Saturday, January 31, 2015

ISIS executes Japanese reporter Kenji Goto.

A screencap from the video released by ISIS showing Kenji Goto. Yahoo/AP.

ISIS has released a video showing the execution of Japanese reporter Kenji Goto. Yahoo/AP. The video came after days of negotiation to release Goto, and a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIS, in exchange for a terrorist held by Jordan. The Prime Minster of Japan, Shinzo Abe, condemned the murder calling it a "heinous act of terrorism". Goto has been praised as a kind and compassionate man who was in Syria to cover the war and help rescue another Japanese prisoner, Haruna Yukawa. Yukawa was executed by ISIS a while ago. The fate of the Jordanian pilot held by ISIS, Lt. Mutah al-Kaseasbah has not been revealed though ISIS claimed that his fate would be the same as Goto. Negotiations to release Goto and Kaseasbah went nowhere. 

My Comment:
I can't say that I am shocked at this point. I knew that Goto was essentially doomed the second I found out he was being held by ISIS. Though I held out hope that negotiations with ISIS could end in Kenji Goto's release I never thought it was a serious attempt by ISIS. Their first demand for $200 million was so huge it was essentially saying that there was no chance of a deal happening. They never wanted Goto to be released. They just wanted to kill him as a political statement. 

Kenji Goto was by all accounts a good person. He went to Syria to try and rescue Haruna Yukawa because he felt that he was responsible for him being captured by ISIS. Going to the heart of ISIS to try and rescue a friend who made some very bad choices may not have been a wise decision, but it was a brave one. Ultimately, the two friends would share the same tragic fate. Kenji Goto died because he felt that he couldn't abandon a friend. Whatever his flaws, that makes Goto a good person in my book. 

The article doesn't know what happened to the Jordanian pilot but I am assuming that his fate will match Goto's. Jordan is active in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and aren't likely to give up the fight. ISIS has demanded the release of a terrorist, but her release isn't nearly as valuable as an execution would be. ISIS has, so far, been unable to punish Jordan and this would be a good way to do so. ISIS doesn't seem to have the capability to attack Jordan, so this is probably the only way they can hurt Jordan. 

As for Japan's reaction to this, I am not sure. I don't see them changing their foreign policy all that much. If anything does change it will be to push Japan away from pacifism, but that would only be adding to a trend that already exists. The people of Japan are shocked and disgusted by this and might be for the first time considering how big the threat of radical Islam is. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

ISIS claims responsibility for largest attack in Egypt in years. Yahoo/Reuters.

Egyptian soldiers on patrol in the Sinai peninsula. Yahoo/AP.

An ISIS affiliate organization in Egypt is taking responsibility for deadly attacks in the Sinai peninsula that killed as many as 30 people. Yahoo/Reuters. Four separate attacks on Egyptian military units killed 30 people and wounded more with two children among the dead. Most of the casualties were sustained in the provincial capitol of al-Arish. Many of the victims were killed in a bombing of a military hotel and a base. The insurgency in the Sinai peninsula has erupted ever since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood lead government. The most active group is an ISIS affiliate organization that used to be named Ansar Bayt al-Madqis but is now known as Sinai Province. Egypt has been trying to create a "buffer zone" in response to the threat. 

My Comment:
What did I say about all the governments being overthrown in the Middle East? Radical Islam once again fills the vacuum left by the overthrow of dictators, in this case one that was friendly to the U.S. The government is no longer the Muslim Brotherhood and the current regime is at least less horrible then them, but the question has to be asked. If Hosni Mubarak was still president would ISIS have a foothold in Egypt? My guess is no. I'm not saying that the Arab Spring was a bad thing or that I want Mubarak back, just that revolutions tend to end up having unforeseen consequences. 

As for ISIS, this is yet another country that they have a toehold in. They control large parts of Syria and Iraq, have a strong presence in Libya and are getting support in Afghanistan. Recent reversals on the battlefield should not create the impression that ISIS is not spreading. They may not be spreading much in Syria and Iraq, and are even being pushed back in places, but they are spreading elsewhere. I don't think that they will be able to have anywhere near the success they have had in Syria and Iraq in Egypt, but they can destabilize an already unstable government. 

Once again, this war against radical Islam is a global one. Egypt is just another battlefield. The hope is that moderates will win out in the end but it seems that the radicals have the momentum. The only saving grace is that there are many competing groups and they fight each other as well. If Al-Qaeda and ISIS were to put aside their differences and pool their resources then they could be a massive threat to the rest of the world. And even if they don't we are still looking a global, generational war, one that has been going on for more then a decade already... 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Is China selling weapons to Nigeria for the fight against Boko Haram? War is Boring.

A Chinese CH-3 drone. War is Boring/Chinese Military Review.

A possible armed Chinese drone has been found in Nigeria raising questions about China's involvement in the conflict there. War is Boring. The drone was found in Northeast Nigeria, near the area that Boko Haram is active in. Pictures of the crashed drone closely match the Chinese CH-3 drone and were armed with two missiles. Nigeria has been desperate to acquire new aircraft and weapons to fight Boko Haram but have not had much luck. An attempt to buy Cobra helicopter gunships from Israel failed due to U.S. resistance over human rights concerns. With the U.S. and its allies not helping it looks like Nigeria has turned to China for help. China has developed drones for export and have been looking for customers. However, it is unknown if the drone is actually from China. 

My Comment:
I'm guessing that this was a Chinese drone. Nigeria doesn't have the expertise to make drones and I doubt any Western government sold them one. China is the logical choice. Though I would love to see Boko Haram attacked with drones, the sale of drones to Nigeria's government is somewhat disturbing. The days of the U.S. having a monopoly on drone technology are long over. If a country as dysfunctional as Nigeria can operate drones then almost any country can. Pandroa's box for this technology has been opened and it is only a matter of time before someone uses drones on the United States or our interests.

As for China, they are highly involved in Africa. To the point where it is starting to look like some kind of "soft" colonialism. China, as always, is desperate for resources and is trying to secure allies in the region. They have thousands of workers in Africa and are investing heavily in the region. This is a concern and it is an issue that is pretty much completely ignored in American media. Here's a good article from the Economist about the issue.

