TIME Ukraine

Putin Boasts of Being Able to Take Kiev in 2 Weeks

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

The Kremlin doesn’t deny the stakes-raising comment but says it was taken out of context

Reports emerged Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin said he could take control of Ukraine’s capital city in as little as two weeks, a remark that escalated already-pitched tensions between Russia and the West in the lead-up to NATO’s summit in Wales.

Putin made the incendiary comment in a phone conversation with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, according to Barroso’s account, published by Italy’s La Repubblica on Monday.

Barroso said he asked Putin if Russian troops had crossed into Eastern Ukraine, La Repubblica reports. “That is not the question,” Putin reportedly said. “But if I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks.”

The Kremlin did not deny that Putin made the statement, but insisted it was taken out of context.

“Whether these words were said or not, in my viewpoint, the quote given is taken out of context, and it had an absolutely different meaning,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said, Interfax reports. Ushakov blasted Barroso for making public the contents of what the aide said was intended to be a private conversation.

This latest sabre-rattling comes as NATO officials prepare for a summit at which the alliance is expected to discuss its role in shoring up defenses in Eastern Europe, a perennial irritant for the Kremlin made especially urgent amid ongoing clashes in eastern Ukraine.

[NYT]

TIME NATO

NATO’s Dilemma: How Tough to Get With Russia

Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014 in Brussels.
Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014 in Brussels. John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The alliance must decide at its leaders summit this week how to react militarily to the incursions into Ukraine without getting into a dangerous standoff with Moscow

The NATO leaders’ summit taking place in Wales this week was always going to be a crucial opportunity for the alliance to re-define its role in a changing world. One year ago, it was expected to be dominated by soul-searching over its relevancy, with its troops finally gone from Afghanistan.

A lot changes in a year. Russia’s military incursions into Ukraine and forays across European borders once believed sacrosanct have inspired a new sense of purpose in the organisation, which experienced its heyday in Cold War. Its diplomats are in their element, vowing protection for member nations and pledging support for Ukrainian sovereignty.

But beyond this largely rhetorical escalation, NATO’s leaders have a dilemma ahead of them this week: do they respect the post-Cold War agreements which Moscow has apparently ignored, or forge a new combative path putting military resources right on Russia’s doorstep? And if it’s to be the latter, just how aggressive can they be?

One answer might be apparent in the creation of a rapid reaction force, announced Monday, ready to deploy within days should there be any military aggression against one of the 28 member nations. This military unit, numbering thousands of troops, will be on high alert at all times, with additional logistical support stations set up in Eastern European states.

“We cannot afford to be naïve,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a pre-summit press conference in Brussels this week. “We are faced with the reality that Russia considers us an adversary and we will adapt to that situation.”

Analysts said it was the strongest show of force yet from the alliance in response to Russia’s resurgent military ambitions. “While they won’t be deploying outside NATO, what it does is send a message of confidence to NATO partners in Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic states – the ones that are most worried by Russian aggression,” said Ian Keddie, an analyst with the military think tank, IHS Jane’s.

But a day after Rasmussen outlined details of the rapid reaction force, Russia responded with a review of its own military doctrine. “The fact that the military infrastructure of NATO member states is getting closer to our borders, including via enlargement, will preserve its place as one of the external threats for the Russian Federation,” said Mikhail Popov, a Kremlin security adviser.

And so NATO now faces a delicate balancing act. While some nations on the frontline demand the strongest possible reaction to Russia’s bellicosity, the alliance is erring towards a more measured middle ground — beefing up support for its allies but stopping short of any measures which could tip NATO into a dangerous stand-off with Moscow.

The rapid reaction force may not go far enough for some. Poland has asked for 10,000 NATO troops to be stationed on its territory, but any new permanent bases could contravene the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act, meant to reassure Russia about the post-Cold War borders. For doveish nations, including Germany, that would be a step too far.

Another sensitive issue is whether NATO invites new members to the alliance. While the Ukraine crisis began last year as a stand-off between the European Union and Russia over which way the country would orientate itself, Russia’s real concern was that Ukraine’s political pact with the EU would be the first step to NATO membership.

Few issues antagonize Russia more. It was just months after NATO agreed in theory to eventual membership for Georgia and Ukraine that Russian tanks rolled over into Georgia in 2008.

