War against ISIS | Page 47 | World Defense

War against ISIS

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Daesh remnants wage hidden war of raids, killings
AP
May 13, 2019

  • The terrorists pulled Khadija’s husband and his two brothers into the yard and shot them dead
  • Badoush, on the Tigris River just outside the city of Mosul, is a key battleground
BADOUSH, IRAQ: It was a chilly January evening, and Khadija Abd and her family had just finished supper at their farm when the two men with guns burst into the room.

One wore civilian clothes, the other an army uniform. They said they were from the Iraqi army’s 20th Division, which controls the northern Iraqi town of Badoush. In fact, they were Daesh group militants who had come down from the surrounding mountains into Badoush with one thing on their mind: Revenge.

Around 13 more gunmen were waiting outside. The terrorists pulled Khadija’s husband and his two brothers into the yard and shot them dead, leaving them in a pool of blood — punishment for providing information to the Iraqi military.

“How can we live after this?” Khadija said. The three brothers were the providers for the entire family. “They left their children, their livestock, their wives, and their elderly father who doesn’t know what to do now.”

A year and a half after Daesh was declared defeated in Iraq, the militants still evoke fear in the lands of their former so-called caliphate across northern Iraq.

The terrorists, hiding in caves and mountains, emerge at night to carry out kidnappings, killings and roadside ambushes, aimed at intimidating locals, silencing informants and restoring the extortion rackets that financed Daesh’s rise to power six years ago.

It is part of a hidden but relentless fight between the group’s remnants waging an insurgency and security forces trying to stamp them out, relying on intelligence operations, raids and searches for sleeper cells among the population.

The militants’ ranks number between 5,000 and 7,000 around Iraq, according to an Iraqi intelligence official.
“Although the territory once held by the so-called caliphate is fully liberated, Daesh fighters still exhibit their intention to exert influence and stage a comeback,” said Maj. Gen. Chad Franks, deputy commander-operations and intelligence for the US-led coalition.

In towns around the north, Iraqi soldiers knock on doors in the middle of the night, looking for suspects, based on intelligence tips or suspicious movements. They search houses and pull people away for questioning.

In February, Human Rights Watch accused authorities of torturing suspects to extract confessions of belonging to Daesh, an accusation the Interior Ministry has denied. Detainees are pushed by the thousands into what critics call sham trials, with swift verdicts — almost always guilty — based on almost no evidence beyond confessions or unaccountable informants’ testimony. The legacy of guilt weighs heavily especially on women and children, who face crushing discrimination because of male relatives seen as supporting Daesh.

AP journalists embedded with a battalion of the 20th Division last month and witnessed several of its raids at Badoush.

Badoush, on the Tigris River just outside the city of Mosul, is a key battleground because it was once one of the most diehard Daesh strongholds.
In the summer of 2014, it was a launching pad for the militants’ blitz that overran Mosul and much of northern Iraq. Daesh built a strong financial base by extorting money from the owners of Badoush’s many industrial facilities. Security officials estimate two-thirds of its population — which numbered around 25,000 before the war — were at one point members or supporters of the group.

Now the population is divided. Residents who suffered at the hands of Daesh or lost loved ones to the group are suspicious of neighbors they believe still support the militants. Within families, some members belonged to the group and others opposed it.

The Badoush area alone has seen 20 terror attacks, from bombings to targeted killings, since it was retaken from the militants in March 2017, according to the Kurdish Security Council. The militants brag about the attacks in videos that show fighters storming houses and killing purported “apostates” and spies.

 

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Iraqi Court Sentences 3 French ISIS Members to Death
Monday, 27 May, 2019


Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest a person suspected of belonging to Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq February 26, 2017. Reuters

Baghdad - Asharq Al-Awsat

An Iraqi court on Sunday sentenced three French citizens to death for joining ISIS, several news agencies reported.

Captured in Syria by a US-backed force fighting the militants, Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou were transferred to Iraq for trial.

They have 30 days to appeal, an Iraqi official said.

Iraqi legal expert Ahmed al-Abadi told Asharq Al-Awsat that those accused of ISIS membership from any nationality could be taken to trial in Iraq because their charges include threats to Iraq’s national security.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi interior ministry said it has found militant hideouts in Diyala province.

A ministry spokesman said that police intelligence received a tip off and raided two hideouts where they found arms and ammunition.

Iraq has recently expressed willingness to put on trial foreigners caught in Iraq or Syria.


