Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Taliban control 3 districts in Afghan provinces of Wardak and Kunduz (09:27AM)

The Afghan Taliban took control of three districts, one in the province of Wardak which is just south of Kabul, and the other two in the northern province of Kunduz, that were heavily contested during the US troop surge that began in 2010 and ended in 2011. One of the districts was the scene of the Taliban's shoot down of a US helicopter that resulted in the deaths of 31 special operations personnel, including 17 US Navy SEALs.

Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the district of Sayyidabad in Wardak as well as the districts of Chahar Darah and Dasht-i-Archi in Kunduz province are under the Taiban's thumb.

A reporter from the BBC recently visited the Tangi Valley in the district of Sayyidabad and noted that the Taliban fully control the district. He was given a tour by Said Rahman, the Taliban's shadow district governor who is "popularly known as Governor Badr."

Taliban fighters openly patrol the district during the daytime, while Afghan troops are confined to a small hilltop outpost. Taliban judges mediate land and other disputes. Taxes are collected. Schools, which are funded by the Afghan government, teach the Taliban's curriculum, while girls are not allowed to attend. [See BBC report, Life inside a Taliban stronghold.]

Further north, in the province of Kunduz, Afghan officials admit that "the Taliban controls virtually all of two out of seven districts in Kunduz - Chahar Darah and Dasht-i-Archi,' Reuters reports.

"It is gaining influence elsewhere, and residents say it has been able to because what little state authority exists is viewed with deep mistrust," Reuters continues.

In Kunduz, the Taliban collects a 10 percent tax from farmers and business, mediates disputes in its courts, and runs the local schools.

A senior tribal elder said that the Taliban is well armed and Afghan security forces no longer pursue the Taliban in the districts.

"The local police force, recruited and armed by Western forces, had stopped trying to fight the Taliban altogether," Reuters notes.

Sayyidabad and Chahar Darah: hotly contested districts in the past

Two of the three districts controlled by the Taliban - Sayyidabad and Chahar Darah - have been major battlegrounds in the past. US special operations forces heavily targeted the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda in the two districts between 2009 and 2012.

The Tangi Valley in Sayyidabad was the scene of one of the most deadly attacks on US forces since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001. On Aug. 6, 2011 the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter in the district, killing 38 US and Afghan forces, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (more commonly referred to as SEAL Team 6). More than one month later, the Taliban detonated a massive suicide bomb outside of Combat Outpost Sayyidabad, killing four Afghans and wounding more than 100 people, including 77 US soldiers.

In September 2011, the Taliban took control of Combat Outpost Tangi, which was abandoned by Afghan forces shortly after the massive suicide attack. The Taliban filmed its forces touring the base and released the video on its website.

Later that month, the US killed Qari Tahir, who the International Security Assistance Force described as the Taliban's commander in the Tangi Valley, in an airstrike in the Sayyidabad district. Tahir led the force that was involved in the Aug. 6, 2011 shootdown of the US Chinook.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda are also know to operate in Sayyidabad. In April 2012, the US captured an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader who was planning future large-scale attacks in Kabul, Wardak and Logar provinces.

In November 2011, the US killed Mujib Rahman Mayar, an Afghan national who served as an al Qaeda facilitator, during a raid in Sayyidabad. Mayar is known to have trained insurgents and acted as a courier delivering messages and money for al Qaeda's network. Two suspected insurgents were also detained and multiple weapons were seized, including bomb-making materials, firearms, grenades, and ammunition.

Chahar Darah district has also been a hotbed of Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and al Qaeda activity, and is known to have been under Taliban control in the past. US special operations forces targeted the three allied jihadist groups in at least 16 raids between August 2009 and November 2012.

Among those targeted during the US raids in the district were Khadim, an IMU senior leader and Afghan national who was an explosives expert responsible for recruiting and training insurgents for suicide attacks; an unnamed senior IMU leader who facilitates suicide bombers from Pakistan; an unnamed Taliban leader who facilitates foreign suicide bombers, including Chechens and Pakistanis; Saifullah, the Taliban's shadow governor for the district who led a group of al Qaeda fighters and maintained close ties with senior Taliban and IMU leaders in northern Afghanistan and Pakistan; and an IMU foreign fighter facilitator with ties to Iran's Qods Force and local Taliban and Iranian-based Uzbek IMU facilitators.

Taliban seek to regain control of Afghanistan

The three districts in Wardak and Kunduz are the latest to fall under the Taliban's control. The district of Sangin in Helmand province, where US Marines and British troops paid a heavy price to liberate during the surge, was overrun by the Taliban in June. The Afghan military opened peace negotiations with the Taliban in August, a sure sign that it lost its grip on the district. The Afghan military has claimed it regained control of Sangin but the reports cannot be confirmed. Meanwhile, the Taliban claimed on Oct. 20 that it "dismantled" a "strategic joint ANA and police outpost" in the nearby Nawzad district.

In July, the Taliban overran the Char Sada district center in the central province of Ghor. The status of the district is unclear. On Oct. 19, the Taliban claimed that "Arbakis," or pro-government tribal militias, attacked the district, executed civilians, and burned down a village.

In August, the Taliban massed more than 700 fighters to attack Afghan security personnel in the Charkh district in Logar. The status of the district is unclear, but four soldiers and "scores" of Taliban are reported to have been killed in fighting in the district on Oct. 20.

And in early October, Junood al Fida, a group that is loyal to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, claimed it took control of the remote district of Registan in Kandahar province. The claim has not been confirmed.

The Taliban and the Haqqani Network, a subgroup that is closely tied to al Qaeda and Pakistan's military and Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, is thought to control districts in the eastern provinces of Ghazni, Zabul, Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar, and Badakhshan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

State Department adds Osama bin Laden's doctor to terrorist designation list (10:45AM)
Ramzi Mowafi.jpg

Ramzi Mawafi. Image from Al Arabiya.

The State Department today added Ramzi Mawafi, a longtime al Qaeda operative who was close to Osama bin Laden, to the US government's list of specially designated global terrorists.

Mawafi "is an Egyptian national and long-time al Qaeda member best known as the former doctor to Osama bin Laden," the State Department says in its announcement. Mawafi "also served as an explosives expert for al Qaeda."

Mawafi "escaped from an Egyptian prison in 2011, and is now believed to be in the Sinai Peninsula coordinating among militant groups and helping to arrange money and weapons to support violent extremist activity."

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal say that Mawafi rejoined al Qaeda's hierarchy after his escape from prison three years ago. Al Qaeda maintains a clandestine bureaucracy that exists above regional groups in the terrorist organization's pecking order.

This can be seen in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, where events have exposed some of the personalities in al Qaeda's senior leadership. For instance, Nasir al Wuhayshi is the emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a regional branch of al Qaeda, but also doubles as al Qaeda's global general manager, a role that gives him authority far outside of Yemen. Al Qaeda's deputy general managers serve underneath Wuhayshi in Yemen, holding positions in both AQAP and in al Qaeda's global hierarchy.

Senior al Qaeda leaders were also dispatched to Syria, where they assumed roles within the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official regional branch in the Levant. A jihadist known as Sanafi al Nasr, for instance, heads an al Qaeda strategic planning committee in addition to serving as a senior official within Al Nusrah. Seasoned al Qaeda leaders have assumed roles in other jihadist groups in Syria as well, including those that are not official branches of the organization.

US intelligence officials say that Mawafi holds a position within al Qaeda's covert international enterprise similar to his counterparts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

As recognized by the State Department, Mawafi is "coordinating among militant groups" in the Sinai. The most prolific of these is Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), also known as Ansar Jerusalem, which is connected to al Qaeda's global network. Mawafi has worked with ABM, as well as other jihadist groups, US intelligence officials say.

Al Qaeda's presence in the Sinai Peninsula

Although jihadists have announced al Qaeda's presence in the Sinai on multiple occasions, US officials say the group is hiding the full scope of its organizational ties and other details of its operations. Mawafi has been publicly identified as the head of al Qaeda in the Sinai on multiple occasions, but he does not appear in videos or claim credit for jihadist operations. [See LWJ report, Former bin Laden doctor reportedly heads al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.]

Ayman al Zawahiri has repeatedly praised the jihadists in the Sinai in al Qaeda's propaganda. And groups such as ABM have returned the favor, portraying their terrorist acts as consistent with al Qaeda's call to arms. (There are also reports that some ABM jihadists are tied to the Islamic State, a former branch of al Qaeda's organization that has been disowned by al Qaeda's general command.)

A group calling itself "Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula" distributed fliers outside of a mosque in Al Arish in the summer of 2011. The fliers called for the establishment of an Islamic state and said that the "group was planning attacks on the police stations and security forces," according to CNN.

In Dec. 2011, Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula announced its formation, vowing to "fulfill its oath" to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The following month, in Jan. 2012, Ansar al Jihad publicly swore an oath of allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri. US officials said at the time that the group was the military wing of Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, which was "seeking to coordinate operations" with other groups in the Sinai and Gaza.

Despite these overt ties between jihadists in the Sinai and al Qaeda, Mawafi has tried to remain in the shadows. Egyptian officials have highlighted his position of authority in the press, but neither Mawafi nor al Qaeda have announced his role. They prefer to work through organizations that are not explicitly branded as al Qaeda, US officials say. Mawafi's group acts as a "platform" for pooling the jihadists' resources.

In Aug. 2011, for instance, CNN first reported that Mawafi had set up shop in the Sinai following his escape from prison. Egyptian officials expressed concerned about Mawafi's role because of his expertise in bomb making. Mawafi is known as "the chemist" and, according to an Egyptian general, "had set up his own [explosives] laboratory in Tora Bora with bin Laden" prior to 9/11.

CNN also noted that Mawafi had been in contact with two already established jihadist groups: Takfir wal Hijra and the Palestinian Islamic Army.

In Sept. 2013, the Associated Press (AP) cited Egyptian military intelligence officials who said that Mawafi was working with multiple jihadist groups, and facilitating the flow of funds and weapons to them. The Egyptian officials explained that two jihadists captured in the Sinai, a Yemeni and a Palestinian, "provided information about Mawafi's role while under questioning." And an Egyptian court described Mawafi as "the secretary general of al Qaeda in Sinai."

At least one representative from al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula took part in an al Qaeda "conference call" in the summer of 2013. The communications, which were first reported by the Daily Beast, involved more than 20 al Qaeda operatives from around the world, including Zawahiri and Wuhayshi. It was during the call that Wuhayshi's appointment as al Qaeda's general manager was announced to other terrorist commanders.

The US was forced to close nearly two dozen diplomatic facilities after officials learned of the communications, which utilized a complicated Internet-based infrastructure. The al Qaeda terrorists reportedly planned to attack one or more diplomatic outposts. One of the facilities closed as a precautionary measure was the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, because authorities were concerned that al Qaeda's presence in the Sinai could be used as a staging ground for an attack.

US State Department adds Pakistani Taliban leader to list of global terrorists (10:18AM)

Sajna Mehsud. Image from Dawn.

The US State Department added a Taliban leader from South Waziristan who had previously served as the deputy emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Khan Said, the Taliban leader from the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan who is also known as Sajna Mehsud, was added to the US list of global terrorists today.

"Said has had experience fighting in Afghanistan, is believed to be involved in the attack on a Naval base in Karachi, Pakistan, and is also credited with masterminding a 2012 jailbreak in which the Taliban freed 400 inmates in the northwestern city of Bannu, Pakistan," State says in its designation.

The May 2011 assault on Naval Station Mehran in Karachi resulted in the destruction of two US-supplied P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes; another was damaged in the attack. Among those freed in the 2012 prison break in Bannu was Adnan Rasheed, who has a long history with Pakistani terrorist groups as well as al Qaeda. Rasheed is currently the emir of the Ansar al Aseer Khorasan ("Helpers of the Prisoners"), a group that includes members from both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban and was founded to free jihadists from Pakistani prisons.

Said was appointed as the deputy emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan after his boss, Waliur Rahman, was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on May 29, 2013.

In May 2014, Said left the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan over a leadership dispute with Mullah Fazlullah, the group's emir. Said was rumored to have been appointed emir prior to Fazlullah's appointment on Nov. 7, 2013. Asmatullah Bhittani, a rival of Said who led the group's shura, or executive council, appointed Fazlullah over Said. [See LWJ reports, Pakistani Taliban name new emir after Hakeemullah killed in drone strike: report, Pakistani Taliban name interim emir, spokesman says, and Pakistani Taliban name Mullah Fazlullah as new emir.]

The appointment of Fazlullah, a controversial cleric from Swat, ultimately led to most of the factions of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan to leave the group. Fazlullah pushed for negotiations with the Pakistani government and announced a ceasefire despite the fact that many of his subordinates disagreed with this course of action.

Said's Taliban faction, which was the backbone of the group as the Mehsud tribe has led the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan since it was formed in late 2006, was the first to leave, [See LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition for more information.]

But leaving the Taliban didn't mean that Said and his faction abandoned the jihad.

"Said stated his continued commitment to terrorist activity," after breaking away from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in May of this year, State noted

US intelligence officials who track the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region have told The Long War Journal that Said remains a close ally of al Qaeda.

"The dispute between Said's faction and Fazlullah and the TTP [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] hasn't changed the fact that both Taliban groups remain committed to the local and global jihad," one official told The Long War Journal. "Said still supports al Qaeda and coordinates activities with the group despite the divisions within the Pakistani Taliban."

Monday, October 20, 2014

AQAP claims credit for series of attacks in Yemen (02:40PM)

Clashes between fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Shiite Houthi rebels continued over the past several days as the two groups attempted to expand their respective advances throughout the country. After the Houthis took Yemen's capital, Sana'a, in late September, AQAP declared an open war against the rebels and increased its operations against both the Yemeni military and the Houthis, especially in the central portion of the country.

AQAP has claimed credit for 16 attacks that took place in six Yemeni provinces between Oct. 16 - Oct. 20. Many of these attacks centered around the city of Radaa in Bayda province, where fighting between AQAP and the Houthis began in earnest on Oct. 15, when the Shiite rebels initiated an eastward offensive.

Fighting in Bayda

AQAP claimed credit for a suicide attack on Oct. 16 that targeted a Houthi gathering in the Qaa' Fayd region located between the city of Radaa and Dhamar province to the west. The AQAP statement released the following day stated that the operation was carried out with a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED), or car bomb, and that "tens" of Houthis were killed and injured as a result.

A few days later, AQAP released another statement regarding fighting around the city of Radaa, specifically detailing clashes that took place in the Malah region on the outskirts of the city. The statement claimed that on Oct. 16, AQAP sent several groups of fighters to foil the Houthis' advance on the city and noted that one group of jihadists was attacked by a Houthi ambush prior to the eruption of a fierce battle. AQAP then sent reinforcements to aid its besieged fighters in Malah, and the strengthened jihadist force compelled the rebels to withdraw from the Qaa' Fayd region.

AQAP claimed that many Houthis were killed or wounded, three were taken captive, and many light and heavy weapons were looted by its fighters. Additionally, the statement clarifies that the suicide attack reported in an earlier AQAP statement on clashes in the Qaa' Fayd region (see above) occurred following the Houthis' withdrawal from the area.

Two days after the fighting in the Malah region, AQAP launched a coordinated attack in Radaa targeting Houthi positions in the city. An AQAP statement claimed that on the morning of Oct 18, two groups of its fighters simultaneously attacked a Houthi checkpoint in the city as well as a gathering of rebels at a local school. An AQAP "correspondent" in the field is quoted in the statement saying, "the two attacks resulted in the deaths and injury of the Houthis that we cannot accurately count," and added that skirmishes were still ongoing south of Radaa.

AQAP also took credit for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack against a Houthi military vehicle in Bayda on Oct. 18. In a statement released a few days later, AQAP claimed that its fighters detonated an IED at 11:00 a.m. as the Houthi vehicle was passing by the al Nisi mountain in Radaa, resulting in its complete destruction and the deaths of all who were on board.

The following day, AQAP released two brief statements claiming credit for attacks that took place on Oct. 19 in Radaa. The first of the two attacks took place at dawn in the al Arsh region of Radaa; the jihadist group claimed that an unspecified number of rebels were killed. In the second statement, AQAP announced that one of its snipers killed a Houthi fighter in the city.

Fighting in Bayda province further intensified between Oct. 19-20, and on Oct. 20 AQAP released a statement heralding an "advance" in their offensive against the Houthis. The jihadist group claimed that its fighters had passed the provincial borders of Bayda and arrived in Dhamar province. AQAP also claimed that tens of Houthis had been killed and injured in the ongoing battles in the al Arsh region of Bayda.

Arabic media sources reported that battles along the border regions between Bayda and Dhamar provinces over the past 24 hours have left around 60 dead, believed to be mostly Houthi casualties.

Today, AQAP took credit for a suicide attack near the residence of a "Houthi leader" in Radaa, Abdallah Idris, while rebels were meeting inside. In fact, Idris is the chief local official of the General People's Congress, the party of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Arabic press reports suggested that tribal representatives and Houthi fighters were meeting at Idris' house at the time of the explosion. According to local sources and eye witnesses, 15 people were killed in the bombing, most of whom were Houthis, and 12 others were wounded.

A subsequent AQAP statement claimed that the afternoon attack was carried out by Abu Aisha al Sana'ani using a car bomb and that "tens" of Houthis had been killed.

AQAP retakes al Adayn

During the night of Oct. 15, AQAP fighters carried out coordinated attacks on security, military, and governmental centers in al Adayn in southwestern Ibb province and managed to seize control of the city. After holding the city for about 9 hours, the fighters withdrew on the morning of Oct. 16. The day-long offensive came as a response to the Houthis' seizure of the entire province earlier that day.

Today, AQAP renewed its offensive in al Adayn, launching a massive attack on security locations in the city and consolidating their power over the area once again. Later in the day, AQAP released a statement claiming that the remnants of the Houthi fighters had fled the city following a joint operation carried out by AQAP and Sunni tribes in the area.

