France Passes Controversial Counterterrorism Bill

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – On Tuesday, October 3rd, the French Parliament approved a national counterterrorism security bill, significantly expanding the state’s power to fight terrorism. Activists are calling it a historic threat to civil liberties.

Demonstrators Protest Counterterrorism Bill in France. Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.

The bill was passed in response to a wave of terrorist activity that began in November 2015 when 130 people were killed in attacks in Paris. A state of emergency was declared at the time and has been extended six times. Since then, the number of lives taken by terrorist violence has risen to 239.

The legislation, which was enacted at the behest of President Emmanuel Macron, allows French police to conduct searches and seizures and place suspects under house arrest with little court intervention or supervision. With judicial approval, police will also be able to raid private property, impose restrictions on people’s movements, and use electronic surveillance tags.

Mosques and other places of worship will be shut down if intelligence agencies believe religious leaders are promoting radical ideology or justifying terrorist acts.

Activists are concerned with the abuses that may arise with this legislation and its potential to infringe on civil rights and discriminate against French Muslims, the country’s largest minority.

“A project like this one constitutes a threat to our rights because it replaces facts by suspicion,” said Jacques Toubon, who now serves as the country’s human rights watchdog.

One concern is that the legislation is too vague in its language. Police will be able to exercise the measures described in the bill if they have “serious reasons” to suspect someone is involved in terrorist activity.

Many French citizens support the bill and do not believe that it threatens their liberty. They believe that they are more vulnerable to violence without the measures in place.

Other countries have tightened up security in response to terrorist threats, but the French laws are among the broadest in scope.

The United Nations sent a letter to the French government in late September regarding the “restrictions to fundamental liberties” that would be a consequence of the law.

Other critics of the law point to the fact that since the emergency measures have been put in place in 2015, none of them have prevented terrorist attacks.

Marwan Muhammad, director of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an advocacy group that fights discrimination, said that a result of the measures will be that “what was problematic and exceptional will now become problematic and normal.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – France Approves Tough New Anti-Terror Laws – 4 October 2017

New York Times – French Parliament Advances a Sweeping Counterterrorism Bill – 3 October 2017

Reuters – France Backs Tough Anti-Terrorism Laws After Wave of Attacks – 3 October 2017

Washington Post – French Muslims Enraged by Passage of Macron’s Version of Patriot Act – 3 October 2017

Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq to Hold Referendum

By Justin Santabarbara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East 

KIRKUK, Iraq The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq has elected to hold a non-binding referendum signaling its desire to provincially separate from the central Iraqi regime. The referendum is scheduled to be put to a vote on 25 September. The independence referendum has gained its most support over the last couple of months as Iraq continues its counterterrorism-minded overtaking of provincial and regional governments. Moreover, the referendum is facing much criticism from both the central Iraqi government and the nearby Turks. The central Iraqi government view the measure as an impingement upon their regional control in northern Iraq, especially because the referendum expresses intention to reject central Iraqi control of the security forces and recruit, train and develop an exclusively Kurdish security apparatus. The Turks view the referendum as granting empowerment to the minority Kurdish political parties and forcing terrorists to seek more readily available opportunities in Turkey. The primary opposition again refers to the weakening of Turkey’s counterterrorism apparatus.

Kurdish Regional Government President, Massoud Barzani. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

The KRG President, Massoud Bazani, has expressed the intention to move forward with the referendum, despite its mass criticism. In speaking to Kurds on 24 September, Barzani told Kurds that the future of the Kurdish people depends upon the passage of the referendum. Barzani continued that the referendum would give the KRG important standing to continue negotiations with the Iraqi government. Barzani concluded that the Kurds currently maintain the most bargaining power since their ousting by the Hussein regime. As momentum continues to build, the passage of the referendum is important because it allows the government to continue to forge relationships with Baghdad, while also building the governmental institutions that are central to success and stability. Barzani, whose tenure began in 2005, urged his commitment to recruit Kurdish forces and receive international aid and training.

Counterterrorism remains at the forefront of both criticism and support for the referendum. While Barzani claims that the ability to recruit and develop independent security forces will allow for a more specialized focus in repelling ISIS fighters from the region. Conversely, the Iraqi central government disagrees in saying that independent security forces will not be well equipped nor prepared to endure the challenges of repelling ISIS fighters. Moreover, the time lapse in acquiring and building the security apparatus lends itself to a void in time, for which terrorists can take advantage, especially when such a schedule is well promulgated. With the referendum looming, its determination can ultimately change the mechanisms with which the Middle East combats ISIS and other regional terrorists. The United States has publicly denounced the referendum, calling it illegitimate.

For more information, please see:

U.S. Department of State – Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s Referendum – 25 September 2017

Aljazeera News – Barzani to Kurds: Vote in Referendum to Secure Future – 24 September 2017

Reuters – Kurds Stick with Independence Vote – 24 September 2017

Aljazeera News – Barzani: Kurd Region Poll to Occur Despite Opposition – 23 September 2017

Bombing at London underground station leaves city defiant, not deflated

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

The London tube station where an IED went off, minutes after the attack. Image courtesy of BBC Broadcast.

LONDON, United Kingdom – Twelve years ago, a bomb went off in the London Underground subway system, killing 52 people and leaving others injured.

