US Jewish leaders briefed after Islamic State ‘kill list’ includes Jewish names


U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials briefed Jewish leaders on the inclusion of American Jews on an Islamic State “kill list.”

Some 200 Jewish leaders joined the conference call on Friday organized by the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community, in the wake of the July 3 release of the Islamic State list that included members of synagogues and churches among 1,700 individuals. The names of the synagogue members were pulled from the synagogue websites, among other sources, according to SCN.

The SITE group, which tracks terrorist activity, spotted the list.

“The lists appear to be directed toward ‘lone wolf’ ISIL supporters who may be inspired to carry out attacks,” SCN said in a statement, using one of the acronyms for the terrorist group. “However, there have been no reported incidents to date in which an ISIL-inspired individual has carried out an attack on any individual appearing on these lists.”

The lists are released through online forums. Host websites often remove the lists soon after they appear, but they often crop up again.

Previous lists have targeted business leaders and military personnel. The lists appear culled from the internet. Homeland Security officials are contacting those named on the lists.

SCN is affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Islamic State finance chief, other leaders, likely killed


Islamic State's top finance officer and other senior leaders were likely killed this week in a major offensive targeting the militant group's financial operation, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday.

Carter said the United States believes it killed Haji Iman, a senior Islamic State leader in charge of the group's finances as well as some plots and external affairs.

“We are systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet,” Carter told reporters at a briefing at the Pentagon, using an acronym to refer to the group.

Earlier media reports said Haji Iman, who also went by Abd ar-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli and other aliases, had been killed in a U.S. air strike in Syria, but Pentagon officials gave few details of the operation.

The operations came as U.S. officials said they were helping Iraqis prepare for a major operation in Mosul to take back territory from the militant group, which aims to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon expects increased capabilities will be provided to Iraqis in preparation for Mosul operations in the coming months.

Obama: faster progress needed against Islamic State


President Barack Obama said on Monday that Islamic State militants had lost swaths of territory they once controlled in Iraq and Syria but that progress needed to be made faster against the group.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Obama said he had tasked Defense Secretary Ash Carter with going to the Middle East to secure more military contributions for the coalition fight against the group also known as ISIL.

“We recognize that progress needs to keep coming faster,” Obama said.

Obama says Syria deployment doesn’t break no ‘boots on ground’ pledge


President Barack Obama said on Monday the planned deployment of dozens of U.S. special forces to Syria to advise opposition forces fighting Islamic State did not break his promise not to put “boots on the ground” in the Syrian conflict.

“Keep in mind that we have run special ops already and really this is just an extension of what we are continuing to do,” Obama said in an interview on “NBC Nightly News” in his first public comments on the deployment since it was announced on Friday.

“We are not putting U.S. troops on the front lines fighting firefights with ISIL,” Obama said, using another acronym for the Islamic State militant group. “I have been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting like we did in Iraq with battalions and occupations. That doesn't solve the problem.”

In announcing the measure, the White House said the troops would be on a mission to “train, advise and assist” and would number fewer than 50.

The introduction of U.S. forces on the ground marks a shift after more than a year of limiting theSyria mission to air strikes against Islamic State. Before last year, Obama, who has been averse to committing troops to Middle East wars, had ruled out an American presence on the ground inSyria.

In a nationally televised address in September 2013, Obama said: “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”

Over the past year, however, he has emphasized that he would not send U.S. “combat” troops there.

The Obama administration is under pressure to ramp up the U.S. effort against Islamic State, particularly after the militant group captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi in May and following the failure of a U.S. military program to train and arm thousands of Syrian rebels.

Russia and Iran have increased their military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's fight against rebels in the 4-1/2-year-old civil war.

Islamic State says it launched rocket attack on Egypt navy vessel


Egypt's Islamic State affiliate said on Thursday it fired a rocket at an Egyptian naval vessel in the Mediterranean Sea near the coast of Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The militant group Sinai Province has focused mainly on attacking Egyptian soldiers and police in the Sinai peninsula, killing hundreds since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Photographs distributed online by the group appeared to show a rocket heading towards a ship and setting it ablaze on impact. Reuters could not verify the militants' version of events.

The Egyptian military said in a statement that a coastguard launch had exchanged shots with “terrorist elements”, causing the vessel to catch fire. It said there was no loss of life.

Such incidents at sea are rare, though Egypt is battling an increasingly brazen Islamist insurgency in the Sinai that lies between Israel, the Gaza Strip and the Suez Canal.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said militancy poses an existential threat to Egypt, the most populous Arab country.

As army chief, Sisi overthrew Mursi and then launched a crackdown on Islamists, which has weakened his foes in the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood movement but failed to neutralize Sinai-based militants.

Sinai Province, the most lethal militant group in Egypt, last year pledged loyalty to Islamic State, which controls large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq and has a presence in Egypt's neighbor Libya.

It has recently carried out high profile attacks, which prompted the drafting of a sweeping counter-terrorism law.

On July 1, 100 militants and at least 17 members of the security forces were killed in a single day of clashes and attacks claimed by Sinai Province, authorities said.

The car bomb assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor in Cairo last month has also raised concerns that the insurgency is spreading.

A Reuters witness in Gaza saw a plume of dark grey smoke rising from a boat off the coast. Other witnesses in the Palestinian enclave said they heard explosions and gunfire.

Military sources said the suspected militants had fled after firing on the vessel.

Later in the day a small bomb exploded in a residential area of the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis, wounding a police officer, security sources said.

State television, meanwhile, announced the resignation of the Cairo police chief. It did not elaborate.

Shaming the murderers


A religious Muslim who murders an innocent person in the name of the Quran desecrates his own religion. I wish that idea had been the theme of last week’s White House Conference on Violent Extremism. 

Instead, President Barack Obama went out of his way to take religion out of religious violence. Referring to the growing threat of Islamic violence, the president suggested that this is not the real Islam.

“We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” he said. 

Well, the fanatics of ISIS might disagree. “The Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” Graeme Wood writes in a widely read essay in The Atlantic. “Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers … but the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

This interpretation harks back to the earliest days of Islam and includes a radical interpretation of takfir, the practice of excommunication. As Wood writes: “Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people.”

Taking violent religious texts literally may be a horrible idea, but it’s not a misinterpretation or perversion of Islam, even though the great majority of modern Muslims would never practice it. And it’s not just our current president who glosses over this uncomfortable reality. President George W. Bush made a similar wishful assertion in 2001, a few days after the 9/11 terror attacks, when he said, “These acts of violence violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

It’s not about giving religious fanatics the legitimacy they seek, it’s about giving them the public shaming they deserve.

Our wishful thinking comes from a good place — we’re conditioned in America to respect religion. So we want to believe that when a religious person kills in the name of religion, it must be a perversion. We look for another agenda. 

“Obama’s position seems to be that the leaders of these [jihadist] groups aren’t sincere in their beliefs,” Reihan Salam wrote in Slate. “He suggests that what ISIS is really after is power, as if its obsessive focus on acting in accordance with practices that were widespread in the days of Muhammad is merely window-dressing for thuggery and theft.”

One of Obama’s arguments for downplaying religion is that he doesn’t want to give fanatics the “religious legitimacy they seek.” But we’re in a war. It’s not about giving religious fanatics the legitimacy they seek, it’s about giving them the public shaming they deserve. Separating their acts from their religion and calling them “violent extremists” doesn’t offend or hurt them — it just lets them off the hook.

A more effective approach would be to put them on the defensive by accusing them of desecrating their own religion. The fact is, all the murders that religious fanatics are committing in the name of Allah dishonors Allah and the very religion they cherish so deeply.

We must stick to what we know. Most of us, including the president, are not theological experts on Islam. Who are we to decide what is and what isn’t Islam? There have been countless interpretations and reinterpretations across the centuries, some more peaceful than others. There is one thing, however, that is quite clear to all of us– what looks good and what looks bad. Chopping off a reporter’s head in the name of religion makes that religion look bad. Period. Case closed. So does lynching gays or stoning a woman to death.

Promoting peaceful coexistence in the name of religion looks good; promoting murder in the name of religion looks bad. This is true for all religions and for all societies and for all time.

Yes, the majority of Muslims are against jihadist violence, but they must take responsibility for the fact that most religious violence today emanates from their religion. As J.J. Goldberg writes in the Forward, “There are many sources of violent extremism in the world, but there’s basically just one that’s terrorizing vast sections of humanity right now, and that’s the one that identifies itself with purist Islam and jihad.”

The best way for supporters of Islam to defend Islam is to target and publicly shame those who are poisoning the image of Islam. Instead of attempting to separate these religious thugs from their religion, we must go in the opposite direction and tell them: “You’re not just violent extremists. You’re religious sinners and desecrators. By murdering in the name of Islam, you are destroying the image of your own faith.”

Obama alluded to this at his conference when he said: “Violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.” That should become his main line of attack in the war against religious fanatics.

It’s time to raise the stakes. Instead of trying to convince people that Islam is a “religion of peace,” let’s go after those who are making Islam look like a religion of war. It’s no longer enough to say, “We are not at war against Islam.” We must now say, “You who murder in the name of Islam are the ones who are really at war against Islam.”

In the long struggle against religious fanatics, let’s remember who the bad guys are and let's never forget the lethal weapon of public shame.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Local congressman urges decision on authorizing use of military force


Disagreement is brewing among elected officials over whether a bill empowering President Barack Obama to wage war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should limit the scope of the military’s involvement in the conflict, arousing lingering unease over the length of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

On one side is local congressman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who introduced legislation Jan. 28 that would authorize the Obama administration to continue its military campaign against ISIL for three years. Schiff’s bill, which bars the use of ground troops, arrives just as House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has promised a spring vote on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Boehner has said he would prefer one that provides the president with more sweeping powers, though he believes it is up to the chief executive to propose draft language.

Either way, Schiff said it’s time for Congress to take on the issue.

“More than five months after strikes began against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, Congress has yet to debate and take a vote on an authorization to wage war, in clear abdication of our constitutional duties,” Schiff said in a Jan. 28 statement.

