North Korea: Otto Warmbier Has “Sever Neurological Damage”

(COMMENTARY: FOR THE SAKE OF THE PEOPLE OF NORTH KOREA IT IS TIME FOR THE GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD TO REMOVE THE ANIMAL KIM JONG UN FROM POWER “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”)(TRS)

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Recently released North Korea detainee Otto Warmbier has suffered severe neurological damage, and his family flatly rejects the regime’s explanation for his condition, reporters were told Thursday in his Ohio hometown.

Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student who returned Tuesday to the United States after 17 months in detention, is in stable condition at University of Cincinnati Medical Center but has a “severe neurological injury,” hospital spokeswoman Kelly Martin said.
Martin declined to elaborate, saying doctors will share more information about Warmbier’s condition in a separate news conference Thursday afternoon.
But Warmbier’s father left no doubt he blames North Korea, blasting the secretive regime in a 23-minute news conference at his son’s alma mater, Wyoming High School, north of Cincinnati.

Student freed from North Korea lands in US

Student freed from North Korea lands in US
The family doesn’t believe North Korea’s explanation that Otto fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill shortly after he was sentenced in March 2016, Fred Warmbier said.
“Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing a coma — and we don’t — there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition a secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long,” Warmbier said.
The father, wearing the cream sport coat his son wore during his televised trial in North Korea, stopped short of saying how he believed his son was injured.
“We’re going to leave that to the doctors (to explain) today,” he said.

Why does North Korea detain some US citizens?

Why does North Korea detain some US citizens?
He called on North Korea to release other American detainees.
“There’s no excuse for the way the North Koreans treated our son. And no excuse for the way they’ve treated so many others,” he said. “No other family should have to endure what the Warmbiers have.”

Conviction and release

Otto Warmbier was a University of Virginia student when he was detained in January 2016 at the airport in Pyongyang while on his way home. He had been on a tour of the reclusive country, his parent said.
North Korean authorities claimed they had security footage of him trying to steal a banner containing a political slogan that was hanging from a wall of his Pyongyang hotel.
That was used as evidence in his hourlong trial. He was found guilty of committing a “hostile act” against the country and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor. It was the last time he was seen publicly before this week.
His parents learned of their son’s condition — what North Korea called a coma — only last week, they said in a statement.

Critical of Obama administration

Fred Warmbier appeared critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Otto’s detention, saying the family heeded the US government’s initial advice to take a low profile “without result.”
In contrast, he praised the Trump administration’s efforts: “They have our thanks for bringing Otto home.”
When asked whether then-President Barack Obama could have done more, Fred Warmbier replied, “I think the results speak for themselves.”

Three other US detainees

Warmbier’s release coincided with basketball star Dennis Rodman’s latest visit to North Korea, though Michael Anton, a US national security spokesman, told CNN there is no connection between the two.

CNN on the ground: Waiting for Dennis Rodman

CNN on the ground: Waiting for Dennis Rodman
Fred Warmbier said the same Thursday.
“Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with Otto,” he said.
Rodman was asked by reporters Tuesday if he would bring up the cases of Warmbier and three other Americans detained in North Korea. “That’s not my purpose right now,” he said. “My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea.”
The other Americans held by Pyongyang are Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak-song, academics who worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and businessman named Kim Dong Chul.

ISIS Murderers 2 Chinese Missionaries In Pakistan For Sharing The Gospel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

ISIS Kills 2 Chinese Missionaries Accused of Violating Visa Rules in Pakistan by Sharing the Gospel

Jun 13, 2017

The Scottish Episcopal Church approves gay marriage
Pakistan’s interior ministry has said the two Chinese nationals who were kidnapped and killed by Islamic State-affiliated militants last month were preachers who allegedly violated their business visa rules.

(Screengrab: JustPaste.It) A masked ISIS militant reads the charges facing the two men tied to a cross, who were later shot in the back of the head for banditry, Mosul, Iraq.

According to Reuters, the terrorist-linked Amaq News Agency announced last Thursday that IS (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) was responsible for the killing of two Chinese nationals who were abducted last month in the Baluchistan province and were believed to be Mandarin language teachers.

“Islamic State fighters killed two Chinese people they had been holding in Baluchistan province, southwest Pakistan,” Amaq was quoted as announcing in a statement.

On Monday, the Pakistani government identified the two Chinese nationals killed as 24-year-old Lee Zingyang and 26-year-old Meng Lisi. The interior ministry also claimed that both Lee and Meng were in violation of their visa rules because they were preaching instead of learning Urdu.

“Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning (the) Urdu language from a Korean national … were actually engaged in preaching,” Reuters quoted the ministry as saying in a statement.

The statement didn’t indicate whether the Korean national was from South Korea or North Korea or what the Chinese nationals were preaching.

According to the online news outlet Quartz, The Global Times and Shanghai-based The Paper, the slain Chinese nationals belonged to a 13-member Christian missionary group in China being led by a South Korean national.

Quartz also cited Chinese reports indicating that a local Muslim community complained about the group trying to evangelize to them. Additionally, Quartz reports that a Chinese journalist has said that Chinese foreign ministry officials briefed reporters in a closed-door session and gave them much of the same information that has been reported.

Following the killing of the two Chinese nationals, Pakistan’s interior ministry has decided to “streamline” its visa policy for Chinese nationals, Pakistan’s The Nation quoted a ministry spokesperson as saying.

According to The Nation, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan called for a databank of Chinese nationals present in Pakistan during a meeting.

“This data bank, to be prepared by National Database and Registration Authority, should be shared with all security agencies,” the minister said, reiterating their claim that the deceased Chinese nationals violated the terms of their visas.

The killing of the two Chinese Christians come as IS has attempted in the last year to establish its presence in Pakistan, just like it has in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan. IS-linked militants have carried out a number of attacks in Pakistan this year, including a suicide bombing at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan that killed at least 90 and injured over 300 in February.

Last month, IS claimed a bomb attack on a convoy of Senate Deputy Chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri south of Quetta that killed 25 people.

Additionally, this is not the first time that IS has claimed responsibility for the killing Chinese nationals.

In 2015, IS in Syria killed 50-year-old Beijing native Fan Jinghui who was held hostage for months.

Kosovo charges 9 men with plotting attacks at Albania-Israel World Cup match

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Kosovo charges 9 men with plotting attacks at Albania-Israel World Cup match

By Fatos Bytyci | PRISTINA

Kosovo prosecutors said on Wednesday they had charged nine Kosovar men with planning attacks at a World Cup soccer match in Albania against the visiting Israel team and its fans last November.

Last year, Kosovar police arrested 19 people – including the nine charged on Wednesday – on suspicion that they had links with the Islamic State militant group and were planning attacks in Kosovo and neighboring Albania.

At the time, fearing such attacks, Albanian authorities moved the Nov. 12 qualifier to a venue near the capital Tirana from a stadium in the northern town of Shkoder.

The state prosecutor said some of the nine men charged were in contact with Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a prominent Islamic State member and the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq” from whom they received orders to attack. Police and family members told Reuters last week that Muhaxheri has been killed in Syria.

The group was also planning to launch attacks inside Kosovo against local and international institutions and buy weapons with money received from Muhaxheri, the prosecutor said.

NATO has around 4,500 soldiers in Kosovo helping to keep a fragile peace. The European Union and the United Nations also have security and diplomatic missions in Kosovo.

The prosecution said the defendants took orders from Muhaxheri and planned to attack and destabilize “the countries in the Balkans and then create their territory of the Islamic State”.

One of the defendants had kept in his basement 283 grams of self-made triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosives. The same explosive was used in attacks in Paris and Brussels and was found in a series of foiled bombings in Europe since 2007.

Another defendant had produced half a kilo of explosives at his house from ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO), it said.

Kosovo, with a majority ethnic Albanian Muslim population, has had no militant attacks on its home turf, but at least 200 people have been detained or investigated over offences related to Islamic State.

A total of 300 Kosovo nationals have gone to Syria to fight for Islamic State and more than 50 have been killed there.

International and local security agencies in Kosovo, including at the NATO mission and the EU police mission, are worried that many of those returning home from combat zones could pose a security threat.

In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law introducing jail sentences of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of fighting in wars abroad.

(Editing by Aleksandar Vasovic and Louise Ireland)

Republican House whip Steve Scalise shot in Virginia shooting

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Republican House whip Steve Scalise shot in Virginia shooting

Story highlights

  • The shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack,” sources tell CNN
  • Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords

Washington (CNN) Rep. Steve Scalise was shot Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, a House colleague told CNN, in what sources are calling an apparent “deliberate attack.”

The shooting took place at a practice for the GOP congressional baseball team.
Scalise, a member of the House Republican leadership as the majority whip, appeared to have been shot in the hip and it appeared two Capitol Hill police agents were shot, according to Rep. Mo Brooks, who told CNN he was on deck when the shooting occurred.
According to both congressional and law enforcement sources, the shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack.”
Two law enforcement sources told CNN the shooter, who is in police custody, has been taken to a hospital.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who was at the practice, told CNN “it would have been a massacre” had Capitol Police not been present.
“Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police,” Paul said on CNN. “It would have been a massacre without them.”
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake added that he saw a member of Scalise’s security detail return fire on the gunman for what felt like 10 minutes, even though the police officer was wounded in the leg.
“50 (shots) would be an understatement, I’m quite sure,” Flake said when asked about the total amount of gunfire, including police returning fire.
Flake said two members of Scalise’s security detail were wounded, and another man was wounded in the chest.
Once they were able, Flake said he and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who is a physician, went out to where Scalise was lying after dragging himself away from the shooting to apply pressure to the wound. Scalise was coherent the whole time, Flake said.
The President is monitoring the situation, the White House said in a statement.
“The Vice President and I are aware of the shooting incident in Virginia and are monitoring developments closely,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”
Trump subsequently tweeted, “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are safe on Capitol Hill and receiving updates, aides tell CNN. Neither was at the practice.
Brooks said there were a number of congressmen and congressional staffers lying on the ground, and at least one of them was wounded. The Alabama Republican said he used his belt as a tourniquet to help one of the victims.
He said the shooter appeared to be a white male but added that “I saw him for a second or two.” He said the shooter was behind the third base dugout and didn’t say anything.
“The gun was a semiautomatic,” Brooks said, adding that he was sure it was a rifle but unsure what kind. “It continued to fire at different people. You can imagine, all the people on the field scatter.”
Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in January 2011. Giffords was shot in the head by Jared Lee Loughner at a “Congress On Your Corner” event at a Tucson grocery store. Giffords, who authorities said was the main target of the shooting, survived the attack but six others were killed and an additional 12 were injured.
Loughner pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

Algeria, France urge political solution in Libya to halt terrorism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Algeria, France urge political solution in Libya to halt terrorism

By Hamid Ould Ahmed | ALGIERS

The foreign ministers of Algeria and France on Tuesday urged Libya’s rival armed factions to seek a political solution in the North African country to help stem the spread of militant groups there and potential spillover across its borders.

Algeria has joined with North African neighbor Tunisia to seek support for an inclusive dialogue in Libya, where competing governments and armed supporters have struggled for control since a 2011 civil war ousted veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi.

France aims to play a bigger role in bringing Libya’s factions together to end the turmoil that has allowed Islamist militants to gain a foothold and migrant smugglers to flourish in the absence of a strong central government.

“The main objective remains the fight against terrorism in this area of turbulence, where the presence of terrorists is reinforced because of the chaotic situation in Libya,” Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel said after talks with France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian, according to state news agency APS.

Le Drian, on a two-day visit to Algiers, described his talks with Messahel as “thorough”.

French officials fear Islamic State militants – who were driven from the coastal city of Sirte last year – and other jihadists are trying to exploit the power vacuum in Libya to regroup after losing substantial ground in Syria and Iraq.

A U.N.-backed Libyan government of national accord has sat in Tripoli for more than a year, but it has struggled to reach agreement with eastern factions, including with powerful commander Khalifa Haftar.

Libya’s neighbors and regional powers have often differed on how to help. Egypt is closer to Haftar and his anti-Islamist militant campaign while Algeria has pushed for an inclusive approach including using the influence of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist.

Last week Le Drian last week held talks with Egypt on how to stabilize Libya and on Monday began a two-day visit to Algiers, where he said he had “thorough” talks with his Algerian counterpart Abdelkader Messahel.

Last year Islamic State was driven out of the Libyan coastal city of Sirte.

“It is this determination which leads us to wish for a political solution in Libya,” APS quoted Le Drian as saying.

Algeria and France have agreed to “combine their efforts to reach an inclusive political solution that allows the integrity of Libyan territory and a peace process”, Le Drian added.

Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt last week expressed support for dialogue in Libya and rejected foreign interference or any military options, days after Egyptian jets carried out strikes against militant camps inside Libya.

The talks between Le Drian and Messahel also included the situation in the Sahel, two years after Algeria helped mediate a peace deal in Mali between the government and Tuareg rebels, in part to help stop Islamist militants gaining ground.

(Editing by Patrick Markey and Gareth Jones)

Blasts Rock Besieged Marawi … Philippines Celebrates Independence Day

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Blasts Rock Besieged Marawi … Philippines Celebrates Independence Day

An abandoned hospital window is seen full of bullet holes in Marawi City

Marawi (Philippines)-On his Facebook profile page Omarkhayam Romato Maute describes himself as a “Walking Time-Bomb.”

When a band of militants led by Omarkhayam and one of his brothers overran a town in the southern Philippines on May 23, festooning its alleyways with the black banners of ISIS, the Facebook description seemed appropriate.

Governments across Southeast Asia had been bracing for the time when ISIS, on a back foot in Iraq and Syria, would look to establish a ‘caliphate’ in Southeast Asia and become a terrifying threat to the region.

“The Middle East seems a long way away but it is not. This is a problem which is amidst us,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Australian radio on Saturday as the battle to re-take Marawi neared the end of the third week, with a death toll of nearly 200. “It is a clear and present danger.”

Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute grew up with several other brothers and sisters in Marawi, a Muslim-majority town in a country where over 90 percent of the population is Christian.

Marawi is, historically, the center of Islam on Mindanao, a sprawling island where violent resistance to authority has been a tradition since the era of Spanish colonialism, spurred in recent decades by poverty and the neglect of successive governments.

As teenagers in the 1990s, the brothers seemed like ordinary young men, said a neighbor of the Maute family: they studied English and the Qur’an, and played basketball in the streets.

“We still wonder why they fell to ISIS,” said the neighbor, who was once an extremist himself and surrendered to the government.

“They are good people, religious. When someone gets to memorize the Qur’an, it’s unlikely for them to do wrong. But this is what happened to the brothers.”

In the early 2000s, Omarkhayam and Abdullah studied in Egypt and Jordan, respectively, where they became fluent in Arabic.

Omarkhayam went to al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he met the daughter of a conservative Indonesian Islamic cleric. After they married, the couple returned to Indonesia. There, Omarkhayam taught at his father-in-law’s school, and in 2011 he settled back in Mindanao.

It may have been then, and not when he was in the Middle East, that Omarkhayam was radicalized.

In Cairo “none of his fellow students saw him as having any radical tendencies at all,” Jakarta-based anti-terrorism expert Sidney Jones wrote in a 2016 report.

Little is known about Abdullah’s life after he went to Jordan, and it is not clear when he returned to Lanao del Sur, the Mindanao province that includes Marawi.

Intelligence sources said there are seven brothers and one half-brother in the family, all but one of whom joined the battle for Marawi.

The Mautes were a monied family in a close-knit tribal society where respect, honor and the Qur’an are paramount.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said the ‘Maranao’ clan, to which the Mautes belong, has a matriarchal tradition, and so their mother played a central role.

He said Farhana Maute, who according to the neighbor had furniture and used-car businesses, helped finance the group, and she drove recruitment and radicalization of local youths.

On Friday, she was stopped outside Marawi in a vehicle loaded with firearms and explosives and taken into custody. It was a major blow for the militants, according to Herrera, as she had been the “heart of the Maute organization.”
A day previously, the brothers’ father, an engineer, was arrested in Davao City, 250 km (155 miles) away.

When the Marawi siege began, several hundred militants were involved, including men from nations as far away as Morocco and Yemen. But most of the marauders, who took civilians as human shields and torched the town cathedral, were from four local groups allied to ISIS, and in the lead were the Maute, military officials said.

According to Jones, the Maute group has “the smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated members” of all the pro-ISIS outfits in the Philippines.

Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a local civic leader who knows some of the Maute’s extended family, said the brothers rely heavily on social media to recruit young followers and spread their “rigid and authoritarian” ideology.

The leader of the ISIS himself ordered the siege of Marawi City, which has been ravaged by prolonged clashes between government forces and Maute militants for the past three weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters in Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte said ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “specifically ordered the conduct of terrorist activities in the Philippines.”

For his part, Foreign Affairs Minister Allan Peter Cayetano said in an independence day speech in Manila that the militants’ had planned to take over at least two or three cities in Mindanao.

Their plot was foiled because troops made a preemptive raid on Marawi to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and ISIS’s “emir” of Southeast Asia.

“We want to coordinate very well with Indonesia and Malaysia so they won’t also suffer in the hands of extremists,” he said.

“But the president knew at the start of his term that, as the allies become more successful in Syria and Iraq, ISIS will be looking for a land base, and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will be a potential target to them.”

Washington said at the weekend it was providing support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clear the militants from pockets of Marawi. Manila said this was technical assistance and there were no US “boots on the ground”.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Saudi King Salman, Russian President Discuss Counter-Terrorism in Phone Call

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Salman, Russian President Discuss Counter-Terrorism in Phone Call

Saudi

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz received on Tuesday a telephone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The two leaders discussed joint cooperation to confront extremism and terrorism in order to achieve security and stability in the region.

They also tackled the latest developments in the region, as well as Saudi-Russian ties and ways to develop them in all fields, said SPA.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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From ‘caliph’ to fugitive: Islamic State leader Baghdadi’s new life on the run

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

From ‘caliph’ to fugitive: Islamic State leader Baghdadi’s new life on the run

One of Baghdadi’s main concerns is to ensure those around him do not betray him for the $25 million reward offered by the United States to bring him ‘to justice’.

WORLD Updated: Jun 12, 2017 22:05 IST

Islamic State
A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making what would have been his first public appearance, at a mosque in the centre of Iraq’s second city, Mosul.(Reuters File)

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is on the brink of losing the two main centres of his ‘caliphate’ but even though he is on the run, it may take years to capture or kill him, officials and experts said.

Islamic State fighters are close to defeat in the twin capitals of the group’s territory, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and officials say Baghdadi is steering clear of both, hiding in thousands of square miles of desert between the two.

“In the end, he will either be killed or captured, he will not be able to remain underground forever,” said Lahur Talabany, the head of counter-terrorism at the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. “But this is a few years away still,” he told Reuters.

One of Baghdadi’s main concerns is to ensure those around him do not betray him for the $25 million reward offered by the United States to bring him “to justice”, said Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises Middle East governments on Islamic State affairs.

“With no land to rule openly, he can no longer claim the title caliph,” Hashimi said. “He is a man on the run and the number of his supporters is shrinking as they lose territory.”

Iraqi forces have retaken much of Mosul, the northern Iraqi city the hardline group seized in June 2014 and from which Baghdadi declared himself “caliph” or leader of all Muslims shortly afterwards. Raqqa, his capital in Syria, is nearly surrounded by a coalition of Syrian Kurdish and Arab groups.

Damaged cars are seen stacked in the middle of a road in western Mosul’s Zanjili neighbourhood on June 9, 2017, during ongoing battles to try to take the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters. (AFP Photo)

The last public video footage of him shows him dressed in black clerical robes declaring his caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque back in 2014.

Born Ibrahim al-Samarrai, Baghdadi is a 46-year-old Iraqi who broke away from al-Qaeda in 2013, two years after the capture and killing of the group’s leader Osama bin Laden.

He grew up in a religious family, studied Islamic Theology in Baghdad and joined the Salaafi jihadist insurgency in 2003, the year of the US-led invasion of Iraq. He was caught by the Americans who released him about a year later as they considered him then as a civilian rather than a military target.

Read more

Bounty

He is shy and reserved, Hashimi said, and has recently stuck to the sparsely populated Iraq-Syria border where drones and strangers are easy to spot.

The US Department of State’s Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program had put the same $25 million bounty on Bin Laden and Iraqi former president Saddam Hussein and the reward is still available for Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Neither Saddam nor Bin Laden were voluntarily betrayed, but the bounties complicated their movements and communications.

“The reward creates worry and tension, it restricts his movements and limit the number of his guards,” said Fadhel Abu Ragheef, a Baghdad-based expert on extremist groups. “He doesn’t stay more than 72 hours in any one place.”

Baghdadi “has become nervous and very careful in his movements”, said Talabany, whose services are directly involved in countering Islamic State plots. “His circle of trust has become even smaller.”

His last recorded speech was issued in early November, two weeks after the start of the Mosul battle, when he urged his followers to fight the “unbelievers” and “make their blood flow as rivers”.

US and Iraqi officials believe he has left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight the battles of Mosul and Raqqa, to focus on his own survival.

It is not possible to confirm his whereabouts.

Baghdadi does not use phones and has a handful number of approved couriers to communicate with his two main aides, Iyad al-Obaidi, his defence minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, in charge of security. There was no confirmation of an April 1 Iraqi state TV report that Jumaili had been killed.

Baghdadi moves in ordinary cars, or the kind of pick-up trucks used by farmers, between hideouts on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, with just a driver and two bodyguards, said Hashimi.

The region is well known to his men as the hotbed of the Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces that invaded Iraq and later the Shia-led governments that took over the country.

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At the height of its power two years ago, Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

It persecuted non-Sunnis and even Sunnis who did not agree with its extreme version of Islamic law, with public executions and whippings for violating strict controls on appearance, behaviour and movement.

But the group has been retreating since in the face of a multitude of local, regional and international forces, driven into action by the scores of deadly attacks around the world that it has claimed or inspired.

A few hundred thousand people now live in the areas under the group’s control, in and around Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, in Syria’s east, and in a few pockets south and west of Mosul. Hashimi said Islamic State was moving some fighters out of Raqqa before it was encircled to regroup in Deir al-Zor.

Displaced Iraqi children gather behind a fence at the Hasan Sham camp for internally displaced people on June 10, 2017. (AFP Photo)

Mosul, with pre-war population of 2 million, was at least four times the size of any other the group has held. Up to 200,000 people are still trapped in the Old City, Islamic State’s besieged enclave in Mosul, lacking supplies and being used as human shields to obstruct the progress of Iraqi forces by a US-led international coalition.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, made of Kurdish and Arab groups supported by the US-led coalition, began to attack Raqqa last week, after a months-long campaign to cut it off.

The militants are also fighting Russian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels backed by Turkey.

The last official report about Baghdadi was from the Iraqi military on Feb. 13. Iraqi F-16s carried out a strike on a house where he was thought to be meeting other commanders, in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, it said.

Overall, Islamic State has 8,000 fighters left, of which 2,000 are foreigners from other Arab states, Europe, Russia and central Asia, said Abu Ragheef.

“A small number compared to the tens of thousands arrayed against them in both countries, but a force to be reckoned with, made up of die-hards with nothing to lose, hiding in the middle of civilians and making extensive use of booby traps, mines and explosives,” he said.

The US government has a joint task force to track down Baghdadi which includes special operations forces, the CIA and other US intelligence agencies as well as spy satellites of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

It will take more than that to erase his influence, Talabany said. “He is still considered the leader of ISIL and many continue to fight for him; that hasn’t changed drastically,” he said, using one of Islamic State’s acronyms.

Even if killed or captured, he added, “his legacy and that of ISIL will endure unless radical extremism is tackled.”

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Why Terror Suspects in Europe Slip Through Security Cracks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND FROM THE WASHINGTON POST)

Why Terror Suspects in Europe Slip Through Security Cracks

London- About a year ago, police stopped a young man in the airport of Bologna, a town in northern Italy. Youssef Zaghba, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, had raised suspicions because he was to embark on a one-way ticket for Istanbul: They feared he was trying to reach Syria through Turkey to join a terror group.

After ISIS propaganda materials were found on his smartphone, Zaghba was arrested and briefly detained between March and April 2016. (Attempting to join a foreign ogranization is a crime in Italy, since a special law was introduced in 2015.)

Eventually authorities had to release him because his lawyer found irregularities in the arrest, but the secret services kept monitoring him and put his name in the Schengen Information System (SIS), the database where European Union member states share security information, so that other countries could be alerted that Zaghba posed a danger.

On June 3 of this year, Zaghba participated in the London Bridge attack that left eight people dead, along with the three terrorists.

Despite being in the EU’s watch list, Zaghba was let into Britain at least twice. Moreover, according to the local media, he was not considered “a subject of interest” by British security. Most recently, Zaghba traveled between two countries in January: He was briefly questioned in London’s Stansted airport. (It is unclear if the British failed to go through a check of the SIS database, or if they saw his name on the database and simply ignored the warning, as the newspaper Repubblica suggests.)

How could a terror suspect be on Italy’s watch list and not in the British one? And why didn’t the presence of Zaghba’s name in the SIS prompt UK authorities to keep an eye on him?

The London Bridge attack raises issue about the sharing of security information between European countries, at a time when terrorists have been shown to move often across the EU’s open borders.

It is not unusual after an attack to learn that the perpetrators were already known to anti-terror agencies. Some analysts argue that this doesn’t always imply a security failure, because there are too many people on watch-lists to monitor effectively all of them: There are some 23,000 “subjects of interests” for anti-terror agencies in the UK and 15,000 in France.

“Since it takes at least four agents to monitor a single suspect, it becomes apparent that many European countries lack the resources to monitor all of them and that there’s an overload of security information,” said Arturo Varvelli, the head of the Terrorism Program at ISPI, a think tank in Milan.

However, Zaghba’s case is different — and the way he slipped by, despite all the warnings, might not be just the result of an overburdened security system but also symptomatic of a different problem: European countries still haven’t fully learned how to read (and perhaps trust) each other’s red flags.

“It’s the second time, in less than a year, that a terrorist already known to Italian authorities has carried an attack in another European country,” notes Francesco Strazzari, a security expert at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, referring to last winter’s attack in Berlin. The Christmas Market attack was carried by a Tunisian man who immigrated to Italy, and whom Italian authorities had tried to deport because they were aware of his radical tendencies.

In an interview, Strazzari recalled that the November 2015 attacks in France were also carried out by terrorists that had ties to a different country, Belgium, and who seemed to move freely between the two.

Critics of the EU have blamed its open borders for security failures, while its supporters point out that assets such as the SIS database are actually supposed to improve the security of each country. But Strazzari says that the main problem is that sometimes information gets “lost in translation.”

The EU, he says, doesn’t really have a pan-European security apparatus, but only a system that aims at coordinating the security services of each of its member states.

Varvelli, the ISPI researcher, argues that lack of trust might also pose a problem. Red flags about individuals are not clear cut, he explains: “Security officials need to interpret them, in order to grasp the level of danger, and knowing where that information comes from plays an important part in the process.”

But while they are bound to share information, the secret services of different countries aren’t keen on sharing with each other how they gathered that information — which ends up making the information less useful.

Varvelli said that ISIS is “well aware” of this weakness and are exploiting it: “Terrorists have realized that if they are closely monitored in the country they are based in, a good strategy is to move to a different country.”

The Washington Post

US-Backed Syrian Fighters Seize Parts Of ISIS ‘Capital’ Raqqa

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

US-backed Syrian fighters seize parts of IS ‘capital’ Raqqa

June 11 at 10:43 AM
BEIRUT — A U.S.-backed Syrian opposition force said Sunday it has captured a northwestern neighborhood of the Islamic State group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa the second district to fall in their hands in days after the group launched a wide offensive to gain control of the extremists’ de facto capital.The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said its fighters captured the neighborhood of Romaniah after two days of fighting that left 12 IS gunmen dead, including a commander known as Abu Khattab al-Tunsi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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