Egypt unveils 3,000-year-old wooden coffins in Luxor

Hatem Maher/ABC News(LUXOR, Egypt) -- Egypt unveiled 30 ancient wooden coffins on Saturday that were discovered in the southern city of Luxor, in what the country's antiquities ministry described as one of the largest discoveries in years.

The announcement was made in a makeshift tent just opposite to the famed Temple of Hatshepsut, which is situated beneath a cliff in Deir al-Bahari on Luxor's West Bank.

The 3,000-year-old coffins, which appeared to be well preserved, were unearthed during excavations at the nearby Asasif necropolis last week. They belonged to priests, with 23 sarcophagi containing the mummies of men, five of women and two smaller coffins that held mummies of children, according to antiquities minister Khaled El-Anany.

The colorful coffins were adorned with inscriptions, with one official saying he was surprised to find out that they were "completely sealed." They date back to the 22nd Dynasty in the 10th century BC.

"We can look at the wooden coffins; still sealed and in a perfect shape of preservation," Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters.

He also said it was only the fourth major discovery of a "cachette" following two for royals and one for priests, which were all discovered in the 19th century. It was called a cachette because the coffins were hidden from grave robbers, Waziri added.

A team of Egyptian restorers then unsealed two of the displayed coffins for the first time, with journalists and photographers jostling to take a glimpse of the ancient mummies.

"The coffins were in the mountain, they were not inside a tomb. And that's really very interesting to know why they were buried in a cliff," El-Anany told reporters.

Renowned Egyptologist Zahi Hawass said the discovery will "capture the hearts of people everywhere."

"The mummies and coffins are all made from one workshop, and have been sealed for all those years," he added.

El-Anany said Egypt will reveal more major discoveries soon as the country hopes to revive its vital tourism industry, which has been battered by years of turmoil in the country.

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UK Parliament votes to force Brexit extension in setback for Boris Johnson

iStock/Vladislav Zolotov(LONDON) -- U.K. lawmakers voted on Saturday to undermine a deal reached between Boris Johnson and the European Union, casting doubt on the prime minister's ability to meet an Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

Johnson announced Thursday that he had reached a deal with European leaders for the U.K. to leave the EU, but the agreement still needed to be approved by his country's Parliament.

But in the latest stunning rebuke, lawmakers on Saturday approved an amendment, by a vote of 322 to 306, that said Parliament must pass all of its Brexit-related bills before a deal can be reached with the EU.

Meanwhile, the U.K. Parliament had gathered to vote on Johnson's deal -- the first time the body gathered on a Saturday in nearly four decades. The vote has now been rescheduled for next week.

Johnson has repeatedly ruled out asking EU leaders for an extension to the Brexit deadline, and vowed to continue with his Brexit plans "unchanged" despite the setback.

"I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so," Johnson said after the vote. "I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I’ve told everyone in the last 88 days that I’ve served as prime minister: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy."

Johnson said his government will introduce legislation next week "for us to leave the EU with our new deal on Oct. 31."

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, praised Parliament's vote as a mechanism to “stop a no-deal crash out from the European Union” and said the prime minister must comply with the law.

As the vote took place hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through London to call for a second Brexit referendum.

In early September lawmakers voted 327 to 299 in favor of a law that will force the prime minister to ask for an extension to the Brexit deadline if a deal has not been passed. The amendment effectively builds into the law another insurance policy to avoid a "no-deal" Brexit.

That law means Johnson is now required to write a letter requesting an extension to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline by midnight on Saturday. The EU is expected to reluctantly agree to an extension, despite Johnson saying after today's defeat he "would not negotiate" a deal with EU leaders.

If no extension is agreed with EU leaders, the default procedure means the U.K. is still scheduled to leave the EU without a deal after the Oct. 31 deadline. Critics say such a development could be devastating hugely to the UK economy.

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Mexican authorities release 'El Chapo's' son as violence breaks out during attempted arrest

hudiemm/iStock(MEXICO CITY) -- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended local authorities' decision to call off a deadly raid in Sinaloa Cartel territory and release Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's fugitive son, saying one criminal wasn't worth risking the lives of others in the area.