Regarding Boko Haram, if Nigeria does have drones it might help a little bit, but it won't lead to their defeat alone. Drones are useful for intelligence gathering and precision strikes. They can have an impact on your enemy if you target leadership. But the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shows the limitations of drones. Civilian casualties due to bad intelligence or mistakes can turn civilians against you and even successful drone strikes can't break up enemy attacks. The Cobra helicopters would have been a better choice but they wouldn't fill the recon role that drones do. To summarize, drones might help Nigeria but they can't win the war all by themselves. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jordan is willing to trade a prisoner to ISIS in exchange for the release of their captured pilot. Yahoo/AP

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh and Sajida al-Rishawi. Yahoo/AP

Jordan is willing to trade a woman involved in a 2005 bombing to ISIS for one of their captured pilots. Yahoo/AP. The exchange would be a departure from Jordan's former stance of not negotiating with terrorists and would likely anger the United States. Jordan is under domestic pressure to bring Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh home since the pilot crashed in December and was captured by ISIS. The woman, Sajida al-Rishawi has been convicted and sentenced to death for her role in the 2005 attack on a hotel in Amman that killed 60 people. It is unclear if such a deal would even happen and if it would include the release of Japanese prisoner Kenji Goto. ISIS has released videos claiming that they will kill both Kaseasbeh and Goto if Rishawi is not released. Both the families of the Jordanian pilot and the Japanese journalist are putting pressure on their government to secure the release of the prisoners, especially after the execution of another Japanese citizen, Haruna Yukawa.  

My Comment:
There is very little chance of this exchange happening. I don't doubt that Jordan is willing to release this prisoner for their pilot and possibly for Kenji Goto as well, but I don't trust ISIS. I don't see them releasing these hostages ever. They are too valuable as a propaganda tool. There is a chance that they won't kill them and use them as spokesmen like they did with British hostage John Cantlie. But, more likely, they will be executed, even if Rishawi is released. The propaganda value in executing them is more valuable then what they would get for the release of Rishawi. 

I could be wrong here, and to be honest I hope that I am. Neither Kasesbeh or Goto deserve to be executed. But if they are released, and again, I hope they are, it could set a dangerous precedent. ISIS would be encouraged to take further Western hostages. They could take western hostages and use them as bargaining chips to be cashed in whenever they need something. If they are low on funds they could "sell" them. If they are being attacked they could release them to buy a cease fire to regroup. Or they could murder them for propaganda value or to punish their home countries. Of course, all of this was possible before this deal came up, but now there is more conformation that these tactics work. 

I had first posted about al-Kasesbeh here. Since I posted that I haven't heard much of anything about him. Even in articles about hostages held by ISIS, there was no mention of him. Sure he isn't a western hostage, but he is a member of the armed forces of a major U.S. ally. You would think that would warrant a mention in major news media but I guess not. I, for one, appreciate the help the various local countries, including Jordan, are providing in the fight against ISIS. And I hope this pilot, and Kenji Goto, are released safe and sound. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

8 people killed, including 5 foreigners, on terror raid on a Libyan hotel. Yahoo/AP

Hotel Corinthia, Tripoli, Libya. Yahoo/AP.

Gunmen  killed 8 people, including 5 foreigners at the Hotel Corinthia in Tripoli, Libya. Yahoo/AP. The gunmen killed 3 security guards who tried to defend the hotel and set off a car bomb in the parking lot. Early reports claimed that hostages were taken. The hotel was largely empty but British, Turkish and Italians were staying there. The hotel is also the home of Prime Minster Omar al-Hussi, the leader of the militia backed rival government but he was not present during the attack. Libya has been chaotic since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, with rival militias and Islamic terrorists vying for control. 

CNN is reporting that an ISIS aligned online group in revenge for an Al-Qaeda operative involved in the African Embassy bombings died in U.S. custody.  They are also reporting that the situation is still ongoing and that the area has been blocked off by security forces. 

My Comment:
There are so many groups in Libya that could be responsible for this attack that it is too soon to speculate too much about who did it. We don't even know who the target was at this point. Was it the Western people that were staying there? Was it Omar al-Hussi or some other official that was the real target? Or was it just a convenient target. I know CNN says it's possible that it was an ISIS affiliate but it is just too soon to tell. It wouldn't be the first time that a terror group took credit for another groups action. 

If it was an attack by ISIS or an affiliate organization that that is very disturbing news indeed. ISIS has some presence in the area but until now they haven't done much other then train troops. If they are joining the utter chaos that is Libya right now that is bad news for everyone. The Libyan government, the rival government, the various militias, even the Islamic ones, all of them might end up fighting ISIS. In fact the whole situation reminds me of Syria. Large groups of rival groups, a weak government, tons of weapons. The whole situation could lead to another area under domination of ISIS. It just depends on if ISIS can repeat the success they had in Syria. 

Of course this is all premature if it turns out that any other group is responsible for this attack. Given how fractured and chaotic Libya is right now that wouldn't be surprising. I've posted before that I think the U.S. led intervention was a mistake, not because getting rid of Gadhafi was bad but because nobody had a plan for what to do after he was gone. Where have I heard that before? Iraq, Syria, Egypt. Turns out when you get rid of a brutal dictator and replace it with a weak government Islamist tend to fill the void. That's probably going to be the great historical lesson of the early 21st century. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

ISIS has all but lost the battle for Kobani. Yahoo/AP

Kurds on patrol in Kobani. Yahoo/AP

ISIS has been nearly pushed out of the Syrian city of Kobani after months of intense siege warfare and allied airstrikes. Yahoo/AP. Kurdish fighters have taken most of the city and the surrounding hillsides, including one where the black ISIS flag used to fly over. Now the Kurdish flag flies over that hill. ISIS only contests a few streets in the city and are expected to be fully expelled within a day or two. This major victory seemed impossible last year when ISIS had rolled through many of the surrounding villages and had control of almost all of the city, causing a massive refugee problem. The tide began to turn due to two factors. First, the Untied States joined the war and sent dozens of airstrikes into the are. 80% of the strikes in Syria were in the Kobani area. Second, Turkey allowed hundreds of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to join the fight, reinforcing the Syrian Kurds already fighting. The battle has killed over 1000 ISIS fighters along with 500 Kurdish fighters and civilians, according to data from earlier in the month. 

