December 16, 2014 7:47 PM
By Bill Roggio
One student described how the fighters screamed "Allahu Akbar" as they opened fire. A survivor recalled hearing one gunman say to another, "There are so many children beneath the benches; go and get them."
Today's attack seems especially heinous given that the Taliban intentionally targeted students, but it isn't particularly unique: in recent years the Taliban has executed numerous suicide operations against soft targets such as churches, shrines, markets, hotels, and even hospitals. Thousands of civilians have been killed in such attacks since the Pakistani Taliban was formed in late 2006.
Pakistani military and government officials were quick to condemn today's attack. And while the military and government have pursued the Taliban for waging war against the state, the Pakistani establishment is in many ways responsible for the group's survival.
While the Pakistani government views the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and other jihadist groups (such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) as "bad Taliban," it treats other Taliban groups, such as the al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani Network, the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, and Lashkar-e-Taiba as state assets. In the words of the chief adviser to the prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, such groups are "not our problem." These Taliban groups, the so-called "good Taliban," only seek to wage jihad in Afghanistan or India - not overthrow the Pakistani regime - and thus offer Islamabad "strategic depth."
This good-versus-evil view of the Taliban, however, is fatally flawed. The so-called good Taliban shelter and support the Pakistani Taliban as well as al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Moreover, while the Pakistani military has launched an operation in the tribal North Waziristan area to root out the Taliban, the group would be unable to operate there without the assistance of the so-called good Taliban of the Haqqani Network.
Over the next several hours and days, Pakistani officials will clamor for the destruction of the Taliban in Pakistan, as they have done after similar atrocities in the past. But destroying the Pakistani Taliban is impossible until the leadership in Islamabad decides to end its double game of backing some jihadist groups while fighting others. Until the government decides to pursue the leaders of terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba and dismantle their jihadist networks' infrastructure, Pakistani civilians will continue pay for their leaders' duplicity in blood.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Editor of the Long War Journal.
December 14, 2014 2:42 PM
By Caleb Weiss
Picture in which Al Nusrah purports to use a TOW antitank missile
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has posted a picture and video of its fighters using an American-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile on an Assad regime tank.
The photograph and video were distributed on Twitter by Al Nusrah's official page for Idlib operations. The TOW was used during the recent fighting in Wadi al Daif which, until this morning, was a major regime base in the countryside of Idlib. The fighting at Wadi al Daif was part of a larger jihadist offensive on two regime bases near the Idlib city of Maa'rat al Nu'man. The other base, Al Hamadiya, is also reported to have fallen to members of Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda ally, as well as to members of Al Nusrah and Free Syrian Army elements. [For more information on the offensive, see LWJ report Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham advance in northwestern Syria.]
It is likely that Al Nusrah got its hands on TOW missiles when it and Jund al Aqsa -- which also helped Al Nusrah at Wadi al Daif -- stormed the headquarters of the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) in early November. The capture of the SRF headquarters came after Nusrah forced its leader, Jamaal Maarouf, to flee. [For more on the fighting between Nusrah and the SRF, see LWJ report Al Nusrah Front forces Western-backed rebel group to flee base in Idlib.]
Before today, several Western-backed Free Syrian Army groups equipped with TOWs have assisted Al Nusrah and its allies on numerous occasions. On Oct. 7, the US-funded Hazm Movement assisted the Chechen-led Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar against the regime in Aleppo. On Oct. 5, several Free Syrian Army units utilized their TOW anti-tank missiles to help Al Nusrah and Ahrar in southern Syria. And in August, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front aided Al Nusrah and Ahrar in taking the Quneitra border crossing with the Israeli-held Golan Heights.
Below is a video uploaded to YouTube by the Al Nusrah Front that shows many stages of the fighting at Wadi al Daif. At 4:00, the TOW missile is fired.
December 14, 2014 12:32 PM
By Bill Roggio & Caleb Weiss
The Islamic State took control of a town in Anbar province in western Iraq yesterday and executed 21 members of the Sunni Awakening tribal movement in another town late last week.
Islamic State fighters launched an assault on al Wafa, which is west of the provincial capital of Ramadi, on Dec. 12 and defeated Iraqi security forces and local tribal fighters. Nineteen policemen were killed in the fighting. Reuters reports:
Police forces backed by few members of government-paid Sunni tribal fighters tried to prevent the militants from crossing the sand barrier surrounding the town, but were overwhelmed when sleeper cells from inside opened fire on them, the mayor and a police officer said.
Additionally, near the town of Baghdadi, which is just outside of Al Asad Airbase, the Islamic State captured 21 Awakening fighters on Dec. 10 and executed them two days later. "All the bodies had bullet wounds to the head and chest and were dumped inside an orchard near the Islamic-State controlled town of Kubaisa," Reuters reported.
The Islamic State's Anbar division released photographs of the fighting in Baghdadi on Dec. 11. The photos show its fighters firing on Iraqi personnel, then displaying the bodies of dead security personnel. Additionally, the Islamic State showed photos of captured vehicles and weapons, including US-made Humvees, mortars, rockets, heavy machine guns, and assault rifles. Some of the photographs are reproduced below; the images of the dead Iraqi security personnel are too graphic to display.
The Islamic State maintains the initiative in Anbar province, most of which is under its control. The provincial capital of Ramadi and the town of Haditha remain contested terrain. The Iraqi military, the Awakening, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been unable to wrest control of the province from the Islamic state since Fallujah and other cities and towns fell in January 2013.
Photographs from Baghdadi:
December 14, 2014 3:34 AM
By Caleb Weiss
Vest taken from a Badr Organization fighter with the popular Shiite saying "Oh Hussein" written on the back
The two releases were distributed by Islamic State supporters on Twitter after being posted elsewhere online. The photo sets also bear the title of Wilayat Salahadin, which is one of the Islamic State's proclaimed 18 administrative divisions.
