Gay World Cup crosses gain line with IRB support

While the rugby is the heart and soul of the tournament for the 30 clubs from 15 countries who have gathered in Sydney this week, the event has been leveraged by organisers to shine a spotlight on the issue of homophobia in sport.

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The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) responded on Friday by becoming the first of the country’s football codes to implement a policy of inclusion and anti-homophobia, while IRB chief executive Brett Gosper sent a letter of support.

“It’s really groundbreaking due to the fact that no other professional international sporting organisation has ever been so open about support for an event related to their LGBT athletes,” Jeff Wilson, the chairman of the International Gay Rugby Association, told Reuters.

“It’s a real, true commitment to inclusion in sport and the elimination of homophobia at all levels of rugby. We hope to see other organisers of sport follow their example.”

While the first match took place in heavy rain on a sodden pitch outside, Australia’s 1991 and 1999 World Cup winning captains Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales addressed the opening news conference inside the Eastern Suburbs Rugby Club.

“We’ve always been proud of rugby because by its very nature, it’s an inclusive sport because it has a place for every size and shape of body,” said Eales.

“We needed to extend that and make sure it had a space for every kind of person. That no matter what their interests or what their background was, rugby was a sport where they could come.”

Wilson said the work done by Bingham Cup president Andrew Purchas, a former team mate of Farr-Jones at the Sydney University club, in raising awareness of homophobia in the lead-up to the tournament had “raised the bar” for organisers.

The American, who would be in action later in the day for London’s Kings Cross Steelers, said getting rid of homophobia would also benefit rugby by preventing talented youngsters from being lost to the sport.

“We don’t want any kid to not play a sport because they don’t feel included because of their orientation,” Wilson added.

“And by eliminating that subconscious bias and the active homophobic bullying that goes on, it makes rugby a better sport.”

CASUAL SLURS

While active homophobic bullying was still a major problem, more casual gay slurs were also preventing young people from becoming involved in team sports, according to Dr. Caroline Symons of Melbourne’s Victoria University.

Symons is helping coordinate an international survey, “Out in the Fields”, on the issue with preliminary results from Australia indicating that 85 percent of gay people had witnessed homophobia in sport.

“The majority of homophobia is not directed at individuals,” she told Reuters.

“Men in team sports that are not performing as well as they are supposed to are said to be ‘playing like a pack of girls, playing like a pack of poofs’.

“It’s sexist and homophobic because the connotation is they’re weak, they’re underperforming, they’re not making the grade. That is still damaging to closeted gay people involved in team sports.”

There was nothing weak about some of the collisions when the defending champion Sydney Convicts took on the Melbourne Chargers in an all-Australian grudge match on Friday morning.

Watching on the sidelines was Alice Hoagland, the mother of the former gay rugby player with the San Francisco Fog for whom the tournament was named, Mark Bingham.

Bingham was killed in September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

He is thought to have been among the handful of passengers who prevented the hijackers from reaching their target.

“The tragedy of September 11 is eased in my mind somewhat by the fact I now have so many sons who are filled with the desire to carry the Bingham Cup forward,” Hoagland told Reuters.

“It’s the icing on the cake that they have come to Sydney, which is a remarkably inclusive city, to show the world what it means when gay men come together to play hard and come away victorious, or not, and are still able to tip a pint at the end of the game.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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Earnings season: all profit, no growth

Profits were up and dividends as well, but analysts say the latest company earnings season should give investors something to worry about.

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CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy said while companies generally reported a respectable lift in earnings, sales and revenue were virtually flat on aggregate.

Companies increased their earnings largely thanks to greater efficiencies and cost cutting, rather than by growing their businesses, he said.

“The hits were taken a year ago with a lot of writedowns and the benefit is now flowing through to the bottom line, but that lack of sales growth overall is concerning,” he said.

He said companies would have a much tougher time in 2014/15 if they didn’t find a way to grow sales.

“It now means growth is absolutely essential for any further profit increases because without that there doesn’t appear to be much more room to make the structural changes that could deliver (growth),” he said.

