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
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
The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.
The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading
The U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) has killed several more leaders of the terrorist group, but continues to find that the campaign is hindered by the incompetence and/or complicity of the regime of Bashar al-Asad and his supporters in Iran and Russia. Continue reading
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a powerful jihadi group in northern Syria, formally broke from al-Qaeda’s command over the last year. In the morning of 27 November, HTS arrested the leaders of a splinter group from HTS that remained loyal to al-Qaeda. The arrests were first reported by pro-al-Qaeda media, and HTS has since released a statement explaining that, having found this al-Qaeda group unwilling to even engage in reconciliation talks, it placed “the heads of turmoil” before a “just shari’a court” to answer for spreading demoralizing lies about HTS. Continue reading
The leader of the Quds Force, the expeditionary unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qassem Sulaymani, sent a public letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamene’i, on 21 November. Sulaymani’s letter followed the apparent expulsion of the Islamic State from its last urban stronghold in Syria, al-Bukamal, on 19 November, by Quds Force-led troops—foreign Shi’a jihadists and the battered remnants of Bashar al-Asad’s army. Sulaymani informs Khamene’i that in overcoming the Islamic State and its caliphate, a “U.S.-Zionist-made” terrorist entity has been defeated. Sulaymani’s letter is reproduced below, with some noteworthy sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) captured Raqqa city, its first provincial capital, in January 2014. Six months later, IS declared its caliphate and Raqqa became its de facto capital. Last Tuesday, the partner force of the US-led anti-IS Coalition, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), entered the city centre in Raqqa. A deal had evacuated most of the remaining jihadists over the prior weekend, though a determined core remained and still held about 10 per cent of the city. The caliphate is crumbling and the Coalition says IS has 6,500 fighters left. According to the Coalition, this puts IS “on the verge of a devastating defeat”. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. To the contrary, IS is more powerful at this point, in theatre, even after the military reverses inflicted on it by the Coalition, than in the period after the “defeat” of 2008, and the outlook is more favourable now to IS. Moreover, IS now has an international reach, physically and ideologically, it did not previously possess. Continue reading