Archive for February 8th, 2014

Al-Qaida breaks ties with group in Syria

February 03, 2014

CAIRO (AP) — Al-Qaida broke off ties with one of its purported branches in Syria and distanced itself from the rebel infighting in that country’s civil war, according to a statement Monday.

The announcement appeared to be an attempt by al-Qaida to put its house in order and reassert influence among rival Islamic groups that have turned against one another in Syria. Signed by the al-Qaida “general command,” the statement said the leadership has cut off the affiliate known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after it disobeyed orders from the terror network’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Al-Zawahri last May ordered the Islamic State to operate independently from a rival al-Qaida branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, led by Abu Mohammed al-Golani. Al-Baghdadi rejected al-Zawahri’s orders and unsuccessfully sought to merge the two branches.

In Monday’s statement, al-Qaida said it “did not approve of the creation of nor did it control” the Islamic State, and therefore has “no organizational ties with it.” “We distance ourselves from the sedition taking place among the mujahedeen factions (in Syria) and of the forbidden blood shed by any faction,” the statement said of the infighting among Islamic extremists.

The jihadis, or holy warriors, it said, should realize the “enormity of the catastrophe” and the implications “this sedition” can have on the holy war in Syria. The authenticity of the statement could not independently be verified but it was posted on websites commonly used by al-Qaida.

The rebel-on-rebel fighting has added another bloody dimension to the Syrian crisis, which erupted in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule but later evolved into an armed insurgency and civil war.

The war provided fertile ground for militant Islamic groups and over time, the Islamic State and the Nusra Front emerged as the two main al-Qaida-linked groups until their falling out last spring. The Islamic State, meanwhile, largely eclipsed the Nusra Front in many parts of northern Syria.

Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center said the al-Qaida statement reflected its “attempt to definitively re-assert some level of authority over the jihad in Syria.” It also showed al-Qaida leadership’s failure to take a genuinely commanding line in the rivalry between the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, and made it inevitable that al-Zawahri had to issue a decisive ruling with permanent consequences, said Lister.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

17,000 could have been tortured to death in Al-Assad’s prisons

Wednesday, 05 February 2014

Some 17,000 Syrians held in Al-Assad’s prisons are feared dead as news of the torture of a further 11,000 detains also emerges, a Syrian human rights organization said.

The death of a Syrian dissident in prison raised concerns about the possibility of the deaths after a photo released by a former member of the regime revealed that around 11,000 prisoners were tortured to death while in the regime’s custody.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the death of Wissam Sara, who is the son of the well-known Opposition figure Fayez Sara. Wissam, a father of two, was killed on Monday as a result of the torture he was subjected to inside the military prison in Damascus. The group expressed fears that the fate of more than 17,000 detainees, who are missing inside the regime’s prisons, could be the same as Wissam’s.

The opposition human rights group based in London called on the international community and the UN Envoy in Syria Al-Akhdar Al-Ibrahimi to pressure Al-Assad’s regime to release more than 100,000 detainees currently held in basements and prisons. It said it had already sent the names of 10,000 detainees to Al-Ibrahimi’s office.

In an Arabic statement obtained by CNN, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it considered last month to be the worst in terms of the number of deaths since the beginning of the Syrian revolution on the March 18, 2011. The observatory documented 5,794 deaths that occurred in January alone.

The statement also pointed out that the number of civilian deaths in the first months of 2014 had reached 3,013 including 358 children, 225 women, in addition to the death of 1,281 opposition fighters. The number of unidentified victims reached 30, in addition to another 14 deaths from the regime’s dissidents.

They said the number of deaths of fighters from the Islamic Brigades, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front has reached 1,251 deaths, adding that most of the dead don’t hold Syrian nationality and some of them are unknown.

