Islamic State militants turn conquered Syria/Iraq territories into jihadist tourist paradise

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Militants with the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) have decided to turn their recent conquests into a tourist business, complete with jihadist honeymoons and themed tours across Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State orders genital mutilation of Iraqi women – UN

The sphere of influence the Iraq and Al Sham militants control, as of June, stretches through large swathes of northern and eastern Syria, as well as parts of northern and western Iraq.

Now a quite lucrative tourist trade operates without borders or ID cards, with its jihadist bus flying the black flag and ferrying fighters across the conquered lands.

AFP spoke to a number of rebels and activists by phone, who explained how the business venture works.

Many of the vacationing jihadists are from abroad. According to an activist, a Chechen was among the first. The 26-year-old Abu Abdel Rahman al-Shishani recently got married to a Syrian, whom he took on a honeymoon to Anbar.

“These jihadists are very romantic,” Hadi Salameh, the activist, told the news agency, adding that she sat in the back of the vehicle, as is customary. The lovebirds listened to jihadist songs as their bus took off from Tal Abyad, on the border with Turkey, and headed towards Iraq’s Anbar.

“You can get off wherever you want, and you don’t need a passport to cross the border,” Salameh, who is a Raqa resident and uses a pseudonym, continued.

ISIS surge: Over 270 killed in Syria, former US base stormed in Iraq’s Tikrit

“Of course it’s not free,” he said of the tours. Prices vary depending on distance traveled.

Speaking to AFP by phone, one Syrian rebel said that the foreigners among the jihadists “communicate in English and wear the Afghan-style clothing preferred by the jihadists.”

“There is a translator on the bus, who explains to them where they are going. The men on the bus are not armed, but vehicles carrying armed escorts accompany the bus,” Abu Quteiba al-Okaidi said.

Another activist, Abu Ibrahim al-Raqawi, told the agency that “tour buses run twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday. It works like any bus company would, except that it treats areas under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria as one state.”

“Many people living in this area (northern Syria through western Iraq) have tribal ties stretching across the border. So they use these buses to visit their families,” he told AFP over the internet, adding that others use it “to do business, while some just want to take a break from the shelling in Syria.”

Convert, pay or die: Iraqi Christians flee Mosul after Islamic State ultimatum

The Islamic State has gained significant ground in both Syria and Iraq after its initial assault on the city of Mosul in mid-June. The group has since declared the creation of an Islamic state, or caliphate, straddling the Iraq-Syria border. Its presence continues to hang over the Iraqi capital Baghdad, although it seems to have halted after capturing key Sunni areas.

The group is famous for torture, public punishments and executions of anyone so much as daring to deviate from the strict form of Islam it propagates.

Islamic State orders genital mutilation of Iraqi women – UN

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Sunni militants from the Islamic State have ordered all girls and women aged 11 to 46 in and around the city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, the UN reported. The potential number of victims is estimated at 4 million.

The shocking news, adding to an already long list of crimes reportedly committed by the militants since the takeover of northern Iraq last month, was broken by UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock.

“This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” she told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil on Thursday.

“This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists,” she added.

The Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, has taken over large portions of Iraq with the goal of establishing a fundamentalist Sunni Islamic state in the territories of Iraq and Syria. Since then they have launched a campaign to cleanse ethnic and religious minorities in the territory they control, sending thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives.

ISLAMIC STATE (ISIS) IS “NOW A FULL BLOWN ARMY”

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When New Yorker editor David Remnick pointed out to Obama during a November interview that years after Osama bin Laden had been killed, “the flag of al-Qaida is now flying in Fallujah, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria” and “al-Qaida has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too,” the response he got was either delusional or deceitful.

The president retorted that “if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” (IBT)

Well, the JV team is now a full-blown army that has successfully conquered whole swaths of the Middle East. Today, Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state, said that The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “is al Qaeda… it may have changed its name, but it is al Qaeda. In fact, it is worse than al Qaeda,” at a House Foreign Affairs Committee. McGurk warned that after the jihad organization seized enormous financial and military assets in Iraq, ISIS is “no longer a terrorist organization. It is a full-blown army.”

This is Obama’s catastrophic failure — JV. He’s a JV president — benched.

The Hill: The testimony from senior officials sparked alarm and frustration on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers said more should have been done to counter ISIS sooner.

Over the weekend, Attorney General Eric Holder said the threat of ISIS fighters infiltrating the U.S. was “more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general.”

