Tag Archives: James Foley

European jihadists – Why and how Westerners go to fight in Syria and Iraq

THE two young men in the bus from Antakya, in south-eastern Turkey, to Reyhanli, nearer the border with Syria, sported long beards, calf-length trousers and toted small drawstring bags with their minimal belongings. They spoke in broken Arabic to the bus driver (local Turks usually have a smattering of the language) but to each other in a regional British accent.

They were just two out of hundreds of Muslims from Europe, setting off to Syria to join the battle. That was two years ago. Since then, several thousand may have signed up—and the rate may be increasing. What do they do when they get there? And what might they do when they go home?

The effect of the swelling influx is apparent as the Islamic State (IS), a brutal extremist group in Syria and Iraq that has attracted most foreign fighters, stakes a claim to a swathe of territory that is the size of Jordan and embraces a similar population—6m or so.

Boastful combatants post well-scripted videos to attract their foreign peers, promising heaven for those who leave their lives of Western decadence to become “martyrs”.

They tweet “selfies” holding the severed heads of their enemies after photos of the luxuries, such as Red Bull, an energy drink, that are available to the fighters. And they issue threats to the West while using emoticons—smiling faces, for instance, formed by punctuation marks—and internet acronyms such as LOL.

IS has consolidated its hold on Raqqa, a town in eastern Syria that it snatched from other rebels who had themselves taken it over in March last year. Raqqa has become the headquarters for jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Fighters from as far afield as Afghanistan and Sweden have brought their wives and children to the town and moved into the houses of residents who have fled. “Milk”, says a European fighter in northern Syria when asked what he misses about home. “Here you have to get it straight from the cow”. Harder than buying it at Tesco.

But junk food is in ample supply, tweets a Swedish fighter, more happily. And there is a lot of time, sometimes days on end, for “chilling”, says the European fighter on Kik, a smartphone messaging app. That is when he makes “a normal-life day: washing clothes, cleaning the house, training, buying stuff”.

Thanks to satellite internet connections, the continuing flow of goods into the country and the relatively decent level of development compared with elsewhere in the region, Syria is a long way from the hardship of Afghanistan’s mountains. Last year, to attract others to come, jihadists tweeted pictures with the hashtag “FiveStarJihad”.

Yet Western fighters do not shy away from battle. Some have taken part in slaughtering those labelled kuffar (unbelievers), including Sunnis deemed too moderate as well as Shia Muslims, who are all deemed apostates. They help fight for dams, military bases and oilfields. They carry out suicide missions such as the bombing in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, perpetrated in February by Abdul Waheed Majid, a Briton.

Westerners are useful for other reasons, too. Hostages released from IS’s clutches say they were guarded by three English-speakers. Foreign jihadists can e-mail the families of hostages in their own language to ask for ransoms.

Western fighters often seem to jump at the chance to take part in a fight or help build a new Islamic state. The Soufan Group, a New York-based intelligence outfit, reckons that by the end of May as many as 12,000 fighters from 81 nations had joined the fray, among them some 3,000 from the West (see chart).

The number today is likely to be a lot higher. Since IS declared a caliphate on June 29th, recruitment has surged. Syria has drawn in fighters faster than in any past conflict, including the Afghan war in the 1980s or Iraq after the Americans invaded in 2003.

The beheading on or around August 19th of James Foley, an American journalist, by a hooded fighter with a London accent, has put a spotlight on Britain. In the 1990s London was a refuge for many extremists, including many Muslim ones.

Radical preachers were free to spout hate. Britain remains in many ways the centre of gravity for European jihadist networks, says Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. “The radical community in Britain is still exporting ideas and methods.”

While the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters in Syria are Arabs, Britons make up one of the biggest groups of Western fighters. But Belgians, Danes and others have a higher rate per person (see left-hand chart above). France, which has tighter laws against extremism, has also seen more of its citizens go off to wage jihad.

One reason for Britons’ prominence is that English is so widely understood, especially in the countries whose governments IS hopes to influence. The video depicting Mr Foley’s murder was titled “A message to America”. IS has published two issues of Dabiq, a glossy new magazine in English, named after an area of northern Syria.

