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)

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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 is located in the city of Deir al Zour and is named after al Qaeda's current emir. 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)

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.




Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Islamic State, allies blunt Iraqi offensive to retake Tikrit (08:07AM)


Iraqi and Syrian towns and cities seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham and its allies. Map created by The Long War Journal. Click to view larger map.


The Islamic State and its Baathist allies have forced Iraqi troops that were attempting to retake Tikrit to withdraw from the city just one day after launching a much touted offensive.

Iraqi forces, which include regular Army units, paramilitary SWAT teams, and hastily raised Shia militias from the south, launched their offensive, called Decisive Sword, to regain control of the capital of Salahaddin province with much fanfare yesterday morning. The military claimed to take control of much of the southern part of the city, as well as a hospital and a police academy.

But the assault force "retreated from Tikrit before sunset on Tuesday ... after coming under heavy mortar and sniper fire," Reuters reported.

The Salahaddin Division of the Islamic State claimed on its Twitter page that its forces stopped the Iraqi assault force on the southern outskirts of Tikrit. The jihadist group also claimed that a "Libyan Brother" known as "Okasha" was killed while launching "a martyrdom operation," or suicide attack, against Iraqi forces. The Salahaddin Division also said two other foreign suicide bombers, "Abu Abdullah Azerbaijani" and "Abu Shaybah Jazrawi," (a Saudi), launched suicide attacks near Samarra and killed or wounded dozens of soldiers. The reports could not be confirmed.

The Salahaddin Division celebrated its victory and published photographs of the aftermath of the battle on its Twitter feed. The images included Islamic State fighters holding their flags while standing on top of abandoned or destroyed Iraqi military vehicles, including US-made HUMVEEs, as well a captured banner of a Shia militia.

The Salahaddin Division has also claimed it shot down an Iraqi military helicopter yesterday, however the report has not been confirmed. Islamic State fighters have shot down at least one Iraqi military helicopter in Tikrit.

The Iraqi military has now failed at its second attempt to retake Tikrit, which fell to the Islamic State and its allies on June 11. At the end of June, Iraqi forces air assaulted into Tikrit University to the north of the city while ground forces advanced from the south. That offensive stalled and Iraqi forces withdrew from the city after heavy fighting.

The latest failed Tikrit offensive highlights the deteriorating condition of the Iraqi armed forces. The military has been forced to cobble together units after at least four of Iraq's 17 regular army divisions are no longer viable (note, 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 control of the Islamic State. 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 under control of 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.


Photographs of the aftermath of the fighting in Tikrit from the Islamic State's Salahaddin Division:

An Islamic State fighter raises the group's banner in front of dozens of abandoned military vehicles outside of Tikrit:

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A US-made HUMVEE destroyed in the Iraqi military's second attempt to retake Tikrit:

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An Iraqi police armored vehicle captured by the Islamic State:

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Islamic State fighters display a captured banner of a Shia militia:

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An Islamic State fighter fires a machine gun at a military helicopter:

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A burned-out military truck abandoned during the failed attempt to retake Tikrit:

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US launches another drone strike in North Waziristan (02:31AM)

The US killed 18 suspected "militants" in another drone strike targeting an area of Pakistan's tribal agency of North Waziristan that previously served as a military command center for al Qaeda's military.

CIA operated Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired at least four missiles at a compound and a vehicle in the village of Saidgai in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, Dawn reported.

The compound was leveled and 18 "militants" were killed in the strike, Pakistani officials told the news agency. The New York Times reported that 20 people, "including 12 foreigners of Central Asian origin and eight local militants," were killed. The "foreigners of Central Asian origin" are likely front he Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or the Turkistan Islamic Party, two al Qaeda-allied terror groups that operate in North Waziristan.

The exact target of today's strike was not disclosed. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban fighters are reported to have been killed in the strike.

Today's strike is the second in Datta Khel in the past week. On July 10, US drones are reported to have killed six militants in an attack in the village of Doga Mada Khel.

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 five drone strikes in Pakistan since June 11. Three 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.]

Today's 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.]




Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Analysis: Al Qaeda attempts to undermine new Islamic State with old video of Osama bin Laden (10:31AM)





On July 13, Al Qaeda's As Sahab posted this video of Osama bin Laden from the summer of 2001 on its Twitter feed.



On July 13, al Qaeda's propaganda arm, As Sahab, tweeted a link to an old video of Osama bin Laden. Judging by markers in the video, including bin Laden's reference to the USS Cole bombing taking place "nine months ago" (al Qaeda attacked the Cole on Oct. 12, 2000), it appears the video was recorded in the middle of 2001.

The first part of bin Laden's lecture focuses on standard al Qaeda themes, including the war against America. In all likelihood, that is not why al Qaeda posted this particular video of bin Laden now. Instead, al Qaeda is attempting to use the video to counter the Islamic State, which has been disowned by al Qaeda's senior leadership, and its newly announced caliphate.

"Today, with the grace of Allah, we are redrawing the map of the Islamic world to become one state under the banner of the caliphate," bin Laden says.

The deceased al Qaeda leader goes on to explain that the Prophet Mohammed found that certain "pillars" were required to build a "strong Islamic State."

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As Sahab is advertising the video of bin Laden with this banner. A similar banner is being featured on a number of jihadist sites, including at the top of the Shumukh al Islam forum.

"The Prophet spent 13 years in Mecca searching for these pillars: a strong group, obedience and respect, immigration, and jihad," bin Laden says, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. Mohammed "was on a quest to find these four things," bin Laden continues. "He wanted to find a strong group that is willing to carry our jihad -- those two demands are complementary -- and be obedient and respectful. He found these four pillars after 13 years."

A few sentences later, bin Laden adds: "Those who move from east to west, claiming that they want to establish God's sharia but do not want to establish the prerequisites and pillars and do not want to tolerate the suffering of finding a group, obeying their leaders, migrating, and carrying out jihad are ignorant and unaware of the Prophet's doctrine."

The implied critique of the Islamic State and its announced caliphate, which covers parts of Syria and Iraq, is obvious. When viewed through bin Laden's testimony, the Islamic State has not built the "pillars" necessary for a caliphate, especially when it comes to "obeying their leaders."

Indeed, bin Laden's successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, has covered this issue in his messages addressing the Islamic State's history. As Sahab released two messages from Zawahiri concerning the Islamic State in May. "Listen to and obey your emir once again," Zawahiri says when addressing Baghdadi in the first message. "Come back to what your sheikhs, emirs, and those who preceded you on the path and immigration of jihad have worked hard for." In both of his messages in May, Zawahiri builds a case against Baghdadi, showing that the Islamic State's self-appointed "caliph" was once Zawahiri's subordinate. Therefore, by accusing Baghdadi of being disobedient towards his leader, Zawahiri was also accusing him of ignoring one of the "pillars" necessary for building a true Islamic State.

Al Qaeda's charge against Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's group could extend further, given that one of the pillars mentioned by bin Laden requires a jihadist group to be "obedient and respectful." Other jihadist groups and ideologues whose beliefs are not all that different from the Islamic State's have repeatedly accused Baghdadi's group of being disrespectful towards anyone who disagrees with its attempted power grab. The disagreements have even led to vicious infighting between jihadists in Syria.

Bin Laden goes on to recount, in brief, the history of al Qaeda's relations with the Taliban. The Taliban "allowed us to establish training camps on their land, regardless of all the international pressure against them," bin Laden says. "They are also helping us in our preparations and training although they know that we are preparing to strike the United States of America." This statement is interesting because there has long been a debate over how the Taliban viewed such attacks. And this is further evidence that bin Laden was loose-lipped prior to the 9/11 attacks, upsetting some of his co-conspirators who wanted to maintain the utmost secrecy.

An audience member asks bin Laden about his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Omar, the Taliban's emir. And bin Laden's response likely has bearing on Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's claim to be the 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."

The Islamic State's announced caliphate attempts to usurp the power and authority of all other jihadist groups, including the Taliban, by demanding that they swear bayat to the new caliph. This has drawn criticism from highly influential jihadist ideologues such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, as well as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Bin Laden argues that Mullah Omar was deserving of such a pledge, and the implication of his testimony is that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is not.

