Middle East Updates / EU Chides Jordan for Hangings After Pilot Killed

Syria to Jordan: Help us fight Islamic State, Nusra Front; Amnesty: 380,000 Syrians most at risk need refuge abroad; gunmen storm Libya's al-Mabrook oil field; Australia PM thanks Egypt for helping to free reporter.

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For Tuesday's updates, click here

6:29 P.M. Turkey arrests citizen for joining ISIS for the first time

Turkey arrested a citizen on charges of belonging to the Islamic State extremist group, local newspaper Vatan reported Wednesday.

The 38-year-old man was arrested in Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, while trying to travel to the capital Ankara. Vatan said this was the first time a Turkish citizen was arrested on such a charge.

The man reportedly told authorities he joined the group to live in accordance with his Islamic faith.

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He crossed into Syria with his twin 15-year-old sons in October. The sons are still in Islamic-State controlled territory. The man, who is in custody pending a trial, denied direct involvement in armed attacks. (DPA)

5:23 P.M. Al Jazeera journalist Greste arrives home in Australia

Peter Greste, the Al Jazeera journalist freed after more than a year in an Egyptian prison, arrived back in his Australian homeland early on Thursday.

Greste was released on Sunday after 400 days in a Cairo jail and had been in Cyprus since. Greste had been sentenced to seven years on charges that included aiding a terrorist group in a case that had attracted widespread attention and criticism of Egypt's leadership and judiciary. (Reuters)

4:00 P.M. EU chides Jordan for hangings after pilot killed

The European Union combined a statement of solidarity with Jordan over the killing of one of its military pilots by Islamist fighters with criticism of its immediate execution of two Iraqi jihadists.

"While all efforts must be made to counter terrorism and hold the perpetrators accountable, our reaction to the threat posed by (Islamic State) needs to be consistent with our common values on justice and the rights of prisoners," foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Our action has to be guided by the respect of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The European position against death penalty remains unchanged and we believe capital punishment does not serve any deterrent purpose." (Reuters)

3:19 P.M. Head of UK's Iraq war investigation defends report delay

The head of Britain's long-delayed official investigation into the Iraq war said on Wednesday it was impossible to predict when its report would be published, but that delays had been unavoidable due to the inquiry's complexity.

Announced in 2009, the report delving into the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath was expected to take a year. But last month John Chilcot, who heads the inquiry and is a former civil servant, said there was no realistic prospect of delivering conclusions before the May 7 general election.

The latest delay, to allow those criticized in the report to respond, has provoked an outcry from lawmakers and stirred up fears of a whitewash among some relatives of those killed in the war.

"The scope of this inquiry is unprecedented," Chilcot told lawmakers. "We are not concerned with a single incident and its aftermath, rather we cover decisions over a nine-year period and the consequences that flowed from them." (Reuters)

3:07 P.M. Leading Egypt activist among 230 sentenced to life

An Egyptian court has sentenced 230 people, including one of the leading activists behind the country's 2011 uprising, to life in prison after finding them guilty of taking part in clashes between protesters and security forces.

Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata issued the ruling on Wednesday against the 230, who include secular activist Ahmed Douma. Douma is already serving a three-year-sentence for breaking a draconian law regulating protests. Wednesday's ruling can be appealed.

It is the heaviest sentence yet against the secular activists who spearheaded the mass protests four years ago that forced longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

The case is connected to clashes in central Cairo in December 2011, during which a fire gutted parts of a library housing rare manuscripts and books. (AP)

2:49 P.M. Amnesty: 380,000 Syrians most at risk need refuge abroad

Amnesty International says wealthy nations should agree to accept hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees because they cannot safely remain within the region, never mind return home.

The London-based humans rights watchdog says in a report on the Syrian refugee crisis that about 380,000 of the 4 million Syrians sheltering in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey should be relocated abroad because they are in high-risk categories for attack or abuse as homosexuals, survivors of rape or torture, or children without guardians or requiring advanced medical care.

Amnesty's report Wednesday found that about 80,000 had been offered new homes as refugees overseas, while 300,000 more remain in legal limbo. (AP)

12:33 Top Islamic scholar calls for killing, maiming Islamic State fighters

The head of al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam's top religious authorities, called for members of the Islamic State militia to be maimed or killed, including by crucifixion, after the group burned alive a Jordanian fighter pilot.

Ahmed al-Tayeb, sheikh of al-Azhar in Cairo, said the Islamic State is a "satanic" organization that spreads corruption on earth and wages war against God.

He called for the strictest Islamic punishments against the Sunni militants, including the amputation of limbs. (DPA) 

11:01 A.M. Syria to Jordan: Help us fight Islamic State, Nusra Front

Syria urged Jordan to work with it to fight Islamic State militants and Al-Qaida's Syria wing, condemning what it described as the "heinous" killing of a Jordanian pilot by militants, Syria's state news agency SANA said on Wednesday.

Syria's Foreign Ministry called on Jordan, which is part of a U.S.-led aerial campaign against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, "to cooperate in the fight against terrorism represented by the organization Daesh and Nusra Front ... and other terrorist organizations associated with them in Syria and the region."

Daesh is a pejorative Arabic acronym for Islamic State and Nusra Front is Al-Qaida's Syria wing. Both have seized land in Syria. The United States has said Syrian President Bashar Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against Islamic State. (Reuters)

10:39 A.M. Gunmen storm Libya's al-Mabrook oil field

Gunmen have stormed the al-Mabrook oilfield in central Libya, a spokesman for state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) said on Wednesday.

Armed factions allied to two rival governments are fighting for control of Libya four years after the ousting of leader Muammar Gadhafi.

"Unknown gunmen stormed the Mabrook oilfield last night," NOC spokesman Mohamed El Harari said, without providing details.

Operations at the field, located south of Sirte, were closed following clashes which closed the Es Sider oil port in December. (Reuters) 

5:40 A.M. Jordan executes two Iraqi militants in response to ISIS killing of pilot

Jordan hanged two Iraqi jihadists on Wednesday including a female militant in response to an Islamic State video appearing to show a captured Jordanian pilot being burnt alive by the hardline group. (Reuters) Read the full story

3:10 A.M. Japanese PM expresses anger over 'outrageous' killing of Jordanian pilot

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he was deeply angry over the "outrageous" killing of a Jordanian pilot, who was apparently burnt to death by Islamic State militants, and repeated Japan's resolve not to give in to terrorism.

Abe told a lower house budget committee he sympathised with Jordan and would expand Japan's humanitarian support in the region. He also said Tokyo would fulfil its responsibility to be part of the international fight against terrorism.

Islamic State militants released a video on Tuesday appearing to show a captured Jordanian pilot being burnt alive in a cage. On Sunday, Islamic State militants said they had beheaded a second Japanese man they had been holding hostage. (Reuters)

12:45 A.M. Australia PM thanks Egypt for reporter's freedom

Australia' prime minister thanked the Egyptian president Tuesday for his help in releasing an Australian reporter from prison and expressed hope that two Al-Jazeera colleagues would also be freed soon.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi by telephone for the first time since Australian Al-Jazeera reporter Peter Greste was released from an Egyptian prison over the weekend, the prime minister's office said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The prime minister thanked President el-Sisi for his effort to bring Peter Greste's imprisonment to an end," the statement said.

"Prime Minister Abbott expressed hope that Mr. Greste's colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed might be released soon," it added.

Greste, 49, is due to land in his hometown of Brisbane on Thursday.

Prison officials and Egypt's official Middle East News Agency said Greste's release resulted from a "presidential approval" and was coordinated with the Australian Embassy. (Reuters)