Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pro-al Qaeda ideologues propose truce between Islamic State, rivals (12:05AM)

Leading jihadist ideologues, including several allied with al Qaeda, have proposed a truce between the Islamic State and its rivals. The initiative, which is being promoted on Twitter, aims to bring together the warring jihadist factions in Iraq and Syria against the West.

The proposal, titled "An Initiative and Call for a Ceasefire Between Factions in Syria," was released online on Sept. 30. "Due to the Crusader attack on our Muslim brothers in Syria and Iraq," the authors argue, the jihadists must set aside their violent disagreements.

They claim that the US-led bombing campaign is part of a war "against Islam and not against a specific organization."

The Islamic State, headed by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, has been warring with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and other jihadist organizations since last year. Some of the signatories were involved in previous efforts to reconcile the Islamic State with its rivals. Those efforts failed, but the jihadist ideologues are trying once again.

"We call on all factions in Syria and Iraq to cease fighting among themselves no later than the evening of Arafah [a Muslim holy day that falls on Oct 3, 2014], for perhaps Allah most high will descend his mercies upon Syria and its people in the prayer of Muslim crowds on that great day," the proposal reads.

The document continues: "And we request from all the factions that they announce their position regarding this initiative in their manner in three days from the date of the publication of this statement, so that it can be made known and clear who rejects this blessed initiative."

The authors argue that "forty countries have united and gathered together to wage war against" Islam itself. They ask: "[S]o does our loyalty to Islam and its people not require of us to stop the infighting under the bombardment of this Crusader campaign at the very least if a permanent [final] end to it is not possible?"

Authors' backgrounds indicate proposal likely has al Qaeda's approval

The proposed truce's signatories include: Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, Abu Qatada al Filisṭini, Umar al Haddoushi, Abu al Wafaa al Tunisi, Dr. Tariq Abdul Haleem, and Hani al Sibai. The initiative has also been endorsed by Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, who is the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate.

Several of the signatories are well-known critics of the Islamic State. And the authors' backgrounds indicate that the proposal likely has the support of al Qaeda's senior leadership.

Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini is a Saudi cleric who is closely allied with the Al Nusrah Front. He worked hard to reconcile the Islamic State with other jihadists late last year and into early 2014.

Muhaysini offered a reconciliation proposal in late January that received wide support, but was ultimately rejected by the Islamic State. When Muhaysini released his proposal on Jan. 23, he specifically noted that it was consistent with a call for unity made by Zawahiri just hours earlier. "In the morning, the Mujahid Sheikh Doctor [Ayman al Zawahiri] gave a speech in which he called to the same cause to which we have been intending to call," Muhaysini said at the time. The Saudi cleric said he interpreted Zawahiri's words as "good tidings."

It appears that the Islamic State's rejection of Muhaysini's peace offering was one of the final acts that led al Qaeda's general command to disown the group. Indeed, al Qaeda's senior leaders disassociated themselves from the Islamic State just days after Muhaysini's offer was declined.

Both Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al Filisṭini have been released from prison in Jordan. Their blistering critiques of the Islamic State have been marketed by the Al Nusrah Front on at least several occasions. Maqdisi and Qatada have also backed Ayman al Zawahiri in the dispute with Baghdadi's group.

In late May, Maqdisi released a statement calling the Islamic State a "deviant organization." Maqdisi revealed that he had personally attempted to broker a peace deal between the jihadist factions in Syria, saying that he been in touch with both Baghdadi and Zawahiri. Maqdisi referred to Zawahiri as his "beloved brother," "the Sheikh," and "the Commander" in the statement. Maqdisi blasted the Islamic State for rejecting his reconciliation attempts.

Hani al Sibai is so highly regarded by Zawahiri that when Sibai and others called on the al Qaeda master to detail some of the specific problems with the Islamic State in mid-April, Zawahiri publicly responded just weeks later in early May. Zawahiri said he decided to address the conflict with the Islamic State out of his respect for Sibai.

In a video address in late June, Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, described Zawahiri as "our leader" and said that his organization was following Zawahiri's guidelines for waging jihad. In a video released on Sept. 23, Dagestani addressed the "scholars of the ummah [worldwide community of Muslims]." Zawahiri, Maqdisi, Hani Sibai, and Abu Qatada were four of the six "scholars" praised by Dagestani, who said that he had "benefited" greatly from reading their "books, research, sermons and lectures," as well as fatwas (religious edicts).

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, two official branches of al Qaeda that remain loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri, have also urged the jihadists in Syria to fight their common enemies and not one another.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

AQAP official calls on rival factions in Syria to unite against West (10:52AM)

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an official branch of al Qaeda's international organization, has released a video calling on the rival jihadist factions in Iraq and Syria to set aside their differences and jointly confront the West. The video, which was released online on Sept. 30 by AQAP's Al Malahem Media, features Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, a leader in the group.

Al Ansi connects the fighting in Iraq and Syria to events in Yemen, saying that all of the fronts are part of a common war involving Iran's proxies and allies as well as the West.

"What the Islamic ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] is witnessing today by way of developments in Iraq and Sham is the enabling of Iranian agents running parallel to a fierce war waged on the mujahideen as well as aerial, land, and sea bombardment on our brothers, the mujahideen in the Islamic State and [the Al Nusrah Front] and the other jihadi factions," al Ansi says.

"This is the same plan that is being executed in Yemen by enabling Iranian agents and handing over the capital Sana'a to them without any resistance mentioned from the military," the AQAP ideologue adds.

Al Ansi says the jihadists must unite to face the West. "As for the Crusader coalition that has shown its teeth in Iraq and Sham, in the face of this plan and plot the Muslims must forget their differences, unite their efforts, and join their ranks against their Crusader enemy."

The jihadists "must form a coalition to strike the leader of invalidity and the head of disbelief," al Ansi says, referring to the US. No "conditions" must be placed on the fight against the US, and "every faction must strike America and its interests everywhere."

"For we have come to know the main enemy, and America has for decades supported the occupying Jews in Palestine," al Ansi says. "And American drones bomb Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. And they have killed mujahideen and their leaders as well as many among the Muslim public, and destroyed houses and terrorized children and women."

Al Ansi refers to the US in the same terms used by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other al Qaeda leaders. "It must be known that America is the head of the snake," al Ansi says. "She is the one who mobilizes against the mujahideen and their Islamic project ... and if the head falls, its tails fall as well."

The infighting between rival jihadist groups in Syria has pitted the Islamic State, which was once part of al Qaeda's international network, against the Al Nusrah Front and its allies. Al Nusrah is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Ahrar al Sham, which fights alongside Al Nusrah regularly, is also an al Qaeda-linked organization. Ahrar al Sham is the most powerful group in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel organizations that is opposed to both Bashar al Assad's regime and the Islamic State.

According to al Ansi, all of the jihadist factions should now form a "coalition" to counter the West and move beyond the vicious infighting of the past.

Al Qaeda's messaging: Attacks in Syria are part of "crusade" against Muslims

Al Qaeda officials and groups have previously called for unity in light of the US-led bombing campaign in Syria. They have used language similar to al Ansi's, portraying the bombings as part of a US-led conspiracy against Muslims.

In mid-September, AQAP and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a joint statement denouncing the bombings in Syria, saying they are part of a "Crusader campaign to fight Islam and the Muslims."

The two al Qaeda branches went on to urge the warring jihadist factions to "[s]top the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America's campaign and that of its satanic alliance that lies in wait ... to break us stick by stick."

Some media outlets have incorrectly reported that AQAP, AQIM, or both have sided with the Islamic State in its rivalry with al Qaeda. However, this is clearly not the case, as both groups remain loyal to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. And al Ansi's video should not be viewed as a break from al Qaeda in favor of the Islamic State either.

Even some of the Islamic State's rivals in the Al Nusrah Front are calling for unity against the jihadists' common enemies. They have not, however, gone as far as to say that they are willing to set aside their differences entirely.

In a series of tweets in September, a top al Qaeda and Al Nusrah Front sharia official known as Abu Sulayman al Muhajir criticized the US-led bombing campaign in Syria. Abu Sulayman has been highly critical of the Islamic State, and he made it clear that all would not be forgiven between the groups. "Our stance against the U.S and the global crusade alliance does not mean others have been acquitted of their crimes," he wrote. But Abu Sulayman also portrayed the airstrikes as part of a conspiracy against all Muslims, and not specific jihadist factions.

"Those that believe that the new coalition is against one particular group are sorely mistaken," Abu Sulayman wrote in one tweet. He wrote in another: "The US is not fighting [the Islamic State] as they claim. It is a war against Islam, the latest sequel to their crusade. Muslims must stand united!"

More recently, another senior al Qaeda and Al Nusrah Front leader in Syria, Sanafi al Nasr, argued on his Twitter feed that all Muslims need to unite against the West. "The Arab and non-Arab tyrants have gathered together to wage war on the Muslims," Nasr wrote in a tweet on Sept. 29. "When will we gather?"

"I will stand beside any Muslim in the war against the Crusaders, whether he be Sufi or Mughal," Nasr wrote in another tweet.

Like Abu Sulayman, Nasr is an al Qaeda loyalist and has been an outspoken critic of the Islamic State. Although Nasr did not say that he would fight alongside the Islamic State, specifically, that is the clear implication of Nasr's tweets.

Al Qaeda veteran who served Osama bin Laden

In November 2013, Abdul Razzaq al Jamal, a Yemeni journalist who has contacts inside AQAP, published an interview with Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, who is the star of AQAP's new video. The interview was published in al Wasat, a Yemeni newspaper, and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

An extensive biography revealing al Ansi's al Qaeda roles was provided at the beginning of the interview.

In 1993, al Ansi enrolled at the Iman University, which is headed by Sheikh Abdul Majid al Zindani, a longtime ally of bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Two years later, in 1995, al Ansi went to Bosnia, where he received military training and fought against the Serbs. He stayed in Bosnia for nearly a year before returning to Yemen.

In 1996, al Ansi tried to fight in Kashmir, but was prevented from doing so by the Pakistani government. He went to Afghanistan instead and met with two senior al Qaeda officials, Abu Hafs al Masri and Saif al Adel. Al Masri, who headed al Qaeda's military committee, was killed in US airstrikes in 2001. Saif al Adel has been a senior al Qaeda official since the 1990s and remains a leader in the organization.

Along with other al Qaeda members, al Ansi tried to join the front in Tajikistan, but failed to reach the country "due to the heavy snow."

He went home to Yemen in 1997, but returned to Afghanistan in 1998. He was "received by Osama bin Laden," who sent al Ansi "to Kabul and placed him as Emir of the Kabul Reception, where he stayed as its emir for a long time."

Al Ansi joined al Qaeda's forces on the battlefield and was selected to "participate in the most intense course held in Afghanistan," called the "Qualification of the Forces" course. Senior al Qaeda leaders taught the course and among his fellow trainees was Qassim al Raymi, who is AQAP's military commander. Al Ansi and al Raymi then received training at the Al Farouq camp.

Bin Laden had al Ansi travel to the Philippines, where he was to "qualify the mujahideen ... in Sharia and militarily," in 2001. That same year, according to SITE's translation of the interview, al Ansi assisted As Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda arm, in creating two productions: the "American Intervention" and the "State of the Islamic Ummah."

Al Ansi completed his mission for bin Laden in the Philippines, and tried to return to Afghanistan after the US-led coalition responded to the 9/11 attacks. However, al Ansi was detained in Yemen en route to Afghanistan in early 2002. Yemeni authorities kept him imprisoned for six months before he was freed.

He then studied for "a long time" at Iman University, where he "received a certificate in Sharia jurisprudence." In addition to attending lectures at Iman, he preached "among the young" and conducted "some special training."

There are few details in the biography offered for al Ansi between 2002 and 2011. But he eventually became a senior official in AQAP and has now been tasked with delivering an important message to the warring jihadists in Syria.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Al Qaeda leader claims key operative in so-called 'Khorasan group' was killed (03:36PM)
Sanafi al Nasr picture 2.jpg

Sanafi al Nasr is sitting on the far left in the picture above. The photo was circulated on Twitter following erroneous reports of his death earlier this year. Nasr claims on his Twitter feed that one of his al Qaeda comrades, Muhsin al Fadhli, has been killed by US airstrikes in Syria.

A senior al Qaeda leader known as Sanafi al Nasr (a Saudi whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh) has claimed on his Twitter feed that Muhsin al Fadhli is now an al Qaeda "martyr." Al Fadhli has been publicly identified by US officials as a key operative in the so-called "Khorasan group," which was dispatched to Syria by al Qaeda's senior leadership.

The al Qaeda group, which is suspected of planning mass casualty terrorist attacks in the West, was struck last week as part of the US-led bombing campaign in Syria.

As The Long War Journal first reported, Nasr himself is a member of al Qaeda's Khorasan group in Syria.

Although Nasr's tweets indicate that al Fadhli is dead, they should not be treated as authoritative.

Earlier this year, senior officials in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and other al Qaeda-allied jihadists reported on Twitter that Nasr had been killed.

Nasr was most likely wounded while fighting against forces loyal to Bashar al Assad, but he survived the battle. Weeks after he was reportedly killed, Nasr began tweeting once again, thereby confirming that he was in fact alive.

In a pair of tweets posted on Sept. 29, Nasr asked Allah to accept al Fadhli as a martyr and said the time has come for him to rest.

Nasr also tweeted a picture of a young child, saying he was killed in the American ("Crusader") bombing campaign. Nasr described the boy as the "son of our brother Abu Basir" and prayed that Allah accept both of them as martyrs.

Although some anonymous US officials have told the press that they believe al Fadhli was killed during the American airstrikes last week, there has been no official confirmation of his death by either the US or al Qaeda.

And while Nasr's tweets indicate al Fadhli is dead, recent history tells us to be skeptical of such claims on social media, especially without martyrdom photos or other firm evidence. The fog of war often makes it difficult to confirm if a specific al Qaeda leader has been killed, or has survived, or has escaped an American airstrike entirely unscathed.

Nasr's new tweets were the first he posted since Sept. 18, just days before the US struck the facilities where al Qaeda members were believed to be plotting attacks against the West.

In his first tweet on Sept. 29, Nasr wrote, "Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah." Assuming Nasr wrote this, and someone else did not take control of his Twitter account, the post was confirmation that Nasr had survived last week's airstrikes against al Qaeda's positions.

In two other tweets, Nasr encourages jihadist unity against their common enemies. "The Arab and non-Arab tyrants have gathered together to wage war on the Muslims," Nasr wrote. "When will we gather?"

"I will stand beside any Muslim in the war against the Crusaders, whether he be Sufi or Mughal," Nasr wrote in another tweet.

Nasr has been a vocal critic of the Islamic State, the former al Qaeda branch that was disowned by al Qaeda's senior leaders earlier this year. In addition to being a senior al Qaeda official, Nasr has been embedded within the Al Nusrah Front and he serves as a senior strategist in the group. The Islamic State has fought against Al Nusrah since last year.

Most of the US-led bombing campaign has focused on positions controlled by the Islamic State. But some of the airstrikes conducted within the first 24 hours of the campaign also hit Al Nusrah positions where members of al Qaeda's Khorasan group were thought to be stationed.

For more on Sanafi al Nasr, who is a third cousin of Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda pedigree, see LWJ reports: Head of al Qaeda's 'Victory Committee' in Syria and Treasury designates 2 'key' al Qaeda financiers.

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

Islamic State photos detail rout of Iraqi Army at Camp Saqlawiya (01:53PM)

An Islamic State fighter stands on top of a US-made M1 Abrams tank.

The Islamic State released photographs of last week's rout of an Iraqi Army unit in the Saqwaliya area north of Fallujah in Anbar province. More than 300 Iraqi troops are reported to have been killed in the attack.

The pictures from the assault on Camp Saqwaliya were released on Twitter by fighters and supporters of the Islamic State. Recently the Islamic State has begun to release its propaganda on Twitter via its supporters. Twitter has taken an active role in suspending official accounts associated to the Islamic State's wiliyats, or administrative districts.

While the authenticity of the photographs cannot be confirmed, the captions bear the title of Wilayat Fallujah. In the past, photographs released using this method by the Islamic State have proven to be authentic.

The Islamic State took control of the Alsigir area of Anbar two weeks ago, and then laid siege to the nearby Iraqi Army base at Camp Saqlawiya. Most of the base was overrun on Sept. 21 after Islamic State fighters launched a complex suicide assault. [See LWJ report, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar.]

The photographs show numerous Iraqi Army soldiers who were killed in the fighting (these photographs have not been included below as they are extremely graphic).

Based on the photographs, the Islamic State seized or destroyed at least one M1 Abrams tank, four M113 armored personnel carriers, 15 Iraqi Army Humvees, a BMP infantry fighting vehicle, and other trucks. At least three of the US-donated M113s appear to be operational; an Islamic State fighter is shown driving one M113. The M1 tank appears to have caught fire.

According to the Islamic State, the Iraqi unit that was overrun was from the 30th Brigade. The 30th Brigade is subordinate to the 8th Mechanized Division, which is based south of Baghdad. The Iraqi Army has been forced to deploy units from other provinces, as much of the Anbar-based 1st and 7th Divisions have been rendered combat ineffective.

The 30th Brigade has been hit hard by the Islamic State over the past few weeks. A company or battalion from the 30th Brigade also was ambushed and routed just north of Ramadi on or about Sept. 28. [See LWJ report, Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi.]

Another Iraqi armored unit was destroyed in the town of Khalidiya in July during a complex ambush by the Islamic State. Khalidiya is between the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Habbaniyah. [See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar.]

The Islamic State has maintained the initiative against the Iraqi military in Anbar province more than seven weeks after the US began launching airstrikes against the jihadist group inside Iraq on Aug. 7.

Photographs of the Islamic State's operation in Saqlawiya

An Islamic State fighter fires on Iraqi troops:


A captured Humvee:


Islamic State fighters inspect three captured M113s:


An Islamic State fighter drives an M113:


A dead Iraqi soldier outside a Humvee:


An Islamic State fighter walks past a burning M113 and a Humvee:


Burning buildings at the Iraqi Army camp:


A destroyed Humvee:


A destroyed Humvee in front of a trench:


US adds Harakat-ul-Mujahideen's emir to terrorism list (11:40AM)

Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, the longtime emir of the Pakistan-based Harakat-ul-Mujahideen that was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, was finally added to the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Khalil signed Osama bin Laden's infamous 1998 fatwa, or religious edict, that declared war on the US and Israel.

Today, the Department of the Treasury added Khalil, two Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives, and two businesses associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

"Both LT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] and HUM [Harakat-ul-Mujahideen] are violent terrorist organizations that train militants and support the activities of many of the best known and brutal extremist groups, including al Qaeda," Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen is quoted as saying in the Treasury designation.

Khalil's designation takes place less than two months after the State Department updated the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen Foreign Terrorist Organization designation to include the alias Ansar ul-Ummah. In that update, State noted that HUM "operates in Pakistan, and engages in terrorist activity in Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan" and "also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan."

A follow-up inquiry to State by The Long War Journal confirmed that the HUM camps in eastern Afghanistan are still in operation. The exact locations of the camps were not disclosed. [See LWJ report, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen 'operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan'.]

Khalil is an established jihadist leader in Pakistan

Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen operates freely inside Pakistan, with the permission of the Pakistani establishment, including the military and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Khalil lives openly in Pakistan's capital of Islamabad.

After founding HUM in 1997, Khalil remained at the helm of the Pakistani terror group and its various aliases. "In 2008, Khalil was leader of the HUM shura council," Treasury notes. "As of mid-2003, Khalil was the chief of Jamiat ul-Ansar in Pakistan, the name under which HUM had reorganized at the time. As of October 1997, Khalil was the leader of Harkat ul-Ansar (HUA) and renamed HUA as HUM after HUA was listed by the United States as a terrorist organization. As of late 2006, Khalil was appointed as the emir of a trust that, as of mid-2007, was being used by HUM to raise funds for the group."

Khalil is the man Osama bin Laden consulted before issuing his infamous fatwa declaring war against the US in 1998. According to the Associated Press, Khalil has "dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia," and "was a confidante of bin Laden and hung out with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."

Khalil "has maintained a close relationship with al Qaeda, including with Osama bin Laden prior to his death," Treasury notes. He "visited al-Qaida training camps" and "sent Pakistani militants to support OBL's operatives in Somalia and OBL sent funds to unidentified Pakistan-based individuals via Khalil prior to September 2001."

HUM has been involved in numerous acts of terror in the region, including the hijacking of an Indian airplane, an attack on the US Consulate in Karachi, and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. [See LWJ report, New investigation into murder of Daniel Pearl released.]

Several al Qaeda leaders have risen from the ranks of HUM. One of the most prominent is Badr Mansoor, an al Qaeda commander who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012. In one of the 17 documents that were released by the US from Osama bin Laden's collection of thousands seized during the Abbottabad raid, Mansoor was identified as a commander of a "company" of al Qaeda's forces operating in Pakistan.

At the time of his death, Mansoor was described as al Qaeda's leader in Pakistan who was closely linked to other Pakistani terror groups. Mansoor was able to funnel in recruits from Pakistani terror groups such as the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, with which he was closely linked. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan, and Commander killed in drone strike 'funneled Pakistani jihadists' to al Qaeda.]

HUM likely part of al Qaeda's newest branch, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

HUM is one of several jihadist groups that are part of what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described in 2010 as a "syndicate" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the region.

"A victory for one [member of the syndicate] is a victory for all," Gates cautioned. Gates mentioned groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba, as belonging to this "syndicate." Other groups that figure in this syndicate are the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its offshoot the Islamic Jihad Union, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, among others.

This syndicate has pooled resources to wage jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The group has fought under the banner of the Lashkar-al-Zil, or the Shadow Army, al Qaeda's military organization in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the Khorasan. The US State Department recognized the existence of al Qaeda's "paramilitary brigades" in the designation of 'Abd al Hamid al Masli, an IED faciitator based in Pakistan. [See LWJ reports, Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army' and US adds al Qaeda explosives expert to list of global terrorists.]

Al Qaeda formalized this relationship with the various jihadist groups based in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India when it formed al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent on Sept. 3.

In his statement announcing the group's formation, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri noted that AQIS "is the fruit of a blessed effort for more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity to be with the main group."

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent's spokesman, Usama Mahmoud, stated that the group "was formed by the gathering of several jihadi groups that have a long history in jihad and fighting ... so they united and came together and applied the directives of their beloved emir, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah preserve him, on the ground."

Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi (12:09AM)

A photograph of an abandoned Iraqi military column with the Ramadi Teaching Hospital, which is just across the Euphrates River, in sight.

Fighters from the Islamic State in Anbar province ambushed and destroyed a large Iraqi Army column in a village north of Ramadi. The successful attack occurred despite almost eight weeks of airstrikes by the US military on Islamic State forces throughout Iraq.

Pictures from the recent fighting in the village of Albu Aytha, which is just north of Ramadi, across the river, have been disseminated on Twitter by fighters and supporters of the Islamic State. The terrorist organization has taken to releasing its propaganda via its supporters on Twitter as the the majority of its official accounts are continuously being suspended by the social media site.

While the authenticity of the photographs cannot be confirmed, the captions bear the title of Wilayat (province or state) Anbar. The exact date of the ambush was not provided, but most official pictures are usually published within days of the actual attack.

The Islamic State has reportedly been besieging an Iraqi Army unit in Albu Aytha. Al Jazeera reported that more than 240 soldiers from the 30th Mechanized Brigade are "trapped" in the village and running low on supplies and food.

Several photos show badly damaged or burned out vehicles, with fighters from the Islamic State inspecting the vehicles or checking for survivors. Pictures also show charred bodies of the Iraqi troops, and the corpses of soldiers who were gunned down during the fighting. It appears that Islamic State fighters were able to detonate at least two IEDs during the attack.

In one picture, at least six captured M113 armored personnel carriers and four Humvees are shown abandoned in a field. Other photos show several damaged or abandoned vehicles. And in another photograph, an Islamic State fighter fires an antitank missile at an M1 Abrams tank and successfully hits the target.

The Islamic State fighters were also able to take over an Iraqi police checkpoint in the area. In one photo, the Islamic State's black flag is shown flying above the checkpoint. Other pictures demonstrate that the group was able to secure a large amount of ammunition and gear from the military.

Islamic State consolidating its grip on Anbar

If confirmed, the Islamic State's successful rout of the Iraqi military unit in Albu Aytha is the second major setback for the Army in Anbar in the past two weeks. On Sept. 21, an Islamic State unit overran an Iraqi base in Saqlawiya, a town just northeast of Fallujah in Anbar. An estimated 300 Iraqi soldiers were killed during the Islamic State's assault and subsequent ambush of retreating Iraqi troops. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers were wounded or are reported missing. [See LWJ report, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar.]

Islamic State fighters have successfully ambushed Iraqi armored columns in Anbar in the past. In July, the Islamic State destroyed a column of Iraqi Army M1 Abrams tanks, M113s, and other vehicles in Khalidiya, a town situated between Ramadi and Fallujah. [See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar.]

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

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

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

The situation in Ramadi has become so dire that the Iraqi government has deployed 4,000 members of the newly raised militias, who are primarily Shias, to an area that is overwhelmingly Sunni. The militia members were "ferried out to Ramadi from Baghdad by helicopter," ABC News reported, demonstrating how thoroughly the Islamic State controls the road from Baghdad to Ramadi. The Iraqi military has announced it has successfully cleared areas of Ramadi multiple times since the summer.

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

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

The US started launching airstrikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq on Aug. 7 and helped Kurdish forces retake some areas lost in northern Ninewa as well as helping a joint Kurdish and Shia militia force retake the town of Amerli. The US supported the Hezbollah Brigades and Asaib al Haq, two Iranian-backed Shia militias that are responsible for killing hundreds of US soldiers from 2006 to 2011, in Amerli.

The Islamic State's territory spans both Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the Islamic State controls Raqqah, much of Deir al Zour, and areas in Aleppo and Hasakah provinces. The US began its air campaign against the Islamic State on Sept. 22, but the jihadist group continues to press an offensive in Kobane near the border with Turkey.

Photographs from the ambush of an Iraqi Army armored column north of Ramadi

An Iraqi military Humvee before it is hit in an IED attack:


The IED is detonated:


Fighters inspecting a badly damaged Humvee:


A burned out armored personnel carrier:


Fighters inspecting abandoned and damaged vehicles:


More abandoned Iraqi Army vehicles:


Iraqi police station with the black flag flying above:


Islamic State fighters moving captured ammunition and gear into a captured vehicle:


An antitank missile firing at an M1 Abrams near Ramadi:


The antitank missile successfully hits the M1 Abrams:


Monday, September 29, 2014

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claims attacks on Pakistani ships were more audacious than reported (01:51PM)
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The banner above advertises the latest statement by AQIS explaining its attacks on two Pakistani frigates on Sept. 6. The man pictured on the right is purportedly Zeeshan Rafique, whom AQIS says was a second lieutenant in the Pakistan Navy. He is pictured giving a "briefing" to the "leadership of the mujahideen on the plan of the operation."

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the newest official branch of al Qaeda's international organization, has released a nine-page "press release" explaining its "targeting of [the] American and Indian Navies" on Sept. 6. The group says the operations were part of "a plan to strike America's military strength on the seas" that was prepared "on the orders of the respected [Emir], Shaykh Ayman al Zawahiri."

AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmood claims that the Pakistani government has covered up the extent of its planned operations and, he says, the media coverage thus far does not accurately reflect what transpired. Therefore, Mahmood has published al Qaeda's response on his official Twitter feed.

What follows is a summary of al Qaeda's version of events and is not an independent account. None of the purported details have been publicly verified by US intelligence officials.

All citations are from the statement released by Mahmood. AQIS is eager to claim that the operations caused more damage than the Pakistani government is letting on.

"The operation was portrayed as an attack on the naval dockyard by 'outsiders' who had infiltrated the facility," the AQIS document reads. But al Qaeda claims the "operation took place under the leadership of two brothers from Al Qa'eda in the [Indian] Subcontinent, namely Oweis Jakhrani (former Second Lieutenant in the Pakistan Navy) and Zeeshan Rafeeq (Second Lieutenant)."

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The AQIS document includes photos of both Jakhrani and Rafeeq. Only Jakhrani was not an active duty officer at the time of the attacks, according to AQIS, as he "had only recently resigned from the Pakistan Navy due to his faith and zeal." All of the other al Qaeda operatives "who attained martyrdom during this operation were serving officers of the Pakistan Navy." (Emphasis in original.)

The goal of the operation was to take "control of two important warships of the Pakistan Navy," the PNS Zulfiqar and PNS Aslat. There "were several Mujahid brothers" aboard both ships and they were "provided with the necessary weapons and explosives required for this operation," AQIS says.

The first al Qaeda team was on board the PNS Zulfiqar, which departed Karachi on Sept. 3 and was allegedly scheduled "to be refueled by USS Supply," which "is one of the most important American naval ships after aircraft carriers."

While the PNS Zulfiqar was being refueled, "some of the Mujahid brothers present on board...were to target and destroy the American oil tanker [USS Supply] with the 72 mm anti-aircraft guns on their frigate."

In addition, other al Qaeda operatives on board the PNS Zulfiqar "would target the American frigate protecting USS Supply using four anti-ship guided missiles." If they were successful, the al Qaeda team would then use whatever weapons were left over to attack or "destroy any American or coalition warship present in the vicinity, and fight on until attaining martyrdom."

A second AQIS team was present on board the PNS Aslat "with weapons and explosives." According to the plan, the second cadre of AQIS jihadists was going to "take over" the PNS Aslat, which was "near the shores of Karachi," and "steer it towards Indian waters in order to attack Indian warships with anti-ship missiles." If any ships got in their way, including American warships, then the AQIS crew on board would use the PNS Aslat to attack them instead.

AQIS goes on to give a version of events that is substantially different from that told by official Pakistani sources.

The group claims that the PNS Zulfiqar departed Karachi on Sept. 3 and implies that the firefight between al Qaeda's men and others in the Pakistani Navy took place deep in the Indian Ocean. Pakistani sources have said that the attack occurred in the Naval Dockyard in Karachi.

AQIS questions the timing of the Pakistani Navy's announcement that the attack had occurred, saying it waited several days to publicly acknowledge it. The press release reads: "Is it [the supposedly delayed announcement] because it took three days to erase the evidence of the firefight aboard PNS Zulfiqar and the consequent damage to the warship? Or is it because it took three days for this frigate to return to Karachi after the battle had occurred on board?"

Similarly, AQIS claims that the attack on the PNS Aslat was an inside operation and it "was not attacked form the outside," as Pakistani officials have claimed. AQIS says that Pakistan "cover[ed] up the success of the Mujahideen and the moral and material losses and damage suffered by the enemies." Pakistan supposedly does not want the public to know that "the call to perform Jihad...has now started to appeal to even officers of the Armed Forces."

AQIS says that the Pakistani government is also hiding the identities of the other attackers from the public because it hopes to avoid any further embarrassment over "the fact that the rest of the martyrs were serving officers of the Pakistan Navy."

The preface to the AQIS press release explains its motivation behind its planned attacks on the two Pakistani frigates. The al Qaeda branch says that Pakistan takes part in the Coalition Maritime Campaign Plan (CMCP), making it part of the supposed global "crusade" against Islam.

In addition to securing "maritime trade routes for commercial shipping of America and other major powers of the believers," the CMCP participates "in the so-called war on terror (i.e. the American-led Crusade against the Muslim world" and prevents "possible attacks by the Mujahideen on the seas." The CMCP also provides "logistical support to the occupying American and allied forces in Afghanistan" and consolidates "their grip on Islamic waters" while "besieging the Muslim world from the seas."

The AQIS statement ends with several messages. The first is addressed to Muslims in Gaza, and repeats al Qaeda's standard call for "revenge" for the blood shed in the Palestinian-controlled territories. Other messages are addressed to the Muslim Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] and the mujahideen. The latter should not forget "to make Jihad on the seas one of their priorities," AQIS says.

AQIS threatens America, "the Jews," and India.

And the final message speaks to the "Officers and Soldiers in the Armed Forces of Muslim Countries." AQIS holds up the Pakistani Navy officers responsible for the twin claimed attacks on Sept. 6 as examples for all Muslims serving in the armed forces. AQIS blasts the Pakistani Army, saying its generals demonstrate a "slave's loyalty to his master" and "have devoted the entire Armed Forces to the defense of American interests."

AQIS concludes by saying that all Muslims serving in the armed forces should join the jihad if they want to enter paradise and avoid hell. Thus, AQIS is attempting to recruit more officers and soldiers serving in the Pakistani military.

Additional photos included in the AQIS press release.

AQIS claims that one of its members monitored the movements of General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the former Pakistani Army Chief, as he visited an American warship. AQIS says that its operative tracked Kiyani "on the computer screen of the missile control system installed on the Pakistani warship." This is intended to show that AQIS has operatives inside the Pakistani Navy.

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The photo below purportedly shows the USS Supply as it refuels a frigate at sea. AQIS allegedly planned to attack the USS Supply as it refueled a Pakistani frigate.

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AQIS included the photo below of the PNS Aslat.

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Al Nusrah Front leader says Americans and Europeans will pay the 'tax' of war (07:57AM)

Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of the Al Nusrah Front, has released an audio message discussing the US-led airstrikes in Syria. Julani threatens civilians in the US and Europe, saying they should not be tricked into believing they are "safe from the strikes of the mujahideen" simply because Western leaders say that their "soldiers will not be on the ground, and that they will strike from afar."

Julani's message was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Al Nusrah's head argues that the airstrikes in Syria will lead the jihadists to retaliate in the West. And, Julani says, Western leaders are lying when they say that the bombings are necessary to protect their people.

However, according to US officials, senior al Qaeda figures known as the "Khorasan group" were already planning attacks in the West prior to the bombings. The cadre includes al Qaeda operatives who are known to have plotted terrorist attacks against the West before, including Muhsin al Fadhli, a longtime al Qaeda planner.

Sanafi al Nasr, an al Qaeda bigwig who doubles as a senior strategist in Julani's Al Nusrah Front, has even openly pined for attacks against the US on his Twitter feed. Nasr is part of the so-called Khorasan group as well. The al Qaeda group is embedded within the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's official regional branch in Syria.

The intelligence surrounding the al Qaeda operatives' activities is what led the US to bomb Al Nusrah Front positions, in addition to the Islamic State, a former branch of al Qaeda that rivals Al Nusrah inside Syria.

Julani makes no mention of al Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan group" and instead seeks to portray the bombing campaign as an assault on Islam.

The battle will come "to the heart of your land, for the Muslims will not stand as spectators watching their sons bombed and killed in their lands, while you stay safe in your lands," Julani says when addressing Western civilians, according to SITE's translation. "So the tax of the war will not be paid by your rulers alone, but you are the ones who will pay the lion's share of it. Therefore, you must protect yourselves from this war by standing against the decision of your rulers, and preventing them from dragging tragedies upon you and your countries through all methods."

The Al Nusrah Front emir tries to undermine public support for the airstrikes by arguing that the West will pay a high price for its actions in Syria, just as it has in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Julani invokes the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the USS Cole bombing as examples of the "terrors" al Qaeda has delivered. And he says that the only way to avoid future attacks is for the West to abandon Muslim-majority countries entirely.

"You were told before by Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah accept him, several times, that the only solution to prevent war with the mujahideen is taking your hand away from the region completely, and lifting your support and protection of the Jews, and to stop stealing the resources of the Muslims, and to leave us alone with the rulers of the area, settling the scores with them," Julani says, according to SITE's translation.

Julani draws on al Qaeda's view of history in making these arguments, portraying the conflict in Syria as part of a centuries-long war between the West and Islamic countries. "We defeated your Roman empire before, and also your adversaries from the Persians, and we expelled the Jews from the Peninsula of Muhammad, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and with our feet we stepped on the outskirts of Paris and Moscow, where the Jizyah [tax on non-Muslims] for 80 years was paid to the Muslims," Julani says.

The Islamic State, headed by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and the Al Nusrah Front have been in open conflict since mid-2013. Julani was once one of Baghdadi's lieutenants, but a personal animosity between the two has helped fuel the jihadists' infighting in Syria.

Regardless, Julani says jihadists should not allow their problems with the Islamic State to push them into an alliance with the West. The US and its allies are part of a "Crusader" conspiracy against the jihad in Syria, according to Julani. But "no matter how grave" the Islamic State's transgressions are, Muslims should not back the West's "secular project."

Anti-Hezbollah, Iran messaging

The Al Nusrah Front has been fighting Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization that is backing Bashar al Assad's regime. Al Nusrah has held a number of Lebanese soldiers and security officials hostage since August, and has executed some of them. As part of its propaganda campaign, Al Nusrah has used the hostages in its attempt to spark public outrage against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The hostages have been made to say that their captivity is owed to Hezbollah's aggression in Syria.

Julani continues with this theme, saying the "Sunni people of Lebanon" should "follow the example of your brothers in Syria, and attack your enemy from the Party of Satan [Hezbollah]." Julani says that Hezbollah has "dragged Lebanon into an internal conflict," which the Al Nusrah emir likens to the sectarian fighting in Iraq and Syria. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, has not learned from these conflicts, Julani says, and now Lebanon is experiencing the same violence.

There is an irony in Julani's anti-Iranian message. Two leaders in al Qaeda's Khorasan group, Muhsin al Fadhli and Sanafi al Nasr, were formerly the heads of al Qaeda's Iran-based network. Al Qaeda's presence in Iran exists under what US officials have called a "secret deal" between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

US killed 2 'Arabs' in first drone strike in South Waziristan in more than a year (10:22AM)

Today the US launched its first drone strike in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan in more than a year.

The CIA-operated remotely piloted Predators or Reapers struck a compound in the town of Wana in South Waziristan, Pakistani officials and Taliban fighters told Dawn.

"Two Arab militants and two of their local allies" were killed in the airstrike, the officials and Taliban fighters said. The "Arab militants," who have yet to be named, are likely members of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has not released an official statement announcing the deaths of their operatives, nor has their been chatter on the al Qaeda-linked Twitter accounts associated with the group's network in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the US launched a strike in Wana today, condemned the attack as "a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity," and demanded the US cease its operations.

Wana is a hub for the Mullah Nazir Group, a Taliban organization that controls much of the western part of South Waziristan. The group is named after Mullah Nazir, a Taliban commander who self-identified as an al Qaeda leader before he was killed in a US drone strike in January 2013. The group is currently led by Bahawal Khan, who is also known as Salahuddin Ayubi.

The Mullah Nazir Group, Khan, and a leader known as Commander Malang are all on the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists for supporting al Qaeda and waging jiahd in Afghanistan. [See LWJ reports, 'Good' Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, US adds Mullah Nazir Group, subcommander to terrorism list, and US adds emir of Pakistan-based Mullah Nazir Group to list of global terrorists.]

The Mullah Nazir Group has sheltered several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi. All of these al Qaeda leaders were killed in US drone strikes in South Waziristan over the past several years.

Despite the Mullah Nazir Group's support for al Qaeda and its attacks in Afghanistan as well as against the Pakistani military, Nazir and his group have long been described by Pakistani officials as 'good Taliban.' In the eyes of Pakistani officials, Nazir and his followers serve as strategic depth against India and a hedge against Indian interests in Afghanistan. In the past, the Pakistani government and military have signed several peace agreements with Nazir that allowed him to rule over the Wazir areas of South Waziristan. One such peace agreement is in effect to this day.

First drone strike in South Waziristan since April 2013

Today's strike in Wana is the first that has been recorded in South Waziristan since April 17, 2013, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Five Taliban fighters were reported to have been killed in that strike, which targeted a base run by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The US used to routinely conduct drone strikes in South Waziristan prior to April 2013. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders were killed by US aircraft in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency.

The focus of the drone campaign shifted almost exclusively to North Waziristan in the past year. Prior to today, 30 of the last 31 recorded drone strikes in Pakistan took place in North Waziristan (the other took place in the Pakistani district of Hangu).

The US has now carried out nine drone strikes in Pakistan since June 11. Eight of the strikes took place after June 15, when the Pakistani military launched its operation in North Waziristan. The Pakistani military is not targeting the 'good Taliban' in its operation.

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

Today's attack in South Waziristan is the second in Pakistan this week. On Sept. 24, the US killed 10 jihadists, including Uzbek fighters, "foreign nationals," and local Taliban members.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

US drone strike kills 2 AQAP fighters in Al Jawf (02:57PM)

Local officials in Yemen's northern province of Al Jawf told Arabic media outlets that a US drone strike yesterday evening killed two suspected members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The strike took place in the Khasaf region, east of the provincial capital of Hazm.

Eyewitnesses claimed that the drone strike targeted a vehicle with two AQAP fighters on board as they were traveling from Marib province. The eyewitnesses reported that both passengers were killed on site. The identities of the two fighters have yet to be confirmed.

Sources also claimed that three young children, said to be brothers, have been injured as a result of the strike. The brothers were reportedly wounded while in the vicinity of their homes, close to the location of the strike.

Al Jawf is a known haven for top al Qaeda leaders. US drones have struck AQAP in Al Jawf six other times since the beginning of 2010. The last strike in the province took place on March 12 and killed a local AQAP military commander known as Moajab bin Aziz, as well as his bodyguard.

The previous strike, on March 5, killed Ali Saleh Juraym Al Olyan, a local al Qaeda commander said to have returned from fighting in Iraq, and three other AQAP fighters.

Two of the seven strikes in Al Jawf have targeted top-tier AQAP leaders. In September 2011, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki, the American propagandist, ideologue, recruiter, and operational commander, and Samir Khan, an American who ran Inspire Magazine, in an airstrike in the province. Awlaki sheltered at the homes of Islah leaders in Al Jawf before he was killed. And in January 2010, an airstrike targeted Qasim al Raymi, AQAP's top military commander. He and other senior AQAP officials survived the strike.

Background on US strikes in Yemen

Yesterday's strike in Al Jawf was the second in two days. On Sept. 25, the US killed five AQAP fighters in Shabwa province. Two of the fighters have been identified as Adel Hardaba and Muhader Ahmad Muhader.

The US has launched 19 strikes in Yemen so far this year.

Fourteen of the drone strikes in Yemen this year were conducted between March 5 and June 14; the other five strikes have taken place since Aug. 7. The springtime strikes coincided with a Yemeni military offensive to dislodge AQAP from strongholds in Abyan and Shabwa provinces. AQAP remains active in the two provinces, as well as in other areas of central and eastern Yemen.

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

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

Between July 27, 2013, after the plot was disclosed, and Aug. 10, 2013, the US launched nine strikes in Yemen; no drone strikes were reported for seven weeks prior to July 27. The burst in attacks was intended to disrupt AQAP's plan and take out its top leadership cadre and senior operatives. The US killed Kaid al Dhahab, AQAP's emir for Baydah province, during that time period.

AQAP and al Qaeda still seek to conduct attacks against the US. In a video released earlier this year that featured Nasir al Wuhayshi, the terrorist leader said America remains a target.

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

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

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

Al Qaeda official warns against Islamic State in new speech (08:58AM)

A senior al Qaeda official, Muhammad bin Mahmoud Rabie al Bahtiyti, also known as Abu Dujana al Basha, has released a new audio message seeking to undermine the Islamic State, which was disowned by al Qaeda's general command in February.

Al Basha's speech was released by al Qaeda's official propaganda arm, As Sahab, on Sept. 26. It was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Al Qaeda's senior leaders have not directly addressed the Islamic State's claim to rule over a caliphate stretching across large portions of Iraq and Syria. Instead, they have sought to undermine the Islamic State's ideological legitimacy in a variety of more subtle ways. (Other parts of al Qaeda's international network have specifically rejected the Islamic State's caliphate claim.)

Al Basha does not name the Islamic State, but his speech is clearly aimed at the group and its supporters.

Al Basha sets forth al Qaeda's goals, saying the group is dedicated "to the oneness of Allah ... as we call to disbelieve the tyrant and disavow polytheism and its people." Al Basha says al Qaeda seeks "to establish the absent Shariah and empower this religion."

It is often claimed, wrongly, that al Qaeda is interested only in attacking the West, or carrying out mass casualty attacks. But the organization has repeatedly stated that its jihadists seek to create societies based on their radical version of sharia law. Al Qaeda wants to build Islamic emirates, or states, based on this sharia. It is for this reason that most of al Qaeda's resources since its founding have been devoted to waging insurgencies against governments in the Muslim-majority world that it deems to be corrupt.

Imposing sharia and creating Islamic emirates are steps to al Qaeda's ultimate stated goal, which al Basha explains.

"We call to restore the rightly-guided Caliphate on the prophetic method, and not on the method of deviation, lying, breaking promises, and abrogating allegiances - a caliphate that stands with justice, consultation, and coming together, and not with oppression, infidel-branding the Muslims, killing the monotheists, and dispersing the rank of the mujahideen," al Basha says, according to SITE's translation.

Although al Basha does not mention the Islamic State by name, his description of al Qaeda's proposed caliphate is intended to undermine al Baghdadi's claim to power. Al Basha's reference to "abrogating allegiances" is probably a reference to the oath of allegiance (bayat) that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi swore to Ayman al Zawahiri and then broke.

Al Qaeda-allied jihadists have argued against the Islamic State's caliphate claim, saying it was imposed on Muslims and even jihadists without consultation. And this is a theme in a Basha's speech.

In al Qaeda's ideological schema, the caliphate can be resurrected only after respected jihadists give it their seal of approval. Al Baghdadi's organization has tried to impose its caliphate throughout much of Iraq and Syria, frequently fighting with other jihadist organizations, including the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Leading jihadist ideologues have criticized Baghdadi's caliphate on this basis, as well as for other reasons.

Al Basha warns against "extremism," which, ironically enough, is one of al Qaeda's key charges against the Islamic State. In Syria and elsewhere, al Qaeda has been attempting to portray itself as a more reasonable jihadist organization. Because the Islamic State refuses to consult with other Muslims and jihadist groups, not just in creating a caliphate, but also in other matters, al Qaeda accuses the group of pursuing an extremist path. Of course, al Qaeda is extremist by any reasonable standard, and has spilled more Muslim than non-Muslim blood throughout its existence. Still, because of the Islamic State's excessive violence, particularly in Syria, al Qaeda has been marketing itself as a more mainstream jihadist organization.

Al Basha addresses the jihadists' rank and file, urging them to avoid joining the Islamic State and subtly encouraging Baghdadi's fighters to defect from his army. Al Basha openly worries that the jihad in Syria has been squandered because of the infighting between the groups opposed to Bashar al Assad's regime. Al Qaeda blames the infighting on the Islamic State.

"I address my speech and my advice to my brothers on the frontlines in Sham [Syria] among those who have been deceived by slogans and titles, to use your heads and have insight, and to weigh the matters fairly," al Basha says. "Rescue the ship of jihad, and reach it before it deviates from its course and settles on the path of the people of desires. Strive to turn off the sedition and restore cohesion among the mujahideen."

At the end of his audio speech, al Basha addresses those jihadists who disapprove of al Qaeda's understated response to the Islamic State's caliphate claim. Al Basha says that he and others wanted to defend al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri's reputation against the Islamic State's slanders, but Zawahiri ordered them not to.

"The Sheikh [Zawahiri] ordered his brothers to be silent and not protect his honor," al Basha says. "He considered that out of concern for the benefit of this Ummah [Muslim community], and a hope that Allah will fix the condition, and that the sedition will be suppressed."

Al Qaeda's leaders and branches have repeatedly urged the jihadists in Syria to reconcile. However, their efforts have been fruitless.

Veteran al Qaeda leader

Al Basha has taken on a more prominent and public role for al Qaeda in recent years. In December 2013, he argued that jihad is necessary to implement sharia law in Egypt. In late August he issued a statement urging followers to strike American and Israeli interests in support of Muslims in Gaza.

Although al Basha was not initially a public persona for al Qaeda, he was well-known to US counterterrorism officials for years. In January 2009, the US Treasury Department designated al Basha as an al Qaeda terrorist, noting that he was Zawahiri's son-in-law. Al Basha was located in Iran at the time.

Treasury found that he "served on an al Qaeda military committee and provided military training that included urban warfare tactics for al Qaeda members." Among other duties, al Basha "drafted training manuals for al Qaeda as well as a book on security that was used as a template for al Qaeda's surveillance operations."

Al Basha is a longtime member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad as well as al Qaeda, and was reportedly involved in al Qaeda's 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Zawahiri tasked al Basha with moving members of Zawahiri's family to Iran after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

2 AQAP commanders reported killed in Shabwa drone strike (08:03AM)

hardaba.jpgAdel Hardaba, an AQAP leader reported killed yesterday. Source: Yemen Forum.

Following the US drone strike that took place on Sept. 25, local reports from Shabwa province suggest that two prominent leaders in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have been killed. [See LWJ report: US launches second US drone strike in Shabwa in 2 weeks.]

The two AQAP commanders thought killed in Thursday's strike were identified as Adel Hardaba and Muhader Ahmad Muhader by both Arabic press reports and Twitter accounts affiliated with AQAP. A formal AQAP statement regarding the deaths has yet to be released.

According to media reports, Adel Hardaba, who hails from Lahj, was an AQAP commander in the Lawdar region of Abyan in southern Yemen, located close to the border of Baydha province. Hardaba has a long history of fighting for AQAP in the Lawdar region. Reports from August 2010 claim that he was arrested following clashes between Islamist militants and Yemeni forces in Lawdar.

Hardaba was reportedly involved in intense fighting around the city of Lawdar in April 2012 during which AQAP briefly controlled the city before a Yemeni military push to dislodge the militants. Following his brief arrest by the Yemeni Popular Committees during the course of fighting for Lawdar in April 2012, Hardaba went into hiding and disappeared.

This is not the first report of Hardaba's death as a result of a drone strike. Local Yemeni media had reported that Hardaba was killed in a US drone strike on August 10, 2013.

The second AQAP member reported killed in yesterday's drone strike, Muhader Ahmad Muhader, is believed to hail from Lahj province's Tha'alab region and served as a local AQAP commander in Lahj. Local sources told the Yemeni news outlet Aden al-Ghad that Muhader was "accused by the security authorities of being one of the most prominent leaders belonging to Ansar al Shariah that has carried out widespread assassination operations in Lahj that have included security officials and [private] citizens." Ansar al Shariah is AQAP's political front in Yemen.

Little is known about Muhader from the Arabic press, except that he was considered one of AQAP's "rehabilitated" members as recently as last year. In March 2013, Muhader met with the governor of Lahj province, Ahmad Abdullah al Majidi, who urged Muhader to start "a new, white page" in his life. At that meeting, Muhader reportedly ensured the governor that he would be trustworthy and would "be among those rehabilitated that will participate in pursuing and disseminating the principles of moderation and staying away from extremism and terrorism." The same report mentioned that Muhader was a member of AQAP's "advocacy committee."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Al Nusrah Front trainer suspected of plotting against 2004 NATO summit killed in US airstrikes (09:38AM)

One of the first reported casualties of the US-led bombing campaign earlier this week was a jihadist known as Abu Yusuf al Turki.

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As The Long War Journal reported on Sept. 23, online jihadists described al Turki as an Al Nusrah Front "commander" who trained fighters how to become snipers. Al Nusrah is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. A "martyrdom" photo of him was published on al Qaeda-affiliated social media sites just hours after the first bombing raids.

Al Turki was a veteran jihadist who fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. And online jihadists posted photos of al Turki showing him waging jihad in multiple locations.

In the days following the airstrikes on Al Nusrah Front locations, which housed al Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan group," additional details about al Turki's career have come to light.

One jihadist Twitter feed linked to a video purportedly showing al Turki's trainees in Syria as they prepared for their sniper missions. The video can be seen above.

But the most intriguing details of al Turki's past came from Turkish press reports, which identified him as taking part in a putative plot to attack the NATO summit in late June 2004.

Today's Zaman, a publication based in Istanbul, reports that al Turki's real name was Ümit Yaşar Toprak. Today's Zaman goes on to say that he was one of suspected terrorists "detained by the Bursa police in April 2004 on suspicions of planning to assassinate then-US President George W. Bush during the president's visit to İstanbul to attend a NATO summit."

The plot was mentioned in the State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism for 2004. "Turkish authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to attack the NATO Summit in Istanbul," the report reads. "Turkey charged nine alleged members of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group -- which has ties to al Qaeda -- with planning the bombing."

Abu Yusuf al Turki (Toprak) was indeed arrested in 2004 alongside his brother and others. Contemporaneous press accounts identify his brother, Alpaslan Toprak, as the ringleader of the plot.

They reportedly intended to launch a mass casualty attack on the NATO summit and then disappear into Iraq, where they would wage jihad against American troops. Both then President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the summit, and the jihadists at least considered an attempt on Bush's life.

In early May 2004, the Associated Press reported that Turkish authorities had detained members of the Toprak brothers' cell, all of whom were identified as members of Ansar al Islam, a jihadist group based in northern Iraq that has been linked to al Qaeda. The AP cited the governor of the Bursa province in northwestern Turkey, Oguz Kagan Koksal, as saying that the cell had "also planned to attack a synagogue in Bursa and rob a bank."

An account by Agence France Presse summarized Koksal's press conference on the arrests, noting that a raid on the "suspects' homes and offices netted home-made pipe bombs, materials used for making explosives, CDs featuring Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda militants in training and subversive documents."

"The organization has been neutralized in a successful operation while in the stage of planning attacks," Koksal said, according to AFP.

A separate report by the AP cited a Turkish newspaper, which quoted Alpaslan Toprak as saying, "One of us said 'if only Bush's death were at our hands.' That's how this issue arose."

Other accounts in Turkey said that one of the suspects, who was unnamed, had spent six years in Pakistan, where he had received training.

Part of the reason Turkish authorities considered the plot to be serious is that they suspected it was connected to Ansar al Islam's other attacks. On Feb. 1, 2004, two suicide bombers killed dozens in an attack on Kurdish politicians in the city of Irbil, Iraq.

Abu Yusuf al Turki was released from prison in short order and acquitted. He reportedly tried to blame their suspected plotting on a hatred for America's foreign policy, telling the press, "We hated and cursed the offensive policies of US and Israel."

Al Turki eventually joined the Al Nusrah Front in Syria. And, according to jihadists, he was a highly respected instructor within the al Qaeda group's ranks.

Below are some of the photos of Abu Yusuf al Turki that were posted on jihadist social media sites this week.

This picture below allegedly shows al Turki in Afghanistan. The accompanying tweet describes him as the leader of the Al Nusrah Front's sniper brigade.

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The photo below shows al Turki (on the right) with one of his sniper trainees. The garb worn by the trainee is the same as that shown in the video at the top of this article. The photo has been altered by jihadists to include al Turki's "martyrdom" image. The black flag of Al Nusrah can be seen in the background.

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Misunderstanding al Qaeda (08:13AM)

This article was originally published at The Weekly Standard.

On Tuesday, Sept. 23, the US government announced that a new bombing campaign was under way in Syria. The Obama administration had been building the case for airstrikes for weeks. The president and his surrogates repeatedly highlighted the threat posed by the Islamic State (often called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL), which has captured large swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria. Unexpectedly, the administration announced that American missiles had also struck something called the "Khorasan group," which was in the final stages of planning attacks in the West. The group may even have been close to striking inside the United States.

Widespread confusion ensued. The press wondered aloud, "What is the Khorasan group?" It is a "new" terrorist organization, some reported. It is an "al Qaeda offshoot," others claimed. All of the following descriptors were used of the group: "little-known," "shadowy," "mysterious," "previously unknown."

But you have heard of the Khorasan group before. It is, to put it simply, al Qaeda.

Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda, ordered trusted operatives from Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, and North Africa to relocate to Syria. Some of the al Qaeda operatives involved are so notorious that US counterterrorism officials have tracked them, off and on, for more than a decade.

Zawahiri tasked his men with plotting mass-casualty attacks in the West. And, al Qaeda reasoned, Syria offered distinct advantages over other prospective launching pads. Until the US-led military intervention, al Qaeda's terrorists had established safe havens inside the country that allowed them to set up laboratories and bomb-making factories for testing new explosive devices. Western counterterrorism defenses have made it difficult for al Qaeda to get bombs on board planes and well-trained operatives in place to carry out their missions. So the terrorists are seeking undetectable explosives, like the underwear bomb that nearly took down a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009.

The number of Western foreign fighters inside Syria today is unprecedented, providing al Qaeda with a deep pool of recruits. Many Western fighters have gone off to fight for Jabhat al Nusrah, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Al Qaeda was sorting through these fighters looking for dedicated and skilled jihadists like the members of the Hamburg cell that produced the kamikaze pilots responsible for attacking New York and Washington on 9/11. Syria also offers a geographic advantage. It is much easier for al Qaeda recruits to travel to and from Syria than, say, the remote regions of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Indeed, American and European counterterrorism authorities are already attempting to track hundreds of fighters who have returned to the West from Syria.

It is easy to see why Ayman al Zawahiri and his subordinates decided to establish a new base of operations in Syria. Why, then, did US officials and reporters have such a hard time, at first, explaining that the airstrikes targeting the Khorasan group were really just part of our long war against al Qaeda?

The confusion is no accident. The way President Obama, his subordinates, and some US intelligence officials think and talk about al Qaeda is wrong.

On Sept. 24, national security adviser Susan Rice appeared on NBC's Today show. Citing the airstrikes against the Khorasan group and ISIL in Syria and other recent developments, host Matt Lauer asked a commonsensical question, "What happened to the days when the administration was able to say it felt confident that we had dealt a crippling blow to al Qaeda and Islamic militants?"

Rice responded, "Well, Matt, understand what we've been saying. We have been focused for many years, as you know, on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, what we call al Qaeda core. And that element of al Qaeda, which is the one that hatched the 9/11 plot and executed it, has been substantially degraded and doesn't at this stage pose nearly the same type of threat that it used to."

She continued, "What has happened, though, over years, is that al Qaeda has metastasized. Imagine a cancer that had an original tumor. Now elements of the cells of that tumor have moved to places like the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, parts of Africa, Somalia, and what we call the Sahel region, Mali. And now also to Syria. So we are having to deal with each of these cells. As you've seen, we've taken action in Yemen, we've taken action in Somalia, and now we're taking action, as necessary, in Syria."

Rice's answer is both wrong and myopic.

First, the so-called Khorasan group is part of core al Qaeda. The idea that terrorists cannot be core al Qaeda solely because they are located outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan is obtuse. Documents recovered in Osama bin Laden's compound show that the al Qaeda master ordered some of his minions out of the drones' kill box in northern Pakistan and maintained ongoing communications with terrorists around the globe. The general manager of al Qaeda's global network today is in Yemen.

Al Qaeda operatives can and do travel around the world, especially to and from Syria. Muhsin al Fadhli, a Kuwaiti who was targeted in the airstrikes, was first involved in al Qaeda's attack planning as early as 2002. Fadhli has been tied to the Oct. 6, 2002, attack on the French ship MV Limburg, as well as the Oct. 8, 2002, attack against US Marines stationed on Kuwait's Faylaka Island. One Marine was killed in the Faylaka Island shootout. Fadhli is so trusted within al Qaeda that he was one of the few jihadists to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, which, for obvious reasons, were kept secret beforehand. The US government first designated Fadhli an al Qaeda terrorist in 2005.

One of Fadhli's co-leaders in al Qaeda's Khorasan group is a jihadist known as Sanafi al Nasr, who is a third cousin of Osama bin Laden. Nasr, who leads a senior planning committee within al Qaeda, in addition to other duties, was groomed to rise through al Qaeda's ranks at a young age because of his impeccable pedigree. Several of his brothers, two of whom were once detained at Guantánamo before being freed, became loyal al Qaeda operatives. Other family members, including his father, have been tied to al Qaeda as well. Gulf donors know that Nasr will put their money to good use for al Qaeda because he is a fully made man.

Fadhli, Nasr, and their cohorts in the Khorasan group are, by any reasonable definition, core al Qaeda members. In addition, Fadhli and Nasr once oversaw al Qaeda's Iran-based network, which the Obama administration has described as a "core facilitation pipeline" for al Qaeda. Al Qaeda terrorists with similar backgrounds have been identified in each of the other geographic areas Rice listed.

Second, al Qaeda's planned attacks, staged from Syria, directly refute Rice's claim that "it doesn't at this stage pose nearly the same type of threat that it used to." Administration officials justified the airstrikes on the Khorasan group--that is, al Qaeda--by explaining that it posed an "imminent" threat to the West. "Intelligence reports indicated that the group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the US homeland," Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained to reporters after the airstrikes. In other words, "core" al Qaeda in Syria was planning 9/11-style attacks.

Third, by likening al Qaeda to cancer, Rice employed the same tortuous metaphor that administration officials have repeated over and over. As anyone who has had a loved one pass away from cancer knows, however, metastatic cancer is one of the worst-case scenarios. Even if the "original tumor" is "substantially degraded," tumors elsewhere can be just as lethal, if not more so. No one wants to hear that a cancer has metastasized, and doctors desperately try to prevent it from doing so. And, of course, it is no comfort to family and friends of the deceased to learn that they died from a secondary tumor rather than the original one.

The administration's cancer metaphor is particularly absurd with respect to al Qaeda. Only by defining "core" al Qaeda in exceptionally narrow terms can one claim it has been decimated. The attack planning in Syria alone is enough to undermine this perception.

What administration officials also ignore is that al Qaeda's geographic expansion, or "metastasis," has always been part of the plan. Despite al Qaeda's leadership disputes with ISIL, there are more jihadist groups openly loyal to al Qaeda today than on 9/11 or when Barack Obama took office in January 2009. Earlier this month, the group announced the creation of a fifth regional branch, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which likely subsumes several existing jihadist organizations. On Sept. 6, AQIS-trained fighters boarded a Pakistani ship. Al Qaeda says they were attempting to launch missiles at an American warship, which would have been catastrophic, both in terms of the immediate damage and the ensuing political crisis in Pakistan. AQIS joins Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Jabhat al Nusrah (Syria), and Al Shabaab (Somalia) as formal branches of al Qaeda, all of which owe their loyalty to Zawahiri. Other unannounced branches of al Qaeda probably exist, too. These are not just "cells," as Rice put it, but fully developed insurgency organizations that challenge governments for control of nation-states.

Other administration officials did a better job than Rice of explaining the Khorasan group. Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to the president, explained that it was made up of "core al Qaeda operatives" who had relocated to Syria. President Obama said they are "seasoned al Qaeda operatives." But accurate descriptions such as these have been the exception, not the rule, when it comes to the Obama administration's descriptions of al Qaeda.

President Obama has long spoken of al Qaeda in exactly the terms used by Rice. "Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat," Obama said in a speech at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. "Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us."

It is no wonder that, initially, there was such public confusion over the Khorasan group. Its very existence refutes the US government's paradigm for understanding the terrorist threat. Now more than ever, the administration should revisit its assessments of al Qaeda. The idea that there is a geographically confined "core" of al Qaeda in South Asia that has little to do with what happens elsewhere is undermined by a mountain of evidence. Al Qaeda is still a cohesive international network of personalities and organizations. The details of al Qaeda's plotting in Syria make this clear.

And, according to the administration itself, al Qaeda was close to striking the West once again.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Treasury designations target al Qaeda's international fundraising and facilitation network (04:40PM)

The Treasury Department added 11 individuals and one organization to its list of specially designated global terrorists yesterday.

Six of the newly-designated jihadists were targeted because of their financial support for al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Al Nusrah Front, and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Both AQAP and Al Nusrah are official branches of al Qaeda that are openly loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri. AQI was a branch of al Qaeda, but has split into two separate organizations, Al Nusrah and the Islamic State. The latter has been disowned by al Qaeda's general command. (Two Islamic State leaders were also listed in the designation.)

The details in the Treasury Department's designations show how the six al Qaeda financiers and facilitators operate as part of an international network. The countries listed in the short backgrounds for the six include: Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen. At least one of them has also traveled to Southeast Asia as part of his al Qaeda job.

Two of the six are based in Kuwait. Another operates from Turkey. And two others have worked with a major al Qaeda financier based in Qatar.

One of the al Qaeda facilitators has, in the past, transferred funds to a key leader in al Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan group," which US officials recently revealed has been plotting attacks in the West. The US launched airstrikes against the group's facilities in Syria earlier this week.

The biographies published by Treasury demonstrate how these actors support multiple parts of al Qaeda's global organization, including the group's senior leadership in South Asia and al Qaeda's regional branches, as well as other groups such as the Taliban.

Six al Qaeda financiers and facilitators

The biographies for the six al Qaeda operatives provided by Treasury are summarized below.

'Abd al Aziz Aday Zimin al Fadhil is described as a "Kuwait-based facilitator who provides financial services" for the Al Nusrah Front and also "facilitates travel for individuals seeking to join the terrorist organization." Al Nusrah is not the only part of al Qaeda he supports, according to Treasury, as he transfers funds to Yemen "in support of AQAP."

Ashraf Muhammad Yusuf 'Uthman 'Abd al Salam began working for the al Qaeda network nearly a decade ago, Treasury says. He worked for AQI in 2005 and, in 2007, "opened stores to facilitate the communications of AQI officials." Later that same year 'Abd al Salam "facilitated the transfer of thousands of dollars to support AQI operations."

By 2012, 'Abd al Salam was working with the Al Nusrah Front, transferring funds to the group and facilitating the "travel of associates" who wanted to join Al Nusrah in Syria. 'And al Salam has worked with an "Iraqi explosives expert" in Al Nusrah to use "explosives in acts of terrorism." 'Abd al Salam joined Al Nusrah as a fighter in early 2014.

Like other jihadists on Treasury's list, 'Abd al Salam has supported multiple parts of the al Qaeda network. In mid-2012, he helped "facilitate the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars" to al Qaeda in Pakistan. In doing so, Treasury says, he worked with another facilitator, Khalifa Muhammad Turki al Subaiy, who is based in Qatar and was designated in 2008.

'Abd al Malik Muhammad Yusuf 'Uthman 'Abd al Salam (a.k.a. Umar al Qatari)

Umar al Qatari is a Jordanian whose support for Al Nusrah "has been broad." He provides "financial, material, and technological support" for both Al Nusrah and al Qaeda, according to Treasury.

Al Qatari has been tied to Muhsin al Fadhli, one of the key leaders in al Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan group" in Syria. Al Qatari has "worked with Iran-based al Qaeda facilitators to deliver receipts confirming that al Qaeda received foreign donor funding." And, in late 2011, "he delivered thousands of dollars to" al Fadhli in Iran. Al Fadhli relocated to Syria, where he has been responsible for plotting against the West, in 2013.

Since 2011, al Qatari's activities have spanned the globe.

He "participated in an attack against US forces in Afghanistan" in 2011, according to Treasury. As of early 2012, he "was responsible for providing recruitment and logistical support for al Qaeda members in the Middle East and traveled to the Gulf, the Levant, Iran, South Asia and Southeast Asia for his work with al Qaeda."

Also in 2012, al Qatari attended an al Qaeda training camp in Waziristan and was "directly involved in supporting and participating in operational activities for al Qaeda."

Not only has al Qatari provided funding to Al Nusrah, he has also facilitated the travel of extremists going to fight alongside Al Nusrah in Syria and "specifically worked with Turkey-based Syrians who opposed the Syrian regime in an effort to recruit them to work with" the group.

Working with "associates" in Lebanon, al Qatari and Ibrahim al Bakr (described below) "agreed to procure and transport weapons and other equipment to Syria with the assistance of a Syria-based al Qaeda associate."

He has raised funds for al Qaeda over the Internet and coordinated with "al Qaeda financier" Khalifa Muhammad Turki al Subaiy to transfer "tens of thousands of euros" to al Qaeda and its "senior leaders." 'Abd al Salam, whose role is described above, has worked with al Subaiy as well.

Al Qatari was arrested by Lebanese authorities in Beirut in May 2012. He was attempting "to depart for Qatar" at the time and "was carrying thousands of dollars intended for al Qaeda." Even from behind bars, al Qatari "remained a communications conduit between detainees in Lebanon and [Al Nusrah] fighters located in Syria and Lebanon."

He is so important to Al Nusrah that, as of early 2013, the group was attempting to orchestrate his release from a Lebanese prison. It is not clear from Treasury's designation if al Qatari is currently free, or still imprisoned. Al Nusrah has been attempting to broker an exchange in which the al Qaeda group's Lebanese hostages would be exchanged for al Qaeda members in Lebanon's custody.

Fatih Hasar (a.k.a. Ubayd al Turki)

Hasar is a facilitator based in Turkey, Treasury says, and from there he "provides financial and other services to or in support of al Qaeda." He has transferred funds to jihadists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, including "hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda members." He has provided "financial services" to Al Nusrah and facilitates the travel of al Qaeda members, including those connected to Al Nusrah.

Hamad Awad Dahi Sarhan al Shammari

Treasury says Al Shammari is a "Kuwait-based facilitator who provides financial services to or in support of al Qaeda by transferring money to support extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan." He has coordinated the transfer of funds for both al Qaeda and Al Nusrah, and has also facilitated travel for both.

Ibrahim 'Isa Hajji Muhammad al Bakr

Al Bakr was arrested in Qatar in "the early 2000s for his involvement in a jihadist network," according to Treasury. Al Bakr was released and "promised not to conduct terrorist activity in Qatar," but by 2006 he was part of "a terrorist cell that was plotting to attack US military bases and personnel in Qatar."

Al Bakr has collected funds for both al Qaeda and the Taliban. "In this capacity, he served as a link between Gulf-based al Qaeda financiers and Afghanistan."

Treasury adds that, as of late 2012, al Bakr had traveled to Waziristan, Pakistan "for his work with al Qaeda."