Senate panel questions Lynch over ‘political interference’ in Clinton probe

The Senate Judiciary Committee has formally asked ex-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and others to respond to allegations of “political interference” in the FBI’s Hillary Clinton email probe, according to a letter released Friday.

The inquiry was prompted, in part, by a series of media reports raising questions about whether Lynch tried to stifle the investigation into former Secretary of State Clinton’s use of a private email server. Fired FBI Director James Comey also suggested in recent Senate testimony that Lynch sought to downplay the investigation.

“The reports come amidst numerous allegations of political inference in controversial and high-profile investigations spanning the current and previous administrations,” Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office said in a statement.

While Democrats have questioned whether President Trump tried to interfere in the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, Republicans have countered by stepping up scrutiny of Lynch’s actions.

The letters released Friday, though, were bipartisan. Grassley, R-Iowa; ranking Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., penned letters to Lynch and others seeking documentation and other details.

Graham already had expressed interest in Lynch testifying before the committee in the wake of Comey’s testimony.

In the latest letters, the senators sought information that might determine the veracity of media reports suggesting Lynch may have offered assurances to the Clinton campaign about the probe.

Those articles are based on hacked documents whose authenticity has not been confirmed.

The letter cited an April New York Times article about a batch of hacked files obtained by the FBI, including one reportedly authored by a Democratic operative who voiced confidence Lynch would keep the Clinton probe from going too far.

Lynch and others who received the committee’s letters have until July 6 to comply with the request.

The senators also refer to concerns stemming from Comey’s testimony about being uncomfortable with Lynch’s tarmac meeting last summer with Bill Clinton.

Comey also told Congress “the attorney general directed me not to call it an investigation and call it a matter — which confused me.”

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un uses terrifyingly creative methods to kill enemies

From siccing wild dogs on his own uncle to gunning down his enemies with artillery meant for taking out planes, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has built a reputation for dispatching with extreme prejudice all those who cross him.

While some of the terrifying methods of execution have never been confirmed, the mere mention of them is sure to keep his inner circle in line – and any potential rivals quiet, say experts. A confirmed favorite tactic, blowing people away with anti-aircraft guns, leave victims unrecognizable.

“Because there are several guns bound together, it would be hard to find the body after firing it once.”

– Hong Hyun-ik, Sejong Institute

“Because there are several guns bound together, it would be hard to find the body after firing it once,” Hong Hyun-ik, chief researcher at the Sejong Institute, a security think tank based in Seoul, told local broadcaster YTN in 2015. “It’s really gruesome.”

In late February, South Korean officials revealed that five North Korean officials had been subjected to the particularly grisly form of overkill. Other methods trickle out of the secretive Hermit Kingdom, their unverified status only burnishing the legend of Kim’s depravity.

report that one official was killed by a mortar round has been treated with skepticism. But the tale sent a strong message when coupled with his alleged crime: drinking and carousing during the official mourning period following the death of Kim’s father, the equally brutal Kim Jong Il.

Kim’s reach extends beyond the pariah nation he never leaves, as demonstrated by the almost certainly sanctioned hit on his half-brother earlier this year. Kim Jong Nam, seen as a successor to Kim should a coup take place, was sprayed in the face with VX nerve agent by two women as he prepared to catch a flight from Kuala Lampur to Macau. North Korea has denied reports that Kim ordered his paternal half-brother’s murder.

Perhaps the most frightening method of execution ordered by the 33-year-old, third-generation dictator is allowing a pack of starving dogs to devour enemies. In one notable case, the victim was purportedly Kim’s own uncle.

Jang Song-thaek was thought of as a father figure to Kim Jong Un, and served as the second-in-command to the supreme leader. But when he ran afoul of Kim in 2013 for “anti-state acts” and “double-dealing,” his familial ties couldn’t save him from his nephew’s wrath.

How Jang died may never come to light, but a rumor that he was fed to dogs was widely reported. Other reports subsequently claimed that Jang was likely executed by anti-aircraft guns before his body was incinerated by flamethrowers.

The gout-addled Kim also had several of his uncle’s cronies killed, and was reportedly “very drunk” when he gave the orders.

According to a report from the Institute for National Security Strategy, a South Korean think tank, Kim has ordered the execution of more than 340 individuals since taking power in 2011. The report also indicates that the number of military and government officials purged by Kim since 2011 has increased every year. Just 3 officials were executed in 2012, compared to about 140 since the beginning of 2016.