 

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May 27, 2019
France opposed in principle to execution in Iraq of three French Islamic State members

PARIS (Reuters) - The French foreign ministry said on Monday it was opposed in principle to the death penalty, but also said it accepted Iraqi sovereignty as Iraq’s justice ministry sentenced three French citizens to death for their membership of Islamic State.

“The French embassy in Iraq, in its role as provider of consular protection, is taking the necessary steps to convey its position (against the death penalty) to the Iraq authorities,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that it respected the sovereignty of the Iraq authorities and that Islamic State members “had to answer for their crimes”, which carry the death penalty in Iraq.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Luke Baker

 

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Baghdad Court Condemns Fourth French ISIS Member to Death
Monday, 27 May, 2019


in this May 23, 2018 file photo, suspected ISIS militants wait their turn for sentencing at the counterterrorism court in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

Baghdad- Asharq Al-Awsat

A Baghdad court on Monday sentenced another former French fighter with the ISIS group to death - the fourth Frenchman to get the capital punishment so far in Iraq - and postponed the verdict for a fifth man after he testified to being tortured in detention.

France, meanwhile, said the Iraqi court has jurisdiction to rule in the cases, though a spokeswoman reiterated the French government's opposition to the death penalty.

The trials come as questions swirl about the legal treatment of thousands of foreign nationals formerly with the extremist group.

The Frenchmen on trial are among 12 French ISIS fighters whom the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces handed over to Iraq in January. The Kurdish-led group spearheaded the fight against ISIS in Syria and has handed over to Iraq hundreds of suspected ISIS members in recent months.

ISIS "terrorists must answer for their crimes in court," said France's foreign affair's ministry spokeswoman, Agnès von der Mühll.

As Monday's proceedings opened, the first to appear was Mustafa Mohammed Ibrahim, 37, from the Mediterranean city of Nice. Ibrahim, of Tunisian origin, with short hair and a light beard, walked in the courtroom wearing a yellow prison uniform with "Reforms Department" printed on the back in Arabic.

"I ask for forgiveness from the people of Iraq and Syria and the victims," Ibrahim said before Judge Ahmed Mohammed ordered he remove his top in order to see if there were any signs of torture on his body. None were visible.

"No matter what the sentence will be against me I want to go back to my country," said Ibrahim. He added that he used to work as a driver back in France before joining ISIS.

The judge sentenced Ibrahim to death.

The second man brought into the courtroom was identified as Fadil Hamad Abdallah, 33, of Moroccan origin. Abdallah said he was subjected to torture while in detention and the judge referred to him to a medical committee for investigation and postponed his next session until Sunday. The judge also postponed the sentencing of three other Frenchmen until next Monday.

The first three French ISIS fighters were sentenced to death on Sunday. Those convicted can appeal their sentences within a month.

Iraqi prosecutors say the 12 French nationals were parties or accomplices to ISIS crimes, and threatened the national security of Iraq. Simply belonging to the extremist group is punishable by life in prison or execution under Iraq's counter-terrorism laws.

In Paris, von der Mühll said France's position is that adults detained in Iraq must be tried by the Iraqi justice system, as soon as it declares itself competent.

"France respects the sovereignty of Iraqi authorities" she added, though she expressed her country's opposition to the death penalty, "in principle, at all times and in all places."


 

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France seeks to save Daesh members from execution in Iraq
Updated 14 sec ago
AP
May 28, 2019
  • France has made no effort to bring back captured French Daesh fighters
  • Controversy surrounds the legal treatment of thousands of foreign fighters who joined Daesh
PARIS: France’s foreign minister says his government is working to spare four French former members of Daesh from execution after Iraq sentenced them to death.

However, France has made no effort to bring back captured French Daesh fighters, including the four sentenced this week.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated France’s position on Tuesday, saying the four terrorists should be tried where they committed their crimes.

But he said on France-Inter radio that “we are multiplying efforts to avoid the death penalty for these four French people.”

He didn’t elaborate, but said he spoke to Iraq’s president about the case. France is outspoken against the death penalty globally.

There’s been controversy about the legal treatment of thousands of foreign fighters who joined Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

 

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France Ups Efforts to Avoid Execution of French ISIS Convicts in Iraq
Tuesday, 28 May, 2019


French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced Tuesday that Paris was intensifying its efforts to stop the execution of four French citizens in Iraq after they were convicted and sentenced to death for fighting for the ISIS terrorist group.

"We are increasing the steps to avoid the death penalty for these four French citizens," he told France Inter radio.

"We are opposed to the death penalty," he added.

An Iraqi court on Sunday sentenced three French nationals to death for joining the terror group, the first ISIS members from France to be sentenced to capital punishment.

