Middle East Updates / Iraqi Troops Foil Jihadists' Attack on Country's Biggest Oil Refinery

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A vigil for James Foley in his hometown of Rochester, N.H., August 23, 2014.Credit: AP

See Saturday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates [Sunday]:

9:10 P.M. Kidnappers in Syria on Sunday freed a U.S. journalist missing since 2012 following Qatari efforts to win his release, Al Jazeera reported. The Qatari-owned television station named the journalist as Peter Theo Curtis, and said he had been handed over to a representative of the United Nations. His reported release happened just days after the Islamic State militant group fighting in Iraq and Syria issued a video shown the beheading of American journalist James Foley. That video, together with a threat to kill another American journalist being held hostage, Steven Sotloff, inspired widespread revulsion in the West and a desire to hunt down the killer. 

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to be held by Islamic State. In a video statement released by Curtis's kidnappers at some point during his captivity, Curtis said he was a journalist from Boston, Massachusetts, Al Jazeera reported. Commenting on his treatment in that video, Curtis said he "had everything" he needed and "everything has been perfect, food, clothing, even friends now". (Reuters)

8:40 P.M. Republicans on Sunday called for more aggressive U.S. action to defeat Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, accusing President Barack Obama of policies that have failed to thwart potential new threats on U.S. soil.

Representative Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House of Representative Intelligence Committee, urged the administration to work with Arab partners on robust steps to disrupt the operations of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He said the group is drawing support from Europeans and Americans who could travel undetected to Western countries to carry out attacks. "They are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores," Rogers said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "We have the capability to defeat (ISIS). We now have to have the political will and we have to have the policy to do it. We have the first. We don't have the second two." (AP) Full article

11:03 A.M. Iraqi government troops have foiled an attempt by the Islamic State militants to seize the country's biggest oil refinery, security officials said on Sunday.

Jihadist militants were using armored vehicles and suicide bombings in their biggest attempt so far to capture the Biji refinery, around 200 kilometers north of the capital Baghdad, an official told DPA.

"The Iraqi security forces, in charge of guarding the refinery, were able to thwart the attack that started last night," added the official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

At least 30 militants had been killed in the fighting, according to the official.
"Their bodies are still lying near the walls of the refinery as clashes continue to break out nearby."

He said that government warplanes had backed the security forces on the ground in repulsing the jihadists' attack. (DPA)

10:01 A.M. The Gulf nation of Qatar is hitting back at suggestions that it supports the Islamic State or other extremist groups, and is calling for "determined, collective action" to end sectarian violence gripping Iraq and Syria.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah said in a written statement distributed to journalists Saturday that efforts to stop the bloodshed must include cutting off the flow of funds to extremist groups.

He says Qatar does not support extremists including ISIS — an alternate name for the Islamic State — in any way, and is "repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions." (AP)

9:10 A.M. Iran has produced a new generation of short-range marine missiles and aerial drones, the official IRNA news agency reported Sunday.

The report said the Ghadir missile, with a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles), is designed to destroy marine targets.

Iran has unveiled two new drones, the high-altitude Karrar-4 and the Mohajer-4. The latter can be used to generate maps for both military and civilian purposes, IRNA said.

The report said President Hassan Rohani attended a ceremony marking the inauguration.

Tehran regularly announces military advances that cannot be independently verified. (AP) Read the full article

05:26 A.M. The Sunday Times newspaper reports that British intelligence agencies have identified the killer of journalist James Foley last week. Read the full article

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