May 19, 2013 1:38 PM
By LWJ Staff
A prominent ant-Taliban police chief in western Afghanistan, 2nd Lieutenant Abdul Ghani, was shot and mortally wounded by Taliban assassins late on Friday night, according to Afghan officials. Abdul Ghani served as the police chief for the Khak-i-Safid district in Farah province, and was best known for leading an effective crackdown against Taliban insurgents in the restive district, eliminating key Taliban leaders and disrupting insurgent activities since last year.
Some additional details were reported by Pajhwok Afghan News:
Khak-i-Safid district police head 2nd Lt. Abdul Ghani was shot dead by two motorcyclists in the Charbagh area of the provincial capital.
Farah province was part of the third phase of the transition of security responsibility from the International Security Assistance Force to Afghan control, and responsibility for five of Farah's 10 districts -- including Khak-i-Safid -- was transferred to Afghan security forces on Dec. 12, 2012.
Within two weeks of the transition, Abdul Ghani was targeted by the Taliban in a roadside bomb attack. The blast tore through Ghani's police truck as he and his men traveled through the Dahna-i-Khost area of Khak-i-Safid district, injuring police chief Ghani along with five policemen.
The assassination of Abdul Ghani has been a longstanding objective for Taliban militants active in Farah province, and his death will undoubtedly impair the Afghan government's ability to continue its counterinsurgency campaign in the Khak-i-Safed district.
May 17, 2013 12:44 PM
By Thomas Joscelyn
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's third annual congress is scheduled for this weekend, but the Tunisian government has declined to grant the group a permit for the gathering. Two days ago, Agence France Presse (AFP) interviewed an Ansar al Sharia leader named Sami Essid to get his reaction to this development. AFP described Essid as "one of the organizers" of the rally.
Essid said that Ansar al Sharia plans to move forward with the gathering despite interference from the Islamist government. "On Sunday, we will God willing hold our congress and there will be more than 40,000 of us in Kairouan," AFP quoted Essid as saying. "We do not need any authorization to organize our meeting."
AFP did not offer many details about Essid, other than to say he "is close to the hardline group's fugitive leader" Seifullah Ben Hassine, a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi. Who is Essid? He is almost certainly the same man known in the West as Sami Ben Khemais Essid, a notorious al Qaeda operative who was convicted in Italy of plotting to attack the US Embassy in Rome.
I wrote about Essid's Ansar al Sharia role and al Qaeda dossier previously. [See LWJ report, From al Qaeda in Italy to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.] In my piece, you can see pictures of Essid alongside Ben Hassine at an Ansar al Sharia rally.
You can read the UN's designation page for the al Qaeda-linked Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG) here. That UN page mentions Essid's role within the TCG, which was co-founded by Ben Hassine. A US Treasury Department page lists Essid as one of the "terrorist leaders designated for their close operational ties to Al Qaeda."
And below, I've included a screen shot from the State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism report for 2001. The report included a special section on Essid's terrorist role, saying he "headed al Qaeda operations in Italy."
Magharebia has also published some quotes from Essid on Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's upcoming congress. I included those quotes in a piece earlier this week. According to Magharebia, Essid criticized Tunisian interior minister Lofti Ben Jeddou for interfering with Ansar al Sharia's plans.
"He has declared war on Muslims in Tunisia," Essid said of Ben Jeddou. As in AFP's account, Magharebia reported that Essid vowed Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's third annual congress will be held as planned on May 19. However, Essid said, the group's leader will not be in attendance.
"Abu Iyad (Hassine), a leader of Ansar al Sharia who is wanted by the security forces, won't attend the third annual congress of the group," Essid said. "The only reason for that is that he loves Tunisia and doesn't want to confuse his supporters if he gets arrested by the security forces before them."
In its account of Essid's interview, AFP added the following observation concerning last year's Ansar al Sharia rally:
Thousands attended Ansar al Sharia's gathering in 2012, some in Afghan military garb, waving swords and chanting slogans that included: "We are all children of Osama (bin Laden)."
Shocking, I know.
May 16, 2013 9:00 PM
By David Barnett
The areas in question, which are on opposite sides of the airport complex, appear to have been completely destroyed in the attacks, according to the images dated May 6. Satellite images of the attack near the Scientific Studies and Research Center (Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques) in Jamraya on May 4 have not yet been released.
The release of the images from the airport in Damascus came on the same day that a senior Israeli official warned that Israel was considering additional strikes against advance weapons systems inside Syria. "Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah will destabilize and endanger the entire region," an Israeli official told the New York Times.
Since the start of the uprising against the Assad regime, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has conducted at least three airstrikes in Syria, two of which were carried out earlier in May.
In late January, the IAF reportedly struck targets near the Scientific Studies and Research Center (Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques) in Jamraya. According to reports, the IAF targeted a weapons convoy, which included Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft missiles, near the facility. Like the strike that occurred at Damascus International Airport in May, the January attack was reportedly carried out by Israeli aircraft that never actually entered Syrian air space.
While some reports of the January strike suggested that the SSRC facility itself was targeted and "flattened," satellite imagery released on Feb. 6 revealed that the facility, known for its ties to Syria's chemical weapons program, was relatively unscathed. The images did show a burnt road near the facility, possibly indicating the location of the Syrian weapons convoy when it was hit, however.
Although Israeli officials have not taken official responsibility for any the alleged strikes, they have repeatedly warned that they are prepared to act in Syria to prevent Hezbollah and other terror groups from obtaining advanced weaponry. In a recent interview with the BBC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "We are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises and I think people know that what I say is both measured and serious."
