Militant group al-Shabab has lived up to its promise to step up attacks in Somalia, mainly against government installations and personnel, during the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 29. Over 30 people have been killed in Mogadishu alone. On July 8, the presidential compound was attacked during the iftar evening meal. Assailants entered the gate using a car bomb, and then engaged in a two-hour gun battle with palace guards, killing 14 soldiers. On July 5, at least four people, including two children, were killed when a suicide car bomb was detonated outside of the parliament building. Just two days earlier, a long-time member of parliament, Mohamed Mohamud, was killed with his bodyguard when armed assailants opened fire on his car. In response, the Somali government fired the police commissioner and head of the intelligence agency. Since then however, attacks have continued daily. Local media reported that the Ministry of Defense was attacked July 14.
The ISIS militants that have seized Iraq's northern city of Mosul have, not surprisingly, been engaging in a campaign of cultural cleansing—targeting not only the city's inhabitants, but its artistic and historical treasures. Religious buildings, cemeteries and public art have been destroyed or defaced, witnesses say. Among the destroyed works are sculptures of 19th-century musician and composer Osman al-Muesli and Abbasid-era poet Abu Tammam. The grave of Ibn Athir, a philosopher and chronicler who travelled with Saladin during the 12th century, is also reported destroyed. ISIS consider visiting religious sites to be idol worship, and have also destroyed many shrines and other ancient buildings in Syria. A jizya tax has been imposed on the city's Christian population, but most of the area's Christians—some 160 families—fled before the ISIS advance. (Aydinlik, Turkey, June 21)
Fighting erupted on June 20 between ISIS militants and the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order in Hawija, Kirkuk governorate (also rendered Tamim). AFP calls it "a potential sign of the fraying of the Sunni insurgent alliance that has overrun vast stretches of territory north of Baghdad in less than two weeks." The Naqshbandi fighters, known by their Arabic acronym JRTN, had apparently refused an ISIS demand to give up their weapons and pledge allegiance to the Qaedist force. AFP cited analysts to the effect that ISIS is actually struggling to maintain control over a broad alliance of Sunni and even Ba'athist militants who were brought together to oppose Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian rule but do not share the Qaedist ideology. Toby Dodge, head of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, said the "radical" and "ludicrously absurd" politics of ISIS "can't help but break that coalition."
Militants from the Qaeda-aligned insurgent group ISIS destroyed a Sufi Muslim shrine as they advanced on Tal Maaruf village in Syria's Kurdish-majority Hassakeh province, residents said Feb. 27. ISIS militants "blew up the shrine, and burned a mosque and a police station," said Massoud Akko, a Kurdish journalist and native of Hassakeh province, told Lebanon's Daily Star. ISIS also came under fire in their stronghold of Raqqa, as even rival jihadists criticized the group’s intention to impose a special "jizya" tax on Chrsitians and other religious minorities in their areas of control—including the provincial capital.
Gunmen attacked a Sufi religious gathering in Pakistan's port city of Karachi Feb. 9, throwing grenades and then opening fire on the worshippers, leaving eight dead and that number again wounded. Followers of Mehrban Jalali Shah Baba, the spiritual leader who runs the gathering place, blamed the attack on the Deobandi militant group Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat. (AP, ABNA, Feb. 9) On Jan. 21, three bullet-riddled bodies were found near the Sufi shrine of Shah Wilayat Shrine in Karachi. On Jan. 7, six bodies were found at the shrine of Ayub Shah in Karachi's Maymar suburb. In December, five bodies were found at a Sufi shrine on the shores of Kalri Lake in Thatta, just outside Karachi. The shrine was also defaced, and a note left, signed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, warning the public against visiting Sufi sites. (Central Asia Online, Jan. 24; PTI, Jan. 21)
Human Rights Watch has called upon Iran's judiciary to abandon charges and quash the verdicts against 11 members of a Sufi order convicted in what the rights group called unfair trials and informed of their sentences this month. HRW found that evidence suggests all 11 were prosecuted and convicted solely because of their peaceful activities on behalf of the largest Sufi order in Iran or in connection with their contributions to a news website dedicated to documenting rights abuses against members of the order. "The Sufi trials bore all the hallmarks of a classic witch hunt," said Tamara Alrifai, HRW's Middle East advocacy director. "It seems that authorities targeted these members of one of Iran’s most vulnerable minorities because they tried to give voice to the defense of Sufi rights."
Iraqi special forces are said to be closing in on the most senior member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle still on the run, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, head of the now-outlawed Ba'ath party. Al-Douri, who was the king of clubs in the US military's famous playing-card deck of wanted Iraqis, is said to be hiding near Saddam's home town of Tikrit. He is believed to be leading an armed unit called the "Men of the Army of the Naqshbandi Order," known by its Arabic acronym JRTN, drawn from followers of one of Iraq's oldest Sufi orders. In a January video, Douri, surrounded by men in uniform, urged resistance to Iraq's Shi'ite-led government. April was the bloodiest month since 2008 in Iraq, with sectarian violence claiming more than 700 lives. (PBS News Hour, May 2; The Guardian, April 18)
Radio France International (RFI) and French newspaper Libération claim that their reporters discovered, in the ransacked offices of the ORTM national TV station in Timbuktu, a document in which AQIM commander Abdel Malek Droukdel outlines his strategy for Mali. The news website Algérie 1 also publishes excerpts from the 79-page hand-written document dated July 20, 2012, entitled "Roadmap Relating to Islamic Jihad in Azawad." The document is portrayed as revealing a moderated vision of an Islamic state that could win the support of the Tuaregs while hiding the actual role of AQIM.