"They made decisions that I support, that I endorse, because the situation became very difficult and many citizens, many people, many human beings, were at risk. And, it was decided to protect people's lives. I agreed with that because it's not about massacres -- that is over," Obrador said during a news conference Friday. "They (local authorities) took that decision and I supported it."

A deadly gunfight erupted in the Mexican city of Culiacán, Sinaloa state, late Thursday afternoon, after cartel fighters attacked security forces who were trying to arrest Ovidio Guzmán López, one of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons. Guzman Lopez is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges, according to reports.

A deadly gunfight erupted in the Mexican city of Culiacán, Sinaloa state, late Thursday afternoon, after cartel fighters attacked security forces who were trying to arrest Ovidio Guzmán López, one of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons. Guzman Lopez is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges, according to reports.

"El Chapo" Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars in the U.S. in July, after he was found responsible for violence, including murders, and the smuggling of narcotics into the U.S., by a New York jury.

In a statement Friday that criticized the police effort, calling it "rushed and badly planned," the Mexican Security Cabinet said that about 30 to 35 members of the National Guard and the Mexican Army were patrolling in the capital of Mexico's Sinaloa state Thursday around 3:45 p.m. Mexico City time, when they were fired on from a house. The security cabinet said the group was waiting for a search warrant for the home when the gunfire began.

Officers fired back and were able to enter the house, where they found Guzman Lopez inside, the cabinet said.

Authorities said Thursday that while officers in the home were under siege, other "organized crime groups" attacked residents in other parts of Culiacan, "generating a situation of panic."

Video posted online from the city showed children hiding with their parents behind cars waiting for the gunfire to stop and terrified residents abandoned their cars on the streets and ran as shooting sounded behind them. Images showed the skies above Culiacan darkened with smoke from burning vehicles.

At least eight people were killed and at least 16 were injured, according to El Universal newspaper.

Mexico's Security Cabinet said Friday that after seeing the violence raging, authorities ordered the team to leave the house. Afterward, the criminal group stopped the assaults and freed the Army personnel that had been held, the security cabinet said Friday.

Police suspended the operation between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Mexico City time. There was no formal arrest of Guzman Lopez, authorities said.

The security cabinet said that one civilian had been killed in the shootout. There had also been "19 roadblocks; 14 gun attacks against the Mexican Army and the National Guard; seven members injured; and nine members detained by the cartel [but] then freed without injuries," the cabinet said Friday.

A state police officer and two municipal police officers had also been injured and eight vehicles and one helicopter were hit by firearms.

"This decision was made to protect citizens. You can't fight fire with fire. That's the difference with this strategy compared with what previous governments have done. We don't want deaths. We don't want war," Mexico's president said Friday. "The strategy that had been applied turned the country into a cemetery and that’s not what we want anymore."

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Ancient city uncovered in Cambodia

DannyIacob/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers have uncovered an ancient city in Cambodia that was one of the first capitals in the Khmer Empire.

The sprawling city of Mahendraparvata, which has long been rumored to exist, was identified on the Phnom Kulen plateau using airborne laser scanning that had a "unique ability to 'see through' vegetation and provide high-resolution models of the forest floor," according to a report from the scientists.

"Here, we confirm the hypothesis, based on this accumulated body of evidence, that Mahendraparvata -- the eighth- to ninth-century AD capital of the Khmer Empire -- was located on the Phnom Kulen massif," the report read.

The Khmer Empire, at its peak, governed much of what is today Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam.

The discovery gave scientists a detailed look at the city.

Their findings revealed "a formally planned, densely inhabited urban core surrounded by an extensive network of low-density neighborhoods, water-management systems, agricultural networks and transportation links to settlements around other major temple sites."

The most striking discovery, the scientists said, was that the city was built on linear axes that corresponded to cardinal directions, similar to a more modern city.

The centrally-planned urban area spanned around 9,800 to 12,000 acres on the plateau.

Phnom Kulen had long been under-researched, according to the report.

The site is difficult to access and covered with dense vegetation. Moreover, it was believed that landmines had been placed there by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, causing scientists to stay away.

However, the research efforts from the scientists revealed the city that had been there.

