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
In the 118th edition of Al-Naba, the Islamic State’s newsletter, there was an acknowledgment of Salah Abdeslam as a “brother”. Abdeslam is a Belgian citizen of Moroccan extraction, who acted as a logistician and facilitator for the 13 November 2015 massacre in Paris, though failed on the night to carry out his own part in the atrocity. Abdeslam is one of the few conspirators involved in the Paris attacks and the subsequent bombing in Brussels on 22 March 2016 who is still alive. The significance of this is that IS has generally ignored its operatives if they end up being arrested, and Abdeslam is an acute case of this: he has never been acknowledged in IS’s propaganda since the Paris attack, notably being excluded from the twelfth issue of IS’s Dabiq magazine released on 18 November 2015 that named the Paris attackers and described how the operation was carried out. The Naba article is reproduced below. Continue reading
A year ago, I wrote a report documenting the biographies of Islamic State (IS) leaders and something of the structure of the organisation. Since then, the intricacies of the structure have been further revealed, even as it has somewhat crumbled in practice. The caliphate—the statelet built by IS—has been significantly degraded: the Iraqi “capital”, Mosul, has fallen, and operation to clear the Syrian “capital”, Raqqa, is underway. More significantly, upwards of 40% of those profiled have been killed, so it seemed an opportune moment for an update on who currently leads the world’s most infamous terrorist movement.
The Islamic State (IS) has escalated a campaign of global terrorism over the past few years, exactly as it was losing overt control of territory. In 2016, IS consolidated a model of guiding and claiming attacks in the West and elsewhere via is media channel, Amaq. The outlines of this have long been known. Now there is significant new detail thanks to a four part reporting series in the German newspaper BILD by Björn Stritzel, who contacted Amaq and posed over many months—in consultation with Germany security agencies—as a potential terrorist. Continue reading
Just three days after the U.S. government sanctioned two Islamic State (IS or ISIS) operatives for their role in helping the jihadists develop chemical weapons of mass destruction, another raft of sanctions were issued on 15 June against four IS members occupying varying positions within the organization from finance to propaganda to orchestrating the foreign attacks. Continue reading
Earlier today, an Iraqi military statement made public that the Iraqi government had provided coordinates to Bashar al-Assad’s air force, via the intelligence-sharing cell set up in Baghdad with Russia and Iran, for targets in Raqqa and al-Bukamal. One of the targets was Boubaker al-Hakim (Abu Muqatil al-Tunisi), a French-Tunisian Islamic State (IS) operative. Whether the Syrian regime’s strikes against al-Hakim were successful was not made clear. The interest here is that the U.S. announced on 10 December 2016 that it had killed al-Hakim in an airstrike near Raqqa on 26 November 2016, meaning that either the U.S. was mistaken or the Iraqis are. Al-Hakim is a very interesting figure in his own right with an extensive history in the jihadist movement and also highlights some broader trends, notably the assistance the Assad regime has provided to the IS movement. Continue reading
Turkey intervened in Syria in August 2016 with Operation Euphrates Shield (OES), which involved special forces, some regular troops, and the mobilisation of Syrian rebels to clear its border of terrorist threats by pushing ISIS (the Islamic State) away from the frontier and preventing the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) creating a state-let on its border that could be used as a harbour and launch-pad for attacks inside Turkey.
To secure this mission, on 13 November 2016 OES began an assault on al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo Province, just 15 miles from Turkey’s border and ISIS’ last major urban centre in Syria outside its capital, Raqqa. Some 102 days of combat later, on 23 February, al-Bab fell. What happens next could determine the course of the war as Turkey competes with the PKK to be the U.S.-led Coalition’s partner in clearing ISIS from Raqqa. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) has been putting a lot of effort recently, especially over the summer, into directing attacks outside its caliphate, particularly in Europe. While many of these attacks are initially reported as “lone wolf” incidents, it has become increasingly clear by IS’s method of claiming these attacks that IS’s Amn al-Kharji, or foreign intelligence service, is guiding these attacks—walking the would-be murderers through the attacks emotionally, ideologically, and logistically. Continue reading
The Islamic State confirmed yesterday, via their “news” agency Amaq, that Taha Subhi Falaha had been killed in Aleppo. Falaha had gained global notoriety under his kunya, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, after his September 2014 speech calling on Muslims in the West to “kill any disbeliever” in range, and to at least “spit in his face” if one was unable to find a knife or a car or a rock to do murder with.
Falaha was often referred to as the spokesman of IS, and so he was—the voice of the organization since 2011. He was also from the first generation of the organization, recruited before the invasion of Iraq, one of the few within the organization of that stature. But, as I explained recently in a paper for the Henry Jackson Society that compiled what is known of IS’s leadership, Falaha was much more than a figurehead.
Falaha was the governor of IS-held areas in Syria and the man who oversaw the external terrorist attacks. By now he was the caliph’s effective deputy. Heretofore, IS’s impressive bureaucracy has managed to replace individuals with minimal perturbation. IS will experience few perturbations quite like this.