Behind the ISIS group that ambushed US forces in Niger

Behind the ISIS group that ambushed US forces in Niger

The Defense Intelligence Agency assesses it is “highly likely” that the group behind the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. service members was ISIS in the Greater Sahara, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News.

Other terror groups operate in that region, but none have claimed the Oct. 4 attack, the official said.

The recent death of four U.S. troops in Niger has highlighted the American military presence in West Africa.

U.S. Army Green Berets are in Niger as part of a counterterrorism mission to train that country’s military to help fight Islamic extremist groups, including ISIS in the Greater Sahara, in neighboring countries like Mali.

ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) was established in 2015 after the group’s current leader, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, broke from an al-Qaeda group and pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

According to the Pentagon, ISIS leaders in Syria have acknowledged al-Sahrawi’s allegiance through their Amaq news agency, but ISGS “has not been formally recognized as an official branch of ISIS.”

The group’s first confirmed terror attack occurred in September of last year when fighters targeted a customs post in Burkina Faso.

Since then, the group has continued to carry out attacks against regional security forces in Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as in Mali, where ISGS targets pro-government militias that support the French and United Nations forces in that area.

The Pentagon said ISGS typically uses “small arms and mortars to conduct ambushes and complex attacks.”

Since 2015, the al-Qaeda-aligned Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) has conducted attacks killing Westerners at hotels in Bamako, Mali, Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, and Grand Bassam, Cote d’Ivoire.

The Pentagon said there is a high risk of kidnapping in the region due to the operation of extremists groups like ISGS and JNIM.

In October 2016, JNIM abducted an American aid worker from his home in Abalak, Niger. He is one of six hostages believed to be currently held by JNIM.

The others are from Australia, Romania, Switzerland, Colombia, and France. All were abducted in Burkina Faso, Niger or Mali.

“JNIM recently released two Western hostages held for over five years, and received multi-million dollar ransoms for each,” the Pentagon said.

Another terror group in the region is Boko Haram, a pledged ISIS affiliate, which operates in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

ABC News’ Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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‘It’s all gone’: Hurricane-ravaged Dominica fighting to survive

‘It’s all gone’: Hurricane-ravaged Dominica fighting to survive

Verlyn Peter picked her way through the wreckage of her home, searching for anything she and her family could save.

“This used to be what we call our living room,” she said, then gestured to another area she said used to be her daughter’s bedroom.

“It’s all gone,” Peter said. “We tried to salvage some of the school books.”

Watch the full story on “Nightline” tonight at 12:35 a.m. ET

The wooden frame and scattered belongings were all that remained of their home of 20 years on Dominica, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last month. Without warning, the storm rapidly accelerated from a Category 3 to a Category 5, and residents said they could do little to prepare.

In one night, life on this tiny island was turned upside down.

“There was lightning, there was heavy rain…[it was like] the hurricane was in the house,” said Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. “We have lost everything that money can buy, and that is a fact.”

Another now displaced resident named Emmanuel Peter said he can still remember the roar of the hurricane-force winds.

“It was just whistling, whistling,” he said. “I thought it would burst my eardrums.”

Many countries, including the United States, have suffered from this year’s brutal hurricane season. But the one with the highest death toll per capita was Dominica — a close-knit, mostly Christian nation that was left at the mercy of a hurricane that shared a name with the mother of Christ: Maria.

To date, 26 people are confirmed dead, 31 are still missing, and more than 50,000 people are displaced on an this island that has a total population of roughly 74,000.

When “Nightline” visited Dominica six days after the storm, the only way to reach its interior was with the U.S. military. Upon arrival, many who had the option to evacuate the island were in the process of departing — including 1,300 students at Ross University Medical School, an American college based in Dominica.

“I do feel sadness for the people of Dominica,” said Carey James, the college’s associate dean of operations, analysis and admissions. “My wife’s family is from Dominica … and it’s hard to see a place that you love go through that kind of a storm.”

Others who were evacuating from the island faced the difficult decision of separating their family. Gervan Honore put his girlfriend and their infant son on a ferry while he stayed back, determined, he said, to rebuild his country.

“It is hard to let him go, but as a father, you just have to do what you have to do,” Honore said. “Right now, I don’t think it is pretty safe for them.”

