September 29, 2014 12:18 PM
By Oren Adaki
Abd al Aziz al Omari. Source: Al Hayat.
Al Omari, a Saudi who went by a variety of noms-de-guerre, including Muslim al Azdi, Abu Omar al Kholani, and Abu Muslim al Kholani, is especially remembered for his role in running well-known Twitter accounts that are are critical of the US drone program in Yemen.
The Twitter accounts known in Arabic as "American Crimes in Yemen" and in English as "American_Crimes," reportedly run by al Omari, had a follower base of over 34,000 Twitter users. The Arabic and English accounts are used to document US drone strikes in the country as well as to disseminate news reports released by AQAP.
On Sept. 27, the Arabic Twitter account "American Crimes in Yemen" confirmed that al Omari had been killed in the drone strike the previous day and described the strike as "a drop in the sea of American crimes against the Muslims." The Twitter account claimed that al Omari had survived a previous drone strike and promised its followers that the account would continue to function normally. "The #American_Crimes_in_Yemen account will remain a thorn in America and its agents' side[s]," its new author vowed.
September 29, 2014 10:46 AM
By Oren Adaki
Over the past 24 hours, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed credit for at least four separate attacks targeting both the Yemeni military and the Shiite Houthi rebels, who have recently taken control of much of the capital of Sana'a. The attacks took place in Shabwa, Marib, and Baydha provinces and resulted in the deaths of over 20 Yemenis.
AQAP's initial attack yesterday targeted Yemeni soldiers as they drove a truck full of food aid along the road connecting the towns of Gol al Raydah and Rudhoum in the Mayfa'a region of Shabwa province. According to the AQAP statement released later in the day, the terrorist group's fighters drove alongside the truck before opening machine gun fire on the eight Yemeni soldiers on board. AQAP claimed that five soldiers were killed and three others were wounded as a result of the attack. Additionally, the statement boldly claimed that the group's attacks on military personnel and facilities in the Mayfa'a region of Shabwa have claimed the lives of over 50 Yemeni soldiers in about a month.
The remainder of AQAP's attacks yesterday specifically targeted the Shiite Houthi rebels who have been consolidating their power in Sana'a for over a week. AQAP has called for an open war against the Houthi rebels and has simultaneously been using the current chaos in the country to stage attacks outside of its traditional power base in southern Yemen.
Yesterday's second attack took place during the afternoon in the Majzar region of Marib, when an AQAP suicide attacker targeted the al Jafra Hospital with a suicide vehicle-borne explosive device (SVBIED or suicide car bomb).
In a statement released on Twitter by an AQAP-affiliated account, the group claimed credit for the attack in Marib and identified the suicide bomber as Abu Jandal al Sana'ani. The statement said that the al Jafra Hospital was the target of the operation as "the Houthis have transformed it into a headquarters for them, after it had served as a public benefit to Muslims of the region." The statement went on to say that "the mujahideen's targeting of the Houthi gathering in al Jafra points to its strategic importance to [the Houthis]," who allegedly use the hospital as a gathering point for fighters in the region.
The AQAP statement, as well as local media coverage, confirms that tens of people were killed and injured in the Marib attack. The AQAP release also points out that the Houthis suffered material losses from the suicide operation, including the destruction of four trucks, three armored vehicles, and two armored Humvees.
Yesterday evening, AQAP continued targeting the Houthi rebels by staging an ambush on a strategic road in al Baydha province in central Yemen. An AQAP statement regarding the attack said that its fighters conducted the attack along the road linking the city of Baydha to Rada'. At seven o'clock, a red Vitara car carrying Houthi rebels passed by the ambush location as it was leaving Baydha when AQAP fighters "rained a barrage of bullets" on the car "leading to the deaths of those that were on board." AQAP claimed that six Houthis were killed and that their vehicle was burned before the jihadists safely withdrew.
About three hours later, AQAP fighters staged yet another ambush along the same road, this time about three hundred meters from the Hayd al Samaa checkpoint manned by the Yemeni military, according to an additional AQAP statement. This time, the jihadists stopped a Houthi vehicle and asked passengers for their identification and reason for travel. When the Houthi passengers replied that they had come from Rada' to collect the bodies of their companions killed in the earlier ambush, the AQAP fighters opened fire at the vehicle immediately.
The AQAP statement claims that the group's fighters killed most of the vehicle's passengers before the driver sped off and drove off a cliff, killing any survivors. As a result, AQAP says that "we could not count their numbers [i.e. casualties] in an accurate manner."
The following pictures from the first AQAP ambush in Baydha were posted to Twitter by an AQAP-affiliated account:
September 28, 2014 8:36 AM
By Oren Adaki
Yesterday, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) conducted a rocket attack on the US embassy in Yemen's embattled capital, Sana'a. The attack was reportedly carried out by AQAP fighters riding past the embassy on a motor bike.
According to Arabic media reports, the rocket fell about 100 meters from the embassy last night and caused no injuries or deaths. Some reports speculate that the concrete slabs directly in front of the embassy may have absorbed much of the force of the blast and thereby spared the embassy's employees and structures. Other reports claimed that Yemeni guards were wounded in the attack.
This development comes just two days after the US State Department issued a statement directing some diplomats and government employees working in the Sana'a embassy to leave the country, citing the "changing, unpredictable security situation in Yemen." The statement noted that the embassy would remain open with the majority of staff on site.
AQAP took credit for the attack via one of its affiliated accounts on Twitter, claiming that "the attack resulted in injuries among the embassy guards" and caused material damages to some of the protective measures surrounding the facility. AQAP also specified that the rocket used in the attack was a "Lu-type rocket," while other sources suggested that the fighters used an M72 light antitank weapon.
A US drone strike on Sept. 26 in Yemen's northern al Jawf province killed two AQAP fighters in the Khasaf region, near the provincial capital, Hazm. Sources claimed that three young children, said to be brothers, were injured as a result of the strike. The brothers were reportedly wounded while in the vicinity of their homes, close to the location of the strike.
Al Jawf is a known haven for top al Qaeda leaders. US drones have struck AQAP in Al Jawf six other times since the beginning of 2010. The last strike in the province took place on March 12, killing a local AQAP military commander known as Moajab bin Aziz, as well as his bodyguard.
The security situation in the Yemeni capital has been deteriorating since last week, when Shiite Houthi rebels flooded into the city and seized much of it. AQAP has capitalized on the current chaos to consolidate its power and increase its terrorist activities outside of its traditional power base located in Yemen's southern provinces. Prior to yesterday's rocket attack, the group's most recent operation in the capital took place on Sept. 22, when AQAP targeted a Houthi military team with an improvised explosive device (IED) on Television Road.
September 27, 2014 9:51 PM
By Bill Roggio
As the press has been abuzz about the so-called Khorasan group in Syria, which Thomas Joscelyn adeptly explains is merely al Qaeda, the US has so far focused little attention on the group since launching eight airstrikes against it on Sept. 22.
Of the 48 strikes that have taken place in Syria since the US and allied countries began launching airstrikes, only 8 have targeted al Qaeda's network in Syria (which includes the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria). All eight strikes took place on the opening day of coalition airstrikes in Syria.
Over the past two days, the US conducted 10 airstrikes in Syria; three near the city of Deir al Zour "that destroyed four ISIL [Islamic State] tanks and damaged another," and seven more near Hasakah, Manbij, Kobani, and Raqqah that damaged or destroyed an Islamic State command and control center, garrison, training camp, buildings, and armed vehicles.
The Sept. 22 strike against al Qaeda / the Al Nusrah Front / the Khorasan group killed Abu Yusuf al Turki, a seasoned sniper trainer for al Qaeda who has more than a decade of experience with al Qaeda. Jihadists displayed pictures of his body on Twitter. Additionally Muhsin al Fadhli, the leader of al Qaeda in Syria, is also thought to have been killed but his death has not been confirmed.
The SITE Intelligence Group reported that an "al Qaeda member who trained under Abu Khalid al Suri and fought in Khorasan (Afghanistan-Pakistan region) before traveling to Syria, confirmed the deaths of senior officials Muhsin al Fadhli (AKA Abu Asma'a al-Kuwaiti) and Abu Yusuf al Turki." Al Qaeda and the Al Nusrah Front have not issued a formal statement announcing al Fadhli's death.
The prime target of the US-led air campaign in Syria so far has been the Islamic State. But the Al Nusrah Front and its jihadist allies such as Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic Front, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, Harakat Sham al Islam, and Junud al Sham, also have a strong presence in Syria. Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, Harakat Sham al Islam, and the leader of Junud al Sham were added to the US' list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists last week. The Islamic Front, however, is often held up as being part of the so-called "moderate" Syrian rebels.
September 26, 2014 3:11 PM
By Caleb Weiss
The Islamic State has launched multiple suicide assaults in an effort to retake Iraq's largest oil refinery, in Baiji in Salahaddin province. While it has conducted numerous attacks on the refinery in the past, mainly utilizing mortars, the jihadist group has stepped up the resources used in the latest round of operations.
According to the National Iraqi News Agency, the Islamic State utilized at least eight suicide car bombs in a single day during its latest assault. In previous days, the Islamic State deployed several additional suicide car bombs to attack Iraqi military positions in and around the refinery.
Shafaq News reported that "terrorists detonated three car bombs on Tuesday night before they [blew] up tankers at dawn on Wednesday, led by a suicide bomber." Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq noted on Twitter that it was the second day of suicide attacks on the refinery.
This new assault comes as US and coalition airstrikes have begun to target Islamic State-held oil assets inside Syria. The BBC notes: "The raids, carried out by US, Saudi and UAE aircraft, targeted 12 refineries in Syria on a third night of air strikes against the militants." US Central Command has also released video showcasing airstrikes on "Jeribe West Modular Refinery" in Syria.
The Islamic State has been in control of Iraq's Baiji oil refinery in the past. Since June, Iraqi troops and Islamic State forces have battled for control of the facility.
Below are pictures reportedly taken outside of Baiji that show dark smoke billowing from the refinery.
September 26, 2014 12:56 PM
By Oren Adaki
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced yesterday that its members have executed an intelligence director in the central province of al Dale'. The intelligence director, identified as Mohammad Taher al Shami, was killed along with four of his associates in the city of Rada'. Some reports identify al Shami as a political security director in the province.
AQAP has been active in al Dale' province of late. Last week, the group announced that it had taken eight individuals described as Shiite Houthi rebels captive after AQAP broke the rebels' siege of the city of Damt. According to media reports, among the eight individuals taken by AQAP were the intelligence director and his associates executed yesterday. The kidnapping occurred while al Shami and his forces repelled AQAP fighters from Damt, killing four. There was no explanation as to why AQAP considered al Shami and his associates to be linked with the Houthi rebels.
Shortly after last week's kidnapping, AQAP demanded the bodies of its four slain fighters in addition to a sum of 20 million riyals (about $93,000) as ransom for the hostages.
AQAP's announcement of its capture of eight Houthi rebels last week came as tensions were rising in the country due to the Houthis' growing presence in Sana'a. The Houthis staged massive protests in the Yemeni capital over the weekend and violently clashed with Sunni militiamen aligned with the country's main Sunni party, Islah. AQAP subsequently issued a statement on Sept. 23 declaring an open war on the Shiite Houthis and calling on Sunnis to take up arms against them.
The following pictures were posted by a self-identified AQAP member on Twitter:
The tweet accompanying the picture above reads: "Execution of the political security director in #Damt Mohammad Taher al Shami and his associates in Rada'
The tweet accompanying the picture above reads: "Al Shami, the apostate, the director of political security that was captured by the lions of al Qaeda with his associates in the battle of Damt against the rafidis [derogatory term for Shiites], they dug their graves with their [own] hands.."
September 25, 2014 12:41 PM
By Laura Grossman
In the past few days, record numbers of Boko Haram fighters are reported to have been surrendering to Nigerian forces. According to the Nigerian Defence Headquarters, "135 terrorists yesterday evening surrendered along with equipment to troops around Biu Local Government Area." The Nigerian military also reported that 88 insurgents from the group surrendered in Yadi and 45 others were "taken" in Mubi.
Last week, government forces were able to repel attempts made by Boko Haram to take control of Konduga, approximately 70 kilometers from Borno state capital Maiduguri. Prior to that offensive, the group was gaining ground, taking control of several towns and their environs in Nigeria's northeast. Nigerian Archbishop Oliver Dashe Doeme stated that as of Sept. 18, Boko Haram held 25 towns in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states.
The terrorists made several attempts to take Konduga. Responding to those offensives, Nigerian forces reportedly killed "no fewer than 200 members" of the group. They also recovered arms, ammunition, and many vehicles from the Boko Haram fighters.
On Sept. 18, the Nigerian Defense HQ tweeted rather cryptically that at Konduga, there was a "seriously wounded high ranking terrorists Leader is being treated in a Military medical facility after he was captured in the OP." The identity of this commander was not clear.
The story then evolved as further information came out indicating that the body in question might be that of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram's leader since 2010. The published photo of the dead man bears a strong resemblance to the terrorist leader seen in recent images and videos.
Some news stories said, however, that the body was not that of Shekau but rather belonged to a man reportedly known as his impersonator. On Sept. 21, a story in the Nigerian press quoted senior intelligence and military sources who noted that "it is getting more certain that the terrorists' commander who has been mimicking Shekau in those videos is the one killed in Konduga on September 17, 2014."
Yesterday, Nigerian defense spokesman Chris Olukolade stated: "In the course of those encounters, one Mohammed Bashir, who has been acting or posing on videos as the deceased Abubakar Shekau, the eccentric character known as leader of the group, died." According to Olukolade, Bashir's aliases included "Abacha Abdullahi Geidam, Damasack, etc." as well as "Abubakar Shekau." A report in Punch News cited a claim by a Nigerian journalist that Shekau himself is "hale and hearty."
Olukolade's statement and those made by others shine scant light upon the terrorist group; instead, they yield more questions. First, if Mohammed Bashir has been mimicking Boko Haram's leader, what happened to the first Abubakar Shekau? And, how long has this doppelganger been ruling in his stead, if he is, in fact, commanding the group?
The Nigerian military has reported on two separate occasions that Shekau was dead. Nigerian officials initially thought he was killed in the same firefight in 2009 that killed his predecessor and Boko Haram founder, Mohammad Yusuf. He was later believed to have been killed in June 2013.
AFP reported that earlier this year, Marilyn Ogar, spokesperson for Nigeria's secret police, claimed that "the original Shekau is dead" and that the person appearing in numerous videos was an imposter. It should be noted that no proof was offered with this statement.
If there has been some sort of change in leadership, one must ask what reverberations those alterations may have on the group and its capabilities.
Additionally, a dead doppelganger doesn't necessarily mean that the original is dead. Throughout Boko Haram's ascendance, Shekau has been in hiding. It's also possible that Shekau, and perhaps other group leaders, have several doppelgangers.
Shekau has always been somewhat enigmatic. Even his age is unconfirmed. There have been reports in the past that highlighted inconsistencies between Shekau's appearance across several videos. Tracking Terrorism reports that in several videos, there are variations in skin color, posturing, verbal tendencies, and cadence.
For security reasons, having a body double can offer further protection. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Libya's Muammar Ghaddafi employed several body doubles as part of their protection details.
Given that Shekau has stayed in hiding these past few months, it also seems bizarre that he would be on the frontlines of battle with his troops. Konduga, while an important area along the way to Maiduguri, is not the region's capital. Being on the frontlines of a big battle, such as one for control of a regional capital, could be a strong move from a propaganda perspective. However, the battle for Konduga was not such a fight.
While the Nigerian military appears to be touting its success, its recent warning to those who may follow in Bashir's footsteps highlights the fact that the battle against Boko Haram is not over. Tweeting yesterday, Nigeria's Defence HQ commented: "On 'Shekau' Brand: The Nigerian military will serve justice to anyone who assumes that Designation/Title."
Although some of Shekau's fighters appear to be surrendering as reports of the death of their purported emir emerge, the group is not on its last legs. The violent ideology and aims of Boko Haram clearly resonate with some adherents. The group's stalwarts will probably not give up that easily, even if their leader is actually dead. And as has been seen with other Islamist terror groups, such as al Qaeda itself, the death of a charismatic leader does not guarantee the demise of the group.
Indeed, Boko Haram fighters yesterday stormed two predominantly Christian villages in Borno state, killing 12 people, including a pastor and a teacher, and destroying 10 churches as well as a clinic and other structures at a girls' school.
September 24, 2014 5:30 PM
By Caleb Weiss
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a jihadist organization based in the Philippines that previously was tied to al Qaeda and is now loyal to the Islamic State, has released a statement in which it threatened to kill a German hostage unless Germany backs out of the coalition with the United States. In a message released on Twitter in Arabic and Filipino, ASG said it has two demands for Germany, stipulating 15 days to meet these demands or the hostages will be executed.
The two German hostages have been identified as Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen. Both were captured in waters off the coast of Malaysia in May.
