TIME Egypt

U.N. Agency Investigating Claims of Damage to Ancient Pyramid

Building materials gather dust at the foot of the Djoser Pyramid in Saqqara, Egypt on Sept. 16, 2014.
Building materials gather dust at the foot of the Djoser Pyramid in Saqqara, Egypt, on Sept. 16, 2014 Samuel McNeil—AP

Egyptian media has reported the 4,600 year-old structure has been damaged during an ongoing restoration project

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is requesting more information from Egyptian authorities on the restoration of the Djoser Pyramid, after Egyptian media reported that the 4,600-year-old pyramid’s facade had been damaged.

Agency officials told Agence France-Presse that the UNESCO World Heritage Centre “sent a letter to the Ministry of Antiquities requesting a detailed technical report on the work.”

The country’s Minister of Antiquities called the claim of damage “baseless,” according to AFP.


TIME Syria

U.S. and Allies Launch New Strikes Targeting ISIS Oil Fields

President Obama Delivers Statement On Recent Airstrikes Against ISIS In Syria
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the recent air strikes against ISIS on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, 2014 Win McNamee—Getty Images

The Pentagon says the targets included oil refineries that produce about 300 to 500 barrels of petroleum per day

The U.S. and partner forces launched additional strikes in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Wednesday, the Pentagon said. Forces from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly launched 13 air strikes against 12 oil refineries controlled by the Islamist group.

“We are still assessing the outcome of the attack on the refineries, but have initial indications that the strikes were successful,” U.S. Central Command said Wednesday. “Producing between 300-500 barrels of refined petroleum per day, [ISIS] is estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day from these refineries. The destruction and degradation of these targets further limits [ISIS's] ability to lead, control, project power and conduct operations.”

The strikes are a part of the U.S.’s ongoing effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for beheading two American journalists and one British aid worker, among other Western casualties. During a speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on more American allies to join in the fight to “dismantle this network of death.”


Syria’s Jihadis Should Be Confronted, Not Feared

We are far from being the country we were on 9/11. The dangers we face are more modest and our ability to respond to them are improved

Not all terrorists are an imminent threat. We use that label for all kinds of enemies, but the progeny of violent jihadism are different in important ways. A close look at the two groups the U.S. attacked in Syria shows why that matters and why we need to temper our fears.

Until those strikes, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL) was all anyone could talk about. In June the group captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and not long after it threatened Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region. The least subservient of the al-Qaeda branches, ISIS had early disagreements over strategy with Osama bin Laden. Both Sunni extremist groups were rooted in the hate-filled dawah—religious doctrine, curricular materials and money—that Saudi Arabia pumped out to the wider Muslim world to counter its Shi‘ite rival, postrevolutionary Iran. In that widely propagated vision, Shi‘ites, Christians and Jews are all anathema.

But ISIS’s founder, Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, who emerged from al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan to exploit the chaos created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, tacked away from bin Laden’s emphasis on Western targets. Instead he embraced a strategy of conquering and holding territory and killing Shi‘ites. Bin Laden disapproved of that approach because it resulted in too many Muslim deaths, alienating potential supporters. Early this year, ISIS and al-Qaeda split for good.

For many members of Congress and the commentariat, and even a couple of Cabinet members who mislaid their talking points, the distinction between the two groups didn’t matter. ISIS’s summer breakthrough meant a new, more technologically sophisticated version of al-Qaeda was coming. As one Senator declared, the President had to act “before we all get killed back here at home.”

The fear was exaggerated. ISIS represents a serious threat to Iraq and its region—which is reason enough for the Obama Administration to rally Sunni nations and others to combat it. But it is above all an insurgency, and the tools it knows are those of irregular combat, not al-Qaeda-style terrorism. It appears never to have plotted—and certainly never carried out—a long-distance, covert terrorist operation. As Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in a little-noted speech, “We have no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the U.S.”