As for the regime’s troops, the number of deaths reached 923, in addition to 502 deaths from the “people’s committees”, the National Defense Force, Shabiha and informants loyal to the regime. There were also deaths from Hezbollah and 52 among non-Syrian and Shia fighters who are loyal to Al-Assad’s regime.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Syrian forces hit mosque with crude bomb, kill 11

February 04, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Men pull a girl from the rubble and haul her onto a dirty sheet of plastic, while another child, coated in white dust save for a red streak of blood from his nose, lies with his crushed leg dangling off a gurney — the grisly aftermath from the dropping of a crude “barrel bomb” by Syrian forces on the city of Aleppo.

The bombing — one of at least seven such attacks in Aleppo on Tuesday — struck a mosque that was being used as a school, killing at least 11 people, activists said. A video supplied by activists contained scenes of the carnage.

It was the latest example of the heightened use of barrel bombs, devices packed with fuel, explosives and scrap metal that are hurled from helicopters, often indiscriminately. Since Thursday, around 80 people have been killed by barrel bombs used by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to try to dislodge rebels from Aleppo, according to figures provided by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground.

The video uploaded from the rebel-held Masaken Hanano district showed the aftermath of the explosion at or near the Uthman Bin Affan mosque, where adults were teaching children the Quran, said activist Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center.

The video, excerpts of which are at , was consistent with what reporting by The Associated Press found. A cameraman films from inside a vehicle as it speeds toward a place where dust is drifting into a clear blue sky. The camera swivels to men and boys running around a building that has been torn in half by an explosion.

“Are there martyrs?” the narrator asks. His camera focuses on a lump of red flesh in a vehicle. It is the beginning of a grim litany of death, as seen from the jerking camera. A child, his legs missing, lies on the ground, partially covered by a blanket.

“Are there anybody’s children here?” cries one man. “Bashar, you lowlife!” cries another, referring to the Syrian ruler, raising his hands angrily to the sky. Another man shakes a blackened body inside a vehicle.

A man carries a lifeless boy, lifting him partly by his clothes, and leaves him on the sidewalk near two other mangled corpses. An older man with a bloodied face stumbles toward the child, weeping, “Oh, God, your grace, oh, God.”

The cameraman also captures scenes of the boy with the crushed leg and the girl pulled from the ruins. The Observatory said at least five of the dead in Masaken Hanano were children. The use of barrel bombs across Syria has been widely condemned by human rights groups because of the weapons’ indiscriminate nature. They have been a key part of a government strategy to wrest back parts of Aleppo seized by rebels in mid-2012.

Far from the battlegrounds in Syria, Assad’s chief ally, Russia, expressed confidence that the government would return to the U.N.-hosted peace talks in Geneva that began in January after three years of war.

“We have no doubts that the government representatives will take place in a second round of talks between the Syrian sides in Geneva,” Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian deputy foreign minister and Moscow’s special envoy to the Middle East, said in comments carried on Russian news agencies.

Assad’s government has not committed to attending the next round of talks, expected on Feb. 10. “We hope that both sides will continue a patient, constructive discussion,” Bogdanov said.

Associated Press writers Laura Mills in Moscow and Ryan Lucas in Beirut contributed to this report.

Syrian aircraft pound rebel-held areas of Aleppo

February 02, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government aircraft unleashed a wave of airstrikes on more than a dozen rebel-held neighborhoods in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, as President Bashar Assad’s forces inched into areas controlled by opposition fighters for more than a year, activists said.

Aleppo has been a key battleground in Syria’s civil war since rebels swept into the city in mid-2012 and wrested most of the eastern and southern neighborhoods from the government. Assad’s air force for weeks has pounded those areas with barrel bombs — crude containers packed with explosives, fuel and scraps of metal — that cause massive damage on impact.

On Sunday alone, Syrian military helicopters and warplanes targeted 15 opposition-held neighborhoods, said an activist who goes by the name of Abu al-Hassan Marea. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Tariq al-Bab district alone was hit at least eight times on Sunday. Marea said one of the airstrikes in the neighborhood struck a vegetable market and another landed near a mosque.

The Aleppo Media Center activist group said the strike near the Abdullah bin Masoud Mosque killed more than 10 people. Neither the Aleppo Media Center nor the Observatory had a total death toll for the day’s carnage, but Marea said that more than 50 people were killed in the airstrikes across the city, although he did not have an exact count.

An amateur video posted online shows a helicopter circling in the blue sky, and then a barrel plummeting from the aircraft until it slams into buildings on the horizon, sending a pillar of smoke and dust into the air. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting of the events depicted.

This is not the first time that government aircraft has waged an intense aerial campaign on Aleppo. In December, military helicopters pounded rebel-held districts of Aleppo with barrel bombs for days, leveling buildings, burying people under the rubble and killing more than 500 people over a two-week stretch.

The misery in Aleppo was then compounded in early January by an outburst of rebel-on-rebel fighting, which has weakened the opposition’s grip on parts of the city. Over the past two weeks, Assad’s forces have slowly chipped away at the rebels’ hold on neighborhoods in southeastern Aleppo. While the advances have been small, they still mark the most significant government gains in the divided city since opposition fighters seized the areas in mid-2012.

As intense as the airstrikes have been, the rebels’ position in Aleppo and across northern Syria has been undermined to a greater degree by a bloody bout of infighting that pits the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant against an array of ultraconservative brigades and more moderate factions.

The rebel infighting has killed more than 1,400 people since it began a month ago, and it shows little sign of coming to an immediate close. On Saturday, a twin suicide bombing killed 26 people, including a senior military commander of the Tawhid Brigade, a prominent rebel group opposed to the Islamic State.

The attack, widely blamed by both pro- and anti-al-Qaida activists on the Islamic State, targeted the base of its rivals in the Tawhid Brigade and killed senior leader Adnan Bakkour, said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman.

The Islamic State also killed another prominent commander, Abu Hussein al-Dik of Suqour al-Sham, on Saturday near the central city of Hama, the Observatory said. Abdurrahman said al-Dik was killed in an ambush outside of Hama, where he was traveling to try to help rebels encircled by Islamic State fighters.

Both the Tawhid Brigade and Suqour al-Sham are part of the Islamic Front, a powerful alliance of seven Islamist rebel factions that united in November. The Islamic Front has emerged as a heavy weight in northern Syria, and has been a driving force in the fight against the Islamic State.

Analyst Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center said the Islamic State “appears to be targeting particularly strategic locales and individuals in its continuing operations against perceived enemy rebels.”

Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid and Yasmine Saker contributed to this report.

ISIL fighters in Syria murder fellow rebel Muslim leader

February 02, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — ISIL fighters killed the leader of a fellow rebel Islamic brigade in a twin car bombing near Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, an attack likely to further exacerbate rebel infighting even as government forces continued their intense shelling of opposition-held areas of the city on Sunday.

Syrian aircraft bombed buildings, burying people underneath rubble in the Bab Neirab area, said the Aleppo Media Center. It wasn’t immediately clear how many casualties there were. The bombings came after military aircraft dropped barrels packed with explosives over rebel-held areas on Saturday, killing dozens, including an attack that killed 34 people in the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Bab, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group collates the country’s war death toll.

Syrian forces have inched into eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo in recent weeks, their most important advance there since rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad seized the areas in mid-2012.

Activists say the troops’ advance has been mostly been propelled by military aircraft heavily bombing residential areas, smashing buildings into rubble, forcing civilians and rebels to flee. They’ve also been assisted by weeks of rebel infighting that has pitted a loose alliance of Syrian fighters against al-Qaida linked extremists of the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant.

Fighting was likely to be exacerbated further after Islamic State fighters undertook a twin suicide bombing that killed 26 people on Saturday, including the military leader of a rebel group. The attack targeted the base of rivals, the Tawheed Brigades, and killed commander Adnan Bakkour, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Observatory.

The Islamic State also killed another prominent commander of another rebel brigade, said analyst Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center. Lister said the extremists killed Abu Hussein al-Dik of the powerful Suqour al-Sham, showing that the Islamic State was targeting key headquarters, “strategic checkpoints and senior influential commanders.”

Syria’s war, which began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011, has slowly spread to neighboring Lebanon in a myriad of ways. Late Saturday, a shadowy Lebanese extremist group claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite town that killed at least three people, in an attack linked to the war in Syria.

The Nusra Front in Lebanon said on Twitter that the bombing in the northeast town of Hermel on Saturday was to punish the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which fights alongside forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

It is the third bombing that the Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for in the country. A series of bombings have targeted Shiite Muslims in Lebanon as Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian war exacerbates sectarian tensions at home. Extremist Lebanese Sunni Muslims now view their Shiite brethren as legitimate targets because they support Hezbollah. The bombing occurred Saturday evening.

The war has also become increasingly sectarian, with extremist groups blamed for attacks against Syria’s many minority faiths. Also Sunday, a group that supports militants posted a video to social networks showing a Sunni fighter beheading another man as adults and children gathered to watch.

In the video, adults cheer as the fighter cuts the other man’s head off with a small knife. The beheaded man’s hands are tied, and it isn’t clear if he was alive while he was being beheaded. The men’s accents and languages suggest the fighters are a mix of Russian-speakers, foreign Arabs and Syrians.

Abdurrahman of the Observatory said Sunday that the video was likely filmed in the central Syrian province of Homs last week. Photos of the body and severed head were also posted to a separate Instagram account by a supporter of the al-Qaida linked Islamic State. The photograph showed another decapitated body nearby.

The video underscores why many among Syria’s Christian and Muslim minorities support Assad in the three-year uprising against his rule, fearing extremist militants will ultimately prevail should Assad fall.

Israeli army report reveals intelligence and security relations with several Arab and Muslim countries

Wednesday, 05 February 2014

The official website of the Israeli army released an unprecedented report on Tuesday claiming that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has been cooperating closely with a number of Arab and Muslim countries on issues of security, intelligence and military exports. The collaborating countries include: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.

According to the report, Bahrain has been providing Israel with intelligence on Iran and Palestinian organizations. The report also highlights the growing secret cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, claiming that the Mossad has been in direct contact with Saudi intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program. Indeed the Mossad’s former chief, Meir Dagan, is reported to have visited Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi officials to discuss this matter. The report notes that the Saudi authorities had agreed in 1982 to allow dozens of Israeli soldiers, upon the request of the US administration, to operate within its regional waters to search for the wreck of a rocket carrier, which had exploded after passing above a mine in the Red Sea.

The report emphasized that the Saudi government allowed the Israeli navy to search its regional waters at the same time when Israeli forces were invading Lebanon and waging a relentless war against the Palestinian resistance movement, before allowing armed groups to commit the Sabra and Shatila massacres against the Palestinian refugees in Beirut.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that Israel had approved an arms deal where Germany provided Saudi Arabia with 200 tanks, signaling the strengthening cooperation between the two states.

According to the Israeli army report, Israel has also sold the UAE various military supplies, including: developed pilot helmets, drone equipment, devices to refuel airplanes while airborne, ground radar, developed systems to improve fighter aircrafts and defensive devices to jam hostile missiles.

The report claims that Morocco bought Heron drones from Israel too; however, the aircrafts were shipped to the North African monarchy via France. The intelligence cooperation between the two countries reportedly reached its peak in 1973 at the same time Morocco was sending its troops to fight Israel. The report claims that the Mossad helped the Moroccan intelligence assassinate Mahdi Ben Baraka, an opposition leader to the regime of former King Hassan II, who had agreed to allow tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews to immigrate to Israel in exchange for Israel’s accepting to consult on developing Morocco’s security and intelligence devices.

Israel has also supplied Algeria, Morocco’s neighboring rival, with sophisticated air traffic control systems, pilot helmets, radars, communication systems and military air navigation systems.

Israel has sold weapons to several other Muslim majority countries, namely Azerbaijan and Afghanistan, which have been shipped through Pakistan. According to the report, through its military exports Israel aims to improve its economic status as well as to achieve its strategic security interests. For example, Israel is reported to have exploited its relations with Azerbaijan to spy on neighboring Iran.

Source: Middle East Monitor.