Afghanistan/Taliban – Five UAE officials were among 56 people killed in a string of bombings across Afghan cities, authorities said on the 11 Jan 17 as Taliban militants step up a deadly winter campaign of violence. The Emiratis were among 13 people killed when explosives hidden in a sofa detonated inside the governor's compound in southern Kandahar on the 10 Jan 17 while the UAE's ambassador to Afghanistan escaped the attack with injuries. Earlier on the 10 Jan 16 a Taliban suicide bomber killed seven people in Lashkar Gah, the capital of volatile Helmand province, as the militants ramp up nationwide attacks despite the onset of winter, when fighting usually wanes. The carnage underscores growing insecurity in Afghanistan, where US-backed forces are struggling to combat a resilient Taliban insurgency as well as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants. Kandahar's governor Humayun Azizi and UAE envoy Juma Mohammed Abdullah Al Kaabi were wounded by flames from the explosion, but many others were burned beyond recognition, said provincial police chief Abdul Raziq, who was at the scene when the blast occurred. The Emirati officials killed were "on a mission to carry out humanitarian, educational and development projects", the UAE's official WAM news agency said. "This incident will in no way affect the relations and cooperation between Afghanistan and UAE," President Ashraf Ghani said, ordering an investigation into the bombing. The Taliban denied responsibility for the Kandahar attack, but they said they were behind the Kabul blasts. In the first explosion, a suicide bomber blew himself up next to a minibus transporting government employees. As rescuers reached the scene, a car bomb exploded.
Philippines/Russia – Russia wants to hold maritime drills with the Philippines to help combat terrorism and piracy, sending two warships to Manila for the first official navy-to-navy contact, as President Rodrigo Duterte pivots to United States' traditional rivals. Admiral Tributs, an anti-submarine vessel, and a sea tanker Boris Butoma, arrived late on the 3 Jan 17 for a four-day goodwill visit, with its crew expected to demonstrate anti-terrorism capability and hold talks, said Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the Flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet. "Our governments will maybe discuss in some period of time the possibilities of our maritime exercises," Mikhailov told a news conference, adding Russia has been holding drills with the Indonesian navy. "The biggest problem now in the world is terrorism and piracy, and all our exercises we have, for example, with you we will have to fight these problems and we will show you what we can do and we will see what you can do and show us," he added as the Russian navy showcased the warships. A spokesman for the Philippine Navy told reporters this is the first official interaction with the Russian navy, an arch rival of its former colonial master and closest ally in the region, the United States. Washington and the Philippines have been holding naval exercises annually but Duterte has instructed the defence ministry to "reformat" drills with Washington, moving away from the South China Sea to repair relations with China. Mikhailov said they were willing to help train Philippine counterparts to fight piracy and terrorism and they hope to foster stronger security in the region. The Philippines has been struggling to prevent Islamist militants from abducting crew of slow-moving tugboat and foreigners sailing on yachts in the southern maritime borders with Indonesia and Malaysia. The Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group which has had links to al Qaeda and has pledged allegiance to Islamic State militants, is holding a German tourist and more than 10 Malaysian and Indonesian crewmen. A Dutch and a Japanese are also being held captive. Last month, Duterte sent his foreign and defence ministers to Moscow to explore arms deal after a U.S. senator said he will block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to concerns with the rising death toll in a war on drugs. More than 6,000 have been killed in the drug crackdown since Duterte took office on June 30, roughly a third in operations when suspected drug peddlers and users resisted arrests. The rest are classified as under investigation, many believed to be the work of vigilantes.
