Syrian Kurdish officials on April 29 condemned the bombing in Afrin that claimed the lives of at least 40 civilians, including 12 children. The explosive device was apparently attached to an oil tanker and was detonated as it drove through a crowded market. "We in the Syrian Democratic Council condemn and denounce this cowardly terrorist act that targeted innocent civilians and threatens the remaining ones to move and leave their villages and cities," the SDC, political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said in a public statement. It called on the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and "work to end the Turkish occupation of the city of Afrin and all other areas that it occupied."
The trial of an accused former high-ranking ISIS member charged with taking part in the genocide of the Yazidi people of northern Iraq opened in Frankfurt April 24. The suspect, identified only as Taha al-J., is under indictment in the murder of a five-year-old girl who he had "purchased" along with her mother at a "slave market" in 2015. The girl is said to have died of thirst while chained up for hours in blazing heat as "punishment" for having wet the bed. The girl, named Rania, was taken captive with her mother when ISIS seized the Yazidi enclave of Sinjar in 2014. They changed hands repeatedly before ending up as slaves in the home of the accused in Fallujah. The suspect faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and human trafficking.
Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that he has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). "I made the offer to Mr. Putin that if he gives financial support, we can do the construction, and through the oil obtained here, we can help the destroyed Syria get on its feet," Erdogan told reporters March 10. (Al Monitor) The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF has been selling oil from the Deir ez-Zor fields to the Assad regime. A regime-aligned entity called the Qatirji Group is reportedly brokering the deal. (VOA)
Gunmen stormed a memorial ceremony honoring a martyred leader of the Hazara Shi'ite minority in Afghanistan's capital March 6. Key politicians including chief executive Abdullah Abdullah were on hand for the commemoration of the Hazara Mujahedeen commander Abdul Ali Mazari, who was assassinated by the Taliban in 1995. At least 27 people were killed in the attack, and some 30 more wounded. Soon after the massacre, the Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility. Shortly after that, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed the attack in a communique, and also asserted that the actual death toll was 150. An ISIS-claimed attack on the same ceremony last year saw a barrage of mortar fire that killed at least 11 people. The new attack comes just as a tentative "peace deal" with the Taliban is raising concerns for the fate of Afghanistan's ethnic and religious minorities. (Khaama Press, Defense Post, NYT, The Fortress)
More than a year of US-Taliban negotiations bore formal fruit Feb. 29 with the signing in Doha of what is being called a "peace deal" by Washington's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, named as leader of the Islamist group. The pact calls for the US to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments under the agreement. Afghanistan's government must release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before March 10, after which the "intra-Afghan" talks are to start, with the aim of negotiating a permanent ceasefire. The signing of the pact follows a one-week "Reduction in Violence" by the Taliban. (Khaama Press, NPR, Al Jazeera)
Five months after Afghanistan's September presidential elections, a winner has finally been declared—the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani. But hours after the announcement, rival Abdullah Abdullah declared himself the victor, claiming irregularities in the vote and calling the results "national treason." Abdullah, who still serves as chief executive (a separate post from president) has issued a decree barring all election commission workers from leaving the country. The showdown portends a divided government just as US is attempting to broker a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, ostensibly to be followed by "intra-Afghan talks" between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. (The Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN)
Traditional rulers in Nigeria's strife-torn north are warning that vigilante militias now forming to fight Boko Haram are a sign of a generalized social breakdown in the region. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar, told a public meeting in Kaduna that the new paramilitaries could themselves metamorphose into terror groups. "Governors must see that they do more to address insecurity, just imagine that there are over 50,000 orphans. They will be worse than Boko Haram if allowed to grow without proper care," he said. Abubakar is chair of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council, but a youth-led Coalition of Northern Groups has emerged outside control of the traditional rulers, and launched a paramilitary network called Shege Ka Fasa to defend against the Islamist militias. (Sahara Reporters, Feb. 8)