May 16, 2013 11:28 AM
By The LWJ Editors
We are pleased to announce the publication of Bill Ardolino's book Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs and the Battle Against al Qaeda. Based on hundreds of interviews with 138 Iraqi and American subjects conducted over the past five years, the book details the Sunni tribal "Awakening" and the US Marine counterinsurgency campaign that helped secure the area during 2006-2007. The book has earned a coveted "starred review" from Publishers Weekly:
Headlines trumpeted the 2004 Battle of Fallujah, when Marines defeated Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaeda fighters in brutal urban battle, but few reports noted that rebels soon returned and resumed their attacks. An embedded reporter at the time, Ardolino (associate editor of the Long War Journal) delivers a brilliant, detailed description of events in 2007, when Marines, tribal leaders, and local Iraqis worked together to again eject the insurgents--hopefully, this time, permanently. The author is wise to remind readers that al-Qaeda was never terribly popular in Iraq; it espoused a form of Islam considered violent and unfamiliar, "even by conservative Fallujan standards," and its success required vicious retaliation against uncooperative Iraqis. Even so, many refused to help the radical group, opting instead to side with American forces for a variety of personal and political reasons. Ardolino describes one Marine battalion near Fallujah that achieved remarkable success by enlisting the aid of an ambitious young sheikh nicknamed "Dark." Combining eye-witness accounts of political frustrations, the dangers of the "irrepressible and deadly creativity" of insurgents, and sympathetic portraits of the locals, Ardolino's is an outstanding account of the winding down of a resoundingly unpopular war.
Fallujah Awakens provides a rich look at counterinsurgency efforts in Fallujah and brings to life key events that were mere abstractions in media coverage. For instance, Bill vividly describes a chemical attack against Iraqi civilians in the village of Albu Aifan, reconstructing the event in minute-by-minute detail that highlights the barbarity of al Qaeda in Iraq. The ramifications of that attack, and the Marines' response to it, proved to be a critical turning point for the war in Fallujah.
Since 2006, Bill has provided outstanding reports as an embedded journalist for The Long War Journal, observing operations firsthand in Fallujah, Habbaniyah, and Baghdad in Iraq, and in Musa Qala, Now Zad, Delaram, Kabul, Sabari, Khost City, and Panjwai in Afghanistan. The editors of The Long War Journal strongly encourage you to support Bill and purchase Fallujah Awakens. All author proceeds from the first edition will be donated to the Semper Fi Fund to benefit injured service members.
May 15, 2013 1:39 PM
By Lisa Lundquist
On Sept. 15, 2012, the International Security Assistance Force issued a press release which stated that "[f]our International Security Assistance Force service members died today in southern Afghanistan following an insider attack suspected to involve members of the Afghan police," and said the incident was under investigation.
The following day, Pajhwok Afghan News provided a bit more detail:
Four foreign soldiers and a policeman were killed in the attack that occurred in the Mizan district of Zabul province, the deputy police chief, Col. Ghulam Gilani Farahi, told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Beyond those two mentions, little if nothing was reported by ISAF or the Afghan and US media about the incident.
But the Taliban issued two statements on Sept. 16 about the attack: a Twitter posting by a Taliban representative claiming that the Zabul attack had been carried out with the aid of seven Afghan policemen who were retaliating for the film "Innocence of Muslims"; and a statement on the Taliban's website by spokesman Imran Khalil claiming that an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of US soldiers in the Mizana district of Zabul province, killing four US soldiers and severely wounding others, as well as killing "a number of agent policemen."
Eight months later, Adam Ashton, a reporter for the Tacoma News Tribune, has uncovered more about what happened that night, based on interviews with members of the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment unit from Lewis-McChord base who were deployed in Zabul's Mizan district at the time, as well as family members of those deployed.
What he found is that the green-on-blue incident in Zabul was a carefully premeditated attack on six US troops at a vulnerable observation post by a team of six Afghan policemen working with them that night. The small US team had been shifted to the post a few weeks before the planned handover of the district to Afghan forces, even though Taliban forces were still significantly active in the area. Assessing factors involved in the attack, Ashton wrote: "A group of Afghan police either joined the security force with the intent of killing Americans from the inside, or they bowed to pressure from the Taliban to do so."
After the shooting, five of the attackers escaped, and one Afghan policeman lay dead. Two American survivors of the incident differed as to how he was killed; one said the policeman had been killed by a US soldier after the Afghan police had opened fire; another maintained that the policeman had been shot by his Afghan colleagues for failing to join in the attack on the Americans.
The incident was investigated by both the Afghans and the Americans, and in its wake, the Afghan police lieutenant responsible for recruiting and daily operations in Mizan was fired, according to Ashton.
Disturbingly, however, results of the US military's investigation still have not been released.
The consequences of this blue-on-green attack have been both immediate and long-term. After the attack, partnering between US and Afghan forces was first stopped altogether. The Mizan attack, and another that day, appear to have been the catalysts for the US Army to shut down the military's partnering with the Afghan National Security forces throughout Afghanistan.
"[T]he ambush near Combat Outpost Mizan was so severe, and it followed so many other similar attacks, that it led the Army to shut down partnered operations with Afghan forces for two weeks," Ashton writes. "This undermined the transition to Afghan control of the country -- the very reason for the sustained US presence in what has become America's longest war."
Partnering resumed on a reduced basis at the end of September, and stricter vetting of new Afghan forces was imposed. But previously positive relationships between Afghan forces and their US mentors grew more tense and difficult. Now-retired Colonel Charles Webster, who commanded all US forces in Zabul and southern Kandahar provinces at the time, said: "In Mizan, the attack disrupted a spirit of cooperation between US and Afghan forces that [had] lasted throughout the deployment."