On Monday, a fourth French citizen was also condemned to death in Baghdad.

The four have 30 days to appeal.

Two more French members of ISIS were sentenced to death by Iraq on Tuesday.

The men were identified as Karam El-Harchaoui and Brahim Nejara. They are among a group of 12 French citizens who were detained by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in neighboring Syria and handed over to Iraq in January.

In recent months, Iraq has taken custody of thousands of extremists, including foreigners, captured by the SDF.

France has long insisted that its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial locally, refusing to repatriate them despite the risk they face capital punishment for waging their extremist war in the region.

Le Drian reaffirmed France's refusal to accept any repatriations of its nationals affiliated with ISIS.

"These terrorists -- because they are terrorists -- who attacked us, who also caused death in Iraq, must be judged where they committed their crimes," he said.

The Iraqi judiciary said earlier in May that it has tried and sentenced more than 500 suspected foreign members of ISIS since the start of 2018.

Its courts have condemned many to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign ISIS members have yet been executed.

 

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Iraq hands over 188 Turkish children of suspected Daesh members

Reuters
May 29, 2019

  • The figure includes ‘a small percentage’ who had ‘come of age’
  • Children can be held responsible for crimes in Iraq starting the age of nine
BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities handed over 188 Turkish children of suspected Daesh members to Turkey on Wednesday at Baghdad airport, where they boarded a plane and prepared to fly home, officials from Iraq’s judiciary and UNICEF said.

Representatives of the Iraqi judiciary and the UN agency were present until the children got on the plane. UNICEF Regional Chief ofCommunications
Juliette Touma told Reuters the aircraft had not yet taken off.

An Iraqi judiciary spokesman said the group included several that had “come of age” and been convicted and sentenced for illegally crossing the border. Children can be held responsible for crimes in Iraq from the age of nine.

“The central investigations court, which is responsible for the terrorism file and foreign suspects, has handed the Turkish side 188 children left behind by Daesh terrorists in Iraq,” said the spokesman, Judge Abdul-Sattar Al-Birqdar, in a statement.

Daesh is known to its detractors as Daesh.

An Iraqi foreign ministry official, a representative of the Turkish embassy in Baghdad and representatives of international organizations including UNICEF were present, Birqdar added.

Reuters reported in March that about 1,100 children of Daesh fighters are caught in the Iraqi justice system. The youngest stay with their mothers in prison, and at least seven children have died because of poor conditions.

Several hundred older children are being prosecuted for offenses ranging from illegally entering Iraq to fighting for Daesh.

Some 185 children aged between nine and 18 have already been convicted and received sentences from a few months to up to 15 years in juvenile detention in Baghdad.

Iraq is conducting trials of thousands of suspected Daesh fighters, including hundreds of foreigners, with many arrested as the group’s strongholds crumbled throughout Iraq.

Baghdad is keen for those who cannot be prosecuted to be sent home, but the issue is legally complicated and politically toxic, and many nations have so far refused to take them.

Iraqi President Barham Salih returned on Wednesday from a brief visit to Turkey where he met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.


 

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Exclusive: Islamic State suspects sent by U.S. from Syria to Iraq
May 29, 2019 / Updated 23 minutes ago
Raya Jalabi, Alissa de Carbonnel


BAGHDAD/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. forces have quietly sent at least 30 suspected foreign Islamic State fighters captured in Syria last year and in late 2017 to stand trial in Iraq, interviews with the men, Iraqi sources and court documents show.

Three of the men have been convicted of IS membership and sentenced to death by Iraqi courts, while five have been given life sentences. Four of them told Reuters they were tortured in prison, a claim Reuters was unable to verify.

Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) denied that detainees were transferred to their custody from Syria in 2017 and 2018, and denied the detainees’ claims of torture.

While the fate of thousands of IS fighters captured in Syria remains unresolved, the roughly 30 suspected foreign jihadists were transferred to Iraq in 2017 and 2018 after they were captured by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), according to Iraqi court files, U.S. detention records, intelligence and judicial sources as well as people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East, declined to comment on Reuters’ findings, but acknowledged the challenges posed by detainees captured by Kurdish militias, whose authority is not internationally recognized

“The issue of foreign terrorist fighters in SDF custody in Syria is an extremely complex problem,” spokesman Captain Bill Urban said.

The United States wants countries to take responsibility for their foreign fighters through “prosecution, rehabilitation programs, or other measures that sufficiently prevent detainees from re-engaging in terrorism”, he said.