But there is no sign of where that growth will come from and many of Australia’s biggest company’s were more concerned with keeping shareholders happy through increased dividends than they were in investing for growth.

The problem fits with recent comments from Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens, who bemoaned a lack of “animal spirits” – or risk-taking in non-economic speak – in Australian business.

IG market strategist Evan Lucas said conservatism reigned supreme in company board rooms at the moment.

“At the moment corporates across the country are tightening rather than expanding and on a medium term view that will obviously hurt growth.”

“The question will be what happens in FY16 and FY17 when you need growth to start coming in.”

Telstra was one of the standouts of the month, with its share price climbing more than two per cent in one day after it announced a $1 billion share buy-back to go alongside an increased dividend.

Wesfarmers was another hit, with investor’s applauding a $1.1 billion capital return on top of an increase in its ordinary dividend and a special dividend to boot.

Others to announce special distributions or big dividend increases included insurer Suncorp and oil and gas giant Santos.

And those who did not increase their payout to shareholders were punished, most notably BHP Billiton, which suffered a one-day fall or nearly four per cent despite announcing a bumper $US13.8 billion profit.

Mr Lucas said Australian investors were sticking to the post-GFC mindset of favouring safe, high-dividend paying companies over those with growth potential.

“There is no real suggestion yet that the market is really looking towards growth stocks, they are still looking towards those defensive plays and that could be considered a problem as well,” he said.

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Muslim fashion bloggers: The big players in the growth of Islamic fashion

By Branka Prodanovic

Islamic veiling is a global political issue and the debate tends to move in two different directions: it’s framed as either a matter of the freedom of female self-expression or as emblematic of gender inequality and suppression.

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Its role as a fashion statement is rarely discussed.

The biggest players in the development of Islamic fashion are young Muslim fashion bloggers. These young Muslim women, sharing ideas, styles and trends with one another, have become pseudo-celebrities within the blogging world.

Last year Vogue reported that demands for designer fashion in Middle Eastern and Islamic regions have grown in the last few decades. This boom has given rise to Muslim fashion designers who create clothing especially designed to cater to a market of fashion-loving modest women.

Muslim fashion bloggers

In 2007 a Chicago-based journalist, Miraiam Sobh, developed the first online entertainment site for Muslim women wanting to keep up with Western culture and fashion. The website, better known as HijabTrendz introduced fashion trends to Muslim women living in the United States. Many Muslim women have since followed suit by posting videos on YouTube, providing step-by-step tutorials and how-to guides on different ways to wear hijabs.

As interest grows on YouTube, many of these women create blogs to further enhance a relationship with their “fans” and generate greater content beyond YouTube. Some post “full-body” shots in order to display designer garments that can be worn with hijabs. Others emphasise the need to accessorise with jewellery, bags and shoes including high-heels, sandals and so on.

Two of the most popular bloggers are Dina Toki-o in the UK and YaztheSpaz in the US, both of whom attract around 80,000 hits a day on their blogs and YouTube channels.

These two bloggers upload images of themselves showcasing newly purchased scarves and other garments, including wearing clothing from popular commercial fashion chains such as Forever21, H&M, Zara, ASOS and Boohoo.

Dina Toki-o and YaztheSpaz have also created their own online hijab stores, allowing their readers to buy headscarves designed by the bloggers.

Expression and exposure

Sydney-based blogger Delina Darusman-Gala created the first Muslim fashion blog in Australia, posting images of herself wearing “everyday” hijab styles. Such blogs have encouraged other Muslim women to freely express themselves without political constraints.

Even though these young women may be re-forming representations of Islamic identity, there is an irony that exists here. Posting imagery for the sole purpose of fashion could indicate that these women are exploiting their bodies for materialistic appeal.

Many blog posts focus primarily on styling headscarves to suit tight-fitting jeans, body-wrapping dresses (and skirts) and high-heeled footwear. This suggests that these bloggers are revisiting the precepts of Islamic veiling. In such images the veil serves to entice and intrigue and not necessarily to hide.

The images posted on these blogs portray enjoyment of Muslim femininity. The veil does not act to conceal or obscure conventional markers of female attractiveness as is typical of the modesty of Islam.

