Middle East Updates / ISIS Targeted in 10 Air Strikes by U.S.-led Coalition

ISIS militants and force allied with Tripoli clash in central Libya; CIA chief: U.S. doesn't want to see Assad regime's collapse; Egypt sacks 41 'pro-Muslim Brotherhood' judges.

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A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard with his weapon at Camp Habbaniyah between the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, March 12, 2015.
A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard with his weapon at Camp Habbaniyah between the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, March 12, 2015.Credit: Reuters
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Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, March 13, 2015.Credit: Reuters

7:15 P.M. ISIS militants and force allied with Tripoli clash in central Libya

Clashes erupted in central Libya on Saturday between Islamic State fighters and a force loyal to a Tripoli-based faction, a military official and residents said.

Islamic State, the militant group which has seized much of Iraq and Syria, has expanded in Libya in recent months, helped by the chaos and lawlessness of a fight for control between two rival governments and their respective allies.

Local supporters of the militants executed a group of Egyptian Christians and have claimed attacks on a luxury hotel, foreign missions and police stations in the capital Tripoli.

On Saturday, Islamic State militants clashed with the al-Shorooq force allied to a Tripoli-based government that was established by the armed faction Libya Dawn. (Reuters)

6:05 P.M. ISIS targeted in 10 air strikes by U.S.-led coalition

The United States and its coalition partners staged 10 air strikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria in a 24-hour period, the Combined Joint Task Force said on Saturday.

The strikes, which began on Friday, hit a fighting position and tactical units near the Syrian cities of Kobani and Al Hasakah, the task force said in a statement on the latest daily raids.

In Iraq, four strikes targeted a large ISIS unit, two tactical units, four buildings and vehicles near Kirkuk. Four other attacks near Mosul, Falluja and Rawah hit a tactical unit, vehicles and a structure. (Reuters) 

5:40 P.M. Kurdish gov't says ISIS used chlorine as weapon in Iraq

Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government said on Saturday it has evidence Islamic State used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against Kurdish peshmerga forces.

The Kurdish region's Security Council said in a statement to Reuters that a laboratory analysis of soil and clothing samples from a January suicide car bombing it said IS conducted in northern Iraq found "the samples contained levels of chlorine that suggested the substance was used in weaponised form."

Chlorine is a banned choking agent whose use as a chemical weapon dates back to World War One. It was not possible to independently verify the allegation. (Reuters) Read the full story

4:55 P.M. Egypt sacks 41 'pro-Muslim Brotherhood' judges

An Egyptian disciplinary court ordered 41 judges into compulsory retirement on Saturday for supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, judicial sources said, the latest move in a sweeping crackdown on political dissent.

The government has implemented a harsh crackdown on Islamists as well as secular political opponents since then army chief Abdel Fattah Sissii ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule. (Reuters) Read the full story

4:20 P.M. Kurdish, Christian forces gain on ISIS in northeast Syria battles

Kurdish fighters and Christian militiamen are making gains against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, with intense clashes amid airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, an activist group and a Kurdish official said Saturday.

Nasser Haj Mansour, a defense official in Syria's Kurdish region, said the fighters captured the Christian village of Tal Maghas in Hassakeh province, which had been under the control of Islamic State militants. Haj Mansour and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the village was taken overnight.

They said airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, the first in the area in days, were targeting Islamic State positions near Tal Tamr village, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Tal Maghas. The Observatory and Haj Mansour reported intense clashes near Tal Tamr on Saturday. (AP)

4:05 P.M. U.S. Embassy warns oil workers of Saudi Arabia kidnap threat

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia has issued a warning about a potential militant plot to kidnap Western oil workers.

The warning, issued late Friday, said officials received information about a threat to kidnap the workers, including Americans, from oil fields in the kingdom's Eastern province.

The embassy said it had "no further information on the timing, target, location or method of any planned attacks." The Saudi government and its official Saudi Press Agency made no immediate mention of the warning.

From 2003 to 2007, Al-Qaida-linked militants carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia aimed at destabilizing the Western-allied monarchy, including deadly bombings of residential compounds housing foreigners in Riyadh in 2003. The kingdom now is taking part in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group. (AP)

1:42 P.M. CIA chief: U.S. doesn't want to see Assad regime's collapse

The U.S. doesn't want to see a chaotic collapse of the Syrian regime as it could be replaced by Islamist extremists in power, CIA Director John Brennan said Friday.

Speaking at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations, the agency chief said that “extremist elements,” including the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS and ISIL) and veterans of Al-Qaida are “ascendant right now” in some parts of Syria.

“The last thing we want to do is allow them to march into Damascus,” Brennan was quoted as saying by AFP. “That’s why it’s important to bolster those forces within the Syrian opposition that are not extremists."

The CIA chief also said ISIS' tactics represented a change from previous terror organizations, due to the viral nature of the threat.

According to Brennan, the group adeptly exploits social media to spread propaganda and recruit, enabling it to extend its reach in a way that was difficult to track and deter.

AFP also cited the CIA chief as suggesting that Iran and the U.S. are cooperating indirectly against ISIS, through Iraqi partners.

“There’s an alignment of some interests between ourselves and Iran” when it comes to fighting Islamic State, he said. “We work with closely with the Iraqi government. The Iranians work closely with the Iraqi government as well.” (Haaretz) 

10:18 A.M. Boy in ISIS video 'recognized' by Toulouse classmates

A boy featured in a chilling Islamic State propaganda video showing the killing of a Palestinian is said to have been recognized by classmates in Toulouse, AFP reported, citing an official.

"Concerning the formal identification of this person, I cannot tell you anything," the schools inspector in the Haute-Garonne district in southern France, Jacques Caillaut, was quoted as saying. "Children from the Vauquelin College have recognized one of their classmates, but we must remain cautious."

According to Caillaut, students at Vauquelin secondary school would have known the boy, who is said to be no older than 12, when he was in primary school in Toulouse. He said the students had seen the video on Wednesday and were provided with counselling.

"There is a child who has not been enrolled at the Vergers (primary) school since March 14, 2014, but I do not have any other details," Caillaut was quoted as saying. Read the full story

Friday:

9:36 P.M. Iraq militia leader hails Iran's 'unconditional' support

The U.S. has failed to live up to its promises to help Iraq fight Islamic State extremists, unlike the "unconditional" assistance being given by Iran, the commander of Iraq's powerful Shiite militias alleged Friday.

In a battlefield interview near Tikrit, where Iraqi forces are fighting to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown from the militants of the so-called Islamic State, commander Hadi al-Amiri criticized those who "kiss the hands of the Americans and get nothing in return."

Iraqi forces entered Tikrit for the first time Wednesday from the north and south. On Friday, they waged fierce battles to secure the northern neighborhood of Qadisiyya and lobbed mortar shells and rockets into the city center, still in the hands of IS militants. Iraqi military officials have said they expect to reach central Tikrit in two to three days. (AP) 

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