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

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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

India, Pakistan used terrorist groups to attack each other, says Pakistan ex-president

Jaish-e-MohammedThe government of Pakistan employed terrorist groups to attack India, according to Pakistan’s former president, Pervez Musharraf, who also accused India of doing the same. Musharraf, 75, took power in Pakistan in 1999 through a coup d’état supported by the country’s military leadership. The four-star Army general ruled as Pakistan’s 10th president until 2008, when he resigned from power to avoid being impeached. He currently lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates and is wanted in Pakistan for alleged crimes, including high treason. His critics accuse him of arresting several judges in 2007 and suspending the country’s constitution.

On Tuesday, Musharraf spoke on the flagship news program of Hum News, a 24-hour news channel headquartered in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Speaking in Urdu on a phone line from Dubai, Musharraf praised the current Pakistani government of President Imran Khan for launching a crackdown on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) the militant group that is believed to be responsible for killing more than 40 Indian soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir. The attack sparked a tense standoff between India and Pakistan, as the two countries engaged in aggressive military maneuvers against each other. “This constitutes a step forward”, said Musharraf, referring to the JeM crackdown. “It is a terrorist organization and they tried to assassinate me with a suicide attack”, he added, referring to an attack on his presidential convoy in 2003, which has been blamed on JeM.

In early 2002, Musharraf officially banned the JeM and arrested some of its leaders, after the group participated in two high-profile attacks in Indian Kashmir. But all JeM leaders were eventually freed, after the courts decided that the government had failed to provide sufficient evidence of their participation in terrorism. Musharraf told Hum News that he eventually lost interest in cracking down on JeM. When asked by the reporter why his government did not take further action against the group, Musharraf said that “those were different times”. Instead of stopping groups like JeM, both Pakistan and India used them to carry out a “clandestine struggle” against each other, said Musharraf. Groups like JeM “carried out bombings in each other’s territory”, said the former president, adding that Pakistan’s “intelligence agencies were involved in it”. Both India and Pakistan thus used militant groups, including JeM to carry out “tit-for-tat” operations targeting each other, he concluded. The former Pakistani leader went on to say that he was “very pleased to see the [Pakistani] government adopting a strict policy” against JeM.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 March 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: Women becoming growing force inside Islamic State, says expert

Islamic State womenThe role of women inside the Islamic State is growing, as the Sunni militant group is transmuting into an underground organization, according to a Harvard University terrorism expert. Since its meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has been known for advocating for strict segregation between men and women. In the early stages of the group’s emergence, combat roles were exclusively performed by men, while women’s roles were limited to childbearing and housework. But according to Vera Mironova, Visiting Scholar in the Economics Department at Harvard University, and former Associate of the International Security Program at Harvard’s Belfer Center, the Islamic State’s policy on gender roles is shifting rapidly.

Mironova, who has carried out research in Iraq while embedded with the country’s Special Operations Forces, argues that the Islamic State has been “quietly shifting its insistence of strict gender hierarchy” and is now “allowing, even celebrating, female participation in military roles”. In an article published earlier this week in The New York Times, Mironova states that early indications of this shift were visible as early as 2017. In October of that year, ISIS publications issued calls for “women to prepare for battle”. Within a year, the group was publicly praising its women fighters and even published a video showing veiled Islamic State female fighters firing AK-47 assault rifles. The video praised women fighters for “seeking revenge for [their] religion and for the honor of [their] sisters”.

In her article, the Harvard terrorism expert says that it is not possible to estimate with accuracy the number of women who have picked up arms on behalf of the Islamic State. But she adds that interviews with Iraqi military and police officials suggest that female Islamic State fighters are now “a regular presence that no longer surprises, as it did a few years ago”. There is a tradition of fervent women supporters of the militant group that dates from its very beginning, claims Mironova. She gives the example of female radicals who insisted that their husbands or sons join the Islamic State, or who sought to marry Islamic State combatants in order to be part of “mujahedeen families”. Recently, however, the relative scarcity of male fighters in the ranks of the militant group has led to calls for females to take their place in the front lines. As the Islamic State is transmuting into an underground organization, women are also becoming more useful as covert operatives because they attract less attention by Iraqi or Syrian government troops.

In many cases, women supporters of the Islamic State who lost male family members in the ongoing war pick up arms or put on suicide vests in order to extract revenge. In other cases they do in order to secure protection, favors or money for their families from the insurgents. The fact is, says Mironova, that women fighters are becoming more prominent in the Islamic State’s combat lines and are even participating in the group’s suicide bombing campaign. The latter continues unabated in Iraq and Syria, despite the near-complete loss of the Islamic State’s territorial control, says Mironova.

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

Hundreds of MI5 officers prepare for Brexit violence in Northern Ireland

New IRAThe British Security Service (MI5) has over 700 officers —more than 20 percent of its entire force— stationed in Northern Ireland, due to fears that the Brexit process might reignite the centuries-long sectarian conflict there. In 1922, nationalist rebels managed to dislodge Ireland from the British Empire. But six counties in Ireland’s north remained under British dominion, and today form the British territory of Northern Ireland. Irish nationalists have for decades engaged in an unsuccessful campaign —at times peaceful and at times violent— to unite these counties with the Republic of Ireland. Following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, nationalist and British loyalist groups in Northern Ireland terminated their armed operations and entered the political arena, effectively sharing power in the British territory. The integration of Ireland and Britain into the European Union helped in that process by effectively bringing to an end border checks between the two countries. Thus, pro-British loyalists continued to live under British rule, while nationalists have been able to cross from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic and back without restrictions, as if the two states were effectively unified.

But this open-border regime is about to change once Britain leaves the European Union in March. Many fear that the reinstated border will remind nationalist communities in the North that the island of Ireland remains partitioned and will thus reignite secessionist sentiments. A few days ago, the London-based newspaper The Daily Mail cited an unnamed “counterterrorism source” who said that MI5, Britain’s primary counterterrorism agency, had stationed a fifth of its force in Northern Ireland. The agency is allegedly monitoring a number of dissident republican groups —a term used to describe armed groups of Irish nationalists who continue to reject the nationalist community’s majority view to endorse the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998. One such group —which is commonly seen as the most formidable in existence today— is the self-described New Irish Republican Army. The New IRA was formed in 2012 when dissident republican cells joined another dissident nationalist group, known as the Real IRA. The new formation is particularly strong in Northern Ireland’s extreme northwest, which includes urban centers like Derry. British security officials believe that the New IRA consists of about 40 hardcore members who are committed to an armed campaign against British rule in the North.

Nearly 50 New IRA militants are currently serving sentences in the British and Irish prison systems, while several raids of New IRA members’ residences and other properties have unearthed weaponry —including fully automatic weapons— and explosives. But the group managed to detonate a car bomb in Derry on January 19 of this year. The bomb employed gas canisters and went off nearly 30 minutes after an unidentified man called a charity shop located nearby and issued a bomb warning. Police officers rushed to the scene and were there when the bomb exploded. There were no injuries, according to reports in local media.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 January 2019 | Permalink

‘Illusion of safety’ blamed for deaths of four US service members in Syria

Manbij SyriaThe “illusion of safety” has been blamed for the death of four American service members in northern Syria last week, after a suicide bomber attacked a restaurant, killing at least 19 people and wounding countless others. The deadly attack happened in Manbij, a small Kurdish-majority town near the Syrian-Turkish border, which American forces previously viewed as an oasis of security in the war-torn country. American troops fought alongside a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters who in 2016 took control of Manbij from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since then, American forces have remained in the area —mostly to prevent a military invasion by Washington’s ally Turkey, which views the Kurds as terrorists and has threatened to destroy their armed forces.

The relative stability of Manbij was violently disrupted last Wednesday, when a man detonated a suicide vest inside the Palace of the Princes restaurant in downtown Manbij. Until that moment, United States forces had lost just two members during the Syrian Civil War. Four more Americans died in Wednesday’s blast, including two service members, a military contractor and a civilian intelligence officer working for the Pentagon. Three other Americans were wounded and were airlifted out of the country. In an insightful article published last week, The New York Times quoted a US Special Forces member who wondered whether the US troops in northern Syria have “developed a false sense of security” in what remains a dangerous conflict zone. “The illusion of safety”, said the anonymous commentator, had caused the behavior of American service members in Manbij to fall into predictable routines. That became a vulnerability that the Islamic State was able to exploit, he said.

The Sunni militant group targeted the Palace of the Princes, one of the most popular eateries for Americans in Manbij. The Times quoted locals who said that American troops appeared to eat there nearly every time they patrolled the city, “often many times a week”. They would even park their military vehicles outside the restaurant while dining there, they said. The paper commented that many US troops had “grown complacent and should have varied their […] routes or increased their operational security” while on patrol. Unfortunately, however, their presence —and lack of adequate security— was noticed by the Islamic State, which targeted them on Wednesday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 January 2019 | Permalink