In April 2015, a United State Federal Grand jury in Ohio charged Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, also known as “Ayanle”, with three terrorism-related offences. Yesterday, court records were unsealed that revealed that Mohamud pleaded guilty to all charges, admitting to having fought with a terrorist organization in Syria and returned to the United States with the intention of carrying out an act of domestic terrorism. Mohamud was in contact with foreign terrorist operatives throughout the period he was plotting an attack within the United States. But—and this is the most significant aspect of the case—Mohamud was not in contact with one of the Islamic State’s intelligence operatives, who guide attacks in a manner now relatively well-understood. Instead, Mohamud was in contact with Jabhat al-Nusra, at that time al-Qaeda’s declared branch in Syria. Al-Nusra is now known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and claimed in July 2016 to have disaffiliated from al-Qaeda’s “central”, not that this has (nor will nor should) remove HTS from the terrorism list. Regardless of its formal status within al-Qaeda’s command structure, HTS retains significant links with al-Qaeda’s global networks, and a breakaway group from HTS in Syria has reaffirmed its loyalty to al-Qaeda. Mohamud’s case is an extremely important data point in assessing the risk these overlapping and mutually reinforcing entities pose to the West and the wider world. Continue reading
The spokesman of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, made his third speech on 12 June 2017, entitled, “And When The Believers Saw The Companies”. Abu Hassan’s first speech was in December 2016 and his second was in April 2017. The primary message of Abu Hassan’s speech was for IS’s troops to resist to the end in what is left of the caliphate’s grip on its Iraqi capital Mosul as that offensive, begun last October, draws to a close, and to hold similarly firm as the operation to evict IS from its Syrian capital Raqqa, launched on 6 June, gets underway. The main editorial of Al-Naba 84 a few days before Abu Hassan spoke laid out IS’s intention, somewhat contrary to its general practice, to resist fiercely in Raqqa. Abu Hassan continues the messaging, consistent since the U.S.-led coalition began its countermeasures against IS, that “patience” will lead to victory. IS has not wavered from this strategy in more than ten years, and it is showing signs of bearing fruit already, a trendline likely to continue unless there is a change of Coalition strategy. In crude, practical terms, Abu Hassan means to say that the terrorism and guerrilla campaign will continue after IS is uprooted from the urban areas.
The Islamic State (IS) has a standard strategy of withdrawing from urban areas and conserving its forces when faced with an overwhelming enemy. This strategy has been publicly spelled out by IS, more recently and a decade ago when “the State” was new. The notable exceptions to this rule, Fallujah (2004) and Kobani (2014), were driven by political considerations, and it appears that such considerations apply to Raqqa, IS’s Syrian “capital”, which came under attack from the U.S.-led Coalition’s “partner force”, the PKK front-group that calls itself the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), on 6 June. In the 84th edition of IS’s weekly newsletter, Al-Naba, released on 8 June, the main editorial was about the Raqqa battle and encouraged IS’s jihadists to fight to the very last, ostensibly to inflict such heavy casualties over such a protracted period that the SDF/PKK would not be able to sustain itself.
The editorial on page three—where Al-Naba always has its main message—was entitled, “The Battle of Raqqa”, and the subheading was: “Either we exterminate the mushrikeen (polytheists, idolaters) or we perish; there is no third option between us and them”.
The article opens by noting that the battle of Mosul has been ongoing for eight months, a “grinding” fight against the “Rafida” (lit. “rejectionists”; a derogatory term for the Shi’a), intended to refer here to the Iraqi security forces and their allies in the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who are doing the fighting on the ground, supported by their “Crusader masters” in the air. IS claims to have inflicted heavy casualties on these forces.
“May God not reward the mujahideen of Mosul, the emirs and soldiers, on behalf of Islam and Muslims with all the good, for they fought a battle that is one of the harshest and greatest battles in history, and they presented the whole world with a model of steadfastness”, Al-Naba 84 writes. “They gave their worldly life for their religion, and they did not surrender to their enemy. Not a patch of was parted with until they had filled it with the remains of the mushrikeen and their blood, so that they could not be happy with their progress, nor satisfied by an easy victory.” There were similar “stories of steadfastness” in Fallujah, Sirte, and Al-Bab, says Al-Naba.
“Today is the day of the people of monotheism (ahl al-tawheed) and the soldiers of the caliphate in the city of Raqqa to compete with their brothers to please the Lord of the worlds”, Al-Naba announces.
The believers in Raqqa should hold firm, Al-Naba says, not least because “the apostates come to them with fear and trepidation, knowing with certainty that this battle will not be like the previous battles that they fought with the soldiers of the caliphate”, an oblique reference to the above-mentioned strategy of force-preserving retreats in the face of overwhelming force (something very much on display in the named prior battles Al-Naba celebrated in Fallujah (2016), Sirte, and Al-Bab).
Armies prepare to take losses, even heavy losses, Al-Naba goes on, but “no army in the world can continue in a battle if their losses exceed their ability to replenish [their ranks], and if [the battle’s] duration is longer than their capacity to endure”, giving the example of Iraq, where America left “defeated” and its “prestige at its lowest point” because the continued fighting by the mujahideen dragged the war out to a point it stretched America beyond breaking point.
“The main fear of the Crusaders … is that they know the size of their force well, and they realize that the PKK are few in number”, Al-Naba claims. Even if the PKK were not “poorly trained”, no amount of “expensive weaponry” can make them capable of “bearing a cruel battle like that of Mosul, nor can they bear [with such small numbers] the exorbitant costs that the Rafida incurred in that battle”. [UPDATE: IS expanded on the PKK’s uselessness in urban combat in Al-Naba 97 in October 2017].
Al-Naba concludes: “The duty of every mujahid in the city of Raqqa, regardless of his location, is to bear in mind that this is a battlefield for the extermination of the apostates, a reward for their disbelief in God Almighty and their fight against His religion. This is the final accounting in the long reckoning with them, for there is no end to this battle until one annihilates the other. Either we destroy them … and they lose this world and the hereafter, or we perish … and win the hereafter, the abode of eternity (dar al-khulud). There is no third choice between us and them.”
At the end of May, Christoph Reuter, a journalist with Der Spiegel, embedded with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as it made its way, supported by the U.S.-led Coalition, toward Raqqa city, the Syrian “capital” of the Islamic State’s (IS) caliphate. Reuter’s report provides snapshots of a number of important—and worrying—dynamics at play that have made the U.S. decision to back the SDF to liberate Raqqa so worrying over the long-term, even on its own terms as a means of sustainably defeating IS. Continue reading
Just three days after the U.S. government sanctioned two Islamic State (IS or ISIS) operatives for their role in helping the jihadists develop chemical weapons of mass destruction, another raft of sanctions were issued on 15 June against four IS members occupying varying positions within the organization from finance to propaganda to orchestrating the foreign attacks. Continue reading
The United States Department of Justice released indictments on 8 June 2017 for two operatives of the jihadist terrorist organisation, Hizballah, the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is tasked with exporting the Islamist revolution in Iran through terrorism, subversion, and other means. The two men, Ali Kourani of New York and Samer al-Debek of Michigan, had been arrested on 1 June, and are charged with conducting surveillance for potential future terrorist attacks in the United States.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced financial sanctions against an individual involved in the “development” of chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) for the Islamic State (IS) on 12 June. Simultaneously, the State Department labelled another individual involved in the development of CWMD for IS as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT). These are the first sanctions of their kind. Continue reading
It was reported on jihadist websites and by local activists that Turki al-Binali (Abu Hammam al-Athari), a senior cleric of the Islamic State (IS) and perhaps the most important public proponent of the caliphate’s formation, had been killed in Syria by an airstrike from the U.S.-led Coalition on 29 May. IS has been silent on this despite releasing their newsletter al-Naba and the tenth edition of their English-language propaganda magazine Rumiyah since then. On Tuesday, the intelligence services of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq confirmed that al-Binali had been killed. Continue reading
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, released a nearly-six-minute speech today entitled, “One Umma, One War on Multiple Fronts,” as part of the “Brief Messages” series, this being “Brief Messages to a Victorious Nation 7”. A transcript of al-Zawahiri’s speech was released by As-Sabha Media and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration and explanatory notes added.
Al-Zawahiri continues a theme he has emphasized in previous speeches in this series, namely that Muslims are a unitary block, and thus the interference of the jihadists in all these states is legitimate because these states are false, their borders drawn by colonialists so as to keep Islamdom weak and divided, and their governments are agents of external powers (and therefore a de facto foreign occupation). The historical examples that al-Zawahiri reaches for in describing the kind of “resistance” to this Western scheme that al-Qaeda supports include the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, and the first leader of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Umar. Continue reading
The eighty-forth edition of Al-Naba (The News), released by the Islamic State on 8 June 2017, included a section on the terrorist attacks in Britain, on London Bridge, on 3 June, and in Australia, the siege of the apartment block in Melbourne, on 5 June. Continue reading