AQAP said that its fighters managed to infiltrate al Adayn at dawn, paving the way for the assault to retake the city. According to the statement, the attack began at around 10:00 a.m. when groups of jihadists began attacking locations both inside and outside the city. The homes of Houthi leaders were bombed in the assault, including the residence of Zakaria al Musawa, a military officer aligned with the Shiite rebels.

The AQAP statement emphasized the participation of local Sunni tribes who "gathered with their weapons on board twenty cars" and took part in seizing control of the city. An hour into the attack on al Adayn, AQAP fighters and Sunni tribesman coalesced at a central city square and released three soldiers who were jailed during the last AQAP offensive to take the city, on Oct. 15. The soldiers were released after they renounced their service of the Yemeni military and vowed to not return and fight in its ranks. During this gathering, "the tribesman emphasized...their firm position of uniting their ranks and their coalition with Ansar al Sharia in fighting the rafidi [Shiite] Houthis."

AQAP also claimed credit for an attack elsewhere in Ibb province on Oct. 20. At around 6:30 PM, jihadists stormed the Mashwara military checkpoint in Ibb city, described in an AQAP statement as a "joint Houthi-military military checkpoint," leading to the deaths of all the soldiers at the checkpoint along with two AQAP fighters.

Other AQAP attacks between Oct. 16 - Oct. 20

AQAP claimed credit for two attacks on Oct. 16 targeting Yemeni military personnel in Abyan and Shabwa, two southern provinces where the jihadist group has traditionally maintained a strong presence. At 10:00 a.m., AQAP fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) at the al Houta - Azzan junction, wounding several soldiers according to an AQAP statement. Later in the afternoon, jihadists shot and killed two soldiers of the 111th Brigade in the Ahwar region of Abyan province.

On Oct. 17, AQAP targeted a military convoy in Hadramout heading towards the city of Qatn. At around 10:00am, fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) as the convoy passed by, killing and injuring an unspecified number of Yemeni soldiers.

Two more attacks claimed by AQAP took place on Oct. 19, in Sana'a and the northern Houthi stronghold of Amran. In Sana'a, AQAP fighters lobbed a grenade at a Houthi gatehring in the Bani Houth area of the Yemeni capital. That evening, jihadists attacked a "Houthi headquarters" in the Rayda area of Amran province with a 17 kilogram IED. The subsequent AQAP statement claimed that serious material damage was caused to the headquarters and that no reports of casualties have surfaced.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Taliban claims captured Haqqani leaders visited ex-Gitmo detainees in Qatar (04:52PM)

Anas Haqqani and Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari (a.k.a. Hafiz Rashid). NDS photos via Khaama Press.

The Taliban has released a statement concerning the recent capture of two Haqqani Network leaders, claiming that the Afghan government has lied about the circumstances surrounding the raid that netted them. The Taliban also claims that the pair had recently visited the senior Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo earlier this year.

The Taliban's statement could not be independently verified.

On Oct. 16, the Afghan government announced the capture of Anas Haqqani, who is the youngest son of veteran jihadist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari, the network's military commander for southeastern Afghanistan. They were detained on Oct. 14.

Omari is the younger brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari, a senior Taliban official who was held at Guantanamo from late 2002 until May when he, along four other Taliban commanders held in US custody, were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The "Taliban Five," as they've been dubbed in the US, were transferred to Qatar, where they are supposed to live for one year after their release.

The Taliban says in its statement that the younger Omari had recently met with his more infamous older brother in Qatar.

According to the Taliban, Anas Haqqani had been in Qatar as well. Anas Haqqani was captured after "he embarked on his first foreign visit to meet the freed Guantanamo detainees after an invitation by the family of Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Omari (former Guantanamo detainee)."

The Taliban claims that Omari and Haqqani were "returning home on 12th October after spending about a week." They were both allegedly "captured by the American forces in Bahrain from where they were sent back to Qatar and then handed over to Kabul via United Arab Emirates."

Relying on this version of events, the Taliban criticizes the US, arguing that it had no justification for detaining the two and that the Taliban Five were promised their family members would be allowed to visit them without interference.

The Afghan government's description of the pair's capture was entirely different, saying that the two were detained by intelligence officials in Afghanistan's national directorate of security (NDS). There was no mention of the US first detaining them.

The Taliban also seeks to downplay the significance of Anas Haqqani in its statement, whereas the Afghan government says he played a prominent role in the Haqqani Network.

Anas Haqqani was merely "a Talib-ul-ilm (student) in his last year of studies who does not have an affiliation with any current political movements," according to the Taliban.

The Afghan government describes Anas as an influential jihadist and deputy to his older brother, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the Haqqani Network. Anas has "special" computer skills and "was considered one of the masterminds of this network in making propaganda through social networks," the NDS said, according to Khaama Press. Anas "was responsible for collecting and preparing funds from Arabic countries to carry out operations of this network."

The latter accusation is especially intriguing, as Qatar is a known hotbed for jihadist fundraising.

The Afghan government says that Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari was "a shadow governor" for the Haqqanis in "the Ismailkhil district of Khost province." He also oversaw suicide bombing operations.

A Haqqani leader who served multiple roles prior to detention at Guantanamo

The Taliban says that the family of Mohammad Nabi Omari, the ex-Guantanamo detainee, invited Anas Haqqani to Qatar. US officials found that Mohammad Omari was a well-connected Haqqani leader who worked with al Qaeda prior to his detention in Sept. 2002.

In a leaked memo dated Jan. 23, 2008, JTF-GTMO analysts recommended that the older Omari brother be held in "continued detention" by the Defense Department. Omari "was a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles," according to JTF-GTMO. Omari "had strong operational ties to Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) groups including al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), some of whom remain active in ACM activities."

Intelligence reports cited by JTF-GTMO indicate that Omari was a "member of a joint al Qaeda/Taliban ACM cell in Khowst and was involved in attacks against US and Coalition forces." Omari also "maintained weapons caches and facilitated the smuggling of fighters and weapons."

Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Omari worked for the Taliban's border security and in this capacity had "access to senior Taliban commander and leader of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani." Haqqani was the Taliban Minister of Frontiers and Borders at the time and this is what gave Omari the opportunity to become Haqqani's "close associate," according to JTF-GTMO.

Thus, it is entirely possible that Mohammad Nabi Omari invited Jalaluddin's son, Anas, for a visit to Qatar given the two families' historically close ties.

One "sensitive contact" told authorities that Omari was one of "three former Taliban commanders loyal to Haqqani."

A source cited in the JTF-GTMO file told authorities that Omari participated in a Jan. 26, 2002 "planning session to identify a new Governor of Khowst and to propose a list of members for the Khowst City Shura Council loyal to Haqqani." Several other high-level Taliban and Haqqani officials attended the meeting. One of them "directed the group to reconvene after members discussed names with al Qaeda members in their provinces." The leaked JTF-GTMO memo notes: "The plan was to have all personnel identified and vetted to prepare for future al Qaeda control of the area under Jalaluddin Haqqani."

Beginning in February 2002, according to another intelligence report cited by JTF-GTMO, Omari and "three al Qaeda affiliated individuals held weekly meetings to discuss ACM plans and to coordinate Haqqani loyalists."

Then, in July 2002, an "Afghan government employee" reported that Omari had joined "a new Khowst province ACM cell comprised of Taliban and al Qaeda commanders who had operated independently in the past." The list of cell members provided by this source included not only Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, but also individuals affiliated with the HIG and the Haqqani Network.

The JTF-GTMO file includes an intriguing detail about one member of Nabi's cell - a Haqqani money courier named Malik Khan. "Ayman al Zawahiri, the number two leader of al Qaeda" at the time, and now al Qaeda's emir, "has stayed at Khan's compound located outside Miram Shah," Pakistan.

In August 2002, Omari reportedly helped two al Qaeda operatives smuggle "an unknown number of missiles along the highway between Jalalabad and Peshawar," Pakistan. The missiles were smuggled in pieces, with the intent of rebuilding them for attacks near the Jalalabad airport. On Aug. 28, 2002, JTF-GTMO analysts noted, "two Americans were killed during attacks against the Khowst, Gardez, and Jalalabad airports."

Omari was captured in September 2002, detained at Bagram, and then transferred to Guantanamo. Omari was transferred to Qatar earlier this year and, if the Taliban's statement is accurate, then he has been hosting other veteran jihadists.

Senior al Qaeda leader reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan (09:45AM)

The US is reported to have killed a senior al Qaeda leader in an airstrike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar near the border with Pakistan's tribal agency of Khyber. Despite US military officials claims to the contrary, recent raids and airstrikes against al Qaeda show that the network is not limited to operating in the northeastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.

The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's intelligence service, reported that senior al Qaeda leader Abu Bara al Kuwaiti was killed in a US airstrike in Lal Mandi in the Nazyan district in Nangarhar, which is adjacent to the border with the Tirah Valley in Pakistan's tribal agency of Khyber, Pajhwok Afghan News reported.

The al Qaeda leader was at the home of Abdul Samad Khanjari, who is described as an al Qaeda military "commander," when he was killed, TOLONews reported. NDS officers raided Khanjari's home and seized weapons, a laptop, and documents.

Khanjari is also said to double as the Taliban's shadow governor for the Achin district in Nangarhar, according to Afghan Islamic Press. This is not uncommon, as members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are known to double as shadow governors in northern Afghan provinces. Additionally, al Qaeda leaders are also known to serve as Taliban commanders; the US military has described these commanders as "dual-hatted" leaders.

Al Qaeda has not confirmed the death of Abu Bara, nor have online jihadists known to be plugged into the network announced his martyrdom.

The NDS said that Abu Bara "had close relations with the family of Ayman al Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leader."

Abu Bara was likely a member of al Qaeda's General Command. He was known to be a "student" and "comrade" of Atiyah Abd al Rahman, al Qaeda's former general manager who was also known as Atiyah Allah and who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in August 2011. Abu Bara wrote Atiyah's eulogy, which was published in Vanguards of Khorasan, al Qaeda's official magazine.

In the eulogy, Abu Bara notes several times that he had access to Atiyah's documents and was trained by the former al Qaeda general manager.

"I was able to know things from his numerous letters in which he advises [jihadists] to be patient, seek the refuge of Almighty God in harsh times, and trust God's promise of victory even in these ruthless times we are living," Abu Bara said in the lengthy eulogy for his former boss.

"He used to treat me like he used to treat his son," Abu Bara continued. "He was like a carrying father and an older brother by guiding me in all issues and teaching and advising me whenever it is possible. I learned from him several things, which he stressed on teaching me. My brother Abu al Hasan al Wa'ili, may God protect him, saw this. He taught me things in religion and life in general."

Additionally, Abu Bara said that Atiyah informed him that Abu Dujanah al Khurasani executed the Dec. 30, 2009, suicide attack suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province. Seven CIA officers and guards were killed in the attack.

"He [Atiyah] told me all the details regarding this operation and the plan," Abu Bara said.

The death of Abu Bara, if confirmed, is the second major blow against the terrorist network in Afghanistan and Pakistan this week. On Oct. 14, the NDS captured Anis Haqqani, the son of the Haqqani Network's leader and the brother of its operational leader, and Hafiz Rashid, the network's military commander for southeastern Afghanistan, during a special operations raid in Khost province, Afghanistan. [See Threat Matrix report, Afghan intel agency captures two senior Haqqani Network leaders.]

Al Qaeda not concentrated in Kunar and Nuristan

While US military and intelligence officials have repeatedly stated that al Qaeda is confined primarily to the northeastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, recent raids indicate that the jihadist group continues to operate in other eastern provinces.

"AQ [Al Qaeda] maintains a limited presence in the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan such as Kunar and Nuristan, and maintains a seasonal presence in other provinces," the US Department of Defense stated in the December 2013 edition of the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, US continues to claim al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan is minimal .]

Over the past year, five senior and mid-level al Qaeda leaders, in addition to Abu Bara, are reported to have been killed in Nangarhar and Paktika, and just across the border in Khyber. The jihadists were killed in December 2013, and September and October of 2014, indicating that their presence is more than just "seasonal."

Just over a week ago, the US killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), in a drone strike in the Tirah Valley in Khyber. The strike took place right on the border with Nangarhar, and some reports indicate Imran was actually killed in Nangarhar.

Imran is a longtime jihadist who started his career with the al Qaeda-linked Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. His death was announced by Usama Mahmood, the spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). [See LWJ report, US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official.]

Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda officials announced the creation of AQIS in early September, explaining that it was two years in the making. Mahmood said in his own statement at the time that AQIS was formed by gathering together "several jihadi groups that have a long history in jihad and fighting." Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, whose leader Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil is closely tied to the group and signed the 1998 fatwa that declared war on the West, is likely one of those groups.

Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen is currently running training camps in Afghanistan, the US State Department said in a update to the group's terrorist designation in September. [See LWJ report, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen 'operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan'.]

In mid-September, the US killed Aqalzadin and Ikramullah, two Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen/al Qaeda commanders, in an airstrike in Paktika province. The two commanders are members of the Badr Mansoor Group. Badr Mansour, the group's former leader who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012, was identified in the documents seized at Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound as one of al Qaeda's "company" commanders. Mansour was also a Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen leader. [See LWJ reports, 2 al Qaeda commanders reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan and Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader.]

In December 2013, the US killed two al Qaeda military commanders, three members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and two members of the Afghan Taliban, in an airstrike in the Lal Pur district in Nangarhar. The seven jihadists were reported to be traveling to Kunar for a meeting. [See LWJ report, 2 al Qaeda commanders reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.]

The two al Qaeda commanders were described as "close companions of Ilyas Kashmiri," the renowned Pakistani jihadist who was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in June 2011. Kashmiri rose through the ranks of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, or HUJI, led Brigade 313, and ultimately served as the leader of al Qaeda's Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, and as a member of al Qaeda's military shura at the time of his death.

The al Qaeda operatives killed in December 2013 were all commanders in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's paramilitary unit that fields forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and also embeds military trainers within Taliban units in both countries. These trainers provide instruction for battling security forces in local insurgencies, as well as knowledge, expertise, funding, and resources to conduct local and international attacks. [For more information on this unit, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army,' from February 2009.]

Al Qaeda and its allies have been heavily targeted by ISAF in special operations raids over the past decade. ISAF publicized 338 raids from 2007 until the summer of 2013, when it ended reporting. Many senior jihadist leaders and operatives were killed or captured during those operations. Most of those raids took place outside of Kunar and Nuristan. [See LWJ report, ISAF raids against al Qaeda and allies in Afghanistan 2007-2013.]

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition (12:15AM)

Ever since the head of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Hakeemullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in late 2013, the al Qaeda-linked group has been plagued by leadership disputes, infighting, and defections. Mullah Fazlullah, Mehsud's successor, has proven to be incapable of holding the coalition of jihadists together.

The latest members to leave the group are its spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, and five regional emirs: Hafiz Dolat Khan from Kurram, Hafiz Saeed Khan from Arakzai, Maulana Gul Zaman from Khyber, Mufti Hassan Swati from Peshawar, and Khalid Mansoor from Hangu. Shahid announced their defection in a video (seen above) that was released online earlier this week. The Pakistani Taliban figures are now loyal to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, which has been attempting to woo al Qaeda and Taliban leaders for months.

"I pledge allegiance to the Commander of the Faithful and the Caliph of Muslims Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Qurashi al Husayni, to obey him when we are enthusiastic and when we are halfhearted, as well as in difficulty and relief," Shahid says in the video, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.

Shahid stresses that his pledge of allegiance (bayat) is not on behalf of the "entire movement," nor has Mullah Fazlullah himself sworn an oath of fealty to Baghdadi. Instead, Shahid says, the oath is "pledged by myself as well as five other Pakistani Taliban emirs, who are the emirs of Arakzai, Kuram, Khaybar, Hangu, and Peshawar regions."

Shahid goes on to claim that this is the fourth time he has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. His claim is curious, to say the least.

The video above was disseminated online on Oct. 13. But less just one week earlier, on Oct. 6, Shahid was quoted as denying that the Pakistani Taliban had sworn allegiance to Baghdadi's group. Shahid was quoted in an account by Reuters, and there is nothing in that report about Shahid or the five other Pakistani Taliban leaders switching their allegiance to Baghdadi.

On the contrary, Shahid was quoted as saying, "We are not supporting any specific group in Syria or Iraq; all groups there are noble and they are our brothers." Shahid continued, "Mullah Omar is our head and we are following him."

In just one week, therefore, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman went from claiming that the group was entirely loyal to Mullah Omar to announcing that he and five commanders now counted themselves among the Islamic State's ranks.

Interestingly, Shahid claims in his defection notice that on a prior occasion in early July he privately swore his allegiance to Baghdadi through Abu Huda al Sudani. This has a ring of truth to it, as al Sudani is a disgruntled al Qaeda veteran who leads a faction in Afghanistan that has sided with the Islamic State. Al Sudani leads a faction that is now loyal to Baghdadi. [Note, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan later claimed that Shaykh Maqbool, its former spokesman, wrongly released the statement under Shahidullah Shahid 's name, and was releived of his position "long ago." Also the group said that the name Shahidullah Shahid is a nom de guerre is shared amongst its spokesmen. See Threat Matrix report, TTP denies its spokesman defected to Islamic State.]

It is not clear how many former Pakistani Taliban fighters the defectors command. The emirs of the five regions did have forces under their direction, but it is not publicly known how many jihadists they direct, or if all of their fighters have followed suit.

In reality, Shahid's announced defection to the Islamic State is just the latest blow to Fazlullah's group. It is clear that Fazlullah has not been able to fill Hakeemullah Mehsud's shoes.

Indeed, well before the six Pakistani Taliban leaders announced their decision to side with Baghdadi this past week most of the group had already defected. The majority of the Pakistani Taliban's leaders and fighters had already left its ranks, forming new groups. And the most prominent of these organizations are still loyal to Mullah Omar.

Pakistani Taliban coalition dissolved

The first crack in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's coalition appeared long before Shahidullah and the five commanders defected and joined the Islamic State. Divisions within the group appeared immediately after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike on Nov. 1, 2013. Initial reports indicated that Sajna Mehsud (who is also known as Khalid Mehsud) from South Waziristan, was appointed to lead the group. But one day after a the rumor of Sajna's appointment emerged, his rival, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, the head of the Taliban's shura or executive council, who was also from South Waziristan, was named the interim emir.

Instead of appointing a member of the Mehsud tribe, who traditionally have led the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the group's shura named Mullah Fazlullah, a firebrand cleric from Swat, as its emir. The appointment was controversial, and ultimately led to the group's demise. Despite serving as Hakeemullah's deputy, Fazlullah is reported to be considered an outsider in the inner circles of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Added to the unease over Fazlullah's appointment was an internal debate within the Taliban over whether to negotiate a peace agreement with the Pakistani military and government. Asmatullah, who supported peace talks, may have been been killed by his rival Sajna. Fazlullah also supported peace talks with the Pakistani state and ordered a ceasefire on March 1.

The Taliban's negotiations with the government led to the first overt rift within the group. In mid-February, a faction of the Taliban led by Maulana Umar Qasmi, broke away due to opposition to negotiations and formed Ahrar-ul-Hind. A statement by the group said that it is made up of supporters based in "the urban areas of Pakistan" and vowed to continue attacks against the state. Three weeks after its formation, the group claimed credit for a suicide assault on a courthouse in Islamabad.

Sajna Mehsud's faction was the next to break away from the Taliban alliance. In mid-May, Sajna, who is said to support peace talks, formed the Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan. The spokesman for the new Taliban faction accused its parent organization of being "un-Islamic."

"We consider kidnapping for ransom, extortion, damage to public facilities and bombings to be un-Islamic," a statement released by the group said. "Tehreek-e-Taliban [Movement of the Taliban] Mehsud group believes in stopping the oppressor from cruelty, and supporting the oppressed."

Sajna's group is said to be allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a powerful so-called "good" Taliban commander in North Waziristan who maintains a peace agreement with the governemnt despite his overt support for al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and a host of terrorist groups in the region.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan perhaps suffered its death blow when Omar Khalid al Khorasani, the dangerous Taliban commander from the tribal agency of Mohmand, and a group of factions from the agencies of Bajaur, Khyber, and Arakzai, and the districts of Charsadda, Peshawar, and Swat, split off and formed Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. The group merged with Ahrar-ul-Hind and is now led by Qasmi.

In mid-September, another faction in North Waziristan led by Sheheryar Mehsud, who was loyal to Hakeemullah and Baitullah Mehsud, also broke away from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The group "declared extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and bombing public places as 'Haram,' (forbidden by Islam)" according to Pakistan Today.

The defections of the various Taliban factions have led to a virtual dissolution of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan long before Shahidullah and the five commanders joined the Islamic State.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ceasefire announced between Nigerian government and Boko Haram (12:19PM)

Negotiations in Saudi Arabia between Boko Haram and the government of Nigeria have reportedly reached a ceasefire agreement. While the exact terms of the ceasefire have yet to be fully disclosed, it does appear that the 219 school girls kidnapped by the terrorist group in April are a part of the bargain.

According to Nigerian presidential aide Hassan Tukur, Boko Haram "assured us they have the girls and they will release them." He further noted that he was "cautiously optimistic."

In a conversation with VOA, a man calling himself the secretary-general of Boko Haram, Danladi Ahmadu, said he was located along the Nigerian-Chadian border and that the girls were "in good condition and unharmed." He did not specify the terms under which the hostages were to be freed. There is scant information available publicly on Danladi Ahmadu, and there has been no previous mention of a secretary-general within the structure of the jihadist group.

On Oct. 16, Boko Haram announced a unilateral ceasefire.

After the conclusion of recent negotiations, Nigeria's Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh, reportedly ordered all service chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram in all theaters of operations."

Late on the night of April 14, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from their school in Chibok. Since then, 57 of the girls have escaped, but 219 remain in the terrorist group's control. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau menacingly stated in video released in May, "I abducted your girls ... I will sell them in the market, by Allah."

Shortly afterward, Boko Haram released a video that showed the kidnap victims. Stoically seated outside, the girls were dressed in traditional Islamic garb as they recited a statement in Hausa followed by excerpts of the Koran.

Weeks after the girls were abducted, a social media campaign erupted to help #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign included prominent figures such as Michele Obama and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. While the efforts did not obtain the release of the hostages, they elicited a response from Boko Haram. In July, Abubakar Shekau fired back at the campaign in yet another video, remarking that "Nigerians are saying BringBackOurGirls, and we are telling Jonathan [Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan] to bring back our arrested warriors, our army."

It is unknown whether the idea of a prisoner swap played into the recent negotiations that were aided by Chadian President Idriss Deby and officials from Cameroon. Although the negotiations reportedly occurred in Saudi Arabia over the last month, Saudi officials did not participate in the talks themselves.

In recent months, Boko Haram has stepped up its campaign, particularly in the country's northeast, to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. The group's tactics evolved from traditional guerrilla attacks to attempts to grab and hold territory. In September, it was reported that the group controlled 25 towns in the northeastern Nigeria states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. The Nigerian armed forces have been attempting to wrest control of these areas from Boko Haram. They have achieved only limited success, and Boko Haram appears to hold many towns.

Al Qaeda portrays US-led bombing campaign as 'Crusade' against Islam (09:54AM)

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a branch of al Qaeda's international organization, has issued another statement denouncing the US-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. The group once again calls on rival jihadist factions, including the Islamic State and its rivals, to come together against their common enemies in the West.

The Islamic State, headed by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, has been warring with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and other jihadist organizations since last year.

AQAP and other al Qaeda-allied ideologues are portraying the air strikes as part of a "Crusade" against Islam and, therefore, they argue that the jihadists must set aside their differences for now. They are pushing this theme on social media and in their official messaging.

The AQAP message, a "Statement Regarding the Crusader Coalition," was posted on Twitter earlier today and first translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

"Within the Crusader war on Islam, the global coalition waged a fierce campaign on the mujahideen in Iraq and Sham [Syria], and especially our brothers in the Islamic State, where there was bombardment and killing without respect for sanctities," AQAP's message reads. Now that "the enemy" knows that the airstrikes won't work, AQAP argues, the West is beginning to "talk about ground campaigns."

"And on this occasion, we assert our support to our brothers against the global Crusader campaign, and we are with their enmity against this campaign," AQAP's jihadists write.

The group goes on to argue "that it is forbidden to participate in their war [referring to the campaign of the West and its allies in the Middle East] under the pretext that they [the Islamic State] are Kharijites [extremists], and they are not that." AQAP means that it is impermissible for jihadists to fight Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's Islamic State on behalf of the Western-led coalition, even if the Islamic State's rivals believe that Baghdadi and his subordinates have attacked their fellow Muslims and rejected other widely-recognized jihadist authorities.

"We advise all the mujahideen to forget their disputes and to stop the infighting among them, and to be diligent in pushing away the Crusader campaign that targets all," AQAP's jihadists write, according to SITE's translation.

AQAP concludes by calling on anyone who can to strike the US "militarily," "economically," or in the media because the Americans are the "leaders of this war and the foundation of this campaign."

Since the beginning of the US-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria this past summer, al Qaeda has attempted to use the intervention as a cause for reconciling the opposing jihadist factions. Even if a full reconciliation is not possible, al Qaeda's branches and closely allied ideologues argue that the strikes should at least serve as the basis for a truce.

AQAP and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released a joint statement in mid-September urging the jihadists in Iraq and Syria to unite against their common enemy, America, "the head of infidelity."

Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, an AQAP official, released a video on Sept. 30 urging unity against the "Crusader coalition."

Some of the Islamic State's harshest critics are also attempting to use the bombings as an opening for reconciliation. The same day that al Ansi's video was distributed online, a group of jihadist ideologues proposed a truce in a statement titled, "An Initiative and Call for a Ceasefire Between Factions in Syria."

One of the proposed truce's key signatories is Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, who is closely tied to the Al Nusrah Front.

Muhaysini has pushed for a truce on multiple occasions. In late September he released a message, "A Statement Regarding the Crusader War on Islam," via a video posted on his popular Twitter feed, which has 330,000 followers. Muhaysini's message included the same themes as AQAP's missives.

And Muhaysini has since launched a web site with both his twitter handle and the word "crusade" in the url address. The site contains a petition denouncing the bombings as part of a campaign "against Islam" and highlights America's alleged "crimes" against Muslims. Various photos of American soldiers supposedly mistreating Muslims are used on the site.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

AQAP, Houthis clash in central Yemen (10:47AM)

qasimiya.jpgAQAP fighters set fire to a military vehicle at the Qasimiya checkpoint in al Adayn directorate, Ibb province, Yemen (Source: Twitter)

As the Houthi rebels continue their military advance throughout much of northern and central Yemen without any indication of resistance from the Yemeni authorities, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has increasingly clashed with the Shi'ite rebels that it deems "apostates."

A day following their seizure of the port city of Hodeidah and the central Yemeni city of Dhamar, on Oct. 15 Houthi rebels attempted to expand the area under their control further east to the city of Radaa in Bayda province, the site of increased AQAP activity in recent months. As the Houthis began taking control of the areas surrounding Radaa, clashes broke out between the rebels and AQAP fighters, killing at least 10 people. The Houthis already have a growing presence in Bayda province, but their advance on Radaa, in western Bayda, seemed to be halted by the AQAP defensive.

AQAP also claimed credit for the assassination of a Houthi colonel in Sana'a on Oct. 15. In a statement released the same day, AQAP said that its fighters targeted Colonel Ali Zayd al Dhari with no less than 13 bullets in the Sa'awan district of Sana'a during the afternoon hours. The AQAP statement clarified that in addition his military role, al Dhari was a prominent Houthi leader.

Earlier in the day, Houthi fighters were seen amassing further west in the city of Ibb, about 150 kilometers south of the capital Sana'a. Reports claimed that the city's governor and his aides received the Houthi rebels, yet another indication that the Yemeni government is incapable of slowing the Houthi advance. Following an agreement with the governor, the Houthis began consolidating their power by setting up checkpoints in the city on Oct. 15 and were seen in large numbers throughout Ibb. Later in the day, Houthi fighters were seen on the outskirts of the city of Taiz, even further south than Ibb, apparently preparing for a further military expansion.

However, the next day reports emerged of an agreement reached between the Houthis and the Security Council in Yemen temporarily delaying the rebel advance on Taiz city. Despite this agreement holding off the Houthi's southern expansion, the rebels continued to expand their territory in the north. Authorities in Hajjah province bordering Saudi Arabia met with a Houthi delegation and agreed to hand over the entire province to its fighters. Subsequently, Houthis increased their presence throughout the province and even began manning the Harad border crossing with Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis' arrival in Ibb brings the Houthi advance extremely close to Yemen's southern provinces which have long served as AQAP strongholds in the country. In response to the Houthi's seizure of Ibb, AQAP launched an offensive in the al Adayan directorate in southwestern Ibb province during the night of Oct. 15. According to an AQAP statement, the jihadists carried out coordinated attacks on security, military, and governmental centers in the al Adayn region and reports indicated that AQAP fighters managed to seize control of the area temporarily.

On Oct. 16, AQAP released another statement claiming that its fighters had withdrawn from the al Adayn directorate after holding the city for about 9 hours. The statement clarified that the intention of the attack on al Adayn was to "foil the Houthi plan to control it." AQAP claimed that the attack was launched after the terrorist group received confirmed reports that local authorities were planning to hand over the city to the Houthis, as had occurred earlier in the day in the city of Ibb.

During the operation, jihadists stormed the city from four directions and carried out various attacks on targets throughout al Adayn. AQAP claims its fighters attacked the security directorate in the city, killing 3 soldiers and wounding others, including the security director, Abdallah al Halimi, and his son. The AQAP statement also mentions that fighters launched an attack on the al Qasimiya checkpoint and succeeded in seizing various weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, after soldiers fled the scene.

The Houthi military campaign in Yemen and AQAP's response have gained momentum following the rebels' sweep of Sana'a on Sept. 22. A day later, AQAP declared an open war against the Houthis and called on fellow Sunnis to take up arms. These latest developments point to the possibility of increased clashes between AQAP and the Houthis and add to the growing concerns of the possibility of an all out sectarian war between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Yemen.

Islamic State photos highlight group's grip on Ramadi (09:29AM)

Abu Aytha 4.jpg

The Islamic State has released two separate photo collections detailing its presence in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar. More than half of Ramadi is said to be under the control of Islamic State.

The photographs were disseminated on Twitter by Islamic State supporters after being posted elsewhere on the Internet. The jihadist group has taken to releasing its propaganda via its supporters on Twitter as the majority of its official accounts are continuously being suspended by the social media site.

The photos bear the title of Wilayat Anbar, one of the Islamic State's 18 declared provinces.

The first set of photographs shows Islamic State technicals, or armed pickup trucks, moving along a road into Ramadi. The photographs are taken in the 7 Kilo area, a neighborhood on a highway west of Ramadi, near the Ramadi West Train Station. Other photos detail the group moving in convoys to the city, with at least four heavily armed technicals present. Islamic State fighters are also photographed while manning a checkpoint in the 7 Kilo area to keep track of who is entering and leaving the city.

The second set of photographs details the Islamic State giving a "tour" of an Iraqi military base in Albu Aytha, an area just north of the city, that has been abandoned. The Islamic State, in these pictures, refers to the base as having been "liberated". The group had previously routed an Iraqi armored column and taken control of a police station more than two weeks ago.

The photographs show many destroyed and burned out vehicles, such as Humvees, M113 armored personnel carriers, what appears to be an AMZ Dzik (a Polish infantry mobility vehicle used by the Iraqi Army under the designation "Ain Jaria 1"), and several Ford F-350 pickup trucks. The jihadists are seen inspecting what is salvageable and what can be left behind. The last picture shows the Islamic State blowing the base up after leaving.

Ramadi is currently being besieged by the Islamic State. The jihadist group is said to control 60 percent of the city. The southern districts of Al Tam'im, Mua'almim, Thubat, and 5 Kilo, in addition to the 7 Kilo and Albu Aytha areas west and north of the city are either contested or under Islamic State control. Iraqi security forces are said to be concentrated at the Anbar Operations Command Center, which is north of the Euphrates River.

The Iraqi military claimed yesterday that it repelled an assault by the Islamic State. Several days ago, the military announced that it was preparing to launch an operation to clear the jihadist group from Ramadi. However, the military has suffered setback after setback in Anbar over the past two months.

Recent gains by the Islamic State in Anbar province

The Islamic State has had success in consolidating its control of much of Anbar during an offensive over the past two months.

Most recently, on Oct. 2, the Islamic State took control of Hit, which is just west of Ramadi. A member of the Anbar provincial council has been quoted by Reuters saying that, "ninety percent of Hit has been overrun by militants." Witnesses reported that "scores" of heavily armed fighters are patrolling the town and the Islamic State's black flag is flying over several government buildings, including the mayor's office and the police station. Two days after Hit fell, the Islamic State occupied a military base outside of the city that was abandoned by Iraqi troops.

As the group was assaulting Hit, it also launched attacks nearby at the Anbar Operations Command and Al Asad Airbase. Iraqi troops are said to have "repulsed an attack" on the Anbar Operations Command just north of Ramadi, NINA reported. [See LWJ's report, Islamic State seizes Hit, assaults Iraqi military headquarters in Anbar]

On Sept. 30, the Islamic State successfully ambushed an Iraqi military column in the Abu Aytha area north of Ramadi. And a few weeks ago, just north of Fallujah, the jihadists overran Camp Saqlawiya and took control of the nearby town of Alsigir. Fallujah has been under the control of the Islamic State since the beginning of January. [For more details, see LWJ reports, Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar, and Islamic State photos detail rout of Iraqi Army at Camp Saqlawiya.]

Also this week, the Islamic State assassinated the top police commander for Anbar province via a roadside bomb attack in a village that is home to the anti-jihadist Awakening in Ramadi. General Ahmad Sadak al Dulaymi, Anbar's police chief, was patrolling the village of Albu Risha when the Islamic State targeted his convoy with two IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, earlier today. The police general and three bodyguards were killed in the attack.

The Iraqi military in Anbar province is currently in disarray. The Iraqi Army has moved in units from outside of Anbar after the Islamic State rendered most of the 7th Division, which is based in the province, combat ineffective. Some of the replacement units, including armored battalions form the 8th Mechanized Division, have been routed in subsequent fighting. Additionally, the government has deployed Shia militias in the overwhelmingly Sunni province in an attempt to bolster the beleaguered Iraqi military and police units.

The Islamic State has been able to operate freely and effectively in this area despite US and coalition airstrikes against the group in Anbar province. Since Aug. 7, when airstrikes by the US-led coalition in Iraq began, the US has launched 52 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Anbar province, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal and Qualitative Military Edge. These airstrikes have helped the Iraqi military to defend the Haditha Dam, but were ineffective in preventing Hit or areas in and around Ramadi from falling to the Islamic State.

Photos from the the 7 Kilo area of Ramadi:


ramadi 1.jpg





Photos from the base in Albu Aytha:


Abu Aytha.jpg

Abu Aytha 2.jpg

Abu Aytha 3.jpg

Abu Aytha 5.jpg


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official (03:05PM)
Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 8.22.54 AM.png

AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmood posted this image of Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi on his official Twitter feed on Oct. 11. Mahmood confirmed that Imran had been killed in a US air strike.

Usama Mahmood, the spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), announced on Oct. 11 that a veteran jihadist named Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah) had been killed in a US drone strike. On his official Twitter feed, Mahmood explained that Imran had been waging jihad since 1990 and that he was a member of the AQIS shura council at the time of his death.

Imran's career provides insight into the makeup of al Qaeda's newest branch.

Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda officials announced the creation of AQIS in early September, explaining that it was two years in the making. Mahmood said in his own statement at the time that AQIS was formed by gathering together "several jihadi groups that have a long history in jihad and fighting."

While al Qaeda did not specify which groups agreed to join the umbrella organization, its messages provided some clues. Mahmood listed a number of "martyrs" who had paved the way for AQIS' creation. The fallen jihadists served in several al Qaeda-linked groups, and the implication of Mahmood's praise was that these organizations, or at least elements from them, had been folded into AQIS.

Some of the jihadists mentioned by Mahmood worked for Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which has been closely allied with al Qaeda since well before 9/11 and maintains active training camps inside Afghanistan to this day.

Imran's jihadist career began in HUM. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Imran formed an offshoot of the group named Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al-Almi (HUMA), which has been tied to several attacks against Western interests in Pakistan.

Imran, Muhammad Hanif (Imran's deputy), and some of their subordinates were also suspected of plotting to kill Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf on April 26, 2002. According to contemporaneous Pakistani press reports, they planned to detonate a remote-controlled explosive device packed inside a car near Musharraf's motorcade. The device failed to ignite and Musharraf was spared.

Imran and Hanif were arrested in July 2002 and later sentenced to ten years in prison for their terror roles. In addition to the plot to kill Musharraf, they were suspected of orchestrating an attack on French engineers and the US Consulate in Karachi. Some of the charges were later dropped.

After Imran was freed from prison, he was quickly integrated into al Qaeda's ranks, becoming one of AQIS' top officials.

HUMA and al Qaeda

Imran's HUMA has longstanding ties to al Qaeda.

HUMA's parent organization, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), is led by Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil. Osama bin Laden counted Khalil among his most trusted allies. Khalil was one of the several jihadist leaders who signed bin Laden's infamous 1998 fatwa declaring war against the US. In late September, the US Treasury Department added Khalil to the government's list of specially designated global terrorists. Treasury specifically referenced Khalil's personal relationship with bin Laden and support for al Qaeda's operations. [See LWJ report, US adds Harakat-ul Mujahideen's emir to terrorism list.]

Published accounts differ as to whether Imran's HUMA was really a new entity, or simply a front for HUM in the post-9/11 world. Regardless, HUMA's leaders had their own ties to al Qaeda.

In 2004, Pakistani officials arrested a HUMA member named Kamran Atif after a shootout between the jihadists and the police. Atif was identified as one of the principal conspirators responsible for the attempted assassination of President Musharraf in April 2002.

A memo prepared by Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) in May 2004, less than two weeks after Atif's arrest, contains intelligence collected from Atif by Pakistani authorities. The JTF-GTMO memo was authored as a threat assessment for Mohammad Ilyas, a Pakistani then held in Cuba who was suspected of being "one of the recruiters and leaders at the Mansehra Jihad Training Camp located at Mansehra, Pakistan." The "training camp is controlled by the Harakat-ul-Mujahidin al-Alami (HUMA) organization," JTF-GTMO found.

Seeking to place Ilyas' jihadist role into context, JTF-GTMO's analysts noted:

Kamran Atif, a terrorist who was recently arrested by the Pakistani Crime Investigation Department (CID) Police revealed that HUMA has links with Al-Qaeda and that HUMA and AQ are "in complete contact with each other."

JTF-GTMO went on to describe HUMA as a "Tier 1 terrorist target" for the US government. Organizations placed in this category are "terrorist groups, especially those with state support, that have demonstrated the intention and the capability to attack US persons or interests."

Under Imran's leadership, HUMA had proven its intent and capability to strike US interests on June 14, 2002, nearly two years before the JTF-GTMO memo was written. On that day, a car bomb killed twelve and wounded dozens more at the US Consulate in Karachi. There are conflicting accounts as to whether or not a suicide bomber was responsible. But Pakistani investigators told the press that the car blown up outside of the American diplomatic facility was the same one Atif and his HUMA co-conspirators had used in their failed attempt to kill Musharraf.

American and Pakistani officials were initially confused as to the identity of terrorist organization responsible for the US Consulate bombing. A previous unknown group calling itself al Qanoon (or "the law") claimed responsibility the attack in a handwritten message faxed to leading news organizations. "America and its allies and its slave Pakistani rulers should prepare for more attacks," the statement read, according to press accounts at the time. "This bomb attack is just a beginning of al Qanoon's jihad operation in Pakistan."

Officials suspected that the name "al Qanoon" was simply a cover employed by al Qaeda and its allies. For example, on June 15, 2002, the morning after the attack, CNN ran a segment titled, "Is Al Qanoon Connected to al Qaeda?" The "highlight" published in the transcript of the segment reads: "In Washington, the State Department suspects Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network had a hand in yesterday's bombing attack in Pakistan, for which a previously unknown group named Al Qanoon claimed responsibility." The State Department's suspicion did not fade away. In its annual report on terrorism for 2002, State noted that al Qaeda or al Qanoon "is possibly responsible."

Foggy Bottom suspected that al Qaeda was behind another attack that involved HUMA operatives just weeks earlier.

On May 8, 2002, a car bomb struck a bus carrying French naval engineers in front of the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi. Ten French workers and 2 Pakistanis were killed, while another 19 (11 French nationals and 8 Pakistanis) were wounded. In its year-end report on terrorism for 2002, the State Department found that al Qaeda "is probably responsible." According to some accounts, the Sheraton attack was the first suicide attack utilizing a vehicle in post-9/11 Pakistan.

French investigators later posited that the May 2002 attack was actually orchestrated by Pakistani intelligence officials. The theory is based on the idea that French officials had been paying bribes and kickbacks to their Pakistani counterparts as part of a submarine deal. When the French discontinued the payments, the theory goes, Pakistani officials decided to exact retribution in the form of a car bombing.

A simpler explanation seems more likely. We cannot rule out the possibility that some current or former Pakistani officials assisted HUMA in its attacks. However, such support is consistent with deep seeded opposition to the American-led "war on terror," which was new at the time. Significant parts of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment continued to sponsor the jihadists even after Musharraf decided to provide some support to the US-led war effort. And corruption has not been identified as a proximate cause of HUMA's attack on the US Consulate, which occurred just weeks after the French workers were killed.

Others see the attacks on Western interests as part of al Qaeda's post-9/11 scheming. In Pakistan: Terrorism Ground Zero, Rohan Gunaratna and Khuram Iqbal write that "HUMA is part of Al Qaeda's larger strategy to establish like-minded groups in Pakistan in order to force the Pakistani government to withdraw its support for the war on terror."

The authors point to strong connections between al Qaeda and HUMA. HUMA's "top leadership" was reportedly "trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan," they write. HUMA's financier was also connected to al Qaeda at the highest levels. The HUMA paymaster, a jihadist named Saud Memon, was identified as al Qaeda's top financier in Pakistan prior to his death in 2007. Memon is most notorious for his role in the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has confessed to killing Pearl in Memon's home.

Al Qaeda's hidden hand

Al Qaeda often hides its influence over other jihadist organizations. For instance, al Qaeda masked the extent of its relationships with groups such as Shabaab in Somalia and the Al Nusrah Front in Syria, both of which eventually announced their allegiance to al Qaeda's senior leadership. Indeed, at first, al Qaeda instructed both groups not to advertise their connections.

Imran's HUMA, while not as big as either Shabaab or Al Nusrah, appears to have been similarly situated. HUMA's attacks against Western interests prefigured the launch of AQIS in important ways.

Early press reports portrayed the new al Qaeda branch as being focused primarily on India. But Mahmood, the AQIS spokesman, has bristled at these reports in his tweets, saying that while al Qaeda does seek to "liberate" India's Muslims it is also intent on fighting the Pakistan military. Mahmood portrayed the Pakistani armed forces as being "puppets" of America.

It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that Imran agreed to officially join al Qaeda's new venture. AQIS' goals are the same as those pursued by Imran and his men more than a decade ago. AQIS' first two claimed attacks were intended to undermine Pakistani assistance for the US in the fight against al Qaeda and like-minded jihadist groups.

And there is another operational similarity between Imran's HUMA and AQIS. Both have relied on current or former Pakistani servicemen to carry out their plots. HUMA's plan to kill President Musharraf in April 2002 allegedly involved a jihadist who had served in Pakistan's Rangers, an elite paramilitary force. AQIS has claimed that its attempt to hijack two Pakistani ships in September involved insiders who served in the Pakistani Navy.

While Imran has now perished in a drone strike, some of his top subordinates in HUMA reportedly carry on. It is likely that at least some of them are now part of AQIS as well.

Houthi rebels seize Hodeidah and Dhamar (01:05PM)

On Oct. 14, the Shiite Houthi rebels who have posed a challenge to Yemen's central government made sweeping military gains in the country, seizing the significant port city of Hodeidah on the Red Sea coast as well as the central city of Dhamar. These gains come less than a month after the Houthi's swift seizure of Sana'a on Sept. 22 following days of massive protests in the capital.