In the images of Mutassim, the district center is clearly shown as being under Islamic State control. Other photos showcase several destroyed Iraqi Army or Shia militia vehicles, including several US-made Humvees. The current status of the sub-district is unclear; the Islamic State photos appear to show its fighters in control of the town, but they may have withdrawn after the attack. The National Iraqi News Agency is reporting that the Iraqi Army, backed by Shia militias, has retaken Mutassim.
The set of photographs from the Mukayshfah dub-district shows Badr Organization positions being overrun by Islamic State fighters. These images also show the Islamic State capturing more Badr vehicles, as well as supplies and ammunition from the Shiite group. A few days prior, the Islamic State had released another group of photos also highlighting its battles with the Badr Organization in Mukayshfah.
The Islamic State seeks to control Samarra and towns and cites to its south in order to secure the northern Baghdad belt. Jihadist control of this area would make it difficult for Iraqi forces to resupply and reinforce military units north of the city. Additionally, the Islamic State would use this area to disrupt security in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government has allowed Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, Hezbollah Brigade, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), and Muqtada al Sadr's Promised Day Brigade, all of which are supported by Iran's Qods Force, to reinforce beleaguered and demoralized Iraqi forces in Samarra. These militias have remained on the front line and have secured cities and towns, many of which are predominantly Sunni communities, along the road from Samarra to Baghdad.
Several Shiite groups have uploaded videos to YouTube showing their involvement in fighting for Samarra. The Promised Day Brigade (which now goes by the moniker Peace Brigade), has uploaded this video showing them firing rockets on Islamic State positions. [For more on the fighting near Samarra, see LWJ report Islamic State overruns Badr Brigade position near Samarra.]
Pictures released of the fighting in Mutassim:
Pictures from Mukayshfah:
December 11, 2014 7:19 PM
By Bill Roggio
The Taliban launched a pair of suicide attacks today in the Afghan capital, killing six Afghan soldiers and a foreign citizen thought to be from Germany.
In the first attack, a suicide bomber whom the Taliban identified as "Hafiz Talha hailing from Wardak province, who was on foot," targeted a bus that was used to transport soldiers and officers from the Ministry of Defense. Six soldiers were killed and between 12 to 20 soldiers and civilians were wounded, officials told Khaama Press. The Taliban, in a statement released at Voice of Jihad, claimed that their suicide bomber "killed or wounded about 27 puppet soldiers and officers of the Defense."
In the second attack, a suicide bomber evaded security at the Isteqlal High School in Kabul and blew himself up in the auditorium as people were gathered to watch a play called, ironically, "Heartbeat and Silence after Explosion," Pajhwok Afghan News reported. The play, which was hosted by the French Cultural Center, expressed a condemnation of suicide attacks, according to France 24. A foreigner, thought to be a German citizen, was killed and between 15 and 20 people were wounded.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid alleged that the performance was targeted for bombing because it was designed "to insult Islamic values and spread propaganda about our jihad operations, especially on suicide attacks."
Both the chief of police for Kabul and the Interior Ministry claimed that the suicide bomber used an "underwear bomb." From Pajhwok Afghan News:
Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi confirmed one person had been killed and 15 to 20 others wounded in the bombing. The attacker had skillfully placed the explosives in his underwear and dodged strict security measures around the school...
The "underwear bomb" was pioneered by Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri, the master bomb maker for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Today's bombings in Kabul are the latest high-profile attacks by the Taliban in the Afghan capital. Between Nov. 24 and Nov. 29, the Taliban launched four major suicide attacks and assaults against foreigners and Coalition forces in Kabul.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks in Kabul and the provinces as the US and NATO are ending the combat mission in Afghanistan. The rise in violence has forced the US to change the rules of engagement for next year and allow forces to conduct combat missions, as well as keep an additional 1,000 troops in country (10,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan as opposed to the planned 9,800). These adjustments by the US are unlikely to blunt the Taliban's momentum.
December 11, 2014 10:21 AM
By Oren Adaki
A Twitter account linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a statement today claiming that the terrorist group's fighters carried out a rocket attack on a joint US-American airbase in Yemen's southern Lahj province. According to AQAP, this latest attack against US interests in Yemen is a retaliation for the failed US rescue operation last week that sought to free several hostages, including American photojournalist Luke Somers.
Today's attack took place at the al Annad base in Lahj province, reportedly where both American and European military advisers assist their Yemeni counterparts in combating the threat posted by AQAP. Activities at the base include operating the covert US drone program that specifically targets the terrorist group.
AQAP claimed that fighters from the Hamdi al Tha'alabi Brigades launched six Grad rockets at the "American division at the al Annad base" at 2:10 a.m. today. AQAP named today's attack "Taking Revenge for Our Martyrs," in reference to "the Muslims killed by American special forces in two failed landing operations in Hadramout and Shabwa" on Nov. 24-25 and Dec. 5-6, respectively.
Media reports confirmed that an attack took place before dawn this morning at the al Annad airbase. Eyewitnesses indicated that a powerful explosion was heard at the base in the early morning hours and that ambulances rushed to the site to transport casualties and wounded to a nearby hospital.
This latest attack against US interests in Yemen comes a week after AQAP's execution of Luke Somers as well as South African hostage Pierre Korkie during a failed US rescue attempt in Shabwa. Two weeks earlier, AQAP claimed responsibility for a double IED (improvised explosive device) attack at the US Embassy in Sana'a.
AQAP continues to battle Houthis in central Yemen
While AQAP has escalated its attacks against US interests in Yemen in recent weeks, the terrorist group is still mounting a serious challenge to the Shiite Houthi rebel expansion in the country. Fighting with the Houthis has taken place in nearly all Yemeni provinces, with particular focus on the central provinces south of Sana'a.