No one on the island has access to running, drinkable water, and with sewage systems destroyed, residents are contending with fears of diarrhea and dysentery. Much of the island remains without power, too.

For the vast majority of Dominicans, the choice to leave their home country isn’t available. More than 85 percent of houses have been damaged, and of those, more than a quarter simply do not exist anymore, leaving many homeless.

Not even the country’s prime minister was spared – the roof of Roosevelt Skerrit’s house was blown away and its floors flooded. On the night Hurricane Maria hit, Skerrit took to Facebook to post updates including one that said, “I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding” and another that said, “The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God!” Later he posted, “I have been rescued.”

“You can still see the shock, the anxiety, the fear the trauma in the eyes and the expressions of people every day,” he told “Nightline.” “Their entire life investments, life’s savings, blown away.”

While on the island, “Nightline” also met with resident Robert Benjamin, who stayed behind with his 83-year-old mother. Benjamin showed “Nightline” their family home, which remained standing with the roof intact, but their basement had been flooded and their furniture and belongings caked in a thick layer of mud. The flood waters rose so high that they covered the counter tops in a basement kitchen.

“But we have our life and we can at least house people down here once it’s cleared,” he said. “Like I said, there’s a lot of homeless.”

A few of the rooms in the house are still habitable, and Benjamin and his mother opened their home to three other families forced out by the storm.

“They are very, very good to us,” said Ursula Peter, one of people the Benjamin family took in. “If it wasn’t for Mrs. Benjamin and her son, we would not know what would have happened to us. We all live together as one family.”

All of the island’s agriculture was wiped out, and entire forests were flattened in Maria’s wake. Tourism, a driving force in its economy, will be scarce in the months to come.

As one ferocious storm followed another this hurricane season, Skerrit told “Nightline” that his country was on the front line of climate change and that its very survival was in question. Its future could serve as a warning to the world on the destruction global warming could bring.

“To deny climate change … is to deny a truth we have just lived,” he told the United Nations five days after the storm, telling the world body that island nations like Dominica are paying the heaviest price for a phenomenon they had little to do with.

“No generation has seen more than one Category 5 hurricane. We’ve seen two in two weeks,” Skerrit told Pannell. “So if you want to have information that … climate change is a real phenomenon,

For those still on the island, trying to reclaim their lives is now the task at hand.

“How we’re going to build up again, we don’t know,” Verlyn Peter said. “But we try to keep our spirits high, because if we break down, we break down.”

ABC News’ Bruno Roeber, Scott Munro and Lauren Effron contributed to this report.

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Evidence presented in Kim’s killing hasn’t ruffled defense

Evidence presented in Kim’s killing hasn’t ruffled defense

Evidence has accumulated against the two suspects in the murder of the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader in the first two weeks of their trial, but the top lawyers hired by the Indonesian and Vietnamese governments to defend the two women say they are unruffled by what has been presented in court so far.

Twelve witnesses have testified so far. Airport staff, police and a doctor said Kim Jong Nam told them his face had been smeared with a liquid and that he suffered a seizure and other health problems before dying on the way to the hospital. A government chemist and doctor said Kim died of acute VX poisoning and the nerve agent was found on his face and in his eyes and blood.

Various witnesses have also testified over the eight days of the trial so far that the two women, Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, had VX on their clothing and Huong on her fingernail clippings.

Airport security video of the assassination on Feb. 13 was also presented in court, showing Huong approaching Kim from behind and clasping her hands on his face. Aisyah can’t be seen in the footage but she was identified as a figure running away in another direction. Both women were also seen rushing to wash their hands, which experts testified can safely remove VX, and were shown meeting separately with two men believed to be North Korean agents.

A police officer testified the two men were believed to have provided VX to the women before the attack and were among four suspects at large who prosecutors say had a common intention with the women to kill Kim.

Huong and Aisyah pleaded not guilty when the trial opened Oct. 2. It was halted this week due to a public holiday and will resume Oct. 24 with a visit to the Kuala Lumpur airport where the crime occurred. The judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to visit the budget terminal’s departure hall where Kim was attacked and follow the paths he and the two suspects took afterward.

Defense lawyers have said the women were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden TV-camera show. But prosecutors contend the women knew they were handling poison.

