ISIS' 'Diyala Division' lauds foreign suicide bombers, including Dane
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham's "Diyala Division" recently praised 26 suicide bombers, including 24 foreign fighters who conducted suicide attacks in the province of Diyala over the past several years.
The ISIS' Diyala Division publicized the 26 bombers by posting photographs of them and a brief description of their attacks on its Twitter feed on April 12. The suicide bombers executed their attacks between September 2012 and March 2014, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained the information.
Of the 26 suicide bombers who were identified, the noms de guerre of 24 of them indicate that they were from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The majority of the foreign suicide bombers were from North Africa; 10 were from Tunisia ("al Tunisi"); two were from Libya ("al Libi"); two were from Egypt ("al Masri"); and one has the last name "al Maghribi," which denotes origins in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, or Tunisia. Five more suicide bombers were from Saudi Arabia. Additionally, there was one suicide bomber each from the following: Iran ("al Irani"), Tajikistan ("al Tajikistani"), the Russian Republic of Chechnya ("al Shishani"), and Denmark ("al Dinmarki").
The Danish suicide bomber, who purportedly carried out his suicide bombing on Nov. 6, 2013, was identified as Abu Khattab al Dinmarki, but his real name has not been disclosed. The ISIS also blurred the image of his face. If confirmed, he would be the second Danish citizen known to have executed a suicide attack in Iraq. In November, Fatih al Denmarki carried out a suicide assault in Taji in Baghdad province.
The ISIS has been keen to advertise the willingness of foreign fighters to execute suicide operations in Iraq.
Two other ISIS divisions, the Baghdad Division and the Southern Division, released similar videos over the past two months. In early April, the Southern Division, which operates in Babil province just south of Baghdad, recognized eight suicide bombers from Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
In early March, the Baghdad Division recognized 30 suicide bombers, of whom 24 were from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan or Pakistan, Denmark, and the Maghreb. [See LWJ reports, ISIS' 'Southern Division' praises foreign suicide bombers, and Dane, Uzbek among 30 suicide bombers eulogized by ISIS.]
The ISIS has identified 16 wilayats, or administrative areas or divisions, in territory under its control or influence in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier this year, the Anbar Division released two videos of the brutal execution of more than 20 Iraqi soldiers who were captured in Fallujah. The Anbar Division is the largest in Iraq, and one of the most active. The ISIS controls Fallujah and its dam, and other cities and towns along the Euphrates River Valley. Just recently, the ISIS held a parade that included captured Iraqi military hardware in Abu Ghraib, a city only two miles outside Baghdad. [See LWJ report, ISIS parades on outskirts of Baghdad.]
Al Qaeda's general manager threatens America in video of large gathering
A video released by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in late March has garnered renewed attention in the media. The video, entitled "The First of the Heavy Rain," features two AQAP leaders, as well as lower-level fighters who escaped from a Yemeni prison in February 2014.
Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda's overall general manager, is shown speaking to a gathering of more than 100 people. "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 says, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Ibrahim al Rubaish, a Saudi who was once held at Guantanamo and now serves as a top sharia official in AQAP, is also shown speaking in the video. Rubaish praises the newfound freedom of some jihadist fighters, including those shown in the video, but he laments the fact that others remain imprisoned in Guantanamo and elsewhere.
The video has sparked the media's interest because it is a brazen display of AQAP strength inside Yemen. Wuhayshi is a hunted man and he is presumably on America's list of potential targets for drone strikes. Yet, he felt comfortable enough in his home country to lead a large, public gathering of his followers.
"Core" al Qaeda in Yemen
Wuhayshi served as Osama bin Laden's aide-de-camp and protégé in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. He fled to Iran, where he was detained, sometime after the Battle of Tora Bora. Wuhayshi was eventually transferred to Yemeni custody, but he escaped from prison in 2006.
Al Qaeda has long sought to wage insurgencies in Muslim countries it considers ripe for a jihadist takeover. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have been high on al Qaeda's list of target countries. However, a fierce counterterrorism campaign in Saudi Arabia that began in 2003 quashed al Qaeda's early efforts in the Arabian Peninsula. Al Qaeda also struggled, at first, to establish a full-scale insurgency in Yemen. But prison escapees such as Wuhayshi and Guantanamo returnees such as Rubaish have replenished al Qaeda's leadership in the Arabian Peninsula and contributed to al Qaeda's resurgence.
In early 2009, Wuhayshi and other jihadists announced the rebirth of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, swearing allegiance to al Qaeda's senior leadership in the process. Ayman al Zawahiri had previously recognized Wuhayshi as al Qaeda's top man in the Arabian Peninsula.
In the summer of 2013, Zawahiri appointed Wuhayshi to the position of al Qaeda's general manager. Wuhayshi's appointment to the role of general manager was accompanied by a large-scale threat that forced the closing of American diplomatic facilities around the world. The US learned of this threat when intelligence officials captured video of Zawahiri communicating, via a complex Internet-based system, with more than 20 of his subordinates, including Wuhayshi.
Al Qaeda's general manager serves a "core" function within the group. The role was previously held by senior terrorists in South Asia. According to declassified documents captured in Osama bin Laden's compound, the duties performed by al Qaeda's general manager include coordinating military and media activities, and communicating with al Qaeda's "regions," or branches, as well as with allies such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. [For a more complete discussion of the general manager's role, see LWJ report, AQAP's emir also serves as al Qaeda's general manager.]
In another recent video, Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, explains that al Qaeda also has a leader who oversees the organization's efforts in various geographic locations, or regions. The Al Nusrah Front is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.
Al Qaeda "draws up its plans and its strategy based on what we call al Qalim, or locations," Sulayman says in the video. And a leader, who swears bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Ayman al Zawahiri, is chosen to oversee each of these locations. In addition, Sulayman explains, al Qaeda appoints another leader who "overlooks all of these different locations," and this position is called Masul al Qalim. [See LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front official explains al Qaeda's strategy, conflict with former branch.]
This leadership role described by Sulayman is filled by someone other than al Qaeda's general manager, according to US intelligence officials. Both the general manager and the Masul al Qalim have deputies on their staff to support their work.
Such roles, and what they say about how al Qaeda is actually organized, are generally not reflected in the public discourse. It is commonly argued that there is a "core" of al Qaeda in South Asia and this entity is distinct from al Qaeda branches elsewhere. But Wuhayshi serves as one of al Qaeda's most senior leaders from Yemen. And his role is part of the same leadership structure that includes Zawahiri, other deputies, and various supporting councils. These leaders are located not just in South Asia, but also elsewhere.
Influence across al Qaeda's international network
Wuhayshi's influence across the al Qaeda network can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. According to "WikiBaghdady," who maintains a Twitter feed and is thought to be a dissenting leader within the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), Wuhayshi was consulted on the infighting between ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front. Wuhayshi reportedly ruled against the emir of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, when he asked to be named the new ruler of the Caliphate. (In reality, the Caliphate was dissolved in 1924 and although jihadists are fighting to re-establish it, no such entity exists today.)
Wuhayshi also advised al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), another branch of al Qaeda, to take a more incremental, "hearts and minds" approach to implementing sharia law in the areas under AQIM's control. While at first AQIM did not abide by this advice, the group has released literature in recent months advocating the same approach described by Wuhayshi.
Under Wuhayshi's command, AQAP has assisted Shabaab, al Qaeda's branch in Somalia, as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria. The group also helped build the Muhammad Jamal Network, which was founded by a longtime subordinate to Ayman al Zawahiri. Jamal noted in his letters to Zawahiri that he received financing and other support from AQAP, which also helped funnel fighters to Jamal's camps in Egypt and Libya.
AQAP has expanded its own footprint far beyond Yemen's borders. In January, a bipartisan report published by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence noted that AQAP and other branches of al Qaeda "have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya."
While Wuhayshi is well known for his role as an al Qaeda leader inside Yemen, his "core" al Qaeda role gives him influence across the international terror network.
