Al-Qaeda wing merges with ISIL in border town

Updated 26 June 2014
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Al-Qaeda wing merges with ISIL in border town

BEIRUT: Al-Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot issued a loyalty pledge on Wednesday to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at a tinderbox town on the Iraqi border, a monitor said.
The merger is significant as it opens the way for ISIL to take control of both sides of the border at Albu Kamal in Syria and Al-Qaim in Iraq, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
ISIL — which aspires to create an Islamic state that straddles Iraq and Syria — has spearheaded a lightning jihadist offensive that has captured swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad this month.
After months of clashes between the two sides, Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian arm, the Al-Nusra Front, “pledged loyalty to ISIL” in Albu Kamal, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“The pledge comes amid advances by ISIL in Deir Ezzor province” in eastern Syria on the Iraqi border, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
An ISIL jihadist confirmed the reports on Twitter, and posted a photograph showing an Egyptian Al-Nusra Front commander shaking hands with a ISIL leader of Chechen origin.

Tension could worsen
Although both ISIL and the Al-Nusra are rooted in Al-Qaeda, the two have been rivals for much of the time that ISIL has been involved in Syria’s civil war since spring last year.
“They are rivals, but both groups are jihadist and extremists. This move will create tension now with other rebel groups, including Islamists, in the area,” said Abdel Rahman.
An opposition activist in Albu Kamal told AFP via the Internet that “there is a lot of tension, and the situation is only going to get worse.”
Using a pseudonym for security reasons, Hadi Salameh also said the merger would “cause a big problem with the local tribes, who will not welcome this change.”
Another activist said the merger comes days after local rebel brigades who had been working with Al-Nusra Front signed a declaration excluding the official Al-Qaeda branch from the Islamic court, which acts as the de facto authority in many rebel areas of Syria.
“The loyalty oath (to ISIL) comes after tension between Al-Nusra and the local rebels,” said the activist, Abdel Salam Al-Hussein.
He also said hundreds of thousands of people, including displaced families from neighboring Iraq as well as flashpoint areas in Syria, are living in Albu Kamal, and that it would be a “catastrophe” if fighting broke out in the town.
Hussein said: “ISIL fighters are now positioned at the entry of Albu Kamal, on the Iraqi side.”
He added: “The situation is very sad. We have lost everything.”
Meanwhile, the Syrian air force carried out air raids targeting ISIL-controlled Raqa in the north of the country and Muhassen in the east.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has rarely targeted ISIL bastions, except in recent days after the group and other Sunni militants launched an offensive in Iraq, wresting control of Mosul and other parts of Iraq.
ISIL aspires to create an Islamic state that straddles Iraq and Syria.
A Syrian government newspaper reiterated frequent regime claims that the United States and Israel are behind the rising violence, and that they are vying to “divide Syria along sectarian and religious lines.”


Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

Updated 24 April 2019
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Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

  • Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country
  • The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation

PRISTINA: Kosovo prosecutors have requested the house arrest of 16 women repatriated from Syria, saying they are suspected of joining or taking part as foreign fighters there.

The women appeared on Wednesday in court in Pristina, a day after 10 other women were put under house arrest. None have been charged with a crime.

Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country.

The women and children were sent to the Foreign Detention Centre in the outskirts of Pristina but were freed to go home after 72 hours.

Ten women were seen entering Pristina Basic Court in a police escort on Tuesday. The court said in a statement later that they had been placed under house arrest on charges of joining foreign armed groups and terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019.

The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation and more of them are expected to appear in front of judges on Wednesday. The prosecution has yet to file charges.

After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return to their home countries.

Kosovo's population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but the country is largely secular in outlook. More than 300 of its citizens travelled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and eight children remain in the conflict zones. The government said it plans to bring back those who are still there.

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens — the four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children — were returned to Kosovo with assistance from the United States, the first such move for a European country.

Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria.