France launches airstrikes in northeastern Iraq

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.

The target in northeast Iraq was totally destroyed, said the statement, adding that there would be further operations "in the coming days".

Hollande told a news conference on Thursday that French air strikes were imminent and would take place once reconnaissance flights had identified targets. He said the military action would be limited to Iraq, and no ground troops would be sent.

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.

In total, one airstrike near an ISIL training camp southeast of Mosul destroyed an ISIL armed vehicle, two ISIL-occupied buildings and a large ISIL ground unit. Another airstrike southeast of Baghdad damaged an ISIL ammunition stockpile. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.

These strikes were conducted under authority to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, support humanitarian efforts, and assist Iraqi forces in their offensive against ISIL terrorists.

U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 176 airstrikes across Iraq.

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 all tactical-level airstrikes against the Islamic State that are requested by US military air controllers who are embedded with Iraqi forces on the ground:

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.

But the White House made clear on Wednesday that requests to use the advisers to call in airstrikes to provide tactical advice on the battlefield to Iraqi units would need to be approved by the president on a case-by-case basis.

In weighing such requests, the White House may have to choose between the increased risk to American personnel and the danger that without the use of advisers on the battlefield, the counteroffensive may stall.

Paging Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnson.


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US air campaign against Islamic State expands to southwestern Baghdad

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.]


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4 ISAF soldiers killed in suicide, green-on-blue attacks

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.

It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities.

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.

It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities.

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 incident took place in a foreign military base in the 207 Zafar Army Corps, corps commander Taj Mohammad Zahid said, adding that the shooter was also killed during the fire exchange.

"The soldier had no link with the Taliban insurgents. He had psychological problems," he said. "Investigations are underway."

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 [2011]," 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.]


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Al Qaeda official in Syria tweets in solidarity with Islamic State

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.


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Syrian Revolutionaries Front again supports al Qaeda and the Islamic Front in Quneitra

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.

While Maarouf maintains that their military supplies are too few to share, he cites the battle of Yabroud, against the regime, as an example of how his group shared weapons with Al Nusrah.

"If the people who support us tell us to send weapons to another group, we send them. They asked us a month ago to send weapons to Yabroud so we sent a lot of weapons there. When they asked us to do this, we do it."

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.


Caleb is a political science student focusing on the Middle East.


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On the CIA estimate of number of fighters in the Islamic State

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 new calculation includes some 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria alone, including 2,000 Westerners, a U.S. intelligence official told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

"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.


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'Moderate' Syrian Revolutionaries Front continues to support al Qaeda

September 12, 2014 11:23 AM
By Lisa Lundquist

An article in yesterday's New York Times titled "US Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels with Loyalties All Over the Map" highlights the fact that President Obama's recently declared strategy against the Islamic State depends on empowering Syrian rebels to take control once the Islamic State is driven out. This plan leaves the US "dependent on a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters," the article observes, and proceeds to elaborate on the difficulties of working with the various groups and even knowing what their allegiances are.

The article concludes with a brief focus on one likely prospect:

Some rebels appear ready to join the fight against ISIS [Islamic State]. A video posted online this week showed Jamal Maarouf, a rebel commander in northern Syria, addressing a gathering of hundreds of fighters. "God willing, we will fight two states: the state of Bashar al-Assad, the unjust tyrant, and the state of Baghdadi, the aggressor tyrant," he said, referring to the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The only problem with this example of a possible US ally in the fight in Syria is that Maarouf has already stated that he has no problem with al Qaeda's Syrian branch, the Al Nusrah Front, and has admitted to sharing weapons with it. And this example of cooperation between "moderate" and radical Islamist groups is not an isolated one; see Threat Matrix report, Desperately seeking moderate Syrian rebels.

As we pointed out here at Threat Matrix back in April, Maarouf told an interviewer from The Independent:

"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.

While Maarouf maintains that their military supplies are too few to share, he cites the battle of Yabroud, against the regime, as an example of how his group shared weapons with Jabhat al-Nusra.

"If the people who support us tell us to send weapons to another group, we send them. They asked us a month ago to send weapons to Yabroud so we sent a lot of weapons there. When they asked us to do this, we do it."

The cooperation between Maarouf's Syrian Revolutionaries Front and powerful Islamist jihadist groups such as Al Nusrah and the Islamic Front is ongoing. In recent weeks, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front fought alongside Al Nusrah and the Islamic Front in the takeover of the Quneitra crossing into the Israel-occupied Golan Heights. During the takeover, 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers were abducted by Al Nusrah. A video posted by the Syrian Revolutionaries Front shows its fighters manning the crossing, according to The Line of Steel:


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New leader of Ahrar al Sham previously led Free Syrian Army unit

September 11, 2014 6:23 PM
By Bill Roggio

Just one day after Hassan Abboud and several top leaders of the Islamic Front were killed in a blast, the Islamic Front identified a new emir for Ahrar al Sham, one of its brigades. Abboud served as the head of the Islamic Front's political office and the emir of Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda ally in Syria. Abboud and other Islamic Front leaders killed in the blast were mourned by several top al Qaeda leaders in Syria. And the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, officially eulogized the Islamic Front leaders.

The Islamic Front identified Sheikh Hashim al Sheikh, who is also known as Abu Jaber, as the emir of Ahrar al Sham in two announcements on its Twitter page.

According to a biography of Abu Jaber, he fought in the ranks of the Al Fajr Islamic Movement and later led the Musab Bin Umayr Battalion in Aleppo.

Abu Jaber's path to lead one of the more radical Islamist groups in Syria serves as a cautionary tale for the US as it seeks allies in the Free Syrian Army to battle the Islamic State. Both the Al Fajr Islamic Movement and the Musab Bin Umayr Battalion were previously units in the Free Syrian Army. Al Fajr Islamic Movement fought under the command of the Al Nusrah Front and alongside the Chechen-led Muhajireen Army in November 2012, shortly before joining Ahrar al Sham.

To this day, even US-vetted Syrian rebel groups such as Harakat Hazm fight alongside the Al Nusrah Front.


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Jamaat-ul-Ahrar celebrates 9/11 attack

September 11, 2014 10:54 AM
By Bill Roggio

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar-911.jpg


Jamaat-ul-Ahrar TTP, the new splinter group of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP), released a graphic as well as a statement celebrating al Qaeda's attack on the US on Sept. 11, 2001. The image and statement were emailed by Ihsanullah Ihsan, the group's spokesman, to The Long War Journal. The image is reproduced above, and the statement, titled #Happy911, is here.

Unsurprisingly, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is supporting the global jihad. One of its top leaders, Omar Khalid Khorasani, is closely linked to al Qaeda's emir, Ayman al Zawahiri. In the statement, the group correctly notes that the global jihad has expanded since 9/11:

In 2001, Afghanistan was the only Islamic Emirate in the world but now Jihad has spread to a vast swathe of land including Pakistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Algeria, Mali and Nigeria.

Additionally, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar clearly states it is part of the jihadist project to impose a global caliphate:

We in Tehrik e Taliban Jamaat ul Ahrar pledge that we shall continue the mission of our great martyrs until the Khilafah [caliphate] is established in every nook and corner of the world.

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AQAP releases video and pictures of attack in Hadramout

September 9, 2014 3:11 PM
By Oren Adaki


"From The Field: Raiding the Brum Checkpoint - Wilayat Hadramawt." Source: Twitter.

Today, a Twitter account linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video and pictures documenting an attack from April of this year targeting a military checkpoint near the coastal city of Mukallah in eastern Hadramout province. The attack took place at around 3 a.m. on April 8 at the Brum security checkpoint, which is located about 40 kilometers from Mukallah. Media reports shortly after the attack claimed that the attack was carried out by "anonymous militants" who were "believed to belong to al Qaeda," but today's media release by AQAP confirms that the attack was indeed the work of al Qaeda's Yemeni branch.

A security official in Hadramout at the time estimated that six assailants wearing military fatigues staged a surprise attack on the checkpoint in the early hours of the morning, using light artillery and hand grenades. The same official claimed that the assailants moved on to a nearby police headquarters after attacking the checkpoint, where they stripped soldiers of their weapons without killing any of them.