The Obama administration thus far has used the 2001 AUMF targeting terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks to justify its air campaign against ISIL, though it said in a September 2014 statement provided to The New York Times that it believes the 2002 authorization of the Iraq War would be a sufficient legal alternative. Schiff and others on both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration for what they feel are overly broad readings of the post-Sept. 11 authorizations. 

“Using either of these authorizations relies on expansionist interpretations,” Schiff, who is Jewish, told the Journal in a phone interview. 

Though the 2001 authorization was intended to focus on terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, it has proved malleable — having been used by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to justify military actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Schiff’s bill would only authorize force “confined to the territory of the Republic of Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic.” 

In addition to limiting the use of force to a distinct geographic region and to a hard three-year period, Schiff’s bill would immediately repeal the 2002 Iraq War authorization and would sunset the 2001 authorization on the same three-year time frame. 

Secretary of State John Kerry recently said the Obama administration favors new language that does not restrict the time frame or the geographic area of the operation, a prospect that reportedly worries Democrats on the Hill who regret passing the 2001 authorization using such open-ended terms. 

Schiff, whose district extends from Hollywood to Pasadena and north to Tujunga, cautioned that Kerry’s approach will likely face bipartisan opposition. 

“I think there is a broad consensus on both sides of the aisle that we not have a new authorization that goes on indefinitely,” he said. 

“Three years, I think, is a responsible period of time,” he continued. “It is almost the length of World War II, and it doesn’t preclude a subsequent president from coming back to Congress and seeking out an extension.”

The three-year time frame is, in fact, an updated version of an 18-month authorization Schiff proposed in similar legislation last fall, but which failed to make it to the House floor. He also previously introduced two amendments to existing defense bills to sunset the 2001 authorization, both of which received bipartisan support but ultimately failed to pass by narrow margins.

“A lot of members of Congress, I think, are reluctant to stick their neck out one way or the other. I think this is the reason that we are almost six months into this conflict and we still haven’t had a vote or a debate on the topic,” he said.

Though Schiff has yet to receive public support from other members of Congress for his latest proposal, he said he is seeking co-sponsors. Meanwhile, the White House is expected to introduce a broader draft war authorization in the coming weeks. 

“I hope we will take up this authorization or another soon,” Schiff said.

Islamic State says U.S. hostage killed in Syria


The Islamic State militant group said on Friday that an American woman hostage it was holding in Syria had been killed when Jordanian fighter jets bombed a building where she was being held, the SITE monitoring group said.

In Washington, U.S. officials said they could not confirm that the woman, who has been identified as 26-year-old aid worker Kayla Mueller of Prescott, Arizona, had been killed.

Mueller was the last-known American hostage held by Islamic State, which controls wide areas of Syria and Iraq and has executed five British and American aid workers and journalists in recent months.

The group's latest claim comes just days after it released a video on Tuesday appearing to show a captured Jordanian pilot, Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, being burned alive in a cage. Jordan immediately vowed to intensify military action against Islamic State.

A representative in the United States of Mueller’s family said the family had no information on Islamic State’s statement that she had been killed.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters during a briefing in Washington, “I cannot confirm those reports in any way.”

The White House said it was “deeply concerned” over the report but that it had not seen “any evidence that corroborates ISIL’s claim,” using an acronym for the group.

Islamic State, in a message monitored by SITE, said Mueller died when the building in which she was being held outside Raqqa, a major stronghold of the group, collapsed in a Jordanian air strike on Friday.

“The air assaults were continuous on the same location for more than an hour,” Islamic State said, according to SITE.

Reuters and other Western news organizations were aware that Mueller was being held hostage but did not name her at the request of her family members, who believed the militants would harm her if her case received publicity.

'WHERE IS THE WORLD?'

Mueller was taken hostage while leaving a hospital in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo in August 2013. She had a long record of volunteering abroad and was moved by the plight of civilians in Syria's civil war.

“For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. (I will not let this be) something we just accept,” Mueller's local newspaper The Daily Courier quoted her in 2013 as saying.

“When Syrians hear I'm an American, they ask, 'Where is the world?' All I can do is cry with them, because I don't know,” Mueller said.

She had worked for a Turkish aid organization on the Syrian border and volunteered for schools and aid organizations abroad including in both the West Bank and Israel as well as in Dharamsala, India, where she taught English to Tibetan refugees.

Jordanian aircraft hit multiple targets in Syria on Thursday, including an ammunitions depot and storage facilities. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren estimated the Jordanians dropped a total of around 72 munitions on its targets.

Jordan is a major U.S. ally in the fight against militant Islamist groups, and hosted U.S. troops during operations that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Hours after the release of the video showing the pilot burning to death, Jordanian authorities executed two al Qaeda militants who had been imprisoned on death row, including a woman who had tried to blow herself up in a suicide bombing and whose release had been demanded by Islamic State.

Warren said the United States was also heavily involved in Thursday’s operations in Syria, flying alongside Jordanian planes.

As L.A.’s Muslims condemn French attacks, a gap on what’s to blame


Following the recent terror attacks in Paris by Islamic extremists that left 17 dead and 22 wounded at a satirical magazine and kosher market, the debate within the local Muslim community over what to blame and even how to label the ideology behind the attacks has only intensified.

Are the attacks in France, along with the surge of violence and persecution in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, expressions of something called Islamism or Islamic extremism? Or are groups like Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), Al Qaeda and Boko Haram political extremist movements that are exploiting Islam to advance their un-Islamic goals?

Much as they are being discussed in Christian, Jewish and secular worlds, these questions are subjects of debate within the Los Angeles Muslim community, where progressive Muslims and more traditional Muslims coexist, even as they differ when it comes to pinpointing the root problem of terrorism done in the name of Islam.

For Ani Zonneveld, the founder and president of

Foreigners fighting Islamic State in Syria: who and why?


While illegally crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border, Canadian Peter Douglas was adamant that his incursion was for humanitarian reasons – to help the people of Syria.

Douglas is one of a growing band of foreigners to dodge authorities and join the fight against Islamic State militants who have killed thousands and taken vast parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring a caliphate in territory under their control.

Many of these fighters argue they are there for humanitarian reasons but they say their decision to take up arms to fight for the Syrian people will not be viewed as such by some.

“I want to fight the Islamic State, although it might be the last thing I do,” said Douglas, 66, from Vancouver, as he prepared to board a boat crossing a remote stretch of the Tigris River .

“I know I have 10 years to live before I will start develop dementia or have a stroke so I wanted to do something good,” he added, although he acknowledged that taking up arms was new on the list of jobs and occupations he has previously pursued.

So far an estimated few dozen Westerners have joined Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State in northern Syria, including Americans, Canadians, Germans, and Britons.

The Syrian Kurdish armed faction known as the YPG has not released official numbers confirming foreign or “freedom fighters” and academics say it's hard to assess the total.

But the number pales compared to an estimated 16,000 fighters from about 90 countries to join Islamic State since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of State figures.

The United Nations has warned extremists groups in Syria and Iraq are recruiting foreigners on an “unprecedented scale” and with a commitment to jihad who could “form the core of a new diaspora” and be a threat for years to come.

FIGHTING FOR A CAUSE?

Western governments are closely monitoring foreign fighters but law enforcement agencies are acting differently towards those joining Islamic State or those linking up with the Kurdish resistance whose motivations are far more diverse.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear there is a fundamental difference between fighting for the Kurds and Islamic State. British law stipulates fighting in a foreign war is not automatically an offense and depends on circumstances.

Two British military veterans, Jamie Read and James Hughes, returned to England last month after several months with the YPG, saying they were fighting for “humanitarian purposes”, and no action has been taken against them on their return.

They signed up outraged by a series of chilling videos showing the murders of two U.S. journalists, a U.S. aid worker, and two British aid workers and by the plight of millions of Syrians caught between Islamic State and government forces.

British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, estimates in six months the radical Sunni group has killed about 1,878 people in Syria off the battlefield, mostly civilians.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, which started when President Bashar al-Assad's forces cracked down on peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.

“We went there to help innocent people and to document the YPG struggle against ISIS,” Hughes, 26, who spent five years in the British army, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We had a warm welcome home. Everybody thought we were heroes. They were proud of us. I also received hundreds of messages of people wanting to join the YPG,” he said, adding he planned to return to Syria in coming months.

Still many foreign YPG fighters are concerned about legal repercussions when they return home so seek to stay anonymous.

“We might get in trouble with our governments,” said one U.S. veteran who ensured all his financial and legal affairs were in order before heading to Rojava, the area controlled by the YPG in Syria.

Many are concerned how the media portrays them at home and wanted to clarify they are volunteers, not mercenaries. They say they are not paid but are there as they believe in the cause.

Many have some military experience and have signed up to the battle through contacts on Facebook.

Lorenzo Vidino, an analyst at the Institute for the International Political Studies in Italy, said foreign fighters might argue they are joining the battle against Islamic State for the good but they were not effective militarily.

“Westerners joining the YPG are a very small phenomenon especially if compared to Islamic State. The IS recruitment machine works better and you can see evidence of that in terms of numbers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

U.S. fighter Dean Parker, 49, joined after watching video footage of the blitz on Sinjar in northwest Iraq in August when Islamic State militants killed or captured thousands of minority Yazidis.

“I saw the fear and terror on this child eyes who was looking directly at me through the camera … I never been moved by anything like that in my life,” he said in an email exchange, one of several foreign fighters from Syria interviewed on location, by email or by phone in November and December.

Canadian-Israeli woman Gill Rosenberg, 31, from Tel Aviv, said in a recent interview with Israel Radio that she decided to join the YPG for humanitarian and ideological reasons.

But not all foreign fighters are motivated by the same cause.

Jordan Matson, 28, a U.S. army veteran from Winconsin who joined the YPG about four months ago, said he joined because he was running away from a “civilian” life he didn't really like.

“Here, instead, everything makes sense,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a YPG base near to Derik, a town in Syria's northeastern Kurdish region.

