Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Afghan Taliban confirms death of shadow governors for Kunar, Kandahar (01:07PM)

Noor Qasim Sabari, the shadow governor for Kunar province, from a Taliban video released in 2012.

The Afghan Taliban confirmed that its shadow governors for Kunar and Kandahar provinces were killed during combat over the past month.

The Taliban noted the deaths of Noor Qasim Sabari (or Noor Qasim Hayderi) and Abdul Wasi' Azzam, the shadow governors of Kunar and Kandahar respectively, in a statement that was released on April 22 on Voice of Jihad, the group's official website. Sabari and Azzam were described as the "Jihadi in-charge" of their provinces.

Sabari was killed "in a cowardly enemy airstrike in Kunar," the Taliban stated, without releasing further detained. The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's domestic intelligence service, claimed that the Sabari and several senior commanders were killed in an airstrike that targeted "a gathering of the senior Pakistani and Afghan Taliban leaders." [See LWJ report, Taliban's shadow governor for Kunar reported killed in US airstrike.]

Also reported killed in the strike that killed Sabari were Qari Osman, the shadow district governor for Shigal; Qari Nasir Gajar, the chief suicide attack coordinator; Mullah Bashir Gajar, the IED coordinator; Qari Sherin, an assassination squad leader; and senior commanders Qari Zubair, Qari Latif, and Qari Tari. Their deaths have not been confirmed.

Azzam, the shadow governor of Kandahar, was "martyred in a firefight with enemy forces in Gerimsir [Garmsir] district of Helmand."

Both leaders served in the Taliban over the span of three decades, according to the Taliban statement.

"The mentioned martyrs played important roles in Jihadi services throughout the country during the previous Jihad [likely a reference to the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in the early 1990s], at the time of rule of the Islamic Emirate and during the harsh conditions of the current Jihad against the invading crusaders," the Taliban said.

Airstrikes such as the one that killed Sabari in Kunar may become much more difficult for the US to execute as the drawdown continues. The Obama administration is seriously considering a force of less than 10,000 and possibly fewer than 5,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.

US military officials said that a small force would focus on securing its own base or bases, but that the reduced size would hinder the execution of counterterrorism operations and robust air operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda, which still maintain a presence in the country.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Zawahiri discusses infighting in Syria, opposition to Egyptian goverment (07:51AM)

Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri discusses the infighting between jihadist groups in Syria and his opposition to the Egyptian government in a newly released audio interview. As Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda arm, produced the interview, which is titled "Reality Between Pain and Hope."

Zawahiri is asked about the state of al Qaeda's jihad against the US, specifically in the wake of high-profile losses in al Qaeda's leadership, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. Zawahiri says that despite the demise of some of the group's leaders, al Qaeda is still winning the long fight against the US.

"The party that does not withdraw from its land is winning the battle," Zawahiri says, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. "Which party withdrew from Iraq which one did not withdraw? Which party is withdrawing from Afghanistan and which party is not withdrawing?" Zawahiri adds that "victory" is only earned by "ground troops that control the land," and the US is not close to achieving this goal.

Zawahiri addresses the claim that al Qaeda has been all but defeated as an organization. "Obama knows too well that al Qaeda, by the grace of God, is spreading out and deploying in other areas and when it is the right time we will reveal it, God willing." In addition, Zawahiri claims, al Qaeda "is a message before it is an organization or a group" and its message has "spread out in the entire Islamic world and among the downtrodden people all over the world."

The al Qaeda head has made this argument before, including in a message released on Sept. 10, 2012. A pro-al Qaeda demonstration led by Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman's younger brother, was held the next day in Cairo. Al Qaeda-linked organizations assaulted several US diplomatic facilities in the days that followed, including in Benghazi, Libya.

Infighting in Syria

The As Sahab interviewer asks Zawahiri about the infighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which has been disowned by al Qaeda's general command, and the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. While refusing to name any of the parties involved, Zawahiri repeats much of what he has said in the past. He again calls for all of the groups involved to submit themselves to an independent sharia (Islamic law) court that can adjudicate between them.

Zawahiri points to examples of the past, including Algeria in the early 1990s. The excesses of some jihadists there compromised the fight against the Algerian government and alienated the people. Al Qaeda is keen to avoid such a scenario in Syria. And the al Qaeda master even suggests the possibility that Bashar al Assad's regime or other foreign powers have infiltrated the jihadist groups in order to sow dissent.

ISIS is suspected of killing high-profile jihadists and has often fought with other groups inside Syria. Zawahiri says Islamic law prohibits him or any other leader, such as ISIS emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi or Nusrah emir Abu Muhammad al Julani, from ordering attacks against mujahideen. If a jihadist leader does so, Zawahiri argues, then the foot soldiers are obligated to disobey such orders.

In response to a question about the differences between al Qaeda and ISIS, Zawahiri mentions two differences in their ideologies. The first has to do with their approaches to waging jihad, and the second is related to al Qaeda's organizational structure.

First, al Qaeda has issued "General Guidelines" for jihadists to follow, but ISIS has refused to do so. This is a bone of contention between the two groups. In Iraq and elsewhere, al Qaeda groups have lost popular support because of their indiscriminate slaughter of Muslim civilians. To address this strategic liability, al Qaeda decided to formulate the guidelines "after we had consulted all the brothers on it," Zawahiri says.

Al Qaeda's emir says that his group is focused on uniting the Islamic community to fight Islam's supposed external enemies, including America. In addition, al Qaeda aims to restore the Caliphate, which was disbanded in 1924, but "on the basis of Shura [consultation with other groups] and consent by all Muslims." While this is certainly an exaggeration, as al Qaeda operates by imposing its ideology, Zawahiri's words are intended to draw a contrast with ISIS. The unruly former al Qaeda branch is seeking to rule over not just Syrian civilians, but also other jihadist groups. In short, al Qaeda is attempting to become more of a popular revolutionary movement while ISIS continues to operate as a top-down organization, refusing to consult with other mujahideen.

Second, al Qaeda did not bless the formation of ISIS in the first place. ISIS' leaders announced the expansion of the group into Syria "without getting permission or sending a notification" to al Qaeda's senior leaders. This claim has been made previously, including in the statement by al Qaeda's general command disavowing ISIS. "The guidance from [al Qaeda's] general command was not to make any public response to ISIS," Zawahiri says. "This guidance was issued in full accord even by the brothers in Iraq."

US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that senior ISIS leaders in Iraq did not agree with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's decision to expand the group into Syria. Zawahiri may be referring to this dissent.

Opposition to Egyptian government

Much of Zawahiri's interview focuses on events inside Egypt, and the new constitution adopted there. Zawahiri says that while the constitution mentions sharia law it has no mechanism for enforcing sharia and is, therefore, not consistent with al Qaeda's ideology.

Zawahiri portrays the new Egyptian government as an extension of America's interests and encourages opposition to it. Groups such as Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (Ansar Jerusalem) and Ajnad Misr have attacked government officials and security officials, and have stated that they are attempting to avoid civilian casualties.

But in Egypt, as elsewhere, Zawahiri is worried about the population turning against the jihadists. "We bless every jihadist operation against the Zionist, Americanized Army that protects their borders, the Ministry of Interior, and the US interests that wage aggression against the Muslims as long as this jihadist operation abides by the sharia restrictions that avoid the impermissible [spilling of the] blood of Muslims," Zawahiri says.

For an insurgency against the Egyptian government to succeed, Zawahiri says, the jihadists "must muster public support first." The al Qaeda master warns, "Experience has shown us that without such support the fighting will not achieve victory or success."

