(CNN)Three teenagers, at least two of them British, are in custody at a central London police station after being stopped by Turkish authorities as they attempted to travel to Syria, London police said Sunday.
Two were 17-year-old boys from northwest London who had gone missing, a Metropolitan Police news release said.
They were traveling with a 19-year-old, the release said, without providing additional information on the man. Several media outlets, including BBC and Reuters, reported he, too, was British.
British authorities shared intelligence regarding the 17-year-olds with Turkish officials on Friday, and that night, the individuals landed in Istanbul on a flight from Barcelona, Spain, a Turkish official told CNN.
The teens were stopped, along with a third person who had been regarded as suspicious by Turkish intelligence working at the airport’s risk analysis center, which monitors risky flights and runs checks on suspicious passengers trying to enter Turkey.
ISIS recruiting women and Westerners 03:49
Turkish authorities questioned the teens, the Turkish official said, and the Metropolitan Police said the three arrived back in London shortly before midnight Saturday and were “arrested on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts.”
“When we have intelligence shared with us there is no problem. We stop them and directly deport them. And of course Turkish intelligence is always on the lookout as well,” the Turkish official said.
Sunday’s news come on the heels of developments in the case of three British girls who are believed to have entered Syria to join ISIS.
CCTV pictures show the three girls at a bus station in Istanbul
New CCTV pictures appear to show three UK schoolgirls on the Turkish leg of what is believed to have been their journey to join Islamic State in Syria.
Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, flew from London to Istanbul on 17 February.
The images show them waiting at Bayrampasa bus station later that day.
Scotland Yard believes the Bethnal Green Academy students are now in Syria. They are thought to have been met at the border by IS militants.
The BBC understands the girls waited in the offices of two bus companies at the station before taking a bus to Urfa, close to the Syrian border, on 18 February.
From there, they are thought to have been driven to a border crossing point by people smugglers.
The girls are thought to have waited at the bus station for 18 hours
Time codes on the CCTV images suggest the girls were at the bus station – which is on the European side of Istanbul – for nearly 18 hours.
The five images were taken between 20:27 local time (18:27 GMT) on 17 February and 13:22 (11:22 GMT) on 18 February.
BBC correspondent James Reynolds in Gaziantep, south-east Turkey, has been told by a man claiming to be a people smuggler that the girls were driven to the Syrian border.
The man, who called himself Ali Kathem, said the teenagers then walked the few steps into Syria.
A group of waiting IS men “immediately picked them up with cars”, he said.
They had flown from London’s Gatwick Airport to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day.
The girls’ families have made a number of emotional appeals for them to return home.
The girls are thought to have taken a bus to Urfa, close to the Syrian border
Police have revealed about 60 women and girls are now thought to have travelled from the UK to Syria – including about 22 in the last year.
“When I say young, all but four of those 22 were aged 20 or younger,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball, the UK’s senior national co-ordinator of counter-terrorism, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.
“The last five who have travelled were aged 15 and 16, so this is a growing problem and it is one of real concern.
“The more everyone involved in travel understands this problem and can be alerted and can be vigilant and can look out for people, the better,” she added.
The Syrian civil war has had a “galvanising” effect on people becoming radicalised, she said.
‘Younger and younger’Kalsoom Bashir, co-director of the counter-extremism organisation Inspire, said it was “shocking but not surprising” that young girls were being lured to Syria.
She said IS had a “very specific campaign” to target young and vulnerable women, saying here was a growing tend of women who were getting “younger and younger”.
Their campaign targets young women by “hooking into their vulnerabilities,” she told the programme.
Girls such Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana were victims of “ideological grooming” by IS, she added.
From left: Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum left the UK in mid February
It comes as Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has said officials would have taken “necessary measures” to intercept the girls had they known about them earlier.
Scotland Yard has denied taking three days to inform officials in Turkey about the girls’ planned journey.
It said it had started working with Turkish authorities a day after the girls went missing.
They had been studying for their GCSEs. A fourth girl from the school is believed to have travelled to Syria in December.
The school has denied the girls could have been radicalised there.
