Middle East Updates / Blast Outside Cairo University Wounds 11

Libyan army troops advance into Benghazi; Syria claims it destroyed two of three jets seized by ISIS; UN says assault on Yazidis may be genocide attempt; Saudis sentence 13 over plot to attack U.S. soldiers.

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Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Brazen Hezbollah could trigger third Lebanon war (Amos Harel), Israeli citizens fighting for Islamic State: a small, yet worrying trend (Jack Khoury)

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Latest updates:

11:54 Blast outside Cairo University wounds 11 (update)

A bomb outside Cairo University wounded 11 people on Wednesday, among them several police officers, Egyptian officials said.

The blast occurred in a square outside the university at the end of the school day. Six police officers and four civilians were wounded and transferred to hospitals, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Later, a statement from the health ministry said the number of wounded had been increased to 11.

The militant group Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt), which emerged in January this year, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted on militant forums and the group's Twitter account, SITE Intelligence Group said. (Reuters) 

10:31 P.M. Libyan army troops advance into Benghazi

Libyan army troops on Wednesday pushed into Benghazi, the first time in two months that government forces had entered the eastern city, which has been under control of Islamist militias. The advance was a significant boost to the troops, though fighting was still raging in Benghazi and the army had a long battle ahead, said Meloud al-Zewi, spokesman for Libya's special forces.

Al-Zewi said Libyan troops first swooped into the district of Benina, where Benghazi's airport is located, then took control of other districts, including the eastern, heavily populated neighborhood of Sedi Khalifa. Pictures of soldiers kissing the ground and residents welcoming the armored vehicles were widely circulated on social networking sites.

On its official Facebook page, the Libyan army urged residents to stay from crowding around the army in their joy for fear this would make them an easy target. (AP)

9:26 P.M. Blackwater guards found guilty in Iraq shootings

Four former Blackwater security guards were convicted Wednesday in the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad, an incident that inflamed anti-American sentiment around the globe and was denounced by critics as an illustration of a war gone horribly wrong.

The men claimed self-defense, but U.S. prosecutors argued that they had shown "a grave indifference" to the carnage their actions would cause. All four were ordered immediately to jail. A layer for one of them quickly said he expected to appeal.

The federal jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder, the most serious charge in a multi-count indictment. The three other guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations. (AP)

7:56 P.M. Al-Qaida reportedly kills 30 Shi'ite rebels in Yemen

Sunni Al-Qaida militants and Shi'ite Muslim rebels have fought a bloody battle in central Yemen, tribal sources said on Wednesday, amid fears of worsening sectarian tension in the impoverished Arabian country.

Thirty Shi'ite rebels and 18 Sunni fighters and their tribal allies were killed in the clashes, the tribal sources told Reuters. Shi'ite Houthi rebels seized control of the capital Sanaa on Sept. 21 and their forces have fanned out to Yemen's west and centre since then.

Al-Qaida in Yemen's Twitter page said it fought the rebels with light weapons and demolished their homes in the city of Radda in al-Bayda province over the course of several hours on Tuesday, an account confirmed by local tribesmen. The statement did not mention any casualties on its side, which the tribal sources put at 18 among the militants and tribal gunmen fighting along with the group. (Reuters)  

7:05 P.M. Pentagon confirms ISIS captured bundle of supplies meant for Kurds

The Pentagon said on Wednesday two bundles of military supplies for Kurdish fighters in the Syrian town of Kobani went astray during an air drop earlier this week, with one destroyed later by an air strike and the other taken by Islamic State militants. 

"Yesterday we announced that one resupply bundle went astray and was destroyed. We have since relooked at that and we have determined that a second bundle also went astray and probably fell into enemy hands," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Twenty-six other bundles of supplies were dropped to Kurds in the besieged city and reached their targets, he said. (Reuters) 

5:49 P.M. Iraqi Kurdistan parliament votes to send troops to Kobani

Lawmakers in Iraq's Kurdistan region said on Wednesday they voted in favour of sending Kurdish forces to the besieged Syrian town of Kobani via Turkey. Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani sent a letter to parliament late on Tuesday seeking approval to deploy the region's peshmerga forces abroad to fight alongside Syrian Kurds.

Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish town on the border with Turkey, has been under sustained attack for weeks from better-armed Islamic State militants who have overrun vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. "Today in parliament we agreed to send the peshmerga forces to Kobani as soon as possible," MP Mahmoud Haji Omer said.

