Da’esh/United States – The US military warned today (26 Oct 16) that the Islamic State continues to plot attacks against the West from its headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. “We know this plot and planning is emanating from Raqqa,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said, according to the Associated Press. Townsend didn’t provide any specifics, but the Islamic State has orchestrated multiple attacks from its safe havens in the past. American and European officials are constantly working to disrupt the group’s logistical support networks and uncover cells. “We aren’t sure how pressing it is. We know they are up to something,” Townsend said, according to FoxNews.com. Townsend added that “we’ve got to get to Raqqa pretty soon” because of this anti-Western plotting. US officials have indicated in recent days that the battle for Raqqa will commence soon, but the details are murky. It is unclear when the offensive against Raqqa will get underway. During a press briefing on Oct. 23, Lt. Gen. Townsend and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter connected the so-called caliphate’s leadership in Mosul and Raqqa to Western attack planning, or “external operations.” In the “top tier” of the Islamic State, Townsend said, “there’s an overlap between leadership in Mosul, leadership in Raqqa and external operations.” The “top tier of leaders do all those” and are “involved in all of those things.” “So by killing those individuals,” Townsend argued, “we affect both sides of this theatre and external operations, as well.” The US military’s assessment illustrates that there is no firm dividing line between the jihadists’ warfighting over there and planning attacks over here. The US government has been inconsistent on this point in the past. For instance, in Nov. 2014, CENTCOM claimed that there was some clear demarcation between al Qaeda’s guerrilla warfare in Syria and its plotting against the West, even though senior al Qaeda figures have been involved in both. [See LWJ report, Analysis: CENTCOM draws misleading line between Al Nusrah Front and Khorasan Group.] But American officials are not trying to draw the same misleading distinction with respect to the Islamic State. Instead, they are emphasizing the connectivity between the jihadists’ various operations. Secretary of Defence Carter said earlier this week that preventing “external operations” is “our highest priority.” He said the assault on Mosul will lead to “more intelligence, more information about how they’re operating and therefore get new opportunities to attack external plotters.” “Also, as they get squeezed down in their territory, they get more concerned about their own security and are less free to orchestrate complex attacks against either this country or externally, including, very importantly, obviously, to me and to all of us, the United States,” Carter said. He added that the offensive against Mosul “will give us yet more opportunities” to thwart the Islamic State’s external operations. The Islamic State’s leaders wear multiple hats, just as Townsend and Carter claim. For example, the Defence Department said earlier this year that Abu Ali al Anbari, one of the group’s most senior figures, had a hand in external attack planning prior to his demise. Similarly, the Islamic State’s spokesman, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, oversaw external operations in addition to his other duties. Adnani was killed in an airstrike in August. The US has repeatedly targeted the Islamic State’s external attack planners in both Iraq and Syria. The UK has bombed operatives in this wing of the group as well. The external operations arm orchestrates plots involving professionally-trained terrorists, such as the Nov. 2015 assault on Paris, and also oversees “remote-controlled” attacks in which Islamic State supporters and members are guided by online handlers.
Iran/United States – US sources, including a high ranking official, have said the missiles fired by Houthis at the US Navy destroyer USS Mason, while it was in the Gulf of Aden, were likely provided by Iran. The failed missile attack from rebel held territory in Yemen happened as news reports from Tehran revealed Iranian made ballistic missiles - “Zalzal 3” - were launched by the alliance of rebels and followers of ousted Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hit Saudi targets. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, John McCain, accused Iran, saying in a statement on the 14 Oct 16 the missiles fired at the destroyer “were likely” provided by them. He praised the Pentagon’s move to retaliate the militants attack. The destroyer USS Nitze blasted radar sites of Iran backed Houthi rebels with cruise missiles after the failed missile attack. “The United States Navy has delivered a strong message”, the Republican senator said.
Iranian missiles fired at Saudi targets
Meanwhile, “Fars”, the Iranian semi official news agency, announced on the 16 Oct 16 an attack on the Thwailh military post, in Asir province, was carried by “Zalzal 3” (earthquake 3) ballistic missile. Several Saudi positions were previously targeted by this Iranian made missile, according to the agency close to the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps). During the week of 9-16 Oct 16 the Houthis launched a missile attack against Industrial Area, Zahran South, the ballistic missile hit the target with “high precision” the news agency claimed. Other Iranian news outlets confirmed the Houthi militants usage of “zalzal 3” to launch attacks against targets in Jizan and Asir provinces.
What we know about “Zalzal 3”
Not much information was revealed about this missile provided by Tehran regime to its militant alliance in Yemen: it is a solid propellant missile with a range of 200 Km, while its variant “zalzal 3B” has smaller warhead and a range of 250 Km. The shape and dimensions of the missiles is nearly identical with old “Zalzal” models except that the nosecone is cone shaped rather than the dome shaped “Zalzal 2” and “Zalzal 1.”
Iranian message to al-Houthi
The former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaee, in a letter dated back to Mar 15, urged Abdulmalik al Houthi, leader of the Shiite militants in Yemen, to continue “resistance” against coalition operations to restore legitimacy in Yemen. The current Secretary of Iran Expediency Council, vowed to maintain support to the pro Tehran militants. With the blessing of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenie, Rezaee returned to IRGC last year, now he acts as an adviser to its units fighting alongside Tehran’s allies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Iran/Afghanistan – Mullah Zabihullah, the official spokesman of the “Afghan Taliban” and the second man in the movement revealed the presence of relations and new networks with Iran. “The movement is trying to benefit from all legitimate means to reach a regional agreement as part of the war against the American invasion; therefore, the Imara holds ongoing networks with a large number of regional and neighbouring states.” He said to the London based Asharq Al-Awsat in an email 18 months ago, that the movement had received drone planes, which help film suicidal operations it was reported on the 30 Oct 16. However, he refused to reveal the side providing such advanced equipment, but asserted that the “movement is expecting to soon receive more advanced weapons.” Commenting on reports saying that Taliban had appointed a representative in Iran, Zabihullah said: “We heard these reports, but they are untrue.”