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told The Hill on Wednesday that the threat from ISIS had been “blinking red a long time.”

“Now it’s flashing more frequently and is a lot brighter,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of fighters who are from European countries that are visa waiver countries, which means all they have to do is shave their beards and look like normal, responsible civilians and walk into the United States of America without a visa.

“It’s a real challenge for our intelligence community to identify them and get their names on a watch list.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, officials laid out steps for countering ISIS, including pressuring countries in the region to close their borders to stop the spread of fighters and offering U.S. training for local Iraqi security forces and centrist Syrian groups.

But it is still unclear whether the administration is planning any military response. U.S. advisers on the ground in Iraq have yet to begin helping local units as the Pentagon reviews an initial intelligence assessment that found embedded American forces would be easy targets for extremists.

Lawmakers expressed concerns over the delays but also remained deeply divided about what military steps the U.S. should take.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the administration had ignored the threat for too long and had rejected Iraqi requests for drone strikes as early as August 2013.

“What it seems like is the administration is just paralyzed. They just don’t know what to do,” added Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran.

“I’m renewing the call to the administration for massive manned military air strikes to push back this very, very bad cancer that’s encroaching on the Middle East,” he said.

Other lawmakers though expressed caution and said any solution must include political reforms in Baghdad.

“I supported the president’s decision to send assessment teams to Iraq, but I’m cautious of our future action. We cannot end up in another sectarian quagmire in Iraq,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the committee’s ranking member.

Lawmakers cautioned against providing Iraq with more military help until a stable government was in place. Critics of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki say his Shiite-majority government has alienated Sunni and Kurdish minorities and emboldened ISIS. Several lawmakers called for him to step down.

“Maliki is not a good guy just because we installed him. Now we need a new prime minister,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said.

McGurk said the administration had not ignored the threat and had already offered military assistance to Iraq.

“We set up intelligence fusion sharing centers, we helped them with the Hellfire missiles precision strikes, we helped them in terms of training forces on the ground of special operations,” he said.

But he cautioned that the focus should be on supporting an Iraqi unity government, requiring political reforms initiated by Baghdad.

“This is a uniquely Iraqi process, with Iraqi political dynamics. And the outcome will reflect that process,” McGurk said.

“There will not be an exclusively military solution to the threat posed by ISIL,” Slotkin added. Iraqis must do the heavy lifting.”

- See more at: http://pamelageller.com/2014/07/islamic-state-isis-now-full-blown-army.html/#sthash.LU3Sdqrf.dpuf

ISS ‘making millions’ out of stolen oil revenues in Iraq

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ISIS militants are using the revenue from seized oil fields to finance their newly-formed Islamic state in northern Iraq. Sources within the regional government say the extremist militants are “making millions” in illegal trade.

Follow RT’s LIVE UPDATES on the ISIS advances in Iraq

Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in northern Iraq are cementing their hold on the region by selling crude oil and gasoline from oil fields they have seized. Iraqi officials have confirmed to Reuters that ISIS militants have been transporting crude oil from inside Iraq into neighboring Syria.

“We have confirmed reports showing that the Islamic State is shipping crude from Najma oilfield in Mosul into Syria to smuggle it to one of Syria’s neighbors,” said Husham al-Brefkani, head of Mosul provincial council’s energy committee. “The Islamic State is making multi-million dollar profits from this illegal trade.”

The oil is processed into low quality gasoil and gasoline in Syria and then smuggled back into the city of Mosul in Iraq.
The fuel is handed over to traders who charge at least triple the price at $1 or $1.5 a liter.

“The fuel is brought from Syria … It’s triple the price before, but drivers have to buy it because subsidized government fuel was halted,” said al-Brefkani.

ISIS currently controls the oilfields Najma and Qayara near the northern city of Mosul and another two – Himreen and Ajil – close to the hometown of Saddam Hussein, Tikrit.

The militants seized control of the fields during their mid-June onslaught through the North of Iraq and have kept them intact and in working order. The militants also promised the workers protection if they stayed on at the plant in order to maintain production.

Oil revenues are not the only source of finance for the nascent Islamic state. The militants have implemented a system of taxes and levies for vehicles carrying goods into the city on Mosul. A large truck is required to pay $400, while smaller ones are charged $100 for crossing into the militant-controlled city.

