TIME Iraq

ISIS Plotting Subway Attacks in New York City and Paris, Iraqi PM Says

New York?s $201 Million Terror Net Halfway Done as Plots Mount
Peter Foley—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Claims come as news to U.S. officials, who say there's no evidence of a threat

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) plan to attack the subway systems in New York and Paris, Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday, but U.S. security officials said they had no evidence to back up the claim.

Haider al-Abadi told reporters at the United Nations General Assembly that information obtained from militants captured in Iraq yielded “credible” intelligence that the Islamist group is plotting attacks in New York and Paris, Reuters reports. “They plan to have attacks in the metros of Paris and the U.S.,” Abadi said. “I asked for more credible information. I asked for names. I asked for details, for cities, you know, dates. And from the details I have received, yes, it looks credible.”

Two senior U.S. security officials said they had no information to support the threat, and one unnamed U.S. official added there is no recent information about an imminent plan for ISIS to attack the United States. The New York Police Department said it was in contact with the FBI after al-Abadi’s statement. “We are aware of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s statements and we are in close contact with the FBI and other federal partners as we assess this particular threat stream.”

The United States and France have launched intensive airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to weaken and destroy the Sunni extremist group.

[Reuters]

 

TIME Congress

Congress Won’t Debate War on ISIS Until Next Year

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 11, 2014.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 11, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Congress’ lame duck period is not the appropriate time to debate authorization for war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview published Thursday. Boehner’s announcement pushes the contentious issue of explicitly authorizing the Administration’s plan to fight Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq until after November’s midterm elections and into January.

“I would suggest to you that early next year, assuming that we continue in this effort, there may be that discussion and there may be that request from the president,” Boehner told The New York Times. “Doing this with a whole group of members who are on their way out the door, I don’t think that is the right way to handle this.”

President Barack Obama believes he already has the legal authority to strike ISIS, under a 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al-Qaeda and associated forces. Many Congressmen, wary of approving Obama’s multiyear plan to take on ISIS, disagree with that assessment, particularly given that ISIS officially split from al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria earlier this year. Congress did, however, vote last week to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels fighting ISIS as well as Bashar Assad’s government.

TIME United Kingdom

The British PM Is Recalling Parliament to Get Approval for Strikes Against ISIS

“It is now right that Britain should move to a new phase of action," says David Cameron

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced Wednesday that he is recalling parliament to get approval for British air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Iraq.

Lawmakers will convene in Westminster on Friday to vote on whether to back attacks on the Sunni extremists.

Cameron’s decision follows the Iraqi government’s “clear request” for international support to defeating ISIS.

“It is now right that Britain should move to a new phase of action,” he said.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, Cameron said, “The U.N. Security Council has now received a clear request from the Iraqi government to support it in its military action against [ISIS]. So we have a clear basis in international law for action and we have a need to act in our own national interest to protect our people and our society.”

Friday’s vote is expected to pass with backing from all three major parties, Reuters reports.

Cameron gave his speech as a U.S.-led coalition launched air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria for a second day.

The U.K. government has not proposed any military action in Syria. Cameron assured the U.N. General Assembly that Britain would not work with Syrian President Bashar Assad to defeat ISIS.

“Our enemy’s enemy is not our friend — it is another enemy. Doing a deal with Assad will not defeat [ISIS] because the bias and the brutality of the Assad regime was and is one of the most powerful recruiting tools for the extremists,” he said.

If Friday’s vote passes, Britain’s Royal Air Force jets will join those from France, Australia, the U.S. and five Arab nations in launching air strikes against ISIS.

TIME Egypt

After the Revolution: Sitting Down With Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt in New York City on Sept. 23, 2014 Peter Hapak for TIME

In one of his first interviews with the U.S. press, Egypt's President pushes for a wider war on terror in the Middle East

A shorter version of this interview appeared in the Oct. 6 edition of TIME magazine:

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi won an election in May — but the former army chief has been essentially in charge of the country since ousting Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, last summer. Al-Sisi remains mostly popular at home, where he is pushing reforms to jump-start Egypt’s moribund economy. But he’s been criticized for his crackdowns on Morsi’s Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and on journalists and free speech in Egypt.

