Thousands of Assyrian Christians fled their homes in northern Iraq when ISIS militants took control in August 2014.
Reuters reports: Several hundred Iraqi Christians flocked on Saturday to a northern town recently retaken from the Islamic State group, celebrating Christmas for the first time since 2013, their joy tainted with sadness over the desecration of their church.
“This is a dark cloud over Iraq. But we will stay here in our land no matter what happens. God is with us.”
— Bishop Shemani, Christmas Eve sermon in Bartella.
Once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, Bartella emptied in August 2014 when it fell to ISIS’ blitz across large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. Iraqi forces took it back in the first few days of the U.S.-backed offensive that started in October.
Women holding candles ululated as they went into the town’s Mar Shimoni church, expressing their joy at returning to the place where many of them said they had been baptized.
“This is the best day of my life. Sometimes I thought it would never come,” said Shurook Tawfiq, a 32-year-old housewife displaced to the nearby Kurdish city of Erbil.
The church was badly damaged during ISIS’ time in control of the town, with crosses taken down, statues of saints defaced and the chancel burnt.
A new cross has been affixed on top of the chapel, while a decorated plastic Christmas tree now stands near the massive gate. Soldiers stood guard nearby and others were posted on rooftops.
A peal of festive bells rang out over the town, which is still largely empty, with many houses reduced to rubble by the fighting that raged two months ago.
“It is a mix of sadness and happiness,” Bishop Mussa Shemani told Reuters before celebrating the Christmas Eve Mass.
“We are sad to see what has been done to our holiest places by our own countrymen, but at the same time we are happy to celebrate the first Mass after two years.”
The region of Nineveh is one of the most ancient settlements of Christianity, going back nearly 2,000 years.
At Mar Shimoni, the congregation sang and prayed in Syriac, a language close to the one spoken by Jesus.
“It’s the church where I was baptized, where I was educated, where I was taught the faith,” said Bahnam Shamanny, the editor of Bartelli al-Syriann, a monthly local newspaper. Read the rest of this entry »
Hollie McKay reports: The online romance between Southern California terrorists Farook Rizwan Syed and Tashfeen Malik was more a meeting of like minds than lonely hearts, with two radical jihadists forming a bond of hate and bloodlust in the dark recesses of the Internet.
Family members have said Syed, 28, and Malik, 29, met online and embarked on a whirlwind digital relationship capped by their 2014 marriage. But if they did, it was not on any dating site resembling those that bring people together every day in the civilized world. Their meeting brought together two already-radicalized soulmates who would go on to kill 14 people and wound 21 more in last week’s massacre at a San Bernardino social services facility
“They were actually radicalized before they started [dating online],” FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers Wednesday. “As early as the end of 2013 they were talking about jihad and martyrdom, before they became engaged.”
“As early as the end of 2013 they were talking about jihad and martyrdom, before they became engaged.”
– FBI Director James Comey
Farook seemingly set up several profiles years ago in his search for a wife – reportedly using sites like Dubaimatrimonial.com, BestMuslim.com and iMilap.com, which is an Indian-centered matrimonial and dating site “for people with disabilities and remarriage.
A spokesperson for iMilap.com confirmed to FoxNews.com that while Farook has an inactive profile not in public view, Malik never belonged to the site and they have no history of any such name or details. In his profiles, Farook described himself as a “devout” Muslim and added that he spends “much free time in the [mosque] memorizing the Quran and learning more about the religion.”
As for Malik, she was an online ghost, and experts said absent her participation in hardcore jihadist chat forums or use of a pseudonym, it is unlikely that she met Farook innocently. Read the rest of this entry »
John Broman writes: Eyad Ismoil is one of the half-dozen men convicted for carrying out the World Trade Center bombings in 1993. Born in Kuwait to a Palestinian father and Jordanian mother, he was sentenced to 240 years in prison for driving a rental van packed with a bomb into a garage, killing six and injuring about 1000 more. (During his trial, he maintained that he was innocent and did not know what was inside the truck.) But 20 years after his arrest and burial deep inside the dungeons of the ADX Super Max facility in Colorado, Ismoil was moved to the general population here in West Virginia at USP Hazelton, the high-security federal prison where I reside.