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Extreme violence lies in Isis DNA

It is just over 10 years since Nicholas Berg, an American businessman working in Iraq, was brutally decapitated on video by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the thuggish leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

With the murder of the American journalist, James Foley, on Tuesday, the US and its Western allies were vividly reminded of the worst excesses of the Iraqi insurgency in the wake of the 2003 invasion.

But it is not just in the manner of its bloodlust that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and AQI share a gruesome symmetry.

The two organisations also share a lineage. The threadbare remnants of AQI – all but crushed by the US troop surge in Iraq of 2007 and the “sons of Iraq” movement to turn Sunni tribes against the jihadis – morphed into the earliest version of Isis.

But more importantly, Isis is also the operational, strategic and ideological twin of its predecessor.

“There is almost no difference in the organisations,” says Afzal Ashraf, a former RAF captain in Iraq and now consultant at the Royal United Services Institute.

Mr Ashraf points in particular to the shared heritage of Isis and AQI in drawing on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime. Both are “parasitic insurgencies” that co-opt disenfranchised factions to their cause, he says.

It is perhaps for this reason that both AQI and Isis have historically shared a primary concern with the “near enemy” – other Arabs – rather than the far enemy – Western infidels – as their main targets. Isis, like AQI, is primarily a sectarian organisation, dedicated to eradicating the Shia governments in Baghdad and the Alawite regime in Damascus.

Military analysts also point to the similarity in battleground tactics used by Isis with those used by AQI, in particular the way both deploy force in circles of pressure, particularly around cities, using waves of car and truck bombs.

An image grab taken from a propaganda video released on July 5 2014 by al-Furqan Media allegedly shows the leader of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, adressing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Baghdadi, who on June 29 proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq, purportedly ordered all Muslims to obey him in the video released on social media

For Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and an expert in al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism, the defining characteristic of the Isis/AQI approach, however is the their particular “use of violence”.

“Groups like al-Qaeda used violence in a tactical way, in a way proportional to their aims,” he says. “For Isis and AQI the savagery is the point. The action is what matters, not the ideas. To Zarqawi and Baghdadi [the Isis leader], the spectacle and the limitless force – beheadings, crucifications, people being buried alive – is what matters.”

Alan Henning Beheading Video: Who is Peter Kassig?

Peter Kassig

In the latest ISIS beheading video to shock the world, the militant group have paraded a US hostage named Peter Kassig, who they claim will be their next victim.

Mr Kassig is a former US soldier in his mid-20s who served in Iraq in April-July 2007.

He held the rank of Private First Class and was medically discharged in September 2007.

He went to Syria to volunteer in hospitals in Lebanon and later, moved by the plight of the people he met, Mr Kassig set up his own charity, the Special Emergency Response and Assistance, to deliver aid to Syrians with what he described as an “acute and immediate need.”

The group transported blankets, cooking materials and fuel and food to parts of north Syria where it was needed most, paying little heed to their own safety in the dangerous conditions.

The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes.” – Peter Kassig

In a interview with TIME magazine in January 2013 he explained how he was personally moved to take decisive action to help the Syrian people he met in refugee camps on the border.

“I did not meet a single man woman or child who could muster a smile and a message of strength and hope that was nothing short of earth-shatteringly humbling,” he said.

In June 2012, he spoke of his motivation to go to war-torn Lebanon to provide humanitarian relief saying: “The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes.”

President Obama has condemned the latest killing of British Aid Worker Alan Henning, while British MPS and local community leaders have expressed their shock and dismay at the brutal killing of the Manchester taxi driver.

ISIS has previously killed two American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

The FBI Has Identified The ISIS Executioner Who Killed 3 Hostages

jihadi john isis

The man who murdered James Foley,  Steven Sotloff and David Haines has been identified by FBI officials.

Thus far, the executioner has been known only as “Jihadi John.” He was known to intelligence officials as a hostage negotiator for a group of British ISIS fighters in Syria. He was also a guard for hostages in Raqqa. He originally hails from the United Kingdom, likely the London area, based on his accent. One of his former hostages said John is “intelligent, educated and a devout believer in radical Islamic teachings.

While the identity is now known to intelligence officials, it will not be publicly released, presumably as the military works to apprehend him. Though the man will not be named, this is a major step to taking down the terrorist network.