Rather, these veils become accessories to a carefully made-up face or curves of the female form. In response, many of these Muslim bloggers have received negative commentary on the way they present themselves to the online world.

Evidently, such opposing opinions do not deter these young women from exposing themselves.

The work that these young women do can be considered as a movement toward finding a better way to accept women who choose to wear headscarves. This is especially true for women who have grown up and lived in Western societies such as Australia, the UK and the US.

Branka Prodanovic is a PhD Candidate in Media at Macquarie University

 

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Composure the key to top four: Port coach

Port Adelaide’s top-four AFL ambitions will be dashed if they lose their cool in Fremantle’s cauldron, Power coach Ken Hinkley says.

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Hinkley believes composure will decide if Port can steal fourth spot from Fremantle in Saturday’s crunch game in Perth.

The fourth-placed Dockers host the Power who sit fifth, with the winner securing a coveted double chance in the finals.

The loser will finish fifth and face a sudden-death path to the premiership – a road never successfully completed in the current finals format.

Hinkley says Port must take calculated risks to sink the Dockers.

“We have got to be prepared to not be too safe with the ball, but you just can’t go silly,” Hinkley told reporters in Adelaide on Friday.

“You have got to have great composure and we talk about that every week – composure is the key ingredient to decision making. And if you can get that, you’re okay.

“Fremantle are incredible at taking that composure away from you.”

The Dockers have summoned key duo Matthew Pavlich and Michael Barlow from injury, dropping Garrick Ibbotson and Matt de Boer.

And Hinkley made one change – recalling novice defender Jarman Impey and omitting fellow backman Cam O’Shea – in what the Power coach said was a gamble.

Impey, 19, will be tasked with minding Fremantle’s potential game-breaking forward Hayden Ballantyne.

The 17-gamer held Ballantyne goalless and to just nine disposals in Port’s three-goal win against the Dockers in round eight.

“Cam O’Shea is incredibly unlucky to go out of the side, to be fair, but Jarman Impey has got to come in and play on their smalls,” Hinkley said.

“It’s a big show of faith in the young fella to say ‘come in and have a go at it’.

“I really do trust Jarman. He will give his absolute best – he’s playing on quality opponents, though, so it still might be pretty hard for him.”

While also wary of the threat posed by Fremantle ruckman Aaron Sandilands, Hinkley was bullish about Port’s chances.

“I’m really confident that our best form can compete against any of the teams in the competition,” he said.

“We understand that playing over in Perth is certainly one of the toughest trips … but it’s one that we have still got enough confidence about going over there.”

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Pimps use social media to lure at-risk teens into prostitution

A 14-year-old girl from Texas writes on a social media site about a fight with her mum.

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A kind woman messages back, asking if everything is OK.

When the girl replies that it’s not, the woman takes her side and tries to befriend her. Later, the teen runs away from home with the woman and a man, who turn out to be a prostitute and her pimp.

For the next month, they sell the girl into prostitution in Texas and five other US states.

It’s an example, police say, of how pimps hiding behind fake identities use social media to lure young girls into the trade.

Police estimate that 100 adolescents are trafficked every year in Dallas, Texas.

Pimps are preying on teens on social networking sites, said Staca Shehan, director of the case analysis division of the Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

She called it one of the biggest changes in that type of crime in five to 10 years.

In the past, the pimps would go to bus stops or malls to recruit troubled teens. Now, that recruitment has gone digital.

Before, pimps had “to sell the dream face-to-face … one girl at a time”, said Dallas police Sergeant Byron Fassett, of the high-risk victim and trafficking unit. “Now the pond to fish out of just got even bigger.”

Despite efforts to warn teens away from posting personal information, they continue to cultivate web-based personas. It’s exactly what social media sites want – the intent is to use personal data for advertising. But it also creates a juvenile catalogue for pimps to browse, Fassett said.

Pimps are businessmen. And human trafficking is big business.

“Traffickers know that if they can successfully recruit some young, at-risk, vulnerable girl, there will be customers that are paying,” said Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organisation.

