Amarnath attack: ‘Saviour’ driver Salim to be nominated for bravery award
Salim Shaikh did not stop when the bus came under fire from terrorists, and drove with a flat tyre till he reached an Army camp.
SURAT: Maneuvering a 56-seater bus in the dark in mountainous terrain is daunting enough. But Salim Shaikh, 37, drove at full tilt for more than 2 km, with a flat tyre and bullets whizzing by, and saved the lives of over 50 Amarnath pilgrims on Monday. The terror attack killed seven and injured 21. “It was all due to Baba Amarnath’s blessings that I got the strength despite guns blazing around me,” said Shaikh. “The first bullet flew over my head and hit a passenger. The tyre burst, but I had no second thoughts in speeding away”. Witnesses said the terrorists kept up the firing till the bus reached an Army camp. Shaikh said he realised it was a terrorist attack the moment a bullet pierced through the glass. “I slid down my seat and kept driving. I would see the road for a second or so and duck,” he said. Applauding his courage, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said Shaikh would be nominated for the annual bravery award. Shaikh was on his fourth trip of Amarnath in the past eight years. On Monday, the trip was delayed due to a flat tyre soon after leaving Srinagar, he said. At his house in Garib Nawaz Society in Valsad, his family members could scarcely believe that Shaikh’s bus was attacked by terrorists.
“It was only around 11pm when Shaikh called that we breathed easy,” said his wife, Sanjeeda. “He said we must not discuss anything with our elder son Danish as he is undergoing treatment for an ear ailment,” she added, hugging her four-year-old daughter Amrin and seven-year-old son Ayan. Shaikh’s mother Raziya is proud of her son. “He did well, but we are extremely pained for those who died,” said Raziya, wiping her tears. Pallavi Abhyankar, 55, a lucky survivor from Maharashtra, said, “Had it not been for the driver, the toll would have been higher”. Shaikh, who earns Rs 12,000 per month with Om Travels and takes trip-based assignments for other private bus operators, is being showered with cash rewards. The J&K government and Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board announced rewards totaling Rs 5 lakh. The government will give him Rs 3 lakh while governor NN Vohra, as chairman of Sri Amarnathji Shrine Board, announced a special reward of Rs 2 lakh. Shaikh has four brothers and two sisters. His brothers Babu and Iqbal are also drivers and the former has been going to Amarnath for the past 15 years.
GST adds to engine woes, almost half of IndiGo A-320 Neo fleet grounded
NEW DELHI: Almost half the fleet of IndiGo‘s Airbus A-320 new engine option (Neo) is grounded due to trouble with the Pratt & Whitney (PW) engines used on these planes. The low-cost carrier (LCC) currently has 22 A-320 Neos and nine of them are reportedly grounded due to engine issues. The implementation of GST from July 1 led to some confusion over the import of replacement engines which further added to the problem. In India, IndiGo and GoAir use the combination of PW engines on A-320 Neos. Due to constant trouble with these engines, the US engine manufacturer was replacing and/or rectifying them. “PW is facing this issue on the A-320 Neos globally. Due to this, it is unable to supply replacement engines at the required pace. Also, there are some changes in the modifications that were being carried out on the replacement engines. So, the result is that the airlines using the A-320 Neo with PW engines are suffering,” said a source. IndiGo spokesman Ajay Jasra said: “…we continue to face operational issues with the Neo engine…. While this has caused operational disruptions, both PW and Airbus are working to address the issues. In the meantime, we continue to receive the necessary operational and technical support including the provision of spare engines to help mitigate the operational impact on us”.
“We also faced some issues this month in getting some engines cleared at the customs post the implementation of GST. However, the government has cleared the confusion and has come out with a notification stating that leased aircraft and engines are exempt from custom duty so we are hopeful that this problem is behind us now,” Jasra added. IndiGo has a total fleet of close to 140 A-320s, of which 22 are Neos. The engine trouble is being faced by the PW-powered Neos. A unit of United Technologies Corp, P&W’s A-320 Neo engines have been plagued with issues like slow engine startup times and erroneous engine software messages in the new engine. Globally till February 24, 2017, 42 PW 1100G engines (fitted on A-320 Neos) have been prematurely removed from aircraft due to different technical reasons. A statement by PW said: “PW, with the support of Airbus, is actively working with our customers in India and we are supporting them in their daily operations…. The PW Pure Power GTF engine employs advanced technology and has been in operation for more than one year. It has more than 200,000 hours of passenger service and is utilized by 13 operators flying 250 flights per day to over 100 destinations on four continents”.