Yesterday, a “copy cat” video of the ISIS beheadings was released by the terrorist organization “Caliphate Soldiers” based in Syria. They murdered a French mountaineer who was kidnapped in Algeria, though their video was distinctly different than that of ISIS, in which “John” is featured and gives the final speech in English.

Earlier this week, ISIS released a propaganda video featuring another hostage, John Cantlie, in which he reads a script denouncing the Western media and airstrikes against ISIS occupied territory. This is the third ISIS propaganda video released this week, the second being another Cantlie monologue, and the first a movie trailer style recruitment video. None of those videos featured the now identified executioner.

Islamic State Beheads British Hostage David Haines

David Haines

The murder of David Haines was an “act of pure evil”, David Cameron has said after the release of a video appearing to show the UK hostage’s beheading.

The 44-year-old aid worker was seized in Syria in 2013. He was being held by Islamic State militants who have already killed two US captives.

The latest video also includes a threat to kill a second British hostage.

The PM vowed to do everything possible to find the killers. Mr Haines’s family said he would be “missed terribly”.

Born in Holderness, East Yorkshire, Mr Haines went to school in Perth and had been living in Croatia. His parents live in Ayr.

‘Despicable and appalling’

In a statement released by the Foreign Office, Mike Haines said his brother, a father of two, “was and is loved by all his family”.

“David was most alive and enthusiastic in his humanitarian roles. His joy and anticipation for the work he went to do in Syria is for myself and family the most important element of this whole sad affair,” he said.

David Cameron returning to Downing StreetDowning Street said the prime minister had returned to No 10 following the release of the video

Mr Cameron, who is due to chair an emergency Cobra committee meeting later, said the murder of an innocent aid worker was “despicable and appalling”.

“It is an act of pure evil. My heart goes out to the family of David Haines who have shown extraordinary courage and fortitude throughout this ordeal.

“We will do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face justice, however long it takes,” the prime minister added.

‘Grief and resolve’

The Foreign Office is working to verify the video, which was released on Saturday night. It begins with a clip of Mr Cameron and then features a man who appears to be Mr Haines dressed in orange overalls, kneeling in front of a masked man holding a knife.

The victim says: “My name is David Cawthorne Haines. I would like to declare that I hold you, David Cameron, entirely responsible for my execution.”

He says Mr Cameron had entered into a coalition with the US against the Islamic State “just as your predecessor Tony Blair did”.

“Unfortunately it is we the British public that in the end will pay the price for our parliament’s selfish decisions,” he said.

The militant, who appears to have a British accent, is then recorded as saying: “This British man has to the pay the price for your promise, Cameron, to arm the Peshmerga against the Islamic State.”

Islamic State is now in control of large parts of northern Iraq and Syria and the CIA estimates that the group could have as many as 30,000 fighters in the region.

The UK has donated heavy machine guns and ammunition to authorities in Iraq to help fight IS militants, the Ministry of Defence previously said.

Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, have been involved in heavy fighting with IS.

US President Barack Obama said “our hearts go out to the family of Mr Haines and to the people of the United Kingdom”.

In a statement he said the US would work with the UK and a “broad coalition of nations” to “bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice”.

“The United States stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve,” he added.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the release of the video “demonstrated a degree of brutality which defies description”.

“It should be remembered that Mr Haines was in the region as an aid worker helping local people,” Mr Salmond added.

“His murder will be totally condemned by all people with any sense of humanity.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said he was “sickened at the disgusting, barbaric killing” of Mr Haines.

‘Criminals and villains’

Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, said the UK’s natural reaction would be to “go in hard” against IS, but that this presented a problem.

“[Islamic State] actually wants the West to attack it. If it gets that it can present itself as fighting the far enemy. This presents the British government, or any government in this position, with a real dilemma,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“Do you do what many people in the country would want you to do? But if that’s something your enemy would actually prefer, do you hold back and try other ways?”

Mr Rogers also said the West was now moving into “what is essentially a third Iraq war” and that this time it would extend into Syria.

James FoleyUS journalist James Foley was killed by militants last month – his parents called him a “martyr for freedom”.

