TIME Iraq

Denmark Joins Fight Against Islamic State Group

(COPENHAGEN, Denmark) — The Danish government says it is joining the coalition to strike at the Islamic State extremist group, sending seven F-16 fighter jets to take part in airstrikes against the group in Iraq.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt says her left-leaning government has a parliamentary majority backing the deployment of four operational planes and three reserve jets along with 250 pilots and support staff.

She said Friday a vote in Parliament is planned and is considered a formality. However, no date was immediately set for the vote.

The Netherlands has already agreed to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Neither country plans to deploy in Syria.

Denmark has already contributed a transport plane to a U.S.-led humanitarian operation in northern Iraq.

TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Lawmakers Debate Air Strikes on Militants

(LONDON) — British lawmakers have opened debate on whether to join the United States and a coalition of Western and Arab nations in airstrikes meant to thwart Islamic State group militants in Iraq.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the motion, which is supported by all three main parties and comes only days after Iraq’s prime minister requested help. The motion does not address any action in Syria. Critics say that would be illegal because Syrian President Bashar Assad has not invited outsiders to help.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond refused to speculate Friday on how long the military campaign could last, but lawmakers envision a long-term action.

“We are going into this with our eyes open,” Hammond told Sky News, that adding the Islamic State group is a threat to national security.

TIME Syria

Watch What Life Is Like for Ordinary People in an ISIS-Controlled Town

The student hid a camera under her niqab to film what life is like under militant extremism

A Syrian woman has secretly filmed what life is like in the town of Raqqa, in northern Syria, which is under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

The woman, a student, walks through the streets recording the daily life of local residents and ISIS militants with a hidden camera under her niqab, reports France 24.

Filmed between February and April this year, the footage was first broadcast on France 2 and translated into English by France 24.

The filmmaker, whose identity has not been revealed, walks past many men with guns but not all are ISIS militants. One woman dressed head to foot in a black niqab can be seen taking her son to a playground, an AK-47 slung over her shoulder.

At one point the filmmaker is stopped by a man in a car and told to cover her face properly. “You have to behave better when you are in public,” he says. “You have to pay attention by covering up. God loves women who are covered.”

Later she walks into an Internet café and overhears a French woman speaking to her relatives back home, reports France 24.

“I don’t want to come back because I feel good here,” says the woman, “I didn’t take the risk of coming here just so I could come back to France.”

She then tells her mother to stop crying and claims that life is not what is portrayed on TV. “There’s no point to you crying or being scared. What you see on TV is wrong, do you understand? They exaggerate everything on TV.”

An estimated 150 French women have left France and are living in Syria; many left to get married or join their militant husbands fighting in the country, reports France 24.

[France 24]

TIME Terrorism

1,000 Asian Extremists Are Waging Jihad in the Middle East, Says the Pentagon

PHILIPPINES-US-MILITARY-ECONOMY-WEF
Admiral Samuel Locklear, U.S. Pacific Fleet Command commander, speaks during a session of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Manila on May 23, 2014 Ted Aljibe —AFP/Getty Images

Experts say ISIS is galvanizing existing terrorism networks and lone individuals to join the sectarian slaughter ravaging the Middle East

The U.S. military believes at least 1,000 jihadist fighters have been inspired to leave their homes in Asia to fight with militant groups across the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.

“Our estimations today is there’s probably been about 1,000 potential aspiring fighters that have moved from this region, based on kind of our overall assessment,” Admiral Samuel Locklear, the U.S. Pacific Command commander, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

“That number could get larger as we go forward, but certainly that’s about the size or the magnitude that we perceive at this point in time.”

The Asia-Pacific is currently home to myriad homegrown jihadist networks, from restive enclaves in the Philippines and Indonesia to the rough tribal highlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Authorities in the region have long grappled with combating Muslim extremists, who travel abroad to participate in Islamist terrorist networks, only to return and wreak havoc on the home front later.

During the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, an estimated 800 fighters from across Southeast Asia and Australia joined the mujahedin’s ranks battling the Red Army.

The militants who survived and returned to their respective countries went on to form the core of several Islamist extremist terrorists groups that orchestrated attacks across the region, including the bombing of nightclubs in Bali in 2002 and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta two years later.

“All these attacks, the masterminds were Afghan veterans,” Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, tells TIME.

Experts fear that the new battlegrounds in the Middle East will provide the latest and larger crop of jihadists from the Asia-Pacific with the operational knowledge and connections to conduct larger attacks at home in the future.

“They will come back with motivation, ideology and skills and operational knowledge,” says Gunaratna. “They will know who should they contact in order to plan and execute an operation.”

And according to Gunaratna, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appears to be winning the hearts and minds of aspiring jihadists across the continent, thanks to their slick propaganda films and robust social-media campaigns, as “opposed to the boring lectures delivered by al-Qaeda and Taliban ideologues.”

