The British inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko concluded on Thursday, making official what everyone already knew: the Russian intelligence services, “probably” at the direct order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, murdered Litvinenko in London in November 2006.
Welcome as it is to have this on the record and to have Litvinenko’s killers named for all the world to see, it now leaves questions, primarily:
Will similar forensic scrutiny be brought to bear on several other odd instances of political and other crime in Russia?
And what does the British government intend to do now that the Kremlin is carrying out assassinations on its territory again? Continue reading →
It has already been established that the on-the-ground leader of the Islamic State’s atrocities on Paris on November 13, Abdelhamid Abaaoud (Abu Umar al-Baljiki), had already been promoted in IS’s media. Abaaoud appeared in the February 2015 edition of IS’s Dabiq magazine. It now seems likely that at least one more of the Paris attackers, Foued Mohamed Aggad (Abu Fu’ad al-Faransi), had appeared in IS media already—the November 2014 video that was the fifth (of seven) in the series fronted by Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”), IS’s British executioner. The November 2014 video showed the slaughter of around twenty men, supposedly soldiers and airmen of the Assad regime, in the village of Dabiq, and the beheading of American aid worker Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig. It is also possible that two further Paris attackers, Bilal Hadfi (Abu Mujahid al-Faransi) and Brahim Abdeslam (Abul-Qa’qa al-Baljiki), appeared in the November 2014 video. Continue reading →
War cemetery in Sarajevo (personal photograph, July 2011)
It was announced on Thursday that Guantanamo inmates Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed as-Sawah and Abd al-Aziz Abduh Abdallah Ali as-Suwaydi had been transferred to Bosnia and Montenegro respectively. Sawah’s path to jihadi-Salafism allows a window into the Bosnian jihad, a much-underestimated factor in shaping al-Qaeda, its offshoots, and the wider jihadist movement. In that story is an examination of the role certain States have played in funding and otherwise helping the jihadists. It also leaves some questions about whether emptying Guantanamo of its dangerous inhabitants is the correct policy. Continue reading →
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 16 July 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez carried out a drive-by shooting against an Army recruitment centre and then stormed a Naval and Marine reserve centre. Abdulazeez murdered five people before he was killed. Though there was some initial doubt, it is now clear this was an attack inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS). 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, Dabiqsaid (pp. 22-23) 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 →
In the last few days, the international sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program were lifted, which will allow Tehran access to $30 billion immediately and more than $100 billion will become available in short order. There are many fears about the uses Iran will put this money to, whether on the nuclear program itself, in aiding Iran’s imperial policy in the region, now proceeding with assistance from Russia, or perhaps exporting terrorism further abroad. An under-examined potential use of this money, highlighted by new sanctions the United States applied to Iran over its ballistic missile program, is to purchase weapons from North Korea. Pyongyang has already conducted what it claims is a hydrogen bomb test this year; fuelled by Iranian money the Hermit Kingdom might yet make more trouble for its neighbours and beyond. Continue reading →
As-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media Publication, al-Qaeda’s media outlet, produced an English translation of a speech by the organization’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on 13 January 2016. The speech was entitled, “Syria Is Entrusted Upon Your Necks”. The speech does focus on the West, particularly its de facto alliance with the pro-Assad coalition—namely Russia and Iran—and calls for the Syrian rebellion to unite with al-Qaeda to resist this conspiracy. What is more noticeable, however, is the two enemies on whom Dr. al-Zawahiri really focuses: Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State. The Saudis are accused—not without reason—of having been allied closely to the West and thwarting the jihadist projects at every turn. And al-Zawahiri makes a fierce ideological assault on the Islamic State, comparing them with the Khawarij and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), whose conduct in Algeria in the 1990s and their justifications for it took Islamist extremism to new depths. The speech is reproduced below with some minor editions, to transliteration and punctuation, and some interesting and important sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading →
The “Victory Arch,” which Saddam built after the war with Iran. (January 2012)
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 →