Islamic State beheads 15 of its own fighters: Afghan official

Islamic State beheads 15 of its own fighters: Afghan official

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Islamic State beheaded 15 of its own fighters due to infighting in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, officials said, while a separate suicide attack on Thursday tore into a crowd in the provincial capital, Jalalabad, killing at least eight.

The two incidents underline the insecurity and lawlessness across Afghanistan, where thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded this year amid unrelenting violence involving militant groups including Islamic State and the Taliban.

In a bloody day for the province, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing at least eight people at a meeting of supporters of a police commander who was sacked for illegal land grabbing.

There was no claim of responsibility and no immediate indication of who was behind the attack on the crowd in Jalalabad, which had gathered to demand the reinstatement of the commander, who survived the attack.

A spokesman for the Jalalabad hospital confirmed eight people had been killed and 15 wounded.

Nangarhar, on the porous border with Pakistan, has become a stronghold for Islamic State, generally known as Daesh in Afghanistan, which has grown to become one of the country’s most dangerous militant groups since it appeared around the start of 2015.

Attaullah Khogyani, the provincial governor’s spokesman, said the 15 Islamic State fighters were executed after a bout of infighting in the group, which has become notorious for its brutality. The killings occurred in the Surkh Ab bazaar of Achin district.

Further details were not available and there was no confirmation from Islamic State, whose local branch is known as Islamic State in Khorasan, an old name for the area that includes modern Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Islamic State have frequently fought each other in Nangarhar and both have been targeted by sustained U.S. air strikes.

But the exact nature of the relationship between the two groups is little understood. There have been isolated incidents in Afghanistan in which the fighters of both appear to have cooperated.

Afghan intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters this year showed security officials believe Islamic State is present in nine provinces, from Nangarhar and Kunar in the east to Jawzjan, Faryab and Badakhshan in the north and Ghor in the central west.

(Reporting by Ahmad Sultan; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by James Mackenzie and Clarence Fernandez)

Boston man found guilty in Islamic State beheading plot

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – A Boston-area man was found guilty on Wednesday of conspiracy to commit acts of international terrorism and supporting Islamic State for a 2015 plot to attack police and behead a conservative blogger who organized a “Draw Mohammed” contest.

David Wright, 28, was found guilty of five criminal charges for planning with his uncle and a friend to behead blogger Pamela Geller. The plot fell apart after Wright’s uncle said he wanted to kill law enforcement officers instead and was shot dead by police.

During a 3-1/2-week trial, federal prosecutors presented evidence that Wright, who lived in the Boston suburb of Everett, had read and viewed copious amounts of online propaganda from the militant group and vowed to join its cause. They also showed evidence suggesting he had been in touch with members of the Islamic State in Syria.

Wright, his uncle Usamaah Abdullah Rahim and friend Nicholas Rovinski had focused their attention on Pamela Geller, the blogger who organized the “Draw Mohammed” contest in Garland, Texas, which she described as an exercise of free speech, though many Muslims consider cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed offensive.

Two gunman attacked that contest and were shot dead, leading Wright and his counterparts to hatch a plan to behead Geller in New York.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Trial of Islamic State beheading plot in Massachusetts nears end

BOSTON (Reuters) – The case of a Massachusetts man who prosecutors say plotted to attack police and behead a conservative blogger on behalf of Islamic State nears a close on Tuesday as lawyers make closing arguments.

Federal prosecutors contend that David Wright, 28, along with his uncle and a friend had plotted to kill the woman who organized the 2015 “Draw Mohammed” contest in Garland, Texas, a plan they said unraveled when the uncle lost patience and said he wanted to kill police officers instead.

Wright, who took the witness stand in his own defense last week, testified that his discussions with the other two men about Islamic state were “role playing” that served as a distraction when he was broke, weighed 530 pounds (240 kg), and was living in his family’s home in the Boston suburb of Everett and spending his days playing video games.

