TIME isis

How ISIS Unites Lebanon’s Divided Factions

A snow covered taxi drives past a picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah in Jbaa village, south Lebanon, Feb. 20, 2015.
Ali Hashisho—Reuters A snow covered taxi drives past a picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah in Jbaa village, south Lebanon, Feb. 20, 2015.

"It’s sort of making the Lebanese state a bit more organized...which is not typical of Lebanon"

Since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad started almost four years, the people of Lebanon have feared the conflict would creep across the 230-mile border they share with Syria, tipping a once war-ravaged nation back into internal bloodletting.

Now both the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front are occupying part of the Lebanon/Syria border and thousands of Lebanese men have gone into Syria to fight, many of them for the Shiite militia Hizballah.

The border pressure has raised tensions in Lebanon, which has endured bombings and suicide attacks against both Sunni and Shiite targets, but the country has not crumpled under the pressure.

When Hizballah acknowledged last year that its fighters were in Syria, many Lebanese accused the Shiite militia of dragging Lebanon into Syria’s war. This increased divisions between Hizballah and Sunni factions such as Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and the March 14 alliance. Tensions were rising as Lebanese factions, communities, parties and individuals found themselves aligned with opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, some supporting the Assad regime and others the Sunni rebels fighting against the Shiite-aligned President.

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

But something unexpected has happened over the past year. The intensifying conflict and, in particular, the threat of ISIS has actually seen rival Lebanese factions move close together, says Yezid Sayigh, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center, a think tank in Beirut. “Here, I’m particularly thinking about Hizballah and other Shiite factions like Amal on the one side, and the Future Movement, March 14 camp and Saad Hariri on the other,” says Sayigh.

The rivals were galvanised by the capture and execution last year of several soldiers of the Lebanese army by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. The brutality of the killings, which were filmed and disseminated on social media, persuaded moderate Sunnis, Christians and Shiites that they had an external enemy that was more dangerous than their respective domestic rivalries. “In Lebanon, the ISIS threat has been sort of crystallizing or focusing minds on the threat of ISIS and therefore creating an opportunity for the main political camps to converge on a few key policy measures,” says Sayigh. “There has been a sharpening of the lines, with more people moving into a position not so far from that of Hizballah.”

He cautions, however, that this convergence won’t trump parties’ larger political interests. “It’s a unifying factor, but not to the point where anyone is going to set aside their private agendas,” he says.

About one-quarter of Lebanon’s four million people are Sunni Muslims, like ISIS. But the group hasn’t been able to make the sort of inroads it did with disenfranchised Sunni populations in Iraq and with rebel factions in Syria.

“It’s seen somehow as a social alien as it comes from eastern areas of Syria and northern Iraq, tribal clan communities, which are alien to much of Lebanon,” says Sayigh. “ISIS doesn’t have a natural social base in Lebanon,”

One place ISIS has found a foothold in Lebanon is inside the country’s Roumieh Prison, just outside Beirut. Pictures published on social media show smiling Islamists in front of a large ISIS flag hanging from the bookshelf in the prison’s library.

In June, ISIS fighters appeared in a video posted on social media singing for the liberation of their “brothers” in Roumieh, in front of a black and white ISIS flag. “We want to crack the gate,” sing the men in the video clutching weapons, their faces covered by balaclavas.

They compare the prison to Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison that became known for the abuse of prisoners at the hands of American military and intelligence personnel. And like other American-run prisons such as Camp Bucca in Iraq, where it now seems much of ISIS’ leadership met, Roumieh may also be a breeding ground for extremism.

The prison’s Block B housed hundreds of accused militants, living in close quarters. In the crowded cells, young men accused of small crimes were held alongside those convicted of masterminding more serious attacks. Some who worked with the prisoners say many of the inmates were radicalized inside. It was from within the walls of Roumieh, officials believe, that pro-ISIS militants organized a double bombing in January that killed nine people and injured dozens more in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. After the attack, the prison authorities cleared Block B, moving the inmates to other wings, making radicalization more difficult and promising reforms to the prison system.

Sayigh says the prison re-organisation is an example of how Lebanon is responding to the threat of ISIS and other militants targeting the country. “Ironically, it’s sort of making the Lebanese state a bit more organized, responsible or proactive, which is not typical of Lebanon.”