Bin Laden cites Muhammad Bin Abd al Wahhab, the 18th century Islamic leader, as saying: ''When a man is in charge of a country and the scholars in this country accept his ruling, then his ruling as an emir of the believers is legitimate.'' Bin Laden says that Mullah Omar has satisfied this requirement, claiming that "more than 1,500 scholars [have] pledged" their allegiance to Omar. Therefore, bin Laden argues, "it is the duty of everyone to pledge allegiance to him."

In Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's case, the situation is precisely the opposite. Even before he announced to the world that he was the new caliph, both Baghdadi and his organization drew widespread rejection from leading jihadists, including groups that are the Islamic State's ideological kinsmen. And while jihadists considered Mullah Omar the true ruler of Afghanistan, Baghdadi's authority inside Syria was never widely recognized as legitimate, even by his fellow jihadists.

It is widely believed that the new caliph should be descended from the Quraish tribe, from which Islam's earliest leaders, including Mohammed, came. In seeking to buttress Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's claim to be the new caliph, the Islamic State has claimed that he is descended from the Quraish tribe.

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.

Al Qaeda has been building its ideological arguments against the Islamic State's caliphate for months, well before the group publicly claimed that Baghdadi was the new caliph. In January, for instance, Zawahiri explained that the rightful ruler of an Islamic state should have the approval of leading jihadist figures. This was almost certainly a pointed criticism of Baghdadi, who first tried to name himself the ruler in Syria.

Bin Laden's words weigh heavily for both sides

Some veteran al Qaeda-linked jihadists have urged al Qaeda's senior leadership to do more to undermine the Islamic State. For instance, Hani al Sibai, a longtime ally of Zawahiri, wrote in a tweet earlier this month that al Qaeda needs to issue an "explicit" statement rejecting the Islamic State's caliphate. Sibai wrote, "Suggestions and innuendoes will not do!"

Al Qaeda's decision to post the video of bin Laden from 2001 does not constitute an "explicit" statement, but it does attempt to undermine the Islamic State's claims.

The Islamic State has taken a more direct approach in its own propaganda. When it was known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), Baghdadi's organization released a series of slickly-produced videos titled "The Establishment of the Islamic State."

The ISIS videos cited quotes from various deceased al Qaeda leaders praising the Islamic State prior to its expansion into Syria, when it was known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The argument was straightforward: Al Qaeda used to endorse Baghdadi's organization as a legitimate entity, but now rejects it.

From al Qaeda's perspective, of course, Zawahiri and his subordinates had good reasons to object to the ISIS' expansion into Syria and then eventually disown the group.

Regardless, the ISIS video series effectively portrayed Baghdadi's operation as the rightful heir to al Qaeda's legacy. The videos drove home this point by featuring deceased al Qaeda bigwigs such as Osama bin Laden, Abu Yahya al Libi, and Anwar al Awlaki, among others. All of them had praised the ISI. Screen shots from the videos are included below.

In the ongoing propaganda war between the Islamic State and al Qaeda, therefore, bin Laden's words still weigh heavily for both sides.


Screen shots from "The Establishment of the Islamic State" propaganda series, which was released by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). The group rebranded itself as simply the "Islamic State" in June.

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Boko Haram leader fires back at Twitter campaign (10:31AM)

Boko Haram sent a new video over the weekend to Agence France Presse, boasting of the group's latest feats while mocking the global hashtag campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Standing in front of his soldiers and various military vehicles, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced in the video: "We were the ones that detonated bomb in Abuja, that filthy city; we were responsible for the bomb in Kano, in Plateau. We were the ones that sent a female bomber to the refinery in Lagos but Adams Oshiomole the governor of Edo state said it was a fire disaster."

On June 25, the group bombed a shopping center in the capital city of Abuja shortly before Nigeria played Argentina in the World Cup tournament. The attack killed at least 21 people. Two days prior, an explosion at a school in Kano killed at least eight people.

