Archives For: Syria

Last week, two separate ships packed full of Middle Eastern migrants were found floating off the Italian coast, having been abandoned by their crews:

The cargo ship Ezadeen, which set sail under a Sierra Leone flag from a Turkish port this week, was discovered drifting without a captain 40 nautical miles from the Italian coast. Italian coastguards were forced to intervene to prevent a disaster and possibly save the lives of the estimated 450 people on board, many of them thought to be Syrian refugees. … The Ezadeen was the second vessel in four days to be found sailing without a crew. Earlier in the week, 800 migrants on the Blue Sky M, a Moldovan-registered ship, were rescued by Italian coastguards when it was discovered sailing without an active crew five miles off the coast. The two incidents have left observers of migrant routes in the Mediterranean fearing that people-smugglers have found a new and ruthless way of working in the area despite a recent decision to scale back Italian rescue operations.

The plight of the Blue Sky M and Ezadeen point to a new tactic by migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean. It’s less awful than deliberately shipwrecking them, as smugglers did on one voyage in September, drowning hundreds of refugees. Still, these “ghost ships” underscore the danger of the Mediterranean crossing and the desperation of those who make it. Barbie Latza Nadeau revisits an interview from December with Moutassem Yazbek, a Syrian refugee who had made the crossing last year and explained how the smuggling system works:

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ISIS: Once You’re In, You’re In

Dec 31 2014 @ 11:47am

ISIS has executed around 2,000 people since June, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including “116 foreign fighters for trying to flee to their home countries” and four others for “violations of the extremist group’s code”. Adam Taylor finds it remarkable that ISIS has been killing its own and points to the group’s dwindling power:

SOHR’s report seems to be further evidence that although some foreign fighters are no doubt fearsome, others are quite clearly not. In fact, a few may be quite some way from fearsome:

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More Bad News For Syrian Refugees

Dec 2 2014 @ 2:01pm

LEBANON-SYRA-CONFLICT-REFUGEE-AID-WFP

Back in September, the UN’s World Food Program warned that it was running out of money to feed the millions of Syrians both inside and outside the country who now rely on the agency for food. The warning was not heeded, pledged cash never turned up, and sure enough, the WFP announced yesterday that it was suspending a food voucher program that provides badly needed assistance to some 1.7 million Syrian refugees:

Under this programme, poor Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt have used vouchers to buy food in local shops. Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating.

“A suspension of WFP food assistance will endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighbouring host countries,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, in an appeal to donors. … Cousin said that WFP’s Syria emergency operations are now in critical need of funding. Many donor commitments remain unfulfilled. WFP requires a total of US $64 million immediately to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries during the month of December.

Exactly which donor countries are skirting their commitments to the WFP is not entirely clear:

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Tracy McNicoll suspects that the real purpose of the ISIS propaganda video showing Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig’s severed head was to feature its expanding cast of foreign fighters, some of whom are seen taking part in the synchronized beheading of 18 Syrian military personnel. One of the executioners has been identified as 22-year-old Frenchman Maxime Hauchard:

Hauchard is the first of the unmasked executioners in the ISIS video to be positively and publicly identified, although French authorities have said a second young French Muslim convert’s appearance may be authenticated shortly. As intelligence services around the world are working to identify any other foreign fighters among the band of killers in the gory new video, speculation also surfaced that another of the killers is 20-year-old Welsh jihadist Nasser Muthana, but that has yet to be confirmed.

Indeed, analysts agree one of the video’s key functions for ISIS is to illustrate how far the group’s seductive reach is extending globally. As France took in the shock news that one of its own sons may be a throat-slitting, decapitating terrorist, the Islamist specialist Romain Caillet told Le Monde, “In putting forward soldiers from the four corners of the world, Da’esh [as the French call the group, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS] is looking to create a ‘United Colors of Jihad’ effect. The message is simple: there are hundreds of Jihadi Johns.”

I’m still kinda agape at the idea of a 20 year old Welsh Jihadist. But I fail to be intimidated by that kind of ludicrous Western loser. They seem as evil as they are ridiculous. Simon Cottee reflects on why ISIS makes a point of showing off its beheadings:

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Yesterday, ISIS released a video showing that they had beheaded 26-year-old American aid worker Abdul-Rahman (né Peter) Kassig:

In the clip released early Sunday, the Islamic State displays the head of Mr. Kassig, 26, at the feet of a man with a British accent who appeared in the previous beheading videos and has been nicknamed Jihadi John by the British news media. Unlike the earlier videos, which were staged with multiple cameras from different vantage points, and which show the hostages kneeling, then uttering their last words, the footage of Mr. Kassig’s death is curtailed — showing only the final scene.

One possible explanation is that Kassig, a former Army Ranger, resisted his captors at the end. We may never know what happened for sure. One thing that is for sure, however, is that Kassig’s embrace of Islam during his captivity didn’t spare his life.

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The AP reported yesterday that leaders of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, have agreed to set aside their intra-jihadi feuds and cooperate against their enemies:

According to [a source], two decisions were reached: First, to halt infighting between Nusra and IS and second, for the groups together to open up fronts against Kurdish fighters in a couple of new areas of northern Syria.

