The streets themselves portray a deceptive and surreal kind of war “normalcy,” the kind where pockmarked buildings, mortar holes on the roads, shredded cars, even bloodstained sidewalks are the usual and expected sights as people go about their daily lives without a second glance. This is life now, this is reality here. What it was like before the war is no longer relevant, the memories of those distant and beautiful bygone days do not matter or factor in any more.
Fear is palpable in this city; it hangs heavy in the air everywhere you go, like a potent and nauseous perfume. You can see it in people's eyes, in the deep lines on their faces; you can hear it in the way they talk; it’s in their conversations, it’s all they ever talk about.
But fear of a new kind permeates this ancient and deeply rooted community. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are very real threats that haunt the collective conscience of Syria’s Christians. The terrible fate that befell their co-religionists across the border in Mosul has driven these points home in a rather blunt and frightening way. The genocidal, nihilistic death cult of the Islamic State (IS) is hell-bent on destroying everything that is not exactly it, and has been on an unstoppable rampage which has left a trail of decapitated bodies and mass graves in its wake, usually those of ethnic and religious minorities. The militants make no secret of their genocidal campaigns of mass murder and medieval violence; on the contrary, they openly celebrate with glee and revel in them. It is not a means to an end; for them, it is the end itself.
Yousef is a shopkeeper in the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Sulaimaniyah, which has seen almost constant rebel shelling since the civil war divided Aleppo in July 2012. His brother serves in the Syrian army in Damascus. In conversation, he conveyed to me some of the predominant questions and anxieties going through his community.
“Why aren’t the moderate Muslims doing more to stop the extremists in their midst?” he asked bitterly. “Do they agree with their ideology and extremism? We saw hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets against the abuses of the regime, so why are we not now seeing those thousands of protesters against what IS is doing? Worse, we are now seeing many people and rebel groups joining them. There are so many hundreds of these Islamic rebel groups, but they are all the same, they all have this extremist ideology against us. My conclusion is that these groups and IS are fully supported and backed in what they are doing by the anti-government forces."
The Christians of Syria had for the most part tried to stay out of the country’s raging civil conflict, but had often found themselves embroiled in its messy and bloody events. On more than one occasion, the Christians became the focal point of action, as in Maaloula, Yabrud and Kassab, as well as high- profile kidnappings of nuns and clerics.
But there are voices starting to question whether they should remain neutral in a conflict which they view as having mutated to blatantly targeting them and threatening their community with annihilation. Many believe that taking up arms, at least for self-defense, is a wise choice, but others feel it would only further enrage and inflame their worst enemies, spurring them into perpetrating even more heinous crimes.
As with many of West Aleppo’s inhabitants, some Christians too have fled the violence that has torn apart their city; many will never return. But unlike the mass exodus of Christians seen elsewhere, Aleppo’s Christians have largely stayed in their city, suggesting that Aleppo’s Christian community remains attached to its ancestral home, and are an integral part of the city’s diverse social, ethnic and cultural mosaic.
But fear of the kind of ethnic cleansing that is being seen in Iraq strikes deep. George, a mechanic who owns a garage in Sulaimaniyah, told me, “The Christians of Aleppo will not stay if the regime loses control of the city. They will be finished here, maybe for good. The takfiri jihadists will make sure of that. Their plan is to clear the nation of all non-Sunni people. They are now using fear tactics and propaganda to intimidate people to leave even before they arrive; it’s that easy. This is why they do all their grisly crimes on camera, to win without firing a bullet. And when they enter new areas, they burn down our churches and confiscate our homes and businesses. They want to erase all traces of us from our own lands. What kind of message are they spreading? Why would you want someone to join your religion by the threat of death?”
George accuses the West of being complicit in the removal of Christians from the Middle East. “Why didn’t the United States take military action when the ISIS persecuted Christians in Raqqa and Mosul? Why only now when it is Yazidis being targeted? There is a plot to remove all Christians from the Middle East, it is crazy, the West has the same plan as the terrorists for us! It is clear, look, now France is taking in all Christian refugees from Iraq, but in Mali it sent in its army to defeat the terrorists. Are they only terrorists in Iraq and Mali, but revolutionaries in Syria?”
Many of the points Yousef and George raised were being echoed across the Christian community in Aleppo, indicating their shared predicament and anxieties no matter what their political affiliations. Not all Christians in Aleppo support the regime; in fact, a large number of them do not, but equally significant is that you won’t find any that support the rebels, either.
The recent repeated rebel shelling of the Syriac Catholic Church, a large and iconic building in the heart of the old Christian community at Azizeh, is seen by many as a clear message by the rebels, revealing their true intent toward their community.
