Around 95 captives escaped from a prison controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in northern Syria, a group monitoring the war said on the 10 Mar 15 saying the escapees included about 30 Kurdish fighters. The jailbreak happened in the town of al-Bab, 30 km south of the Turkish frontier, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. ISIS runs its own prisons, courts and other facilities. The escapees also included Syrian civilians and members of Islamic battalions opposed to the more hard-line militant ISIS group. ISIS has put the town on high alert and has been using loudspeakers to tell citizens to capture the escapees, the Observatory said, citing people on the ground. Al-Bab was the site of ISIS infighting during the reporting period when several of its members broke out of another jail in the town and tried to head for the Turkish border. The group, which included mainly European fighters, was stopped by other Islamic State members in clashes that killed at least nine, the Observatory said.
Foreign hostages captured by Islamic State were subjected to numerous mock beheadings and were unaware they were about be killed, a former member of the jihadi group has said, offering an apparent explanation for why they seem so calm when reading statements to camera. A former translator, “Saleh”, said in an interview with Sky News that he was employed by the group to convince foreign hostages they were safe, before they were killed in videos featuring Mohammed Emwazi, the 26-year-old radical known as “Jihadi John”. Hostages such as the US journalist James Foley and the British aid worker Alan Henning appeared unafraid when they read messages on camera moments before they were murdered.
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ISIS recognized the fealty pledge of Boko Haram on 12 Mar 14 Boko Haram is the largest jihadist group to pledge allegiance to ISIS to date. ISIS chose not to establish Boko Haram as a governorate at this time, but that declaration could still occur in the future. In the same statement, ISIS spokesman al-Adnani also listed all the locations worldwide where ISIS aspires to have control, including: Kabul, Karachi, the Caucasus, Qom, Riyadh, Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Sana'a, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Amman. ISIS may be trying to draw attention to its global campaign in order to offset tactical losses, particularly in Iraq. Meanwhile, ISIS continued its efforts to accelerate the Libyan civil war by conducting attacks against oil fields and associated foreign interests in Libya over the last 10 days. Most notably, ISIS attacked the Ghani oil field south of Sirte, killing several guards and kidnapping at least nine foreign workers, including Europeans. ISIS may intend to dissuade foreign investors and destroy Libya's primary source of revenue in order to increase disorder. It may also be using Libya as another front to target the West. In the U.S., Secretaries of State and Defence, along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress on the President's request for authorization to use force against ISIS.
Finances of Jihad: How extremist groups raise money (BBC article 12 Dec 14 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30393832)
Twelve months ago, the group now known as Islamic State (IS) was little recognised on the international stage beyond those inspired to travel and join the group as fighters or those in the security and academic worlds monitoring developments in Syria and Iraq. Even at its emergence, it was dismissed as just another of the multitude taking advantage of the chaos created in Syria by the wide-ranging conflict with President Bashar al-Assad. In January 2014, US President Barack Obama downplayed the capabilities and threats posed by those flying the al-Qaeda flag in Falluja and elsewhere across Iraq and Syria. But within a few months, IS controlled a vast and valuable swathe of territory across northern Syria and Iraq. Former US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel described IS as being as "sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen". "They're beyond just a terrorist group… they are tremendously well funded," he said. More than with any other militant group perhaps, the focus of the international community's attention is on the finances of IS - the revenue it earns from oil, taxation, extortion and looting. The US-led coalition has directed a considerable portion of its air strike effort against the oil refineries and smuggling routes believed to be the mainstay of the group's financial survival in the belief that disrupting funding sources will ultimately precipitate its demise. Paul Adams looks at ransom money - a key source of income for extremists. The importance of financing in conflict is as old as conflict itself. The Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero observed that "the sinews of war [are] a limitless supply of money." More recently, during the Cold War, states sponsored political violence by funding and supporting proxies. However, the end of the Cold War, and the use of UN Security Council resolutions against countries such as Libya and Sudan, saw a dramatic decline in state-sponsored terrorism. Whilst organisations such as Hezbollah continue to operate with state backing, post-Cold War terrorist organisations have mostly been unable to rely on state sponsorship, thus needing to source their own financing. Skilful financial management is at the heart of the success of any terrorist or insurgent organisation - it represents their lifeblood but is also one of their most significant vulnerabilities.
Securing and maintaining reliable funding is the key to moving from fringe radical group to recognised terrorist organisation - from a hand-to-mouth existence to a more planned and organised model. Successful groups are often defined as much by their skills as financial managers as they are by their military expertise and ability to recruit fighters. In general, terrorist groups can draw on financing from two primary sources:
- Internally, funds are generated by taxation of people, businesses and transport routes; proceeds from kidnap and ransom; and profits from trade
- External funding is provided by donors sympathetic to the cause, be they wealthy supporters (often from Gulf state countries, sometimes referred to as the "Golden Chain") or members of the diaspora community
Donations are also sometimes transferred between like-minded terrorist groups. For example, the Nigerian group Boko Haram reportedly received $250,000 from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2012. In a letter from 2005, al-Qaeda's former deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called upon al-Qaeda in Iraq to transfer $100,000 (£63,700) because many of its own funding lines had been cut. Whilst donations can provide a source of initial "seed-funding", they are vulnerable to disruption by the authorities and the supply is unreliable. To establish financial independence, terrorist groups need to move from primarily external funding to internal, self-generated funding that is more difficult for the international community to disrupt.
Al-Shabab in Somalia is a good case in point. Whilst the group receives some limited funding from external sources, it has developed a highly effective charcoal export business which generates up to $80m a year, according to the UN. Al-Shabaab has also mastered another funding tool - business, personal and transport tax. Like IS, al-Shabab controls territory and population, operating a form of quasi-government in the areas under its control - raising taxes and offering some services, particularly security and justice, in return. Al-Shabaab remains a potent threat in East Africa. IS promises services and food supplies to Muslims in areas it controls. The control of territory also allows lucrative businesses, such as the growing of opium poppies in Afghanistan, to flourish. Over $7bn has been spent on fighting the drugs trade in the country yet despite 13 years of a NATO-led effort, poppy cultivation is at an all-time high, with the Taliban exploiting Afghanistan's position as the supplier of over 90% of global opium output to earn up to $150m a year. But not all groups control territory containing populations ripe for taxation and extortion. Based in the vast, sparsely inhabited regions across the Sahara and Sahel, AQIM raises its funding from two main sources
- Abduction of foreign tourists and workers for ransom in a trade which is believed to have earned the group close to $100m over five years
- Control over smuggling routes for drugs which are flown in from Latin America along "Highway 10" - referring to the 10th parallel - as the most direct route across the Atlantic en route to Europe
The Haqqani Network, based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, also relies on smuggling as a key source of finance. With its roots in the opposition to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, it controls long-established smuggling routes that benefit from the instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan to support the funds it raises from its extensive criminal activity.
Kidnap for ransom is increasingly used by terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, is estimated to have earned $20m this way between 2011 and 2013. The UN underlines the profitability of this trade, revealing recently that terrorist groups are estimated to have earned $120m in ransom payments from 2004-2012. IS alone is believed to have raised up to $45m in just the past year. So if terrorist groups are to establish themselves, survive and thrive, they need to develop reliable sources of financing based on the territory, population and resources where they operate. That Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) recognised the critical importance of finance is clear from declassified documents captured in Iraq following the 2003 invasion in which the group identified poor money management and irregular income as critical contributors to the group's failure. Funding is clearly the lifeblood of a terrorist organisation. It is also its Achilles' heel. Since the 9/11 attacks, the international community has sought to disrupt terrorist groups by targeting their finances. The first step in US President George W Bush's so-called "war on terror" was to launch "a strike on the financial foundation of the global terror network". Yet, as we are witnessing across northern Syria and Iraq, starving extremists of financing is no easy task once they evolve from external reliance to internal self-sufficiency.
Kurdish sources in Iraq have said they have evidence that Islamic State (ISIS) used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said the chlorine gas was spread by a suicide truck bomb attack on 23 Jan 15 in northern Iraq. Iraqi officials and Kurds fighting in Syria have made several similar allegations since last fall about ISIS using chlorine chemical weapons against them. In the previous Islamist insurgency in Iraq in Anbar province, in 2006-2007 there was evidence of chemical use by the insurgents. The insurgents in 2006-2007 were members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later transformed itself into ISIS.
Israel – A driver drove his car into pedestrians in Jerusalem on the 6 Mar 15 injuring five people in an attack that further inflamed tensions a day after the Palestinians vowed to halt security co-ordination with Israel. Israeli-Palestinian relations have been severely strained by last year's war in the Gaza Strip, violence in Jerusalem and moves by the Palestinian leadership to sue Israel for alleged war crimes. The Palestinian threat to halt security co-ordination ramped up pressure on Israel ahead of a general election this month, although president Mahmud Abbas has pledged to negotiate with whomever the Israelis elect. The car ramming bore the hallmarks of a series of "lone wolf" attacks by Palestinians in Jerusalem last year. A young man rammed his car (into pedestrians), and then got out and tried to stab people a police spokeswoman said. Four Israeli border guards were among those injured in the attack outside a security forces' base on the line separating west from Arab east Jerusalem. The driver was shot and seriously injured by a security guard at the scene. They said the suspect, in his 20s, was a resident of Arab east Jerusalem. He was identified by relatives as Mohammed Salaymeh from the neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud. Israel was shaken by a spate of attacks in the Holy City in Oct and Nov 14 in which Palestinians deliberately drove vehicles into groups of pedestrians, killing several people. On the 5 Mar 15 the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which dominates the PA, announced it was ending security cooperation with Israel. The co-ordination was launched under the 1993 Oslo peace accords which led to the creation of the PA. It is considered crucial for Israel to monitor the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and its West Bank members. The halt to cooperation, if implemented, would force Israel to "take over full responsibility for the Palestinian people in the occupied State of Palestine, the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza," the PLO said. It gave no time frame for ending security co-ordination.
Syria – One of the last moderate Syrian rebel groups trusted by Washington is waving the white flag—and picking up the Islamists’ black one it was reported on the 5 Mar 15. The Syrian rebel group Harakat al-Hazm, one of the White House’s most trusted militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad has collapsed with activists posting a statement online from frontline commanders saying they are disbanding their units and folding them into brigades aligned with a larger Islamist insurgent alliance distrusted by Washington. The statement bore Hazm’s stamp and logo, and according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group, the brigade’s fighting units are disbanding. Emails and phone calls to Hazm’s political leaders were not returned. “Given what is happening on the Syrian front, offenses by the criminal regime with its cronies against Syria as a whole, and Aleppo specifically, and in an effort to stem the bloodshed of the fighters, the Hazm movement announces its dissolution,” the statement said. Charles Lister, an analyst with U.S, think tank Brookings, described in a tweet the implosion of the group as “absolutely remarkable.” The apparent implosion comes just weeks after the Obama administration halved its funding of the 4,000-strong secular brigade—one of several more moderate rebel militias that have seen their U.S. funding cut or scaled back since Christmas.