The demands set forth by ASG are as follows, according to a translation provided by SITE Intelligence Group:
"The first of our demands is to pay us 250 million pesos in return for releasing both of them (in addition to the second demand). The second: The participation with support from Germany to America must stop, in the killing of our Muslims brothers in Iraq and Sham [Syria] in general, and the mujahideen of the Islamic State in particular."
ASG has been notorious for kidnappings in the Philippines and surrounding areas. In the same article that identifies the two German nationals, it goes on to say that "two Germans were made to join European birdwatchers Elwold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra. The two birdwatchers were abducted by the bandit group in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi on January 31, 2012."
Additionally, in April 2000, ASG kidnapped 19 people in Malaysia before taking them back to their base in Sulu, Philippines. In 2001, the Philippines rescued an American hostage taken by ASG after the group threatened to kill him. A month later, ASG kidnapped 20 individuals from a resort on the Filipino island of Palawan. It is also thought that ASG has kidnapped 20 reporters since the year 2000.
ASG has also been active in bombings, the worst of which occurred in 2004 and killed 116 people off the coast of Manila.
In the past, the ASG has had ties to al Qaeda. In June, a master ASG bomb maker who was thought to have been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, turned up in the Philippines. The operative, Abdul Basit Usman, is wanted by the United States for his involvement in multiple bombings in the Philippines and also has ties to Jemaah Islamiyah, an al Qaeda-linked group in Southeast Asia.
ASG was funded and financed by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, one of Osama bin Laden's brother-in-laws, according to Khaddafy Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf before he was killed in 2006. Khalifa, an al Qaeda financier and facilitator, was killed by US special operations forces in Madagascar in 2006.
ASG also has ties to Jemaah Islamiyah in Malaysia. Jemaah Islamiyah is an Islamist terrorist group that seeks to establish a pan-Islamic state across Southeast Asia. The organization is most active in Indonesia and the Philippines, but also conducts operations in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. It is al Qaeda's regional affiliate in Southeast Asia and its operatives have been responsible for devastating attacks in the region, including the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the 2004 suicide car bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, the August 2003 car bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, and a series of bombings in Manila.
But ASG has distanced itself from al Qaeda when in July, Isnilon Hapilon, a top leader in the group, swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State.
"We pledge bayah to Caliph Sheikh Abu Bakr al Baghdadi Ibrahim Awwad al Qurashi al Husseini for loyalty and obedience in adversity and comfort," Hapilon said in a short videotape. Other members of ASG have also pledged allegiance to al Baghdadi and the Islamic State.
September 24, 2014 3:01 PM
By Oren Adaki
On Sept. 22, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed credit for two separate attacks carried out earlier that day, in the midst of serious political and sectarian upheaval rocking the country. The attacks, a suicide operation in Yemen's northern Sa'adah province and a bombing in Sana'a, both targeted Shiite Houthi rebels who have been leading an open insurrection in the Yemeni capital for the past several days.
AQAP reported that the the suicide operation in Sa'adah was carried out by Mu'awiyah al San'ani at exactly five o'clock in the evening as he detonated his truck, which was carrying a ton and a half of explosive materials. The suicide attack targeted a gathering of Houthis in front of a local court administered by the Shiite Zaydi sect in the Beqa' region on the edges of Sa'adah and Jawf provinces, both traditional Houthi strongholds.
"It is important to mention," the news report released by AQAP concludes, "that the aforementioned suicide operation comes a day after the crimes committed by the rafidi Houthi group's militias ... against the Sunnis in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a." In a follow up report, AQAP claimed that more than 50 Houthis had been in killed in the attack.
The statement on the attack in Sana'a, dated Sept. 23 but released on Sept. 22, claimed that the group "targeted a Houthi military unit" on the afternoon of Sept. 22 with an improvised explosive device (IED). The attack reportedly occurred as the military unit was passing along Television Road in the Yemeni capital. The AQAP statement provided no additional information.
September 24, 2014 2:46 PM
By Oren Adaki
In the midst of a week of fierce clashes in Sana'a between Shiite Houthi rebels and Sunni Islamist militias, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released its most recent statement addressed to the Sunni community writ large. The "Statement Regarding The Crimes of the Houthi Faction Against the Sunnis," also given the subtitle "A Call to Sunnis," was disseminated on Sept. 23 by an AQAP-affiliated Twitter account.
The statement begins by describing recent Houthi actions in Sana'a as seeking "to complete the rafidi [Shiite] (Persian) project in Yemen" and continues to refer to the Houthi movement as a "malicious rafidi [a derogatory term for Shiite] plant." The leaders of the Sunni community, as well as its clerics and religious figures, are accused by the statement of aiding and abetting the "sprouting and growing" of this "plant."
"This occurred by their turning a blind eye to them [the Houthis] and by staying silent regarding their crimes committed against the Sunnis in Sa'ada and elsewhere," explains the statement, "and by their defense of them following the 'stolen revolution,' claiming that they [the Houthis] are a part of the people and part and parcel of its revolution." The statement continues to admonish the Sunni community for legitimizing the Houthis by giving them a chair at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) brokered National Dialogue Conference.
In classic sectarian language, the statement summarizes, "In that manner, the poison spread, and the Persians stabbed us with their poisoned (Houthi) dagger they inherited from their Magian grandfather (Abu Lu'lu')."
The statement then moves into a history of the roots of the Houthi rebellion, according to the AQAP perspective. In order to do so, it begins with a broad sweep of Islamic history in Persia. After the Arab conquests, "the land of the Persians took shelter under the shade of the Shari'ah" and the Persians "were tamed by the justice of Islam and its mercy and entered into the religion of Allah." Everything was fine until Khomeini fooled the Persians into obedience, created the "twelver rafidi revolution," and began seeking to export it elsewhere in the Muslim world. This is the connection to the Houthis.
The statement accuses Hussein Badreddin al Houthi, the founder of the group, of "carrying the rafidi flag in the land of Yemen" under false and often changing pretenses. It describes Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi as "even greater in mendacity, delusion, and audacity in his falsehood" and condemns him for allying himself with Bashar al Assad and Nouri al Maliki against Sunni interests.
"Oh Sunnis, you must rise from your slumber and awaken from your sleep," the statement implores. The time for factionalism and tribalism has passed and now is the time for "unity under the banner of the people of the Sunnah [Sunnis]." The statement then reminds its readers that "the consequence of betrayal is severe" while "the consequence of aiding a Muslim is great."
The statement next turns to a call to arms. "Oh people of the Sunnah [Sunnis], carry your weapons, take the path of struggle, and know that what is due will only return at gunpoint." In flowery poetic language, AQAP explains that violence is the only means by which to exact revenge and seek retribution.
The statement concludes by assuring the Sunni community of coming victories that will be a source of comfort and reminding them of the many efforts that AQAP has made to defend them. In a final threat to the Houthis, the statement reads, "we have come to you carrying our souls on our shoulders and we view spending them in the path of Allah [i.e. martyrdom] the greatest of sacrifices to Allah."
September 24, 2014 2:01 PM
By Bill Roggio
Today, the State Department added a number of jihadist commanders and operatives to the US' list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In addition to the four al Qaeda leaders, an Al Nusrah Front commander, the leader of the Junud al Islam, and terrorist groups Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar and Harakat Sham al-Islam, State added three Islamic State commanders and a Shabaab leader to its terrorism list. Below are State's summaries of the Shabaab and Islamic State leaders.
As of mid-July 2014, Amru al Absi was selected as ISIL's provincial leader for Homs, Syria, in the Aleppo region. As a principal leader of ISIL in Syria, he has been in charge of kidnappings.
For more information on the other designations released today by State, see LWJ reports, US adds Chechen, Moroccan-led jihadist groups to terrorist list, and US government designations target al Qaeda's international network.
September 23, 2014 4:29 PM
By Bill Roggio
US Central Command, or CENTCOM, released three videos of US airstrikes on Islamic State facilities in Syria. The strikes, which are displayed below, are part of the opening salvo of the US air campaign against the Islamic State as well as the "Khorasan group," a cadre of al Qaeda leaders and operatives who work with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.
Earlier today, Lieutenant General William C. Mayville Jr., Director of Operations for the Joint Staff, conducted a briefing on the strikes in Syria. The operations were "organized in three waves," Mayville said, according a news summary published at the Department of Defense's website:
The first wave began around midnight in Syria, or 8:30 Eastern time, when "the USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea and the USS Philippine Sea in the northern Arabian Gulf launched more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles in eastern and northern Syria."
Mayville did not provide estimates of the number of Islamic State and al Qaeda, Al Nusrah, and Khorasan group leaders and fighters killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 70 Islamic State and 50 Al Nusrah fighters and commanders were killed. Jihadists reported that an Al Nusrah Front sniper trainer known as Abu Yusuf al Turki was killed. [See LWJ reports, US airstrikes target Al Nusrah Front, Islamic State in Syria and US air war against jihadists in Syria begins.]
Strike on Islamic State vehicle staging near Abu Kamal, Syria:
Strike on Islamic State storage facility near Abu Kamal, Syria:
Strike on Islamic State compound northwest of Raqqah, Syria:
September 22, 2014 9:06 PM
By Bill Roggio
CENTCOM has expanded its air campaign against the Islamic State today, launching four airstrikes against the jihadist group in the Kirkuk region of Iraq. From CENTCOM's press release on today's airstrikes:
US military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Iraq today, using a mix of attack, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct four airstrikes near the city of Kirkuk.
US warplanes are now operating over Irbil, Sinjar, the Mosul and Haditha dams, southwest of Baghdad (likely in Jurf al Sakhar in northern Babil), and somewhere on the Euphrates River.
September 21, 2014 7:39 PM
By Caleb Weiss
Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the spokesman for the Islamic State, released a new speech today entitled "Indeed Your Lord is Ever Watchful." In this new fiery speech, al Adnani threatens not only America, but also European countries for supporting US airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State.
"O America, O allies of America, and O crusaders, know that the matter is more dangerous than you have imagined and greater than you have envisioned," Adnani says. "We have warned you that today we are in a new era, an era where the State, its soldiers, and its sons are leaders not slaves. They are a people who through the ages have not known defeat."
Adnani then goes on to say, "O crusaders, you have realized the threat of the Islamic State, but you have not become aware of the cure, and you will not discover the cure because there is no cure. If you fight it, it becomes stronger and tougher. If you leave it alone, it grows and expands."
In the next paragraph he warns: "[T]his campaign will be your final campaign. It will be broken and defeated, just as all your previous campaigns were broken and defeated, except that this time we will raid you thereafter, and you will never raid us. We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted."
Adnani then mentions President Obama directly, ranting, "And O Obama, O mule of the jews. You are vile. You are vile. You are vile. And you will be disappointed, Obama. Is this all you were capable of doing in this campaign of yours? Is this how far America has reached of incapacity and weakness?"
He then warns American and European citizens for "their governments actions in Iraq." He goes to say, "O Americans, and O Europeans, the Islamic State did not initiate a war against you, as your governments and media try to make you believe. It is you who started the transgression against us, and thus you deserve blame and you will pay a great price. You will pay the price when your economies collapse. You will pay the price when your sons are sent to wage war against us and they return to you as disabled amputees, or inside coffins, or mentally ill."
Adnani next calls on Muslims who support the Islamic State from around the world to "defend the Islamic State." He exhorts: "So rise O muwahhid [monotheists]. Rise and defend your state from your place wherever you may be. Rise and defend your Muslim brothers, for their homes, families, and wealth are threatened and deemed lawful by their enemies."
