Four years after the U.S. assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike, his influence on jihadists is greater than ever

The New York Times reports: Type ‘‘Anwar al-Awlaki’’ into YouTube’s search bar, and you get 40,000 hits. Most of them bring up the earnest, smiling face and placid voice of the first American citizen to be hunted and killed without trial by his own government since the Civil War. Here is Awlaki on what makes a good marriage; on the nature of paradise; on Jesus Christ, considered a prophet by Muslims; on tolerance; on the holy month of Ramadan; and, more quirkily, on ‘‘obesity and overeating in Islam.’’ Here is Awlaki, or Sheikh Anwar, as his many admirers still call him, easily mixing Quranic Arabic with American English in chapters from his 53-CD series on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, once a best seller among English-speaking Muslims.

But in the same queue of videos is material of an altogether different nature. You will find Awlaki explaining why you should never trust a non-Muslim; how the United States is at war with Islam; why Nidal Hasan, who fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood, and Umar Farouk Abulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit, were heroes. There is, finally, his culminating ‘‘Call to Jihad,’’ recorded in 2010 when he was already on President Obama’s kill list and on the run in Yemen’s tribal badlands. In it, with the confidence and poise of a YouTube handyman explaining how to caulk a window, he details just why, exactly, it is every Muslim’s religious duty to kill Americans.

This is the digital legacy of Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. Addressing a V.F.W. convention in Pittsburgh last month, President Obama championed the counterterrorism record of his administration. ‘‘I’ve shown,’’ he said, ‘‘I will not hesitate to use force to protect our nation, including from the threat of terrorism.’’ He listed some of the terrorists killed on his watch. ‘‘Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen — gone,’’ Obama said to applause.

The government has a portentous euphemism — ‘‘removed from the battlefield’’ — for the targeted killing of terrorists. But Awlaki has by no means been removed from the most important battlefield in any ideological conflict, the battlefield of ideas. Five days before the president spoke, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a troubled 24-year-old electrical engineer, opened fire at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., killing four Marines and a sailor. F.B.I. investigators who examined his computer discovered that he had been watching Awlaki videos in the weeks before the shootings.

They could not have been surprised. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS employs Hollywood style to bring back the gold standard

It’s easy enough to mock the grandiosity of ISIS propaganda, but it should be just as easy to see how its slick video productions appeal to its targeted audience.

In its latest release, ISIS introduces its newly minted currency: the gold dinar (and explains why coins with a fixed value are useful because it’s impractical to pay for a house with dates). And, as though to signify its successful penetration across America’s borders, the message is delivered in an American accent.

At the same time as it appeals to dreams of a caliphate — dreams that increasingly take tangible forms — ISIS also taps into currents of dissent which resonate in many quarters across the globe, such as anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, laced with anti-Semitism.

As much as ISIS is commonly condemned for its medieval barbarism, what receives less attention than it deserves is the degree to which the group in its propaganda is engaged in forms of populism that have social and political traction in the West far outside jihadist circles.

Within a few hours, the video had been removed from YouTube, but it can still be viewed here.

Bloomberg reports: Islamic State first announced its intention to issue its own money in November, five months after it seized the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced a caliphate. The move was seen by analysts as part of the group’s efforts to build the institutions of a functioning state.

The jihadists have amassed a war chest of millions of dollars, partly through collecting taxes, and by seizing oil refineries. Bank and jewelry store robberies, extortion, smuggling and kidnapping for ransom are other important sources of revenue for the group, which metes out brutal punishment to anyone who opposes its rule, including beheadings and crucifixions.

Baghdad-based economist Basim Jameel said the announcement is an attempt to boost the morale of Islamic State fighters, who have suffered battlefield setbacks in recent months, including the loss of Tikrit in March.
Minting the coins is relatively easy, Jameel said, as goldsmiths in Mosul imported machines from Italy in recent years, each one able to produce about 5,000 coins a day. The metals probably come from banks the group seized, ransoms, the homes of Christians and other minorities who fled, he said. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey carries out first air strikes as part of anti-ISIS US coalition

The Associated Press reports: Turkish fighter jets have carried out their first air strikes as part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria. A Turkish foreign ministry statement said that late on Friday the jets began attacking Isis targets across the border in Syria that were deemed to be threats to Turkey.

After months of hesitation, Turkey agreed last month to take a more active role in the fight against Isis. Turkish jets used smart bombs to attack Isis positions in Syria without crossing into Syrian airspace, and later Turkey granted US jets access to an airbase close to the Syrian border. [Continue reading…]

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Iraqi Shia militia ‘Rambo’ mocks strength of ISIS

Middle East Eye reports: A video circulating on social media purportedly shows a renowned Iraqi Shia militiaman standing next to a charred body. The body is hung upside as the militiaman raises his sword and cuts a slice from the corpse of the unidentified dead man. The video has sparked wide debate in Iraq.

The militiaman – who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Azrael (or father of the Angel of Death) but whose real name is Ayoub Faleh Hassan al-Rubaie – claimed in the video that the body belonged to a dead fighter sent by the Islamic State group (IS) to the city of Baiji.

“Those [fighters] were sent by the supposed elites of IS [who boast of their strength] but end up like shawarma,” Abu Azrael said as he cut part of the dead man’s leg.

The video, which could not be independently verified, was shared by fans and critics of Abu Azrael alike.

Towards the end of the video, members of the anti-IS Shia militia – known as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) – chanted “Where will you run to? [We will chase you until you are ground and become nothing] but flour.”

The chant, which Abu Azrael said in a separate video that it is derived from Shia religious heritage, has come to serve as a signature battle cry of the PMU against IS.

Abu Azrael has become well-known after he was portrayed by his supporters as a Rambo-like figure in the fight against IS. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. citizen, once held in Egypt’s crackdown, becomes voice for inmates

The New York Times reports: Mohamed Soltan knew he had one thing going for him when the Egyptian police came to his door: He was a United States citizen, raised primarily in Ohio.

It did not mean much in the moment. The police had come looking for his father, Salah Soltan, an outspoken member of the Muslim Brotherhood. But when they found only Mohamed Soltan and three friends, the police arrested them instead, along with tens of thousands of others thought to be Islamists or liberal dissidents who were rounded up after the military takeover here two years ago.

But his American citizenship helped embolden Mr. Soltan, then 25, to carry out a hunger strike for 16 of his 21 months in prison, shedding more than 160 of the original 272 pounds on his 5-foot-11-inch frame and risking organ failure in the belief that the United States government might come to his aid. [Continue reading…]

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Dark day for press freedom

Al Jazeera reports: Following today’s retrial verdict in Cairo, Al Jazeera Media Network’s Acting Director General Dr Mostefa Souag said: “Today’s verdict defies logic and common sense.

Our colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy will now have to return to prison, and Peter Greste is sentenced in absentia.”

The whole case has been heavily politicised and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner. There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organisations and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

Al Jazeera also reports: Egypt’s foreign ministry has summoned the British ambassador over comments he made on a court’s decision to hand down prison sentences for three Al Jazeera journalists, state television has reported.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, a spokesperson for the ministry, on Sunday tweeted that the ministry objected to John Casson’s comments, calling them “unacceptable intrusion” in the country’s judiciary. [Continue reading…]

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The pope and the planet

Bill McKibben writes: On a sprawling, multicultural, fractious planet, no person can be heard by everyone. But Pope Francis comes closer than anyone else. He heads the world’s largest religious denomination and so has 1.2 billion people in his flock, but even (maybe especially) outside the precincts of Catholicism his talent for the telling gesture has earned him the respect and affection of huge numbers of people. From his seat in Rome he addresses the developed world, much of which descended from the Christendom he represents; but from his Argentine roots he speaks to the developing world, and with firsthand knowledge of the poverty that is the fate of most on our planet.

So no one could have considered more usefully the first truly planetary question we’ve ever faced: the rapid heating of the earth from the consumption of fossil fuels. Scientists have done a remarkable job of getting the climate message out, reaching a workable consensus on the problem in relatively short order. But national political leaders, beholden to the fossil fuel industry, have been timid at best—Barack Obama, for instance, barely mentioned the question during the 2012 election campaign. Since Francis first announced plans for an encyclical on climate change, many have eagerly awaited his words.

And on those narrow grounds, Laudato Si’ does not disappoint. It does indeed accomplish all the things that the extensive news coverage highlighted: insist that climate change is the fault of man; call for rapid conversion of our economies from coal, oil, and gas to renewable energy; and remind us that the first victims of the environmental crisis are the poor. (It also does Americans the service of putting climate-denier politicians—a fairly rare species in the rest of the world—in a difficult place. Jeb Bush, for example, was reduced to saying that in the case of climate the pope should butt out, leaving the issue to politicians. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people,” he said, in words that may come back to haunt him.) [Continue reading…]

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Oliver Sacks, casting light on the interconnectedness of life

Michiko Kakutani writes: It’s no coincidence that so many of the qualities that made Oliver Sacks such a brilliant writer are the same qualities that made him an ideal doctor: keen powers of observation and a devotion to detail, deep reservoirs of sympathy, and an intuitive understanding of the fathomless mysteries of the human brain and the intricate connections between the body and the mind.

Dr. Sacks, who died on Sunday at 82, was a polymath and an ardent humanist, and whether he was writing about his patients, or his love of chemistry or the power of music, he leapfrogged among disciplines, shedding light on the strange and wonderful interconnectedness of life — the connections between science and art, physiology and psychology, the beauty and economy of the natural world and the magic of the human imagination.

In his writings, as he once said of his mentor, the great Soviet neuropsychologist and author A. R. Luria, “science became poetry.” [Continue reading…]

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Hawaii’s governor dumps oil and gas in favor of 100 percent renewables

Juan Cole reports: At the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summit held in Honolulu, Hawaii, this week, Governor David Ige dropped a bombshell. His administration will not use natural gas to replace the state’s petroleum-fueled electricity plants, but will make a full-court press toward 100 percent renewables by 2045. Ige’s decisive and ambitious energy vision is making Hawaii into the world’s most important laboratory for humankind’s fight against climate change. He has, in addition, attracted an unlikely and enthusiastic partner in his embrace of green energy—the US military.

Ige said Monday that LNG (liquefied natural gas) will not save the state money over time, given the plummeting prices of renewables. Moreover, “it is a fossil fuel,” i.e., it emits dangerous greenhouse gases. He explained that local jurisdictions in Hawaii are putting up a fight against natural gas, making permitting difficult. Finally, any money put into retooling electric plants so as to run on gas, he said, is money that would better be invested in the transition to green energy.

Ige, trained as an electrical engineer, is leading his state in the most ambitious clean-energy program in the United States. On June 8, he signed into law a bill calling for Hawaii’s electricity to be entirely generated from renewables in only 30 years. He also directed that the University of Hawaii be net carbon zero in just 20 years. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Le Boeuf Brothers — ‘Code Word’

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Germany’s embrace of Syrian refugees exposes how little other countries have done

Joyce Karam writes: They’re calling her “Mama Merkel,” sending her love messages on twitter and showing gratitude unseen recently for a Syrian or Arab leader. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is being celebrated by many Syrians this week, for defying EU rules and showing compassion to a refugee population that’s been let down all too often in the last four years.

With more than four million refugees since 2011 and with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon reaching full capacity in hosting those fleeing the Syrian war, the international community is dragging its feet in the face of the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Discrimination, hate crimes, and sheer catastrophes in the Mediterranean are encountering Syrians escaping on foot or by water to European shores. Barbed wires, and refugee-profiling awaits across the continent while some countries like Poland and Slovakia have made no secret that they would only take Syrian Christian refugees.

Merkel might not be the most charismatic leader or orator on the global stage, but this week, Germany’s Chancellor has shown both the audacity and the empathy in addressing the Syrian refugee problem. On Tuesday, Berlin announced its intention to welcome all Syrian asylum seekers to stay in the country, disregarding Europe’s Dublin protocol and enraging the far right groups in the process.

Merkel called for restoring European values in tackling the humanitarian problem, for “sharing the burden” dismissing the far right attacks as “disgusting, how right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis are trying to preach dull hate messages.” Merkel also vowed ”there will be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people.” [Continue reading…]

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Turkish intelligence said to have orchestrated kidnapping of U.S.-trained Syrians rebels

McClatchy reports: The kidnapping of a group of U.S.-trained moderate Syrians moments after they entered Syria last month to confront the Islamic State was orchestrated by Turkish intelligence, multiple rebel sources have told McClatchy.

The rebels say that the tipoff to al Qaida’s Nusra Front enabled Nusra to snatch many of the 54 graduates of the $500 million program on July 29 as soon as they entered Syria, dealing a humiliating blow to the Obama administration’s plans for confronting the Islamic State.

Rebels familiar with the events said they believe the arrival plans were leaked because Turkish officials were worried that while the group’s intended target was the Islamic State, the U.S.-trained Syrians would form a vanguard for attacking Islamist fighters that Turkey is close to, including Nusra and another major Islamist force, Ahrar al Sham. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS taking control of proposed ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria

Reuters reports: Islamic State has seized new territory from Syrian rebels in northern Syria, advancing in an area where Turkey and the United States are planning to open a new front against the group in coordination with insurgents on the ground.

The ultra-radical IS and a monitoring agency said the group had seized several villages as it stepped up an offensive in northern Aleppo province, in a blow to rebels who are likely partners for Ankara and Washington in any ground campaign.

Intense attacks began overnight and on Thursday morning IS fighters had mostly encircled the rebel-held town of Marea, some 20 km (12 miles) from the Turkish border, a rebel leader fighting against the group in the area said. [Continue reading…]

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Inside the financial structure of ISIS

Mohammed Alkhereiji writes: Described by counterter­rorism experts as the most organised and af­fluent terrorist organi­sation in history, the Islamic State (ISIS) has managed to build a murderous empire through both criminal enterprise and im­plementing traditional Islamic eco­nomic concepts and systems.

US intelligence agencies conclud­ed in June that ISIS is no weaker than it was a year before, despite months of a US-led bombing cam­paign in Iraq and northern Syria where the group controls large ar­eas.

So how has ISIS managed to not only stay financially afloat but, in some cases, actually thrive in its moneymaking endeavours? A re­cent report by Dubai-based security firm Five Dimensions Consultants revealed an elaborate, yet Islami­cally traditional, financial structure used by ISIS to fund activities and recruitment efforts.

For external financing, ISIS uses traditional methods of Islamic fun­draising, such as Sadaqah, which means “voluntary charity”. A glob­al network of dedicated fundraisers receives donations from ISIS sym­pathisers, including from mosques.

According to Five Dimensions, the contributions are collected un­der the guise of raising funds for necessities such as the upkeep of mosques. This method “is one of the most effective ways for jihad sympathisers to get hold of unac­countable and untraceable cash”, the consultancy said. [Continue reading…]

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Refugee crisis: 200 drown off Libya, over 70 suffocate en route to Austria

The Washington Post reports: The death toll from Europe’s refugee crisis surged higher Friday after Austrian authorities raised the count of bodies found in an abandoned truck to more than 70, even as corpses were being plucked from the sea off the coast of Libya after a boat sank, killing as many as 200.

After an extraordinarily deadly 24-hour period, two crime scenes, more than 2,000 miles apart, were unfolding Friday. Austrian officials announced that three suspects were taken into custody in Hungary in connection with the decomposing bodies found in the back of a truck parked on the side of the main highway between Vienna and Budapest on Thursday.

Those arrested included an unnamed Bulgarian national believed to be the truck’s owner. Another Bulgarian citizen and a third man with a Hungarian identity card were also taken into custody. Initially, seven suspects had been detained for questioning, but all but three were released, said Hans-Peter Doskozil, the police chief in the eastern Austrian province of Burgenland. Austria, he said, was working with Hungary to seek their extradition. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian refugees being sent by force back to Syria

Nina Strochlic writes: Ahmad is invisible. He uses a fake name, rarely ventures outside, and moves his family between apartments in Jordan’s capital of Amman frequently, sometimes at a moment’s notice if he thinks his cover has been blown.

Ahmad is a refugee twice over. His family fled land that now belongs to Israel for refuge in Syria, where he grew up. Now, he’s hiding from his foster country’s civil war in Jordan. Meanwhile, residents of his former neighborhood in Damascus who couldn’t escape survive by eating grass.

Ahmad is one of the estimated 70,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria living undercover in Syria’s neighboring countries, all but one of which explicitly turn away Palestinians at the border. In Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, hundreds of people like Ahmad have been caught and deported back into Syria.

A mutual acquaintance took me to meet Ahmad on a Friday. The narrow streets of his neighborhood in eastern Amman were empty — I later learned our visit had been timed to coincide with Friday’s prayers, when a foreign visitor attracts less notice. We parked down the block and walked to his apartment, which was completely obscured behind a tall gate.

Tracking down this hidden demographic feels like making contact with a sleeper cell: phone calls come in from unknown numbers; fake names are used; middle men choose anonymous meeting spots. These people have everything to lose if they’re discovered, so they remain undercover, trusting their existence to only a few outsiders.

Palestinians refugees from Syria — known as PRS — are the shadow refugees of a four-year crisis with no end in sight. They are flat-out barred from entering any of Syria’s neighbors other than Turkey. If they do find a way in, they’re rejected by humanitarian organizations, banned from refugee camps, and face deportation back into Syria’s nightmare. [Continue reading…]

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83% of Syria is outside the control of the government

IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review reports: Territory fully controlled by President Assad’s forces has shrunk by 18% between 1 January and 10 August 2015 to 29,797 km2, roughly a sixth of the country, according to the latest data insights produced by IHS Conflict Monitor.

In a recently televised speech, President Assad admitted it was necessary to focus on holding certain areas of greater strategic importance, while sacrificing others. The key areas which Assad cannot afford to lose include the capital Damascus, the Alawite coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous, and the city of Homs as the vital connection between them. These are likely to be defended, even at the expense of losing other major cities like Aleppo or Dar’a.

Assad also stated that manpower shortages were the greatest challenge to the government’s war effort. The Syrian Army is believed to have lost around 50% of its pre-war strength of 300,000. Many of the remaining soldiers are very young Alawite conscripts, sent to the front lines with minimal training and low morale. [Continue reading…]

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Mass migration: What is driving the Balkan exodus?

Der Spiegel reports: When Visar Krasniqi reached Berlin and saw the famous image on Bernauer Strasse — the one of the soldier jumping over barbed wire into the West — he knew he had arrived. He had entered a different world, one that he wanted to become a part of. What he didn’t yet know was that his dream would come to an end 11 months later, on Oct. 5, 2015. By then, he has to leave, as stipulated in the temporary residence permit he received.

Krasniqi is not a war refugee, nor was he persecuted back home. In fact, he has nothing to fear in his native Kosovo. He says that he ran away from something he considers to be even worse than rockets and Kalashnikovs: hopelessness. Before he left, he promised his sick mother in Pristina that he would become an architect, and he promised his fiancée that they would have a good life together. “I’m a nobody where I come from, but I want to be somebody.”
But it is difficult to be somebody in Kosovo, unless you have influence or are part of the mafia, which is often the same thing. Taken together, the wealth of all parliamentarians in Kosovo is such that each of them could be a millionaire. But Krasniqi works seven days a week as a bartender, and earns just €200 ($220) a month.

But a lack of prospects is not a recognized reason for asylum, which is why Krasniqi’s application was initially denied. The 30,000 Kosovars who have applied for asylum in Germany since the beginning of the year are in similar positions. And the Kosovars are not the only ones. This year, the country has seen the arrival of 5,514 Macedonians, 11,642 Serbians, 29,353 Albanians and 2,425 Montenegrins. Of the 196,000 people who had filed an initial application for asylum in Germany by the end of July, 42 percent are from the former Yugoslavia, a region now known as the Western Balkans.

The exodus shows the wounds of the Balkan wars have not yet healed. [Continue reading…]

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