Iraq/Da’esh – Iraqi government forces have launched a campaign to retake Mosul, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Iraq it was announced on the 17 Oct 16. Up to 1.5 million civilians remain in the city, according to the United Nations, amid fears that the vastly outnumbered ISIL fighters could use them as human shields as they seek to repel the assault on its last major stronghold in the country. Mosul is Iraq's second largest city and the last urban centre still under ISIL control in Iraq after a series of government offensives to reverse the group's seizure of territory in 2014. "The hour has come and the moment of great victory is near," Haider al-Abadi, Iraq's prime minister, said early on the 17 Oct 16 in a speech broadcast on state TV, surrounded by the armed forces' top commanders. The bid to retake Mosul comes after the military, backed by armed tribes, militias and US-led coalition air strikes, regained much of the territory the fighters seized in 2014 and 2015. "We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation," Brett McGurk, US envoy to the coalition against ISIL, said on Twitter at the start of the Mosul offensive.
But the launch of the operation marks only the start of a battle that is likely to be the most difficult in the war against ISIL. "This could be a very long fight, or ISIL could choose to withdraw, it is very hard to say. But it is a complex battleground and a complex operation," it was said. This is a very complicated operation, simply because of the mix of forces that are taking part. There is the central government in Baghdad, the Iraqi forces, Iraqi counterterrorism units and there is also the Kurdish Peshmerga who are allied in this fight but who do have a lot of differences. There is also the question of Iranian-backed Shia militias - a very controversial issue because the people of Mosul are mainly Sunni. They fear that if the Shia militias actually take part and enter the city there will be reprisals. But what we understand from the government is that they are going to be staying at the perimeter of Mosul and they will not be advancing towards the city centre.
Iraq/Mosul/Da’esh – Allied forces fighting ISIS in Mosul say they expect the extremist group to use crude chemical weapons as it tries to defend Mosul from an assault to drive them out. One official said on the 19 Oct 16 that US forces have gathered ISIS shell fragments to test for chemical weapons because the group has been known to use mustard gas in the past. US officials said in a previously undisclosed statement that it had confirmed the presence of a sulfur mustard agent on ISIS munitions on the 5 Oct 16. Meanwhile, Senior Iraqi General Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati told reporters at a military base on the 18 Oct 16 that up to 6,000 ISIS fighters are currently inside the city. He did not say how many of them are foreigners.
Iraq/Mosul/Da’esh – Extremist leaders are fleeing Mosul, a top US general in the coalition battling the Da’esh terror group said on the 19 Oct 16 as Iraqi forces closed in on the northern city. Mosul was where Da’esh Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared his "caliphate" two years ago but is now the group's last major stronghold in Iraq. In the biggest Iraqi military operation in years, forces have retaken dozens of villages, mostly south and east of Mosul, and are planning multiple assaults for the future. "We are telling Da’esh that their leaders are abandoning them. We've seen a movement out of Mosul," said Major General Gary Volesky, who heads the anti-Da’esh coalition's land component. He told reporters in a video briefing that the many foreigners among the 3,000 to 4,500 Da’esh fighters would likely end up forming the core of the holdout extremist force. Volesky noted that the Iraqis would screen anyone leaving Mosul, and attempts by foreign fighters to blend in to an expected exodus of displaced people would be thwarted. "It's difficult for them to blend into the local population based on the number of different types of foreign fighters that there are," he said. East of Mosul, forces were poised for an assault on Qaraqosh, which lies about 15 kilometres away and was once Iraq’s largest Christian town. News of the move to recapture Qaraqosh sparked jubilation among Christians who had fled the town, with many dancing and singing in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil. Units from Iraq’s elite counterterrorism service, which has done the heavy lifting in most recent operations against Da’esh, were poised to flush extremists out of the town, officers said. “We are surrounding Hamdaniya now,” Lieutenant General Riyadh Tawfiq, commander of Iraq’s ground forces said at the main staging base of Qayyarah, referring to the district that includes Qaraqosh. “There are some pockets [of resistance], some clashes, they send car bombs — but it will not help them,” he said. Kurdish Peshmerga forces prepared to attack Da’esh positions on several fronts north of Mosul while federal forces worked their way up the Tigris Valley. “[Daesh] simply has too many enemies with the world arrayed against it,” said Aymenn Al Tamimi, an expert at the Middle East Forum. World leaders and military commanders warned that — despite signs that early progress in the Mosul offensive was faster than predicted — the battle could be long and difficult. “Mosul will be a difficult fight. There will be advances and there will be setbacks,” Obama said on the 18 Oct 16. After clearing towns and villages on the outskirts of Mosul with air support from the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces are expected to besiege the city before entering it. Iraqi forces may allow fleeing Da’esh fighters an exit to the west in a bid to minimise human and material losses. But the chief of Russia’s general staff, Valery Gerasimov, argued it was “necessary not to drive terrorists from one country to the other but to destroy them on the spot”. Russia, he said, was focusing on “possible attempts by fighters to break out of Mosul” and “freely leave the city in the direction of Syria”. 