My Comment:
Looks like the "Syrian Stalingrad" is finally coming to an end. And it was a brutal battle. Last fall, if you would have told me by 2015 ISIS would lose the battle of Kobani, I am not sure I would have believed you. Of course, back then, the United States wasn't involved. That isn't to say that U.S. airstrikes won the battle by themselves. The Syrian and Iraq Kurds deserve the lions share of the credit. They were the ones that held the line last fall and they are the ones that have taken back the city in brutal city fighting. The men and women of the YPG and other Kurdish militias earned this victory. All we did was support them. 

This is a major defeat for ISIS. Not only was Kobani a seriously important town strategically, it had symbolic importance as well. Kobani may not have been the place where they myth of ISIS invincibility died, but it contributed to it. Losing 1000 fighters, with more wounded, isn't sustainable for the Islamic State. Getting beat after throwing so much into a battle is a huge morale drain as well. I had heard that ISIS fighters dreaded being sent to Kobani and for good reason. It was a buzz saw for ISIS and it cost them much more then they could afford.

Is this the turning point in the war? Probably not. ISIS is still expanding somewhat in Syria. They are getting beaten back a bit in Iraq, and they are losing fighters to battle and airstrikes everyday. But they still control a massive amount of people, resources and territory. They are also capable of mounting new attacks and are getting new recruits everyday. The momentum may have turned but this is still a long war. If Kobani is any indication of how brutal the war against ISIS is going to be, it is going to take years to defeat them... 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Boko Haram raids in Nigeria. Yahoo/AFP

Soldiers secure the scene at a political rally in Nigeria. Yahoo/AFP

Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters poured into two towns in Nigeria getting into a brutal battle with Nigerian security forces. Yahoo/AFP. Boko Haram attacked the Borno State capitol Maiduguri, and the city of Mongunu. Many people fled the city of Mongunu and attempted to find safety in Maiduguri only to find that the city was also being attacked. Mongunu has a military base and has been attacked many times in the past. The fighting in both towns was intense. Nigeria deployed fighter jets in the battle and heavily armed troops. Amnesty International believes that if Boko Haram is not stopped in Maiduguri then hundreds of thousands of civilians could be at risk. 

My Comment:
More bad news from Nigeria. It sounds like Nigeria is losing their war against Boko Haram. Their military is just not good enough to counter the terror group. It seems that Boko Haram was stopped in this raid but what about the next one? Boko Haram are religiously motivated and they have the momentum. Nigerian troops are not and they are of poor quality. 

Of course there isn't anyone outside of Africa that actually wants to do something about Boko Haram. ISIS is getting all the international attention and nobody in the North America or Europe want to get involved at an African war. Even though Boko Haram is completely incompatible with western values. The name literally means western education is a sin. If they are able to establish a Caliphate like ISIS has then expect it to be horrible. They treat women as slaves and children as soldiers. They are evil and they need to be defeated. But nobody is willing to do anything about them. 

I like to think that ISIS and Boko Haram are symptoms of the same disease. It needs to be fought wherever it is found. Beating ISIS in Iraq and Syria is not going to stop radical Islam if Boko Haram is allowed to reign in Nigeria. Something needs to be done but nothing will be done, by the west at least, until it is totally out of control. The only good news is that other African nations are joining the fight against Boko Haram. 

Various video from the scene in Mariupol. Raw footage of the rocket attack and the aftermath.

Dashcam footage of the Grad strike

More dashcam footage. This guy was incredibly lucky to live through this.

The aftermath of the attack. 

More aftermath video

This one has a little bit of graphic content so don't watch if you are sensitive to that kind of thing...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

One Japanese hostage killed, another still held by ISIS. Yahoo/Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Yahoo/Reuters. 

Japan is condemning the apparent killing of one of two Japanese hostages held by ISIS. Yahoo/Reuters. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seemed to confirm that a video tape released by ISIS showing a decapitated victim was Haruna Yukawa. Abe called for the release of the second hostage, Kenji Goto, who appeared alive in the video. ISIS has dropped their $200 million ransom demand for Goto and now are demanding the release of a Iraqi held in Jordan named Sajida al-Rishawi. Both Yukawa's and Goto's family begged for Goto's release. Although Japan has paid ransoms for hostages in the past, they now reject negotiating with terrorists. Their pacifist constitution also prevents any direct military action. 

My Comment:
I was really hoping that there would have been some kind of solution for Yukawa and Goto. It was extremely unlikely anyways, even if Japan had paid the ransom. I wonder if Yukawa resisted his captors. I didn't watch the video but from what I understand all they had was a still image of his body. In the past ISIS has tapped the entire execution. Perhaps he fought back or didn't read a statement for them? Yukawa was many things but he did at least have some quasi-military experience. I'd like to think he didn't cooperate. 

As for Japan, it will be interesting to see how they react to this. As far as I know this is the first time a citizen of theirs has been specifically targeted by Islamic terrorism. I am sure they have lost people to terrorists before, but more because they were "collateral damage" and not a specific target of an attack. Japan has been moving away from their pacifism for awhile now, and I wonder if this won't be another push in that direction. China and North Korea are their biggest concern, but being unable to do anything to avenge the death of one of their citizens can't sit well with them.  

I personally wouldn't mind if Japan joined the world in attacking ISIS. They are a global threat to everyone. If Japan is a target then everyone is. They had only a tangential relationship to the war in Iraq and Syria and have never really gotten into a fight with Islamists before. They did deploy some troops to Iraq and the anti-piracy operations in Syria, but they weren't really involved in combat. The only real threat to ISIS is the $200 million in humanitarian aid. Apparently, helping people is enough to get on the bad side of ISIS. 

Rebels are pushing for the Ukraine held city of Mariupol. Yahoo/AFP

A rebel checkpoint near Donetsk. Yahoo/AFP

Fighting has broken out in the contested city of Mariupol in Ukraine. Yahoo/AFP. At least 15 people were killed in the city, along with 46 people wounded in a Grad rocket attack in a residential area. Houses and cars were destroyed and cell phone service was interrupted by the attack. Mariupol is a city of 500,000 people that has economic and strategic importance. Taking it would give the rebels a link to the annexed Crimea peninsula. Last summer the rebels launched an attack on the city that was defeated, but at a high cost in terms of men and equipment for Ukraine. The battle was so feirce that it helped Ukraine come to a cease fire. That cease fire is now dead with the leader of the Donetsk rebellion ripping up the agreement. 

