Tuesday, November 25, 2014

AQAP releases biography of American jihadist Samir Khan (09:42AM)


A Twitter account linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) today posted a biography of slain AQAP operative Samir Zafar Khan, founder of the terror organization's English-language Inspire Magazine. The biography describes him as a "Pakistani-American mujahid" known in jihadist circles as Qa'qaa' Al-Amriki. An American citizen, Khan was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011 along with Islamist American cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who served as AQAP's operational commander at the time.

The biography claims that Khan was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1985 and later spent his teenage years in Westbury, New York. He was 16 when al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, which Khan blamed on US policies. After the attacks, Khan allegedly refused to recite the pledge of allegiance and busied himself writing for the school newspaper, an experience that, according to the biography, aided him in his later publication of Jihad Recollections.

Jihad Recollections, a forerunner of Inspire Magazine, was founded in 2009 by Khan, who announced, "We have decided to take it upon ourselves to produce the first jihadi magazine in English."

Khan went on to start his own blog, titled "Inshallah Shaheed," which caught the attention of US intelligence officials, according to his biography. Indeed, media reports from the time indicate that US intelligence analysts noticed "an eerie similarity" between Khan's blog and the newly published Inspire Magazine. Khan's blog attracted considerable media attention, and Khan knew that he "had to stay under the guidelines of the laws regarding freedom of speech but at the same time, [he] knew the real truth wouldn't be able to reach the masses unless and until (he) was above the law."

Khan eventually relocated to Sanaa in October 2009, around the time that the final issue of Jihad Recollections was published online. His biography claims that Khan initially worked as a teacher, and that despite being followed by the FBI in Yemen he "managed to join the Muhjahideen brothers successfully." He was mentored by "Sheikh Anwar" al Awlaki, whom the Obama administration had labeled as one of AQAP's most dangerous leaders, and through him made many connections in Yemen's jihadist circles.

In Yemen, Khan launched Inspire Magazine, first released in the summer of 2010, and US authorities have confirmed that after his arrival in Yemen, his online efforts were coordinated with AQAP.

The biography claims that Khan founded Inspire Magazine "as an extention of Jihad Recollections, a magazine he described as 'America's Worst Nightmare.'" Khan would go on to edit eight issues of Inspire, contributing articles of his own, including one notoriously titled "How To Build A Bomb In the Kitchen of Your Mom."

A jihadist production, Inspire Magazine praises al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri and carries sermons by jihadist figures such as Anwar al Awlaki. The magazine regularly incites lone-wolf attacks in the West and outlines various techniques to use in attacking Americans.

In its 12th issue, released in March 2014, the magazine devoted a lengthy section to what AQAP calls "Open Source Jihad," educating lone-wolf jihadists who do not have the ability to receive more formal training. The biography makes specific mention of an article penned by Khan in Inspire's second issue in which he wrote, "I am proud to be a traitor to America."

At this juncture, the tone of Khan's biography shifts, highlighting a lesson to readers. "Samir was just like you," the biography reads, "[h]e yearned for Hijrah." Hijrah is an Arabic word meaning "migration," and alludes to the journey the Prophet Mohammed and his followers made from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE in order to establish the first Islamic community. After his journey to Yemen, Khan "got to witness one of the important stages of Jihad but he came to realize the best way for an American Muslim."

Khan's biography concludes with his death along with Anwar al Awlaki as a result of US drone strike in Yemen's northern Jawf province. "The Mujahideen will remember him as the martyr of pen and designing," his biography reads, "[t]he traitor to America who died to support Islam." According to AQAP, Khan's legacy to the Muslim community is the revival of "the concept of lone Jihad." The biography ends with the following sentence: "Samir Khan, a journalist who became an activist, an activist who became a Mujahid and a Mujahid who became a martyr."

Khan's death, like Awlaki's, was perceived to be a significant blow to AQAP at the time. Former US National Security Adviser Fran Townsend commented: "Khan is unique in the sense that like al-Awlaki, he spoke English and had an appeal to the Western mind. He knew how to write and had the technical ability to use the Web."

The death of Khan posed a real problem for AQAP's efforts at Western recruitment. In the 10-year 9/11 anniversary supplement of Inspire, Khan had quoted AQAP leader and al Qaeda general commander Nasir al Wuhayshi, saying, "The media work is half of the jihad."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Haqqani Network launched suicide attack at soccer game, Afghan intel claims (11:29AM)

The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence service, accused the Pakistan-supported Haqqani Network of executing yesterday's mass-casualty suicide attack at a soccer match in Paktika province. The accusation has been made just as the US has extended the US military's combat mission in Afghanistan for one year.

The NDS has "evidence that shows the Haqqani network was behind the attack in Paktika," Haseeb Sediqi, the intelligence organization's spokesman, told AFP today.

The Paktika suicide attack killed at least 57 people and wounded scores more. Many children are reported to have been killed or wounded.

Sediqi did not detail the nature of the evidence that linked the Haqqani Network to the attack. But the attack took place in Yahya Khel, a remote district in a province that is is heavily influenced by the Haqqanis, an al Qaeda-linked Taliban subgroup that receives support from the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

The suicide bomber is reported to have targeted Bawar Khan, a local police commander, and his police escort, according to Reuters. Khan, who was killed in the attack, had recently ejected the Taliban from the area.

The NDS has said in the past that it had evidence tying the Haqqani Network to other suicide attacks. The intelligence service released telephone conversations of Haqqani Network commanders Badruddin Haqqani and Qari Younis directing members of the suicide assault team that attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on June 28, 2011. Badruddin was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan one year later.

Yesterday's suicide attack in Paktika was followed by a bombing today in Kabul that killed two US soldiers and wounded another. Two US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said they believe that the Haqqani Network was behind today's bombing, but did not elaborate.

The two attacks took place less than a week after a senior Pakistani adviser admitted that his government has no interest in pursuing the Haqqani Network. [See Threat Matrix report, Good Taliban are not our problem, adviser to Pakistan's prime minister says.]

Also, President Barack Obama has backtracked on ending the US combat mission by the beginning of next year, administration officials told The New York Times. US forces will be allowed "to attack the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militants if intelligence revealed that the extremists were threatening American forces in the country." Additionally, US forces could accompany Afghan troops in operations as well as provide air support during combat operations.

The planned number of US forces deployed to Afghanistan has not changed, however; the US will draw down to 9,800 troops by the end of 2014, and below 5,000 by the end of 2015.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

More jihadist training camps identified in Iraq and Syria (12:45AM)

Map of known provincial locations of training camps run by the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, and allied jihadist groups since 2012. Map created by Caleb Weiss and Bill Roggio.

Four new terrorist training camps in Iraq and Syria, three of them operated by the Islamic State, have been identified by The Long War Journal. The identification of these camps, three in Syria and one in Iraq, brings the total number of jihadist-run camps identified in the two countries to 46.

On Nov. 14, US Central Command issued a statement noting that US or coalition airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp "east of Raqqah." That brought the total number of airstrikes against Islamic State training camps near Raqqah to five. Camps near Raqqah were previously struck on Sept. 22, on Sept. 27, on Oct. 3, and again on Oct. 8.

Photographs released on Twitter also purport to show the Islamic State utilizing locations in the city of Mosul, the capital of Iraq's Ninewa province, for the training of a "special forces unit." The unit, dubbed Qawat al Muhaam al Khaasa (Special Task Force), has been seen in photographs showing trainees rappelling off of buildings and bridges in Mosul. Some photos also purport to show the graduation of fighters in the unit. In other photographs, American-made weapons such as the M16 are clearly visible. Videos have also been uploaded to YouTube that show the Qawat al Muhaam al Khaasa unit in training.

And in a propaganda video entitled "Race Towards Good," the Islamic State showcased a training camp that is used exclusively by Kazakh fighters. The exact location of the camp is unclear, but it appears to be near Raqqah. The video showed the fighters receiving physical training and schooling in firearms such as American, Russian, and Austrian-made sniper rifles. The second half of the video showed Kazakh children being taught Arabic, as well as physical and military training. In one scene, a Kazakh child is shown assembling an AK-47 assault rifle. At the end of the video, a Kazakh child recites a speech for the camera, saying, "We're going to kill you, O kuffar [unbelievers]. Insha'allah [God-willing], we will slaughter you."

