Pompeo to Iraq PM: U.S. will take action in self-defense if attacked

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraq’s prime minister that the United States would take measures in self-defense if attacked, according to a statement on Monday after a rocket attack on an Iraqi base that houses U.S. troops helping fight Islamic State.

Pompeo spoke to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Sunday, a day after three American troops and several Iraqi forces were wounded in the second major rocket attack in the past week on an Iraqi base north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said, raising the stakes in an escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals.

He said Iraq’s government should defend the U.S.-led coalition helping it fight Islamic State, according to the statement from State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

“Secretary Pompeo underscored that the groups responsible for these attacks must be held accountable. Secretary Pompeo noted that America will not tolerate attacks and threats to American lives and will take additional action as necessary in self-defense,” it said.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said 33 Katyusha rockets were launched near a section of the Taji base which houses U.S.-led coalition troops. It said the military found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets in the nearby Abu Izam area.

The Iraqi military said several Iraqi air defense servicemen were critically wounded. Two of the three wounded U.S. troops are seriously injured and are being treated at a military hospital in Baghdad, the Pentagon said.

Longstanding antagonism between the United States and Iran has mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have regularly rocketed and shelled bases in Iraq which host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The United States has in turn conducted several strikes inside Iraq, killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alex Richardson and Andrea Ricci)

Islamic State attacks Kabul gathering, killing at least 32

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi

KABUL (Reuters) – Islamic State gunmen opened fire at a ceremony in Kabul on Friday, killing at least 32 people in the first major attack in the city since the United States reached an agreement with the Afghan Taliban on a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.

A top Afghan political leader, Abdullah Abdullah, was present along with other key political figures and escaped unharmed.

Some 81 people were wounded, a government spokesman said, adding that the death toll could rise.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency reported on its telegram channel.

The Taliban, who were ousted from power by U.S.-led troops in 2001, denied involvement almost immediately.

The gathering marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara leader who was killed in 1995 after being taken prisoner by the Taliban.

Several people were killed in a similar attack on the same commemoration last year, which Islamic State had also said was carried out by its militants.

“The attack started with a boom, apparently a rocket landed in the area, Abdullah and some other politicians … escaped the attack unhurt,” Abdullah’s spokesman, Fraidoon Kwazoon, who was also present, told Reuters by telephone.

Broadcaster Tolo News showed live footage of people running for cover as gunfire was heard.

Afghan defense forces continued to fight gunmen throughout the day, finally securing the area by killing about three gunmen in the late afternoon, according to ministry of interior spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.

President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that the attack was “a crime against humanity and against the national unity of Afghanistan”.

Abdullah was runner-up in the last three Afghan presidential elections, each of which he disputed. He has served as chief executive of a coalition government since 2014 and is also a former foreign minister.

Ghani said he had telephoned Abdullah, his longtime political rival. Abdullah is contesting an Electoral Commission announcement last month declaring Ghani the winner of September’s presidential election.

Dozens of relatives gathered at the morgue of a hospital not far from the blast, with many breaking down in tears as they waited to identify their loved ones.

Ambulances and stretchers bustled back and forth at the hospital to deliver the wounded for treatment.

“I was at the ceremony when gunshots started. I rushed toward the door to get out of the area but suddenly my foot was hit by a bullet,” Mukhtar Jan told Reuters from a stretcher at the hospital.

Ali Attayee, at the hospital to support his wounded brother, said: “Those who committed this crime want to destroy our people… We’re sorry for those committing such crimes.”

Representatives of the United States, European Union and NATO condemned the attack.

“We strongly condemn today’s vicious attack…We stand with Afghanistan for peace,” the U.S. charge d’affaires in Kabul, Ross Wilson, wrote on Twitter.

The attack was one of the largest on civilians in Afghanistan in a year.

“Horrific attack in Kabul today…heartbreaking and unacceptable. We are tired of war and violence,” said Shahrzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Hazaras are mostly Shi’ite Muslims. Minority Shi’ites have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni militants in Afghanistan.

