Since the offensive against Mosul, the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State (IS), began five months ago, IS has expended a high number of lives quite deliberately in suicide attacks. One of the suicide-attacks conducted on 20 February 2017, a car bombing against an Iraqi base, was by Abu Zakariya al-Britani, a British citizen now identified as Ronald Fiddler from Manchester. In 2002, Fiddler, then calling himself Jamal Udeen al-Harith, was sent to Guantanamo Bay, before being released in 2004 while still protesting his innocence. After suing the British government over his imprisonment, Fiddler received a substantial cash settlement in order to avoid compromising state secrets. Fiddler’s demise invites some revisiting of widely-held assumptions surrounding Guantanamo. Continue reading
With the attempted terrorist attack using machetes at the Louvre museum in Paris yesterday by Abdullah Reda al-Hamamy, whose social media history shows statements at least sympathetic to the Islamic State (IS), it raises once again the question, making no assumptions about al-Hamamy’s motives, of how connected the organization headquartered in Raqqa is to the attacks taking place around the world under IS’s banner—and how we would know.
As IS’s attacks outside of the statelet it has built in Iraq and Syria increased in frequency over the last year, a rather routinized mechanism has developed for attributing blame: IS claims the atrocities—or attempted atrocities—through Amaq News Agency. Continue reading
The long arm of the Islamic State (ISIS) has struck again. Tuesday morning, Zaventem airport in Brussels was hit by two suicide bombers and soon after a third man detonated at Maelbeek metro station, not far from the headquarters of the European Union. At least 31 people were slaughtered and around 270 were injured. Belgium has a long history as a hub of global jihadism and some of its citizens were key in forming ISIS’s statelet. In the wake of the attack, as Western governments look for ways to hasten the demise of ISIS, it will likely be said—again—that the quickest way to do that is by striking a devil’s bargain with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. From Assad’s role in helping ISIS lay its groundwork in Iraq even before the U.S. invasion to Assad’s help, by omission and commission, in nurturing ISIS in the years since the uprising against him began as a means of defeating the opposition to Assad’s deliberate incitement of a sectarian war, there is nothing that could be further from the truth. While Assad remains in power, ISIS will remain alive. Continue reading
I recently wrote about the jihad in Bosnia. This much-neglected aspect of the war in the 1990s was crucial in shaping al-Qaeda, and global jihadism more broadly, providing this movement, and Clerical Iran, with a staging post in Europe, not least because Tehran’s spy-terrorist capabilities had been deployed to bring many of the jihadists into the country and train them in the first place. While Islamist militancy and terrorism were brought to Bosnia largely as imports, their entry was facilitated by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the ruling party to this day. While the war itself trained many jihadist “graduates,” almost all of whom were allowed to stay (or at least received Bosnian passports that gave them that right), the entry of extremist charities/missionaries to lead the rebuilding, many of them bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, entrenched the jihadists and spread their form of Islam in Bosnia after the war. As such, Bosnia became a hospitable operating environment for Islamist recruitment and training and both veterans of the war and people radicalized in Bosnia since have continued to show up in the ranks of international terrorism. It is of interest, therefore, to have an important old case re-emerge in a new way in the last few days, that of Mirsad Bektašević, which again highlighted Bosnia’s importance in the formulation of the infrastructure that underpins the jihadi-Salafist movement, the less-than-clear division between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) when it comes to the European facilitation networks, and the dangers of seeing Iran as a partner in stability. Continue reading
Yesterday, the Islamic State (IS) released their thirteenth issue of Dabiq. Among many things, it contained an admission of death for Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”). Referred to by his kunya, Abu Muharib al-Muhajir, Dabiq said Emwazi had been hit by an “unmanned drone in the city of ar-Raqqah” on November 12, “destroying the car and killing him instantly.” The biography that Dabiq offered gave some intriguing details, confirming some surmises I had made about Emwazi when his identity was revealed last spring, including his early involvement in an al-Qaeda network in London sending fighters to al-Shabab in Somalia—the thing that brought him to the attention of the security services, confirming that the truth was the inverse of CAGE’s infamous claim that harassment by the MI5 had radicalized Emwazi—and that Emwazi had left Britain to do jihad in Syria in the company of another British citizen. Emwazi was also in the thick of it when IS broke from al-Qaeda and offers an interesting and rare example of a European IS fighter entrusted with an internal security role for the caliphate. 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 Brent, northwest London, in the evening of April 12, a 46-year-old man was arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into the April 7 murder of the Syrian-born imam, Abdul Hadi Arwani, a long-time opponent of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Writing about the murder of Arwani last week, I noted that the available evidence suggested the motivations of the murderer(s) could be:
- Financial: related to Arwani’s business dealings as the owner of his construction company
- Other local or personal
- Far-Right anti-Muslim
- Intra-Islamist: Arwani had been the director at the Salafist An-Noor Mosque and was himself clearly an Islamist, but Arwani was against the Islamic State (ISIS), for example, which might have made him enemies among some congregants
- Agents of the Assad regime, conceivably with the complicity of Iran and Russia
Those options still stand, but some important updates over the weekend have helped alter the relative likelihood of each. Continue reading