Deir Ezzor, a once relatively prosperous city of more than 300,000 people, is modern-day Syria in a microcosm. When anti-government protests broke out in 2011, the government sent in tanks. When rebels occupied the city, the ideals of those who protested state repression were betrayed by the arbitrary arrests and Islamist repression of al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. Now, half the city is occupied by the Islamic State, which for more than a year has been besieging and starving the other half controlled by the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad—with the complicity, current and former residents say, of the government itself.
U.S. strikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State have had an unintended beneficiary: al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has exploited the strikes and gained strength, and that has created a growing rift within U.S. national security circles about where the coalition should aim its strikes. Some American intelligence and defense officials and counterterrorism experts are worried that the intense focus on defeating ISIS has blinded the U.S. to the resurgence of al Qaeda, whose growing potency has become more apparent as ISIS becomes weaker.
Before every phone call that Fatuma Hashi has with her brother Mahdi, FBI agents come on the line to tell her what she is not permitted to talk about. “You’re not allowed to speak about political issues. Or whatever’s happening in the outside world. Or his case,” she told The Intercept.
Relations between Shiite Iran and its oil-rich Sunni neighbors across the Persian Gulf have never been warm, and the civil wars in Syria and Yemen have fueled mistrust and proxy battles between the two countries for years. But even those conflicts didn't manage to bring about the diplomatic meltdown that occurred this weekend, when Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran and significantly ramped up tensions between two of the Middle East's most powerful players.
Only a few days into the new year, the Middle East has already taken a significant turn for the worse. The region's greatest rivalry, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has become rapidly and significantly more toxic in the past few days, and it could have repercussions across the Middle East. On Saturday, protesters in Tehran attacked the Saudi embassy, ransacking and burning it as Iran ignored or refused Saudi requests to protect the building. Saudi Arabia formally broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday, on Monday saying it would cut commercial ties and ban Saudi travel to Iran as well. Sudan and Bahrain, both Saudi allies, severed ties as well.
Most countries ushered in their new year by hosting increasingly beautiful displays of fireworks. Others, by increasingly archaic displays of public execution. Today Saudi Arabia executed 47 people which is the biggest mass execution in the kingdom since the early 1980s.
Iraq’s security forces made their biggest advances yet against the self-proclaimed Islamic State on Monday, taking back much of the Sunni-dominated city of Ramadi. But the significance of the victory, and what it means for the longer-term goal of defeating ISIS, remained uncertain. It’s the biggest win for Iraq and its U.S. military partners so far against the terror group, but is in the city that ISIS held for the least amount of time, making it hard to assess the impact of the win.
As we come to the end of a year of terror—actually, of horror—and we enter a year of terrible campaigning by some horrible candidates for the presidency of the United States, one might wish the Republican front-runners would step back from the path of religious zealotry, racist paranoia and torture envy. But … no. As the debates in mid-December and the sparring since have showed us, they are detached from many realities, but especially the reality on the ground in Syria, which I have been covering first-hand with frequent trips there since 2012.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that it would be good for U.S. foreign policy if Congress voted to authorize the war against self-described Islamic State terrorists -- putting him at direct odds with his Senate counterpart, who has rejected the idea.
Terrorism is a simple idea — intentionally targeting non-combatants to instill terror in a way that will accomplish political goals — that has had a profound impact on the world. But while we may think of terrorism today as something associated with wild-eyed religious radicals, in fact its history is much more complicated than that, and even the rise of what we now call jihadism is more complicated than you may think. What follows are 33 maps (okay, a few of them are charts) to tell this story.
If you believe Russia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is the kingpin of a multibillion-dollar scheme to smuggle 200,000 barrels of ISIS oil every day, disguising it and exporting it to international markets. Last week President Vladimir Putin described the volumes as “industrial.” He said Turkey shot down a Russian jet on Nov. 24 in order to protect ISIS oil on its way to “ports where it is shipped out in tankers.”
ISIS really is different. Its ultimate and obsessed-over goal, to bring on the apocalypse, makes the group impossible to reason with. It can inspire far-off individuals, people who have never been to the Middle East or met an ISIS member, to turn themselves into suicidal killers — which makes containing ISIS to Syria and Iraq impossible.
The natural human reaction to mass murders by ISIS or their purported sympathizers in Paris, Beirut, and San Bernardino is grief, anger, and a demand to redouble efforts to “degrade and destroy” the organization. People have had similar reactions after every terrorist attack, whether it was committed by the PLO or the IRA, whether it was in New York on 9/11 or London on 7/7. Once the red mist of rage has lifted, however, it’s important to think coolly and calmly about the long-term strategy for ending the horrific violence.
Democrats will launch an aggressive push on gun control this week, starting with a procedural move aimed at forcing the House to vote on legislation to stop individuals on a government no-fly list from buying weapons. California Rep. Mike Thompson will introduce a discharge petition Monday that Democrats hope can gather enough support to compel Republican leaders to schedule a gun control vote in response to a series of deadly shootings nationwide, including in San Bernardino, Calif. last week.
Authorities say ISIS has made it to America. Multiple news organizations reported Friday morning that Tashfeen Malik, one of the two shooters in Wednesday’s massacre in San Bernardino, California, pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, on Facebook in the midst of the attack.
The rain fell on the windows of the old house in Pankisi Gorge, a remote mountain region of Georgia with a population of about 15,000, mostly ethnic Chechens. The white living room smelled of old clothes; a large stuffed-animal deer sat in the corner, its horns hanging at its sides. Speaking gently on her cellphone, Aminat was pleading with her son, Muslim Kushtanashvili, who had left seven months before to join the Islamic State. On the other end of the line, Muslim, 16 years old, reminded her of the choices he had made and his devotion to jihad. She appealed to him to return home from Syria. He firmly cut off the emotional request: “Never begin this talk again, mother.”
Pledging solidarity after the Paris attacks, President Barack Obama promised Tuesday to work with France and other allies to intensify the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State, saying America would not be cowed by the scourge of terrorism. To this point, Obama said, Russia is an "outlier" in the fight. "We cannot succumb to fear," Obama said, standing alongside French President Francois Hollande after they met at the White House to discuss the anti-ISIS mission. "Make no mistake, we will win, and groups like ISIL will lose."
French President François Hollande embarks Monday on a weeklong whirlwind of diplomacy to marshal an international coalition for the war he has declared on terror and Islamic State. The diplomatic dash kicks off over breakfast in Paris with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, takes the French leader to Washington and Moscow, and ends with a late dinner back in the French capital Sunday with Chinese President XI Jinping.
In killing 130 civilians in Paris—the worst such attack in France since World War II—ISIS has forced us to contend, once again, with the question of the “rationality” of self-professed ideologues. Since it wrested the world’s attention with its capture of Iraq’s second-largest city in June 2014, the extremist group has prioritized state-building over fighting far enemies abroad. This is what distinguished ISIS: It wasn’t just, or even primarily, a terrorist organization. It had an unusually pronounced interest in governance. As Yale University’s Andrew March and Mara Revkin lay out in considerable detail, the group focused its energy on developing fairly elaborate institutional structures in the territory it controlled within Iraq and Syria.
One long week after the Paris attacks, as Republican presidential candidates mounted an arms race over who can express the most overt and virulent prejudice toward Muslim Americans, MSNBC's Chuck Todd did something pretty unusual for a cable news host. He invited on an actual Muslim American person, Dalia Mogahed, who also happens to be an expert on Muslim attitudes in the US and globally, to politely ask her about all this.