The United States has sought to spearhead efforts toward a lasting peace arrangement. Violence decreased during a seven-day hold-down accord with the Taliban before last Saturday’s deal, though the Taliban have since resumed attacks on Afghan forces.

(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi, Rupam Jain, Samargul Zwak, Sayed Hassib and Hesham Abdul Khalek; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Robert Birsel, Kevin Liffey, Peter Graff and Nick Macfie)

Islamic State says it beheaded Christian captives in Nigeria

MAIDUGURI/CAIRO (Reuters) – Islamic State released a video purporting to show its militants beheading 10 Christian men in Nigeria, saying it was part of a campaign to avenge the deaths of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and its spokesman.

The militant group posted the footage on its online Telegram news channel on Thursday, the day after Christmas, with Arabic captions but no audio.

The video showed men in beige uniforms and black masks lining up behind blindfolded captives then beheading 10 of them and shooting an 11th man.

An earlier video seen by Reuters said the captives had been taken from Maiduguri and Damaturu in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno, where militants have been fighting for years to set up a separate Islamist state.

In that video, the captives pleaded for the Christian Association of Nigeria and President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene to save them.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of either video.

Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) split from the militant group Boko Haram in 2016 and has become the region’s dominant jihadist group. Islamist insurgents have killed about 30,000 people in northern Nigeria in the past decade.

Islamic State leader Baghdadi died during a U.S. military raid in Syria and Muhajir in a separate military operation, both over the same weekend in late October.

(Reporting By Maiduguri newsroom and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, writing by Libby George; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

How an Islamist preacher sent gunmen into Burkina Faso’s schools

How a preacher sent gunmen into Burkina Faso’s schools
By Tim Cocks

FAUBE, Burkina Faso (Reuters) – When an Islamist preacher took up the fight in Burkina Faso’s northern borderlands almost a decade ago, his only weapon was a radio station. The words he spoke kindled the anger of a frustrated population, and helped turn their homes into a breeding ground for jihad.

Residents of this parched region in the Sahel – a vast band of thorny scrub beneath the Sahara Desert – remember applauding Ibrahim “Malam” Dicko as he denounced his country’s Western-backed government and racketeering police over the airwaves.

“We cheered,” said Adama Kone, a 32-year-old teacher from the town of Djibo near the frontier with Mali, who was one of those thrilled by Dicko’s words. “He understood our anger. He gave the Fulani youth a new confidence.”

Mostly herders, young men like Kone from the Fulani people were feeling hemmed in by more prosperous farmers, whom they felt the government in Ouagadougou favored. The preacher successfully exploited their conflicts over dwindling land and water resources, and the frustrations of people angered by corrupt and ineffective government, to launch the country’s first indigenous jihadi movement. That cleared a path for groups affiliated with al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Since Dicko’s first broadcasts, Burkina Faso has become the focus of a determined jihadi campaign by three of West Africa’s most dangerous armed groups who have carved out influence in nearly a third of the country, while much of the world was focused on the crisis in neighboring Mali. Militant Islamist fighters close schools, gun down Christians in their places of worship and booby-trap corpses to blow up first responders. At least 39 people died last week in an ambush on a convoy ferrying workers from a Canadian-owned mine in the country. There has been no claim for that ambush, but the modus operandi – a bomb attack on military escorts followed by gunmen unleashing bullets – was characteristic of Islamist groups. [nL8N27P0IA]

Since 2016, the violence has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced nearly 500,000 – most of them this year.

In 2019, at least 755 people had died through October in violence involving jihadist groups across Burkina Faso, according to Reuters’ analysis of political violence events recorded by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an NGO. Actual numbers are likely higher – researchers aren’t always able to identify who is involved in the violence.

The teacher Kone is one of many of Dicko’s former supporters who regret their earlier enthusiasm.

“We handed them the microphones in our mosques,” he said. “By the time we realized what they were up to, it was too late.”

He fled to Ouagadougou two years ago, after armed Islamists showed up at his school. More than 2,000 schools have closed due to the violence, the U.N. children’s fund UNICEF said in August.

