Posts Tagged ‘Jihadists’

Deal reached to evacuate pro-regime Syria towns, watchdog says

July 18, 2018

Residents of Fu’ah and Kafriya, besieged by rebel forces, to be allowed to leave in exchange for the release of hundreds held in government detention centers

A view of the pro-Syrian government village of Fu'ah in the northwestern province of Idlib, July 17, 2018. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP)

A view of the pro-Syrian government village of Fu’ah in the northwestern province of Idlib, July 17, 2018. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) — A deal was reached on Tuesday for the evacuation of two pro-regime towns in Syria, allowing thousands to leave after three years of encirclement by hardline rebels.

Fu’ah and Kafriya are the last remaining towns under siege in Syria, where the medieval tactic was mostly made notorious by government forces in the seven-year war.

Surrounded and bombed by hostile factions, the Shiite-majority towns became both a rallying cry for the government and a playing card in callous rebel hands.

Their residents are all expected to leave under a major agreement reached Tuesday between government ally Moscow and rebel backer Ankara, a war monitor said.

“The deal provides for the total evacuation of residents in the two towns, which are besieged by rebels and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, to regime territory in nearby Aleppo province,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, is a jihadist alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria.

Hundreds of people would be released from the regime’s notorious detention centers in exchange, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

A view of the pro-Syrian government village of Fu’ah in the northwestern province of Idlib, July 17, 2018. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP)

A source from HTS also confirmed the deal, telling AFP that more than 100 buses would evacuate 6,900 people including fighters and civilians from Fu’ah and Kafriya.

The source said 1,500 people would be freed from government-run jails.

The agreement has not been confirmed by any government involved, but Syrian state media reported Tuesday that it had preliminary information on a deal to free “thousands” of people from Fu’ah and Kafriya.

‘Haven’t forgotten’

The towns came under siege in 2015, as rebels and jihadists overran the surrounding province of Idlib.

That cut off access to food and medicine for their residents outside of United Nations aid deliveries.

The evacuation deal reached Tuesday is not the first for the two tiny towns.

In April 2017, thousands were bused out Fu’ah and Kafriya in exchange for parallel evacuations from two towns near Damascus that were being besieged by the government.

But a blast targeting a convoy of evacuees from Fu’ah and Kafriya left 150 people dead, most of them civilians and including 72 children.

Traumatized residents left behind are now afraid that scenario might happen again.

“What are we going to do with our land and property? Oh my hometown,” said a 42-year-old resident of Kafriya who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I pray this will go well — we still haven’t forgotten those that died in the blast,” he told AFP on Tuesday.

Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar Assad that later spun out into full-fledged war.

Early on in the uprising, Turkey began providing support to rebel groups as Russia and Iran steadfastly backed their man in Damascus.

Those three countries have become the main powerbrokers in Syria, agreeing last year to create four “de-escalation” zones to pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire.

Members of the Russian military stand past a banner showing Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shaking hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad, at Abu al-Zuhur checkpoint in the western countryside of Idlib province on June 1, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / George OURFALIAN)

Idlib is part of one such zone. It borders Turkey to the northwest but is otherwise almost totally surrounded by regime territory, prompting fears the government would eventually attack it.

No Idlib attack?

But the Observatory said the terms of the new Russia-Turkey deal included keeping the regime from waging a military operation there.

The Britain-based monitor said Turkish and Russian forces would also jointly patrol a part of the key M5 highway which cuts through Idlib.

The M5 connects Damascus to second city Aleppo in the north.

Analyst Nawar Oliver at the Turkey-based Omran Centre said the evacuation could pave the way for a grand bargain on Idlib.

“Change is inevitably coming to Idlib, but There are numerous predicaments that need to be resolved, including Fu’ah and Kafriya, before reaching a final deal,” Oliver told AFP.

Assad’s forces have already recaptured two of the “de-escalation” zones this year: Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and an area in central Homs.

They sealed their control over those areas with a blend of military pressure and negotiated surrenders of rebel groups there.

Using the same tactics, they are now close to seizing the third zone in southern Syria, which includes the key provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

Heavy air strikes on Tuesday battered an area straddling the two governorates, killing 15 civilians across two towns, according to the Observatory.

Tens of thousands of civilians remain displaced in a part of Quneitra just a handful of kilometers (miles) from the Israeli Golan Heights.