Shekau, designated a global terrorist by the US State Department in June 2012, also paid homage in the video to other terrorist leaders, sending his "regards" to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasr al Wuhayshi, and Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud a.k.a. Abdelmalek Droukdel, head of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

With respect to Boko Haram's local aims, Shekau threatened Nigerian Sheikh Yahaya Jingir, leader of Nigeria's Izala movement, declaring "we will deal with you, you servant of democracy." Jingir, who has spoken out against terrorism, has stated that Boko Haram was sponsored to "smear Islam."

In reference to the international Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls, Shekau stated, "Nigerians are saying BringBackOurGirls, and we are telling Jonathan to bring back our arrested warriors, our army." The statement apparently refers to Shekau's position that the fate of the girls is tied to the release of Boko Haram fighters from Nigerian prisons. In late May, the Nigerian government reportedly called off a deal to swap 100 low-level Boko Haram sympathizers for "some" of the kidnapped girls, after the US, the UK, France, and Israel warned against negotiating with the terror group.

In early May, the terrorist leader appeared in a video claiming responsibility for the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from their boarding school in Chibok, northern Nigeria in April. Since their abduction, 57 girls escaped the group's clutches, leaving 219 currently unaccounted for and thought to be in Boko Haram's custody. While the Twitter campaign generated awareness of the plight of the kidnapped girls, it has not returned the girls to their families, nor is it likely to.

Shekau also used the latest video to highlight recent enhancements to Boko Haram's arsenal. He claimed: "We have recovered several arms from the Damboa military base attack including armoured tanks and Kalashnikov rifles (pointing at the stolen arms). Look at what God has given us free of charge; we filled our vans with ammunitions like sands. This is what is called religion and worship." In addition to seizing weapons, the group has a history of raiding local markets for food and other supplies.

Just prior to the video's release, suspected Boko Haram militants blew up a bridge linking Maiduguri and Biu in Nigeria's northeast on July 12. By destroying the bridge, which sits on a major northern Nigerian highway, Boko Haram has further limited outside access to the group's base camps in the Sambisa Forest, insulating and protecting them.

Suspected Boko Haram members also attacked Dille in southern Borno yesterday, shooting at villagers and torching homes and churches. Responding to the attack, a Nigerian government warplane fired on the area to push the fighters back. Reports indicate that at least six civilians were killed by the airstrike. Sources noted that some 20 militants were killed by local vigilantes but their deaths were unconfirmed.






US adds Norwegian AQAP bomb maker to list of terrorists (10:30AM)

The US State Department added a Norwegian who serves as a bomb maker for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Anders Cameroon Ostensvig Dale, a Norwegian who converted to Islam and quickly joined AQAP in Yemen, was added to the list of global terrorists today.

"Dale has received terrorist training and was taught to make bomb-belts, improvised explosive devices, and larger explosives used in car bombs," State said. Dale traveled back and forth between Norway and Yemen multiple times from 2008 to 2011. He remained in Yemen in December 2011. According to reports, Dale claimed he traveled to Yemen to study Islam.

Dale, who goes by the nom de guerre Muslim Abu Abdurrahman, according to The Sunday Times, has been implicated in several terrorist plots. In 2012, he was thought to be involved with an airline plot, as well as a plot to conduct an attack during the Olympics that same year.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Dale was likely trained by Ibrahim al Asiri or one of his lieutenants. Asiri is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist who is AQAP's master bomb maker and has been implicated in several of the terror group's plots to carry out bombings in the West. Considered to be al Qaeda's most innovative bomb maker, Asiri has boasted that he has trained others to manufacture explosive devices for AQAP. Asiri is known for building the so-called underwear bomb and for designing explosive devices that are disguised as items such as printers.

In the past, Dale is thought to have been operating in northern Yemen. In 2012, he was spotted in Azzana and Dammaj in northern Yemen.

Prior to converting to Islam, Dale was described as a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who was a member of Left-wing political movements in Norway. He was a member of the far-Left Blitz movement, which espouses communism, socialism, and anarchism. He then became a member of the Norwegian Green Party. In 2012, a family member, Cathrine √ėstensvig Dale, was working as a senior executive in the Norwegian Finance Ministry.