Michael Malice, author of “Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il,” said Kim’s real favored means of murder is simply presiding over what Malice calls “the worst country on earth.”

“[Kim] chose to let a million to two million people starve to death in the 90’s. So 340 executions,” Malice said. “That number is better to focus on than the guy who probably wasn’t eaten by dogs.”

But when Kim turns executioner, he maximizes the deterrent effect, Malice said.

“If you want to talk about weird methods of killing, the fact that everyone has to watch is horrifically weird,” the author told Fox News.

Malice was referring to reports from defectors that North Koreans are forced to watch the many public executions that occur. The claim – and Kim’s underlying purpose – were echoed by a 2014 report from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“Public executions and enforced disappearance to political prison camps serve as the ultimate means to terrorize the population into submission,” the report stated.

Americans consider Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old college student sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for stealing a poster, to have effectively been a victim of Kim’s bloodlust. It may never be known what killed Warmbier, but he was returned to the U.S. last week, 17 months after beginning his sentence, in a terminal state. He was buried Thursday.

Even if Warmbier’s death was not technically an execution, it is a stark reminder of how even minor crimes are dealt with in North Korea. People are publicly executed for such “crimes” as importing South Korean or American music and movies or being caught with a Bible.

“To focus on this carnival aspect [of Kim’s allegedly unusual executions] really misses the point about what makes this place so unique and horrible,” Malice said. “This is what they have to worry about on a regular basis.”

North Korea, Kim Jong Un, anti-aircraft guns, South Korea, overkill, Kim Jong Nam, Jong Song-thaek, Otto Warmbier

Qatar says list of demands by Arab states not realistic

An aerial view of high-rise buildings emerging through fog covering the skyline of Doha, as the sun rises over the city, in Doha, Qatar, 15 February 2014Image copyrightEPA
Image captionQatar, which is rich in natural gas, is home to 2.7 million people

Qatar’s foreign minister has rejected a list of 13 conditions set by four Arab states for lifting sanctions, saying it is neither reasonable nor actionable.

Qatar is under strict sanctions from Saudi Arabia and its allies, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain. They accuse Qatar of backing terrorism.

Among other things, they have demanded the closure of Al Jazeera TV, which is funded by the Qatari government.

The UAE’s foreign minister has suggested they may cut ties completely.

But Anwar Gargash added that the countries were not seeking to overthrow the Qatari leadership, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Qatar has been under unprecedented diplomatic and economic sanctions for more than two weeks, with Iran and Turkey increasingly supplying it with food and other goods.

It denies accusations that it is funding terrorism and fostering regional instability.

The four countries also want Qatar to reduce its ties with Iran and close a Turkish military base, setting a deadline on Friday of 10 days.

What has Qatar’s government said?

The government is reviewing the demands, a spokesman has said.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, quoted by Al-Jazeera, said: “The US secretary of state recently called upon the blockading nations to produce a list of grievances that was ‘reasonable and actionable’.

“The British foreign secretary asked that the demands be ‘measured and realistic.’ This list does not satisfy that [sic] criteria.”

Media captionGiles Trendle of Al Jazeera: “We’re not partisan to any particular group or ideology or government”

He said the demands were proof that the sanctions had “nothing to do with combating terrorism… [but] limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy”.

Al Jazeera accused them of trying to silence freedom of expression, adding: “We assert our right to practise our journalism professionally without bowing to pressure from any government or authority.”

What effect are sanctions having?

Qatar’s main import routes – by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from container ships docked in the UAE – have been disrupted, and much of the surrounding airspace has been closed to its air traffic.

Map showing Qatar and other Gulf states

However, the small but wealthy country has so far avoided economic collapse by finding alternative routes.

Qatari citizens living in neighbouring countries or with family living there have been hit harder, Reuters news agency notes, because of ultimatums issued for them to leave.

What happens if the demands are not met?

The UAE’s foreign minister said there would be a “parting of ways” with Qatar if it failed to meet them.

“The alternative is not escalation,” he said. “The alternative is parting of ways. It’s very difficult for us to maintain a collective grouping with one of the partners… actively promoting what is an extremist and terrorist agenda.”

He described Qatar as a “Trojan horse” within the group of Arab monarchies.

