The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Syrian Democratic Forces militia is close to fully capturing the city of al-Tabqah from the Islamic State as its offensive to free Raqqa escalates.
Updated at 2:27pm ET.
Paris suffered at least six nearly simultaneous attacks on on Friday (Nov. 13), blamed by president François Hollande on the extremist group ISIL, which left at least 128 people dead and around 300 wounded.
The attacks during a normal, busy Friday night included a mass shooting at a concert hall, several shootings at bars and restaurants, and several bomb detonations, including more than one near France’s national stadium, where a soccer match between the French and German national teams was in progress.
Eight assailants died, most via suicide after reportedly detonating explosive belts they were wearing.
Hollande called the attacks an “act of war” carried out by ISIL, and pledged that France would respond with a “merciless” fight against terrorism. He declared a state of national emergency, which included increased border security, as well as three days of national mourning.
It was the worst attack on a European target since the Madrid bombingsin 2004, when 190 people were killed and more than 1,800 wounded, in four coordinated attacks on commuter trains.
It is also the second terrorist attack on Paris this year, after gunmen killed journalists at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, a policewoman, and several people during an attack on a supermarket. In August, a heavily armed gunman was stopped on a train on its way from Brussels to Paris just before he was able to open fire on passengers.
ISIL claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks in a statement released on social media in Arabic, French, and English. The statement, which has not yet been independently verified, called Paris “the capital of prostitution and obscenity,” and said that France’s actions in Syria were a factor in the decision to target the country.
Vague generalities and no specific background information about the attackers suggests that ISIL may have inspired the attacks, rather than directly orchestrating them.
The sites of the attacks
Stade de France
At about 9:20pm an explosion detonated near the French national stadium, where a soccer match between the French and German national teams was in progress. A second blast was heard 10 minutes later, and a third 20 minutes after that. Hollande, who was at the match, was quickly evacuated. No one apart from the bombers appear to have died in the blasts.
At least one attacker had a ticket to the game, and was reportedlystopped by security from entering the stadium, prompting him to detonate his explosives. According to the Wall Street Journal, a second bomber blew himself up outside the stadium, shortly thereafter, and a third attacker detonated explosives at a nearby McDonald’s.
Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carrillon
At around the same time, several gunmen opened fire at Le Petit Cambodge, a Cambodian restaurant on rue Bichat, in the the trendy Canal Saint Martin neighborhood. Eleven people were killed, the AP reported, citing a police officials. Patrons of a nearby bar, Le Carrillon, were also injured in the shooting.
Just before 10pm, in the worst single attack, around 87 people died when gunmen entered a large concert hall in the 11th arrondissement, where an American band, Eagles of Death Metal, were playing. The venue has capacity of 1,500 and was sold out, the BBC reported. Eyewitnesses described (link in French) the attackers as unmasked and young, and said they made concertgoers lie on the floor before opening fire on them.
French police stormed the building around midnight. At least one report from someone who escaped said the gunmen spoke to hostages, telling them that the attack was a response to France’s military interventions in Syria. France joined the US in airstrikes against ISIL in Syria in September, and announced this month it was sending an aircraft carrier to fight ISIL.
La Belle Equipe
Five people were killed during an explosion on a street called Rue de la Fontaine au Roi. A suicide bomber also detonated a blast on Boulevarde Voltaire. The New York Times reported that only one person—the bomber himself—was killed.
Public buildings, schools, museums, and markets are closed today, and the police have temporarily banned demonstrations and other large gatherings. The Eiffel Tower has been closed indefinitely, according to the operator of the popular tourist attraction. There is increased security at all French borders.
Attention is now turning to how such deadly, coordinated attacks could take place in a city that had so recently been struck by terrorists. Germany has offered the help of its security services, while other world leaders have sent messages of solidarity.
Discussion will intensify about how the attacks will affect Europe’s policy of open borders. These have been challenged in recent months as the flow of migrants, and especially refugees from war-torn countries like Syria, has dramatically increased.
Who are the attackers?
Belgium’s justice minister announced today (Nov. 14) that there were several police raids in the St. Jans Molebnbeek neighborhood in Brussels on Saturday, and several people have been arrested in connection to last night’s attacks.
Paris public prosecutor François Molins said two of the attackers who were killed in last night’s violence have been identified. Fingerprints identified one of the attackers as a 30-year-old Frenchman who was known to be radicalized.
He was born in the Parisian suburb Courcouronne and had been sentenced eight times between 2008 and 2010 for minor violations, according to Molins. A passport for one of the State de France assailants showed that he was born in Syria.
Destruction of tombs raises fears that Palmyra’s extensive Roman ruins are also in danger.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group says it has destroyed two ancient shrines close to the Syrian city of Palmyra, seized by the armed group a month ago.
Photographs posted online appeared to show the shrines, 4km from Palmyra, being blown up and reduced to rubble on Saturday.
It was the first reported damage to ancient sites since ISIL captured Palmyra, known as Tadmur in Arabic and famed for its UNESCO-listed Roman ruins.
Pictures showed smoke rising from the hilltop tomb of Mohammed Bin Ali, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Imam Ali.
The second shrine was built over 500 years ago for a Sufi scholar known as Nizar Abu Bahaa Eddine.
In a statement, ISIL vowed to destroy statues and shrines, which it regards as idolatrous.
ISIL’s takeover of Palmyra has caused international concern about the fate of the city’s historical treasures since the group has destroyed heritage sites in areas under its control in neighbouring Iraq.
In March, ISIL used a bulldozer to destroy a 3,000-year old Assyrian city near Mosul, after also smashing artefacts in the city’s museum.
The group has blown up dozens of shrines in Iraq and Syria, many belonging to the Sufi sect.
A few days ago, ISIL reportedly placed explosives at Palmyra’s ruins as government forces stepped up their assault to recapture the city.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the city since it was captured in May, activists say, and thousands have fled.
Kurdish People’s Protection Units control most of strategic Syrian town after months of fighting, activists say.
Kurdish forces now control at least 90 percent of the fiercely-contested Syrian city of Kobane after recapturing several key areas from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said.
What the Observatory, a Britain-based activist group, described as reliable sources said the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) group, had pushed ISIL back towards the eastern strip at the outskirts of the city.
Sources told the monitoring group that ISIL had sent a brigade of 140 members to try to repel the attack – the majority of them under the age of 18 and newly-recruited.
Syrian Kurdish YPG forces, who have been often backed up by Iraqi Kurdish forces known as peshmerga, are still battling ISIL on the eastern outskirts of the town, the Observatory said.
It added that the YPG was proceeding carefully because ISIL fighters had planted mines before fleeing the town.
“Our forces are making progress but until now the YPG has not declared that is has taken all of Kobani back. We think tomorrow Kobani will be free,” Kobani official Idris Nassan told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, who has reported extensively on the battle for the city, said there were reports that ISIL fighters were withdrawing their heavy weaponry from the town.
“We understand that, at a minimum, Syrian Kurds have got back in control of most of Kobane town,” Smith said.
“Snipers remained on a few buildings in the town. But we’re hearing even that even those buildings are now in the control of Kurdish forces.”
A US-led coalition has backed the YPG, and other groups fighting ISIL in Kobane, with air strikes on ISIL’s strategic bases. The coalition began its operations in Iraq last August and in Syria in September. It has carried out at least 2,000 air strikes.
ISIL has seized large swathes of land in both Syria and Iraq, and battles several groups, including Syrian government forces.
In recent weeks, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has started referring to the Islamic State terrorist organisation by a name they reportedly despise, Daesh.
Australia’s allies in the Middle East have suggested the Western world not use monikers such as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or IS (Islamic State) as they legitimise the group’s aspirations.
“Daesh hates being referred to by this term, and what they don’t like has an instinctive appeal to me,” Abbott said.
“I absolutely refuse to refer to it by the title that it claims for itself (Islamic State), because I think this is a perversion of religion and a travesty of governance.”
Daesh comes from the acronym formed by the Arabic spelling of the terror group’s name — al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham.
Joseph Bahout, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Huffington Post that the word Daesh in Arabic “sounds like something monstrous” and is a way of “stigmatising” the group.
One theory suggests the group hates the name as it was reportedly first used by supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Herald Sun reported.
The terror organisation’s leaders have threatened to “cut out the tongues” of those who refer to them as Daesh or DAIISH, according to international media reports.
The news follows Abbott’s first visit to Baghdad and Iraq to meet with Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss military collaboration between the two nations.
Islamic State police official reportedly beheaded in Syria – ‘for smoking a cigarette’
A top figure in Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (Isil) self-declared police force, which has carried out beheadings, was himself found decapitated in eastern Syria, a monitoring group said.
The man was an Egyptian national and was known as the deputy “emir” of the al-Hesbah force in a Syrian province, the British-based the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
His body, which showed signs of torture, was found near a power plant in al-Mayadeen city in the Deir-al-Zor province, it said, citing contacts on the ground.
“We do not know whether Islamic State killed him or whether it was local people or other fighters,” said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, which reports on events in Syria through a network of contacts on the ground.
“Either way it is important, because he was a very important man,” he said, adding that he believed it was the first time that an al-Hesbah member had been killed in this way.
Isil, an offshoot of al-Qaeda which has drawn in foreign fighters, has seized land in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. It has been the target of US-led air strikes in both countries since September.
The Observatory said the message “This is evil, you Sheikh” was found written on the corpse, which had a cigarette in its mouth. Residents in areas controlled by Isil have said the group has banned smoking in public.
Isil has fought with other insurgents and cracked down on local populations. It has also killed its own members for what it describes as violations.
Residents and activists say it has beheaded and stoned to death many people in areas it controls for being enemy fighters or for actions they see as violating their reading of Islamic law, such as adultery and blasphemy.
In December, a similar self-declared police force in western Syria decapitated four men after accusing them of blasphemy, according to the Observatory. It reported a similar killing days earlier in the north of the country.
The Observatory also reported on Tuesday that unknown assailants also tried to kill two Isil militants in al-Mayadeen city. The first attempt was when a car tried to run over a fighter near a roundabout. Another was hit by an attacker carrying a metal weapon and travelling by motorcycle, and was seriously wounded.
October 29 (RIA Novosti) – The US-led coalition against Islamic State has hit the militant’s headquarters in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Wednesday.
“Coalition warplanes bombarded areas near the cultural center near Maadan, which is taken over by ISIS as a HQ,” the organization said on its website.
According to SOHR, eight explosions have been heard in Raqqa and its surroundings as the anti-IS coalition has carried out airstrikes on “political security buildings near the old bridge in the south entrance of Raqqa and areas around the city”. No casualties have been reported, the London-based observatory said.
The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is a Sunni Islamist group that has been fighting the Syrian government since 2012. In June 2014, the group extended its attacks to northern and western Iraq, declaring a caliphate on the territories that had fallen under its control.
The United States and a number of its allies have been carrying out airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq since August. In September, the coalition started conducting attacks against the IS in Syria as well.