The death toll from coordinated attacks by Islamic State fighters on a usually peaceful southern city and surrounding countryside has climbed to 216, a local health official said Thursday, in the worst violence to hit the area since the country’s conflict began.
KABUL (Reuters) – A blast hit a gathering of Taliban and Afghan security officials, meeting to celebrate the end of Ramadan fasting season, in the eastern city of Nangarhar on Saturday, officials said.
Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar, said casualties were feared. No further details were immediately available.
Dozens of unarmed Taliban militants entered cities on Saturday to celebrate an unprecedented ceasefire.
U.S. and allied warplanes destroyed an Islamic State sleeper cell near the terror group’s former stronghold of Mosul Tuesday, ending with roughly 12 jihadists dead, military officials in Baghdad say.
The strikes targeted a segment of underground bunkers and tunnels used by Islamic State, or ISIS, fighters to defend the northern Iraqi city against Iraqi troops, backed by U.S. and coalition airpower, during last year’s offensive to retake Mosul.
The recent airstrikes come amid questions whether the White House and the Pentagon will maintain its military presence in Iraq to support Baghdad’s efforts to stamp out remaining ISIS cells, or withdraw U.S. troops from the country. The Trump administration has already indicated its desire to scale back American military forces battling the Islamic State in Syria.
A photograph taken from a video released on Jan. 4, 2014, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s al-Furqan Media allegedly shows fighters marching at an undisclosed location. (Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
By Karla Adam
LONDON — At least 58 people have gone public after defecting from the Islamic State, and their voices could help deter others from joining, according to a new report.
The testimony of defectors shatters the Islamic State’s image “as a united, cohesive and ideologically committed organization,” says the report, published Monday by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) at King’s College London.
ICSR urged governments to remove “legal disincentives” that dissuade defectors from going public and to help with resettlement and safety issues, arguing that defectors’ voices can be a powerful counterweight to the Islamic State’s slick propaganda.
“We don’t think all defectors are saints, or supporters of liberal democracy, or model citizens,” said Peter Neumann, the head of ICSR. “But their narratives and arguments are still valuable because they are speaking from a position of authority and experience and credibility that no one else has.”
Titled “Victims, Perpetrators, Assets: The Narratives of Islamic State Defectors,” the report relied on previously published accounts of several dozen people who have left the organization, including testimony from seven women.
According to the researchers, the defectors who have opted to go public represent just the tip of the iceberg, with the vast majority who manage to leave simply walking away quietly. Authorities here estimate that half of the 700 Britons who have left to join the Islamic State have returned to the United Kingdom. Of the defectors surveyed by the researchers, two were British.
The reasons for leaving are varied, the report said. Defectors expressed outrage over brutality toward Sunni Muslims and frustration about infighting and behaviors deemed un-Islamic.
Others found their duties “dull” and lacking the kind if glamorous heroism they expected the battlefield would bring.
Others still were disappointed by daily life in the Islamic State’s self-declared “caliphate,” which covers large swaths of Iraq and Syria and where issues such as electricity shortages represent a reality markedly different from the paradise peddled by the Islamic State’s propaganda.
“A small but significant number of the defectors expressed disappointment about living conditions and the quality of life. They were typically among the ones who had joined the group for material and ‘selfish’ reasons, and quickly realized that none of the luxury goods and cars that they had been promised would materialize,” the report said.
The researchers said they were concerned about the accuracy of the accounts, given that defectors may conclude that anything they say could come back to haunt them in court — or worse. But the researchers said that for the most part, “their narratives have been so strong and consistent that we are confident that our broader assessments remain valid.”
One such defector, a 33-year-old Iraqi identified as “Hamza” by the Independent newspaper, told the paper in March that he quit ISIS after being asked to help with executions and being offered 13 Yazidi girls for sex.
“These scenes terrified me. I imagined myself being caught up in these shootings, executions, beheadings and raping, if I stayed where I was,” he told the paper.
An Indian man named Areeb Majeed reportedly spent much of his time in the Islamic State performing menial jobs such as cleaning toilets.
“There was neither a holy war nor any of the preachings in the holy book were followed,” he told investigators last year, according to the Times of India.
It’s not easy to leave the militant group, the report says, with defectors well aware that there could be deadly consequences if they are caught.
Neumann, of ICSR, praised the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications for its Twitter campaign that highlights stories from defectors.
But he said that many of the disillusioned are not speaking up because they fear reprisals, and that if lawmakers want to undercut recruitment, they should offer defectors more protection.
“What we are saying is not that people should necessarily be given an amnesty. That would be stupid because some may have committed crimes,” he said. “But at the very least, it should be counted as a mitigating factor when it comes to sentencing.”
US hostage Kayla Mueller was murdered by Islamic State militants, and not killed in a coalition airstrike as IS claims, a former captive has said.
A battle between Islamic State group jihadists and rebels for control of an opposition stronghold in northern Syria has killed at least 47 fighters, a monitor said today.
Twenty Islamist and other rebel fighters were killed in the clashes in Aleppo province throughout yesterday, along with 27 IS jihadists, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The fighting centred on the town of Marea, a key rebel bastion that IS has been trying to capture for months.
The Observatory said fighting was ongoing around the town, which rebel forces still control, as well in villages in the surrounding area.
Marea is one of the most significant rebel-held towns in northern Aleppo and lies on a key supply route running to the Turkish border.
IS has targeted the town for months, seeking to expand westwards from territory it already holds in Aleppo province.
Last week, IS advanced in the area, seizing five villages from rebel forces around Marea after allegations it had used a chemical agent, possibly mustard gas, in its attacks.
The IS advances came despite an agreement between Turkey and the United States to work on the establishment of an IS-free zone in northern Aleppo.
In recent days, the US-led air campaign fighting IS in Syria has carried out strikes against the group near Marea, according to the Pentagon.
More than 240,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government protests.
It has evolved into a complex multi-front war, with regime and rebel forces as well as Kurds and jihadists involved in the fighting.
By Vivian Salama
BAGHDAD — Turkish jets struck camps belonging to Kurdish militants in northern Iraq Friday and Saturday in what were the first strikes since a peace deal was announced in 2013.
The strikes in Iraq targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, whose affiliates have been effective in battling the Islamic State group.
The Kurds of Syria and Iraq have become a major part of the war against the Islamic State group, with Kurdish populations in both countries threatened by the militants’ advance. Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds took part in cross-border operations to help rescue tens of thousands of displaced people from the minority Yazidi group from Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain in August last year and they continue to fight in cooperation with one another against the Islamic State group in areas along the Iraq-Syria border.
They have been somewhat effective in limiting the expansion of the Islamic State militants across northern Iraq but there are concerns that Turkish airstrikes on the PKK could jeopardize Kurdish positions.
WHO ARE THE KURDS?
The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language and customs whose nomadic past led to their modern-day dispersal across several countries, mostly Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. Sunni Muslims make up the vast majority, but there is a sizeable Shiite population, particularly in Iran.
After the collapse of the Ottoman and Qajar empires and the subsequent creation of these modern states, Iraq, Iran and Turkey each agreed to oppose the creation of an independent Kurdistan, making them the largest stateless minority group in the world. With nearly 25 million people living in five countries, they continue to push for self-rule.
WHAT IS THEIR ROLE IN TURKEY?
Turkey is home to an estimated 15 million Kurds, about one-fifth of the country’s population of 76 million. Most are Sunni Muslim.
The PKK has fought a three-decade war, initially for independence and later for autonomy and greater rights for Kurds. The conflict with the PKK has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.
Turkey and its U.S. and European allies consider the PKK — which has Marxist origins — a terrorist organization for killing civilians in urban bombings.
In 2012, Turkey launched secret talks with the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to end the conflict. The talks were made public in 2013 and the PKK declared a cease-fire a few months later.