“It’s a new level of strategic communication that is being started by ISIS,” says Gunaratna.

However, experts admit the difficulty in tracking whom fighters align themselves with once they’ve made it to the Middle East.

“Once they cross the border it’s hard to tell who is with who,” says Rodger Shanahan, a nonresident fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, by email.

But outside of just convincing fighters to move abroad, ISIS’s message appears to be motivating extremists to take action locally as well.

Earlier this week in the Philippines, terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, which pledged allegiance to ISIS this summer, threatened to kill two German hostages unless Berlin backs out of a U.S.-led coalition that began striking militant positions in Syria this week.

“The participation with support from Germany to America must stop, in the killing of our Muslims brothers in Iraq and Sham [Greater Syria] in general, and the mujahedeen of the Islamic State in particular,” read a translation provided by SITE Intelligence Group published by the Long War Journal.

TIME Crime

Police, Protesters Scuffle After Ferguson Apology

Protesters call for resignation of Ferguson police chief
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson begins to march with protesters before clashes led to arrests in front of the Ferguson Police Department on Sept. 25, 2014 Robert Cohen—AP

The police chief started to march with protesters at around 11 p.m. Soon after, a scuffle broke out about 20 ft. behind the chief, and one protester was arrested

(FERGUSON, Mo.) — Police and protesters clashed briefly in Ferguson just hours after the St. Louis suburb’s police chief issued an apology to the family of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer last month.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson appeared outside the police department in civilian clothes late Thursday to assure protesters that there would be changes in the wake of Brown’s killing, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“All those things that are causing mistrust are being evaluated and we are going to be making changes,” Jackson said.

The police chief started to march with protesters around 11 p.m. Soon after, a scuffle broke out about 20 feet behind the chief and one protester was arrested. The Post-Dispatch said at least three other protesters were arrested after another confrontation.

The Ferguson Police Department spokesman didn’t immediately return call to The Associated Press early Friday.

Earlier Thursday, Jackson released a video apology to Brown’s family and the community in which he acknowledged that Brown’s body should have been removed from the street much sooner after he was killed. Brown’s body remained on Canfield Drive, a residential street, for more than four hours while policecollected evidence.

“It was just too long and I’m truly sorry for that,” Jackson, dressed casually in a red polo shirt instead of his police uniform, said on the video. “Please know that the investigating officers meant no disrespect to the Brown family, to the African-American community or the people of Canfield (Drive). They were simply trying to do their jobs.”

To the Brown family, Jackson said: “I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son.”

Brown’s parents declined comment when told about Jackson’s video during a news conference with civil rights leaders at the National Press Club. Their attorney later said they hadn’t heard about the video but would review it.

Brown was unarmed when he was fatally shot Aug. 9 during a confrontation with Officer Darren Wilson. The shooting sparked numerous protests and racial unrest in the predominantly black community. Some residents and civil rights activists have said responding police officers were overly aggressive, noting their use of tear gas and military-style vehicles and gear.

“It is clear that we have much work to do,” Jackson said in the video.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Ferguson Police Department for possible civil rights violations.

TIME North Korea

No One Has Seen North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Three Weeks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang, in this still image taken from video released by Kyodo on April 9, 2014 Kyodo/Reuters

Kim Jong Un's absence from an important parliamentary meeting fuels speculation about health problems

What has happened to Kim Jong Un?

That’s the question everyone seems to be asking, amid all kinds of rumors following the North Korean dictator’s uncharacteristic three-week absence from the public eye. Kim was last seen alongside his wife Ri Sol Ju at a concert in Pyongyang on Sept. 3, and several news outlets are speculating that the 31-year-old may be ill.

The rumors intensified on Thursday with the North Korean leader’s absence from an important parliament meeting. Reuters reported that state-television broadcast images of his empty chair at the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s highest sovereign body, the first such powwow he has missed since coming to power three years ago.

The Wall Street Journal speculated on Friday that Kim might be suffering from gout, a disease caused primarily by an excessive intake of meat, sugar and alcohol. A South Korean official told the Journal that gout runs in the tyrannical clan, starting with Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994 at age 82. Kim also suffers from obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, he added.

Such rumors have been fueled by reports that North Korean television showed the country’s Supreme Leader walking with a pronounced limp back in July.

Another theory about his condition, according to Agence France-Presse, is that he picked up an injury while providing “guidance” to North Korean athletes competing in the Asian Games, currently in progress at Incheon, South Korea.

TIME China

Chinese State Media Now Put Death Toll From Xinjiang Violence at 50

Uyghur Life Persists in Kashgar Amid Growing Tension in Restive Xinjiang Province
A veiled Muslim Uyghur woman walks passed a statue of Mao Zedong on July 31, 2014 in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Kevin Frayer—Getty

Most of the dead are described as "rioters," killed in the aftermath of last week's explosions

Casualty figures from explosions and their aftermath in China’s restive Xinjiang region last weekend have been increased from two dead to about 50 dead, with some 50 injured, according to state media’s reporting of official figures on Friday.