"We should soon be able to construct finer-grained demographic models and finally resolve basic questions concerning the extent and population of Angkor, and how that changed over the centuries," the report concluded.

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Astronauts to make history with first-ever all-female spacewalk

NASA(NEW YORK) -- Two female astronauts have accomplished something no women have done before.

U.S. astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir stepped outside the International Space Station Friday morning, the first time in history that two women have done a spacewalk together.

Koch and Meir were expected to spend more than five hours outside the space station to replace a failed power controller, but extended their spacewalk to "accomplish some get-ahead tasks on the space station," according to NASA.

The astronauts spoke with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence during the spacewalk.

The conversation marked the first time since the 1969 moon landing that a sitting president spoke directly to astronauts who were physically outside of a spacecraft in space, according to the White House.

Trump called the two astronauts “very brave people” for their service on the space station.

“I don’t think I want to do it. I must tell you that. But you are amazing people,” the president said, later adding, “You’re very brave, brilliant women.”

Meir told the president she and Koch saw the spacewalk as "just us doing our job."

"It's something we've been training for six years," she said. "For us, it's just coming out here and doing our job today. We were the crew that was tasked with this assignment."

"At the same time, we recognize that it is a historic achievement and we do of course want to give credit for all those who came before us," Meir added. "There has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers and astronauts and we have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today."

Meir said she hopes she and Koch provide inspiration "to everybody, not only women."

"To everybody that has a dream, that has a big dream and that is willing to work hard to make that dream come true, something that all of us that have made our way up here have done all throughout our lives," she said. "And I can tell you, the hard work certainly did pay off."

The remaining four astronauts aboard the International Space Station, all men, will stay inside while Koch and Meir complete their work.

People took to social media Friday to celebrate "HERstory in the making," as NASA is calling the history-making event.

Koch and Meir both joined NASA in 2013, the year NASA's astronaut class was 50% female. Koch is also on her way to making history with a 300-day mission, which will be the longest single spaceflight by a woman.

The astronauts were asked in an interview from space earlier this month about whether they mind having their accomplishments qualified by their gender.

"In the end, I do think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing and in the past, women haven’t always been at the table," Koch said on NASA TV. "And it’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role, and that in turn can lead to an increased chance for success."

"There are a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell," she said.

Meir added, "What we’re doing now shows all the work that went in decades prior. All the women that worked to get us where we are today. I think the nice thing for us is we don’t even really think about it on a daily basis. It’s just normal. We’re part of the team."

Koch and Meir's spacewalk comes seven months after NASA had to cancel its first attempt at making "HERstory," because the space station did not have enough medium-size spacesuits on board.

Koch and another astronaut, Anne McClain, were supposed to make the first all-women spacewalk back in March.

When Koch and McClain, who is no longer on the ISS, discovered they both needed to wear a size medium in the "hard upper torso,” or the shirt of the spacesuit, the walk was canceled.

NASA faced swift backlash from people who viewed the spacewalk cancellation as yet another sign of women being held back on the job.

The decision by NASA, though, was primarily one borne out of logistics, as there are a limited number of spacesuits on the space station and NASA has lacked the funds to update its spacesuits in recent years.

Since the cancellation of the female spacewalk in March, NASA has been preparing its spacesuits for a series of 10 spacewalks.

The International Space Station is now equipped to make four complete spacewalking suits, with two "hard upper torso" components of the same size to be available at any time, according to NASA.

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Trump admin resumes some aid to Central America in exchange for asylum cooperation

Bobtokyoharris/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration will resume some foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that was previously withheld, as officials worked to secure agreements to send U.S. asylum seekers back to those Central American countries, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“I look forward to the continued coordination and collaboration between our governments,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan -- who gave his resignation on Oct. 11 -- said in a statement Thursday night. “I have confidence that we will continue to take the necessary steps to establish a regional framework for migration management and a safer, more secure region.”

The agreements resemble “safe third country” deals that require asylum applicants to first apply for refuge in the country they pass through before arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Donald Trump announced in March he was slashing funding to the three Central American governments that make up the region known as the Northern Triangle. The area has been a major source of mass migration to the southern border over the past year.

The White House authorized the release of the funding earlier this week following a request from McAleenan, according to an administration official. Another source familiar with the administration's plans estimated the funding would amount to $140 to $180 million.

By comparison, Congress had obligated $180 million to Honduras alone in fiscal year 2017, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Trump first announced the change in a vague tweet after which Homeland Security officials did not respond to questions about how much money would be restarted.

“Guatemala, Honduras & El Salvador have all signed historic Asylum Cooperation Agreements and are working to end the scourge of human smuggling,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “To further accelerate this progress, the U.S. will shortly be approving targeted assistance in the areas of law enforcement & security.”

"Some targeted" funding would include programs to expand the Northern Triangle’s capacity to receive asylum seekers and to "create economic opportunity [and] promote rule of law, institution building, and good governance," according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The money will fund private-public partnerships for economic development as well as training for Central American authorities and the development of security infrastructure like new immigration checkpoints and document verification systems, the administration official added.

The move to slash funding was roundly criticized as undermining efforts toward economic development in the region, which the administration often cites as a central cause of the mass migration seen in the past year.

International aid organizations have been critical of the decision to send asylum seekers back to dangerous central american countries. The region is known to have one of the highest homicide rates in the world and the State Department has cautioned Americans from traveling there.

"These deals are only going to create more suffering for people who have fled violence in their home countries, and who suffer further along the migration route in Mexico," said Stéphane Foulon, the regional head of Doctors Without Borders, after the signing of the El Salvador agreement. "They will now most likely suffer even more in El Salvador."

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'Pause' in fighting in Syria between Turkish and Kurdish forces appears to be in jeopardy

omersukrugoksu/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Turkey's agreement with the United States to "pause" fighting in Syria appears to have been breached within hours of Vice President Mike Pence's announcement as eyewitnesses report violence is still ongoing.

Turkish artillery continued shelling Ras al-Ayn, a Syrian city on the Turkish border that had been facing heavy violence since U.S. troops withdrew early last week, according to eyewitnesses.

Eyewitness reports said shelling continued in the city through Thursday night and into Friday morning.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is made up of many members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), had also not withdrawn from Ras al-Ayn, which was part of the agreement between Turkey and the U.S.

"Clashes in the key town of Ras al-Ayn have continued and Kurdish officials say Turkish artillery fire is still pounding its main hospital," ABC News' James Longman reported from northern Iraq. "The Kurds say Turkey never stopped its bombardment, so their fighters will not leave the area. Thousands are still on the move trying to escape this violence."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied clashes were ongoing on Friday.

"I don't know where you're getting your news from. According to the news I received from my defense minister, there is no question of clashes. These are all speculation, disinformation," he told reporters.

Kurdish activists said that a medical convoy is headed toward the city Friday to help evacuate injured people and provide needed medical equipment and supplies to aid stations.

President Donald Trump tweeted early Friday afternoon that he had "just" spoken with Erdogan, who told him "there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated."

"He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work. Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen," Trump continued.

He added in subsequent tweets that "there is good will on both sides" and that the "U.S. has secured the Oil & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey."

Pence had announced on Thursday that the agreement between Turkey and the U.S. stated there would be a 120-hour "pause" in operations by Turkey, giving Kurdish forces time to withdraw from a 20-mile-deep "safe zone" on the Turkish-Syrian border to be controlled by Turkey.

The vice president initially called this agreement a ceasefire, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was a "pause in Turkey's operation" and "not a ceasefire."

It was unclear Thursday whether the SDF had agreed to the deal.

Erdogan said Friday that Kurdish fighters had begun pulling out, but he added that Turkish soldiers would remain in the northeast to confirm they were leaving. Should they not leave, Erdogan said, Turkey would restart operations.

When asked Thursday what will happen to the Kurdish forces who lived in cities and towns in what is now supposed to be Turkish-held territory, Pence instead touted the importance of the safe zone in achieving peace.

"We believe that the Kurdish population in Syria -- with which we have a strong relationship -- will continue to endure," he said.

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Duchess Meghan describes 'really challenging' time as new royal, mom in spotlight

ABC(NEW YORK) -- Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, has faced intense public scrutiny ever since her relationship with Prince Harry began.

