The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.
The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading
A widely reported, 15,000-word article by Josh Meyer in Politico on Sunday moves us another step closer to finding out the actual terms of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Though the Obama administration sold the Iran deal on the narrowest possible terms as an arms control agreement, the reality was that this agreement was intended to facilitate a strategic tilt in Iran’s favour—against traditional allies—that left a regional balance requiring less American commitment.
Because the administration wanted the paper agreement, Iran had the leverage to threaten to walk away, and was therefore appeased on multiple fronts ostensibly unrelated to the nuclear issue.
Meyer lays out a part of what that meant in practice: the US government ceasing to try to crack down on the global criminal fundraising of Hizballah, the Lebanese wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—the part of the Iranian regime charged with exporting the theocratic revolution, by terrorism and violence where necessary.
The 22 March attack outside Westminster by Khalid Masood is the most significant act of Islamist terrorism since the 7 July 2005 bombing by al-Qaeda of the London public transport system. Masood’s attack highlights a number of historic trends in British jihadism and starkly poses the question of the extent of IS’s penetration of the United Kingdom. Continue reading
The State Department designated five individuals on 30 March 2017 as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), imposing sanctions on them for having “committed, or [for] pos[ing] a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” Four of those sanctioned are members of the Islamic State (IS), including two key British operatives in the group’s global network, and the other is a member of al-Qaeda. On the same day, the Treasury Department sanctioned two IS operatives involved in funding and guiding external IS operations in the Far East and Southeast Asia. Continue reading