Most recently, another jihadist training camp has been identified in Syria, in the province of Latakia. It is operated by Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz (Caucasus), a group composed of Circassians, Chechens, Dagestanis, and other Caucasian ethnic groups. The group is independent and probably small, but is more than likely affiliated with the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's Syrian branch, and the Caucasus Emirate. It might also be affiliated to Junud al Sham, a predominantly Chechen group led by Muslim Shishani, a specially designated global terrorist. While Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz has officially taken an anti-fitna stance, the group has promoted Al Nusrah propaganda, according to Aymenn al Tamimi. Video has also been uploaded to YouTube showing the Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz unit in training.

In addition to the four camps identified above, more evidence has emerged about another training camp identified by The Long War Journal two months ago. Photos were recently disseminated on Twitter showing a training camp that was run by Abu Yusuf al Turki. As The Long War Journal reported on Sept. 23, online jihadists described al Turki as a commander in the Al Nusrah Front who trained fighters how to become snipers. Al Turki was killed in initial US airstrikes in Syria against the so-called Khorasan Group, a name used by the US government to describe al Qaeda veterans embedded within Al Nusrah. After al Turki was confirmed killed, supporters released a video of his training camp, which is located in or near Aleppo.

Jihadist camps in Iraq and Syria

Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 46 camps have been identified as being operational at some point in time, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Information on the camps has been obtained from jihadist videos, news accounts, and US military press releases that note airstrikes against the training facilities. It is unclear if all of the training camps are currently operational. In addition, this analysis is compiled using publicly-available evidence. It is likely that some training camps are not advertised.

Of those camps, 34 are located in Syria and 12 in Iraq.

The Islamic State has operated 25 camps (14 in Syria and 11 in Iraq). Al Qaeda's Al Nusrah Front has operated nine camps in Syria. Various allied jihadist groups, including Ansar al Islam, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, and Junud al Sham, have operated 12 camps (11 in Syria and one in Iraq).

Historically, al Qaeda has used its training facilities to fuel local insurgencies while selecting individuals from the pool of trainees to conduct attacks against the West. [See LWJ report, Jihadist training camps proliferate in Iraq and Syria, for more information on the camps; and Islamist foreign fighters returning home and the threat to Europe, on the threat that jihadists training at camps in Iraq and Syria pose to the West.]

The "Race Towards Good" video showcasing Kazakh Islamic State fighters and their children can be seen below:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ex-Gitmo 'poet' now recruiting for the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan (08:49AM)

A version of this article was originally published at The Weekly Standard.

An ex-Guantanamo detainee based in northern Pakistan is leading an effort to recruit jihadists for the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that controls large portions of Iraq and Syria.

Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who was detained at Guantanamo for three years, has sworn allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Dost's oath of allegiance was issued on July 1, just two days after Baghdadi named himself "Caliph Ibrahim I" and declared that his Islamic State was now a "caliphate."

Pakistani officials have accused Dost of recruiting jihadists for Baghdadi's organization. He is thought to be behind a graffiti campaign that aims to spread pro-Islamic State messages throughout northern Pakistan.

According to Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, Dost has even been named the head of the Islamic State's presence in the "Khorasan," an area that covers much of Central and South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

US officials have confirmed to The Long War Journal that Dost is recruiting for the Islamic State. It is not clear how effective his efforts have been, given that Dost and his supporters are operating in areas that are strongholds for al Qaeda and the Taliban, both of which are opposed to Baghdadi's "caliphate" project.

Thus far, the Islamic State has had only limited success in Pakistan and elsewhere in attracting established jihadists to its cause. However, Dost, who is in his 50s, is a veteran jihadist leader.

Dost was originally detained in Pakistan in late 2001. He was transferred to US custody and detained at Guantanamo for three years. Dost was already a veteran jihadist with a thick dossier at the time.

But US officials transferred Dost from Guantanamo to Afghanistan in April 2005. Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention camps, recommended that he be released or transferred due to his health problems. Dost "poses a low risk, due to his medical condition," JTF-GTMO concluded in a memo that was subsequently leaked. A combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Guantanamo also concluded at some point that Dost was no longer an enemy combatant.

In 2006, however, Dost was detained in Pakistan once again. He was subsequently part of a prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the Pakistani government in 2008. Dost and Taliban fighters in Pakistani custody were exchanged for Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan and dozens of Pakistani soldiers, all of whom were in the Taliban's custody. The deal was reportedly brokered by Baitullah Mehsud, who led the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban until his death in 2009.

A statement by Dost explaining his reasons for swearing allegiance to Baghdadi was included in a jihadist propaganda video posted online in July. The Long War Journal has obtained a translation of the video.

Dost claims that during his time in US custody, he had a vision predicting the establishment of Baghdadi's caliphate.

"While in Guantanamo in [2002]," Dost claims, "I saw a vision of a palace with a huge closed door, above which was a clock pointing to the time of 10 minutes before 12." Dost says he "was told that was the home of the caliphate" and so he "assumed then that the caliphate would be established after 12 years."

Coincidentally, the Islamic State declared its caliphate in 2014 - or 12 years after Dost's supposed vision.

Dost argues that ever since the caliphate fell in 1924 the Islamic ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] "has experienced phases of disagreement, division, failure and disputes" and "become divided into fighting groups and different small states" that fail to represent Islam. All Muslim governments are now null and void, Dost says, as they have been replaced by the caliphate with Baghdadi, the "caliph of the Muslims, the emir of the believers," as its leader.

Dost thanks Allah for the "opportunity to witness the establishment of the Islamic caliphate" under Baghdadi's leadership. He swears allegiance to Baghdadi and calls on all other Muslims to do the same.

The video of Dost's allegiance to Baghdadi includes a summary of his extensive biography. In the 1970s, Dost studied under a jihadist sheikh in Afghanistan. Some of the sheikh's students would go on to join al Qaeda. Dost joined the jihad against the Soviets in the late 1970s.

In 1979, Dost was among the radicals, led by Juhayman al Utebi, who laid siege to the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Juhayman and his men challenged the Saudis' right to rule over Islam's holy sites, but were eventually extracted by force from the mosque. That incident influenced the next generation of Islamic militants, including some of al Qaeda's leaders. Dost was arrested shortly after the siege, but somehow escaped and made his way to Peshawar, where he joined the jihad once again.

Dost soon became a prolific writer, publishing three magazines and authoring numerous articles and books.

According to his biography, Dost had "good relations with the Taliban and the mujahideen." Interestingly, Dost claimed the opposite during his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Guantanamo, saying that he was at odds with the Taliban prior to his capture in late 2001. Dost is more forthcoming about his Taliban ties pre-9/11 now that he is free.

Dost says the Pakistanis detained him in 2006 because his book, "The Broken Chains," exposed the "truth" about the prisons in Pakistan and at Guantanamo. Since his release in 2008, he has been living with the tribes in Waziristan, Pakistan, where he holds "sharia workshops, meets with delegates, writes, tours the tall mountains of Afghanistan, and participates in the fields of struggle."

After his release from Guantanamo in 2005, Dost frequently portrayed himself as an innocent who was wrongly detained. In favorable press accounts, Dost claimed that the Americans had confiscated much of his poetry and refused to return it. Several of Dost's "poems" were also included in a volume compiled by advocates for the detainees. The book, "Poems from Guantanamo," was intended to portray the detainees in a sympathetic light. (Other contributors to the book are also known recidivists.)

Today, according to sources in Pakistan, Dost is producing "propaganda booklets" advocating on behalf of Baghdadi and the Islamic State's caliphate.

Friday, November 21, 2014

5 transferred Gitmo detainees served al Qaeda, leaked files allege (04:02PM)

The Defense Department announced on Nov. 20 that five detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were transferred to two nations. Three of the detainees were transferred to the Government of Georgia, while the other two were transferred to Slovakia.

Four of the transferred detainees are Yemenis: Abdel Ghalib Ahmad Hakim, Hussein Salem Mohammed, Slah Muhamed Salih al Zabe, and Abdul Khaled Ahmed Sahleh al Bedani.

Hisham Bin Ali Bin Amor Sliti, the fifth detainee transferred, is a Tunisian.

All five of the detainees were evaluated by President Obama's Guantanamo Review Task Force, which was established in January 2009. The task force concluded its work one year later and in its January 2010 report recommended that all five be transferred.

The task force did not conclude that the men should be outright released, but instead said they should be transferred outside of the US to a country that "will implement appropriate security measures." That is, the task force concluded that all five detainees pose some level of risk, but not enough to keep them in US custody indefinitely.

Leaked Joint Task Force - Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessments

Prior to the establishment of the Guantanamo Review Task Force, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention facility, wrote threat assessments for all five detainees. The assessments were subsequently leaked online.

JTF-GTMO assessed that three of the five were "high" risks to the US, its interests, and allies: Sliti, Hakim, and Mohammed. The threat assessments for all three recommended that they remain in the Defense Department's custody.

JTF-GTMO found that Zabe "poses a medium to high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies."

And the fifth who was transferred, Bedani, was deemed a "medium risk, as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies."

JTF-GTMO recommended that both Zabe and Bedani be transferred to the custody of other nations. Zabe was recommended for transfer on Sept. 3, 2004, while JTF-GTMO recommended that Bedani be transferred as early as Dec. 16, 2006. However, JTF-GTMO's recommendations were contingent upon appropriate security measures being in place.

JTF-GTMO biographies for each of the five detainees

The JTF-GTMO threat assessments contain details and allegations concerning each of the former detainees' ties to al Qaeda and affiliated groups. The short biographies below are based entirely on the leaked JTF-GTMO files.

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Abdel Ghalib Ahmad Hakim (internment serial number 686) is a Yemeni and was transferred to Georgia. Hakim was assessed by JTF-GTMO "to be a member of al Qaeda" and possibly "accompanied Osama bin Laden...throughout Afghanistan." He was "further assessed" to be a member of an al Qaeda cell created by al Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaydah and al Qaeda military operations commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi. This cell is commonly referred to as Abu Zubaydah's "Martyrs Brigade." Its "purpose" was to return "to Afghanistan to conduct remote controlled improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks against US and Coalition forces."

Hakim was captured during raids by Pakistani and American forces in Faisalabad, Pakistan in late March 2002. Abu Zubaydah and numerous other al Qaeda operatives were captured during these same raids. The safehouses where Hakim, Abu Zubaydah and the others stayed were "operated" by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani jihadist group that has long been closely allied with al Qaeda. Senior al Qaeda operatives in US custody identified Hakim as a jihadist who had trained at al Qaeda's al Farouq camp.

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Hussein Salem Mohammed (internment serial number 1015) is a Yemeni who was transferred to Slovakia. Mohammed was an "al Qaeda facilitator located in Iran (IR) providing travel and false documents to Arab extremists attempting to enter Afghanistan (AF)." Senior al Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaydah and other al Qaeda members in custody said that Mohammed "operated out of al Qaeda supported guest and safe houses in Iran and Afghanistan."

The details in Mohammed's file indicate that he worked for an early incarnation of al Qaeda's Iran-based network. While at times Iranian authorities have detained al Qaeda members, including eventually Mohammed, al Qaeda has also been allowed to operate inside Iran. During one of his stays at an al Qaeda guesthouse in Iran, "intelligence operatives took photos of al Qaeda and Taliban members who were present at the house." Several days later, "the Iranian agents returned with false passports for those fighters." However, Mohammed says he was detained by the Iranian police, "tried and convicted for being in Iran illegally," and eventually transferred to Afghan custody before being turned over to the Americans. Mohammed claimed that he "was tortured while in the custody of the Iranians." In addition, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) identified Mohammed "as a member of al Qaeda who had fled Afghanistan."

Other intelligence cited in the file indicates that Mohammed had detailed knowledge of "al Qaeda members," including Osama bin Laden's family members, and their "activities" inside Iran, as well as their "interaction with Iranian authorities." This knowledge "reflects" Mohammed's "close association with al Qaeda."

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Abdul Khaled Ahmed Sahleh al Bedani (internment serial number 553) is a Yemeni who was transferred to Georgia. He was identified as an "al Qaeda associated fighter and a probable member of al Qaeda who admittedly traveled to Afghanistan (AF) to receive militant training." He "participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces in Tora Bora, and possibly served as a fighter" in Osama bin Laden's 55th Arab Brigade. Bedani was "listed on al Qaeda-affiliated documents" and "has expressed his encouragement for and desires to engage in further hostilities against US forces." The JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Bedani identifies numerous al Qaeda personalities he allegedly came into contact with, as well as al Qaeda facilities, including guesthouses, where he stayed.

Two of the noteworthy al Qaeda personalities tied to Bedani in the leaked file are an al Qaeda commander known as Abu Thabit and Ibn Sheikh al Libi, who was appointed by Osama bin Laden to lead the jihadists' forces at the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. Bedani fled Jalalabad for Tora Bora in the same car as Abu Thabit, who was "second in command of a front line unit north of Kabul." US military intelligence analysts surmised that because Bedani was so close to Abu Thabit they "likely retreated from the front lines" together. This indicated to analysts that Bedani, like Abu Thabit, served in bin Laden's 55th Arab Brigade. At Tora Bora, Abu Thabit "commanded a multi-national camp called the Thabit Center" with a "20-man group composed of Algerians, Yemenis, Saudis, and Kuwaitis." Bedani served under Abu Thabi's command until his death.

Bedani attempted to escape Tora Bora, but was wounded "in a US helicopter attack during the attempt." Bedani's "account describes the first attempt by al Qaeda forces to escape from Tora Bora" under the direction of Ibn Sheikh al Libi, a senior jihadist who led the Khaldan camp in Afghanistan. When the escape attempt failed, al Libi instructed his surviving forces "to seek help with local villagers or enemy forces." Afghans took Bedani to a hospital, where he remained until Feb. 2, 2002, when he was transferred to US forces.

Slah Muhamed Salih al Zabe (internment serial number 572) is a Yemeni who was transferred to Georgia. Zabe was identified as "a member of al Qaeda and/or its global terrorist network" and "has demonstrated a commitment to jihad." He "has links to key facilitators in al Qaeda's international terrorist network, has participated in terrorist training, likely participated in direct hostilities against the US and coalition forces, and maintains the capability to do so if released." Zabe, a Yemeni, had lived in Saudi Arabia, so JTF-GTMO recommended that he be transferred to the kingdom, but it was "imperative" that he "be retained in the custody" of the Saudi government, otherwise military officials believed he should remain held by the US.

Zabe first traveled to Afghanistan for training in the late 1990s. He met with multiple senior al Qaeda operatives while attending al Qaeda's training camps and guesthouses. One of them was an al Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubayr, who "was involved in attempts to destroy US and British ships in the Straits of Gibraltar" before being "incarcerated in Morocco." Zabe lived with Abu Zubayr and his family in Afghanstan. After the Taliban fell in late 2001, Abu Zubayr helped Zabe flee.

Zabe was captured on Feb. 7, 2002 in an al Qaeda safehouse in Karachi, Pakistan. He was captured alongside Abdu Ali al Haji Sharqawi, a senior al Qaeda facilitator who was known as "Riyadh the Facilitator." Sharqawi, who is still detained at Guantanamo, was responsible for shuttling al Qaeda operatives around the globe.

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Hisham Bin Ali Bin Amor Sliti (internment serial number 174) is a Tunisian who was transferred to Slovakia. Sliti's JTF-GTMO threat assessment contains a strong warning concerning the possibility of recidivism.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessed that Sliti was "among the top 52 enemy combatants at JTF-GTMO who pose the most significant threat of reengagement in acts of terrorism if released." JTF-GTMO warned, "If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed [Sliti] would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in extremist activities." US officials found that although Sliti "appeared cooperative during recent debriefings," he was not providing "anything of intelligence value" and appeared to be deploying "counter-interrogation techniques." Sliti "holds anti-US sentiment and on more than one occasion has threatened to kill members of the guard force."

Sliti was a member of the Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG), which acted as an arm for al Qaeda in Europe prior to the 9/11 attacks. In 2004, Sliti "was convicted in absentia on terrorism-related charges for his role in TCG suicide attacks, including a foiled attack against US military personnel at the Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium and assassination of the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud." The slaying of Massoud was a key part of al Qaeda's 9/11 plan, as it removed an effective opponent of the Taliban from the battlefield prior to the onset of US-led hostilities.

