ISIL

Islamic State claims responsibility for Iraq bus bombing that killed 12

KONFRONTASI- Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for a bus bombing that killed 12 people near the Iraqi city of Kerbala, the Amaq news agency reported on Saturday.

Iraqi security services said on Friday that 12 people were killed and several others wounded when a bus bombing occurred near the holy city south of Baghdad.

Two police spokesmen in the area said an explosive device planted on the bus detonated at a northern entrance to the city, setting fire to the vehicle.[mr/reuters]

Islamic State guerrilla attacks point to its future strategy

KONRONTASI-Syrian and Iraqi forces closing in on the last scraps of Islamic State's caliphate straddling the remote border area between the two countries have already witnessed the jihadists' likely response.

While their comrades mounted last stands in their Syrian capital of Raqqa and the city of Hawija in Iraq, IS militants seized the Syrian town of al-Qaryatayn and launched its biggest attack for months in Ramadi late last month. That is the kind of guerrilla insurgency both countries foresee IS turning to.

"It is expected that after the Daesh terrorist organisation's capacity to fight in the field is finished, its remnants will resort to this type of (guerrilla) operation. But for a certain period of time, not forever," said a Syrian military source, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

The continued ability for IS to mount attacks in areas where it was thought to have been eliminated will hinder efforts to stabilise regions when the fighting wanes.

In Iraq, where Islamic State originated, it has a proven record of falling back upon local networks from which it can rise anew when conditions allow. So far, it has not shown it has the same capacity in Syria, and it might find doing so more challenging there than in Iraq.

The sectarian divisions on which it thrives are less pronounced in Syria, and it faces competition there for jihadist loyalty from other powerful militant groups.

"Daesh is in essence an Iraqi organisation, it will survive to some extent in Iraq. Syrian members will dissolve in other Syrian Salafi jihadist groups," said Hisham Hashami, an adviser on Islamic State to the Iraqi government.

But in both countries it has shown it can exploit holes left by overstretched enemies to carry out spectacular attacks - the one in Syria's al-Qaryatayn most clearly - that spread panic and tie down opposing forces.

It has also proved able to carry out bombings and assassinations in areas controlled by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, U.S.-backed Kurdish militias and rival jihadist rebel groups, signalling an ability to survive underground.

A jihadist from a Syrian rebel faction opposed to Islamic State said the group had won enough support among young men to give it a latent capacity to revive.

"I believe that it is possible, given that its ideology has spread widely among the youths, that something new will emerge," the jihadist said, pointing to the highly effective propaganda machine deployed by Islamic State over the last three years.

 

Islamic State defeated in its Syrian capital Raqqa

KONFRONTASI-U.S.-backed militias said they had defeated Islamic State in its former capital Raqqa on Tuesday, raising their flags over the jihadist group’s last footholds in the city after a four-month battle.

The fighting was over but the alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias was clearing the stadium of mines and any remaining militants, said Rojda Felat, commander of the Raqqa campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

A formal declaration of victory in Raqqa will soon be made, once the city has been cleared of mines and any possible Islamic State sleeper cells, said Talal Silo, the SDF spokesman.

The fall of Raqqa, where Islamic State staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the jihadist movement’s collapsing fortunes.

Islamic State has lost most of its territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul. In Syria, it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.

The SDF, backed by a U.S.-led international alliance, has been fighting since June to take the city Islamic State used to plan attacks abroad.

Another Reuters witness said militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanting slogans from their vehicles.

The fighters and commanders clasped their arms round each other, smiling, in a battle-scarred landscape of rubble and ruined buildings at a public square.

The flags in the stadium and others waved in the city streets were of the SDF, its strongest militia the Kurdish YPG, and the YPG’s female counterpart, the YPJ.

Fighters hauled down the black flag of Islamic State, the last still flying over the city, from the National Hospital near the stadium.

“We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and amongst the areas that ISIS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition.

In a sign that the four-month battle for Raqqa had been in its last stages, Dillon said there were no coalition air strikes there on Monday.

After Mosul, Islamic State digs in for guerrilla warfare

KONFRONTASI-Islamic State militants began reinventing themselves months before U.S.-backed Iraqi forces ended their three-year reign of terror in Mosul, putting aside the dream of a modern-day caliphate and preparing the ground for a different fight.

Intelligence and local officials said that, a few months ago, they noticed a growing stream of commanders and fighters flowing out of the city to the Hamrin mountains in northeast Iraq which offer hideouts and access to four Iraqi provinces.

Some were intercepted but many evaded security forces and began setting up bases for their new operations.

What comes next may be a more complex and daunting challenge for Iraqi security forces once they finish celebrating a hard-won victory in Mosul, the militants' biggest stronghold.

Intelligence and security officials are bracing for the kind of devastating insurgency al Qaeda waged following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, pushing Iraq into a sectarian civil war which peaked in 2006-2007.

"They are digging in. They have easy access to the capital," Lahur Talabany, a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official, told Reuters. As part of the U.S.-led coalition, he is at the forefront of efforts to eliminate Islamic State.

"I believe we have tougher days coming.”

Some Iraqi Islamic State fighters have roots dating back to al Qaeda's campaign of car and suicide bombs that exploded by the dozens each day and succeeded in fueling a sectarian bloodbath in Iraq, a major oil producer and key U.S. ally.

When a U.S.-funded tribal initiative crushed al-Qaeda, the hardcore regrouped in the desert between Iraq and Syria. They reappeared with a new jihadist brand that took the world by surprise: Islamic State.

Shortly after its lighting sweep through Mosul, the group outdid al Qaeda's brutality, carrying out mass beheadings and executions as it imposed its ultra-hardline ideology.

Unlike al-Qaeda, it seized a third of Iraqi territory, gaining knowledge of land that could come in handy as it hits back at Iraqi security forces.

Blasts strike Baghdad days into Ramadan, killing 27

KONFRONTASI-Two blasts ripped through the Iraqi capital of Baghdad just days into the holy month of Ramadan, killing at least 27 people and wounding more than 100.

ISIL claimed the first and deadliest suicide car bomb attack, which took place shortly after midnight at a busy ice cream parlour in Karrada, killing at least 16 people and injuring at least 75 - with children among the victims.

Scenes of panic and carnage followed the explosion in the Shia district, where last July ISIL bombed close to 300 people to death in the worst attack in 13 years of war.

ISIL considers members of Iraq's Shia Muslim majority to be heretics and frequently carries out attacks against them.

A number of wounded lay on the ground, others propped themselves up on the colourful park benches outside the ice cream shop.

One young girl, wearing a ribbon and bow in her hair, wandered the scene dazed.

During Ramadan, people stay up late and many eat out to prepare for the fast the next day.

"Families were out and the place was crowded," Hayder al-Khoei, a London-based Middle East expert, told Al Jazeera.

Al-Khoei explained that the armed group "timed Tuesday's attack to cause maximum impact".

"The suicide bomber detonated himself just after midnight. It was a hot day and he targeted a popular ice cream parlour in Baghdad," he said.
Second explosion

Mosul offensive gains fresh momentum as army attacks IS from northwest

KONFRONTASI-The U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul from Islamic State gained fresh momentum on Thursday, with an armored division trying to advance into the city from the northern side.

The militants are now besieged in the northwestern corner of Mosul which includes the historic Old City center, the medieval Grand al-Nuri Mosque, and its landmark leaning minaret where their black flag has been flying since June 2014.

The Iraqi army's 9th Armoured Division and the Rapid Response units of the Interior Ministry have opened a new front in the northwest of the city, the military said in a statement.

The attack will help the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and Interior Ministry Federal Police troops who are painstakingly advancing from the south.

"Our forces are making a steady advance in the first hours of the offensive and Daesh fighters are breaking and retreating," Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for the joint operations command, told state television. He was referring to Islamic State by an Arabic acronym.

Federal Police and Rapid Response forces advanced 1,400 meters and keep pushing ahead in the Hulela area toward the Haramat district northwest of Mosul. They were trying to reach the Tigris river bank and surround the Fifth Bridge north of the Old City, the Federal Police said in a statement.

A U.S.-led international coalition is providing key air and ground support to the offensive on Mosul, Islamic State's de facto capital in Iraq, which started in October.

It was from the pulpit of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi revealed himself to the world in July 2014, declaring a "caliphate" that spanned parts of Syria and persecuted non-Sunni communities as well as Sunnis who did not abide by its extreme interpretation of Islam.

"An armored division should not be going into narrow alleyways and streets but we will," said Lieutenant General Qassem al-Maliki, commander of the 9th Armoured Division.

"There are sometimes troop shortages or orders that require us to do so and we will do our duty," he told Reuters in an interview at a base southwest of Mosul.

"We will enter with Rapid Response forces and CTS and we will enter as one front."

The Iraqi army said on April 30 that it aimed to finish the battle for Mosul, the largest city to have fallen under Islamic State control in both Iraq and Syria, this month.

Islamic State's defeat in Mosul will not mean the end of the hardline Sunni group which remains in control of parts of Syria and vast swathes of Iraqi territory near the Syrian border.

 

ISIL now controls 'less than 7 percent of Iraq'

KONFRONTASI-The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group now controls less than 7 percent of Iraq, down from the 40 percent it held nearly three years ago, an Iraqi military spokesman has said.

Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other support are now battling ISIL inside second city of Mosul, after retaking much of the other territory the group had seized.

Iraqi forces battle to Mosul mosque, 17 killed in Baghdad

KONFRONTASI-Iraqi special forces and police fought Islamic State militants to edge closer to the al-Nuri mosque in western Mosul on Wednesday, tightening their control around the landmark site and in Baghdad a suicide truck bomb killed at least 17 people.

The close-quarters fighting is focused on the Old City surrounding the mosque, where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate nearly three years ago across territory controlled by the group in both Iraq and Syria.

US-backed forces 'capture' Tabqa airbase from ISIL

KONFRONTASI-A US-backed alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters has captured a strategic airbase from ISIL in northern Syria in the first major victory for the group since the US airlifted the forces behind enemy lines last week. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Sunday that they captured the Tabqa airbase, 45km west of Raqqa, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group's de facto capital in Syria.

Iraqi forces take control of Mosul Airport

KONFRONTASI-US-backed Iraqi security forces closing in on the ISIL-held western half of Mosul have stormed the city's airport and a nearby military base, state television said.

Counterterrorism service (CTS) troops and elite interior ministry units known as Rapid Response forces descended on the airport early on Thursday and the nearby Ghazlani military complex, CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan told state TV.

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