Last week, as one of his last acts in office, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech about Iran’s collaboration with Al-Qaeda. It was unfortunate that Pompeo did this at this time and in this way, with such blatant political intent, because the factual content of Pompeo’s speech was unassailable: the Islamic Republic’s long relationship with Al-Qaeda does stretch back about three decades, the killing of Al-Qaeda’s deputy Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) in Tehran in August 2020 is demonstrative of a shift in the strategic positioning of the organisation away from Pakistan to Iran, and even the part of Pompeo’s speech that got the most pushback—about Tehran’s contact with the 9/11 killers—is not controversial and is not new.
Unmentioned in Pompeo’s speech was one of the crucibles that forged this relationship, and forged Al-Qaeda into something more than a regional menace, namely the Bosnian war of 1992-5. Continue reading
The main issue with that Nine Lives has to overcome is the one that has attended Aimen Dean (a pseudonym) since he went public in March 2015 with an interview he gave to the BBC, claiming he had been a British spy within Al-Qaeda between 1998 and 2006. That issue is overcoming the doubts about his story. Nine Lives goes a long way to solving this by bringing in Paul Cruickshank, the editor-in-chief of CTC Sentinel, one of the premier academic resources in the terrorism field, and Tim Lister, a terrorism-focused journalist with CNN, as co-authors. As well as helping structure the book from Dean’s memories, the two co-authors note they had been able to “corroborate key details” that convinced them: “In the years immediately leading up to and following 9/11, Aimen Dean was by far the most important spy the West had inside al-Qaeda”. Continue reading
Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations between 1997 and 2006, died yesterday aged 80. Annan and the U.N. received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, and he was credited with “bringing new life to the organization” and emphasising “its obligations with regard to human rights”. The reality was quite different, and Annan’s disastrous record was hardly confined to his time at the helm. Both before (as head of the U.N. peacekeeping department) and after (as U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria), Annan presided over some of the institution’s worst catastrophes. 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
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.
A week after the American-led airstrikes inside Syria began, it was reported that two women from the Balkans, Dora Bilic and Fatima Mahmutović, had been hit in ar-Raqqa, and that Ms. Mahmutović had been killed. Ms. Bilic, born in Croatia, converted to Islam two years ago and moved to Gornja Maoca, north-east Bosnia, which is in effect a Wahhabi commune, where she met her husband with whom she travelled to Syria for jihad. Ms. Mahmutović is from a village in Bosnia not far from the infamous Srebrenica, and she moved herself and her young son to Syria late last year. As is so often the case, it seems that the Croatian intelligence services were aware of Ms. Bilic but had done little about it. Even less surprising was the follow-up report that Ms. Bilic had been radicalised in London. Continue reading
Since the Syrian uprising began on March 15, 2011, there have been persistent echoes of Bosnia. There are some critics of the liberal interventionism specifically on the grounds that their worldview is so heavily coloured by Bosnia—and they make some valid points—but the analogy has been inescapable in Syria.