ISIS-linked terror cell arrested in Hebron


Israeli security forces arrested three Palestinians belonging to a terror cell linked to the Islamic State in Hebron.

The cell members were arrested in November by the Shin Bet, the security service said in a statement released to the Israeli media for publication on Sunday.

It was the first known Palestinian cell discovered to be linked to the Islamic State, the jihadist group also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The cell planned to kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank. It failed in an attempt to detonate a bomb against Israeli soldiers.

The arrested men, all in their 20s, admitted to the plots during interrogation.

 

‘We must negotiate with Islamic State,’ senior mediator says


When Padraig O'Malley says we must talk to Islamic State, he's speaking from experience.

A seasoned mediator, O'Malley brought together warring parties in Iraq at the height of the sectarian conflict in 2007 and 2008, resulting in an agreement that formed the basis for political reconciliation in Iraq and helped curb the violence.

He did this with the aid of negotiators from South Africa, and from Northern Ireland, where he had been instrumental in organizing the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended 30 years of sectarian conflict.

“A way in time must be found to talk to Islamic State. You simply will not wipe it out. It'll just re-emerge in a different form,” he said in a telephone interview from Boston, Massachusetts, where he is a professor.

“I don't think we in the West, or maybe anybody, fully understands the phenomenon of Islamic State, and the degree of its sophistication in attracting young people from all over the world.”

O'Malley, who is John Joseph Moakley Distinguished Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston, is originally from Dublin and has four decades of experience as a mediator.

He quoted a recent opinion poll carried out in six Arab countries by the Qatar-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, which found that Palestinians were the strongest supporters of IS.

This is striking because IS is focused on establishing a caliphate and has no particular eye on destroying Israel – and the finding could open a Pandora's box, O'Malley said.

“Is this because they (the Palestinians) have reached such a level of hopelessness regarding their own future that they will turn to anything? That IS can offer them something that will give meaning to their lives?”

HOW DO YOU NEGOTIATE WITH ISLAMIC STATE?

Contact with IS would have to begin with intermediaries close to the group – wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab countries “who shovel money” to the fighters.

Persuading any armed group to talk to its enemies takes a long time. It begins with developing relationships in the community, building trust with people in the lower levels of all the warring parties, and gradually working your way up. “It's very personal,” O'Malley said.

“Part of our problem in the West is that we think these things can be resolved quickly.

“Well that's fine, except that people in other parts of the world don't think that way, or we don't have a sufficient appreciation of the depth of the divisions among them,” he said.

The Shia-Sunni divide in the Middle East, for example, runs very deep, he said.

The divide is one reason for Islamic State's rise, supported by Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq who feel disenfranchised by the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad.

“This divide is ugly, it goes way back in history, so there is no such thing as closing this with a few gestures or conferences, or huggings … It's not the way human beings work.”

He predicts that Iraq will not exist in its current form in 10 years' time. The Kurds, emboldened by their successes against Islamic State, will in the near future declare their independence from Iraq, he said.

RETURN TO IRAQ

The 2008 Helsinki Agreement that O'Malley helped broker was signed by political parties across the Sunni-Shia divide. It stipulates an end to corruption and to sectarianism in public office, among other things, but it was never implemented. The government has been dominated by Shia politicians, and Sunnis have felt increasingly marginalized.

“Like most things in Iraq at that point, while everybody shook hands, nothing ever happened with that agreement,” he said.

O'Malley said he plans to return to Iraq when the recently appointed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is “more secure in his position”, and to suggest that al-Abadi reconvene a meeting of all the signatories to the agreement – who include the current president, prime minister, members of the cabinet and leaders of all parties in the Iraq parliament.

“What I would be emphasizing is something that is very important to Arabs – their honor … Will you honor your signature or will you not?”

SICK SOCIETIES

Everyone coming out of conflict suffers from post-traumatic stress, which gives rise to a host of problems, ranging from domestic abuse to addictions and drinking, to a large segment of the population being dysfunctional, O'Malley said.

“On their own they cannot resolve their problems, because they're sick, they're actually sick. And no one is treating them,” he said.

“You have to ask how many people in Iraq were killed as a result of the American intervention there in 2003 … how many were displaced, how many were lost?”

“This country never thinks about them, never thinks of the effects that might have had on surviving members of those families.”

O'Malley describes being stuck in traffic in Baghdad two years ago, because bombs had gone off that day.

The Iraqis in the car didn't complain about the bombs, what they complained about for two hours was being stuck in traffic, he said.

“They had so internalized bombings and death that … it's no longer a significant cause for any kind of shock,” he said.

In O'Malley's experience, one divided society is in the best position to help another. Which is why he asked South African negotiators to help those in Northern Ireland, and both groups to help the Iraqis.

And now he brings together divided cities – including Baghdad, Belfast, Jerusalem, Kirkuk, Mitrovica and Sarajevo – each year to listen to each other's experiences, in the Forum for Cities in Transition.

“Our small contribution is for them to recognize their sickness and to help each other.”

Islamic State fight now costing U.S. $8.3 million per day


The Pentagon said in updated figures on Monday the average daily cost of the fight against Islamic State militants has risen to $8.3 million, or a total of $580 million between Aug. 8 and Oct. 16.

The new average reflects an increase in the intensity of U.S. operations against the group in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon said a week ago the average daily cost was $7.6 million, or a total of $424 million since Aug. 8.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Doina Chiacu

U.S. unveils coalition to fight Islamic state in cyberspace


The United States on Monday unveiled what it called an information coalition with Muslim and Western nations to combat efforts by Islamic State to recruit online and stoke sectarian hatred through a “cult of violence.”

U.S. officials told delegates from European and Arab countries at a meeting in Kuwait that this should complement parallel campaigns against the armed group on the battlefield and in the world of finance.

“There is a military coalition that is on the battlefield with Daesh (Islamic State) every day and from the very beginning the partners in the coalition … felt that there should be an information coalition that complements the military coalition,” U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs Richard Stengel told a news conference after the talks.

Worried by the growing threat from Islamist militants after the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in June, Washington has been working with regional and world powers to fight the militants militarily, financially and politically.

ISIL has renamed itself Islamic State.

Campaigns by Islamic State on Twitter and other social media platforms have been slickly produced, incorporating up to the minute video and graphical techniques with battlefield footage to project an image of dynamism.

Representatives from Europe and the Middle East, including Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates attended the meeting.

A joint statement said the attendees agreed to “enhancing exchanges, training and other cooperative programs for government leaders and spokespersons, actively opposing the recruitment of foreign fighters and encouraging important religious and social leaders and the millions of young people who oppose violent extremism to raise their voices through traditional and social media.”

Retired U.S. General John Allen, special envoy for building the coalition against Islamic State, told participating delegates that ISIL must be exposed “for the un-Islamic cult of violence it really is”.

“I strongly encourage participants to set forth tangible work plans that will directly and rapidly counter ISIL's propaganda in cyberspace and the press,” he said.

Asked if the meeting discussed ways to ensure governments in the Middle East would not use the coalition to crack down on freedom of expression, Stengel said: “All the coalition partners have pledged to respect freedom of expression.”

“There is a continuum between security and privacy, between security and freedom and in order to battle against ISIL nobody wanted to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of speech.”

Reporting by Ahemd Hagagy, Writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by William Maclean and Ralph Boulton

Does slavery have a future? The ISIS challenge through Jewish lens


Human Rights Watch recounts the journey from slavery to freedom of Rewshe, a Yazidi teenager from the Iraqi village of Sinjar, who was among 200 women and girls carried to Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria. There, she was auctioned off for $1,000 but escaped before her slaveholder could make her his wife, his concubine or his household drudge. 

Her story has singular drama, but should we really pay that much attention when estimates are that 20 million to 30 million people, mostly young women and men, are victims of modern slavery, held as sex slaves or forced laborers in not only Arab and Muslim countries, but also in European or U.S. brothels or sweat shops? Even Israel is not immune to complaints of human trafficking, which President Barack Obama has correctly denounced as a modern-day form of slavery. 

The difference is that modern slavery — sometimes called “the dark side of globalization” — tries to exist beneath the radar. Those responsible offer no real justification except in some places, such as Saudi Arabia, where the fiction still prevails that foreign-born domestics, forced into virtual slavery, are really willing maids. 

What makes ISIS different is that — alone among modern slaveholders — it has thrown down the gauntlet in order to rationalize its revival of slavery as a Quranic “positive good”: a justification not heard in the U.S. since the master class theories of South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun. (In 1860, New York Rabbi Morris J. Raphall delivered a notorious sermon condemning abolitionists, but even he was careful to distinguish slavery in ancient Israel, as found in the Bible, with “harsher” American plantation slavery.) 

According to Dabiq, ISIS’ slick new Internet magazine, the Yazidis are mushriks (idolators or devil worshippers) whose subjugation is demanded by none other than the Prophet Muhammad. They are to be enslaved as modern-day war booty: “The Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement, and possess heavy boots. They have a statement to make that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy, and uncover its deviant nature.” This indeed is “boots on the ground” with a vengeance; it demands more than a bootless response. 

A convert to Judaism, David Brion Davis — the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who recently received an award from Obama for a lifetime devoted to the study of slavery and abolition — offers a cautionary note about history-and-progress that’s partly informed by his understanding of the Jewish experience. In “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation” (2014), the concluding volume of his great trilogy, Davis warns that history does not necessarily move in a linear direction. It often has moved — and may still move — in cycles with regressive downturns or backward movements, wiping out the periods of advance. Davis’ caution is a counterpoint to the optimism of Steven Pinker’s best-selling “The Better Angels of Our Nature” (2011), which is very much in the tradition of Jewish modernity and forward-looking modern science. 

Modern-day slavery — despite its global reach — is an ideological aberration, really at home only in places such as oppressed Burmese villages, Nepalese carpet mills and North Korean slave-labor camps. In contrast, liberal capitalist societies, warts and all, are founded on free labor. About this, Karl Marx agreed with Adam Smith. 

