Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

France’s special forces not specifically targeting French-born jihadis fighting for Islamic State in Mosul

June 22, 2017

PARIS — The head of France’s special forces said on Thursday his units were directly involved in street battles in Mosul’s Old City but denied they were specifically targeting French-born jihadis fighting for Islamic State.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that French citizens had been killed by Iraqi artillery and ground troops using location coordinates and other intelligence supplied by French special forces during the battle to drive the extremist group from the Iraqi city of Mosul.

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About 700 French nationals are fighting in Islamic State ranks in Iraq and Syria. French officials have in the past said their priority on the ground was to ensure they did not return to their homeland to carry out attacks.

“We don’t do specific targeting. It makes no sense,” Vice-admiral Laurent Isnard, who heads up the Special Forces Command (COS), told reporters in a rare exchange.

“We’re facing fighters. We’re in tiny streets, districts and are attacking the medina. We’re on the frontline and are dealing with people who we come across. How are you supposed to know who is in front of you beforehand? They don’t stand exposed with their biography,” he said.

France, the first country to join U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq, carries out aerial operations against Islamic State from its bases in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Image result for France, special forces, photos

It also has dozens of special forces operating in the region, provides weapons to Iraqi Kurds and has deployed artillery to support Iraqi troops.

“The objective is to take back streets, districts and houses,” he said.

Isnard said French forces were sharing intelligence with Iraqis, but solely to assess “how the enemy was organized.”

The “liberation” of Mosul from Islamic State will be announced in a few days, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Sophie Louet; writing by John Irish; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Philippines Closing In on Maute Brothers — The Men Who Brought Death and Ruin to Marawi, Mindanao — “Marawi in particular has become the new sexy destination for jihad.”

June 18, 2017


© AFP / by Cecil MORELLA | An aerial bombing campaign on Islamist militants’ hideout in Marawi, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, has left the city shattered

MARAWI (PHILIPPINES) (AFP) – Twenty years after obtaining Christian educations, Muslim brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute returned to their southern Philippine city with the black flags of the Islamic State group and set fire to their alma mater.

Hundreds of gunmen, many of them young locals recruited by the Maute brothers, destroyed Dansalan College in a rampage across Marawi city last month as they launched a brutal offensive to stamp their credentials as Philippine leaders of IS.

It turned the siblings, aged in their mid 30s, into the most infamous high school alumni of the Protestant Church-run institution, which had been a symbol of religious tolerance in the mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people.

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Photos: Maute brothers Abdullah (left) and Omarkhayam Maute

The brothers have since remained holed up in parts of Marawi, using their local knowledge of tunnels and bomb-proof basements, to withstand a military offensive that has left entire neighbourhoods in ruins and claimed more than 300 lives.

“We do not understand where that hate is coming from,” said Zia Alonto Adiong, a member of the regional parliament in a self-ruled Muslim area in the southern Philippines’ Mindanao region that includes Marawi.

Duma Sani, an ex-dean of Mindanao State University whose daughter also went to school with one of the Maute brothers, said most locals did not support their radical brand of Islam, under which non-believers must be killed.

“These (Marawi gunmen) are young people who have their own interpretation of the Koran and who do not respect their own elders,” Sani told AFP.

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The Maute group emerged as a small rag-tag group around 2012 from a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion in Mindanao, which makes up one third of the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

As the main rebel organisation — the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — sought to broker peace with the government, the Maute and other small hardline groups filled a vacuum for fanatics as they took inspiration from IS’s atrocities in Iraq and Syria.

“I think what transformed the Mautes from a small band of siblings to a real serious military threat was the emergence of ISIS in the Middle East,” security analyst Sidney Jones told AFP, using an alternative acronym.

But the brothers were radicalised much earlier: while pursuing studies in the Middle East after college, according to Jones and Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

Omarkhayam headed to Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, while Abdullah went to Jordan.

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Philippine soldiers maneuver street by street and block by block to rid Marawi City of Islamist terrorists on Monday. PHOTO BY JEOFFREY MAITEM / INQUIRER MINDANAO

Banlaoi said they returned to Mindanao after about a decade away to be mentored by a fugitive Indonesian militant, Ustadz Sanussi, who in turn put them in touch with other Southeast Asian jihadists, notably the Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir.

– Family affair –

With an engineer father and a mother involved in construction and property development, the Mautes are part of Muslim Mindanao’s elite.

They also have blood ties to one of the top MILF leaders, according to Banlaoi.

“These connections gave the group a measure of protection,” Banlaoi said.

Since the conflict erupted, the mother and father have been arrested. Authorities have said the arrest of the mother was particularly important, describing her as a financier of the group.

All her seven sons are believed to be involved in the Marawi conflict, according to Banlaoi.

However Jones said the mother was not the driving force of radicalism, rather she and the other family members had been led by Omarkhayam and Abdullah.

Their main ally is Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of another hardline group called the Abu Sayyaf who is on the US government’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

IS named Hapilon as its leader in the Philippines in recent years, and he is believed to be in Marawi with the Maute brothers.

However Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said leadership had effectively shifted to the Maute brothers because they were controlling events in Marawi.

Regardless of whether the Maute brothers are driven out of Marawi, they have established the Philippines as a successful new base for IS, according to Jones, pointing to foreign fighters who have been reported killed in the conflict.

The military has said that slain fighters have come from countries including Chechnya, Libya, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Everybody has been concerned up till now about the threat of foreign fighters coming back from Syria and Iraq. Suddenly, the bigger threat (is) foreign fighters who never set foot in the Middle East going to Mindanao,” Jones said.

“Marawi in particular has become the new sexy destination for jihad.”

by Cecil MORELLA

US-Backed Syrian Fighters Seize Parts of IS ‘Capital’ Raqqa

June 11, 2017

BEIRUT — A U.S.-backed Syrian opposition force said Sunday it has captured a northwestern neighborhood of the Islamic State group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa the second district to fall in their hands in days after the group launched a wide offensive to gain control of the extremists’ de facto capital.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said its fighters captured the neighborhood of Romaniah after two days of fighting that left 12 IS gunmen dead, including a commander known as Abu Khattab al-Tunsi.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said SDF fighters now control Romaniah and the eastern neighborhood of Mashlab. The fighters have also entered Raqqa’s western neighborhood of Sabahiya and the industrial district in the east.

Raqqa was among the first cities captured by IS, in January 2014, and has been the home of some of the group’s most prominent leaders. The battle for the city is expected to be extended and bloody, and could mark a major turning point in the war against the extremists.

IS has been fortifying its positions in Raqqa for months, setting up barriers and hanging sheets of cloth over main streets to provide cover from warplanes. A belt of land mines and militant checkpoints circle the city.

SDF fighters began their offensive on the city of Raqqa on June 6 under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said the city was subjected to intense airstrikes and shelling by the SDF and the U.S.-led coalition releasing a video that showed wide destruction in one of the neighborhoods. The video also showed severely wounded men and children being rushed to hospitals.

In southern Syria, Jordan said its border guards have killed five suspected infiltrators approaching the kingdom’s border from Syria in a pickup truck and two motorcycles.

The military said in a statement that the incident took place near the spot where Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet.

Jordan has been on alert for possible infiltrations by IS extremists who seized territories in Syria and Iraq in 2014. In recent months, Jordan expressed concern that U.S.-backed offensives against IS will push some of the militants closer to the kingdom’s border.

The army said nine vehicles approached Jordan from Syria in the past three days, and border guards opened fire to hold them back. The army says that in the latest incident, troops fired on a pickup truck and two motorcycles, killing five.

UAE turns screws on Qatar, threatens sympathizers with jail

June 7, 2017


By Sylvia Westall and Tom Finn | DUBAI/DOHA

The United Arab Emirates tightened the squeeze on fellow Gulf state Qatar on Wednesday threatening anyone publishing expressions of sympathy towards it with up to 15 years in prison, and barring Qatari passport or resident visa holders entry.

Efforts to defuse the regional crisis — prompted on Monday when the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others severed diplomatic ties with Qatar over alleged support for Islamist groups and Iran — showed no immediate signs of success.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash threatened more curbs if necessary and said Qatar needed to make “iron-clad” commitments to change policies on funding militants. Qatar vehemently denies giving such support.

U.S. President Donald Trump took sides in the rift on Tuesday, praising the actions against Qatar, but later spoke by phone with Saudi King Salman and stressed the need for Gulf unity.

His defense secretary, James Mattis, also spoke to his Qatari counterpart to express commitment to the Gulf region’s security. Qatar hosts 8,000 U.S. military personnel at al Udeid, the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East and a launchpad for U.S.-led strikes on the Islamic State militant group.

Kuwait’s emir has also been seeking to mediate, meeting Saudi’s king on Tuesday.

Qatar’s isolation from powerful fellow Arab states advanced, however.

UAE-based newspaper Gulf News and pan-Arab channel Al-Arabiya reported the crackdown on expressions of sympathy with Qatar.

“Strict and firm action will be taken against anyone who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar, or against anyone who objects to the position of the United Arab Emirates, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form,” Gulf News quoted UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif al-Shamsi as saying.

On top of a possible jail term, offenders could also be hit with a fine of at least 500,000 UAE dirhams, the newspaper said, citing a statement to Arabic-language media.

Since the diplomatic row erupted, slogans against and in support of Qatar have dominated Twitter in Arabic, a platform used widely in the Arab world, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Newspapers and television channels in the region have also been engaged in a war of words over Qatar’s role.

The UAE’s state-owned Etihad Airways, meanwhile, said all travelers holding Qatari passports were currently prohibited from traveling to or transiting through the emirates on government instructions.

Foreigners residing in Qatar and in possession of a Qatari residence visa would also not be eligible for visa on arrival in the UAE, Etihad spokesman said in an email.

“This ruling applies to all airlines flying into the UAE,” the spokesman said in the statement.

Those breaking ties with Qatar are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the Maldives, Mauritania and Libya’s eastern-based government. Jordan has downgraded its diplomatic representation and revoked the license of Doha-based TV channel Al Jazeera.


Ordinary Qataris were loading up on supplies in supermarkets, fearing shortages. But financial markets were relatively calm after some recent jumps.

Qatar’s stock index was roughly unchanged after plummeting 8.7 percent over the last two days.

“Tensions are still high and mediation efforts by fellow Gulf Cooperation Council state Kuwait have yet to lead to a concrete solution, so investors will likely remain on edge,” said one Dubai-based trader.

Qatar has said it will not retaliate against the curbs.

“We are willing to sit and talk,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN late on Tuesday. He said his country was “protecting the world from potential terrorists”.

A Qatari official, however, said the rift was pushing Doha in the direction of leaving the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council, “with deep regret”.

Bans on Doha’s fleet using regional ports and anchorages are threatening to halt some of its exports and disrupt those of liquefied natural gas.

Traders on global markets worried that Riyadh’s allies would refuse to accept LNG shipments from the Gulf state, the world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter, and that Egypt might even bar tankers carrying Qatari cargoes from using the Suez Canal as they head to Europe and beyond.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall, Hadeel Al Sayegh, Celine Aswad, William MacLean; Writing by Jeremy Gaunt; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Syria Says US Airstrike Killed Several Soldiers Near Jordan

May 19, 2017

BEIRUT — A Syrian military official says an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on a government military position near the border with Jordan has killed several soldiers and caused material damage.

The unnamed official’s comments were carried Friday by Syrian state TV a day after the U.S.-led coalition said a U.S. airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces that the coalition said posed a threat to American troops and allied rebels operating near the border with Jordan.

The attack was the first such close confrontation between U.S. forces and fighters backing President Bashar Assad.

The Syrian official did not give a number for how many soldiers were killed but said the Syrian army is fighting terrorism and no one has the right to decide which areas the army can carry out operations.




May 18 (UPI) — The U.S. Air Force targeted a convoy of vehicles belonging to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after they came within 18 miles of a secure U.S. base at al-Tanf, a training center for Syrian rebels.

The attack is the first since a series of bombings in April undertaken by the United States specifically targeting Assad’s forces for their use of chemical weapons against civilians.

CBS News reported the convoy of 27 government vehicles approached al-Tanf in southwestern Syria, where U.S. special forces are training Syrian rebels in the fight against Assad. Warplanes buzzed the convoy in an effort to get them to turn around. When they did not, the U.S. fighter jets targeted some of the Syrian vehicles and opened fire.

It was not clear if there were any casualties.

In a second incident near al-Tanf, U.S. fighter jets intercepted a Syrian SU-22 fighter-bomber that had entered air space near the base. There was no exchange of fire and the Syrian bomber turned around.

Syrian SU-22 fighter-bomber
Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) Sukhoi Su-22M-4 “Fitter” fighter-bomber

Al-Tanf was attacked previously by the Islamic State.

IS fighters also launched an offensive against Assad-held territory in the western province of Hama, seeking to take control of a strategic supply route leading to the nation’s largest city Aleppo. Unofficial accounts said the attack killed 50 people, including 12 civilians.

‘Don’t patronise us!’ Turkey hits out at Merkel after German threat to pull troops out — “Don’t act like a boss.”

May 18, 2017
TURKISH ministers hit out at Germany today accusing the nation of being patronising after Merkel said she would pull troops out of the country.

PUBLISHED: 08:56, Thu, May 18, 2017 | UPDATED: 09:47, Thu, May 18, 2017

Turkey Germany ErdoganGETTY

Turkey has hit out at Germany over troops threat

Germany is free to withdraw its troops stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base if it wants to, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said this morning, adding Berlin should drop its “patronising approach” to Ankara.

Cavusoglu made the comments in an interview with private broadcaster NTV.

The furious reaction comes after Germany said it was considering moving the roughly 250 troops deployed at Incirlik to Jordan because Ankara refuses to grant German lawmakers access to the site.

Turkish officials have said the visit by lawmakers would not be appropriate at the moment.

Mr Cavusoglu added that Berlin should change its attitude towards Ankara.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV, Cavusoglu said Ankara was not attempting to blackmail Berlin by preventing German lawmakers access to Incirlik, where some 250 German troops are stationed as part of the coalition against Islamic State.

Turkish officials have told Reuters that such a visit by German lawmakers would not be appropriate at the moment.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said the German government had been evaluating possible alternatives to Incirlik for some time and was considering moving the troops to Jordan.

“If they want to leave, that is up to them,” Cavusoglu said. “We are not going to beg. They were the ones who wanted to come and we helped them. If they want to go, we would say ‘Goodbye’,” he said.

Relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey have deteriorated sharply after a series of diplomatic rows.

Most recently, Turkey has expressed anger that Germany is granting asylum to Turks accused of participating in a failed coup in July. The failed putsch prompted a purge of the Turkish military, judiciary and civil service.

German officials have said more than 400 Turkish citizens with diplomatic passports and other government work permits have sought asylum in Germany since last year’s failed coup.

Cavusoglu said that Germany should change its attitude towards Turkey.

“You can’t treat Turkey as you wish anymore,” he said. “If you want to get closer to Turkey, treat it like a friend, don’t act like a boss.”


Germany Is Free to Withdraw Troops From Turkey’s Incirlik, Turkish Minister Says

May 18, 2017

ISTANBUL — Germany is free to withdraw its troops stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base if it wants to, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday, adding Berlin should drop its “patronizing approach” to Ankara.

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Cavusoglu made the comments in an interview with private broadcaster NTV.

Germany said on Wednesday it was considering moving the roughly 250 troops deployed at Incirlik to Jordan because Ankara refuses to grant German lawmakers access to the site. Turkish officials have told Reuters the visit by lawmakers would not be appropriate at the moment.

(Reporting by Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Germany Considering Jordan, Cyprus for Anti-IS Base — After Turkey makes it difficult at Incirlik

May 17, 2017

BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister says her office has drafted a list of eight locations where it could move aircraft supporting the anti-IS mission if Turkey continues to block German lawmakers from visiting troops at the Incirlik base.

Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday a team is already in Jordan to assess a site there for its Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling plane, and Cyprus is also being considered.

Nonetheless, she stressed talks with Turkey were still ongoing.

Germany has granted asylum to some soldiers Turkey believes were involved in a failed coup attempt last summer. That has prompted Turkey to block a request for German lawmakers to visit some 270 troops serving with the coalition against the Islamic State group at the Incirlik air base.



Germany-Turkey Disputes Continue — Blackmail over Incirlik?

May 17, 2017

Germany’s foreign minister has said Berlin may pull its troops out of a base in Turkey if lawmakers aren’t allowed to visit. The latest spat comes as two Turkish generals reportedly applied for asylum in Frankfurt.

Sigmar Gabriel (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel sharply criticized Turkey’s decision to block a parliament delegation from visiting Bundeswehr soldiers stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik base in an interview on Wednesday.

If “the German parliament is to be blackmailed, then the limit of tolerance has been reached,” Gabriel told German newspaper the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.”

“I can only hope that the Turkish government will change its mind in the coming days,” he said. “Otherwise, the German Bundestag will certainly not leave soldiers in Turkey.”

Gabriel noted that if cooperative work is no longer possible out of Incirlik, including that members of parliament can visit soldiers at the base, “then we have to consider alternatives.”

Possible move to Jordan

On Monday, Turkish authorities blocked a delegation of German lawmakers from accessing the southern Turkish air base. The parliamentarians were attempting to visit the 250 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed there as part of the US-led coalition fighting the militant “Islamic State” (IS) group.

German news magazine “Der Spiegel” reported that the Defense Ministry was already scoping alternatives to the Incirlik base in Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus.

Karte Türkei Adana Incirlik ENGLISCH

Jordan is reportedly the top choice for an alternative base, with the magazine reporting that Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will personally inspect the site in Jordan this weekend.

The latest move to block members of the Bundestag, the lower house of German parliament, from visiting the air base was ostensibly a response to the German government’s decision last week to grant asylum to Turkish military personnel.

Turkish generals apply for asylum

The German newspaper “Bild” reported late on Tuesday night that two high-ranking members of Turkey’s military applied for asylum at the international airport in Frankfurt.

According to “Bild,” the two men were Turkish generals who were involved in last July’s failed military coup.

On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told his party members that Berlin’s decision to accept the asylum applications is “a significant development in the regression of our relations again.”

Yildirim said that Germany had to choose between groups Turkey deems terror organizations or strengthening ties with Ankara.

Relations between Germany and Turkey have grown increasingly strained over the last few months and took a nosedive during Turkey’s referendum campaign on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Turkish ministers who were campaigning for the “yes” vote were later barred from holding rallies in Germany.

Last year, Ankara blocked German parliamentarians from visiting the Incirlik airbase after the Bundestag passed a resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as a “genocide.”


rs/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Israeli Cabinet Minister Cancels Jordan Visit After Shooting — Jordan said it holds Israel responsible for killing its citizen and denounced it a “crime”

May 16, 2017

JERUSALEM — An Israeli Cabinet minister has called off a long-planned visit to Jordan for a joint scientific venture following a spat between the countries over a deadly shooting in Jerusalem.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis says he is skipping Tuesday’s event in Amman marking the launching of the “Sesame” particle accelerator because of Jordan’s reaction to the killing of a Jordanian who stabbed an Israeli police officer.

Video footage shows the 57-year-old man swiping a knife before knocking the officer to the ground. Police say the officer shot then his attacker dead.

Jordan said it holds Israel responsible for killing its citizen and denounced it a “crime.” The Israeli government called the Jordanian reaction “outrageous.”

Akunis tells Israel’s Army Radio his diplomatic protest is the minimal response to the incident.