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Al-Qaeda Expands into Northern Syria

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In a post for Jihadology a few weeks back, I identified how the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) was playing an important role in the fighting on the outskirts of the city of Aleppo and in the surrounding countryside.

Since that time, it has become apparent that the group has been seeking to expand outwards and to consolidate control over outlying towns in both the Aleppo and Idlib regions, particularly those of strategic importance along or near the border with Turkey.

Azaz

This initiative has already served to foster division. For example, in the town of Azaz, which is in close proximity to the Turkish border, a protest ocurred on July 1 against ISIS’ entry into the town and its attempt to establish headquarters there. Yet on July 5, Azaz saw a counter-rally in favor of ISIS featuring a slogan common for such demonstrations—’Labbayka ya Allah’ (‘I am at your service, God’)—accompanied by conspicuous numbers of ISIS flags.

It should be noted that this pattern of division—between those members of Syrian society who support ISIS vs. those who do not—is also observed in the city of Aleppo itself, where ISIS supporters have generally held separate rallies from those of other demonstrators. (I have found one notable exception: a rally on June 4 for the then-besieged city of Qusayr in the area of al-Firdus, featuring both ISIS and Free Syrian Army [FSA] flags).

Resentment over the ISIS presence in Azaz grows. One notable outlet for this disapproving sentiment is a youth activist Facebook page called ‘The Youth of Aleppo—Azaz‘ which posted the following status: ‘We ask the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham to establish their state from Iraq [meaning ‘in Iraq’?] since the system of prostitution [there] has not yet fallen.’

The group has also circulated an alleged statement from a local council in the town of Tel Abyaḍ in Raqqah Governorate claiming that the ISIS has confiscated internationally-donated generators intended to provide drinking water for the residents of the town.

On the other hand, ISIS is attempting some outreach to the locals of Azaz, offering Qur’an and Sunnah recitation competitions—among other religious activities—for the population during Ramaḍān.

Jarabulus

As for other towns, here is a photo of the ISIS headquarters in the northern border town of Jarabulus. The banner reads: ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham: Province of Aleppo. Emirate of Jarabulus.’

One activist page on Facebook called ‘Jabhat al-Nusra does not represent me’ claims the following to give context to the first photo: ‘Photo from Jarabulus following the seizure of it by al-Qa’ida after battles with the FSA. It is said that ISIS then killed scores of civilians, among them children, during al-Qa’ida’s attempt to occupy the town.’

In a similar vein, on June 15, the Arabic news outlet al-Waie News claimed to cite a local source in Jarabulus on clashes between ISIS and a rebel battalion known as the ‘Family of Jādir,’ which uses the FSA flag.

The source claimed that the clashes started after a member of ISIS was wounded during a round of celebratory gunfire that followed a concord reached between the two groups, giving rise to a renewed violent battle between ISIS and the Family of Jādir for fifteen hours, resulting in ISIS’ seizure of the town, as well as the killing of one ISIS fighter and several from the Family of Jādir.

On 13 June, the leader of the Family of Jādir—Yusuf al-Jādir—released video testimony in which he claimed that ISIS launched an attack on the home of Ahmad al-Jādir and then began shooting at dozens of innocent civilians, resulting in the deaths of several children: among them, Mahmoud Kerkaz, Sheikho Shawish, Ibrahim al-Ahmad, and a young Kurdish girl. He continues by documenting other alleged acts of ISIS aggression in the town.

It thus appears that ISIS seized control of Jarabulus by force. One thing that is important to note from the opposing testimony is the issue of naming. The source for al-Waie News from Jarabulus merely sees ISIS as a new name for Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) in the town, and Yusuf al-Jādir likewise deems the two names interchangeable.

Thus, even if my formulation for the city of Aleppo itself—that ISIS and JN are two separate entities—applies here, the perception of at least some residents of the town nevertheless differs. As in Raqqah, the two may well be interchangeable in Jarabulus.

The concept of interchangeability could make sense here in light of the fact that JN has had an active presence in the northern Turkish border areas in the past (cf. clashes with Farouq Battalions in April on the border in Raqqah Governorate). Certainly, Jarabulus has been known for a JN presence in the past: here is a video of a JN-led rally in Jarabulus from December 14, 2012, featuring the chant of ‘We are Anṣar Allah.’

