Da’esh/Technology – Islamic State fighters have managed to make their own thermal batteries for surface-to-air missiles, according to a new report on the 7 Jan 16. The batteries have been manufactured in a “University of Jihad” in the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Raqqa, according to videos shown to Sky News. Their development would be highly significant. While the group has captured large quantities of old missiles, few have been put to use as their batteries had decayed. Aircraft could now theoretically be at risk, though the most modern western fighters are probably beyond the threat posed by older surface-to-air missiles of the sort owned by the Syrian army, which ISIL would have taken.
Of more concern might be the threat to civilian aircraft, if ISIL managed to smuggle such weapons or batteries to operatives around the world - or the instructions on how to make them. The threat to passenger planes from jihadists has been a constant concern of airlines in recent years. Military experts at the time estimated that 20,000 surface-to-air missiles had gone missing from his stocks in the chaos that followed the civil war in Libya. But many of these were also out-of-date. The new video material was handed to Sky News by the non-ISIL rebels of the Free Syrian Army, who found it on an ISIL fighter they seized as he passed through their territory apparently on the way to Turkey. They were apparently unaware of the exact nature of its contents. But when put together, it showed a training school in Raqqa where ISIL-sponsored scientists developed new products.
Besides the missile battery, it also showed experiments with remote-controlled car bombs “driven” by dummies. The dummies have internal heat mechanisms that allow them to mimic the “scan signature” of human beings. The video may have been intended to pass on to ISIL trainers operating abroad, it is suggested. Major Chris Hunter, a former British special forces bomb technician, is quoted in the report as saying the material was “shocking”. "With this training footage it's very clearly purely designed to pass on information - to pass on the progress in the research and development areas,” he says. “It gives us a very good insight into where they are now, what they're aspiring to do and crucially the diversity of the types of threats we might face.”
Iraq/Da’esh – Iraqi forces may face a big battle near Baghdad before they can try to retake the Da’esh stronghold of Mosul: Fallujah, a long-time bastion of Sunni Muslim jihadists at the capital's western gates it was reported on the 31 Dec 15. Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's government and the US-led coalition backing it have been cagey so far in plans for Fallujah, which lies between Baghdad and Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province that the Iraqi military recaptured this week from the militants. Fallujah was the first Iraqi city to fall to Da’esh in January 2014, six months before the group that emerged from Al Qaeda swept through large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Abadi said on 28 Dec 15 that the army would head next to Mosul, the biggest urban centre under Da’esh control. He said its capture would mark the end of the "caliphate" proclaimed from the northern city's main mosque in June 2014. But with many western and northern areas still held by the Daesh terror group, the authorities have not made clear what path they intend to take to Mosul, 400km north of Baghdad.
"The government will need to control Fallujah before Mosul," Jabbar Al Yawar, secretary-general of the peshmerga — the forces of the Kurdish regional government fighting Da’esh in northern Iraq — told Al Hadath TV. Ahmed Al Assadi, a spokesman for the Hashid Shaabi — a coalition of mostly Iranian-backed Shiite militias set up to fight Da’esh — said Fallujah would likely come before Mosul. "But the final decision is with the commander-in-chief," he added, referring to Abadi, to whom the Hashid formally report. Daily military statements mention air strikes and attacks by the Iraqi army and the international coalition in and around Fallujah, a city with a pre-war population of around 300,000 located 70km west of the capital. But there has been no indication of if and when a battle will be launched to take the city, which Baghdad-based analyst Hisham Al Hashimi said contains around 1,000 Daesh militants.
"There's a military leadership; there's planning and a military vision," Brigadier-General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the joint operations command said on the 31 Dec 15. "If a battle starts to liberate the centre of Fallujah, Fallujah itself or any other area, we will announce it officially." About 3,000 families remaining in Fallujah could be used as human shields, said Hashimi, who has worked with the Iraqi government. Around 70,000 families have taken refuge around Baghdad, according to Iraq's High Commission for Human Rights. Fallujah, downstream from Ramadi in the Euphrates River valley, is encircled by Iraqi forces, according to the international coalition, though some militants manage to slip past the cordon.
Assadi said the Hashid were present south of Fallujah, on the road leading to the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, as well as in some eastern and western areas. There they had helped to isolate the city and hold areas, freeing up the military to advance. Maria Fantappie, Iraq analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that despite Fallujah's proximity to Baghdad, it was not necessarily the next target. Ramadi's strong tribal networks had made it easier for Iraqi forces to forge alliances and take control of key areas. "Fallujah has more of an urban structure where tribes are present but are less a structuring element of the city, so it's going to be much harder to retake and keep the city under control," she said from Istanbul. Known as the "City of Minarets and Mother of Mosques", Fallujah is a focus for Sunni faith and identity in Iraq. It was badly damaged in two offensives by US forces against Al Qaeda insurgents in 2004.
The tribes of Anbar helped turn the tide of that insurgency at its height in 2006, banding together and making common cause with US troops to rout Al Qaeda. The group's resurgence as Da’esh has divided residents of Anbar, where many accuse former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki of shutting Sunnis out of power and being a pawn of Shiite power Iran. Some support the extremists, or are too fearful to move against them. Fantappie said any attempt to retake Fallujah could face local resistance because of a deal struck more than two years ago between the extremists and the city's tribal and urban elements.
Yet local government officials said the capture of Ramadi, the largest Sunni city regained from Da’esh, had weakened the militants' morale. It had also created tension with Fallujah residents as well as provoking clashes with Sunni tribes. Those reports could not be independently confirmed. "After some Da’esh fighters fled Ramadi to Fallujah ... fears mounted among Fallujah residents that a government offensive on their city could be imminent and pushed many families to try to leave the city," said Ibrahim Al Fahdawi, a member of the city council. "Da’esh elements threatened to execute anyone trying to flee, which triggered a squabble that developed into clashes between residents and Da’esh, who were mostly foreigners."
Iran/United States – The White House expects Iran to finish work needed to trigger implementation of an international nuclear deal in the coming weeks, but Washington needs more time to prepare sanctions over its ballistic missile program, a U.S. official said on the 2 Jan 16. The administration had additional diplomatic and technical work to complete before announcing any new sanctions related to the missile program, but the delay was not a result of pressure from Tehran, said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “We have additional work that needs to be done before we would announce additional designations, but this is not something that we would negotiate with the Iranian government,” Rhodes said.
President Hassan Rouhani ordered his defence minister on the 31 Dec 15 to expand Iran’s missile program, in defiance of the U.S. threat to impose sanctions over a ballistic missile test Iran carried out in October. Meanwhile, implementation of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers was on track after Iran shipped its stockpile of low enriched uranium out of the country, though it still had many other important things to complete, Rhodes said. “I would expect the Iranians to complete the work necessary to move forward with implementation in the coming weeks,” Rhodes said. “We are on track to see the implementation of the Iran deal move forward.”
Iraq – Attacks by five suicide bombers on an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad on the 3 Jan 16 killed at least 15 members of the security forces and wounded 22 others, security sources said. Two of the bombers detonated their vehicle-borne explosives at the gate of Camp Speicher, a former U.S. base outside the Sunni city of Tikrit. Three others detonated their explosives after entering the base, the sources said. ISIS claimed responsibility for the blasts in a statement distributed by supporters online.
Iraq – At least two Sunni Muslim mosques have been attacked in Iraq in apparent retaliation for the execution of a senior Shiite cleric in Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, officials and police said on the 3 Jan 16. The interior ministry in Baghdad confirmed the attacks late on the 3 Jan 16 in Hilla, around 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad. It didn’t confirm reports that at least one person was killed. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the provincial authorities “to chase the criminal gangs” who attacked the mosques. He blamed the attacks on “Da’esh and those who are similar to them,” according to a statement that refers to Islamic State by one of its Arabic acronyms. The attack on the Ammar bin Yasir mosque in the northern outskirts of Hilla destroyed its dome and several walls. The second attack on the al-Fath al-Mubeen mosque in central Hilla was reported by a provincial council member and a police source who said a guard inside the building was killed.
Iraq/Da’esh – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group launched a major offensive against the strategic Iraqi city of Haditha with hundreds killed during three days of heavy fighting, a tribal source said on the 5 Jan 16. ISIL's offensive against Haditha came less than 10 days after the Iraqi military took over most of Anbar province's capital of Ramadi - forcing its fighters to withdraw in one of the biggest advances for the army since the armed group took over large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Naeem Alqoad - a prominent member of Albu Nimr, one of two tribes in Haditha resisting ISIL's assault said that dozens of Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters were killed and wounded after attacks on security posts. Alqoad said tribal-led forces have killed at least 250 ISIL fighters. "More than 100 of ISIL's cars have also been destroyed," he added. Reports have also emerged of civilians being taken hostage by the armed group. Alqoad described the foreign coalition's air strikes as "ineffective and weak". ISIL managed to continue the unrelenting offensive because of reinforcements from neighbouring Syria and weapons seized from military installations in towns and villages around Haditha, he said. Mabruk Hamid, the mayor of Haditha, called on the Baghdad government to "immediately intervene" and send reinforcements to back the resistance.
Hamid said barriers erected by tribal fighters around Haditha had been destroyed by ISIL's attacks, which included dozens of suicide bombings. Haditha plays a major role in the country's conflict because of its strategic location and unparalleled resistance to ISIL. "Haditha serves as a significant transportation route between the western regions of Anbar, the central province of Salahuddin, and northern governorate of Nineveh. It is also the only city in Anbar province that has been able to block ISIL's repeated attempts to control it. "One of ISIL's ultimate ambitions is to avenge the tribal forces," Hadeed reported.
Iraq/Da’esh – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani has reportedly been wounded in an air strike in Iraq’s western province of Anbar, a military statement said on the 8 Jan 16. “There are confirmed reports that the so-called terrorist Abu Muhammad al-Adnani the spokesman of the Daesh (ISIS) terrorists was wounded in an air strike ... in the region of Barwana,” the military statement said. Adnani lost “a large amount of blood” in the attack a few days ago, before being moved to the northern city of Mosul, ISIS’ capital in Iraq, the statement added. More than 100 ISIS fighters were killed in and around Barwana this week by air strikes aimed at helping the Iraqi army repel militant offensives near the city of Haditha, according to the U.S.-led coalition.
Adnani is a Syrian from Idlib who pledged allegiance to ISIS’ predecessor al Qaeda more than a decade ago and was once imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq, according to the Brookings Institution. Adanani has been the chief propagandist for the hard-line group since he declared in a June 2014 statement that it was establishing a modern-day caliphate. William McCants, a Brookings scholar who is author of the book “The ISIS Apocalypse,” said if true, Adnani’s wounding could be a significant setback for ISIS. “If he’s incapacitated, Baghdadi has lost a very trusted adviser,” he said by phone, referring to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “His name has been floated as a possible successor... and he’s an effective propagandist.” U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the coalition bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, could not confirm the Iraqi military report but said Adnani had not been targeted by a coalition air strike.
Iraq – At least 10 people have been killed and Sunni mosques firebombed in suspected reprisal attacks following a series of ISIL attacks on Shia Muslims in Iraq that left numerous people dead. Attacker’s firebombed nine mosques in Diyala province on the 12 Jan 16 in what a Sunni leader described as a "heinous criminal act". Witnesses said that Shia militia members were responsible for the attacks in the town of Muqdadiya, 110km northeast of Baghdad. The fighters sent out messages on loudspeakers calling on Sunni civilians to leave the town within 24 hours or they would be killed. A day earlier, a wave of attacks claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a hardline Sunni group, targeted mainly Shia areas in Baghdad and Muqdadiya. In another incident, also in Abu Said, the parents of a Sunni imam were shot dead by militia fighters when they went to his home and found out he was not there. "The perpetrators want to incite sectarian violence in a desperate attempt to take the country back into the dark days of sectarian strife," Jan Kubis, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), said.
Iraq – Late on the 11 Jan 16 Gunmen targeted the entrance to the Jawhara mall in a mainly Shiite neighbourhood of Baghdad with a car bomb and a suicide bomber before storming in and opening fire. They killed 18 people and wounded more than 50 before Iraqi forces landed on the roof and battled their way inside, killing two attackers and arresting another four. The area around the Jawhara mall in Baghdad was placed on lockdown after the attack.
Israel/Lebanon – Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement confirmed in a statement on the 4 Jan 16 that an Israeli patrol was targeted with an explosive device on small strip of disputed land at the intersection of the Lebanese-Syrian border. Hezbollah said an Israeli armed vehicle was destroyed with its crew wounded at the Shebaa farms area. Security sources and Israel’s military said Hezbollah targeting an Israeli army border patrol with an explosive device has prompted Tel Aviv to shell a Lebanese border town. Initially, it was not immediately clear if the blast hit the patrol or caused damage or injuries. Lebanese security sources said Israel responded with artillery fire into two Lebanese villages in the Shebaa Farms region. Earlier, Hezbollah sources said Israeli intelligence Mossad officers were targeted in Shebaa farms and that a bulldozer was destroyed. Before Hezbollah’s statement, the movement’s Al Manar television reported “information” that an explosive device targeting Israeli forces near Al Wazzani had detonated, but did not elaborate.
Israel – Israeli forces kill Arab wanted over deadly 01 Jan 16 Tel Aviv bar shooting, security sources say on the 8 Jan 16.
Jordon/Da’esh – The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group on the 7 Jan 16 said it had bombed a pipeline that carries gas to Jordan and to a major industrial zone in north Sinai. Security sources confirmed that attackers set off explosive devices under the pipeline close to Al-Midan village in the north of the peninsula. They said the blasts did not cause any casualties. North Sinai is a bastion of the "Sinai Province" group, the Egyptian affiliate of ISIS. In a message posted on Twitter and signed by "Sinai Province", the group claimed responsibility for the attack. "By the name of God, not a drop of gas will reach Jordan until the caliphate gives its permission," the statement said. Jordan is among a number of Arab states that have joined the U.S.-led campaign of air strikes against ISIS, which captured swathes of Syria and Iraq, where it has declared a caliphate.
Saudi Arabia/Iran – A war of words has broken out between Iran and Saudi Arabia after Riyadh announced that Shia religious figure Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 men it had executed on terrorism charges it was reported on the 3 Jan 16. The Saudi interior ministry announced the executions on the 2 Jan 16 listing the names of the 47 killed, all of whom had been convicted on charges of terrorism. The government said those convicted had plotted or participated in attacks against residential compounds and government buildings. Nimr, who led anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia's east, was previously convicted of sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. Nimr did not deny the political charges against him, but said he never carried weapons or called for violence.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on the 3 Jan 16 that Saudi Arabia faced "divine revenge" over Nimr's execution, saying the religious leader "neither invited people to take up arms nor hatched covert plots. The only thing he did was public criticism." The Iranian foreign ministry had earlier condemned Nimr's execution, calling it "the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility" on the part of the Saudi government. "The Saudi government will pay a heavy price for adopting such policies," said Hossein Jaber Ansari, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman. In response, Saudi Arabia summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest against the Tehran's reaction to the execution. The Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement that by condemning the execution, Iran had "revealed its true face represented in support for terrorism".
The statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, accused Tehran of "blind sectarianism" and said that "by its defence of terrorist acts" Iran is a "partner in their crimes in the entire region". Saudi Arabian Ministry of Justice spokesman Mansour al-Qufari defended the executions. "The judiciary is objective and we deal objectively with the cases on merit," Qufari said. "There is no difference between what a person does regardless of his ethnic origin or affiliation, or what he believes. We deal with facts and criminal intent." Hussain al-Shobokshi, a prominent Saudi columnist said that Saudi authorities did not differentiate between "Shia source of terror and Sunni source of terror". "[Saudi Arabia] made sure it saw no difference between any form of terror, as long as it was threatening its people and its economy," he said.
Many of the other men whose executions were announced on the 2 Jan 16 had been linked to attacks in the kingdom between 2003 and 2006, blamed on al-Qaeda. Faris al-Zahrani, described by Saudi media as al-Qaeda's top religious leader in the kingdom, was one of those executed. An Egyptian citizen and a Chadian citizen were also among the executed, the ministry said. The rest were all Saudis. Following the announcement of the executions, a number of protesters gathered at the Saudi embassy in Iran's capital Tehran, to protest Nimr's death. Several of the protesters gained access to the embassy building and started fires, before eventually being removed from the compound by police late on the night of the 2 Jan 16. Forty people were arrested over the embassy attack, Iranian authorities said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the attack on the Saudi embassy "unjustifiable", but also condemned the execution of Nimr, who spent more than a decade studying theology in Iran. Nimr had called for Eastern Province, an oil-rich region where about two million Shia live, to be separated from the rest of Saudi Arabia. He also criticised the government for what he said was the marginalisation of the Shia minority in the country.
Around the Region Timeline:
02 Jan 16 – Iran says Saudi Arabia will ‘pay a high price’ for execution of Shiite cleric Nimral-Nimr.
04 Jan 16 – Bahrain cuts diplomatic ties with Iran.
04 Jan 16 – Sudan follows Saudi, expels Iranian ambassador.
04 Jan 16 – UAE downgrades diplomatic status of Iranian diplomats.
04 Jan 16 – Iran expresses ‘regret’ over attack on Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran.
04 Jan 16 – Jordon renews support for Saudi Arabia, criticism of Tehran.
04 Jan 16 – Arab League to hold emergency talks on Iran-Saudi row.
05 Jan 16 – Bahrain, UAE and Sudan rally to Saudi side in Iran row.
05 Jan 16 – Kuwait recalls ambassador to Iran as row escalates.
05 Jan 16 – Saudi to restore ties when ‘Iran stops meddling.’
05 Jan 16 – UN condemns attack on Saudi embassy in Tehran.
06 Jan 16 – Oman: Attacks on Saudi missions in Iran are ‘unacceptable’.
06 Jan 16 – Iraq must walk a fine line amid Iranian, Saudi tensions.
06 Jan 16 – Djibouti cuts diplomatic relations with Iran.
07 Jan 16 – Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of Yemen embassy air strike.
07 Jan 16 – Qatar recalls ambassador to Iran.
07 Jan 16 – Somalia cuts ties to Iran amid regional crisis.
08 Jan 16 – Arab coalition denies striking Iran’s Yemen embassy.
08 Jan 16 – No war with Iran, says Saudi deputy crown prince.
10 Jan 16 – Saudi accuses Iran of undermining regional security.
11 Jan 16 – Arab League condemns Saudi embassy attack.
Saudi Arabia – Forty-nine suspects on terror charges were caught during the past 10 days in a pre-emptive crackdown in various parts of Saudi Arabia, security sources said on the 11 Jan 16. The sources said the suspects surrendered without any resistance. They consisted of 36 Saudis, six Syrians, four Yemenis, a Sudanese and a Filipino. Last September Saudi’s Interior Ministry announced that it intercepted a terror cell during four simultaneous operations in Riyadh and Dammam. The ministry confirmed that the cell was linked to the suicide bomber behind the Abha mosque attack that took place last Aug 15. During the Riyadh operation, Saudi forces arrested Faysal Hamed al-Ghamdi, a wanted man who had threatened to kill his father. Another suspect Aqeel Ameesh al-Mutairy was killed during heavy clashes during the last September raid. Official figures put the number of terror suspects arrested in Saudi Arabia in the last seven years at 4,777.
Syria – A fact-finding mission by the U.N. chemical weapons watchdog has found that some people in Syria may have been exposed to sarin or a sarin-like gas, according to a report released on the 4 Jan 16. The mission by the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was investigating 11 incidents of the use of toxic chemicals reported by the Syrian government. The report did not say when the 11 incidents took place or specify any location. “In one instance, the analysis of some blood samples indicates that individuals were at some point exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance,” said the OPCW report sent to the Security Council. “Further investigation would be necessary to determine when or under what circumstances such exposure might have occurred,” said the report. Previous fact-finding missions by the OPCW in Syria have pointed to the use of chlorine and mustard gas.
The U.N. Security Council is due to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons use during a meeting on the 5 Jan 16. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rebel forces have accused each other of using chemical agents in the nearly five-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people. After an Aug 13 sarin attack outside Damascus that much of the international community blamed on Assad’s government, the regime agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal. The report said that 99.6 percent of all declared chemical weapons in Syria had been destroyed.
Syria – he deadly nerve agent sarin has possibly been used in Syria, the United Nations acting disarmament chief has told the UN Security Council. Kim Won-soo spoke to reporters on the 5 Jan 16 after briefing the Security Council behind closed doors on the latest report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The report said OPCW investigators - who looked at 11 allegations of chemical weapons use - came across one instance of blood samples indicating "that individuals were at some point exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance." "Further investigation would be necessary to determine when or under what circumstances such exposure might have occurred," the report said.
The OPCW only carries out fact-finding missions, but the Security Council in Aug 15 established an expert team that will seek to assign blame for chemical attacks in Syria's war. OPCW spokesman, Malik Ellahi, said there hasn't yet been a decision taken on which body should conduct further investigation into the blood samples. The opposition Syrian National Coalition has urged the OPCW to investigate an alleged chemical attack last month in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh - an area besieged by government forces.
The opposition blamed President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but the Syrian government denied that and blamed rebels and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Kim said OPCW fact-finding teams were still assessing reports of alleged chemical attacks, carrying out investigations, and sending their findings to the Security Council expert body, which is known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). "Then, the JIM will do its own investigation," he said. The report raises other outstanding issues, including questions about the Syrian government's completion of the destruction of its declared chemical weapons stockpile as called for under an international agreement.