Archive for category Islamic state

How Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State find common ground in beheadings

By Adam Taylor
Washington Post
January 4, 2016

Over the past year, Saudi Arabia has faced recurrent criticism that its ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic law is not so far off from what is practiced by the Islamic State, an extremist organization that proclaimed its “caliphate” across parts of Syria and Iraq in June 2014. The criticism clearly irks some Saudi officials, who have threatened legal action against social media users who make the comparison with the Islamic State.

This weekend’s announcement that Shiite cleric Sheik Nimr Baqr al-Nimr was among 47 people executed in Saudi Arabia in a day has added considerable fuel to the fire, however. Saudi authorities have acknowledged that some of those executed were beheaded — a technique widely used and publicized by the Islamic State.

In just one sign of broader official outrage at the execution of Nimr, the website of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, released an image that contrasts the Saudi kingdom’s use of beheadings with the Islamic State’s decapitation videos. “Any differences?” it asks, showing a Saudi executioner with a sword standing over a kneeling man.

The idea that Nimr could have been beheaded will only inflame sectarian tensions in the Muslim world, with Shiites remembering the way that Husayn ibn Ali, the third Shiite imam, was beheaded by the Sunni Umayyad caliphate in the seventh century. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saudi action “resets geopolitical chessboard” in Middle East, says expert

By Anakhanum Khidayatova
4 JANUARY 2016

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in a Cold War via proxy, in its most recent manifestation, since the Arab Spring, in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and in other countries around the world through humanitarian aid and dawa (outreach), Theodore Karasik, the Middle East analyst and senior advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, told Trend Jan. 4.

“This Cold War entered a dangerous, highly confrontational phase in the past few days. The Kingdom, in mid December, prepared the steps for today, with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announcing a Sunni Muslim Alliance. With the Saudi execution of the “terrorist extremist” Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was the spiritual leader of Saudi Shiites in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, the sectarian divide grew immediate into a deep chasm”- he said.

The expert also said that Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim Alliance is now fully activated with the al-Nimr execution. Read the rest of this entry »

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European Sympathies Lean Toward Iran in Conflict with Saudi Arabia

by Sewell Chan
New York Times
JAN. 4, 2016

LONDON — In the days since Saudi Arabia inflamed tensions with Iran by executing 47 people, including a Shiite cleric, European observers have been quick to condemn the action, reflecting broader concern across the Continent about Saudi policy and its role in the tumult rolling through the Middle East.

Opposition in Europe to the death penalty — and harsh corporal punishment, including the flogging of a Saudi blogger who has become something of a cause célèbre in Europe — is just one element of the criticism of the Saudi monarchy. Even as European governments continue to view Saudi Arabia as a vital if problematic stabilizing force in the region, as well as a rich market for European arms and other products, European opinion has grown increasingly critical of Saudi support and financing for Wahhabist and Salafist preachers who have contributed to the Sunni extremist ideology that has fueled Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In addition, the European Union and six major world powers reached a deal in Vienna over the summer to contain Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran is seen as essential to ending the five-year-old civil war in Syria, which has fueled a surge of migrants to the Continent, the highest number since World War II.

So for many Europeans, Iran — long a pariah because of its anti-Western rhetoric and its nuclear program — has suddenly become, at least in comparison with Saudi Arabia, an object of sympathy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Iranian Protesters Ransack Saudi Embassy After Execution of Shiite Cleric

by Ben Hubbard
New York Times
JAN. 2, 2016

Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran on Saturday after Saudi Arabia executed an outspoken Shiite cleric who had criticized the kingdom’s treatment of its Shiite minority.

The cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was among 47 men executed in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges, drawing condemnation from Iran and its allies in the region, and sparking fears that sectarian tensions could rise across the Middle East.

The executions coincided with increased attacks in Saudi Arabia by the jihadists of the Islamic State and an escalating rivalry between the Sunni monarchy and Shiite Iran that is playing out in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Sheikh Nimr was an outspoken critic of the Saudi monarchy and was adopted as a symbolic leader by Shiite protesters in several Persian Gulf countries during the Arab Spring uprisings. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ramadi: Series of IS counterattacks target Iraqi forces

2 January 2016

Fighters from so-called Islamic State (IS) have continued to pursue counterattacks on the edges of Ramadi a week after the city was recaptured by Iraqi troops.

Most of the attacks were outside central Ramadi to the north and east, spokesman for the US-led coalition, Col Steve Warren, told the AFP news agency.

