For Yazidi survivors of Islamic State killings, the nightmares go on

Ongoing legacy of ISIS atrocities:

Ever since Islamic State visited death and destruction on their villages in northern Iraq nearly five years ago, Yazidis Daoud Ibrahim and Kocher Hassan have had trouble sleeping.

For Hassan, 39, who was captured, it is her three missing children, and three years of imprisonment at the hands of the jihadist group.

For Ibrahim, 42, who escaped, it is the mass grave that he returned to find on his ravaged land.

“They burnt one house down, blew up the other, they torched the olive trees two three times…There is nothing left,” the father of eight told Reuters.

More than 3,000 other members of their minority sect were killed in 2014 in an onslaught that the United Nations described as genocidal.

Ibrahim and Hassan lived to tell of their suffering, but like other survivors, they have not moved on.

She will never set foot in her village of Rambousi again. “My sons built that house. I can’t go back without them…Their school books are still there, their clothes,” she said.

‘THEY WANT TO BE BURIED’

As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to announce the demise of the Islamist group in Syria and Iraq, U.N. data suggests many of those it displaced in the latter country have, like Hassan, not returned home.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim and his family live in a barn next to the pile of rubble that was once their home. He grows wheat because the olive trees will need years to grow again. No one is helping him rebuild, so he is doing it himself, brick by brick.

“Life is bad. There is no aid,” he said sitting on the edge of the collapsed roof which he frequently rummages under to find lost belongings. On this day, it was scarves, baby clothes and a photo album.

“Every day that I see this mass grave I get ten more gray hairs,” he said.

The grave, discovered in 2015 just outside nearby Sinjar city, contains the remains of more than 70 elderly women from the village of Kocho, residents say.

“I hear the cries of their spirits at the end of the night. They want to be buried, but the government won’t remove their remains.” They and their kin also want justice, Ibrahim adds.

When the militants came, thousands of Yazidis fled on foot towards Sinjar mountain. More than four years later, some 2,500 families – including Hassan and five of her daughters – still live in the tents that are scattered along the hills that weave their way towards the summit.

The grass is green on the meadows where children run after sheep and the women pick wild herbs.

But the peaceful setting masks deep-seated fears about the past and the future.

GRATEFUL FOR THE SUN

Until a year and a half ago, Hassan and five of her children were kept in an underground prison in Raqqa with little food and in constant fear of torture.

She doesn’t know why Islamic State freed her and the girls, then aged one to six, and hasn’t learnt the fate of the three remaining children: two boys Fares and Firas, who would be 23 and 19 now, and Aveen, a girl who would be 13.

There is no electricity or running water in the camp where they live today. She doesn’t remember when her children last ate fruit. “Life here is very difficult but I thank God that we are able to see the sun,” she said.

During the day, her children go to school and are happy, but at night “they are afraid of their own shadow”, and she herself has nightmares.

“Last night, I dreamt they were slaughtering my child,” she said.

Mahmoud Khalaf, her husband, says Islamic State not only destroyed their livelihoods. The group broke the trust between Yazidis and the communities of different faiths and ethnicities they had long lived alongside.

“There is no protection. Those who killed us and held us captive and tormented us have returned to their villages,” Khalaf, 40, said referring to the neighboring Sunni Arab villages who the Yazidis say conspired with the militants.

“We have no choice but to stay here…They are stronger than us.”

Source: For Yazidi survivors of Islamic State killings, the nightmares go on

Europe wonders whether to bring back children raised under Islamic State

Not unique to Europe.

Hard to feel any sympathy for the mothers who went to fight for the ISIS. The children are another matter but the integration challenges, with or without their mothers, will be significant:

The children’s voices crackled through the phone and into Fatiha’s gray-walled living room.

“When are we going to grandma’s?” one implored in the background, and then into the phone: “Are you coming to get us?”

In the hallway, six coat hooks were fixed in a row at child’s height. A backpack hung on each one. Up a steep stairway, sheets with characters from Pixar’s “Cars” were carefully tucked into bunk beds, awaiting the children’s return.

But Fatiha, a Belgian whose grandparents emigrated from Morocco, didn’t know when her six grandchildren — who range in age from 10 months to 7 years – would be back. They are among the hundreds of children born to European citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State. Now that the caliphate has collapsed, and the planned U.S. withdrawal has compounded regional instability, grandparents across Europe are pushing to save children whom in some cases they’ve seen only in photos, looking up at them from the dusty desert floor.

“We’re waiting for them, everything is ready for them,” Fatiha, 46, said in an interview at her home outside Antwerp, in a bucolic village where backyards give way to hayfields. The children’s fathers are dead, and their mothers – Fatiha’s daughter and daughter-in-law – would face prison sentences if they return to Belgium. So Fatiha has prepared to care for the children herself. To protect her grandchildren, she spoke on the condition that her last name not be published.

For Belgium, France and other countries that saw some of their nationals gravitate toward Islamic State territory as it expanded across Syria and Iraq, the plight of children who have claims to citizenship has ignited questions that would test the most Solomonic of judges.

Governments are grappling with how much responsibility they bear for the safety of these small citizens, most of them younger than 6, in a region where fresh conflict could erupt. Courts are weighing whether the rights of the children extend to returning with their Islamic State parents. And a bitter public debate is underway about whether grandparents whose own children ran away to the Islamic State can be trusted to raise a new generation differently.

The Kurdish authorities who control the territory in northeastern Syria where many of these families ended up estimate they have more than 1,300 children in their refugee and prison camps. Russia repatriated 27 children last week. France is considering bringing back more than 100 fighters – who would face trial – and their families. But until now, most governments have calculated that the political downside of retrieving parents who may pose security risks outweighs any need to bring back the children.

