ISIS gunman killed at French supermarket

A gunman was shot dead after killing at least two people in a hostage situation at a supermarket in a southern French town on Friday in what officials treated as “an act of terror”. The incident unfolded in the morning at a Super U supermarket in Trebes town where the attacker opened fire and held several people hostage. Police stormed into the supermarket leading to a standoff that lasted about three hours, CNN reported. Reports said the gunman, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terror group, killed two hostages before he was shot dead by the police. “The hostage-taker has been shot down,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said on his Twitter account. Later in a press conference, Collomb identified the alleged assailant as a 26-year-old common criminal and small-time drug dealer. Earlier in the day the same man had shot at a group of police officers in city of Carcassonne, injuring one. The gunman, believed to be a Moroccan and reportedly known to French intelligence services, was said to be heavily armed and asked for the release of Salah Abdeslam, the key surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks which killed 130 people. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that all information about the supermarket attack pointed to “an act of terror”. The Paris prosecutor’s office said it was opening an investigation into a “terrorist act”, as well as murder and attempted murder. French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Brussels at an EU leaders’ summit, described the hostage incident as a “terror attack” and said he would return to the country promptly. “Everything leads us to believe that it is indeed a terror attack which is, as I said, still ongoing. The police … intervened in a very coordinated manner after what was first an attack against police officers,” Macron said at a press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. France has been hit with several deadly terror attacks since 2015 and has been on high alert since. A state of Emergency put in place after the 2015 attacks in Paris was lifted in October. .

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MIDDLE EAST: CALIPHATE ENDS BUT OTHER WARS GROW

Consequent to well coordinated and determined operations by various anti-terrorist forces ; Daesh or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has been decisively defeated in Syria, Iraq and Philippines. ISIS was defeated in Iraq a few months back by Iraqi Armed Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga duly supported by US and coalition air power. US special forces had also guided and coordinated the operations. Shortly thereafter, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) consisting mainly of Kurds and some moderate Arab opposition armed groups , supported by US and allies airpower and special forces defeated the ISIS in Raqqa, the stated capital of the Caliphate in Syria. In the end, Syrian Arab Armed Forces supported by Iran, Russia and Iraqi Forces have captured Albu Kamal, the border town south of Deir al Zour. Sadly, this is not the end of violence in the Middle East.  It is a coincidence that ISIS defeat in Raqqa, coincided with its defeat in Marawi, Mindanao, in Philippines. Although both the operations in two different parts of Asia took nearly six months to complete with totally different dynamics ; it can safely be assumed that the head and tail of the Caliphate has been dismembered and annihilated. Shortly, thereafter Deir al- Zour , another ISIS strong hold astride Tigris and the last bastion of ISIS has fallen to the Syrian government troops. With ISIS having been decidedly defeated in Iraq earlier, the remnant cadres in Syria in small pockets are unable to reorganise and launch any worthwhile counter offensive.   Raqqa is located on the banks of Tigris river and in addition to being the first major city coming under their control; was the capital of the Caliphate and a pivotal city for ISIS to launch operations on Aleppo, Idlib and towards Damascus in 2014. The loss of Raqqa and Deir al Zour means a death blow for ISIS in Syria and it will be impossible for them to reorganise or link up with its cadres across the border in Iraq as those areas including Al Qaim are dominated by and are under the control of Iraqi Forces.   In an operation that was mounted in June this year and lasted over six months, the SDF first advanced to the city of Raqqa clearing all opposition enroute, encircled it and then started reducing it by fighting and getting one foothold at a time. The battle in Raqqa reminded us of battle of Grozny in Chechnya which was reduced to rubble by Russians in a fierce fighting continuing over a year. Emboldened by this success of SDF, government troops went in for Deir al Zour.   The cost to civilian lives and the disruption was colossal in Raqqa. The majority of over 2,70,000 citizens were either displaced, injured or killed. Those who were trapped inside the city between two sides had suffered malnutrition and deprivation of basic needs of healthcare, water and food items. In addition, lots of heritage buildings, archeological and architectural sites have been damaged or destroyed.   Starting in June 2014, ISIS spread like wild fire in Iraq and Syria capturing the major towns of Mosul, Kirkuk and Sinjar in Iraq leaving a trail of violence, destruction and anarchy unparalleled in twenty first century. The well equipped and highly armed Iraqi Army did not pose any resistance and was totally disintegrated. After looting $ 500 million from the Central Bank in Mosul and controlling Baiaji, Tikrit and other oil rich areas astride the Euphrates and Tigris rivers ISIS became formidable. Based on their success in Iraq, the ISIS got emboldened and swept north eastern portions of Syria in the same wave leaving a state of terror and ethnic cleansing in the wake.   ISIS publicly executed five of the twenty odd western journalists challenging the authority of western democracies and creating tremendous domestic pressure. It was the tipping point and western powers had no option but to go in for ISIS in Iraq and Syria in September 2014. Russia moved in to save the Assad government in September 2015. It also started bombing ISIS and moderate armed opposition groups’ positions and helped the government troops to defeat ISIS in Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour.   The terror tactics that ISIS used also became its nemesis because they ended up alienating the Sunni majority in addition to the excesses they carried out on the minorities and foreigners. The worst hit community was Yazidis in Iraq wherein 5000 men were killed and 7000 women and children were taken as prisoners to be converted into sex slaves. United Nations in a conservative estimate has stated casualties to civilians as 7000 killed in 2016 and nearly 3000 in 2017. As per Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 475, 000 personnel including 100,000 civilians have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al- Assad began in March 2011.   After the victory in Raqqa and Deir al Zour, a repeat of what is happening in Kirkuk and Mosul in Iraq is likely to follow. Opposing sides are going to attempt to fill in the strategic void created by the defeat of ISIS resulting in fresh battles between the SDF and government supported militia and government troops. It may be recalled that Russia, Iran and Hizbullah are fighting on the side of the Assad Government whereas Kurds and moderate opposition armed groups in SDF are supported by US, France, UK, Germany and some other member states of EU. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other gulf states have supported the Syrian armed opposition groups resulting in proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the battlefield called Syria.    The menace called ISIS is not totally destroyed or wiped out and will keep showing its head in isolated cases in the western world like the recent attack in Paris, Barcelona, London and New York. The terrorist groups who had taken franchise of ISIS will be on the back foot for some time. ISIS in the same form is unlikely to show its head again but as long as the socio- economic aspirations of sections of society the world over continue to be unaddressed, it will show up in some form or the other. Member states of United Nations need to cooperate and share actionable intelligence regarding existing and emerging terrorist groups in order to ensure lasting peace.   As far as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan are concerned, violence will continue in the near future. Government troops of Turkey, Iraq and Syria are likely to go for Kurds in respective territories inhibiting Kurds from joining up and creating a state of their own. // ]]>

A RAY OF HOPE, CEASEFIRE IN SOUTH WEST SYRIA

The Druz are predominantly in As-Suweida governate as well as in the areas bordering Iraq in the east. Since the northern offensive from Turkey did not make any headway towards Damascus which was 500 Kms away, the coalition forces launched the southern offensive from Jordan in late 2013 because Damascus was much closer. In the southern offensive the opposition forces made steady progress and cleared all areas astride Israel. The mission area of United Nations Disengagement Observation Force also forms  part of this region. Therefore, we as peacekeepers bore the brunt of collateral damage of this offensive. Syrian Arab Armed Forces (SAAF) were pushed north and eastward towards Damascus. The idea to have a buffer zone in these border districts was mooted a long time back and my interlocutors in Israel and Jordan had repeatedly mentioned this to me. I had always advised Israelis not to cross the 1974 ceasefire line and move east towards Damascus In a bid to desist them from doing that,  I used to emphasise that they would be ill advised to leave the heights along the Alpha line ( ceasefire line between Israel and Syria) and come east to low lying areas and expose themselves from all sides to the fire of opposition groups and SAAF. Both SAAF and opposition groups would have contested this action of Israel resulting in escalation of violence. The present ceasefire has come about after prolonged efforts of Russia and talks between Russian and US leaders. It is the beginning of the forming of the  de-escalation zones which Mr Staffan De Mistura, the special Envoy of Secretary General of United Nations to Syria, has been trying ever since his appointment in 2014. In fact I had met Ramzy  Ezzeldin Ramzy, the deputy special envoy in Beirut and emphasised that Qunneitra governate; which includes the Golan Heights, where our peacekeeping mission is located, as the best region to start their de-escalation experiment from. They have done exactly that after three years of sustained efforts! [caption id="attachment_17123" align="alignleft" width="300"] (DAMASCUS, July 8, 2017 (Xinhua) — Deputy UN Special Envoy for Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy (C) speaks during a press briefing in Damascus, capital of Syria,[/caption] Qunneitra Governate lies  in South West of Syria and shares the ceasefire line with Israel on the west. Daraa region is south of Qunneitra and is the bordering district with Jordan in the south. As-Suweida is further east of Daraa and also is the border district with Jordan. Together the three governates form an L shape region upto a depth of thirty kilometres from Israel and Jordan. Daraa forms the pivot of the region. Roads and approaches to Damascus lead from all three sides of this region. A ceasefire in the three governates will mean Israel and Syria would be isolated and immune from  the internal strife in Syria as they will have moderate opposition groups suitably inclined towards them controlling these areas. Since the pre-requisite of the ceasefire is that the region should  be void of all radical groups like ISIS, Hizbullah and Al Nusra; if that happens, the ceasefire is likely to hold. The Assad government has scanty presence in these areas and therefore, will honour the ceasefire. The United Nations is also working out no flying zones in concert with Russia, US and Turkey and they would be advised to include Iran for any lasting peace in the country. A big spin off from the ceasefire would be that over a million Syrian refugees who have been in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt for years would be able to come back to their country although some of them will still remain internally displaced persons (IDPs). It may be recalled that 5.5 million Syrian are refugees in neighbouring countries of Turkey (3,050,000), Lebanon (1,001,000), Jordan (661,000), Iraq (243,000) and Egypt (123,000). Another 6.5 million are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in their own country and some of them have been displaced more than two times. Two thirds of the population of 23 million Syrians need humanitarian aid. In the six year old civil war this ceasefire is a ray of hope for similar ceasefires to be applied in other regions where the ground situation is more complicated. The seventh round of peace talks have commenced in Geneva paving the way for declaring other de- escalation zones in the rest of the country. * ( The author Lt Gen Singha was the Head of the Mission and Force Commander of United Nations peacekeeping mission in Golan Heights from 2012 to 2015 ) // ]]>

THE FALLOUT FROM MOSUL MAY REACH INDIA

Pith over 90000 troops advancing towards Mosul under American air power giving strategic support, it is a matter of not ‘will it fall’ but ‘when will it fall’. In Mosul there are around 6000 ISIS jihadis holed up with extensive defence arrangements. Part of this defence is the human shield. Around 800000 civilians live in Mosul. ISIS is known for its barbarity and inhuman cruelty. Fears mount that it will deploy civilians in strategic places around ISIS fighters to weaken the moral resolve of the attacking army. The invading forces include Kurdish Peshmerga, Turkish forces, Iraqi Army, Iran backed Shia militia and US military advisors. Adversaries, some with century of hate and war against each other have come together to defeat ISIS. It is a ‘regional’ international force brought together by deft diplomacy and hard work by the Americans. The invading army is under international scrutiny by the press and UN. It will be reluctant to kill civilians in thousands as collateral damage. Such insensitivity will bring an even more vocal condemnation than has followed the Iraq invasion where some half a million people have died from the aftermath of the attack to depose Saddam. The invasion of Mosul is likely to be one of the most blood churning in recent history. There is also the Mosul Dam. If that is blown up in a scorch earth policy by ISIS, nearly half a million people will die. The human cost of this war could be far more than the financial or political costs. In western countries, think tanks are falling over each other on showing off ‘wisdom’ or lessons learnt from recent follies.  A group of researchers at Chatham House explained how local tribal groups need to be financially supported and development needs to start early to pre-empt local uprisings again. These measures will stop people walking back into the arms of ISIS. Academics spoke of the fault lines in the invading army and how these could be addressed. The now deep Shia-Sunni divide is of concern. All this post invasion preparations strategy is reassuring given the almost myopic approach to war in the last two decades by American led coalitions. Thought is being given to post invasion engagement with and commitment from local as well as regional groups. While local tribes will benefit from development and good governance etc., larger interests such as those of Kurdish Peshmerga, Turkey and Iran may also have been addressed or at least deals promised by USA. Reassuring as these are, there is nothing new in the strategy which hasn’t been part of ‘colonising’ or imperial forces in history. Colonialism relied on meeting local expectations, recruiting strong regional forces with deals and reorienting governance through indigenous political leadership. Roman imperialism across Europe and Middle East or Moghul imperialism in India adopted similar strategies. What is surprising is that the Anglo-American war machine seemed to have discarded this important aspect of any post invasion strategy in the last three decades, whether it was after the fall of Russia in Afghanistan or the fall of Saddam in Iraq. Not that the USA will colonise Mosul, but it does want the Middle East hot spots in its own image, a liberal democratic country. And the current coalition, for all its bonhomie at the moment, is very fragile. Nevertheless, not much is expected of it except to destroy the common enemy at hand, the Islamic State jihadis. But history reveals another deeper aspect of conflict that resurfaces in one way or another, no matter what financial, material or political inducements are given to maintain order after invasion. Islamic State is driven by a mission. It is a mission nearly a century old. It is the idea of resurrecting the Caliphate. Development, riches and political power abounds in the Middle East. But so does the idea of Caliphate within many Sunni Muslims who believe it to be a divine mission to restore it. They may form a small minority of Sunni Muslims in the larger Billion world Muslim population, but over the decades they have grown from a few hundred to a few millions.  It is this mission which has attracted many a middle class Muslim youth in the west with amazing life opportunities to give everything up and join the ‘struggle’. In the Middle East, there are millions who are fed up with the privileged power and wealth of the few and who also see hope in a Caliphate.

ISIS was clever in giving it a physical form by creating a State and calling it the ‘Caliphate’. The idea is now rooted even deeper in the minds of many Sunnis. If this idea is not addressed, it does not matter how many development programmes, schools and hospitals are built for the local communities.

The Catholics have their Pope, the Anglicans their English Monarch as divine head of Church, the Shia have their Grand Ayatollah, but of the major Abrahamic schisms, it is the Sunni who lost their titular head when the Caliphate was vanquished by Anglo-Turkish design in the 1920s. The struggle for restoring the Caliphate has been simmering ever since. Think Tanks are also aware that IS Jihadis are not going to disappear after the fall of Mosul. There is general expectation that sleeper cells in the west will surface and most of ISIS will infiltrate general populations around the world with programmed command on when to blast bombs or waken up communities elsewhere.


Indications are and some Islamic groups have already hinted that one of the largest Islamic community that may be targeted for recruitment is the Muslims of India. There is a significant body of Muslims in India who are disenchanted with current State policies and their perpetual marginalisation since 1947.  The Indian Mujahedeen, the Taliban and even IS have made statements to entice Indian Muslims to join the struggle. IM and Taliban have tried to take advantage of domestic grudges.
The fall of Mosul, if it occurs, is not the end of the story, but could be the beginning of another. The war could be exported around the world and a new phase of asymmetrical war will begin. India among other countries should stay alert to the fall out. Until the idea of the Caliphate is addressed, this story is not going to end.
Jasdev Singh Rai
 
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