Amid the rising number of Australians joining the ranks of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, five men in Melbourne were arrested by Australian counter terrorism policeon Saturday.
The officials have stated that the five teenagers were outlining an IS inspired attack on Anzac Day ceremony.
Anzac Day is one of Australia’s imminent national commemorative occasions. Also, it marks the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the first world war.
Out of the five teenagers, two boys, both aged 18 years, were arraigned with terrorism related offenses in Melbourne, and will be produced in the Melbourne magistrate court today.
A third teenager was charged with weapons offences, and two others are also taken under custody.
“It is alleged both men were undertaking preparations for a terrorist attack at an Anzac Day activity in Melbourne which included targeting police officers,” said Australian Federal Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan.
He also added that it was suspected that the attack would have involved the use of knives.
Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.
Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.
Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.
‘Threat to our forces’
IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.
“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.
He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”
In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.
While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.
The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.
Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.
“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.
Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.
“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.
Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”
U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.
Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.
“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.
IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.
The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”
“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.
But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)
The United Nations General Assembly Friday adopted a $3.07 billion operating budget that for the first time includes funding for the investigation of war crimes in Syria and Myanmar.
The budget represents a slight increase from 2019’s figure of $2.9 billion.
The increase was the result of additional missions assigned to the U.N. Secretariat, inflation and exchange rate adjustments, according to diplomats.
These include the observer mission in Yemen, a political mission established in Haiti, the investigation of crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, and in Myanmar after the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Syria, Myanmar inquiries
For the first time, the budgets for the Syria and Myanmar investigations, which were previously financed by voluntary contributions, will in 2020 be transferred to the U.N. secretariat’s budget and will receive compulsory contributions from the 193 member states.
Russia proposed multiple amendments during negotiations in the Committee on Budgetary Questions meeting and in the General Assembly plenary session.
At each vote, Russia, Syria, Myanmar and their supporters, including North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua and Venezuela, were outvoted. They all stated that they dissociated themselves from references to investigative mechanisms in the adopted resolutions.
Russia said it would examine its future obligatory payments in light of the vote outcome and predicted an increase in the arrears that currently plague the U.N.’s treasury because of countries not paying enough.
In the midst of the global focus on Syria with Turkeys latest offensive putting a big question mark on when the war will end, India has been quietly doing its bit to help the Syrian people cope, and also laying the foundation for its bright future.
It’s not just with medicines and food supplies that India has been helping the war-wracked country, but now with education too.
India is providing scholarships to 1,000 Syrian students to study in Indian universities, in undergraduate, post-graduate courses and even PhD.
Behind the move to provide scholarships to students from Syria is a hope that it would in the near future replicate the success stories from the African continent — where several current or former Presidents, Prime Ministers and Vice Presidents have attended educational or training institutions in India.
Syrian Ambassador to India Riad Abbas thinks so too, and is happy at the move by India.
“India supports Syria in many ways. They support Syrian people with medicine, with food, and this initiative has come from Modiji (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) for our students,” Abbas told IANS in an interview.
“Around 1,000 students have come to India to study in different universities and different courses – from Bachelors to Masters to PhD”
“Through this means India is assisting Syria by rebuilding the brain” – here he taps his head with a meaningful smile, “the brain of our people to plant education, science, and peace”.
According to Abbas, it is “the best thing to rebuild humanity and the people”.
Could these students one day become leaders in Syria too?
“Definitely they could become… They will come back to our homeland to rebuild Syria. And maybe they will be in the government in future. They will be like ambassadors of India to Syria and Arab countries,” he said.
Abbas said that all the Syrian students currently studying in India as part of the initiative “are satisfied by the nature of Indian people and the hospitality. They are happy in their universities, and are fully supported by the universities”.
The students are in 11 government and private universities across the country.
Abbas hopes the initiative will become a yearly feature. “I hope we make it every year, if it is possible.
“Because we look forward to enhancing our relationship with India, and we want all our students to get their certificates from India, because Indian education is of a higher level, compared to other countries — similar to the UK and US,” he added.
Another important factor is the students “feel at home” in India due to the cultural affinities.
“There are similar traditions between the two countries and because of this they feel at home.
“Most of our students will come back to our homeland to help their families, their people and to rebuild Syria,” he said.
Though the Western world sees Syria as badly battered and bruised, India sees Damascus as a strong country with a powerful military that has been able to determinedly push back the Islamic State militia, which a few years ago had threatened to overrun the country.
While a few years ago the West was loudly calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, today those voices have accepted his rule.
The Syrian envoy agrees. “Since a long time we have been fighting terrorism on behalf of the world. All terror groups came to Syria by Turkey’s support, they (Ankara) opened the border and facilitated their smuggling into Syria to kill our people and destroy our country.
“But now the last bit is left. We will defeat the terror groups on the ground, which get support from America. It is America which leads the army of mercenaries to fight against our army, and our army has defeated them. So now we are faced with the American army on the ground of Syria. This means that America’s project in the Middle East has failed, because of Syria,” the envoy told IANS.
“They (the West and the US in particular) declared in the past, ‘We will change the government of Syria, we will change the president, we will do like this and that’… It was only talking for talking’s sake. Only they destroyed the country, but they couldn’t achieve their aims to change the Syrian government, and Syrian policy.
“And we are proud of our relation with BRICS countries, and especially with India. We highly appreciate India’s position and the Indian people, and we pray for God to save this country and its people.”
On Syria-India relations, he said: “We have cordial relations with India, since the independence of both countries. Both have similar views in many cases in the international arena.”
He praised India’s stand on the Syrian issue – on support for a political solution in Syria put forward by the people themselves, help realise the aspirations of the Syrian people and stand against any external intervention in Syria.