Two senior Kurdish officials said late on Tuesday that preparations were under way to send a small number of peshmerga to Kobani, but that it would take several days until the necessary arrangements were in place. Iraqi Kurdish official Hemin Hawrami said on Twitter that the peshmerga would go equipped with heavy weapons.

On Monday, the United States air-dropped arms for Kobani's defenders for the first time, and Turkey said it would give the peshmerga fighters passage through its territory. (Reuters) 

5:45 P.M. Seven wounded by blast outside Cairo University
An explosion outside Cairo University wounded at least seven people on Wednesday, among them police and civilians, security sources said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Islamist militants have carried out a series of attacks against police and soldiers, mainly in the remote but strategic Sinai region, since the army ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year after mass protests against his rule.

Cairo University was a focal point for protests against the government that succeeded Mursi until authorities tightened security with the start of the new term this month. (Reuters)

5:02 P.M. Suspected Kurdish rebels kidnap workers in southeast Turkey
Suspected Kurdish militants kidnapped 10 power company workers in southeastern Turkey on Wednesday as tensions remain high in the region following unrest that killed at least 35 people.

In a separate incident, a politician from a Kurdish Islamist party was shot dead in the eastern city of Bingol. Ethnic Kurds rioted in several southeastern cities this month over what they perceived as the government's refusal to help Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State militants for more than a month in the besieged town of Kobani.

The unrest threatens a shaky peace process in which the government is negotiating an end to a 30-year insurgency with the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who called a ceasefire last year. Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Kobani are closely affiliated with the PKK.

The Turkish army was searching for workers from the Dicle Electric Co. who were investigating illegal transmission on their network near the town of Silvan when their vehicle was stopped by a group of masked men, a security source said. The source said the assailants could be belong to the PKK, who have in the past kidnapped soldiers, engineers, journalists and others, sometimes with the aim of securing a prisoner exchange. (Reuters)  

4:08 P.M. Erdogan says U.S. weapons airdrop on Kobani was wrong
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday it was wrong of the U.S. to air drop military supplies to Kurdish fighters defending the Syrian border town of Kobani, as some weapons were seized by Islamic State militants besieging it. 

"What was done here on this subject turned out to be wrong. Why did it turn out wrong? Because some of the weapons they dropped from those C130s were seized by ISIL," Erdogan told a news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara. (Reuters)

3:12 P.M. US-designated terrorist sentenced to life in Egypt
An Egyptian court has sentenced 12 alleged militants, including a U.S.-designated terrorist, to life in prison on charges of plotting attacks in Egypt against police, military, foreign missions and ships passing through the strategic Suez Canal.

Judge Shabaan el-Shamy also sentenced on Wednesday 13 others to between seven and 15 years in prison, and acquitted one defendant. The group of 26 defendants, known locally as "the Nasr City cell," included Muhammad Jamal el-Kashif, a 50-year-old militant, designated a terrorist by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations. 

El-Kashif, arrested in 2012 in Egypt, is suspected of links to al-Qaida and is accused of setting up training camps for militants in Egypt and Libya. The defendants raised pictures of Osama bin Laden and chanted "God is Great" following the sentence. (AP)

3:05 P.M. Saudis sentence 13 over plot to attack U.S. soldiers
A Saudi court has sentenced 13 suspected members of an al Qaeda cell - 11 Saudis, a Qatari and an Afghan citizen - to up to 30 years in prison for plotting to attack U.S. soldiers in Qatar and Kuwait, the state news agency SPA reported. Separately, two Saudi citizens were sentenced to death on Monday after being convicted of attacking a police station with Molotov cocktails in Awamiya in the country's predominantly Shi'ite Muslim east, defence lawyers and Saudi media said. 

The official Saudi news agency SPA said the court ruled on Tuesday that the 13 men had exploited Saudi territory "to form a terrorist cell seeking to carry out a terrorist operation in the state of Qatar against American forces, supplying the cell with arms and money for that operation, recruiting people for that cell". The men were also convicted of "preparing to participate in a terrorist operation in the state of Kuwait targeting American forces there," the agency added. 

The accused leader of the group, a Qatari man, was sentenced to 30 years in jail, after which he would be expelled from Saudi Arabia, while the other 12 were jailed for between 18 months and 18 years, SPA said. They were among a group of 41 people rounded up in 2011 on suspicion of forming a cell linked to the Sunni militant al Qaeda that planned to hit U.S. forces in Qatar and Kuwait. (Reuters) 
 

1:03 P.M. Syria claims it destroyed two of three jets seized by Islamic State

Syria's information minister says the Syrian air force has destroyed two of three jets seized and test flown over Aleppo by the Islamic State group last week.

