Bahrain – A bomb struck a bus carrying Bahrain police on the night of the 26 Feb 17 injuring four police officers. The bus was stationed near Jaww Village and injured four policemen who are currently in stable condition, according to tweets from Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior account on Twitter. “Necessary steps are being taken,” the statement added.
Da’esh – Commercial drones are becoming an ‘increasingly insidious threat’ in Iraq as Islamic State use them to kill and maim civilians, Britain’s top commander in the region said on the 17 Feb 17. Major General Rupert Jones of the British Forces said the militant group were using off-the-shelf drones to drop grenades on civilians in Mosul in ‘inhuman and indiscriminate’ attacks. In a rare briefing from Baghdad, he said the ‘scars will remain long after the battle’ as IS tries to continue its ‘reign of terror’ in liberated towns across Syria and Iraq. He said: ‘The enemy has tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate back into the east of the city and has indiscriminately fired mortars, rockets and artillery into liberated areas on more than 300 occasions in the last week with a characteristic disdain for human life. ‘This tactic, together with their continued use of off the shelf commercial drones is all they have left with which to attack the east as they await their fate.’ He said liberated towns such as Ramadi and Fallujah were left ‘riddled with explosives’. ‘Booby traps were left in homes in cupboards in fridges in schools and hospitals all aim to kill and maim innocent civilians’, he added. Quizzed about the use of drones he said they were becoming an ‘increasingly insidious threat in Iraq’. He added: ‘They are used for surveillance but in a way the thing that is most concerning is they are being used increasingly to drop grenades and other explosive munitions on innocent civilians in east Mosul and elsewhere. ‘While this is a particularly Inhumane and indiscriminate weapon by Da’esh, it is not a game changer. 'We’ve got technical defences to mitigate against it.’ He also said experts were wading through a huge amount of material that had been gathered in Mosul as it is liberated. He said it was likely that information would be found that would point to terror plots against the West.
Da’esh – A months-long campaign to isolate and pressure the ISIS group’s self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, is paying off as the administrative backbone of the militant organization is beginning to crack, the Pentagon said on the 17 Feb 17. ISIS leaders "are beginning the process of leaving Raqqa and moving their operations farther downriver," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesperson. He said an unspecified number of ISIS "bureaucrats" are heading east along the north bank of the Euphrates River toward Deir el-Zour, because they see "the end is near in Raqqa." "We are seeing now an exodus of their leadership," Davis said, adding: "This seems to be a very organized, orderly withdrawal of a lot of their non-combatant support people." Davis did not predict an imminent collapse of the militant group, and analysts said they expect a tough fight for the Syrian city. The US-led coalition has been pounding the Raqqa area regularly for months. On the 16 Feb 17 it conducted 17 strikes near the city, targeting two ISIS military staging areas and an ISIS combat unit, according to the US Central Command’s daily airstrike tally. It said the attacks destroyed four tunnels, three fighting positions, three ISIS-held buildings, two weapons storage areas, two ISIS headquarters, a bridge and other targets. The coalition also launched 11 airstrikes near Deir el-Zour, destroying 20 oil tanker trucks, six oil wellheads, two artillery systems, an oil storage tank and a crane. "ISIL is going to have to think hard about where they go next. Do they have any place to go?" said Christine Wormuth, the Pentagon’s top policy official from 2014 to 2016. Wormuth, now a senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said she expected some fighters would stay in Raqqa and fight. "The whole point of the isolate mission is to try to squeeze them and get them to leave and flush them out into the open," she said. President Barack Obama’s strategy was to recruit, organize and enable local Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters to retake Raqqa, rather than put American combat forces in the lead. The Trump administration is now re-evaluating that approach and considering options that could include a more direct US combat role. At his confirmation hearing a month ago, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said the US approach should be reviewed and "perhaps energized on a more aggressive timeline." He has not said what changes he would recommend. Last week, the top US commander for the counter-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said forces leading the fights for Raqqa and the northern Iraqi city of Mosul should prevail within the next six months. A major complication in the current strategy is Turkey’s strong objections to a Syrian Kurd role in the Raqqa campaign. The Turkish government views the US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists and a threat to Turkey. The US sees them as the most effective and reliable element among local fighters supported by the Pentagon.
Da’esh – linked Syrian militant groups on the 20 Feb 17 launched a surprise attack on moderate rebels in south-western Syria near the Golan Heights near where the Jordanian and Israeli borders converge, seizing several villages and a large town, rebels and witnesses said. Rebels said the militants were able to extend their area of control in territory that forms a natural barrier between Syria and Israel where the Yarmouk River flows after they overran the towns of Tseel, Sahem al Golan, Adwan and Tel Jamoua. "In a surprise attack ISIS made an attack on positions held by the Free Syrian Army FSA groups which no one expected to happen so fast," said Colonel Ismail Ayoub, a Syrian opposition army defector. The militants launched a wide-scale dawn attack from their enclave where they are entrenched in the towns of Jamla, Ain Zakar Nafaa and al Shajra, deploying dozens of armoured vehicles and several tanks to overrun nearby towns aided by sleeper cells among locals who helped the attackers, two rebel sources said. The militants were later driven out of at least two villages - Jileen and Heet - after a counteroffensive by Southern Front groups, an alliance of FSA factions that coordinates operations from a joint command centre in Jordan, said Abu Yahya, a rebel official in the Jabhat Thwar Surya faction. It includes groups that have received some support from foreign states including Gulf Arab governments. The Sunni hard-line militants are members of the so-called Khalid Ibn Al Walid Army, a grouping set up last year from a merger of two main militant factions who are believed to have pledged allegiance to ISIS and now control the strip of territory southeast of the Golan Heights. Jordanian army units stationed along the border were put in a state of heightened readiness, a Jordanian security source said, and residents in the area said sounds of mortars were heard clearly from the fighting across the border. A rebel official said that several FSA rebel groups were expected to get fresh supplies of arms from Jordan in the next few weeks to beef up their defences against the ultra-hardline Sunni radicals. Earlier this month the Jordanian air force said it conducted air strikes against the militants in the area, destroying an ammunition depot, a car bomb factory and barracks. Militants had reportedly executed several people in Tseel, the largest town that fell into militants' hands on the 20 Feb 17 and which has been a haven for tens of thousands of displaced peoples. Tseel and most of the area captured by the militants had until early last year been in their hands until an alliance of FSA groups and rival Islamist groups wrested control and then managed to lay siege on their territorial enclave. The ultra-hardline militants' offensive came as heavy fighting between rebels and the Syrian army entered its second week in Deraa city, nearly 40 km (25 miles) east of the Yarmouk Valley, in the first such surge of violence in over a year and a half. The timing of the ISIS-affiliated group's offensive has prompted accusations they had exploited the preoccupation of the FSA rebels in ongoing battles with the Syrian army. The capture of Manshiya district would put the remaining government-held part of the city within firing range of the rebels and thwart repeated army attempts to rupture supply lines linking rebel-held areas to the east and west of the city.
Da’esh Funding – Islamic State’s income has more than halved since 2014, due to its shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq and subsequent losses of significant sources of revenue, according to a collaborative new study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at King’s College London and EY on the 22 Feb 17. Whilst it is impossible to say exactly how much money Islamic State has at its disposal, findings show that the most significant sources of revenue are closely tied to the territory it controls. Most recent evidence suggests that total income from taxes/extortion, oil, kidnapping, antiquities, looting, and confiscations has decreased from up to $2 billion in 2014 to less than $800 million in 2016. There is also no evidence that the group has been successful in creating new sources of revenue. KCL says that in collaboration with EY’s Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services team, researchers at the ICSR conducted in-depth interviews with officials and experts, reviewed dozens of public statements, internal ISIS documents, parliamentary testimonies, and think tank, government and media reports detailing Islamic State finances. As well as shrinking territory, the researchers suggest that ISIS’s economic model has relied heavily on “relentless” territorial expansion to fine populations and seize assets. The report cites ISIS internal documents which suggest that $3.7m was raised in one month in 2015 through confiscations in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province but since then, these non-renewable revenue sources appear to make up an increasingly small proportion of its finances. The report also highlights the significance of the ongoing battle to reclaim Mosul from Islamic State. In addition to constituting a military and symbolic defeat, losing control of the city would have large financial repercussions for Islamic State. The Iraqi city is the commercial capital of its proto-state. As a result, the report suggests that if Mosul is re-taken in its entirety, it will likely be a water-shed moment in Islamic State’s financial prospects. Subsequent action by The Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, such as the launch of Operation Tidal Wave II in October of 2015, has also been pivotal in destroying the infrastructure and key transportation systems integral to the Islamic State’s financial fortunes. John Holland-McCowan, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s and Research Fellow at ICSR, led the research and said: ‘We have reason to believe that re-capturing territory from the Islamic State is having a dramatic impact on its financial situation. However, the group and its predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, have demonstrated an ability to operate under much tighter financial constraints. As a result, these declining figures do not mean that they will be unable to carry out terrorist attacks outside, or within, their territory in the future.’ Professor Peter Neumann, Director of ICSR, said: “It is very difficult to accurately quantify Islamic State’s financial situation but terrorist operations are often cheap and funded on an ad hoc basis. There is good reason to believe that financial revenue will continue to decline as territorial progress is made and the loss of Mosul may come to be particularly significant. Whilst this is evidence that efforts to combat such streams of revenue are succeeding, it is far too early to declare victory.” Dr. Stefan Heissner, Managing Partner of the EY Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services practice in Central Europe, said: “It is essential that both governments and the private sector have an in-depth understanding of the way the Islamic State finances itself. Based on this knowledge, they can work on reducing or stopping the sources of income. A close monitoring or blocking of specific financial transactions, as well as thorough due diligence on business partners should be important elements of the effort to degrade the Islamic State’s finances.” Another recent paper published by the ICSR translated and analysed a 55-page document compiled and published by the Islamic State in 2016, which offered a unique window into the mind-set of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s propagandists. The document showed evidence of a coherent narrative that is, at once, positive and alternative with the mainstream media considered an effective weapon by the Islamic State.
—- Estimates vary widely. It remains impossible to say exactly how much money Islamic State has at its disposal.
—- The group’s most significant sources of revenue are closely tied to its territory. They are: (1) taxes and fees; (2) oil; and (3) looting, confiscations, and fines. We have found no hard evidence that foreign donations continue to be significant. Similarly, revenues from the sale of antiquities and kidnap for ransom, while difficult to quantify, are unlikely to have been major sources of income.
—- In the years since 2014, Islamic State’s annual revenue has more than halved: from up to $1.9b in 2014 to a maximum of $870m in 2016. There are no signs yet that the group has created significant new funding streams that would make up for recent losses. With current trends continuing, the Islamic State’s “business model” will soon fail.
—- Evaluating Islamic State finances through traditional approaches towards “countering terrorist finance” leads to serious misconceptions. Islamic State is fundamentally different because of the large territory it controls and the unique opportunities this offers for generating income.
—- Conversely, its reliance on population and territory helps to explain the group’s current financial troubles. According to figures provided by the Global Coalition, by November 2016 Islamic State had lost 62 percent of its mid-2014 “peak” territory in Iraq, and 30 percent in Syria. From a revenue perspective, this means fewer people and businesses to tax and less control over natural resources such as oil fields.
—- There are good reasons to believe that Islamic State revenues will further decline. In particular, capturing Mosul, the Caliphate’s “commercial capital”, will have a significant detrimental effect on
Islamic State finances.
—- Nevertheless, Islamic State, and its Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) predecessor, have repeatedly demonstrated that financial and military setbacks can be overcome.
—- Moreover, the decline in revenues may not have an immediate effect on the group’s ability to carry out terrorist attacks outside its territory. While hurting Islamic State finances puts pressure on the organization and its state-building project, wider efforts will continue to be necessary to ultimately defeat it.
— Read more in Stefan Heissner et al., Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State’s Financial Fortunes (ICSR, February 2017)
Da’esh/Iraq – Da’esh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued a statement acknowledging the group’s defeat in Iraq, as he urged supporters to either hide or flee, Iraqi television network, Alsumaria, quoted local sources as saying. According to the sources in the Iraqi governorate of Nineveh, Al-Baghdadi’s statement was titled ‘farewell speech’ and was distributed among ISIS’ preachers and clerics on the 28 Feb 17. Al-Baghdadi ordered the closure of the ISIS office regulating their fighters and ordered non-Arab fighters to either return to their countries or detonate themselves, promising them “72 women in heaven.” Many of ISIS’ leaders in Iraq has now fled towards the group’s controlled areas in neighbouring Syria, the source added. Iraqi forces backed by international and US aid have been advancing towards ISIS-occupied areas in Iraq over the past weeks, where the terrorist organization suffered one defeat after another in Mosul.
Iran/United States – Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is to conduct military drills during the reporting period it was announced by a senior commander announced on the 19 Feb 17 despite warnings from the United States and fresh sanctions over a ballistic missile test. “The manoeuvres called ‘Grand Prophet 11’ started on the 20 Feb 17 and lasted three days,” General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the force’s ground units, told a news conference. He said rockets would be used without specifying which kind. In early Feb 17 Iran conducted drills involving short-range missiles at a time of heightened tensions with the United States. Iran has said the exercises were aimed at demonstrating Tehran’s “complete preparedness to deal with the threats” and “humiliating sanctions” from Washington. US President Donald Trump slapped fresh sanctions against Tehran’s weapons procurement network following a ballistic missile test on the 29 Jan 17. “Iran would do well to look at the calendar and realize there’s a new president in the Oval Office. And Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president,” Vice President Mike Pence said earlier this month. New Pentagon chief James Mattis, for his part, has branded Iran “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”. Iranian officials have rejected the threats emphasizing that the missile program is purely defensive.
Iran/Syria – I ran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, pointing to Sunni Islamist militants in Syria fighting against its allies in Damascus, told the Munich Security Conference that the use of chemical weapons can never be condoned he stated on the 19 Feb 17. Damascus, an ally of majority-Shi’ite Iran, this week rejected a recent Human Rights Watch report that said its military and allied forces had used chemical weapons during their capture of Aleppo last year. It instead accuses anti-government fighters of using chemical weapons. "The use of chemical weapons can never be condoned. Unfortunately the terrorist organizations Nusra and Daesh still possess chemical weapons," Zarif said. The United States last month blacklisted 18 senior Syrian officials it said were connected to the country's weapons of mass destruction program, after an international investigation found Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine gas attacks against civilians.
Iran/North Korea – Officials from both countries say Iran and North Korea want to strengthen relations. A report on the 19 Feb 17 by ICANA.ir, the news agency of Iran’s Parliament, quotes parliament speaker Ali Larijani as saying: “We have always been after stability of relations with North Korea.” Larijani was addressing Choe Thae-bok, visiting chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly. He also said both countries should improve economic relations. Thae-bok responded, saying: “North Korea is seeking improved relations with Iran.” He also praised Iran’s economic and defence improvements. The report said both officials complained about “interventions in independent countries” by the United States. Thae-book is in Iran to participate in an international conference in support of the Palestinians.
Iran/Turkey – Diplomatic tensions escalated on the 21 Feb 17 between Turkey and Iran as the countries traded accusations over their roles in the Syria conflict and the Middle East. The pair have been regional rivals for centuries but have sought to forge a pragmatic relationship in recent years, with the Islamic Republic strongly supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after last year's failed coup. But mainly Sunni Muslim Turkey and Shiite Iran have been on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria, with Ankara seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran, along with Russia, his key backer. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu lashed out at Iran in a speech to the Munich Security Conference at the weekend, saying some of its actions had undermined security in the region and urging Tehran to promote stability. "Iran wants to make Syria and Iraq Shiite," he said, quoted by Turkish state media. Erdogan has also in recent weeks accused Iran of promoting a "Persian nationalism" that had damaged the Middle East. The Iranian foreign ministry on the 20 Feb 17 summoned the Turkish envoy to issue a protest after Cavusoglu's comments while spokesman Bahram Ghassemi warned that Tehran's patience "had limits". "We hope that such statements are not made again. If our Turkish friends continue with this attitude we will not remain silent," he added. Turkey's foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu hit back by saying it was "incomprehensible" to receive such accusations from Tehran who he charged with "not hesitating to push into war zones refugees sheltering from regional crises." "Instead of accusing countries that have criticised Iran, it should take constructive steps and review its own regional policies." The angry exchanges have come just after Erdogan returned from a week-long tour to the Arabian Peninsula, including talks with the leadership of Iran's arch regional foe and Ankara's Sunni ally Saudi Arabia. Harmony between Turkey and Iran is crucial in ensuring the preservation of a fragile ceasefire in Syria, also backed by Russia, that came into force at the end of last year as a basis for peace talks. Although Ankara says Assad should go, the government has occasionally softened its stance, indicating the president could have some role in determining the country's future. The International Crisis Group (ICG) warned in a report in Dec 16 that only "by finding common ground" could Turkey and Iran help stabilise the region. "The alternative, crystallised in the zero-sum dynamic that marks Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia, is even greater disorder and suffering," it warned.
Iran/Israel – Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on the 21 Feb 17 for the "complete liberation" of Palestine from the "tumour" of Israel, renewing his regime's refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist. Khamenei was speaking at the sixth international conference in support of Palestinian intifada (uprising), one of a number of showcase events the Tehran authorities organise in solidarity with the Palestinians. "This cancerous tumour, since its start, has grown incrementally and its treatment must be incremental too," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state television. "Multiple intifadas and continuous resistance have succeeded in achieving very important incremental goals. "It continues to advance towards its other objectives, ultimately the complete liberation of Palestine," he added. Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran has been implacable in its opposition to Israel and has provided extensive support to Palestinian militant groups. It expressed strong backing for the two Palestinian intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-05. Hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who served as president from 2005 to 2013, famously called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", a comment that sparked an international outcry. Iranian officials have said the call refers to the state not the people, and underline that the Islamic republic has its own Jewish community. But Khamenei's renewed reference to Israel as a "tumour" comes as new US President Donald Trump fills his administration with appointees with hawkishly pro-Israel and anti-Iran views. Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has gone on the record calling on Sunni Arab states to ally with the Jewish state against Shiite Iran.
Iraq – Four bombs went off on the 25 Feb 17 near a minor pipeline from an oilfield close to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, security and oil industry sources said. The pipeline delivers crude from the Bai Hassan oilfield to a degassing station in Kirkuk, though pumping had been halted for maintenance at the time of the blasts, security sources and officials at the state-run North Oil Company said. "Four bombs blew up near a pipeline in Bai Hassan oilfield this morning, causing a fire. Fire-fighters are trying to put out the blaze," said an oil engineer. One member of the Kurdish security forces was killed and two were wounded when three more bombs exploded as they approached the location of the first blast, a Kurdish security member said.
Israel/Ammonia Threat – Israel's environment ministry said on the 22 Feb 17 it would not renew the license of an ammonia container in the northern city of Haifa, less than 10 days after a court ordered it be emptied. The container, which can hold 12,000 tonnes of the toxin, put the public "at a risk we cannot accept", it said in a statement. The issue was highlighted last year when Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the ammonia container would be like "a nuclear bomb" if hit by his militant group's missiles. The ministry banned Haifa Chemicals from refilling the container as of 1 Mar 17. It was, however, granted another three months to distribute the material to relevant industries as alternative sources of ammonia are located. The decision, which follows a hearing by the ministry in Dec 16 comes after a local Haifa court accepted the municipality's appeal and ruled on 13 Feb 17 that the container must be emptied within 10 days. Haifa Chemicals had appealed the ruling, with a new court hearing set for 26 Feb 17. A spokesman for Haifa municipality said they would continue to insist to the court that the container be emptied without delay. The decision and court ruling come after a decades-long struggle of environmental groups opposing the tank that for 31 years has stood in the city's Mediterranean bay. Nasrallah, whose group targeted the Haifa area in a 2006 war with Israel, echoed warnings from experts and activists cited in Israeli media that "tens of thousands of people" would be killed in case the container was struck. Ammonia, which can be used in fertilisers and for freezing, is poisonous to humans. A group of experts said that even without Nasrallah's firepower, the container or the boat transferring the material to it could crack or leak, exposing thousands to danger and possibly death.
