Mahmud Al Isawi was killed as the US-led coalition has stepped up its efforts to help drive the Islamic State from its Syrian capital. The Pentagon said that 16 “significant members” of the organization’s external operations network have been killed in 2016.
Iranian media report that Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, has delivered an address extolling the leadership of Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Soleimani is back in Iran after visiting eastern Aleppo, and purportedly inspecting an Iraqi Shiite militia last month.
The State Department has designated Ibrahim al Banna as a terrorist. Al Banna has served as an al Qaeda official in Yemen since the 1990s. He originally joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and has been one of Ayman al Zawahiri’s loyalists for decades.
The Pentagon is still assessing the results of airstrikes on Jan. 1 and Jan. 3 in northern Syria, but it is believed that 20 al Qaeda “militants” were killed in the bombings. The airstrikes are likely among the most significant carried out against al Qaeda in Syria since Sept. 2014. President Obama reportedly authorized a more robust air campaign against al Qaeda in Syria late last year, after the administration had previously defined down the threat.
The US military has targeted senior and mid-level Islamic State leaders, external operations planners, and military commanders while also striking the group’s military and civilian infrastructure throughout Iraq and Syria in an effort to deny it territory and deal it a “lasting defeat.”
The State Department announced today that Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza, has been added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists. Al Qaeda has released several messages from Hamza since Aug. 2015. He has threatened the West, said that all Muslims should support the jihad in Syria, and called for the Saudi government to be overthrown.
Russia is openly advocating on behalf of the Taliban, arguing that the jihadist group should be considered a bulwark against the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan. But the Taliban is a bigger threat to Afghan security than Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men, the organization remains closely allied with al Qaeda and its own extremism should not be downplayed.
The Islamic State claims to have carried out 1,112 suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria during 2016. Additional suicide bombers were deployed in Libya and elsewhere. If the group’s claims are accurate, then the so-called caliphate has been using “martyrs” at a historically high rate.
For the time being, Raqqah has become the most significant target in the air campaign in Iraq and Syria. Coalition forces have launched 52 strikes near the Syrian city over the past 5 days, compared to 23 in Mosul.
The announcement is part of a US military effort to stay ahead of criticism from media and international non-governmental organizations for striking jihadists as they use protected sites to attack allied forces.
The Islamic State has issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Although the group had long been reticent to claim operations inside Turkey, both Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his new spokesman called for such attacks in November and December.