U.S. air strikes target ISIL drive to expand energy assets

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NICOSIA — Islamic State of Iraq and Levant is acting to expand its energy assets in Syria, the cash flow from which has made it wealthiest terrorist organization in recent history.

U.S. air strikes are now targeting ISIL position in northern Syria. /  Technical Sergeant Kevin Wallace / Reuters / U.S. Air Force

U.S. air strikes are now targeting ISIL position in northern Syria. / Technical Sergeant Kevin Wallace / Reuters / U.S. Air Force

The attack came in wake of U.S.-led air strikes on ISIL positions throughout northern Syria. The air strikes also targeted on ISIL-held energy fields, deemed a leading source of revenue.

The energy assets in addition to stolen advanced U.S.-origin weapons platforms has fueled ISIL ambitions, morale and recruiting potential.

[Related: Tanks, copters and cash: Bank robberies in Mosul make ISIL ‘wealthiest terrorist franchise ever’, June 24, 2014]

The Syrian opposition said ISIL attacked an energy field in northern Syria. ISIL was said to have killed at least 30 guards deployed by the regime of President Bashar Assad at the crude oil and natural gas field in Shaer, located in the Homs province.

“IS managed to control parts of the field,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Oct. 29.

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Turkey relents, allows some Kurdish forces to defend Kobane

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ANKARA — Turkey has allowed Kurdish forces to enter Syria to save a northern enclave from Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.

On Oct. 29, an 80-vehicle convoy by Kurdistan’s military entered Turkey and hours later reached the border with the Syrian town of Kobane. The convoy was joined by Kurdish troops who flew to Turkey’s Sanliurfa Airport.

KobaneMap“They can cross at any moment,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Turkey has significantly reduced the Kurdish force assigned to save Kobane from ISIL. During a week of negotiations, Ankara brought the number of Iraqi Kurdish troops allowed to enter Turkey from 2,000 to 150.

The Turkish military also rejected a request by the Kurdish Regional Government to transport main battle tanks and artillery in Kobane.

Officials said Kurdish forces would be equipped with nothing heavier than rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

Officials said the Turkish Army has not overseen the passage of KRG forces. They said the operation was assigned to the National Intelligence Agency, deemed close to President Recep Erdogan.

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South Koreans: Too stressed to appreciate their new status as coolest Asians

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DonKirk3By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com

Many Koreans don’t know it, but Korea is cool.

Three newly published books say so. Two of them even have “cool” in the title — “The Birth of Korean Cool” by Euny Hong, who describes herself as having “spent her childhood in Chicago and in the elite Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul,” and “A Geek in Korea: Discovering Asia’s New Kingdom of Cool,” by Daniel Tudor, a Brit who’s had an amazing array of experiences since coming here initially as an English teacher.

One reason that Koreans may not think of Korea as “cool” is that many don’t share in the exhilaration exuded by these books.

Psy and 'Gangnam Style'

Psy and ‘Gangnam Style’

Sure, they know K-pop, the most often cited evidence for Korean coolness, but ordinary people may not appreciate the same glittery fun and games. The struggle to survive, often on part-time or casual jobs at the whims of the economy and shadowy business empires, makes it difficult to enjoy the party.

The foreign view of Korea as cool echoes the theme of “Cool Britannia,” a British slogan during the Tony Blair years. Didn’t “Cool Britannia” arise from the “British Invasion” of U.S. popular music, beginning with the global onslaught of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc.? And doesn’t “K-Pop Now!”, the title of Mark Russell’s colorful look at “the Korean music revolution,” suggest what makes Korea seem so cool to foreign writers?

“Cool” isn’t in the title of Russell’s book, but he does advise where to go “for fashion, style and coolness” and identifies “one of the coolest strips in today’s Korea” — cool, that is, for those with the money to pay for all those riches on display. And he acknowledges Korea’s “cool past” as well — so often have Korea and Seoul “reinvented themselves.” His book turns into a catalog of K-Pop stars including six pages of photos and text on Psy, whose “Gangnam Style” song-and-horse-dance routine probably did more to sell the image of “cool Korea” globally than any other single phenomenon.