In one of his first interviews in the U.S., al-Sisi spoke with TIME on Sept. 23 about the America’s war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Egypt’s economy and the influence of Islam in his life.

On U.S. action against ISIS: Imagine what would happen if you leave it without action. We still need more effort — it should not be limited to Iraq and ISIS. This is a threat not just to the Middle East but to the whole world … I want to be clear with you that this ideology constitutes a problem. There’s a fine line between extremism and killing. If we hadn’t saved Egypt, there would have been a major problem created. The U.S. did not pay attention to that.

On ousting Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood: You dealt with the developments in Egypt as a movement by the military. But the military was not thinking of making a coup. It was the Egyptian people who demanded that change of identity … A country like Egypt caught in a vicious cycle of extremism would be a threat to the whole world. The U.S. would have felt the need to destroy Egypt.

We have been fighting terrorism in the Sinai [Peninsula] for a year and four months. If the Muslim Brotherhood had been in office for another year, Sinai would have become something like Tora Bora [in Afghanistan]. It would have been civil war in Egypt. Egyptians wouldn’t have stood still, [and] on the other side, the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were ready to fight.

On Egypt’s domestic challenges: Egypt has not faced problems of this scale for over 40 years. [We have] striking poverty, unemployment, idleness of the young people. This is fertile soil for problems. Our population growth is 2.6 million people a year. In 10 years time, we expect to have 30 million people more. This is a reason for the revolution in Egypt. They want change and to move forward to a brighter future. Unfortunately, Morsi did not deal with the magnitude of the problems. The government alone in Egypt won’t be able to tackle all of the problems, [but] Egypt cannot afford to fail. Two revolutions is more than enough.

On the future of the Muslim Brotherhood: Our first elections were free and fair. The result of that free choice was the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim Brotherhood was accepted. But I say that in any election to be held [in the future] the Muslim Brotherhood will not be fortunate to have a share.

On the risks of foreign jihadists in the battle against terrorism: Watch out for your citizens who join jihad. When they come back to their communities, they will pursue the same practices. This is why we can’t just limit the effort to the military. The actions taken over the past year are not enough to terminate this … No one country is immune to this ideology. The foreign fighters will come back to your country. I’m afraid it will be disastrous.

On the role of Islam in his life: I simply represent moderate Islam. I’m concerned about the challenges of poverty and ignorance in the Muslim world. I can’t be against Islam — I consider myself a devout Muslim — but the reality poses a challenge.

TIME National Security

The Meaning of the New ISIS Videos

Screenshot shows British hostage John Cantlie held by Islamic State militants at an undisclosed location on Sept. 23, 2014.
This still frame from a video released by ISIS on Sept. 23, 2014 shows British hostage John Cantlie who is currently being held hostage at an undisclosed location. EPA

ISIS has switched propaganda tactics, swapping snuff films for sermons

The orange jumpsuit is the same, but now there is no masked executioner, no knife, no barren desert backdrop. The new video series produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) features one of the militant group’s captives, British journalist John Cantlie, giving disquisitions from behind a desk.

As the United States begins a bombing campaign against targets in Syria, ISIS has switched propaganda tactics, swapping snuff films for sermons. In the first two installments of the ISIS lecture series, released on Twitter in recent days by the group’s Al-Furqan media center, Cantlie warns the West against the march to war.

“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?” Cantlie says in the first video. “I’m going to show you the truth behind the systems and motivations of [ISIS].”

But for ISIS, the motivation behind the video is probably fear, says Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks Islamist extremism online. The murder of U.S. and British citizens failed to forestall the airstrikes, so the group is using the videos to argue the folly of foreign intervention against the self-declared Islamic caliphate.

To make the case, ISIS uses a familiar jihadist tactic: quoting Westerners critical of the West’s actions. In Cantlie’s second forced lecture, an almost six-minute clip released Tuesday, the British journalist, reading from a prepared script, quotes the former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, whom he praises for “considerable” knowledge of the Muslim world.

“Let’s get straight to the point with a quote from former-C.I.A.-chief-turned-vigorous anti-intervention-campaigner Michael Scheuer: ‘President Obama does not have the slightest intention of defeating the Islamic State,'” Cantlie says, quoting Scheuer to argue that a military strategy that relies on bombing but foreswears ground troops is a half-measure. Later in the video, Cantlie quotes a second U.S. official, former New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean, saying the U.S. “failed to anticipate” the emergence of ISIS.

This is a shopworn rhetorical device for jihadi propagandists. In video lectures to the faithful, Islamist leaders regularly mix in reproachful quotes from top Western officials to buttress criticism of the U.S. and its allies. “There’s nothing better,” Katz says, “than using our own words against us.”

Scheuer—a veteran of the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden task force turned staunch critic of U.S. foreign policy—is something of a favored source for jihadists. His quotes have been invoked in propaganda videos and literature at least 16 times since 2007, according to a database compiled by SITE. He’s been referenced by figures ranging from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to al-Qaeda’s American-born spokesman, Adam Gadahn, to a high-ranking official with the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab.

But the old CIA hand is hardly the only U.S. insider whose insights are deployed by jihadists. Both Bin Laden and Zawahiri have quoted journalist Bob Woodward’s reporting from within the inner circles of the presidency. Gadahn has twice invoked the writing of American author John Perkins, whose books purport to reveal the economic incentives of U.S. military adventures abroad. A native Californian with a finger on the pulse of his former country, Gadahn name-checked Bernie Madoff in a 2009 speech assailing the avarice of the U.S. financial system.

The words of Presidents and senior administration officials are regularly repurposed in Islamist propaganda for one cause or another. So are the columns of well-known pundits. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been invoked at least three times by Zawahiri, while Bin Laden liked to borrow criticism from the political commentator Noam Chomsky to argue America’s depravity in one form or another.

The new ISIS video filches a term from Obama himself. “The president once called George Bush’s conflict ‘a dumb war,'” Cantlie notes, suggesting Bush’s successor was slipping into one of his own. As long as the terrorist lecture series continues, so too will the pattern of using the enemy’s words against them.

TIME Iraq

Iraq’s New Premier Says He’s ‘Happy’ With the Anti-ISIS Coalition

Al-Abadi says ISIS controls at least a quarter of Iraq and is very close to the capital, Baghdad

Iraq’s newly appointed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told CNN Tuesday he was “happy” that the U.S. and Arab coalition has joined the fight against ISIS.

But he warned that they must “do it right.”

“We have warned in the last two years: this is a danger,” he said, in one of his first international interviews. “It’s going to end in a bloodbath if nobody stops it and nobody was listening.

“They thought they were immune from this danger and only Iraq and Syria were on the spot of this danger but now I think we’re happy.”

Five Arab nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar — have joined the U.S. to fight the militant extremists who control vast swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Al-Abadi’s comments came after the coalition launched a series of strikes Tuesday against ISIS and Khorasan targets in Syria.

“I personally am happy that everybody is seeing this danger so that they are going to do something about it and I hope they do something about it and they do it right,” he said. “They don’t do it the wrong way.”

Sharing al-Abadi’s optimism, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday that no country could just stand by and do nothing when faced with the ISIS threat.

“I’ve been very encouraged, as I think all of us engaged in this are, by everybody else’s cooperation, by the overwhelming unity and support for Iraq’s new government,” he said. “No civilized country can shirk its responsibility to stop this cancer from spreading.”

Al-Abadi had been instrumental in pushing the international community to expand its campaign against the militants into Syria. But he criticized Washington for not working closely with Iraqi ground troops fighting ISIS, CNN reports.

“Our forces are moving forward and, when they are moving forward, they need air cover, they need air support,” he said, adding that ISIS controls at least 25% of Iraq and remain very close to the capital, Baghdad.

Al-Abadi must also attempt to mend the deep rifts in his own country between the Shi‘ite majority and the Sunni minority. “This is our country. And if we don’t work together, we don’t deserve a country,” he told CNN.

TIME Australia

A Teenage Terrorism Suspect Is Shot Dead in Australia After Attacking Police

Man Killed After Altercation With Counter Terrorism Officers In Melbourne
Investigators at the scene after a teenage terror suspect was shot dead after stabbing a Victorian officer and a federal police agent outside Endeavour Hills police station on September 23, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. Newspix—Newspix via Getty Images

Officers were stabbed as they tried to shake suspect's hand

Just days after Islamist terror group ISIS urged random attacks on Australians and other “disbelievers,” an apparent sympathizer stabbed two counter-terrorism officers in Melbourne before being shot dead.

The incident occurred when Abdul Numan Haider, an 18-year-old who had allegedly made threats against Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and reportedly waved an ISIS flag at a local mall, arrived at a police station in the southeastern suburb of Endeavour Hills on Tuesday night, ostensibly to assist police with an investigation.

On arrival at the station, Haider stabbed a state police officer who had tried to shake his hand, before turning on a federal police officer and stabbing him three or four times in the body and head. Haider was then fatally shot by the first officer. Both officers were rushed to hospital for surgery where they are reported to be in serious but stable condition.

Prime Minister Abbott, who is en route to New York to attend an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on ISIS, commended the officers during a stopover in Hawaii.

“Obviously this indicates that there are people in our community who are capable of very extreme acts,” he said. “It also indicates that the police will be constantly vigilant to protect us against people who will do Australians harm.”

On Sept. 21, ISIS released a 42-minute audio clip that called on its supporters to attack non-Muslims in Australia, among several other countries. The threat made against Australians followed the dispatch to the Middle East of 600 Australian military personnel and 10 aircraft, which will be used to launch airstrikes against ISIS.

“If you can kill an American or European infidel — especially the spiteful and cursed French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the infidel fighters, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon God, and kill them in any way possible,” exhorted ISIS spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami on the recording.

He added: “Why have the nations of disbelief entrenched together against you? What threat do you pose to the distant place of Australia for it to send its legions towards you?”

Professor Greg Barton of Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre in Melbourne tells TIME that Tuesday night’s attack was not necessarily a result of al-Shami’s call-to-arms.

“It is likely this kid had read the translation that appeared in the media on Sunday. But I don’t think the recording in itself is so significant,” he says.

Barton points out Haider was one of 40 to 60 individuals who recently had their passports cancelled over concerns they would join the small but prominent legion of Australians fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and suggested that this could equally have prompted the stabbing of the two police officers.

“We have to do more work on community engagement on those who had their passports taken,” he says. “These are troubled young men who are highly frustrated and the fact is they can cause a lot of trouble by running someone over with a car or attacking them with knife. Last night’s incident is a reminder of that, and the fact that, if left unattended, these people will become ticking time bombs.”

TIME Turkey

Turkey Grapples With an Unprecedented Flood of Refugees Fleeing ISIS

Turkey has done a better job than most at accommodating refugees, but the burden is proving too large to bear

Even by the standards of Syria’s nearly four-year-long civil war, it is a refugee exodus of extraordinary, if not unprecedented proportions. In less than 72 hours, an estimated 130,000 Syrian Kurds have poured across the border into neighboring Turkey, fleeing an onslaught by Islamist militants near the town of Kobani in northern Syria.

“We are preparing for the potential of the whole population fleeing into Turkey,” Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva on Tuesday. “Anything could happen and that population of Kobani is 400,000.”

Also on Tuesday, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia defending Kobani, called for the U.S. and its Arab allies to expand their air strikes to target positions being held around the city by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Turkey, which already hosts upwards of 1.3 million Syrians — about 220,000 of them living in tent and container camps near the border — has done a much better job of accommodating the refugees than any of its neighbors. But the burden of providing for those displaced by the most recent fighting has proved too large to bear.

Since Friday, some of the refugees have found a place in newly assembled tent cities, Turkish officials said. Some have stayed with family members. Others have not been so lucky. In Suruc, a Turkish town about 8 miles north of the border gate at Kobani, and all along the road connecting the two, thousands of Syrians sought shelter in public squares, mosques, and in dry, barren fields.

At the crossing itself, a group of perhaps a hundred or more men, most of them from villages around Kobani, pleaded with Turkish soldiers to let them back into Syria. They seemed surprised that anyone should ask why they thought of returning. “To fight Islamic State,” one of them said, using the name ISIS recently gave itself.

At a nearby village, police and riot vehicles squared off against dozens of Kurdish activists from Turkey. The Kurds were protesting the Turkish authorities’ decision, temporary as it turned out, to close the border. They were greeted with a barrage of tear gas and several arrests.

The fighting around Kobani, combined with the massive refugee influx and reports of new atrocities perpetrated by ISIS against Syria’s Kurds, has put Turkey under further pressure, both international and domestic, to review its policy options. Until last weekend, Ankara had insisted it could not play a bigger role in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS for fear that doing so would put at risk the lives of 46 Turkish hostages captured by the jihadists in in June. But on Sept. 20, in an operation that likely included a prisoner swap, the hostages were set free.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since suggested his government’s position towards ISIS might be ripe for a rethink. “What happens from now on is a separate issue,” he said Sunday. “We need to decide what kind of attitude to take.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made it clear he now expects Turkey to make a tangible contribution to the alliance. The Turks “first needed to deal with their hostage situation,” he said Monday. “Now the proof will be in the pudding.”

Anyone who thinks Turkey is about to take part in armed operations against ISIS, however, should think again, says Henri Barkey, a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and former State Department official.

In practice, there are three areas where Ankara might be in a position to help the U.S., Barkey says. It could allow the Americans to use the Incirlik Air Base, in Turkey’s south, to stage strikes against ISIS; it could provide more intelligence cooperation; and it could start dismantling the jihadist-support network in Turkey, stopping people, arms and supplies from entering Syria, and stopping smuggled fuel, arguably the biggest source of ISIS’s wealth, from coming out. Anything beyond that appears to be out of the question. “I don’t think Erdogan can move militarily against ISIS,” Barkey says. “That would open up a huge scenario for him that he is not ready for.”

As it positions itself diplomatically, Turkey is also beginning to face the domestic fallout from the drama unfolding on its doorstep.

Although few of them are able to provide hard evidence, many Kurds on both sides of the border firmly believe that Turkey backs ISIS — and that it is using the jihadists as a proxy against the YPG, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turks’ longtime enemy.

The longer the misery in Kobani lasts, Kurdish politicians now warn, the higher the chance that the political atmosphere inside Turkey will turn toxic, derailing a nascent peace process between the PKK and the government.

“They give us an olive branch in one hand, they support ISIS with the other, and they say nothing about the killing in Kobani,” said Mehmet Karayilan, a Kurdish politician from Gaziantep. “That’s putting the whole peace process at risk.”

TIME Military

These Are the Weapons the U.S. Is Using to Attack ISIS

Inside the Pentagon's assault in Syria

Things generally seem to go best on the first day of any given military campaign. That certainly seemed to be the case Tuesday, as the U.S. and its allies struck 22 locations across northern Syria in their expanded air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda offshoot.

Some of the world’s most sophisticated military hardware streaked through darkened skies over Syria, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea during the five hours the strikes took place. While it was no day at the beach for the two terrorist groups holed up in Syria, they did see three separate waves of kinetic killers headed their way.

The initial volleys of 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles came from the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, in the Red Sea, and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, in the northern Persian Gulf. The missiles, with a range of up to 1,000 miles (1,700 km), have been the curtain-raiser on U.S. military strikes since 1991’s Gulf War. That makes sense: there’s no pilot to be shot down.

Among other targets, Tomahawks struck an ISIS financial center. “The intended target was the communications array on the roof of the building,” said Army Lieut. General Bill Mayville, the operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.. “The Tomahawk cruise missiles detonated as airbursts with the effects focusing on the communications array. And as you can see on the right-hand side in the picture–the after picture—the rooftop communications is heavily damaged while the surrounding structure remains largely intact.”

“The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps,” Mayville told reporters.

That’s interesting: It means most of the missiles attacked no more than the eight announced Khorasan targets. The Khorosan Group is an al-Qaeda affiliate dispatched to Syria to try to develop sophisticated weapons—think non-metallic bombs to be snuck aboard commercial airliners—to be used against U.S. targets. The U.S. made clear it believes it was preparing to strike.

The second wave of warplanes launching strikes looked like something out of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. An all-Air Force show, it featured the B-1 bomber, F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers, and Predator drones. “Targets included [ISIS] headquarters, training camps, barracks and combat vehicles,” Mayville said.

But the real star of the second act was the Air Force’s F-22 fighter-bomber, making its combat debut. It has been a long time coming: The $350 million per-copy Raptor has been operational since 2005, and Air Force officials have been steaming ever since as Pentagon officials kept it on the sidelines.

“This second picture shows an [ISIS] command and control building in Raqqa that was targeted by U.S. Air Force F-22s during the second wave of strikes,” Mayville said. “This strike was the first time the F-22 was used in a combat role.” Mayville detailed its role. “The flight of the F-22s delivered GPS-guided munitions—precision munitions—targeting, again, only the right side of the building…You can see that the command and control center, where it was located in the building, was destroyed.”

The final act, like the first, was all Navy. F-18 attack planes from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush carried it out. Mayville focused on an ISIS training and logistics site. “The aircraft targeted locations within the boundaries, within the fence line of the residence,” he said. “You’ll note that the effects of the strike were contained within the boundaries of the target area.”

Mayville noted that 96% of the weapons used were precision-guided. But he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—say what percentage of the weapons had been dropped by U.S. allies, instead of the Americans. Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all fired bombs or missiles from aircraft, “with Qatar in a supporting role,” in the words of Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman. In other words, Qatar didn’t attack anything.

TIME United Nations

UN General Assembly Kicks Off in New York City

UN Climate Change Ban Ki Moon
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the Opening Session of the Climate Change Summit at the United Nations in New York City on Sept. 23, 2014. Timothy A. Clary—AFP/Getty Images

The rise of Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, the ongoing civil strife in Ukraine, and the deadly Ebola outbreak on the agenda for this week's summit

More than 140 heads of state and government gathered in New York City Tuesday for the 69th annual United Nations general assembly.

This year’s agenda is crowded with talks and speeches on new crises, including the rise of Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, the ongoing civil strife in Ukraine, and the deadly Ebola outbreak, as well as old standards such as climate change and nuclear disarmament.

Topping the agenda is the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The UN security council will convene a special session on Wednesday in the hopes of forging an international agreement to sever the flow of funds, arms and fighters into ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. President Barack Obama will chair the security council session, the first time he has done so since 2009, the Guardian reports.

On Wednesday each head of state will have 15 minutes at the lectern to address the General Assembly. Notable newcomers include Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi—who has booked out Madison Square Garden to address the Indian diaspora on Sunday—and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend this year’s meeting, neither will Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the second year running, but, surprisingly, North Korea will send its first high-level delegate in 15 years, foreign minister minister Ri Su-yong, according to South Korea’s Joongang Daily .

Thursday will include a summit on the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, which has claimed more than 2,700 lives according to the World Health Organization. President Obama will address the gathering world leaders in a bid to raise funds and secure more commitments of aid to the affected countries, ABC News reports.

And once again, the un-choreographed action behind the scenes, when representatives from rival states might rub shoulders or shake hands, will be closely watched by diplomats and press corps alike. Last year’s meeting was preceded by anticipation of a hand shake between Iranian and U.S. leaders, never fulfilled in deed.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser