Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ansar al Sharia, allies seize Libyan special forces base in Benghazi (03:08PM)

After days of intense fighting against Libyan government forces, Ansar al Sharia and its allies have seized an important special forces base in Benghazi.

Ansar al Sharia, which is notorious for its role in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US Mission and Annex, is fighting under the umbrella of the "Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council." The council, an alliance of multiple groups, released a statement today saying that the base, known as Camp Thunderbolt, had fallen to its forces. The news was confirmed by a Libyan army official, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

On its official Twitter feed, Ansar al Sharia has posted a video of its leader in Benghazi, Mohammad Ali al Zahawi, discussing his group's "victory." (The video can be viewed at the beginning of this article.) The group also posted photos of the weapons, or "booty," it has taken into possession, as well as scenes from the assault on the base.

Ansar al Sharia says the capture of the base is a defeat for General Khalifa Hiftar, who launched a campaign, named "Operation Dignity," against Islamist and jihadist militants in Benghazi in May. AFP notes that the Libyan special forces that operated the camp "are one of the units of Libya's regular armed forces that support" Hiftar, "but have not placed themselves under his command."

In the video posted by Ansar al Sharia, Zahawi portrays the clash as a struggle against Hiftar's forces, while also offering to welcome defectors from the Libyan army.

"Naturally, first and foremost, we are here specifically in the city of Benghazi and in Libya generally for this conquest and victory to eliminate the biggest den of what is called Operation Dignity," Zahawi says.

Zahawi portrays Hiftar's campaign as enabling the West to operate in Libya, but claims that the Libyan people are rejecting this effort. The "people of Benghazi and the youth of Benghazi, due to their keenness and protection of this city, all answered the call and the journey continues," Zahawi says.

Zahawi says that "whoever returns" to Ansar al Sharia's ideology will be forgiven for opposing the group and for previously adhering to a version of Islam the group disapproves of. "Even the members of the Special Forces and even Abu Khamada, whoever returns and renounces his misguidance, we have no problem with him," Zahawi claims. Abu Khamada is the special forces colonel who withdrew his forces from the base after coming under heavy fire and sustaining casualties.

The photos below were posted on Ansar al Sharia's official Twitter feed and show the weapons seized at the base, as well as scenes from the assault on the compound.

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AQAP releases 5th installment of 'Repulsion of Aggression' video series (02:46PM)

"Repulsion of Aggression 5"

Today al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the fifth installment of its video series detailing successful attacks in Yemen, "Repulsion of Aggression," produced by its media wing, the al Malahim Media Foundation. The latest episode, released to the public via Twitter accounts affiliated with AQAP, focuses on three coordinated attacks carried out by AQAP fighters in the city of Seyoun in central Hadramout province on June 26.

The video begins with a narrated preface clarifying AQAP's motives in attacking various military targets in Yemen. The anonymous narrator proclaims: "With Allah's power and strength, and with his grace and blessing, the brigades of mujahideen still go out one after the other, destroying and blowing up the dens of the Crusader agents, that guide and facilitate the work of American drones .... It [the Ummah] provides from among its sons those who seek revenge from the criminal and prepare preparations for him night and day."

An audio clip from AQAP commander Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari following this preface emphasizes that AQAP's operations in Yemen are seen by the group as acts of retribution. Al Nadhari flatly states, "Revenge against the Crusaders is a debt upon all."

The video then turns to detailing three AQAP attacks that targeted "dens of espionage" in the city of Seyoun in Hadramout on June 26. The first attack was carried out by al Walid Abu Rawi al Si'ri, who targeted a military intelligence facility in the city. The video explains that al S'iri successfully accessed the facility by entering the complex through the gate of an adjacent date factory. Once in the complex, al Si'ri quickly advanced towards the military intelligence building and detonated his vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) and "destroyed it with all it contained."

In the video, al Si'ri justifies his "martyrdom operation," in a verbal statement apparently given shortly before his attack, by explaining that the Muslims he would target, whom he labels "apostates," are assisting the American drone program. He accuses them of placing "chips" in AQAP fighters' cars so that drones can track and strike them, a common accusation AQAP uses to justify its killing of other Yemeni Muslims.

The second operation detailed in the video is an attack on a communications room in Seyoun that AQAP claims was used to facilitate the US drone program in Yemen. The video contains footage of the training procedures in advance of the operation as well as testimony from the four AQAP fighters who carried out the attack.

The four fighters reportedly stormed the communications room and set it on fire before withdrawing safely. As justification for the operation, the four fighters cited Yemeni support for the American drone program as well as a lack of mobilization against the Shiite Houthis in the north. They concluded their testimony with an open threat to the Yemeni government, saying, "Our swords have not yet been unsheathed!"

The third and final operation detailed in the new AQAP video is the attack on Seyoun Airport's surveillance tower, which was executed by six fighters. After setting fire to the tower, clashes broke out between AQAP fighters and security personnel, resulting in the death of one of the terrorists, Mohammad al Dhaibani. Al Dhaibani is also featured at the beginning of the video, singing while seated with other AQAP fighters, "Oh bird [drone], sent from America, we are for it, we must bring it down, with a special caliber and a PK, how many a mujahid can bring it down?"

The video concludes with footage of al Walid Abu Rawi al Si'ri giving his final advice to his son before embarking on his "martyrdom operation." He advises his son to "hold firm to this work till death" and to "learn to use weapons and learn even how to kill the enemies of Allah." He then addresses all Muslim fathers, urging them to encourage their sons to fight in the path of jihad. Al Si'ri seeks to assure Muslim fathers that their "martyred" sons could intercede on their behalf before Allah and guarantee them a place in paradise. "Do not fear death," al Si'ri beseeches them, "for it is a blessing in the cause of Allah."

Well-connected jihadist tweets, then deletes, explanation of al Qaeda's oath to Mullah Omar (08:15AM)
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Shaybat al Hukama's Twitter page.

On July 28, a prominent online jihadist published a series of tweets explaining al Qaeda's bayat (oath of allegiance) to Taliban emir Mullah Omar. He then quickly, and suspiciously, deleted the tweets, claiming the "brothers" had asked him to do so.

The jihadist known as Shaybat al Hukama is a loyal follower of al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri. Both the header and avatar on his Twitter feed (@shaibh99) feature photos of Zawahiri, and al Hukama regularly posts the al Qaeda emir's videos and statements as well.

Al Hukama has not made his real name known. But his nom de guerre means "the eldest of the wise," which may be a tribute to Zawahiri, who is often referred to as the "wise man" of the Muslim nation.

Al Hukama first tweeted a link to a video of bin Laden from 2001. The video was released by al Qaeda's propaganda arm, As Sahab, on July 13. It is clearly intended to undermine the Islamic State's claim that its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, now rules over a caliphate and is therefore the rightful ruler of all Muslims.

Bin Laden is asked about his bayat to Mullah Omar in the video, and the deceased al Qaeda master stresses that it is a "great bayat." Bin Laden calls Omar the "Emir of the believers," a title usually reserved for the caliph, and calls on all Muslims to swear allegiance to the Taliban leader as well. Baghdadi's followers make a big deal out of the claim that he is supposedly descended from the Quraish tribe, from which Islam's earliest rulers come. But bin Laden says in the video that Mullah Omar's ancestry (he is not descended from the Quraish) is a "minor" factor and should not get in the way of others following him.