US targets AQAP master bomb maker in 2 strikes in Yemen (07:05AM)

The US targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's top bomb maker in one of two strikes that took place in Yemen over the past two days. Unnamed Yemeni officials have speculated that Ibrahim Hassan Tali al Asiri, who has built innovative bombs for the Yemeni terror group, may have been killed, but the reports are unconfirmed.

The strike that targeted Asiri took place after midnight last night on a highway between the districts of Markhah and Bayhan in Shabwa province, according to Barakish. The unmanned Predators or Reapers targeted a car as it traveled on the highway, and killed four AQAP fighters.

Asiri is reported to be among them, but his death has not been confirmed by AQAP or Yemeni officials. Initial reports suggest that the helicopters picked up four bodies, presumably to identify them. Although Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi sent a message of "thanks, praise, and appreciation" to the Yemeni antiterrorism unit for carrying out the strike, eyewitnesses confirmed that US drones targeted and fired on the AQAP vehicle.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Asiri is at the top of the list of the most dangerous AQAP leaders and is actively being targeted. Asiri is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and was behind the failed Christmas Day 2009 airliner attack as well as the design for an underwear bomb that is nearly undetectable and was to be detonated on an airliner. Asiri has said that he has trained other operatives in AQAP to build bombs.

Drones target AQAP training camp in the Al Mahfad district

In the other strike, which took place yesterday, US drones struck an AQAP training camp in the Al Mahfad district of Abyan province. Reports in the Arabic press claim that more than 30 AQAP militants were killed in the strike aimed at a training camp hidden in the mountainous areas between Shabwa and Abyan provinces. A source in Yemen's Security Council said the strike was carried out after Yemeni intelligence received information regarding the presence of AQAP operatives at the camp who were actively planning to attack vital military and civilian installations.

The same Yemeni source said that AQAP operatives from various nationalities were killed in the drone strike. Local eyewitnesses said they had noticed a big gathering of suspected AQAP militants in the area of the camp the night before. They also claimed that following the strike AQAP militants hastily collected the bodies of those killed.

Reports in the Arabic media also describe a Yemeni air force bombardment of the camp that lasted for a few hours after the drone strike.

In related news, in the evening before the strike on the training camp, the Yemeni Defense Ministry arrested 10 AQAP militants in Shabwa. In an official statement issued after the third strike this weekend, authorities said the 10 militants were headed to the training camp that was targeted in Al Mahfad.

The US also hit AQAP training camps in the Al Mahfad area on April 1.

The Al Mahfad district is a known stronghold for AQAP. In the spring of 2012, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and leaders regrouped in the Al Mahfad area after being driven from cities such as Zinjibar, Jaar, Lawdar, and Shaqra during a Yemeni military offensive that began in the spring of 2012 [see Threat Matrix report, AQAP regroups in Abyan province]. AQAP controlled the cities in Abyan, as well as other cities and towns in neighboring Shabwa province, after launching its own offensive in 2011.

AQAP remains entrenched in the Al Mahfad area despite several Yemeni military operations that attempted to dislodge the terror group. The US launched three drone strikes in Al Mahfad in 2013; one in May, one in June, and one in July.

New details emerge on April 19 strike

The US has launched three strikes in Yemen over the weekend. In the first strike, on April 19 in the province of Baydah, 15 AQAP fighters and five civilians are reported to have been killed when the drones hit a truck as it traveled on a road linking Souma'a district to Baydah City, the provincial capital.

Local media reported that the targeted vehicle was carrying a large amount of dynamite and that the strike killed all of the fighters on board. Reports also confirmed the deaths of at least three civilians who were riding in an adjacent vehicle at the time of the strike.

A military source told the Arabic media that prominent leaders in AQAP had been killed in the strike, including Abu Osama Al Hasni, Akram al Hafza, Seif Mohammad Seif Abd al Rahman al Sakhra, Ali Saleh al Khabani, and Adham Ali Mohsen. AQAP has not confirmed the deaths of any senior leaders.

In related news, residents of Azzan district in neighboring Shabwa province told reporters that "elements of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have reappeared in the city." They also claimed that an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula publication had been distributed warning local tribesmen and residents of Azzan against joining the Popular Committees.

Background on US strikes in Yemen

The US has launched 11 strikes in Yemen so far this year. Four of those strikes took place this month, four of took place in March, and three in January.

The pace of the drone strikes in Yemen decreased last year from the previous year (26 in 2013 versus 41 in 2012). The reduction in the number of strikes coincided with a speech by President Barack Obama at the National Defense University in May 2013. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.

The number of strikes might have been much lower in 2013 were it not for an al Qaeda plot emanating from Yemen that was uncovered by US officials in late July. The plot led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The plot involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda's general manager.

Between July 27, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen; no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The burst in attacks was intended to disrupt the plot and take out AQAP's top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP's emir for Baydah province, during that time period.

AQAP and al Qaeda still seek to conduct attacks against the US. In a recent AQAP video featuring Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda's overall general manager, he said America remains a target.

"O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America," Wuhayshi said.

Wuhayshi made the statement in the open to a gathering of more than 100 people.

For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2014.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Head of al Qaeda's 'Victory Committee' survived battle in Syria (05:04AM)
Sanafi al Nasr picture 2.jpg

Sanafi al Nasr is sitting on the far left in the picture above. The photo was circulated on Twitter following reports of Nasr's death. However, Nasr has survived.

A senior al Qaeda operative who was reportedly killed while fighting in the Latakia province of Syria last month is, in fact, alive.

Sanafi al Nasr leads al Qaeda's "Victory Committee," which is in charge of strategic planning and policy for the terrorist group. He was previously stationed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but is now working with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.

On March 21, online jihadists reported that Nasr (whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh), had been killed fighting in Latakia. His death was supposedly confirmed by other al Qaeda members. On his Twitter feed, Dr. Sami al Uraydi, a sharia official for the Al Nusrah Front, said that Nasr had been killed. Al Uraydi asked that Allah accept Nasr in his "caravan" of martyrs. Similarly, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric, honored Nasr's "martyrdom" in a series of tweets.

But the first public indications that Nasr survived the attack came one week later. As first reported by BBC Monitoring, a "little known" Twitter user called "Dawlat al Islam Baqiyah" reported on March 29 that Nasr was alive and recovering from his injuries. On April 3, a member of the Ana al Muslim forum said he had "confirmed good news" that the "rumors" of Nasr's death were false and that Nasr would begin tweeting again soon.

US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal at the time that they thought Nasr was alive.

Within the last 24 hours, Nasr's Twitter account has become active once again. He had not tweeted since March 19. Nasr has been a frequent contributor to jihadist forums and websites for nearly a decade. He maintains a Twitter feed that currently has more than 13,000 followers.

One of the new tweets is addressed to Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a senior sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front.

A high-ranking al Qaeda leader

It has long been known that Nasr is well-connected in al Qaeda circles. His posts have frequently conveyed inside knowledge of the group's operations. In one tweet, for instance, he discussed the relocation of senior al Qaeda operatives to Syria, where they joined the Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham, an extremist group that is part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups.

But on March 6 The Long War Journal published an extensive biography of Nasr, revealing that he is one of al Qaeda's most senior leaders. US intelligence officials say that he leads al Qaeda's "Victory Committee," which was established to provide strategic guidance to the organization's efforts. [See LWJ report, Head of al Qaeda 'Victory Committee' in Syria.]

Although online jihadists refer to Nasr as an Al Nusrah Front leader, his position within al Qaeda actually places him above Al Nusrah's leadership in al Qaeda's pecking order. He is working with Al Nusrah, according to US intelligence officials, but his rank within al Qaeda gives him influence far outside of Syria. Still, Nasr's relocation to Syria demonstrates the importance al Qaeda has placed on the jihad there.

By late 2013, Nasr had become highly critical of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), a former branch of al Qaeda that was disowned by al Qaeda's general command earlier this year. Nasr has sided with other al Qaeda leaders in denouncing the organization and its approach to waging jihad.

An al Qaeda family

Nasr comes from a family of al Qaeda members and is a third cousin of Osama bin Laden, according to US intelligence officials.

Most of Nasr's six brothers are known to have joined al Qaeda. Two of Nasr's brothers were once held at Guantanamo. Leaked files prepared by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) include intelligence reports indicating that the brothers were trained by al Qaeda's operational commanders to execute an attack against US forces at the Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) in Saudi Arabia. They were captured in late 2001 before they could go through with the plot, but al Qaeda attempted a similar attack in 2002.

One of Nasr's brothers was killed fighting in Chechnya prior to the 9/11 attacks. His "martyrdom" inspired other members of the family to wage jihad, according to the JTF-GTMO files.

And Nasr continues to fight on.

US drone strike kills 16 AQAP fighters, 5 civilians (03:16AM)

The US killed 16 al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and five civilians in the first drone strike in Yemen in more than two weeks, according to reports from the country.

Today's airstrike, which was carried out by the remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, targeted a pickup truck packed with AQAP fighters who were traveling on a highway in the Hazmiah area of Baydah province, Xinhua reported. The five civilians who were killed were traveling in a separate car that was also hit in the strike. Six more civilians in a different car are also reported to have been wounded.

No senior AQAP leaders or operatives are reported to have been killed in the strike.

Over the past several years, Baydah province has transformed into one of several hubs of AQAP activity. The city of Rada'a was an AQAP stronghold in early 2012, when a senior AQAP leader known as Tariq al Dhahab took control of the town, raised al Qaeda's flag, and swore allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. Tariq was later killed by a brother who is opposed to al Qaeda.

Another brother, known as Kaid al Dhahab, took over to serve as AQAP's emir in the province of Baydah. The US killed Kaid in a drone strike in Baydah on Aug. 30.

The last US strike in Baydah took place in December 2013. Fifteen civilians are reported to have been killed in that controversial strike.

Background on US strikes in Yemen

The US has launched nine strikes in Yemen so far this year. Two of those strikes took place this month, four of took place in March, and three in January.

The last strike took place on April 1, when US drones targeted an an AQAP training center in the Al Mahfad area of Abyan province.

The pace of the drone strikes in Yemen decreased last year from the previous year (26 in 2013 versus 41 in 2012). The reduction in the number of strikes coincided with a speech by President Barack Obama at the National Defense University in May 2013. The strikes are being reduced as the US government is facing increasing international criticism for conducting the attacks in both Yemen and Pakistan.

The number of strikes might have been much lower in 2013 were it not for an al Qaeda plot emanating from Yemen that was uncovered by US officials in late July. The plot led the US to close down more than 20 embassies and diplomatic facilities across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The plot involved AQAP emir Nasir al Wuhayshi, who now also serves as al Qaeda's general manager.

Between July 27, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen; no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The burst in attacks was intended to disrupt the plot and take out AQAP's top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP's emir for Baydah province, during that time period.

AQAP and al Qaeda still seek to conduct attacks against the US. In a recent AQAP video featuring Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda's overall general manager, he said America remains a target.

"O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America," Wuhayshi said.

Wuhayshi made the statement in the open to a gathering of more than 100 people.

For more information on the US airstrikes in Yemen, see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2014.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Al Nusrah Front sharia official uses social media to condemn killing of fellow jihadist (07:16AM)

Not long after the Al Nusrah Front's leader in the Idlib province of Syria was killed two days ago, a senior sharia (Islamic law) official in the group condemned the killers on Twitter.

Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, an extremist preacher from Australia who is now one of Al Nusrah's most senior sharia officials, described Abu Muhammad al Fateh as a "dear friend and brother," adding that his killers are "filthy animals." Fateh was the "gem of Idlib," Sulayman says.

Although Sulayman did not publicly identify Fateh's killers, the first reports of Fateh's death said that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which was disowned by al Qaeda's general command in early February, was responsible.

If true, then the ISIS has killed another significant al Qaeda figure in Syria. The ISIS and Al Nusrah, which is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, have been fighting since last year. The ISIS is widely suspected of slaying Abu Khalid al Suri, Ayman al Zawahiri's chief representative in Syria, in a suicide attack in late February. Al Suri was a founding member and senior leader in Ahrar al Sham, an extremist organization that plays a leading role in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups.

Sulayman's tweets honoring Fateh were compiled and edited into a longer statement released by the Al Nusrah Front. The statement describes Fateh as the "Amir of Qaedatul Jihad (Jabhat Al-Nusrah), Idlib." Sulayman frequently describes Al Nusrah as simply al Qaeda in Syria.

Sulayman says that Fateh was "[a]ctive in Jihad since 2005 and he was part of Tandheem Al Qaeda [the al Qaeda organization], recruiting, financing and facilitating for AQ Iraq."

Fateh "was imprisoned in Saydnaya on 'terrorism charges' and released in 2010-2011," according to Sulayman. Saydnaya is a city north of Damascus. "After his release, [Fateh] immediately joined the Jihad and joined the ranks of Jabhat Al Nusrah."

Sulayman says that Fateh "had the clear qualities of a leader and was soon recognized as one," so he "was promoted in the ranks of Al Qaeda until he became the Amir of Idlib and then a confidante of Shaykh [Abu Muhammad al] Julani," who is the emir of the Al Nusrah Front and has sworn an oath of loyalty to Zawahiri.

Fateh was recuperating from significant injuries at the home of his brother when the attackers came calling. They killed Fateh, his brother, and members of both of their families, including women and children. Al Nusrah has released a banner showing pictures of the family members, including Fateh, who were killed or wounded in the attack.

"The investigation is on-going and new information regarding the criminals will surface soon," Sulayman says. "There is sensitive information, which will expose the true face of the enemy within." When Al Nusrah fighters "found the house that [the] criminals were hiding in ... two of the criminals blew themselves up causing two rooms to collapse."

If true, then the attackers included suicide bombers in their ranks. And if the ISIS was responsible, then Al Nusrah will almost certainly use the killing of Fateh and his family members in the propaganda war against its deadly rival. Al Nusrah officials may also use the incident to again call on Ayman al Zawahiri to issue a a more specific condemnation of the ISIS. Earlier this month, Sulayman was one of several jihadist ideologues who used social media to ask Zawahiri to address the infighting between the ISIS and Al Nusrah. One of the issues they want Zawahiri to discuss is the ISIS' killing and mistreatment of Muslims.

Sulayman discussed al Qaeda's organization and strategy in a recent video. He also gave his version of the origins of the conflict with the ISIS in the video.

"Seems some need to be reminded who we [are] before killing our women & [children]," Sulayman blusters in one tweet. "We [are] the children of Osama [bin Laden] and [soldiers] of Ayman."

"We [are] Al Qaeda!" Sulayman says.

ISIS' 'Diyala Division' lauds foreign suicide bombers, including Dane (12:21AM)

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham's "Diyala Division" recently praised 26 suicide bombers, including 24 foreign fighters who conducted suicide attacks in the province of Diyala over the past several years.

The ISIS' Diyala Division publicized the 26 bombers by posting photographs of them and a brief description of their attacks on its Twitter feed on April 12. The suicide bombers executed their attacks between September 2012 and March 2014, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained the information.

Of the 26 suicide bombers who were identified, the noms de guerre of 24 of them indicate that they were from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The majority of the foreign suicide bombers were from North Africa; 10 were from Tunisia ("al Tunisi"); two were from Libya ("al Libi"); two were from Egypt ("al Masri"); and one has the last name "al Maghribi," which denotes origins in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, or Tunisia. Five more suicide bombers were from Saudi Arabia. Additionally, there was one suicide bomber each from the following: Iran ("al Irani"), Tajikistan ("al Tajikistani"), the Russian Republic of Chechnya ("al Shishani"), and Denmark ("al Dinmarki").

The Danish suicide bomber, who purportedly carried out his suicide bombing on Nov. 6, 2013, was identified as Abu Khattab al Dinmarki, but his real name has not been disclosed. The ISIS also blurred the image of his face. If confirmed, he would be the second Danish citizen known to have executed a suicide attack in Iraq. In November, Fatih al Denmarki carried out a suicide assault in Taji in Baghdad province.

The ISIS has been keen to advertise the willingness of foreign fighters to execute suicide operations in Iraq.

Two other ISIS divisions, the Baghdad Division and the Southern Division, released similar videos over the past two months. In early April, the Southern Division, which operates in Babil province just south of Baghdad, recognized eight suicide bombers from Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

In early March, the Baghdad Division recognized 30 suicide bombers, of whom 24 were from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan or Pakistan, Denmark, and the Maghreb. [See LWJ reports, ISIS' 'Southern Division' praises foreign suicide bombers, and Dane, Uzbek among 30 suicide bombers eulogized by ISIS.]

The ISIS has identified 16 wilayats, or administrative areas or divisions, in territory under its control or influence in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier this year, the Anbar Division released two videos of the brutal execution of more than 20 Iraqi soldiers who were captured in Fallujah. The Anbar Division is the largest in Iraq, and one of the most active. The ISIS controls Fallujah and its dam, and other cities and towns along the Euphrates River Valley. Just recently, the ISIS held a parade that included captured Iraqi military hardware in Abu Ghraib, a city only two miles outside Baghdad. [See LWJ report, ISIS parades on outskirts of Baghdad.]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Al Qaeda's general manager threatens America in video of large gathering (07:29AM)


A video released by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in late March has garnered renewed attention in the media. The video, entitled "The First of the Heavy Rain," features two AQAP leaders, as well as lower-level fighters who escaped from a Yemeni prison in February 2014.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda's overall general manager, is shown speaking to a gathering of more than 100 people. "O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America," Wuhayshi says, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Ibrahim al Rubaish, a Saudi who was once held at Guantanamo and now serves as a top sharia official in AQAP, is also shown speaking in the video. Rubaish praises the newfound freedom of some jihadist fighters, including those shown in the video, but he laments the fact that others remain imprisoned in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The video has sparked the media's interest because it is a brazen display of AQAP strength inside Yemen. Wuhayshi is a hunted man and he is presumably on America's list of potential targets for drone strikes. Yet, he felt comfortable enough in his home country to lead a large, public gathering of his followers.

"Core" al Qaeda in Yemen

Wuhayshi served as Osama bin Laden's aide-de-camp and protégé in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. He fled to Iran, where he was detained, sometime after the Battle of Tora Bora. Wuhayshi was eventually transferred to Yemeni custody, but he escaped from prison in 2006.

Al Qaeda has long sought to wage insurgencies in Muslim countries it considers ripe for a jihadist takeover. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have been high on al Qaeda's list of target countries. However, a fierce counterterrorism campaign in Saudi Arabia that began in 2003 quashed al Qaeda's early efforts in the Arabian Peninsula. Al Qaeda also struggled, at first, to establish a full-scale insurgency in Yemen. But prison escapees such as Wuhayshi and Guantanamo returnees such as Rubaish have replenished al Qaeda's leadership in the Arabian Peninsula and contributed to al Qaeda's resurgence.

In early 2009, Wuhayshi and other jihadists announced the rebirth of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, swearing allegiance to al Qaeda's senior leadership in the process. Ayman al Zawahiri had previously recognized Wuhayshi as al Qaeda's top man in the Arabian Peninsula.

In the summer of 2013, Zawahiri appointed Wuhayshi to the position of al Qaeda's general manager. Wuhayshi's appointment to the role of general manager was accompanied by a large-scale threat that forced the closing of American diplomatic facilities around the world. The US learned of this threat when intelligence officials captured video of Zawahiri communicating, via a complex Internet-based system, with more than 20 of his subordinates, including Wuhayshi.

Al Qaeda's general manager serves a "core" function within the group. The role was previously held by senior terrorists in South Asia. According to declassified documents captured in Osama bin Laden's compound, the duties performed by al Qaeda's general manager include coordinating military and media activities, and communicating with al Qaeda's "regions," or branches, as well as with allies such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. [For a more complete discussion of the general manager's role, see LWJ report, AQAP's emir also serves as al Qaeda's general manager.]

In another recent video, Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, explains that al Qaeda also has a leader who oversees the organization's efforts in various geographic locations, or regions. The Al Nusrah Front is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.

Al Qaeda "draws up its plans and its strategy based on what we call al Qalim, or locations," Sulayman says in the video. And a leader, who swears bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Ayman al Zawahiri, is chosen to oversee each of these locations. In addition, Sulayman explains, al Qaeda appoints another leader who "overlooks all of these different locations," and this position is called Masul al Qalim. [See LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front official explains al Qaeda's strategy, conflict with former branch.]

This leadership role described by Sulayman is filled by someone other than al Qaeda's general manager, according to US intelligence officials. Both the general manager and the Masul al Qalim have deputies on their staff to support their work.

Such roles, and what they say about how al Qaeda is actually organized, are generally not reflected in the public discourse. It is commonly argued that there is a "core" of al Qaeda in South Asia and this entity is distinct from al Qaeda branches elsewhere. But Wuhayshi serves as one of al Qaeda's most senior leaders from Yemen. And his role is part of the same leadership structure that includes Zawahiri, other deputies, and various supporting councils. These leaders are located not just in South Asia, but also elsewhere.

Influence across al Qaeda's international network

Wuhayshi's influence across the al Qaeda network can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. According to "WikiBaghdady," who maintains a Twitter feed and is thought to be a dissenting leader within the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), Wuhayshi was consulted on the infighting between ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front. Wuhayshi reportedly ruled against the emir of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, when he asked to be named the new ruler of the Caliphate. (In reality, the Caliphate was dissolved in 1924 and although jihadists are fighting to re-establish it, no such entity exists today.)

Wuhayshi also advised al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), another branch of al Qaeda, to take a more incremental, "hearts and minds" approach to implementing sharia law in the areas under AQIM's control. While at first AQIM did not abide by this advice, the group has released literature in recent months advocating the same approach described by Wuhayshi.

Under Wuhayshi's command, AQAP has assisted Shabaab, al Qaeda's branch in Somalia, as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria. The group also helped build the Muhammad Jamal Network, which was founded by a longtime subordinate to Ayman al Zawahiri. Jamal noted in his letters to Zawahiri that he received financing and other support from AQAP, which also helped funnel fighters to Jamal's camps in Egypt and Libya.

AQAP has expanded its own footprint far beyond Yemen's borders. In January, a bipartisan report published by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence noted that AQAP and other branches of al Qaeda "have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya."

