Middle East Updates / Obama Confirms Killing of U.S. Hostage by ISIS

Obama calls beheading of Peter Kassig 'act of pure evil'; Saudis, U.A.E., Bahrain to return ambassadors to Qatar; Egypt to try five students in military court on riot charges; Armed clashes in Libya's Tripoli.

AP

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10:47 P.M. Saudis, U.A.E. and Bahrain to return ambassadors to Qatar

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Sunday agreed to return their ambassadors to Qatar, the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a joint statement, signalling an end to a rift over Doha's support for Islamist groups.

The announcement came after an emergency meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh to discuss the dispute, which began in March and was threatening an annual summit scheduled to be held in December in Doha. (Reuters) 

AFP

10:40 P.M. Obama confirms killing of U.S. hostage by ISIS

Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed Kassig's death after U.S. government agencies authenticated a video posted online of a masked man standing over the decapitated head of the 26-year-old medic and former U.S. Army Ranger.

Kassig "was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity," said Obama, who offered his condolences to the relief worker's family.

Earlier on Sunday, Kassig's parents, Ed and Paula Kassig of Indiananapolis, had asked news organizations to refrain from distributing the video images, saying they wanted their "treasured son" to be remembered for his humanitarian work. (Reuters) Click here for the full story

8:45 P.M. U.S. believes video is authentic and hostage Kassig is dead, NYT says

The U.S. government believes a video purportedly showing the severed head of American Peter Kassig is authentic and that Kassig is dead, the New York Times said on Sunday.

Citing a senior U.S. official as saying the government was increasingly convinced that the video was authentic and that Kassig was dead, the Times said U.S. intelligence agencies had previously received strong indications Islamic State forces had killed him.

Kassig, an aid worker who previously served in the U.S. Army, had been missing more than a year after disappearing in Syria. (Reuters)

8:35 P.M. Egypt to try five students in military court on riot charges

Five Egyptian students were transferred to a military court on Sunday on charges of rioting at a university, a judicial source said, weeks after a law was passed allowing military trials of civilians for damaging state property.

A Cairo criminal court transferred the students after ruling that the charges of rioting, belonging to a "terrorist" group and arson, fell outside its remit, the source said.

The five were arrested in January and accused of setting fire to part of the engineering faculty at Al Azhar, one of the oldest Islamic universities in the world, and preventing staff from doing their jobs.

Egypt expanded the jurisdiction of military courts late last month to try civilians accused of attacking state facilities or blocking roads, following some of the worst assaults on security forces since last year's ousting of President Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The measure, approved by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is seen by his critics as another clampdown on dissent by a government that has jailed thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and targeted other activists.

As the noose tightened around the Brotherhood, Al Azhar, one of the most venerable centres of Islamic learning in the world, emerged as a flashpoint in its struggle against the new order.

In September, Egypt introduced sweeping new rules aimed at curtailing a new round of violent protest at Al Azhar this academic year.

The military trial of civilians is a controversial issue in Egypt, where the armed forces play an influential role in both the political and economic spheres. Sisi was previously chief of the army, which toppled Mursi after mass protests.

Mahmoud Salman, a lawyer and member of the group No To Military Trials for Civilians, criticised the court's decision to transfer the accused on charges relating to acts that took place before the new law was passed, saying it should not be applied retrospectively. (Reuters)

12:20 A.M. Second bomb explodes in vicinity of Baghdad airport

A roadside bomb exploded in a commercial area of Baghdad about five kilometers (three miles) from the airport. Three people were killed and seven wounded, said security sources and medics.

The blast occurred two hours after a car bomb exploded on the perimeter of Baghdad's airport complex. (Reuters)

11:27 A.M. ISIS claims it beheaded American captive Peter Kassig

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, posted a video Sunday which it said showed the beheading of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig, according to various media reports.

Kassig, 26, was captured on October 1, 2013, while en route to eastern Syria. (Haaretz) Read full story

10:59 A.M. Car bomb explodes in parking lot on edge of Baghdad airport

A car bomb exploded on the perimeter of Baghdad's heavily guarded international airport complex on Sunday, wounding five people, security sources said.

The blast occurred at a security checkpoint close to a parking lot where passengers are searched before boarding airport taxis, three sources said.

The checkpoint is several kilometres from the terminal building.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack. An airport official said authorities tightened security while air traffic was normal. (Reuters)

9:15 A.M. Obama: Anti-ISIS troop deployments depend on circumstances

President Barack Obama reiterated his desire not to send U.S. combat troops to fight Islamic State fighters, but said there are always circumstances where the U.S. might need to deploy ground troops.

He cited a hypothetical example in which Islamic State fighters obtain a nuclear weapon. He said under such a scenario he would not hesitate to order troops into combat.

"So the question just ends up being, what are those circumstances?" he said during a news conference as he wrapped up a week-long trip to Asia and Australia. "Right now we're moving forward in conjunction with outstanding allies like Australia in training Iraqi security forces to do their job on the ground."

Obama was responding to a question about remarks by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week that troop deployments in the fight against Islamic extremists were an option under consideration.

"That's his job -- to think about various contingencies," Obama said. (AP)

8:51 A.M. Armed clashes in Libya's Tripoli, airport shutdown

Armed clashes broke out in Libya's capital Tripoli closing down the city's main working airport, local residents and an official said on Sunday.

Tripoli has been mostly calm since the Libya Dawn force, an armed faction allied to the city of Misrata, took over the capital in the summer and set up its own government in rivalry to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.

It was not immediately clear who was involved in Sunday's fighting, and there was no confirmation from health authorities of any casualties.

A spokesman for the civil aviation authority said Mitiga airport had been closed because of the security situation. Mitiga has operated as the capital's main airport since fighting in the summer damaged and shut Tripoli international airport. (Reuters) 

8:08 A.M. Iran judge disbarred over protester deaths

Iran's Supreme Court has disbarred a hardline judge over his role in the death by torture of at least three jailed anti-government protesters in 2009.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency says Saeed Mortazavi, an ally of former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has also been barred from all government positions for five years.

A parliament probe in 2011 found Mortazavi responsible in the torturing to death of at least three anti-government protesters detained during mass protests in the wake of Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009. At the time, he was responsible for Kahrizak prison in the Iranian capital Tehran.

Reformists have dubbed Mortazavi the "butcher of the press" for his role in the closure of more than 120 newspapers and the imprisonment of dozens of journalists and activists. (AP)