Russian President Vladimir Putin denounces US-led strike on Syria as an 'act of aggression', Iran labels them a 'military crime'

President Donald Trump announced yesterday that the US, France and Britain together launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in Douma last week.

12:45am: 1 NEWS NOW will be back with updates on the US-led Syria airstrikes at 6am. Relive all the events on a tumultuous day below.

12:37am: A UN Security Council diplomat says the council will meet today at Russia's request, following airstrikes on Syria.

12:25am: This from Trump on Twitter a few minutes ago:

"A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!" 

12:20am: Germany's Chancellor Merkel says the allied strikes in Syria were a "necessary and appropriate" response to what the US and its allies say was a recent chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.

12:00am A global chemical warfare watchdog group says its fact-finding mission to Syria will go ahead even after the US-led airstrikes.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says in a statement that its team will stick to its plan to investigate last weekend's suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

The group says the mission "will continue its deployment to the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma."

Russia and Syria disagree with Western allies that gas was used by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to suppress opposition close to Damascus in an April 7 attack.

11:40pm: Iranian officials have made calls to Syrian leaders in the wake of the US-led airstrikes against Syrian targets.

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, tells Syria's Bashar Assad that America's goal is to justify its continued presence in the region.

That description of their conversation comes from Syrian and Iranian state news agencies.

11:18pm: UK Prime Minister Theresa May says need for fast action, operational security led to strike without vote in Parliament.

11:10pm: The French Foreign Minister says more strikes are possible if Syria uses chemical weapons again.

10:55pm: Syrian state TV has broadcast images of destruction at a scientific research centre near the capital of Damascus that was targeted in airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain.

Pentagon officials say the attacks targeted the heart of Syrian President Bashar Assad's programmess to develop and produce chemical weapons.

The Syrian military says more than one 100 missiles were fired against a military base in Syria's central Homs province and the research centre in Barzeh, near Damascus.

The images shown on Al-Ikhbariya TV are the first of one of the targets. Seen in the footage are piles of rubble outside a destroyed building and a burned vehicle.

The Syrian military says the attack on the centre destroyed an educational centre and labs.

10:43pm: NATO representatives are planning a special session to hear from US, British and French officials about their military strike against Syria.

The alliance briefing is expected later tonight, and NATO's secretary-general has expressed strong support for the coordinated military action aimed at the Syrian governor's chemical weapons programme.

Jens Stoltenberg says the missile strikes will erode the Syrian government's "ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons."

10:35pm: Iran's state-run IRNA news agency says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called the US-led airstrikes on Syria a "military crime."

He spoke at a meeting with Iranian officials and ambassadors from some Islamic countries.

The report quotes Khamenei as calling the leaders of the United States, Britain and France - the countries that launched the attack - "criminals."

9.50pm: The Russian military says Syria's Soviet-made air defense systems have downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff says Saturday's strike hasn't caused any casualties and Syrian military facilities targeted by the US, Britain and France have suffered only minor damage.

He says the Russian air defense assets in Syria monitored the strike but didn't engage any of the missiles.

8.26pm: Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced a strike on Syria launched by the United States and its allies as an "act of aggression" that will exacerbate humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, the Russian leader says Moscow is calling an emergency meeting of the United Nations' Security Council over the strike launched by the US, Britain and France.

Putin added that the strike had a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations."

He reaffirmed Russia's view that a purported chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma that prompted the strike was a fake.

Putin added that Russian military experts who inspected Douma found no trace of the attack.

He criticized the US and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog to visit the area.

8.10pm: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has expressed his support for the airstrikes on Syria authorized by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Johnson tweeted Saturday that he welcomed the news of the military strike against major chemical weapons facilities in Syria in concert with "our US and French allies."

Johnson said: "The world is united in its disgust for any use of chemical weapons, but especially against civilians."

May authorized the strikes without a vote from Parliament, which has been in recess. She had received support from her Cabinet in a crisis session.

7.24pm: The Russian military says Syria's Soviet-made air defense systems have shot down all 12 cruise missile aimed at a Syrian air base.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that 12 cruise missiles have been launched at the Dumayr air base east of Damascus.

It said that Syria's air defense assets have downed all of them.

7.04pm: A Syrian military statement says the US, Britain and France fired 110 missiles during a joint attack on targets in Damascus and outside.

Brig. Gen. Ali Mayhoub, who read the statement on Syrian TV, said "our air defenses effectively shot down most of them."

He says one of the missiles hit the Scientific Research Center in Barzeh near Damascus, damaging a building. In Homs, one of the missiles was derailed injuring three people, he said.

Mayhoub says the attacks "will not deter" the Syrian military from its ongoing war to eradicate "armed terrorists" from Syrian territory.

6:48pm: France's foreign minister says the "chemical escalation" in Syria is not acceptable because it's violating the rules of war and of humanity.

Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters Saturday that the joint military operation in Syria is legitimate, limited and proportionate.

6.26pm: Russia says Syria shot down a significant number of the missiles launched in a Western airstrike, using Soviet-designed air-defense systems.

The Defense Ministry said Saturday that more than 100 cruise and air-to-ground missiles were launched.

It did not say how many of the missiles were intercepted by Syrian forces.

6.17pm: France's defense minister says its joint military operation with the U.S. and Britain against Syria targeted three sites and that Russia was informed ahead of time.

Defense Minister Florence Parly told reporters Saturday that the French military sent fighter jets from multiple bases in France and used missile-equipped frigates in the Mediterranean in the operation.

Rafale fighter jets could be seen on a video posted overnight by the French presidential palace on Twitter.

She said strikes targeted the "main research center" for the Syrian chemical weapons program and "two important production sites."

She added that "with our allies, we ensured that the Russians were warned ahead of time.

5.50pm: The British Defense Ministry says four of its Tornado GR4 warplanes fired missiles at a military facility as part of the tripartite attack on Syria.

The ministry says the missiles were fired around 24 kilometers west of Homs, where it was assessed the Syrian regime keeps agents used to make chemical weapons.

The ministry said in a statement Saturday that the warplanes struck the former missile base with Storm Shadow missiles after "very careful analysis" to maximize the destruction of

stockpiled chemicals and to minimize any risk of contamination to the surrounding area.

It said the facility is located "some distance from any known concentration" of civilian residential areas.

5.37pm: Hundreds of Syrians are demonstrating in a landmark square of the Syrian capital, waving victory signs and honking their car horns in a show of defiance.

The demonstrations broke out early Saturday following a wave of US, British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians.

The Syrian government has denied the accusations.

In Damascus, the president's seat of power, hundreds of residents gathered in Omayyad Square, many waving Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags.

Some clapped their hands and danced, others drove in convoys, honking their horns.

"We are your men, Bashar," they shouted.

5.00pm: UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged member countries to "show restraint in these dangerous circumstances" and "avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people".

"Any use of chemical weapons is abhorrent," Guterres said.

"The suffering it causes is horrendous. I have repeatedly expressed my deep disappointment that the Security Council failed to agree on a dedicated mechanism for effective accountability for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

"I urge the Security Council to assume its responsibilities and fill this gap."

4.44pm: Syrian state-run TV says three civilians have been wounded in the US-led missile attack on a military base in Homs.

It says the attack was aborted by derailing the incoming missile but adds nonetheless that three people were wounded.

It says another attack with "a number of missiles" targeting a scientific research center destroyed a building and caused other material damage but no human losses.

The network says the building in the research center included an educational center and labs.

4.17pm: NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has releases a statement on the US, UK and French strikes on Syria. She says the government "accepts" the strike but always favours "diplomatic efforts".

“The Government has always favoured diplomatic efforts and a multilateral approach. The use of the veto powers at the Security Council prevented that course of action. We have always condemned the use of the veto, including by Russia in this case," she wrote.

"New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.

"The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

"We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.

"It is now important that these issues are returned to the United Nations multilateral processes including the Security Council."

3.55pm: Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has issued a statement on Facebook. She wrote the US strikes on Syria come as the country was entering a chance for peace, and have been instigated off inaccurate media reports on the Assad chemical attack in Douma.

"One must be really exceptional to strike Syria’s capital when the country finally got a chance for a peaceful future," Zakharova wrote.

"The White House said that the confidence in the Damascus standing behind the chemical attack is based on 'the media, reports of symptoms, videos and photos, as well as on credible information'.

"15 years ago, the White House used a test tube and its State Department, now instead of a test tube Washington has used the media."