“There is no more need for the pretense of liberation and freedom.” Yousef said, “They [rebels] have successfully sold that to the outside world while they pursue their real agendas inside Syria in broad daylight.”
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Thursday, August 21, 2014
Here is more on James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS.
Go here for video of Foley speaking to journalism students.
Back in the US, a group of about ten of us at the Atlantic, USA Today, and Global Post spent the month and a half that Jim and company were in captivity agitating for their release. I'm certain most or all of it was useless, but it made us feel a little less helpless: harassing State Department officials, fumbling for useful contacts in the region, organizing media coverage. The one useful thing we did was meet with the families. While we intended to help them, it usually became the opposite. They had Jim and Clare's courage and dedication and that kept us going. By the time the journalists were freed and returned home, they were just meeting me for the first time, but I felt like I'd known them for years.
A year later, Jim disappeared near Aleppo while reporting on Syria's civil war, presumed kidnapped by people even more monstrous than Moammar Qaddafi's regime. On Tuesday, after over a year of silence, the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posted a video of his death, and the death of his family's hope that Jim would ever come home.
The circumstances of Jim's final moments are unspeakable. But to ignore them would be a disservice to the truth-telling mission that he so often risked, and ultimately gave, his life for. An ISIS jihadist with a British accent, dressed in all black and his face covered, stands over Jim in some dusty, barren corner of the Middle East. Jim, dressed in orange and wearing a lapel microphone, is forced to kneel and recite a statement calling on Americans to "rise up against my real killer, the US government." After this final humiliation, he is beheaded.
My own interactions with Jim after he came home from Libya were scarce, but enough to glimpse the unfailing generosity and warmth that made him so beloved among his friends. Jim's faith was something we all agreed not to discuss publicly while he was held in Syria, but it was the wellspring of his generosity. He had been freed from his own harrowing captivity in Libya for only a few days when he took it upon himself to help organize a memorial fund for Anton Hammerl, a South African photographer who had been killed in Libya a few feet from Jim and Clare on the day they were kidnapped, and who had left a wife and child behind. I helped Jim with this some, though I now wish I'd done more, and I helped him get his gear out of Libya. We exchanged a few emails, mostly about Anton's family.
Mostly I knew Jim through Clare, who spoke and wrote at great length about how his kindness and unfading spirit had gotten her through their time in Libyan captivity, which was often uncertain.
"When we were detained in Tripoli, Jim automatically turned his energies to keeping up our strength and hope," she wrote in May 2013 in the publication Syria Deeply. "We shared a cell for two and a half weeks, and every day he came up with lists for us to talk through. Top 10 movies. Favorite books." When he allowed himself to worry, it was about his loved ones. "What grieved Jim most about detention was the worry he knew he was causing his family."
"Everybody, everywhere, takes a liking to Jim as soon as they meet him," she wrote, which I believe is true. In a 2011 essay in the Atlantic about their ordeal: "He tended to address other men as 'brother' within seconds of meeting them."
From Reuters via MSN:
A Saudi Arabian judge has upheld a sentence of a month in prison and 50 lashes for a businesswoman convicted of insulting members of the morality police during an argument, the local al-Medina newspaper reported on Sunday.
Incidents of heavy-handed behavior by the morality police have come under growing criticism on social media from inside the kingdom in recent years, straining relations between Saudi citizens and the official body.
The appeals court in Mecca upheld the sentence, passed by a district court in Jeddah, after the woman was found guilty of "cursing the morality police" and calling them "liars", the Arabic-language daily reported.
It said the patrol had entered her cafe to check there were no breaches of morality or other laws in the conservative Muslim kingdom, and that some of her employees had then run away because they were breaking immigration rules.
The morality police, formally called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, was set up in 1926 to monitor public behavior in Saudi Arabia, which follows the strict Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.
It patrols streets and other public spaces such as shopping malls enforcing strict dress codes and 30-minute store closures during Islam's noon, afternoon, sunset and evening prayers.
In 2012 King Abdullah sacked the head of the religious police after a series of controversies including footage of members harassing families in a shopping mall going viral online and fatal crashes after patrols engaged in car chases with suspects.
The new head, Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, has publicly pushed a more conciliatory approach, talking about training sessions for the morality police to ensure they are politer and do not exceed their legal powers.
However, the force has still been embroiled in a series of controversies over the past two years including more fatal car chases.
Saudi Arabia's Sharia justice system gives extensive control to judges who can base their verdicts and sentencing on their own interpretation of religious texts rather than using official sentencing guidelines or a system of precedent.
King Abdullah and Justice Minister Mohammed al-Issa have pushed reforms aimed at standardizing sentencing, but analysts say implementation has been slow as conservative judges and officials in the Justice Ministry have blocked change.
