Joint Statement on Counter-ISIL Cooperation by the Defence Ministers of Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States
Paris, January 20, 2016
The text of the following statement was released by the defence ministers of Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States following a meeting co-hosted by France and the United States in Paris on counter-ISIL cooperation.
Australian Minister for Defence Marise Payne, French Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian; German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti, Dutch Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, British Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon; and American Secretary of Defence Ash Carter led their respective delegations.
Today in Paris - at the invitation of French Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian and U.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter - we discussed opportunities to intensify and accelerate the counter-ISIL/DAESH military campaign in Iraq and Syria, our shared approach to defend against its global ambitions, and to ensure the protection of our citizens. ISIL/DAESH are on the back foot. But there is more we need to do.
We reaffirmed our governments' continuing substantial commitment to work together with the entire C-ISIL/DAESH Coalition to accelerate and intensify the campaign against ISIL/DAESH, in order to deliver a lasting defeat to this barbaric organization. We expressed our broad support for the campaign plan objectives, and the need to continue gathering momentum in our campaign, as it moves into its next phase targeting ISIL/DAESH's vulnerabilities. We discussed military campaign requirements to expand efforts against ISIL/DAESH and committed to work together with other military and non-military contributors to fill these requirements. We agreed to review regularly the coalition's campaign plan and the progress in its implementation.
The military campaign is an essential part of our overall effort to defeat and destroy ISIL/DAESH, but it is not sufficient. We are committed to ensuring the coherence of our military actions with the comprehensive efforts to set the conditions for sustainable political stability in the region.
We thank all of our partners are helping us advance the military campaign against ISIL/DAESH and its infrastructure. We recognize in particular the dedication and steadfastness of local partner forces.
We endorsed Secretary Carter's proposal for defence ministers of the C-ISIL Coalition force contributing nations to convene their first Defence Ministerial, in February.
Defence Press Office, Duty Officer
Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs The Pentagon
Da’esh – ISIS is a sophisticated terrorist organization, as its savvy use of social media shows. Its sophistication shows in other ways as well: It has issued instructions to its followers in the West, who are plotting terrorist attacks against Western targets, advising them how to avoid detection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The Independent reports that the 58-page English-language ISIS manual, published online, advises followers of the Islamist organization to trim their beards so they look fashionable rather than a sign of religiosity, wear Western-style aftershave and deodorant, and even pretend to be Christians by wearing cross necklaces. The document, titled “Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen,” explains how Islamist militants can avoid being spotted or having the plot they are working on thwarted by Western security officials, and also suggests potential targets to attack. “No doubt that today, at the era of the lone wolves, brothers in the West need to know some important things about safety in order to ensure success in their operations,” the manual’s introduction reads. “We thought a lot of non-Arabic speaking brothers would find it interesting and may apply it in their blessed operations,” it adds. The guide, for example, highlights the “potential” – from the terrorists’ point of view — of attacking nightclubs because the loud music would initially mask the sound of the terrorists’ firearms, and the typical small number of exits could trap the club goers and cause additional panic. The guide explains to Muslims who were not born in a Western country how they can avoid simple mistake which may lead to law enforcement agencies spotting and arresting them. “If you can avoid having a beard, wearing qamis [Islamic tunics], using miswak [teeth cleaning twigs] and having a booklet of dhikr [prayers and devotional acts] with you, it’s better. It is permissible for you to wear a necklace showing a Christian cross,” the document explains. “As you know, Christians — or even atheist Westerners with Christian background — wear crosses on their necklaces. But don’t wear a cross necklace if you have a Muslim name on your passport, as that may look strange,” the guide adds. The Independent notes that the instructions manual is the latest example of ISIS’ English-language propaganda. The organization has released dozens of online documents, instructing its followers on everything from how to build a bomb factory to how to cross into Syria via Turkey without being caught.
