The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS). The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading
In the ninetieth edition of its newsletter, al-Naba, released on 20 July 2017, the Islamic State (IS) published an obituary for one of its most senior operatives, Ali Aswad al-Jiburi, much better known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who had been serving as the caliph’s “security advisor” when he was killed on 18 May 2016. Continue reading
A year ago, I wrote a report documenting the biographies of Islamic State (IS) leaders and something of the structure of the organisation. Since then, the intricacies of the structure have been further revealed, even as it has somewhat crumbled in practice. The caliphate—the statelet built by IS—has been significantly degraded: the Iraqi “capital”, Mosul, has fallen, and operation to clear the Syrian “capital”, Raqqa, is underway. More significantly, upwards of 40% of those profiled have been killed, so it seemed an opportune moment for an update on who currently leads the world’s most infamous terrorist movement.
Turkey concluded its biggest investigation to date into Islamic State (IS) operatives on its territory on Friday, and blacklisted sixty-seven people. This provides a good moment to review what Turkey’s role has been in the rise of IS, especially amid the escalating accusations from Russia that Turkey is significantly responsible for financing IS. The reality is that while Turkish policy has, by commission and omission, made IS stronger than it would otherwise have been, so has Russia’s policy—and Russia’s policy was far more cynical than Turkey’s, deliberately intended empower extremists to discredit the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad. Turkey’s focus on bringing down Assad and Ankara’s fear of Kurdish autonomy led it into these policies and now—having seemingly found the will to act to uproot IS’s infrastructure on Turkish territory—there is the problem of actually doing so, when IS can (and has) struck inside Turkey. The concerns about these external funding mechanisms for IS, while doubtless important, obscure the larger problem: IS’s revenue is overwhelmingly drawn from the areas it controls and only removing those areas of control can deny IS its funds. Continue reading
Yesterday, Reuters had an article by Isabel Coles and Ned Parker entitled, “How Saddam’s men help Islamic State rule“. The article had a number of interesting points, but in its presentation of the movement of former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) into the leadership structure of the Islamic State (IS) as a phenomenon of the last few years, it was a step backward: the press had seemed to be recognizing that the Salafization of the FREs within IS dates back to the Islamization of Saddam Hussein’s regime in its last fifteen years, notably in the 1990s after the onset of the Faith Campaign. Continue reading
Fadel Ahmad Abdullah al-Hiyali, the overall deputy to the “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who heads the Military Council of the Islamic State (ISIS) and is the direct commander of ISIS’s forces in Iraq, was killed in a drone strike in Mosul on August 18, according to a U.S. spokesman for the National Security Council yesterday. Al-Hiyali, who also goes by the pseudonyms Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Abu Mutaz al-Qurayshi, and Haji Mutaz, was reported to have been travelling in a car with a media operative named Abu Abdullah when he was killed.
Last night the United States launched a commando raid into al-Amr in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. According to the White House statement, Abu Sayyaf (real name: Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi), a senior Islamic State (ISIS) commander “overseeing … illicit oil and gas operations,” was killed, and his wife, Umm Sayyaf, was taken into American custody and is being held in Iraq. The Sayyaf couple had been holding a young Yazidi woman as a slave and she has now been freed.
Unfortunately, this American raid is a tactical success amid a strategic failure—and a tactical success likely to be used to obscure the strategic failure of the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign. Even in the narrowest humanitarian terms: if the freedom of this one Yazidi girl is used to perpetuate a policy that leaves many more Yazidi girls in bondage then it is a failure. Continue reading