Philippines – More than 100 suspected Muslim rebels stormed a jail in the southern Philippines on the 4 Jan 17 killing a guard and allowing 158 inmates to escape, officials said. Six of the inmates were killed in fire-fights with pursuing police and army troops, while eight others were caught and were being returned to the facility, said Senior Inspector Xavier Solda, spokesman for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. Initial reports suggested that the gunmen responsible for the jailbreak were linked to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), officials said. The attackers opened fire at guards at the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan city around 0100 hrs local, the jail held 1,511 inmates at the time. When the attack came it was a two-hour firefight. The jail guards were trying to stop the attackers and then our police responded. Unfortunately, because of the commotion, some inmates escaped using a wooden ladder that they stuck to the wall at the back portion of the jail. Unconfirmed reports by Filipino officials suggested that the raid was carried out by Satar Mandalondong, a MILF commander. But the MILF group has not claimed responsibility for the jailbreak. The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines and it is based in the southern region of Mindanao. The group demands more autonomy for the Moro people. The predominantly Catholic Southeast Asian nation has for four decades been fighting rebels in its southern islands. This incident was the latest of several mass escapes from poorly secured Philippine jails, with the incidents often involving southern rebels. In Aug 16 another rebel group called Maute staged a jailbreak in the southern Philippines, freeing 23 detainees. About 50 heavily armed members of the group raided the local jail in the southern city of Marawi on Mindanao Island and freed eight of their members who were arrested a week earlier, police said. In 2009 more than 100 armed men raided a jail in the strife-torn southern island of Basilan, freeing 31 prisoners including several guerrillas. The conflict between the rebels and the state in southern Philippines has left more than 120,000 people dead in the last four decades. President Rodrigo Duterte is pursuing peace talks with the largest armed Muslim groups, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the MILF. Smaller bands like the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf group are not covered by the ceasefires and are not part of the peace process.
Philippines/Russia – Russia is ready to supply the Philippines with sophisticated weapons including aircraft and submarines and aims to become a close friend of the traditional U.S. ally as it diversifies its foreign ties, Russia's ambassador said on the 4 Jan 17. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has thrown the future of Philippine-U.S. relations into question with angry outbursts against the former colonial power and some scaling back of military ties while taking steps to boost ties with China and Russia. Illustrating the transformation of Philippine foreign relations since Duterte took office in Jun 16, two Russian warships are on four-day visit to Manila during the reporting period the first official navy-to-navy contact between the two countries. Russian Ambassador Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev took the opportunity to hold a news conference on board the anti-submarine vessel Admiral Tributs. He said he understood that the Philippines was intent on diversifying its foreign partners. "It's not a choice between these partners and those ones. Diversification means preserving and keeping old traditional partners and getting new ones. So Russia is ready to become a new reliable partner and close friend of the Philippines," he said. "We don't interfere with your relations with your traditional partners and your traditional partners should respect the interest of the Philippines and Russia." The Russian navy visit comes less than a month after Duterte sent his foreign and defence ministers to Moscow to discuss arms deals after a U.S. senator said he would block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to concern about a rising death toll in a war on drugs launched by Duterte. Khovaev said Russia had a range of weapons to offer. "We are ready to supply small arms and light weapons, some aeroplanes, helicopters, submarines and many, many other weapons. Sophisticated weapons. Not the second-hand ones,” Khovaev said. "Russia has a lot to offer but everything will be done in full compliance with international law." He said it was too early to talk about the scope of military cooperation but, in a clear reference to the United States, said old allies should not worry. "Your traditional partners should not be concerned about the military ties ... If they are concerned, it means they need to get rid of clichés," he said. Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the Flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet, said on the 3 Jan 16 Russia wanted to hold maritime exercises with the Philippines to help combat terrorism and piracy. The United States and the Philippines have been holding naval exercises annually but Duterte has decided to reduce the number of exercises and to move naval drills away from the disputed South China Sea, to reassure China, which is suspicious of U.S. military movements in the disputed waters.