The alliance has been more cautious since then, but Ukraine’s Prime Minister vowing to reopen their membership bid will force the issue into the debate once again, likely in vain. Georgia too will fail to get official approval of a Membership Action Plan in Wales. Instead, there will be a pledge for increased military co-operation and technical assistance.

That won’t end the calls for enlargement, though. Georgia’s ambassador to NATO, Levan Dolidze, told TIME “Georgia is ready to take the next step” and said it was now up to NATO to lay out a timetable. At the same time, he urged the West to stand up to Moscow. “Stronger reactions are needed in general to oppose and to counter Russia’s aggression in the region,” he said.

One such reaction would be the provision of lethal or non-lethal military aid to the Ukrainians. U.S. politicians including Republican Sen. John McCain and Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called this week for the U.S. to provide weapons to the Ukrainian military. That drastic option is unlikely to win the support across the array of political positions within NATO, however.

Ukraine is also not the only global crisis NATO will have to respond to: there is war and instability in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and reflection on a patchy campaign to bring peace to Afghanistan. Nations are expected to agree to increase defense budgets, but with so much on NATO’s plate, many countries may decide to forge their own policies outside the alliance, threatening a unified stance.

“If the summit turns out to be bland and useless,” said Andrew Wilson, from the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations, “then member states may take it upon themselves to do more.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Senate Democrat Wants Bill Allowing Anti-ISIS Strikes in Syria

Senate Committee Holds Hearing On Rising Sea Levels At Miami Beach City Hall
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) speaks as he chairs a hearing entitled, "Leading the Way: Adapting to South Florida's Changing Coastline." by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation's Subcommittee on Science and Space at Miami Beach's City Hall on April 22, 2014 in Miami Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

After the apparent beheading of a second American journalist by ISIS

A Democratic senator said Tuesday that he’ll introduce legislation to give President Barack Obama “clear authority” to order U.S. airstrikes against Islamist militants in Syria.

Sen. Bill Nelson (F-Fla.) said he’ll file the legislation when Congress returns from recess next week. It wasn’t immediately clear if Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would introduce the measure as stand-alone legislation or as part of a larger defense spending bill. He previewed the legislative move the same day that the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) released a video purportedly showing the beheading death of American journalist Steven Sotloff—footage that, if authenticated, would be the second such video showing the group executing an American journalist in as many weeks.

“This will ensure there’s no question that the President has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria,” Nelson said in a statement. “Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.”

ISIS has for months been mounting attacks and capturing territory across Iraq and along the Iraq-Syria border. American airstrikes have slowed and in some cases reversed the group’s progress in Iraq, but ISIS has continued to wreak havoc in Syria.

TIME

Read Steven Sotloff’s Reporting for TIME

File photo of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff
U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. Reuters

In 2012, the foreign correspondent contributed reporting to TIME from Libya and Turkey

A video released on Tuesday by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appears to show the execution of Steven Sotloff, marking the second time in two weeks the extremist group has beheaded an American journalist.

Sotloff, a freelance journalist who had written for TIME among other outlets, had been held by ISIS since he was taken captive in Syria more than a year ago.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by reports of Steven Sotloff’s death,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs said in a statement. “Steven was a valued contributor to TIME and other news organizations, and he gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

Here’s a selection of Sotloff’s reporting.

“What Lies Ahead for Libya: An Interview with the Prime Minister,” Aug. 9, 2012.

Sotloff interviewed Libya’s then-outgoing Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib.

“The former University of Alabama professor of electrical engineering hardly looks like the Prime Minister of a country just emerging from an eight-month revolution. But behind the 62-year-old’s affable smile lies a decades-long Gaddafi dissident. During the revolution, Keib worked from Tunisia to finance the opposition. And though he has led the country’s government, he revealed he ‘would be happy to collect garbage for Libya if needed.'”

“The Bomb Attacks in Libya: Are Gaddafi Loyalists Behind Them?,” Aug. 24, 2012.

Weeks later, Sotloff wrote from Tripoli about the escalation in car-bomb attacks.

“When a bomb planted under a car exploded in a hotel parking in Benghazi last June, residents dismissed fears their city would be transformed into an urban battlefield. ‘Libya won’t become Iraq,’ said Abdallah Faraj as a fire crew extinguished the flames. A year later a string of bombings has kindled worries that this historically quiet desert country is facing a surge in violence. And it is unlikely to end soon as an interim government which did little to address security concerns having handed power to an elected government yet to find its footing.”

“Libya’s Fighters Export Their Revolution to Syria,” Aug. 24, 2012.

Later that month, Sotloff wrote about Libyan militamen flocking to Syria to help rebels topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“A businessman, Bwisir was also a musician and eventually wrote one of the unofficial anthems of the revolution. A video filmed by the pan-Arab news channel al-Arabiya showed him playing his signature guitar at the front, with an RPG slung across his shoulder. Meanwhile, he fought regime forces across the country, learning to make and defuse bombs.

“Today, the father of a 1-year-old infant is packing his bags for another fight: Syria. As rebels in the country struggle to bring down another strongman, hundreds of Libyans have flocked there to help. They have brought their fighting experience to the battle and may even be arranging weapon shipments to the underequipped Syrians.”

“The Revolt of Benghazi’s Moderates: Will the Rest of Libya Follow?” Sept. 22, 2012.

Sotloff wrote about the scene of demonstrations against the Benghazi’s local militias:

“Ever since the end of the Libyan revolution last October, the militias—both secular and Islamist–that overthrew former leader Muammar Gaddafi have acted with impunity. They stole cars and confiscated buildings. They clashed with rival brigades using heavy weaponry they pilfered from military bases. But an interim government too weak and disorganized to confront the brigades was unable to persuade them to merge them into a national army and police force. And so frustrated residents in Benghazi decided to act on their own.”

“The Benghazi Consulate: Has the Crime Scene Been Contaminated?” Oct. 5, 2012.

In October, Sotloff wrote again from Benghazi.

“A visitor rings the doorbell to a large gated villa in Benghazi, and a gardener slowly opens the heavy metal door. He welcomes guests with a big smile, offering them tea before giving them a guided tour of the sprawling grounds with its swimming pool and hefty trees, which obscure the view from prying eyes. But the villa is not just another secluded house owned by a wealthy Libyan seeking privacy. It is the most sensitive crime scene in the world.

“For each day of the past two weeks, TIME has visited the American consulate in Benghazi where the ambassador and three others were killed on Sept. 11th. And with the passing of every day, people cart off more and more evidence and sensitive information that could endanger the lives of Americans still in Libya, and impair the FBI investigation into the attack just now getting underway.”

The rest of Sotloff’s contributions to TIME can be viewed here.

TIME Middle East

ISIS Video Purports to Show Killing of Second American Journalist

US freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip inside Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Bahrain on October 26, 2010.
US freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip inside Al-Fateh Mosque in Manama, Bahrain on October 26, 2010. Mazen—EPA

Second time in as many weeks

A video released Tuesday by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) purports to show the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff. If the video is authentic, it would be the second time ISIS has killed an American journalist in as many weeks.

The video was first obtained and released by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the online activities of terrorist groups. The video, which TIME is not publishing and whose authenticity U.S. officials couldn’t immediately confirm, is similar to the video released last month of an ISIS militant killing American journalist James Foley. It depicts Sotloff, clearly under duress, criticizing American foreign policy before a warning from his masked killer and a threat to kill another foreign journalist.

“You, Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen,” the masked killer says into the camera, addressing President Barack Obama. “So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” the militant says.

Sotloff, a freelance journalist who had written for TIME among other outlets, had been held by ISIS since he was taken captive in Syria more than a year ago.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by reports of Steven Sotloff’s death,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs said in a statement. “Steven was a valued contributor to TIME and other news organizations, and he gave his life so readers would have access to information from some of the most dangerous places in the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

The Obama Administration said Tuesday that intelligence officials are working to determine the video’s authenticity.

“If the video is genuine we are sickened by this brutal act taking the life of another innocent American citizen,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said the U.S. intelligence community “is working as quickly as possible to determine [the video's] authenticity.”

“Our thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, are with Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Sotloff’s family and those who worked with him,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

ISIS has for months been mounting attacks and capturing territory across Iraq and along the Iraq-Syria border, even in the face of American airstrikes. The U.S. launched a raid in Syria in an attempt to free Foley and Sotloff earlier this summer, Pentagon officials said after Foley’s death, but American forces did not find the captives at the target location. Following Foley’s execution, the U.S. officials began considering expanding the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and into Syria.

TIME Infectious Disease

Window to Stop Ebola Outbreak Is ‘Closing Quickly,’ Official Warns

A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body of an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on Aug. 28, 2014.
A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body of an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on Aug. 28, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York TImes/Redux

The CDC says more needs to be done to fight Ebola before it's too late

The window of opportunity to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “closing quickly,” a top health official said Tuesday.

“The number of cases is so large, the epidemic is so overwhelming and it requires an overwhelming response,” Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters Tuesday after returning to the U.S. Monday from a trip to the affected counties.

Despite the efforts of health workers from the affected countries and elsewhere, cases of Ebola will continue to increase, Frieden said. Moments after his remarks, an aid group announced that another American doctor fighting the outbreak in Liberia has been infected.

Groups like Doctors Without Borders that are treating patients are overwhelmed by the high number of cases, and have had to turn away infected people due to lack of space. Frieden said he saw patients lying on the ground in some West Africa clinics. He stressed that Ebola is a global problem, and that closing off affected countries like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—many airlines have stopped flying there—will only worsen the outbreak by cutting off access to needed supplies.

“Getting supplies and people in is a big challenge,” Frieden said. “The more the world isolates and stops contact with these countries, the harder it will be to stop the outbreak.”

TIME Cancer

British Parents Who Pulled Son from Cancer Ward Won’t Be Charged

Ashya King's Parents Extradition Hearing In Madrid
A policeman stands guard as a police van allegedly holding Brett and Naghemeh King, parents of five years old Ashya King arrives at the National Court on Sept. 1, 2014 in Madrid. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

Police arrested Brett and Naghmeh King in Spain, where they had sought an alternative treatment for their 5-year-old son's brain tumor

British prosecutors will not press charges against a couple for taking their 5-year-old son from the cancer ward of a hospital without warning and flying to Spain to seek alternative treatment for his brain tumor.

The couple was arrested in Malaga, Spain over the weekend, where they were arranging to sell a home to fund an alternative treatment that they said could only be found outside the U.K., CNN reports. The withdrawal of their son from hospital sparked an international manhunt.

Brett and Naghmeh King said they felt they had no choice but to remove their son from treatment at University Hospital in the southern city of Southampton, after doctors there refused to agree to proton beam treatment that the parents argued was less invasive than chemotherapy. Their son, Ashya, suffers from a malignant brain tumor called medulloblastoma.

“We pleaded with them for proton beam treatment,” said Brett King in a video plea posted to YouTube:

The Kings have refused to return to Britain and have made a public plea to police to call off their search. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his support for the couple on his Twitter account Tuesday:

TIME Liberia

Liberian Government’s Blunders Pile Up in the Grip of Ebola

People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak.
People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak. Abbas Dulleh—AP

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government was forced to lift a quarantine of one of Monrovia's worst slums last week as errors mount

In a cramped bar down a dark alleyway of Monrovia’s sprawling seaside slum West Point, residents are dancing wildly. They shuffle and stomp across a concrete floor sprinkled with cigarette butts and splashed with beer and homemade liquor.

“We celebrating! We are out of jail!” says Mary Goll, a resident and local bar owner, who leans back to the bar crisscrossed with metal for security for another bottle of beer. Goll’s own bar is in ruins on the shoreline, half eaten by the Atlantic Ocean. Just as the ocean has eroded away the land and driven the community inwards, so too did a government-ordered quarantine imposed last week.

On Aug. 20, the Liberian government enforced a 21-day quarantine aimed at preventing the spread of the virus that has claimed close to 700 lives throughout the country, with cases and casualties mounting in the city. Médecins Sans Frontières has described the outbreak in Monrovia as “catastrophic” and the 120 beds in its treatment center in the capital are already full. The World Health Organization has said the epidemic could last for six to nine months and infect up to 20,000 people in the region before the outbreak is over. Liberia is now the only Ebola-affected nation in the region with rising cases in the capital.

On Friday Aug. 30, just 10 days into the quarantine, the government announced on radio it would be lifting the quarantine the next morning. At 6am the next morning, police and soldiers took away their barbed wire and makeshift wooden checkpoints. West Pointers have been celebrating ever since — but the government seems just as unsure how to combat the virus as it has been since the outbreak began.

The plan to cordon off this community of some 80,000 people was made after a holding center for victims was ransacked on Aug. 15, one week after Liberia declared a state of emergency. Suspected Ebola patients escaped, and looters stole infected materials and mattresses from the center. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Katie Couric the attack had motivated the quarantine because the attack “put the entire community at risk, therefore we had to protect them from themselves.”

But sources monitoring the security sector say the decision was less about the community’s safety and more a political attempt to show the government was in control of the situation. It had already blundered early in the outbreak by failing to prevent Patrick Sawyer, a consultant to the Ministry of Finance, from traveling to Lagos, despite the fact he was under observation having been in contact with a sister who died of Ebola. Sawyer, a naturalized U.S. citizen, died in Nigeria July 25 but not before infecting several people in Africa’s most populous country.

The government compounded that error with its lack of transparency. A day before the quarantine was imposed the Minister of Information Lewis Brown said the 17 patients who escaped were found and taken to an Ebola clinic at John F. Kennedy Medical Center, a claim that was denied by a doctor at the clinic. The Ministry of Health has since failed to provide concrete data on the number of suspected or confirmed cases in West Point despite requests.

Then, the first day of the quarantine came. As armed police wearing helmets and riot shields attempted to prevent West Point residents entering the rest of the city, the town commissioner Miatta Flowers attempted to escape with her family, to the fury of onlookers. Some began throwing rocks at police and others tried to escape across a makeshift checkpoint made of concertina looped between wooden benches.

Security forces opened fire and killed a 15-year-old boy named Shakie Kamara; another two young men were also wounded by gunfire. The teenager’s body was taken by Ministry of Defense officials, according to a news report, and buried without an autopsy. Only later that day did the police commissioner explain to residents food would be distributed and they would be inspected by teams from the Ministry of Health.

It was yet another major mis-step on behalf of the government. The quarantine had not been sanctioned by the international donor community, and Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, the World Health Organization representative to Liberia, had warned quarantining would only work with the community’s consent, which was neither gained nor sought.

“The force was disproportionate, they were already using batons, sticks, they had access to teargas and equipment to things to control an unarmed crowd,” said Counsellor Tiawan Gongloe, Liberia’s most prominent human rights lawyer. “I find it difficult to believe that there was any justification for shooting a 15-year-old boy who was unarmed. This is not a militarized conflict, it is a disease situation and a biological problem.”

It’s not hard to see why the government felt it needed to act. The cramped quarters, lack of access to running water and poor sanitary conditions of slum communities like West Point put them at a high risk of becoming hot spots for new Ebola infections. But Gongloe says the government has not been clear about what powers it has under a state of emergency, and has not been consistent in how it has used them. “[The government] must have an even handed approach to strengthen public trust in the government in order to fight Ebola,” Gongloe told TIME.

That public trust has been further eroded by the large number of public officials who fled the country after Sawyer’s death. Johnson Sirleaf said on Aug. 11 that government officials who refused to return home from overseas would be declared AWOL, and the Executive Mansion announced last week it had fired all but a handful of those who had still not returned. But she neglected to name those who had been fired, and many are skeptical she will follow through.

The government exodus contributes to a sense among citizens that Liberia’s wealthy and powerful have left the country’s poor to fend for themselves. Many expatriates who work for non-governmental organizations and international companies have been evacuated and their lavish apartments with 24-hour electricity and running water are now empty.

Most Liberians didn’t have that choice. Francis, a 15-year-old homeless youth who sometimes sleeps in one of the roughest communities in West Point, had to grease a palm to escape before the quarantine was lifted. He says he made his way out of West Point by paying an army man 150 Liberian Dollars (about $1.77 in U.S. dollars). The back of Francis’ head aches with an infected wound he says was made by a policeman who hit him with a baton as he tried to break free on the first day of the quarantine. It will be a while before Francis returns to West Point.

TIME

Report Accuses Islamic State Group of War Crimes

New report by Amnesty International

(BAGHDAD) — An international rights group accused the extremist Islamic State group on Tuesday of systematic “ethnic cleansing” in northern Iraq targeting indigenous religious minorities, as well as conducting mass killings of men and abducting women.

In a new report, Amnesty International said militants abducted “hundreds, if not thousands” of women and girls of the Yazidi faith. The extremists also killed “hundreds” of Yazidi men and boys, Amnesty said. In at least one incident, the report said militants rounded up on trucks, took them to the edge of their village and shot them.

The 26-page report adds to a growing body of evidence outlining the scope and extent of the Islamic State group’s atrocities since it began its sweep from Syria across neighboring Iraq in June. The militants since have seized much of northern and western Iraq, and have stretched to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

On Monday, the United Nations’ top human rights body approved a request by Iraq to open an investigation into suspected crimes committed by the Islamic State group against civilians. Its aim would be to provide the Human Rights Council with evidence on atrocities committed in Iraq, which could be used as part of any international war crimes prosecution.

In its report, Amnesty detailed how the advance of Islamic State group fighters expelled an estimated 830,000 people — mostly Shiites and those belonging to tiny religious minorities that barely exist outside of Iraq. They include Aramaic-speaking Christians, Yazidis, a faith that traces to ancient Mesopotamia, the Shabak, an offshoot of Islam, and Mandeans, a gnostic faith.

Most fled as extremists neared their communities, fearing they’d be killed or forcibly converted to the group’s hard-line version of Islam.

Thousands of Christians now live in schools and churches in northern Iraq. Yazidis crowd into a displaced persons camp and half-finished buildings. Shiites have mostly drifted to southern Iraq.

The sudden displacement of the minority groups appears to be the final blow to the continuity of those tiny communities in Iraq. Their numbers had been shrinking since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which triggered extremist violence against them.

“Minorities in Iraq have been targeted at different points in the past, but the Islamic State (group) has managed, in the space of a few weeks, to completely wipe off of the map of Iraq, the religious and ethnic minorities from the area under their control,” said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International.

The Yazidis, in particular, were harshly targeted as Islamic State militants overran their ancestral lands in August.

In one incident, the report said “possibly hundreds” were killed in the village of Kocho on Aug. 15 after militants told residents to gather in a school.

“They separated men and boys from women and younger children. The men were then bundled into pickup vehicles — some 15-20 in each vehicle — and driven away to different nearby locations, where they were shot,” the report said.

Islamic State fighters also systematically seized Yazidi women and children, some as they rounded up villagers, others as they tried to flee the militant onslaught, the report said. Their fate is unclear.

The report said they had obtained the names of “scores of the women and children” seized by the group. It said “hundreds, possibly thousands,” were likely being held.

Some captive women are secretly communicating with their families on cell phones, Amnesty said. They told their families that some girls and young women were separated and taken away, Amnesty said.

It appears that some teenage girls were taken in groups to the homes of Islamic State fighters, the report said.

The brother of one girl who escaped the militants told The Associated Press that his 17-year-old sister was held with another Yazidi teenage girl in a house in the Iraqi town of Falluja. Khairy Sabri said militants threatened to kill his sister Samira if she did not convert to Islam. Sabri said his sister was seized on August 3 and was moved three times.

After fighting intensified between Kurdish forces and the militants, the three Islamic State group fighters guarding the house fled, allowing the women to escape, Sabri said. Sabri said his sister was otherwise unharmed.

Amnesty noted allegations that some abducted women were raped or forced to marry fighters.

The group said detained women who were in contact with their families had not been harmed, but “they believe that others have, notably those who were moved to undisclosed locations and have not been heard from since.”

Yazidi lawmaker, Mahma Khalil, called on the Iraqi government and international community to urgently help the Yazidis who are still facing “continuing atrocities” by the militants.

“They have been trying hard to force us to abandon our religion. We reject that because we are the oldest faith in Iraq, that has roots in Mesopotamia,” Khalil said.

___

Hadid reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Marco Drobnjakovic in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.

TIME europe

Baltic States Fear Putin Amid Escalation in Ukraine

Demonstrators gather outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, to protest against Russian intervention in Ukraine, in March 2014.
Demonstrators gather outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, to protest against Russian intervention in Ukraine, in March 2014. Mindaugas Kulbis—AP

"They feel extraordinarily vulnerable to Putin and they're seeking reassurance from the West"

In the latest chapter of the West’s confrontation with Russia, President Barack Obama will travel to Estonia on Wednesday to stress U.S. solidarity with the Baltic states, the former Soviet republics rattled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in nearby Ukraine.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — the trio of tiny nations nestled against the western flank of the Russian Federation — only regained their independence from Moscow in 1991 amid the collapse of the USSR. But as Putin appears to tighten his grip on swaths of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, the Baltics fear they may be prey for their former ruler, experts say…

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

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