Posts Tagged ‘suicide bombings’

Iran Recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to Fight in Syria

September 16, 2017

ISLAMABAD — Thousands of Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 and the possibility of employment in Iran when they return, say counterterrorism officials and analysts.

These fighters, who have received public praise from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even have their own brigades, but counterterrorism officials in both countries worry about the mayhem they might cause when they return home to countries already wrestling with a major militant problem.

Amir Toumaj, Iran research analyst at the U.S.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the number of fighters is fluid but as many as 6,000 Afghans are fighting for Assad, while the number of Pakistanis, who fight under the banner of the Zainabayoun Brigade, is in the hundreds.

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In Afghanistan, stepped-up attacks on minority Shiites claimed by the upstart Islamic State group affiliate known as Islamic State in the Khorasan Province could be payback against Afghan Shiites in Syria fighting under the banner of the Fatimayoun Brigade, Toumaj said. Khorasan is an ancient name for an area that included parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

“People were expecting blowback,” said Toumaj. IS “itself has its own strategy to inflame sectarian strife.”

Shiites in Afghanistan are frightened. Worshippers at a recent Friday prayer service said Shiite mosques in the Afghan capital, including the largest, Ibrahim Khalil mosque, were barely a third full. Previously on Fridays — the Islamic holy day — the faithful were so many that the overflow often spilled out on the street outside the mosque.

Mohammed Naim, a Shiite restaurant owner in Kabul issued a plea to Iran: “Please don’t send the poor Afghan Shia refugees to fight in Syria because then Daesh attacks directly on Shias,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Pakistan has also been targeted by the Islamic State in Khorasan province. IS has claimed several brutal attacks on the country’s Shiite community, sending suicide bombers to shrines they frequent, killing scores of devotees.

In Pakistan, sectarian rivalries routinely erupt in violence. The usual targets are the country’s minority Shiites, making them willing recruits, said Toumaj. The most fertile recruitment ground for Iran has been Parachinar, the regional capital of the Khurram tribal region, that borders Afghanistan, he said. There, Shiites have been targeted by suicide bombings carried out by Sunni militants, who revile Shiites as heretics.

In June, two suicide bombings in rapid succession killed nearly 70 people prompting nationwide demonstrations, with protesters carrying banners shouting: “Stop the genocide of Shiites.”

A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said recruits are also coming from northern Gilgit and Baltistan. Recruiters are often Shiite clerics with ties to Iran, some of whom have studied in seminaries in Iran’s Qom and Mashhad cities, said a second Pakistani official, who also spoke on condition he not be identified because he still operates in the area and exposing his identity would endanger him.

Yet fighters sign up for many reasons.

Some are inspired to go to Syria to protect sites considered holy to Shiite Muslims, like the shrine honoring Sayyida Zainab, the granddaughter of Islam’s Prophet Muhammed. Located in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the shrine was attacked by Syrian rebels in 2013. Others sign up for the monthly stipend and the promise of a house. For those recruited from among the more than 1 million Afghan refugees still living in Iran it’s often the promise of permanent residence in Iran. For Shiites in Pakistan’s Parachinar it is outrage at the relentless attacks by Sunni militants that drives them to sign up for battle in Syria, said Toumaj.

Mir Hussain Naseri, a member of Afghanistan’s Shiite clerics’ council, said Shiites are obligated to protect religious shrines in both Iraq and Syria.

“Afghans are going to Syria to protect the holy places against attacks by Daesh,” he said. “Daesh is the enemy of Shias.”

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In this Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 file photo, men carry a woman’s body after an attack on a Shiite mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Ehsan Ghani, chief of Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Authority, told The Associated Press that his organization is sifting through hundreds of documents, including immigration files, to put a figure on the numbers of Pakistanis fighting on both sides of the many Middle East conflicts, including Syria. But it’s a cumbersome process.

“We know people are going from here to fight but we have to know who is going as a pilgrim (to shrines in Syria and Iraq) and who is going to join the fight,” he said.

Pakistan’s many intelligence agencies as well as the provincial governments are involved in the search, said Ghani, explaining that Pakistan wants numbers in order to devise a policy to deal with them when they return home. Until now, Pakistan has denied the presence of the Islamic State group in Pakistan.

Nadir Ali, a senior policy analyst at the U.S.-based RAND Corp., said Afghan and Pakistani recruits also provide Iran with future armies that Tehran can employ to enhance its influence in the region and as protection against perceived enemies.

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In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, Pakistani Shiite Muslims mourn next to the bodies of their relatives, a victims of bombing that killed scores of people in Quetta, Pakistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Despite allegations that Iran is aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ali says battle-hardened Shiite fighters are Tehran’s weapon should relations with an Afghan government that includes the radical majority Sunni religious movement deteriorate.

“Once the Syrian civil war dies down Iran is going to have thousands, if not tens of thousands of militia, under its control to use in other conflicts,” he said. “There is a potential of Iran getting more involved in Afghanistan using militia because Iran is going to be really concerned about security on its border and it would make sense to use a proxy force.”

Pakistan too has an uneasy relationship with Iran. On occasion the anti-Iranian Jandullah militant group has launched attacks against Iranian border guards from Baluchistan province. In June, Pakistan shot down an Iranian drone deep inside its territory.

In Pakistan the worry is that returning fighters, including those who had fought on the side of IS, could start another round of sectarian bloodletting, said the intelligence official.

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Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan; Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan; Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.

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In Afghan Review, Trump’s Frustration Carries Echoes of Obama Years

August 6, 2017

WASHINGTON — Since taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump has shown an affinity, and perhaps even a deference, to the generals he has surrounded himself with in his Cabinet and at the White House, save one exception: the war in Afghanistan.

More than a dozen interviews with current and former U.S. officials familiar with the discussions reveal a president deeply frustrated with the lack of options to win the 16-year-old war, described internally as “an eroding stalemate.”

The debate carries echoes of the same dilemma Barack Obama faced in 2009. Then, as now, odds are that Trump will ultimately send more troops, current and former officials say.

“It’s the least worst option,” one former U.S. official familiar with the discussions said, speaking on condition of anonymity, while acknowledging that with Trump, a pullout cannot be completely ruled out.

Trump’s defense secretary, retired Marine Corps General Jim Mattis, has had the authority for nearly two months to add thousands more troops to the roughly 8,400 there now (down from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011). Army General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, requested the troops back in February.

But officials say Mattis won’t use his authority until he has buy-in from Trump for a strategic vision for America’s longest war. Beyond more troops for Afghanistan, the strategy would aim to address militant safe havens across the border in Pakistan.

That too has become a divisive issue, with several members of Trump’s inner circle split on how hard to press Islamabad.

Sources say that the discussions – which included a high-level White House meeting on Thursday – could drag out for the rest of the summer, blowing past a mid-July deadline to present a war strategy to an increasingly impatient Congress.

After Thursday’s meeting, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, people familiar with the deliberations told Reuters that a final decision did not appear imminent.

Pentagon officials have declined to comment on internal deliberations. The White House has also declined to comment ahead of a decision on the strategy.

COMMANDER UNDER SCRUTINY

While U.S.-backed fighters are rolling back Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the same cannot be said of the fight against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the conditions in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through next year, even with a modest increase in military assistance from America and its allies.

During a July 19 meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump said Mattis and Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, might want to consider firing Nicholson, who was picked by Obama in 2016 to lead the war effort and has earned the respect of Afghan leaders.

“We aren’t winning,” Trump told them, according to accounts of the conversation.

But current and former officials say the frustration had been mounting for months.

At least as far back as February, one former U.S. official said the internal deliberations about Afghanistan were not aimed at creating a broad set of options for Trump.

Shortly before McMaster was due to present his plan to Trump for approval ahead of the May NATO summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declined to endorse it, saying Trump was not being presented with options, the former official and another current official said.

“The lack of options meant that the only recommendation that was originally to be put forward to the president was essentially the status quo,” the former official said, discounting the troop increase as any serious shift in strategy.

But in the months since, the possibility of a full pull-out has been repeatedly presented and refined along with a true “status-quo” option in which no new troops are sent to Afghanistan, but none are pulled out either.

Still, U.S. defense leaders are not believed to be favoring those options.

David Sedney, a former Pentagon policy advisor under the Obama administration, said failure to prioritize Afghanistan could replicate the mistakes by previous U.S. presidents.

“We’ve been ambivalent about Afghanistan for the last 17 years and when you have an ambivalent policy, it fails,” said Sedney, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank in Washington.

McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson, Dunford, Nicholson and some U.S. intelligence officials argue that refusing to commit more U.S. forces to train, equip and in some cases support the Afghan security forces would eventually result in the Taliban retaking most of the country from the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

Trump’s concerns about Afghanistan are shared by some senior officials close to the president, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, who, officials say, is skeptical about the need for an increase in troops in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN ALSO DIVIDES TEAM

Divisions have also emerged within Trump’s administration on how much to pressure Pakistan, and how quickly, in order to address militant safe havens blamed for helping prolong Afghanistan’s war.

Nicholson, McMaster and Lisa Curtis, senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, favor taking a strong hand with Pakistan to deal with Taliban militants using that country as a base from which to plot attacks in Afghanistan, current and former officials say.

On the other side are State Department officials and others at the Pentagon, including Dunford, who take a broader view of Pakistan’s strategic importance and are less convinced that harsh actions will secure more cooperation from Islamabad, they said.

Pakistan fiercely denies allowing any militant safe havens on its territory.

The Trump administration is exploring a new approach toward Pakistan, Reuters has reported. Potential responses under discussion include expanding U.S. drone strikes, redirecting aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Mary Milliken)

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Security officials inspect the scene of the blast outside the Great Mosque in Herat, August 1, 2017.

16 killed in double suicide attack in NE Nigeria

June 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP | A white sheet covers the bodies of some of the victims of the double suicide bombing in Dalori Kofa village in northeast Nigeria

MAIDUGURI (NIGERIA) (AFP) – At least 16 people died in a double suicide bombing near a large camp for people made homeless by years of Boko Haram violence, Nigeria’s emergency services and locals said Monday.It was the biggest in a series of weekend attacks.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the attack took place at about 8:45 pm (1945 GMT) on Sunday close to the Dalori camp in Kofa village, near the Borno state capital Maiduguri.

Regional NEMA spokesman Abdulkadir Ibrahim said a first attack by two female suicide bombers had been thwarted by security personnel who stopped them getting into the camp.

“Two other female suicide bombers also detonated their explosives at the adjoining Dalori Kofa village, where they killed 16 people,” he said in a statement.

Earlier tolls given by local people said at least 12 or 13 people had been killed but Abdulkadir said three of the injured had since died of their wounds.

“The 16 does not include the bombers,” he told AFP.

Dalori is about 10 kilometres (six miles) southeast of Maiduguri and is one of the largest camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in the remote region.

There are nearly 50,000 people in the two Dalori camps, with Dalori 1 housing some 35,000 and Dalori 2, which was targeted in the bombings, sheltering around 10,000.

Boko Haram has previously tried to target the camp: at least 85 people were killed in January last year when insurgents rampaged through communities near Dalori.

– A bloody weekend –

The latest attack is the most deadly in Nigeria since June 8, when 11 people were killed in a rare combined gun and suicide attack in the Jiddari Polo area of Maiduguri.

Also at the weekend, Boko Haram attacked Gumsuri village, 20 kilometres from Chibok, killing five people late on Saturday, locals said.

But they were fought off by local vigilantes who engaged them in a gunbattle.

“The vigilantes got the upper hand. They killed 12 attackers and apprehended six others,” said Bitrus Haruna, a vigilante from Chibok, whose account was corroborated by a community leader from the town.

“The Boko Haram gunmen were not lucky. They were confronted by the gallant vigilantes who killed 12 of the attackers and arrested six of them.”

Then on Sunday, Boko Haram jihadists killed three soldiers in an ambush near Wajirko village, 150 kilometres (90 miles) from Maiduguri, a local vigilante said.

Last weekend, gunmen killed eight members of a civilian militia force assisting the military in the Konduga area not far from the Dalori camp.

The spate of bombings underlines the threat still posed by the jihadists, despite official claims they are a spent force.

Since the start of Boko Harm’s uprising in 2009, at least 20,000 people have been killed since and more than 2.6 million made homeless, many of whom are facing severe food shortages or starvation.

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12 Killed in Suicide Bombings in Northeast Nigeria

June 19, 2017

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Authorities in northeastern Nigeria say 12 people are dead after suicide bombing attacks not far from the city of Maiduguri.

Police spokesman Victor Isuku said Monday that the attacks were carried about by five female bombers in Kofa, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Maiduguri.

The first attack killed several people near a mosque, while five others were killed in a house.

Last late year Nigeria declared that the Boko Haram extremist group had been crushed but attacks continue, often with young women strapped with explosives to carry out suicide attacks.

Many of the young women are believed to be among those abducted by the jihadists, who have pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State.

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19 June 2017 – 13:19BY AFP
Camp Dalori is about 10 kilometres southeast of Maiduguri.

Camp Dalori is about 10 kilometres southeast of Maiduguri.
Image: AMINU ABUBAKAR / AFP

At least 16 people were killed in suicide bomb attacks near a camp for those made homeless by Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria, emergency services said on Monday.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the attacks took place at about 8:45 pm on Sunday close to the Dalori camp at Kofa village, near the Borno state capital Maiduguri.

NEMA northeast region spokesman Abdulkadir Ibrahim said two female suicide bombers tried to get into the camp but were thwarted by security personnel.

“Two other female suicide bombers also detonated their explosives at the adjoining Dalori Kofa village, where they killed 16 people,” he added in a statement.

Earlier tolls given by local people said at least 12 or 13 people had been killed but Abdulkadir said three of those injured and taken to hospital had since died.

“The 16 does not include the bombers,” he told AFP.

Dalori is about 10 kilometres (six miles) southeast of Maiduguri and is one of the largest camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in the remote region.

Boko Haram has previously tried to target the camp: at least 85 people were killed in January last year when insurgents rampaged through communities near Dalori.

Residents were shot and their homes burned down while female suicide bombers blew themselves up among the crowds of people fleeing the violence.

The latest attack is the most deadly in Nigeria since June 8, when 11 people were killed in a rare combined gun and suicide attack in the Jiddari Polo area of Maiduguri.

Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted the strategic city, particularly its outlying communities, IDP camps and the city’s university.

The bombings and sporadic hit-and-run attacks underline the threat still posed by the jihadists, despite claims from the authorities they are a spent force.

Gunmen killed eight members of a civilian militia force assisting the military on June 11 in the Konduga area, which is on the same road as the Dalori camp.

At least 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2009 and more than 2.6 million made homeless, many of whom are facing severe food shortages or starvation.

U.S. top court to weigh Jordan-based bank’s liability for militant attacks

April 3, 2017

Reuters

By Andrew Chung | WASHINGTON
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider reviving litigation seeking to hold Arab Bank Plc financially liable for militant attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories that accused the Jordan-based bank of being the “paymaster” to militant groups.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal by roughly 6,000 plaintiffs, who included relatives of non-U.S. citizens killed in such attacks and survivors of the incidents, of a lower court ruling throwing out the litigation.

The plaintiffs accused Arab Bank under a U.S. law called the Alien Tort Statute of deliberately financing terrorism, including suicide bombings and other attacks. They are hoping to overturn a 2015 New York federal appeals court ruling that the bank could not be sued under the statute because it is a corporation.

Arab Bank building in Zürich, Switzerland.

The Alien Tort Statute, a law dating back to 1789, lets non-U.S. citizens seek damages in U.S. courts for human rights violations abroad. The lead plaintiff in the case is Joseph Jesner, whose British citizen son was killed at age 19 in a 2002 suicide bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv.

The plaintiffs filed several lawsuits under the law in Brooklyn federal court, claiming Arab Bank used its New York branch to transfer money and “serve as a ‘paymaster’ for international terrorists.”

The transfers helped Hamas and other groups fund attacks and reward families of the perpetrators between 1995 and 2005, the suits alleged.

The bank said in court papers that the U.S. government has called it a constructive partner in the fight against terrorism financing. The bank said only four transactions out of 500,000 involved “designated terrorists” by the U.S. government, and they were the result of machine or human error.

The bank also cited a separate 2010 case, Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum, in which the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that corporations cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statute.

After reviewing that case, the Supreme Court in 2013 narrowed the law’s reach, saying claims must sufficiently “touch and concern” the United States to overcome the presumption that the Alien Tort Statute does not cover foreign conduct.

But the high court declined to explicitly decide whether the 2nd Circuit ruling on corporate liability was correct.

Based on the Kiobel ruling, the 2nd Circuit threw out the litigation against Arab Bank.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, urging it to decide once and for all whether or not corporations are shielded over foreign conduct.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

US Steps Up in Somalia as Al-Shabab Proves a Stubborn Foe — Drone attacks increasing

March 3, 2017

MOGADISHU, Somalia — With frequent suicide bombings and assaults on Somalia’s hotels and military targets, the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab has proved more resilient than expected, leading President Donald Trump’s administration to pursue wider military involvement here as current strategies, including drone attacks, are not enough, security experts say.

Senior U.S. officials have said the Pentagon wants to expand the military’s efforts to battle the al-Qaida-linked group. Recommendations sent to the White House would allow U.S special forces to increase assistance to the Somali National Army and give the U.S. military greater flexibility to launch more pre-emptive airstrikes.

The U.S. is likely to find counterterror efforts in Somalia difficult and expensive, analysts say — especially with the recent emergence of fighters pledging alliance to the Islamic State group.

“The concern in Washington has been mounting for some time now. The Trump administration is simply reiterating what has been policy, with slight variations,” said Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group. “U.S. special forces are already on the ground. Drone attacks have been scaled up.”

Currently about 50 U.S. commandos rotate in and out of this Horn of Africa nation to advise and assist local troops. The commandos have accompanied Somali forces in several raids against al-Shabab fighters in which dozens of militants were killed, according to Somali intelligence officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Somalia, which has been without an effective central government since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, was one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries included in Trump’s recent travel ban. That executive order has since been suspended by federal courts.

Al-Shabab emerged amid Somalia’s years of chaos. A regional military effort several years ago pushed the extremist group from the capital, Mogadishu, and most other urban centers. But experts say that push against al-Shabab then weakened, allowing it to regroup and adapt to operating in the country’s vast rural areas. It recently stepped up attacks in the capital and elsewhere.

The U.S. already has military bases in Somalia, although it has not publicly acknowledged them. They are often used for drone attacks against al-Shabab targets. One of the largest bases is at Baledogle airfield, a former Somali air force base in Lower Shabelle region where U.S. military experts also train Somali forces, according to Somali officials.

In the past year the U.S. launched 14 airstrikes — nearly all drone strikes — killing some top al-Shabab leaders, including Hassan Ali Dhore and Abdullahi Haji Daud, according to a Somali intelligence official who coordinated with the U.S. on some of them.

The attacks have helped combat al-Shabab but have not brought the group to its knees, the official said.

The main successes against al-Shabab have come from the 22,000-strong African Union regional force that has operated in Somalia since 2007. But the AU force plans to withdraw by the end of 2020, and cost is a primary reason. The annual mission’s budget has risen from $300 million in 2009 to $900 million in 2016, said Ahmed Soliman, an analyst with Chatham House, the London-based think tank.

Without the African Union troops, the fight against al-Shabab will be left to the Somali army, widely regarded as weak and disorganized. Building the army into an effective force will be the primary challenge facing the United States.

The U.S. military probably plans to step up training and coordination but not actually put more American boots on the ground in Somalia, Soliman said. The Black Hawk Down incident of 1993, in which two U.S. helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu and bodies of Americans were dragged through the streets, is a factor discouraging more direct U.S. involvement. Even now, the U.S. has no embassy in Somalia.

Al-Shabab in recent weeks has increased bombings in Mogadishu, threatening the security efforts of new Somali-American President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, during whose time as prime minister in 2010-2011 the group was expelled from the capital. The extremists continue to dominate remote towns and villages across the south and central parts of the country.

But a new security threat in Somalia, and a challenge to any U.S. military efforts, is the emergence of Islamic State group-linked fighters, who officials fear could expand their foothold beyond the semi-autonomous north. The fighters broke away from al-Shabab and declared allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2015. Al-Shabab sees the splinter group as a threat to its operations.

“It’s only al-Shabab that can stand in ISIS’ way to expand its areas of operation – Somali forces are now too disorganized to stop them,” said Ahmed Mohamoud, a retired former Somali military general.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed.

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At Least 57 Al-Shabab Extremists Killed in Somalia Assault

At least 57 al-Shabab extremists killed in Somalia assault by African Union, local forces.

March 2, 2017, at 11:52 a.m.

The Associated Press

FILE – In this Oct. 30, 2009 file photo, al-Shabab fighters sit on a truck as they patrol in Mogadishu, Somalia. The African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia says at least 57 members of the al-Shabab extremist group have been killed Thursday, March 2, 2017 after AU and Somali forces attacked one of its camps. (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor, File) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

By TOM ODULA, Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — At least 57 members of the al-Shabab extremist group were killed Thursday as African Union and Somali forces attacked one of its camps, the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia announced. It was one of the deadliest assaults on the al-Qaida-linked group by the joint forces.

The multinational force said on Twitter that vehicles and equipment were destroyed in the morning assault on the al-Shabab camp outside Afmadhow and “a large cache of weapons” was captured. The statement said helicopter gunships supported the attack.

A separate statement by Kenya’s defense ministry said an unknown number of extremists were injured. There was no immediate word of casualties among the AU or Somali forces.

Al-Shabab has lost ground in Somalia in recent years under pressure from such assaults but continues to carry out deadly attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.

The group has responded angrily to the election last month of new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, during whose brief term as prime minister the group was expelled from Mogadishu.

Mohamed has vowed to make security a priority in the fragile Horn of Africa nation, which is trying to set up its first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century.

But the expected withdrawal of the AU force, which numbers more than 20,000, by the end of 2020 has caused concern, as the burden of fighting al-Shabab would fall on national forces that observers say are not yet ready.

The United States military is pursuing a larger role in Somalia, where it already carries out drone strikes and has special forces advising local troops. The deadliest assault on al-Shabab so far was in March 2016, when a U.S. airstrike struck a training camp, killing more than 150 fighters.

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Associated Press writer Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia contributed.

Boko Haram “Crushed” Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari says — But does anyone believe him?

December 24, 2016

BBC News

Chibok schoolgirls in screengrab from Boko Haram video - May 2014

It is thought that some of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls may have been held in the forest. Getty Images

The Nigerian army has driven Boko Haram militants from the last camp in their Sambisa forest stronghold, President Muhammadu Buhari has said.

“The terrorists are on the run and no longer have a place to hide,” Mr Buhari said in a statement.

The Islamists’ camp fell at 13:35 local time (12:35 GMT) on Friday, he added.

The army has been engaged for the last few weeks in a major offensive in the forest, a huge former colonial game reserve in north-eastern Borno state.

There has been speculation that some of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014 were being held in the forest.

Some of the abducted girls who escaped shortly after they were seized said they had been kept there.

The army has recaptured significant areas of territory previously controlled by Boko Haram since an offensive began in February.

Nigeria map

Mr Buhari issued a statement congratulating the armed forces on the operation, calling the apparent success “long-awaited and most gratifying”.

“I want to use this opportunity to commend the determination, courage and resilience of troops of Operation Lafiya Dole at finally entering and crushing the remnants of the Boko Haram insurgents,” he said.

Boko Haram still stages suicide bombings in the northeast of Nigeria and in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.

The group is thought to have killed more than 15,000 people and displaced more than two million during a seven-year insurgency in the region.

Leader Abubakar Shekau, who has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, promotes a version of Islam that forbids Muslims from taking part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38427462

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By , USATODAY10:37 a.m. EST December 24, 2016

USA Today

Nigeria’s president said Saturday that his forces had crushed the notorious Boko Haram extremist group and driven them out of their forest encampment, but have yet to locate scores of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the militants in 2014.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s victorious announcement Saturday also indicated Nigerian forces need to remain vigilant to fight off individual suicide bombings, village attacks and assaults on remote military outposts by remnants of the homegrown Islamic extremist group.

Still, Buhari’s announcement expressed relief that army and security forces had broken the back of the organization. He said Nigeria’s “gallant troops” on Friday drove the insurgents out of their “Camp Zero” deep in the northeastern Sambisa Forest.

The forest is believed to hold more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from a school in the town of Chibok. The mass abductions sparked international outcry, and prompted the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

“Further efforts should be intensified to locate and free our remaining Chibok girls still in captivity,” he said. “May God be with them.”

Nigerian troops have freed thousands of Boko Haram captives this year, including some of the Chibok girls among 276 seized from a government boarding school.

In October, 21 Chibok girls were freed through negotiations between the government and Boko Haram, brokered by the Swiss government and the International Red Cross. In May, one Chibok girl escaped on her own.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Yesterday, @HQNigerianArmy captured ‘Camp Zero’, Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest base. My message to our gallant troops—https://www.facebook.com/MuhammaduBuhari/posts/1873140119632846 

The freed girls have indicated several others died in captivity from things like malaria and snake bites.

Boko Haram, which means “Western Education is Forbidden,” has been around since the late 1990s, but declared its solidarity with al-Qaeda in 2010 and launched a series of suicide bombings and attacks on Western facilities, including a vehicle-bomb attack on the U.N. headquarters in Abuja that killed 23 people in 2011.

It has sought to overthrow the Nigerian government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law.

In 2014, under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, it launched almost daily attacks on Christians, police, the media, schools and Muslims it perceived as collaborators, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

In 2015, it declared allegiance with the Islamic State. The group has also conducted attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

A screen grab made Tuesday from a video shows Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, delivering a message.  

A screen grab made from a video shows Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, delivering a message. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Islamic State carried out Syria suicide bombings – Amaq — Death Toll Now 40 people

September 5, 2016
Syrian army soldiers inspect the damage at the site of two explosions that hit the Arzouna bridge area at the entrance to Tartous, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on September 5, 2016. © SANA

Reuters

Monday, 5 September 2016 13:17 GMT

BEIRUT, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Islamic State fighters in Syria carried out suicide attacks that struck the cities of Homs and Tartous and a checkpoint near Damascus, all held by the government, and in Kurdish-held Hasaka province, its Amaq news agency said on Monday.

The attacks killed dozens of Syrian troops, including several officers, as well as some Kurdish fighters, Islamic State said. (Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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Syria — One of the car bomb sites in Syria’s government controlled areas, September 5, 2016. Reuters photo


Terrorists hit a neighborhood frequented by Alawites – members of President Bashar Assad’s sect

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From Russia Today (RT)
A series of deadly explosions have rocked at least four government-held cities in Syria, including the capital, Damascus. Local media reports over 40 people have been killed and some 60 injured in the blasts.

Two explosions have rocked the highway well short of the entrance to the Syrian port-city of Tartus, western Syria, which houses a Russian naval base.

“We received information about a double explosion at the entrance to the city of Tartus, on the government highway under Arazona bridge,” RIA Novosti reports, citing local militia.

Sana news agency  that some 30 people have been killed in the blasts and some 45 injured.

The first explosion was a car bomb. The second took place when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt as people gathered to help the injured from the first incident, a source at Tartous Police Command told the news agency.

Tartus is the second-largest port city in Syria. It has been used, first by the Soviet and now the Russian Navy, for years as a feeder base. The facilities have been used during Moscow’s Syria campaign, too – they enable provision of military supplies to the Russian contingent fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

READ MORE: Over 100 killed as blasts hit near Russian military bases in Syria’s Latakia province (VIDEO)

After Russia withdrew most of its troops from Syria in mid-March this year, it was decided to maintain Russia’s military presence at the Tartus base, as well as at the Khmeimim Airbase, in order to observe the ceasefire arrangements in the Arab country.

Five civilians were killed and two others injured after a motorbike exploded at Mersho turning in Hasakah city on Monday morning.

One person was also killed and three others injured after a blast that took place on the road of al-Sabboura, according to a Sana source in the Damascus Countryside Police Command.

A car bomb struck a military checkpoint at the entrance of Bab Tadmur neighborhood in Homs, killing four soldiers and injuring 10 others, Sana reports, citing the Homs Health Directorate.

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the attack in Hasakah, Amaq news agency reported, but no other assault.

The casualty figures come from Syrian media, although there is currently no official information on the death and injury tolls.

https://www.rt.com/news/358262-syria-tartus-two-blast/

Russian Defense Minister Says Russia ‘Close’ to Joining Forces With US on Aleppo Battle in Syria

August 15, 2016

AFP

© AFP | Opposition fighters drive a tank in the Al-Huweiz area on southern outskirts of Aleppo as they battle to break the government siege on the northern Syrian city on August 2, 2016

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia is close to joining forces with the United States around Syria’s ravaged second city of Aleppo, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in comments aired Monday.

“Step by step we are getting closer to the situation in which — and I’m only speaking about Aleppo here — we will be able to begin battling together so that there is peace on this territory,” Shoigu told Rossiya 24 television.

In the interview conducted on Saturday but shown only Monday, Shoigu said Moscow is in close negotiations regarding the city, where Russian planes and regime forces are battling rebels for control.

Shoigu said Moscow and Washington are still deeply at odds over the situation in Aleppo, accusing rebels of holding civilians hostage and waging brutal suicide bombings.

“In the eastern part of Aleppo, people are hostages,” he said, accusing the rebels of planting bombs along escape routes established by Russia and of staging executions.

He blasted accusations that Moscow has imposed a blockade on rebel-held areas, calling them “untrue” and “propaganda”.

He said suicide attacks by rebels have included loading an armoured vehicle with explosives and welding it shut.

“That’s moderate opposition? Who is this?” he said.

“There are many issues there that we are yet to decide on with our American colleagues,” he said of Aleppo. “We are now in a very active stage of negotiations with American colleagues.”

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Russia ‘close to agreeing joint Aleppo operations with US’

Russian defence minister quoted as saying nations close to ‘fighting together to bring peace’ to besieged city

Sergei Shoigu said Russia and the US were in ‘very active phase’ of negotiation (Reuters)
MEE and agencies's picture

Russia is close to agreeing joint military operations against militants in Aleppo, the Russian defence minister was quoted as saying on Monday.

Sergei Shoigu was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying defence officials were in “a very active phase of negotiations with our American colleagues”.

“We are moving step-by-step closer to a plan – and I’m only talking about Aleppo here – that would really allow us to start fighting together to bring peace so that people can return to their homes in this troubled land.”

Follow latest developments from Aleppo on MEE

The statement came as rebels in Aleppo reportedly continued to gain ground on forces loyal to the Syrian government and their Russian allies.

Aleppo is home to myriad rebel groups including some considered “moderate” by the US, such as the Free Syrian Army. However, other groups such as the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front, which recently rebranded itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, also operate in the city.

Shoigu said Moscow and Washington were still deeply at odds over Aleppo, and accused rebels of holding civilians hostage and using suicide bombs.

“In the eastern part of Aleppo, people are hostages,” he said. “That’s moderate opposition? Who is this?”

He blasted accusations that Moscow had imposed a blockade on rebel-held areas of the city as “untrue” and “propaganda”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday said Syrian rebels had also used temporary Russian ceasefires in Aleppo to regroup and rearm.

Lavrov, speaking in Yekaterinburg, said he realised that brief daily ceasefires in place now to allow aid to enter and civilians to leave were not sufficient.

But he said it was difficult to make the ceasefires longer for the moment because of the risk of militants using them to regroup and rearm, something he said they had done in the past.

Russia to meet opposition in Qatar

Separately Lavrov’s deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov, told RIA that he would meet representatives of the Syrian opposition in the Qatari city of Doha on 16 August.

The statement did not say which rebel groups would be in attendance, and there was no confirmation from the opposition.

Last month, Lavrov said Russia and the US had agreed on “concrete steps” to ensure a long-term ceasefire in Syria and fight their common enemies, Nusra and Islamic State.

Russia claims it is targeting “terrorist groups” in Aleppo but many sources say their bombing is indescriminate and deliberately targets hospitals and civilian areas in the city.

Lavrov’s comments came after meeting in Russia with his US counterpart, John Kerry.

“We have confirmed our goals to destroy the threats that come from the so-called Islamic State, Nusra and other terrorist organisations and to stop feeding terrorism, which comes from the outside,” Lavrov said.

Kerry noted that “the concrete steps we have agreed on are not going to be laid out in public in some long list because… they need more work.”

Turkish Officials: Islamic State Most Likely Behind Bombings At Istanbul Airport

June 29, 2016
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Reuters

Wed Jun 29, 2016 5:02am EDT

Paramedics help the injured outside Turkey’s largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016.
REUTERS/ISMAIL COSKUN/IHLAS NEWS AGENCY

Turkish investigators pored over video footage and witness statements on Wednesday after three suspected Islamic State suicide bombers opened fire and blew themselves up in Istanbul’s main airport, killing 36 people and wounding almost 150.

The attack on Europe’s third-busiest airport was one of the deadliest in a series of suicide bombings in recent months in Turkey, part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and struggling to contain spillover from neighboring Syria’s war.

President Tayyip Erdogan said the attack should serve as a turning point in the global fight against terrorism, which he said had “no regard for faith or values”.

One attacker opened fire in the departures hall with an automatic rifle, sending passengers diving for cover and trying to flee, before all three blew themselves up in or around the arrivals hall a floor below, witnesses and officials said.

Video footage showed one of the attackers inside the terminal building being shot, apparently by a police officer, before falling to the ground as people fled. The attacker then blew himself up around 20 seconds later.

“It’s a jigsaw puzzle … The authorities are going through CCTV footage, witness statements,” a Turkish official said.

The Dogan news agency said autopsies on the three bombers, whose torsos were ripped apart, had been completed and that they may have been foreign nationals, without citing its sources.

Broken ceiling panels littered the curb outside the arrivals section of the international terminal. Entire plates of glass had shattered, exposing the inside of the building, and electric cables dangled from the ceiling. Cleanup crews swept up debris and armed police patrolled as flights resumed.

“This attack, targeting innocent people is a vile, planned terrorist act,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters at the scene in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

“There is initial evidence that each of the three suicide bombers blew themselves up after opening fire,” he said. The attackers had come to the airport by taxi and preliminary findings pointed to Islamic State responsibility.

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials familiar with the early stages of investigations said Islamic State was at the top of the list of suspects even though there was no evidence yet.

No group had claimed responsibility more than 12 hours after the attack, which began around 9:50 p.m. (1850 GMT) on Tuesday.

Istanbul’s position bridging Europe and Asia has made Ataturk airport, Turkey’s largest, a major transit hub for passengers across the world. A Ukrainian and an Iranian were among the dead, officials from the two countries said. Saudi media said seven Saudis were among the wounded.

“There were little babies crying, people shouting, broken glass and blood all over the floor. It was very crowded, there was chaos. It was traumatic,” said Diana Eltner, 29, a Swiss psychologist who was traveling from Zurich to Vietnam but had been diverted to Istanbul after she missed a connection.

RELATED VIDEO

Delayed travelers were sleeping on floors at the airport, a Reuters witness said, as some passengers and airport staff cried and hugged each other. Police in kevlar vests with automatic weapons prowled the curbside as a handful of travelers and Turkish Airlines crew trickled in.

The national carrier said it had canceled 340 flights although its departures resumed after 8:00 am (0500 GMT).

“HE WAS WEARING ALL BLACK”

Paul Roos, 77, a South African tourist on his way home, said he saw one of the attackers “randomly shooting” in the departures hall from about 50 meters (55 yards) away.

“He was wearing all black. His face was not masked … We ducked behind a counter but I stood up and watched him. Two explosions went off shortly after one another. By that time he had stopped shooting,” Roos told Reuters.

“He turned around and started coming towards us. He was holding his gun inside his jacket. He looked around anxiously to see if anyone was going to stop him and then went down the escalator … We heard some more gunfire and then another explosion, and then it was over.”

The attack bore similarities to a suicide bombing by Islamic State militants at Brussels airport in March that killed 16 people. A coordinated attack also targeted a rush-hour metro train, killing a further 16 people in the Belgian capital.

The two U.S. officials said the Istanbul bombing was more typical of Islamic State than of Kurdish militant groups which have also carried out recent attacks in Turkey, but usually target official government targets.

One of the officials said there had been a “marked increase” in encrypted Islamic State propaganda and communications on the dark web, which some American officials interpret as an effort to direct or inspire more attacks outside its home turf in an attempt to offset its recent losses on the ground.

Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the probe, which they said is being led by Turkish officials with what they called intelligence support from the United States and other NATO allies.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Can Sezer, Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul, John Walcott in Washington, Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Sami Aboudi in Dubai; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Workers stand near debris from yesterday’s blasts as they take a break at Turkey’s largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, June 29, 2016.
REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL