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Islamic State Regrouping in Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Areas, say Tribal Leaders

IS claimed responsibility over the weekend for the assassination of three Pakistan military personnel in the northwestern city of Peshawar

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Afghan militiamen raise their weapons as they stand guard in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Dec. 27, 2015. VOA

Sept 21, 2016: Local leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan say they are seeing a resurgence and regrouping of Islamic State fighters in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Afghan forces, aided by U.S. bombers, reportedly intensified attacks on remote mountainous IS positions Tuesday. More than two dozen IS fighters were killed in air raids in the Achin and Kot districts, according to a spokesperson for the provincial governor and the Afghan defense ministry.

Afghan and U.S. coalition forces recently cleared many areas of IS militants in a number of districts in eastern Nangarhar province. But IS has recaptured several remote villages in Achin and Kot, which border Pakistan, tribal leaders told VOA.

FILE – Afghan police walk past Islamic State militant flags on a wall, after an operation in the Kot district of Jalalabad province east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 1, 2016. VOA

“The government has not built any check posts in remote areas that lie far from the district center, and people in those areas live under IS control,” Malek Kamin, a tribal elder in Achin, told VOA.

Malek Kateb, a Kot district tribal elder, said the areas that once were cleared of IS militants have come back under IS’s control after Afghan troops pulled back from the remote region. He added that around 250 IS fighters are present in the area. According to the tribal elders, IS militants are oppressing the local residents and limiting their movements.

Provincial officials say they are bulking up Afghan Local police forces to work under the ministry of interior to provide more enforcement and protect remote areas where IS is regenerating. Afghan Local Police, with around 30,000 members across the country, mostly protect remote villages.

Efforts in Pakistan

The regrouping of IS in the border region is accompanied by a threatening IS presence in neighbouring Pakistan where, despite the government’s previous denials, military officials say IS is attempting to establish a foothold.

Pakistani police officers and local residents gather at the site of a firing incident at Garhi Sohbat Khan on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, Sept. 18, 2016. Two gunmen on a motorcycle killed three soldiers Sunday, police said. VOA

IS claimed responsibility over the weekend for the assassination of three Pakistan military personnel in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The attack occurred days after the Pakistani military announced it had “forestalled” IS’s attempts to infiltrate Pakistan.

IS “tried to make an ingress and they failed, and they have been apprehended so far,” Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, a spokesman for the Pakistani army, told reporters.

He added that security forces have arrested more than 300 , including Syrians, in recent weeks. IS was plotting attacks on government, diplomatic and other civilian facilities, including media houses, according to Bajwa.

The threat of IS in Pakistan follows reports and remarks by state officials earlier this year that the group had been attempting to expand in the country. The director general of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau, Aftab Sultan, earlier this year warned lawmakers that IS was an emerging problem in the country and that hundreds of fighters linked to local banned religious groups had left for Syria to join IS ranks there.

Protecting residents

According to media reports, many of the IS members in Afghanistan belong to the Orakzai tribe in Pakistan, whose militants maintain a presence on both sides of the Durand Line between the two countries.

FILE – An Afghan border policeman prepares ammunition at a check post at the Goshta district of Nangarhar province, where Afghanistan shares borders with Pakistan, May 8, 2013.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard this week announced the arrest of two Pakistani nationals with IS, who the Guard said were planning to conduct terror activities.

Near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan, IS militants have been active in parts of Nangarhar province since last year and have launched multiple attacks against government forces and local villages. Afghan and U.S. forces have conducted cleanup operations against IS in Nangarhar and surrounding areas.

Nangarhar’s governor, Salim Khan Kunduzi, vowed to stand by local residents against IS militants.

“We promise them [local residents] that, God willing, we would not abandon them. We would protect the areas through local uprising forces and Afghan local police,” the governor said to Afghan media. (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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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)