“We remain engaged with a wide range of international partners to ensure that these foreign terrorist fighters never threaten anyone again.”

Eight men convicted for their role in IS - from Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, Egypt and Morocco - were interviewed by Reuters during their appearances in Iraqi courts.

They said that after being captured in Syria by U.S.-backed SDF forces they were interrogated about their roles in Islamic State by the SDF and U.S. forces. They said they were then held, mostly in solitary confinement, at U.S. military bases in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region or in Jordan before being handed into Iraqi custody.

The SDF declined to comment on the question of prisoner transfers, referring Reuters to Iraqi authorities. The SDF has said it wants to get rid of foreign fighters because it is not in a position to put them on trial.

HUMAN RIGHTS
U.S. President Donald Trump is pressing European nations to take back their nationals from among more than 2,000 suspected foreign fighters captured during the final battles to destroy the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria earlier this year.

The U.S. and European allies have held talks with Baghdad on a possible bulk transfer of prisoners from Syria to be prosecuted in Iraq since the start of the year, Western diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials say.

While there is no common European policy on how to handle detained foreign fighters from Europe, Iraq has shown it is willing to prosecute.

Prisoner transfers are not prohibited under international law if they come with human rights guarantees, but that applies to transfers between states - not a non-state actor such as the SDF.

“The sub-contraction of trials ... to an ill-resourced, under-funded, ill-equipped criminal justice system in Iraq can only be described as an abrogation of responsibility,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur for human rights while countering terrorism.

Iraqi judicial officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But some prisoners have already been sent to Iraq.

An Iraqi military intelligence source said foreign IS detainees had been handed over by the SDF to U.S. forces in 2017 and 2018 inside Syrian territory, and were transported by air to Iraq.

Among them is Belgian Bilal al-Marchohi, 23, who was sentenced to death on March 18. A spokesman for Belgium’s prime minister declined to comment on his case, but a consular official was present at his trial.

Marchohi said he was shuttled between multiple facilities in Syria before being taken to Iraq. He was held by the SDF in a house and a former school, then moved to a facility “where there were only Americans” and next flown - blindfolded and bound – by helicopter to another site. Marchohi said he was kept in solitary confinement, under constant bright lights with few toilet breaks.

“The Americans threatened me, my wife and kids,” he said. “They said, ‘we can put a bullet between your two eyes.’”

He said he signed a blank confession, which was later filled out by Iraqi authorities to detail his activities in Syria. It appeared to have been changed later to show he was arrested in Iraq, according to his court file, seen by Reuters. In the court file, there is also a reference to his detention by the U.S. military for two months at base in Iraq.

The other seven suspected fighters who spoke to Reuters in Iraq said they were also arrested by the SDF, or by the SDF and U.S. forces, in Syria and then held in U.S. detention.

Foreign militants like Marchohi - who served in the IS religious police, according to court documents - held elite status within IS ranks. At their trials, judges described the men as battle-tested fighters.

German Levent Ozgurt, 24, said he was detained near Aleppo in Syria by the SDF in November 2017 and also flown by helicopter to a U.S. base in northern Iraq, where he was held in solitary confinement.

The German foreign ministry said it had no evidence of his transfer from Syria to Iraq.

Marchohi and Ozgurt said they were told by U.S. forces that they would be repatriated when their interrogations ended.

Instead, they were handed to Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), which they said beat them, held them in stress positions and gave them electric shocks via cattleprods to their genitals.

Marchohi showed Reuters scarring he said was from beatings and electric shocks. Ozgurt showed Reuters similar marks on his back at a court appearance where he was sentenced to death on Dec. 4. Germany’s ambassador to Baghdad was present at the trial.

The eight detainees also told Reuters confessions used to prosecute them were falsified. Six said they were coerced into thumbprinting the typewritten confessions through torture. Iraqi authorities denied the claims.

CTS spokesperson Sabah al-Naaman said any claims that detainees were transferred to their custody from Syria in 2017 and 2018 were untrue, and denied they had been tortured.

“IS members know how to tell lies to mislead judges in order to evade prosecutions,” Naaman said.

Additional reporting by Phillip Stewart and Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by Giles Elgood


 

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Iraq Sentences 7th French Man to Death for Joining ISIS
Wednesday, 29 May, 2019

Iraq sentenced on Wednesday a seventh French man to death for joining the ISIS terrorist group.

Yassin Sakkam was among 12 French citizens transferred to Iraqi authorities in January by a US-backed force fighting the group in Syria.

"I admit to having sworn allegiance" to ISIS, he told the court, saying he was paid $70 (62 euros) a month.

He added that he regretted his decision to join the group, and asked to be pardoned.

Sakkam, now 29, left France in late 2014 to fight for ISIS, posting online pictures of himself carrying arms and speaking to multiple media outlets about ISIS.

He became one of the most notorious extremists in France, which has been seeking his arrest since 2016.

Kurdish authorities detained him in Syria in 2017.

His brother Karim carried out a suicide attack at the Iraqi-Jordanian border in 2015, according to the French Terrorism Analysis Centre (CAT).

Sakkam's sentence came despite France reiterating its opposition to capital punishment this week amid a series of similar judgments against French citizens handed to Baghdad.

Iraq has taken custody of thousands of extremists in recent months after they were captured in neighboring Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during the battle to destroy ISIS.

They include hundreds of foreigners suspected of ISIS membership, raising the question of whether suspects should be tried in the region or repatriated.

France has long insisted that its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial locally, while reiterating its opposition to capital punishment.

Iraqi law provides for the death penalty for anyone joining a "terrorist group" -- even those who did not take up arms.

Also on Wednesday, an Iraqi court sentenced Tunisian Mohammed Berriri to death for joining ISIS.

Berriri, 24, admitted to joining the group, saying he thought it was "defending the weak", but said he now regretted doing so.

Sakkam and the six other French citizens handed death sentences in recent days have 30 days to appeal.

The remaining five French suspects face trial in the coming days.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was stepping up efforts to stop Iraq executing those convicted.



 

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Crop fires, a weapon of war, ruin Iraqi, Syrian harvests
AP
May 30, 2019

  • Daesh militants have a history of implementing a “scorched earth policy” in areas from which they retreat or where they are defeated
  • The blazes have been blamed alternately on defeated Daesh militants seeking to avenge their losses, or on Syrian government forces battling to rout other armed groups
IRBIL, Iraq: It was looking to be a good year for farmers across parts of Syria and Iraq. The wettest in generations, it brought rich, golden fields of wheat and barley, giving farmers in this war-torn region reason to rejoice.

But good news is short-lived in this part of the world, where residents of the two countries struggle to cope with seemingly never-ending violence and turmoil amid Syria’s civil war and attacks by remnants of the Daesh group. Now, even in areas where conflict has subsided, fires have been raging in farmers’ fields, depriving them of valuable crops.

The blazes have been blamed alternately on defeated Daesh militants seeking to avenge their losses, or on Syrian government forces battling to rout other armed groups. Thousands of acres of wheat and barley fields in both Syria and Iraq have been scorched by the fires during the harvest season, which runs until mid-June.

“The life that we live here is already bitter,” said Hussain Attiya, a farmer from Topzawa Kakayi in northern Iraq. “If the situation continues like this, I would say that no one will stay here. I plant 500 to 600 acres every year. Next year, I won’t be able to do that because I can’t stay here and guard the land day and night.”

Daesh militants have a history of implementing a “scorched earth policy” in areas from which they retreat or where they are defeated. It’s “a means of inflicting a collective punishment on those left behind,” said Emma Beals, an independent Syria researcher.

Daesh militants claimed responsibility for burning crops in their weekly newsletter, Al-Nabaa, saying they targeted farms belonging to senior officials in six Iraqi provinces and in Kurdish-administered eastern Syria, highlighting the persistent threat from the group even after its territorial defeat.

Daesh said it burned the farms of “the apostates in Iraq and the Levant” and called for more.

“It seems that it will be a hot summer that will burn the pockets of the apostates as well as their hearts as they burned the Muslims and their homes in the past years,” the article said.

Hundreds of acres of wheat fields around Kirkuk in northern Iraq were set on fire. Several wheat fields in the Daquq district in southern Kirkuk burned for three days straight last week.

Farmers in the village of Ali Saray, within Daquq’s borders, struggled to put out the blazes. The militants had laid land mines in the field, so when help arrived in the village of Topzawa Kakayi, the explosives went off and seriously wounded two people, according to the local agriculture department and farmers.

In eastern Syria’s Raqqa province, farmers battled raging fires with pieces of cloth, sacks and water trucks. Piles of hay burned and black smoke billowed above the fields.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) of farmland in Hassakeh, Raqqa and all the way to Aleppo province to the west, were burned.

Activist Omar Abou Layla said local Kurdish-led forces failed to respond to the fires in the province of Deir Ezzor, where Daesh was uprooted from its last territory in March, deepening the crisis.

Other residents accuse the Syrian government, which used to earn millions from the wheat trade in eastern Syria, of sparking the fires to undermine the Kurdish-led administration, which now operates independently of the central government.

Kurdish authorities acknowledge they have few capabilities to deal with the arsons.

In Raqqa, where most of the residents rely on agriculture, farmers were preparing for a good harvest. Ahmed Al-Hashloum heads Inmaa, Arabic for Development, a local civil group that supports agriculture. He said rainfall levels were more than 200% higher than last year, causing many to return to farming.

But what promised to be a good year turned into a “black one,” said Al-Hashloum, who said western Raqqa was worst hit by the fires. All it takes is a cigarette butt to set haystacks on fire, he pointed out.
“It doesn’t need a bomb or fuel,” he said.

Estimates based on local farmers suggest that nearly 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares) in Raqqa province were set on fire, valued at $9 million, he said.
In western Syria, a government military offensive against the country’s last rebel stronghold has also left thousands of acres of farms in ashes, in what activists and experts say is a calculated move to deny the locals livelihood and force them to leave the enclave, home to 3 million people.

Beals, the Syria expert, said the government used similar tactics when it besieged Daraya and eastern Ghouta, other rebel areas outside of the Syrian capital, Damascus, eventually forcing the fighters to surrender as early as 2015 and 2016. Throughout the conflict, various warring parties have used food crops as a way of controlling the population.

Beals said crop burning in rebel-held Idlib province in northern Syria is likely the latest chapter in this playbook and “will impact food security and the ability to eke out a small living for some.” She added that the scale of crop burning is much larger in Idlib than other areas.

One Idlib activist, Huthaifa Al-Khateeb, estimated that as much as 60% of 185,000 acres (75,000 hectares) of wheat and barley have been burned. Olive and pistachio groves have largely been spared, he said.

Satellite images provided by the Colorado-based Maxar Technologies show significant damage to crop fields in Idlib and Hama, calling it a “scorched earth campaign.”

The UN said the fires are threatening to disrupt normal food production cycles and potentially reduce food security for months to come. Whether intentional or collateral damage, crop burning on this scale will damage soil and have adverse effects on the health of civilians in the province, where respiratory diseases are already high in the overcrowded western Syrian enclave.

Syria had suffered a dire pre-war draught that left the country and the region that traded with it in a worsening food insecurity. The crop burning remains localized and can’t be compared to pre-war devastation, Beals said.

“However, it is only the beginning of the summer and if the fires continue it could lead to a crisis,” Beals said.

 

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Morocco: Three Pro-ISIS Members Arrested
Tuesday, 4 June, 2019


Suspects in the killings of two Scandinavian hikers arrive for their trial at a Moroccan court in Salé near the capital, Rabat, on May 2. (/AFP/Getty Images)

Casablanca - Lahcen Mokena

Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ) dismantled on Monday a three-member ISIS cell operating in the cities of Errachidia and Tinghir in the country’s southeast.

By this, the total number of detainees in anti-terror operations since the start of 2019 reaches 163. In April alone, 74 individuals, 10 of whom were fighters returning from Syria, were arrested.

"The suspects, aged between 26 and 28, were planning to carry out terrorist attacks," said the BCIJ statement. "Initial investigations revealed that the three extremists have adopted ISIS propaganda and tried to recruit and enlist other elements in preparation for their terrorist plots," it added.

The suspects were placed in custody for further investigation.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Moroccan security forces have dismantled terrorist cells across the country as part of anti-terror operations led by BCIJ in cooperation with security agencies.

 

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US airstrikes continue to target al-Shabaab, ISIS-Somalia
by Africom -6th Jun 2019
1559847187100.png


In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, US Africa Command conducted an airstrike targeting ISIS militants in the Golis Mountains, Somalia, on June 4, 2019.

This is the seventh airstrike in the last month against ISIS-Somalia and al-Shabaab in the Golis Mountains, Africa Command said on 5 June.

“We continue to put pressure on terrorist networks in Somalia to enable governance to take hold,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. William P. West, deputy director of operations, U.S. Africa Command. “The Federal Government of Somalia and the United States will continue to take advantage of opportunities presented by the networks in order to disrupt their operations and degrade their capabilities.”

The Golis Mountains are a known area for terrorist camps and ongoing fighting between ISIS and al-Shabaab. “Precision airstrikes such as these support Somali security forces efforts to protect the Somali people from terrorism and support long-term security in the region,” Africa Command said.

At this time, it is assessed the airstrike killed six militants.

 

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Australia repatriating 8 youth from Islamic State families
24 June 2019
By ROD McGUIRK

View attachment 8448
In this image made from video, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds a press conference Monday, June 24, 2019, in Perth, Australia. Morrison says eight Australian offspring of two slain Islamic State group fighters have been removed from Syria in Australia’s first organized repatriation from the conflict zone. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Eight Australian offspring of two slain Islamic State group fighters had been removed from Syria in Australia’s first organized repatriation from the conflict zone, Australia’s prime minister said on Monday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the eight children being repatriated were in the care of Australian government officials. He would not identify the children or say when they would reach Australia.

Media reported that they include five children and grandchildren of Sydney-born convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf and three children of Islamic State group fighter Yasin Rizvic, from Melbourne. Both men and their wives died in the conflict zone.

The children had been taken by an aid agency on Sunday to Iraq, The Australian newspaper reported.
“The opportunity now is for these young children who are coming back to Australia, they can’t be held responsible for the crimes of their parents,” Morrison told reporters.

The children would be provided with support services so that “they can fully integrate into a happy life in Australia,” Morrison said.
“They’ve got off to a horrible start in life as a result of the appalling decisions of their parents and they’ll find their home in Australia and I’m sure they’ll be embraced by
Australians and as a result of that embrace, I’m sure they’ll live positive and happy lives,” Morrison added.

Morrison had for months said he would not risk any Australian official to rescue Australians from Islamic State group-held territory.

Critics had argued that he had not been prepared to take the political risk of repatriating families of Islamic extremists until he won a narrow election victory on May 18.

Morrison said on Monday he had kept his government’s efforts “very low-key” in the interests of the safety of everyone involved, including the aid agencies that had helped the government.

Sharrouf’s Sydney-based mother-in-law Karen Nettleton has launched several attempts to rescue the children from Syria and has led the campaign for Australian government intervention.

Her lawyer Robert Van Aalst said he hoped Nettleton was with the children in Iraq, but had no direct communication with her due to security concerns.

The eldest child, Zaynab, turned 18 last week and has been expecting her third child. Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported she’d yet to give birth.

Zaynab would return to Australia with the newborn, her two children — Ayesha, 3, and Fatima, 2 — her 16-year-old sister Hoda, and her 8-year-old brother, Humzeh.
“There will be medical examinations and various other support provided by the government which they have told us about to help the children acclimatize,” Van Aalst told ABC.

“There are also some wounds that may need to be attended to. Young Hoda was wounded in the leg. Zaynab, I believe, had shrapnel wounds. It is not just physical wounds that have to be looked into but there is some other psychological issues, no doubt, that will have to be looked into,” he added.

The Rizvic children are two boys and a girl aged between 6 and 12, The Australian reported.

Clarke Jones, an Australian National University criminologist who specializes in radicalization, said the children would need treatment for trauma and could be radicalized. They could also be threatened by elements of the Australian community.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want them back at all,” Jones said. “Because of that, they would also be under threat.”

Australian National University counterterrorism researcher Jacinta Carroll wrote in a research paper last week that Zaynab had become both a victim and supporter of terrorism in a case that was legally and morally complex.

Zaynab became a prominent Islamic State group propagandist making social media posts supporting atrocities and the activities of her father and her husband Mohamed Elomar, an Australian Islamic State group fighter who was killed while she was pregnant in 2015, Carroll said.

She had lived a relatively privileged life under the Islamic State regime in Syria in a house with slaves, posting photographs of herself with other veiled women with assault rifles and a luxury BMW sedan. She boasted a “luxury jihad” life in Syria, Carroll said,

Carroll said disengagement services, also known as deradicalization programs, were available in Australia to help the children integrate into the mainstream Australian community.
“I think that will be very challenging for the Sharroufs,” Carroll said. “The profile and the publicity around this family will also make it quite problematic for them to just integrate back into normal life in Australia.”

Mat Tinkler, director of the Save the Children Fund charity, said there were at least 50 Australian women and children in Syrian refugee camps and all should be repatriated.

Khaled Sharrouf horrified the world in 2014 when he posted a photograph on social media of his young son clutching the severed head of a Syrian soldier.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described that image as “one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed.”

Sharrouf’s wife, Tara Nettleton, brought their five children from Sydney to Syria in 2014. She died in a hospital a year later of a perforated intestine. Her husband and two eldest sons later died in an airstrike.

 

Khafee

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Three Months On, Landless ISIS Still a Threat in Syria
Monday, 24 June, 2019

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The ISIS group has claimed several arson attacks on wheat fields in Syria, including in the Kurdish-run breadbasket province of Hasakeh | AFP


Beirut- Asharq Al-Awsat

The ISIS group may have lost its "caliphate", but three months later, experts have warned the militants are still attacking fighters and fields in Syria to show they remain relevant.

The Syrian Democratic Forces announced they had expelled the extremists from their last patch of land in eastern Syria on March 23, after a months-long campaign backed by airstrikes of a US-led coalition.

The Kurdish-Arab alliance taking control of the riverside village of Baghouz spelled the end of the militant proto-state declared in 2014 in large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

But even as the Kurdish-led force fights to quash sleeper cells in northeast Syria, ISIS continues to claim regular attacks there and in other parts of the war-torn country.

"ISIS has never stopped being a threat in northern and eastern Syria," says Syria expert Nicholas Heras.

Over the past three months, they have claimed regular attacks in SDF-held areas, including targeted killings and setting fire to vital wheat crops.

The deadliest include a car bombing on June 1 that took the lives of 10 civilians and seven SDF fighters in the northern city of Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

On April 9, another suicide blast killed 13 people, mostly civilians, also in the group's former de-facto Syrian capital.

"At its core, the ISIS strategy in the SDF-controlled areas, the areas that ISIS once ruled, is to frustrate any designs to replace it", Heras said.

- 'Hearts and minds' -

"ISIS is locked in a tug-of-war with the United States and the SDF to win the hearts and minds of the local Arab population," the analyst at the Center for a New American Security said.

The SDF is led by Kurdish fighters, but areas recently taken from ISIS in eastern Syria are largely Arab-majority.

Both the Damascus regime and the SDF are competing for the favor of these tribes in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor province.

Tactics such as crop burning and assassinations are making it difficult for the SDF to build new order, and help persuade residents that no viable alternative to ISIS exists, Heras said.

Elsewhere in the country, the militants also continue to be a headache.

In Syria's vast desert, they continue to hit regime forces with deadly attacks and ambushes, years into a Russia-backed campaign to eliminate them.

The Britain-based Observatory says more than 150 loyalist fighters have been killed since March 24, the latest four on Sunday.

Even in the northwestern anti-government stronghold of Idlib, the extremists are present.

Online, ISIS loyalists have revved up their propaganda machine to big up alleged feats in other parts of the world.

"What matters the most now is to convince people that they're here to stay," Syrian analyst Hassan Hassan said.

They want to persuade "potential recruits that they have a long term project that goes beyond holding territory".

Suicide bombings in Sri Lanka that killed 258 people on April 21, and elusive ISIS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's first appearance in five years in video footage posted on April 29, likely did just this.

- 'Include locals' -

The US-led coalition has said it is backing the SDF in northeast Syria to quash thousands of remaining loyalists.

"The so-called physical caliphate is defeated, but Daesh as an organization is not," coalition spokesman James Rawlinson said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Last week, the SDF detained several ISIS loyalists in two operations in Deir Ezzor and the northeastern province of Hasakeh, it has said.

In areas now under SDF control, US-backed forces are also helping to clear landmines, Rawlinson said.

And they are working to set up military councils "to assume all security functions for their communities, provide stability, and work toward normalcy", he told AFP.

Last week, the SDF announced the formation of such a council in Raqqa.

"These local and regional initiatives are important to ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh," Rawlinson said.

Hassan warned the coalition and its Kurdish-led allies should act fast while ISIS is still "on the run and defeated".

"The fear is that, as time goes by, ISIS will be able to reorganize itself and then the coalition will lose that window of opportunity where they can make a big difference," he said.

Including members of local Arab communities with real influence in decision-making was key, Hassan said.

"Locals have to be included in the process, in security, and in politics, and running their own areas without feeling they are governed by out-of-towners," he said.

 

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Iraqi special forces kill 14 Daesh militants in country’s north
AP
June 24, 2019
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The operation took place in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. (File/AFP)

  • The forces that said during the operation, Iraqi forces received support from warplanes of the US-led coalition
  • The operation lasted for two days and included Iraqi special forces rappelling from helicopters

BAGHDAD: Iraqi special forces say they have conducted an operation near the northern city of Kirkuk in which they killed 14 members of the Daesh group.

A statement from Iraqi Counterterrorism Forces on Monday says that during the operation, Iraqi forces received support from warplanes of the US-led coalition
The statement says the operation, just south of Kirkuk, lasted for two days and included Iraqi special forces rappelling from helicopters.

Although Iraq declared victory against Daesh in July 2017, the extremists have since been trying to mount a guerrilla-style insurgency, going into hiding and staging surprise attacks in different parts of the country.

 

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