Last night, The New York Times reported and Reuters confirmed that two British Islamic State (IS) jihadists, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, both of them designated terrorists by the United States, have been arrested in Syria. Kotey and Elsheikh, along with the late Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir) and Aine Davis, formed a four-man cell that has become known as “The Beatles”—hence Emwazi being near-universally known as “Jihadi John”—that guarded, abused, and murdered hostages for IS from before the “caliphate” was founded in 2014. Continue reading
Last night it was reported that al-Qaeda’s overall deputy, Abu Khayr al-Masri, had been killed by the U.S.-led Coalition in Syria with a drone strike. This was soon seemingly confirmed by pro-Qaeda channels, and Abu al-Khayr was said to have been buried this morning. Though the emphasis on targeting jihadist leaders can be overdone, the demise of Abu al-Khayr is an important development, and one with significance beyond itself.
Abu al-Khayr’s career is demonstrative of a few interesting trends within the Jihadi-Salafist movement, primary among them the willingness of the Iranian revolution to work with the Sunni jihadists, al-Qaeda very much included, when it suits its purposes, particularly in undermining Western interests. Abu al-Khayr also elucidates the changed nature of al-Qaeda, where the “centre” (AQC) could now be said to be more in Syria than the Afghanistan-Pakistan, and where al-Qaeda operates both an overt and covert presence to try to secure a durable foothold in the Levant, which might in time be a base for attacks against the West, currently suspended only for tactical reasons. Continue reading
Amnesty International released a report today, “Human Slaughterhouse,” documenting the conditions in Sednaya prison, run by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which amount to extermination as a crime against humanity. In addition to the deliberately insanitary conditions, routinized torture and maltreatment, there has been—and continues to be—a systematic campaign of extra-judicial massacre in which perhaps 13,000 people have perished. These findings buttress previous findings, and come with some political implications as the new American administration seeks to chart its way forward in Syria. Continue reading
Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society
At a rally in Pennsylvania as part of his “Thank You Tour” on Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump said:
We’ll build safe zones in Syria. When I look at what’s going on in Syria it’s so sad. It’s so sad, and we’ve got to help people. And we have the Gulf states; they have nothing but money. We don’t have money. We owe twenty trillion dollars. I will get the Gulf states to give us lots of money, and we’ll build and help build safe zones in Syria so people can have a chance.
Trump’s previous statements on Syria have actually demonstrated some consistency, and Trump has expressed support for safe zones before.
Taking Trump’s statement as a jumping-off point, the next day, at this final press conference of 2016, President Barack Obama was asked about the idea of safe zones in Syria and if he felt responsible for the horrors now unfolding in Aleppo. Obama responded: Continue reading
Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a Mauritanian, was released from Guantanamo Bay back to his home country on Monday. This comes as part of Barack Obama’s effort to drive the number of inmates at the detention centre down as far as possible before his Presidency ends. Salahi is the first detainee transferred since the mass-exodus in August, leaving sixty men at Guantanamo, nineteen of them already approved for transfer. Salahi is among the many detainees who claims he is innocent and that he has been maltreated in custody, and he has written a book, Guantánamo Diary, to that effect. The known facts about Salahi’s pre-detainment behaviour suggest caution should be exercised in accepting his version of events. Continue reading
About three weeks ago I wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining the evolution of Saddam Hussein’s regime away from the hard-secularism of its Ba’athist origins, and how this had prepared the ground for the Islamic State (IS). I received much positive feedback, but the social media reaction was inevitable: little thought and much anger, particularly from people who view Iraqi history through a political prism and felt I was trying to exculpate George W. Bush. With rare exceptions, the critique could hardly be called thoughtful. So it is nice to finally have such a critique to deal with, from Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill in today’s Foreign Affairs. Continue reading