The Islamic State (IS) released the 169th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on 14 February 2019. Al-Naba 169 leads with the attack on the governor of Borno in Nigeria by IS’s branch in that country. In terms of volume, much of the focus remains on the guerrilla campaign in Iraq and Syria, though there is an item on the last stand of the caliphate in Baghuz, the final village in eastern Syria. IS highlights its clashes with al-Qaeda in Yemen. There is a profile of a Russian-speaking atheist-turned-jihadist who was killed in Egypt. And perhaps most notable is an essay on Saudi Arabia, where IS has a terrorist infrastructure that is instructed to be patient. It is a question that likely is unanswerable until it is too late how strong IS is in Saudi Arabia. Continue reading
The leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, gave a thirty-five-minute speech on 28 November 2017, entitled: “Let Us Fight Them As A Solid Structure” (or “Let Us Fight Them As One Body” or “Let Us Fight Them With Solid Foundations”), dealing with the vexed question of al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Syrian jihadi group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a situation that escalated again in recent days. The mention of an impending Turkish intervention into Idlib—which began on 7 October—suggests that al-Zawahiri recorded this speech in the last days of September or the first few days of October. An English transcript of the speech was released by As-Sahab Media, and is reproduced below with some edits for syntax and transliteration. Continue reading
I released a report today, published by the Henry Jackson Society, Qatar and the Gulf Crisis. The intent was to examine the charges made against the Qatari government by its Gulf neighbours with regard to the funding of terrorism, the hosting of extremists, the dissemination of hate speech and incitement, among other things. Having separated fact from fiction with regards to he accusations against Qatar, the report proposes how Britain might proceed in such a way as to press Doha on issues of concern, while avoiding being drawn into the middle of the Gulf dispute, and trying to foster reconciliation between allies, especially at a time when a united front is necessary to oppose the far larger challenge of the Iranian theocracy. Continue reading
Libya, which has been wracked by instability and violence since 2011, is re-emerging as a geopolitical hotspot. With opposing forces fighting for control of the war-torn country—the main two being the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA)—foreign powers have begun taking sides, internationalizing the conflict. For Western observers, the growing involvement of Russia, a major ally of LNA commander Khalifa Haftar, represents a particular concern.
Coming on the heels of the Russian military intervention in Syria, Moscow’s role in Libya’s civil war may seem, at first glance, like déjà vu. Once again, it appears that the Kremlin is working to consolidate the power of a pro-Russian regional strongman and establish a “crescent of Russian influence” across the Middle East. And given the similarities between Haftar and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, some degree of anxiety is understandable. Like Assad, who has long appealed to foreign governments by referring to Syrian rebels as terrorists, Haftar often frames himself as a bulwark against violent extremism in Libya, where the Islamic State remains active and Islamists have formed powerful militias and entered mainstream politics. Continue reading
Maysar al-Jiburi (Abu Mariya al-Qahtani), on Twitter as @alghreeb, is an Iraqi and long-time operative of the Islamic State (IS), who was sent into Syria to set up IS’s secret wing, Jabhat al-Nusra, in 2011. After al-Nusra split with IS and became al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Maysar remained with al-Nusra and was its deputy until the summer of 2014, when the Deir Ezzor branch of al-Nusra that Maysar led was destroyed as IS poured resources captured in Mosul over the border. Since then, Maysar has been—with Saleh al-Hamawi, another member of the advance party that founded al-Nusra—a kind of dissident, formally expelled from al-Nusra, and more recently has set to work spreading his influence in the Turkish-occupied zone of northern Syria, notably through the Ahrar al-Sharqiya group. With the various moves to rebrand and restructure al-Qaeda in Syria under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Maysar has been drawn back into the fold to a degree.
Maysar has now released an essay, “Exposing the Backstabbers Within the Ranks,” condemning Jaysh al-Islam for its attacks on HTS in the East Ghouta area of Damascus beginning on 28 April. Intra-insurgent fighting in the besieged enclave a year ago allowed the coalition of states and militias supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime to considerably shrink the enclave and put it on the path to almost certain defeat. Maysar lays particular blame on Samir al-Kaka (Abu Abdurrahman al-Kaka; sometimes transliterated al-Kaakeh), a senior cleric of JAI, for issuing rulings licensing this conduct and compares JAI to IS. Maysar also asks, rhetorically, where the condemnations of JAI are from bodies like the Syrian Islamic Council, given how strongly they responded in January when al-Nusra attacked rebel factions as it laid the groundwork for the HTS merger. Masyar’s essay is reproduced below. Continue reading
The “capital” of the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, Sirte, has fallen to pro-government militias. “Our forces have total control of Sirte,” claimed one spokesman on Monday. “Islamic State’s rule over Sirte is now over,” said another. That was slightly premature, though it does appear that the city fell entirely around mid-afternoon yesterday. Regardless, it is clear that IS’s hold on Sirte is soon to be at an end. Positive as this development is, it is what happens after IS’s grip on urban areas is broken that will determine the durability of this victory. IS will remain a disruptive force for some time no matter what happens next, and for that reason it is important to continue military operations in pursuit of IS in its rural sanctuaries. But IS is a symptom of Libya’s political problems, not their cause. Without a government that solves some of those original problems, and has the legitimacy and capacity to keep IS out, the group will rise again. Continue reading
In Libya, the government of national accord (GNA)—in this case militias largely from western Libya, specifically Misrata, and the guards from the oil installations—claimed to have driven the Islamic State (IS) from Sirte on 11 June. Backed by artillery and airstrikes, with tanks moving in on the ground and some street clashes, the GNA-flagged troops had reached the city centre on 9 June. Expelled from Derna in the east in June 2015 and cleared from Sabratha in western Libya after a brief occupation earlier this year, this left Sirte as IS’s only major urban stronghold.
At the end of 2015, IS had controlled about 200 miles of coastline, from Abuqrayn (100 miles west of Sirte) to Nawafaliya (80 miles east of Sirte). On 12 May, an offensive began to take Sirte, coordinated through al-Bunyan al-Marsoos (The Solid Structure) Operations Room. The attack began from the Misratan militias in the west and by late May the eastern front had been opened up. At the end of May, IS lost Nawafaliya, and the collapse of territorial control has been steady since then, with IS now controlling about forty miles of coastline. A Libyan government official was quoted saying, “The battle wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be.” While this is true—100 pro-GNA troops were killed and 500 wounded—there are reasons to be sceptical of the idea that this is the end for IS in Libya, and not just because IS still holds even areas of the Sirte.
IS had been in occupation of Sirte for almost exactly a year, meaning it has been able to accrue considerable resources, and had between 4,000 and 6,000 fighters in the city—composed of defectors from Ansar al-Shari’a (al-Qaeda), local tribes, elements of the fallen regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi, and operatives from IS core. IS has made a show of resistance, but the number of reported IS casualties is low, and the speed with which IS has fallen back makes such early reports plausible. In combination with the continued politico-military dysfunction of the ostensible governing authorities, this is very worrying.