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.