Russian ruler Vladimir Putin’s current special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, spoke to Sputnik’s Tajik service on 17 February, and a translation of the interview is published below with some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Kabulov was the KGB resident in Kabul in the 1980s and early 1990s, and later in the 1990s, during the Taliban’s reign over Kabul and much of the rest of the country, he was an adviser to the United Nations peace envoy. Continue reading
Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a speech, “Don’t Forget Kashmir”, which as the title suggests focused on that conflict on the Subcontinent. Al-Zawahiri was insistent on fighting India, but he also wanted to “liberate” the Kashmiri jihad from the oversight of the Pakistani secret police and military, who have used these Islamist paramilitary forces as instruments of state policy against the Indian Union since the time of partition. In Al-Zawahiri’s telling the Pakistani state, such as it is, is too close to the Americans and the West. A transcript of the speech, released in English by Al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab Media, is reproduced below. Continue reading
At the beginning of September, New America published a paper, based on recovered al-Qaeda documents, which concluded that there was “no evidence of cooperation” between the terrorist group and the Islamic Republic of Iran. New America’s study lauds itself for taking an approach that “avoids much of the challenge of politicization” in the discussion of Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda. This is, to put it mildly, questionable.
A narrative gained currency in certain parts of the foreign policy community during the days of the Iraq war, and gained traction since the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, that Iran can be a partner in the region, at least against (Sunni) terrorism, since Tehran shares this goal with the West. Under President Barack Obama, this notion became policy: the US moved to bring Iran’s revolutionary government in from the cold, to integrate it into the international system. Continue reading
In less than a week, it will be the seventeenth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s “Plane’s Operation”, the assault on the United States. It is a vertiginous enough reflection that many of us have been alive more years since 11 September 2001 than before it, and positively alarming that many of those who will soon move into the government, media, and other leading societal institutions will have been born after an event that still shapes so much of the international scene. As Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan put it in The Eleventh Day: The Ultimate Account of 9/11 (2011), we are left with “the brief name ‘9/11’,” the context and meaning stripped away all this time later. The book is a useful overview of an event that should always be to some degree fresh in mind, though it is not without its problems in its analytical sections. Continue reading
The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.
The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading
The Iraqi Kurdish authorities arrested Mustafa Haji Muhammad Khan (Hassan Ghul) on 23 January 2004. Khan had been dispatched to Iraq by Nashwan Abdulbaqi (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), one of the key military officials of al-Qaeda “central” (AQC), to function as AQC’s intermediary with Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the founder of the Islamic State movement. Khan replaced Abdallah al-Kurdi, the first envoy sent by Abdulbaqi. Al-Kurdi had failed to establish any footing to do his job effectively, but Khan, a battle-hardened jihadist from Baluchistan, earned a measure of respect from al-Khalayleh and facilitated a productive conversation between AQC and al-Khalayleh. Al-Khalayleh, possessed of a pathological anti-Shi’ism, wrote a seventeen-page memo to Usama bin Ladin explaining his strategy to defeat the Americans by starting a total war between the sects in Iraq. That memo, in digital form, was given to Khan, and Khan had it in his possession when he was captured. The letter was translated and publicized by the State Department, and is reproduced below with minor editions for clarity and some interesting sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading
UPDATE: It has subsequently become clear that the “Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir” who was killed in Syria on 18 November 2016 was not Muhammad al-Saghir, who is profiled below. The slain man, like al-Saghir a veteran of the war get the Soviets out of Afghanistan and an Egyptian jihadist with close links to al-Qaeda, also used the kunya “Abu Afghan al-Muhajir”.
A week ago, it became clear that the air war being waged by the U.S.-led Coalition, which primarily targets the Islamic State (IS), was going to expand its campaign against the leadership of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded branch in Syria. In the evening of 18 November 2016, the Coalition killed Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, whose real name is Muhammad Ibrahim al-Saghir. Al-Saghir also uses the name Abd al-Rahman al-Ali. This killing would appear to be part of the Coalition’s new effort.
Al-Saghir has a long record as an important jihadi religious ideologue, though his exact relationship with al-Qaeda’s network remains unclear. Al-Saghir’s most lasting contribution to jihadi-salafism is as a key guide to the founder of IS, Ahmad al-Khalayleh. Continue reading
The Islamic State’s (IS) weekly newsletter, al-Naba, interviewed a high-ranking al-Qaeda defector, Abu Ubayda al-Lubnani, across two issues in February and March. Abu Ubayda appeared on a list of prominent clerics supporting IS’s caliphate declaration in February 2014, and two months later his defection from al-Qaeda to IS was announced by al-Battar. Abu Ubayda is described by al-Naba—as best as can be told accurately—as having been a member of al-Qaeda’s: Shura [Consultation] Council, a training officer in its Military Committee, and a counter-intelligence officer. Abu Ubayda is advertised as speaking about many secret aspects of al-Qaeda.
Among the topics Abu Ubayda covers is the alleged infiltration and manipulation of al-Qaeda by foreign intelligence services, specifically Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is not only a violation of jihadist doctrine by collaborating with an “infidel” and illegitimate state but led to the deaths of a number of senior al-Qaeda leaders.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of what Abu Ubayda has to say relates to al-Qaeda’s attempt to take advantage of the Syrian revolution. This persistent campaign has followed a pattern of disguising al-Qaeda’s presence and attempting to influence and eventually co-opt the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. One lever al-Qaeda relied upon, according to Abu Ubayda, was Ahrar al-Sham, an organization that disclaims all connections to al-Qaeda and dissimulates about its ideology. Whatever Ahrar’s dominant ideology, it is simply a fact that it has served as the bridge between the foreign-led jihadists and Syrian Islamists, and its connections to al-Qaeda are evident enough. Abu Ubayda suggests Ahrar’s connections to al-Qaeda are even deeper than they appear. Continue reading
Released on December 21, 2007, twenty-eight years to the month after the Soviet Union launched Operation STORM 333, decapitating the Afghan government and plunging the country into a decade-long war, Charlie Wilson’s War tells a story centred on Representative Charles Wilson of Texas (Tom Hanks), a conservative Democrat, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a Right-wing Christian socialite in Houston who has taken the Afghans to her bosom because of her hatred for communism, and Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a blue-collar case officer at the CIA who is the epitome of the adage that one can get anything done in Washington so long as one does not care who gets the credit. Between them they cajole Congress into moving its appropriations from $5 million to $500 million, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Saudis, to help the Afghan resistance combat the Red Army’s occupation of their country. Continue reading