Syrian troops retake ancient Palmyra from Daesh control

Updated 27 March 2016

Syrian troops retake ancient Palmyra from Daesh control

DAMASCUS: Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes drove Daesh fighters from Palmyra on Sunday, ending the group’s 10-month reign of terror over a town whose famed 2,000-year-old ruins once drew tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Government forces had been on the offensive for nearly three weeks to try to retake the central town, known among Syrians as the “Bride of the Desert,” which fell to the extremists last May. Their advance marks the latest in a series of setbacks for Daesh, which has come under mounting pressure on several fronts in Iraq and Syria in recent months.
In comments reported on state TV, President Bashar Assad described the Palmyra operation as a “significant achievement” offering “new evidence of the effectiveness of the strategy espoused by the Syrian army and its allies in the war against terrorism.”
Gen. Ali Mayhoub announced on the station that that the fall of Palmyra “directs a fatal blow to Daesh, undermines the morale of its mercenaries, and ushers in the start of its defeat and retreat.” He said it lays the ground for further advances toward Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, and Deir el-Zour, an eastern city it largely controls.
Troops in Palmyra are now dismantling explosive booby traps planted by Daesh, the station reported. State TV and a Britain-based monitoring group later reported that troops captured a military airport to the east.
The advance marks a strategic and symbolic victory for the government, which has sought to portray itself as a bulwark against terrorism. The town was an important juncture on a Daesh supply line connecting its territory in central and northern Syria to the Anbar province in Iraq, where the group also holds territory.
Daesh drove government forces from Palmyra in a matter of days last May and later demolished some of the best-known monuments in its UNESCO world heritage site, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years and a Roman triumphal archway.
State TV showed the rubble left over from the destruction of the Temple of Bel as well as the damaged archway, the supports of which were still standing. It said a statue of Zenobia, the 3rd century queen who ruled an independent state from Palmyra and figures strongly in Syrian lore, was missing. Many of the Roman colonnades, however, were still standing.
Artefacts inside the city’s museum also appeared heavily damaged on state TV. A sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena was shown decapitated, and the museum’s basement appeared to have been dynamited, the hall littered with broken statues.


New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

Updated 18 September 2020

New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

  • CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.

“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.

Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.

The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.

Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.

Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.

While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.

The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”

In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”

Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.

Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.

But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.

“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.

“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.

The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.