The Long War Journal
In a somewhat startling reversal for the religious leader of a nation, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, the Chairman of Pakistan's Ulema Council, announced yesterday that his recent statement endorsing suicide attacks and other forms of violent jihad in "occupied" Muslim countries was taken out of context and that harming civilians is acceptable to none.
It was widely reported that on March 1 Ashrafi stated: "Palestine is occupied by Israel, Kashmir by India and Afghanistan by the US. So if Muslims don't have the atomic bomb, they should sacrifice their lives. We want America to leave the region." [See LWJ report, Pakistani clerics endorse suicide bombings, reject proposed peace conference.]
Ashrafi told Pajhwok Afghan News yesterday, however, that "I've never supported suicide attacks that cause civilian casualties in Afghanistan," and he added that such bombings had also been banned by Taliban emir Mullah Omar.
Despite Ashrafi's claim that Mullah Omar does not support suicide attacks, the tactic has been used with regularity by his Taliban forces.
Since the first such attack on Sept. 9, 2001, suicide attacks have killed well over 3,755 people in Afghanistan, and the vast majority of the victims of these attacks have been civilians. According to the United Nations' 2012 Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan, 22% of all civilian casualties inflicted by antigovernment elements in 2012 were caused by suicide attacks. The UN documented 1,507 civilian casualties in 2012 (328 killed and 1,179 injured) from 73 incidents of suicide and complex attacks (the latter include suicide attacks). Three children died executing suicide attacks in 2012, and 48 more were arrested for planning to conduct such attacks.
The UNAMA report also states: "In 2012 UNAMA documented 46 separate incidents for which the Taliban publically claimed responsibility. These incidents accounted for a total of 513 civilian casualties and included 15 targeted killings, 12 suicide and complex attacks, nine IED incidents and seven ground engagements."
Ashrafi's assertion yesterday that a suicide attack against a purely military target would be permissible is also curious, given that many suicide bombers are themselves civilians. The ranks of suicide bombers include children as young as eight, women, and the mentally handicapped. [See LWJ reports, Taliban rebuild children's suicide camp in South Waziristan, Pakistani Taliban kidnap young girl to turn her into a suicide bomber, and Female suicide bomber strikes in Peshawar, and see also LWJ report, Al Qaeda in Iraq uses disabled women in Baghdad bombings.]
Ashrafi's statement endorsing suicide attacks triggered widespread condemnation from Afghan clerics and government officials, among others. The Afghan High Peace Council issued a statement castigating Ashrafi's declaration on jihad as contradicting every Islamic principle, and a group of Afghan Islamic scholars and clerics said that it was not for the head of Pakistan's ulema council to issue a fatwa, according to TOLOnews.
Afghan national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta warned that the "fatwa" issued by Ashrafi demonstrated the strong current of violence that threatened the Afghan people, Khaama Press reported.
Deputy national security advisor and former spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil called for the international community to blacklist both Ashrafi and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, according to TOLOnews. Nabil said the fact that Pakistani clerics had responded to the conference invitation with "a religious Fatwa and [that they] consider Jihad in Afghanistan as permissible" amounted to a "very shameless confession" that Pakistan does not want a peaceful and powerful Afghanistan.
Ashrafi's fatwa also drew a reaction from NATO. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated in Kabul today after meeting with President Hamid Karzai: "I strongly condemn endorsing suicide attacks and there is no justification for such a terrorist attacks." Speaking at the joint press conference with Rasmussen, Karzai said the chief Pakistani cleric's fatwa endorsing suicide attacks served to clarify Pakistan's position regarding Afghanistan, Khaama Press reported.
The speed and the nature of Ashrafi's apparent shift in position yesterday on the issue of suicide attacks suggest that forces are working on him to 'shape the message.'
Dost Mohammed, the Taliban's shadow governor for Nuristan province, is interviewed on Al Jazeera in November 2009.
The Taliban's most vaunted commander in Nuristan and Kunar provinces, Sheikh Dost Mohammed, has been killed along with three other Taliban figures in a US drone strike, according to Bokhdi News, citing an official from the Afghan and NATO Military Coordination Office. Sheikh Dost Mohammed has served as the top Taliban leader and shadow governor in Nuristan province for several years, and his insurgent network maintains deep ties to regional Salafist movements and al Qaeda.
The alleged drone strike took place early yesterday morning in the unstable Ghaziabad district in Kunar province. Among others said to be killed in the strike were Taliban operatives Akhtar Mohammad and one of Dost Mohammed's relatives, Nematullah Haidar.
International Security Assistant Forces (ISAF) issued a brief statement confirming that Afghan and Coalition forces killed three insurgents and wounded another during an operation in Ghaziabad district, Kunar province, on March 2. The ISAF statement further added: "The security force positively identified the militants engaging in insurgent activity in an isolated area away from civilians. After ensuring no civilians were in the vicinity, the security force engaged the armed insurgents, killing three and wounding one."
Dost Mohammed has previously been reported killed numerous times since 2009, and the latest report about his death should be viewed with caution.
Since abandoning several outposts in the more remote border districts of Nuristan province in October 2009, Afghan and Coalition forces have continued operations against an entrenched Taliban network spanning Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Last May, a Coalition operation killed Sheikh Jamil ur Rahman, the Taliban's deputy shadow governor for Nuristan province, as he and associate Abdul Hakim were traveling through Nuristan's Waygal district.
Background on Dost Mohammed
Dost Mohammed is one of the most wanted Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, and has organized massed assaults on US bases in the province. In one such attack, on Camp Keating in October 2009, Dost's fighters, backed by al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, overran a portion of the base and killed nine US soldiers.
Nuristan province is a known haven for the Taliban and al Qaeda. In September 2011, Governor Nuristani said that six of the eight districts in his province were effectively under Taliban control [see LWJ report, Governor: Most of Nuristan under Taliban control]. The current status of Nuristan's districts is unclear; the Taliban are still thought to hold sway in the province. In November 2011, Coalition and Afghan special operations forces captured an al Qaeda operative who was known to operate in Waygal as well as in Kunar.
The Afghan government and the Coalition have given up on waging counterinsurgency operations in Nuristan and Kunar. The US military has withdrawn from several combat outposts in the rugged, remote provinces. Instead, conventional and special operations forces are launching periodic sweeps to cull the Taliban forces, or "mowing the grass," as a senior US general described it in April 2011.
Al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Image from Sahara Media.
Chadian military forces in Mali claimed to have killed fugitive al Qaeda affiliate Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind behind the deadly terrorist assault against an Algerian gas plant in January, during a dramatic counterterrorism operation in northern Mali today.
"On Saturday, March 2, at noon, Chadian armed forces operating in northern Mali completely destroyed a terrorist base .... The toll included several dead terrorists, including their leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar," Chadian armed forces spokesman General Zacharia Gobongue said on a Chadian television station. The statement also noted that weapons, equipment, and 60 vehicles were seized, according to the BBC. As this is a developing situation and Belmokhtar's death has not yet been confirmed by additional sources, the reports must be taken with caution.
Yesterday Chadian forces claimed to have killed Abdel Mejid Abou Zeid, a top al Qaeda leader who serves as the deputy to Yahya Abu Hammam, the head of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's operations in the Sahel region of North Africa.
Zeid leads the Taregh Ibn Ziyad brigade, which operates throughout Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and southern Algeria. Zeid's brigade is responsible for the beheading of British hostage Edwin Dyer in May 2009. Algerians, Mauritanians, Malians, and Moroccans are known to fight with both Hammam and Zeid. [See LWJ report, US adds senior AQIM commander to terrorist list.]
So far, the French ministry of foreign affairs has not confirmed Zeid's death, but officials are awaiting results of a DNA test that has been conducted on the remains supposedly belonging to Zeid, according to France 24 News.
