Middle East Updates Iran's Parliament Moves to Tax Bodies Overseen by Supreme Leader

UN envoy warns of Islamic State camps in Libya; Islamic State orders WiFi cut during prayers; Al-Qaida attacks Yemeni airbase in retaliation to U.S. raids

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
In this photo released by the official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, waves during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 7, 2014. AP

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Latest updates:

11:41 P.M. Al-Jazeera reporter is fourth journalist killed in Syria this week

The death of an Al-Jazeera correspondent in Syria Wednesday night has brought the number of journalists killed in the country this week to four, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

Mahran al-Deeri, a Syrian journalist who had worked with Al-Jazeera Arabic since October 2013, died after his car, which he was driving at night without headlights to avoid detection by Syrian government forces, collided with a vehicle carrying rebel fighters.

It is unclear if al-Deeri's or the rebels' car was under fire at the time of the crash.

CPJ said that with al-Deeri's death, a total of four journalists had been killed since Monday, all while covering fighting in and around the village of Sheikh Miskeen in Daraa province.

On Monday, Orient TV correspondents Rami Asmi and Yousef el-Dous and cameraman Salem Khalil were killed in the area after their car was hit by what the news station described as a guided missile launched by government forces.

"It's left to local journalists to bring the world news of the fighting in Syria, but they are paying a terrible price," said Robert Mahoney, CPJ deputy director.

According to CPJ, at least 75 journalists have been killed while covering the Syrian crisis that began in March 2011. (DPA)

11:14 P.M. Iran's parliament moves to tax bodies overseen by supreme leader

Iran's parliament has passed a resolution to tax organizations overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the armed forces, an unusual move by the legislature into areas dominated by the most powerful figures in the country.

Iran's economy has been severely damaged by plunging oil prices, sanctions imposed over its nuclear activity and a weak currency, so parliamentarians may view the institutions as untapped sources of badly needed revenue for the government.

The parliamentary resolution was approved last week and there are still several steps before it would become law. But the vote itself is remarkable, coming from a hardline conservative-dominated assembly that rarely does anything that could be seen as impinging on the powers of the supreme leader.

Islamic State militant.
Reuters

Among the organizations that could get taxed is "Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam", or the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam, a body that reports directly to Khamenei which initially built its financial empire through systematic property confiscations. (Reuters)

7:57 P.M. UN envoy warns of Islamic State camps in Libya

A United Nations special envoy is warning of Islamic State group camps in Libya and says many nearby states risk being destabilized if the country's chaos isn't quickly brought under control.

Hiroute Guebre Sellassie briefed the UN Security Council on Thursday on the threats to the Sahel region in western Africa, a week after a senior U.S. general announced that the Islamic State group had set up training camps in eastern Libya.

Army General David Rodriguez, who heads U.S. Africa Command, has said perhaps a couple of hundred fighters are in the camps, but details are sketchy.

Sellassie, the UN envoy to the Sahel region, had no details on the camps but urged the international community to do more to stabilize Libya, which has split into two governments.(AP)

6.55 P.M. Islamic State orders WiFi cut during prayers 

Islamic State militants have ordered shopkeepers to shut down their wireless Internet during prayer times in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, a group monitoring the Syrian conflict said on Thursday.

It was a further example of Islamic State imposing controls on public life as it seeks to build what it describes as a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.

The ultra-radical insurgents hold large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq and are the target of a U.S.-led bombing campaign in both countries.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited an Islamic State document obtained by activists which said: "All shopkeepers must stop broadcasting wireless Internet during prayer times."

Muslim prayers are performed five times a day.

The document was issued by the self-declared authorities of Islamic State in the city that control public behavior, according to the Observatory, which tracks the war using a network of sources on the ground.

Islamic State controls most of Deir al-Zor province as well as Raqqa province to the northwest.

In Raqqa it has outlawed music and images of people being posted in public and runs nearly everything from bakeries to schools, courts and mosques. (Reuters)


5:32 P.M. UN nuclear watchdog dismisses Iranian offer of site access 

The UN atomic watchdog dismissed on Thursday an Iranian offer of access to a region where explosives experiments of possible use in nuclear weapons development may have taken place, saying this did not address its concerns.

Iran told a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency last month it would let IAEA inspectors visit the western Marivan area to prove that suspicions it had carried out atomic bomb research were wrong and baseless.

However, the IAEA's main priority for its long-stalled investigation into Iran's nuclear program has been to go to another location, the Parchin military base southeast of Tehran, where the Vienna-based agency says other nuclear-related explosives tests may have been conducted, perhaps a decade ago.

Then Islamic Republic has so far refused access to Parchin, saying it is a conventional military facility. (Reuters)


10:00 A.M. Al-Qaida attacks Yemeni airbase in retaliation to U.S. raids

The Al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia, said Thursday it had fired rockets at a Yemeni-U.S. airbase in retaliation for recent U.S. rescue raids to release an American hostage.

The militant group said in a tweet that its fighters had fired overnight six grad rockets on the al-Annad airbase in the province of Lahj in southern Yemen.

The attack targeted the U.S. section of the airbase, the group added without reporting casualties. There was no official American comment.

The U.S. has carried out two failed operations in Yemen to free American photojournalist Luke Somers, who has been held by Al-Qaida militants for more than a year.

The last operation was on Sunday, resulting in the death of Somers and a South African hostage.

Several Al-Qaida operatives were killed in the raid, according to U.S. officials.

Al-Qaida in Yemen is believed to be one of the international terrorist organization's most active branches. (DPA)

3:55 A.M. ICC refers Libya to Security Council over trial of Gadhafi's son

The International Criminal Court said Wednesday that it had referred Libya to the UN Security Council for violating an obligation to hand over one of Muammar Gadhafi's son for trial.

"The chamber found that Libya has failed to comply with the requests by the court ... to surrender Saif al-Islam Gadhafi to the court," the ICC said.

In February 2011, the Security Council asked the ICC to investigate crimes committed during the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gadhafi.

Saif al-Islam, who was a de facto prime minister and heir-apparent, has been charged with crimes against humanity for his role in trying to suppress the revolt against his father's decades-old regime. (DPA)

3:48 P.M. Libya's recognized PM vows military campaign to seize Tripoli

Libya's recognized government will continue a military campaign to claim back the capital Tripoli, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said on Wednesday.

Libya is divided between two governments since a group called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August after a month-long battle with a rival group, setting up its own parliament and government.

Thinni has been forced to work from the East where the elected House of Representatives is also based, part of turmoil three years after the ousting of Muammar Gadhafi.

Thinni told Dubai-based TV channel al-Arabiya his forces were advancing on Tripoli from the west and would also seize the main border crossing to Tunisia.

"Our troops are moving towards Tripoli to liberate it," he said, claiming his forces had seized a town west of the capital. Thinni's forces, allied to a former general and tribesmen in Zintan in the western mountains, have launched air strikes on Tripoli. (Reuters) 

Wednesday:

11:23 PM: Saudi king donates $104M for Syria food aid

A $104 million donation from Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has helped restore food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees as winter approaches.

A statement Wednesday from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman expresses profound gratitude and says the money will help get food to millions of refugees from Syria as well as South Sudan and Somalia.

The World Food Program caused alarm last week when it announced that it would have to cut food vouchers to Syrian refugees. But an unusual social media campaign brought in more than $1 million from the public, while countries donated millions more.

In the end, the $64 million request was far surpassed. (AP)