A LOCAL CHANNEL

A lean, bespectacled Fulani from the north, Malam Dicko broadcast a message of equality and modesty. He reportedly died of an illness in late 2017, but his sermons channeled deep grievances in Burkina Faso’s north where impoverished people have long been frustrated by corrupt officials.

The province of northern Burkina Faso where Dicko lived scores 2.7 on the United Nations Human Development Index, compared with 6 for the area around the capital, Ouagadougou. About 40% of its children are stunted by malnutrition, against only 6% in the capital, according to U.S. AID.

From Ouagadougou to Djibo is a four-hour drive on a road which peters out into a sandy track. Sparse villages dot a landscape of sand and withered trees. Goats devour scrappy patches of grass.

Residents complain that their few interactions with the state tend to be predatory: Bureaucrats demand money to issue title deeds for houses, then never provide the papers; gendarmes charge up to $40 to take down a complaint; there are mysterious taxes and extortion at police roadblocks. Lieutenant Colonel Kanou Coulibaly, a military police squadron commander and head of training for Burkina Faso’s armed forces, acknowledged that northerners “feel marginalized and abandoned by the central government.”

In about 2010 preacher Dicko, who had studied in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, began tapping this discontent, recalled Kone and other former Djibo residents. He denounced corruption by traditional religious leaders and practices that he deemed un-Islamic, including lavish wedding and naming ceremonies.

The movement he created, Ansarul Islam (Defenders of Islam), opened a path to militants from outside Burkina Faso — particularly Mali.

Early in 2013, French forces were pounding northern Mali to wrest control from al Qaeda-linked fighters who had seized the region the previous year. Dicko slipped over the border to join the militants, said Oumarou Ibrahim, a Sufi preacher who knew Dicko and was close to the No. 2 in his movement, Amadou Boly.

In Mali, Ibrahim said, Dicko linked up with Amadou Koufa, a fellow Fulani whose forces have unleashed turmoil on central Mali in recent years. French forces detained Dicko near the border with Algeria; he was released in 2015.

He set up his own training camp in a forest along the Mali-Burkina border, Kone, the teacher, and Ibrahim, the Sufi preacher, told Reuters.

Dicko forged ties with a group of Malian armed bandits who controlled drug and livestock trade routes.

On the radio that year, he urged youths to back him, “even at the cost of spilling blood.”

“WHITES AND COLONIZERS”

For some years Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, had managed to keep good relations with Mali’s Islamists. But in 2014, he tried to change the constitution to extend his 27-year-rule. Residents of the capital drove him from office.

Without Compaore, Burkina Faso became a target. Barely two weeks into a new presidency, in January 2016, an attack on the Splendid Hotel and a restaurant in Ouagadougou killed 30 people. It was claimed by al Qaeda-linked militants based in northern Mali.

Dicko became even more radical after that: He fell out with associates including his No. 2, Boly.

Ibrahim, the Sufi preacher, said Boly came to his house in Belhoro village in November 2016, agitated because Dicko had ordered him to raise cash to pay for AK-47 rifles and grenade launchers from Mali.

Boly refused. Dicko threatened him, Ibrahim said. Boly was either with him, “or with the whites and the colonizers.”

Two weeks later, gunmen assassinated Boly outside his Djibo home. Ibrahim said he fled his own village the next day.

The teacher Kone, whose house was down the street, said he heard the gunshots that day. A wave of killings followed. The militants assassinated civil servants, blew up security posts, executed school teachers.

One day in May 2017, Kone was running late for school when he got a phone call from a colleague. Armed men from Dicko’s movement had come and asked after him.

He shuttered the school and sped to Ouagadougou.

BOOBY TRAPS

Now headed by Dicko’s brother Jafar, Ansarul Islam was sanctioned by the United States in February 2018. None of its leaders could be reached.

It still controls much of Burkina Faso’s northern border areas but two other groups have also built a presence on the country’s borders, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations. Islamic State in the Greater Sahara dominates along the eastern frontier with Niger. And Koufa’s Macina Liberation Front, which is closely aligned to al Qaeda, is active on the western border with Mali.

These spheres of influence can be loose: Fighters for all three are believed to cooperate with each other and with bandit groups.

Their attacks – including the kidnap and killing of a Canadian citizen in January claimed by Islamic State – are becoming more brutal. In one instance in March, a Burkinabe security official told Reuters, militants stitched a bomb inside a corpse and dressed it up in an army uniform, killing two medics – a technique used by Malian fighters.

Recent attacks on churches have killed about 20 people, and a priest was kidnapped in March.

The European Union and member states have committed 8 billion euros ($9 billion) over six years to tackling poverty in the region but so far, responses from Ouagadougou and the West have been predominantly military.

The United Nations has spent a billion dollars a year since 2014 on a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force in Mali. Almost 200 members have been killed – its deadliest mission ever.

France has 4,500 troops stationed across the region. The United States has set up drone bases, held annual training exercises and sent 800 troops to the deserts of Niger. Led by France, Western powers have provided funding and training to a regional counter-terrorism force known as G5 Sahel made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.

Despite all this, Islamist violence has spread to places previously untouched by it, as tensions like those that first kindled support for Dicko intensify.

“You have a solution that is absolutely militarized to a problem that is absolutely political,” said Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa project director at International Crisis Group, an independent think tank. “The security response is not addressing these problems.”

CYCLE OF ABUSE

The fact that a large number of recruits are Fulani has triggered a backlash by other ethnic groups, and those who have fled northern Burkina Faso say they had scant protection.

One woman said gunmen on motorbikes attacked her village, Biguelel, last December. The gunmen accused her family of colluding with “terrorists” simply because they were Fulani. They torched her home and shot her husband and dozens of others dead, but she escaped.

The next day the woman, Mariam Dicko, and about 40 others went to a military police post in the nearby town of Yirgou. “They said it was over now, so they couldn’t help us,” said Dicko – a common surname in the country.

Kanou, the military police commander, acknowledged that troops were sometimes not present when needed. “But when patrols are being attacked, it’s more difficult,” he added. “We have to take measures to protect ourselves.”

As Western forces rely increasingly on their Sahel partners, rights groups and residents say they sometimes overlook abuses by locals. Four witnesses described to Reuters summary executions of suspected insurgents during search operations. These included an incident in the village of Belhoro on Feb. 3, in which security forces ordered nine men out of their homes and shot them dead, according to two women who saw the killings.

New York-based Human Rights Watch documented 19 such incidents in a report in March, during which it says 116 men and boys were captured and killed by security forces. The government said the army is committed to human rights and is investigating the allegations. “In our struggle there will necessarily be innocent victims, not because we want to, but because we are in a tough zone,” Kanou said. U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young said America takes up any “mistakes” with the government.

In November 2018, Burkinabe forces raided the village home of a lab technician at a clinic in Djibo, accusing his 60-year-old father of being a terrorist, two friends of his told Reuters.

They killed the father in front of his son.

The following week, the technician, Jibril Dicko, didn’t show up for work. His phone went dead.

Neighbors said he had gone to join the jihad.

 

(Additional reporting by Ryan McNeill in London and Thiam Ndaga in Ouagadougou; Edited by Alexandra Zavis and Sara Ledwith)

Turkey starts repatriating Islamic State detainees

Turkey starts repatriating Islamic State detainees
By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Monday it had deported two captives from Islamic State, a German and an American, starting a program to repatriate detainees that has caused friction with its NATO allies since it launched an offensive in northern Syria.

Ankara says it has captured 287 militants in northeast Syria and already holds hundreds more Islamic State suspects. It has accused European countries of being too slow to take back citizens who traveled to fight in the Middle East.

Allies have been worried that Islamic State militants could escape as a result of Turkey’s assault against Syrian Kurdish militia who have been holding thousands of the group’s fighters and tens of thousands of their family members.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said last week Turkey would begin to send foreign Islamic State militants back to their home countries starting on Monday, even if the nations the fighters came from had revoked their citizenship.

Ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli said one American and one German were deported on Monday. He did not specify where they were sent, although Turkey has repeatedly said detainees would be sent to their native countries.

The 23 others to be deported in coming days were all European, including a Dane expected to be sent abroad later on Monday, as well as two Irish nationals, nine other Germans and 11 French citizens.

“Efforts to identify the nationalities of foreign fighters captured in Syria have been completed, with their interrogations 90% finished and the relevant countries notified,” Catakli said, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency.

Germany’s foreign ministry said Ankara had informed Berlin of 10 people – three men, five women and two children. A spokesman said he did not know whether any were Islamic State fighters, but did not contest their citizenship. The ministry said seven were expected on Thursday and two on Friday.

“Citizens can rest assured that each individual case will be carefully examined by the German authorities,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said. “We will do everything possible to prevent returnees with links to IS becoming a threat in Germany.”

The Danish Public Prosecutor said on Monday that Denmark and Turkey were in contact over a Danish citizen convicted of terrorism charges in Turkey.

While German and Danish authorities have confirmed they were aware of the Turkish plans, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said she was not aware of them.

A Dutch court in The Hague ruled on Monday that the Netherlands must help repatriate children of women who joined IS, but the mothers do not need to be accepted back.

SYRIA OFFENSIVE

Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia last month, following President Donald Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops out of the way.

The YPG, the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a U.S. ally against Islamic State, has kept thousands of jihadists in jails across northeast Syria and has also overseen camps where relatives of fighters have sought shelter. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group.

The Turkish offensive prompted concern over the fate of the prisoners, with Turkey’s Western allies and the SDF warning it could hinder the fight against Islamic State and aid its resurgence.

Turkey has rejected those concerns and vowed to combat Islamic State with its allies. It has also accused the YPG of vacating some Islamic State jails.

European states are trying to speed up a plan to move thousands of jihadists out of Syrian prisons and into Iraq. Denmark, Germany and Britain have revoked the citizenship of some fighters and family members.

Last week Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying there were 1,201 Islamic State prisoners in Turkish jails, while Turkey had captured 287 militants in Syria.

On Monday, state broadcaster TRT Haber said Turkey aimed to repatriate around 2,500 militants, mostly to EU countries. It said there were 813 militants at 12 deportation centers.

Erdogan said Turkey had captured 13 people from the inner circle of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died during a U.S. raid last month.

(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber and Thomas Escritt in Berlin, Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen, Sophie Louet in Paris, Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Peter Graff)

Crowd pelts with stones Turkish-Russian patrol in Syria: local media

Crowd pelts with stones Turkish-Russian patrol in Syria: local media
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish and Russian troops on Tuesday began their second joint patrol in northern Syria near Kobani, under a deal that has forced a Kurdish militia away from Turkey’s border, while local media released footage of angry crowds pelting a convoy with stones.

Nearly a month ago, Turkey and Syrian rebel allies launched a cross-border incursion against Kurdish YPG fighters, seizing control of 120 km (75 miles) of land along the frontier.

Under a subsequent deal, Russia and Turkey agreed to push the YPG militia to a depth of at least 30 km (19 miles) south of the border and to hold joint patrols to monitor the agreement.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the YPG had not withdrawn from that planned “safe zone”, despite Turkey’s agreements with both Russia and the United States.

Ankara considers the YPG – which helped the United States smash the Islamic State caliphate in Syria – a terrorist group because of its ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.

Tuesday’s patrol was launched 7 km (4.4 miles) east of Kobani, a Syrian border town of special significance to the YPG, which fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize it in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of the Syrian war.

Armored vehicles crossed through a gap in the border wall to the Syrian side and headed east, a witness said. Security sources said the patrol would cover a distance of 72 km (45 miles) at a depth of 5 km (3 miles) from the border.

Near Kobani, crowds pelted passing Turkish and Russian armored vehicles of the patrol with stones from a roadside and chanted slogans, footage from local North Press Agency showed.

Several dozen people managed to stop two Russian armored vehicles and some of them climbed onto one of the cars with Russian military police insignia, a video released by local news outlet Anha showed.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday there were no incidents during the patrol mission.

The Turkish Defense Ministry shared photos on Twitter showing Turkish and Russian soldiers meeting at the border and studying maps before the start of the patrol. It said drones were also taking part.

Russia is the Syrian government’s most powerful ally and since 2015 has helped it retake much of the country from rebels, turning the tide in the civil war. The Turkish-Russian deal enabled Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.

Russian military police arrived in Kobani on Oct. 23 under the deal reached by Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The first patrol, on Friday, was held around the Syrian border town of Darbasiya, east of the region from where Turkish and their Syrian rebel allies forced out the YPG fighters.

Erdogan said last week that Turkey planned to establish a “refugee town or towns” in that region between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain, part of a project that state media have said would cost 151 billion lira ($26 billion).

Ankara launched its offensive against the YPG following President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October.

(Reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by John Stonestreet and Peter Cooney)

Nigerian police free 259 people held at Islamic institution

Nigerian police free 259 people held at Islamic institution
By Alexis Akwagyiram

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian police have freed 259 people being held at an Islamic rehabilitation center in the southwestern city of Ibadan, police said on Tuesday, adding that some complained of being beaten regularly by their captors.

It was the latest in a series of raids on Islamic institutions in Nigeria in recent weeks. More than 1,000 people, many of them children, have been rescued in total.

Many captives have said they were physically and sexually abused and chained up to prevent them escaping.

The raids are increasingly embarrassing for President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim who has called on police to crack down on such centers.

Other sites raided in major police operations have been in the mostly Muslim north of the country. Ibadan is located in the south, which is mostly Christian.

Oyo state police spokesman Fadeyi Olugbenga said the facility was raided on Monday at around 2 p.m. (1300 GMT).

“Yesterday, 259 persons were released. We had women, men and teenagers,” Olugbenga said. Some people were locked inside a building and some were chained.

Images from local TV station TVC taken shortly after the captives were released showed a group of mostly young men and teenaged boys. An infant was also among the group. Many were emaciated.

“We eat one meal a day,” one of the men told TVC.

According to Olugbenga, nine people including the owner of the rehabilitation center had been arrested and were under investigation.

Spokesmen for the president and vice president both declined to comment.

But the president’s office issued a statement in October that said “no responsible democratic government would tolerate the existence of the torture chambers and physical abuses of inmates in the name of rehabilitation of the victims”.

At other raided facilities, some parents thought their children were there to be educated and even paid tuition fees. Others sent misbehaving relatives to Islamic institutions in order to instill discipline.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi; Editing by Catherine Evans, Alex Richardson and Mike Collett-White)

U.S. looking at new ISIS leader and role in organization: U.S. official

Late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen in an undated picture released by the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2019. U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. looking at new ISIS leader and role in organization: U.S. official
By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is researching the new leader of the Islamic State to determine his previous roles in the organization, Nathan Sales, the U.S. counter-terrorism coordinator, said on Friday after a U.S. raid last month killed its former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“Any time there is a leadership transition in the terrorist organization, we want to make sure that we have the latest information that we need to have to confront the threat,” Sales told a briefing.

Islamic State, in an audio tape posted online on Thursday, confirmed that Baghdadi was killed in a weekend raid by U.S. special forces in northwestern Syria. It vowed revenge against the United States.

The group, also known as ISIS, said a successor to Baghdadi identified as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi had been appointed. Earlier on Friday, President Donald Trump tweeted: “ISIS has a new leader. We know exactly who he is!” he said, without elaborating.

Baghdadi had risen from obscurity to lead the ultra-hardline group and declare himself “caliph” of all Muslims, holding sway over huge areas of Iraq and Syria from 2014-2017 before Islamic State’s control was wrested away by U.S.-led coalition forces including Iraqis and Syrian Kurds.

Trump has been softening his pullout plans for Syria after a backlash from Congress, including fellow Republicans, who say he enabled a long-threatened Turkish incursion on Oct. 9 against Kurdish forces in Syria who had been America’s top allies in the battle against Islamic State since 2014.

Sales said combating Islamic State remained a top national security priority for Washington. “We will dismantle the group regardless of who its leadership cadre is,” he said.

While world leaders hailed Baghdadi’s death, security analysts warned the threat of Islamic State and its ideology was far from over.

An annual State Department report that his office put out on Friday concluded that despite losing almost all of its territory, Islamic State’s global presence continued to evolve in 2018, with new affiliates in Somalia and East Asia and through home-grown attacks.

“Additionally, battle-hardened terrorists headed home from the war zone in Syria and Iraq or traveled to third countries, posing new dangers,” Sales said in the report.

Separately, Sales said the United States brought back and prosecuted 6 adult fighters or Islamic State supporters. It has also returned 14 children who are now being “rehabilitated and reintegrated,” he said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Dan Grebler)

Islamic State’s presence evolved worldwide despite Syria defeat: U.S. State Department

Islamic State’s presence evolved worldwide despite Syria defeat: U.S. State Department
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The global presence of Islamic State continued to advance in 2018 through networks and affiliates, the State Department said in its annual terrorism report, even though the Trump administration declared it defeated the jihadi group in Syria and killed its leader last month in a U.S. raid.

Iran has also remained a top state sponsor of terrorism, the report said, and funneled nearly a billion dollars per year to support its proxies in the region despite Washington having significantly ramped up its sanctions against Tehran.

Terrorism tactics and the use of technologies have also evolved in 2018, while war-hardened fighters from groups such as Islamic State returning to their home countries began raising fresh threats, the report said.

“Even as ISIS lost almost all its physical territory, the group proved its ability to adapt, especially through its efforts to inspire or direct followers online,” said Nathan Sales, the U.S. counter-terrorism coordinator, whose office produced the congressionally mandated report.

“Additionally, battle-hardened terrorists headed home from the war zone in Syria and Iraq or traveled to third countries, posing new dangers,” he said.

Islamic State declared its so-called “caliphate” in 2014 after seizing large swathes of Syria and Iraq. The hard-line group established its de facto capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa, using it as a base to plot attacks in Europe.

In 2017, Islamic State lost control of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and quickly thereafter almost all of its territory as a result of operations by U.S.-backed forces. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed last month in Syria in a raid by U.S. Special forces.

World leaders welcomed his death, but they and security experts warned that the group, which carried out atrocities against religious minorities and horrified most Muslims, remained a security threat in Syria and beyond.

The group on Thursday confirmed his death in an audio tape posted online and said a successor, identified as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, had been appointed. It vowed revenge against the United States.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Islamic State wives start repatriation case in Netherlands

FILE PHOTO: Women stand together al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Phoro

Islamic State wives start repatriation case in Netherlands
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Lawyers for 23 women who joined Islamic State from the Netherlands asked a judge on Friday to order the Netherlands to repatriate them and their 56 young children from camps in Syria.

The women and children were living in “deplorable conditions” in the al-Hol camp in Northern Syria, lawyer Andre Seebregts said in court.

He added that their situation had significantly worsened due to the Turkish incursion into Syria and the possibility of Syrian forces taking control of the camps which were controlled by the Kurds until now.

The Dutch government has stressed that it is too dangerous for Dutch officials to go into the camps and find the women to return them to the Netherlands.

Lawyers for the state repeated that argument in court and added that the women did not have the right to Dutch consular assistance in the camps.

According to the Red Cross some 68,000 defeated fighters of Islamic State and their families are held in the al-Hol camp. They were held under the custody of Syrian Kurdish forces after they took the jihadist group’s last enclave.

According to figures from the Dutch intelligence Agency as of Oct. 1 there are 55 Islamic State militants who traveled from the Netherlands and at least 90 children with Dutch parents, or parents who had lived for a considerable time in the Netherlands, in Northern Syria.

The court will deliver a verdict on Nov 11.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Giles Elgood)