Activist hackers battle Islamic State in cyberspace

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Anonymous Declares 'War' on Islamic State


SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Islamic State sympathizers using social media to spread propaganda and recruit fighters are now drawing an increasing amount of return fire from activists who have been knocking some sites offline and infiltrating others.

The loose hacking collective Anonymous is the latest to draw attention to such campaigns, with members claiming credit this week for having thousands of pro-IS Twitter accounts disabled.

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But others claim to have been doing more for longer. One group that feeds information to the U.S. government says it has suppressed tens of thousands of Twitter accounts since January, and its members have posed as would-be recruits to gain information on so-called Dark Web operations supporting the Islamic State.

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Activist hackers battle Islamic State in cyberspace
A victim under a blanket lays dead outside the Bataclan theater in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in a series of shooting and explosions. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Rescue workers gather at victims in the 10th district of Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Several dozen people were killed in a series of unprecedented attacks around Paris on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said, announcing that he was closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
People run after hearing what is believed to be explosions or gun shots near Place de la Republique square in Paris on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in several shootings and explosions in Paris today, police said. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman is being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A woman is being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
French President Francois Hollande arrives to visit the site of the the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins says the death toll in attacks at six sites around the French capital could exceed 120. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Victims leave after a shooting, near the Bataclan theater in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in a series of shooting and explosions explosions. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Investigating police officers inspect the lifeless body of a victim of a shooting attack outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, France, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in Paris on Friday night in a series of shooting, explosions. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Victims lay on the pavement in a Paris restaurant, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Police officials in France on Friday reported a shootout in a Paris restaurant and an explosion in a bar near a Paris stadium. It was unclear if the events were linked. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Victims walk away outside the Bataclan theater in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in a series of shooting and explosions explosions. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Spectators invade the pitch of the Stade de France stadium after the international friendly soccer match between France and Germany in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Hundreds of people spilled onto the field of the Stade de France stadium after explosions were heard nearby during a friendly match between the French and German national soccer teams. French President Francois Hollande says he is closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency after several dozen people were killed in a series of unprecedented terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Supporters invade the pitch of the Stade de France stadium at the end of the international friendly soccer match between France and Germany in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Hundreds of people spilled onto the field of the Stade de France stadium after explosions were heard nearby. French President Francois Hollande says he is closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency after several dozen people were killed in a series of unprecedented terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Spectators embrace each other as they stand on the playing field of the Stade de France stadium at the end of a friendly soccer match between France and Germany in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Hundreds made their way to the pitch after explosions were heard nearby. Multiple fatal attacks throughout the city have prompted President Francois Hollande to announce he was closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Spectators gather on the pitch of the Stade de France stadium following the friendly football match between France and Germany in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on November 13, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. At least 18 people were killed, with at least 15 people killed at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, only around 200 metres from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo which were attacked by jihadists in January. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers help a woman after a shooting, outside the Bataclan theater in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A victim walks outside the Bataclan theater in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in a series of shooting and explosions explosions. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: French officials and medics work near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant in the 11th district after a drive-by shooting killing 11 people, November 14, 2015, Paris, France. At least 142 people were killed deadly shootings and explosions took place in several neighbourhoods of Paris. 1,500 troops deployed in French capital says Elysse. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A victim is being evacuated from the Bataclan concert hall after a shooting in Paris, France, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in Paris on Friday night in a series of shooting, explosions. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Victims lay on the pavement in a Paris restaurant, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Two police officials say at least 11 people have been killed in shootouts and other violence around Paris. Police have reported shootouts in at least two restaurants in Paris. At least two explosions have been heard near the Stade de France stadium, and French media is reporting of a hostage-taking in the capital. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Two men evacuate the Place de la Republique square in Paris as a police officer looks on, after several shootings on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in several shootings and explosions in Paris today, police said. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 13: Police survey the area of Boulevard Baumarchais after an attack in the French capital on November 13, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 18 people were killed in a series of gun attacks across Paris, as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
Rescuers rush to the scene following an attack in the 10th arrondissement of the French capital Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed as multiple shootings and explosions hit Paris, police said. Police also said there was an ongoing hostage crisis in the Bataclan a concert hall in the French capital. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A person is being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A Victim of a shooting attack is treated on the pavement outside La Belle Equipe restaurant in Paris Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in Paris on Friday night in a series of shooting, explosions. (Anne Sophie Chaisemartin via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Victims of a shooting attack lay on the pavement outside La Bell Equipe restaurant in Paris Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in Paris on Friday night in a series of shooting, explosions. (Anne Sophie Chaisemartin via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
