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News Wrap: Kurdish forces drive Islamic State out of Sinjar

In our news wrap Friday, the Islamic State sustained major losses across territory in Syria and in Iraq, where Kurdish forces drove them from the town of Sinjar. Meanwhile, a U.S. drone strike targeted the IS executioner known as “Jihadi John.” Also, the Supreme Court will review a case on abortion for the first time since 2007.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In other news, Islamic State forces sustained major losses across the territory they control in Iraq and Syria. They were driven from the Northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, after having held it for more than a year. And there were growing signs that one of the most notorious of the militants was killed in Syria.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has that story.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    It was cold, but surprisingly quiet, as the sun rose over Sinjar and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters waited to advance.

    But within hours, the calm was broken, as the Kurds pushed their way into the city center, firing guns in celebration, raising their flag, and unfurling a banner to signify their victory.

    Michael Gordon of The New York Times entered Sinjar with them.

  • MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times:

    It's American airpower that weakened the Islamic State over the preceding weeks, and it's American airpower that allowed them to take the city today.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But securing the city will take work.

  • MICHAEL GORDON:

    All the risks within Sinjar are not gone, and it's probably going to take some time to clear the city of snipers and IEDs, but, that said, the major part of the battle appears to have been won.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Kurdish fighters had also taken a vital highway linking Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria. The militants suffered a second blow, too, in neighboring Syria, as a coalition of Arab, Christian and Kurdish rebels took the town of Hol, in northern Hassakeh province.

    Separately, Iraq's Defense Ministry announced an Iraqi military operation in Western Iraq to liberate Ramadi from Islamic State control. But local police and officials said progress was very slow.

    The militants struck back in Baghdad, with a suicide bombing at a Shiite funeral, killing more than two dozen people and wounding many more.

  • MOHAMMED EMWAZI, ISIS:

    We will begin to slaughter your people on your streets.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Meanwhile, a U.S. drone strike targeted the Islamic State executioner known as Jihadi John.

    U.S. military spokesman Steve Warren, speaking from Baghdad, said the strike hit a car in Raqqa, the Syrian city that ISIS calls its capital.

  • COL. STEVE WARREN, U.S. Army:

    We know for a fact that the weapon system hit its intended target, and that the personnel who were on the receiving end of that weapon system were in fact killed. We still have to finalize the verification that those personnel were specifically who we thought they were.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Jihadi John was, in fact, a British citizen named Mohammed Emwazi who'd appeared in videos depicting the beheading of Western hostages. They included American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig. Two British aid workers and a Japanese journalist were beheaded as well.

    Adam Goldman has covered that story extensively for The Washington Post.

  • ADAM GOLDMAN, The Washington Post:

    Tactically, I don't think Jihadi John meant much to the organization itself. He wasn't a battlefield general, but he held great symbolism for that group. And I think his demise is a blow to the organization. He was a great recruitment tool and he also seemed untouchable, but the U.S. just let ISIS know that we can reach any of you.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Later, the Pentagon said it is reasonably certain that Jihadi John was indeed killed in the strike.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In Tunisia, Secretary of State John Kerry said the turn of events shows that the Islamic State's days are numbered.

    In this country, abortion policy is going back before the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time since 2007. The nine justices agreed today to consider a Texas law that could force most of that state's abortion facilities to shut down. The case turns on whether the law places an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to seek an abortion.

    In Utah,a judge today reversed his decision to take a 9-month-old girl away from a lesbian couple, after sparking a backlash. On Tuesday, the judge ruled against foster parents April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce. He said same-sex marriages are — quote — "more unstable."

    Today, the couple's lawyer said they're relieved and are very optimistic — quote — "that the child will remain in their care." Still, state officials said the judge's latest ruling could be temporary.

    Back in the Middle East, this was another deadly day in a two-month surge of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Israeli officials said at least two Jewish settlers were killed when a Palestinian opened fire on their van near Hebron in the West Bank. Police launched a manhunt for the shooter. Elsewhere, at least two Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli security forces in separate clashes near Hebron and Ramallah.

    The National Election Commission in Myanmar has confirmed the opposition party's historic win in parliamentary elections. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, captured a majority of seats in Sunday's voting. Supporters celebrated today by buying up campaign buttons and stickers as mementos. And the party's spokesman welcomed the formal announcement.

    NYAN WIN, Spokesman, National League for Democracy (through interpreter): According to our tally, we already knew that we won. But as the election commission lists are official, we had to wait for it. Now that the commission announced what we expected, we will be able to work freely, and I'm so happy about that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Under Myanmar's constitution, Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president. But she has said whoever holds that office will be a figurehead, while she will wield actual power.

    Back in this country, the state of Alabama has agreed to change its voter registration system after a finding of — quote — "widespread noncompliance" with federal law. The U.S. Justice Department says the state failed to let people register to vote when they get driver's licenses or similar documents.

    The two giants in daily fantasy sports, DraftKings and FanDuel, went to court today to keep their gaming Web sites operating in New York state. The state's attorney general had ordered both companies to shut down, after ruling they're engaged in illegal gambling. But in lawsuits today, the firms argued they're running skill-based games.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that one in 45 American children has autism. That figure, in a new report today, is significantly higher than the previous estimate of one in 68. Researchers say a change in the wording of survey questions could be a factor. The cause or causes of autism are still unknown.

    And on Wall Street, stocks slumped again over growing concerns that the holiday shopping season will be disappointing. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 200 points to close at 17245. The Nasdaq fell 77 points, and the S&P 500 dropped 23. For the week, both the Dow and the S&P 500 lost roughly 3.5 percent. The Nasdaq fell more than 4 percent.

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