Police are reported to have moved against the six men before their imminent departure to Syria
French authorities have for the first time confiscated the passports of six nationals who were allegedly planning to travel to Syria to join jihadists.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the intelligence services believed the men wanted to join the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
The measure is part of new counter-terrorism laws adopted last November.
Meanwhile, France has deployed an aircraft carrier off Bahrain to be used against Islamic State (IS) militants.
Planes from the Charles de Gaulle carrier will be used against IS positions in Iraq, a spokesman for Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
The first Rafale fighter jet took off on Monday morning from the carrier as it sailed about 200km (120 miles) off the northern coast of Bahrain.
Correspondents say that the deployment of the warship will halve the time it takes for military aircraft – which normally fly from the United Arab Emirates – to reach Iraq.
France began Operation Chammal in support of the US-led coalition against IS in September.
Mr Cazeneuve said authorities had acted against the six men after their departure to Syria appeared to be imminent.
Their passports and identity cards have been confiscated for six months, after which the order can be renewed. They have the right to appeal against the move in court.
Reports in French media said some of the men were reported to the authorities by relatives using a newly established telephone hotline, while others were identified by police investigations.
Armed police have been deployed across Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January
French officials quoted by the Reuters news agency estimate that about 400 French citizens are in Syria, 180 have returned to France, 200 want to go and 200 are somewhere in Europe trying to get there.
France has been on alert after 17 people were killed in attacks on the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in January.
UK officials think some 600 Britons have fought in Syria, with 300 having returned. Police can now seize the passports of nationals trying to leave the country for up to 30 days, in addition to temporarily stopping citizens suspected of involvement with IS from entering Britain.
Last week, three British schoolgirls were said to have left London to travel to Syria through Turkey.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkey was working intensively with the British authorities to trace the three schoolgirls.
Thousands of foreigners from more than 80 nations have joined Islamic State and other radical groups in Syria and Iraq, many crossing through Turkey. However correspondents say they only represent a small amount of the total number of IS fighters.
Turkey has said it needs more information from the West if it is to intercept them. Mr Kalin said that his country had already deported 1,400 people suspected of attempting to join extremist groups.
An online video released Tuesday purported to show the Islamic State group threatening to kill two Japanese hostages unless they receive a $200 million ransom in the next 72 hours. The video shows two hostages in orange jumpsuits. (Jan. 20) AP
A video purporting to show the Islamic State group threatening to kill two Japanese hostages unless they get a $200 million ransom in the next 72 hours was posted online Tuesday.
The video shows a black-clad, masked British-accented man standing between two hostages in orange jumpsuits who are identified in captions as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa.
The video, called A message to the government and people of Japan, has been identified as being made by the Islamic State group’s al-Furqan media arm and was posted on militant websites associated with the extremist group.
Video shows young boy executing alleged spies
In the video, the militant says the Japanese government has made the “foolish” decision to provide $200 million to fight the Islamic State. A U.S.-led coalition is waging a military campaign against the group in Syria and Iraq.
Addressing Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he says: “Although you are you more than 8,500 kilometers (5,280 miles) away from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade.”
He demands 100 million for each hostage. The militant does not specify a currency, but a subtitle in Arabic said it was U.S. dollars, Reuters reports.
The militant says the Japanese public “have 72 hours to pressure your government” to pay the $200 million to save the hostages’ lives.
Speaking in Jerusalem, Abe vowed to save the hostages and called on the Islamic State group to immediately release them.
“Their lives are the top priority,” Abe said. He added: “Extremism and Islam are completely different things.”
Abe is currently on a six-day visit to the Middle East with more than 100 government officials and presidents of Japanese companies.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry’s anti-terrorism section has seen the video and analysts are assessing it, a ministry official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of department rules.
Speaking in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to say whether Japan would pay the ransom.
“If true, the act of threat in exchange of people’s lives is unforgivable and we feel strong indignation,” Suga told journalists. “We will make our utmost effort to win their release as soon as possible.”