Steven SotloffThe family of US journalist Steven Sotloff said he had given his life to reporting from war zones

Senior UK imams and British Muslim community leaders have also condemned the killing.

“An attack on a British citizen is an attack on Britain and we raise our voices as a community united to deplore the actions of the terrorists Isis,” Dr Qari Asim, imam of the Makkah Mosque in Leeds said.

Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, from Majlis-e-Ulama, which represents the majority of Shia Muslims in the UK and Europe, said militants were hiding behind a “false interpretation” of Islam, describing the group as “criminals and villains”.

The president of the Islamic Society of Britain, Sughra Ahmed, said: “If someone who commits such evil and such heinous crimes calls themselves the Islamic Sate, then we need to understand actually that there’s nothing Islamic and there’s nothing state-like or legal about the work that they’re doing, about the acts that they are committing.”

Mr Haines was taken hostage in the village of Atmeh, in the Idlib province of Syria, in March 2013.

He had been helping French agency Acted deliver humanitarian aid, having previously helped local people in Libya and South Sudan.

The release of the video came hours after his family had made a direct appeal to IS to contact them.

IS – also known as Isis or Isil – has seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a new caliphate – or Islamic state.

Militants from the extremist group have killed two US hostages in recent weeks, posting video evidence on the internet.

They threatened to kill Mr Haines during a video posted online showing the killing of US journalist Steven Sotloff earlier this month.

The extremist group also killed fellow US journalist, James Foley, last month.

James Foley’s Mother Says the Government Threatened His Family to Not Pay Ransom

Image AP Photo/Jim Cole

Diane Foley, James Foley’s mother, offered a rare interview to ABC News this week in which she admitted the family considered a ransom payment to ISIS to secure her son’s safe return.

However, she also says White House officials told the family they would face criminal charges for supporting terrorism in the event a ransom was paid.

The message came directly from a high-ranking military official on the White House National Security Council. The last threat came just days before the video of Foley’s beheading surfaced.

“We were told that several times and we took it as a threat and it was appalling,” Diane Foley told ABC News, “Three times he intimidated us with that message. We were horrified he would say that. He just told us we would be prosecuted. We knew we had to save our son, we had to try.”

Michael Foley, James Foley’s brother, said he, like his mother, was also “directly” threatened by a State Department official with the same charge.

Another official with knowledge of the threat spoke to ABC under the condition of anonymity, saying

“It was an utterly idiotic thing to do that came across as if he had the compassion of an anvil.” A second official said the NSC officer “had no business speaking about legal issues he was unqualified to discuss.”

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden issued this statement about the charge:

Without getting into the details of our private discussions with families, the law is clear that ransom payments to designated individuals or entities, such as ISIL [ISIS], are prohibited. It is also a matter of longstanding policy that the U.S. does not grant concessions to hostage takers. Doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive. That is what we convey publicly and what we convey privately.”

The threats came after the Foley family started raising funds to pay a ransom. Mrs. Foley remains concerned that donors to the fund were also threatened by federal officials.

“We did not want any of our donors to be prosecuted; we weren’t concerned about ourselves.”

Journalist Held With James Foley And Steven Sotloff Identifies One Of His Captors

Nicolas Henin

A French journalist held hostage for months by extremists in Syria says one of his captors was a Frenchman suspected of killing four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum earlier this year.

French magazine Le Point on Saturday quoted its reporter Nicolas Henin as saying he was tortured by Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman who had spent time with extremists in Syria.

Henin was held for a time with American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, both beheaded by extremists from the Islamic State group in recent weeks.

He was released in April with other French journalists who had been held since June 2013.

Nemmouche is in custody since his arrest in France soon after the Brussels killing in May.

jim foley

The attack crystallized fears of European governments that Europeans who join radical fighters in Syria could return to stage attacks at home.

French authorities say there are some 900 people from France who have been implicated in jihad in the Syria region. Several dozen have been killed.

Henin could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday. Speaking to the Associated Press last month, he described how Foley had endured tougher treatment from captors because of his citizenship, but always behaved with courage and dignity.

He and the other French journalists released in April described being held in about 10 underground places of captivity, mostly with other people. But they did not elaborate on some details of captivity because of potential consequences for hostages still being held.