Southeast Asia

Autonomy vote at issue in Sulu cathedral bombing?

Twin explosions left at least 20 dead and some 80 wounded at the cathedral in Jolo, capital of Sulu province in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The first blast went off inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Sunday mass was about to start. This was followed seconds later by another blast in the cathedral's parking area. The attack came just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was approved by voters in the region, creating a new Muslim-led autonomous government. The new Bangsamoro autonomous region replaces the weaker Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Of the five provinces in the autonomous region, the only one to reject the BOL was Sulu. (Photo via PhilStar)

Syria

Idlib still threatened as Assad escalates genocide

Assad regime artillery struck areas of Syria’s opposition-held Idlib province after militants allegedly tried to infiltrate regime-held areas. The shelling was reportedly focused on the town of Tamanaa, which was seized from Turkish-backed rebels by jihadist forces earlier in the week. The was apparently part of a ceasefire agreement ending an internal conflict between rival opposition forces in Idlib, which saw jihadists taking over much of the province. These ominous developments may spell an end to Idlib’s reprieve from the threatened Assad offensiive on the province since establishment of a joint Turkish-Russian buffer zone there. To make this all more sobering still, the Assad regime appears to be escalating its campaign of genocide in the areas of Syria it has re-conquered, stepping up its mass extermination of detainees. The Syrian Network For Human Rights said in a year-end report that nearly a thousand died, presumably under torture, in regime prisons in 2018.  (Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

North Africa

Al-Qaeda franchise claims Mali suicide blast

The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda’s branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of “Crusader invaders” from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nation’s Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that “this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom.”  (Image via Long War Journal)

Syria

US tightens clampdown on Syria aid

The US government has reinforced “counter-terrorism” controls on aid operations in Syria. New contractual terms require US-funded organizations to get special permission to provide relief in areas believed to be controlled by extremist groups. The move further complicates aid operations for those trapped in Syria’s last rebel stronghold, Idlib, where two thirds of its three million people urgently need assistance. (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

Syria

Russian naval build-up ahead of Idlib offensive

The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement explaining its unprecedented build-up of naval force in the Mediterranean as part of a week-long exercise would begin on 1 September. It said the exercise would involve 26 warships and naval vessels, including two submarines, with 34 aircraft, including missile-armed long-range bombers. But it is obvious that this build-up is timed to coincide (at least) with the planned Assad regime offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains under opposition control. Russia will certainly be massively backing the regime offensive, which the UN warns could spark a humanitarian catastrophe. With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear that civilians have any place left to flee. Many are already living in camps in Idlib under desperate conditions, with two million in need of humanitarian aid. (Photo: Syria News)

Syria

Did John McCain meet with jihadists in Syria?

Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. Ben Norton tweets: “John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians.” But Norton is repeating as “fact” what are actually unproven claims—while he still equivocates about “alleged” chemical attacks by the Assad regime. It’s a bitter irony. McCain participated in war crimes in Vietnam. Two generations later, those who gloat at his death are covering up for equivalent war crimes by Assad and his allies. It fell to McCain, who was unapologetic about his Vietnam role, to try to drum up some support for the resistance in Syria. (Photo: John McCain Twitter feed)

Syria

Book review: Impossible Revolution

This book is a necessary corrective to the dominant perception—left, right and center—that the opposition in Syria are all jihadists and dictator Bashar Assad the best bet for “stability.” Long a left-wing dissident in Assad’s Syria, Saleh is a veteran of the dictator’s prisons. Here, he traces the origins of the Syrian revolution to agony caused by the regime’s “economic liberalization” (socialist phrases aside), describes the initially unarmed opposition’s popular-democratic nature, and discusses the struggle to keep the Free Syrian Army accountable to this grassroots base after it became clear a military dimension to the revolution was necessary. He makes the case that the Assad regime can be termed “fascist” even by the most rigorous definition, and has been making good on its pledge to “burn the country” before ceding power. (Image: Haymarket Books)

North Africa

‘Disaster’ seen as Libyan oil facility burns

Libya's National Oil Corporation is warning of an "environmental disaster" following clashes at the country's Ras Lanuf oil terminal that set storage tanks on fire. “Further damage to these oil sites could have a huge impact on the Libyan oil sector and the national economy.," the statement said. The Petroleum Facilities Guard launched an operation in Libya's "oil crescent" last week to take the Ras Lanuf and Sidra terminals from the Operation Dignity militia alliance, which they termed a “a terrorist entity.” Operation Dignity and the affiliated "Libyan National Army," led by commander Khalifa Haftar, are loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government. (Photo: Libya Observer)

Syria

Syria: new chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta

Estimates of the dead vary from 70 to 150 after the latest and worst chemical attack on the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. The number is likely to rise, as rescue workers are still reporting new casualties at the town of Douma, the last in the enclave that remains in rebel hands. The apparent strike by a “barrel bomb” filled with either sarin or chlorine gas targeted a building where displaced families were sheltering from the ongoing Assad regime and Russian air-raids. The victims are overwhelmingly civilians, and many are said to be children. Trump has pledged a US military response to the attack. (Image: Syria Solidarity Campaign)

Syria

Afrin and Ghouta: fearful symmetry

The imminent fall of rebel-held Ghouta to Russian-backed Assad regime forces approaches just after the fall of Kurdish-held Afrin to Turkish-backed rebel forces. As Arab and Kurd are pitted against each other, the Great Powers carve up Syria. But both sides are preparing to advance on Idlib next. Even as Trump talks of getting the US out of Syria, potential builds for a superpower confrontation.  (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

Syria

UN condemns sexual violence in Syrian war

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report condemning pervasive sexual and gender-based violence that has occurred over the past seven years in the Syrian conflict. The report, based on interviews with more than 450 survivors and other affected individuals, details systemic rape, torture, and other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by Assad regime forces and affiliated militias at checkpoints, in detention centers, and during interrogations. (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)

Watching the Shadows

US misses transfer deadline for Gitmo detainee

The Trump administration has yet to repatriate Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia, effectively missing the deadline established in his 2014 plea deal. Darbi pleaded guilty and admitted to involvement in al-Qaeda operations including the 2002 attack on a a French-flagged oil tanker near Yemen. In his pre-trial agreement, it was determined that, contingent on his cooperation, he would be sent back to Saudi Arabia to serve the duration of his sentence. Feb. 20 marked four years from the close of the deal and Darbi was not repatriated to Saudi Arabia. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)