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Obama Interview on ISIS, Iraq and Syria

The Atlantic has a new interview with President Obama on ISIS, Iraq and Syria. He doesn't think "we're losing." He calls Ramadi a "tactical setback."

ISIS continues its attacks today. It is also taking credit for a suicide bomb attack at a Shi'a mosque in Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday it released Dabiq Issue 9. (John Cantlie provides the last article, the first sign in a while he's still alive.) You can read it here.

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Another Name Floated for Abu Sayyaf

CNN quotes an anonymous U.S. official who tells them the real name of Abu Sayyaf is Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi. Every media outlet seems to be running with the story.

ABC News has been reporting for a while that U.S. officials believe Abu Sayyaf and his wife have information on deceased hostage Kayla Mueller. (I already wrote about all this here.) A congressman today confirmed this is being investigated.

CBS says the raid was months in the planning.

I'm not buying this new identity. It's another name that has not appeared anywhere as far as I can tell.[More...]

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Loss of Ramadi

The New York Times, among many others, say the loss of Ramadi is ISIS' biggest victory of the year. Once again, the Iraqi army fled.

The fall of Ramadi to the Islamic State, despite intensified American airstrikes in recent weeks in a bid to save the city, represented the biggest victory so far this year for the extremist group, which has declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls. The fall of Ramadi also laid bare the failed strategy of the Iraqi government, which had announced last month a new offensive to retake Anbar Province, a vast desert region in the west of which Ramadi is the capital.

“The city has fallen,” said Muhannad Haimour, the spokesman for Anbar’s governor. Iraq's response today is to vote to send in the Iranian backed Shi'a militia.

ISIS also gained a huge cache of weapons the fleeing Army left behind, that had been sent by the U.S. and Russia to Baghdad. [More...]

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Doubt Cast On Role of Killed ISIS Money Man

Update: Door Number Three: Abu Sayyaf, aka Mohammed Shalabi, is said to be a Jordanian Salafist leader . More here.

Update: The Syrians say it launched a raid at the same place -- the al Omar oil fields in Deir Ezzor -- and killed ISIS' oil minister. The Syrians say he is a Saudi (not Tunisian as the U.S. claims) named Abu al-Taym al-Saudi,.

So both the Syrians and the U.S. launched independent raids at the same time and place and both killed an IS financial leader? This is not making sense.

The U.S. says it didn't coordinate with Syria. And no one has heard of "Abu Sayyaf", the name the U.S. originally provided.

The name Abu Sayyaf has rarely been mentioned in Western reports about the extremist group and he is not known to be among terrorists for whom the U.S. has offered a bounty. The name was not known to counterterrorism officials who study IS and does not appear in reports compiled by think tanks and others examining the group's hierarchy.

Now there are reports he is also known as "Abu Muhammad al Iraqi" and "Abd al Ghani."[More...]

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ISIS Takes Control of Ramadi

ISIS launched an attack today on Ramadi in the Anbar province, and seized control of the city, including the police headquarters and army compound. Why Ramadi is important:

Ramadi controls the only significant routes to Baghdad from Syria and Jordan, a vital means of resupply for ISIS. Ramadi sits on the Euphrates River; the dam in Ramadi and the reservoir south of the city regulate usage of the river’s water for a significant portion of southern Iraq. Ramadi is the biggest population center in the Sunni heartland and is the seat of the powerful Dulaymi tribe, a major part of the Iraqi Sunni population ISIS needs support from if it wants to be a nation-state.... Ramadi is important because it means including the Sunnis in the governance of Iraq

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ISIS Leader Al Baghdadi's New Message

ISIS released a new audio message by leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi today. You can read the English version here (MS Word Document) or here. It's called "March Forth Whether Light or Heavy."

It strikes me as a pep talk and foreign recruitment effort. There's remarkably little about the West. It's mostly a shout-out to fighters in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Khorasan, Indonesia, the Caucasus and Africa and a call for them to join the war. [More...]

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ISIS Attacks Baiji Oil Refinery, Anbar and Hasaka

As the U.S. continues its air strikes, ISIS attacked the the Baiji oil refinery last night. It is Iraq's largest refinery. Control has gone back and forth between ISIS and the Iraqi forces several times over the past 9 months.

Iraq said today ISIS attacked the refinery on three sides but only reached the perimeter and launched a suicide attack. The ISIS photos and videos show they made it further. But more interesting, is this photo of an ISIS "command center" used during the attacks, where the action is displayed on multiple computer screens as the commanders sitting at them instruct the fighters by what looks like radio phones: [More...]

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The So-Called "ISIS Hacking Division"

Many media outlets, including the New York Times reported Saturday that ISIS has released the names and addresses of 100 service members on a website and urged followers to find and kill them. It's far from certain this release has any official connection to ISIS. Instead of "ISIS Urges Sympathizers to Kill U.S. Service Members It Identifies on Website", the headline should be "Group Supporting ISIS Urges Killing of U.S. Service Members Named in Internet Posting."

The release was announced Friday night on Twitter and uploaded to PasteBin, the site used by many groups to post messages. [More...]

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Gen. Petraeus' Views of ISIS, Iraq and Syria

General David Petraeus was back in Iraq last week at a conference. He said:

In fact, I would argue that the foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran.

Petraeus also talked about Syria: [More...]

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Javier Espinosa: ISIS Hostage #43

Yesterday, released ISIS hostage Javier Espinosa, a journalist with El Mundo, provided his first account of his kidnapping and detention by ISIS, including his description of "Jihadi John", believed to be Mohammed Emwazi. It was in the Sunday Times (UK) which is subscription only, and only descriptions by other media outlets were available.

Fortunately, El Mundo, has published it for free in two installments. Each one is about 4,000 words. It is riveting to say the least. Espinosa was held with James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig and the other Western journalists and hostages, and he discusses all of them.

Google Translate actually does a pretty good job with it. You can read the full first installment here and the second installment here. [More...]

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English Translation of al Adnani's Latest Message

Yesterday, ISIS supporters on Twitter were all excited waiting for a new speech by chief spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani. It was released mid-afternoon, but without English translation. Titled "So They Kill and Are Killed" Adnani accepted the "bayah" of Boko Haram in Nigeria, to become part of the Califphate, and urged supporters to go to Africa and fight with them.

There were news reports that in his speech, he threatened to blow up the Eiffel Tower, the White House, and Big Ben. An English translation has now been released. You can read it here or here. He doesn't call upon supporters to attack these places, he just says these attacks will happen before they conquer Rome. (Rome is usually a reference to the apocalypse and the Byzantine Roman Empire which was based in Constantinople, not Rome, Italy, and could be generations from now. More here.) [More...]

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The Fight Against ISIS' "Shock and Gore" Media Campaign

Simon Cottee in the Atlantic interviews top U.S. counterterrorism officials about the daunting challenge the U.S. faces in trying to combat ISIS propaganda war and what it will take to defeat it.

The U.S. State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) was created in 2010 to counter jihadist online media. It's motto, which appears on every powerpoint presentation, is “Media is more than half the battle" and “The war of narratives has become even more important than the war of navies, napalm, and knives.” (The latter is a quote by a dead militant.)[More...]

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Latest ISIS Defector Discussing Mohammed Emwazi

Sky News has a new interview with an Isis defector who says in very broken English he worked as a translator for ISIS, attended the killing of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, and then ran away to Turkey. He is referred to as Saleh, which is not his real name. More details are here.

Salah describes Emwazi, whom he calls John, as "the boss" of the foreign hostage killers. He says John is with ISIS' media arm. He says anyone is allowed to kill a Syrian, but only John executes foreigners. [More...]

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ISIS Uses Child Soldier to Kill Mossad Agent

ISIS has been promoting a new video by al Furqan Media all morning about the execution of a captured Mossad agent. An interview with the agent, Muhammad Sa’īd Ismā’īl Musallam, was featured in the latest issue of Dabiq magazine (Issue #7, described here). He said he was the only Arab in his unit, the others were Jewish.

Clearly designed to shock, in the now released video, which I won't link to, a child soldier kills the orange clad prisoner while standing right in front of him. He stares coldly at him and shoots him in the forehead. Then he fires more bullets into him and shouts "Allahu Akbar" as he raises his arm in triumph. [More....]

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ISIS Recruits Deaf in New Video

The Islamic State released a new recruitment video today with deaf fighters using sign language asking other deaf followers to join them. It's filmed in Mosul. While one message is that being being deaf is not an excuse not to come and fight, I think there's a more subtle and deeper one. I am not going to link to it because I don't want to help ISIS spread its message, but I will discuss it and show a few screen shots.

The video has English subtitles. The fighters identify themselves as being "deaf mutes." By day, they work as ISIS "traffic police" in Mosul. It shows them very competently guiding traffic.[More...]

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