Woman drags molester to chowky Police ask her: Why out so late?
MUMBAI: A gutsy woman who nabbed her harasser on a desolate street in Vile Parle (E) late on Monday had to wait for nearly 40 minutes at the beat chowky till a police vehicle could pick them up and take them to the cop station. It took her 2.5 hours more at the police station to press charges against the harasser, and she also had to face questions such as what she was doing out so late. The harasser, Sanjay Babu, was produced before a magistrate court on Tuesday and remanded in police custody. The woman is a media professional and in her thirties. Around 10.45pm, she was returning from her uncle’s place on foot. She had reached MG Cross Road when a man walked up from behind and touched her. Fuming, she confronted him and hit him. The man said he may have touched her accidentally. “I was struck by the man’s audacity. The road was wide enough for him to have walked at a distance,” she told TOI. The woman told him to come with her to the police station. He replied he had no problem as he had done no wrong. “There was nobody in the lane who could help. I started to drag him to a beat chowky (near the railway station),” she said. By the time she reached the main road, a crowd started to gather.
The woman hauled the harasser to the beat chowky, only to find a lone constable seated there. “I was told I’d have to go to the police station (near the domestic airport). But there was no female cop to accompany me, so we’d have to wait. The constable grilled the harasser about his family, place of work etc… Around 11.40pm, a police vehicle drove us down to the police station,” she said. The woman had to narrate the incident thrice–twice at the beat chowky and once at the police station. “I was asked irrelevant details about my brother, sister-in-law and even my nephew, including their names and ages. Police didn’t know what section to book the offender under. One of the personnel said I’d have to go for a medical check-up, while another said it was not needed. They then referred to a book. The printer wasn’t working, so they had to step out to get a photocopy of the FIR,” she said. A lady cop wanted to know what she was doing out so late. “I replied 10.45pm wasn’t late and many women worked till night. Meanwhile, I posted the goings-on on Facebook, and a friend copied it to Mumbai police’s Twitter handle. The web team checked on me. Things started moving swiftly after a senior officer arrived,” she said.
53-year-old robbed, killed in Lajpat Nagar
NEW DELHI: A 53-year-old woman was found murdered in her house in Lajpat Nagar IV in south-east Delhi on Tuesday evening. Police said that robbery appeared prima facie to be the motive for the crime since goods worth over Rs 10 lakh were discovered stolen from the house. The incident is believed to have taken place a little after 11am when two armed youths entered the house of Sarita Jain in the National Park locality in Lajpat Nagar. Her husband Manak Lal and son Ankit were not at home at the time of incident. There were, however, two servants present in the house. Of the two, Roshan and Rajan, the former is missing and is considered the prime suspect. “We have registered an FIR at Amar Colony police station and identified the main suspect too,” said Romil Baniya, DCP (Southeast). Eight teams have been formed to arrest the three men. Police invoked Indian Penal Code Section 302 (murder) and 397 (robbery with attempt to cause death) while filing the case. Roshan had been hired 15 days ago from a placement agency, whose role is also being investigated. Police surmise that the two men who came to the house were in league with Roshan. After making a friendly entry, they encountered Rajan, whom they overpowered. Rajan later told the cops that the duo taped his mouth and tied him to a chair. At this point, Jain came to find out the cause of the commotion in the living room.
