A nearly-22-minute video was released by As-Sahab, the media wing of Al-Qaeda, on 12 March 2021, entitled, “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Umma” or “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Islamic Nation”. More than anything actually said or presented, the video itself was the story since it comes after credible reports in November 2020 that Al-Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had died a month earlier. The only question was whether the video would provide proof-of-life for Al-Zawahiri, and it pointedly did not. Continue reading →
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) and Ayman al-Zawahiri. // Image sources: FBI, AFP
Credible reports over the last few days indicate that Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead, and there are even clearer reports that two of his most senior deputies have been killed. The terrorist network itself, however, will survive. Al-Qaeda has, in the last ten years, survived the killing of its charismatic founder Usama bin Laden, the upheaval of the “Arab spring”, and the rise of the Islamic State (IS)—all of them greater challenges than whatever short-term turbulence might attend the succession process. Continue reading →
The destroyed compound where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was found in Syria // Drone footage taken by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency
The so-called caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS), Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was killed in an American raid in Syria on 27 October, and the spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was killed the next day in an airstrike. ISIS acknowledged the losses and appointed new leaders on Halloween.
Abu Hamza al-Qurayshiintroduced himself in a nearly-eight-minute audio statement as the new spokesman and named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi as Al-Baghdadi’s replacement. Little information was given about either man.
The U.S. government has said it knows “almost nothing” about the new caliph, Abu Ibrahim, leaving us no closer, for now, to knowing his identity. But some options present themselves. Continue reading →
Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) [right] appearing in an Islamic State video alongside Tarkhan Batirashvili (Abu Umar al-Shishani, 3 June 2017, displaying a scene from 2014 when IS demolished the borders between Iraq and Syria. Falaha was killed in August 2016. It is common for IS to hold back pictures and footage of its leaders for time-spans that can reach over a decade.
Taha Falaha was the effective deputy of the Islamic State (IS) when he was killed on 30 August 2016, by which time he was also overseeing the foreign attacks campaign by IS and serving as governor of the IS-held areas in Syria. Likely, however, Falaha, is best-known internationally by his kunya, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, and for his role as IS’s official spokesman, particularly his speech in September 2014 inciting Muslims in the West to commit terrorist attacks against their native countries. Falaha had been recruited in Aleppo in 2002 by IS’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) and steadily advanced through IS’s media department, eventually being announced as the official spokesman with his first speech, released on 1 August 2011. An English-language transcript of that first speech, an hour-long audio message entitled, al-Dawlat al-Islam Baqiya (“The Islamic State Remains” or “The Islamic State Endures”), was released by “Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum Language and Translation Department” and was posted to their forum on 4 March 2012. The transcript is reproduced below with some editions from the Arabic transcript and some important parts highlighted in bold. Continue reading →
Muhammad Saladin Abd al-Halim Zaydan (Sayf al-Adel) wrote a letter on 13 June 2002 to Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM or Mukhtar), the operational planner of the 9/11 massacre. Zaydan criticises KSM’s handling of al-Qaeda in the aftermath of 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban, and calls on him to surrender control to others. At that time the latter was written, Zaydan had been the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee for about seven months, replacing Muhammad Atef (Abu Hafs al-Masri), who was killed by an American airstrike in Afghanistan in November 2001. Zaydan was based then—as he is now—in Iran, with much of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, at the invitation of Qassem Sulaymani, the head of the Quds Force, the component of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tasked with exporting the Iran’s Islamist revolution. The letter is reproduced below with the key sections highlighted in bold.
Phrased with much surrounding politeness, Zaydan gets to the point: KSM has been on a spree of external operations—notably with “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and José Padilla (Abdullah al-Muhajir)—that have failed spectacularly and exposed al-Qaeda to ridicule. Instead of learning from his mistakes, KSM has heedlessly rushed to the next plot, says Zaydan. Usama bin Ladin might have signed off on these plots, Zaydan writes, but Bin Ladin is also reckless and refuses to heed advice—instead changing the advisor to get the answer he wants. (Bin Ladin had done this—or tried to—for the 9/11 attack itself, stacking the executive committee with loyalists before the key vote, which he ended up not bothering to hold anyway.) KSM should halt all plots currently underway and resign his duties to others so that stock can be taken of how these disasters have befallen the organisation, Zaydan concludes. Zaydan adds a final note demanding the removal of a post on an al-Qaeda forum that identifies his children by their real names. Continue reading →
Al-Qaeda’s military leader Muhammad Atef at a press conference in Afghanistan, 26 May 1998 (image source: CNN)
Muhammad Atef, best-known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, but who also went by the names Taseer Abdullah or Taysir Abdullah and Subhi Abu Sitta, was al-Qaeda’s military leader between 1996 and 2001, and one of the three people most responsible for the terrorist attack in the United States on 11 September 2001. 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 U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Abdullah Ibrahim al-Faisal (born: Trevor William Forrest), a Jamaican cleric who supports the Islamic State (IS) on 5 December. This was long overdue. Al-Faisal’s record of disseminating jihadist ideology, and influencing and/or interacting with terrorists, goes back several decades. And since 2014, al-Faisal has been one of IS’s influential English-language propagandist-recruiters. Continue reading →
A speech by al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was released on 4 October 2017, entitled “We Shall Fight You Until There Is No More Persecution”. An English transcript was released by al-Qaeda’s media apparatus and is reproduced below, with some editions in transliteration and syntax. Some interesting sections have been highlighted in bold.Continue reading →