In August, a Japanese citizen believed to be Yukawa, a private military company operator in his early 40s, was kidnapped in Syria after going there to train with militants, according to a post on a blog. Pictures on his Facebook page show him in Iraq and Syria in July. One video on his page showed him holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle with the caption: “Syria war in Aleppo 2014.”
“I cannot identify the destination,” Yukawa wrote in his last blog post. “But the next one could be the most dangerous.” He added: “I hope to film my fighting scenes during an upcoming visit.”
Goto is a respected Japanese freelance journalist who went to report on Syria’s civil war last year and knew of Yukawa.
“I’m in Syria for reporting,” he wrote in an email to an Associated Press journalist in October. “I hope I can convey the atmosphere from where I am and share it.”
A British-accented jihadi also has appeared in the beheading videos of slain American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and with British hostages David Haines and Alan Henning.
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, has beheaded and shot dead hundreds of captives — mainly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers — during its sweep across the two countries, and has celebrated its mass killings in extremely graphic videos. It also holds British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has appeared in other extremist propaganda videos, and a 26-year-old American woman captured last year in Syria while working for aid groups. U.S. officials have asked that the woman not be identified out of fears for her safety.
Last week, the group released a video purporting to show a child executing two men accused of being Russian spies who tried to infiltrate the militant organization in Syria.
The authenticity of the video, released by SITE Monitoring Service, could not be verified.
SHATILA CAMP, Lebanon — An enormous iron key hangs on a water tower above a crossroads in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila, just south of downtown Beirut. The sculpture alludes to the rusting keys that many families here treasure, from houses lost when they fled what became Israel in 1948.
Now, a new wave of refugees, this time from Syria, has roughly doubled the population of Shatila and the neighboring camp, Sabra, to 40,000, aid workers say. The newcomers, pouring into narrow streets and cramped concrete-block apartments, are among more than a million people who have streamed from Syria into Lebanon — a country of four million when the war started — and are radically reshaping neighborhoods like these.
In Shatila, people are adding new floors to their houses, hoping to rent them at soaring rates. New businesses are opening, run by Syrians or catering to them. Strained water and sewage systems are buckling. And as the Syrian civil war rages on, and the newcomers begin to doubt that they will ever return home, the changes are taking on the feel of permanence.
That process is unfolding across Lebanon and other countries bordering Syria, in yet another way the Middle East is being reordered. But in Sabra and Shatila, change is freighted with extra layers of historical memory and hardship.
The words Sabra and Shatila resonate as a symbol of the vulnerability of refugees. They are not just the names of the camps, but shorthand for the notorious massacre there in 1982, when Lebanese Christian militants killed Palestinian civilians as Israeli troops encircling the area stood by.
They also stand for grinding poverty. “Camps” is a misnomer for settlements that decades ago grew into unplanned but densely built urban slums.
Yusef al-Masri, 46, a Palestinian born and raised in Shatila, said his grandmother had often recounted what her family planned 66 years ago when they left their town in the Galilee — Safat, called Safad by Israelis — during the war over Israel’s founding.
“They said, ‘We will leave everything and come back in three days,’ ” he recalled. “We didn’t.”
He predicted a similar fate for the Syrians, blaming global and Arab leaders, who, he declared, would “sell Syria as they sold Palestine.”
The streets of the camp, mostly too narrow for cars, bustle with delivery carts and darting children. Makeshift electric wires form a canopy, and sewage scents the air. Poor Lebanese and migrant workers live here among Palestinians, who are kept in poverty by restrictive Lebanese laws that exclude them from many professions.
Even so, Sabra and Shatila have given the new refugees a warmer welcome than many wealthier districts. Syrians move freely, even at night, when many Lebanese towns impose curfews. Those who fear the Lebanese authorities, because they lack legal residency or are wanted in Syria for opposing the government, say they feel safer here, where Palestinian militias hold sway and security forces rarely come.
Palestinians who have worked to aid their own community here for years founded an organization, Basma wa Zaytouna, to aid refugees from Syria as well as residents. It has grown quickly, building several floors to house new programs like an informal school and a needlepoint workshop.
The arrivals include about 5,000 Palestinians who lived as refugees in Syria, and now are living through what some call a second Nakba, or catastrophe, Palestinians’ term for the 1948 displacement.
Lebanon has not set up any formal camps for refugees from Syria. Instead, refugees find their own haphazard housing.
Syrians and Palestinians alike pile new tales of trauma onto the camps’ painful history. One young Palestinian, Ayman Saed, fled Syria after being detained for eight months. His crime: trying to escape the government cordon around Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, ruled and fought over by insurgents, starved and bombarded by the security forces.
Amjad Hariri, 31, a Syrian from the southern city of Dara’a, said he lost two brothers, shot as they tried to flee security forces early in the uprising that began with protests in 2011. Soon after, his sister Majdaleen, 14, was shot in the face by a sniper as she walked to a government office; she died three weeks later.
Asked if he would ever return to Syria, his answer was an unabashed no.
“What’s done is done,” he said. “The damage is done. I can’t believe they killed this many people. There is no future. There will be no buildings from the north to the south — no Syria.”
Yet, he considers himself one of the lucky ones. With savings earned before the war as a visiting laborer in a Beirut sandwich shop, he was able to open a place of his own, offering traditional chicken liver and innovative fajitas. Behind the counter, fellow refugees roll sandwiches, adding Syrian-style fixings like pickles and herbs.
His neighbors are kind, Mr. Hariri said, helping him fend off interference from militias. But he does not feel secure. When Syrian insurgents periodically claim responsibility for attacks on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia allied with the Syrian government, angry men come to “take revenge” on Syrians, he said.
To be safe, he has a rule: “No one is allowed to talk politics in the shop.”
Some Palestinians identify with the displaced Syrians, who, like the Palestinians before them, face growing hostility as they are increasingly perceived as a threat to Lebanon.
“Palestinian refugees have more experience than the Syrians,” Georges Talamas, an organizer with Basma wa Zaytouna, said wryly.
Others see the Syrians as an economic threat.
“They took all the jobs,” said Mr. Masri, the longtime resident. He also complained that the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees favors Palestinians arriving from Syria. They cause envy because, in contrast to their counterparts in Lebanon, they had close to full rights in Syria to own property, pursue an education and hold jobs.
Yet, new refugees also bring benefits, Mr. Talamas said, spending their modest cash in the camp. Aid projects hire residents and buy supplies locally, and a new small business microcredit program for women must make 40 percent of its loans to local residents.
Syrians here tend to hold small, family weddings at home to save money, but they do not skimp on dresses. At a wedding shop stocked with poufy satin gowns, refugees pay $200, usually in installments, to rent one for the night. Next door, a shop advertises landline calls to Syria at a steep markup.
On Sabra’s market street, lined with sellers of beans, parsley, eggplant and tomatoes, many vendors have hired Syrians to work at their stands. Marwan Tuaysan, 15, said he sold housewares for less than $7 a day to support eight sisters, and had not been to school in several years.
Nearby, trays of baklava filled Huzaifa Deek’s sweet shop with the smell of pistachios and sweet syrup. Mr. Deek, 36, a Syrian, once had half a dozen shops around Damascus, in places that now read like a list of battlefields: Douma, Daraya, Jobar.
“They are all safe with Bashar,” he said, in a sarcastic reference to President Bashar al-Assad. He followed his customers to Sabra and opened a shop there. But he encountered resistance.
“They accuse us of stealing their customers because we are cheaper and tastier,” he said. “But it is God who gives us this grace.”
Men in Daquq, Iraq, collect humanitarian aid provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development on Thursday, October 2. The supplies are for displaced Iraqis who have fled from the militant group ISIS, which has taken over large swaths of northern and western Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria to Iraq.
Airstrikes targeting ISIS struck near the crucial Syrian city of Kobani overnight.
Five airstrikes near that city targeted groups of ISIS fighters, U.S. Central Command said. There were another four strikes elsewhere in Syria and four in Iraq.
“Finally, they are hitting the right places,” one local fighter against ISIS said after the airstrikes near Kobani, which is close to the Turkish border and key to ISIS’ effort to extend its terrain.