“I created a fantasy world,” Wright testified, denying that there had been a plan to kill Pamela Geller, the organizer of the “Draw Mohammed” contest. “I’m beginning to realize how horrible some of the stuff I said was. It makes me really sick.”

Prosecutors said they had been monitoring communications between Wright, his uncle, Usamaah Abdullah Rahim, and friend Nicholas Rovinski, and heard them plot the attack. They also overheard Rahim when he told the pair he planned to kill law enforcement officers, a message that prompted police to try to question him in a supermarket parking lot.

Rahim pulled a knife on the officers, who shot him dead.

If Wright is found guilty of the charge of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, he could face a life sentence. He is also charged with conspiracy to support a terrorist organization and obstruction of justice, allegedly for telling Rahim to destroy his phone before attacking police, as well as for attempting to destroy all information on his computer.

Geller had organized the Texas event in May 2015 highlighting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, images that many Muslims consider blasphemous. Two gunmen had attacked that event and were shot dead by police.

Geller contends her event was intended as a demonstration of the free-speech rights protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Rovinski in 2016 pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. Rahim’s family have denied he had shown any signs of radicalization.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Oklahoma man convicted of murder in beheading case: media

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – An Oklahoma man who had converted to Islam was convicted of murder on Friday in the case of a female co-worker who was beheaded three years ago, after the jury rejected his plea of insanity, local media reported.

A jury also found Alton Nolen, 33, guilty of assault crimes after less than two hours of deliberation in Cleveland County criminal court, the Oklahoman newspaper reported.

Nolan had been suspended from his job at a food distribution plant in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, when he carried out the attack on co-workers in September, 2014.

He grabbed Colleen Hufford, 54, from behind and cut her across the throat with a large knife at Vaughan Foods plant in Moore, police said.

He also wounded co-worker Traci Johnson, who survived. The carnage ended when Nolan was shot inside the warehouse by a company executive.

After his arrest, Nolen confessed to investigators, telling them in a recording that he felt oppressed, the Oklahoman newspaper reported.

“You know all I was doing was … what I was supposed to do as a Muslim,” he said in the recording, which was played for jurors, according to the Oklahoman.

His attorneys asked jurors to find their client not guilty by reason of insanity, the Oklahoman reported, as the lawyers said Nolen had constructed his own religion out of conflicting beliefs.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty in the penalty phase of the trial, scheduled to begin next week.

“I’m definitely pleased with the outcome thus far,” Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn told reporters after the verdict. “Justice for Colleen is what we’re all wanting.”

Nolen has said that he wants to be executed.

In October 2015, a Cleveland County judge dismissed claims that Nolen was mentally impaired and declared him competent to stand trial.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Iranians pour onto the streets to mourn soldier beheaded in Syria

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran on Wednesday to bury a soldier whose beheading by Islamic State has come to symbolize the righteousness of Iran’s military involvement in Syria.

In what has become an iconic image on Iranian media, 25-year-old Revolutionary Guard Mohsen Hojaji is shown looking calmly into camera after his capture as he is led away by an insurgent with blood on his face, holding a knife. The photograph was posted by Islamic State.

Even Iranians critical of their government’s military intervention in Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad have taken to social media to express their admiration for Hojaji, who was killed last month.

The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s most powerful military force who also oversee an economic empire worth billions of dollars, were initially quiet about their role in Syria.

But in recent years, as casualties have mounted, they have been more outspoken about their engagement, framing it as an existential struggle against the Sunni Muslim extremists of Islamic State who see Shi’ites, the majority of Iran’s population, as apostates.

Guards killed in Syria and Iraq are touted as protectors of Shi’ite holy sites and labeled “defenders of the shrine” on websites linked to the Guards.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed over Hojaji’s coffin and met with his family on Wednesday, state media reported.

Large crowds carrying red flags, symbolizing martyrdom, and pictures of Hojaji processed to the funeral in Tehran, pictures on state TV showed. Parliament speaker Ali Larijani and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were among the dignitaries who attended, state media said.

“Look at what a stir the martyrdom of this youth has created in the country,” Khamenei said, according to his website.

Hojaji’s funeral comes only three days before Ashura, one of the most important religious events for Shi’ites and a traditional period of mourning which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

The Guards recovered Hojaji’s body through a deal between Islamic State, the Syrian army and Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah. More than 300 IS fighters and about 300 family members were allowed to evacuate Syria’s western border with Lebanon under the ceasefire agreement.

On June 7, Islamic State claimed an attack on Tehran’s parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, killing 18 people. The Revolutionary Guards fired missiles at Islamic State bases in Syria on June 18 in response.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Trial opens for American in Islamic State-linked police beheading plot

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – A Massachusetts man charged with plotting to behead police officers in an effort to help Islamic State was due in court on Wednesday for the start of his trial on charges including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.

Federal prosecutors charge that the man, David Daoud Wright, along with his uncle and a friend, had first plotted to kill the woman who organized a 2015 “Draw Mohammed” contest in Garland, Texas. But they contend Wright’s uncle, Usamaah Abdullah Rahim, lost patience and in June 2015 told Wright and the third man that he instead planned to kill police officers.

Law enforcement had been monitoring communications between the three and overheard the threat, prosecutors said. When police approached Rahim in a Boston supermarket parking lot to question him, he drew a large knife and officers shot him dead.

Police later arrested Wright, who lived in the Boston suburb of Everett, and a third conspirator, Nicholas Rovinski. Wright has denied all wrongdoing. Rovinski last year pleaded guilty to two criminal counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

If Wright is found guilty of the charge of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, he could face a life sentence. He is also charged with conspiracy to support a terrorist organization and obstruction of justice, allegedly for telling Rahim to destroy his phone before attacking police, as well as for attempting to destroy all information on his computer.

Prosecutors said the men initially wanted to behead New York resident Pamela Geller, who had organized the Texas event in May highlighting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, images that many Muslims consider blasphemous. Two gunmen had attacked that event, and were shot dead by police.

Geller contends her event was intended as a demonstration of the free-speech rights protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Rahim’s family have denied he had shown any signs of radicalization.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown)

Suspected Islamist militants behead nine men in Kenya

By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA (Reuters) – Suspected Islamist militants beheaded nine men in an overnight attack on a village in the Kenyan coastal district of Lamu, police said, days after Somali militants killed three policemen in an attack on a nearby village.

Police said there were nine bodies. A witness, who asked not to be named, confirmed the death toll.

“They raided Jima and Poromoko villages and killed nine men. They were slaughtered like chickens, using knives,” said the witness.

Villagers said a group of heavily armed attackers, many of whom appeared to be ethnic Somalis, attacked the villagers at 11:00 pm. They went house to house searching for non-Muslim men and gathered their victims together before beheading them.

Residents had called police to report suspected al Shabaab militants in the area earlier on Friday.

The attack is close to the village of Pandanguo, where al Shabaab attackers killed three police officers on Friday. Al Shabaab has frequently mounted deadly cross-border attacks on Kenyan soil.

The al Qaeda-linked militant group wants to overthrow the weak U.N.-backed government and impose a strict form of Islamic law in Somalia. They have intensified attacks in Kenya since Kenya sent troops into Somalia.

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Comedian Kathy Griffin says her career is over after gory Trump photo

Comedian Kathy Griffin (L) wipes her nose as her attorney Lisa Bloom (R) speaks at a news conference in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Comedian Kathy Griffin tearfully apologized in a Friday press conference for posing with a fake bloodied and severed head depicting U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that she felt her career was now over and that Trump “broke” her.

Griffin has lost sponsorships and jobs, including her role as co-host of CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage with journalist Anderson Cooper, since a photograph and video from the shoot appeared on social media on Tuesday.

President Trump said the image of Griffin with the gory mask resembling him was “sick” and that it had traumatized his family, especially his youngest son, 11-year-old Barron. Trump’s oldest son, Donald Jr., called for employers to drop the comedian.

“I don’t think I will have a career after this. I’m going to be honest, (Trump) broke me,” said Griffin, 56, a two-time Emmy-winning performer known for her deliberately provocative brand of humor. She added that she had received death threats.

Griffin reiterated the apology she posted on social media late on Tuesday, but remained defiant, saying, “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump, he’s a bully,” adding that she intended to continue making jokes about the president.

She also described herself as a provocative woman who has often had to deal with older white men in positions of power.

“What’s happening to me has never happened ever, in the history of this great country, which is that a sitting president of the United States and his grown children and the first lady are personally, I feel, trying to ruin my life – forever,” she said.

Griffin said the photo was intended to mock Trump’s comments during the presidential campaign, when he told CNN that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her – wherever” when she moderated a 2015 presidential debate.

Trump’s remark was widely interpreted as referring to menstrual blood, implying that Kelly was in an unfriendly mood because she was menstruating.

At his daily briefing on Friday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to respond to Griffin’s remarks, saying that the president, the first lady and the Secret Service had made clear their views on the photo.

Katrina Pierson, a former Trump campaign spokeswoman, criticized Griffin on Twitter after her appearance on Friday, saying that Griffin had had a nervous breakdown about “misogyny & mean white men” at the press conference.

The U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for presidential security, has opened an inquiry into the photo of Griffin posing with the severed-head replica.

(Additional reporting by Laila Kearney in New York and Steve Holland in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Patrick Enright and Andrew Hay)

Islamic State says it beheads Russian officer in Syria: SITE

DUBAI (Reuters) – Islamic State has issued a video showing the beheading of what it described as a Russian intelligence officer captured in Syria, the U.S.-based SITE monitoring website reported on Tuesday.

The Russian Defence Ministry and the FSB security service were not immediately available for comment, but a Russian senator said that “there will be hell to pay” if the recording was proven to be authentic.

The 12-minute Russian-language video, released on the day Russia celebrated the anniversary of the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany with military parades, showed the man dressed in a black jump suit kneeling in a desert scene and urging other Russian agents to surrender.

“This idiot believed the promises of his state not to abandon him if he was captured,” a narrator says in the recording, before being beheaded by a bearded man dressed in combat fatigues.

The authenticity of the recording and the identity of the man could not immediately be verified, nor was it clear when the killing occurred.

Russian senator Viktor Ozerov, who heads the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said the defense ministry would check the authenticity of the video.

“Even if it is a fake, it shouldn’t be left without attention,” Ozerov told Russia’s Interfax news agency. “If it happened, then there will be hell to pay.”

Russian forces are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels and militants seeking to oust him. The video showed scenes of what it described as the aftermath of Russian bombing raids in Syria.

The Russian defense ministry says about 30 Russian servicemen have been killed since the start of the Kremlin’s operation there in September 2015.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi in Dubai and Alexander Winning in Moscow; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Brothers in arms: Iraqi armed groups grow as Islamic State shrinks

Iraqi fighters from Hashid Shaabi take part in a training at Makhmur camp in Iraq December

y John Davison

MOSUL, Iraq, April 3 (Reuters) – For Iraqi police officer Jassem and his brothers, the battle against Islamic State is personal. The militants captured and beheaded their father, a Shi’ite militiaman, in 2014; before that, the family lost another son fighting the jihadists.

“We were able to identify my dad’s body by the tattoo on his arm. The head wasn’t found. They had also drilled holes in his hands and cut fingers off,” 31-year-old Jassem told Reuters on the front line in Mosul as Iraqi forces battle with Islamic State in the city.

After the murder, Jassem’s youngest brother signed up with the army and another joined a Shi’ite paramilitary group. With a further brother already with the Counter-Terrorism Service, that meant their mother had all four of her surviving sons at war.

“Mum wasn’t happy,” said Jassem, not giving his full name because he works in intelligence. But his brothers still answered the call to arms. “They said Iraq was falling apart, and they wanted to protect it,” he said.

The family from southern Iraq – far from Mosul which lies near the country’s northern border – is just one of many where entire sets of brothers have taken up arms against Islamic State out of revenge, duty or just to earn money.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are now set to drive the group from its stronghold of Mosul, taken in 2014 when the jihadists seized large areas of Iraq and Syria, proclaiming a caliphate. (Full Story)

But the fight has further militarised Iraqi society, pushing young men into the armed forces and, increasingly, sectarian and tribal militias. This has raised fears of new outbreaks of violence once the caliphate has crumbled.

Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric issued a fatwa in 2014, calling on all men able to carry arms to fight Islamic State, which is known in Arabic by its opponents as Daesh.

On another Mosul front line, Counter-Terrorism Service commando Hamza Kadhem said that before Islamic State arrived, he was the only one of five brothers to have picked up a gun. “The others all joined after the fatwa,” he said.

They joined the Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, a state-run umbrella that includes Shi’ite militias. Two are deployed west of Mosul, and another two near the Syrian border, where Shi’ite fighters have played a crucial role in cutting off Islamic State supply lines.

Before the call-up, they had worked as farmers in the southern Kut region, more than 500 km (300 miles) away.

As well as Shi’ites from the south, young men from around Mosul – where Sunni Muslims are in the majority – are also keen to fight.

They are now flooding to join Sunni tribal militias also under the Hashid, security officials and militia leaders say. Many residents told Reuters in recent weeks they want to join, or know relatives and friends who are trying to do so.

“Many men are volunteering in the Hashid groups. They either want to fight terrorism or to get wages,” one security officer in the area said, declining to be named because he was not authorised to speak publicly. “It’s easier than joining state armed forces. You just put your name down.”

He said the number of those seeking to join could be in the thousands, on top of the several thousand that local community leaders estimate are already in the Sunni tribal militias.

This would not pose security problems because the Hashid ultimately answer to the government and have limited powers, the officer added.

MILITIAS SPREAD

Provincial government officials, however, say the rising number of recruits to paramilitary forces and the formation of new militias is dangerous because it raises the risk of factional clashes.

“These Hashid groups are subservient to the people who lead them, not to the state,” said Abdul Rahman al-Wagga, a council member for Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital.

“So if a Hashid leader wants to impose himself in a certain region, and another sheikh or clan doesn’t like it, they might attack,” he told Reuters by phone. “I think after Daesh, these groups will not be reined in … Their agendas are party, political or regional, and won’t serve Nineveh, or Iraq.”

Ramzy Mardini, a fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, said turning to armed forces, particularly militias, was inevitable in an atmosphere where local communities fear for their own safety.

“Not only has the war further militarised Iraqi society, but there appears to be no pressure from the top or willingness from below to disarm, demobilise, and reintegrate the militias that now occupy the diverse and former insurgent landscape,” he said.

As Iraqi government forces have moved deeper into Mosul city, the areas around it have increasingly come under the control of the expanding Hashid, who fly their flags at checkpoints and have set up offices in nearby towns.

Hashid officials say they are there to ensure Islamic State does not return, and that their local knowledge can make them more effective than federal police.

“Iraq’s security is our responsibility,” read a slogan painted on a building outside Mosul that is occupied by the new office of a Hashid group, and was formerly used by an Islamic State fighter and his family.

Most ordinary Iraqis, like the families of Jassem and Kadhem, do not want their sons to have to fight. But the young men see little choice after suffering at the hands of militants, and with few other ways to earn a living.

Former policeman Yassin Saleh, 47, sat in his wheelchair on a roadside outside Mosul last month after fleeing violence. “Two of my boys, who are 20 and 21, want to volunteer for the Hashid,” he said. “But I need them around to help me.”

Saleh lost both his legs to a car bomb planted by al Qaeda militants in 2008. Two months later, the fighters kidnapped and killed his eldest son.

“There will always be revenge. If people have killed someone’s dad or brother, they won’t just let it go,” he said. “But I can’t lose another son.”

(editing by David Stamp)