Da’esh/Finances – The Pentagon has released footage of an airstrike against an ISIS bank in Mosul, Iraq. The strike destroyed millions of dollars the Islamist organization kept in the bank’ vaults. The attack took place on 11 January. Gizmodo reports that video footage shows large plumes of smoke emerging above the building after it was destroyed by two 2,000 pound bombs, followed by clouds of currency bills drifting above the explosion. Analysts say that the attack on the bank was part of the new phase of U.S. strategy against ISIS, a phase which will emphasize crippling ISIS finances (see “Ash Carter unveils a broader, more robust campaign to defeat ISIS,” HSNW, 14 January 2016). The U.S. government will likely continue to target ISIS’s financial and other economic assets. Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, told CNN: “It was a good strike. And we estimate that it served to deprive ISIL of millions of dollars. ”And combined with all of the other strikes that we’ve done on ISIL’s gas and oil production and distribution capabilities and strikes against his economic infrastructure and the various sources of revenue, you can bet that (it) is feeling the strain on his chequebook. ”ISIL needs those funds to pay their fighters, to recruit new fighters and to conduct their various maligned activities,” he added. “You know, we said from the outset of this campaign that to defeat ISIL, we’re going to have to take away its ability to resource itself.” (http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20160118-u-s-air-strike-on-isis-vault-destroys-millions-of-dollars)
Da’esh/Finances – A document released by the fanatic group’s Treasury in Raqqa reveals they decided to half the salaries of all fighters to just £100 a month because of “exceptional circumstances” it was reported on the 19 Jan 16. The leaflet - published by the Bayt al-Mal Treasury - is believed to be a result of the massive losses the savage terror group has made. The desperate leaflet quotes from the Koran before announcing: “So on account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing, it has been decided to reduce the salaries that are paid to all mujahedeen by half, and it is not allowed for anyone to be exempted from this decision, whatever his position.” In December, an international coalition launched a massive series of airstrikes against the abhorrent terror group – also known as Da’esh. Last reporting period the US-led coalition bombed the fanatics’ central headquarters of Bayt al-Mal in Mosul, destroying millions of dollars stored there. The desperate ISIS governor in Mosul later issued a fatwa permitting jihadis to extort money from locals.
Da’esh – A digital magazine associated with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has released a eulogy for "Jihadi John", a member of the group who won global notoriety for his filmed executions of hostages on the 19 Jan 16. The fighter, who was identified as Mohammed Emwazi, was described in ISIL's Dabiq magazine by his nickname in the group of "Abu Muharib al-Muhajir". The US military said in November it was "reasonably certain" it had killed him in a drone strike. In a briefing Colonel Steve Warren said it would take time for formal confirmation that the air strike killed Emwazi. But Warren added that the US had "great confidence that this individual was Jihadi John". He said: "We know for a fact that the weapons system hit its intended target, and that the personnel who were on the receiving end of that weapons system were in fact killed". Emwazi appeared in ISIL videos showing the killings of journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and a number of other hostages. Emwazi, a computer programmer from London, was born in Kuwait to a stateless family of Iraqi origin. His parents moved to Britain in 1993, after their hopes of obtaining Kuwaiti citizenship were quashed.
Da’esh/Television Channel – Billed as the group’s “official” TV channel, it is understood to feature everything from news of airstrikes by the coalition, harsh punishments, training exercises and even weather reports it was reported on the 23 Jan 16. Broadcasting from 0900 hrs to 2100 hrs it was launched on the Sunday and provides the hard-line group with another platform to spread its evil messages. Crazed jihadis have been going house to house to seize televisions in Raqqa, Syria, fearing it is only a matter of time before innocent citizens are brainwashed with the radical broadcasts. The station is being broadcast on the Egyptian satellite company Nilesat’s stream, but it is unclear whether officials are aware of the channel or whether ISIS has hacked into its signal. At the moment, the TV channel is understood to be broadcasting in Iraq. However, Nilesat is available in countries around the world, prompting fears that the group has hacked into a TV signal, it could do so elsewhere. The appearance of the channel has been met with glee by pro-ISIS supporters on Twitter. One tweet said: “In an unprecedented step, a new satellite TV is now reportedly broadcasting all the latest IS news and media.” The message was retweeted 50 times and ‘liked’ by many more. Another post, which attracted 34, retweets, said: “The new ISIS satellite TV is broadcasting on Egypt Nilesat.” A separate tweet also showed a picture of the channel, which featured a masked man clutching what appears to be an AK47. While the launch of the satellite station is a first for ISIS, the group is no stranger to media opportunities, regularly posting videos of some of its brutal attacks, public beheadings and other executions which include pushing people from high buildings. 361 COMMENT: Whilst the Da’esh remove television sets from its own areas it is keen to broadcast to people elsewhere. But the reality is that they do not want the people inside its own so called caliphate to see what is broadcast, probably because it will be propaganda and those that live there will know the truth. This may be one of the recruitment ploys that Da’esh is using as the so called caliphate crumbles, fighters are being decimated by air strikes and they are losing money through airstrikes on oil trucks and banks being destroyed with money. To say that they are clinging on maybe a little premature but it is starting to look favourable to those who are not Da’esh. By broadcasting and getting people to like the channel it will be an attempt to counteract those stories in the West media and press. COMMENT ENDS
