Twin bombing in eastern Syria kills 20 including oil workers

A picture taken on February 21, 2019 shows vehicles belonging to the US-backed coalition as they drive down a road in Syria's northern Deir Ezzor province. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019

Twin bombing in eastern Syria kills 20 including oil workers

  • The incident took place near the town of Al-Shahil in the southeast of oil-rich Deir al-Zor province that borders Iraq
  • It came as the SDF presses on with efforts to retake the last small area of territory held in Syria by Daesh

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: A car bombing killed 20 people near the main base of US-backed Syrian forces on Thursday as fighters tried to negotiate the release of civilians still trapped in Daesh’s last redoubt.
As the Syrian Democratic Forces pressed the last extremist diehards the car bomb killed 14 oil workers and six of the Kurdish-led alliance’s conscripts near the Omar oil field which is uses as its main base in the region, the US-backed group and a monitor said.
SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin said the blast in the village of Shheel, some 100 kilometers north of Baghouz, was another example of Daesh cells attacking its fighters behind the front line.
The SDF are working toward evacuating civilians remaining in the holdout in east Syria, so they can retake the last scrap of the dying Daesh “caliphate” whether through an assault or a surrender deal.
The extremists overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, but several offensives have retaken all but half a square kilometer (a fifth of a square mile) of the territory in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Daesh said international forces “continue to support the SDF as they negotiate having innocent civilians released” and their captured fighters returned.
A day after hundreds of people were evacuated from the last Daesh remnant, more than 50 trucks on Thursday returned near empty from Baghouz to SDF territory, an AFP correspondent said.
“We couldn’t enter Baghouz,” said a man who had accompanied the convoy.
“We got to an SDF point and we found around 15 people — women and children including a French woman and an Egyptian woman. We took them,” he said.
“The fighters asked us to go back tomorrow at 8 am.”
Thousands of people have escaped Daesh territory in recent weeks, but the flow slowed to a trickle at the weekend, before Wednesday’s first batch of evacuees.
Paul Bradley, from the Free Burma Rangers volunteer group, said people fleeing painted a grim picture of life inside.
“They showed us this bread that’s basically mashed up wheat with water burnt on both sides, $16 a kilo,” he said.
SDF spokesman Afrin said most of those trucked out on Wednesday were civilians, but they also included Daesh fighters.
On Thursday, the AFP reporter saw hundreds of people waiting in a screening area where the SDF have been questioning new arrivals in recent weeks, to separate out suspected extremists from the civilians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Wednesday that negotiations were being held “for the surrender of the last Daesh fighters.”
It said there were “reports of a deal” but the details were unclear.
At the height of its rule, Daesh imposed its brutal ideology on a territory roughly the size of the United Kingdom, attracting thousands of supporters from abroad.
But the extremists have since lost almost all their territory, and hundreds of foreigners suspected of being Daesh fighters, as well as related women and children, are being held by the SDF.
Other foreign members have been killed.
A top French extremist, who voiced an audio recording claiming responsibility for the November 2015 attacks in Paris, was killed in an overnight airstrike, security sources told AFP on Thursday.
Fabien Clain, who is believed to have gone to Syria in March 2015, was killed in Baghouz, they said.
Across the border, security officials in Iraq said the SDF handed over 130 Iraqi extremsts to Baghdad on Thursday, but SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali denied the claim.
Syria’s Kurds have long demanded the repatriation of foreigners accused of belonging to Daesh in their custody, but their home countries have been reluctant.
US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was barring a US-born former Daesh propagandist from returning home from Syria, where the conflict has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the diplomatic status of the father of Alabama woman Hoda Muthana means she is not a US citizen.
It came after a lawyer for the family of a teenager who fled London to join the extremists when she was 15 said Britain was revoking her citizenship.
Shamima Begum, 19, at the weekend gave birth to her third child. Two previous children died at an early age.

Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019

Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to ‘send home in coffins’ visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the ‘vile’ and ‘offensive’ remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.