Middle East Updates / At Least 15 Killed After Two Car Bombs in Baghdad's Shi'ite District

Germany won't rekindle ties with Assad despite Islamic State threat; UN rights chief condemns crimes committed by Islamic State; Zarif, Ashton to meet next week on Iran nuclear program.

Shi'ite fighters fight against Islamic State.
Shi'ite fighters fight against Islamic State, August 18, 2014. AFP

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Latest updates [Monday]:

9:00 A.M. At least 8 dead following car bomb in Baghdad Shi'ite district (Reuters)

10:28 P.M. Iraqi police officials say two car bombs in a busy commercial district in Baghdad have killed at least 15 people and wounded another 21.

The bombs, which detonated less than two minutes apart, hit a restaurant on a commercial street in north Baghdad, the officials said.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. Both spoke anonymously as they are not authorized to brief the media.. (Reuters)

9:47 P.M. A Saudi court has jailed 17 men for up to 33 years on a range of militant Islamist charges, including fighting in foreign conflicts and joining terrorist cells inside the kingdom, state news agency SPA reported on Monday.

Riyadh's concerns about Islamist militants have grown more acute over the past two years as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have attracted more of its own citizens to travel to those countries to join groups fighting in the name of jihad.

King Abdullah decreed in February long prison terms for those who travel overseas to fight or who give material or moral support to groups officially labelled as extremist, including Al-Qaida, Syria's Nusra Front and Islamic State.

The charges brought against the 17 men also included embracing a militant ideology and sharing the "conviction that what the terrorist organisation carries out, in terms of bombing, destroying and killing, is jihad in the name of Allah".

The men, part of a group of 67, were also convicted of financing terrorism, possessing weapons and ammunition without permits and helping members of a "terrorist organization". (Reuters) 

5:41 P.M. Turkey's state-run news agency says Kurdish rebels have abducted three Chinese workers in southeast Turkey and attacked a thermal power plant where they worked, injuring a security guard.

The Anadolu Agency says the workers were seized while grocery shopping near the town Silopi on Sunday. It said Turkish security forces had launched an operation to rescue them.

The agency said Monday Kurdish rebels attacked the plant with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles late on Sunday. The attack is widely believed to be retaliation to the killing in another town last week of a Kurd who was protesting against the Turkish security forces' removal of a statue of a Kurdish rebel fighter.

The Chinese Embassy in Ankara would not confirm the report. Officials in Silopi could not immediately be reached for comment. (AP)

5:38 P.M. A Libyan lawmaker and television stations are saying that the country's outgoing parliament has voted to sack the current government and name a new one.

The decision Monday leaves the country with two rival parliaments and governments.

The outgoing Islamist-dominated parliament in Tripoli refuses to recognize the parliament elected in June, which is controlled by non-Islamists.

The newly-elected parliament meets in the eastern city of Tobruk because of militia infighting in Tripoli and the country's second-largest city, Benghazi.

Libyan television station Alharar and a lawmaker in Tripoli said the parliament voted unanimously to appoint a new "national salvation government" headed by Omar al-Hassi, a university professor. (AP)

4:59 P.M. Iraqi officials say a wave of attacks targeting commercial areas in and outside Baghdad has killed a total of 43 people.

They say the deadliest of Monday's bombings was carried out by a suicide bomber who blew up himself among Shi'ite worshippers who were leaving a mosque after noon prayers in the capital's eastern New Baghdad area, killing at least 15 people and wounding 32 others.

That was followed by back-to-back car bombings in cities south of Baghdad. In Karbala, the explosion killed 12 civilians and wounded 31 others. In Hillah, two car bombs went off in separate areas, killing 11 people and wounding 26 others. Five others were also killed in two separate attacks in Baghdad.

Medical officials confirmed the causality figures, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information. (AP)

3:25 P.M. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says Islamic State fighters reportedly killed up to 670 prisoners in Mosul and committed other horrific abuses in Iraq that amount to crimes against humanity.

The UN's top human rights official says the grave human rights violations carried out by the Islamic State group and other fighters allied with it include ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious purges in areas under its control in an aggressive push to gain a firm grip on the northern and eastern provinces.

Pillay said a statement Monday the violations include targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of places of religious and cultural significance, and besieging entire communities for ethnic, religious or sectarian reasons. (AP)

2:13 P.M. Iraqi officials say a suicide bomber hit a Shiite mosque in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 12 people.

A police officer says the bomber blew up his explosives-laden vest among worshippers as they were leaving the mosque after noon prayers in the New

Baghdad area. He added that at least 26 other people were wounded. A medical official confirmed the causality figures.

2:02 P.M. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will hold talks in Brussels next Monday on Iran's nuclear program, the EU said on Monday.

"I can confirm that Lady Ashton will be meeting the Iranian foreign minister on Sept. 1 here in Brussels in the context of talks on Iran's nuclear program," Ashton's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters. (Reuters)

2:00 P.M. United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay condemns "appalling, widespread" crimes being committed by Islamic State forces in Iraq, including killings, slavery, sexual crimes and targeting people on ethnic or religious grounds.

The persecution and systematic violations, documented by UN human rights investigators, would amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law, she said in a statement.

"Grave, horrific human rights violations are being committed daily by ISIL and associated armed groups," Pillay said. "They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control." (Reuters) 

1:49 P.M. Syria's foreign minister has warned the U.S. not to conduct airstrikes inside Syria against the Islamic State group without Damascus' consent.

Walid al-Moallem says such an act "by anyone," without the approval from President Bashar Assad's government, would be a violation of Syrian sovereignty and would be considered an aggression.

But the top Syrian diplomat also said on Monday that Syria is ready to work with regional states and the international community in the war on terror amid the onslaught of Islamic militants.

Al-Moallem's remarks at a press conference in Damascus marked the first public comments by a senior Assad official on the threat posed by the Islamic State, which has captured large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

Al-Moallem denounced the Islamic State's killing of U.S. journalist James Foley. (AP)

1:46 P.M. Germany has no diplomatic contacts with the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has no plans to rekindle ties because of the threat posed by the militant group Islamic State, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry said on Monday. (Reuters) 

10:32 P.M. An American journalist kidnapped and held hostage for nearly two years by an Al-Qaida-linked group in Syria was released Sunday, less than a week after the horrific execution of American journalist James Foley by Islamic militants. A senior U.S. administration official said Curtis was being transported to Tel Aviv. (AP) Read the full article.