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In Syrian Christian town, ISIS executed 116 people before Assad’s army closed in

(NEWSWEEK) — By Jack Moore

Evidence has emerged of another Islamic State militant group (ISIS) mass execution, this time in the Syrian Christian desert town of Al-Qaryatain.

The militant group killed at least 116 civilians in executions committed in the days before the Syrian regime recaptured the town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group with an extensive network of contacts in Syria.

“ISIS has over a period of 20 days executed at least 116 civilians in reprisal killings, accusing them of collaboration with regime forces,” SOHR chief Rami Abdelrahman told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

ISIS regained control of the town three weeks ago, and then the killings began. Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air power, arrived and liberated the town on October 21 after dozens of ISIS fighters retreated, at which point the remains of the victims of the mass execution were found.

“After the regime retook it, the town’s residents found the bodies on the streets. They had been shot dead or executed with knives,” Abdelrahman said.

“Most of the ISIS fighters who attacked the town a month ago were sleeper cells…. They are from the town, know the town’s residents and who is for or against the regime,” he said.

A Syrian government official told the Associated Press that it was a “shocking massacre” and that government forces are continuing the search for victims in the town.

Another activist group, known as the Palmyra Coordination Committee, identified 67 civilians killed in Al-Qaryatain and said that figure could increase.

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Death toll from Kabul mosque attacks rises to 89

(RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY) — Afghan officials say suicide bombers have killed at least 89 people in two attacks on mosques in Afghanistan, as sectarian and terror-related violence continues to surge in the war-torn country.

The October 20 attacks targeted a Shi’ite mosque in the capital, Kabul, and a Sunni mosque in the central Afghan province of Ghor.

An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman said that the death toll in the Kabul attack had risen to at least 56 people.

At least 55 people were also injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up as worshippers were gathering for prayers at the Imam Zaman mosque in the western Dasht-e-Barchi section of the capital.

The extremist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul.

The attacks come one day after 43 soldiers were killed and nine wounded in a Taliban attack on an army camp in the southern province of Kandahar.

In the second attack, officials said at least 33 people were killed and 10 injured when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive in Khewiagan, a Sunni mosque in the district of Dulaina in central Ghor Province.

A local official said an anti-Taliban commander inside the mosque at the time may have been the target of the attack. No claim of responsibility has been made for the attack.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the attacks show that “the terrorists have once again staged bloody attacks, but they will not achieve their evil purposes and sow discord among the Afghans.”

The United States strongly condemned the October 20 attacks and previous attacks in Afghanistan during a week in which U.S. drones strikes were reported to have killed more than 30 militants in the region.

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54 Egyptian police killed in ambush by militants, officials say

(CHICAGO TRIBUNE) — At least 54 policemen, including 20 officers and 34 conscripts, were killed when a raid on a militant hideout southwest of Cairo escalated into an all-out firefight, authorities said Saturday, in one of the single deadliest attacks by militants against Egyptian security forces in recent years.

The officials said the exchange of fire began late Friday in the al-Wahat al-Bahriya area in Giza province, about 135 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of Cairo.

The firefight began when security forces acting on intelligence moved against a militants’ hideout in the area. Backed by armored personnel carriers and led by senior counter-terrorism officers, the police contingent drew fire and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the officials.

The officials said what happened next is not clear, but indications suggest that the force ran out of ammunition and that the militants captured several policemen and later killed them. One officer managed to escape in his armored vehicle, they added.

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Trump: ‘End of the ISIS caliphate is in sight’

(CNN) — By Miranda Green, CNN

President Donald Trump said Saturday that the United States would soon transition into a “new phase” of involvement in Syria after US-backed forces drove ISIS members from Raqqa, the city they deemed their capital.

“The defeat of ISIS in Raqqah represents a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat ISIS and its wicked ideology,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. “With the liberation of ISIS’s capital and the vast majority of its territory, the end of the ISIS caliphate is in sight.

“We will soon transition into a new phase in which we will support local security forces, de-escalate violence across Syria, and advance the conditions for lasting peace, so that the terrorists cannot return to threaten our collective security again,” Trump said.

The US and its allies would support diplomatic negotiations to end the violence, to allow Syrian refugees to return to their homes, and to make way for “a political transition that honors the will of the Syrian people,” the President added.