3.45pm: Syrian State TV is reporting "we have news of shooting down 13 missiles belonging to the US-British-French aggression in the area of Kiswah in the suburbs of Damascus".

3.28pm: At least one US warship located in the Red Sea was involved in today’s strikes according to two US military officials, CNN reports. 

3.14pm: Congressional leaders are supporting President Donald Trump's decision to launch airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad in retaliation for an apparent chemical attack against civilians - although there are some reservations.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is praising Trump's "decisive action in coordination with our allies," adding, "We are united in our resolve."

Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John McCain is applauding the airstrikes but says "they alone will not achieve US objectives in the Middle East".

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says, "One night of airstrikes is not a substitute for a clear, comprehensive Syria strategy".

3.09pm: Syrian TV is reporting that the attack on Syria targeted a scientific research center in Barzeh, near Damascus.

The report says Syria's air defenses confronted the missiles near Homs, and says the airstrikes also targeted an army depot there.

US President Donald Trump announced the airstrikes in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.

Syrian air defenses responded to the joint strikes by the United States, France and Britain

3.05pm: US Defense Secretary James Mattis says today's strikes have "sent a clear message" to Assad and his "murderous lieutenants."

Mattis says military strikes in Syria are "directed at the Syrian regime" and they have "gone to great lengths to avoid civilians and foreign casualties."

He is asking that "responsible nations" join in condemning the Assad regime.

2.53pm: A highly placed Russian politician is likening President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler after the launch of airstrikes against Syria, and says he regards the action as a move against Russia.

Alexander Sherin, deputy head of the State Duma's defense committee, says Trump "can be called Adolf Hitler No. 2 of our time - because, you see, he even chose the time that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union."

That's according to state news agency RIA-Novosti. 

2:44pm: All eyes will now be on Russia's response to the strike. Defence Secretary Mattis says Russia had no foreknowledge of the airstrikes in Syria.

The Damascus sky lights up missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018.
The Damascus sky lights up missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Source: Associated Press

2:40pm: A dramatic image captures missiles streaking over Damascus in Syria.

2:32pm: An ominous tweet.

2:29pm: The British Defence Ministry says "initial indications" show that the airstrikes against Syria produced a "successful attack" on a Syrian military facility.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is describing the attack as neither "about intervening in a civil war" nor "about regime change," but a limited and targeted strike that "does not further escalate tensions in the region" and does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

May says, "We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none."

2:26pm: Mixed messages from the White House and the Pentagon, with President Donald Trump saying this will be a "sustained" attack and Defence Secretary James Mattis saying these are only targeted strikes aimed at taking out chemical weapons.


2:20pm: Defence Secretary James Mattis says the US has no reports of suffering any losses during the initial airstrikes on Syria today.

The story so far:

Loud explosions lit up the skies over the Syrian capital, as Trump announced the airstrikes.

In an announcement from the White House, Trump said the US is prepared to "sustain" pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with international banned chemical weapons.

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump's second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also issued a statement saying Syria's chemical attack "should surprise no-one".

"The Syrian Regime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way," Ms May said.

"A significant body of information including intelligence indicicates the Syrian Regime is responsible for this latest attack.

"This persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped — not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons.

"We have sought to use every possible diplomatic channel to achieve this.

"But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted.

"Even this week the Russians vetoed a Resolution at the UN Security Council which would have established an independent investigation into the Douma attack.

"So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Regime."

Meghan Markle opens first-of-its-kind Oceania exhibit in London with a hongi

In her first solo royal engagement, Meghan Markle got a taste of Kiwi culture overnight - including a welcoming hongi. 

Ms Markle attended the opening of "Oceania", an exhibit of artifacts and art from the region on display in London.

Consisting of about 200 works of art spanning over 500 years, it is the first ever major UK exhibition that encompasses the vast Pacific region.

Britain's Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex is guided as she views an exhibit after officially opening the 'Oceania' exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. 'Oceania' is the first ever major UK exhibition of about 200 works of art spanning over 500 years, celebrating the art of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, and encompassing the vast Pacific region including New Guinea, Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand. (AP Photo/Arthur Edwards)
The Duchess inspects a piece at the Oceania exhibit. Source: Associated Press

In addition to New Zealand, the artwork hails from Melanesia, Micronesia, New Guinea, Easter Island and Hawaii. 