Arabic media sources claimed that the Houthi rebels took over the coastal city of Hodeidah without any resistance from the Yemeni authorities. Hodeidah, located abot 220 kilometers west of Sana'a, is the fourth largest city in the country as well as a strategically significant port city on the Red Sea. The city is also home to the country's largest oil refinery. Some Arabic sources speculated that the takeover of Hodeidah strengthens suspicions that the rebels are in need of a port city presumably to ensure access to more weapons and supplies.

The takeover reportedly began the previous day, on Oct. 13, when Houthi fighters wearing military uniforms began spreading out into the city and its surrounding areas. By Oct. 14, Houthi fighters could be seen consolidating their power along all of the main roads in the city. The rebels also managed to seize control of the city's airport and main military base and were seen concentrating their forces in these vital locations. Some reports also suggested that the Houthis besieged an ammunition storage facility close to the city and captured it prior to launching their advance.

Eye witnesses in Hodeidah claimed that the Houthi fighters set up checkpoints at the main entrance to the city as well as on its main streets. Reports also emerged that the rebels have raided the residence of Brigader Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, a prominent Yemeni military figure who has been outspoken about his opposition to the Houthis.

In conjunction with their takeover of the Hodeidah, Houthi rebels also reportedly increased their presence in the city of Dhamar in central Yemen, manning at least 6 military checkpoints, including at the entrances to the city and in front of government buildings. As was the case in Hodeidah, no resistance from the Yemeni authorities was reported.

With the increased Houthi control over Hodeidah and Dhamar on Oct. 14, the rebels control large swaths of the Yemeni north. They have successfully extended their control south from their strongholds in Sa'ada and Amran to Sana'a in late September, and their increased checkpoints in Dhamar brings them even further south. The Houthi advance west to Hodeidah effectively cordoned off a lion's share of northwest Yemen.

The Houthis, who have been at war with the Yemeni government since 2004, have been strongly opposed to one of the central tenets of Yemen's National Dialogue Conference that concluded in January 2014. Namely, the Houthis reject a federal system in Yemen which would divide the country into six regions and would also link Sa'ada province, the Houthis' home base and stronghold, with Sana'a. By increasing their influence in large sections of northwestern Yemen, the Houthis are attempting to redraw the regional borders to their liking and creating facts on the ground to bolster their argument for the Yemeni north to be designated its own region.

While the Houthis have been on the advance, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been capitalizing on the security vacuum and increasing its operations in the country. Only a day after the Houthis staged a lightning-fast sweep of Sana'a on Sept. 22, AQAP released a scathing sectarian diatribe, declaring an open war against the Houthis and calling on fellow Sunnis to take up arms. Since then, AQAP has escalated its terrorist activity throughout Yemen. The group has carried out attacks in nearly half of Yemen's 21 provinces, targeting both the Houthis and the Yemeni military, which AQAP accuses of collusion with the rebels. AQAP is even using the term "the Houthi-turned-army" (al-jaysh al-mutahaweth) in its propaganda, in a bid to galvanize popular support against the Yemeni military.

US drone strike kills AQAP commander in Shabwa (01:04PM)

Local officials in Yemen's southern Shabwa province reported that an American drone strike killed four al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters today including a local emir. Today's strike is the first reported in Yemen in nearly three weeks.

The strike, which was launched by remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, targeted a vehicle traveling in the town of Bani Assaf in the Gol al Rayda district of Mayfa'a in Shabwa province, according to reports. Locals claimed that all the passengers in the vehicle were killed and that among the dead was an AQAP commander named Mahdi Badas, who also went by the nom-de-guerre Abu Hussein.

As commonly occurs following reports of a US drone strike in Yemen, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense claimed that the strike was carried out by the Yemeni air force. The ministry confirmed that AQAP commander Mahdi Badas was killed in the strike and described him as the "AQAP emir in Shabwa province." The Yemeni military does not possess the capability to accurately target moving vehicles.

Shabwa has long served as a stronghold for AQAP fighters, and they are thought to be still active in the area despite a Yemeni offensive to root out the group from the southern provinces in late April. For instance, as recently as Oct. 14, AQAP carried out two attacks in Shabwa targeting both the local, pro-government Popular Committees and the Yemeni military, killing a Yemeni Army brigade commander.

Today's strike is the first reported by the US in Yemen since Sept. 26. Two AQAP operatives were reported killed in the strike in the northern province of Al Jawf.

The previous strike, on Sept. 25 in Shabwa, reportedly killed Adel Hardaba, an AQAP commander, and Muhader Ahmad Muhader, a leader in Ansar al Sharia, AQAP's political front.

The US has launched 20 strikes in Yemen so far this year. The US ramped up its air campaign in Yemen in 2009, and has launched 103 air and cruise missile strikes in the country since the program was expanded. Prior to 2009, the US launched one airstrike, in 2002, against al Qaeda in Yemen.

The US continues to target AQAP, which is considered to be one of al Qaeda's most dangerous branches, despite the virtual collapse of the Yemeni government. Shia Houthi rebels, who are not friendly to the US, have taken control of Sana'a, the nation's capital, and the cities of Hodeidah and Dhamar over the past several weeks. The US has relied on the central government and Yemeni military and intelligence service to provide political support and targeting information to strike at AQAP's network.

Al Qaeda external operations leader reported killed (09:49AM)

Al Qaeda leader Ahmed Abdulrahman Sihab Ahmed Sihab, who is also known as Abdulrahman al Sharqi, from a tweet by a jihadist from the Islamic State.

Jihadists linked to the Islamic State reported that a wanted Bahraini citizen who served as a leader in al Qaeda's external operations branch has been killed. The al Qaeda leader is on the US list of specially designated global terrorists for training "members of al Qaeda in terrorist tactics, techniques, and procedures."

Two known supporters of the Islamic State tweeted on Oct. 13 that Ahmed Abdulrahman Sihab Ahmed Sihab, who is also known as Abdulrahman al Sharqi, was killed. The tweets were obtained and translated by The Long War Journal. The date and location of Sihab's death were not disclosed by the two jihadists.

"May Allah accept him [Sihab] and have mercy upon him and let him reside in the vast gardens," one of the jihadists tweeted.

Sihab's death has not been officially confirmed. Al Qaeda has not released a statement announcing his death, nor have leaders who are on social media stated that he has been killed.

One of the Islamic State jihadists claimed that a "spy" who "placed the chip" that allowed Sihab to be found, presumably by the CIA, "was arrested" and "executed." If true, this would indicate that Sihab was killed in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. The same jihadist claimed that Sihab survived a previous drone strike along with Abdullah al Adam, al Qaeda's former intelligence chief who was later killed in a drone strike in April 2013.

Before his death, Sihab was "appointed in charge of the foreign work [operations] for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which made America search for him and vigorously!" the same jihadist tweeted.

A member of al Qaeda's external operations council

The term foreign operations is used to describe what is also known as al Qaeda's external operations branch, which directs attacks against the US and its allies.

Sihab was known to plan terrorist attacks and train al Qaeda members for external operations. The US State Department, in its July 17, 2012 designation of Shihab, said he "has been publicly charged [in Bahrain] with planning terrorist attacks as a member of al Qaeda."

"Sihab has trained members of al Qaeda in terrorist tactics, techniques, and procedures," the designation continued.

At the time of his designation as a global terrorist by the US, American intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that Sihab is "an extremely dangerous individual, one we would like to get our hands on." [See LWJ report, US adds Bahraini citizen to terror list for serving as al Qaeda trainer.]

It is unclear if Sihab was a the overall leader of al Qaeda's external operations council, which in itself is part of al Qaeda's military council, or one of several council members.

In February, The New York Times reported that Abdullah al Shami, the nom de guerre for an American citizen, was "one of al Qaeda's top planners for operations outside Pakistan, including plots against American troops in Afghanistan." In March, CNN reported that al Shami "may now be heading that group's efforts to plan external attacks."

Another American, Adnan Shukrijumah, is also known to be a member of al Qaeda's external operations council and is said to be the group's operations chief in North America. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda sleeper agent tied to 2009 NYC subway plot.]

Sihab's death reported by Islamic State fighters

The reports of Sihab's death by Islamic State fighters, who claimed he was "a lover of the Islamic State and its soldiers," is interesting, and may be explained by the fact that at least one of the jihadists is known to be a Bahraini citizen. There is no indication that Sihab joined the Islamic State.

The Bahraini jihadist who tweeted about his death said that Sihab "was a preacher of the monotheistic [tawhid] method in #Bahrain and he graduated students who became soldiers of the Islamic state."

The final rift between al Qaeda and the Islamic State did not occur until March of this year, when al Qaeda's General Command disowned the group. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the Islamic State's emir, refused to follow Ayman al Zawahiri's order to quit the jihad in Syria for Iraq and reconcile with the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's official branch in the Levant. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda's general command disowns the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.]

Sihab likely taught jihadists who were part of al Qaeda's network in Iraq and Syria, and at least some of his trainees then sided with the Islamic State after its fallout with al Qaeda.