On Dec. 8, AQAP claimed that its fighters staged an ambush against a Houthi vehicle in the Jafinah area of Radaa in Baydah province, allegedly killing three rebels on board. The following evening, AQAP fighters launched a coordinated attack on the Dar al Najd checkpoint along with two other Houthi positions in Baydah, allegedly killing 20 Houthis. The relevant AQAP statement claimed that another group of its fighters besieged a group of Houthis in the same area and prevented their advance by attacking them with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and improvised explosive devices.
December 11, 2014 7:23 AM
By Laura Grossman
Last week, the terrorist group abducted over 20 females, most of them young girls, in Lassa in Borno state. Boko Haram had initially tried to take over the town on Nov. 30, but its fighters were repelled by local militias. On Dec. 3, the terrorists returned to Lassa, however, taking the town and the girls.
Two days earlier, on Dec. 1, suspected Boko Haram attacks were carried out in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, and in Damaturu, the capital of neighboring Yobe state. Two female suicide bombers detonated in a market in Maiduguri, killing six people; the same market had also been hit the previous week by jihadist suicide bombers. Boko Haram also reportedly hit Konduga, southeast of Maiduguri, on Dec. 1; the Nigerian army stopped the attack, killing 70 Boko Haram fighters. In Yobe state, Boko Haram fighters pushing toward the center of Damaturu launched an assault on a police checkpoint, and were repelled only after battling for several hours with the Nigerian army and civilian fighters.
On Dec. 4, Boko Haram conducted a pair of attacks in Gombe state, targeting the towns of Bajoga and Ashaka. When Nigerian forces prevented the group from taking Bajoga, the jihadist fighters moved in a 20-vehicle convoy toward Ashaka and its French-owned Lafarge cement factory. In the ensuing assault, Boko Haram members reportedly stole medical supplies and vehicles from the factory, which suggests that the attack may have been more of a foray to replenish supplies than an attempt to seize territory.
Recent Nigerian military successes
Although Boko Haram's offensive has continued, the Nigerian military seems to have improved its performance against the jihadist group in recent weeks. On Dec. 3, the Nigerian Air Force bombarded insurgents regrouping in Garin Itace, around 20 kilometers outside of the Yobe state capital, Damaturu. And in Borno state that same day, Nigerian troops destroyed an explosives-laden vehicle meant for a suicide operation in Konduga.
This week, the military reported that in addition to retaking Mubi, it has cleared and regained control of the Gombi, Maiha, and Hong local government areas of Adamawa state. During the offensive, Nigerian troops reportedly recovered documents and sketches of towns that Boko Haram was planning to target. It is not clear exactly when government forces made these advances. The military also arrested a Boko Haram videographer, along with other members of the group, in Adamawa state on Dec. 8.
On Dec. 9, the Nigerian army announced that it had killed 27 members of Boko Haram while fighting with the terrorists in the Balmo, Lame, and Hildi forests of northeastern Nigeria.
Continuing challenges for security forces
Despite these successes, security issues continue to gnaw at the Nigerian government and security forces. On the night of Dec. 6, gunmen reportedly helped around 200 prisoners escape from a prison in Minna in central Nigeria. Boko Haram's participation in the incident has not been confirmed, but the group has been blamed for previous prison breaks.
Last week, the Nigerian government canceled a planned US training exercise for Nigerian troops, claiming that needed equipment was deployed for operational use. In November, however, the Nigerian ambassador to the US had criticized the "scope, nature and content" of American counterinsurgency support, complaining that Washington had not provided the weapons needed for a "killer punch" against Boko Haram.
A senior Nigerian military officer recently told the Anadolu Agency that a high-level Nigerian delegation led by the air force chief had returned from Russia, where they had negotiated a deal to purchase fighter jets. According to the officer, "We had to turn to Russia for arms since the U.S. refuses to sell us arms anymore." The US reportedly called the Nigerian decision "regrettable." The exact status and parameters of the new deal are unclear; the Russian news agency TASS reported that the two countries signed a "memorandum on interaction and cooperation between their security councils" on Dec. 3.
Apparently undeterred by recently stepped-up Nigerian military operations, Boko Haram has continued to launch offensives and take new towns. The terrorist group does not appear to be dissuaded as it loses ground in other spaces. The security picture in northeast Nigeria may soon resemble a game of whack-a-mole for the military, as Boko Haram gets hit in one town only to pop up in another.
December 9, 2014 10:31 AM
By Caleb Weiss
Video from an Islamic State-affiliated YouTube account showing fighters touring a recently captured village near the airport. Viewer discretion advised
The Islamic State has recently launched an offensive to take the airport in the provincial capital of Deir al Zour, which is the last major military outpost for the Syrian Army in the province.
On Dec. 5, the Islamic State captured the al Jafra village on the outskirts of the airport. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that after the village fell, the Islamic State reached the airport gates, prefacing the current siege. The SOHR also reported that "37 fighters from ISIS and 30 soldiers from the regime" were killed while fighting in al Jafra.
Several Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts also noted on Dec. 8 that the jihadist group was able to breach the walls of the airport via a suicide car bomb and that fighting ensued inside the facility. However, this claim has not been independently verified.
As Syrian forces battle the Islamic State at the airport, the United States and its coalition partners also launched airstrikes near Deir al Zour on Dec 5. The strikes "destroyed three ISIL vehicles, an ISIL excavator and struck an ISIL training camp," according to US Central Command.
The airport, which is one of the last Syrian government strongholds in the province, is a crucial hub for regime activities in the area. If the Islamic State is able to overrun it, the regime would be unable to provide close air support to its soldiers in the city and the surrounding areas. The jihadist group's seizure of the airport would also hamper supply lines for regime soldiers in Deir al Zour; however, as the government still holds the Damascus-Tadmur (Palmyra)-Deir al Zour highway, loss of the airport would not stop all aid and resupply to Syrian Army forces.
December 8, 2014 6:56 PM
By Bill Roggio
Muhammad Khurasani, the spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, released a statement today that confirmed the death of Adnan Shukrijumah, al Qaeda's operations chief for North America. The Pakistani military said that it killed Shukrijumah on Dec. 6 in a raid in Shin Warzak in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.
Below is a partial translation of Khurasani's statement, which was emailed to The Long War Journal:
On Saturday, the 6th of December, the impure apostate Pakistani military martyred Sheikh Adnan Shukrijumah, an important al Qaeda leader, during a special operation in the Shin Warsak area of South Waziristan. Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return. Pakistani Army Chief Raheel Sharif declared this operation a success and congratulated the soldiers who participated in it.
In the full statement, Khurasani attacks the Pakistani military as a "satanic army" that "began targeting Islam and Muslims on day one after creation" of the Pakistani state from India during partition in 1947. The Pakistani military is merely part of the Indian Army, the mortal enemy of Muslims, Khurasani claims. He then threatens to avenge the actions of the Pakistani military.
December 8, 2014 10:35 AM
By Oren Adaki
Late last week, a Twitter account linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed credit for a series of attacks against Houthi and Yemeni military targets in four central Yemeni provinces. These latest attacks included a targeted assassination of an alleged Houthi supporter as well as an assault on a Yemeni military vehicle during which the terrorist group seized millions of Yemeni rials.
In a continuation of AQAP's campaign of targeted assassinations of perceived Houthi supporters, the terrorist group claimed credit for the killing of a colonel in the local Civil Affairs Administration in Taiz province on Dec. 3. AQAP claimed that its fighters shot Colonel Fakri al Barawi, described in a statement from the terrorist group as "the computing devices officials in the Civil Affairs Adminstration," while he was in the al Hareesh neighborhood of Taiz.
According to AQAP, al Barawi was killed on the spot -- an assassination that the terrorist group attempted to justify by alleging the colonel's "proven ... cooperation with the Houthis for their war on the Muslims in the province." Yemeni news sources reported that security forces in Taiz arrested eight suspects linked to al Barawi's assassination.
The targeted assassination comes just days after an AQAP operation attempting to kill Abd al Rahman Ayyash Shabeel, the head of investigations in Hodeidah province for Political Security, the Yemeni intelligence agency. Several days earlier, AQAP fighters also shot a gold trader named Hashem al Dulaymi in Dhamar for his reported cooperation with the Houthis.
AQAP has also been maintaining its terrorist escalation against Houthi and Yemeni military positions and targets throughout Yemen's central provinces. Most recently, AQAP has claimed credit for an armed assault on a Houthi vehicle in Ibb province on Dec. 4, in which five Houthis allegedly were killed. AQAP claimed that fighters from "the Battalion of Commander Khawlan al Sana'ani" opened fire on a Houthi vehicle as it passed in front of the gate to a university in Ibb before withdrawing from the city. Khawlan al Sana'ani was the nom de guerre of Shawki Ali Ahmed al Badani, who was one of the most wanted AQAP operatives in Yemen prior to his death in a US drone strike Baydah province in November 2014.
AQAP also claimed to have carried out a bomb attack targeting a Houthi truck in Baydah on Dec. 4. According to the statement released by the terrorist group, AQAP fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) at 11:00 a.m. as a Houthi military tuck was passing through the Jufayna and Bani Ali areas of Radaa in Baydah province. The attack reportedly killed seven Houthis on board.
The following morning, AQAP fighters reportedly seized five million Yemeni rials (approximately $25,000) from a Yemeni military vehicle in Marib province that was transporting salaries to Yemeni soldiers. According to the statement, AQAP operatives stopped the military vehicle at around 10:00 a.m. and took control of it after threatening the soldiers on board. The statement pointed out that after AQAP fighters seized the money, a vehicle, and three Kalashnikovs, the soldiers were released, including Major Abdullah Ali Saleh Delham. The Yemeni Interior Ministry confirmed the attack and announced that it had opened an investigation into the incident over the weekend.
AQAP image purporting to show the Yemeni military vehicle being stopped by AQAP fighters prior to seizing money inside it.
Photo of Abdullah Ali Saleh Delham's military ID card seized by AQAP fighters along with five million rials on Dec. 5.
AQAP photo purporting to show some of the money seized from the Yemeni military vehicle in Marib
AQAP photo purporting to show some of the Kalashnikovs seized from Yemeni military vehicle in Marib
December 7, 2014 5:09 PM
By Caleb Weiss
Photo released on Twitter showing the Al Nusrah Front operating the United Nations' Mamba armored personnel carrier in the southern province of Daraa.
The photos show Al Nusrah fighters operating the South African-made Mamba armored personnel carrier, as well as the vehicle being driven to its destination by a fighter named Abu Khattab al Muhajir ("the Emigrant"). The last photo shows a massive explosion as the vehicle detonates on regime positions in the city of Sheikh Miskeen in Daraa province.
In late August, the Al Nusrah Front, along with fighters from Ahrar al Sham and the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front, took over the Quneitra border crossing with the Israeli-held Golan Heights. During the offensive, 43 Fijian UN peacekeepers were captured by Al Nusrah. The peacekeepers were eventually released, but it is likely that Al Nusrah took UN vehicles when the peacekeepers were taken captive.
The other two photos can be seen below:
December 7, 2014 9:48 AM
By Bill Roggio
The US military turned over Latif Mehsud, formerly a senior commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, to the Pakistani government within the past week. Latif was snatched by US forces from Afghan intelligence officials in the Afghan province of Logar in October 2013. [See LWJ report, US grabs Pakistani Taliban commander from Afghan intel.]