Posted by Women Against Shariah
From Jihad Watch:
In Tripoli, roaming bands of armed Salafis—Muslims who seek to follow the example of Islam’s prophet as literally as possible—went door to door of the city’s jewelry stores, ordering the owners to stop selling any crosses or Christian icons.
“Immediately thereafter,” report Arabic media, “the store owners collected all the crosses and Christian icons and delivered them to their Christian villages outside of Tripoli. Other store owners hid the Christian crosses and icons deeply, in the hopes of transferring them somewhere later, because they live in Tripoli and have no outside Christian villages to deliver the banned Christian items to.”
Islamic enmity for Christians has been expressing itself regularly in Libya after the U.S. supported “Arab Spring” came there: Christians—including Americans—have been tortured and killed (including for refusing to convert) and churches bombed. It’s “open season” on Copts, as jihadis issue a reward to Muslims who find and kill Christians. This was not the case under Gaddafi.
From The Express Tribune:
Over a dozen teenagers who were being trained by militants in North Waziristan Agency have returned to their native village of Sheikhan on the outskirts of the city, on instruction from their ‘trainers’. While their families are delighted to see them, a fear lingers that the mindset of these boys may have been changed forever.
Elders tell The Express Tribune that around 25 boys, aged between 14 and 18, were taken from the village over the last five months, leaving their families in a state of despair. Half returned after the start of the military operation in NWA.
“These youngsters were recruited by the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and other militant agents whose volunteers regularly come to mosques and appeal for charity, in addition to brainwashing these boys,” says one of the elders. He adds that although JeM is banned, it continues to operate in the area, as the local police do not interfere with it.
“These teenagers were missing till the start of the military operation; only the occasional word on them would come from returning boys,” says the elder. “The anxious parents were told that their sons are well and are undergoing training at Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) camps in NWA.” He adds that the boys have been asked by their trainers to return home and wait for further instructions.
Suleman, whose 16-year-old son has returned from NWA, is glad to have him back but is terrified of what the future might hold for his boy.
“My son is now a militant and has been brainwashed completely. I am worried that law enforcement agencies could pick him up for interrogation,” he says. Although Suleman despises the idea of his son being used as a pawn in this so-called jihad, he says the families are too weak to protest.
“This outfit has been allowed to work under the cover of ‘mujahideen’ and recruits fresh blood for the TTP without drawing any attention,” says Suleman. “If we complain, the police say this is a game being played by the agencies.” He adds that while half the boys have returned, their favourite pastime now is either listening to jihadi poems or attending hujras.
Meanwhile, another elder believes the police have turned a blind eye to militant activities.
“There is more than one player in the area. Lashkar-e-Islam also takes youngsters away, but in smaller numbers. There were three boys of our village who were taken by LI and now fight for them,” he explains.
The elder says the trend of boys being recruited for the TTP emerged over the last six months.
“They initially brainwashed a batch of five boys, who went on to recruit more people for the banned organisation,” adds the elder. “Those lacking physical strength were sent back home, but most of the teenagers were strong enough. The youngsters are attracted to such a lifestyle as it is different from the mundane routine of school and relieves them of constant parental supervision.”
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Wednesday, August 20, 2014
From Catholic Online:
If you have followed the horrifying stories of Christians in Iraq, you know that these peaceful people have been deprived of literally everything. They have not simply lost businesses, homes and cars, but also their money, their personal effects, literally everything but the clothes on their backs.
Your Catholic Voice Foundation is continuing in its sincere and faithful mission to save and support Chaldean Catholics displaced by the Islamic State in northern Iraq. These amazing and resilient people belong to some of the oldest Christian communities and societies on the planet. This is literally true, their Christian communities easily date to the time of the earliest apostles.
Despite their ancient, fruitful and peaceful presence - they have never fought wars against their neighbors - they have been systematically rooted out of their homes and forced to flee. Those who stayed behind have been killed in one of the world's most shocking acts of genocide in decades.
For those who have fled, the stories are all identical. Upon arriving at the outskirts of Mosul and other communities, they were forced to pass through a checkpoint. All Christians were searched thoroughly before being sent into 120 degree heat of the Iraqi desert, deprived of everything.
And we mean everything.
Pockets were emptied of everything, jewelry was confiscated, even wedding rings. Rosaries were stolen for their value in gold and silver. When one woman in Mosul was unable to remove her gold wedding ring, they cut off her finger to get at it.
Bibles, some old family heirlooms treasured by those who carried them, were taken at gunpoint, tossed into piles and later burned to cries of "Allah ackbar!"
Even little children carrying their favorite toy, the only thing to pacify those who had no idea what was happening or why, had their last toy stripped from their hands and smashed or ripped as they cried in horror.
No person was spared. The elderly were stripped of medication and water was confiscated, greedily consumed by checkpoint guards, or poured into the dry earth ...
Posted by Women Against Shariah
From St. Louis Jewish Light:
A Swedish woman wearing a star of David was attacked while walking through a largely Muslim neighborhood in central Sweden.
Anna Sjogren, who is Jewish, discussed the attack on Monday with the World Zionist Organization Center for Countering Antisemitism.
Sjogren was attacked Aug. 14 while walking in Gottsunda, a suburb of the city of Uppsala in central Sweden, according to a report by the Israeli daily Maariv. Sjogren told the newspaper that the incident began when a Muslim girl saw that Sjogren was wearing a Star of David around her neck and spit on her. Sjogren then pushed the girl in retaliation, whereupon she was attacked by a group of Muslim teenagers, whom Sjogren said were wearing scarves with colors of the Palestinian flag.
The attack left Sjogren bruised, with her eyes swollen and her jaw so badly damaged that she was initially unable to speak after the attack.
Sjogren told Maariv that she had not told the Swedish police for fear that giving her name and address would leave her vulnerable to further attack.
Sjogren is reportedly helping to plan a Sept. 7 rally in support of Israel in conjunction with the WZO, something she was involved with before the attack.
Posted by Women Against Shariah
From Daily Star:
Clips have been uploaded in recent weeks on the video sharing site YouTube showing both southern Philippines-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf rebels pledging support to ISIS.
"We have an alliance with ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama told AFP by telephone Friday, referring to the brutal jihadist group's leader.
Misry confirmed that a YouTube video uploaded Wednesday, showing a purported BIFF leader flanked by armed men reading a statement of support for the ISIS, had come from his group.
BIFF split in 2008 from the Philippines' main Muslim rebel group, the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The latter signed a peace agreement with President Benigno Aquino's government last March.
BIFF, which is believed to have a few hundred fighters, has rejected the peace talks and pursued the decades-old armed campaign to establish an Islamic state in the southern Philippines which was begun by the MILF.
Abu Misry, described by the Philippine military as a BIFF spokesman, said his group had no plans to impose the radical ISSI brand of Islam in the Southeast Asian nation.
Beheadings, mass executions and the taking of child brides have marked the ISIS campaign across large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Abu Misry said his group had not sent any fighters from the Philippines to help ISIS, nor was it recruiting people to join ISIS.
"But if they need our help, why not?" he added.
Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for a southern Philippines-based army division, described BIFF as a "terrorist" group engaged in extortion to finance its activities.
"There's no evidence that Filipino fighters are being sent there (to Syria and Iraq)," Hermoso told AFP, while adding that both BIFF and ISIS followed an "extreme" brand of Islam.
A purported Abu Sayyaf video has also been uploaded on Youtube showing one of the group's most senior leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, mentioning Baghdadi as he read out a statement that pledged allegiance to ISIS.
He was filmed linking arms with more than a dozen men, some with faces swathed in fabric, as they stood at a forest clearing to pray and listen to his statement.
Hapilon carries a $5 million reward on his head by the United States which considers his group a "foreign terror organization" engaged in beheadings, bombings, and kidnappings.
Philippine military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala dismissed the video clips.
"This is propaganda and we will not give these terrorists the satisfaction by commenting," Zagala told AFP.
The death toll from Boko Haram's takeover of the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza is nearly 1,000, not the 100 included in many reports, Nigerian relations expert Adeniyi Ojutiku told Baptist Press.
The Nigerian military abandoned their weapons and fled Gwoza as Boko Haram attacked Wednesday (Aug. 6), burning government buildings, killing residents and taking hostages. Some residents managed to flee to the mountains bordering Cameroon and are without food or water; others made it 85 miles north to Maiduguri, Associated French Press (AFP) and others reported.
News surfaced just today (Aug. 15) of a separate Aug. 10 attack on the remote village of Doron Baga in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram kidnapped dozens of boys and men, leaving women, girls and young children abandoned there.
Boko Haram has escalated its attacks to a new level, capturing towns and hoisting Boko Haram flags instead of killing residents and fleeing, Ojutiku said. He compared them to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As such, a concerted global effort is needed to conquer the rebels, he said.
Weeks before taking over Gwoza, Boko Haram violently seized Damboa and killed many in the town 22 miles north of Chibok, the site of the April kidnapping of 300 school girls, approximately 223 of which remain missing. Reports number those displaced at more than 15,000, but the number of deaths had not been reported.
"This is a new dimension in this crisis," Ojutiku said. "A completely new dimension. Now they are following the strategy of ISIS. They attack, they occupy, they hold the town. Now that they have started adopting ISIS methodology, they should be receiving the type of treatment that ISIS is receiving."
Based on a report Ojutiku received Wednesday, Aug. 13, from a trusted colleague who lives in Gwoza, 997 had been killed and others had been taken hostage. Previous reports were based on information gathered Aug. 6, the day of the attack, when survivors were forced to flee the city of between 50,000 and 70,000 people.
"The terrorists seized a number of residents as hostages and killed nine hundred and ninety seven an eye witness whose mother among the women that are burying the ... bodies confirmed," the colleague reported to Ojutiku. "The insurgents took over the Emirs (mayor's) Palace as well as a Government Lodge in Gwoza, and have appointed a replacement for the town's fleeing Emir. They have hoisted their black flags with Arabic insignia all over Gwoza in a show of their total control of the territory."
A predawn, Aug. 13 phone call Ojutiku received from Nigeria marked "an unprecedented emergency request for prayers for the inhabitants of the Christian village of Gwoza," he told Baptist Press.
"The town has ... been under siege of Boko Haram for the past nine days," Ojutiku said.
Mbitsa, who supports Ojutiku's grassroots Lift Up Now outreach to Nigeria, is a member of the Church of Christ in Nations on the lower coast of Gwoza, and was away in Maiduguri during the attack. Boko Haram killed Mbitsa's pastor Musa Ishaya and at least nine members of the Church of the Brethren in the attack, Mbitsa said. He has not heard from many since, as communication towers were destroyed.
"Only my elder brother, I heard from him among my family members," Mbitsa reported. "Some brethren who escaped to mountains and bush for ten days now; only God knows how they are surviving without food, water, etc. Most of the brethren we communicate and get this information from them, their batteries are down."
As Boko Haram blocked exit roads from Gwoza and went door to door killing people, Ojutiku said, Nigerian military officials abandoned their weapons and fled, leaving Boko Haram unchallenged.
"Now these weapons have fallen into the hands of the Boko Haram," Ojutiku said. "A few people were able to escape to the mountainside, just exactly like is happening in northern Iraq. A few people are holding out on the mountains, but most of the people in the village are being slaughtered. There is no communication between Gwoza and other parts of the country."
"I was told many Nigerian soldiers refused to go and confront Boko Haram, because their wives protested. They felt they were just sending their husbands to an untimely death."
New reports corroborated Ojutiku's account. According to AFP, about 300 women and 500 children protested for two days at the gates of a military base in Maiduguri, demanding that their husbands and fathers not be sent to recapture Gwoza, as they did not have proper weapons.
"No weapons for our husbands, no trip to Gwoza or any volatile place," AFP Aug. 12 quoted Thabita John, one of the protesting wives. "We are tired of burying our loved ones."
Boko Haram, seeking to establish Sharia law, had killed 4,239 Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians in attacks targeting religious communities in Northern Nigeria, advocacy group Jubilee Campaign reported July 29. Hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes.
In the video posted Tuesday on YouTube, Foley is seen kneeling next to a man dressed in black. Foley reads a message, presumably scripted by his captors, that his "real killer'' is America.
"I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again," he can be heard saying in the video.
He is then shown being beheaded.
"We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by (ISIS)," NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. "The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available."
ISIS has carried out executions, including beheadings, as part of its effort to establish an Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria into Iraq. In many cases, ISIS -- which refers to itself as the Islamic State -- has videotaped the executions and posted them online.
Foley disappeared on November 22, 2012, in northwest Syria, near the border with Turkey. He was reportedly forced into a vehicle by gunmen; he was not heard from again. At the time of his disappearance, he was working for the GlobalPost.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Facebook group set up to support Foley and his family, "Free James Foley," wrote, "We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers. Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers."
The video also shows another American journalist. His life is said by the militant in the video, who speaks English in what sounds to be a British accent, to hang in the balance, depending on what Obama does next.
The journalist is believed to be Steven Sotloff, who was kidnapped at the Syria-Turkey border in 2013. Sotloff is a contributor to Time and Foreign Policy magazines.
As a freelancer, Foley picked up work for a number of major media outlets, including Agence France-Presse and GlobalPost.
"On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim's possible execution first broke," Philip Balboni, GlobalPost CEO and co-founder, said in a published statement, referring to James Foley's parents.
"We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. Until we have that determination, we will not be in a position to make any further statement. We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family."
Foley had previously been taken captive in Libya. He was detained there in April 2011 along with three other reporters and released six weeks later ...