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AQAP conducts offensive against Yemeni military in Baydah

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 13:35

Local security officials in the central Yemeni city of Baydah reported a series of attack carried out by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) early this morning. AQAP fighters attacked several military targets in the city, including a Special Forces headquarters, a police station, and two military checkpoints. While initial reports from the main hospital in the city claimed that at least 10 police officers were killed in the attacks, security officials later claimed that 11 soldiers were killed in addition to 12 AQAP fighters.

AQAP was quick to claim credit for the operations via a Twitter account affiliated with the terrorist group. The statement claimed that the attack against the Special Forces headquarters was carried out by a suicide bomber named Abu Dajjana al Lahji and that the mujahideen had also attacked various security headquarters, a government complex, as well as the Zaher and Izza military checkpoints in the city. In this preliminary statement, AQAP claimed that tens of Yemeni soldiers were killed and injured and that clashes in the city were still ongoing.

The AQAP statement also noted that today's attacks in Baydah reflect the Houthi rebellion and determination to "fight the Sunnis...with the pretext of combating al Qaeda." The statement added that it was this determination that legitimized the Houthis in the eyes of the San'a government.

In a secondary statement released just two hours after the first, AQAP provided more details about today's offensive. This statement claimed that AQAP fighters began their "coordinated attacks" at midnight on Wednesday with an initial assault on the main gate of the Special Forces base in order to clear the path for the suicide bomber, Abu Dajjana al Lahji. Al Lahji allegedly stormed the base and detonated his explosive beside a building housing Yemeni soldiers in order to maximize casualties. The mujahideen then stormed the base's command center and set it on fire along with military vehicles that were at the site.

The second statement also mentions that AQAP fighters attacked the Izza checkpoint in the city, without making mention of the attack at the Zaher checkpoint noted in the initial statement. However, AQAP claimed that two soldiers were killed in this assault and that its fighters took full control of the checkpoint and managed to seize two military vehicles as well as anti-aircraft weaponry.

Later in the day, AQAP released a third and final statement , claiming that its fighters had withdrawn from Baydah "following successful attacks carried out simultaneously that lasted for hours against military and security targets." The statement stated that the operation lasted for close to five hours, beginning at midnight and enduring till dawn on Wednesday, and caused massive material and human losses among the Yemeni military's ranks.

AQAP's final statement on the matter concludes with the terrorist group's justification for the attacks. The statement reads, "the attack came as a result of confirmed reports that the mujahideen received regarding joint meetings held between the rafidi [Shi'ite] Houthis and the military and security leadership in order to arrange the handover of the Special Forces base along with all of its military hardware to the Houthis, under the direct supervision of the military." The AQAP statement noted that this alleged "handover" is not the first of its kind; rather, AQAP accuses the Yemeni military of handing over both Amran and Sana'a provinces to the Houthis.

Local sources said that the series of attacks came on the heels of a meeting of tribal leaders in the city, some of whom are linked to AQAP, that concluded with a decision to challenge the Shi'ite Houthi presence in Baydah province. Many of the tribal leaders believe that elements of the security forces in Baydah are sympathetic to the Houthi rebels, and the offensives may have been timed to follow the tribal meeting.

This most recent series of attacks in Baydah are yet another indication of AQAP's intensification of its terrorist activity in Yemen in light of the ongoing Shi'ite Houthi rebellion rocking the country. The Houthis staged a lightning sweep of Sana'a on Sept. 22 and quickly consolidated their power in the capital in the following days. Since then, AQAP has declared an open war against the Houthis and called on Sunnis to take up arms against the Shiite rebels.

AQAP routinely accuses the Yemeni military of collusion with the Houthis, and has begun using the term "the Houthi-turned-military" when referring to the Yemeni armed forces. In a video released last week, AQAP claimed that Yemeni "soldiers have grown used to raising their voices with the rafidi [Shi'ite] Houthi cry during battle." Exploiting the current political and security chaos in the country, AQAP has been stepping up its attacks against both the Yemeni military and the Houthi rebels.

US launches another 2 drone strikes in North Waziristan

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 10:28

The US launched two more airstrikes in Pakistan's lawless tribal agencies today, killing 10 more "militants," according to reports from the region.

In the first strike, the remotely piloted, CIA-operated Reapers or Predators fired missiles at a compound and a vehicle in the village of Kund Ghar in the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan. The compound is owned by "militant commander Mustaqeem," according to Dawn.

In the second strike, the US killed three more "militants" and wounded five, according to Dawn. Two missiles were fired at a compound in the village Madakhel Kunar Sar in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.

The targets of the strikes have not been disclosed. It is unclear if Mustaqeem or senior jihadist leaders or operatives were killed in the first US airstrike. The Taliban and al Qaeda have not released statements announcing the death of its leaders or operatives.

The US has carried out 13 drone strikes inside Pakistan this year; all 13 have taken place since June 11. The US drone program in Pakistan was put on hold from the end of December 2013 up until June 11, 2014 as the Pakistani government attempted to negotiate a peace deal with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that wages jihad in Afghanistan and seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state.

Three of the last four strikes have taken place in the Shawal Valley. The US killed eight militants on Oct. 6 and five more on Oct. 5. Six out of the last 10 strikes in Pakistan have occurred in the Datta Khel area.

Shawal Valley, Datta Khel are known havens for al Qaeda and allied jihadist groups

The Shawal Valley is a region that spans the jihadist-infested tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan. The valley is used as a staging point for fighters entering eastern Afghanistan to battle US and Afghan forces.

Al Qaeda and other allied jihadist groups are also known to shelter in the Shawal Valley. A strike on July 29, 2013 killed three al Qaeda military "training experts." The al Qaeda fighters were identified as "Abu Rashid from Saudi Arabia, Muhammed Ilyas Kuwaiti from Kuwait, and Muhammed Sajid Yamani from Yemen."

The three al Qaeda trainers killed in the July 29, 2013 strike were members of the Lashkar-al-Zil, or the Shadow Army, al Qaeda's paramilitary force that fields small conventional units in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is known to operate training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US Treasury Department officially acknowledged the existence of this unit when it added one such Pakistan-based trainer and commander of al Qaeda's "paramilitary brigades" to the list of global terrorists in June 2013. [See LWJ reports, 3 al Qaeda military 'training experts' killed in US drone strike in Pakistan, US adds al Qaeda explosives expert to list of global terrorists, and Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army,'.]

Another senior jihadist killed by the US in the Shawal Valley is Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, the former emir of the al Qaeda-allied Turkistan Islamic Party. Abdul Shakoor, who was killed in a US drone strike in on Aug. 24, 2012, was given command of al Qaeda's forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the spring of 2010. [See LWJ report, Turkistan Islamic Party leader thought killed in US drone strike.]

The Datta Khel area is administered by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the top Taliban commander for North Waziristan. Bahadar provides shelter to senior al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.

Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadist groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil is known to operate a command center in Datta Khel. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Datta Khel, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri; Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army.

US launches 2 more drone strikes in North and South Waziristan

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 15:38

The US launched two drone strikes against jihadists operating in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North and South Waziristan over the past two days. Thirteen people, including a "high level target" are reported to have been killed in the two strikes.

Yesterday's strike took place in the Kand Ghar area of the Shawal Valley in South Waziristan. The CIA-piloted Reapers or Predators fired a pair of missiles at a compound, killing five people, including an unnamed "high level target," Dawn reported. It is unclear if the jihadists who are targeted in the strike were local Taliban fighters, al Qaeda, or members of other terrorist groups that are known to operate in the area.

In today's attack, US drones launched several missiles at a compound in the Mangroti area of the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan that belongs to a Taliban commander known as Habib, Dawn reported. Eight "suspected militants" were killed and six more were wounded, according to local officials. It is unclear if Habib is among those killed.

The Shawal Valley, which spans both North and South Waziristan, is a known haven for al Qaeda and other terror groups operating in the region. A host of Taliban, Pakistani, and foreign terrorist groups gather in the Shawal Valley and then enter Afghanistan to fight US, NATO, and Afghan government forces.

The US has now launched two airstrikes in South Waziristan since the end of September. A strike on Sept. 28 in the Wana area of South Waziristan reportedly killed two "Arabs" and two local jihadists.

The Sept. 28 strike in South Waziristan was the first recorded in the tribal agency since April 17, 2013, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. In the time between those two strikes, the US launched 30 strikes in North Waziristan and one more in the district of Hangu.

The US has carried out 11 drone strikes inside Pakistan this year; all 11 have taken place since June 11. The US drone program in Pakistan was put on hold from the end of December 2013 up until June 11, 2014 as the Pakistani government attempted to negotiate a peace deal with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an al Qaeda-linked group that wages jihad in Afghanistan and seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state. [See LWJ report, Turkistan Islamic Party leader thought killed in US drone strike

Correction: The Oct. 6 strike in the Mangroti area of the Shawal Valley took place in North Waziristan, not South Waziristan.

Al Nusrah Front releases video, photos from battle against Hezbollah

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 11:59

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has released a video and a series of photos documenting its recent operations against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, is fighting alongside Bashar al Assad's forces against Al Nusrah and other rebels in Syria. But the two sides have also repeatedly fought one another in Lebanon as well.

In the video above, Al Nusrah shows footage from its raid on a Hezbollah outpost in the town of Brital, which is close to the border with Syria. In text displayed during the video, the al Qaeda group claims its fighters killed 11 Hezbollah jihadists, wounded tens of others, and forced the remaining Hezbollah forces to flee.

Al Nusrah says its fighters captured a variety of weaponry, including an American-made rocket launcher. And the group also claims that only one of its members was killed and one other wounded during the raid.

Skirmishes also took place elsewhere inside Lebanon. And the total number of Hezbollah casualties varies greatly in the reporting, with some reports saying that 10 Hebollah fighters were killed.

Hezbollah sources, meanwhile, have given their version of events to the press. Citing a "person close to Hezbollah," Reuters reports that at least 16 Nusrah Front fighters were killed. While Hezbollah temporarily lost control of the outpost, Hezbollah sources say, Al Nusrah's fighters were pushed back into Syria.