Da’esh/Passports – ISIS are using sophisticated fake Syrian and Iraqi passports to smuggle jihadists into Europe amid the migrant crisis, British intelligence has warned on the 27 Jan 16. Extremists are exploiting the flow of migrants into Europe by posing as refugees and using new identities to avoid detection by border officials, officials say. The warning has sparked fears terrorist sleeper cells are being set up in Britain and other EU nations. Intelligence and security agencies are said to be 'very mindful' of the possibility that ISIS are using refugee routes across the continent, the British Daily Telegraph reports. A senior British intelligence official told the newspaper: 'Islamic State is skilfully exploiting the migrant crisis to smuggle terror cells from Syria into major European countries such as the UK. 'Jihadists travel to Raqqa to meet up with (ISIS) commanders, where they receive training and new passports. 'They then make their way back to Europe posing as migrants with new identities, making it virtually impossible for security officials to detect potential terrorists among those fleeing persecution.' Hundreds of Britons are said to have made their way to join ISIS - and there are fears many have since returned to the UK. The chairman of the commons home affairs committee, Keith Vaz, described the issue as 'deeply concerning' adding that it was 'vital' that resources were found to 'secure the external border' to prevent Paris-style atrocities. The French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve made the claim as he argued for the creation of a special task force to travel to Greece to help clamp down on stolen or fake passports. At least two of the ISIS extremists who launched a murderous attack in Paris in November are suspected to have used established migrant routes through Europe pretending to be refugees and using Syrian passports. The forged documents were found at the scene of one of the suicide bomb attacks at the Stade de France, further fuelling speculation that ISIS may have a ready source of blank passports. Some analysts at the time of the attacks suggested that the discovery of the Syrian passports was in no way conclusive that the jihadis had used them to enter Europe. The documents may have been deliberately planted to stir up hatred and distrust towards migrants, particularly refugees fleeing the war in Syria. Yesterday, the Slovak prime minster Robert Fico suggested the EU was committing 'ritual suicide' with its migration policy. He urged the 28-member bloc to stop the inflow of migrants and called the EU's proposed quota system for distributing migrants a 'complete fiasco'. His warning came as the Netherlands' EU commissioner Frans Timmermans claimed 60 per cent of those flocking to Europe were economic migrants and not fleeing from war. The 51-year-old Slovak leader, a left-winger known for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, told Czech newspaper Pravo: 'I feel that we in the EU are now committing ritual suicide and we're just looking on.' Holland's EU commissioner Frans Timmermans claimed more than half of those coming to Europe as asylum seekers are not fleeing conflict. He said he based his claim on figures from European border agency Frontex - statistics that are yet to be made public.
Da’esh/Libya/Mediterranean – The march of Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) along the Libyan coast has cast an “uncomfortable shadow” across shipping said Vice-Adml Clive Johnstone on the 29 Jan 16. The spread of sophisticated Russian and Chinese weapons to armed groups in the region also means there is now the “horrible opportunity” a cruise liner or container ship could be hit, the commander of NATO’s maritime command warned. Libya’s collapse into chaos and ISIL’s seizure of the coastal city of Sirte has prompted alarm in Europe, with countries including Britain and Italy considering sending thousands of troops to train local forces. Vice-Adml Johnstone, a Royal Navy officer, said ISIL was quickly changing and had ambitions to mount seaborne operations. He said: “We know they have had ambitions to go off shore, we know they would like to have a maritime arm, just as al Qaeda had a maritime arm.” As the Mediterranean is becoming increasingly militarised, commercial and tourist shipping is coming under threat, he said. Sophisticated Chinese, Russian and Korean weapons were finding their way to militant groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah. Though he said he did not believe groups were targeting shipping, there was still a risk of a serious incident. He said: “There is a horrible opportunity in the future that a misdirected, untargeted round of a very high quality weapons system will just happen to target a cruise liner, or an oil platform, or a container ship.” The NATO allies must also not allow themselves to be “hustled out” of the eastern Mediterranean, where the Russian Navy is increasingly active, he said. He said the growing risks to shipping in the Mediterranean mean he is “quietly worried” there will be an attack or serious incident. He said: “I think it won’t be a planned, horrible mischievous act, I think it will be an act which is almost a mistake, or it will be an act of random terrorism that will suddenly have extraordinary implications for the Western world.”
Iran/Sanctions – Iran has denounced new sanctions imposed by the US over its ballistic missile programme it was announced on the 18 Jan 16. The sanctions had "no legal or moral legitimacy", a foreign ministry spokesman said. In Oct 15 Iran tested a precision-guided ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, in defiance of a UN ban. The US move came after global economic sanctions on Iran were lifted in line with a deal on its nuclear programme. The new sanctions prevent 11 entities and individuals linked to the programme from using the US banking system. Announcing the measures, Adam J Szubin, US acting under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said: "Iran's ballistic missile programme poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions." However, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said on the 18 Jan 16: "Iran's missile programme has never been designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons." He said: "The US sanctions against Iran's ballistic missile programme have no legal or moral legitimacy." Mr Ansari added: "America sells tens of billions of dollars of weaponry each year to countries in the region. These weapons are used in war crimes against Palestinian, Lebanese and most recently Yemeni citizens." A UN resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers calls on Iran to refrain from testing missiles designed to carry nuclear weapons. The new US move came just a day after sanctions against Iran were lifted over its nuclear programme. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had verified that Iran had restricted its sensitive nuclear activities. Four American-Iranians in Iran and seven Iranians in the US were also freed in a prisoner swap deal on the day sanctions were lifted. The US had threatened to impose the missile test sanctions earlier but US sources said they were delayed as Washington did not want to undermine the nuclear deal negotiations - particularly over the prisoner swap. The sanctions were announced only after a plane carrying the released prisoners had left Iran. "Once again, we're seeing what's possible with international diplomacy," he said. But he said the US would "remain steadfast in opposing Iran's destabilising behaviour elsewhere" - such as its missile tests. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on the 17 Jan 16 of the new sanctions: "Any action will be met by a reaction."
Lifting the nuclear sanctions
Nuclear sanctions have been in place since 2006, on top of other sanctions stretching back decades:
The economic sanctions being lifted now were imposed progressively by the US, EU and UN in response to Iran's nuclear programme
The EU is lifting restrictions on trade, shipping and insurance in full
The US is suspending, not terminating, its nuclear-related sanctions; crucially, Iran can now reconnect to the global banking system
The UN is lifting sanctions related to defence and nuclear technology sales, as well as an asset freeze on key individuals and companies
Non-nuclear US economic sanctions remain in place, notably the ban on US citizens and companies trading with Iran, and US and EU sanctions on Iranians accused of sponsoring terrorism remain in place
A flurry of Iranian economic activity is anticipated:
Nearly $100bn (£70bn) of Iranian assets are being unlocked
Iran is expected to increase its daily export of 1.1m barrels of crude oil by 500,000 shortly, and a further 500,000 thereafter
Iran is reportedly poised to buy 114 new passenger planes from the Airbus consortium
Syria/Da’esh – Islamic State militants in Syria are said to have abducted 400 civilians during a bloody assault on the eastern city of Deir al-Zour it was reported on the 17 Jan 16. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring body, said people were taken from areas in the north-west of the city. The report from the London-based group could not be independently verified. At least 135 people were killed in the attack on Deir al-Zour, the Observatory reported earlier. It said 85 of them were civilians and 50 were pro-government fighters. Syrian state media put the toll even higher, saying about 300 civilians had died. IS launched its attack with suicide bombers, followed by a ground assault. Syrian government forces retaliated with air strikes and heavy artillery. The Russian air force has been dropping humanitarian aid for civilians trapped in the city as well as reportedly carrying out air strikes in the vicinity. The UN recently warned of "sharply deteriorating" conditions in parts of Deir al-Zour, one of a number of towns under siege as a result of Syria's five-year civil war. The civilians were taken from the suburb of Balighia and other areas in the north-west of the city, and moved towards the IS stronghold of Raqqa, the Observatory said. All of those abducted are Sunni Muslims, it added. IS is itself a Sunni Islamist group which persecutes Shia Muslims and non-Muslims in areas under its control. During the attack on the 16 Jan 16 the militants crucified and beheaded some of those they killed, according to Syrian state media. The Observatory estimates that IS now controls around 60% of the city but some 200,000 people are living under siege in government-held areas. Small amounts of basic supplies have been delivered by helicopter or air drops but the UN says there is a dire shortage of food and medicine, and widespread malnutrition.
What's happening in Syria?
More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in almost five years of conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a brutal civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels opposed to his rule battle each other - as well as jihadist militants from Islamic State.
Why are civilians under siege?
All parties to the conflict are using siege warfare, encircling populated areas, preventing civilians from leaving and blocking humanitarian access in an attempt to force opponents to surrender. Shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel have led to malnutrition and deaths among vulnerable groups.
Where are the sieges?
Government forces are besieging various locations in the eastern Ghouta area, outside Damascus, as well as the capital's western suburb of Darayya and the nearby mountain towns of Zabadani and Madaya. Rebel forces have encircled the villages of Foah and Kefraya in the northern province of Idlib, while IS militants are besieging government-held areas in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.
Gaza Strip/HAMA’s/Israel – Hamas is ready for a new confrontation with Israel thanks in part to the reconstruction of tunnels to fight the Zionist state, the Islamist Palestinian movement's Gaza chief said on the 29 Jan 16. Ismail Haniya said the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades -- Hamas's military wing -- were preparing "for any future clashes with the Zionist [Israeli] enemy". "East of Gaza City, underground heroes build tunnels" along the border with Israel, while west of the city they are "testing rockets every day," said Haniya. He was speaking to thousands of mourners gathered at the Great Omari Mosque in Gaza City for the funeral of seven Al-Qassam fighters killed this week in a tunnel collapse. Al-Qassam Brigades said the seven had been preparing "for fighting with the enemy". In a rare move, several Hamas chiefs went to the cemetery located near the border with Israel to place flowers by the graves of the seven fighters. Haniya described the tunnels as a "strategic weapons" against Israel, and said Hamas fighters are also training and acquiring "all the means to fight and resist". Israel has been accusing Hamas of rebuilding tunnels destroyed during the 2014 Gaza war with the aim of launching fresh attacks against it. The 50-day war in July-August 2014 killed 2,200 Palestinians, 73 people on the Israeli side, and destroyed or damaged thousands of homes in the besieged Gaza Strip. The tunnels have been used in the past to store weapons or stage attacks. In June 2006, a group of Hamas fighters and other militants entered Israel through a cross-border tunnel, seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and took him back to Gaza. He was then held for five years and eventually returned in a prisoner exchange which saw over 1,000 Palestinians released. Gaza has remained largely calm since a wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks began in Oct 15 in the West Bank, Jerusalem and across Israel, though a number of people have been killed by Israeli forces during violent protests along the Gaza border.
Iraq/United States – The United States embassy said "several" Americans have gone missing in Iraq after local media reported that three US citizens had been kidnapped in Baghdad on the 17 Jan 16. They were travelling from Baghdad International Airport and were stopped by an SUV with persons on board in a military uniform. "We are working in full cooperation with Iraqi authorities to locate the missing Americans," Scott Bolz, the US embassy spokesman, said. Bolz did not identify the missing Americans or say what they were doing in Iraq. John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, said that "due to privacy considerations" he had nothing further to add about the missing Americans. "The safety and security of Americans abroad is our highest priority," Kirby said. According to witnesses, Iraqi security forces have set up checkpoints in the Dora neighbourhood southeast of Baghdad. Two Iraqi army helicopters were also seen hovering over the district while police SUVs were patrolling the streets. The comments by US officials came after the Arab news channel, al-Arabiya, citing its own sources, reported that three Americans had been kidnapped by militias in Baghdad. Iraqi media reports said that the Americans went missing in the south of the capital on their way to Baghdad international Airport. A Western security official said on the 17 Jan 16 that he had been told that three Americans went missing 24 to 48 hours ago. There were no immediate claims of responsibility. Kidnappings in Iraq have been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Shia militias, as well as criminal gangs demanding ransom payments, or disgruntled employees seeking to resolve workplace disputes. The incident comes after a week that has seen a deterioration of security in and around the Iraqi capital after months of relative calm. 361 COMMENT: Although the details concerning the kidnapping of the Americans is scant, and rightly so, they appear to have been taken en-route to the airport along what was known in the past as Route Irish. If this is the case then they must have been targeted but by whom? If it is by elements of Da’esh then there is a huge problem in attempting to negotiate talks and their safe return. If it is by thieves in the hope of making money then this too could be fraught with danger as they will want the most for what they have. It is not uncommon for thieves or other groups to kidnap a prize and sell them up the chain to the highest bidder. If Da’esh gets involved then the future is bleak for these people especially as they are under threat from airstrikes and their area of authority being reduced. They may be seen as bargaining chips to stop the bombing. However, the Iraqi and American military will hopefully work together to gain their safe return. The last time contractors were taken hostage was in May 2007 when a British IT expert and his four man security team were taken hostage at Baghdad’s Ministry of Finance by supposed police officers the terrorist group ‘the League of the Righteous’ was responsible. Sadly the British contractor security team were killed, but the IT expert was released sometime later. At the time of formatting the report there was no further news. COMMENT ENDS
U.S. and local Iraqi authorities were still searching for three American citizens who were reportedly kidnapped in Baghdad, officials from the two countries said on the 17 Jan 16. Iraqi security forces fanned out across the Baghdad neighbourhood on the morning of the 18 Jan 16 closing streets and conducting house-to-house searches. An Iraqi government intelligence official said that the Americans were kidnapped from their interpreter’s home in the southern Baghdad neighbourhood of Dora. The kidnapping occurred, the official said, after the Americans were invited into the home of their interpreter. The individuals were then taken to Sadr city, the official said, “after (the kidnapping) all communications and contact stopped in Sadr city.” The three Americans were kidnapped from a “suspicious apartment” in Baghdad, a spokesman for the security command responsible for the capital said on 18 Jan 16. “Three people carrying American nationality were kidnapped while they were in Dura... inside a suspicious apartment,” the spokesman said in a statement. A police colonel said that an Iraqi translator took the Americans for “drinking and women” at his apartment in the Dura area. Militiamen “attacked the place”, the colonel said, adding that “they were kidnapped from inside the apartment, not from the street.” There were no immediate claims of responsibility. Kidnappings in Iraq have been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, Shiite militias and criminal gangs often demanding ransom payments or seeking to resolve workplace disputes. Kidnappings are a major problem in Baghdad and other parts of the country and most frequently target Iraqis, but Qatari and Turkish citizens have also been seized in recent months. The officer said that according to information he had received, the kidnappers were militiamen wearing military uniforms. 361 COMMENT: This sounds like a classic case of the ‘Honey Trap’. Individuals are promised females and drink and led to an unknown location with a ‘safe’ individual, only to be taken by hostile people. It appears these Americans were set up by the interpreter who knew what he was doing. Either that or the interpreter was under duress because his family were being held hostage and threatened, but is doubtful. The chance is that he has done this for money. At the moment it would appear that a Shia group has kidnapped them as all the information regarding the Americans appear to have stopped at Sadar City which is a Shia enclave. The problem now becomes what will happen to them. Maybe they will be sold on to IS possibly to stop the killing of Shias in Baghdad. They may be sold onto an intermediary group who will sell them onto the IS. Unfortunately at the time of composing the report the future does not look good for these people. There has been no demand and no claim of responsibility so it’s a waiting game at present. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq/United States – Two powerful Shiite militias are top suspects in the abduction of three Americans last weekend in a southern neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital, an Iraqi police commander and a Western security official in Baghdad said on the 21 Jan 16. Two Shiite militias — Asaib Ahl Al Haq and Saraya Al Salam — were likely behind the attack, the Iraqi and Western officials said. "Nobody can do anything in that neighbourhood without the approval of those militias," the police commander said. The Western security official confirmed that Iraqi and US intelligence assessments had narrowed down the suspects to those the two groups. One of the militias named as a suspect is backed by Iran, a key ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's government. Abadi said on Thursday that he doubts that there is an Iranian link to the kidnapping, adding "we don't know if they have been kidnapped... they just went missing”. The US embassy in Baghdad has confirmed that several Americans are missing and said they are working with Iraqi authorities to locate them. There has been no claim of responsibility. 361 COMMENT: The confession that one of the militias will not sit well with the Americans especially after the embarrassing incident of two US Navy small boats being “allegedly” in Iranian waters on the 12 Jan 16. If this is the case it may well be a clandestine or covert effort in response for fresh sanctions against Iran for the recent ballistic illegal missile test. The new sanctions were imposed on the 17 Jan 16 after the lifting of Nuclear Sanctions against Iran on the 16 Jan 16. The point that no-one has claimed responsibility will only fuel resentment until the authorities know more. Iraq is attempting to play down the situation by denying any Iranian involvement. COMMENT ENDS
On the 22 Jan 16 the Long War Journal published the following report: US military and intelligence officials believe an influential and dangerous Iranian-supported militia is responsible for kidnapping three American contractors in Iraq’s capital several days ago. The militia, known as the “League of the Righteous,” has denied any involvement in the kidnapping, but has a history of abducting foreigners in Iraq. US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that the League of the Righteous is the prime suspect in the kidnapping of the three Americans, who disappeared last week while visiting an apartment in the Dora neighbourhood in Baghdad. “We strongly suspect that AAH [Asaib al Haq, or the League of the Righteous] abducted them,” one official said. “Our information leads me to believe that they [the Americans] are being held by this militia.” Other US officials contacted by The Long War Journal agreed with the assessment. The US officials were not authorized to publicly comment on the matter, thus were granted anonymity by The Long War Journal. The US officials would not discuss the nature of the information that leads them to suspect the League of the Righteous. However, according to press reports, the neighbourhood where the Americans were seized is patrolled by the League of the Righteous. The Americans are thought to be held in Sadr City, a strong hold of the militia. The League of the Righteous was almost immediately identified as one of three likely candidates to have kidnapped the American citizens, who are believed to work for General Dynamics. Reuters reported on Jan. 21 that in addition to the League of the Righteous, the Hezbollah Brigades and the Badr Organization – two other militias supported by Iran – were also suspected in the kidnappings. Iraqi news outlets accused the League of the Righteous of abducting the Americans within a day of the kidnappings. Iraqi security officials told Al Hadath, Al Arabiya’s television station, that the group was responsible. The League of the Righteous quickly issued a denial. “The League of the Righteous Islamic Resistance has nothing to do with the kidnapping of Americans in Baghdad,” Jawad al Tlabawi, a military spokesman for the group said in a statement that was published on the Popular Mobilization Force’s website. The Popular Mobilization Force, or Hashid Shaabi, is the command assigned by the Iraqi government with organizing militias to fight the Islamic State. The most powerful militias in the PMF are backed by Iran, and the group’s operational commander is known to be closely tied to Iran’s Qods Force.
A decade of kidnapping
The League of the Righteous has kidnapped and held Westerners as hostages in the past. Some have been killed while in custody. In 2006, the group kidnapped and murdered US Army Staff Sergeant Ahmed Kousay Altaie. A group called the Ahel al Beit Brigades claimed it kidnapped Altaie. But a US intelligence official who specialized in Iraqi Shia terror groups told The Long War Journal in 2010 that the Ahel al Beit Brigades is part of the League of the Righteous. The League of the Righteous was directly implicated by General David Petraeus as being behind the January 2007 attack on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala. Five US soldiers were killed during the Karbala attack and subsequent kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team. In May 2007, a group that calls itself the “Islamic Shia Resistance,” which is in fact a front for the League of the Righteous, kidnapped five British citizens from the Finance Ministry in Baghdad. Four of them were executed while in custody, and a fifth, Peter Moore, was exchanged in December 2009 for Qaiz al Qazali, the emir of the League of the Righteous, and other members of the militia who were in US custody. It also kidnapped Issa T. Salomi, a US civilian contractor, in Baghdad. Salomi was freed in March in exchange for four members of Qais’ terror group.
Threats against US citizens in Iraq
Senior leaders of the League of the Righteous have threatened the US in the past. Qais al Qazali, the group’s emir, threatened the US after the release of the amateur film called “Innocence of Muslims.” “The offense against the Messenger [Prophet Mohammed] will put all the American interests Iraq in danger. We will not forgive that,” Qazali said in September 2012. Akram Abbas al Kabi, a senior leader who is also the secretary general of another Iranian-backed Shiite militia, the Harakat Nujaba, called for “vengeance” against the US in June 2015 after an explosion near Abu Ghraib that purportedly killed 10 members of the League of the Righteous. Kabi, who is listed by the US as a global terrorist for activities in Iraq, blamed US aircraft for their deaths.
Saudi/Iran – Saudi Arabia on the 19 Jan 16 accused Iran of a nearly four-decade record of "sedition, unrest and chaos," in a statement released on the Saudi Press Agency. "Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran has established a record of spreading sedition, unrest and chaos in the region," the agency quoted an unnamed senior foreign ministry official as saying. "During the same period, the kingdom has maintained a policy of restraint in spite of having suffered -- as have neighbouring countries -- the consequences of Iran's continued aggressive policies." The official said Iranian policy was based primarily on the idea of exporting revolution. "Iran recruits militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen", the official said, further accusing Iran of supporting "terrorism" and carrying out assassinations. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a new high this month when Riyadh and a number of its Arab allies cut diplomatic ties with Tehran. They acted after protesters burned Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran following the kingdom's January 2 execution of Shiite preacher Nimr al-Nimr.
Saudi Arabia/Da’esh – At least four people were killed and 18 others wounded in a suicide bomb attack on a Shia mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry has said on the 29 Jan 16. Saudi authorities prevented two suicide bombers from entering Imam Rida Mosque in Mahasen neighbourhood in the al-Ahsa region during Friday prayers, Saudi state news agency SPA reported, citing a statement by the ministry's spokesman. "When security men stopped them, one blew himself up at the entrance of the mosque and there was an exchange of fire with the other. He was wounded and arrested wearing an explosive belt," the spokesman said. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. In late Oct 15 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in Najran city, in which at least one person was killed and 16 others were injured. ISIL had also claimed responsibility for an attack at a mosque inside a Special Forces headquarters in the city of Abha in early Aug 15. Fifteen people were killed and nine were wounded in that attack. Shia make up some ten to 15 percent of Saudi Arabia's population. The minority group, many of whom live in the country's oil-producing east, previously have been targeted in attacks by ISIL, which views them as heretics.
Saudi Arabia – Saudi authorities have arrested nine American citizens among 33 "terror" suspects rounded up over the past days, the Saudi Gazette newspaper reported on the 31 Jan 16. Four Americans were arrested on the 25 Jan 16 and five others over the past four days, the paper reported citing an unidentified source. The arrests also included 14 Saudis, three Yemenis, two Syrians, an Indonesian, a Filipino, an Emirati, a Kazakhstan national and a Palestinian, the paper said. It did not say if any of the "terror suspects" was linked to the Islamic State group, which has claimed several deadly attacks against security and Shiites in the kingdom in recent months. They are members of six cells arrested in "pre-emptive" raids across the kingdom and include a Saudi woman and a Filipina, the paper said. Meanwhile, a Saudi official said one of two attackers who wore explosive belts in Friday's deadly assault on a Shiite mosque in the country's east was a 22-year-old national. Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki identified the attacker in a statement carried late Saturday by the official Saudi Press Agency as Abdulrahman bin Abdullah bin Suleiman al-Tuwaijri.
Syria – Three blasts have killed more than 60 people and wounded at least 40 in Syria's capital Damascus, a monitor said on the 31 Jan 15. The blasts, one of which was caused by a car bomb, happened near the Shia Muslim shrine of Sayyida Zeinab the Syrian interior ministry said. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the casualty number was expected to rise. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Amaq, a news agency that supports the group. It said two operations "hit the most important stronghold of Shia militias in Damascus". The heavily populated area of southern Damascus is a site of pilgrimage for Shias from Iran, Lebanon and other parts of the Muslim world. The shrine houses the grave of the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Taleb, whom Shias consider the rightful successor to Prophet Mohammad. The shrine has been targeted before, including in Feb 15 when two suicide attacks killed four people and wounded 13 at a checkpoint nearby. In the same month, a blast ripped through a bus carrying Lebanese Shia Muslim pilgrims headed to Sayyida Zeinab, killing at least nine people in an attack claimed by the al-Nusra Front armed group.
