Cheerleader gets 12 years in jail for trying to join ISIS

OXFORD, Miss. — A Mississippi woman who once sought to disguise a planned journey to join the Islamic State group as her honeymoon was sentenced by a federal judge Thursday to 12 years in prison on a terrorism charge.

Vicksburg native Jaelyn Young broke down in heavy sobs during her sentencing by US District Judge Sharion Aycock. Young pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

Young had faced up to 20 years in prison.

Her parents pleaded for leniency at Thursday’s hearing. Young, amid sobs, said she was ashamed of her actions.

Her fiance, Muhammad Dakhlalla, pleaded guilty March 11 to a similar charge and is set to be sentenced Aug. 24. Prosecutors have said Young, who converted to Islam while studying at Mississippi State University, had prodded Dakhlalla into the plan.

The two were arrested in 2015 before boarding a flight from Columbus, Mississippi, with tickets for Istanbul, Turkey.

“I found the contacts, made arrangements, planned the departure,” Young had written in a farewell letter to her family. “I am guilty of what you soon will find out.”

Young and Dakhlalla were among a number of people arrested around the country for Islamic State sympathies. Like many, authorities said, they had developed views supporting the Islamic State in part by watching online videos and were arrested after social media posts attracted the attention of the FBI.

The daughter of a school administrator and a police officer who served in the Navy Reserve, Young is a former honor student, cheerleader and homecoming maid at Vicksburg’s Warren Central High School.

The two were arrested in August 2015 before they could board the flight from Mississippi with tickets for Istanbul purchased using her mother’s credit card without permission, according to court records. Authorities said the couple had contacted undercover federal agents in May, seeking online help in traveling to Syria. Both remained jailed in Oxford since their arrests.

Court papers say Young announced her conversion in March 2015 and began wearing a burqa, a garment worn by some Muslim women to cover their face and body. “After her conversion, Young distanced herself from family and friends and felt spending time with non-Muslims would be a bad influence,” prosecutors wrote.

A court statement said Young increasingly complained about the treatment of Muslims in the United States and United Kingdom. Prosecutors said that, after watching videos — including pro-Islamic State messages from a British Muslim preacher who faces criminal charges of supporting the group — she began to view the fighters as liberators.

“Young continually asked Dakhlalla when they were going to join (the Islamic State group) and began to express hatred for the US government and to express support for the implementation of Sharia law in the United States,” prosecutors wrote.

By May 2015, she had begun seeking advice online on how to travel to Syria, eventually making contact with undercover FBI employees, according to prosecutors.

Young told the undercover FBI employees that she and Dakhlalla would like to be medics treating the wounded. Dakhlalla, in online contacts, said he was good with computers and media and wanted to contribute to the Islamic State’s struggle. Court papers say Dakhlalla said online that he wanted to become a fighter and learn “what it really means to have that heart in battle.”

At one point, Young said she planned to camouflage the couple’s journey as a honeymoon, but later dropped that idea.


Priest Killed in Attack on Catholic Church in France; ISIS Believed Responsible

A deadly hostage-taking at a Catholic church in Normandy, in which a priest was killed and another person seriously wounded, was a terror attack committed in the name of ISIS, French President Francois Hollande has said.

Speaking to journalists in the northern French town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where two men took five people hostage during morning Mass Tuesday, Hollande said the attack was a “cowardly assassination” carried out by “by two terrorists in the name of Daesh” — another name for ISIS.

In the latest Islamist atrocity to roil France, an 84-year-old Catholic priest, the Rev. Jacques Hamel, was killed when two men stormed the church in the northern region of Normandy, Dominique Lebrun, the Archbishop of Rouen, said in a statement posted on the diocese website.

Besides the slain priest, two nuns and two churchgoers had been taken hostage, CNN French affiliate BFMTV reported.

One of the hostages was seriously wounded, and is “between life and death,” French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters.

The situation ended when the two attackers were shot dead by police, he said. “The two killers came out and they were neutralized,” he said.

Hollande: ISIS ‘has declared war on us’

The priest’s killing comes on the back of a string of violent attacks across Europe in recent days, some claimed by the Sunni terror group ISIS, most notably an attack in the French city of Nice less than two weeks ago that left 84 dead.

