Category Archives: Syria

The Geopolitics of World War III

How the west created the Islamic State… with a little help from our friends

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Medium:

‘Missing from the chorus of outrage… has been any acknowledgement of the integral role of covert US and British regional military intelligence strategy in empowering and even directly sponsoring the very same virulent Islamist militants in Iraq, Syria and beyond, that went on to break away from al-Qaeda and form ‘ISIS’, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or now simply, the Islamic State (IS).

Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.’

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Perpetual War, and Shame, Is Our Policy

Matthew Hoh writes for The Huffington Post:

‘The United States’ official policy in the Middle East is now perpetual war. What has been known for some time, including by those of us who have served overseas, by the millions who have suffered through our bombs and our bullets, and, of course, by the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been ripped from their families and from any promised futures, President Obama solidified last night.

The United States, by agreeing to airstrikes without end in support of a corrupt and sectarian government in Baghdad; by championing a Shia and Kurdish invasion of Sunni lands; and by promising arms, munitions and money to rebel groups in the middle of the Syrian Civil War, the same groups that sold Steven Sotloff to his beheading, has adopted a policy that will exacerbate the civil wars in both Iraq and Syria and deepen the nightmare existence of their people. President Obama’s speech will be remembered as a mark of moral shame on the United States, so very opposite and so very contradictory to the courage shown by the president five years ago in Cairo, Egypt.’

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Perpetual War Is Fine With the New York Times After All

Normon Solomon writes for The Huffington Post:

‘The editorial board of the New York Times has an Orwellian knack for war. Sixteen months ago, when President Obama gave oratorical lip service to ending “perpetual war,” the newspaper quickly touted that end as a democratic necessity. But now — in response to Obama’s speech Wednesday night announcing escalation of war without plausible end — the Times editorial voice is with the endless war program.’

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Despite ISIS Getting US Arms, Obama Wants to Send More to Syria Rebels

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘Yesterday’s big report was that much of the weaponry that ISIS is using, both small arms and anti-tank missiles, were actually provided by the US, for the “moderate” Syrian rebels.

It wasn’t a big surprise that this was going to happen, though the White House tried to spin this as vindication for their decision not to send even more weapons to the rebels, because they had to be super careful to avoid the arms falling into ISIS hands. Which they did anyway.’

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Syrian Rebel Commander: We Are Collaborating with ISIS and Nusra Front

Mikael Thalen reports for Prison Planet:

‘A commander with the Free Syrian Army admitted to fighting alongside several terrorist organizations this week in yet another example of the so-called “rebels” true nature. Speaking with Lebanon’s Daily Star, Bassel Idriss, commander of an FSA-run rebel brigade, openly discussed the group’s joint operations with ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front.

“We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in … Qalamoun,” Idriss said. “Let’s face it: The Nusra Front is the biggest power present right now in Qalamoun and we as FSA would collaborate on any mission they launch as long as it coincides with our values.”’

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Obama Ready to Authorize Airstrikes on ISIS in Syria

Mark Landler and Jonathan Weisman report for The New York Times:

President Obama is prepared to authorize airstrikes in Syria, a senior administration official said on Tuesday, taking the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Sunni militant group, into new and unpredictable terrain.

But Mr. Obama is still wrestling with a series of challenges, including how to train and equip a viable ground force to fight ISIS inside Syria, how to intervene without aiding President Bashar al-Assad, and how to enlist potentially reluctant partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.’

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Russian FM Lavrov: West may use ISIS as pretext to bomb Syrian govt forces

RT reports:

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov adresses to his Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop (not pictured) during their meeting in Moscow, September 9, 2014. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)‘If the West bombs Islamic State militants in Syria without consulting Damascus, the anti-ISIS alliance may use the occasion to launch airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s forces, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

There are reasons to suspect that air strikes on Syrian territory may target not only areas controlled by Islamic State militants, but the government troops may also be attacked on the quiet to weaken the positions of Bashar Assad’s army,” Lavrov said Tuesday.’

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Islamic State militants vow to ‘de-throne’ Putin over Syria support

AFP reported last week:

‘Islamic State militants have issued a threat to President Vladimir Putin, vowing to oust him and “liberate” the volatile North Caucasus over his support of the Syrian regime. The General Prosecutor’s Office of Russia demanded that access to the address, which was posted on YouTube on Tuesday and features what jihadists say is a Russian-supplied fighter jet, be blocked.

“This is a message to you, oh Vladimir Putin, these are the jets that you have sent to Bashar, we will send them to you, God willing, remember that,” said one fighter in Arabic, according to Russian-language captions provided in the video. “And we will liberate Chechnya and the entire Caucasus, God willing,” said the militant. “The Islamic State is and will be and it is expanding God willing. Your throne has already teetered, it is under threat and will fall when we come to you because Allah is truly on our side,” said the fighter. “We are already on our way God willing.”‘

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Americans Now Fear ISIS Sleeper Cells Are Living in the U.S., Overwhelmingly Support Military Action

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

‘[...] If the goal of terrorist groups is to sow irrational terror, has anything since the 9/11 attack been more successful than those two journalist beheading videos? It’s almost certainly the case that as recently as six months ago, only a minute percentage of the American public (and probably the U.S. media) had even heard of ISIS. Now, two brutal beheadings later, they are convinced that they are lurking in their neighborhoods, that they are a Grave and Unprecedented Threat (worse than al Qaeda!), and that military action against them is needed.

It’s as though ISIS and the U.S. media and political class worked in perfect unison to achieve the same goal here when it comes to American public opinion: fully terrorize them.

Although Americans favor military action against ISIS, today’s… CNN poll finds that – at least of now – most do not want ground troops in Iraq or Syria (“61%-38%, oppose placing U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Syria to combat the terrorist group”). But almost every credible expert has said that airstrikes, without troops, is woefully inadequate to achieve any of the stated goals. Other than further inflaming anti-American sentiment in the region and strengthening ISIS, what possible purpose can such airstrikes have? The answer given by much of the U.S. media, as FAIR documented, seems clear: to “flex muscles” and show “toughness”.

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The Covert Origins of ISIS

Obama vows to ‘degrade and destroy’ Islamic State

Balazs Koranyi and David Mardiste report for Reuters:

‘The United States plans to fight Islamic State until it is no longer a force in the Middle East and will seek justice for the killing of American journalist Steven Sotloff, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.

He added that destroying the militant group will take time because of the power vacuum in Syria, the abundance of battle-hardened fighters that grew out of al Qaeda during the Iraq war, and the need to build coalitions, including with local Sunni communities.

[...] “The bottom line is this, our objective is clear and that is to degrade and destroy (Islamic State) so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States,” Obama told a news conference.’

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US warns ISIS could get ahold of Syria’s chemical weapons

The Associated Press reports:

Ambassador: Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador the the United Nations, said the U.S. is concerned not only that President Bashar Assad's regime still has chemical weapons, but that any  left behind could end up in the hands of ISIS‘The United States is concerned that the Islamic State group and other terrorists could get a hold of chemical weapons if Syria is hiding any stockpiles, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday. Samantha Power spoke to reporters after the Security Council received a briefing from Sigrid Kaag, who heads the international effort to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.

The joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons will end at the end of the month after destroying nearly all of Syria’s declared stockpile. But Kaag said the OPCW is still working with Syria to resolve discrepancies in its declaration, which she said range from outdated records to discrepancies on the volume of materials. Power said the U.S. is concerned not only that President Bashar Assad’s regime still has chemical weapons but that any stockpiles left behind could end up in the hands of the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq.’

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The Powers Behind The Islamic State: Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

‘Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed gives specific examples of how Saudi, Qatari, and American interests have supported the group formerly known as ISIS, and what the global community can do now to reign them in.’ (The Real News)

What Wannabe Jihadists Order on Amazon Before Leaving for Syria

Mehdi Hasan writes for the New Statesman:

The cast of Chris Morris’s black comedy Four Lions. Photo: Magnolia Pictures‘Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? A copy of Milestones by the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb? No. How about Messages to the World: the Statements of Osama Bin Laden? Guess again. Wait, The Anarchist Cookbook, right? Wrong.

Sarwar and Ahmed, both of whom pleaded guilty to terrorism offences last month, purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement. The swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings may try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric think the killers of Lee Rigby screaming “Allahu Akbar” at their trial; think of Islamic State beheading the photojournalist James Foley as part of its “holy war”but religious fervour isn’t what motivates most of them.’

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Suspect Identified in James Foley Beheading Is Failed Rapper

Rachel Browne reports for the Sydney Morning Herald:

‘British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 have identified the man suspected of the horrific beheading of American journalist James Foley, according to British media reports. The hooded man with an English accent is believed to be 23-year-old Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, known to fellow Islamic State militants as Jihadi John.

The former rapper left his family home in an affluent west London suburb last year to fight in the civil war in Syria. In early August he tweeted a photo of himself wearing military camouflage and a black hood, while holding a severed head in his left hand. British SAS forces are hunting Foley’s killer, using a range of high-tech equipment to track him down and potentially free other hostages.’

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Foley murder video ‘may have been staged’

Bill Gardner reports for The Telegraph:

Still from video which shows the beheading of American journalist James Foley‘The video of James Foley’s execution may have been staged, with the actual murder taking place off-camera, it has emerged. Forensic analysis of the footage of the journalist’s death has suggested that the British jihadist in the film may have been the frontman rather than the killer.

The clip, which apparently depicts Mr Foley’s brutal beheading, has been widely seen as a propaganda coup for Islamic State miltant group. But a study of the four-minute 40-second clip, carried out by an international forensic science company which has worked for police forces across Britain, suggested camera trickery and slick post-production techniques appear to have been used.’

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Air strikes? Talk of God? Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script after James Foley beheading

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent:

‘The “caliphate” has some pretty tough theatrical producers. They write a bleak and savage script. Our job is now to respond to each line, and they understand us well enough to know just what we’ll say. So they beheaded James Foley and threatened to do the same to one of his colleagues, and what do we do? Exactly what I predicted 24 hours ago: turn Foley’s murder into a further reason to go on bombing the Isis “caliphate”. And what else did they provoke from us – or at least from America’s vacationing President? A battle on strictly religious terms, which is exactly what they wanted.

Yes, Barack Obama – before he headed back to the golf links – informed the world that “No just God would stand for what they [Isis] did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.” So there you have it: Obama turned the “caliphate’s” savagery into an inter-religious battle of rival Gods, “ours” [ie the West’s] against “theirs” [the Muslim God, of course]. This was the nearest Obama has yet come in rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 in which he said that “we” are going to go on a “Crusade”.’

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Obama makes ISIS enemy number one

Justin Sink reports for The Hill:

‘The Obama administration has elevated the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to enemy No. 1 following the brutal murder of the American journalist James Foley. Top administration officials in recent days have denounced that the group in the strongest possible terms while warning it poses an imminent threat to American interests.

Officials have hinted that the U.S. might consider expanding the scope and intensity of airstrikes to take on ISIS, potentially by moving the bombing campaign in Iraq across the border into Syria. But whether the administration’s rhetorical shift will be matched by action remains to be seen.

The president’s own aides on Friday acknowledged that it would take “a long time” to fully defeat ISIS, and President Obama was elected in no small part due to his opposition to the war in Iraq and skepticism toward costly international entanglements.’

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U.S. Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

Peter Baker And Michael D Shear report for The New York Times:

‘The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting both ISIS as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

But American officials said they would also take a look at airstrikes by fighter jets and bombers as well as potentially sending Special Operations forces into Syria, like those who tried to rescue Mr. Foley and other hostages on a mission in July. One possibility officials have discussed for Iraq that could be translated to Syria would be a series of unmanned drone strikes targeting ISIS leaders, much like those conducted in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.’

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Was Putin right about Syria?

Ishaan Tharoor writes for The Washington Post:

‘What a difference a year makes. Around this time last year, the West was gearing up for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was accused of carrying out chemical weapons attacks on his own people. That intervention never came to pass, not least because domestic public opinion in countries such as Britain and the United States was opposed to further entanglements in the Middle East.

Now, the U.S. is contemplating extending airstrikes on Islamic State militants operating in Iraq in Syria — fighters belonging to a terrorist organization that is leading the war against Assad. The Islamic State’s territorial gains in Iraq and continued repression and slaughter of religious minorities there and in Syria have rightly triggered global condemnation. “I am no apologist for the Assad regime,” Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, told NPR. “But in terms of our security, [the Islamic State] is by far the greatest threat.”

The irony of the moment is tragic. But to some, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Many cautioned against the earlier insistence of the Obama administration (as well as other governments) that Assad must go, fearing what would take hold in the vacuum. One of those critics happened to be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who warned against U.S. intervention in Syria in a New York Times op-ed last September.’

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Islamic State fighters surround Syrian airbase in rapid drive to recapture lost territory

Martin Chulov reports for The Guardian:

‘Islamic State extremists rampaging through Iraq have now turned their sights back towards Syria, where only a besieged airbase stands between the terror group and a rush for the Mediterranean coast that could split the country in two. The attack on the Tabqa airbase in eastern Syria comes as Isis continues to move back towards areas it controlled north of Aleppo until February. Using weapons the group looted from abandoned Iraqi military bases, Isis has returned with a vengeance to the area, stunning regional powers with its rapid advances.

Less than three months after taking Iraq’s second and fourth biggest cities, much of Anbar province and the Syrian border, the group is establishing itself with extraordinary speed as a regional power that will determine the fate of both countries. There are growing fears across the Middle East that no regional military can slow the group’s momentum. Isis now controls a swath of land slightly larger than the UK, from Aleppo to central Iraq, and holds sway over a population of at least four million people. The group’s rapid ability to organise and consolidate continues to splinter a fractured body politic in Iraq and Syria and is fast causing ramifications for the broader Middle East.’

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Foreign Secretary: UK won’t work with Assad in Islamic State battle

BBC News reports:

‘Britain will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the battle against Islamic State (IS) extremists, the foreign secretary has told the BBC. Philip Hammond said to do so would not be “practical, sensible or helpful”. Former head of the Army Lord Dannatt and ex-Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind called for the move following the beheading of US journalist James Foley by IS militants. Mr Hammond also defended the monitoring of suspected extremists in the UK.

The UK government has called for President Assad to be removed as Syrian leader as a result of his actions during the country’s civil war. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, the foreign secretary said to co-operate with the Syrian regime would “poison” what the UK was trying to achieve. He said: “We may very well find that we are fighting, on some occasions, the same people that he is but that doesn’t make us his ally.” Earlier, Lord Dannatt called for a dialogue.’

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Interpol Urges World Response to Islamic State Extremists

The Associated Press reports:

‘Interpol says the killing of an American journalist kidnapped in Syria shows the need for a coordinated international effort against the stream of foreign fighters joining extremists in the Middle East. The international policy agency said in a statement Thursday that James Foley’s death shows the “depravity” of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq and “highlights the ongoing plight of other innocent people across the region.”

France-based Interpol is particularly concerned that a man who appears in a video of Foley’s death may be British. Interpol says this highlights “the need for a multilateral response against the terror threat posed by radicalized transnational fighters travelling to conflict zones in the Middle East.” More than a thousand radicals from Europe have joined militant fighters in Syria and Iraq.’

Foley captors’ ransom demand revives debate over US no-pay policy

Ariel Zirulnick writes for The Christian Science Monitor:

‘The militant Islamist group that murdered freelance journalist James Foley had demanded a ransom from the US government before his beheading. But the US has a strict policy of not paying ransoms to terrorist groups, putting it at odds with several European countries who have paid in the past to free hostages. Mr. Foley’s death has revived the debate over the policy.The New York Times reported recently that ransoms have bankrolled Al Qaeda operations worldwide.

According to The New York Times, the self-declared Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) demanded a $100 million ransom for Mr. Foley, which the US refused to pay. (The Wall Street Journal cited a demand of 100 million euros.) IS has made a similar demand for Steven Sotloff, another American freelance journalist being held. The US attempted to rescue hostages in Syria in a special forces operation earlier this summer, but failed to do so.

Trading captives for payouts has become a routine way for militant groups to raise revenue, netting them at least $125 million in the last five years. “Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil, which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The US refusal to pay may discourage the kidnapping of Americans, but it also makes it less likely that they would survive captivity.’

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U.S. bars all American airlines from flying over Syria

Reuters reports:

‘The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has barred all American airlines from flying over Syria, saying the ongoing conflict poses a “serious potential threat.” The FAA had previously warned American carriers to avoid flying over Syria. The new rule requires operators to contact the FAA before operating in the airspace.

The agency said the move was taken after “updated assessment of risk” and a lack of airlines wishing to fly in the airspace. “The ongoing armed conflict and volatile security environment in Syria poses a serious potential threat to civil aviation,” the FAA said in a statement.’

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Pentagon: U.S. ship finishes neutralizing Syria’s worst chemical arms

David Alexander reports for Reuters:

‘A specially equipped U.S. ship has finished neutralizing all 600 metric tons of the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapons components surrendered to the international community this year to avert threatened air strikes, the Pentagon said on Monday. It said the Cape Ray, equipped with the U.S.-developed Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, neutralized 581.5 metric tons of DF, a sarin precursor chemical, and 19.8 metric tons of HD, an ingredient of sulfur mustard, while afloat in the Mediterranean.

The vessel will travel to Finland and Germany in the next two weeks to unload the resulting effluent, which will undergo treatment as industrial waste to render it safer, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. It was the first time chemical weapons components had been neutralized at sea, the Pentagon said. Damascus agreed last September to a Russian proposal to give up its chemical weapons to avert threatened military strikes by the United States and France, which accused Syria of using the arms against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.’

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The caliphate vs. everyone else

Immanuel Wallerstein writes for Al Jazeera:

‘In the endless geopolitical realignments of the Middle East, the caliphate of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) seems to have frightened just about everyone else involved in Middle Eastern politics into a de facto geopolitical alliance. All of a sudden, we find Iran and the United States, the Kurds (both in Syria and Iraq) and Israel, Turkey and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government, western Europe (Great Britain, France, and Germany) and Russia all pursuing in different ways the same objective: stop the caliphate from expanding and consolidating.

This hasn’t yet altered significantly other loci of geopolitical conflicts such as Israel/Palestine and Ukraine, but it is sure to have an impact on them. Of course, all these actors are pursuing middle-term objectives that are quite different. Nonetheless, look at what has happened in just the first half of August.’

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Syrian rebel commander says he collaborated with Israel in confession video

Elhanan Miller reports for The Times of Israel:

Syrian opposition commander Sharif As-Safouri confesses to collaborating with Israel (photo credit: Youtube screen capture)‘A Free Syrian Army commander, arrested last month by the Islamist militia Al-Nusra Front, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support, in a video released this week

In a video uploaded to YouTube Monday by the Executive Sharia Council in the eastern Daraa Region, an Islamic court established by Al-Nusra in southern Syria, Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion, admitted to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms. Safouri was abducted by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in the Quneitra area, near the Israeli border, on July 22.’

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The Islamic State (VICE Documentary)

‘The Islamic State, a hardline Sunni jihadist group that formerly had ties to al Qaeda, has conquered large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group has announced its intention to reestablish the caliphate and has declared its leader, the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the caliph. The lightning advances the Islamic State made across Syria and Iraq in June shocked the world. But it’s not just the group’s military victories that have garnered attention — it’s also the pace with which its members have begun to carve out a viable state. Flush with cash and US weapons seized during its advances in Iraq, the Islamic State’s expansion shows no sign of slowing down. In the first week of August alone, Islamic State fighters have taken over new areas in northern Iraq, encroaching on Kurdish territory and sending Christians and other minorities fleeing as reports of massacres emerged.VICE News reporter Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks embedded with the Islamic State, gaining unprecedented access to the group in Iraq and Syria as the first and only journalist to document its inner workings.’ (VICE News)