Saturday, July 26, 2014

Islamic State destroys tombs, mosques in Mosul (11:18AM)

The Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls large areas of both Iraq and Syria, continues to destroy religious sites in the city of Mosul in an effort to eradicate all competing religious groups and their symbols from the city.

On July 24 the Islamic State destroyed the Nabi Yunus Mosque, which had housed the Tomb of Jonah, after destroying the tomb itself earlier this month. Islamic State fighters wired the mosque with explosives and detonated the religious site in broad daylight.

Jonah is recognized as a prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and his tomb was visited and revered by members of all three religions.

The imam of Mosul's Arahma mosque said that 23 men who had led protests yesterday against the bombing of the Yunus Mosque were flogged by the terror group.

Yesterday, the Islamic State demolished the mosque of the prophet Seth, a son of Adam and Eve, who is also recognized as an important historical and religious figure by all three religions.

Video of the destruction of the two mosques was published on YouTube by News of Iraq.

The demolition of the two religious sites is the latest in the Islamic State's campaign to destroy tombs and gravesites. More than two dozen religious sites are said to have been destroyed in Mosul since the Islamic State took control of the city on June 10. The Islamic State believes that worshiping at tombs and graves is forbidden in the Koran, and is a form of idol worship.

In early June, the terror group ordered the destruction of all churches in Mosul, and on June 16 a European Union delegation confirmed that the Islamic State had burned down several churches in the city and raped five Iraqi girls.

On July 4, Iraqi News reported that Islamic State fighters had dug up the tomb of the prophet Jonah and destroyed it. According to Ninevah official Zuhair al-Chalabi, the terror group had on that same day "torched 11 churches and monasteries out of 35 scattered across the city of Mosul, and hours later destroyed statues of poets, literary and historical figures of which Mosul has long been proud." Three Sunni clerics who had tried to resist the Islamic State were murdered.

On July 5, the same day that the Islamic State released video of its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi addressing followers at a historic Mosul mosque, the group released photos documenting its destruction of at least four Sufi or Sunni shrines as well as six Shiite mosques in Nineveh. Residents of Mosul reported that Islamic State fighters also took over both the Chaldean and the Syrian Orthodox cathedrals in the city, replacing crosses in the two sanctuaries with the terror group's black flag.

Four days later, video appeared on YouTube showing Islamic State fighters taking a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah in Mosul.

The Islamic State isn't the first jihadist group to act in such a manner. In 2001, the Taliban blew up the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, destroyed tombs and graves when it took control of areas of southern Yemen in 2011. And al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its two affiliates, Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, razed religious sites, tombs, and a historical library after seizing control of northern Mali in 2012.

The Islamic State has sought to impose its will on Mosul since taking control of the city last month. First, the group announced that it would impose sharia, or Islamic law, and ordered women to cover themselves.

Last week, the Islamic State issued an ultimatum to Christians in Mosul. Christians were given a choice to convert to Islam, remain in the city and pay a tax; leave the city; or be killed. Almost all of the Christians in Mosul, numbering in the thousands, are reported to have left the city. Many have sought refuge in areas controlled by Kurdish forces. It is widely reported that Islamic State fighters have robbed fleeing Christians of their cash, jewelry, and other possessions as well as taken over their houses.

Mosul, a city where Christians have lived for nearly 2,000 years and which was formerly home to the highest concentration of Christians in Iraq, is now virtually empty of them.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kuwaiti Gitmo detainee should remain in US custody, review board finds (02:56PM)

Fayiz al Kandari. Image from the Miami Herald.

An interagency periodic review board has found that a Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo, Fayiz Mohammed Ahmed Al Kandari, should remain in detention.

Al Kandari's continued detention "remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States," the board wrote in an unclassified summary of its decision. The ruling is dated July 14, but was not released until today.

The review board concluded that al Kandari "almost certainly retains an extremist mindset and had close ties with high-level al Qaeda leaders in the past." The board found al Kandari's "desire to return to his family, which appears willing to help with his reintegration," to be credible. But it also feared that he is susceptible "for recruitment due to his connections to extremists and his residual anger at the US."

Another review board decision was also released today. In that case, a board recommended that Fouzi Khalid Abdullah Al Awda be transferred from Guantanamo to his home country of Kuwait. But while the interagency board believed al Awda when he said he wanted to give up extremism, the same cannot be said for al Kandari. The review board also found that a one-year rehabilitation program was appropriate in al Awda's case, but not in al Kandari's.

The board "noted a lack of history regarding the efficacy of the rehabilitation program Kuwait will implement for [al Kandari] with his particular mindset, but appreciates the efforts of the Kuwaiti government and encourages the officials at the Al Salam Rehabilitation Center [in Kuwait] to continue to work with the detainee at Guantanamo."

Both al Awda and al Kandari were deemed "high" risks to "the US, its interests, and allies" by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). Both were denied their petitions for a writ of habeas corpus by a DC district court. And President Obama's Guantanamo Review Task Force determined that both of the Kuwaitis should be held in "continued detention" under the laws of war. That is, the task force concluded that both al Awda and al Kandari were "too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution."

While al Awda will be transferred home, however, al Kandari will remain in US custody.

Admitted ties to senior al Qaeda leaders

The Long War Journal profiled al Kandari in October 2010, after his habeas petition was denied by a DC district court the previous month. [See LWJ report, Judge finds that Kuwaiti Gitmo detainee was no charity worker.]

Al Kandari repeatedly claimed that he was a mere charity worker in Afghanistan in 2001. The court disagreed, finding that al Kandari's story was "implausible" and "not credible."

When al Kandari entered Afghanistan, he made his way to the office of a group called Al Wafa, which posed as a charity but was really a front for al Qaeda.

The court found that al Kandari admittedly "met and associated with various members and high-level leaders of al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated enemy forces." Al Kandari met with some of these jihadists during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001.

There is also intelligence connecting al Kandari to an al Qaeda cell that attacked US Marines who were training on Faylaka Island in Kuwait. The attack, which was launched on Oct. 8, 2002, resulted in one Marine being killed and another injured. US officials think that al Kandari played a key role in inspiring and recruiting the cell. But the district court ruled that it was not necessary to consider al Kandari's ties to the attackers, as the weight of the other evidence was enough to justify his detention.

One of al Kandari's relatives, a terrorist known as Anas al Kandari, was killed during the assault on Faylaka Island. US officials found that Fayiz and Anas al Kandari received specialized training from al Qaeda in Kandahar. Al Qaeda spokesman Sulayman Abu Ghaith was trained alongside the pair, and Fayiz al Kandari has admitted knowing him.

Sulayman Abu Ghaith was taken into US custody in 2013. He admitted to FBI officials that he knew both Fayiz and Anas al Kandari, but also sought to downplay the extent of their relationship.

Review board recommends transfer of Guantanamo detainee to Kuwait (11:07AM)
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A Twitter user known as @strategyaffairs offered his congratulations to the al Awda family the day before the periodic review board's ruling was released. It is not clear how @strategyaffairs and other jihadists knew about the decision beforehand.

An interagency review board has recommended that a Kuwaiti named Fouzi Khalid Abdullah Al Awda, who has been held at Guantanamo since early 2002, be transferred to his home country. Interestingly, prominent jihadists who are active on Twitter knew about the ruling hours before it was released to the public.

The tweet shown above was posted yesterday by a jihadist who uses the handle @strategyaffairs. The tweet offers a "a thousand congratulations to the Awda family" for "raising the issue of Guantanamo from the beginning." Al Awda's family has played a prominent role in challenging the detention of Fouzi and others in Cuba.

The congratulations was quickly retweeted by high-profile al Qaeda supporters and members, including Sanafi al Nasr, who is based in Syria and leads al Qaeda's "Victory Committee."

It is not clear how @strategyaffairs learned of the periodic review board's ruling. After seeing the tweet, The Long War Journal went to the review board's website and the ruling in al Awda's matter had not yet been published. Since then, the board's decision has been added to the website. However, the decision is dated July 14, so the news could have been leaked by someone in the know before the decision was released to the public 11 days later.


Fouzi Khalid Abdullah al Awda.

In a leaked memo authored in January 2008, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed al Awda a "high" risk "to the US, its interests, and allies," and recommended that the US continue to hold him.

In August 2009, a DC district court denied al Awda's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, concluding that the US government "met its burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Al [Awda] became part of Taliban and al Qaeda forces."

And in its final recommendations, delivered in January 2010, President Obama's own Guantanamo Review Task Force slated al Awda for continued detention pursuant to the laws of war. That is, al Awda was one of the 48 detainees the task force determined were "too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution."

Periodic review board's decision

While other government bodies previously determined that al Awda was too dangerous to transfer or release, the periodic review board found that al Awda's detention is no longer "necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security ofthe United States."

The review board cited al Awda's "low level of training and lack of a leadership position in al Qaeda or the Taliban," as well as his "personal commitment to participate fully in the Government of Kuwait's rehabilitation program and comply with any security measures" as reasons for its decision. The board also cited al Awda's "extensive family support," "commitment not to support extremist groups or other groups that promote violence," and "positive changes in" his "behavior while in detention."

In addition, the review board says it "considered information provided by the Government of Kuwait that indicated its confidence in its legal authority to require and maintain" al Awda's "participation in a rehabilitation program and commitment to implement robust security measures."

In the past, the Kuwaiti government has failed to keep tabs on some ex-Guantanamo detainees. For instance, Abdullah Salih al Ajmi, who was transferred from Guantanamo to Kuwait in 2005, carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2008. The Kuwaiti government's assurances that it has the "commitment to implement robust security measures" in al Awda's case may have been influenced by this experience.

The review board recommends that al Awda attend "at least one year of in-patient rehabilitation" and that a "comprehensive set of security measures" be implemented.

Habeas petition rejected in 2009

Some of the details of al Awda's jihadist career can be found in the DC district court's opinion rejecting his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court based its decision on al Awda's admissions and other evidence.

According to the court, al Awda admitted that he met with a Taliban official, received training on an AK-47, "and that he traveled with his AK-47 into the Tora Bora mountains, remained in the Tora Bora mountains during the Battle of Tora Bora, and was captured shortly thereafter by border guards while still carrying his AK-47."

The court also found that al Awda's flight to Tora Bora in late 2001 was consistent with the behavior of other jihadists after Osama bin Laden ordered his forces to relocate there. The government presented credible evidence that al Awda was captured alongside an individual with significant ties to al Qaeda.

Although the court's decision was based largely on al Awda's admitted ties to the Taliban, there was also evidence tying him directly to al Qaeda's operations.

The court considered the government's argument that the facility al Awda was trained in was actually run by al Qaeda, and not the Taliban. Al Awda denied being trained by al Qaeda, but the court found it "was more likely than not" that the camp al Awda attended was Al Farouq, "al Qaeda's primary Afghan basic training facility." According to the court, however, this evidence was not necessary to justify al Awda's detention, as his admissions alone were sufficient.

A "high" risk, according to Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO)

A leaked memo authored by JTF-GTMO on Jan. 2, 2008 contains a number of additional allegations and pieces of intelligence that were not weighed in the DC district court's ruling. JTF-GTMO found that al Awda may have had ties to senior al Qaeda leaders and ideologues.

In addition to his training at Al Farouq, JTF-GTMO concluded that al Awda attended a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani jihadist group with longstanding connections to al Qaeda. The source for this finding was David Hicks, an Australian who was once one of al Awda's fellow Guantanamo detainees.

Hicks allegedly told authorities that al Awda received training in an LeT camp. JTF-GTMO concluded that Hicks' claim was consistent with al Awda's "passport entry-exit stamp at Lahore," Pakistan from April to May 2000. This timeline for al Awda's travels was also consistent with the timing of Hicks' own travels, according to the JTF-GTMO file. Hicks has admitted to training in an LeT camp.

Other allegations included in the JTF-GTMO file, based largely on the testimony of al Awda's fellow detainees, include that he swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden and had ties to an al Qaeda cell in the UK run by Abu Qatada (a notorious al Qaeda-linked cleric).

The Kuwaiti State Security also reported that al Awda was "associated" with Sulayman Abu Ghaith, who served as al Qaeda's spokesman and was convicted on terrorism charges by a New York court earlier this year.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Boko Haram consolidates power in northeastern Nigeria (01:30PM)

Just days after Boko Haram raised its flag over Damboa, in northeastern Nigeria's Borno state, suspected gunmen from the terrorist group raided the town on July 22, killing five villagers.

According to a local resident, the attack was precipitated by the town's removal of Boko Haram's flags. In the incident, five gunmen targeted the locations in Damboa where the flags had been flying. The gunmen shot and killed five people before scurrying back into the forest on motorbikes and Toyota pickups.

Boko Haram has effectively laid siege to the town since early July, when the group attacked Damboa's police station and army base and sent Nigerian security forces running. Weeks later on July 18, the group began another assault, setting homes and businesses on fire and killing over 100 community members.

Boko Haram also continues to target infrastructure. The group destroyed a key bridge that linked northeastern Nigeria with Cameroon on the night of July 22. The Ngala bridge connected Borno state capital Maiduguri to the northern towns of Ngala and Gamboru as well as northern Cameroon. In the incident, the terrorists placed improvised explosive devices under the bridge and detonated them, destroying the bridge.

Today, an improvised device hidden in a refrigerator went off at a motor park in the Sabon Gari area of Kano, north central Nigeria. One person was killed and eight injured. Kano has been the target of several previous bombings, including several in the Sabon Gari area.

In an effort to combat Boko Haram, the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger pledged yesterday to develop a 2,800-member regional force, with each country contributing 700 soldiers to the cause.

In addition to the efforts at regional cooperation, Nigeria's Inspector General of Police signed an agreement, on behalf of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), with the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States to partner on counterterrorism activities to bolster the NPF. The project aims to improve and modernize the NPF "for more effective and efficient policing."

Formally identified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Department of State in November 2013, Boko Haram has increased the frequency and violence of its terror campaign in recent months. The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2012, has released several video statements claiming responsibility for the attacks. He has also taunted the West's hashtag campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, that emerged after his group abducted over 250 schoolgirls in April, calling for President Goodluck Jonathan to "bring back our arrested warriors."

Thus far, neither Nigeria nor any other players has been able to substantially slow Boko Haram's advance.

Pakistani officials, Taliban deny Adnan Rasheed was captured (12:33PM)

Adnan Rasheed (unmasked) is pictured with members of his "death squad." Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Pakistani military as well as Taliban commanders are now denying reports from two weeks ago that Adnan Rasheed, a top jihadist leader who is based in the tribal areas, was captured during a military raid in South Waziristan. Instead, an al Qaeda "trainer" is said to have been captured.

Pakistani officials claimed on July 15 that Rasheed and an al Qaeda commander known as Mufti Zubair Marwat were among those arrested in a raid in the Shakai valley in South Waziristan. Rasheed was said to have been wounded when he was captured. [See Threat Matrix report, Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed reported captured in South Waziristan.]

But now, Pakistani officials and Taliban commanders are denying the initial reports of Rasheed's capture. One Pakistani official told Reuters that "there was a mix-up." An al Qaeda explosives expert is said to have been captured in the July 10 raid, and not Rasheed.

A Taliban commander told Reuters that Rasheed "is free and safe and protected by his 12 suicide-bomber bodyguards who never leave his side. His family is with him."

It is unclear if the al Qaeda explosives expert is Marwat, who was originally identified by Dawn as "the brother of Mufti Sajjad Marwat - an al Qaeda spokesman for Afghanistan and Pakistan." Al Qaeda is known to embed military trainers and explosives experts with the Taliban and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistani military launched an offensive in mid-June in North Waziristan to flush out the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as well as allied foreign jihadist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party. While claiming that more than 400 jihadists have been killed, the military has not identified a single senior militant commander supposedly killed or captured during the operation.

The Pakistani military has also assured US officials that it is not discriminating in its targeting of Taliban groups. Pakistani officials have implied that the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar's group are indeed a target of the operation. But no Haqqani or Bahadar commanders or fighters have been identified as being killed or captured during the North Waziristan offensive. These two Taliban groups are considered to be "good Taliban" as they do not openly advocate attacking the Pakistan state. However, the "good Taliban" shelter and support the so-called "bad Taliban" as well as groups such as al Qaeda.

Background on Adnan Rasheed

Rasheed is currently the emir of the Ansar al Aseer Khorasan ("Helpers of the Prisoners"), a group that includes members from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban and was founded to free jihadists from Pakistani prisons.

Rasheed has a long history with Pakistani terrorist groups as well as al Qaeda. He was involved in the Dec. 14, 2003 assassination attempt against then-President Pervez Musharraf. A member of the Pakistani Air Force, Rasheed was sentenced to death for his role in the assassination attempt, but the sentence was never carried out. While in prison, Rasheed owned several cell phones and frequently communicated with journalists. He also got married while in prison and fathered a child.

Rasheed worked for Amjad Farooqi, the Pakistani terrorist who engineered the two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December 2003 at the behest of al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al Libi; Farooqi is suspected of involvement in other terror attacks as well. Farooqi was a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan; the Harkat-ul-Ansar and its successor, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen; Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami; and Jaish-e-Mohammed. He served as a close aide to Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. In addition, Farooqi served as the group's representative to al Qaeda's International Islamic Front, which issued the 1998 fatwa that declared war on the US.

On April 15, 2012, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan launched a successful operation to free Rasheed and nearly 400 prisoners, including an estimated 200 Taliban fighters and jihadists, being held at a prison in Bannu. The operation was directed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the former emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the group's former emir for South Waziristan (both Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman were killed by the US in drone strikes). More than 150 fighters assaulted the prison. Rasheed was later featured in a videotape celebrating the jailbreak.

Since the Bannu jailbreak, Rasheed has featured in several Taliban propaganda tapes. In January 2013, he appeared in a joint Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan video that announced the formation of the Ansar al Aseer. The video also featured Yassin Chouka, a wanted German commander in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; and Abdul Hakeem, a Russian IMU member.

In March 2013, Rasheed released a video in which he claimed to have formed an assassination squad to kill former President Musharraf. Rasheed said the "death squad" is split up in groups of "fedayeen, sniper team, special assault team, and close combat team." The term 'fedayeen' is often used to describe suicide bombers.

Islamic State describes its seizure of central Syrian gas field (10:22AM)

1.jpgThe al Sha'er gas field. Image from Islamic State statement.

The Islamic State's media wing in Wilayat Homs released a statement early this week on the recent fighting around the al Sha'er gas field in central Syria. The statement, titled "A Pictured Report from the Invasion of the al Sha'er gas field," includes a summary of the battles as well as photos of their aftermath [see below].