That can change. ISIS’s ability to win and hold ground has generated real excitement among extremists worldwide, fueling unprecedented recruitment. Some sympathizers will feel impelled to show they too are part of the fight, as the plot to carry out beheadings in Australia demonstrates. The immense safe haven ISIS has carved out from Fallujah to Aleppo; the large sums of money it reaps from illicit oil sales, bank robberies and ransom payments; and the growing cadre of recruits from Europe and the U.S. add up to a possible future threat. No one should be misled: U.S. air strikes will likely hasten that possibility.

The other U.S. target, the Khorasan group, is a danger right now. The group is more al-Qaeda 1.0 than ISIS. Its name refers to the land beyond Persia, the farthest reaches of Islam. Bin Laden announced from Afghanistan in 1996 in his first declaration of war against the U.S. that he had been hunted but had found that “a safe base is now available in the high Hindu Kush mountains in Khorasan.” The group has al-Qaeda 1.0 personnel in its ranks, and like al-Qaeda 1.0, it has the West in its sights. Amid the anarchy in Syria, the cell appears to have plotted to use bomb technology developed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to target airliners. The bombs are variants of the hard-to-detect models that the Nigerian underwear bomber failed to detonate on a Northwest flight during Christmas 2009 and that an assassin blew himself up with in an attempt against the Saudi counterterrorism chief.

So how great a threat do these two groups actually pose to Americans at home? Though roughly half the public, spun up by beheading videos and congressional declarations of impending doom, believes we are more at risk than at any other time since 9/11, the dangers are more modest. The fact that the U.S. could gather the intelligence necessary to uncover the plot and carry out the strikes should provide some reassurance, even if a perfect defense is out of reach. And while it will be some time before the damage done by the air strikes is known, Khorasan and ISIS operatives are likely wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Syria is going to remain a chaotic, dangerous safe haven for a long time to come, and Iraq will not be much better. Air strikes in both countries are just beginning. But after hundreds of billions of dollars spent on intelligence and homeland security, we are far from being the country we were on 9/11. Knowing that is the first requirement of a successful strategy.

Benjamin was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counter-terrorism from 2009 to 2012 and directs Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding

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 Military

Military Pilots Enjoy National Parks, Too

They've got the right stuff when it comes to making a quick visit

If you’ve ever attended an air show, you know to expect the Navy’s Blue Angels or the Air Force’s Thunderbirds to suddenly roar overhead, hugging the Earth and delightedly scaring young and old alike.

It’s quite a different matter when you’re quietly communing with nature on the ridge of a canyon deep in Death Valley, and a pair of F-18s screams by—flying lower than you, down in the rocky gash.

That’s just what happens in this recently-posted YouTube video. It’s no surprise that the gobsmacked reaction of those on the ground (foul-language alert!) is just as much fun to witness as the F-18 Hornets themselves, which likely came from the nearby Navy’s China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.

“If there is one thing in this world that can turn a fully grown man into an excited teenage girl,” one viewer enthused, “it’s the sound of two GE F404 engines tearing overhead.”

Such flights, by military and other aircraft, have long been a concern, both for environmental and safety reasons. While it may be exciting, is this the proper use for such a national treasure (in this case the park, not the jets)? You bet, according to the National Park Service, which oversees the 5,200 square-mile California park.

While the FAA urges civilian aircraft to fly no lower than 2,000 feet—and orders them to stay above 500 feet—such altitude restrictions don’t apply to military planes. That’s because much of Death Valley is part of the R-2508 military training complex. “Congress and the FAA have given the military authority to deviate from standard flight regulations in the training complex,” the park service says. Outside of Death Valley itself—which includes many valleys—“the military can fly to within 200 feet of the ground.”

The military services regulate flights over national parks (Air Force, Army), but those rules don’t always apply when the park is part of a military training range.

Military pilots will tell you that flying low amid terrain—to practice hiding from enemy radar—can be good training for possible real-world missions. But such flights—especially outside military ranges—carry risks. In 1998, a Marine EA-6B jet crew was schussing, too fast and too low, through Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. It clipped a ski gondola cable and sent it plummeting more than 300 feet to the ground, killing all 20 aboard. “The aircraft,” the official investigation concluded, “flew lower and faster than authorized wherever the terrain permitted.”

The pilot and navigator were cleared of charges of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. They were later convicted of obstruction of justice and conduct unbecoming an officer for destroying a videotape, perhaps resembling the one from Death Valley, made from the cockpit during the fatal flight through Alpine Valley.

TIME Military

U.S., Allies Launching More Airstrikes in Syria

BESTPIX US And Arab Allies Launch Airstrikes Against ISIL In Syria
The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea launches a Tomahawk cruise missile on Sept. 23, 2014 in the Arabian Gulf. U.S. Navy/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon says the U.S. and its Arab allies are launching more airstrikes into Syria against Islamic State militants.

The strikes are a continuation of the broader military campaign that began Monday against the militant group. Four Arab nations — Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and United Arab Emirates — participated in those strikes, and Qatar supported the attacks.

The Pentagon released no details on the strikes or which countries were participating, but said the operation was ongoing.

As of Tuesday, according to U.S. Central Command, the U.S. had conducted airstrikes that hit at least 20 locations in Syria. Combat aircraft flew 64 sorties.

TIME United Nations

U.S. Leads U.N. Effort to Stop Foreign Terrorists From Traveling

U.S. President Barack Obama chairs a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council during the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2014, in New York City Timothy A. Clary—AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama convened a U.N. Security Council summit Wednesday to push for efforts to curtail the movements of extremist fighters who have played a substantial role in the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“These terrorists believe our countries will be unable to stop them,” Obama said Wednesday. “The safety of our citizens demands that we do.”

The rare move — only the sixth time the council has met at the head-of-government level — reflected the U.S.’s commitment to leading a global effort to prevent radicalism, share information about potential fighters and prevent potentially dangerous actors from committing acts of terrorism, U.S. officials said. The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution defining so-called foreign terrorist fighters, and providing an international legal framework for their prosecution.

The resolution calls on member states to criminalize the travel, or attempt to travel, of individuals for the purpose of “the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training,” as well as raising funds or recruitment of fighters.

The National Counterterrorism Center estimates that 15,000 fighters from 80 countries have or are currently fighting inside Syria, many alongside ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, including 2,000 Europeans and over 100 Americans. Some of the Americans, officials said, have returned to the U.S.

Senior U.S. administration officials said the resolution would create a framework for other countries to share passenger-name records and other identifying information for suspected fighters, preventing them from traveling to conflict zones and from returning to their home countries if already there.

In conjunction with the resolution, the U.S. designated 10 individuals and two groups, many tied to ISIS, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, subjecting them to U.S. sanctions.

TIME Syria

The UAE’s First Female Pilot Was Leading Airstrikes Against ISIS

She entered military flight school as soon as the UAE let women join

The United Arab Emirates’ first female pilot was a team leader in the United States-led airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in northern Syria this week, FOX News reports.

Major Mariam Al Mansouri, 35, is the first woman in the UAE’s air force, and reportedly took part in leading the airstrikes with allied forces from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain.

Al Mansouri joined the UAE’s air force in 2007 when it first started accepting women in 2007.

In an interview, Al Mansouri said being in the air force has always been an aspiration. She joined the country’s military flight school in 2007 when it first started admitting women, then graduated in 2008 before obtaining her current rank of commander.

[FOX News]

TIME National Security

The Meaning of the New ISIS Videos

Screenshot shows British hostage John Cantlie held by Islamic State militants at an undisclosed location on Sept. 23, 2014.
This still frame from a video released by ISIS on Sept. 23, 2014 shows British hostage John Cantlie who is currently being held hostage at an undisclosed location. EPA

ISIS has switched propaganda tactics, swapping snuff films for sermons

The orange jumpsuit is the same, but now there is no masked executioner, no knife, no barren desert backdrop. The new video series produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) features one of the militant group’s captives, British journalist John Cantlie, giving disquisitions from behind a desk.

