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28 killed in clashes, air strikes against IS in Iraq

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Baghdad, Up to 28 people were killed and 20 others wounded on Saturday in clashes and air strikes by Iraqi forces on Islamic State (IS) militants across the country, security sources said.

iraq-airstrikes-on-ISIL-MosulIn Iraq’s western province of Anbar, security forces and allied militias, known as Hashd Shaabi (popular mobilization), retook control of Abu Fleis village near Habbaniyah town, some 80 km west of Baghdad, after heavy clashes with IS militants that killed 14 IS fighters before the militants withdrew, a provincial security source told Xinhua.

The battle came a day after the IS militants seized Abu Fleis village in an attack on the positions of the security forces.

Meanwhile, clashes erupted in Tash area in south of the IS-held provincial capital city of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, when IS militants attacked positions of security forces and Hashd Shaabi militias, leaving seven security members killed and five others injured.

The battles also resulted in the destruction of an armored vehicle and two military vehicles, the source said, without giving further details about casualties among the extremist militants.

Also in the province, two people were killed and eight others wounded when an Iraqi helicopter gunship pounded suspected IS positions in Mal’ab district in central Ramadi.

The IS group has seized most of Anbar province and has been trying to advance toward Baghdad in the past few months, but several counter attacks by security forces and Shia militias have pushed them back.

Near Baghdad, three roadside bombs went off simultaneously near an army patrol in Madain area, some 30 km south of the Iraqi capital, leaving four soldiers killed and four others wounded, an interior ministry source said.

In Salahudin province, a policeman was killed and three others were wounded in a clash with IS militants in Fat’ha area, just north of the town of Baiji, some 200 km north of Baghdad.

The security situation in Iraq has drastically deteriorated since June 10, 2014, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and IS militants.

(IANS)

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Displaced Villagers Return to Old Mosul Only to Find Destruction, Danger and Dead Bodies; Returnees Claim ‘Even Soldiers Stay Indoors After Dark’

The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away as a handful villagers visit their homes in Old Mosul, which has been completely destroyed following a battle against the ISIS

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Old Mosul
Abd Elaam is one of the only people living in the Old Mosul in Iraq, where the destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden, Aug. 27, 2017.
  • Old Mosul has been completely shattered in the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants
  • About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods have been completely destroyed by war
  • Areas around the village are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without services like trash collection, electricity, and running water

Mosul, September 5, 2017 : “All you can hear at night is the sound of broken doors flapping in the wind,” says Abd Elaam, a 50-year-old furniture maker. “Even soldiers stay indoors after dark.”

Elaam is currently one of the very few civilians living in Old Mosul, an ancient neighborhood shattered by the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants. Like many families that survived IS rule, he says, his resources are completely exhausted by the war and he has nowhere else to go.

Other families trickle in by day, looking to repair their broken homes or recover the bodies of their dead loved ones. But even during daylight hours, the neighborhood is dangerous, riddled with bombs and an unknown number of militants hiding out in the vast network of tunnels under the tightly-packed buildings and piles of rubble. The level of destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden.

 

Old Mosul
About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods like Mosul’s Old City have been completely destroyed by the war, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

“A IS militant came out of one those houses two weeks ago,” Elaam says, gesturing towards another dusty, broken street. “He blew himself up near two families. They were all injured and the bomber was cut in half.”

The militant’s body, like other fallen IS fighters in Old Mosul, was shoved under the rubble to reduce the smell of rot in the 45 degree-plus weather. When Iraq declared victory over IS in early July, the bodies of dead militants lay scattered in buildings and on the streets of nearly every block. Authorities searched through giant piles of concrete, once homes, for the remains of civilian families. But, they said, the only government department responsible for the IS bodies was garbage collection.

 

Old Mosul
Bodies of IS fighters lie in the rubble of Old Mosul on nearly every block, while the bodies of families killed in airstrikes have to be dug out from under the demolished buildings in Mosul, Iraq, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Old Mosul is far from re-establishing city services like trash pickup. There is no running water, electricity or businesses open. Yet other families are following Elaam’s lead, and plan to return to their homes as soon as possible.

“In a few days I will move back and bring my family,” says Ghanem Younis, 72, resting on a beige plastic chair in a sliver of shade. “If they provide electricity and water, everyone would come back.”

