ISIS Developments Before March, 2016
In December, 2015, Great Britain joined the US in air strikes in Iraq and Syria. This is the first time that the U.K. has participated in military action against ISIS in the Middle East and represents a significant shift in British attitudes. Their first attack destroyed a refinery that ISIS used to help finance its operations. ISIS’ loss of such refineries and other money-making ventures has required them to cut their soldiers’ pay in half.
An airstrike killed a top ISIS leader named Omar al-Shishani, who according to the Pentagon was the Islamic State’s minister of war. . Beginning in March 2013 he became the chief military leader in northern Syria and led many assaults on Syrian military bases. He was considered one of the most influential military leaders in Syria.
On this day the US killed the second ranking person in ISIS, Abu Alaa Afri, also known as Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, through a drone and air strike that killed a total of 12 additional ISIS leaders. That strike apparently wounded him. Then a raid by Special Forces killed him. Al-Qaduli was a key player in ISIS because he managed all their money and also connected them with other terrorist organizations and their allies. He was jailed in Iraq by US forces in 2012. After being released he joined al-Qaeda. At one time he was considered Bin Laden’s likely successor. Instead, he eventually chose to follow Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, and became his top deputy.[i]
These leaders will be replaced, of course. However, we should not minimize their charisma, experience and connections. In many cases these are irreplaceable. For example, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s replacement in al-Qaeda, has not been nearly as dynamic a leader as bin Laden, which is why we hear much less about al-Qaeda nowadays than we used to.
Also on this day Russia began withdrawing its forces from Syria in a move that will leave the Syrian government to fend for itself to a much greater extent–though with a greatly improved hand in negotiations over the country’s future. This is due largely to Russian airstrikes which strengthened its position in Syria.
The first group of Russian planes left Hmeymim air base in Syria on that morning, the Russian Defense Ministry said. What this means is that there will be no more attacks against the anti-ISIS forces and no more support for government forces loyal to the regime. This will give the Kurds and others a freer hand in their fight against ISIS.
Bombs packed with nails terrorized Brussels on March 22nd in the deadliest assault on the European heartland since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris four months ago, hitting the airport and subway system in coordinated strikes that were claimed by the militant extremist group.
34 people were killed by two blasts at the Brussels airport departure area around 8 a.m. and one in a subway station shortly after 9. The police found at least one other unexploded bomb in a search of a Brussels house hours later. More than 230 people, including people from around the world, were wounded in the three blasts. On March 25 PBS reported that 10 people involved have either been killed or arrested in connection with these attacks.
In the poor inner-city areas of Brussels, deprivation, petty crime and radicalization appear to have gone hand in hand. This densely populated district of Brussels, called Molenbeek, is just a few minutes away from the heart of the European Union, but it has 40% youth unemployment. The BBC’s Secunder Kermani has been finding out how drinking, smoking cannabis and fighting-combined with resentment towards white Belgian society for its perceived discrimination against Arabs-prepared some young men for a role as fighters in Syria, and terrorists in Europe.[ii]
It has been clear that Belgium, and this area in particular, had become a breeding ground for Islamist extremists. Hundreds of Belgian Muslims—as many as 500, according to one estimate — have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, making Belgium by far Europe’s leading supplier of foreign jihadists. Last November’s horrific slaughter in Paris was masterminded by a Belgian radical, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and at least four of the men who carried out those attacks were from the Brussels district of Molenbeek. One of them was Salah Abdeslam, who was captured in Molenbeek on March 19 after an intense manhunt.
For Islamist imams and terrorist ringleaders, such neighborhoods— heavily Muslim, densely populated, with high unemployment and crime rates— have proved fertile territory for recruiting violent jihadists. “There is almost always a link with Molenbeek.”[iii]
Like other countries, Belgium has been very slow to recognize the tinderbox of resentment that exists in such ghettos. Now it is paying the price. This doesn’t excuse terrorism, but one of the most important ways to stop or slow ISIS recruitment is to deal with the social problems of Muslim ghettos like this one.
Palmyra Castle was taken from ISIS by the Syrian army on March 25 as it marched toward the terror fighters commanding the ancient city of Palmyra, state-run media said. The army, joined by popular defense groups, took control over the Syriatel hill near the Palmyra Castle. The government forces destroyed ISIS hideouts, leaving a number of terrorists killed and others fleeing toward Palmyra, Syria’s state news agency SANA said, citing an unidentified military source. The Syrian army took possession of the entire city on Sunday, March 27.
ISIS took the city in May 2015. Soon after, they began destroying many priceless ancient treasures around the city. One example is this 1800 year old Arch of Triumph erected by the ancient Romans after one of their conquests. It also destroyed the temple shown below built in the first century of our era.