AQAP rejects Islamic State's 'caliphate,' blasts group for sowing dissent among jihadists (06:18AM)

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Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an official branch of al Qaeda, has released a video rejecting the Islamic State's announced caliphate and chastising the group for sowing discord among jihadists.

The newly-released video stars Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari, a senior AQAP sharia official, who responds directly to a Nov. 13 speech made by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State. The video is titled, "A Statement about What was Contained in the Speech of Sheikh Abu Bakr al Baghdadi 'Even If the Disbelievers Despise Such'," and was first translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

In addition to rebuking Baghdadi and the Islamic State, Nadhari also renews AQAP's bayat (oath of allegiance) to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, and affirms Zawahiri's oath to Taliban chieftain Mullah Omar. Nadhari says "it is known" that al Qaeda "has had a pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar...for nearly twenty years."

Al Qaeda has previously countered Baghdadi's claim to rule as "Caliph Ibrahim I" by implying that Omar is the rightful caliph and, unlike Baghdadi, has the broad support of recognized jihadist authorities.

Nadhari begins by saying that AQAP "did not want to talk about the current dispute and the fitna [sedition]" in Syria given that the jihadists are in a "sensitive stage in which the enemies of Islam" have "gathered together to fight" the entire Islamic ummah [worldwide community of Muslims].

"This war was and still is a Crusader war against all the honest mujahideen," Nadhari says, according to SITE's translation. "We took the position incumbent upon us to support our brothers with what we can, and we still hold to that position, as we believe in the necessity to support our mujahideen brothers, including all of their groups and entities, regardless of their inclinations."

However, according to Nadhari, the Islamic State has made it impossible to remain silent.

Direct response to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi

During his Nov. 13 speech, Baghdadi accepted the oaths of allegiance sworn by jihadists in Algeria, the Sinai in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The oaths were clearly coordinated by the Islamic State to show international support for its caliphate project.

Baghdadi announced "the nullification" of all other jihadist groups in these countries. And he said that his jihadists had created "new wilayah [provinces] for the Islamic State" in each nation, with new provincial leaders to be appointed soon. Baghdadi said that all jihadists, and indeed all Muslims, now owe his official representatives their loyalty.

Baghdadi's speech was clearly a shot across AQAP's bow, as two of the oaths of loyalty came from anonymous jihadists in Saudi Arabia and Yemen -- that is, AQAP's turf. The logical implication is that AQAP has no real authority given that the caliphate has supposedly spread to its lands.

Nadhari counters by saying that Baghdadi's caliphate is not a widely accepted authority and was not established in an appropriate manner. "The announcement of the caliphate for all Muslims by our brothers in the Islamic State did not meet the required conditions," Nadhari says. "It did not go through consultation with the influential people of the Islamic Ummah, or at least through some of them from among the faithful scholars and leaders of the mujahid groups," or "others from among those who are well-qualified for consultation in the Islamic Ummah."

Al Qaeda and its official branches have made this argument before, pointing out that because Baghdadi's right to rule has not been blessed by recognized authorities, he is not really the caliph.

Nadhari stresses that al Qaeda is not opposed to establishing a caliphate. It is the "highest of our wishes" and "we strive to fulfill this establishment," he says. But Baghdadi's organization falls well short of al Qaeda's desired new empire.

AQAP's ideologue goes on to blame Baghdadi and the Islamic State for sowing dissent among jihadists far from their base of operations in Iraq and Syria. Their caliphate announcement in late June was particularly divisive. The "policy of our brothers in the Islamic State split the ranks of the mujahideen, and scattered them, in this sensitive phase in the history of the mujahid ummah," Nadhari argues. "This is one of the absolutely forbidden matters in the religion of Allah."

The Islamic State's caliphate announcement transferred "the infighting and sedition to other fronts" as they demanded that all Muslims now bow before Baghdadi. All Muslims who fail to do so are "deemed" by the Islamic State to be "sinners," Nadhari says.

"They added to that, cancelling the legitimacy of all of the groups that work for Islam in the Muslim world, whether jihadi or preaching, and they strove to split the ranks of the mujahideen by collecting pledges from within the mujahid groups," Nadhari continues, according to SITE's translation.

Nadhari then directly criticizes the Islamic State's attempt to establish provinces in several nations. The Islamic State's "false implants," which were "adopted since the announcement of the caliphate," are "cleaving the ranks of jihad throughout the Muslim world."

The Islamic State's leaders "announced the expansion of their caliphate in a number of countries in which they have no governance, and considered them to be provinces that belong to them, and they appointed governors in them, and canceled the jihadi groups in them that did not pledge allegiance to them," Nadhari says.

Later in the video, Nadhari adds that the Islamic State's "true" governance "should not exceed the geographical scope in which they control it in Iraq and Syria."

"As for the rest of the countries," Nadhari says, "they have no real entity, but just groups and individual fighters working to push away the assailing enemy." In other words, according to Nadhari, the Islamic State doesn't have a real organization outside of Iraq and Syria. The group cannot, therefore, claim to govern outside of these countries.

Nadhari blasts the Islamic State's caliphate project, saying AQAP holds "our brothers in the Islamic State responsible for all the consequences of these interpretations and dangerous steps, from weakening the strength of the mujahideen, which is an inevitable result of fighting."

"We make them bear responsibility" for "going too far in interpretations in terms of spilling inviolable [Muslim] blood under the excuse of expanding and spreading the power of the Islamic State," Nadhari says, according to SITE's translation.

Nadhari also fires back at Baghdadi for smearing AQAP's honor on the battlefield. Baghdadi alleged in his audio message earlier this month that Shiite Houthi rebels would not have been able to achieve the successes they've enjoyed in Yemen in recent months if real monotheists were present on the battlefield. In other words, Baghdadi's forces would not have allowed the Shiites to advance.

AQAP's sharia man says he and others "were hurt by what Sheikh Abu Bakr al Baghdadi said, and it hurt the Muslims in the trench of Yemen, when he said that the Houthis found no monotheists to fight them." This is false, Nadhari argues, and AQAP cannot believe "the likes of the Sheikh" would "say such a thing."

Still want peace among jihadists

Nadhari's video is al Qaeda's clearest condemnation of the Islamic State yet. Al Qaeda and its branches, including AQAP, have indirectly criticized Baghdadi's organization on multiple occasions. But more often than not, al Qaeda has attempted to preach unity among the jihadists.

It appears that Baghdadi's speech on Nov. 13, in which he made aggressive claims on territory far afield from his headquarters, finally prompted al Qaeda to condemn the Islamic State's caliphate in no uncertain terms. Ultimately, however, AQAP wants the jihadists to cease fighting one another.

Regardless of the Islamic State's transgressions, Nadhari stresses that AQAP just wants the infighting in Syria to end. Apparently reacting to press accounts saying the jihadists had stopped attacking one another, Nadhari says AQAP expresses "our utmost joy to having received good news about what we heard of signs of stopping the infighting among the mujahideen" in Syria. Nadhari wants the jihadists to push forward with these efforts.

Nadhari repeats al Qaeda's call for the jihadists to settle their differences in a common sharia court. The Islamic State has dismissed this proposal out of hand in the past.

And Nadhari attempts to keep the jihadists focused on the "Crusaders," warning that it is impermissible for anyone to work with them as they attack the jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

Renewed oaths of loyalty to Ayman al Zawahiri and Mullah Omar

Nadhari says that AQAP rejects the Islamic State's "calls to split the ranks of the jihadi groups" around the world, and rhetorically asks how such a move could possibly serve the jihadists' interests. With respect to Zawahiri and Omar, Nadhari says that AQAP sees no reason for it to break its "covenant" or contradict its "pledge."

"We confirm to our brothers our loyalty to the promises, and renew the pledge of allegiance to our Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah preserve him, and the pledge of allegiance from him to Mullah Omar Mujahid, may Allah preserve him," Nadhari says. This declaration is necessary given that the "campaigns of the enemy from among the apostates and Crusaders have intensified on all the fronts."

"We hoped our brothers in the Islamic State [would] support and help, but they surprised us with these interpretations that collapse in the same body and separate the people," Nadhari says.

And the AQAP official says that the Islamic State should retract its attempt to expand into other lands. "We call upon our brothers in the Islamic State to withdraw the fatwa in removing the groups and splitting the ranks, for it is an attack and is unjust and [will lead to] breaking of relationships that Allah does not approve for His worshipers," Nadhari counsels.

Judging by its history, the Islamic State is not inclined to listen.

AQIS announces death of 2 senior leaders in US operation (12:42AM)

Two senior leaders of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the newest branch of the global jihadist group, were killed in a recent US operation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, AQIS' spokesman announced yesterday. One of those killed was a former Pakistani Army officer who had been directly linked to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an architect of 9/11. The other operative was a doctor who also served as a AQIS propagandist.

Usama Mahmood, the spokesman for AQIS, announced the death of the two leaders in a series of statements that were released today on his Twitter account. The tweets were obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Mahmood announced the "Martyrdom of Dr. Sarbaland (Abu Khalid) with his two young sons, [and] his brother-in-law, a former major in the Pakistani Army Adil Abdul Quoos." He described Qudoos and Sarbaland as "senior leaders of the group."

The two AQIS leaders and the two boys were killed "as a result of an American drop on the Afghan border, followed by bombing from spy aircraft" Mahmood claimed.

According to Xinhua, they were killed in a "drone strike along the [Pakistan-Afghanistan] border on November 9." No strikes were reported in Pakistan on Nov. 9, but there was a strike in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan on Nov. 11. If US ground forces were involved in the raid, then the operation may have taken place in Afghanistan, as US troops are not reported to have entered Pakistani territory.

Qudoos was known to be active in jihadist circles in the early 2000s while he served as a major in the Pakistani Army's signal corps. He is said to have owned the home in the garrison city of Rawalpindi where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested during a joint US and Pakistani raid in early 2003. Qudoos' father and brother lived in the residence at the time. His father, Abdul Qudoos Khan, is a doctor who is reported to have been a leader in the pro-Taliban and al Qaeda Jamaat-i-Islami political party; he may have known Osama bin Laden while living in Sudan in the 1990s.

Major Qudoos was arrested in March 2003 along with two colonels, Abdul Ghaffar and Khalid Abbasi, and charged by the Pakistani military with subversive activities. "One of the charges they faced was facilitation of al Qaeda-linked fighters," Imtiaz Gul wrote in his book, Pakistan, Before and After Osama. "They had also put associates of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind arrested from Rawalpindi in 2003, at army's hostels."

After a conviction, the former Pakistani major was sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in 2008 and quickly "immigrated with his family to the fields of jihad until Allah blessed him with martyrdom," Mahmood wrote.

The AQIS spokesman described Sarbaland as both "a skillful surgeon and a strategic ideologue for the group, and he provided many services to the Pakistani and Afghan jihad."

The US has killed one other AQIS leader since the group was founded at the end of the summer. On Oct. 11, the US killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), a veteran AQIS leader who had a pedigree in Pakistani jihadist circles. The strike, which took place in North Waziristan, also killed a "good Taliban" commander who served in the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group. [See LWJ reports, US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official and AQIS leader, 'good' Taliban commander killed in 2 US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas.]

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was formed on Sept. 3 and includes elements of some of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India's most prominent jihadist groups. Since its formation, AQIS claimed credit for a Sept. 6 attack on a Pakistani naval vessel. During the operation, jihadists attempted to hijack the ship and fire missiles at US warships in the Indian Ocean. According to both the terrorist group and Pakistan's defense minister, Pakistani naval officers were complicit in the attack. [See LWJ Report, AQIS claims plot to strike US warships was executed by Pakistani Navy officers.]

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jihadist group 'Soldiers of Egypt' claims responsibility for attack on police near university (03:53PM)

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Ajnad Misr, or the "Soldiers of Egypt," has claimed credit for a terrorist attack on a police post near Helwan University in Cairo earlier today. Initial accounts say that five policemen were injured in the bombing, and several other bystanders were wounded as they fled the scene.

Ajnad Misr released its claim of responsibility on its official Twitter feed, and the claim was also picked up by other jihadist websites. The group first claimed attacks earlier this year. In a statement issued on Jan. 24, Ajnad Misr said it was responsible for two attacks that occurred in November 2013, as well as subsequent attacks in January. The jihadist organization then executed a string of additional attacks in Cairo and elsewhere in the months that followed, mainly focusing on Egyptian security personnel.

The bombing outside of a university is consistent with Ajnad Misr's modus operandi, as it has targeted security personnel in and around universities in the past. The jihadist organization struck Cairo University in October, and its justifications were nearly identical to those offered for today's bombing.

"This blessed operation comes after a rise in killing and maltreatment incidents against students," Ajnad Misr said in a statement released after the bombings last month. "And we have been avoiding targeting the criminal apparatus near universities ... til it was proven that they are carrying out systematic crimes [against students] without justification," the statement reads.

In its statement claiming responsibility, Ajnad Misr justified today's attack by saying that it witnessed female students being dragged away by security forces.

A Twitter feed that claims to serve as Ajnad Misr's media arm posted an image of women being dragged away, saying today's attack was revenge for the "sisters" who were assaulted. The image can be seen above.

Ajnad Misr has repeatedly stated that it is attempting to avoid civilian casualties as it lashes out at Egyptian officials. In April, for instance, the group said that it delayed the detonation of one of its bombs near Cairo University because it wanted to avoid striking the civilians in the area. Ajnad made the same claim in October, saying that it used less powerful explosives in order to avoid innocent citizens.

Another Egyptian jihadist group, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), or Ansar Jerusalem, is headquartered in the Sinai, and a faction from the group has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that controls large portions of Iraq and Syria. ABM has rebranded itself as the Islamic State's province in the Sinai.

In the past, ABM has described Ajnad Misr as "our brothers," but it is not clear what, if any, relationship there is between the two organizations currently. Ajnad Misr has not sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, and many details about the group remain unknown.

US launches drone strike in North Waziristan (02:11PM)

The US killed five suspected "militants" in the latest drone strike in Pakistan's jihadist haven of North Waziristan. The strike is just the second by the US in Pakistan this month.

The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound "believed to be a hideout of suspected militants" in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, Xinhua reported.

Pakistani officials told Dawn that five "militants," including an unnamed "high value target," were killed in the strike. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other jihadist groups known to operate in the area have not released a statement announcing the death of any of the groups' leaders.

The Pakistani government, which has condemned US drone strikes in the past, including a Nov. 11 strike in Datta Khel, has not released a statement on today's attack. Several "foreign militants" were reported killed in the Nov. 11 airstrike.

The Datta Khel area of North Waziristan is one of several hubs for al Qaeda and other jihadist groups in North Waziristan. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders have been killed by drone strikes in the area, 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 information on Datta Khel.]

The Datta Khel area 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.

The US has launched 19 drone strikes inside Pakistan this year. Nine of those strikes have taken place in Datta Khel.

All 19 strikes have taken place since June 11. The US drone program in Pakistan was put on hold from the end of December 2013 up 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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

UN recognizes ties between Ansar al Sharia in Libya, al Qaeda (09:12PM)

The United Nations Security Council today added Ansar al Sharia in Libya to its al Qaeda sanctions list. "As a result of the new listings," the UN announced, "any individual or entity that provides financial or material support to" Ansar al Sharia Libya, "including the provision of arms or recruits, is eligible to be added to the Al Qaeda Sanctions List and subject to the sanctions measures."

The UN notes that the Ansar al Sharia chapters in Benghazi and Derna are associated with one another, but lists them separately under a heading that reads, "Entities and other groups associated with Al Qaeda."

Despite their separate listings, the two Ansar al Sharia groups operate together and have published their propaganda under a shared brand. Ansar al Sharia fighters from both Benghazi and Derna participated in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US Mission and Annex in Benghazi. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed during the assault.

According to the UN, both Ansar al Sharia groups in Libya are "associated" with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an official branch of al Qaeda that remains loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri. They are both also tied to Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia, which orchestrated the assault on the US Embassy in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012.

The UN added Ansar al Sharia Tunisia to its al Qaeda sanctions list in September. The UN found that, like its sister organizations in Libya, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia has "links to" AQIM.

There are well-established ties between Ansar al Sharia in Libya and Tunisia. The UN notes in its designation that Ansar al Sharia in Libya has a "support network in Tunisia."

In addition, the Benghazi chapter is tied to Al Mourabitoun, which is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former AQIM commander who established his own jihadist group. Belmokhtar is openly loyal to Zawahiri and, according to a previous designation by the UN, still works with AQIM despite his differences with the group's leadership.

Earlier this month, Agence France Presse obtained a copy of a dossier that was submitted to the UN to justify today's action. The documents provided to the UN show that 12 of the 24 jihadists who participated in the January 2013 siege of the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria were trained in Ansar al Sharia camps in Benghazi.

Belmokhtar commanded the terrorists responsible for the In Amenas siege and claimed responsibility for the raid on behalf of al Qaeda.

Britain, France, and the US moved to have Ansar al Sharia Libya added to the UN sanctions list earlier this month, and all 15 members of the UN Security Council had until today to agree to the sanctions. A consensus was reached and the sanctions were approved.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised the UN's decision in a statement. Hammond said that the Ansar al Sharia groups in Benghazi and Derna both "have links with Al Qaeda and are responsible for acts of terror in Libya, including bomb attacks, kidnappings, and murder."

Ansar al Sharia camps in Derna and Benghazi have been used to funnel foreign fighters to Syria, according to the UN. The camps in Benghazi have also shipped jihadists off to Mali.

Today's action by the UN confirms The Long War Journal's reporting and analysis. Numerous pieces of evidence tie the Ansar al Sharia organizations in Libya and Tunisia to al Qaeda's international network. See, for example, LWJ reports:

US military continues to claim al Qaeda is 'restricted' to 'isolated areas of northeastern Afghanistan' (12:34AM)

A recently issued report on the status of Afghanistan by the US Department of Defense has described al Qaeda as being primarily confined to "isolated areas of northeastern Afghanistan." But information on Afghan military and intelligence operations against the global jihadist group contradicts the US military's assessment.

The Defense Department released its "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan" in October. The report, which "covers progress in Afghanistan from April 1 to September 30, 2014," contains only nine mentions of al Qaeda. Five of those mentions simply reference the mission to conduct "counterterrorism operations against remnants of core al Qaeda and its affiliates."

The US military's report states that "[s]ustained ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] counterterrorism operations prevented al Qaeda's use of Afghanistan as a platform from which to launch transnational terrorist attacks during this reporting period."

Then the report goes on to describe al Qaeda as "isolated" in the northeastern part of the country, a reference to the remote mountainous provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.

"Counterterrorism operations restricted al Qaeda's presence to isolated areas of northeastern Afghanistan and limited access to other parts of the country," the report continues. "These efforts forced al Qaeda in Afghanistan to focus on survival, rather than on operations against the West. Al Qaeda's relationship with local Afghan Taliban organizations remains intact and is an area of concern."

Al Qaeda's operations contradict US military claims

For years, the US military has claimed that al Qaeda is constrained to operating in northeastern Afghanistan, but ISAF's own data on raids against the terrorist group and its allies has indicated otherwise. According to ISAF press releases announcing operations between early 2007 and June 2013, al Qaeda and its allies were targeted 338 different times, in 25 of 34 of Afghanistan's provinces. Those raids took place in 110 of Afghanistan's nearly 400 districts. [See LWJ report, ISAF raids against al Qaeda and allies in Afghanistan 2007-2013.]

Continuing this pattern, while the latest DoD report, which covers the period between April 1 and Oct. 30 of this year, claims that al Qaeda is restricted to northeastern Afghanistan, reported Afghan military and intelligence operations during the same time period indicate that al Qaeda remains active beyond Kunar and Nuristan.

The most high-profile operation against al Qaeda was conducted in Nangarhar province in October. Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security reported that al Qaeda leader Abu Bara al Kuwaiti was killed in a US airstrike in Lal Mandi in Nangarhar's Nazyan district. The airstrike took place at the home of Abdul Samad Khanjari, who was described as al Qaeda's military commander for the province.

Abu Bara likely served in al Qaeda's General Command. He was close to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, and had served as an aide to Atiyah Abd al Rahman, al Qaeda's former general manager who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in August 2011. Abu Bara wrote Atiyah's eulogy, which was published in Vanguards of Khorasan, al Qaeda's official magazine. US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that Abu Bara was the most senior al Qaeda leader killed in Afghanistan in years. [See LWJ report, Senior al Qaeda leader reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.]

Another senior al Qaeda leader known to operate in Afghanistan is Qari Bilal. In August, Afghan officials said that he commands more than 300 fighters in the northern province of Kunduz, where several districts are controlled or contested by the Taliban. Bilal is also a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that has integrated its operations with the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

Bilal escaped from a Pakistani jail in 2010, entered Afghanistan, and was subsequently captured by ISAF special operations forces in 2011. He was later freed by Afghan officials and rejoined the fight. [See LWJ report, Senior IMU leader captured by ISAF in 2011 now leads fight in northern Afghanistan.]

This month, Afghan officials announced the capture of Eqbal al Tajiki, a citizen of Tajikistan who served with al Qaeda's network in Kunduz. Sediq Sediqi, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that Eqbal "is an active member of the al Qaeda network" who was "transferred by his colleagues to northern parts of Afghanistan to carry out terrorist activities," according to Afghan Channel One TV. Sediqi said Eqbal had "received terrorist training in North Waziristan for three years."

Eqbal may have been a member of the Qari Salim Group, "a high-profile Al Qaeda affiliate" that is commanded by Qari Khaluddin, Pajhwok Afghan News noted in October. Khaluddin "had recently trained in Pakistan's city of Quetta." The group is said to have been plotting to attack a military base in Kunduz.

Another al Qaeda group known to be operating in Afghanistan is Junood al Fida. In early October, Junood al Fida released video that purported to show the group taking control of the district of Registan in the southern province of Kandahar.

Junood al Fida, which is comprised of Baluch jihadists, has sworn loyalty to the Taliban but also describes Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri as "Our Shaykh al Habeeb" [beloved leader] and its "Ameeruna" [our chief]. The group's propaganda routinely attacks the US. [See LWJ reports, Baloch jihadist group in southern Afghanistan announces death of commander and Jihadist group loyal to Taliban, al Qaeda claims to have captured Afghan district.]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb video features French, Dutch hostages (09:35AM)

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's official branch in North Africa, has released a new video that showcases two Western hostages. The hostages, a French national and a Dutch national, both appeal to their respective governments to intervene in order to free them.

The video was produced by Al Andalus Media, AQIM's media wing, and then disseminated online. The video has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The first hostage to speak, Serge Lazarevic, appears to be positioned in a vehicle with al Qaeda's black flag situated in the background. Speaking to the camera, Lazarevic says: "I seize this opportunity to solemnly call on Francois Holland, President of the Republic of France, to do everything to free me. I am very sick. My stomach hurts. I suffer from high hypertension, asthma, a knee ulcer. I feel that my life is in danger since the French intervention in Iraq. I ask you, Mr. President, to do all you can for my liberation, because you are responsible for all that will happen to me."

Lazarevic then mentions that five Taliban leaders were exchanged for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He notes: "In the past you freed all the French, and I am the last. I hope not to be the eighth on the list of the French killed in the Sahel. Obama liberated the only American soldier in exchange for five Taliban leaders."

He ends by addressing his family: "I say hello to my family, my mother [unclear], my daughter Diane Nihatovitch, her husband, the children, and my sister. I ask that everything be done for my release. I also ask the French people to help my family for my freedom. Thank you."

Lazarevic, who holds both French and Serbian citizenship, was seized in 2011 in Mali by AQIM forces there. He was kidnapped along with another French national, Philippe Verdon, who was killed last year by AQIM in Mali.

The second hostage to speak is Sjaak Rijke, the Dutch national. Rijke, who has been held captive for more than 1,000 days, appears to be speaking from location separate from Lazarevic's. Sitting in front of a white sheet, Rijke identifies the date as being Sept. 26, 2014, indicating that he was still alive as of almost two months ago.

Rijke says his health is deteriorating, and he also mentions the Bergdahl prisoner swap. He states: "I want to send a message to my government and inform them that until now, I've not received anything official with respect to the negotiations while at the same time we see that the American government released five Taliban captives to get one American rescued, captive returned. I'm suffering from serious back problems and I'm not well emotionally. I'm in extreme circumstances and a difficult security situation. As of today, I hold my government responsible for any harm that comes to me."

Rijke ends by appealing to his family and the citizens in Holland, saying, "[P]lace as much pressure to the government so that they take serious steps to come to a quick solution and that they respond to the demands of the mujahideen. Please help me. Please."

Rijke was abducted by AQIM in Mali in 2011. He was kidnapped at a hotel in the Malian city of Timbuktu along with a German national, a Swede, and a South African. The status of the other hostages is unclear.

AQIM has a history of taking Western hostages

AQIM has a long history of taking hostages to fund its activities. In 2010, Michel Germaneau, a French hostage held by AQIM, died while in captivity. And in 2013, four French hostages were released by AQIM after being held for three years; it is speculated that a ransom of 20 million Euros was paid to free them.

Before that, AQIM was responsible for the kidnapping of Spanish nationals in Mauritania and an Italian and French national in Mali in 2009, as well as many more abductions throughout North Africa.

The al Qaeda branch's prolific kidnappings have even led senior al Qaeda leaders to tighten their control over the hostage-taking operations.

In November 2010, AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel made a surprising claim in a video that was aired on Al Jazeera. Droukdel said that France would have to negotiate with Osama bin Laden himself to secure the release of several French hostages. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations.]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Analysis: Islamic State snuff videos help to attract more followers (09:59AM)

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In a video released on Nov. 16 that showed the execution of Syrian soldiers and the severed head of an American, the Islamic State highlighted the oaths of allegiance that jihadists from several countries swore to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi last week.

Editor's note: A version of this article was originally published at The Daily Beast.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's Islamic State, the al Qaeda offshoot that controls large portions of Iraq and Syria, has claimed to have beheaded yet another Western hostage, along with more than a dozen captured Syrian soldiers. In a newly-released video, a henchman for the group stands over what appears to be the severed head of Peter Kassig, a former US Army Ranger turned aid worker who was kidnapped in Syria in late 2013.

From the Islamic State's perspective, such videos serve multiple purposes. They are meant to intimidate the organization's enemies in the West and elsewhere, show defiance in the face of opposition, and to convince other jihadists that Baghdadi's state is the strong horse. Al Qaeda, the Islamic State's rival, long ago determined that graphic beheading videos do more harm than good for the jihadists' cause, as they turn off more prospective supporters than they earn. But the Islamic State has clearly come to the opposite conclusion, cornering the market on savagery.

There is no doubt that the Islamic State's ranks have swelled over the past year. Young recruits, in particular, have been attracted to the organization's brazen violence. But Baghdadi has had much less success in attracting the allegiance of established jihadist organizations, many of which remain openly loyal to al Qaeda.

At first blush, Baghdadi had a big day on Nov. 10. Jihadists from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all swore allegiance to Baghdadi in what was intended to be a show of global support for the self-appointed caliph. The Islamic State has been attempting to win the support of jihadists at the expense of al Qaeda, so the messages were widely heralded by Baghdadi's boosters. Indeed, the group highlighted the oaths of allegiance in yesterday's beheading video.

Baghdadi accepted the various loyalty oaths three days later in an audio message released on Nov. 13. The Islamic State leader's speech served multiple purposes. It demonstrated that he was alive, contradicting thinly-sourced claims that he had been killed in airstrikes earlier in the month. And it gave Baghdadi the opportunity to praise his new minions, blessing them as his official representatives.

Baghdadi offered "glad tidings" as he trumpeted "the expansion of the Islamic State to new lands, to the lands of al Haramain [meaning Saudi Arabia] and Yemen, and to Egypt, Libya and Algeria." Baghdadi accepted "the bayat (oath of allegiance) from those who gave us bayat in those lands" and pronounced "the nullification" of all other jihadist "groups therein." He also announced the creation of "new wilayah [provinces] for the Islamic State" in all five countries, adding that the group would appoint "wali [provincial leaders] for them." All jihadists in these areas, and indeed all Muslims, must now obey the Islamic State's official representatives, according to Baghdadi and his supporters.

Of course, the Islamic State doesn't really have provinces stretching from North Africa through the heart of Arabia. But how strong is Baghdadi's network in all five countries? The short answer is: We don't really know.

In three of the five countries--Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen--the jihadists who swore loyalty oaths to Baghdadi were anonymous. And they don't represent any well-established terrorist organizations either.

For instance, the Islamic State has failed, thus far, to garner the allegiance of Ansar al Sharia Libya, which is notorious for its role in the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi and remains one of the most powerful jihadist organizations in eastern Libya. None of Ansar al Sharia's allies in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, the Islamist coalition fighting General Khalifa Haftar's forces for control of territory, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. The Islamic State has supporters in Libya, particularly among the jihadist youth. But other groups are still, by all outward appearances, more entrenched.

Similarly, the messages from Saudi Arabia and Yemen were attributed generically to the "mujahideen" in both countries. Baghdadi and his supporters have attempted, and failed, to woo al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on multiple occasions.

AQAP, which is headquartered in Yemen, is the strongest jihadist group in the heart of Arabia. Some have assumed that the only person keeping AQAP loyal to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri is Nasir al Wuhayshi, a protégé of Osama bin Laden who serves as both AQAP's leader and as al Qaeda's global general manager. There is no basis for this assumption. There are al Qaeda loyalists throughout AQAP's chain-of-command.

A few AQAP ideologues have been quite vocal in their support for the Islamic State, but there was an interesting twist in this part of the story this past week.

Mamoon Hatem has been the Islamic State's most zealous supporter within AQAP. Hatem frequently uses his Twitter feed, which has been suspended multiple times, to sing the Islamic State's praises. Hatem encouraged Baghdadi to proclaim himself the new caliph even before the Islamic State's caliphate announcement in late June. Before this past week, it was reasonable to assume that Hatem may break away from AQAP to form his own branch of the Islamic State.

That is still a possibility. Curiously, however, Hatem refused to endorse the group of unknown "mujahideen" in Yemen who swore allegiance to Baghdadi on Nov. 10. In a series of more than 20 tweets, Hatem admitted that he tried to get AQAP to switch allegiances from Zawahiri to Baghdadi. But Hatem explained that he failed for a number of reasons. And he said that the pro-Islamic State message out of Yemen would only exacerbate the many difficulties AQAP currently faces inside the country. This was no time to jump ship, Hatem argued, given that AQAP is hunted by the US while also embroiled in a vicious fight against the Houthis, Shiite rebels who have barnstormed throughout the country.

Hatem said he still wants the Islamic State to expand the territory under its control, including to parts of the Arabian Peninsula. But he doesn't want Baghdadi to do so in a way that further divides the jihadists. Hatem said the men loyal to Baghdadi inside Yemen include "students," but offered few other details. Hatem's tweets indicate that, once again, the Islamic State is attracting the jihadist youth while failing to secure the loyalty of more seasoned fighters.

As a result, we know next to nothing about the jihadists in Saudi Arabia and Yemen who now claim to take orders from Baghdadi. The Islamic State may have cadres of fighters in both countries, but no one can publicly identify them at this point and there is no reason to believe they are nearly as strong as al Qaeda.

We do know something about the Islamic State's adherents in Algeria, as they first swore allegiance to Baghdadi well before their announcement on Nov. 10. They are veteran jihadists who have defected from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). When they first came out in support of Baghdadi earlier this year, they identified themselves as AQIM's "central division," a little-known faction within AQIM. They now call themselves Jund al Khalifa, a name that is intended to explicitly connect them to Baghdadi's caliphate. Jund al Khalifa has already beheaded a French hostage in service of the Islamic State's cause, but there is no way of telling how many fighters are under its control.

The announcement out of Egypt was the most significant, as it came from a faction of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), otherwise known as Ansar Jerusalem. No jihadist group in Egypt is more prolific than ABM, which has been responsible for dozens of attacks against members of the Egyptian military and security services, Sinai tribesmen, Israelis, and others. Oddly, however, the ABM jihadist who pledged to obey Baghdadi was not identified in his message. Neither his alias, nor his role within ABM, was given. Credible accounts, including one by The New York Times, point to divisions within ABM. The Sinai faction of ABM has been itching to join the Islamic State since earlier this year, but their Nile Valley counterparts remain loyal to al Qaeda. Thus, at least part of ABM remains in al Qaeda's corner.

This is not to suggest that the Islamic State's gains in the Sinai should be dismissed. It is likely that Baghdadi has officially gained the allegiance of a number of fighters. The Islamic State's influence in the Sinai has long been clear. Both Egyptian officials and ABM leaders have said that the group has been working with the Sinai jihadists for months, thereby increasing their operational capacity. And a video released on Nov. 14 portrays ABM as the Islamic State's new province in the Sinai.

In the days and weeks that follow, we will likely learn more about the jihadists who now represent the Islamic State in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Baghdadi emphasized in his message on Nov. 13 that his organization now has provinces in each of these five countries. And because his caliphate has spread into those nations, Baghdadi argues, existing jihadist organizations have been nullified.

The logical implication of Baghdadi's argument is that the official branches of al Qaeda--such as AQAP in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as AQIM in Algeria and Libya--are now illegitimate if they do not submit to the caliphate's claimed authority. This makes it incumbent upon the Islamic State's leadership to demonstrate that their network's presence in these nations is meaningful, and goes beyond audio messages from unknown figures.

The Islamic State's international network is real. It remains to be seen just how strong it really is. With more videos released like yesterday's, young jihadists will continue to flock to Baghdadi's cause. While a smattering of established jihadists around the globe have backed Baghdadi, the Islamic State's base of support is found in new recruits. That is, Baghdadi's followers are predominately hotheads, young men and women who are emboldened by horrific beheadings.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Islamic State releases new execution video, purportedly kills American (10:45AM)

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The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that controls large portions of Iraq and Syria, has released a new video showing the mass beheadings of Syrian soldiers. The video also includes a scene purportedly showing the severed head of Peter Kassig, who was kidnapped in late 2013. Kassig is a former US Army Ranger who was serving as an aid worker in Syria at the time of his disappearance.

As in past videos, the Islamic State's executioner, a man dubbed "Jihadi John" in the press because he speaks with an English accent, is featured. He taunts the West, saying that the Islamic State cannot wait to face American ground troops.

Unlike previous videos, however, the gruesome beheading of Kassig is not the centerpiece of the production. He had already been killed by the time the video cuts to his corpse.

The Islamic State's media department begins by offering a selective history of the Islamic State and its predecessors, starting with the creation of Abu Musab al Zarqawi's organization in Iraq. Zarqawi, who was killed in June 2006, swore allegiance to al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden in 2004, officially merging the two organizations. The current Islamic State evolved out of Zarqawi's group.

After scenes of fighting in Iraq and Syria, the video shows the mass beheadings of Syrian officers and pilots.

A group of Islamic State fighters dressed in camouflage is shown leading the Syrians to their slaughter. They are led by the head executioner, "Jihadi John," who presumably killed Kassig. One by one the Islamic State executioners select knives from a bin. (The image at the beginning of this piece shows "Jihadi John" selecting his knife.)

"Jihadi John," the head executioner then speaks, addressing President Obama directly as the "dog of Rome."

"Today, we are slaughtering the soldiers of Bashar, tomorrow we'll be slaughtering your soldiers," the executioner says. He claims that the Islamic State will end this "final crusade" and then begin slaughtering people on "your streets."

The scene of the mass execution of the Syrians is shot in a sadistic fashion, so as to highlight the drama of the moment, with closeups of the soldiers' faces and the Islamic State's henchmen fondling their knives before they begin cutting their victims' necks.

Although the terrorists committing these war crimes are not specifically identified, they clearly come from various ethnicities and nationalities around the globe.

Last week, jihadists from Algeria, the Sinai in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all swore allegiance to Baghdadi in audio messages that were clearly coordinated by the Islamic State. The new video highlights these oaths, playing excerpts from the audio messages as the production moves from location to location on a map intended to represent the Islamic State's claimed territorial expansion.

The video also replays audio of a speech by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi that was released on Nov. 13. Baghdadi accepted the oaths of allegiance in that speech, saying the Islamic State had expanded "to new lands, to the lands of al-Haramayn [Saudi Arabia] and Yemen to Egypt, Libya and Algeria."

With less than two minutes left in the 16-minute video, "Jihadi John" returns, standing over the head of a man he claims is Kassig. He says that Kassig fought against Muslims during the war in Iraq. He taunts Kassig by saying the dead man "doesn't have much to say," as his "previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf."

Again addressing Obama, the terrorist says: "[Y]ou claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars, that you had not withdrawn. And that if you had withdrawn you would return after some time."

"You returned," he says to Obama, "here you are, you have not withdrawn." America has hid behind its proxies, "Jihadi John" claims, but its forces "will return in greater numbers than before."

Citing Zarqawi, the Islamic State's executioner says the "spark has been lit in Iraq" and that they are "eagerly awaiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive."

Scenes from new Islamic State video, titled "although the disbelievers dislike it"

The video highlights the oaths of allegiance that jihadists from several countries swore to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi last week:

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The video replays part of Baghdadi's audio message, released on Nov. 13, during which he accepted the oaths of allegiance and claimed that the Islamic State's "caliphate" had expanded into new lands:

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The video begins with a highly selective history of the Islamic State's evolution from al Qaeda in Iraq:

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The Syrian soldiers executed in the video are lined up with their executioners standing behind them:

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The Islamic State's fighters play with their knives before beheading the Syrian soldiers:

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

US airstrike targets al Qaeda in Syria (08:48AM)

The US targeted al Qaeda's network in Syria in one of the 20 airstrikes that took place between Nov. 12 and Nov. 14. While the US military has said the strike was carried out against al Qaeda's so-called Khorasan Group, the targets indicate that local infrastructure used by the Al Nusrah Front were hit.

US Central Command, or CENTCOM, noted that it "struck terrorists associated with a network of veteran al Qaeda operatives, sometimes called the 'Khorasan Group,' who are plotting external attacks against the United States and our allies" in one of the attacks.

The airstrike took place "in northwest Syria west of Aleppo." The exact target of the strike was not disclosed, nor was the result of the operation. The strike took place on Nov. 13, according to CNN.

The Khorasan Group is part of the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. It is comprised of a group of senior al Qaeda leaders and operatives who are embedded within Al Nusrah. The al Qaeda veterans have been attempting to identify Western recruits who joined Al Nusrah and can be repurposed for attacks in their home countries or elsewhere abroad. [For more information on the Khorasan Group, see LWJ report, Analysis: CENTCOM draws misleading line between Al Nusrah Front and Khorasan Group.]

The US has targeted the Khorasan Group on two other occasions since launching airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 22. The US launched eight airstrikes against al Qaeda west of Aleppo on Sept. 22, and another five strikes in Sarmada on Nov. 5.

In its announcement explaining the Sarmada airstrikes, CENTCOM went out of its way to note that it "did not target the Nusrah Front as a whole," but instead the attacks were "directed at the Khorasan Group whose focus is not on overthrowing the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people."

In reality, there is no firm dividing line between al Qaeda's so-called Khorasan Group and the rest of Al Nusrah. Indeed, the US military's airstrikes on Sept. 22 and Nov. 5 hit the Al Nusrah Front 's infrastructure, which is used to wage its local insurgency against the Assad regime. Among the targets hit were IED-making facilities, a munitions production facility, a communication building, command and control facilities, training camps, staging areas for fighters, and vehicles.

One of the first reported casualties in the Sept. 22 airstrikes was an al Qaeda veteran named Abu Yusuf al Turki, who trained snipers for the Al Nusrah Front. While the snipers could be repurposed in Mumbai-style attacks in the West, their primary focus has been combatting Bashar al Assad's forces and their Iranian-backed allies. [For more on Abu Yusuf al Turki, see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front trainer suspected of plotting against 2004 NATO summit killed in US airstrikes.]

The Al Nusrah Front has posted photos from the Sept. 22 and Nov. 5 airstrikes on its official Twitter feeds. In the accompanying tweets, the group describes the targets hit as belonging to Al Nusrah, including buildings that have served as its headquarters.

Ahrar al Sham officials have claimed on Twitter that their facilities have also been hit in the US airstrikes. This has not been confirmed. If true, this is further evidence that the US military's offensive is hitting targets that are associated with al Qaeda's insurgency against the Assad regime. Ahrar al Sham is an al Qaeda-linked group that is primarily focused on overthrowing Assad. It is closely allied with the Al Nusrah Front.