Russia began airstrikes in Syria today, ostensibly to combat the Islamic State (I.S.). In reality the strikes first hit U.S.-supported moderate rebels and the campaign is intended to buttress the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. Continue reading
American intelligence analysts have been pressured into giving a more positive assessment of the progress of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), it has been reported, confirming what was obvious to everyone not subject to influence from the White House: the anti-ISIS campaign is failing. To devise an effective strategy involves understanding where ISIS came from, and that involves examining the Saddam Hussein regime.
Saddam is commonly regarded as the quintessential secularist, and he was initially. But over its last fifteen years the Saddam regime Islamized, effectively creating a religious movement under Saddam’s leadership, giving additional space and power to the non-governmental Salafi Trend, and hardening the sectarian differences in Iraq—paving the way for something like ISIS in its aftermath. Continue reading
In August 2015’s Perspectives on Terrorism, Truls Tønnessen writes about the evolution of the leadership of what is now the Islamic State (I.S.) from its origins in al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) under the heading, “Heirs of Zarqawi or Saddam?” Tonnessen makes the obvious point that AQI’s leadership was largely comprised of foreign Salafi-jihadists with al-Qaeda histories, while I.S. is led by Iraqis, most of them former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs). But Tonnessen’s argument that I.S.’s leaders had not been AQI members is mistaken (they had), which erodes his arguments that AQI’s influence diminished over time as I.S. formed from various mergers, and that this diminution of influence came about because I.S.’s post-2010 leadership purged the veteran AQI elements within I.S. (I.S.’s leaders are veteran AQI elements.) The main difference between AQI’s leaders and I.S.’s is that AQI’s leaders had background connections to al-Qaeda Central (AQC) networks, and I.S.’s largely do not. While Tonnessen sees Jabhat an-Nusra as linked to these shifting dynamics, this argument does not stack up. Ultimately, Tonnessen’s contention that I.S.’s leaders are more heirs of Saddam than Zarqawi fails in the terms Tonnessen presents it. Continue reading
The Islamic Republic of Iran released five senior al-Qaeda terrorists in March, ostensibly as part of a prisoner exchange for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But the murky circumstances in which al-Qaeda’s leaders were “held” in Iran and other inconsistencies cast some doubt on this version of events, and draw attention to some old questions about Iran’s support for al-Qaeda and its affiliates and offshoots. Continue reading
After a meeting of the Syrian Islamic Council, a statement was published today, “The Five Principles Document of the Syrian Revolution,” which explained the baseline demands of the insurrectionary forces in Syria in any process to end the war. The principles included the removal of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, disbanding the intelligence apparatus that has carried out the massacres and repression, and the expulsion of all foreign terrorists, including the Islamic State and the legion of Shi’a jihadists that the Iranian government has flooded into Syria to save the Assad regime. Continue reading
Yesterday, Algeria’s elderly president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, removed from office Mohamed Mediène (a.k.a. Toufik), the head of DRS (Le Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité), the spy agency that is the real power behind the throne in Algeria. There is some suggestion this is Bouteflika trying to prepare the way for a civilian government as his time in office—and on the planet—draws to a close. There is little reason to believe, however, that Algeria’s government will be much reformed by Toufik’s departure.
A couple of days ago, a leader Jabhat an-Nusra issued a statement condemning Ahrar a-Sham. The statement is actually rather milder than initial reports suggested. Nusra is mostly annoyed at Ahrar for working with Turkey and Qatar to acquire money and weapons. Nusra is also displeased that Ahrar, at the instigation of Ankara and Doha, asked Nusra to publicly break its al-Qaeda link. Nusra also felt Ahrar was too willing to publicly distance itself from Salafi-jihadism to gain war materiel. This will no doubt help intensify the debate about Ahrar’s ostentatious “moderation” over the last eighteen months, and what the West should do about Ahrar.
In this post, however, I’d like to focus on the statement’s author, Abu Firas as-Suri, or more precisely on what he represents. Abu Firas is part of a group of (known) agents of al-Qaeda Central (AQC) who were sent into Syria in mid-2013 to mediate the dispute between Nusra and then-ISIS (now the Islamic State, I.S.), and when that failed the AQC veterans stayed, erected a veritable bureaucracy, and sought to forestall Nusra “going local”. Below are mini-profiles of these AQC veterans. Continue reading