In Dallas, the illicit market for sex is estimated to be worth about $US99 million ($A107.11 million), according to the Department of Justice.

Often, youngsters who fall prey to sex trafficking simply fell through the cracks.

“It’s very sad because it means no one was looking for them,” Shehan said. “No wonder they were vulnerable to the control of the pimps.”

There is no simple solution.

Pimps use veiled language to advertise sex services online. And once authorities target one site where pimps might be recruiting and selling teenagers, a new site launches, Shehan said.

Now that sex is often sold online and isn’t relegated to a few seedy street corners, people may not realise it’s still a problem.

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Petbarn operator to continue expanding

Petcare specialist Greencross will continue to expand its retail and vet networks as its seeks to boost its market share in the fast growing sector.

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Greencross is targeting a 20 per cent share of the market, up from its current share of 7.5 per cent.

It currently has 156 Petbarn and City Farmers stores across Australia, 26 Animates stores in New Zealand, and 116 vet practices.

In the current financial year it expects to open at least 15 new pet stores, in addition to the 42 City Farmers pet stores it bought in July.

So far this year, Greencross has opened five new stores.

The company also intends to buy more vet practices to generate an additional $15 million to $20 million in annual revenue.

Greencross has bought five vet practices so far in 2014/15, generating $4.1 million in annualised revenue.

Greencross made a net loss of $128 million in the year to June 30, down from a $7.8 million profit in the prior year, due to a $130 million impairment charge on goodwill arising from its merger with the owner of Petbarn and Animates.

Pro forma net profit, which excludes the goodwill writedown, rose 45 per cent to $21.6 million.

The company said it is finalising the terms of a customer loyalty program covering its vet services and all of its retailers.

Shares in Greencross have been halted from trade ahead of an announcement of a sale of 16.6 per cent of Greencross shares to institutional investors by investment firm TPG Star.

They last traded at $10.00.

GREENCROSS’ RAPID EXPANSION SINCE JUNE 2013

* From 93 vet clinics to 298 clinics and pet stores

* From a market value of $174m to $1.1b

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Cup signals start of new era for Boomers

A new era beckons for Australian basketball and the Boomers are confident they can usher it in without their two leading lights at the World Cup in Spain.

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A new-found depth in the nation’s ranks means even the absence of NBA stars Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut has failed to dent Australia’s optimism heading into their tournament opener against Slovenia in Gran Canaria on Saturday (Sunday morning AEST).

And a squad blending the exciting youth of NBA draft picks Dante Exum and Cameron Bairstow with the experience of Joe Ingles and Aron Baynes has made no secret of its ambitious goal – an historic first World Cup medal.

“That’s the goal and we’re confident we can do that,” said Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova, one of five NBA players in the squad.

“We’ve learned a lot from all our lead-up games and set a really good rhythm. We’re ready to go.”

Despite the unavailability of Mills and Bogut due to injury, coach Andrej Lemanis believes squad depth will be a strength of Australia’s campaign.

A notable feature of Australia’s thorough preparations, winning six of nine warm-up matches in Europe, was a collective contribution from the whole squad rather than one or two standout performers.

That, Lemanis says, will stand Australia in great stead for a gruelling group stage schedule of five games in six days.

“We certainly believe we do have good depth and that’s how we like to play anyway,” Lemanis said.

“We like to rotate a lot of bodies, get people in and keep them fresh on the court.

“Five games in six days is pretty taxing but we feel comfortable that we’re in a position to deal with it.”

The Boomers are in a winnable group also featuring Lithuania, Mexico, South Korea and Angola with the top four teams reaching the round of 16.

The Slovenians, spearheaded by NBA star Goran Dragic, and Lithuania loom as the toughest challenges but Lemanis warns there will be no easy games.

“I saw Korea play New Zealand live and I thought they were outstanding,” Lemanis said.

“I’m a typical coach, I worry about everybody.”

Much of the focus will be on 19-year-old rising star Exum, who was selected by Utah Jazz as fifth pick in this year’s NBA draft.

He was used sparingly in warm-up games and is expected to play mainly as an impact player off the bench, with Turkey-based Ryan Broekhoff having locked down a starting spot with an impressive run of form in recent games.

