terrorism

Updated at 1 p.m. ET

Two western hostages held for more than three years by Taliban forces in Afghanistan were freed today in southeastern Zabul province in exchange for three Taliban commanders held by the Kabul government, an Afghan official tells NPR's Diaa Hadid. The official requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.

The Islamic State on Thursday confirmed the death of its founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and announced a successor. The propaganda arm of ISIS also confirmed the death of another top ISIS official, its former spokesman.

In an audio message released through its central media operation, the group's new spokesman announced that Baghdadi's successor is a man named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi. He is a figure largely unknown outside of ISIS circles and is hailed in the message as "emir of the believers" and "caliph" of the group's alleged caliphate.

Updated on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET

In Iraq and Syria, news of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death has stirred a mix of responses — from joy to disbelief to dread.

Since President Trump announced this weekend that Baghdadi died during a U.S. military operation in Syria, analysts have been grappling with the implications for the militant organization that has now lost its main chief in addition to all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria.

Amaryllis Fox was about to start her senior year in college when the Sept. 11 attacks hit in 2001. The next day, she drove from Washington to New York to see the smoldering rubble. Just a few years later, she was an undercover CIA officer meeting extremists.

"One of the things I think we all forget is how incredibly young so many of the intelligence officers really are," Fox said in an interview with NPR. Her new book, Life Undercover: Coming Of Age In The CIA, was published Tuesday.

Charlie Winter, a London-based terrorism researcher, was dining with friends one recent evening when the conversation turned to whether it is ethical to eat meat.

Someone brought up slaughterhouse conditions, Winter said, and he instantly grew uneasy. He stayed for a while longer, squirming, and then finally left the room. That word — "slaughterhouse" — had conjured images of one of the most gruesome ISIS videos he'd come across. The militants had filmed a mass execution in a slaughterhouse, casting their prisoners as the animals.

President Trump says that Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, has been killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.

In a statement released by the White House on Saturday, Trump said bin Laden's son was responsible for "planning and dealing with various terrorist groups." His death, he said, "not only deprives al-Qa'ida of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group."

The U.S. military court and prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have cost more than $6 billion to operate since opening nearly 18 years ago and still churn through more than $380 million a year despite housing only 40 prisoners today.

Updated at 3:37 p.m. ET

An American citizen suspected of becoming a sniper and weapons trainer for the Islamic State has been brought back to the United States and charged with aiding the terrorist group.

The charges against Ruslan Maratovich Asainov are contained in a criminal complaint unsealed Friday in federal court in the Eastern District of New York.

The brother of the suicide bomber who killed nearly two dozen people after an Ariana Grande concert in 2017 appeared in a London court on Thursday to face charges that he helped carry out the attack in Manchester, England.

Hashem Abedi, who was extradited from Libya this week, said through his lawyer that he was not involved in the attack. The 22-year-old wore glasses and a gray shirt and spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth and British nationality, according to media reports.

The White House condemned a deadly attack by the Taliban that rocked the Afghan capital Monday, leaving six people dead and more than a hundred others injured, as U.S. negotiators entered into another round of peace talks with senior members of the Islamic extremist group.

"This brazen attack demonstrates the Taliban's callous disregard for their fellow Afghans, who have repeatedly voiced the urgency of finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict," the Trump administration said in a statement Monday night.

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