Islamic State media outlet confirms death of ‘Jihadi John’


A media outlet associated with Islamic State on Tuesday released a eulogy for “Jihadi John,” a member of the militant group who gained notoriety for his filmed execution of hostages, the monitoring organization SITE reported.

The militant was identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen of Arab origin. The U.S. military said in November it was “reasonably certain” it had killed him in a drone strike.

Emwazi was described in Islamic State's Dabiq magazine by his nickname “Abu Muharib al-Muhajir”.

“On Thursday, the 29th of Muharram, 1437 (Nov. 12, 2015), Abū Muhārib finally achieved shahādah (martyrdom) for the cause of Allah, which he had sought for so long, as the car he was in was targeted in a strike by an unmanned drone in the city of Raqqah, destroying the car and killing him instantly,” Dabiq said.

Emwazi became the public face of Islamic State and a symbol of its brutality after appearing in videos showing the murders of U.S. journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and other hostages.

Shown in the videos dressed in black, a balaclava covering all but his eyes and the bridge of his nose, Emwazi became one of the world's most wanted men.

Born in Kuwait in 1988, Emwazi was taken to Britain by his family when he was 6 years old and graduated in computer programming in London. 

The U.S.-British missile strike believed to have killed him was months in the preparation but came together at lightning speed last November as two U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones and one British MQ-9 cruised above the Syrian town of Raqqa, according to U.S. officials.

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.

Islamic State seeks to justify enslaving Yazidi women and girls in Iraq


The Islamic State group said it enslaved families from the minority Yazidi sect after overrunning their villages in northwestern Iraq, in what it praised as the revival of an ancient custom of using women and children as spoils of war.

In an article in its English-language online magazine Dabiq, the group provides what it says is religious justification for the enslavement of defeated “idolators.”

The ancient custom of enslavement had fallen out of use because of deviation from true Islam, but was revived when fighters overran Yazidi villages in Iraq's Sinjar region.

“After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations, after one fifth of the slaves were transferred to the Islamic State's authority to be divided as khums,” it said. Khums is a traditional tax on the spoils of war.

“This large-scale enslavement of mushrik (idolator) families is probably the first since the abandonment of Shariah law,” it said.

Dabiq, distributed in a slickly-produced online format, is described by the group SITE that monitors militant publications as Islamic State's English-language magazine.

The cover shows a picture of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, with an Islamic State black flag superimposed in place of the cross atop its obelisk. Inside it features photos of the group's arsenal of heavy weaponry and what it says is the final letter to his mother from an American journalist the group beheaded.

The article on slavery confirms practices documented by Human Rights Watch, which says Yazidi women and girls were forced to marry Islamic State fighters and shipped out in busloads from Iraq to Syria to be sold off as prizes.

Islamic State practices a harsh form of Sunni Islam and has declared its leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi the ruler of the entire Muslim world. Mainstream Sunni scholars around the world have denounced the group and its interpretation of Islam.

The group has hounded ethnic and religious minorities in northern Iraq since seizing the city of Mosul in June, killing and displacing thousands of Christians, Shi'ite Shabaks and Turkmen who lived for centuries in one of the most diverse parts of the Middle East.

“FIRMLY ESTABLISHED”

U.S. President Barack Obama justified his decision to bomb Islamic State targets in August in part because the group was poised to commit what he called “genocide” against Yazidis, who were trapped at the time on a mountaintop after fleeing an Islamic State assault on their towns and villages.

Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, have faced some of the harshest penalties from Islamic State, which regards them as devil-worshippers.

The Dabiq article said fighters were reviving a practice of the companions of the Prophet Mohammad by enslaving enemies. Enslaving women and forcing them to become wives reduces sin by protecting men from being tempted into adultery, it said.

“One should remember that enslaving the families of the (non-believers) and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Quran and the narrations of the Prophet,” the article said.

Many of the captives had “willingly” accepted Islam, the group said, “and now race to practice it with evident sincerity after their exit from the darkness of idolatry”. Mothers had not been separated from their young children, it said.

U.S.-led air strikes have halted Islamic State advances in the north of Iraq, allowing Kurdish forces to regain ground. Many of the Yazidis trapped on the mountain they consider a holy site, Mount Sinjar, were eventually able to escape, but their nearby villages are still under militant control.

HORRIFIC CRIMES

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said Islamic State was holding hundreds of Yazidis captive in both Iraq and Syria and that the group had systematically separated young women and teenage girls from their families, forcing some into marriage with fighters.

Fifteen-year-old Rewshe, one of several Yazidi girls who escaped Islamic State captivity and spoke to Human Rights Watch, said Islamic State fighters transported her with about 200 Yazidi women and girls on a convoy of four buses to Raqqa, their de facto capital in Syria.