In this context, one should also note a revealing report from the Damascus Bureau, which actually visited Jarabulus. The reporter, Youssef Shaikho, explains that Jabhat al-Nusra in Jarabulus supported the announcement of ISIS, and most of its fighters in the town are native Syrians, providing a notable exception to the media narrative of ISIS as a group solely composed of foreign fighters.

Further blurring the lines of group-alignment and public sentiment, not all those who, like al-Jādir, use the FSA flag in Jarabulus are necessarily opposed to ISIS’ ideological vision. For example, here is a Facebook activist page from Jarabulus that uses the FSA flag. Yet it has put up a status that laments the loss of the Khilafa (Caliphate) and denounces the UN and its decision-making as a mere front for occupation.

In any event, ISIS is now said to be operating an active Shari’a court in Jarabulus, which has allegedly executed three young men recently on charges of rape and murder. ISIS is also accused of detaining the son of a prominent martyr from the Family of Jādir known as Abu Furāt.

In terms of the reasons behind the Jādir-ISIS clashes, one should be cautious about presenting them as a simple ideological battle. It rather seems to have been a power struggle for control of an important border area. The Kurdish PYD, as the Damascus Bureau notes, also has a small activist presence in Jarabulus, yet it has been left untouched and tolerated by ISIS.

At the same time, ISIS is trying to counter the allegations put out about its conduct in Jarabulus by emphasizing local support in the town for the group, including children.

al-Bab

Another town in rural Aleppo where ISIS is establishing its presence is al-Bab. On July 5, the outlet Saḍa ash-Sham al-Islami put up a set of photos of a meeting for Dawah held by the ISIS in al-Bab. [Da’wa means “invitation” and often refers to proselytism—the inviting of others to join Islam. In this case, it refers to outreach to Muslims to strengthen their faith.]

In contrast to what appears to have been a more aggressive approach in Jarabulus, ISIS seems to be engaging in an active outreach effort to the population of al-Bab. Thus, the local outlet al-Bab Press reported that ISIS is running school bus services for children who have seen their education disrupted for many months by Assad regime bomb attacks. A local FB page in al-Bab also gave an account last month from an ISIS fighter of clashes between ISIS and Assad regime soldiers aided by Hezbollah fighters in the wider Aleppo area.

Manbij

The town of Manbij offers a case contrasting with that of al-Bab. Recently, Manbij has seen a protest rally against ISIS. The demonstration was sparked by two grievances against ISIS: first, ISIS is accused by some local activists of destroying works of art in Manbij, and second, of kidnapping a local sheikh. Protests continued into Friday of last week, on which day ISIS had been holding a daw’ah meeting in Manbij featuring a number of locals in support of the group.

Prior to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s announcement of the formation of ISIS in early April, Manbij had been known for an active JN presence in alliance with Ahrar ash-Sham, who together took on the Farouq Battalions in violent clashes in the town at the beginning of the month, resulting in the expulsion of the Farouq Battalions from Manbij.

The clashes began after Ahrar ash-Sham had arrested a certain Abu Khaldun, a friend of the leader of the Farouq Battalions in Manbij. Ahrar ash-Sham and its allies justified the arrest on the grounds that this man had been one of the leading criminal figures in Manbij and had to be put on trial by the Shari’a committee in Aleppo, while emphasizing that there was no fundamental conflict between them and those under the banner of the FSA.

Following the defeat of the Farouq Battalions, Ahrar ash-Sham held a victory rally in Manbij on 6 April with dozens of supporters and allies, featuring the al-Qa’ida flag and a banner reading ‘The Ummah wants an Islamic Khilafa.’ The person who uploaded the video described it as being held in celebration of the expulsion of ‘gangs of thieves’- a common charge leveled against the Farouq Battalions in the north, which unlike the Ikhwaan-aligned Homs division lack ties to any major Islamist groups.

On a side note, the rally itself should illustrate that those who posit a strict dichotomy between supposedly ‘nationalist’ Salafists in Ahrar ash-Sham as opposed to transnational jihadists are mistaken. This rally in Manbij and Ahrar ash-Sham’s statement on JN’s pledge of allegiance to al-Qa’ida show that concepts of the transnational ummah that supersedes “artificial borders” and the nation-state of Syria are often blurred in Ahrar ash-Sham’s ideological thought.