The duchess, 38, is speaking out now for the first time about what the experience has been like for her behind the headlines.

"Especially as a woman it's really -- it's a lot," Meghan told ITV News at Ten anchor Tom Bradby for the documentary, Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, airing Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. "So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom and trying to be a newlywed."

"And also thank you for asking, because not many people will have asked if I'm OK," Meghan added. "But it's a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes."

When asked by Bradby whether it's been a "struggle" to adjust to life in the public eye as a royal, Meghan quickly answered "yes."

Meghan also spoke more specifically about the public pressure she faced while pregnant and as a new mom.

The duchess gave birth to her first child, a son named Archie, in May. She was in the headlines throughout her pregnancy and then she and Harry quickly faced criticisms for their decision to keep details of Archie's birth private.

"Look, any woman, especially when they're pregnant, you're really vulnerable," said Meghan. "And so that was made really challenging, and then, when you have a new born, you know?"

Meghan and Harry spoke with Bradby during their recent 10-day tour of South Africa.

It was on the eve of the final day of that tour that Harry and Meghan announced legal action against a British tabloid over privacy concerns.

The tabloid targeted in the lawsuit, the Mail on Sunday, published a letter in February it claimed was one Meghan wrote to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, after he missed her May 2018 wedding to Harry.

Harry -- whose mother Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi -- released a passionate statement announcing the legal move, describing Meghan as "one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences."

"Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself," Harry said. "I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

Harry opened up candidly to Bradby for the new documentary about his and Meghan's life in the public eye and the continuing impact of his mother's death.

When asked by Bradby whether he is now at peace after his mom's death, Harry replied her death is more of a "wound that festers."

"I think [of] being part of this family, in this role, in this job every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash," Harry said. "It takes me straight back, so in that respect it’s the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best."

Harry & Meghan: An African Journey also includes interviews with Harry and Meghan speaking about their roles as modern royals on the international stage and how they balance public duties with private family life.

Tune into "Harry & Meghan: An African Journey," hosted by "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 10 p.m. ET, on the ABC Television Network.

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Family found mysteriously living in secret room for 9 years

Ismailciydem/iStock(RUINERWOLD, Netherlands) -- After a family of seven was found to be living mysteriously, and with no one’s knowledge, in a farmhouse on the outskirts of a small Dutch town, a court ordered on Thursday that an 8th person, the farmhouse's tenant, be detained for two weeks.

The family had apparently been living in a small room in a farmhouse outside the town, perhaps since 2010, police said -- a fact that has surprised and puzzled people in the Dutch town of Ruinerwold, in the north of the Netherlands.

The case came to light when a young man visited the De Kastelein café in town.

"Last week he came in and ordered five beers, which he drank in one go. But then we closed," cafe owner Chris Westerbeek told local news station RTV Drenthe, which first reported the story.

In a later conversation, when the man came back on Sunday, "he admitted that he had run away and that he needed help," Westerbeek said. "Then, we called in the police."

"He said he had not been outside for nine years. Later, he also said that he had four brothers and one sister who lived on the farm. He was the oldest and wanted to put an end to the way they lived," Westerbeek told RTV.

Local mechanic Jeffrey Scheper who owns J. Scheper Autos, also met the young man in the café. Reached for comment by ABC News, he referred to a television interview he gave to Dutch television host Beau van Erven Dorens.

“We tried to ask questions, among other things, because he said he had not been outside for nine years: is it a religion? A cult? He said yes, nothing more," Scheper said in the interview.

On Monday, the police acted on his complaint that the young man was “worried about the living conditions of his family” and visited the house on the Buitenhuizerweg.

There, they found people living in a small room on the ground floor. The family told the police that they were all over 18 years old, although the police are verifying the people’s ages and their relationship to each other. They were taken into police care and were all seen by a doctor, the police said in a statement shared with ABC News.

The police say that it is unclear whether the family was living in the house voluntarily and how they came to be there.

“We understand that everyone still has many questions. We have those too,” police said.

On Tuesday police arrested a 58-year-old man who is the only tenant of the farm. His role in the case is still being investigated, according to police, but he is currently suspected of “being involved in illegal deprivation of liberty and prejudicing the health of others,” according to the North Netherlands Public Prosecutor.