The assailants held the woman by her arms and shoved her onto another chair and gagged her to prevent her shouting for help. They thrashed her, covered her entire face with taped and dragged her to her bedroom. It wasn’t long before she apparently suffocated to death. The men then ransacked the house and left with cash and jewellery accompanied by Roshan. At 6 pm, when Lal returned, he found the main door of the house unlocked. He stepped in and saw Rajan gagged and tied to the chair. After being freed, the servant narrated what had happened. They hurried to the bedroom where they found the woman lying unconscious. They phoned the police control room and when the cops arrived, they took the woman to a hospital, where doctors declared she was already dead. An autopsy will be conducted on Wednesday. Police have found CCTV footage showing the entry into the house and exit of the suspects. The forensic and investigative teams have inspected the scene of crime and retrieved prints of fingers and feet from the spot. Roshan’s photograph was also obtained and circulated. While police teams were sent to West Bengal and other places to locate him, the Crime Branch has been asked to assist in the probe.
Danger ahead: Steep road & blind curve sends drivers into death spin
HYDERABAD: The Banjara Hills Road No 3 stretch between Sagar Society Crossing and TV 9 junction is turning out to be a killer stretch as several fatal accident have been reported at the location. A narrow, steep road with a curve and bad road engineering are contributing to the spate of accidents and made it one of the most accident-prone spots in the city. Many motorists fail to notice the curve and end up crashing into the median. Most accidents at the location happened due to high speed and often it turned out to be human error which cost lives. Traffic police blame road engineering defect near the Green Mosque as it becomes difficult for motorists cruising at high speed to negotiate a slight curve. For pedestrians, travelling on the Road No. 3 is a nightmare. On several occasions, pedestrians crossing the road were knocked down by speeding vehicles. As a result, GHMC officials are now in the process of putting in place a foot over bridge near Sultan-Ul-Uloom Education Society campus.
Soon, your mobile phone might not need to be charged at all
Bengaluru: Mobile phone users hear, hear! The end of ‘low-battery anxiety’ might come sooner than we anticipated. In an exciting recent development in the field of telecommunications, researchers out of the University of Washington have created a mobile phone prototype that doesn’t require a battery to operate. The surprisingly efficient prototype requires just 3.5 microwatts of energy, can make and receive calls and uses ambient power from radio signals and light to transmit a signal back to a base station 50 feet away. The creation is a major leap in the capability of battery-free devices and a step towards a fully functional battery-free cellphone, one that could come very handy in an emergency. As of now, the barebones prototype is only made of basic materials such as a circuit board, capacitive touch buttons, etc. The team of scientists was able to create a custom base station to transmit the signal with such a small amount of power. Using this setup, the researchers were able to successfully make and receive calls via Skype and place callers on hold. But because it is incapable of making and receiving signals at the same time, users must hold down a button to speak to the recipient and release it to await a reply — very similar to using a walkie-talkie. And without the power for a speaker, owners listen to calls using their headphones. So could it actually be possible for battery-free mobile phones to become ubiquitous? It’s possible if all cell towers or Wi-Fi routers come with the base station technology embedded in it, or if licensed mobile network frequencies can be used, say the researchers. The next steps for creating a usable phone with a display, they add, would be adding a low-power e-ink display with video-streaming capabilities and encryption to make the calls more secure.
Blazing truth: Hyderabad high on fire stations & mishaps too
HYDERABAD: If statistics of the Telangana State Disaster Response Force (TSDRF) and fire services department are anything to go by, the city has recorded 731 fire accidents in six months that claimed 17 lives. Officials from the department say that most accidents are caused by faulty wiring and electrical short-circuits in buildings. Another disturbing trend rearing its ugly face in the city are swanky cars, developing electrical faults and catching fire, said district fire officer (Hyderabad) M Srinivas Reddy. The city has the second highest number of fatalities after Khammam which recorded 20 deaths over the past one year. Ironically, the city not only figures in the list of the highest casualties, but also has the highest number of fire-stations. Experts say during construction, people compromise on the kind of wires being used or the fuse box being installed. “When this is done, electricity passing through the wire causes a spark and results in a fire,” said Narayan Bhosekar, president of Fire and Security Association of India (FSAI), Hyderabad chapter.