Aside from “Cool Britannia,” Korea may be the only country on earth that’s described as so totally cool. That’s not just because of the new wealth that’s flowing downhill from the chaebol that dominate the economy. What helps make Korea “cool” is this gilt-plated overlay on an ancient society that shines so brightly despite the trauma of Japanese colonialism, the Korean War, the unending confrontation with North Korea — factors that these writers hint at but don’t really address.

Hong draws from her background in both the U.S. and Korea to give the impression of a country that’s transformed since 1985 when her parents returned to Korea from a Chicago suburb and Korea was “a developing country.” From that perspective, she offers first-hand insights into the cruelties of the school system, the petty corruption of which she became painfully aware, and the ethnocentric chauvinism that’s such an intrinsic element in Korean life.

Yet she’s overcome by “hallyu,” the Korean wave sweeping over much of the rest of Asia. She, like Tudor and Russell, describes the intense discipline, the “controversial” exploitation in the training of the groups that everyone sees cavorting on TV.

As a recurrent theme, she tries to explain Korean cool — what is it for instance, that “Asians found cool about Korea.” One answer is that “basically, Korea has never invaded anyone.” More pragmatically, she suggests the culture ministry’s understanding of “cultural technology” and “the confidence that Samsung created in Korea the Brand” for having “helped buoy the Korean economy, which allowed the government to finance popular culture products.”

Tudor does not indulge in such blatant propaganda. Rather, in a format lush with photographs for everything that he covers, he writes engagingly of traditional customs, of Koreans’ love of partying and drinking, of the emphasis on hard work, the zest for sports, the rise of Christianity and, centuries earlier, Buddhism. And, like Hong, he harks back to Confucianism, shamanism, the role of fortune-tellers, video games, plastic surgery, all that.

However, Tudor is not always accurate. Beneath a photo of the bridge linking the Chinese city of Dandong to Sinuiju on the North Korean side, he writes, “Only a very narrow river separates the two countries,” The river in the photo, Yalu in Chinese, Amnok in Korean, is rather wide. It’s the shallow Tumen River on the east that refugees typically ford into China.

Oh, and, riffing on Korean Christianity, Tudor observes that Korea, other than East Timor, has “the highest percentage of churchgoers in Asia.” In fact, nearly 90 percent of the 100 million or so Filipinos are Christian and go to church — though U.S. President William McKinley in 1903 did say one reason the Americans seized the Philippines, long since Catholicized under Spanish rule, was to “civilize and Christianize them.”

Columnist Donald Kirk has been observing Korea’s transformation since first visiting Seoul in 1972. He’s at kirkdon@yahoo.com.

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U.S. warns Americans in Egypt of attacks by jihadists

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CAIRO — The United States has warned its nationals of Islamic attacks in Egypt.

The U.S. embassy in Cairo said Americans could come under attack by Al Qaida-aligned insurgents. In a warning, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security was said to have determined a threat against Americans in the Middle East, particularly the Maadi district of the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

U.E. Embassy in Cairo.

U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

“A recent anonymous posting on a Jihadist website encouraged attacks against American and other Western schools and teachers in the Middle East, and specifically mentioned Jedda in Saudi Arabia and Maadi in Egypt as locations with high concentrations of potential targets,” the U.S. embassy said.

In a statement on Oct. 27, the U.S. embassy did not cite any specific threat to Americans in Egypt. But the embassy said it was working with U.S. and Western schools to review and bolster security.

“The embassy is unaware of any specific, credible threat against any American school or individual in Egypt,” the embassy said. “Nonetheless, the embassy is working with local schools identified with the United States or that have high concentrations of American teachers or students to review and enhance their security posture.”

About 35,000 Americans are estimated to live in Egypt, many of them connected to U.S. military and defense programs. Many Americans also serve as teachers or students, particularly in Cairo and Alexandria.