People rest on a bench after being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. A series of attacks targeting young concert-goers, soccer fans and Parisians enjoying a Friday night out at popular nightspots killed over 100 people in the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: French officials and medics work near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant in the 11th district after a drive-by shooting killing 11 people, November 14, 2015, Paris, France. At least 142 people were killed deadly shootings and explosions took place in several neighbourhoods of Paris. 1,500 troops deployed in French capital says Elysse. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A firefighter attend to an injured person lying on a stretcher near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. At least 39 people were killed in an 'unprecedented' series of bombings and shootings across Paris and at the Stade de France stadium on November 13. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
People are evacuated by bus, near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. More than 100 people were killed in a mass hostage-taking at a Paris concert hall on November 13 and many more were feared dead in a series of bombings and shootings, as France declared a national state of emergency. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
People are comforted after being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Investigating police officers work outside the Stade de France stadium after an explosion and after international friendly soccer match France against Germany, in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. Multiple fatal attacks throughout the city have prompted President Francois Hollande to announce he was closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about attacks in Paris from the briefing room of the White House, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, in Washington. Obama is calling the attacks on Paris an "outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians" and vows to do whatever it takes to help bring the perpetrators to justice. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. President Barack Obama departs the White House briefing room after delivering remarks on the recent violence taking place in Paris, France November 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. Gunfire and explosions erupted in the French capital with early casualty reports indicating at least 60 dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Football fans leave the Stade de France stadium following the friendly football match between France and Germany in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on November 13, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. At least 18 people were killed, with at least 15 people killed at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, only around 200 metres from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo which were attacked by jihadists in January. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Soccer fans leave the Stade de France stadium after an international friendly soccer match in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. An explosion occurred outside the stadium. Several dozen people were killed in a series of unprecedented attacks around Paris on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said, announcing that he was closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
French supporters invade the pitch of the Stade de France stadium at the end of the international friendly soccer match between France and Germany in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Hundreds of people spilled onto the field of the Stade de France stadium after explosions were heard nearby. French President Francois Hollande says he is closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency after several dozen people were killed in a series of unprecedented terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Soccer fans wait on the fitch of the Stade de France stadium after an international friendly soccer match in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. An explosion occurred outside the stadium. Several dozen people were killed in a series of unprecedented attacks around Paris on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said, announcing that he was closing the country's borders and declaring a state of emergency. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
supporters run in panic on the pitch during the International friendly match between France and Germany on November 13, 2015 at the Stade France in Paris, France.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
Police are seen outside a cafe-restaurant in 10th arrondissement of the French capital Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed as multiple shootings and explosions hit Paris, police said. Police also said there was an ongoing hostage crisis in the Bataclan a concert hall in the French capital. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
RETRANSMISSION FOR ALTERNATIVE CROP - Emergency services attewnd the scene as victims lay on the pavement outside a Paris restaurant, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Police officials in France on Friday report multiple terror incidents, leaving many dead. It was unclear at this stage if the events are linked. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A policeman stands behind a cordon blocking the street near the site of an attack in a restaurant in Paris on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in multiple attacks in Paris Friday, including one near the Stade de France sports stadium and another at a concert venue. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A victim lies on the ground covered by a white sheet (Rear L) as special police work at the attack scene rue Bichat, in central Paris, early on November 14, 2015. More than 100 people were killed in a mass hostage-taking at a Paris concert hall late on November 13 and many more were feared dead in a series of bombings and shootings, as France declared a national state of emergency. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters and rescuers evacuate injured people near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. At least 39 people were killed in an 'unprecedented' series of bombings and shootings across Paris and at the Stade de France stadium on November 13. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
People are evacuated following an attack at the Bataclan concert venue in Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in multiple attacks in Paris Friday, including one near the Stade de France sports stadium. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts inspect the site of an attack outside the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, early on November 14, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. A number of people were killed and others injured in a series of gun attacks across Paris, as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Investigating police officers work outside the Stade de France stadium after an international friendly soccer match France against Germany, in Saint Denis, outside Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. Several dozen people were killed in attacks around Paris on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said, announcing that he was closing the countryâs borders and declaring a state of emergency. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Medics stand by victims in a Paris restaurant, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Police officials in France on Friday reported a shootout in a Paris restaurant and an explosion in a bar near a Paris stadium. It was unclear if the events were linked. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
French President Francois Hollande is seen through the glass door after a security meeting at the Elysee palace in Paris, France, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. French President Francois Hollande vowed to attack the Islamic State group without mercy as the jihadist group admitted responsibility Saturday for orchestrating the deadliest attacks inflicted on France since World War II. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, following a series of coordinated attacks in and around Paris late Friday which left more than 120 people dead. Hollande on Saturday blamed the Islamic State group for the attacks in Paris that left at least 128 dead, calling them an "act of war". (Stephane de Sakutin/Pool Photo via AP)
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"We're playing more of an intelligence role," said the executive director of Ghost Security Group, who declined to be named, citing security concerns. The group is a volunteer organization that has been sending data to the FBI and other agencies via a Congressional terrorism adviser, Michael S. Smith II.

