ISIS militant was first-ever Filipino suicide bomber, say police officials

Jolo PhilippinesAn Islamic State militant who blew himself up in the Philippines last week was probably history’s first-ever Filipino suicide bomber, according to police officials. The man was one of two militants who detonated suicide vests in Indanan, a town in the southern Philippines island of Sulu, on Friday. The twin blasts killed six people, in addition to the two suicide bombers. The target of the attack was a military base that houses the 1st Brigade Combat team of the Philippine Army. The 1,500-strong brigade is leading the counterinsurgency campaign in the country’s heavily Muslim southern regions. Three of the victims were 1st Brigade Combat team soldiers, while three civilians who happened to be walking nearby were also killed.

The Islamic State —known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)— claimed responsibility for the attack, leading many to speculate that the suicide bombers were not Filipinos, but other Arab nationals. That would fit the pattern of the two previous suicide bombings that have taken place in the history of the Philippines. In July of 2018, a Moroccan ISIS follower drove a van laden with explosives at an army checkpoint on the island of Basilan, killing ten people. And in January of this year, two Indonesian suicide bombers attacked a Roman Catholic congregation on Jolo Island, killing 23 and injuring over 100 churchgoers. All three suicide bombers were members of Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino Salafi jihadist group that pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. Moreover, none of the three suicide bombers were native Filipinos; rather they had traveled to the island country in order to carry out terrorist attacks.

This pattern may have changed as of last Friday, however. According to local military officials, a Filipino woman identified the remains of one of the two suicide bombers as belonging to her son. The woman reportedly told authorities that her son was named Norman Lasuca and was 23 years old. She also said that he, like his father, belonged to the Tausūg, a million-strong predominantly Muslim ethnic group that includes many recent converts to Islam.

On Tuesday, several Philippine Army commanders gave a press conference in Sulu, where they discussed the latest information regarding last week’s suicide attacks. One of the speakers, Brigadier-General Edgard Arevalo, said that the purported mother of the suicide bomber had provided DNA samples to the authorities, in order to help positively identify the body. If the DNA tests are positive “then […] we can say conclusively that the person is Filipino”, which will be a first, said Arevalo. A positive result would suggest that the ideology of ISIS may be more appealing to local Filipino youth than has generally been assumed by counterterrorism officials, Arevalo concluded.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 July 2019 | Permalink

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ISIS could make bigger comeback than 2014 in Iraq and Syria, warns new report

ISIS meetingThe Islamic State is capable of make a sudden comeback in the Middle East that could be “faster and even more devastating” than 2014, when the group quickly conquered territory the size of Britain, according to a new report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). The Washington-based think-tank’s report is based on the most recent data about the presence in the Middle East of the militant Islamist group, which is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The 76-page report (.pdf) is titled ISIS’s Second Comeback: Assessing the Next ISIS Insurgency, and is written by ISW’s researchers Jennifer Cafarella, Brandon Wallace and Jason Zhou.

The authors claim that the Islamic State moved its forces undercover during the multinational military campaign that eventually sacked its self-proclaimed caliphate. They go on to explain that by “deliberately withdrawing and relocating may of its fighters and their families”, the group managed to preserve a large part of its fighting forces, which are “now dispersed across [Iraq and Syria] and are waging a capable insurgency”. The latter is funded through ISIS’ global finance network and armed with weapons and other war materiel that the group managed to hide in tunnel systems and other hidden facilities. Islamic State insurgents have thus been engaged in a broad and largely successful campaign to assassinate village and town elders across Iraq, and have even reestablished a sharia-based taxation system in some of Iraq’s predominantly Sunni areas. The group also retains a significant presence in Syria, where it continues to battle the Syrian regime, US-supported Kurdish forces, and other Sunni militant groups, including al-Qaeda, according to the report.

Through its widening insurgency, the Islamic State has managed to subvert Iraqi and Syrian government efforts to reintroduce a semblance of stability and safety in areas previously conquered by the militant group. In fact, not only are government forces finding it “increasingly difficult to establish durable and legitimate security and political structures” in those areas, but they should be worried about the possibility of ISIS actually reconquering territory in both countries, the report warns. The report’s authors place much of the blame for ISIS’ resurgence at Washington’s door, describing America’s hasty military withdrawal from Iraq and Syria as “a critical mistake”. In its recommendations section, the report calls on the United States to develop and implement a long-term counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS, which will combine military and community-building measures. “Another limited [military] intervention will not be sufficient” to eliminate the threat, the report’s authors claim.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 June 2019 | Permalink

No evidence Islamic State had foreknowledge of Sri Lanka bombings, says official

Sri Lanka Easter bombingsIt is not at all clear that the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claimed responsibility of the Sri Lanka bombings in April, had foreknowledge of the attacks, according to a top official. The militant Sunni group claimed it was behind the nine suicide blasts that targeted Catholic churches and five-star hotels in Sri Lanka’s western and eastern coastal regions on April 21. The near-simultaneous bombings killed 258 people and injured over 500. They are believed to constitute the bloodiest terrorist attack in the country’s history. Interestingly, many questioned the authenticity of the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility, which came a full two days following the deadly blasts. The group typically issues statements immediately following attacks by its followers around the world. The 48-hour delay in the case of the Sri Lanka bombings, therefore, was deemed “uncharacteristic” by some experts.

Now The Hindu, India’s most-circulated English-language daily, has claimed that the Islamic State probably became aware of the Sri Lanka attacks after they happened. The Islamic State’s news agency, Amaq, issued a statement of responsibility, accompanied by a video showing the suicide bombers pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi. But The Hindu has quoted “a senior official […] familiar with the probe” into the attacks, who claims that the militant group was contacted by its followers in Sri Lanka only after the attacks made international news headlines. A local Salafi jihadist communicated with the Islamic State on behalf of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), the local group that carried out the bombings. The Islamic State then secured the video of the suicide bombers “through a third party”, said the senior official. Sri Lankan Salafi jihadists eventually convinced the militant group to issue a statement endorsing the attacks in order to “honor those who sacrificed their lives” for the Islamic State’s cause, said the source. It follows, said the official, that the local suicide bombers “were all sympathizers of the Islamic State. But it remains unclear how they maintained links with the Islamic State, if in fact they did”, he added.

The deadly attacks continue to dominate the headlines in Sri Lanka, despite the passage of more than two months since they occurred. Three separate investigations have been launched by the government —one by former Supreme Court judges appointed by the president; one by the Sri Lankan parliament; and one by the country’s police and security services. None of these probes have uncovered evidence that the NTJ militants were in contact with the Islamic State before they launched their wave of suicide attacks on April 21, said The Hindu.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2019 | Permalink

Indian officials admit for first time Islamic State militants are present in Kashmir

Islamic State India KashmirIndian counterterrorism officials have alleged in court that four members of the Islamic State in Indian-administered Kashmir were guided by a handler from Pakistan. The court case involves four young men from Jammu and Kashmir who were arrested last November on terrorism charges. Court documents filed recently identify the four as members of the Islamic State. This development is significant because Indian officials have until recently dismissed as overstated claims that the Islamic State is present in Kashmir. The unfurling of Islamic State banners by anti-government rioters is a regular phenomenon in Indian Kashmir. But government officials dismiss those who wave such banners as impressionable youth who have no access to weaponry or logistical support from the Islamic State. Last November’s arrests, however, highlighted the fact that the Islamic State does in fact have an armed presence on the ground in India.

The four young men have been named as Haris Mushtaq Khan, Tahir Ahmad Khan, Asif Suhail Nadaf and Asif Majid. They were apprehended in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s largest city, following the arrest in September of 2018 of two other men who were allegedly affiliated with a group calling itself the Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK). The group has since renamed itself to Islamic State – Khorasan Province, while recently it proclaimed an overseas province in the region, which it calls “wilayah al-Hind” (province of Hind). Three of the four men have been charged with attacking a tourist visitor center in the area with hand grenades. In their official indictment against the four men, officers of India’s National Investigation Agency accuse them of being “confirmed terrorists of the Islamic State”, which amounts to the first confirmation in Indian government documents of the presence of Islamic State militants in India. The 28-page indictment states that the four men were among several locals who “acted as ground workers and […] provided logistics to the ISJK cadres”.

Additionally, two of the men, Haris and Tahir, are accused of having been in contact online with a man identified as Abu Huzefa, an Islamic State recruiter based in Afghanistan. According to the court documents Huzefa is a Pakistani national and “an active cadre of the Islamic State based in Afghanistan”. He was allegedly in regular contact with the two Indian men and provided them with Islamic State literature and other propaganda material. In their indictment the NIA officers also admit that the arrests of the four men point to “a larger conspiracy of these terrorist elements propagating pan-Islamic ideology of IS by recruiting and radicalizing Kashmiri youth towards jihad and targeting security forces”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 June 2019 | Permalink

ISIS in Afghanistan is now more dangerous than the Taliban, say experts

ISIS Islamic State AfghanistanThe Islamic State group in Afghanistan is now more threatening than the Taliban to both Afghan and Western interests, according to some experts, who warn that many of its fighters are moving there from the Middle East. It was in late 2014 when the Islamic State, known formerly as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), made its initial appearance in Afghanistan. Soon an official Islamic State affiliate emerged in Afghanistan, calling itself Islamic State – Khorasan Province. Security observers estimated the group’s strength to below 150 armed fighters, most of them Pakistani Taliban who had sought refuge in Afghanistan, or small cadres of Afghan Taliban who pursued a more globalized Salafist agenda. Aided by the growing worldwide notoriety of its parent organization in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province grew in size in 2015 and 2016. Its armed cadres were joined by Salafist-jihadists from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, as well as by radical Muslims from China’s northwestern Xinjiang Province. In 2016, as the Islamic State began retreating in the Middle East, fighters from there gradually began to make their way to Afghanistan, adding to the numerical strength of the organization’s Khorasan Province branch.

Today, the strength of the Islamic State in Afghanistan is concentrated in four northeastern Afghan provinces, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. Nearly all of these provinces border Pakistan and none are far from the Afghan capital Kabul. According to the Associated Press’ Kathy Gannon, who wrote an extensive article about the current state of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, the primary military goal of the group’s Khorasan Province branch is to expand its territory. Some believe that the Islamic State aspires to one day conquer Jalalabad, a city of nearly 400,000 residents that serves as the administrative center of Nangarhar Province. This aspiration is not delusional; Gannon cites an unnamed US intelligence official who insists that the Islamic State is now a more deadly threat than the Taliban to Afghan and Western security. Islamic State fighters are acquiring increasingly sophisticated military hardware, which enables them to broaden their tactical capabilities. Additionally, unlike the Taliban, who largely follow a policy of limiting their attacks on government and military targets, the Islamic State appears to be deliberately targeting civilians. What is more, security experts see these attacks as “practice runs for even bigger attacks in Europe and the US”. In other words, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province is actively using its Afghan base to plan “external attacks in the US and Europe [and] it’s just a matter of time” before these occur, says a US intelligence official.

According to Gannon, the growth of the Islamic State in Afghanistan is so alarming that some security experts are beginning to see the Taliban as a potential partner of the West in containing the danger. One expert says that the Taliban remain bigger and stronger than the Islamic State, and their fighters “know the terrain [and] territory” of northeastern Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Islamic State has declared war on the Taliban and the two groups are active adversaries in the region. Gannon claims that Russia would not be opposed to the idea of utilizing the Taliban to fight off the Islamic State. As intelNews reported last month, Russia’s Federal Security Service warned that thousands of Islamic State fighters were operating in Afghanistan’s northern border regions and were attempting to destabilize former Soviet Republics with substantial Muslim populations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 June 2019 | Permalink

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

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

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