Of course, one also must not generalize in the opposite direction and portray all of Ahrar ash-Sham as bent on an international Khilafa. Yet whenever non-Islamists protest against groups like ISIS, as a rule Ahrar ash-Sham can be expected to side with the latter (cf. the case of Raqqah which I documented last month).

In the context of Manbij, therefore, one should not be surprised about a blurring of distinction between Ahrar ash-Sham’s support base and what is now known as the ISIS presence. Indeed, it is also apparent that there is another virtual mirror front of ISIS active in Manbij: namely, Ansar al-Khilafa, which is composed of a mix of native Syrians and foreign fighters, though exact proportions are unclear.

Ansar al-Khilafa is most prominent in rural Aleppo and Latakia. In the April rally led by Ahrar ash-Sham, it is likely that there were Ansar al-Khilafa supporters among the crowd.

ad-Dana

 

The final case we come to on the subject of ISIS’ expansion is that of ad-Dana in Idlib, near the border with Turkey. Here, a protest rally is said to have taken place against ISIS (though no video footage of it has emerged so far), sparking violent clashes. Yet it is the only case where we have a mainstream media outlet allowing ISIS to give its full side of the story thanks to an al-Jazeera English report (H/T: @khalidelmousoui) from the town. In the report, ISIS fighters claimed that those denouncing their presence were actually agents of the Assad regime.

 

However, it appears that this testimony is contradicted in an account given by pro-ISIS activists in Idlib, who denounced the clashes as ‘the work of some of the apostates of the Free Army.’ Meanwhile, a pro-ISIS Twitter user complained at the time of the clashes that the ‘malicious Free Army’ was besieging ISIS and expressed concerns about the beginnings of a ‘Sahwa’ movement against ISIS.

 

As of now, the al-Jazeera report says that ISIS is the only remaining armed group in the town. This is corroborated by local Idlib activist testimony that there are now no armed clashes in the town and reconciliation initiatives are underway. At the same time, claims that ISIS executed dozens of supporters of those identifying under the banner of the FSA—stemming chiefly from an ad-Dana rebel leader’s testimony were denied.

 

That said, both the rebel leader whose testimony is given by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the al-Jazeera report corroborate each other on the ISIS fighters as being from outside Syria.

 

Now in control of the town, ISIS is running a school for the children, and the ISIS presence as reported by al-Jazeera is corroborated by a video that has now emerged of ISIS fighters manning the entrance into ad-Dana.

 

Conclusion

 

In short, these various cases illustrate ISIS’ growing power in the north of Syria. ISIS is clearly not a force to be dismissed as marginal without any real support on the ground, even as its presence is undoubtedly sparking backlash in many areas. Above all, these recent developments as regards ISIS’ expansion vindicate to an extent my prediction in March in a guest post for Syria Comment about the emergence and establishment of jihadist strongholds in the north and east of Syria.

 

In terms of the future, one needs to be skeptical of the narrative being put out by Supreme Military Command (SMC) supporters of a looming, grand-scale FSA effort to take on ISIS in the north of Syria in a fundamental clash of ideologies. Resentment at the ideological level is more to be expected from civilian protestors rather than armed rebels.

 

One should particularly note my distinction here between SMC supporters and those in general who go by the banner of the FSA. While SMC supporters would like to portray all of those under the banner of FSA as opposed to ISIS, the evidence speaks otherwise, exemplified in this recent statement by an FSA military council in Aleppo denying rumors of clashes between their ‘brothers’ in ISIS and JN.

 

SMC supporters are likely the source of at least some of the allegations against ISIS, including the recent claim that ISIS is planning to declare a wider northern state after Ramaḍān: plausible in light of ISIS’ expansion in northern Syria but as of now uncorroborated in pro-ISIS circles.

 

Other rumors likely originating from pro-SMC sources include an alleged statement by JN distancing itself from ISIS (not released through JN’s official channel al-Manārah al-Bayḍā, so therefore suspect) and claims that ISIS killed Abu Furāt of Jarabulus, when his funeral actually took place a few months before ISIS was announced.