Chadian military forces are reported to have entered Mali around Jan. 22 as part of a regional African military force seeking to thwart the Islamist takeover in the country.
Background on Belomakhtar
Belmokhtar has been tied to jihadists in North Africa and Central Asia. He waged jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, and fought in Algeria's civil war in the 1990s with the al Qaeda-linked Armed Islamic Group and its successor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which renamed itself al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2007. AQIM is al Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa.
In 2003, the United Nations designated Belmokhtar as a global terrorist for his activities on behalf of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He was also convicted in absentia by Algerian courts for criminal acts including terrorism in 2004, 2007, and 2008.
Although Belmokhtar split with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in December 2012, he still conducts joint operations with the group. Belmokhtar later created the al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam, or Those who sign with Blood Brigade, which led the bloody terrorist assault against the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria in mid-January.
Belmokhtar reports directly to al Qaeda's central leadership, according to his spokesman. Al Qaeda central tightened its control over AQIM's hostage operations in late 2010. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations].
Tahir Ashrafi, the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council. Image from TOLOnews.
The tortuous path of the Afghan government's plan for a regional ulema conference that would issue a fatwa condemning suicide attacks reached a new impasse yesterday when the head of Pakistan's ulema council stated that suicide attacks are permissible. The proposed conference, originally put forward by Afghanistan's High Peace Council, was agreed to by Pakistan in November, and then hit a series of snags as it was condemned by the Taliban in late December and early January.
The conference, which had been scheduled for January, was postponed; its agenda grew murky, the venue changed from Kabul to various other locations, and its fate became uncertain. It has been termed variously a "peace conference" and a conference on the issue of suicide bombings.
In an interesting twist, last month the Taliban changed their stance from condemning the proposed conference to demanding to take part in it. Reports suggested that Pakistan's position on the proposed conference mirrored that of the Taliban, which remained steadfastly opposed to a gathering that would potentially outlaw the tactic of suicide bombing. [See LWJ report, Karzai presses for fatwa on suicide attacks.]
Afghan officials have resisted the Taliban's demand to be included in the conference, suspecting no doubt that the Taliban would subvert the original goal of obtaining a fatwa against suicide bombings, and the event has appeared to be destined for limbo. Meetings between Afghan and Pakistani religious scholars on the proposed conference have reflected division between the two groups, and as of a few weeks ago they had apparently agreed only to hold a joint conference in March on the issue of attacks on civilians, according to Xinhua.
The picture became much clearer yesterday, however, when the head of Pakistan's ulema council announced that suicide attacks are permitted in Afghanistan so long as US forces remain in the country.
"Palestine is occupied by Israel, Kashmir by India, and Afghanistan by the US. So if the Muslims don't have the atomic bomb, they should sacrifice their lives for God," Tahir Ashrafi, the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, told TOLOnews.
Significantly, Ashrafi's rhetoric on suicide attacks is identical to that of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. In January 2009, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan released a propaganda tape in which a jihadist said that "suicide bombers are the atomic weapons of Muslims."
In the tape, a teenage suicide bomber named Masood, who was involved with a May 2008 double suicide bombing in Lahore, stated: "Suicide bombers are the atomic weapons of Muslims because Muslims do not have the latest weapons to fight enemies who are committing atrocities against Muslims in Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq."
The Taliban's influence is evident in the Pakistani clerics' recent letter to the Afghan ulema council, in which the Pakistani council stated that it would not attend the planned joint ulema summit, saying it was unwilling to criticize the Afghan Taliban's activities or issue a fatwa against them or their activities, Khaama Press reported.
In another interesting twist, Ahmad Saeedi, an Afghan political commentator, has claimed that the latest statement on suicide bombings by the head of the Pakistani ulema was issued at the request of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate, according to Pajwhok Afghan News.
Afghanistan's ulema council has rejected the position of its Pakistani counterpart, and maintains that suicide attacks are not permitted by Islam.
It is not surprising that the Taliban continue to sabotage any attempt to curtail the use of suicide attacks, which constitute one of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal. As data compiled by the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal show, the number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan rose from one in 2001 (the bombing that killed Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud on Sept. 9, 2001, two days before 9/11) to 736 by Sept. 5, 2011 (the date of the SAIR report), with a total of 3,755 fatalities.
Yesterday's statement by the head of the Pakistani ulema approving the use of suicide attacks in occupied Muslim lands also correlates with the increasing use of suicide attacks by the Taliban's close ally, al Qaeda, and its affiliates in jihadist theaters worldwide.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has released the 10th edition of Inspire, its English language propaganda magazine that is marketed to Westerners. The magazine features an article by Adam Gadahn, the American traitor who works with al Qaeda's core leadership cadre in Pakistan.
AQAP released the current addition of Inspire "nine months after the release of the eighth and ninth issues" of the magazine, the SITE Intelligence Group noted. SITE obtained a copy of Inspire, which was released yesterday on Jihadist Internet forums.
The latest edition of Inspire focused on al Qaeda's view of the so-called Arab Spring. Inspire promoted two articles on the topic that are written by Gadahn and Yahya Ibrahim, a cleric who has been featured in the magazine in the past.
Both Gadahn and Ibrahim focus on al Qaeda's ability to capitalize on the Arab Spring. Gadahn calls for the US to end all involvement in the upheavals in the Middle East, and says a failure to do so "will result in a backlash which will make you regret the day you put your hands where they don't belong."
Gadahn also advises jihadists in the West to continue "direct engagement [attacks] at home and abroad with America and its NATO parents, particularly France and Britain."
"The enemies' economic and military hemorrhage must not stop until the day comes when the people of the West are forced to make a choice: either the continuation of the Crusade against the Muslims and the continuation of their backing Israel, or the continuation of viable governments and basic public services," Gadahn writes.
Ibrahim focuses on the assaults on the US Consulate in Benghazi and the US embassies in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen in September 2012. Jihadists raised al Qaeda's flag at the US installations, and killed the US's ambassador to Libya and three personnel in Benghazi. Ibrahim notes that the so-called protesters chanted "Obama! Obama! we are all Osama!" He also claims that despite bin Laden's death at the hands of US special operations forces in May 2011, bin Laden continues to inspire old and new jihadists alike.
The release of the latest edition of Inspire shows that al Qaeda's core in Pakistan is not cut off from its affiliates, and that AQAP retains the ability to produce the magazine despite the loss of two Americans who were thought to be important to its continuation.
AQAP touted Gadahn's article as an "exclusive," which means the group was either able to contact Gadahn to solicit and receive it, or that Gadahn contacted the publishers of Inspire to offer the article. Gadahn is believed to be based in Pakistan and is known to work with As Sahab, al Qaeda's primary propaganda production outfit. He also releases propaganda via As Sahab on occasion.
The Obama administration has claimed that al Qaeda's "core" leadership cadre in Pakistan is cut off and disconnected and isolated from its affiliates, and that the terror group is on the verge of defeat. But as Gadahn's latest article and numerous propaganda tapes and communiques by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and other top leaders show, the terror group is intact and capable of producing propaganda and communicating with its affiliates worldwide.
Additionally, it was unclear if AQAP would continue to produce Inspire after the deaths of American jihadists Samir Khan and Anwar al Awlaki, both of whom are thought to have greatly influenced the magazine's publication. Al Awlaki and Khan were killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. As the release of the 10th edition of Inspire shows, AQAP clearly maintains the capacity to produce the magazine, and still remains committed to attacking the West.
The US State Department announced today that it will provide nonlethal aid to two Syrian rebel groups, the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Free Syrian Army. Both of these groups support and actively fight alongside the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, which is al Qaeda's affiliate in the war-torn country.
The State Department announced that it would provide $60 million in direct aid to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, an alliance of Syrian groups that has come out in support of the Al Nusrah Front after the US designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and al Qaeda in Iraq's affiliate in Syria in December 2012.
"This money will be used particularly to enable the SOC to help local councils and communities in liberated areas of Syria expand the delivery of basic goods and essential services, and to fulfill administrative functions, including security, sanitation, and educational services," an unnamed State Department official told reporters in a briefing today.
Additionally, the State Department said that "the United States will look for opportunities to work with the ... Supreme Military Council ... to provide concrete, nonlethal support to the Free Syrian Army."
"This will include things like military rations to feed hungry fighters and medical supplies to tend the sick and the wounded," the official continued.
But as documented by The Long War Journal numerous times, the ostensibly secular Free Syrian Army often fights alongside or under the command of the Al Nusrah Front. The two groups have overrun Syrian military bases and they have even conducted a suicide attack in concert.
The push to back the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Free Syrian Army came after newly appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the SOC's president, Ahmed Moaz al Khatib, in Italy.
Al Khatib is a Syrian opposition leader, who, just one day after the US added the Al Nusrah Front to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, urged the US to drop the designation, citing "ideological and political differences."
"The decision to blacklist one of the groups fighting the regime as a terrorist organization must be re-examined," al Khatib said in December 2012.
"We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime" of President Bashar al-Assad, al Khatib continued.
A previously unidentified American who fights in the ranks of Shabaab, al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, appeared on a videotape and urged Muslims to join one of the numerous fronts of the global jihad.
The American, who is identified as Abu Ahmed al Amriki, is seen on a videotape that was produced by Shabaab's media arm and posted on jihadist Internet forums on Feb. 25. The video was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Abu Ahmed speaks in both English and Arabic, and appears with two Kenyan jihadists, who are identified as Abu Seyf al Kenyi and Abu Khaled al Kenyi. Abu Ahmed's face is digitally blurred in the video. He is seen seated with a group of armed fighters; he is also holding a rifle as he speaks.
In his speech, Abu Ahmed implores Muslims to leave their lives of comfort and wage jihad in Somalia, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, or the "Islamic Maghreb" -- North Africa.
"Brothers and sisters, I won't take much of your time, but it's obligatory upon you to leave the lands of [disbelief] and [emigrate]. The fronts, they are all open, whether it's here in Somalia, whether it's in Mali, whether it's in Afghanistan, whether it's in Iraq, or whether it's in the Islamic Maghreb - it's all open," Abu Ahmed says, according to the transcript provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.
He urges Muslims who cannot "emigrate" to "fight the enemies of Allah where you find them ...."
Abu Ahmed claims that the West is losing the war against al Qaeda and its allies, and that a global caliphate will soon arise.
"Victory is coming. Your brothers are gaining strength after strength, victory after victory. The defeat of the [disbelievers] is near," he says.
"America is going down and the Caliphate is rising," he claims.
Abu Ahmed is one of the "Muhajireen" -- the emigrants or foreign fighters who wage jihad in Somalia alongside Shabaab.
Omar Hammami, the American who is better known as Abu Mansour al Amriki, is the most well-known foreign fighter in Somalia. He is feuding with Shabaab, and claims that foreigner fighters are at odds with Shabaab's leaders. Shabaab has disputed the claims, and has countered that Hammami is a narcissistic self-promoter who has taken advantage of his high-profile media presence to sow dissent between the Somali group and foreign fighters. Other than Hammami's claims, there is little evidence to support the assertion that there is a split between Shabaab and the Muhajireen.
Two other prominent Americans waging jihad in Somalia are Abu Abdullah al Muhajir, who is Ayman al Zawahiri's emissary to Shabaab, and Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax.
An estimated 50 Somali-Americans are thought to have been recruited in the US to train and fight with Shabaab. At least two Americans have carried out suicide attacks in Somalia, and Shabaab claimed that two other Americans have carried out such attacks.
For more information on Americans and foreigners who are fighting for Shabaab, see LWJ report, American Shabaab fighter and commander pictured together. For more information on Shabaab's links to al Qaeda, see LWJ reports, Somalia's Shabaab vows allegiance to new al Qaeda emir Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda leaders play significant role in Shabaab.
Both the United States and the United Nations have added Iyad ag Ghali, the emir of the Mali-based, al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine, to their lists of global terrorists. Ghali was instrumental in the takeover of northern Mali and has worked with al Qaeda to establish an Islamic state in the Sahel region.
The UN designation notes that Ghali's group, Ansar Dine, is an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but that Ansar Dine itself has not been designated; similarly, the US notes the affiliation but has not added Ansar Dine to its terrorist list. The UN designation also mentions Ghali's ties with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which has been designated by both the UN and by the US as a terrorist organization.
Ghali "cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," the US State Department said in its designation today. He "created [Ansar Dine] in late 2011 because his effort to take over a secular Tuareg organization failed due to his extremist views."
"Ghali has received backing from AQIM in [Ansar Dine's] fight against Malian and French forces, most notably in the capture of the Malian towns of Agulhok, Tessalit, Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu, between January and April 2012," State continued. "Before French intervention in January 2013, Malian citizens in towns that had been under [Ansar Dine's] control who did not comply with [Ansar Dine's] laws had faced harassment, torture, or execution."
Despite his failure to take over the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Ghali worked with the secular Tuareg separatist to seize control of northern Mali last year. After northern Mali fell, Ansar Dine, backed by AQIM and the Movement for the Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), quickly and easily brushed aside the MNLA and established sharia, or Islamic law, in the north. The French intervened in Mali in January only after the jihadist alliance pushed southward and threatened to capture the capital of Bamako.
Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, saw Ansar Dine as a key component of his plan to use Mali as a base of operations for local, regional, and global jihad. Droukdel instructed his followers to mask their operations and "pretend to be a 'domestic' movement" so as not to draw international attention and intervention. Ansar Dine was to be the local face of the jihadist movement, while AQIM established training camps for external jihadist operations [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda in Mali sought to hide foreign designs].
After Ansar Dine, AQIM, and MUJAO took control of northern Mali, they enforced a harsh version of sharia and destroyed tombs and other Muslim shrines and heritage sites.
Additionally, the terror groups began recruiting and training foreign fighters, from West African countries such as Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast, as well as from other countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, and Pakistan.
Since the French invasion of Mali in January, Ansar Dine, AQIM, and MUJAO have lost overt control of the north, but have been waging an insurgency against French, Malian, and African troops. Twenty-three Chadian troops have been killed while fighting jihadists in a mountainous area in the north, and five suicide attacks have been reported since Feb. 9. MUJAO has claimed credit for four of the attacks. Prior to Feb. 9, no suicide attacks were reported in Mali.
The US State Department has added the Mullah Nazir Group, a Taliban subgroup based in South Waziristan, and an important deputy commander to the list of foreign terrorist entities and individuals. The designations are likely to cause friction with Pakistan, which considers the Mullah Nazir Group to be "good Taliban," despite the group's historical support of al Qaeda and attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The group's former emir, Mullah Nazir, who was killed in a US drone strike in early January, has long supported and sheltered al Qaeda and allied terror groups. In 2011, Nazir even self-identified as an al Qaeda commander [see LWJ report, 'Good' Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda].
Today's State Dept. designation, which confirms years of reporting by The Long War Journal, noted that the group, which is based in South Waziristan, has sheltered al Qaeda, runs suicide training camps, and attacks both US and NATO forces in Afghanistan as well as Pakistani citizens and the military.
"Since 2006, [the Mullah Nazir Group] has run training camps, dispatched suicide bombers, provided safe haven for al Qaeda fighters, and conducted cross-border operations in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies," State's designation said.
"In addition to its attacks against international forces in Afghanistan, [the Mullah Nazir Group] is also responsible for assassinations and intimidation operations against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan," State continued.
State also noted that the Mullah Nazir Group and Commander Malang, who was added to the US's list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists today, have conducted several attacks against the Pakistani military.
"Malang claimed CNG responsibility for a March 2008 vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack in front of an army brigade headquarters in Zari Noor, South Waziristan, Pakistan, which killed five Pakistani soldiers and injured 11 more," according to the designation. Additionally, the Mullah Nazir Group "broke a ceasefire agreement and attacked a Pakistani army camp in Wana, Pakistan, with missiles and rockets" in May 2011.
Malang was named a key subcommander of the Mullah Nazir Group on Jan. 4, just one day after Mullah Nazir was killed in a drone strike in South Waziristan. The group's shura named Salahuddin Ayubi, who is also known as Bahwal Khan, to replace Nazir. Other top leaders of the Mullah Nazir group include Haji Tehsil Khan, Haji Ainullah, Taj Muhammad, and Muhammad Shoaib.
The day after Nazir's death, US intelligence sources told The Long War Journal that Ayubi and the Mullah Nazir Group would continue to support al Qaeda's operations [see LWJ report, Taliban name Mullah Nazir's replacement].
Several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, have been killed while being sheltered by Nazir. [For more information on Nazir and al Qaeda leaders killed while under his protection, see LWJ reports, 'Good' Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, and US drones kill 'good' Taliban commander in South Wazirstan.]
Nazir's Taliban faction is one of four major Taliban groups that joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda in late 2011. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar's group; the Haqqani Network, a close al Qaeda ally; and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, another al Qaeda ally, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud. The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
Despite Nazir's support for al Qaeda and his group's attacks in Afghanistan as well as against the Pakistani military, Nazir and his group have long been described by Pakistani officials as "good Taliban." In the eyes of Pakistani officials, Nazir and his followers serve as "strategic depth" against India and a hedge against Indian interests in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government and military have signed several peace agreements with Nazir that allowed him to rule over the Wazir areas of South Waziristan.
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, the al Qaeda-linked extremist group responsible for the Sept. 14, 2012 assault on the US Embassy in Tunis, has launched a new website. The group advertised the impending launch of the site on various Facebook pages and other extremist sites for weeks. A screen shot of the new site can be seen at the top of this article.
Some of the content on the site is not yet filled in, but the web page includes sections for articles, a chat forum, fatwas, and videos, among other topic areas.
One section appears to be set aside for an online library that will house the works of various extremists, including al Qaeda cleric Abu Qatada. Seifullah ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi), the founder of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, reportedly studied under Qatada. Few, if any, of Qatada's or the other extremists' writings had been uploaded to the online library by the time The Long War Journal last viewed the page.
The new site is part of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's revamped online media campaign. For weeks, the group's Facebook pages have been routinely taken down. It is not clear who is responsible for the website interruptions, but Ansar al Sharia has regularly complained about the deletion of its Facebook pages. One entry on the group's new chat forum, for instance, solicits advice concerning the deletions.
Other entries on the forum deal with Mali and Syria, including statements issued by the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate. One post highlights the "martyrdom" of a Tunisian who died fighting in Syria.
In January, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia rebranded its official Facebook page to honor al Qaeda's "martyrs," including the deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Said al Shihri. [See LWJ report, Ansar al Sharia honors senior al Qaeda 'martyrs'.]
Since then, the group has been forced to change the url of its Facebook page on multiple occasions. (Its official Twitter feed has remained online during this time, but has not been updated in the past week.)
It appears that Ansar al Sharia Tunisia has also now launched a number of new Facebook pages, many of which are dedicated to the group's franchises in various Tunisian cities. The proliferation of pages may be part of a new strategy by the organization to avoid losing its social media presence when a single site is lost.
The posts on these various Facebook pages range in content, from those dealing with the organization's dawa, or proselytizing, to entries praising global jihadists such as deceased al Qaeda master Osama bin Laden.
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia
Ansar al Sharia Tunisia is headed by Seifullah ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi), who has longstanding ties to al Qaeda. In 2000, Hassine co-founded the Tunisian Combatant Group (TCG), an al Qaeda-affiliated group that participated in the Sept. 9, 2001 assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan.
Hassine was arrested in Turkey in 2003 and deported to Tunisia, where he was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison. Hassine was released from prison in 2011, in the wake of the Tunisian revolution.
According to the Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI), Hassine eulogized Osama bin Laden after the al Qaeda master was killed in May 2011. "Let the entire world celebrate the death of one of our Ummah's leaders," Hassine said, "since the death and martyrdom of our leaders for the sake of this straight path ... is an indication of the truthfulness of our way."
MEMRI noted that in the eulogy, Hassine added that the death of bin Laden and other "brothers and leaders," such as al Qaeda in Iraq leaders Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, should compel Muslims to fight on. "This is the allegiance, and that is the promise to Allah - do not regress after the death of your sheikh [i.e., bin Laden], or the deaths of your leaders," Hassine said. "Remain steadfast - and die for [the same cause] for which the best among you died."
Two other Ansar al Sharia Tunisia leaders are Sami Ben Khemais Essid and Mehdi Kammoun, both of whom were convicted by Italian courts for their participation in al Qaeda's operations in Italy. Essid was the head of al Qaeda in Italy before his arrest. According to the US State Department and other sources, Essid plotted to attack the US Embassy in Rome in early 2001. Both Essid and Kammoun were convicted in Italy of terrorism charges, deported to Tunisia for further imprisonment, but released in 2011 after the Tunisian revolution.
After the Sept. 14, 2012 assault on the US Embassy in Tunis, the Tunisian government imprisoned numerous Ansar al Sharia members. One of them is Bilel Chaouachi, a young imam who has openly praised Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
On Dec. 21, 2012, the Tunisian government announced that it had arrested members of an al Qaeda terrorist cell who had been trained by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and "were active within" Ansar al Sharia Tunisia.
In December 2012 and January 2013, Ansar al Sharia posted at least three entries on social media related to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. In December, the group posted pictures of three FBI agents who were sent to Tunisia to interview Ali Ani al Harzi, an important suspect in the Benghazi assault. It also posted a video to its You Tube page of a lawyer discussing the FBI's presence in Tunis to interview Harzi. In January 2013, the group posted a video of Harzi being released from a Tunisian prison.
Also in January 2013, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia rebranded its official Facebook page to honor Said al Shihri, the deceased deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, have claimed credit for a suicide attack at a defense factory that occurred nearly three weeks ago. Several civilians were killed in the deadly bombing.
The Syrian terror group took credit for the attack in a statement that was released yesterday on its Twitter account and obtained by The Long War Journal.
According to the statement, the Feb. 6 attack was executed by a suicide bomber known as Abu Bara al Homsi. The suicide bomber detonated a minibus packed with "2.5 tons of explosives" in the middle of what was described as "a gathering place" of Syrian security personnel. The Al Nusrah Front stated that the factory "produces daily approximately 250,000 rounds Kalashnikov and 13,000 rounds Dushka and other munitions."
Photographs of the suicide bomber (whose face is blurred), the explosives, and the bus immediately before and as it was detonated accompanied the statement that took credit for the attack.
More than 60 people, including 11 women, were killed in the suicide attack, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the civil war in the country.
"Dozens of workers in the plant were killed, the Syrian Observatory documented 60 names (11 women) of residents from the Salamiya city of eastern Reef Hama, its neighbouring villages and the cities of Homs and Hama," the human rights group stated on its Facebook page.
When the attack was reported on Feb. 8, the fact that it had been executed by a suicide bomber was not clear. The Associated Press reported at the time that 54 people, all civilians who worked at the munitions factory, were killed.
The Al Nusrah Front has used al Qaeda's signature tactic -- the suicide bomber and suicide assault team -- to target Syrian security forces. Some of these attacks have been carried out in conjunction with supposedly secular Free Syrian Army units as well as with allied jihadist groups, such as the Muhajireen Group, which is led by a Chechen commander.
The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 52 of the 62 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operation are counted as part of a single attack). So far this year, 10 suicide attacks have been reported in Syria; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for nine of them.
An al Qaeda affiliate
On Dec. 11, 2012, the US designated the Al Nusrah Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The designation stated that the emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Du'a (a.k.a. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi), "is in control of both AQI and Al Nusrah."
At the same time, the US added two senior Al Nusrah leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, both members of al Qaeda in Iraq, to the list of global terrorists; the US did not add the emir of Al Nusrah, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Julani, to the list, however. [See LWJ report, US adds Al Nusrah Front, 2 leaders to terrorism list, for information on the designation of the Al Nusrah Front and the two leaders.]
Despite Al Nusrah's known affiliation with al Qaeda and its radical ideology, Syrian opposition groups, including the supposedly secular Syrian National Coalition, have rallied to support Al Nusrah. Immediately after the US designated Al Nusrah as a terrorist group, 29 Syrian opposition groups signed a petition that not only condemned the US's designation, but said "we are all Al Nusrah," and urged their supporters to raise Al Nusrah's flag (which is the flag of al Qaeda) [see LWJ report, Syrian National Coalition urges US to drop Al Nusrah terrorism designation].
The al Qaeda affiliate's ranks have been growing, and it is now estimated to have upwards of 10,000 fighters in its ranks.
Due to its organization and prowess on the battlefield, the terror group has become popular and is recruiting from other rival groups. The Al Nusrah Front has overrun four major military bases and conducted multiple storming operations on security and intelligence bases and headquarters throughout the country.
President Hamid Karzai has ordered the Ministry of Defense to eject all "US Special Forces" from the key eastern province of Wardak after accusing the American troops or their local Afghan security partners of committing war crimes. Karzai's order is an ominous development for future US and NATO plans, which are expected to rely heavily on special operations forces to take on a greater role as the bulk of conventional forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan.
"Today, the National Security Council ordered the Ministry of Defense to remove American Special Forces within two weeks from Wardak province," Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi told reporters, according to TOLONews.
"A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge," he added.
US Forces - Afghanistan, an ISAF subcommand under which some US Special Forces operate, said it was aware of the statement attributed to Karzai and that it is investigating the allegations.
US special operations forces often partner with local Afghan security forces, such as the Afghan Local Police (ALP) at the village level. President Karzai has generally opposed the ALP, and some Afghans fear the local units, currently totaling 19,600 officers and often accused of corruption (as are more traditional Afghan government security forces), will foster a return to warlordism.
Karzai's directive for "US Special Forces" to withdraw from Wardak comes as NATO is working to negotiate and finalize plans for its force structure in Afghanistan after combat forces are withdrawn by the end of 2014. Various draft proposals and statements by US personnel and NATO partners have indicated that a force of 8,000 to 15,500 NATO troops, comprised of up to 9,500 Americans, could remain in Afghanistan. The residual mission is expected to be structured around training Afghan security forces and the continuation of counterterrorism operations targeting high value enemies. Both tasks rely heavily on US Special Forces (a designation precisely indicating the US Army "Green Berets") as well as the broader category of all US special operations forces.
Wardak is a troubled province
Wardak province, which borders Kabul to the southwest, has been contested by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the al Qaeda-linked Taliban subgroup, despite US efforts to secure the province over the past several years. The Taliban have been in control of the Tangi Valley, which runs through Wardak, since the withdrawal of US forces from Combat Outpost Tangi in the spring of 2011. US troops turned over the base to the Afghan Army, which immediately abandoned it. The Taliban later released a videotape that showed hundreds of fighters and senior Taliban leaders massing at the abandoned base and conducting a tour.
Wardak has been the scene of numerous high-profile attacks by the two groups, particularly in 2011. The Taliban shot down a US Army Chinook helicopter in Sayyidabad on Aug. 6, 2011. Thirty-eight US and Afghan troops, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, were killed in the crash. And on Sept. 10, 2011, the Taliban detonated a massive suicide bomb outside of Combat Outpost Sayyidabad, killing four Afghans and wounding more than 100 people, including 77 US soldiers. US commanders later blamed the attack on the Haqqani Network, a powerful al Qaeda subgroup.
Al Qaeda is also known to maintain a presence in Wardak province. The presence of terror cells has been detected in the districts of Maidan Shah, Sayyidabad, and Tarnek Wa Jaldak, or three of the province's eight districts. On Nov. 18, 2011, special operations forces killed Mujib Rahman Mayar, an Afghan member of al Qaeda. Mayar "trained insurgents and worked as a courier" for the terror group, ISAF stated after his death. "He delivered messages and transported money for the al Qaeda network."
Afghan and Coalition troops captured six insurgents during a raid two days ago that targeted a leader from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The security forces launched the raid in northern Afghanistan, in the Kunduz district of Kunduz province. This is the seventh operation targeting the group in Afghanistan so far this year, according to ISAF press releases compiled by The Long War Journal.
ISAF did not provide many details regarding the operation or the target, but did state that the targeted leader "is allegedly instrumental in manufacturing, procuring and distributing improvised explosive devices for use in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in the province." ISAF did reveal to The Long War Journal that the fighters arrested were Afghan and affiliated with the IMU.
However, ISAF said that "there are no indications of foreign involvement," which contradicts the assertion that the captured insurgents are affiliated with the IMU, whose leadership is based in Pakistan's tribal agency of North Waziristan. When questioned by The Long War Journal on the IMU's foreign ties, specifically with its leadership in Pakistan, a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) responded as follows:Speaking from my USFOR-A perspective, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US Department of State in 2000. This FTO designation plays a critical role in our fight against terrorism and helps us curtail support for terrorist activities.
While this response shows that ISAF believes Afghanistan remains a central front in the fight against foreign terrorist networks, it lacks clarity as to how al Qaeda and its affiliates, such as the IMU, are operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
ISAF has indicated numerous times in the past, in its own press releases, that the IMU's leadership cadre is based in Pakistan, and that the Afghan IMU network takes direction from those Pakistan-based leaders. For instance, when the IMU's top leader for Afghanistan was captured in 2011, ISAF said he was "a key conduit between the senior IMU leadership in Pakistan and senior Taliban leadership in Afghanistan."
"He assisted both groups by directing insurgent movement for training and operations between the two countries, coordinating suicide, explosive device, and mortar attacks against Afghan and coalition forces throughout northern Afghanistan," ISAF stated in the press release announcing his capture.
Based on The Long War Journal's study of the IMU, the group continues to exercise control of the network in Afghanistan. Abu Usman Udil, the previous leader of the IMU, who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in April 2012, was instrumental in ramping up the IMU's operations in Afghanistan. His successor, Usman Ghazi, is said to be equally committed to the fight in Afghanistan.
It may be the case that the six IMU fighters captured two days ago were Afghan, but it is highly unlikely that the network they are involved with is not receiving support and guidance from across the border in Pakistan.
Malik Ishaq, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, waves to throngs of supporters after he is released from custody in 2011.
Pakistani police arrested Malik Ishaq, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, at his home in Rahim Yar Khan, just one week after his terror group claimed credit for a bombing in Quetta that killed at least 90 people. Ishaq has been accused of direct involvement in numerous terrorist attacks but has never been convicted in a Pakistani court.
Pakistani police have not disclosed the reason for Ishaq's arrest, nor how long he will be in detention. "It was not immediately clear on what charges he was arrested," Dawn reported.
Last week, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed credit for the murder of more than 90 Pakistanis, mostly minority Shia, after detonating nearly one ton of "high-grade" explosives in the capital of Baluchistan province. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed credit for numerous terror attacks in Pakistan, and has released videos of executions of captured Shia prisoners.
Ishaq has been in the custody of the Pakistani government in the past. He was detained in 1997 after admitting to murdering more than 100 Pakistanis, but was subsequently released by Pakistan's Supreme Court in July 2011. Ishaq has dodged numerous convictions by murdering and intimidating witnesses, and even once told a judge that "dead men can't talk." [See Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the "lack of evidence," from Dawn, for more information on Pakistan's inability to convict Ishaq and his intimidation of witnesses.]
Ishaq doesn't hide his disdain for the political system in Pakistan, and made it clear at the time of his release in 2011 that he intended to continue to wage jihad.
"We are ready to lay down lives for the honor of the companions of the Holy Prophet" Ishaq said after he was released from custody in 2011. He was met by "Kalashnikov-wielding supporters on a Land Cruiser motorcade," Dawn reported.
Ishaq has also been accused of plotting numerous terrorist attacks while in custody, including the March 3, 2009 assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's links to al Qaeda, Taliban
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is an anti-Shia terror group that has integrated with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has an extensive network in Pakistan and often serves as al Qaeda's muscle for terror attacks. The group has conducted numerous suicide and other terror attacks inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. In particular, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is well known for carrying out sectarian terror attacks against minority Shia, Ahmadis, Sufis, and Christians in Pakistan.
The US designated the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2003. In 2010, the US added two of the terror group's top leaders, Amanullah Afridi and Matiur Rehman, LeJ's operations chief, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
The Treasury Department described Afridi as "a key figure in directing terrorist-related activities of LeJ for several years." Afridi previously "prepared and provided suicide jackets for al Qaeda operations, trained suicide bombers and trained the assassin of Pakistani cleric Allama Hassan Turabi," a prominent Shia cleric. Turabi, a prominent Shia cleric, was killed in June 2006 in Karachi by a 16-year-old Bangladeshi suicide bomber.
Rehman is a top operational leader said to manage al Qaeda's 'Rolodex' of fighters who have passed through training camps and safe houses. Treasury described Rehman as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's "chief operational commander" and a "planning director" who has "worked on behalf of al Qaeda."
Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi commanders have also been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. In February 2010, the US killed Qari Mohammad Zafar, a senior Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader as well as a leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban-linked Fedayeen-i-Islam, in a drone strike in North Waziristan. Zafar was behind multiple terror attacks in Pakistan and was wanted by the US for murdering a consular official in Karachi.
Pakistan added the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to its list of terror organizations in August 2001, yet has done little to crack down on the group.
On its Facebook page earlier this week, Islamisk Budskab in Denmark claimed that Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane was killed while fighting in Syria.
A former Guantanamo detainee named Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane has reportedly been killed while fighting in Syria. The Copenhagen Post and other Danish media outlets have cited multiple sources indicating that Abderrahmane was killed earlier this month, but the Danish intelligence agency (PET) has not yet confirmed or denied these reports.
Abderrahmane, who was born to a Danish mother and an Algerian father, was detained while fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001 and transferred to the Guantanamo detention facility, where he was held until early 2004.
According to a leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment dated Dec. 6, 2003, US officials deemed Abderrahmane a "high" risk "threat to the US, its interests, or its allies."
JTF-GTMO also recommended that Abderrahmane be retained in the Defense Department's custody. However, less than three months later, on Feb. 24, 2004, he was transferred to his home country of Denmark.
The Facebook page for a group named Islamisk Budskab in Denmark announced Abderrahmane's martyrdom earlier this week. The group, which has al Qaeda in Iraq's flag on the header of its Facebook page, said that Danes should be "proud" of Abderrahmane because he finally achieved his goal.
The group wrote that Abderrahmane "was a man who could not stand to see Muslims suppressed, so a few months ago he traveled to Syria to once again perform Jihad and do his duty to fight Allah's enemies." Islamisk Budskab also set up a bank account for donations to support Abderrahmane's wife and two daughters.
Controversial remarks after transfer from Cuba
After his transfer from Guantanamo, Abderrahmane made a number of controversial comments to the press. American officials had him sign an agreement that he would not wage jihad against the US or its allies. Such agreements were standard at Guantanamo, according to senior intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal.
But after he left Guantanamo in 2004, Abderrahmane announced that the agreement was the equivalent of "toilet paper." Citing Abderrahmane's appearance on Danish television, BBC News reported that the ex-Gitmo detainee promised to "try to find a way to Chechnya."
"I am going to Chechnya and fight for the Muslims," Abderrahmane swore. "The Muslims are oppressed in Chechnya and the Russians are carrying out terror against them."
Abderrahmane also said that Danish officials may be legitimate targets for terrorist attacks given their support of the Iraq War.
Despite his controversial remarks, Abderrahmane was given a job at the postal service. He was "convicted of stealing credit cards" while working as a postman in 2007, according to The Copenhagen Post.
"GSPC member and al Qaeda sympathizer"
The leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment describes Abderrahmane as a well-connected member of the GSPC (or Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), a jihadist group that maintained significant ties to al Qaeda before formally merging with bin Laden's operation and renaming itself al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2007.
JTF-GTMO found that Abderrahmane "was recruited to be a courier" for the GSPC, and "transported equipment, money and false documents between the United Kingdom (UK), Algeria, Germany, Spain, Mali, and Denmark."
JTF-GTMO further alleged that Abderrahmane "was involved with the highest leadership of the GSPC while conducting his courier duties."
Several well-known al Qaeda-linked jihadists are listed as Abderrahmane's associates in the JTF-GTMO file.
One of them is Abu Hamza, the former imam of the Finsbury Mosque in London who was arrested by British authorities in 2004 and extradited to the US in October 2012 to stand trial on terrorism charges. Abu Hamza has well-known ties to al Qaeda. JTF-GTMO alleged that he was a "close associate" of Abderrahmane.
A second jihadist listed in the file is Jaffar al Jazeeri, an al Qaeda facilitator who greeted Abderrahmane in Afghanistan in August 2001. Abderrahmane was just beginning to cement his ties to al Qaeda in Afghanistan when the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred, according to JTF-GTMO.
And a third jihadist listed in the file is Bensayah Belkacem, the leader of the so-called "Algerian Six." Belkacem and five others were initially suspected of plotting an attack on a US Embassy and other targets in late 2001, but were acquitted by a Bosnian court of the charges.
American officials detained the six and transferred them to Guantanamo in 2002. Five of the six ultimately had their habeas corpus petitions granted by a DC District Court judge and were transferred. Belkacem had his petition denied and he remains at Guantanamo. He is one of the 55 detainees currently held at Guantanamo who has been approved for transfer by the Obama administration.
Belkacem is described in the leaked threat assessment for Abderrahmane as an "al Qaeda contact" and Osama bin Laden's "representative in the Balkans."
Abderrahmane had "connections" to Belkacem, JTF-GTMO alleged, but the substance of these ties was not specified.
In addition, the JTF-GTMO file reads: "[Abderrahmane] is also associated with many GSPC members that are also associated with the Al Qaeda Zarqawi network." This last bit of intelligence is especially intriguing as it is known that members of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) have played an instrumental role in setting up the Al Nusrah Front in Syria. Jihadists who fought alongside deceased AQI emir Abu Musab al Zarqawi have taken on leadership roles within Al Nusrah.
If these latest reports concerning Abderrahmane's fate are accurate, then it is likely he died fighting for Al Nusrah or one of the other al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria, such as the Muhajireen Brigade, which includes leaders and fighters from the Islamic Caucasus Emirate. His desire for 'martyrdom' was, therefore, finally granted.
Abu Omar al Chechen and fighters from the Muhajireen Brigade.
A commander from the Russian Caucasus known as Abu Omar al Chechen is a key leader in the Muhajireen Brigade, a jihadist group that fights alongside the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant against the regime of President Bashir al Assad. The Muhajireen Brigade, whose members include fighters from the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, has played a vital role in overrunning several major Syrian military installations over the past year.
Abu Omar "is an Emir of Mujahideen Brigade of Muhajirs, or migrants ... which also includes volunteers from the Caucasus Emirate," according to Kavkaz Center, a media arm of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate. Kavkaz Center posted a video of an appeal by Abu Omar on its English-language website on Feb. 7.
In the video, Abu Omar, sporting a red beard and what appears to be a North Face cap, is seen seated among 19 heavily armed jihadists, many of whom are masked. Two of the jihadists are seen holding al Qaeda in Iraq's flag. The Al Nusrah Front, with which the Muhajireen Brigade is closely allied, is al Qaeda in Iraq's affiliate in Syria, according to the US government [see LWJ report, US adds Al Nusrah Front, 2 leaders to terrorism list].
According to Kavkaz Center, the Muhajireen Brigade "is one of the most active units of Mujahideen fighting in Syria against the Alawite regime of Assad and Iranian mercenaries rafidites [those who reject Islam]."
"Chechen fighters," often described as fighters from the Caucasus and southern Russia, have been spotted on the Syrian battlefield for months. In October, a group of "Chechen emigrants" is known to have fought, along with an element from the Free Syrian Army unit, under the command of the Al Nusrah Front to take control of a key Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo. The Long war Journal speculated at the time that the group included members of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front commanded Free Syrian Army unit, 'Chechen emigrants,' in assault on Syrian air defense base].
The Muhajireen Group is known to have participated in two other major assaults against Syrian military bases since the October operation in Aleppo.
In mid-December, the Muhajireen Group teamed up with the Al Nusrah Front to overrun the Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111. Arab and Central Asian fighters are reported to have participated in the battle.
And last week, the Al Nusrah Front, together with the Tawhid Brigade and the Muhajireen Group, stormed the base of the Syrian military's 80th Regiment (or Brigade), which is situated near the main airport in Aleppo in eastern Syria.
Doku Umarov, the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, has praised the "mujahideen" in Syria as well as the fighters from the Caucasus. In November, Umarov released a speech on the Kavkaz Center website that addressed the jihad in Syria.
"I appeal to the brothers, and I want to stress that we, the Mujahideen of the Caucasus, pray for you, make Dua [supplication to Allah], ask Allah to help you with His angels, that Allah helps you in every way,' he said.
In the speech, Umarov warned the Syrian jihadists not to "replace the regime of Bashar al-Assad, using Turkish, or Saudi, or Egyptian, or American, or English money, with another idol under the guise of democracy."
Umarov was added to the US's list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2010. The US added the Islamic Caucasus Emirate to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in May 2011.
Faqir Mohammed. Image courtesy of AfPax Insider.
Faqir Mohammed, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's former deputy emir and a previous leader in Bajaur, is reported to have been captured by Afghan intelligence officials along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The report is unconfirmed.
Faqir is said to have entered Nangarhar province from the Pakistani tribal agency of Khyber, an Afghan intelligence official told Dawn.
"Maulvi Faqir and his four accomplices who had entered Nangarhar from Bajaur Agency were apprehended near Basawal on Torkham Road near the border of Khyber Agency's Tirah Valley," the Afghan intelligence official told the Pakistani news agency yesterday. "Yes I can confirm their names as they had told us. Maulvi Faqir, Shahid Umar, Maulana Hakeemullah Bajauri, Mualana Turabi and Fateh are the people who have been arrested."
Pakistani intelligence officials also told The Associated Press that Faqir is in custody. Afghanistan and Pakistan have not officially announced the capture of Faqir, however.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is known to operate in Nangarhar province. ISAF aircraft targeted the group in Nangarhar's Deh Bala district in August 2010.
The Tirah Valley is a known haven for the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other Pakistani terror groups. Safe havens in the valley enable these terror groups to launch attacks inside Pakistan as well as across the border in Nangarhar province. The US launched four drone strikes against terror groups in the Tirah Valley in Pakistan; all four strikes took place in 2010. The US killed Ibn Amin, a dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda military commander who operated in the Swat Valley, in a December 2010 drone strike in the Tirah Valley,
Before being sidelined by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in early 2012 over leadership issues, Faqir led the Taliban in Bajaur for years. He is also tied to some of al Qaeda's top leaders, including the group's emir, Ayman al Zawahiri. In the past, Faqir sheltered Ayman al Zawahiri and other senior al Qaeda leaders; one of the first US drone strikes in Pakistan targeted Zawahiri and other top commanders in an area controlled by Faqir.
Faqir recently appeared on a videotape with Maulvi Abu Bakr, the new emir for the Taliban in Bajaur [see LWJ report, Sidelined Pakistani Taliban commander back in good graces]. In the video, which was produced sometime in December 2012, Faqir confirmed that differences between himself and other leaders in Bajaur had been resolved after Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Mullah Fazlullah, who is also the emir of the Taliban in the Swat Valley, mediated the dispute.
ISAF has announced that a Taliban operative who facilitated insider attacks was killed last week in Kunar province along with an associate. The operative was responsible for the May 11, 2012 green-on-blue attack in Kunar that killed one American soldier and wounded two others.
According to yesterday's ISAF press release, a Taliban facilitator named Mahmood and his associate Rashid, "a former Afghan National Army soldier who facilitated and assisted with insider attack planning and execution," were killed in a security operation in the Ghaziabad district of Kunar province on Feb. 13.
The relevant part of the ISAF operational update for Feb. 13 states: "Afghan and coalition forces killed two insurgents during an operation in Ghaziabad district, Kunar province, Tuesday. During the operation, the security force observed two individuals engaged in insurgent activity. The security force engaged the insurgents with a precision strike, killing both."
In August 2012, the Taliban released a 34-minute video showing Taliban commanders in eastern Kunar province separately 'welcoming' two Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers suspected of killing US and Afghan soldiers in green-on-blue attacks. Featured in the video was "Ghazi" Mahmood from Gereshk district in Helmand, who, the Taliban claimed, gunned down "a dozen American troops" in Kunar on May 11. [See Threat Matrix report, Observations on Taliban video 'welcoming' rogue ANA soldiers.]
ISAF had previously reported that Mahmood was killed last fall. On Sept. 15, 2012, an airstrike in the Bar Kunar district of Kunar province killed a Taliban insider attack planner named Mahmood. At the time, ISAF said the slain Mahmood was responsible for the May 11, 2012 insider attack in Kunar. [For more information, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda 'facilitator' killed in Kunar airstrike.] ToloNews reported that Mullah Jalal, a Taliban leader for Ghaziabad district, was killed in another airstrike that same day in Kunar; Jalal had been shown in the Taliban video welcoming Mahmood. ISAF later retracted its claim that Mahmood was killed in the September strike; Mahmood was subsequently interviewed by The New York Times earlier this year.
According to the LWJ Special Report, Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan: the data, approximately half of the attackers manage to escape after the attacks, and many take refuge with the Taliban. Reports such as yesterday's, of inside attack planners and operatives being tracked down and killed or captured, are rare.
Kunar province, where the Taliban facilitator and his associate were killed, has remained a haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Over the past few months, ISAF has been targeting al Qaeda-linked Taliban operatives in Kunar's Ghaziabad district as well as other parts of Kunar. [See LWJ reports, Al Qaeda-linked Taliban commander targeted in Kunar raid, and ISAF launches another raid targeting al Qaeda in Kunar.]
Green-on-blue attacks have dramatically decreased since the beginning of the year. Only one such attack, on Jan. 6, has been reported so far in 2013. There were 61 green-on-blue attacks against ISAF personnel reported in 2012; 11 of those attacks took place in August. The decrease in attacks may be attributed to the drawdown in ISAF forces as well as the reduced partnering of NATO and Afghan personnel.
A Facebook page entry by Ansar al Sharia Egypt showing Sheikh Adel Shehato after his arrest.
The US has not been granted access to the senior members of the so-called "Nasr City Cell" who were arrested late last year, according to several American officials familiar with the case. The Nasr City Cell is an al Qaeda-linked group that reportedly plotted acts of terrorism inside Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, Libya, and Mali.
The cell has also been tied to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, during which four Americans, including US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed.
Egyptian authorities first detained members of the cell during a raid in the Nasr City neighborhood of Cairo on Oct. 24, 2012. The US government has asked Egypt for permission to interview the senior-most detainees in custody, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials contacted by The Long War Journal. Thus far, the Americans have been rebuffed.
The senior cell members in Egyptian custody include Muhammad Jamal al Kashef (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed), a longtime jihadist who corresponded with al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri in 2011 and 2012, and Sheikh Adel Shehato, a senior Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) figure who has openly proclaimed his allegiance to al Qaeda's ideology.
According to multiple press accounts, some of the participants in the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack were trained in camps established by Jamal inside Libya. Shehato was one of several al Qaeda-linked jihadists who helped instigate a protest outside of the US Embassy in Cairo earlier that same day. [For more on Jamal's ties to the jihadists involved in the Cairo protest, see LWJ report: Old school Egyptian jihadists linked to 9/11 Cairo protest, Benghazi suspect.]
American officials have not been able to interview either Jamal or Shehato despite their high-profile ties to the al Qaeda-led terror network.
Both Jamal and Shehato were imprisoned during the tenure of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, released in 2011, and re-arrested in late 2012.
Correspondence with Ayman al Zawahiri
Communications between Jamal and Ayman al Zawahiri were uncovered during the investigation into the Nasr City Cell.
Jamal is deferential to Zawahiri in the letters and clearly sees himself as the al Qaeda leader's subordinate, praising Zawahiri and saying that it would be an "honor" to sit next to him. Jamal summarizes his past, including his stint as a bodyguard for Zawahiri during the 1990s, and recent activities. He also asks for additional financial support, saying he has received funds from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) but the amount is insufficient for his operations.
Jamal explains in the letters that he has set up camps in Libya and the Sinai and has also dispatched Egyptian terrorists to Mali.
The Egyptian press has reprinted the entirety of a letter written in late 2011 and excerpts of another written on Aug. 18, 2012. Two press accounts concerning Jamal's letters to Zawahiri that appeared in Al Yawm al Sabi and Al Ahram were previously summarized by The Long War Journal. [See LWJ report, Communications with Ayman al Zawahiri highlighted in 'Nasr City cell' case.]
A third Egyptian press report, published by Cairo's Al Jumhuriyah earlier this month, contains still more excerpts from Jamal's Aug. 18, 2012 letter.
Al Jumhuriyah reported that Ayman al Zawahiri was presented with "several offers" in the letter, including training jihadist cadres to be sent abroad to gain additional experience.
Jamal asks the al Qaeda master, "Do you still hold the same view of setting up a jihadist entity against Zionist-crusaders, or do you opt for Dawa work?" This query was made in reference to the post-revolutionary Egypt. The term "Dawa" includes proselytizing and charity work intended to woo new converts.
"With God's grace we set up that base in Libya. Also with God's grace we succeeded in setting up a group led by Malik al Masri, who is known to brother jihadists in Libya," Jamal writes.
"We reached Mali and set up a nucleus led by our brother Nasir al Masri," Jamal adds. "We need a direct and swift recommendation of brother Nasir from Shaykh Abu Mus'ab. We will keep you posted on the situation in Mali in the next message."
Thus, the letter reads like a status report, in which Jamal promises to keep Ayman al Zawahiri up-to-date on his activities in Mali and elsewhere. The identities of the individuals in Libya and Mali mentioned by Jamal are not clear.
Jamal pleads for additional support in his August 2012 letter: "Our financial depletion has curtailed our ability to purchase and enhance the weaponry useful to us in our clash in Egypt, although they are abundant in Libya and can easily be transported to Egypt."
Jamal explains that he has set up groups inside the Sinai. "We would like to point out that the biggest faction in Sinai is the Salafi front," Jamal writes. "They are well known. They were responsible for anti-gas pipeline operations and we know them personally."
In addition to publishing excerpts of Jamal's letter, Al Jumhuriyah also examined the various roles played by the Nasr City Cell's members. Sheikh Shehato is described as one of the cell's leaders and as being responsible for training and giving orders to the other members. [For more on Shehato and the Nasr City Cell, see LWJ reports: Egypt arrests pro-al Qaeda jihadist tied to Benghazi suspect, and More al Qaeda links to Cairo terror cell reportedly found.]
Salafi jihadist groups with ties to al Qaeda have been agitating for the release of the Nasr City Cell's detained members. For instance, Ansar al Sharia Egypt posted a picture of Sheikh Shehato entering an Egyptian courtroom in late December. The group, which is headed by an openly pro-al Qaeda jihadist named Ahmed Ashush, criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for allowing the prosecution to continue. The Facebook post can be seen at the top of this article.
Similarly, Mohammed al Zawahiri has professed Jamal's innocence in the Benghazi attack.
A senior al Qaeda commander who waged jihad for more than 20 years in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Chechnya, and the Sudan was killed in a French airstrike in Mali.
A Sudanese jihadist announced the death of "Mujahid Sheikh" Abu Hazim al Sudani in a statement released today on al Qaeda-linked Internet forums. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Abu Hazim was a leader of al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles, an al Qaeda affiliate in Sudan, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Abu Hazim had traveled to Mali to serve with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb at the beginning of Operation Serval, the French operation launched against the al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups that threatened to take over Mali, the intelligence official said.
According to the jihadist who published Abu Hazim's martyrdom notice, the Sudanese commander's "blood was spilled as a result of bombing by the French during the latest Crusader campaign in Mali." The date and location of the French airstrike were not disclosed.
French warplanes have launched numerous airstrikes in the effort to retake central and northern Mali from the jihadist alliance of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. The French intervened in Mali in January after the jihadist alliance pushed southward and threatened to take the capital of Bamako.
Abu Hazim was a well-traveled and seasoned commander who had fought, preached, and trained in multiple jihadist theaters over the past four decades. He had spent "twenty-something years with emigration, jihad, garrison and captivity," and fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, in "the jungles of the Philippines," and on the "borders of Chechnya." He had "roamed all over Sudan, east and west," and also was present in Darfur.
"Mujahideen and martyrs graduated at his hands, and the knights of Cuba [Guantanamo] and the martyrs of Iraq and Somalia testify for him," his martyrdom statement says.
He reportedly had been detained several times by Sudan's intelligence service, and was supposedly interrogated by the CIA once.
"Each time he got out of prison he was stronger and more determined. The prisons and their cells didn't dissuade him," the statement says.
Abu Hazim's death in an airstrike comes as no surprise. In October 2012, Malian officials reported that hundreds of foreign jihadists had arrived in the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu. More than 150 Sudanese fighters were said to have traveled to Timbuktu alone, according to multiple news reports.
Sudan has a long history of hosting al Qaeda and supporting its global and regional jihad. Until they were kicked out by the Sudanese government after US pressure, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, other al Qaeda leaders, and a host of fighters maintained their base in the country.
Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles, an al Qaeda affiliate in Sudan, has operated in the country for years. In the beginning of January, the US added two al Qaeda-linked operatives who murdered a US diplomat and his driver in Khartoum in 2008 to the list of global terrorists. A video of the two terrorists, who escaped from prison in 2010, was released in December 2012. Last month, the terror group launched a "student wing" at the University of Khartoum.
Sudanese jihadists continue to operate in multiple theaters, including in nearby Somalia. In 2007, Abu Talha al Sudani was killed in a US airstrike in Somalia in 2007. Al Sudani was al Qaeda's ideological and strategic leader in East Africa. Along with bin Laden, Zawahiri, and other top al Qaeda leaders, he was involved the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.