Today's video, produced in August by AQAP's media wing, al-Malahem Media, is the newest edition to AQAP's "From The Field" series, which documents successful AQAP attacks in Yemen. The video begins with a jihadi nasheed, a religiously-themed song, playing as a soundtrack to footage of a gathering of AQAP fighters wielding rifles and subsequently praying together. The video then shows the fighters reviewing the attack plan by looking at a map of the area as well as reconnaissance videos on a laptop computer.

The following scene shows the attack cell meeting under the cover of night, embracing one another and preparing their weapons. A masked AQAP fighter is shown asking Allah to make the coming operation a success and grant them a "clear victory."

The video then shows the attack cell sitting together shortly before their operation, with one of the fighters giving his parting speech to the group. The anonymous fighter emphasizes that "Allah, most high ... has commanded us that you are among His supporters. Our carrying out [these operations] and our jihad against these tyrants is rather a response to Allah, most high."

Next, the video documents the moments leading up to the attack, showing the fighters arriving at their preordained locations in pickup trucks. The screen then turns black and the following message appears:

There is almost not a day that passes by the Muslims of Yemen without their tasting woes from the checkpoints of the apostate military that is spread throughout the roads; there, the soldiers practice acts of waylay, intimidation, and wrongly taking the money of Muslims. Among these checkpoints is the Brum military checkpoint of ill-reputation on the Hadramawt coast, which has become known for the killing of Muslims and their families and injuring them by firing on their cars and taking their money; This motivated the mujahideen to attack it as well as the police headquarters close by as an act of retribution for the Muslims and to take revenge against its soldiers.

The video proceeds to show the attack unfolding as AQAP fighters appear to fire at the checkpoint and then advance towards the "enemy locations." The fighters manage to gain full control of the checkpoint, and shouts of "Allahu Akbar" are heard as they spread across the military site. In an apparent effort to confirm that AQAP had taken the checkpoint, the video also proudly displays confiscated military documents found at the checkpoint.

At the conclusion of the video, the "achievements" of the operation are detailed. Eight Yemeni Special Forces soldiers were killed in the operation, and about 80 reportedly fled the scene. Other "achievements" include the capture of a sizable quantity of weapons, such as Kalashnikov rifles and RPGs, as well as the confiscation of a large number of "important military documents."

The following are some of the photos from the April attack released by AQAP via Twitter:

AQAP fighters meeting before the attack:

Brum 1.jpg

Reviewing the attack plan:

Brum 3.jpg

ID and belongings of a Yemeni soldier confiscated during the attack:

Brum 4.jpg

A gathering of AQAP fighters (unclear whether this was taken before or after the night attack):

Brum 5.jpg

Military documents confiscated in the attack:

Brum 6.jpg


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The Islamic State's global reach

September 5, 2014 11:38 AM
By Lisa Lundquist

In discussions of the threat posed by the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, a spinoff from al Qaeda in Iraq), some Western pundits have argued that the terror organization poses only a distant threat, not a near one. They have claimed that the Islamic State's goals are mainly territorial and focused on the Middle East, as compared to al Qaeda's, which are transnational and focused on attacking the West. On June 30, the US State Department referred to the ISIS' strategy as that of creating a regional caliphate.

That general view was fairly widely held until recently, when the Islamic State executed two American hostages, which brought home to the West that its citizens are at risk. But in addition to committing shocking crimes in Syria and Iraq against civilians, security forces, and Western captives, the group has also developed an international following. The Islamic State's growing international presence demonstrates the dangerous fallacy of the argument that the group has primarily only regional goals.

National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen said on Sept. 3 that the US currently has "no credible information" that the Islamic State is presently planning to attack the homeland. But that assurance is not a signal to dismiss the threats presented by the group. Although the IS arguably has reason to avoid crossing American 'red lines' as it attempts to solidify gains and develop infrastructure, it must be regarded as a formidable organization with sweeping global ambitions.

A look at Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's declaration of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria reveals that the group has much wider ambitions. On June 29, the group announced the formation of the caliphate and stressed the following:

We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of khilāfah, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the khalīfah Ibrāhīm and support him (may Allah preserve him). The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah's authority and arrival of its troops to their areas.

And in an address at a historic mosque in Mosul on July 4, a week after declaring a calipate, Baghdadi stated [emphasis supplied]:

O Muslims, Allah, blessed be He, created us to believe in Him alone and worship him and establish His religion. {Qur'anic Verse}. And he ordered us to fight His enemies and do jihad in His cause to achieve this and establish the religion. {Qur'anic Verse}.

O people, the religion of Allah, blessed be He, is not established and this goal for which Allah created us is not achieved but by empowering the Shariah of Allah and being judged by it and establishing the restrictions, and this is only done with power and authority. Allah said: {Qur'anic Verse}. This is the establishment of the religion: a Book that guides and a sword that supports. As for your mujahideen brothers, Allah has bestowed upon them the grace of victory and conquest, and enabled them, after many years of jihad, patience, and fighting the enemies of Allah, and granted them success and empowered them to achieve their goal. Therefore, they hastened to declare the Caliphate and place an imam, and this is a duty upon the Muslims - a duty that has been lost for centuries and absent from the reality of the world and so many Muslims were ignorant of it. The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it, and they have done so, and all praise is due to Allah.

I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility. [translation by the SITE Intelligence Group]

Baghdadi's speech is addressed to all Muslims, and refers to his fighters as "your Mujahideen brothers"; nowhere in the speech does he mention geographical locations or limits for the caliphate or the jihad. An accomplished Islamic scholar as well as a ruthless military commander, Baghdadi is speaking as a self-declared caliph for all Muslims, and telling them that the duty of imposing sharia, or Islamic law, on the earth by the sword is imposed on them by God.

The breadth of Baghdadi's declaration has drawn implicit criticism from al Qaeda itself, and a number of al Qaeda ideologues and leaders of al Qaeda affiliates have denounced it on religious as well as strategic grounds. The declaration of the caliphate implicitly requires that all Islamic leaders be subservient to "caliph" Baghdadi, a claim some of those leaders have since rejected. Nonetheless, their reactions also serve to underline the seriousness of the Islamic State's ambition and goals.

And while so far key al Qaeda leaders have largely, but not unanimously or completely, repudiated Baghdadi's claim, a number of jihadist leaders across the world have expressed sympathy and in some cases outright support for Baghdadi and his caliphate.

They have recognized the Islamic State's recent successes in seizing and controlling territory, achievements that galvanize recruits, provide new strongholds, and garner impressive quantities of revenue and weaponry.

But even without regard to official statements by Islamist groups endorsing, opposing, or hedging on the Islamic State, the fact remains that Islamic State fighters and supporters are conducting operations well outside the confines of Iraq and Syria.


Known or suspected Islamic State/ISIS activity outside Iraq and Syria since January 2013

The following is a partial list of reported or suspected ISIS/Islamic State activity outside Iraq and Syria since Jan. 1, 2013. It does not include many reports that referred only to "an Islamist group"; authorities in a number of countries have been reluctant to specify the nature and extent of extremist activity within their borders. The list below, organized by continent and then alphabetically by country, is not exhaustive. Nonetheless, its extensiveness indicates the global reach of the IS, even if the reported activity does not consist of spectacular attacks.

AMERICAS

Canada: On Aug. 26, it was reported that Canadian Muslim convert John Maguire had gone to Syria and joined ISIS last year, and that he was posting threatening messages on social media that endorsed violent jihad.

On Aug. 23, Syed Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC), warned that the Islamic State is recruiting "right here in this country, under our noses, in our universities, in our colleges, in the places of worship, in our community," and said he had received a death threat from an Ottawa Muslim now fighting with the IS in Mosul. Canadian authorities had warned in February that at least 130 Canadians were fighting with extremists groups abroad.

In July, an IS video appeared featuring Canadian jihadist Andre Poulin in Syria, urging Canadians to come join the IS fight.

On June 23, CTV News reported that Farah Mohamed Shirdon, the third Canadian known to have joined ISIS, had appeared in a video threatening Canada and the US. A week earlier, the National Post reported that the RCMP is investigating a group of Muslims from Calgary who left for Syria to join groups such as ISIS, after a biography of Canadian jihadist Salman Ashrafi, who died carrying out an ISIS suicide bombing in Iraq, was published by Abu Dujana al-Muhajir, another Canadian jihadist.

United States: On Sept. 4, President Barack Obama said the US objective now is to "shrink the Islamic State" to "a manageable problem" by means of an international effort against the group.

On Sept. 3, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that over 100 US citizens are fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State; intelligence officials have estimated that the number is as high as 300. Hagel warned that the IS controls half of Iraq and half of Syria, and that "we better take them seriously."

It was reported on Aug. 29 that a Texas law enforcement bulletin warned that social media statements by Islamic State sympathizers have expressed interest in attacks by terrorists entering via the Mexican border. Analysis of that threat has been clouded by the politicization of the issue due to its overlap with immigration concerns.

On Aug. 28, President Obama said the US does not have a strategy yet for confronting the Islamic State.

On Aug. 24, General Martin Dempsey, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that if and when he finds that the Islamic State is plotting direct attacks on the US homeland or Europe, then he will recommend that the US take military action against the group in Syria. He also said the group should be constrained and defeated in partnership with US allies in the region, including Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

On Aug. 21, Secretary of Defense Hagel warned that the IS poses "an imminent threat" to US interests everywhere, not just in Iraq, and said it is "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group" the US has seen.

Less than two weeks after Baghdadi announced his caliphate, Hagel said on July 10 that the Islamic State poses a threat to the US, Europe, and US allies in the Middle East.

On June 22, President Obama said the ISIS poses a "medium and longterm threat" to the US but that other terrorist groups may present more immediate threats, noting that "ISIS is just one of a number of organizations that we have to stay focused on." Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee, countered that the fight against ISIS is in the US national security interest. And Kerry said that the ISIS' aim to establish a strict Islamist state was a threat "to the entire region."

EUROPE

Belgium: On May 30, police arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, a French national and ex-convict who traveled to Syria in January 2013 and is suspected of carrying out the May 24 shooting attack at a Jewish museum in Brussels that killed three people and severely injured a fourth victim. He was detained in Marseille while traveling from Amsterdam via Brussels. In his possession was an ISIS flag, a Kalashnikov, a handgun, and a video in which he claimed the Brussels attack. He is thought to have returned from Syria in March after fighting with the ISIS, and to have had an accomplice. He was already known to French intelligence at the time of the attack. In late June, France extradited him to Belgium.

Bosnia: On Sept. 3, security forces conducted 17 raids across the country, arresting 16 people accused of financing, recruiting for, and fighting for radical groups in Syria and Iraq. Some of the several hundred Bosnians who headed to Syria earlier are thought to be now fighting in Iraq with the Islamic State. In late August, Bosnian intelligence estimated that some 150 Bosnians were fighting with Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Denmark: In early September, police arrested the president of the Copenhagen-based Islamic charity Humanitarian Hearts (De Humanitære Hjerter) for supporting the Islamic State, and also detained two women involved in the organization's work. The main suspect, said to be a Libyan-born stateless person, is accused of collecting money for the IS. Fadi Abdallah, a spokesperson for the terrorism-linked Grimhøj Mosque in Aarhus, said that the mosque "cannot help but support the IS" and that he "understand[s] why they are killing people." Denmark is said to rank behind only Belgium among Western countries in having the highest per capita number of nationals fighting in Syria.

In June, authorities issued arrest warrants for four men, including two Danish speakers, who appeared in an August 2013 video from Syria in which they targeted effigies of former secret agent Morten Storm, free speech advocate Lars Hedegaard, politician Naser Khader, the imam Ahmed Akkari, former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Abu Sa'ad, a Danish suicide bomber, reportedly carried out an attack for the ISIS in Mosul, Iraq on May 20. Danish intelligence says that 100 people have left Denmark to fight in Syria, and many have returned, but so far none have been prosecuted.

In February 2013, it was reported that former Guantanamo detainee Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane had been killed fighting in Syria; a group named Islamisk Budskab in Denmark, which was linked to ISIS predecessor al Qaeda in Iraq, celebrated his martyrdom and set up a bank account for donations to support Abderrahmane's wife and two daughters.

France: In late August, French authorities arrested ISIS operative Fayez Boushran, who holds dual French and Moroccan citizenship, on his return to France, after prompting by Lebanese security officials. Boushan had confessed to arriving in Beirut in June for an ISIS bomb plot in Lebanon along with another would-be suicide bomber who was originally from the Comoros Islands.

On Aug. 20, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that the Islamic State's ambitions extend beyond the Middle East, and said France wants the UN Security Council nations as well as countries in the region to join the fight against the Islamic State. President Francois Hollande said the world security situation was at its gravest since 2001, and called for an international conference that pools military and intelligence resources to come up with "a global strategy" to address the Islamic State's terrorism.

On Aug. 13, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said nearly 900 French citizens have traveled to Iraq or Syria to fight, and that some of them have joined the Islamic State.

In April, the Defense Ministry denied a report that the government paid a ransom of $18 million for the release of four French journalists who were were kidnapped in Syria by the ISIS in June 2013. According to the report, Defense Minister LeDrian took the ransom money to Ankara, where Turkish secret services helped transfer it to the kidnappers.

Germany: On Sept. 2, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the Islamic State now controls an area half the size of Germany, and said the terror group is causing "the far-reaching destabilization of an entire region [which] affects Germany and Europe." Defending Germany's decision to send arms to Kurdish fighters in Iraq battling the Islamic State, she also said the more than 400 Germans who have joined the ranks of the IS present a direct threat to Germany. Some 20 former German soldiers are known to have joined jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria. The head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency said the Islamic State's brutality has made it "much more attractive" to radicalized German Muslims than the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's branch in Syria.

On June 25, authorities charged Kreshnik B., a German citizen from Frankfurt am Main, with membership in the ISIS. Following his return from Syria, he was arrested on suspicion of planning attacks. Authorities were investigating the German Brigade of Millatu Ibrahim, whose leader, Denis Cuspert a.k.a. Deso Dogg a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Almani, is now fighting for ISIS. Interior Minister de Maiziere recently expressed concern that Islamists from Germany are cooperating with ISIS in Iraq as well as in Syria.

On June 5, a Lebanese man identified as Ismail I. was charged with membership in a terrorist organization after returning from fighting with ISIS in Syria; his brother Ezzeddine I. and a German identified as Mohammad Sobhan A. were charged with supporting a terrorist organization. At the time of his arrest, Ismail was on his way back to Syria with money, military equipment, and medicine that he had obtained with the help of the other two men. He had allegedly been sent back to Germany by ISIS to procure money and supplies for the group.

Kosovo: On the night of Aug. 10-11, police carried out some 60 raids across the country in a crackdown on Islamic extremists, arresting 40 men suspected of either fighting for, or supporting, the Islamic State or the Al Nusrah Front. Makeshift mosques were raided and weapons, ammunition, electronic equipment, and explosives were confiscated.

Luxembourg: In July, Luxembourg police working with Spanish counterterrorism authorities arrested Belgian national Abou Nouh a.k.a. Davide De Angelis, a former jihadist in Syria who served as a facilitator for an ISIS recruiting network that funneled fighters to Syria and Mali.

Norway: In late August, authorities refused to comment on a report that the July 24 terror alert was triggered by warnings that four Islamic State operatives were on their way to Norway via Greece to commit a major attack. Authorities reportedly said that two Norwegians answer directly to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi; one is Bastian Vasquez, of Skien, and the other is of African origin and lived in Boerum.

On July 24, security police warned of a "credible" threat of an imminent terrorist attack against targets in Norway by people connected with Islamic extremists in Syria. The attack was reportedly planned in Europe. Security measures were stepped up, and both the City Hall and the Royal Palace in Oslo were closed to tourists.

On May 27, police arrested a Somali and two Kosovans, all Norwegian citizens residing in Oslo, suspected of supporting the ISIS. The two Kosovans are brothers who reportedly fought in Syria and had a brother who died there. At least 50 Norwegians were thought to have traveled to Syria for jihad, and seven have died there, all fighting for the ISIS.

