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Islam Yaken – who according to friends had lived a cosmopolitan lifestyle back home in Egypt – bewildered many when he joined the extremist militants. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)
Ashraf Abdel Hamid, Al Arabiya News, Cairo.
Islam Yaken, a wealthy young Egyptian who left his homeland to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the summer, has been killed in a suicide mission in the Syrian conflict town of Kobane, Egyptian media reported on Monday.
Yaken – who according to friends had lived a cosmopolitan lifestyle back home in Egypt – bewildered many when he joined the extremist militants. A photo of him published on social media networks in August showed him brandishing a sword while mounted on a horse in Syria.
Before taking his life in a Kobane suicide operation, he had published a final letter on Twitter on Nov. 21.
“I ask almighty God not to be one of those meant in the verse ‘And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed’ or be one of ‘those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work,’” Yaken addressed his comrades in the letter.
Photos that surfaced on social media showed Yaken fighting for ISIS. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)
Yaken also voiced hope that God accepts his “deeds as good ones carried out for his sake.”
“Oh brothers of unification across the world…fight the enemies of Allah, the infidels, the worshippers of the cross, the Jews and the tyrannical apostates and their armies. Slay their heads with your swords, kill them with your bullets and blow yourselves up (among them). Don’t forget [the use of ] explosive devices as they are the best of deeds to gain the merciful (Allah’s) consent,” he added.
Born into a wealthy family, Yaken went to high school at the French Lycée la Liberté in Héliopolis and graduated in 2009.
As a multilingual student, he then went to Ain Shams University for a Law degree, which he completed in 2013.
An investigation by Al Arabiya News Channel revealed that as a schoolboy, he was considered normal and non-violent, yet was not very successful academically.
When Yaken graduated from school, he started to become interesting in bodybuilding, and regularly practiced sports.
“He was aged 17 when he first came to the gym,” the director of the gym where Yaken had trained told Al Arabiya News Channel, who added that despite being respectable, polite and honest, he believed the youth was looking for fame.
With his hard, consistent work in the gym, the beefed-up Yaken would take photographs of himself at the gym and immediately upload them on Facebook, the gym director added.
Islam Yaken showing off his muscles. (Photo courtesy Facebook)
“He liked to show off a lot and I once criticized him for that,” the gym director said.
Yaken began to show interest in becoming a personal trainer, and started uploading videos of him exercising on Youtube.
During the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests in August 2013, where hundreds of protestors were massacred by security forces, Yaken did not seem to have a stance on either side, he added.
One of Yaken’s former friends, who did not wish to be identified, told Al Arabiya News in August that he had once referred to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood as “infidels.”
Yet his privileged life of gym sessions, girlfriends and trips to the resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh would soon come to a halt.
“After a period of time, his friend who lived next to him in the same district got a motorcycle accident and died,” one of Yaken’s friends from university said.
After the tragedy, Yaken seemed to begin to fear death. He started to pray regularly, grew a beard, and began to wear the traditional jellabiya – a long cloak deemed unfashionable by many urban Egyptians. He had also began to turn off the TV in the gym.
As a second step, Yaken then started attending sessions at a religious school in Cairo, known for its observance to hardline Salafist theology.
While attending the sessions, Yaken would workout with other people there, ostensibly because “a strong believer is better than a weak believer.”
Soon after, despite the attempts of a local imam to try to dissuade him, Yaken travelled to Syria, where pictures fighting for ISIS appeared on social media – some showing him brandishing a sword, others showing him posing next to bloodied corpses.
While there, he called his mother and tried to persuade her to join him in his apartment by the Euphrates river. There, he boasted, he was doing well, and was also making a steady paycheck from the group.
“I spoke with my mother and told her to come and stay in this flat on the Euphrates,” he wrote on a social media account. “She can eat and drink and study, with the family and everything. She replied, ‘My son, what would happen if the owners of the flat came back? What will you do then?’ I told her not to worry — they are dead and gone.”
In the letter he penned shortly before his death, Yaken asked his family and friends to live for the unification of God’s kingdom.
“Death comes to all, rather unannounced even to Muslims and the infidel alike,” he wrote.
Egyptian militants who’ve pledged loyalty to the leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State brag about killing a worker from Arkansas.
Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast.
ISTANBUL, Turkey — A militant Egyptian group that recently pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State claimed late Sunday it was behind the killing in August of a 58-year-old American oil worker, who died during a carjacking in Egypt’s Western Desert.
Formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (roughly, Champions of Jerusalem), the group now calling itself Sinai Province announced the slaying on a Twitter account and posted images of oil worker William Henderson’s passport and identification cards. It did not say how the slaying was carried out.
The announcement will add to rising alarm about the safety of Westerners working and vacationing in Egypt. Months ago the U.S. State Department posted an extensive safety warning about travel to Egypt, urging Americans to avoid protests because they can escalate quickly into violence and cautioning about the dangers of terrorism.
U.S. officials say the travel alert may now be hardened in the light of the claimed jihadist killing of Henderson, which is being investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, The U.S. embassy in Cairo has so far remained silent on the jihadist claim.
The oil worker from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was working in Egypt for Houston-based Apache Corporation on a joint oil venture and an obituary published by his family in the Enid News and Eagle in Oklahoma, where he went to high school, said he “passed suddenly” on August 6.
In an email statement an Apache spokeswoman, Castlen Kennedy, said: “The tragic carjacking incident this past August involving our colleague Bill Henderson is still under investigation by the U.S. government.” She added: “Out of respect for the family and the ongoing nature of the investigation, I cannot comment further.” Henderson had worked for Apache for 28 years.
The Sinai-based jihadi group claiming responsibility for the oil worker’s murder has grown increasingly proficient carrying out attacks and sophisticated selecting targets based on their “strategic value.” It has conducted scores of attacks since the July 2013 ouster by the Egyptian armed forces of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and with each blast or shooting the group has been expanding its theater of operations. Originally it was a low-level insurgency mainly confined to the Sinai Peninsula . but recently it has been hitting at high-profile targets and foreigners elsewhere in the country—including right in the heart of Cairo.
In January, the group rocked Egypt’s capital with four blasts —the biggest targeting the city’s police headquarters in the deadliest explosion to hit Cairo in living memory. The bombing of the police headquarters that left four people dead and wounded 80 marked an escalation in jihadist violence. It also undermined also claims by the army that it can contain terrorism, which has been spurred by the military’s ouster of Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president.
David Barnett, a researcher on Egyptian jihadist groups at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, noted the coordinated bombings were “the first ever multi-pronged attacks launched by the group outside North Sinai.”
Four months earlier in September 2013 the jihadists came close to assassinating Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. The Egyptian government claims the group has links with the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has denied this repeatedly and vehemently, but a former Muslim Brotherhood member, Sameh Eid, calls Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis “the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In a separate social media statement at the weekend the Sinai Province claimed responsibility for nearly a dozen attacks in the past month, saying it had blown up six armored vehicles, killed seven police officers and conscripts, and wrecked the house of a man accused of spying for the army. In northern Sinai in October the group killed 31 soldiers during a raid on an army checkpoint. That attack prompted the government to declare a three-month state of emergency in parts of North Sinai.
The sophistication of the terrorism has gone hand-in-hand with a growing tie-up between Egyptian militants and, at first, al Qaeda and subsequently Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL. Some analysts have identified Ramzi Mowafi, an Egyptian physician who was close to Osama bin Laden, as one of the veterans shaping the burgeoning insurgency.
In August 2013 The Daily Beast reported that American intelligence had intercepted an Internet-based conference call between al-Qaeda’s leader, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri, and representatives of 20 jihadist groups, including some from the Sinai Peninsula. Since then both al Qaeda and the Islamic State have been seemingly vying for the group’s allegiance—a rivalry won by the latter when last month Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis changed its name to Sinai Province and pledged itself to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader.
“After entrusting God we decided to swear allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslims in Syria and Iraq and in other countries,” the group announced.
On Sunday, an Egyptian court designated formally the Islamic State and any of its affiliates as terrorists and banned it in the country. The court ruling came, as it emerged that jihadists successfully hijacked in the Port of Damietta in northern Egypt in November an Egyptian missile boat, planning to use it to help capture an Israeli ship for leverage in negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners. The plot was thwarted when other Egyptian naval vessels intercepted the hijacked ship and, according to Egyptian authorities, neutralized it during an exchange of fire.
An Egyptian military spokesman said in a statement that five sailors were injured and eight remain missing. Several militants were killed and 32 arrested.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) helps put a blanket on Peng Liyuan (2nd R), wife of China’s President Xi Jinping (2nd L), as Xi talks to U.S. President Barack Obama (L) during a lights and fireworks show to celebrate Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting, at National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, in Beijing, November 10, 2014.
With the world distracted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “flirtatious” moves on China’s first lady, Russia has been slowly but surely escalating the crisis in Ukraine and stretching the limits of a proverbial ceasefire — to the point where the crisis could, in the words of one pro-Kremlin political analyst, “explode“.
The US and others have charged Russia over the past few days with violating certain elements of a ceasefire agreement reached in September.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told US Vice President Joe Biden on Monday that Russia had transferred additional heavy weapons to pro-Russian separatists in the country’s eastern region, while there has been increased shelling of Ukrainian government positions over the past few days.
Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday that Russia has “doubled” the supplies of weaponry to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern region and has amassed a “big number” of troops close to the border.
“I think UN should be informed ASAP that Russia is planning full-scaled invasion into Ukraine,” he said. “Latest facts prove it and leave no doubts.”
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe said another large, unmarked convoy moved into eastern Ukraine. The convoy, the OSCE said, was made up of 43 green military trucks, including five with the artillery pieces known as howitzers and five with multiple rocket-launch systems.
With DNR & jounalists on the road from Donetsk to #MH17 we observe appr. 25 army vehicles with artillery, GRAD launchers heading west.—
Jeroen Akkermans (@JeroenAkkermans) November 11, 2014
Fighting in the country’s eastern regions has intensified in recent days. Reuters reports heavy shelling near the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Tuesday, while pro-Ukrainian news reports also indicated Ukrainian forces came under fire near Zamozhne, which is close to the strategic city of Mariupol. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council says there was also heavy activity near Donetsk, Debaltseve, Luhansk, and Berezove.
The situation in eastern Ukraine as of Nov. 11.
The escalation takes place amid the backdrop of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing, where Putin is meeting with other top world leaders, including President Barack Obama. The two leaders met three times informally over the past day, and the White House said they spoke about Ukraine, along with the crisis in Syria and the Iran nuclear negotiations.
Relations between the two countries has deteriorated as the ceasefire has frayed, amid further accusations from the US that Russia is supplying the pro-Russian separatists with arms and the country’s backing of separatist-fueled “elections” that the US called a “sham.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a plenary session during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Beijing, November 11, 2014.
Biden, in a phone conversation with Poroshenko on Monday, said the US was prepared to escalate “costs” on Russia if it continues to escalate the situation. The White House also warned Russia on Monday of the consequences of further escalation.
“We are very concerned by intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine, as well as numerous reports, including from the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), that Russian backed and supplied separatists are moving large convoys of heavy weapons and tanks to the front lines of the conflict,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.
“We continue to call on all sides to strictly adhere to the cease-fire. Any attempt by separatist forces to seize additional territory in eastern Ukraine would be a blatant violation of the Minsk agreements.”
“How could we check it?” a Russian “expert” said when confronted with glaring mistakes in the image. “It came to us from the internet.” UPDATE — The original source for the image told BuzzFeed News that he found it online and never expected to see it on Russian TV. “Those guys are either desperate or totally unprofessional.”
The front page of the local newspaper calls on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to apologise as relations between Australia hit an all time low after the downing of Flight MH17 in Ukraine, at the G20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane on Nov. 14, 2014. © AFP.
KIEV, Ukraine — The man whose email was used as ‘proof’ that Ukraine shot down MH17 told BuzzFeed News that he had found the image on a forum and was upset that it had been used so widely on Russian TV.
George Bilt—who said he is an MIT graduate and aviation expert with 26 years experience, but would not provide further biographical details—said that he had come across an earlier report by the Russian Union of Engineers (RUE) blaming a Ukrainian fighter jet for the crash, and thought that it concurred with his own amateur findings. When he saw the picture online, Bilt wrote to Andreyevsky, the “expert” from the broadcast, with a link to the forum where the image was posted, clearly stating that he had found it there.
“I had no knowledge or means of proving and researching if this was an authentic satellite photo or not (it was clearly available online since mid October – not really such a new discovery too),” Bilt said. “RUE seemed to possess such research means and resources. I do not know if this was my mistake in evaluation.”
Bilt said that he was shocked to see his email, which he thought that he had written to Andreyevsky in confidence, used on Russian TV as proof of the Kremlin’s claims, citing him as a source. “I am quite unhappy that my bona fide informal attempt possibly became a source of yet another battle in a media war,” he said. “This was definitely not my intention. I am also not looking for a cheap fame. This tragedy is simply too awful to gain from it.
“I am sorry for all those people I might have indirectly and unintentionally misled or disappointed by this unexpected mess in anyway,” Bilt added. “Personally and professionally, I will not continue with this amateurish investigation effort due to the rather insane highly confrontational situation prone to escalation and with the elements of media war.
“Those folks are either desperate or totally unprofessional,” he said.
On Friday, Russia’s Channel 1 published what it said were satellite photos proving that a Ukrainian government fighter jet shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July.
Host Mikhail Leontiev, who is also a vice-president at state oil giant Rosneft, said that the pictures were sent to the Russian Union of Engineers by an MIT graduate named George Bilt.
Leontiev quoted an email from Bilt in which he said that the plane “was shot down in a classic jet fighter attack from the rear semi-sphere.”
The Kremlin has suggested a Ukrainian Su-25 could have shot down the plane — despite a wealth of evidence rebels shot it down with a Russian-supplied Buk missile system, most likely by mistake.
There are numerous inconsistencies with the Russian official versions of the downing of the MH17, even without taking into account the evidence to the contrary.
Russia’s defense ministry claimed simultaneously that the Boeing could also have been shot down by a Ukrainian Buk, even though Kiev denies having any active systems within range.
A list of 10, mostly rhetorical questions the ministry prepared for Ukraine included references to tweets by a Spanish air traffic controller in Kiev who quickly turned out not to exist.
Russian bloggers, however, quickly took the claim to pieces. Photographer Rustem Adagamov found that part of the image came from the Google Images cache dating back to August 2012.
Journalist Sergei Parkhomenko found several other pictures taken from Yandex.Maps, a Russian site.
Another Russian photographer, Ilya Varlamov, pointed out that the fighter in the picture appeared to be a MiG-29 — and not an Su-27.
On top of all this, the Su-27 can only fly to 23,000 feet — far below the altitude of 33,000 feet MH17 was cruising at when it was shot down. zyalt.livejournal.com
The Boeing in the picture turned out to bear a suspicious resemblance to the first Russian-language Google Images result for “Boeing view from above.”
Интересно, изображение Боинга они прямо загуглили тоже? Или совпадение? Первая картинка в выдаче «Боинг вид сверху» http://t.co/e5MyH07UWQ—
Максим Кац (@max_katz) November 14, 2014
It had the Malaysia Airlines logo in the wrong place.
In fact, it just looked like an ordinary Boeing 777 with the company’s own logo.
I may be wrong but proportions suggest the satellite 777 MH17 has the old Boeing house livery without the "777" title http://t.co/x57KNlxVAb—
Ross Hallam (@MrRossHallam) November 14, 2014
And it was shown at a distance of 31 miles from MH17 — not 250 miles, as Bilt claimed in his email.
The image also said that the Boeing was shot down at 1:19 a.m. London time — a full 12 hours before the disaster actually happened.
In fact, the photo dates back to at least October, when it appeared on a conspiracy theory forum attributed to “enthusiasts of Rusian [sic] Wikileaks.”
It also shows the plane being shot down over the rebel capital of Donetsk — and not the city of Snezhnoe, 50 miles to the east, where it was actually hit. obkon.ucoz.com
The Russian Union of Engineers turned out not to add up either. Ivan Andreyevsky, the “expert” quoted in the show, does not appear to have an engineering education. A quick analysis of his PhD turned up obvious signs of plagiarism.
After seeing the debunking, reporters from the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid asked the union’s head, Vladimir Saulyanov, whether they had checked the image for authenticity. “How could we check it?” Saulyanov said. “It came to us from the internet.” 1tv.ru
Mockery soon ensued. Several users posted photos of a Ukrainian Nazi flying saucer shooting down the plane.
РБ головного мозга (@belamova) November 14, 2014
This picture shows the fighter being flown by Ukrainian World War II nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, reviled in Russian state media for his influence on the Ukrainian far right.
Наш фотограф крупным планом запечатлел момент, когда украинский истребитель сбивал малайзийский Боинг http://t.co/5BLglmWMmR—
Lie News (@Lie_News) November 14, 2014
This one shows the plane painted in the style of traditional Ukrainian vyshivanka embroidery.
ПРАВДЫ НЕ СКРЫТЬ! На снимке видно, что крылья истребителя, сбившего Боинг, раскрашены в цвета украинской вышиванки! http://t.co/VfttMMu72i—
Дядюшка Шу (@Shulz) November 14, 2014
The scandal comes at an awkward time for Vladimir Putin, who is still making bold-faced denials of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
RuNet Echo (@runetecho) November 15, 2014
The G20 summit in Australia this weekend has fast dissolved into a debate on what to do about a resurgent Russia.
British Prime Minister David Cameron raised the prospect of further European Union sanctions for the recent military columns seen in rebel-held east Ukraine, which NATO says came from Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Putin for the collapse of the ceasefire deal he helped broker in early September.
Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper greeted Putin by saying, “I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you, you need to get out of Ukraine.” according to the Globe and Mail newspaper. Handout / Reuters
Putin’s public comments have been unrepentant. But he’ll have to do more to convince the rest of the world that he didn’t shoot down MH17. (This caption says “Channel 1 published the real group photo from the G20 summit.”)
Первый канал опубликовал подлинное групповое фото с саммита G20. http://t.co/zEvdi6O0MF—
Владимир Терехов (@Geschichter) November 15, 2014
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