Where is the US in this?

Correspondents say there has been frustration in Washington over the time taken by the Saudis and others to formalise their demands.

Media captionThe disruption could have an impact on Qatar if the dispute drags on

US President Donald Trump has taken a hard line towards Qatar, accusing it of being a “high-level” sponsor of terrorism.

However, the Arab states involved in the crisis are all close allies of the US, while the largest US base in the Middle East is in Qatar.

The secret lives of young IS fighters

Three young IS militants lie dead on the banks of the River Tigris.

They left behind personal photos and documents which reveal the extraordinary story of their private lives.

Warning: Disturbing content

Mohammed is giddy with excitement as he films the discovery of three IS fighters on his mobile phone.

“Shoot him,” he shouts, gesturing at one of them.

His nervousness gives him away as the unit’s cook. He’s unarmed, but his fellow soldiers from the Iraqi police special forces – known as the Emergency Response Division – are armed to the teeth and are not taking any chances.

A body and a pile of clothes on the banks of the Tigris

A body and a pile of clothes on the banks of the Tigris

Two of the IS fighters are clearly dead. One, most likely a boy, is buried under the rubble of concrete bunker. His small, blackened hand sticks out from mangled remains. Nearby, an older fighter lies in the grass. His eyes are open, but part of his head is missing. He died in the same airstrike that took out the bunker.

But it is the third man, lying in the shadows, further ahead on the path alongside the River Tigris, who has the soldiers worried.

Be careful … Look to his hand, maybe he has a grenade. Go slowly.”

Mohammed

They fire a couple of shots into the prone figure. It does not move.

“He is a son of a bitch, he was hiding. Be careful, be careful,” says one of the soldiers. “I don’t think he has a suicide vest,” says another.

An Iraqi soldier investigates the scene

An Iraqi soldier investigates the scene

They are at the foot of an olive grove, which is serving as the temporary base of the ERD as they push towards west Mosul, the last major redoubt of IS in Iraq.

Up close I look upon the dead man. His right leg is mangled, sliced through to the bone. He appears to have crawled out of the bunker and found a small hiding place in the rocks by the riverside.

Even in death his face is distinctive – a narrow chin and a puckish nose. His beard is wispy. He is more of a boy than a man. Nearby, soldiers find an M16 rifle which is marked as property of the US Government.

Close up of the M16 machine gun

Close up of the M16 machine gun

It is likely to have been among the thousands of weapons and vehicles IS seized from retreating Iraqi forces when it swept through from Syria more than two years previously.

“Adel, Adel, does anyone have ammunition? I want a full magazine,” says a fighter searching the dead man. The M16 now belongs to the man who found it.

“We have to go, it isn’t safe here,” an officer tells me. The men are jumpy and want to return to the base. There are still other IS fighters in the area, they warn.

It is late February and these men are in the midst of the battle of their lives. In three days they made lightning progress across the territory to the south of Mosul. Ahead of them the village of the Al-Buseif, then the ruined airport and the neighbourhoods of the west of the city.

All would fall in rapid succession, but the closer to Mosul they come, the more IS fighters they encounter, and the more bodies end up strewn across the roads and pathways.

It is already clear from the assault on the city’s east – it took 100 days – that IS prepared well for this fight. Mosul was turned into a giant arsenal, with weapons dumps and hideouts in every neighbourhood.

Before we climb back up the hill to the base, I look again on the dead fighters. In the grass beside one, I find a small piece of paper marked with an IS stamp. It is a leave permission slip. On the back, it is smeared with his blood.

IS leave permission slip

IS leave permission slip

The soldiers do one final check of the bodies. On the young man in the shadows, they find some cash – a small amount of Syrian pounds, almost worthless. But in his other pocket, there is something small and far more valuable – a memory card from a mobile phone.

The pictures on it will lead us to uncover fragments of the lives of the dead men, the deep camaraderie among them, their brutality, and their journey through the battle for Mosul. And it will cast light on the dead fighter in the shadows. Who was this young man and what secrets of Islamic State did he leave behind?

His hidden
photos

The photographs begin as bright family snapshots, but soon darken. The young man is seated, with the trace of a smile on his face. He is doe-eyed beside a little girl. Perhaps it is his sister. He holds her close, and she has her index finger raised – the Islamic sign for one true god.