But Israel, like Jordan to Syria’s south, has kept the border closed to desperate displaced families fleeing the assault in recent weeks.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/deal-reached-to-evacuate-pro-regime-syria-towns-watchdog-says/

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Boko Haram overruns Nigeria military base in second attack in days

July 15, 2018

Boko Haram jihadists overran a military base in northeast Nigeria after a ferocious firefight, security sources said Sunday, the second major assault on the country’s forces in two days.

The militants invaded a base holding hundreds of soldiers in Yobe state — where they abducted over 100 girls from a school earlier this year — in an hours-long onslaught Saturday night, a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The attack took place after Boko Haram fighters ambushed a military convoy in neighbouring Borno state on Friday, highlighting the tenuous hold Nigerian forces have on the remote region despite claims from Muhammadu Buhari’s government the country is in a “post-conflict stabilisation phase.”

© BOKO HARAM/AFP/File | Boko Haram still launches regular raids against military and civilian targets in northern Nigeria, such as this one filmed by the group in January

“Boko Haram terrorists attacked troops of the 81st Division Forward Brigade at Jilli village in Geidam district. The terrorists came in huge numbers around 7:30 pm (1830 GMT) and overran the base after a fierce battle that lasted till 9:10 pm,” said the military source.

“The base had 734 troops. Currently the commander of the base and 63 soldiers have made it to Geidam (60 kilometres away) while the remaining 670 are being expected,” he said.

“We don’t know if there were any casualties among the troops. That will be known later,” he said, adding that the base was new and the troops had recently arrived from Lagos, the commercial capital.

A leader of a local anti-jihadist militia said that the soldiers sustained casualties, but was unable to give a toll, attributing the attack to the Abu-Mus’ab Al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram, which is known for targeting Nigerian forces.

“We learned that they drove from Lake Chad through Gubio (in nearby Borno state) and attacked the base,” he said.

Geidam resident Fannami Gana said that Boko Haram jihadists “overwhelmed” the troops.

“We don’t know the details of what happened but we learnt they were overwhelmed by hundreds of Boko Haram gunmen,” said Gana.

– Second attack –

On Friday, 23 Nigerian soldiers went missing after Boko Haram ambushed a convoy outside Bama, leading to the loss of several military vehicles.

According to a military officer, “around 100 terrorists” attacked the convoy.

The sophisticated attacks highlight the continued threat — and evolution — of Boko Haram, an Islamic State group ally, said Yan St-Pierre, counter-terrorism advisor and head of the Berlin-based Modern Security Consulting Group.

St-Pierre suggested that the attacks could be because Boko Haram fighters are vying for control of the faction led by Abubakar Shekau, the long-time jihadist leader who is reportedly ill.

“When a near-mythical leader is on his way out there’s always a battle to establish who could be next,” said St-Pierre.

The attacks show the persistent threat of Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region, said the security expert.

As the jihadists exploit rampant poverty in the region, the Nigerian army, which is overstretched and under-resourced, struggles to keep the insurgency in check.

“The supply of Boko Haram fighters is always there, either through kidnapping or economic reasons, they tap into a wide pool of personnel, they find a way to replenish their strength,” St-Pierre said.

President Buhari, a 75-year-old former military ruler, came to power three years ago on a promise to defeat Boko Haram.

But while there have been clear military gains since a counter-insurgency was launched in 2015, suicide bombings and raids remain a constant threat, particularly to civilians.

Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency has devastated the region since 2009, leaving at least 20,000 dead, displacing more than two million others and triggering a humanitarian crisis.

AFP

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Syria, Islamic State (IS) using civilians as ‘pawns’: UN rights chief

June 29, 2018

Civilians fleeing attacks on rebel-held towns in southern Syria are being used as “pawns”, the UN rights chief said, lamenting reported demands for payment at government checkpoints and jihadist’s blocking movement.

With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army has battered Daraa province for over a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs.

In this Thursday, April 5, 2018 photo, rubble of buildings line a street that was damaged during fighting between US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria.(AP/Hussein Malla)

Syria: Rubble of buildings line a street that was damaged during fighting between US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria. (AP/Hussein Malla)

The bombardment has already forced more than 66,000 to flee their homes in search of safety, according to the UN, while others huddle in their basements to wait out the raids.

UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned in a statement of the “grave risk that the intensified fighting will see many civilians trapped”.

He said many risked being caught between pro-government forces on one side and armed opposition groups and the Islamic State jihadists on the other.

The rights chief condemned how “civilians in Syria continue to be used as pawns by the various parties”.

Zeid said his office had received reports that “in the last few days, civilians at some government checkpoints in the southern-eastern and western parts of Daraa have only been allowed through to government-held areas in Daraa City and As Suwayda governorate for a fee.”

“To add to the bleak situation facing civilians, there are also reports that ISIL fighters in control of the Yarmuk Basin area in the western part of Daraa governorate are not allowing civilians to leave the areas under their control”, he said.

© AFP | With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army has battered Daraa province for over a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs

Zeid stressed that international law requires all sides to “do their utmost to protect civilians” and urged the parties to the conflict “to provide safe passage to those wishing to flee.”

“Those wishing to stay must be protected at all times,” he added.

Zeid said his office had documented at least 46 civilian deaths in the region since the escalation began on June 19. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the toll at more than double that, at 96.

The UN has warned that more than 750,000 lives are at risk in the south, which is meant to be protected by a ceasefire put in place last year by Russia, Jordan, and the United States.

The onslaught has sparked fears of a re-run of the offensives last year against the rebel enclaves of Aleppo and eastern Ghouta, including deadly bombardments followed by a retaking of territory and an accord to evacuate rebels from the areas.

“I have spoken of the cruel irony of Eastern Ghouta being a de-escalation zone, and how the conduct of the war has been utterly shameful from the outset and a stain on us all,” Zeid said Friday.

“Now another supposed ‘de-escalation’ zone risks becoming the scene of large-scale civilian casualties,” he said.

“This madness must end.”

AFP

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Top Bangladeshi Islamist extremist killed — Police use extrajudicial killings to “clean up” as in the Philippines?

June 28, 2018

Bangladeshi police said that a top Islamist extremist in police custody was killed on Thursday, in the latest in a string of what activists suspect are extra-judicial killings.

Abdur Rahman was a regional military chief of a group blamed for a 2016 attack on a Dhaka cafe that killed 22 hostages including 18 foreigners, police said.

Held since July 24 over the murder of a secular publisher, Rahman died on Thursday morning in an ambush by extremists as he accompanied officers on a search operation in the central town of Sirajdikhan, they said.

“He was shot dead during a gunfight with the extremists,” district police chief Zaidul Alam told AFP.

Image may contain: 4 people

Two policemen were also injured, police said.

Over the past two years, security forces have shot dead more than 80 alleged militants. Hundreds of suspected Islamists have also been arrested and scores sentenced to death

The murder on June 11 of Shahzahan Bachchu, 60, a publisher and a former Communist Party official, reawakened worries over a renewal of extremist attacks in the Muslim-majority country.

Police said Rahman had admitted that his group was behind the murder.

Police were initially slow to finger Islamists as it was the first such killing in more than two years, but counter-terrorism officers later told local media that they thought extremists were indeed to blame.

Rahman was the “Dhaka regional military wing chief” of Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Alam said.

Image result for Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh, bangladesh, photos

JMB, founded by Bangladeshi jihadists who took part in the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, regrouped after the execution of its founder and top leadership in 2007, attacking the Holey Artisan Bakery in July 2016.

The subsequent crackdown has raised concerns among activists and rights groups.

“We have said from the very beginning there are questions about these crossfire or gun battle deaths,” Nur Khan Liton, a prominent activist and formerly the head of rights group Ain o Salish Kendra, told AFP.

“There are reasons to believe that these suspected extremists were in fact victims of extra-judicial killings,” he said.

“Had he been alive, police would have the opportunities to get key information about his network and the murder of the publisher.”

AFP

Israel mum on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

June 19, 2018

Israel declined to comment on Tuesday on a weekend air strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria after its US ally implicated it in the attack.

The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.

© AFP | Map of Syria locating air strike in Al-Hari.

Fighters of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force, mainly composed of Iran-trained Shiite militia, have played a major role in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group in Syria as well as Iraq.

But their presence has sparked confrontations with both Washington, which has been supporting a Kurdish-led alliance that controls other parts of eastern Syria, and Israel, which fears Iranian-inspired attacks on its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.

Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

But US officials denied any involvement and instead pointed the finger at Israel.

“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” one US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli military declined to be drawn on the US claims. “We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokeswoman said.

The military has carried out previous strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, but most have been significantly closer to Israel or the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Last month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.

Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired towards its forces in the occupied Golan by Iran from Syria.

Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria”.

“We will take action -? and are already taking action -? against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria,” the prime minister said.

“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”

Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Iran has been a close ally of the Syrian regime for some four decades and, with Russia, has been a key supporter in the civil war that broke out in 2011.

AFP

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Iraq denounces mysterious Syria airstrike attributed to Israel

June 19, 2018

Iraqi military denies positioning Iran-backed fighters in Syrian territory after paramilitary group says 22 of its members among the dead

Iraqi forces, supported by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units), advance in the western desert in the northern Iraqi region of al-Hadar, 105 kilometers south of Mosul, on November 23, 2017, as they attempt to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters (AFP/Stringer)

Iraqi forces, supported by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units), advance in the western desert in the northern Iraqi region of al-Hadar, 105 kilometers south of Mosul, on November 23, 2017, as they attempt to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters (AFP/Stringer)

Iraq on Tuesday denounced an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel in which over 50 pro-regime fighters, including some 20 members of an Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group, were killed.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said it “expresses rejection and condemnation of any air operations targeting forces in areas where they are fighting ISIS, whether in Iraq or Syria or any other area where there is a battlefield against this enemy that threatens humanity,” according to the Reuters news agency.

The ministry also called for countries to work together against “extremist groups.”

The bombing raid hit Al-Hari, a town near the Iraqi border controlled by regional militias fighting in Syria’s seven-year war alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Both Syrian authorities and Iraqi forces pointed the finger at the US-led coalition, which denied it was involved in Sunday night’s attack.

“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Monday.

Illustrative: A masked fighter of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries poses for a picture carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle by defensive positions on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, on February 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Israel declined to comment, but a strike so far from its border would veer from most other raids in Syria that are attributed to Israel, which have largely taken place closer to Syria’s borders with Israel and Lebanon.

The target, apparently Shiite Iraqi militia fighters loyal to Assad, would also mark a shift for Israel, which has previously only carried out airstrikes against Iran’s forces and its proxies, according to reports.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel was “taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria. We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”

Sunday’s raid slammed into a regime-controlled position in the border town and left at least 52 fighters dead, according to a Britain-based monitor.

Among them were fighters from Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi military alliance, some of whom have crossed into Syria to fight against IS.

The Iran-backed Hashed claimed that “US planes fired two guided missiles at a fixed position of Hashed al-Shaabi units on the border with Syria, killing 22 fighters and wounding 12.”

The bodies of three Iraqi fighters killed in the raid were returned to their hometowns for burial, said AFP’s correspondent in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 30 Iraqi forces were among the dead in Al-Hari, as well as 16 Syrian forces and six unidentified fighters.

Hashed said its fighters had been deployed along the porous frontier with Syria on the orders of the Iraqi authorities.

However, late Monday the Iraqi military command denied it had positioned forces in Syrian territory, implying the dead fighters had acted without its consent.

Regretting the deaths, the command said it had been assured by the coalition that it was not responsible for the strikes.

Hashed is vital to the fight against IS in Iraq, but has also battled the jihadists across the border in their eastern Syria bastions.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/iraq-denounces-mysterious-syria-airstrike-attributed-to-israel/

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Islamic State’s Attacks Raise Threat of Southeast Asia Hub

June 7, 2018

Neighbors intensify cooperation to prevent regional growth of militant group

It took Philippine forces five months to drive Islamic State-inspired rebels from Marawi City, on Mindanao Island, shown here as fighting continued in May 2017.
It took Philippine forces five months to drive Islamic State-inspired rebels from Marawi City, on Mindanao Island, shown here as fighting continued in May 2017. PHOTO: FRANCIS R. MALASIG/EUROPEAN PRSSPHOTO AGENCY

SINGAPORE—Islamic State’s collapse in Syria and Iraq leaves global jihadists looking for a new home.

Governments in Southeast Asia, a region that is home to some 270 million Muslims, fear that their part of the world may now turn into the extremists’ new area of growth. These nations are sidelining old rivalries and working together to make sure that doesn’t happen.

This cooperation includes a fresh boost in intelligence sharing and joint maritime and air patrols in the Sulu Sea, where Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia meet. The region’s nations are also tightening immigration rules and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country is passing new antiterrorism legislation.

Smoke rises from a blast at a Surabaya church amid a series of attacks on May 13 in the Indonesian city.
Smoke rises from a blast at a Surabaya church amid a series of attacks on May 13 in the Indonesian city. PHOTO:ANDY PINARIA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Islamic radicalism has a long tradition in Southeast Asia, fueled by a separatist guerrilla war that raged since the 1970s in the predominantly Muslim parts of southern Philippines, a separatist insurgency in southern Thailand, and the communal tensions in Indonesia that allowed al Qaeda’s affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah to flourish more than a decade ago.

In addition to concerns about the Sulu Sea area, the historic hotbed of Islamic militancy, regional officials increasingly worry that the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh may create another extremist hot spot on the coast of Andaman Sea.

“When we are talking about terrorism, Iraq and Syria already are finished. The future threat will be in the Sulu Sea and in the Andaman Sea,” Inspector-General Hamidin, the deputy head of Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency, said in an interview. “While ISIS has been defeated, its ideology remains.”

Several hundred radicals from Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, traveled to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq when it proclaimed its “caliphate” in 2014. Many of them fought in the so-called Nusantara Brigade—and many have since then returned to the region.

Islamic State also tried to establish a ministate of its own in the Indonesian regency of Poso, on Sulawesi island, in 2015. After failing to take hold in Poso, the group focused on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, where fighters linked to Islamic State seized the city of Marawi in May 2017. Philippines forces regained Marawi only after a five-month military campaign that displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Officials in Southeast Asia fear Myanmar’s push to drive out predominantly Muslim Rohingya—refugees are shown here at the Bangladesh border in April—has facilitated the rise of extremism in the area.
Officials in Southeast Asia fear Myanmar’s push to drive out predominantly Muslim Rohingya—refugees are shown here at the Bangladesh border in April—has facilitated the rise of extremism in the area. PHOTO: YE AUNG THU/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Since then, Islamic State’s activity in Indonesia picked up again. Last month, militants affiliated with Islamic State, also known as Daesh, carried out a series of church bombings in the city of Surabaya, the country’s deadliest attack in a decade. There were several other incidents, including the attack on police by sword-carrying militants on the island of Sumatra.

“The challenges do not end when the military declares victory. While pro-Daesh groups failed to establish a strong foothold in southern Philippines and in Southeast Asia, their initial accomplishments provide a viable blueprint for terrorism operations in the region,” the Philippines secretary of national defense, Delfin Lorenzana, warned at the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore over the weekend.

“The terrorist threat continues to threaten Southeast Asia,” echoed the Australian minister of defense, Marise Payne. “Nobody wants to see Daesh take root in our region after being denied territory and legitimacy in the Middle East.”

In Indonesia, increased police capability to monitor militants’ social media and electronic communications means that many future attacks will likely be planned by close-knit groups such as the family that carried out last month’s Surabaya church bombings, said Mr. Hamidin of the Counter-Terrorism Agency.

While Indonesia is able to keep the militant threat in check, that would become challenging if the largely dormant networks of Jemaah Islamiyah become activated again by a regional crisis such as the plight of the Rohingya, and start cooperating with the remnants of Islamic State, he added.

“We have learned from what has been happening in Indonesia: if there is conflict and violence against Muslims, terrorists usually go there,” said Mr. Hamidin.

In Indonesia, the appeal of Islamic State’s brand of radicalism is limited by the fact that rival Islamist movements have been able to achieve their goals through peaceful means. Mass Islamist-sponsored demonstrations against alleged blasphemy by the Christian governor of Jakarta in December 2016 led to his defeat in elections last year, and to a subsequent imprisonment on blasphemy charges.

There is no such peaceful outlet in the Philippines, where a state of emergency remains in force across Mindanao.

“Foreign terrorist fighters consider the south Philippines as their alternative home base. They agitate the grievances of the locals and provide ideological justifications to continue the armed rebellion,” said Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, a think tank in Manila.

“But even without the foreign terrorist fighters, the locals are fighting for self-determination, and they want acknowledgment of historical injustice committed against them,” he said. “The foreign terrorist fighters only add fire to existing local grievances.”

In Marawi, where fighters from other Southeast Asian nations and places as remote as Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Chechnya participated in last year’s battles, Islamic State-affiliated militants surprised the Philippines army with their use of drones, radio-frequency scanners and advanced sniper rifles, among other sophisticated weaponry. Though battered after losing Marawi, many of its fighters and its key leaders, the militant group remains a potent threat in Mindanao and the nearby islands of the Philippines, security experts agree.