The unverified numbers are a significant and belated revision to the authorities’ claim five days ago that two people had died in the unrest, the BBC reports.

State media now report that six people died on Sunday in what are described as terrorist bombings at two police stations, a market and a shop in southwestern Xinjiang, the BBC says.

The same official news portals say that security forces later shot and killed people described as “rioters.” In total, 50 people died, comprising 40 “rioters,” six civilians and four police officers, the reports said.

Radio Free Asia, which has Uighur reporters, gave different statistics, saying that about a dozen people were killed and 100 more injured in bomb blasts at three locations. Its report said the injured included 20 police officers.

Xinjiang – home to Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs — has become a hotbed of violence over the past year, with some 200 people dead in clashes there.

Beijing has blamed foreign-trained terrorist groups for the attacks, but human-rights observers put the responsibility for the escalating bloodshed on the central government, saying its discriminatory policies against Uighurs are fanning resentment in the region.

Earlier this week, a Chinese court sentenced a leading academic voice for Uighur rights, Ilham Tohti, to life in prison — a harsh sentence that appeared to signal China’s determination to crush even moderate dissent in its western region.

Some observers, however, say the widely condemned sentence will do just the opposite, silencing an influential and peaceful voice for reform and, in stoking outrage in Xinjiang, herald even more violence.

TIME indonesia

Indonesians Outraged by the Scrapping of Elections for Mayors and Governors

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Indonesian activists and students chant during a protest against a new bill on local elections outside the parliament building in Jakarta on Sept. 25, 2014 Adek Berry—AFP/Getty Images

The move by an outgoing parliament is seen as a blow to democracy and a bid to undermine President-elect Joko Widodo

The Indonesian parliament voted to scrap direct elections for regional office-bearers early Friday — a decision that critics say is a step backward for democracy in the world’s fourth most populous nation and biggest Muslim-majority country.

When Indonesians woke up to the news, many reacted with anger and fury. “A Democratic Betrayal,” read the Jakarta Globe headline on Friday.

It was former presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra Party, and his Red-White Coalition partners, that pushed to have district chiefs, mayors and governors indirectly voted in by local parliaments, as they were in 2005. Under the new legislation, governors from Prabowo’s coalition, which controls 31 out of 34 provincial legislatures, are expected to dominate the country.

The bill was passed just days before the current lawmakers end their term on Sept. 30, and weeks before Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is inaugurated as President on Oct. 20.

Supporters of the move say direct elections are expensive and rife with fraud — a point dismissed by opponents, including Corruption Eradication Commission officials, who say indirect elections invite even more corruption.

The initiative is seen not only as an attempt by Prabowo — who lost the July election to Jokowi but has yet to congratulate him — to undermine his rival even before he resumes office, but also as a bid by the widely distrusted political elite, of which Prabowo is a leading figure, to wrest power from ordinary people.

“Society will need to be prepared for leaders who are going to obey local parliaments more than they serve the people,” says Titi Anggraini, executive director of Perludem, an NGO focusing on elections-related advocacy.

Much of the anger is directed at outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, widely known by his initials SBY. He and his Democratic Party, which controls nearly a third of the parliamentary seats, said they would support direct elections. But, in the end, many Democrat lawmakers absented themselves from the voting when their demands for revisions were not meant, dealing a blow to Jokowi’s coalition and allowing the bill to pass.

The hashtag #ShameOnYouSBY was the top trending topic in Indonesia, and worldwide, on Friday. “Congratulations Pak @SBYudhoyono – now you have a legacy as the President who let democracy move backwards,” said Ima Abdulrahim, executive director of the Jakarta-based think tank the Habibie Center, on Twitter.

“Two generals have killed our democracy: Prabowo and SBY,” tweeted Luthfi Assyaukanie, of the Freedom Institute think tank, referring to the fact that both men are former military officers.

Yudhoyono later told journalists in Washington, D.C., where he is on a state visit, that he was “disappointed with the process and the result.”

Direct elections have been credited with the emergence of popular and untainted regional leaders who are not party oligarchs. It has given rise to humble politicians like Jokowi, who began his career as the mayor of the Javanese city of Solo; his deputy governor, Basuki T. Purnama; Ridwan Kamil, mayor of the nation’s third largest city, Bandung; Ganjar Pranowo, governor of Central Java; and Tri Rismaharini, mayor of Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya. All of them have opposed indirect elections, with Basuki even quitting Prabowo’s Gerindra Party over the issue.

