Syrian Man Arrested in Greece Over Suspected ISIS Links

ISIS

A 32-year-old Syrian man was arrested Thursday in the northeastern Greek city of Alexandroupolis over suspected links with terrorist group ISIS, police said Friday.

The arrest came following a complaint that was his wife filed against him over domestic abuse, according to the police. She also told authorities that her husband was an ISIS supporter.

The man, who was not named, is expected to stand before a state prosecutor on Friday, police said.

The couple currently live with their two young children in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

They had requested asylum in northern Greece in June 2016, landing on the island of Leros following the peak of the migrant crisis.

A police official stated that the man was arrested for violating a restriction order imposed after his wife accused him of beating her and taking part in “terrorist acts.”

Police searched their home following his wife’s complaint and found data on his phone that they said support the allegations of ISIS links, a police official said, according to AFP.

“We are investigating his participation, and its extent, in past terrorist acts outside Greece,” police added.

Foreign ISIS Fighters Captured, Turned over to Western Countries in Raqqa

Raqqa- Syria’s Kurdish-Arab rebels fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Wednesday initiating combing operations to clear Raqqa from ISIS members.

A number of foreign militants captured in the former ISIS stronghold have already been handed to Western countries, said SDF sources.

Despite the US-backed SDF claiming full control over Raqqa, the fate of dozens of foreign ISIS fighters who were known to be located in the area remains unknown.

The British-based Observatory for Human Rights says that no one has spotted foreign fighters in particular, but apprehended French and Belgian militants were turned in to intelligence forces of their respective countries.  

As battles continue to drag around Syrian terrain, the latest loss suffered by regime forces was the death of Brigadier General Issam Zahreddine in Deir Ezzor.

The Republican Guard’s Zahreddine, who also commanded regime operations in Deir Ezzor, was killed in a mine explosion in the Hawija-Sakr area inside the city, according to Syrian media.

Zahreddine played a role in the progress made by the Syrian pro-regime army forces in Deir Ezzor city and the surrounding areas.

Zahreddine led army operations against the armed opposition in Homs and Aleppo, before moving to the eastern region to fight ISIS.

On the other hand, the regime launched raids against Deir Ezzor’s eastern oil field, racing SDF units for control over oil and gas fields in eastern Syria.

More so, the US is expected to lead efforts in clearing out and restoring basic public services in Raqqa after its liberation. SDF search teams have at the same time announced combing the city for “sleeper cells” hiding among civilians.

“We will assist and take, essentially, the lead in bringing back the water, electricity and all of that,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing. “But eventually the governance of the country of Syria is something that I think all nations remain very interested in.”

“The United States and our allies have prepared for next steps and will continue to work with partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need and support the stabilization efforts in Raqqa and other liberated areas,” Nauert said.

Additionally, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said preparations were underway for a formal declaration of the city’s liberation.

The SDF said Tuesday that military operations in Raqqa have ended and that their troops have taken full control of the city. The US-led coalition cautioned that the clearing operations would continue, saying some 100 militants may still be hiding in the city. 

Tears, Joy & Devastation Fill Raqqa’s Post-ISIS Air

SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed

Raqqa- Four months ago, Syria’s Raqqa found itself drenched in bloodshed as fierce and violent battles ripped through the former ISIS stronghold. When casually strolling down liberated areas, it becomes all the more evident how destructive the battles were.

Homes wrecked to the ground, debris, and a demolished infrastructure all spell out a devastating new reality left behind by ISIS.

For the few lucky neighborhoods which survived bombardment and stray bullets, the war still left its mark through shattered windows and broken doors taken down by blast waves.

Despite the destruction, joy prevailed as citizens and Syrian Democratic Forces celebrated smashing victory against ISIS on the liberated streets of Raqqa.

SDF fighters gathered at Raqqa’s center with a celebratory spirit, forming traditional dance rings, raising SDF flags and chanting slogans about victory and freedom.

Triumphant convoys and demonstrators paraded around Raqqa, as the former ISIS bastion is now under full control of the US-backed Syrian rebels.

Raqqa’s infamous “Al-Naim” square, dubbed ISIS’ square of hell, now is home to fluttering SDF flags waving in the near completion of military operations.

“Today we stand at Al-Naim square, which was once dubbed the circle of hell as it served as an arena for brutal executions carried out against anyone who opposed ISIS and the rule of its self-proclaimed caliphate,” Leader and Spokeswoman for the SDF “Euphrates Wrath” (Ghadab Al-Furrat) military campaign Rogada Flatt told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The capture of Al-Naim followed fighting since Sunday near the square, the Arab-Kurdish alliance said in a statement.

“We are left with only a few points, and combing operations are underway to eliminate the sleeper cells and cleanse the city of mines,” asserted Flatt on the continued liberation of Raqqa, the caliphate’s former ‘capital’.

“At least 22 ISIS members surrendered to our forces and were sent to detention centers for investigation, after which they will be referred to the adequate courts,” said SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed.

Reviewing battles fought, Ahmed said that “a few foreign militiamen kept fighting until the last minute.”

“Our forces have started mop-up and sweeping operations considering the probability of ISIS cells hiding in some locations,” said Ahmed. “Mines planted by the cells need to be defused to make sure that the entire city has been cleared,” she added.

Since June, Raqqa residents have been held hostage by ISIS terrorists.

As the terror group lost more and more territory, it resorted to using these civilians as human shields.

Surviving civilians were trapped in hellfire as SDF troops carried out operations, US-led coalition staged airstrikes, and ISIS snipers infested the streets and prevented people from escaping.

Haitham al-Zaher, 48, was the last civilian to escape ISIS captivity.

Zaher managed to escape with his wife and three daughters.

“We could not escape until clashes were close to us— until then, my wife and I decided alongside 7 other families, to take shelter in an abandoned cellar, where we stayed 3 days in hiding, food and water were scarce and almost ran out,” said Zaher.

“We lived through very difficult moments, where we heard the thuds of heavy shelling and cracking of clashes,” he added.

Malika al-Zaher, aged 38, said that during September her family was moved 14 times to different locations.

“As the fighting progressed, ISIS ordered us to change the place, taking us as human shields,” said Zaher’s wife.

Today, Syrians in Raqqa sent out a cry for help to conduct extensive investigations in order to reveal the fate ISIS-held detainees and to restore the city once again to its people.

US Central Command Raids ISIS Training Camps in Yemen

US- Yemen

Aden, London – US forces killed dozens of ISIS militants in a strike on two ISIS training camps, Oct. 16, in al-Bayda governorate, center of Yemen. However, security officials and locals said the strike targeted militants belonging to al-Qaeda and not ISIS terrorist group.

US Central Command announced that its forces raided two ISIS camps used to train militants to conduct terror attacks using AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and endurance training which resulted in disrupting the organization’s attempts to train new fighters.

Strikes against ISIS targets disrupt and destroy militants’ attack-plotting efforts, leadership networks, and freedom of maneuver within the region, according to Central Command.

“In coordination with the government of Yemen, US forces are supporting ongoing counter-terrorism operations in Yemen against ISIS and AQAP to degrade the groups’ ability to coordinate external terror attacks and limit their ability to hold territory seized from the legitimate government of Yemen,” reiterated the Command.

Local eyewitnesses told Reuters that tribal leaders were not allowed near the area in Bayda out of fear of another strike.

Locals reported that the two camps were named after two ISIS leaders who were killed during a US airstrike last summer: ISIS leader in Yemen Abu Bilal al-Harbi and ISIS spokesperson Abu Mohamemd al-Adnani.

A Yemeni security official stated that five al-Qaeda militants were killed in an airstrike believed to be done by the US forces. He explained that 12 raids targeted Qaeda sites in al-Abal and Yekla areas in Ould Rabieh district of Bayda governorate which is considered the organization’s stronghold in the country.