ISIS’ revival of slavery is a real embarrassment because it raises a fundamental question of how a movement that has conquered large junks of Iraq and Syria can brazenly justify its crimes against humanity in the name of Islam and Shariah law. 

Saudi Arabia officially abolished slavery in 1962. Even Al Qaeda has never called for its revival; this is probably one reason that ISIS does champion slavery, in order to differentiate itself from its parent organization. Polls indicate minimal support for ISIS throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Yet there are places — such as Nigeria, where Boko Haram apparently has just agreed to accept political ransom for 200 kidnapped Christian girls — that an Islamic rationale for slavery’s renewal strikes a responsive chord. 

We can paper over this truth for politically correct reasons, but draconian interpretations of Shariah law, prescribing the death penalty for such offenses as apostasy and homosexuality, remain popular in much of the Arab and Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia, slavery is technically illegal. Yet in 2003, Sheik Saleh Al-Fawzan issued a fatwa declaring: “Slavery is a part of Islam. It is a part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long as there is Islam.” He strongly objected to Muslim scholars who denied slavery as an Islamic practice, saying: “They are ignorant, not scholars … They are merely writers. Whoever says such things is an infidel.” As of last year, Al-Fawzan was a member of the Council of Senior Scholars  — Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body — and  the imam of Prince Mitaeb Mosque in Riyadh. What probably was purely theory — or hard-line Wahhabi theology — for Al-Fawzan, ISIS has now put into practice. The result may be the beginnings of an internal struggle for the soul of Islam of a kind of Christianity experienced during the Reformation and Enlightenment, and Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple almost 2,000 years ago. Islam has to accept as irreversible the moral foundations of the modern world, just as have Christianity and Judaism. 

Is there anything — in either theory or practice — among Christians or Jews in this day and age to compare to ISIS’ revival of slavery? There is this much: The tiny following of Rousas John Rushdoony’s “Bible commonwealth” perhaps still dreams of a day when the breakup of the U.S. may allow them to revive their version of “Old Testament slavery” in some Rocky Mountain redoubt of “Christian Reconstructionism.” 

Rushdoony died in 2001, dreaming of a reactionary apocalypse. Short of that happening, ISIS — and its overt or covert fans — will continue to monopolize the field among religious true believers trying to reverse history and human progress by seriously reviving slavery. 

Let’s not just hope — but act — to support those who struggle to ensure that Islam has a better future alongside the other great religions than a restored age of bigotry and bondage, and that ISIS is headed for the dustbin of history.


A consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, historian Harold Brackman is co-author with Ephraim Isaac of “From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans” (Africa World Press, forthcoming)

Why Israel loses no sleep over Islamic State


At first sight, it seems that Israel is just as preoccupied with the rise of Islamic State as anyone else. Israeli media report diligently on the extremist group's assault on the Kurdish town of Kobani and run at least a story every few days on its atrocities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu references Islamic State frequently, as do other Israeli ministers. And the stories of two Palestinian citizens of Israel who died fighting for the group have been recently featured in the press.

Still, Israel remains the least concerned and least directly threatened country in a region increasingly rocked by Islamic State's advance. It certainly does not see the group as an external threat. Shocking though the events in Syria and Iraq are, Israel is far beyond the range of even the most sophisticated of Islamic State's weapons. The group's immediate territorial interests do not extend to anywhere near Israeli borders, and its support in areas adjacent to Israel is still negligible. What's more, unlike many militant groups and states in the region, Islamic State has declared itself emphatically disinterested in intervening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, preferring instead to draw its support from Sunni revanchism and introducing a semblance of order into war-torn regions of Iraq.

Islamic State also does not yet pose an internal threat to Israel. Unlike most countries bordering Syria, Israel has not been politically or demographically unsettled by the civil war there. The diversified systems of control employed by Israel – some liberal democracy and some military rule – have cemented differences among the country's constituencies disgruntled with the Israeli government. The divisions have precluded the emergence of a broad uprising similar to those that constituted the Arab Spring. The relatively short, highly militarized border between Israel and Syria has prevented the influx of refugees into Israel, as well as any significant spread of the fighting.

In the absence of incentives to change policy, Israel remains determined to display an official disinterest in Iraq and a staunch neutrality toward Syria. Although the government has often expressed sympathy for victims of the Syrian civil war and offered some of them medical treatment, and has on one or two occasions hit targets in Syria, Israel has been careful to signal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that it considers him a relatively reliable neighbor and would not work actively to replace him.

It's also unlikely that Israeli leaders will come under any internal pressure to change this position. While the images of the war in Syria have prompted some Palestinians to travel abroad and take up arms against the Syrian regime, sometimes fighting alongside jihadist organizations, the numbers have been small – and their wrath, for now, directed at the Syrian regime, not at Israel. Images of Islamic State's atrocities, combined with the group's religious fanaticism, contempt for nation-states and express disinterest in the Palestinian cause have left Palestinians – largely secular, nationalist and deeply committed to building their own nation-state – more alienated than allured.

Even attempts by Israeli centrists and the U.S. to tie progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to the fight against Islamic State have left Israel unmoved. Israel, the argument went, should make concessions in its talks with Palestinians to mollify Arab populations as their governments yet again throw in their lot with the Americans – and by extension, with the Israelis. This tactic rests on the idea that the only real threat that Islamic State poses to Israel, however remotely, is if it toppled any of the “moderate” Arab states, especially Jordan, by invading them or capitalizing on their local discontents, or a combination of the two.

But the Israeli government, which has no interest, political or ideological, in facilitating a two-state solution, has so far responded with a shrug. The view in Israel is that the moderate Arab regimes are sufficiently threatened by the spread of Islamic State to prioritize drawing the Americans in, warts and all. If anything triggers revolutions in these countries, it will not be the plight of the Palestinians.

The lack of direct threats notwithstanding, Israel has been able to extract some short-term gains from unfolding catastrophe. With the West again mobilizing against a radical Islamist group, Netanyahu find himself on the familiar turf of the “war on terror.” He is capitalizing on this by trying to equate Palestinian nationalism – especially the religious wing of it – with Islamic State at every conceivable opportunity (even if with little perceptible effect). Second, Israel is again making itself useful to the West as a corner of stability and pro-Western sentiment in an otherwise turbulent Middle East – and is using this to push the Palestinian issue further down the agenda.

These considerations apart, Israel sees Islamic State as something that's happening to other people – and the country will do its best to keep it so.

Turkey to let Iraqi Kurds reinforce Kobani as U.S. drops arms to defenders


Turkey said on Monday it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to reinforce fellow Kurds in the Syrian town of Kobani on Turkey's border, and the United States air-dropped arms to help the Kurds there resist an Islamic State assault.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, themselves fighting Islamic State in Iraq. He stopped short of saying whether Ankara backed the U.S. air-drop of weapons.

Turkey's refusal to intervene in the fight with Islamic State has frustrated the United States and sparked lethal riots in southeastern Turkey by Kurds furious at Ankara's failure to help Kobani or at least open a land corridor for volunteer fighters and reinforcements to go there.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington had asked Ankara to help “get the peshmerga or other groups” into Kobani so they could help defend the town, adding he hoped the Kurds would “take this fight on”. The European Union also urged Turkey on Monday to open its border to allow supplies to get through to residents of Kobani.

If the reinforcements come through, it may mark a turning point in the battle for Kobani, a town where Syrian Kurds have struggled for weeks against better-armed Islamic State fighters trying to reshape the Middle East.

Speaking in Indonesia, Kerry acknowledged Turkish concerns about support for the Kurds, and said the air drop of supplies provided by the Kurdish authorities in Iraq did not amount to a change of U.S. policy.

The battle against Islamic State, a group also known by the acronym ISIL that has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq, was an overriding consideration, Kerry indicated.

“We understand fully the fundamentals of (Ankara's) opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly, obviously, the challenges they face with respect to the PKK,” he told reporters.

But he added: “We cannot take our eye off the prize here. It would be irresponsible of us, as well as morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL.”

Ankara views the Syrian Kurds with deep suspicion because of their ties to the PKK, a group that waged a decades-long militant campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey and which Washington regards as a terrorist organization.

'A CRISIS MOMENT'

Kerry said both he and President Barack Obama had spoken to Turkish authorities before the air drops “to make it very, very clear this is not a shift of policy by the United States”.

“It is a crisis moment, an emergency where we clearly do not want to see Kobani become a horrible example of the unwillingness of people to be able to help those who are fighting ISIL,” he added.

Iraqi Kurdish official Hemin Hawrami wrote on his Twitter feed that 21 tonnes of weapons and ammunition supplied by the Iraqi Kurds had been dropped in the small hours of Monday.

U.S. Central Command said U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft had dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to allow the Kurdish fighters to keep up their resistance in the town, which is called Kobani in Kurdish and Ayn al-Arab in Arabic.

The U.S. military said on Monday that among the six U.S. military air strikes conducted against Islamic State militants near Kobani on Sunday and Monday was one that destroyed a stray bundle of supplies from a U.S. air drop in order to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

The main Syrian Kurdish armed group, the YPG, said it had received “a large quantity” of ammunition and weapons.

A 'POSITIVE IMPACT'

Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesman, said the arms dropped would have a “positive impact” on the battle and the morale of fighters. But he added: “Certainly it will not be enough to decide the battle.”

“We do not think the battle of Kobani will end that quickly. The forces of (Islamic State) are still heavily present and determined to occupy Kobani. In addition, there is resolve (from the YPG) to repel this attack,” he told Reuters in an interview conducted via Skype.

Welat Omer, one of five doctors in Kobani, told Reuters by telephone that he and his colleagues had received medicine and were distributing it to patients. That included drugs for children and the elderly and materials for operations.

“This medicine will only be enough for five days. We want them to send more, because we have many patients,” he said.

The United States began carrying out air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq in August and about a month later started bombing the militant group in neighboring Syria.

But the resupply of Kurdish fighters points to the growing coordination between the U.S. military and a Syrian Kurdish group that had been kept at arm's length by the West due partly to the concerns of NATO member Turkey.

The Turkish presidency said Obama and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had discussed Syria, including measures that could be taken to stop Islamic State's advances, and Kobani.

The spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) peshmerga fighters said the Iraqi Kurdish region was ready to send backup forces to Kobani and planning was under way.

“There are efforts and we are prepared to send some backup forces either by land or air,” said KRG peshmerga ministry spokesman Jabar Yawar. He said the forces were not en route.

But one Kurdish official in Iraq, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed doubt any fighters would be deployed to Kobani as they battle Islamic State at home.

Washington has pressed Ankara to let it use bases in Turkey to stage air strikes, and a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said the country's airspace had not been used during the drops on Kobani.

Kobani is one of three areas near the border with Turkey where Syrian Kurds have established their own government since the country descended into civil war in 2011.

Reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Arshad Mohammed and Warren Strobel in Washington, Tom Perry in Beirut, Seda Sezer in Turkey, David Brunnstrom in Indonesia and Dasha Afanasieva in Suruc, Turkey, Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir, Isabel Coles and Ned Parker in Iraq, and Adrian Croft in Luxembourg; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Anna Willard, Peter Cooney and Howard Goller

Joining Islamic State is about ‘sex and aggression,’ not religion


It is easy to look to religion for an explanation of why young men – and some women – become radicalized. But it is psychology, not theology, that offers the best tools for understanding radicalization-and how best to undo it.

The appeal of Islamic State rests on individuals' quest for what psychologists call “personal significance,” which the militant group's extremist propaganda cleverly exploits. The quest for significance is the desire to matter, to be respected, to be somebody in one's own eyes and in the eyes of others.

A person's sense of significance may be lost for many reasons, such as a personal failure or a stigma that comes from transgressing the norms of one's society. We are reminded of this when we examine the backgrounds of female suicide-bombers in Israel. The first female suicide-bomber in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was divorced by her husband after she was found to be infertile. Another would-be bomber had been disfigured by burns, believed to have been caused by her family, after she had an affair. These women suffered from personal stigma and went on to volunteer for suicidal missions against the Israelis.

Loss of significance can also be caused by hopeless economic conditions. It can grow out of a sense of disparagement and discrimination, a not uncommon experience of many immigrants. And it can come from a sense that one's brethren in faith are being humiliated and disgraced around the world.

Ideological extremists like those leading Islamic State deliberately employ the ideas of collective hardship and victimization of Muslims worldwide to galvanize and recruit potential jihadists. In a 1997 interview with CNN, Osama bin Laden fulminated: “The mention of the U.S. reminds us before everything else of those innocent children who were dismembered, their heads and arms cut off ” Another senior Al Qaeda leader, Yehia Al Libi, stoked anger and indignation by saying: “Jihad in Algeria is your hope from the hell of the unjust ruling regimes whose prisons are congested with your youths and children, if not with your women.”

The appeal to one's trampled identity, combined with the depiction of one's group's degradation, can have a profound visceral effect, incensing and redirecting individuals who are otherwise well-adjusted and on their way to a seemingly bright personal future.

According to reports, Nasser Muthana, a 20-year-old volunteer in Islamic State, had acceptance offers from four medical schools. Muhammad Hamidur Rahman, who died in August while fighting in Syria, was employed at a Primark store in the coastal city of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, and had a father who owned a restaurant. His personal future thus appeared assured and yet it could not undo the pain and humiliation he saw his Muslim community facing.

Extremist ideology is effective in such circumstances because it offers a quick-fix remedy to a perceived loss of significance and an assured way to regain it. It accomplishes this by exploiting humans' primordial instincts for aggression and sex.

Consider the latter. Sex is the most primitive assertion of one's significance; it's a means to perpetuate one's name – and genes into- the future. Islamic State strategically uses it as a reward for aggression.

The militant group has set up marriage centers where women register to be wed to its fighters. Captured Iraqi women and girls are forced into sex slavery, living in brothels run by female jihadists. Rape of non-believers is considered legitimate, while fatwas proclaiming a “sexual jihad” encourage brutality against females. Lastly, martyrdom is associated with sexual bliss in paradise.

Understanding the magnetic appeal of Islamic State's extremism is a prerequisite to developing a suitable, psychologically sensitive counter narrative. For example, an appeal to moderation and a life of patient struggle seems ill-suited to win over the hearts and minds of jihadists. Instead, the glamour of jihad must be countered by an alternative glamour; the charisma of martyrdom pitted against a different kind of charisma, the appeal to primitive drives redirected, jiu jitsu style, against the brutality of the enemy, turning the psychological tables on Islamic State as it were.

For example, young men vulnerable to the appeal of extremist ideology might be persuaded to fight the desecration of their religion and promised a place in history by defeating the satanic evil that soils their faith. Social media may need to be turned abuzz with the glory of standing up to evil, encouraging the bravery needed to undertake personal risks for “breaking bad.” This message should not be presented in faint pastels but in bright, bold colors.

Measured arguments against Islamic State wouldn't do the job. Countering it requires fiery, impassioned appeals.

U.S., Russia agree to share intelligence on common enemy: Islamic State militants


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed on Tuesday to increase intelligence sharing between Moscow and Washington on Islamic State militants, focusing on a common enemy even as deep divisions remained over the crisis in Ukraine.

Speaking in Paris after talks with his Russian counterpart, Kerry said the two world powers, whose relations have hit a post-Cold War low over Russia’s role in Ukraine, had a “major responsibility” to find ways to work together on global issues, despite their stark differences in a number of areas.

While leaving little doubt that mutual distrust remains, Kerry stressed that the search for common ground between the two countries against Islamic State, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria in a brutal campaign.

“We both recognize the need to destroy and ultimately defeat ISIL, to degrade their efforts and ultimately to defeat them,” Kerry told a news conference, using an alternative name for the group.

“No decent country by any definition could support the horrors that are perpetrated by ISIL, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to stand up and be part of the effort to stamp out this disease.”

Kerry said the United States and Russia had agreed to “intensify intelligence cooperation with respect to ISIL and other counterterrorism challenges of the region.” He said Moscow would also explore whether it could do more to help arm and train Iraq's embattled military.

However, Kerry stopped short of saying that Moscow would join the U.S.-led international coalition against Islamic State. In recent years, as U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated, intelligence cooperation has suffered.

Moscow has made clear it suspects Washington's ulterior motive is the removal of its ally, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, and has insisted that U.S. air strikes there need Syrian government and United Nations approval. Washington rejects this.

DIFFERENCES ON UKRAINE

Lavrov has recently called for a new “reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow, referring to an initiative President Barack Obama pursued early in his first term but which has since faded.

Signaling just how difficult it could be to make such a positive shift, Kerry called on Russia to do more to help fully implement a ceasefire in Ukraine between the Western-backed government and pro-Russian separatists rebels fighting in the eastern part of the country.

The truce has come under strain at times since it took effect last month

He said “foreign forces and weapons” must be withdrawn and Russia must complete the pullback of its troops, including heavy equipment, from its border with Ukraine.

Kerry also warned that the United States and the international community would not recognize any referendum held in separatist-held areas of Ukraine, and acknowledged this was a “point of disagreement” in his more than three hours of talks with Lavrov.

Kiev and its Western backers accuse Moscow of backing a pro-Russian separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine by providing troops and arms. Russia denies the charges but says it has a right to defend the interests of the region's Russian-speaking majority.

The West has introduced a wide range of sanctions against Russian banks, energy companies and individuals for Moscow's role in the Ukrainian conflict, which has claimed the lives of over 3,000 people.

In the fight against Islamic State, the United States and Russia have common ground in their concern about fighters from their countries joining the group’s insurgency and then returning to carry out attacks at home.

“ There may be as many as 500 or more from Russia,” Kerry said.

These include fighters from Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus, a region where militants wage daily violence to establish an Islamic state.

Additional reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis

Islamic State seizes large areas of Syrian town despite air strikes


Islamic State fighters seized more than a third of the Syrian border town of Kobani, a monitoring group said on Thursday, as U.S.-led air strikes failed to halt their advance and Turkish forces nearby looked on without intervening.

With Washington ruling out a ground operation in Syria, Turkey described as unrealistic any expectation that it would conduct a cross-border operation unilaterally to relieve the mainly Kurdish town.

The U.S. military said Kurdish forces appeared to be holding out in the town that lies within sight of Turkish territory, following fresh airstrikes in the area against a militant training camp and fighters.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State, which is still widely known by its former acronym of ISIS, had pushed forward on Thursday.

“ISIS control more than a third of Kobani – all eastern areas, a small part of the northeast and an area in the southeast,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory which monitors the Syrian civil war.

The commander of Kobani's heavily outgunned Kurdish defenders confirmed that the militants had made major gains in a three-week battle that has also led to the worst streets clashes in years between police and Kurdish protesters across the frontier in southeast Turkey.

Militia chief Esmat al-Sheikh put the area controlled by Islamic State, which has already seized large amounts of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, at about a quarter of the town. “The clashes are ongoing – street battles,” he told Reuters by telephone from the town.

Explosions rocked the town throughout Thursday, with black smoke visible from the Turkish border a few kilometers (miles) away. Islamic State hoisted its black flag in Kobani overnight and a stray projectile landed 3 km (2 miles) inside Turkey.

The United Nations says only a few hundred inhabitants remain in Kobani but the town's defenders say the battle will end in a massacre if Islamic State prevails, giving it a strategic garrison on the Turkish border.

They complain that the United States is giving only token support through the air strikes, while Turkish tanks sent to the frontier are looking on but doing nothing to defend the town.

However, the U.S. Central Command said it conducted five air strikes near Kobani on Wednesday and Thursday, and that the Kurdish fighters in the area appeared to “control most of the city and are holding out against” the militants.

The strikes had damaged an Islamic State training camp and destroyed one of its support buildings as well as two vehicles, CENTCOM said in a statement. They also hit one small unit and one large unit of militant fighters.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Despite Kurdish appeals for help, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu played down the likelihood of its forces going to the aid of Kobani.

“It is not realistic to expect Turkey to conduct a ground operation on its own,” he told a joint news conference with visiting NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. However, he added: “We are holding talks…. Once there is a common decision, Turkey will not hold back from playing its part.”

Ankara resents any suggestion from Washington that it is not pulling its weight, but wants broader joint action that also targets the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “We strongly reject allegations of Turkish responsibility for the ISIS advance,” said a senior Ankara government source.

“Our allies, especially the U.S. administration, dragged their feet for a very long time before deciding to take action against the catastrophic events happening in Syria,” he added.

Turkey has long advocated action against Assad during the civil war, which grew out of a popular uprising in 2011. However, the United States called off air strikes on Damascus government forces at the last minute last year when Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons.

Retired U.S. General John Allen, tasked by President Barack Obama to oversee the creation and work of the anti-Islamic State coalition, was in Ankara on Thursday and Friday for talks with the Turkish leadership.

President Tayyip Erdogan says he wants the U.S.-led alliance to enforce a “no-fly zone” to prevent Assad's air force flying over Syrian territory near the Turkish border and create a safe area for an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return.

But Stoltenberg said that establishing a no-fly zone or a safe zone inside Syria has not been discussed by NATO.

TURKISH CLASHES

At least 21 people died in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey on Wednesday during clashes between security forces and Kurds demanding that the government do more to help Kobani. There were also clashes in Istanbul and Ankara.

The fallout from the war in Syria and Iraq has threatened to unravel Turkey's peace process with its Kurdish community. Ankara has long been suspicious of any Kurdish assertiveness as it tries to end its own 30-year war with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Following Wednesday's violence in Turkey, streets have been calmer since curfews were imposed in five southeastern provinces, restrictions unseen since the 1990s when PKK forces were fighting the Turkish military in the southeast.

Erdogan said that protesters had exploited the events in Kobani as an excuse to sabotage the peace process. “Carrying out violent acts in Turkey by hiding behind the terror attacks on Kobani shows that the real intention and target is entirely different,” he said in a statement.

Selahattin Demirtas, the head of Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) which called on Turkish Kurds to take to the streets earlier this week, rejected accusations that this call had provoked the violence. Appealing for calm, he also said jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan had called for talks with the government to be stepped up.

Kurdish leaders in Syria have asked Ankara to help establish a corridor which will allow aid and possibly arms and fighters to cross the border and reach Kobani, but Ankara has so far been reluctant to respond positively.

Syrian Kurds annoyed Ankara last year by setting up an interim administration in the northeast after Assad lost control of the region. Turkey wants Kurdish leaders to abandon their self-declared autonomy and has also been unhappy with their reluctance to join the wider opposition to Assad.

On the Turkish side of the frontier near Kobani, 21-year-old student Ferdi from the eastern Turkish province of Tunceli said if Kobani fell, the conflict would spread to Turkey. “In fact it already has spread here,” he said, standing with a group of several dozen people in fields watching the smoke rising from west Kobani.

Turkish police fired tear gas against protesters in the town of Suruç near the border overnight. A petrol bomb set fire to a house and the shutters on most shops in the town were kept shut in a traditional form of protest against state authorities.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul and Orhan Coskun, Tulay Karadeniz and Jonny Hogg in Ankara; Editing by David Stamp

Islamic State fighters advance into Syrian border town of Kobani


Islamic State fighters pushed into two districts of the strategically important Syrian border town of Kobani in fierce fighting late on Wednesday, Kurdish officials among the town's defenders said.

“Tonight (Islamic State) has entered two districts with heavy weapons, including tanks. Civilians may have died because there are very intense clashes,” Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Syrian Kurdish group defending the area, told Reuters from the town.

Another PYD official said that despite continuing U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on Wednesday evening Islamic State fighters had seized some buildings on the eastern edges of the town.

The militants were being held in the suburbs by fierce resistance from Kurdish forces defending the town, which has been under assault for more than three weeks, the official added.

Reporting by Daren Butler and Jonny Hogg; Editing by Peter Graff

American fighter joins Kurds in battle against Islamic State


After months in which the United States and European countries issued warnings about their citizens traveling to Syria fight on behalf of Islamic State, there are new reports of Westerners going to fight on the other side, against the militants.

A man who said he is a U.S. citizen and former soldier from Ohio said in a video interview inside Syria that he had come to join Kurdish fighters to battle Islamic State.

Other Americans were also fighting there on behalf of a Syrian Kurdish group, said the man, who identified himself as Brian Wilson and spoke to a freelance photographer working for Reuters in Syria.

“Most people in America are against Daesh of course, Islamic State,” Wilson said, sitting with four Kurdish fighters and dressed in green camouflage clothes in the northeast Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

“There are a few Americans who wanted to come here and help the YPG in any way we can,” he said, referring to the main Kurdish group fighting against Islamist militants in Syria.

Wilson is the second American known to have joined the YPG forces. Jordan Matson, a 28-year-old from Wisconsin, is also fighting with the YPG, a spokesman for the armed group said last week. He has given an interview to a Kurdish TV station.

Islamic State tightened its siege of the YPG-held Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani on Tuesday despite U.S.-led air strikes meant to weaken the group. The fighting has sent more than 180,000 refugees into Turkey since last month.

The United States has been striking Islamic State targets in Iraq since August and extended the campaign to Syria in September.

Washington is supplying weapons to Kurdish fighters in Iraq to help them battle Islamic State, but does not have an official policy of helping Kurdish groups in Syria.

Wilson, who looked middle aged and had his head shaved, said he met YPG fighters through “Kurdish contacts”. He said he had not yet engaged in combat.

“Everything has been fine. They're very nice, very accommodating, hospitable. Very good people,” he said of his hosts.

Western countries say scores of their citizens have traveled to Syria to fight on behalf of Islamic State, a phenomenon hammered home in videos showing the beheadings of hostages apparently by a fighter with a British accent.

Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Peter Graff

Focusing on ISIS in U.N. speech, Obama virtually ignores Iran


President Barack Obama devoted the bulk of his U.N. speech to the fight against violent Islamic extremism and hardly mentioned Iran’s nuclear program.

In his U.N. General Assembly speech last year, Obama spent a lot of time talking about Tehran’s nuclear pursuit, describing it as one of two major focus areas for American diplomatic efforts (the other was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). In this year’s General Assembly speech, Obama devoted just four lines to Iran.

“America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them,” Obama said. “This can only happen if Iran takes this historic opportunity. My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: Do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.”

The thin coverage of Iran drew immediate notice from Jewish groups.

“Obama devoted only 78 words at #UNGA to greatest threat to world peace, the #Iran nuclear threat; 1,540 words to #ISIS,” the American Jewish Committee’s Global Jewish Advocacy project noted in a tweet.

Near the speech’s conclusion, Obama also spoke a bit about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Leadership will be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “As bleak as the landscape appears, America will not give up on the pursuit of peace.”

The turmoil in Iraq, Syria and Libya should disabuse anyone of the mistaken notion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is somehow the root of all Middle East conflict, Obama said. Noting that the turmoil has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace, Obama diverted from his prepared remarks and added, “That’s something Israelis should reflect on.”

“The status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable,” Obama said. “We cannot afford to turn away from this effort, not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis or when the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”

He said, “Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world will be more just and safe with two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Most of the president’s speech focused on the need for the international community to counter what he described as the “cancer of violent extremism.” At the top of the list was ISIS, the Islamic group in Iraq and Syria also known by the acronym ISIL.

“Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the dangers posed by religiously motivated fanatics and the trends that fuel their recruitment,” Obama said, outlining four major focus areas.

“The terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded and ultimately destroyed,” he said. “There can be no reasoning, no negotiating with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”

The second, Obama said, is for “the world, especially Muslim communities, to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL.” That means, he said, cutting off the funding of those who fuel hateful groups and ideologies; contesting the space terrorists occupy, including the internet and social media; expunging intolerance from schools; and bringing people of different faiths together.

“There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim,” Obama said.

The third focus area Obama outlined was addressing sectarian strife and resolving differences at the negotiating table rather than through violent proxies. In Syria, he said, that means finding a solution that works for all Syrian groups.

“Together with our partners, America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime,” Obama said as Syria’s U.N. delegation watched from the audience. “But the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political: an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed.”

The fourth area of focus, he said, must be to encourage civil society and entrepreneurship in the Arab and Muslim world, particularly among young people.

The first nation Obama focused on was Russia, which he lumped in with ISIS and Ebola as one of the reasons for “a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers.”

“Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition,” he said. “We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth.”

The president also talked briefly about the need for a more robust and coordinated response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

ISIS urges attacks on U.S., French citizens, taunts Obama


ISIS urged its followers on Monday to attack citizens of the United States, France and other countries which have joined a coalition to destroy the ultra-radical group.

ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani also taunted U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western “crusaders” in a statement carried by the SITE monitoring website, saying their forces faced inevitable defeat at the insurgents' hands.

The United States is building an international coalition to combat the extremist Sunni Muslim force, which has seized large expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate erasing borders in the heart of the Middle East.

Adnani said the intervention by the U.S.-led coalition would be the “final campaign of the crusaders,” according to SITE's English-language transcript of an audio recording in Arabic.

“It will be broken and defeated, just as all your previous campaigns were broken and defeated,” Adnani said, according to the recording, which urged followers to attack U.S., French, Canadian, Australian and other nationals.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the group's call showed once again, “if it needed to be shown, the barbarity of these terrorists, and shows why we must fight them relentlessly…” In a statement, he added, using an Arabic acronym for the militants: “We must also eliminate the risk that Daesh represents to our security.”

U.S. and French warplanes have struck ISIS targets in Iraq, and on Sunday the United States said other countries had indicated a willingness to join it if it goes ahead with air strikes against the group in Syria too.

Washington has also committed $500 million to arm and train Syrian rebels and to send 1,600 U.S. military advisers to Iraq to help fight ISIS, while stressing the U.S. personnel would not engage in combat.

Adnani mocked Western leaders over their deepening military engagement in the region and said Obama was repeating the mistakes of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

“If you fight it (ISIS), it becomes stronger and tougher. If you leave it alone, it grows and expands. If Obama has promised you with defeating the ISIS, then Bush has also lied before him,” Adnani said, according to the transcript.

“DRAGGED TO DESTRUCTION”

Addressing Obama directly, Adnani added: “O mule of the Jews, you claimed today that America would not be drawn into a war on the ground. No, it will be drawn and dragged … to its death, grave and destruction.”

Obama, who has spent much of his tenure since 2009 extracting the United States from Iraq after its costly 2003 invasion and occupation, is sensitive to charges that he is being drawn into another long campaign that risks the lives of U.S. soldiers.

While Obama has ruled out a combat mission, military officials say the reality of a protracted campaign in Iraq and possibly Syria may ultimately require greater use of U.S. troops, including tactical air strike spotters or front-line advisers embedded with Iraqi forces.

In his statement, Adnani criticised Kurdish fighters who are battling the ISIS militants in both Syria and Iraq.

“We do not fight Kurds because they are Kurds. Rather we fight the disbelievers amongst them, the allies of the crusaders and Jews in their war against the Muslims,” Adnani said.

He added that there were many Muslim Kurds within the ranks of the ISIS army.

On Monday, Syrian Kurdish fighters halted an advance by ISIS to the east of a predominantly Kurdish town near the border with Turkey, a spokesman for the main Kurdish group said.

Adnani also condemned Saudi Arabia, whose senior Muslim clergy have denounced ISIS and whose ruling royal family has joined other Arab states in a pledge to tackle militant ideology as part of a strategy to counter the group.

Adnani condemned Western inaction over Syria's conflict, in which President Bashar Assad's forces have been embroiled in civil war with mainly Sunni Muslim fighters since 2011. He said the West had “looked the other way” when barrel bombs were dropped and chemical weapons were used against Muslim civilians.

“So know that – by Allah – we fear not the swarms of planes, nor ballistic missiles, nor drones, nor satellites, nor battleships, nor weapons of mass destruction.”

Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty in Cairo and Mark John in Paris; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Cartoon: Everything in moderation


Israel believes Syria kept ‘significant’ chemical munitions


Israel believes Syria has retained caches of combat-ready chemical weapons after giving up raw materials used to produce such munitions under pressure from foreign powers, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.

Summarizing Israeli intelligence estimates that were previously not disclosed to avoid undermining the Syrians' surrender of their declared chemical arsenal, the official said they had kept some missile warheads, air-dropped bombs and rocket-propelled grenades primed with toxins like sarin.

“There is, to my mind, still in the hands of Syria a significant residual capability … that could be used in certain circumstances and could be potentially very serious,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

While saying Israel had a “high degree of confidence” in its information, he declined to give figures for chemical weapons allegedly kept by Syria, citing secrecy concerns as well as the possibility some had been destroyed or used by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

“What we are saying is that there are a number of questions here that still have to be clarified, still have to be looked at very closely” by international inspectors, the official said.

Israel is an old foe of its northern Arab neighbor and in April 2013 its intelligence service was the first to accuse Assad's regime of using chemical weapons against areas held by Syrian rebels in the on-going civil war.

Western powers soon echoed the charge and Washington threatened Damascus with air strikes.

Assad agreed to give up the chemical arsenal, which Damascus had previously not acknowledged having. However, he denied his forces had used them and accused rebels of such attacks.

International diplomats told Reuters this week that Syria had revealed a previously undeclared research and development facility and a laboratory to produce the ricin poison.

Those disclosures appeared to support Western assertions in recent months that the Assad regime had not been fully transparent in detailing its chemical weapons program.

GAME-CHANGER

The Israeli official said the 1,300 tonnes of mustard gas and precursors for sarin and VX surrendered by Syria largely matched Israeli assessments of its total stockpile of such materials. The shelf-life of any deployable munitions held back was limited given the chemicals' deterioration, he added.

Those assessments appear to contribute to overall Israeli relief at the Syrian chemical disarmament, even if Assad has reneged in part. The Israeli official voiced confidence that “our deterrence” – usually a coded reference to Israel's superior military and assumed nuclear arsenal – would continue to keep Damascus in check.

Using chemical weapons against Israeli targets, even on a small scale, “wouldn't be a game-changer, it would be a game-ender” for Syria, the official said.

He was less sanguine, however, when asked about the possibility that Islamic State insurgents in Syria and Iraq might get hold of Assad's remaining chemical weapons.

Israel had no indication that this had happened, he said, indicating Israeli intelligence knew where Assad's remaining chemical arms were kept and that these sites were still safe – something he declined to confirm or deny directly.

“I haven't seen any information that they (Islamic State) have received them. I would not be surprised if they are interested, though, in receiving them,” he said.

While using higher-yield munitions like air-dropped bombs might be beyond the insurgents, they could easily launch attacks with “a bunch of grenades with sarin” if this became available, the official added. He noted Israel's concern at the entrenchment of Islamist rebels along its ceasefire line with Syria in the occupied Golan Heights.

According to regional sources, Israel has on several occasions bombed sites in Syria to thwart the suspected handover of conventional weapons from Assad to allied Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas. Israeli officials have not formally confirmed carrying out the strikes but say they are poised to take similar action to prevent insurgents getting chemical weapons.

“When we have seen things that we are concerned about, whatever has been done has been done, and that's it. We have been very careful not to be sucked in. So that policy will continue,” the Israeli official said.

Additional reporting by Anthony Deutch in The Hague; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer

Islamic State shows captive British journalist in new video


Islamic State militants fighting in Iraq and Syria released a video on Thursday that they said shows British journalist John Cantlie in captivity saying he will soon reveal “facts” about the group to counter its portrayal in Western media.

The Islamic State, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, has already beheaded two American journalists and one British aid worker in recent weeks in what it said was reprisal for U.S. air strikes against it in Iraq.

But in the new roughly three-minute video posted on social media sites, the man identified as Cantlie appears in good health and promises to “convey some facts” in a series of “programs,” suggesting there would be further installments.

“Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'He's only doing this because he's a prisoner. He's got a gun at his head and he's being forced to do this.' Right?” the man in the video, wearing an orange shirt and closely-cropped hair, says.

“Well, it's true. I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as I've been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State, I have nothing to lose.”

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he had heard reports of a video on social media and said authorities would look closely at any material released online.

“These videos can be very distressing for the families of the individuals involved,” he told reporters during a visit to Copenhagen.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been trying to build an international coalition to destroy Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim extremist group which has exploited the chaos of Syria and Iraq to seize swathes of territory in both countries.

The United States has already carried out scores of air strikes against the group in Iraq and Obama said in a policy speech he would not hesitate to strike it in Syria as well.

In the new video, titled “Lend Me Your Ears, Messages from the British Detainee John Cantlie,” the man identified as Cantlie says he was captured by the Islamic State after arriving in Syria in November 2012.

He says he worked for newspapers and magazines in Britain including the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph.

“After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?” the man says in the video.

“I'm going to show you the truth behind the systems and motivation of the Islamic State, and how the Western media, the very organization I used to work for, can twist and manipulate that truth for the public back home.”

Cantlie said other Western governments have negotiated for the release of their hostages but that the British and U.S. governments chose to do things differently.

“I'll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State, and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other European country,” the man in the video says.

“They negotiated with the Islamic State and got their people home while the British and Americans were left behind,” he says.

PREVIOUS CAPTURE

The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the withdrawal of the final U.S. troops from the country in 2011.

The raids followed major gains by Islamic State fighters who have seized a third of both Iraq and Syria, declared war on the West and seek to establish a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Wednesday Obama's plan to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels in a message of support for his military campaign to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State

Britain has delivered humanitarian aid, carried out surveillance, given weapons to Kurds and promised training in Iraq. On military action, Britain supports U.S. air strikes and British Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly said Britain has ruled nothing out except combat troops on the ground.

Cantlie had previously been taken hostage in July, 2012 along with Dutch photographer Jeroen Oerlemans while working near the Syrian border with Turkey. They were released the same month after a group of “Free Syrian Army” fighters freed them.

Cantlie told media after his release they were threatened with death unless they converted to Islam, and both were shot and slightly wounded when they attempted to escape. He was shot in the arm, Oerlemans in the leg.

At the time, Cantlie wrote in the Sunday Times that the group of about 30 militants had been made up of different nationalities, many British and none Syrian, and that the British jihadists had treated him the most cruelly in captivity.

On Saturday, Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines. A black-clad man in the video said another hostage, identified as Alan Henning, would be killed if Cameron continued to support the fight against Islamic State.

Thursday's video made no mention of Henning.

“Maybe I will live and maybe I will die,” the man identified as Cantlie says. “But I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify. Facts that, if you contemplate, might help preserving lives.”

Additional reporting by Michael Holden,; editing by Samia Nakhoul and Dominic Evans

New rule: Fanatics can’t use Twitter


Each week, we are forced to bear witness to hideous acts of terrorism committed on a piece of barren sand thousands of miles away, then transmitted to our eyeballs via miracles of modern technology, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, the Internet.

Evidently, fanatics don’t do irony.

Beheadings right out of the Middle Ages come to us via futuristic satellites. We hear jihadi claptrap calling for the destruction of the West via devices the West invented.  

It turns out, not only are these people murderers, they’re hypocrites.

I’m aware consistency is not a major concern of terror groups. These self-styled defenders of Islam have killed far more Muslims, from Pakistan to Syria to the Muslim victims of 9/11, than they have people of other faiths.

But there’s something about the terrorists’ rejection of all things Western—except our technology — that confounds me.

Haifa University Professor Gabriel Weimann has been studying the use of digital media by terrorists for 16 years. In an interview in June with NationalJournal.com, he pointed out the obvious contradiction that the Internet and social media were created by the West.

“And who is using it against the Western model of society?” he said. “Those groups that come from societies and religious beliefs that criticize the West … they never developed anything about the Internet or its many platforms. Never — not even an inch of progress. They only learned — and very fast — how to adopt our own devices against us.”

I understand we shouldn’t expect people who crucify children, kidnap 300 schoolgirls and behead humanitarian relief workers to fight fair. But using tools developed by a free society that draws on the strength of all its citizens, of all backgrounds and beliefs, in order to destroy that society seems, at the least, bizarre.

“[Nigeria] is proof that even those groups like Boko Haram — that are very traditional, extremely traditional groups [whose cause] is going back to the old rules of Islam — are using the most advanced, non-religious tools of the Internet,” Weimann said.

A United Nations report this year on terrorism and the use of the Internet found that terror groups relied on cutting-edge social media both to spread their message of terror to the rest of us, as well as to lure in new recruits.  

The Internet is a virtual palace for the dispossessed, where the anti-social can find any number of siren calls to extremism. 

There are some 9,000 terror group sites on the Web — in addition to countless social media entries. The downside for international law enforcement agencies is, that is a vast amount of data to sift through. The upside is that their dependence on the Web leaves a trail to follow.

The challenge is that, in general, terror groups have been more adept and sophisticated than their trackers at using social media.

This is all especially bizarre when it comes to Jews and Israel. Hamas uses social media to proclaim a great victory in their quest, as their charter says, to kill Jews wherever they find them. ISIS and Al Qaeda also make a point of singling out Jews for death. The fact that they let us know this on Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, instant messaging — inventions all developed in whole or part by Jews in America and Israel — doesn’t seem to give them pause.

It should be a rule that you can’t kill people whose inventions you depend on or enjoy. That goes for vaccines, movies, surgical procedures, hardware, software, whatever —  if you like it, want it or need it, and it came from a hated Westerner or, even worse, a Jew, you are forbidden from using it. Ever. Those things you and your children need were created by men and women nurtured by the very societies you despise and seek to destroy. No memory sticks — developed at Tel Aviv University — to keep a record of your decapitations. No instant messaging — also developed in Israel — to instruct your next suicide bombers.

One source of hope is that the same weapon that terrorists have turned against us can be turned against them. In Nigeria, the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls galvanized public reaction to the Boko Haram kidnappings. This week, Muslims around the world showed their disgust at ISIS by imitating the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with the Burning the ISIS Flag Challenge. That can put a crimp in recruitment.

And it’s important to understand that the Internet itself is ultimately a progressive force in the Muslim world. A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that Internet use among Muslims coincides with more open views of Western culture.  

“Holding all else equal,” the study reported, “Muslims who use the Internet are much more inclined to like Western movies, music and television, and they are somewhat less inclined to say that Western entertainment is harming morality in their country.”

The answer may be more connectivity, not less. 

After all, the Internet cuts both ways. It was through it that we all learned that Osama bin Laden’s room was full of porn DVDs — which may be all the explanation we need for why terrorists just can’t resist our technology.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

I would have booed Ted Cruz, too


U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) must be the gutsiest supporter of Israel in American history, if you believe media accounts of his actions at a recent Christian assembly. After some in the audience booed his pro-Israel remarks, he had the gumption to walk out, saying, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

But the episode was more complex. The ambitious Cruz is a highly cynical, calculated politician, and nothing could have delighted him more than the chance to storm off a stage in mock disgust at people who wouldn’t cheer his advocacy for a position that’s popular within his party.

I’m a supporter of Israel – a big one. I’m an Israeli citizen whose politics are center-right, and who relishes the staunch support of Israel shown by American politicians, and especially by leaders of my own Republican party.

But this wasn’t a pro-Israel event. Senator Cruz received his jeers at a gathering of mostly Middle Eastern Christians trying to build unity on a crucial issue – the persecution and murder of their co-religionists in the Levant. Nonetheless, the Senator’s remarks repeatedly returned to his devotion to Israel and the Jews.

An excerpt:

“Christians are being systematically exterminated. In 1948, Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state. Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America. And those who hate Jews hate Christians.

“And if this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps, that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals…. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians and behead children are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason.”

Of course it’s always good when people praise our People, our Nation, and our Land. I do it all the time. But this specific event existed to garner attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – and hijacking that cause to promote Israel is just as bad as exploiting the world’s disgust for ISIS to attack Hamas, as I’ve written elsewhere.

The persecution and murder of Christians is an affront to good people everywhere. Communities of Christians numbering in the hundreds of thousands in places like Lebanon and Iraq have been decimated. Huge numbers of Christians have become refugees. ISIS is a constant, terrifying threat.

Folks, if there is ever a “V’im ani l’atzmi mah ani?” moment (“If I am only for myself, what am I?”) this is it. As a people that suffered terribly during the last century from persecutions in tsarist Russia, Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Arab lands (among other places), we cannot focus only on our own problems – important as they are.

So for Cruz to ignore the agenda of the gathering and harp on a pet issue of his – knowing that it would resound beyond his immediate audience – was shameful. Politicians simply don’t lecture anti-Obamacare rallies about capital punishment. If I were there, I probably would have booed, too.

Jews, of all people, should understand that morality requires juggling devotion to many challenges at once – some close to home, some more distant. Let’s stop our knee-jerk cheering for anyone who says something nice about Israel and look at the broader context. Because there are non-Jews suffering who need our help, too.

And if not now, when?

A version of this essay appeared in the Daily Caller. David Benkof is a freelance writer and the constructor of the Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle, which appears in this publication. Follow David on Facebook or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

U.S. sees Middle East help fighting ISIS, Britain cautious after beheading


Washington said countries in the Middle East had offered to join air strikes against Islamic State militants and Australia said it would send troops, but Britain held back even after the group beheaded a British hostage and threatened to kill another.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been touring the Middle East to try to secure backing for U.S. efforts to build a coalition to fight the Islamic State militants who have grabbed territory in Syria and Iraq.

The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the 2011 withdrawal of the last U.S. troops, fearful the militants would break the country up and use it as a base for attacks on the West.

The addition of Arab fighter jets would greatly strengthen the credibility of what is a risky and complicated campaign.

“We have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes if that is what it requires,” Kerry said.

“And we also have a growing number of people who are prepared to do all the other things,” he said in remarks broadcast on Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Offers of Arab air participation have been made both to U.S. Central Command overseeing the American air campaign and to the Iraqi government, a senior State Department official said.

The official said the offers were not limited to air strikes on Iraq. “Some have indicated for quite a while a willingness to do them elsewhere,” the official said. “We have to sort through all of that because you can’t just go and bomb something.”

As of Saturday, U.S. fighter jets had conducted 160 air strikes on Islamic State positions in Iraq. The United States will present a legal case before expanding them into Syria, U.S. officials said, justifying them largely on the basis of defending Iraq from militants who have taken shelter in neighboring Syria during its three-year civil war.

Australia became the first country to detail troop numbers and aircraft to fight the militants in Iraq. It said it would send a 600-strong force and eight fighter jets to the region but did not intend to operate in Syria.

Russia, at odds with the West over Ukraine, has said any air strikes in Syria would be an act of aggression without the consent of President Bashar al-Assad or an international mandate.

Britain has often been the first country to join U.S. military action overseas and is under pressure to get much tougher with IS after video footage of the killing of Briton David Haines by the militants was released on Saturday.

In footage consistent with the filmed executions of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, in the past month, they also threatened to kill another British hostage.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of the government's emergency response committee in London, Prime Minister David Cameron called the killing of Haines, a 44 year-old Scottish aid worker, callous and brutal and hailed him as a “British hero.”

“We will hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes,” he said, calling IS “the embodiment of evil” and saying his government was prepared “to take whatever steps are necessary” against the militants.

SUNNI 'ANVIL'

But he did not announce any air strikes, mindful of war-weary public opinion, parliament's rejection last year of air strikes on Syria, and sensitivities surrounding Scotland's independence referendum on Thursday.

U.S. allies are skeptical of how far Washington will commit to a conflict in which nearly every country in the region has a stake, set against the backdrop of Islam's 1,300-year-old rift between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Many fear there is not enough emphasis on ensuring the Iraqi government is strong and united enough to overcome sectarian divisions and run the country effectively after any intervention.

Britain and the United States have ruled out sending ground troops back into Iraq and Kerry did not say which countries had offered.

“We're not looking to put troops on the ground,” he said. “There are some who have offered to do so, but we are not looking for that at this moment anyway.”

On the CNN program “State of the Union,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was asked if the coalition would need ground troops beyond opposition forces in Syria and Kurdish and government forces in Iraq.

“Ultimately to destroy ISIL we do need to have a force, an anvil against which they will be pushed – ideally Sunni forces,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

'EXTREMELY ENCOURAGED'

On Thursday, Kerry won the backing for a “coordinated military campaign” from 10 Arab countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including rich rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“This is a strategy coming together as the coalition comes together and the countries declare what they are prepared to do,” Kerry said in the interview, taped on Saturday in Egypt.

“I've been extremely encouraged to hear from all of the people that I've been meeting with about their readiness and willingness to participate,” Kerry added.

France has offered to take part in air strikes in Iraq and is expected to give more details this week on what it is willing to do, although its financial resources and forces are already stretched with more than 5,000 soldiers in West Africa.

Michael McCaul, a Republican who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, told the same CBS program that Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein of Jordan told him “he is ready to put his troops into Syria to fight ISIS”.

Washington could also try to persuade Egypt to put troops in Syria, McCaul said.

John Kerry will meet British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during a conference on Iraq in Paris on Monday. The conference brings Iraqi authorities together with about 30 countries and organizations to coordinate their response to Islamic State.

“It will also be the first time to really gauge what Russia thinks and is ready to do,” a French diplomat said.

The diplomat said Syria was a different case.

“The situation is not the same either legally or militarily. We do not want to strengthen Assad, so we have to be sure that strikes there don’t do that,” the diplomat said. “We are ready to help Iraq’s government, which has asked for our help, but not Assad’s dictatorship.”

Additional reporting by Jason Szep and John Irish in Paris, Timothy Gardner in Washington, Morag MacKinnon in Perth, Australia and William Maclean in Dubai; Writing by Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Anna Willard, Peter Cooney and Mohammad Zargham