IS developing ‘new weapons’ despite losses: arms monitor

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ERBIL, Iraq, April 26, (Agencies): Islamic State militants have developed an improvised explosive device (IED) that can be launched from rifles or dropped from an aerial drone, an arms monitoring group said on Wednesday. Conflict Armament Research (CAR) said the Sunni militant group was “promoting the development of ‘own-brand’ weapons” to provide its insurgents with otherwise unavailable armaments. “The (IED) can be thrown, launched from an improvised rifle attachment, or in its most recent phases of development, dropped from a commercial, off-the-shelf unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone,” CAR said in a report following visits to Mosul in November, February and March. Iraqi military and elite counterterrorism forces launched a sweeping, US-backed offensive in October to retake the city, Islamic State’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq seized in a lightning offensive in 2014.

They have retaken most of Mosul, including its half east of the Tigris River, and surrounded the militants in its northwest quarter including the Old City, home to the Grand al-Nuri mosque where IS declared a “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria. CAR, which identifies and tracks arms and ammunition in war zones, reported in December that IS had been making weapons on a scale and sophistication matching national military forces and that it had standardised production across its realm. The monitor’s findings suggested IS was centrally managing the design and production of improvised weapons with the ability to test its systems on the field and refine them as well as use new technologies such as drones. The report said Islamic State was using the battle for Mosul to field-test different types of ordnance, an important step in any weapons research and development programme. “Evidence of research and development by IS forces, compiled by CAR since 2014, suggests that such adaptations are likely to continue and will result in further UAV innovations in the near future, potentially for use in theatres other than Iraq.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces seized the UNESCO-listed ancient site of Hatra from the Islamic State group Wednesday, the latest archaeological jewel to be wrested from the jihadists’ grip. Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitary forces fighting IS around Iraq’s second city Mosul said they had “liberated the ancient city of Hatra… after fierce clashes with the enemy”. The Hashed forces launched their offensive at dawn on Tuesday and swiftly retook villages in nearby desert areas and the Hatra archaeological site. Nearby modern Hatra was not yet fully retaken but the Hashed said its forces had “broken into the town after Daesh (IS) defences collapsed”. It said in a statement that it killed 61 IS fighters in the two-day-old operation, including 19 suicide bombers, and evacuated around 2,500 civilians who fled their homes. An AFP reporter with the forces said the advance was quick and supported by army helicopters. The Hashed al- Shaabi said they retook an area covering 800 square kilometres (300 square miles). Lying 120 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Mosul, the jihadists’ last urban Iraqi stronghold, Hatra is one of a string of archaeological sites recaptured from IS in recent months. Known as Al-Hadhr in Arabic, it was established in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and became a religious and trading centre under the Parthian empire. Its imposing fortifications helped it withstand sieges by the forces of two Roman emperors. Although Hatra finally succumbed to Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanid dynasty, it was well-preserved over the centuries that followed.

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