His hair is curly, long and parted in the middle, and as the pictures progress they have been edited. His cheeks and lips turned a girlish pink, the whites of his eyes are touched-up and bright.

A transformation is taking place.

Soon he is in military gear, a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, a walkie-talkie in his top pocket.

In another photo, he is asleep. It is almost certainly posed, the intention is to show a warrior at rest.

This is no longer a family album, it’s now a record of a martyr-to-be, a baby-faced suicide attacker, cleansed and ready to sacrifice himself for his cause.

The memory card found on his body has other pictures, too.
There is a group shot of young men and boys. The fighter is not in the frame. Maybe he is behind the camera, taking the shot. I would later learn that most of the men and boys were from Mosul and were part of the Nineveh Fire Support Group, a rear-line, back-up unit. Their time in IS has forged a deep bond between them.

One of the most striking is a photograph of what appears to be the fighter’s brother-in-arms. This man looks older, his hair is long and is also parted. He stares intently at the camera. My eye is drawn to his hands, which are settled on his waist. Curiously, he is wearing black gloves. Underneath those hands, hidden by his shirt, there is a suicide belt. His thumbs rest on its bulge.

The gloves are worn to hide the switch that will detonate the explosives, disguised so that the target does not recognise the threat posed by the smiling young man in khaki, until it is too late.

There are group pictures, too, with older men. Battle-hardened and scarred, their faces are unforgettable. And to some in Mosul, they are familiar.

But the photographs from the phone card have another secret to reveal, one that was right under my nose the entire time.

Secret hideout

The men fighting in the battle for Mosul alternate between two states – the hyper vigilance of the battlefield and a swallowing exhaustion barely touched by a few hours sleep at night.

As a journalist following the men, I slip into the same routine. Rising before dawn, driving to the front, watching as they dodge mortar and rocket fire, avoid roadside bombs and drones. And ducking when IS snipers and fighters open fire.

At night there is barely time for my crew to edit, recharge our equipment, and get some sleep, before heading out again.

Aerial footage of the farmhouse

Aerial footage of the farmhouse

So we do not pay very close attention to our sleeping quarters. In short, it is dark, we are tired, and we have other priorities. All we know is they’ve been checked for booby traps and that we are relatively safe here.

After almost two weeks at the farmhouse, the bodies of the three fighters still lie where they fell. But the dogs and birds are at their corpses. They are increasingly unrecognisable.

As I go through the pictures from the mobile phone card again, the penny drops. These men did not just fight at the farmhouse. It was their home too. I recognise its walls and furnishings in some of the pictures.

Discovering the hideout:

On our last day at the front, with just a few hours to pack and return to the safety of Irbil, I decide to explore. Above my sleeping bag, there is a window. I remove the dusty curtain. Underneath are hidden notices from the caliphate, official IS orders.

They show IS struggling for resources, especially manpower and that the caliphate’s ranks are depleting fast.

On November 11, the Islamic State’s Minister for War calls for more special forces recruits.

By mid-December, new orders are issued to prevent desertion from the front.

Brothers are not allowed to retreat – use of force and commensurate violence allowed”

IS orders

At the back of a room, a blanket covers the wall. I can feel a draught from behind it, so I give it a sharp tug. In a cloud of dust, it falls away and reveals another room, small and bright, with a single window to a vegetable garden, and a bed.

This is the dead men’s sleeping quarters. Their clothes, and much more besides, lie scattered across the floor.

There is a Chelsea Football Club pillowcase lying beside IS wall posters, which list punishments for crimes in the caliphate.

Electrical parts are stripped from sockets and flashlights, presumably for military purposes. In the midst of the mess, something catches my eye. It is an anti-fungal medicine box with a blond-haired baby pictured on the front.

Its eyes are carefully gouged out. This defacement is likely because of an Islamic prohibition of the depiction of the human form.

The room is filthy. Hidden in the piles of material, something important has been left behind. A few pages of detailed handwritten notes and diagrams are carefully folded. They clearly meant a lot to the author, his IS staff number is written in the corner, and in bold English letters, his name: Abu Ali Al Moslaue. Is this the name of the young man depicted in the photos?

The handwriting is neat and careful in the beginning, and the notes are meticulous. They serve an important purpose, life and death, in fact. Abu Ali was learning how to fire mortars. It appears that he was an excellent and a diligent student. But like all schoolboys, he becomes more careless and erratic as the lessons drag on.

