Two people believed to be planning a New Year’s Eve attack on “symbolic targets” in Belgium were arrested in Brussels on Tuesday. No weapons were located after raids in Brussels and nearby provinces, but ISIS propaganda and military-style outfits were found. The arrests were not related to the November Paris attacks, although many of the raids and arrests that took place during the investigation of the tragedy took place in Belgium; many of the attackers lived in Belgium at one point, and the country exports more militants to Syria and Iraq than any other European country.
The terror alert in Belgium has been raised to 3 — 4 is the highest alert.
Later on Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that ISIS leader Charaffe al-Mouadan had been killed in an air strike. The French national was allegedly linked to the attacks in Paris last month, and was “actively planning attacks against the west,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren.
The Pentagon named nine other ISIS leaders killed in recent air strikes this month. According to the Los Angeles Times, the other killed militants “include finance and explosives experts, an executioner and a British-trained Bangladeshi hacker with expertise in evading electronic surveillance.”
Time adds that the “U.S. military has debated the wisdom of targeting terrorist leaders as an efficient way of waging war since 9/11. … Killing such leaders can give rise to even more brutal terrorists who replace them, some argue.”
In northern Pakistan, a Taliban suicide attacker riding an explosive-covered motorcycle has killed at least 22 people. The bombing took place near a government building that issues ID cards in Mardan. A spokesperson for part of the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that, “God willing, we will target all Pakistani organisations that are either directly or indirectly a part of this war.”
Bombings in Syria on Monday killed at least 19 people. It took place in the city of Homs, which is often targeted by anti-Assad rebels. A few days earlier, a prominent rebel leader was killed by an airstrike, possibly Russian — one who had been taking part in the complicated dance of peace talks being coordinated by the U.N. Those talks that have now been pushed back to the end of January. Later in the weekend, government forces killed 17 more rebels.
A U.S. official noted Monday that the death of the rebel leader will probably make peace talks even more complicated. “It doesn’t send the most constructive message to carry out a strike like that.”
Meanwhile, in the world of ISIS, leaders have apparently been trying to make some rules to govern — but not eradicate — the extremist group’s horrifying treatment of women, who are currently treated as sex slaves. Reuters reports that documents recovered after a U.S. operation in Syria earlier this year show how fatwas have been used to limit who can have sex with the young imprisoned women — some of whom aren’t even teenagers yet. One rule decrees that, “If the owner of a female captive, who has a daughter suitable for intercourse, has sexual relations with the latter, he is not permitted to have intercourse with her mother and she is permanently off limits to him. Should he have intercourse with her mother then he is not permitted to have intercourse with her daughter and she is to be off limits to him.” A day earlier, Reuters reported that ISIS appears to have a “department of ‘war spoils,’” a bureaucratic entity in charge of regulating slavery and the use of oil.
World leaders are still busy talking about how excited they are about the Iraqi military’s success in getting ISIS out of most of Ramadi. However, the excitement masks how hard it could be to liberate Mosul and Fallujah, other cities that were taken over by ISIS, which, the New York Times notes, “administration officials acknowledge, will take months, if not years.”
The Guardian adds in an editorial, “It would be foolish to take Ramadi as some sort of early tipping point against Isis. The truth is that we simply don’t know. … the real challenge for Baghdad will be Mosul. Ramadi and Fallujah are small places, Mosul is a big city.”