Monthly Archives: February 2018

British Parliament Examines Implications of Supporting “the Kurds” in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 11 February 2018

YPG check maps ahead of calling in an American airstrike, Hasaka, Syria (picture by Mauricio Lima for The New York Times)

The British Parliament has released a report today, entitled, “Kurdish aspirations and the interests of the UK”, which examines the implications for the United Kingdom of having supported various Kurdish groups and parties as part of the Coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Continue reading

America’s Kurdish Allies in Syria Can’t Counter Iran

Published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 11 February 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump administration’s vision for Syria, making clear that, contrary to the expectations of many, the United States will stay in Syria beyond the collapse of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) self-proclaimed caliphate, holding the jihadists at bay and establishing an order compatible with US interests.

Crucially, Tillerson—in a sharp break with US President Donald Trump’s predecessor—specified that countering Iranian influence within Syria was a central US objective. The problem with the strategy is that it seems to rely on repurposing the United States’ anti-ISIS Kurdish militia allies against the Iranian revolution. Continue reading

When Al-Qaeda’s Military Leader Asked The Architect of 9/11 to Resign

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 February 2018

Sayf al-Adel (image source), Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (image source)

Muhammad Saladin Abd al-Halim Zaydan (Sayf al-Adel) wrote a letter on 13 June 2002 to Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM or Mukhtar), the operational planner of the 9/11 massacre. Zaydan criticises KSM’s handling of al-Qaeda in the aftermath of 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban, and calls on him to surrender control to others. At that time the latter was written, Zaydan had been the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee for about seven months, replacing Muhammad Atef (Abu Hafs al-Masri), who was killed by an American airstrike in Afghanistan in November 2001. Zaydan was based then—as he is now—in Iran, with much of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, at the invitation of Qassem Sulaymani, the head of the Quds Force, the component of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tasked with exporting the Iran’s Islamist revolution. The letter is reproduced below with the key sections highlighted in bold.

Phrased with much surrounding politeness, Zaydan gets to the point: KSM has been on a spree of external operations—notably with “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and José Padilla (Abdullah al-Muhajir)—that have failed spectacularly and exposed al-Qaeda to ridicule. Instead of learning from his mistakes, KSM has heedlessly rushed to the next plot, says Zaydan. Usama bin Ladin might have signed off on these plots, Zaydan writes, but Bin Ladin is also reckless and refuses to heed advice—instead changing the advisor to get the answer he wants. (Bin Ladin had done this—or tried to—for the 9/11 attack itself, stacking the executive committee with loyalists before the key vote, which he ended up not bothering to hold anyway.) KSM should halt all plots currently underway and resign his duties to others so that stock can be taken of how these disasters have befallen the organisation, Zaydan concludes. Zaydan adds a final note demanding the removal of a post on an al-Qaeda forum that identifies his children by their real names. Continue reading

The End of the Line for “The Beatles” of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 February 2018

El Shafee Elsheikh (image source) and Alexanda Kotey (image source)

Last night, The New York Times reported and Reuters confirmed that two British Islamic State (IS) jihadists, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, both of them designated terrorists by the United States, have been arrested in Syria. Kotey and Elsheikh, along with the late Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir) and Aine Davis, formed a four-man cell that has become known as “The Beatles”—hence Emwazi being near-universally known as “Jihadi John”—that guarded, abused, and murdered hostages for IS from before the “caliphate” was founded in 2014. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Letter on Relations with the Islamic State and Iran

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 February 2018

Usama bin Ladin in an al-Qaeda video (image source: CNN)

A letter released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on 20 May 2015, the “Letter to Abu Abdallah al-Hajj”, was written by an al-Qaeda leader on 17 December 2007. The letter, reproduced below with some editions in transliteration and some important sections highlighted bold, is interesting for several reasons. Continue reading

Profile of a 9/11 Planner: Muhammad Atef

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 February 2018

Al-Qaeda’s military leader Muhammad Atef at a press conference in Afghanistan, 26 May 1998 (image source: CNN)

Muhammad Atef, best-known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, but who also went by the names Taseer Abdullah or Taysir Abdullah and Subhi Abu Sitta, was al-Qaeda’s military leader between 1996 and 2001, and one of the three people most responsible for the terrorist attack in the United States on 11 September 2001. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda’s First Military Emir

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 February 2018

Moments after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya on 7 August 1998 (picture source: UPI)

Ali Amin al-Rashidi (Abu Ubayda al-Banshiri or Abu Ubayda al-Panjshiri) was the first head of al-Qaeda’s military committee until his death in an accident in 1996. Continue reading