Michael Ratney, who has been the United States Special Envoy for Syria since July 2015, wrote a public letter on 11 March 2017 that labelled all constituent parts of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) as members of al-Qaeda and therefore as terrorists. On 12 March, HTS’s “Administration of Political Affairs”—its newly-minted political office, perhaps evidence of an evolution in HTS’s thinking about an endgame in Syria—issued a statement in reply, which is reproduced below. Continue reading
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
The Islamic State (IS) has named a new official spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. Abu Hassan is the fourth man to hold the position of spokesman within the IS movement, and the third since it declared statehood in 2006. Very little is known about Abu Hassan but assessing the history of IS’s media enterprise offers some hints about his profile. Continue reading
It was announced on 15 August that fifteen more inmates from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have transferred, twelve Yemenis and three Afghans, to the United Arab Emirates, the largest individual release of the Obama administration. The U.A.E. also took in five “lower-level” Yemeni detainees in November. The Emirates had previously taken in just one—Abdullah al-Hamiri, in 2008—but President Obama leveraged this deal with the Gulf states at the May 2015 meeting when the Khaleejis were deeply concerned about the then-impending Iran nuclear deal, and in exchange for security reassurances, Obama extracted further concessions.
One reason why so many jihadists have been released to the U.A.E., other than having a similar language and culture, is because the U.A.E. has a competent security apparatus to monitor these people. Those released last November were kept in “a custodial rehabilitation program“—a version of house-arrest, basically. The conditions this time around are less clear.
What is clear is just how dangerous the operatives who are being let out of the Guantanamo detention facility are. Every single one of them has been assessed as posing a “high” risk to America, her interests, and her allies. Continue reading
Published at Middle East Eye.
Amr al-Absi, one of the most senior Islamic State (IS) leaders, was killed in an airstrike on 3 March, according to reports on social media and by the SITE Intelligence Group. Al-Absi—better known as Abu Atheer al-Absi or just Abu al-Atheer—exemplified several key dynamics at work in Syria.
Atheer was among the jihadi-Salafists released by the regime of Bashar al-Assad at the beginning of Syria’s uprising in an attempt to make self-fulfilling the regime’s claim that the opposition were terrorists, and was also a seminal figure in making Syria so dangerous for journalists that it allowed Assad and IS to shape the coverage as if Syria was a binary choice between them.
Atheer is among the longstanding ultra-extremists who shape and define IS spiritually, and he was crucial in more concrete terms in IS infiltrating and expanding in Syria, particularly by bringing in foreigners who are among the most ideologically driven category of IS members. 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
The Islamic State’s spokesman, Taha Subhi Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) gave a speech on 13 October 2015 entitled, “Say to Those Who Disbelieve, ‘You Will Be Overcome’.”
Falaha’s speech contained an important piece of news, or rather confirmation of news: the caliph’s deputy, Fadel al-Hiyali, was in fact killed on 18 August 2015.
The themes in Falaha’s speech were largely familiar: the jihadists were facing a global conspiracy of America, its allies, Russia, Iran, and apostate Muslims in Syria and Iraq; Muslims should therefore unite around the Islamic State’s banner in order to repel this aggression aimed at all (Sunni) Muslims; but the Islamic State remains strong—the killing of leaders and the loss of some areas was more than made up for by other advances—and able to murder those Muslims who remain opposed to it and shatter the Americans. Continue reading