ISIS has gained significant ground in both Syria and Iraq after its initial assault on the city of Mosul in mid-June. The group has since declared the creation of an Islamic state, or caliphate straddling the Iraq-Syria border and continues to advance towards the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Government security forces have proved to be of little use in stemming the onslaught of the well-armed militant group. ISIS has demanded that Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki step down from office as they threaten to attack the Iraqi capital city.

U.S. ADMITS ITS MH17 ‘EVIDENCE’ IS BASED ON YOUTUBE CLIPS & SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS

AP journalist challenges State Department spokesperson on official narrative

by PAUL JOSEPH WATSON | JULY 22, 2014

In a testy exchange between AP reporter Matt Lee and U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, Lee virtually corners Harf into admitting that the “evidence” presented by the U.S. to blame Russian-backed rebels for the shoot down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 amounts to nothing more than YouTube videos and social media posts.

Lee begins by asking Harf how the U.S. plans to produce “forensic evidence” proving Russian-backed rebels were behind the attack, to which Hard responds by reeling off talking points before stating, “we know, we saw in social media afterwards….of the pro-Russian separatists bragging about shooting down an aircraft.”

“How is it exactly that you know it was fired from separatist held territory?” asks Lee, to which Harf responds that the evidence is based on “communications posted on YouTube by the Ukrainian government.”

“Is there anything other….than social media?” asks Lee. Harf alludes to an “assessment,” before again reeling off talking points (based on social media and YouTube videos) that blame separatist rebels.

“All you’re willing to present publicly that backs up your version of the story, which may well be the correct version of the story,” states Lee before being interrupted by Harf who sardonically retorts, “may well be.”

“I haven’t seen your evidence that shows that the missile was launched from rebel held territory,” continues Lee. “The only thing you’re willing to put out publicly is the social media accounts,” he adds, before citing other social media accounts that dispute the State Department’s version of events.

Harf asserts that any version of events that challenges the State Department’s version (based again on social media posts) is “illogical.” Lee states that the State Department’s evidence would not stand up to an international investigation.

“The Russians have said we’ve put out our radar images which show this Ukrainian plane near at least….why don’t you put out your…,” states Lee before again being interrupted by Harf.

Credit must be given to Matt Lee for doing his job and challenging Harf given that any questioning of the official narrative behind the MH17 shoot down, backed up as it is by the flimsiest of “evidence,” has been demonized as “Russian propaganda,” just as skepticism towards last year’s chemical weapons attack in Syria, which an MIT study later concluded was likely not launched by government forces, was derided as “Assad propaganda.”

Despite the State Department’s insistence that YouTube clips and social media posts can be considered as hard evidence, even the veracity of that material has attracted intense skepticism.

Harf’s mention of social media posts which show rebels “bragging” about bringing down the airliner is likely a reference to a post on the Russian version of Facebook shortly after MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian rebel commander Igor Strelkov. However, as Max Fisher documents, “There are real reasons to doubt that the message was genuine.”

First of all Strelkov’s page “is a fake made by fans,” according to rebels who spoke to Buzzfeed’s Max Seddon, so the words cannot even be attributed to the commander. In addition, the post makes reference to the shoot down not of a civilian airliner but to an Antonov AN-26 military transport plane.

“This casts a bit further doubt on the idea that people fired on the airplane and then posted on VK about it; if someone fired on the plane they likely would have noticed it was a large jet and not a small-ish prop plane,” writes Fisher.

Video of a Buk missile launcher apparently crossing the border back to Russia after the plane was shot down which was cited by Kiev and Washington has also since been debunked. The clip is actually shot in the Ukrainian of town of Krasnoarmeisk, which has been controlled by Kiev since May.

According to audio experts who conducted a forensic analysis, a YouTube video of a conversation between a separatist leader and a Russian military commander which purported to show rebels accepting responsibility for shooting down the airliner is in fact a fabrication.

While Russia has presented actual radar and satellite evidence to back up its contention that Ukrainian fighter jets were following the doomed airliner shortly before the incident, the sum of Kiev and Washington’s proof that separatists were to blame for the shoot down amounts to little more than highly questionable YouTube videos and social media posts.

Kiev has also failed to release air traffic control recordings, which were seized immediately by Ukrainian security forces, which could offer a crucial insight into what was happening in the skies immediately prior to the aircraft being shot down.