361 COMMENT: Once Da’esh has been driven out of Mosul it will have to make its border with Syria water-tight so as to not allow any of them back. Once that has been achieved then the problem of Da’esh then becomes more of a Russia/Syria problem. Questions to be asked for the future will also see America and Russia look at different options regarding air strikes but the major problem will be the Kurds who have set up an autonomous region in Syria. Assad recently stated that “all” terrorists will be driven from Syria, that will no doubt include the Kurds who have helped to rid both Syria and Iraq of Da’esh. Turkey will no doubt join the fight to rid Syria of the Kurds. This may also be the reason the Turkey has been courting Russia as they will rid the country of the Kurds. However, they are long allies of the Americans so the future is still not clear as to what is going to happen. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq/Da’esh/Mosul/Kirkuk – ISIS militants launched a wave of pre-dawn attacks in and around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on the 21 Oct 16 killing at least 14 people and setting off fierce clashes with Kurdish security forces that were still raging after sundown. The assault appeared aimed at diverting attention from the Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul, and raised fears the extremists could lash out in unpredictable ways as they defend the largest city under their control and their last urban bastion in Iraq. Multiple explosions rocked Kirkuk, and gunfire rang out around the provincial headquarters, where the fighting was concentrated. Smoke billowed over the city, and the streets were largely deserted out of fear of militant snipers. ISIS said its fighters targeted the provincial headquarters in a claim carried by its Aamaq news agency. North of the city, three suicide bombers stormed a power plant in the town of Dibis, killing 13 workers, including four Iranian technicians, before blowing themselves up as police arrived, said Maj. Ahmed Kader Ali, the Dibis police chief. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned the assault, which he said also wounded three Iranian workers, according to the official IRNA news agency. It was not immediately clear if Iranians were targeted in other attacks. Kirkuk is some 100 miles (170 kilometres) from the ISIS-held city of Mosul, where Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale offensive. ISIS has in the past resorted to suicide bombings in and around Baghdad in response to battlefield losses elsewhere in the country. ISIS maintains sleeper cells of militants in Kirkuk and surrounding villages.
Iraq/Da’esh/Kirkuk – A provincial governor said Iraqi security forces on the 24 Oct 16 ended an ISIS attack in Kirkuk city, killing at least 74 militants in three days of clashes while Yazidis said they blocked an offensive by the militants in their territory in Sinjar west of Mosul. “The attack is over and life has returned to normal,” Najmeddin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk province said. He added: “The security forces have killed more than 74 Da’esh terrorists and detained several others, including their leader.” Karim said the initial confessions of the ringleader confirmed reports that around 100 fighters attacked Kirkuk early on the 21 Oct 16 some of them sleeper cells that joined up with militants infiltrating the city. Some attackers are also believed to have fled the city on the 22 Oct 16 later clashing with security forces in rural areas east of Kirkuk. The brazen raid on Kirkuk appeared to be an attempt by IS to divert attention from Mosul. US-backed Kurdish fighters blocked an offensive launched by ISIS on the 24 Oct 16 in Sinjar, a Yazidi territory west of Mosul, a provincial official in the region said. The attack was an apparent bid to distract Iraqi forces attacking Mosul. ISIS confirmed in an online statement having carried out a suicide attack on a Peshmerga position at the western entrance of Sinjar. “It was the most violent attack on Sinjar since a year ago,” Yazidi provincial chief Mahma Xelil said. Da’esh committed some of its worst atrocities in Sinjar when it swept through the Yazidi region two years ago, killing men, kidnapping children and enslaving women. Kurdish fighters took back the region a year ago. Xelil said at least 15 militants were killed in the two-hour battle and a number of vehicles they used in the attack were destroyed, while the Peshmerga suffered two injured. Da’esh said two Peshmerga vehicles were destroyed and all those on board were killed. Da’esh has also “executed” five Iraqis, including members of the security forces, during ongoing fighting in the western town of Rutba, army officers said on the 24 Oct 16. Militants launched an attack on Rutba, a remote but strategic town near the Jordanian border in Anbar province, early on the 23 Oct 16. Meanwhile, the US-led coalition battling ISIS has unleashed an unprecedented wave of air strikes in support of Iraq’s operation to retake Mosul, American officials said. A week after Iraqi forces launched the offensive to push ISIS from their last major bastion in the country, the US envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition said that the air war had reached its highest level yet. “All objectives met thus far and more coalition air strikes than any other 7-day period of war against ISIL,” Brett McGurk said on Twitter. “There were 32 strikes with 1,776 munitions delivered against Da’esh targets for the week of October 17-October 23,” the spokesman for the coalition, Colonel John Dorrian said. Dorrian stressed that each strike may include multiple targets over a period of hours. “These engagements destroyed 136 Daesh fighting positions, destroyed 18 tunnels that the enemy has been using to hide and infiltrate areas, and destroyed 26 vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, among other targets,” he said.
