AQAP launches suicide assault on Yemeni defense ministry complex
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula killed more than 50 people in a suicide assault that targeted Yemen's Ministry of Defense complex in the capital of Sana'a. The attack is the latest in a series of suicide assaults in Yemen that have targeted security forces.
Today's attack began when a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives at the outer wall of the complex near a hospital, according to Reuters. Then, a second car filled with heavily armed AQAP fighters dressed in military uniforms entered the breach in the wall and opened fire.
The AQAP fighters then "broke into three departments of the ministry, and exchanged gunfire with the soldiers," Xinhua reported. AQAP fighters gunned down "two German and two Vietnamese doctors, and one Indian and two Filipino nurses" during the assault, Reuters reported. At least one doctor and a nurse were executed in front of the staff.
Yemeni soldiers and AQAP fighters battled for several hours before the AQAP fighters were killed. The exact number of AQAP fighters involved in the attack has not been disclosed but it is estimated to have been carried out by about a dozen AQAP operatives.
At least 52 people, including soldiers, medical staff, and AQAP fighters, were killed during the fighting, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement, according to Al Jazeera.
Today's suicide assault took place just two weeks after President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi claimed that AQAP's activities have been "reduced" in Yemen. Hadi said members of the terror group "began to flee to other areas suffering upheaval such as Syria, Egypt, Libya and North Africa" after a military offensive was launched in 2012 to uproot AQAP from southern provinces that it controlled.
But AQAP has remained active in Yemen. In early August, the US closed down its embassy in Sana'a and more than two dozen other diplomatic facilities across the world after receiving intelligence warning of a major attack. The threat was traced back to a plot discussed by Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, and Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP's emir who also serves as al Qaeda's general manager. The embassy in Sana'a remains closed to this day.
AQAP has continued to launch suicide assaults, bombings, and assassinations throughout Yemen. Some of the more high-profile suicide assaults include: the Sept. 20 suicide assaults against three military bases in Shabwa province; a raid on military headquarters in Mukallah in Hadramout on Sept. 30 (the base was held by the AQAP fighters for days before the military retook control); and the Oct. 18 suicide assault on a military training center in Abyan.
The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using multiple suicide bombers and an assault team, is a common tactic used by al Qaeda and its allies, including the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Suicide assault are commonly executed in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
4 battalions from Qatar-backed Islamist brigade defect to wage 'armed jihadist struggle'
Saddam al Jamal, a senior leader of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade who has defected to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Image from the SITE Intelligence group.
Four battalions from the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade, a large rebel group in Syria that is funded by the Qatari government, defected and vowed to continue to fight the "armed jihadist struggle." Meanwhile a senior leader of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade recently defected and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, one of two official al Qaeda branches operating in Syria.
The four rebel battalions "issued a statement declaring their dissent from the Ahfad al Rasoul brigade in northern Syria and their complete political and military independence," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Dec. 3. The battalions were identified as the "al-Ansar, al-Naser al-Qadem, al-Naser ,and al-Muntaser Billah."
The battalions cited "the unfamiliarity of the brigade's leaders" as the reason for breaking ranks with the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade. They also "assured that they will proceed with their 'armed Jihadist struggle' and cooperate with all forces on the ground to uphold god's oneness and fight the criminal regime."
The defections of the four battalions took place after Saddam al Jamal, a senior leader, left the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Jamal formerly led Ahfad al Rasoul's Allah Akbar Battalion, and served as the Free Syrian Army's Eastern Front representative to the Supreme Military Council. The SMC is led by Salim Idriss and is backed by the United States.
Al Jamal recently released a videotape that "speaks about the relationship between his brigade and Western and Arab intelligence services," according to the SITE Intelligence Group. "In the video, al Jamal 'confesses' that Arab and Western intelligence were heavily involved in funding and directing brigades affiliated with the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Military Council." Al Jamal claimed that Saudi Arabia, and not Qatar, is now the primary backer of the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade.
Despite the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade's cooperation with the SMC and the FSA, the group has fought alongside al Qaeda against its enemies in the past. In July, the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade banded together with al Qaeda's other branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, as well as the Islamic Kurdish Front and the Ahrar al Sham, a known Syrian Islamist group that is sympathetic to al Qaeda and has fought alongside them in the past, to fight Kurdish rebels in northern Syria.
The Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Military Council have become significantly weaker, as units are breaking away and joining Islamist coalitions that share the same goals with and fight alongside al Qaeda. In mid-November, seven large Islamist brigades (Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham, and the Kurdish Islamic Front) with an estimated 45,000 fighters broke from the Free Syrian Army and formed the Islamic Front. The group declared that its primary aim is to "topple the Assad regime ... and build an Islamic state," with sharia, or Islamic law, as the basis of governance.
Analysis: Resilient Boko Haram an increasing threat
Maiduguri Airport in flames. Image from BizWatchNigeria.
Boko Haram's latest attack in Maiduguri has been described as its most audacious yet. In the early hours of Monday morning hundreds of Boko Haram militants stormed the city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, in an assault that left scores of people dead. The estimated number of fighters ranged from 300 to 500, and according to one Nigerian intelligence officer, they entered Maiduguri "from the bush, chanting 'Allahu Akbar.'" Once they arrived in the city, the fighters attacked the Maiduguri Airport, a Nigerian Air Force Base, and various locations around the base. The use of both explosives and RPGs has been confirmed.
The attack has caused a political storm in Nigeria. A new political coalition, now one of Nigeria's largest opposition parties, has called for a probe into intelligence failures before the attack, and questioned how several hundred militants could strike a military facility in a large city without prior warning. President Goodluck Jonathan is said to be furious over the incident, and there are allegations in the Nigerian press that "heads may roll" if assertions of sabotage and negligence of duty are proved true. With new accusations that the military's offensive against Boko Haram has been a failure, things are likely to get worse even while discussions take place as to how to make things better.
The government had recently extended emergency rule in Borno as well as in the nearby states of Adamawa and Yobe, in an effort to crush the Boko Haram insurgency. Despite the fact that there are over 8,000 troops now deployed in these states, they have obviously not been successful and the International Criminal Court has officially designated Nigeria as embroiled in a civil war. The situation was so bad last month that President Jonathan was asked to cancel the visit of Bill Gates for fear it may trigger Boko Haram attacks on polio workers.
The ability of Boko Haram fighters to escape into other countries has also greatly frustrated Nigeria. A Borno state official recently accused Cameroonian authorities of habitually refusing to arrest or chase Boko Haram militants fleeing across the border after carrying out attacks in Nigeria. Although a regional strategy would be ideal for Nigeria, Cameroon has shown little interest in the problem, while Niger and Chad do not have adequate resources to help. A member of Boko Haram captured by the military in Maiduguri claimed that the group has members from each of these countries actively taking part in the insurgency. Furthermore, United Nations officials have stated that they think Boko Haram is now active on the ground in Central African Republic.
But of more immediate concern for Nigerian officials is that Christmas is fast approaching - a period during which, since 2010, Boko Haram has been particularly active. On Christmas Eve of that year, Boko Haram targeted Christians in a campaign of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that left 80 dead. On Christmas Day 2011, at least 37 people were killed during morning Mass at the Saint Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla near Abuja, and at least three died in four other bomb attacks that day. Last year, Boko Haram declared its intention to "eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country," and is believed to be behind two separate Christmas Eve attacks; one that killed at least six Christians and burned down a church Yobe, and another that killed six in Maiduguri.
If the recent attack in Maiduguri is any indication, Boko Haram has shifted its tactics and grown more sophisticated. The group is now prepared to directly attack military installations, and in large numbers. This is particularly striking since the attack took place just one week after the Nigerian military claimed it had cleared the terror group from bases in the Sambisa forest and that more than 100 Boko Haram fighters had been killed during the assault.
Additionally, there are now reports of both suspected insider collaboration and that the attack took place as Nigerian Special Forces were planning one of their biggest offensives against the group. According to one source, Boko Haram successfully planted IEDs before the attack, and the authorities strongly believe "that this incident was made possible by insiders' collaboration in terms of giving them information." This means that Boko Haram may well have a better intelligence network than the Nigerian military.
With Boko Haram escalating its activities, this year's Christmas season could be one of the most telling periods for a Nigerian government desperate to prove that it is capable of putting down the insurrection.
'It is possible' Ansar Jerusalem is tied to al Qaeda, brother of group's leader says
In a recent visit to North Sinai, CBS News' Clarissa Ward, like other journalists who have visited the area in recent months, interviewed Haitham el Menai, the brother of purported Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) leader Shadi el Menai.