“In Mindanao, they still have the capabilities, they still have the money, and they still have some territory,” said Solahudin, a terrorism expert at the University of Indonesia.

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-attacks-raise-threat-of-southeast-asia-hub-1528363801

Twitter: 1 million accounts suspended for ‘terrorism promotion’

April 5, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Twitter says more than one million accounts have been suspended since 2015 for “promotion of terrorism”

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Twitter said Thursday it has suspended over one million accounts for “promotion of terrorism” since 2015, claiming its efforts have begun to make the platform “an undesirable place” to call for violence.In its latest transparency report, Twitter said it suspended 274,460 accounts between July and December 2017 “for violations related to the promotion of terrorism.”

The figure is down 8.4 percent from the previous reporting period and is the second consecutive decline, a Twitter statement said.

“We continue to see the positive, significant impact of years of hard work making our site an undesirable place for those seeking to promote terrorism, resulting in this type of activity increasingly shifting away from Twitter,” said the statement from the messaging platform’s public policy team.

Twitter has faced pressure from governments around the world to crack down on jihadists and others calling for violent attacks, while at the same time maintaining an open platform for free speech.

In the latest six-month reporting period, Twitter said 93 percent of the suspended accounts were “flagged by internal, proprietary tools,” and that 74 percent were cut off before their first tweet.

It said government reports of violations related to the promotion of terrorism represent less than 0.2 percent of all suspensions in the period.

Twitter also used the report to express concerns about what it called “legal threats to freedom of expression” online in countries around the world.

“With the passage of new legislation and ongoing regulatory discussions taking place around the world about the future of public discourse online, we are seeing a potential chilling effect with regards to freedom of expression,” the report said.

It cited a Human Rights Watch report suggesting that “governments around the world (are) increasingly look to restrict online speech by forcing social media companies to act as their censors.”

Nigeria’s Buhari meets with Dapchi girls — Boko Haram expected to strike Again — Terrorism and Corruption in Africa

March 23, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Ola Awoniyi | A total of 113 children were seized from the school in Dapchi, in northeastern Nigeria on February 19, all but two of them girls

ABUJA (AFP) – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari received the released Dapchi girls on Friday in a meeting clouded by the absence of a Christian student still held by Boko Haram for refusing to convert to Islam.”We entered into negotiation solely to make sure that no single girl was hurt. This strategy paid off as the girls are being released without any incident,” Buhari said to reporters at the presidential villa in Abuja.

The girls, dressed in brightly coloured hijabs, enthusiastically sang the national anthem before posing for photos with Buhari outside in a garden.

Describing the release of the 107 youngsters — 105 schoolgirls and two young boys — as a “cheery and hearty” development, Buhari pledged to recover “every abducted citizen in Nigeria.”

“While parents of the Dapchi girls rejoice because of the reunion with their children, I want to appeal to the Chibok community never to lose hope or despair. We are determined as never before to bring back our remaining Chibok daughters,” he said.

The latest mass kidnapping from the town of Dapchi was an embarrassment for Buhari whose government has repeatedly claimed that the Boko Haram Islamist group is close to defeat.

– Dialogue ongoing –

A total of 113 children were seized from the school in Dapchi, in the northeastern state of Yobe, on February 19, all but two of them girls.

On Wednesday morning, 105 of the girls were brought back by the jihadists, who drove freely into the town in a convoy of vehicles waving the black Boko Haram flag and met by cheering residents.

“The insurgents’ only condition was their demands for a cessation of hostilities and a temporary ceasefire to enable them to return the girls (to) the point they picked them (up),” security director Lawal Daura said.

“The remaining six Dapchi girls are yet to be accounted for and dialogue on these students is still on-going,” he said.

Five girls are said to have died in the initial stages of the kidnapping, while one girl — the only Christian — is still being held, with Buhari on Friday promising to free her.

– ‘Praying for her return’ –

Leah Sharibu is still with her captors, apparently because she refused to convert to Islam.

“It is disheartening that one of the girls, Leah Sharibu, remains in captivity,” said Buhari on his official Twitter account.

“We will do everything in our power to bring Leah back safely,” he said.

“There is no news that they have seen my daughter,” Leah’s father Nata Sharibu told AFP over the phone.

“People pray that my daughter will come.”

The Dapchi kidnapping revived painful memories in Nigeria of the April 2014 abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a town also in the northeast, which caused global outrage.

While some of the Chibok girls have been freed in exchange for ransom and the release of top Boko Haram commanders, a total of 112 remain in captivity.

Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools giving a so-called Western education in the mainly-Muslim region as part of an insurgency that has killed at least 20,000 people since 2009.

According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, more than 2,296 teachers have been killed and some 1,400 schools destroyed in the wider northeast.

On Wednesday, the Borno state government announced that all boarding secondary schools outside Maiduguri and the town of Biu would be closed indefinitely with immediate effect.

Boko Haram has increasingly turned to kidnapping for ransom to raise funds for their operations in the Lake Chad region.

While a 2015 offensive launched by Buhari successfully reclaimed swathes of territory back from the jihadists in Nigeria, the group still stages deadly attacks on both military targets and civilians.

by Ola Awoniyi
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Nigeria repeatedly warned before Boko Haram abducted 110 schoolgirls: Amnesty — “A War They Don’t Want To Win”

March 20, 2018

Nigeria forces repeatedly warned before Boko Haram abducted 110 schoolgirls: AmnestyA picture taken on Feb. 28 at the Government Girls Technical College at Dapchi town in northern Nigeria shows a classroom deserted by fleeing students after Boko Haram Islamists kidnapped 110 schoolgirls. Nigeria’s government on March 1 said it had set up a committee to establish how Boko Haram jihadists managed to kidnap the 110 girls from their school in the country’s remote northeast. | AFP

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AFP

Nigeria’s military was on Tuesday accused of ignoring repeated warnings about the movements of Boko Haram fighters before they kidnapped 110 schoolgirls in the country’s restive northeast.

The students — the youngest of whom is aged just 10 — were seized from the town of Dapchi, Yobe state, on Feb. 19 in virtually identical circumstances to those in Chibok in 2014.

Then, more than 200 schoolgirls were taken in an attack that brought sustained world attention on the Islamist insurgency and sparked a global campaign for their release.

President Muhammadu Buhari has called the Dapchi abduction a “national disaster” and vowed to use negotiation rather than force to secure their release.

But as in Chibok nearly four years ago, human rights group Amnesty International claimed the military was warned about the arrival of the heavily armed jihadists — yet failed to act.

In the hours that followed both attacks, the authorities also tried to claim the girls had not been abducted.

Amnesty’s Nigeria director Osa Ojigho said “no lessons appear to have been learned” from Chibok and called for an immediate probe into what she called “inexcusable security lapses.

“The government’s failure in this incident must be investigated and the findings made public — and it is absolutely crucial that any investigation focuses on the root causes,” she added.

“Why were insufficient troops available? Why was it decided to withdraw troops? What measures have the government taken to protect schools in northeast Nigeria?

“And what procedures are supposed to be followed in response to an attempted abduction?”

There was no immediate response from the Nigerian military when contacted by AFP.

Amnesty said that between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on Feb. 19, at least five calls were made to tell the security services that Islamist fighters were in the Dapchi area.

Locals spotted about 50 members of the Islamic State group affiliate in a convoy of nine vehicles in Futchimiram, about 30 km (19 miles) from Dapchi, then at Gumsa.

In Gumsa, where Boko Haram stayed until about 5:00 p.m., residents phoned ahead to Dapchi to warn them. The convoy arrived at about 6:30 p.m. and left about 90 minutes later.

Amnesty, whose researchers spoke to about 23 people and three security officials, said the army command in Geidam had told callers they were aware of the situation and were monitoring.

Police in Dapchi promised to tell divisional commanders, while army commanders in Geidam and Damaturu were also alerted during the attack, it added.

People in Dapchi have previously said troops were withdrawn from the town earlier this year, leaving only a few police officers. The nearest military detachment was an hour away.

The Dapchi abduction has thrown into doubt repeated government and military claims that Boko Haram is on the brink of defeat, after nearly nine years of fighting and at least 20,000 deaths.

Boko Haram, which has used kidnapping as a weapon of war during the conflict, has not claimed responsibility but it is believed a faction headed by Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi is behind it.

Image result for Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi, photos

Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi

IS in August 2015 publicly backed Barnawi as the leader of Boko Haram, or Islamic State West Africa Province, over Abubakar Shekau, whose supporters carried out the Chibok abduction.

Analysts have attributed a financial motive to the Dapchi kidnapping given government ransom payments made to Boko Haram to secure the release of some of the captives from Chibok.

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