Over the last year, Egypt has been the target of nearly daily attacks by Islamic rebel militias, many of them linked to the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has warned that Islamic State of Iraq and Levant could be establishing a presence as well in the Arab power.

“Americans residing in or visiting Egypt should remain vigilant regarding their personal security and alert to local security developments,” the embassy said. “The embassy reminds U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans and remain alert to their surroundings at all times in Egypt.”

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Military warns Israel: Iron dome won’t help against Hizbullah

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TEL AVIV — Israel’s military has warned that Iron Dome would be ineffective in any war against Hizbullah.

Officials said the Israel Air Force would be unable to stop massive missile and rocket salvos by the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah. They said Iron Dome, which intercepted hundreds of Palestinian rockets during the 50-day war with the Gaza Strip in mid-2014, would be overwhelmed by Hizbullah.

A missile is launched from the Iron Dome defense system in Ashdodl, Israel in response to a rocket launched from Gaza Strip on Nov. 18, 2012. / Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images

A missile is launched from the Iron Dome defense system in Ashdodl, Israel in response to a rocket launched from Gaza Strip on Nov. 18, 2012. / Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images

“We will not be able to provide the umbrella that was provided in the south by Iron Dome,” Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, head of the Israel Army’s Northern Command, said.

In an interview on Israel Army Radio on Oct. 29, Golan, responsible for military operations along the border with Lebanon and Syria, said a war with Hizbullah could erupt. He said Hizbullah was preparing its arsenal of more than 100,000 missiles and rockets as well as digging tunnels from Lebanon to Israel.

“We have no positive information meaning that there are tunnels,” Golan said. “That said, this idea of going below ground is not foreign to Lebanon and is not foreign to Hizbullah and so we have to suppose as a working assumption that there are tunnels.”

Officials said Israel sought to accelerate development of the David’s Sling missile and rocket defense system. They said David’s Sling was designed to intercept missiles and rockets with a range of 280 kilometers, far beyond the capabiity of Iron Dome.

“We and Hizbullah are conducting a kind of mutual-deterrence balance,” Golan said. “There is no absolute deterrence.”

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Suspect identified in eight graffiti vandalism cases in National Parks

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Federal officials have publicly identified a woman suspected of graffiti vandalism in at least eight national parks across the West, including Yosemite and Death Valley in California, and credit social media for helping pinpoint the alleged culprit.

Casey Nocket of New York state has not been arrested or charged but was confirmed on Thursday as “the major suspect” in an investigation of one of the most widespread acts of serial vandalism documented in the National Park System.

The case was brought to light in a series of photos obtained and posted by the Internet blog Modern Hiker and furnished to the National Park Service picturing numerous graffiti drawings, all signed “Creepytings” and dated 2014.

One shows a woman the blog identified as Nocket putting the finishing touches on an acrylic drawing of a cigarette-smoking figure scrawled on a canyon wall at Utah’s Canyonlands National Park in June.

Others show drawings of a woman with blue hair on a ledge overlooking Oregon’s Crater Lake and a bald man with a snake protruding from his mouth on a trailside rock in California’s Yosemite National Park.

The Park Service said initially it was investigating such vandalism in at least 10 Western national parks.

But agency spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said on Thursday that Nocket had been tied as a suspect to graffiti in eight parks – Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree in California; Crater Lake in Oregon; Zion and Canyonlands in Utah; and Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado National Monument in Colorado.

Although instant gratification afforded by social media exposure was cited in a New York Times report last year for a rise in graffiti defacings on public lands, Picavet said social media in this case played a key role in the investigation.

The Modern Hiker said its photos were gathered earlier this month by screen shots taken of the suspect’s Instagram and Tumblr accounts, which have since been set to “Private.”

Park Service investigators also received numerous photos and other information from members of the public outraged over the defacings, Picavet said.

Vandalism is a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, although prosecutors could decide to bring more serious charges.

“This is an open investigation,” Picavet said.

Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said vandalism occurred there occasionally but was “not common.” She added: “As far as a widespread case like this, it’s the first one I’m aware of.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Twitter product chief sidelined as user engagement slides

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Twitter Inc has sidelined the product chief it recently poached from rival Google Inc, in the latest executive reshuffle at the online messaging service, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Former consumer product chief Daniel Graf will now oversee strategic initiatives such as geo-location mobile features, the person said on condition of anonymity because the move was not public.

Kevin Weil, who was head of revenue-generating products, will now take charge of all products at the company, the person said.

On Monday, Twitter reported a decline in user engagement in the third quarter and forecast disappointing revenue.

Twitter has historically kept two product teams working side-by-side. One focuses on revenue products such as commerce and video services, the other on consumer services, which included work on the main timeline feed.

Twitter has experienced several high-profile departures in recent months, including former Chief Operating Officer Ali Rowghani and head of Twitter news efforts Vivian Schiller. The company has been struggling with user growth and engagement, amid criticism of a steep learning curve for new users that may be discouraging its wider adoption.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Hiring business drives LinkedIn’s revenue beat

By Arathy S Nair and Lehar Maan

(Reuters) – Corporate networking site LinkedIn Corp reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue as more businesses used its services to hire staff.

The company’s hiring business has been thriving as employers find its services more helpful in assessing a candidate’s suitability for a role.

Strong growth in the hiring business and rapid expansion in international markets such as China are considered by analysts to be the main growth drivers for the company in the next few quarters.

“In third-quarter, about 75 percent of new members came to LinkedIn from outside the U.S., with China providing particular strength,” Chief Executive Jeff Weiner said.

“China has become the second-largest contributor to new sign-ups on a daily basis, after only the United States,” Weiner said on a conference call with analysts.

The company launched a Chinese language “beta” version of its main website in February to expand in the world’s largest internet market by users, looking to replicate its success in the United States internationally.

Revenue at LinkedIn’s hiring business, called Talent Solutions, rose 45 percent in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, representing 61 percent of total revenue.

LinkedIn, however, forecast on Thursday current-quarter results below expectations, sparking a brief selloff that sent the company’s shares down as much as 11 percent in extended trading.

But the shares soon reversed course to trade up 3 percent at $209.12 as investors focused on the handy third-quarter beat.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Daniel Salmon said investors chose to focus on customer growth in the third quarter in the company’s corporate solutions business, rather than the weak revenue forecast.

LinkedIn’s net loss attributable to stockholders widened to $4.3 million, or 3 cents per share, in the quarter, from $3.4 million, or 3 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, LinkedIn earned 52 cents per share.

Revenue rose 45 percent to $568.3 million.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 47 cents per share on revenue of $557.6 million.

For the fourth quarter ending December, LinkedIn forecast adjusted earnings of about 49 cents per share and revenue of between $600 million and $605 million.

Analysts on average were expecting a profit of 52 cents per share on revenue of $611.6 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

On revenue forecast missing the estimate, BMO’s Salmon said it was more likely that the expectations were a little higher.

Up to Thursday’s close, the stock had fallen more than 6 pct this year, underperforming the 7.9 percent rise in the broader S&P 500 index <.SPX>.

(Reporting by Arathy S Nair and Lehar Maan in Bangalore; Editing by Maju Samuel and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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Expedia’s third-quarter profit soars 50 percent

By Jeffrey Dastin

(Reuters) – Expedia Inc reported robust third-quarter earnings on Thursday and topped analyst estimates, as strong hotel bookings boosted the company’s profit by more than 50 percent from the year-earlier quarter.

The world’s largest online travel company by bookings posted net income of $257.1 million and earned $1.94 per diluted share, well ahead of Wall Street’s average estimate of $1.74, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Despite heavy competition abroad and concern that the Ebola virus would discourage travelers from planning vacations, the volume of Expedia Inc’s bookings grew by 29 percent to nearly $13.5 billion in the quarter. Revenue from hotel bookings, which accounts for 73 percent of Expedia’s business, jumped by 21 percent to buoy these results.