Iraq/Da’esh/Mosul – Shia militias say they have launched an assault to the west of Mosul, opening up a new front in the battle to drive ISIL from the country's second city and the group's last major bastion in the country it was reported on the 28 Oct 16. The coalition of militias, known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, had not played a heavy part in the fighting but the offensive on the 28 Oct 16 indicates a bigger role than many observers had anticipated. Many towns and villages on the road to Mosul had been taken by the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the city itself - and ISIL's position there - remained as formidable as it was before the operation to take the city began 12 days ago. The idea behind this is that the western part of Mosul has been uncontested so far and that's probably the most important frontier because it's the one that leads to Syria. The militia forces leading the attack plan to cut off the route between Mosul and Syria and help besiege ISIL-held Mosul from all sides, he said. Some had hoped the Popular Mobilisation Units would not play a large role in the battle for Mosul, particularly as "Sunni Muslims view them to be just as criminal as the ISIL. That's why in the beginning [of the offensive] it was stressed by [the government] that the operation would be lead by the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Now that they have announced an entire frontier led by them, this will cause a lot of concern, especially as there are reports that they are targeting Sunni civilians. The Mosul offensive involves tens of thousands of soldiers, federal police, Kurdish fighters, Sunni tribesmen and Shia militias. Many of the militias - considered to be backed by Iran - were originally formed after the 2003 United States-led invasion to fight US forces as well as Sunni fighters. They were mobilised again, and endorsed by the government, when ISIL swept through northern and central Iraq in 2014, capturing Mosul and other key towns and cities. Also on the 28 Oct 16 Iraqi troops approaching the city from the south advanced into Shura, a town to the south of Mosul, after a wave of US-led air raids and artillery shelling against ISIL positions inside the town. Commanders said most ISIL fighters withdrew earlier this week, allegedly with kidnapped civilians, but that US air raids had disrupted the forced march, allowing some civilians to escape.
Iraq – On the 30 Oct 16 it was reported that a parked car bomb exploded in Baghdad's north-western neighbourhood of Hurriyah killing at least 10 Iraqis and injuring 34 others, police said. The bombing, which hit a popular fruit and vegetable market in a commercial street of the predominantly Shia neighbourhood, was the fifth blast of the day in Iraq's capital. The day's casualty toll from the attacks in Baghdad was 17 dead and more than 60 injured. arlier, improvised explosive devices killed three people and injured 10 others at a popular market in the Shaab neighbourhood in northern Baghdad. Another two blasts at traders' markets in the Topchi and Zataria areas killed four and injured 16. A fourth bomb, planted in a microbus in the poorer Sadr City district, caused no deaths but injured six. The attacks come just a day after a suicide bomber from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group targeted an aid station for Shia pilgrims, killing at least seven and injuring more than 20. No one claimed immediate responsibility for the bombings, but ISIL often targets Iraq's Shia Muslims. Attacks in the capital have been rare since the summer of 2015. The renewed violence in Baghdad comes as several forces try to take the northern city of Mosul, ISIL's last major urban bastion in Iraq, from the hard-line group.
Kurds/Turkey – About 100 Turkish rockets pounded a group of Kurdish fighters allied with a US-backed militia in northern Syria on the 21 Oct 16 as Ankara's attacks against Syrian Kurds continue to intensify. The confrontation between Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has escalated as both sides race to be the first to expel the armed group from the northern Syrian city of al-Bab. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nearly 100 rockets fired by Turkish forces hit the town of Sheikh Issa and other frontline areas in northern Aleppo province on the 21 Oct 16. On the 19 Oct 16 Turkey launched dozens of air strikes on the American-backed Kurdish fighters, highlighting the conflicting agendas of NATO members Ankara and Washington in an increasingly complex battlefield. Turkey said between 160-200 Kurds were killed in the strikes, but a war monitor said only nine died. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on the 21 Oct 16 Turkey's activities in Syria are aimed at destroying "terrorist organisations" and securing its border, adding all operations are discussed with coalition partners. An adviser to the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), who gave his name as Osama Abu Zayd, said that Friday's clashes were fierce and widening as they try to push Kurdish fighters out of the northern Aleppo countryside. "Two days ago, the [Kurdish fighters] tried to exploit our battle against Da’esh to advance towards Marea," Abu Zayd said. Marea is a town in Turkey-backed rebel territory on the way to al-Bab. "What is happening today is a natural response to these separatist groups," Abu Zayd added. Ahmad Araj - a political representative for the Kurdish fighters allied to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia - said fighters were now under attack both from ISIL and Turkey. He said more than 150 rockets on the 21 Oct 16 hit areas from which they had pushed ISIL out this week. "Today at 10am, Turkish shelling began ... There was an attack and the clashes have continued since morning," said Araj. "Their rockets are not targeting Islamic State, rather they are targeting our forces in areas liberated [from ISIL]." The United States has backed the Kurdish-led SDF in its fight against ISIL, angering Turkey, which sees the umbrella group's dominant YPG militia (People's Protection Units) - as an extension of Kurdish PKK fighters.
Kurds/Iraq – Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region plans to renew its push for independence once the city of Mosul is retaken from ISIS, its prime minister said on the 27 Oct 16. “The time has long been ripe for it, but we are currently concentrating on the fight against ISIS,” Kurdish prime minister Nechirvan Barzani told Germany’s Bild daily. “As soon as Mosul is liberated, we will meet with our partners in Baghdad and talk about our independence,” he said according to the German translation. The premier of the Kurdistan Regional Government added that “we have been waiting for too long, we thought that after 2003 there would be a real new beginning for a democratic Iraq. But this Iraq has failed. “We are not Arabs, we are our own Kurdish nation ... At some point there will be a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan, and then we will let the people decide.” In Feb 16 Kurdish president Massoud Barzani, the premier’s uncle, had called for a referendum on a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, raising tension with Baghdad which opposes secession. The Kurdish Peshmerga has fought with Iraqi government forces in a joint offensive to retake Mosul from the ISIS. Barzani said he estimates the coalition would need three months to retake the city and asked for more German weapons to aid his forces, as well as EU aid for refugees from the conflict. On the battle against ISIS, he said "we have taken the outlying districts quickly, but it’s not clear how strongly ISIS will defend the city itself. “We are seeing that they have hundreds of suicide bombers, they must have entire factories where they are making the explosives. That is the greatest threat to the offensive.”
