Islamic State Threat Hangs Over World Cup Tournament

(File Photo)

 

While moribund in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) group poses a real threat to Russia’s World Cup that must be taken seriously, security experts warn.

Alarm bells have been ringing since disturbing photo-montages began to appear on social media late last year, the work of the IS propaganda arm known as the Wafa Media Foundation.

Crude and explicit, they showed superstars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar dressed in the frighteningly familiar orange suits used for videotaped executions.

Lying on the ground, with knives up against their throats or dying in flames, the message accompanying them was blunt.

“You will not enjoy security until we live it in Muslim countries,” the posts said.

Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Troy Souza, authors of a report published last month by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) on the dangers IS poses to the June 14 to July 15 World Cup, said the propaganda campaign unfurled by IS was “unprecedented”.

“In just the past few years, there have been numerous successful terror attacks or thwarted plots in Russia by terrorists linked to or inspired by the Islamic state,” they wrote.

“This suggests the group may have the capacity to launch attacks in Russia during the World Cup.”

Lone wolves 

These attacks, said the US experts, can be either carried out by “lone wolves” — assailants who act on their own after being inculcated by IS propaganda — or by local jihadists.

The latter include Russians and people from Chechnya and the rest of the Caucasus and central Asia, two regions with established links to IS stretching back for over a decade.

They mostly comprise fighters who had recently returned from Syria and Iraq after winding down their campaign to create an ephemeral Islamic “caliphate” in the Middle East.

Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that around 8,500 jihadists from Russia and the former Soviet central Asia have joined the ranks of IS and other jihadist groups in the region.

The exact number of those who have managed to slip through anti-terror services’ hands and safely return to their homelands is unclear.

But experts are certain that prior to its territorial rout, IS instructed some of its fighters to go back and form sleeper cells that could be called upon when needed — such as during a World Cup.

Even if Russia had not intervened in Syria on President Bashar al-Assad’s behalf, the world’s most watched event would still have been a target of jihadists, said Pascal Boniface, director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, who specialises in geopolitics and football.

“The threat of terror now exists for all international sports competitions. They attract the cameras and, therefore, the terrorists,” Boniface said.

“Russia’s intervention in Syria is an aggravating factor, but it is not what created this problem,” said the French analyst.

“There would still be a terror threat without it.”

Soft targets 

Even before Russia, security measures at the Euro 2016 football championship in France, as well as the 2014 London and 2016 Rio Summer Games were already draconian.

In March 2016, just three months before Euro 2016 was due to kick off, France’s then prime minister Manuel Valls announced the arrest in the Paris region of a hardened jihadist who “surely had the Euro in his sights”.

“Today, whenever you have a global sports event, the biggest part of the budget goes to security,” said Boniface.

Whether they are followed by an attack or not, the act of posting threats online with just a few clicks costs nothing for IS and its sympathisers.

Yet these are followed by security operations that could run to tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars.

With 64 matches played across 12 stadiums in 11 cities spanning the European part of Russia, the World Cup offers an abundance of potential places to strike, CTC warns.

“While the World Cup venues are hard targets that are set to be protected by multiple layers of security, there will be no shortage of soft targets that terrorists could hit,” it says.

In Moscow, the authorities are trying to strike a reassuring tone.

They point out that the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi were staged on the edge of the north Caucasus and still passed off without a hitch.

“Our security operation is taking into account all types of possible dangers and risks,” World Cup organising committee chief Alexei Sorokin told AFP.

“Everything is under control and I hope that we will find the right balance between comfort and security, without tilting to one side or the other.”

AFP

United States’ Troops Kill IS Commander In Airstrike

FILE PHOTO Photo Credit: AFP

 

US Forces confirmed Monday they had killed a top Islamic State commander in Afghanistan in an airstrike, describing the leader as “key” to foreign fighters entering the country’s north.

Qari Hikmatullah — also spelt Hekmat — and his bodyguard were killed in the northern province of Faryab on Thursday, US Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement.

The airstrike happened in Bal Chiragh district, the statement said. That borders Darzab district in Jowzjan province, which Afghan officials on Saturday had given as the location of the airstrike. Some had also said the incident happened on Friday.

Hikmatullah was a “native Uzbek” who previously belonged to other militant groups, including the Taliban, before joining IS’s local franchise in northern Afghanistan, US Forces said.

The group has established a stronghold in Jowzjan after coming under intense pressure in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Afghanistan’s defence ministry said on Saturday that Hikmatullah was involved in or responsible for “deadly terrorist attacks” and had been replaced by Mawlawi Habib-ul-Rahman.

General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, vowed to kill “any successors” to Hikmatullah, adding that IS would be “eliminated”.

Asked about the discrepancy in the location of the airstrike, defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told AFP on Monday that some district borders were not marked clearly.

Afghan and US forces have ramped up airstrikes and ground offensives against IS fighters in Jowzjan in recent months as the group seeks to expand its foothold in the country.

Afghan security forces last month detained a French woman fighting for IS in Jowzjan. AFP has reported that French and Algerian fighters, some arriving from Syria, have joined IS in the restive province.

Also on Monday, at least six people were killed and another seven were wounded when explosives on a three-wheeled motorcycle exploded in the western province of Herat, officials said.

AFP

Asian Nations Step Up Cooperation As IS Threat Mounts

Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines are committed to strengthening their cooperation on defence to stem the movement of militants and combat piracy across their porous borders.

The Indonesian minister said this on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore.

Ryamizard Ryacudu said the current terrorist threat in Southeast Asia – home to the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and over half a billion people – is “unprecedented”, as he pledged to share intelligence information with other nations in the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

Dozens of fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia are believed to have made their way into Mindanao in the southern Philippines, where Islamic State-linked militants have mounted a prolonged siege against security forces, in an attempt to establish a caliphate.

The three nations also plan to launch joint air patrols at their shared boundaries in the Sulu Sea in addition to existing maritime patrols, but concrete plans will decide after another meeting in mid-June.

Saraki Calls For Probe Of Alleged Boko Haram Recruitment In IDP Camps

sarakiSenate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has called for the probe of the purported recruitment of Boko Haram terrorists in some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in northeast Nigeria.

Dr. Saraki asked various security agencies not to treat the rumours with levity but to urgently investigate the issue and unravel those behind the menace.

He made the call on Wednesday in Abuja in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu.

Senator Saraki stressed that it has become necessary for Nigeria’s intelligence outfit to take such rumours seriously with the aim of curtailing the untoward development.

He cited the example of the Islamic State (IS) that has been recruiting members from European refugee camps and that of the Kenyan government that had to shut down the world’s largest refugee camp because the Al-Shaabab group was also using the place to train and recruit young people as extremists.

The Senate President re-emphasised that it is important Nigeria takes the rumours about Boko Haram recruiting from IDPs camps seriously.

He also restated his call for a more holistic investigation of the alleged diversion of materials meant for the IDPs in the previous week.

Dr. Saraki stressed the need for a better coordinated response by the Federal Government to the situation in the northeast, in order to secure aid and funding from international partners.

At Least 35 Die In Yemen Blasts

Yemen-blastThree coordinated Islamic State bomb attacks on Monday killed 38 people in the Southern port city of Mukalla in coastal region of Yemen.

Officials say the militants struck at sunset as soldiers were preparing to break their day-long fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

At least 35 people died in Yemen after launching triple bomb attacks in the country’s south-eastern city of Mukalla.

The attacks also injured 24 people, involved a suicide bomber, a car bomb and an improvised explosive device.

An offshoot of Al-Qaeda controlled the port city but was recaptured in April by Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition forces.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attacks via their online news agency, Amaq.

The first explosion occurred as an attacker detonated his suicide vest at a checkpoint on Mukalla’s western approaches.

The second blast came from a bomb-laden car at the military intelligence headquarter and the final one was an improvised explosive which went off as the soldiers were about to begin their evening meal.

The Yemeni security officials believe the attacks was caused by the rivalry between Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

Turkish Forces Carry Out Air Strikes On PKK Rebels

Turkish air strikesA day after a deadly bomb attack on a rally for peace in Ankara, Turkish air force planes have attacked Kurdish militants.

The military aircraft pounded Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in both the south-east and over the border in northern Iraq.

At least 95 people were killed in Saturday’s twin bombing in the nation’s capital, making it the deadliest such attack in years.

Security sources say they suspect the Islamic State (IS) group was behind the attack.

The Air Force struck after the government rejected a new ceasefire announced by the PKK on Saturday.

Turkey was already tense before the attack, with a snap general election slated for November 1.

Putin Defends Russia’s Air Strikes In Syria

Russia-putinPresident Vladimir Putin has defended Russia’s military interventions in Syria, saying it would aid efforts to reach a political settlement and stabilise the “legitimate authority” of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

Putin denied that Russian air strikes were hitting moderate opposition groups rather than Islamic State (IS) militants.

Syrian forces have made significant advances against rebels.

Government gains in Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces were also reported both by Damascus and opposition activists.

The main battlefront is currently close to the key highway that links the capital with other major cities, including Aleppo, and Mr Assad’s forces are believed to be seeking to cut off rebels in Idlib.

Putin believes that without Moscow’s support for President Assad, there was a danger that “terrorist groups” could overrun Syria.

Islamic State Seizes Oil Facility In Northern Iraq, 15 Workers Missing

iraq2Islamic State insurgents on Saturday seized a small crude oil station near the northern Iraqi city Kirkuk where 15 employees were working, and explosions in and around the capital Baghdad killed at least nine people.

Two officials from the state-run North Oil Co confirmed the militants seized a crude oil separation unit in Khabbaz and said 15 oil workers were missing after the company lost contact with them.

“We received a call from one of the workers saying dozens of Daesh fighters were surrounding the facility and asking workers to leave the premises. We lost contact and now the workers might be taken hostage,” an engineer from the North Oil Co told Reuters, using a derogatory acronym for Islamic State.

The radical jihadist movement seized at least four small oilfields when it overran large areas of northern Iraq last summer, and began selling crude oil and gasoline to finance their operations.

Islamic State insurgents attacked regional Kurdish forces southwest of Kirkuk on Friday, seizing some areas including parts of the Khabbaz oilfields.

Kurdish peshmerga forces sought to push back Islamic State in further fighting near Khabbaz on Saturday, Kurdish military sources said.

Khabbaz is a small oilfield 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Kirkuk with a maximum production capacity of 15,000 barrels per day. It was producing around 10,000 bpd before the attack.

Further south in Baghdad, two bombs in a central neighborhood and a farming district south of the capital killed at least seven civilians on Saturday, medics and police said.

Two soldiers were killed when a bomb exploded close to an army patrol near Taji, a predominantly Sunni Muslim rural district north of Baghdad.

At least 24 others were wounded in the explosions.

In Falluja in the western province of Anbar, hospital sources said five people, including two children, were killed during Iraqi army shelling of Islamic State positions. They said at least 44 others were wounded, including 19 civilians.