US confirms IS used chemical rocket in attack on troops in Iraq

IS fighter waves a flag of the group in the city of Mosul, Iraq on 23 JuneImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionAn offensive to retake Mosul from IS is expected in the coming weeks

A rocket launched by Islamic State militants at American troops based in Iraq did contain a mustard agent, the US military has confirmed.

No-one was hurt in Tuesday’s attack on the Qayyarah air base near the IS stronghold of Mosul.

Marine Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of US joint chiefs of staff, said the group’s capability to deliver chemical weapons was rudimentary.

But the attack, he added, was a “concerning development”.

IS has long been suspected of making and using crude chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, where it also controls territory.

Gen Dunford told the US Senate armed services committee on Thursday that the rocket had contained a “sulphur-mustard blister agent”.

Mustard agent in sufficient quantities can maim or kill by damaging skin, eyes and airways.

Media captionBattle to take Mosul from IS intensifies

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under IS control for the past two years and the battle to retake it is expected to begin in the coming weeks.

US troops are providing assistance to local forces as they prepare for the offensive.

‘Islamic State’ leaves troubled legacy in Iraq

The recently liberated Iraqi town of Qayyarah near Mosul is marked by the horrors of “Islamic State” (IS) rule. As Florian Neuhof reports from Qayyarah, its residents are struggling to cope with the jihadists’ legacy.

Irak - Brennende Ölquellen

Two years ago in June, the police officer living in the house opposite Hassan fled, and the town’s new rulers moved in. After routing the army in Mosul, IS militants stormed across Nineveh province in northwestern Iraq and occupied Qayyarah, a dusty town on the banks of the Tigris river.

Watch video04:11

Mosul – on the frontline against IS

Hassan, a friendly 49-year old who lives with his family in a residential area not far from the town center, soon realized that something sinister was going next door. From his roof top, he saw the jihadists lead men into the courtyard, where they were brutally beaten. Prisoners were dragged into the house; their lifeless bodies would be discarded days later.

“The corpses were kept in a freezer,” Hassan told DW pointing to the gloomy interior, where blood-stained matresses were heaped on the floor, and sheets of metal were welded against windows to turn bedrooms into prison cells.

A senior IS member called “Abu Najid” lived here until Iraqi special forces expelled the terror group from the town in a two day battle late in August. Known as the “blood judge” among the neighbors, he decided on the fate of those who fell foul of IS.

‘Blood judge’

After being tortured to extract a confession, prisoners were often murdered by hanging them from a hook in the ceiling, plunging to their deaths when a chair was kicked from underneath their feet, says Hassan Abid, an officer with the Iraqi army, standing in the ‘execution room’ where these killings took place.

Abu Najid the blood judge made use of his prominent status within the terror group, keeping four Yazidi women as sex slaves, says Hassan. They, like thousands of unfortunate Yazidi women, were distributed among the insurgents after they were captured when IS advanced into the Sinjar area in August 2014.

Sometimes, the women were allowed outside without an escort, and used the opportunity to plead for help. “The Yazidis would ask the neighbors to send messages to their relatives. When an IS patrol saw them talk to the locals, the judge beat them,” said Shema, Hassan’s eight year-old daughter who often spoke to the women.

two girls in a room

copyright: Florian NeuhofShema (right) and her sister in a house on their street that was used by IS to torture and kill dissenters.

Abu Najid took the four women, who neighbors say were all under the age of 30, with him when he fled Qayyarah. A few discarded dresses that lie on the patchy lawn outside the house served as a reminder of their plight.

Reign of terror

IS established five such grim prisons in Qayyarah, a town of perhaps 20,000 souls, residents say. Its reign of terror pervaded everyday life, with the Hisbah, the IS’ morality police, enforcing the group’s medival interpretation of Islam.

“If you come to the market, you see Daesh and the Hisbah, they look at who has short beards, long trousers, or maybe the wrong haircut,” said Ahmed, a 42-year old English teacher, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

soldiers holding up garments

copyright: Florian NeuhofIraqi army soldiers hold up discarded dresses that neighbors say belonged to Yazidi women enslaved by IS

Even minor transgressions would be punished with lashings, Ahmed told DW.

The insurgents’ extremism alienated the townsfolk, and opposition formed in spite of the harsh retaliation meted out to those caught resisting. When Iraqi special forces came within reach of Qayyarah, a small group of men picked up the guns they had hidden away and stood up to their oppressors, according to Major General Najim al Jabouri, the head of the Nineveh Operations Room who is in charge of operations in the area.

“We contacted some people inside Qayyarah before the battle. When our troops moved close to the town they rose up and […] fought IS in the city. This helped our troops to control Qayyrah without any civilian casualties,” the general told DW from his headquarters in the nearby town of Makhmour.

Imperfect rule

Throughout Qayyarah, the relief of being rid of IS is palpable. Iraq’s Sunni population held major grievances against the Shia-led government and its security forces, and these were readily exploited by the insurgents as they took over a third of the country. But the horrors of the past two years have disqualified IS as a viable alternative to Baghdad’s imperfect rule in the eyes of Qayyarah’s inhabitants, who are Sunni.

“Everyone knows what Daesh is. If you had the idea to join Daesh before, you have to erase that idea from your mind,” said Ahmed, who was left without work when IS closed the local schools.

For those who need reminding of the misery that IS brought to Qayyarah, plumes of thick smoke continue to rise from the oil wells that the insurgents set on fire before they retreated. The black smog has enveloped entire neighborhoods, as engineers struggle to contain the fires weeks after the town was liberated. It is affecting the health of the local population, and inhabitants complain about difficulties with breathing and allergic reactions.

Scarred by their experience with IS, the locals are well disposed to the army units guarding Qayyarah against a return of the terror group. “The Iraqi army is our army,” said Ali Mohammed Abdullah, a retired local government official.

army personnel on a street

copyright: Florian NeuhofThe Iraqi army has been welcomed back

This augurs well for government forces and the future of Iraq. Qayyarah is barely 60 kilometers from Mosul, the final IS stronghold in Iraq, and the second-largest city in the country. Mosul is a Sunni city, and a hostile population would jeapardize the security forces’ push toward and then into the IS bastion, Jubouri believes.

Bleak future

If the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shias is not bridged, the future of the country would remain bleak, he added. “We need reconcilliation in Iraq.”

Reconcilliation does not amount to leniency toward those who threw in their lot with IS. Even weeks after the town was retaken, local men are still herded onto the street or into public buildings, where they are kept for hours as the security forces search for collaborators. Identities are checked and ad hoc public courts are formed to determine the fate of those accused of joining the insurgents.

“Sometimes the people of Qayyarah say this guy is good, and [the security forces] leave him. If not, they take him away,” said Ahmed, who was part of a group of men undergoing a screening on Qayyarah’s main road.

He and the other men in the group are bitter toward those who turned on their neighbors by helping IS. Having already come close to breaking up the country by fanning the flames of sectarian hatred, the terror group also leaves a legacy of broken local communities in Iraq’s Sunni heartlands.



Survivor from an ‘Islamic State’ prison recalls excruciating torture

According to survivors, prisons run by the extremist group “Islamic State” are unbearable. Detainees stand blindfolded and handcuffed without food or water for days and weeks, only allowed to move when it’s time to pray.

Wall in the city of Raqqa

A bus carries passengers from the Syrian city of Tel Abyad to the Turkish border city of Akcakale. These Syrian refugees carry with them pain and bitter memories of the past, but also a bit of hope for the future: Entering Turkey as a Syrian refugee is a new lease on life. One of the refugees on that bus, going by the fake name of Khaled, tells his story of escape from an ‘Islamic State’ (IS) prison.

In an interview with DW, Khaled was tearful as he recalled his past experience, his wife and children sitting across from him. He was arrested this past March by IS in Raqqa, Syria, and remained in their prisons for an excruciating 90 days. “My experiences there are etched in my memory – I’ve witnessed inconceivable torture.”

IS fighters, RaqqaRaqqa is the de facto capital of IS in Syria

Unexpected interrogation

Khaled recalled the day when he went out in the morning to the store – only to be suddenly confronted by his neighbor. His neighbor began to inquire about Khaled’s brother, who had fled from Raqqa to Turkey. Khaled said: “He asked about my brother, and then about my brother’s wife living with her father. I knew now that we were in danger.”

Many families in Raqqa hide their daughters, fearing harassment by IS members, and also to fend off their repeated requests to marry them. Khaled believed that his neighbor had sinister intentions, so he contacted his brother and told him about the conversation. He then informed his brother’s wife that she needed to leave immediately. After many vigorous attempts, he paid large sums of money to smuggle his brother’s wife and daughter to the Turkish border, where she was then to be taken care of by his brother. Khaled, however, had no idea of the fate that awaited him.

First days of detention

IS fighters in RaqqaIS imposes a harsh regime in Raqqa

Khaled spent three days and nights standing against a wall, blindfolded and handcuffed with no food or water. The only time he could move was for prayer. “The first phase of the arrest was the introductory stage, one of the toughest stages of the prison, where the prisoner stands up against the wall, blindfolded and handcuffed, without knowing who is next to him or behind him,” Khaled said.

Khaled described how he tried to sit down after he became tired, but was whipped for doing so. Some of the detainees remain standing an hour or two, he said, and some of them may be left standing for a whole week. Many of the detainees fainted during this period, and some of them died due to the severity of the punishment, according to Khaled.

Charges and sentencing

There were various interrogators from all over the Arab world: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq and some Syrians. The interrogators implemented orders from the IS leadership. Khaled spent seven days in a single cell that felt as if it were a tomb. The interrogators then took him to the judge. They forbade him to speak. Khaled described the trial: “The judge read out the charges levied against me and I found that I was accused of ‘smuggling nationals of the Islamic State to the territory of the infidels’ and that my sentence was death.”

French warplane taxiingAn anti-IS coalition has been carrying out airstrikes in Raqqa

Khaled was sore and exhausted as a result of the daily whipping and kicking. One of the IS members taunted him by saying: “Breakfast is two hours of Lakhdar Brahimi (former UN envoy to Syria), but lunch must be for you to enjoy a hearty meal of de Mistura (Staffan de Mistura, current UN envoy to Syria).” Khaled explained: “The names of these UN envoys designate the types of pipes that IS members use to whip detainees.” The first type (Lakhdar Brahimi) is a green hosepipe with a diameter of 1.5 cm (.59 inches) – Lakhdar is also the Arabic word for green. The de Mistura is the more painful second type, a cable used in street lighting.

Khaled met many of the detainees inside the prison, some of whom were in fact former IS members who had been charged with spying for foreign intelligence.

Psychological torture

After the first period of physical torture experienced by Khaled, he then entered a phase of psychological torture. Two months after being in solitary confinement, one of the interrogators took him to an isolated room, where he was ordered to wear an orange suit, and then made to sit chained to a chair. He was then forced to read a statement they wrote to him, which was to be recorded.

“As I began to follow the instructions of the interrogator, a surprise came my way,” Khaled said. Anti-IS coalition aircraft began to bomb the prison, with everything turning to chaos. “Airstrikes shook the place and members of IS were running around aimlessly. Some of the other prisoners and I agreed to escape by taking one of the unoccupied vehicles outside of the prison.”

Khaled felt relieved and blessed to get out of the prison and that his sentence was only three months. To leave Syria for Turkey, he had to pay a total amount of 300,000 Syrian pounds (1,248 euros, $1,402). But he would have paid anything for his freedom.


Midnight bombings kill 40, injure 60 outside Baghdad shopping mall

No group has claimed responsibility but Iraqi officials warned the group “Islamic State” (IS) has become increasingly desperate as it loses ground. Previous attacks have targeted civilian areas.

Irak Selbstmordanschlag Autobombe Baghdad

At least forty people were killed and a further 60 were wounded following twin explosions in downtown Baghdad, police and medical sources told German news agency DPA on Saturday. The double car bomb attack took place just before midnight on Friday near the popular Nakheel shopping mall.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials have warned that as IS fighters lost ground in Iraq and Syria, they were likely to carry out many smaller-scale terror attacks on civilians.

The first blast came from a parked car, authorities said, followed by an explosives-laden vehicle driven by a suicide bomber. An interior ministry spokesman said that none of the victims had been inside the mall but outside in the busy neighborhood surrounding it.

Reports of casualties varied according to the different sources immediately after the blasts. Doctors from the local hospital said they expected the death toll to rise further.

Last Tuesday, IS carried out a similar attack near a hospital in the bustling Karrada district, killing seven people. Karrada was also the site of the Iraqi capital’s deadliest-ever single bombing, which claimed the lives of 300 people in July.

es/jm (dpa, AFP, Reuters)



Syria: Turkish-backed rebels ‘seize’ Jarablus from ISIL

Jarablus, a strategic Syrian town on the border with Turkey, has been controlled by ISIL fighters for two years [EPA]


Rebels take full control of strategic border town in massive operation backed by Turkish and US air strikes.

Jarablus, a strategic Syrian town on the border with Turkey, has been controlled by ISIL fighters for two years [EPA]

Turkish tanks and hundreds of opposition fighters thrust deep inside Syrian territory on Wednesday in a lightning operation that within hours pushed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters out of a key Syrian border town.

The air and ground offensive – the most ambitious launched by Ankara in the Syria conflict – made rapid progress towards Jarablus throughout the day, as rebel fighters captured ISIL-held villages surrounding the strategic border town.

“Jarablus can now be considered fully liberated,” Ahmed Othman, a commander in the Free Syrian Army, told Al Jazeera from the scene, while another rebel spokesman said ISIL fighters had fled towards al-Bab to the southwest.

Turkey offensive in northern Syria takes aim at ISIL and Kurds

“The attack started in the morning and we were able to take control of a number of villages near the town. After a few hours and after controlling the hills surrounding the town, ISIL felt the danger. A large number of ISIL fighters withdrew south towards al-Bab, which is still under [ISIL, also known as ISIS] control.”

Jarablus, a strategic town on the border with Turkey, had been controlled by ISIL fighters for two years. The group is now left with only one stronghold in Syria’s northeast – al-Bab.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was also targeting Kurdish militia fighters – strongly opposed by Ankara but backed by the US as a key ally in the war against ISIL – who had also been closing in on Jarablus.

“We have said ‘enough is enough’ … This now needs to be resolved,” Erdogan said.

Joe Biden, the US vice president who met Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, reassured Turkey that Washington had instructed the Kurdish YPG that crossing west of the Euphrates River could mean the total loss of American support.

“They cannot, will not and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period,” he said.

The Turkish government has accused the YPG of being an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The Turkish state has waged war against the separatist group for more than 20 years.

“The YPG has been the US-led coalition’s strongest ground partner in the war against ISIL, but Turkish leadership wants the US to sever ties with the Kurdish faction,” said Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border.

Rapid advance

Wednesday’s operation – named “Euphrates Shield” – began at around 4am (01:00 GMT) with Turkish artillery pounding dozens of ISIL targets around Jarablus.

Turkish F-16 fighter jets, backed by US-led coalition planes, also hit targets inside Syria.

A dozen Turkish tanks then rolled into Syria in support of Syrian opposition fighters who had also crossed, with as many as 5,000 rebel fighters – including groups such as the Turkmen Sultan Murat Brigade, Sukur al-Jebel, Sham Front and Feylek al-Sham.

The rapidity of the advance was in complete contrast to the long-grinding battles where Kurdish forces had taken towns in northern Syria such as Kobane and Manbij from ISIL.

As well as tanks, an AFP photographer in the area of Karkamis, opposite Jarablus, saw several smaller military vehicles believed to be carrying the pro-Ankara Syrian rebels.

Security sources quoted by Turkish television said a small contingent of special forces had travelled into Syria to secure the area before the larger ground operation.

Turkey wants to show it is serious about taking on ISIL, which has been blamed for a string of attacks inside the country, including a recent attack on a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep that left 54 people dead, many of them children.

Ankara was long been accused of turning a blind eye to the rise of ISIL in Syria and even aiding its movements across the border, claims the government had always vehemently denied.

READ MORE: YPG launches assault to take all of Syria’s Hasaka

Earlier this month, a coalition of primarily Kurdish fighters led by the YPG pushed ISIL fighters out of Manbij, a strategic city that lies west of the Euphrates river.

Saleh Muslim, head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG’s political wing, tweeted that Turkey was now in the “Syrian quagmire” and would be “defeated” like ISIL.

But a senior US administration official told AFP that Washington had already been “syncing up” with Turkey for Wednesday’s operation and US advisers had been involved in a planning cell.

The Turkish air strikes were the first since a November crisis with Russia sparked when the Turkish air force downed one of Moscow’s warplanes.

A dozen ISIL targets were destroyed in Wednesday’s air strikes. Turkish artillery meanwhile destroyed at least 70 ISIL targets, according to Turkish television.

READ MORE: Almost 18,000 died in Syria’s prisons, says Amnesty

The movements come at a critical juncture for Turkey in Syria’s five-and-a-half-year war, and there are growing signs that Ankara is on the verge of a landmark policy shift.

Turkey has continuously called for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, putting Turkey at odds with the embattled leader’s main supporters – Iran and Russia.

But Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim acknowledged for the first time over the weekend that Assad was one of the “actors” in Syria and may need to stay on as part of a transition.

In a note of discord after news broke of the Turkish-backed operation on Wednesday, Russia said it was “deeply concerned” by the situation on the border and warned of a “further degeneration of the situation”.

Assad’s government – which has has little control of country’s northeast since 2012 – condemned the incursion as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.

Syria’s Civil War Turkey-Syria border Middle East ISIS Turkey

61% of people across globe concerned about terrorists posing as refugees – poll

© Yannis Kolesidis
The majority of people across 22 countries are concerned that some terrorists are pretending to be refugees, and 38 percent want their countries to close their borders to new arrivals. The survey prompted the UN to warn against “demonizing” asylum seekers.

The Ipsos poll surveyed adults under the age of 65 in Argentina Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States.

Sixty-one percent of people across the 22 countries said they are concerned about terrorists pretending to be refugees. Thirty-eight percent want their countries to close their borders entirely.

While most people in the countries surveyed want to keep their nations’ borders open, the majority in Turkey, India, and Hungary want their borders closed.

Forty-six percent of the respondents said that immigration is causing their nation to change “in ways they don’t like.” Those concerns were most often expressed in Turkey, Italy, Russia, and Belgium.

Only 41 percent of respondents expressed confidence that refugees arriving to their countries would successfully integrate into the local society. That skepticism was particularly high in Turkey, France, and Belgium.

When asked about the impact of immigration on public services, 50 percent of respondents said that it has placed too much pressure on them, while just 18 percent disagreed. Concern was highest in Turkey (72%), South Africa (62%), the US (60%) and France (60%).

As for the economy, an average of 44 percent said they believe immigration has made it more difficult for nationals to get jobs. Only 28 percent said immigration has been good for their country’s economy.

Views were more positive in Australia, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Canada, India, and the US, which had the highest number of people believing that immigration had made their country a more interesting place to live. However, just 29 percent across all the countries agreed with that statement.

“None of the 22 countries surveyed have a majority of people saying that immigration has had a positive impact on their country – although there are a very wide range of views within this,” said Bobby Duffy, managing director of Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute.

He stressed, however, that “views are far from entirely negative, with large minorities recognizing how immigration has enriched their country.”

The survey, which polled over 16,000 people in June and July, showed a correlation between the participants’ responses and their levels of education.

On average, 28 percent of those who are highly educated said immigration has had a positive impact, compared to just 16 percent among those with low or medium-level education. Those who are more educated are also more likely to believe immigration is good for the economy, and are less likely to say there are too many immigrants in their country.

Meanwhile, the survey has prompted the UN refugee agency to warn against “demonizing refugees,” stressing that those fleeing war and persecution need to be protected.

“Like in any population, there are people who are criminals and the law should be applied to them. Nobody is above the law, whether you are a refugee or not,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“But we should not forget that the vast majority of refugees are law-abiding and we should not demonize them or see them all as criminals and terrorists because that’s not the case,” he added.

The poll comes as Europe continues to struggle with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. More than one million people made their way to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa last year, many of whom were fleeing the Syrian civil war, which has led to the deaths of at least 250,000 people and displaced more than 12 million since 2011, according to UN figures.

READ MORE: Nearly 6,000 refugees sue Germany over delayed handling of asylum requests

Jihadists in Aleppo claim siege breach, but suffer heavy losses & setbacks according to Syrian govt

© Abdalrhman Ismail
Fighting in Aleppo has intensified. A coalition of radical Islamist groups are claiming success in breaching the siege, while government forces say that rebels suffered heavy losses in their vain attempt to seize a major government military complex.

Government forces engaged Jabhat Al-Nusra and its affiliates in a fight for control of the Ramousah military complex which includes a number of military academies in the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo, near the town of Ramuseh.

“Takfiri terrorist groups … renewed attacks along the axis of the academies with large numbers,” Syria’s official news agency SANA reported, citing a source on the ground. After a day full of fighting, the attacks were reportedly repelled with the use of the air force and artillery, as terrorists suffered “heavy losses” in “fierce clashes” for the complex after some fighters broke through army lines.

The Syrian air force, the report specifically noted, was instrumental in isolating “with fire control the operations area in the surroundings of the military academies” to support the army’s push for “clearing the posts the terrorist groups earlier infiltrated.” The air support was also crucial in curbing the terrorist groups’ push onto southwestern Aleppo.

The offensive against the military complex began Friday as extremists tried to break out of the encirclement of government forces that was imposed last month. Taking control of the complex and securing the town of Ramuseh, with a large government arsenal, would enable the terrorists to break the siege from the eastern side of the government controlled parts in western Aleppo. It would also cut the Syrian army’s link with the southern route out toward the capital Damascus.

As the battle raged, two terrorist groups said that they had broken the government’s siege. Al-Nusra Front, which recently rebranded itself into Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, said in an online statement that “fighters from outside the city met their brother fighters from inside the city, and work is under way to establish control over remaining positions to break the siege.”

Meanwhile another commander, from what Reuters called a “more moderate rebel group,” told the agency that the siege had been broken but said the matters were “not easy.” Reporting no other successes by the rebels, Reuters noted that the ongoing battle means that even if any passage was opened it “would be far from secure.”

According to China’s Xinhua’s military source, intense battles are ongoing on all fronts in southern Aleppo, with the army declaring the area as an “open military zone.”

READ MORE: Stash of US-made heavy weapons found in terrorist-held Aleppo district (VIDEO)

There are over 250,000 civilians living under siege in Aleppo’s terrorist-controlled areas. To aid their suffering Moscow and Damascus launched a large-scale humanitarian operation last week, opening three escape routes for civilians and one for militants wishing to lay down arms.


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