TIME Syria

This Time, U.S. Goes to War Against Oil, Not For It

U.S. and allied warplanes attacked a dozen ISIS refineries in eastern Syria on Wednesday. DoD

Attacks on ISIS refineries are designed to choke off funding for terror group

Some maintain that the Pentagon is a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated to its own preservation. If that’s true, it’s also worth noting that an expanding terrorist state is an oxymoron—one that will eventually collapse from its own internal contradictions.

The fact that the U.S. and its allies attacked a financial hub of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Tuesday–the first day of strikes in Syria—and spent Wednesday and Thursday bombing its oil-production facilities, highlights ISIS’s predicament.

Unlike a smaller terrorist organization—al-Qaeda, for example—ISIS now occupies, and purports to govern, a wide swath of desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border. It needs the estimated $2 million a day it’s grossing by smuggling oil because many, if not most, of its 30,000 fighters are in it for the cash, not the ideology. But the refineries represent only a small slice of ISIS’s oil revenues. It makes most of its money from crude oil, and the U.S. has refrained so far from attacking oil fields in the region.

If the money eventually dries up, Pentagon officials believe, many ISIS fighters will head back home. The terrorists control about 60% of Syria’s total oil production, according to a Syrian opposition estimate.

“Substantial uncertainty pervades our understanding of the mechanics, volume, and revenue associated with the terrorist group’s black market petroleum operations,” the Senate Energy Committee said in a report released Wednesday. “Depriving ISIS of whatever dark revenue pool it generates from its sales of oil will put additional strain on an organization with little capacity to expand its oil field operations.”

The U.S. and its allies damaged a dozen small ISIS refineries in eastern Syria on Wednesday. DoD

Wednesday’s attacks by six U.S. and 10 Saudi and United Arab Emirate warplanes took all 12 targeted refineries offline, U.S. intelligence believes. “They’re not going to be using these refineries for some time,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said. “We’re trying to remove the means through which this organization sustains itself.”

Generating such revenue requires industrial-like facilities, which can go from money-makers to targets in the flash of GPS-guided bomb.

That highlights an edge the U.S. and its allies have on ISIS. Sure, the terror group’s recruits, armed with AK-47s and pickup trucks sporting machine guns, can take over small refineries sprinkled across eastern Syria. But once they have them, they can’t keep them running under aerial assault.

Pentagon officials acknowledge they don’t know how long it will take for the lack of oil money to begin having an effect. But they know what they are looking for. “We’ll know when they have to radically change their operations,” Kirby said. “We’ll know when we can see that they no longer are flowing quite as freely across that [Syrian-Iraq] border. We’ll know when we have evidence that it’s harder for them to recruit and train, or they just aren’t doing as much training and recruiting.”

That’s the conundrum ISIS faces as it tries to expand and become a functioning state: so long as the rest of the world isn’t willing to let that happen, ISIS eventually will have to revert to becoming a poorer and smaller—though still dangerous—group.

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Beyond bombs: To truly disable Islamic State, the U.S. must outmaneuver their effective use of social media.

By Rita Katz in Reuters

2. The Truth Campaign has pushed teen smoking to the brink of a welcome extinction and helped create a new breed of marketing.

By Malcolm Harris in Al Jazeera America

3. Xi Jinping has urged reform to China’s corrupt political system – and he should heed his own advice.

By the editorial staff of the Economist

4. A new program focuses on training people to recognize and manage their own biases instead of reprogramming those biases out of existence.

By Leon Neyfakh in the Boston Globe

5. Will marriage survive the recession? Economics and education are major factors in the declining marriage rate.

By Neil Shah in the Wall Street Journal

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Counter-Terrorism Police Arrest 9 Men in London

File photograph shows Muslim preacher Choudary addressing members of the media during a protest supporting Shari'ah Law in north London
Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary addressing media during a protest supporting Shari'ah Law in north London in 2009. Tal Cohen—Reuters

British police arrested nine men in London on Thursday morning on suspicion of encouraging terrorism and being members of and supporting banned organizations.

The men arrested range in age from 22 to 51 and are all in police custody in London. One of the men identified is Anjem Choudary, one of the most high-profile radical Muslim preachers in Britain. Choudary, 47, was previously the head of Islamist group al-Muhajiroun or Islam4UK, which was banned in 2010. Choudary is well-known for organizing demonstrations against Western military action in the Middle East and for publicly expressing support for the Sept.11 attacks on the U.S. and the July 7 bombings in London.

London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that 18 residential, business and community premises are being searched in London, along with one residential property over 150 miles away in Stoke-on-Trent. Police added that the arrests and searches were not a response to any immediate risk to public safety, but were part of an ongoing investigation into Islamist-related terrorism.

[BBC]

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 Jordan

Radical Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada Cleared of Terrorism Charges in Jordan

Abu Qatada
Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada sits behind bars at the Jordanian military court in Amman, Jordan, on June 26, 2014 Raad Adayleh—AP

The British Home Office insists the 53-year-old is “not coming back to the U.K.”

Radical Islamic preacher Abu Qatada has been acquitted of terrorism charges by a Jordanian court. He was deported to the Middle Eastern kingdom from the U.K. in 2013.

On Wednesday, a court in the capital Amman found him not guilty of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks on Western and Israeli targets in Jordan during millennium New Year celebrations, reports the BBC.

He was accused of providing “spiritual support” through his writings to those alleged to have plotted the attacks.

In June, the 53-year-old cleric was also cleared of a conspiracy to attack an American school in Amman.

Abu Qatada had been involved in a decadelong legal battle in the U.K. Government ministers repeatedly tried to deport him to Jordan so he could face the charges in his home country, but judges were concerned he could face torture if repatriated.

After the U.K. and Jordan signed a deal in 2013 stating evidence gathered against Abu Qatada obtained by British deportees in Jordan could not be used, British Home Secretary Theresa May secured his deportation.

“It is right that the due process of law has taken place in Jordan,” a spokesperson for the Home Office told the BBC.

In 1994, Abu Qatada was granted asylum in the U.K. but officials quickly saw him as a security threat.

British judges called him a “truly dangerous individual … at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda,” reports the BBC.

[BBC]

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 Syria

Watch as U.S. Air Strikes Target al-Qaeda-Linked Khorasan Group

“We believe that the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland"

The aftermath of U.S. and Arab allies’ missile strikes on al-Qaeda affiliate the Khorasan Group can be seen on this footage obtained by CNN.

The U.S. Department of Defense said the first wave of strikes that targeted the extremist group were close to the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Raqqa, but do not go into more detail.

Tuesday’s attacks hit key Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) facilities as well as the little-known Khorasan Group, which is based in northwest Syria.

But it is not yet clear to what extent the Khorasan leadership and operatives had been taken out in the attacks. The joint staff director of operations Lieut. General William Mayville said the U.S. was still “assessing the effects of the strikes.”

The U.S. military says the terrorist organization, made up of seasoned al-Qaeda operatives, posed an “imminent threat” as they were preparing to launch a “major” attack against the West.

“We believe that the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland,” said Mayville, adding the group is attempting to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives to infiltrate their own countries.

“The Khorasan Group are clearly not focused on either the Assad regime or the Syrian people, they are establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the West and the homeland,” he said.

Speaking from the White House lawn Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “It must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and do Americans harm, that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

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 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.

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