Kuwait – Kuwait still needs to do more to combat the financing of militants, a top Kuwaiti official said on the 24 Oct 16 at a meeting aimed at choking off funding for ISIS. “We still have a lot to do, though we are satisfied with what we have done so far,” Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah told reporters on the sideline of a meeting of the Counter-ISIL Finance Group (CIFG) in Kuwait City. “We are ready to cooperate with our brothers and friends,” he said, responding to US criticism of Kuwait and Qatar over their steps to cut the financing of militants. Formed early last year, CIFG is led by the United States, Italy and Saudi Arabia and is made up of over 35 countries and four international bodies. Jarallah said Kuwait “has come a long way in introducing legislation that controls the collection of (charity) donations,” a suspected channel of funding extremists. The CIFG takes a global approach to undermining the flow of funds to the jihadist group, according to Adam Szubin, US Treasury's acting Under Secretary on Countering the Financing of Terrorism. Szubin said last week that the meeting in Kuwait City aims “to share information and continue developing and coordinating countermeasures against ISIL’s (ISIS) financial activity worldwide.” He said the Treasury was working closely with Kuwait and Qatar in particular to strengthen the technical side of the fight against terrorism finance, but “there is room for improvement.” Szubin said the effort to choke off funding was showing some success. ISIS fighters had been abandoning the fight “as their pay and benefits have been cut and delayed, in what ISIL members in Mosul are calling a ‘recession’,” he said, referring to Iraq’s battle to recapture the city from militants.
Saudi Arabia/Hezbollah – Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on the 24 Oct 16 renewed its determination to combat “terrorist activities” by the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and continue to work with Riyadh’s partners around the world. The Cabinet has also welcomed the recent United Nations Human Rights Council’s session which discussed the bombardment of the Syrian city of Aleppo amid “the grave and dangerous escalation” by the Syrian regime and “its allies.” It described the “escalation” by the Syrian regime and its allies as a “flagrant violation of the international humanitarian law.”
Saudi Arabia/Iran – During a general assembly meeting of the United Nations held on the 24 Oct 16, Saudi Arabia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations has warned against the dangerous role played by Iran in fuelling sectarian strife in Lebanon , Syria, and Yemen “by supporting terrorist groups and providing them with weapons”. Saad al-Saad stressed Saudi Arabia’s rights to protect its security and its borders against militia groups, and those who back them, in reference to the Houthi militias. In his speech, the delegate talked about the Saudi Arabia’s experience in fighting arms smuggling to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. He said :”Iran provides Hezbollah with weapons and the latter sends fighters to Yemen and Syria.” Saad stressed the perils of weapons trafficking, and appealed to the international community to take deterrent actions to address the phenomenon.
Saudi Arabia – Saudi authorities announced on the 30 Oct 16 they had prevented a terror plot targeting a stadium in Jeddah prior to an international football match against the UAE attended by thousands. The four suspects, two Pakistanis, a Syrian and a Sudanese citizen, were arrested after foiling the plot which targeted the “Luminous Jewel” Stadium on the 11 Oct 16 according to the Saudi Interior Ministry.
The suspects were identified as:
Hassan Abdul Karim - Syrian
Saliman Arab Din Wafarmanullah - Pakistani
Naqshaband Khan - Pakistani
Abdul Azim al Tahir Abdullah Ibrahim - Sudanese
General Bassam Attiyah revealed at a press conference that the bomb had been packed into a ‘medium sized vehicle’, which was then to be left in a carpark by the stadium where 60,000 fans were attending a World Cup qualifier match. Attiyah said they believed the device would have been used to either target people in the stadium car park, fans watching the match, or as they left. The number of casualties would have been higher - Attiyah added – if the car detonated in the parking lot during the game, explaining: “more casualties would have ensued had the device exploded near the stand, due to the structural collapse that would have resulted.” “Another equally horrifying scenario would have occurred,” he added, “Had the device exploded whilst the spectators were exiting the stadium.” He revealed that a Syrian was the masterminded of the entire scheme and designated the individual roles within the cell. It has been estimated the vehicle had the capacity to carry an estimated 400kg of explosives. The blast’s explosion radius would have reached up to 1,100 meters, covering almost 800,000 square meters. The “Luminous Jewel” stadium is one of the crowning sporting achievements in the Kingdom - with an estimated total building cost of around $500mln, and is made up of 20,000 parking places - meanwhile the stadium can hold at least 60,000 spectators.
Syria/Russia – Russia has announced plans for an eight-hour "humanitarian" ceasefire in Aleppo during the reporting period amid a warning by the EU that the Syrian government's assault on the city could amount to war crimes. The UN and the EU welcomed the 18 Oct 16 announcement by Russia, but said the planned pause in fighting - set to take place on the 20 Oct 16 - needed to be longer to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. "We have taken a decision not to waste time and to introduce 'humanitarian pauses', mainly for the free passage of civilians, evacuation of the sick and wounded and withdrawal of fighters," Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian military officer, said in Moscow. The truce would run from 0800 hrs local to 1600 hrs local (0500 hrs GMT to 1300 hrs GMT) "in the area of Aleppo", Rudskoi said. "During this period the Russian air force and Syrian government troops will halt air strikes and firing from any other types of weapons." Moscow announced on the 18 Oct 16 at both Russian and Syrian government aircraft had stopped their bombing of the rebel-held east of the city at 1000 hrs (0700 hrs GMT) in anticipation of Thursday's temproary truce. The pause was preceded by heavy bombardment of rebel-held areas. UN humanitarian officials have pleaded with combatants to observe weekly 48-hour ceasefires to allow humanitarian relief into Aleppo's besieged eastern districts. However, Russian and Syrian forces have only escalated their aerial and ground assault on the rebel-held areas in recent weeks. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador, said the eight-hour pause was a unilateral halt to fighting. A 48-hour or 72-hour ceasefire "will require some sort of mutual arrangement", he said. The announcement came as EU foreign ministers condemned the deadly air war waged on Aleppo over the past three weeks. "Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate," a statement said. "The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure, as well as the use of barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and chemical weapons, constitute a catastrophic escalation of the conflict ... and may amount to war crimes." The EU ministers said they would press ahead with extending sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, but stopped short of threatening measures against Russia. Federica Mogherini, EU foreign affairs chief, called Russia's announcement "positive" but not long enough to allow humanitarian aid to reach Aleppo. "It can be a start ... for sure it is a positive step," she said at the close of the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg. "The latest assessment from the aid agencies [however] is that 12 hours is needed so work is needed to find common ground." Stephane Dujarric, UN spokesman, also welcomed the truce announcement but stressed the "need for a longer pause in order to get the aid in".
Syria/Chemical Weapons – An international inquiry has blamed Syrian government forces for a third chemical weapons attack, according to a confidential report to the United Nations Security Council. The report, prepared by a joined committee set up by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and seen by Reuters news agency, was presented to the security council on the 21 Oct 16. The UN experts behind the report said Syrian forces were responsible for a toxic gas attack in the village of Qmenas in Idlib province on the 16 Mar 15. The committee was unable to determine who was behind two other gas attacks - against Binnish in Idlib province in March 2015 and Kafr Zita in Hama province in April 2014. "A joint investigative mechanism was set up by the international chemical weapons watchdog and the UN to investigate reports of chemical attacks in Syria," A reported from the UN headquarters in New York, said. "Now in its fourth and final report it says it found a third chemical attack carried out by the Syrian army." The UN-led joint investigative mechanism (JIM) reported in late August that Syrian government forces had carried out at least two chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 and that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters had used mustard gas on the battlefield. Of the nine total alleged chemical attacks it is considering in its ongoing probe, the JIM has now attributed three to the Syrian government and one to ISIL. In its fourth report, investigators concluded that there is now "sufficient information" that attack on Qmenas, near Idlib city, "was caused by a Syrian Arab Armed Forces helicopter dropping a device from a high altitude, which hit the ground and released the toxic substance that affected the population". Investigators say the substance may have been chlorine gas, based on the symptoms the victims displayed. In Kafr Zita, however, the JIM could not confirm that the Syrian army had used barrel bombs to dump toxic substances because "the remnants of the device allegedly used had been removed", the report said. Investigators also said that a "canister with traces of chlorine" was found in Binnish, though the container could not be "linked to any of several incident locations identified". Chlorine's use as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns to hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in the resulting body fluids. The inquiry's mandate was extended until 31 Oct 16 to finish the probe. "Now this report will go to the Security Council which will discuss it in a close session in the coming week and certainly there is going to be a very heated discussion," Hanna said. "After JIM's previous report the US and Russia agreed that they would agree between themselves what action to take next. "But other members of the council, in particular Britain and France, will likely now be pushing for far more drastic measures to be taken by the security council and certainly there will be intense debate about what the security council is going to do next." Governments in Paris, London and Washington have already called for sanctions against perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria, including against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But the Syrian government has been shielded by its ally Russia, which has questioned the JIM findings and said the evidence is not conclusive enough to warrant sanctions.
Syria/Da’esh/United States – The US-led coalition is "laying the groundwork" for the "isolation" of Raqqa, the ISIS group stronghold in Syria, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said on the 25 Oct 16. "We have already begun laying the groundwork for our partners to commence the isolation of Raqqa," Carter said after meeting coalition defence ministers in Paris to discuss the aftermath of the planned capture of Mosul from ISIS in Iraq. "Today we resolved to follow through with that same sense of urgency and focus on enveloping and collapsing ISIL's control of Raqqa," he added. Carter and ministers from 12 other countries attended the talks, which come a week after Iraqi forces backed by Kurdish fighters launched a major operation to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city. French President Francois Hollande reiterated warnings about ISIS fighters in Mosul fleeing across the border to Raqqa.
He also urged vigilance over the prospect of foreign militants returning home from the battlefield.
Syria/United States – The United States accused the Syrian regime on the 28 Oct 16 of using “starvation as a weapon of war” -- a war crime under the Geneva Conventions -- stepping up the rhetoric against Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers. Rejecting the Kremlin claims that attacks on Aleppo have stopped, a US official said “the regime has rejected UN requests to deliver aid to Eastern Aleppo using starvation as a weapon of war.” The language mirrors the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition against starving civilians “as a method of warfare.” Aleppo’s quarter of a million residents have been besieged and bombarded for months, prompting international outcry. Washington is currently weighing further sanctions against Syria and a push for justice at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Officials hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin may rethink his country’s participation in a war that has seen chemical weapons and barrel bombs used against civilians, if Russia is seen as an international pariah. Earlier Russia failed to win re-election to the UN Human Rights Commission, a serious diplomatic blow. “We are taking steps, whether it’s ramping up public pressure or other forms of pressure,” a second senior Obama administration official said. “We are still looking at the whole arsenal of tools to make them feel the weight of international criticism, not saying that in and of itself is going to work.” “But we have some indication that they don’t want to be viewed -- the Russians in particular -- as being guilty of war crimes.” “We’ve also spoken about forms of international accountability when it comes to Russian and regime actions.” The Kremlin said on the 28 Oct 16 that Putin did not think it was time to resume air strikes on Aleppo after the defence ministry requested that a moratorium on bombing be lifted. Syrian rebels launched a major assault on the 27 Oct 16 aimed at linking opposition-held districts with the outside world. But a US official gave the Kremlin’s claim short shrift. “Despite Russia’s claims, attacks by the regime and its backers have continued in Aleppo,” the official said. “We continue to look at Russia’s actions not their words to determine if Russia is meeting their claims about their military intervention on behalf of the Assad regime.”
United Arab Emirates/Da’esh – An Emirati court on the 24 Oct 16 jailed a Sudanese man for 10 years for planning a bomb attack aimed at killing foreigners in the Gulf country, local media reported. The Federal Supreme Court also convicted the defendant on charges of supporting ISIS on social media, The National daily reported. “Prosecutors said he was inspired by the terrorist group’s ideology,” the Abu Dhabi newspaper added on its website. The official WAM news agency confirmed that an “Arab national was convicted of planning a terrorist act and creating online accounts to promote Da’esh” and was jailed for 10 years. Another daily, Gulf News, reported that the same court on the 24 Oct 16 sentenced a Pakistani man to 10 years in prison for “financing the terrorist organizations Da’esh and Al-Qaeda.” The United Arab Emirates is a member of the US-led coalition that has been bombing ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria since September 2014. Authorities in the Gulf state have enacted anti-terror legislation, including the death penalty and harsher jail terms for crimes linked to religious hatred and extremist groups.
Yemen/Iran/Oman – Iran has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis, the militia fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, US, Western and Iranian officials said a development that threatens to prolong and intensify the 19-month-old war. The increased pace of transfers in recent months, which officials said include missiles and small arms, could exacerbate a security headache for the United States, which last week struck Houthi targets with cruise missiles in retaliation for failed missile attacks on a US Navy destroyer. Much of the recent smuggling activity has been through Oman, which neighbours Yemen, including via overland routes that take advantage of porous borders between the two countries, the officials said. That creates a further quandary for Washington, which views the tiny Gulf state as a strategic interlocutor and ally in the conflict-ridden region. A senior US administration official said that Washington had informed Oman of its concerns, without specifying when. “We have been concerned about the recent flow of weapons from Iran into Yemen and have conveyed those concerns to those who maintain relations with the Houthis, including the Omani government,” the official said. Oman denies any weapon smuggling across its border. Yemeni and senior regional officials say the Omanis are not actively involved with the transfers but rather turning a blind eye and failing to aggressively crack down on the flow. In a statement on the 20 Oct 16 the Omani Foreign Ministry denied the Reuters report. “What was included in this report has no basis in truth and there are no weapons that pass through Omani territory,” it said. “Such issues have been discussed with a number of Arab coalition countries, the United States and Britain and have been refuted.” The statement said the Yemeni coast, which is near the Omani coast, does not fall under Yemeni government authority “therefore these coasts are available for use by gun dealers”. In an interview with Saudi newspaper Okaz last week, Omani Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alwi said: “There is no truth to this. No weapons have crossed our border and we are ready to clarify any suspicions if they arise.” The Iran-allied Houthis gained a trove of weapons when whole divisions allied to former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh sided with them at the start of the war last year. But Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s exiled government say they also receive substantial amounts of weapons and ammunition from Iran. Tehran views the Houthis as the legitimate authority in Yemen, but denies it supplies them with weapons. Some Western officials have been more sceptical of the view that the Houthis are receiving large-scale support from Iran. The US and Western officials said about the recent trend in arms transfers said it was based on intelligence they had seen but did not elaborate on its nature. They said the frequency of transfers on known overland smuggling routes had increased notably, although the scale of the shipments was unclear. Even US officials warning of Iran’s support for the Houthis acknowledge intelligence gaps in Yemen, where the US posture has been sharply reduced since the start of the conflict. The sources all declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We are aware of a recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border,” a Western diplomat familiar with the conflict said. Three US officials confirmed that assertion. One of those officials, who is familiar with Yemen, said that in the past few months there had been a noticeable increase in weapon-smuggling activity. “What they’re bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives ... money and personnel,” the official said. Another regional security source said the transfers included surface-to-surface short-range missiles and small arms. A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed there had been a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May, referring to weapons, training and money. “The nuclear deal gave Iran an upper hand in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia, but it needs to be