Posts Tagged Islamic State group

Ankara Rocked By Terrorist Car Bomb

AnkaraAt least 28 people were killed and 61 wounded Wednesday by a car bomb targeting the Turkish military in the heart of the capital Ankara, the latest in a string of attacks to shake the country.

The blast struck a convoy of military service vehicles but it was still not clear who carried it out, said Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, confirming the latest toll.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation against the perpetrators of the attack, which came on the heels of a spate of deadly strikes in Turkey blamed on jihadists but also on Kurdish rebels.

The car bomb detonated when a convoy of military buses carrying dozens of soldiers stopped at traffic lights in central Ankara, creating scenes of panic and chaos.

“This attack has very clearly targeted our esteemed nation as a whole and was carried out in a vile, dishonourable, treacherous and insidious way,” said Kurtulmus.

Plumes of smoke could be seen from all over the city rising from the scene, close to the headquarters of the Turkish military and the parliament.

The powerful blast was heard throughout Ankara, sending alarmed residents rushing to their balconies. The army said the attack took place at 1631 GMT and had targeted “service vehicles carrying army personnel”.

Without specifying what the retaliation could entail, Erdogan warned that “Turkey will not shy away from using its right to self-defence at any time, any place or any occasion.”

“Our determination to respond in kind to attacks taking place inside and outside our borders is getting stronger,” he said.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cancelled a planned visit to Brussels on Thursday, his office said. Erdogan also shelved a trip to Azerbaijan.

A mini-summit on Europe’s refugee crisis gathering 11 EU countries and Turkey scheduled for Thursday was cancelled due to Davutoglu’s absence, diplomats said.

In Ankara, ambulances and fire engines were sent to the scene and wounded victims were seen being taken away on stretchers.

Images showed fire-fighters trying to overcome a fierce blaze engulfing wrecked service buses that were gutted by the blast.

Turkish police threw a security cordon around the area. A second blast later rocked the area, but officials said this was police detonating a suspicious package.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance strongly condemned the bombing. “NATO Allies stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande denounced the attack as “odious”.

“We are with Turkey and its people in these difficult times,” added EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Kurtulmus acknowledged that “we don’t have any information yet about who carried out this attack” but vowed the perpetrators “will be revealed as soon as possible.”

The Islamic State group has been blamed for a slew of bombings in the country since the middle of last year but the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has also killed dozens of soldiers in attacks mainly in the southeast of the country.

The capital was already on alert after 103 people were killed on October 10 when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of peace activists in Ankara, the bloodiest attack in the country’s modern history.

Eleven people, all German tourists, were also killed on January 16 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the tourist heart of Istanbul.

Those attacks were blamed on IS jihadists, as were two other deadly bombings in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast earlier in the year.

But Turkey is also waging an all-out assault on the outlawed PKK which has repeatedly attacked members of the security forces with roadside bombings on their convoys in the southeast.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although now more for greater autonomy and rights for the country’s largest ethnic minority.

The conflict, which has left tens of thousands of people dead, looked like it could be nearing a resolution until an uneasy truce was shattered in July.

Meanwhile, Turkish artillery in southern Turkey shelled positions of Kurdish fighters in Syria for the fifth day in the row on Wednesday in an escalating standoff, reports said.

Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) are merely the Syrian branch of the PKK and themselves terror groups.

The banned ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front (DHKP-C) has also staged a string of usually small-scale attacks in Istanbul over the last few months.



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Russian and Syrian Forces Launch New Joint Offensive

Russian air forceRussia dramatically escalated its air war in Syria, unleashing heavy bombardments and cruise missile strikes from the Caspian Sea as cover for a major Syrian army ground offensive.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow had begun synchronising its strikes with the army’s ground movements against rebels, as the Kremlin voiced willingness to make contact with Western-backed fighters that Washington and its allies accuse it of targeting.

Putin, who turned 63 on Wednesday, said Russian warships had fired cruise missiles on Islamic State group positions in Syria for the first time.

A video map released by Russia’s defence ministry showed the missiles launched from warships in the southern Caspian Sea and flying close to 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) through Iranian and Iraqi airspace before hitting targets in Syria.

A Syrian military source said government troops had begun a broad ground operation near the village of Latmeen in Hama province, aided by Russian air cover.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 40 Russian air strikes in Hama and neighbouring Idlib province, which is controlled by the powerful Army of Conquest alliance that includes Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

The alliance has sought to expand into Hama from Idlib and seize high ground to target the neighbouring regime stronghold of Latakia province.

The Britain-based Observatory said “many raids, believed to be from Russian warplanes, killed six people” including two children in Maraat al-Numan in Idlib.

A military source in Hama said that “the Syrian army in its latest operations is working on cutting off the southern parts of Idlib province from the northern parts of Hama province.”

He added that the operations were also intended to begin securing the major highway between Aleppo and Damascus.

Putin said Russian strikes would “be synchronised with the actions of the Syrian army on the ground” to support the regime’s offensive operations.

Russia says its forces have hit 112 targets since its operations in Syria which it insists target IS and other “terrorist groups” began on September 30.

But Syrian rebels and their backers say a range of opposition fighters, not just jihadists, have been hit.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “Greater than 90 percent of the (Russian) strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against ISIL or Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists.

“They’ve been largely against opposition groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power.”

Adding to growing concern in the West about Russia’s motives and actions in Syria, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu alleged that just two out of 57 Russian strikes examined by Turkish intelligence had hit IS.

The Russian campaign has particularly raised hackles in Ankara, which accuses Moscow of violating its airspace from Syria on at least two occasions over the weekend.

It also reported a violation by a MIG-29 jet of unknown nationality on Monday.

Turkey has protested the violations, backed by the NATO alliance to which it belongs, and warned Russia against losing its friendship with Ankara, which has been severely tested over Syria.

Tensions between Russia and the United States also escalated, with Defence Secretary Ashton Carter insisting that Washington is not cooperating with Russia over its air campaign.

“I have said before that we believed that Russia has the wrong strategy they continue to hit targets that are not ISIL. We believe this is a fundamental mistake,” Carter told a press conference in Rome, referring to IS by an alternative acronym.

A Pentagon spokesman said US-led coalition aircraft had been re-routed on at least one occasion to avoid any confrontation with Russian warplanes over Syria.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande warned that failure to act in Syria risked “total war” in the Middle East.

“If we leave these religious clashes between Sunnis and Shiites, they will grow. Don’t think we will be sheltered, this will be a total war,” he said in a speech to the European Parliament.

Putin said Hollande had proposed “to at least try to unite the efforts of the government troops of President Assad’s army and the so-called (rebel) Free Syrian Army,” but a member of Hollande’s entourage quickly rebutted that claim.

Moscow’s foreign ministry also said it was ready to make contact with the FSA, a group whose existence it previously questioned.


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Jordan Responds Swiftly to Daesh Killing of its Pilot

JOrdanIslamic State group militants burned a captured Jordanian pilot to death in a cage, according to a purported video of the violence released Tuesday. The kingdom, which had vowed a swift and lethal response, executed two al-Qaeda prisoners by hanging early Wednesday.

The pilot’s gruesome death sparked outrage and anti-Islamic State group demonstrations in Jordan. The video emerged after a weeklong drama over a possible prisoner exchange for a female al-Qaeda operative imprisoned in Jordan who was one of the two prisoners executed.

The Jordanian military confirmed the death of 26-year-old Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, who was captured by the extremists in December when his F-16 crashed while he was flying a mission as part of the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State group.

He was the first airman participating in the U.S.-led bombing raids against militant positions in Syria and Iraq to be captured.

In Washington, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and President Barack Obama vowed in a hastily arranged White House meeting not to let up in the fight against the Islamic State group. Jordan, a staunch Western ally, is a member of the coalition.

In a first response to the killing of the pilot, Jordan executed Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouly, two Iraqis linked to al-Qaeda, government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said. Another official said they were executed by hanging.

The executions took place at Swaqa prison about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the Jordanian capital of Amman. At sunrise, two ambulances carrying the bodies of al-Rishawi and al-Karbouly drove away from the prison with security escorts.

Over the past week, Jordan had offered to trade al-Rishawi, a failed suicide bomber, for the pilot, but froze any swap after failing to receive any proof that the pilot was still alive. Jordanian TV said the pilot was killed as long ago as Jan. 3.

Al-Rishawi had been sentenced to death after her 2005 role in a triple hotel bombing that killed 60 people in Amman orchestrated by al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State group. Al-Karbouly was sent to death row in 2008 for plotting terror attacks on Jordanians in Iraq.

Al-Kaseasbeh had fallen into the hands of the militants when his F-16 crashed near Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the group’s self-styled caliphate.

In the 20-minute video purportedly showing his killing, he displayed signs of having been beaten, including a black eye. Toward the end of the clip, he is shown wearing an orange jumpsuit. He stands in an outdoor cage as a masked militant ignites a line of fuel leading to it.

The video, which threatened other purported Jordanian pilots by name, was released on militant websites and bore the logo of the extremist group’s al-Furqan media service. The clip featured the slick production and graphics used in previous Islamic State videos.

The killing of the 26-year-old airman appeared aimed at pressuring the government of Jordan, a close U.S. ally, to leave the coalition.

Jordan’s role in a bombing campaign targeting Muslims is not popular in Jordan. However, some said the extremists’ brutal killing of a fellow Muslim could galvanize resentment against them among fellow Sunni Muslims in the region.

At their White House meeting, the Jordanian monarch and Obama affirmed that “the vile murder of this brave Jordanian will only serve to steel the international community’s resolve to destroy ISIL,” said White House spokesman Alistair Baskey, using an alternate acronym for the extremist group.

Abdullah, who was on a previously scheduled trip to Washington, arrived after nightfall Tuesday and made no remarks to reporters as he and Obama sat side by side in the Oval Office.

In a statement before his meeting with Abdullah, Obama vowed the pilot’s death would “redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of our global coalition to make sure they are degraded and ultimately defeated.”

Abdullah has portrayed the campaign against the extremists as a battle over values. In a speech Tuesday night on Jordanian state television, he urged his countrymen to unite.

“It’s the duty of all of us to stand united and show the real values of Jordanians in the face of these hardships,” Abdullah said. The official Petra news agency said he would be cutting short his Washington trip to return to Jordan.

The army spokesman, Mamdouh al-Ameri, said the country would strike back hard. “Our punishment and revenge will be as huge as the loss of the Jordanians,” he said.

Jordan faces increasing threats from the militants. Jordan borders areas of Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, while there are have been signs of greater support for the group’s militant ideas among Jordan’s young and poor.

The pilot’s father, Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh, was attending a tribal meeting in Amman when news of the video surfaced, and he was seen being led from the session. Other men were seen outside, overcome with emotion.

After word spread that the pilot had been killed, dozens of people chanting slogans against the Islamic State group marched toward the royal palace to express their anger. Waving a Jordanian flag, they chanted, “Damn you, Daesh!” using the Arabic acronym of the group,  and “We will avenge, we will avenge our son’s blood.”

Protesters marched in the pilot’s home village of Ai and set a local government office on fire. Witnesses said the atmosphere was tense and that riot police patrolled the streets.

Al-Kaseasbeh is from a tribal area in southern Jordan’s Karak district. The tribes are considered a mainstay of support for the monarchy, but the pilot’s capture has strained that relationship. Members of the pilot’s family have repeatedly accused the government of botching efforts to win his release and have also criticized Jordan’s participation in the anti-Islamic State group alliance.

The Islamic State group has released a series of gruesome videos showing the beheading of captives, including two American journalists, an American aid worker and two British aid workers. Tuesday’s was the first to show a captive being burned alive.

David L. Phillips, a former State Department adviser on the Middle East, said he believes the pilot’s killing could backfire, antagonizing Sunnis against the extremists, including Sunni tribes in Iraq.

“They need to have a welcome from Sunni Arabs in Anbar Province (in Iraq) to maintain their operations,” said Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University.

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