Middle East Updates ISIS Claims Car Blast at U.S. Consulate in Erbil, Monitoring Group Says

Hezbollah blames Saudi Arabia for spread of extremism; Assad blames 'huge' external support for loss of ground; UN chief calls for immediate cease-fire by all parties in Yemen.

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Smoke rises from the site of a bomb attack in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, April 17, 2015.
Smoke rises from the site of a bomb attack in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, April 17, 2015.Credit: Reuters

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Latest updates:

11:00 P.M. Three killed in car bomb attack outside U.S. consulate in Iraq's Erbil

Three people were killed when a car bomb exploded on Friday outside the U.S. consulate in Erbil.

No U.S. personnel were hurt in the blast, according to the U.S. State Department, which said a "vehicle-borne improvised explosive device" exploded right outside the entrance to the heavily fortified compound. (Reuters)

9:09 P.M. Hezbollah blames Saudi Arabia for spread of extremism

The leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group launched his harshest criticism yet of Saudi Arabia on Friday, blaming the kingdom for the spread of extremist ideology in the Muslim world and the killing of civilians in Yemen.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told hundreds of supporters at a rally in southern Beirut organized in support of Yemen's Shiite rebels that Saudi-led airstrikes targeting them have not led to victory.

Nasrallah called on the Muslim world to pressure the Saudis to end the airstrikes and work for a political solution in Yemen, but asserted that no solution will restore Western-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi who fled the country as his government crumbled.

Nasrallah also lashed out at Saudi Arabia's strict ultraconservative Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam, which has been adopted as the ideology of militant groups such as Al-Qaida, the Islamic State and Al-Qaida's branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front.

He accused the kingdom of spreading extremist ideology through schools it funds in Muslim nations. "Time has come for Muslims, Arabs and the Muslim world to tell the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: 'Enough,'" said Nasrallah. (AP)

8: 32 P.M. Islamic State claims car bomb at U.S. Consulate in Erbil, SITE says

The Islamic State militant group claimed a car bomb attack outside the U.S. consulate in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the jihadist monitoring group SITE said on Friday. It cited an Islamic State account on Twitter saying fighters from its Kirkuk division "were able to detonate a car bomb on the building of the American Consulate in the city, which led to killing and wounding many of them."

The U.S. State Department on Friday confirmed that a vehicle bomb exploded outside the consulate, but said that no U.S. personnel were injured. A State Department official said the bomb was detonated "directly outside an entry point on the perimeter of the U.S. consulate." (Reuters)

4:25 P.M. Saddam Hussein aide Ezzat al-Douri killed in Iraq

A prominent former aide to late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Ezzat al-Douri, has been killed in a wide-scale military operation, the governor of the Salahuddin province told Al-Arabiya television.

The station showed a photo of dead man, who looked similar to al-Douri, also believed to be mastermind of the insurgency against the current Shi'ite-led government. (Reuters)

1:17 P.M. Iraqi forces recapture two towns from ISIS near crucial refinery

A senior Iraqi military official with the Salahuddin Command Center says Iraqi security forces have gained full control over a contested area south of the country's largest oil refinery.

General Ayad al-Lahabi told AP that the military, backed by divisions of the Popular Mobilization Forces and coalition airstrikes, gained control Friday of the towns of al-Malha and al-Mazraah, located 3 kilometers south of the Beiji oil refinery, killing at least 160 militants with Islamic State.

Al-Lahabi says security forces are trying to secure two corridors around the refinery itself after the Sunni militants launched a large-scale attack on the complex earlier this week.

Iraqi security forces, also backed by the Popular Mobilization Forces and U.S. airstrikes, recaptured the provincial capital of Tikrit on April 1. (AP)

12:00 P.M. Assad blames external support for loss of ground

The recent gains made by jidhadist groups in Syria have been facilitated by the "huge support" coming from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Friday by Swedish daily Expressen.

The capture of the north-western provincial capital of Idlib in late March, for instance, was not due to the Syrian army being weaker, Assad said.

"As I said, any war undermines any army, that is the natural course of events ... the main factor was the huge support that came through Turkey; logistic support, and military support, and of course financial support that came through Saudi Arabia and Qatar," he told the Stockholm newspaper.

Expressen Middle East correspondent Kassem Hamade told Swedish Radio news from Beirut that there had been no restrictions on the topics raised, but that the Syrian authorities had requested that the television version of the interview be edited in Syria. (DPA)

2:28 A.M. UN chief calls for immediate cease-fire by all parties in Yemen

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for an immediate halt to the fighting in Yemen, the first time he has made such an appeal since Saudi-led airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels began three weeks ago.

"I am calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen by all the parties," Ban said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington. "The Saudis have assured me that they understand that there must be a political process. I call on all Yemenis to participate in good faith." (Reuters)

1:30 A.M. UN chief to nominate new special envoy to Yemen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday is expected to nominate the head of the UN Ebola mission as the new special envoy to Yemen, the country's UN ambassador said Thursday.

Ambassador Khaled Alyemany told The Associated Press that Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, of Mauritania, is the only candidate for the post after Jamal Benomar on Wednesday announced his intention to step down.

"The secretary-general has already made his decision," Alyemany said. "Ould Cheikh is a very good UN diplomat and expert," with experience leading UN humanitarian efforts in Yemen in recent years, he said.

Benomar's four years of efforts at a peaceful political transition in the Arab world's poorest country fell apart amid a Shi'ite rebel uprising, Saudi-led airstrikes and sharp criticism from Gulf countries.

Ban was expected to nominate Ahmed in a letter to the current Security Council president. The council must approve the nomination to make it official.

Ahmed was in West Africa on Thursday and had no comment, his spokeswoman said. (Reuters)

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