Britain's Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex is welcomed after she officially opened the 'Oceania' exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. 'Oceania' is the first ever major UK exhibition of about 200 works of art spanning over 500 years, celebrating the art of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, and encompassing the vast Pacific region including New Guinea, Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand. (AP Photo/Arthur Edwards)
The exhibit has about 200 works of art spanning over 500 years, celebrating the art of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, and encompassing the vast Pacific region including New Guinea, Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand. Source: Associated Press

The 37-year-old Duchess of Sussex was given a tour by staff and leaders at the Royal Academy of Art. 

She wore a black Givenchy dress with billowing sleeves, held a black clutch and wore her hair straight and swept back. 

Britain's Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex is guided as she views an exhibit after officially opening the 'Oceania' exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. 'Oceania' is the first ever major UK exhibition of about 200 works of art spanning over 500 years, celebrating the art of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, and encompassing the vast Pacific region including New Guinea, Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand. (AP Photo/Arthur Edwards)
Meghan Markle at the 'Oceania' exhibition. Source: Associated Press

The Duchess of Sussex was given a tour by staff and leaders at the Royal Academy of Art. Source: Associated Press



Rare beluga whale sighting in the River Thames

A beluga whale was spotted in the River Thames outside the British capital today, officials said.

The unusual sighting happened in the Gravesend area about 50 kilometres east of London. It was reported to be feeding near a number of barges.

TV news helicopters filmed the whale from the air as officials asked the public not to get too close to the animal.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation group said that beluga whales are identified by distinctive white markings and are typically found farther north.

"Beluga whales inhabit cold, arctic waters off Greenland, Svalbard and in the Barents Sea," the group said in a statement. "There have only been around 20 sightings of beluga whales off the UK coast previously, but these have occurred off Northumberland, Northern Ireland and Scotland."

The RSPCA animal welfare group said that it's "working with other agencies to monitor the situation" and sent researchers to the scene.

It says it is ready to provide help to the whale if asked to do so by other agencies.

Images posted on Twitter showed a white whale in the water.

The River Thames, one of the longest rivers in England, runs through several major cities and towns, including London, Oxford and Windsor.

A beluga whale was spotted about 50 kilometres east of the city. Source: BBC


US woman who cut baby from her neighbour's womb says her boyfriend pressured her for a child

A North Dakota woman convicted of killing her pregnant neighbour by cutting the baby from her womb testified today that her boyfriend had pressured her to "produce a baby" after figuring out she had lied about being pregnant.

Brooke Crews told the court that she had concocted a phony pregnancy to keep from losing William Hoehn, who is on trial for conspiracy in the August 2017 death of 22-year-old Savanna Greywind. Hoehn has admitted helping to cover up the crime, but says he didn't know that Crews had planned to kill Ms Greywind and take her baby. Crews testified that she never "explicitly" told Hoehn that was her plan.

Crews said Hoehn appeared surprised when he entered the bathroom in their apartment and discovered she had cut Ms Greywind's baby from her body. Crews said Hoehn then retrieved a rope and tightened it around Ms Greywind's neck, saying: "If she wasn't dead before, she is now."

Ms Greywind's daughter survived and is being raised by family.

Hoehn spoke regularly with his attorney, Daniel Borgen, during Crews' testimony but showed little emotion. Crews was crying and sniffling throughout.

"You never told Will that you had planned to do this, is that right?" Borgen asked.

"Not kill Savanna for her baby, no," Crews replied.

"In fact, there was never a conversation at all about killing Savanna and taking her baby," Borgen said.

"Not explicitly," she said.

It wasn't immediately clear what Crews meant by "explicitly".

Crews described her relationship with Hoehn as rocky and violent, saying it was fuelled by drugs and alcohol. She said they broke up at one point, and that's when she lied to him about being pregnant. She went so far as to email him a phony positive pregnancy test and sonogram photo.

In early August, Hoehn told Crews he didn't believe she was pregnant and said she needed "to produce a baby". Crews said she believed this was "an ultimatum".

"I took that to mean I better have a baby, no matter how it happened," Crews said.

Crews originally told police that Ms Greywind had given her the child. She later told police they had argued and that she pushed Ms Greywind down and knocked her out before cutting her open. A medical examiner testified Monday that there was no evidence of any head injuries.

Crews stuck to her story today, saying she pushed Greywind, who was knocked out when her head hit the bathroom sink. Crews said that's when she got a knife and began cutting the baby out.

Crews said the couple kept ropes around the house because Hoehn liked to tie her up during sex, including around her neck. She also said Hoehn expressed fantasies about killing people and Crews said she initially told him she would be interested in that too.

The medical examiner who performed the autopsy, Dr Victor Froloff, testified yesterday that he isn't sure whether Greywind died from blood loss or strangulation.

Ms Greywind's disappearance sparked several searches before her body was found several days later, shrouded in plastic and dumped in the Red River. Crews testified today that police missed Ms Greywind's body and her baby during three searches of the couple's apartment.

Crews testified that Ms Greywind's body was in the bathroom closet and the baby was covered up next to Hoehn on a bed during one of those searches. She said Hoehn eventually moved Ms Greywind's body to a hollowed-out dresser and the two of them carried it out of the apartment.

Fargo Police Chief David Todd did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Crews' testimony.

Crews pleaded guilty to murder and is serving life in prison without parole. She said she has no agreement with prosecutors for a lesser sentence in exchange for testifying.

Ms Greywind's death prompted North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to introduce Savanna's Act, which aims to improve tribal access to federal crime information databases and create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and slain Native American women. A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

FILE - This combination of file photos provided by the Cass County Sheriff's Office in Fargo, N.D., shows William Hoehn, and his girlfriend Brooke Crews, the two people charged in connection with the murder of Savanna Greywind in North Dakota in August 2017. Greywind was eight months pregnant. Crews, ultimately admitted killing Greywind and cutting her baby from her womb. Hoehn, goes on trial Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, for conspiracy to commit murder. He has admitted helping cover up Greywind's murder. (Cass County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
William Hoehn and his girlfriend Brooke Crews. Source: Associated Press

Priest who blamed sex abuse on cancer, which he didn't actually have, to stand trial

A former New Mexico priest, who fled the US decades ago amid allegations of child sex abuse and once blamed his behaviour on a cancer diagnosis which prosecutors say he didn't have, is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow.

Arthur Perrault is expected to appear in US District Court in Albuquerque for a detention hearing as prosecutors seek to hold the 80-year-old priest until his trial for aggravated sexual abuse.

Court documents filed in federal court said victims described Perrault showering them with gifts and meals before abusing them. Victims also collaboratively described Perrault as someone who smoked pipes and wore silk underwear.

Documents also said the Connecticut-born Perrault wrote an apology letter to the parents of one victim in 1971 and blamed his actions on cancer, which prosecutors said he was never diagnosed with.

Perrault was extradited to New Mexico last week from Morocco in connection with sexual abuse cases that are alleged to have taken place between 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery.

The former Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and a former Air Force chaplain has been charged in a federal indictment with seven counts of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact.

Perrault pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance Friday. He also told a US magistrate judge he'd had a stroke three years ago, was deaf in one ear, and had trouble walking.

Perrault, a one-time pastor at St. Bernadette parish in Albuquerque, is one of many priests sent to New Mexico in the 1960s from around the country for treatment involving paedophilia.

Victims, lawyers and church documents show the priests were later assigned to parishes and schools across New Mexico — especially in small Native American and Hispanic communities.

Perrault vanished in 1992, just days before an attorney filed two lawsuits against the archdiocese alleging Perrault had sexually assaulted seven children at his parish.

The FBI said Perrault first fled to Canada and then to Tangier, Morocco, where he worked until last year at an English-language school for children.

Perrault denied abusing children in a handwritten letter to a judge related to sexual abuse lawsuits in Albuquerque. Perrault said his assets included money from military retirement and Social Security.

Church records released last year by a New Mexico judge show Perrault is also accused in state lawsuits of sexually abusing at least 38 boys in other cases.

Records also show Perrault was sent in 1965 to Servants of the Paraclete — a religious order that ran a treatment centre for paedophile priests in Jemez Springs, New Mexico — after he was accused of molesting young men while serving in Connecticut.

FILE - Perrault, who fled the U.S. decades ago amid allegations of child sex abuse and once blamed his behavior on a cancer diagnosis which prosecutors say he didn't have, is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)
This 1989 file photo shows Father Arthur Perrault in Albuquerque, N.M. Source: Associated Press