My Comment:
My guess is that this attack was probably just a case of bad aim since attacking a residential area has no strategic or tactical advantage. Mistakes happen in war and I am guessing this is one of them. The more important thing is that the rebels are on the offensive again. In winter. It is never a good idea to go to war in the winter in Ukraine. It just adds to the misery of everyone involved. I don't think it helps or hinders one side more then the other, but it will add to the suffering for all the civilians caught in the middle. If your house gets shelled in the summer and you lose power, it is bad but at least you won't freeze to death. 

Can the rebels take the capitol? They are getting Russian help so that gives them a bit more backbone. And the Russians want Mariupol. It links them to Crimea and helps them control the region. It is also a producer and exporter of coal and steel so lets not rule out good ol' fashioned greed for the reason for this offensive. And that's why Ukraine will fight for the city as well. 

As for the peace agreement ending, I am not too surprised. The time for peace and reconciliation was long gone. Too much blood has been spilled for this to end with a simple cease fire. The whole situation could have been avoided last year if the new Ukrainian government had just backed down with their anti-Russian laws. Once they did that the gloves were off and war was inevitable. I'm not seeing this war ending with anything other then an independent/annexed Donetsk and Luhansk or the utter destruction of the rebel groups. Considering the weakness of Ukraine and the fact that Russia is backing the rebels I am betting the first option is much more likely then the second. 

Ebola all but eliminated in Liberia. Only five cases left. Yahoo/AFP

Liberia is coming close to eliminating the Ebola epidemic, with only five reported cases in the country left. Yahoo/AFP. Three cases were in the capital of Monrovia while the other two are in the northwest of the country. The World Health Organization has not confirmed these numbers. In Guiana and Sierra Leone there are still new cases, though in the past week both have seen fewer cases. Despite the good news the WHO warns that the outbreak has not been broken. If the outbreak survives to the rainy season in spring, the international response to the virus could be greatly hampered. In more good news, a new Ebola vaccine has started to arrive in Liberia. 

My Comment:
I'm cautiously optimistic that I won't have to write about Ebola for too much longer. The disease is not gone yet of course, but the tide seems to be turning. I have no idea if Liberia's numbers are legit, but there has been a huge drop off on the figures I have been seeing in Liberia. Sierra Leone and Guiana are a different story, but the rates in those two countries, at the very least, are not getting worse, and if anything are slowing slightly. The news that a vaccine is being used is good as well, if it ends up working. We might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this outbreak, which is good news for the world. 

Of course, all of this could be wrong. Sierra Leone is still seeing more then 100 cases a week. And that's just the confirmed ones. Guiana isn't nearly as bad but it is still seeing 10 to 20 cases a week and that is not good. Even if the disease gets eliminated in Liberia, it could still come back if the disease isn't checked in Guiana and Sierra Leone. The fact that Libera and Sierra Leone are scaling back on their restrictions before the outbreak is completely under control is somewhat concerning as well. In Liberia, it isn't a huge risk but Sierra Leone lifting their quarantine is probably a bad idea. 

All that being said, it looks like, at the very least, that the disease is unlikely to spread to any other countries. It may take as long as the rest of the year to completely eliminate Ebola in these countries but we shouldn't see exponential growth anytime soon. The temptation in the future may be to downplay this outbreak since a global epidemic did not occur. But we got lucky. We made huge mistakes by not mobilizing against this disease much sooner then we did. And America barely missed a larger outbreak due to dumb luck instead of competence. It's something to think about when the next big virus hits... 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The situation in Yemen has disrupted U.S. led counter-terrorism efforts. Yahoo/Reuters

Southern Movement fighters demonstrating in Aden. Yahoo/Reuters

The United States has suspended some anti-terrorist operations against Al-Qaeda in Yemen due to the country being taken over by Iranian backed Houthi rebels. Yahoo/Reuters. After the resignation of the U.S. backed government, including the President and Prime Minister, drone strikes and other anti-terror operations have ceased. The United States have been involved in a sustained campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penisula (AQAP), who are based out of Yemen. The group claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France and are considered a major threat. In 2014 alone there were 19 drone strikes killing a total of 128 people, the vast majority of which were AQAP militants. The Shite Houthi rebels who have taken over are enemies to the Sunni AQAP but they are also opposed to the United States. It is unlikely that they will cooperate with the United States if they retain power.

My Comment:
Not a good situation in Yemen at all. Losing a partner in the fight against Al-Qaeda is never good, but AQAP has proven themselves to be a major threat. The Charlie Hebdo attacks were probably not the only operation these people had planned. With drone strikes suspended it will be a free reign for these people to plan and carry out operations. Whoever ends up in power in Yemen will likely be more concerned in holding onto their power and not fighting AQAP. Bad news indeed.

As for Al-Qaeda itself, this is a boon for them. They will have much more leeway to operate and may have a respite from U.S. led airstrikes. At a time they were immense pressure due to the Charlie Hebdo attacks they are getting a much needed break and a better environment to operate in. From their perspective, this is great news.

I'm also surprised that there are still U.S. staff in the embassy. It would seem that now would be a very good time to evacuate everyone. I don't think there is a huge threat from the Houthi rebels, but they aren't the only game in town. AQAP could possibly mount an attack as well. After the Benghazi attack, lessons should have been learned. It is time to get those people out of there before it is too late. Hopefully nothing happens, but if it does, then I will blame those who did not learn the lessons from Benghazi...  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More information is coming out about the two Japanese men held by ISIS. Yahoo/Reuters

Yukawa and Goto with an unnamed ISIS fighter nicknamed "Jihadi John". Yahoo/Reuters

The two Japanese men held by ISIS and being threatened with murder, were friends. Yahoo/Reuters. Haruna Yukawa was a troubled man who had his life fall apart. He went to Syria to be a journalist and has been accused of being a mercenary. Kenji Goto had met Yukawa in Syria when Yukawa asked him to go with him to Iraq. Goto felt obligated to help and understood that Yukawa was out of his depth. Goto was an experienced war corespondent and had a reputation for caution. When Yukawa disappeared back in August, Goto was distraught, feeling responsible for the man. He returned to Syria in October to help Yukawa but disappeared shortly after heading to the "capitol" of ISIS, Raqqa. Goto, a converted Christian, has three children back in Japan.