During the interview, Haitham praised his brother, also known as Prince Shadi, as he said, "If my brother is a terrorist, I thank him. They burn our houses, who else will defend us?" When asked whether he viewed his brother as a hero, Haitham told Ward: "Not just my brother. We treasure anyone who defends our children."
And, when asked whether Ansar Jerusalem has "any relationship with al Qaeda," Haitham did not deny a connection, but rather stated that "only God knows. It is possible."
Shadi el Menai
Numerous recent reports have indicated that Shadi el Menai plays an important role in Ansar Jerusalem. His exact role is unclear, however. For example, McClatchy described him as "a founding member" of the Salafi jihadist group, while Slate referred to him only as "a member" of the group. And, according to CBS News, Prince Shadi is "the leader" of Ansar Jerusalem.
According to his brother Haitham, Shadi was the fifth member of the Ansar Jerusalem cell that was targeted on Aug. 9. In that attack, four members of the group, including two of Shadi and Haitham's relatives, were killed. At the time, Ansar Jerusalem did not name the fifth member, but described him as the cell's "commander."
More recently, on Nov. 22, rumors swirled in the Egyptian media that authorities had arrested Shadi, who has been linked to a number of attacks in North Sinai as well as the May 2013 kidnapping of seven Egyptian security personnel. Security officials quickly squashed the reports, however.
The current location of Shadi, pictures of whom circulated with the recent rumors of his arrest, is unknown. However, indications from those who have visited North Sinai in recent months are that he is still in the area. Shadi was last seen in September after Egyptian forces targeted his home.
Ansar Jerusalem's links to al Qaeda
Although a pledge of allegiance (bayat) to al Qaeda or its emir Ayman al Zawahiri has not been revealed, Ansar Jerusalem's material is released through official al Qaeda-linked channels. On Oct. 21, Ansar Jerusalem announced that it was not operating any social media accounts and that any purporting to be the group's account was unofficial.
"[T]he only source of our statements and productions are the jihadi forums from al-Fajr Media Center (Shumukh al-Islam Networking and al-Fida' Islamic Network)," the group said. The group's videos often feature clips from al Qaeda figures such as Ayman al Zawahiri and Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
The al Fajr Media Center is a key distributor of al Qaeda's propaganda online. "Al-Fajr maintains communication with representatives of all the affiliates, and therefore, it can facilitate the rapid transfer of information between these groups and pass on information it has gathered," the SITE Intelligence Group noted in an August report.
Ansar Jerusalem fighters were lauded in August 2013 by an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) official as "our mujahideen brothers." Prior to this, in February 2012, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri lauded "the heroes who blew up the gas pipeline to Israel." While Zawahiri did not direct his praise toward any specific group, Ansar Jerusalem has claimed responsibility for attacks on the Arish-Ashkelon gas pipeline on numerous occasions in recent years.
More recently, reports in the Egyptian media suggested that Ansar Jerusalem may have links to Muhammad Jamal and the Muhammad Jamal Network [MJN], which were added to the US government's list of designated terrorists and the UN's sanctions list in October 2013.
Jamal, a former commander in Egyptian Islamic Jihad, "has developed connections" with al Qaeda affiliates, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), according to the State Department. Jamal also has ties to Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP's emir and the newly appointed general manager of al Qaeda, and Qasim al Raymi, AQAP's senior military commander.
When Jamal was arrested by Egyptian authorities in November 2012, Cairo uncovered communications between him and al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. In one letter, Jamal told Zawahiri that he believed "in the necessity of establishing a jihadist entity in Egypt" and that he had taken steps to establish "groups for us inside Sinai." According to Jamal, who had petitioned Zawahiri for consent to start al Qaeda in Egypt, the Sinai is "the next frontier of conflict with the Zionists and Americans."
Jamal, whose fighters have been linked to the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack, is also said to have established "several terrorist training camps in Egypt and Libya" with funding from AQAP.
In late November, in response to a Long War Journal query on whether the State Department believes there is a connection between the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN) and Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, a State Department spokesman said: "We have no comment on the inter-relationships between MJN and the other Sinai groups."
Ansar Jerusalem: 'The war has yet to start'
In a video released to jihadist forums on Dec. 1, Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) showed some of its recent attacks in North Sinai against Egyptian security personnel along with footage of some of its fighters training. As in previous videos from the Sinai-based jihadist group, clips from al Qaeda figures are featured.
The new video, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, contains clips from former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and from Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) spokesman Abu Muhammad al 'Adnani al Shami. In late August, the ISIS spokesman called on Egyptians to take up arms and fight the Egyptian army.
In the portion that focuses on the group's training, fighters are seen firing guns and practicing encircling targets such as enemy vehicles. At one point, the Ansar Jerusalem fighters are shown with al Qaeda's flag planted in the ground beside them as they fire their weapons. This flag was first used by al Qaeda in Iraq but has been adopted by al Qaeda affiliates and associated groups.
Included among the attacks featured in the new video is the Nov. 20 car bombing in North Sinai that killed 11 Egyptian security personnel. Multiple angles of the attack are shown, and Ansar Jerusalem fighters can be heard chanting "Allahu Akbar" following the explosion.
Other featured incidents include machine gun attacks on buses transporting Egyptian soldiers and an RPG attack on an armored vehicle. In one instance, an Ansar Jerusalem fighter is seen firing on a helicopter patrolling the area. In another, a fighter is seen writing on a vehicle: "Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, the War Has Yet to Start."
Since the ouster of Mohammed Morsi on July 3, there have been at least 256 reported attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, most of which were carried out against Egyptian security forces and assets, according to data maintained by The Long War Journal.
On Sept. 10, Ansar Jerusalem declared that "it is obligatory to repulse them [the Egyptian army] and fight them until the command of Allah is fulfilled." In the same statement, the group took credit for a number of attacks on Egyptian security personnel in the Sinai Peninsula. Similarly, on Sept. 15, the Salafi jihadist group declared: "We in Ansar Jerusalem and all the mujahideen in Sinai in Egypt as a whole stress that the blood of innocent Muslims will not go in vain." And on Sept. 28, Ansar Jerusalem released a video that included footage from some of its recent attacks on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
Ansar Jerusalem has also conducted a few attacks outside of its normal base of operations in North Sinai in recent months. On Sept. 5, the jihadist group carried out an assassination attempt in Nasr City on Egypt's interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim. A month later, an Ansar Jerusalem suicide bomber unleashed a blast at the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, which killed three security personnel and injured more than 45. On Oct. 19, the Sinai-based jihadist group targeted a military intelligence building in the city of Ismailia. And on Nov. 19, the group claimed responsibility for the shooting attack on Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Mabrouk, a senior national security officer, in Cairo.
Boko Haram overruns Nigerian Air Force base
Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, launched a major attack on a Nigerian Air Force base in the insurgency-wracked city of Maiduguri. A number of security personnel were killed and several aircraft were destroyed during the nighttime attack that is said to have been executed by hundreds of Boko Haram fighters.
Hundreds of fighters assaulted the base on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, using trucks and even a stolen armored personnel carrier, beginning at 2:30 a.m. local time, according to The Associated Press. Boko Haram fighters yelled "Allahu akbar" as they attacked.
According to Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, the Ministry of Defense spokesman, at least 20 security personnel and 24 insurgents were killed, while two helicopters and three decommissioned military aircraft were "incapacitated." Boko Haram's use of explosives and RPGs has been confirmed.
A Nigerian Federal Aviation Authority official who did not want to be named said that an attempt to burn down the Maiduguri Airport failed. Boko Haram fighters torched the main headquarters building and a police checkpoint at the main gate. Heavy damage to civilian areas outside of the base was also reported.
As a result of the attack, President Goodluck Jonathan has called for an emergency security meeting in Abuja. A 24-hour curfew has been imposed on the city, including a total ban on movement in or out.
The attack in Maiduguri is reminiscent of others by al Qaeda's allies on air forces bases in other theaters of the war. Two of the more prominent attacks over the past several years include the Afghan Taliban's assault on Camp Bastion in Helmand in September 2012 (two US Marines were killed, and six Harriers were destroyed and two more were damaged); and the Pakistani Taliban's attack on Pakistani Naval Station Mehran in Karachi (10 Pakistani troops were killed, and two US-made P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes were destroyed and another was damaged).
Boko Haram's assault on the base in Maiduguri took place less than three weeks after the US government added the terror group and Ansuru, a splinter faction, to its list of terrorist organizations. Two days after the designation, the emir of Ansuru called the head of al Qaeda his "emir."
Today's attack also takes place just one week after the Nigerian military claimed it cleared the terror group from bases in the Sambisa forest. The military said that more than 100 Boko Haram fighters were killed during the assault.
Boko Haram has conducted numerous terror attacks in Nigeria since the group began waging a low-level insurgency against the Nigerian government four years ago. Major clashes between the two broke out in northern Nigeria during the summer of 2009. Police killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters, and Mohammad Yusuf, the leader, was captured and then executed. Abubakar Shekau, the group's current emir, continued to attack the state and demand that sharia, or Islamic law, be imposed in the country.
The Nigerian terror group has carried out numerous suicide attacks since its founding. The targets have included churches, newspapers, government officials, and security forces. The most high-profile suicide attack targeted the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in August 2011.
Boko Haram is part of the global jihad
Boko Haram has also expanded its propaganda efforts to show solidarity with al Qaeda and its affiliates. In July 2010, Shekau issued an online statement praising al Qaeda and offering condolences to al Qaeda of Iraq for its loss of Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi. He also threatened the United States.
"Do not think jihad is over," Shekau said. "Rather jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury."
In December 2012, Shekau praised al Qaeda and said he and his fighters support the global jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria, Libya, and Mali.
Documents seized at Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011 showed that top-level Boko Haram leaders have been in touch with al Qaeda, according to The Guardian. Boko Haram is known to receive support from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and from Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate in East Africa.
In August 2013, it was reported that Boko Haram was among a number of jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that participated in a series of communications with the top leadership of al Qaeda, which included Ayman al Zawahiri and Nasir al Wuhayshi, al Qaeda's general manager.
Analysis: Al Qaeda seeks to spin capture of top operative
Adam Gadahn, al Qaeda's American-born spokesman (left) and Abu Anas al Libi (right). Image from the SITE Intelligence group.
Al Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn has released a new video denouncing the capture of a top operative known as Abu Anas al Libi. In the video, titled "The Crime of Kidnapping Abu Anas al Libi and its Repercussions," Gadahn seeks to portray Abu Anas as an innocent who was wrongly detained by US forces in Tripoli on Oct. 5.
Gadahn implies that Abu Anas' capture was a "Wag the Dog" style operation intended to distract the American people from their country's many problems. Yet, he calls on Muslims to strike back as revenge for the "sheikh."
"I say to the people of Libya in particular and the sons of the Ummah in general: Do not leave this criminal coward act to pass without punishment," Gadahn says in the video, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. "Teach the Crusaders a lesson they will not forget. Teach them that the lands of Islam are a red line and that there is no place in them for their soldiers, forces and bases."
Gadahn continues: "Rise and have vengeance against America, the enemy of Islam and the Muslims, and restore to us the glory of Nairobi, Dar es Salam, Aden, New York, Washington, Fort Hood, Benghazi and Boston."
Gadahn's mention of Nairobi and Dar es Salam is curious, given his insistence that Abu Anas was not involved in al Qaeda's twin 1998 bombings in those cities.
The seizure of Abu Anas has been controversial inside Libya, so Gadahn wants to inflame public opinion even further.
"What is required from the good brothers in Libya is not merely symbolic measures, but practical procedures that preserve the sovereignty of the Muslim lands and restores the right to their people and guarantees that such a crime is not repeated in the future," Gadahn says, according to SITE's translation. Al Qaeda's spokesman also dismisses completely suggestions by members of the Libyan government that Abu Anas be tried in his home country.
Role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings established in US court record
Some Western press accounts, based on the testimony of Abu Anas' family, have sowed doubt concerning Abu Anas' role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The embassy bombings were al Qaeda's most successful operations prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Gadahn tries to lend additional credence to these reports, citing "the testimony of [Abu Anas'] child," who claims that Abu Anas was willing to stand trial for his alleged crimes inside Libya before he was captured.
Gadahn also cites a former jihadist who argues that Abu Anas was implicated in the bombings solely only on the basis of testimony given by "some of the tortured prisoners ... in the prisons of the disbelievers and apostates." Seeking to play off of the detention controversies in the West, Gadahn says this "piece of information alone is enough to drop all the accusations leveled at Abu Anas" and to acquit "him in any fair trial." But the "Crusader West gives up the principle of fair trials and all the rules of justice and fairness when the matter is related to Muslims and their rights," Gadahn alleges.
Gadahn's description of the evidence against Abu Anas is simply false. Key witnesses in the embassy bombings trial, which took place New York in 2001, testified during court sessions to Abu Anas' role in al Qaeda and the August 1998 attacks. Their testimony was not derived from "torture" or any coercive interrogation methods.
One key government witness during the embassy bombings trial was Jamal al Fadl, a former al Qaeda operative who provided a wealth of intelligence on the secretive organization. Al Fadl was asked about Abu Anas' role within al Qaeda. "He run[s] our computers," al Fadl said. "He's a computer engineer."
Another one of the government's key witnesses during the trial was L'Houssaine Kherchtou. During his testimony, Kherchtou tied Abu Anas directly to the bomb plot.
Kherchtou told prosecutors that Abu Anas was in his al Qaeda surveillance class in Pakistan. Ali Mohamed (a.k.a. Abu Mohamed al Amriki) taught the class, according to Kherchtou. He earned the name "al Amriki," or the American, because of his time as an al Qaeda spy inside the US Army.
Mohamed agreed to a plea deal with the government in October 2000. During the court proceedings, Mohamed admitted that he had conducted surveillance on the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, among other Western and Israeli targets. Mohamed said that he had performed this surveillance at the behest of Osama bin Laden.
It was Abu Anas who taught the class how to enter the results of their surveillance into computers, according to Kherchtou. "At the end [of the class]," Kherchtou explained, "Abu Anas al Libi brought two computers so as to teach us how to put all this information we collected. Instead of reporting you put them in the computer and just put them in a disk so as to be easy to carry."
The ties between Abu Anas and Mohamed did not end in Pakistan, according to Kherchtou. The pair visited Kherchtou's apartment in Nairobi, Kenya. The al Qaeda men used the residence to process their surveillance. They took over the sitting room in the apartment, Kherchtou said, "and they closed it with blankets, closed the windows, and they were using it to develop pictures and all their stuff of surveillance."
Kherchtou did not inspect their photographs, so the prosecutor asked how he knew Abu Anas and Mohamed were conducting surveillance. It "was my instructor and the guy was a student in the same class with me, so it's normal that I understand what they are doing," Kherchtou said. "It's very obvious."
But al Qaeda's propagandist, Gadahn, does not want people to think it is so obvious. He argues that the US must have confused Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai ("Abu Anas al Libi"), who has been designated an al Qaeda terrorist by the United Nations since October 2001, for another al Qaeda operative who was involved in the embassy bombings and who was also known as "Abu Anas."
Gadahn's theory falls short.
During the embassy bombings trial, Kherchtou was asked to photo-identify the "Abu Anas al Libi" he had implicated in the bombings. He was shown a picture, which was entered into the record as Government Exhibit 112, of the man who attended the surveillance class and visited his residence in Nairobi. Kherchtou identified al Ruqai as the Abu Anas in question. Surely some of the many other al Qaeda operatives in US custody have been able to accurately identify Abu Anas as well.
Kherchtou also offered additional details concerning Abu Anas' time in Nairobi. He said that Abu Hafs al Masri, then al Qaeda's military chief, visited during the same time frame as the surveillance team.
And one day, Kherchtou said, he ran into Abu Anas walking along a street not far from the US Embassy in Nairobi. "He was carrying a camera," Kherchtou said.
Evidence of ongoing al Qaeda role
During the mid-1990s, a controversy arose in jihadist circles after the Sudanese government demanded that members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leave their country. Muammar Qaddafi's government had pressured the Sudanese to expel the Libyan jihadists.
Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, were sheltering inside the Sudan at the time and had been protecting the LIFG's men. Bin Laden decided that the LIFG's members should leave Sudan. Some LIFG members objected to bin Laden's decision, leaving al Qaeda behind at least for a time.
During his testimony, Kherchtou claimed that Abu Anas was one of these LIFG members. But there is evidence, including within Kherchtou's own testimony, that this was not the case.
Kherchtou explained that even after Abu Anas left Sudan he kept in touch with Ali Mohamed. Abu Anas lived in Britain at the time and, according to Kherchtou, admitted that he been in touch with Mohamed via email or some other means of communication.
The FBI and Western intelligence agencies tracked Abu Anas to Manchester, England. In The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al Qaeda, former FBI agent Ali Soufan writes that Abu Anas was one of the dual-hatted LIFG-al Qaeda members who "took positions in al Qaeda cells elsewhere" after their expulsion from Sudan.
Abu Anas' residence in Manchester was raided by authorities in the late 1990s. But, Soufan writes, he had wiped his computer's hard drive clean and destroyed much of the evidence against him. Although Abu Anas had been arrested, British authorities were forced to let him go. The FBI did discover what would become known as the "Manchester Manual," a how-to guide for various nefarious activities used by al Qaeda operatives.
The FBI believed that Abu Anas escaped to Afghanistan, where he was beyond the West's reach. After 9/11, he relocated to Iran, where he was placed in a form of loose house arrest or detention by authorities.
In the wake of the Libyan revolution in 2011, however, some US counterterrorism analysts found that Abu Anas had assumed a senior al Qaeda leadership role inside his home country.
An unclassified report published in August 2012 highlights al Qaeda's strategy for building a fully operational network in Libya. The report ("Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile") was prepared by the federal research division of the Library of Congress under an agreement with the Defense Department's Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda's plan for Libya highlighted in congressional report.]
Abu Anas al Libi played a key role in al Qaeda's plan for Libya, the report's authors make clear, describing him as the "builder of al Qaeda's network in Libya." This network answers to al Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan, according to the report. [See LWJ report, 'Core' al Qaeda member captured in Libya.]
Gadahn avoids any discussion of this evidence. Instead, he cites a report suggesting that Abu Anas was no longer an active al Qaeda member. That same report mischaracterizes the evidence connecting Abu Anas to the 1998 embassy bombings.
Jihad against the Crusader-Zionist alliance
Gadahn's video is similar to past al Qaeda productions. Attempting to capitalize on anti-Western sentiment, al Qaeda has portrayed known terrorists and al Qaeda members as victims of aggression. The group regularly agitates for the release of known jihadists such as Aafia Siddiqui (a.k.a. "Lady Al Qaeda") and Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman.
Thus, Gadahn protests Abu Anas' innocence and America's supposed violation of Libyan sovereignty even as he threatens acts of vengeance.
"The kidnapping of Sheikh Abu Anas al Libi, may Allah release him, will not stop us from continuing our jihad against America and its Crusader-Zionist alliance," Gadahn warns.
US drones strike in Pakistan, kill 3 'militants'
The US killed three unidentified "militants" in a drone strike in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan yesterday. The strike is the third in Pakistan this month; the previous two attacks killed senior leaders in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Haqqani Network.
The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan last night, according to Dawn. Several strike aircraft were seen hovering over the compound before the strike.
The target of yesterday's strike was not revealed, and no senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied jihadist commanders have been reported killed at this time. The strike is said to have killed "a Pakistani citizen from Punjab Province" but his identity was not disclosed, The New York Times reported. According to AFP, the Punjabi Taliban was the target of the attack, and an operative known as Aslam or Yaseem, who was involved in the attack on the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi in May 2011, was killed.
The Punjabi Taliban, or the Movement of the Taliban in Punjab, is led by Asmatullah Muawiya, who also serves as a commander of one of several a Qaeda military formations [see LWJ report, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan].
The attack took place in an area under the control of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban faction that operates in eastern, central, and northern Afghanistan, and is based in North Waziristan in Pakistan. The terror group has close links with al Qaeda, and is supported by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network and leads the Miramshah Shura, one of four major Taliban regional councils. Siraj is also a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis, or executive council, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on the Haqqani Network or allied Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The Haqqanis and Bahadar's fighters are considered "good Taliban" by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Background on US strikes in Pakistan
Today's strike is the second reported in Pakistan since Nov. 1, when the drones killed Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in an attack in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan. The last strike, on Nov. 21, killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top leader in the Haqqani Network, and two other senior commanders.
The vast majority of the US drone strikes have taken place in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan. Of the 353 strikes since 2004, 252 have hit targets in North Waziristan, and 83 have hit targets in South Waziristan. In the other tribal areas, there have been three strikes in Bajaur, two in Arakzai, four in Kurram, and five in Khyber. Four more strikes have taken place outside of the tribal areas; three were in Bannu and one more was in Hangu.
The drone strikes are controversial; in October, groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International formally accused the US of indiscriminately killing civilians in strikes in both Pakistan and Yemen. But at the end of October, Pakistan's Ministry of Defence released a report stating that 67 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since the beginning of 2009, and claimed that no civilians have been killed since the beginning of 2012.
The Long War Journal has recorded, based on Pakistani press reports, that at least 2,082 jihadists from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of terror groups operating in North and South Waziristan have been killed in strikes since the beginning of 2009, including some of al Qaeda's top leaders. There have also been 105 reported civilian deaths in drone strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with 18 civilians killed since the beginning of 2012. Civilian casualties are difficult to assess as the strikes take place in areas under Taliban control; the figure may be higher than 105.
The US has launched 27 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. The number of strikes in Pakistan has decreased since a peak in 2010, when 117 such attacks were recorded. In 2011, 64 strikes were launched in Pakistan, and in 2012 there were 46 strikes.
The US has targeted al Qaeda's top leaders and its external operations network, as well as the assortment of Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups operating in the region. The strikes have been confined mostly to North and South Waziristan, but al Qaeda and allied groups are known to have an extensive network throughout all of Pakistan.
Islamic Front endorses jihad, says 'the Muhajireen are our brothers'
The Islamic Front, a newly formed coalition of Syrian Islamist groups that cooperate with al Qaeda and is estimated at 45,000 fighters, released its charter on its official Twitter account on Nov. 26. Although the formation of the Islamic Front has been hailed as a blow to al Qaeda, the new group embraces jihad and calls for the establishment of an Islamic state and the imposition of sharia law, both of which are goals of al Qaeda. The Islamic Front's charter welcomes the "Muhajireen," or foreign fighters, as "our brothers who supported us in jihad."
The document is signed by the following groups: Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham Brigade, Ansar al-Sham Brigades, Jaysh al-Islam, Al-Tawhid Brigade, and Al-Haqq Brigade; and is dated Nov. 22, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which provided a translation. When the group's formation was first reported, a seventh group, the Kurdish Islamic Front, was also listed among its members. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Formation of Islamic Front in Syria benefits jihadist groups.] Most of these groups have coordinated military operations with al Qaeda's two affiliates in Syria.
While the Islamic Front's charter does not mention al Qaeda, either to include or exclude the two Syrian al Qaeda branches, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), it does contain a number of indications that the Islamic Front intends to work with al Qaeda affiliates and other Islamist groups that battle against the Assad regime in Syria.
The charter begins with an invocation of the need for unity in the Islamist ranks: "The Almighty said: 'And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves. .... Verily, Allah loves those who fight in His cause in ranks as if they were a solid structure.'"
The Islamic Front defines itself as "a comprehensive Islamic, social, political, and military formation that aims to completely bring down the Assad regime in Syria, to build an Islamic State wherein God's law [Shar' Allah], the Glorious and the Almighty, alone is sovereign ...."
The charter states that the group "is an independent entity established in Syria [that is] is not subordinate to any foreign party, be it an organization, state, or [political or ideological] current."
In the "Scope and Identity" section, the group "calls on all factions active on the ground to combine with it and to unite around the Ummah's [Muslim community's] desired goal of defeating the enemy and establishing a state in which justice and progress prevail under the umbrella of Islam and the authority of [Islamic] law."
The section further provides that the Islamic Front "is grateful for the efforts of all sincere [people] who are active in the field. [The front] strives to coordinate with them at the highest levels. All who agree with the Front in its premise, its goal, and its methods are invited to contribute and to take up a position [in the Front] according to their merit."
With respect to "Members and Membership," the charter states: "The sons of the Front are Muslims who are loyal to the religion of Islam. Jihad in the cause of Allah and the rejection of tyranny and despotism brought them together." It also notes that "the sons of the Islamic Front are among the first who revolted against the Assad regime and undertook to protect the people from its oppression. The most prominent military victories against the Assad regime are attributed to them."
The Islamic Front includes among its listed goals the complete dismantling of the Assad regime and the establishment of an Islamic state under sharia law in its place. Another stated goal is to "close ranks and unify the forces active in the blessed revolution in order to spread security and to rebuild Syria on sound foundations of justice, unity, and integration."
In the charter's section on "Strategy," in "Article Eleven: The Relationship with Outside the Front," the Islamic Front indicates its openness to working with a broad range of other groups. The charter provides: "The groups, factions, and brigades that work on fighting the Assad regime and bringing it down are allied groups with whom we agree in the goal and with whom we coordinate and cooperate so as to achieve this aim."