Turkey/Da’esh – The Islamic State jihadist group on the 31 Dec 16 claimed the shooting rampage inside a glamorous Istanbul nightclub on New Year's night that killed 39 people, as police hunted the attacker who at the time of reporting remains on the run. With foreigners making up the majority of those killed in the attack, families were due to reclaim the bodies of more than two dozen non-Turkish and mainly Arab victims. The shooting, which unleashed scenes of carnage and panic among party-goers at one of Istanbul's swankiest venues, took place just 75 minutes into 2017 after a bloody year in Turkey in which hundreds of people were killed in violence blamed on both IS jihadists and Kurdish militants. In a statement circulated on social media, the jihadist group said one of the "soldiers of the caliphate" had carried out the attack on the Reina nightclub. It accused Turkey, a majority-Muslim country, of being a servant of Christians; in a possible reference to Ankara's alliance with the international coalition fighting IS in neighbouring Syria and Iraq. The statement said the assault was in response to Turkey's military intervention against IS in war-ravaged Syria. Turkish troops are pressing on with a four-month incursion in Syria to oust IS jihadists and Kurdish militants from the border area. In the last few weeks, the forces have encountered fierce opposition from the jihadists around the town of Al-Bab. The army said Turkish war planes launched new air strikes around Al Bab. Arriving by taxi at the plush Reina nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus, the gunman produced a weapon, reportedly a Kalashnikov, and shot dead a policeman and civilian at the entrance. According to the Hurriyet daily, the gunman then fired off four magazines containing a total of 120 bullets around the club, as terrified guests flung themselves into the freezing waters of the Bosphorus in panic. But after changing clothes, the gunman left the nightclub in the ensuing chaos and has managed to evade security forces. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Sunday that intense efforts were under way to find the gunman, and expressed hope that he would be captured soon. Late on Sunday, police rushed to Istanbul's Kurucesme district after a tip-off but the operation did not produce any arrest. As long as the terrorist is at large the possibility of another massacre could take place. Hurriyet said investigators believe the attacker may be from the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. Investigators also consider it possible that the attacker is linked to the same cell that in June carried out a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul's Ataturk airport blamed on IS that left 47 people dead, the paper added. Turkey also received intelligence from the United States on December 30 warning of the risk of attacks by IS in Istanbul and Ankara on New Year's night, the paper said, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the nightclub bloodbath sought to sow "chaos", was on the 1 Jan 17 due to chair a meeting of the Turkish cabinet. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim meanwhile denied reports the attacker had worn a Santa Claus costume. Soylu said the assailant had arrived with a gun concealed under an overcoat but subsequently exited the venue wearing a different garment. NTV television said that the bodies of 25 foreigners killed in the attack were to be handed back to their families on the 1 Jan 17 following identification. According to Turkish press reports, the latest figures show 11 Turks were killed in the attack alongside 27 foreigners, including one Belgian-Turkish dual national. One victim is still unidentified. Sixty-five people were wounded. The foreigners who died -- most of them from Arab countries -- had come to the club to celebrate a special night in style. They included three Lebanese nationals, two Jordanians and three Iraqis, officials in their respective countries said. A Canadian woman, a Russian woman and a teenage Arab Israeli woman were also among dead. Turkish press reports said at least seven Saudi nationals died but this had yet to be confirmed by Riyadh. The attack evoked memories of the November 2015 carnage in Paris when IS jihadists unleashed a gun and bombing rampage on nightspots in the French capital, killing 130 people including 90 at the Bataclan concert hall.
Follow-on Report – The attacker who killed 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub had fought in Syria for ISIS and used techniques he had learnt in the civil war, a report said on the 2 Jan 17. The Hurriyet daily said the attacker - who has yet to be formally identified and remains on the run at the time of reporting - showed signs of being well trained in the use of arms. He wreaked havoc inside the Reina nightclub on New Year’s night early on New Year’s Eve firing some 120 bullets from his Kalashnikov before disappearing into the night. Hurriyet’s well-connected columnist Abdulkadir Selvi said the attacker had been identified, with investigators focusing on the idea he was from Central Asia. He said he had been trained in street fighting in residential areas in Syria and used these techniques in the attack, shooting from the hip rather than as a sniper. The attacker had been “specially selected” to carry out the shooting, he said. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that the authorities had obtained fingerprint data about the attacker and expressed hope he would be “speedily” identified. Selvi wrote the priority now was to detain the assailant and neutralise the cell that apparently backed him, in order to prevent any new attack. “This specially trained terrorist has still not been detained and is still wandering dangerously amongst us,” he wrote. He said that an ISIS attack was also planned in Ankara on New Year’s night but that it had been prevented after eight ISIS suspects were arrested in the city. There were no further details. In a separate report, HaberTurk daily said the attacker had arrived in Istanbul from the southern city of Konya with a woman and two children “so as not to attract attention”.
