Syria/Beirut, October 14: 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
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)
The Iraqi army and its allied Shi’ite militias continue to press for the last pockets of Islamic State in Hawija and Anbar.
In a news conference held in Geneva, on 3rd October 2017, U.N. spokesperson Jens Laerke, said that an estimated 12,500 civilians have fled their homes in Hawija since the start of the Iraqi operation on September 21 and nearly 78,000 people could still be trapped in their homes as the fighting reaches densely populated areas.
Hawija is a Sunni-majority city in the al-Hawija district with a population of about 100,000. It had a population of 500,000 before IS took control in mid-2014 as many residents fled the violence.
Iraqi army and allied Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces claim the fight for Hawija has entered its final stages as they recently gained a strategic foothold in the district by capturing an air base from IS on Monday. The base, known as Rashad air base, is about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Hawija and serves as a training camp and logistic base for IS in the region.
In western Iraq’s Anbar province, where the Iraqi army launched a separate offensive last month against IS, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said it has identified more than 8,500 newly displaced people, raising the number of displaced in the province to more than 54,000 since January 2017.
“People newly displaced from their homes often arrive dehydrated, suffering from hunger and thirst,” said IOM’s Hamed Amro. “Many require psychosocial support and need medical care. Some have chronic illness and exacerbated conditions due to a long-term lack of care, and others suffer from malnutrition. We have also received a few trauma cases.”
Commanders on the ground say IS has set fire to oil wells and has forced civilians who remained to serve as human shields to inhibit airstrikes. (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.
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.
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)