al-Qaeda

Tunisian Jews scapegoated in anti-austerity revolt?

A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)

Syria: 'de-escalation' zones become kill zones

When the Astana "peace" deal for Syria was announced earlier this year, we predicted that the proposed so-called "de-escalation" zones would actually become kill zones. A condition of every "ceasefire" agreement sponsored either by Russia (like the Astana pact) or the US is that the rebels declare war on the Qaeda-linked factions to have emerged from the (now ostensibly disbanded) Nusra Front. But already beseiged by the Assad regime and Russia, the rebels are in no plight to do so—they've been put in an untenable situation. It was clear the Astana plan was not about peace but about propaganda—providing a cover for continuance of the war. So we were grimly vindicated to see the Nov. 18 New York Times headline, "Marked for 'De-escalation,' Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks."

Further internationalization of Syrian war

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Turkey is conducting a "landmark" military operation in Syria's Idlib governorate, extending the area brought under the control of Ankara and its rebel allies in last year's Operation Euphrates Shield against ISIS. Now the target is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). a formation led by militias to emerge from the former Nusra Front, some with apparent ties to al-Qaeda. (Al Jazeera, Oct. 9; Daily Sabah, Oct. 7) The Euphrates River has emerged as a border between Turkey's de facto "buffer zone"in northern Syria and areas still under Kurdish control—for now. However, Kurdish enclaves still remain west of the river, including the likely flashpoint town of Afrin. (See map.)

Syria: al-Qaeda taking over Idlib governorate?

Jihadist militia Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) on Aug. 28 took over the city council building in Idlib, capital of the governorate of that name in northwest Syria and the biggest opposition-held city in the country. HTS fighters siezed the building a week after civil authorities refused to hand over control. HTS has in recent weeks won control of much territory in Idlib governorate, in ongoing battles with the rival Ahrar al-Sham faction. However, HTS continues to face resistance from residents and many of the more than 150 local councils in the governorate, with demonstrations against their rule by civil resistance activists in many areas.

Afghanistan: troop surge or drone war?

President Trump was widely expected to announce a troop surge for Afghanistan n his Aug. 21 address from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Va.  Gen. John Nicholson, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, had been requesting another 4,000 troops, on top of the current 8,500. Instead, Trump's comments were heavy on get-tough rhetoric and light on actual specifics. "Our troops will fight to win," he said. "From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge." In an admission that a surge might be in the works, despite his campaign-trial isolationism, he added: "My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office." (BBC News, WP, Aug. 21)

Who is behind attack on White Helmets?

Seven volunteers of the White Helmets civil defense organization were killed on Aug. 12 by a gang that raided their headquarters in Sarmin, Idlib province, in northwest Syria. The victims were shot in the head. The attackers stole money, two mini-buses serving as ambulances, and equipment. The bodies were discovered soon after dawn by the next shift of volunteers arriving for duty. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it came amid tension in the area. Idlib province is currently being rocked by clashes between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, the Nusra Front offshoot aligned with al-Qaeda) and the rival Ahrar al-Sham. Sarmin is controlled by HTS, which has denounced the attack.

Appeals court: military judge biased in 9-11 case

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled (PDF) Aug. 16 that Judge Scott Silliman should have recused himself in a case concerning multiple defendants who were charged with aiding in the 9-11 attacks. The petitioner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, argued that Silliman was biased in the matter and cited a 2010 comment in which Silliman called Mohammad and his co-defendants the major conspirators in th attacks. The court found that because Silliman "expressed an opinion that Petitioner is guilty of the very crimes of which he is accused," he manifested an "apparent bias" and thus should have recused himself. The court granted the petition seeking recusal of Silliman and vacated a decision (PDF) by the US Court of Military Commission to reinstate charges for "attacking civilians and destroying property in violation of the law of war" against Mohammad and his co-defendants.

US tilt to Assad: now it's official

Washington has now made it official that its enemy in Syria is just ISIS and al-Qaeda—and explicitly not the Bashar Assad dictatorship. US Army Col. Ryan Dillon told CNN last week that the Coalition has issued a directive to rebel forces operating out if its base in southern Syria (presumably al-Tanf) that they must be exclusively focused on fighting ISIS and not the Damascus regime. "The coalition supports only those forces committed to fighting ISIS," Dillon said. One rebel faction, Shohada al-Quartyan, has refused to accept this ultimatum, and left the base. An unnamed Coalition representative stated: "We are not in the business of fighting the regime. They [the rebels] can't have multiple objectives and we need to be singularly focused on fighting ISIS." (The New Arab, July 27)

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