Jihadists pound key Syrian town after slaying Briton
Kurdish fighters backed by US-led air strikes held back jihadists attacking a Syrian border town Saturday, following an international outcry at the murder of a British hostage by the Islamic State group.
Dozens of militants with the Islamic State (IS) organisation were reported dead in the latest American-led coalition air raids.
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The dusty town of Kobane on the frontier with Turkey has become a key battleground between IS jihadists and their opponents, who include local Kurdish fighters as well as the United States and its allies.
Fighting raged Saturday as IS militants kept up their offensive to seize Kobane, activists said.
Mortar shells pounded the town as smoke rose above it, according to an AFP team on the Turkish side of the border.
US-led strikes late Friday targeted at least four sites on the outskirts of Kobane, destroying some military material, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.
Five jihadists were killed in the air raids near the border town, as well as 30 more around Shadadi in northeastern Syria, according to the Britain-based group, which monitors the conflict.
IS militants fired at least 80 mortar rounds into Kobane town on Friday.
But activist Mustafa Ebdi said Kurdish fighters had been buoyed by their success at holding off the assault so far, noting that the IS jihadists had hoped to capture the town by Saturday for the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival.
"So far they have failed to enter the town."
IS began its advance towards Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on September 16 to cement its grip over a long stretch of the border.
It has prompted a mass exodus of residents from the town and the surrounding countryside, with some 186,000 fleeing into Turkey.
- British aid worker executed -
On Friday night, IS released a video showing the execution of Alan Henning, a 47-year-old British volunteer driver who went to Syria with a Muslim charity.
The footage opened with a news report about the British parliament's vote last week to authorise air strikes against jihadist targets in Iraq.
Then it cut to Henning, on his knees against a desert backdrop and wearing an orange prison-style outfit, with a masked militant standing over him wielding a combat knife.
The jihadist, who has the same British accent as the killer in previous IS execution videos, directly addressed British Prime Minister David Cameron.
"The blood of David Haines was on your hands, Cameron," he said, referring to another British aid worker killed by the group.
"Alan Henning will also be slaughtered, but his blood is on the hands of the British parliament," he declared.
A fellow aid worker from America, Peter Kassig, is then shown alive and threatened by the knife-wielding militant.
The jihadists have previously released videos showing the murders of Haines and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The latest execution was condemned worldwide, with Cameron saying it "shows just how barbaric and repulsive these terrorists are."
"We will do all we can to hunt down these murderers and bring them to justice," he said.
US President Barack Obama denounced the "brutal murder" and warned the US-led coalition "will continue taking decisive action to degrade and ultimately destroy" IS.
French President Francois Hollande described it as a "heinous crime".
- Turkey threatens IS -
Washington is leading a coalition of nations against the IS group, which has declared an Islamic "caliphate" in parts of Syria and Iraq.
On Thursday, Turkey's parliament voted to allow the deployment of forces in Syria and Iraq to fight the Islamic State, and the country's prime minister has pledged to "do whatever we can" to prevent Kobane falling to IS militants.
On Saturday, Ankara also warned it would not hesitate to strike IS jihadists if they attacked Turkish troops stationed at an enclave holding the tomb of Suleyman Shah.
The small patch of land is considered Turkish territory and dozens of Turkish troops are stationed there.
"If one so much as touches a hair on their heads, Turkey with its army will do all that is necessary and everything will change from that moment on," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned.
He also angrily rejected comments by US Vice President Joe Biden that Turkey and others in the region had financed and armed jihadist organisations in Syria.
"No one can accuse Turkey of having supported any terrorist organisation in Syria, including IS," Erdogan said.
by Fulya Ozerkan with Sara Hussein in Beirut © 2014 AFP
Source : AFP