Tag Archives: Islamic state

Islamic State truck bomb kills at least 60 people south of Baghdad

Residents gather at the site of a bomb attack at a checkpoint in the city of Hilla, south of Baghdad, March 6, 2016.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack with an explosive-laden fuel tanker on an Iraqi police checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least 60 people and wounding more than 70, medical and security officials said.

Responsibility was claimed in a posting on the website of the Amaq news agency, which supports the ultra-hardline Sunni group.

“A martyr’s operation with a truck bomb hit the Babylon Ruins checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Hilla, killing and wounding dozens,” the statement on the Amaq website said.

Hilla is the capital of Babylon province, a predominantly Shi’ite region with some Sunni presence.

“It’s the largest bombing in the province to date,” Falah al-Radhi, the head of the provincial security committee, told Reuters. “The checkpoint, the nearby police station were destroyed as well as some houses and dozens of cars.”

A provincial hospital official confirmed the number of casualties. Many had suffered burn injuries.

 

 

UK launches first Syria air strikes

565fbc47c46188ed6f8b45e5

RAF Tornado jets have carried out their first air strikes against so-called Islamic State in Syria, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

Four Tornados took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus shortly after MPs voted to approve bombing.

The strikes targeted the Omar oil fields in eastern Syria, which is under IS control, and were “successful”, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said.

He had personally approved the targets ahead of the Commons vote, he said.

On Wednesday, MPs voted by 397 votes to 223 for UK military action against IS – also known as Daesh – in Syria after a 10-hour Commons debate.

The first Typhoon jet fighters have left RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland, to join the air strikes.

Mr Fallon said the Ministry of Defence would be assessing the damage done by the bombing later, but the aim was to strike “a very real blow on the oil and revenue on which Daesh depends”.

 

France eyes strikes against ISIS in Syria – report

France is considering carrying out strikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, French newspaper Le Monde reported on Saturday citing an anonymous “high-level source.”

President Francois Hollande will give a news conference on Monday to clarify the matter, but government officials are refusing to comment on the report yet.

The issue was allegedly discussed at a defense meeting with the president on Friday, and over the last few days unnamed top officials hinted to the French paper that the decision had been made.

In the coming months, an “informed source” said, reconnaissance missions could be conducted in Syria by the Dassault Mirage 2000 jet fighters based in Jordan.

Currently, France provides advice and arms to what it describes as “moderate” rebels in Syria.

Previously, French leaders ruled out the possibility of participating in the US-led coalition, despite having been the first state to join the US in their attacks on IS in Iraq.

Le Monde added that the change of policy could be caused by Europe’s refugee crisis, and the inability of pushing back Islamic State.

Some 3,000 people were killed in Syria by IS, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ report in June

Report: Egypt Preparing Large Assault Against ISIS in Libya Despite Opposition From Obama

President Abdel Fatah al Sisi,

President Abdel Fatah al Sisi,

Egypt is getting ready to launch a large air and ground attack against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in eastern Libya DebkaFile reports, quoting military and intelligence sources.

The Obama administration is reportedly opposed to the operation.

“Egypt is massing large-scale ground and air forces in the Western Desert along the Libyan border, in preparation for a military campaign to capture eastern Libya — Cyrenaica — from the Islamist State of Syria and Iraq — ISIS — occupation,” reports DebkaFile.

“The substantial naval and marine forces assembling at Egypt’s Mediterranean ports indicate the possible launching of the offensive by dropping Egyptian marines on the Libyan coast around Derna (pop: 100,000), which ISIS has made its provincial capital,” it added. “They may be accompanied by simultaneous landings of paratroops from the air.”

Some officials have warned that ISIS may use Libya to launch attacks against Europe.

The DebkaFile report notes that the Obama administration is against a direct invasion of Libya by Egypt, but would support Cairo taking action through local Libyan militias.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi was not convinced by CIA Director John Brennan who related Obama’s position on April 19.

“President El-Sisi was not surprised to hear from the CIA director that the Obama administration objects to a direct Egyptian invasion of Libya, but would not oppose Cairo acting through local Libyan militias,” said DebkaFile.

“Brennan leaned hard on the Egyptian president to follow Washington’s line, but El-Sisi refused,” it added later.

President El-Sisi did tell the CIA director that he does not plan to keep the Egyptian army in Libya. He is planning to pull his troops out after the jihadists are defeated. Ultimately, El-Sisi said he would hand power back to the elected Libyan government.

ISIS’ presence in eastern Libya and Sinai poses an unacceptable threat to El-Sisi’s country, noted the report.

“He has been warned in a number of intelligence reports that the Islamic State’s terrorists have already penetrated some Egyptian towns and even infiltrated certain army units,” it said.

ISIS is reportedly beefing up its presence in eastern Libya with reinforcements from Syria and Iraq to counter Egypt’s planned assault.

“From Syria, they are traveling by air or sea through the Mediterranean; from Iraq, through the Sinai Peninsula, whence oil and drug rings smuggle them across the Suez Canal and Egypt,” said DebkaFile.

Libya has been engulfed in unrest since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and executed in 2011 with the support of the Obama administration. Various tribes, militias, and political groups are competing for power in Libya.

The country has been split by two warring factions. One is led by the elected government operating out of Tobruk and the other by militias in Tripoli.

The Obama administration and other Western nations have been reluctant to intervene.

Egypt, without the support of the U.S., launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya after the jihadist group beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians.

Egypt’s Mubarak calls on Egyptians to stand behind Sisi

 former president Hosni Mubarak

former president Hosni Mubarak

Egyptian citizens should stand behind their leader Abdel Fatah al Sisi, President Hosni Mubarak said Sunday during a rare phone interview on private television channel Sada El-Balad.

“The sons of the armed forces, with President [Abdel Fatah] al-Sisi at the forefront today, know exactly the meaning of national sovereignty and the sacredness of national territory,” Mubarak said.

“We [Egyptians] should trust our army’s capabilities and stand behind it,” especially in this “difficult, complex stage,” Mubarak added.

Mubarak also stressed the importance of maintaining ties with “Egypt’s friends.”

During the interview, which coincided with the commemoration of the 33rd anniversary of the liberation of Sinai, the former president spoke about the withdrawal of Israel from the tiny peninsula in 1982.

Mubarak, was interviewed by TV host Ahmed Moussa.

In November 2014, Mubarak was cleared of charges of complicity in the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising.

FBI investigating possible ISIS attack in U.S.

65478

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating a possible an Islamist-inspired terrorism plot in the United States, CNN reported on Saturday, quoting law enforcement officials.

A Federal law enforcement official who asked not to be named said there was a known threat to Los Angeles International Airport, but did not say whether this was a new threat or was associated with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

CNN said the investigation started after intercepted communication and other intelligence information that led officials to believe that a plot could be under way.

The network quoted an official as saying the plot focused on parts of California and that officials there had stepped up security.

The Transportation Security Administration had also alerted local law enforcement agencies responsible for security around airports in the state although the possible threat was not necessarily related to aviation, CNN said.

It added that some U.S. cities had increased their security, but gave no further details.

No one at the FBI was immediately available to comment. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson also declined to comment on the reported threat to Las Angeles airport.

Obama faces backlash after blaming intel community for missing ISIS

Official : White House aware of ISIS threat for over a year

Official : White House aware of ISIS threat for over a year

One wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, woke up Monday morning checking for tire tracks after his boss effectively threw him under the bus for having “underestimated” the threat posed by the Islamic State militant group.

But Obama’s remarks in a “60 Minutes” interview drew immediate objections from lawmakers and the intelligence community.

In the interview, Obama was asked how the Islamic State was able to gain so much territory. “Our head of the intelligence community Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” the president said.

Clapper previously had admitted that U.S. analysts both underestimated the Islamic State, or ISIS, and “overestimated” the ability of the Iraqi army to fight them.

But sources say Obama nevertheless was looped in on the rise of ISIS for a while.

A military intelligence official told Fox News that the Obama administration had options on the table to target senior leadership of ISIS — as well as the Al Qaeda-aligned Khorasan Group — in the 18 months leading up to the strikes in Syria which began last week.

The official, who is familiar with the data collection, said the threat from ISIS and Khorasan was well-documented in the president’s daily brief for over a year, but the White House failed to act.