Significantly, in a section titled "The Muhajireen [Foreign Fighters]" the Islamic Front states: "They are our brothers who supported us in jihad. Their jihad is appreciated and thanked. We are obligated to preserve them, their dignity, and their jihad.... They are owed what we are responsible for and they are responsible for what they owe us."
Chechen-led group swears allegiance to head of Islamic State of Iraq and Sham
Abu Omar al Chechen. FISyria.com posted this picture along with a statement confirming his allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham.
A Chechen-led group of fighters in Syria has sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who heads the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), an official al Qaeda affiliate.
Jaish al-Muhajireen wa Ansar, or Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, is led by a jihadist known as Abu Omar al Chechen. On Nov. 21, Abu Omar's group released a statement confirming its allegiance to al Baghdadi on FISyria.com, which is the official website for the Army of the Emigrants and Helpers.
The statement is titled, "Omar al Chechen swears allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi," according to a translation obtained The Long War Journal.
The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers "has sworn an oath" to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the statement reads. However, "the brothers from the Imarat Kavkaz (Islamic Caucasus Emirate) who have sworn an oath to" Doku Umarov, the emir of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate, are awaiting approval before confirming their formal allegiance to al Baghdadi.
"At the current time, consent to the oath is awaited from the Imarat Kavkaz emir," the statement reads.
Umarov was added to the American list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2010. The US also added the Islamic Caucasus Emirate to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in May 2011.
The statement goes on to praise al Baghdadi, claiming that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. Al Baghdadi has claimed this lineage in order to boost his credentials within the jihadist world.
The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers' allegiance to ISIS is not surprising, as the Chechen-led fighters have long fought under ISIS' command in Syria. And the ISIS has frequently featured Abu Omar al Chechen and his group's operations in their propaganda. Still, the statement highlights the fluid nature of al Qaeda's global network. Fighters who first swore allegiance to an al Qaeda-linked jihadist in the Caucasus now readily seek formal integration into the ranks of another al Qaeda branch in Syria.
The Kavkaz Center, a media arm of the Caucasus Emirate, posted a video appeal from Abu Omar on its website on Feb. 7.
Then on Mar. 26, the Kavkaz Center announced the creation of Army of the Emigrants and Helpers, reporting that it was a merger of Abu Omar's brigade with several other Syrian jihadi brigades.
The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers has not only fought alongside ISIS, but has also regularly taken part in joint operations with the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, the other official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. [See LWJ report, Chechen commander leads Muhajireen Brigade in Syria.]
In coordination with both of al Qaeda's affiliates in Syria, The Army of the Emigrants and Helpers also reportedly took part in atrocities against civilians in Latakia in August. [See LWJ report, Report highlights al Qaeda affiliates' role in Syrian atrocities.]
ISIS praises slain commander who fought in Iraq, Libya, and Syria
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, one of two official al Qaeda branches operating in Syria, praised a Libyan commander who had fought in Iraq and Libya before being killed in a clash with a rival rebel group in Syria near the Turkish border.
The ISIS praised Abu Abdullah al Libi, also known as Usama al Obeidi, in a video that was distributed by a jihadist media outlet and published on Nov. 21 on "the top-tier jihadi forum Shumukh al Islam," the SITE Intelligence Group noted.
Abu Abdullah was killed on Sept. 22 after an unknown rebel group ambushed his group in the town of Hzano in Idlib province, near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Twelve of his men and six villagers were also said to have been killed.
The Free Syrian Army, whose star has been waning since Islamist groups and al Qaeda's two branches in Syrian have dominated the fighting against President Bashir al Assad's forces, denied it killed Abu Abdullah, Al Arabiya stated at the time.
The ISIS, along with al Qaeda's other branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, and allied Islamist and Free Syrian Army forces have fought against Kurdish units over control of vital border crossings to Turkey. Additionally, al Qaeda's branches fought against and defeated the Northern Storm Brigade, an FSA unit, to control a border crossing in Azaz. The capture of crossing points allows the groups to control the flow of weapons, ammunition, supplies, and fighters coming into Syria through Turkey.
Abu Abdullah was a longtime jihadist who fought in two other theaters prior to being killed in Syria.
He "emigrated to the Land of Two Rivers [Iraq] during the American invasion of Iraq to support his friends and to seek martyrdom in the cause of Allah the Almighty," the eulogy states, according to SITE.
He was captured by the Syrian security forces "after he was tasked with a mission by the mujahideen." Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the ISIS, used Syria as a base of operations with the approval of the Assad regime.
At some point he was transferred to Libya, where he was jailed for "three years and a few months in Bu Salim prison." He was eventually released from prison, although the details are unclear. Just before the Libyan revolution in 2011, Saif al Islam, the son of slain former President Mohmar Ghaddafi, brokered the release of thousands of jihadists, including members of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, in exchange for a promise not to fight against the government. After the Libyan civil war broke out, thousands more escaped from prison.
Abu Abdullah "fought against the Gaddafi regime for some time," and then "emigrated to the Levant [Syria] and was appointed emir in the area of al Dana in Idlib," the eulogy continued.
Hundreds of Libyan fighters are thought to have traveled to Syria to fight with rebel groups. Ansar al Sharia Libya, a Libyan jihadist group with ties to al Qaeda, helps recruit Libyan fighters to travel to Syria. Ansar al Sharia Libya is also reported to run training camps for recruits destined for Syria.
Many of these Libyans are believed to be fighting with the ISIS or the Al Nusrah Front. Abd al Mahdi al Harati, a deputy of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, led 6,000 fighters in a brigade known as Liwa al Ummah for six months in 2012. The unit was comprised primarily of Syrian fighters, but included a large contingent of Libyans, Sudanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, and Arabs.
Ansar al Sharia battles security forces in Benghazi
More than one year after a US ambassador and three other Americans were killed during a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the city remains plagued by violence. Ansar al Sharia Libya, the al Qaeda-linked group that took part in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, has been involved in heavy fighting against Libyan special forces and residents.
On Monday, Nov. 25, the Libyan government said that nine people have been killed in the recent fighting in Benghazi thus far, with up to another 50 people being wounded. Citing a "senior Libyan military official" in Benghazi, CNN reports that the Ansar al Sharia fighters are heavily armed, "using mortars, rocket-propelled grenades" and other weapons.
The crisis prompted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to make a second trip to Benghazi since the beginning of the month, the Libya Herald reports.
Elsewhere, in Derna, a convoy of Ansar al Sharia fighters was "blocked" from leaving the town. The fighters were reportedly headed to Benghazi as reinforcements.
Separately, an Ansar al Sharia representative from Derna blasted the Libyan government during a phone interview that was aired on Libya Al-Ahrar TV and summarized by the Libya Herald. The representative, Mahmoud al Barassi, said Ansar al Sharia would "fight people who seek democracy, secularism, and the French," as well as anyone who opposes the group. Al Barassi labeled members of the Libyan government "apostates" and claimed that Prime Minister Zeidan knows "knowing nothing about Islam."
In Ajdabiya, about 150 kilometers south of Benghazi, some Ansar al Sharia members were reportedly ejected from the city.
Shortly before the latest outbreak of violence in Benghazi, on Nov. 23, Ansar al Sharia released a statement condemning Western influence inside the Libya.
"If the West leaves [the country] and it does what it wants, then it will be independent and will have achieved its identity," the statement reads, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. "If the country stops before that and kneels before [the West], then it is still submitting to the West and one of its agents rules in it."
The group's statement compared the current government to Muammar Gaddafi's deposed regime. "The current situation, without exception, is no more than the replacement of one oppressor with another, of one agent with another," SITE's translation reads. "The clear measure for the country's independence and for the removal of corruption is its rule by God's law."
Part of the al Qaeda network
Across the border in Tunisia, the government is also battling Ansar al Sharia's forces. Tunisian officials have claimed that Ansar al Sharia Tunisia is closely linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Tunisian authorities have even claimed that they have discovered a handwritten allegiance pact between the head of Ansar al Sharia, Seifallah Ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyadh al Tunisi), and AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel.
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's leaders responded to the government's allegations in September by confirming that the group has been loyal to al Qaeda since its inception. The group claimed, however, to maintain organizational independence. This claim is contradicted by other evidence. [See LWJ report, Ansar al Sharia responds to Tunisian government.]
In October, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told Reuters that the Ansar al Sharia chapters in Libya and Tunisia are in league with AQIM. "There is a relation between leaders of Ansar al Sharia [Tunisia], al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al Sharia in Libya," Larayedh said. "We are coordinating with our neighbors over that."
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia orchestrated the assault on the US Embassy in Tunis on Sept. 14, 2012, just three days after members of Ansar al Sharia Libya took part in the Benghazi attack.
The Long War Journal has documented a wealth of evidence tying the Ansar al Sharia chapters to al Qaeda. [See, for example, LWJ report, Al Qaeda and the threat in North Africa.]
Analysis: Formation of Islamic Front in Syria benefits jihadist groups
Yesterday a new Islamist group emerged in Syria, a coalescence of seven major Islamist fighting forces in Syria now calling itself the Islamic Front. Estimated to consist of about 45,000 fighters, the group includes the Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham, and the Kurdish Islamic Front. Its stated aim is to "topple the Assad regime. . . and build an Islamic state," according to the new group's leader, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh, of Suqour al-Sham.
Issa has been leading the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), an Islamist coalition aligned with the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council. He will be joined by Abu Omar Hureitan of Liwa al-Tawhid, Zahran Alloush of Jaish al-Islam, and Hassan Abboud of the Syrian Islamic Front, the BBC reports.
Zahran Alloush and Jaish al Islam
The Islamic Front's designated head of military operations, Zahran Alloush, was previously chosen to lead the Jaish al-Islam, or Army of Islam, a coalition of Islamist fighting groups formed in September with backing from Saudi Arabia and also the support of Qatar and Turkey. According to a description of JAI in the Guardian on Nov. 7, the coalition excluded the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (or Levant), "but embraces more non-jihadi Islamist and Salafi units" -- arguably a distinction without a difference.
Alloush, now military head of the Islamic Front, and previous head of the Army of Islam, a coalition of some 43 Syrian fighting groups with total membership earlier estimated at up to 50,000, is a Salafist who served formerly as head of the Liwa al-Islam. In late September, Liwa al-Islam joined with the Al Nusrah Front and a number of other powerful Islamist brigades in issuing a statement opposing the Syrian National Council and calling for the imposition of sharia in Syria. [See LWJ report, Free Syrian Army units ally with al Qaeda, reject Syrian National Coalition, and call for sharia.]
The son of a Saudi Salafist cleric, Alloush is not known as a moderate. His forces have been flying al Qaeda's black flag, and he claimed after the formation of Jaish al Islam in late September that the merger would not put pressure on ISIS.
In late October, Jaish al Islam published a video on YouTube showcasing its successes in the Syrian conflict. Featured in the video was footage of two Syrian L-39ZA Albatros fighter aircraft captured from a base in Aleppo in February, the Times of Israel reported. The aircraft had been seized by "Islamist factions," after a major assault on the al-Jarrah airbase by the Al Nusrah Front and the Ahrar al Sham Brigades [see LWJ report, 'Islamist factions' seize Syrian airbase].
More recently, on Nov. 7, Alloush advertised for foreign fighters for Jaish al Islam, posting a message on his Twitter account about the opening of the "Office for the Recruitment of Emigrants," and giving Skype contact information, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Several groups in the new Islamic Front have called for Islamic state and fought with al Qaeda forces
Notably, several of the groups that repudiated the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition and called for sharia are among those now forming the new Islamic Front: Jaish al Islam, Ahrar al Sham, Suqour al Sham, and Liwa al Tawhid. All four of these outfits frequently fight alongside the Al Nusrah Front and ISIS in Syria. The Kurdish Islamic Front, another member of the new group, has fought alongside the Islamist Ahrar al Sham against Kurdish YPG forces.
Over the past several months, mentions of the Free Syrian Army and its Supreme Military Council have become infrequent, and news of the Islamist fighting forces, especially ISIS and Al Nusrah, have come to predominate the daily reports.
The burgeoning Islamist influence among the rebel ranks has frightened off Western support for the Syrian opposition, and at the same time encouraged an increasing number of foreign jihadists to travel to the conflict zone. Most of these foreign fighters have entered through Turkey, which recently protested that it has little or no control over the millions of "tourists" who come into the country.
Western governments attempting to track those who head to Syria for jihad have had little success in doing so. An estimated 800 to 900 European fighters have traveled to Syria, mainly from Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, according to a recent Washington Post report. There is a very real concern that these fighters will return to their home countries battle-hardened and further radicalized.
Latest Islamist fighting bloc not clearly separable from al Qaeda forces
It was reported by Agence France Presse that some activists described the news of the formation of the Islamic Front, Syria's largest rebel fighting group, as bad news for al Qaeda in Iraq (ISIS). Others suggested that the creation of the new group was largely engineered by Qatar to develop an alternative to the two dominant Islamist fighting groups in Syria today, al Qaeda's Al Nusrah Front and ISIS.
But the notion that the emergence of a massive Islamist fighting bloc in Syria will somehow curb the power of al Qaeda forces in the region is not persuasive.
The new group consists largely of hardline Islamist groups with goals similar or identical to that of ISIS and Al Nusrah: the creation of an Islamic state and the imposition of sharia law. Furthermore, these Islamist groups have fought alongside the two al Qaeda branches in Syria, and continue to do so to this day. If anything, the emergence of this powerful Islamist force further vitiates the already tottering Western-backed Free Syrian Army.
And as Islamic Front spokesman Abu Firas noted yesterday, the new coalition will be "open to all the military factions, and a committee is working to study the entrance of all groups that also want to join." According to the Associated Press, the Islamic Front's spokesman also said that the Al Nusrah Front wanted groups to join under its banner.
It is not unthinkable that Al Nusrah and/or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham would welcome the Islamic Front into the fold. Despite much-ballyhooed differences between them, the two al Qaeda branches in Syria have shown much more cooperation than enmity, and regularly fight alongside each other in various provinces in Syria. There is no reason to think that the situation would be vastly different insofar as the Islamic Front is concerned. All three entities have similar goals.
This new development should give one pause. The forces of the Islamic Front, said to now embrace at least 45,000 fighters, if combined with al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria, said to number at least 15,000, amount to over 60,000 Islamist fighters. Such a force vastly outnumbers the 10,000-plus al Qaeda fighters in Iraq at the height of the Iraq war.
As Thomas Joscelyn pointed out earlier this month, al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria now presents a "transnational threat." Its members are already talking about external operations, according to Rep. Mike Rogers, the head of the US House Intelligence Committee.
The emergence of a new unified Islamist force in Syria with ideology and goals nearly identical to al Qaeda's does not bode well for Syria or for the West. While the headlines from Syria veer wildly between regime successes like last week's and rebel wins like today's capture of Syria's largest oil field by al Qaeda-led forces, the fact remains that whether Assad holds on or the rebels prevail, the largest assembly of jihadist fighters to date has converged in Syria.
Analysis: Targeted killing of Haqqani leaders a successful tactic that falls short of an effective strategy
A version of this article was originally published at The Daily Beast under the title, The Taliban's Hydras.
Yesterday's drone strike in Pakistan's northwestern district of Hangu that killed a top Haqqani Network leader is a major tactical win for the US, but in the absence of a comprehensive strategy to deal with al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in the region, it will serve only to disrupt the organization in the short term.
The CIA-operated Reapers killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top deputy in the al Qaeda-allied Haqqani Network, and two other commanders in an airstrike on a seminary in the settled district of Hangu. The hit was remarkable because US drones rarely stray outside of the designated kill boxes of Pakistan's tribal areas, particularly the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, where a host of jihadist groups operate unfettered. Of the 352 strikes recorded by The Long War Journal since the drone program began, 95 percent have taken place in the two tribal agencies. Only four of the remaining strikes occurred outside of the tribal areas; the last was in March 2009.
Given that the US rarely strikes in the 'settled areas' to avoid major diplomatic problems with the Pakistani government and military, yesterday's strike was sure to have targeted an important jihadist leader. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup that operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan, was spotted at the seminary just two days prior to the attack, and is thought to have been the primary focus of the hit. While confirmed target Maulvi Ahmed Jan isn't Sirajuddin Haqqani, he was one of the top leaders of the group, and his death will certainly have an impact.
Jan has been described as "the right hand" and chief of staff of Sirajuddin. Jan often represented Sirajuddin in council meetings and mediated disputes with jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. He is also said to have directed and organized suicide assaults in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, as well as served as a key financier and logistics expert for the Haqqani Network.
Jan is the second Haqqani Network leader killed in Pakistan this month. Nasiruddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin's brother, who was on the US's list of Specially Designated Global terrorists for his ties to al Qaeda and for overseas fundraising, was gunned down in Islamabad just 11 days ago. The circumstances behind Nasiruddin's death remain a mystery, but the CIA and/or Afghan intelligence are suspected of having him assassinated.
The deaths of Jan and Nasiruddin over such a short period of time will cause major problems for the Haqqani Network. The two leaders will have to be replaced, and given their stature in the group, this will not be an easy task. Meanwhile, the Haqqanis will be scrambling to ensure the safety of their leadership cadre. The deaths of two important leaders outside North Waziristan will be unsettling to the Haqqanis. But the Haqqanis will no doubt receive assistance from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and the military, which treat the Haqqanis as a key client.
While disruptive, are the deaths of jihadist leaders such as Jan and Nasiruddin enough to influence the outcome in Afghanistan, degrade the the impact of the Haqqani Network and Taliban in Pakistan, or dislodge al Qaeda from the tribal areas and in greater Pakistan? Unless the US steps up the pace of the drone strikes, expands its area of operations (Nasiruddin's death in Islamabad and Jan's in Hangu show that the Haqqanis are not confined to North Waziristan), and quickly eliminates other top leaders of not just the Haqqani Network but other supporting groups, it is highly unlikely. The Haqqanis, the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other jihadist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan have lost numerous key leaders to drone strikes and military operations over the past 12 years. Yet few people credibly argue that any of these groups are losing ground in Pakistan or Afghanistan or are on the verge of collapse.
Drones may hurt the Haqqanis' leadership, but they do not prevent the group from controlling ground. Despite an intensive drone campaign against various Taliban and al Qaeda groups that was stepped up by President George Bush in the summer of 2008, jihadist groups remain entrenched in Pakistan's tribal areas. And their ability to hold ground gives them access to resources, finances, and recruits, which in turn enables them to retain power and expand their operations.
In the absence of a comprehensive strategy to tackle these groups head on, which would include denying them ground and confronting al Qaeda's ideology, the drone campaign is merely a tactic of decapitation strikes masked as a strategy. Given the US' inability to define the enemy, the Obama administration's disengagement from the Afghan-Pakistan region, and Pakistan's continuing support for jihadist groups, the likelihood of an effective strategy emerging remains dim. The tactic of the targeted killing of jihadist leaders is the only game in town.
The deaths of Jan and Nasiruddin this month have "placed the Haqqanis on notice," as one US intelligence official who tracks the group told me. And Haqqani Network leaders, who are accustomed to operating freely in Pakistan, will now have to be more circumspect and devote more energy to survival. But the strikes have not crippled the group.
Al Qaeda and the threat in North Africa
Editor's note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn's testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on al Qaeda's network in Africa and the threat it poses to the US. If you wish to view the testimony with footnotes included, download the PDF by clicking here.
Chairman Kaine, Ranking Member Risch and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the security situation in North Africa. For more than a decade I have been closely tracking al Qaeda and associated movements. So, my testimony today will largely focus on the al Qaeda network in North and West Africa and how this network has evolved over time.
The Arab uprisings that began in late 2010 and early 2011 created new opportunities for millions of oppressed people. Unfortunately, the overthrow of several dictators also generated new space for al Qaeda and like-minded organizations to operate. How the political process will play out in any of these nations in the coming decades is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any prognosticator to say. But we do know this: The Arab revolutions not been the death knell for al Qaeda as some analysts claimed it would be.
Instead, al Qaeda and other ideologically-allied organizations have taken advantage of the security vacuums caused by the uprisings. In Mali, for instance, an al Qaeda branch that was once written off as nothing more than a "nuisance" to the residents of the countries in which it operated managed to take over a large swath of territory, thereby forcing the French to intervene. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies imposed their harsh sharia law on the residents of Mali at gunpoint, destroying local Muslim traditions and practices until the jihadists could be dislodged from power. Even now, however, the al Qaeda-led alliance threatens Mali. Many of the jihadist fighters melted away into neighboring countries, where, free from the West's superior military might, they have regrouped and lived to fight another day.
Al Qaeda did not overthrow the government in Mali, but, as was the case elsewhere, the international terror network took advantage of the situation. A coup d'état by Malian soldiers unseated the elected government and set in motion a chain of events that AQIM capitalized on. Armed with weapons formerly kept in Col. Muammar el Qaddafi's arsenals, al Qaeda, other jihadist groups and Tuareg tribesmen quickly ran roughshod over the Malian military.
The war in Mali is instructive because it shows how events throughout the region, including inside the countries we were asked to assess today, are interconnected. Qaddafi's weapons fueled the fight in Mali, but post-Qaddafi Libya's instability and porous borders have escalated the violence as well. Fighters who took part in the Libyan revolution returned to Mali with fresh combat experience. Al Qaeda and allied jihadists have established training camps inside Libya and newly-trained fighters have been able to move across Algeria into Mali.
The threat of terrorism inside Algeria has increased during the war in Mali. In January 2013, an al Qaeda commander named Mokhtar Belmokhtar laid siege to the In Amenas gas facility. Belmokhtar's forces have fought in Mali and operated inside Libya as well. Algerian authorities claim that some of the Egyptians who took part in the In Amenas operation also participated in the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Tunisian authorities have blamed veterans from Mali with links to AQIM for security problems along the border with Algeria.
The war in Mali is tied, therefore, to broader regional security problems that stretch into and throughout all of North Africa. In fact, the terrorist threats in North Africa are tied to events that occur even farther away - in Syria, for example. Al Qaeda in Iraq drew many recruits from North Africa during the height of the Iraq War. With the Syrian war raging on, al Qaeda's two affiliates in Syria continue to draw fighters from North Africa's jihadist pool. These same fighters can pose threats to their home countries upon their return.
This brief introduction is a way of saying that the terrorist threat emanating from North and West Africa is a dynamic problem set with no easy solutions. Still, the last several years have revealed to us certain key lessons. Any sound strategy for defeating al Qaeda and its allies should take the following into account:
AQIM leads a network that operates in several countries. This network is comprised of not just individuals and brigades that are formally a part of AQIM, but also entities that are closely allied with the al Qaeda branch. If we are to defeat the AQIM network, then the West and its local allies must understand AQIM's order of battle -- that is, how all of these groups are operating in conjunction with one another. There are differences between some of these groups, but at the end of the day they are in the same trench. I discuss this further below.
The AQIM network includes groups that are frequently identified as "local" jihadist organizations. It is widely believed that groups such as Ansar al-Dine and the Ansar al Sharia chapters are not really a part of the al Qaeda network in North and West Africa. But, as I explain, this view is based on a fundamental misreading of al Qaeda's objectives.
Western analysts should be careful not to underestimate the current or future capabilities of al Qaeda's many branches. Prior to its takeover of much of Mali, the AQIM threat was widely viewed as a criminal problem. Kidnappings for ransom, contraband smuggling, and extortion were and remain key AQIM operations. But the organization and its allies have now demonstrated a much more lethal capability. They have proven capable of taking and holding territory in the absence of effective central government control. Given that some of the governments in North Africa have only a tenuous grip on power, AQIM and its allies may have the opportunity to acquire additional territory in the future. They will continue to contest for control of parts of Mali, especially after the French withdraw their troops.
There is always the potential for AQIM and allied groups to attempt a mass casualty attack in the West. For obvious reasons, most analysts downplay AQIM's capabilities and intent in this regard. Even though its predecessor organization targeted France as early as 1994, in more recent years the group has not successfully launched a mass casualty attack in the West. However, as we've seen with other al Qaeda branches, this does not mean that this will continue to be the case in the future. We've seen time and again how various parts of al Qaeda's global network have ended up attempting attacks on the U.S.4 AQIM and allied organizations belong to a network that is loyal to al Qaeda's senior leadership and remains deeply hostile to the West. While most of their assets will be focused over there, in North and West Africa, there is always the potential for some of their resources and fighters to be deployed over here.
In August, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri appointed Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to the position of al Qaeda's general manager. Based on my reading of captured al Qaeda documents, the general manager's position is responsible for overseeing the operations of al Qaeda's many branches. Wuhayshi has been in contact with AQIM's top leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel. However, AQIM's emir ignored some of Wuhayshi's advice in the past. That may change now that Wuhayshi is technically Droukdel's superior. This is important because Wuhayshi has proven to be an effective manager capable of running insurgency operations at the same time that his henchmen have plotted attacks against the U.S.
The Al Qaeda Network in North Africa
In this section, I briefly outline the structure of al Qaeda's network in North Africa. The network is comprised of a clandestine apparatus, al Qaeda's official branch (joined by its allies), as well as the Ansar al Sharia chapters.
We must always be mindful that al Qaeda has maintained a clandestine global network since its inception. Of course, dismantling this network became the prime objective of American intelligence and counterterrorism officials after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Today, al Qaeda continues to maintain a covert network. We regularly find traces of it. This network operates in conjunction with groups that are quite open about their allegiance to al Qaeda.
In August 2012, a report ("Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile"), prepared by the federal research division of the Library of Congress (LOC) in conjunction with the Defense Department's Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, outlined the key actors who were secretly pushing al Qaeda's agenda forward inside Libya.
Al Qaeda's senior leadership (AQSL) in Pakistan has overseen the effort, according to the report's authors. AQSL "issued strategic guidance to followers in Libya and elsewhere to take advantage of the Libyan rebellion." AQSL ordered its followers to "gather weapons," "establish training camps," "build a network in secret," "establish an Islamic state," and institute sharia law in Libya. "AQSL in Pakistan dispatched trusted senior operatives as emissaries and leaders who could supervise building a network," the report notes. They have been successful in establishing "a core network in Libya," but they still act in secret and refrain from using the al Qaeda name.
The chief "builder" of al Qaeda's secret endeavor in Libya was an alleged al Qaeda operative known as Abu Anas al Libi, according to the report's authors. Al Libi was captured by U.S. forces in Tripoli in October. Other al Qaeda actors are identified in the report and they presumably continue to operate in Libya.
It is likely that al Qaeda maintains covert operations inside the other North African nations as well. In Egypt, a longtime subordinate to Ayman al Zawahiri named Muhammad Jamal al Kashef was designated a terrorist by both the U.S. State Department and the United Nations in October. Egyptian authorities found that Jamal was secretly in contact with Zawahiri while also working with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Jamal established training camps in the north Sinai and eastern Libya. And some of his trainees went on to take part in the attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Jamal is currently jailed inside Egypt, but his upstart branch of al Qaeda, commonly referred to as the "Muhammad Jamal Network," remains active. Jamal's network has even established ties to terrorists inside Europe.
Jamal's activities prior to his capture highlight the interconnectivity of al Qaeda's global network, including throughout North Africa and the Middle East, as well as the organization's desire for secrecy in some key respects. In addition to its official and unofficial branches, al Qaeda has also established and maintained terrorist cells. This has long been part of the organization's tradecraft.
Official Al Qaeda Branch and Allies
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, al Qaeda's formal branches have grown significantly. Al Qaeda's official branch, or affiliate, in North Africa is AQIM. While AQIM's predecessor organizations were already closely tied to al Qaeda, AQIM was officially recognized by Ayman al Zawahiri in late 2006. AQIM's main objectives have been to overthrow North African governments it said were ruled by apostates and to replace their rule with an Islamic state based on sharia law. The Arab uprisings removed the "infidel" governments, which initially surprised al Qaeda's ideologues because they did not expect, nor advocate, non-violent political change. But, in al Qaeda's view, the task remains unfinished because its harsh brand of sharia law has not been implemented.
Mali was the first instance in which AQIM attempted to govern a large amount of territory based on its sharia code. In taking over two-thirds of Mali, AQIM partnered with other organizations that shared its desire to see sharia implemented. Chief among these is Ansar al-Dine (AAD), which was added to the U.S. government's list of global terrorist organization in March 2013. The State Department noted that AAD "cooperates closely" with AQIM and "has received support from AQIM since its inception in late 2011." AAD "continues to maintain close ties" to AQIM and "has received backing from AQIM in its fight against Malian and French forces." The UN's official designation page contains additional details concerning the relationship between AAD and AQIM.
Captured AQIM documents further illuminate the relationship between AQIM and AAD. In one "confidential letter" from Abdelmalek Droukdel (the emir of AQIM) to his fighters, Droukdel notes that his forces should be split two. Part of AQIM's forces would operate under AAD's command in northern Mali while the other part should focus on "external activity," meaning terrorism elsewhere.
Another AQIM-allied group is the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which was formed by AQIM commanders who wanted to expand their operations. MUJAO was designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization in December 2012.12 Still another al Qaeda-linked group was formed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former senior AQIM who, because of leadership disagreements, formed his own organization in late 2012. In August, Belmokhtar announced that his group, the al-Mulathameen Brigade, had merged with MUJAO.
Despite disagreements between the leaders of these various al Qaeda-linked groups, they are all openly loyal to al Qaeda's senior leadership and they have all continued to work closely together in Mali and elsewhere. In addition, Boko Haram, which was also recently designated a terrorist organization, has joined this coalition and is "linked" to AQIM.
Ansar al Sharia in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen
Two prominent chapters of Ansar al Sharia have risen in North Africa, one in Libya and the other in neighboring Tunisia. Some have argued that while these Ansar al Sharia chapters cooperate with al Qaeda they have fundamentally different goals. Ansar al Sharia is said to be focused on purely "local" matters, while al Qaeda is only interested in the global jihad. But this is simply not true. Al Qaeda's most senior leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri, have repeatedly said that one of his organization's chief priorities is to implement sharia law as the foundation for an Islamic state. This is precisely Ansar al Sharia's goal. In addition, there are credible reports that the Ansar al Sharia chapters in both Libya and Tunisia have provided recruits for al Qaeda's affiliates and other jihadist organizations in Syria, the new epicenter for the global jihad.
The very first Ansar al Sharia chapter was established in Yemen by AQAP. The U.S. Government recognizes Ansar al Sharia Yemen as simply an "alias" for AQAP. Ansar al Sharia was part of AQAP's expansion into governance, which involved the implementation of sharia law.
An Ansar al Sharia chapter in Egypt has hardly concealed its loyalty to al Qaeda. Its founder, an extremist who has long been tied to al Qaeda's senior leadership, has said that he is "honored to be an extension of al Qaeda." Ansar al Sharia Egypt was formed by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a terrorist organization headed by Ayman al Zawahiri that also merged with al Qaeda. Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman's younger brother, starred at Ansar al Sharia Egypt's events prior to his re-imprisonment. Ansar al Sharia Egypt's social media has consistently praised and advocated on behalf of al Qaeda.
In this context, it is hardly surprising to find that the Ansar al Sharia chapters in Libya and Tunisia behave much like their counterparts. In October, Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told Reuters, "There is a relation between leaders of Ansar al Sharia [Tunisia], al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al Sharia in Libya. We are coordinating with our neighbors over that." Tunisian officials have repeatedly alleged that Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia is closely tied to AQIM, and even that they have discovered a handwritten allegiance pact between the emirs of the two organizations. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia responded to these allegations by confirming its "loyalty" to al Qaeda while claiming that it remains organizationally independent - a claim that is contradicted by other evidence.
Some of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's most senior leaders have known al Qaeda ties, and at least two of them previously served as important al Qaeda operatives in Europe. The group's leadership openly praises al Qaeda. And the organization's social media is littered with pro-al Qaeda messages. AQIM leaders have repeatedly praised and offered advice to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.
Similarly, Ansar al Sharia Libya's leaders are openly pro-al Qaeda. The group has denounced the Libyan government for allowing American forces to capture Abu Anas al Libi, a top al Qaeda operative. Ansar al Sharia has even been running a charity campaign on al Libi's behalf. The authors of "Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile," the Library of Congress report published in August 2012, concluded that Ansar al Sharia Libya "has increasingly embodied al Qaeda's presence in Libya." And Sufian Ben Qumu, a former Guantanamo detainee who is now an Ansar al Sharia leader based in Derna, Libya, has longstanding ties to al Qaeda. A leaked Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment describes Ben Qumu as an "associate" of Osama bin Laden. JTF-GTMO found that Ben Qumu worked as a driver for a company owned by bin Laden in the Sudan, fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and maintained ties to several other well-known al Qaeda leaders. Ben Qumu's alias was reportedly found on the laptop of an al Qaeda operative responsible for overseeing the finances for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The information on the laptop indicated that Ben Qumu was an al Qaeda "member receiving family support."
The weight of the evidence makes it far more likely than not that the Ansar al Sharia chapters in Libya and Tunisia are part of al Qaeda's network in North Africa. This has important policy ramifications because both groups have been involved in violence, with Ansar al Sharia Libya taking part in the Benghazi terrorist attack and Ansar al Sharia Tunisia sacking the U.S. Embassy in Tunis three days later. The Tunisian government has also blamed Ansar al Sharia for a failed suicide attack, the first inside Tunisia in years. While both chapters have been involved in violence, they have also been working hard to earn new recruits for their organizations and al Qaeda's ideology. The Arab uprisings created a unique opportunity for them to proselytize.