2 Australian nationals killed in Yemen in November drone strike
Media outlets in Australia and New Zealand today reported that two Australian nationals, including one who was a New Zealand citizen as well, were killed in a US predator drone strike in Yemen on Nov. 19. Last year's airstrike took place in Yemen's eastern Hadramout province, a known jihadist haven, and targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters driving in the Ghayl Bawazir area near Mukallah, the provincial capital.
The two Australian nationals killed in the airstrike were identified as Christopher Harvard of Townsville, Australia, and Muslim bin John, a New Zealand dual citizen who reportedly changed his name by deed poll either in Australia or New Zealand. Shortly after the strike, Twitter accounts associated with AQAP eulogized five fighters, named as Abu Habib al Yemeni, Abu Salma al Russi, Abu Suhaib al Australi, Waddah al Hadramawti, and Hammam al Misri. Abu Suhaib al Australi was apparently the alias used by Muslim bin John, and Abu Salma al Russi is believed to be Christopher Harvard's alias, although he is mistakenly identified as a Russian.
Sources told The Australian that Abu Habib al Yemeni appears to have been the primary target of the airstrike. Abu Habib had a long history of fighting for al Qaeda. He traveled to Afghanistan in 1996 following al Qaeda's departure from Sudan and was known to be a companion of Osama bin Laden. Following the drone strike, US officials notified Australia about the possibility that Australian citizens were killed as "collateral damage."
A senior counterterrorism source told The Australian that the two Australian nationals were believed to be foot soldiers for AQAP and that they might have been involved in kidnapping Westerners for ransom.
Christopher Harvard's stepfather, Neil Dowrick, said that he had received a letter from the Australian Federal Police claiming that his stepson was killed in a counterterrorism operation and had been buried in Yemen on April 11. It is not conclusively known when Harvard arrived in Yemen, but intelligence officials believe that he entered the country in 2011. Mr. Dowrick said that his stepson had claimed he was going to Yemen to teach English. Following Harvard's arrival in Yemen, he was apparently monitored by intelligence agencies.
Less information is known at this point about the dual citizen named Muslim bin John. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that bin John had attended a terrorist training camp and that he had been subject to a New Zealand intelligence warrant authorizing agencies to monitor him. Key also confirmed that like Christopher Harvard, Muslim bin John was buried in Yemen. Yemeni authorities sent DNA samples, including tissue and bone fragments, from all five victims to the Australian Federal Police.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade emphasized that Australia had no prior awareness of the operation and was not involved in it in any way. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he believes that the November 2013 US airstrike was justified despite the loss of life "given that three of the people killed were well-known al Qaeda operatives," according to the Associated Press.
The US conducted 26 drone attacks against AQAP targets inside Yemen last year, and has carried out eight more strikes so far in 2014. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Yemen, 2002 - 2014]. Although the Obama administration claims that it targets only AQAP leaders and operatives who "present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States," a study of the pattern of attacks in Yemen by The Long War Journal shows that low-level fighters and local commanders are often targeted in the strikes.
Australians wage jihad over seas
Australians are known to wage jihad overseas, particularly in Syria, where more than 120 Aussies are believed to be fighting in the ranks of rebel and Islamist groups.
An Australian known as Abu Sulayman al Muhajir serves as a high-ranking sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Prior to traveling to Syria sometime last year, Sulayman lived in Australia and encouraged Muslims to wage jihad inside Syria. Sulayman is privy to al Qaeda's strategy and inner workings in Syria and is attempting to mediate a dispute with the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.
Australian extremists killed in US Predator drone strike in Yemen, News.com.au
New Zealand, Australian Men Killed in Yemen Strike, ABC News
Aussies killed in US drone strike in Yemen, The Australian
Trial of jihadist cleric expected to highlight ex-Guantanamo detainee's al Qaeda role
Abu Hamza al Masri and a masked follower.
The trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, better known as Abu Hamza al Masri, began this week in New York with jury selection. Abu Hamza preached in Britain for years. He has well-known ties to various al Qaeda operatives and openly praised the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In 2004, British authorities detained Abu Hamza on terrorism charges. But he was not extradited to the US to stand trial until October 2012. He is charged with supporting al Qaeda, attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, and assisting a hostage-taking operation in Yemen in 1998, among other allegations.
Saajid Badat. Image from the BBC.
In the weeks leading up to Abu Hamza's trial, federal prosecutors from the US Department of Justice moved to have their star witness, Saajid Badat, testify via closed circuit television instead of in person. Badat was slated to take part in a shoe bomb attack identical to the one Richard Reid failed to execute in December 2001. Badat later backed out of the plot, however, and was convicted in Britain on terrorism charges.
Prosecutors argued that Badat's testimony is "essential" to the government's case, as his testimony will connect Abu Hamza to other al Qaeda actors, including a former Guantanamo detainee named Feroz Ali Abbasi.
The court subsequently granted the prosecution's motion and Badat is expected to testify, which means that a New York jury will likely hear about Abbasi at length.
US officials have accused Abbasi of agreeing to take part in al Qaeda's attacks against American and Jewish targets. Despite being deemed a "high" risk at Guantanamo, however, Abbasi was transferred to Britain on Jan. 25, 2005.
Badat's expected testimony to the court implicates Abbasi
Feroz Ali Abbasi.
The court received a preview of Badat's testimony on March 5, when the DOJ submitted a filing outlining the reasons why he should be considered a credible and important witness.
The central issue in the DOJ's filing is Abu Hamza's alleged role in sending Abbasi "to receive jihad training in Afghanistan in support of al Qaeda." Badat has repeatedly explained this relationship during interviews with American and British officials.
Another witness, who is not named in the DOJ's filing and identified only as cooperating witness number one ("CW-1"), corroborates parts of Badat's testimony. According to CW-1, Abu Hamza "directed CW-1 to travel with Abbasi from London to Afghanistan," where he was "to deliver Abbasi to Ibn Sheikh al Libi ('Ibn Sheik'), another of the [Abu Hamza's] co-conspirators who was associated with al Qaeda."
CW-1 failed to follow through on Abu Hamza's instructions because he was separated from Abbasi in Pakistan, and only saw Abbasi later in Afghanistan. (Ibn Sheik al Libi would later die while in custody in Libya.)
According to the DOJ's prosecutors, "Badat's testimony will essentially begin where CW-1's testimony ends." Badat "will testify that, in early 2001, he met Abbasi, who was accompanied by Ibn Sheik at the time, in Kandahar."
Upon Ibn Sheik's request, Badat looked after Abbasi, taking him to a guesthouse "run by al Qaeda." During another meeting in Afghanistan, Badat says he saw CW-1 and Abbasi together at al Qaeda's al Farouq training camp, which admitted only those "trusted by al Qaeda." Badat says that Abbasi's training at al Farouq included "weapons, such as AK-47s, explosives, and navigation."
Badat is expected to tell the court that he also acted as a translator during a meeting between Abbasi and "two of al Qaeda's most senior leaders," Abu Hafs al Masri and Saif al Adel. Abu Hafs was al Qaeda's military chief until he died in an American airstrike in late 2001. Saif al Adel remains a senior al Qaeda leader to this day.
The pair of al Qaeda leaders asked Abbasi whether he "would be willing to engage in attacks against American and Jewish targets outside of Afghanistan." According to the Justice Department, "Badat will testify that Abbasi responded affirmatively" to the al Qaeda leaders' request.
Badat will testify about other matters as well, including his "explosives training" under the tutelage of Abu Khabab al Masri, a known al Qaeda trainer. He is also expected to testify regarding his first meeting with Saif al Adl in 1999, when the two discussed the arrest of Abu Hamza's son in Yemen.
The DOJ says that Badat "first provided information about Abbasi's role in a conspiracy with [Abu Hamza] in 2004." And Badat has provided consistent testimony several times since then.
Abbasi's statements to the FBI at Guantanamo corroborate Badat's account
In its filing with the court, the DOJ argued that Badat's account is credible for multiple reasons, including because it is consistent with Abbasi's own statements.
During interviews with FBI agents at Guantanamo in early 2002, Abbasi "provided detailed, inculpatory statements about his time in Afghanistan, all of which are consistent with Badat's prior statements and proposed testimony." To support its case, the Justice Department cites the FBI's 302 forms summarizing the interviews with Abbasi.
Abbasi admitted meeting with Ibn Sheik near Kabul. Ibn Sheikh "then took Abbasi to Kandahar and checked Abbasi into the Institute for Arabic Studies (IAS)," which was also known as the "House of Pomegrantes." Abbasi admitted staying at the guesthouse for a few days, "before attending the al Farouq training camp, where he received military-style training." Abbasi admitted that Ibn Sheikh "outlined ... a two-year training course for him" and that the IAS "was run by al Qaeda."
Abbasi also told FBI agents that he met a man known as "Abu Issa," which was the alias used by Badat.
Perhaps most importantly, according to the DOJ's filing, Abbasi admitted to FBI agents that "Abu Issa" (Badat) had "translated for Abbasi during his meeting with Abu Hafs" al Masri. It was during this meeting that Abbasi was allegedly asked about his willingness to attack American and Jewish targets.
Leaked JTG-GTMO file
A leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment, dated Nov. 11, 2003, contains some of the same details included in the DOJs filing. The JTF-GTMO file contains additional details about Abbasi's ties to Abu Hamza and other al Qaeda actors as well.
Abbasi "called" Abu Hamza, who is a "known Islamic extremist and al Qaeda member," the file reads. Abu Hamza "invited" Abbasi "to attend Friday's prayer at the Finsbury Mosque [in London] for instructions on how to join the jihad." The file indicates that Abbasi attended training at al Farouq before being selected for more "advanced training."
After training, Abbasi traveled to Kandahar, where he met with Saif al Adel (whose name is misspelled in the JTF-GTMO file), which is consistent with Badat's and Abbasi's testimony outlined above. But according to JTF-GTMO, Abbasi also met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and David Hicks, an Australian who was held at Guantanamo after training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. If this is accurate, then Abbasi's al Qaeda connections go beyond the details in the DOJ's filing.
Abbasi was then selected to attend "an information collection course that taught him how to select targets for terrorism." After this, he was asked if he would take part in a "martyrdom mission." He replied, "Yes."
JTF-GTMO considered Abbasi to be a "confirmed member" of al Qaeda, who had "pledged to martyr himself in Jihad against the West and the United States in particular."
Abbasi was also deemed "a high threat to the US, its interests and its allies." JTF-GTMO even considered Abbasi "a candidate for prosecution as a terrorist" in a military court. It was recommended that he be "retained under" the Department of Defense's control.
Instead, less than two years later, Abbasi was transferred to Britain, where he was freed. Abbasi's transfer goes to show that the US government has transferred detainees from Guantanamo who are strongly suspected of being tied to al Qaeda's senior leaders. The evidence against Abbasi is considered so strong, in fact, that it is being cited by the Department of Justice in legal filings more than a decade after Abbasi was first interviewed by the FBI.
And now the man who allegedly sent Abbasi to Afghanistan for training in the first place stands trial in New York.
Al Nusrah Front official explains al Qaeda's strategy, conflict with former branch
Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a high-ranking sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has released a video explaining the group's ongoing conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). Al Qaeda's general command disowned ISIS in early February after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS, repeatedly disobeyed orders.
Sulayman was an extremist preacher in Australia until he relocated to Syria sometime last year to serve as a mediator in the intra-jihadist dispute. He recently joined several other jihadist ideologues in calling on Ayman al Zawahiri to issue a more detailed condemnation of ISIS.
While parts of Sulayman's video rehash old ground, including ISIS' unwillingness to settle its differences with other groups, the video also covers new areas. Sulayman offers a substantive discussion of al Qaeda's strategy and "hierarchy."
Al Qaeda's organization scheme and Baghdadi's insubordination
Sulayman says that the relationship between al Qaeda and ISIS was the same as "an emir with his [group]." According to Sulayman, the predecessor to ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), was a loyal branch of al Qaeda's international organization. Sulayman also says that Baghdadi had sworn bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri, and he dismisses attempts by ISIS leaders to portray this oath as anything less than a "completely binding" pledge of obedience to al Qaeda's senior leaders.
Sulayman explains how Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), prior to its expansion into Syria, fit into al Qaeda's organizational scheme.
Al Qaeda "draws up its plans and its strategy based on what we call al Qalim, or locations," Sulayman says. And a leader is chosen to oversee each of these locations. For example, Nasir al Wuhayshi (the emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda's overall general manager) is al Qaeda's representative in the Arabian Peninsula, and Abu Musab Abdul Wadud (the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) oversees the Maghreb. The "same goes for each of the locations, or al Qalim," according to Sulayman, and Zawahiri is the emir above all of them.
The head of each location swears a bayat to al Qaeda "that binds them to the group" and means that they owe "allegiance in the matters of jihad," because the oath "ties them to one unity, one group called" al Qaeda.
Sulayman's interviewer, an English-speaking member of the Al Nusrah Front, asks if Zawahiri is "really the head of the hierarchy." Sulayman scoffs at suggestions to the contrary, saying "it's quite strange that there's all this confusion about this particular topic" and the administration of ISIS "knows very well the rank they had in" al Qaeda.
Continuing with his description of al Qaeda, Sulayman says there is "someone [who] overlooks all of these different locations," called Masul al Qalim. The locations al Qaeda chooses are not based on Western boundaries, such as those drawn up by the Sykes-Picot agreement, Sulayman explains. Instead, "it is a purely strategic decision based on Islamic principles and goes in line with these Islamic guidelines," as "has been the policy of al Qaeda since its establishment."
This is intended as a direct rebuttal to ISIS' claims that al Qaeda adhered to Western boundaries when it ordered the group to leave the jihad in Syria and return to Iraq.
Baghdadi was named the al Qalim of Iraq, Sulayman says, but he did not have the authority to establish an Islamic state beyond its borders. Each leader of one of al Qaeda's locations, or al Qalim, has a "certain authority." But announcing the creation of an Islamic state "is not one of" the authorities each leader has.
Sulayman points to Shabaab ("our brothers"), al Qaeda's official branch in Somalia, and says that they "never established a State," nor did they announce a merger "with their neighbors in Yemen," because "they don't have such authority." They "must go back" to the al Qaeda "hierarchy to receive such permission."
Sulayman says that Shabaab did not merge with AQAP even though this "would be much, much easier than the" attempt by ISIS to do the same. Here, Sulayman is likely referring to the rumors that surfaced online saying that the ISIS was going to merge with AQAP. No such merger has taken place. ISIS has also been attempting to collect its own pledges of bayat to Baghdadi, but few have been forthcoming thus far. Sulayman says that al Qaeda's "hierarchy is precisely why we don't see [leaders] from different areas giving bayat to Sheikh al Baghdadi." The emir in each location swears bayat directly to Zawahiri.
Al Qaeda's "first mediator"
During his time in Australia, Sulayman was known as an extremist preacher, but he was not publicly identified as an al Qaeda member. His latest video suggests that he has long played a role in the organization. Sulayman says he was the "first mediator" between ISIS and Al Nusrah. It is unlikely that this position would be given to anyone other than a trusted member of al Qaeda. Sulayman adds that he served in this role alongside an "Iraqi brother" whose name is not mentioned "for security reasons."
To date, all of al Qaeda's mediation efforts, including those spearheaded by Sulayman, have failed. But Sulayman argues that the Al Nusrah Front was willing to compromise in pursuit of a resolution. Abu Muhammad al Julani, the head of Al Nusrah, was even willing to work alongside Baghdadi and ISIS under the banner of al Qaeda in Syria. But this would have required the annulment of ISIS, something Baghdadi would not agree to.
Earlier this year, Julani issued an ultimatum to ISIS that would have expanded the infighting between the groups if ISIS did not agree to Julani's demands. Julani backed down, however, and Sulayman explains why. Sulayman says that Al Nusrah abides by the "scholarly opinions and the rulings given by the sheikhs who are well-grounded in Islamic sciences and are known for their Islamic positions," such as Abu Qatada, Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, and Sheikh Sulayman al Alwan. Two of these three clerics advised Al Nusrah "not to widen this battle and conflict" with ISIS, so Al Nusrah is responding "as necessary, and only in the areas where [ISIS'] transgression is clear."
Qatada and Maqdisi are both imprisoned in Jordan, but have been been actively commenting on the dispute between Al Nusrah and ISIS. The two clerics have been highly critical of ISIS, and have been publicly advising Al Nusrah on how to handle the ongoing dispute.
Even after months of infighting and heated arguments, al Qaeda still wants ISIS to submit to a common sharia (Islamic law) court to settle its disagreements with other groups. Sulayman says that while ISIS has "clearly caused the biggest rift in the global jihad" since the fall of the Caliphate in 1924, Al Nusrah will answer ISIS' transgressions only "until they come back to the truth" and "are willing to succumb to an Islamic court wherein they are not the judge and prosecutor."
"I'm sure that there are many good brothers, good-hearted, sincere brothers in" ISIS, Sulayman says. Al Qaeda still wants the infighting to end, according to Sulayman, but ISIS will not oblige.
Jihadist ideologues call on Zawahiri to detail problems with former al Qaeda affiliate
A group of jihadist ideologues, including a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, have called on Ayman al Zawahiri to address the specific problems that the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has caused inside Syria.
The message, which was obtained by The Long War Journal, is being disseminated on Twitter. A photo of Zawahiri next to a sealed envelope, shown above, as well as a hashtag are accompanying the message. Oren Adaki, a research associate and Arabic language specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has provided a translation of the missive.
The ideologues argue that the infighting has led the jihad in Syria astray.
They continue: "And due to our keenness on this blessed jihad and so that it should lead to fealty along the lines that Allah desires and would be satisfied with, we ask our Sheikh, Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri - may Allah keep him - to speak that which is good for the jihad and the mujahideen about the current situation and specifically about what relates to ISIS before the announcement of the expansion and after it, and the issue of allegiances (bayat), and the disputed arbitration between the adversaries."
The three areas the ideologues ask Zawahiri to specifically address are all hot button issues in the dispute between ISIS and the other jihadist factions, including the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.
In a previous message, al Qaeda's general command addressed the first issue, making it clear that the organization's most senior leaders had not been consulted before the Islamic State of Iraq decided to expand into Syria. Afterwards, the group was rebranded as ISIS and its leaders tried, unsuccessfully, to subsume the Al Nusrah Front under its command. The latest message implies that there may be more to the story, however.
The issue of ISIS' bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri has also been contentious. Al Nusrah Front officials have alleged that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS, had sworn bayat to Zawahiri and, therefore, pledged to obey Zawahiri's orders. Al Baghdadi has repeatedly disobeyed Zawahiri's command. If it is true that he had sworn bayat, then al Baghdadi has violated the terms of his oath.
To date, Zawahiri has not spoken publicly on this issue despite its importance to the conflict between ISIS and Al Nusrah.
Finally, the message's signatories call on Zawahiri to discuss "the disputed arbitration between the adversaries." Multiple attempts have been made to mediate the differences between ISIS and other groups. ISIS has repeatedly refused, however, to submit itself to a common sharia (Islamic law) court. Al Qaeda's leaders and others have advocated for the establishment of such a court.
As part of the propaganda war between Al Nusrah and ISIS, Al Nusrah produced several videos featuring leading members of al Qaeda, all of whom said that ISIS had refused to settle its differences.
Signatories in Zawahiri's camp, but want more pointed criticism of ISIS
The signatories on the message are listed as: Dr. Tareq Abd Al Haleem, Dr. Hani Al Sibai, Dr. Iyad Quneibi, Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, Sheikh Mohammad Al Hassam, and Dr. Sami al Uraydi.
Uraydi is a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front. On his personal Twitter feed, he has tweeted and retweeted posts praising Zawahiri as the "sheikh of the mujahideen." Uraydi also reposted the latest message addressed to Zawahiri on his Twitter feed earlier today.
Quneibi is a preacher in Jordan whose sermons are commonly uploaded and linked to on Salafi jihadist pages, including those run by al Qaeda ideologues.
Sibai is a longtime member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a group run by Zawahiri that merged with Osama bin Laden's venture prior to 9/11. Sibai heads a jihadist media shop, Al Maqreze Center, that produces an online radio program. The message addressed to Zawahiri was posted on Al Maqreze's Twitter feed today.
Muhaysini is a popular, al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric who relocated to Syria in late 2013. On Jan. 23, Muhaysini released a reconciliation initiative that was intended to bring ISIS back into the fold. ISIS rejected Muhaysini's proposal, which followed a message from Zawahiri, and was then disowned by al Qaeda's general command.
While the signatories are clearly in Zawahiri's camp, they appear to be unsatisfied with the al Qaeda master's messaging on Syria thus far. Zawahiri has discussed the infighting in mainly general terms and has avoided addressing the specific allegations being hurled back and forth.
For instance, in his recent statement eulogizing Abu Khalid al Suri, Zawahiri did not mention ISIS by name even though he criticized the group's practices. Al Suri served as Zawahiri's main representative in Syria and was also a founding member and senior leader in Ahrar al Sham, one of the leading groups in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups. Al Suri was killed in a suicide attack on Feb. 23. The attackers were most likely dispatched by ISIS.
"The situation can no longer bear a delay, and it is no secret to anyone who follows the jihad in Syria," the signatories write in their message to Zawahiri, adding that their request is consistent with Islamic teachings.
They add: "We want from our Sheikh [Zawahiri] - may Allah keep him - to detail for us in a statement and direct us to what will make the matter clear and reveal it to us, for perhaps Allah is fit to advise him and direct him on the situation."
Al Qaeda shura council member addresses infighting in Syria
Abu Khalil al Madani, a senior member of al Qaeda's shura council, has released an audio message addressing the infighting between jihadist groups in Syria. The message was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Despite ongoing mediation efforts, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) has continued to clash with other jihadist groups, including the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.
Al Madani says the factions are "required to form a High Shariah Committee in field of jihad, and this committee is to be led by a group of the knowledgeable ones, those known for success, those who are aware and understand the reality and the condition of the mujahideen."
"The members of this committee should be taken from the best available from every active group in the field," al Madani continues. "Among the tasks of this committee is to collect the word for the general interest; advise and direct; fix matters between each other; bring in viewpoints; and determine the reason for the defeat of the opponent."
Al Madani's suggestion in this regard is similar to past proposals. In a message released online on Jan. 23, al Qaeda's emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, argued that the jihadist groups should "establish a sharia arbitration committee" capable of ruling "among different factions on all the accusations leveled by any group against its" jihadist brethren. Hours later, Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular Saudi cleric who has relocated to Syria, released his own reconciliation initiative, which included the same type of committee.
The ISIS rejected these efforts, however, and was subsequently disowned by al Qaeda's general command.
In addition to the "High Sharia Committee," al Madani says that a "security committee" should "be formed that belongs to the Sharia Committee, and is led by the people of experience and specialty, those who are aware of the situation and the condition."
Al Madani continues: "All the active groups will participate in this committee, those present in the field, to deter and reveal the enemies and the conspiracies that are plotted against jihad and the mujahideen, and to reveal those without knowledge."
Although al Madani does not explain why such a security committee is necessary, it may be because ISIS figures frequently claim that other jihadist groups have been infiltrated by the West or other outside parties. Such a security committee could be intended to allay such concerns among the jihadists.
Al Madani also criticizes unnamed Islamic "scholars," saying that they are not doing enough to support the jihad in Syria. The al Qaeda ideologue claims that the infighting in Syria has persisted because more scholars have not relocated to the front lines, where they can supposedly provide direction.
"Among the reasons for the success of the Taliban in their blessed jihad in Afghanistan is that the scholars were present on the frontlines of the fight and they managed it, and therefore the blessing descended on their jihad," Al Madani says.
Al Madani has made few appearances through the years. In July 2013, he released an audio message arguing that the community of worldwide Muslims is weak because it supposedly lacked faith. Prior to that message, he last appeared in an al Qaeda production in July 2008.
Ansar Jerusalem releases video of December bombing in Mansoura
The Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) today released a video about its Dec. 24, 2013 suicide car bombing attack outside the Daqahliya security directorate in Mansoura. The group, which was designated yesterday as a foreign terrorist organization by the US, had previously claimed responsibility for the Mansoura attack, in a statement released on Dec. 25, 2013.
In the video, Abu Maryam, the suicide bomber in the attack, is described by Ansar Jerusalem as a "heroic martyr," according to a translation by Oren Adaki of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "He had many intrepid braveries against the apostates in Egypt," the jihadist group says. In addition, he was "wounded by gunfire during the Ramses incidents," likely a reference to August 2013 clashes between Egyptian security forces and Islamists in Cairo's Ramses Square.
Ansar Jerusalem's video also accuses Egypt's security forces of "killing in cold blood," "terrorizing children," and "aggression against Muslim women," among other offenses. The issue of assaults against women has been mentioned in a number of other statements from Ansar Jerusalem as well as from Ajnad Misr. For example, in November 2013 Ansar Jerusalem said its killing of Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Mabrouk, a senior national security officer, was in response to the arrest and interrogation of Muslim women by Egyptian security forces.
After accusing Egypt's security forces of these offenses, the video plays a clip from former Islamic State of Iraq leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi. "We are not those who shed tears, and sit crying like women, this was not and will not be our path," Baghdadi says. Ansar Jerusalem had previously used a clip from Baghdadi in its video about its attack in October 2013 on the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor.
Following this, a speech from Abu Maryam is played. In it, the jihadist says: "The path to establishing the religion is not solely by da'wa as some people have said, but it is da'wa and jihad." "You do not raise a weapon and they fight you. So what [would happen] if you raised a weapon?" he asks.
He goes on to say that "the enemies of Allah ... are plotting against us, plotting against Allah's religion." In addition, he denounces Egyptian security forces for acting as "protectors of the Jews." According to Abu Maryam, "He who proceeds and dares to kill Muslims, we do not advise him with words, rather we kill him as he has killed them."
Ansar Jerusalem says "security reasons" prevented it from filming the explosion in Mansoura. Similarly, in a November 2013 video about its attack on the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, the jihadist group had claimed that "security reasons" kept it from filming the actual bombing. In February, however, the group released a video showing its Dec. 29 bombing of a military intelligence building in Anshas.
The video from Ansar Jerusalem concluded with a 2007 clip from Abu Hamza al Muhajir (also known as Abu Ayyub al Masri), a deceased al Qaeda in Iraq leader, in which he calls on Muslims to protect the honor of their women.
Taliban's shadow governor for Kunar reported killed in US airstrike
Noor Qasim Sabari, the shadow governor for Kunar province, from a Taliban video released in 2012.
The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's domestic intelligence service, claimed that the Taliban's shadow governor for Kunar province and several senior commanders were killed in an airstrike three days ago. The Taliban commander's death has not been confirmed.
The NDS issued a press release stating that Noor Qasim Sabari, the shadow governor of Kunar, was killed in an airstrike that targeted "a gathering of the senior Pakistani and Afghan Taliban leaders" on the evening of April 7, Khaama Press reported.
Sabari appeared in a video by the Taliban that was released in 2012. In that video, which is titled "The Ghazi of Ghaziabad," the Taliban welcomed two Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers suspected of killing US and Afghan soldiers in insider or green-on-blue attacks earlier in 2012. [See Threat Matrix report, Observations on Taliban video 'welcoming' rogue ANA soldiers.]
The airstrike, which would have been launched by the US military or the CIA, also reportedly killed Qari Osman, the shadow district governor for Shigal; Qari Nasir Gajar, the chief suicide attack coordinator; Mullah Bashir Gajar, the IED coordinator; Qari Sherin, an assassination squad leader; and senior commanders Qari Zubair, Qari Latif, and Qari Tari. It is unclear which of the senior commanders or attack coordinators, if any, are Pakistani Taliban members. Additionally, nine Taliban fighters are said to have been killed.
The Afghan Taliban has not released a martyrdom statement announcing the deaths of Sabari or the other commanders on its website, Voice of jihad. An inquiry on the NDS report that was sent to the Taliban by The Long War Journal has gone unanswered.
The International Security Assistance Force has also not commented on the reports of the airstrike in Kunar. ISAF stopped issuing press releases on its operations against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as of June 27, 2013.
For years, the rugged, remote Afghan province of Kunar has served as a sanctuary for al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba cells has been detected in the districts of Asmar, Asadabad, Dangam, Ghazibad, Marawana, Nari, Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Shigal, and Watahpur; or 11 of Kunar's 15 districts, according to press releases issued by ISAF that have been compiled by The Long War Journal. The Taliban and al Qaeda are closely allied in the province.
The US appears to be continuing to hunt for senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in Kunar, despite its withdrawal from much of the province and the end of its counterinsurgency campaign there. Last year, two wanted senior al Qaeda and Taliban commanders were reported to have been killed in US airstrikes.
In mid-October 2013, Qari Dawat, a Taliban commander in Kunar who has been hunted by US forces for years and has vowed to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden, was reported to have been killed. And in mid-August 2013, US strike aircraft reportedly killed Qari Zia Rahman, dual-hatted al Qaeda and Taliban leader who operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and who trains female suicide bombers. The deaths of Dawat and Rahman were never confirmed.
State Department adds Ansar Jerusalem to terrorist designation lists
The State Department today added Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, or ABM) to the US government's lists of designated terrorist entities.
Based in the Sinai, ABM was founded in the aftermath of the uprisings in Egypt in 2011. The group attracted early attention by conducting attacks, including daring guerilla-style raids, in Israel and against Egyptian security forces in the Sinai. Following the overthrow of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, ABM has escalated its attacks inside Egypt, including in the country's urban areas. As the State Department notes, ABM has also expanded its targets to include foreign tourists.
The State Department's designation follows a similar move by the British government, which designated ABM as a terrorist entity earlier this month. The designations are intended to prevent citizens in either the US or the UK from supporting the terrorist organization.
ABM attacks consistent with al Qaeda's global jihad
The State Department says that "ABM -- who shares some aspects of AQ [sic] ideology, but is not a formal AQ affiliate and generally maintains a local focus -- was responsible for a July 2012 attack against a Sinai pipeline exporting gas to Israel." But it is not clear what aspects of al Qaeda's ideology the group does not share. It is also not known, based on publicly available information, whether or not ABM is an unannounced branch of al Qaeda. It may not be, but other groups, such as Shabaab in Somalia and the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant in Syria, have operated within al Qaeda's sphere of influence long before any formal announcement of allegiance was made public.
ABM's "local focus" is also entirely consistent with al Qaeda's priorities. Both seek to impose a harsh version of sharia law within Egypt. And ABM has frequently portrayed its attacks, both against Israel and inside Egypt, as being a part of al Qaeda's global jihad. In turn, al Qaeda's most senior leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, has repeatedly praised ABM's attacks. The July 2012 attack on the Sinai pipeline mentioned by the State Department is a good illustration of this point.
ABM released a video on July 24, 2012 in which it claimed responsibility for 13 pipeline attacks. The video is peppered with clips of Zawahiri praising the pipeline bombings, which he has heralded on several occasions. Zawahiri provides an economic justification for the attacks, saying they damage Israel's economy. "The greeting goes to the heroes who blew up the gas pipeline and who represent the dignity of the Egyptian people," Zawahiri says in one clip used in the ABM video. "May Allah bless them, until they see the Islamic Caliphate ruling over the countries of Islam. I ask Allah to grant them patience and determination, and to reward them in the best way in this life and the hereafter."
Other high-profile ABM attacks have been portrayed as consistent with al Qaeda's global jihad as well.
On Sept. 21, 2012, as the State Department noted in its release, "ABM militants attacked an Israeli border patrol, killing one soldier and injuring another." In a statement released the following day, ABM justified the attack as an act of retaliation for the video Innocence of Muslims. The group falsely claimed that Jews were involved in the video's production. In reality, this was merely a pretext, not a true motivation. ABM had attacked Israeli interests before the video became an issue, and continued to do so long after.
As The Long War Journal has documented, other al Qaeda-linked groups similarly used the video as a pretext for assaulting American diplomatic facilities in September 2012. And ABM portrayed its Sept. 21, 2012 attack as part of this wider, anti-American effort. "America, the head of disbelief, was the one who produced the film on its land and under its protection," ABM said in its statement claiming responsibility for the attack, "so Muslims rose against it and surrounded and stormed its embassies, lowered its flags, and raised their banners of tawhid (monotheism) high instead of its flags."
In a video released on Jan. 11, 2013, ABM once again claimed that the Sept. 21, 2012 attack in Israel was retaliation for Innocence of Muslims. The group cited Osama bin Laden as its inspiration. "If the freedom of your expression has no limit, then your chests should bear the freedom of our actions," bin Laden says in the ABM video. This quote, or a similar one, was used by jihadists with known al Qaeda ties, including Ayman al Zawahiri's younger brother, to justify the protest-turned-assault on the US Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. The ABM video contains footage from that pro-al Qaeda event.
Another ABM attack mentioned by the State Department is the Sept. 5, 2013 attempted assassination of Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim. On Oct. 26, 2013, ABM released a video dedicated to the suicide bomber responsible for the operation, a former major in the Egyptian army named Walid Badr. The video begins with an audio clip from Ayman al Zawahiri and ends with a video of Zawahiri. In the closing scene, Zawahiri says that the conflict in Egypt is not "a struggle between political parties, but a struggle between Crusaders and Zionists on one side and Islam on the other side." Thus, ABM considers the assassination attempt to be part of al Qaeda's global jihad.
Walid Badr, the would-be assassin, was clearly a global jihadist. The ABM video celebrating his "martyrdom" says he traveled to Afghanistan and participated "with his brothers in deterring the Crusader campaign against the proud land of Khorasan." This is a reference to the America-led campaign in Afghanistan that began in late 2001. Badr attempted to fight in Iraq as well, but failed to do so and eventually returned to Egypt. Badr traveled to Syria to fight Bashar al Assad's regime, only to return to Egypt once again and become a suicide bomber. This sequence of events shows that Badr fought in three different theaters for jihad -- Afghanistan, Syria, and Egypt. Other ABM members have reportedly fought among rebel ranks in Syria, including the Al Nusrah Front, which is a branch of al Qaeda.
There are still additional details in Badr's story that connect him and ABM to the al Qaeda network. Egyptian officials alleged that he was trained by Muhammad Jamal's organization, which is clearly a part of al Qaeda's global network. In a previous designation, for example, the State Department pointed to Jamal's direct ties to al Qaeda's senior leadership, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Jamal is a longtime subordinate to Ayman al Zawahiri and was in direct contact with the al Qaeda leader in 2011 and 2012. In his letters to Zawahiri, Jamal explained that he had established multiple groups in the Sinai.
And in late October 2013, Egyptian security sources arrested Nabil al Maghraby, whom they described simply as "a key al Qaeda operative." Al Maghraby had been imprisoned for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, but was freed by a presidential pardon from Mohamed Morsi in 2012. Egyptian authorities described al Maghraby as "a close associate" of Badr.
There is much we still do not know about ABM's leadership, organizational structure, ties to other jihadist groups, and financing. But ABM's "local" attacks are precisely what al Qaeda's senior leadership wants, both against Israel and inside Egypt.
Notes: All quotes from ABM's videos were translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. Parts of this article are adapted from written congressional testimony.
ISIS' 'Southern Division' praises foreign suicide bombers
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham's "Southern Iraq Division" praised eight foreign fighters who conducted suicide attacks in the province of Babil.
Images of the eight foreign suicide bombers were published on the Twitter feed of the ISIS' Southern Iraq Division. The eight suicide bombers included "three Moroccans, two Tunisians, one Jordanian, one Saudi, and a man who was unidentified," according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained the images. "No information was provided about their operations, or biographical data other than their country of origin," SITE stated.
The ISIS has previously recently released similar propaganda that lauds foreign suicide bombers. In the beginning of March, the ISIS' "Baghdad Division" published the photographs of 30 suicide bombers, including 24 foreigners from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The short martyrdom statements for the fighters included the dates of their deaths as well as the operations in which they were involved. [See LWJ report, Dane, Uzbek among 30 suicide bombers eulogized by ISIS.]
The Southern Division and the Baghdad Division are two of the ISIS' 16 wilayats, or provinces or administrative districts, that span both Iraq and Syria.
A map of the ISIS' administrative areas, including the 16 wilayats, was published earlier this year. The ISIS map was obtained by The Long War Journal.
A legend (in the blue area in the bottom left hand corner) reads "Areas of presence or control; The Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham." The map details the 16 administrative districts, which are divided largely along existing provincial boundaries in both Iraq and Syria.
The Southern Division, which released the images of the eight foreign suicide bombers, is based in Babil province, located just south of Baghdad.
The Anbar Division is the largest in Iraq, and one of the most active. The ISIS controls Fallujah and other cities and towns along the Euphrates River Valley. Just recently, the ISIS held a parade that included captured Iraqi military hardware in Abu Ghraib, a city only two miles outside Baghdad. [See LWJ report, ISIS parades on outskirts of Baghdad.]
In Syria, the ISIS' seat of power is in Raqqah province. Top ISIS leaders, including Abu Bakr al Baghdadi a.k.a. Abu Dua, are known to have visited the city of Raqqah, the provincial capital.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham's 16 wilayats:
Al Barakah Division (Hasaka)
Al Kheir Division (Deir al Zour)
Al Raqqah Division
Al Badiya Division
Halab [Aleppo] Division
Coast [Al Sahel] Division
Jordan rearrests ex-Gitmo detainee once deemed a 'high' risk
Jordanian authorities have arrested nine members of the Salafi jihadist trend, including a former Guantanamo detainee named Osama Abu Kabir, according to The Jordan Times.
Kabir was first captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo in June 2002. He was detained there until November 2007, when he was transferred to Jordan and released. Kabir is known to have resumed his terrorist activities after his release.
According to the US State Department, Kabir was the leader of a terrorist cell in Jordan that plotted "attacks in Israel in retaliation for the Israeli incursion into Gaza." The cell was broken up in 2009 when Kabir and his associates were arrested. Kabir was reportedly sentenced to 15 years in prison, but for some unknown reason was at large until his recent arrest.
Late last year, Al Jazeera reported on its Arabic website that Kabir was wanted by Jordanian authorities once again. At the time, the Jordanians were cracking down on members of the Salafi jihadist trend. One of the members of the trend arrested in the security sweeps is Raed Hijazi, who served time in prison for his role in planned attacks inside Jordan at the turn of the millennium.
Kabir has also been identified as a member of the Salafi jihadist trend. The specific charges against Kabir have not been made public, but his arrest seems to be tied to Jordan's concerns about the jihad in Syria.
One of the other eight members of the trend recently arrested has "alleged ties" to the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.
The leader of the Salafi jihadist trend has also claimed that the arrests are linked to the fight in Syria. "This campaign of arrests is the latest step by the state to intimidate and prevent Jordanians and other Muslims from defending their brothers in Syria," Mohammed Shalabi (a.k.a. Abu Sayyaf) told The Jordan Times.
Shalabi is well known for his longstanding ties to al Qaeda's operations in Iraq and Syria. He was previously accused of plotting to attack American targets in Jordan.
A "high" risk
The Long War Journal profiled Kabir in 2010 using declassified files prepared at Guantanamo. [See LWJ report, State Department: Former Gitmo detainee led terror cell in Jordan.]
A subsequently leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment provides additional details.
The JTF-GTMO assessment, dated Aug. 11, 2005, noted that Kabir is "a possible member of al Qaeda" who "decided to go to Afghanistan to fight in the jihad against Coalition forces." The assessment concluded that he presented a "high" risk, "as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies." Despite being deemed a threat, however, JTF-GTMO recommended that Kabir be transferred to the control of another country as long as an acceptable transfer agreement could be reached.
Two years later, on Nov. 2, 2007, he was transferred to Jordan.
Tied to "experienced al Qaeda member"
Kabir traveled from Pakistan to Afghanistan alongside "an experienced al Qaeda member named Muhammad Aslam Bin Khan aka Muhammad Islam Barasi" in November 2001. The pair "fought on the front lines" before retreating to "set up their own ambush." But they were detained later that same month.
While in custody, according to the JTF-GTMO file, Kabir admitted that he had traveled to Afghanistan to fight the US. He did not hide his intent even when he was interviewed by the press in late 2001.
On Dec. 2, 2001, the Sunday Telegraph (UK) published an article detailing a visit by its reporters to a detention facility in Kabul. Kabir was one of the inmates the Telegraph interviewed. "I hate Americans - in the last 10 years they've shown what's in their hearts towards Islam," Kabir said during the interview. He went on to justify the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Kabir's companion in Pakistan and then Afghanistan, Muhammad Aslam Bin Khan, was an especially well-connected operative who had helped plot international terrorist attacks.
Aslam is described in the JTF-GTMO threat assessment as "an explosives expert" and member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an al Qaeda-affiliated group based in Southeast Asia. Aslam had "ties to senior al Qaeda operational coordinator and JI founder, Hambali." Before being captured in 2003, Hambali had worked closely with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and had sheltered two of the 9/11 hijackers in January 2000, when they attended a key planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After 9/11, Hambali continued to plot attacks in Southeast Asia on behalf of al Qaeda.
The JTF-GTMO file indicates that Aslam was interviewed by the British Secret Intelligence Service after he was captured with Kabir. Aslam said he met Kabir in Pakistan and the duo went to Afghanistan to fight.
Aslam's terrorist career long predated his trip to Afghanistan in late 2001, however.
In 1996 and 1997, according to JTF-GTMO's file, Aslam was trained at an al Qaeda camp in the Philippines. "Between the summer of 1998 and his departure in 2001," Aslam "cased three potential bombing targets in Singapore." The "potential targets were the US Naval Port Facility in Singapore, the Singapore Water Pipeline, and nightspots frequented by US servicemen."
Aslam is of Pakistani descent but also a citizen of Singapore, where authorities first learned of his plotting after 9/11. According to a document released by Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs, one of Aslam's fellow Singaporeans told officials that Aslam had bragged about knowing Osama bin Laden and fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The government of Singapore then started closely tracking Aslam's movements, but in early October 2001 he suddenly departed for Pakistan.
Aslam's detention inside Afghanistan the following month, alongside Kabir, then triggered a series of arrests in Singapore. The Ministry of Home Affairs says that officials were concerned that the news of Aslam's arrest would make members of his cell flee the country as well. Twenty-three people were detained in December 2001, and 13 of them were determined to be actively plotting against American interests.
More than a dozen years have passed since Aslam and Kabir made their way into Afghanistan to fight American forces.
In the years that followed his release from Guantanamo, Kabir has continued to seek ways to wage jihad.
Zawahiri's longtime deputy reportedly arrested in Egypt
Thirwat Salah Shehata, an Egyptian who long served as one Ayman al Zawahiri's top deputies, has reportedly been arrested in a suburb of Cairo.
Unnamed Egyptian officials who spoke with Agence France Presse and the Associated Press say that Shehata had traveled to Libya and Turkey before returning to his home country, where he was arrested.
Shehata was among the senior al Qaeda leaders who were sheltered inside Iran for much of the post-9/11 period.
In early 2011, Shehata released a statement supporting the Egyptian uprisings. He called on the people to "remain steadfast" and reject any economic concessions from then president Hosni Mubarak. "Indeed, the Pharaoh and his rotten party must depart," Shehata said in the statement, which he reportedly released from inside Iran. [See LWJ report, Ayman al Zawahiri's deputy releases statement in support of Egyptian opposition.]
Egyptian officials say Shehata was training militants in Libya
Sometime after his 2011 statement, Shehata left Iran. It is not clear when he left, but The Washington Post reported in February that US officials believed he had traveled to Libya. Egyptian officials have now confirmed Shehata's previous presence in Libya.
A former US official told the Post that Shehata is suspected of meeting with other senior al Qaeda leaders inside Libya in 2013. Among them are Abu Anas al Libi, who was detained by US forces in Tripoli in early October, and Zubayr al Maghrebi. Al Libi was wanted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and had also fled to Iran following 9/11.
According to the AP, Egyptian officials say Shehata "has been training militants in eastern Libya." These same officials say that he is currently being interrogated.
Al Qaeda has established an extensive presence in Libya.
For instance, a report released by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in January referenced multiple intelligence reports documenting al Qaeda's activities in the country. One such report, authored by the CIA on July 6, 2012, noted that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Muhammad Jamal Network have all "conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya." [See LWJ report, Senate report: Terrorists 'affiliated' with multiple al Qaeda groups involved in Benghazi attack.]
Senior al Qaeda leaders such as Shehata have played a role in these efforts.
An "experienced operational planner"
Shehata is a veteran Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and al Qaeda leader. The EIJ was headed by Ayman al Zawahiri and merged with Osama bin Laden's operation prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Shehata was a member of the EIJ's Shura council. According to the United Nations, Shehata also headed the EIJ's security committee, which "maintained information about individual members and how to reach them, documenting physical, psychological, academic and religious information about each member and determining the type of work he could do."
US intelligence officials have long tracked Shehata, and worried about his role in plotting international terrorist attacks.
In his book, At the Center of the Storm, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet explains that US intelligence learned Shehata was in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad in 2002. This was prior to his relocation to Iran.
There was "credible information" that Shehata "was willing to strike US, Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future," Tenet writes. Shehata was also "linked to terrorist operations in North Africa, and while in Afghanistan he had trained North Africans in the use of truck bombs."
Years later, US intelligence was still on Shehata's trail. A classified intelligence file written in 2008 that was leaked to The Washington Post described Shehata as an "experienced operational planner" who is "respected among al Qaeda rank and file."
Zawahiri eulogizes al Qaeda's slain Syrian representative
The video accompanying Zawahiri's message shows a clip of Abu Khalid al Suri walking alongside Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri at the Al Farouq camp in Afghanistan in 2000.
Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda, has released an audio message eulogizing Abu Khalid al Suri, who served as Zawahiri's representative in Syria until he was killed by a suicide bomber on Feb. 23. Al Suri was also a founding member and senior leader in Ahrar al Sham, a powerful militant organization that helps lead the Islamic Front, which is a coalition of several rebel groups.
Al Qaeda has released a video accompanying Zawahiri's verbal message. The video contains images of other al Qaeda actors, but Zawahiri himself is not shown. Zawahiri's message and the accompanying video were translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Although the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) is not mentioned in the production, the video and Zawahiri's message are clearly aimed at the group, which was disowned by al Qaeda's general command in early February.
Top jihadists have accused ISIS of killing al Suri, and the group remains the most likely culprit in the slaying.
The video opens with a clip of Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who served as al Qaeda's general manager before he was killed in a US drone strike in August 2011. Rahman discusses the sanctity of Muslim blood and the importance of avoiding Muslim casualties while waging jihad.
Rahman's message, recorded long before ISIS became a player in the Syrian war, reflects al Qaeda's sensitivity to the criticisms the group has faced within the Islamic world. Al Qaeda has killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims in its campaign of terror. Here, however, Rahman's words are intended as a rebuke of ISIS.
The video then cuts to footage of Abu Khalid al Suri walking alongside Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri at the Al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan in 2000. Al Qaeda's propagandists zoom in on footage of al Suri at the camp.
A longtime al Qaeda operative
Zawahiri says he knew Abu Khalid al Suri "from the days of the jihad against the Russians" and he knew al Suri "until his capture in Pakistan" approximately a decade ago. Abu Khalid al Suri "was a colleague of the professor of the mujahideen, Sheikh Abu Musab al Suri, may Allah release him very soon, Allah willing."
Abu Musab al Suri is a major jihadist ideologue whose teachings continue to influence al Qaeda's thinking. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, openly follows Abu Musab al Suri's teachings. There are conflicting reports concerning his status in Syria, with some accounts saying he has been freed from Assad's prisons.
However, Zawahiri's message is the third instance in which senior al Qaeda leaders have used the phrase "may Allah release him" in reference to Abu Musab al Suri. This is a strong indication that he remains imprisoned.
Zawahiri re-established contact with Abu Khalid al Suri after the Syrian revolution. Zawahiri says the "last message" he received from Abu Khalid al Suri, prior to his capture in Pakistan, "was nearly ten years ago ... stating that he supported a speech I gave, where I said that victory is but the patience of an hour." After al Suri was captured "[c]ommunication was cut off between us, until the outbreak of the blessed Syrian revolution."
According to Zawahiri, Allah then "facilitated the communication between us after Allah relieved him and spared him from being captured by" Assad's forces. "He was to me and my brothers such a great advisor," Zawahiri says.
Abu Khalid warned Zawahiri that he sees in Syria "the seeds of sedition, which he experienced in Peshawar" -- a reference to jihadist infighting in the past, which al Qaeda ties to ISIS' actions in the present. Indeed, al Suri was a strong critic of ISIS and did not hide his rejection of the group's practices.
"This sedition that Abu Khalid saw and was warning about, Allah willed that it make him a martyr," Zawahiri says.
Without naming ISIS, Zawahiri calls on Muslims to reject any group that behaves like the former al Qaeda affiliate. "Every Muslim and mujahid must disavow all those who refuse arbitration" by an "independent" sharia court, Zawahiri says. Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups have repeatedly called on ISIS to submit itself to arbitration in a common sharia court, but ISIS has refused to abide.
"Every Muslim and mujahid must not be involved in the blood of the mujahideen," Zawahiri says, according to SITE's translation. "And for this, he must refuse to blow up their headquarters or kill their sheikhs." In addition, "[a]ll Muslims must not help whoever blows up the headquarters of the mujahideen and sends to them car bombs and human bombs, and stop supporting them in any form."
This is precisely how al Suri was killed.
Jihadist infighting in Syria reminiscent of the past
Zawahiri says that the infighting inside Syria reminds him of Algeria in the 1990s. Veteran jihadists within the Armed Islamic Group (commonly known by its French acronym, GIA) turned on one another and also indiscriminately slaughtered Muslims. Zawahiri says the GIA's infighting led first to the "spiritual death of that group, followed by [its] physical death."
In an effort to rectify the GIA's excess, in the late 1990s al Qaeda helped form the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (known as the GSPC) as an offshoot of the GIA. The GSPC then evolved into al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a branch of al Qaeda. Zawahiri personally oversaw AQIM's official merger with al Qaeda in 2006.
Zawahiri references a meeting he had years ago in Peshawar with Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, an influential jihadist ideologue now imprisoned in Jordan who has issued criticisms of ISIS' actions from his prison cell. According to the story, which the al Qaeda emir calls "funny yet sad," Zawahiri said that some had labeled him a disbeliever because he refused to "brand the Afghan mujahideen as disbelievers." To this Maqdisi allegedly replied, "You do not know that they [this same group] branded me a disbeliever because I did not brand you a disbeliever."
ISIS today labels everyone who does not agree with the group a disbeliever, including Abu Khalid al Suri.
Former Guantanamo detainee killed while leading jihadist group in Syria
Ibrahim Bin Shakaran, a Moroccan who spent more than three years at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility before being released to Moroccan custody, has been killed while leading a jihadist group that fights Syrian government forces.
Bin Shakaran, who is also known as Abu Ahmad al Maghribi, Abu Ahmad al Muhajir, and Brahim Benchekroune, was "martyred, Insha'Allah, in battles for Hilltop # 45 in Latakia," according to Kavkaz Center, a propaganda arm of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate.
Bin Shakaran led a jihadist group known as Sham al Islam, which is based in Latakia and is comprised primarily of fighters from Morocco, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Bin Shakaran created the group "not only to recruit fighters for the Syria war, but also to establish a jihadist organization within Morocco itself."
Sham al Islam has been fighting alongside the al Qaeda's Syrian branch, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, as well as Ahrar al Sham and the Army of the Emigrants and Supporters in an ongoing offensive in the coastal province of Latakia.
Sham al Islam was one of several rebel groups that fought in another offensive in Latakia in August 2013 in which major human rights abuses were committed. While Human Rights Watch noted that Sham al Islam was present during the offensive, it could not confirm if the group was involved in the atrocities committed. The group's allies, the Al Nusrah Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, Ahrar al Sham, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (or Army of Emigrants and Helpers), and Suquor al Izz, were directly implicated. [See Report highlights al Qaeda affiliates' role in Syrian atrocities, from LWJ.]
Bin Shakaran is the second former Guantanamo Bay detainee from Morocco reported to have been killed in Syria while waging jihad for Sham al Islam. The other ex-Guantanamo detainee, who was known as Mohammed al 'Alami, was killed last year.
A December 2003 leaked threat assessment authored by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) identified Bin Shakaran as a "high-ranking member" of the theological commission of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization. According to the assessment, he traveled to Afghanistan in November 2000, "attended basic and advanced training at the Al Farouq training camp," a known al Qaeda facility, "from January to May 2001," and then "rotated to the front lines near Kabul" in October 2001 after the US invaded Afghanistan.
Bin Shakaran fled Afghanistan as US forces pressed al Qaeda. He passed through the Afghan province of Logar, then to Pakistan's Waziristan tribal area, then to Bannu, and after that to Lahore with "two Pakistanis, three Arabs and a Turkmenistani."
The 2003 JTF-GTMO threat assessment recommended that Bin Shakaran remain in custody as he "poses a high risk as he is likely to pose a threat against the US, its interests, or her allies."
Despite the assessment, the US transferred Bin Shakaran to Moroccan custody in July 2004, and he was released shortly afterward by Moroccan authorities.
Bin Shakaran immediately returned to the fight. The Defense Department reported in 2008 that Bin Shakaran and another freed Guantanamo detainee known as Mohammed Bin Ahmad Mizouz were involved "in a terrorist network recruiting Moroccans to fight for Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq." Zarqawi's group was responsible for killing and wounding thousands of US soldiers in Iraq.
"Recruits were to receive weapons and explosives training in Algeria from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which has since become al Qaeda in the Lands of the Maghreb [al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], before going to fight in Iraq or returning to Morocco as sleeper cells," the Defense Department noted.
Moroccan security forces arrested Bin Shakaran, Mizouz, and other members of the cell. Both men were convicted in 2007 for their roles in the terror recruitment cell; Bin Shakaran received a 10-year sentence and Mizouz only two years.
Bin Shakaran served only six years of his 10-year prison sentence. Shortly after being freed from a Moroccan prison, he was killed while waging jihad alongside al Qaeda and its allies in Syria.