While Wuhayshi is well known for his role as an al Qaeda leader inside Yemen, his "core" al Qaeda role gives him influence across the international terror network.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2 Australian nationals killed in Yemen in November drone strike (10:22AM)

Media outlets in Australia and New Zealand today reported that two Australian nationals, including one who was a New Zealand citizen as well, were killed in a US predator drone strike in Yemen on Nov. 19. Last year's airstrike took place in Yemen's eastern Hadramout province, a known jihadist haven, and targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters driving in the Ghayl Bawazir area near Mukallah, the provincial capital.

The two Australian nationals killed in the airstrike were identified as Christopher Harvard of Townsville, Australia, and Muslim bin John, a New Zealand dual citizen who reportedly changed his name by deed poll either in Australia or New Zealand. Shortly after the strike, Twitter accounts associated with AQAP eulogized five fighters, named as Abu Habib al Yemeni, Abu Salma al Russi, Abu Suhaib al Australi, Waddah al Hadramawti, and Hammam al Misri. Abu Suhaib al Australi was apparently the alias used by Muslim bin John, and Abu Salma al Russi is believed to be Christopher Harvard's alias, although he is mistakenly identified as a Russian.

Sources told The Australian that Abu Habib al Yemeni appears to have been the primary target of the airstrike. Abu Habib had a long history of fighting for al Qaeda. He traveled to Afghanistan in 1996 following al Qaeda's departure from Sudan and was known to be a companion of Osama bin Laden. Following the drone strike, US officials notified Australia about the possibility that Australian citizens were killed as "collateral damage."

A senior counterterrorism source told The Australian that the two Australian nationals were believed to be foot soldiers for AQAP and that they might have been involved in kidnapping Westerners for ransom.

Christopher Harvard's stepfather, Neil Dowrick, said that he had received a letter from the Australian Federal Police claiming that his stepson was killed in a counterterrorism operation and had been buried in Yemen on April 11. It is not conclusively known when Harvard arrived in Yemen, but intelligence officials believe that he entered the country in 2011. Mr. Dowrick said that his stepson had claimed he was going to Yemen to teach English. Following Harvard's arrival in Yemen, he was apparently monitored by intelligence agencies.

Less information is known at this point about the dual citizen named Muslim bin John. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that bin John had attended a terrorist training camp and that he had been subject to a New Zealand intelligence warrant authorizing agencies to monitor him. Key also confirmed that like Christopher Harvard, Muslim bin John was buried in Yemen. Yemeni authorities sent DNA samples, including tissue and bone fragments, from all five victims to the Australian Federal Police.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade emphasized that Australia had no prior awareness of the operation and was not involved in it in any way. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he believes that the November 2013 US airstrike was justified despite the loss of life "given that three of the people killed were well-known al Qaeda operatives," according to the Associated Press.

The US conducted 26 drone attacks against AQAP targets inside Yemen last year, and has carried out eight more strikes so far in 2014. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2014]. Although the Obama administration claims that it targets only AQAP leaders and operatives who "present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States," a study of the pattern of attacks in Yemen by The Long War Journal shows that low-level fighters and local commanders are often targeted in the strikes.

Australians wage jihad over seas

Australians are known to wage jihad overseas, particularly in Syria, where more than 120 Aussies are believed to be fighting in the ranks of rebel and Islamist groups.

An Australian known as Abu Sulayman al Muhajir serves as a high-ranking sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Prior to traveling to Syria sometime last year, Sulayman lived in Australia and encouraged Muslims to wage jihad inside Syria. Sulayman is privy to al Qaeda's strategy and inner workings in Syria and is attempting to mediate a dispute with the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.


Australian extremists killed in US Predator drone strike in Yemen,
New Zealand, Australian Men Killed in Yemen Strike, ABC News
Aussies killed in US drone strike in Yemen, The Australian

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trial of jihadist cleric expected to highlight ex-Guantanamo detainee's al Qaeda role (01:44PM)

Abu Hamza al Masri and a masked follower.

The trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, better known as Abu Hamza al Masri, began this week in New York with jury selection. Abu Hamza preached in Britain for years. He has well-known ties to various al Qaeda operatives and openly praised the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In 2004, British authorities detained Abu Hamza on terrorism charges. But he was not extradited to the US to stand trial until October 2012. He is charged with supporting al Qaeda, attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, and assisting a hostage-taking operation in Yemen in 1998, among other allegations.


Saajid Badat. Image from the BBC.

In the weeks leading up to Abu Hamza's trial, federal prosecutors from the US Department of Justice moved to have their star witness, Saajid Badat, testify via closed circuit television instead of in person. Badat was slated to take part in a shoe bomb attack identical to the one Richard Reid failed to execute in December 2001. Badat later backed out of the plot, however, and was convicted in Britain on terrorism charges.

Prosecutors argued that Badat's testimony is "essential" to the government's case, as his testimony will connect Abu Hamza to other al Qaeda actors, including a former Guantanamo detainee named Feroz Ali Abbasi.

The court subsequently granted the prosecution's motion and Badat is expected to testify, which means that a New York jury will likely hear about Abbasi at length.

US officials have accused Abbasi of agreeing to take part in al Qaeda's attacks against American and Jewish targets. Despite being deemed a "high" risk at Guantanamo, however, Abbasi was transferred to Britain on Jan. 25, 2005.

Badat's expected testimony to the court implicates Abbasi


Feroz Ali Abbasi.

The court received a preview of Badat's testimony on March 5, when the DOJ submitted a filing outlining the reasons why he should be considered a credible and important witness.

The central issue in the DOJ's filing is Abu Hamza's alleged role in sending Abbasi "to receive jihad training in Afghanistan in support of al Qaeda." Badat has repeatedly explained this relationship during interviews with American and British officials.

Another witness, who is not named in the DOJ's filing and identified only as cooperating witness number one ("CW-1"), corroborates parts of Badat's testimony. According to CW-1, Abu Hamza "directed CW-1 to travel with Abbasi from London to Afghanistan," where he was "to deliver Abbasi to Ibn Sheikh al Libi ('Ibn Sheik'), another of the [Abu Hamza's] co-conspirators who was associated with al Qaeda."

CW-1 failed to follow through on Abu Hamza's instructions because he was separated from Abbasi in Pakistan, and only saw Abbasi later in Afghanistan. (Ibn Sheik al Libi would later die while in custody in Libya.)

According to the DOJ's prosecutors, "Badat's testimony will essentially begin where CW-1's testimony ends." Badat "will testify that, in early 2001, he met Abbasi, who was accompanied by Ibn Sheik at the time, in Kandahar."

Upon Ibn Sheik's request, Badat looked after Abbasi, taking him to a guesthouse "run by al Qaeda." During another meeting in Afghanistan, Badat says he saw CW-1 and Abbasi together at al Qaeda's al Farouq training camp, which admitted only those "trusted by al Qaeda." Badat says that Abbasi's training at al Farouq included "weapons, such as AK-47s, explosives, and navigation."

Badat is expected to tell the court that he also acted as a translator during a meeting between Abbasi and "two of al Qaeda's most senior leaders," Abu Hafs al Masri and Saif al Adel. Abu Hafs was al Qaeda's military chief until he died in an American airstrike in late 2001. Saif al Adel remains a senior al Qaeda leader to this day.

The pair of al Qaeda leaders asked Abbasi whether he "would be willing to engage in attacks against American and Jewish targets outside of Afghanistan." According to the Justice Department, "Badat will testify that Abbasi responded affirmatively" to the al Qaeda leaders' request.

Badat will testify about other matters as well, including his "explosives training" under the tutelage of Abu Khabab al Masri, a known al Qaeda trainer. He is also expected to testify regarding his first meeting with Saif al Adl in 1999, when the two discussed the arrest of Abu Hamza's son in Yemen.

The DOJ says that Badat "first provided information about Abbasi's role in a conspiracy with [Abu Hamza] in 2004." And Badat has provided consistent testimony several times since then.

Abbasi's statements to the FBI at Guantanamo corroborate Badat's account

In its filing with the court, the DOJ argued that Badat's account is credible for multiple reasons, including because it is consistent with Abbasi's own statements.

During interviews with FBI agents at Guantanamo in early 2002, Abbasi "provided detailed, inculpatory statements about his time in Afghanistan, all of which are consistent with Badat's prior statements and proposed testimony." To support its case, the Justice Department cites the FBI's 302 forms summarizing the interviews with Abbasi.

Abbasi admitted meeting with Ibn Sheik near Kabul. Ibn Sheikh "then took Abbasi to Kandahar and checked Abbasi into the Institute for Arabic Studies (IAS)," which was also known as the "House of Pomegrantes." Abbasi admitted staying at the guesthouse for a few days, "before attending the al Farouq training camp, where he received military-style training." Abbasi admitted that Ibn Sheikh "outlined ... a two-year training course for him" and that the IAS "was run by al Qaeda."

Abbasi also told FBI agents that he met a man known as "Abu Issa," which was the alias used by Badat.

Perhaps most importantly, according to the DOJ's filing, Abbasi admitted to FBI agents that "Abu Issa" (Badat) had "translated for Abbasi during his meeting with Abu Hafs" al Masri. It was during this meeting that Abbasi was allegedly asked about his willingness to attack American and Jewish targets.

Leaked JTG-GTMO file

A leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment, dated Nov. 11, 2003, contains some of the same details included in the DOJs filing. The JTF-GTMO file contains additional details about Abbasi's ties to Abu Hamza and other al Qaeda actors as well.

Abbasi "called" Abu Hamza, who is a "known Islamic extremist and al Qaeda member," the file reads. Abu Hamza "invited" Abbasi "to attend Friday's prayer at the Finsbury Mosque [in London] for instructions on how to join the jihad." The file indicates that Abbasi attended training at al Farouq before being selected for more "advanced training."

After training, Abbasi traveled to Kandahar, where he met with Saif al Adel (whose name is misspelled in the JTF-GTMO file), which is consistent with Badat's and Abbasi's testimony outlined above. But according to JTF-GTMO, Abbasi also met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and David Hicks, an Australian who was held at Guantanamo after training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. If this is accurate, then Abbasi's al Qaeda connections go beyond the details in the DOJ's filing.

Abbasi was then selected to attend "an information collection course that taught him how to select targets for terrorism." After this, he was asked if he would take part in a "martyrdom mission." He replied, "Yes."

JTF-GTMO considered Abbasi to be a "confirmed member" of al Qaeda, who had "pledged to martyr himself in Jihad against the West and the United States in particular."
Abbasi was also deemed "a high threat to the US, its interests and its allies." JTF-GTMO even considered Abbasi "a candidate for prosecution as a terrorist" in a military court. It was recommended that he be "retained under" the Department of Defense's control.

Instead, less than two years later, Abbasi was transferred to Britain, where he was freed. Abbasi's transfer goes to show that the US government has transferred detainees from Guantanamo who are strongly suspected of being tied to al Qaeda's senior leaders. The evidence against Abbasi is considered so strong, in fact, that it is being cited by the Department of Justice in legal filings more than a decade after Abbasi was first interviewed by the FBI.

And now the man who allegedly sent Abbasi to Afghanistan for training in the first place stands trial in New York.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Al Nusrah Front official explains al Qaeda's strategy, conflict with former branch (05:44AM)

Interview with Abu Sulayman.jpg

Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a high-ranking sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has released a video explaining the group's ongoing conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). Al Qaeda's general command disowned ISIS in early February after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS, repeatedly disobeyed orders.

Sulayman was an extremist preacher in Australia until he relocated to Syria sometime last year to serve as a mediator in the intra-jihadist dispute. He recently joined several other jihadist ideologues in calling on Ayman al Zawahiri to issue a more detailed condemnation of ISIS.

While parts of Sulayman's video rehash old ground, including ISIS' unwillingness to settle its differences with other groups, the video also covers new areas. Sulayman offers a substantive discussion of al Qaeda's strategy and "hierarchy."

Al Qaeda's organization scheme and Baghdadi's insubordination

Sulayman says that the relationship between al Qaeda and ISIS was the same as "an emir with his [group]." According to Sulayman, the predecessor to ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), was a loyal branch of al Qaeda's international organization. Sulayman also says that Baghdadi had sworn bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri, and he dismisses attempts by ISIS leaders to portray this oath as anything less than a "completely binding" pledge of obedience to al Qaeda's senior leaders.

Sulayman explains how Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), prior to its expansion into Syria, fit into al Qaeda's organizational scheme.

Al Qaeda "draws up its plans and its strategy based on what we call al Qalim, or locations," Sulayman says. And a leader is chosen to oversee each of these locations. For example, Nasir al Wuhayshi (the emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda's overall general manager) is al Qaeda's representative in the Arabian Peninsula, and Abu Musab Abdul Wadud (the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) oversees the Maghreb. The "same goes for each of the locations, or al Qalim," according to Sulayman, and Zawahiri is the emir above all of them.

The head of each location swears a bayat to al Qaeda "that binds them to the group" and means that they owe "allegiance in the matters of jihad," because the oath "ties them to one unity, one group called" al Qaeda.

Sulayman's interviewer, an English-speaking member of the Al Nusrah Front, asks if Zawahiri is "really the head of the hierarchy." Sulayman scoffs at suggestions to the contrary, saying "it's quite strange that there's all this confusion about this particular topic" and the administration of ISIS "knows very well the rank they had in" al Qaeda.

Continuing with his description of al Qaeda, Sulayman says there is "someone [who] overlooks all of these different locations," called Masul al Qalim. The locations al Qaeda chooses are not based on Western boundaries, such as those drawn up by the Sykes-Picot agreement, Sulayman explains. Instead, "it is a purely strategic decision based on Islamic principles and goes in line with these Islamic guidelines," as "has been the policy of al Qaeda since its establishment."

This is intended as a direct rebuttal to ISIS' claims that al Qaeda adhered to Western boundaries when it ordered the group to leave the jihad in Syria and return to Iraq.

Baghdadi was named the al Qalim of Iraq, Sulayman says, but he did not have the authority to establish an Islamic state beyond its borders. Each leader of one of al Qaeda's locations, or al Qalim, has a "certain authority." But announcing the creation of an Islamic state "is not one of" the authorities each leader has.

Sulayman points to Shabaab ("our brothers"), al Qaeda's official branch in Somalia, and says that they "never established a State," nor did they announce a merger "with their neighbors in Yemen," because "they don't have such authority." They "must go back" to the al Qaeda "hierarchy to receive such permission."

Sulayman says that Shabaab did not merge with AQAP even though this "would be much, much easier than the" attempt by ISIS to do the same. Here, Sulayman is likely referring to the rumors that surfaced online saying that the ISIS was going to merge with AQAP. No such merger has taken place. ISIS has also been attempting to collect its own pledges of bayat to Baghdadi, but few have been forthcoming thus far. Sulayman says that al Qaeda's "hierarchy is precisely why we don't see [leaders] from different areas giving bayat to Sheikh al Baghdadi." The emir in each location swears bayat directly to Zawahiri.

Al Qaeda's "first mediator"

During his time in Australia, Sulayman was known as an extremist preacher, but he was not publicly identified as an al Qaeda member. His latest video suggests that he has long played a role in the organization. Sulayman says he was the "first mediator" between ISIS and Al Nusrah. It is unlikely that this position would be given to anyone other than a trusted member of al Qaeda. Sulayman adds that he served in this role alongside an "Iraqi brother" whose name is not mentioned "for security reasons."

To date, all of al Qaeda's mediation efforts, including those spearheaded by Sulayman, have failed. But Sulayman argues that the Al Nusrah Front was willing to compromise in pursuit of a resolution. Abu Muhammad al Julani, the head of Al Nusrah, was even willing to work alongside Baghdadi and ISIS under the banner of al Qaeda in Syria. But this would have required the annulment of ISIS, something Baghdadi would not agree to.

Earlier this year, Julani issued an ultimatum to ISIS that would have expanded the infighting between the groups if ISIS did not agree to Julani's demands. Julani backed down, however, and Sulayman explains why. Sulayman says that Al Nusrah abides by the "scholarly opinions and the rulings given by the sheikhs who are well-grounded in Islamic sciences and are known for their Islamic positions," such as Abu Qatada, Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, and Sheikh Sulayman al Alwan. Two of these three clerics advised Al Nusrah "not to widen this battle and conflict" with ISIS, so Al Nusrah is responding "as necessary, and only in the areas where [ISIS'] transgression is clear."

Qatada and Maqdisi are both imprisoned in Jordan, but have been been actively commenting on the dispute between Al Nusrah and ISIS. The two clerics have been highly critical of ISIS, and have been publicly advising Al Nusrah on how to handle the ongoing dispute.

Even after months of infighting and heated arguments, al Qaeda still wants ISIS to submit to a common sharia (Islamic law) court to settle its disagreements with other groups. Sulayman says that while ISIS has "clearly caused the biggest rift in the global jihad" since the fall of the Caliphate in 1924, Al Nusrah will answer ISIS' transgressions only "until they come back to the truth" and "are willing to succumb to an Islamic court wherein they are not the judge and prosecutor."

"I'm sure that there are many good brothers, good-hearted, sincere brothers in" ISIS, Sulayman says. Al Qaeda still wants the infighting to end, according to Sulayman, but ISIS will not oblige.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jihadist ideologues call on Zawahiri to detail problems with former al Qaeda affiliate (11:57AM)

Message to Zawahiri.png

A group of jihadist ideologues, including a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, have called on Ayman al Zawahiri to address the specific problems that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has caused inside Syria.

The message, which was obtained by The Long War Journal, is being disseminated on Twitter. A photo of Zawahiri next to a sealed envelope, shown above, as well as a hashtag are accompanying the message. Oren Adaki, a research associate and Arabic language specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has provided a translation of the missive.

The ideologues argue that the infighting has led the jihad in Syria astray.

They continue: "And due to our keenness on this blessed jihad and so that it should lead to fealty along the lines that Allah desires and would be satisfied with, we ask our Sheikh, Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri - may Allah keep him - to speak that which is good for the jihad and the mujahideen about the current situation and specifically about what relates to ISIS before the announcement of the expansion and after it, and the issue of allegiances (bayat), and the disputed arbitration between the adversaries."

The three areas the ideologues ask Zawahiri to specifically address are all hot button issues in the dispute between ISIS and the other jihadist factions, including the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.

In a previous message, al Qaeda's general command addressed the first issue, making it clear that the organization's most senior leaders had not been consulted before the Islamic State of Iraq decided to expand into Syria. Afterwards, the group was rebranded as ISIS and its leaders tried, unsuccessfully, to subsume the Al Nusrah Front under its command. The latest message implies that there may be more to the story, however.

The issue of ISIS' bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri has also been contentious. Al Nusrah Front officials have alleged that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS, had sworn bayat to Zawahiri and, therefore, pledged to obey Zawahiri's orders. Al Baghdadi has repeatedly disobeyed Zawahiri's command. If it is true that he had sworn bayat, then al Baghdadi has violated the terms of his oath.

To date, Zawahiri has not spoken publicly on this issue despite its importance to the conflict between ISIS and Al Nusrah.

Finally, the message's signatories call on Zawahiri to discuss "the disputed arbitration between the adversaries." Multiple attempts have been made to mediate the differences between ISIS and other groups. ISIS has repeatedly refused, however, to submit itself to a common sharia (Islamic law) court. Al Qaeda's leaders and others have advocated for the establishment of such a court.

As part of the propaganda war between Al Nusrah and ISIS, Al Nusrah produced several videos featuring leading members of al Qaeda, all of whom said that ISIS had refused to settle its differences.

Signatories in Zawahiri's camp, but want more pointed criticism of ISIS

The signatories on the message are listed as: Dr. Tareq Abd Al Haleem, Dr. Hani Al Sibai, Dr. Iyad Quneibi, Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, Sheikh Mohammad Al Hassam, and Dr. Sami al Uraydi.

Uraydi is a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front. On his personal Twitter feed, he has tweeted and retweeted posts praising Zawahiri as the "sheikh of the mujahideen." Uraydi also reposted the latest message addressed to Zawahiri on his Twitter feed earlier today.

Quneibi is a preacher in Jordan whose sermons are commonly uploaded and linked to on Salafi jihadist pages, including those run by al Qaeda ideologues.

Sibai is a longtime member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a group run by Zawahiri that merged with Osama bin Laden's venture prior to 9/11. Sibai heads a jihadist media shop, Al Maqreze Center, that produces an online radio program. The message addressed to Zawahiri was posted on Al Maqreze's Twitter feed today.

Muhaysini is a popular, al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric who relocated to Syria in late 2013. On Jan. 23, Muhaysini released a reconciliation initiative that was intended to bring ISIS back into the fold. ISIS rejected Muhaysini's proposal, which followed a message from Zawahiri, and was then disowned by al Qaeda's general command.

While the signatories are clearly in Zawahiri's camp, they appear to be unsatisfied with the al Qaeda master's messaging on Syria thus far. Zawahiri has discussed the infighting in mainly general terms and has avoided addressing the specific allegations being hurled back and forth.

For instance, in his recent statement eulogizing Abu Khalid al Suri, Zawahiri did not mention ISIS by name even though he criticized the group's practices. Al Suri served as Zawahiri's main representative in Syria and was also a founding member and senior leader in Ahrar al Sham, one of the leading groups in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups. Al Suri was killed in a suicide attack on Feb. 23. The attackers were most likely dispatched by ISIS.

"The situation can no longer bear a delay, and it is no secret to anyone who follows the jihad in Syria," the signatories write in their message to Zawahiri, adding that their request is consistent with Islamic teachings.

They add: "We want from our Sheikh [Zawahiri] - may Allah keep him - to detail for us in a statement and direct us to what will make the matter clear and reveal it to us, for perhaps Allah is fit to advise him and direct him on the situation."

Al Qaeda shura council member addresses infighting in Syria (10:26AM)

Abu Khalil al Madani, a senior member of al Qaeda's shura council, has released an audio message addressing the infighting between jihadist groups in Syria. The message was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Despite ongoing mediation efforts, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) has continued to clash with other jihadist groups, including the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.