As the United States begins a bombing campaign against targets in Syria, ISIS has switched propaganda tactics, swapping snuff films for sermons. In the first two installments of the ISIS lecture series, released on Twitter in recent days by the group’s Al-Furqan media center, Cantlie warns the West against the march to war.

“After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?” Cantlie says in the first video. “I’m going to show you the truth behind the systems and motivations of [ISIS].”

But for ISIS, the motivation behind the video is probably fear, says Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks Islamist extremism online. The murder of U.S. and British citizens failed to forestall the airstrikes, so the group is using the videos to argue the folly of foreign intervention against the self-declared Islamic caliphate.

To make the case, ISIS uses a familiar jihadist tactic: quoting Westerners critical of the West’s actions. In Cantlie’s second forced lecture, an almost six-minute clip released Tuesday, the British journalist, reading from a prepared script, quotes the former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, whom he praises for “considerable” knowledge of the Muslim world.

“Let’s get straight to the point with a quote from former-C.I.A.-chief-turned-vigorous anti-intervention-campaigner Michael Scheuer: ‘President Obama does not have the slightest intention of defeating the Islamic State,'” Cantlie says, quoting Scheuer to argue that a military strategy that relies on bombing but foreswears ground troops is a half-measure. Later in the video, Cantlie quotes a second U.S. official, former New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean, saying the U.S. “failed to anticipate” the emergence of ISIS.

This is a shopworn rhetorical device for jihadi propagandists. In video lectures to the faithful, Islamist leaders regularly mix in reproachful quotes from top Western officials to buttress criticism of the U.S. and its allies. “There’s nothing better,” Katz says, “than using our own words against us.”

Scheuer—a veteran of the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden task force turned staunch critic of U.S. foreign policy—is something of a favored source for jihadists. His quotes have been invoked in propaganda videos and literature at least 16 times since 2007, according to a database compiled by SITE. He’s been referenced by figures ranging from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to al-Qaeda’s American-born spokesman, Adam Gadahn, to a high-ranking official with the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab.

But the old CIA hand is hardly the only U.S. insider whose insights are deployed by jihadists. Both Bin Laden and Zawahiri have quoted journalist Bob Woodward’s reporting from within the inner circles of the presidency. Gadahn has twice invoked the writing of American author John Perkins, whose books purport to reveal the economic incentives of U.S. military adventures abroad. A native Californian with a finger on the pulse of his former country, Gadahn name-checked Bernie Madoff in a 2009 speech assailing the avarice of the U.S. financial system.

The words of Presidents and senior administration officials are regularly repurposed in Islamist propaganda for one cause or another. So are the columns of well-known pundits. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been invoked at least three times by Zawahiri, while Bin Laden liked to borrow criticism from the political commentator Noam Chomsky to argue America’s depravity in one form or another.

The new ISIS video filches a term from Obama himself. “The president once called George Bush’s conflict ‘a dumb war,'” Cantlie notes, suggesting Bush’s successor was slipping into one of his own. As long as the terrorist lecture series continues, so too will the pattern of using the enemy’s words against them.


Watchdog: French Hostage Killed by Extremists

(PARIS) — Algerian extremists allied with the Islamic State group have decapitated a French hostage after France ignored their demand to stop airstrikes in Iraq, according to a video released by a U.S. terrorism watchdog.

A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah said after abducting Herve Gourdel on Sunday that he would be killed within 24 hours unless France ended its airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

The French government has insisted it will not back down. It would not immediately comment on the beheading video.

Terrorism watchdog SITE Intelligence Group distributed a video by Jund al-Khilafah Wednesday announcing Gourdel’s death.

Gourdel was a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice seized in mountains of northern Algeria.

The video resembled those showing the beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker in recent weeks, but instead of showing President Barack Obama, it showed French President Francois Hollande.

France started airstrikes in Iraq on Friday, the first country to join the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State fighters there.

“Our values are at stake,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Wednesday after hearing about the video. He would not comment further, but minutes earlier he insisted that France would continue fighting in Iraq as long as necessary.

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