Middle East Updates / At Least 22 Killed in Car Bomb Outside Mosque in South Syria

Erdogan says new Turkey PM expected next week; Indonesian president dismisses Islamic State's recruitment call; Iraq PM al-Maliki agrees to step down.

Displaced Yazidis ride on a truck as they are evacuated from Mount Sinjar.
Displaced Yazidis ride on a truck as they are evacuated from Mount Sinjar, August 13, 2014. Reuters

Haaretz's latest analyses on the Middle East: The electrical engineer vs. the Islamic State (Zvi Barel)

See Thursday's Middle East Updates

7:03 P.M. Acitivists say a car bomb has exploded outside a mosque in southern Syria, killing at least 22 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the blast took place around the time of Friday prayers in the opposition-held town of Namar in Daraa province.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says at least 30 people were wounded.

Abdurrahman says it is not clear who was behind the bombing. (AP)

5:15 P.M. One of Iraq's most powerful Sunni tribal leaders said on Friday he was ready to work with the new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, provided he protected the rights of the minority sect, which was marginalised by his predecessor.

In a television appearance, Ali Hatem Suleiman, head of the Dulaimi tribe that dominates the Sunni heartland Anbar province, said a decision on whether or not to fight the Sunni Islamic State militants who pose a major threat to Iraq's security would come later. (Reuters)  

4:19 P.M. UN nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano will visit Iran on Sunday in an effort to advance cooperation in the agency's long-running dispute with Iran over its nuclear activities, the IAEA said on Friday.

The visit comes ahead of an Aug. 25 deadline for Iran to provide information relevant to the International Atomic Energy Agency's investigation into suspicions that Iran may have researched how to build a nuclear bomb, an accusation that Iran denies. (Reuters)  

3:49 P.M. Two Islamist protesters were killed on Friday during clashes between police and demonstrators in Cairo, Egyptian security sources said.

The men died from bullet wounds during clashes between a few hundred protesters and police in Giza on the outskirts of the capital, the sources said. (Reuters)  

12:10 P.M. Britain would consider "positively" any request for arms from the Kurds to help them battle Sunni militants who have seized much of Iraq, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said.

The United States has asked European countries to supply arms and ammunition to Kurdish forces, U.S. and European officials have said. (Reuters) Read the full article

12:06 P.M. Germany's armed forces on Friday began sending aid supplies to northern Iraq where thousands of people have fled Islamic State militants, and the defense minister said Germany was looking into whether it would also deliver military equipment.

The first plane set off for Arbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, carrying medicines, food and blankets and further aid flights were planned for the day.

"Of course this is just the beginning and we're working hard on sending further aid if necessary and it's becoming apparent that is the case," Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters at Hohn airbase in northern Germany. (Reuters) Read the full article

10:23 A.M. Turkish president-elect Tayyip Erdogan expects to announce his new prime minister as early as next Thursday following a meeting of his ruling AK Party's senior leadership, he told reporters late on Thursday.

Erdogan said the party's central executive board would meet on August 21, when the name of the new AKP chairman and future prime minister would be announced.

The candidate would then need to be voted on by party members at a convention on August 27, but Erdogan's choice is unlikely to be challenged. (Reuters) 

9:34 A.M. Indonesia's president dismissed a call to arms to Indonesians by the Islamic State militants in the Middle East Friday, saying the group's version of Islam is heretical.

Islamic States' attempt to spread its ideology "is a threat to our identity," Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told parliament ahead of Independence Day. "Leaders across the country must take firm action to deal with this challenge," he said. "Indonesia is a God-believing, but not religion-based nation."

A video on YouTube shows an Indonesian fighter making an appeal for compatriots to join the jihadist cause abroad. The video has sparked debates in Indonesia on how to counter the group's recruitment attempts.

Yudhoyono said Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, is a place where "Islam, democracy and modernity can flourish together."

"We can show to the world that a diverse nation like us can be harmonious," he said.

Between 50 and 200 Indonesians are thought to have travelled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State and other rebel groups, U.S.-based think tank Soufan Group said in a report released Tuesday. (DPA)

4:11 A.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday welcomed the decision of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step aside and his pledge of support for Haider al-Ibadi as his successor.

"He (Ban) looks forward to the swift formation of an inclusive, broad-based government," Ban's press office said in a statement. (Reuters) 

3:21 A.M. Islamic State militants fighting in Iraq are selling oil from oilfields and refineries they control to local communities and smugglers, augmenting their existing ample finances, U.S. intelligence officials said on Thursday.

At least some of the oil is used to fuel a power plant they seized after the radical Islamists captured large tracts of Iraq including the country's second city Mosul, killing thousands and causing hundreds of thousands to flee, the officials said.

The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the militants, who took over state banks and looted homes and businesses, now have "hundreds of millions of dollars" at their disposal.

"At this point (the group) is overwhelmingly self- financing," one official said. But the officials said the group also has to pay its fighters and finance the operation of public services in territory it controls.

At some point, the intelligence officials predicted, the group is likely to find itself overextended, particularly if it keeps expanding the areas it controls.

They said the Sunni Arab movement, which has published images of brutal killings of Shi'ite civilians, soldiers, Christians and members of other faiths, has been well-organized.

It has transformed itself from a group that mainly carried out suicide bombings and other attacks to terrorize the population into a military organization capable of capturing and holding territory and establishing a governing mechanism. (Reuters) 

1:51 A.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is warning that the failure to hold a conference on establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East this year could jeopardize the success of next year's review of the landmark 1970 agreement aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear arms.

In a report to the UN General Assembly circulated Thursday, Ban urged all parties to finalize arrangements for a conference to be held as soon as possible.

At the 2010 conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, 189 member nations called for convening a conference in 2012 on establishing a Mideast zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

It was scheduled to take place in late 2012, but the U.S. announced it would be delayed, apparently to save Israel, widely believed to possess nuclear weapons. (Reuters)

12:11 A.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday named Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon as the world body's special envoy to Libya, which is experiencing the worst fighting between armed factions since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Leon will replace Tarek Mitri on Sept. 1 as head of the UN political mission in Libya, known as UNSMIL, Ban said in a statement.

"Mr. Leon brings to this position many years of political and diplomatic experience with his national government and with the European Union, including most recently as European Union Special Representative for Libya and European Union Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean," Ban said. (Reuters)

12:09 A.M. The European Union hopes to build a "support group" with Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, to help Iraq stave off the threat from Islamic State fighters, a senior EU official said on Thursday.

EU foreign ministers, who will hold emergency talks on the Iraq crisis in Brussels on Friday, will discuss how "with all the ... countries in the region we could form some sort of supporting group towards Iraq," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He suggested the group could include Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Iran and others.

"It is important to have everyone on board against the Islamic State because this shouldn't be seen as a confrontation between the western countries and the ISIL. It should be clearly a confrontation between ISIL and all the countries of the region," the official said.

The EU's aim is to exchange information about Islamic State, including about its financing, and "to see if all together we can move ahead and try to find a way not only to stop the present ISIL offensive but also to try to push it back," the official said.

The official gave no details of how Islamic State might be pushed back, but there is little appetite among EU governments for joining the United States in military strikes against the militants. (Reuters)

11:47 P.M. A defense lawyer for the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden convicted on terrorism-related charges in New York federal court said on Thursday that his client should serve no more than 15 years in prison.

Kuwaiti-born Suleiman Abu Ghaith, 48, faces up to life behind bars after a jury convicted him in March of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to provide material support for terrorists, and providing such support.

The trial, which featured testimony from Abu Ghaith himself, offered an unusual glimpse into bin Laden's actions in the days following al Qaeda's attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Prosecutors accused Abu Ghaith of serving as an al Qaeda mouthpiece, recording inflammatory videos that the group used in recruiting.

Abu Ghaith's lawyer, Stanley Cohen, argued in a court filing that his client was convicted solely on the basis of speech.

"The defendant faces the harshest of penalties for talk - and only talk - which is at times zealous, pious and devout; at other times intemperate; at still others, offensive to core values of humanity," Cohen wrote. "In this sense, he was not unlike an outrageous daytime 'shock-radio' host, or a World War II radio propagandist for a losing ideology." (Reuters)

11:25 P.M. Three Yemeni soldiers and two Al-Qaida militants were killed when security forces foiled an attack by insurgents in the eastern province of Hadramout on Thursday, medical sources said.

The state news agency Saba said security forces had confronted Al-Qaida militants who had placed three car bombs in the Hadramout provincial capital of al-Mukallah. It said several militants were killed and several soldiers wounded.

"The fighters ... managed to destroy three car bombs in the Sitteen street in al-Mukallah before they reached their targets," Saba said, quoting a military source.

Ansar al-Sharia, an Al-Qaida-affiliated group in Yemen, claimed the attack on a Twitter account. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the authenticity of the account. (Reuters)