 

In particular, the reports attempting to portray JN in open conflict with ISIS are building on a narrative stemming from a Reuters piece in which JN was portrayed as a group of native Syrians disillusioned with the machinations of the foreign fighters of ISIS, hinting at the possibility of JN teaming up with other rebels to take on ISIS.

 

The motivation for spreading rumors about ISIS is quite apparent: namely, the SMC’s bid to secure Western arms, which will then be supposedly used to take on what Western nations like the UK perceive to be the number-one threat emanating from Syria.

In any case, the current PR war between SMC supporters and ISIS supporters will continue. Feeling the pressure, the latter have recently announced the formation of a new forum intended to counter purported media disinformation about the group. Thus can the exchange of claims and counter-claims be expected to intensify. Ascertaining the full truth short of getting on the ground will remain elusive.

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Imprisoned ISIS Wives and Children Have Nowhere to Run To, Nowhere to Hide

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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The guards have said if the war comes close, then they will leave here,” a Western ISIS wife texted me today from Camp Roj in far northeastern Syria, a detention center that houses 500 ISIS wives and 1,200 of their children.  “What to do if we are left alone?” she asks. “There’s nowhere to go and too risky to get caught by Bashar [al-Assad].”

As she writes, I’m in Belgium sitting next to an FBI agent. I ask him what she should do, but amid all of this chaos, he doesn’t have an immediate answer.  

The ISIS wife continues: “I like how America thinks it’s too dangerous for them [the U.S. military] to be here but safe for us to remain with Assad.”

Over the past two years I’ve been in and out of the northeastern territory of Syria held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) six times with staff from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). We have conducted in-depth interviews with 217 ISIS men and women, 100 of them in SDF held territory, for our project countering the ISIS brand, which the SDF has supported fully. 

The woman texting me today gave us an interview last year and has managed to stay in touch via illicit phones other detainees allow her to use.

At the same time she is texting me, our Kurdish translator texts that they are living under the sound of bombs and troops advancing. Assad’s troops are marching eastward, while Turkey is barreling in from the north. Which soldiers will reach Camp Roj first and what the women should do if the Kurdish YPJ-Women’s Protection Units guarding them decide it’s too dangerous to remain in place, is something the guards have told the inmates to think about. 

The female inmates of Camp Ain Issa, farther west, faced a similar dilemma earlier in the week when the Turks began shelling. Until Sunday, Ain Issa Camp housed a total of 12,000 women and children, but according to one Belgian woman, it descended into “complete chaos” as fires broke out, the guards left, and the women escaped in the hundreds. 

Among the women housed there, 265 were wives of foreigner terrorist fighters, alongside 1,000 of their children. On the second day of the Turkish air assault, Belgian ISIS wives Bouchra Abouallal and Tatiana Wielandt decided it was better to go on the run with their small children than remain in place to learn what next disaster might befall them.

We interviewed Bouchra Abouallal in September 2019.  Completely exhausted from her experience with ISIS, she said that life inside the Caliphate was “the best possible deradicalization program ever.” Already prosecuted in absentia and facing a five-year sentence in her home country of Belgium, she told ICSVE researchers she would prefer to return home even to serve a 20-year sentence rather than remain in the camp under the menace of the cruel ISIS-inmate enforcers who threatened all European women who no longer wanted anything to do with the ISIS Caliphate.

Now Bouchra Abouallal is on the run with her three small children. In audio messages punctuated in the background by shelling she told a Belgian journalist that she was headed toward the front lines in hopes she could make it to safety in Turkey, where she wishes to turn herself into the Belgian consulate and make her way home. 

While European officials here in Brussels have stated that Turkey agrees to help any escaped ISIS cadres that end in their hands to be returned to their homelands, up until recently, Belgium was refusing to let her come back. Instead of seeing her as someone victimized by the Islamic State’s propaganda and lies, and fooled by the “Shariah for Belgium” group that had radicalized many in her native city of Antwerp, Belgian politicians see her as a threat.

But it is not difficult for Belgian authorities to turn past posts on her social media accounts against her.