According to Reuters, the Al Nusrah fighters "attacked at least 10 Hezbollah bases along a mountain range close to the Syrian border." Their assault covered "a large area stretching from south of the town of Baalbek to areas close to the border town of Arsal."

In August, Al Nusrah and the Islamic State, a jihadist group that was disowned by al Qaeda's general command in February, fought against Lebanese forces in Arsal. In addition to killing a number of Lebanese security officials and soldiers, the jihadists took others hostage. Al Nusrah and the Islamic State have killed at least three of the Lebanese hostages. And the Al Nusrah Front continues to use the captives in its anti-Iranian propaganda.

Al Nusrah claims that its attack on the Hezbollah outpost near Brital is revenge for attacks on refugees and others in Arsal.

In addition to the video above, Al Nusrah has released several photos from the fighting. For example, the photos below purportedly show several Hezbollah fighters who were killed during Al Nusrah's raids in Lebanon.

Pakistani Taliban group urges jihadists in Iraq and Syria 'to reconcile'

Sun, 10/05/2014 - 01:17

Omar Khalid al Khorasani, from a 2012 propaganda video in which he called for the establishment of a global caliphate and said he wanted to take possession of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.

A senior leader of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, urged the Islamic State and the Al Nusrah Front, "and other mujahideen of the region" to put aside their differences and fight together against the US and allied countries that are launching airstrikes against jihadists in Iraq and Syria. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is the latest al Qaeda-linked group to call for reconciliation between jihadist factions in the region.

Omar Khalid al Khorasani, who is on the executive ruling council of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, released a videotape "suggesting Islamic State (IS,ISIS), Jabhat al Nusrah (JN) and other mujahideen of the region to reconcile among each other," his spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihshan, wrote in an email sent to The Long War Journal. Khorasani's video was published on YouTube but has since been removed for violating the video service's terms of publishing.

"As Kuffar [a derogatory term for non-Muslims] and their helper Murtadeen [apostates, or Muslims who support the West] have formed a coalition to attack the Muslims of Iraq and Sham [Syria], it is important that the Mujahideen of the region and of the whole world are united together against this aggression," Ihsan said.

"Omar Khalid Khorasani has also offered his influence to mediate between Islamic State, al Qaeda and Jabhat al Nusrah," Ihsan continues. "He has urged the Muslims of the whole world to become united like a fist against the Kuffar and their Murtadeen helpers."

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is the latest al Qaeda-linked jihadist group to call for the Islamic State and the Al Nusrah Front and its Islamist allies to put aside their differences. The Afghan Taliban, Shabaab (al Qaeda's official branch in Somalia), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and various pro-al Qaeda ideologues have all called for the jihadist groups to accept mediation and unite over the past year.

The Al Nusrah Front and its allies have said they are willing to reconcile, but the Islamic State, which declared a caliphate after taking control of large swaths of Iraq this summer, has refused. The Islamic State has declared its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, as the emir of the caliphate and has insisted that other jihadists swear allegiance to him.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar formed in late August after splitting from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan over a leadership dispute. Factions from Mohmand, Arakzai, Bajaur; Khyber, Charsadda, Peshawar, and Swat broke away from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan after claiming that its emir, Mullah Fazlullah, and other leaders, strayed from the path of jihad. The jihadist group signaled its affinity with al Qaeda and the global jihad when it released a graphic that celebrated the 9/11 attack on the US. [See LWJ report, Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar forms in northwestern Pakistan, and Threat Matrix report Jamaat-ul-Ahrar celebrates 9/11 attack.]

Omar Khalid is a powerful commander who was in the running to take over the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan after the death of then emir Hakeemullah Mehsud in a US drone strike late last year. Omar Khalid is close to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, and has said that the Taliban seek to overthrow the Pakistani government, impose sharia, or Islamic law, seize the country's nuclear weapons, and wage jihad until "the Caliphate is established across the world." [For more information on Omar Khalid al Khorasani, see LWJ report, Quetta airbase attacks carried out by Pakistani Taliban, IMU.]

9 UN troops killed in Mali ambush

Sat, 10/04/2014 - 14:43

Nine United Nations peacekeeping troops from Niger were killed yesterday in an ambush by unidentified assailants in the Gao region of Mali. No group has yet claimed the attack, but the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and the Al Mourabitoun Brigade have been behind most of the recent attacks in Gao.

According to a UN spokesman, armed gunmen on motorbikes "were targeting a convoy that included a fuel truck, knowing full well that an attack on a fuel truck would cause an even greater number of casualties, which adds to the horrendous nature of the crime." The attack was tactically different than other recent operations conducted by jihadist groups in the area.

The ambush came just two weeks after five Chadian troops were killed when they drove over a mine in the Kidal region of northern Mali.

Yesterday's attack is the worst on MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping force, since it assumed security responsibilities in July 2013 following a French-led operation to oust jihadists from northern Mali. The latest attack brings the total number of MINUSMA fatalities in Mali to 20.

In response to the jihadists' takeover of much of northern Mali in 2012, French forces commenced Operation Serval in January 2013, a joint French and Malian operation to regain control of the area. The successful operation pushed the jihadists and their leaders from the northern cities they had ruled. In July 2014, Operation Serval officially ended and it was replaced by a new counterterrorism operation dubbed Operation Barkhan. In this ongoing effort, 1,000 French troops are currently in Mali assisting MINUSMA, the UN mission, to maintain the stability and security of the northern portion of the country.

Although most UN deaths in Mali have been caused by IEDs or landmines detonated under vehicle convoys, at least 15 suicide bombing attacks have taken place in Mali since the first one in February 2013. In addition to the 12 suicide attacks in Mali tallied by The Long War Journal as of May 2013, suicide attacks were also carried out in September 2013 and in July and August of this year. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's official affiliate in North Africa, took responsibility for the Aug. 16 suicide bombing that killed two UN troops in Ber, a town close to Timbuktu. In the same statement, AQIM also claimed two other attacks near Timbuktu in June. AQIM is just one of several jihadist groups known to operate in northern Mali.

Jihadist groups in northern Mali

The Gao region of northern Mali is home to the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an al Qaeda breakaway faction; MUJAO is also known to operate in Kidal, another northeastern region. In 2011, the group officially broke away from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb due to apparent dissatisfaction over the ethnic makeup of the leaders of AQIM. The US government added MUJAO and two of its leaders to the list of global terrorists and entities in December 2012. Two months later, on Feb. 9, 2013, MUJAO conducted the first-ever suicide bombing in Mali, targeting a Malian military checkpoint.

Another group that operates in Gao is the Al Mourabitoun Brigade. In 2013, the brigade was formed in a merger between MUJAO forces and the forces of jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar. A longtime al Qaeda commander who fought in Afghanistan, Belmokhtar disaffiliated from AQIM after a dispute arose between him and the top leadership of the group. Belmokhtar bristled at taking orders from AQIM, and often communicated directly with al Qaeda's central leadership in the Afghan-Pakistan region. In May of this year, Belmokhtar sided with al Qaeda central and its emir, Ayman al Zawahiri (whom Belmokhtar referred to as "his emir"), in the infighting between the group and the Islamic State.

Despite openly breaking with AQIM, Belmokhtar continues to take orders from al Qaeda's central leadership and conducts joint operations with AQIM units in Mali and elsewhere in North and West Africa. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations.] The official merger between Belmokhtar's forces and MUJAO in the summer of 2013 was not a surprise, as the two groups had previously conducted operations together. In May 2013, they conducted joint suicide attacks in Niger, targeting a military barracks in Agadez and a uranium mine in Arlit that supplies French reactors. Al Mourabitoun and two other groups affiliated with Mokhtar Belmokhtar were added to the US State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in December 2013.

The Al Mourabitoun Brigade has claimed a suicide attack in the Gao region that killed a French soldier in July. And just a few days ago, four jihadists affiliated with the Al Mourabitoun were arrested in a French military raid in Gao.

The al Qaeda-linked group Ansar Dine is also known to have operated in Gao and Kidal. Throughout 2012, Ansar Dine worked with AQIM, MUJAO, and local Tuareg separatists to push the Malian government from control of northern Mali, in an attempt to form a Muslim state ruled by sharia law. AQIM viewed Ansar Dine as its local arm in Mali; in a "confidential letter" from AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel that was found in Timbuktu in early 2013, he instructed his followers to mask their operations and "pretend to be a 'domestic' movement" under Ansar Dine so as not to draw international attention and intervention. Despite being known to operate in Gao and Kidal, Ansar Dine has not claimed an attack in the region this year.

In addition to MUJAO, Al Mourabitoun, and Ansar Dine, AQIM is also known to operate in Gao and Kidal, but its attacks in Mali this year have been located near Timbuktu.

The Long War Journal has compiled a map of the major attacks in Mali against UN or French troops this year based on reporting from Malian news or wire services such as Reuters.

Islamic State beheads another Brit, threatens American aid worker

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 18:45

After beheading British aid worker Alan Henning, the Islamic State displayed former US Army Ranger Peter Edward Kassig.

The Islamic State carried through on its Sept. 13 threat to execute British aid worker Alan Henning if Britain did not cease airstrikes against the jihadist group. Afterward, the jihadist group threatened to kill a former US Army Ranger who was captured while running an aid group in Syria.

Today the Islamic State released a short video that showed the execution of Henning. The video opens with a news clip that announces Britain's involvement in US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State. After the news video is played, the words "Another message to America and its allies" is displayed.

Henning, whose hands are cuffed behind his back and is wearing an orange shirt and pants, is shown kneeling in the desert. A masked Islamic State fighter dressed in black and wielding a knife stands to the hostage's side.

Henning issues a brief statement before he is killed.

"I am Alan Henning. Because of our Parliament's decision to attack the Islamic State, I, as a member of the British public, will now pay the price for that decision," he says.

His jihadist executioner, who is certainly the same man who killed two other Americans and a British citizen in the same fashion in previous videos, then speaks.

"The blood of David Haines was on your hands Cameron. Alan Henning will also be slaughtered, but his blood is on the hands of the British Parliament," the jihadist says, and then proceeds to behead Henning.

Henning's bloody body is subsequently displayed, with his head placed on his back.

The executioner is then shown with American hostage Peter Edward Kassig, who, like Henning, is also wearing an orange shirt and pants and is kneeling on the ground with his hands bound behind his back.

"Obama, you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham [Syria], which keeps on striking our people. So it is only right that we continue to strike the necks of your people," the jihadist says, threatening Kassig.

Kassig is a former US Army Ranger who founded Special Emergency Response and Assistance, an aid group that operated in Syria and Lebanon. The group "temporarily ceased its operations" sometime after Kassig was kidnapped, according to a statement on SERA's home page.

Henning is the fourth Western hostage executed by the Islamic State since the US opened its air campaign against the group in Iraq on Aug. 7.

Kassig may only have a few weeks to live unless US forces are able to identify his location and rescue him. If the past is any indication, the Islamic State will execute Kassig within the next two to three weeks. The Islamic State released its first execution video, of American James Wright Foley, on Aug. 19, and in it threatened Steven Joel Sotloff, another US citizen. The video of Sotloff's beheading was released on Sept. 2, and British citizen David Cawthorne Haines was threatened. Haines' beheading video was released on Sept. 13, and Henning was threatened in that video.

The Islamic State is also known to be holding British journalist John Cantlie and an unidentified female American citizen. Cantlie has been featured in a series of Islamic State videos called "Lend Me Your Ears," which discusses the jihadist group's perspective on the US-led military intervention in Iraq and Syria.

Jihadist group loyal to Taliban, al Qaeda claims to have captured Afghan district

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 12:58

A blast at an Afghan military base in the Reg district in Kandahar. The photograph was published on Junood al Fida's Twitter feed.

The Taliban claims to have captured the Registan district in the southern province of Kandahar. In a statement released on Oct. 2, the Taliban said it had routed Afghan forces in Registan, forcing them to flee to the neighboring "Shorawak district after dozens were killed and wounded." This "led to [the] Mujahideen liberating the district center, unfurling the sublime white flag of Islam over it and bringing the entire district under their complete control."

Afghan officials quickly denied the Taliban's claims.

Pajhwok Afghan News reports that Afghan "authorities rejected the assertion as exaggerated," saying that the Registan district remains under the government's control. Afghan officials insisted that the district center was moved for "administrative reasons," because it was difficult for people to reach it, and not because the Taliban had overrun security forces.

Whatever the truth is behind the Taliban's disputed claims, it appears that Junood al Fida, a group that is loyal to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, has played a significant role in the fighting.

In a series of tweets on the group's official Twitter account, Junood al Fida also claimed that the Registan district had fallen. The organization heralded it as good news for the "Commander of the faithful," Mullah Omar, and also honored al Qaeda master Osama bin Laden.

One tweet by the group's media arm reads: "Glad tidings O Ummah - the den of Shaykh Osamah will fall to the lions of the #Islamic_Emirates - by the will of Allah!" The accompanying hashtags are #Kandahar and #Afghanistan.

"Allahu Akbar, Mujahideen of #Junood_al_Fida have made enormous gains in the dessert [sic] of Kandahar!" another tweet reads. A third post claims: "Today is a great day for the lions of Ameerul Mu'mineen [Commander of the Faithful] Mullah Umar, the Mujahideen have attacked the enemy camps giving them severe blows." And a fourth tweet cheers Junood al Fida's ability "to gain much territory from the Murtad [or Apostate] army."

Still other tweets (included at the end of this article) show a base the group claims to have assaulted, as well as scenes from the fighting.

Other online jihadists are crediting Junood al Fida with capturing the district, which may very well be an exaggeration.

The Taliban have taken control of several districts in Afghanistan during the fighting season. In July, the Taliban overran Sangin district in Helmand province. Afghan officials negotiated a peace agreement with the Taliban in August, and the district remains contested to this day. Also in July, the Taliban took control of Char Sada district in the central province of Ghor.

Baloch group that pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar calls Ayman al Zawahiri its 'emir'

In mid-July, Junood al Fida released a statement explaining its approach to waging jihad.

"We gave our bayat (oath of allegiance) to Ameerul Mu'mineen Mullah Muhammed Omar Mujahid, may God protect him, and we are his soldiers," the statement reads, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. The group described al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri as "Our Shaykh al Habeeb" [beloved leader] and its "Ameeruna" [our chief].

Junood al Fida's hostility to the US was highlighted throughout the statement. Its members had "migrated to areas in southern Afghanistan to wage jihad against the United States and the 'US puppets' in Afghanistan," the statement reads. "As for the United States' future in Afghanistan," Junood al Fida threatened, "it will be fire and hell and total defeat, God willing, as it was for their predecessors - the Soviets and before them, the British."

The organization, which calls its fighters "The Desert Lions," features anti-American propaganda on its Twitter feed. For instance, a few tweets display an image of a jihadist taking aim at the US Capitol building with a firearm while fighting in the desert.

Junood al Fida has repeatedly said that it is integrated into the Taliban's operations in southern Afghanistan. In August, the Baloch jihadist organization released a video showing its fighters launching raids in the Shorawak district of Kandahar province. The raids were part of the Taliban's "Operation Khayber" offensive.

In August, the group also released a eulogy for its slain leader, Abdul Hafeez, who was from the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. According to the statement, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Hafeez had waged jihad for four decades. He fought against the Soviets, the Northern Alliance, and against US, Western, and Afghan forces after 9/11. Junood al Fida described him as "a well-known commander in Zabul, Helmand & Kandahar Province of The Islamic Emirates Of Afghanistan," the official name of the Taliban.

Junood al Fida's photos from the recent fighting

A military base in Kandahar's Registan district:

The wreckage after the Taliban/Junood al Fida's attack:

A destroyed building:

The remains of an Afghan police pickup truck:

Jihadists pray in the desert after their assault:

Jihadists launch multiple suicide bombings in Libya

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 10:01

The logo of Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council

The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council has taken responsibility for a series of suicide bombings in and around the restive city of Benghazi yesterday that targeted forces loyal to former Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. The attacks killed dozens of Libyan soldiers at the Benina International Airport and four more in a separate attack on a checkpoint in Qubah, east of Benghazi.

Al Arabiya reported that "two cars loaded with explosives targeted a military checkpoint near Benina International Airport in Benghazi." According to Al Jazeera, the airport houses "heavy weaponry" which the militants are fighting to obtain. Al Jazeera also claims that up to "four separate suicide attacks targeted the Benina air base." Following the suicide bombings, heavy clashes occurred near the airport, with government airstrikes allegedly being used in defense.

This attack came hours after the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council rejected a government plan for peace talks to end the violence in Libya. Middle East Monitor reports that the Council released a statement saying, "The initiative held in Ghadames [a city in western Libya], which called for political dialogue, was not based on legitimate foundations. Rather, it is a weak attempt to convince the people to surrender their rights and to allow tyrants to return to power under the guise of national reconciliation."

This new attack by the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council is the latest in a months-long campaign by Islamist forces to seize control of Benghazi.

The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council is the umbrella under which Ansar al Sharia, the al Qaeda-affiliated group implicated in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, and other allied groups fight. The alliance has been fighting against troops loyal to Haftar, who earlier this year launched "Operation Dignity," an offensive to defeat jihadist forces in Benghazi.

In July, the alliance was able to overtake a Libyan special forces base in Benghazi. On its official Twitter feed (now suspended), Ansar al Sharia posted a video of its leader in Benghazi, Mohammad Ali al Zahawi, discussing his group's "victory." The group also posted photos of the weapons, or "booty," it has taken into possession, as well as scenes from the assault on the base. [For more on Ansar al Sharia overtaking the base, see LWJ's report Ansar al Sharia, allies seize Libyan special forces base in Benghazi.]

The airport is one of the few remaining bases controlled by the government in Benghazi. Ansar al Sharia has consolidated its authority in conquered territory and has enacted sharia, or Islamic law, in the areas it controls.

Ansar al Sharia is part of the al Qaeda network

A Library of Congress report from August 2012 noted that Ansar al Sharia Libya "has increasingly embodied al Qaeda's presence in Libya." The report also says that "it is probable that Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and in Tunisia are communicating."

Some of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's most senior leaders have known al Qaeda ties, and at least two of them previously served as important al Qaeda operatives in Europe. The group's leadership openly praises al Qaeda and the organization's social media is littered with pro-al Qaeda messages. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia's Twitter account, before it was suspended, was known to re-tweet official messages disseminated by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) official media wing, Al Andalus Foundation. AQIM leaders have repeatedly praised and offered advice to Ansar al Sharia Tunisia. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda and the threat in North Africa.]

The report also mentions that it is more than likely that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has made contact with Ansar al Sharia leaders. In addition, al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar has met with several leaders of Ansar al Sharia-allied militias in public. Belmokhtar reportedly met with Wisam Ben Hamid, who is the leader of Katiba al Ahrar Libya (Free Libya Battalion), a group the report notes is likely part of "al Qaeda's clandestine network in Libya." That same network is headed by al Qaeda operatives who report to al Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan, including Ayman al Zawahiri.

The leaders of Ansar al Sharia are openly pro-al Qaeda and have denounced the capture of Abu Anas al Libi, a top al Qaeda operative. Sufian Ben Qumu, the leader of Ansar al Sharia forces in Derna, Libya, was a former Guantanamo Bay inmate. [See LWJ report, Ex-Gitmo detainee reportedly tied to consulate attack.]

A leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment describes Ben Qumu as an "associate" of Osama bin Laden. JTF-GTMO found that Ben Qumu worked as a driver for a company owned by bin Laden in the Sudan, fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and maintained ties to several other well-known al Qaeda leaders. The US State Department added Ben Qumu to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in January 2014 and said his branch of Ansar al Sharia as well as the Benghazi branch was involved in the attack on the US diplomatic compounds in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. [See LWJ report, State Department designates 3 Ansar al Sharia organizations, leaders.]

Al Nusrah Front propaganda focuses on Iranian influence in Lebanon, Syria

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 16:41

The Al Nusrah Front posted this image on one of its official Twitter feeds earlier today. It portrays Hezbollah as a sinking ship that is bringing down Lebanon. The ship is colored to look like Hezbollah's flag.

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, continues to use hostages in its custody as bartering chips in its negotiations with the Lebanese government. The group captured Lebanese soldiers and policemen in August, and has executed some of them in its standoff with the government.

Al Nusrah's propaganda explaining its hostage campaign has focused on the influence of Iran and Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group, in Lebanon and Syria. In particular, Al Nusrah is trying to incite Sunnis in Lebanon to rise up against the Shiite forces by portraying them as the aggressors.

Al Nusrah says the families of the hostages should blame the Iranian axis for the executions of their sons, because it is Iran, through its proxies, that is refusing to negotiate. The al Qaeda branch is also attempting to tie the fate of its hostages to the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, thereby portraying itself as the guardian of the Sunni populace. Lebanon has experienced a massive influx of refugees since the beginning of the Syrian war.

In a statement released on one of its Twitter feeds on Sept. 29, the Al Nusrah Front claimed that Lebanon's general security services had agreed to turn over 10 Syrian refugees to Bashar al Assad's regime.

"We warn of a deal that has been reached and of its ramifications on the general security services and its chief, who is under the sway of the Iranian party," meaning Hezbollah, the statement reads.

The Lebanese government immediately denied that it had agreed to turn over the refugees to the Syrian regime, adding that Sunni jihadists had attempted to assassinate general security chief Abbas Ibrahim four times in the past two years.

According to The Daily Star, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Al Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State have been behind these attempts as they try to "push Lebanon into a similar chaotic situation" as "that of Syria and Iraq."

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades is an al Qaeda-linked group that has taken part in joint operations with Al Nusrah inside Lebanon. The Islamic State was once a branch of al Qaeda, but was disowned by al Qaeda's general command earlier this year and has fought against Al Nusrah inside Syria.

In its statement on Sept. 29, Al Nusrah went on to claim that the Lebanese government was "lying" to the families of its hostages. The group said it had "declared a halt to the negotiations until the issues of Arsal have been completely resolved" and there has been "no progress in the negotiations." Lebanese security forces fought against Al Nusrah and the Islamic State in Arsal, Lebanon in early August.

The al Qaeda branch claims it does not want to kill any more of the hostages, but the Lebanese government is forcing its hand by "increasing the pressure" on Syrian refugees. This is allegedly part of a "trap," Al Nusrah says, that is intended to demonstrate that the jihadist organization is the one responsible for "disrupting the negotiations."

The Lebanese government is "steered by the Iranian party [Hezbollah]," Al Nusrah argues, and the people need "to stop this government in its tracks."

In a separate statement released via Twitter earlier today, Al Nusrah denied Lebanese media reports that it had agreed not to execute any more of its hostages.

The Lebanese government "continues to arrest and torture" Sunnis in Lebanon, the statement reads, while Iran and Hezbollah continue to murder and bomb Sunnis in Syria. Nothing has changed since the hostages were first captured, Al Nusrah says, and there will be no deal until certain prisoners are released and the fate of the refugees in Arsal is resolved.

The Lebanese army has raided refugee camps in Arsal, claiming that it is tracking down members of the Al Nusrah Front and other jihadists who have been living there. Al Nusrah is trying to tap into the resentment caused by those raids.

Similar to the Al Nusrah Front, other parts of al Qaeda's international network are attempting to build popular support for the Sunni jihadists' ideology by focusing on Iranian influence.

For instance, Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, a top official in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), recently released a video in which he connected the war in Yemen to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have made substantial gains in recent weeks. Thus, according to al Ansi, "Iranian agents" are the common enemy across these jihadist theaters.

Islamic State seizes Hit, assaults Iraqi military headquarters in Anbar

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 13:07

A smoke plume rises from the military headquarters in Ramadi after an Islamic State attack. Image from Iraqi Spring Media Center.

The Islamic State continues its offensive to consolidate control of Iraq's Anbar province. Today, the jihadist group is reported to have taken control of the town of Hit and has launched assaults on the Anbar Operations Command north of Ramadi and the 7th Division headquarters at Al Asad Airbase in Al Baghdadi.

Iraqi officials confirmed that much of Hit, a town just 20 miles west of the provincial capital of Ramadi, is under the control of the Islamic State.

"Ninety percent of Hit has been overrun by militants," a member of the Anbar provincial council told Reuters. Witnesses stated that "scores" of heavily armed fighters are patrolling the town and the Islamic State's black flag is flying over several government buildings, including the mayor's office and the police station. Sporadic fighting between Islamic State fighters and the local Albu Nimr tribe has also been reported.

The Islamic State began its attack on Hit with a complex suicide assault, according to the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA).

"The elements of the [Islamic State] attacked, at dawn today, Hit district from three directions," NINA reported. Islamic State fighters first took control of the roads leading to the town, then deployed three suicide car bomb attacks on key checkpoints. Afterwards, the group targeted other checkpoints and the military headquarters in the town.

The Islamic State captured "a battalion of tanks, the headquarters of the Infantry Regiment, the headquarters for the leadership of the border guards of the Fourth Region, the Police Department of Hit and 5 police stations in the district," NINA reported. At least 24 soldiers are said to have been killed and "dozens" more are missing.

Unconfirmed reports from Iraqi officials claimed that the Islamic State fled the town "as a result of international coalition [US and allied country's] aircraft's bombing to the gatherings of militants in the region." The US has not released a press release announcing airstrikes in Hit. Yesterday, one airstrike was reported by CENTCOM "in the vicinity of the Haditha Dam."

Islamic State attacks on military headquarters in Ramadi, Al Baghdadi

In addition to assaulting Hit, the jihadist group launched attacks nearby at the Anbar Operations Command and Al Asad Airbase.

Iraqi troops are said to have "repulsed an attack" on the Anbar Operations Command just north of Ramadi, NINA reported. Additionally, unconfirmed reports indicate that the Al Mua'almin neighborhood in southern Ramadi has fallen to the Islamic State.

Also, the Iraqi Army reportedly repelled another assault on the headquarters element of the depleted 7th Division, which is based at Al Asad Airbase near the town of Al Baghdadi.

The fall of Hit and attacks on the Iraqi Army headquarters in Ramadi and Al Baghdadi are the latest in a series of setbacks suffered by the Iraqi military in Anbar province at the hands of the Islamic State.

Just days ago, the Islamic State routed a mechanized unit in Albu Aytha, a village just north of Ramadi. And two weeks ago, just north of Fallujah, the jihadists overran Camp Saqlawiya and took control of the nearby town of Alsigir. The group controls much of Anbar province, including Fallujah, areas of the provincial capital of Ramadi, and the border crossing at Al Qaim. [For more details, see LWJ reports, Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar, and Islamic State photos detail rout of Iraqi Army at Camp Saqlawiya.]

Pro-al Qaeda ideologues propose truce between Islamic State, rivals

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 01:05

Leading jihadist ideologues, including several openly allied with al Qaeda, have proposed a truce between the Islamic State and its rivals. The initiative, which is being promoted on Twitter, aims to bring together the warring jihadist factions in Iraq and Syria against the West.

The proposal, titled "An Initiative and Call for a Ceasefire Between Factions in Syria," was released online on Sept. 30. "Due to the Crusader attack on our Muslim brothers in Syria and Iraq," the authors argue, the jihadists must set aside their violent disagreements.

They claim that the US-led bombing campaign is part of a war "against Islam and not against a specific organization."

The Islamic State, headed by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, has been warring with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and other jihadist organizations since last year. Some of the signatories were involved in previous efforts to reconcile the Islamic State with its rivals. Those efforts failed, but the jihadist ideologues are trying once again.

"We call on all factions in Syria and Iraq to cease fighting among themselves no later than the evening of [Oct 3, 2014], for perhaps Allah most high will descend his mercies upon Syria and its people in the prayer of Muslim crowds on that great day," the proposal reads.

The document continues: "And we request from all the factions that they announce their position regarding this initiative in their manner in three days from the date of the publication of this statement, so that it can be made known and clear who rejects this blessed initiative."

The authors argue that "forty countries have united and gathered together to wage war against" Islam itself. They ask: "[S]o does our loyalty to Islam and its people not require of us to stop the infighting under the bombardment of this Crusader campaign at the very least if a permanent [final] end to it is not possible?"

The authors say that the territories the jihadists are currently fighting over can be transferred to an impartial body as long as the truce is in effect.

Authors' backgrounds indicate proposal likely has al Qaeda's approval

The proposed truce's signatories include: Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, Abu Qatada al Filisṭini, Umar al Haddoushi, Abu al Wafaa al Tunisi, Dr. Tariq Abdul Haleem, and Hani al Sibai. The initiative has also been endorsed by Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, who is the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate.

Several of the signatories are well-known critics of the Islamic State. And the authors' backgrounds indicate that the proposal likely has the support of al Qaeda's senior leadership.

Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini is a Saudi cleric who is closely allied with the Al Nusrah Front. He tried to reconcile the Islamic State with other jihadists late last year and into early 2014.

Muhaysini offered a reconciliation proposal in late January that received wide support, but was ultimately rejected by the Islamic State. When Muhaysini released his proposal on Jan. 23, he specifically noted that it was consistent with a call for unity made by Zawahiri just hours earlier. "In the morning, the Mujahid Sheikh Doctor [Ayman al Zawahiri] gave a speech in which he called to the same cause to which we have been intending to call," Muhaysini said at the time. The Saudi cleric said he interpreted Zawahiri's words as "good tidings."

It appears that the Islamic State's rejection of Muhaysini's peace offering was one of the final acts that led al Qaeda's general command to disown the group. Indeed, al Qaeda's senior leaders disassociated themselves from the Islamic State just days after Muhaysini's offer was declined.

Both Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al Filisṭini have been released from prison in Jordan. Their blistering critiques of the Islamic State have been marketed by the Al Nusrah Front on at least several occasions. Maqdisi and Qatada have also backed Ayman al Zawahiri in the dispute with Baghdadi's group.

In late May, Maqdisi released a statement calling the Islamic State a "deviant organization." Maqdisi revealed that he had personally attempted to broker a peace deal between the jihadist factions in Syria, saying that he been in touch with both Baghdadi and Zawahiri. Maqdisi referred to Zawahiri as his "beloved brother," "the Sheikh," and "the Commander" in the statement. Maqdisi blasted the Islamic State for rejecting his reconciliation attempts.

Hani al Sibai is highly regarded by Zawahiri. So when Sibai and others called on the al Qaeda master to detail some of the specific problems with the Islamic State in mid-April, Zawahiri publicly responded just weeks later, in early May. Zawahiri said he decided to address the conflict with the Islamic State out of his respect for Sibai.

In a video address in late June, Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, described Zawahiri as "our leader" and said that his organization was following Zawahiri's guidelines for waging jihad. In a video released on Sept. 23, Dagestani addressed the "scholars of the ummah [worldwide community of Muslims]." Zawahiri, Maqdisi, Hani Sibai, and Abu Qatada were four of the six "scholars" praised by Dagestani, who said that he had "benefited" greatly from reading their "books, research, sermons and lectures," as well as fatwas (religious edicts).

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, two official branches of al Qaeda that remain loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri, have also urged the jihadists in Syria to fight their common enemies and not one another.

AQAP official calls on rival factions in Syria to unite against West

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 11:52

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an official branch of al Qaeda's international organization, has released a video calling on the rival jihadist factions in Iraq and Syria to set aside their differences and jointly confront the West. The video, which was released online on Sept. 30 by AQAP's Al Malahem Media, features Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, a leader in the group.

Al Ansi connects the fighting in Iraq and Syria to events in Yemen, saying that all of the fronts are part of a common war involving Iran's proxies and allies as well as the West.

"What the Islamic ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] is witnessing today by way of developments in Iraq and Sham is the enabling of Iranian agents running parallel to a fierce war waged on the mujahideen as well as aerial, land, and sea bombardment on our brothers, the mujahideen in the Islamic State and [the Al Nusrah Front] and the other jihadi factions," al Ansi says.

"This is the same plan that is being executed in Yemen by enabling Iranian agents and handing over the capital Sana'a to them without any resistance mentioned from the military," the AQAP ideologue adds.

Al Ansi says the jihadists must unite to face the West. "As for the Crusader coalition that has shown its teeth in Iraq and Sham, in the face of this plan and plot the Muslims must forget their differences, unite their efforts, and join their ranks against their Crusader enemy."

The jihadists "must form a coalition to strike the leader of invalidity and the head of disbelief," al Ansi says, referring to the US. No "conditions" must be placed on the fight against the US, and "every faction must strike America and its interests everywhere."

"For we have come to know the main enemy, and America has for decades supported the occupying Jews in Palestine," al Ansi says. "And American drones bomb Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. And they have killed mujahideen and their leaders as well as many among the Muslim public, and destroyed houses and terrorized children and women."

Al Ansi refers to the US in the same terms used by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other al Qaeda leaders. "It must be known that America is the head of the snake," al Ansi says. "She is the one who mobilizes against the mujahideen and their Islamic project ... and if the head falls, its tails fall as well."

The infighting between rival jihadist groups in Syria has pitted the Islamic State, which was once part of al Qaeda's international network, against the Al Nusrah Front and its allies. Al Nusrah is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria. Ahrar al Sham, which fights alongside Al Nusrah regularly, is also an al Qaeda-linked organization. Ahrar al Sham is the most powerful group in the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel organizations that is opposed to both Bashar al Assad's regime and the Islamic State.

According to al Ansi, all of the jihadist factions should now form a "coalition" to counter the West and move beyond the vicious infighting of the past.

Al Qaeda's messaging: Attacks in Syria are part of "crusade" against Muslims

Al Qaeda officials and groups have previously called for unity in light of the US-led bombing campaign in Syria. They have used language similar to al Ansi's, portraying the bombings as part of a US-led conspiracy against Muslims.

In mid-September, AQAP and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a joint statement denouncing the bombings in Syria, saying they are part of a "Crusader campaign to fight Islam and the Muslims."

The two al Qaeda branches went on to urge the warring jihadist factions to "[s]top the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America's campaign and that of its satanic alliance that lies in wait ... to break us stick by stick."

Some media outlets have incorrectly reported that AQAP, AQIM, or both have sided with the Islamic State in its rivalry with al Qaeda. However, this is clearly not the case, as both groups remain loyal to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. And al Ansi's video should not be viewed as a break from al Qaeda in favor of the Islamic State either.

Even some of the Islamic State's rivals in the Al Nusrah Front are calling for unity against the jihadists' common enemies. They have not, however, gone as far as to say that they are willing to set aside their differences entirely.

In a series of tweets in September, a top al Qaeda and Al Nusrah Front sharia official known as Abu Sulayman al Muhajir criticized the US-led bombing campaign in Syria. Abu Sulayman has been highly critical of the Islamic State, and he made it clear that all would not be forgiven between the groups. "Our stance against the U.S and the global crusade alliance does not mean others have been acquitted of their crimes," he wrote. But Abu Sulayman also portrayed the airstrikes as part of a conspiracy against all Muslims, and not specific jihadist factions.

"Those that believe that the new coalition is against one particular group are sorely mistaken," Abu Sulayman wrote in one tweet. He wrote in another: "The US is not fighting [the Islamic State] as they claim. It is a war against Islam, the latest sequel to their crusade. Muslims must stand united!"

More recently, another senior al Qaeda and Al Nusrah Front leader in Syria, Sanafi al Nasr, argued on his Twitter feed that all Muslims need to unite against the West. "The Arab and non-Arab tyrants have gathered together to wage war on the Muslims," Nasr wrote in a tweet on Sept. 29. "When will we gather?"

"I will stand beside any Muslim in the war against the Crusaders, whether he be Sufi or Mughal," Nasr wrote in another tweet.

Like Abu Sulayman, Nasr is an al Qaeda loyalist and has been an outspoken critic of the Islamic State. Although Nasr did not say that he would fight alongside the Islamic State, specifically, that is the clear implication of Nasr's tweets.

Al Qaeda veteran who served Osama bin Laden

In November 2013, Abdul Razzaq al Jamal, a Yemeni journalist who has contacts inside AQAP, published an interview with Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, who is the star of AQAP's new video. The interview was published in al Wasat, a Yemeni newspaper, and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

An extensive biography revealing al Ansi's al Qaeda roles was provided at the beginning of the interview.

In 1993, al Ansi enrolled at the Iman University, which is headed by Sheikh Abdul Majid al Zindani, a longtime ally of bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Two years later, in 1995, al Ansi went to Bosnia, where he received military training and fought against the Serbs. He stayed in Bosnia for nearly a year before returning to Yemen.

In 1996, al Ansi tried to fight in Kashmir, but was prevented from doing so by the Pakistani government. He went to Afghanistan instead and met with two senior al Qaeda officials, Abu Hafs al Masri and Saif al Adel. Al Masri, who headed al Qaeda's military committee, was killed in US airstrikes in 2001. Saif al Adel has been a senior al Qaeda official since the 1990s and remains a leader in the organization.

Along with other al Qaeda members, al Ansi tried to join the front in Tajikistan, but failed to reach the country "due to the heavy snow."

He went home to Yemen in 1997, but returned to Afghanistan in 1998. He was "received by Osama bin Laden," who sent al Ansi "to Kabul and placed him as Emir of the Kabul Reception, where he stayed as its emir for a long time."

Al Ansi joined al Qaeda's forces on the battlefield and was selected to "participate in the most intense course held in Afghanistan," called the "Qualification of the Forces" course. Senior al Qaeda leaders taught the course and among his fellow trainees was Qassim al Raymi, who is AQAP's military commander. Al Ansi and al Raymi then received training at the Al Farouq camp.

Bin Laden had al Ansi travel to the Philippines, where he was to "qualify the mujahideen ... in Sharia and militarily," in 2001. That same year, according to SITE's translation of the interview, al Ansi assisted As Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda arm, in creating two productions: the "American Intervention" and the "State of the Islamic Ummah."

Al Ansi completed his mission for bin Laden in the Philippines, and tried to return to Afghanistan after the US-led coalition responded to the 9/11 attacks. However, al Ansi was detained in Yemen en route to Afghanistan in early 2002. Yemeni authorities kept him imprisoned for six months before he was freed.

He then studied for "a long time" at Iman University, where he "received a certificate in Sharia jurisprudence." In addition to attending lectures at Iman, he preached "among the young" and conducted "some special training."

There are few details in the biography offered for al Ansi between 2002 and 2011. But he eventually became a senior official in AQAP and has now been tasked with delivering an important message to the warring jihadists in Syria.

Al Qaeda leader claims key operative in so-called 'Khorasan group' was killed

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 16:36

Sanafi al Nasr is sitting on the far left in the picture above. The photo was circulated on Twitter following erroneous reports of his death earlier this year. Nasr claims on his Twitter feed that one of his al Qaeda comrades, Muhsin al Fadhli, has been killed by US airstrikes in Syria.

A senior al Qaeda leader known as Sanafi al Nasr (a Saudi whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh) has claimed on his Twitter feed that Muhsin al Fadhli is now an al Qaeda "martyr." Al Fadhli has been publicly identified by US officials as a key operative in the so-called "Khorasan group," which was dispatched to Syria by al Qaeda's senior leadership.

The al Qaeda group, which is suspected of planning mass casualty terrorist attacks in the West, was struck last week as part of the US-led bombing campaign in Syria.

As The Long War Journal first reported, Nasr himself is a member of al Qaeda's Khorasan group in Syria.

Although Nasr's tweets indicate that al Fadhli is dead, they should not be treated as authoritative.

Earlier this year, senior officials in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and other al Qaeda-allied jihadists reported on Twitter that Nasr had been killed.

Nasr was most likely wounded while fighting against forces loyal to Bashar al Assad, but he survived the battle. Weeks after he was reportedly killed, Nasr began tweeting once again, thereby confirming that he was in fact alive.

In a pair of tweets posted on Sept. 29, Nasr asked Allah to accept al Fadhli as a martyr and said the time has come for him to rest.

Nasr also tweeted a picture of a young child, saying he was killed in the American ("Crusader") bombing campaign. Nasr described the boy as the "son of our brother Abu Basir" and prayed that Allah accept both of them as martyrs.

Although some anonymous US officials have told the press that they believe al Fadhli was killed during the American airstrikes last week, there has been no official confirmation of his death by either the US or al Qaeda.

And while Nasr's tweets indicate al Fadhli is dead, recent history tells us to be skeptical of such claims on social media, especially without martyrdom photos or other firm evidence. The fog of war often makes it difficult to confirm if a specific al Qaeda leader has been killed, or has survived, or has escaped an American airstrike entirely unscathed.

Nasr's new tweets were the first he posted since Sept. 18, just days before the US struck the facilities where al Qaeda members were believed to be plotting attacks against the West.

In his first tweet on Sept. 29, Nasr wrote, "Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah." Assuming Nasr wrote this, and someone else did not take control of his Twitter account, the post was confirmation that Nasr had survived last week's airstrikes against al Qaeda's positions.

In two other tweets, Nasr encourages jihadist unity against their common enemies. "The Arab and non-Arab tyrants have gathered together to wage war on the Muslims," Nasr wrote. "When will we gather?"

"I will stand beside any Muslim in the war against the Crusaders, whether he be Sufi or Mughal," Nasr wrote in another tweet.

Nasr has been a vocal critic of the Islamic State, the former al Qaeda branch that was disowned by al Qaeda's senior leaders earlier this year. In addition to being a senior al Qaeda official, Nasr has been embedded within the Al Nusrah Front and he serves as a senior strategist in the group. The Islamic State has fought against Al Nusrah since last year.

Most of the US-led bombing campaign has focused on positions controlled by the Islamic State. But some of the airstrikes conducted within the first 24 hours of the campaign also hit Al Nusrah positions where members of al Qaeda's Khorasan group were thought to be stationed.

For more on Sanafi al Nasr, who is a third cousin of Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda pedigree, see LWJ reports: Head of al Qaeda's 'Victory Committee' in Syria and Treasury designates 2 'key' al Qaeda financiers.

*Oren Adaki, an Arabic language specialist and research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, contributed to this article.

Islamic State photos detail rout of Iraqi Army at Camp Saqlawiya

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 14:53

An Islamic State fighter stands on top of a US-made M1 Abrams tank.

The Islamic State released photographs of last week's rout of an Iraqi Army unit in the Saqwaliya area north of Fallujah in Anbar province. More than 300 Iraqi troops are reported to have been killed in the attack.

The pictures from the assault on Camp Saqwaliya were released on Twitter by fighters and supporters of the Islamic State. Recently the Islamic State has begun to release its propaganda on Twitter via its supporters. Twitter has taken an active role in suspending official accounts associated to the Islamic State's wiliyats, or administrative districts.

While the authenticity of the photographs cannot be confirmed, the captions bear the title of Wilayat Fallujah. In the past, photographs released using this method by the Islamic State have proven to be authentic.

The Islamic State took control of the Alsigir area of Anbar two weeks ago, and then laid siege to the nearby Iraqi Army base at Camp Saqlawiya. Most of the base was overrun on Sept. 21 after Islamic State fighters launched a complex suicide assault. [See LWJ report, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar.]

The photographs show numerous Iraqi Army soldiers who were killed in the fighting (these photographs have not been included below as they are extremely graphic).

Based on the photographs, the Islamic State seized or destroyed at least one M1 Abrams tank, four M113 armored personnel carriers, 15 Iraqi Army Humvees, a BMP infantry fighting vehicle, and other trucks. At least three of the US-donated M113s appear to be operational; an Islamic State fighter is shown driving one M113. The M1 tank appears to have caught fire.

According to the Islamic State, the Iraqi unit that was overrun was from the 30th Brigade. The 30th Brigade is subordinate to the 8th Mechanized Division, which is based south of Baghdad. The Iraqi Army has been forced to deploy units from other provinces, as much of the Anbar-based 1st and 7th Divisions have been rendered combat ineffective.

The 30th Brigade has been hit hard by the Islamic State over the past few weeks. A company or battalion from the 30th Brigade also was ambushed and routed just north of Ramadi on or about Sept. 28. [See LWJ report, Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi.]

Another Iraqi armored unit was destroyed in the town of Khalidiya in July during a complex ambush by the Islamic State. Khalidiya is between the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Habbaniyah. [See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar.]

The Islamic State has maintained the initiative against the Iraqi military in Anbar province more than seven weeks after the US began launching airstrikes against the jihadist group inside Iraq on Aug. 7.

Photographs of the Islamic State's operation in Saqlawiya

An Islamic State fighter fires on Iraqi troops:

A captured Humvee:

Islamic State fighters inspect three captured M113s:

An Islamic State fighter drives an M113:

A dead Iraqi soldier outside a Humvee:

An Islamic State fighter walks past a burning M113 and a Humvee:

Burning buildings at the Iraqi Army camp:

A destroyed Humvee:

A destroyed Humvee in front of a trench:

US adds Harakat-ul-Mujahideen's emir to terrorism list

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 12:40

Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, the longtime emir of the Pakistan-based Harakat-ul-Mujahideen that was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, was finally added to the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Khalil signed Osama bin Laden's infamous 1998 fatwa, or religious edict, that declared war on the US and Israel.

Today, the Department of the Treasury added Khalil, two Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives, and two businesses associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

"Both LT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] and HUM [Harakat-ul-Mujahideen] are violent terrorist organizations that train militants and support the activities of many of the best known and brutal extremist groups, including al Qaeda," Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen is quoted as saying in the Treasury designation.

Khalil's designation takes place less than two months after the State Department updated the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen Foreign Terrorist Organization designation to include the alias Ansar ul-Ummah. In that update, State noted that HUM "operates in Pakistan, and engages in terrorist activity in Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan" and "also operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan."

A follow-up inquiry to State by The Long War Journal confirmed that the HUM camps in eastern Afghanistan are still in operation. The exact locations of the camps were not disclosed. [See LWJ report, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen 'operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan'.]

Khalil is an established jihadist leader in Pakistan

Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen operates freely inside Pakistan, with the permission of the Pakistani establishment, including the military and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Khalil lives openly in Pakistan's capital of Islamabad.

After founding HUM in 1997, Khalil remained at the helm of the Pakistani terror group and its various aliases. "In 2008, Khalil was leader of the HUM shura council," Treasury notes. "As of mid-2003, Khalil was the chief of Jamiat ul-Ansar in Pakistan, the name under which HUM had reorganized at the time. As of October 1997, Khalil was the leader of Harkat ul-Ansar (HUA) and renamed HUA as HUM after HUA was listed by the United States as a terrorist organization. As of late 2006, Khalil was appointed as the emir of a trust that, as of mid-2007, was being used by HUM to raise funds for the group."

Khalil is the man Osama bin Laden consulted before issuing his infamous fatwa declaring war against the US in 1998. According to the Associated Press, Khalil has "dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia," and "was a confidante of bin Laden and hung out with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."

Khalil "has maintained a close relationship with al Qaeda, including with Osama bin Laden prior to his death," Treasury notes. He "visited al-Qaida training camps" and "sent Pakistani militants to support OBL's operatives in Somalia and OBL sent funds to unidentified Pakistan-based individuals via Khalil prior to September 2001."

HUM has been involved in numerous acts of terror in the region, including the hijacking of an Indian airplane, an attack on the US Consulate in Karachi, and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. [See LWJ report, New investigation into murder of Daniel Pearl released.]

Several al Qaeda leaders have risen from the ranks of HUM. One of the most prominent is Badr Mansoor, an al Qaeda commander who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012. In one of the 17 documents that were released by the US from Osama bin Laden's collection of thousands seized during the Abbottabad raid, Mansoor was identified as a commander of a "company" of al Qaeda's forces operating in Pakistan.

At the time of his death, Mansoor was described as al Qaeda's leader in Pakistan who was closely linked to other Pakistani terror groups. Mansoor was able to funnel in recruits from Pakistani terror groups such as the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, with which he was closely linked. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan, and Commander killed in drone strike 'funneled Pakistani jihadists' to al Qaeda.]

HUM likely part of al Qaeda's newest branch, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent

HUM is one of several jihadist groups that are part of what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described in 2010 as a "syndicate" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the region.

"A victory for one [member of the syndicate] is a victory for all," Gates cautioned. Gates mentioned groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba, as belonging to this "syndicate." Other groups that figure in this syndicate are the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its offshoot the Islamic Jihad Union, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, among others.

This syndicate has pooled resources to wage jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The group has fought under the banner of the Lashkar-al-Zil, or the Shadow Army, al Qaeda's military organization in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the Khorasan. The US State Department recognized the existence of al Qaeda's "paramilitary brigades" in the designation of 'Abd al Hamid al Masli, an IED faciitator based in Pakistan. [See LWJ reports, Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army' and US adds al Qaeda explosives expert to list of global terrorists.]

Al Qaeda formalized this relationship with the various jihadist groups based in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India when it formed al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent on Sept. 3.

In his statement announcing the group's formation, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri noted that AQIS "is the fruit of a blessed effort for more than two years to gather the mujahideen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity to be with the main group."

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent's spokesman, Usama Mahmoud, stated that the group "was formed by the gathering of several jihadi groups that have a long history in jihad and fighting ... so they united and came together and applied the directives of their beloved emir, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah preserve him, on the ground."

Islamic State ambushes Iraqi military column near Ramadi

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 01:09

A photograph of an abandoned Iraqi military column with the Ramadi Teaching Hospital, which is just across the Euphrates River, in sight.

Fighters from the Islamic State in Anbar province ambushed and destroyed a large Iraqi Army column in a village north of Ramadi. The successful attack occurred despite almost eight weeks of airstrikes by the US military on Islamic State forces throughout Iraq.

Pictures from the recent fighting in the village of Albu Aytha, which is just north of Ramadi, across the river, have been disseminated on Twitter by fighters and supporters of the Islamic State. The terrorist organization has taken to releasing its propaganda via its supporters on Twitter as the the majority of its official accounts are continuously being suspended by the social media site.

While the authenticity of the photographs cannot be confirmed, the captions bear the title of Wilayat (province or state) Anbar. The exact date of the ambush was not provided, but most official pictures are usually published within days of the actual attack.

The Islamic State has reportedly been besieging an Iraqi Army unit in Albu Aytha. Al Jazeera reported that more than 240 soldiers from the 30th Mechanized Brigade are "trapped" in the village and running low on supplies and food.

Several photos show badly damaged or burned out vehicles, with fighters from the Islamic State inspecting the vehicles or checking for survivors. Pictures also show charred bodies of the Iraqi troops, and the corpses of soldiers who were gunned down during the fighting. It appears that Islamic State fighters were able to detonate at least two IEDs during the attack.

In one picture, at least six captured M113 armored personnel carriers and four Humvees are shown abandoned in a field. Other photos show several damaged or abandoned vehicles. And in another photograph, an Islamic State fighter fires an antitank missile at an M1 Abrams tank and successfully hits the target.

The Islamic State fighters were also able to take over an Iraqi police checkpoint in the area. In one photo, the Islamic State's black flag is shown flying above the checkpoint. Other pictures demonstrate that the group was able to secure a large amount of ammunition and gear from the military.

Islamic State consolidating its grip on Anbar

If confirmed, the Islamic State's successful rout of the Iraqi military unit in Albu Aytha is the second major setback for the Army in Anbar in the past two weeks. On Sept. 21, an Islamic State unit overran an Iraqi base in Saqlawiya, a town just northeast of Fallujah in Anbar. An estimated 300 Iraqi soldiers were killed during the Islamic State's assault and subsequent ambush of retreating Iraqi troops. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers were wounded or are reported missing. [See LWJ report, Islamic State overruns Iraqi military base in Anbar.]

Islamic State fighters have successfully ambushed Iraqi armored columns in Anbar in the past. In July, the Islamic State destroyed a column of Iraqi Army M1 Abrams tanks, M113s, and other vehicles in Khalidiya, a town situated between Ramadi and Fallujah. [See LWJ report, Islamic State routs Iraqi armored column in Anbar.]

The Islamic State controls most of Anbar province. West of Haditha, the Islamic State runs the towns of Anah, Rawa, and the border town of Al Qaim. The jihadist group also controls the far-flung towns of Rutbah and Nukhaib. The status of the Tarbil border crossing to Jordan and the Al Walid crossing to Syria is undetermined. Although there are reports that local tribes assumed control of the crossings, the Islamic State has displayed photographs of its fighters at the strategic locations.

The Iraqi military previously had two divisions, the 1st and the 7th, deployed in Anbar but most of these forces have withered since the Islamic State took control of Fallujah in January and extended its operations throughout the province. Many Iraqi soldiers are thought to have deserted; the exact number is not known, however. One estimate puts the number of overall desertions for the Iraqi Army at over 90,000. The Iraqi military has not released information on the number of soldiers killed and wounded since the Islamic State launched its offensive in mid-June.

The leadership of the 7th Division crumbled in late December 2013 after an Islamic State suicide team killed the division commander and 17 members of his staff in an ambush in Rutbah.

The situation in Ramadi has become so dire that the Iraqi government has deployed 4,000 members of the newly raised militias, who are primarily Shias, to an area that is overwhelmingly Sunni. The militia members were "ferried out to Ramadi from Baghdad by helicopter," ABC News reported, demonstrating how thoroughly the Islamic State controls the road from Baghdad to Ramadi. The Iraqi military has announced it has successfully cleared areas of Ramadi multiple times since the summer.

Since launching the second phase of its operation to control territory in Iraq on June 10, the Islamic State took seized most of Ninewa province, to include Mosul, Iraq's second largest city; most of Salahaddin province; and areas in Diyala province. Additionally, the Islamic State has been waging an offensive in northern Babil province in the area known as the Triangle of Death, and is said to be in control of several areas, including Jufr al Sakhar. The Islamic State is seeking to take over the belt area around Baghdad, and squeeze the capital and make it ungovernable. [See LWJ report, Analysis: ISIS, allies reviving 'Baghdad belts' battle plan.]

The Iraqi government has largely halted the Islamic State's southward advance outside of Samarra, which is just north of Baghdad. Thousands of Iranian-supported Shia militiamen from Asaib al Haq, Hezbollah Brigades, and Muqtada al Sadr's Peace Brigade are currently deployed between the road from Baghdad to Samarra. Iraqi military and national police units are nowhere to be found on the road, The New York Times reported in July.

The US started launching airstrikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq on Aug. 7 and helped Kurdish forces retake some areas lost in northern Ninewa as well as helping a joint Kurdish and Shia militia force retake the town of Amerli. The US supported the Hezbollah Brigades and Asaib al Haq, two Iranian-backed Shia militias that are responsible for killing hundreds of US soldiers from 2006 to 2011, in Amerli.

The Islamic State's territory spans both Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the Islamic State controls Raqqah, much of Deir al Zour, and areas in Aleppo and Hasakah provinces. The US began its air campaign against the Islamic State on Sept. 22, but the jihadist group continues to press an offensive in Kobane near the border with Turkey.

Photographs from the ambush of an Iraqi Army armored column north of Ramadi

An Iraqi military Humvee before it is hit in an IED attack:

The IED is detonated:

Fighters inspecting a badly damaged Humvee:

A burned out armored personnel carrier:

Fighters inspecting abandoned and damaged vehicles:

More abandoned Iraqi Army vehicles:

Iraqi police station with the black flag flying above:

Islamic State fighters moving captured ammunition and gear into a captured vehicle:

An antitank missile firing at an M1 Abrams near Ramadi:

The antitank missile successfully hits the M1 Abrams:

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claims attacks on Pakistani ships were more audacious than reported

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 14:51

The banner above advertises the latest statement by AQIS explaining its attacks on two Pakistani frigates on Sept. 6. The man pictured on the right is purportedly Zeeshan Rafique, whom AQIS says was a second lieutenant in the Pakistan Navy. He is pictured giving a "briefing" to the "leadership of the mujahideen on the plan of the operation."

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the newest official branch of al Qaeda's international organization, has released a nine-page "press release" explaining its "targeting of [the] American and Indian Navies" on Sept. 6. The group says the operations were part of "a plan to strike America's military strength on the seas" that was prepared "on the orders of the respected [Emir], Shaykh Ayman al Zawahiri."

AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmood claims that the Pakistani government has covered up the extent of its planned operations and, he says, the media coverage thus far does not accurately reflect what transpired. Therefore, Mahmood has published al Qaeda's response on his official Twitter feed.

What follows is a summary of al Qaeda's version of events and is not an independent account. None of the purported details have been publicly verified by US intelligence officials.

All citations are from the statement released by Mahmood. AQIS is eager to claim that the operations caused more damage than the Pakistani government is letting on.

"The operation was portrayed as an attack on the naval dockyard by 'outsiders' who had infiltrated the facility," the AQIS document reads. But al Qaeda claims the "operation took place under the leadership of two brothers from Al Qa'eda in the [Indian] Subcontinent, namely Oweis Jakhrani (former Second Lieutenant in the Pakistan Navy) and Zeeshan Rafeeq (Second Lieutenant)."

The AQIS document includes photos of both Jakhrani and Rafeeq. Only Jakhrani was not an active duty officer at the time of the attacks, according to AQIS, as he "had only recently resigned from the Pakistan Navy due to his faith and zeal." All of the other al Qaeda operatives "who attained martyrdom during this operation were serving officers of the Pakistan Navy." (Emphasis in original.)

The goal of the operation was to take "control of two important warships of the Pakistan Navy," the PNS Zulfiqar and PNS Aslat. There "were several Mujahid brothers" aboard both ships and they were "provided with the necessary weapons and explosives required for this operation," AQIS says.

The first al Qaeda team was on board the PNS Zulfiqar, which departed Karachi on Sept. 3 and was allegedly scheduled "to be refueled by USS Supply," which "is one of the most important American naval ships after aircraft carriers."

While the PNS Zulfiqar was being refueled, "some of the Mujahid brothers present on board...were to target and destroy the American oil tanker [USS Supply] with the 72 mm anti-aircraft guns on their frigate."

In addition, other al Qaeda operatives on board the PNS Zulfiqar "would target the American frigate protecting USS Supply using four anti-ship guided missiles." If they were successful, the al Qaeda team would then use whatever weapons were left over to attack or "destroy any American or coalition warship present in the vicinity, and fight on until attaining martyrdom."

A second AQIS team was present on board the PNS Aslat "with weapons and explosives." According to the plan, the second cadre of AQIS jihadists was going to "take over" the PNS Aslat, which was "near the shores of Karachi," and "steer it towards Indian waters in order to attack Indian warships with anti-ship missiles." If any ships got in their way, including American warships, then the AQIS crew on board would use the PNS Aslat to attack them instead.

AQIS goes on to give a version of events that is substantially different from that told by official Pakistani sources.

The group claims that the PNS Zulfiqar departed Karachi on Sept. 3 and implies that the firefight between al Qaeda's men and others in the Pakistani Navy took place deep in the Indian Ocean. Pakistani sources have said that the attack occurred in the Naval Dockyard in Karachi.

AQIS questions the timing of the Pakistani Navy's announcement that the attack had occurred, saying it waited several days to publicly acknowledge it. The press release reads: "Is it [the supposedly delayed announcement] because it took three days to erase the evidence of the firefight aboard PNS Zulfiqar and the consequent damage to the warship? Or is it because it took three days for this frigate to return to Karachi after the battle had occurred on board?"

Similarly, AQIS claims that the attack on the PNS Aslat was an inside operation and it "was not attacked form the outside," as Pakistani officials have claimed. AQIS says that Pakistan "cover[ed] up the success of the Mujahideen and the moral and material losses and damage suffered by the enemies." Pakistan supposedly does not want the public to know that "the call to perform Jihad...has now started to appeal to even officers of the Armed Forces."

AQIS says that the Pakistani government is also hiding the identities of the other attackers from the public because it hopes to avoid any further embarrassment over "the fact that the rest of the martyrs were serving officers of the Pakistan Navy."

The preface to the AQIS press release explains its motivation behind its planned attacks on the two Pakistani frigates. The al Qaeda branch says that Pakistan takes part in the Coalition Maritime Campaign Plan (CMCP), making it part of the supposed global "crusade" against Islam.

In addition to securing "maritime trade routes for commercial shipping of America and other major powers of the believers," the CMCP participates "in the so-called war on terror (i.e. the American-led Crusade against the Muslim world" and prevents "possible attacks by the Mujahideen on the seas." The CMCP also provides "logistical support to the occupying American and allied forces in Afghanistan" and consolidates "their grip on Islamic waters" while "besieging the Muslim world from the seas."

The AQIS statement ends with several messages. The first is addressed to Muslims in Gaza, and repeats al Qaeda's standard call for "revenge" for the blood shed in the Palestinian-controlled territories. Other messages are addressed to the Muslim Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] and the mujahideen. The latter should not forget "to make Jihad on the seas one of their priorities," AQIS says.

AQIS threatens America, "the Jews," and India.

And the final message speaks to the "Officers and Soldiers in the Armed Forces of Muslim Countries." AQIS holds up the Pakistani Navy officers responsible for the twin claimed attacks on Sept. 6 as examples for all Muslims serving in the armed forces. AQIS blasts the Pakistani Army, saying its generals demonstrate a "slave's loyalty to his master" and "have devoted the entire Armed Forces to the defense of American interests."

AQIS concludes by saying that all Muslims serving in the armed forces should join the jihad if they want to enter paradise and avoid hell. Thus, AQIS is attempting to recruit more officers and soldiers serving in the Pakistani military.

Additional photos included in the AQIS press release.

AQIS claims that one of its members monitored the movements of General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the former Pakistani Army Chief, as he visited an American warship. AQIS says that its operative tracked Kiyani "on the computer screen of the missile control system installed on the Pakistani warship." This is intended to show that AQIS has operatives inside the Pakistani Navy.

The photo below purportedly shows the USS Supply as it refuels a frigate at sea. AQIS allegedly planned to attack the USS Supply as it refueled a Pakistani frigate.

AQIS included the photo below of the PNS Aslat.

Al Nusrah Front leader says Americans and Europeans will pay the 'tax' of war

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:57

Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of the Al Nusrah Front, has released an audio message discussing the US-led airstrikes in Syria. Julani threatens civilians in the US and Europe, saying they should not be tricked into believing they are "safe from the strikes of the mujahideen" simply because Western leaders say that their "soldiers will not be on the ground, and that they will strike from afar."

Julani's message was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Al Nusrah's head argues that the airstrikes in Syria will lead the jihadists to retaliate in the West. And, Julani says, Western leaders are lying when they say that the bombings are necessary to protect their people.

However, according to US officials, senior al Qaeda figures known as the "Khorasan group" were already planning attacks in the West prior to the bombings. The cadre includes al Qaeda operatives who are known to have plotted terrorist attacks against the West before, including Muhsin al Fadhli, a longtime al Qaeda planner.

Sanafi al Nasr, an al Qaeda bigwig who doubles as a senior strategist in Julani's Al Nusrah Front, has even openly pined for attacks against the US on his Twitter feed. Nasr is part of the so-called Khorasan group as well. The al Qaeda group is embedded within the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's official regional branch in Syria.

The intelligence surrounding the al Qaeda operatives' activities is what led the US to bomb Al Nusrah Front positions, in addition to the Islamic State, a former branch of al Qaeda that rivals Al Nusrah inside Syria.

Julani makes no mention of al Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan group" and instead seeks to portray the bombing campaign as an assault on Islam.

The battle will come "to the heart of your land, for the Muslims will not stand as spectators watching their sons bombed and killed in their lands, while you stay safe in your lands," Julani says when addressing Western civilians, according to SITE's translation. "So the tax of the war will not be paid by your rulers alone, but you are the ones who will pay the lion's share of it. Therefore, you must protect yourselves from this war by standing against the decision of your rulers, and preventing them from dragging tragedies upon you and your countries through all methods."

The Al Nusrah Front emir tries to undermine public support for the airstrikes by arguing that the West will pay a high price for its actions in Syria, just as it has in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Julani invokes the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the USS Cole bombing as examples of the "terrors" al Qaeda has delivered. And he says that the only way to avoid future attacks is for the West to abandon Muslim-majority countries entirely.

"You were told before by Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah accept him, several times, that the only solution to prevent war with the mujahideen is taking your hand away from the region completely, and lifting your support and protection of the Jews, and to stop stealing the resources of the Muslims, and to leave us alone with the rulers of the area, settling the scores with them," Julani says, according to SITE's translation.

Julani draws on al Qaeda's view of history in making these arguments, portraying the conflict in Syria as part of a centuries-long war between the West and Islamic countries. "We defeated your Roman empire before, and also your adversaries from the Persians, and we expelled the Jews from the Peninsula of Muhammad, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and with our feet we stepped on the outskirts of Paris and Moscow, where the Jizyah [tax on non-Muslims] for 80 years was paid to the Muslims," Julani says.

The Islamic State, headed by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and the Al Nusrah Front have been in open conflict since mid-2013. Julani was once one of Baghdadi's lieutenants, but a personal animosity between the two has helped fuel the jihadists' infighting in Syria.

Regardless, Julani says jihadists should not allow their problems with the Islamic State to push them into an alliance with the West. The US and its allies are part of a "Crusader" conspiracy against the jihad in Syria, according to Julani. But "no matter how grave" the Islamic State's transgressions are, Muslims should not back the West's "secular project."

Anti-Hezbollah, Iran messaging

The Al Nusrah Front has been fighting Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization that is backing Bashar al Assad's regime. Al Nusrah has held a number of Lebanese soldiers and security officials hostage since August, and has executed some of them. As part of its propaganda campaign, Al Nusrah has used the hostages in its attempt to spark public outrage against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The hostages have been made to say that their captivity is owed to Hezbollah's aggression in Syria.

Julani continues with this theme, saying the "Sunni people of Lebanon" should "follow the example of your brothers in Syria, and attack your enemy from the Party of Satan [Hezbollah]." Julani says that Hezbollah has "dragged Lebanon into an internal conflict," which the Al Nusrah emir likens to the sectarian fighting in Iraq and Syria. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, has not learned from these conflicts, Julani says, and now Lebanon is experiencing the same violence.

There is an irony in Julani's anti-Iranian message. Two leaders in al Qaeda's Khorasan group, Muhsin al Fadhli and Sanafi al Nasr, were formerly the heads of al Qaeda's Iran-based network. Al Qaeda's presence in Iran exists under what US officials have called a "secret deal" between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda.

US killed 2 'Arabs' in first drone strike in South Waziristan in more than a year

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:22

Today the US launched its first drone strike in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan in more than a year.

The CIA-operated remotely piloted Predators or Reapers struck a compound in the town of Wana in South Waziristan, Pakistani officials and Taliban fighters told Dawn.

"Two Arab militants and two of their local allies" were killed in the airstrike, the officials and Taliban fighters said. The "Arab militants," who have yet to be named, are likely members of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has not released an official statement announcing the deaths of their operatives, nor has their been chatter on the al Qaeda-linked Twitter accounts associated with the group's network in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the US launched a strike in Wana today, condemned the attack as "a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity," and demanded the US cease its operations.

Wana is a hub for the Mullah Nazir Group, a Taliban organization that controls much of the western part of South Waziristan. The group is named after Mullah Nazir, a Taliban commander who self-identified as an al Qaeda leader before he was killed in a US drone strike in January 2013. The group is currently led by Bahawal Khan, who is also known as Salahuddin Ayubi.

The Mullah Nazir Group, Khan, and a leader known as Commander Malang are all on the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists for supporting al Qaeda and waging jiahd in Afghanistan. [See LWJ reports, 'Good' Pakistani Taliban leader Nazir affirms membership in al Qaeda, US adds Mullah Nazir Group, subcommander to terrorism list, and US adds emir of Pakistan-based Mullah Nazir Group to list of global terrorists.]

The Mullah Nazir Group has sheltered several top al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi. All of these al Qaeda leaders were killed in US drone strikes in South Waziristan over the past several years.

Despite the Mullah Nazir Group's support for al Qaeda and its 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. In the past, the Pakistani government and military have signed several peace agreements with Nazir that allowed him to rule over the Wazir areas of South Waziristan. One such peace agreement is in effect to this day.

First drone strike in South Waziristan since April 2013

Today's strike in Wana is the first that has been recorded in South Waziristan since April 17, 2013, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Five Taliban fighters were reported to have been killed in that strike, which targeted a base run by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The US used to routinely conduct drone strikes in South Waziristan prior to April 2013. Some of al Qaeda's top leaders were killed by US aircraft in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency.

The focus of the drone campaign shifted almost exclusively to North Waziristan in the past year. Prior to today, 30 of the last 31 recorded drone strikes in Pakistan took place in North Waziristan (the other took place in the Pakistani district of Hangu).

The US has now carried out nine drone strikes in Pakistan since June 11. Eight of the strikes took place after June 15, when the Pakistani military launched its operation in North Waziristan. The Pakistani military is not targeting the 'good Taliban' in its operation.

Prior to the June 11 drone strike, the last US attack in Pakistan was conducted in late December 2013. The US put the program on hold after the Pakistani government entered into peace talks with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that there was no shortage of al Qaeda and other terrorists to target during the six-month lull. [See LWJ report, US launches 2 drone strikes in Pakistan, breaks 6-month lull.]

Today's attack in South Waziristan is the second in Pakistan this week. On Sept. 24, the US killed 10 jihadists, including Uzbek fighters, "foreign nationals," and local Taliban members.