After tweeting the link to the video of bin Laden, al Hukama then offered his explanation of how al Qaeda's bayat to Mullah Omar works.

"I articulate to many of the brothers the saying of Imam Osama bin Laden that the bayat to Mullah Omar is a great bayat and the correct [decision] upon which the leadership settled was that he has the great bayat in the borders of his dominion," one tweet written by al Hukama, since deleted, reads.

In a pair of follow-up tweets, al Hukama wrote, "Al Qaeda, in all its branches, are obligated to the bayat to Mullah Omar following [in the path] of the general leadership of al Qaeda, and it is also permissible for them [al Qaeda's branches] by Mullah Omar to work outside Afghanistan."

"However," al Hukama continued, "the work is not credited to them [the Taliban] nor is it ascribed to them in any way. The communication and connection between the leadership of the Taliban and al Qaeda is present and maintained."

Interestingly, al Hukama's description of al Qaeda's oath to Mullah Omar matches the assessment of several US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal. Al Qaeda's leaders have sworn a binding bayat to Omar. The Taliban leader does not direct or oversee al Qaeda's operations outside of South Asia. But al Qaeda still technically receives authorization from Omar to carry out its jihad elsewhere around the world. And al Qaeda also defers to Omar within "the borders of his dominion," that is, Afghanistan.

Debate over the jihadists' rightful caliph

Al Qaeda's bayat to Mullah Omar has been a hot topic of debate in jihadist circles in recent weeks. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's claim to be "Caliph Ibrahim" has reverberated around the world, with a significant number of young jihadist recruits following his lead. Baghdadi's claims are a direct challenge to the authority of al Qaeda and the Taliban, as all other jihadist groups would be subordinate to the true caliph, should he arise. Al Qaeda rejects Baghdadi's claims, albeit indirectly. Meanwhile, the Taliban simply ignores "Caliph Ibrahim" in its statements.

On July 20, one week after al Qaeda released the video of bin Laden from 2001, al Qaeda reaffirmed its allegiance to Omar in the first edition of a new publication, "Al Nafir." The newsletter said that "al Qaeda and its branches everywhere are soldiers among [Mullah Omar's] soldiers."

Al Qaeda's allegiance to Mullah Omar has drawn heavy criticism from the Islamic State and its online supporters. The Taliban claims to be the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," and not a caliphate. And Mullah Omar seemingly has little say over how the jihadists' affairs are conducted far from South Asia, where most of al Qaeda's "branches" operate.

It is in this context that al Hukama first tweeted, and then deleted, his explanation of how al Qaeda's bayat to Mullah Omar really works. But he deleted them only after the Islamic State's supporters had noticed and posted screen shots of the tweets online.

In follow-up tweets, al Hukama disavowed any official capacity and played down his role.

"Oh brothers I am not a source close [to the decision makers] and not anything of the sort!" al Hukama wrote in one tweet. "And my words are words of an individual that clarify the confusion that I see and is not an official statement, and I do not represent any party, rather I am anonymous like others."

In another tweet, al Hukama said that he writes what he sees as "appropriate without being accountable to any organization or group." The accompanying hashtag reads, "#disclaimer."

Real identity and role uncertain, but appears to be very well-connected

Despite the fact that al Hukama claims to be unconnected to any group, there is abundant evidence indicating otherwise. And his tweets show that when influential, but unnamed, jihadists (the "brothers") complained about his unauthorized explanations of al Qaeda's bayat to Mullah Omar, he deleted them. This suggests he does answer to someone. In the past, he has admitted direct ties to members of al Qaeda's online media operation.

In June, BBC Monitoring published a profile al Hukama, describing him "as a trusted jihadist media operative who appears to be well-connected in [al Qaeda] circles."

Al Hukama frequently provides his more than 8,700 Twitter followers with what appear to be insider details on al Qaeda's operations. BBC Monitoring pointed to several examples in this regard.

In June 2013, al Hukama said that Zawahiri was working on a book about the Egyptian constitution, which al Qaeda and its allies have repeatedly criticized.

In March 2014, he claimed to offer details concerning conversations that Adam Gadahn, an al Qaeda propagandist, had with al Qaeda's senior leadership about the Islamic State. Al Hukama defended Gadahn against his critics and said that he was not the only official responsible for As Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda arm. He has also defended the performance of al Fajr, al Qaeda's online distributor of propaganda, and praised the "man in charge of it, whom he said he knew."

And, in April 2014, al Hukama told Libyans that "a man worth a thousand men has come your way," setting off speculation that a senior al Qaeda figure had been sent to the North African country.

Although al Hukama has posted to his Twitter page since May 2013, BBC Monitoring notes that he only "rose to prominence" in early 2014, when he became a staunch critic of the Islamic State. This was around the same time that al Qaeda's general command disowned Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's group.

Abu Khalid al Suri, Zawahiri's chief representative in Syria, was killed in February 2014 and al Hukama repeatedly heaped praise on the veteran jihadist. After al Suri was killed, al Hukama said Zawahiri would "surely cry" because Zawahiri trusted al Suri "like he trusted no other man." It is widely believed that the Islamic State was responsible for al Suri's death.

Al Hukama played a key role in promoting an online petition that was addressed to Zawahiri and signed by several key jihadist ideologues in April 2014. The leading jihadists asked Zawahiri to comment on key issues in the dispute between the Islamic State and al Qaeda, including the bayat that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had sworn to al Qaeda's senior leaders. Al Hukama would later tell jihadists that the petition had reached al Qaeda's leaders "in full" and that they would be responding. Indeed, Zawahiri issued a response to the petition in May 2014, saying he owed his "honorable brothers" a response. Al Hukama was not named by Zawahiri, but he clearly helped broker the back and forth.

Al Hukama is highly respected by known al Qaeda operatives on Twitter, including officials in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.

For all of these reasons, and more, al Hukama seems to at least know other jihadists in al Qaeda's online media operation. However, his precise role and identity are not publicly known.

While al Hukama does not share these details with the public, he does not hide his admiration for either Zawahiri or Mullah Omar. After he deleted his tweets discussing the bayat al Qaeda's leaders have sworn to Mullah Omar, al Hukama published a new one, which includes a picture of Mullah Omar.

"This Emirate is graced -- by our Emir Mullah Omar," the tweet featuring the photo of Omar reads. Al Hukama describes Omar as a man "of manliness and holiness," and as the "lion of the vanguard," who terrifies "the army of tyrants as soon as he appears."

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Analysis: Islamic State advertises war crimes in video (10:12AM)

The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that controls significant territory in both Iraq and Syria, has posted an extremely brutal video. While most Muslims were celebrating the end of Islam's holy month, the Islamic State is celebrating mass executions.

Warning: Some of the images below are graphic.

The Long War Journal is posting these images because they highlight the depravity of the Islamic State and its followers. The Islamic State likely believes that these images will help intimate its opposition into submission and earn new recruits, especially among young jihadists and sympathizers who are mesmerized by the orgy of killings. This will work with a certain segment of the jihadists' recruiting pool.