TIME isis

How ISIS Found Its Most Ardent Defender in Britain

Anjem Choudary in London in 2010.
Dan Kitwood—Getty Images Anjem Choudary in London in 2010

"The big signs of the day of judgement are unfolding before our eyes"

For Anjem Choudary, the events unfolding in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere are far more than just bloodshed and brutality. They are stages foretelling the Day of Judgement.

The 48-year-old Londoner says he is a student of Islam, not a spiritual leader, but he has been described by the anti-extremism organization Hope Not Hate as “a serious player on the international Islamist scene” and “the single biggest gateway to terrorism in recent British history.”

Choudary has not been convicted of any terrorism offense, although he is currently under police investigation and has surrendered his passport. That means he can’t fulfill his desire to travel with his wife and four children and live in the Caliphate established by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Instead he spends much of his time defending ISIS and justifying the more brutal things the group does. He believes that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is as legitimate a Caliph as Abdülmecid II, who was the last Caliph — the leader of all Muslims — under the Ottoman Empire until the role was abolished by Turkey in 1924.

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

The Caliphate is legitimate, Choudary believes, because it is implementing full sharia law, including the banning of alcohol, gambling, usury and prostitution, while providing services such as education, justice and social welfare. As a result, he believes it is his duty as a Muslim to live in the Caliphate — although he says it is not his duty to carry out any attacks in the U.K. where he lives, regardless of what ISIS might say.

That’s a key difference, given that in September, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani urged the group’s supporters to kill non-Muslims in the countries where they live. But Choudary sees no contradiction between his support for ISIS and his law-abiding life in the U.K. “If I am living here among the people, I can’t attack them, although there may be some people who will respond to those commands,” he says.

That’s one of the rare differences of opinion he has with ISIS. Choudary supports the brutal punishments that ISIS has handed out in the areas it controls. “If you look in the Quran in chapter five, Allah mentions these people who have violated the public sanctity. They should have their limbs cut from opposite directions or they should be crucified,” he says. “When you start to see things like crucifixion and beheadings, people say, oh, I haven’t seen that before. And yet that has always been there in the Quran. There has not been a situation where you have a Caliph who would implement those aspects of the penal code.”

When Moath al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian air force pilot, was burned alive in a cage in February, the world reacted in horror. Not Choudary. “When I look at the Jordanian pilot and I understand what he has done, I can appreciate what they are doing. It doesn’t make me feel uneasy or queasy. I can see it is as reciprocation for what he has been doing,” he says.

Al-Kasasbeh, who was shot down over Syria and captured by ISIS, was possibly involved in bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. In Choudary’s eyes, “the Jordanian pilot was a Muslim before he apostated by joining the the American alliance and bombing and killing Muslims. There is a concept of reciprocation. To put him in a cage was to show what was happening to people in their homes and houses when you drop the bombs and they treated him that way because he is a murtad, an apostate, which is worse than a kuffr, a non-Muslim. I think it had that intended effect.”

Choudary is united with ISIS in seeing world events through the prism of Quranic prophesy that foresees a series of wars and battles that prepare the way for the Day of Judgement. He believes ISIS takes great care in broadcasting its beheadings and punishment for two reasons. Firstly, ISIS wants to “to terrorize and horrify the enemy.” But it is also to provoke retaliation to bring forward the battles between Muslims and non-Muslims that he believes will hasten the end of the world. “The big signs of the Day of Judgement are unfolding before our eyes. The Prophet said that one day we will conquer Rome. And you can see now we are on the shores of the Mediterranean, ” he says, referring to the establishment of a branch of ISIS in Libya. “If we provoke them, then the prophesies will be fulfilled. It’s like a catalyst. It is meant to provoke but with something in mind.”

Choudary is certain that his worldview is the only truth. “I don’t think there is something called defeat. Because it’s victory or martyrdom. There’s something called the divine victory and the worldly victory. The worldly victory is to see the conquest of the land and the implementation of sharia. The divine victory is to obtain paradise. If someone dies on the battlefield that’s what he wants,” he says.

