Middle East Updates / U.S.-led Air Strikes Have Hit 3,222 ISIS Targets, Says Pentagon

14-year-old Turkish boy shot dead in clashes between police, Kurdish protesters; Iran orders three social apps, including WhatsApp, blocked.

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9:04 P.M. U.S.-led air strikes have hit 3,222 ISIS targets, Pentagon says

U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria have damaged or destroyed 3,222 targets since August, including 58 tanks, 184 Humvees, 673 fighting positions and 980 buildings or barracks, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said he wasn't sure how many targets had been damaged versus destroyed, "but I'm confident that the destruction level is high. Our strikes are extraordinarily accurate." Release of the target damage list came a day after U.S. defense officials confirmed they are looking into reports of civilian casualties caused by the strikes in Iraq and Syria and are conducting a deeper investigation of two cases involving fewer than five deaths.

As of 11 P.M. on Tuesday, U.S. and coalition air forces had conducted a total of 1,676 air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria since Aug. 8, and had used some 4,775 munitions, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
Warren said U.S. and coalition forces had hit 3,222 targets in the air strikes but he declined to say what percentage of Islamic State equipment was destroyed.

"In order for us to do that we would have to release to you the exact number of tanks we believe the enemy has, the exact number of Humvees we believe the enemy has," he said. "We don't want our enemy to know how much we know about them."

Countries whose forces have participated in the strikes in Iraq are: Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Those participating in strikes in Syria are Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirat. (Reuters)

5:19 P.M. Iran orders 3 social apps, including WhatsApp, blocked

Iran's official IRNA news agency says the judiciary has ordered three personal communication apps blocked, a decision President Hassan Rouhani's administration has long opposed.

The Wednesday report says the judiciary has ordered that LINE, WhatsApp and Tango, three popular apps providing free phone and messaging services, be shut down.

Rouhani and fellow moderates are opposed to blocking websites or social networking applications, saying authorities should only target illegal content.

IRNA said the order will be implemented within the next few hours. Users in Tehran could still access the services Wednesday afternoon.

Social websites including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have already been blocked by censors, though many young and Web-savvy Iranians use proxy servers or other workarounds to bypass the controls. (AP)

2:47 P.M. Turkey detains second Dutch journalist in two days

Turkish authorities on Wednesday briefly detained a second Dutch journalist in as many days amid growing concern that media freedom in the country is under threat.

Mehmet Ulgur, a Dutch citizen of Turkish background, was arrested at an Istanbul airport, the Dutch Journalists' Association said. He was released after questioning, but ordered to attend court on January 21.

His detention follows that of Frederike Geerdink, a freelance reporter specialising in Kurdish issues, who was questioned and later released on Tuesday.

The detentions coincided with a visit to Turkey by Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders, who said on Tuesday that he was shocked by the first incident. "Intimidation of journalists is unacceptable," he said.

Ulgur, a documentary-maker, was taken aside while queuing for a passport check. He was told to attend a court hearing relating to an incident when he took photos at the 2013 trial of another Dutch journalist, news portal villamedia.nl reported.

Officials from Turkey's justice and foreign ministries said Ulgur had been brought in for questioning and then released.

The detentions come at a time of political tension between Turkey and the Netherlands, home to one of the world's largest Turkish diaspora communities. (Reuters)

2:06 P.M. Saudi nationals reportedly behind attack along Saudi Arabia-Iraq border

A Saudi-linked newspaper is reporting that at least two of the four gunmen involved in an attack along the kingdom's border with Iraq earlier this week were Saudi nationals.

The al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday quoted unnamed officials saying that one of the two Saudis believed to be involved in Monday's attack had a prior security record. The officials say DNA tests are being performed to confirm the attackers' identities.

The pan-Arab daily has close ties to the royal family. It is published by a firm whose chairman is the son of Saudi Arabia's crown prince.

The attack on the Saudi security patrol near the country's border with Iraq killed three soldiers and wounded at least three more. All four militants died. No group has claimed responsibility. (AP)

1:43 P.M. Former Kuwaiti lawmaker detained for tweets critical of Egypt

The lawyer of a former Kuwaiti lawmaker says his client was detained overnight for questioning and has been ordered held for another 10 days for tweets criticizing the Arab Gulf country's ruler and his support of Egypt's president.

Abdullah al-Ahmad says prosecutors began questioning Saleh al-Mullah Tuesday about tweets he wrote on Monday, when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi was in Kuwait.

Al-Mullah — who was an independent and liberal lawmaker — wrote on Twitter that Kuwaitis no longer accept billions of dollars handed out to other countries. Kuwait has pledged at least $4 billion to Sissi's government.

"This is the money of the people of Kuwait," he wrote in one tweet.

Al-Ahmad said Wednesday his client is being accused of insulting the emir, insulting Egypt's president and endangering bilateral relations. (AP)

11:48 A.M. 14-year-old Turkish boy shot dead in clashes between police, Kurdish protesters

A 14-year-old boy was shot dead during clashes between police and Kurdish protesters in southeastern Turkey on Tuesday evening, and another man was wounded, security sources said.

It was the latest in a series of deaths highlighting the fragility of a two-year-old peace process between the government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that has waged a three-decade insurgency in pursuit of greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurds.

The protests took place in Cizre, a mainly Kurdish town near Turkey's borders with Iraq and Syria, where supporters of Kurdish Islamist party Huda-Par and youth groups linked to the PKK have clashed in recent weeks.

There was no indication that Huda-Par was involved in Tuesday's clashes.

The dead youth suffered a gunshot wound in the chest and was taken to hospital where he died, the security sources said. The Dogan news agency cited friends and colleagues as saying he was shot by police while returning home from work.

A 28-year-old man was also shot in the back and is undergoing treatment, the security sources said. (Reuters)

8:30 A.M. Turkish far-left group claims responsibility for Istanbul suicide bombing

The Turkish far-left group DHKP-C has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack at a police station in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district on Tuesday that killed one officer and wounded another.

A female suicide bomber entered the police station saying in English that she had lost her purse before blowing herself up inside the three-storey building, across the square from the Aya Sofya museum and the Blue Mosque, which are among the main sites for millions of visitors to Istanbul each year.

In a statement posted on "The People's Cry" website hours after the attack, the group said the bombing was against the ruling AK Party over the killing of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who died in March last year after nine months in a coma from a head wound sustained during an anti-government protest.

"It is the same state which shot Berkin Elvan and which protects the thief ministers," the statement said, in an apparent reference to a Monday ruling of a parliamentary commission not to commit four ex-ministers to a higher court over graft allegations.

Turkey's Dec.17 graft probe swirled around the inner circle of then-prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and led to the resignation of the ministers of economy, interior and urbanisation.

The commission, dominated by members of the ruling AK Party, voted on Monday not to send the four ex-ministers for trial, a decision that the opposition decried as a cover-up of one of Turkey's biggest ever corruption scandals.

DHKP-C (Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front) also claimed responsibility for a grenade attack on police near the Turkish prime minister's office in Istanbul last week.

The group, which had since then pledged further attacks, was also behind a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy last year as well as attacks on police stations. (Reuters)

8:15 A.M. Mali appeals for international intervention in Libya

Mali's foreign minister appealed Tuesday for international intervention in Libya to combat the spread of terrorism in the Sahel region of Africa and restore a central government.

Abdoulaye Diop told the UN Security Council that "as long as a solution is not found to the Libyan crisis almost everything that we are doing in Mali and throughout the Sahel more broadly speaking will continue to be threatened."

Widespread militia violence has plunged Libya into chaos less than four years after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The internationally recognized government was forced to move to the eastern city of Tobruk after Islamist-allied militias seized the capital Tripoli over the summer and set up a rival government.

Diop reiterated an appeal from leaders of the Sahel for the Security Council and the African Union to set up an international force "to neutralize the armed groups," but also to promote national reconciliation and set up stable democratic institutions for Libya.

He stressed the link between the onset of the crisis in Mali in 2012 and the civil war in Libya which resulted in many Malians that were part of the Libyan army returning home with arms and ammunition which destabilized the country. (AP)

7:09 A.M. Dozens killed and wounded after car bomb explodes near Yemen police college

A car bomb exploded outside a police college in Yemen's capital Sanaa early on Wednesday, killing and wounding dozens of people, police sources and residents said.

Ambulances were transporting casualties away from the scene of the blast, which appeared to target a group of students outside the college, some of whose bodies were later seen lying in the street, witnesses said.

The explosion was heard across the city and a large plume of smoke was visible in the area of the college.

Photographs purporting to show the aftermath of the explosion, distributed on Twitter, showed the mangled wreckage of a vehicle and bloodied people lying prone on a pavement, but the pictures could not be immediately verified (Reuters)