“Your system has failed oh Belgian state,” Bouchra’s Facebook page read after she slipped out of Belgium to go live under the Islamic State. Referring to the way the Belgian police had hassled her upon her first return home from Syria, her posts taunted them, saying “You were watching us 24/7 and you still haven’t managed to stop us. Why? Because Allah is the best planner (…)” Her threats continued with, “We have left because we believe that it is a duty for every Muslim. To the policeman who threatened to take our children away, I can say that my children will turn yours into orphans, with the will of Allah.”

Bouchra claims that it wasn’t she, but one of her ISIS husbands, who authored these hate-filled posts. She says he used to lock her up at home and post on her Facebook page without her permission. Indeed, when we interviewed Bouchra in September she spoke gently as she denounced ISIS, giving us permission to use both her image and her name in a counter narrative video—this, while knowing the ISIS enforcers in the camp would likely punish her for it.

The woman texting me today from Camp Roj does so fearing that if it becomes known it was her texting she will be punished by her YPJ guards. Yet pure terror drives her to try to stay connected with the outside world as she makes wrenching decisions for herself and her young child. 

Americans are also in this camp. We have interviewed two American passport holders—Canadian dual-citizen Kimberly Pullman and disputed American citizen Hoda Muthana. 

When I ask today’s texter about Americans in the camps, she tells me there are five in all, two more in Camp Roj and another in Camp Hol. She states that there are also two American children in Camp Roj. We’ve met one of them, Adam, the two-year-old son of Hoda Muthana. Both times we interviewed his mother, Adam was struggling with chronic bronchitis. Today the woman texting me from Camp Roj tells me that the air is thick with fumes from the bombings, which is causing many of the children to have breathing difficulties.

“Going to jail right now won’t be great,” this woman writes as she imagines her future in the West—if she can ever manage to get home. Then she envisions another future: “I could get lost among all of this trouble.” Then again she realizes that fleeing the camp, if her guards do abandon their posts, might also prove disastrous. 

“Please let the governments know that we are not happy with the escape of the women [who have left the camps]. We are actually scared and want to just be safe in our own embassies,” she texts. “We don’t want to keep running away. We want to be tried. I’ve already had the chance to run away before and I decided to be tried in my own country.”

Now the pressing question, amid all of this chaos unleashed by Trump greenlighting the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria: Is anyone going to do anything to get these former ISIS wives and their children back home where they can face justice and live in safety or do we just leave them to face whatever fate turns up as hostile armies converge?

Author’s note: first published in the Daily Beast

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Indian Mujahideen, IS and Hizbul Tahrir: Breeding ground for terrorism in South Asia

Amjed Jaaved

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India Today dated October 8, 2019 has made the startling revelation `The Special Cell of the Delhi Police, probing an IM module, stumbled upon evidence suggesting an association between the two outfits’. It adds,   `Sources in intelligence agencies said that there was credible proof about IM’s links with international groups’. `The Indian Mujahideen had a hand in the Delhi serial blasts of 2008’ and have `links with the international radical group Hizbul Tahrir’.  The organisation was `trying to radicalise disgruntled Muslim youth’, according to recent intelligence inputs’.

Sri Lankan terrorists trained in India

Earlier, Sri Lankan investigations had revealed that the suicide bombers, involved in blasts, were radicalized in India. Sri Lanka had hauled up 116 suspects, including a Tamil medium teacher and a school principal. Those arrested confessed to having been tutored by Islamic-State moles in Tamil Nadu. Posters and social media postings in native Indian languages confirmed that the IS does have networks in several Indian states. A pro- IS Telegram channel released a poster in Bengali language which reads read: “Shighroi Aschhe [coming soon], Inshallah. The poster carried a logo of a group called Al-Mursalat. Some social posts in Sinhala language appeared in Tamil Nadu. Instead of taking notice of IS propaganda, BJP led government has been exploiting the matter for political advantage. BJP leader Vijayvargiya in West Bengal alleged, “If Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Mamata ji stays, Islamic State can enter West Bengal anytime.” India shrugs off the allegation saying that IS adherents in India are spill-over of Bangladesh’s New Jamatul  Mujahideen.  