“Over the last three months we have noticed that many cars are catching fire. In the most recent case at Panjagutta , a car erupted into flames. Fortunately, no one injured in the mishap. So it is not just homes, even car engines are catching fire,” Bhosekar said. Experts from the Fire and Security Association of India, (FSAI) said cars can catch fire if they are not maintained properly. “Unlike constructions where the materials used for construction can be monitored, a car comes readymade. People need to be careful, since there are a lot of combustible items inside the car like fuel and air-conditioning gas. Since the engine generates a lot of heat, people must check their cars for any electrical fault,” said an expert. “The people of the city are aware now, but many are trying to tamper with the voltage of electricity passing through wires, triggering sparks,” said district fire officer M Srinivas Reddy.
Rains bring chaos in Kolkata as KMC presses 342 major pumps to flush out water
A man draws a hand-rickshaw to ferry a customer on the flooded street after overnight heavy rainfall, in Kolkata, on Tuesday, July 11, 2017.
KOLKATA: For the first time in recent memory, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) pressed into service 342 major pumps out of a stock of 363 in all principal drainage pumping stations to flush out storm water from arterial roads across the city, but could not prevent large-scale inundation of the city. Several parts of north and central Kolkata went under water after a heavy downpour lashed the city twice—first on Monday evening and then on Tuesday morning. The office goers had a little respite on Tuesday morning as the rains returned in the afternoon and continued till evening triggering an apprehension of a flood-like situation among a section of the KMC drainage department officials. However, temporary relief came for the residents and motorists in the worst-affected waterlogged areas after water started receding from heavily waterlogged areas when the rains took a recess in late evening. Incessant rains for two successive days reminded residents of Amherst Street and Sukia Street of the days when the civil defense volunteers would evacuate them from their houses and rubber boats would take them from one place of these streets to the other. Though it rained over 100 mm in two days, residents of these areas were spared this time with the improvement of drainage system over past five years. However, residents of Muktarambabu Street had to bear with pains of prolonged inundation. Rajesh Gupta, a resident of the area, left his home for a safer place as his one-storey house along Muktarambabu Street got submerged due to incessant rains for two days.
Residents of Mahatma Gandhi Road, Bidhan Sarani, and parts of Chittaranjan Avenue were not spared either. Areas like Beliaghata, Ultadanga, Maniktala and Kankurgachi also remained knee-deep waterlogged for hours. Office goers found it difficult to enter their destinations wading through waterlogged Park Street, Camac Street, Theatre Road and AJC Bose Road. Some of the waterlogging-prone areas in south Kolkata like Jodhpur Park, Dhakuria, Lake Gardens, New Alipore, Alipore and Kalighat were spared inundation because of less rainfall compared to northern and central parts of the city. Mayor Sovan Chatterjee, worried over inundation of large areas, called an emergent meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss the means to combat flooding in the event of fresh downpour. Chatterjee claimed that though the pumps in civic body’s drainage pumping stations functioned well, plastic materials had chocked the drainage lines leading to waterlogging. “We are worried over the plastic menace that has done enough damage to our drainage system. Now we need to book those traders who dump plastic materials and cause damage to our drainage system,” Chatterjee told reporters.
Right under policemen’s nose traffic violators have a free run
CHENNAI: When a motorist approaches a traffic signal in Chennai, chances are that he or she would accelerate when the light turns orange. If the motorist cannot jump the signal, then certainly he or she would cross the ‘stop’ line and take over the zebra crossing, possibly cursing the signal that has just turned red. If directed to take a U-turn half-a-kilometre away, the biker or the motorist may choose to travel in the wrong direction than take a safer passage. Such traffic violations are so regular that even traffic police turn a blind eye. Every day, the traffic police file around 6,000 cases and collect fines from violators, but most of these are related to drunken driving and not routine violations mentioned above. A traffic policeman on Old Mahabalipuram Road, where jumping signals is as common a sight as well-dressed software engineers, said he did not even remember when was the last time he booked a motorist for breaking the signal. To manage the city’s unruly traffic, in which most are willful offenders, activists have called for deployment of more police personnel and slapping of spot fines. But police officers disagree. “It will never work out,” a senior officer said. “Such a traffic can be reined in only by introducing gadgets that monitor road users and identify violators”.
