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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Islamic State seize 100 Iraqi tribesmen before battle for Tikrit

Islamic State seize 100 Iraqi tribesmen before battle for Tikrit Wed, Feb 25 10:18 AM EST image By Ahmed Rasheed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State fighters have abducted 100 Sunni Muslim tribesmen near the city of Tikrit, local tribal leaders said on Wednesday, apparently to neutralize suspected opponents before a widely expected army offensive. Iraqi soldiers and pro-government Shi'ite militias have been massing for days in preparation for an attack on Islamic State strongholds along the Tigris River to the north and south of Tikrit, hometown of executed former president Saddam Hussein. Tikrit, about 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad, has been controlled by the Sunni Muslim radicals since they swept through northern Iraq in June, scattering Iraq's security forces. Tribal leaders said Islamic State fighters had detained 42 Sunni tribesmen in the village of Rubaidha on Tuesday whom they suspected of being ready to take up arms against them. "They broke into the houses and asked for mobiles," said Hatam al-Obeidi, a Rubaidha resident who escaped to the town of Tuz Khurmatu on Wednesday. "They were checking everything in the mobiles that might show that the owner is against them," he said, adding that his own telephone had been returned to him after a gunman told him he was "clean". Last week, insurgents detained 56 men accused of belonging to a government-backed Sunni militia, said Abu Kareem al-Obeidi, who left Rubaidha for the neighboring Diyala province to avoid abduction. The militants initially set up a headquarters in Rubaidha, about 20 km (12 miles) north of Tikrit, after their June offensive, but pulled out after army helicopters mistakenly bombed the house of the local sheikh beside their base. The sheikh then asked the militants to leave, residents said. Iraq's military said around 2,000 Shi'ite militia fighters, known as the Popular Mobilisation, had arrived near Tikrit in preparation for a major operation against Islamic State. Raed Jabouri, governor of Tikrit's Salahuddin province, said on Tuesday that 5,000 fighters from the security forces and the Popular Mobilisation - formed last year with Iranian support after the rout of the army - would join "the operation to liberate Tikrit". Witnesses said the militants had on Wednesday blocked three main entrances to the south, west and north of Tikrit with 4-metre (12-foot) concrete blast walls. They also covered a bridge across the Tigris with about 1 meter (three feet) of sand in the hope of absorbing the impact of bombs. The witnesses saw a stream of SUV vehicles, apparently containing detainees, heading north toward the northern, Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul. After months of air strikes by the United States and its Western and Arab allies, Islamic State is on the defensive in several parts of the "caliphate" it declared in swathes of Iraq and Syria. In Diyala, adjoining Iran, officials say they have all but driven Islamic State out. (Additional reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Kevin Liffey) ================= Islamic State in Syria abducts at least 150 Christians Wed, Feb 25 16:30 PM EST image By Suleiman Al-Khalidi AMMAN (Reuters) - Islamic State militants have abducted at least 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria they had raided, Christian Syrian activists said on Tuesday. A Syrian Christian group representing several NGOs inside and outside the country said it had verified at least 150 people missing, including women and the elderly, who had been kidnapped by the militants. "We have verified at least 150 people who have been adducted from sources on the ground," Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, whose family itself is from Hasaka, told Reuters from Amman. Earlier the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 90 were abducted when the militants carried out dawn raids on rural villages inhabited by the ancient Christian minority west of Hasaka, a city mainly held by the Kurds. The United States condemned the attacks in Hasaka and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the civilians taken captive. The State Department said hundreds of others remain trapped in villages surrounded by Islamic State fighters in violence that has displaced more than 3,000 people. "ISIL’s latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State. Psaki added that Syrians are also threatened by President Bashar al-Assad's intensified bombings and air strikes in an "unrelenting campaign of terror." Syrian Kurdish militia launched two offensives against the militants in northeast Syria on Sunday, helped by U.S.-led air strikes and Iraqi peshmerga. This part of Syria borders territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq, where it committed atrocities last year against the Yazidi religious minority. Islamic State did not confirm the kidnappings. Supporters posted photos online of the group's fighters in camouflage attire looking at maps and firing machine guns. The website said the photos were from Tel Tamr, a town near where the Observatory said the abductions occurred. Many Assyrian Christians have emigrated in the nearly four-year-long conflict in which more than 200,000 have people have been killed. Before the arrival of Kurds and Arab nomadic tribes at the end of the 19th century, Christians formed the majority in Syria's Jazeera area, which includes Hasaka. Sunday's offensive by Kurdish YPG militia reached within five km (3 miles) of Tel Hamis, an Islamic State-controlled town southeast of Qamishli, the Observatory said. At least 14 IS fighters died in the offensive, in which Assyrians fought alongside Kurds, it added. Eight civilians were also killed in heavy shelling by the Kurdish side, which seized several Arab villages from Islamic State control. Last year, Islamic State fighters abducted several Assyrians in retaliation for some of them fighting alongside the YPG. Most were released after long negotiations. RELIEVING PRESSURE Military experts said militants were trying to open a new front to relieve pressure on Islamic State after several losses since being driven from the Syrian town of Kobani near the border with Turkey. "Islamic State are losing in several areas so they want to wage an attack on a new area," said retired Jordanian general Fayez Dwiri. Since driving IS from Kobani, Kurdish forces, backed by other Syrian armed groups, have pursued the group's fighters as far as their provincial stronghold of Raqqa. A resident of Hasaka, jointly held by the Syrian government and the Kurds, said hundreds of families had arrived in recent days from surrounding Christian villages and Arab Bedouins were arriving from areas along the border. "Families are coming to Hasaka seeking safety," said Abdul Rahman al-Numai, a textile trader said by telephone. (Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Eric Walsh) ==================== UPDATE 1-Gunmen in Afghanistan halt buses, seize 30 passengers Tue, Feb 24 08:04 AM EST (Adds Kabul truck bomb) By Sarwar Amani KANDAHAR, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen in southern Afghanistan stopped two buses traveling to the capital, Kabul, and seized around 30 people belonging to the ethnic Hazara minority, a bus company official said on Tuesday. Hazaras, who largely follow the Shi'ite sect of Islam, were persecuted by the Taliban during the 1990s, when the militant Sunni Islamists ruled most of Afghanistan. Outbreaks of sectarian violence have been rare since the Taliban were ousted by an American-led invasion in 2001, but many Hazaras continue to complain of discrimination and harassment by majority Sunni Muslim groups. The passengers were forced to leave the buses late on Monday night, after producing documents that showed they belonged to the Shi'ite minority group. "Our drivers stopped for the gunmen because they were in army uniform. They asked for documents," Nasir Ahmad, one of the bus company's managers, said in the southern city of Kandahar. "According to other passengers, most of the people abducted were Hazaras." The Taliban, now leading an increasingly violent insurgency against the government and its foreign backers, did not immediately claim responsibility but said they were investigating. The fate of the missing passengers was unknown, said Ghulum Jilani Sakhi, the deputy police chief of Zabul province, where Monday's abduction took place. "We are investigating where these people have been taken," he added. In a similar incident last July, Taliban militants stopped two minibuses in the central province of Ghor and shot dead 14 passengers identified as belonging to the Hazara group. Police on Tuesday were also investigating the suspected premature detonation of a truck bomb on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, which officials felt had been intended for the heavily guarded city centre. Glass shards from broken windows injured a bakery shop worker but no other civilian casualties were reported, said Hashmat Stanikzai, a spokesman for Kabul's police chief. Police had found six dismembered hands believed to have belonged to insurgents aboard the truck, but they had been unable to match them and determine how many individuals were involved, he added. (Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Clarence Fernandez) ========================= IS’ leader assassinated from within Iraq's Hadi al-Ameri being very forthright about his view of Iran's Khamenei as the supreme leader for all Shia here: It was expected that the disputes among the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) in Qalamoun would lead to the dismissal of its emir Abu Aisha al-Banyasi, as he was at odds with Abu al-Walid al-Maqdisi. However, the dismissal was not expected to come in the form of a killing. IS members have been drifting apart in Qalamoun, Syria, as disputes among top commanders have been escalating, leading to the dismissal of one emir and the probable assassination of another. Author Abdullah Suleiman Ali Posted February 24, 2015 Translator Steffi Chakti Original Articleاقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية As-Safir revealed in an article published days ago the brittleness of the internal structure of IS in Qalamoun. Disputes among commanders were escalating, leading to the dismissal of the previous emir Abu al-Huda al-Talli and the assignment of Banyasi instead. Explosion rattles windows in Kabul's diplomatic quarter Wed, Feb 25 23:06 PM EST KABUL (Reuters) - An explosion rattled windows in the diplomatic quarter of the heavily fortified Afghan capital on Thursday morning, sending the city's embassies onto high alert. "This is a security announcement: there has been an explosion inside the city," the British embassy broadcast to staff on its compound. Further details on the location of blast were not immediately available. (Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Douglas Busvine) 04:33 Embassies on high alert in Kabul after explosion rattles windows Embassies in Kabul are on high alert after an explosion shook the windows of buildings in the diplomatic quarter of Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday morning, Reuters reported. “This is a security announcement: there has been an explosion inside the city,” the British embassy broadcast to staff inside the building. The exact location of the blast is being determined. ==== As-Safir was able to secure information from a member of IS in Qalamoun’s media team who affirmed that the assignment of Banyasi did not solve the problem, and his dismissal was expected at any moment. However, and despite the gloomy situation the member depicted — describing it as a "crisis of hypocrisy" and saying that "disputes are not among individuals but are much deeper" — the dramatic escalation leading to the killing of Banyasi was not foreseen. Disputes revolved around the stand vis-à-vis Jabhat al-Nusra, especially after the arrival of Maqdisi and the issuance of a statement accusing Jabhat al-Nusra of treason and betrayal. A number of IS commanders refused to follow the lead of Maqdisi. As a result, two camps emerged, and entered in fierce conflicts. After apologizing to the commander of Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun, Abu Malik al-Talli, for Maqdisi's statement, Abu al-Huda al-Talli was the first to pay the price. Subsequently, Abu Malik al-Talli was dismissed and replaced by Banyasi. Information indicates that Maqdisi was the one to name Banyasi as a replacement, based on his composure and neutrality toward the dispute that erupted over Jabhat al-Nusra. Easily convinced and influenced, Maqdisi believed Banyasi to be the best candidate. Maqdisi ended up surprised, however. Upon assuming the position, Banyasi proved no different than his predecessor, refusing to act against Jabhat al-Nusra and its commander. He also refused to take escalatory measures against the organization. This raised the ire of Maqdisi, who started to think about ousting Banyasi. At the same time, an incident took place that may have pushed the personal sensitivity between the two men to its zenith, rendering any reconciliation impossible. Maqdisi had a quarrel with Jabhat al-Nusra checkpoint guards, which ended up with his arrest and that of his guards. Banyasi mediated with Abu Malik al-Talli to release them, and indeed, he responded and Maqdisi was released a few hours later. However, following the incident, the dispute between Maqdisi and Banyasi became further entrenched and a few days later, the killing of Banyasi came as a shock to everyone. IS remained silent about the death of Banyasi and tried to keep it low profile. It was leaked that Banyasi was killed by a regime-led airstrike. However, it was not long until it was revealed that the killing resulted from internal disputes. Although some IS media figures are still trying to deny it, saying that the rumored news is yet another media propaganda barrage the organization has been facing since its inception, they were not able to give a clear answer about the true details of the killing. They hid behind the pretext that they were not able to communicate with their leadership to fact check the information. According to information leaked a couple of days ago by Jabhat al-Nusra media spokespeople, who publicly celebrated the death of Banyasi, the dispute between Maqdisi and Banyasi reached a deadlock. This happened after Maqdisi issued a fatwa against Banyasi due to his amicable ties with Jabhat al-Nusra, which was clearly shown through the mediation he made with its commander to release Maqdisi. Some Jabhat al-Nusra spokespeople noted that Banyasi had a "calm temper and was loved by everyone." Such a personality did not match the aspirations of Maqdisi, who wanted a spiteful person who can be influenced by his takfiri penchants. This is why it was imperative to get rid of him. Regardless of the details of the killing and who the perpetrators are, whether Maqdisi or Abu Balqiss (the military emir of IS), the incident will inevitably constitute a new twist of events not in the restructuring of IS but on the level of the developments in Qalamoun. This is particularly true concerning relations between IS and Jabhat al-Nusra and its repercussions on the battles fought against the Syrian army and Hezbollah. Will this incident constitute the first step toward the collapse of IS in Qalamoun or a catalyst for commanders to give up on Syrian nationals and hand the emirate over to "foreigners" with all the ensuing extremism toward other parties? On another note, Turkish forces entered Syrian territory and went as deep as 30 kilometers (19 miles) under the pretext of moving the remains of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Relying on an agreement concluded with the French mandate as a pretext, Turkish authorities occupied Syrian land near the border to bury the remains before returning them to their initial location [at some future point in time]. However, it seems that the goal of Turkey is far from just restoring the remains and occupying the land. Such a move seems to be aimed at ending the aspirations of Kurds for an autonomous government in the areas under Turkish control. Moreover, Turkish authorities are preparing for the likelihood of IS launching an attack after Turkey signed an agreement with the United States to train "moderate" Syrian armed individuals in order to attack IS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2015/02/qalaoum-is-emir-ousted.html##ixzz3SolV4AQx ==========

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