My Comment:
This is such an amazing story. I've got mixed feelings about all of it though. On the one hand, Yukawa was out of his depth and put himself, and now Goto as well, at a huge risk. Goto was foolish to go to Raqqa when he knew that ISIS was capturing journalists for ransom and political executions. On the other hand though, Goto showed incredible courage and loyalty to help someone who desperately needed help. Goto knew the risks but he felt responsible for his friend and countryman. He risked everything for a friend. Even if his choice was unwise, it was still an incredible act of friendship to do what he did. Whatever happens to him, he deserves better. 

As for the fate of Yukawa and Goto, I'm not that hopeful. The $200 million that ISIS is asking for isn't a genuine offer. There is no way Japan is going to pay that much and even if they did, ISIS might kill them anyways. Their fate was sealed when ISIS released their video. I'm still hoping for some kind of miracle but at this point hopes are dimming. Anything short of a commando raid will probably not be enough to save these men.   

As for ISIS, I'm hoping the man in these videos is brought to justice someday. This "Jihadi John", if indeed it is the same person for all the videos, needs to answer for his crimes. Whether it is justice in a courtroom or delivered by an airstrike, he needs to pay for what he has done. By all accounts, all of the people he has killed or threatened to kill, were good people. Most of them were aid workers or journalists covering the suffering in the region, or aid workers helping to alleviate it. Killing innocent people is always evil, but killing innocent people who are actively trying to help or inform people is about as low as you can get. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ISIS ideology is starting to spread in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yahoo/Reuters

ISIS fighters in Syria. Yahoo/Reuters.

ISIS ideology is spreading in Pakistan and Afghanistan after radical disillusionment with the Taliban. Yahoo/Reuters. Commanders, frustrated with the leadership of the Taliban, and convinced of the possibility that leader Mullah Omar is dead, are looking to ISIS for inspiration. These commanders are impressed at the massive success that ISIS had last year in taking territory in Iraq and Syria. These commanders are united under the so called Khoroson chapter of ISIS. The group appears to have no direct connection to ISIS but are inspired by the organization. In Helmand province, a local commander has gathered 100 fighters, though they have been involved in little fighting. In Pakistan, a soldier was decapitated on video, clearly inspired by ISIS propaganda tactics. 

My Comment:
This is mixed news. On the one had if ISIS gains a foothold in Afghanistan and Pakistan that means there is small possibility that the victories in Iraq and Syria could happen there as well. That doesn't seem too likely but it isn't impossible. On the other hand this means that both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will have another rival organization to fight with. If the Taliban has to fight ISIS it will make it easier for Afghan and Pakistan security forces to fight them. That's probably good news.

Still, it is disturbing that people are being inspired by ISIS. The fact that decapitation videos are spreading are especially disturbing. As a propaganda move, it is fairly effective. It makes your group look powerful and horrifying while at the same time it inspires new recruits and supporters. People might be less willing to fight if they think they will be executed in a horrible fashion. Of course the other side of that is that people who are already fighting might fight harder just to avoid capture. 

As for the spread of ISIS it just goes to show that the fight against radical Islam is, for all intents and purposes, a global one. It seems that almost all countries with a significant Muslim minority are at risk for attacks inspired by this ideology. Radical Islam spreads like a virus and millions of people are getting exposed to it. Expect more cells and affiliate organizations for both ISIS and Al-Qaeda to rise up.  

Man stabs 11 people in Tel Aviv, Israel. Yahoo/AP

Israeli police secure the crime scene. Yahoo/AP

A Palestinian stabbed at least 11 people in the city of Tel Aviv, Israel before being shot by police. Yahoo/AP. Police described the attack as a "lone wolf" terrorist attack. The man was riding on a bus when he suddenly stabbed people, including the bus driver. Nearby officers with a prison service saw the attack and shot the suspect, wounding him in the leg. 11 people were stabbed with 3 in critical conditions. The suspect has been identified as a Hamza Mohammad Matrouck, who was in the country illegally. The latest attack is the last in a series of lone wolf attacks in Israel. No group took responsibility for the attack but Hamas praised the attack on Twitter. 

My Comment:
Ugh, I hate writing about Israel. It is one of those topics that just brings out the worst kind of people on the internet. It's like circumcision, feminism or the death penalty, people are just to pissed off about the subject and invested into one side or the other to have a rational discussion on the internet. People care way too much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and most posts on the internet that even tangentially talk about the conflict are magnets for the worst people on the internet. 

That being said, I think I can make an exception in this case given the severity of the attack and the international pattern of lone wolf/low scale terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. I guess you could debate that this attack had secular causes as well, but for the sake of argument (and sanity) I'm going to ignore that. Either way though, there have been an large uptick in these kinds of knife/gun attacks lately. It seems that terrorist organizations have given up on the spectacular 9/11 style attacks and have changed focus to these smaller attacks. 

The benefits of these smaller attacks is obvious. With a huge 9/11 style attack, a thousand things can go wrong that can destroy your whole operation. You can lose dozens of operatives and whatever money you put up for no gain. With a small attack with a couple of gunmen you have much less risk and more bang for your buck. And if the small attack works it can inspire lone wolf attackers that can help your cause at no cost to you whatsoever. Plus these kinds of attacks are incredibly hard to defend against before a bunch of people get hurt. Unless you are in a place where people conceal carry firearms, you can still stab 11 people even if there are cops right next to you. This is obviously a bad trend and I see it continuing in the future, and not just in Israel. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ukraine claims that Russian forces are attacking in violation of truce deal. Yahoo/AFP

A man in Donetsk near a bombed out bus station. Yahoo/AP.

Ukraine claims that Russian forces are attacking them in violation of their truce deal. Yahoo/AFP. Ukraine claims that their forces in the north of the war zone were attacked by Russian troops that cross the border. Ukraine also claims that 700 troops are now assisting the pro-Russian rebels. Russia denied both claims as "absolute nonsense". Western diplomats claim that the pro-Russian rebels have made significant progress in the past few days. In response to a brutal battle for the Donetsk airport, Ukraine has put into place to draft an additional 50,000 troops. 

My Comment:
Looks like the Ukraine war is heating up again. Not a good thing to have happen in the middle of winter. This is going to have a devastating effect on the civilians stuck in the war zone. The battles will cut off food and other supplies and may lead to a loss of power and heat. That means civilians will die because of starvation, lack of medical care and exposure to elements. That is bad news for everyone in the rebel held areas of Ukraine. 

As for the new reports of Russian troops, I think they are legit. Of course everything Ukraine says about the war should be taken with a large helping of salt, but in this case I believe them. With the war heating up it isn't surprising that Russia is taking a major role again. The capture and loss of the Donetsk airport may have been a factor as well. Taking the airport was a major propaganda victory for the rebels. Losing it again was a major propaganda defeat, so the rebels will be looking to come up with another victory. 

ISIS threatens to kill two Japanese hostages unless they get $200 million for ransom. NBC/AP

A still from the ISIS video showing the two hostages. NBC/AP

ISIS is threatening to execute two Japanese hostages unless Japan pays a ransom of $200 million for their release. NBC/AP. Japan was given 72 hours after the release of the video to pay the ransom for the two men. The ransom amount matches the amount of money Japan has pledged in non-military assistance in the fight against ISIS. The hostages have been identified as Kenji Goto, a freelance reporter, and Haruna Yukawa, a suspected mercenary. Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has demanded the release of the two hostages. ISIS still holds two other known hostages, a British citizen named John Cantlie and a unnamed 26 year old female. 

My Comment:
I've covered the case of Haruna Yukawa on this blog before. The details of his story are unbelievable. In short, he was a man that desperately needed help but ended up in Syria instead as a journalist/mercenary. I'm hoping that he survives just so he can tell his story, in his own words. From what I understand Japan is fairly embarrassed by Yukawa but despite that they will try and save him. I don't know anything about Goto, but I do know that he doesn't deserve his fate either. You could make the case that Yukawa, at the very least, was demonstrating very poor judgement, and at worst, was an illegal mercenary, but Goto was just a man trying to cover what was happening. Neither of them deserve to be executed though. That goes without saying. 

Will Abe and the Japanese government pay for the release of these two men? I don't know enough about Abe to say for sure. I don't want him to pay, even if it could save the life of these two men. $200 million is a massive amount of money and could be used to directly fund military operations in Syria and Iraq or terrorist attacks across the globe. Still, I can at least understand the thought process if they do pay the ransom. Nobody wants to see their citizens executed. 

If Yukawa and Goto are executed, and again, I really hope they aren't, I wonder what the Japanese people will think of it? Japan is officially a pacifist nation, but recently, thanks to pressure from China and North Korea, they have been moving away from it. I'm sure Japan has lost citizens to Islamic terror before, but as far as I know they have never been targeted in this way. Will it cause the Japanese to clamor for a more aggressive global stance or will they demand the end to involvement in the Middle East? Hopefully we won't have to find out...  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hundreds of thousands protest Charlie Hebdo cartoons in Chechnya. Yahoo/Reuters

Protesters for the  "Love for the Prophet Muhammad" event in Grozny Chechnya. Yahoo/Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Grozny, Chechnya in opposition of the satirical Charlie Hebdo cartoons that depicted Muhammad. Yahoo/Reuters. Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, lead the march with anti-western and pro-Islam rhetoric. Kadyrov said that the protesters were willing to die to stop people from making fun of Muhammad. Russia broadcast the rally on state television, perhaps suggestion they are using the Chechen protests as a way to remove criticism for banning a similar gathering in Moscow. Russia claims that 60% of Chechnya's population, 800,000 people attended the rally, with Reuters reporting at least several hundred thousand people in attendance. 

My Comment:
Part of me wishes I was their with a huge sign showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. It would probably be the last thing I would ever do but it would probably be worth it. It is amazing how backwards their priorities are. With all the horrible things happening in the world, the thing that gets 800,000 Chechens upset enough to protest are a bunch of stupid cartoons. Not their Islamic insurgency that kills civilians. Not the Russian government that cracks down on their religion. Not any of the other millions of problems Chechnya, and indeed the world, has that could be helped if these people did something productive with their time. Nope, all this anger and drama over a stupid drawing of a religious figure that wasn't even offensive (for the most recent drawing at least).

In the United States, the country I am proud to call myself a citizen of, nobody is off limits for satire and criticism. Everyone, from the lowliest unemployed person, to the president, to God himself are on the table. Freedom of speech is our most cherished freedom and the rantings and threats of a very angry and unstable minority of Muslims will do nothing to end them.That freedom survived our own religious extremists on the right and, more recently, our social justice obsessed weirdos on the left. All of them will fail. Because we are willing to fight for our right to offend. The rest of the world should keep that in mind... 

As for the broader implications of this, it is disturbing to me that these protests are spreading so far. I seriously doubt many of these people have even seen the cartoons that they are protesting against. Someone is putting propaganda out there. And nobody is explaining to these people that we have the right to be offensive if we so choose and there is very little they can do about it. Also, nobody is telling these people what the benefits of our system are. Sure some people might get their feelings hurt once in awhile, but we can check power and mock bad behavior by the use of satire. When someone here calls the president incompetent, there aren't any police raids sent. That kind of freedom is unheard of in the Middle East and other Muslim areas like Chechnya, so it isn't surprising that they don't see the value in this kind of speech. Someone should really teach them though...

EDIT: Updated with a video

Mali declares their Ebola outbreak over. Yahoo/AFP

A man washes his hands in Mali. Yahoo/AFP

Mali has declared their Ebola outbreak over after 42 days without a new case. Yahoo/AFP. No new cases have been detected in the country after the last infected patient tested negative on December 6th. 42 days is twice the diseases incubation period. Seven people died in the outbreak in two waves. The first wave was a single case of a small girl who died from the disease. The second wave was from a Muslim cleric who infected seven other people. Five died along with the cleric. 

My Comment:
By my count that is five countries that have contained Ebola after getting initial cases. Senegal and Spain had a single case while Nigeria, the United States and Mali had multiple cases. The United Kingdom has had an initial case but all indications are that that should be the only case. All of that is great news. If nothing else it proves that the disease can be beaten back if countries take strong measures to stop the spread of the disease. Contact tracing does work when there aren't many case. 

Of course any of the countries could have a second outbreak of the disease, including the United States. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guiana are still seeing new cases. Just looking at the raw numbers tells me that the spread of the disease is fairly constant. The good news is that the rate isn't really increasing. Liberia seems to be slowing down considerably while new infections in Sierra Leone and Guiana look fairly stable. 

So what does that mean? The threat is still real. As long as new infections are happening, it's possible that the disease will continue and spread to other countries. The international community seems fairly prepared at this point to react to that, but it is still possible that the disease could get to a country that has a very dysfunctional health care system or is ravaged by war. And until I see the rate of infections level off, I am not comfortable claiming that this outbreak is anywhere near over. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

ISIS releases 200 Yazidi prisoners. Yahoo/Sky News

An elderly woman released by ISIS is helped by Kurdish fighters. Yahoo/Sky News. 

ISIS has released hundreds of Yazidi civilians, including children and the elderly. Yahoo/Sky News. Many of the civilians were in extremely poor health and showed signs of abuse and neglect. ISIS fighters dropped off the prisoners near Kurdish Peshmerga forces. It is unclear why ISIS released the prisoners, but it is assumed that they were a burden on them. Hundreds of Yazidi were taken prisoner in last years offensive when ISIS militants took the town of Sinjar. Many of the women were taken as forced brides or slaves. ISIS considers the Yazidi to be heretics and devil worshipers. 

My Comment:
Kind of an odd thing for ISIS to do. Don't get me wrong, I am glad these people are free. But I thought ISIS hated the Yazidi? Why didn't they just kill everyone that was of no use to them? I can understand not wanting to kill elders and children but ISIS has shown no hesitation in the past to do just that. So what has changed? 

It is possible that U.S. led airstrikes are having a greater effect then we have realized, at least in Iraq. They might be running out of basic supplies like food and water. They may even be low on ammunition. When bullets are precious, it makes sense to not waste them. Still, they have other ways to execute people without using bullets. Perhaps the conditions are so bad that they couldn't even take the time to kill these people?

The one thing I am ruling out is a genuine act of mercy. ISIS doesn't know the meaning of the word, and unless there is a local commander that went out on his own and did this, I am willing to put money on this being a pragmatic decision. No matter what though, it is good that these children and  elders were released. I am sure that they have some amazing and terrible stories to tell. All of them are incredibly lucky to be alive. 

Ukraine takes back Donetsk airport? Yahoo/Reuters

Ukrainian volunteers for the Azov battalion. Yahoo/Reuters

Ukraine is claiming that they have taken back the Donetsk airport from pro-Russian rebels. Yahoo/Reuters. Ukrainian officials undertook a "mass operation" to take back the airport. Rebels had driven out Ukrainian troops in a symbolic victory. The airport itself has little value, since it has been almost completely destroyed, but it served as a rallying point for the rebels and a symbol of resistance. Ukrainian officials halted the offensive after taking back the airport per the peace plan that required status quo battle lines. 

My Comment:
As with all reports out of Ukraine, take this story with a grain of salt. If you read it closely you can see that the Ukrainian official said they had taken back most of the airport. That gives the rebels another chance to take back the airport. If they lost it in the first place, assuming they had captured it to begin with. There is a good chance that the airport could switch hands several more times. Seems like a waste to me because there is hardly anything left...

Compare that footage to the footage taken just a couple of months ago and you will see how fierce the fighting has been. Not much else to say on this one. I mostly just wanted to post that video. It just seems like the Ukraine war will go on and on with no end in sight. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Riots in the Islamic world erupt over Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Yahoo/Reuters

Protesters clash against riot police in Algeria. Yahoo/Reuters

Protests erupted in several countries with Muslim populations over the latest Charlie Hebdo magazine cover. Yahoo/Reuters. In Niger, four people were killed, three civilians and one police officer, in a riot where protesters burned a French cultural center and Christian churches. The Muslim protesters also attacked Christian owned shops with clubs and firebombs. The government said that they would protect Christians "at all costs". Protesters yelled that Charlie Hebdo was the work of the Devil and that anyone who supports the magazine should burn in Hell. In Pakistan a protest of 200 people was broken up by riot police wielding water cannons. Protests in Algeria resulted in a few injuries.

My Comment:
The protesters aren't doing a lot to help their cause. Attacking people that have nothing to do with Charlie Hebdo isn't going to win them any friends. Of course getting upset over a harmless cartoon is completely irrational and stupid. The picture in question wasn't even offensive. For reference, here it is. 

Charlie Hebdo. Translation: All is forgiven. 

That's it. Just a picture of Mohamed. He isn't doing anything but holding a sign and crying. Yet that is enough for people to protest and attack people, most of which had nothing to do with any of this. The whole situation is disgusting and they only way I can see to fix this is for Islam to have some reform movement. The iconoclastic rules against the depiction of Mohamed have to go away and go away forever. It's fine if Muslims choose to not depict Mohamed. But the rest of the world is not Muslim and does not and will not follow their rules. 

This is a problem that is going to go on for a long time. The only response that the Western world can have is to show these cartoons because banning them would utterly destroy our most cherished of freedoms. We value expression over everything else, at least in theory. Art must be allowed to be offensive to some people because all art is offensive to someone. If we let Muslims say "no depictions of Mohamed" then the government can say "no protests against the government". Or some other group can say "hey this is offensive to us" and get away with whatever they want. That can not be allowed to happen. No matter the cost. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rebels in Ukraine report they have taken Donetsk airport. Yahoo/AP

A rebel tank in a fortified position near Luhansk. Yahoo/AP

Separatist rebels in Ukraine are claiming victory in the months long battle over Donetsk airport. Yahoo/AP. Since May Ukrainian loyalist and Russian backed rebels have fought over the airport. The airport has been destroyed to the point where it has little strategic value but it has immense symbolic value. A rebel flag now flies over the main civilian terminal, which had long been a stronghold for government troops. The battle is part of a larger offensive by the rebels to take back territory lost last year. Ukraine rebels have rejected peace plans by Ukraine and Russia and are vowing to continue the fight. Both sides in the conflict are blaming each other for the deaths of 13 people who killed while driving in a bus which got hit by artillery. 

My Comment:
The situation with ISIS and all the other various other Islamic extremists have drawn attention away from the Ukraine conflict. The conflict itself is still going on though, no matter if the western world is paying attention to it. If the reports are true and the rebels were able to take Donetsk airport then that is a game changer. Like the article said, the airport has little value other then as a symbol. The airport has largely been destroyed, with the control tower collapsing and many buildings damaged and destroyed. It will have little use but it still represents a huge victory for the rebels considering how hard they fought for it. 

The situation in Ukraine is pretty terrible for both government and rebel held areas. I have heard some reports that the people in the rebel held areas have been starving and I posted awhile ago about how they could lose power and have lost social services. Ukraine itself has seen its economy destroyed and have little military strength left.

That tells me that the conflict in Ukraine is going to continue to be a stalemate for the most part. There will be some minor victories, like the one at Donetsk airport, but for the most part the war will devolve into one of attrition. Neither side is powerful enough to wipe out the other, yet neither side is in such a dire situation that they will negotiate. The rebels especially have little reason to end the fighting as they hope to gain back some more territory. The only way the conflict will end quickly is if a foreign power comes in and destroys one side or the other. I don't see that happening so I predict that this conflict will continue to fester in 2015.  

Here's a bonus video taken by a drone. It shows how utterly devastated the Donetsk airport really is. It's two months old as well so there is even more damage now. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The war against ISIS is not going well in Syria. The Daily Beast

ISIS fighters. The Daily Beast/Reuters.

ISIS is still taking territory in Syria despite setbacks in Iraq and a withering air campaign. The Daily Beast. More then 1/3rd of Syria is now under control of ISIS militants. ISIS has not lost any territory in Syria either. It is claimed that ISIS has doubled the territory under their command. Most of that territory is wasteland but over 1 million Syrians live in the areas that have been taken, both by ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. Most of these territorial gains were uncontested rural areas that ISIS is using for safe travel. The Free Syrian Army is upset at this situation because allied airstrikes are not targeting the front lines (outside of Kobani) and are instead targeting ISIS leadership. U.S. leadership claims that Iraq is the priority in the fight against ISIS since the armies on the ground there are more reliable and trustworthy. 

My Comment:
I'm not sure how much I agree with this article from The Daily Beast. Yes Syria is a mess and ISIS has taken a ton of territory there. But in Iraq they have suffered some recent defeats and have stopped taking territory. They have also failed to take Kobani in Syria, which has turned into a hellish meatgrinder for ISIS fighters. Plus they don't have the air of invincibility they had last year. Kobani and Iraq prove that they can be stopped and pushed back. And the airstrikes are having an effect.

Having said all that, the situation in Syria is terrible. ISIS, and to a lesser extent, the Al-Nusra Front, are taking territory from both the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army because both sides are so weak from fighting each other that neither are in any position to fight ISIS. The lack of friendly airstrikes for the Free Syrian army is especially harmful because it means that ISIS and the FSA are on an unequal footing. After all ISIS has better weapons and vehicles then the FSA. The Syrian Army isn't getting much help from anyone either. Most of their Shia allies are fighting in Iraq now. 

So how will this play out? Unless something drastically changes on the ground I see ISIS continuing to push and take territory from both the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army during the rest of this year. I don't see the regime collapsing entirely, but I could see the secular rebels being wiped out. Kobani will stand and the Kurds in the north will keep their territory, but ISIS will expand elsewhere. The battle in Iraq will slowly start to turn but the fight there will continue long enough that I don't expect any major intervention in Syria anytime soon. No matter what happens though, the whole region will remain a mess for a very long time. Even if ISIS is eliminated there is going to be so much bad blood between all the various ethnic and religious groups it is going to take generations to heal from it. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Man arrested for a plot to attack U.S. Capitol building. Yahoo/Reuters

A U.S. Capitol police officer. Yahoo/Reuters

An Ohio man was arrested for a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol building. Yahoo/Reuters. Christopher Cornell, 20 years old, researched building pipe bombs and bought a rifle to attack the Capitol building. Cornell, using the nom de guerre Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, has shown support for ISIS on Twitter. Cornell told an FBI informant that his plan was to throw pipe bombs at the Capitol building and then shoot people. The FBI claims that the public was never in danger. 

My Comment:
Obviously there is no relation to this suspect and the singer from Soundgarden and Audioslave. Just thought I would point that out. 

As for the story itself, I wonder if this isn't one of those cases where the FBI entrapped someone. The FBI has a history of creating its own monsters with these sting operations. Of course it is very possible that Cornell would have been radicalized no matter what, but the FBI may have helped him along. Of course the fact that Cornell was willing to buy weapons and had a plan means that he probably had to be dealt with no matter what. 

Do I think this was a serious threat? Not really. Talking about supporting ISIS on Twitter is a great way to bring attention to yourself. And his plan was pretty terrible. The U.S. Capitol building is a "hard target" and any attack would end quickly. The real threat isn't the guys that broadcast their support on Twitter and attack well defended targets. It's the guys that don't tell anyone what they are planning and attack "soft targets" that aren't nearly as well defended. 

Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch claims responsibility for Charlie Hebdo attack. Yahoo/Reuters

Nassar bin Ali al-Ansi, the leader of Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, takes responsibility for the attack. Yahoo/Reuters.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken credit for the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Yahoo/Reuters. The leader of the Yemen based group, Nassar bin Ali al-Ansi, took responsibility in a video released on Youtube. The attacks in Paris had killed 17 people over three days. Al-Ansi also claimed that Ayman al-Zawarhi, the leader of Al-Qaeda, gave the go ahead for the mission as well. Al-Ansi mocked the massive rallies in defiance of the attacks calling them a display of weakness. Two of the perpetrators of the attack, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, may have met with another high ranking Al-Qaeda official, Anwar al-Awlaki, who may have financed the attack before his death in 2011 in Yemen.  

My Comment:
Reuters says that they haven't been able to verify the video, but I'd put money on it being real. However, I am not 100% sure that they are the ones responsible. I have heard other reports of the third man involved in these attacks, Amedy Coulibaly, the hostage taker that was, at the very least, in contact with the Kouachi brothers, was a supporter of ISIS. That makes very little sense because Al-Qaeda and ISIS are fierce rivals, to the point that they actually fight each other in Syria. 

It is possible that Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers were able to put aside their organizations strife and work together in a joint operation, but if that was the case I don't see the higher ups in either Al-Qaeda or ISIS approving of it. At least I hope not. Nobody wants Al-Qaeda and ISIS to form a working relationship. ISIS has the money and the bodies while Al-Qaeda has the experience in running overseas terror operations. That is a bad combination. 

All confusion aside, this is still a radical Islamic terrorist attack no matter what. I have very little reason to believe that AQAP was not involved in some way in this attack. I have more reason to believe that ISIS was only tangentially connected to it. It could be possible that AQAP is just taking credit for an ISIS operation, but that seems very unlikely. Of course, no matter who did it, the attack was a huge victory for Jihadist terrorists everywhere.