Call Detail Records  of Sri Lankan-terror  mastermind Zaharan Hashim  indicated his links with IS adherents across India including  R Ashiq, Ismail, Salavuddin, Sadiq, Ali, Shahul Hameed, and Shamsuddin. In a video, Hashim is seen exhorting Muslims from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka to wage jihad. Hashim and another Sri Lanka bomber,  Mohammad Azaan, had travelled to India in 2017 and 2018 to discuss the plans of IS.

By 2013, India knew that its `missing ‘citizens were fighting alongside IS in Syria. It remained unruffled even until 2014 when IS kidnapped 39 `traitor’ Indians in Iraq and executed them. India’s RAW remained listless to an IS map of the Khorasan Caliphate showing engulfing some Indian. BBC reporter Andrew Hosken, who included the map in his 2015 book ‘Empire of Fear: Inside the Islamic State’ said IS wants “to take over all of what they see as the Islamic world”. India arrested about a hundred IS suspects while they returned to India after fall of IS’s last stronghold Baghouz in Iraq.

Why and how Indian Muslims are being radicalized: India is a fertile ground for ISIS cultivators because of Muslims’ persecution. Indian Muslims have less than two per cent parliamentary representation though they are about 14 per cent of Indian population.

The Muslim in India are about 172 million (14.2%), second largest religious community, according to 2011 census. The Muslim is a feeble voice within the parliament and without. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP gave less than two per cent of its tickets to Muslim candidates. Still, none of them were elected. Still Rashtraya Swayemsevak Sangh claims that Muslims in India are

The 2014 Lok Sabha had the lowest share of Muslim MPs in India. So it was despite increase in share of Muslim population in India from 13.4% to 14.2% between 2001 and 2011.

Names of about one-fourth of the eligible Muslim voters were deleted from voters’ list with impunity.   In Karnataka, alone the names of 6.6 million people were missing from the electoral list. Later, about 1.2 million were re-enlisted.

The Muslim population increased. Yet, the number of Muslim voters declined over the years. Obviously, the undercounting and deletion from voters’ list was actuated by planned discrimination, political exclusion, and total elimination. A caricature of Article 326 of India’s Constitution?

Muslims experience low literacy and high poverty rates, and Hindu-Muslim violence has claimed a disproportionate number of Muslim lives. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average and Muslim poverty rates are only slightly higher than low-caste Hindus, according to a November 2006 government report. Muslims make up 13.4 percent of India’s population, but hold less than 5 per cent of government posts and make up only four per cent of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities.

Practically, Muslims, under Hindu influence, are divided into three groups of Indian Muslims—ashraf, ajlaf, and arzal. The ashrafs are upper-class Muslims of Arab ancestry. Ajlafs are Hindus who converted to Islam to escape persecution, and arzals, correlate to the lowest caste of Hindus (harigans). The November 2006 Sachar Report made recommendations to ameliorate the lot of the Indian Muslim. University of Chicago Professor Steven Wilkinson says, “The conclusions aren’t very revolutionary and I wouldn’t expect much in the way of policy change from it.” The professor of political science whose research focuses on ethnic politics in India. Wilkinson says the report fails to offer clear analysis about the nature of Muslim marginalization, and leaves in question whether solutions should focus on Muslims or general public poverty alleviation.

Hard-line Hindu nationalists argue Indian Muslims (as well as Christians) converted from Hinduism and should reconvert to the majority religion. Ruling BJP seeks to win votes proposing to build a temple on the site of a former mosque in Ayodhya, a city in India’s most populous and politically important state of Uttar Pradesh. Temples in IHK are being renovated with little attention to mosques. It is eerie that RSS chief claims `Muslims in India Happiest in the World Courtesy Hindu Culture’. 

Motivational training complement with India-made explosives: The IS India not only imparts motivational training to volunteers but also equips them with necessary kit to do explosions. Besides imparting ideological training, IS in India equips fresh recruits with improvised-explosive devices. Unreliability of dry-buttery cells in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) forced the IS to opt for solar cells.  The study, conducted by Conflict Armament Research (Europe) has confirmed that Indian solar-cell and detonator-producing industries are a big exporter to the IS importers abroad. To bypass customs surveillance, Indian companies export the hardware through intermediaries. The study revealed,  `Seven Indian companies figure in a list of 51 commercial entities from 20 countries theater involved in the supply chain of over 700 components used by the Islamic State to construct IEDs. The Indian firms meet bulk of IS’s demand for detonators, detonating cords,  safety fuses, cables, wires, and other electronic components, India’s trade laws allow export of such components. The companies include Solar Industries, Economic Explosives, Premier Explosives, Ideal Explosives, and Chamundi. Indian products came to light when seized during battles in the Iraqi towns of al Rabia, Kirkuk, Mosul, and Tikrit and the Syrian town of Kobani.

