Middle East updates / Boko Haram reportedly pledges allegiance to ISIS – Haaretz
10:15 P.M. Boko Haram reportedly pledges allegiance to ISIS
Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, which rules a self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, the jihadist monitoring group SITE said on Saturday.
“We announce our allegiance to the Caliph … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity,” SITE quoted Boko Haram as saying in a video purporting to be from the Nigerian militant group. (Reuters)
9:26 P.M. Iraqi troops battle to advance in towns on edge of Tikrit
Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia fighters struggled to advance on Saturday into the two towns of al-Alam and al-Dour near Tikrit, their progress slowed by fierce defense from Islamic State militants.
“We are facing a strong resistance from terrorist groups and we are trying to surround Daesh inside al-Alam and al-Dour and cut all supply routes for them,” said al-Alam mayor Laith al-Jubouri, referring to the Islamic State fighters.
Army and militia fighters entered the southern and eastern parts of al-Dour on Friday. Commanders said at the time that the town had been completely recaptured, but officials said only parts of it had been retaken.
Canada said one of its soldiers was killed in a friendly fire incident, the first fatality for the country during its current military mission in Iraq. Three other Canadian soldiers were wounded.
The soldiers were with Canada’s special operations forces and were mistakenly engaged by Iraqi Kurdish forces following their return to an observation post behind the front lines, the defense department said in a statement.
Elsewhere in Iraq suicide and car bomb attacks killed at least 19 people on Saturday, police and medical sources said.
The deadliest attack took place in the northern town of Tuz Khurmatu where a car bomb blast followed by a suicide attack killed eight people and wounded 32 in the town centre, police and medical sources said. (Reuters)
5:58 P.M. Spain arrests suspected female ISIS recruiter at Barcelona airport
Spanish authorities say they have arrested a Moroccan woman on suspicion she was involved in female recruitment for the Islamic State extremist group.
Samira Yerou was arrested Saturday on her arrival at Barcelona’s international airport from Turkey in accordance with an international arrest warrant issued by Spain’s National Court, an Interior Ministry statement says.
Yerou left the northern Spanish city of Rubi in December, taking her 3-year-old son — who has Spanish nationality — with her. The child’s disappearance was reported by his father, who lives in Spain.
Yerou was intercepted in Turkey while attempting to illegally enter Syria with the alleged intention of joining an extremist organization.
Spanish investigators working with Turkish authorities have uncovered evidence Yerou was allegedly performing “a major recruitment role,” the statement says.
5:01 P.M. ISIS militants attack string of predominately Christian villages in northeastern Syria
Islamic State militants attacked a string of predominantly Christian villages in northeastern Syria on Saturday, touching off heavy clashes with Kurdish militiamen and their local allies, activists said.
The attack began around dawn and targeted at least three villages near the town of Tal Tamr along the Khabur River in Hassakeh province. The Islamic State group kidnapped more than 220 Christians from the same area last month after overrunning several farming communities on the southern bank of the river.
The fighting Saturday was focused in villages on the northern bank of the river as the militants press to capture Tal Tamr, a strategic crossroads some 35 kilometers (20 miles) from the city of Hassakeh, said Osama Edwards, director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights.
“The battles are now very intensive, very violent,” said Edwards, who is based in Sweden. “Tal Tamr is the main goal of the Islamic State, to give them the corridor to the eastern border to Iraq.” (AP)
4:21 P.M. Egypt investigating how foreign tourists filmed pornographic video near Giza pyramids
Egypt is investigating how foreign tourists managed to film a pornographic video near the Giza pyramids, the government said.
“There is unlawful footage of pornographic scenes in the area of the pyramids made by a foreign female tourist,” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty said in a statement on Thursday, adding that he had referred the issue to the public prosecutor.
The 10-minute video was posted online last year, local newspaper Al Masry Al Youm said, but the incident only gained wide attention this week when the paper published a story about it with screenshots that blurred out a woman’s breasts.
The privately owned paper said the video shows nudity and sex acts by Russian-speaking tourists near the 4,500 year-old Giza pyramids and the Sphinx. Reuters was unable to confirm the contents of the video.
The filming has prompted some strongly adverse online comment in this conservative Muslim country. (Reuters)
4:05 P.M. Syrian airstrike kills ISIS commander, 25 others militants
The Syrian army has killed an Islamic State commander in an airstrike in central Syria that killed more than two dozen members of the ultra-hardline group, a monitoring group said on Saturday.
The Islamic State commander was identified as one of the group’s self-declared provincial governors by Syrian state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war using sources on the ground.
Islamic State supporters circulated a statement on Twitter announcing the “martyrdom” of the commander, Deeb Hedijan al-Otaibi, together with photos showing him dead and alive.
Otaibi was also identified as Abi Ammar al-Jazrawi, likely to be his nom de guerre.
The Observatory said a total of 26 Islamic State militants were killed in the air strike near the town of Hamadi Omar, some 50 km (30 miles) southwest of the city of Hama. (Reuters)
3:30 P.M. Iran VP: Technical roadblocks hampering nuclear deal eliminated
Iran’s vice president says technical roadblocks hampering a final nuclear accord with world powers have been eliminated during ongoing discussions with American negotiators.
Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also in charge of Iran’s nuclear agency, told state television on Saturday that Tehran offered proposals to remove “fake concerns” over the country’s nuclear program, paving the way for a final deal.
But the hardline daily paper Kayhan slammed the negotiations, saying that an American proposal of a 10-year suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities is a first step aimed at finally toppling Iran’s ruling Islamic government.
Iran and the six-nation group — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — hope to reach a rough deal on Iran’s disputed nuclear program by March and a final agreement by June 30. (AP)
12:45 P.M. ISIS militants destroy ancient remains of 2,000-year-old Iraqi city of Hatra
Islamic State militants have destroyed ancient remains of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra in northern Iraq, the tourism and antiquities ministry said on Saturday.
An official told Reuters that the ministry had received reports from its employees in the northern city of Mosul, which is under the control of the radical Islamist group, that the site at Hatra had been demolished on Saturday.