The city police have been sanctioned funds by the state home department to install CCTV cameras at important junctions. But violators find a way out. A police officer said the department does not book violators during office hours lest it holds up traffic. “We are not ignoring them. But during peak hours, we have to ensure that traffic remains smooth,” he said. But such an attitude emboldens violators who then force those complying with the rules to flout them. S Ganapathy, a resident of Dandeeshwaram in Velachery, recollected an incident at the TTK Road-Eldams Road junction last week. “I had stopped at the signal but other cars jumped the signal. Two drivers kept honking and asked me to give way,” he said. “It was around 11pm and the occupants of the cars argued with me for obeying traffic rules at night,” Ganapathy said.
A retired police officer T Aravindan said such reckless attitude results in accident. “Eventually the violator will collide with another vehicle coming from the other side of the road where the signal is open,” he said. “Traffic signals were installed at junctions to ensure smooth flow of vehicles without the assistance of the police personnel. But even then police are needed at every signal to monitor violators,” Aravindan added. But while the city police is struggling to find officers who would man every signal, in countries like the US, technology is used to identify traffic violators who are then issued tickets along with photo evidence. An officer said the fear of getting caught is enough to prevent a motorist from breaking traffic rules. “If road users feared that someone is watching them, they will refrain from committing the offence,” he said.
Many terror organizations banned in Pakistan thrive online
ISLAMABAD: It’s dusk. The shadows of three men brandishing assault rifles welcome the reader to the Facebook page of Lashkar-e-Islam, one of 65 organizations that are banned in Pakistan, either because of terrorist links or as purveyors of sectarian hate. Still more than 40 of these groups operate and flourish on social media sites, communicating on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram, according to a senior official with Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, or FIA, who is tasked with shutting down the sites. They use them to recruit, raise money and demand a rigid Islamic system. It is also where they incite the Sunni faithful against the country’s minority Shias and extoll jihad, or holy war, in Kashmir and in Afghanistan. “It’s like a party of the banned groups online. They are all on social media,” the FIA official told the Associated Press. He spoke on condition his name not be used because agency officials are not allowed to be quoted by name. Meanwhile, Pakistan is waging a cyber-crackdown on activists and journalists who use social media to criticize the government, the military or the intelligence agencies. The interior ministry even ordered the FIA, Pakistan’s equivalent of the American FBI, to move against “those ridiculing the Pakistan Army on social media”. The FIA official said the agency has interrogated more than 70 activists for postings considered critical. All but two have been released and a third is still under investigation, he said. Activists, journalists and rights groups who monitor Pakistan’s cyberspace say the banned groups active on social media operate unencumbered because several are patronized by the military, its intelligence agencies, radical religious groups and politicians looking for votes.
Even the FIA official concedes state support for some of the banned groups but said it is a global phenomenon engaged in by all intelligence agencies. “Everyone is protecting their own terrorists. Your good guy is my bad guy and vice versa,” he said, adding that some sites belonging to banned groups are intentionally ignored to gain intelligence. On one Facebook page, the Afghan Taliban flag welcomes viewers, its masthead emblazoned with Arabic script identifying the page as belonging to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Still another Facebook site features one of India’s most wanted, Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, another banned organization and a US declared terrorist group. Saeed even has a $10 million US-imposed bounty on his head. Yet his group, which has been resurrected under several names, is billed as a charity and has several Facebook pages. Currently called Falah-e-Insaniat, the group boasts of its community work, but its pages feature anti-India videos, call Syria a bleeding wound, rail against India and chastise the Pakistan government for siding with the US following the 9/11 attacks. Facebook and Twitter have said that they ban “terrorist content.” In the second half of last year, Twitter said on its site it had suspended 376,890 accounts because they were thought to promote terrorism, although they say less than 2 percent of the removals were the result of requests from governments. Facebook, meanwhile, said in a blog last month it uses artificial intelligence and human reviewers to find and remove “terrorist content”. “There is no place on Facebook for terrorism,” Facebook spokeswoman Clare Wareing said in an email reply to the Associated Press. “Our Community Standards do not allow groups or people that engage in terrorist activity, or posts that express support for terrorism. We encourage people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards, so we can investigate and take action”.
Shahzad Ahmed, of the Islamabad-based social media rights group BytesForAll, said Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence agencies are waging a “communication war” against progressive, moderate voices and those who criticize the government and more particularly the military and its agencies. They use radical religious groups to promote their narrative, he said. “Their connectivity on the ground, the mosques, madrassas and supporters translates into social media strength and they are (further) strengthened because they feel ‘no one is going to touch us,'” he said. Ahmed Waqass Goraya is a blogger who was picked up and tortured by men he believes belonged to the country’s powerful intelligence agency, known by its acronym ISI. He said Pakistan’s social media space is dominated by armies of trolls unleashed by the military, intelligence agencies and allied radical religious groups to push their narrative. That narrative includes promoting anti-India sentiment — India is Pakistan’s longtime enemy against whom it has fought three wars. Critics who openly accuse the military of using extremists as proxies are under attack, said Goraya. He fled Pakistan after social media was used to suggest the he and other bloggers were involved in blasphemy, a charge that carries the death penalty. In Pakistan even the suggestion that someone insulted Islam or its prophet can incite mobs to violence. Earlier this month, Taimoor Raza, a minority Shia, became the first person sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law for a social media posting.
Taha Siddiqui, a Pakistan-based journalist with France 24 and an active social media user who often criticizes heavy handed actions of the military or its agencies, has taken the FIA to court to demand to know why he is under investigation after being ordered to come in for questioning. His resistance is taking its toll with family, friends and colleagues, who plead for him to be silent, he said. “They worry someday I will just disappear”. At FIA headquarters in the capital, Islamabad, the official told the AP that banned groups use proxy servers that reveal IP addresses buried somewhere in other countries, making it impossible to track. That explanation was called “lame” by Haroon Baloch, a social media rights activist who has studied the free-wheeling use of social media by banned groups and purveyors of sectarian hate. He said sites can be blocked, users located and the persons running the pages stopped. Bloggers like Goraya had elaborate safeguards but still were tracked down by authorities, said Baloch. Unlike the banned groups, Baloch said bloggers, social media activists and journalists are found and stopped because Pakistan’s civilian and military intelligence agencies are on the offensive against them. “Agencies have established a new wing to monitor 24/7, to counter liberal and progressive debate and particularly anything that criticizes their policies,” he said.
Strong earthquake strikes off New Zealand; no injuries reported
WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A strong earthquake has struck off New Zealand’s coast, but there were no initial reports of serious damage or injuries and no tsunami was expected. The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-6.6 quake struck Tuesday 198 kilometers (123 miles) northwest of Auckland Island. The quake was shallow, with a depth of only 10 kilometers (6 miles). The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami was not expected. New Zealand sits on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common. An earthquake in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.
How digitally-connected global jihadis may keep ISIS alive
The Islamic State group’s mix of a local insurgency and digitally-connected global jihadis gives the group staying power and the means to relaunch its future, from small cells of extremists escaping the war zone in Iraq and Syria to those who never went there in the first place. The impending loss of Mosul and Raqqa cuts out the urban heart of its self-proclaimed caliphate, but the extremist organization has built-in plans to endure and has shown a degree of flexibility that will be difficult to counteract. For more than a year, Islamic State has acknowledged the possibility of losing the territory that propelled it to the forefront of the global jihadi movement — and drew thousands of foreign fighters. Islamic State’s goal since then has been to maintain its local and global support base in the face of overwhelming defeat. Whether it succeeds depends on what happens well after today’s battles are over.