Reports began to surface last week indicating that on the evening of July 16, the Islamic State mounted an attack on the al Sha'er gas field with a 2,000-man force. The gas field is located 110 kilometers east of Homs, slightly northwest of the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) in central Syria. According to media reports, the initial attack resulted in the deaths of 270 workers and members of the National Defense Force (NDF), a paramilitary group that is part of the Syrian military. Some of those killed in that attack were executed after their capture by IS fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that 270 individuals were killed in the initial battles at the gas field, including 40 IS fighters. The Syrian daily Al Watan reported that 60 NDF soldiers were killed in the initial attack.

Fighting continued at the al Sha'er gas field after the Islamic State seized the facility on July 17, and Syrian military reinforcements were reportedly sent to reclaim the gas field on July 19. By July 21, media outlets confirmed that an additional 100 people were killed in ongoing clashes at the field between IS fighters and forces of the Syrian regime. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that 60 Syrian soldiers were killed on July 19 in fighting close to the gas field. Reports also suggested that the Syrian air force was conducting air strikes in the area to pave the way for ground troops to retake the facility.

The fighting at the al Sha'er gas field has been described by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as the "largest" between IS and Syrian government forces since the beginning of the year. Although official Syrian statements did not confirm the fighting at al Sha'er initially, the governor of Homs province, Talal Barazani, told AFP on July 17 that "[t]he armed men were present in the area beforehand, but they have now expanded their area of control with this new operation."

The loss of the al Sha'er gas field, which received foreign investments from international corporations such as Petro-Canada, constitutes a major blow to the Syrian regime. This latest development comes just weeks after IS fighters consolidated their control over the oil-rich province of Deir al Zour in eastern Syria, bordering Iraq.

The IS report on the seizure of the al Sha'er gas field underscores the importance Islamic State decision makers attach to the takeover of the facility and its surrounding areas. The statement describes the area around the field, known as the al Sha'er region, as "strategic" and calls the gas field "one of the largest and most important gas fields for the nusayri regime." The report claims that other strategic energy sites are located in the al Sha'er region, including "a gas pumping station for the Hayyan field in al Furqlus that feeds, in turn, the coastal and southern area as well as a number of oil wells."

The IS report claims that the "Invasion of the al Sha'er gas field" resulted in the deaths of more than 300 regime soldiers and boasts that the regime itself recognized 90 casualties among its ranks and announced it did not know the fate of 270 others. The IS report also details the booty it acquired as a result of the offensive, including 15 tanks, two rocket launchers, and 40 Grad rockets.

The photos below were included in the IS report:

"Soldiers of the Islamic State who participated in the liberation of the al Sha'er gas field"

"Islamic State booty from the nusayri military"

"15 tanks are booty for the Islamic State from the nusayri military in the battles for the al Sha'er gas field"

"Rocket launchers seized after the battles for the al Sha'er gas field"

"The corpses of the dead among the nusayri military in the liberation invasion of the al Sha'er gas field"
shaer 6.jpg

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Islamic Front rejects rival's caliphate, as well as proposed emirate in Syria (03:40PM)

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The Islamic Front, a coalition of several leading insurgency groups in Syria, has released a statement rejecting the caliphate announced by its rivals in the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, in late June.

And the Islamic Front also says that any proposed emirate (state) or other government that is not agreed upon by the "people of power and decision" is unacceptable. The latter objection is almost certainly intended as a warning to the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.

Earlier this month, an audio recording of a speech by Abu Muhammad al Julani, the Al Nusrah Front's emir, was leaked online. "The time has come ... for us to establish an Islamic emirate in the Levant, to implement the limits and punishments of God Almighty, and his laws in every sense of the word, without compromise, complacency, equivocation, or circumvention," Julani says in the recording.

Julani's words were widely interpreted by jihadists and other Islamists in Syria, as well as observers outside of the country, as indicating that the Al Nusrah Front was going to announce the creation of an emirate soon. This anticipated move was seen as a natural response to the Islamic State's caliphate, which Al Nusrah fiercely opposes.

The audio of Julani's speech created so much buzz and controversy in jihadist circles that the Al Nusrah Front was forced to issue a "clarification" shortly after it was leaked. In a statement, Al Nusrah said it had "not announced the establishment of an emirate, yet." Julani's group added: "When the time comes and the sincere mujahideen and the pious scholars agree with our stance, we will announce this emirate, by the Will of Allah."

The audio of Julani's speech had the potential to upset relations between the Al Nusrah Front and other insurgent groups. Al Nusrah has positioned itself as an acceptable jihadist alternative to the Islamic State, led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who is now called "Caliph Ibrahim" by his supporters.

Both the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic Front have battled Baghdadi's Islamic State for months. Indeed, Al Nusrah has been especially close to Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked group that is one of the most powerful organizations inside the Islamic Front. (Some in the West have argued that the Islamic Front is a relatively moderate rebel coalition, but its ties to al Qaeda undermine this claim.)

The Al Nusrah Front and its allies in the Islamic Front have consistently rejected Baghdadi's unilateral claim to rule. But the leaked audio of Julani's speech can be interpreted as meaning that Al Nusrah intends to declare the establishment of an Islamic emirate without the blessing of other leading factions in the insurgency. That is, some jihadists fear that Julani could be heading down a path similar to Baghdadi's.

In its newly-released statement, the Islamic Front makes it clear that any such initiative will be rejected. The statement was released in both English and Arabic on the group's Twitter feeds. A screen shot of the Islamic Front's English language Twitter page can be seen above.

"Any announcement of a caliphate or emirate or government that is not chosen by the people of the Levant and not accepted by 'Ahl Al-Hal wa Alaqd' (people of power and decision) a rejected announcement and belongs only to the people who made it," the Islamic Front's statement reads. "The murderer Assad regime depends on the consequences of such announcements, and on the infightings resulted from them to stay in power; so we should not give it the opportunity through showing great amount of wisdom and responsibility."

The Islamic Front goes on to warn that no group should "consider itself a legitimate ruler" at the expense of others, "because this would lead to a fitna (strife or infighting) and shedding of blood that may lead to failing the revolution of the people in the Levant, and taking away their hopes of winning this war after hundreds of thousands have been killed and injured, and millions displaced."

Bashar al Assad's "regime should be overthrown" before the establishment of an Islamic government, the Islamic Front argues, and the "complete system of operating a country, providing the basics, and carrying out the hudud [punishments according to sharia law] could not be achieved by a single group."