But over-the-top violence of this sort can also have the opposite effect, as it turns some potential recruits and supporters into foes. In this regard, the Islamic State is repeating the same mistakes made by its predecessors, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), in the past. The indiscriminate violence carried out by these organizations alienated many Iraqis and sowed the seeds of their initial demise.

The military prowess of the Islamic State is formidable and the organization will not be easily defeated any time soon. The Islamic State has managed to achieve remarkable successes on the battlefields in both Iraq and Syria. Yet its brand of jihad creates an opportunity for its opponents to marshal forces against it. This was the linchpin of the strategy previously employed by American forces in Iraq during the height of the "surge."
Therefore, while these images will further the Islamic State's cause in some circles, they can also help to discredit it in others.

Whether the Iraqi government, which is in disarray, or its allies can take advantage of this strategic liability in the Islamic State's operations remains to be seen, however. Keep in mind that the United States military and government were crucial to organizing the Awakening, the tribal resistance to al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as bolstering the Iraqi military during the surge, which began in 2007. Additionally, more than 130,000 US troops, supported by American airpower, intelligence, and logistics, partnered with the Awakening and Iraqi security forces to conduct nearly two years of concurrent military operations throughout Iraq in order to beat back al Qaeda and its allies by the end of 2008.

Graphic images from Islamic State's video celebrating end of Ramadan

The images below appear to cover incidents that have occurred since early June. Some of these events were previously promoted by the group.

A few of the Islamic State's victims await their death after others perished in a mass killing:

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The Islamic State's victims are marched to their death:

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The Islamic State's executioners spray their captives with bullets:

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A gunman makes sure the prisoners are dead by shooting them once again:

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The Islamic State's victims are carted to their death:

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A line of victims is funneled to a killing spot on what appears to be a river:

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One by one the victims are shot in the head at the killing spot, which is stained with blood, and their corpses are then dumped into the water:

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Analysis: Mullah Omar addresses governance of Afghanistan, war against 'invaders' in new message (03:43PM)

In a message celebrating the end Ramadan, Taliban emir Mullah Omar crows about the jihadists' recent gains in Afghanistan, says the exchange of the Taliban's five top leaders once held at Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was a "spectacular achievement," and speaks of the Taliban's plans for governing Afghanistan.

The "military situation is in favor of [the] mujahideen," Omar claims, because the "blanket of invasion has rolled back from vast areas." The mujahideen "are now more well-organized, active and unified in contrast with the past," Omar adds, and "vital centers of the enemy have come under successful attacks in cities."

Omar's statement is propaganda on behalf of the Taliban, so he can be expected to portray his organization's efforts in the most favorable light. Still, according to independent press reports, Taliban-led forces have been advancing in recent weeks.

Omar's message was released on July 25. The New York Times reported the following day, on July 26, that the Taliban have been "scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders." The Taliban are not just succeeding in their "traditional strongholds" in the south, the Times reported, but have also gained territory close to the capital of Kabul.

In a separate article published on July 27, the Times followed up with an account of the Taliban's resurgence in the southern province of Kandahar. A surge of American forces largely succeeded in forcing the Taliban out of the province in 2010, but a "sudden Taliban offensive ... has led to some of the heaviest protracted fighting there in years."

Discusses Taliban's plans for governing Afghanistan

Much of Omar's message focuses on the Taliban's governance efforts in Afghanistan. The Taliban emir clearly expects his forces to control even more territory in the near future. Thus, he informs his followers that the resurrection of his Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as it calls itself, is at hand.

"Writ and administration of the Islamic Emirate [have] become stronger comparatively," Omar claims. The Taliban leader lists a number of areas where he sees progress: "Parallel to the battle ground, activities of the Islamic Emirate are forging ahead with initiatives in other sectors as well. Great services have been rendered in sectors of education, economy, adjudication and justice, call and guidance, cultural activities, martyrs, the handicapped, coordination and management of NGOs, prisoner's affairs and civilian casualties."

Omar portrays the future Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, as a "prosperous" place that fosters economic development for its people. He even says the Taliban embrace scientific advancements and education for all men and women. (The catch is that this education must be consistent with the religious "framework of sharia," as defined by the Taliban, which leads to a very different notion of education than that employed in the West. The international community has repeatedly denounced the Taliban for treating women poorly and failing to provide them with a basic education.)

Omar encourages the Taliban's enemies to give up, and says that the mujahideen should welcome defectors from the Afghan government with open arms. "I call on all soldiers, police and generally" other members of the Taliban's opposition "not to destroy yourselves for the goals of the invaders and against your own people," Omar says. "Come and wage jihad alongside with your own people and together with the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate against the common enemy in order to gain the bliss of the two worlds."

"As per the policy of the Islamic Emirate," Omar continues, the mujahideen "should have a conduct of sympathy with those who leave ranks of the enemy. Give them (a warm) welcome."

The war for "hearts and minds"

Even though Omar's message projects a certain confidence about the future, he sounds a note of caution when it comes to civilian casualties, which are a strategic liability for the Taliban in their quest to win the support of more Afghans. The United Nations and Coalition forces have effectively highlighted the Taliban's role in causing most of the civilian casualties in the ongoing war.

"Every caution should be taken to protect life and property of the public during [jihadist] operations, so that, God forbid, someone is harmed," Omar says. And the Taliban's "Department of Prevention of Civilian Casualties should seriously pay attention to its task to prevent civilian casualties."

This is easier said then done, as the Taliban still kills civilians on a regular basis. The UN reported earlier this month that there were approximately 4,853 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2014. The report attributed 74 percent of these casualties to anti-government elements, including the Taliban. The UN said that the "onus" was on the Taliban and other anti-government forces to reduce civilian casualties.

With an eye towards winning the support of the population, Omar implores his fighters to compete for the support of the Afghans. "It is your religious and national duty to try for the prosperity of the people and win their hearts and minds," Omar says. "Shun arrogance, vanity." Omar warns against using force in a manner that is inconsistent with the Taliban's radical form of sharia law.

Discusses international events, perceptions of Taliban's legitimacy

Although most of Omar's statement is focused on Afghanistan, he addresses the international community in several spots.

He does not address the Islamic State's caliphate announcement, which was made in late June, or al Qaeda's response. The announcement, which portrays Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the rightful new caliph, is an attempt to usurp the power of all of other jihadist groups, including the Taliban. Al Qaeda, which is at odds with the Islamic State, has responded by renewing its oath of allegiance to Omar and implying that he is a legitimate caliph. Omar is silent on this issue, but he does address others.

The Taliban emir blames Israel alone for the civilian casualties in Gaza and calls on the "Islamic world" to take "[p]ractical and swift steps ... to prevent these gruesome brutalities."

Omar claims that his Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has gained legitimacy in much of the world's eyes thanks to the work of the Taliban's political office in Qatar. Omar says the political office "performs its task under our instructions." And, he claims, "Many entities that used to oppose us now have come around to accept the Islamic Emirate as a reality."

Omar goes to praise the political office for negotiating the exchange of the five top Taliban commanders formerly held at Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying it "is a spectacular achievement."