In Fatiha’s case, a judge ruled that Belgium must repatriate her six grandchildren, along with her daughter and her daughter-in-law – Belgian citizens who joined the Islamic State and now want to come back. The two women were convicted in absentia of joining a terrorist organization and would each face a five-year prison sentence upon their arrival on Belgian soil. But the judge ruled that bringing the children home and leaving their mothers in Syria would violate the children’s human rights.

The Dec. 26 ruling has spurred a furious response from Belgian leaders, and the government plans to appeal in court on Wednesday. Authorities expect whatever precedent is set to affect decisions about other Islamic State families. At least 22 Belgian children are in Syrian camps, and more than 160 are believed to be in the conflict zone.

The most vociferous objections relate to the return of the parents.

“We won’t punish young children for their parents’ misdeeds,” Belgium’s migration secretary, Maggie De Block, said in a statement last month. “They have not chosen the Islamic State. That is why we want to make efforts to bring them back to our country. For the parents, the situation is different. They themselves have deliberately chosen to turn their backs on our country and even to fight against it. Repeatedly.

“Solidarity has its limits,” she said. “The freedom you enjoy in our country to make your own decisions also means you bear responsibility for the consequences.”

Spokesmen for De Block, the justice ministry and Belgium’s prime minister all declined to comment for this report. They would not confirm whether the government was paying the judge’s prescribed penalty of 5,000 euros per child per day if they weren’t returned by Feb. 4.

Even for the children, Belgian sympathy goes only so far. Many people are anxious. Belgium contributed the largest number of Islamic State fighters to Syria per capita of any European Union nation, and the country remains scarred by the attacks of 2016, when Belgian citizens with Islamic State connections targeted Brussels with deadly bombings. Discussions on talk shows and in editorial pages have stoked fear about what the children may have learned from their parents or from Islamic State training camps, which targeted children as young as 6 for indoctrination – although little evidence exists that any of the Belgians were exposed.

Belgium needs to protect “these children as well as our children, and to protect the parents of our children,” said Nadia Sminate, a lawmaker in the regional parliament for the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium who has been a vocal critic of plans to bring back the children. “These children have been raised with different values and norms than our children. We don’t have to be silly about that. They’ve seen the cruelest things in the world.”

When Fatiha needs to cheer herself up, she plays a video her daughter sent last summer of her grandchildren raucously singing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Dutch – their first and only language.

Her days are a blur of frustration. A visit from the police, interviewing her yet again to determine whether she would raise the grandchildren in a radicalized home. A phone call with her lawyer, who is battling the Belgian government to carry out the judge’s order. A rattling train trip to Brussels alongside other grandmothers who are pushing policymakers to repatriate their toddlers. An anxious internet search of prison conditions in Deir Ezzour, Syria, where she was worried her daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren had been taken after they dropped out of contact for more than two weeks last month.

When they resurfaced, they reported that Kurdish authorities had blindfolded them and transferred them not to Deir Ezzour, but to a more brutal camp than they’d been in previously. One of Fatiha’s grandsons has chronic diarrhea, and now he has only a single pair of pants, his mother said. Another has asthma, but no medicine.

“Everything keeps getting worse,” Fatiha’s daughter, Bouchra Abouallal, 25, said in an interview with The Washington Post via a messaging service. “I keep telling the children, ‘Don’t be afraid. Nothing is going to happen.’ But they’re not stupid anymore.”

After the December court order, “we told our children, ‘We’re almost home. We’ll be there in a month,’ ” Abouallal said, her voice cracking.

A boy’s voice interrupted. “Why are you crying?”

“It’s now they who are calming me down, not the other way around,” Abouallal told The Post.

By Fatiha’s account, her family’s problems started with her 2009 divorce from her children’s father, which sent them searching elsewhere for support.

The family had worn its faith lightly. Fatiha said they practiced “modern Islam.” But her eldest son, Noureddine Abouallal, fell in with an Antwerp group called Sharia4Belgium — which would later be connected to 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Noureddine Abouallal shaved his head and grew a beard. He and his wife — Tatiana Wielandt, who converted to Islam to marry him in 2010 — marked their son’s birth with an announcement that included images of a fighter and a gun.

Bouchra Abouallal and her husband also joined Sharia4Belgium.

In 2013, when eager adherents of jihadism were streaming toward the fighting, the two couples went with their babies to Syria. The men were killed within a year. Abouallal and Wielandt – each pregnant with her dead husband’s child, and each with an older son in tow – returned to Belgium in 2014. The state didn’t seek to prosecute them then.

Fatiha said she was furious that they had run away, but she let them back in her life. Abouallal and Wielandt crammed into a bunk bed. Two baby boys were born. Their toddler sons settled in at a school two doors down.

Once, at a backyard barbecue, one grandson dived under a table as a plane flew overhead – perhaps a reaction ingrained from bombings. But otherwise the boys showed little evidence of what they had been through, Fatiha said.

Then, one day in 2015, they all disappeared, leaving Fatiha with a house full of toys and a child-size Nutella handprint on the door to the backyard.

“I felt like I was stabbed in my back. I felt like I didn’t want to have anything to do with them,” she said. She left the handprint.

In the end, she said, she decided it was better to keep in touch. The young women made it with their children to the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. They remarried, but their second husbands were killed around the time Wielandt gave birth to her third child. After Western forces bombarded the city into submission in late 2017, they fled into Kurdish-controlled territory and eventually to the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

Her daughter and daughter-in-law ask Fatiha for reminders about what Belgian primary schools teach, so they can try to replicate the lessons. In video clips, the kids show off their somersaults and tumbling. Recently, Abouallal sent a video of Fatiha’s newest granddaughter, born last April, wearing her first headband and plucking at the unfamiliar white elastic as it slipped over her eyes.

