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Islamic State loses territory in Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaida seizes the Opportunity

Islamic State militants lose territory in Iraq and Syria, after being eclipsed for 15 years Al-Qaida seizes the opportunity by leveraging ISIS loses into their gains

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Islamic State Terrorism
Islamic State. Pixabay

August 04, 2017: As Islamic State militants continue to lose territory in their declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, officials and analysts are expressing concern that al-Qaida is making efforts to turn those losses into gains by itself.

Al-Qaida had been largely eclipsed by IS in recent years, with IS militants grabbing headlines by seizing territory in Iraq and Syria and carrying out attacks in the West. But there are signs that al-Qaida may be reemerging as a regional power.

“Al-Qaida in Syria is using opportunities to seize additional safe havens, to integrate itself into parts of the local population, parts of other forces, and bumping into other forces as well,” said Joshua Geltzer, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the U.S National Security Council.

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Tahrir al-Sham, an offshoot al-Qaida group originally known as the al-Nusra Front, has recently emerged as the most powerful Sunni insurgent faction in Syria after consolidating its control over most of the northwestern province of Idlib.

“Idlib now is a huge problem. It is an al-Qaida safe haven right on the border of Turkey,” Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the U.S.-led global coalition to counter IS, said at the Middle East Institute in Washington on Thursday.

McGurk blamed the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Syria for al-Qaida’s gradual strengthening in Syria.

Measures under way

McGurk added that the U.S.-led coalition intended to work with Turkey to seal the northern Syrian border to prevent more recruits from joining al-Qaida affiliates in the region.

Hailing the progress of the Iraqi forces and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, McGurk said the coalition’s priority was defeating IS. But now that priority also includes ensuring that foreign fighters do not leave the region to cause trouble elsewhere.

“We do not want any foreign fighters getting out of Iraq and Syria,” he said during a panel discussion at the Middle East Institute on the Trump administration’s counterterrorism policy.

Experts warn that as IS-controlled territory shrinks, the terror group’s foreign fighters will inevitably be drawn to al-Qaida.

“You may see on a local level al-Qaida affiliates being opportunistic and pulling in ISIS units who kind of feel lost,” Charles Lister, a Syria analyst at the Middle East Institute said, using another acronym for IS. “They [IS militants] don’t have the same kind of grandeur, they don’t have the same powerful leadership, and they don’t have the same powerful brand that they had before.”

Also Read: Al-Qaida Confirms Death of Senior Leader in Syria due to U.S.-led coalition drone strike

IS-al-Qaida alliance?

Led by Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, IS was founded as an offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq in 2004. But as IS gained influence in Iraq and Syria in 2014, the terror group split from al-Qaida, and the two groups engaged in acrimonious and at times bloody competition over the leadership of the jihadist cause. For years, IS has been siphoning off followers of al-Qaida. That trend seems to have begun to reverse.

Iraq’s Vice President Ayad Allawi told Reuters in April that he had information from Iraqi and regional contacts that “the discussion has started now” concerning a “possible alliance” between the two terror groups.

Referring to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Allawi said, “There are discussions and dialogues between messengers representing Baghdadi and representing Zawahiri.”

While some analysts raise concerns about the possibility of IS and al-Qaida joining hands, others like Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute downplay it, arguing that an ultimate rapprochement between the two groups is unlikely, given the history of animosity and their fundamental differences on “global jihad.”

Lister, however, highlighted that al-Qaida could take an opportunistic approach to draw IS members into its ranks as the terror group faces defeats on several fronts in Iraq and Syria.

Lister said Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, who has recently appeared as a new face of al-Qaida leadership, has been trying to ease tensions with IS in an effort to encourage the merger of IS fighters into al-Qaida.

“Hamza has very purposely, I think, not spoken out against ISIS in all of his recent statements,” Lister said.

Al-Qaida in a blind spot

Experts warn that as the U.S-led coalition is cracking down on IS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria, it should not allow al-Qaida to move to other areas and operate at ease. They say the group is trying to gain the sympathy of the local Syrian population by showing itself as a moderate alternative to Islamic State.

“We continue to underestimate al-Qaida,” said Jennifer Cafarella, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. “While al-Qaida in Syria is currently not actively attacking abroad, they have built an army. It has consolidated control in Idlib, and is preparing to do the same underneath the U.S.-Russian cease-fire deal in Daraa to expand that model of first destroying the moderate opposition and then begin installation of al-Qaida governance to transform population over time.”

She said the strategy of the U.S.-led coalition after removing IS from Iraq and Syria needs to shift to the reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed because of war, and that should be coupled with addressing the grievances of Sunni residents who feel marginalized by Iran-backed Shi’ite militias.

“This is a very long war and we haven’t won it yet. These tactical successes are important but can be temporary if we do not set adequate conditions, which is much more than a military requirement,” Cafarella said. (VOA)

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New York terror attack: 8 dead, suspect in custody (Third Lead)

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New York, 1st November’2017: At least eight persons have been killed and 12 seriously injured in New York after a driver of a truck mowed down people on a cycle path in Lower Manhattan in US.

The attack happened on Tuesday, when the city was celebrating Halloween, one of the most festive days in the New York calendar.

The pavements were crowded with kids in costumes and there were still children trick-or-treating just yards away, the BBC reported.

The spot is also just yards away from Ground Zero, a site which reminds all New Yorkers of the 9/11 attack in 2001. It did not take police long to confirm that the city had once again been the target of terror.

Five of these victims were Argentine nationals, Efe news quoted a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Buenos Aires as saying.

The 29-year-old man who emerged from the white pick-up truck was shot by a police officer and arrested.

The media named him as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant who came to the US in 2010 and settled in Florida, a CNN report said.

A note was found in the truck that referred to the Islamic State (IS), a law enforcement source told CBS News.

Around 3.05 p.m., Saipov drove a truck onto the West Side Highway bike path.

The truck entered near Houston Street. It was a rental from Home Depot, the home improvement chain said.

The driver continued down the path, hitting bicyclists and pedestrians.

Further down the path, the truck collided with a school bus at Chambers Street.

After the collision, the driver exited the truck with a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Witnesses said the suspect yelled “Allahu Akbar”, law enforcement sources told CNN.

A note found in the truck claimed the attack was carried out in the name of IS, a senior law enforcement official confirmed to CNN. The note was in English.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was a “cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians”.

de Blasio added: “We know that this action was intended to break our spirit. But we also know that New Yorkers are strong, New Yorkers are resilient and our spirit will never be moved by an act of violence and an act meant to intimidate us.”

US President Donald Trump tweeted: “My thoughts, condolences and prayers to the victims and families of the New York City terrorist attack. God and your country are with you!”

Former US President Barack Obama tweeted: “Michelle and I are thinking of the victims of today’s attack in NYC and everyone who keeps us safe. New Yorkers are as tough as they come.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday condemned the attack in a tweet: “Strongly condemn the terror attack in New York City. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and prayers with those injured.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “appalled by the cowardly attack”. “My thoughts are with all affected,” she said.

“Together we will defeat the evil of terrorism” and the “UK stands with NYC”, Xinhua news agency quoted May as saying.

Five of the eight killed in the attack were identified as Argentine nationals, who were celebrating their 30th graduation anniversary at the Argentine Polytechnic School of Rosario, Efe news reported.

The statement released by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, identified the five as Hernan Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernan Ferruchi.

The New York authorities said that it was a lone wolf attack. It was not part of a wider conspiracy or plot, BBC reported. But this is an active crime scene at the moment. They are still trying to piece together precisely what happened.(IANS)

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Islamic Terrorism Strikes New York Again: #NYCStrong But Who will Bell the Cat of Islamists?

The suspect was is a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov, who entered the U.S. in 2010.

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Islamic Terrorism in NYC
Bicycles and debris lay on a bike path after a motorist drove onto the path near the World Trade Center memorial, striking and killing several people, Oct. 31, 2017, in New York. VOA

At least eight people were killed Tuesday and more than a dozen others were injured when a man drove a rented truck onto a busy bike path in New York City.

“Based on information we have at this moment, this was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called it a “lone wolf” attack, saying there’s no evidence to suggest it was part of a wider plot. The incident took place near the World Trade Center memorial in lower Manhattan.

Islamic Terrorism hits New York City again
A Home Depot truck which struck down multiple people on a bike path, killing several and injuring numerous others is seen as New York City first responders are at the crime scene in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, Oct. 31, 2017.VOA

New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said around 3:05 p.m., a man driving a rented Home Depot pickup truck entered the bike path, striking riders and pedestrians. The truck also struck a school bus, injuring two adults and two children.

The man then “exited the vehicle brandishing two handguns,” O’Neill said.

A paintball gun and a pellet gun were later found at the scene. He was shot in the abdomen by police and taken into custody.

He underwent surgery and is expected to survive.

Police said the driver shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great” when he got out of the truck. But when O’Neill was asked whether the suspect shouted the phrase, he replied: “Yeah. He did make a statement when he exited the vehicle,” though he declined to elaborate.

The New York Police Department said they will increase the number of police throughout the city “out of an abundance of caution.”

Law enforcement officials, who refused to be identified, told media outlets the suspect was was a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov, who entered the U.S. in 2010.

The Cato Institute told VOA only about 40,000 Uzbeks have entered the United States as migrants in the last 20 years, of those only 2 percent arrived as refugees.

David Bier, a policy analyst at the Washington-based think tank, said he believed this is the first time an Uzbek national has killed anyone on U.S. soil in a terrorist attack.

As of March 2017, three Uzbek nationals had been convicted of terrorism offenses. Ulugbek Kodirov who entered as student visa holder in 2008 and later radicalized on the Internet was convicted of threatening to kill President Obama in 2011. Fazliddin Kurbanov who entered as refugee in 2009 attempted to build bombs for an attack in 2013. Abdurasul Juraboev who immigrated after winning the green card lottery in 2011 was convicted of attempting to join ISIS in Syria in 2015.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the incident and will be continually updated as more details are known. “Our Thoughts and prayers are with all those affected,” she said.

Trump later tweeted, “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” Followed by: “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”

Department of Homeland Security said Acting Secretary Elaine Duke had been briefed and the department was “closely monitoring the situation.”

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said “Argentine citizens died” in the attack, but it hasn’t said how many. (VOA)

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Al-Qaida Releases Call for Jihadist Unity, Purportedly From Leader

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Al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri
Al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen in this still image taken from a video released in September 2011.voa

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is urging followers for Jihadist Unity, around the world against what he calls the “international satanic alliance.”

In a 28-minute undated audio-video message that surfaced Wednesday, Al-Qaida leader al-Zawahiri said, “We are facing the fiercest attack in the history of Muslims. The Crusaders, atheist Russia, China, Rawafidh [rejectionists], secularists and the treacherous rulers have all joined hands against us.”

VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the message.

Al-Zawahiri took charge of the al-Qaida terror organization after his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, was killed in a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in 2011 in Pakistan’s Abbottabad. His precise whereabouts are unknown, but security analysts think he most likely is hiding in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

The message, released less than a month after the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., came as the terror organization is facing a series of defeats around the world, particularly in Syria, where its offshoot groups are being squeezed by the Russian-backed Syria government. (VOA)