The Indonesian and Vietnamese governments have been following the trial closely. An Indonesian foreign ministry official from Jakarta has attended daily, along with representatives from the Vietnamese embassy. The suspects have remained calm and often huddled at each end of the dock as translators briefed them on the proceedings.

The women are being defended by seasoned litigation lawyers who have handled thousands of criminal cases.

Gooi Soon Seng, 61, the main lawyer for Aisyah, was a deputy public prosecutor for 11 years before he started his own legal practice in 1992. His firm, Gooi and Azura, was appointed by the Indonesian Embassy as acting lawyer for capital punishment cases since 2012.

“Up until now, there is nothing much against Aisyah. From the CCTV footages shown in court, I don’t see her applying anything on the victim. She was just seen walking away fast. Although VX was found on her shirt, the shirt didn’t have her DNA. This is all just circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors must prove her guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” Gooi told the AP on Thursday.

The Vietnamese government appointed three senior criminal lawyers to defend Huong. The case against her appears stronger as she was seen in the terminal video footage and VX was found on her clothing and fingernails. A video was also shown of Huong reaching toward a man’s face at the airport two days before Kim was attacked, which prosecutors have described as practice.

Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, 64, is a renowned senior criminal litigator based in southern Johor state. He has vast experience in all criminal cases, especially in drug trafficking cases, and has authored three books.

“It’s no surprise. We know their (prosecution) narration; we know the evidence that they have. We have a response; we have an answer to every evidence they have adduced so far,” he has told reporters.

Naran Singh, 61, was a medical assistant for nine years at a government hospital until 1989. He obtained his law degree in 1991 and set up his law firm in northern Perak state three years later.

“We have a good defense that is reasonable and can be believed by the court. We are saying that she is doing a prank video and that whatever she did, she didn’t know the consequences. She has no intention (to murder) and never knew it was poison,” Singh told the AP.

Salim Bashir, 47, began his career in 1997 specializing in criminal cases. He has been chairman of the criminal committee of Malaysia’s Bar Council for the past three years and is still holding the post.

“We are not running away from the fact that our client was used to put VX on her palm to wipe it on the victim’s face. Our defense is based on the fact whether she has knowledge or not that VX was applied on her hand and whether she knows that she could die from exposure to VX. That is the ultimate decision that the court has to make,” Salim said.

He said the government chemist testified that a layman wouldn’t be able to identify VX and added that anyone would wash their hands to remove an oily liquid.

Huong and Aisyah are the only two suspects detained in the brazen assassination of Kim, an outcast from North Korea’s ruling family who lived abroad in virtual exile for years.

Malaysia has never directly accused North Korea of carrying out the killing, but South Korea’s spy agency has said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a five-year plot to kill his eldest brother, who had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic rule.

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Former hostage says his American wife was rushed to hospital

Former hostage says his American wife was rushed to hospital

Joshua Boyle, a Canadian who was rescued with his family last week by Pakistani troops, said Tuesday that his wife had to be rushed to the hospital and remains there.

Boyle told The Associated Press in an email that his wife, Caitlan Boyle, was admitted Monday. His email did not specify why she was taken to the hospital.

“My wife has been through hell, and she has to be my first priority right now,” Boyle wrote.

Boyle, his American wife and their three children were rescued Wednesday, five years after the couple was abducted in Afghanistan on a backpacking trip. The children were born in captivity.

Joshua Boyle said after landing at Toronto’s airport on Friday that the Taliban-linked Haqqani network killed an infant daughter and raped his wife during the years they were held.

In prior email exchange with AP, Boyle did not respond to a question about the fourth child but later told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that it was a forced abortion. The Taliban said in a statement it was a miscarriage.

On Monday, Boyle told the AP that he and his wife decided to have children even while held captive because they always planned to have a big family and decided, “Hey, let’s make the best of this and at least go home with a larger start on our dream family.”

“We’re sitting as hostages with a lot of time on our hands,” Boyle told AP. “We always wanted as many as possible, and we didn’t want to waste time. Cait’s in her 30s, the clock is ticking.”

Boyle said their three children are now 4, 2 and “somewhere around 6 months.”

“Honestly we’ve always planned to have a family of 5, 10, 12 children … We’re Irish, haha,” he wrote in an email.

The parents of Caitlan Boyle have said they are elated she is free, but also angry at their son-in law for taking their daughter to Afghanistan.

“Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable,” Caitlan’s father, Jim Coleman said, told ABC News.

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Files reveal details of US support for Indonesian massacre

Files reveal details of US support for Indonesian massacre

Declassified files have revealed new details of U.S. government knowledge and support of an Indonesian army extermination campaign that killed several hundred thousand civilians during anti-communist hysteria in the mid-1960s.

The thousands of files from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta covering 1963-66 were made public Tuesday after a declassification review that began under the Obama administration. The Associated Press reviewed key documents in the collection in advance of their release.

The files fill out the picture of a devastating reign of terror by the Indonesian army and Muslim groups that has been sketched by historians and in a U.S. State Department volume that was declassified in 2001 despite a last-minute CIA effort to block its distribution.

In 1965, Indonesia had the world’s third-largest communist party after China and the Soviet Union, with several million members, and the country’s president, the charismatic Sukarno, was vociferously socialist and anti-American.

U.S. officials despaired of Indonesia’s apparently unstoppable drift into the communist fold and were ecstatic when conservative generals imposed martial law in Jakarta, seized state radio and set out to annihilate the country’s communist party on the pretext that it had tried to overthrow the government. Within months, the army would prevail in its power struggle with Sukarno, shifting Indonesia’s political orientation to the U.S. and opening its huge market to American companies.

The newly released files underline the U.S. Embassy’s and State Department’s early, detailed and ongoing knowledge of the killings and eagerness to avoid doing anything that would hinder the Indonesian army. Historians had already established that the U.S. provided lists of senior communist party officials, radio equipment and money as part of active support for the army.

The documents also show that U.S. officials had credible information that contradicted the Indonesian army’s lurid story that the kidnapping and killing of seven generals in an abortive coup by junior officers on Sept. 30, 1965, which paved the way for the bloodbath, was ordered by the Indonesian communist party and Beijing.

The documents specifically mention mass killings ordered by Suharto, a general who within months would seize total power and rule Indonesia for more than three decades, and the pivotal role in carrying out the massacres by groups that today remain Indonesia’s biggest mainstream Muslim organizations: Nahdlatul Ulama, its youth wing Ansor and Muhammadiyah.

A Dec. 21, 1965, cable from the embassy’s first secretary, Mary Vance Trent, to the State Department referred to events as a “fantastic switch which has occurred over 10 short weeks.” It also included an estimate that 100,000 people had been slaughtered.

In Bali alone, some 10,000 people had been killed by mid-December, including the parents and distant relatives of the island’s pro-communist governor, and the slaughter was continuing, the cable said. Two months later, another embassy cable cited estimates that the killings in Bali had swelled to 80,000.

A cable that was part of the 2001 State Department volume showed that by April 1966, the embassy was staggered by the scale of the murders and acknowledged, “We frankly do not know whether the real figure is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000.” Even the Indonesian government had only a “vague idea” of the true number, the cable said.

The release of the documents coincides with an upsurge in anti-communist rhetoric in Indonesia, where communism remains a frequently invoked boogeyman for conservatives despite the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly three decades ago and China’s embrace of global capitalism.

Discussion of the 1965-66 period that departs from the Suharto era’s partly fictional account of a heroic national uprising against communism is still discouraged. A landmark symposium last year that brought together aging survivors of the bloodbath and government ministers sparked a furious backlash. And last month, an anti-communist mob led by retired generals attacked a building in central Jakarta where activists had planned to discuss the killings.

“The mass killings of 1965-66 are among the world’s worst crimes against humanity, and our country’s darkest secret,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer. “The 1965-66 survivors are all very old now, and I’m afraid that they will not see justice before they die. Hopefully with these cables coming to light, the truth can emerge and perpetrators can be held accountable.”

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, who in 2015 introduced a resolution in the Senate urging Indonesia’s government to create a truth and reconciliation commission, said the U.S. must also confront its role in these “terrible acts.”

Indonesia’s Muslim mass organizations are among those reluctant to face scrutiny for their role, which in the fevered atmosphere of 1965 was characterized by Islamic leaders as a holy war against atheists.

Under the direction of the army, the Muslim organizations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah were enthusiastic participants in mass murder, carrying out indiscriminate killings as well as organized executions, according to the documents. They also mention the army’s recruiting of Catholics to help with its extermination campaign in central Java.

A December 1965 cable from the U.S. Consulate in Medan, Indonesia, reported that preachers in Muhammadiyah mosques were telling congregations that all who joined the communist party must be killed, saying they are the “lowest order of infidel, the shedding of whose blood is comparable to killing chicken.”

A detailed four-page report covering mid- to late November 1965 by the U.S. Embassy’s political affairs officer, Edward E. Masters, discussed the spread of mass executions to several provinces and the role of youth groups in helping to solve the “main problem” of where to house and what to feed PKI prisoners. PKI is the Indonesian acronym for the country’s communist party.

“Many provinces appear to be successfully meeting this problem by executing their PKI prisoners, or killing them before they are captured, a task in which Moslem youth groups are providing assistance,” the report said. A cable from earlier in the month mentions an estimated 62,000 prisoners in the province of Central Java alone.

Ansor, the youth arm of Nahdlatul Ulama, was responsible for “brutal attacks” on communists, according to a Dec. 10, 1965, cable, but also caused problems by doing the same to non-communists involved in personal feuds with its members.

Possibly the earliest mention of systematic bloodshed in cables to Washington is a mid-October 1965 record of conversations between the embassy’s second secretary and Bujung Nasution, a special assistant to Indonesia’s attorney general involved with intelligence matters. Like other intermediaries of the Indonesian army and its allies sent to approach the embassy, Nasution was apparently trying to assess whether the U.S. would object to the extermination campaign.

According to Nasution, the army had already executed many cadres, but this information, he said, must be closely held because the army needed more time to break the communists.

The memo described Nasution as alarmed that reports of atrocities had been leaked to the Malaysian press. It said he warned that it was critical that Sukarno did not learn of the extent of the army’s repression, especially from the foreign media.

In response, the second secretary, Robert G. Rich, reassured Nasution.

The U.S. government was fully aware of the sensitive nature of the current events, said Rich, and was “making every effort to avoid stimulating press speculation.”

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Hamas must disarm to join government – US

Hamas must disarm to join government – US

The United States says the militant Islamist movement Hamas must lay down its weapons if it is to play a part in a new Palestinian government.

Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, and the rival Fatah faction recently agreed to end years of bitter division.

US special envoy Jason Greenblatt said any Palestinian unity administration would need to recognise the State of Israel and disarm “terrorists”.

A Hamas official described the US demand as “blatant interference”.

Israel – which like the US considers Hamas a terrorist organisation – has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that “relies on Hamas”.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have been ruled separately since deadly clashes between Hamas and Fatah broke out in 2007.

Hamas won parliamentary elections in the occupied territories the previous year, and reinforced its power in Gaza after ousting Fatah from the enclave.

Last Thursday, the factions agreed that administrative control of Gaza, including the Rafah border crossing, would be handed to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) by 1 December.

PA officials said there were no plans to appoint Hamas members to the government.

About 3,000 Fatah security personnel will also join Gaza’s police force, but there is no agreement on yet on the role of Hamas’ 25,000-strong armed wing.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Mr Greenblatt said it was essential that the PA was able to “assume full, genuine, and unhindered civil and security responsibilities in Gaza” and that the humanitarian situation there was improved.

He also stressed that “any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognise the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations”.

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” the envoy added.

A senior Hamas official immediately rejected the US demands.

“This is blatant interference in Palestinian affairs because it is the right of our people to choose its government according to their supreme strategic interests,” Bassem Naim told AFP news agency.

Mr Naim said the US had come under pressure from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Tuesday insisted he would “not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas” unless the following conditions were met:

  • Hamas recognises Israel, “desists from terrorism” and disarms
  • The bodies of Israeli soldiers and civilians held by Hamas are returned
  • The PA exercises full security control in Gaza
  • The PA continues to act against Hamas “terror infrastructure” in the West Bank
  • Hamas severs its ties with Iran
  • Funds and humanitarian equipment continues to flow into Gaza only via the PA

There was no immediate reaction from the PA to Mr Greenblatt’s statement, but a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel’s conditions would “not change the official Palestinian position to move forward with reconciliation efforts”.

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‘Stolen Dali’ painting recovered

‘Stolen Dali’ painting recovered

A painting thought to be the stolen work of renowned Spanish artist Salvador Dali has been recovered by the Lebanese authorities.

Four people were arrested for allegedly trying to sell on the picture, known as Portrait of Mrs Reeves.

Police confiscated it last Friday after an investigation in the Cola neighbourhood of the capital, Beirut.

Art experts say the picture, if authentic, is a minor work from a series of high society portraits.

The piece was probably stolen from a neighbouring country, Lebanese police said.

Art historian Lawrence Saphire told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper that such pictures attributed to Dali usually sold “for a few hundred thousand dollars because they are not considered serious paintings”.

He suggested it was one of the portraits Dali was commissioned to do of high society ladies when he was in America.

Dali expert Nicolas Descharnes, whose father Robert worked closely with Dali as his secretary, was quoted by the paper as saying Portrait of Mrs Reeves had been auctioned several times between 1986 and 1997.

Neither art expert would comment on whether the painting found in Lebanon was genuine.

Alex Rosenberg, chairperson of Salvador Dali research centre in New York. was quoted as saying many fakes had surfaced in the art market.

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UN says it is ready to go into Raqqa

UN says it is ready to go into Raqqa

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The United Nations is ready to get into the Syrian city of Raqqa after so-called Islamic State (IS) was driven out after three years.

A UN official in Damascus told the BBC access to the area was the main priority while warning that some 300,000 people who had fled the city had “enormous” needs in nearby camps.

Aid workers have said it may take years before they can return to their homes.

A US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters says it has full control of the city.

Operations were under way to uncover jihadist sleeper cells and remove landmines from the last areas of Raqqa, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Mustefa Bali said.

The four-month assault against IS destroyed Raqqa’s civilian infrastructure and homes, humanitarian agencies say.

Linda Tom, a UN official in the Syrian capital Damascus, said no civilians were believed to be in the city and the end of the battle for Raqqa was a “big change” for humanitarian workers.

“If we’re now in a better position to get to people who need assistance, we’re ready to do it and we’re ready to increase our assistance,” she said.

Before and after IS: Raqqa’s clock tower roundabout

She added that aid groups were struggling to assist the thousands of civilians who were in dozens of displaced camps around Raqqa, and who were in urgent need of water, food and medicine.

World Food Program Middle East Director Muhannad Hadi told AP news agency the defeat of IS in Raqqa was a “game-changer” for the work of humanitarian agencies.

On Tuesday, aid group Save the Children warned the humanitarian crisis in north-eastern Syria was “rapidly escalating”, with camps “bursting at the seams”.

“Most families have little or nothing to return home to and will likely be stuck in camps for months or years to come,” the charity said in a statement.

Before and after IS: Raqqa’s stadium

The SDF said on Tuesday it had taken Raqqa, a city where IS made the headquarters of its self-styled “caliphate” in early 2014, implementing an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and using beheadings, crucifixions and torture to terrorise residents who opposed its rule.

The city also became home to thousands of jihadists from around the world who heeded a call to migrate there by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The jihadist group still has a number of footholds, the largest of which runs along the Euphrates river valley in the south-eastern province of Deir al-Zour.

However, the SDF and Syrian government forces have launched separate offensives in the province with the aim of taking control of a key crossing on the border with Iraq.

IS has also suffered a series of defeats in recent months to Iraqi government forces, who are advancing along the Euphrates on the other side of the border.

The US-led coalition said on Tuesday that forces it supported had reclaimed 93,790 sq km (36,200 sq miles) of Iraqi and Syrian territory seized by IS in 2014, and freed 6.6 million people from jihadist control.

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Iraqi Kurds ‘withdraw to 2014 lines’

Iraqi Kurds ‘withdraw to 2014 lines’

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Iraq’s military says it has completed an operation to retake disputed areas held by Kurdish forces since 2014.

On Monday and Tuesday troops retook the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk and its oilfields, as well as parts of Nineveh and Diyala provinces.

Peshmerga fighters had seized the areas while battling so-called Islamic State.

The military operation came three weeks after the Kurds held an independence referendum, which Iraq’s prime minister said was now a “thing of the past”.

Mr Abadi called for dialogue with the Kurdistan Regional Government on Tuesday night, saying he wanted a “national partnership” based on Iraq’s constitution.

People living in the Kurdistan Region and the disputed areas overwhelmingly backed secession in the referendum, but Mr Abadi declared it illegal and rejected calls from Kurdish leaders for negotiations.

A statement issued by the Iraqi military on Wednesday announced that security had been “restored” in previously Kurdish-held sectors of Kirkuk province, including Dibis, Multaqa, and the Khabbaz and Bai Hassan North and South oil fields.

“Forces have been redeployed and have retaken control of Khanaqin and Jalawla in Diyala province, as well as Makhmur, Bashiqa, Mosul dam, Sinjar and other areas in the Nineveh plains,” it added.

Peshmerga fighters moved into the areas after IS swept across northern and western Iraq in June 2014 and the army collapsed.

A senior Iraqi military commander also told Reuters news agency: “As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014.”

The military’s announcement came a day after Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani vowed to keep working towards Kurdish independence, saying the referendum was not held “in vain”.

He did not call for dialogue with the government, but stressed: “Kurds have always been against waging wars and have worked in pursuit of peace.”

Mr Barzani also blamed the loss of Kirkuk on internal Kurdish disputes.

The president’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has accused the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of ordering Peshmerga under its control to withdraw in the face of the Iraqi military advance.

There was only one serious clash on the outskirts of Kirkuk on Monday, which is reported to have left between three and 11 combatants dead.

A sudden switch

By Orla Guerin, BBC News, Kirkuk

A large statute of a Peshmerga fighter still looms over the entrance to Kirkuk, but otherwise there’s little sign left of Kurdish control.

Iraqi forces are now firmly in command, manning new checkpoints on the road to the city.

The city was peaceful but Kurdish areas looked like a ghost town, with shops and homes sealed shut. The thousands who fled the Iraqi advance have not rushed back.

The few people we found on the streets spoke of uncertainty, and loss.

Some were angry at Peshmerga fighters for not defending the city. Others blamed Massoud Barzani for triggering the Iraqi takeover with last month’s independence vote.

A large poster of the president has been damaged by fire. Locals told us Shia militia, officially controlled by Baghdad, set it alight when they entered the city. The burnt portrait is a potent symbol of his loss of authority here.

Why is Kirkuk at the heart of this crisis?

Kirkuk is an oil-rich province and its oilfields were vital to the Kurdish economy.

It lay outside the administrative boundary of the Kurdistan Region, but was claimed by both the Kurds and the central government.

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The province is thought to have a Kurdish majority, but its capital also has large Arab and Turkmen populations.

About 61,000 people fled Kirkuk and surrounding areas after the Iraqi military operation began, the UN said, although some have since returned.

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Iran accuses Trump of ranting and lying

Iran accuses Trump of ranting and lying

The supreme leader of Iran has defended the 2015 nuclear deal and used strong language to accuse US President Donald Trump of ranting and lying.

“I don’t want to waste time on answering the rants and whoppers of the brute US president,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.

Mr Trump has refused to certify to the US Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal.

He has threatened to terminate the Obama-era agreement altogether.

The American leader called for the deal to be amended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Ayatollah Khamenei said he welcomed expressions of support for the accord from European states but if the US tore up the deal, Iran would “shred it to bits”.

President Trump also accused Iran of “destabilising activities” in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and imposed sanctions on the powerful Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Congress must now decide whether to reimpose some economic sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear deal in return for Iran limiting sensitive nuclear activities. If that were to happen, the US would in effect be in violation of the terms.

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Iran says it has the right to nuclear energy and insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

On Wednesday, an Twitter account attributed to Ayatollah Khamenei quoted him as telling students in Tehran that it was a “waste of time for anyone to answer” Mr Trump.

He said Mr Trump was “mad” because Iran was spoiling US “plots” in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, according to an account of the meeting with the students that was posted on his official website.

“If they ask questions like, ‘Why Iran is active in the region?’, well, it is none of their business,” he said.

“Or if they ask, ‘Why does Iran have missiles?’ then our response is, ‘Why do they have missiles and nuclear weapons?'”

He called on Europe to actively oppose Mr Trump’s position. The UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the EU all endorsed the agreement.

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The US says Iran has carried out ballistic missile tests in violation of a UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal.

It has called upon the Islamic Republic not to “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”.

Iran says the missiles it has tested are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

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