Naturally, however, Omar's principal concern is the future of Afghanistan. "We believe the war in Afghanistan will come to an end when all foreign invaders pull out of Afghanistan and a holy Islamic and independent regime prevails here," Omar says. The "[p]resence of limited number of troops under whatever title it may be will mean continuation of occupation and the war. This is because none can tolerate invading forces in one's soil."

In other words, the Taliban's war for Afghanistan will come to an end when they have won, and the international community has gone home.

Boko Haram strikes across northeastern Nigeria and in Cameroon (01:50PM)

Over the past three days, Boko Haram mounted attacks in Kano state in the north, Borno state in the northeast, Adamawa state in the east, and in neighboring Cameroon. Three of the attacks involved female suicide bombers. Celebrations marking the end of Eid al-Fitr were canceled in Kano after two bomb attacks occurred just hours apart.

In the first attack in Kano, an improvised explosive device (IED) was thrown at the Saint Charles Catholic Church in Kano City, the state capital and the second-largest city in Nigeria. The explosion, which occurred as worshipers were exiting the building after Sunday Mass, killed least five people and wounded eight more. The church is located in Kano's predominantly Christian Sabon Gari district, which has been targeted previously by suspected Boko Haram fighters. Last week an IED was set off at an area motor park, killing one person and injuring several others. And in March 2013 over 20 people were killed when a suicide car bomb attack was launched at a bus station in Sabon Gari.

Shortly after the attack on the church, a woman wearing a long black hijab blew herself up at the gate of a university in Kano. Police officers at the school had isolated the woman as she was behaving strangely. Police spokesman Frank Mba told AFP that the officers were about to ask a female colleague to search her when she detonated the device. One report noted that she was 15 years old, but this and other details remain unconfirmed.

Two days ago, police in Kano reportedly deactivated a car bomb that was stationed at the gate of the Isiayaku Rabiu Mosque. Hidden in a Peugeot 406, the explosives-laden vehicle was set to explode during Eid prayers on Sunday.

This morning, another female suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in Kano, killing three people and wounding seven others. The victims had been standing in a long line of women waiting to buy cooking gas at a petrol station.

Yet another female suicide bomber struck in Kano city this afternoon, killing herself and injuring six others, including two policemen, when she detonated at the Trade Fair Complex. Vanguard News reported that the 19-year-old blew herself up after being denied access to the complex.

In northeastern Borno state, suspected Boko Haram fighters killed and decapitated two refugees at a camp in Shaffa for persons displaced by the terror group's attacks. During the attack in Shaffa, a Christian and Muslim mixed town, Boko Haram warned others "not to accommodate pro-military villagers."

To the east, in Adamawa state, members of Boko Haram rode into the town of Hong, indiscriminately shooting on Sunday morning. One resident reportedly counted 30 bodies. According to Punch News, Boko Haram gunmen killed at least 50 people, including four soldiers, in separate attacks in the Hong area and burned two churches as well as several homes.

Across Nigeria's eastern border, suspected Boko Haram fighters kidnapped the wife of Cameroon's deputy prime minister as well as several other people on Sunday. In the northern town of Kolofata, just a few miles from the Nigerian border, deputy prime minister Amadou Ali's wife and her maid were reportedly taken in "a savage attack from Boko Haram militants," information minister Issa Tchiroma told Reuters. During the incident, Ali was able to escape to a neighboring town.

In a separate attack in the Cameroonian town yesterday, local religious leader and mayor Seini Boukar Lamine and five members of his family were also kidnapped. It was reported that at least three other people were killed in the incident at the religious leader's home.

While there has been no claim of responsibility for either of the Kolofata attacks, Boko Haram has been increasingly active in Cameroon. Boko Haram fighters recently kidnapped two teenage sons of an influential Muslim cleric in Limani, and attacked a police station in Nariki and killed a policeman. In May, the group kidnapped 10 Chinese workers from the country.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sin" in Hausa, has ramped up its brutal campaign across northern Nigeria against both government and civilian targets. The group has attacked churches, schools, newspapers, government and religious officials, and security forces, and has not hesitated to slaughter or kidnap civilians and to raze entire villages. Boko Haram was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in November 2013 and by the United Nations in May 2014.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Islamic State destroys tombs, mosques in Mosul (11:18AM)

The Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls large areas of both Iraq and Syria, continues to destroy religious sites in the city of Mosul in an effort to eradicate all competing religious groups and their symbols from the city.

On July 24 the Islamic State destroyed the Nabi Yunus Mosque, which had housed the Tomb of Jonah, after destroying the tomb itself earlier this month. Islamic State fighters wired the mosque with explosives and detonated the religious site in broad daylight.

Jonah is recognized as a prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and his tomb was visited and revered by members of all three religions.

The imam of Mosul's Arahma mosque said that 23 men who had led protests yesterday against the bombing of the Yunus Mosque were flogged by the terror group.

Yesterday, the Islamic State demolished the mosque of the prophet Seth, a son of Adam and Eve, who is also recognized as an important historical and religious figure by all three religions.

Video of the destruction of the two mosques was published on YouTube by News of Iraq.

The demolition of the two religious sites is the latest in the Islamic State's campaign to destroy tombs and gravesites. More than two dozen religious sites are said to have been destroyed in Mosul since the Islamic State took control of the city on June 10. The Islamic State believes that worshiping at tombs and graves is forbidden in the Koran, and is a form of idol worship.

In early June, the terror group ordered the destruction of all churches in Mosul, and on June 16 a European Union delegation confirmed that the Islamic State had burned down several churches in the city and raped five Iraqi girls.

On July 4, Iraqi News reported that Islamic State fighters had dug up the tomb of the prophet Jonah and destroyed it. According to Ninevah official Zuhair al-Chalabi, the terror group had on that same day "torched 11 churches and monasteries out of 35 scattered across the city of Mosul, and hours later destroyed statues of poets, literary and historical figures of which Mosul has long been proud." Three Sunni clerics who had tried to resist the Islamic State were murdered.

On July 5, the same day that the Islamic State released video of its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi addressing followers at a historic Mosul mosque, the group released photos documenting its destruction of at least four Sufi or Sunni shrines as well as six Shiite mosques in Nineveh. Residents of Mosul reported that Islamic State fighters also took over both the Chaldean and the Syrian Orthodox cathedrals in the city, replacing crosses in the two sanctuaries with the terror group's black flag.

Four days later, video appeared on YouTube showing Islamic State fighters taking a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah in Mosul.

The Islamic State isn't the first jihadist group to act in such a manner. In 2001, the Taliban blew up the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, destroyed tombs and graves when it took control of areas of southern Yemen in 2011. And al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its two affiliates, Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, razed religious sites, tombs, and a historical library after seizing control of northern Mali in 2012.

The Islamic State has sought to impose its will on Mosul since taking control of the city last month. First, the group announced that it would impose sharia, or Islamic law, and ordered women to cover themselves.

Last week, the Islamic State issued an ultimatum to Christians in Mosul. Christians were given a choice to convert to Islam, remain in the city and pay a tax; leave the city; or be killed. Almost all of the Christians in Mosul, numbering in the thousands, are reported to have left the city. Many have sought refuge in areas controlled by Kurdish forces. It is widely reported that Islamic State fighters have robbed fleeing Christians of their cash, jewelry, and other possessions as well as taken over their houses.

Mosul, a city where Christians have lived for nearly 2,000 years and which was formerly home to the highest concentration of Christians in Iraq, is now virtually empty of them.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kuwaiti Gitmo detainee should remain in US custody, review board finds (02:56PM)

Fayiz al Kandari. Image from the Miami Herald.

An interagency periodic review board has found that a Kuwaiti held at Guantanamo, Fayiz Mohammed Ahmed Al Kandari, should remain in detention.

Al Kandari's continued detention "remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States," the board wrote in an unclassified summary of its decision. The ruling is dated July 14, but was not released until today.

The review board concluded that al Kandari "almost certainly retains an extremist mindset and had close ties with high-level al Qaeda leaders in the past." The board found al Kandari's "desire to return to his family, which appears willing to help with his reintegration," to be credible. But it also feared that he is susceptible "for recruitment due to his connections to extremists and his residual anger at the US."

Another review board decision was also released today. In that case, a board recommended that Fouzi Khalid Abdullah Al Awda be transferred from Guantanamo to his home country of Kuwait. But while the interagency board believed al Awda when he said he wanted to give up extremism, the same cannot be said for al Kandari. The review board also found that a one-year rehabilitation program was appropriate in al Awda's case, but not in al Kandari's.

The board "noted a lack of history regarding the efficacy of the rehabilitation program Kuwait will implement for [al Kandari] with his particular mindset, but appreciates the efforts of the Kuwaiti government and encourages the officials at the Al Salam Rehabilitation Center [in Kuwait] to continue to work with the detainee at Guantanamo."

Both al Awda and al Kandari were deemed "high" risks to "the US, its interests, and allies" by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). Both were denied their petitions for a writ of habeas corpus by a DC district court. And President Obama's Guantanamo Review Task Force determined that both of the Kuwaitis should be held in "continued detention" under the laws of war. That is, the task force concluded that both al Awda and al Kandari were "too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution."

While al Awda will be transferred home, however, al Kandari will remain in US custody.

Admitted ties to senior al Qaeda leaders

The Long War Journal profiled al Kandari in October 2010, after his habeas petition was denied by a DC district court the previous month. [See LWJ report, Judge finds that Kuwaiti Gitmo detainee was no charity worker.]

Al Kandari repeatedly claimed that he was a mere charity worker in Afghanistan in 2001. The court disagreed, finding that al Kandari's story was "implausible" and "not credible."

When al Kandari entered Afghanistan, he made his way to the office of a group called Al Wafa, which posed as a charity but was really a front for al Qaeda.

The court found that al Kandari admittedly "met and associated with various members and high-level leaders of al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated enemy forces." Al Kandari met with some of these jihadists during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001.

There is also intelligence connecting al Kandari to an al Qaeda cell that attacked US Marines who were training on Faylaka Island in Kuwait. The attack, which was launched on Oct. 8, 2002, resulted in one Marine being killed and another injured. US officials think that al Kandari played a key role in inspiring and recruiting the cell. But the district court ruled that it was not necessary to consider al Kandari's ties to the attackers, as the weight of the other evidence was enough to justify his detention.

One of al Kandari's relatives, a terrorist known as Anas al Kandari, was killed during the assault on Faylaka Island. US officials found that Fayiz and Anas al Kandari received specialized training from al Qaeda in Kandahar. Al Qaeda spokesman Sulayman Abu Ghaith was trained alongside the pair, and Fayiz al Kandari has admitted knowing him.

Sulayman Abu Ghaith was taken into US custody in 2013. He admitted to FBI officials that he knew both Fayiz and Anas al Kandari, but also sought to downplay the extent of their relationship.

Review board recommends transfer of Guantanamo detainee to Kuwait (11:07AM)
Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.20.14 AM.png

A Twitter user known as @strategyaffairs offered his congratulations to the al Awda family the day before the periodic review board's ruling was released. It is not clear how @strategyaffairs and other jihadists knew about the decision beforehand.

An interagency review board has recommended that a Kuwaiti named Fouzi Khalid Abdullah Al Awda, who has been held at Guantanamo since early 2002, be transferred to his home country. Interestingly, prominent jihadists who are active on Twitter knew about the ruling hours before it was released to the public.

The tweet shown above was posted yesterday by a jihadist who uses the handle @strategyaffairs. The tweet offers a "a thousand congratulations to the Awda family" for "raising the issue of Guantanamo from the beginning." Al Awda's family has played a prominent role in challenging the detention of Fouzi and others in Cuba.

The congratulations was quickly retweeted by high-profile al Qaeda supporters and members, including Sanafi al Nasr, who is based in Syria and leads al Qaeda's "Victory Committee."

It is not clear how @strategyaffairs learned of the periodic review board's ruling. After seeing the tweet, The Long War Journal went to the review board's website and the ruling in al Awda's matter had not yet been published. Since then, the board's decision has been added to the website. However, the decision is dated July 14, so the news could have been leaked by someone in the know before the decision was released to the public 11 days later.


Fouzi Khalid Abdullah al Awda.

In a leaked memo authored in January 2008, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed al Awda a "high" risk "to the US, its interests, and allies," and recommended that the US continue to hold him.

In August 2009, a DC district court denied al Awda's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, concluding that the US government "met its burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Al [Awda] became part of Taliban and al Qaeda forces."

And in its final recommendations, delivered in January 2010, President Obama's own Guantanamo Review Task Force slated al Awda for continued detention pursuant to the laws of war. That is, al Awda was one of the 48 detainees the task force determined were "too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution."

Periodic review board's decision

While other government bodies previously determined that al Awda was too dangerous to transfer or release, the periodic review board found that al Awda's detention is no longer "necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security ofthe United States."

The review board cited al Awda's "low level of training and lack of a leadership position in al Qaeda or the Taliban," as well as his "personal commitment to participate fully in the Government of Kuwait's rehabilitation program and comply with any security measures" as reasons for its decision. The board also cited al Awda's "extensive family support," "commitment not to support extremist groups or other groups that promote violence," and "positive changes in" his "behavior while in detention."

In addition, the review board says it "considered information provided by the Government of Kuwait that indicated its confidence in its legal authority to require and maintain" al Awda's "participation in a rehabilitation program and commitment to implement robust security measures."

In the past, the Kuwaiti government has failed to keep tabs on some ex-Guantanamo detainees. For instance, Abdullah Salih al Ajmi, who was transferred from Guantanamo to Kuwait in 2005, carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2008. The Kuwaiti government's assurances that it has the "commitment to implement robust security measures" in al Awda's case may have been influenced by this experience.

The review board recommends that al Awda attend "at least one year of in-patient rehabilitation" and that a "comprehensive set of security measures" be implemented.

Habeas petition rejected in 2009

Some of the details of al Awda's jihadist career can be found in the DC district court's opinion rejecting his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court based its decision on al Awda's admissions and other evidence.

According to the court, al Awda admitted that he met with a Taliban official, received training on an AK-47, "and that he traveled with his AK-47 into the Tora Bora mountains, remained in the Tora Bora mountains during the Battle of Tora Bora, and was captured shortly thereafter by border guards while still carrying his AK-47."

The court also found that al Awda's flight to Tora Bora in late 2001 was consistent with the behavior of other jihadists after Osama bin Laden ordered his forces to relocate there. The government presented credible evidence that al Awda was captured alongside an individual with significant ties to al Qaeda.

Although the court's decision was based largely on al Awda's admitted ties to the Taliban, there was also evidence tying him directly to al Qaeda's operations.

The court considered the government's argument that the facility al Awda was trained in was actually run by al Qaeda, and not the Taliban. Al Awda denied being trained by al Qaeda, but the court found it "was more likely than not" that the camp al Awda attended was Al Farouq, "al Qaeda's primary Afghan basic training facility." According to the court, however, this evidence was not necessary to justify al Awda's detention, as his admissions alone were sufficient.

A "high" risk, according to Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO)

A leaked memo authored by JTF-GTMO on Jan. 2, 2008 contains a number of additional allegations and pieces of intelligence that were not weighed in the DC district court's ruling. JTF-GTMO found that al Awda may have had ties to senior al Qaeda leaders and ideologues.

In addition to his training at Al Farouq, JTF-GTMO concluded that al Awda attended a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani jihadist group with longstanding connections to al Qaeda. The source for this finding was David Hicks, an Australian who was once one of al Awda's fellow Guantanamo detainees.

Hicks allegedly told authorities that al Awda received training in an LeT camp. JTF-GTMO concluded that Hicks' claim was consistent with al Awda's "passport entry-exit stamp at Lahore," Pakistan from April to May 2000. This timeline for al Awda's travels was also consistent with the timing of Hicks' own travels, according to the JTF-GTMO file. Hicks has admitted to training in an LeT camp.

Other allegations included in the JTF-GTMO file, based largely on the testimony of al Awda's fellow detainees, include that he swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden and had ties to an al Qaeda cell in the UK run by Abu Qatada (a notorious al Qaeda-linked cleric).

The Kuwaiti State Security also reported that al Awda was "associated" with Sulayman Abu Ghaith, who served as al Qaeda's spokesman and was convicted on terrorism charges by a New York court earlier this year.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Boko Haram consolidates power in northeastern Nigeria (01:30PM)

Just days after Boko Haram raised its flag over Damboa, in northeastern Nigeria's Borno state, suspected gunmen from the terrorist group raided the town on July 22, killing five villagers.

According to a local resident, the attack was precipitated by the town's removal of Boko Haram's flags. In the incident, five gunmen targeted the locations in Damboa where the flags had been flying. The gunmen shot and killed five people before scurrying back into the forest on motorbikes and Toyota pickups.

Boko Haram has effectively laid siege to the town since early July, when the group attacked Damboa's police station and army base and sent Nigerian security forces running. Weeks later on July 18, the group began another assault, setting homes and businesses on fire and killing over 100 community members.

Boko Haram also continues to target infrastructure. The group destroyed a key bridge that linked northeastern Nigeria with Cameroon on the night of July 22. The Ngala bridge connected Borno state capital Maiduguri to the northern towns of Ngala and Gamboru as well as northern Cameroon. In the incident, the terrorists placed improvised explosive devices under the bridge and detonated them, destroying the bridge.

Today, an improvised device hidden in a refrigerator went off at a motor park in the Sabon Gari area of Kano, north central Nigeria. One person was killed and eight injured. Kano has been the target of several previous bombings, including several in the Sabon Gari area.

In an effort to combat Boko Haram, the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger pledged yesterday to develop a 2,800-member regional force, with each country contributing 700 soldiers to the cause.

In addition to the efforts at regional cooperation, Nigeria's Inspector General of Police signed an agreement, on behalf of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), with the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States to partner on counterterrorism activities to bolster the NPF. The project aims to improve and modernize the NPF "for more effective and efficient policing."

Formally identified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Department of State in November 2013, Boko Haram has increased the frequency and violence of its terror campaign in recent months. The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2012, has released several video statements claiming responsibility for the attacks. He has also taunted the West's hashtag campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, that emerged after his group abducted over 250 schoolgirls in April, calling for President Goodluck Jonathan to "bring back our arrested warriors."

Thus far, neither Nigeria nor any other players has been able to substantially slow Boko Haram's advance.

Pakistani officials, Taliban deny Adnan Rasheed was captured (12:33PM)

Adnan Rasheed (unmasked) is pictured with members of his "death squad." Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Pakistani military as well as Taliban commanders are now denying reports from two weeks ago that Adnan Rasheed, a top jihadist leader who is based in the tribal areas, was captured during a military raid in South Waziristan. Instead, an al Qaeda "trainer" is said to have been captured.

Pakistani officials claimed on July 15 that Rasheed and an al Qaeda commander known as Mufti Zubair Marwat were among those arrested in a raid in the Shakai valley in South Waziristan. Rasheed was said to have been wounded when he was captured. [See Threat Matrix report, Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed reported captured in South Waziristan.]

But now, Pakistani officials and Taliban commanders are denying the initial reports of Rasheed's capture. One Pakistani official told Reuters that "there was a mix-up." An al Qaeda explosives expert is said to have been captured in the July 10 raid, and not Rasheed.

A Taliban commander told Reuters that Rasheed "is free and safe and protected by his 12 suicide-bomber bodyguards who never leave his side. His family is with him."

It is unclear if the al Qaeda explosives expert is Marwat, who was originally identified by Dawn as "the brother of Mufti Sajjad Marwat - an al Qaeda spokesman for Afghanistan and Pakistan." Al Qaeda is known to embed military trainers and explosives experts with the Taliban and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistani military launched an offensive in mid-June in North Waziristan to flush out the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as well as allied foreign jihadist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party. While claiming that more than 400 jihadists have been killed, the military has not identified a single senior militant commander supposedly killed or captured during the operation.

The Pakistani military has also assured US officials that it is not discriminating in its targeting of Taliban groups. Pakistani officials have implied that the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadar's group are indeed a target of the operation. But no Haqqani or Bahadar commanders or fighters have been identified as being killed or captured during the North Waziristan offensive. These two Taliban groups are considered to be "good Taliban" as they do not openly advocate attacking the Pakistan state. However, the "good Taliban" shelter and support the so-called "bad Taliban" as well as groups such as al Qaeda.

Background on Adnan Rasheed

Rasheed is currently the emir of the Ansar al Aseer Khorasan ("Helpers of the Prisoners"), a group that includes members from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban and was founded to free jihadists from Pakistani prisons.

Rasheed has a long history with Pakistani terrorist groups as well as al Qaeda. He was involved in the Dec. 14, 2003 assassination attempt against then-President Pervez Musharraf. A member of the Pakistani Air Force, Rasheed was sentenced to death for his role in the assassination attempt, but the sentence was never carried out. While in prison, Rasheed owned several cell phones and frequently communicated with journalists. He also got married while in prison and fathered a child.

Rasheed worked for Amjad Farooqi, the Pakistani terrorist who engineered the two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December 2003 at the behest of al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al Libi; Farooqi is suspected of involvement in other terror attacks as well. Farooqi was a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan; the Harkat-ul-Ansar and its successor, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen; Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami; and Jaish-e-Mohammed. He served as a close aide to Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. In addition, Farooqi served as the group's representative to al Qaeda's International Islamic Front, which issued the 1998 fatwa that declared war on the US.

