Mosul offensive: Iraqi army battles for outskirts of IS city

Media captionQuentin Sommerville: Iraqi forces “within sight” of Mosul

Iraqi government forces have moved closer to the southern outskirts of western Mosul, on the second day of a fresh offensive against so-called Islamic State.

The outlying village of Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul, has been hit by air strikes and helicopter gunships as the military advanced.

Iraqi forces have now entered Abu Saif.

The eastern part of Mosul was liberated from IS fighters last month after heavy fighting.

Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul’s airport, is seen as a key IS stronghold on the southern approach to western Mosul.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with government troops, said Iraqi forces had faced stiffer resistance inside the village, coming under rocket fire in their first advance.

The bodies of some IS fighters had been seen by the roadside to the village, apparently hit by mortar fire or other artillery.

An army vehicle with its front ruined an smoking from an explosion is seen at the front of a convoy, as soldiers examine the damage.
Image captionOur correspondent said this vehicle was hit by a rocket attack as troops entered the town

Progress has been slowed down by improvised bombs planted by IS along the route of the offensive, he said. But the army seized several villages on Sunday, when it launched its fresh offensive.

No civilians had been spotted until the army reached Abu Saif – when a small group waving a white flag was seen, our correspondent added.

Other government forces have been moving towards the Ghazlani military base, which they plan to use as a staging post for the attack on western Mosul itself.

On Monday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit.

Mosul map of lines of control

He told reporters the US military was “not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil”, seemingly to allay concerns after Donald Trump said last month that the US “should have kept the oil” when it pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011.

Thousands of Iraqi troops, backed by artillery and air power, are involved in the assault to retake Mosul.


On the ground with Iraqi forces

Soldier carries a portable artillery cannon to the top of a ruined building
Image captionMosul airport lies just two miles beyond Abu Saif

The embedded Quentin Sommerville is tweeting updates as his convoy attempts to move forward in Mosul.

14:55 GMT: A colleague spotted the first civilians outside Abu Saif in the distance. They were carrying a white flag.

13:51 GMT: The day ends as it begins … bomb disposal team dealing with a roadside bomb.

13:00 GMT: Abandoned sports pitch. In two days of these operations I haven’t seen a single civilian. Everyone has fled. Above, helicopter gunship continues to attack Abu Saif town.

12:44 GMT: Just passed two IS fighter corpses in a ditch. Looks like they were hit by a mortar.

A soldier looks through the site of a mortar, set up on a rooftop
Image captionSoldiers set up artillery on the vantage point of a ruined palace, formerly belonging to Saddam Hussein’s brother

12:27 GMT: Federal policeman, Ali Lazim Lafta, was injured by an IS drone which dropped a grenade on his unit.

11:57 GMT: Coalition air strike on western Mosul. We can see the landmark Nineveh Hotel from here.

Follow Quentin Sommerville on Twitter


Iraqi forces have now all but surrounded the western part of Mosul.

Concern has been voiced by the UN about the welfare of civilians trapped in the city, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000.

Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over western parts.

Military officials say west, with its narrow, winding streets, may prove a bigger challenge than the east.

Although slightly smaller than the east, it is more densely populated and includes districts that are seen as pro-IS.

All bridges from there to the west of the city, across the Tigris river, were destroyed.

A ruined building, right, stands stop a small rise - overlooking the city of Mosul in the distance
Image captionIraq’s Federal Police are now within sight of Mosul, the BBC’s correspondent says

The offensive against the east was launched on 17 October, more than two years after jihadists overran Mosul before seizing control of much of northern and western Iraq.

The UN said in late January that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians.

At least 1,096 have been killed and 694 injured across Nineveh province since the start of October.

Syria: Islamic State group ‘kills 12’ in Palmyra

Syrian soldier in Palmyra, March 2016Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPro-government forces retook the archaeological site and nearby city in March 2016

So-called Islamic State militants have beheaded four people and shot eight dead in the Syrian city of Palmyra, a monitoring group says.

Some of the killings took place in a museum yard near the city’s Unesco-listed ancient ruins, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Four teachers and state employees, four government soldiers and four captured rebels were killed, it added.

IS retook the site and nearby city last month, after being pushed out in March.

IS retakes ancient Syrian city

Syria: Palmyra damage in pictures

LIS video ‘shows murders at Palmyra’

A report from a local activist group, the Palmyra Monitor, said some of the killings were carried out in the site’s Roman amphitheatre.

The group has previously carried out killings in front of crowds in the ancient stone auditorium, including 25 Syrian government soldiers who were shown being shot dead in a video released in 2015.

In August the same year, the jihadists also beheaded the 81-year-old archaeologist, Khaled al-Asaad, who had looked after the Palmyra ruins for 40 years.

IS had seized control of the archaeological site and nearby city, known locally as Tadmur, three months earlier.

Russian classical concert in Palmyra amphitheatreImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe amphitheatre has seen both executions and a classical concert in the past two years

They destroyed a number of monuments and, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, killed an estimated 280 people in the 10 months before Russian-backed government forces recaptured the area.

A Russian conductor led a classical concert in the amphitheatre in May 2016.

But while forces allied to President Bashar al-Assad were focused on battling for the city of Aleppo in December, the militants returned and regained control.

US-backed Iraqi forces have pushed the Islamic State group out of large swathes of northern Syria and Iraq in the past year and have been battling to retake the city of Mosul in northern Iraq since October.

On Wednesday, a Russian Defence Ministry official, Lt Gen Sergei Rudskoi, said the Mosul offensive was pushing IS fighters back into eastern Syria.

He said the Islamic State group was shipping large amounts of explosives to Palmyra in order to blow up more of the heritage site.

Map showing IS territorial gains and losses, January 2015 to December 2016

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Turkey extends state of emergency by three months

Following the New Year’s attack at an Istanbul nightclub, Turkey has extended its state of emergency for three more months. The news came as Turkish authorities continued their search for the main suspect in the attack.

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Turkey extends emergency rule after Istanbul attack

The Turkish parliament on Tuesday voted in favor of extending its state of emergency, which was set to expire January 19, for an additional three months. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the extension was necessary due to recent terrorist attacks in the country, including the attack on an Istanbul nightclub during a New Year’s celebration that killed 39 people.

The state of emergency has worried the European Union, which believes emergency rule has been used to crack down against political opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not just those believed to be behind the failed coup attempt in July. The state of emergency gives Ankara powers to fire state employees and shut down other associations, including media outlets.

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More than 40,000 arrested

At least 100,000 people, including soldiers, police officers, teachers, judges and journalists have been removed from their positions over suspected ties to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government has blamed for inspiring the attempted coup on July 15.

More than 40,000 people have been arrested for their suspected ties to Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

The state of emergency also extends the time suspects can be held in jail without being charged. Gulen has denied involvement with the coup.

Since the state of emergency was first imposed, more than 130 media outlets and publishing companies have been forced to close, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom organization based in the US.

CPJ also states that at least 81 journalists were imprisoned in Turkish prisons as of December 1.

Members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have also been arrested during the imposed state of emergency, accused of supporting the outlawed and militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Kurdish militant group Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a splinter group of the PKK, claimed responsibility for a December bombing in Istanbul that killed 38 people.

Hunt for suspected attacker continues

Turkish authorities continued their manhunt for the assailant on Tuesday. Police have arrested 20 people so far with a potential link to the New Year’s attack, including two foreign nationals detained Tuesday afternoon at Istanbul’s airport.

Police are still hunting for the man they believe was responsible for the attack, who was able to escape the scene of the shooting and is still at large. They are focusing on men with Central Asian and North Caucasus nationalities.

The attack, which took place at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district shortly after midnight on Sunday, was the first on Turkish soil to have been formally claimed by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) group.

Late Tuesday, US President Barack Obama called Erdogan to offer his condolences for the attack. The two leaders agreed they must “stand united” to defeat terrorism, said the White House in a statement.

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Closing in on Turkey’s most wanted man

kbd/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Deadly bomb blasts rip through central Baghdad

Nearly 20 people have been killed in multiple bomb blasts in a busy market in the Iraqi capital, police said. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iraqis look at the aftermath following a double blast in a busy market area in Baghdad's Sinak neighborhoodIraqis look at the aftermath following a double blast in a busy market area in Baghdad’s Sinak neighborhood

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Mosul: the last stand for ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq

In a rare speech, the militant group’s chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called for fighters to stand their ground in Mosul. DW spoke to Hassan Hassan, co-author of “ISIS: The Army of Terror,” to examine the implications.

At least 19 people have been killed and 38 others wounded on Saturday when two bombs exploded in a busy market in central Baghdad, according to Iraqi police.

Baghdad has been rocked by several bomb attacks in 2016, which have often left dozens killed and scores more injured.

The bombs went off near car spare parts shops in Sinak during the morning rush hour. One was triggered by a suicide bomber and another was a planted explosive, an interior ministry official told Reuters news agency.

Baghdad has been put on high alert since October, when Iraqi forces launched a military campaign to liberate Mosul from the “Islamic State” militant group.

Backed by the US-led coalition against the “Islamic State,” Kurdish forces and Shiite militias, the campaign has slowed due to fierce resistance from the militant group.

Although Raqqa in Syria is considered the militant group’s de facto capital, Mosul represents one of its most important strongholds. In June 2014, “Islamic State” leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of the group’s so-called “caliphate” from Mosul.

Saturday’s attack marks the biggest in the Iraqi capital since the beginning of the Mosul operation. However, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

ls/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri killed in Milan

 

Media captionThe BBC’s Bethany Bell reports on what is known about the shooting.

The Berlin market attacker, Anis Amri, has been shot dead by police in Milan.

The Tunisian criminal fired on police who asked him for ID during a routine patrol in the Sesto San Giovanni area in the early hours of Friday.

German authorities say fingerprints they provided have confirmed the dead man is Amri. They are trying to find out if he had accomplices.

Monday’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market left 12 people dead and 49 injured.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “relieved” that the attacker had been neutralised but added that Islamist terrorism was “a recurring threat to us”.

Her government’s main priority was to protect German citizens, she told journalists, adding that this case had raised “many questions”.

“Further changes to our laws and regulations will have to be made,” Mrs Merkel said at a news conference.

image grab taken from a propaganda video showing Anis AmriImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIS released a video showing Amri pledging allegiance

But leading Eurosceptics – including French National Front leader Marine Le Pen – have criticised open European borders, a result of the Schengen pact, for allowing a fugitive to move between countries.

Meanwhile, the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group has released a video showing Amri pledging allegiance to its leader, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.

He does not make any reference to the Berlin attack, which IS claimed soon afterwards. It is not clear when or where the video was filmed.

Shortly before releasing the video, IS acknowledged Amri’s death in Milan.

When Italian police stopped the suspect, who was on foot, at 03:00 (02:00 GMT), he “immediately drew out a gun” and shot at the two policemen, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said.

Officer Cristian Movio was injured in the shoulder but his injuries are not life-threatening.

His junior colleague, Luca Scata, who had been in the police for just nine months, was the one who fired the shot which killed Amri.

German officials found Amri’s fingerprints inside the truck that was used in Monday evening’s attack.

Federal prosecutor Peter Frank said the focus of the criminal investigation into the killings now was to establish whether Amri had had a network of supporters who helped him to plan and carry out the attack or to flee.

Investigators are also trying to establish whether the gun used in the shooting in Milan is the same weapon used to kill the Polish driver of the truck, who was found dead with stab and gun wounds in the cab.

The attack took place at a busy Christmas market at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the west of the German capital.

Italian police cordon off an area after a shootout between police and a man in MilanImage copyrightAP
Image captionThe shootout took place in the Sesto San Giovanni area of Milan

According to the Italian news agency Ansa, Anis Amri travelled by train from France to Turin, and then took another train to Milan.

From the central station he travelled on to Sesto San Giovanni, a working-class area.

Graphic showing location of shootoutImage copyrightBBC/GOOGLE
Injured police officer Cristian Movio talks on the phone in hospital, bandages on his shoulderImage copyrightPOLIZIA DI STATO
Image captionPolice officer Cristian Movio was injured in the shoulder in the shootout

Amri, a Tunisian national aged 24, had served a prison sentence in Italy after being convicted of vandalism, threats and theft in 2011.

He was known to Italian authorities for his violent behaviour while imprisoned.

After his release he was asked to leave the country. He later arrived in Germany where he applied for asylum in April of this year.

His application was rejected by the German authorities but they were unable to deport him to Tunisia because he had no valid identification papers.

Chancellor Merkel has talked with the Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi about the case.

“I told my Tunisian counterpart that we need to speed up the deportation process,” she told reporters.

Anis Amri was named as a suspect in the Berlin attack by German federal prosecutors, and a reward of up to €100,000 (£84,000; $104,000) was offered for information leading to his arrest.

Candles and flowers are placed at Breitscheidplatz in remembrance of the victims of the 19 December terrorist attack in Berlin, Germany, 23 December 2016.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionMourning continues at Breitscheidplatz in central Berlin, where the attack took place
Lorry in daylight, at sceneImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThe lorry’s Polish driver, Lukasz Urban, was found dead in the passenger seat

The German authorities issued an alert for Amri on Wednesday after immigration documents identifying him were found in the cab of the lorry used in the deadly attack.

Amri’s family had urged him to give himself up, and on Friday his mother criticised Italian and German security officials for not sending him back to Tunisia, where the rest of the family still live, in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

A spokesman for Germany’s interior ministry would not comment on reports in the German media that Amri had been filmed at a mosque in Berlin in the hours after the attack.

Separately, police arrested two people in the German city of Oberhausen on suspicion of planning an attack on a shopping centre.

Mr Minitti praised the two police officers who had apprehended Amri, and said the operation showed how Italy’s security system was working well.

“As soon as this person entered our country, a fugitive wanted across Europe, we immediately identified him and neutralised him,” the minister said.

German Interior Minister Thomas Maiziere said the case again highlighted the importance of close European and transatlantic co-operation in combating terrorism.

The end of the manhunt was not the end of the investigation, he said, as the authorities were still seeking Amri’s “network of accomplices”.

Mr de Maiziere added: “The terrorist threat facing Germany has not changed, unfortunately it remains high.”

Can police protect Christmas crowds?

Map showing Anis Amri's movements

Melbourne Christmas Day ‘terror attack’ foiled, say Australia police

Police attend the scene at Meadow Heights in Melbourne, Australia, where a house was raided in connection with an alleged terror plot, 23 December 2016Image copyrightAP
Image captionPolice in Melbourne say they believe a terror attack was planned for Christmas Day

Australian police have foiled a major terror attack in Melbourne on Christmas Day, officials say.

Three men detained in early morning raids on Friday are facing terror charges. Three other people were held but later released.

The plot involved the use of explosives and other weapons, police say.

The alleged targets included high-profile locations around Melbourne, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Federation Square and the main train station.

Six men and a woman were detained in Friday’s raid on suspicion of “preparing or planning a terrorist attack”, police say.

The woman and two men were later released.

Three other men, named as Hamza Abbas, 21, Ahmed Mohamed, 24, and Abdullah Chaarani, 26, did not enter pleas and are due to appear in court in April. Another man remains in custody.

Flinders St Station is arguably Melbourne's most iconic locationImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionFlinders St Station is arguably Melbourne’s most iconic location

Victoria State police chief Graham Ashton said that following Friday’s arrests, there was no longer a threat to the public.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the plot was one of the most substantial that has been disrupted in recent years.

“They want to frighten Australians, they want to divide Australians, they want us to turn on each other, but we will not let them,” he said.

‘Self-radicalised’

Four of the initial suspects were Australian-born and of a Lebanese origin, while the fifth was an Australian of Egyptian origin, Mr Ashton told reporters.

Those being held had been “self-radicalised” but inspired by propaganda of the so-called Islamic State (IS), he said.

Federation Square, a popular meeting place, sits across the road from St Paul's CathedralImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionFederation Square, a popular meeting place, sits across the road from St Paul’s Cathedral

Mr Ashton said the raids on five locations in Melbourne’s north and west came after weeks of police surveillance.

“We believe that there was an intention to conduct what we call a multi-mode attack, possibly on Christmas Day,” he said.

Melbourne’s Flinders St Station, Federation Square and St Paul’s Cathedral occupy three corners of what is arguably the city’s most iconic intersection.

The area is only a short distance from the Melbourne Cricket Ground where up to 100,000 people are expected to attend the Boxing Day Test between Australia and Pakistan.

The operation included 400 officers from Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was also involved.

US military ends anti-IS operation in Libya’s Sirte

The US has ended a military operation to support Libya’s fledgling government in its efforts to retake the former IS stronghold of Sirte. The militant group still retains a presence in the country.

A member of forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) takes cover behind a wall (Getty Images/AFP/M. Turkia)

The US military has formally ended operations to drive the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) from its former stronghold in Libya, US military’s Africa Command said in a statement on Tuesday.

The United States on August 1 launched Operation Odyssey Lightning to help government-aligned forces push IS from Sirte. Fayez al-Sarraj, the leader of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), announced over the weekend that military operations begun in June in the coastal city had been completed after tough fighting to root out the jihadists.

“In partnership with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the operation succeeded in its core objective of enabling GNA-aligned forces to drive Daesh (IS) out of Sirte,” Africa Command said.

US drones, warships and jets conducted 495 strikes on IS vehicles, tanks, heavy guns, fighting positions and command centers as GNA-aligned forces fought to retake the city, located 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of Tripoli.

The loss of Sirte is a major blow to the extremist organization, but it still retains a presence in the war-torn country. The extremist group has also been dealt a number of setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

The US military said it would continue to support the internationally recognized Libyan government to help “counter the evolving threat” posed by IS.

Libya descended into chaos following a 2011 NATO-backed military operation to oust longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi, dividing into two rival administrations in the east and west. Rival factions and militias have been vying for influence and resources in the oil-rich North African country.

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