In Yemen, at the end of last month, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was cleared from al-Mukalla, their major urban stronghold. This ends a year of occupation and brings to a close what is effectively the third emirate or statelet AQAP has either set up or attempted to set up in Yemen since 2011. These projects offer some insights into al-Qaeda’s methodology in getting to an Islamic state, including its rebranding in opposition to the Islamic State (IS). 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
Ahrar a-Sham “merged with“—in reality annexed—Suqour a-Sham on March 22. Ahrar’s leader, Hashem al-Sheikh (a.k.a. Abu Jabbar), is the leader of the Ahrar-Suqour formation, and Suqour’s leader, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh (a.k.a. Abu Issa) is his deputy. Ahrar is the largest and most hardline Syrian insurgent group in Syria, and Suqour has a fairly stern Salafi-nationalist ideology—at least at its leadership level—and was once the largest rebel group in Idlib Province.
The first thing this brought to mind was Sam Heller’s witticism late last year: “the most successful, lasting approach to rebel unification so far has basically been ‘Ahrar al-Sham absorbs you’.” Continue reading
This Arab regime claims to be a one-party system but in reality a small Mafia-like cabal of military and intelligence officers have dispensed power for decades. Finally a democratic challenge erupts; people take to the streets demanding first reforms and, when the regime responds with pseudo-reforms and lethal violence, the fall of the government. Eventually the people fight back and an armed struggle breaks out. The regime builds its strategy around provocation, arresting and killing the liberals and democrats, infiltrating the insurgent groups and having the extremists attack the moderates, directing infiltrated groups to commit atrocities that discredit the whole insurgency, and using Iran’s international terrorist networks to lure Salafi-jihadists into the country who can help discredit the opposition’s cause in the eyes of the world. By presenting a binary picture—the regime or a terrorist takeover—the state tries to secure at least tacit support, if not direct intervention, from the West to defeat the insurgency.
No I’m not talking about Syria. This is Algeria. Continue reading
In December 1991, the Algerian government—the military regime in power since the French were expelled—gave in to public pressure, which had already turned sanguinary, and allowed an election. It was quite clear that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a fundamentalist party, would emerge victorious. To forestall the institution of a theocracy, in January 1992, the military launched a coup and shut down the final rounds of the election. A civil war erupted in which the jihadists sought to overpower the secular, if dictatorial, government. By the late 1990s, the jihadists’ savagery had meant their campaign had run aground; the vital centre in Algeria swallowed its misgivings and sought shelter behind the State. By 2002, the civil war was declared over: the jihadist revolt had been beaten.
That is the official story.
On February 3, 2014, Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad (The Base of Holy War Organisation)—al-Qaeda—disowned ad-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa-Sham (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS), finally resolving the tortured question of the group’s “affiliation” with the terror network. Continue reading