoms but had contact with an infected person who later died, officials said.

There are 102 volunteers in Guinea working in the areas of education, agriculture and health, 108 volunteers in Liberia, and 130 volunteers in Sierra Leone working in education in the U.S.-run Peace Corps program.

The Peace Corps news comes hours after a U.S. aid group on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa announced it was evacuating nonessential personnel as two of its workers fight to survive the deadly infection.

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Theodore VanKirk, Enola Gay Navigator, Dies at 93

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- The last surviving crew member of the American plane that unleashed the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, Japan has died.

Theodore VanKirk, 93, died Monday at home in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Known to his fellow fliers as Dutch, VanKirk was navigator of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay.

On August 6, 1945, Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb. The blast killed 140,000 people, hastening the end of World War II.

At a public forum in 2011, VanKirk recalled seeing nothing left other than a cloud rising over the city of Hiroshima.

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Teen's Body in Wheel Well of Plane Carrying Evacuated Americans

File photo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Melissa Sheffield)(RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany) -- In a shocking turn of events, the C-130 aircraft on which an African stowaway's body was found this weekend had just been used to transport United States personnel evacuated from Libya.

Officials have now determined that the male teen died of asphyxiation after sneaking into one of the aircraft's wheel wells in Mali, which means the boy's remains were aboard when the plane was used to fly the evacuated personnel from Tunisia to Sigonella, Italy.

The C-130 was one of several involved in the mission to evacuate at least 150 U.S. embassy personnel and Marines who had been driven out of Libya into Tunisia early Saturday morning, several U.S. officials say. The State Department ordered the relocation of the personnel from Tripoli because of rising violence levels between fighting militias that posed a threat to embassy staff.

After driving westward into Tunisia, the embassy personnel boarded aircraft that took them to the U.S. Naval base at Sigonella. Two officials say it is unclear whether the aircraft was carrying civilian personnel or Marines.

When the body was discovered Sunday night at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the aircraft had just completed an eight-day journey, originating in Senegal and then stopping in Mali, Chad, Tunisia and Italy before returning to Ramstein.

One of the officials said the aircraft had originally gone to Africa on a resupply mission before being "reassigned to support the movement of persons from Tunisia to Sigonella, and from there back to Ramstein."

At a Pentagon news conference Wednesday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said U.S. European Command has confirmed "that the young man died of asphyxiation."

"He got on the plane in Mali," Welsh said. "I don't know if he is from Mali or not."

How the teen managed to get into the C-130's wheel well "is a huge question mark" and the incident "raised security flags for everybody involved," Welsh said.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James agreed, saying, "obviously, whatever happened here, something fell through the cracks that his boy was able to gain access to the aircraft."

One U.S. official said the boy's remains were found in a part of the wheel well "that couldn't be considered accessible by anyone." Maintenance crewmembers saw what appeared to be an orange rag sticking out of a portion of the wheel well, according to the official.

They tried pulling it out but found it was attached to something. They then removed a panel in the well and found the teen's remains.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby Tuesday told reporters that security measures at airfields in remote locations may not be the same as those found in the United States.

"The aircraft is a rugged aircraft designed to operate in austere locations. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that the security at some of these fields is not going to be at the same level," he said. "We shouldn't expect that the security environment in every location that these aircraft operate in will be at the same high standard."

The German and U.S. teams that removed the body wore protective clothing because of concerns about the potential for communicable diseases, military officials said.

Subsequent tests were negative, Kirby said.

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