After two-and-a-half years of writing in this space, I will be moving the bulk of future work. The archive here will remain and there might be occasional future posts here about non-work issues—movie reviews, British politics, and so forth. But otherwise the subjects I focus on day-to-day—Syria, Islamism, terrorism—will appear on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Ahmad Salama Mabruk (Abu Faraj al-Masri) was an al-Qaeda veteran, close to the organization’s leadership. The United States killed Mabruk in Syria on 3 October 2016 in a drone strike near Jisr al-Shughour in northern Syria. This is the second time in a month the U.S. has killed off a senior al-Qaeda jihadist, and sheds some light on the strength of the U.S. policy in Syria. Continue reading
This year, the American-led anti-Islamic State (IS) Coalition has targeted members of the organization’s program to develop chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD). One reason for this is likely that the Coalition has been building toward—and now appears to be on the eve of—the operation to attempt to expel IS from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, and it is considered probable that IS will use CWMD on its way down. Whether that can now be prevented, and how far IS ever got with its attempt to develop CWMD, might only be known once it is too late. Continue reading
The deeply problematic attempted Syrian ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia last week never really took hold and was finally torn asunder on Monday by Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad blitzing an aid convoy and launching massive, indiscriminate aerial attacks on rebel-held areas in Aleppo. Last night, the pro-Assad coalition commenced a renewed assault on Aleppo actually as the parties met to discuss putting the ceasefire back online.
It had been surreal that it was the U.S. insisting that “The ceasefire is not dead”. What it exposed was the lack of Western will to restrain the Assad regime, which al-Qaeda, especially, is exploiting, offering its services in the fight against Assad, and building a sustainable presence in Syria that will threaten the West for many years to come. Continue reading
A version of this article was published at The New Arab
The United States and Russia reached an agreement over Syria on 9 September that was supposed to lead to a week of reduced violence—a ceasefire or “cessation of hostilities” (CoH). During this time, there would be free distribution of humanitarian aid—followed by joint operations against the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in the country, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. This agreement was essentially ignored by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which Russia had pledged to restrain, and on Monday the agreement was torn up by the regime, returning Syria to all-out war. Continue reading
The Coalition announced on Friday that it had killed Wael Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, also known as Wael al-Rawi, Dr. Wael, and Abu Muhammad Furqan, a reference no doubt to al-Furqan Media, IS’s oldest and most important propaganda organ, which al-Fayad controlled. The head of IS’s Media Council, thus a key member of the group’s propaganda output, al-Fayad was a member of its Shura Council. The obscurity of his name is likely a testament to his seniority and importance within IS. Continue reading
Originally published at The International Business Times
Fifteen years on from the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the US, al-Qaeda is better-positioned than ever before. Its leadership held, and it has rebuilt a presence in Afghanistan. More importantly, al-Qaeda has built powerful regional branches in India, North Africa, Somalia, Yemen and Syria.
Rebranding itself away from the savagery of Iraq, al-Qaeda has sought to embed itself in local populations by gaining popular legitimacy to shield itself from retribution if, or when, it launches terrorist strikes in the West. This is proceeding apace, above all because of a failure to assist the mainstream opposition in Syria, sections of which were forced into interdependency with al-Qaeda to resist the strategy of massacre and expulsion conducted by the Assad regime. Continue reading