Locals told Asharq al-Awsat that the raid happened after three days of intense drones= hovering above the area, adding that it still wasn’t clear how many militants were killed or injured because people were afraid to approach the area as US aircraft hovered over for hours.

US drones continue to target militants suspected of belonging to terrorist organizations in Yemen’s center. On October 8, US drones killed five ISIS militants northwest of Maerib.

Since January, US intensified its raids on Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with over 100 strikes on Bayda, Shabwa, Maerib, Hadramout, and Abyen.

According to statistics, over 120 militants were killed during those raids including senior commanders.

Syrian Democratic Forces: US-Backed Kurdish-Arab Alliance

Raqqa

London – Kurdish fighters represent the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which seized on Tuesday control of the city of Raqqa from the ISIS terrorist group after a four-month offensive.

Comprised of Arab and Kurdish fighters, the SDF was formed in October 2015 in order to confront the extremist organization.

Backed by the US, it is considered the international coalition’s key ally in its war against ISIS. Washington has helped the SDF with airstrikes, weapons and expertise, which bolstered its ability to fight the extremists.

According to AFP, the alliance between the SDF and US has sparked major tensions with Ankara, which has not hesitated in the past in targeting the forces.

However, despite the various war fronts, all warring parties share ISIS as their common enemy.

The SDF was formed after US-backed Kurdish units achieved several victories against the extremists, most notably expelling them from the city of Kobane (Ain Arab) and Tal Abyad in 2015.

The advance has however created tensions with opposition factions that have accused the Kurds of forced displacement against Arab residents. It also raised fears in Ankara that the Kurds would seek autonomous rule in territories along the Turkish border.

To counter these tensions, the SDF was formed to include 30,000 fighters, among them 5,000 Arabs. Kurds however assume the command of the forces.

After the US-led coalition launched its first air strikes against ISIS in Syria in September 2014, Washington struggled to find a reliable partner on the ground.

A much-touted $500-million program to build a rebel army to fight ISIS collapsed. The SDF was the next best choice, especially after the Kurds proved to be fierce fighters.

After the SDF was formed, the White House announced the first sustained deployment of US special forces to Syria, reversing a longstanding refusal to put boots on the ground.

Around 50 special operations personnel were deployed in northern Syria, and the number has now grown to around 500 US troops. Senior US commanders and Washington’s envoy to the coalition Brett McGurk have met top SDF chiefs during visits to northern Syria.

Washington said in June it would supply weapons directly to the People’s Protection Units, the main Kurdish backbone of the SDF, despite objections from ally Turkey.

In November 2016, the SDF announced its operation “Wrath of the Euphrates” aimed at ousting ISIS from Raqqa province, including the group’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.

In the months that followed, the alliance gradually closed in on the city, first sweeping into territory to the north before closing in from the east and west.

In early June, SDF forces entered Raqqa for the first time, penetrating its Old City a month later after airstrikes by the US-led coalition smashed two holes in the ramparts.

By late September, SDF forces had taken control of 90 percent of the city, cornering ISIS fighters in Raqqa’s stadium, a few surrounding buildings and a major hospital.

On October 17, SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP the US-backed fighters finally had “taken full control of Raqqa” from ISIS.

Raqqa: From Ancient Capital to ISIS Stronghold

Raqqa

London – Raqqa was liberated on Tuesday from the grasp of the ISIS terrorist group that had turned the ancient city into its stronghold and a symbol of its atrocities.

The city has been inhabited for hundreds of years, and its peak, it enjoyed a golden age under the early Islamic empire of the Abbasids.

In 722, Caliph al-Mansour ordered the construction of the city of al-Rafiqa, which lies near Raqqa. The two cities eventually were merged into one.

In 796, the powerful caliph Haroun al-Rashid transferred his capital there from Baghdad because of its strategic location at a crossroads between Byzantium, Damascus and Iraq. It sits 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the Turkish border and about halfway between Syria’s second city Aleppo and the Iraqi frontier.

He ordered major works and Raqqa was soon dotted with grand palaces and mosques.

Although the caliph’s court returned to Baghdad in 809, Raqqa remained a major administrative center for the western part of the empire.

But in 1258, the city was largely destroyed by the Mongol invasion.

Before the Syrian civil war, Raqqa prospered from agriculture in the fertile valley and benefited from nearby hydroelectric dams generating power for much of the country.

On March 4, 2013, two years after Syria’s war broke out, Raqqa was the first provincial capital to fall to rebels. The seized control of the military intelligence headquarters, one of the most notorious regime detention centers in the entire province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They also destroyed a statue of late leader Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current regime head, Bashar.

Clashes however soon erupted in 2014 between ISIS and opposition fighters, including the al-Nusra Front. They culminated in ISIS seizing complete control of Raqqa in January of that same year.

In June 2014, ISIS declared its infamous “caliphate” across swathes of Syria and Iraq.

In August 2014, ISIS enjoyed complete control of Raqqa province after seized the Tabaqa airport from the regime. It then went on to impose its laws in Raqqa through intimidation and terror. It resorted to mass executions, beheadings, rape, ethnic cleansing and stoning to impose its extremist ideology on others.

Raqqa has long been coveted by multiple parties to the Syrian conflict, including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the US-led coalition set up in 2014 to tackle IS.

On November 5, 2016, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a major offensive dubbed “Wrath of the Euphrates” to seize the city.

As the SDF closed in on the city, thousands of Raqa residents were smuggled out to territory captured by the US-backed force.

After taking swathes of the surrounding province, including the key town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam, the SDF sealed off the approaches to Raqqa from the north, east and west.

In early July, SDF forces penetrated the heavily fortified heart of the city for the first time but continued to face tough resistance from the extremists.

On September 1, the SDF successfully captured the entire historic district, bringing it closer than ever to ISIS’ bastion’s well-defended and densely populated heart.

By late September, they had taken control of 90 percent of the city, cornering the extremists in Raqqa’s stadium, a few surrounding buildings and a major hospital.

On October 17, an SDF spokesman told AFP that the group’s fighters had “taken full control of Raqqa” from ISIS.

ISIS Loses Its Syria ‘Capital’

SDF fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa

Beirut, Raqqa- ISIS lost on Monday its de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they completely control the city, following four months of fierce battles that ended with the withdrawal of some of the terrorists’ militants in an unclear deal that failed to detail the destination of those fighters.

“Everything is finished in Raqqa, our forces have taken full control of Raqqa,” SDF spokesperson Talal Silo told AFP on Tuesday.

He added that “the military operations in Raqqa have finished, but clearing operations are now underway to uncover any sleeper cells there might be and remove mines.”

Silo said an official statement declaring victory in the city would be made soon.

But, despite assertions from the SDF forces that the military operation has ended in Raqqa, the US military said around 100 ISIS fighters were still left in the city.

The Coalition’s spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said the battle was “near its end,” confirming that 90% of the city had been cleared.

However, he failed to specify the fate of foreign militants.

On Sunday, the SDF launched their last attack on Raqqa after a convoy of ISIS armed militants left the city following a deal negotiated by local officials and tribesmen.

An estimated 275 Syrian ISIS fighters were evacuated from Raqqa to an undisclosed location, leaving behind foreign ISIS jihadists.

The US-led Coalition had rejected that foreign combatants leave the city with the Syrians as part of the deal.

Abu Mohammad al-Raqqawi, an activist in the Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “since the first day of the deal’s implementation, foreign fighters were leaving Raqqa in batches as part of the convoys that included Syrians.”

He said that the majority of those fighters went to Deir Ezzor, adding that some of the foreign jihadists were carrying fake Syrian identity cards.

Raqqawi said that between 130 and 150 out of the 1,300 foreign fighters who were inside the city have already surrendered.

He added that many of them were able of fleeing the city after hiding among civilians.

Save the Children: Liberation of Raqqa Does not Signal End of Humanitarian Crisis

Raqqa

Beirut – The liberation of the Syrian city of Raqqa from the ISIS terrorist group does not mean the end of humanitarian suffering in the region, warned Save the Children on Tuesday.

It instead said that the situation is in fact escalating.

“The military offensive in Raqqa may be coming to an end, but the humanitarian crisis is greater than ever,” the aid group’s Syria director Sonia Khush said in a statement.

The Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Tuesday that the city has been liberated from ISIS after a four-month military campaign.

Save the Children warned that “some 270,000 people who have fled the Raqqa fighting are still in critical need of aid, and camps are bursting at the seams.”

It said that most Raqqa families had no homes to go back to and that thousands of civilians were still being displaced in the eastern Deir al-Zour province, where fighting was still raging.

The aid group said that the reconstruction effort would require massive investment and that funding would also be needed to bring children back to school.

“Many are plagued by nightmares from witnessing horrific violence and will need extensive psychological support,” the aid group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights meanwhile announced that 3,250 people, including some 1,130 civilians, were killed in the campaign to liberate Raqqa that began in June.

Director of the rights group, Rami Abdul Rahman, stressed that there are hundreds of people missing and they are likely stuck under the rubble in the city that has witnessed heavy destruction in the months-long offensive.

Jordan Sentences 8 to Prison on Terrorism Charges

Jordan

Amman – The Jordanian State Security Court on Monday issued three- to 15-year prison sentences against eight Jordanians after they were convicted of carrying out terrorist acts, promoting the ideas of an extremist group and attempting to join ISIS.

The court also sentenced a man to 15 years hard labor for planning to commit a terrorist act for ISIS by stabbing a Tourism Ministry guard, Mousa al-Abudullat, the defendants’ lawyer told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The 24-year-old convict, who has been in custody since March 2017, was found guilty of conspiring to carry out terrorist acts, promoting ISIS terrorist ideology and attempting to join the terror group.

The sentence was announced during a public hearing held under Colonel Judge Mohammad al-Afif and the membership of the civil judge Ahmad al-Qatarna, the leading Judge Safwan al-Zu’bi and in the presence of the State Security Prosecutor Captain Anas al-Khasawneh.

Also on Monday, the court sentenced six convicts to three years hard labor and a seventh suspect to four years hard labor for promoting ISIS ideologies and trying to join terrorist and armed groups.

Two detainees were acquitted.

Abdullat said that during the past three months, the court has sentenced 120 suspects, ten of whom were Syrian and the rest were Jordanian.

Most of the cases were related to promoting ISIS ideology or attempting to join terrorist organizations or carry out terrorist acts.

SDF Seizes ‘Full Control’ of Syria’s Raqqa from ISIS

Raqqa

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared on Tuesday that they have completely recaptured the city of Raqqa from the ISIS terrorist organization.

“Everything is finished in Raqqa, our forces have taken full control of Raqqa,” SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP.

A Reuters witness said fighting appeared to be almost at an end with only sporadic bursts of gunfire.

The US-backed SDF have seized control of the former ISIS stronghold, announced the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later on Tuesday.

Victorious fighters celebrated in the streets, chanted slogans from their vehicles and raised a flag inside Raqqa stadium.

The SDF has been fighting ISIS inside Raqqa since June.

“We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and amongst the areas that ISIS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led international coalition.

The four-month long battle for Raqqa left at least 3,250 people dead, more than a third of them civilians, the Observatory said.

In a sign that the battle for Raqqa was in its last stages, Dillon said there had been no coalition air strikes there on Monday.

ISIS also suffered setbacks Tuesday in the eastern Syrian region of Deir al-Zour, where Russian-backed regime forces retook swathes of territory, further reducing a “caliphate” that three years ago was roughly the size of Britain.

The Observatory said regime forces had brought the entire area stretching between Deir al-Zour and Mayadeen, which was retaken on Saturday, under their control following a major military offensive.

“These are not desert areas, they are villages along the Euphrates (river) that were ISIS strongholds,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.

ISIS also controls territory in neighboring regions on the Iraqi side of the border, where they are facing another US-backed offensive by Iraqi pro-government forces.

ISIS has lost swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul, and in Syria it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.