Al Madani says the factions are "required to form a High Shariah Committee in field of jihad, and this committee is to be led by a group of the knowledgeable ones, those known for success, those who are aware and understand the reality and the condition of the mujahideen."

"The members of this committee should be taken from the best available from every active group in the field," al Madani continues. "Among the tasks of this committee is to collect the word for the general interest; advise and direct; fix matters between each other; bring in viewpoints; and determine the reason for the defeat of the opponent."

Al Madani's suggestion in this regard is similar to past proposals. In a message released online on Jan. 23, al Qaeda's emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, argued that the jihadist groups should "establish a sharia arbitration committee" capable of ruling "among different factions on all the accusations leveled by any group against its" jihadist brethren. Hours later, Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular Saudi cleric who has relocated to Syria, released his own reconciliation initiative, which included the same type of committee.

The ISIS rejected these efforts, however, and was subsequently disowned by al Qaeda's general command.

In addition to the "High Sharia Committee," al Madani says that a "security committee" should "be formed that belongs to the Sharia Committee, and is led by the people of experience and specialty, those who are aware of the situation and the condition."

Al Madani continues: "All the active groups will participate in this committee, those present in the field, to deter and reveal the enemies and the conspiracies that are plotted against jihad and the mujahideen, and to reveal those without knowledge."

Although al Madani does not explain why such a security committee is necessary, it may be because ISIS figures frequently claim that other jihadist groups have been infiltrated by the West or other outside parties. Such a security committee could be intended to allay such concerns among the jihadists.

Al Madani also criticizes unnamed Islamic "scholars," saying that they are not doing enough to support the jihad in Syria. The al Qaeda ideologue claims that the infighting in Syria has persisted because more scholars have not relocated to the front lines, where they can supposedly provide direction.

"Among the reasons for the success of the Taliban in their blessed jihad in Afghanistan is that the scholars were present on the frontlines of the fight and they managed it, and therefore the blessing descended on their jihad," Al Madani says.

Al Madani has made few appearances through the years. In July 2013, he released an audio message arguing that the community of worldwide Muslims is weak because it supposedly lacked faith. Prior to that message, he last appeared in an al Qaeda production in July 2008.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ansar Jerusalem releases video of December bombing in Mansoura (03:57PM)

The Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) today released a video about its Dec. 24, 2013 suicide car bombing attack outside the Daqahliya security directorate in Mansoura. The group, which was designated yesterday as a foreign terrorist organization by the US, had previously claimed responsibility for the Mansoura attack, in a statement released on Dec. 25, 2013.

In the video, Abu Maryam, the suicide bomber in the attack, is described by Ansar Jerusalem as a "heroic martyr," according to a translation by Oren Adaki of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "He had many intrepid braveries against the apostates in Egypt," the jihadist group says. In addition, he was "wounded by gunfire during the Ramses incidents," likely a reference to August 2013 clashes between Egyptian security forces and Islamists in Cairo's Ramses Square.

Ansar Jerusalem's video also accuses Egypt's security forces of "killing in cold blood," "terrorizing children," and "aggression against Muslim women," among other offenses. The issue of assaults against women has been mentioned in a number of other statements from Ansar Jerusalem as well as from Ajnad Misr. For example, in November 2013 Ansar Jerusalem said its killing of Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Mabrouk, a senior national security officer, was in response to the arrest and interrogation of Muslim women by Egyptian security forces.

After accusing Egypt's security forces of these offenses, the video plays a clip from former Islamic State of Iraq leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi. "We are not those who shed tears, and sit crying like women, this was not and will not be our path," Baghdadi says. Ansar Jerusalem had previously used a clip from Baghdadi in its video about its attack in October 2013 on the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor.

Following this, a speech from Abu Maryam is played. In it, the jihadist says: "The path to establishing the religion is not solely by da'wa as some people have said, but it is da'wa and jihad." "You do not raise a weapon and they fight you. So what [would happen] if you raised a weapon?" he asks.

He goes on to say that "the enemies of Allah ... are plotting against us, plotting against Allah's religion." In addition, he denounces Egyptian security forces for acting as "protectors of the Jews." According to Abu Maryam, "He who proceeds and dares to kill Muslims, we do not advise him with words, rather we kill him as he has killed them."

Ansar Jerusalem says "security reasons" prevented it from filming the explosion in Mansoura. Similarly, in a November 2013 video about its attack on the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, the jihadist group had claimed that "security reasons" kept it from filming the actual bombing. In February, however, the group released a video showing its Dec. 29 bombing of a military intelligence building in Anshas.

The video from Ansar Jerusalem concluded with a 2007 clip from Abu Hamza al Muhajir (also known as Abu Ayyub al Masri), a deceased al Qaeda in Iraq leader, in which he calls on Muslims to protect the honor of their women.

Taliban's shadow governor for Kunar reported killed in US airstrike (12:45AM)

Noor Qasim Sabari, the shadow governor for Kunar province, from a Taliban video released in 2012.

The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's domestic intelligence service, claimed that the Taliban's shadow governor for Kunar province and several senior commanders were killed in an airstrike three days ago. The Taliban commander's death has not been confirmed.

The NDS issued a press release stating that Noor Qasim Sabari, the shadow governor of Kunar, was killed in an airstrike that targeted "a gathering of the senior Pakistani and Afghan Taliban leaders" on the evening of April 7, Khaama Press reported.

Sabari appeared in a video by the Taliban that was released in 2012. In that video, which is titled "The Ghazi of Ghaziabad," the Taliban welcomed two Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers suspected of killing US and Afghan soldiers in insider or green-on-blue attacks earlier in 2012. [See Threat Matrix report, Observations on Taliban video 'welcoming' rogue ANA soldiers.]

The airstrike, which would have been launched by the US military or the CIA, also reportedly killed Qari Osman, the shadow district governor for Shigal; Qari Nasir Gajar, the chief suicide attack coordinator; Mullah Bashir Gajar, the IED coordinator; Qari Sherin, an assassination squad leader; and senior commanders Qari Zubair, Qari Latif, and Qari Tari. It is unclear which of the senior commanders or attack coordinators, if any, are Pakistani Taliban members. Additionally, nine Taliban fighters are said to have been killed.

The Afghan Taliban has not released a martyrdom statement announcing the deaths of Sabari or the other commanders on its website, Voice of jihad. An inquiry on the NDS report that was sent to the Taliban by The Long War Journal has gone unanswered.

The International Security Assistance Force has also not commented on the reports of the airstrike in Kunar. ISAF stopped issuing press releases on its operations against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as of June 27, 2013.

For years, the rugged, remote Afghan province of Kunar has served as a sanctuary for al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba cells has been detected in the districts of Asmar, Asadabad, Dangam, Ghazibad, Marawana, Nari, Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Shigal, and Watahpur; or 11 of Kunar's 15 districts, according to press releases issued by ISAF that have been compiled by The Long War Journal. The Taliban and al Qaeda are closely allied in the province.

The US appears to be continuing to hunt for senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in Kunar, despite its withdrawal from much of the province and the end of its counterinsurgency campaign there. Last year, two wanted senior al Qaeda and Taliban commanders were reported to have been killed in US airstrikes.

In mid-October 2013, Qari Dawat, a Taliban commander in Kunar who has been hunted by US forces for years and has vowed to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden, was reported to have been killed. And in mid-August 2013, US strike aircraft reportedly killed Qari Zia Rahman, dual-hatted al Qaeda and Taliban leader who operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and who trains female suicide bombers. The deaths of Dawat and Rahman were never confirmed.