Escape cells: A first group of Islamic State fighters from Syria and Iraq numbering more than 100 arrived in Afghanistan at the beginning of February, followed by a smaller group, around 20, at the end of March, according to a UN report released last week. The group is unpopular among average Afghans, but shows traction among the young and, most importantly, receives ample funding from Islamic State’s central command to pay new fighters triple what the Taliban offers — $500 to $600 a month. The UN report said Islamic State has warned its Afghanistan contingent that it will soon need to be self-financing, an ominous sign for the organization that once pulled in millions of dollars in oil money, ransoms and extortion. Other groups of foreign fighters are feared to be trying to make their way back to Europe or North Africa, to ether plot attacks there or simply await orders. In Europe, this has fed fears of extremists hiding among the influx of migrants, while North Africa is “really unstable … It’s awash in weaponry,” said Colin Clark, an analyst with the RAND think tank. Islamic State is “a global group but it’s more regionally anchored. I don’t see them taking up and traveling wholesale to another place. They’re going to go where they have roots. They’re going to seek out these weak states. They’re going to insinuate themselves in local conflicts,” he said.
Hostile takeover: Al-Qaida and the Islamic State group split in 2014, driven apart less by ideology than by a dispute over timing and tactics. Now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in its latest rebranding effort, al-Qaida is on the rise in some parts of Syria and in recent days has begun targeting what it calls “organization cells” of the Islamic State group in Idlib and other Syrian provinces. The two groups have considerable crossover — and both claim the mantle of Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaida campaign could be a precursor to demands for a merger or hostile takeover, complete with a choice of death or repentance from rank-and-file defectors. “The differences between these groups are more in style and tone than in substance,” said Bruce Hoffman, the head of Georgetown University’s security studies program and author of “Inside Terrorism”. Many of Islamic State’s foreign fighters, especially those from Europe, headed to Syria with the expectation of joining al-Qaida’s branch there, then switched to what they believed was the winning side. Changing back will not be very difficult, Hoffman said. “Al-Qaida has been waiting in the wings and been letting ISIS take all the heat,” Hoffman said, using an alternative acronym for IS.
Fighting – or hiding – in place: Iraq and Syria themselves offer plenty of safe havens for local extremist fighters biding their time. At its height, IS held vast stretches of territory by promising not just brutality, but a religious government beyond corruption that would protect against arbitrary punishment, theft and graft in the service of a global movement for Sunni Muslims everywhere. The promises tapped especially into the grievances of Iraqi Sunnis, who felt abandoned by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and were suspicious of the Kurdish government in Irbil. Many in the US have called on the Iraqi government to ensure that Sunnis share in the country’s gains going forward — a step that will prove especially complex given that Sunni areas have seen widespread destruction in the fight against the extremists. Block after block of shattered homes line the roads of Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi. “It’s almost at a new level of divisiveness and an unrelenting decade of bloodletting has made any sense of rebuilding a civil society unbelievably challenging,” Hoffman said. Islamic State retains a powerful presence in Iraq’s Anbar province and in the city of Tal Afar. Islamic State’s leadership still has a core of leaders from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist organization, known for their survival skills and the support networks they built — something the group’s spokesman, Abu Muhammad Adnani, noted in a message before he was killed last summer in a US airstrike: To survive “whether Allah blesses us with consolidation or we move into the bare, open desert, displaced and pursued”.
Revenge attacks: A major aspect of Islamic State’s propaganda narrative has been to offer a haven to Sunnis worldwide and until recently its videos and photos made a point of tempering extreme brutality with images of abundant harvests, children at play and efficient, free medical care. Recently, however, its videos have depicted airstrikes destroying the caliphate, providing a powerful new message — vengeance. Last month’s attack at London Bridge was claimed by Islamic State as revenge against the US-backed coalition, and the group pledged more violence to come. With supporters from around the world linked by social media and thousands of pieces of propaganda, security officials in Europe and the US fear similar attacks are in the offing. At its height, Islamic State had tens of thousands of fighters at its disposal, though estimates varied widely. Airstrikes killed a vast percentage, the streams of Europeans heading to the war zone have dried up, and new recruits from the region are growing scarce, but its survival may not depend on numbers alone. “The numbers may never be their 60,000 fighters or whatever, but the attraction of terrorism is the disproportionate effect a few people can have on the enemy societies and that’ll be enough to keep it alive,” Hoffman said. “The most visceral emotion we know is revenge. It is cathartic and self-satisfying and it becomes a duty”.