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At least 500 militants killed in US-led strikes in Syria, observer group says

AMMAN, Jordan — Air and missile strikes in Syria by the United States and its allies during the past month have killed more than 500 extremist fighters as well as at least 32 civilians, a Syrian monitoring group said Thursday.

The tally compiled by the group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, provides one of the first measures of the impact of the U.S.-led military campaign against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which has seized territories in Syria and Iraq.

But the numbers also hint at ways in which the strikes have made life harder for civilians in some areas administered by the Islamic State.

In addition to imposing its harsh interpretation of Islam, often through public beheadings and other forms of execution, the Islamic State oversees the distribution of fuel and grain. The strikes have hurt its distribution abilities, leading to a rise in fuel prices across areas that have already been battered by more than 3 1/2 years of war, according to activists in Islamic State areas.

The new death toll suggests that strikes on the Islamic State by the U.S.-led coalition, which began Sept. 23, have hurt the group, killing at least 464 fighters across northern and eastern Syria, the Observatory said.

The strikes have also killed at least 57 members of the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, which has clashed with the Islamic State while maintaining close ties with mainline rebel groups seeking to topple the government of President Bashar Assad.

The number of extremist fighters killed is likely much higher, the Observatory said, because the groups cover up some deaths.

—Ben Hubbard, The New York Times

North Korea says Kim ordered release of detained American

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Wednesday that its leader, Kim Jong Un, had personally ordered the release of Jeffrey E. Fowle, an American, after considering requests from President Barack Obama.

Fowle, an Ohio municipal worker and one of three Americans detained in North Korea, had been held for nearly six months before a U.S. military plane picked him up Tuesday. He arrived Wednesday in Ohio, where he was reunited with his wife and three children, who rushed to greet his plane when he arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton.

Kim recently reappeared in state-run news media after a six-week absence, ending widespread speculation about his health and his grip on power. With the statement Wednesday, North Korea appeared to be burnishing Kim’s image at home as a leader capable of doing a favor for the U.S. president.

Analysts also said the sudden release of Fowle might have been a conciliatory gesture from Kim to bolster his government’s efforts to engage Washington in a dialogue.

The report was the North’s first public comment on the circumstances surrounding Fowle’s release. Washington has not offered an explanation, except for thanking the Swedish government, which maintains an embassy in Pyongyang and has represented the interests of Americans held in the North. The United States and North Korea remain technically at war after the Korean War was halted in 1953 in a truce.

Fowle, 56, of Miamisburg, Ohio, was released while he was awaiting trial on charges of committing an anti-state crime. He entered North Korea in late April on a tourist visa and was arrested in May after leaving a Bible at a bar. North Korea considers any attempt to disseminate Christian messages by an outsider a crime aimed at undermining its political system.

The statement released by the family gave thanks to God “for his hand of protection over Jeff these past 6 months” and said that Fowle wanted people to know that the North Korean government had treated him well.

—Choe Sang-hun, The New York Times