On April 15, 2012, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan launched a successful operation to free Rasheed and nearly 400 prisoners, including an estimated 200 Taliban fighters and jihadists, being held at a prison in Bannu. The operation was directed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the former emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the group's former emir for South Waziristan (both Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman were killed by the US in drone strikes). More than 150 fighters assaulted the prison. Rasheed was later featured in a videotape celebrating the jailbreak.

Since the Bannu jailbreak, Rasheed has featured in several Taliban propaganda tapes. In January 2013, he appeared in a joint Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan video that announced the formation of the Ansar al Aseer. The video also featured Yassin Chouka, a wanted German commander in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; and Abdul Hakeem, a Russian IMU member.

In March 2013, Rasheed released a video in which he claimed to have formed an assassination squad to kill former President Musharraf. Rasheed said the "death squad" is split up in groups of "fedayeen, sniper team, special assault team, and close combat team." The term 'fedayeen' is often used to describe suicide bombers.

Islamic State describes its seizure of central Syrian gas field (10:22AM)

1.jpgThe al Sha'er gas field. Image from Islamic State statement.

The Islamic State's media wing in Wilayat Homs released a statement early this week on the recent fighting around the al Sha'er gas field in central Syria. The statement, titled "A Pictured Report from the Invasion of the al Sha'er gas field," includes a summary of the battles as well as photos of their aftermath [see below].

Reports began to surface last week indicating that on the evening of July 16, the Islamic State mounted an attack on the al Sha'er gas field with a 2,000-man force. The gas field is located 110 kilometers east of Homs, slightly northwest of the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) in central Syria. According to media reports, the initial attack resulted in the deaths of 270 workers and members of the National Defense Force (NDF), a paramilitary group that is part of the Syrian military. Some of those killed in that attack were executed after their capture by IS fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that 270 individuals were killed in the initial battles at the gas field, including 40 IS fighters. The Syrian daily Al Watan reported that 60 NDF soldiers were killed in the initial attack.

Fighting continued at the al Sha'er gas field after the Islamic State seized the facility on July 17, and Syrian military reinforcements were reportedly sent to reclaim the gas field on July 19. By July 21, media outlets confirmed that an additional 100 people were killed in ongoing clashes at the field between IS fighters and forces of the Syrian regime. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that 60 Syrian soldiers were killed on July 19 in fighting close to the gas field. Reports also suggested that the Syrian air force was conducting air strikes in the area to pave the way for ground troops to retake the facility.

The fighting at the al Sha'er gas field has been described by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as the "largest" between IS and Syrian government forces since the beginning of the year. Although official Syrian statements did not confirm the fighting at al Sha'er initially, the governor of Homs province, Talal Barazani, told AFP on July 17 that "[t]he armed men were present in the area beforehand, but they have now expanded their area of control with this new operation."

The loss of the al Sha'er gas field, which received foreign investments from international corporations such as Petro-Canada, constitutes a major blow to the Syrian regime. This latest development comes just weeks after IS fighters consolidated their control over the oil-rich province of Deir al Zour in eastern Syria, bordering Iraq.

The IS report on the seizure of the al Sha'er gas field underscores the importance Islamic State decision makers attach to the takeover of the facility and its surrounding areas. The statement describes the area around the field, known as the al Sha'er region, as "strategic" and calls the gas field "one of the largest and most important gas fields for the nusayri regime." The report claims that other strategic energy sites are located in the al Sha'er region, including "a gas pumping station for the Hayyan field in al Furqlus that feeds, in turn, the coastal and southern area as well as a number of oil wells."

The IS report claims that the "Invasion of the al Sha'er gas field" resulted in the deaths of more than 300 regime soldiers and boasts that the regime itself recognized 90 casualties among its ranks and announced it did not know the fate of 270 others. The IS report also details the booty it acquired as a result of the offensive, including 15 tanks, two rocket launchers, and 40 Grad rockets.

The photos below were included in the IS report:

"Soldiers of the Islamic State who participated in the liberation of the al Sha'er gas field"

"Islamic State booty from the nusayri military"

"15 tanks are booty for the Islamic State from the nusayri military in the battles for the al Sha'er gas field"

"Rocket launchers seized after the battles for the al Sha'er gas field"

"The corpses of the dead among the nusayri military in the liberation invasion of the al Sha'er gas field"
shaer 6.jpg

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Islamic Front rejects rival's caliphate, as well as proposed emirate in Syria (03:40PM)

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 3.08.23 PM.png

The Islamic Front, a coalition of several leading insurgency groups in Syria, has released a statement rejecting the caliphate announced by its rivals in the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, in late June.

And the Islamic Front also says that any proposed emirate (state) or other government that is not agreed upon by the "people of power and decision" is unacceptable. The latter objection is almost certainly intended as a warning to the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.

Earlier this month, an audio recording of a speech by Abu Muhammad al Julani, the Al Nusrah Front's emir, was leaked online. "The time has come ... for us to establish an Islamic emirate in the Levant, to implement the limits and punishments of God Almighty, and his laws in every sense of the word, without compromise, complacency, equivocation, or circumvention," Julani says in the recording.

Julani's words were widely interpreted by jihadists and other Islamists in Syria, as well as observers outside of the country, as indicating that the Al Nusrah Front was going to announce the creation of an emirate soon. This anticipated move was seen as a natural response to the Islamic State's caliphate, which Al Nusrah fiercely opposes.

The audio of Julani's speech created so much buzz and controversy in jihadist circles that the Al Nusrah Front was forced to issue a "clarification" shortly after it was leaked. In a statement, Al Nusrah said it had "not announced the establishment of an emirate, yet." Julani's group added: "When the time comes and the sincere mujahideen and the pious scholars agree with our stance, we will announce this emirate, by the Will of Allah."

The audio of Julani's speech had the potential to upset relations between the Al Nusrah Front and other insurgent groups. Al Nusrah has positioned itself as an acceptable jihadist alternative to the Islamic State, led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who is now called "Caliph Ibrahim" by his supporters.

Both the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic Front have battled Baghdadi's Islamic State for months. Indeed, Al Nusrah has been especially close to Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked group that is one of the most powerful organizations inside the Islamic Front. (Some in the West have argued that the Islamic Front is a relatively moderate rebel coalition, but its ties to al Qaeda undermine this claim.)

The Al Nusrah Front and its allies in the Islamic Front have consistently rejected Baghdadi's unilateral claim to rule. But the leaked audio of Julani's speech can be interpreted as meaning that Al Nusrah intends to declare the establishment of an Islamic emirate without the blessing of other leading factions in the insurgency. That is, some jihadists fear that Julani could be heading down a path similar to Baghdadi's.

In its newly-released statement, the Islamic Front makes it clear that any such initiative will be rejected. The statement was released in both English and Arabic on the group's Twitter feeds. A screen shot of the Islamic Front's English language Twitter page can be seen above.

"Any announcement of a caliphate or emirate or government that is not chosen by the people of the Levant and not accepted by 'Ahl Al-Hal wa Alaqd' (people of power and decision) a rejected announcement and belongs only to the people who made it," the Islamic Front's statement reads. "The murderer Assad regime depends on the consequences of such announcements, and on the infightings resulted from them to stay in power; so we should not give it the opportunity through showing great amount of wisdom and responsibility."

The Islamic Front goes on to warn that no group should "consider itself a legitimate ruler" at the expense of others, "because this would lead to a fitna (strife or infighting) and shedding of blood that may lead to failing the revolution of the people in the Levant, and taking away their hopes of winning this war after hundreds of thousands have been killed and injured, and millions displaced."

Bashar al Assad's "regime should be overthrown" before the establishment of an Islamic government, the Islamic Front argues, and the "complete system of operating a country, providing the basics, and carrying out the hudud [punishments according to sharia law] could not be achieved by a single group."

Instead, according to the Islamic Front, the "legitimate" Islamic bodies should be supported in each "liberated" area and the "people of knowledge should be asked to determine what should be handled immediately without any delay." In other words, neither the Islamic State, nor the Al Nusrah Front, should impose its will on the other jihadist and Islamist groups overseeing territory won from the Assad regime.

This is not the first time that there has been tension between the Islamic Front and Al Nusrah. In May, the Islamic Front and other allied groups released a "revolutionary covenant" that was intended to allay concerns about the role of extremists in the Syrian rebellion. The Al Nusrah Front swiftly rejected the covenant, arguing that it was not sufficiently rooted in religious principles and was too nationalistic in its focus.

Despite these disagreements, the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic Front continue to jointly conduct operations.

Ansar al Islam claims new attacks on official Twitter feed (09:57AM)

Ansar al Islam's Twitter feed.

Ansar al Islam (AAI), a jihadist group based in northern Iraq, claimed a string of new attacks in a series of tweets between July 13 and July 21. In one tweet, AAI implied that it had a hand in the death of Major General Najm Abdallah al Sudani, who served as the commander of the Iraqi army's Sixth division until he was killed earlier this month.

AAI's responsibility for al Sudani's death could not be independently verified, however. And some of the few details offered by the group concerning al Sudani's slaying contradict the version given by the Iraqi government to the press.

In a tweet on July 13, AAI reported that al Sudani had been "sniped," or shot, near Baghdad. An Iraqi military spokesman told Agence France Presse (AFP) that al Sudani "was killed by hostile shelling." Other accounts say that al Sudani was killed by mortar fire as well, which seemingly contradicts AAI's claim that the general was killed in sniper fire.

Al Sudani was killed near Baghdad and, at least in that regard, AAI's brief account is consistent with other reporting. But even the date of al Sudani's death given by AAI is inconsistent with other accounts. AAI tweeted that al Sudani had been killed on Saturday, July 5. But press reports say he was killed on Monday, July 7.

Major General al Sudani was one of Iraqi prime minister Nuri al Maliki's top military leaders. Maliki released a statement saying al Sudani "met martyrdom on the battlefield as he was fighting ... terrorists," according to Reuters. Maliki also personally attended al Sudani's funeral.

AAI's tweet concerning al Sudani's death highlights a persistent problem in covering complicated war zones such as Iraq. The fog of war sometimes makes it difficult to determine the precise details of even high-profile events, such as the killing of a top general. And official government reports can also be inaccurate, for a host of reasons.

Jihadist groups do report accurate information via social media, but they also have an incentive to provide misleading reports that make them seem more accomplished on the battlefield than they really are. It is possible that AAI did kill al Sudani and the precise details have simply been mangled. Or, the group thought it would benefit from attaching itself to a high-profile killing.

Other attacks claimed by AAI on its Twitter feed are less sensationalistic. In two recent tweets, AAI said it fired 82-mm and 120-mm mortar rounds on Shiite militias in Balad, which sits north of Baghdad in Salahaddin province. The tweets include a hashtag, #Tikrit, referring to the provincial capital, and call the Shiites "rafidi," a derogatory term meaning that Shiites reject Sunni beliefs.

AAI also claimed to have shot an Iraqi major in southern Tikrit and caused the Iraqi army to suffer "heavy losses in lives and equipment," including four tanks, three armored vehicles, five Hummers, and one army truck.

If AAI's tweets are accurate, then they reveal that the group is operating far outside of its strongholds in northern Iraq. In one tweet, AAI claimed to have "repelled an attack by" the Iraqi army in Anbar, which is in western Iraq. In another, the jihadist organization said it struck an emergency vehicle with an improvised explosive device (IED) on a bridge named after Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

While the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, garners the most attention for its role in spearheading the insurgency, other groups, including AAI, are clearly involved in the fighting as well. As the insurgents' offensive swept through Iraq in June, AAI claimed a number of attacks against Iraqi government forces on its Twitter feed. [See LWJ reports, Ansar al Islam claims attacks against Iraqi military, police and Ansar al Islam releases propaganda photos showing operations in Iraq.]

AAI is one of the Islamic State's longest-standing jihadist rivals. As early as 2012, AAI complained to al Qaeda's senior leadership about the behavior of the Islamic State and its leadership toward their fellow jihadists.

Jihadists circulated a rumor earlier this month saying that AAI had sworn bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's Islamic State. A contingent of AAI fighters reportedly did swear allegiance to Baghdadi's organization, but AAI quickly released a statement denying that the group as a whole had pledged its loyalty to any other organization.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Boko Haram gains ground (03:49PM)

Over the weekend, Boko Haram continued its assault on Damboa in northeastern Nigeria's Borno state, gaining ground while sending local villagers running for their lives.

Sitting on the main road to state capital Maiduguri, Damboa has been besieged by the terrorist group since July 4, when Boko Haram attacked a tank battalion base on the town's outskirts.

On July 6, the town's police station and army camp were hit by the group, sending the security forces scurrying. Much to the town's misfortune, it was left unprotected and under siege.

The latest attack began on July 18 as suspected Boko Haram fighters hit Damboa at dawn, throwing explosives into homes and firing on scrambling villagers. The insurgents reportedly used rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs. The group also burnt down the town's market. Later in the day, Boko Haram struck again, killing many more as the remaining villagers were attempting to bury their dead.

As the onslaught subsided, Boko Haram fighters reportedly hoisted their black al-Qaeda-inspired flag over the town, claiming victory with over 100 villagers dead.

A local official told Agence France Presse, "Those who could not flee surrendered and were killed by the insurgents." Additionally, residents of nearby towns had begun to flee after having received a letter from Boko Haram threatening to attack and take over their land. A representative from Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency said they had records of 15,204 people who fled Damboa and other nearby villages.

Responding to the events, Defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade commented yesterday, "We are not conceding any portion of this country to any terrorist group .... Our patrols are active and they are stepping up their activities to reverse any insecurity there."

In recent months, Boko Haram has amplified its offensive across Nigeria, increasing both the frequency and the ferocity of its attacks. The incidents over the weekend may mark a turning point, however, as the group appears to have taken new ground and continued to hold it, rather than simply conducting hit-and-run attacks. Last week, Boko Haram destroyed a bridge south of the town, essentially cutting Damboa and Maiduguri off from the outside. This act, in combination with the weekend's territorial win, may be part of a larger, longterm strategy by the terrorist group to take ground and establish its own state.