Archive for October, 2017

Isis fighters surrender en masse after fall of Hawija despite vowing to fight or die

(UK INDEPENDENT) — By Rod Nordland

Extremist soldiers in Syria are foregoing martyrdom to hand themselves in at Kurdish interrogation center in northern Iraq after loss of regional stronghold in morale-sapping defeat

The prisoners were taken to a waiting room in groups of four, and were told to stand facing the concrete wall, their noses almost touching it, their hands bound behind their backs.

More than 1,000 prisoners determined to be Isis fighters passed through that room this past week after they fled their crumbling Iraqi stronghold of Hawija. Instead of the martyrdom they had boasted was their only acceptable fate, they had voluntarily ended up here in the interrogation center of the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq.

For an extremist group that has made its reputation on its ferociousness, with fighters who would always choose suicide over surrender, the fall of Hawija has been a notable turning point.

The fight for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, took nine months, and by comparison, relatively few Isis fighters surrendered. Tal Afar fell next, in only 11 days. Some 500 fighters surrendered there.

The Iraqi military ousted Isis from Hawija in 15 days, saying it had taken its forces only three days of actual heavy fighting before most of the extremists grabbed their families and ran. According to Kurdish officials, they put up no fight at all, other than planting bombs and booby traps.

One of the men smelled so bad that when he was taken into the small interrogation room, those inside were startled. He filled the doorway, appearing even larger than his actual size. Everyone in the room seemed scared of the man, even though his hands were tied behind his back. His face had only a wisp of black stubble on the chin.

“Hello,” a visitor said. “Where’s your beard?” Isis requires all men to grow full beards.

“I’m only 21, I can’t grow it yet,” he said, clearly embarrassed.

Kurdish interrogators allowed a dozen of the surrendered fighters to be interviewed by a reporter as they arrived at the local headquarters of the Asayish, the Kurdish intelligence service, in Dibis, near the Kurds’ front lines opposite Hawija. Officers monitored all interviews.
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Many of the fighters claimed to have been just cooks or clerks. So many said they had been members of Isis for only a month or two that interrogators suspected they had been coached to say that. Gone was the contempt for the world’s opinion, spewed out in one violent video after another — many of them made in Hawija, where grisly killings, especially of Kurdish prisoners, were the norm during their three-year reign over that Sunni Arab city in northern Iraq.

Most of the prisoners, though, claimed to have never seen a beheading, or even heard of such a thing.

At first, the beardless fighter seemed an exception, admitting defiantly that he had been fighting for the group for two years, alongside family members. He readily gave his name: “Maytham Muhammed Mohemin,” he said, practically spitting it out.

The interrogator, Lieutenant Pisthiwan Salahi, said Mohemin was not only an Islamic State soldier but also a member of an elite suicide squad known as the Seekers of Martyrdom, according to informers.

Kurdish officials have been perplexed by the number of fighters who have surrendered. Many of the militants said they were ordered by their leaders to turn themselves in to the Kurds, who were known to take prisoners instead of killing them.

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Raqqa: Isis completely driven out of Syria ‘capital’ by US-backed forces

(UK INDEPENDENT) — By John Davidson

US-backed militias have completely taken Isis’ de facto capital, Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Tuesday, in a major symbolic blow to the jihadist group.

The fall of Raqqa, where Isis staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the movement’s collapsing fortunes. The city was used as a base for the group to plan attacks abroad.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a US-led international alliance, has been fighting Isis inside Raqqa since June.

SOHR said 3,250 people were killed in the five-month battle, including 1,130 civilians.

A witness said fighting appeared to be almost at an end with only sporadic bursts of gunfire.

Militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanted slogans from their vehicles and raised a flag inside Raqqa stadium.

An SDF spokesman said the alliance would capture the last Isis areas in the city within hours.

Save The Children has warned that the humanitarian crisis in northeast Syria is “rapidly escalating”, with 270,000 people who have fled the fighting in “critical need” of aid and camps “bursting at the seams”.

On Saturday a deal was brokered for the last remaining local fighters in Raqqa to leave the city.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo said then that any fighters who were not signed up to the deal would be left behind “to surrender or die”.

The jihadists’ last bases in the city, a stadium and a hospital, were captured earlier on Tuesday, the SDF said.

A local field commander said no Isis fighters remained at the two central points where militants had been best entrenched and where the SDF said fighting on Monday night and early Tuesday was focused.

“We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and amongst the areas that ISIS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition.

In a sign that the four-month battle for Raqqa was in its last stages, Col. Dillon said there had been no coalition air strikes there on Monday.

It is now hemmed in to a tiny bomb-cratered patch of the city around the stadium that was being pounded from the air by a US-led coalition and encircled by SDF fighters.

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Austrian voters concerned about immigration, Islam

(ABC NEWS) — Wrapping up a bruising political campaign season, Austrian political parties were counting down to an election Sunday that could turn the country to the right amid voter concerns over immigration and Islam.

The vote is coming a year ahead of schedule after squabbles led to the breakup last spring of the coalition government of the Social Democrats and the People’s Party. A total of 16 parties are vying for 183 seats in the national parliament and will be chosen by Austria’s 6.4 million eligible voters. But less than a dozen parties have a chance of getting seats.

The People’s Party, which has shifted from centrist to right-wing positions, is leading in the pre-vote polls after an image make-over by its leader, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz.

Austria’s traditionally right-wing, anti-migrant Freedom Party is expected to come in second and the center-left Social Democrats are thought to be trailing in third place.

Others that may clear the 4 percent hurdle needed to get into parliament seats are the Greens, the liberal NEOS, and Liste Pilz, led by former Greens politician Peter Pilz.

Favoring the People’s and Freedom parties is distrust of migrants and Muslims among many Austrian voters.

The 2015 influx of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the war in Syria and poverty elsewhere into the EU’s prosperous heartland left Austria with nearly 100,000 new and mostly Muslim migrants. That has fueled fears Austria’s traditional Western and Christian culture is in danger. As a result, voters are receptive to the anti-migrant platforms of both the People’s Party and the Freedom Party.

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Bishop: Western politicians damage African Christianity by ‘pandering’ to Islam

(CATHOLIC HERALD) — A Nigerian bishop said the Catholic Church in his country is beginning to lose its public influence partly because of the decline of religious faith in the West.

Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto accused European and American politicians and diplomats of publicly “pandering” to Islam at the expense of Christianity.

The result, he said, was the ascendancy of Islam and evangelical Christianity in Nigeria and the decline of Catholicism.

He told Catholic News Service in an interview in Liverpool that the widespread loss of Christian faith in the West was “absolutely” among the causes of the diminishing influence of the Catholic Church in his own country.

“From my own experience, I find that the British high commissioner, the ambassadors from European countries, the American ambassador — they are pandering more to Islam than to Christianity, because most of them have turned their backs on Christianity,” Bishop Kukah said.

“The Arab world is pouring money into Nigeria and the Pentecostal pastors in America are doing the same, and the Catholic Church is now becoming the weakest in terms of access to resources,” he said.

“For me, as a bishop of the Catholic Church, I can see very clearly that our influence in the public space is gradually reducing, and that is largely because of our capacity to mobilize resources,” he said.

It had become no longer possible, he said, for the bishops to appeal to historically Catholic nations for financial help with church projects.

“We can’t go to the Irish ambassador or the Spanish ambassador and say, ‘This is (needed) for the Catholic Church,’” Bishop Kukah said. “People are not interested.”

“In Ramadan, the ambassadors of Islamic countries are very keen to come to the Muslim celebrations in a way and manner that the Irish or any of these ambassadors are not likely to do for (Christmas) midnight Mass or the Easter celebrations.”

He said that, in his experience, most Catholic ambassadors would prefer to be seen publicly at a Muslim celebration than attending a Christian ceremony.

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In Belgium, arguments about Islam grow louder

(THE ECONOMIST) — Like much else in Belgium, the administration of the country’s second-largest religion is in a rather chaotic state, and things could get worse.

In a kingdom of 11m people, Islam claims the loyalty of about 800,000 souls, of whom the vast majority originate either from Morocco or Turkey. Most of the country’s 300-plus mosques are Turkish or Moroccan in flavor, and imams who serve them usually come from those countries. In Brussels, which is the country’s capital as well as hub of Europe’s main institutions, the Muslim share of the population is about 25%.

Since the terrorist outrages of March 2016, which targeted Brussels airport and the metro system, both the government, the security services and a parliamentary commission have been delving into the country’s Islamic scene to see whether it has any characteristics that make it prone to produce fanatics.

The handling of this problem is complicated by Belgium’s older division between Francophones and the Dutch-speakers of Flanders. Among Flemings on the political right, there is a strong streak of Islamo-scepticism. Many sensitive matters, like the teaching of Islam and the regulation of female headgear, are handled at regional or local level. Flemings sometime accuse French-speakers of being soft on Islam.

Even before last year’s horrors, Belgium had the grim distinction of being the European country that produced the highest number per head of young fanatics who went off to fight in Syria. The heavily immigrant Brussels district of Molenbeek received (and bitterly resents) the nickname of “jihadi central” because it had been a way-station of the perpetrators of terror in France. For the record, it is a pleasanter place to walk the streets than are similar urban areas in England or France.

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Somalia bomb attacks: Death toll rises to 231 after huge blast in Mogadishu

(UK INDEPENDENT) — The death toll from the most powerful bomb blast witnessed in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has risen to 231 with more than 275 injured, a senator has said.

Police said a truck bomb exploded outside the Safari Hotel at the K5 intersection, which is lined with government offices, restaurants and kiosks, flattening buildings and setting vehicles on fire. A separate blast struck the Medina district two hours later.

Abshir Abdi Ahmed said the toll comes from doctors at hospitals he has visited in Mogadishu. Many of the bodies in hospital mortuaries have not yet been identified, he said.

It is the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

More than 200 were injured in the explosion outside of the hotel and hospitals are struggling to cope with the high number of casualties.

Officials feared the death toll would continue to climb.

Many victims died at hospitals from their wounds, Police Captain Mohamed Hussein said.

The Red Cross said four volunteers with the Somali Red Crescent Society are among the dead and warned “this figure may rise as there are a number of volunteers still missing.”

Overnight, rescue workers with torch lights searched for survivors trapped under the rubble of the largely destroyed Safari Hotel, which is close to Somalia’s foreign ministry. The explosion blew off metal gates and blast walls erected outside the hotel.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood for the wounded victims. “I am appealing all Somali people to come forward and donate,” he said.

Angry protesters took to the streets in Mogadishu a day after the massive truck bomb attack.

Somalia’s government blamed the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab extremist group for the attack it called a “national disaster.” However, al-Shabaab, which often targets high-profile areas of the capital with bombings, had yet to claim the attack.

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Inside ISIS’ suicide bomb-making factories where fanatics painstakingly create deadly explosive and ball-bearing-laden vests

(THE SUN) — By Patrick Knox

CHILLING footage of ISIS bomb-makers painstakingly creating powerful suicide vests has been released on social media.

Photos of the factory, said to be close to Baghdad in Iraq, show masked bomb-makers assembling devices designed to kill or horribly maim as the doomed death-cult plots a last ditch murder campaign.

Wearing latex gloves, the ISIS jihadis are seen laying out plastic explosive and ball bearings as shrapnel before binding it up and stuffing it into a camouflage vest.

Another shot shows a room with several finished bombs.

A picture then shows a fighter fitted with the deadly cargo and what appears to be two triggers on the vest.

Last week it was revealed the terror group is on the run across the Middle East, according to the US led-coalition.

Col Ryan Dillon said: “ISIS is losing on all fronts, and they are losing their grip on their few remaining strongholds in both Iraq and Syria.”

The coalition and its partners on the ground – the Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces – remain committed to defeating the enemy, he said.

“But make no mistake,” Col Dillon added, “we fully expect fierce fighting in the days ahead.

“And while these terrorists remain a dangerous and desperate enemy, our ISF and SDF partners have proven they are up to the task.”

Iraqi forces have made significant progress in the fight, Dillon said.

“Our Iraqi partners have fought a long, bloody war and have sacrificed a great deal to liberate their people and clear terrorists from cities and villages,” he told reporters.

More than 26,000 square miles in Iraq have been cleared and more than four million people are now free from ISIS control, the colonel said.

“ISIS is on the run, and we must remain focused on delivering a decisive defeat in their few remaining holdouts in Iraq,” he added.

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Knifeman shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ slits a woman’s throat and stabs another to death at Marseille station before he is killed by French army

(UK DAILY MAIL) — A man carrying a knife and shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ killed two female passengers before being shot dead by soldiers at train station in the southern French city of Marseille.

The attack at Marseille’s busiest train station took place early this afternoon, as scores of armed police officers and soldiers swarmed the area.

Both victims were women, with one left with a ‘sliced neck’.

Local official Oliver de Mazieres told AFP: ‘Two victims have been stabbed to death.’

The prosecutor for the area Xavier Tarabeux said the knife man was shot by soldiers, while Marseille police urged people in the city to avoid the area around Saint-Charles station.

The prosecutor’s office in Paris said in a statement the probe would focus on ‘killings linked to a terrorist organization’ and the ‘attempted killing of a public official’, two terror-related charges.

Early pictures from the scene showed a woman lying on the ground and armed police standing over a man on the floor.

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