“These results were pretty encouraging,” said S&P Capital IQ analyst Tuna Amobi, noting that the company reaffirmed its guidance for the year. “The Travelocity integration, which they completed sometime last year, has really proven to be a major catalyst to both their hotel and air ticket bookings.”

Expedia Inc boasts Hotels.com and the recently acquired trivago among its brands. It also launched a marketing agreement with Sabre Corp’s Travelocity at the end of 2013.

While the volume of Expedia’s bookings is more than 3.5 times that of its largest competitor Priceline Group Inc in the U.S., according to research by Morningstar, Expedia has grown more slowly than Priceline abroad.

Amobi said a “slowdown in some international markets” was the only negative factor in Expedia’s third-quarter performance, along with some pricing pressure from competitors.

Expedia’s Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said during the company’s earnings call Thursday that additional investment would lead to losses at its China-focused site eLong during the current quarter and into 2015.

“The market in China continues to be very dynamic and fiercely competitive, with a number of players making significant and increasing investments,” he said.

Expedia’s revenue grew 22 percent to more than $1.71 billion, beating Wall Street’s average expectation of less than $1.68 billion. Revenue from advertising and media contributed heavily to the increase.

The company’s shares were up 1.9 percent at $82.30 in after-hours trading in New York.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comcast, AT&T seek to reassure on no plans for Internet ‘fast lanes’

By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Comcast Corp and AT&T Inc have no plans to create Internet “fast lanes” that may hurt consumers’ freedom to roam the Web, the leading U.S. broadband providers told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in recent letters.

Senator Patrick Leahy last week wrote to top Internet service providers (ISPs), urging them to pledge that they would not enter any so-called paid prioritization deals, in which content companies would pay ISPs to ensure smooth and fast delivery of their traffic.

“We have repeatedly made clear – both to our customers and more generally to the public – ‘Comcast doesn’t prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and we have no plans to do so,'” Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen told Leahy in a letter dated Oct. 24 and viewed by Reuters late on Wednesday.

AT&T, in its response on Thursday, said it had no plans to strike deals with third parties to prioritize traffic as it travels the so-called last mile of the network from the ISP’s facilities to consumers’ screens “without the knowledge and direction of the end user.”

The Federal Communications Commission received almost 4 million comments after it proposed new Web traffic, or “net neutrality” rules that prohibited ISPs from blocking content, but suggested allowing some “commercially reasonable” paid prioritization deals.

Verizon Communications Inc on Wednesday published its own response to Leahy, also asserting no plans for “fast lane” deals, and calling paid prioritization a “phantasm” and worries about it “demagoguery, since no major ISP has expressed an interest in offering ‘paid prioritization’ and all agree that the FCC has a valid legal path to prohibit it.”

Though FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he would not tolerate anti-competitive or anti-consumer prioritization, consumer advocates and other critics worry that opening the door for such arrangements could create “fast lanes” for some content and so relegate other websites and applications to “slow lanes.”

Instead, some critics have urged the FCC to reclassify ISPs so they are regulated more like public utilities. The broadband companies object, saying it would hamper investments and innovation.

In their letters, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon all argued that the FCC should choose other legal options to prevent harmful paid prioritization short of reclassification.

“Departing from the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch approach to the Internet by reclassifying broadband … would be risky and unnecessary,” Cohen wrote.

AT&T’s Tim McKone, executive vice president for federal relations, wrote that not all prioritization presents a threat to the openness of the Internet, pointing out examples like health or alarm monitoring. He also argued that reclassifying broadband would be a “legally dubious path” that would not actually prevent paid prioritization.

The FCC is writing new net neutrality rules after a U.S. appeals court in January struck down their previous version in a case brought by Verizon.

The 2010 rules allowed “commercially reasonable” discrimination of traffic, but indicated that the FCC would disapprove of potential “pay-for-priority” deals.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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