While any questioning of the narrative behind the incident has been dismissed by the establishment media as “Russian propaganda,” Russia is the only party to have actually presented anything which could be considered real evidence, whereas Washington and Kiev are still reliant on the sort of proof that would only satisfy the sloppiest of Internet conspiracy theorists.

IRAQI CHRISTIANS FACING A ‘CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY’

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ISIS issued ultimatum to Mosul’s Christians to either convert, pay a tax, leave or face imminent execution

by AL ARABIYA NEWS | JULY 21, 2014

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday that the persecution of Iraqi Christians who have been driven from their homes in Mosul by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants could constitute a crime against humanity, Agence France-Presse reported.

Hundreds of Christian families fled their homes in the northern city Saturday as an ultimatum threatening their community’s centuries-old presence there expired.

Ban “condemns in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of minority populations in Iraq by Islamic State [of Iraq and Syria] and associated armed groups,” a U.N. statement said.

The United Nations chief highlighted that “any systematic attack on the civilian population or segments of the civilian population, because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity.”

The militants, who have run the city for almost six weeks, issued an ultimatum to Mosul’s Christians to either convert, pay a tax, leave or face imminent execution.

The city’s new rulers said there would be “nothing for them but the sword” if Christians did not abide by those conditions by 0900 GMT Saturday.

While some families initially appeared prepared to pay the “jizya” Islamic tribute to stay in their homes, messages broadcast by mosques on Friday sparked an exodus.

Ban was “particularly disturbed by reports of threats against Christians in Mosul and other IS-controlled parts of Iraq,” the statement read.

It added that he was also concerned by “reports that Turkoman, Yazidis and Shabaks are facing abductions, killings or the destruction of their property, and that the homes of Christian, Shia and Shabak residents in Mosul have been marked.”

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion, more than a million Christians lived in Iraq, including more than 600,000 in Baghdad and 60,000 in Mosul, as well as a substantial number in Kirkuk and in Basra.

Until their forced exodus over the weekend, Christians had been continuously present in Mosul for about 16 centuries.

MORE WESTERN FIGHTERS JOINING MILITANTS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA

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Fresh concern about potential terrorist plots aimed at U.S. or its allies

By BRIAN BENNETT, RICHARD A. SERRANO

As many as 10,000 foreign fighters have joined Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq
Militants in Syria, Iraq may include 3,000 with Western passports, perhaps 100 American
U.S. officials alarmed by Westerners’ growing role in Islamic insurgency
Thousands of foreign fighters have bolstered the ranks of militant groups in Syria and Iraq in recent months, according to U.S. officials, driving fresh concern about potential terrorist plots aimed at the United States or its allies.

The surge, as well as intelligence that Yemeni terrorists have developed a powerful cellphone bomb designed to avoid detection at airports, is behind the Obama administration’s increasingly urgent warnings that a European or American passport holder might try to take down a passenger jet or plan other deadly mayhem.

As many as 10,000 foreign fighters — a third more than in February — have joined the militias seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Islamic State fighters who have swept across northern Iraq, said a counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments.

Islamic State
A fighter with the Islamic State insurgent group hands out a copy of the Koran in Mosul, Iraq. The extremist group has proved to be highly organized. (Associated Press)
As many as 3,000 of them hold European or other Western passports and thus can travel easily across most borders. Several dozen, perhaps as many as 100, hold U.S. passports, and officials say that number is growing.

The potential partnership between some of those Westerners and sophisticated bomb makers from the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, long viewed as the terrorist network’s most dangerous offshoot, has raised alarm in Washington and other capitals.

“It’s something that gives us really extreme, extreme concern,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. told ABC News last week. “In some ways, it’s more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general.”

FBI Director James B. Comey told reporters in Washington that the threat “keeps me up at night.” He sees the region as a “launching ground” for potential Sept. 11-style mass-casualty attacks in this country.

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Two U.S. citizens have been arrested on terrorism-related charges since April before boarding flights to Turkey, suspected of being on their way to help the militants. One is said to have paid his way with his federal tax refund. In May, a Florida man became a suicide bomber in northern Syria.

“It’s the largest number of Western fighters we have ever seen in a jihadist theater,” said Seth G. Jones, a former U.S. counter-terrorism official now with the Rand Corp. think tank.

“The scale of this is huge,” said Daniel L. Byman, professor of security studies at Georgetown University in Washington.

Some of the Western militants are joining Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate that is focused on defeating the Assad government in Syria. Others have rallied to the Islamic State, which broke away from Al Qaeda and has seized territory in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Eric Holder
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said he was alarmed by the connection between Westerners and Islamic militant movements. “In some ways, it’s more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general,” he told ABC News. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
Although the rebels in Syria are struggling, the stunning battlefield success of the Islamic State fighters, and its calls for an Islamic caliphate, have energized recruiting efforts for all the militant groups. Several have used YouTube videos of battles and updates posted to Twitter in English to draw supporters to their ranks.

So far the Islamic State has focused only on capturing and consolidating territory in Syria and Iraq, but that could change. The Sunni Muslim group, recently known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is so innovative and is growing so quickly that one U.S. national security official called it the “Silicon Valley” of militant organizations.

“The concern is not what is happening today, but in four or five years,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments. “If they get their own state, take on new projects, turn from looking inward to outward … we want to get in front of it.”

cComments
Those in the Middle East are very seductive as is Islam and factor the matter is that they simply have more emotional intelligence and Westerners don't use logic to rely on emotion seduce young into a very radical system
HARVARD.DISPUTE
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The Transportation Security Administration said early this month that it had asked some overseas airports to stiffen security measures, especially checking cellphones and other electronic devices to make sure they’re not concealing explosives.

Intelligence agencies also have stepped up screening of passenger manifests of flights in and out of Turkey, the main entry point to Syria, officials said. In many cases, would-be fighters take a bus to the border and walk across.

A special counter-terrorism task force of FBI agents and federal prosecutors is investigating dozens of Americans who have traveled or who officials believe intend to travel to Syria to aid the militants, officials said.

“We’re spending a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to identify those who go [to Syria] so we can know who they are when they come back,” Comey told reporters.

It’s the largest number of Western fighters we have ever seen in a jihadist theater.
- Seth G. Jones, a former U.S. counter-terrorism official
The task force leader, veteran prosecutor Stephen Ponticello, joined Holder in Europe this month for meetings with allies that focused on the threat. Holder urged them to share intelligence on suspects, to conduct more undercover investigations and to enact stronger laws criminalizing support for terrorist groups.

The expanding conflict has become “a cradle of violent extremism,” Holder said in a speech in Norway. “But the world cannot simply sit back and let it become a training ground from which our nationals can return and launch attacks.”

With French and British citizens forming the largest bloc of Western passport holders in Syria, authorities in London and Paris already have begun to crack down.

Between January and March, at least 40 people in Britain were arrested on charges related to supporting militant groups in Syria, officials said. The British Home Office, empowered by a law Parliament passed in May, has stripped at least 20 people of their citizenship for suspected terrorism support or disloyalty, British officials said.

France is considering giving authorities additional power to block militant websites that seek to recruit foreign fighters, and to strengthen the ability of police to stop French citizens from traveling abroad to fight.

Americans have joined the conflict in Syria since it began in 2011, and at least one was killed. But their role as foreign fighters was little noticed until this May, when a 22-year-old Florida man blew himself up in a truck packed with explosives in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen government soldiers.

Born in West Palm Beach, Moner Mohammad Abusalha had an American mother and a Palestinian father. Known as “Mo,” he liked to play basketball, was a fan of the Miami Heat and thought of a career as a physical therapist’s assistant.

Abusalha went to Jordan in 2012, telling his family he would study nursing. He instead crossed into Syria and spent two months in an Al Nusra Front training camp, U.S. officials said.

Some Arabic speakers refer to one another by the name of their oldest child, but Abusalha had no children. He loved cats, though, so fighters called him “Abu Hurayra,” which means father of kittens.

After his death, Al Nusra Front posted a propaganda video online that shows Abusalha stroking a gray and white cat and smiling. The video then cuts to a truck, with Abusalha apparently driving, approaching a building. Both are demolished moments later in plumes of fire and smoke.

The Americans arrested in recent months followed a similarly unlikely path.

Michael Wolfe
Michael Wolfe, a Houston native, planned to use his federal tax refund to join Islamic militants in Syria, U.S. prosecutors say. He pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. (Austin Police Department)
Michael Wolfe, a native of Houston, told undercover FBI employees he would use a $5,000 federal income tax refund to take his wife and two children to Turkey and that he would then join the fighting in Syria, according to court documents. He would give any leftover cash to his mother-in-law, he said.

Wolfe, who has slicked-back black hair and a long goatee, was arrested in June by FBI agents at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston as he prepared to board the first in a series of flights to Turkey.

Wolfe pleaded guilty in June to one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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Two months earlier, Shannon Maureen Conley, a 19-year-old nurse’s aide from Arvada, Colo., was arrested at Denver International Airport as she prepared to fly to Adana, Turkey, less than 100 miles from the Syrian border.

Once she got to Syria, according to the charging documents, Conley planned to marry a 32-year-old Tunisian militant whom she had met on the Internet. She planned to use her medical training to help his cause.

Her plans were disrupted after a Faith Bible Chapel pastor in Arvada told local police in November that a young woman was acting suspiciously. Colorado state police called the FBI after Conley told an officer she intended to go overseas to wage jihad, according to the criminal complaint.

Conley told the FBI that she would engage in combat “if absolutely necessary” and that she had briefly joined the U.S. Army Explorers, a nonprofit youth program, to learn basic military skills. FBI agents and Conley’s parents could not persuade her to change her mind, the documents state.

cComments
Those in the Middle East are very seductive as is Islam and factor the matter is that they simply have more emotional intelligence and Westerners don't use logic to rely on emotion seduce young into a very radical system
HARVARD.DISPUTE
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She was arrested at the airport on April 8. FBI agents who searched her luggage found DVDs labeled “Anwar al-Awlaki,” the name of the American-born cleric and leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Recordings of Awlaki’s English-language speeches are seen as powerful recruiting tools for Al Qaeda.

She pleaded not guilty on April 22 to a single count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

ISLAMIC STATE KILLED 270 IN SYRIAN GAS FIELD BATTLE

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Islamic State has made rapid gains in Syria

(Reuters) – Militant group Islamic State killed 270 soldiers, guards and staff when they captured a Syrian gas field on Thursday in the bloodiest clash yet between the al Qaeda offshoot and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a monitoring group said on Saturday.

The anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday that 90 people had been killed and that many were missing after the attack against the Sha’ar gas field east of Homs in central Syria.

But on Saturday, the Observatory, which monitors violence in Syria through a network of sources in the country on both sides, quoted “trusted sources” as saying that the Islamic State had “killed and executed” 270 people during the assault. It said at least 40 Islamic State fighters were killed in the offensive.

Islamic State has made rapid gains in Syria, mostly by seizing territory from rival rebel groups, using weaponry brought in from Iraq where last month it managed to take large areas from government forces.

It was not immediately possible to verify the Observatory’s report. Syrian state media made no mention of the attack.

About 30 people had managed to escape to the nearby Hajjar field, the Observatory report added.

Activists say the Syrian air force has in recent weeks stepped up attacks on positions held by Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

Islamic State fighters have previously taken control of oilfields in Iraq as well as in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zor province. The group was once the Iraqi affiliate of al Qaeda, but al Qaeda disowned it in February after tensions mounted over its expansion into Syria.

Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” in the areas where it operates in Iraq and Syria. There the group has imposed Islamic law, carrying out harsh penalties including several executions.

In Raqqa in eastern Syria, two women were stoned to death for adultery, the Observatory said. One was killed on Friday and one on Saturday, according to the report, which could not immediately be corroborated.

More than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which started as a peaceful protest movement in 2011 but descended into a multifaceted civil war after a government crackdown.

Convert, pay or die: Iraqi Christians flee Mosul after Islamic State ultimatum

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The Islamic State has issued an ultimatum to the Christians in the town of Mosul in northern Iraq, urging them to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or face death.

The statement by the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, warned that the Christians had until Saturday to “leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate.”

“After this date, there is nothing between us and them but the sword,” the statement said.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which is the previous former name for the Islamic State, captured Mosul as part of a large-scale offensive in July, which resulted in the declaration of a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria earlier this month.

Messages warning Christians about the ultimatum were announced through loudspeakers on the city’s mosques.

Church leaders advised the few families who wanted to negotiate with militants that they should also flee for their own safety. The exodus went on in Mosul throughout Friday, with all the Christians abandoning the town by the end of the day.

“Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Arbil, [in the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan],” Patriarch Louis Sako told AFP. “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) celebrate while sitting on vehicles in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014. (Reuters / Stringer)Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) celebrate while sitting on vehicles in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014. (Reuters / Stringer)

The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq said that, in recent days, the Islamic State militants had been tagging Christian houses with the letter N. which stands for “Nassarah” – the way Christian are referred to in the Koran.

“We were shocked by the distribution of a statement by the Islamic State calling on Christians to convert to Islam, or to pay unspecified tribute, or to leave their city and their homes taking only their clothes and no luggage, and that their homes would then belong to the Islamic State,” Sako said.

“We have lived in this city and we have had a civilisation for thousands of years – and suddenly some strangers came and expelled us from our homes,” a woman in her 60s told Reuters. On Friday, she had to flee for Hamdaniya, a mainly Christian town controlled by Kurdish security forces to the southeast of Mosul.

The events in Mosul, which is home to the tomb of the Biblical and Koranic prophet Jonah, echo the decree, which ISIS issued in the Syrian city of Raqqa in February, ordering the local Christians pay tax in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.

Mosul lies across the Tigris river from the ancient city of Nineveh, at the heart of Mesopotamia. It used to have a Christian population of around 100,000 a decade ago, but the numbers decreased drastically due to waves of attacks on Christians following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Locals estimate the town’s Christian population at around 5,000 ahead of the Islamic State takeover. But they said that all, except around 200 people, have left Mosul during the last months as it was controlled by the Islamists.

ISIS surge: Over 270 killed in Syria, former US base stormed in Iraq’s Tikrit

Capture

Capture

The Islamic State militant group is on the rise in Iraq and Syria after crushing Baghdad’s plans to retake Tikrit. Hundreds of troops have been captured and 270 people were murdered in a Syrian gas field following the jihadists’ biggest attack yet.

ISIS gunmen stormed a former US base in Tikrit, a city the group has held since June 11 and government forces have battled unsuccessfully to reclaim. The latest failed attempt marks what may be the army’s final push to reclaim the lost ground.

According to McClatchy DC, witnesses testified that by Friday the last of the government troops had surrendered to ISIS, and Camp Speicher had fallen. Officials in Baghdad declined to give comment, while the terrorist group boasted on Twitter about the losses the government had incurred. Statements from local residents corroborated the story.

The last pocket of government troops attempting to recapture Tikrit reportedly consisted of 700 troops, accompanied by more than a 100 Iranians, according to one local resident. He added that plenty of government equipment has been captured or destroyed in the process. The militants had previously captured millions of dollars in army equipment, which they paraded through every area they seized.

“They were being bombarded and mortared all night, and by Friday morning you could see burning helicopters everywhere and the fighting had stopped,” the resident told the news portal. Many executions were also allegedly carried out, while some prisoners were paraded through Tikrit – Saddam Hussein’s birthplace.

The campaign has been viewed as one of the most potent successes of the terrorist faction on the Iraqi battlefield.

AFP Photo / Ahmed DeebAFP Photo / Ahmed Deeb

Meanwhile, ISIS also appears to be on the ascendency in Syria. According to reports, at least 270 Syrian troops and civilians died Thursday at the hands of ISIS in Homs province, when a seized gas field was set ablaze, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Like with Iraq, the watchdog is calling this the “biggest” success of the jihadist group in the country.

“A large majority of the men killed were executed at gunpoint after being taken prisoner following the takeover of the camp,” the group’s director Rami Abdel said. “Eleven of the dead were civilian employees, while the rest were security guards and National Defence Forces members,” he continued.

“Thirty martyrs were brought to Homs hospital from the Shaar gas field… Homs is still bleeding,” a pro-government Twitter user was quoted by The Telegraph as saying. He called the events a “massacre,” although no official comment from the Syrian government was given.

The anti-Assad Observatory also reported on the deaths of 40 ISIS fighters in the offensive. About 30 people managed to escape the violence into the neighboring Hajjar field, according to the group.

There is talk of bloody footage filmed by ISIS, in which fighters pose with corpses. One fighter celebrating the killings speaks a mixture of German and Arabic.

The news was followed by condemnation from The Observatory.

“Summary execution is a war crime – whether of civilians or combatants. They are prisoners of war and must not be executed,” Abdel Rahman said.

The latest violence comes on the heels of a UN report detailing the militant group’s activities. The document tells of 5,000 Iraqi deaths at its hands, many of whom were women and children.

The Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” in areas it captured in both Iraq and Syria, while the harshest and most unforgiving form of Islamic Sharia law has been imposed.

In Eastern Syria, in Raqqa, two women were stoned to death on Friday and Saturday for adultery, the report by the Observatory claims.

The death toll in the Syrian conflict, meanwhile, has climbed to 170,000 following three-plus years of fighting.