Police said he was arrested because he did not want to “cooperate with our investigation.”

The man, identified as Josef B by RTV Drenthe, appeared in front of the examining magistrate on Thursday. The justice commissioner of the North Netherlands Court ordered that he be detained for 14 days “on suspicion of unlawful deprivation of liberty”.

"I have never come across anything like this before," said Roger de Groot the mayor of Ruinerwold at a press conference.

On Thursday, police said -- without any further explanation -- that they had expanded their investigation to other locations in northern Holland.

Local man Frank Wijers, who works at the garage just beside the café, told ABC News that the story was the talk of the town. “It’s a strange story,” he said, “Quite a shock!”

“It’s a very pleasant community here,” he said. “When you participate in public life, it’s alright. But if you don’t want to, that’s alright too. People leave you alone.”

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Russia says US diplomats approached missile test site, location of radioactive blast

ronniechua/iStock(MOSCOW) -- Russia's foreign ministry on Thursday said three American diplomats who were briefly detained in northern Russia had approached a closed military test site where a radioactive blast occurred in August.

The U.S. diplomats were reported on Wednesday to have been stopped and removed from a train travelling between the closed port city of Severodvinsk and Nenoksa, a village next to the test site on the White Sea in Russia's Arctic.

The American embassy confirmed the incident, but said the diplomats had informed Russian authorities of their travel in advance.

Russia's foreign ministry said the diplomats had told Russian authorities they intended to visit a different city, Arkhangelsk, which isn't within a restricted zone, but then traveled to the closed area next to the test site.

"Clearly, they got lost,” the foreign ministry said. "We are ready to give the U.S. embassy a map."

The ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told reporters on Thursday the American diplomats had made two attempts to reach the restricted zone, travelling to Severodvinsk, a port city that's home to Russia's nuclear submarine fleet, with the goal of travelling to an area near the test site.

The three diplomats were stopped by police at a train station on their first attempt and turned back, but then rented a car and returned to Severodvinsk.

"There, they took a local train and went to a populated area where there is a testing ground and other defense facilities nearby," Zakharova said. She said Russia would file a formal complaint to the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

A State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Thursday: "Just as Russian diplomats in the United States travel to learn more about the country in which they live and work, our diplomats travel across Russia as part of normal diplomatic activity in order to better understand Russia. As we’ve said before, the American diplomats were on official travel and had properly filed a travel notification with the Russian authorities."

The State Department earlier had declined to comment on the incident other than to say the three had been on "official travel and had properly notified Russian authorities." Russian media has named the three diplomats as military attaches, but American officials have not identified them.

The village of Nenoksa is located next to a secretive military firing range where Russia is known to test missiles. In August, there was an explosion close to the range that killed at least five people and briefly caused radiation levels to spike 16 times above the norm, sparking a nuclear scare.

Russia has wrapped the incident in secrecy, providing few details. But the Russian atomic agency has said that the blast occurred when an experimental nuclear-powered engine exploded during a test. Independent weapons experts and U.S. officials have suggested that the engine likely belonged to a new nuclear-powered cruise missile, code-named "Skyfall” by NATO, which President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is developing.

The reports about the American diplomats come just days after a senior State Department official said the U.S. had concluded the explosion happened when Russia was trying to recover one of the missiles from the sea floor after an earlier failed test.

"The United States has determined that the explosion near Nenoksa, Russia, was the result of a nuclear reaction that occurred during the recovery of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile. The missile remained on the bed of the White Sea since its failed test early last year, in close proximity to a major population center,” Thomas DiNanno, of the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance said in a speech at the United Nations.

Putin has touted the missile, which Russia refers to as "Burevestnik," as having essentially unlimited range. The missile is one of several advanced, nuclear-capable weapons the Kremlin has said it is developing in an effort to counter U.S. missile defense systems.

Worries about the blast were exacerbated by Russia's efforts to conceal its details.

Russia's military initially said no nuclear materials were involved and information about the explosion slowly trickled out over several days. The information blackout drew comparisons in Russia and abroad with the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, though the amounts of radiation involved were vastly smaller.

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