TIME Terrorism

Kurds Say ISIS Used Chemical Weapons

Accusations that the militant group used chlorine gas

(BAGHDAD)—The Kurdish government in Iraq said Saturday it has evidence examined by an independent laboratory confirming that the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against peshmerga fighters.

The allegation by the Kurdistan Region Security Council, stemming from a Jan. 23 suicide truck bomb attack in northern Iraq, did not immediately draw a reaction from ISIS group, which holds a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in its self-declared caliphate. However, Iraqi officials and Kurds fighting in Syria have made similar allegations about the militants using the low-grade chemical weapons against them.

In a statement, the council said the alleged chemical attack took place on a road between Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and the Syrian border, as peshmerga forces fought to seize a vital supply line used by the Sunni militants. It said its fighters later found “around 20 gas canisters” that had been loaded onto the truck involved in the attack.

The Kurds say samples of clothing and soil from the site were analyzed by an unnamed lab in an unnamed coalition partner nation, which found chlorine traces.

“The fact ISIS relies on such tactics demonstrates it has lost the initiative and is resorting to desperate measures,” the Kurdish government said in the statement, using an alternate acronym for the Sunni militant group.

Chlorine, an industrial chemical, was first introduced as a chemical weapon at Ypres in World War I with disastrous effects as gas masks were not widely available at the time. While chlorine has many industrial and public uses, as a weapon it chokes victims to death.

In the Syrian civil war, a chlorine gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus in 2013 killed hundreds and nearly drove the U.S. to launch airstrikes against the government of embattled President Bashar Assad. The U.S. and Western allies accused Assad’s government of being responsible for that attack, while Damascus blamed rebels.

There have been several allegations that ISIS has used chlorine as well. In October, Iraqi officials claimed ISIS militants may have used chlorine-filled cylinders during clashes in late September in the towns of Balad and Duluiya. Their disclosures came as reports from the Syrian border town of Kobani indicated that the extremist group added chlorine to an arsenal that already includes heavy weapons and tanks looted from captured military bases.

Insurgents have used chlorine gas in Iraq before. In May 2007, suicide bombers driving chlorine tankers struck three cities in Anbar province, killing two police officers and forcing about 350 Iraqi civilians and six U.S. troops to seek treatment for gas exposure. Those bombers belonged to al-Qaida in Iraq, which later became ISIS.

TIME justice

See Evidence From the Boston Bombing Trial

Including a bullet-ridden 'manifesto' and new surveillance footage

The writings were allegedly scribbled in pencil by Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev inside the boat where he hid before his arrest. “I am jealous of my brother who has received the ward of Jannatul Firdaus (inshallah) before me,” the writing states. “I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive.” Jannat ul Firdaus refers to the highest level of paradise in Islam.

The jury also saw newly released surveillance footage of the attacks, which identify Tsarnaev at the scene, and heard witness testimony from victims and police officers.

Read next: See the Final Moments Before Boston Bombing Suspect Was Arrested

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Crime

Pakistani Man Found Guilty in Failed NYC Bomb Plot

Abid Naseer makes opening statements in his trial in Brooklyn
Jane Rosenberg—Reuters Abid Naseer, 28, makes opening statements on the first day of his trial in Brooklyn as seen in a courtroom sketch on Feb. 17, 2015.

Conspiracy included a failed Al-Qaeda plot to attack the New York City subway

A Pakistani man was found guilty Wednesday in a failed al-Qaeda bomb plot after a New York trial that featured spies in disguise, evidence from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and the defendant’s questioning of an admitted co-conspirator.

The jury reached the verdict in federal court in Brooklyn after beginning deliberations Tuesday morning. No date was set for sentencing.

Abid Naseer was first arrested in 2009 in Great Britain on charges he was part of a terror cell plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Manchester, England. The charges were dropped after a British court found there wasn’t enough evidence, but U.S. prosecutors later named him in an indictment that alleged a broader conspiracy that included a failed plot to attack the New York City subway.

After his rearrest and extradition to the United States in 2013, Naseer pleaded not guilty to providing and conspiring to provide material support to al-Qaeda and conspiring to use a destructive device.

He acted as his own lawyer, often referring to himself in the third person as he set about portraying himself as a moderate Muslim who was falsely accused. He was assisted by a court-appointed attorney but largely spoke for himself and demonstrated a calm demeanor in court.

“Abid is innocent,” the 28-year-old Naseer said in closing arguments on Monday. “He is not a terrorist. He is not an al-Qaeda operative.”

In her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zainab Ahmed told jurors the arrests of Naseer and other members of his cell averted mass murder. The government alleged Naseer had received bomb-making instruction in Pakistan in 2008.

“If the defendant hadn’t been stopped, hundreds of innocent men, women and children wouldn’t be alive today,” Ahmed said.

Naseer’s self-representation created the spectacle of the defendant cross-examining an admitted terrorist. Five British Mi5 secret agents also testified wearing disguises — one wore a fake beard and thick black glasses — and the trial marked the first time documents recovered in the 2009 Navy SEAL raid against Osama bin Laden’s compound were used as trial evidence.

But most of the case hinged on email exchanges in 2009 between Naseer and a person described by prosecutors as an al-Qaeda handler who was directing plots to attack civilians in Manchester, New York City and Copenhagen. Naseer insisted the emails consisted only of harmless banter about looking for a potential bride after going to England to take computer science classes.

Naseer “wanted to settle down,” he said in his closing. “Is there anything wrong with that?”

But the prosecutor, Ahmed, accused Naseer of lying on the witness stand by claiming the women he wrote about were real. She said the women’s names actually were code for homemade bomb ingredients: Nadia stood for ammonium nitrate and Huma for hydrogen peroxide.

When the defendant wrote to the al-Qaeda handler, “I wish you could be here for the party,” he was talking about the attack, she added.

The prosecutor dismissed Naseer’s explanations as “blather.” ”This man wanted to drive a car bomb into a crowded shopping center and watch people die,” she said.

As their first witness, prosecutors called Najibullah Zazi, who pleaded guilty in the subway plot as part of a cooperation agreement. Zazi testified that after receiving explosives training in Pakistan, he received instructions from the same al-Qaeda contact as Naseer and was told to use “marriage” and “wedding” as code for attacks.

In his cross-examination, Naseer sought to emphasize that he and Zazi had never had any contact, even though they were named as co-conspirators.

“Mr. Zazi, do you know the defendant who is asking these questions?” Naseer asked.

“I don’t remember your face,” Zazi responded.

Another witness was an FBI legal attache who handled evidence found in the raid that left bin Laden dead, including letters written among top al-Qaeda officials.

One letter referred to sending “brothers” to New York and Britain and mentions that some were arrested there — a passage prosecutors suggested was a reference to Naseer.

TIME Military

Concern Over Iran’s Nukes Drowns Out Its Growing Role in Iraq

Tehran helps Baghdad try to retake Tikrit as U.S. watches

Consternation over Iran boiled Tuesday on Capitol Hill as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country.” But over at the Pentagon, the Iran focus wasn’t on Netanyahu but Iraq. That’s because Iran is playing a key role in Baghdad’s fight to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, while the U.S. is confined to the sidelines.

After the U.S. invested $26 billion rebuilding the Iraqi army over the past decade, some Pentagon officials found it disconcerting to see Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias leading the charge into Saddam Hussein’s hometown. The Iranians, of course, are relishing the opportunity: Hussein was running Iraq when it launched the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in a stalemate in 1988 with roughly 200,000 killed on each side.

American concern is justified: having Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces storm largely-Sunni Tikrit risks turning the conflict against the Sunni ISIS forces into a sectarian conflict that could balloon into a civil war. “It’s absolutely key that [the Iraqi government] make sure that they have provisions in place to accommodate the Sunnis,” Army General Lloyd Austin, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. “That lack of inclusion is what got us to this point, and I think the only way that we can ensure that we don’t go back there is if we have the right steps taken by the government.” Fewer than 1,000 of the 30,000 fighters battling ISIS for Tikrit are Sunni tribal fighters, according to Iraqi estimates.

The populations of both Iran and Iraq are primarily Shi’ite. Since Saddam’s hanging in 2006, the Sunnis of western Iraq have been treated poorly by the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad. Many Sunnis welcomed ISIS’s move into the region last year, when it killed more than 1,000 Iraqi Shi’ite troops who had been stationed at a base known, when the Americans were there, as Camp Speicher. Some of the Shi’ites attacking Tikrit are bent on revenge for the slaughter, which could exacerbate intra-Muslim tensions.

Iran, according to reports from the front and Pentagon officials, is backing Iraqi forces with air power, artillery fire and advisers guiding Shi’ite militiamen, who account for perhaps 10,000 of the fighters trying to retake Tikrit. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee later Tuesday. “Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. — which has conducted thousands of air strikes against ISIS targets since August — has been grounded in the battle to retake Tikrit. The daily U.S. tally of air strikes launched Wednesday ticked off targets around al Asad, Bayji, Mosul, Ramadi and Sinjar. But there were no strikes in or around Tikrit, although U.S. drones are keeping a nervous eye on the fighting (“We have good overhead imagery,” is how Austin put it).

Iran has reportedly dispatched commanders notorious for their killings of Sunnis to the fight. That may lead Tikritis to view those seeking to free their city from ISIS’s grip not as rescuers but as bloody vengeance-seekers.

As the U.S. and Israel work to keep Iran’s nuclear genie bottled up, both Washington and Tehran have said they are not operating together inside Iraq. “We don’t coordinate with them,” Austin, whose command oversees U.S. military forces inside the country, repeated Tuesday.

In other words, they’re allied, but not allies. “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America,” Netanyahu told Congress on Tuesday. “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam … They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.”

TIME isis

Hear Jihadi John Defend Himself Against Charge of Extremism

Mohammed Emwazi, the Londoner who has become the face of ISIS, describes being interrogated

Mohammed Emwazi denied he was an extremist and denounced extremism in a 2009 interview he gave to an advocacy group.

The man who became known as Jihadi John and the masked face of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) after appearing to kill hostages in a series of videos, complained that he was victimized after he was deported from Tanzania and questioned by the security services.

Emwazi went to the London-based group CAGE, which works with people affected by what they call “the war on terror,” after being questioned by an British counterterrorism officer. In the recording of the interview with CAGE, Emwazi recounts the interrogation: “He started telling me what do you think of 9/11? I told him: ‘This is a wrong thing. What happened was wrong. What do you want me to say? If I had the opportunity for those lives to come back then I would make those lives come back.”

He added, “I told him everything that’s been happening is extremism. Everything — the bombs or whatever — that’s happening have been from extremists.”

The recording ends with Emwazi alleging that the agent threatened him and said, “We are going to keep a close eye on you, Mohammed.”

Last week, after Jihadi John’s identity was revealed, CAGE issued statements suggesting the U.K. authorities’ treatment of Emwazi was the cause of his radicalization. CAGE research director Asim Qureshi said in a statement on Feb. 26, “We now have evidence that there are several young Britons whose lives were not only ruined by security agencies, but who became disenfranchised and turned to violence because of British counter-terrorism policies coupled with long standing grievances over Western foreign policy.”

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

TIME Terrorism

‘Jihadi John’ Was a Cold Loner, Says Fellow ISIS Fighter

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) executioner Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John, was a cold loner who didn’t talk much, according to an ISIS defector who spoke to the BBC.

Abu Ayman first met Emwazi in Syria about two years ago at a hillside refugee camp in Atmeh in northern Syria. British foreign fighters occupied nearby houses, posting photos on social media of their “five-star jihadi.” Ayman says Emwazi seemed strange from the beginning: “The British fighters were always hanging out together, but he wouldn’t join them.”

“He was cold. He didn’t talk much. He wouldn’t join us in prayer,” he said.

Ayman said ISIS has professional psychologists who “know who to choose from the fighters and how to make them famous.” He pointed out that ISIS offered new weapons, luxury guns, cars and promotions in exchange for following orders and said “there was nothing special about Jihadi John … anyone could have become like him.”

He added that some of his former ISIS comrades joined the group because of their admiration for Emwazi. “He’s a celebrity to attract our Muslim brothers in Europe. But some think he is showing off; they think he’s being used by ISIS.”

MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

Ayman’s description of Jihadi John is at odds with depictions of him from earlier stages in his life. His former high school principal, Jo Shuter, told the BBC that Emwazi was never suspected of being radicalized at school. She said that Emwazi had some issues with being bullied, which were dealt with, and that by the end of his time at high school he was “a hardworking, aspirational young man who went on to the university he wanted to go to.”

After university, Emwazi, a Kuwait-born U.K. citizen, worked as a salesman for a Kuwaiti IT company from 2009 to 2010. His former boss told The Guardian that Emwazi, then 21 years old, was “the best employee we ever had,” a calm, decent young man who was “very good with people.”

[BBC]

TIME Jordan

Jordan’s King Abdullah Says the War Against ISIS ‘Is Our War’

"It has been for a long time," he tells CNN

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has intensified his rhetoric in the kingdom’s fight against ISIS.

“It is our war. It has been for a long time,” King Abdullah told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria during an interview that aired on Sunday.

The King went on to describe the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s fighters as “outlaws” of Islam and said ISIS had set up an “irresponsible caliphate to try to expand their dominion over Muslims.”

ISIS forces captured Royal Jordanian Air Force fighter pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh last December and later burned him alive during a notorious video that they published online. The killing sparked retaliatory attacks from Jordan led by King Abdullah personally.

Read more at CNN

TIME Terrorism

Why Terrorism Works: Jihadi John and the Fear Premium

Alan Henning
AP This frame from a video released by Islamic State militants purports to show 'Jihadi John' before the alleged killing of taxi driver Alan Henning, released on Oct. 3, 2014.

It costs a lot to identify future threats

What’s it worth it to keep the world safe from “Jihadi John”? In theory, the vast economic resources and intelligence power of the West should make identifying, tracking and detaining a single, brutal terrorist worth the cost.

But ease of travel, availability of low-tech weapons and our inability to identify future threats from the vast pool of potential terrorists make neutralizing bad guys before they become high-profile killers difficult. The calculation becomes even harder when you realize the enormous cost of counterterrorism investments and how many lives can be saved in other areas of life for the same money.

On the surface, it seems like a simple thing. Mohammed Emwazi, who was identified by the Washington Post Thursday as the ISIS executioner “Jihadi John”, had been questioned and released by British authorities long before he went to Syria to join the group, according to the BBC. Not surprisingly, some are already asking how such a notorious killer could have slipped through authorities’ hands.

For starters, it’s hard to know whom to watch. Investigations into the July 7, 2005 terrorist bombings in London that killed 52 people and injured 700 confirmed that the UK’s domestic security service, MI5, had previously come across some of the members of the plot. But the investigations [pdf] concluded that the huge amount of threat information before MI5 and the lack of evidence of an imminent threat meant “it would not be right or fair to criticise the Security Service for the fact they did not pay greater attention” to the plotters.

Similarly, after the Paris attack at the satirical weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo, French authorities were criticized for not doing a better job tracking the killers beforehand. Both men had been on U.S. terrorist watch lists, and the French Prime Minister admitted “failings” by intelligence services after the attack. But some estimates say it costs millions to monitor just one terrorism suspect, let alone the hundreds that French authorities say they would have to track to foil every possible future attacker, assuming one could even create a reliable and useful list of suspects.

Some have tried to calculate the total cost of such an effort. A 2014 study by John Mueller of Ohio University and the CATO Institute and Mark Stewart of the University of Newcastle in Australia, did a “back of the envelope” estimate to compare the cost of attacks to the cost of prevention. The authors assumed what they say is a common valuation of a human life of $6 million-$7 million and factored in their calculations the consequences of an attack, its likelihood of success, the risk reduction of terrorism measures and their costs.

Their conclusion: based on an estimated $75 billion increase in annual counterterrorism spending in the wake of 9/11 by the U.S. government, authorities would have to stop “150 Boston-type attacks per year, 15 London-type attacks each year, or one 9/11-type attack every three years” to justify the expense.

Such numbers are more polemical than scientific, of course: dollar costs aren’t the only consequences to factor into the equation. We may decide to pay extra to feel safe from foreign threats, or to fight back against those who directly challenge our political and social structures. We may value humanitarian intervention against terrorists who embrace genocide. Or we may think that the costs of current terrorist attacks could rise dramatically if, for example, bad guys got nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

National security hawks argue that we should pay with diminished privacy to leverage America’s technical superiority in electronic surveillance, which gives a lot of coverage for relatively little money. Mueller points out that the “Transportation Security Administration’s Federal Air Marshal Service and its full body scanner technology together are nearly as costly as the entire FBI counterterrorism budget,” which delivers a regular stream of arrested potential future jihadis.

Ultimately, if all we’re doing is paying extra because we’re afraid, though, Mueller’s numbers highlight the premium that fear factor represents. It costs a lot more to protect you from a terrorist attack that is statistically extremely unlikely to kill you than to minimize many other daily dangers, like auto accidents, gun deaths and falls by seniors.

That of course is the asymmetric idea as far as terrorists are concerned–use cheap but scary methods to trick opponents into costly, ineffectual countermeasures. In other words, terrorism works.

See our cover story this week, “The ISIS Trap” for more on the current calculation before the Obama administration.

TIME Iraq

Know Right Now: ISIS Destroys Artifacts at Iraqi Museum

The video was apparently recorded at a museum in Mosul

ISIS released a new video purportedly showing the destruction of several ancient artifacts in a Mosul museum. Watch Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME Syria

Murdered ISIS Hostage’s Daughter Says ‘Jihadi John’ Is Better Off Dead

Mohammed Emwazi in a still image from a video obtained from SITE Intel Group website February 26, 2015
Reuters Mohammed Emwazi in a still image from a video obtained from SITE Intel Group website February 26, 2015

"All the families will feel closure and relief once there's a bullet between his eyes"

The daughter of British aid worker David Haines, who was murdered by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) last September, has hit out at recently unveiled “Jihadi John,” saying he would be better off dead.

The London-accented militant’s identity was confirmed as 26-year-old Kuwaiti-born Briton Mohammed Emwazi by a U.S. intelligence official Thursday.

“It’s a good step, but I think all the families will feel closure and relief once there’s a bullet between his eyes,” Bethany Haines told ITV News.

Cloaked in a balaclava, Emwazi appeared in the beheading video of Haines’ father, as well as numerous other Western hostages, including James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Alan Henning.

Emwazi became radicalized after moving overseas to escape alienation and harassment in England, joining ISIS in Syria last year, according to reports.

Haines said she is waiting for Emwazi’s capture and does not fault British security for failing to thwart his journey to Syria. “It is shocking, but they’re doing their job, they’re doing the best they can they’ve not dealt with a so-called Islamic State like this before,” she said.

“Once he’s captured there will be a lot of happy faces,” Haines added.

[NBC]

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