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Islamic State Accepts Boko Haram’s Allegiance Pledge

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Islamic State has accepted a pledge of allegiance by Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram, announcing the expansion of the Syrian-based organization into sub-Saharan Africa on Thursday.

In a move seen as a propaganda boost to Islamic State, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last week pledged allegiance to the extremist group, which has conquered large parts of Syria and Iraq and has declared its goal to establish a global state, or caliphate, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Thousands of fighters from around the world have traveled to Syria to fight with Islamic State, including by becoming suicide bombers. They include Australian teen, Jake Bilardi, 18, who reportedly died in a suicide attack this week.

Islamic State’s formal acceptance of the pledge was widely expected. Boko Haram’s declaration was celebrated by Islamic State supporters, according to Twitter accounts purporting to be associated with the group. Photographs were circulated of fighters praising the move and sheep being slaughtered in celebration.

“Our caliph, God save him, has accepted the pledge of loyalty of our brothers of Boko Haram so we congratulate Muslims and our jihadi brothers in West Africa,” said Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani in an audio message posted online.

Adnani called on Muslims who couldn’t get to Syria to travel to the land of Islam and join Boko Haram’s fight instead.

The pledge comes at a time when both Boko Haram and Islamic State have reportedly suffered military setbacks.

Boko Haram declared its own Islamic state last year, capturing a large swath of territory, but its ability to run a state and hold territory is in doubt after a regional military force has driven its militants from more than 30 towns in recent weeks.

The African Union has endorsed a force of 10,000 soldiers to fight Boko Haram.

With just over two weeks to go before Nigerian elections, President Goodluck Jonathan told Voice of America on Thursday that Boko Haram would be defeated in a matter of days — although Nigerian leaders have often boasted that Boko Haram faced defeat, only to see it re-emerge.

In Syria and Iraq, Islamic State has faced airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition as it battles the Syrian army and Kurdish forces. In Iraq, army forces and militias have advanced into Tikrit, a militant stronghold and the hometown of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The acceptance of Boko Haram’s pledge comes as Islamic State challenges al-Qaida as the assumed leader of the Islamist jihadist movements.

Islamic State has threatened to attack Europe as part of its ideological goal of taking over Rome. It has also issued threats against the U.S., France, Italy, Britain, Australia and Canada, countries that are part of the coalition carrying out airstrikes against the group.

“We want, God willing, Paris before Rome,” Adnani said in the audio recording.

AFP Photo

ISIS Panic Is Ebola 2.0

It’s the Ebola panic all over again.

Except they’re calling it ISIS this time.

OMG! OMG! We’re all going to die!

Cable TV news networks won’t be happy until they’ve got the whole country hiding in the basement, glued to Wolf Blitzer’s lugubrious team of terrorism experts warning of theoretical, if not downright imaginary, threats to America’s shopping malls and vital fast-food industry, while square-jawed pundits on Fox News and MSNBC debate nomenclature and counsel manly resolve.

Hardly a day passes in this country without a mass-shooting episode or toddler-involved homicide. Yet ISIS has them in a tizzy. Even Hardball’s excitable Chris Matthews has caught war fever.

Again.

Sometimes I wish they had the collective intelligence of my wife’s personal kitten. Martin’s an orange tabby the big dogs found abandoned on a gravel road in the woods last year. Now that he’s too big to sit on her head comfortably, he sometimes watches ballgames with me.

Mostly, he ignores the TV. But the other day, Martin got so excited during a Razorback basketball game that he jumped from the ottoman and tried to capture a player running across the screen. I believe he pounced three times before concluding that what looked like prey was a two-dimensional illusion.

Martin’s career as a basketball fan ended abruptly.

Clearly, ISIS is no mere illusion. But it’s definitely more of a TV show than an existential threat to national security. However, when I see polls suggesting that a growing majority of Americans now supports sending ground troops back into Iraq (and Syria?) to fight yet another ultimately unwinnable war against “evildoers,” I wonder if we’re capable of learning anything as a nation.

Yes, the organization’s sickening “snuff videos,” as blogger Digby aptly calls them, are uniquely infuriating. Sadistically choreographed and slickly-produced, ISIS’s stonings, beheadings, and live burnings elicit exactly the fear and revulsion they’re meant to. The immediate impulse is to exterminate all the brutes. Until I gave it 10 seconds’ thought, I could even sympathize with an Arkansas politician’s call to nuke the SOBs.

But look at it this way: The videos are also symptomatic of madness and increasing desperation. As President Obama has suggested, ISIS is clearly more of a criminal death cult than a military organization. For a Western analogy, think Jim Jones or David Koresh in the wilderness.

What’s more, for all the messianic delusions in ISIS’s primitive theology, as explained in Graeme Wood’s epic exegesis in the Atlantic, the organization has already checkmated itself.

“Much of what the group does looks nonsensical,” Wood explains, “except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a 7th-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse….They refer derisively to ‘moderns.’”

Rather like cracked “End Times” thinkers in our own tradition, ISIS believes that it can force God’s hand and bring about the Apocalypse by re-establishing a Muslim “Caliphate,” and then luring the “Crusaders” into battle.

A glance at the map, however, reveals that ISIS has basically conquered all the thinly populated desert territory it can reasonably hold. It can maintain a semblance of control only through stark brutality and terror. It’s basically a ragtag, pickup-based militia lacking any means of attacking the United States unless we make it easy for them by re-invading Iraq.

ISIS has no Air Force, no Navy, no real artillery or armored brigades apart from captured Iraqi gear it can’t effectively service or repair. The Turks could crush ISIS whenever they wish, but choose not to act for fear of empowering the hated Assad regime in Syria and/or its Iranian Shiite allies (themselves protecting Baghdad).

Meanwhile, President Obama’s tactics for confronting ISIS may not be very exciting in the action/adventure film sense, but they’re nevertheless surrounded on all sides.

Writing in Vox, Zack Beauchamp cites a consensus of informed observers: “If you want to understand what’s happening in the Middle East today, you need to appreciate one fundamental fact: ISIS is losing its war for the Middle East.”

U.S. air strikes have blunted the terrorists’ ability to launch effective attacks. Many are foreign fighters drawn by the lure of charismatic ideology and seemingly dramatic victories, who now find themselves far from home, “outgunned, outnumbered and friendless.”

The very theological certitude that attracts young jihadists has also made the movement strategically dumb. Attacking the Kurds was criminally stupid. Drawing Jordan into the fight could also prove a fatal error.

“ISIS has staked its entire political project on one theory,” Beauchamp explains. “They are the true revival of the early Islamic caliphate, destined not only to maintain and expand their theocratic state but to bring on the apocalypse. Once you understand that, ISIS’s blunders look less like miscalculations and more like inevitable results of its animating ideology.”

An ideology that cannot but fail, if the United States has the political maturity to remain calm until that happens.

AFP Photo

Obama Splits Muslim Faith From Terrorism At Extremism Conference

By Annie Linskey, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The conference on extremism convened by the Obama administration in Washington this week includes leaders from Muslim groups, focuses on U.S. cities with large Muslim populations, and involves foreign leaders struggling to avert radicalization in their Muslim communities.

One phrase that won’t come up much: Muslim extremism.

President Barack Obama and his staff have gone to lengths to avoid characterizing the ideology driving Islamic State and other terrorist groups as religious extremism. The semantic exercise is intended to avoid legitimizing acts of terror as expressions of religious belief. It’s also part of a strategy to draw in the domestic Muslim leaders Obama is leaning on to identify and isolate potentially violent extremists.

“For us, terminology is very, very important,” said Riham Osman, spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, one of the groups participating in the three-day conference. “Using words like ‘radical Islam,’ we believe is actually hurting the cause.”

Deadly attacks in Paris, Sydney and Copenhagen by individuals of Muslim backgrounds and possibly inspired by the brutal tactics of Islamic State, along with the group’s spread in Syria, Iraq and now Libya, have raised alarms in Europe and the U.S. about danger of so-called lone-wolf terrorists, driven by extremist ideology and difficult to detect before they act.

“Groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL exploit the anger that festers when people feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives,” Obama wrote in an opinion article published Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times. They are “peddling the lie that the United States is at war with Islam.”

Obama is set to speak twice during the conference, once to community leaders Wednesday and then to foreign leaders from more than 60 countries convening for a separate session Thursday. Other top administration officials on the agenda include Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and national security adviser Susan Rice.

The summit, according to administration officials, is aimed at engaging local community leaders, the private sector and nonprofits to reduce extremism of all stripes.

Vice President Joe Biden delivered the administration’s message when he kicked off the conference Tuesday. The federal government must ensure “violent extremism never finds a home in the communities in the U.S.,” he told about 40 participants at a round-table meeting.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “a particularly virulent strain of extremist ideology has tried to insert itself in the Muslim community.”

In response to questions at his daily briefing, Earnest said the danger of extremism extends beyond one faith and that U.S. enemies want to be described in religious terms.

“They would love nothing more than for the U.S. or the West to engage in a religious war,” Earnest said. “This is not a religious war. This is not a war on Islam.”

He cited intelligence gathered from Osama bin Laden’s compound that showed the al-Qaida leader was irritated his group was viewed as a terrorist organization rather than a religious one. Bin Laden even considered changing the name of his group to include a religious reference in order to re-brand it as closer to Islam, Earnest said.

Republican lawmakers have accused the administration of ignoring the root cause of terrorism by failing to acknowledge the religious motivations for recent attacks.

“We are in a religious war with radical Islamists,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Fox News last month. “When I hear the president of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we’re in a religious war, it really bothers me.”

Potential Republican presidential contenders have picked up the theme. “The words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ do not come out of the president’s mouth,” Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said at the Center for Security Policy in Washington last week. “That is dangerous.”

The notion of avoiding the “Islamic extremist” construction has roots in the administration of Republican George W. Bush. A 2008 memo from his Department of Homeland Security recommended erasing “grandiose descriptions” about terrorist organizations from the official lexicon. Words and phrases like “jihadist,” “Islamist” and “Islamic terrorist,” shouldn’t be used, according to the report.

“We should not concede the terrorists’ claim that they are legitimate adherents of Islam,” the report said.

Obama is taking the same policy a step further, adopting the language of some U.S. allies by referring to the Islamic State group as a “death cult,” as he did earlier this month at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

The “death cult” line is borrowed from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who has used it to describe the Islamic State since at least September. British Prime Minister David Cameron picked up the term in January when he visited the White House and referred to Islamic State as “this poisonous, fanatical death cult.”

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the legislation he sent to Congress today to authorize the use of military force (AUMF) against Islamic State in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Feb. 11, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Egypt Strikes Libya Jihadists After Beheadings Video

Cairo (AFP) – Cairo carried out air strikes against Islamic State group targets in Libya on Monday after the jihadists posted a video showing the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Egypt said a “tough intervention” was needed and with France called on the UN Security Council to “take new measures” against the jihadists in neighboring Libya.

With Monday’s air strikes, Egypt opened a new front against the jihadists, who it is already battling in the Sinai Peninsula where scores of troops have been killed since the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who overthrew Morsi and has been criticized for a deadly crackdown on dissent, has presented Egypt as a key partner in international efforts against the jihadists.

Monday’s early morning air strikes hit IS camps and stores of weapons, the military said, hours after jihadists released gruesome footage of the beheadings that provoked outrage in Egypt.

Witnesses told AFP there were at least seven air strikes in Derna in the east, a hotbed of militancy since Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi was overthrown in 2011. It was not immediately clear whether other areas were also hit.

“Your armed forces on Monday carried out focused air strikes in Libya against Daesh camps, places of gathering and training, and weapons depots,” the military said in a statement, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

It was the first time Egypt announced military action against Islamist targets in its western neighbor, having previously denied it targeted militants there.

Egypt has reportedly allowed the United Arab Emirates to previously use its bases to bomb militants in Libya.

State television showed footage of Egyptian fighter jets it said were taking off to conduct the strikes.

“Avenging Egyptian blood and retaliating against criminals and killers is a duty we must carry out,” the military said.

The air strikes came hours after Sisi threatened a “suitable response” to the killings of the Coptic Christians.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was headed to Washington to take part in an “anti-terrorism” summit, the ministry said, calling for strong international action.

“Leaving matters as they are in Libya without tough intervention to curb these terrorist organisations represents a clear threat to international security and peace,” it said.

The brutal deaths of the Christians, who like thousands of poor Egyptians had traveled abroad to seek work, shocked their compatriots.

“Revenge is on the way”, read the banner on the front page of the official Al-Akhbar newspaper and both the Coptic Church and the prestigious Islamic Al-Azhar institution condemned the attack.

In the village of Al-Our in Upper Egypt, where 14 of the victims were from, devastated family members gathered in the small local church.

“My son traveled to Libya 40 days ago, he wanted to make money for his marriage,” said Boshra, whose 22-year-old son Kirolos was among the dead.

Expressing his “profound sadness” over the killings, Pope Francis said the Copts “were executed for nothing more than the fact that they were Christians”.

Egyptian television repeatedly played the video without the beheadings, showing black-clad militants leading their captives in orange jumpsuits along a beach before forcing them to kneel down.

Analysts said attacking the militants underscores Sisi’s message that Egypt is a bulwark against a shared jihadist enemy with Western countries that have been critical of his human rights record.

“These strikes elevate Egypt to a new level in confronting extremist organisations,” said Mathieu Guidere, an Islamic studies and politics professor at the University of Toulouse.

The White House led condemnation of the beheadings, saying the killers were “despicable”.

French President Francois Hollande agreed with Sisi that “the Security Council meet and that the international community take new measures to face up to this danger,” a statement from Hollande’s office said.

France is poised to sign a deal selling Egypt advanced Rafale fighter jets on Monday.

Libya’s embattled parliament, which is locked in a conflict with Islamist militias, expressed its condolences in a statement and called on the world to “show solidarity with Libya” against militants.

But a rival legislature, the General National Congress under the leadership of the Islamist Fajr Libya militia in control of Tripoli, accused Egypt of “aggression” and said the air strikes had “violated Libyan sovereignty”.

IS militants have been hammered by U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria after taking over swathes of the two countries and the group has active affiliates in Egypt and Libya.

The group, which has declared an Islamic “caliphate” in areas under its control, has become notorious for releasing videos of its brutal executions, including of British, American and Japanese hostages as well as a Jordanian pilot it captured in December.

Photo: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, pictured in Cairo on November 8, 2014, said his country reserved the right to punish IS as he called a meeting of security chiefs and declared seven days of mourning (AFP/Khaled Desouki)