France has been under a state of emergency since the Paris terror attacks in November last year.

A French police source told CNN that one of the church attackers had tried to go to fight in Syria last year, but had been stopped in Turkey by authorities there.

He was then sent back to France and sent to prison in May 2015, before he was released, placed under police surveillance and forced to wear an electronic monitoring tag.

French authorities have struggled to monitor the thousands of domestic Islamic radicals on their radar, and, in response to the heightened terror threat, Hollande has vowed to double the number of officials charged with the task.

More than 10,000 people are on their “fiche S” list, used to flag radicalized individuals considered a threat to national security.

Speaking to reporters, Hollande said: “Daesh has declared war on us. We have to win that war.”

But he urged the public to remain unified in the face of the threat.

“All people feel affected so we must have cohesion … no one can divide us,” he said. “Terrorists will not give up on anything until we stop them.”

He expressed his thoughts for Catholics, and also met with special forces personnel who responded to the attack.

The Paris anti-terror prosecutor has taken over the investigation into the attack, France’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The priest was identified by the archbishop as Jacques Hamel as the victim killed in an attack on a church in France.
The priest was identified by the archbishop as Jacques Hamel as the victim killed in an attack on a church in France.
French President Francois Hollande speaks to the press as he leaves the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray's city hall following a hostage-taking at a church of the town on July 26, 2016 that left the priest dead.
French President Francois Hollande speaks to the press as he leaves the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray’s city hall following a hostage-taking at a church of the town on July 26, 2016 that left the priest dead.
A policeman secures a position in front of the city hall after two assailants had taken five people hostage in the church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France, July 26, 2016.
A policeman secures a position in front of the city hall after two assailants had taken five people hostage in the church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France, July 26, 2016.

Vatican condemns killing

The Vatican has condemned the attack, calling it “terrible news” on the back of a string of recent violent attacks in Europe. It said the Pope had been informed of the attack and shared the pain and horror in response to the “absurd violence.”

The statement said the violence was particularly horrific as it had taken place in a church, “a sacred place where the love of God is announced.”

Lebrun said in a statement that the “Catholic church cannot take up any other weapons but prayer and brotherhood among men.”

He called on the faithful “to lower their arms before violence and to become an apostle of a civilization of love.”

Other religious leaders were quick to condemn the violence, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeting: “Evil attacks the weakest, denies truth (and) love, is defeated through Jesus Christ. Pray for France, for victims, for their communities.”

French PM: ‘We will stand together’

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted his horror at the “barbaric attack” on the church, and vowed a defiant response. “We will stand together,” he wrote.

A police cordon has been set up around the scene in the town, about 108 kilometers (67 miles) northwest of Paris.

The wounded hostage was treated at the scene, and the three other hostages freed, he said. Explosives experts are working to check if there are any bombs left at the scene.

A witness, Dominique Michot, told CNN that the hostage situation was underway when he arrived at his nearby workplace shortly before 10 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET).

Michot, a baker who spoke to CNN from inside the police perimeter, said he heard several rifle bursts at about 10 a.m.

All Signs Point to ISIS in Istanbul Attack That Left 36 Dead, Turkish PM Says

Ambulances arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016.
Ambulances arrive at Turkey’s largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016.

At least 36 people were dead and 147 others injured following a terrorist attack at an international airport in Istanbul, and all signs point to ISIS as being responsible, according to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

The attack drew swift condemnation from officials in Turkey as well as the White House.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s heinous terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport in Turkey, which appears to have killed and injured dozens,” said a statement from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “We remain steadfast in our support for Turkey, our NATO Ally and partner, along with all of our friends and allies around the world, as we continue to confront the threat of terrorism.”

According to Yildirim, three attackers carrying weapons arrived in a taxi to Ataturk airport, one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs. Further details about the attack were not immediately available.

Foreign nationals and police officers were among the wounded, according to Yildirim. Saudi Arabia’s Embassy in Turkey said at least seven Saudis were injured in the attack and all are in stable condition.

Yildirim also insisted there was no security lapse at the airport.

Paramedics push a stretcher at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016.
Paramedics push a stretcher at Turkey’s largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016.

The airport has since been reopened, and flights between the U.S. and Istanbul have resumed. Airports in the United States have beefed up security in the wake of the attack, around 10 p.m. local time, a busy time for the airport, with flights arriving from Europe and leaving for the Persian Gulf and other parts of the region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement condemning the attack that “has no objective.” The president also said the attack shows “terrorism strikes with no regard for faith and values,” since it occurred during the holy month of Ramadan.

“We expect the international community, especially the Western countries including their administrations, parliaments, media organs and civil societies, to take a firm stand against terrorism,” Erdogan said.

The attack comes one day after the U.S. State Department updated its travel warning for Turkey, advising that “foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations” and mentioning “aviation services” along with other targets for extremists. In March the U.S. ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government personnel posted to the U.S. Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. government civilians in Izmir province through July 26, 2016.

Turkey is one of the main European tourist destinations for Americans. A total of 181,298 U.S. tourists have arrived in Turkey so far this year, with 60,000 arriving last month alone.

All U.S. Chief of Mission personnel have been accounted for, according to the U.S. State Department, and the government is “making every effort to account for the welfare of U.S. citizens in the city.” Turkey has been dealing with multiple security threats from the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, as well as ISIS.

Earlier this month, a car bomb attack on a police bus killed seven officers and four civilians in central Istanbul. Today’s attack was the fifth major one so far this year in the city, Turkey’s largest.

Hurray – Iraq forces push into streets of IS-held Fallujah


Baghdad (AFP) – Iraqi forces thrust into the city of Fallujah from three directions on Monday marking a new and perilous urban phase in the week-old operation to retake the jihadist bastion.

The drive to recapture the first city to be lost from government control in 2014 came as fighting also raged in neighbouring Syria, leaving huge numbers of civilians exposed.

Led by the elite counter-terrorism service (CTS), Iraq’s best trained and most seasoned fighting unit, the forces pushed into Fallujah before dawn, commanders said.

“Iraqi forces entered Fallujah under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi air force and army aviation, and supported by artillery and tanks,” said Lieutenant General Abdelwahab al-Saadi, the commander of the operation.

“There is resistance from Daesh,” he added, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The forces have not yet ventured into the city centre but they recaptured some areas in a southern suburb after crossing a bridge, and took up positions on the eastern and northern fringes.

The involvement of the elite CTS marks the start of a phase of urban combat in a city where in 2004 US forces fought some of their toughest battles since the Vietnam War.

The week-old operation had previously focused on retaking rural areas around Fallujah, which lies just 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad.

It had been led by the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force, which is dominated by Tehran-backed Shiite militias.

They were still in action Monday, attempting to clear an area northwest of Fallujah called Saqlawiya, officers said.

– Civilians trapped inside –

Only a few hundred families have managed to slip out of the Fallujah area ahead of the assault on the city, with an estimated 50,000 civilians still trapped inside, sparking fears the jihadists could try to use them as human shields.

The only families who were able to flee so far lived in outlying areas, with the biggest wave of displaced reaching camps on Saturday night.

“Our resources in the camps are now very strained and with many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone,” said Nasr Muflahi, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Iraq director.

“We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets.”

In Amriyat al-Fallujah, a government-controlled town to the south of the jihadist stronghold, civilians trickled in, starving and exhausted after walking through the countryside for hours at night, dodging IS surveillance.

“I just decided to risk everything. I was either going to save my children or die with my children,” said Ahmad Sabih, 40, who reached the NRC-run camp early on Sunday.

A senior police commander said his forces had assisted 800 civilians fleeing areas north of Fallujah on Monday.

Fallujah is one of just two major urban centres in Iraq still held by IS jihadists.

They also hold Mosul, the country’s second city and de-facto jihadist capital in Iraq, east of which Kurdish-led forces launched a fresh offensive on Sunday.

The jihadists holed up in Fallujah are believed to number around 1,000.

– Syria’s Aleppo bombarded –

It is not yet clear what resources IS is prepared to invest in the defence of Fallujah, which has been almost completely isolated for months, but the city looms large in modern jihadist mythology.

Fallujah is expected to give Iraqi forces one of their toughest battles yet but IS has appeared weakened in recent months and has been losing territory consistently in the past 12 months.

According to the government, the organisation that has sewn havoc across Iraq and Syria over the past two years now controls around 14 percent of the national territory, down from 40 percent in 2014.