Follow-on Report – Disturbing new details emerged on the 4 Jan 17 of a sophisticated, undercover ISIS network that infiltrated the Istanbul New Year's Eve killer into Turkey and used advanced Special Forces techniques to massacre unarmed revellers. The killer, reportedly a battle-hardened militant trained in Syria, was spirited into the country by a mysterious ISIS handler codenamed 'Teacher Yusuf', according to leaked information published in Turkish media. The attacker himself was reportedly codenamed 'Abu Muhammed Horasani', though his true identity either remains unknown or has not been released by investigators. It comes as fresh footage emerged showing the suspect walking into a bus terminal in the city of Konya last month and as anti-terror police made a series of arrests in the western city of Izmir. Both the gunman and his alleged handler remain at large despite the country being in a state of emergency and a massive international manhunt, apparently demonstrating ISIS' advanced operating capability that experts fear may one day bring carnage to the streets of other countries. The revelations, which have not yet been confirmed by police but have appeared widely in the leading Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and elsewhere – allege that Teacher Yusuf installed the killer and his family in a safe house in the central town of Konya, in an apartment block where three other families were living, in Nov 16. The other families, thought to be part of the ISIS cell, vanished following the atrocity but were detained by police 300 miles away, in the coastal Turkish town of Izmir. The gunman's wife and two children were detained by police, but denied having any knowledge of the suspect's ISIS connections. Reports suggest a total of 27 men and women were detained by police in the western Turkish town of Izmir. They are reportedly from Syria, the Russian Republic of Dagestan, Xinjiang in north-eastern China – known by separatists as East Turkestan – and Kyrgyzstan, thought to be the gunman's home country. The Turkish media reported that the suspects had 20 children with them. According to the Milliyet newspaper, sniper equipment, night vision binoculars, backpacks, GPS trackers and other military supplies were seized in the raids. Security has been tightened in Kirklareli, a Turkish town near the border with Bulgaria, amid fears that the Istanbul gunman may have tried to escape into Europe. Police officers with high velocity weapons and body armour were deployed at the entrance and exit points of the city, as well as at the Dereköy border gate leading to Bulgaria, Turkish media reported. In the days leading up to the attack, the terrorist and his handler travelled together bus to Istanbul, a journey of more than 400 miles, to make their final preparations. There they stayed in a second safe house in Zeytinburnu, a working-class district of the capital, carrying out reconnaissance for the massacre, according to reports. Both addresses have since been raided by police. The killer was described as highly trained, calm and experienced in urban warfare, but according to Turkish media made one key error: while discarding his jacket after the attack, he left 500 Turkish Lira (£114), all the money he had, in the pocket. This meant he was unable to pay the taxi fare when attempting to flee from the scene. The suspect approached a taxi and told the driver he would get money to pay him when arrived at his destination. The offer was refused, however, forcing him to flag down a second cab. This time, he was successful, it was reported. The terrorist made a call from the taxi driver’s phone, the Vatan newspaper claimed, but the number had been unavailable for three months. Police believe it may have been used as a decoy. The suspect was driven back to the safe house in Zeytinburnu, a journey of about 35 minutes, where he allegedly knocked on the door of an Uighur ethnic restaurant and was given the cash to pay the taxi driver. Seven people of ethnic Uighur background have been detailed by anti-terror police. It comes as it emerged that the last bullet in each of the gunman's magazines was a tracer round, allowing him to reload as quickly as possible, adding to the list of advanced military techniques used by the terrorist.
Turkey/Iraq – Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim will be visiting Iraq during the reporting period to discuss the fight against terrorism and the future of Iraq, the government's spokesman said on the 2 Jan 17. "The Prime Minister will be travelling to Iraq on the 5 Dec 16 to start a new era with the Iraqi central government," Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told a news conference. "A new peace perspective in Iraq is just around the corner," Kurtulmus added. Yildirim's office said in a statement he would be visiting both Baghdad and Erbil. Relations between largely Sunni Muslim Turkey and the Shi'ite-dominated central government in Iraq have been tense in the past, particularly over the presence of Turkish troops at the Bashiqa camp north of Mosul.
Turkey – Turkish police have killed a would-be suicide bomber who tried to enter the main police station in the south-eastern city of Gaziantep. Following the 10 Jan 17 attack Mehmet Simsek, Turkey's deputy prime minister, said the potential suicide bomber was killed and another assailant was at large. Local television channels reported on the 10 Jan 17 that a gun battle broke out in front of the building and that ambulances had been sent to the area.
Turkey/Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) – A splinter group of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on the 11 Jan 17 claimed responsibility for a car bomb and gun attack that left two people dead in the Turkish city of Izmir this month, a report said. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) said one of its "revenge teams" had carried out the attack in the usually peaceful Aegean city on the 5 Jan 17 in a statement carried by the pro-PKK Firat news agency. The car bombing killed a traffic policeman and a court worker, triggering a deadly shootout in which two "terrorists" were killed. The attack came with Turkey on edge after a slew of attacks and came just four days after a New Year's Eve gun attack on an Istanbul nightclub claimed by Islamic State (IS) jihadists, which killed 39 revellers. The shadowy TAK organisation is seen by some analysts as more extreme than the PKK although the Turkish government says it is merely a front for the better-known group. The TAK has claimed a string of bombings in Turkey over the last year, including the 10 Dec 16 double bombing by the Besiktas football stadium that left 46 dead.