The reduced cooperation between US and Afghan forces stemming from insider attacks such as the Mizan incident has affected the overall progress of the security transition, not only in Zabul but all across Afghanistan.
And as Ashton writes, "The betrayal in Mizan still burns among the soldiers who knew the fallen men."
May 14, 2013 9:32 PM
By Thomas Joscelyn
Sheik Kamel Zarouq, a member of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, gave an address which was posted online on April 30. MEMRI has posted parts of the video as well as a transcript of excerpts from the video. You can also view the video on YouTube.
Zarouq's talk is consistent with much of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's propaganda in that he explicitly endorses global jihad.
"I would like to declare loud and clear that the Al Nusra Front, Ansar Al Sharia, Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq, and the mujahideen in Somalia, in Mali, and in Algeria - we all stand united against the enemies," Zarouq says.
The Al Nusra Front is al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. The Islamic State of Iraq is al Qaeda in Iraq's political front. The mujahideen in Somalia are led by Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate. In Mali, the mujahideen are led by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which also operates inside Algeria. And al Qaeda is, well, al Qaeda.
Another excerpt from MEMRI's transcript of Zarouq's talk reads: "Our goal is to support the Islamic nation, to support our religion, to elevate the shari'a, and to spread the law of Muhammad. Our goal is to pull the nations out of darkness and into light. Our goal is to instate the shari'a, and regain Andalusia and Jerusalem."
Zarouq quotes the Prophet Muhammad as saying, "Rome shall be conquered." To which he adds: "Rome will be conquered in our days."
Finally, MEMRI produced this quote from Zarouq: "This is the age of the Muslims. Gone are the days of secularists and of democracy. We are looking down upon them. We are looking down upon them from above. They are beneath us."
May 11, 2013 8:53 PM
By David Barnett
Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip are complaining about the Hamas-run Field Control Force, which has increased deployment in the Gaza Strip to prevent the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
Sources recently told Al Ayyam that "a few hundred" members of the Field Control Force have been deployed along the northern and eastern borders of the Gaza Strip. The forces are particularly concentrated in areas from which Palestinian terror groups' rockets and mortars are generally fired.
According to Al Ayyam, the Field Control Force "has managed to foil many attempts to fire rockets [from Gaza into Israel] over the past two weeks." Since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in November, at least 37 rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza toward Israel. The majority of these have been fired by Salafi jihadist groups. A number of the rockets and mortars have failed to reach Israeli territory and landed in the Gaza Strip, however.
Tensions between Hamas and the Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have increased over recent weeks, in particular since the targeted killing by Israel of Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well known jihadist, on April 30.
On May 1, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), released a statement to jihadist forums which seemed to suggest that the Salafi jihadists believe Masshal was set up by elements within Hamas. This matches the claim of an April 30 statement from a Facebook page for supporters of Salafi jihadists in Gaza suggesting that it appeared Masshal had been offered "on a golden platter" to Israel by Hamas.
On the same day as Masshal's death, Asharq al Awsat reported that Hamas was increasing its efforts to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. Members of Hamas' al Qassam Brigades have been "deployed in the border areas of the Gaza Strip replacing policemen with the aim of preventing the firing of rockets from Gaza," the report stated. In addition, al Qassam Brigades members have reportedly "set up fixed and mobile roadblocks" to search cars and find those firing the rockets. Another recent report from Al Ayyam similarly stated that Hamas has warned Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip that those who fire rockets at the current time will be arrested and that the firing rockets should not occur "without a general national consensus" on the issue.
On May 2, Hamas' Interior Ministry announced the arrest of six Salafists, four of whom were accused of stealing rockets from other terror groups in the Gaza Strip. The ITMC condemned the announcement and said those detained had been arrested only because of their beliefs. Five days later, the ITMC accused members of the Field Control Force of firing on and injuring at least one Salafi jihadist in the northern Gaza Strip.
May 10, 2013 1:57 PM
By Bill Roggio
Last week, Afghan news outlets reported that ISAF aircraft killed a Taliban commander, two "Iranian citizens," and several fighters in an airstrike in the Pusht Rod district in Farah province on the Iranian border. The raid in Farah was confirmed by Farah's provincial spokesman, but ISAF did not include the strike in its operational reporting.
The Taliban commander was identified as Mullah Qadir, who, according to Khaama Press, "is accused of the deadly attacks which took place in Farah province recently." That very likely is a reference to the April 3 suicide assault on a courthouse in Farah City, where upwards of 44 people were killed.
Today, ISAF finally confirmed to The Long War Journal that "there was an operation conducted in Farah province on May 1st."
According to ISAF, "the operation was intended to prevent an imminent threat," but "for operational security reasons we cannot discuss the specific details of this operation at this time."
TOLOnews reported that "the insurgents were targeted while they wanted to explode a truck full of explosives in Bala Bolak district of Farah province."
ISAF contacted The Long War Journal on May 11 (one day after report post was published) and provided the following information on the operation:
On May 1st, Afghan intelligence officials received reports that a complex attack was imminent in Farah Province. A truck with more than 3000 kg of explosives was being prepared for movement to a target area densely populated with civilians. As a frame of reference, the truck bomb used in the Oklahoma City terrorist attack had just over 2,200 kg of explosives - and that detonation killed nearly 200 people, injured more than 600, and damaged more than 300 buildings within a sixteen-block radius. Once the Taliban began moving the truck to its intended target, it was destroyed with a precision strike. Eight insurgents were killed, including two members of the cell that are also thought to have attacked the Farah courthouse complex in early April.
The identities of the Iranians were not disclosed, and it is unclear if they were Iranian foreign fighters linked to al Qaeda and/or the Taliban, or if they were members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps - Qods Force. Iranians, along with "Arabs," were reported to have been killed in an ISAF airstrike on April 1.
Iran, through Qods Force's Ansar Corps, is known to sponsor al Qaeda and Taliban groups in western and southern Afghanistan [see LWJ reports, Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury, and Treasury targets Iran's 'secret deal' with al Qaeda]. ISAF officials have also directly linked Qods Force to several of the Taliban commanders.
ISAF has targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in western Afghanistan between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in early February 2011; LWJ's queries to ISAF on this subject have gone unanswered [see LWJ report, Taliban suicide assault team kills 36 Afghans in western city].
May 10, 2013 8:22 AM
By Bill Roggio
Jihadists in Mali launched three separate suicide attacks today against Malian and Nigerien troops in two towns outside of Gao. Reuters has some details on the attacks:
The attacks took place between 4 and 5 a.m. in Menaka and Gossi, near Gao - the first major town freed from the control of Islamist fighters during a French-led military intervention earlier this year.
While no group claimed credit for the attack, it was likely executed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or Ansar Dine, or a combination of fighters from those groups.
Note that one of the attacks was a suicide assault (a group of armed suicide bombers attacking a target). Jihadist groups in Mali have executed several attacks of this kind in the past; the last one was on March 21 in Timbuktu. The suicide assault is a common al Qaeda and Taliban tactic that is frequently used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and in other theaters.
While today's attacks were not particularly well-executed (only one Malian soldier was wounded in the attack, and the rest of the suicide bombers were killed), the jihadists in Mali are sending a message to Malian security forces and African Union troops that are preparing to deploy in the north: The attacks will continue, and the jihadist groups are not leaving anytime soon.
According to a count by The Long War Journal, there have been 12 suicide attacks in Mali, including the three attacks today, since France intervened in mid-January to halt the takeover of Mali by AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine. The first suicide attack was conducted on Feb. 9 in Gao. Attacks have also taken place in Timbuktu, Kidal, and Tessalit. Three of those suicide attacks have been claimed by MUJAO. French and Malian forces are still fighting to reestablish control of northern Mali, which was seized by the al Qaeda-linked groups in March 2012.
May 9, 2013 4:30 PM
By Bill Roggio
France24 reports on a disturbing trend in Tunisia, where radical preachers, some from outside the country, are flooding public spaces, "to promote their vision of religion." According to Messaoud Romdhani, the vice president of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, the supposedly secular Islamist Ennahda political party and the government support the influx of preachers from outside the country. From France24:
These practices are being encouraged by the wave of preachers visiting Tunisia from the Gulf or the Middle East. Even though some of them have extremist views, these foreign imams often come to Tunisia with the blessing of the government or the Islamist party Ennahda, the party in power, which accommodate and welcome them.
Interestingly enough, in January 2012, Rachid Ghannouchi, the co-founder and current leader of Ennahda, counseled Salafists to bide their time by improving their religious infrastructure. One of the things Ghannouchi suggested was for the Salafists to "invite religious preachers" to spread the word [see LWJ report, 'Moderate' Islamist leader in Tunisia strategizes with al Qaeda-linked Salafists; emphasis added below]:
"The secularists are still controlling the media, economy and administration," Ghannouchi warned the Salafists, according to Magharebia. "Therefore, controlling them would require more time." He advised the Salafists to "create television channels, radio stations, schools and universities" to increase their influence.
May 9, 2013 10:20 AM
By Bill Roggio
The Guardian reports that large numbers of fighters and even entire units from the Free Syrian Army are defecting en masse to the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. One FSA commander reported that more than 3,000 of the group's fighters have defected to Al Nusrah over the past several months. Read the full article; here is an excerpt:
Illustrating their plight, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently.
Keep in mind that earlier this year, the US government estimated that the Al Nusrah Front had more than 10,000 fighters in its ranks.
Despite the growing popularity of the Al Nusrah Front and mass defections of Free Syrian Army fighters and units to Al Nusrah, as well as top FSA leaders expressing their support for the al Qaeda group, the US government seems determined to fund the FSA and the umbrella Syrian Opposition Council, whose leader opposed the US's designation of Al Nusrah as a terrorist group. With mass defections of FSA forces to Al Nusrah, there is no better way to ensure that US funds and weapons will fall into al Qaeda's hands.
May 8, 2013 8:15 PM
By David Barnett
In the message, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, al Ashqar praised Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well-known jihadist in the Gaza Strip who was killed in an airstrike by the Israeli Air Force on April 30. Al Ashqar lauded Masshal and said that he had "never visited him [Masshal] without finding his room full with materials for manufacturing and preparing rockets, and the materials of jihad."
Al Ashqar revealed that Masshal had grown up in a "simple family" near Gaza City, and that over time he "grew to be committed and love jihad in the Cause of Allah."
According to al Ashqar, Masshal was very helpful to the Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. "Despite their poor equipment and the lack of it and the lack of their numbers, he took them to those who had stores of weapons and types and varieties of money, for his goal was loftier than that wreckage," al Ashqar said. He went on to say that Masshal "put most of his time in the folds of the jihadi work, such that even his family would miss seeing him due to his absence from him. He was not stingy with his money, so he would provide what he and his brothers required of equipment."
Al Ashqar also alleged that Masshal "was the first to have manufactured what is known as '107 rockets' [107mm Katyusha] in the Gaza Strip." Thanks to the work of Masshal, al Ashqar claimed, "a local copy of the 107mm Katyusha rocket... is [now] in the hands of all the mujahideen" in Gaza.
On April 30, the MSC released a statement through the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center confirming that Masshal, also known as Abu Ziad, was a member of their organization. "He stepped everywhere there is jihad, wanting to die, so may Allah have mercy on you, Abu Ziad. The enemy sites will miss you, which you didn't hesitate for one day to pound with rockets," the group said.
The MSC statement also revealed that Masshal had held a "high position" in Hamas' Al Qassam Brigades but he decided to leave the group after Hamas "entered the game of democracy and accepted the abandonment of the divine Shari'ah." Masshal, according to the MSC, previously worked alongside a number of Salafi jihadist leaders in the Gaza Strip including Abu al Walid al Maqdisi and Ashraf al Sabah, two MSC leaders killed in an Israeli airstrike in October 2012. The al Qaeda-linked group also noted that Masshal had previously worked with Abu Abdullah al-Suri (Khalid Banat), a former leader in Jund Ansar Allah, who was killed in clashes with Hamas in August 2009.
On May 1, the ITMC released its own statement to jihadist forums, which seemed to suggest that the Salafi jihadists believe Masshal was set up by elements within Hamas. This matches the claim of an April 30 statement from a Facebook page for supporters of Salafi jihadists in Gaza suggesting that it appeared Masshal had been offered "on a golden platter" to Israel by Hamas.
Tensions between Hamas and the Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have increased over recent weeks. According a recent report in Al Ayyam, Hamas has warned the Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip that those who fire rockets at the current time will be arrested and that the firing rockets should not occur "without a general national consensus" on the issue.
On May 2, Hamas' Interior Ministry announced the arrest of six Salafists, four of whom were accused of stealing rockets from other terror groups in the Gaza Strip. The ITMC condemned the announcement and said those detained are merely detained because of their beliefs. Five days later, the ITMC accused Hamas-linked militias of firing on and injuring at least one Salafi jihadist in the northern Gaza Strip.
May 8, 2013 10:13 AM
By David Barnett
Today Israeli authorities announced the arrest of members of a Hamas cell in the West Bank that was planning to kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers, among other terror activities. The cell, which was discovered a few months ago, received instructions from handlers in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
According to a statement released by the Israel Defense Forces, in addition to planning kidnapping operations, the Hamas cell, which was based in the Ramallah area, also took steps to carry out roadside bomb and rocket launching attacks.
The primary members of the cell, who were indicted on March 10, are Ahmed Muhammad Abu Fahida, 26, and Ahmed Yassin Abdel Fattah Shabrawi, 27. Fahida comes from the West Bank village of Ras Karkar, less than seven miles from Ramallah. Shabrawi is a resident of the town of Silwad in the West Bank. Both men have been detained previously for Hamas-related activities.
Fahida appears to be the leader of the cell, as the IDF statement said that he recruited Shabrawi, after he himself was recruited by a Hamas operative living in the Gaza Strip, Ahmed Mohammad Khalil Odeh. The operatives in Gaza communicated with the West Bank-based terrorists via email and telephone.
During interrogation, Fahida told Israeli authorities that only a few days before being arrested, he had told his handlers that the cell members would carry out their attacks in a matter of days.
Since January the Shin Bet has tallied 33 thwarted kidnapping attempts in the West Bank, according to recent Israeli media reports. By contrast, in all of 2012, there were 24 thwarted attempts in the West Bank. According to the Shin Bet's 2012 annual report, one-third of the approximately 100 "significant attacks" it thwarted from Gaza, the West Bank, and within Israel in 2012 were kidnapping attempts.
One IDF officer recently conceded that while Israeli authorities "have been able to thwart the kidnapping attempts ... the scope is extraordinary, and it is clear we will not be able to foil these attempts forever."
In recent months, Israeli authorities have exposed a number of Hamas terror cells in the West Bank. On March 13, the Shin Bet revealed that Hamas' Interior Minister Fathi Hammad has been at the forefront of the terror group's efforts to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank, including kidnappings, suicide bombings, and rocket attacks.
Less than two weeks earlier, authorities announced the arrest of members of a Hamas cell in Hebron that "intended to carry out various terror attacks -- but were arrested before executing their plans." On Feb. 6, Israeli authorities reported the thwarting of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad kidnapping plot.
In late January, Israeli authorities announced the arrest of approximately 20 Hamas terrorists who were trying "to establish a local headquarters in Hebron" and were "planning to kidnap an IDF soldier."
May 6, 2013 3:05 PM
By David Barnett
Iran's foreign ministry denounced the ruling, saying that the two Iranians had entered Kenya "on a valid visa for tourism purposes last year and were arrested as part of a pre-planned plot with baseless accusations." Mohammed had previously alleged that Israeli agents had interrogated him while in detention in Kenya.
When the two Iranians were arrested last year, they led authorities to 33 pounds of RDX, a powerful explosive that they had received near a golf club in Mombasa shortly after arriving in Kenya. Over 185 pounds of additional explosives believed to be linked to the two men has not yet been recovered, according to the Associated Press. The explosives reportedly arrived in Kenya on the MV Padriz.
At the sentencing on Monday, Magistrate Kiarie Waweru Kiarie said, "I shudder to imagine the amount of life and property that would have been forever destroyed," if the Iranians had been successful in using the RDX. Last July, an official from Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit told a Kenyan court that the two Iranians, who were arrested exactly a week after arriving in the African country, "have a vast network in the country meant to execute explosive attacks against government installations, public gatherings and foreign establishments."
On March 6, the Counterterrorism Bureau at Israel's National Security Council issued its semiannual travel warning. According to the report, there is an "ongoing potential threat" to Israelis in Kenya. The report further warned that there was a "very high and concrete threat" for coastal cities in Kenya, specifically Mombasa.
Mohammed and Mousavi will reportedly appeal the sentences with the help of the Iranian government, according to the BBC. At least one accomplice is still at large.
Today's sentencing comes just a few weeks after a Cypriot court sentenced Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, 24, a Swedish-Lebanese citizen, to four years in prison for helping Hezbollah plot attacks against Israelis. On Feb. 20, Yaacoub admitted in court to being a member of Hezbollah. On the same day, Nigeria's State Security Service announced the arrest of three members of an Iranian-backed terror cell that was reportedly planning to carry out attacks on US and Israeli interests as well as former Nigerian officials.
The targeting of Israeli and Jewish targets by Iran and Hezbollah appears to be on the rise over the past two years. Between May 2011 and July 2012, over 20 attacks tied to Iran and Hezbollah against Israelis and Jews abroad were thwarted. These thwarted attacks, not all of which were publicly reported, took place in Cyprus, Turkey, Kenya, India, Thailand, and Azerbaijan, and elsewhere. The only successful attack thus far was in July 2012 in Burgas, Bulgaria, when Hezbollah operatives exploded a bomb on a bus carrying Israeli tourists. On Feb. 5, Bulgaria declared that Hezbollah was responsible for the terror attack in Burgas. The two primary suspects are believed to be residing in Lebanon.
The Counterterrorism Bureau at Israel's National Security Council recently warned that Iran and Hezbollah are still looking to exact revenge for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists and senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyah and are likely to do so by targeting Israelis abroad via suicide attacks or kidnappings.
May 6, 2013 10:30 AM
By David Barnett
The head of engineering for the Egyptian Armed Forces, Major General Tahir Abdullah, announced today that authorities had successfully demolished 154 of 276 tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. At least 137 tunnels were destroyed twice, Abudallah said, as smuggling operations had resumed within them after they were first targeted.
Abdullah stressed that authorities are working nonstop to close the tunnels. According to Ma'an News Agency, the 276 tunnels were "previously unknown." A recent Reuters report stated that the number of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt was around 1,000. Other reports have put the number higher, while still others have said it is much lower.
Today's announcement comes after a number of reports in April of successful operations against smuggling, in particular the smuggling of weapons, in the Sinai and near Egypt's border with Libya. In February, Essam Haddad, national security adviser to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, said Egypt was targeting smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza because "[w]e don't want to see these tunnels used for illegal ways of smuggling either people or weapons that can really harm Egyptian security."
Today authorities also announced the seizure of a lifeboat that was being smuggled from Egypt to Gaza. And yesterday, security forces seized 10 vehicles that were being smuggled to Gaza and destroyed at least one tunnel. In addition, in the western part of Egypt, near the Salloum land port, authorities interdicted a cache of drugs and weapons.
On May 1, authorities announced a successful operation against a weapons smuggling attempt through the Salloum land port, a key crossing between Egypt and Libya. On the same day, a smuggling tunnel that was approximately 16 feet wide and 13 feet deep was destroyed near Rafah.
On April 28, authorities announced the seizure of a number of missiles near Siwa, not far from the Libyan border. Three days earlier, Egyptian authorities announced they were questioning an 11-member jihadist cell that was apprehended the week before. The cell, which was said to include Egyptian, Palestinian, and Lebanese citizens, was plotting to target an Egyptian military installation in Rafah.
On April 24, authorities seized and performed a controlled detonation of an explosives cache found in el Arish. The day before, authorities interdicted a number of weapons in western Egypt near Libya. On April 22, authorities discovered weapons and drugs in a raid in the Sinai that resulted in the arrest of at least one person.
On April 20, the Interior Ministry announced it had provided Sinai police with heavier weapons to help target "hostile targets." On the same day, authorities said they had successfully demolished a "giant" smuggling tunnel between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Five days earlier, a weapons cache, including mines and antiaircraft weaponry, which was destined for the Gaza Strip, was seized by authorities in the Sinai. A second cache of weaponry also in the Sinai was discovered later in the day. The previous day, authorities seized a number of automatic weapons from a vehicle traveling near the El Salam Bridge.
On April 13, authorities prevented the smuggling of weapons, money, and drugs at the Salloum land port. The day before, authorities found a weapons cache that included TNT and antitank mines in el Arish
On April 10, four suspected jihadists in the possession of weaponry were arrested by Egyptian authorities in Rafah. A couple of days later, authorities seized a variety of arms and ammunition from a weapons cache approximately three miles from the border with Israel. On the same day, a second cache of weapons was discovered in central Sinai.
Two days before these discoveries, authorities seized an explosives cache in Rafah that was intended to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip. And on April 2, Egyptian authorities arrested 15 suspected Islamist militants in the Sinai, and seized a weapons cache in the Sinai that included antiaircraft missiles.
Although these announcements may appear minor, recent reports suggest that increased operations in the Sinai, among other factors, have prevented Hamas from replenishing its weapons arsenal since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in November. According to the Tower, Egyptian and Israeli officials have both stated that since the end of Pillar of Defense, "no long-range missiles have entered Gaza."
May 3, 2013 12:27 PM
By Lisa Lundquist
A new report called "The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society" from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life has found that the majority of the 38,000 Muslims surveyed in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa favor the implementation of sharia law, among other things. The report incorporates results from a two-stage survey: 15 sub-Saharan African countries with substantial Muslim populations were surveyed in 2008-2009; and 24 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa were surveyed in 2011-2012.
Those hoping for the development of peaceful democratic societies in Muslim-majority countries may be dismayed to find that while most Muslims worldwide "reject suicide bombing and other attacks against civilians," these attacks remain popular in several key countries. According to the report, "substantial minorities in several countries say such acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 26% of Muslims in Bangladesh, 29% in Egypt, 39% in Afghanistan and 40% in the Palestinian territories."
The report is more upbeat with regard to the US, noting that "[f]ew US Muslims voice support for suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam; 81% say such acts are never justified, while fewer than one-in-ten say violence against civilians either is often justified (1%) or is sometimes justified (7%) to defend Islam."
But without digressing into the topic of Islamist attacks against civilians in America, it is important to note that the Pew study appears to corroborate the dismal experience of the Afghan High Peace Council in trying to get regional Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa condemning suicide attacks.
We at The Long War Journal have for some time been following the saga of the Afghan government's attempts to convene a "peace conference" involving Afghan and Pakistani clerics that would condemn suicide attacks. See LWJ report, Pakistani clerics endorse suicide bombings, reject proposed peace conference, for more information.
The Afghan Analysts' Network has also been tracking the issue, and has produced some in-depth reports, most recently the article "Is the Taleban Insurgency a Holy or an Unholy War? An Afghan-Pakistani ulema debate," in which author Borhan Osman remarked:
The Afghan government's hope that it could mobilise the Pakistani ulema's support for rejecting militancy not only remained unfulfilled, but what followed was the opposite. The very Pakistani ulema appointed by Islamabad to help Afghans in their peace efforts started disseminating their 'fatwa' of the permissibility of the strictest tactics of jihad in Afghanistan. And some found a keen audience in spreading their fatwa, thanks to the massive media interest.
Describing a March 30 radio debate between key Afghan and Pakistani clerics, Osman observed that the participants basically avoided the topic of suicide attacks and instead engaged in "an exchange of politically charged mutual labelling and sloganeering." He continued: "Polarised along political and nationalistic lines, some panellists even made remarks legitimising violence against the other country."
According to Osman, the only panelist who addressed the topic was controversial Pakistani mullah Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, who denied the TOLONews report that he approved of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, but he then "did not clearly spell out that he is opposed to this tactical means in all cases."
On April 18, a few weeks after the radio debate, the Afghanistan Islamic Research and Academic Centre in Kabul held a "meeting to discuss methods of peace and to clarify the controversial use of suicide bombers by Muslim extremist groups," TOLONews reported.
The meeting, which was attended by Afghan and Egyptian religious scholars, "declared suicide attacks forbidden or 'haram' under Islam [and] emphasis[ed] that this was in keeping with most Islamic teaching around the world."
That may be as good as it gets. The Afghan Peace Council's hoped-for consensus among Afghan and Pakistani clerics denouncing suicide attacks has not materialized. Meanwhile, the Taliban have announced that suicide attacks will feature prominently in this year's spring offensive.
May 2, 2013 8:17 PM
By David Barnett
Hamas Interior Ministry announced the arrests of six Salafists today. According to a statement released by the Interior Ministry, four of those arrested are accused of stealing rockets from other groups in the Gaza Strip. The other two are believed to have been involved in an explosion that had caused "human and material damage."
It is unclear if any of the six are the two members of Popular Resistance Committees who were reportedly arrested by Hamas forces in Khan Yunis on April 30.
The Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), slammed the announcement and said that those arrested by Hamas are in prison only because of their beliefs. The ITMC also called on Hamas to prove that those arrested had stolen rockets from other groups in the Gaza Strip.
Last October, the MSC released a 32-minute-long video detailing some of its rocket attacks against Israel. In the video, an official identified as Abu Usama al Muhajir denied that the MSC was stealing rockets from other groups in Gaza. "The rockets with which we pound the Jewish usurping enemy are either local or international, and as for the local, by the grace of Allah the Almighty, we have enough evidence that prove that we manufactured them," al Muhajir said.
Today's accusations are the latest in the ongoing feud between Hamas and the Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip, which has mounted since the targeted killing by Israel of Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well-known jihadist in the coastal enclave, on April 30.
On May 1, the ITMC released a statement suggesting that the Salafi jihadists believe Masshal had been set up by elements within Hamas. This claim matched that of an April 30 statement from a Facebook page for supporters of Salafi jihadists in Gaza, which said that it appeared Masshal had been offered "on a golden platter" to Israel by Hamas.
While Hamas officials have not responded to all of the accusations recently made by the Salafi jihadists, on Thursday Hamas' Mousa Abu Marzouk denied claims made by Salafi jihadists that Egyptian intelligence officers have been interrogating imprisoned Salafi jihadists in Gaza. "There is no truth whatsoever" to these claims, the senior Hamas official wrote on his Facebook page.
On Thursday evening, at least one rocket from the Gaza Strip landed in the Eshkol Regional Council. It was the first rocket to have struck Israel from Gaza this month. The strike has not yet been claimed by any group.
Since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, the vast majority of the rockets fired from Gaza have been fired by Salafi jihadists. In fact, according to Channel 10, Hamas has failed to replenish its rocket arsenal since the end of Pillar of Defense, which ended on Nov. 21.
May 1, 2013 9:45 PM
By David Barnett
On May 1, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), released a new statement related to the recent targeted killing of Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal by Israel.
The statement, which was posted to jihadist forums and the ITMC's Facebook and Tumblr pages, noted that the Israeli airstrike that killed Masshal came a few days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to respond against those responsible for the recent rocket attack on Israel from the Sinai Peninsula.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, Masshal was involved in the April 17 rocket attack on Eilat from the Sinai that has been claimed by the MSC.
The statement from the ITMC alleged that it was curious that Netanyahu's threat came around the same time that Hamas was waging a "frantic campaign" against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. In addition, the communiqué repeated claims that Egyptian intelligence officers have been interrogating Salafi jihadists imprisoned by Hamas. According to a statement released by the ITMC on April 27, the officers are interested in learning about the structure of Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, and the MSC in particular.
The new statement from the ITMC seems to suggest that the Salafi jihadists believe Masshal was set up by elements within Hamas. This matches the claim of an April 30 statement from a Facebook page for supporters of Salafi jihadists in Gaza suggesting that it appeared Masshal had been offered "on a golden platter" to Israel by Hamas.
The new statement emphasized a number of points, first being that the ITMC holds Hamas responsible for the fate of Salafi jihadists in their prisons. The ITMC went on to charge that the hands of some Hamas elements are "stained with the blood of the Salafi Mujahideen."
According to the ITMC, the "treachery" employed by Hamas in the case of Masshal is not new, but has been seen before in the deaths of other Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. The ITMC statement noted the deaths of Mohammed Namnam (November 2010), Eid Hijazi (August 2012), Hisham Saidani (October 2012), and Ashraf al Sabah (October 2012), as examples.
The statement from the ITMC concluded by saying that there is a need for an intensified campaign in the Gaza Strip to pressure Hamas to release imprisoned Salafi jihadists. The ITMC also called on the Islamic Ummah to help "before it is too late."
May 1, 2013 11:42 AM
By David Barnett
On April 30, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) released a video with excerpts from the will of Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal (Abu Ziad), a jihadist who was killed in an airstrike by the Israeli Air Force earlier that day. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Masshal "manufactured, improved and traded different types of ammunition" for various jihadist groups in Gaza, and was involved in the April 17 rocket attack on Eilat from the Sinai that has been claimed by the MSC.
In the video, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Masshal called on Muslims to participate in jihad and "light fire to the ground beneath the feet of the disbelievers and the apostates." He urged Muslims to take steps toward "returning to their religion and taking down all nationalist affiliations and stepping upon all secular and democratic banners."
Masshal also warned that Muslims must not "listen to those who want to mix between jihad, politics and democracy, for they don't mix at all. Jihad is a divine order and democracy is a disbelieving rule through something Allah didn't reveal." He stated: "Jihad is continuing until the Day of Judgment, and the justice or the injustice of anyone will not stop it."
Speaking of Hamas' al Qassam Brigades, to which he had formerly belonged, Masshal said: "He who looks at your state today will almost cry for you, for you have unfortunately become a tool in the hand of the government that governs in Gaza." Masshal also contended that "the government and the Interior Ministry used you to kill the mujahideen and the monotheists and storm the mosques and the homes with the people inside."
According to a statement released by the MSC yesterday, Masshal had "stepped everywhere there is jihad, wanting to die ....The enemy sites will miss you, which you didn't hesitate for one day to pound with rockets." The MSC statement added that although Masshal had formerly held a "high position" in Hamas' al Qassam Brigades, he had left the group once it "entered the game of democracy and accepted the abandonment of the divine Shari'ah."
The MSC said that Masshal had previously worked alongside a number of Salafi jihadist leaders in the Gaza Strip, including Abu al Walid al Maqdisi and Ashraf al Sabah, two MSC leaders killed in an Israeli airstrike in October 2012. The al Qaeda-linked group also noted that Masshal had worked with Abu Abdullah al-Suri (Khalid Banat), a former leader in Jund Ansar Allah, who was killed in clashes with Hamas in August 2009.
April 30, 2013 8:21 PM
By David Barnett
Hamas forces arrested two members of the Popular Resistance Committees' Al Nasser Salah al Deen Brigades from their apartment in Khan Yunis, according to a statement released today by the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit. The arrests are part of an "extensive campaign" by Hamas to arrest Salafi jihadist fighters in the Gaza Strip, the statement alleged.
Today's arrests come just a few days after the ITMC released a statement saying that Egyptian intelligence officers have been interrogating Salafi jihadists detained by Hamas. The officers, according to the ITMC, are interested in learning about the structure of Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula.
Earlier today, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out an airstrike in the Gaza Strip that targeted and killed a member of the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC). According to the IDF, the terrorist, Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, "acted in different Jihad Salafi terror organizations and over the past few years has been a key terror figure, specializing in weapons and working with all of the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip."
While a Hamas spokesman condemned the strike on Masshal as "dangerous and unjustified," a Facebook page for supporters of Salafi jihadists in Gaza released a statement that called on Hamas to release imprisoned Salafi jihadists. In a separate statement, the group said Masshal had previously been held in one of Hamas' prisons in the Gaza Strip and that it appeared he had been offered "on a golden platter" to Israel by Hamas.
The group, which has organized at least two public protests against Hamas in April, also said that it holds Hamas responsible "for the fate of our Mujahideen prisoners inside and outside their prisons."
Meanwhile, Ashraq al Awsat reports that Hamas is increasing its efforts to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. Members of Hamas' al Qassam Brigades have been "deployed in the border areas of the Gaza Strip replacing policemen with the aim of preventing the firing of rockets from Gaza," the report stated. In addition, al Qassam Brigades members have reportedly "set up fixed and mobile roadblocks" to search cars and find those firing the rockets.
Over the past couple of weeks, Salafi jihadists, primarily the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, have fired a number of rockets from the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula toward Israel. According to Ashraq al Awsat, Israel recently sent messages to Egyptian mediators, calling on Hamas to make greater efforts in stopping the rocket fire from Gaza.