It was reported on jihadist websites and by local activists that Turki al-Binali, a senior cleric of the Islamic State (IS) and perhaps the most important public proponent of the caliphate’s formation, had been killed in Syria by an airstrike from the U.S.-led Coalition on 29 May. IS has been silent on this despite releasing their newsletter al-Naba and the tenth edition of their English-language propaganda magazine Rumiyah since then. On Tuesday, the intelligence services of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq confirmed that al-Binali had been killed. 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
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
A couple of days ago, a leader Jabhat an-Nusra issued a statement condemning Ahrar a-Sham. The statement is actually rather milder than initial reports suggested. Nusra is mostly annoyed at Ahrar for working with Turkey and Qatar to acquire money and weapons. Nusra is also displeased that Ahrar, at the instigation of Ankara and Doha, asked Nusra to publicly break its al-Qaeda link. Nusra also felt Ahrar was too willing to publicly distance itself from Salafi-jihadism to gain war materiel. This will no doubt help intensify the debate about Ahrar’s ostentatious “moderation” over the last eighteen months, and what the West should do about Ahrar.
In this post, however, I’d like to focus on the statement’s author, Abu Firas as-Suri, or more precisely on what he represents. Abu Firas is part of a group of (known) agents of al-Qaeda Central (AQC) who were sent into Syria in mid-2013 to mediate the dispute between Nusra and then-ISIS (now the Islamic State, I.S.), and when that failed the AQC veterans stayed, erected a veritable bureaucracy, and sought to forestall Nusra “going local”. Below are mini-profiles of these AQC veterans. Continue reading
In The Independent of April 10, Daniel Wickham wrote in opposition to the campaign of airstrikes, led by Saudi Arabia, against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, which has overthrown the government in that country and is now marching on the port city of Aden where the remnants of the fallen regime reside. Wickham notes that the Houthis have behaved abominably since they took the capital, Sanaa, including the “use of torture and extreme violence to suppress dissent,” still “two wrongs do not make a right” and the Saudi-led Operation DECISIVE STORM is “very clearly wrong.” I think this is mistaken. Continue reading
Late in the day on March 25, a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen with airstrikes against the Houthis.
The Iranian-backed Houthis (a.k.a. Ansar Allah) took over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September, and forced the resignation of the Saudi-backed Yemeni ruler, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in January. Hadi escaped house arrested in Sanaa and retreated to Aden with the remnants of his regime. On March 21, the Houthis had called for a “general mobilisation” and by the next day had pushed south toward Aden. The Houthis said they were combatting “terrorist forces”. As in Syria, Iran’s allied forces cast a narrative where there were no Sunni moderates, nobody with whom a deal might be struck.
Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose resignation was compelled in early 2012 after the “Arab Spring,” stands accused not only by Hadi but by the United States of supporting the Houthis. Continue reading
Yesterday morning in Libya, it was announced that militias from Misrata were moving into Sirte to combat the Islamic State (I.S.). The militias preparing to fight I.S. are drawn from Libya Dawn, the Islamist coalition that ousted the internationally-recognised government in August 2014. Continue reading