Middle East Updates / Iraqi Forces Retake Most of Baiji Refinery, Officials Say

Gunfire, explosions heard in Libyan capital; suicide bomber kills at least 30 in eastern Afghanistan.

AFP

For Friday's updates, click here

6:45 P.M. U.S., allies target Islamic State with 20 airstrikes in Iraq, Syria

The United States and its allies have launched 20 airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria since early on Friday, the Combined Joint Task Force leading the operations said on Saturday.

There were seven ai strikes in Syria using attack and bomber aircraft near Kobani and Al Hasakah and 13 in Iraq using fighter and attack aircraft as well as drones near Bayji, Ramadi, Al Asad, Fallujah, Sinjar, Hit and Tal Afar, it said in a statement. (Reuters)

4:39 P.M. Iraqi forces retake most of Baiji refinery, officials say

Libyan security forces inspect the site of a bomb explosion
AFP

Iraqi forces regained control over most of Baiji refinery on Saturday, security officials said, reversing some gains by Islamic State militants who have gone on the offensive this week.

The insurgents attacked Baiji refinery - which is Iraq's largest - a week ago, blasting through the security perimeter around the sprawling complex in northern Iraq and taking over several installations including storage tanks. (Reuters)

4:35 P.M. Spanish couple arrested in Turkey, accused of jihadist links

Two Spanish residents have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to jihadi terrorists and membership in the Islamic State armed group, Spain's Interior Ministry said Saturday.

The couple, a Moroccan man identified as Ahmed Debza and a Spanish woman named as Nadia Ataich Fernandez, who both live in Spain's north African enclave of Melilla, allegedly traveled to Turkey in October with their 14-month-old daughter.

Turkish officials arrested the couple after they returned to Turkey from Syria to await "logistical and financial support" from ISIS, according to the government statement.

Debza had first attempted to travel to Syria alone in July, in response to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's call to Muslims worldwide to "emigrate" and join what he called his recently declared Caliphate, the statement said.

The statement said Debza allegedly left behind a will in which he bequeathed to relatives his goods including a successful carpentry business.

According to the government, Debza and Ataich Fernandez had been in contact with others to encourage them to also travel to Syria and join ISIS, offering them assistance to do so. (AP)

2:27 P.M. Militia fires on hospital in southern Yemen

Human Rights Watch says an unidentified militia fired on a hospital where rebel soldiers held a position in the southern Yemeni province of Lahj, causing damage and endangering medical personnel.

The report released Saturday says Yemeni soldiers aligned with Shiite Houthi rebels deployed snipers last week and later positioned a tank next to the hospital's entrance. It says opposing gunmen started attacking last Monday.

Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said both sides "have unlawfully put a hospital in the middle of a battle." Targeting medical facilities is against the laws of war.

Lahj is 35 kilometers (21 miles) north of the port city of Aden. Ground fighting has been fiercest in Aden, where rebels and allied military units are trying to take the city. (AP)
 

1:30 P.M. Iraq sends reinforcements to battle advancing militants in Ramadi

Iraq's government on Saturday sent military reinforcements to Ramadi, the capital city of the western province of Anbar, to block advances by the Islamic State militant group in the area.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the supreme commander of the army, ordered in the reinforcements Friday after repeated appeals by local officials and tribal chiefs in Anbar, Iraq's largest province.

A federal police brigade was sent to Anbar, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Brigadier Saad Ma'an, was quoted as saying by the official al-Iraqiyya television.

Government troops, backed by allied paramilitaries, were fighting extremists Saturday in the centre of Ramadi, Iraqi media said without reporting casualties.

The push by Islamic State militants into Ramadi, located 110 kilometres north of Baghdad, is part of a counterattack to a major operation mounted by government troops and their allied paramilitaries more than a week ago to drive the jihadists out of Anbar.

Anbar, mostly populated by Sunni Muslims, stretches from Baghdad to the Syrian border. (DPA)
 

1:25 P.M. Clashes reported in Tripoli

Clashes broke out in a district and a suburb of Libya's capital on Saturday, home to groups opposing an alternative government controlling Tripoli and parts of western Libya, residents said.

The North African country is in the midst of a conflict between two governments and parliaments allied to armed groups fighting for power and territory four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

Gunfire and explosions could be heard since early morning in the central Fashloum district and the Tajoura suburb east of Tripoli, residents said. Shells hit several residential buildings but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Libyan news website Ajwa Belad said the clashes in Fashloum started after an armed group attacked a checkpoint of an anti-drugs police force.

It also quoted a security spokesman reporting to a rival parliament based in Tripoli saying his forces had captured two military camps in Tajoura after clashes had erupted on Friday.

"The clashes killed two and wounded five from our forces," he said, adding clashes were now taking place near another camp.

Fashloum and Tajoura are home to groups opposing a rival government in charge of Tripoli since an allied faction called Libya Dawn seized it in August, setting up an alternative administration. (Reuters)

10:00 A.M. Suicide bomber kills at least 30 in eastern Afghanistan

A suicide bomb attack on a bank branch in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad has killed at least 30 people, officials said.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesman for the provincial governor in Nangarhar province, said on Saturday that more than 80 people were also wounded in the attack in Jalalabad, the provincial capital.

"There are reports of many wounded people in critical condition at the hospital," Abdulzai said.

The attacker detonated an explosive-laden motorcycle, targeting a crowd of both military personnel and civilians who were gathered outside the bank to receive their monthly salaries. The bank branch is located in the heart of a crowded commercial district, Abdulzai said.

Another blast was reported Saturday near a shrine in Jalalabad, but no one was hurt. A third blast was also heard in Jalalabad, but it was later reported as a controlled explosion by the Afghan army in Nangarhar, Abdulzai said.

Meanwhile another bombing in the Behsud district of Nangarhar province killed one civilian and wounded two others, Abdulzai said, adding that it appears a magnetic bomb was attached to a normal parked car and then detonated by remote control. (AP)