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Thousands Displaced as SDF Targeting Civilians Advances on Last IS Territory in Syria

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

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Syria
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter stands atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Islamic State (IS) fighters are targeting civilians who are trying to flee the last territory held by the terror group in eastern Syria, U.S.-backed forces told VOA on Thursday.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led alliance, said that IS militants hit a road used by civilians to escape violence as the battle to free the town of Baghuz in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province enters its sixth day.

“IS has blocked that road to prevent civilians from coming to the SDF,” SDF fighter Ali Ahmed said. “They have targeted civilians there, but we have responded to their attacks against civilians.”

Ahmed said that some families of IS fighters are among the fleeing civilians.

Located near the Iraqi border, Baghuz is the last stronghold held by IS extremists in Syria. With the help of the U.S.-led coalition, SDF fighters have pushed out IS from all territories it once held since 2014.

Fierce fighting between IS militants and the U.S.-backed fighters continues as the latter try to gain ground on Baghuz on several fronts.

“We have two main obstacles as we advance on Baghuz,” Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesperson, told VOA. “The first one is that [IS] terrorists are holding on to a number of civilians to use them as a bargain chip for their exit.”

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

IS controls about 5 square kilometers of territory inside the Syrian town, local military officials said.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview. VOA

Ivan Hasib, a Syrian reporter covering the battle, told VOA that he witnessed an unusual movement by U.S. military vehicles in the area.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview.

He said the remaining IS fighters in Baghuz are hoping to exchange hostages for a safe exit into the Iraqi desert.

Also Read: Islamic State Using Women, Children as Human Shields to Postpone Defeat

“There must be some sort of negotiations between IS and SDF about the hostages, because even [U.S.-led] coalition airstrikes have stopped since Tuesday night,” Hasib said, adding that SDF fighters were forced to pause their military operations on the northeastern front in Baghuz.

“We can’t start marching toward it from this side because of civilians. Many civilians are using this road to this side. So we’re here to protect them,” Mezlum Kobani, an SDF commander, told VOA.

According to SDF officials, more than 5,000 civilians have been rescued from IS in Baghuz. (VOA)

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People Use Hate Speech While Searching About Terrorism on Social Media

People post hate speech while seeking answers on terrorism

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Social Media terrorism
People often resort to using hate speech when searching about terrorism on a community group social media platform. Pixabay

People often resort to using hate speech when searching about terrorism on a community group social media platform, say researchers.

According to Snehasish Banerjee, lecturer at the York Management School, University of York, it appears seems that people are really curious to know about terrorists, what terrorists think, their ideas, etc.

“While portrayed as a threat to society and human civilisation by mainstream media, terrorists sell terrorism as freedom fighting via social networking sites and private messaging platforms,” said Banerjee.

“However, the actual workings of terrorism are largely shrouded in secrecy. For the curious, a convenient avenue to turn to is the community question answering sites”.

Community question answering sites (CQAs) are social media platforms where users ask questions, answer those submitted by others, and have the option to evaluate responses. Previous studies have mainly looked at terrorism-related data drawn from Facebook and Twitter, this was the first to examine trends on the CQA site, Yahoo! Answers.

Social Media terrorism
While portrayed as a threat to society and human civilisation by mainstream media, terrorists sell terrorism as freedom fighting via social media platforms. Pixabay

The University of York study explored the use of Yahoo! Answers on the topic of terrorism and looked at a dataset of 300 questions that attracted more than 2,000 answers. The questions reflected the community’s information needs, ranging from the life of extremists to counter-terrorism policies. Sensitive questions outnumbered innocuous ones.

A typical innocuous question was: Who exactly created ISIS?, while a more sensitive question was: Do you agree with Donald Trump that we should ban Muslims coming from countries seized by ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorists? According to the findings, sensitive questions were significantly more likely to be submitted anonymously than innocuous ones.

While no significant difference arose with respect to answers, the paper found that identities were seldom recognisable. Using names non-traceable to themselves, the community group users become embolden to use provocative, inflammatory or uncivil language. “We found that answers were laden with negative emotions reflecting hate speech and Islamophobia, making claims that were rarely verifiable,” said Banerjee.

Also Read- Facebook and Twitter Remain Divided due to Bloomberg’s Video

Users who posted sensitive questions and answers generally tended to remain anonymous.

“This paper calls for governments and law enforcement agencies to collaborate with major social media companies, including CQAs, to develop a process for cross-platform blacklisting of users and content, as well as identifying those who are vulnerable,” the authors noted in the Aslib Journal of Information Management. (IANS)