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All Four ISIS "Beatles" Guards Now Identified

All four of the brutal British prison guards of ISIS's foreign hostages known as the Beatles have now been identified. Here's an interview with the mother of the 4th one, El Shafee Elsheikh, identified a few days ago by the Washington Post and BuzzFeed.

All are believed to have been part of Amr Al Absi's group, a story I've summarized numerous times (see here and here) and who was killed in a US air strike recently. [More...]

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Fallujah, Syria, and ISIS

The battle by Iraqi forces to retake Fallujah has begun.

The U.S. says it killed the iconic Abu Wahib, ISIS's military commander of the Anbar province about 10 days ago. He's been declared dead before, but not by the Pentagon, which claims to have killed him in an airstrike near Rutbah.

ISIS conducted suicide bombings in Syria today killing a lot of people. [More..]

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U.S. Supports Equipping and Training Libyan Troops

John Kerry announced today the U.S. supports training and equipping the military of the newly minted Libyan "unity" government so it can better fight ISIS.

Speaking in Vienna, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and other major nations would back the Libyan government's attempt to win an exemption from a United Nations arms embargo.

Kerry said it was "imperative" for the international community to support the 6-week-old government in Tripoli, which he called "the only legitimate one in Libya and which must now start to work.”

The State Department's press release is here. The new Libyan government is 6 weeks old and arrived in Libya by boat from Tunisia. [More...]

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Navy Seals in Gunfight Against ISIS

The Navy Seal who died yesterday in a shootout with ISIS is Charles Keating IV, grandson of the late financier and real estate developer who was convicted and served jail time in the 1980's savings and loan scandal.

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charles H. Keating IV, 31, was shot and killed during a two-hour battle with about 125 militants who had stormed the Kurdish-held town of Tel Skuf, about 20 miles north of Mosul.

Keating “got hit just in the course of his gun battle. Whether it was a sniper or some fighter with his [rifle] is unclear,” Warren said. “This was a gunfight so there were bullets everywhere.”

As the militants advanced, the U.S. force was sent in to extract the Americans and to help the Kurdish fighters, who have been key allies in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

Here'a a video of the Navy Seals participating with Peshmerga Kurdish forces in direct clashes with ISIS in Telskuf in Mosul. (No graphic images or victims)

How is this not "boots on the ground?"

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ISIS: Third U.S. Combat Death in Iraq

The U.S. has confirmed a navy SEAL was killed today by ISIS fire.

On Tuesday, a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed by “direct fire” about three miles from the front lines north of Mosul after Islamic State fighters penetrated Kurdish peshmerga forces, U.S. officials said. It was the third U.S. combat death in Iraq linked to the fight against the Islamic State.

The name of the U.S. base is Firebase Bell. On March 19, Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed in a rocket attack on the base.

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ISIS Releases Nasheed Video "Blood for Blood"

ISIS news of note this week: Al-Hayat Media, ISIS' official media arm, has released a new "nasheed" video featuring child fighters. It's called "Sang Pour Sang" (Blood for Blood). The children sing in French, but there's an English and French option for viewing the words. The point of the video: to warn the U.S. and its allies that revenge for the airstrikes is coming.

Via Belgian researcher and analyst Pieter Van Ostaeyen, here are the words in English. He has also posted the video here. [Heads-up, there are graphic images of bombing victims but with one exception that I saw, no victims of ISIS killings. The exception is a very small still image of someone being beheaded in the frame accompanying the words "to slice necks". So if that will upset you, don't watch the video. I'm writing about the video because I think it's important to know what ISIS says it believes. In order to defeat your enemy, you first must understand it. ( The Art of War.)][More...]

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Mission Creep : 5,000 U.S. Troops in Iraq

Time Magazine reports on the slow but steady increase of U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Apparently, it's in preparation for the upcoming battle to retake Mosul from ISIS.

Unless you have a loved one in the U.S. military, you probably haven’t been aware of the slow-but-steady increase in American troops on the ground inside Iraq.... On Monday, Pentagon officials said the total U.S. troop presence in Iraq would grow by more than 200 troops—to a deployed force of 4,087—as Baghdad and Washington prepare to take Mosul back from ISIS.

Troops on temporary assignment in Iraq, those guarding diplomatic outposts—or those rotating in to replace troops who haven’t left yet—aren’t included under that 4,087 ceiling. When they are, Pentagon officials say, the total U.S. troops presence in Iraq is creeping toward 5,000.

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Dabiq 14, John Cantlie and Other ISIS News

The CBC has a new interview (you can read it without having to watch a video) with Belgian jihadist tracker Pieter Van Ostaeyen (who I've been reading and quoting for over a year a half.) From the new interview:

Few understand ISIS like Van Ostaeyen. And what he sees now is a mutation in the group, in the rhetoric and the recruiting. He points out that the language is less about Islamic fundamentalism and is increasingly focused on the notion of revenge.

"What they really want … is the clash of civilizations," he says. Revenge for what ISIS claims the West has done to Iraq and Syria. And the more ground ISIS loses there, the more the group lusts for bloodshed in Europe.

He says Western intelligence has failed for the simple reason they have no idea what they are looking for. What they should be looking for now: those with criminal backgrounds, not religious extremists. [More...]

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Air Strike Kills al Nusra Spokesman in Syria

Abu Firas al-Suri, a longtime al Qaida veteran who relocated from Yemen to Syria in 2012-2013, and became a spokesman for AQ's Syrian branch Jabhat al Nusra, has reportedly been killed in an airstrike in Idlib.

He was very outspoken in his opposition to both ISIS and the United States. It's not entirely clear whose strike killed him (U.S., Russia or Syria.)

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Pentagon Says We're Starting to Win in Mosul

A live press conference with Gen. Carter on Iraq and Syria with the Pentagon is taking place here. Carter says the tide is turning and we've blocked off the main routes between Northern Iraq and Syria. He says we targeted and killed top ISIS leaders.

American forces are there advising and supporting Iraqi. There will be increased support for Iraqis in Mosul. We will advise and enable.Carter and others will be asking Obama to increase the number of U.S. troops going to Iraq to "advise' the Iraqis.

Yet he denies it's a ground troops operation. Denies it's a fundamental shift. Reporters are skeptical and keep asking how this is different from a ground war. It's a pretty permanent position. The U.S. military is directly involved with the Iraqis. This is what we've been doing in the past months and what we'll be doing in the coming months. What started in Ramadi will continue to Mosul. This is our strategy.

He's arguing for an alternative prison to Gitmo saying it's not safe to release Gitmo

A reporter says there are 5,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Carter says 3,800. The difference is in the counting techniques. There's more than 3,800 he admits.

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ISIS Takes Credit for Belgium, Republicans Pander to Fear

Police are seeking the man above in connection with the Belgian attacks. They also are trying to catch Laachraoui Najim, aka Soufiane Kayal, a Belgian national, whom they suspect of involvement in the Paris Attacks. Najim was in Syria since 2013. He was the subject of an international arrest warrant since March 18, 2014. (Use google translate.)

ISIS-linked news A'maq News agency reported ISIS has taken credit for the attacks in Belgium. Then ISIS issued its own statement in several languages promising "dark days ahead" for those in countries that aid the Coalition. Here's the Official ISIS statement in French.

Why Belgium? The Guardian explains why Belgium is so vulnerable.

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ISIS Releases New John Cantlie Video

British ISIS hostage John Cantlie has re-appeared. ISIS released a new video of him criticizing the United States for bombing an ISIS media kiosk in Mosul. He said the U.S. put innocent lives at risk.

The video is short and has no ISIS violence. You can watch it here.

Cantlie was captured with James Foley and has appeared in many ISIS propaganda videos and Dabiq magazine articles, but none in the past year or so. I think his last video was in February, 2015. While there was an article in the November, 2015 issue of Dabiq purportedly authored by him, it isn't clear when it was written. I hope today's video means he is still alive.

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Syrian Rights Group Says Omar Shishani Not Killed in Strike

Two days ago, the U.S. said it targeted Georgian ISIS military leader Omar (Umar) al Shishani (originally from the Russian Caucasus) in an airstrike in al-Shadadi, Syria. The U.S. said he was believed to be dead. (Shishani, whose real name is Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, been high on the U.S. designated terrorist list for a while. )

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (which is highly critical of ISIS) yesterday said Shishani was badly injured in the strike but was not killed. He's been transferred to a hospital in Raqqa, where he's being treated by a European jihadist doctor. [More...]

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Amr al Absi Reportedly Killed in Aleppo Air Strike

I'm surprised the U.S. media isn't all over the reports of Amr al Absi (aka Abu al-Athir,) being killed in an airstrike. He's not only a big deal in ISIS, he reportedly was involved in the imprisonment of kidnapped foreign journalists, including James Foley (whom ISIS likely inherited from the group who actually kidnapped them.

Experts say Absi orchestrated the defection of a large number of foreign fighters from the al-Qaeda-aligned Jahbat al-Nusra during Isil's rocky early months in 2013. One of those men was Mohamed Emwazi, the Briton who would go on to be Isil’s most notorious executioner.

...The jihadist is understood to have overseen the kidnapping or purchase of a number of journalists and aid workers, among them the American reporter James Foley and British taxi driver Alan Henning, whose videotaped murders Emwazi would later become famous as ‘Jihadi John’.

I've mentioned al Absi and his murdered brother Firas in several posts, see here and here. Here's one of the principal source articles I relied on. [More...]

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U.S. Says It Captures ISIS Operative

The U.S. says it has captured an ISIS operative. This would be the first since Umm Sayyaf.

Like Umm Sayyaf, the Pentagon plans to question the operative and then turn him over to the Iraqis or Kurds for prosecution. At least the White House has no plans to fly these operatives here for prosecution.

Defense Department officials said that the United States had no plans to hold the detainee or others indefinitely, and that they would be handed over to Iraqi or Kurdish authorities after they have been interviewed. The officials said they did not intend to establish a long-term American facility to hold Islamic State detainees, and Obama administration officials ruled out sending any to the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Of course, that could change should a Republican be in the White House next year.

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