Even if the Caliphate were to lose territory and be eradicated, that would not constitute complete defeat. “That would be a defeat in terms of a battle,” he says. “You can lose battles but ultimately victory is with the Muslims. One day victory is yours, one day it is mine. We may lose a city, a town but the Muslims always win.”

TIME isis

Why Bashar Assad Won’t Fight ISIS

President Bashar Assad in 2014.
Joseph Eid—AFP/Getty Images President Bashar Assad in 2014

“The more powerful ISIS grows, the more they are useful for the regime"

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has long had a pragmatic approach to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), says a Syrian businessman with close ties to the government. Even from the early days the regime purchased fuel from ISIS-controlled oil facilities, and it has maintained that relationship throughout the conflict. “Honestly speaking, the regime has always had dealings with ISIS, out of necessity.”

The Sunni businessman is close to the regime but wants to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from both ISIS supporters and the regime. He trades goods all over the country so his drivers have regular interactions with ISIS supporters and members in Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold in Syria, and in ISIS-controlled areas like Dier-ezzor.

The businessman cites Raqqa’s mobile phone service as an example of how there is commerce between the regime, Syrian businesses, and ISIS. The country’s two main mobile phone operators still work in Raqqa. “Both operators send engineers to ISIS-controlled areas to repair damages at the towers,” he says. In addition, there are regular shipments of food to Raqqa. “ISIS charges a small tax for all trucks bringing food into Raqqa [including the businessman’s trucks], and they give receipts stamped with the ISIS logo. It is all very well organized.”

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

The businessman has a driver who lives in an ISIS-controlled area near Dier-Ezzor. “My driver is always telling me how safe things are at home. He can leave the door to his house unlocked. ISIS requires women to veil, and there is no smoking in the streets. Men can’t wear jeans either. But there are no bribes, and they have tranquility and security. It’s not like there are killings every day in the streets like you see on TV.”

And, he notes, ISIS pays well — slightly less than the pre-war norms but a fortune in a war-torn economy: engineers for the oil and gas fields are paid $2,500 a month. Doctors get $1,500. Non-Syrians get an expatriate allowance, “a financial package that makes it worthwhile to work for ISIS,” says the businessman.

Assad does not see ISIS as his primary problem, the businessman says. “The regime fears the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front, not ISIS. They [the FSA and Nusra] state their goal is to remove the President. But ISIS doesn’t say that. They have never directly threatened Damascus.” As the businessman notes, the strikes on ISIS targets are minimal. “If the regime were serious about getting rid of ISIS, they would have bombed Raqqa by now. Instead they bomb other cities, where the FSA is strong.” That said, the businessman does not believe that the regime has a formal relationship with ISIS, just a pragmatic one. “The more powerful ISIS grows, the more they are useful for the regime. They make America nervous, and the Americans in turn see the regime as a kind of bulwark against ISIS.”

A senior Western diplomat who specializes in the Syrian civil war agrees that ISIS is seen as an asset by Assad. “They will do whatever it takes to devalue the opposition, even if it means strengthening ISIS. They know that if it comes to choosing between the black flag [of ISIS] and Damascus, the international community will choose Damascus.” And the strategy has worked extremely well. “The way it’s going now, it’s a matter of months, not even a year, that the moderate opposition is so weakened that it won’t be a factor anymore. So in just a few months from now the regime will be able to achieve its strategic goal of forcing the world to choose between Damascus and the black flags.”

So by ignoring the conflict between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime to focus purely on ISIS may solve problems in the short term, says the diplomat, “but there will be more problems to come. These are the ingredients for a further escalation of the conflict — alienating large parts of the Sunni population, so that they have no choice but to join ISIS. Not for ideological reasons, but because they will do whatever it takes to overthrow the regime in Damascus.” Not only that, it will widen the geographical boundaries of the conflict by making this a fight of all Sunnis. “It’s a clear recipe for further escalation well beyond the geographical boundaries of the current conflict.”

However, Damascus believes that once it has neutralized most of the opposition, it can then defeat ISIS with ease. “ISIS alone, the regime can deal with them. What Assad wants is international recognition of his legitimacy as Syria’s President,” says the businessman. “When the war is over, he can easily handle ISIS with the help of Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

Read next: Don’t Take the Bait: The U.S. Should Not Send Troops to Fight ISIS

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME isis

ISIS Faces a Crowded Landscape of Terror in Pakistan

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Pakistani Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar in 2014.
Zohra Bensemra—Reuters Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Pakistani Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar in 2014.