“I told them I want to see everything as they grow up,” Fatiha said. “I don’t want to miss a thing.”

But as the Belgian government stalls, and as the security situation in Syria becomes increasingly uncertain, Fatiha and the other grandmothers are growing embittered.

Nabila Mazouz — whose son was caught at the airport as he tried to make his way to Syria – started a support group called Mothers’ Jihad to help fight for the return of Belgians who spent time in the caliphate.

“I understand the government. I understand the security issues,” Mazouz said. “But I guarantee they’re going to come back, and if they come back in 15 to 20 years, what kind of mood are they going to come back in?”

She said that after being repeatedly spurned by Belgian authorities, she now better understands her son’s disaffection.

“I never asked myself, ‘Am I Moroccan or Belgian?’ I said I was Belgian,” she said. “I was born here. I work here. I pay my taxes here. But now I ask myself. Now the parents understand the perspective of the young adults.”

Advocates for the children in Syria have been targeted with bile.

“Normally, everybody likes what we do,” said Heidi De Pauw, the director of Child Focus, a Belgian organization that is modeled on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. But for pressing Belgian authorities on this case, she has received death threats and been told that the children should be “drowned like kittens.”

De Pauw and others say the children should not be condemned because their parents made bad decisions.

One psychologist who traveled to Syria in October to assess Belgian children in the camps, including Fatiha’s grandchildren, said despite everything they have been through, their play and development were relatively normal.

“We were really surprised about how these children were doing,” said Gerrit Loots, a child psychologist at the Free University of Brussels. “Once these children have adapted, they can go to school, they can be with others.”

Loots said his greatest concern was how attached the children were to their mothers. “They’ve never spent a day apart,” he noted.

He said taking the children back to Belgium without their mothers would be “psychologically disastrous.” Bringing them all back together, even assuming the mothers go straight to prison, would be easier to manage, Loots concluded.

The mothers say they want to return, but they are ready to stay behind in Syria if that’s the cost of getting their children back to Belgium and safety.

“I have no problem with that,” Abouallal said. “I just want my children to have a secure life, and have a normal life, and that they don’t punish them for the mistakes we’ve made.”

Fatiha sucked in her breath, then dabbed a tear, as her daughter described conditions in their new camp.

“Try to keep them busy,” Fatiha urged her daughter. “Tell them a story.”

“I love you,” the grandmother told them all, before she hung up the phone and slumped into her couch.

Source: Europe wonders whether to bring back children raised under Islamic State

The English Voice of ISIS Comes Out of the Shadows

The Canadian connection. No rush for consular assistance:

More than four years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appealed to the public to help identify the narrator in one of the Islamic State’s best-known videos, showing captured Syrian soldiers digging their own graves and then being shot in the head.

Speaking fluent English with a North American accent, the man would go on to narrate countless other videos and radio broadcasts by the Islamic State, serving as the terrorist group’s faceless evangelist to Americans and other English speakers seeking to learn about its toxic ideology.

Now a 35-year-old Canadian citizen, who studied at a college in Toronto and once worked in information technology at a company contracted by IBM, says he is the anonymous narrator.

That man, Mohammed Khalifa captured in Syria last month by an American-backed militia, spoke in his first interview about being the voice of the 2014 video, known as “Flames of War.” He described himself as a rank-and-file employee of the Islamic State’s Ministry of Media, the unit responsible for publicizing such brutal footage as the beheading of the American journalist James Foley and the burning of a Jordanian pilot.

“No, I don’t regret it,” Mr. Khalifa said from a prison in northeastern Syria. “I was asked the same thing by my interrogators, and I told them the same thing.”

A thin, diminutive man who occasionally broke into a grin during the hourslong conversation with The New York Times, Mr. Khalifa said he immigrated as a child from Saudi Arabia to Toronto, where he learned to speak much like a native-born Canadian. He said he had studied computer systems technology and worked for a contracting company before leaving for Syria — drawn to the battlefield by watching YouTube.

Terrorism experts say it is hard to overstate the role his effortless English narration played in bringing the terrorist group’s propaganda to English speakers and luring some of them to its cause.

Mr. Khalifa has admitted to narrating “Flames of War,” a 2014 propaganda video showing the execution of Syrian prisoners.CreditSITE Intelligence Group

“His voice is the most recognizable English-speaking voice to have ever appeared in Islamic State propaganda,” said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

To verify Mr. Khalifa’s claim, The Times asked three audio-forensic experts to compare the anonymous voice on the “Flames of War” video with a televised statement by Mr. Khalifa aired in Syria shortly after his capture. Though such analyses are not foolproof, all three experts concluded it was highly likely that Mr. Khalifa was the narrator.

It is “134 times more likely that the unknown speaker” is Mr. Khalifa than someone else, Catalin Grigoras and Jeff M. Smith wrote in a report prepared for The Times. Both are forensic audio specialists at the University of Colorado’s National Center for Media Forensics.

Robert C. Maher, a voice recognition expert at Montana State University in Bozeman, created a spectrogram comparing the pronunciation of specific words in the two audio clips, concluding that “the speech tone, pitch, cadence and pronunciation is the same in these examples.”

Later, a U.S. official briefed on the matter confirmed to The Times that Mr. Khalifa was indeed the narrator.

The release of the “Flames of War” video on Sept. 19, 2014, marked a turning point for ISIS, coming less than three months after the founding of the group’s caliphate. Until then, the group had published shorter, less ambitious videos.

Filmed in part by an ISIS fighter equipped with a GoPro camera, the 55-minute video was the first to create an immersive experience, showing a soldier digging a trench before an operation, conducting surveillance and then engaging and overrunning the enemy. Because it was narrated in English, it became a touchstone for recruits from Australia, Britain and North America, according to Mr. Winter.

