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The Al Nusrah Front has produced a propaganda video justifying its offensive against the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF). This man, who claims that he was attacked at an SRF-controlled checkpoint, is featured as an anti-SRF witness.
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has launched an offensive in recent days targeting its fellow rebels as well as Syrian regime forces in the eastern province of Idlib. In particular, Al Nusrah is targeting the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) and has reportedly seized territory from the group.
In one propaganda video released online, Al Nusrah attempts to justify its offensive against the SRF. The 9 minute, 22 second video was posted on one of Al Nusrah's official Twitter feeds on Oct. 28. It is titled, "Testimonies on Syrian Liberation Front Attacks on Citizens."
The video begins by showing a man sitting on a couch with an al Qaeda black banner behind him. Underneath the Islamic shahada ("There is no god but God. Mohammed is the Messenger of God.") on the flag, the text appears to read: "Al Qaeda Central, Al Nusrah Front."
The man, who is portrayed as a witness for the Al Nusrah Front, says he was accosted at a checkpoint controlled by forces loyal to SRF leader Jamal Maarouf. The SRF fighters allegedly stole his vehicle and the flour he was transporting. While the man got his vehicle back, with help from Al Nusrah, he lost his cargo to the SRF.
This man is also featured in the Al Nusrah Front's anti-SRF video. He gives a tour of a bakery that he says was ransacked by the SRF.
A second man is introduced as an anti-SRF witness. This man walks the cameraman through a bakery that he says was ransacked by SRF fighters, who supposedly looted and shot up the place.
The Al Nusrah Front video is, of course, a one-sided account and is intended to portray the SRF in the worst possible light. The purpose behind it is truly interesting.
The SRF, which is part of the Free Syrian Army and has been portrayed as a "moderate" rebel force, has long fought alongside Al Nusrah in the Syrian battlefields.
In an interview published by The Independent in April, for instance, Maarouf explained that he was "not fighting against al Qaeda," because "it's not our problem." Maarouf also admitted that the SRF had shared weapons with the Al Nusrah Front.
Throughout August and September, the SRF fought alongside Al Nusrah and its other allies as the jihadists took control of the Quneitra border crossing in southern Syria and engaged in other fierce combat.
In recent days, however, this alliance has not held in Idlib.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reports that Al Nusrah and SRF forces have fought at various checkpoints in the countryside of Idlib this week. The clashes are likely what prompted Al Nusrah to produce its propaganda video alleging that the SRF has been attacking civilians.
Al Nusrah has not just targeted the SRF in the countryside of Idlib, but has also launched operations against Bashar al Assad's forces inside the city of Idlib as well. The SOHR reports that Al Nusrah used four suicide bombers during its assault on Idlib. The al Qaeda branch and its allies temporarily captured the Governor's mansion and a police headquarters, but both buildings were reportedly recaptured by government forces. Al Nusrah reportedly executed 70 Syrian Army soldiers before withdrawing.
Some accounts have suggested that the Islamic State, which is Al Nusrah's bitter rival, has sent reinforcements to Idlib to buttress the jihadists' advances. But this has not been confirmed and seems unlikely. Other groups, such as Jund al Aqsa, have been assisting Al Nusrah in the fighting.
Map of known provincial locations of training camps run by the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, and allied jihadist groups since 2012. Map created by Caleb Weiss and Bill Roggio.
The French Air Force has joined US and allied countries in targeting jihadist training camps in Iraq and Syria. The Long War Journal has identified 39 camps in Iraq and Syria as being operational at one point in time or another since 2012.
The French Ministry of Defense announced on Oct. 23 that it struck an Islamic State camp in Hawijah in Salahaddin province. Hawijah is currently controlled by the Islamic State. The camp is used for the "training of terrorists," as a recruitment center and as an IED "factory," according to a translation of the press release by The Long War Journal.
"At about 10:30 p.m. Paris time, a patrol of Rafale [jets], each armed with six AASM(1) bombs and equipped with the Damocles targeting pod, launched 12 AASM[s] at the target," the French MoD press release says. "This air raid, in which our allies participated, resulted in the destruction of an Islamic State complex that was serving as a factory for homemade bombs and as a center for the recruitment, formation, and training of terrorists. The airstrikes were complemented by simultaneous strikes by our allies on two other strategic Islamic State sites, dealing a heavy blow to their logistics."
The Islamic State is known to operate four camps in Salahaddin province. The Long War Journal has identified other facilities in Samarra, Baiji, and the Hamrin Mountains.
US Central Command, which is directing air operations in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, noted that it struck a "training camp" in two airstrikes near Baiji between Oct. 23-24. Hawijah is 20 miles northeast of Baiji.
Jihadist camps in Iraq and Syria
Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 39 camps have been identified as being operational, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Information on the camps has been obtained from jihadist videos, news accounts, and US military press releases that note airstrikes against the training facilities. It is unclear if all of the training camps are currently in operation. In addition, this analysis is compiled using publicly-available evidence. It is likely that some training camps are not advertised.
Of those camps, 28 have been located in Syria and 11 in Iraq.
The Islamic State has operated 22 camps (12 in Syria and 10 in Iraq). The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch, has operated seven camps in Syria. Various allied jihadist groups, including Ansar al Islam, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, and Junud al Sham, have operated 10 camps (nine in Syria and one in Iraq).
Historically, al Qaeda has used its training facilities to fuel local insurgencies while selecting individuals from the pool of trainees to conduct attacks against the West. [See LWJ report, Jihadist training camps proliferate in Iraq and Syria, for more information on the camps; and Islamist foreign fighters returning home and the threat to Europe, on the threat that jihadists training at camps in Iraq and Syria pose to the West.]
Footage purportedly shot inside the February 17th Martyrs Brigade base in Benghazi
In the last week, Benghazi has seen a sharp increase in violence after the former Libyan general, Khalifa Haftar, began a renewed offensive with the Libyan army against jihadists in the city.
The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, the largest alliance of jihadist groups, met the offensive with harsh resistance. According to Reuters, 130 people have been killed in the last 10 days.
Al Arabiya reports that the fighting is now mainly taking place in the Ras Obeida district of Benghazi. Haftar's forces took the February 17th Martyrs Brigade base and pushed back jihadists near the Benina International Airport on Oct. 25.
However, several videos and photos have been released purportedly showing fighters from Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-affiliated group in the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, inside the February 17th Martyrs Brigade base.
In some pictures, fighters are shown at the entrance of the base holding signs that are dated Oct. 25, 2014.
In other pictures released by online jihadists who support Ansar al Sharia, several vehicles can be seen that were allegedly captured from Haftar's fighters recently. The pictures are shown below.
Fighting is also taking place in the eastern Benghazi district of Garyounis, as a newly-released video shows a heavy firefight between Haftar's forces and Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council fighters.
Some reports claim that the leader of Ansar al Sharia, Mohammad al Zahawi, was killed in the recent fighting, but that is doubtful. The claims cannot be verified and no firm evidence has surfaced indicating that Zahawi has, in fact, been killed. Ansar al Sharia has not issued a statement confirming or denying these reports, and Zahawi has been reported killed before, only to later resurface.
Fighting in Benghazi
The recent fighting in Benghazi is just the latest violence to have rocked the city since the end of the civil war in 2011. In May of this year, Haftar launched a major offensive in the city to "cleanse" it of jihadists. The operation, dubbed "Operation Dignity," was initially successful but has since reached a bitter stalemate.
In July, the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council was able to overtake a Libyan special forces base in the city. On its official Twitter feed, Ansar al Sharia posted a video of its leader, Mohammad al Zahawi, discussing his group's "victory." The group also posted photos of the weapons, or "booty," it captured, as well as scenes from the assault on the base. [See LWJ's report, Ansar al Sharia, allies seize Libyan special forces base in Benghazi.]
According to a map made by Twitter analyst @MaliWitness and his colleague, Ansar al Sharia and Haftar's forces each control around half of Benghazi, with large parts also being contested.
Earlier this month, the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council was reportedly responsible for a series of suicide bombings in and around the city, including several at the Benina International Airport. Al Jazeera reported that up to four vehicle-borne explosive devices (VBIEDs) were used on the airport, which killed 40 Libyan troops. Four troops were also killed in a separate attack in the eastern part of Benghazi. [For more, read LWJ's report, Jihadists launch multiple suicide bombings in Libya.]
