Al Qaeda-affiliated media shop promotes worldwide operations

Thabat, an al-Qaeda-affiliated media outfit, has released a series of infographics in recent weeks that are intended to highlight the jihadists’ worldwide operations. The images include purported summary statistics for the entire month of March, figures for the week from Mar. 26 to Apr. 2, a brief timeline of the jihad in Afghanistan, as well as a history of the jihad in Somalia.

The infographics tout some intriguing, yet unverifiable claims. For instance, the tallies given for al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan indicate that the group has a much more significant operational presence in the country than is widely recognized.

Thabat refers to Afghanistan as the Khorasan, a name the jihadis frequently employ to describe Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the surrounding countries. However, in the infographics, Thabat uses Khorasan to refer solely to Afghanistan. Figures for Pakistan are split out onto a separate page, and Thabat indicates that the attacks took place in areas under the nominal authority the Afghan government.

For the month of March, Thabat claims that the mujahideen conducted a total of 343 operations in Afghanistan, killing more than 520 people and wounding 200-plus others. In addition, the media shop says, al-Qaeda’s men destroyed 35 armored vehicles, taking seven (7) others as spoils. Its fighters also allegedly “liberated” 11 security checkpoints, while deploying two (2) car bombs.

Thabat claims that the mujahideen conducted a total of 88 operations in Afghanistan for the week from Mar. 26 to Apr. 2, killing more than 200 people and wounding 50-plus others. The jihadists purportedly destroyed three (3) trucks, 13 armored vehicles and 14 unspecified headquarters. The infographic indicates that eight (8) car bombs were detonated during this timespan, considerably more than were reported for the entire month of March. If accurate, then the jihadists conducted a flurry of car bombings in the first two days of April.

FDD’s Long War Journal cautions that these figures cannot be verified for several reasons.

First, it is quite possible, if not likely, that Thabat is exaggerating. The jihadists are known to inflate statistics, especially casualty figures, in order to make their operations seem more devastating to their enemies than they are. Second, al-Qaeda does not issue claims for specific operations inside Afghanistan, meaning it is impossible to compare the aggregate statistics produced by Thabat to individual claims with concrete details that can be checked. Third, the U.S. military and NATO do not provide regular reporting on operations carried out by al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Afghanistan and they haven’t for quite some time. It is generally assumed that al-Qaeda has only a small operational footprint inside the country, even though contradictory evidence regularly surfaces.

Furthermore, al-Qaeda and its regional branch, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, operate under the banner of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This means that AQIS’s operations are not considered distinct from the Taliban’s, as the two fight side-by-side against their common enemies. AQIS and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups, including Central Asian and Uighur jihadists, are embedded within the fabric of the Taliban-led insurgency.

Still, it is interesting that Thabat, which is clearly affiliated with al-Qaeda, is advertising the group’s presence in Afghanistan once again. For the most part, with few exceptions, al-Qaeda has deliberately sought to mask the extent of its network inside the country, thereby avoiding even more scrutiny from the U.S. and its allies.

All of the infographics produced by Thabat that are discussed in this article were disseminated on al-Qaeda websites and social media channels.

Infographic summarizing the jihad in Afghanistan and America’s defeat

Earlier this month, Thabat also released a timeline documenting the jihad in Afghanistan. The timeline begins in 1979, with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union was then defeated in 1989 by the hands of the mujahideen, leading to the communists’ withdrawal from the land of Afghanistan.

In 1996, Thabat reminds readers, the Taliban announced the creation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan after taking control of the country. (The Taliban didn’t control the entirety of Afghanistan, but much of it did fall under its sway.) The Islamic Emirate received the “approval” of a “great number of scholars and Ulema,” Thabat’s media team writes. This is a common al-Qaeda talking point that is used to burnish the Taliban’s religious legitimacy.

Then, in 2001, the “Kufr under the leadership of America” invaded Afghanistan, toppling the Islamic Emirate and besieging the mujahideen in the mountains.

In 2020, however, the Taliban “controls most of the land of Afghanistan” and has “signed an agreement” for the “withdrawal of American forces from the land of Afghanistan after [America] received painful blows that caused its defeat.” This is an exaggeration, as the Taliban doesn’t control most of Afghanistan, but instead contests much of the country. In any event, Thabat sees the U.S.-Taliban withdrawal agreement as a boon for the jihadists’ cause, despite the supposed counterterrorism assurances made by the Taliban.

Other al-Qaeda branches

Thabat’s infographics provide statistical summaries for al-Qaeda’s branches elsewhere as well.

This includes Somalia and Kenya, where Shabaab operates. Most of the attributed attacks for the month of March in East Africa took place in Somalia, with Thabat listing 130 operations and 487 people killed. This compares to seven (7) operations in Kenya, with 10-plus wounded.

The West African countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger are also included. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its West African branch, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, or the “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims”), are responsible for the jihad in those countries. Thabat tallies a surprising low number of attacks across these three countries for March, with eight (8) in Mali, two (2) in Burkina Faso and one (1) in Niger.

Pakistan, where AQIS and al-Qaeda-linked groups such as the Pakistani Taliban operate, is separated out from Afghanistan. Thabat claims nine (9) operations were carried out with a total of 21-plus killed in March.

Syria, where al-Qaeda’s chain of command is murky after a series of management disruptions, also receives a summary. There are several al-Qaeda-affiliated or linked groups operating in the country. No specific groups are identified on the infographics, but Thabat claims 17 total operations with 50-plus people killed for the month of March.

Finally, Thabat lists just four (4) operations with 15-plus people killed or wounded in the Arabian Peninsula last month. Of course, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is responsible for the jihad there.

Some of the same caveats listed above for the Khorasan also apply to these other areas where al-Qaeda’s branches operate.

Infographic timeline for jihad in Somalia

Similar to the infographic for Afghanistan, Thabat produced a timeline of operations in Somalia since the “Crusaders, under the leadership of America” supposedly invaded the land in 1992. The image deliberately trumpets al-Qaeda’s early intervention in the conflict, as well as the relationship between Shabaab and al-Qaeda.

Thabat dates the start of Shabaab’s operations, as the “Freedom Network,” to 2003. Two years later, in 2005, saw the beginning of the “coordination and consolidation of the relationship between Shabaab and al-Qaeda.”

In 2006, Shabaab then publicly emerged after the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) “captured Mogadishu,” but was forced to withdraw from the city at the end of the year by Ethiopian forces.

Thabat’s infographic notes that Shabaab then separated from the ICU in 2007, as open jihad against the Ethiopians, and not “resistance,” became its new reason for existence. The Westgate massacre in Nairobi, Kenya is then highlighted in the entry for 2013.

In 2020, Thabat points to the attack on American forces at a Kenya airfield as a success, because the “mujahideen passed through vast expanses of occupied Kenyan land.” The jihadists “carried out this operation under the name: ‘Jerusalem Will Never be Judaized’,” Shabaab reminds readers. Shabaab has emphasized that this same campaign was launched under the direction of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership.

Naturally, some of this is boasting for propaganda purposes, as the jihadists’ failures and setbacks are not mentioned.

Still, it is likely that Thabat will continue to emphasize the efforts of al-Qaeda’s global network in the months to come. The group is eager to promote the jihadists’ resiliency at a time when the U.S. is looking to withdraw its forces around the globe. And al-Qaeda’s branches continue to carry out a significant number of operations across all of the countries mentioned above.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracy and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at Foundation for Defense of Democracy and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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