With the Taliban dominant, ISIS will have trouble making space in Pakistan—though the group is becoming more popular

The brutal methods that the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has become notorious for were already seen some years ago, first in Afghanistan and later in Pakistan, as the two branches of the Taliban in those countries took root. The Pakistani Taliban, in many ways, are the closest analogue of the terror group now expanding across the Arab world.

Formed in 2007, the Pakistani Taliban seized territory, imposed its own brutal brand of Islamic law, executed opponents — including landowners, politicians, and others they deemed to be guilty of crimes of “vulgarity” and “heresy”. Women from among the famous “dancing girls of Swat” were found dead, their bodies dumped in the central square of Swat’s main town. Preachers of Sufi Islam, a syncretic form of the religion that puts a heavy emphasis on ascetic practices, were brutally killed – their bodies cut apart and hanged publicly.

Beheadings were also a constant feature. When the Pakistani Taliban kidnapped over 100 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan in 2007, they severed the heads of many, especially the Shia soldiers. A sword was used to cut across both ways and the head then lifted from the torso. The bodies of journalists were also discovered in some cases, dumped, with bullet holes in their backs.

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

The Taliban, like ISIS, share a sectarian ideology. Those whom they do not deem to be in line with their brutal brand of Islam, they declare to be non-Muslims. Those who aren’t Muslims, they deem to be “worthy of being killed.” This has led to attacks on army officers and religious minorities of various stripes — Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

The Taliban work closely with both al-Qaeda and long-established anti-Shiite groups like Sunni extremists Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. There is a lot of slippage between these groups; the boundaries between them are often ill-defined. Also, like ISIS, these groups will turn to kindap and ransom as a means of generating funds. Warren Weinstein, an American academic and development expert in his 70s, is still being held by al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas after having been sold up through various groups.

This makes Pakistan both an attractive breeding ground for ISIS, but also one that is so crowded out by entrenched terror groups that they may struggle to break into the market. “It’s an already busy landscape for militant groups,” says Simbal Khan, Pakistan scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington. “There’s no vacuum for a new group.”

That doesn’t mean they are not trying, and in some cases, already finding success. The Pakistani government has issued reports warning that “ISIS” or “Daesh” (as it is known by its Arabic acronym) has collaborated with sectarian militant groups, like Jundallah and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, along the border with Iran. Elsewhere, in November 2014, a series of former Pakistani Taliban militants announced their allegiance to ISIS and al-Baghdadi.

In Pakistan’s second city of Lahore, graffiti has appeared celebrating ISIS. Government officials and analysts say this is a more a feature of ISIS propaganda than any evidence that the group has operational capacity in Pakistan. Still, that same month, a number of ISIS activists were arrested from Lahore — they are thought to have been former members of anti-Shiite organizations that have a foothold in Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital.

After the Peshawar massacre, where Taliban soldiers slaughtered nearly 150 people at a public school, there appears to be greater clarity among Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership about the need to fight terrorism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced near the end of 2014 that there would no longer be any distinction made between “good militants” and “bad militants.” The policy of backing militants who attack Afghanistan and India while only fighting those who launched terror attacks at home in Pakistan would be reversed.

While the jury is still out on whether this will become official and lasting policy, the army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif — the most powerful man in Pakistan — has said that he will not allow a group like ISIS to establish a base inside Pakistan. They are watching events in the Arab world with mounting anxiety, but Pakistan and Afghanistan’s focus remains very much local for the moment. “The Pakistani leadership, in civvies and in uniform, are on one page,” says Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s Defense Minister. “We must fight for our existence, and the existence of all humanity.”


