Tagged: Islamic State

House Panel Witnesses: Islamic State Remains ‘Potent’ Threat in Libya

(BREITBART) — by Edwin Mora

WASHINGTON, DC — The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) remains a “potent” menace in Libya more than a year after U.S.-backed local forces pushed the group out of former stronghold Sirte, experts told a House panel.

Soon after the Islamic State (IS) lost Sirte in December 2016, U.S. and Libyan officials began warning about a potential resurgence of the terrorist group, noting that the jihadists were regrouping elsewhere in Libya, namely the desert valleys and inland hills southeast of the country.

In written testimony prepared for a hearing Wednesday held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and Africa, Christopher Blanchard, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the Congressional Research Service (CRS), acknowledged:

Transnational terrorist groups and locally organized armed extremist groups, including supporters of the Islamic State organization and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), remain active in Libya. Some IS fighters appear to have regrouped in rural areas after fleeing Sirte in late 2016, and the group claimed a series of attacks on Libyan forces in 2017.

Robyn Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), predicted early this year that ISIS would “give priority to the restructuring of security forces and infrastructure, and to launch strikes, which may include targets in the Libyan oil crescent.”

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Isis trying to foment a wave of migration to Europe, says UN official

(THE GUARDIAN) — Islamic State commanders fleeing Syria are conspiring with extremist groups in Africa to foment and infiltrate a new migration wave destined for Europe, the head of the UN World Food Programme has said.

David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, said Europe needed to wake up to the extremists’ strategy in the Sahel region.

Those forced out of Syria were uniting with local terrorist groups to use a lack of food as both a recruitment tool and a vehicle to push millions of Africans towards Europe, he said.

Speaking to the Guardian during a visit to Brussels for a two-day Syria summit, Beasley said: “You are going to face a similar pattern of what took place years ago, except you are going to have more Isis and extremist groups infiltrating migration.

“What we are picking up is that they are partnering with the extremist groups like Boko Haram and al-Qaida to divvy up territory and resources and to continue to infiltrate and destabilize in the hope of creating migration into Europe where they can infiltrate and cause chaos.

“My comment to the Europeans is that if you think you had a problem resulting from a nation of 20 million people like Syria because of destabilization and conflict resulting in migration, wait until the greater Sahel region of 500 million people is further destabilized. And this is where the European community and international community has got to wake up.”

A four-year campaign against Isis has destroyed much of the group’s so-called caliphate, confining it to a tract of land in the Euphrates valley near the border with Iraq and decimating the cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. But officials involved in the campaign say at least 2,200 fighters remain entrenched in the east of Syria.

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Belgian Islamic party announces ‘100 per cent Islamic state’ as end goal

(BREITBART) — by Chris Tomlinson

The Belgian Islamic party Partij Islam is set to run candidates in 28 municipalities in the upcoming Belgian municipal elections, and have declared their intention to create an Islamic State in which women and men have to ride in separate buses.

The Partij Islam is likely hoping to do well in highly Muslim-populated areas like Molenbeek and Anderlecht where the party already has some representation, HLN reports.

Anderlecht municipal councillor Redouane Ahrouch, the treasurer of the party, told Belgian media: “Our goal is a one hundred percent Islamic state.”

Ahrouch, who works also as a bus driver in Anderlecht, said that many women have complained to him that men were trying to sexually harass and grab them. His solution to the problem, he said, is to separate public transport by sex so that women have their own buses.

The party also believes that any woman should be allowed to wear the Islamic headscarf anywhere they want and that all schools in the country should be forced to offer halal meat on their school menus. Last year the European Court of Human Rights upheld the Belgian ban on the wearing of the full-face veil in public.

Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken slammed the party’s stances, saying: “Women do not have rights in their shariah world. And it starts with separate public transport. I am disgusted by this ISLAM party. This is spitting on Europe.”

The party is not the first Islamic party in Europe, as similar parties have sprung up across the continent in countries like the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden.

Denk, a Muslim party centered largely around the Turkish community in the Netherlands, won several seats in last year’s national election, and the Islamic party Nida in Rotterdam attempted an alliance with left-wing parties this year until the coalition split because of a tweet from the party that compared Israel to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

In Sweden, meanwhile, the Jasin party was denied registration by the country’s electoral commission after revelations emerged that it had been taken over by radical Islamic extremists.

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Islamic State claims its ‘soldier’ took hostages in southern France

(THE LONG WAR JOURNAL) — By Thomas Joscelyn

French authorities have ended a hostage crisis that began earlier today when an armed man held up a supermarket in Trèbes. The French government has identified the assailant as Redouane Lakdim, who had a criminal past and may have traveled to Syria.

The attacker reportedly killed at least three people during the course of the day’s events. The first victim was killed when he attempted to hijack a car and two more perished inside the supermarket, according to the Associated Press.

The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency quickly claimed responsibility for the slayings, saying the perpetrator was a “soldier” of the group who acted in response to calls to target nations participating in the anti-ISIS coalition. France is a member of the international coalition, which has been targeting the so-called caliphate since 2014.

Amaq has employed identical language after attacks in the past, repeatedly claiming that individuals have heeded the Islamic State’s calls for violence inside the West. Amaq did not provided any additional details about the attacker, but initial press reports say he claimed allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb provided updates on the hostage crisis via his official Twitter feed. Collomb praised the “heroism” of a French officer who volunteered to trade places with one of the hostages, adding that the policeman was “badly wounded.” Collomb told the press that Lakdim acted “alone” and had been shot by the police, according to BFMTV. However, it can often take time for authorities to follow all of the clues in terrorism-related cases. And officials have uncovered ties between jihadists in Europe and Islamic State networks on multiple occasions in the past.

According to BBC News, Lakdim demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, an Islamic State member who acted as a point man for the Nov. 2015 attacks in Paris. Abdeslam is being tried in Belgium on terrorism charges.

Islamic State-connected attacks in France

France has been combating the jihadist threat since the 1990s, but the rise of the Islamic State in 2014 generated a new array of threats.

In Jan. 2015, the Kouachi brothers massacred the staff of Charlie Hebdo at the magazine’s offices in Paris. The Kouachis were openly loyal to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed responsibility for the attack. AQAP had called on jihadists to strike Charlie Hebdo after the publication printed controversial images. AQAP also assisted at least one of the brothers.

Amedy Coulibaly, a friend of the Kouachis, decided to raid a kosher market in Paris around the same time they acted. Coulibaly swore allegiance to the Islamic State in a video he recorded prior to killing a French policewoman and assaulting the market.

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US intelligence official: Gains against IS in Iraq, Syria fragile

(VOA) — The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State has been able to decimate the terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria but these gains could be easily undercut by continued instability, a U.S. intelligence official warned Tuesday.

“In the near term, I worry about a loss of gains in Syria and Iraq,” David Cattler, of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Tuesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done there,” he said.

The Islamic State terror group has lost thousands of fighters and has been expelled from more than 98 percent of territory it held for over three years in Iraq and Syria.

Last year the group was pushed out of its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa in Syria and declared defeated in Iraq.

Now the coalition is helping the Syrian Democratic Forces to finish off IS remnants in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

IS global ideology

Cattler said IS ideology continues to resonate globally as it tries to adjust to the losses in the region.

In Syria, he warned that gains are threatened by increased complexity in the battlefield where allies and enemies compete for influence.

“The United States, Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia are all combating ISIS. We are fighting the same enemy as our adversaries. As such, they too will likely reap the benefits of a ‘peace dividend,’” Cattler said.

Meanwhile, Turkey and the Kurds, both U.S. allies, have turned on each other, thereby diverting attention from IS, he added.
Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq Jan. 3, 2018.
Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq Jan. 3, 2018.

Sunni Shiite dynamics

In Iraq, he said, gains are endangered by increased political instability fueled by reconstruction challenges and lack of trust between Sunni residents and the Shiite-dominated central government.

“Even if these do not lead to the group’s resurgence, fears of reprisals and Sunni grievances due to political marginalization, discrimination, and delays in reconstruction may hamper the reconciliation necessary for a sustained peace, which is a key U.S. objective,” he said.

Islamic State is believed to have exploited Sunni fears of Shiite domination to seize large swaths of predominantly Sunni regions in 2014. Sunni leaders have already accused the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces of committing crimes in Sunni areas retaken from IS and have asked for the disbanding of the group.

But the Shiite leaders reject those claims and say the group needs to be given an institutionalized role as an effective fighting force to prevent the re-emergence of IS.

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Munich Security Conference: How to stop a post-caliphate jihad?

(DEUTSCHE WELLE) — Munich Security Conference: How to stop a post-caliphate jihad?

Panelists at the Munich Security Conference about how to stop a post-caliphate jihad unanimously agreed that the terror group “Islamic State” remains a threat, even though it may have lost its “territory.”

It has been just 3 1/2 years since the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the founding of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) at the mosque of the freshly captured city of Mosul in Iraq.

Now, after a long and bloody military campaign, the group has been wholly driven out of the country. And in neighboring Syria, only isolated pockets of IS fighters remain in the former IS stronghold of Raqqa. At its zenith, some 40,000 people took up arms for IS. Now 3,000 of them are hiding in the desert – or are seeking new areas of operation.

Although the terror group has been thwarted in its efforts to create a sovereign state, it nevertheless lives on. It still has its propaganda division — albeit greatly weakened. It also lives on in the hearts of its blind adherents and as the dream of a Salafist “utopia” for which thousands were willing to die. More than 5,000 people traveled to the “caliphate” from Western Europe alone.

Above all, “jihad” as such lives on. And the demise of IS could encourage other terror groups such as al-Qaida to launch new attacks, as Dan Coats told participants at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. As the US director of national intelligence, Coats has a good overview of the threat posed by terrorism. The “Global Threat Assessment” that the US intelligence community released on Tuesday emphasized that the largest terror threats still emanate from “violent Sunni extremists,” above all from Islamic State and al-Qaida.

One thing participants at the Munich Security Conference unanimously agreed upon is that the fight against jihadism is far from over. Many spoke of the stamina that would still be required to achieve ultimate victory. The primary importance of exchanging information among intelligence services was also stressed.

Germany’s federal interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, emphasized the importance of international intelligence services’ cooperation in tracking down German jihadists who have fought for IS in Iraq and Syria: “Especially with America, but also with other agencies in the region that often give us tips. Those agencies are key to helping us protect German citizens,” he told DW.

Nevertheless, during the panel discussion on “Post-Caliphate Jihad,”he spoke of the many technical and legal hurdles impeding data exchange within the European Union itself. EU security commissioner Julian King assured the audience that the EU was dealing with such impediments effectively. He pointed out that the exchange of information among national anti-terror agencies had grown by 40 percent since 2015.

It was conspicuous that Thomas de Maiziere, much like Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen before him, spoke in support of the concept of “networked security” – albeit, without calling it by name. De Maiziere did not limit himself to addressing the importance of police and intelligence cooperation; he also spoke extensively about prevention and the necessity of denying terrorism any kind of platform.

This issue was also addressed in a separate panel discussion called “Making the Sahel Safe.” A number of African leaders, the president of the World Bank and the secretary-general of the UN Climate Secretariat spoke frankly about the connections between development, climate change and terrorism. Lack of opportunity, poor governance and a lack of education, they said, all provide fertile ground for terrorism.

Moussa Faki, the chairman of the African Union (AU), illustrated the threat posed by a lack of education with an anecdote about a woman living near Lake Chad. She decided to become a suicide bomber because she was told she would be able to choose her own husband when she got to paradise.

Tunisia’s foreign minister explained that many Tunisians join terror groups for financial reasons. A disproportionate number of Tunisians traveled to the caliphate because IS offered them good pay, he said.

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The Islamic State has left a toxic farewell of environmental sabotage and chronic disease

(POST-GAZETTE) — Iraq – Like any typical 15-year-old, Ahmed Jassim stays glued to his smartphone, watching music videos and playing games. In his family’s modest living room with dark concrete walls, the light from the phone’s screen illuminates his handsome but gaunt face.

But unlike his peers, Ahmed doesn’t go outside to play soccer or fly kites. Simple activities tire him out quickly because his heart is permanently damaged, the result of inhaling the smoke that blanketed this town of farmers and shepherds after Islamic State militants ignited nearby oil wells.

“He hates life. He just hates life,” his mother, Rehab Fayad, said wistfully. “It’s affected him not just physically, but psychologically.”

The militants detonated 25 oil wells in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful effort to defend their terrain against Iraqi security forces in 2016 and wreck a prized national asset. For nine months, a thick, blinding cloud of smoke engulfed Qayyarah and the villages that surround it, turning people’s skin and sheep’s coats black from soot.

The Islamic State footprint on Iraq’s environment may be unprecedented and permanent, with a toxic legacy that includes wide-scale cattle deaths, fields that no longer yield edible crops and chronic breathing complications in children and the elderly, doctors and experts said.

Up to 2 million barrels of oil were lost, either burned or spilled, between June 2016 and March 2017, when firefighters put out the final blaze, according to a United Nations report citing Iraq’s Oil Ministry. Environmental experts worry that much of the oil has seeped into the groundwater and the nearby Tigris River – a lifeline for millions of Iraqis stretching more than 1,000 miles to Baghdad and beyond.

The militants also torched a sulfur plant north of Qayyarah, spewing 35,000 tons of the stinging substance into the air, the United Nations said. Reportedly containing one of the largest sulfur stockpiles in the world, the plant was set ablaze in part to help hold off Iraqi security forces, according to human rights and environmental experts.

Still unknown is the full extent of the impact. Studies into the long-term health effects have been halting, with Iraq’s government putting greater urgency on rebuilding, resettling displaced people and the clearing of explosives.

“The effect of what happened here will be felt for many years and decades, and the worst of it hasn’t even shown up yet,” said Abdelmeneim Tabbour, the head of Qayyarah’s health department. “The government has other priorities.”

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Egyptian Christians living in fear for the future

(BBC) — At the ancient Monastery of St Mina in the desert sands of Egypt, a low concrete tomb holds the remains of Christians slaughtered for their faith – not in Roman times, but earlier this month.

They were among almost 50 people killed in coordinated attacks at two churches. The bombings – on Palm Sunday – were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Priests at the monastery say persecution is as old as the faith.

“The history of the Christians is like this,” said Father Elijah Ava Mina, his flowing white beard contrasting with his black robes. “Jesus told us ‘narrow is the gate, and difficult is the way’.”

The burial chamber now holds seven coffins but there is space for more. Future attacks look all but guaranteed. The Egyptian branch of IS has said Christians are its “favorite prey”.

The beleaguered minority accounts for an estimated 10% of the country’s population of 90m, which is predominantly Muslim.

Most Christians here belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which traces its roots to the Apostle Mark. IS struck at the historic heart of the faith. One of its targets was the oldest church in Egypt – St Mark’s Cathedral in the port of Alexandria.

When the bomber came to the wrought iron gates of the cathedral, Gergis Bakhoom had just left. Back at his tiny tailor’s shop the 82-year old got word of the explosion.

He rushed to hospital in time to witness his oldest son, Ibrahim, take his last breath.

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Egypt attack: Gunman targets Coptic Christians in church and shop

(BBC) — Nine people have been killed in two attacks on Coptic Christians in Helwan district, south of Cairo, Egypt’s interior ministry has said.

Six civilians and a policeman died when a gunman tried to storm a church but was intercepted and arrested, it said.

It said the man had previously attacked a Coptic-owned shop in the same area, killing two brothers.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) has claimed its “soldiers” carried out the church attack.

The interior ministry’s account differs from an earlier version of events given by Egypt’s health ministry.

The initial report said 12 were dead, and suggested there were two attackers. It said one had been killed, and the other fled but was later captured.

More than 100 Christians have been killed in Egypt in the past year, with most attacks claimed by the local branch of IS militants.

Security forces have reinforced checkpoints in place around the capital in response to the attacks.

They announced plans earlier this week to protect festivities around the New Year and, on 7 January, Coptic Christmas. They include the deployment of rapid-reaction forces, combat troops and jamming equipment.

According to the interior ministry statement, the first attack on Friday took place at a household appliances shop. Then the attacker headed to the Saint Mina Coptic church, where he attempted “to trespass the church’s perimeter security”.

“The security forces have dealt with the attacker and managed to arrest him after he was injured,” the ministry said.

But it said that seven people, including an auxiliary policeman, had been killed and four injured as the gunman opened fire at the church.

The attacker also had an explosive device, a machine gun and 150 rounds, it added.

The ministry suggested he was known to security services, saying he was “one of the most active terrorist elements and he carried out several terrorist attacks which resulted in the martyrdom of a number of policemen and civilians”.

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Shabaab targets Somali police academy in suicide attack, killing 18 and wounding another 15

(THE LONG WAR JOURNAL) — By Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss

Earlier today, a suicide bomber disguised as a Somali police officer infiltrated a police academy in Mogadishu and detonated his explosives near a group of officers. Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, claimed credit for the attack.

The suicide bomber entered the academy wearing a police uniform. According to Somali authorities, the bomber was not able to position himself within the middle of the group of officers who gathered to attend a parade, which aided in saving lives. However, the explosion killed at least 18 people and wounding at least another 15. Other reports have put the wounded number at 20.

Shortly after the attack, Shabaab claimed credit through its various media outlets. On its Shahada News website, it claimed its forces killed and wounded more than 60 police officers in the attack. On its Radio Al Andalus, it released an audio statement from its spokesman Abdul Aziz Abu Musab where he claimed Shabaab killed 29 police officers. Shabaab has often inflated casualty numbers in its claims of responsibilities.

Today’s suicide bombing is the first since Nov. 14 when a suicide car bomb rammed into an African Union convoy near Mogadishu. In October, Shabaab also conducted three coordinated bombings on a hotel in Mogadishu, killing dozens. Just two weeks prior to that assault, Shabaab perpetrated one of, if not the deadliest suicide car bombing in history when it killed over 500 people near a hotel also in Mogadishu.

The US military has stepped up the targeting of both Shabaab and the rival Islamic State in an effort to reduce attacks against the central government, security personnel, and civilians. So far this year, the US military has launched 28 airstrikes against Shabaab and four more against the Islamic State, US Africa Command told FDD’s Long War Journal earlier this week.

The last reported strike, which took place on Dec. 12, destroyed a Shabaab car bomb as it was being driven to Mogadishu. AFRICOM claimed that the car bomb posed “an imminent threat to the people of Mogadishu.”

The US military ramped up strikes against Shabaab and the Islamic State’s networks in Somalia at the end of March, after the Trump administration loosened the restrictions on the use of force against Shabaab. Both the Departments of Defense and State have noted that Shabaab has become more dangerous over the past year and has regained territory. Shabaab has killed hundreds of African Union and Somali forces while overrunning bases in southern Somalia and has maintained its safe havens while expanding areas under its control during 2016.

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