At 1 AM on 3 January, an American drone strike killed the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) charged with exporting the Islamic revolution, and his Iraqi deputy, Jamal al-Ibrahimi (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis). Sulaymani was the strategic driver of Iran’s expansionist policy in the Middle East, as well as the orchestrator of its terrorism and assassinations further afield. Unlike with the killing of Al-Qaeda’s Usama bin Laden in 2011 or the Islamic State’s Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) in October, where the dynamics shifted little, Sulaymani’s death opens up questions about the direction in which the Middle East will now move. Continue reading
A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly
Mustafa Bali, head of the press office for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition partner against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, sent a tweet on November 14 showing Turkey’s Arab proxies engaged in “ISIS chants.” By this, he meant the takbir, “God is Great,” an expression used by Muslims every day. When criticised, Bali doubled down and blocked many critics. This was a microcosm of one of the darker threads in an SDF messaging strategy that is among the most effective propaganda campaigns on record. Continue reading
The so-called caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was killed in an American raid in Syria on 27 October, and the spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was killed the next day in an airstrike. ISIS acknowledged the losses and appointed new leaders on Halloween.
Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi introduced himself in a nearly-eight-minute audio statement as the new spokesman and named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi as Al-Baghdadi’s replacement. Little information was given about either man.
To mark the eighteenth anniversary of the 9/11 massacre, Al-Qaeda’s Al-Sahab media department released a video, “And They Shall Continue to Fight You”. The video, which ran over a half-hour, featured a speech by the group’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, interspersed with other leadership figures.
Much attention has been given to Dr. Al-Zawahiri encouraging attacks on America, his contention that the U.S. has enabled the spread of Iranian power by providing its vicious sectarian militias in Iraq, Syria, and beyond with direct support as part of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), and his use of the issue of Palestine. There are some indications Al-Qaeda is looking abroad again with its terrorism campaign, but the primary purpose of re-emphasising the justice of attacks on the West seems to be to meet the ideological challenge from ISIS. Behind the veneer of the “far enemy” rhetoric in this speech, Al-Zawahiri was in fact very defensive—particularly about 9/11, Al-Qaeda’s greatest “success”, where he seems stung by the accusation Al-Qaeda murdered innocents—and “near enemy” (regionally) focused. Even the call to attack America suggested attacks on military installations in the Middle East, rather than in America itself. Such attacks would also avoid the issue of civilian casualties, Al-Zawahiri noted.
An English translation was put out of the video of Al-Zawahiri’s speech and a transcript is reproduced below.