Kurds accused Turkey of not doing enough to help Syrian Kurds during the battle against Islamic State militants over the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, prompting violent clashes and straining the fragile peace process.
Tensions flared again after an Islamic State suicide bombing in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc on Monday killed 32 people. Kurdish groups held the Turkish government responsible, saying it had not been aggressive in battling the Islamic State group.
Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party, said the strikes on the PKK in Syria and Iraq amounted to an end of the two-year-old truce. It called on the government to end the bombing campaign and resume a dialogue with the Kurds.
Turkey views Kurds in Iraq as an ally but is suspicious of Syrian Kurds who are affiliated with the PKK. Ankara is worried that Kurdish gains in Iraq and in Syria will encourage the aspirations of its own Kurdish population.
WHERE DO THEY STAND IN IRAQ?
Five million Kurds have their own government in Iraq’s semi-autonomous north and have significant representation in the central government with several key posts including the presidency, which is allocated to Kurds. They currently represent about 20 percent of Iraq’s population, making them the largest ethnic minority.
There are two main Iraqi Kurdish factions: The Kurdistan Democratic Party is led by Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is led by former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The factions fought a bloody war for power over northern Iraq in the mid-1990s, before agreeing to a power-sharing deal that ended the fighting in 1998.
The Iraqi Kurdish militia, known as the peshmerga, has been a major force in repelling the Islamic State group’s onslaught in recent months, with nearly a dozen countries rushing to its aid with weapons and training in the absence of genuine support from a strained Iraqi military.
The United States has been one of the most ardent protectors of Iraqi Kurds for over a generation, helping establish and enforce a safe haven in northern Iraq to protect them from Saddam Hussein. After the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. officials sought to give equal power to Kurdish politicians even in navigating the delicate rivalry between the factions.
WHERE DO THE KURDS STAND IN SYRIA?
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people. They are centered mostly in the impoverished northeastern province of Hassakeh, wedged between the borders of Turkey and Iraq.
The Kurdish Democratic Union party, or PYD, is the most powerful political force among Syria’s Kurds. The party is a deeply secular, and affiliated with the PKK. The People’s Protection Units, known by its Kurdish acronym YPG, is the main Kurdish fighting force in Syria.
Since Syria’s civil war began, the Kurds have made unprecedented gains, strengthening their hold on the far northeast reaches of the country and carving out territory where they declared their own civil administration in areas under their control. They have demonstrated a surprising resilience in their fight against Islamic State group militants in Kobani, pushing them out in January with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes. More recently last month, they ejected the Islamic State group from their stronghold of Tal Abyad along the border with Turkey, robbing the IS of a key avenue for smuggling oil and foreign fighters.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.
Kurds fight the IS group while being bombed by Turkey Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share via Email More Options Resize Text Print Article Comments 4 Turkey strikes Kurdish militants in Iraq(1:55) Turkish warplanes struck Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, expanding and complicating the air war launched by Turkey against the Islamic State in Syria a day before.
Smoke on the Water Sequence depicting the rocket approaching and hitting the ship Moment the ship was struck Smoke billows from the Egyptian ship (Photos: AFP)
The Islamic State terror group on Thursday claimed responsibility for firing an apparently guided rocket at an Egyptian warship in the Mediterranean Sea, north of Rafah. The group claimed that the ship was destroyed and troops killed, but there was no official confirmation. Sequence depicting the rocket approaching and hitting the ship Photos showing the incident could be found on social media sites after the attack. Palestinian sources said earlier Thursday that an Egyptian ship was on fire after an explosion whose cause was unclear. An Egyptian military spokesperson issued a statement reporting exchanges of fire between naval forces and terrorists. According to an Egyptian military statement, navy vessels guarding Egypt’s shores noticed suspicious terrorist activity along the coast, chased after them, and exchanged fire. The military said this caused the ship to catch fire, but added that no one had been killed.