Ismoil is my coworker in one of the resource centers on the compound that gives inmates an opportunity to break free from the gambling, drugs, and violence that makes up a monotonous prison life. I find him to be an extremely intelligent and humble man; for someone who’s supposed to “hate the infidels,” he shows no signs of loathing towards the many prisoners and staff who openly despise him.
Still, Ismoil’s ethnicity and the nature of his crime make him a target. Every horrific event that pops up on the news increases the disdain for him even more, but after talking with the guy, I found myself less than shocked at the eruption of radical Islamic terrorism over the past two decades. Indeed, when I first asked Ismoil about ISIS after the Paris attacks, he asked me one question back: “Why do you think they did it?”
I responded with the only thing I knew: “They hate us.”
He smiled and rolled his eyes, as if to say I knew nothing. So it was that an unlikely acquaintanceship between a hippie bank robber from Pittsburgh and a convicted terrorist from the Middle East was born.
Recently I sat down at a table with the thin, bearded 44-year-old Muslim, to get his views on the Islamic State, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, and other tragedies like the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado. He said that to resolve the conflicts between extremists in the Middle East and the West, it was important to talk “human to human,” but he also made it clear that he empathizes at least somewhat with the Islamic State. Unsurprisingly, many of his views would be considered appalling to the vast majority of Americans, but our conversation gave me a window into the worldview of people who think the US is to blame for terrorism.
VICE: As an Islamic terrorist from an earlier generation, what’s your sense of who the Islamic State’s members are and where they came from?
Eyad Ismoil: ISIS is not jihadists recruited from all over to fight. They are the Sunni Muslims that have lived through 25 years of wars, torture, and rapes. They are the Iraqi and Syrian people that have suffered from unjust wars started by the US government. And when the US government [mostly pulled out of] Iraq in 2010, the Shia and Maliki government started killing the Sunni day and night under the watch of the Americans.
The US response was, “This is an internal problem. We don’t want to interfere with their business.” The show Rise of ISIS showed this, even though they tried to spin it like ISIS are aliens from another planet trying to take advantage of the massacres that the Shia—the government of Iraq—is doing to the Sunni and to get people to pledge.
But the fact that every Arab and Muslim knows is [that] ISIS is the native people of Iraq and Syria. That’s why the head of ISIS is Abu Bakr Baghdadi. He was a prisoner in an American prison in Iraq during the occupation for about four years and is known to be a scholar from the prophet’s family. They are a very big family in Iraq. That’s why [many] of the Sunni pledge to him.
You don’t have to recruit people for ISIS. They’re Muslims from all over the world that have seen an injustice after 25 years and want to help their brothers. What you have to understand is the Iraqi people are the most stubborn of the Muslim world. They won’t accept occupation or humiliation.
Day after day, all these things add up ’til the volcano erupts, and that is what’s happening in Iraq and Syria under the name ISIS.
Were you surprised by the Islamic State attack in Paris?
People over in America ask why ISIS did this. [But] people in the Middle East ask, “Why is the US doing this to us?” Put yourself in their shoes—France is dropping bombs for a year in Iraq and [more recently] Syria, destroying everything, women, children, buildings… A bomb doesn’t discriminate between ISIS or women and children—it just destroys. Read the rest of this entry »
Bridget Johnson reports: ISIS beheaded four Peshmerga in a grisly video released today with a retribution message to President Obama — delivered by an American-sounding executioner — for last week’s raid to rescue 69 prisoners near Hawija, Iraq.
“…There is still no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to achieve the President’s stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.”
— Senator John McCain
Three of the Kurds are forced to watch the fourth prisoner being beheaded before they are subjected to the same fate.
“Obama, you have learned a new lesson. Six of the soldiers of the caliphate faced 400 of your children. They killed and injured them, by Allah’s grace. You were probably surprised by this. O Crusader, it is the support of Allah you did not gain anything, you returned to your base with loss and humiliation.”
The video, viewed by PJM, includes night-vision images of a helicopter attack, though it’s unclear if it’s footage from that night. It also shows clips of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, dead bodies and a field of rubble while ripping off coalition footage of the strikes. U.S. forces said they leveled the compound after the prisoners, who were set to be killed later that day, were rescued.
“Obama, you wage war against Allah. He supports us against you; it is the promise of Allah. Allah will never fail in his promise.”
A narrator speaking in Arabic walks through the decimated compound as he recounts ISIS’ version of events and includes alleged witnesses.
One jihadist wearing gloves and a surgical mask picks through a pile of first-aid packaging, bloody bandaging and needles they said were left by U.S. and Kurdish forces.
Then the 15-minute video cuts to the prisoners in orange jumpsuits kneeled before the rubble, and the black-clad killers wielding knives. Read the rest of this entry »
‘A Good Day’s Work’: SAS sniper gunned down a knife-wielding Islamic State maniac just as he was trying to brutally behead a father and his young son.
Nick Gutteridge reports: The brave British marksman saved the terrified eight-year-old and his father after taking out the crazed jihadi with a head shot from 1,000 metres away.
The special forces crack shot then killed two other members of the hated terror group, who were also taking part in the sick planned execution.
“Through binoculars the soldiers could see that the crowd were terrified and many were in tears….They were both wearing blindfolds and looked terrified…A tall bearded man emerged and drew a long knife…He began addressing the crowd and slapping the father and his son around the head and kicking them on to the floor.”
ISIS militants had decreed that the little boy and his father must die after branding them “infidels” because they refused to denounce their faith.
They were just seconds from death when the hero sniper intervened to stop the barbaric killing in the Syrian desert. The pair were part of the minority Shia sect of Islam which ISIS considers to be heretical.
“Standing either side of the executioner were two other Isis fighters, both armed with AK47s…The ISIS thug who was about to decapitate the father was shot in the head and collapsed…Everyone just stared in confusion. The sniper then dispatched the two henchmen with single shots – three kills with three bullets…”
They were saved from a cruel and painful death at the hands of the fanatics after an Iraqi spy tipped off British special forces to the planned execution.
Special forces troops who arrived at the killing site, where ISIS was carrying out a series of rigged ‘trials’ of locals, discovered a gruesome scene with several headless bodies already lying bloodied on the desert floor.
The dramatic rescue operation took place last month near the Syrian border with Turkey, where an elite SAS unit had been conducting covert patrols.
Defence sources described how the SAS unit moved into a position just outside a village where ISIS members were holding the ‘trial’ in front of a crowd of locals who had been forced to attend at gunpoint.
The crack team considered calling in an air strike using a Reaper Drone, but the elite troops feared many of the innocent civilians who had been forced to watch the executions might also be killed.
Instead the SAS unit decided on a risky long-range kill using the team’s sniper.
As the U.S. leads from behind, Tehran creates a Shiite arc of power. What could go wrong?
While Washington focuses on Iran-U.S. nuclear talks, the Islamic Republic is making a major but little-noticed strategic advance. Iran’s forces are quietly occupying more of Iraq in a way that could soon make its neighbor a de facto Shiite satellite of Tehran.
That’s the larger import of the dominant role Iran and its Shiite militia proxies are playing in the military offensive to take back territory from the Islamic State, or ISIS. The first battle is over the Sunni-majority city of Tikrit, and while the Iraqi army is playing a role, the dominant forces are Shiite militias supplied and coordinated from Iran. This includes the Badr Brigades that U.S. troops fought so hard to put down in Baghdad during the 2007 surge.
“The irony is that critics long complained that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 created a strategic opening for Iran. But the 2007 surge defeated the Shiite militias and helped Sunni tribal sheikhs oust al Qaeda from Anbar. U.S. forces provided a rough balancing while they stayed in Iraq through 2011. But once they departed on President Obama’s orders, the Iraq government tilted again to Iran and against the Sunni minority.”
The Shiite militias are being organized under a new Iraqi government office led by Abu Mahdi Mohandes, an Iraqi with close ties to Iran. Mr. Mohandes is working closely with the most powerful military official in Iran and Iraq—the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran’s official news agency last week confirmed Western media reports that Gen. Soleimani is “supervising” the attack against Islamic State.
“The strategic implications of this Iranian advance are enormous. Iran already had political sway over most of Shiite southern Iraq. Its militias may now have the ability to control much of Sunni-dominated Anbar, especially if they use the chaos to kill moderate Sunnis. Iran is essentially building an arc of dominance from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut on the Mediterranean.”
This is the same general who aided the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq. Quds Force operatives supplied the most advanced IEDs, which could penetrate armor and were the deadliest in Iraq. One former U.S. general who served in Iraq estimates that Iran was responsible for about one-third of U.S. casualties during the war, which would mean nearly 1,500 deaths.
“Iran’s military surge is now possible because of the vacuum created by the failure of the U.S. to deploy ground troops or rally a coalition of forces from surrounding Sunni states to fight Islamic State. With ISIS on the march last year, desperate Iraqis and even the Kurds turned to Iran and Gen. Soleimani for help. The U.S. air strikes have been crucial to pinning down Islamic State forces, but Iran is benefitting on the ground.”
Mr. Soleimani recently declared that Islamic State’s days in Iraq are “finished,” adding that Iran will lead the liberation of Tikrit, Mosul and then all of Anbar province. While this is a boast that seeks to diminish the role of other countries, especially the U.S., it reveals Iran’s ambitions and its desire to capitalize when Islamic State is pushed out of Anbar province. Read the rest of this entry »
Government security forces fought to regain control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery in a decisive test of Baghdad’s ability to protect an economic pillar from Sunni Muslim insurgents. Matt Bradley reports.
One of the editors at Foreign Policy was pushing me yesterday to say more about Iraq, despite my feeling of numb wordlessness.
OK, here goes. My question is, Why the hell is everyone so surprised ? Was this not inevitable? Perhaps it was foretold on the day we removed Sunni power from Baghdad, and so took down the bulwark that prevented the westward expansion of Persian power. Certainly it looked likely from the time Maliki decided to attack the Sunni towns to the west of Baghdad. Read the rest of this entry »
BAGHDAD (AP) —QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA reports: A government airstrike killed 25 al-Qaida-linked militants in a besieged province west of Baghdad amid fierce clashes Tuesday between Iraqi special forces and insurgents battling for control of the key cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi officials said.
The al-Qaida gains in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar – once bloody battlegrounds for U.S. troops – pose the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s Shiite-led government since the departure of American forces in late 2011.
Iraqi forces and fighters from government-allied Sunni tribes have been battling militants to try to recapture the strategic territory, seized last week by an al-Qaida-linked group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Iraqi military spokesman Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said the Iraqi air force struck an operations center for the militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, the provincial capital, killing 25 fighters who were holed up inside.
Beheading Error: The familiar Islamist rebel campaign slogan “If you like your head, you can keep your head” promise brokenPosted: November 16, 2013
An ‘incorrect promise’, says the New York Times
Steven Emerson reports: Members of the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham appear in a new online video apologizing for beheading a man they thought was fighting for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
(CAIRO) — Egyptian riot have fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi who cut a main road in Cairo outside a prestigious Muslim institution and hurled stones.
The protests come amid heated debate over a new law that would place new restrictions on demonstrators, imposing heavy fines and possible jail time on violators.
Morsi was overthrown on July 3 after millions took to the streets to demand he step down. Since then, Cairo has seen non-stop demonstrations by his supporters demanding his return. A military-backed crackdown has left hundreds dead and seen thousands arrested.
Dan Kedmey reports: A series of bomb blasts in Iraq killed at least 42 people on Sunday, but the story could have been ripped from last week’s papers (12 killed) or those from two weeks ago (51 killed) or repeatedly from the month of September (979 killed). Iraqis have not seen death tolls this high since the 2008 insurgency. “It seems like al-Qaeda is running the country,” one government employee told the Associated Press.
Since American troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, al-Qaeda has freed hundreds of militants by attacking prisons. These jail breaks, the ability to recruit young Iraqi men and the security vacuum in neighboring Syria are believed to have helped the group’s revival from the handful of small cells it was reduced to in 2009.
One Iraqi officials says al-Qaeda commands some 3,000 fighters in the country, with around 100 members prepared to undertake suicide missions. The group’s leader, Abu Bakr, is thought to have ordered dozens of attacks per week in a bid to destabilize Iraq’s Shiite-led government.