An Islamic State commander sold her and her 14-year-old sister to a fighter, who told her with pride that he had paid $1,000 for her, she said. The fighter sold her sister to another fighter, Rewshe said. She escaped through an unlocked door while the man who bought her slept.

“The statements of current and former female detainees raise serious concerns about rape and sexual slavery by Islamic State fighters, though the extent of these abuses remains unclear,” Human Rights Watch said.

“The Islamic State’s litany of horrific crimes against the Yezidis in Iraq only keeps growing,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch.

Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Peter Graff

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

ISIS beheads U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff, who was Jewish


The Islamic State released a video on Tuesday purporting to show the beheading of American hostage Steven Sotloff, raising the stakes in its confrontation with Washington over U.S. air strikes on its insurgents in Iraq.

A masked figure in the video seen by Reuters also issued a threat against a British hostage, a man the group named as David Haines, and warned governments to back off “this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State.”

[RELATED: Steven Sotloff was a hero – and my friend]

The purported executioner appeared to be the same British-accented man who appeared in an Aug. 19 video showing the killing of American journalist James Foley, and it showed a similar desert setting. In both videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits.

“I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and in Amerli, Zumar and the Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings,” the man said, addressing the U.S. president.

“So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

In the video, Sotloff describes himself as “paying the price” for the U.S. intervention in Iraq with his life.

APPEAL

Sotloff, a freelance journalist, was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013. Sotloff's mother Shirley appealed on Aug. 27 in a videotaped message to Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for her son's release.

In the video it released last month, Islamic State said Foley's death was in retaliation for U.S. air strikes on its insurgents who have overrun wide areas of northern Iraq.

The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011.

The raids followed major gains by Islamic State, which has declared an Islamic Caliphate in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq.

In Washington, the White House said it could not immediately confirm that Islamic State had released a video of Sotloff's beheading.

“We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity,” National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.

“If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.  We will provide more information when it is available.”

VIDEO APPEARS AUTHENTIC

A source familiar with the matter said that while U.S. officials have yet to formally confirm the validity of the video, it appeared to be authentic.

Iraq’s outgoing foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari, condemned what he called “this savage killing…an example of savagery and evil,” and said this was evidence of the need for Iraq and the West to defeat the Islamic State.

“We have a common enemy and the whole world is moving in the right direction to stop this savagery and brutality,” Zebari said. “The whole world is standing united against IS. They must be defeated so these horrid scenes will not be repeated.”

Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim politician Sami Askari, who is close to outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said: “They are trying to scare the Americans not to intervene. I don’t think Washington will be scared and stop … This is evil. Every human being has to fight this phenomenon. Like cancer, there is no cure. You have to fight it.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Sotloff's apparent decapitation as “an absolutely disgusting and despicable act (by) barbaric terrorists”. He said he would hold a meeting of his COBRA security crisis team on Wednesday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the killing was a “further illustration of the barbarity without limit of this caliphate of terror that must be fought with the utmost détermination”.

A person with ties to the Islamic State in Diyala province said the group had suffered badly in northern Iraq since U.S. air strikes began last month, ahead of the filmed execution of Foley and grisly video of the beheading of a Kurdish soldier.

“The defeat of the Islamic State in the battle of Mosul Dam contributed to a deflating of the morale of its fighters and the American strikes have also succeeded in restricting their field operations,” the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

“The initiative is not with Islamic State anymore, it’s with their enemy now.”

The United States is taking the Islamic State insurgents far more seriously now than it did six months ago, when Obama told the New Yorker magazine that they were the “JV team,” which is short for “junior varsity” and means they are not the best players on the field.

On Aug. 24, al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front militants in Syria freed an American writer, Peter Theo Curtis, who had been missing since 2012, following what officials said were efforts by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar to secure his release.

Additional reporting by Noah Browning, Mark Hosenball, Ned Parker, Andrew Osborn and John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich

N.J. gets involved in shaimos site


The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has gotten involved in a “shaimos” site—a burial site for Jewish religious artifacts—on private property, which contravenes state law.

The state’s environmental regulators ordered the site to be cleaned up, following complaints by area residents, but it will allow the nearly 2,000 trash bags of religious texts and ritual clothing to be buried, according to the Asbury Park Press. The Jewish religious texts and clothing, called shaimos, was collected from Jewish residents of Lakewood for burial in the days leading up to Passover, according to the newspaper.

Wolf Skacel, the department’s assistant commissioner of compliance and enforcement, told the newspaper that the burial is a temporary solution until the department identifies a more “proper location.”

Creating a landfill requires a public hearing, county planning and a permit application to the Department of Environmental Protection.