In The Latest Issue

ISIS Trap Time Magazine Cover
Illustration by Jay Shaw for TIME

The War on ISIS
As the U.S. and its allies prepare to attack the terrorist group’s stronghold in Iraq, the real challenge is the chaos that could come after

Don’t Take the Bait: The U.S. Should Not Send Troops to Fight ISIS
The group was, after all, spawned by the occupation of Iraq

Uproot the Enemy: The U.S. Should Send Troops to Fight ISIS
Our current approach isn’t working

The Real Meaning of $9 an Hour
Walmart’s modest wage hike isn’t just good for business. It’s proof the economy is doing better

Jeb Bush’s Sense and Sensibility
The candidate’s grown-up tone is a breath of fresh air amid so many strident conservative voices

Inside the World’s Largest Solar Power Plant
The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a burst of energy in the Mojave Desert

Madonna Stays in Vogue with Rebel Heart
Her bold new album shows that for the Queen of Reinvention, the more things change, the more they stay the same

Dog Interrupted: Psychotherapy for Pets
The animal mind is a complex thing. But there is new hope for nonhumans suffering human-like psychological problems

The Culture

Pop Chart

Review: The Buried Giant Is an Arthurian Epic
It’s been 10 years since Kazuo Ishiguro’s last novel

Maps to the Stars Shows an Oscar Winner’s Untamed Side
Julianne Moore shows off a taste for mania in David Cronenberg’s new film

Why Does Hollywood Hate Itself?
What causes the industry’s Oscar mire

Kehinde Wiley’s Royal Treatment
The artist does a street-chic update of the Old Masters

Will Smith’s Charming Con
He’s a smooth scoundrel in the heist comedy Focus

Unromantic Comedy

May I Fetch You Some Flavonoids?
As a concierge at a tony L.A. hotel, I test my ability to please the 1 percent



Obama’s Legacy on Trial
The fate of the president’s key initiatives rests with the Supreme Court

The Apps That Will Help You Get to Inbox: Zero
Office collaboration tools want to reshape the workplace

The New Way To Prevent Nut Allergies?
It’s with nuts

Covering a Global Story


David Carr
Media critic

Clark Terry
Jazz trumpeter


Why China is Making Life Miserable For Big U.S. Tech

A new report says China’s government has banned purchases from Cisco, Apple and other tech firms nearly two years after the NSA’s spying programs were revealed

On Sunday night, Citizenfour, a film about Edward Snowden holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room revealing the global spying programs run by the U.S. National Security Agency, won the Oscar for best documentary for its chilling portrait of technology and surveillance.

Three days later this week, in China, news surfaced that the country has banned government purchases from some of the largest U.S tech firms implicated in the very affairs revealed by Snowden, including most notably Cisco Sistems, but also Apple Inc, Citrix Systems, and Intel’s INTC McAfee security business. The companies were recently banned from China government purchases, according to an analysis of the government-procurement list by Reuters. The number of approved foreign tech brands on China’s purchase list fell by a third.

Whether China is really worried about U.S. tech firms jeopardizing state security, or if it’s simply using the Snowden news as pretext for favoring domestic technology firms, is being debated. But U.S. companies being banished from the government purchase list clears up any doubt that China is an oppressive market for big U.S. tech firms.

China reacted almost immediately after Snowden divulged the NSA programs in mid-2013. Cisco said afterwards its China business had slowed to a crawl, in part because its IT-equipment was associated with spying. (It was later reported that the NSA intercepted Cisco routers to install surveillance equipment without the company’s knowledge, which Cisco CEO John Chambers later complained about to President Obama.) Last year, Microsoft’s Windows 8 was banned from Chinese government computers for what the government said were security concerns. Today, the country is trying to cleanse key industries in banking, state-owned enterprises, and the military from U.S. technology by 2020, according to reports.

Until now, China hasn’t explicitly banned U.S. tech products, but it has gradually distanced itself from foreign tech. Earlier this month, China’s banking regulator said it was planning to require source code from any suppliers of IT products used by its banks. That is greeted as a nonstarter by Microsoft Corp, IBM and Cisco. If approved, the rule would effectively shut them out of billions of dollars of contracts. Industry analysts say the Chinese are years away from building their own equipment on par with say, Cisco’s, but they are getting closer.

The stripping of Cisco and Apple from the approved government list is the latest salvo in an ongoing tech conflict between the U.S. and China. The U.S. has similarly discriminated against Chinese telecommunications equipment makers for “state security” reasons. In 2012, a U.S. congressional committee warned that Huawei products could be used for spying—a charge the company continues to deny—but did not release evidence to support its claims. Huawei, the biggest telecom infrastructure maker in the world, can’t bid for U.S. government projects or large U.S. telecom contracts. ZTE , the second largest telecom infrastructure maker in China, is similarly banned.