Instead, according to the Islamic Front, the "legitimate" Islamic bodies should be supported in each "liberated" area and the "people of knowledge should be asked to determine what should be handled immediately without any delay." In other words, neither the Islamic State, nor the Al Nusrah Front, should impose its will on the other jihadist and Islamist groups overseeing territory won from the Assad regime.

This is not the first time that there has been tension between the Islamic Front and Al Nusrah. In May, the Islamic Front and other allied groups released a "revolutionary covenant" that was intended to allay concerns about the role of extremists in the Syrian rebellion. The Al Nusrah Front swiftly rejected the covenant, arguing that it was not sufficiently rooted in religious principles and was too nationalistic in its focus.

Despite these disagreements, the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic Front continue to jointly conduct operations.

Ansar al Islam claims new attacks on official Twitter feed (09:57AM)

Ansar al Islam's Twitter feed.

Ansar al Islam (AAI), a jihadist group based in northern Iraq, claimed a string of new attacks in a series of tweets between July 13 and July 21. In one tweet, AAI implied that it had a hand in the death of Major General Najm Abdallah al Sudani, who served as the commander of the Iraqi army's Sixth division until he was killed earlier this month.

AAI's responsibility for al Sudani's death could not be independently verified, however. And some of the few details offered by the group concerning al Sudani's slaying contradict the version given by the Iraqi government to the press.

In a tweet on July 13, AAI reported that al Sudani had been "sniped," or shot, near Baghdad. An Iraqi military spokesman told Agence France Presse (AFP) that al Sudani "was killed by hostile shelling." Other accounts say that al Sudani was killed by mortar fire as well, which seemingly contradicts AAI's claim that the general was killed in sniper fire.

Al Sudani was killed near Baghdad and, at least in that regard, AAI's brief account is consistent with other reporting. But even the date of al Sudani's death given by AAI is inconsistent with other accounts. AAI tweeted that al Sudani had been killed on Saturday, July 5. But press reports say he was killed on Monday, July 7.

Major General al Sudani was one of Iraqi prime minister Nuri al Maliki's top military leaders. Maliki released a statement saying al Sudani "met martyrdom on the battlefield as he was fighting ... terrorists," according to Reuters. Maliki also personally attended al Sudani's funeral.

AAI's tweet concerning al Sudani's death highlights a persistent problem in covering complicated war zones such as Iraq. The fog of war sometimes makes it difficult to determine the precise details of even high-profile events, such as the killing of a top general. And official government reports can also be inaccurate, for a host of reasons.

Jihadist groups do report accurate information via social media, but they also have an incentive to provide misleading reports that make them seem more accomplished on the battlefield than they really are. It is possible that AAI did kill al Sudani and the precise details have simply been mangled. Or, the group thought it would benefit from attaching itself to a high-profile killing.

Other attacks claimed by AAI on its Twitter feed are less sensationalistic. In two recent tweets, AAI said it fired 82-mm and 120-mm mortar rounds on Shiite militias in Balad, which sits north of Baghdad in Salahaddin province. The tweets include a hashtag, #Tikrit, referring to the provincial capital, and call the Shiites "rafidi," a derogatory term meaning that Shiites reject Sunni beliefs.

AAI also claimed to have shot an Iraqi major in southern Tikrit and caused the Iraqi army to suffer "heavy losses in lives and equipment," including four tanks, three armored vehicles, five Hummers, and one army truck.

If AAI's tweets are accurate, then they reveal that the group is operating far outside of its strongholds in northern Iraq. In one tweet, AAI claimed to have "repelled an attack by" the Iraqi army in Anbar, which is in western Iraq. In another, the jihadist organization said it struck an emergency vehicle with an improvised explosive device (IED) on a bridge named after Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

While the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, garners the most attention for its role in spearheading the insurgency, other groups, including AAI, are clearly involved in the fighting as well. As the insurgents' offensive swept through Iraq in June, AAI claimed a number of attacks against Iraqi government forces on its Twitter feed. [See LWJ reports, Ansar al Islam claims attacks against Iraqi military, police and Ansar al Islam releases propaganda photos showing operations in Iraq.]

AAI is one of the Islamic State's longest-standing jihadist rivals. As early as 2012, AAI complained to al Qaeda's senior leadership about the behavior of the Islamic State and its leadership toward their fellow jihadists.

Jihadists circulated a rumor earlier this month saying that AAI had sworn bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's Islamic State. A contingent of AAI fighters reportedly did swear allegiance to Baghdadi's organization, but AAI quickly released a statement denying that the group as a whole had pledged its loyalty to any other organization.

Oren Adaki, an Arabic language specialist and research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, contributed to this article.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Boko Haram gains ground (03:49PM)

Over the weekend, Boko Haram continued its assault on Damboa in northeastern Nigeria's Borno state, gaining ground while sending local villagers running for their lives.

Sitting on the main road to state capital Maiduguri, Damboa has been besieged by the terrorist group since July 4, when Boko Haram attacked a tank battalion base on the town's outskirts.

On July 6, the town's police station and army camp were hit by the group, sending the security forces scurrying. Much to the town's misfortune, it was left unprotected and under siege.

The latest attack began on July 18 as suspected Boko Haram fighters hit Damboa at dawn, throwing explosives into homes and firing on scrambling villagers. The insurgents reportedly used rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs. The group also burnt down the town's market. Later in the day, Boko Haram struck again, killing many more as the remaining villagers were attempting to bury their dead.

As the onslaught subsided, Boko Haram fighters reportedly hoisted their black al-Qaeda-inspired flag over the town, claiming victory with over 100 villagers dead.

A local official told Agence France Presse, "Those who could not flee surrendered and were killed by the insurgents." Additionally, residents of nearby towns had begun to flee after having received a letter from Boko Haram threatening to attack and take over their land. A representative from Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency said they had records of 15,204 people who fled Damboa and other nearby villages.

Responding to the events, Defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade commented yesterday, "We are not conceding any portion of this country to any terrorist group .... Our patrols are active and they are stepping up their activities to reverse any insecurity there."

In recent months, Boko Haram has amplified its offensive across Nigeria, increasing both the frequency and the ferocity of its attacks. The incidents over the weekend may mark a turning point, however, as the group appears to have taken new ground and continued to hold it, rather than simply conducting hit-and-run attacks. Last week, Boko Haram destroyed a bridge south of the town, essentially cutting Damboa and Maiduguri off from the outside. This act, in combination with the weekend's territorial win, may be part of a larger, longterm strategy by the terrorist group to take ground and establish its own state.

Islamic State touts training camp in northern Iraq (02:18PM)


The Islamic State released several photographs of what it said are its training camps in Iraq's Ninewa province. The images are the latest in a propaganda effort by various terror groups in both Iraq and Syria to promote their training camp infrastructure.

The 22 photographs of what the SITE Intelligence Group described as "scenes from its training camps " were published on the Ninewa Division's Twitter feed [view all 22 photographs here]. The Islamic State did not name the camps.

One of the photographs showed what appears to be eight squads of Islamic State fighters consisting of 11 to 13 men each sitting in formation on the floor while receiving instructions.

Other photographs showed fighters receiving martial arts instructions, marching through the streets in formation both in daylight and at night, and training on a machine gun. Young boys are shown training with the men in several of the photographs.

The Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda, took control of Ninewa province as well as much of Salahaddin and Diyala provinces after launching an offensive along with its allies that began on June 10. Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, is firmly under the control of the Islamic State.

Most of Anbar as well as northern Babil province is also under the Islamic State's control. Fallujah and other cities and towns fell after the Islamic State went on the offensive in Anbar at the beginning of January.

Jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria are promoting training camps

Jihadist groups in both Iraq and Syria have promoted the existence of at least five training camps this year.

In mid-March, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda's branch in Syria and a rival of the Islamic State, announced that it is running two training camps in Syria. Its Ayman al Zawahiri Camp was located in the city of Deir al Zour and is named after al Qaeda's current emir (the Islamic State currently controls the city). The other camp, whose location was not disclosed, is called the Abu Ghadiya Camp and is named after the leader of the al Qaeda in Iraq facilitation network that was based in eastern Syria. Abu Ghadiya was killed in a US special operations raid in eastern Syria in the fall of 2008.

In the beginning of April, the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters, or Muhajireen Army), a group of foreign fighters led by commanders from the Caucasus, released video of its training camp in Aleppo province. The video included footage of a bomb-making class.

In early May, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham announced the existence of the Zarqawi Camp, which is named after the slain founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus.

And in June, an Uzbek jihadist group known as the Imam Bukhari Jamaat released a video of its training camp in Syria. The camp is thought to be located in Aleppo province.

The videos from ISIS, Al Nusrah Front, Muhajireen Army, and Imam Bukhari Jamaat training camps are reminiscent of others released by al Qaeda from the network of camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Al Qaeda used camps such as Khalden and Al Farouq to churn out thousands of foreign fighters who fought alongside the Taliban in the 55th Arab Brigade. But al Qaeda also selected graduates of the camps to conduct attacks in the West, including the Sept. 11, 2001 operation against the US.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Al Qaeda renews its oath of allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar (02:29PM)
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Al Qaeda renews its oath of allegiance to Taliban emir Mullah Omar in its new online publication, Al Nafir.

Al Qaeda published the first edition of a new online bulletin, "Al Nafir" (meaning "call to arms" or "call to mobilize"), on July 20. And the organization uses the inaugural issue to publicly renew its oath of allegiance to Taliban emir Mullah Omar.

"The first edition begins by renewing the pledge of allegiance to [the] Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, may Allah preserve him, and confirming that al Qaeda and its branches everywhere are soldiers among his soldiers," the newsletter reads, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. Al Qaeda goes on to say that it is fighting "under his victorious banner" to restore control over a broad swath of territory "to the coming State of the Caliphate."

Although Al Nafir was just released online by As Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda arm, the first edition's publication date indicates that it was produced in April or May. Its release at this time is undoubtedly connected to the Islamic State's declaration in late June that it now rules over a supposed caliphate. The Islamic State is an al Qaeda offshoot that has been openly at odds with al Qaeda for more than one year.

As part of its announcement, the Islamic State said that all other jihadist groups, and even all Muslims, owe Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (now called "Caliph Ibrahim") their loyalty. This was a direct attempt to usurp the authority of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and could be read as a challenge to all other senior jihadists around the globe as well.

The Islamic State controls a significant amount of territory in both Iraq and Syria. And because of the group's recent territorial gains, Baghdadi's attempted power grab has forced al Qaeda to respond with an explanation of how it believes the jihadists' world is organized. Baghdadi's claims have caused significant problems for al Qaeda's senior leadership, which does not claim to directly control any territory. Al Qaeda's regional branches in the Middle East and Africa do control turf, but none of them is organized as an officially sanctioned Islamic state.

Although both Baghdadi and Mullah Omar have now been called "Emir of the Believers," only Baghdadi has claimed to rule over an all-encompassing caliphate. Mullah Omar's organization calls itself the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," meaning that it is considered a regional state, and not a caliphate. The Taliban still gives itself this name even though it does not control much of Afghanistan.

Leading jihadist ideologues, such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, have pointed this out in their critiques of Baghdadi's group. Maqdisi has noted that the Taliban never claimed that it was owed the allegiance of Muslims everywhere, as the Islamic State now does.

Al Qaeda also uses the new publication to portray itself as being committed to defending and leading predominately Muslim countries everywhere. (In reality, most of the victims of al Qaeda's violence are Muslims.)

"Al Nafir begins its first issue with a message to all the vulnerable Muslims in every land and country: We are with you and did not forget about you," SITE's translation reads. "Your blood is our blood, your wounds are our wounds, and your martyrs, your wounded, your orphans, and your widows are our sons, our brothers, and our sisters." The newsletter's authors then go on to list a number of countries around the world in which al Qaeda is supposedly committed to defending Muslims.

Renewed pledge to Mullah Omar follows bin Laden video discussing oath

On July 13, al Qaeda released a video starring Osama bin Laden that was recorded sometime in the middle of 2001, just months prior to the 9/11 attacks. The deceased al Qaeda master recounts, in brief, the history of his organization's relations with the Taliban.

An audience member asks bin Laden about his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Omar, the Taliban's emir. And as The Long War Journal reported on July 15, bin Laden's response likely has bearing on Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's claim to be the new rightful caliph.

"My pledge of allegiance to the Emir of the Believers [Mullah Omar] is the great pledge of allegiance, which is mentioned in the chapters of the Koran and the stories of the Sunnah," bin Laden says. "Every Muslim should set his mind and heart and pledge allegiance to the Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar for this is the great pledge."

