Kurds intent on carving new state out of Iraq after ISIS fight

Fox News reports: Kurdish fighters and leaders are intent on carving an independent state out of Northern Iraq after they wrest back vital territory from the Islamic State “whether the U.S. likes it or not,” according to American and international security forces on the ground.

Kurdish forces, whose commanders say they aren’t getting enough help from the U.S. and other allies, have been making headway against ISIS. But while re-taking Mosul from ISIS was seen as a key achievement by the U.S., the new focus is squarely on holding Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city claimed by many to be the cultural Kurdish capital.

“They are pushing hard in Kirkuk to hold Kirkuk and keep ISIS out and once that is done, they will move forward with plans for their country,” one operator on the ground with direct connections to Kurdish leaders told Fox News. Another source, who is directly advising Kurdish leaders, said “they have only one goal, whether the U.S. likes it or not.” [Continue reading…]

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ISIS militants destroy 2,000-year-old statue of lion at Palmyra

AFP reports: Islamic State jihadis have destroyed a 2,000-year-old statue of a lion outside the museum in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the country’s antiquities director has said.

Maamoun Abdelkarim said the statue, known as the Lion of al-Lat, was an irreplaceable piece. “IS members on Saturday destroyed the Lion of al-Lat, which is a unique piece that is three metres [10ft] tall and weighs 15 tonnes,” Abdelkarim told AFP. “It’s the most serious crime they have committed against Palmyra’s heritage.”

The limestone statue was discovered in 1977 by a Polish archaeological mission at the temple of al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess, and dated back to the 1st century BC.

Abdelkarim said the statue had been covered with a metal plate and sandbags to protect it from fighting, “but we never imagined that IS would come to the town to destroy it.” [Continue reading…]

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These two maps show ISIS’s big losses in Syria

Vox reports: ISIS is seeing some significant setbacks in Syria. Its de facto capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa, is under serious threat from Kurdish (YPG) troops. ISIS “is barely surviving in Syria,” Yasir Abbas, an associate at the private research and consulting firm Caerus Associates, told me last week. “It is struggling to halt YPG advances and is out of low-hanging fruit [to seize].”

ISIS has recently lost some critical territory in northern Syria. To see how quickly that’s happened, first look at this map of the battle-lines in Syria, from the always-excellent Institute for the Study of War, in late May. [Continue reading…]

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Britain hints it may join U.S. campaign against ISIS in Syria

The New York Times reports: Jolted by the deaths of 30 British tourists in Tunisia at the hands of a gunman professing allegiance to the Islamic State, Prime Minister David Cameron is considering joining the United States in bombing the group’s forces in Syria.

Mr. Cameron’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, briefing reporters on Thursday, said that the prime minister wanted members of Parliament to “be thinking about” authorizing Britain to do “more in Syria.”

Ms. Bower said Mr. Cameron thought that “there has been and continues to be a case for doing more in Syria” against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Britain is already conducting bombing runs against the group in Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. runs hundreds of counter-terrorism investigations: DOJ official

Reuters reports: U.S. authorities are pursuing hundreds of active counter-terrorism investigations embracing all 50 American states, a senior U.S. Justice Department official said on Wednesday.

John Carlin, Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the department’s National Security Division, speaking to journalists in London, said in the last two weeks alone, federal authorities had made 10 counter-terrorism related arrests.

A second U.S. official indicated that investigators believed some of these cases involved potentially active attack plots, though he provided no details.

The Islamic State “wants individuals to conduct an attack in the United States and they are doing everything they can to try to advance that goal,” said Carlin, whose visit to Britain included consultations with British security officials.

Over the last six months, Carlin said, U.S. investigators had noticed a change in tactics by the Syria-based Islamic State group. The group had become particularly adept at using social media to pitch sophisticated recruitment messages towards an increasingly young target audience.