In China, the situation has grown so poor for foreign IT that Cisco, in its latest quarterly results announced two weeks ago, said China sales dropped by 19%. Cisco’s public relations department won’t even directly address the topic of discrimination in China.

Except for Apple, which posted record sales in large part because its iPhone 6 dominated China’s market, there’s little reason to expect future good news for big U.S. tech in the Middle Kingdom. Snowden changed the dynamics in an already uneasy relationship. Now the effects are showing.

This article originally appeared on fortune.com

TIME Terrorism

Masked ISIS Executioner Is Identified

"Jihadi John" appeared in a series of videos that featured the beheading of hostages

The masked Islamist militant who shocked and horrified the world by executing journalists and aid workers in videos that marked a new level of brutality in terrorism has finally been identified, according to multiple reports Thursday.

Friends, authorities and people familiar with the case now believe that the man formerly known only as “Jihadi John” is actually Mohammed Emwazi, from West London, the Washington Post and BBC report. Emwazi is now thought to be the man in front of the camera on the beheading videos produced and circulated by the militant group Islamist State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). He’s believed to be the man who executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines, British taxi driver Alan Henning, and U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter

“I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John,” the Post quoted an unnamed friend as saying of Emwazi. “He was like a brother to me. … I am sure it is him.” The New York Times cited an unnamed senior British security official who confirmed Emwazi’s identity.

MORE Inside ISIS: A TIME Special Report

Emwazi is believed to have appeared in multiple videos depicting the gruesome killing of hostages, each time wearing a black garment covering all but his eyes. Now in his mid-twenties, Emwazi was born in Kuwait but grew up in a middle class family in Britain and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming.

Friends told the Post he was radicalized after what they say was a planned safari trip in Tanzania in 2009. His group was detained en route in Somalia and deported. Emwazi later told his friends he was met in Europe by a British intelligence officer who accused him of trying to support the al-Shabab militant group in Somalia and who tried to recruit him, the Post reports.

He became increasingly disillusioned with the West, according to emails he sent to a friend. He later moved to Kuwait, but was detained on a visit to London in June 2010 and prevented from leaving the country.

Security services have known his identity for some time but have not revealed it to the public, BBC reports.

A spokesperson at the British embassy in Washington decline to confirm the identity of “Jihadi John,” citing an “ongoing police investigation,” according to the Post. “Our prime minister has been clear that we want all those who have committed murder on behalf of ISIS to face justice for the appalling acts carried out,” the spokesperson said.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, did not confirm Emwazi’s identify.

“The U.S. Government continues to investigate the murder of American citizens by [ISIS],” Meehan said. “We will not comment on ongoing investigations and therefore are not in a position to confirm or deny the identity of this individual. As the President has said, no matter how long it takes, the United States will not rest until we find and hold accountable the terrorists who are responsible for the murders of our citizens. We are working closely with our international partners, including the British Government, to do everything we can to bring these murderers to justice.”

Read next: Don’t Take the Bait: The U.S. Should Not Send Troops to Fight ISIS

Listen to the most important stories of the day.


Don’t Take the Bait: The U.S. Should Not Send Troops to Fight ISIS

Karl Vick is a TIME correspondent based in New York. From 2010 to the autumn of 2014 he was the Jerusalem Bureau Chief, covering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories with occasional forays into other lands. He came to the magazine after 16 years with the Washington Post, in its bureaus in Rockville, MD, Nairobi, Istanbul, Baghdad and Los Angeles. Also spent a lot of time in Iran, and a year at Stanford as a Knight Fellow.

The group was, after all, spawned by the occupation of Iraq

In December 2001, when the war on terrorism was only weeks old, victory appeared at hand with the fall of Kandahar, the southern Afghanistan city Osama bin Laden had called home. Now that the question is how best to confront a fresh horror, it’s worth noting that the city was taken not by U.S. troops but by the same tag team that liberated the rest of the country: scruffy Afghan militias advancing in pickup trucks behind U.S. air strikes. As Christmas approached, there couldn’t have been more than 50 Americans in town, most of them Special Forces so at home in local clothes that they were easier to spot by the bumper stickers on their pickups: I ♥ NY. The rest of us were reporters haunting public venues like the central market, where one morning I noticed a man standing apart. He wore a black turban and a knowing look, both markers of the Taliban, and had a question. “Why didn’t you come on the ground?” he said. “It would have been lovely if you came on the ground.”

I knew what he meant, but not nearly as viscerally as I did two years later, in Iraq, where we came on the ground. Why we came at all is a bit of a mystery, but it was pretty clear pretty early that our physical presence created its own reality, armored up yet vulnerable both to labels–“occupier” at best, but also “crusader”–and constant ambush. “If you’re trying to win hearts and minds,” a Marine major told me in Najaf, “maybe sending 100,000 19-year-olds with machine guns isn’t the best way to go about it.”

Not massing U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a masterstroke, even if it came about mainly because the Pentagon lacked a ready war plan for the country that had sheltered bin Laden. It’s not just that Afghanistan has a way of swallowing armies. (Ask the British; ask the Russians.) There is an essential elegance to using what the military calls standoff weapons in a fight made infinitely more difficult by your actual presence. Which is why it’s fortunate that Americans have shown little appetite for a large-scale ground war against ISIS.

The group was, after all, spawned by the occupation of Iraq. Many of its leaders are veterans of the U.S. military prisons that turned out to double as universities for jihad. But their aim is no longer to expel the invader. Just the opposite. Now they want to lure us in. The fundamentalist narrative embraced by ISIS calls for a return of U.S. forces to Iraq, modern legionnaires fulfilling the role of “Rome” in the end-time narrative the group believes it has set in motion. It’s a millennialist vision as complicated as the Book of Revelation, but the U.S. role is pretty simple: show up. For anyone seeking a logic behind the gruesome decapitations of American journalists and aid workers, there it is–provoke a reaction.

The bloodletting does summon the associations of terrorism, barbarity and peril that have beset Americans for more than a decade now. But associations are almost all they are. To date, ISIS has demonstrated no particular ambition to attack the West at home. (That remains the raison d’être of al-Qaeda, whose Syria affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra harbors the elite al-Qaeda bombmakers dubbed the Khorasan group.) ISIS eyes another prize. Having declared a caliphate on the river valleys and desert land it has conquered in Syria and Iraq, it aims to turn the clock back to the 7th century. It functions both as a government and as a sectarian killing machine, slaughtering Shi’ites and many others in the name of purification.

To retain its sense of inevitability, however, ISIS must expand–something it’s been unable to do in Iraq since U.S. air strikes began in August. Recent growth, such as it is, has all been virtual, via pledges of fealty from existing jihadi groups in Sinai, Libya and other ungoverned dots on the map. The mother ship itself is hemmed in. Shi’ites and Kurds man the bulwarks to the east. To the west lie Syrian state forces that ISIS–nominally a rebel group–has mostly left alone.

What to do? The U.S. clearly has a national interest in preserving Iraq. (We broke it; we bought it.) But sending Americans back into Anbar and Saladin provinces would provide ISIS with pure oxygen and fresh waves of volunteers, while feeding the narrative that the U.S. is in a war against Islam. We have the planes, but this looks like a fight for guys in pickups who want to take their own country back.

Vick is a TIME editor at large and was previously the Jerusalem bureau chief

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


Uproot the Enemy: The U.S. Should Send Troops to Fight ISIS

Our current approach isn’t working

During an address to the nation that he delivered from the White House in September, President Obama vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. The only thing that has been degraded and destroyed in the intervening months, however, is the credibility of the U.S.

U.S.-led air strikes have killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters. But those losses have been more than made good by the stream of 1,000 foreign fighters who are estimated to join ISIS every month. ISIS’s snuff films, like one showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive, may trigger widespread repugnance, but they also have a sick appeal to a dismayingly large number of young Muslim men who thrill at the chance to establish a new caliphate.

ISIS is not going to run out of cannon fodder anytime soon, and the U.S. approach, limited to air strikes, has shown scant ability to dislodge ISIS from its strongholds, especially in Syria, where ISIS has expanded its zone of control over the past six months. For air strikes to work, they need to be launched in coordination with an effective ground force, but that has been mostly lacking.

The only real exceptions are the Kurdish peshmerga fighters and the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias. But neither the Kurds nor the Shi’ites will be able to clear and hold Sunni areas stretching from Fallujah to Mosul. Indeed, the more that bloodthirsty Iranian-backed militias gain prominence in the anti-ISIS cause, the more Sunnis will rally to ISIS as defenders of their embattled community.

Back in 2007–08, when al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’s precursor, was pushed out of the Sunni-dominated northwest of Iraq, it was by Sunni tribal fighters working in conjunction with American troops. To inflict serious setbacks on ISIS today will require resurrecting that successful coalition rather than flatly refusing, as Obama has done, to put any “boots on the ground.”

It is in America’s interest to send as few troops as possible into harm’s way and to get our allies to do as much of the fighting as possible. But sending only 3,000 troops and essentially prohibiting them from leaving base, as Obama has done, is a recipe for ineffectiveness. If we’re going to have any impact on the fight against ISIS, we need to take off our self-imposed shackles.

It’s hard to know now what commitment may be necessary, which is why it’s vital not to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force that would prohibit “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” It is folly to tell ISIS in advance that it has nothing to fear from the best ground troops on the planet.

Credible estimates of how many troops we should send range from 10,000 to 25,000. Just as important as the troop numbers are the rules of engagement under which they operate. It is imperative that U.S. advisers and joint tactical air controllers be able to operate on the front lines with the local troops they support. This was the formula that made possible the rapid overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.

In addition to sending advisers along with support personnel to protect and sustain them, we should be sending joint Special Operations task forces–composed of Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force and other Tier 1 operators–to target ISIS as they once did so successfully with al-Qaeda in Iraq. While aircraft can drop bombs and kill people, only commandos can capture and interrogate high-level terrorists, gathering intelligence that has the potential to wipe out an entire enemy network.

With a slightly larger commitment of American forces, we might be able to galvanize more local opposition to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But we need to be careful not to make the U.S. the enabler of Shi’ite death squads working at the behest of Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the country’s far-reaching, elite Quds Force. The entire Iraqi army may be so badly compromised by militia infiltration that it is better to focus American efforts on persuading the Sunni tribes of Syria and Iraq to join forces against ISIS. Baghdad–and Soleimani–might not approve, but the U.S. must ignore those concerns. Without the support of the Sunni tribes, the West will face an impossible task in the war against ISIS.

Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present


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


Activists: Number of Christians Abducted by ISIS Rises to 220

(BEIRUT) — The number of Christians abducted by the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria has risen to 220, as militants have rounded up more hostages from a chain of villages along a strategic river in the past three days, activists said Thursday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants have picked up dozens more Christian Assyrians from 11 communities near the town of Tal Tamr in Hassakeh province.

The province, which borders Turkey and Iraq, has become the latest battleground in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. It is predominantly Kurdish but also has populations of Arabs and predominantly Christian Assyrians and Armenians.

IS began abducting the Assyrians on Monday, when militants attacked a cluster of villages along the Khabur River, sending thousands of people fleeing to safer areas.

Younan Talia, a senior official with the Assyrian Democratic Organization, said IS had raided 33 Assyrian villages, picking up as many as 300 people along the way. It was not possible to reconcile the numbers, and the fate of the hostages remained unclear.

State-run news agency SANA and an Assyrian activist group, the Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria, said the group had been moved to the IS-controlled city of Shaddadeh, a predominantly Arab town south of the city of Hassakeh. The Observatory, however, said they were still being held in nearby Mt. Abdulaziz.

The mass abduction added to fears among religious minorities in both Syria and Iraq, who have been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State group. The extremists have declared a self-styled caliphate in the regions of both countries that are under their control, killing members of religious minorities, driving others from their homes, enslaving women and destroying houses of worship.

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday evening “strongly condemned” the abduction and demanded the immediate release of others abducted by the Islamic State and similar groups.

The White House condemned the attacks, saying the international community is united in its resolve to “end ISIL’s depravity.”

The Assyrians are indigenous Christian people who trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamians.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser