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In brief: Islamic State fighters shell Syrian town

From Wire Reports

BEIRUT – Islamic State militants on Sunday shelled a beleaguered Syrian Kurdish town near the border with Turkey, sending smoke billowing into the sky as Kurdish militiamen scrambled to repel the extremists’ offensive, activists said.

The Islamic State group has pushed to the outskirts of the town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, as it presses its weeks-long offensive against the town and its surrounding villages. The assault has forced some 160,000 people to flee across the frontier in one of the biggest single exoduses of Syria’s civil war.

Overnight, coalition airstrikes targeted militant positions around Kobani, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group.

The Observatory said the airstrikes, combined with heavy clashes on the ground, left at least 16 militants dead. At least 11 Kurdish militiamen were also killed.

Family says aid worker wrote letter

INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana aid worker threatened with beheading by the Islamic State group said in a June letter that he’s afraid to die and is saddened by the pain his captivity must be causing his family, his parents said Sunday.

In a statement released to media, Ed and Paula Kassig said their 26-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman Kassig, thanked them for their strength and commitment. And he appeared to try to prepare them for his death.

“I am obviously pretty scared to die but the hardest part is not knowing, wondering, hoping, and wondering if I should even hope at all,” Kassig said in the letter, according to his parents. “I am very sad that all this has happened and for what all of you back home are going through. If I do die, I figure that at least you and I can seek refuge and comfort in knowing that I went out as a result of trying to alleviate suffering and helping those in need.”

Kassig was taken captive by the Islamic State group Oct. 1, 2013, in Syria, where he was providing aid for refugees fleeing that country’s civil war.

The group said in a video after the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning last week that Kassig would be next. The Kassigs pleaded for their son’s freedom in a video statement released Saturday.

Biden calls UAE over remarks on Syria

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday called the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to clarify that he did not mean to imply in his remarks last week that the Gulf ally was supporting al-Qaida fighters in Syria, the White House said.

Biden spoke with Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and a key Emirati leader, the White House said.

It was the second time in two days that Biden had to call a key partner in President Barack Obama’s coalition to walk back comments he made on Thursday, when he said that U.S. allies – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – had funded and armed extremist groups linked to al-Qaida.

Earlier Sunday, an exasperated UAE requested “a formal clarification” from Biden on comments that America’s allies in the Middle East sent weapons and cash to extremists fighting in Syria.

The White House said Biden clarified his remarks and recognized the UAE’s “strong steps” to counter extremists and participation in U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants.

On Saturday, Biden already called to apologize to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said in an earlier statement.

Brazil election headed for runoff

RIO DE JANEIRO – A year after a spasm of huge anti-government protests across Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff piled up more votes in Sunday’s election than any challenger, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a runoff in three weeks.

The race kept up its unpredictable nature as Aecio Neves, a center-right former governor and senator with deep political lineage, came in second. With nearly all the votes counted, the president had 41.5 percent to Neves’ 33.6 percent. Marina Silva got 21 percent.

The Oct. 26 runoff will now pit the candidates of Brazil’s two most powerful parties, which together have produced all of Brazil’s presidents the past 20 years and are well known to Brazilians.

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