He then calls on these Muslims to "strike the soldiers, patrons, and troops of the tawāghīt [those who cross the limits of Allah]. Strike their police, security, and intelligence members, as well as their treacherous agents. Destroy their beds. Embitter their lives for them and busy them with themselves. If you can kill a disbelieving American or European - especially the spiteful and filthy French - or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be."
Threatening the US or Europe in speeches is nothing new for Adnani or the Islamic State. In a recent propaganda video released earlier this week, the Islamic State threatened to "attack the White House and kill US troops."
When the Islamic State beheaded American reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff, it said "So any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic Caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people". And when the Islamic State beheaded UK aid worker David Haines, it warned, "[Britain's] evil alliance with America, which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam, will only accelerate your destruction" and "will only drag you and your people into another bloody and un-winnable war."
In a documentary released by VICE News in August, an Islamic State press officer in Raqqah went on camera saying, "Don't be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead, send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God wiling, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House."
More importantly, in Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's first recorded speech, he threatened the US by saying, "As for your security, your citizens cannot travel to any country without being afraid. The mujahideen have launched after your armies, and have swore to make you taste something harder than what Usama had made you taste. You will see them in your home, Allah permitting. Our war with you has only begun, so wait."
September 19, 2014 9:27 AM
By Bill Roggio
France has launched its first airstrike in Iraq against the Islamic State. Reuters reports:
"This morning at 9:40 (0740 GMT) our Rafale jets launched a first strike against a logistics depot of the terrorists," President Francois Hollande's office said a statement issued shortly after the raids.
Meanwhile the US continues to target the Islamic State via the air. Three strikes were launched on Wednesday and Thursday near Mosul and southwest of Baghdad (likely in Jurf al Sakhar), according to CENTCOM:
U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Iraq, using bomber and fighter aircraft to conduct two airstrikes Wednesday and Thursday.
As the US plans to ramp up operations against the Islamic State inside Iraq, The New York Times notes that President Barack Obama himself will have to approve the deployment of all tactical-level air controllers who are embedded with Iraqi forces on the ground that are requested by US military:
In fact, General Austin said that air controllers would be needed. "He shares my view that there will be circumstances when we think that'll be necessary, but we haven't encountered one yet," General Dempsey said of General Austin.
September 16, 2014 11:11 AM
By Bill Roggio
The US military has expanded its air operations against the Islamic State, striking at the group "southwest of Baghdad" over the past several days.
"The airstrike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense, as outlined in the President's speech last Wednesday," US Central Command noted in a press release issued late yesterday.
The airstrike destroyed "an ISIL fighting position southwest of Baghdad that was firing on ISF [Iraqi security forces] personnel."
Also, the US military "destroyed six ISIL vehicles" near Sinjar in Ninewa province. CENTCOM has launched 162 airstrikes in Iraq since the US intervened on Aug. 7.
Although CENTCOM did not say where the airstrikes southwest of Baghdad have taken place, in all likelihood they occurred in Jurf al Sakhar in northern Babil province. The Islamic State and its allies have successfully occupied much of northern Babil and have launched ferocious attacks against Iraqi security forces in the area. The Iraqi military has repeatedly claimed to have cleared Jurf al Sakhar, but the Islamic State continues to hold ground there. [See Joel Wing's report on northern Babil from July 9 at Musings on Iraq; little has changed in northern Babil in the two-plus months since it was written. Also note this prescient report from May on the deteriorating situation in Babil.]
Northern Babil is a key front for the Islamic State, and yet it receives little attention as the fighting in the north (Ninewa), center (Salahaddin and Diyala), and west (Anbar) tends to dominate the news coverage. Northern Babil is one of five key "belts" around Baghdad that have been targeted as part of the Islamic State's strategy to strangle Baghdad. [See LWJ report, ISIS, allies reviving 'Baghdad belts' battle plan.]
September 16, 2014 9:19 AM
By Bill Roggio
Four soldiers from the International Security Assistance Force were killed today in two separate attacks -- a suicide bombing in Kabul and an insider, or green-on-blue, incident in the west.
The attack in Kabul was executed "by a suicide bomber in front of the Supreme Court close to Masoud Shahid circle," Ariana News reported. ISAF confirmed that three soldiers were killed; the full press release is reproduced below:
We can confirm three International Security Assistance Force members died as a result of an enemy attack in Kabul today. Currently, Afghan officials and ISAF are reviewing the incident.
The Taliban claimed credit for the suicide bombing in a statement that was release at Voice of Jihad.
A" Mujahid of the martyr unit of the Islamic Emirate, Bilal slammed his explosive-packed corolla car into the convoy of the US-Nato [sic]," the Taliban stated.
The attack was likely executed by what ISAF and US military officials have previously called the Kabul Attack Network. This network is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate as well. The network's tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Kunar, Ghazni, and Zabul.
Green-on-blue attack kills ISAF trainer in Farah
Also today, an Afghan soldier killed an ISAF military trainer at an Afghan base in the western province of Farah. ISAF confirmed in a press release that one soldier was killed:
We can confirm one International Security Assistance Force member died as a result of an individual wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turning his weapon against ISAF members in western Afghanistan yesterday. Currently, Afghan officials and ISAF are reviewing the incident. ISAF continues to train, advise and assist the ANSF, and does not view these incidents as representative of the positive relationship between our forces.
The Pentagon has confirmed that the slain ISAF trainer was an American, according to Stars and Stripes. And TOLONews reported that the attack took place in Farah, and that another ISAF trainer as well as an interpreter were wounded:
In a recent green on blue attack in Herat on Monday, an Afghan soldier shot an International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) trainer dead, injuring another trainer and an interpreter, local officials said on Tuesday.
The Taliban haven't claimed credit for the Farah attack at this time.
The last green-on-blue attack took place on Aug. 5 at a training center in Kabul. An Afghan soldier killed a US major general and wounded 16 more military personnel, including a US brigadier general, a German general, five British troops, and at least one Afghan officer. The Taliban did not claim credit for the attack, but praised the Afghan soldier who executed it.
Today's attack is the fourth reported green-on-blue attack in Afghanistan so far this year, and the sixth to have taken place in Kabul since January 2007, according to The Long War Journal's statistics.
The number of reported attacks on Coalition personnel in Afghanistan has dropped steeply since a high of 44 in 2012. Last year there were 13 such attacks. [For in-depth information, see LWJ special report, Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan: the data.] The decline in attacks is due to several factors, including the continuing drawdown of Coalition personnel, reduced partnering with Afghan forces, and the adoption of heightened security measures in interactions between Coalition and Afghan forces.
The Taliban have devoted significant efforts to stepping up attempts to kill NATO troops and foreigners by infiltrating the ranks of Afghan security forces. Mullah Omar said as much in a statement released on Aug. 16, 2012, when he claimed that the Taliban "cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy according to the plan given to them last year ," and he urged government officials and security personnel to defect and join the Taliban as a matter of religious duty. He also noted that the Taliban have created the "Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration" department, "with branches ... now operational all over the country," to encourage defections. [See Threat Matrix report, Mullah Omar addresses green-on-blue attacks.]
September 15, 2014 8:29 PM
By Caleb Weiss
Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, an Australian cleric on the Al Nusrah Front's Sharia Committee, has been tweeting in recent days about US military action against the Islamic State. In one tweet, al Muhajir states: "The US is not fighting a jama'ah (group) as they claim. It is a war against Islam, the latest sequel to their crusade. Muslims must stand united!" In another tweet, al Muhajir says: "May Allah unite all sincere Muslims of Ahl as Sunnah (Sunnis) and protect the Ummah (worldwide Islamic community) and Mujahideen from those whom You know will harm our cause."
Along with posts similar to those, al Muhajir also heavily posted with the hashtag "#US_vs_Islam." These posts included: "US Soldier not man enough to face a mujahid, so drones instead vs Mujahid sees the hoor [women of paradise] calling him behind enemy lines," and "US soldier fights for a wage; Mujahid fights for the weak, for justice, for jannah [heaven]," according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Another tweet includes the following:
Al Muhajir has criticized the Islamic State
In a video posted online in March by Al Nusrah, al Muhajir offered his testimony against the Islamic State (called "ISIS" then) in rebuttal to senior ISIS official Abu Muhammad al Adnani's critique of Al Nusrah official Abu Abdallah al Shami. [See LWJ's report, Al Qaeda official in Syria was extremist preacher in Australia.]
Al Muhajir's testimony focused on key aspects of the infighting.
First, and foremost, he rebutted the claim made by ISIS supporters that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi did not swear a formal bayat (oath of loyalty) to Ayman al Zawahiri. The ISIS had advanced this claim in order to avoid the obvious implication that al Baghdadi is in the wrong for failing to follow orders. And Al Nusrah argued the opposite, that al Baghdadi is insubordinate because he has failed to abide by his pledge of bayat to Zawahiri.
Al Muhajir said that the ISIS "accepted" him as a mediator in the conflict with Al Nusrah. But some within the ISIS began to claim that al Baghdadi's oath was not a "full" bayat and instead a bayat for "love and support" only. Al Muhajir said that he did not know what sort of bayat the Islamic State "was speaking about."
So he brought the matter up with al Baghdadi. According to al Muhajir's testimony, al Baghdadi responded, "I seek refuge in Allah, I have a true binding bayat to Sheikh Ayman, to hear and obey, in hardship and in ease!"
This, according to the al Muhajir, "affirmed to us what we already know, that [al Baghdadi] is a soldier in the command of al Qaeda and that he listens and obeys like the other [leaders] of other regions."
Al Muhajir's posts are similar to statements released by AQIM, Boko Haram, and AQAP
On July 1, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of al Qaeda's official branches, posted a statement on jihadist forums praising the Islamic State's military gains in Iraq. AQIM also called for reconciliation between the Islamic State and rival jihadist groups in Syria. The message was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. [See LWJ's report, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb calls for reconciliation between jihadist groups.]
AQIM's message began by praising "the victories of our people the Sunnis in Iraq under the command of their mujahideen sons, and on top of them the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham" (ISIS). Interestingly, AQIM argued that the Islamic State' advances in Iraq have "alleviated our calamity in" Syria and "mended the rift and directed arrows of the mujahideen to the necks of the enemies of the Ummah and the religion: the Crusaders, the [Shiites], and the apostates."
Without naming any specific groups in Syria, AQIM addressed jihadists there, arguing that they should support the Islamic State's efforts in Iraq. "We call upon our mujahideen brothers in Sham to strongly support the conquests of their brothers in Iraq and protect their backs and provide them with what they need to continue their march and complete their victory, as recommended by our Sheikh and Emir Sheikh Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah preserve and protect him, because Iraq is a debt upon the entire Ummah."
By referring to Zawahiri as "our Sheikh and Emir," AQIM clearly stated that Zawahiri is the group's overall leader. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, famously disobeyed Zawahiri's orders, leading al Qaeda's general command to disown Baghdadi's group in early February. Baghdadi and the Islamic State have been attempting to win the support of al Qaeda's regional branches, including AQIM, since then. However, AQIM's statement did not indicate that AQIM is siding with Baghdadi over Zawahiri.
Two weeks later, AQIM released a statement explicitly rejecting the Islamic State's caliphate declaration. AQIM also reaffirmed its bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri. [See LWJ's report, AQIM rejects Islamic State's caliphate, reaffirms allegiance to Zawahiri.]
In a video released in July, Boko Haram emir Abubakar Shekau voiced his support for Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, as well as for leaders of al Qaeda and the Taliban. In the video, he said:
To you my dear brethren, Muslims, those who are true believers and not those that practice democracy, not those who believe in constitution, not those who believe in western education. My regards to my leaders like Mullar Umar, the Amirul Muminin in Afghanistan, great minds like Sheikh Al Zawahiri; those like Amir of Yemen, Abu Basir; the likes of Abu Mus'ab Abdul Wudud; and others In Pakistan and Iran, like Al-Baghadad. My greetings go to you all. I thank you all. We give thanks to almighty Allah; here we are in the land called Nigeria; but we don't see it as Nigeria.
On Aug. 12, the al-Malahim Media Foundation, the media wing of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), released a video featuring chief AQAP ideologue and theologian Ibrahim al Rubaish, who commented on a variety of current events.
After his opening statements, Rubaish turned to recent developments in Iraq. He congratulated the mujahideen as well as the entire Muslim community "for the victories achieved by our brothers in Iraq," without explicitly mentioning the Islamic State by name. Rubaish noted that these military victories are a "grace from Allah" and stressed the importance of giving thanks for such blessings. [See LWJ's report, AQAP ideologue praises jihadi victories in Iraq, comments on Berghdal release.]
In July, Rubaish and another AQAP ideologue released a message denouncing the "slander" of jihadist leaders. Even though Rubaish did not name the Islamic State's supporters, the message was clearly aimed at them. Rubaish's critique coincided with the release of a poem by Nasir al Wuhayshi, who serves as both AQAP's emir and al Qaeda's general manager. Wuhayshi heaped praise on Zawahiri in the poem, calling him the "sheikh father" of the mujahideen. [See LWJ's report, AQAP praises Ayman al Zawahiri, defends jihadist scholars against 'slander'.]
Al Nusrah's al Muhajir has now joined jihadists in AQIM, Boko Haram, and AQAP in speaking and tweeting in solidarity with the Islamic State. However, expressing solidarity is not the same thing as declaring bayat, or allegiance, to the group.
September 14, 2014 6:13 PM
By Caleb Weiss
In the video above, the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's branch in Syria, showcases recent battles in Quneitra governorate. Al Nusrah is claiming to have "liberated the town of ar-Rawadi and the village of Humaydia and entering the city of Jabatha." Al Nusrah did so with the help of some familiar allies, however.
The Islamic Front, an alliance of several Islamist groups in Syria, also took part in the fighting in Quneitra. In a video posted on YouTube, it appears Ahrar al Sham assisted the forces in taking the various villages and towns in the southern Syria governorate. The video (posted below) shows a leader in Ahrar al Sham explaining the group's part in the fighting.
The leader says that Ahrar "liberated the towns of al-Humaydia and Jabatha al-Khashab" in Quneitra countryside.
The most interesting thing, however, is that the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) again assisted the Islamic Front and Al Nusrah in Quneitra. Much like the Islamic Front and Al Nusrah, the SRF has also been disseminating videos and tweets celebrating the victory over the forces of the Assad regime on various social media platforms. In the video posted below, the SRF shows some of its fighters taking part in the action in al-Humaydia.
The SRF, which is supplied and backed by the United States, continues to fight alongside the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. While it is unclear whether they share the same ideology, it is still worth noting that a Western-backed force works in conjunction with al Qaeda. The Long War Journal has previously noted that the leader of the SRF, Jamal Maarouf, has stated that he has no problem with al Qaeda and that they have shared weapons in the past.
As Threat Matrix has pointed out in the past, Maarouf has said the following about his association with al Qaeda:
"It's clear that I'm not fighting against al-Qa'ida. This is a problem outside of Syria's border, so it's not our problem. I don't have a problem with anyone who fights against the regime inside Syria." Maarouf admits to fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra - one example being the offensive against Isis, whose brutal tactics were deemed too violent even for al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
In August, the SRF worked with these very same forces to take the border crossing with the Israeli-held Golan Heights. It is clear that SRF's alliance with al Qaeda-linked forces is continuing to this very day.
September 13, 2014 10:14 AM
By Bill Roggio
US officials are shocked at the "Islamic State's rapid growth." Now, the CIA estimates that the Islamic State has somewhere between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters within its ranks. That number may include "some 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria alone, including 2,000 Westerners," Al Jazeera reported, which noted the estimate is "far more than first thought."
Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria number around 20,000 to 31,500 -- a figure far higher than previously estimated, the Central Intelligence Agency has said.
"The number is much higher than a previous estimate of 10,000," Al Jazeera continues.
Readers of The Long War Journal should not be surprised by the latest CIA estimate. In fact, on June 11, just one day after a large ISIS operation began in Iraq, The Long War Journal reported the following [see LWJ report, ISIS takes control of Bayji, Tikrit in lightning southward advance]:
The scope of the operation, including the territory covered, indicates that tens of thousands of ISIS fighters participated in the recent fighting.
On Aug. 21, in an interview with Roll Call, I noted that the Islamic State could have upwards of 50,000 fighters in its ranks:
According to Roggio, the group is estimated to have anywhere around 50,000 members, thousands of foreign fighters and is more of an army rather than a smaller extremist group.
As time moved on, and the Islamic State held and even expanded its gains in both Iraq and Syria, it was painfully obvious that the group sustains an army that numbers in the tens of thousands of fighters. You just couldn't come to any other conclusion.
Keep in mind that the Islamic State is actively fighting against two governments, as well as Hezbollah, the Peshmerga, the PKK/YPG, Iraqi militias, the Awakening, Syrian tribes, the Free Syrian Army, the Al Nusrah Front, the Islamic Front, and other groups, and now the US military, in an area the size of a large American state, with millions of people living there. There is no way the Islamic State could simultaneously fight on multiple fronts against numerous enemies with just several thousand fighters.
Despite the size of the Islamic State, the Obama administration has opted to wage a counterterrorism operation against what has clearly become an established military force.