Islamic State/Da’esh – ISIL is increasingly believed to be manufacturing its own crude chemical weapons, according to a U.S. official and reported in a British newspaper on the 12 Sep 15. The extremist group has used mustard agents on at least four occasions as it fights to expand its self-declared caliphate across Syria and Iraq. “They’re using mustard. We know they are,” the [unnamed] official said saying it was probably being packed into mortar rounds. Exposure can cause breathing difficulties and angry blistering of the skin. It was previously thought that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had seized a stockpile of ready-filled shells. The new claims suggest that the group has developed the capacity to make its own. ISIL’s initial stockpile may have been sourced from the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. When the Damascus government handed over its chemical weapons to inspectors in late 2013, many observers were surprised by the regime’s claim that it possessed only a small volume of mustard agent. “Many including myself believed there was up to 200 tons of mustard agent missing from Assad’s declaration to the UN,” said Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a chemical weapons expert. He said there were credible reports that a small amount may have fallen into ISIL’s hands in Dec 13. Western diplomats have also raised concern over the possibility that Assad’s regime has kept back its own stockpile of chemical weapons.
Incidents of violent infighting between Islamic State (IS) extremists in Syria and Iraq are on the rise with rifts developing between elements within the terrorist group and arguments erupting over the distribution of spoils, sex slaves and cash, say local political activists opposed to the militants, Global Security reported on the 11 Sep 15. A prominent Libya-born commander of the terrorist group, Abu Huzaifa al-Libi, was shot dead last week in the Syrian town of Raqqa during a heated argument over the redeployment of some fighters to the neighbouring province of Hasakah, say local activists. The incident follows a fierce gunfight that erupted in mid-August between IS members to the west of Iraq's Mosul in the Baaj region, in which 17 extremists died in an argument over of the division of money and power. According to Saeed Mamouzini, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, that fight involved fighters loyal to some of the most prominent IS commanders, including Abu Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen, and Haj Nasser al-Mawla, who oversees the group's finances in Mosul. Reports of infighting have noticeably increased since Kurdish-led forces ousted IS fighters in Jun 13 from the logistically important Syrian border town of Tel Abyad, a crucial way station for the terrorist army's foreign recruits and supplies entering Syria. "The loss of the city of Tel Abyad has fuelled this trend and strengthened the rift that exists between the elements of the organization, where supporters of each party blame the other party for the loss the city," says Abu Mohammed of the anti-IS activist group "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently." Much of the infighting involves Syrian-born fighters of the terror army and foreign recruits with the locals resenting the power and rewards given to the foreigners. Foreign fighters receive higher salaries and generally get their pick of enslaved women. Activists say tensions between the Syrians and foreigners can be seen on a daily basis, with each party blaming the other for supposed mistakes, like the fall of Tel Abyad. Activists of the group "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" have reported a series of internal fights in recent weeks, including a clash between locals and fighters from France and Uzbekistan. Another issue of dispute is over housing with local fighters complaining that the foreigners receive better accommodations. "While the Syrians have been allocated houses on the outskirts of the city, the migrants are granted houses and places within the city and in residential neighbourhoods," Abu Mohammed told VOA. The inner city offers better protection against coalition aerial attacks, as U.S. commanders are cautious about striking inside the city for fear of causing high civilian casualties, which would be a propaganda boon for IS. Even so, drone strikes have taken their toll, contributing to the tensions within the group. A British drone strike on the 21 Aug 15 targeting three U.K. nationals fighting alongside IS, including a prominent recruiter and propagandist of the group, Junaid Hussain, is adding to foreign fighters' fears that they could be killed without warning at any moment. IS leaders are responding to internal dissension and infighting with increasing harshness, say activists. On the 3 Sep 15, 40 fighters, Saudis among them, were executed for disobeying orders in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, according to media activist Mujahid al-Shami, who is based in the town of Al-Mayadeen. Their crime: refusing to be transferred west to Aleppo. In Aug 15, VOA reported IS had been struck by a wave of desertions in Deir ez-Zor, alarming IS leaders, who dispatched three security detachments of trusted militants from Mosul to oversee executions. In email exchanges with VOA, activists from a group called Lift Siege, said a steady stream of IS members has been deserting, including four commanders. They named the commanders as Ammar Haddawi, Aamer Al-Naklawi, Mahmoud Al-Khalaf Al-Rasheideh and Abu Obaidah Al-Masri, who oversaw tax collection in Al-Mayadeen. They said the fleeing commanders absconded with large amounts of cash. This isn't the first time that IS has been rocked by severe internal disputes. In Feb 15, there were reports of internal bloodletting and desertions by fighters picked to be suicide bombers. The head of the feared al-Hisba police force in Raqqa, responsible for the enforcement of Sharia law, fled. More than 60 foreign fighters who wanted to leave were reported to have been executed. Activists also say many militants feel greater loyalty to their sub-groups within IS – whether based on nationality or ideological background. Syrian Kurdish commanders in northeast Syria trace IS's internal problems to the group's failure to capture the Syrian border town of Kobani, which the extremists besieged for months. They say the defeat at Kobani lowered morale, especially among foreign fighters who had never experienced a serious reversal in northern Syria before.
Iraq – Reports on the 2 Sep 15 stated that unidentified gunmen have kidnapped 18 Turkish construction workers in Iraq, their company has said. Dozens of Turks have been kidnapped in Iraq by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremist group over the past 18 months and later released, but the latest abductions took place in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, a stronghold of Shia paramilitary forces. "People dressed in military uniforms broke down the door at 3am and abducted all these people," Ugur Dogan, chief executive of Nurol Holding, which owns the construction firm, told Reuters. Turkish state-run media reported that the men had been separated from other workers before being taken. It was not clear whether the abductions were motivated by financial or political concerns. After months of diplomatic wrangling, Turkey has finally entered the fight against ISIL, running bombing raids against the Sunni supremacist group in northern Syria and targeting alleged recruitment networks across Turkey. ISIL released a video last month calling Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "tyrant traitor" and exhorting followers inside the country to rise up “wherever they are and however they can” against the government. This new kidnapping could spark Turkey’s second hostage crisis in just over a year. When ISIL seized control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in June last year, it kidnapped 49 people from inside the Turkish consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The hostages were released two months later after a prisoner swap that was believed to include European jihadis, including two Britons.
One Iraqi soldier was killed today as the military raided a Hezbollah Brigades headquarters while searching for 18 Turkish construction workers who were kidnapped in Baghdad it was reported on the 4 Sep 15. The raid and its aftermath highlights the increasing influence of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias and the Iraqi government’s collusion and conflict with these dangerous organizations. A spokesman for the Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Committee, confirmed that Hezbollah Brigades, a subordinate militia, confirmed that an Iraqi soldier was killed and two militiamen were wounded during the raid. The Popular Mobilization Committee, the aegis under which the militias operate, which is supported by the Iraqi government and is supposedly under the military’s command, is directed by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who is listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Hezbollah Brigades is a US-listed Foreign Terrorist Organization. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi couldn’t even honestly answer a question if the kidnapper is linked to Hezbollah Brigades. From Reuters: Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said security forces had come under fire on 3 Sep 15 night when they tried to raid a house on Palestine Street in Baghdad’s eastern district of Mohandessen. Intelligence had indicated the presence there of a member of the group involved in the Turks’ abduction, he said. Hadithi would not confirm or deny that the suspect had been apprehended, and would not comment on his possible affiliation with Kataib or any other group A spokesman for the Hashid Shaabi, a government body overseeing armed groups fighting Islamic State including Kataib [Kataib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades], denied the militia had any connection to the missing Turks. Karim al-Nuri said a “routine search” had escalated into a quarrel that left one soldier dead and two militia members wounded. “The friction started due to accusations that the Turkish workers were kidnapped by Kataib. Following the security forces’ search, this allegation was proven wrong,” Nuri said. A security source said the army was searching the headquarters and surrounding buildings in the predominantly Shi’ite neighbourhood, but had not yet found any trace of the Turkish hostages. We continue to be told by the Obama administration’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, or the Islamic State, that the Popular Mobilization Committee “should not alarm us” as it has “been subordinated to the Iraqi higher military campaign or command” and isn’t part of the “extremist elements” operating in Iraq. And yet the Popular Mobilization Committee itself is directed by a Specially Designated Global Terrorist who is intimately tied to Iran and its Qods Force, and one of its most powerful elements is a Foreign Terrorist Organization that has killed hundreds of US soldiers and is currently suspected of kidnapping Turkish citizens. Additionally, one of the Popular Mobilization Committee’s most celebrated commanders, Abu Azrael, videotapes himself as he burns an Islamic State fighter alive. Despite these depredations, the US military continues to support these Shiite militias by providing airstrikes during Iraqi military and militia offensive operations in cities such as Ramadi, Fallujah, and Baiji.
Gunmen kidnapped Iraq’s acting deputy justice minister Abdulkarim Fares in the Binook area of north-eastern Baghdad on the 8 Sep 15. A police colonel said black-clad kidnappers in several vehicles stopped his car and that his driver was wounded by gunfire when he tried to intervene. An interior ministry official confirmed the kidnapping had taken place, without providing details. A justice ministry official identified the man seized as Fares, saying he is also director general for financial and administrative affairs at the ministry. The kidnapping came just four days after gunmen abducted 18 Turkish employees of a major construction firm in Sadr City, south of Binook. The identity of the kidnappers in both cases is unknown.
Palestine/United States – The United States on the 8 Sep 15 put three senior members of the Palestinian movement Hamas, including two freed by Israel in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit, on its terror blacklist. The State Department said Hamas operatives Yehia Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha along with military commander Mohammad Deif had been named “specially designated global terrorists” under U.S. law. The United States also placed Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese militant notorious for the murder of three Israeli civilians including a young girl, on its terror blacklist. Israel released Kuntar as part of a prisoner exchange in 2008, three decades after the killings, and he has since become a high-profile figure in the Lebanese armed movement Hezbollah.
Syria – A British newspaper reported on the 2 Sep 15 that Russian troops are fighting alongside pro-Assad forces in Syria, state television in Damascus and several reports have claimed. The video footage claimed to show troops and a Russian armoured vehicle fighting Syrian rebels alongside President Bashar al-Assad's troops in Latakia. It is reportedly possible to hear Russian being spoken by the troops in the footage. In further indications of Russian "mission creep" in Syria, a Twitter account linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, published images of what appeared to be Russian planes and drones flying over Idlib. And a Russian naval vessel was photographed heading south through the Bosphorus strait carrying large amounts of military equipment, according to social media and a shipping blog. While Russian military advisers are thought to have been in Syria for months, as the Kremlin tries to support its key Middle East ally, if confirmed, this would mark the first evidence of troops fighting on the front line. It is possible the Russians in the state television clip could have been contractors, thereby putting some distance between themselves and the Kremlin. An unnamed activist with the Syrian rebel group the Free Syrian Army told The Times: “The Russians have been there a long time. "There are more Russian officials who came to Slunfeh in recent weeks. We don’t know how many but I can assure you there has been Russian reinforcement.”
Syria/United States/Russia – Secretary of State John Kerry expressed U.S. concern over reports of Russia’s enhanced military build-up in Syria in a telephone call on the 5 Sep 15 with his Russian counterpart, the State Department said. “The secretary made clear that if such reports were accurate, these actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL coalition operating in Syria,” the department said. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed that discussions on the Syrian conflict would continue in New York later this month. Various media reports on the 4 Sep 15 quoted U.S. officials as describing an increase in Russian forces in Syria, expanding Moscow’s military support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad amid the grinding civil war. Quoting unidentified Obama administration officials, the New York Times reported that Russia has dispatched a military advance team to Syria and has sent prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people to a Syrian airfield and delivered a portable air traffic control station there. The Times reported that some U.S. officials said the temporary housing suggested that Russia could deploy as many as 1,000 advisers or other military personnel to the airfield that serves Latakia, Syria’s principal port city.
Anti-government violence has continued following the killing of a prominent Druze leader in a car bomb attack in a southern Syrian province that had largely stayed on the sidelines of the country's civil war. The death toll from the car bomb and subsequent violence in Sweida province over two days had risen to 46 people. On the 4 Sep 15, Sheikh Wahid Balous, a prominent critic of President Bashar al-Assad, died in one of two consecutive car bomb explosions, including one near the National Hospital in Sweida city. Dozens of people were killed in the attacks and many more were injured. Balous had called on youth in Sweida province, a stronghold of the Druze minority sect, to refuse to serve in the military. He was also a strong supporter of rebels trying to topple Assad. Following the blasts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said armed residents on the 5 Sep 15 killed six security forces and rioters also destroyed the statue of late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in the city. The city had witnessed large rallies in the days before Friday's explosions, with demonstrators protesting against what they called the failure of the government to provide basic services. Activists reported that there was no Internet service for the past few days. The Syrian government called the blasts "cowardly terrorist acts". A 10th century offshoot of Shia Islam, the Druze made up about five percent of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million people, and is split between supporters and opponents of Assad. The National Syrian Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, also blamed the Syrian government for the killing of the Druze leader, known as "the Dignity Sheikh," saying it was part of an attempt to stop the anti-government protests in recent days.
Syria/Russia – Russia's military build-up in Syria has grown to include the shipment of a half-dozen highly sophisticated battle tanks -- and more troops -- a defence official told Fox News on the 14 Sep 15, in what the source called the "first clear sign of offensive weapons arriving in Syria." The Pentagon has now tracked a total of 15 Russian Antonov-124 Condor flights into Syria, reflecting a steady stream of military cargo into Syria. According to the latest intelligence, this also includes the arrival of two more Russian cargo ships, containing the tanks. Up to this point, the official said, the Russian cargo and weapons that have been delivered to Syria could be viewed as defensive in nature. The arrival of tanks cannot be viewed this way. The official said that Russian offensive operations could launch from Bassel Al-Assad International Airport "very soon." The massive Condor flights carrying all kinds of supplies now arrive twice a day through Iran and Iraq into Bassel Al-Assad International Airport outside the port city of Latakia. The cargo is for Russian soldiers, not Syrian government forces, but is seen as a build-up to aid Bashar Assad's embattled regime. The defence official, briefed on the latest satellite photos of the Syrian coastline, said: "This is the largest deployment of Russian forces outside the former Soviet Union since the collapse of the USSR." The two additional Russian ships arrived over the weekend in Tartus, a Syrian port used by the Russian Navy since the '70s. The ships offloaded additional troops and armor and, for the first time, a half-dozen third-generation T-90 main battle tanks. Accompanying the tanks were 15 fresh artillery pieces. While not publicly confirming the arrival of Russian tanks into Syria, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters on the 14 Sep that the activities "suggest the establishment of a forward air operating base." In addition to the influx of tanks and artillery, 35 armoured personnel carriers, similar to the U.S. Army's Bradley fighting vehicles, have come ashore in Syria on top of dozens that arrived last week. There are no signs of additional surface-to-air missiles, but as Fox News confirmed Friday, components for the SA-22 surface-to-air missile system have been seen assembled in Syria recently. Additional housing units also have been seen from overhead by the U.S. military, making it possible for the Russians to house up to 1,500 combat troops.