ISIS Counterattacks in Retaken Parts of Mosul Stall Iraq Push

Federal policemen carry food to the frontline during fighting against Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, June 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

MOSUL, Iraq  — Counterattacks by Islamic State militants on the western edge of Mosul have stalled Iraqi forces’ push in the Old City, the last IS stronghold in the battle, an Iraqi officer said Tuesday.

The attacks forced Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition to pull some assets away from the Old City to again clear the Yarmouk and Tanak neighborhoods, which were declared liberated of IS in May.

The assaults underscore the Sunni extremist group’s resilience in the city, Iraq’s second-largest, despite months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air power.

According to the Iraqi officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, the latest counter-attacks began on Sunday by scores of IS fighters dressed as Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries. The following day, he said, a dozen coalition airstrikes on Mosul’s western-most edge killed about 40 militants.

The territory that the Islamic State group still holds in Mosul has been reduced to an area that now amounts to about 2 square kilometers (0.8 square miles) in the ancient Old City district.

Front lines were quiet in the Old City on Tuesday as Iraqi special forces scouted the terrain. Troops ducked into narrow alleyways, through bright courtyards and up balconies to reach positions with a view of the now destroyed al-Nuri Mosque.

IS fighters blew up the 12th century mosque in the heart of the Old City last week, along with its landmark minaret, according to the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense — an act of destruction that the authorities in Baghdad interpreted as the militants’ message of defeat in the face of the relentless Iraqi offensive. IS released a statement blaming a U.S. airstrike for the destruction.

The mosque was also hugely symbolic — it was from a pulpit there that the Islamic State group’s top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014 declared a self-styled “caliphate,” encompassing territories held by IS in Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi special forces Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said IS holds “very little” territory inside Mosul at the present moment, adding that he hoped the operation would be concluded within days.

But despite staggering territorial losses, IS has managed to launch a number of counterattacks and insurgent assaults inside some Mosul neighborhoods that were retaken from IS earlier this month.

The attacks also underscore the security threat that IS will likely pose, long after the militant group is routed from all of Mosul and other territory it holds in Iraq.

Iraqi forces launched an operation to retake Mosul’s Old City just over a week ago, more than eight months after the fight to retake Iraq’s second-largest city officially began.

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New cyberattack wallops Europe; spreads more slowly in US

PARIS — A new and highly virulent outbreak of data-scrambling software — apparently sown in Ukraine — caused disruption across the world Tuesday. Following a similar attack in May , the fresh cyber-assault paralyzed some hospitals, government offices and major multinational corporations in a dramatic demonstration of how easily malicious programs can bring daily life to a halt.

Ukraine and Russia appeared hardest hit by the new strain of ransomware — malicious software that locks up computer files with all-but-unbreakable encryption and then demands a ransom for its release. In the United States, the malware affected companies such as the drugmaker Merck and Mondelez International, the owner of food brands such as Oreo and Nabisco.

Its pace appeared to slow as the day wore on, in part because the malware appeared to require direct contact between computer networks, a factor that may have limited its spread in regions with fewer connections to Ukraine.

The malware’s origins remain unclear. Researchers picking the program apart found evidence its creators had borrowed from leaked National Security Agency code, raising the possibility that the digital havoc had spread using U.S. taxpayer-funded tools.

“The virus is spreading all over Europe and I’m afraid it can harm the whole world,” said Victor Zhora, the chief executive of Infosafe IT in Kiev, where reports of the malicious software first emerged early afternoon local time Tuesday.

In Ukraine, victims included top-level government offices, where officials posted photos of darkened computer screens, as well as energy companies, banks, cash machines, gas stations, and supermarkets. Ukrainian Railways and the communications company Ukrtelecom were among major enterprises hit, Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan said in a Facebook post .

The virus hit the radiation-monitoring at Ukraine’s shuttered Chernobyl power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, forcing it into manual operation.

Multinational companies, including the global law firm DLA Piper and Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk were also affected, although the firms didn’t specify the extent of the damage.

Ukraine bore the brunt with more than 60 percent of the attacks, followed by Russia with more than 30 percent, according to initial findings by researchers at the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. It listed Poland, Italy and Germany, in that order, as the next-worst affected.

In the U.S, two hospitals in western Pennsylvania were hit; patients reported on social media that some surgeries had to be rescheduled. A spokeswoman for Heritage Valley Health System would say only that operational changes had to be made. A Wellsville, Ohio, woman at one of its hospitals to have her gallbladder removed said she noticed computer monitors off and nurses scurrying around with stacks of paperwork.

Security experts said Tuesday’s global cyberattack shares something in common with last month’s outbreak of ransomware, dubbed WannaCry . Both spread using digital lock picks originally created by the NSA and later published to the web by a still-mysterious group known as the Shadowbrokers.

Security vendors including Bitdefender and Kaspersky said the NSA exploit, known as EternalBlue, lets malware spread rapidly across internal networks at companies and other large organizations. Microsoft issued a security fix in March, but Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer at the security firm Veracode, said it would only be effective if every single computer on a network were patched — otherwise, a single infected machine could infect all others.

“Once activated, the virus can automatically and freely distribute itself on your network,” Ukraine’s cyberpolice tweeted.

Bogdan Botezatu, an analyst with Bitdefender, compared such self-spreading software to a contagious disease. “It’s like somebody sneezing into a train full of people,” he said.

Ryan Kalember, a security expert at Proofpoint, said one reason the attacks appeared to be slowing down was that the ransomware appears to spread only when a direct contact exists between two networks — such as when a global company’s Ukraine office interacts with headquarters.

But once it hits a computer on a network, it spreads quickly, even among computers that have applied the fix for the NSA exploit.

“It’s more harmful to the organization that it affects, but because it’s not randomly spreading over the internet like WannaCry, it’s somewhat contained to the organizations that were connected to each other,” Kalember said.

Botezatu said the new program appeared nearly identical to GoldenEye, a variant of a known family of hostage-taking programs known as “Petya.” It demanded $300 in Bitcoin.

Unlike typical ransomware, which merely scrambles personal data files, the program wreaking havoc Tuesday overwrites a computer’s master boot record, making it tougher to restore even a machine that has been backed up, said Kalember.

It may have first spread through a rogue update to a piece of Ukrainian accounting software called MEDoc, according to tweets by the country’s cyberpolice unit. It said a rogue update seeded the infection across Ukraine. In a lengthy statement posted to Facebook, MEDoc acknowledged having been hacked.

The motives of those behind the malware remain unknown. Ukraine has been a persistent target of pro-Russian hackers, who are blamed for twice shutting down large swaths of its power grid in the dead of winter and sabotaging its elections system in a bid to disrupt May 2014 national elections.

Emails sent Tuesday to an address posted to the bottom of ransom demands went unreturned. That might be because the email provider hosting that address, Berlin-based Posteo, pulled the plug on the account before the infection became widely known.

In an email, a Posteo representative said it had blocked the email address “immediately” after learning that it was associated with ransomware. The company added that it was in contact with German authorities “to make sure that we react properly.”

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Venezuela says Supreme Court attacked from helicopter

Image result for helicopter attack venezuela

President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday a police helicopter had attacked the Supreme Court in a ratcheting up of Venezuela’s political crisis, but a grenade tossed at the building did not explode.

Speaking on state TV, the 54-year-old president, who has faced three months of opposition protests and some dissent from within government ranks, said that special forces were after the “terrorists” behind the attack.

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ISIS member in charge of drones, others killed west of Mosul

Mosul – Islamic State member in charge of drones in Tal Afar town, west of Mosul, has been killed along with number of comrades, a local source from Nineveh province said.

“An IS secret rest house, used for launching drones, at the outskirts of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, was heavily shelled early on Tuesday, leaving the member in charge of the drones, called Abu Hafsa, and some companions, killed,” the source told AlSumaria News.

“Other blasts occurred inside the rest house after the shelling due to presence of explosions inside,” the source, who preferred anonymity, said.

In related news, an office from Nineveh Police, said Tuesday that six IS members were killed while attempting infiltration to Rajm Hadid region, west of Mosul.

“The tribal mobilization forces were able to kill six IS members who tried to sneak into Rajm Hadid region in order to attack troops after the army withdrew,” Cap. Mohamed Jassem told BasNews.

“The members were trapped by the tribal fighters there,” he added, saying that the troops are deployed on the outskirts of the western axis toward Jazeera to prevent infiltration of the members into the liberated regions.

Senior IS Syrian member Abu Abdullah al-Halabi, the assistant head of the extremist group’s so-called “security committee”, was reportedly shot dead at the center of Tal Afar. IS members were put on high alert after the shooting.

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New ISIS video shows kids as young as 8 executing prisoners

ISIS video screen shot

A chilling new ISIS execution video shows brainwashed children as young as 8 being forced to shoot prisoners in the head.

Footage shows the two boys, both dressed in black and armed with handguns, standing behind two captives in Afghanistan.

The pair aggressively pull back the heads of the captives who they brand as “spies” before the younger of the two starts ranting at the camera.

They then point their guns at the back of their prisoner’s heads and carry out the killing.

Children who are brainwashed with ISIS ideologies and trained to fight and kill for the group are known as “cubs of the caliphate”.

This is not the first time children have appeared on ISIS video’s carrying out executions.

In January shocking footage was released by the terror group which showed child recruits beheading and shooting three men.

The young children, who look to be at toddler age and around 10 years old, are filmed wearing camouflage army style uniforms while brutally killing their victims in Deir ez-Zor, Syria.

One extremely young boy is filmed shakily clutching a gun and shooting a man in the head, as another brandishes a large knife before savagely cutting a man’s throat.

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Iraqi forces set sight on Old City riverside, PM sees Mosul victory soon

Mosul – Iraqi forces on Tuesday pushed towards the river side of Mosul’s Old City, their key target in the eight-month campaign to capture Islamic State’s de-facto capital, and Iraq’s prime minister predicted victory very soon.

Iraqi forces, battling up to 350 militants dug in among civilians in the Old City, said federal police had dislodged IS insurgents from the Ziwani mosque and were only a few days away from ousting militants completely from the Old City.

“The victory announcement will come in a very short time,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on his website on Monday evening.

“The operation is continuing to free the remaining parts of the Old City,” Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) told a Reuters correspondent near the frontline in the heart of the Old City.

Iraqi forces had about 600 meters (2,000 ft) left to cover before they reach Cornishe Street alongside the western bank of the Tigris, Federal Police commander Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat told Iraqi State TV.

“In a few days our forces will reach Cornishe Street and bring the battle to its conclusion,” said Jawdat, adding that federal police had forced militants out of Ziwani mosque in the Old City’s southwestern corner.

The fall of Mosul would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate” proclaimed by Islamic State though the militant group remains in control of large areas of both Iraq and Syria.

Federal Police and elite CTS units in Mosul are attacking IS fighters in the Old City’s maze of narrow alleyways, together with the army and the interior ministry’s Emergency Response Division (ERD).

Up to 350 militants are estimated by the Iraqi military to be dug in there among civilians in wrecked houses and crumbling infrastructure.

They were making extensive use of booby traps, suicide bombers and sniper fire to slow the advance of Iraqi forces from the west, the north and the south.

Those residents who have escaped say many of the civilians trapped behind Islamic State lines — put at 50,000 by the Iraqi military – have little food, water or medicines.

A U.S.-led international coalition is providing air and ground support in the eight-month-old offensive.

HUMAN SHIELDS

Aid organizations say Islamic State has stopped many civilians from leaving, using them as human shields. Hundreds of civilians fleeing the Old City have been killed in the past three weeks.

The militants last week destroyed the historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret from which their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria three years ago. The mosque’s grounds remain under the militants’ control.

Iraqi troops captured on Monday the neighborhood of al-Faruq in the northwestern side of the Old City, facing the mosque, the military said.

Only a handful of neighborhood remain to be cleared, al-Saadi said, standing atop a rooftop overlooking al-Faruq street which now marks the frontline, a few dozen meters (yards) from the old mosque.

Sporadic sniper fire could be heard, and an incoming rocket, as the troops used a white commercial drone to survey the insurgents’ defenses. The Iraqi forces started attacking the western side of Mosul in February, a month after taking the side located east of the Tigris.

Islamic State’s Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is assumed to be hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border area. There has been no confirmation of Russian reports over the past days that he has been killed.

In Syria, the insurgents’ “capital” Raqqa, is nearly

encircled by a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led coalition.

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