It is widely believed among jihadists that the new caliph should be descended from the Quraish tribe, from which Islam's earliest rulers, including Mohammed, came. So, Baghdadi's supporters make much of the fact that he is supposedly descended from the Quraish.

Al Qaeda used bin Laden's testimony from 2001 as a rejoinder to the Islamic State's argument. Bin Laden says in the video that Mullah Omar's ancestry should not bar him from being the rightful ruler. Omar is not descended from the Quraish tribe, but bin Laden says this is a "minor factor," which can be ignored given the circumstances that existed at the time. The "pledge of allegiance" to Omar is "legitimate," bin Laden insists.

In other words, according to al Qaeda, one need not be descended from the Quraish tribe to be considered a legitimate ruler.

Bin Laden explains further that Mullah Omar's authority has been accepted by the "scholars" of Afghanistan and, therefore, "it is the duty of everyone to pledge allegiance to him." The intended contrast with Baghdadi's claim to power is obvious. Baghdadi has not been widely accepted as the legitimate ruler by leading jihadist "scholars" outside of his own organization in either Iraq or Syria.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

6 al Qaeda operatives thought killed in recent drone strike in Pakistan (12:22AM)

A senior al Qaeda leader who is based in Syria and has close ties to al Qaeda's General Command in Pakistan said that six of his "dearest comrades" were killed in an airstrike in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The six al Qaeda operatives were likely killed in a US drone strike on July 10.

Three of the six al Qaeda operatives were identified by Sanafi al Nasr, the head of al Qaeda's "Victory Committee." Nasr, a Saudi whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh, is a top leader in al Qaeda. As the leader of the Victory Committee, Nasr is responsible for developing and implementing al Qaeda's strategy and policies. [See LWJ report, Head of al Qaeda 'Victory Committee' in Syria.]

Nasr, who is a prolific online jihadist, tweeted on July 14 on the "Martyrdom of six of the dearest comrades of the path in Khorasan, among them my brother and loved one and apple of my eye Taj al Makki and my brother the kind and generous Abu Abdurahman al Kuwaiti yesterday in a bombardment of spies," according to a translation by Oren Adaki. The Khorasan is a geographic area that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al Qaeda's senior leadership is based.

Nasr identifed the third al Qaeda operative who was killed in the bombing as Fayez Awda al Khalidi. He did not name the three other al Qaeda operatives who were killed.

Little is publicly known about Makki, Kuwaiti, and Khalidi. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Makki, who is from Saudi Arabia, and Kuwaiti are mid-level al Qaeda commanders and likely are important to the terror group due to their association with Nasr.

A US intelligence official familiar with the US' drone campaign that targets al Qaeda's organization in Pakistan said it is very likely that the six jihadists were killed in the July 10 strike that took place in the village of Doga Mada Khel in North Waziristan's Datta Khel area. Six jihadists were reported killed in the strike, but they were never identified.

The US has conducted two other strikes in the Datta Khel area since July 10. In the early morning of July 19, US drones launched eight missiles at a compound in the same village, killing at least 11 jihadists, including two commanders in the Punjabi Taliban. And on July 16, the US reportedly killed 18 jihadists, including 12 "of Central Asian origin," in a strike in the village of Saidgai.

Datta Khel is a known hub for al Qaeda's military command. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri; Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Islamic State storms Camp Speicher, routs Iraqi forces (12:54AM)

Note: the Iraqi military laterr denied that the Islamic State controls all of Camp Speicher, but did say the airbase was overrun, several helicopters were destroyed, and the airfield had to be retaken by Iraqi troops See Threat Matrix report, Iraqi military says it retakes control of key base in Tikrit.

Two days after repelling an Iraqi military attempt to retake the city of Tikrit, the Islamic State and its allies are said to have overrun Camp Speicher, a large base just outside the city that was being used in the failed effort to retake the provincial capital.

The Islamic State's Salahaddin Division claimed in an official statement released on Twitter yesterday that it overran Camp Speicher and is in "control of the airport and the base completely." In the statement, the Islamic State claimed it killed "scores" of Iraqi military personnel, including a brigadier general and a colonel. It also said that a number of pilots were killed in a "martyrdom" or suicide operation on the base before it was overrun.

The Islamic State also said it destroyed seven aircraft on the tarmac and its "detachments of air defense" shot down two additional aircraft, all of which are thought to be helicopters. The Iraqi military had been using helicopters to ferry troops and supplies to Camp Speicher and Tikrit University, where special forces troops attempted to gain a foothold in the northern part of the city.

Additionally, the Islamic State said it destroyed several armored and other vehicles, while the base's fuel supply was set ablaze.

The Islamic State's claims were echoed by McClatchy, who interviewed residents of Tikrit as well as a Kurdish military officer. One Tikrit resident said that more than 700 Iraqi soldiers and 150 "Iranians," who are likely members of the Shia militias that have been augmenting the military, were based at Speicher. Captured members of the military and militia are said to have been paraded in the streets of Tikrit. Many are said to have been executed.

The Iraqi government and the military, which have released only rosy assessments of the fighting on all fronts, have not commented on the situation in Tikrit.

The Iraqi military made its first effort to retake Tikrit in late June, when it airlifted commandos into Tikrit University in an effort to gain a toehold north of the city. An advance on the city from the south was defeated. Then, on July 16, the Iraqi military launched Operation Decisive Sword. A large column of military and militia units entered southern Tikrit and thought they liberated the city, but as they celebrated they were ambushed with suicide bombers, IEDs, and conventional attacks. The Iraqi forces then withdrew from the city.

After the Iraqi military withdrew from southern Tikrit on July 16, the Islamic State immediately began its assault on Camp Speicher, as the base was the last remaining holdout of Iraqi forces near the city (Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Tikrit University sometime before the second offensive was launched).

The loss of Camp Speicher, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of the helicopters and its pilots if the Islamic State's claims are true, is a serious blow to both the morale and the operational capabilities of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military, which has failed to retake major cities and towns from the Islamic State and its allies, now may find it more difficult to support and defend the Bayji oil refinery just to the north, which has been largely resupplied by helicopters.

Iraqi military is in disarray

The latest failed Tikrit offensive and the loss of Camp Speicher highlight the deteriorating condition of the Iraqi armed forces. The military has been forced to cobble together units since at least four of its 15 regular army divisions are no longer viable. The Long War Journal estimates that at least seven divisions have been rendered ineffective since the beginning of the year; see Threat Matrix report, US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military.

In Tikrit, the military is fighting alongside poorly trained militias who are ill-suited to conduct offensive operations. Additionally, SWAT forces, while highly trained and likely more motivated than regular forces, are being misused as infantry.

The Iraqi military and the government have been unable to regain control of Ninewa and much of Salahaddin and Diyala provinces after losing them in an offensive launched by the Islamic State and its allies that began on June 10. Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, is firmly under the control of the Islamic State.

Most of Anbar as well as northern Babil province are also under the Islamic State's control. Fallujah and other cities and towns fell after the Islamic State went on the offensive in Anbar at the beginning of January. The Iraqi military has been unable to retake areas in Anbar lost earlier this year. Half of Ramadi, the provincial capital, is said to be held by the Islamic State. The military recently airlifted 4,000 militiamen to Ramadi, a further indication that the two Iraqi divisions stationed in Anbar, the 1st and the 7th, are no longer cohesive fighting forces.

Friday, July 18, 2014

US drones target 'Punjabi Taliban' in North Waziristan strike (08:06PM)

The US killed 11 "militants," including two commanders from the Punjabi Taliban, in a strike in Pakistan's lawless tribal agency of North Waziristan.

The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers are reported to have fired eight missiles at a compound in the village of Doga Mada Khel in the Datta Khel area of the tribal agency in the early morning of July 19, according to AFP.

Two commanders from the Punjabi Taliban, a grouping of jihadist groups from Pakistan's Punjab province, are said to have been killed, but their names were not disclosed by Pakistani officials. The Punjabi Taliban, whose leader, Asmatullah Muawiya, also serves as an al Qaeda commander, has been agreeable to conducting peace talks with the Pakistani government.

The July 19 strike is the third in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan in the past 10 days, and the second in the village of Doga Mada Khel. On July 10, US drones are reported to have killed six militants in an attack in the same village. And on July 16, the US reportedly killed 18 jihadists, including 12 "of Central Asian origin," in a strike in the village of Saidgai.

The ferocity of today's strike, with eight missiles fired, indicates that the US is hunting a top jihadist leader in the village.

Datta Khel is a known al Qaeda and jihadist hub

The Datta Khel area, where today's strike took place, is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to senior al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.

Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadist groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's Shadow Army, is known to operate a command center in Datta Khel. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri; Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army.

The US has now carried out six drone strikes in Pakistan since June 11. Four of the strikes took place after the Pakistani military launched an operation that is targeting some Taliban elements in North Waziristan.

Prior to the June 11 drone strike, the last US attack took place in late December 2013. The US put the program on hold after the Pakistani government entered into peace talks with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that there was no shortage of al Qaeda and other terrorists to target during the six-month lull. [See LWJ report, US launches 2 drone strikes in Pakistan, breaks 6-month lull.]

The most recent drone strike coincides with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan. The military claims it has killed more than 400 "terrorists" and "foreigners," and zero civilians, during a series of airstrikes in North Waziristan. The Pakistani military also asserts that most of those killed are from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party, two regional jihadist groups with close ties to al Qaeda. The Pakistani military claims to have cleared 80 percent of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. But most of the jihadists in North Waziristan are thought to have fled the offensive long before it began.

The Pakistani military appears to be focusing on foreign terrorist groups as well as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and is not confronting the Haqqani Network or the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group. These two independent Taliban factions are considered "good Taliban" as they do not openly advocate attacking the Pakistan state. But the Haqqanis and the Bahadar group, the two most powerful Taliban factions in North Waziristan, shelter and support al Qaeda, IMU, TIP, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (the "bad Taliban"). [See LWJ report, Pakistan launches 'comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists' in North Waziristan, and Threat Matrix report, Pakistani forces focus on 'foreigners' in North Waziristan operation.]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Australian Islamic State suicide bomber attacks Shia shrine in Baghdad (01:23PM)

The Islamic State claimed that an Australian fighter killed several Iraqis in a suicide attack at a Shia shrine in Baghdad today.

The Baghdad Division of the Islamic State claimed credit for today's attack in the Al Shorja neighborhood in Baghdad in a statement that was released on the group's Twitter feed. Five people were killed and 37 more were wounded in the suicide attack, according to the National Iraqi News Agency.

The Islamic State said today's attack in Baghdad was executed by "the brother,
the knight, the emigrant, Abu Bakr al Australi," according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group. Abu Bakr's real name has not been disclosed.

Abu Bakr "advanced on a day when many among the Arabs stopped," and detonated "his heavy explosive belt amidst one of the Rafidah [Shia] temples in Al Shorja."

The Islamic State claimed that the Al Shorja mosque was used by Shia militias "for the war on Islam and to kill and displace its people." Shia clerics have called on Iraqis to volunteer to defend Shia shrines as well as Baghdad and other areas of the country that have not been taken over by the Islamic State and allied groups.

Today's suicide attack by a foreign fighter precedes three other such attacks that took place yesterday. The Salahaddin Division claimed that a Libyan, a Saudi, and an Azerbaijani executed suicide bombings in Tikrit and near Samarra.

In the past, the Islamic State has promoted suicide attacks by its foreign fighters in both Iraq and Syria. Prior to its offensive that began on June 10, the Islamic State released multiple statements praising foreign suicide bombers from countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan or Pakistan, Tajikistan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya, France, Germany, England, and Denmark. [See LWJ report, ISIS touts French, German, and Libyan suicide bombers in Syria.]

Australian jihadists in Iraq and Syria

Several prominent Australian clerics are known to have traveled to Syria to support the jihad. Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a firebrand cleric while in Australia, is currently a senior sharia (Islamic law) official in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, which is a rival of the Islamic State. Abu Sulayman has been critical of the Islamic State in the past.

Mustapha al Majzoub, a dual Australian and Syrian citizen who resided in Sydney before traveling to Syria, was killed in a rocket attack in Aleppo on Aug. 19, 2012. According to jihadists, Majzoub was known for his efforts to recruit fighters from Australia, and had gone to Syria in June 2012 to "join the resistance alongside jihadi Salafis."

Also, Musa Cerantonio, an Australia cleric who supported and joined the Islamic State, was captured in the Philippines on July 11. Cerantonio claimed on July 1 that he was traveling to Syria to support the Islamic State.