Posts Tagged ‘car bombs’

Somalia: Death toll mounts after Mogadishu palace attack

February 24, 2018

Dozens of people were killed in twin car bomb blasts in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu, in what appears to have been a foiled attack on the presidential palace. Islamist militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility.

Somalia Mogadishu - people on rubble in the aftermath (picture-alliance/abaca/S. Mohamed)

The number of deaths from Friday’s twin car bomb explosions in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, rose to at least 38, according to officials on Saturday.

Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted the presidential palace and subsequently a hotel. The attacks follow months of relative calm.

Read more: Rights group: Al Shabab forcibly recruits children

– A  vehicle that was loaded with explosives was used to try to breach a checkpoint on the way into the presidential palace Villa Somalia, according to officials who said security forces thwarted the attack. A blast at the checkpoint was reportedly followed by gunfire.

– A second explosion later, which destroyed vehicles outside the hotel as well as the compound’s perimeter wall, was reported to have claimed a substantial proportion of the casualties.

– The attack was claimed by al-Shabab in a statement posted online. The group, which claimed to have killed 35 soldiers while having lost five of its fighters, said it was targeting the government and security services.

Mogadishu attack (Reuters/Universal TV)The attack on Friday evening came after a prolonged period of relative calm

Security officials claimed they had been successful in thwarting the main thrust of the attack. “The security forces foiled the intent of the terrorists,” the AFP news agency reported Abdulahi Ahmed, a security officer, as saying. “They were aiming for key targets, but they could not even go closer, there were five of them killed by the security force.”

Al-Shabab aims to overthrow the Somali government and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law on the country.

Read more:  Germany to end participation in EU military mission in Somalia

The group was pushed out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but still controls large parts of the countryside and launches regular attacks, targeting the government, military and civilians.

More than 500 people were killed in twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu in October, in the deadlie st attack in the country’s history. Although al-Shabab was blamed, it did not claim responsibility for the attack.

rc/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

http://www.dw.com/en/somalia-death-toll-mounts-after-mogadishu-palace-attack/a-42724471

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Over a dozen dead after twin car bombs rip through Mogadishu, Somalia

February 24, 2018

Reuters

© AFP

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-02-24

Twin car bombs killed 18 people in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Friday in an attack by the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, but security forces shot dead five assailants, officials said.

Shooting broke out near the president’s residence at the time of the explosions, police and ambulance services said.

“So far we carried 18 dead people and 20 others injured from the blasts tonight,” Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of Amin Ambulances, told Reuters.

Police said the first car bomb went off after militants breached a checkpoint near the president’s residence by shooting at security personnel. The second blast was a car bomb parked in front of a hotel away from the palace.

“The militants got off when they neared the palace, the suicide car bomb exploded outside the palace where there were many military soldiers who guarded the street adjacent to the palace,” Major Omar Abdullahi told Reuters.

Al Shabaab, who have claimed responsibility for previous bombings and gun attacks in the capital, said they killed 15 soldiers in Friday’s attack, but this could not be confirmed.

“Two operations including two car bomb martyrdoms went on around the presidential palace and a national security forces’ base called Habar Kadija,” al Shabaab military spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab said.

The group, which is linked to al Qaeda, wants to overthrow the Somali government and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law. It has killed hundreds of civilians across East Africa and thousands of Somalis in a decade-long insurgency.

Security Minister Mohamed Abukar Islow said the security forces had subdued the al Shabaab attackers and killed five of them.

“The security minister confirmed the operation was concluded and that the five militants who launched the attack were shot dead,” the state news aganey quoted him as saying.

Al Shabaab’s Abu Musab said their fighters were yet to be subdued.

The streets around the palace and the hotel were surrounded by security forces, witnesses said.

In October, more than 500 people were killed in twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu. The bomb attacks were the deadliest since al Shabaab began an insurgency in 2007. Al Shabaab did not claim responsibility for that incident.

(REUTERS)

Protest in Kabul as Afghan officials press Pakistan over attacks — More worries about the Western-backed government’s ability to provide security and combat the Taliban insurgency

February 1, 2018

Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) – Demonstrators protested outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul on Thursday as senior Afghan officials said they had handed over evidence connecting insurgents based in Pakistan with a recent spate of attacks that killed well over 100 people.

The protest, in which dozens of people burnt flags and chanted, “Death to Pakistan”, was not large, but it came during a period of heightened tension in the Afghan capital following two major attacks in the past two weeks.

On Thursday, Interior Minister Wais Barmak and Masooom Stanekzai, head of the NDS intelligence service, returned from a visit to Islamabad, where they had pressed Pakistani authorities to move against Taliban leaders based in the country.

 Large protest
FILE Photo — Protests outside Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul

“We provided Pakistan with documents about Taliban operating centers inside Pakistan and we expect Pakistan to act against them,” Barmak told a news conference in Kabul.

However, he declined to provide details on the information provided, citing the need to keep operational intelligence secret while investigations continued.

A Pakistani security delegation is due to visit Kabul on Saturday to continue the discussion, which comes as the United States has cut off some aid to Pakistan over what it calls its failure to crack down on militants attacking in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to Taliban and other insurgents, a charge Pakistan denies, pointing to the thousands of casualties it has suffered from militant violence over the years.

Last month, the Taliban claimed two major attacks in Kabul, one on the Intercontinental Hotel, which killed more than 30 people and a second that killed more than 100 people when an ambulance packed with explosives blew up on a crowded street.

The attacks in the heavily protected city center fueled fresh worries about the Western-backed government’s ability to provide security and combat the Taliban insurgency.

On Thursday, the defense ministry issued a statement that dismissed as “exaggerated” a BBC report that the Taliban were operating in 70 percent of Afghanistan and said the army was involved in 14 separate operations.

But despite a sharp rise in U.S. air strikes that commanders say have put heavy pressure on the Taliban and driven them back from major provincial centers, their ability to strike urban targets and undermine confidence in the government appears unaffected.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez

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War and peace strategies leave Afghanistan in a deadly muddle

January 31, 2018

AFP

© Noor Mohammad, AFP (archives) | The Afghan capital has been hit by a series of attacks since the start of 2018.

Text by Leela JACINTO 

Latest update : 2018-01-31

The war was not yet over when peace was given a chance in Afghanistan. But after a brutal start to the year, it’s time for a strategic rethink.

Over the past 16 years, Afghanistan has been a laboratory for a dizzying number of policy experiments to help secure the country. US troop levels have surged and ebbed, Taliban militants have been bombed and wooed to the negotiating table, Pakistan has been admonished and coddled to behave in its neighbouring state, and the international community has cooperated and competed in the desperate bid to find a lasting solution to the Afghan problem.

None of them have worked and the situation on the ground for ordinary Afghans only gets worse.

The policy muddle and its brutal consequences have been particularly stark this year, raising questions over whether US President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy can solve or worsen the problem – or not make any difference at all.

On Wednesday, January 24, just days after Taliban fighters killed more than 40 people in Kabul’s landmark Hotel Intercontinental, the militant group issued a statement confirming a recent peace meeting between a Taliban delegation and Pakistani officials.

The statement, issued in the local Pashto language, said a five-member Taliban team had travelled to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad to explain their position on a “political solution” to the crisis. “The Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] wants to emphasise that it desires a durable solution to the Afghan problem so all causes of the fighting are ended and the people live in peace and stability.”

But peace was not in their sights three days later, when the Islamist militant group disguised a minivan as an ambulance, packed it with explosives, and detonated the vehicle at a busy thoroughfare in the Afghan capital, killing more than 100 people and wounding over 200 others.

The Taliban “peace and stability” announcement, issued as Afghans were reeling from the recent attacks, incensed a populace growing weary of the cycle of hypocrisy and violence in their country. On Twitter and other social media sites, Afghans slammed politicians and analysts who have, in the past, advocated negotiations with the Taliban.

High Peace Council kicks off with an assassination

The “talking to the Taliban” solution surfaced shortly after Barack Obama took office, when the US president inherited two unfinished conflicts – in Afghanistan and Iraq – from his predecessor. As the Obama policy on Afghanistan lurched from troop drawbacks to surges, the message to the Taliban was unequivocal: Washington and its allies were losing the will to fight.

Peace initiatives meanwhile were picking up pace, backed by international funding. But shortly after former Afghan President Hamid Karzai set up a High Peace Council (HPC), the Taliban killed the council’s chief, former Afghan PM Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September 2011.

Last week’s brutal ambulance attack in Kabul was conducted barely 200 yards away from the HPC offices.

Despite Rabbani’s assassination and the lack of progress on the peace track, the Taliban were nevertheless granted a political office — which they unsuccessfully tried to call “the embassy of the Islamic Emirate” – in the Qatari capital of Doha. From their luxury base in the Gulf, Taliban representatives have traveled to Norway and Pakistan for talks that have yielded no results, prompting the Afghan government to contemplate closing down the Qatar office last year. But the closure was held off amid concerns that it would undermine peace efforts.

Where guns, not flowers, bloom

In their message claiming the ambulance attack, the Taliban blamed Trump’s decision to increase US troop levels and targeted strikes against militant commanders in Afghanistan. “The Islamic Emirate has a clear message for Trump and his hand kissers that if you go ahead with a policy of aggression and speak from the barrel of a gun, don’t expect Afghans to grow flowers in response,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.

The Taliban are not the only ones speaking from the barrel of a gun. The Islamic State (IS) group has also set up operations in Afghanistan, attracting disgruntled Taliban fighters and conducting increasingly audacious attacks such as the January 24 assault on the Save the Children offices in the southeastern city of Jalalabad.

The new entrant is increasing the competition between jihadist groups and changing their modus operandi, according to some experts. “The Taliban and the Islamic State are shifting the battle from the rural areas to the cities, so we’re seeing an urbanisation of the conflict,” explained Bilal Sarwary, reporting for FRANCE 24 from Kabul. “We’re also seeing the American military and the Afghan government go after mid and high level commanders and so, in some ways, this latest uptick in violence is a revenge for those attacks.”

Taliban and Trump stage Twitter war

On August 21, when Trump announced his “new” policy to boost the US troop presence in Afghanistan, it was widely viewed as a bid to convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield.

While the new US troop figures have not been released, an estimated 8,400 American troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, most assigned to an approximately 13,000-strong international force that is training and advising the Afghan military.

The Taliban however has maintained that as long as there are international troops in Afghanistan, the group will not engage in peace negotiations, leading some experts, such as a Karim Pakzad from the Paris-based IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques), to conclude that, “As long as this country [Afghanistan] remains the staple of US foreign policy, I think Afghans will know no peace.”

Others however believe that the prospect of a total US withdrawal will not spell peace either – especially for a populace living in fear of a Taliban return. “Without the engagement of the US, the conflict will continue,” said Haroun Mir from the Kabul-based Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies. “Only the international community has the capacity, the financial, and the military means necessary to put pressure on all actors to bring an end to the conflict.”

Trump however has shown no interest in getting the different parties in the Afghan conflict to the negotiating table. “When you see what they [the Taliban] are doing and the atrocities that they’re committing…it is horrible,” Trump told a UN Security Council briefing in the White House on Monday. “We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish, what nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” he said.

Taking a page from the Trump diplomatic book, the Taliban promptly tweeted its response; “To: @realDonaldTrump Let us know when you’re ready to talk to discuss your exit. Soon is better before it becomes very ugly for you in Afghanistan. You know how to reach us through our office in Doha.”

To: @realDonaldTrump
Let us know when you’re ready to talk to discuss your exit.
Soon is better before it becomes very ugly for you in Afghanistan.
You know how to reach us through our office in Doha.👍 https://twitter.com/AFP/status/958031085912383489 

‘The Taliban is afraid of democracy’

Beyond the Twitter one-upmanship though, there has been little clarity on Trump’s new strategy. A day after the US president said there would be no talks, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan was telling reporters in Kabul that there was no change in Washington’s policy of forcing the Taliban through military pressure into talks.

Sullivan’s message echoed that of top US commander for the Middle East (CENTCOM) Gen. Jospeh Votel earlier this year, leaving journalists scrambling to decipher the implications of Washington’s latest policy update. “WTF? We just spent two nights in Afghanistan w @CENTCOM’s Gen Votel this weekend where US commander after commander said they were GLAD they had a new S. Asia strategy SPECIFICALLY w the mission goal to pressure the Taliban to reconciliation talks,” tweeted Kevin Baron, a Pentagon reporter and executive editor of Defense One.

WTF? We just spent two nights in Afghanistan w @CENTCOM’s Gen Votel this weekend where US commander after commander said they were GLAD they had a new S. Asia strategy SPECIFICALLY w the mission goal to pressure the Taliban to reconciliation talks. https://twitter.com/peterbakernyt/status/958032160698626048 

While the US has been providing mixed signals on its Afghanistan strategy, in many Afghan circles, particularly in Kabul, patience is running out for the militant negotiations track.

“The strategy was to prove to the Taliban that they will not win militarily and that they should join the democratic process. But the Taliban is afraid of democracy. Right now, we have free speech, women’s rights, civil society institutions and Afghans are not willing to give it all up. If the Taliban joins the political process, they don’t have a message for the people. They know they will lose elections,” explained Mir.

War, not peace, is the answer

War then is the Taliban’s best bet. But with every attempt to display their strength via brazen attacks in urban areas, the militant group is losing support among Afghans who are witnessing a flight of capital and international investments as the post-war recovery mission in their country slows to a crawl.

For the US-led international coalition to defeat the Taliban though, policy framers have to take on an old bugbear: Pakistan’s support for the Islamist group.

Afghan and US authorities have long blamed parts of the Pakistani military intelligence establishment of aiding jihadist groups. Trump’s recent decision to suspend security aid to Pakistan reflects Washington’s frustration over Islamabad’s “lies & deceit,” but most analysts believe it will do little to change Pakistan’s behaviour.

Given Islamabad’s intransigence, some experts such as Mir says China – a key Pakistani ally which shares a 90-kilometer border with Afghanistan – “could play a major role in building a regional consensus”.

But international and regional talks on Afghanistan have often been working at cross-purposes amid rivalries between key players. A Quadrilateral Coordinating Group (QCG) comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US has failed to attract Taliban participation.

Russia meanwhile has been opening a dialogue with the Taliban. But the US has skipped out on Russia-backed six party talks amid mounting suspicions between Moscow and Washington.

With the peace track making no progress, some US policy makers are circling back to the old war plan – without Pakistan on board. Many experts note that the US staged a unilateral military assault against al Qaeda inside Pakistan with some success, including the 2011 US killing of Osama bin Laden. If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to crack down on jihadist groups, the US should undertake a unilateral military operation against the Taliban on Pakistani soil. If that’s the case, the US strategy for Afghanistan would spin back to square one – 16 years later and after a loss of thousands of Afghan and American lives.

Blast hits Afghan capital Kabul — Another in a relentless string of terror bombings

October 31, 2017

KABUL (Reuters) – A loud blast shook windows and doors in an area of the Afghan capital Kabul where many foreign embassies and government departments are based, Reuters reporters heard on Tuesday.

The cause of the blast and the extent of any damage was not immediately apparent.

Reporting by James Mackenzie, Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

Islamic State Counter-Attacks Kill At Least 50 in Iraq Near Nasiriyah

September 14, 2017

AFP

Latest update : 2017-09-14

At least 50 people including Iranians were killed Thursday in twin gun and car bomb attacks near the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, local officials said. The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In a statement released by its propaganda arm Amaq, IS group said several suicide bombers had staged the assault on a restaurant and a security checkpoint.

“The toll has now reached 50 dead and 87 wounded,” Abdel Hussein al-Jabri, deputy health chief for the mainly Shiite province of Dhiqar of which Nasiriyah is the capital, told AFP.

He warned that the death toll could rise as many of the wounded were in serious condition.

 Image result for Iraq, Nasiriyah, map

The first attack struck close to a restaurant while shortly afterwards a car bomb targeted a security checkpoint in the same area, officials said.

Security sources said the attackers were disguised as members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, mainly Shiite paramilitary units which have fought alongside the army and police against the IS group to the north of Baghdad.

The area targeted is used by Shiite pilgrims and visitors from neighbouring Iran headed for the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala further north, although Dhiqar has previously been spared the worst of the violence.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Image result for Hashed al-Shaabi,

Peace and Freedom Note: The Iraqi government has been trying to exploit the Oil and Gas Fields near Nasiriyah. The islamic State is signaling it isn’t finished yet…

Lebanon’s army prepares to clear border area of IS militants

August 8, 2017

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BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s U.S.-backed military is gearing up for a long-awaited assault to dislodge hundreds of Islamic State militants from a remote corner near Syrian border, seeking to end a years-long threat posed to neighboring towns and villages by the extremists.

The campaign will involve cooperation with the militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian army on the other side of the border — although Lebanese authorities insist they are not coordinating with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

But the assault could prove costly for the under-equipped military and risk activating IS sleeper cells in the country.

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The tiny Mediterranean nation has been spared the wars and chaos that engulfed several countries in the region since the so-called Arab Spring uprisings erupted in 2011. But it has not been able to evade threats to its security, including sectarian infighting and random car bombings, particularly in 2014, when militants linked to al-Qaida and IS overran the border region, kidnapping Lebanese soldiers.

The years-long presence of extremists in the border area has brought suffering to neighboring towns and villages, from shelling, to kidnappings of villagers for ransom. Car bombs made in the area and sent to other parts of the country, including the Lebanese capital, Beirut, have killed scores of citizens.

Aided directly by the United States and Britain, the army has accumulated steady successes against the militants in the past year, slowly clawing back territory, including strategic hills retaken in the past week. Authorities say it’s time for an all-out assault.

The planned operation follows a six-day military offensive by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah that forced al-Qaida-linked fighters to flee the area on the outskirts of the town of Arsal, along with thousands of civilians.

In a clear distribution of roles, the army is now expected to launch the attack on IS. In the past few days, the army’s artillery shells and multiple rocket launchers have been pounding the mountainous areas on the Lebanon-Syria border where IS held positions, in preparation for the offensive. Drones could be heard around the clock and residents of the eastern Bekaa Valley reported seeing army reinforcements arriving daily in the northeastern district of Hermel to join the battle.

The offensive from the Lebanese side of the border will be carried out by the Lebanese army, while Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters will be working to clear the Syrian side of IS militants. Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Assad’s forces since 2013.

Experts say more than 3,000 troops, including elite special forces, are in the northeastern corner of Lebanon to take part in the offensive. The army will likely use weapons it received from the United States, including Cessna aircraft that discharge Hellfire missiles.

Keen to support the army rather than the better equipped Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the U.S. and Britain have supplied the military with helicopters, anti-tank missiles, artillery and radars, as well as training. The American Embassy says the U.S. has provided Lebanon with over $1.4 billion in security assistance since 2005.

But the fight is not expected to be quick or easy.

According to Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, there are about 400 IS fighters in the Lebanese area, and hundreds more on the Syrian side of the border.

“It is not going to be a picnic,” said Hisham Jaber, a retired army general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut. “The Lebanese army will try to carry out the mission with the least possible losses.”

Jaber said the battle may last several weeks. “It is a rugged area and the organization (IS) is well armed and experienced.”

There are also concerns the offensive may subject Lebanon to retaliatory attacks by militants, just as the country has started to enjoy a rebound in tourism.

A Lebanese security official said authorities are taking strict security measures to prevent any attack deep inside Lebanon by sleeper cells. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said authorities have detained several IS militants over the past weeks.

Lebanese politicians say IS controls an area of about 296 square kilometers (114 square miles) between the two countries, of which 141 square kilometers (54.5 square miles) are in Lebanon.

The area stretches from the badlands of the Lebanese town of Arsal and Christian villages of Ras Baalbek and Qaa, to the outskirts of Syria’s Qalamoun region and parts of the western Syrian town of Qusair that Hezbollah captured in 2013.

In a televised speech last Friday, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said that once the Lebanese army launches its offensive from the Lebanese side, Hezbollah and the Syrian army will begin their attack from the Syrian side. He added that there has to be coordination between the Syrian and Lebanese armies in the battle.

“Opening two fronts at the same time will speed up victory and reduce losses,” Nasrallah said, adding that his fighters on the Lebanese side of the border are at the disposal of Lebanese troops if needed.

“I tell Daesh that the Lebanese and Syrians will attack you from all sides and you will not be able to resist and will be defeated,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group.

“If you decide to fight, you will end up either a prisoner or dead,” Nasrallah added.

Some Lebanese politicians have been opposed to security coordination with the Syrian army. The Lebanese are sharply divided over Syria’s civil war that has spilled to the tiny country of 4.5 million people. Lebanon is hosting some 1.2 million Syrian refugees.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri is opposed to Assad while his national unity Cabinet includes Hezbollah as well as other groups allied with the Syrian president.

Last week, Hariri told reporters that Lebanese authorities are ready to negotiate to discover the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers who were captured during the raid on Arsal by IS and al-Qaida fighters in August 2014. Unlike their rivals in al-Qaida, the Islamic State group is not known to negotiate prisoner exchanges.

“The presence of Daesh will end in Lebanon,” Hariri said, using the same Arabic acronym to refer to IS.

Islamic State readies for close combat in alleyways of west Mosul

February 17, 2017

Reuters

A member of the U.S. army forces participates in combat training in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
right
By Ahmed Rasheed | BAGHDAD

Islamic State militants are developing a network of passageways and tunnels in the narrow alleys of west Mosul that will enable them to hide and fight among the civilian population when Iraqi forces launch an attack that is expected any day now.

Residents said the fighters have been opening passages in the walls between houses to allow them to move from block to block undetected, disappear after hit-and-run operations and track government troop movements.

They have also opened sniper holes in buildings overlooking the Tigris river bisecting the city into east and west, they said.

“They opened these holes and threatened us not to close them,” one resident told Reuters by telephone, asking not to be identified by name or location because Islamic State executes anyone caught communicating with the outside world.

The militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after U.S.-backed forces surrounding the city dislodged them from the east in the first phase of an offensive that concluded four weeks ago.

The westward road that links the city to Syria was cut at the end of November. The militants are still in charge of the road that links Mosul to Tal Afar, a town they control 60 km (40 miles) to the west, however.

Coalition aircraft and artillery have been bombarding selected targets in the west, included workshops in the eastern industrial zone where Islamic State is thought to build car bombs and booby traps. Ground forces have paused to redeploy and build new fortifications and staging posts along Mosul’s western flank, as well as rest and repair damaged hardware.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told a meeting of the armed forces commanders on Thursday that the offensive could start “very soon”.

MORE DIFFICULT IN THE WEST

Commanders expect the battle in the west to be more difficult than in the east because, among other things, tanks and armored vehicles cannot pass through its narrow streets and alleyways.

Western Mosul contains the old city center, with its ancient souks, Grand Mosque and most government administrative buildings. The city’s airport is also located there.

“The narrow alleys and densely populated districts, along with the defensive tunnels built by Daesh — all this is definitely going to make the battle tough and complicated,” said Colonel Sattar Karim of the Iraqi army’s 9th Division, using an Arabic acronym of Islamic State.

It was from the pulpit of the Mosul Grand Mosque that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” over parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.

The city — Iraq’s second biggest — is the largest urban center captured by Islamic State in both countries and its de facto capital in Iraq. Raqqa is its capital in Syria.

The Sunni group imposed a radical version of Islam in Mosul, banning cigarettes, televisions and radios, and forcing men to grow beards and women to cover from head to toe. Citizens who failed to comply risked death.

Capturing the city would effectively end the militants’ ambitions for territorial rule in Iraq. They are expected to continue to wage an insurgency, however, carrying out suicide bombings and inspiring lone-wolf actions abroad.

OVERWHELMING FORCE

Islamic State was thought to have up to 6,000 fighters in Mosul when the government’s offensive started in mid-October. Of those, more than one thousand have been killed, according to Iraqi estimates.

The remainder now face a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, including elite paratroopers and police, Kurdish forces and Iranian-trained Shi’ite paramilitary groups.

The United States, which has deployed more than 5,000 troops in the fighting, leads an international coalition providing critical air and ground support, including artillery fire, to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

In the next phase, the Iraqi military’s plan is to wear down the fighters and overwhelm them by moving on all fronts.

“Daesh will not be able to stand against thousands of attacking troops with air and artillery cover,” said federal police captain Haider Radhi.

The police’s target will be to capture the airport, located on Mosul’s southern limits, and secure it for army engineers who will quickly rehabilitate the runway and the other facilities so that it can be used as a close support base for troops, he said.

Intelligence gathering and the cooperation of the civilian population will be key for advancing troops to avoid booby traps and to find weapons caches placed across the city as part of Islamic State’s urban warfare plan, said Baghdad-based analyst and former army general Jasim al-Bahadli.

However, the narrowness of the streets will limit the militants’ ability to attack advancing troops with suicide car bombs, one of the group’s most effective weapons, along with mortar and sniper fire.

“Car bombs will be used in some areas of the western side where the streets are wide enough,” said Bahadli. “In the others, we can expect the group to send walking bombers” who will run or walk toward the troops and detonate explosive belts.

Karim, the army colonel, said the militants are using churches, schools, hospitals and homes as weapon caches to avoid airstrikes.

“The job will not be easy to determine who’s an enemy and who’s a friend,” he said.

(Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Kurdish Militants Claim Car Bomb Attack in Turkey’s Izmir

January 11, 2017

ISTANBUL — Kurdish militants have claimed responsibility for last week’s car bombing attack that killed a policeman and a courthouse employee in western Turkey.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK, says that two members of its “revenge team” died in the Jan. 5 Izmir attack, according to a news agency close to Kurdish militants.

Firat News Agency, quoting a statement by the group Wednesday, identified the attackers as “comrades” Mustafa Coban and Enes Yildirim, aged 29 and 25 respectively.

TAK threatened “new acts of revenge” against the “fascist” Turkish state, which is fighting Kurdish rebels in the southeast.

Turkish authorities consider TAK to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency and is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies, including the U.S.

TAK has claimed multiple attacks in the past year, including two bombings that killed 45 people near a soccer stadium in Istanbul last month.

Syrian Arrested in Germany Over Alleged IS Attack Plan

January 2, 2017

BERLIN — A Syrian man has been arrested in Germany on suspicion of seeking 180,000 euros ($190,000) from the Islamic State group to buy vehicles that he intended to use for one or several bomb attacks, authorities said Monday.

The 38-year-old, who came to Germany in late 2014 as an asylum-seeker, was arrested on Saturday in Saarbruecken, close to the French border. He is accused of collecting money to be used by him or someone else to carry out murder.

Prosecutors accuse him of contacting someone in Syria “who he knew was in a position to obtain IS money for terror financing” last month via the Telegram encrypted communication service. The suspect allegedly asked for 180,000 euros so that he could buy and repaint vehicles that he intended to fit out with explosives before driving them into crowds.

The case against him was bolstered by an informant who went to Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, chats on the suspect’s smartphone and his own statements, “insofar as they can be followed,” prosecutors said in a statement.

The Syrian is alleged to have told the financier that each vehicle would cost 22,500 euros, and that 400 to 500 kilograms (882 to 1,100 pounds) of explosives would be placed in each car, they added.

Police said in a separate statement that the man had sought IS financing for an “as yet substantiated attack scenario with the help of prepared vehicles in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.”

In questioning, the man acknowledged that he had been in contact with IS, but denied “terrorist intentions,” prosecutors said.

Investigators have found no evidence that he already had vehicles fitted out to conduct attacks. Police said that a search of his apartment turned up no evidence of any concrete danger to New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Germany saw three attacks last year claimed by IS and carried out by asylum-seekers — two in Bavaria in the summer, in which the assailants were killed and a total of 20 people wounded, and the Dec. 19 truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in which 12 people were killed.