Monday, December 22, 2014

Leader of Iranian-backed militia killed in eastern Iraq (12:38AM)


Alleged picture of the body of Wathiq al Battat

Wathiq al Battat, the leader of the Mukhtar Army and secretary-general of Hezbollah in Iraq, was killed yesterday in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala. Battat had formed the Mukhtar Army in early 2013 and has received support from Iran's Qods Force.

The Mukhtar Army said that Battat was "assassinated today [Dec. 21] by accident in northern Diyala during the struggle with his sons against terrorism," according to a short statement released by the group. The events surrounding the "accident' were not immediately made clear. A source in the Iraqi Interior Ministry told al Quds al Arabi that Battat was killed by "unidentified gunmen," but this has not been independently verified.

The news quickly spread on Twitter, with many Islamic State supporters tweeting that the Islamic State was behind al Battat's death. The claim that the Islamic State was behind al Battat's death cannot be independently verified, and so far the jihadist group has not officially taken credit for his death.

Shiite militias, including the Mukhtar Army, have played a key role in battling the Islamic State in the eastern province of Diyala, which borders Iran. Qods Force, the external operations branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, has played a vital role in supporting Shiite militias combating the Islamic State in Diyala and elsewhere in Iraq. Iranian-backed Shiite militias such as the Hezbollah Brigades, Badr Brigades, Asaib al Haq, and the Peace Brigade (formerly the Promised Day Brigade) have all been spotted on the battlefield.

Battat was the secretary-general of Hezbollah in Iraq (the political party, not the Hezbollah Brigades, a dangerous Shiite militia supported by Iran) when he formed the Mukhtar Army in early February 2013. The Mukhtar Army was created to support the Iraqi government as Sunni political protests against the Iraqi government became more prevalent in early 2013. But shortly after it was mobilized, the militia distributed pamphlets in Baghdad threatening to kill Sunni residents.

In November 2013, the Mukhtar Army fired mortar rounds into northern Saudi Arabia. In an interview with Reuters, Battat said the goal of firing the rounds was to "send a warning message to the Saudis to tell them that their border stations and patrols are within our range of fire." Battat went on to say that the mortar fire was also to get "Riyadh to stop interfering in Iraq."

Just after creating the Mukhtar Army, Battat issued a prescient statement, warning about the yet-to-come jihadist offensive in Iraq.

"The government is stupid for not heeding our warning that al Qaeda is going to attack," Battat said, according to Al Arabiya. The Islamic State, then called the Islamic State of Iraq, was al Qaeda's official branch in the country before a leadership dispute arose with al Qaeda's General Command.

Battat told The Associated Press that the Mukhtar Army is supported by the Iranian government.

He "described himself as a follower of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He said his group receives weapons and other support from Iran, but declined to provide details. He has previously said he is advised by Iran's Qods Force," AP reported.

The Iraqi government issued an arrest warrant for Battat in February 2013, and he was reported to have been detained in the beginning of January 2014. His release was not announced, but he may have been freed by the Iraqi government to aid in the fight against the Islamic State, which launched its offensive to take control of Anbar that same month.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Taliban publicize training camp in northern Afghanistan (10:10AM)

Just one week after overrunning a district in the northern province of Jawzjan, the Afghan Taliban are now touting the existence of a training camp in neighboring Faryab province.

The Taliban publicized the training camp, which they claimed is in the northern province of Faryab, in an hour-long video that was released on Dec. 18 on their official propaganda website, Voice of Jihad. The Taliban said the video was produced by "The workers of Multimedia Branch of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's Cultural Commission" and created to "notify us about the ongoing situation in Faryab province, Mujahideen military advancements and other noticeable achievements."

In the video, Taliban fighters are shown undergoing weapons training. Some fighters are instructed in firing rifles from a moving vehicle, a tactic commonly used by the Taliban in assassinations of government officials. One target at the range used by the Taliban is labeled "Obama killer." A Taliban commander who is said to be the group's senior trainer for the province is shown on the video.

Qari Sahib Salahuddin, who is also known as Ayyubi and is described as "the Jihadi in-charge of the province," is interviewed at the end of the video. The video purports to show tribal elders and policemen meeting with Taliban officials, attacks against Afghan security forces, and policemen who have been captured by the Taliban. In one scene, a Taliban religious official gives a speech to hundreds of Taliban fighters before they depart for an operation.

The Taliban are known to have had safe havens in Faryab province in the past. In April 2011, the International Security Assistance Force announced a special operations raid against what it described as "a Taliban safe haven known for improvised explosive device activity and weapons cache sites" near the village of Khwaja Kinti in the district of Qaisar. [See LWJ report, Special operations forces raid 'Taliban safe haven' in Afghan north.]

The Taliban and the allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which has integrated its forces in the Taliban's command structure in the Afghan north, maintain a strong presence in the provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kunduz, Samangan, Sar-i-Pul, and Takhar, and have established suicide training camps in the north over the past several years. ISAF identified the presence of camps in Sar-i-Pul and Samangan province. In March 2011, an ISAF special operations team captured an IMU commander who ran camps in Samangan.

The Taliban have made inroads in Faryab despite the relatively small Pashtun population there; more than 80 percent of the population in the province is Turkmen or Uzbek, while Pashtuns make up just over 10 percent.

Taliban take control of district in Jawzjan

One week before the Taliban released the video of their operations in Faryab, the jihadist group stormed the district of Khamyab in Jawzjan and forced Afghan security personnel to flee. The loss of Khamyab to the Taliban was confirmed by Fakir Muhammad Jawzjani, the provincial chief of police.

"Our soldiers went there to take on the Taliban in Khamyab. There was fighting against the Taliban, but our forces were compelled to withdraw. When the soldiers were returning to [the provincial capital] Sheberghan, they came across the Taliban, who were waiting for them, and the soldiers came under attack again," Jawzjani told RFE/RL.

According to the commander of a local arbaki, or tribal militia, "the Taliban had brought up extra fighters from the Akcha district for the assault on Khamyab." This may mean that the Taliban control Akcha as well, but it is unclear.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks against Afghan and Coalition forces in the capital of Kabul and the provinces as the US and allied forces withdraw the bulk of their forces and have ended the combat mission. As part of their effort to regain control of the country, the Taliban have seized control of several districts in the provinces.

Images from the Taliban's video of operations in Faryab:











Saturday, December 20, 2014

Al Qaeda condemns Pakistani Taliban's attack on Peshawar school (08:03AM)

The spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Usama Mahmood, has released a statement condemning the Pakistani Taliban's attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar earlier this week. More than 140 people, mainly children, were killed during the assault.

AQIS' four-page statement was released on Mahmood's official Twitter feed. In an accompanying tweet, Mahmood writes that the "massacre of innocent children" makes "our hearts burst!"

Mahmood stresses in the statement that al Qaeda only learned of the attack through the media, and his statement is based on the assumption that those reports are accurate. In particular, Mahmood says, it is al Qaeda's understanding that the attackers targeted children on purpose and that most of the victims were children.

Mahmood argues that al Qaeda carefully selects its targets inside Pakistan so as to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. He says that the group focuses on "American targets," the "puppet rulers" in Pakistan, and America's "mercenaries" in the Pakistani security and intelligence services.

It is true that the Pakistani Army is subservient to the US, Mahmood writes, and America is completely dependent on Pakistan's military to suppress "any voice" advocating for the implementation of sharia law in Pakistan. But this cannot justify an attack that seeks "revenge" from "innocent Muslims," Mahmood writes.

In harsh terms, Mahmood condemns the Pakistani Taliban's attack as "un-Islamic" and says that al Qaeda's jihadi scholars have already set forth the rules for engaging the enemy, which were not followed in Peshawar. The attack violates the jihadis' version of sharia law, Mahmood claims.

Mahmood also portrays al Qaeda as the defender of Muslims inside Pakistan. Addressing "our beloved Pakistani Muslims," Mahmood says their defense is "our responsibility" and al Qaeda seeks to "relieve" their pain.

Other al Qaeda operatives on Twitter have similarly come out against the attack. One of them is known as Shaybat al Hukama, or "the eldest of the wise." On his own Twitter feed, al Hukama writes that al Qaeda "strongly condemns the massacre of innocent children" in Peshawar and "declares its innocence in front of Allah" for the "shedding [of] innocent blood."

Al Hukama is an al Qaeda media operative and works for the group's senior leadership. In his tweets on the Peshawar attack, posted earlier today, he appears to speak in AQIS' name as well. [For more al Hukama, see LWJ report, Well-connected jihadist tweets, then deletes, explanation of al Qaeda's oath to Mullah Omar.]

AQIS is al Qaeda's newest regional branch, and likely brings together several jihadist groups in Pakistan and the surrounding nations under al Qaeda's banner. Ayman al Zawahiri and other senior al Qaeda leaders announced the formation of AQIS in early September. The group quickly claimed responsibility for an attack on two Pakistani frigates and the assassination of a Pakistani officer.

Mahmood and other AQIS officials have stressed that their jihad is focused on the Pakistani government, including especially the Pakistani Army. But the Pakistani Taliban's siege of the Army Public School, where young children from military families were instructed, was clearly not the type of attack al Qaeda currently endorses.

Al Qaeda and its branches have indiscriminately killed women and children in the Muslim-majority world in the past. But al Qaeda's leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri, learned that this was a liability for the group.

Other prominent jihadist groups condemn Peshawar attack

The massacre of children in Peshawar has sparked widespread outrage throughout Pakistan and the world, doing damage to the jihadists' battle for hearts and minds in the process. Several prominent jihadist groups have condemned the attack.

Al Qaeda's statement follows a similar condemnation by the Afghan Taliban earlier this week. Other groups have followed the Afghan Taliban's lead.

A group called the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan Jamaat ul Ahrar (TTP-JA) broke away from the Pakistani Taliban's leadership earlier this year. The TTP-JA includes some of the strongest elements of the original Pakistani Taliban coalition.

"Like them [the Afghan Taliban], we condemn the attack on the school and killing of innocent children," Ehsanullah Ehsan, the TTP-JA spokesman, said earlier this week.

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, both of which have longstanding relationships with al Qaeda, have similarly condemned the attack. The head of LeT, Hafiz Saeed, has reportedly blamed the carnage on India.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), another al Qaeda-linked group, is one of the few jihadist organizations to endorse the Peshawar siege. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, the IMU has released a statement calling the attack "justified" and "defensive."

The oppression of women and girls in the Islamic State's 'caliphate' (12:28AM)

European officials estimate that about 300 women from the United States and Europe have joined the various jihadist groups fighting in Syria's civil war. Women from countries including Norway, Canada, the United Kingdom, Austria, France, the Netherlands, and the US are known to have joined the Islamic State. In October, three schoolgirls from Denver, Colorado attempted to travel to Syria to join the jihadist group in Syria, but were stopped in Germany and sent back home. But others have completed the journey, and stayed.

On Dec. 2, a female claiming to live within the Islamic State posted to her Twitter account ways women can help in jihad without fighting. 

In response to a question from a user asking how she could "defend Islam and the oppressed there," Muhajirah Witness, formerly known on Twitter as Muhajirah Amatullah, explained: "So much U can encourage, financially equip a Mujahid, lo0k [sic] after his family, refute the liars etc & make genuine effort 4 Hijrah." Hijra is the Arabic word for migration. 
The owner of the Twitter account changed her name to Muhajirah Witness following the exposure and arrest of the man behind the well-known pro-Islamic State Twitter account Shami Witness.

In the past, Muhajirah Witness has tweeted about life in Raqqah under the Islamic State, boasting about the domestic role women play in everyday life. She has also tweeted about slavery under the caliphate, claiming that Islamic rulings permit men, women, and children to be slaves if they are prisoners of war.

Despite Muhajirah Witness' tweets trying to describe some semblance of a normal life in Raqqah, her statements conflict with the Islamic State's own description of how its fighters treat women.

On Dec. 3, the Islamic State's "Research and Fatwa Department" published a pamphlet detailing how its fighters are to treat female slaves when they are captured. The pamphlet was recently translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

The 27 question-and-answer pamphlet explains that Islamic State militants are allowed to have sex with female captives, can capture unbelieving women, and can perform darb ta'deeb, or "disciplinary beatings." The pamphlet makes distinctions between the types of beatings that are allowed (it claims "beating for the purpose of achieving gratification" is not permitted) and discusses when pre-pubescent women are "fit for intercourse."

For example, one of the questions translated reads: "Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?" The Islamic State answers: "It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however, if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse."

Another question addresses how female slaves are expected to dress and cover parts of the body; "Question 14: What private parts of the female slave's body must be concealed during prayer?" The Islamic State's fatwa contains this answer: "Her private body parts [that must be concealed] during prayer are the same as those [that must be concealed] outside [prayer], and they [include] everything besides the head, neck, hands and feet."

The pamphlet also explains that militants are not allowed to separate pre-pubescent children from their mothers by buying or selling them, but can do so "if the children are grown and mature."

After seizing the town of Sinjar, Iraq in early August, the Islamic State captured what the US State Department estimated is between 1,500 and 4,000 Yazidi girls and women. These women have been raped, tortured, and in some cases even forced to marry the group's fighters. On Dec. 17, several news outlets reported that one Islamic State militant murdered 150 women in Fallujah after the women refused to marry the group's fighters. The mass killings could not be independently verified by The Long War Journal.

The Islamic State's pamphlet highlights the brutal treatment that Yazidi women and others have suffered and will continue to face under the organization's harsh interpretation of sharia law. Yazidi women who have been rescued from the Islamic State have recounted repeated rapes by the group's fighters. Meanwhile, in its official English-language propaganda magazine, "Dabiq," the Islamic State defends its treatment of the Yazidi women, citing Islamic law as its reasoning for capturing and enslaving them.

Despite female Islamic State recruiters describing "positive" aspects of life in Raqqah on their social media accounts, the group's own material shows a different side, one that exposes its real and brutal treatment of women.

Clearly, life in Raqqah is nothing like the rosy picture painted by the Islamic State's female boosters. In November, the United Nations released a report documenting the Islamic State's various war crimes and other atrocities. One section is titled, "Violations against women." In Islamic State-controlled "areas of Syria, women and girls have largely been confined to their houses, excised from public life."

All aspects of their lives are covered by the Islamic State's draconian sharia laws. The UN report notes that these laws are enforced not only by male members of the organization, but also by an "all-female brigade, Al-Khans'aa, which assists in monitoring adherence to dress codes and enforcing punishments."

The Islamic State "has executed women, as well as men, for unapproved contact with the opposite sex, resulting in charges of adultery." In Raqqah, on "three separate occasions" between June and July this year, groups of women were executed "on these grounds," the UN report states. Most of them were "stoned to death, ostensibly for adultery."

The situation is so dire that, according to one witness interviewed by the UN, a 19-year-old "university student" committed suicide rather than marry an Islamic State member, as her parents commanded.

The Islamic State's female supporters do not tweet such horror stories. They prefer to pretend that the oppressive laws they live under are necessary and just.

US drones strike in jihadist stronghold in North Waziristan (12:00AM)

The US launched a drone strike in the jihadist haven of Datta Khel in Pakistan's tribal agency of North Waziristan earlier today. The Pakistani military claimed it "cleared" Datta Khel in September as part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was launched in mid-June this year.

The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the village of Mada Khel in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan during the early morning, killing six jihadists, The News reported. A "high value target," who has not been named, is said to have been among those killed, Dawn noted.

Pakistani and regional jihadist groups, including al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have not released a statement or commented on the strike.

The Datta Khel area in North Waziristan, where today's drone strike took place, is a nexus of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan, administers the area, but the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and other jihadist groups also operate there. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, Abdullah Said al Libi, and Zuhaib al Zahibi. [See LWJ report, 'Foreign militants' reported killed in latest US drone strike in Pakistan, for more details on Datta Khel and senior al Qaeda leaders killed there.]

Pakistan claimed Datta Khel was "cleared"

The Pakistani military, which launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15 against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, claimed a few months ago that it had "cleared" Datta Khel.

On Sept. 3, the Inter-Service Public Relations, the public affairs branch of the Pakistani military, issued a press release announcing that "security forces have cleared major towns of Miranshah, Mir Ali, Datta Khel, Boya and Degan, which were considered strong holds of terrorists."

Yet two and a half months later, on Nov. 16, Pakistani strike aircraft launched "precise aerial strikes" in which "27 Terrorists including some of their important commanders and foreigners were killed in Datta Khel, North Wazirsstan [sic] Agency today." The airstrikes indicate that the Pakistani military is not on the ground in Datta Khel, and is forced to rely on aircraft to conduct offensive operations.

The US has launched seven drone strikes against jihadist targets in Datta Khel since Sept. 3, when the Pakistani military claimed it cleared the area. According to data compiled by The Long War Journal, 40 jihadists, including al Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters and commanders, are reported to have been killed in the drone strikes.

US strikes in Pakistan

Today's covert operation in Datta Khel is the 22nd strike reported in Pakistan this year. Eleven of those strikes have taken place in Datta Khel, and four more in the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan, which is also an al Qaeda and jihadist hub in the tribal agency.

The last strike, on Dec. 8, which also took place in Datta Khel, is rumored to have killed an al Qaeda commander known as Omar Farooq, but there has been no official confirmation of his death. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda commander reported killed in drone strike in Pakistan.]

All 22 attacks have taken place since June 11. The US drone program in Pakistan was put on hold from the end of December 2013 until June 11, 2014, as the Pakistani government attempted to negotiate a peace deal with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that wages jihad in Afghanistan and seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state.

Friday, December 19, 2014

AQAP claims 149 attacks in Yemen since late September (03:04PM)

Since the seizure of the Yemeni capital of Sana'a by Houthi rebels in late September, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has stepped up its terrorist attacks throughout the country, claiming credit for a total of 149 attacks in 14 provinces. These attacks have targeted AQAP's traditional enemy, the Yemeni government and military, and led to more frequent attacks on the Houthi rebels. At the same time, AQAP has also managed to carry out several attacks against American interests, including the US Embassy in Sana'a and the US Ambassador to Yemen.

A few days after the Houthi sweep of Sana'a on Sept. 21, AQAP disseminated a statement portraying the Houthis as Shiite heretics threatening Sunni interests in Yemen, and called on all Sunnis to take up arms against the rebels. AQAP has played the role of the protector of Yemen's Sunnis and has waged a relentless campaign against the Houthis, allegedly alongside some Sunni tribesmen.

Although fighting between the Houthis and AQAP has spread throughout much of northern and central Yemen, Baydah province has been a focal point of such battles. Clashes around the provincial capital of Radaa broke out on Oct. 15, when the Houthis attempted to advance on the city. Since then, AQAP has claimed 47 attacks in Baydah, mostly in the city of Radaa and its outskirts.

AQAP has also claimed a total of 27 attacks in Sana'a, 20 of which targeted Houthi positions in the city. Most notably, AQAP carried out a suicide attack on Oct. 9 at Tahrir Square in the capital against Houthi supporters who were preparing for a demonstration, allegedly killing more than 50 Houthis. AQAP also attacked state institutions in the province, shelling Sana'a airport with mortars on Nov. 5 in retaliation for US drone strikes in Yemen.

Even while AQAP maintains its campaign against the Houthi rebels, the group's attacks against Yemeni government and military targets have continued, focused mostly on the eastern and southern parts of the country. AQAP has claimed credit for 21 attacks against the Yemeni military in Hadramout, primarily on the road linking the cities of Tarim with al Qatn in Wadi Hadramout. Eleven more such attacks were carried out in neighboring Shabwa province, including a rocket strike on the Yemen LNG company in Belhaf on Dec. 18.

While fighting both the Yemeni state and the ascendant Houthi rebels, AQAP has also managed to carry out three attacks against US interests in Yemen. On Sept. 27, less than a week following the Houthi seizure of Sana'a, AQAP claimed to have launched a "Lu-type" rocket at the US Embassy in Sana'a, allegedly wounding some guards on the scene. Exactly two months later, on Nov. 27, AQAP claimed yet another attack on the embassy, this time detonating two improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A third IED attack, which targeted US Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller as he left a meeting at the residence of Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, failed when the explosives planted outside Hadi's residence were allegedly discovered minutes before Tueller left the meeting.

American interests in Yemen were not the only international targets of AQAP's attacks. On Dec. 3, AQAP claimed credit for a vehicle-borne explosive device (VBIED) attack at the residence of the Iranian ambassador to Yemen in the Hadda district of Sana'a. AQAP indicated that the attack came as a response to Iranian support for the Houthis.

List of attacks by province since Sept. 21:

Abyan: 13
Amran: 2
Baydah: 47
al Dale': 1
Dhamar: 9
Hadramout: 21
Hodeidah: 2
Ibb: 10
Lahj: 1
Marib: 3
Sa'adah: 1
Sana'a: 27
Shabwa: 11
Taiz: 1

The Houthi rebel crisis in Yemen has breathed new life into al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, providing AQAP with a wide power vacuum in which to operate. The fact that AQAP continues to challenge the Yemeni state, the Houthi rebels, and the US in numerous provinces suggests that the group has been the primary beneficiary of the Houthi rebellion that has rocked the country for nearly three months.

Boko Haram fighters storm Nigerian village, kidnap over 100 women and children (11:27AM)

Insurgents from Boko Haram have reportedly kidnapped more than 100 people from a village in northeastern Nigeria. Details are still emerging on the raid in Gumsuri that occurred on Dec. 14. News of the attack has been slow to reach the media due to the remoteness of the region and the damage to telecommunication towers from previous attacks.

Storming the village from two directions, the insurgents overwhelmed local vigilantes firing from machine guns. According to a local government official, "They gathered the women and children and took them away in trucks after burning most of the village with petrol bombs," CNN reported. Some 35 people were reportedly killed in the attack, and one estimate put the number of those kidnapped at 172. A local source said that the attackers "gathered the people, shot dead over 30 people and took away more than 100 women and children in two open-top trucks."

A local militia leader told Bloomberg that 191 people were abducted in the attack, including "able-bodied young men and women, including children." Gumsuri is southwest of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Boko Haram has become notorious for kidnapping civilians. In April, the group abducted 276 girls from their boarding school in the Borno state town of Chibok, which lies only about 15 miles away from Gumsuri. Although some of the schoolgirls have since escaped, an estimated 219 remain in the terrorist group's control.

Over the weekend, Boko Haram released a new video in which a man claiming to be leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to attack the Emir of Kano, Muhummadu Sanusi II, in retaliation for his call to Kano residents to arms themselves against the terrorist group.

In mid-November, the emir commented at a prayer meeting: "People should not sit idle and say prayer is the only solution. People should be made aware of the importance of being in a state of preparedness and make sure they acquire what they need to protect themselves. We should be ready to give our lives." On Nov. 28, a deadly attack with multiple bombs on the emir's mosque in Kano killed over 100 people.

In the recent video, Shekau did not claim responsibility for the mosque attack but threatened Sanusi, saying: "Now listen to me Emir of Kano. I am talking to you and only you because of your recent utterances. Let me inform you now that you are late, you should know that you are only but the King of Kano, King of Central Bank, King of money, you are only Sanusi Lamido." The emir was governor of Nigeria's central bank until February.

Shekau went on to say: "Because you are made the Emir of Kano that is why you got angry and was calling on the Vigilante groups and hunters to attack us. Let me tell you that the hunters and the vigilante groups will fail and you will also fail."

Reports noted that Shekau also condemned the government of Saudi Arabia and threatened further violence and kidnapping. "We will kill you people, we will capture hostages and keep selling some," he stated.

Today, the United States issued a statement in support of Nigeria's efforts to rescue the girls who were abducted in April from nearby Chibok and others kidnapped by the group.

Egyptian jihadists thank State Department for 'blessing' of terrorist designation (07:28AM)

Ajnad Misr ("Soldiers of Egypt") has released a statement responding to the State Department's announcement that the group has been added to the US government's list of specially designated global terrorists.

The group's statement was released on its official Twitter feed. Just prior to publishing the response, Ajnad Misr retweeted a comment by a member or leader of the organization offering his thanks for the "blessing" of designation.

Ajnad Misr argues in its statement, written in Arabic, that America is the real "terrorist" organization, as it is a "killer of children" and has established "secret prisons." Since the revolution in 2011, the group claims, it has faced "many plots" aimed at maintaining the "power of tyrants."

The statement reads like a piece of al Qaeda propaganda, as the jihadists explain they are not just facing a "criminal system or internal organs," but a "global system," which "many people" do not pay attention to. Egypt is not an "American state," the group says, and claims to have been working to counter America's efforts "in our territory." This is the "battle we face," Ajnad Misr says.

"We are embarking on a historic change that will [transform] the world" and ensure that we "will not go back to the era of tyrants," the group says.

In its announcement yesterday, the State Department explained that Ajnad Misr is a "violent extremist group that splintered from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM)," which is also a "designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global entity."

Unlike ABM, or at least part of ABM, Ajnad Misr has not pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

"Ajnad Misr officially announced its formation in January 2014," the State Department's announcement reads, "and has since claimed numerous attacks on Egyptian security forces at government buildings, public spaces and universities, often injuring or killing innocent bystanders."

Some of Ajnad Misr's most significant operations since its inception have focused on attacks on Egyptian universities, with the group often portraying itself as defending students who are being oppressed by security forces.

In its propaganda, Ajnad Misr attempts to drum up popular support for its anti-government attacks. Unlike the Islamic State and its adherents, who argue they are fighting for the top-down imposition of the caliphate's rule, Ajnad Misr portrays itself as defending or leading a popular revolution against corrupt authorities. In reality, the group's ideology is not popular across much of Egyptian society.

US kills Islamic State deputy emir, 2 senior commanders in recent airstrikes (05:48AM)

The US killed three senior Islamic State leaders, including the group's deputy emir, during a series of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria over the past month, the top American military commander disclosed yesterday.

Abu Musallam al Turkumani, the Islamic State's deputy emir and a close aide to self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi; Abd al Basit, the head of military operations in Iraq; and Radwin Talib, a regional commander; were all killed during US airstrikes that have taken place since late November, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Wall Street Journal.

Both Turkumani and Abd al Basit were killed in airstrikes between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9, while Talib was killed sometime in late November. Dempsey said that US intelligence has since confirmed the deaths of the Islamic State leaders.

The Islamic State has not released martyrdom statements for the slain leaders, nor have their deaths been mentioned on the official social media accounts of the groups.

Turkumani (a.k.a. Haji Mutaaz) is the most senior Islamic State leader killed in Iraq and Syria since Abu Abdulrahman al Bilawi (a.k.a. Adnan Ismail Najm), the group's military emir, and Samir al Khlifawi (a.k.a. Hajji Bakr), Baghdadi's deputy, were killed in January 2014. The Islamic State confirmed Khlifawi's death in February and Bilawi's death in June.

In addition to serving as Baghdadi's deputy, Turkumani is said to have overseen the Islamic State's wilayat, or provinces, in both Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has said it has created 20 of these administrative divisions in Iraq and Syria.

Like many senior Islamic State leaders, Turkumani served in Saddam Hussein's military before joining the Iraqi insurgency after the US invasion in 2003, followed by joining the Islamic State. According to documents seized by Iraqi forces from the home of Bilawi, Turkumani had served as a lieutenant colonel in Iraqi Army intelligence as well as in Iraq's special forces. Bilawi himself had served as an infantry officer before joining al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State, and Khlifawi was a former colonel who had been involved in the development of weapons systems.

Talib, whose full name is Radwan Talib Husayn Ismail al Hamduni (a.k.a. Abu Jirnas), served as the "wali," or governor, "of the Wilayah of the Borders," according to the documents sized at Bilawi's home. Dempsey described him as serving as the Islamic State's emir for Mosul.

Dempsey and other US military officials have said that the US air campaign has been successful in President Barack Obama's stated goal of "degrading and defeating" the Islamic State, which controls vast areas of Iraq and Syria. The airstrikes have been "disruptive to their planning and command and control," Dempsey told WSJ.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby issued a statement yesterday confirming that "targeted coalition airstrikes successfully killed multiple senior and mid-level leaders within the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)," the previous name of the Islamic State which the US military still insists on using.

"We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades ISIL's ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq," Kirby continued.

The US has launched 1,337 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as of Dec. 17, 2014, according to data compiled by Military Edge and The Long War Journal (782 strikes in Iraq since Aug. 7, and 555 in Syria since Sept. 22). Despite this targeting, the Islamic State has remained on the offensive in Syria and has even gained ground in some areas. In Iraq, the Islamic State has lost territory in some areas and gained in others. US airstrikes have also supported Iranian-supported Shiite militias that are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers in Iraq between 2006-2011. [See LWJ reports, Islamic State retakes Baiji after Iraqi forces withdraw and Iraqi forces, Iranian-supported militias report success in Baiji.]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

State Department designates Egyptian jihadist group, ex-Gitmo detainee (04:30PM)

The State Department today announced that it has added an Egyptian jihadist group and a senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) ideologue to the US government's list of specially designated global terrorists.

The Egyptian group, Ajnad Misr ("Soldiers of Egypt"), is a "violent extremist group that splintered from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM)," which is also a "designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global entity."

Some of Ajnad Misr's earliest attacks took place in Cairo at the beginning of the year. Initially, ABM claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Cairo that occurred on Jan. 24. ABM subsequently acknowledged that some of the attacks were actually executed by Ajnad Misr, which ABM described as "our brothers."

ABM, or at least the part of the organization based in the Sinai, announced its allegiance to the Islamic State's Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in November. The group was then rebranded as the Islamic State's province in the Sinai.

However, other Egyptian-based jihadists, including Ajnad Misr, did not follow suit and join the Islamic State's ranks. Recently, a previously unknown jihadist group claiming to operate in the Sinai said that it rejects ABM's decision and will continue to operate independently from ABM.

Egyptian press accounts have speculated that Ajnad Misr remains part of the pro-al Qaeda network in Egypt. Many details concerning the group's hierarchy, operations, and funding remain murky.

"Ajnad Misr officially announced its formation in January 2014," the State Department's announcement reads, "and has since claimed numerous attacks on Egyptian security forces at government buildings, public spaces and universities, often injuring or killing innocent bystanders."

Some of Ajnad Misr's most significant operations since its inception have focused on attacks on Egyptian universities, with the group often portraying itself as defending students who are being oppressed by security forces. In its propaganda, Ajnad Misr attempts to drum up popular support for its anti-government attacks. [See LWJ report, Jihadist group 'Soldiers of Egypt' claims responsibility for attack on police near university.]


Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Mufti.

Ibrahim Rubaish, senior AQAP sharia official once detained at Guantanamo

In addition to Ajnad Misr, the State Department also added Ibrahim Rubaish to the US government's list of terrorists today. State describes Rubaish as "a senior leader of AQAP," who "serves as a senior advisor for AQAP operational planning and is involved in the planning of attacks."

Rubaish "has served as a senior AQAP sharia official since 2013" and in that capacity he "provides the justification for attacks conducted by AQAP."

According to State, Rubaish frequently makes "public statements, including one in August 2014 where he called on Muslims to wage war against the United States." The US government previously issued a $5 million reward for information on Rubaish's whereabouts.

Although the State Department does not mention it, Rubaish was detained at Guantanamo for several years before being transferred to his native Saudi Arabia on Dec. 13, 2006.

Along with other Saudi ex-Gitmo detainees, Rubaish was entered into a jihadist rehabilitation program. Once completed, Rubaish and numerous other graduates absconded for Yemen, where they helped rebuild AQAP, a branch of al Qaeda that had suffered tremendous losses inside the Saudi kingdom.

A leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment, dated Nov. 30, 2005, describes Rubaish as an al Qaeda "member who traveled to Afghanistan intent on training for jihad in Chechnya, but stayed and joined the Taliban." JTF-GTMO's analysts found that Rubaish stayed in al Qaeda guesthouses and "attended the group's Al-Farouq terrorist training camp," which was al Qaeda's primary training facility in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Rubaish fought during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001 and, according to JTF-GTMO, had ties to numerous other al Qaeda members. Rubaish's name, alias, and other identifying information was found on various al Qaeda lists of captured fighters. One such list "was found in a document listing the names of captured mujahideen recovered from a 20 gigabyte hard drive associated with senior [al Qaeda] operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM)."

Abu Zubaydah, who remains in custody at Guantanamo, was asked about Rubaish's "name/alias" while in US custody sometime in 2003, according to the JTF-GTMO file, and it was "familiar" to him. No other details concerning Abu Zubaydah's identification of Rubaish are provided.

According to JTF-GTMO, Rubaish was originally convinced to travel to South Asia to fight on behalf of the Taliban and al Qaeda by a fatwa issued by Saudi cleric Sheikh Hamoud al Uqla, who "helped raise money for" Osama bin Laden "until his death in Saudi Arabia in 2001." Al Uqla had previously been arrested for criticizing the Saudi monarchy's close relationship with the West. And after 9/11, al Uqla "issued fatwas declaring that those supporting the US and coalition forces against Muslims were themselves nonbelievers."

In its Nov. 30, 2005 threat assessment, JTF-GTMO found that Rubaish was a "medium" risk, "as he may post a threat to the US, its interests and allies." JTF-GTMO recommended that Rubaish remain in the Defense Department's custody. But the Saudi government said that it would take in Rubaish and attempt to prosecute him. Ultimately, he escaped from Saudi Arabia and went on to become one of AQAP's most senior officials.

Rubaish remains loyal to al Qaeda's senior leadership to this day. Earlier this summer, he praised the jihadists' advances in Iraq and Syria, but was careful not to endorse the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that repeatedly defied orders from al Qaeda's general command before being disowned in early February.

In July, along with another senior AQAP ideologue, Rubaish released a video denouncing the slander of experienced jihadist leaders. The video was part of AQAP's attempt to defend Ayman al Zawahiri against the criticisms levied by the Islamic State and its supporters.

[For more on Rubaish's background, based on declassified JTF-GTMO files, see LWJ report: Former Guantanamo detainee now al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula's Mufti.]

Islamic State retakes Baiji after Iraqi forces withdraw (02:50PM)


An Islamic State fighter removes an Iraqi flag from a government building. Photo released by the Islamic State.

The Islamic State has retaken control of the central Iraqi city of Baiji after the Iraqi military ordered its forces to retreat to the nearby refinery. Iraqi forces withdrew yesterday just one month after taking the city from the Islamic State with the help of Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

"Top army commanders ordered troops to leave the city and take positions inside the refinery, which was given priority. They knew staying inside Baiji would help Islamic State to drag the army into a war of attrition," an unnamed Iraqi Army major told Reuters.

Local policemen and tribal militias fought the Islamic State for five days without the support of the Iraqi military before abandoning the city. The lightly armed forces, which withstood mortar and sniper fire from jihadist fighters besieging Baiji, requested help from the Iraqi military but were denied assistance.

The Islamic State touted this latest victory in the central Iraqi province of Salahaddin by posting a series of photographs on the Internet. The photos showed captured and destroyed armored vehicles, including US-made M1 tanks, M113 armored personnel vehicles, and Humvees. Islamic State fighters also siezed weapons and ammunition that were abandoned by fleeing Iraqi forces. The jihadist group's fighters are also shown patrolling the streets of Baiji and standing outside of government buildings.

The city was captured in mid-June during the Islamic State's lightning offensive that also saw Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities and towns in the provinces of Ninewa, Salahaddin, Diyala, and Anbar fall under the jihadist group's control.

Baiji, which also hosts Iraq's largest oil refinery, was under the control of the Islamic State up until mid-November, when Iraqi forces and sponsored Shiite militias, such as Asaib al Haq, or or the League of the Righteous, succeeded in retaking the city. The Iraqi military touted the retaking of Baiji, and claimed that it killed Ala Burhan al Tikriti, an Islamic State commander who was responsible for massacring hundreds of Iraqi troops at Camp Speicher, a base outside of Tikrit, over the summer. [See LWJ report, Iraqi forces, Iranian-supported militias report success in Baiji.]

The loss of Baiji is a major setback for the Iraqi military, which has made a push to retake terrain lost to the Islamic State in mid-June. Over the fall, Iraqi forces ejected the jihadist group from Jurf al Sakhar in northern Babil province, Amerli in Salahaddin, and from several towns northern Iraq that were governed by the Kurds. Despite these gains, the Islamic State took control of some towns near Samarra and overran a unit from the Badr Brigade, another Shiite militia supported by Iran, during the same period.

The Islamic State controls large areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria despite airstrikes by the US and allied countries. The US began its air campaign against the jihadist group in Iraq on Aug. 7, and in Syria on Sept. 22. While the airstrikes have helped Iraqi forces regain some ground, the Islamic State has taken control of other areas, including Hit in Anbar.

Photographs released by the Islamic State from the recent fighting in Baiji:


















Mass grave of Islamic State's victims reportedly found in eastern Syria (06:09AM)

An activist group and online sources reporting from inside Syria claim that a mass grave filled with approximately 230 corpses has been discovered in eastern Syria. The victims are reportedly members of the Sheitaat tribe, which has been battling the Islamic State in the province of Deir Ezzor.

The fog of war makes it difficult, if not impossible, to fully verify accounts of human rights atrocities and other aspects of the conflict. The Long War Journal cannot independently verify accounts of the mass grave.

The Sheitaat tribesmen have waged fierce battles against the Islamic State, which claims to rule over a caliphate across large parts of Iraq and Syria, since earlier this year. There have been multiple reports in the past several months detailing the Islamic State's mass executions and other barbaric acts in eastern Syria.

Images of the newly discovered mass grave began surfacing on Twitter feeds within the past day. And the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) has released a statement saying that "reliable" sources have informed the group that the site of the atrocity "was found in al-Keshkeyyi Desert in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor."

"It is worth mentioning that hundreds of the people were killed after arrest, some of them were beheaded, and others had been pursued and executed in the villages and towns that they escaped to in the countryside of Deir Ezzor," the SOHR statement reads. "The SOHR could document dozens of names."

The SOHR previously reported that 700 other Sheitaat tribesmen had been slaughtered in August. If that figure and the latest account are accurate, then the Islamic State has killed more than 900 members of the tribe this year, the group points out.

The United Nations has also documented the mass killings that occurred in August. The conflict between the Islamic State and the Sheitaat tribe "was perpetrated in a struggle for control of oil resources near the town of Mohassan," the UN reported in November. A survivor described the scene, saying there were "many heads hanging on walls while I and my family escaped." And a "[p]ublished video" indicates that Islamic State fighters "conducted a mass execution of fighting-age male members of the" tribe.

The UN says that on Nov. 6, 2014, the emir of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, "issued a statement, granting members of the [Sheitaat] tribe permission to return to their homes, upon the condition that they do not assemble, surrender all weapons and inform on all 'apostates' to" the Islamic State. Baghdadi added that all "traitors" would be executed.

The images below have been posted on various Twitter feeds by individuals inside Syria.

The Long War Journal is posting the images, some of which are graphic, because they document the Islamic State's alleged war crimes. The photos do not independently corroborate the casualty count reported by various sources.

*Warning: Graphic images below*

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

US airstrike targets Pakistani, Afghan Taliban in Nangarhar (05:44AM)

The US killed 11 members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban in an airstrike in the eastern province of Nangarhar yesterday. The strike is the fifth that has targeted Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan fighters and leaders operating inside Afghanistan since the last week of November.

Four members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and seven Afghan Taliban fighters were killed in the "drone strike" that targeted a pickup truck, Mahlem Mashuq, the governor of Shirzad district in Nangarhar, told Reuters.

The airstrike, which could have been carried out by the remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, or a variety of strike aircraft that operate in Afghanistan, was confirmed by Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, the spokesman for police forces in Nangarhar. At least one of the jihadists killed in the attack was an important commander, Mashriqiwal told Khaama Press. He did not indicate if the commander was a member of the Afghan or Pakistani branch of the Taliban.

Yesterday's strike took place as a suicide assault team from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan attacked a high school in Peshawar and killed everyone in their path. Officials stated that 132 students and nine teachers were killed during the rampage. The Afghan Taliban released an official statement condemning the attack while not mentioning the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan by name. [See LWJ reports, Pakistani Taliban assaults military high school in Peshawar and Afghan Taliban releases statement condemning attack on Pakistani school.]

Yesterday's airstrike in Nangarhar is the fifth since Nov. 24 that has targeted Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan fighters and leaders operating in eastern Afghanistan, and the fourth in Nangarhar. On Nov. 24, the US targeted Mullah Fazlullah, the emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in the Nazyan district. Fazlullah was not killed. On Dec. 1 and Dec. 2, the US attacked the Pakistani Taliban group in the Shirzad and Lal Pur districts. [See LWJ report, US airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan target Pakistani Taliban.] On Dec. 7, the US launched another airstrike in the Shigal district of Kunar province.

The US has targeted Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan fighters and commanders operating inside Afghanistan over the past several years, but the strikes have been infrequent. The most high-profile airstrike took place on Aug. 24, 2012, when the US killed Mullah Dadullah (a.k.a. Maulana Mohammad Jamal), his deputy Shakir, and 10 Taliban fighters in an airstrike in Kunar's Shigal district. [See LWJ report, Bajaur Taliban leader, deputy killed in airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.]

The US killed Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehsud, the previous two emirs of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in drone strikes in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Baitullah, the group's founder, was killed in August 2009, and Hakeemullah, who organized the Times Square bomb plot, was killed in November 2013.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which has been weakened of late due to internal divisions and defections, has had a presence in eastern Afghanistan since the organization was founded in late 2006. The jihadist group, which is closely allied with al Qaeda and has sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar, the emir of the Afghan Taliban, has waged jihad on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has increased its footprint in eastern Afghanistan recently due to Pakistani military operations that have targeted its strongholds over the border in North Waziristan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Afghan Taliban releases statement condemning attack on Pakistani school (04:00PM)

The Afghan Taliban has released a statement, attributed to "Zabihullah Mujahid," the group's official spokesman, condemning the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar today.

The statement was released on the Afghan Taliban's official Urdu website. The Pakistani Taliban is not named in the short statement, but the Afghan Taliban says it expresses "sorrow over the tragedy and grief for the families of the victims."

"Innocent men, women and children were killed intentionally" and this is against "Islamic principles." The Afghan Taliban claims it has "always condemned the killing of innocent people and children."

Of course, the Afghan Taliban regularly kills innocent people. For example, the United Nations reported in July that there were approximately 4,853 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2014. The UN attributed 74 percent of these casualties to anti-government elements, including the Taliban, and said that the "onus" was on the Taliban and other anti-government forces to reduce civilian casualties.

Still the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, has been attempting to avoid high-profile attacks on civilians. In a message celebrating the end of Ramadan earlier this year, Omar stressed, "Every caution should be taken to protect life and property of the public during [jihadist] operations, so that, God forbid, someone is harmed." Omar said that the Taliban's "Department of Prevention of Civilian Casualties should seriously pay attention to its task to prevent civilian casualties." [See LWJ report, Analysis: Mullah Omar addresses governance of Afghanistan, war against 'invaders' in new message.]

Omar's speech shows that the Afghan Taliban is sensitive to the criticism that its operations cause far more damage to civilians than its opponents do. Like al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, the Afghan Taliban is attempting to win additional hearts and minds for its cause. And the attack on the school in Peshawar, where dozens of children were slaughtered, will likely reduce, not increase, popular support for the jihadists' goals.

The inner workings of the relationship between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups are not clear. The Pakistani Taliban and its leader, Mullah Fazlullah, are openly loyal to Mullah Omar.

In October, for instance, several Pakistani Taliban commanders reportedly swore bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Islamic State's Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, thereby breaking their previous allegiance to Omar. The circumstances surrounding this defection remain murky. [See LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition.]

However, the Pakistani Taliban released a statement saying that Mullah Fazlullah had previously pledged his organization's loyalty to the "Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar." This was a not so subtle indication that the Pakistani Taliban's existing leadership was not going to break ranks with the Afghan Taliban leader in favor of Baghdadi.

It remains to be seen if the Afghan Taliban's condemnation of the school assault has any additional ramifications, or is merely rhetoric.

Pakistani Taliban assaults military high school in Peshawar (08:34AM)

A suicide assault team from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (or Pakistani Taliban) stormed a military high school in Peshawar today. It is one of the deadliest jihadist attacks in the country's history. According to initial reporting, the attackers have killed more than 140 people, including scores of children.

At least nine Taliban fighters armed with assault weapons and suicide vests entered the Army Public School in Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this morning. The fighters fanned out through the school and killed everyone in their path, according to press reports.

Shahrukh Khan, a child who survived the attack by feigning death after being shot in both legs, told Agence France Presse (AFP) that the Taliban fighters were instructed to kill the students. The terrorists deliberately executed students who were already wounded.

"There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them," one Taliban fighter told another, according to Khan.

"The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again," Khan stated. The fighters shouted "Allahu Akbar," or Allah is greatest, as they executed the children.

Pakistani officials have stated that 132 students and nine teachers have been killed, but warned that the death toll may rise, Reuters reported.

At least 15 explosions were heard during the fighting, Dawn reported. Pakistani security forces surrounded the building and assaulted as the Taliban continued to execute students and staff. The military claimed it killed nine Taliban fighters, but more may have been involved in the attack. Troops are still searching the building for Taliban fighters and survivors.

Muhammad Khurasani, the official spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, claimed the gruesome assault and admitted that his fighters intentionally targeted civilians.

"We selected the army's school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females," Khurasani said, according to Reuters. "We want them to feel the pain." Khurasani is referring to the current Pakistani military operation in the tribal agencies of North Waziristan and Khyber, which are adjacent to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Pakistani military is targeting the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and jihadist organizations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, but is leaving groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group alone.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has targeted military high school students in the past. In 2009, the jihadist group kidnapped hundreds of students as they fled their military school in Ramzak, North Waziristan. The Taliban ultimately released the students as part of a prisoner exchange.

The Taliban has also launched numerous attacks on soft targets such as churches, mosques, shrines, markets, hotels, and even hospitals. Thousands of civilians have been killed in those attacks since the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan was formed in late 2006.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has also plotted against the US. In an email first sent to The Long War Journal, the group claimed responsibility for the May 2010 attempted bombing in New York City's Times Square. [See LWJ report, Pakistani Taliban claim credit for failed NYC Times Square car bombing.]

The US has targeted the organization's top commanders as part of its drone campaign. Baitullah Mehsud, the group's founder and first leader, was killed by an American missile in August 2009. In late 2013, Baitullah's successor, Hakeemullah Mehsud, was also killed in an American airstrike. Hakeemullah had gloated over the failed Times Square attack in the group's propaganda prior to his demise.

Hakeemullah was replaced by Mullah Fazlullah, but his appointment as emir of the Pakistani Taliban proved to be unpopular within the terrorist group's ranks. Earlier this year, key constituencies that were part of Baitullah's original coalition began peeling away to go on their own. Much of the group founded by Baitullah no longer answers to Fazlullah. One of the larger blocs to break away from Fazlullah's leadership has rebranded itself as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. Other commanders have reportedly pledged their allegiance to Islamic State emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

[For more on the dissolution of the original Pakistani Taliban alliance, see LWJ report: Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition.]