Exum said he was not concerned about living up to the hype.

Exum is joined on the bench by the likes of fellow Utah recruit Brock Motum, former NBL star Nathan Jawai and veterans David Andersen and Brad Newley.

Regardless of Australia’s performance in Spain, the team is only expected to get stronger heading towards Rio 2016 with exciting prospects Ben Simmons and Thon Maker considered unlucky to miss selection this time.

Despite missing its biggest NBA superstars, the USA are favourites to claim back-to-back titles, with hosts Spain rated a close second.

2014 FIBA WORLD CUP

Spain, August 30-September 14

Groups (Location of preliminary round matches)

Group A (Granada): Spain, Serbia, France, Brazil, Egypt, Iran

Group B (Seville): Philippines, Senegal, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Greece, Croatia

Group C (Barakaldo): Dominican Republic, Turkey, United States, Finland, New Zealand, Ukraine

Group D (Gran Canaria): Slovenia, Lithuania, Angola, South Korea, Mexico, Australia

Australian squad

David Andersen (Strasbourg), Cameron Bairstow (Chicago Bulls), Aron Baynes (San Antonio Spurs), Ryan Broekhoff (Besiktas), Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers), Dante Exum (Utah Jazz), Adam Gibson (Adelaide 36ers), Chris Goulding (CAI Zaragoza), Joe Ingles (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), Nathan Jawai (Galatasaray), Brock Motum (Bologna), Brad Newley (Gran Canaria).

2010 World Cup finish: 10th

Best World Cup finish: 5th (1982, 1994)

Odds: To win tournament $151, to win group $3

Overall odds: USA $1.60, Spain $2.50, Serbia $34, Brazil $34, Greece $34.

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30 years jail for Qld double murderer

A Queensland mechanic will spend at least 30 years behind bars for the execution-style killing of two customers over a financial dispute involving a panel van.

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Jurors took about two hours to find Brandon MacGowan, 43, guilty of murdering Mount Isa couple Scott Maitland and Cindy Masonwells in Cairns in July 2012.

Friends and family of the couple applauded when he was handed two life sentences in the Supreme Court in Cairns on Friday.

“Your calculated, callous execution of Mr Maitland and Ms Masonwells, essentially to eliminate the financial problem they presented to you, involves such a high level of culpability,” Justice Jim Henry said during sentencing.

The court heard MacGowan killed the couple, who were in their 30s, because of a long-standing dispute over $14,000 worth of restoration work he had agreed to do on Ms Masonwells’ 1970s panel van.

He collected the couple from the Cairns airport on July 5, 2012, before shooting Mr Maitland in the back of the head and fatally stabbing Ms Masonwells in the back.

Their bodies were dumped in scrub near Cairns.

MacGowan denied the murders, telling the court the last time he saw the couple was when they left his Cairns workshop in a white van on the night they were killed.

Justice Henry said MacGowan was under mounting pressure because he had spent the couple’s money while telling them he had carried out the work on their van even though he had not.

He said MacGowan had been caught out by his lies and the “plethora” of circumstantial evidence against him.

Crown witnesses included two men who recalled seeing a screaming woman fall out of a parked van MacGowan was driving on the night of July 5, 2012.

CCTV showed MacGowan collecting the pair from the airport in a white van, which was later found splattered with the couple’s blood.

A friend of MacGowan testified that MacGowan turned up at his apartment in the early hours of July 6, 2012, covered in blood.

MacGowan’s claim that a third party killed the couple was “utterly fanciful” and it was unbelievable the accused tried to say Mr Maitland was somehow involved, the judge said.

Mr Maitland and Ms Masonwells married in 2009 and moved to Mount Isa from Cairns the following year to work at the mines.

In her victim impact statement, Mr Maitland’s mother, Marjorie, said: “When we finally got the news Cindy and Scott were dead, we thought our lives had hit a brick wall.

“It was so overwhelming we couldn’t absorb the magnitude of the evil, violent crime.”

She also spoke of the heartache of having to watch her grandchild, Scott Maitland’s child from a previous relationship, grow up without a father.

Ms Masonwells’ stepfather and mother, Terence and Sharon Dexter, said in their statement to the court that her death would haunt them until they died.

MacGowan was sentenced to two life sentences with a non-parole period of 30 years.

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Virgin sells loyalty slice as loss widens

Virgin Australia has sold off more than a third of its $960 million loyalty program as its looks to overcome another massive annual loss.

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The airline will also look to cut costs by $1 billion over the next three years, after falling to an annual net loss of $355.6 million – more than a three-fold increase on the previous year’s loss.

Chief executive John Borghetti said the sale of a 35 per cent stake in its frequent flyer program to private equity firm Affinity Equity Partners was expected to improve the airline’s cash balance by $336 million.

The deal values the Velocity program at $960m, and leaves Virgin Australia with a majority stake, and majority representation on a new board which will manage the scheme.

“This is an incredibly exciting growth opportunity for us,” Mr Borghetti said, adding that the airline had plans to grow membership over the next three years to “way more” than seven million.

The sale of part of the Velocity scheme is in stark contrast to the strategy at rival Qantas, which also made a massive loss but decided to hold on to its $2.5 billion frequent flyer program, which has in excess of 10 million members.

And unlike Qantas chief Alan Joyce, who said his airline was on track to return to profit in 2015, Mr Borghetti refused to offer any guidance on Virgin’s future profitability, due to the “economic environment” and because “aviation can be impacted by anything”.

“The Virgin Australia Group will continue to be the protagonist in the Australian aviation market,” he said.

“We will continue to set world class standards in customer experience and we are committed to delivering our strategy of sustainable profitability.

“It would be very brave of me to come up and say, `well, this is what I think we can do’. We’ve got a plan obviously, and we’re confident we’ll get it.”

The past year had been the most difficult operating environment in the history of Australian aviation, Mr Borghetti said.

Virgin blamed its poor result on the capacity war with rival Qantas, weak consumer sentiment, continued economic uncertainty and the $51.6 million cost of the carbon tax.

Its loss included asset impairments of $56.9 million and restructuring costs of $117.3 million.

Excluding those items, Virgin’s underlying loss before tax of $211.7 million was down from $93.8 million in the prior year.

The airline’s cost saving program will focus on making more efficient use of fuel and its fleet, integrating New Zealand into its international business and cutting its long-haul overseas bases to two.

In positive news for the airline, its share of corporate and government markets for passengers had increased to more than 25 per cent, and Mr Borghetti said he was targeting 30 per cent by June 2017.

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA DIVES DEEPER INTO THE RED

* Full year net loss of $355.6m, greater than $98.1m loss in 2012/13

* Revenue of $4.29b, up 7.1 pct from $3.99b

* No dividend, unchanged

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Jihadists behead Iraq Kurdish fighter

The jihadist Islamic State group has posted video of the execution of a captured Kurdish fighter in a warning to Iraqi Kurdish leaders to end military cooperation with Washington.

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The United States has carried out a wave of air strikes against the jihadists in northern Iraq, helping Kurdish forces to claw back ground lost to the militants earlier this month.

The video, titled “A message in blood to the leaders of the American-Kurdish alliance,” opens with 15 men in orange jumpsuits standing around the IS flag.

Three of the men ask Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani “and the Kurdish government to end their relationship with the US … military intervention in northern Iraq,” the SITE Intelligence Group monitoring service said on Friday.

“Any mistake or recklessness from you will lead to the (loss) of our life,” SITE quoted one of the men as saying.

The video then cuts to three masked men dressed in black standing in front of a mosque with another man wearing an orange jumpsuit kneeling in front of them.

They then behead him.

The video follows another released by IS showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley and threatening another kidnapped reporter Steven Sotloff with the same fate if US air strikes are not halted.

It also comes hot on the heels of video of scores of bodies that IS boasted were those of Syrian soldiers they had captured and executed following their seizure of a northern key air base last weekend.

The jihadists control a vast swathe of territory straddling Iraq and Syria where their abuses have sparked an international outcry.

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