Younger men and children squat around Ghanem, recalling the isolation of the final months of the battle that began late last year. “We couldn’t go more than 50 meters from our front doors,” says Sufian, a 27-year-old unemployed construction worker. “We spent our time sitting right here with Uncle Ghanem.”

 

Old Mosul
Residents of Old Mosul say homes left standing after months of heavy fighting are often ransacked as soldiers search for bombs and IS fighters hiding in tunnels under the city. (VOA)

But it is not sentiment driving some families home despite the dangers, adds Elaam, as more neighbors join the conversation.

“People cannot stay with friends and relatives forever,” he says. Camps for those displaced are also crowded. “No one has anywhere else to go,” he adds.

Airstrike Damage

A few blocks away, outside the checkpoints that cut off the Old City, the Zanjelli neighborhood is slowly being repopulated.

Old Mosul
Areas around Old Mosul are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without electricity, running water and other city services, like trash collection. (VOA)

 

Construction workers build a market to replace one destroyed in airstrikes, while the owners of what was once a shoe store paint the shelves, hoping to re-open in the coming weeks. The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away, and the bodies of many of the dead are now buried in graveyards.

In less than five minutes of conversation, at least three people tell us about family members, including toddlers, killed in airstrikes in the last months of battle.

“There was an IS sniper firing from next to my house and the airstrike hit us,” says Youseff Hussain, 35. “Fifteen members of my family were killed.”

 

Old Mosul
Iraqi search parties looking for survivors and the remains of dead civilians in Old Mosul. (VOA)

Rebuilding the neighborhood, adds Hussain, is made doubly frustrating by the fact that it was Iraq’s allies, including the United States, who destroyed many of their homes as they battled IS from the air.

Many locals say the sacrifice of property and lives may have been necessary to prevent the city, then under siege, from total starvation. But after bearing the brunt of the war with IS, largely considered a global threat, residents say they thought the international community or the government would help them rebuild.

The only aid families here get right now, Zanjelli residents say, is Iraqi military rations, as soldiers share their food.

“There is nothing they can do to pay us back for what we have lost,” says Hussain. “But shouldn’t we at least get refunded for our property?” (VOA)

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

Analysts say as Islamic State (IS) militants are losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the terror group is attempting to expand in Southeast Asia

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An Islamic group member covers his face with Hizbut Tahrir flag during a protest against the decree allowing the government to disband organizations deemed to run counter to the secular state, in Jakarta, Indonesia
An Islamic group member covers his face with Hizbut Tahrir flag during a protest against the decree allowing the government to disband organizations deemed to run counter to the secular state, in Jakarta, Indonesia. VOA
  • A number of IS affiliates from Indonesia have reportedly crossed into the Philippines to support the local militants
  • In the Philippines, Islamic State (IS)  has endorsed Isnilon Hapilon – the country’s most-wanted man who has a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the US
  • Ridwan Habib warned that the situation could get worse if the ongoing conflict in Marawi is not tackled and managed properly

Philippines, August 30, 2017: Government security forces in the Philippines city of Marawi have been fighting for the past three months to rout militants suspected of ties to the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the region.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in May declared the country’s restive south under the martial rule for 60 days – which, in July, was extended through the end of the year – after an attempt by security forces to capture an Islamic State (IS) -linked militant leader failed. That set off clashes that left the city under siege.

A number of IS affiliates from Indonesia have reportedly crossed into the Philippines to support the local militants who are fighting against the Philippines military in the Marawi region.

Analysts say as Islamic State (IS) militants are losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the terror group is attempting to expand in Southeast Asia, which is home to a number of separatist and militant groups.

“This is an evidence that the people under Jamaah Islamiyah in Indonesia now have a new ‘flag’ operating under ISIS, in this case, ISIS of the Philippines,” said Ridwan Habib, a terrorism analyst at the University of Indonesia.

“Something serious is brewing and the government needs to anticipate what could happen next,” he said. “We‘re worried that this new identity.”

Extremist militant group

Jammah Islamiyah is an extremist militant group in Southeast Asia with links to al-Qaida and has carried out numerous bomb attacks in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region, including the 2002 Bali attacks that killed more than 200 people.

Islamic State (IS) has already shown signs of expanding in the region through local affiliates and sympathizers.

The group has been recruiting in Indonesia, with more than 380 people joining the terror group by January, according to the country’s counterterrorism agency. Most of those recruits have traveled to Syria and Iraq.