Sixty percent of the Islamic State’s target audience, by the official’s estimate, is aged 25 or younger and a substantial subset of that group are under 21, including many juveniles. [Continue reading…]

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Where ISIS has directed and inspired attacks around the world

The New York Times reports: Days after the Islamic State called for attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, terrorists targeted sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait on June 26, leaving a bloody toll on three continents. The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait, but it is unclear if the militants are also responsible for the attack in France.

The group’s declaration of a caliphate, or Islamic state, last June marked the launch of its global strategy, which has resulted in attacks or arrests in more than a dozen countries. ISIS is focused on three parallel tracks:

  • inciting regional conflict with attacks in Iraq and Syria;
  • building relationships with jihadist groups that can carry out military operations across the Middle East and North Africa;
  • and inspiring, and sometimes helping, ISIS sympathizers to conduct attacks in the West.

“The goal,” said Harleen Gambhir, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, “is that through these regional affiliates and through efforts to create chaos in the wider world, the organization will be able to expand, and perhaps incite a global apocalyptic war.”

Beginning last fall, ISIS made repeated calls for attacks on the West, especially to followers in countries taking part in the American-led airstrike campaign in Iraq and Syria. So-called lone wolves have responded to these calls with relatively low-tech assaults — shootings, hostage takings, hit-and-runs — that tend to get a lot of attention.

“Al Qaeda always wanted to do spectacular attacks, but ISIS has reversed it,” said Patrick M. Skinner, a former C.I.A. operations officer now with the Soufan Group. “They don’t do spectacular attacks. They do attacks that generate spectacular reaction.” [Continue reading…]

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ISIS allies target Hamas and energize Gaza extremists

The New York Times reports: One bomb hit a Hamas security checkpoint in northern Gaza. A few days later, another exploded in a trash can. Another blew up next to a Gaza City high-rise, and a small one targeted a chicken store owned by a Hamas intelligence official, Saber Siyam.

The four attacks in May — among at least a dozen this year, documented by a local human rights group — were aimed not at infidels, collaborators or criminals but at the ruling Islamist group, Hamas. The suspected perpetrators were Hamas’s emerging rivals: extremist Islamist groups that see Hamas as insufficiently pious, and that vow loyalty to the Islamic State.

While the extremists are unlikely to challenge Hamas’s firm grip on the Gaza Strip in the foreseeable future, they complicate matters by occasionally shooting rockets into Israel that could touch off a wider conflagration, if the rockets kill or maim Israeli citizens.

They could also seek to join forces with the far more dangerous, deadly branch of the Islamic State in neighboring Egypt’s Sinai Desert, possibly derailing the slowly improving relations between Hamas and Egyptian authorities that have recently led to the Egypt-Gaza border crossing’s being opened for brief moments for the first time in years. [Continue reading…]

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Militants linked to ISIS attack Egyptian army checkpoints in Sinai, kill 53

The Associated Press reports: Dozens of Islamic militants unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, killing at least 53 soldiers, security and military officials said.

The advanced planning and coordinated execution of the attacks show that the long-running insurgency in the area is growing stronger, posing a serious threat to Egypt’s security as the military-backed government struggles to restore stability after years of unrest since the 2011 uprising.

The assault came a day after Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi pledged to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the chief prosecutor was assassinated in the capital, Cairo. The officials said 50 militants were killed in fierce fighting that started in the early morning and was still raging at the end of the day — the deadliest battle in Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. [Continue reading…]

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The allure of the Caliphate

Benjamin Dueholm writes: What accounts for the persistent appeal of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (or ISIS) to recruits from Chicago, Bradford or Melbourne? This year, the question became urgent to commentators and policymakers in Europe and the United States. The group’s battlefield successes, its territorial ambitions and viral spectacles of cruelty were made only more ominous by the small but steady stream of recruits it attracted from wealthy democracies.

Some of the proposed explanations have been familiar: the marginalisation and alienation of Muslim minorities in the West; a religious zeal that transcends the smallness of secular life; even the group’s thrillingly extreme apocalyptic vision. It’s not hard to see ISIS as another gruesome camp-follower to modern democratic capitalism, one in a series of terrorist movements and guerrilla insurgencies that feed upon the discontents of the age and the psychoses of their members.

But the story of the arrival and lingering global charisma of ISIS features something that sets it apart: the idea of the Caliphate. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS is selling looted art online for needed cash

Bloomberg reports: The Whatsapp message appeared on his iPhone: photos of an ancient Mesopotamian vase worth $250,000, part of a highly-valued set that is waiting to be extracted.

The recipient, Amr Al Azm, replied that he was interested. How to proceed? A message from a different account followed. The vase could be smuggled through Lebanon.

Al Azm, an anthropology professor in Ohio, was faking it, as he does when photos of looted antiquities are sent to him in the belief that he is a collector or dealer. He is a detective – – self-appointed — hoping to save some of mankind’s rarest and most vulnerable artifacts by tracking the burgeoning antiquities trade of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey plans to invade Syria, but to stop the Kurds, not ISIS

The Daily Beast reports: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning a military intervention into northern Syria to prevent Syrian Kurds from forming their own state there, despite concerns among his own generals and possible criticism from Washington and other NATO allies, according to reports in both pro- and anti-government media.

In a speech last Friday, Erdogan vowed that Turkey would not accept a move by Syrian Kurds to set up their own state in Syria following gains by Kurdish fighters against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, in recent weeks. “I am saying this to the whole world: We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.” He accused Syrian Kurds of ethnic cleansing in Syrian areas under their control.

Following the speech, several news outlets reported that the president and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had decided to send the Turkish army into Syria, a hugely significant move by NATO’s second biggest fighting force after the U.S. military. Both the daily Yeni Safak, a mouthpiece of the government, and the newspaper Sozcu, which is among Erdogan’s fiercest critics, ran stories saying the Turkish Army had received orders to send soldiers over the border. Several other media had similar stories, all quoting unnamed sources in Ankara. There has been no official confirmation or denial by the government. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS strikes back

Michael Weiss writes: ISIS last week committed one of the worst massacre of civilians since its so-called “caliphate” was established a year ago. Around 30 jihadists infiltrated the Syrian border town of Kobani, set off car bombs and waged gunfire attacks, killing at least 206 civilians, including women, children and the elderly.

Kobani, you’ll recall, was the site of one of the most intense sieges of the coalition’s war against ISIS; it lasted six months, it required American warplanes dropping thousands of pounds of ordnance, and it transformed the town into a virtually uninhabitable pile of rubble and ruin by the time ISIS was routed.

The jihadists’ return was therefore as demoralizing as it was deadly. But it had another motive, too: the old military strategy of divide and conquer. The ISIS attack was at least partially designed to exacerbate lingering sectarian tensions between the Arabs and Kurds who have lately been on an unimpeded sweep across eastern Syria, delivering defeat after defeat to the army of terror. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. currently training just 100 Syrians to fight ISIS

The Associated Press reports: Fewer than 100 Syrian rebels are currently being trained by the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State group, a tiny total for a sputtering program with a stated goal of producing 5,400 fighters a year.

The training effort is moving so slowly that critics question whether it can produce enough capable fighters quickly enough to make a difference. Military officials said last week that they still hope for 3,000 by year’s end. Privately, they acknowledge the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

On June 26, 2014, the White House said it was asking Congress for $500 million for a three-year train-and-equip program. It only got started in May, however.

That program, together with a more advanced but also troubled parallel effort to rebuild the Iraqi army, is central to the U.S.-led effort to create ground forces capable of fighting IS without involving U.S. ground combat troops. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS carries out the second-largest massacre since the declaration of its ‘caliphate’

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…]

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Terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait kill dozens

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…]

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Families of American hostages held captive in Syria felt U.S. officials had abandoned them

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…]

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British men who fought the Assad regime are now hiding from their own government

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…]

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ISIS just lost its Libya stronghold

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…]

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