Were Kobani to fall, ISIS would control a complete swath of land between its self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, and Turkey — a stretch of more than 100 kilometers (62 miles).
Iraqi troops fight ISIS outside Baghdad
Outnumbered and outgunned by ISIS, local fighters trying to defend the Kurdish-dominated city have tried to flee into Turkey.
Airstrikes against the radical Islamist group in Kobani can be challenging because many targets there are too close to the Turkish border or Kurdish forces to strike, a senior U.S. military official said.
Central Command listed the overnight strikes in a news release:
1 south of Kobani destroyed three ISIS armed vehicles and damaged another
1 southeast of Kobani destroyed an ISIS armed vehicle carrying anti-aircraft artillery
2 southwest of Kobani damaged an ISIS tank
1 south of Kobani destroyed an ISIS unit
Elsewhere in Syria, two strikes west of al-Hasakah hit multiple ISIS buildings, one near Deir Ezzor struck an ISIS staging area and IED production facility, and one southwest of Rabiyah struck a small group of ISIS fighters.
The United States, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE all participated in the strikes, Central Command said.
Dutch forces join in
In Iraq, Dutch forces participated for the first time in airstrikes against ISIS.
Dutch forces dropped three bombs on armed ISIS vehicles that were shooting at Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq on Tuesday morning, the Dutch Defense Ministry said in a statement. The vehicles were destroyed, and ISIS fighters may have been killed, the ministry said.
U.S. Central Command said Belgium participated in overnight airstrikes in Iraq as well.
Map: Kobani (Ayn al-Arab)
Death toll in fight for Kobani
More than 400 people have been killed in the fight for Kobani since mid-September, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.
The group said it has documented the deaths of 219 ISIS jihadists, 163 members of the Kurdish militia, and 20 civilians.
A northern Iraqi hospital has received the bodies of at least 29 suspected ISIS militants, the head of the Tal Afar hospital said Tuesday.
How can U.S. cut off ISIS funding?
Danial Qassim said most were killed in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes overnight.
Tal Afar is about 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city. Mosul has also been overtaken by ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.
U.S. military airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have cost more than $62 million so far, according to data provided by the U.S. Defense Department.
The data, apparently sent out inadvertently to the Pentagon’s press contacts on Monday, listed the total number of airstrikes by U.S. Central Command in Iraq and Syria. It also detailed locations of targets and specified the costs of munitions used.
U.S. intelligence officials say the airstrikes in Syria are just beginning and that it could take years before Islamic State fighters are defeated. VPC
U.S. aircraft and those from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates struck Islamic State targets in Syria on Wednesday, including 12 oil refineries, the U.S. Central Command said.
The 13 airstrikes used a combination of fighter aircraft and drones, according to Central Command. The targets were in the remote eastern part of Syria near the towns of Al Mayadin, Al Hasakah and Abu Kamal. Another strike hit an Islamic State vehicle near Dayr az Zawr, also in eastern Syria.
The latest attacks follow strikes early Wednesday on five targets in Iraq and Syria connected to the Islamic State terrorist organization, also known as ISIL or ISIS, Central Command reported.
National security adviser Susan Rice told NBC News on Wednesday that the White House had seen social media reports that the allied airstrikes had killed the leader of the Khorasan terrorist organization, Muhsin al-Fadhli.
“We can’t confirm that at this stage,” Rice said, “but we’ve seen reports on social media to that effect. We will continue to look for signs as to whether or not that’s, in fact, the case.”
Iraqi President: Stopping ISIL a global duty
The Pentagon could not confirm whether al-Fadhli had been killed, a military official said on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
“U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Iraq and Syria, using a mix of attack, bomber and fighter aircraft to conduct five airstrikes Tuesday and today,” a Central Command statement says. “Two airstrikes west of Baghdad destroyed two ISIL armed vehicles and a weapons cache. Two airstrikes southeast of Irbil destroyed ISIL fighting positions. A fifth airstrike damaged eight ISIL vehicles in Syria northwest of Al Qa’im. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.”
The BBC quotes Syrian activists as reporting strikes around the Kurdish town of Kobane, close to the border with Turkey. The town has been besieged by Islamic State fighters for several days.
According to the BBC, witnesses said they saw two military aircraft approaching from Turkey, but Turkish officials denied its airspace or bases had been used in the attack.
Turkey has begun to close some of its border crossings with Syria after about 130,000 Kurdish refugees entered the country over the weekend.
On Sunday Turkish security forces clashed with Kurds protesting in solidarity with the refugees. Some protesters were reportedly trying to go to Syria to fight Islamic State (IS).
Most refugees are from Kobane, a town threatened by the advancing militants.
IS has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months.
Before the latest influx, there were already more than one million Syrian refugees in Turkey. They have fled since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad three years ago.
Some of the new arrivals are being sheltered in overcrowded schools, as Turkey struggles to cope with the influx.
On Friday Turkey opened a 30km (19-mile) section of the border to Syrians fleeing the town of Kobane, also known as Ayn al-Arab.
But on Monday only two out of nine border posts in the area remained open, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.
Mark Lowen, BBC News, southern Turkey
Turkey was already struggling to cope with over a million Syrian refugees – that was before 130,000 more fled across the border at the weekend. The sheer numbers would overwhelm any country.
Added to that, they are Kurds from Syria, many of them deeply hostile to Turkey. For 30 years, Turkish forces fought Kurdish rebels in a civil war that killed 40,000 people.
The fact that Turkey is accepting tens of thousands of Kurds is a sign of how allegiances are being forced to change with the onslaught of Islamic State. But deep-seated tension between Kurds and Turks have again come to the surface, leading to Sunday’s border clashes.
Turkey fears that Kurds will cross into Syria to join the Kurdish militia. The worry is that, renewed by fresh recruits, it could ally with the outlawed PKK and launch attacks on Turkish soil. All the regional complexities, added to the refugee influx, make for a precarious situation here.
Clashes broke out on Sunday after a demonstration by Kurds on the Turkish side of the border.
Some protesters threw stones at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon. There were no reports of serious injuries.
Turkish security forces were trying to stop Kurdish fighters from entering Syria to take part in the defence of Kobane, says the BBC’s Mark Lowen at the scene.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a banned militant group that fought a civil war for autonomy within Turkey for decades, has called on Kurds to join the fight against IS.
Our correspondent says the Syrian conflict has reawakened old hostilities and shaken a fragile peace between Kurds and Turkish authorities.
PKK-affiliated forces have been battling IS in northern Iraq for months.
Most of the border crossings from Syria to Turkey are now closed
Turkish security forces clashed with demonstrators at one crossing on Sunday
In other developments:
A Syrian government air strike killed at least 42 civilians in rebel-held territory in the north-western province of Idlib on Sunday, activists said
IS issued a statement urging its supporters to kill “disbelievers” from the countries that have joined a international coalition against the group
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed the threat posed by IS during a meeting in New York on Sunday, a US official said
IS is closing in on the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane, having seized dozens of villages in the area in recent days.
It began the assault on Tuesday, and by Sunday militants were about 10km (six miles) away, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Reports suggest that IS has used heavy weaponry, including tanks, in the attack.
The US has said it will attack the group in Syria as part of a strategy to destroy it, though so far it has carried out air strikes against IS only in Iraq.
Tony Blair: ” Isis… kill without mercy and they’re prepared to die without regret”
Attacking IS in Syria is considered more complicated, partly because of the strength of the country’s air defence system and because foreign strikes do not have the approval of President Assad.
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC on Sunday that air strikes alone might not be enough to contain the group.
“If necessary, we shouldn’t rule out the use of, particularly, special force capabilities,” he said.
President Obama has previously ruled out the involvement of US ground troops, and has instead promised to provide arms and training to local forces fighting against IS.
Who are Islamic State (IS)?
Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
It captured broad swathes of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a “caliphate” in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria
The US has been launching air strikes on IS targets in north-eastern Iraq since mid-August
WASHINGTON — President Obama will put forward his strategy for confronting Islamic State militants this week, meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday and giving a televised address Wednesday.
“This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq War,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. “What this is is similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years.”
Obama gave few details on his “game plan,” other than to say the United States would “start going on some offense” against the Islamic militant group, also referred to by the acronyms ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
His remarks came as the military expanded its airstrikes in western Iraq against Islamic State targets around the Haditha Dam. Previous airstrikes had been concentrated around the Mosul Dam, 170 miles to the north.
Obama said the United States would be part of an international coalition supporting Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops “so that they can start retaking territory that ISIL had taken over.”
Republicans in Congress said Obama’s remarks Sunday were a good first step, but he needs to be clearer when he addresses the nation Wednesday.
“First of all, he needs to acknowledge the problem of ISIS. There’s been some confusion coming out of the administration. This is the toughest talk that we have heard from the president,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on CNN’s State of the Union. “That’s a good thing, because they are a threat.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Obama should have given the speech months ago. “He needs to clearly outline what we’re going to do about it, and I hope that will include a sustained air campaign involving every element of our air power, targeting their supply lines, targeting their command and control structure,” he said on CBS’ Face the Nation.
That includes airstrikes in Syria, Rubio said. “If you’re serious about defeating ISIL, you have to go after where they’re headquartered.”
Obama did not rule that out. “The strategy both for Iraq and for Syria is that we will hunt down ISIL members and assets wherever they are,” he said. He again emphasized that the effort would not involve significant U.S. ground forces. In Syria, he said, “the boots on the ground have to be Syrian.”
Obama said he dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to the region this week to meet with Sunni-majority Persian Gulf states who are beginning to see Sunni extremists such as the Islamic State as a threat. Those countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, need to help cultivate a “moderate Sunni opposition” in Syria.
Obama said he wants congressional support for his actions in the region, but he stopped short of saying he would ask Congress to vote to authorize a broader campaign.
Could the US have prevented the rise of IS, asks Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen
Islamic State militants have committed “mass atrocities” in Syria, including the recruitment of children as fighters, the United Nations says.
Investigators have also accused the Syrian government of using chemical agents in eight separate incidents in western Syria this year.
Islamic State (IS), which now controls areas of Syria, is one of the groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
Some 200,000 have died since the conflict began in early 2011.
The findings are the result of six months of interviews and evidence collected between January and July this year as part of an inquiry into human rights violations inside Syria.
The period covered in the report coincides with the growth of IS in Syria. The group seeks to create an independent Islamic State in an area that stretches across Syria and Iraq.
It has attracted jihadists from across the region, as well as fighters from Western countries including the UK and the US.
Training child soldiers
In their report, UN investigators said IS was waging a campaign of fear in northern Syria, including amputations, public executions and whippings.
The use of barrel bombs by the Syrian government has been widely condemned
Islamic State militants are said to have recently gained control of a Syrian airbase in Tabqa, near Raqqa
“Bodies of those killed are placed on display for several days, terrorising the local population,” the document says.
“Women have been lashed for not abiding by IS’s dress code. In Raqqa, children as young as 10 are being recruited and trained at IS camps.”
On Wednesday IS supporters tweeted pictures allegedly showing militants executing Syrian army soldiers after capturing the government Tabqa airbase near Raqqa in eastern Syria. The pictures have not been verified.
Among the allegations of war crimes committed by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad was the use of suspected chlorine gas, a chemical agent, in eight separate incidents in April and May of this year.
The report also detailed the use of barrel bombs by the Syrian Air Force which were dropped on civilian neighbourhoods.
UN inspectors were initially barred from Ghouta in Damascus where chemical weapons were allegedly used
Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the UN panel, said the international community has failed “in its most elemental duties – to protect civilians, halt and prevent atrocities and create a path toward accountability”.
One of the investigators, Carla del Ponte – a former chief prosecutor of two UN war crimes tribunals – has urged world powers to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
In a separate development, Syrian rebel groups including the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front have taken control of a crossing between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to a UK-based monitoring group.
“The Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
An Israeli military spokesperson tweeted that an Israeli soldier was “moderately wounded” by errant fire in the Golan Heights.