Greg Fealy, an associate professor at the Australian National University who studies terrorism in Indonesia, said the IS terror threat in the country has been on the rise since mid-2014.

Islamic State (IS) has reportedly tapped a leader in the Abu Sayyaf group – an extremist militant group in the region known for kidnapping and beheading foreign tourists – as its Southeast Asia chief.

Indonesian authorities also confirmed that IS posed a threat to their country.

The terror group claimed responsibility for a coordinated bomb and gun attack in central Jakarta in January that killed eight people, including the four attackers.

In March, U.S. Treasury authorities added Bahrun Naim, a prominent Indonesian militant, to the global terrorist list, saying he provided financial and operational support for IS in Indonesia and funneled money through Southeast Asia to recruit people to IS battlefields.

Also Read: UN Human Rights Chief Urges Iraqi Government to help Victims of Islamic State (ISIS) Sex Abuse

In the Philippines, Islamic State (IS)  has endorsed Isnilon Hapilon – the country’s most-wanted man who has a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the U.S. for alleged terrorist acts against American citizens – as the leader of a loosely affiliated association of small groups that have sprouted in the past three to four years around the central and southern Philippines.

Hapilon swore allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a July 2014 video, according to the U.S. State Department.

Philippines as a new destination

Some analysts say that many extremists in Indonesia who wish to join IS are now heading to the Philippines instead of Syria and Iraq because conditions in the terror group’s former strongholds have degraded due to the ongoing multi front military campaign against the group in the region.

“In terms of costs, distance, and access, the Philippines is more feasible,” Ridwan Habib of the University of Indonesia said. “Therefore, many jihadists from Indonesia chose to go to Marawi instead of going to Syria.”

Habib warned that the situation could get worse if the ongoing conflict in Marawi is not tackled and managed properly.

The analyst claimed that Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian militant in the Philippines who has studied in Islamabad, Pakistan, has been attempting to help establish an IS presence in the Southeast Asia region.

Ahmad was reported to have been killed in the Marawi battle in June, but Khalild Abu Bakar, a Malaysian police chief, told media that he believes Ahmad is still alive.

Gen. Eduardo Ano, chief of staff of the Philippines armed forces, said Ahmad channeled more than $600,000 from the IS group to acquire firearms, food and other supplies for the attack in Marawi, according to The Associated Press.

Also Read: Sudanese Children of Islamic State (ISIS) Militants Released in Libya

Returning IS fighters dilemma

Many fighters from Southeast Asia who had traveled to fight with IS in Syria and Iraq are returning to their home countries as the terror group is losing ground in the Middle East.

Indonesia’s government reported last year that between 169 and 300 Indonesians who fought for IS have returned home.

“Though I have said there are 50 (IS affiliates) in Bali, 25 in NTT (East Nusa Tenggara) and 600 in NTB (Nusa Tenggara Barat), their whereabouts are known to us and under control,” Major General Simandjuntak, a military commander in Bali, told reporters last week.

“They are in a sleep or inactive mode,” he added.

Abdul Haris Masyhari, chairman of the committee on defense and foreign relations in Indonesia’s parliament, worried that returning IS fighters could set up cells in their hometowns.

“In reference to Bali, I hope law enforcement would take action and preventive measures to thwart terror plots,” Masyhari said.

Opposition to Islamic State is growing in Indonesia amongst the public.

In May, a survey of 1,350 adults suggested nearly 90 percent of the participants viewed IS as a serious threat to their country. Meanwhile, several surveys conducted in the country indicate an increase in extremist ideology among the youth, who are idolizing radical figures. (VOA)

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Ground Report: How ISIS is ruining lives of people in Syria and Iraq

For the families in Sarran, the fear of ISIS has now been replaced by the wreckage of a displaced economy left behind by the terrorists.

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End of Islamic State rule in Saran
In Sarran, no lives were completely untouched by tragedy at the hands of IS militants Sarran, Syria, Aug. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
  • IS rule in the city of Sarran ended eight months ago 
  • The IS did not murder or behead residents in Sarran, but no lives were completely untouched by tragedy
  • Displaced families from Raqqa currently survive in refugee camps in the area that run short of basic amenities like food, clean water, and medicine

Syria, August 24, 2017: For 100-year-old Tamam Shaheen, the day Islamic State militants took over her village was not particularly memorable.

“One night Free Syrian Army rebels were occupying our village and the next day it just changed,” she said, sitting on the concrete floor of a one-room house with an unlit cigarette in her hand. “All those bearded people were here.”

During their rule over her village, Sarran, has militants ruined the local economy and forced villagers to adhere to dress codes. They tried, unsuccessfully, to enforce a strict no-smoking policy, but none of this impacted Shaheen’s life greatly.

ALSO READ: Civilian Deaths Surge in Raqqa as Islamic State (ISIS) Tactics Slow US-backed Advances

But even the most benign corners of formerly IS-held territory were not spared personal tragedies. Shaheen’s grandson is now imprisoned amid the post-IS chaos, accused of fighting with the militant group.

“Militants ordered me to wear a veil on my face,” she said. “But I rebuked them. I told them ‘It is not your job to tell me what to wear!’”

Authorities holding 22-year-old Abdulrahman now, she said, are not so easy to rebuke.

The arrest

In other parts of IS-controlled Syria and Iraq, IS beat husbands and fathers of women who refused to cover their faces. Locals have been imprisoned or even killed for smoking cigarettes.

Islamic state rule in syria
One-hundred-year-old Tamam Shaheen refuted IS orders to veil her face or quit smoking, but in the wake of IS rule, her grandson is now accused of having fought alongside the group, in Sarran, Syria, Aug. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Militants are now fighting to the death in the nearest large city, Raqqa, 60 kilometers away, but eight months ago in Sarran, IS just left.

Around the same time, Abudulrahman was returning to the village when he was arrested, according to his mother, Wahda Mustafa. The family and neighbors say he is disabled from a car accident and may have accidentally agreed he was guilty of crimes he didn’t commit.

“My son was coming home from Raqqa but the roads were blocked,” said Wahda Mustafa. “They picked him up at a checkpoint, but I don’t know why.”

Stigma after Raqqa flight

During the course of Shaheen’s 100 years, Sarran’s population grew from about four families to roughly 700 people. As IS is slowly being defeated in the region, the village is growing again.

Across a brown field of dust, displaced families from Raqqa crowd into a schoolhouse. Refugee camps in the area are notoriously short of food, clean water and medicine, baking in the desert in the hot summer sun.

Islamic state rule in Syria
Farming comprises the main industry for many Syrian villagers which yields just enough profits for survival. However, high taxes and corruption under IS rule created increased difficulties than extreme ideologies for many rural farmers, near Sarran, Syria, Aug. 18, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

But families say they pay a high price for the small comforts of settling in a village rather than a camp after fleeing IS. The displaced Raqqa residents are noticeably more conservative than the villagers, with the women remaining secluded inside, while local women in colorful dresses cook and smoke cigarettes in public.

Raqqa families are shunned and often presumed to be IS supporters, despite multiple investigations concluding they are innocent, according to Khalid Abdullah, 40, a former oil worker from Raqqa and a father of 11.

“I saw beheadings and hands cut off in the city,” he said under an awning near the school. “It was raining mortars when we ran away. But still, they call my son ‘IS’ when he goes out.”

IS Corruption

The more lasting tragedies touching the lives of the people of Sarran come not from IS extremism, but from ordinary corruption. Before the war, the Syrian government had mandated that wealthy landowners in the area dole out portions of their fields to local farmers.

Islamic state rule in syria
Camps for displaced persons in Syria are short of food, clean water and health care, with some fleeing urban families saying they prefer to face stigma in villages than endure hardship in camps, in Ain Issa, Syria, Aug. 17, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

The farmers survived by working the land and reaping the profits. Under IS, bribes were paid and profits from the land reverted back to the rich, according to Ayman Kalaf, 19, one of Shaheen’s many grandsons.

Surrounded by other farmers, who nodded in agreement as he spoke, Kalaf described how under IS, his poor village became even poorer and families are still struggling to recover.

“Long ago this area was under a feudal system, with all of the valuable farms owned by the rich,” he said. “But modern governments required owners to divide some of their lands among local farmers. When IS came in, they gave the land back to the rich.”

And while their suffering may not be as dramatic or even traumatic as the suffering of families living under siege or hunted and sometimes slaughtered by IS, villagers say they already lived on the edge of survival in the best of times, and they barely made it through their time under IS.

“I have to take care of my house and children, and I work as a farmer,” said Umm Mohammad, a local women’s activist. “We build our own houses with bricks we make from the earth. Life here is hard.” (VOA)