Omran al-Zoubi told Syrian TV late Tuesday that Syrian aircraft bombed the jets as they were landing on the runway of the Jarrah airbase in the eastern countryside of Aleppo province. He said the Syrian air force was searching for the third jet.

Syrian activists said Friday that IS militants flew three MiG fighter jets over the Jarraj air base with the help of former Iraqi air force pilots.

Those reports could not be independently confirmed. U.S. officials have said they had no reports of the militants flying jets in support of their fighters in Iraq and Syria.

12:28 P.M. John Kerry says he is completely engaged with Congress on Iran nuke talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on a visit to Berlin on Wednesday that the Obama administration planned to fully consult Congress about ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

"I personally believe, as does the president, that Congress has an extremely important role to play in this and Congress will play a role in this," Kerry said in response to a question about whether U.S. lawmakers might be shut out of the decision-making process.

Kerry said a possible suspension of sanctions against Iran in any nuclear deal "does not in any way write Congress out of the process or suggest that in the end Congress isn't going to have a vote."

"We anticipate hearings, a significant amount of back and forth. We certainly will be briefing as we go forward in the next weeks. And we look forward to serious and deep congressional engagement in this effort," he added. (Reuters)

11:48 A.M. U.K. police arrest 25-year-old woman on terrorism charges related to Syria civil war

British police arrested a 25-year-old woman on Wednesday on suspicion of terrorism offences related to the ongoing civil war in Syria, the latest arrest in recent weeks amid warnings of a growing threat from Islamist militants.

Officers from London's Counter Terrorism Command said they detained the woman in Bedfordshire, north of London, on suspicion of preparing terrorism acts, and she had been taken to a police station in the capital for questioning.

Two addresses in Bedfordshire were being searched, they added.  

2:37 A.M. UN: Assault on Yazidis may be genocide attempt

A United Nations official says evidence strongly indicates that the Islamic State group's assault on Iraq's Yazidi religious minority is "an attempt to commit genocide."

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic spoke to reporters Tuesday after a weeklong visit to Iraq, where he spoke with at least 30 Yazidis from various parts of the country.

Hundreds of Yazidis were killed as the Islamic State group swept across parts of northern and western Iraq in August. Tens of thousands fled for their lives, most to the Kurdish-held parts of northern Iraq. Hundreds of women and girls were captured by fighters.

An estimated 7,000 Yazidis stayed and have been forced to convert to the Islamic State group's harsh interpretation of Islam. (AP)

1:53 A.M. FBI: Three U.S. girls may have tried to join Islamic State

The FBI said Tuesday that it's investigating the possibility that three teenage girls from the Denver area tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State extremists.

An FBI spokeswoman says agents helped bring the girls back to Denver after stopping them in Germany. Spokeswoman Suzie Payne says they're safe and have been reunited with their families.

The girls are two sisters, ages 17 and 15, and a 16-year-old from another family, said Glenn Thompson, bureau chief of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department, whose officers took missing persons reports on the girls Friday. Their families told deputies they had left home without giving any indication of where they were headed, Thompson said. Read full article here

12:29 A.M. Australian runaway teen reportedly in Islamic State video

An Australian teenage runaway has reportedly appeared in an Islamic State propaganda video, warning that the movement won't stop fighting until the extremists' notorious black flag is flying above every nation.

Australian media on Tuesday widely reported a video posted on YouTube in which a speaker believed to be 17-year-old Abdullah Elmir from Bankstown in Sydney's southwest warns western leaders of the terror group's resolve.

Using the name Abu Khaled, holding a rifle and dressed in military garb, he is surrounded by dozens of other male jihadists as he addresses the camera.

"To the leaders, to Obama, to Tony Abbott, I say this: These weapons that we have, these soldiers, we will not stop fighting," he says, referring to the U.S. president and Australian prime minister. (AP) 

Tuesday:

10:00 P.M. Pentagon: Kurdish fighters received vast majority of U.S. supply drop

The Pentagon said on Tuesday the vast majority of military supplies air dropped near the Syrian city of Kobani had reached the Kurdish fighters they were intended to help, despite an online video showing Islamic State militants with a bundle.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said experts were analyzing the video and trying to determine if the bundle was the one the department reported earlier had fallen into the hands of Islamic State or if it was a second bundle in the group's possession.

Pentagon officials said a U.S. airdrop had delivered 28 bundles of military supplies to Syrian Kurdish fighters near Kobani on Sunday and reported that one had fallen into the hands of Islamic State militants. The Pentagon later said it had targeted the missing bundle in an air strike and destroyed it. (Reuters)