Graphic released with the speech of Ahmad Hassan (Abu Khayr al-Masri) about Jabhat al-Nusra and relations with al-Qaeda
In advance of Jabhat al-Nusra rebranding as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) on 28 July 2016, there were carefully coordinated media releases between al-Qaeda “central” (AQC) and al-Nusra. First, al-Manara al-Bayda (The White Minaret), al-Nusra’s media arm, released a six-minute audio speech by Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abd al-Rahman (Abu Khayr al-Masri), identified as the deputy to al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri; then there was the first ever picture of al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, whose real name is Ahmad Husayn al-Shara, and shortly thereafter a video of al-Shara ostensibly severing ties with al-Qaeda; and finally the founding document for JFS was published. Continue reading →
During al-Qaeda’s occupation of al-Mukalla, Yemen, April 2015 to April 2016 (source)
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 →
Abd al-Rahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari) in an Islamic State video in May 2016
United States Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced this morning that he believed Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, a senior leader of the Islamic State (IS), had been killed in a U.S. raid into Syria earlier this week. Al-Qaduli was “serving as a finance minister” and had been “responsible for some external affairs and plots,” said Carter. America is “systematically eliminating ISIL’s cabinet,” Carter went on, noting the alleged killing of Tarkhan Batirashvili (Abu Umar al-Shishani) two weeks ago, adding that al-Qaduli’s removal will “hamper” IS in conducting operations inside and outside its caliphate. Continue reading →
War cemetery in Sarajevo (personal picture, July 2011)
It was announced on Thursday that Guantanamo inmates Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed as-Sawah and Abd al-Aziz Abduh Abdallah Ali as-Suwaydi had been transferred to Bosnia and Montenegro respectively. Sawah’s path to jihadi-Salafism allows a window into the Bosnian jihad, a much-underestimated factor in shaping al-Qaeda, its offshoots, and the wider jihadist movement. In that story is an examination of the role certain States have played in funding and otherwise helping the jihadists. It also leaves some questions about whether emptying Guantanamo of its dangerous inhabitants is the correct policy. Continue reading →
As-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media Publication, al-Qaeda’s media outlet, produced an English translation of a speech by the organization’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on 13 January 2016. The speech was entitled, “Syria Is Entrusted Upon Your Necks”. The speech does focus on the West, particularly its de facto alliance with the pro-Assad coalition—namely Russia and Iran—and calls for the Syrian rebellion to unite with al-Qaeda to resist this conspiracy. What is more noticeable, however, is the two enemies on whom Dr. al-Zawahiri really focuses: Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State. The Saudis are accused—not without reason—of having been allied closely to the West and thwarting the jihadist projects at every turn. And al-Zawahiri makes a fierce ideological assault on the Islamic State, comparing them with the Khawarij and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), whose conduct in Algeria in the 1990s and their justifications for it took Islamist extremism to new depths. The speech is reproduced below with some minor editions, to transliteration and punctuation, and some interesting and important sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading →
Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr): in Saddam’s intelligence service, in American prison, as a commander of the Islamic State
In the last few months I’ve increasingly focussed on the former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) within the Islamic State (I.S.). There’s now an entire section on this blog about it, and Aaron Zelin over at Jihadology recently gave me time to elaborate in a podcast.
In studying this topic there is one inescapable name: Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, better-known by his pseudonym Haji Bakr, and sometimes by his kunya, Abu Bakr al-Iraqi. Al-Khlifawi is a former colonel in an elite intelligence unit of the Saddam Hussein regime—focussed on air defence at Habbaniya airbase, though what exactly that entails is murky. Al-Khlifawi was also apparently involved in weapons development.
Al-Khlifawi came to international attention in April when Christoph Reuter published an article in Der Spiegel naming al-Khlifawi as the “architect” of I.S.’s expansion into Syria, and the man who had been “pulling the strings at IS for years.” Continue reading →
William McCants’ The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State is an immensely readable addition to the literature on the most powerful terrorist-insurgent group in the world. McCants covers the Islamic State, often referred to as ISIS, from its inception in Taliban Afghanistan in 1999 to its migration to Iraq in 2002, and through its various stages before its blitzkrieg from Syria across central Iraq in June 2014, which brought ISIS to global attention. McCants shows that ISIS’s evolution is not just a religio-socio-political and military phenomenon, but an intellectual one. ISIS has built the foundations of its statelet on the lessons learned by Salafi-jihadists from their previous battlefronts, such as Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Algeria, and their various mistakes, many of them ISIS’s own. Continue reading →