For Mr. Khalifa it was the beginning of a prolific career. The sum of his narration work — believed to include dozens of audio and video clips — serves as a sampling of the Islamic State’s most influential English-language propaganda.

“He is a symbol — the voice coming out of ISIS, speaking to the English-speaking world, for the better part of the last four to five years,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a prominent researcher in Toronto who studies radicalization in Canada.

Mr. Khalifa is now among hundreds of ISIS fighters from approximately 50 countries who are locked in prisons in northern Syria. Thousands of their wives and children are being held in detention camps, free to move among the tents but unable to leave. Mr. Khalifa said he had married in the caliphate and had two children, though it was unclear where they were now.

Canada is one of many countries that have been reluctant to take back their citizens, worried that battlefield evidence may be deemed inadmissible in court, making it difficult to secure prosecutions.

A month after his capture, Mr. Khalifa’s future was uncertain. He said he had not received a visit from Canadian authorities or been offered consular help. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police declined to comment on his detention, as did the Canadian foreign ministry. The F.B.I. also declined to comment.

Mr. Amarasingam, the Toronto researcher, was among the first to take an interest in the unnamed narrator’s possible Canadian connection, after noticing the distinct accent of the speaker in an ISIS video boasting about the 2015 attacks in Paris. “I thought, this guy sounds like people I grew up with,” Mr. Amarasingam said.

Later, on a research trip to Syria, Mr. Amarasingam and the journalist Stewart Bell were given access to a Canadian fighter captured nine months ago. The combatant, Muhammed Ali, said he had met and befriended the narrator, describing him as a Canadian of African descent who used the nom de guerre Abu Ridwan.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Ali agreed to listen to an audio recording of the recently captured Mr. Khalifa. “That’s him,” he exclaimed. Mr. Ali said Mr. Khalifa’s identity as the narrator was not widely known in the caliphate. “That’s not something he shares,” Mr. Ali said. “But once you speak to him, it’s obvious.”

In a two-minute televised statement after being captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces, Mr. Khalifa identified himself as an ISIS fighter and gave his name as Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed, which follows the Arab naming convention of his first name followed by his father’s and grandfather’s names. He admitted to attacking the local Kurdish militia but made no mention of his role as the narrator.

The brief statement was enough for analysts to recognize the voice as that of the narrator, though officials with the militia group said Mr. Khalifa initially denied his role.

In the interview with The Times, Mr. Khalifa spoke in the presence of two Kurdish prison officials, who recorded the exchange but did not interfere. He clarified that his legal name was Mohammed Khalifa, a detail confirmed by Mr. Amarasingam, who has been in touch with one of his childhood friends in Canada. Mr. Khalifa downplayed his significance in the Islamic State and insisted that he had not appeared in any execution videos beyond providing the voice-over narration, a claim that could not be immediately verified since most executioners wore masks.

He said he was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to parents of Ethiopian descent, earned a diploma in computer systems technology from Seneca College in Toronto and led an unremarkable work life as an information technology specialist, including for Kelly Services, an IBM contractor. IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reached by phone, Kelly Services confirmed that a Mohammed Khalifa was contracted by the company from May 2009 to April 2010 in Markham, Ontario. Seneca College declined to comment.

By 2013, Mr. Khalifa was listening to online lectures by the Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki. He said they convinced him of the necessity of jihad. But it was a YouTube video, not unlike the ones he would later narrate, that helped him make the leap. It showed a group of British fighters speaking English on the front line in Syria, he said, giving him the sense that he could fit in.

Mr. Khalifa said he crossed into Syria in 2013 and initially joined the Muhajireen wal Ansar Brigade led by Omar al-Shishani, a Georgian militant who would become the Islamic State’s minister of war. The brigade pledged allegiance to ISIS in late 2013, and before the caliphate was declared in 2014, Mr. Khalifa said he had already begun working for the group’s media ministry, among the most crucial organs of the terrorist state.

He said he was initially employed as a translator, helping render Arabic copy into English, before being asked to work as a narrator. Asked which videos he worked on, he initially demurred, before quietly answering, “Like ‘Flames of War.’”

The media unit, he said, was led by Abu Muhammad al-Furqan, an Iraqi confidante of the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The media chief, killed in an airstrike in 2016, was intimately involved in vetting the group’s work, reviewing scripts and requesting edits, Mr. Khalifa said.

The chief insisted that the execution videos feature a diversity of killers, so no single participant rose in prominence above others. A camera team roamed the caliphate scouting for the ideal executioners, Mr. Khalifa said. They were especially keen to find people from different nationalities to underscore the group’s global reach.

“The intention was to not make anyone into a celebrity,” Mr. Khalifa said.

The team staged the executions, capturing the scene using still cameras, GoPros and drones, and then delivered the raw footage on an SD card to the media unit’s office, inside a villa on the Euphrates 12 miles outside Raqqa, Syria.

There, he said, an editing team pored over the footage, storyboarding the narrative arc and adding sound effects and narration.

Mr. Khalifa claimed that he had had no role in filming or carrying out the scenes he narrated, which included deploying underwater cameras to capture the staged drowning of prisoners.

“I was just the voice,” Mr. Khalifa said, insisting that his work was confined to the studio.

He said he was chosen for that role by an Australian supervisor who went by the name of Abu Abdullah.

“He would give me a text, like a script, and I would review it for mistakes, and then we would record,” he said. “He would then review it and see if there was anything that he would like me to place emphasis on.”

At first, Mr. Khalifa said, the audio was recorded in a professional studio, with walls made of foam to absorb ambient sound. They used the software Magix Samplitude to edit the sound, and the finished productions were broadcast through a portable satellite dish.

But that all changed with American airstrikes in late 2014, Mr. Khalifa said. They had to relocate to urban centers starting with Raqqa, moving from house to house, aware that the proximity to civilians helped protect them.

As the Islamic State’s territory shrank, the media team was pushed out of Raqqa, but remained active, carrying the satellite dish with them, he said. They worried that the dish might give them away, but they continued transmitting nonetheless. In the final weeks before his capture, Mr. Khalifa estimated, there were at least 20 media operatives in the group’s last pocket in Syria, which has since been reduced to a tiny patch of land.

“Guys I knew agreed to work out of their homes,” he said. “They still took the risk.”

By the time he was apprehended last month, Mr. Khalifa said he had stopped working for the media unit and had picked up a Kalashnikov rifle to defend the Islamic State. Officials with the Syrian Democratic Forces said he had tried to attack their position. Mr. Khalifa said he had approached a villa, entering from below while soldiers were on an upper floor.

After a protracted gunfight, he said, he was bleeding and alone. The videos he had narrated were full of bravado, his voice representing a group that had vowed never to give up. But after more than six defiant years in the battle zone, Mr. Khalifa said, he did something that he never thought possible.

“I was exhausted. My ammo was gone,” he said. “They kept calling on me to surrender, and so I threw down my weapon.”

The core Isis manual that twisted Islam to legitimise barbarity | The Guardian

Horrific:

The jihadist manual behind the brutality that underpinned Islamic State has been revealed for the first time in new analysis of a 579-page text, written by the Isis ideologue Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir.

The text attempts to legitimise the barbarous acts of the jihadist group, including the mutilation of corpses, the trade in human organs, beheading, the killing of children along with “scorched earth operations” and global terrorist attacks.

After two years examining and transcribing the document, experts at the counter-extremist group Quilliam have completed a meticulous appraisal of the extremists’ core textbook along with a robust theological rebuttal of its “twisted” interpretation of Islamic teachings. Used by Isis and its supporters to validate a large range of horrific acts, the “bible for jihadists” provided the theoretical and legal framework for the violent terrorist group.

“There is a startling lack of study and concern regarding this abhorrent and dangerous text in almost all western and Arab scholarship,” says the report. “We hope to expose and deconstruct this unprepossessing yet deeply insidious and pernicious text.”

Known as the Fiqh al-Dima (or The Jurisprudence of Blood), the book is the key Salafi-jihadist text. It attempts to justify the use of weapons of mass destruction, perpetrating genocide, the murder of non-combatants, the taking of sex slaves and hostages.

Researchers for Quilliam managed to acquire a copy of the manual online in 2015, after researchers spotted the Fiqh al-Dima being used to teach new recruits to Isis’s caliphate in Syria. Back then, Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate encompassed vast swaths of Syria and Iraq and a population of up to eight million. Since then the group has lost 98% of territory in the two countries and is now largely confined to a strip of desert straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border.

The manual offers the group guidance on “military retreat” with a chapter devoted to “surrender vs fighting to the death” that says jihadists should choose death instead of handing themselves over to the enemy.

However, Sheikh Salah al-Ansari, a senior Quilliam researcher who translated the manual from Arabic and wrote the rebuttal, said no religious requirement existed to “fight to the death” and that the Islamic tradition of warfare encouraged the humane treatment of prisoners of war. “Our work comprehensively debunks and rejects Isis’s proto-Islamic arguments, demonstrating their ignorance and disregard for traditional Islamic scholarship as well as for the basic humane and Islamic values of mercy and compassion,” said Ansari.

The titles of the text’s 20 chapters include “Beheading, decapitation and mutilation”, “Kidnapping warring infidels” and “How to kill spies”.

Another chapter, titled “Indiscriminate killing of warring infidels”, opens with an inflammatory message that calls for force to be used against unbelievers: “Kill them, fight them by every means that may snatch away their souls, drive their spirits from their bodies, cleansing the earth of their filth and removing their scourge from mankind, whatever that means may be.”

A separate chapter documents attempts to justify the use of weapons of mass destruction. “The central aim for which we strive – and we do so with all available strength – is the acquisition of weapons, weapons of mass destruction, for there is no escaping the obligation to defend against these defiant perverters of faith and end the aggression of the malodorous filth against Islam and its people,” writes Muhajir, the Isis author.

Each point he makes is theologically rebutted by Quilliam using the Qur’an, Islamic teachings and reference to acts prohibited by Islamic warfare ethics and Islamic morality. “This text offers intricate details on the use of jihad in its traditional Sunni discussion, and misuses these features to provide Islamic legal cover to terrorist operations,” said Ansari.

Among one of its central strands is the distinction between the “lands of Islam” and the “lands of unbelief (kufr)” and the notion that jihadists are entitled to fight the unbelievers.

“This entire binary construct is a later invention of Muslim theologians that is now obsolete, and so the justification of excommunication (takfir) and military attacks against civilians on this basis is completely absurd,” says the Quilliam report. Even so, Ansari said history had proved that some were swayed by the text, even chapters 11 and 12, which attempt to provide an Islamic sanction for the mutilation of bodies, the cutting of body parts and beheading.

“A susceptible and vulnerable reader who has no previous training in Islamic jurisprudence might easily become seduced by this book because it is written in a way that gives the impression that it has religious weight. While the text is somewhat based on traditional readings, it does not reflect the diverse and pluralistic complexities of Islamic rulings,” said Ansari.

The jihadis’ interpretation of jihad – the text has also been used by al-Qaida and Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, to justify and commit atrocities – would have been core teachings to Isis’s 6,000 European Muslims who travelled to the calpihate, of which about 850 were British.

“They would have been introduced to this book, it is their bible, their most important text,” said Ansari.

via The core Isis manual that twisted Islam to legitimise barbarity | World news | The Guardian

The Man Raising an Army of Psychologists in Iraq

Good initiative and investment:

A year after helping more than 1,000 escaped ISIS captives resettle in Germany, Kurdish-German psychologist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan has returned to northern Iraq with a plan to save thousands of other psychologically scarred war victims left behind.

With backing from the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Kizilhan has set out to train a new generation of psychologists and trauma specialists he believes will be among the most qualified in the Middle East

After years of war, Iraq and Syria are struggling with a mental health crisis neither country has the capacity to address. In northern Iraq alone, where more than 1 million people are displaced by violence, just a couple dozen local psychologists are believed to be treating patients.

Various nongovernmental organizations and government initiatives have sought to fill the gaps, including Baden-Württemberg’s asylum program, which physically transported some of the most psychologically scarred women and children in northern Iraq to a part of the world where they could more easily access mental health care.

As a dark measure of the German program’s effectiveness, its directors boast that of its 1,100 beneficiaries—mostly women held as ISIS sex slaves and their children—not one has taken his or her own life in contrast to some other ISIS survivors who didn’t get a spot in the program.

Mindful of the deadly stakes for those left behind, Baden-Württemberg invested 1.3 million euros, a small fraction of its annual budget, into Kizilhan’s new institute, which aims to cultivate the experts where they’re needed.

The Institute for Psychology and Psychotraumatology sits on a neatly manicured hill at the University of Duhok in northern Iraq. On a sunny morning in May, the campus, set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains, hummed with the sounds of lawn mowers.

Just a short drive away, hundreds of thousands of displaced people live in sprawling camps, each one having risen up in the wake of an exodus—from an ISIS advance, bombings, or clashes. Just 40 miles to the south, chunks of Mosul lay in ruin from a months-long battle to oust ISIS from the populous city. Forty miles to the west: the Syrian quagmire. And despite the campus’ unblemished appearance, everyone at the school seems to have been touched by war.

Hewan Avssan Omer, a 26-year-old secretary at the institute, only escaped a 2014 ISIS attack on her village because she happened to be away at school. The militants kidnapped other members of her family, some of whom escaped just months ago. Omer’s 7-year-old cousin spent two and a half years in captivity and returned to society unable to speak his native Kurdish, confused about who his parents are and where he is from.

The staff’s proximity to and familiarity with the local crisis is intentional.

One of the biggest criticisms of the German program was that it exposed trauma victims to the additional stress of culture shock by transporting them to a foreign place.

At his office in Baden-Württemberg in early 2016, Kizilhan said the United Nations refugee agency was one of the critics to raise this concern of detaching victims “from their roots.” The German team responded that it was a price they were willing to pay, at that precarious time, for potentially saving lives. “In Iraq they are living in camps, their parents are killed, they have no roots!” Kizilhan responded. “It’s ridiculous. They need stabilization and security before they can talk about how it felt to be raped and helpless. How do you do this in a tent?”

Source: The Man Raising an Army of Psychologists in Iraq

ISIS Targets American Imams for Believing Muslims Can Thrive in U.S. – Also in Canada

Does undermine the American right’s characterization of American Muslims:

Three American imams got put on ISIS’s hit list for promoting the idea that Islam and the West can coexist.

The terrorist group’s latest issue of propaganda Dabiq attempts to theologically justify an attack on the religious leaders in an article titled “Kill the Imams of Kufr in the West.” The men are worse than hypocrites, ISIS says, because they say Muslims can thrive in America.

“The person who calls himself a ‘Muslim’ but unapologetically commits blatant kufr [disbelief] is not a munafiq [hypocrite], as some mistakenly claim. Rather, he is a murtadd [apostate],” Dabiq claims.

The Daily Beast will identify two of the Americans with pseudonyms because of the direct threats on their lives. A third, who gave The Daily Beast permission to use his name, responded with dark humor.

“Nothing like a death threat with a danish and a latte in the morning,” Suhaib Webb told The Daily Beast.

This is the first time ISIS has put out a direct hit on U.S. imams.

Webb is treated with contempt by jihadists who call him “the joke of al-Azhar,” a reference to his time at the esteemed Islamic university in Egypt.

“I mean, it’s certainly concerning,” he said, adding that he’s been contacted by the Department of Homeland Security about the threat. “They maybe want to brief me on things to look for, to be cautious of,” he said.

The irony of being on the most extremist group’s hit list isn’t lost on Webb, who for years has been accused of Islamic extremism by the far right in America.

“In a way, [Dabiq]’s attacking what many of us think makes our country awesome. And at the same time, it repudiates people on the right,” he said. “If people like myself are radical extremists, then why is ISIS putting a death threat on us?”

Meanwhile in Canada:

Just days after celebrating cultural bridges, a Toronto imam has been targeted in a Daesh hit list.

The self-declared Islamic State called out Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick along with other Muslims in the West, urging followers to kill them for speaking out against the group and betraying their interpretation of Islam.

Quick works with the Canadian Council of Imams, which hosted its first annual dinner on Monday night, honouring political leaders and community members.

“It was a really good vibration that came out of that meeting, a lot of unity between people of different faiths,” Quick told the Star.

“So here comes the devil, as we would say, screaming out against us the next day.”

Quick first learned of the threat on Wednesday from a fellow imam in the council, but though he says he has contacted law enforcement and is taking precautions, he will not be intimidated.

“I will continue to do what I have to do,” he said. “Putting my trust in God. This is what Muslims do when they find themselves in difficulty, and continue on to do what’s right.”

Michael Zekulin, a terrorism researcher at the University of Calgary, says the threat is typical of Daesh’s propaganda tactics, but not necessarily legitimate.

Daesh has implored its followers to go after others in the past, he says, like Calgary-based cleric Syed Soharwardy and UFC fighter Tim Kennedy.

“It never resonated,” Zekulin said. “It’s not something you dismiss and laugh off, but at the same time I’m not sure that simply because they mentioned this individual all of a sudden (he) is a serious immediate target.”

He says more than anything the threat demonstrates the sophisticated, extensive nature of Daesh’s communication network.

To have meaning, ‘genocide’ must be protected from political exploitation: Erna Paris

Edna Paris on some of the cynicism involved with the use of ‘genocide’ in describing the war crimes of the Islamic State:

In his formal remarks, Mr. Kerry seemed notably vague on the subject. He spoke about threats to Christians, about crimes against humanity and war crimes – all indisputable facts, but unlikely to meet the threshold of genocide. He spoke of his belief that if IS were ever to create its hoped-for caliphate, “it would seek to destroy what remains of the ethnic and religious mosaic once thriving in the territory.” Tellingly, he distanced himself by saying he was “neither judge nor prosecutor nor jury,” and that potential charges against the extremists must result from an independent international investigation.

That, as Mr. Kerry certainly knew, was the crux of the matter. Genocide is the worst crime ever to be codified into law; as human beings we had to invent the category to contain the terrifying contents of the Nazi assault on the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. Mr. Kerry’s charge of genocide against Christians, made under heavy political pressure, with sparse evidence, degraded the crucial concept we must rely upon to punish the most vicious crimes.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron bluntly labelled attempts to classify IS crimes as genocide, “politicization.” “These decisions must be based on credible judicial processes,” he said, lending credence to Mr. Kerry’s own words about the need for independent investigation. The government of Canada (typically more polite) also declined to join the United States, stating that it would stick with the designation of war crimes.

It’s hard to predict where the Kerry declaration will lead. What the Secretary of State did offer was refuge for Christian and other minority victims of IS brutality; however, many of those other victims are Muslims – and in the harsh world of Donald Trump, Muslims are less than welcome in America.

What matters most is the cynicism with which the singular term “genocide,” with its real and symbolic import, has been abused. If it is to continue to have purpose and meaning, the charge of genocide must be protected from political exploitation.

What Does It Mean If An Attack Is ‘ISIS-Inspired’? : NPR

Good contrast between the centralized control of Al-Qaida and the lack of centralized control by ISIS, and greater number of lone-wolf or small group terrorist activity:

Today’s violent jihadist threat is very different from those associated with al-Qaida in the past. ISIS followers appear more troubled and more confused about their intentions and motivations than their al-Qaida predecessors.

Al-Qaida’s operatives typically went to Pakistan or Yemen to train. They usually had email connections and phone conversations with known terrorist actors as they prepared to attack. And Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of al-Qaida, kept a tight rein on the group’s terrorist operations. He was keen to approve each and every attack and he loathed freelancers. He worried, among other things, that unsanctioned attacks could dilute the al-Qaida brand.

The ISIS model couldn’t be more different. The attacks dubbed as ISIS-inspired in this country have tended to be the work of what law enforcement officials call “classic injustice collectors.”

These are people who have been nursing various resentments for years, who, in the heat of the moment, appear to reinvent themselves as ISIS followers. Doing so, officials say, not only gives them a greater sense of purpose, but it also seems to guarantee a great deal of publicity.

McCants says it would make sense to determine if a suspect actually had some sort of sustained interest in a particular group before deciding an attack was inspired. “If you have individuals who have no sustained interest in the group and have no organizational ties,” he said, “it seems like their interest in ISIS is much more opportunistic than it is ideological.”

Clint Watts, a Fox Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, has been tracking the city’s police shooting case. He says it is very possible that the saturation coverage of ISIS, rather than the ideology of the group itself, motivated Archer to claim he’d opened fire on Officer Jesse Hartnett for the Islamic State.

“I think it was mostly what would be described as a headline-inspired terrorist attack,” said Watts.

Archer’s mother told police he had mental problems and recently had been hearing voices. Archer has a long criminal history. Those kinds of facts shouldn’t be lightly dismissed — they might actually provide an explanation.

“Someone who has deep psychological issues, some sort of problems in their local environment, picks up a weapon, and conducts an attack and then attributes it to a group like ISIS and before that al-Qaida,” says Watts. “The connections to the actual terrorist group are nonexistent, so that’s why, so far in this case, I’d say it is more inspired by current events than a particular ideology.”

Source: What Does It Mean If An Attack Is ‘ISIS-Inspired’? : NPR

Where is the PM when Quebec needs him? Lysiane Gagnon

Worth reading, but not as sanguine about her conclusion regarding overall Canadian fears or not regarding Canadian Muslims.

Virtually all polling I have seen, as well as the identity politics practiced by the Conservative government, suggest that a significant number of Canadians do share this fear.

Fine balance between over and under-playing, but overall better to downplay and avoid over-heating fears:

Former prime minister Stephen Harper was too warlike. Now, we have the other extreme: a prime minister who hates conflicts and sees the world through a New Age prism in which everything can be solved with love and understanding. Unfortunately, the country he leads doesn’t live in a dream world.

Maybe Mr. Trudeau’s timidity is also due to the fear of raising anti-Muslim sentiments. But this is a misplaced fear: Canadians are not stupid and they know that the huge majority of Muslims have nothing to do with radical Islam. And Muslims are often the first victims of the murderous groups who reign by terror over large parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Source: Where is the PM when Quebec needs him? – The Globe and Mail

Why ISIS has the potential to be a world-altering revolution: Scott Atran

A really good in-depth and lengthy analysis of some of the problems with current strategies against ISIS and similar movements. A necessary if not encouraging read:

The 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute, whereas the military and security response by the US and its allies is in the order of 10 million times that figure. On a strictly cost-benefit basis, this violent movement has been wildly successful, beyond even Bin Laden’s original imagination, and is increasingly so. Herein lies the full measure of jujitsu-style asymmetric warfare. After all, who could claim that we are better off than before, or that the overall danger is declining?

This alone should inspire a radical change in our counter-strategies. Yet, like the proverbial notion of insanity being the repetition of the same mistakes while expecting different results, our side continues to focus almost exclusively on security and military responses. Some of these responses have proven hopelessly ineffective from the outset, such as relying on the Iraqi, Afghan or Free Syrian armies.

ISIS manages 70,000 Twitter and Facebook accounts, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and sends approximately 90,000 texts daily

By contrast, there is precious little attention to social and psychological needs. I don’t mean to suggest that we solve things by offering potential jihadists better jobs. A still-unpublished report by the World Bank shows no reliable relationship between job production and violence reduction. If people are ready to sacrifice their lives, then it is not likely that offers of greater material advantages will stop them.

Instead, we must meet their psychological and aspirational needs. In just one example of how we fall short, the US State Department continues to send off-target tweets through negative mass messaging in its ineffectual ‘Think Again Turn Away’ campaign. Compare this to ISIS, which can spend hundreds of hours trying to enlist single individuals. Through its social media, the sophisticated Islamic State learns how personal frustrations and grievances can fit into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims, and then translates anger and unrealised aspiration into moral outrage. Some estimates have ISIS managing upwards of 70,000 Twitter and Facebook accounts, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and sending approximately 90,000 texts daily. ISIS also pays close attention to the pop songs, video clips, action movies and television shows that garner high ratings among youth, and use them as templates to tailor their own messages.

By contrast, the US government has few operatives who personally engage with youth before they become a problem. The FBI is pressing to get out of the messy business of prevention and just stick to criminal investigation. ‘No one wants to own any of this,’ one group from the US National Counterterrorism Center told us. And public diplomacy efforts don’t quite get that hackneyed appeals to ‘moderation’ fall flat on restless and idealistic youths seeking adventure, glory and significance. As one imam and former Islamic State facilitator told us in Jordan:

The young who came to us were not to be lectured at like witless children; they are for the most part understanding and compassionate, but misguided. We have to give them a better message, but a positive one to compete. Otherwise, they will be lost to Daesh.

Local grass-roots approaches have had better luck in pulling people away. The United Network of Young Peacebuilders has had remarkable results in convincing young Taliban in Pakistan that enemies can be friends, and then encouraging those so convinced to convince others. But this will not challenge the broad attraction of the Islamic State for young people from nearly 90 nations and every walk of life. The lessons of local successes must be shared with government, and ideas allowed to bubble up before they boil over. To date, no such conduit exists, and young people with good ideas have few institutional channels to develop them.

Even if good ideas find ways to emerge from youth and obtain institutional support for their development to application, they still need intellectual help to persuade the public to adopt them. But where are the intellectuals to do this? Among Muslim leadership I’ve interviewed around the world, I listen to PowerPoint presentations intoning on ‘dimensions of ideology, grievance, and group dynamics’, notions that originate exclusively with Western ‘terrorism experts’ and think tanks. When I ask: ‘What ideas come from your own people?’, I’m told in moments of candour, as I was most recently by a Muslim leadership council in Singapore, that: ‘We don’t have many new ideas and we can’t agree on those we have.’

Civilisations rise and fall on the vitality of their cultural ideals, not their material assets alone

And where among our own current or coming generation are the intellectuals who might influence the moral principles, motivations and actions of society towards a just and reasonable way through the morass? In academia, you’ll find few willing to engage with power. They thus render themselves irrelevant and morally irresponsible by leaving the field of power entirely to those they censure. Accordingly, politicians pay them little heed, and the public couldn’t care less, often with good reason. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, many in my own field of anthropology principally occupied themselves with the critique of empire: is the US a classic empire or ‘empire light’? This was arguably a justifiable academic exercise, and perhaps a useful reflection in the long run, but hardly helpful in the context of a country moving fast to open-ended war, with all the agony and suffering that extended wars inevitably bring.

Responsible intellectual endeavour in the public sphere was once a vibrant part of our public life: not to promote ‘certain, clear, and strong’ action, as Martin Heidegger wrote in support of Hitler, but to generate just and reasonable possibilities and pathways for consideration. Now this sphere is largely abandoned to the Manichean preachings of blogging pundits, radio talk-show hosts, product-pushing podcasters, and television evangelicals. These people rarely do what responsible intellectuals ought to do. ‘The intellectual,’ explained France’s Raymond Aron 60 years ago, ‘must try never to forget the arguments of the adversary, or the uncertainty of the future, or the faults of one’s own side, or the underlying fraternity of ordinary men everywhere.’

Civilisations rise and fall on the vitality of their cultural ideals, not their material assets alone. History shows that most societies have sacred values for which their people would passionately fight, risking serious loss and even death rather than compromise. Our research suggests this is so for many who join ISIS, and for many Kurds who oppose them on the frontlines. But, so far, we find no comparable willingness among the majority of youth that we sample in Western democracies. With the defeat of fascism and communism, have their lives defaulted to the quest for comfort and safety? Is this enough to ensure the survival, much less triumph, of values we have come to take for granted, on which we believe our world is based? More than the threat from violent jihadis, this might be the key existential issue for open societies today.

Source: Why ISIS has the potential to be a world-altering re…