The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports: “Islamic State” carries out the second- largest massacre since the declaration of its alleged “caliphate” and kills at least 146 civilians in the city of Ayn al- Arab and its countryside.
SOHR could document the death of at least 120 civilians in the last 24 hours in the city of Ayn al- Arab (Kobani), where local, medical and field sources informed SOHR that at least 120 citizens killed by gunshots fired by IS militants who attacked the city yesterday dawn after they could infiltrate to the city wearing uniforms of YPG and allied rebel brigade. The sources reported to SOHR that among the victims there are dozens of elderlies, children and women, where 72 civilians killed in Halnaj area while the rest died in the neighborhood of Maqtala in the city of Ayn al- Arab. About 200 other citizens were wounded too, some of them in critical situation. Information reported more victims killed by IS militants whose 28 of them killed in the clashes so far. Meanwhile, the clashes are still taking place with IS groups besieged by YPG inside the city. This massacre is considered the second- largest massacre committed by IS since the declaration of its alleged “caliphate” after the massacre carried out against al- Shaitat tribe where more than 930 people of the tribe executed by IS in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait on Friday, leaving a bloody toll on three continents and prompting new concerns about the spreading influence of jihadists.
In France, attackers stormed an American-owned industrial chemical plant near Lyon, decapitated one person and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory.
In Tunisia, gunmen opened fire at a beach resort, killing at least 27 people, officials said. At least one of the attackers was killed by security forces.
And the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in one of the largest Shiite mosques in Kuwait City during Friday prayers. The bomb filled the hall with smoke and left dead and wounded scattered on the carpet, according to witnesses and videos posted online. Local news reports said at least 24 people had been killed and wounded in the assault, which was extraordinary for Kuwait and appeared to be a deliberate attempt to incite strife between Shiites and Sunnis.
In a message circulating on social media, the Islamic State called the suicide bomber “one of the knights of the Sunni people.”
There was no immediate indication that the attacks had been coordinated. But the three strikes came at roughly the same time, and just days after the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL, called for such operations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. [Continue reading…]
Lawrence Wright writes: Five American families, each harboring a grave secret, took their seats around a vast dining table at the home of David Bradley, a Washington, D.C., entrepreneur who owns the media company that publishes The Atlantic. It was May 13, 2014, and in the garden beyond the French doors, where magnolias and dogwoods were in bloom, a tent had been erected for an event that Bradley’s wife, Katherine, was hosting the following evening. The Bradleys’ gracious Georgian town house, on Embassy Row, is one of the city’s salons: reporters and politicians cross paths at off-the-record dinners with Supreme Court Justices, software billionaires, and heads of state.
The families weren’t accustomed to great wealth or influence. Indeed, most of them had never been to Washington before. Until recently, they had not known of one another, or of the unexpected benefactor who had brought them together. They were the parents of five Americans who had been kidnapped in Syria. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had warned the families not to talk publicly about their missing children — and the captors had threatened to kill their hostages if word leaked out — so each family had been going to work and to church month after month and reassuring colleagues and neighbors and relatives that nothing was wrong, only to come home and face new threats and ransom demands. After hiding the truth for so long, the families were heartened to learn that others were going through the same ordeal, and they hoped that by working together they might bring their children home. [Continue reading…]
BuzzFeed reports: It was at the beginning of 2013 that Shaam decided he needed to fight in Syria. He was volunteering on the country’s border with Turkey in an aid convoy after finishing his university degree back home in the UK. The Syrian revolution had descended into civil war as a multitude of rebel groups took up arms to fight the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad. “After seeing [the regime] dropping barrel bombs and children crying in the streets,” Shaam tells BuzzFeed News, “I had to do something.”
A few months later, he says, he travelled from the UK to the outskirts of the city of Idlib to fight with a composite of militias at the frontline of what has become one of the most brutal wars in recent history.
But while he initially travelled with the hope of “toppling Assad” and paving the way for what he hoped would be “real freedom for the Syrian people”, little more than a month later he decided to return home, disillusioned with both the prospect of fighting the regime and, in the wake of violent Islamist movements, whether “moderate” opposition forces – such as the one he joined – could really succeed.
But while Shaam believes he’s adjusted back into British society, he says he’s not been able to speak about his experiences in Syria since returning. Furthermore, he’s living in hiding, fearful that the British government could arrest him under the belief that he is a terrorist threat – despite the fact that he fought against Assad’s regime. [Continue reading…]
Institute For The Study Of War reports: The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s affiliate in Libya lost control of its eastern stronghold of Derna after tensions with a local Islamist militia escalated into violent conflict on June 9, 2015. Gunmen from ISIS allegedly assassinated Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB) leader Nasser al-Aker, who was a senior member of the al-Qaeda-associated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
The Mujahedeen Shura Council of Derna (MSC Derna), an umbrella group controlled by ASMB, released a statement declaring jihad on ISIS in Derna soon after the assassination. Clashes erupted across the city. Anti-ISIS forces cleared ISIS from central Derna and captured ISIS’s headquarters on June 13, despite ISIS’s defensive deployment of multiple SVBIEDs [Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices]. ISIS now holds no territory inside the city.
Social media reports from activists within Derna indicate strong local animosity towards ISIS. Derna’s residents organized demonstrations against ISIS on June 11 and 12, and according to unconfirmed rumors may have been armed by ASMB to participate in military operations against ISIS. [Continue reading…]
Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h write: Since the Islamic State first announced its presence in Libya in late 2014, it has expanded to attack cities across much of the country, ranging from Benghazi in the east to Misrata and Tripoli in the west, and even in the southern deserts. At this point, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Libya includes thousands of fighters, possibly 3,000 or even 5,000, with many of them being foreign volunteers from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia.
Even though some observers tend to portray the rise of the Islamic State in Libya as the result of a ruthless and brilliant strategy, its advance appears to be largely opportunistic, occasioned by the fissures, distraction, and incapacity of rival factions. Where the group senses an opening, it moves, tapping into various kinds of disenchantment to divide opponents and attract potential recruits, whether among disillusioned Islamists, aggrieved tribes, or marginalized minor factions.
While it is hard to speak of a coherent strategy of the Islamic State in Libya, one consistent element of its approach has been to weaken other Islamist groups, in order to present itself as the only viable alternative for Islamists in the country. [Continue reading…]
McClatchy reports: The execution of American captives by the Islamic State has driven the U.S. government to overhaul its handling of hostage cases, with President Barack Obama acknowledging Wednesday that longstanding policy was inadequate as “the terrorist threat is evolving.”
In somber remarks at the White House, Obama gave his most extensive public statement of contrition on the issue, acknowledging that his administration had let down the families of American hostages and pledging landmark reforms to make recovery efforts nimble enough to face increasingly sophisticated militant groups that use hostage-taking for profit and propaganda value.
The changes come after intense lobbying by the families and friends of American hostages, three of whom were beheaded in Syria by the Islamic State, including journalists Steven Sotloff, who grew up in Miami, and James Foley, the first of the hostages to be murdered. [Continue reading…]
Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan write: ISIS’s latest snuff video was shot with characteristically high production value and edited to more resemble a Michael Bay summer blockbuster than terrorist agitprop.
Three men in orange jumpsuits are marched into a sedan by two ISIS jihadists dressed in desert digital camouflage. The camera then shoots over the shoulder of another jihadist, this one in a balaclava, as he aims his rocket launcher at the sedan. The RPG tears clean through the steel frame of the car—captured from three different angles—setting the vehicle and its occupants on fire. The screams of the men inside are heard as the car burns.
It’s one of a series of intricately-choreographed mass murders, designed to shock the viewer to attention—and distract from the terror army’s monstrous rule over its self-proclaimed Islamic State. [Continue reading…]
Benjamin Bahney, Patrick B. Johnston, and Patrick Ryan write: In the weeks since the Islamic State captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi, a loud and diverse chorus of voices, including the New York Times editorial board, has called for the Iraqi government and the United States to arm Sunni militias to fight the extremist group’s advance. The administration increased the number of U.S. trainers last week, adding an additional 450 as early as this summer to the 3,100 American troops already in Iraq. Regardless, current political and military dynamics on the ground may merit giving arms to Sunni fighters if the Islamic State can’t be pushed back soon.
But the decision to hand weapons over to the Sunni militias also poses risks. Before directly arming more ethnic- or sectarian-aligned militias, both U.S. policymakers and the public should have a deeper understanding of our potential allies’ past and their possible future interests. And what the unintended consequences of arming these Sunni militias might be.
Newly declassified documents from the Islamic State’s predecessor, captured during a U.S.-Iraqi raid in 2010 and published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, suggest that some of Iraq’s most prominent Sunni politicians collaborated with the Islamic State’s predecessor in 2009, when the group faced its darkest hour. Some of these senior figures may have worked with the Islamic State to benefit themselves, some to benefit the Sunnis, and some to weaken the hand of the Kurds in Iraq’s ethnically mixed areas in the country’s north. While the threat of the Islamic State has moved these dynamics to the back burner today, they will likely reemerge if and when the security environment improves. And now some of these same politicians are lobbying the United States to send money and weapons to the militias from their territories.
While most of the U.S. public hadn’t heard of the Islamic State before its breakout last summer, the group declared an “Islamic State of Iraq” back in 2006 and maintained a presence in the northern city of Mosul through the U.S. military’s withdrawal in 2011. Conventional wisdom says that the Islamic State’s place in Iraq’s sectarian political strife rose out of the disarray that followed the U.S. withdrawal. It was at that moment that Iraq’s Sunnis were left to fend for themselves against the domineering, Shiite-oriented central government. The Islamic State’s resurgence in Iraq in 2013 and 2014 came at a time when the country’s Sunni minority was ripe to accept the group as a bulwark against political marginalization and crackdowns at the hands of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.
In this telling, which has dominated U.S. media and policy circles, Maliki and his Shiite allies in the Iraqi government bear the brunt of the blame for inciting the renewed sectarian tensions that enabled the Islamic State to reemerge and unleash the brutal campaign that has arrested the world’s attention.
The new documents published by the CTC suggest the need to approach this conventional wisdom with caution. They have important implications for understanding Iraq’s sectarian schism and for informing the ongoing policy debate on how to stabilize the war-torn country.
A key document sent to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who preceded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the group’s leader, suggests that the Islamic State established cooperative relationships with key Sunni politicians by 2009 that gave it access to extortion opportunities, kickbacks, and other revenue-generating activities in and around Mosul. Assuming the document is authentic — for the moment, there is no evidence to suggest it is not — these revelations should give pause to those recommending that the Iraqis train and equip local Sunni forces under the auspices of the provincial governments in Nineveh and Anbar. Reporting from Mosul indicates that similar ties between Sunni government officials and the Islamic State likely continued after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, and Maliki’s government began to intensify its repression of Sunni political leaders.
It is impossible to know the specific motivations of these officials — Sunni politicians may simply have been buying themselves protection in an environment where no other party was able or willing to provide it. But what is clear is this: For the Islamic State, these relationships enabled the group to access tens of millions of dollars to finance its operations in 2009 and after, some of which may have been diverted from Western reconstruction aid through political favors and phony contracts. The Islamic State likely used these funds to expand its extortion and intimidation networks in Mosul even prior to the 2011 U.S. withdrawal. This would go far in explaining how it had become so rich, even before it seized over $400 million from Mosul’s bank vaults last June. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Kurdish-led forces said on Monday that they had captured a military base from Islamic State in Syria’s Raqqa province, advancing deeper into territory held by the group and showing new momentum after they seized a border crossing from the jihadists last week.
The Kurds, aided by U.S.-led air strikes and smaller Syrian rebel groups, pushed on Monday to within 7 km (4 miles) of Ain Issa, a town 50 km (30 miles) north of Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa city, said Redur Xelil, a spokesman for the Kurdish forces.
“They have been defeated,” YPG spokesman Redur Xelil told Reuters.
Islamic State had held the military base, Liwa 93, southwest of Ain Issa, since capturing it from the Syrian military last year. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Nearly a year after a devastating war, Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers appear to have formed an unspoken alliance in a common battle against the shared threat of jihadis aligned with the Islamic State group.
While Israel and Hamas remain arch-enemies, both have an interest in preserving an uneasy calm that has prevailed since the fighting ended in a cease-fire last August — a stalemate that is largely the result of a lack of options on either side.
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in last year’s fighting, according to Palestinian officials, and Hamas suffered heavy losses. It is isolated internationally, Gaza’s economy is in tatters and reconstruction efforts have moved slowly. A renewal of hostilities would be devastating for Gaza’s 1.8 million people.
On the Israeli side, 73 people, including 67 soldiers, were killed in last year’s fighting, and the summer-long war disrupted the lives of millions of people as they coped with repeated rocket attacks and air-raid sirens. But Hamas, which seized power in Gaza eight years ago, has survived three wars, and the cost of toppling the group would be extremely high, so Israel appears content to contain Hamas and keep things quiet.
Hamas officials say that efforts are underway, through Qatari mediators, to work out a long-term cease-fire. The deal would call for Israel to ease a stifling blockade on Gaza in exchange for Hamas pledges to disarm, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive negotiations. It is unclear whether any progress has been made in the cease-fire efforts, which include Hamas demands to reopen sea and airports in Gaza. Israeli officials declined comment. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Parading across a desert base, hundreds of Sunni tribesmen who graduated a crash training course stood ready to take on the Islamic State group on behalf of a government that many believed left them to die at the hands of the extremists.
Among them were tribesmen who watched as Iraqi forces abandoned Ramadi a month ago to the Islamic State group. Their suspicions toward the Shiite-led government in Baghdad could be seen as they pushed forward to receive their first government salary in 18 months, with one brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle as he neared the front.
“For a year and a half we told them we need weapons, we need salaries, we need food, we need protection, but our requests were ignored until the disaster of Ramadi happened,” said Sheikh Rafa al-Fahdawi, one of the leaders of the Al Bu Fahad tribe of Anbar province.
But money and weapons alone won’t be enough to repair the mistrust between Baghdad and the Sunni tribes it now needs to battle the Islamic State group, which holds about a third of the country and neighboring Syria in its self-declared “caliphate.” After Iraqi forces abandoned Ramadi and then turned to Shiite militias for help, both sides remain suspicious of each other, threatening any effort to work together. [Continue reading…]
Three sisters, nine children, one dangerous journey to the heart of ISIS. What is the lure of the caliphate?
Hassan Hassan writes: A year after the establishment of the so-called caliphate by Islamic State, western governments are struggling for strategies to challenge sympathy among their citizens towards the militants. Foreigners continue to migrate to the territory in spite of substantial military, security and PR efforts and after Isis’s widely publicised military defeats in recent months.
And last week the process took a sinister new turn: three British sisters from Bradford left their husbands and travelled to Syria, taking with them their nine children, to live under Isis. Seven hundred Britons are now estimated to have made the difficult, dangerous and, to many, incomprehensible journey. Such incidents are hard to anticipate and to deal with and they arguably help Isis to bolster its claims of legitimacy and relevance.
A British official with a senior position in the effort to challenge the appeal of Isis to British Muslims told me that lessons were being drawn from the previous successes of al-Qaida. But this attitude, which is widespread, is one of the biggest mistakes officials and specialists make about the appeal of Isis. To apply knowledge about al-Qaida to understanding Isis is to build on previous failures – not least because al-Qaida still exists, though it is overshadowed by a more successful organisation. But more significantly, Isis bears greater resemblance to populist Islamist movements than to al-Qaida, notwithstanding their ideological proximity. Whereas al-Qaida is elitist and detached from ordinary Muslims, Isis tends to be more vernacular in the way it addresses its audience and their grievances and aspirations. It also appeals to a far wider demographic than those willing to join or publicly support its cause. David Cameron said as much on Friday when he warned of the dangers posed by members of communities and families that “quietly condone” the ideology of Isis.
Since the group’s rise last year, I have talked to dozens of members in Syria and Iraq. What emerges strongly is the expressed belief of many that Isis can be persuasive, liberating and empowering. Some members I interviewed echoed recent statements by British Muslims who joined the group. One of those is Abdelaziz Kuwan, a Bahraini teenager who rose through the Isis ranks to become a security official in charge of three towns in eastern Syria. I spoke to him over many months before he was shot dead in October 2014. In one conversation, he said: “I walk in the streets [of Bahrain] and I feel imprisoned. I feel tied up … This world means nothing to me. I want to be free.” His statement is eerily reminiscent of what Mohammed Emwazi, the Kuwaiti-born British national better known as “Jihadi John”, once wrote in an email: “I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London.” [Continue reading…]
Mustafa Habib writes: Last Saturday was the anniversary of senior Iraqi spiritual leader, Ali al-Sistani’s call to arms. The cleric, who is seen as the leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq and further afield, called upon all Iraqis to take up arms and defend the country against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which had just taken control of the northern city of Mosul.
Since then the locals who did as al-Sistani asked have become the last bulwark against the approach of the Islamic State, or IS, group’s fighters. The volunteer militias are now known locally as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units, and have become both a cause for celebration – as they achieve victories and push the IS group back – and controversy, as they are accused of illegal acts of revenge, looting and generally taking the law into their own hands. The militias are mainly made up of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims and the IS group bases its ideology on a form of Sunni Islam – so the militias’ importance in the fight against the IS group has also become a source of sectarian tension inside the country.
But the tensions do not just exist between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslims. As the Shiite militias become more powerful, tensions are also increasing within the group. They may have a common enemy and share a religious sect but these militias are far from united. Basically the Shiite militias are split along the same lines as opinions in the main Shiite Muslim political parties. And their disagreements are not just military, they are based on present and future economic and political power. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Islamic State fighters are preventing fuel shipments from reaching rebel-held parts of northern Syria, causing severe shortages that are grounding ambulances, paralyzing medical centers and shutting down bakeries, according to antigovernment activists and aid workers.
Adding to the misery, international aid groups said, the forces of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, are targeting medical centers in opposition areas, killing some workers and forcing facilities to shut down.
The fuel shortages highlight how more than four years of war in Syria have ravaged the economy and allowed the warring parties to use the country’s scarce resources as a vise to squeeze their enemies. [Continue reading…]
Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed writes: Saudi Arabia’s aggressive, interventionist foreign policy has so far led it to wage two external wars in addition to an ongoing battle on the domestic front. The government does not appear to be fighting the three campaigns with the same degree of commitment and dedication, but more important, none of its battles is yet to result in victory.
Riyadh’s war against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq — being fought through a commitment to the US-led international coalition challenging the group destabilizing the Levant — has spilled over into the heartland of the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province, prompting the necessity of fighting IS terrorism within its own borders as well as in the Levant. Recent attacks in Saudi Arabia have dismissed any doubt about the limits of IS’ reach. Meanwhile, to the south, the kingdom has been launching airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen under an umbrella of 10 reluctant, mainly Arab states.
King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud has delegated the management of these multiple wars to two key princes. His son Mohammed, deputy crown prince and minister of defense, is in charge of the Yemeni war, and it seems he has also been asked to improve Saudi foreign relations. He recently visited Russia with the goal, according to Saudi sources, of bolstering relations. The multiple tasks handed the prince seem to blur the boundaries between his role in the war on Yemen and that as foreign envoy. This is not unusual in the kingdom, as previous princes in key positions also combined several roles into one, but this multitasking cannot mask the stalemate of the Yemeni war. After several months and one cease-fire, fighting continues unabated, with neither party able to claim victory. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: When the Islamic State fighters burst into the Iraqi village of Eski Mosul, Sheikh Abdullah Ibrahim knew his wife was in trouble.
Buthaina Ibrahim was an outspoken human rights advocate who had once run for the provincial council in Mosul. The IS fighters demanded she apply for a “repentance card.” Under the rule of the extremist group, all former police officers, soldiers and people whose activities are deemed “heretical” must sign the card and carry it with them at all times.
“She said she’d never stoop so low,” her husband said.
Buthaina Ibrahim was an outlier in her defiance of the Islamic State. It would cost her dearly.
The “caliphate,” declared a year ago, demands obedience. Untold numbers have been killed because they were deemed dangerous to the IS, or insufficiently pious; 5-8 million endure a regime that has swiftly turned their world upside down, extending its control into every corner of life to enforce its own radical interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah.
The Islamic State is a place where men douse themselves with cologne to hide the odor of forbidden cigarettes; where taxi drivers or motorists usually play the IS radio station, since music can get a driver 10 lashes; where women must be entirely covered, in black, and in flat-soled shoes; where shops must close during Muslim prayers, and everyone found outdoors must attend.
There is no safe way out. People vanish — their disappearance sometimes explained by an uninformative death certificate, or worse, a video of their beheading. [Continue reading…]
McClatchy reports: Benefiting from Libya’s political chaos, Islamic State militants are consolidating their base in the city of Sirte and grabbing new territory, pushing back fighters from Misrata.
Libya’s two dueling governments, one based in Tripoli and the other based in Beida and Tobruk in the country’s east, are running dangerously low of cash as they back armed groups against each other, allowing the Islamic State to exploit the rift to grab territory.
The Tripoli-based government, known as Libya Dawn, and its rival, the Dignity coalition based in the east, have yet to come together to target the Islamic State’s growth, even as some commanders for Misrata’s militia, long considered the country’s most adept and a mainstay of Libya Dawn, worry that their city has become an Islamic State target.
“Daash are the biggest enemy,” said one Misratan intelligence official, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of his work.
Still, many in the Tripoli-based government view defeating Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who is aligned with the Dignity coalition, as a higher priority.
The Islamic State found fertile ground for development among Sirte’s disaffected, who were on the losing end of the 2011 war that toppled hometown boy Moammar Gadhafi and found their once-favored city devastated by the fighting and the NATO aerial campaign, according to one religious sheikh who fled his house on the outskirts of Sirte after Islamic State devotees moved into the house next door three months ago.
Some unhappy Gadhafi supporters at first had gravitated to Ansar al Shariah, the Islamist militia tied to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
Then about six months ago, foreigners began arriving in Sirte, the sheikh said. [Continue reading…]