Dale is said to have become a Muslim in 2008 after marrying the daughter of a Moroccan diplomat, with whom he had a child. Dale and his wife reportedly separated after her family learned of his terrorist connections.

The State Department's designation of Dale comes at a time when Western intelligence officials and the US Department of Justice are warning about increasing threats against airlines. In early July, American officials called for tighter security at foreign airports that have direct flights to the US, following intelligence reports that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Al Nusrah Front in Syria are cooperating on attack plans, and possibly developing currently undetectable bombs capable of downing an airliner.





Monday, July 14, 2014


AQIM rejects Islamic State's caliphate, reaffirms allegiance to Zawahiri (03:07PM)
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This image is taken from Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's Facebook page, which reposted AQIM's statement rejecting the Islamic State's caliphate.

Update: The SITE Intelligence Group reports that, on July 15, AQIM officially released its statement rejecting the Islamic State's caliphate. This confirms the authenticity of the message described below.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has purportedly released a statement rejecting the Islamic State's caliphate. And the group rejects the Islamic State's demand that all jihadists now swear bayat (or allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed new caliph.

We "confirm that we still adhere to our pledge of allegiance to our sheikh and emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, since it is a Sharia-accorded pledge of allegiance that remains hanging on our necks, and we do not see what requires use to break it," AQIM's statement reads.

The message was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, which notes that it was posted on Twitter feeds that have not yet been authenticated by AQIM. The al Qaeda branch has operated multiple official Twitter feeds in the past, but they have taken down. AQIM has not confirmed that the new Twitter sites that released the statement are, in fact, official. If the statement is not genuine, then we can expect AQIM to say so in short order.

The statement is attributed to AQIM's official propaganda arm, the Al Andalus Foundation for Media Production, which is the only body authorized to disseminate AQIM's messages. And other jihadist groups have reposted the statement, which indicates that jihadists consider it authentic. In particular, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, a jihadist organization that is affiliated with AQIM, reposted the message on its official Facebook page.

The message attributed to AQIM begins by noting the jihadists' infighting in Syria, where the Islamic State has warred against its rivals, including the Al Nusrah Front, which is an official branch of al Qaeda. "We were silent throughout this period, not for our inability to speak or a shortcoming on our part, but fearing that our talk will be fuel for the fire of the burning sedition," AQIM says. The organization feared that "the enemies of the Muslims would take advantage of our words and transform them into a strike against a sect of the mujahideen, in a time when we hope to heal the rift and dissipate the plight."

Next, AQIM reveals an interesting detail that was not publicly known. The al Qaeda branch apparently tried to help mediate the jihadists' feud in private. "It is not enough to have hope and be silent, so we sought in efforts to mend the conditions in secret, together with our brothers in the other jihadi fronts, in our belief that the disputes of the mujahideen should be resolved in secret, away from the ears and eyes of lurking enemy media."

Other al Qaeda parties, including veteran jihadists dispatched by al Qaeda's senior leadership to Syria, have assisted in the mediation efforts as well. And in an audio message recorded in late February, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said that it had "sought reconciliation between the mujahideen" and was "still trying our best in it." So, accepting the group's words at face value, AQIM joined this international coalition in attempting to resolve the ongoing dispute.

Those efforts failed, leading al Qaeda's general command to disown the group now known as the Islamic State in early February. And in late June, after making advances in Iraq alongside allied organizations, the Islamic State declared itself a caliphate. This was a direct challenge to the authority of Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaeda's senior leadership.

AQIM rejects the Islamic State's caliphate, however. The al Qaeda group says while it too wants to resurrect the caliphate, the Islamic State has not followed the appropriate protocols.

"The establishment of the rightly-guided Caliphate ... is the effort of every honest mujahid, and all organizations and known jihadi groups in their honest and the correctness of their method, strived and exerted their selves, and spilled blood, and spent money in the cause," AQIM says, according to SITE's translation.