The official said the intelligence community “pushed hard” to identify the leadership of both groups for targeting purposes and these options were presented to the president’s team — and “every option was denied.”

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., also questioned the president’s comments on Monday. Speaking on MSNBC, he said he himself became aware of the threat in the summer of 2013. King said Obama “dropped the ball” and is trying to blame others.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking on CNN, also said he’s “puzzled” by some of the president’s statements.

“The intelligence comments — intelligence people are pushing back hard,” McCain said. “We predicted this and watched it. It was like watching a train wreck and warning every step of the way that this was happening … It is a direct result of our failure to leave a residual force behind.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest fielded a string of questions at Monday’s briefing about the interview. Asked if Obama intended to blame the intelligence community, Earnest said: “He did not.”

He acknowledged Obama “is the one that is ultimately responsible for protecting the national security interests of the United States of America.” He added: “There’s no question that he relies on important advice from the leaders in our military, from leaders in our diplomatic corps, and from leaders in our intelligence [community].”

In discussing Iraq, Obama told “60 Minutes” that the U.S. left the country after the war with “a democracy that was intact, a military that was well-equipped and the ability then (for Iraqis) to chart their own course.”

However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “squandered” that opportunity over roughly five years because he was “much more interested in consolidating his Shia base and very suspicious of the Sunnis and the Kurds, who make up the other two thirds of the country,” the president said.

He also said ISIS regrouped under the cover of the Syrian civil war.

“During the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos,” Obama said.

He also said it was “absolutely true” that the U.S. overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi army.

However, Obama also acknowledged that the U.S. is dealing with a conundrum in Syria, as the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State is helping Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the U.N. has accused of war crimes.

“I recognize the contradiction in a contradictory land and a contradictory circumstance,” Obama said. “We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad,” whose government has committed “terrible atrocities.”

However, Obama called the threat from the Islamic State and other terror groups a more “immediate concern that has to be dealt with.”

The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has taken control of large sections of Iraq and Syria. The Khorasan Group is a cell of militants that the U.S. says is plotting attacks against the West in cooperation with the Nusra front, Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate.

Both groups have been targeted by U.S. airstrikes in recent days; together they constitute the most significant military opposition to Assad.

ISIS+ Al-Nusra Front? Islamists reportedly join forces, new threat against West issued

Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra members gesture while posing on a tank on Al-Khazan frontline of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province.

Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front has issued a new threatening audio message featuring its leader warning the West “will pay the heaviest price” for its actions. The Syrian group is reportedly now joining up with the estranged Islamic State militants.

The leader of Syria’s most prominent terrorist group, Abu Mohamad al-Golani, in denouncing the US-led air strike campaign, has urged Westerners everywhere to do the same “by standing against the decisions of your rulers,” otherwise bloodshed would be brought to their soil.

“Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price,” Reuters cited him as saying. He threatened viewers that the fight would be brought “to the hearts of your homes.”

The US-led coalition has been involved in airstrikes against what until lately it thought was the most dangerous group in the Middle East – the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

However, recent intelligence has pointed to the danger of avoiding other groups whose modus operandi involves carrying out attacks on American and European targets. The IS’s so far has not.

READ MORE: US admits there is a much scarier terrorist group than ISIS

The US has opened two airstrike fronts in its war against the IS: Iraq, since August 8, and Syria since September 23.

The promise was to “degrade and destroy” the terrorist group, while Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda were reduced in importance.

Indeed, for the past year, the IS had fallen out of favor with the likes of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al-Qaeda leader who tried to keep the militants in check. The reason was the group’s unwillingness to operate only in Iraq.

Now, however, the American airstrike campaign appears to have brought the two back together again: Al-Nusra Front has come under pressure from its own members to make good with the IS and embark on a mission to repel the “crusader” assault on Islam.

Although the two groups had fought a bitter battle on the sidelines of the broader Syrian conflict against President Bashar Assad’s forces, a senior Al-Nusra Front source has confirmed to the Guardian that a series of war planning meetings is underway.

While there’s still no word of a deal, any potential unity could be seen as a reason to worry. The Western airstrike campaign has been aiming to cripple the IS’s funding sources in order to slow its progress in Syria and Iraq. The addition of at least some elements of the Syria-based Al-Nusra Front to IS ranks would be a counter-balancing factor. In fact, 73 members had already reportedly defected to IS last Friday, according to an Al-Nusra Front source speaking to the Guardian.

The official Al-Nusra Front spokesman paraphrased in another message the earlier words of Al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri, that this is now a full-on “war.” And as Zawahiri said, “this war will not end in months nor years, this war could last for decades.”

With the Islamic State rampaging across northern Syria and Iraq during the past year, Al-Nusra Front was in relative obscurity. In Tuesday’s strikes by the US, however, 50 of its fighters were killed, including the leader of Al-Nusra-linked Khorasan – the group reportedly tasked with carrying out Al-Nusra’s attacks abroad.

Gholani made sure to mention that losses by all said groups make an imprint on the entire campaign, and will provoke retaliation, adding that in the end “even if we suffer some pain during it,” the war will be won.

Most importantly, he urged all Middle Eastern groups who had suffered at the hands of the IS to not use the opportunity to strike back at them, and instead unite to fight the West.

“[IS injustice] should not push any of you to be driven behind the West and take part in the alliance which they want to use to end jihad,” he said.

He further appealed to Sunni Muslims in Lebanon to leave the army and rise up against Hezbollah – the Shiite militia – in order to also fight the Shiite-aligned Assad in Syria.

Some Islamist elements of Syria’s three-year-long opposition are also visibly angry that the airstrike campaign is going nothing to offset the gain of the Syrian government.

“We have been calling for these sorts of attacks for three years and when they finally come they don’t help us,” said the leader of the Qatar-sponsored Islamic Front.

Airstrikes, however, also kill civilians. One such strike killed 31 civilians, when a school near the Iraqi city of Tikrit was hit on September 1. This included 24 children and a further 41 wounded civilians.

In the meantime, US President Barack Obama has in a CBS interview blamed intelligence for “underestimating” the threat posed by Islamic State in Syria, adding also that the fall of Iraq’s army in the north was likewise unexpected and is allowing the terrorist group to “reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”

 

​US ‘underestimated’ Islamic State militants in Syria – Obama

Publicly announcing that US intelligence agencies “underestimated” the presence and activity of Islamic State militants in Syria, US President Barack Obama in an interview with CBS called the country a “ground zero” for international jihadists.

“Over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos,” Obama said in an interview made on Friday but aired on Sunday.

“And so this became ground zero for jihadists around the world,” he added.

Obama echoed comments previously made by James Clapper, US director of national intelligence which acknowledge how IS in Syria had been underestimated.

At the same time, Obama admitted that the Iraqi army’s capabilities in dealing with militant groups were also overestimated. Clapper made similar comments to a Washington Post columnist earlier this month.

“I didn’t see the collapse of the Iraqi security force in the north coming,” Clapper was quoted as saying. “I didn’t see that. It boils down to predicting the will to fight, which is an imponderable.”

IS has killed thousands of people and has staged three very high-profile beheadings of westerners in their ongoing seizure of parts of Syria and north-western Iraq.

Last week, US-led air strikes against IS which began in August in Iraq moved to Syria, and Obama has been attempting to forge a stronger broader coalition against the terrorists, with an international effort with Arab partners and involving the likes of Denmark, France and the UK.

Obama went on to describe his overall military strategy against IS.

“We just have to push them back, and shrink their space, and go after their command and control, and their capacity, and their weapons, and their fueling, and cut off their financing, and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters,” he said.

But US military officials admit that air attacks on IS strongholds are not achieving enough and a ground campaign is needed to crush the terrorists – with Kurdish forces in Iraq and the “moderate opposition” trained and equipped by the US in Syria.

“Yes, there has to be a ground component to the campaign against ISIL in Syria,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said last week, adding that earlier figures pertaining to a group of 5,000 prospective US-trained forces may be but a fraction of what is truly required to degrade and destroy the Islamic State.

 

Militants, Iraq security forces clash at country’s largest oil refinery

Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

An official at Iraq’s largest domestic oil refinery says Sunni militants have taken over 75 percent of the facility following clashes with Iraqi security forces.

“The militants have managed to break in to the refinery. Now they are in control of the production units, administration building and four watch towers. This is 75 percent of the refinery,” an official speaking from inside the refinery in Beiji told Reuters on Wednesday.

A state oil official told The Wall Street Journal that two fuel-storage tanks were in flames after hours of fighting before dawn Wednesday, some 155 miles north of the capital, Baghdad. The official said militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targeted the oil refinery with mortars and machine guns.

In response, Iraqi security forces and helicopter gunships bombarded positions of the militants inside the refinery, another state oil official added.

But Iraq’s government denied reports that the facility has been overrun.

Iraq’s chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, told The Associated Press that government forces repelled the siege.

Al-Moussawi said 40 attackers were killed in fighting there overnight and early Wednesday. There was no independent confirmation either of his claims or those of the Iraqi military’s retaking neighborhoods in Tal Afar. The areas are in territories held by insurgents that journalists have not been able to access.

The Beiji refinery was shut down on Tuesday and workers were flown out by helicopter, according to Reuters.

The refinery accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity — all of which goes toward domestic consumption for things like gasoline, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. Any lengthy outage at Beiji risks long lines at the gas pump and electricity shortages, adding to the chaos already facing Iraq.

Meanwhile, in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struck an optimistic tone and vowed to teach the attackers a “lesson” — even though Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts in the wake of the initial militant offensive.

“We have now started our counteroffensive, regaining the initiative and striking back,” al-Maliki said.

The campaign by the Al Qaeda-inspired ISIS has raised the specter of the sectarian warfare that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007. The relentless violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion now haunts those trying to decide how to respond.

At the White House, President Barack Obama was to brief lawmakers later Wednesday on what options the U.S. could take.

The U.S. is pressing al-Maliki to undermine the insurgency by making overtures to Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority, which has long complained of discrimination by al-Maliki’s government and excesses by his Shiite-led security forces.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has consistently rejected charges of bias against the Sunnis and has in recent days been stressing the notion that the threat posed by the Islamic State will affect all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. He appeared Tuesday night on television with Sunni leaders and politicians as a sign of solidarity.

The prime minister’s relatively upbeat assessment came as the Iraqi military said its forces regained parts of the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border, which Islamic State fighters captured on Monday. Its closeness to the Syrian border strengthens the Islamic State’s plan to carve out an Islamic caliphate, or state, stretching across parts of the two countries.

The Indian government also said Wednesday that 40 Indian construction workers have been kidnapped near Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which ISIS and allied Sunni fighters captured last week. Roughly 10,000 Indian citizens work and live in Iraq, with only about 100 in violent, insecure areas like Mosul, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

And the Turkish Foreign Ministry said its diplomats were investigating a Turkish media report that militants abducted 60 foreign construction workers, including some 15 Turks, near the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk.

Ethnic Kurds now control Kirkuk, moving to fill a vacuum after the flight of Iraqi soldiers. They too are battling the Sunni extremist militants.

On Wednesday, Kurdish security and hospital officials said that fighting has been raging since morning between Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga and militants who are trying to take the town of Jalula, in the restive Diyala province some 80 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Two civilians were killed and six peshmerga fighters were wounded, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sunni militants of the Islamic State have vowed to march to Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in the worst threat to Iraq’s stability since U.S. troops left in late 2011. The three cities are home to some of the most revered Shiite shrines. The Islamic State also has tried to capture Samarra, a city north of Baghdad and home to another major Shiite shrine.

Iran, a neighboring Shiite country, already has seen thousands volunteer to defend the shrines. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking Wednesday to a crowd gathered at a stadium near his country’s border with Iraq, said that the Islami State and others would be defeated.

“We declare to all superpowers, their mercenaries, murderers and terrorists that the great Iranian nation will not miss any effort in protecting these sacred sites,” Rouhani said.

The U.S. and Iran are discussing how the longtime foes might cooperate to ease the threat from the Al Qaeda-linked militants. Still, the White House ruled out the possibility that Washington and Tehran might coordinate military operations in Iraq.

Some 275 armed American forces are being positioned in and around Iraq to help secure U.S. assets as Obama also considers an array of options.