preserved,” the diplomat said. Washington’s Gulf allies have warned that US President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Tehran through the landmark nuclear deal signed last year will only embolden Iran in conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere. The increase in transfers comes as the civil war drags on and threatens to pull the United States deeper into a conflict that has killed 10,000 people and which pits two regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, against each other. A UN-brokered 72-hour ceasefire went into effect on Wednesday. Since the beginning of the war, the Houthis have used short-range Scud missiles, and the United Nations says they also have used surface-to-air missiles, improvised to operate as surface-to-surface rockets against Saudi Arabia. But a suspected Houthi missile attack against a United Arab Emirates vessel in a strategic Red Sea shipping lane this month, as well as the attempted strikes against the US warship, raise worries about the rebels’ capability to launch bolder attacks. The Houthis have denied attacking the USS Mason. Two officials said the United States was looking into whether components of the missiles, including the warhead, might have benefited from Iranian parts or come from Iran but acknowledged the assessment was so far inconclusive. General Joseph Votel, the commander of the US military’s Central Command, said he suspected an Iranian role in arming the Houthis and noted Iran was one of the possible suppliers of the kinds of shore-based missile technology seen in Yemen. “I do think Iran is playing a role in some of this. They do have a relationship with the Houthis,” he told a forum in Washington. A senior Western diplomat said that Iran’s role in helping the Houthis had increased substantially since March 2015, when the Saudis intervened to restore President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to office. The diplomat said there was concern Oman had not tackled Iranian smuggling as strongly as it should have done. “In my mind, the level of Iranian arms smuggling probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves.” Washington has generally shied away from being too publicly critical of Muscat, especially as it played a historic role in brokering the nuclear deal. A senior Yemeni official said there had been an increase in smuggled weapons reaching the Houthis via Oman but could not say definitively whether the weapons were Iranian. Yemen’s army chief of staff, Mohammed Al Maqdishi, said in a recent interview on state television that Oman should be “a lot stricter” on smuggling. “We are now in the process of heavily guarding the border points more and more.” A senior Yemeni military source said that one of the smuggling routes is through Shehen, a sort of no-man’s land and entry point in Mahra province along the 288km long Yemeni-Omani border. Although formally under government control, the region is a well known haven for smuggling and central authority is weak. In addition to smuggling via secondary ports along Yemen’s coastline, the source said the frequency had also increased “because Iran feels the Houthis are in a difficult situation and want to show them they’re with them till the end”.
Yemen/Djibouti/Bab al-Mandab Strait – A major pirate attack on an oil tanker has been reported on the 26 Oct 16 while it was transiting the Bab al-Mandab Strait en route from Ukraine to India, coalition spokesman Major General Ahmed Assiri exclusively confirmed to AlArabiya.net. The pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade at LNG tanker Melati Satu, Assiri said. The crew of the Tuvalu-registered tanker sent a distress call that was received by a UAE ship and passed it to the Saudi Arabian naval ship Majesty Riyadh. Majesty Riyadh immediately headed to the site of the attack and was able to save the Melati Satu. It then accompanied Melati Satu until it safely transited Bab al-Mandab. Assiri mentioned that the incident highlights the importance of the restoration of peace on the Yemeni side of Bab al-Mandab so ships can properly transit this vital international trade route. He also noted that it shows how important it is that the Houthi rebels and their allies take immediate steps to implement the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216, which will lead to the resolution of the Yemeni conflict.
Yemen/Iran/United States – Warships from the US Navy and allied nations have intercepted four weapons shipments from Iran to war-ravaged Yemen since April 2015, a US admiral said on the 27 Oct 16. The United States and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of arming the insurgents, and while Tehran denies the charges, the coalition has since enforced maritime and air controls over the Arabian Peninsula country. "Either US ships or coalition ships... intercepted four weapons shipments from Iran to Yemen," said US Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan. "We know they came from Iran and we know the destination," he told reporters at an undisclosed military base in Southwest Asia. Donegal said the shipments contained thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles and "other pieces of other equipment, higher-end weapons systems". Naval officials were able to determine the destination of the boats' by analyzing GPS settings and interviewing the crew. One of the shipments had been validated by the United Nations as being an illegal weapons shipment, said Donegal. His comments come after the US military's Central Command chief General Joseph Votel said last week Iran may have played a role in suspected Houthi missile attacks this month against US warships in the Red Sea. "We believe that Iran is connected to this in some way," Donegan said. Given the heavy volume of traffic around the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf, the three-star admiral said "plenty" of other shipments would have gone through to Yemen. The arms seizures came after Iran in April 2015 tried to send a convoy of seven ships, guarded by two Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels, to Yemen. Donegan said these were filled with coastal-defence cruise missiles, explosives and other weapons. The Shiite Houthi rebels are believed to be behind this month's attacks in which surface-to-surface missiles were fired at the USS Mason on at least two occasions. In response, US cruise missiles on October 13 struck Houthi radar sites believed to have been used to target the weapons. The Mason and two other warships were likely targeted in a third missile attack on October 15, but officials have not conclusively confirmed what the threat was or where it was coming from.
Yemen – Guards thwarted a suicide attack on the Yemeni central bank on the 29 Oct 16 opening fire on the bomber’s vehicle and blowing it up before it reached the building, a security official said. The central bank has been based in the government-controlled second city of Aden since last month, when President Abedabbo Mansour Hadi ordered its relocation from the militia-held capital Sanaa accusing the militias of running down its foreign reserves. Five guards were injured when the bomber’s vehicle blew up around 30 meters (yards) from the bank building, the security official said. The bank’s relocation has been a major blow to the rebels, forcing them to halt salary payments to state employees in the large areas of the country they control. The move came after a UN report released in August found that the militias and their allies were diverting about $100 million a month from the central bank, and that its foreign reserves had dwindled to $1.3 billion from about $4 billion in November 2014.