Latif's movement to Pakistani custody was first reported by Dawn, and US military officials later confirmed the transfer. Two of Latif's bodyguards were also transferred to Pakistan, according to Reuters.
Latif formerly served as the driver to Hakeemullah Mehsud, the previous emir of the al Qaeda-linked Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan who was killed in a US drone strike less than a month after Latif was captured. Before his capture, Latif was promoted to serve as a senior aide to Hakeemullah. He was rumored to be the second in command for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, although this was not confirmed. He was also said to lead the Pakistani Taliban's forces in Miramshah in Pakistan's tribal agency of North Waziristan.
It remains unclear why Latif was being escorted by Afghan intelligence personnel when US forces snatched him from them in October 2013. Some reports indicated that he was negotiating the release of members of the Pakistani Taliban in Afghan custody. Others claimed he was negotiating a peace agreement with the Afghan government.
As Reuters notes, Latif's release is part of the US military's mad scramble to empty Bagram prison of all third country nationals in its custody. The US did the same thing before withdrawing from Iraq, with devastating consequences. Top jihadist leaders, including senior Hezbollah military leader Musa Ali Daqduq and Asaib al Haq emir Qais Qazali, were handed over to Iraqi custody and subsequently freed.
It isn't likely that Pakistan will free Latif anytime soon, as he is a member of what Pakistani elites call the bad Taliban, or those that advocate attacking the Pakistani state. However, Pakistan has a history of releasing jihadists who seek to destroy the Pakistani state if the government feels it will further its goals of destabilizing Afghanistan or India. Two examples of this phenomenon are the releases of Abdullah Aziz, the leader of the Lal Masjid who incited insurrection in Islamabad, and Sufi Mohammed, the emir of the pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed, who led the Swat uprising from 2007-2009.
Additionally, Pakistan refuses to keep known jihadist leaders in custody for any lengthy time. Over the past several years, Pakistan has detained several jihadist leaders, only to free them when it is no longer in their interest to hold them. Hafiz Saeed, the emir of Lashkar-e-Taiba, has been in "protective custody" numerous times, and yet continues to remain an influential jihadist commander in Pakistan.
Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the spiritual leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), was released in early December 2010 after being taken into protective custody in August 2010. HUJI is closely linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Jaish-e-Mohammed emir Masood Azhar was briefly detained after the November 2008 suicide assault in Mumbai, India, but was quietly freed from custody shortly afterward. JeM also is closely linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
December 3, 2014 10:40 AM
By Caleb Weiss
Ansar al Islam, which goes by the moniker Jamaat Ansar al Islam in Syria, has been coordinating its efforts with the Al Nusrah Front and Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar in a major battle for two Shiite villages north of Aleppo.
The villages of Zahra and Nubl have been besieged by anti-regime elements since late November. Rebel forces have previously surrounded the villages and cut off electric and water services to the citizens. The two towns are located on a road to Turkey that is a key supply route into Aleppo.
Ansar al Islam is an al Qaeda-affiliated group that was created in September 2001 and funded by al Qaeda seed money. [For more information on Ansar al Islam, see LWJ report, Ansar al Islam claims attacks against Iraqi military, police.] A large portion of the group's Iraqi-based wing has since pledged bayat (allegiance) to the Islamic State, while its Syrian contingent has not, according to Aymenn al Tamimi.
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, is believed to be leading the assault on Zahra and Nubl. On its official Twitter page for Aleppo operations, several photos showcase Al Nusrah's role in the battle, including an image of a suicide bomber in the town of Zahra. In one picture released by Ansar al Islam, a T-72 tank is operated by Al Nusrah fighters in a joint operation between the two groups.
The Chechen-led jihadist group Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar has also promoted its role in the battle on Twitter. Several photos demonstrate the group's involvement, as well as several text tweets. From Chechnya to Syria reported on the group's involvement in the offensive by quoting a post on Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar's official website.
Photos showing Ansar al Islam's involvement in Zahra can be seen below:
December 2, 2014 3:39 PM
By Oren Adaki
As Yemen's political and security situations continue to devolve, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been pressing forward in its terrorist campaign targeting both the Yemeni military and Houthi rebel positions throughout the country.
Since Nov. 24, AQAP has claimed credit for a total of 17 attacks in eight different Yemeni provinces, from Hadramout in the east to Hodeidah in the west. The terrorist group's escalation in Yemen is notable not only for the quantity of the attacks but also their quality. AQAP is increasingly carrying out brazen suicide operations and coordinated attacks on military/rebel positions, as well as targeting higher-level Yemeni and Houthi military personnel. Additionally, on Nov. 27, AQAP claimed a double IED attack at the US Embassy in Sana'a.
Recent attacks in Sana'a
AQAP claimed credit for three separate attacks in Sana'a on Dec. 1, including one plot that was foiled. At 6:42 a.m. on Dec. 1, AQAP fighters detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) built into a motorbike. AQAP claimed that the VBIED was made of 36 kilograms of TNT and that the explosion was so strong that it was heard 10 kilometers away and completely destroyed the targeted Houthi center.
On the same morning, AQAP claims, its fighters also detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) at the residence of Houthi leader and judge Mohammad al Marwani. The AQAP statement claimed that the IED was comprised of seven kilograms of explosive material and that the attack seriously damaged the Houthi leader's house. Another attempted IED attack, targeting a tribal leader accused of "cooperating with the Houthis," was apparently aborted due to an unknown malfunction in the device.
Yemen's central Baydah province has been the site of major AQAP activity since mid-October, when Shiite Houthi rebels advanced on the strategic province following their seizure of the Yemeni capital in late September. AQAP, which has made efforts to portray itself as the champion of Yemen's Sunni tribes in the face of the Shiite Houthi rebel onslaught, claimed that its fighters and other "tribal mujahideen" launched coordinated attacks on Houthi centers in Baydah province on Nov. 25.
The attack actually began at 11:50 p.m. on Nov. 24, according to an AQAP statement, when fighters attacked the village of Khobza from three directions. At the same time, AQAP and Sunni tribal fighters shelled Houthi locations on the strategic Tha'lab Mountain. AQAP also noted that its fighters shelled Khobza while the village was completely empty of civilians, emphasizing the terrorist group's self-proclaimed role in protecting Sunnis. Clashes reportedly lasted for over an hour following the initial assault, and then AQAP's fighters withdrew from the village.
AQAP also claimed credit for another coordinated attack in Baydah province that took place during the night between Nov. 28 and Nov. 29. Similar to the previous attack, AQAP fighters began their assault at 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 28, specifically targeting the Hosn neighborhood of Manasseh in Radaa, where AQAP claimed that the Houthi leadership is based. The AQAP attack force was made up of a storming group and a support group, led by four fighters. The AQAP attackers reportedly came prepared with suicide belts, IEDs, Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades, and missiles.
According to the AQAP statement, the four initial attackers who entered the Hosn neighborhood and began clashing with Houthi fighters were followed by the other two groups of AQAP fighters. Clashes in Manasseh lasted for about four and a half hours, until AQAP fighters finally withdrew at 4:00 a.m. An additional statement released shortly thereafter claimed that AQAP fighters entered all Houthi locations in Hosn, including the residences of Shaykh Abd al Ilah al Dhahab and Abd al Ra'ouf al Dhahab, and that two of the four initial AQAP attackers "attained martyrdom" during the course of the operation.
AQAP targeting individuals
In the past few weeks, AQAP seems to stepping up its attacks targeting individuals the terrorist group deems to be in cahoots with the Houthi rebels. This includes targeting the Yemeni military, which AQAP views as colluding with the Houthis and routinely refers to as "the Houthi-turned army."
On Nov. 24, AQAP claims to have shot Hashem al Dulaymi, known also as Abu al Fatah, while he was near the police headquarters in Dhamar. Dulaymi was allegedly severely wounded by the attack and was taken to a hospital in Sana'a. AQAP claims that Dulaymi is a gold trader in the city and considers him "a Houthi supporter in the region." Two days later, AQAP claimed credit for an IED attack that caused major material damage to a commercial building in Dhamar owned by Ahmad al Washli, whom AQAP accuses of being a Houthi.
On Nov. 30, two AQAP fighters riding a motorbike used a silenced gun to fire at a local intelligence official in Hodiedah who was in the Ghaleel section of the city. The AQAP statement claimed that the official was Abd al Rahman Ayyash Shabeel, the head of investigations in Hodeidah province for Political Security, the Yemeni intelligence agency. Shabeel, who was severely wounded, was transferred to an intensive care unit at a local hospital.
During the past week, AQAP also claimed credit for the attempted assassination of a "Houthi Political Committee official" in Ibb and of a Yemeni military commander in Abyan province. These latest attacks come just weeks following similar AQAP attacks targeting US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller as well as the former Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The following pictures were released by AQAP's al Malahem Media Foundation along with statements claiming credit for attacks:
December 2, 2014 12:07 PM
By Caleb Weiss
Map of known provincial locations of training camps run by the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, and allied jihadist groups since 2012. Map created by Caleb Weiss and Bill Roggio.
A training camp run by Harakat Sham al Islam, a group founded by Moroccan jihadists, was promoted yesterday by the Ansar al Din Front, a coalition to which Harakat Sham al Islam belongs in Syria. The facility was publicized in two tweets showing recruits undergoing firearms training and a fighter holding the group's flag at the camp in the western port city of Latakia.
In a series of posts on Twitter yesterday, the Ansar al Din Front highlighted several training camps used by its constituent groups. Facilities belonging to Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, a Chechen-led entity and the largest group in the coalition, and Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiya, a local Syrian organization based in Aleppo, were also showcased. The two groups have previously been noted by The Long War Journal to be running camps in Aleppo province. The Harakat Sham al Islam camp brings the total number of facilities identified by The Long War Journal to 52. [For more information on jihadist training camps in Iraq and Syria, see LWJ reports, Jihadist training camps proliferate in Iraq and Syria, 3 new jihadist training camps identified in Syria, Jihadists tout training camps for children in Iraq and Syria and More jihadist training camps identified in Iraq and Syria.]
Harakat Sham al Islam was designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department in September. State described the jihadist group as "a Moroccan-led terrorist organization operating in Syria principally composed of foreign fighters." The designation also noted that Harakat Sham al Islam operates alongside and is allied to the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria.
Harakat Sham al Islam was founded in 2013 by Ibrahim bin Shakran, Ahmed Mizouz, and Mohammed Alami, three Moroccans who were captured in Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001, detained at Guantanamo Bay, and then released to the custody of the Moroccan government in 2004. Bin Shakran was let go despite an assessment by Joint Task Force Guantanamo that identified him as a "high-ranking member" of the theological commission of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization.
Bin Shakran led Harakat Sham al Islam until he was killed while fighting alongside Al Nusrah, Ahrar al Sham, and Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar during the Al Anfal offensive in Latakia earlier this year. [See LWJ report, Former Guantanamo detainee killed while leading jihadist group in Syria, for more details on Bin Shakran.]
Alami, one of the aforementioned co-founders of the group, was killed in Syria in August 2013.
Harakat Sham al Islam, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, Katibat al Khadra, and Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiya merged to form the Ansar al Din Front on July 25. Katibat al Khadra, a predominately Saudi group, pledged bayat (allegiance) to Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar on Oct. 4.
Pictures released by the Ansar al Din Front showing the Harakat Sham al Islam camp
November 29, 2014 5:58 PM
By Bill Roggio & Caleb Weiss
A video of the Taliban fighters who are currently attacking Camp Bastion in Helmand province has been making the rounds in jihadist circles on the Internet. The fighting at Camp Bastion, which was the hub for British forces in Afghanistan until it was turned over to Afghan forces on Oct. 26, began on Nov. 27 and at the time of publishing this entry is still underway. [See LWJ report, Taliban assault Camp Bastion, storm foreign guest house in Kabul.]
The 8-minute, 27-second video shows photographs of the attackers, who are described as martyrs, as well as 10 fighters in training. Towards the end of the video, the fighters are standing over a sand table of the base and are given instructions on executing their assault.
While the video has not been released on official Taliban channels such as Voice of Jihad, Zabibullah Muhajid, one of the Taliban's official spokesmen, wrote an article on the attack that included an image from the video [see screen shot]. Zabihullah also links to a segment of the video which is shown on Facebook; the footage includes the logo of Al Emara, the Taliban's official media distribution arm. (Voice of Jihad has been offline all day and readers are redirected to "a snapshot of the site;" the most recently dated item is Nov. 26. Zabihullah's article was released on an alternate Voice of Jihad website.)
Additionally, the video is very similar to a video released at the end of September 2012 that also showed Taliban fighters training to attack Camp Bastion earlier that month [see Threat Matrix report, Taliban release video of planning for Camp Bastion assault]. In that release, the Taliban fighters are shown training for the attack and at the end are given instructions on how to execute the operation via a map of the base that is drawn on a white board.
The full video of the current attack, reproduced above, was uploaded by a jihadist propaganda group that calls itself "Mehsud Media," which is something of an unknown entity. Its name implies it is associated with the Mehsud branch of the Pakistani Taliban, however this has not been confirmed (the Mehsud branch officially split from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in mid-May due to a leadership dispute, see LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition). Mehsud Media started a Youtube account two months ago, and has since uploaded 14 videos on subjects such as the Islamic State, Boko Haram, and Pakistani military operations in the Khyber tribal agency.
November 28, 2014 12:09 PM
By Oren Adaki
On Nov. 28, a Twitter account linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed credit for bombing the US Embassy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa during the evening of Nov. 27, coinciding with Thanksgiving, using two improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The last time AQAP has claimed credit for directly targeting the US Embassy in Sanaa was in late September, after fighters from the terrorist group launched rockets that reportedly fell about 100 meters away from the embassy.
In the statement regarding the latest embassy attack, AQAP claims that its fighters managed to plant two IEDs at the northern gate of the US Embassy in Sana'a. The statement notes that one of these explosives contained shrapnel, a common terrorist practice used to increase potential injuries from the explosion. According to AQAP, the explosives were detonated at precisely 7:51 p.m. on Nov. 27 and resulted in a number of casualties among the ranks of the embassy security guards.
However, the AQAP narrative on the attack is at odds with other reports on the incident. Arabic media reports and Yemeni security sources claimed that assailants riding a motorbike who were "believed to be from al Qaeda" opened fire at the embassy security guards. Those reports also state that two individuals were killed in the course of the "clashes," including one of the assailants.
The AQAP statement recognizes this disparity and denies the media reports' claims. "Our correspondent denied the veracity of this matter," the AQAP statement reads, "confirming that the attack was carried out by detonating the two IEDs remotely and not by using firearms, as was stated by the media."
This latest attack comes just weeks after AQAP claimed to have targeted US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller. On Nov. 8, AQAP stated that two IEDs planted by its fighters in front of the residence of the Yemeni president in Sana'a were intended to be detonated as Tueller left a meeting inside the house. Tueller met with President Hadi on Nov. 8 in his Sana'a home for over an hour, and the AQAP statement claimed that the explosives were found just minutes before the ambassador exited the Yemeni president's house.
If AQAP's claims are true, this would be yet another indication that AQAP has successfully exploited Yemen's current unstable political and security situation to its benefit. Just this month, AQAP has claimed to have planted explosives in front of the residences of both the current and former Yemeni presidents, attempted to assassinate the US ambassador, and tried to attack the US Embassy. These alleged attacks have come amid almost daily AQAP operations against Yemeni military positions, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces, as well as targeting the advance of Shiite Houthi rebels in central Yemen.
November 26, 2014 2:08 PM
By Laura Grossman
Two female suicide bombers detonated explosive devices around 11:00 a.m. yesterday in a crowded market area in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. At least 78 people have been reported killed in the attack and several more injured.
The timing of the two suicide bombings was staggered. According to Reuters, the first bomber "entered the roadside trading area behind the city's main market before blowing herself up." She killed herself and three other women.
The second explosion occurred shortly afterward, as people came to the aid of the victims of the first bombing. A chicken vendor who worked nearby informed AFP that the female bomber was carrying the explosives on her back, in the way babies are carried. He commented: "She manoeuvred her way to the scene of the earlier explosion ... I think it was a deliberate plan to inflict much pain on unsuspecting people because the second explosion went off after many people gathered at the scene of the first one."
No one has claimed responsibility for yesterday's double suicide attack, but it is suspected to be part of Boko Haram's ongoing offensive in northeastern Nigeria. On July 1, the same market was targeted by a suicide car bombing. At least 18 people were killed and over 50 injured in that suspected Boko Haram attack.
November 26, 2014 1:28 PM
By Oren Adaki
On Nov. 25, the media wing of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Malahem Media Foundation, released the latest installment of its video series documenting attacks, "From the Battlefield." This most recent episode, "Invasion of 'And Let Them Find Harshness in You,'" includes footage of an AQAP assault on the Ghabr military barracks and checkpoint in Hadramout, Yemen. Although the video does not provide a date for the attack, AQAP fighters reportedly stormed the Ghabr checkpoint on October 9.
The video begins with a message from one of the AQAP fighters who participated in the raid, identified as "martyrdom seeker" Muwahhid al Qifi. Al Qifi implores his loved ones and family to be patient and explains that "we have only mobilized to raise the word of 'there is no God but Allah.'" He dictates his "will to the Islamic ummah [nation]" in which he reminds them that Allah "will question you about this religion and why you did not support this religion...one by one."
"Mobilize! Mobilize young and old! Mobilize in the cause of Allah," al Qifi beseeches the Muslim community.
The release then shows footage of AQAP fighters allegedly training and preparing for the "invasion." Two fighters are shown manufacturing an explosive and wiring a vehicle to be used as a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in the attack. The fighters prepare for battle, review their plan, and bid farewell to the "martyrdom seekers."
At around minute 7:00, the VBIED is seen detonating in the vicinity of the military checkpoint and AQAP fighters subsequently clash with Yemeni military personnel on site. About a minute later, the video pans up and shows an "enemy helicopter" in the sky above, while AQAP fighters attempt to shoot at it. Shortly thereafter, a caption reads "the helicopter escaped after clashes."
After the scenes of battle, a caption announces that "the mujahideen took control of the barracks," and the fighters are seen surveying the corpses of dead Yemeni soldiers strewn about the ground. One AQAP fighter announces, "Those are the soldiers of the tyrant, we are the soldiers of Allah! You have seen who wins: those soldiers of the tyrant or the soldiers of Allah?"
Towards the end of the video, another fighter explains AQAP's reasoning for specifically attacking the al Ghabr facilities. He alleges that this checkpoint caused "a large amount of harm" to the Sunnis. He claims that soldiers from that station "killed a man, wounded a woman, and stole from the Muslims with no reason." A second rationale, which is perhaps more pertinent to AQAP's interests, is the fighter's allegation that the checkpoint is used to facilitate "the Americans to guide espionage aircraft."
The same jihadist then details the operation: AQAP fighters stormed the location, took spoils, killed the Yemeni soldiers stationed there, and then controlled the facility for a period of time, "waiting for the support of the enemy." However, the fighter claims that no government reinforcements arrived. At the very end of the video, images of AQAP fighters killed in the operation, along with their identities, are provided. They are: Saif al Adl al Sanaani, Al Zubeir al Fadhli, Al Qa'qa' al Lahji, and Abu Bakr al Somali.
November 25, 2014 12:31 PM
By Caleb Weiss
"Report on a side from the unfolding battle of Ramadi"
The Islamic State has released new photographs from recent fighting in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. The provincial capital of Anbar came under renewed attack from a multi-pronged Islamic State offensive on Nov 21.
The pictures were produced by the Islamic State's Wilayat Anbar and then disseminated on Twitter by its supporters. The terrorist organization has taken to releasing its propaganda that way as the social media site has cracked down on official Islamic State accounts. The provincial division (Wilayat) of Anbar is one of the Islamic State's 18 declared provinces.
The images show the Islamic State utilizing captured M113 armored personnel carriers, firing rocket-propelled grenades (RPG's) at Iraqi military or tribal militia positions, as well as demonstrate the destruction of several Humvees and Iraqi police Ford F-350 pickup trucks. Several photographs display dead Iraqi military personnel or tribal militiamen, including one picture of a severed head. The last few images show children apparently cheering in the streets while carrying the Islamic State's flag.
According to Reuters, gunmen attacked Anbar provincial government offices and the police headquarters in the center of the city in the Nov. 21 assault, as well as the al Huz and al Mua'almim districts. Another report indicated that the districts of Albu Hayis, Albu Fahd, and Albu Alwan, which are traditional strongholds of the Sunni tribal Awakening Movement, also came under attack. Al Jazeera reported that "at least 20 soldiers" were killed in the offensive, including Iraqi police colonel Majid al Fahdawi. Fahdawi was reportedly killed by sniper fire in the Mudhiq district of Ramadi.
The battle for control of Ramadi is ongoing. However, CNN has reported that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), with the help of tribal militias and US airstrikes, have pushed the Islamic State back from several areas of the city. The terrorist organization is still putting up a fight near the Anbar Educational Directorate and the governmental complex downtown. Several Arabic-language news sites are reporting that street-to-street fighting in residential areas is also ongoing.
At least 41 people have been killed since the fighting began, including ISF personnel, tribal militiamen and civilians. The Islamic State reportedly murdered 25 members of the Albu Fahd tribe in eastern Ramadi; the bodies were found by Iraqi Security personnel, who believe the men were executed in retaliation for the tribe's resistance. The losses sustained by the Islamic State in the recent fighting are not clear, but the National Iraqi News Agency reported that 39 of the group's fighters have been killed. This number could not be independently verified, however.
The southern districts of Al Tam'im, the aforementioned Mua'almim, Thubat, and 5 Kilo, in addition to the 7 Kilo and Albu Aytha areas west and north of the city, are either contested or under Islamic State control. Iraqi security forces are said to be concentrated at the Anbar Operations Command Center, which is north of the Euphrates River. It is thought that the terror organization is already in control of around 60 percent of Ramadi after battles that have raged since its initial assault on the city in January.
This latest Islamic State offensive comes as US Special Forces have begun to implement large-scale training of the Iraqi Army and Sahwa forces at the Al Assad airbase close to Ramadi. President Barack Obama has also authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 US personnel to Iraq for training purposes; many of these troops will likely be deployed to Al Assad. According to NPR, the trainees include Anbar-based troops of the Iraqi Army's 7th Division, which has suffered severe setbacks in the province. [For more details, see LWJ reports, Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar, Islamic State photos highlight group's grip on Ramadi, and Islamic State photos detail rout of Iraqi Army at Camp Saqlawiya.]
Photos showing the recent fighting in Ramadi can be seen below: