TIME Afghanistan

Female Afghan Lawmaker Survives Apparent Assassination Attempt

Afghanistan
Afghan security forces carry the body of a civilian after a suicide attack in Kabul that targeted Shukria Barazkai, a prominent female member of Afghanistan's parliament, Nov. 16, 2014. Rahmat Gul—AP

Shukria Barakzai suffered only "small injuries" after a bomb blast

A prominent female member of Afghanistan’s parliament survived what appeared to be a assassination attempt in Kabul on Sunday, authorities said.

At least three people were killed and 22 injured in a bomb blast targeting the car of lawmaker and vocal Taliban critic Shukria Barakzai, the Los Angeles Times reports.

She suffered “small injuries” after a suicide bomber tried to crash his car into her armored vehicle before detonation, said Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

Sediqqi also dismissed reports that Barakzai’s daughter, who frequently travels with her, was killed in the attack.

A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack, and no other group has claimed the bombing as their own.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the attack was an act of terrorism and called for an investigation. Women make up approximately one-quarter of Afghanistan’s parliament.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME Terrorism

Graphic ISIS Video Claims US Aid Worker Beheaded

Peter Kassig in front of a truck somewhere along the Syrian border between late 2012 and autumn 2013 as Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA) was delivering supplies to refugees before the American aid worker was held captive by Islamic State jihadists.
Peter Kassig in front of a truck somewhere along the Syrian border between late 2012 and autumn 2013 as Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA) was delivering supplies to refugees before the American aid worker was held captive by Islamic State jihadists. AFP/Getty Images

(BEIRUT) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria released a graphic video on Sunday in which a black-clad militant claimed to have beheaded U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig, who was captured last year.

The militant was standing over a severed head, but it was not immediately possible to confirm that it was Kassig, 26, who was pictured in the video. U.S. officials said they were working to determine the video’s authenticity and the Kassig family said it was awaiting the outcome of the investigation.

The video, which was posted on websites used by the group in the past, appeared to be the latest in a series of blood-soaked messages to the U.S. warning of further brutality if it does not abandon its air campaign in Iraq and Syria.

“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen, of your country; Peter who fought against the Muslims in Iraq, while serving as a soldier,” the militant says near the end of the nearly 16-minute video. He speaks in an audible British accent despite his voice being distorted to make it more difficult to identify him.

The video identifies the militant’s location as Dabiq, a small town in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, near the Turkish border.

The video also shows what appears to be the mass beheading of several Syrian soldiers captured by the group. The militants warn that U.S. soldiers will meet a similar fate.

“We say to you, Obama…you claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago,” the militant said. “Here you are: you have not withdrawn. Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies,” he said, apparently referring to Western-backed Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military.

“Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.”

Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger, was providing medical aid to Syrians fleeing the civil war when he was captured inside Syria on Oct. 1, 2013. His friends say he converted to Islam in captivity and took the first name Abdul-Rahman.

Previous videos have shown the beheading of two American journalists and two British aid workers. The latest video did not show the person identified as Kassig being beheaded. Unlike previous videos, it did not show other Western captives or directly threaten to behead anyone else.

The group also holds British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has been shown in several videos delivering long statements in English on the group’s behalf, perhaps under duress.

Kassig’s family said in a statement they were aware of the reports of the video and were awaiting confirmation from the U.S. government.

“The family respectfully asks that the news media avoid playing into the hostage takers’ hands and refrain from publishing or broadcasting photographs or video distributed by the hostage takers,” they said.

“We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family, not in the manner the hostage takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause.”

The White House said the U.S. intelligence community was working to determine the authenticity of the video. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that if the video is authentic, the White House would be “appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American.”

The White House expressed its deepest condolences to Kassig’s family and friends, Meehan said.

The video emerged just minutes after President Barack Obama departed Australia for the U.S. The president was in Australia for the Group of 20 economic summit.

Kassig formed the aid organization Special Emergency Response and Assistance, or SERA, in Turkey to provide aid and assistance to Syrian refugees. He began delivering food and medical supplies to Syrian refugee camps in 2012 and is also a trained medical assistant who provided trauma care to wounded Syrian civilians. His friends say he helped train 150 civilians in providing medical aid.

ISIS has beheaded and shot dead hundreds of captives — mainly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers — during its sweep across the two countries, and has celebrated its mass killings in a series of slickly produced, extremely graphic videos.

The group has declared an Islamic caliphate in the areas under its control in Syria and Iraq, which it governs according to an extremely violent interpretation of Shariah law.

The U.S. began launching air strikes in Iraq and Syria earlier this year in a bid to halt the group’s rapid advance and eventually degrade and destroy it.

The fight against the militant group adds another layer to Syria’s complex civil war, now in its fourth year, which began as an uprising against President Bashar Assad.

ISIS emerged from the remains of al-Qaeda in Iraq and spread to Syria, where it battled both government forces and rebel groups as it carved out its self-styled Islamic state.

In June the group swept into northern Iraq, capturing about a third of the country, including the second largest city Mosul, and eventually prompting the U.S. to resume military operations in the country less than three years after withdrawing. In September the U.S. expanded the air campaign to Syria.

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Is Minting Its Own Money

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A fighter from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

It will be circulated in areas of Syria and Iraq

The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) said Thursday that it plans to introduce its own currency in the areas under its control because it wishes to “emancipate itself from the satanic global economic system.”

ISIS said it will be minting new gold, silver and copper coins as part of a new currency called Dinar, according to a message translated by SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors terrorist activity.

MORE: ISIS leader’s new orders: ‘Erupt volcanoes of jihad”

It is not yet clear how ISIS will produce the currency, which will be “based on the inherent value of the metals,” but the group says its “Treasury Department” will organize minting and circulation.

ISIS did not say when the currency would be launched or specify in which areas it would begin circulating the currency.

MORE: How to financially starve ISIS

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Leader’s New Orders: ‘Erupt Volcanoes of Jihad’

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq on July 5, 2014, AP

"Light the Earth with fire"

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of extremist group ISIS, called on his supporters to “erupt volcanoes of jihad” in an apparent new audio message released Thursday. The recording, which appeared to be genuine according to Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News counterterrorism consultancy, came days after speculation that Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in Iraq.

“O soldiers of the Islamic State, continue to harvest the soldiers,” the recording said. “Erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere. Light the Earth with fire.”

The extremist leader claimed the bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is failing, saying: “America and its allies are terrified, weak, and powerless…”

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Military

Why Navy SEALs Are Supposed to Keep Their Mouths Shut

Former Navy SEAL Rob O'Neill Who Killed Osama bin Laden Speaks At Chamber of Commerce
Robert O'Neill, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, speaks at the "Best of Blount" Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville, Tennessee, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 6. Luke Sharrett—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Those who brag about killing bin Laden erode the support the SEALs will need for their next mission

Robert O’Neill may have fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden, but he was merely the triggerman. The U.S. and members of its military—thousands of them—killed the 9/11 mastermind. The fact is that O’Neill and those telling his story seem to miss that point.

There is no “I” in “team,” coaches and military commanders are fond of saying. But that rule apparently applies less and less if you’re at the “tip of the spear” like the Navy SEALs who allegedly killed Osama bin Laden in his lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.

This week, O’Neill, an ex-member of SEAL Team 6, is slated to discuss his “kill shot” to bin Laden’s forehead with Fox News. His tale comes nearly two years after a colleague, Matt Bissonnette, also a former member of SEAL Team 6, wrote a book, No Easy Day, about the raid under the pen name Mark Owen. Both violated non-disclosure agreements they signed as members of the Navy’s most elite special-operations force.

“These things have to be kept quiet for a number of reasons,” Don Mann, a former SEAL and author of Inside SEAL Team Six, said Sunday. “Talking out like this goes against the fabric of our community.” But Mann cuts O’Neill some slack: first of all, the government made it clear, shortly after bin Laden’s death, that SEAL Team 6 was responsible (“To me, that’s the bigger problem,” Mann says). Then Bissonnette took too much credit for his role, Mann believes.

But O’Neill’s and Bissonnette’s decisions to go public with their role violates the SEALs’ tenets and irritates many in the military. These SEALs, in the eyes of the public, become heroes once their stories are told. But the action that warrants such acclaim has been built on the backs, boots and blood of thousands of anonymous troops (not to mention Pentagon civilians). An untold number of them played critical roles in the hunt for bin Laden; remove any one from the chain of success and the mission could have failed, with the loss of O’Neill, Bissonnette and the other SEALs who participated in the raid.

As word of O’Neill’s impending public victory lap began to leak out, SEAL leaders issued a memo trying to explain why it was wrong. “Any real credit to be rendered is about the incredible focus, commitment, and teamwork of this diverse network and the years of hard work undertaken with little individual public credit,” wrote Rear Admiral Brian Losey, commander Naval Special Warfare Command—home of the SEALs—and Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci, the SEALs’ top enlisted man. “It is the nature of our profession.” They reminded SEALS of a key element of their ethos: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”

Such a notion seems almost quaint in today’s self-centered, media-saturated culture. O’Neill’s words in the Washington Post (“I watched him take his last breaths”) seem more screenplay than reality, tainted with a sense of gloating that rarely is becoming in anyone wearing a U.S. military uniform. It is the selfless nature of American troops that makes their work honorable.

Both the public and the press seemingly relish identifying such SEALs, and glorifying their exploits, without care for what may be lost in the transaction.

If fame, and the fortune it can bring, become part of the allure of signing up with U.S. Special Operations Command, the men and women who actually make those missions possible are going to sour on their private sacrifice. The net result will be a less-capable force.

“We live in a democracy where the public has a real desire to know information,” Mann fears. “But we also live in a very dangerous world where military secrets need to be preserved for the safety of our military personnel and, ultimately, the safety of those they protect.”

The first secret worth preserving are the identities of those who carry out such missions.

Read next: Revealed: The Navy SEAL Who Killed bin Laden

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Officials Say ISIS Leader Wounded in Airstrike

This image made from video posted on a militant website on July 5, 2014 purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.
The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivers a sermon at a mosque in Iraq in this image made from a video posted on a militant website on July 5, 2014 AP

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials said Sunday that an airstrike wounded the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Pentagon officials said they had no immediate information on such a strike or al-Baghdadi being wounded.

Iraq’s Defense and Interior Ministries issued statements saying al-Baghdadi had been wounded, without elaborating.

An Interior Ministry intelligence official told The Associated Press that al-Baghdadi was hit during a meeting Saturday with militants in the town of Qaim in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The official, citing informants within the militant group, said the strikes wounded al-Baghdadi. A senior Iraqi military official also said he learned in operational meetings that al-Baghdadi had been wounded.

Neither knew the extent of al-Baghdadi’s apparent injuries. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential material. State television later also reported that al-Baghdadi had been wounded.

Al-Baghdadi, an ambitious Iraqi militant believed to be in his early 40s, has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. Since taking the reins of the group in 2010, he has transformed it from a local branch of al-Qaida into an independent transnational military force, positioning himself as perhaps the pre-eminent figure in the global jihadi community.

A U.S.-led coalition has been launching airstrikes on Islamic State militants and facilities in Iraq and Syria for months as part of an effort to give Iraqi forces the time and space to mount a more effective offensive. The Islamic State had gained ground across northern and western Iraq in a lightning advance in June and July, causing several of Iraq’s army and police divisions to fall into disarray.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, including into Anbar province, where fighting with Islamic State militants has been fierce. The plan could boost the total number of American troops in Iraq to 3,100. There now are about 1,400 U.S. troops in Iraq, out of the 1,600 previously authorized.

TIME National Security

Revealed: The Navy SEAL Who Killed bin Laden

Former SEALs preemptively revealed his name in protest of his decision to come forward

The identity of the Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden was a closely held secret until Thursday, when a site operated by former SEALs disclosed his name.

Robert O’Neill, a 38-year-old Montana native, was planning to reveal that he killed bin Laden in the May 2011 raid next week in interviews with Fox News and the Washington Post. But the former SEALs released his name in protest of his decision to come forward.

Read more at the Washington Post

Read next: Former Navy SEAL Who Wrote Bin Laden Raid Book Under Investigation

TIME Terrorism

Facebook and Twitter Are ‘Command-and-Control Networks’ for Terrorists

Spy chief: U.S. technology companies are in denial over the extent they aid terror and crime

The head of Britain’s equivalent of the NSA has said that U.S. technology firms that dominate the Internet must contribute more to the battle against violent extremism and child exploitation.

Robert Hannigan, the new head of Government Communications Headquarters, has accused Internet firms of being “in denial” over the role they play in crime and terrorism, demanding they work with security services to combat the growth of groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Writing in the Financial Times on Tuesday, Hannigan says that unlike other extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, ISIS has “embraced the web” and grown increasingly savvy in improving the security of their communications.

While technology companies may aspire to stand outside politics, their services increasingly facilitate crime and terrorism, argues Hannigan. “However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us,” he adds.

He says U.K. security agencies need better support from “the largest U.S. technology companies which dominate the web” and calls for greater cooperation, adding that most Internet users would prefer “a better, more sustainable relationship between the agencies and the technology companies.”

[FT]

TIME India

India Cannot Ignore the Ramifications of the Suicide Bombing at Wagah

India's BSF soldiers patrol in front of the golden jubilee gate at the Wagah border
India's Border Security Force soldiers patrol in front of the golden jubilee gate at the Wagah border on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Amritsar on Nov. 3, 2014 Munish Sharma—Reuters

The splintering of the Pakistani Taliban has led to a realignment of groups that might target India next, experts say

India and Pakistan conducted their traditional flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah border crossing on Monday evening, a day after a terrorist killed nearly 60 people in a suicide bombing on the Pakistani side.

Taking place at the only land crossing between the two neighbors, the ceremony is a major tourist attraction. There was talk of it being canceled, but in the event it went ahead, sending a message to the militants.

“Today’s ceremony proved that terrorists cannot lower the spirit of the nation by their cowardly activities,” said Lieut. General Naveed Zaman, commander of Pakistan’s Lahore Corps.

Multiple militant organizations — all splinter groups of the Pakistani Taliban — are claiming responsibility for Sunday’s attack, saying it was in response to the Pakistan army’s recent anti-insurgency crackdown in the country’s North Waziristan region. But the attack’s implications for India — which has fought three wars with Pakistan — cannot be ignored, several experts speaking to TIME say.

“It is difficult to believe that whoever was involved in planning this attack did not have any idea of its implications,” says Radha Kumar, director of the Delhi Policy Group. Kumar adds that trade and travel between the two countries, already at a bare minimum, would likely be impacted. “With flights between the two countries down to one a week, more and more people are using Wagah to cross over,” she says.

Ved Marwah, chairman of the Indian government’s task force on National Security and the Criminal Justice System and author of the book Uncivil Wars: Pathology of Terrorism in India, said India presents the “No. 1 target” for any forces threatening the security and stability of Pakistan. “I think it’s a very serious threat, we can’t take it lightly,” Marwah says. “The very fact that three organizations are claiming credit for this particular incident shows how deep the infection has infiltrated into Pakistan.”

The two countries have engaged in an on-again, off-again dialogue toward peace over the years, and their recent relationship has been tense mainly because of escalating military conflicts in the contentious Kashmir region. India has long accused the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, of encouraging and even facilitating cross-border terrorism, but the apparent lack of control over these groups has alarm bells ringing on both sides of the border.

“I think the primary message of this explosion is for Pakistan, these groups are saying that despite the dislocation of the Pakistani Taliban they still have power to challenge the state,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent Pakistani defense analyst, explaining the likely motives behind Sunday’s attack. “India will have to recognize that not all groups are under Pakistani control,” Rizvi says.

A degree of skepticism remains on the Indian side, however, and an Indian government official speculated to the Economic Times that the bomber’s intended target was India.

“They may not be [under the ISI],” says Marwah, “but the fact is their agendas and the ISI’s agendas converge as far as India is concerned.”

Rizvi admits that he shares that concern as well, especially following the weakening of the Pakistani Taliban, which has led to a realignment and attempted assertion of power among its rebel factions.

Major General Rashid Qureshi, a former spokesperson for the Pakistani army and close aide of former President Pervez Musharraf, says the North Waziristan operation should have started a long time ago and blames the current civilian government for the lapse. “In their effort to prove their democratic credentials, our government seems to tolerate lawlessness which I think defies proper governance,” Qureshi says. “The delay definitely strengthened these extremists and terrorists, and they were able to get a fair amount of influence and hold in the tribal regions,” he adds.

Qureshi describes the Wagah border as a “soft target” for the terrorists, the one place where he says India and Pakistan show some degree of cooperative interaction. “I think this act of terrorism had a twofold aim to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Pakistanis as well as the Indians, because the moment you see such an act happening so close to your border, you get a little apprehensive.”

While all three men agree that the two countries need to work together to resolve the issue through dialogue, the actual possibility of that happening seems low under the current circumstances.

“There’s very little likelihood of the leadership talking to each other because the political situation in Pakistan would not allow that,” says Marwah, referring to the massive protests facing Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and urging the need for back-channel diplomacy. “[Prime Minister Narendra] Modi in India doesn’t have the political compulsions that his counterpart has.”

Rizvi says the fact that the attacks targeted Pakistan serves is a saving grace of sorts. “Had such an incident taken place on the other side of the border, it would have created a major crisis in India-Pakistan relations.”

TIME Iraq

Iraq Confirms ISIS Massacre of Sunni Tribe

Tribal fighters look on as they take part in an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in the town of Amriyat al-Falluja,in Anbar province
Tribal fighters look on as they take part in an intensive security deployment against ISIS militants in the town of Amriyat al-Falluja,in Anbar province on October 31, 2014. Reuters

Baghdad says extremist militants viciously killed 322 members of the Sunni Albu Nimr tribe

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) slaughtered more than 300 members of a Sunni tribe, including women and children, during the group’s latest killing spree in Iraq’s Anbar province.

Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights confirmed that 322 individuals from the Albu Nimr tribe, who had reportedly risen up against ISIS’s brutal rule near Heet in the country’s Sunni heartland, were brutally murdered over the weekend.

Although ISIS is itself exclusively Sunni, the Jihadist group is nevertheless quick to dispatch those from its own denomination who refuse to pledge fealty.

The U.S. government was quick to condemn the brutal attacks. “This proves once again that [ISIS] does not represent anything but its warped ideology and provides more evidence, if any were needed, why our coalition partners, including Iraqis from every background, must work together to defeat these terrorists,” Jen Pskai, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, told journalists in Washington on Monday.

However, elders from the tribe blamed the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad for failing to provide weapons to the embattled community as they ran low on supplies.

“The government abandoned us and gave us to ISIS on a platter,” Sheikh Naeem Al Gaoud told the BBC. “We asked them many times for weapons but they gave us only promises.”

The massacre of the Albu Nimr tribe comes as Iraqi forces, in close cooperation with the U.S., are reportedly planning to launch a massive counter-offensive to dislodge ISIS from the territory it controls across northwest Iraq, which includes large tracts of Anbar province.

Iraq’s Sunni tribes played a pivotal role in defeating the earlier incarnation of ISIS during the U.S. troop surge in 2007, which succeeded in drastically stymieing sectarian violence.

But following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in late 2011, the country’s Sunni minority complained of being increasingly marginalized by the Shiite-led government in Bagdad, which resulted in renewed bloodshed. Analysts have long argued that Baghdad will likely fail to uproot ISIS without first partnering with the nation’s myriad Sunni tribes.

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