“Do you know that with indirect elections, all of the regional leaders are practically under the instruction of the political elite in Jakarta?” tweeted Ridwan. He and other regional heads vow to challenge the legislation in the Constitutional Court. Perludem has promised the same.

TIME National Security

Khorasan: Behind the Mysterious Name of the Newest Terrorist Threat

William Mayville
Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Jr., Director of Operations J3, speaks about the operations in Syria, Sept. 23, 2014, during a news conference at the Pentagon. Cliff Owen—APe

The word Khorasan sheds important light on the grandiose, even apocalyptic vision that drives many Sunni radicals

It was six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and with dark smoke still rising from lower Manhattan, Ali Soufan was face-to-face with the most senior al-Qaeda leader in American custody.

Soufan, an FBI counterterrorism agent, was inside a Yemen prison, interrogating a captured al-Qaeda operative named Abu Jandal, a former bodyguard and confidante to Osama bin Laden.

Abu Jandal was far from intimidated by his American interlocutor. To the contrary, he sought to menace him. “You can’t stop the mujahedin. We will be victorious,” he smugly told Soufan. “You want to know why?”

He continued with a grin: “The hadith says … ‘If you see the black banners coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them.’”

Soufan recognized this Islamic saying immediately, and interrupted Abu Jandal to complete it: “And they will finally reach Baitul Maqdis [Jerusalem], where they will erect their flags,” he said.

The grin was gone. “‘You know the hadith?” Abu Jandal asked with surprise. “Do you really work for the FBI?’”

Abu Jandal had failed to appreciate that knowing the Khorasan hadith was part of the job of an Islamic terrorism expert like Soufan. As the former FBI agent explains in his 2013 book The Black Banners, the hadith of Khorasan — sometimes also spelled Khurasan — is fundamental to radical Islamist ideology. A prophecy describing a Muslim army from Central Asia storming across the Middle East and into Jerusalem has long inspired violent jihadists.

The hadith of Khorasan is newly relevant thanks to the disclosure by U.S. officials of a terrorist group by that name operating in Syria. The Khorasan Group was a surprise target of American air strikes in Syria on Monday night mostly aimed at the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

While America obsessed over ISIS in recent weeks, Khorasan remained unknown to the public until this month. President Obama had never publicly mentioned its name before Tuesday morning. But U.S. officials say they have tracked the group for two years.

Khorasan, they explain, consists of about two dozen members of al-Qaeda’s core leadership. Previously based in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, the men recently relocated to Syria. Unlike al-Qaeda operatives who fight the Syrian regime under the name of al-Nusra Front, the members of Khorasan reportedly took advantage of the country’s lawlessness exclusively to plot terrorist attacks against the West. (Officials are trying to confirm whether the group’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, was killed in Monday night’s strikes.)

Even as Americans try to understand this new threat, many terrorism analysts are skeptical of the moniker. They question whether Khorasan truly constitutes an independent group, or simply a clique within al-Qaeda.

“I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” says Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism analyst until 2009 and co-author of Find, Fix, Finish. Peritz wonders if the group is meaningfully different from bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. “If senior members from a company’s headquarters go work in a branch office, are they still part of the main office or a superempowered part of the branch?” Peritz says. “It’s not like al-Qaeda operatives carry business cards.”

Peritz isn’t alone in his skepticism. “We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from,” Robert Ford, who served until this spring as Obama’s ambassador to Syria, told al-Jazeera on Wednesday. “All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.” Two U.S. intelligence officials did not respond to requests for comment on the name’s origins.

Amid that confusion, however, it’s clear that the word Khorasan sheds important light on the grandiose, even apocalyptic vision that drives many Sunni radicals to terrorism.

The word itself refers to a historic region centered around modern Afghanistan and which spills into Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was once an important part of the pre-Ottoman Islamic caliphate.

The prophecy cited by Abu Jandal — attributed to the Prophet Muhammad but which many experts call of dubious origin — imagines a Muslim army emerging from the region and conquering the Middle East, including Jerusalem, under their black flags. This great victory, Soufan writes, amounts to “the Islamic version of Armageddon.”

Soufan says many of the al-Qaeda operatives he has interviewed believed they were helping to fulfill the Khorasan prophecy.

Bin Laden was well aware of Khorasan. As former State Department counterterrorrism official Daniel Benjamin notes in the new issue of TIME, the founder of al-Qaeda announced from Afghanistan in 1996 that he had found “a safe base … in the high Hindu Kush mountains in Khorasan.” Bin Laden may have chosen al-Qaeda’s black flag as an homage to mythical black banner. The ISIS flag is also mostly black.

Several videos are available online telling the story the black-flag Islamic army. One of them, titled The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags of Khorasan, was part of a YouTube playlist created by the slain 2013 Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The 13-minute video, which depicts the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sign of the prophecy’s fruition, summons Muslims to join the battle.

It is still available online.

TIME Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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