Islamic State says it killed 20 Nigerian soldiers in shootout, executed 9 more

NigeriaThe West Africa province of the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the killing 20 Nigerian soldiers and the execution of nine more soldiers that were captured in various operations, according to Reuters. The group behind the attacks emerged in 2002 under the name Boko Haram (“Western education is forbidden”), as part of a growing wave of anti-government sentiment in Nigeria’s Muslim-majority northern regions. In 2014, the group pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria —otherwise known as Islamic State. Since that time, Boko Haram has rebranded itself as Islamic State – West Africa Province, while a smaller faction of the group has refused to align itself with the ISIS and continues to operate under the name Boko Haram.

In an English-language statement posted online on Wednesday, the ISIS-affiliated faction of Boko Haram said that its fighters were responsible for the deaths of 20 Nigerian Army soldiers, who were killed on Monday in Gubio, a town located in Nigeria’s extreme northeastern Borno State. Reuters cited an unnamed “security source and a humanitarian worker”, who said that the insurgents attacked a military barracks on the outskirts of Gubio late on Monday evening. According to the report, the attackers used motorcycles and non-standard technical vehicles, or ‘technicals’ —open-backed pickup trucks mounting heavy weapons. The attack was followed by an hour-long shootout between the Nigerian Army forces and the insurgents, which resulted in the soldiers retreating, leaving behind the bodies of at least 15 troops, said Reuters. On Wednesday, the Islamic State released a separate video that claims to show the execution of nine captured Nigerian soldiers. According to Reuters, the soldiers in the video disclose their names, rank and unit, before they are executed by masked militants. At the end of the video, a group of Islamic State fighters is shown pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi. The video concludes with footage of artillery, armored vehicles and tanks, and even boats, which the Islamic State claims to have captured from the Nigerian military.

This development is bound to increase skepticism about the Nigerian government’s repeated claims that it has been able to quell the Islamist insurgency that plagued the country’s northern regions for the past 15 years. In late 2015, the Nigerian government proclaimed the end of the Islamist insurgency after its troops destroyed all of Boko Haram’s camps in Borno State. However, the group appears to have reinvented itself and to have been able to use its new affiliation with the Islamic State to attract more funding and fighters during the past two years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 May 2019 | Permalink

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ISIS threatens stability of former Soviet Republics, says Russian spy chief

ISIS Afghanistan

ISIS Afghanistan

Thousands of Islamic State fighters are operating in Afghanistan’s northern border regions and are attempting to destabilize former Soviet Republics with substantial Muslim populations, according to Russia’s domestic spy chief. This warning was issued by Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which functions as Russia’s primary counter-terrorism agency. Bortnikov made these remarks during a visit to the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, for a meeting of the heads of intelligence agencies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an intergovernmental organization comprised of former Soviet Republics in the Eurasian region. The meeting was reportedly held behind closed doors, but Russia’s government-owned news agency TASS carried a summary of Bortnikov’s remarks.

The Russian intelligence chief said that, with the aid of the intelligence services of CIS states like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and others, the FSB was able to uncover and suppress eight Islamic State cells in the past year, which operated in the Central Asian region. However, the reach of the CIS countries does not extend to Afghanistan, said Bortnikov, where as many as 5,000 Islamic State fighters are congregating along the country’s border with three CIS states, namely Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many of these fighters are Turkmens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, and other citizens of CIS states, who previously fought with the Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere, and now form integral components of the Islamic State’s fighting force in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It appears that the Islamic State is now attempting to exploit the mountainous and porous borders of northern Afghanistan in order to destabilize neighboring countries, he said. These fighters intend to exploit “migrant and refugee flows [in Central Asia] in order to operate covertly from the Afghan battle zones to neighboring countries” and from there possibly to Russia, according to Bortnikov.

These covert activities of Islamic State fighters have already caused an escalation of tensions in the region and can be expected to continue to do so, as these groups radicalize and co-opt Muslim communities in CIS countries, noted Bortnikov. He added that popular responses to Islamist radicalization are prompting increasing incidents of “anti-Islamic terrorism”, which further-fuel religious and ethnic tensions in the region. As a reminder, last week the Islamic State announced that its so-called Khorasan Province fighters would be amalgamated into a new armed group calling itself Islamic State – Pakistan Province. Earlier this month, the group also proclaimed the establishment of a new overseas province in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, called “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind). In addition to these two forces, there are currently an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan’s Pashtun regions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 May 2019 | Permalink

After India province, Islamic State proclaims a new province in Pakistan

ISIS PakistanThe group calling itself the Islamic State has announced the establishment of a new overseas province in Pakistan, just days after proclaiming another new overseas province in northern India. Until recently, the Islamic State’s operations in Asia were conducted under the banner of the Islamic State – Khorasan Province, or IS-KP. The shadowy group was founded in early 2015 and was led by former Taliban warlords who pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the spiritual leader and self-proclaimed emir of the Islamic State. Since that time, at least two of IS-KP’s leaders have been killed by United States forces, while the group has been engaged in a war against rival militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, notably the Taliban.

Last week, the Islamic State announced the establishment of a new overseas province in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state. The announcement was made by Amaq, which serves as the news agency of the Islamic State. According to the news release, the Islamic State named the new province “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind). It is based in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, which is located in one of the three administrative divisions of the Indian administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. On Wednesday a new press release by Amaq proclaimed the establishment of the Islamic State – Pakistan Province. In the same press release, the Islamic State said that the new overseas province’s first action was the killing of a Pakistani police officer in Mastung, a mountainous town located in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province. In addition to killing the police officer, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an armed attack at a gathering of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Pashtun-dominant Taliban group that operates on Pakistani soil. The attack took place last week in Quetta, the largest urban center and provincial capital of Baluchistan.

Last month, the Islamic State said it was behind a suicide attack at a Quetta outdoor marketplace, which killed 20 and injured over 50 people. The attack was targeted Pakistani Hazara Muslims, who are seen as heretical by several militant Islamist groups that operate in the region. The latest announcement of a new Islamic State overseas province may be seen as evidence that the Islamic State is gradually moving its center of operations to the eastern regions of Asia. In April the militant group said it was behind a barrage of synchronized suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, which killed over 250 people.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 May 2019 | Permalink

Islamic State announces new overseas province in India for the first time

ISIS IndiaThe group calling itself the Islamic State has announced the establishment of a new overseas province in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state. The announcement was made over the weekend by Amaq, which serves as the news agency of the Islamic State. According to the news release, the Islamic State (known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has named the new province “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind), and said it is based in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, which is located in one of the three administrative divisions of the Indian administered state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Amaq report surfaced following an armed clash between a group of Islamist militants and Indian security forces in Amshipora, a village in the district of Shopian, which is in the foothills of the northern Himalayan Mountains. At least one Islamist militant was killed in the armed confrontation, which reportedly lasted two hours. Indian authorities identified the dead militant as Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, and said he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The Amaq statement alleged that the militants in Amshipora had “inflicted casualties” on the security forces, but the claim was denied by the Indian government. The Reuters news agency spoke with Rita Katz, an Israeli analyst who directs the SITE Intelligence Group in the United States. She said that the announcement of a new Islamic State province “should not be written off”, but added that “the establishment of a province in a region where [the Islamic State] has nothing resembling actual governance is absurd”.

Writing in the Hong-Kong-based Asia Times, Prakash Katoch, a retired lieutenant general in the Indian Army’s Special Forces, said that the announcement of a wilayah in India was a first for the Islamic State. He warned that after announcing a province in Indian Kashmir, the Islamic State “may also attempt to increase its presence in other Indian states” with a significant Muslim presence, such as Kerala or West Bengal. Katoch noted that “a number of young men and women from Kerala” had been identified as having joined the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017. Several of them even traveled to Syria to fight for the Sunni Islamist group, he added.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 May 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: Sri Lanka attacks may indicate ISIS is moving east, say experts

Sri Lanka ISISThe April 21 suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, which were claimed by the Islamic State, may indicate that the militant group is moving east in search of fertile recruiting ground, according to some observers. In the words of The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, the attacks “reminded the world in dramatic fashion that [the Islamic State] does not need to control territory to be a major threat”. In fact, as the loss of its Middle Eastern territory has forced the Islamic State to decentralize, the group has begun to turn to its peripheral affiliates further afield. These “will become more dangerous” as the core of the Islamic State weakens, according to Callimachi and Schmitt.

But the Sri Lanka attacks may also demonstrate that the Islamic State is moving further east in search of either territory to conquer or new groups of committed fighters to incorporate into its ranks. It follows that Sri Lanka is one of several East Asian countries that face major threats by the group, as the latter tries “to ignite creating fear in societies already battling so much division”, says Ash Gallagher, an American war correspondent based in East Asia. Writing for the British newspaper The Independent, Gallagher notes that not only is the Islamic State already established in Afghanistan (where it has “swallowed whole units of Taliban fighters”, according to The Times), but it is becoming increasingly powerful in the Philippines. Experts have been warning for a while that the number of foreign Islamic State fighters entering the Philippines has been growing, and the momentum they generate among local Islamist groups may prompt them to declare a new caliphate in the near future. In fact, a caliphate was declared there in May 2017 by local Islamist leaders who had previously declared their allegiance to the Islamic State. By October, government forces had defeated the so-called “East Asia Wilayah”, a self-declared overseas province of the Islamic State, by retaking Marawi, the capital city of Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province, from Islamic State rebels. The military operation became known as “the battle of Marawi” and is thought to have been the longest urban battle in the postwar history of the Philippines. More than 1,200 people died in the five-month battle, most of them civilians. Hundreds of thousands remain displaced to this day as a result of the fighting. Read more of this post

Video shows alleged Sri Lanka suicide bombers posing with ISIS flags

National Thowheeth Jama'ath NTJA video posted online by supporters of the Sunni militant group Islamic State appears to show the suicide bombers who carried out Sunday’s bloody attacks in Sri Lanka posing alongside Islamic State flags. Three Catholic churches and three five-star hotels were targeted on Easter Sunday by a total of nine separate blasts, which killed nearly 360 people and injured over 500. The near-simultaneous attacks struck locations in Sri Lanka’s western and eastern coasts and are believed to constitute the bloodiest terrorist attack in the country’s history.

All seven suicide bombers who carried out Sunday’s attacks have been identified as Sri Lankan nationals and members of the Sunni jihadist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ). The Sri Lankan group has claimed responsibility for no more than a handful of mostly sabotage-themed operations in its three-year history. It is believed to have been established by hardline Islamists in 2016. It made its first public appearance in 2018, in response to a series of anti-Muslim pogroms that were led by Sinhalese Buddhists in the island country. There are reports suggesting that Sunday’s blasts were part of a much wider operation aimed at destabilizing Sri Lanka. Police said they found nearly 100 bomb detonators at the Central Colombo bus station on Monday, while an unexploded bomb was found inside a parked vehicle at another church in the Sri Lankan capital. An unexploded pipe bomb was also discovered in the vicinity of the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo on Sunday night.

Indian intelligence officials were the first to openly draw a connection between Sunday’s attacks and the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). One Indian official told the Hong Kong-based Asia Times newspaper that “the NTJ were only foot soldiers and the controllers were someone else”. On Monday, a video appeared on an online channel associated with supporters of ISIS, which contains a montage of the aftermath of Sunday’s attacks, interspersed with still images of masked men brandishing rifles in front of ISIS flags. The video names the men and implies they carried out the suicide blasts. The video claims to come from ISIS and issues threats against “Crusaders” —an anti-Western term often used by Sunni jihadists. The video also warns that the Islamic State’s “armies remain everywhere and [continue to] blast the fortresses of the infidels”.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency on Monday night, which is expected to last several weeks. The announcement of the state of emergency was made by the country’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, following a meeting of the National Security Council, which he chaired.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2019 | Permalink

Documents show ISIS plans sleeper cell attacks in Middle East, Europe

Islamic State - IADocuments acquired from retreating Islamic State fighters in Syria appear to show that the militant group is planning a series of high-profile attacks in Europe and the Middle East, using newly formed sleeper cell units. The information was revealed over the weekend by the British newspaper The Sunday Times. The London-based broadsheet said that the information was found last month in flash drive, which was left behind by retreating Islamic State forces in Syria, and acquired by Kurdish militia forces. The flash drive was found to contain dozens of internal documents belonging the militant group, which is also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Among them, said The Times, are several memoranda authored by an ISIS leader and operations planner known as Abu Taher al-Tajiki. In his memoranda, al-Tajiki informs the group’s senior leadership that he commands numerous fighters who are willing and able to carry out strikes “far away” from the Islamic State’s strongholds in the Middle East and Africa. He states that he is in regular communication with them and that they are awaiting instructions to “undertake the operations”. Al-Tajiki then calls for the creation of a Foreign Relations Office under the Islamic State’s Department of Operations, which would be tasked with launching attacks throughout Europe. He adds that the new Office can also count on the assistance of computer hackers and other technically literate Islamic State members. In another memorandum, al-Tajiki suggests the creation of what he calls “crocodile cells” in Syria and Iraq. These cells will “lurk beneath the surface” and “attack at the right moment to assassinate the enemies of Allah”, says al-Tajiki.

The Times report comes as experts warn that the Islamic State retains significant financial power, despite the loss of its territories in the Middle East. In a well-informed article in The Atlantic, David Kenner reports from Beirut that the Islamic State without its territories is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the group cannot rely on taxation and oil revenues that used to enrich its coffers by $1 million per day during the height of its power. On the other hand, argues Kenner, the loss of its territory has freed the Islamic State from the costs associated with state-running and allows it to devote its financial resources “exclusively to terrorist activity”. These resources —cash and other assets— are formidable, says Kenner. In the words of Howard Shatz, senior economist at the Rand Corporation and an expert on ISIS’ finances, we “don’t know where it all went” after ISIS lost its territory. We do know that much of it has been invested in “legitimate commercial enterprises”, says Shatz, with the help of profit-oriented middlemen with access to markets that are as far away as Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. A lot of it is hidden in suitcases and boxes throughout Iraq, Syria and Turkey. All of it is intended to be used to fund terrorist attacks, warns Kenner.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 March 2019 | Permalink