In early May, Albanian and Norwegian media noted the death in Syria of Egzon Avdyli, an ethnic Kosovan from Norway killed while fighting for ISIS. Avdyli, a former spokesman for the Norwegian radical Islamist group Prophet's Ummah, reportedly left Norway for Syria early this year. Avdyli had encouraged young people to travel to Syria for jihad and also "supported the establishment of an Islamic state in Norway or other Western countries." Norwegian intelligence said it considered the danger of jihadists returning from Syria to be the most significant terror threat to Norway. [See Threat Matrix report, Norwegian Islamist who fought for ISIS killed in Syria.]

In February, Norwegian intelligence warned that at least 40 or 50 Norwegians, including about a dozen women, were known to have traveled to Syria to fight and that they have most often joined extremist groups such as the ISIS.

Spain: In July, authorities said at least 35 Spaniards are estimated to have joined the ranks of rebel fighters in Syria, and most are thought to have joined the Islamic State.

On April 30, Spanish security forces working with French police arrested Abdelmalek Tanem, an Algerian national who also has French citizenship, in Almeria. He had recently returned from Syria, where he worked as a facilitator along the Turkish border, integrating European jihadists into the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front.

In mid-March, Spanish and Moroccan authorities targeting an al Qaeda recruiting network arrested four suspected members in Spain and three in Morocco. The network, whose activities extend to Morocco, Belgium, France, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya, Mali, Indonesia, and Syria, is headed by Melilla resident Mustafa Maya Amaya, who funneled recruits to the ISIS, the Al Nusrah Front, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Some of the suspects arrested in the operation had returned home after going to conflict zones such as Syria; and in January, a suspected jihadist returning from Syria was arrested in Malaga as a potential "threat to national security," CNN reported.

Sweden: On Aug. 13, Sweden's intelligence service was said to be investigating reports that during a TV interview, an Islamic State supporter from Sweden named Sheikh Ahmed threatened violence in the country and war against Sweden and Europe. An estimated 80 Swedes are said to be fighting for rebel groups in Syria.

In May 2013, a government report said there are currently at least 30 Swedish nationals fighting with "groups similar to al Qaeda" in Syria. The report called Sweden "far behind" other EU countries in preventing militant Islamism, and recommended that travel abroad for terror training be outlawed. The report said while Germany has a program for former jihadists, not one Swedish jihadist is thought to have defected from that ideology.

United Kingdom: On Sept. 4, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Islamic State presents a direct threat to the UK, noting IS-inspired attacks in Europe. He did not rule out launching airstrikes against the group in Syria, and said the UK did not need permission to do so from Syrian President Bashar al Assad. He indicated that UK authorities are in contact with the Islamic State kidnappers of a British hostage but reiterated the government's stance against paying ransoms.

On Aug. 21, it was reported that Khadijah Dare, 22, a Lewisham woman married to a Swedish IS fighter who calls himself Abu Bakr, had vowed to become the first woman to behead a British or US prisoner; she is thought to be in Syria with her husband and young son. Brustchom Ziamani, 19, a Congolese convert to Islam, was arrested in Camberwell on Aug. 19 while carrying a bag with a hammer and a knife wrapped in an Islamic flag; he has been charged with preparing terrorist acts. The suspect had said he intended to commit a Lee Rigby-type attack on UK military or government personnel.

On Aug. 20, Foreign Secretary Hammond said the Islamic State jihadist whose videotaped murder of US journalist James Foley was filmed appears to be British, and warned that "there are a significant number of British nationals in Syria and Iraq operating with extremist organisations" and accordingly that the Islamic State presents "a direct threat to the UK's national security."

On Aug. 14, Scotland Yard chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said about half of the estimated 500 British jihadists in Syria and Iraq are from London, and warned that the task of addressing the threat posed by their return to the UK should not be underestimated. UK jihadist Nasser Muthana, an Islamic State fighter, posted photos of IEDs he made in Syria on social media. British police are investigating the distribution of leaflets on London's Oxford Street urging Muslims to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.

In late July, British ambassador Peter Westmacott warned that among the 70 UK jihadists arrested after returning to Britain, a number were carrying "very specific" instructions for terrorist missions in the UK. British intelligence said it was close to identifying the Islamic State jihadist who beheaded American journalist James Foley; among those being investigated is UK rapper-turned-jihadist Abdel Majed Abdel Bary.

In June, an ISIS recruitment video surfaced featuring three Britons and two Australians calling for Westerners to come to Iraq and Syria for jihad. MI5 made tracking British jihadists in Syria its top priority. The counterterrorism chief for the Kurdistan Regional Government said ISIS would likely use its surviving British jihadists to mount attacks against the UK; he also claimed that KRG intelligence told the US and Iraq in January that ISIS was planning to seize Mosul and advance on Baghdad but the warnings were ignored.

On May 20, Mashudur Choudhury, 31, became the first Briton convicted of a Syria-related terrorism crime. The former youth worker at a Portsmouth mosque had traveled to Syria in October with four other men to join the ISIS, and was detained upon his return.

In February, British authorities were said to be "closely monitoring" some 250 British jihadists who have fought in Syria and returned home. A British fighter with the ISIS in Syria appeared in a YouTube clip warning aspiring British jihadists of the difficulties of the battle zone. Earlier that month, a British jihadist of Afghan origin called Abu Layth was reported killed while fighting for the ISIS in clashes with rebels; he is said to be the seventh British jihadist killed in Syria.

In January, a Syrian defector from the ISIS said the terror group is training British, European, and American recruits to conduct terror attacks in their home countries. Some 500 British fighters were believed to have traveled to Syria, and about 50 were thought to have already returned home. Jihadists in Syria seeking to return to their home countries are reportedly funneled through al Qaeda safe houses in Turkey.

In December 2013, family members said that well-known British jihadist Ifthekar Jaman a.k.a. Abu Aburahman died in Syria while fighting alongside the ISIS.

MIDDLE EAST

Egypt: On Sept. 5, Reuters reported that a senior commander in the Sinai-based terrorist group Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) told the news agency that over the past year, the Islamic State has been providing Ansar Jerusalem with instructions on how to create cells and carry out operations; he said the IS has not furnished weapons or fighters, however.

On Aug. 28, Ansar Jerusalem released a video showing the beheading of four Egyptian men it accused of spying for Israel, a few days after the Islamic State released a video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Egyptian intelligence said the group has contacts with Libyan jihadists who are influenced by the Islamic State.

In early August, Egyptian jihadist Islam Yakan was said to be promoting the Islamic State and encouraging youth to join the jihad in Syria and Iraq.

On June 6, tribal sources in Sinai said that the ISIS is supporting the operations of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (Ansar Jerusalem), local jihadists have been trained in Syria, and the ISIS flag has been seen in militant operations near Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah.

Jordan: On Aug. 29, militant Salafist leader Mohammad Shalabi a.k.a. Abu Sayyaf, who has urged Islamists to fight in Syria and indicated his support for the Islamic State as well as other groups, said his followers will not take action in Jordan unless "we felt ... that injustice is going to befall us or that the circle of injustice is expanding." A security official said Jordan could have "hundreds if not thousands" of potential Islamic State sympathizers.

On Aug. 12, it was reported that Shalabi indicated his support for the Islamic State, and said efforts are being made to resolve the differences between the IS and the Al Nusrah Front. Jordanian authorities arrested 20 Jordanian Salafists in Amman and Zarqa in early August suspected of supporting the IS.

On Aug. 2, Shalabi said that cheering for the Islamic State in mosques in Jordan is "normal."

On July 9, Jordanian soldiers fired at and wounded three Islamic State gunmen who were trying to cross into Jordan from Syria for medical treatment; jihadist sources said about 2,200 Jordanians were fighting in the ranks of Islamist rebels in Syria, mostly with the Islamic State.

In late June, two rallies in support of ISIS were held in Maan, the first such public demonstrations for the group in Jordan. Salafi jihadist leader Mohammad Shalabi reportedly convinced the ISIS demonstrators to tone down their activities. Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups have in the past been allowed to operate in Jordan, ostensibly so authorities can monitor and infiltrate them. Authorities said the country's borders are secure, and denied reports that ISIS had taken over the strategic Turaibil crossing into Iraq.

Also in late June, Shalabi said his group has nearly 2,000 jihadists in Syria and he claimed to lead some 5,000 Salafi jihadist followers in Jordan. Another Jordanian Islamist leader, Saad al Huneiti, was said to have been in Syria trying to broker a truce between ISIS and Al Nusrah.

Concerned about events in Iraq, on June 13 Jordan reportedly deployed some 40,000 troops along its eastern and northeastern borders with Iraq and Syria to prevent ISIS and Al Nusrah Front fighters from entering Jordan.

On April 25, it was reported that authorities were trying to stem the flow of Jordanian jihadists to and from Syria, amid reports that some 2,000 Jordanians are fighting there and about 300 have returned in the past two months.

In late March, the parliament considered a revised antiterrorism bill what would make it a crime to fight with, or seek to join, radical groups. Shalabi criticized the bill as "amending the law to classify some 2,000 young people who are fighting [in Syria] as terrorists" so they could be sent to prison. Officials began closing illegal crossing points from Deraa in Syria into al-Ramtha.

In early October 2013, authorities said the Al Nusrah Front and the ISIS were recruiting in Jordan; over 400 Jordanians were said to have been recruited for Syrian jihad.

In August 2013, Information Minister Momani said "Jordan will not be a launching pad for any military action against Syria." The Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm in Jordan, denounced US plans for a military intervention in Syria. The head of Jordan's Salafi jihadists also criticized the plans and vowed resistance from Islamist groups to any attempt at interference in Syria. More than 1,000 Jordanians were thought to be fighting with Islamist groups in Syria, with about 80 percent of them in the Al Nusrah Front.

Kuwait: A Kuwaiti newspaper reported on Aug. 19 that security forces were on high alert over reports from Iraq that Islamic State militants were planning to infiltrate Kuwait's northern border.

Lebanon: On Aug. 25, Imad Jomaa, an Islamist commander captured on Aug. 2 in Arsal, reportedly confessed that he had been tasked with coordinating the takeover of Arsal and other Lebanese towns in the Bekaa Valley and the north so that an Islamic emirate could be established in the area with Abdullah Azzam Brigades spokesman Sirajeddine Zureiqat as its emir. The battle also involved Abou Malek al-Souri, emir of the Al Nusrah Front in Qalamoun with 29 armed groups under his command. The plot also aimed to capture male and female Hezbollah sympathizers and as many Lebanese troops as possible, and to spark instability.

On Aug. 18, it was reported that the Islamist militants still holding Lebanese security forces captive had issued a list of their demands, and that the Islamic State holds 11 soldiers and a corpse, and the Al Nusrah Front holds 18 captive security forces after releasing two the day before.

On Aug. 16, the US issued a travel warning for Lebanon noting that the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and Hezbollah all operate there, and stressed the increasing frequency of suicide bombings.

On Aug. 12, the head of Lebanese armed forces said the Islamic State had tried to set up a bridgehead in Arsal from which to attack Shiite areas and engulf the country in sectarian strife.

Saudi Arabia: On Aug. 26, police arrested eight people in Tamir suspected of recruiting for the Islamic State. The Special Criminal Court sentenced 12 people to jail for terrorism offenses, including plotting to bomb a US diplomatic mission, joining al Qaeda training camps in Yemen and Lebanon, and facilitating the travel of militants to conflict zones abroad. Six other people were jailed for planning to kill intelligence officers.

In March 2013, Suleiman al Sabi'ee, a Saudi jihadist who had recently returned from Syria, alleged that ISIS members had taken over his social media accounts and exploited his large following to call others to participate in jihad; he also claimed that ISIS members used his accounts to attack the Saudi royal family and incite violence against the Saudi government. [See Threat Matrix report, Saudi jihadi recounts his time with ISIS.]

AFRICA

Algeria: On Sept. 5, Magharebia reported that Algerian officials are concerned about rumors that foreign fighters from the Islamic State are involved in digging tunnels linking Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. In August, some 100 Syrian Islamic State recruits were reportedly arrested while on their way to Libyan camps for training in carrying out terror attacks in Europe.

Libya: In June, an Egyptian Interpol officer told Al Shorfa that the agency has been trying for months to help Maghreb countries deal with the reverse migration of jihadists from Syria. Interpol was said to be focusing on those who had fought with Al Nusrah, ISIS, and other armed terrorist groups. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Libyan fighters are thought to have traveled to Syria to fight. Many of these Libyans are believed to be fighting with ISIS or Al Nusrah.

On June 15, the al-Battar Brigade, a Syria-trained Libyan militia affiliated with the ISIS and Ansar al Sharia, threatened to avenge the death of an emir who was killed in Derna by the rival Abu Slim Martyrs Brigade, which is linked to al Qaeda's Syrian branch, the Al Nusrah Front.

On March 13, the Libyan jihadist group Martyrs Brigades released a video showing its execution of a Free Syrian Army official in Libya in retaliation for the FSA's fight against the ISIS.

Mali: On July 15, a message purportedly from Hamaad bin Muhammad al-Amin al-Shinqiti, former head of the sharia judiciary in Gao, expressed his approval of the Islamic State; the message was titled "Azawadi Support for the Islamic State."

Morocco: On Sept. 4, seven members of an ISIS-linked Moroccan cell were remanded to prison; the Interior Ministry said on Aug. 22 that the cell "planned to receive military training" before taking action in Morocco, "under the Islamic State's plans to expand its field of operations" outside Syria and Iraq.

On Aug. 14, Moroccan police broke up a nine-person Islamic State cell that operated in Ceuta, Tetouan, Fez, and Fnideq and sent fighters to Syria and Iraq.

In early August, Spanish authorities said Mohamed Hamdouch a.k.a. Kokito, a Moroccan from Fdineq who leads an Islamic State brigade in Syria, had appeared in a recent IS video with the heads of slaughtered victims. His wife Asia was said to share his jihadist goals. Over 3,000 Moroccan jihadists were said to be fighting in Syria and Iraq.

In July, Spanish security forces said that Mohamed Almedi Khalou, a former Moroccan army officer, is leading some 1,200 Moroccans who have joined IS forces in Syria in a group called the Harakat al Sham, or Sham al Islam. Khalou reportedly replaced Brahim Benchekroun, a former Guantanamo detainee who was killed in Syria in April. Prior to his death, Benchekroun had begun planning attacks in Morocco.

In July, authorities arrested two Islamic State jihadists who were planning to travel to Syria and Iraq to attend terrorist training camps and then return to conduct attacks in Morocco. Both had links to foreign extremists, and one of the suspects had connections with a criminal gang in Fez.

Nigeria: On Aug. 24, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a lengthy video in which he claimed to have created an Islamic emirate or caliphate in Gwoza in northern Nigeria's Borno state; in July Shekau had voiced his support for the leader of the Islamic State as well as leaders of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Tunisia: In early August, authorities issued a committal order against against Seifeddine Rais, an Ansar al Sharia spokesman who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

In February 2014, Kamel Zarrouk, the deputy emir of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, was reported to be fighting alongside the ISIS in Syria. In May 2013 he had claimed that "the Al Nusrah Front, Ansar al Shariah, al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the mujahedeen in Somalia, Mali, and Algeria, we all stand united against our enemies." More than 5,000 Tunisians were thought to have traveled to Syria to fight, making them one of the largest groups of foreign fighters in Syria. [See LWJ report, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia deputy leader reportedly in Syria.]

ASIA

Afghanistan: A commander of the Hizb-e-Islami in Baghlan province said he has contacts with Islamic State members but is taking a wait and see approach on their caliphate.

China: Iraqi officials indicated that a Chinese fighter for the Islamic State was captured recently. In late July, a Chinese official acknowledged that about 100 Chinese were with fighting groups in the Middle East. In a speech released on July 1, IS emir Abu Bakr al Bagdadi claimed that Chinese fighters were in the IS ranks.

Indonesia: On Aug. 11, the Detachment 88 counterterrorism squad arrested Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid leader Afif Abdul Majid, who was added to the US' global terrorist list in 2013. Majid, who recently returned from Syria, has pledged support to the Islamic State, along with jailed al Qaeda-linked cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. Although the government reportedly banned IS ideology weeks earlier, groups supporting IS were holding meetings in Jakarta, Solo in Central Java, and Bima in West Nusa Tenggara.

Malaysia: On July 18, a top Malaysian counterterrorism official said police had foiled terrorist plans to bomb targets in Malaysia and set up regional and global Islamic State networks; 19 suspects were arrested. The suspects, who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore, included two housewives as well as professionals, and some had tried to travel to Turkey and Syria for training by the IS. The official said that over the previous week some 20 to 30 Malaysians had gone to Syria to join the Islamic State but that the actual number might be "a lot higher."

On July 21, a top counterterrorism official said Islamic State militants from a group of 19 arrested for plotting terrorist attacks in Malaysia had acquired aluminum powder for use in making bombs. He also said 12 of the 19 suspects have been released for lack of evidence. Recruiting for the group in Malaysia is swift, he noted, and recruits are being sent to Syria despite the recent arrests. The only prominent Muslim leader in Malaysia who has denounced the Islamic State is former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Pakistan: On Sept. 4, Reuters reported that Islamic State pamphlets were recently distributed in Pakistan, and that Islamic State flags have appeared at protest rallies in Kashmir. Pamphlets claiming that the IS caliphate also embraced Afghanistan, Pakistan, and some Muslim central Asian republics were distributed in the city of Peshawar and in nearby Afghan refugee camps.

Philippines: On Aug. 30, the US Embassy warned Americans to avoid travel to Sulu and the Mindanao archipelago due to the activities of al Qaeda-linked groups such as Abu Sayyaf. In July, reports emerged that elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf, including wanted leader Isnilon Hapilon, have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. Wanted Abu Sayyaf leader Mobin Hailil a.k.a. Apo Kahumbo was arrested on firearms charges; he is suspected of facilitating the transfer of kidnapping victims from Sabah to Jolo.

Russia: The Islamic State released a video in early September threatening Russia and President Vladimir Putin, showing fighter jets seized in Raqqah, Syria and claiming that it will use the jets against Russia to free Chechens and all of the Caucasus.

Uzbekistan: On Sept. 4, Radio Liberty reported that police have been investigating the appearance of an Islamic State flag displayed on a bridge in the capital city of Tashkent on Aug. 28. A statement was sent to the news agency recently by an Uzbek national claiming that the Islamic State has already appointed an emir for Uzbekistan. The ranks of the Islamic State include many fighters from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics.

AUSTRALIA

Australia: In late August, Australian intelligence chief David Irvine said some 60 Australians are fighting in Syria or Iraq for the Islamic State or the Al Nusrah Front, and that 15 of them have died fighting there, two as suicide bombers. Irvine warned that "dozens" have already returned home, where another 100 Australians are known to be actively supporting jihadist groups by fundraising and recruiting fighters, including suicide bombers. Authorities were said to be monitoring the activities of the relatives of the Pendennis Nine, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group uncovered in 2005, which are thought now to extend to fighting for the Islamic State in Syria or Iraq.

On Aug. 21, Prime Minister Abbott warned that Islamic State beheadings could happen in countries like Australia if they relax their vigilance. He said the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah has indicated support for the IS and thus that there is a risk of "increased terrorist activity in our region." Abbott criticized Islamic community leaders who boycotted discussions on preventing young Australians from joining extremist organizations such as the Islamic State.

On Aug. 10, Defence Minister David Johnston said Australia is "not ruling out" providing backup military support for the US "as they go in and deal kinetically with this terrorist organisation." He said: "Islamic State ... is not just a terrorist group, it is a terrorist army." Australian jihadist Khaled Sharrouf reportedly posted a photo on social media of his young son in Syria holding the severed head of an Islamic State victim.

On July 30, the federal police issued arrest warrants for Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar, two Sydney residents who are fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and have threatened to kill Australian soldiers as well as all non-Muslims. Authorities estimated that 150 Australians are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq, and that about 60 of them have joined extremist groups. Attorney General George Brandis said Islamic extremism is germinating "within the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane."

On July 22, outspoken Islamist cleric and Islamic State supporter Musa Cerantonio arrived in Australia after being deported from the Philippines, where he had been arrested in the company of a Filipina fashion designer. Australian authorities released him but said he will be monitored.

In June, the number of Australians fighting in Syria was estimated to be around 200, and ISIS was actively recruiting Australians.


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Ansar Jerusalem kills 11 Egyptian soldiers

September 3, 2014 5:26 PM
By Bill Roggio

Yesterday, 11 Egyptian soldiers were killed and two more were wounded in a massive IED attack that targeted their armored vehicle on "the Sheikh Zuwayed-Rafah highway in North Sinai," according to Egypt Independent.

Today, Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, or ABM) claimed credit for the bombing, in a video that was released on jihadist forums and obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group. In the slickly produced video [above, courtesy of SITE], a cameraman records the attack while hiding in the desert. The IED is detonated, and the resultant explosion sends parts of the wheeled armored video scores of feet into the air.

At the end of the video, Ansar Jerusalem displays items seized from the military unit after the blast, which include four AK-47s and ammunition, a bullet-proof vest and a helmet, and assorted identification cards and photographs from the soldiers.

Ansar Jerusalem was founded in the aftermath of the uprisings in Egypt in 2011. The US added the jihadist group to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist groups. In the designation, the State Department said that Ansar Jerusalem "shares some aspects of AQ [al Qaeda] ideology, but is not a formal AQ affiliate and generally maintains a local focus."

But as Thomas Joscelyn observed at the time of the designation, Ansar Jerusalem has used al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaeda-associated statements in its propaganda. Additionally, groups such as Shabaab and the Al Nusrah Front hid their affiliation with al Qaeda for years before announcing their allegiance. [See LWJ report, State Department adds Ansar Jerusalem to terrorist designation lists.] And just today, al Qaeda announced the formation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. In the announcement, al Qaeda stated that the formation of the Indian Subcontinent group was in the works for more than two years. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda opens branch in the 'Indian Subcontinent'.]

Yesterday's attack serves as a reminder that as the world focuses on the exploits of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, other insurgencies in the Middle East are still underway. The Egyptian military has been unable to suppress the jihadists in the Sinai after more than a year of fighting.

Attacks by jihadists against Egyptian forces in the Sinai and beyond occur on a near-daily basis. Just days ago, Ansar Jerusalem beheaded four Egyptian soldiers.


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US military confirms Shabaab's emir was target of airstrike

September 2, 2014 6:47 PM
By Bill Roggio

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, provided some additional details on last night's airstrike on Shabaab, al Qaeda's official branch in Somalia. Shabaab's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, a.k.a. Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, was the target of the strike, which included both drones and manned aircraft, Kirby confirmed. And the strike hit a Shabaab "encampment" south of Mogadishu. From Kirby's press briefing:

Yesterday, at approximately 11:20 Eastern Time, working from actionable intelligence, U.S. special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions.

This operation was a direct strike against the Al-Shabaab network, specifically the group's leader, Ahmed Abdi al-Muhammad, also known Ahmed Godane. We are still assessing the results of the operation, and we'll provide additional information when and if appropriate.

Kirby would not say whether Godane or other senior Shabaab leaders were killed. Somali officials said earlier today that Shabaab leaders Muhammad Abu Abdallah, the group's shadow governor of Lower Shabelle; Muhammad Abu Sham, Godane's aide; Ali Muhammad Gulled, a logistics officer; Muhammad Husayn Nur (a.k.a. Abu Hamza Al Ayman); Sheikh Muhammad Dulyaden; Iqri Ubayd, a Sudanese operative; and Mubarak Abdallah, a Yemeni, were all present at the camp during the strike. [See LWJ report, US targets Shabaab's leadership in southern Somalia.]

Shabaab has yet to comment on the strike, which took place at a Shabaab camp located between the villages of Dhay Tubako and Haway along the Shabelle River south of Mogadishu.

The loss of Godane would likely be a temporary setback for the jihadist group. Shabaab has an established leadership cadre, and has proved resilient after losing senior leaders in the past.


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Boko Haram extends its grip in northeastern Nigeria

September 2, 2014 6:35 PM
By Laura Grossman

After a two-day battle against Boko Haram in northeastern Borno state, Nigerian forces have lost more territory to the surging terrorist group. Boko Haram has stepped up its offensive over the past few months, grabbing land to build its desired Islamic state. Just two weeks ago, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video in which he celebrated the group's recent victories, railed against democracy, and threatened to continue attacks in Nigeria and neighboring countries.

Yesterday morning, Boko Haram fighters attacked the city of Bama in Nigeria's northeast Borno state. The insurgents arrived in armored tanks and trucks as they attempted to take over the city. Later in the day, Nigeria's Defense Headquarters tweeted "#Bama attack is being repelled. We cannot state casualty situation/figures now. Everything necessary will be done to contain the Terrorists."

To repel the terrorists, the Nigerian military relied upon its air force. Reports indicate, however, that the air force had difficulty distinguishing between its own forces and Boko Haram. Borno senator Ahmed Zanna told AFP: "The jet could not distinguish between soldiers and Boko Haram and bombarded the military barracks which was at the time under the control of soldiers .... The aerial bombing destroyed the military barracks and forced soldiers to flee towards Maiduguri along with thousands of civilians." It is possible that the Boko Haram fighters were wearing military uniforms, as they have frequently done in other attacks.

Reports emerged today that the Nigerian forces' hold on Bama crumbled as the insurgents returned in greater numbers overnight. Sources say casualties were high on both sides as Boko Haram overran Bama and as many as 5,000 people fled.

Soldiers reportedly also fled. One noted to the Nigerian press: "You kill and kill and kill but these people are coming like flies. We have to withdraw and allow the air force do their job. We do not know what is now on ground in Bama, but we have all withdrawn to Maiduguri."

If Boko Haram has taken over Bama, it would be the largest city under the group's control and a powerful demonstration of the terror group's efficiency and capabilities. Bama, which had a population of 270,000 in 2006, is located only about 45 miles away from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. In an effort to prevent Boko Haram "infiltration," Maiduguri city has been placed under curfew. The city has taken in some 20,000 refugees who arrived in the past 48 hours, mainly from Bama.

Over the summer, the group has raised its flags and taken at least marginal control of several villages and towns in the northeast. These towns include Damboa, Gwoza, Buni Yadi, Gamboru, and Madagali, among others. The Nigerian military has been struggling to regain control in the areas, reportedly recapturing Damboa and surrounding areas in early August. Shekau disputed the claim that the Damboa area was under government control, however, in his recent video.

On Aug. 27, Boko Haram fighters reportedly took over Bakin Dutse, a village in neighboring Adamawa state just to the southwest of Madagali. Setting up camp, the terrorists were only about five kilometers away from Gulak, which hosts a reinforced military base.



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Mission creep in Iraq continues as US launches airstrikes in Amerli

August 31, 2014 9:35 AM
By Bill Roggio

The US military and humanitarian mission in Iraq continues to suffer from what is known as "mission creep," which is defined as "a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment."

When the Obama administration ordered limited military intervention against the Islamic State beginning on Aug. 7, the objectives were twofold: to halt the Islamic State's advance on Irbil to protect US personnel based there, and provide humanitarian relief to the Yazidi minority who fled Sinjar and other towns and were trapped on Mount Sinjar.

Within a week, the objectives were modified, and the US military was now tasked with serving as the air force to Kurdish and Iraqi forces "to protect critical infrastructure" and "support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, who are working together to combat ISIL [the Islamic State]."

Yesterday, the US began launching airstrikes against Islamic State fighters who are besieging the ethnic Turkmen town of Amerli. Note that Amerli is in Salahaddin province and doesn't constitute a critical threat to US personnel in Irbil, nor does it host critical infrastructure. Below is the full press release that was issued yesterday by US Central Command:

At the request of the Government of Iraq, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to address the humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli, Iraq at approximately 8:30 p.m. EDT today.

Two months ago, hundreds of ISIL terrorists advanced on Amirli cutting off food, water, and medical supplies to thousands of Shia Turkomen living there. ISIL has since blocked many attempts by Iraqi Security Forces and the United Nations from delivering critical supplies to Amirli, threatening the remaining population.

At the request of the Iraqi government, U.S. forces airdropped 109 bundles of much-needed humanitarian aid to the people of Amirli, including the Shia Turkomen minority ethnic group. Two U.S. C-17s and two U.S. C-130s airdropped supplies, delivering approximately 10,500 gallons of fresh drinking water and approximately 7,000 meals ready to eat. In addition, aircraft from Australia, France, and the United Kingdom also dropped humanitarian aid.

To support the delivery of this humanitarian assistance, the U.S. military also conducted three airstrikes in coordination with the isolated Iraqi security forces responsible for protecting Amirli.

Fighter aircraft struck and destroyed three ISIL Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, one ISIL checkpoint and one ISIL tank near Amirli. All aircraft safely exited the area.

The President authorized these airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to civilians in the town of Amirli. These operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli.

U.S Central Command has conducted a total of 118 airstrikes across Iraq.

It has been clear from the beginning that the Obama administration does not have a strategy to deal with the Islamic State. President Obama admitted as much in a press conference last week.

But what is clear is that the Obama administration is doing exactly what it said it wouldn't do: get sucked into Iraq's civil war and serve as Iraq's air force.

If President Obama wants to defeat the Islamic State, a group that he described as a "cancer," he needs to quickly develop a comprehensive strategy and articulate it to the American public. Otherwise, the administration is employing tactical solutions to the strategic problem that is the Islamic State, and adjusting these tactics on the fly.


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Shabaab suicide assault team hits Somali intelligence HQ in Mogadishu

August 31, 2014 8:30 AM
By Bill Roggio

Earlier today Shabaab, al Qaeda's official branch in Somalia, launched a coordinated suicide assault against the national intelligence headquarters in a highly secured area in the capital of Mogadishu.

Seven Shabaab fighters, three soldiers, and two civilians were killed in the assault, which began when a truck detonated at the main gate of the headquarters, Reuters reported. Six heavily armed Shabaab fighters then entered the breach and battled with security forces inside the compound for nearly an hour before being killed.

The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using one or more suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic frequently used by al Qaeda and its branches as well as allied groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and by the rival Islamic State. Suicide assaults are commonly executed by jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.

The Shabaab fighters were attempting to free prisoners held at the headquarters. Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, Shabaab's military spokesman, told Reuters that the attack was launched "in retaliation and as just punishment for the apostate criminals" who hold the group's fighters in prison. Abu Musab claimed that "innocent Muslims have suffered in the dungeons of that prison, subjected to torture and humiliation."

Shabaab is following in the footsteps of jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic State [in Iraq and Syria], two groups which have focused on military operations to free captive prisoners. Both groups have released thousands of prisoners during raids on jails. The resurgence of the Islamic State is partially due to the swelling of its ranks from prisoners freed in operations.

Shabaab's assault in Mogadishu serves as a reminder that the group is far from defeated, despite claims to the contrary by some in the Somali government. While the current media focus is on the Islamic State's spectacular gains in both Iraq and Syria, Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, have controlled extensive areas of Somalia, including major cities, several times since 2006. Even today, Shabaab controls large portions of the countryside in southern and central Somalia, and still runs some towns and cities. An African Union offensive by forces from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Kenya has managed to drive Shabaab from the major cities of Mogadishu and Kismayo, but three years after the start of the offensive, Shabaab still controls vast areas of Somalia.


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Taliban launch suicide assault against Afghan intelligence

August 30, 2014 7:46 PM
By Bill Roggio

Earlier today, the Taliban killed four members of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's intelligence service, and two civilians in a suicide assault that targeted the NDS headquarters in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar. From TOLONews:

The incident took place at about 5 a.m. local time in Jalalabad, the capital of the province, when a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of the NDS office and five minutes later a second suicide car bomber exploded, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, said.

"The two suicide car bombers detonated their explosives made way for five other insurgents to enter the compounds of the NDS," he said. "The five insurgents were gunned down by Afghan security forces after a five hour clash."

The Taliban claimed credit for the attack in a statement released on Voice of Jihad, their official propaganda website. The Taliban claimed that the attack was executed by only one suicide bomber and five "martyr Mujahideen equipped with rockets, PK heavy machine guns, Kalashnikovs, explosive-belts and hand grenades." The other explosion was the result of a remotely-detonated car bomb.

The suicide bomber was identified as "Abdullah Nangarhari," and the five fighters who penetrated the compound were identified as "Kalimullah, Akhtar Muhammad, Muhmamad Ismail and Fawad hailing from Nangarhar and Musa from Kunar provinces."

As usual, the Taliban exaggerated the effects of their attack, claiming that "as many as 71 agents of NDS and security forces, the ANA and ANP were killed and a further 83 got severely injured."

Afghan and Coalition forces in Nangarhar are often targeted by the Taliban. The Taliban have launched two other suicide assaults in the province so far this year. In January, a suicide assault team killed a US soldier at a base in Ghani Khel. In March, another Taliban team team attacked the police headquarters in Jalalabad, killing 18 people.

The Peshawar Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban's four major commands, directs activities in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan, including in Nangarhar province. In 2011, the Taliban appointed Sheikh Mohammed Aminullah to lead its Peshawar Regional Military Shura; he was added to the United Nations Sanctions Committee's list of "individuals and entities associated with al Qaeda" in 2009.


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UN reticent about 'armed group' holding 43 Golan Heights peacekeepers

August 29, 2014 12:25 AM
By Lisa Lundquist

Yesterday the United Nations issued a statement deploring the fact that 43 of its Golan Heights peacekeepers have been captured in the southwestern Syrian province of Quneitra, and that the movements of 81 other peacekeepers nearby have been "restricted." The UN's press release alluded only generally to the group holding the 43 UN troops:

During a period of increased fighting beginning yesterday between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces within the area of separation in the Golan Heights, 43 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah. In addition, another 81 UNDOF peacekeepers are currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah. The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers, and to restore the full freedom of movement of the Force throughout its area of operation.

The few further details supplied by the UN included the facts that the 43 captured soldiers were Fijian, and that the 81 others were from the Philippines.

A UN spokesperson refused to identify the kidnappers:

We are dealing with nonstate armed actors.... The command and control of these groups is unclear. We're not in a position to confirm who is holding whom. Some groups self-identified as being affiliated with Nusra, however, we are unable to confirm it.

A statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said only that the kidnappers were "armed elements of the opposition," and called for the immediate release of the detained peacekeepers and the lifting of restrictions on the others.

It is highly likely that the peacekeepers have been seized by the al Qaeda's Syrian Branch, the Al Nusrah Front, which with the assistance of other Islamist groups, including the Islamic Front, this week wrested control of the Quneitra border crossing in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.

The Wall Street Journal describes the UN presence in the area as follows:

The demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights was established in the months after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The zone, as well as the crossing, is monitored by more than 1,200 U.N. peacekeepers from six countries. No other military forces are allowed in the area.

There was no evidence the Syrian rebels were attempting to infiltrate Israel. The Nusra Front and other Islamists already control swaths of territory along the cease-fire lines between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights, an Israeli spokesman said on Wednesday.

The UN's reticence about the kidnappers' identity may reflect the desire for a non-terrorist negotiating partner, such as the Islamic Front (which, although it frequently fights alongside Al Nusrah and has senior leaders who are linked to al Qaeda, has avoided a terrorist designation so far).

Incidentally, while the Islamic State has been dominating the headlines with its onslaughts in Iraq and Syria illustrated by a steady flow of decapitation videos, Al Nusrah has been conducting negotiations with the Lebanese government over the fate of 28 kidnapped Lebanese security forces. The Islamic State, which also holds some Lebanese hostages, is also involved in the negotiations.

It is important to keep in mind that Al Nusrah, which seems to be positioning itself as a 'less violent' and 'more civilized' actor than the Islamic State, remains a mortal foe of democratic forces everywhere. The use of kidnapping victims as pawns has long figured in al Qaeda's playbook.


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Jaamat-ul-Ahrar is 'separate from the TTP leadership,' spokesman says

August 27, 2014 8:36 AM
By Bill Roggio

Ihsanullah Ihsan, the former spokesman of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), confirmed in an email to The Long War Journal that the newly formed Jaamat-ul-Ahrar TTP is "separate from the TTP leadership."

"Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has become separate from the TTP leadership," Ihsan told LWJ. "TTP Jaamat-ul-Ahrar deals with itself and does not take orders from TTP leadership."

The formation of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, followed by Ihsan's confirmation that the group is a separate entity from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, is the final nail in the coffin for the latter.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan will likely continue in some form; but without the Mohmand and Kurram factions, and the Mehsuds in North and South Waziristan, it is a rump organization. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar can serve as a nucleus for Taliban factions that wish to continue the fight against the Pakistani government.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan made a major mistake by appointing Mullah Fazlullah as the group's emir after Hakeemullah Mehsud's death in a US drone strike last year. Fazlullah, despite having served as Hakeemullah's deputy, was disconnected from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's traditional power base and appears to have been widely disliked.

If Jamaat-ul-Ahrar does emerge as the successor to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the group will likely be just as dangerous if not moreso than its predecessor. With Omar Khalid al Khorasani in the top leadership cadre, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is sure to continue a relentless campaign of attacks against the Pakistani state and will continue to ally with groups such as al Qaeda.


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Islamic State goes from 'junior varsity' to all pro in 8 months, Admiral Kirby says

August 25, 2014 8:51 AM
By Bill Roggio

In an Aug. 22 press briefing, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon's Press Secretary, attempted to defend President Barack Obama's poorly timed statement in January where he referred to the Islamic State as a "jayvee team." This is what Obama had said in an interview with The New Yorker while answering a question on the resurgence of jihadist groups in Iraq:

The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.

Below is the reporter's question about equating the Islamic State to "a junior varsity team," and Kirby's answer:

Q: In January, the president equated ISIL's capabilities to that of a junior varsity team, so, which seems to be in direct contrast with what the secretary said yesterday. I was wondering if there had been new analysis or done to get to the secretary to that position?

And does that mean that ISIS is getting stronger?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would make a couple of points. One I would point you to what the president said yesterday or the day before about ISIL and the threat that they posed, as well as comments made by Secretary Kerry, and of course you've heard what Secretary Hagel said. I think everybody has the same view here about the threat posed by ISIL not just to Iraq, but to the region.

There's no divergence. This is August. You're talking about comments that were made in January. ISIL -- and we've been watching this for months. They have grown in capability. I've said it from the podium as have others. They have grown in capability with speed, helped along by resourcing from some of their own criminal activity, as well as donations and ransoms and helped along by a sanctuary that they have in Syria. So, we've all been watching this. They have advanced in capability. And we -- we saw the speed with which they gained ground and held ground in northern Iraq earlier this summer.

So, it's a -- the real answer to your question is, it's a constantly changing, fluid situation, and their threat continues to grow. And that's what led us to where we are today, which is that we believe it does pose an imminent threat, and it's a threat that we need to take seriously.

Kirby is defending the indefensible. The Obama administration and Kirby would be better served admitting that it was a mistake to underestimate the Islamic State. As a senior military officer, he knows that it is impossible for the Islamic State to have gained the capacity to take on two states (Iraq and Syria) and control large regions in both countries in the span of just eight months.

Those of us who have been watching the Islamic State (previously known as al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham) have warned that the group has been gaining in strength since 2012. For example, this deadly raid on Haditha in March 2012 shows that the group had regrouped and developed the capacity train, plan for, and execute sophisticated operations against Iraqi security forces.

Watch the video linked above that shows the Islamic State's assault on Haditha in 2012. The tactics used in that attack weren't developed over the past eight months. These tactics have been on display in both Iraq and Syria over the past three years. The alarm bells should have been ringing in the Obama administration once the Islamic State seized Fallujah and several areas in Anbar province in January. Instead, the president grossly understated the Islamic State's abilities. And today, administration officials are referring to the group as a dangerous global threat while the military is launching airstrikes against the group daily and is planning to expand its operations, possibly into Syria.

Administration and military officials shouldn't bristle when asked why they failed to properly assess that danger of the Islamic State. They should admit their mistake and articulate a strategy to defeat the group. Even if a new strategy contradicts previous campaign promises to end the war in Iraq.


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