However, as the “caliphate” it declared two years ago unravels, IS has been reverting to its old tactics of bombings against civilians and commando raids.

A fresh wave of bomb attacks claimed by IS struck the Baghdad area on Monday, killing 11 people in three separate blasts.

In northern Syria, clashes raged around the flashpoint town of Marea as IS pressed an assault on non-jihadist rebels.

The IS onslaught has threatened tens of thousands of people, many of them already displaced from other areas, who have sought refuge in camps near the Turkish border.

Gerry Simpson, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AFP 165,000 civilians were now stuck between IS fighters, Kurdish forces and the border.

“What more does the US, EU and UN need to call on Turkey to give these people refuge,” he asked.

In divided Aleppo city, 15 people, including two children, were killed in the rebel-controlled eastern neighbourhoods in heavy bombardment on Monday morning, the civil defence said.

Islamic State sex slaves apparently being sold on Facebook for $8,000

A Yazidi who had been held by Islamic State militants as a slave for several months sits in a tent outside Duhok, Iraq.  (Alice Martins, For The Washington Post)
A Yazidi who had been held by Islamic State militants as a slave for several months sits in a tent outside Duhok, Iraq.
(Alice Martins, For The Washington Post)

The woman is young, perhaps 18, with olive skin and dark bangs that droop onto her face. In the Facebook photo, she attempts to smile but doesn’t look at her photographer.

“To all the bros thinking about buying a slave, this one is $8,000,” begins the May 20 Facebook posting, which was attributed to an Islamic State fighter who calls himself Abu Assad Almani. The same man posted a second image a few hours later, this one a pale young face with weepy red eyes.

“Another sabiyah [slave], also about $8,000,” the posting reads. “Yay, or nay?”

The photos were taken down within hours by Facebook, and it is unclear whether the account’s owner was doing the selling himself or commenting about women being sold by other fighters. But the unusual posting underscores what experts say is an increasingly perilous existence for the hundreds of women who are thought to be held as sex slaves by the Islamic State.

As the terrorist group comes under heightened pressure in Iraq and Syria, these female captives appear to be suffering, too — sold and traded by cash-strapped fighters, subjected to shortages of food and medicine, and put at risk daily by military strikes, according to terrorism experts and human rights groups.

Social-media sites used by Islamic State fighters in recent months have included numerous accounts of the buying and selling of sex slaves, as well the promulgation of formal rules for dealing with them. The guidelines cover such topics as whether it’s possible to have sex with prepubescent prisoners — yes, the Islamic State’s legal experts say — and how severely a slave can be beaten.

But until the May 20 incident, there were no known instances of Islamic State fighters posting photographs of female captives being offered for sale. The photos of the two unidentified women appeared only briefly before being deleted by Facebook, but the images were captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit group that monitors jihadists’ social-media accounts.

“We have seen a great deal of brutality, but the content that ISIS has been disseminating over the past two years has surpassed it all for sheer evil,” said Steven Stalinsky, the institute’s executive director, using the common acronym for the Islamic State. “Sales of slave girls on social media is just one more example of this.”

Almani, the apparent owner of the Facebook account, is thought to be a German national fighting for the Islamic State in Syria, according to Stalinsky. He has previously posted to social-media accounts under that name, in the slangy, poorly rendered English used by many European fighters who can’t speak Arabic. Early postings suggest that Almani is intimately familiar with the Islamic State’s activities around Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in Syria. He also regularly uses his accounts to solicit donations for the terrorist group.

In displaying the images of the women, Almani advised his Facebook friends to “get married” and “come to dawlah,” or the Islamic State’s territory in Iraq and Syria. Then he engaged with different commenters in an extensive discussion about whether the $8,000 asking price was a good value. Some who replied to the postings mocked the women’s looks, while others scolded Almani for posting photos of women who weren’t wearing the veil.

“What makes her worth that price? Does she have an exceptional skill?” one of his correspondents asks about woman in the second photo.

“Nope,” he replies. “Supply and demand makes her that price.”

The Islamic State’s leaders have historically used U.S.-based social media such as Facebook and Twitter to attract recruits and spread propaganda, but in the past year American companies have sought to block jihadist accounts and postings whenever they are discovered.

Facebook in particular has garnered high marks from watchdog groups for reacting quickly to terrorists’ efforts to use its pages. But at the same time, the militants also have become more agile, leaping quickly from one social-media platform to another and opening new accounts as soon as older ones are shut down.

Displaced Iraqi women from the Yazidi community, who fled violence between Islamic State jihadists and Peshmerga fighters in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, gathering around their tents at a refugee camp set up on Mount Sinjar in Jan. 2015.  (Safin Hamed / AFP/Getty Images)
Displaced Iraqi women from the Yazidi community, who fled violence between Islamic State jihadists and Peshmerga fighters in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, gathering around their tents at a refugee camp set up on Mount Sinjar in Jan. 2015.
(Safin Hamed / AFP/Getty Images)

The Facebook incident comes amid complaints from human rights groups about waning public interest in the plight of women held as prisoners by the Islamic State. The organization Human Rights Watch, citing estimates by Kurdish officials in Iraq and Syria, says the terrorist group holds about 1,800 women and girls, just from the capture of Yazidi towns in the region. After initial denials, the Islamic State last year issued statements acknowledging the use of sex slaves and defending the practice as consistent with ancient Islamic traditions, provided that the women are non-Muslims captured in battle or members of Muslim sects that the terrorist group regards as apostates. At least three Somali families in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area have female relatives who have gone missing in…

A report last month by Human Rights Watch recounted the ordeals suffered by three dozen Iraqi and Syrian women who escaped from terrorist-held towns in recent months. Among the women were former Yazidi sex slaves who described abuses that included multiple rapes by different men as they were sold and traded.

The problems faced by such women appear to be growing worse as military and economic pressure against the Islamic State increases, the report said.

“The longer they are held by ISIS, the more horrific life becomes for Yazidi women, bought and sold, brutally raped, their children torn from them,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Meanwhile, ISIS’s restrictions on [non-enslaved] Sunni women cut them off from normal life and services almost entirely.”

What’s Going On In Iraqi Offensive to Retake Fallujah From ISIS



The Iraqi ground offensive to retake the ISIS-held city of Fallujah began early Monday with Iraqi military forces pressing outside the city located 40 miles west of Baghdad.

Retaking the city in Anbar Province has been a priority for the Iraqi government since it was one of the first places in the country seized by ISIS in early 2014. According to American military officials, the number of ISIS fighters in the province has fallen to 1,000 as ISIS has sustained battlefield defeats in recent months.

The Fallujah military operation was announced late Sunday night by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who said Iraqi forces are “approaching a moment of great victory” against ISIS in the wake of recent victories in the far western town of Rutbah and other towns in the Euphrates River Valley.


Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said Monday that the Iraqi military had begun to conduct “shaping operations” on the outside of Fallujah and had not entered the city proper. “Fallujah is important,” said Davis. “It’s the last remaining stronghold within Anbar Province. It’s the ISIS position closest to Baghdad and a place we’re going to be working very closely with Iraqi partners to retake.”

The Fallujah operation involves forces from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. “Those forces have already begun to move on the city where they’re encountering some resistance,” said Davis. The shaping also involves striking at targets inside the city and “dropping leaflets meant to inform civilian populations to avoid ISIS areas,” Davis said. “They’ve been asking people to place white sheets on their roof to market their locations.”

While the U.S. is supporting the Iraqi military offensive in Fallujah, it is still not cooperating with the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, known the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), arrayed north of the city.

Davis said he did not know what the role of the Shiite militias would be in Fallujah though “they have a largely a relationship of coexistence with Iraqi forces and are aligned against ISIS”.

The coalition has supported the ground operation with airstrikes before the offensive, 21 in Fallujah since May 17, according to Davis. Iraq has not requested the use of American Apache helicopters based in Iraq as part of the Fallujah operation though they remain available if needed.


Fallujah was the first Iraqi city seized by ISIS in early 2014, as the group found early support among the dominant Sunni Muslim population that resented the policies by the Shiite-led government of former Prime Minister Maliki.

Since then, retaking the city has been a priority for the Iraqi government, even though it may not be as tactically important as it once was.

The U.S. military believes about 1,000 ISIS fighters remain in Anbar Province with ISIS numbers decreasing as the result of recent Iraqi military victories in Rutbah and Hit in the Euphrates River Valley. Davis said many ISIS fighters had already left Anbar and particularly Fallujah which he described as “a distant outpost for them” that has been “hard to sustain over time.”

Two Iraqi Army brigades have been encircling the city for months in anticipation of a planned offensive which seemed to await the slow progress of the Iraqi military in retaking Ramaadi to the southwest.


ISIS still controls significant area of Iraqi territory in the northern part of the country including Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Much of the American-led training effort of Iraq’s military has been geared towards generating the forces needed to retake Mosul in a future offensive.

Two weeks ago, Col. Steve Warren, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said retaking Fallujah was not a military prerequisite for an offensive towards Mosul and that doing so would be an Iraqi “political decision.”

He anticipated that retaking the city would be “a tough note for the Iraqis to crack” given that the city had been under ISIS control for more than two years.

The pace of the Iraqi-led operation and sequencing of the operation will be up to the Iraqis, similar to the effort to retake the much larger city of Ramadi which lasted for months.

This photo shows the incredible firepower of the US-led coalition against ISIS

In the photo below, soldiers and airmen from the international coalition to thwart ISIS stand in front of some of the most powerful military aircraft in the world. From left to right, we see a U-2 spy plane, a KC-10 tanker, an F-15 Eagle, an F-18 jet in front of an E-3, a KC-30A tanker, an F-22 Raptor, and an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone.From left to right, we see a U-2 spy plane, a KC-10 tanker, an F-15 Eagle, an F-18 jet in front of an E-3, a KC-30A tanker, an F-22 Raptor, and an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone.
In the photo, soldiers and airmen from the international coalition to thwart ISIS stand in front of some of the most powerful military aircraft in the world. From left to right, we see a U-2 spy plane, a KC-10 tanker, an F-15 Eagle, an F-18 jet in front of an E-3, a KC-30A tanker, an F-22 Raptor, and an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone. From left to right, we see a U-2 spy plane, a KC-10 tanker, an F-15 Eagle, an F-18 jet in front of an E-3, a KC-30A tanker, an F-22 Raptor, and an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone.

US-led coalition spokesman: ISIS suffering setback

Colonel Steve Warren, the US-led coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, said the recent attacks by militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) against the Kurdish Peshmerga front lines in northern Iraq last Tuesday that also killed one US serviceman, was to gain attention after suffering “several defeats in a row”.

“This enemy [ISIS] has been getting slapped around now by both the CTS, the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga for weeks,” Colonel Warren told a press conference on Wednesday. “They’re being pressured, their noses have been bloodied and they’ve continued to become battered around Makhmur.  They were out of Bashir [village] by the Peshmerga,” he added.

“It’s an area [Bashir] that they used to launch indirect fire attacks against Kirkuk, it’s an area that they used to launch chemical weapons attacks against Taza that killed three children several months ago and the Peshmerga came in and took it away from them, unceremoniously took it away from them in a relatively quick fight.  It took about 24 hours,” he said.

“This enemy has suffered a string of recent defeats.  They were kicked out of Hiit, they’ve been cleared out of the roadway between Hiit and Dulab, they’re being pressured into Dulab,” Warren stated.

“So this enemy has suffered a string of defeats recently, and one of the things that we’ve noticed that what ISIL [ISIS] likes to do is when they have suffered several defeats in a row, when they’re back on their heels, often they will try one of these more high-profile, high-visibility attacks in an effort to gain some attention,” he said.

“This enemy wanted to stage a relatively high-profile, high-visibility attack that would distract peoples’ attention away from the beatdown that they’ve been taking everywhere else.  Luckily for us, it won’t work,” he said, suggesting that ISIS is on the back foot, and that the latest attacks have no “lasting operational value to this enemy”.

The US-led coalition spokesperson also referred to the ISIS-led complex attack on December 16, 2015, near the town of Tal Aswad against Kurdish Peshmerga forces, that included hundreds of ISIS fighters and several VBIEDs.

“It was, we believe, in reaction to the fact that they were in the process of losing Ramadi.  What this enemy likes to do is when they’re — when they’re taking a beatdown, they like to try and stage some noticeable event that would distract the press, particularly the Western press who are very vulnerable to distraction in their view,” he stated.

Moreover, Warren said that when ISIS suffers setbacks, it carries out attacks on civilians in other parts of the world. In November, when the Kurdish forces took Sinjar, the ISIS operatives attacked Paris.

“We also know that when this enemy is on its heels, when it’s suffered several setbacks, they’re likely to try and lash out, you know, through terror attacks, perhaps in Baghdad, perhaps elsewhere in Syria, perhaps elsewhere in the world,” the coalition spokesperson added.

President Obama Adding US Troops in Syria to Keep Up ‘Momentum’ Against ISIS


President Obama says he is expanding the U.S. military presence in Syria in order to keep up the “momentum” in the campaign against ISIS.

“I’ve decided to increase U.S. support for local forces fighting ISIL in Syria,” the president said today in a speech in Hanover, Germany, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State. “They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces that continue to drive ISIL back.”

The president will deploy an additional 250 Special Operations Forces to Syria to assist local forces in their fight against ISIS. This adds to the 50 personnel aiding fighters in Syria, bringing the total number of US troops in the country to 300.
Obama to Send 250 Additional Military Personnel to Syria, Official Says

Obama encouraged his NATO counterparts to step up their counter-ISIS efforts, including increasing the air campaign in Syria and Iraq, providing trainers to help build up local forces in Iraq and providing greater economic assistance to Iraq.

“These terrorists are doing everything in their power to strike our cities and kill our citizens so we need to do everything in our power to stop them,” he said.

Before the speech, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes stressed that while the troops will be in “harm’s way,” they are not being tasked with a combat mission.

“Obviously, any special forces troops that we deploy into Iraq or Syria are going to be combat-equipped troops. They may be in circumstances where they find themselves in harm’s way because these are dangerous places,” Rhodes told reporters today. “They’re not being sent there on a combat mission. They’re being sent there on a mission to be advising and assisting and supporting the forces that are fighting against ISIL on the ground.”

The United States is also ramping up its military presence in neighboring Iraq. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last week the deployment of an additional 217 troops to serve as advisers in Iraq, raising the total number of authorized military forces to 4,087.

The president’s decision comes before a security-focused meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Hollande, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Rhodes said the president will encourage his European counterparts, both publicly and privately, to expand their commitment to fight ISIS.

“Everybody is in this fight,” Rhodes said. “We will do our part, but this will only succeed if we are working together as a coalition and as a global community to stamp out the threat of ISIL.”

The leaders will also discuss other global security concerns, including the refugee crisis, assisting a new government in Libya, and maintaining pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been at odds with Western leaders over aggression in Ukraine and support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

President Obama will urge European leaders to expand intelligence sharing as ISIS continues to pose a threat to their countries in the wake of the attacks in Paris and Brussels.

How drone strike turned Jihadi John into ‘greasy spot on the ground’

Mohammed Emwazi, the ISIS militant known as "Jihadi John"
Mohammed Emwazi, the ISIS militant known as “Jihadi John”

ISIS thug Jihadi John was reduced to a “greasy spot on the ground,” by a drone strike in Syria last November, according to a top US military official.

US Colonel Steve Warren says he watched video of the pinpoint attack on the notorious jihadi, whose real name was Mohammed Emwazi.

“We found him when he was talking on the cell phone. And when it was all over, he was a greasy spot on the ground,” Warren told The Daily Mail.

Warren called the strike “the most precise air campaign in the history of warfare.”

Officials elevated Jihadi John to a “terrorist celebrity” after he beheaded numerous hostages including Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“That is why we put special effort to get him,” Warren said. “We put the same amount of attention we give to senior leaders, but only because of his celebrity status.”

Emwazi was one of a group of terrorists that were given nicknames based on members of The Beatles because they all had British accents.

Meanwhile, Warren said US forces are teaming up with their British counterparts to take back Raqqa, a large Syrian city that ISIS has been using as its main base.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said. “It is going to be a significant fight. They are not going to abandon Raqqa easily.”

Destruction, razed monastery left behind by IS in Syria town


QARYATAIN, Syria (AP) — Syrian troops fired their guns in celebration amid smoldering buildings inside the town of Qaryatain on Monday, hours after recapturing it from retreating Islamic State militants who had abducted and terrorized dozens of its Christian residents.

An Associated Press crew was among the first journalists to enter the town and witnessed the destruction wrought on the once-thriving Christian community and its fifth-century monastery, which was bulldozed by the extremist group last summer.

Once a cherished pilgrimage site, much of the St. Elian monastery had been reduced to a pile of stones.

Escorted by the Syrian government, the AP crew was allowed to venture only about three kilometers (1½ miles) inside Qaryatain, located 125 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Damascus, because army experts were still clearing explosives and mines left by the group.

Black smoke billowed from the western side of town where skirmishes continued. Near the central square, some residential and government buildings were completely destroyed, their top floors flattened. Others had gaping holes where they had taken direct artillery hits or were pock-marked by gunfire. Electricity poles and cables were broken and shredded; a snapped tree hung to one side.

On Sunday, a week after taking back the historic town of Palmyra from IS, Syrian troops and their allies recaptured Qaryatain. Aided by Russian airstrikes, the advance dealt yet another setback to IS, depriving the extremists of a main base in central Syria that could eventually be used by government forces to launch attacks on IS-held areas near the Iraqi border.

Soldiers were visibly buoyed Monday by their successive battlefield victories.

“We will soon liberate all of Syria from the mercenaries of the Gulf and Erdogan,” said one soldier, referring to Gulf countries and the Turkish leader who have been strong supporters of the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

Qaryatain lies midway between Palmyra and the capital, Damascus, and was once home to a sizeable Christian population. Before IS took it over last August, it had a mixed population of around 40,000 Sunni Muslims and Christians, as well as thousands of internally displaced people who had fled from the nearby city of Homs.

As it came under militant attack, many of the Christians fled. More than 200 residents, mostly Christians, were abducted by the extremists, including a Syrian priest, the Rev. Jack Murad, who was held by the extremists for three months.

During the eight months that Qaryatain was under IS control, some Christians were released and others were made to sign pledges to pay a tax imposed on non-Muslims. Some have simply vanished.

Days after the militants publicly beheaded an 81-year-old antiquities scholar in nearby Palmyra last August, the militants posted photos on social media that showed them leveling the St. Elian Monastery with bulldozers. They also trashed an ancient church next to the Assyrian Christian monastery, and desecrated a nearby cemetery, breaking the crosses and smashing name plates.

The church’s doors and windows were blown out and its interior appeared to have been used by the militants as a workshop for manufacturing bombs and booby traps, its floor littered with gas canisters, metal kettles, coffee pots and blue pails.

Scrawled in blue paint on the church’s exterior stone wall was a verse from a 19th -century Egyptian poet known as the Poet of Islam: “We faced you in battle like hungry lions who find the flesh of the enemy to be the most delicious.” It was signed: “The Lions of the Caliphate.”

Another wall was sprayed with the words “Lasting and Expanding,” the Islamic State group’s logo. It was dated August 15, 2015.

A Syrian soldier showed journalists an ID apparently left behind by an IS militant from the nearby town of Mheen. It was stamped with the words “al-Dawla al-Islamiya,” or Islamic State.

The officer said the Syrian army would now turn east to capture the next IS-held town of Sukhneh, on the road between Palmyra and Deir el-Zour near the Iraqi border.

Meanwhile, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the U.S. carried out an airstrike late Sunday on a senior al-Qaida “operational meeting” in northwest Syria that resulted in “several enemy killed.” He said the U.S. believes a senior al-Qaida figure, Abu Firas al-Souri, was at the meeting and “we are working to confirm his death.”

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites, said al-Souri died in the U.S. strike, which targeted the headquarters of Jund al-Aqsa, an extremist group that fights alongside al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front. Al-Souri was the former spokesman for the Nusra Front, the group reported on social media Monday.

The strike killed at least 21 militants in Idlib province, a jihadist stronghold in northern Syria, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Military officials said over the weekend that the U.S. killed an Islamic State fighter who was believed to be directly connected to the attack in Iraq that killed Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin about a week ago. Cardin, of Temecula, California, was killed by rocket fire at a base near Makhmour.

Cook said Monday that Jasim Khadijah, a former Iraqi officer and a member of the Islamic State group, “played a role in the rocket attacks” that killed Cardin.


Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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