On September 15th, 2017, a bomber targeted the London underground. It is the first attack on the London transit system since the one in 2005.

This time, 29 were injured, but no one died.

Still, Prime Minister Theresa May raised the terror threat level for the United Kingdom to “critical”.

The police have arrested one suspect, an 18-year-old, after a raid on the suspect’s house in Surrey. While it is unclear whether the suspect was affiliated with any international terror organization, terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (“ISIS” or “Daesh”) have taken responsibility for the attack.

But the police have urged people to avoid “pure speculation,” after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted a suggestion that the Scotland Yard knew about the attack before it was to happen.

Prime Minister May also called Mr. Trump’s statement “unhelpful”.

Police continue to release limited information regarding the arrest and the continued investigation.

Despite the terror threat level set at “critical”, people in the city continued about their business in the wake of the attack. Londoners went to work, tourists gathered outside of Buckingham Palace to snag photos, and the only underground station closed was the Parsons Green one, where the bomb was detonated.

In an editorial for the London-based newspaper The Guardian, the writers suggest that this “lack of excitement” for this attack may be what the country needs.

“The terrorists want to rouse terror and the kind of anger which quenches reason,” they write. “it’s important and we should continue to keep our heads over what is by any reasonable standard a pinprick attack.”

In its title, the editorial aptly suggested that Londoners “keep calm and carry on”. This phrase comes from a motivational poster produced by the British government to boost the morale of the public during World War II, while Great Britain was a constant target of air strikes by the Axis powers.

London mayor Sadiq Khan also urged citizens to not be intimidated by the threat of terror.

“[We] condemn the hideous individuals who attempt to used terror to harm us and destroy our way of life,” he stated.

“As London has proven again and again, we will never be intimidated or defeated by terrorism.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Parsons Green: Armed police search house over Tube bombing – 16 September 2017

CNN – London Tube attack latest: Arrest made as terror threat raised to ‘critical’ – 16 September 2017

The Guardian – Parsons Green bombing: police arrest man and raid Surrey house – 16 September 2017

The New York Times – ‘Bucket Bomb’ Strikes London’s Vulnerable Underground – 15 September 2017

The Guardian – The Guardian view on the London tube bomb: keep calm and carry on – 15 September 2017

BBC News – 7 July London bombings: What happened that day? – 3 July 2015

After regaining Mosul, Iraq continues steadfast prosecution of ISIS

By:Justin D. Santabarbara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Iraqi Security Forces Detain a suspected ISIS fighter (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch). 

Since the Iraqi government regained control of Mosul and much of its northern provinces from the Islamic State in recent weeks, much emphasis has been placed on rebuilding the punitive institutions of government. In rebuilding its criminal justice capacity, Iraq has sought the counsel of the United Nations Human Rights reports, which began implicating the Islamic State human rights abuses in 2015. Together, with independent militia groups, Iraq’s Executive Office, under Haider Al-Abadi and the United Nations, launched an investigatory campaign in 2016. In August 2017, the Iraqi government charged a number of ISIS fighters in absentia with crimes against humanity. Al-Abadi is expected to formally address the United Nations Security Council in the coming weeks. He will likely request that the Security Council adopt a formal resolution to aid in the charging and capture of ISIS fighters.

The Iraqi government and the United Nations have focused the majority of its attention on balancing the sectarian divisions that continued to exist throughout the country. Since the Islamic State divided much of Iraq, the Shia-backed Iraqi military was forced to alienate many of its previous Sunni allies in pursuit of repelling ISIS. Additionally, Yazidis and Kurds have been historically persecuted by both Sunni and Shia. Until Al-Abadi gained the aid of western military forces in recovering Mosul, much of the Northern provinces were neglected, which left Yazidis and Kurds with little support. Al-Abadi’s most arduous challenge will continue to be regaining the trust of these religious sects, while also being successful in repelling ISIS fighters from the region. Human Rights Watch has been highly critical of the Iraqi government’s response to many of these groups, citing their continued detention and torturing of minority sects as a mechanism for screening their loyalties to ISIS.

The Iraqi investigation has faced much criticism from Human Rights Watch. It reports that ISIS fighters continue to be tried arbitrarily and with prejudice. While the imperative for national security remains a central priority for the government, Human Rights Watch has nearly 2,000 trials that have universally resulted in convictions and stringent sentences. Moreover, Human Rights Watch reports that Iraqi security forces have begun prosecuting lawyers, both domestic and international, that are representing the alleged ISIS fighters. Additionally, Iraqi courts do not issue different sentences for minor involvement or otherwise. The sentences have near universally been undisclosed, or death. Iraq continues its roundup by seeking additional avenues of criminal conduct. Among them include the possibility of charging doctors and other officials working under the Islamic State, but not directly toward their combative interests.

For more information, please see:

CBC News – Sectarian divisions exploited by ISIS still endure in Iraq – 5 September 2017

Human Rights First – Iraq Finally Holds ISIS Responsible for Crimes Against Humanity – 1 September 2017 

Human Rights Watch – The Justice Question After ISIS – 25 August 2017

U.S. Strikes a Syrian Pro-Assad Regime Convoy

By: Yamillet Brizuela
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

AL-TANF, Syria – The U.S. military carried out an air strike on Thursday, May 18, against the supporters of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime convoy and Iranian-backed militia that neared a Western special forces unit and US-backed rebels’ base in al-Tanf.

Residents walk through damaged streets at town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside on 18 May 2017. Photo Courtesy by AP.

On Friday, May 19, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (“SOHR”) reported that at least eight members of the pro-Assad regime forces were killed, most of them were of non-Syrian nationalities. SOHR reported that the airstrike destroyed at least four vehicles which were carrying supporters of the regime, suggesting that injuries from the destruction could cause the death toll to rise.

Syria and Russia claimed the U.S airstrike on the convoy was “government terrorism” that caused a “massacre” which killed several people, both civilians and soldiers in al-Tanf. Specifically, the Syrian government stated that the airstrikes were a “blatant attack on forces fighting terrorism.” The Russian government claimed the airstrikes violated Syria’s sovereignty.

On the other hand, the U.S. claimed the airstrike was “defensive” in nature. The U.S. Defense Secretary reported that the U.S. military determined that the convoy posed a threat to the U.S. and partner forces; he also claimed that Russia was warned prior to the airstrike that the convoy was “getting too close to coalition forces.”  The U.S. claimed airstrike to be a signal to President Bashar Assad to keep his forces out of a zone where U.S.-backed rebels are fighting the Islamic State group, and that they will continue to defend themselves against any threat to the coalition or its allies in the area.

This airstrike has been the second of such confrontation between the United States and the pro-Assad regime. In April, U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the launch of dozens of missiles against the Shayrat airbase, destroying a number of key Syrian military assets, in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians believed to have been conducted by the Assad regime that week.

In addition, U.S President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as president began on Friday, May 19, in the Middle East. Syria’s war and Arab-Israeli peace are said to be the top of his agenda.

For more information, please see:

ABC News- Syria Says US Airstrike Killed Several Soldiers Near Jordan- 19 May 2017

Aljazeera- Syria, Russia Condemn US-led Strike on pro-Assad Forces- 20 May 2017

BBC- Syria and Russia Condemn US-Led Attack on pro-Assad Forces- 19 May 2017

Malaysia Sun- U.S. Claims it Launched Defensive Strikes on pro-Assad Troops, but Syria and Russia Claim Dozens of Civilians and Soldiers Killed- 20 May 2017

Middle East Eye- Syria War: Russia Claims US Attack Killed Civilians- 19 May 2017

Reuters- Syrian Negotiator Calls U.S. Strike ‘Terrorism’ and a ‘Massacre’- 19 May 2017

Reuters- U.S. says Iranian-Directed Convoy Targeted by U.S. Strike in Syria- 19 May 2017

SOHR- 8 Killed Mostly non-Syrians in targeting by Coalition’s warplanes for a Military Convoy of the Regime Forces and the Militiamen Loyal to them in the Syrian Desert- 18 May 2017

ISIS Suicide Bombers Carry Out Attacks at Churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Palm Sunday, April 10th, the Islamic State (“ISIS”) carried out two suicide attacks at Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, injuring and killing over 100 people. Following the attacks, on Sunday evening, Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared a three-month state of emergency.

The suicide bombers detonated explosive devices at two churches in the towns of Tanta and Alexandria (Photo courtesy of CNN)

The suicide attacks, which were carried out merely hours apart, were responsible for the deaths of at least forty-four people, and injured at least 126 more. These attacks marked the “single deadliest day for Christians in decades” and were the worst since thirty people had died in a bombing at a church in December.

The bombings took place in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria. The first bomb, which exploded in Tanta at St. George’s Church, killed at least twenty-seven people and wounded seventy-eight. A civilian who rushed to the scene of the bombing, Mr. Maged Saleh, cried out “[w]here is the government? There is no government!”

The first explosion led to “horrific” scenes, and reportedly “destroyed” the church. A state-run news agency reported that an explosive device had been planted under a seat in the main prayer hall. The bombs reportedly “overturn[ed] pews, shatter[ed] windows and stain[ed] the whitewashed walls with blood.” Media reports from the site depicted “lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers.” Several doors had been blown off, and women were shown as “wail[ing] outside.” A survivor who had been attending the Palm Sunday mass with his brother noted that smoke filled the area, leading to complete darkness.

A nearby resident, Ms. Susan Mikhail, stated that the explosion shook her building. “violently[.]” She reported that many of the deacons, who were the first to run out of the church, had “blood on their white robes[.]” Ms. Mikhail added that those who had been seriously injured were rescued by other survivors and carried out to private cars to be taken to the hospital.

The second bomb, which was detonated at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, killed a minimum of eighteen civilians and four police officers, and injured forty-eight. A man who had reportedly been wearing an explosive belt was stopped from entering the church by two police officers. The bomb was detonated shortly thereafter near the gate of the church. An Egyptian blogger, Maged Butter, reported that there were bloodstains 100 meters away from the explosion. He added that women were “crying and looking for their loved ones[.]” A nearby witness stated that there were “bodies and body parts everywhere[,]” and added that he “saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag.”

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, leading to escalating fear that the extremists are shifting their focus to civilians, and particularly on the Christian minority in Egypt: the Coptics. The group released a statement in which it provided the names of the suicide bombers, and stated that it “vow[s]” to continue its attacks against Christians.

For more information, please see:

CBS—Rage, crackdown after deadly ISIS attack on Christian minority—10 April 2017

The New York Times—Attacks Show ISIS’ New Plan: Divide Egypt by Killing Christians—10 April 2017

CNN—ISIS claims responsibility for Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt—10 April 2017

Fox News—Palm Sunday attacks: 44 dead, more than 100 injured in church bombings carried out by ISIS in Egypt—9 April 2017

ABC News—Egypt declares state of emergency; ISIS attacks killed scores of Palm Sunday churchgoers—9 April 2017

Daily Mail—Egyptian forces shoot dead seven jihadists planning to attack a Christian monastery days after bombing Coptic church as part of ISIS plan to divide the country—11 April 2017

Hundreds of Iraqi Civilians Killed in Airstrikes

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — After a one-day break, Iraqi forces resumed their operations against the Islamic State (“ISIS”) on Sunday, March 26th. The Iraqi army’s efforts were briefly put on hold following suspicions of a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killing dozens of civilians in Mosul on March 17th.

Hundreds of civilians lost their lives as a result of the airstrikes, and hundreds more are feared trapped or dead (Photo courtesy of the Guardian)

Local residents and witnesses stated that the bodies of over 200 civilians had been recovered from the rubble of a collapsed building in the area hit by the airstrike. Photographers at the attack site reported seeing twelve bodies, including those of women and children, being placed in blue plastic body bags. Hundreds more civilians are still believed to be trapped. An AlJazeera reporter, Ms. Hoda Abdel-Hamid, stated that she interviewed a man who had been trapped under rubble for several days before being rescued, and had lost twenty-two relatives in an airstrike.

According to Ms. Abdel-Hamid, local residents indicate that the “main problem” is the agility with which ISIS fighters move around. She stated that the fighters “go[] in and out of houses, on top of rooftops . . . and then disappear.” By the time an airstrike is called in, “the ISI[S] fighters have disappeared.”

U.S. defense officials confirmed that a coalition airstrike struck a target in Mosul on March 17th. U.S. Central Command (“CENTCOM”) officials indicated that the aircraft had acted at the request of Iraq. This is a stark contrast to the statement issued by Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi, who characterized the conditions as a “humanitarian catastrophe” by blaming U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and “excessive force” used by federal police forces. Mr. al-Nujaifi subsequently called for an emergency parliament session to initiate an investigation into the attack. The spokesman for the Joint Operations Command further indicated that the Iraqi Defense Ministry opened an investigation into the attack.

While CENTCOM officials stated that coalition airstrikes are carried out in compliance with the Laws of Armed Conflict, March could produce the highest number of civilian deaths attributed to U.S. airstrikes since the beginning of the war. Estimates for the amount of civilians killed by the end of the month is currently set at 1,000. The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq indicated that the organization is “stunned by this terrible loss of life[.]”

A senior public information officer in Iraq with the U.N.’s refugee agency, Ms. Caroline Gluck, indicated that country conditions are “deteriorating daily.” Ms. Gluck noted that the fighting takes place closer to civilian homes in a “densely-packed area,” which results in families being “terrified by the mortars, the shelling and the airstrikes[.]” She stated that most families rely on one meal per day, which typically consists solely of water and flour. She further added that people are “desperate” due to the lack of fuel and heating. The U.N. estimates that over 600,000 people are still trapped in the city of Mosul.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo News—Iraqis remove bodies from rubble in west Mosul—26 March 2017

The Guardian—Shell-shocked Mosul survivors tell of intense airstrikes—26 March 2017

AlJazeera—In west Mosul, ‘nowhere is safe for civilians’—26 March 2017

New York Post—Iraqi military pulls 61 bodies from Mosul as airstrikes probed—26 March 2017

NBC News—Coalition Airstrikes Hit Mosul Location Where Scores of Civilians Were Killed: CENTCOM—26 March 2017

The Guardian—Iraq probes reports of civilian deaths in Mosul—26 March 2017

Iraqi Forces Kill ISIS Commander During Fight for Iron Bridge in Mosul

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On Tuesday, March 14th, the Iraqi government announced that its forces killed the commander of the Islamic State (“ISIS”).

ISIS commander Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary was killed during a fight to take over the Iron Bridge near Mosul (Photo courtesy of Daily News)

ISIS’s commander, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary, was killed in the Old City of Mosul during a fight for the Iron Bridge crossing the Tigris River, which is the terrorist group’s last stronghold in the country. Mr. al-Ansary was reportedly killed by federal police in an attempt to clear the Bab al-Tob district.

Iraqi officers reported that ISIS snipers were attempting to slow down the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response Units on the Iron Bridge, which links eastern and western Mosul. The officers stated, however, that despite these attempts, the “elite forces” were still moving forward. The Brigadier General of the Rapid Response Unit, Mr. Mahdi Abbas Abdullah, stated that Iraqi forces are progressing towards the Iron Bridge by “taking out snipers hiding in the surrounding buildings[.]” Moreover, the Iraqi military is reportedly using armored vehicles and tanks to remove snipers who are “pinning down troops clearing areas around the bridge.”

Regaining control of the Iron Bridge would transfer the strategic advantage to Iraqi forces. At the moment, Iraq controls two of the pivotal bridges in the area. If captured, Iraqi forces would hold three of the five bridges in Mosul that span the Tigris River. All three bridges have already been damaged by either ISIS militants or air strikes led by the United States.

Mr. al-Ansary’s death was characterized as a “blow” to the ISIS militants after many leaders of the terrorist organization have already retreated from Mosul. The group is now reportedly defending “their shrinking area of control[.]” As of March 14th, Iraqi forces were within 330 feet of the Iron Bridge, and were expected to take over the bridge, and its surrounding area, by the end of the day. A Rapid Response Unit spokesperson stated that recapturing the bridge would “help further tighten the noose around [ISIS] fighters entrenched inside the old city[.]”

Over 600,000 civilians have been trapped in the area held by ISIS. Local residents poured out of western neighborhoods retaken by the government, thankful to be rescued from ISIS’s “grip.” They escaped the violent fighting taking place around their homes, carrying only suitcases, water bottles and “other possessions.” Some were reportedly pushing their children and ill elderly relatives in handcarts and wheelbarrows. They were ushered into trucks by soldiers to be taken to processing areas, and reported that food has been “scarce,” while adding that they have mostly been consuming “water mixed with tomatoes.”

For more information, please see:

International Business Times—End Of ISIS: Islamic State Commander Killed In Iraq As US, Russia And Turkey Compete In Syria—14 March 2017

AlJazeera—Iraqi forces kill ISIL commander in Mosul—14 March 2017

Reuters—IS Mosul commander killed, government forces battle for bridge—14 March 2017

Dozens of Christian Egyptian Families Fleeing After Targeted ISIS Attacks

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — On Friday, February 24th, hundreds of Christian Egyptian families fled the country’s northern Sinai Peninsula after the Islamic State (“ISIS”) killed another member of their community following several weeks of targeted killings in the area.

Families brought only their children and a suitcase of clothing (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

 

At least seven people have been killed as a result of ISIS’s attacks in the past three weeks. The fleeing Egyptians escaped their homes after ISIS released a video on Sunday, “vow[ing]” to increase their attacks on Sinai’s Christian minority. Following the video, numerous attacks were carried out by gunmen in Sinai over the course of several days. ISIS claimed responsibility for beheading one man, while setting another on fire. On Wednesday, a man was killed in front of his pregnant spouse by gunmen who “then calmly drank a bottle of Pepsi” before departing. On Thursday, a plumber was shot dead at his home in front of his wife and children.

After the series of killings, most families fled their homes with nothing more than their children and some clothes. They then sought refuge at a church compound in the city of Ismailia. A volunteer with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms stated that ISIS “want[s] to send a message that nobody is safe[.]”

The deacon of the church in Ismailia, Mr. Nabil Shukrullah, stated that the situation is extremely difficult, and that approximately fifty to sixty more families are expected to arrive. The fleeing Egyptians indicated that they are “scared of [their] shadows,” and cried out against being “targeted in an ugly way.” A refugee from the town of Arish stated that waiting for death was not an option, while characterizing ISIS militants as “ruthless.” Residents of the town reported that Christians were warned to “leave or die” after the terrorists “circulated death lists online and on the streets[.]” A vegetable seller who fled the town on Friday, Mr. Munir Adel, indicated that anyone who is Christian was put on the list. Although his father is the second name on the list, he was unable to leave his home due to his old age. Mr. Adel stated that his father “could be killed at any moment.”

The Christian Egyptians, who belong to the Coptic faith, comprise the Middle East’s largest Christian community, and make up approximately 10% of the country’s population, currently estimated to be around 90 million. Christians of the nation declared that the security measures taken towards protecting them are insufficient, while claiming that “nothing” is being done to ensure their safety. The Coptic church, which stated that the attacks were directed towards “dividing Egyptians[,]” subsequently condemned the attacks.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times—Targeted by ISIS, Egyptian Christians Flee Violence—24 February 2017

BBC News—Egypt’s Coptic Christians flee Sinai after deadly attacks—25 February 2017

Reuters—Egypt’s Christians flee Sinai amid Islamic State killing spree—24 February 2017

Fox News—Christians flee Egypt’s Sinai after militant killings—24 February 2017

Daily Mail—More Egypt Copts flee jihadists in Sinai—25 February 2017

Washington Post—Christians flee Sinai Peninsula in fear of Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate—24 February 2017

 

 

 

ISIS Torturing Sunni Arab Women and Girls

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Monday, February 20th, reporting that Islamic State (ISIS) militants are “arbitrarily detaining, ill-treating, torturing, and forcibly marrying Sunni Arab women and girls[.]” The allegation states that ISIS fighters are carrying out such abuses in Iraq, within regions that are still in their control.

Human Rights Watch stated that Sunni Arab women’s sexual abuse is widely unreported (Photo courtesy of Middle East Monitor)

The report released by Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) was prepared based on interviews with six women in Kirkuk. Four of these women stated that in 2016, they had been detained by ISIS for a period of three days up to one month. Another indicated that her cousin, who is an ISIS fighter, had raped her after forcing her to marry him. One woman stated that ISIS fighters had attempted to forcibly marry her after burning down her house in response to her husband’s escape from ISIS. Of the six interviewed women, five indicated that ISIS militants had beat them.

One woman indicated that ISIS captured her and her three children, along with fifty other women, when they attempted to escape Hawija. She was branded a traitor by ISIS after her husband had escaped the town, and was told that she should marry the local ISIS leader. Upon her refusal, ISIS fighters “blindfolded [her], beat[] [her] with plastic cables, suspended [her] by her arms, and raped [her].” She, and the other women, were held by ISIS in an abandoned house for over one month, while being blindfolded and raped her in front of her children on a daily basis. She noted that the other women were most likely raped in the same manner, and forced to marry their rapists.

HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director, Ms. Lama Faikh, stated that the sexual abuse endured by Sunni Arab women living under ISIS’s control is widely undocumented and unknown. She urged the international community and local Iraqi authorities to take action to ensure that victims receive much needed support.

A foreign aid worker indicated seeing many cases of forced marriage and rape. She noted, however, that most victims do not report the abuse because women tend to cover it up due to fear of societal stigma or retribution. She highlighted the concern that “babies born of rape or forced marriage may also face stigma[,]” while stating that “long-term psychological support and medical treatment” are particularly noteworthy.

HRW indicated that efforts to overcome the stigma associated with sexual violence are present, yet insufficient. The rights group highlighted the “lack of awareness” with regards to services, psychosocial or mental health support, and medical professionals in Kirkuk. A psychiatrist at an international organization in Iraq’s Kurdistan region stated that men are not being adequately informed on how to support women who are victims of gender-based violence. She indicated that male relatives will typically “forbid women” from obtaining counseling.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Iraq: Sunni Women Tell of ISIS Detention, Torture—20 February 2017

Middle East Online—HRW says IS jihadists raping, torturing Sunni Arab women too—20 February 2017

Daily Mail—’I was raped every day for a month in front of my children’: Women reveal the horrors they endured as ISIS sex slaves… despite being SUNNI Muslims just like their captors—20 February 2017

Middle East Monitor—HRW: Daesh rapes and tortures Sunni Arab women—21 February 2017

International Business Times—Sunni Arab women raped, tortured and forced to marry Isis fighters, Human Rights Watch says—21 February 2017

Ten-Year-Old Iraqi Girl Killed by ISIS Torture Device

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A new group of female-only “ISIS police” have been administering a new torture technique in which women are “ripped to death with ‘metal jaws’” if they violate the strict rules set by the group. Upon breaking one of the rules set forth by the brigade, a ten-year-old Iraqi girl bled to death after being “bitten” by a poison-lined medieval torture device.

The al-Khansaa have been administering torture to women who violate the strict morality laws set forth by ISIS (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail)

 

The Iraqi girl, Faten, allegedly stepped over the threshold of her home while cleaning. Per the strict rules imposed by ISIS fundamentalists in Mosul, women are not permitted to leave their homes by themselves. In response, the al-Khansaa brigade, ISIS’ female “morality police,” approached Faten’s mother to ask whether punishment should be administered to her or her daughter. Thinking the punishment would be in the form of a bite delivered by a person, Faten’s mother elected to have her daughter take the penalty instead of herself. Her mother, however, was not aware that the punishment would be administered by a medieval torture device, lined with poison.

The device is described as a “clamp with four ends as sharp as knives, like teeth, which can pierce the skin from both sides when pressed down.” While administering the punishment, the device tore the girl’s flesh in various places. After receiving the “bite,” Faten bled to death from the wounds before the poison could take effect.

The al-Khansaa brigade acts as a religious law enforcer, in which they punish females who violate the strict moral rules set forth by ISIS, including breastfeeding outside, not wearing black socks, wearing high heels, or lifting a full-face veil.

The women of Al-Khansaa have been administering brutal punishment all over Mosul. A woman reportedly died from injuries she sustained after being punished for “slightly” lifting her veil to examine merchandise at a market. She was immediately ordered to sit on the ground by the al-Khansaa and received thirty lashings. A woman who witnessed the death cried out against having to wear a hijab and face veil by stating “[i]t’s like I’m getting into a bag and it’s closed on me so I can’t even breathe . . . .”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail—Iraqi girl, 10, is ‘bitten to death’ with medieval torture device by female ISIS fanatics after her mother was asked to choose if she or the child would be punished for stepping outside their house—7 February 2017

The Sun—Sick ISIS female jihadis ‘bite Iraqi girl, 10, to death’ with medieval torture device as punishment for stepping outside her house—7 February 2017

Express—Iraqi girl, 10, ‘bitten to death’ for stepping outside house in horror ISIS torture—7 February 2017

Mirror—Mother’s horror after ISIS female fighters tear daughter to death with metal jaws—7 February 2017

Daily Star—ISIS unleash lady jihadi BITING BRIGADE armed with ‘metal jaws’ to tear women to death—7 February 2017

Iraqi Men and Boys Being Screened and Secretly Detained by Iraqi Military Forces

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) issued a statement accusing Iraqi military members of screening men who are fleeing Mosul for Islamic State (“ISIS”) membership and secretly detaining them in undisclosed prisons.

Fighters of Popular Mobilization Units have been detaining men and boys for interrogation without justification (Photo courtesy of Voice of America)

The HRW report indicated that fighters with the Popular Mobilization Units (“PMU”) have been abducting such men and holding them at detention centers for interrogation. HRW urged that the men are at “heightened risk of abuse, including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance” as PMU’s are not trained in screening. The rights group further highlighted that the screenings and detentions are carried out abnormally, while prisoners are denied contact with the outside world.

The deputy Middle East director at HRW, Ms. Lama Fakih, stated that relatives are increasingly reporting male family members’ disappearance following questioning by PMU fighters. She further stated that the “lack of transparency” with regards to the detained mens’ whereabouts is a “cause for real concern.”

HRW interviewed families which stated that PMU fighters had evacuated their village to a refugee camp. They indicated that five men never returned to the village after they had left to sell sheep. The same men were later shown on a television broadcast depicting them as captured ISIS militants. One of these men stated that he had been attacked and detained by PMUs after leaving the village to sell sheep. Although he had been released and reunited with his family, the remaining men have not resurfaced.

The HRW report stated that the interviewed families all provided the same description for the screening process. Notably, they indicated that screening would be carried out overnight by members of the Iraqi military, who would separate men and boys over the age of fifteen from women and children. The military forces would crosscheck the men and boys’ IDs against Iraqi watchlists for suspected ISIS associations. They would then be detained without any justification for interrogation.

Ms. Fakih indicated that men have been disappearing with increasing frequency, even though official screenings by Iraqi security forces reveal that they are not on a watchlist. She noted that only those with a “screening mandate” should be permitted to screen individuals, while calling upon Iraqi authorities to ensure that prisoners are kept only at “recognized detention center[s]” which provide access to “independent monitors” and guarantee due process rights. She stated that all detention must be based on “clear domestic law.” Ms. Fakih further highlighted the importance of guaranteeing that each prisoner be brought before a judge promptly, as Iraqi law mandates a judicial hearing within 48 hours of detention. Additionally, she also indicated that prisoners’ family members should be made aware of their whereabouts.

PMUs were officially integrated into the Iraqi army in November. Yet they remain autonomous and have attracted widespread criticism regarding mistreatment of prisoners and “carrying out indiscriminate sectarian retributions.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch—Iraq: Men Fleeing Mosul Held in Secret—2 February 2017

Middle East Eye—HRW: Iraqi militias detaining men fleeing Mosul—2 February 2017

Al-Jazeerah—Iraqi Government Militiamen Forcibly Transfer Whole Sunni Villages, Abduct Men Fleeing Mosul, Abuse and Torture them, Steal their Money—3 February 2017

Voice of America—Rights Group: Iraqi Shi’ites Detaining Sunni Men Fleeing Mosul—2 February 2017

 

Children in Prison Allege Being Tortured by Kurdish Security Forces

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Seventeen children imprisoned by the Kurdistan Regional Government (“KRG”) stated that they were tortured or abused by government security forces while in detention. Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) reported that the children were detained due to suspicion of involvement with the Islamic State (“ISIS”).

Children allege being burned with cigarettes and electrocuted during interrogations (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

 

HRW stated that it had privately interviewed nineteen boys, ranging in age from eleven to seventeen, who were being held on suspicions of terrorism. The interview took place at the Women and Children’s Reformatory without the presence of a security or intelligence official. The rights group reported that the children were “held in stress positions, burned with cigarettes, punched and kicked, beaten with plastic pipes and cables, and shocked with electricity” by the KRG. A young boy stated that he “felt that my eyes were popping out” while being interrogated with an “electricity machine” after being drenched in water. Another child indicated that he could not breathe after his face was covered up with a towel and tied with tape. He was subsequently beat for over eight hours while being told to confess. The officer then pulled down the young boy’s pants and “threatened to rape him if he did not confess an ISIS affiliation.” Furthermore, five children also reportedly had marks from cigarette burns or electric shocks administered during interrogation.

Most children stated that they denied any involvement with ISIS. Others, however, admitted that they were associated with the group because of “family connections, desire to earn money or pressure from recruiters.” A deputy director at HRW, Ms. Lama Faikh, indicated that security forces are not granted permission to “beat, manhandle or use electric shocks on children” on the basis of “legitimate security concerns.” While characterizing children escaping from ISIS as “victims,” she stated that many are faced with further abuse from Kurdish security forces. Ms. Faikh strongly urged the KRG to “thoroughly investigate” the allegations of child abuse in prisons, and prosecute those who may be responsible.

The seventeen children are among at least 183 other boys under the age of eighteen who have been imprisoned by KRG based on alleged ISIS involvement. Most, if not all, are being held without charge, and were not permitted access to an attorney during interrogation. The report further indicates that government officials have not informed the children’s families of their whereabouts, and most children have not been permitted to contact their families since being detained.

In response to the HRW report, the KRG denied the allegations of torture by Kurdish security forces. The Head of the KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports, Dr. Dindar Zebari, stated that KRG authorities are “strongly prohibit[ed]” from using physical and psychological torture on prisoners. He stated that detainees’ rights are protected through established policies, legislations and practices against torture.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Children held in Iraq over suspected Isis links ‘say they were tortured’—29 January 2017

Human Rights Watch—Children Allege Torture by Security Forces—29 January 2017

RT—Kurdish militia tortured children to extract ISIS confessions – HRW—29 January 2017

International Business Times—Beaten, electrocuted and abused: Kurds accused of torturing Isis child soldier suspects—29 January 2017

ARA News—Iraqi Kurds deny torturing ISIS child soldiers—30 January 2017

 

Iraqi Prime Minister Orders Investigation into Alleged Human Rights Violations

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — On January 23rd, the Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr. Haider al-Abadi, ordered an investigation into human rights violations allegedly committed by government troops and a Shia paramilitary group.

Iraqi forces are being accused of torturing and killing civilians following a video that surfaced on social media (Photo courtesy of Washington Post)

The allegations include claims of kidnapping and civilian abuse as the troops attempt to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq demanded a governmental inquiry from Iraq when a video surfaced on social media allegedly showing “brutal treatment” and the murdering of at least three ISIS members. The video, which is almost three minutes in length, showed several members of the Iraqi security forces wearing army and police uniforms. The video then contains graphic recordings of the individuals “dragging and beating [] suspects in a residential area before showering them with bullets.”

Two days later, Mr. al-Abadi’s office issued a statement saying that he had “ordered to form a committee to investigate cases of kidnappings, mistreatment and violations . . . against civilians by groups exploiting the name of the security forces and Shia paramilitary units.” Mr. al-Abadi subsequently indicated that he had instructed field commanders to ensure that the laws of armed conflict were followed to prevent human rights violations from being committed under the guise of war operations. He further stated that cases of abuse had been recorded and later uploaded to social media to “spoil the joy of victory[,] defame the real image of the brave security forces and their sacrifices to liberate the land[,] and [] maintain security.”

On January 5th, Amnesty International had issued a statement indicating that Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Units” (PMU) had been “engaged in a systematic pattern of violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and unlawful killings targeting the Sunni community.” Formed in 2014 to join in on the war against ISIS, PMU is a coalition made up of mostly Iranian-trained Shia groups. The coalition was officially merged with the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch had issued a statement in which it “accused Shia militias of abducting and killing [scores] of Sunni civilians in central Iraq.” The rights group had later called upon the Iraqi government to prevent Shia militias from joining the Mosul operation due to concerns of severe human rights violations.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye—Iraq PM orders investigation into abuses reported in Mosul battle—23 January 2017

Washington Post—Iraq premier orders probe into violations by troops in Mosul–23 January 2017

Business Standard—Iraqi PM orders probe into abuses by troops in Mosul—23 January 2017

Kurdistan24—Iraqi PM orders investigation of alleged abuses by Iraqi troops in Mosul—24 January 2017

ISIS Using Drones to Drop Grenades on Civilian Targets

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Islamic State (ISIS) has evolved the use of commercial drones to release explosive devices and grenades on civilian targets in districts of Mosul.

ISIS struck a civilian market with modified drones capable of carrying grenades (Photo courtesy of Mirror)

 

ISIS’s newest effort to modernize technology lies in modifying commercial drones for use as “weapons that terrorize the city of Mosul[.]” Off-the-shelf drones are capable of flying for up to half an hour with a range of several miles, and can easily be afforded by terrorist groups. The improvised drones, which are made up of a “plastic tube attached to a camera drone,” can drop 40 milimeter grenades. This creates a medium through which ISIS can engage in acts of terrorism from afar, thus reducing the risk of death to members of the group.

During the week of January 9th, a U.S. Army commander stated that ISIS was using these improvised weapons as part of their effort to avoid losing control of the “former ISIS stronghold of Mosul.” At the time, ISIS had carried out a strike on a market in Eastern Mosul, where eight people were injured. A young boy, Hussein, stated that he had been shopping with his family when a “small ISIL plane dropped a grenade on [them].” He was later treated for a “broken bone protruding from his foot.”

ISIS has a history of using drones to record footage for propaganda videos and to conduct aerial surveillance. A research fellow at a U.K. military think tank, Mr. Justin Bronk, stated that ISIS is “known for turning things they can get hold of into weapons.”

International fear has developed over the possibility of ISIS leaving behind an “army of brainwashed and dangerous children[.]” Mosul’s youth have been exposed to long-term messages of hate while ISIS has occupied the country’s second largest city. They have further been taught “how to become terrorists and suicide bombers[,]” while learning the “extreme views of Muslim Sharia law[.]”

The Iraqi Commission for Human Rights urged the United Nations (U.N.) to “save a generation of children from religious extremism.” The Commission’s media director, Mr. Jawad al-Shamri, stated that two years ago, ISIS started modifying school syllabi to teach children how to make explosive belts, prepare booby traps and take female hostages.

For more information, please see:

Tech Times—ISIS Weaponizes Everyday Consumer Drones, Turns The UAVs Into Bombers—17 January 2017

Mirror— ISIS use drones to drop grenades on Iraq forces in Battle of Mosul’s desperate last stand—19 January 2017

The Telegraph—Islamic State using drones to drop explosives on civilians and troops advancing on Mosul—14 January 2017

The Washington Times—ISIS strikes Iraq with drone grenades—January 17, 2017