Smith said the group's infiltration efforts had given some actionable information to the government, and that coordinated complaints to Twitter had helped push Islamic State supporters elsewhere.

U.S. agencies "appreciate the outside support. I have constant feedback to that," Smith said. Retired Gen. David Petraeus recently told Foreign Policy he had reviewed Smith's data and saw how it "would be of considerable value to those engaged in counter-terrorism initiatives."

The FBI declined to comment.

Smith, chief operating officer of defense contractor Kronos Advisory, said Ghost Security Group contacted him in June and provided screenshots of internal communications about an impending attack in Tunisia, which he said he passed along and which helped break up a militant cell in time.

The Paris attacks on Friday have brought an increase in online activity against the jihadists, but freelance efforts to counter the group online remain fraught with hazards.

Civilian hacking and denial-of-service attacks, which overwhelm a website or other outlet with meaningless traffic, are illegal no matter what the target. The most sophisticated and potentially helpful efforts - including impersonating a recruit - run the greatest risk of complicating official efforts by the U.S. or allied governments.

Retired U.S. Gen. Mike Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, when asked whether such agencies appreciate the activities of organizations such as Ghost Security Group, said: "Officially, no. But U.S. law and policy are so constraining, I am sure the folks currently in government take secret pleasure in it, as I do."

The easiest thing for volunteers to do is complain to Twitter, Google 's YouTube and Facebook Inc about accounts supporting terrorism. All three have gotten more responsive in the past year, activists said, although all declined to discuss details on the record.


YouTube now acts to take down violent videos within hours, Ghost Security Group said.

At Twitter, Ghost Security Group and an affiliate now circulate lists of problem accounts. Ordinary users who see those lists can then complain about those accounts, getting them suspended more quickly than if the groups were acting alone.

"More accounts are being taken down," said J.M. Berger, a Brookings Institution expert on Islamic State. "I do think the majority of the reporting is being done by groups like Anonymous and Ghost Security. But there are other initiatives, including the Counter Extremism Project and the Sawab Center, which are contributing to reporting efforts."

Berger said the efforts were helping to keep the Islamic State's Twitter audience "about flat, which I think is positive."

The pressure on Twitter is one reason that Islamic State has moved a lot of its broadcast communication to Telegram, which opened a "channels" service that lets a participant reach thousands of viewers, Berger and other security experts said.

The Ghost Security Group leader, who uses the moniker DigitaShadow, said that his group was still gathering information on Telegram.

In other cases, he said websites were taken down after his group's researchers notified the hosting provider. In a few cases, the group arranged denial-of-service attacks.

But he said the guidance coming back to him through Smith was generally away from such brute-force methods.

"We've backed down from denial-of-service and moved toward intelligence collection," he said. (Reporting by Joseph Menn, Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Yasmeen Abutaleb in San Francisco, Editing by Jonathan Weber and Ken Wills)

RELATED: See the history of the Islamic State in photos

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History of Islamic State
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Activist hackers battle Islamic State in cyberspace
FILE - In this Monday, April 19, 2010 file photo, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki holds a paper displaying photographs of a man the Iraqi government claims to be al-Qaida leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi at a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi forces killed the two top al-Qaida in Iraq leaders on April 18, 2010, allowing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to become the leader of a terror group weakened by a concerted campaign aimed at ending a Sunni insurgency in the country.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2009 file photo, guards stand at the entrance of a renovated Abu Ghraib prison, now renamed Baghdad Central Prison and run by Iraqis, in Baghdad, Iraq. A military-style assault by al-Qaida leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s fighters on two Baghdad-area prisons in July, 2013 freed more than 500 inmates.(AP Photo / Karim Kadim, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday April 21, 2010 file photo, an Iraqi military helicopter flies over the site of a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid that reportedly killed Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, two top-ranking al-Qaida figures, about six miles (10 kilometers) southwest of Tikrit. U.S. and Iraqi forces killed the two top al-Qaida in Iraq leaders on April 18, 2010, allowing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to become the leader of a terror group weakened by a concerted campaign aimed at ending a Sunni insurgency in the country.(AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2010 photo, pictures of slain Iraqi Christians are displayed during Mass at Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad, Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s al-Qaida militants attacked the church on Oct. 31 during Sunday night mass, killing 58 people in the deadliest assault targeting Christians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion there. The militants reportedly demand the release of Muslim women they claim were held by Egypt’s Coptic Christian church.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 file photo, Iraqis inspect the aftermath a day after a car bomb attack in a shopping area in Karradah, Baghdad, Iraq. In his first purported online message on July 21, 2012, al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi promised to regain lost ground in Iraq and calls on militants to “chase and liquidate the judges, the investigators and the guards.” Within days, his group begins a campaign of attacks, car bombings and other assaults killing hundreds.(AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)
FILE - In this April 23, 2013 file photo, a suspected Yemeni al-Qaida militant, center, holds a banner as he stands behind bars during a court hearing in state security court in Sanaa, Yemen. In a competition with the Islamic State group for recruits and prestige across the Middle East, al-Qaida has sought to distinguish itself from its rival's bloodthirstiness, taking an approach that in jihadi circles would be considered pragmatic. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
A sign on the northern road exiting the town of Gao, Northern Mali, Wednesday Jan. 30, 2013, reads "welcome to the islamic state of Gao". Islamist extremists fled the city Saturday after French, Chadian and Nigerien troops arrived, ending 10 months of radical islamic control over the city.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
FILE - In this Sunday, March 30, 2014, file photo, Islamic State group militants hold up their flag as they patrol in a commandeered Iraqi military vehicle in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces swept into Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq’s Anbar province, which Iraqi security forces had abandoned weeks earlier. That came after security forces killed demonstrators during a Sunni protest, effectively turning the unrest into an uprising.(AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this June 23, 2014, file photo, fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s fighters took over Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul in June, 2014, followed by Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and smaller communities in the Sunni heartland as government forces melt away.(AP Photo/File)
German Kreshnik B. waits for the beginning of his trial at a higher regional court in Frankfurt, Germany, Monday, Sept.15, 2014. He is accused of having been a member of the Islamic state group in Syria. He was arrested when he came back to Germany in December 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
FILE - In this Monday, June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. The IS declaration of a "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria inspired a stream of thousands of foreign fighters to join it and earned it pledges of allegiance by individual militants around the region. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, file photo, smoke billows behind an Islamic State group sign during clashes between militants from the Islamic State group and Iraqi security forces during a military operation to regain control of the town of Sadiyah, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq in Diyala province, Iraq. In a competition with the Islamic State group for recruits and prestige across the Middle East, al-Qaida has sought to distinguish itself from its rival's bloodthirstiness, taking an approach that in jihadi circles would be considered pragmatic. (AP Photo, File)
A photograph on a television screen shown by Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Jr., Director of Operations J3, while he briefs the news media on operations in Syria, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
This image provided by the Department of Defense shows a image that was shown by Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Jr., Director of Operations J3, during a briefing on operations in Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Department of Defense)
This image provided by the Department of Defense shows a image that was shown by Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Jr., Director of Operations J3, during a briefing on operations in Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Department of Defense)
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 file photo, Iraqi army soldiers deploy in front of a court run by the Islamic State group after a military operation to regain control of the town of Sadiyah in Diyala province, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo, File)
Iraqi security forces prepare to attack Islamic State extremist positions in central Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Black flags used by the Islamic State group are seen over their combat positions in the Rashad Bridge, which connects the provinces of Salah al-Din and Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Syrian Kurdish fighter Delkhwaz Sheikh Ahmad, 22, checks a picture on his mobile showing Islamic State group fighters killed in fighting with Syrian Kurdish fighters, as he prepares to leave for Kobani, Syria, to rejoin the fighting, at his brother's house in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. The father of two is a member of the People’s Protection Units, also known as YPG and is fighting against militants of the Islamic State group in Kobani, Syria. Every few weeks, he takes a couple of days to cross the border into Turkey to visit his family that had evacuated. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
FILE - In this Aug. 10, 2014 file photo, an aircraft lands after missions targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq from the deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf. Combined U.S.-Arab airstrikes at the heart of the Islamic State group's military strongholds in Syria achieved their strategic aim of showing the extremists that their savage attacks will not go unanswered, the top American military officer said Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)
In this image made from video broadcast on Egyptian state television on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, a fighter jet leaves the hangar in preparation to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya after the extremist group released a grisly video showing the beheading of several Egyptian Coptic Christians it had held hostage for weeks. (AP Photo/Egyptian State Television via AP video)
In this image released by the Egyptian Presidency in the early hours of Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi makes a statement after militants in Libya affiliated with the Islamic State group released a grisly video showing the beheading of several Egyptian Coptic Christians it had held hostage for weeks. Egypt said Monday it has launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya following the release of the video, marking the first time Cairo has publicly acknowledged taking military action in neighboring Libya, where extremist groups seen as a threat to both countries have taken root in recent years. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)
A man is comforted by others as he mourns over Egyptian Coptic Christians who were captured in Libya and killed by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, outside of the Virgin Mary church in the village of el-Aour, near Minya, 220 kilometers (135 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. Egyptian warplanes struck Islamic State targets in Libya on Monday in swift retribution for the extremists' beheading of a group of Egyptian Christian hostages on a beach, shown in a grisly online video released hours earlier. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Iraqi security forces participate in a drill as U.S. forces train them in Taji, north of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 21, 2015. U.S. military officials have said a coordinated military mission to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city held by the Islamic State group, will likely begin in April or May and involve up to 25,000 Iraqi troops. But the Americans have cautioned that if the Iraqis are not ready, the offensive could be delayed. Iraqi officials have backed away from setting a timeline. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
Iraqi security forces participate in a drill as U.S. forces help train them in Taji, north of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 21, 2015. U.S. military officials have said a coordinated military mission to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city held by the Islamic State group, will likely begin in April or May and involve up to 25,000 Iraqi troops. But the Americans have cautioned that if the Iraqis are not ready, the offensive could be delayed. Iraqi officials have backed away from setting a timeline. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
A bombs, seen top left, falls on an Islamic State position in eastern Kobani, during an airstrike by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
This picture released late Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, by an Islamic State militant-affiliated website, shows a bulldozer, background, of the Islamic State militants destroying the Saint Eliane Monastery near the town of Qaryatain which IS captured in early August, in Homs province, Syria. A priest and activists say the Islamic State group has demolished an ancient monastery in central Syria. A Christian clergyman told The Associated Press in Damascus that IS militants also wrecked a church inside the monastery that dates back to the first Christian centuries. The priest, who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the monastery included an Assyrian Catholic church. (Islamic State militant website via AP)
Mourners carry the coffins of victims of Saturday's Ankara bombing attacks, during a funeral in Istanbul, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. Turkish investigators are close to identifying one of the suicide bombers in Turkey's deadliest attacks in years, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday, adding that the Islamic State group was the "Number one priority" of the investigation. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Armoured police vehicles patrol as they block a road leading to the site of armed clashes with militants in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. Police raided a house used by a suspected cell of the Islamic State group triggering a clash that killed up to seven militants and two policemen, Turkish media reports said. It was not immediately clear if the operation was linked to suicide bombings of a peace rally in the capital Ankara earlier this month that killed 102 people. (AP Photo/Mahmut Bozarslan)
From left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo hold a white rose as they pay their respects to the victims of the attacks of the 13th November on the Place de la Republique prior to a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. Merkel's visit to Paris is part of president Hollande's diplomatic offensive to get the international community to bolster the campaign against the Islamic State militants. (Etienne Laurent, Pool Photo via AP)
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