The Islamic State movement, then-known as Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM), used a suicide truck bomb to blow up the Sadeer Hotel, where many foreign contractors were staying, and the next-door Agriculture Ministry, on 9 March 2005, murdering three people and wounding forty, thirty of them Americans. Reporting at the time noted that “insurgents wearing police uniforms first shot to death a guard at the Agriculture Ministry’s gate, allowing the truck to enter a compound the ministry shares with the adjacent Sadeer hotel”, and these details were confirmed in a two-minute audio message released later in the day by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the veteran Egyptian jihadist who would take over AQM when its founder was killed in 2006. A transcript of the brief speech is reproduced below. Continue reading
The leader of the Islamic State (IS) when it was declared in October 2006 was Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi). Al-Zawi was killed in April 2010 and replaced in May 2010 by the current leader of the IS movement, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), who more explicitly embraced the title of “caliph”. On 12 May 2009, al-Zawi gave his seventeenth speech, entitled Umala Kadhabun (عملاء كذابون), which translates to something like “Lying Agents” or “Deceitful Spies”. The speech was released by IS’s Al-Furqan Media Productions and a translation was made by a pro-IS online outlet, The Jihadist Media Elite. The transcript is reproduced below. Continue reading
The current leader of the Islamic State (IS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was appointed as al-amir al-mu’mineen (the commander of the faithful or prince of the believers) on 16 May 2010, after his predecessor, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), was killed on 18 April 2010 in the company of his deputy and “war minister”, Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir). The official statement appointing al-Badri is reproduced below. Continue reading
Below is reproduced a very short biography for Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, sometimes called Abu Ayyub al-Masri, whose real name is Abdul Munim al-Badawi, that circulated on pro-Islamic State forums. Al-Badawi took over leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) when its founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), was killed on 7 June 2006. Al-Badawi then declared his allegiance to Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) on 10 November 2006, formally dissolving al-Qaeda on Iraqi territory, and becoming al-Zawi’s deputy. Abu Hamza had been in Iraq, including Baghdad, a year before Saddam Husayn was overthrown, and he and al-Zawi were killed together on 18 April 2010. Continue reading
In the last few months I’ve increasingly focussed on the former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) within the Islamic State (I.S.). There’s now an entire section on this blog about it, and Aaron Zelin over at Jihadology recently gave me time to elaborate in a podcast.
In studying this topic there is one inescapable name: Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, better-known by his pseudonym Haji Bakr, and sometimes by his kunya, Abu Bakr al-Iraqi. Al-Khlifawi is a former colonel in an elite intelligence unit of the Saddam Hussein regime—focussed on air defence at Habbaniya airbase, though what exactly that entails is murky. Al-Khlifawi was also apparently involved in weapons development.
Al-Khlifawi came to international attention in April when Christoph Reuter published an article in Der Spiegel naming al-Khlifawi as the “architect” of I.S.’s expansion into Syria, and the man who had been “pulling the strings at IS for years.” Continue reading
In August 2015’s Perspectives on Terrorism, Truls Tønnessen writes about the evolution of the leadership of what is now the Islamic State (I.S.) from its origins in al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) under the heading, “Heirs of Zarqawi or Saddam?” Tonnessen makes the obvious point that AQI’s leadership was largely comprised of foreign Salafi-jihadists with al-Qaeda histories, while I.S. is led by Iraqis, most of them former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs). But Tonnessen’s argument that I.S.’s leaders had not been AQI members is mistaken (they had), which erodes his arguments that AQI’s influence diminished over time as I.S. formed from various mergers, and that this diminution of influence came about because I.S.’s post-2010 leadership purged the veteran AQI elements within I.S. (I.S.’s leaders are veteran AQI elements.) The main difference between AQI’s leaders and I.S.’s is that AQI’s leaders had background connections to al-Qaeda Central (AQC) networks, and I.S.’s largely do not. While Tonnessen sees Jabhat an-Nusra as linked to these shifting dynamics, this argument does not stack up. Ultimately, Tonnessen’s contention that I.S.’s leaders are more heirs of Saddam than Zarqawi fails in the terms Tonnessen presents it. Continue reading
The Islamic Republic of Iran released five senior al-Qaeda terrorists in March, ostensibly as part of a prisoner exchange for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But the murky circumstances in which al-Qaeda’s leaders were “held” in Iran and other inconsistencies cast some doubt on this version of events, and draw attention to some old questions about Iran’s support for al-Qaeda and its affiliates and offshoots. Continue reading
A couple of days ago, a leader Jabhat an-Nusra issued a statement condemning Ahrar a-Sham. The statement is actually rather milder than initial reports suggested. Nusra is mostly annoyed at Ahrar for working with Turkey and Qatar to acquire money and weapons. Nusra is also displeased that Ahrar, at the instigation of Ankara and Doha, asked Nusra to publicly break its al-Qaeda link. Nusra also felt Ahrar was too willing to publicly distance itself from Salafi-jihadism to gain war materiel. This will no doubt help intensify the debate about Ahrar’s ostentatious “moderation” over the last eighteen months, and what the West should do about Ahrar.
In this post, however, I’d like to focus on the statement’s author, Abu Firas as-Suri, or more precisely on what he represents. Abu Firas is part of a group of (known) agents of al-Qaeda Central (AQC) who were sent into Syria in mid-2013 to mediate the dispute between Nusra and then-ISIS (now the Islamic State, I.S.), and when that failed the AQC veterans stayed, erected a veritable bureaucracy, and sought to forestall Nusra “going local”. Below are mini-profiles of these AQC veterans. Continue reading
In the Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Seth Frantzman wrote in opposition to the idea that the ex-military-intelligence officials of the Saddam Hussein regime had contributed significantly to the success of the Islamic State (ISIS) in taking over large swathes of Syria and Iraq. Much of what Frantzman says, about the overestimation of ISIS and Iran’s growing Imperium pushing Sunnis into ISIS’s camp, is unarguable, but he is in error about the time-frame of the ex-Saddamists’ migration into ISIS and underestimates their impact. Continue reading