While being preoccupied with Masood obsession, India ignored lurking presence of IM-IS-HT affiliates in its several states. Let India to stop politicising Masood Azhar and focus on emerging threat. India needs to revamp its attitude to the menace before it is too late.

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Who are the Real Terrorists in North East Syria?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Earlier this week President Trump abruptly changed course and green-lighted a Turkish incursion into north east Syria with disastrous results. The subsequent invasion has unleashed a hellish nightmare of carnage and chaos in what was a dangerous, but relatively peaceful, area governed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who had just defeated ISIS territorially.

In recent days, over 30 civilians—including Kurds, Christians and minorities, and very young children—have been killed in indiscriminate Turkish bombings and mortar fire. Likewise, the UN reports that over 130,000 Syrians have suddenly become displaced, fleeing Turkish violence. In addition to these massive displacements, Turkey insists that it will forcibly repatriate 1 to 2 million of the 3 million Syrian refugees it is currently housing back into the SDF-held areas it is now overtaking. That 83% of these Arabs never lived in the areas they are to be forcibly resettled in, begs the question of whose homes and lands will they be overtaking? 

Turkey claims to be fighting a terrorist group and wanting to clean their border area of terrorists, but the pictures coming out of northeast Syria instead make Turkey look like the terrorist aggressor. Countless photos and videos, many of them validated, circulate of Syrian civilians lying bloodied and dead on the ground while their family members wail unconsolably. Hevrin Khalaf, a female, and the Secretary-General of the pro-Kurdish Future Syria Party, is reported to have been dragged from her car and assassinated by Turkish-hired thugs who said while filming her corpse, “this is the corpse of pigs.” Likewise, video footage of bearded mercenary soldiers backed by the Turks, shooting their Kurdish captives while calling them “kufar scum” (unbelievers) are said by U.S. forces to appear authentic. If so, these actions are war crimes.

These bearded assassins, backed by Turkey are likely the same unemployed ISIS, al Nusra, and other former jihadists still happy to kill in the name of Allah, who Turkey used to clear Afrin in 2018. Indeed, they have shown a brutality akin to their mother groups, some even shouting ISIS slogans as they kill, such as “Baqiya wa tatamadad!” meaning we (ISIS) will remain forever, and expand. 

That Turkey would use former ISIS cadres to fight the Kurds is no surprise, given they worked closely with ISIS to try to quell the Kurds early on in the Syrian conflicts and continue to see their interests in destroying Kurdish power to lie with militant jihadist and Islamist groups. An ISIS emir that ICSVE interviewed in 2019 went into great detail about his work on behalf of ISIS, about how he negotiated with the Turkish MIT and military regarding border entry for the 40,000+ foreign fighters that streamed across Turkey into ISIS-controlled areas of Syria, agreements for sending wounded ISIS fighters back into Turkey for medical treatment, supplying water for the Tabqa dam to provide electrical power for ISIS, and so on. According to this emir, even then, Turkey was insisting on a buffer security zone. Now it appears they will go to any lengths to get it.

Meanwhile, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi told U.S. Ambassador William Roebuck, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS “You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered.” He also asked in confused despair how the U.S. could also insist that the Kurds not turn to others, like the Russians for support, effectively boxing them in for slaughter.

When ISIS foolishly attacked Kobani in 2014, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) rose up and fought valiantly and since 2015, they fought with U.S. military backing, to defeat ISIS.  They have been our “boots on the ground”, sustaining most of the casualties and doing all the heavy lifting in defeating a global foe. While U.S. forces lost less than 20 troops after they aligned with the Kurds to fight ISIS in Syria, our hardy allies lost 11,000 male and female brave fighters who faced down this global foe.

Indeed, while ISIS was an active force on the ground in Syria, it external emni (intelligence arm), threatened the globe, mounting and inciting attacks in many major cities from New York, to Brussels (where two Americans were killed), to Paris, Nice, Stockholm, London and Istanbul to name but a few.

In serving as our “boots on the ground” forces for the territorial defeat of ISIS, and continuing to battle the remnants of ISIS, the Kurds saved, and continue to save, countless Americans and Westerners from being slaughtered by a heinous force willing to attack, anywhere, at any time.  

Yet their current aggressor, Turkey, calls these Kurds terrorists. That picking up arms against ISIS gave them the sudden opportunity to rule a considerable swathe of Syrian land that they had liberated from ISIS is no one’s fault, except those who supported ISIS in the first place—Turkish government officials among them. No doubt, the Kurds once in power, made some mistakes, but it is notable how quickly they moved to incorporating minorities into their ranks and transitioning to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have had a good record of building a grassroots democracy amidst the ashes of war. That their majority Kurdish leadership may have long-term aspirations to one day become a fully independent Kurdish state should be no surprise, but that they were acquiescing to all U.S. demands upon them to remain within Syria and negotiate some kind of governance agreement with Assad also needs to be noted. The trouble in that regard, is Assad wants to appoint top-down leaders in the area and thereby destroy the grass-roots nature of the Kurdish democracy building. From a position of strength and good governance, with U.S. backing behind them, the SDF had a chance of becoming a real island of democracy, perhaps even one day spreading such, within the Syrian state.

In the meantime, with ISIS defeated territorially, ISIS is still far from total defeat. In recent months ISIS has been attacking on a weekly basis in both Syria and Iraq, and the SDF were busy rounding up ISIS sleeper cells while also holding more than 70,000 ISIS prisoners and their family members, thousands of which are from European and Western countries who have refused to repatriate and bring them home to justice.

Now, amidst the chaos unleashed by Turkey, up to 800 ISIS cadres have escaped when their prison was shelled, with hundreds more ISIS women and children escaping from their bombed and burning camps. Where they will run to amidst the chaos is uncertain, but Turkey and beyond, is certainly a possibility given that when cornered in Hajin, and later Baghouz, SDF leaders told ICSVE that ISIS leaders were asking to be bussed out of Syria into Turkey—presumably believing they would be welcomed into a country that had helped them in the past. 

500 of the worse ISIS cadres are said to have been transferred by U.S. forces from Syria, into Iraq, and possibly more will befall the same fate. For those of us who still believe in human rights and rule of law, even when applied to ISIS cadres, it’s unfortunate that in Iraq these prisoners—many of them Westerners—can expect forced confessions, hurried court proceedings and almost certainly sentence of life imprisonment, or death, based on very little, if any, evidence presented against them. Whereas, in our ISIS interviews conducted in SDF territory, with 100 of the ISIS foreign terrorist fighters, the prisoners stated that they were not being subjected to torture and were fairly treated by the SDF. Likewise, the SDF was working patiently, including in efforts with ICSVE, to gather testimonies and data to prod Western countries into action that have been reluctant to take their ISIS citizens home for prosecution.

While the SDF could only do its important work with U.S. support, this support was not costing us much. Few troops were deployed on the ground and our air support was operating out of Iraq, where it is likely the U.S. forces will stay for some time. That we should not involve ourselves in endless wars or that the troops need to come home is something most agree with, but how and when is also of great importance.

Any U.S. withdrawal of support for the SDF should only occur because they are no longer serving our interests and must take place in a planful and secure manner without allowing for an all-out slaughter of civilians or of the allied forces who, by fighting ISIS, saved Americans countless lives.

Given that the Kurds sacrificed greatly to defeat ISIS territorially on the ground, and when in power, began at once to build one of the only democracies in the middle east that is respecting minority rights and following Western rule of law, while being surrounded by dictatorial and corrupt regimes, it seems we should have continued to give them our full support. Instead Trump has unleashed Turkish forces on a group that Turkey universally treats as terrorists and is willing to violently displace and kill. This sudden betrayal of our loyal allies is a matter that needs to be quickly resolved in Washington, D.C. 

Our American ideals, and our reputation as stalwart and reliable allies, are at stake right now, and this disastrous decision needs to be reversed immediately.  

From our partner ICSVE Brief Reports.

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