Keating reads the cards:

This merger, along with growing signs that Washington is resigning itself to Bashar al-Assad’s long-term presence, could be an indication that the overlapping and intersecting battle lines in Syria are starting to clarify themselves. At the moment, the U.S., the Kurds, Iraqi Shiites, and—whether the Obama administration will admit it or not—the Syrian government are on one side, and ISIS and al-Qaida are on the other. The big loser in all of this is likely to be the U.S.-backed rebels.

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Our proxy war in Syria suffered a setback over the weekend when two of the main “moderate” rebel groups receiving arms from the West surrendered to the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra following an assault on their strongholds in Idlib province:

The US and its allies were relying on Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front to become part of a ground force that would attack the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). For the last six months the Hazm movement, and the SRF through them, had been receiving heavy weapons from the US-led coalition, including GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles. But on Saturday night Harakat Hazm surrendered military bases and weapons supplies to Jabhat al-Nusra, when the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria stormed villages they controlled in northern Idlib province. The development came a day after Jabhat al-Nusra dealt a final blow to the SRF, storming and capturing Deir Sinbal, home town of the group’s leader Jamal Marouf.

On top of the American weapons now in the hands of the radical Islamist militia, the defeat of these two groups means that the Free Syrian Army has been almost completely driven out of northern Syria:

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An ISIS-Guided Tour Of Kobani

Oct 28 2014 @ 8:04pm

In a video, released last night, ISIS prisoner John Cantlie “reports” from Kobani, the northern Syrian Kurdish town that has been under siege by the militants for over a month, purporting to debunk the Western media narrative about the battle while promulgating ISIS’s own version of the story. “Perhaps what’s most odd about the video,” Adam Taylor comments, “is how much it apes the Western media it criticizes”:

The video begins with a logo “Inside ‘Ayn al Islam’ ” (a reference to what the Islamic State calls Kobane) and makes use of a number of relatively sophisticated graphics throughout. Cantlie, who may have been speaking under duress, brings to mind BBC correspondents in his presentation. The Islamic State also uses the video to give its cynical version of recent events, notably suggesting that “good old John Kerry” has been criticizing “Kurd-hating Turkish President Erdogan.” Cantlie also makes reference to the cost of American airstrikes in Kobane (“almost half a billion dollars in total”) and a U.S. airdrop that accidentally landed in the hands of the Islamic State. “The mujahideen is now being resupplied, by the hopeless U.S. Air Force, who parachuted two crates of weapons and ammunition straight into the outstretched arms of the mujahideen,” he says.

This new video is very different from previous propaganda items featuring Cantlie, which have shown him in prison garb, discussing his captivity. Jamie Dettmer wonders what’s up with that:

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The Caliphate’s Babes In Arms

Oct 28 2014 @ 9:39am

Polly Mosendz highlights ISIS’s use of child soldiers:

As more and more children roam away from schools that are no longer operational, or not safe to attend, fighters offer increasing responsibility to young boys under the guise of a new educational system. In the past, fighters frowned upon to give a boy under 15 a rifle, but now, boys much younger than this carry automatic weapons. One fighter in Aleppo explained in the UN report that, “Often young boys are braver and cleverer than adult fighters.” The boys are trained to use the weapons in makeshift educational programs: recruitment masquerading as a replacement for their schools-turned-military bases.

The kids, some under the age of 8, but most commonly 14 to 15 years old, are sent to training camps where recruitment officers offer religious education alongside weapons training. The children, in turn, are paid for attending. However, when class is over and the camp ends, the children are not allowed to return home. Instead, they are sent into active combat zones and in some cases, on suicide bombing missions.

Kate Brannen takes a closer look at what these children experience:

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Is Kobani A Distraction?

Oct 27 2014 @ 3:00pm

Over the weekend, ISIS launched a new offensive on the Syrian-Turkish border town, where Kurdish fighters are still holding on after six weeks under siege. While others have called Kobani ISIS’s Stalingrad or its Waterloo, Mark Thompson relays concerns “that the focus on saving Kobani is giving ISIS free reign elsewhere in its self-declared caliphate—that the U.S., in essence, could end up winning the battle while losing the war”:

“The U.S. air campaign has turned into an unfocused mess,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote Friday. “The U.S. has shifted limited air strike resources to focus on Syria and a militarily meaningless and isolated small Syrian Kurdish enclave at Kobani at the expense of supporting Iraqi forces in Anbar and intensifying the air campaign against other Islamic State targets in Syria.”

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., expressed frustration that the Obama Administration believes its latest fight against ISIS will yield success when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t. “We understand the definition of insanity: continue to do the same thing and expect something different to happen,” he said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “If we can contain them there, leave them there, I don’t know what else to do. They’re intent on destroying each other, and they’ve been doing it for 1,400 years.” The chattering classes are likewise not impressed by the fight for Kobani and the overall U.S. strategy against ISIS.

But Drum isn’t sure that we can judge the success of that strategy just yet:

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