He said Iraqi government forces had so far successfully repelled every attack.

On Friday the group attacked a military base near the city.

The Iraqi government said a week ago that it had “liberated” Ramadi from IS. The jihadist group had held the city since May.

Col Warren said they had not yet seen IS “mass enough combat power to move Iraq off their positions”.

The BBC’s Thomas Fessy, who has just returned from Ramadi, says a tough fight continues in the city and government forces have been taking casualties. Read the rest of this entry »

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West Grapples for a Response to Islamic State

by Yaroslav Trofimov
Wall Street Journal
Dec. 31, 2015

Finding a strategy to defeat Islamic State will be the focus of political debate in the West

Feeling the pressure on its home turf in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State has taken the war to its enemies’ homes by launching terrorist attacks overseas—and promised more such carnage in 2016.

How to respond to the threat is becoming the focus of political debate on both sides of the Atlantic — with consequences that shape the future of the Middle East and the West.

In the main goal of terrorism — to terrorize — Islamic State has already succeeded. Security has become the main issue for the presidential campaign in the U.S., where a recent poll found that more people fear an imminent terrorist attack now than either right after Sept. 11, 2001 or any time since. France has lived in a state of emergency since Islamic State killed 130 people in November in Paris. In Egypt, the struggling tourism industry collapsed after the October downing of a Russian airliner.

This anxiety feeds, to a large extent, on a sense of impotence. A year and a half since the U.S. began military action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, leading a coalition of 65 nations, the extremist group has managed to retain the bulk of its territory while spawning new affiliates around the world.

The entrance of Russia and France into the campaign against Islamic State in Syria in recent months has, so far, produced only limited results. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ramadi residents describe their nightmare escape from Islamic State

By Mustafa Salim
Washington Post
December 31 2015

HABBANIYAH, Iraq — Residents of the Iraqi city of Ramadi who escaped the recent battle there are describing the horrors of life under the Islamic State and their relief at being rescued by the Iraqi army when it recaptured most of the city earlier this week.

Many of the families had made a brave dash for safety across the front lines to escape attempts by retreating Islamic State fighters to take them as human shields.

But the men who got away have now been detained by Iraqi security forces for investigation, in a reminder of the deep suspicion with which those who have been living under Islamic State rule are regarded by the Iraqi government. Read the rest of this entry »

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What Twitter really means for Islamic State supporters

Amanath Amarasingam
War on the Rocks
December 30, 2015

Abu Ahmad, one of Islamic State’s most active supporters online says he has had over 90 Twitter accounts suspended, but is not planning to slow down. He is a trusted member of what has come to be called the Baqiya family, a loose network of Islamic State supporters from around the world who share news, develop close friendships, and help each other when members get arrested or come under law enforcement surveillance. Abu Ahmad, as with all Baqiya members, agreed to talk to me on the condition that his real name and location not be published.

While Islamic State social media accounts used to flourish, Twitter has now been suspending the accounts of fighters and supporters alike. Scholars and analysts continue to debate whether this is effective and worthwhile.

For over two years now, I have co-directed a study of Western foreign fighters based at the University of Waterloo and have been interviewing — on Skype and various text messaging platforms — several dozen fighters and members of this Baqiya family. A few things are clear: First, while Twitter suspensions certainly disrupt their ability to seamlessly spread information, they have developed innovative and effective ways of coming back online. Second, these youth receive an enormous amount of emotional and social benefits from participating in their online “family.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Malaysia’s ISIS conundrum

Joseph Chinyong Liow
April 2015

The recent emergence of an ISIS recruitment video featuring young Malay (possibly also Indonesian) speaking boys attending religious classes and engaging in weapons training in ISIS-held territory has caused a furor in Malaysia. Estimates of the number of Malaysian fighters in ISIS vary from between 60 to almost 150, depending on who you ask. The high end of these figures approximates the number of Indonesian fighters that are also believed to be in Syria and Iraq. Yet the population of Malaysia is barely one-tenth that of Indonesia. In other words, Malaysians seem to be joining ISIS at a higher rate than Indonesians.

This state of affairs is all the more perplexing given how often Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Tun Razak, waxes lyrical on the international stage about moderation and how Malaysia is the epitome of multi-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, as he continues to press a nebulous “Global Movement of Moderates” agenda.

What accounts for the appeal of ISIS in “moderate” Malaysia? Read the rest of this entry »

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Malaysia: Clear and present danger from the Islamic State

James Chin
December 16, 2015

Two weeks ago, an internal Malaysian police memo was leaked to the media. The leak came after Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he and several other Malaysian leaders were on the IS hit list. The memo gave details of a November 15th meeting between the militant groups Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State (IS), and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), in Sulu, the southern Muslim-majority part of the Philippines. Attendees passed several resolutions at the meeting, including regarding mounting attacks in Malaysia, in particular Kuala Lumpur and Sabah in eastern Malaysia. The report mentioned that eight Abu Sayyaf and IS suicide bombers were already on the ground in Sabah, while another ten were in Kuala Lumpur.

While the news shocked many Malaysians and foreigners living in Malaysia, for Malaysia watchers, it was nothing new. There is general consensus in Malaysian security and intelligence circles that IS and home-grown Islamic radicals are planning a terrorist attack in Malaysia. For the past two years, in fact, Malaysia’s security services managed to disrupt at least four major bombing attempts. Their targets are mainly symbolic, such as beer factories and government buildings. Others were senior political figures and tycoons to be held for ransom and propaganda. IS regards the Malaysian government (and neighboring Indonesia) as un-Islamic and a pawn of the West.

While the Malaysian government is lucky that its intelligence services are on top of the situation, there are recent signs that they may be overwhelmed by the scale of the threat and the number of operatives involved. Read the rest of this entry »

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US, Malaysia and the War Against the Islamic State

By Prashanth Parameswaran
November 25, 2015

An inside look at ongoing cooperation between Washington and Kuala Lumpur.

It has happened quickly and quietly. But over the past few months, Malaysia has cemented itself as one of the key American partners in the ongoing war on the Islamic State.

This is not a natural or easy position for the Muslim-majority nation to take. U.S. and Malaysian counterterrorism approaches differ in some significant ways, and aspects of American foreign policy in the Middle East – including lingering memories of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks – remain deeply unpopular in Malaysia.

But Kuala Lumpur’s current commitment, which was highlighted recently during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the country for the latest round of Asian summitry, reflects the seriousness of the Islamic State threat both generally and for Malaysia in particular. Read the rest of this entry »

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ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish and Escape

New York Times
Nov 21, 2015

SOUTHERN TURKEY — Dua had only been working for two months with the Khansaa Brigade, the all-female morality police of the Islamic State, when her friends were brought to the station to be whipped.

The police had hauled in two women she had known since childhood, a mother and her teenage daughter, both distraught. Their abayas, flowing black robes, had been deemed too form-fitting.

When the mother saw Dua, she rushed over and begged her to intercede. The room felt stuffy as Dua weighed what to do.

“Their abayas really were very tight. I told her it was their own fault; they had come out wearing the wrong thing,” she said. “They were unhappy with that.”

Dua sat back down and watched as the other officers took the women into a back room to be whipped. When they removed their face-concealing niqabs, her friends were also found to be wearing makeup. It was 20 lashes for the abaya offense, five for the makeup, and another five for not being meek enough when detained.

The three Syrian women interviewed for this article, all former members of the Islamic State morality police who escaped to Turkey this year, met with a reporter in a southern Turkish city for hours of interviews, together and separately, over the course of two multiday visits. Read the rest of this entry »

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France’s anti-Isis coalition: where the key countries stand

Simon Tisdall
Monday 23 November 2015

France is pulling out all the stops as François Hollande scrambles to fulfil his ambitious pledge to build a global military coalition to defeat Islamic State following the Paris attacks.

The French president has won public approval and international backing for his handling of the crisis so far. His poll ratings are up by eight points to 33%. Foreign leaders have lined up to express solidarity.

In a flurry of hastily arranged mini-summits this week, Hollande will seek to turn expressions of support into concerted, sharp-end action before the rare moment of unity passes.

His prospects for success are mixed. The leaders of the US, Russia, Germany and Britain – whom Hollande will meet separately over four days – agree unreservedly about the necessity of eradicating Isis. All want a peace deal to end the Syrian civil war. But there is less agreement on how to do this. Read the rest of this entry »

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Paris Attacks Suspect Killed in Shootout Had Plotted Terror for 11 Months

New York Times
NOV. 19, 2015

VERVIERS, Belgium — Black smudges and faded traces of gunfire on a red brick rowhouse here in eastern Belgium mark the death foretold of Abdelhamid Abaaoud. It is the spot where, 11 months before the announcement on Thursday that he had been killed outside Paris, he began plotting an elaborate campaign of terror across Europe.

Mr. Abaaoud’s inaugural terror mission here ended in disaster for his cause and cost the lives of two of his jihadist friends — both from his old Brussels neighborhood, Molenbeek — when Belgian security forces stormed their hide-out on Jan. 15.

But Mr. Abaaoud was not there. A telephone call he made shortly before the raid in Verviers to pass on instructions to those in the hide-out, a senior Belgian counterterrorism official said, was the last trace anybody had of him until the French police found on Wednesday what turned out to be his mutilated body after an early-morning shootout just north of Paris. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Latest: Belt Found Where Fugitive’s Phone Was Located

New York Times/Associated Press
NOV. 23, 2015, 2:46 P.M. E.S.T.

PARIS — The latest on the deadly attacks in Paris and the heightened security in Europe (All times local):

8:40 p.m.

French police say that an explosive belt without a detonator that was found in Paris was in the same place that fugitive Saleh Abdeslam’s cell phone was localized on the day of the attacks that killed 130 people.

The belt was found Monday by a street cleaner in a pile of rubble in the southern suburb of Montrouge.

The three police officials who gave information about the belt could not be named because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

— By Nicolas Vaux-Montagny and Lori Hinnant. Read the rest of this entry »

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ASEAN summit tarnished by Malaysian corruption scandal involving PM

Thomas Maresca
Special for USA TODAY
November 22, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — As the summit of Southeast Asian nations ended here Sunday, much of the focus was not on the leaders’ discussions with President Obama but on a corruption scandal dogging the summit’s host and his government’s crackdown on civil liberties.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who told Obama that he is “committed to reforms,” stands accused of shifting nearly $700 million from a government-owned development fund into private bank accounts.

The fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), is under investigation in Malaysia, the United States, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Switzerland. Opposition leaders in parliament filed a formal no-confidence vote against him in October. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hotel Attack in Mali Is a Setback in Fight Against Extremism

New York Times
NOV. 21, 2015

BAMAKO, Mali — The terrorists chose carefully: There are nearly always French, Russian and even a few American visitors to be found in the hotel restaurant, around the pool, in the health club or on the thin black-leather sofas of the glass-fronted lobby, now shattered by gunfire.

With its marble floors, open atrium and lipstick-red lounge, the Radisson Blu Hotel served as a lifeline to the world, a gathering place where diplomats, contractors and others doing business in Mali, one of the poorest countries on earth, could all be found.

Now, bullet holes pockmark the walls and blood is pooled on stairs. The hotel, once a symbol of the international presence in a country trying to emerge from years of upheaval, is the site of a massacre in which terrorists killed 19 people, storming in at breakfast on Friday as terrified diners sprinted into an elevator whose doors did not close in time to save them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It

by Kamel Daoud
New York Times
NOV. 20, 2015

Black Daesh, white Daesh.

The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims.

The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things.

The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia.

In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other.

This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on. Read the rest of this entry »

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18 Would-Be Suicide Bombers Are at Large in Malaysia, Police Believe

Nov. 20, 2015

A leaked memo sounds warning on the eve of a major summit to be attended by President Obama

Ten prospective suicide bombers are at large in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital and largest city, according to a leaked police memo cited by the Guardian. Another eight thought are in the western part of the country. Read the rest of this entry »

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Brussels is put on high alert as officials warn of ‘imminent threat’

By Anthony Faiola, William Booth and Emily Badger
Washington Post
November 21 2015

PARIS — The government abruptly shut down the metro system in Brussels, canceled sporting events and warned shoppers to stay away from malls as Belgium placed the capital on maximum alert early Saturday, citing a “serious and imminent” threat of attack.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Saturday morning that officials had identified shopping centers, public transportation and major events as targets of a possible attack, involving multiple assailants, similar to the deadly assault that struck Paris last Friday.

In Brussels, armed troops stood guard in front of hotels and at major intersections. There was a scattering of shop closures. At least four of the Islamic State militants who attacked Paris came from the same immigrant neighborhood of Molenbeek in the Belgium capital.

Police continue to hunt for one of the Parisian attackers, Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French national who lived in Brussels and may have returned after the attacks.

The new threat alert in Brussels comes after European countries agreed Friday to new steps aimed at securing Europe’s frontiers, as further evidence emerged that extremists in the terrorist attacks in Paris were using the region’s porous borders to slip between the continent and the battlefields of the Middle East. Read the rest of this entry »

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