Syria/al-Qaeda/Nusra Front – The leader of al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing tried unsuccessfully at a recent meeting to convince rival Islamist factions to merge into one unit, several insurgency sources have told Reuters on the 31 Jan 16. Abu Mohamad al-Golani, head of the Nusra Front, even suggested he was willing to change the name of his group if the others, including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham organization, agreed to the deal, the sources said. But he made clear that Nusra would not cut its ties with al-Qaeda, and its allegiance would remain to Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over as leader after U.S. Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. Much was riding on the outcome of the meeting, which the sources said took place about 10 days ago (21 Jan 16). Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are the most powerful groups in northern Syria: when they briefly teamed up with other Islamists last year in an alliance called the Fatah Army, the rebels scored one of their biggest victories by seizing the city of Idlib. Some rebels believed a merger would create a stronger rival to ISIS and might attract much-needed military support and recognition from regional and international powers. But the leaders left without an agreement, and the sources said the atmosphere was tense, with Nusra blaming Ahrar al-Sham for the failure. A few days later, members of the two groups clashed in the towns of Salqin and Harem in Idlib province, near the border with Turkey. Several fighters were killed on both sides, but other insurgent groups brokered a quick ceasefire. Militant sources, including some from Ahrar al-Sham, say it is only a matter of time before another battle between the two erupts. They say the rift between them is getting deeper, although mediation continues. One restraining factor has been an imminent assault by the Syrian army and its allied forces in north-western Syria. “The situation is charged, the failure of initiatives could cause an explosion,” said a jihadi in Idlib who is close to the two groups. “What happened just avoided all-out conflict, all-out battle. But it will be hard to tell what will happen in the future.” Outright war between Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham would still further complicate the five-year Syrian conflict, in which rebel groups are mushrooming under different slogans and sometimes fighting each other. A delegation from Syria’s main opposition group, the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), arrived in Geneva on the 30 Jan 16 to join United Nations-mediated peace talks, demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s government be made to comply with a U.N. resolution on humanitarian aid and human rights. Nusra and ISIS - designated as terrorists by the U.N. - have been excluded from the Geneva talks, the first attempt in two years to end a war that has killed a quarter of a million people. Ahrar al-Sham, which presents itself as a Syrian nationalist force in contrast to al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ideology, recently joined the HNC but Russia opposes its participation in the talks.
Lack of trust
Distrust between Nusra and Ahrar is mutual. Nusra accuses its Islamist rival of being a front for Turkey, addressing not the “interests of Muslims” but the agenda of Ankara in order to be part of a future political deal to rule Syria. Ahrar and other groups are pushing Nusra to cut its ties with al-Qaeda as a step towards becoming more fully engaged in the struggle against Assad. “The problem is with the Qaeda link and its ideological implications. Nusra insists on its agenda, it doesn’t want to manoeuvre at all,” said a frustrated Ahrar commander, accusing it of “damaging the revolution.” In the first few weeks after last year’s capture of Idlib, the two groups divided responsibilities and territory without problems. But gradually divisions began to surface, as Ahrar and other insurgents became wary of Nusra and accused it of trying to seize power and sidelining them. “Nusra cannot work with others, they have a dominating project, they do not accept the others,” said a fighter from Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib via the Internet. Some insurgents are suspicious of Nusra’s long-term agenda in the region and globally, distrusting its declaration that it has no ambitions outside Lebanon and Syria. “This declared goal is an interim one. After it wins and establishes itself in Syria, they will move to the next step, which objects to the goal of the revolution,” said an Islamist rebel who is allied with Ahrar al-Sham. “They will join the global jihad and this is against our revolution. Our revolution is limited to Syria.”
On the ground, Nusra imposes strict Islamic rules in villages and towns where it shares power. It has banned women from wearing make-up, showing their hair or wearing tight clothes like jeans, and applied a policy of segregation between the sexes. All these moves have served to assert its dominance, while provoking other groups. “There is no group on the ground that actually objects to having an Islamic government but the implementation and methods are different,” said another Islamist fighter from a group that is allied with Ahrar. Highlighting the dilemma facing Syrian rebels, a local commander of an Islamist brigade that works closely with Ahrar al-Sham said: “It will be difficult for Nusra to disengage from Qaeda and it will be difficult for us to work with them. The situation is really difficult. Things are complicated and interlocked all together.” Asked how long the groups could avoid hostilities, an Ahrar al-Sham military commander said: “We can avoid fighting with Nusra for now. For how long? That is a difficult question. Only God knows.”