Middle East Updates / Lebanese Army Captures 2 Border Outposts From Islamists

ISIS militant 'Jihadi John' identified as Kuwaiti-born Briton; ISIS abducts at least 220 Assyrian Christians during three-day offensive; dozens of suspected militants killed in Egypt's Sinai.


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Latest updates:

4:50 P.M. NATO ready to advise Libya on security

NATO's chief said Thursday the alliance was ready to advise Libya's government on defense and security issues, saying the deteriorating situation in the country is posing new security threats for Europe that require a more robust defense.

NATO helped enforce an arms embargo and a no-fly zone over Libya during the 2011 ouster of Moammar Gadhafi's regime. The mission ended in October 2011, and the security situation has since spiraled out of control with two separate governments and multiple armed groups, including some affiliated with the Islamic State.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenbergsaid there should have been more international presence in Libya after the military operation ended, and pledged Thursday that NATO was available to help.

"NATO stands ready to support Libya with advice on defense and security institution building, as requested by the Libyan government," he said, repeating a pledge by NATO members at a September summit in Wales. (AP)

2:40 P.M. Lebanese army captures 2 border outposts from Islamist militants

The Lebanese army says it has seized two hilltop positions along the border from Syria-based Islamic militants.

In a statement Thursday, it says the operation is in line with efforts to secure villages near the eastern border with neighboring Syria.

Three soldiers were wounded in the operation, during which militant positions were shelled with artillery and heavy weaponry, it added.

The statement did not name the militants, but most are believed to be from the Islamic State group. They and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been holding around 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage since August.

The army frequently clashes with the militants in their hideouts near the Syria border. (AP)

2:25 P.M. UN envoy to Yemen meets with embattled president

Aides to Yemen's embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi say he has met with the UN envoy to the country for the first time since fleeing the Shiite rebel-held capital.

UN envoy Jamal Benomar has been struggling for months to resolve a crisis pitting Hadi against the Houthi rebels, who seized the capital in September and control much of the north. The rebels placed Hadi and his Cabinet ministers under house arrest in January, but Hadi was able to flee to the southern city of Aden earlier this month.

The UN Security Council says he remains Yemen's "legitimate president."

The officials spoke about Thursday's meeting on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. (AP)

1:43 P.M. New ISIS video shows militants smashing ancient artifacts in Mosul

The Islamic State group has released a video purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in Iraq's northern city of Mosul.

The five-minute video shows a group of bearded men in a museum using hammers and drills to destroy several large statues, including one depicting a winged-bull Assyrian protective deity that dates back to the 9th century B.C.

The extremist group has destroyed a number of shrines -- including Muslim holy sites -- in order to eliminate what it views as heresy. The militants are also believed to have sold ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their bloody campaign across the region.

The video bore the logo of the IS group's media arm and was posted on a Twitter account used by the group. (AP)

12:58 P.M. BBC names 'Jihadi John' in ISIS beheading videos as Mohammed Emwazi from London

The BBC said on Thursday it had learned that the "Jihadi John" suspect who has featured in several Islamic State beheading videos is Mohammed Emwazi from London.

Earlier, the Washington Post newspaper had also identified Emwazi and said he was a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming. (Reuters) Read the full story

10:58 A.M. One killed, four wounded in series of blasts in central Cairo, Egypt

Egyptian security officials say one person was killed and four wounded in a series of bomb blasts in two central Cairo districts.

The officials say four bombs exploded in the residential districts of Imbabah and Mohandiseen in the Egyptian capital, home to some 18 million people.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. (AP)

10:28 A.M. At least 17 ISIS militants killed in airstrike near Iraq border town

A coalition air strike near the Iraqi border town of Al-Qaim killed at least 17 Islamic State militants overnight, a hospital source said.

The source in Al-Qaim hospital said a further 29 militants were wounded in the strike and some were taken across the border to Syria for treatment. (Reuters) 

9:47 A.M. ISIS has abducted at least 220 Assyrian Christians during three-day offensive

Islamic State militants have abducted at least 220 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria during a three day offensive, a monitor that tracks violence in Syria said on Thursday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the abductions took place when Islamic State took 10 villages inhabited by the ancient Christian minority near the city of Hasaka, a city mainly held by the Kurds. (Reuters) 

8:07 A.M. United Arab Emirates court sentences six Iranians to life in prison over British businessman's kidnap

A court in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced six Iranians, three of them in absentia, to life in prison for kidnapping a British businessman who went missing in Dubai in 2013, newspapers reported on Thursday.

Abbas Yazdi, a businessman of Iranian descent who owns a general trading company in Dubai, disappeared in June 2013 and his wife, Atena, told a UAE newspaper at the time that she feared he may have been kidnapped by Iranian intelligence officers.

Iran has denied any role in Yazdi's disappearance.

Prosecutors in Dubai have said the defendants attacked and drugged Yazdi and smuggled him out of the country to Iran through a port in the UAE emirate of Sharjah.

The Gulf News identified the three who stood trial as "R.A." aged 32, "K.G.", 52, and "N.A." 55, and said they had denied the charges of kidnap, assault and theft. "R.A." however admitted he had driven the car used in the abduction, the newspaper said.

It identified the three convicted in absentia as "H.B.", "B.N." and "I.N.". The newspaper added that a further defendant, identified as "S.H.", who had planned the kidnapping, had died in custody.

UAE newspaper 7Days has cited Yazdi's wife as saying the trader and investor, 44 at the time of his disappearance, was a close childhood friend of the son of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. (Reuters)

5:40 A.M. Dozens of suspected militants killed in Egypt's North Sinai

Egypt's military killed dozens of suspected Islamist militants in an operation in Sinai, security sources said on Wednesday, while state media reported the kidnapping of a businessman in the region.

Apache helicopter gunships killed 18 suspected militants after they destroyed four vans in North Sinai, security sources in the remote but strategic region said.

Twenty were killed when the military bombed a residence, a school and a youth center where the suspected militants were gathering near the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid, the sources said. Twenty-eight militants were wounded, they said.

Another security source in Cairo said the military launched an operation in North Sinai that had left "scores" dead.

The military was not immediately available for comment.

Egypt's state news agency, MENA, also said that unidentified gunmen kidnapped the local director of a water distribution company from his home in Sheikh Zuweid. (Reuters)

2:50 A.M. U.S. condemns Islamic State attacks on Christian villages in Syria

The United States on Wednesday condemned recent attacks by Islamic State militants on Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria, which it said included the burning of homes and churches and abduction of women, children and the elderly.

"This is but the latest round of atrocities perpetrated by ISIL against the innocent people of the region," the White House said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Christian Syrian activists said on Tuesday that Islamic State militants had abducted at least 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria they had raided. (Reuters)