ISIS Urges Followers To Target Christians, Bid to Prompt War of Religions

From my story today for VOA.

The Islamic State (IS) is inciting supporters to mount more attacks on Christians just days after two of the terror group’s sympathizers slit the throat of an 85-year-old French priest as he was celebrating Mass — a killing French officials fear was a deliberate tactic to provoke a Christian backlash in France against Muslims.

The latest issue of IS’s online magazine Dabiq, widely read by supporters and sympathizers, focuses on the theme of “Break the Cross.” In a series of interviews, foreign fighters who have converted from Christianity are used as mouthpieces to urge supporters in the West to destroy “arrogant Christian disbelievers.” They exhort Muslims to “pray for Allah’s curse to be upon the liars.”

Read the full article here.

Islamic State Poised to Benefit from Refugee Crisis

From my latest VOA report — you can find it here: “The refugee crisis roiling Europe presents a win-win opportunity for Islamic State (IS) extremists, says international terrorism research consultancy TRAC.

By hiding among thousands of asylum-seekers, the Islamist militants can expand their operational presence in Europe, the consortium of analysts warned in a briefing released Thursday.

And if any of their infiltrated members are caught, the backlash could help radicalize disaffected European Muslims.

Despite fears that IS is exploiting the refugee crisis to infiltrate Europe by disguising members as asylum-seekers, only six cases have so far been reported. Analysts, however, say the apparently meager numbers shouldn’t be a cause for relief or a source of complacency — a point echoed by European intelligence officials who VOA spoke to on condition of anonymity.

ISIS Threatens Syrian Rebel Supply Lines From Turkey

Islamic extremists overran three towns in northern Syria this weekend, capturing them from Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and Islamist brigades as Syrian warplanes struck widely across the north of the country, dropping barrel bombs on towns controlled by both competing insurgent groups.

Despite FSA claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, were coordinating their attacks, two of the biggest barrel bombs were dropped on the town of Al Bab, controlled by Islamic State.

Read my full VOA dispatch here

Italy to Return to Libya?

Rome

From my latest dispatch for VOA:

“The beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic militants on the Libyan shore of the Mediterranean Sea, a short boat ride from Italy, has shaken Italians and is prompting a fierce debate here in Rome about what Italy can do to quell the anarchy engulfing its former colony.

Italians have watched with growing alarm for months the raging conflict in Libya between competing militias backing rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. The main consequence for Italy has been a rising flow of illegal immigrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, attempting to cross the Mediterranean from the coast of Libya in rickety boats.

But now Italy worries that the rapid emergence of a jihadist group loyal to the so-called Islamic State spells new dangers – specifically, that jihadists might gain access to Italy by posing as illegal immigrants. The black-clad, masked executioners in the video posted Sunday on the Internet, which authorities here say is authentic, appeared to take pains to emphasize that Rome is indeed a target.”

Read full report here.

Mueller And Why The Delay

Some interesting sleights-of-hand in what I take to be a White House riposte to my Daily Beast article last week authored with colleague Shane Harris. The riposte is carried in the Washington Post. The thrust of our piece was that the administration received from British sources by the and of the first week of June positive identification on the whereabouts of American and British hostages held by the Islamic State. By late May there were three possible locations for the captives — all in or around Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants in northern Syria.

Our sources — a mixture of British and White House officials and private security contractors as well as family members and friends of American hostages James Foley, Steve Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — confirm that positive identification of the location the captives were being held at had been passed on to the administration by June 6. The thrust of our article was that, and I quote the opening paragraph of the story, “The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service.”

The foreign service in question was British intelligence.

Officials — including deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes — seem at great pains in the Post piece to insist that Obama signed off on the rescue mission within about 24 hours when presented with a final operational plan. But the question remains, why if the administration received the crucial information by June 6 did they wait until July 4 to launch the rescue, by which time the captives had been moved. There is no denial carried in the Post article about when the administration received intelligence about the location.

And in our Daily Beast article, we don’t suggest the hold up was with the President but his officials. I quote: “But a U.S. official said that inside the White House, Obama’s senior national-security advisers were not willing to base a raid on intelligence developed by a foreign service. ‘The issue was that they didn’t trust it, and they wanted to develop and mature the intelligence, because it wasn’t our own,’ said the U.S. official, who asked to remain anonymous when discussing sensitive hostage-rescue efforts. ‘They got the information. They just didn’t trust it. And they did sit on it, there’s no doubt about that,’ the official said.”

Dithering Again?

My latest piece co-authored with Daily Beast colleague Shane Harris has prompted a storm of comments. We explore claims that the Obama administration delayed last summer acting on intelligence received about the location of Western captives held by ISIS.

The opening paragraphs:

“The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service, U.S. and British officials told The Daily Beast.

British officials, as well as private security contractors, said they were frustrated by Washington’s hesitance to give the go-ahead for a rescue attempt, which eventually was carried out on July 4, 2014, by which time the hostages had been moved. The following month, ISIS began beheading its American and British prisoners in a series of grisly Internet videos”

You can read the full report here.

Worth noting the speed with which Israeli acted back in 1976 to mount a mission to rescue hostages held at Entebbe. The Air France passenger jet was seized by Palestinian militants on June 27; the rescue operation was launched July 6.

American Oil Worker Dead as Egyptian Jihadists Turn to ISIS

“Formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (roughly, Champions of Jerusalem), the group now calling itself Sinai Province announced the slaying on a Twitter account and posted images of oil worker William Henderson’s passport and identification cards. It did not say how the slaying was carried out….

The Sinai-based jihadi group claiming responsibility for the oil worker’s murder has grown increasingly proficient carrying out attacks and sophisticated selecting targets based on their “strategic value.” It has conducted scores of attacks since the July 2013 ouster by the Egyptian armed forces of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and with each blast or shooting the group has been expanding its theater of operations. Originally it was a low-level insurgency mainly confined to the Sinai Peninsula . but recently it has been hitting at high-profile targets and foreigners elsewhere in the country—including right in the heart of Cairo.”

You can read my full report here at the Daily Beast

The Battle for Kobani

Suruc

From my VOA dispatch last night:

“The days of battle are falling into a pattern.

The mornings start off quietly, but by lunchtime a crescendo builds of furious small-arms fire and airstrikes only to subside.

Then the battle resumes in early evening as the sun begins to fall – the nights are full of fury, explosions and intense gunfire.

This week Islamic State militants tried to bomb their way through Kurdish defenses by using suicide bombers. There have been nearly a dozen efforts.

In low-lying Turkish villages and hills along a 15-kilometer stretch of the border facing Kobani, refugees from the town and local Kurds have been watching the raging battle unfold with a mixture of feelings.

They cheer when an airstrike sends black plumes of smoke into the sky and crane to see where the ordnance struck. They seesaw between hope and despair, expressing one moment confidence the town won’t fall and then conceding they don’t know how the outgunned and outnumbered defenders can hold out.”

Full story here.

Why Do Westerners Join the Islamic State?

American and Western officials are scrambling to understand the mindsets of the Westerners joining the jihadist Islamic State. In an article today for the Daily Beast I explore the challenges they are facing.

“Identifying who already has gone to join ISIS, who might go, and why is an urgent priority, and the FBI’s psychological analysts at Quantico have been enlisted in the effort to chart the pattern of radicalization and to try to get into the heads of these young men and women.”

There is still much not understood and decades of de-radicalization programs supply only a few answers. A former senior bureau profiler, Mary Ellen O’Toole, talked me through some of the problems when putting Western jihadists on the couch, saying it is as hard as pinpointing potential serial killers in the general population.

“You can look at second or third-generation immigrant men and say they are more vulnerable but one variable doesn’t make a mass murderer,” she told me. Real-world profilers have to be cautious and avoid falling back on facile ethnic, racial or religious “profiling.”

But she had no doubts that the British jihadists involved in the killings of American reporters James Foley and Steve Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines are psychopaths.

You can read the full story here.