Israel/Gaza Strip – Israeli aircraft hit targets in the Gaza Strip on the 27 Feb 17 hours after a rocket fired from the Palestinian territory slammed into southern Israel. "Three bombs were dropped by the air force on a Hamas military base east of Nusseirat refugee camp," south of Gaza city, a Palestinian security source said. The planes also made two raids against Hamas lookout posts along the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis, and on a base of Islamic Jihad's military wing in the north of the strip, the source said. Israeli tanks along the border fired at several targets. The Gaza health ministry said that a total of three people were lightly wounded. Before dawn the Israeli military said "a projectile fired from the Gaza Strip hit an open area in southern Israel." No injuries were reported, it added. Early in Feb 17 Israel hit Gaza with tank fire and air strikes that wounded three Palestinians in response to a projectile fired from the Palestinian territory which did not inflict casualties. On the 16 Feb 17 Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Gaza's Hamas rulers that he would respond harshly to their "provocation" in future.
Jordon – Jordan has arrested 700 jihadists since a deadly Dec 16 attack claimed by the Islamic State group, a leading lawyer for Islamist groups said on the 16 Feb 17 charging some of them had been tortured. Musa Abdullat told a Amman news conference that none of those detained had links to IS, suggesting they were rounded up as a "precautionary" measure ahead of a 29 Mar 17 Arab summit to be held in Amman. "Since the beginning of the year and following the Karak attack... a total of 700 people from various Islamist groups have been arrested," Abdullat said, adding that most were radical Sunni Muslim Salafists. Jordanian authorities were not immediately available for comment. According to Abdullat, "lawyers have been prevented from meeting with the detainees" and some of the prisoners had been denied visits from their families. "We have received many complaints from families of detainees who say that they have been tortured by the security services," he said. Some prisoners had reportedly been forced to shave off their beards, a symbol of radical Islam, while others were beaten and suffered broken bones and teeth, he charged. But Abdullat said that none of the detainees have any links to IS or to Al-Qaeda and other groups fighting in neighbouring Syria. "They are members of various Islamist factions" based in Jordan, he said. The kingdom was hit by four attacks in 2016, including a suicide attack in June that killed seven guards near the border with Syria that was also claimed by IS. Thousands of Jordanians are believed to be followers of IS and Al-Qaeda. According to Abdullah, the number of Jordanian followers of jihadist groups has risen to some 5,500 while he estimated the number of Jordanians battling in Iraq and Syria at around 1,500. Salafist sources have in the past said that some 4,000 Jordanians are followers of jihadist groups. The 19 Dec 16 attack in Karak, home to one of the region's biggest Crusader castles, killed seven policemen and two Jordanian civilians as well as a female Canadian tourist, and wounded 34 others. The attack was claimed by IS.
Kurds/Russia/Geneva Talks – Russia hopes the Syrian opposition will form a joint delegation for the Geneva peace talks, RIA Novosti news agency reported on the 27 Feb 17 citing Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. The agency also quoted Bogdanov as saying that Kurdish representatives should also take part in the talks. The United Nations opened the Syria peace talks with a symbolic ceremony on the 23 Feb 17.
Saudi Arabia/Iran – Saudi Arabia's foreign minister on the 19 Feb 17 rejected Iranian calls for dialogue saying Tehran was the main sponsor of terrorism in the world, a destabilizing force in the Middle East and wanted to “destroy us.” “Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Adel al-Jubeir told delegates at the Munich Security Conference. It’s determined to upend the order in Middle East ... (and) until and unless Iran changes its behaviour it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this.” Al-Jubeir said Iran was propping up the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, funding the Houthi separatists in Yemen and violent groups across the region. He said the international community needed to set clear “red lines” to halt Iran's actions.
Syria – A suicide bomber attacked Turkish-backed rebels just outside the Syrian town of Al-Bab on the 24 Feb 17 killing 51 people in a major blow just hours after they hailed its capture from the Islamic State group. The bomber blew up a vehicle packed with explosives outside a rebel command centre in the village of Susian, eight kilometres (five miles) northeast of Al-Bab, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The blast devastated the twin command posts and also seriously wounded a large number of fighters. It had earlier said that 42 people, mainly rebels, had died, but later clarified to say the majority of those killed were civilians. There was no immediate claim for the attack, but rebels blamed it on IS, which had put up fierce resistance in Al-Bab for weeks. "(Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi's dogs could not bear their huge loss, and their suicide bombers have begun to take revenge," said field commander Abu Jaafar of the Mutasem Brigades. He said rebel fighters, Turkish soldiers, and civilians from Al-Bab had called a meeting in Susian "to organise a security apparatus and set a plan for rebuilding al-Bab." "This information reached the (IS) sleeper cells, which prepared a car bomb" that detonated at Susian around 0800 hrs local (0600 hrs GMT). Separately, two Turkish soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Al-Bab on the 24 Feb 17 as they were carrying out road checks, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. The strategic town, just 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the Turkish border, was the jihadists' last stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.
Syria/Fateh al-Sham Front – A suicide assault on two security service bases in Syria's third city of Homs killed dozens of people, including a top intelligence chief, on the 25 Feb 17 overshadowing peace talks in Geneva. Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front claimed the spectacular attack which targeted and killed General Hassan Daabul, a close confidant of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 42 people were killed when the bombers targeted the headquarters of state security and military intelligence in the heavily guarded Ghouta and Mahatta neighbourhoods. Provincial governor Talal Barazi said 30 people were killed and 24 wounded. State television confirmed Daabul's death, saying that the general had been specifically targeted by one of the suicide bombers. The bombers engaged in prolonged gun battles with intelligence officers before blowing themselves up. Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said they lasted two hours. Fateh al-Sham said five of its militants took part in the assault. State television and the Observatory spoke of six bombers. Homs has been under the full control of the government since May 14 when rebels withdrew from the centre under a UN-brokered truce deal. But it has seen repeated bombings since then. Twin attacks killed 64 people early 2016. Like its jihadist rival, the Islamic State group, Fateh al-Sham is not party to a ceasefire between government forces and rebel groups taking part in the Geneva talks. Despite renouncing links with Al-Qaeda last year, it remains blacklisted as a "terrorist" group by the United Nations and Western governments. The group overran almost all of the north-western province of Idlib in 2015 in alliance with Islamist rebels. But relations have since frayed as its allies have joined peace negotiations with the government, first in Kazakhstan earlier this year and then in Geneva. Fateh al-Sham has meanwhile been targeted by intensifying air strikes, not just by the government but also by its ally Russia and by the US-led coalition fighting IS. Scores of its fighters have been killed since the start of the year. The tensions have triggered deadly clashes between the jihadists and their erstwhile allies in Ahrar al-Sham -- the largest Islamist rebel faction. The 25 Feb 16 attack comes as the UN is struggling to get the new round of peace talks in Geneva off the ground aimed at ending the six-year civil war. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said that despite government and rebel delegations being present for the talks there had been little discussion of substance between the rival parties. "We discussed issues relating to the format of the talks exclusively," said Syrian regime delegation chief Bashar al-Jaafari after meeting de Mistura on the 24 Feb 16. The Homs attack came after IS claimed a 24 Feb 17 suicide bombing that killed 51 people outside the northern town of Al-Bab, which Turkish-backed rebels said this week they had taken from the jihadists. The Observatory said that a car bomb targeted twin command posts at a rebel base in Susian, about eight kilometres (five miles) from Al-Bab, which was one of IS's last remaining strongholds in Aleppo province.
Yemen/al-Qaeda – A suicide bomber killed eight people and wounded 11 on the 24 Feb 17 when he blew up his vehicle at the gate of a Yemeni army base, security sources said. The bomber struck Najda Camp in the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar just 55 kilometres (33 miles) along the coast from second city Aden where the government has its headquarters. He failed to get through the gate and heavy exchanges of fire ensued as other assailants tied to penetrate the base. The explosives were concealed in the back of a pick-up truck under a pile of firewood, the sources said. There was no immediate claim for the attack but a military source said it bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda.