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.

TIME National Security

Worse Than ISIS? A Primer on the Khorasan Group

Mushin al-Fadhli
Mushin al-Fadhli US State Department

Everything we know, and don't know, about the other extremist group targeted by U.S. airstrikes in Syria early Tuesday

The U.S. and a coalition of allies in the Middle East targeted a number of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) strongholds in Syria with pre-dawn airstrikes on Tuesday — but in an unexpected detour, U.S. warplanes struck a cluster of sites west of Aleppo, an area outside of ISIS’s purview and under the command of a little known al-Qaeda cell known as the Khorasan Group.

U.S. officials had not acknowledged the Khorasan Group by name until as recently last week, when director of national intelligence James Clapper said the group “may pose as much of a danger” as ISIS, the New York Times reports. While information about the group’s members and goals remains scant, officials have made clear with recent comments, punctuated by Tuesday’s airstrikes, that the Khorasan Group now constitutes one of the chief concerns of the intelligence community. Here’s a primer on what’s known and unknown about the group so far:

What is the Khorasan group?
A cell of battle-hardened al-Qaeda fighters who have set up a franchise, of sorts, in the contested provinces of Syria. The group has tapped new recruits from the influx of foreign fighters infiltrating the region. Their goal, officials allege, is to capitalize on their range of nationalities to carry out terrorist attacks on a range of Western targets, including the U.S. While they share ISIS’s severe interpretation of Sunni Islam and disdain for differing sects within Islam, they have rejected the group’s battle tactics, fearing that brutal attacks against Muslims in Syria and Iraq would erode support for their goals of waging a wider war against western powers.

How big is it?
The exact number of fighters is unknown. Estimates range from a few dozen to upwards of 50 fighters, intelligence experts told ABC News, though their affiliations are loose and shifting within a larger network of al-Qaeda fighters known as the al-Nusra front. Under the protection of the al-Nusra front, the group has secured land and buildings in the areas surrounding Aleppo. Tuesday’s air strikes suggest that it has commandeered a range of compounds, including “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities,” according to U.S. Central Command.

Who’s in charge?
Muhsin al-Fadhli, 33, formerly a close confidante of Osama bin Laden. According to the State Department, he was one of the few members of al-Qaeda entrusted with advanced knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He climbed the ranks fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and raising funds for al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq. The State Department has placed a $7 million reward on information that would lead to his capture, and has connected him to attacks on a French oil tanker in 2002 and a string of bombings across Saudi Arabia.

Why haven’t we heard of it until now?
The organization keeps a low profile, in stark contrast to ISIS fighters who regularly release gruesome footage of beheadings and mass executions over social media. Rather than brandishing blades before the cameras, members of the Khorasan Group have reportedly taken a greater interest in developing attacks that would employ concealed weapons.

Could it really be more lethal than Islamic State?
To the West, perhaps. Islamic State has a far greater number of recruits under its command, upwards of 31,000 according to the latest CIA estimate, but its aspirations so far have been fixed on establishing and expanding a caliphate in the region, wresting chunks of territory from Iraq and Syria, and driving out or killing waves of ethnic and religious minorities. Khorasan, on the other hand, seems to have a more single-minded ambition of attacking the U.S. and other western nations, according to officials who said that Tuesday’s airstrikes were meant to disrupt an “imminent attack” on western targets.

 

TIME China

Chinese Court Sentences Prominent Uighur Academic to Life for ‘Separatism’

University professor, blogger, and membe
University professor, blogger, and member of the Muslim Uighur minority, Ilham Tohti pauses before a classroom lecture in Beijing on June 12, 2010. Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty

International human-rights observers repeatedly called the trial a sham

A court in northern China has sentenced an ethnic Uighur academic to life in prison for promoting separatism in the nation’s restive Xinjiang province, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.

Ilham Tohti, a prominent advocate for the rights for Muslim Uighurs in China, and an ex-economics professor at the Minzu University of China in Beijing, received the near maximum sentence for the charges, which carried possible sentences ranging from 10 years in prison to execution, Reuters says.

International human-rights advocates had widely decried the separatism allegations against Tohti. Outside China, he is seen as a thoughtful, peaceful and moderate voice who has challenged China’s official narrative of several violent incidents in Xinjiang.

The stiff sentence — the harshest one in years for a Chinese political dissident — appears to be part of Beijing’s aggressive intensification of its campaign to put a lid on brimming discontent in Xinjiang. Clashes between Han Chinese, the nation’s majority group, and Uighurs, an ethnic minority making up about half of Xinjiang’s population, have led to hundreds of deaths in the vast, northwestern region.

Human-rights observers say the Chinese government’s discrimination against Uighurs is to blame for the sometimes violent boiling over of anger in the region.

[Reuters]

TIME Syria

The U.S. Is Risking Stalemate by Expanding the Anti-ISIS Air War Into Syria

U.S. Navy Targets Gaddafi Military Sites On the Libyan Coast
The U.S. attacked targets inside Syria early Tuesday with Tomahawk missiles like this one, shown being launched against Libya from a U.S. Navy warship in the Mediterranean Sea in 2011. U.S. Navy / Getty Images

Bombing the militants will halt their expansion, but it will not wipe them out

Tuesday’s bombing of Islamic militant targets inside Syria by U.S. and allied aircraft marks a sharp escalation of the conflict, with no guarantee of success.

The strikes, in and around Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the home base of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), began with 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from U.S. Navy ships. Air Force and Navy warplanes, along with unmanned drones, followed in their wake, defense officials said. The Air Force’s F-22 fighter-bomber also made its combat debut during the operation. Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates played unspecified roles in the attacks. All aircraft returned safely.

“The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple [ISIS] targets in the vicinity of Raqqa, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal,” U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said of four towns that are ISIS strongholds. Targets “included [ISIS] fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles,” Central Command said in its early-morning statement. More than 150 precision-guided munitions were used against 14 different targets.

ISIS wasn’t the only group targeted inside Syria. “Separately, the United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans—sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group—who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations,” the Central Command statement added. “These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets.” The Pentagon conducted eight strikes against Khorasan targets west of the Syrian city of Aleppo, including “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.”

“We wanted to make sure that [ISIS] knew they have no safe haven,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters as he flew back to Washington from Europe. “We certainly achieved that.”

Expanding the set of ISIS targets—the U.S. had attacked some 200 ISIS locations, all in Iraq, before Tuesday—is a military gamble with unpredictable consequences.

President Obama warned he would launch expanded strikes in a speech on Sept. 10.

“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against [ISIS] in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The Pentagon’s war plan “includes targeted actions against [ISIS] safe havens in Syria — including its command and control, logistics capabilities, and infrastructure,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress last week. “Our actions will not be restrained by a border that exists in name only.”

U.S. intelligence assets — including satellites and drones — have therefore been scouring eastern Syria for ISIS targets in recent weeks.

The new attacks, against fixed ISIS targets, undoubtedly did significant damage. But they also will force ISIS fighters to hunker down, now that their sanctuary inside Syria has been breached. This means that the jihadists, who have shown little regard for civilians, will move in among them in the relatively few towns and villages in eastern Syria, betting that the U.S. and its allies will not attack them there and risk killing innocents.

That could lead to a stalemate. While air strikes are likely to keep ISIS from massing its forces, and traveling in easy-to-spot convoys, air power can do little to stop small groups of fighters from billeting with and intimidating the local population.

Senior U.S. military officers, including Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, have said in recent days that they may recommend to Obama that small numbers of U.S. ground forces be sent into the fight, to ensure the accuracy of U.S. air strikes.

But most of the fighting on the ground in Iraq against ISIS will be done by Iraqi forces, U.S. officials say. “Moderate” Syrian rebels will battle ISIS on the ground inside Syria. However, the U.S. plans to train only 5,000 such rebels in the coming year — a small force compared with ISIS’s estimated 30,000 fighters. That mismatch is another reason why the conflict could bog down.

U.S. military officials have made it clear that if they are to have any chance of success against ISIS, they have to be able to strike at it inside Syria. In Afghanistan, the ability of the Taliban to move into Pakistan, where they were safe from U.S. attacks, is a major reason why they remain a potent threat to Afghanistan’s future stability, even after 13 years of war.

The Syrian government of Bashar Assad has a robust air-defense system — focused, admittedly, in the western part of the country, near the capital of Damascus, and not in the relatively desolate east. Nonetheless, its existence means that U.S. air strikes are not without risk.

ISIS and other anti-Assad groups have been waging a civil war, in which 200,000 people have died, against the Syrian government for three years. It’s that war — and the sectarian strife across the border in Iraq — that ISIS has been able to exploit. Over the past year, it has seized a vast portion of eastern Syria and western Iraq and declared it to be an Islamic state.

TIME Military

Army’s Top Officer Wonders if the Post-9/11 Wars Have Been Worth It

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing With Top Military Officials On Compensation
General Ray Odierno testifies before Congress in May. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

“I’m not willing to comment on that yet,” Gen. Ray Odierno says

At 60, Ray Odierno may be an old soldier. But he has yet to fade away.

He’s now serving as the Army’s top officer, following three senior assignments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010. Few, if any, commanders wearing a U.S. military uniform have spent as much time as the Army’s 38th chief of staff trying to get the nation’s post-9/11 wars right.

Ft. Hood Soldiers Prepare for Deployment
Odierno, 2003 Getty Images

So there he was over breakfast with reporters Friday, trying to explain the U.S. military’s effort, from the sky, to rid Iraq, and then Syria, of the jihadists belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Air strikes have slowed the advances of [ISIS],” he said. “But air strikes alone won’t defeat [ISIS]. You need a complementary ground capability that will go in and do that.” He, like other Pentagon leaders, wouldn’t rule out asking President Obama to dispatch small numbers of U.S. ground troops to the fight, even though Obama has said that will not happen. “I never rule anything out,” Odierno said.

Commander of the 4th Infantry Division o
Odierno, 2004 Getty Images

But it’s Iraqis and Syrians who will have to do most of the fighting on the ground, he added. U.S. air strikes will only drive ISIS fighters into urban areas, where innocent civilians will serve to protect them from American bombs and missiles, he warned. It will be a challenge to ensure the U.S. and its allies only train and outfit Syrian rebels dedicated to removing ISIS. “We must be sure they are who they are,” he said, “and won’t be part of some extremist group.”

US Army Lieutenant General Ray Odierno,
Odierno, 2007 Getty Images

Such woes have dogged U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade. His recitation reminded this reporter of seeing then-Major General Odierno in Kirkuk, Iraq, in December 2003, explaining how things were going in the 4th Infantry Division he commanded. Attacks on his troops were down, and they were hot on Saddam Hussein’s tail. A week later, they pulled the fugitive former Iraqi leader from his spider hole.

Gen. Odierno Holds Press Briefing On Security Situation In Iraq
Odierno, 2010 Getty Images

But such early progress proved elusive later on in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Odierno has felt that shortfall, personally. Eight months after Saddam’s capture, Odierno’s son, Tony, an Army captain and West Point graduate like his father, lost his left arm to an RPG round that killed the driver of his Humvee. Friday’s breakfast had been delayed a month because the original date conflicted with honors for Army Major General Harold Greene. The most senior U.S. officer to die in the wars following 9/11, Greene had been killed by a member of the Afghan army, a supposed ally.

Those were low points in what has become a 13-year grind, and that threatens—despite Obama’s best intentions—to continue for years to come. Has it been worth it?

To his credit, Odierno didn’t respond with a reflexive “Yes.” The hulking, nearly 6-foot-6, bald-headed general said he has been asked the question before. That only makes his answer more credible:

That’s a very difficult question…The bottom line on all of this is, as I think my way through this, is that first, as a soldier, what we do is we try to provide the capability to try to provide security for the nation. And we try to conduct the missions we’re given. As we’ve worked our way through this, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that military power is not the solution to everything—it’s got to be a combination of many other things—military, economic, political, diplomatic, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I would even argue in my area of operation in 2003—the violence was down, we had just captured the leader, things were looking pretty good—but there was an under-estimation of the societal devastation that had happened inside Iraq. The bottom line is that the Middle East is all inter-connected and it is going to cause problems and we have to stay involved in it. I don’t know what the end state is going to be yet.

What I do know is its terrorist groups are very threatening to both the United States and Europe. I brought some of our leaders up to New York to the 9/11 museum—I suggest everyone go, by the way, I suggest every American go to this 9/11 museum—and it was eerie listening to what was being said in 1991, ’92, ’93, ’94 by Osama bin Laden. It sounds very similar to what we’re hearing out of [ISIS] today. So we have to realize that this is a long-term threat that takes a long-term commitment. And if we don’t believe they want to attack the West and America, you’re kidding yourself…We have to make a decision on whether we are going to be pro-active in doing this, or are we going to wait until it’s too late.

So what’s helped me through all this is, I believe, we are attempting to be pro-active and to protect this country and the freedoms that we have. And I don’t want to sound Pollyannish, but I truly believe that. I think we have to continue to do this, although things have not gone the way I thought they would go. Things are not as smooth as I thought they would be. There’s been personal sacrifice, but not just by my family, but thousands of families in this country. I think we have to remember that there is, I believe, a threat to this country.

So has it been worth it?

I think it’s yet to be determined. I think this is going to be a long endeavor, and I think we have to let history decide that. I’m not willing to comment on that yet.

What’s surprising isn’t how little Odierno sounds a typical Army general, but how much he sounds like a typical American.

TIME Syria

Thousands Are Fleeing From Syria to Turkey to Escape the Latest ISIS Onslaught

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-REFUGEES
Syrian Kurds carry belongings as they cross the border between Syria and Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 20, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is already home to nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees

At least 100,000 Syrian refugees flooded across the border into Turkey over the weekend as Sunni extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) launched an offensive against Kurdish communities in northern Syria.

Approximately 150,000 people have been displaced since ISIS began to encircle the border town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, last week.

“Four or five days ago this area was quite safe,” Selin Unal, a spokesperson with the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, told TIME on Monday. “And then after three days, 100,000 Syrians fled to Turkey.”

The militants have reportedly routed dozens of towns and executed at least 11 people in the villages outside of Kobani, according to activists.

“[ISIS] are continuing to advance,” Welat Avar, a doctor, told Reuters from Kobani. “Every place they pass through they kill, wound and kidnap people. Many people are missing and we believe they were kidnapped.”

International aid groups and Turkish officials warned that thousands of additional refugees are likely to try to cross the border in the coming days amid the militants’ offensive. Before the weekend’s onslaught, Turkey had already been home to close to 1.5 million refugees from the conflict-torn nation.

“Turkish government authorities and UNHCR are preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands more refugees arriving over the coming days, as the battle for the northern Syrian city of Kobani forces more people to flee,” read a statement released by the U.N. refugee agency over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group classified as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington, called on fellow Kurds to take up arms to repel ISIS.

“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” the PKK said in a statement.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that hundreds of Kurdish fighters from inside Turkey crossed into Syria over the weekend to help beat back the ISIS offensive. Near the border, Turkish Kurds demonstrated in solidarity with the refugees, leading to clashes with authorities, who deployed tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

While ISIS’s thrust in Iraq has been largely slowed by U.S. air strikes, American forces have yet to target the militant group’s myriad positions in neighboring Syria, thus allowing the group to continue to consume large swaths of territory across the country’s north and east.

During an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power hinted that the White House and its allies are ready to strike in Syria, but refrained from announcing how the Obama Administration was preparing to do so.

“The President has said we’re not going to allow [ISIS] to have a safe haven in Syria,” said Power. “But no decisions have been made in terms of how we’re going to proceed in that.”

Earlier this month, Turkey refrained from joining the U.S.-led coalition aiming to take the fight to the jihadist organization.

The uptick in violence along Turkey’s frontier coincides with the release of 49 Turkish diplomats over the weekend. All 49 had been in ISIS’s custody for three months since jihadist militants routed Iraqi security forces in Mosul in July.

Ankara has yet to provide firm details regarding the so-called rescue operation that succeeded in freeing the diplomats.

TIME energy

ISIS’s Ultimate Goal: Saudi Arabia’s Oil Wells

Saudi Arabia oil
Saudi Arabia has the richest reserves of oil on the planet Marwan Naamani—AFP/Getty Images

The terror group has its sights set on the world's biggest oil reserves

Originally appeared on OilPrice.com

For the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, Syria and Iraq were a good place to start their campaign, but in order to survive and prosper it knew from the outset that it had no choice but to set its sights on the ultimate prize: the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

It is in that direction that the battle for control of the world’s largest oil fields is currently heading.

Islamic State — which has its origins in al-Qaeda – knows fully well that in order to sustain itself as a viable and lasting religious, political, economic and military entity in the region, it has to follow the same objectives established by al-Qaeda when Osama bin Laden broke off his relations with the Saudi monarchy and vowed to bring down the House of Saud.

Bin Laden’s ire at the Saudi monarchy stemmed from the fact that Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud invited the American military to use Saudi Arabia as a staging area to build up forces to take on the then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after Iraqi troops occupied Kuwait in August of 1990. Bin Laden objected to the presence of “infidels” in the land of the two holy mosques, and asked the king to allow his outfit to tackle Saddam Hussein’s troops.

Similarly, IS knows that it will only feel secure once Saudi Arabia is part of the Caliphate, and its oil fields are under IS control — which is why the group has two logical next steps.

First, to capture and secure the most important country in the Muslim world: Saudi Arabia.

If the battle for Syria and Iraq attracted tens of hundreds, (some say tens of thousands) of young Muslims, the battle for control of Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, are very likely to attract many more fighters into the ranks of the Islamic State.

And second, to take on the United States — the one remaining superpower that could stop its march on the oilfields of Saudi Arabia, and ultimately the rest of the Gulf.

After much hesitation, it now appears that the Obama administration has come around to realizing the true danger posed by IS. Washington, along with some of its NATO allies, is now formulating a plan to defeat IS.

However, it may be wise to point out that Washington’s track record in dealing with Middle East problems has not been something to crow about. As a point of reference, one need only mention Iraq and Afghanistan — both prime examples of how not to do things.

Even if the U.S. can defeat IS militarily, any victory would only be temporary since eventually, U.S. troops will pull out and the remnants of IS would emerge from their respective hiding places, as they did after Saddam Hussein’s capture and death. Indeed, a U.S. intervention — through its massive air campaign — will foment even greater animosity toward the West in general, and the United States, in particular. It’s all déjà vu.

The one power that can effectively move against IS in a manner that would appear legitimate to other Muslims is Saudi Arabia, as Nawaf Obaid, a fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Saud al-Sarhan, research director at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies pointed out in a joint opinion piece published Sept. 9 in the New York Times.

The authors dispute the widely believed notion that Saudi Arabia created IS and is funding it. “Saudi Arabia is not the source of ISIS — it’s the group’s primary target,” they write.

As Obaid and al-Sarhan put it, “The Saudi leadership has a unique form of religious credibility and legitimacy, which will make it far more effective than other governments at delegitimizing ISIS’s monstrous terrorist ideology.”

What makes IS powerful today is the fact that they laid out their military strategy based on where oil fields are located. The fact that they went after northeast Syria and northern Iraq is not coincidental by any means. Islamic State may be ruthless and brutal, but it is first and foremost a terrorist organization with an astute business plan.

The capture of oil wells in Syria and Iraq has made the group financially self-sufficient. Now it’s all or nothing.

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TIME Australia

Australian Police Foil Islamist Terrorist Plot in Country’s Largest Ever Raid

AUSTRALIA-ATTACKS-IRAQ-SYRIA-CONFLICT-POLICE
New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione, second from right, speaks during a press conference in Sydney on Sept. 18, 2014, after Australia's largest ever counterterrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to "commit violent acts" William West—AFP/Getty Images

More than 800 security personnel raided 25 addresses in two cities

Australian security officials say that they have thwarted an alleged plot by Islamist extremists to snatch a random member of the Australian public and behead them on camera.

The revelation comes after raids on 25 homes across Sydney and Brisbane early Thursday morning by more than 800 uniformed police officers, forensic experts, and agents from chief spy agency ASIO, in the largest counterterrorism raid every conducted on Australian soil.

The raids resulted in the seizure of computers, documents, a firearm and the arrest of 15 suspects, one of whom, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari, will face court in Sydney later on Thursday, when details of the alleged beheading plot are expected to be revealed.

“You know it is of serious concern that right at the heart of our communities we have people that are planning to conduct random attacks,” New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione said at a press briefing. “Today we worked together to make sure that didn’t happen. We have disrupted that particular attack.”

The swoop took place on the same day that 10 Australian military aircraft, 400 support personnel and 200 special-forces troops were dispatched to the United Arab Emirates as part of the U.S.-led coalition against IS militants in Syria and Iraq.

The raids also follow the arrest last week in Brisbane of two suspects at an Islamic bookstore, accused of recruiting jihadist fighters for Syria, and an announcement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott that the country’s terrorism-alert level had been raised from medium to high.

Abbott said at the time there was “no specific intelligence of particular plots” but asked the community to be vigilant and warmed of an increase in security measures at airports, government buildings and major events, including the 2014 G-20 summit to be held in Brisbane from Nov. 15 to 16.

Clive Williams, an adjunct professor with the Department of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at the Australian National University, tells TIME that the recent cancellation of the passports of up to 60 Australians suspected of extremist links may have inadvertently increased the chance of an attack on home soil.

“The policy of stopping extremists from traveling overseas and fighting in Syria or Iraq has resulted in a large pool of frustrated people,” he explains. “They are a large risk to us and more of a threat than [Australian jihadists] who are already in the Middle East and may decide to come back one day.”

Sam Makinda, professor and founder of Murdoch University’s security, terrorism and counterterrorism studies program, says that “having supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and so on, Australia had long ago painted itself as a target.”

He adds, “The only reason Australia has not yet suffered a terror attack is because ASIO has worked so efficiently, professionally and successfully in the past.”

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