Syrian Kurds capture two British Daesh militants — US officials

An image grab taken off a video on January 20, 2015, reportedly released by Daesh through Al-Furqan Media, allegedly shows Japanese hostages Kenji Goto (L) and Haruna Yukawa (R) at an undisclosed location. The Daesh group threatened to kill the two Japanese hostages unless Tokyo pays a $200 million ransom within 72 hours to compensate for non-military aid. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Syrian Kurds capture two British Daesh militants — US officials

WASHINGTON, Feb 8 : Two British Daesh militants known for their role in the torture and killings of Western hostages were captured by Syrian Kurdish fighters, two US officials said on Thursday.
The men were the last of a group of four militants known as the “Beatles,” for their English accents, to remain at large.
The two, whose capture was first reported by the New York Times, were identified as Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh.
A separate US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had captured the two in early January in eastern Syria. The official said US forces in the area had been given access to the militants.
A US-led coalition has pushed Daesh out of most of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria, but its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who proclaimed the self-styled caliphate in 2014, remains at large.
The US State Department sanctioned Kotey in January 2017, saying he was a guard for the “Beatles” and “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding.”
Kotey had also acted as a recruiter and was responsible for recruiting several British nationals to join the militant group, the State Department said.
In March 2017, the State Department sanctioned Elsheikh, saying he was “said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer.”
The most notorious of the four was Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” an executioner of hostages made famous by Daesh videos of beheadings.
A US-British missile strike believed to have killed Emwazi, a British citizen of Arab origin, was months in preparation but came together at lightning speed in 2015 in the Syrian town of Raqqa, according to US officials.
Emwazi became the public face of Daesh and a symbol of its brutality after appearing in videos showing the murders of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and other hostages.


Normality returns for some in Damascus after fighting ends

Updated 11 min 46 sec ago
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Normality returns for some in Damascus after fighting ends

  • Risks of being hit by bullets or shellfire near the capital has now ended
  • This was the first summer since 2011 without the sound of fighting in Damascus

DAMASCUS: Some people in the Syrian capital Damascus have been able to enjoy a semblance of normality since fighting in the area ended in May, but in the rubble of shattered, destitute towns nearby, life could not be more different.
Central Damascus was held by the government throughout the war and suffered much less damage than opposition-held areas — evidence of the huge gulf in fire power between the two sides.
Parts of the eastern Ghouta region just outside Damascus were all but flattened during a government offensive this spring to retake it from rebels.
When the area surrendered, tens of thousands of its people, both fighters and civilians, chose to leave eastern Ghouta under safe passage for opposition areas in northern Syria rather than come back under government rule. Others decided to stay.
The risk of being hit by bullets or shellfire near the capital has now ended, but conditions in central Damascus, with its relaxed nightlife and bustling business district, seem a world away from the hardship of eastern Ghouta.
President Bashar Assad’s success in the war owes much to Russia, which entered the war on his side in 2015, and whose soldiers are now a common sight in government-held areas.
Even during the fighting, people in Damascus would go out in the evenings to eat, drink and dance, but this summer, the bars and restaurants of the Old City were much busier.
“During the war, when bombs were falling, it could be days without customers, but we never stopped working,” said Dana, a 24-year-old bar tender, mixing a blue moon cocktail in a shaker.
Barber shops do good business and cafes spill out onto the cobbled streets of the Old City on weekend evenings.
This was the first summer since 2011 without the sound of fighting in Damascus. At a wedding outside the city, the noise came rather from student rock band Kibreet — a drummer, two guitarists and a singer.
The groom was carried on the shoulders of his friends and family, as people clapped around him. He swung his bride in his arms, her white dress billowing out behind.
Rubble and ruin
Only a few miles away, in the eastern Ghouta city of Douma, rubble is all around. In one bulletpocked building, a young man on the fifth floor was shovelling debris from a balcony, preparing the flat for re-use.
Entire streets seem destroyed. At one of the area’s biggest hospitals, where huge shell holes are blown into the walls, medics are still operating out of the basement.
A woman held up a small boy on a bed, grimacing as he waited for the doctor to give an injection. In the ravaged streets, a small boy pushed a cart selling cooked sweetcorn cobs between ruined buildings.
The fighting in Douma only ended a few months ago, but any significant reconstruction might be very distant.
Syria cannot afford a major rebuilding program. Its closest allies, Russia and Iran, seem unlikely to foot the bill. Western nations will pay no cash without a political transition.
In Al-Khalidiya district of Homs, retaken by the government in 2013, the slow nature of recovery is clear. Much of it is a ghost town, uninhabited and closed by the army.
In one area, boys played soccer near buildings so pancaked by bombs that the floors and ceilings hung down closely on top of each other. Their goal was made of two rusting oil drums with posts sticking up and a wire tied between them as the crossbar.
“The covered souk used to be chockablock but now very few people come to this area,” said Abu Fares, a shop owner in the Old City of Homs.
Even among the young people enjoying the nightlife in Damascus the challenge of the long, slow economic recovery ahead means many people are thinking of leaving.
“I like my job. I like bars and night life here. But in the end I would like to move out of Syria. I don’t see a future here,” said Rasha, a 30-year bar owner.
“When there was war here and we had bombs falling every day I never wanted to leave. But now, yes,” she said.