A year ago, I wrote a report documenting the biographies of Islamic State (IS) leaders and something of the structure of the organisation. Since then, the intricacies of the structure have been further revealed, even as it has somewhat crumbled in practice. The caliphate—the statelet built by IS—has been significantly degraded: the Iraqi “capital”, Mosul, has fallen, and operation to clear the Syrian “capital”, Raqqa, is underway. More significantly, upwards of 40% of those profiled have been killed, so it seemed an opportune moment for an update on who currently leads the world’s most infamous terrorist movement. Continue reading →
Last week it was reported by The Daily Beast that United States defence and political leaders believe they can at least begin the operation to remove the Islamic State (IS) from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, before President Barack Obama leaves office on 20 January 2017. This seems unlikely. More to the point, if it is true it is highly dangerous, both in the short-term and especially over the long-term. Continue reading →
Islamic State convoy, Anbar Province, January 2014
In Libya, the government of national accord (GNA)—in this case militias largely from western Libya, specifically Misrata, and the guards from the oil installations—claimed to have driven the Islamic State (IS) from Sirte on 11 June. Backed by artillery and airstrikes, with tanks moving in on the ground and some street clashes, the GNA-flagged troops had reached the city centre on 9 June. Expelled from Derna in the east in June 2015 and cleared from Sabratha in western Libya after a brief occupation earlier this year, this left Sirte as IS’s only major urban stronghold.
At the end of 2015, IS had controlled about 200 miles of coastline, from Abuqrayn (100 miles west of Sirte) to Nawafaliya (80 miles east of Sirte). On 12 May, an offensive began to take Sirte, coordinated through al-Bunyan al-Marsoos (The Solid Structure) Operations Room. The attack began from the Misratan militias in the west and by late May the eastern front had been opened up. At the end of May, IS lost Nawafaliya, and the collapse of territorial control has been steady since then, with IS now controlling about forty miles of coastline. A Libyan government official was quoted saying, “The battle wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be.” While this is true—100 pro-GNA troops were killed and 500 wounded—there are reasons to be sceptical of the idea that this is the end for IS in Libya, and not just because IS still holds even areas of the Sirte.
IS had been in occupation of Sirte for almost exactly a year, meaning it has been able to accrue considerable resources, and had between 4,000 and 6,000 fighters in the city—composed of defectors from Ansar al-Shari’a (al-Qaeda), local tribes, elements of the fallen regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi, and operatives from IS core. IS has made a show of resistance, but the number of reported IS casualties is low, and the speed with which IS has fallen back makes such early reports plausible. In combination with the continued politico-military dysfunction of the ostensible governing authorities, this is very worrying.
From top left clockwise: Fadel al-Hiyali, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), Adnan al-Bilawi, Samir al-Khlifawi (Haji Bakr), Adnan as-Suwaydawi (Abu Ayman al-Iraqi), Hamid az-Zawi (Abu Omar al-Baghdadi), Abu Hajr as-Sufi
Yesterday, Reuters had an article by Isabel Coles and Ned Parker entitled, “How Saddam’s men help Islamic State rule“. The article had a number of interesting points, but in its presentation of the movement of former (Saddam) regime elements (FREs) into the leadership structure of the Islamic State (IS) as a phenomenon of the last few years, it was a step backward: the press had seemed to be recognizing that the Salafization of the FREs within IS dates back to the Islamization of Saddam Hussein’s regime in its last fifteen years, notably in the 1990s after the onset of the Faith Campaign. Continue reading →
In the eleventh edition of the Islamic State’s English-language magazine, Dabiq, released on 9 September 2015, there was an interview with the leader of their forces in Libya, Abul-Mughirah al-Qahtani, about the situation for the Islamic State in that country. The interview is reproduced below with some editions to transliteration, some notes added for clarification, and some interesting sections highlighted in bold.Continue reading →
An Islamic State (ISIS) commander was killed in Libya in mid-June, The Daily Beast reported yesterday, after being “paraded … through the streets amid the taunts of onlookers, and then walked … to a gallows, where he was hanged.” [SEE UPDATES] This occurred in the eastern city of Derna, long a hotbed of Islamic militancy. The crucial thing about the “executed” ISIS operative is that he was an Iraqi and an FRE—a former (Saddam) regime element—who had been dispatched to Libya last year to oversee the cultivation of an ISIS branch.