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Terror Strikes Again: Priest, two hostage takers killed in France Church attack

Since 2015, at least 130 people were killed and over 350 were injured in a serious of attacks in France

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Map of France. Image source: VOA

PARIS: A priest and two armed men were killed and a person was injured in a hostage-taking incident in a church in Normandy region on Tuesday, President Francois Hollande said.

Rev. Jacques Hamel, 84, was killed when two men armed with knives stormed the church and took five people hostage during a morning Mass at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray area of Rouen, CNN quoted Hollande as saying.

The attack was a “cowardly assassination” carried out “by two terrorists in the name of Daesh (the IS),” Hollande said.

The attackers were later shot dead by the police. “The two killers came out and they were neutralized,” French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.

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Besides the slain priest, two nuns and two churchgoers were taken hostage, BFMTV reported.

The injured hostage was “between life and death”, Brandet said.

The priest’s killing follows a string of violent attacks across the Europe in recent days, most of them claimed by the IS, most notably July 14 attack in the French city of Nice that left 84 dead and more than 300 injured.

France has been under a state of emergency since the November 13 Paris terror attacks last year. At least 130 people were killed and over 350 were injured in a serious of attacks.

French police told CNN that one of the church attackers had tried to go to fight in Syria last year, in 2015, but had been stopped in Turkey by authorities.

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He was then sent back to France and sent to prison in May 2015. Before he was released, he was placed under police surveillance and forced to wear an electronic monitoring tag.

French authorities have struggled to monitor the thousands of domestic Islamic radicals on their radar, and, in response to the heightened terror threat, President Hollande has vowed to double the number of officials charged with the task.

More than 10,000 people were on their “fiche S” list, used to flag radicalised individuals considered a threat to national security.

“Daesh has declared war on us. We have to win that war,” Hollande told the media after the hostage situation was neutralised.

He also urged the public to remain unified in the face of the threat. “All people feel affected so we must have cohesion … no one can divide us,” he said.

“Terrorists will not give up on anything until we stop them.”

The Paris anti-terror prosecutor has taken over the investigation into the attack, France’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The Vatican condemned the attack, particularly the killing of the priest, calling it “terrible news”. It said the Pope shared the pain and horror in response to the “absurd violence”.

A statement said the violence was particularly horrific as it took place in a church, “a sacred place where the love of God is announced”.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted his horror at the “barbaric attack” on the church and vowed a defiant response. “We will stand together,” he said.

A police cordon has been set up around the scene, about 108 km northwest of Paris. (IANS)

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Syrian Militia: End Is Near for Islamic State in Raqqa

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Syria ISIS
Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an airstrike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, Syria. voa

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists Saturday or Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia told Reuters Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said around 100 of the jihadist group’s fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and had been “removed from the city,” but it still expected difficult fighting “in the days ahead.”

It did not say how the fighters had been removed or where the fighters had been taken.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said remaining Islamic State fighters were being transported out of Raqqa by bus under a deal between Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG. There was no immediate comment on that report from the coalition or the SDF.

Fighting since June

Civilians who escaped from Islamic State
Civilians who escaped from Islamic State militants rest at a mosque in Raqqa, Syria. voa

The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes and special forces, has been battling since June to oust Islamic State from Raqqa city, formerly its de facto capital in Syria and a base of operations where it planned attacks against the West.

The final defeat of Islamic State at Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year the group was driven from the city of Mosul.

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (Islamic State) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters by telephone.

In emailed comments to Reuters, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said about 100 Islamic State fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and were “removed from the city,” without giving further details.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think (Islamic State) will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said, adding that around 85 percent of Raqqa had been liberated as of Oct. 13.

Some civilians escape

Around 1,500 civilians had been able to safely make it to SDF lines within the last week, he added.

Omar Alloush, a member of a civilian council set up to run Raqqa, told Reuters late Friday that efforts were under way to secure the release of civilians and “a possible way to expel terrorist elements from Raqqa province,” without giving further details.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page Saturday that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Observatory said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken.

During the more than six-year Syrian war, the arrival of buses in a conflict zone has often signaled an evacuation of combatants and civilians.

The campaign against Islamic State in Syria is now focused on its last major foothold in the country, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which neighbors Iraq.
Islamic State is facing separate offensives in Deir el-Zour by the SDF on one hand, and Syrian government forces supported by Iranian-backed militia and Russian airstrikes on the other. (VOA)

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Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses in United States and Europe

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Islamic State
This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA)

Washington, September 30, 2017 : U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

islamic state
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter takes cover behind a wall on a street where they fight against Islamic State militants, on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria (VOA)

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding Islamic State militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

ALSO READ  intelligence officials , Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Furqan, war, enemies, threats, US officials, raqqa, National Security Council, isis, Iraq, Syria, U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, terrorism, Terror Asymmetrics Project ,

Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.” (VOA)

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Islamic State Flag saying “The Caliphate is coming”, Sighted in Pakistan

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Pakistani officials acknowledged that at least one IS flag was recently displayed on a billboard in Islamabad.(source: VOA)

Islamabad September 25: An Islamic State (IS), the flag was seen displayed near Islamabad which read “The Caliphate is coming,” slogan written on the flag, and was put up over a billboard Sunday on a major expressway in Islamabad.

Pakistan Interior Ministry authorities told that committee has been formed to investigate the incident. Pakistan authorities deny that IS may have established a foothold in the country.

Islamic State (ISIS) Militant Group to Soon have a Strong Hold in Southeast Asia: Report

“The group does not have an organized presence, resources or structure to be able to operate in the area,” Talal Choudhry, State Minister for Interior Affairs told VOA’s Urdu Service.

The IS terror group has taken roots in the mountain regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan since early 2015. It brands itself as the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K), a title that distinguishes the militant group in the region from its main branch in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic State threat in Pakistan follows recent media reports and activities by local IS affiliates in various regions that indicate the group has been making inroads in the country.(VOA)