US-backed forces fighting ISIS in Raqqa announced this week that “major military operations” in the city have ended and that the terrorist group has lost control of its self-declared capital.

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Taliban attack kills dozens, decimates Afghan army camp

(CBS) — KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have killed at least 58 Afghan security forces in a wave of attacks across the country, including an assault that officials say wiped out an army camp in the southern Kandahar province.

Spokesman Dawlat Wazir said the attack on the army camp late Wednesday, which involved two suicide car bombs and set of hours of fighting, killed at least 43 soldiers. Nine other soldiers were wounded and six have gone missing, he said, adding that 10 attackers were killed.

A Ministry of Defense official told CBS News’ Ahmad Mukhtar that the attackers struck in the middle of the night while most of the 60 soldiers at the camp were sleeping. The Ministry spokesman confirmed to CBS News that the camp was totally destroyed.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a Taliban ambush in the northern Balkh province late Wednesday killed six police, according to Shir Jan Durani, spokesman for the provincial police chief. A Taliban attack on police posts in the western Farah province, also late Wednesday, killed nine police, said police chief Abdul Marouf Foulad. He said 22 insurgents were killed in the ensuing gun battle.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since U.S. and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, switching to a counterterrorism and support role.

The Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks across Afghanistan on Tuesday, targeting police compounds and government facilities with suicide bombers in the country’s south, east and west, and killing at least 74 people, officials said.

Among those killed in one of the attacks was a provincial police chief. Scores were also wounded, both policemen and civilians. Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister, Murad Ali Murad, called Tuesday’s onslaught the “biggest terrorist attack this year.”

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UK facing most severe terror threat ever, warns Intelligence chief

(THE GUARDIAN) — By Vikram Dodd

Britain is facing its most severe ever terrorist threat and fresh attacks in the country are inevitable, according to the head of Britain’s normally secretive domestic intelligence service in a rare public speech.

Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, said the UK had seen “a dramatic upshift in the threat” from Islamist terrorism this year, reflecting attacks that have taken place in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge.

The spy chief said: “That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before.”

He added: “It’s at the highest tempo I have seen in my 34-year career. Today there is more terrorist activity, coming at us more quickly, and it can be harder to detect.”

MI5 is under pressure to demonstrate its effectiveness after four Islamist terrorist attacks escaped its detection this year.

Parker’s speech to specialist security journalists on Tuesday was his chance to frame the debate about Britain’s battle against Islamist terrorism at a time when the agency’s staff numbers are already expanding from 4,000 to 5,000.

This month the government will receive reports on whether chances to thwart the atrocities were missed and what lessons could be learned. Ministers and the National Security Council wanted independent oversight of the review, in essence not allowing MI5 or counter-terrorism police to assess themselves.

Parker said MI5 had stopped far more terror plots than those that caused mass casualties this year. He said 20 plots had been thwarted in the last four years.

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Afghan officials: Taliban wave of attacks kills at least 74, hundreds wounded

(USA TODAY) — KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks across Afghanistan on Tuesday, targeting police compounds and government facilities with suicide bombers in the country’s south, east and west, and killing at least 74 people, officials said.

Among those killed in one of the attacks was a provincial police chief. Scores were also wounded, both policemen and civilians.

According to Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister, Murad Ali Murad, the day’s onslaught was “biggest terrorist attack this year.”

Murad told a press conference in Kabul that in Tuesday’s attacks in Ghazni and Paktia provinces, the insurgents killed 71 people.

In southern Paktia province, 41 people — 21 policemen and 20 civilians — were killed when the Taliban targeted a police compound in the provincial capital of Gardez with two suicide car bombs. Among the wounded were 48 policemen and 110 civilians.

The provincial police chief, Toryalai Abdyani, was killed in the Paktia attack, Murad confirmed.

The Ministry of Interior said in a statement earlier on Tuesday that after the two cars blew up in Gardez, five attackers with suicide belts tried to storm the compound but that Afghan security forces “killed all five terrorist.”

According to the Health Ministry spokesman, Waheed Majroo, the Gardez city hospital reported receiving at least 130 wounded in the attack.

Hamza Aqmhal, a student at the Paktia University, told The Associated Press that he heard a very powerful blast that shattered glass and broke all the windows at the building he was in. The university is 1.25 miles from the training academy, said Aqmhal, who was slightly injured by the glass

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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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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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