"It is obvious for the Muslims and all jihadi organizations that follow the correct method, that the announcement of such a serious step (meaning the establishment of the Caliphate), will not happen but after the expansion of consultation," AQIM's statement continues.

Coordination with other jihadist groups and Islamic scholars is considered to be a crucial step in establishing the caliphate. But the Islamic State unilaterally did so, thereby ignoring numerous ideologues and leaders many jihadists believe should have been consulted. This is what AQIM means when it says "the expansion of consultation" is necessary before announcing a caliphate.

In fact, AQIM says that it was previously consulted by the Islamic State with respect to the infighting in Syria, thereby making the Islamic State's failure to consult before the caliphate announcement all the more noteworthy.

"We are not the ones who speak in secret if we say that when the signs of sedition appeared in Syria, our brothers in the [Islamic] State sent to us messages in which they made us aware of details of what happened, and it is an act for which we thank them, as we thanked them their trust in us," AQIM's statement reads. "Then why today, and the calamity is greater and the issue is more serious, do they make such an announcement without the advice of the leaders of the mujahideen, who have proven their sincerity and excellence, their advice for the Ummah, and their efforts to establish the rightly-guided caliphate were proven[?]"

Echoing the criticisms of other leading jihadists, AQIM wonders what the Islamic State's position is with respect to the Taliban, the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, and all of the "al Qaeda branches in other regions." The Islamic State's caliphate declaration can be read as an attempt to abrogate the authority of all these groups, which AQIM obviously does not think is justified.

AQIM calls on a number of jihadist leaders to rectify the intra-jihadist conflict. Among the leaders mentioned in AQIM's statement are Ayman al Zawahiri, the heads of the other al Qaeda branches, Taliban emir Mullah Omar, and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (now called "Caliph Ibrahim" by his followers). Also included on AQIM's list of jihadists the group hopes can bring an end to the infighting is Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a staunch critic of the Islamic State and its caliphate.

AQIM wants the "scholars of the Ummah, led by the sheikhs of the mujahideen and their references, to give us a fatwa that is absolutely clear in this calamity, and to straighten our position if they see that it is crooked." Perhaps out of frustration that more has not been done to confront the Islamic State's caliphate claims, AQIM says, "The truth is our demand, so this is the time to speak the truth aloud and to guide the mujahideen."

The al Qaeda group again implores the jihadi factions in Syria to end their war against one another. "We call upon the jihadi factions that are fighting against the [Islamic] State, and on top of them, our brothers in the Al Nusrah Front, to stop the campaign of incitement against it, and to commit to the order of their emir, Sheikh Ayman [al Zawahiri]," AQIM's statement reads, according to SITE's translation. "We also call on our brothers in the Islamic State to do the same. All this is to facilitate the reconciliation between them."

Earlier this month, it was erroneously reported by some media outlets that AQIM had defected from al Qaeda's ranks and sworn bayat to the Islamic State. That reporting was based on a misreading of another statement issued by AQIM, in which the group praised the Islamic State's advances in Iraq. But even in that statement, AQIM referred to Zawahiri as the organization's "sheikh" and "emir."

Assuming the latest statement from AQIM is authentic, the group makes clear that it is still loyal to Zawahiri, and doesn't think highly of the Islamic State's attempted power grab within the jihadist world.

AQIM confirms that the formation of an Islamic Caliphate is AQIM's "demand" and that its members "are working towards" the goal through their jihad. The Islamic State's caliphate has not put an end to AQIM's quest. Nor, in AQIM's view, has the Islamic State successfully usurped al Qaeda's authority.

While no other al Qaeda group has officially responded to the Islamic State's claims, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released two messages earlier this month demonstrating that it also remains loyal to al Qaeda's senior leadership.




Sunday, July 13, 2014


Al Nusrah Front issues 'clarification' on the creation of an Islamic emirate (07:25AM)

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has issued a short statement denying that the group has announced the creation of an Islamic emirate (or state). The group has posted the message online in both Arabic and English.

The statement is a "clarification" and was released in response to a leaked audio recording that was disseminated online just hours before. The audio is allegedly a recording of a fiery speech by Abu Muhammad al Julani, the Al Nusrah Front's leader. "The time has come ... for us to establish an Islamic emirate in the Levant," Julani says during the speech.

The leaked recording was not an official production of the Al Nusrah Front, nor was it a formal announcement. But Julani's words were widely interpreted within the online jihadist community to mean that the group would be announcing the creation of an Islamic emirate soon.

"We ... strive to establish an Islamic Emirate according to the regarded Islamic [Sunnah]," the newly-released statement reads. "We have not announced the establishment of an Emirate, yet. 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."

Thus, the Al Nusrah Front says that it will seek to build a consensus among jihadists before establishing an Islamic emirate. This is in contrast to the Al Nusrah Front's rival, the Islamic State, which unilaterally declared in late June that it now rules as a caliphate covering parts of both Iraq and Syria. One of the jihadists' main objections to the Islamic State is that the group refuses to consult with other organizations and share power.

The Al Nusrah Front does not deny that the leaked audio is a recording of Julani's speech. And parts of the organization's statement are actually consistent with what Julani told his audience.

"We strive to rule by Shariah [Islamic law] by establishing Islamic Courts, Security Offices and offering general services to the Muslims within the next ten days," the statement reads. In his purported speech, Julani said his group would establish new sharia courts within one week.

The statement continues, "We will not allow anyone to pick the fruits of this Jihad and establish a secular scheme, or any other scheme, which takes advantage of the sacrifices of the Mujahideen and is established on their blood." This, too, was a theme in Julani's speech. The Al Nusrah Front head said he would not allow his fighters' sacrifices on the battlefield to be squandered such that other groups, including the Islamic State, benefit at their expense.

The perception that the Al Nusrah Front was moving to create an Islamic emirate had the potential to cause rifts between Julani's forces and their allies in other rebel groups, which may not share all of the Al Nusrah Front's beliefs. The newly-released statement seeks to allay these concerns as Julani's group says it "will not hesitate to deal [militarily] with the corrupt groups in the liberated areas," but this "will be done by cooperation with the sincere groups [Mujahideen]."

The Al Nusrah Front "is determined to unify ranks to face the dangers which threaten the Jihadi front [in Syria], whether these threats are from the Nusayri [Bashar al Assad's] Regime or from the group of Khawarij and ghulaat (extremists)." The latter is a reference to the Islamic State and its emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who now claims to rule as "Caliph Ibrahim."

Jihadists frequently use the words Khawarij and ghulaat to describe the Islamic State, as these words refer to Muslims who hold beliefs considered too extreme for most other Muslims. Of course, the Al Nusrah Front adheres to an extremist ideology as well.





Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar (12:25AM)


Iraqi and Syrian towns and cities seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham and its allies. Map created by The Long War Journal. Click to view larger map.


Fighters from the newly established Islamic State ambushed and destroyed an Iraqi armored column in the western province of Anbar. Islamic State fighters also captured several American-made armored personnel carriers. The ambush highlights the deteriorating state of the Iraqi security forces.

The Islamic State's Anbar Wilayat (division or province) released a series of photographs on its Twitter account on July 10 that document the ambush of an Iraqi armored column and the aftermath of the attack [photographs below].

According to the statements from the Anbar Wilayat, the Iraqi Army convoy was attacked in the Khalidiyah area in Anbar province. Although the exact date of the ambush was not provided, the Anbar Wilayat typically publishes photographs of attacks within days of carrying them out.

Several photos show Islamic State fighters opening fire on the convoy as it drives on a dirt road in a rural area of Khalidiyah. The Islamic State fighters appear to detonate one or more IEDs, or roadside bombs, on the armored column that includes US made and donated M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks and M113 armored personnel carriers. At least three M1A1s and nine M113s can be identified in the photographs.

At least one tank and two M113s are shown while on fire. One of the Abrams tanks appears to be half buried in a ditch.

The Iraqi soldiers appear to have abandoned the convoy after it was ambushed. The Islamic State only displayed one body of an Iraqi soldier, who appears to have been burned.

Islamic State fighters are photographed on top of the vehicles after the battle. At least two of the M113 armored personnel carriers appear to be operational. An Islamic State fighter is shown driving one of them across a field and toward some homes in the area.

Islamic State consolidating its grip on Anbar

Khalidiyah is located outside of the city of Habbaniyah and near the Al Taqaddum military base. Khalidiyah, which was a bastion for al Qaeda in Iraq up until early 2007, is also halfway between the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, is currently contested as the Islamic State is reported to control some neighborhoods in the city. Fallujah, the nearby dam, and Karma and Abu Ghraib are currently under the control of the Islamic State and its tribal allies.

The Islamic State controls most of Anbar province. West of Haditha, the Islamic State runs the towns of Anah, Rawa, and the border town of Al Qaim. The jihadist group also controls the far-flung towns of Rutbah and Nukhaib. The status of the Tarbil border crossing to Jordan and the Al Walid crossing to Syria is undetermined. Although there are reports that local tribes assumed control of the crossings, the Islamic State has displayed photographs of its fighters at the crossings.

The Iraqi military previously had two divisions, the 1st and the 7th, deployed in Anbar, but most of these forces have withered since the Islamic State took control of Fallujah in January and extended its control throughout the province. Many Iraqi soldiers are thought to have deserted; the exact number is not known, however. One estimate puts the number of overall desertions for the Iraqi Army at over 90,000. The Iraqi military has not released information on the number of soldiers killed and wounded since the Islamic State launched its offensive in mid-June.

The leadership of the 7th Division crumbled in later December 2013 after an Islamic State suicide team killed the division commander and 17 members of his staff in an ambush in Rutbah.

The situation in Ramadi has become so dire that the Iraqi government is deploying 4,000 members of the newly raised militias, who are primarily Shias, to an area that is overwhelmingly Sunni. The militia members are being "ferried out to Ramadi from Baghdad by helicopter," ABC News reported, demonstrating how thoroughly the Islamic State controls the road from Baghdad to Ramadi.

Since launching the second phase of its operation to control territory in Iraq on June 10, the Islamic State took control of Ninewa province, to include Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, most of Salahaddin province, and areas in Diyala province. Additionally, the Islamic State has been waging an offensive in northern Babil province in the area known as the Triangle of Death, and is said to be in control of several areas, including Jufr al Sakhar. The Islamic State is seeking to take over the belt area around Baghdad, and squeeze the capital and make it ungovernable. [See LWJ report, Analysis: ISIS, allies reviving 'Baghdad belts' battle plan.]

The Iraqi government has largely halted the Islamic State's southward advance outside of Samarra, which is just north of Baghdad. Thousands of Iranian-supported Shia militiamen from Asaib al Haq, Hezbollah Brigades, and Muqtada al Sadr's Peace Brigade are currently deployed between the road from Baghdad to Samarra. Iraqi military and national police units are nowhere to be found on the road, according to The New York Times.

While the Shia militias have helped the Iraqi government slow the Islamic State's advance toward Baghdad, they has been ineffective so far in helping to retake ground lost to the group. The Iraqi military's attempt to retake the city of Tikrit, the provincial capital of Salahaddin which is just north of Samarra, has so far stalled since it was launched at the end of June.

The Islamic State's territory spans both Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the Islamic State controls Raqqah, much of Deir al Zour, and areas in Aleppo and Hasakah provinces.

Photographs from the ambush of an Iraqi Army armored column in Khalidiyah

An Iraqi Army M1A1 Abrams main battle tank is hit by what appears to be an IED:

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An Islamic State fighter manning a machine gun observes as the Iraqi Army armored column is ambushed in Khalidiyah:

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Armored vehicles in the column are ablaze:

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An M1A1 tank is on fire:

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Islamic State fighters stand on top of an M1A1 tank:

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Another M1A1 tank is half buried in a ditch as Islamic State fighters stand on top of it:

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A column of abandoned M113 armored personnel carriers:

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The Islamic State captured what appears to be two intact M113 armored personnel carriers:

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An Islamic State fighter drives away in an M113:

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