But he takes pride in his work. He notes practice runs in converting coordinates from Google Maps to actual targeting coordinates. He draws compass degrees as well as the curved graph course of mortar rounds.

Importantly, in the munitions section and in his own handwriting, he lists “chemical munitions” as a weapon.

There’s been much debate over whether IS has used chemical weapons in Mosul. Here at least, we know they are trained and prepared to use them.

He personalises his notes, sketching a logo for the unit and a makeshift IS stamp, labelled General Support Units.

And there are mottos: “Islamic State: Along the Prophet’s Methodology” and “Islamic State remains, in spite of the haters”.

He used an Education Department exam paper as his notebook, and clearly finds this amusing.

He records the school year as 2016-17, Subject: Mortar, and scores his own paper: “Final Marks: Congratulations. You passed. Total Marks: 100.”

The hideout has even more secrets to reveal. As I search through the detritus something catches my eye.

It looks irrelevant at first. The notebook is in tatters, hanging by a thread. Someone has scribbled the same Islamic poem and a prayer verse several times over a few pages, as if to etch them into memory. There are mistakes, the handwriting is shabby, the structure unappealing. This definitely doesn’t belong to Abu Ali.

But then numbers emerge, names, tables, tabulations and permutations. Whoever scribbled those names and numbers had the authority to dispatch patrols, put men on shifts together, see how many rounds they fired and how many they need for their next outing.

It definitely belongs to someone senior at that farmhouse, possibly the commander of those men. I discover his name is Abu Hashem.

The notebook reveals its secrets – it is a unit’s logbook from the Al-Buseif Air Defence Brigade, a sub-unit of the Nineveh Fire Support Group. They must have all been sharing the same farmhouse.

All in all, Abu Hashem commanded eight men and two vehicles. They formed the bulk of the Al-Buseif Air Defence mobile patrol. They drove a Hyundai pickup truck with a double-barrel anti-air cannon, and another pickup truck with a smaller calibre, single barrel heavy machine gun. Both vehicles were white, which is reportedly the preferred colour for Islamic State combat vehicles because they’re easier to camouflage with dirt and blend into the terrain.

Commander Abu Hashem appears to have been diligent. He meticulously records the sorties, the types of weapons used, the chassis number of his trucks, how many rounds they had, their type, how many rounds fired – even the faulty ones.

Not only was he a good logistician, but he also understood how small units worked. The record shows how he tried to foster and strengthen bonds between his men. Scheduling their lives, Abu Hashem made sure to couple fighters serving on the same vehicle to have meals together.

And so, while he’s having lunch with Abu Riad, his driver, Abu Hafs, the driver of the other vehicle is paired with a gunner, Abu Al-Sham.

The commander, his logbook shows, has clearly put some thought into this. He worked on two possible permutations, crossing off names before putting in a clean draft.

The burden of command must have weighed heavily on Abu Hashem’s mind while commanding his troops. This, however, didn’t soften him up.

Like any seasoned commander, he proved ready to show a tough disciplinary side. In one written order, he tasks one of his subordinates to lead a patrol. “Those who are found lacking must be punished,” he orders. “May Allah reward you with goodness,” wishing him well.

Taking the photos and the bundles of documents with me, I leave the farmhouse and finally Iraq. But for months, the men remain in my head.

Using what I already know about them, would I be able to find out more? Did they have families? What kind of lives had they led?

My search to find out more about the men begins in Mosul. It is early April and the 1st Brigade of Iraq’s ERD forces are deep inside the west of the city.

The farmhouse seems like a lifetime ago. Their new base, a house near the front lines is in a residential neighbourhood.

The steady thump of mortar fire rattles what is left of the windows. Captured IS suspects are being brought here. One man is pulled from a pick-up truck by the fighters.

He has been badly beaten. His T-shirt is covered in blood. It is not clear who hurt him.

It may have been the troops, or it could have been locals exacting revenge on those who had controlled and oppressed them in the proceeding years.

An intelligence major calls me into a back room. “I have someone for you to meet, someone we haven’t shared with anyone else,” he says.

A young, shifty-looking man, slight and dressed like an off-duty soldier comes into the room. Let’s call him Ibrahim.

He fought with IS for two years, but he is not a prisoner. He is a double agent, working for the Iraqi security forces.

I show him the photos that I have brought from the farmhouse.

Quentin speaks to Ibrahim:

“I know them very well,” he says. “Those are fighters. They were with the Khaled Ibn Al-Walid Unit. This one was the section’s commander,” he says pointing to one of the older men in the photographs.

“They acted as a support unit for the front-line troops. They would spring into action as soon as they were needed.”

Along with the intelligence major, he confirms the men were mostly from Mosul. Ibrahim reflects on what his membership of IS had done to him, and most likely to the men and boys in the pictures.

I learned how to be tough. How to beat and kill without mercy. Especially with regards to prisoners”

Ibrahim

He notes that men from the Nineveh Fire Support Group lived spartan lives. “You should live like the Prophet, a simple life. A fighter needs very little to survive,” he says.

It is clear from Ibrahim and others that I meet that most of the men and boys in the pictures are dead.

Identifying all the men in the photographs has proved impossible. IS fighters use noms de guerre, but there was another factor at play.

As one member of the Mosul’s special forces team explains, “When IS came they were children, we don’t recognise them as men.”

Long before their advance stalled around Mosul’s old city, Iraqi forces advanced far quicker than expected towards the city’s western side. And it appears it was much faster than the Nineveh Fire Support Group anticipated.

Abu Ali and his brothers in arms had no time to destroy the material in their hideout. Their grasp of operational security was weak.

A slip of paper discovered on the floor of the farmhouse turns out to be coordinates of locations across Mosul.

Using Google Earth maps, I plot the information. I recognise one location – an IS mortar factory that I had visited in November 2016. The other coordinates are mortar storage and production units too, according to Iraq security forces.

Source: Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit, territory assessed as credible on 19 June 2017

Source: Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit, territory assessed as credible on 19 June 2017

About a dozen men had worked at the factory producing precisely milled mortar shells.

They had burned oil fires through holes in the building roof to hide it from coalition aircraft.

By the time we return to the mortar foundry in April, it is cleared of the shells and returned to commercial use.

Now it is making water tanks and roofing to replace those damaged in the fighting.

In November, people were willing to talk about the IS fighters who made weapons there, but by April, a wariness has settled on east Mosul. Locals may be freed from IS, but it feels like the militants are not very far away. The fear of retribution hangs in the air.

And it becomes easy to understand why when I make my way to the final destination in the journey to retrace the men of the Nineveh Fire Support Group.

In amongst the papers and documents I retrieved from the farmhouse are a number of religious books.

All are marked with the stamp of a mosque in east Mosul – one bearing the name of an imam has been dedicated to the young men.

Mosque of the believers

The Al Mou’meneen Mosque is not far from the mortar factory, and it is here that the group from the farmhouse prayed and brought terror to the local neighbourhood.

The mosque is modest and mostly without adornment. It is a bright spring day, and children are making their way home from school. But I have a sense of trepidation as I knock on the metal door. Is the imam who dedicated the book to the fighters still inside?

The caretaker answers and welcomes me inside. I take off my shoes and he sends a boy to find the imam. I sit waiting in the sunshine, drinking some sweet tea, listening to the children playing outside.

The imam who signed the book is long gone, he fled with IS. So the caretaker calls to find the man who led prayers before IS took control of Mosul.

The imam arrives, his name is Fares Fadel Ibrahim. He is younger than I expected, broad-shouldered and with a quiet confidence.

I show him the pictures of the fighters and he recognises most of them.

Quentin speaks to the imam:

He is nervous, though, and I soon discover why. “Please,” he asks, “Do not film me looking at the pictures.” Why is he afraid of these young men?

The fighters, he says, moved their entire families into this neighbourhood. Most were Iraqi, but there were foreigners, from Syria, Morocco and elsewhere, he says. They lived among them for more than a year and fled in November 2016 when Iraqi security forces advanced closer to the area.

Mullah Fares is, he explains, the temporary imam until the Department of Religious Affairs appoints someone permanently.

That said, it is clear that this is his mosque. He has prayed here since he was a boy – since the mosque was built in 1980. And then he preached there alongside the permanent imam, until IS came.

“What happened to the permanent imam,” I ask. “They murdered him,” he replies. And replaced him with their own preacher – the man who dedicated the book to the fighters. He called them “beloved darlings”.

As we sit on the carpet together in the prayer hall, he explains the story of IS in Mosul and his neighbourhood. They corrupted the city, he says, and worse still, the world’s view of Islam.

At first they treated people well, he explains. “They came with respect and appreciation and then their true intentions appeared.”

For IS, the mosques are a means of control and of recruitment.

Mullah Fares was given the option – join IS or stay at home and only return to the mosque he loved, to pray. So, he returned home.

They came in the name of faith, the residents of Mosul love faith, so anybody that comes to us as a person of faith we welcome it. But the reality was one thing and truth was another.”

Fares Fadel Ibrahim

IS set about a purge. Other preachers were accused of being “delaying salafies,” and were imprisoned for a month, or longer. When released they promised never to lead prayer again. Others, like the Al Mou’meneen’s permanent imam, were killed.

Looking at the pictures of the young men from the Nineveh Fire Support Group, Mullah Fares pauses for a moment, then says: “The power is with the person who holds the gun, even if he is very small and young. Like the young men from ISIS [IS] who killed some strong and old men of ours, like the imam here in the mosque, who was killed by children.”

It would soon be time for afternoon prayers and we have to finish the interview. Dozens of curious children are crowded around the mosque’s door, eager to get inside. But before Mullah Fares finishes, he has one more thing to say, about the young men who held this city.

They distorted the image of Islam, and this thinking will remain.”

Fares Fadel Ibrahim

He continues, “My dear brother, we are by nature people who love faith, young or old, we love Islam and Muslims. Even the prophet, while he encouraged invading different places, he ordered his men not to kill a child, a woman, or an old man, and not to cut down one tree. So where were these values of Islam?”

And with that, he stands up and begins the call to prayer. From the sunshine outside, the waiting children burst through the doors and get ready for their lessons.

The three dead fighters on the banks of the Tigris were little more than children. In fact, one was still was a child. The Nineveh Fire Support Group were enthusiastic in their campaign of destruction and terror. They helped turn parts of their city into a ruin, and furthered the corruption of their faith.

Did they die happy, knowing they had served their cause as was asked of them, I wonder.

They died as fighters, but they died as fools. Pity should be reserved for the people they once lived among, who were abused and killed as the young men sacrificed all around them, for their caliphate.

When they left Mullah Fares’ neighbourhood, they said to the people, “You did not take care of the caliphate, so you do not deserve it.”

But the truth of their cause was revealed when IS went into homes and destroyed them, killing families. IS and the Nineveh Fire Support Group had no love for Mosul nor its people. The young fighters were willing recruits, but they were also manipulated.

Quentin studies the photos:

As I retrace their steps through Mosul, the thing that strikes me most of all is their youth. It surprised almost everyone we spoke to. For IS, a fighter is anyone above the age of 15, but some of their recruits are much younger.

IS has had support in Mosul, but it inflated that support by weaponising children. Taking the young and the gullible and sacrificing them for its malicious cause.

In Mosul, IS is on the brink of defeat. The bodies by the riverbank are gone – carried away by dogs and other animals.

There is no longer any trace there of the young men. But their legacy of turmoil and destruction remains. It stretches far beyond Mosul, and far beyond the flow of the River Tigris.

China landslide: 15 dead, over 100 missing in Sichuan

  • 2 hours ago
  • From the sectionChina
Media captionThe rescue team has been searching for missing people

The bodies of 15 people have been found after a landslide in Sichuan province in south-western China left more than 12 people missing, state media say.

About 40 homes were destroyed in Xinmo village in Maoxian county, after the side of a mountain collapsed at about 06:00 local time (22:00 GMT Friday).

Rescue teams are frantically searching for survivors trapped beneath rocks dislodged by heavy rainfall.

President Xi Jinping urged rescuers to “spare no effort”.

A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after teams of workers used ropes to move large rocks, AFP news agency reports, citing local authorities.

Qiao Dashuai told CCTV the baby had woken them and when they came to the door of their home they were swept away by water. He said his parents and other relatives were still missing.

People search for survivors following a landslide in Xinmo Village in Maoxian county, 24 June 2017Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRescue workers are frantically searching for survivors feared buried beneath rocks
A huge landslide has buried more than 100 villagers in Sichuan, southwest China, 24 June 2017Image copyrightEPA
Image captionBulldozers were used to help move large boulders after homes were destroyed
Rescue workers and medical staff search for survivors at landslide site in Xinmo village in Sichuan, southwest China, 24 June 2017Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMedical staff joined the search in the hope of assisting any survivors

An earlier toll of 141 missing people has now been revised down by state media.

The landslide blocked a 2km (1.2-mile) stretch of a river, Xinhua news agency reported.

Local police told state broadcaster CCTV a lack of vegetation in the area had made the landslide worse.

Local officials said some 8m cu m (282m cu ft) of rock had been dislodged.

Roads in the county were closed on Saturday to all traffic except emergency services, the news agency said.

Media captionBBC Weather’s Helen Willetts looks at the forecast for southern China after the recent devastating landslides.

Landslides are a regular danger in mountainous regions of China, especially during heavy rains.

In 2008, 87,000 people were killed when an earthquake struck Wenchuan county in Sichuan province. In Maoxian county itself, 37 tourists were killed when their coach was buried in a landslide caused by the earthquake.

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Hard Brexit to cost German car industry jobs: study

A “hard Brexit,” meaning the UK’s departure from the European Union’s single market as well as customs union, would result in thousands of job losses in the German automotive industry, says a new study.

England London Brexit Nationalflaggen vor Big Ben (Getty Images/AFP/G. Kirk)

German and European carmakers could see their revenues decline by as much as 20 percent in the event of the UK leaving the EU’s single market and customs union entirely, concluded a new study released Thursday by the consulting firm Deloitte.

The UK is an extremely important market for German automakers. About a fifth of Germany’s automotive exports are shipped to Great Britain. In 2016, around 950,000 newly registered vehicles in the UK were made in Germany.

It is estimated that as many as 60,000 automotive jobs in Germany are dependent on exports to the UK. Deloitte’s researchers projected that about 18,000 of them would be threatened by a hard Brexit.

Watch video01:48

Formal Brexit talks have started between the EU and the UK

A weakened British pound, they said, would increase the price of German-made cars while decreasing the purchasing power of the British buyer, leading to a drop in demand. Customs duties would raise the car price even higher, with the study estimating that vehicles made in Germany could cost as much as 21 percent more than they do now in the UK.

Big losses

The report noted that car manufacturers based in continental Europe would be the biggest losers from such a scenario.

It said that although firms based in the UK and those from other non-EU countries would be able to gain some market share in the short term, they would not be able to benefit from the situation in the long run. That’s because their production costs would increase as they rely on suppliers based in the EU, whose parts would become pricier, the authors argued.

Formal talks about the British departure from the European Union began this week, with the UK’s Brexit Minister David Davis stressing that Britain would have to quit the bloc’s common market and customs union to ensure the return of full sovereignty.

Read: German firms warn Brexit will ‘seriously damage’ UK business

The clock is ticking for Britain’s exit from the bloc as Article 50 sets out a strict two year timetable. That means a deal will have to be agreed by March 2019, failing which Britain would fall back on World Trade Organization rules, which could result in higher export tariffs and other barriers.

Britain’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, an automotive industry body, this week urged the government to agree on an interim Brexit trade deal, calling for Britain to keep membership of the European single market and customs union until a final Brexit deal has been signed.

sri/bea (dpa, AFP)

 

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US test to shoot down ballistic missile fails

Amid the threat of North Korea possibly launching a missile, the latest U.S. effort to test its shoot-down capability failed on Wednesday night, according to a statement from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

A medium-range ballistic missile was launched from a test range in Hawaii at 7:20 pm local time, but the interceptor missile fired at sea from USS John Paul Jones, a guided-missile destroyer, missed the target.

“A planned intercept was not achieved,” the statement said.

A U.S. defense official told Fox News both the ballistic missile and the SM-3 interceptor missile fired from the American warship landed in the ocean, but neither were recovered after both missiles broke up when impacting the water.

Wednesday’s launch was the second attempt to shoot down a ballistic missile from a U.S. Navy warship since February. The first test was successful, but this latest attempt failed after missing the target for reasons not explained in the statement.

NORTH KOREA NUKE TEST SITE SEES MORE BUILDUP

Late last month in a first-of-its-kind test, the U.S. military successfully shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile target in outer space using an interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Pentagon will now also have to defend against the potential North Korean missile threat without the use of one of its premier ballistic missile defense ships, after USS Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer, struck a 700-foot cargo ship off the coast of Japan last week.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

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