The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS). The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading
Turkish police announced on 19 July that they had arrested the wife of Tarkhan Batirashvili (Abu Umar al-Shishani), an Islamic State (IS) commander who was killed two years ago this month in Shirqat, Iraq. The capture brings to the fore a story stretching from senior levels of the Chechen Republic to the Levant. Continue reading
Since the uprising in Syria began in 2011, Bashar al-Asad’s regime has followed a tried and trusted script to destroy the opposition by eliminating all engageable elements, creating a binary choice for the population and the world—the despotism or a terrorist takeover.
Asad bolstered extremists within the insurgency: letting Islamists out of prison while imprisoning secular activists, pushing a peaceful protest movement into violence, heightening sectarian tensions, and financial schemes of various kinds. Asad then then left IS alone for a year to build its caliphate, while obliterating rebel-held areas that could provide an attractive alternative to the dictatorship. Continue reading
In the ninetieth edition of its newsletter, al-Naba, released on 20 July 2017, the Islamic State (IS) published an obituary for one of its most senior operatives, Ali Aswad al-Jiburi, much better known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who had been serving as the caliph’s “security advisor” when he was killed on 18 May 2016. 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.
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
The eighth edition of the Islamic State’s magazine, Rumiyah (Rome), was released on 5 April 2017, and contained an obituary for one of the architects of the magazine itself. Named by his kunyas, Abu Sulayman al-Shami, Abu Sulayman al-Halabi, and Ahmad Abdul-Badi Abu Samrah, the jihadist referred to is Ahmad Abousamra, a U.S.-Syrian dual citizen. Abousamra is quite possibly the most senior American ever to have been in IS’s ranks, and the Rumiyah article gives a very interesting glimpse more generally of IS’s hierarchy. Continue reading
The State Department designated five individuals on 30 March 2017 as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), imposing sanctions on them for having “committed, or [for] pos[ing] a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” Four of those sanctioned are members of the Islamic State (IS), including two key British operatives in the group’s global network, and the other is a member of al-Qaeda. On the same day, the Treasury Department sanctioned two IS operatives involved in funding and guiding external IS operations in the Far East and Southeast Asia. Continue reading
The U.S. Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two senior operatives associated with al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS). This is undoubtedly part of the escalating campaign against AQS. The two men are interesting on their own account, however, and give a glimpse at some of the things that have shaped jihadism across the Fertile Crescent. In the one case, that of Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil, better-known as Iyad al-Tubaysi or Abu Julaybib, this history begins with the earliest days of the Islamic State (IS), from which AQS splintered, in Iraq before Saddam Husayn was deposed. The other case, that of Bassam al-Hasri (Abu Umar al-Filistini), highlights the events at the outset of the Syrian uprising, when the regime of Bashar al-Assad set in motion its strategic plan to militarize and radicalize the nascent insurgency in order to present the population and the world a binary choice—the dictator or a terrorist takeover. Continue reading
In September 2014, Kuwait undertook a series of raids against terrorists loyal to the Islamic State (IS). It was found by authorities that one of the “great influence[s]” over the jihadi-Salafists in Kuwait was Abdulmuhsin al-Taresh (Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti). Al-Taresh was an important propagandist-recruiter for IS at this time, and would later become a senior military official. He was killed near IS’s Syrian capital, Raqqa, by the U.S.-led Coalition at the end of December. Continue reading