On 28 January, as a part of its long-term strategy of integrating with, and ultimately co-opting, the Syrian rebellion, al-Qaeda shifted ground again and merged into a wider spectrum of insurgent groups, many of them jihadi in character, but many not, united under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). One of the non-jihadi groups to join HTS was Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi, which became infamous in July 2016 after it beheaded one of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s child soldiers on video. This has aroused some controversy in jihadi circles, and today a statement by a jihadi ideologue, Abu Mahmud al-Filistini, who lives in London, was circulating explaining why HTS was right to take in al-Zengi. The statement was entitled, “Clearing the Doubts Regarding Nooradeen al-Zengi Uniting with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” and is reproduced below. Continue reading
Fursan al-Sham Media was set up in September 2016 as a messaging outlet from inside Syria for the jihadist groups in the insurgency, notably Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham. On 14 January 2017, Fursan al-Sham Media had an interview with Abu Bakr al-Britani, a British jihadist who had journeyed to Syria and presumably joined JFS. The interview is reproduced below. Continue reading
Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is an Australian citizen who was born on 14 February 1984 in Port Said, Egypt. Mahamed currently occupies a “senior leadership position” within al-Qaeda in Syria—formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)—according to the sanctions levied against him in May by the U.S. Treasury. In an indication of Mahamed’s seniority, he moved from Australia to Syria in late 2012 and within a few months led the mediation efforts between al-Nusra and the then-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now the Islamic State (IS), that began with a breach in April 2013 and ended with al-Qaeda expelling ISIS from its command structure in February 2014. Mahamed is also one of the public faces of al-Qaeda in Syria, now calling himself the “Director of Foreign Media Relations of JFS”. In this capacity, Mahamed has inter alia recently communicated with CNN to further the narrative that al-Nusra/JFS has “split” with al-Qaeda—something, let it be noted, neither the leader of al-Nusra/JFS nor Mahamed have actually said.
With regard to both the ongoing narrative war between IS and al-Qaeda over what their actual relationship was in the lead-up to the schism and al-Qaeda’s structure—the two things very much interlinked—Mahamed gave a very useful interview on 12 April 2014, about ten weeks before ISIS became IS when it declared its caliphate. Mahamed also touches on other interesting matters, such as those jihadi ideologues al-Nusra/JFS regards as guides, and—small point—al-Qaeda’s continuing claim that IS’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would have sided with them. (This is matched on the other side by IS continuing to feature Usama bin Ladin in their propaganda as one of their forebears, while regarding Ayman al-Zawahiri as deviant.)
In watching the video back, I ended up taking notes, which turned into a partial (though fairly substantial) transcript that will perhaps be of use to others as well, so it’s posted below. Continue reading
Published at Newsweek
In the past two years, and especially over the last month, the Islamic State militant group has launched a coordinated campaign of terrorism in Europe. Among these recent attacks was the murder of 84 people in Nice by a man who ploughed a truck into Bastille Day crowds, and the brutal killing of a priest in Normandy when two young men stormed a church.
Now, the number of armed police in London, and ultimately across the U.K., is set to increase significantly. These additional forces will patrol landmarks and other areas where large numbers of people congregate. An attack in Britain is “highly likely … a case of when, not if,” according to the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. A stabbing in the British capital Wednesday is not currently being treated as an extremist act but has underlined the perceived need for an increased police presence. Continue reading
In Brent, northwest London, in the evening of April 12, a 46-year-old man was arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into the April 7 murder of the Syrian-born imam, Abdul Hadi Arwani, a long-time opponent of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Writing about the murder of Arwani last week, I noted that the available evidence suggested the motivations of the murderer(s) could be:
- Financial: related to Arwani’s business dealings as the owner of his construction company
- Other local or personal
- Far-Right anti-Muslim
- Intra-Islamist: Arwani had been the director at the Salafist An-Noor Mosque and was himself clearly an Islamist, but Arwani was against the Islamic State (ISIS), for example, which might have made him enemies among some congregants
- Agents of the Assad regime, conceivably with the complicity of Iran and Russia
Those options still stand, but some important updates over the weekend have helped alter the relative likelihood of each. Continue reading
Earlier this week I wrote of the unmasking of “Jihadi John,” the Islamic State’s (ISIS) video-beheader, as 26-year-old British citizen Mohammed Emwazi. I had two purposes. One was to gloat over the implosion of CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners), an Islamist terrorist-advocacy group that had gotten itself called a “human rights organisation“. And the second was to point out that the narrative peddled by CAGE and other apologists, that Emwazi had been radicalised by heavy-handed British security methods, was plainly absurd.
Emwazi had been associating with al-Qaeda agents and sympathisers and was part of a London-based network that dispatched fighters to al-Qaeda’s Somali branch al-Shabab years before he came into contact with the security services—indeed the security services had only taken an interest in Emwazi because he was already radicalised. In the last few days both of these trends have continued: CAGE’s total collapse moves closer and Emwazi’s known nefarious associations are multiplying. 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