Russian fighter jet ‘shot down’ in Syria

A Russian Sukhoi-25 fighter jet has been shot down in a rebel-held area near Idlib in north Syria, reports say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the pilot ejected and was killed, but this has not yet been confirmed.

Video posted on social media appeared to show the plane being hit, while other video showed burning wreckage on the ground, with a red star on a wing.

Russia has acted alongside its Syrian allies targeting rebels in the area.

Syrian government troops launched a major offensive around Idlib in late December, backed by Russian jets. The UN says some 100,000 civilians have been displaced.

The Syrian Observatory told Agence France-Presse there had been dozens of Russian air strikes in the area over the past 24 hours.

There are several reports that Russia has now fired cruise missiles into Idlib province from navy vessels in the Mediterranean.

It is not yet known which group shot the plane down. Reports say the pilot ejected and landed via parachute.

One social media video posting showed a body said to be that of the pilot but there is no independent confirmation of the airman’s fate.

Hardline rebel groups including the jihadist, al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham are active in the north-western province.

The Sukhoi-25 is a close-support ground-attack aircraft.

Russian air force losses have been rare since it began its Syria campaign in September 2015.

The defence ministry has not yet commented on the latest incident.

About 45 Russian military personnel have been confirmed dead in Syria, along with an unknown number of contractors.

Russian air losses in Syria campaign:

Madden 18 Predicts The Super Bowl Winner: Can The Eagles Upset The Patriots In Our Simulation?

Super Bowl Sunday is upon us and in anticipation of the big game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, we ran our own simulation between these two teams in Madden NFL 18. We set the stage for our own Super Bowl LII matchup taking place in Minneapolis, Minnesota with full 15 minute quarters and updated rosters. In the video above, we cut down to the biggest plays and highlights for your viewing pleasure and call the plays from our booth.

Since we wanted to get a somewhat accurate prediction, we used current player rosters for both teams, so Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had to sit this one out, just like in the real world. However, former Eagles starting QB Nick Foles has been able to use his experience to lead the team through the playoffs, but is now challenged against this strong Patriots defense. However, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense need to face the NFL’s second-ranked defense in the Eagles, so this won’t be a walk in the park for the five-time Super Bowl champion QB.

Clutch plays from both teams come up every quarter, from amazing catches to long rushes, but plenty of fumbles and big mistakes turn the tide at key moments of the game. We hope you enjoy our Super Bowl prediction video, called by GameSpot’s own Nick Margherita and Michael Higham with our “sideline” reporter Rob Handlery. Go Pats? Fly Eagles Fly? Find out what happens in our Super Bowl simulation!

This isn’t our only coverage of the biggest football game of the year; check out what could be the best Super Bowl commercial this year, or what trailers you could catch during the game.

Afghan attacks ‘want to spark uprising’

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Militants are targeting civilians in Kabul hoping chaos will spark an uprising, Afghanistan’s interior minister has told the BBC.

In the past two weeks four major attacks – two by the Taliban and two by the Islamic State group – have killed a total of 130 people across the country.

Interior Minister Wais Barmak says the two groups share the same aim – “to provoke people against the government”.

But a jailed ex-IS fighter told the BBC that the two had distinct approaches.

“For the Taliban if someone from the government repents he should be forgiven. But IS say he should be killed,” said the man, to whom the BBC was given rare access, with members of the Afghan intelligence agencies present during the interview.

“IS preaches that only they are real Muslims, not the Taliban”, and “does not believe in mercy”, the prisoner, who did not want to be identified, added.

While the Taliban control far more territory across Afghanistan than Islamic State, IS has been more focused on attacking Kabul – carrying out at least 14 major attacks in in the city over 2017, significantly more than the Taliban.

Recent major attacks in Afghanistan

Judges consider Afghan war crimes inquiry

Taliban ‘threaten 70% of Afghanistan’

Some analysts believe that the recent spate of attacks by the Taliban in Kabul represent a competition between the two groups for international notoriety.

But Afghan officials often say that there is no tangible difference between the Taliban and IS.

The two are targeting civilians “to provoke people against the government, so the government will fall apart… and there will be chaos,” the interior minister told the BBC.

They both “come from the same source,” alleging that Pakistan provides safe havens to both groups.

Many Afghans have expressed anger at the government’s failure to prevent the attacks.

The former IS member blamed the worst violence on Pakistani members of the group, many of whom he said came from the Orakzai tribe in north-western Pakistan. He also said there were Chechen and Arab members of IS too.

He was open about having been an active participant in the group’s violence in the east of Afghanistan. “I have taken part in executing people. We used to make people sit down on top of bombs and blow them up,” he said.

This was one of IS’s most notorious methods of executing prisoners. The group released a propaganda video shortly after it became active in Afghanistan in 2015 showing a number of blindfolded men being forced to kneel down on top of explosives, which were then detonated.

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Many IS fighters in Afghanistan were former Taliban. The prisoner said he was among many in his unit who had been forced to switch allegiance.

He said he had received one month’s training by IS in northern Pakistan, but did not mention that the group had any ties to Pakistani officials. He said IS would dismiss the Taliban as “Pakistani agents”.

Many of the IS attacks in Kabul have targeted the capital’s Shia minority, whom IS militants hold to be heretics.

Journalist Syed Azizullah survived a suicide bombing in December on a cultural centre that killed over 40 people.

“In the past, Shias living in the countryside used to come to Kabul because it was safer,” he told the BBC. “Now my relatives in the outskirts tell me to leave Kabul because it’s become so dangerous here.”

Spain cracks king’s 500-year-old code

A 500-year-old secret code used in letters between one of Spain’s most famous monarchs and a military commander has been cracked.

The letters, constructed using more than 200 special characters, were deciphered by the country’s intelligence agency.

Ferdinand of Aragon’s letters have tantalised historians for centuries.

He was behind the final reconquest of Spain from the Moors in 1492 and Columbus’s journeys to the Americas.

The letters include instructions on strategy during military campaigns in Italy in the early 16th Century. They were written using secret code in case they fell into enemy hands.

The letters, on display at Spain’s Army Museum in Toledo, use “over 200 symbols”, curator Jesús Anson explained.

It took intelligence services almost half a year to decipher four of them, some of which went on for over 20 pages.

The code-cracking has been described by some as a “Rosetta Stone” moment, amid hopes that it could lead to more coded letters being deciphered.

Details outlined in the letters range from instructions on troop deployments to admonishing the commander for not consulting the king before launching diplomatic initiatives.

In the early 16th century, it would have taken 15 days for the letters to get between the monarch’s residencies to south-eastern Italy where the commander was based.

11 Things We Want From Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption II’s delay may be disheartening for those who have been eagerly awaiting the game’s release. Now set to release at the end of October, Rockstar’s latest epic possesses a special mystique because of how little we know. However, the minimal knowledge we have doesn’t stop us from thinking about what it needs to do to surpass the original. Here are 11 things we want from Red Dead Redemption II.

Red Dead Redemption II is set to release on October 26 for PS4 and Xbox One; however there’s no word on a PC version as of yet. The first Red Dead Redemption has not been released on PC, but Rockstar’s last major release, Grand Theft Auto V, made its way to PC. For a look at how the game is shaping up, watch the game’s latest trailer and be sure to check out our in-depth Red Dead Redemption II trailer analysis.

There’s also a wealth of other exciting games coming out in 2018 that aren’t necessarily exclusive to one platform or another, so be sure to check out our individual features highlighting the most anticipated PS4 games, Xbox One games, PC games, and Switch games for a broader look at the year ahead.

N Korea insists on Olympic military show

North Korea has defended plans for a large-scale military parade scheduled for the day before the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Pyongyang’s annual military parade to mark the founding of its armed forces has taken place in April for 40 years.

From 2018, however, it has been changed to 8 February – when athletes will gather in Pyeongchang for the opening ceremony the following day.

North Korea said that no-one had the right to take issue with its plans.

What did North Korea say?

A column in the ruling Workers’ Party newspaper – the Rodong Sinmun – dismissed views that the event was provocative.

Instead, the newspaper said, it is “basic common sense that any country in the world takes the founding anniversary of its military very seriously and celebrates it”.

Pyongyang previously held its main military celebration on 25 April. The 2018 celebration, however, will mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army, which was established on 8 February 1948.

But professor Robert Kelly of Busan University in Seoul said Pyongyang’s decision to hold the parade at such a time was politically motivated.

“It’s going to be gigantic, it’s a day before the Olympics – that kind of sends a signal,” he said.

“Even though South Korea can have all these foreigners come to its country, this big peaceful exciting event with all this global attention – you know everybody still has to pay attention” to the North.

Monitoring group 38 North, however, said that while satellite imagery showed “at least 12,000 troops” gathered at a parade training facility, current evidence suggested February’s event “will remain relatively smaller in scale” than previous parades.

What are the security concerns?

Tensions on the Korean peninsula remained extremely high throughout 2017, as North Korea completed a series of nuclear tests and missile launches designed to demonstrate its nuclear capability.

North Korea’s military parades usually feature thousands of troops and a display of missiles or other military hardware.

At time when thousands of foreign athletes, officials, and spectators have gathered just 300km (185 miles) to the south, the planned event has been met with trepidation.

US Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein told a press briefing earlier this week: “We would prefer that this parade not occur”.

“The Olympic Games are about the athletes and nothing should be occurring which interfere with that,” he added.

But he downplayed security concerns, saying South Korea was doing “a phenomenal job” in its preparation.

What’s been happening around the Winter Olympics?

Concerns about security at the Winter Olympics eased in January, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared to extend an olive branch in his new year’s speech.

Since then, the Pyeongchang games have been the subject of sudden co-operation between the two Koreas.

The two countries have dramatically improved ties in just a few weeks, reopening lines of communication and negotiating a joint presence at the games.

They will march under a unified banner, and field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

Now, there are hopes that the progress made could lead to wider political solutions.

In January, South Korea’s foreign minister said she would continue high-level talks with “clear eyes” – and that despite concerns over North Korea’s motives, “we have to make the most of it.”

On Saturday, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA criticised suggestions that the parade could be viewed as threatening.

Such an interpretation would “only bring about the consequences of souring the successful opening of the Winter Olympics”, it said.

Italy drive-by attack targets immigrants

Italian police have arrested a gunman suspected of a carrying out a drive-by shooting spree that targeted African immigrants.

At least six people were wounded in the central town of Macerata.

The suspect, named locally as Luca Traini, 28, had an Italian flag wrapped around his neck when he was detained.

He had taken part in regional elections for the anti-immigration Northern League last year and reportedly made a fascist salute when he was captured.

Italy votes in national elections on 4 March, with immigration one of the key issues.

Link to teenager’s killing?

Mr Traini, who is from the surrounding Le Marche region, did not resist when he was detained after fleeing from his car near the town’s war memorial. He is now being questioned. Police found a gun in his car.

The shooting had begun two hours earlier at about 11:00 local time (10:00 GMT), La Repubblica website reports.

The mayor had warned people to stay indoors during the incident, which saw shootings across a number of locations.

The victims are being treated in hospital. At least one of them is said to be in a serious condition.

Video of the moment the suspect was apprehended was published by local website, Il Resto del Carlino, showing a white bald man draped in an Italian tricolour being escorted away by police.

Italian police also tweeted a photo of the moment of capture, saying one of the wounded had required surgery.

Shots had been fired in the Via Spalato and Via dei Velini parts of town, two key areas in an investigation into the murder of an 18-year-old girl whose body was found dismembered and hidden in two suitcases last Wednesday.

A 29-year-old Nigerian male migrant has been detained over the killing of Pamela Mastropietro.

Several racist comments calling for revenge attacks were posted on the Facebook page of the victim’s mother in the run up to Saturday’s shootings, Ansa reports.

Local reports are linking the two incidents.

Right-wing politicians have been using Pamela Mastropietro’s killing to promote their anti-migrant message as part of their campaign for the general election.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has temporarily suspended campaigning over the shootings.

Opinion polls suggest a centre-right bloc, including the Northern League, Forza Italia and the far-right Brothers of Italy, will win the most seats but not a working majority.

With about 28% support in the opinion polls, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is the most popular single party. This suggests there could be tough coalition negotiations, or even another election, after 4 March.

Russia condemns US nuclear bomb plans

Moscow has condemned US military proposals to develop new, smaller atomic bombs mainly to deter any Russian use of nuclear weapons.

Russia’s foreign minister called the move “confrontational”, and expressed “deep disappointment”.

The proposals stem from concerns that Russia may see current US nuclear weapons as too big to be used.

This could mean, according to the US military, that those weapons are no longer an effective deterrent.

Russia’s counterblast

The Russian foreign ministry accuses the US of warmongering in its statement, issued less than 24 hours after the US proposals were published.

The latest thinking was revealed in a Pentagon policy statement known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Russia says it will take “necessary measures” to ensure Russian security.

“From first reading, the confrontational and anti-Russian character of this document leaps out at you,” the statement says.

A foretaste of Mr Lavrov’s anger came in a statement on Friday from the Russian senator and defence expert Frantz Klintsevich, who dubbed it “a very dangerous bet on breaking up the world strategic balance of forces” in favour of the US.

What is behind the US proposals?

They are not just about Russia.

The US military is worried about the nuclear arsenal becoming obsolete and potential threats from countries such as China, North Korea and Iran.

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But a major US concern is over Russian perceptions. The document argues that smaller nuclear weapons – with a yield of less than 20 kilotons – would challenge any assumption that US weapons are too massive to serve as a credible deterrent.

Such bombs would have the same explosive power as the one dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki at the end of World War Two, killing more than 70,000 people.

“Our strategy will ensure Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable,” the document says.

The proposed “tactical” nuclear weapons would not increase America’s arsenal, which is already considerable, but would repurpose existing warheads.

Critics have accused the Trump administration of challenging the spirit of non-proliferation agreements.

What is the US doing to its nuclear weapons?

  • Land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-delivered weapons – to be extensively modernised as begun under ex-President Obama
  • Proposed modification of some submarine-launched nuclear warheads to give a lower-yield or less powerful detonation
  • Return of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles

Reality Check: Where are the world’s nuclear weapons?