The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council
The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), which is fighting against Haftar's forces, is an alliance of several jihadist groups in the city. The main four groups in the alliance are Ansar al Sharia, the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, Libya Shield 1, and the Rafallah al Sahati Brigades.
Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group, is likely the overall leader of the alliance. The group gained widespread attention after its fighters took part in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi. [For more on Ansar al Sharia's links to al Qaeda, see LWJ reports: Al Qaeda and the threat in North Africa and State Department designates 3 Ansar al Sharia organizations, leaders.]
The February 17th Martyrs Brigade is another large militia in Benghazi and was once considered an ally of both the Libyan government and the US in eastern Libya. The Brigade was also paid to provide security for the US Mission in Benghazi around the time of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks.
Libya Shield 1, which was originally part of the larger Libya Shield Forces, is another militia within the BRSC. The Shield has been led by Wissam Bin Hamid, who was initially considered an American security ally in Benghazi, but failed to intervene on the night of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack. He is currently fighting alongside Ansar al Sharia and has been featured in the group's videos and propaganda. [See LWJ reports: Ansar al Sharia ally a key figure in Benghazi security failures and Ansar al Sharia video features jihadist once thought to be US ally in Benghazi.]
The Rafallah al Sahati Brigade is the last major group in the BRSC. It is an Islamist brigade that has been closely allied with Ansar al Sharia.
The pictures below were released by online jihadists who support Ansar al Sharia and allegedly show vehicles recently captured from Haftar's forces:
Update: The Islamic State video of John Cantlie in Kobane, which was included above, has been removed from YouTube. It has been replaced with an image from the video.
The Islamic State has released a video featuring John Cantlie, a British war reporter who has been held hostage since 2012, in what is claimed to be the Syrian border town of Kobane. An image of Cantlie from the video can be seen above.
The US and its coalition partners have launched a number of airstrikes against the Islamic State's forces in and around the town. And Kurdish forces are battling the jihadists on the ground.
Western and Kurdish sources have claimed in the press that they have pushed back the Islamic State's advances. But Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's organization uses Cantlie to say this is not the case.
In the 5 minute, 32 second video, titled "Inside 'Ayn Al-Islam," Cantlie appears to be stationed somewhere in Kobane during broad daylight. At one point he points to the Turkish flag in the distance.
Cantlie is made to say, contrary to the claims made by UK and US officials, that the Islamic State's "mujahideen" are near victory. The jihadists are "definitely not on the run," and all Cantlie can see around him are the group's mujahideen -- not their Kurdish opponents.
The video begins with an aerial shot supposedly taken by the "Drone of the Islamic State Army." The aerial footage shows a town that has been ravaged by warfare.
The video then cuts to a scene of Cantlie, who says that he is standing in the "heart" of the PKK's "so-called safe zone, which is now controlled entirely by the Islamic State."
The PKK, as it is known, is the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is fighting against the Islamic State's guerrilla forces. The PKK has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US government.
Despite the American airstrikes, Cantlie is made to say that "the mujahideen have pushed deep into the heart of the city" and are controlling the eastern and southern sectors.
Cantlie then briefly looks around, noting that he can't see any Western journalists. He cites a number of accounts in the Western media, and quotes US officials, before dismissing them.
"There are no journalists here in the city, so the media are getting their information from Kurdish commanders and White House press secretaries, neither of whom have the slightest intention of telling the truth of what's happening here on the ground," Cantlie says.
He claims that because the coalition's airstrikes have prevented the Islamic State from using its heavy artillery, the group has adjusted and is using lighter armaments, moving from house to house. It is for this reason, the Islamic State has Cantlie say, that the bombings are not enough to defeat the jihadist group in Kobane or elsewhere.
The Islamic State also has Cantlie mock the US, noting its "hopeless" Air Force has resupplied the mujahideen by dropping two crates of weapons to the group. Cantlie is referencing recent footage showing crates of weapons, which were intended for the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), but mistakenly dropped into the Islamic State's hands. The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK.
Cantlie concludes by saying that the battle for Kobane is "coming to an end," as the Islamic State is "mopping up" now in the streets.
The New York Times: Cantlie and other hostages endure "excruciating suffering"
The Islamic State's video of Cantlie is a propaganda device, and is intended to undermine Western claims about the efficacy of the airstrikes. The fog of war makes any clear-eyed assessment of the situation difficult.
There is no telling what treatment Cantlie has been subjected to while in the Islamic State's custody. A recent article by The New York Times' Rukmini Callimachi pieced together the hostages' stories from multiple sources, concluding that they experienced "excruciating suffering."
Cantlie was abducted alongside James Foley, an American who was subsequently beheaded by the Islamic State in August. According to the Times, Cantlie and Foley were initially held by the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in the country. They were guarded by "an English-speaking trio whom they nicknamed 'the Beatles,'" and which "seemed to take pleasure in brutalizing them."
Eventually, both Foley and Cantlie became the Islamic State's hostages.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has released a short biography of Mustafa Ali (a.k.a. Humam al Masri), a jihadist who served in the group's media department before he was killed in a US drone strike in late 2013.
The AQAP biography was released on Twitter. It was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Ali was imprisoned for five years under Hosni Mubarak's regime, according to AQAP. He was released in the wake of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Ali then emigrated to Yemen at the beginning of 2012 in order "to join his mujahideen brothers in Ansar al Sharia."
The biographers point out that Ansar al Sharia, which is a political front and alias for AQAP, ruled "over large areas in Abyan and Shabwa provinces in southern Yemen" at the time of Ali's emigration to Yemen. Ali then "joined the Sharia and military training courses."
"Due to [Ali's] specialty in studying the media, and mastering the work with picture programs, design, and graphics, our martyr was chosen to be a member of the media department," AQAP explains, according to SITE's translation.
Ali moved from the media department to AQAP's military department, but was then killed in a US drone strike in the Hadramout province.
Sought "knowledge" from Mohammed al Zawahiri while imprisoned
AQAP's biography of Ali contains an interesting note concerning his imprisonment in Egypt. "He invested his time in prison in seeking knowledge and meeting with the experienced mujahideen such as sheikhs Mohammed al Zawahiri and Abdul Hakim Hasaan, may Allah preserve both of them and release them," SITE's translation reads.
Mohammed al Zawahiri is the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. The younger Zawahiri was himself imprisoned in Egypt for years, only to be released after the uprisings against the Mubarak regime.
After his release from prison, the younger Zawahiri became a prolific advocate of al Qaeda's ideology. He publicly denounced Western democracy and espoused al Qaeda's supposed virtues while preaching in Tahrir Square, as well as during appearances on Egyptian television and radio programs. He also did interviews with Western journalists.
Mohammed al Zawahiri's activities garnered additional scrutiny following the protest outside of the US Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Zawahiri and several other al Qaeda-linked jihadists helped instigate the event, which was pro-al Qaeda from the first and led to the embassy's walls being breached. The American flag was torn down and replaced with an al Qaeda-style black banner as protesters chanted, "Obama, Obama, we're all Osama [bin Laden]!"
Four months later, in January 2013, Mohammed al Zawahiri orchestrated a less eventful protest outside of the French Embassy in Cairo. Banners of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri were flown outside of the embassy, as protesters objected to France's intervention in Mali. Zawahiri repeatedly threatened France and the West at the time.
Despite his overt support for al Qaeda, Zawahiri claimed he was not really a member of his brother's organization. Evidence collected by Western intelligence officials told a different story. Mohammed al Zawahiri was connected to jihadists across al Qaeda's international network, and he reportedly helped Egyptian terrorists contact his older brother. One of his followers was killed during an attack on Malian soldiers in May 2013.
Mohammed al Zawahiri was rearrested by Egyptian authorities in August 2013. But during his time free from prison he was a prominent speaker at events hosted by Ansar al Sharia Egypt, an organization that advocated the imposition of al Qaeda-style sharia law. Ansar al Sharia Egypt was founded by a longtime comrade of the Zawahiri brothers.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Mustafa Ali would be drawn to Ansar al Sharia in Yemen, where al Qaeda first used the Ansar al Sharia brand in the post-Arab Spring world.
AQAP says in its biography that Mustafa Ali was influenced by another imprisoned jihadist known as "Abdul Hakim Hasaan." That same alias is used by a senior al Qaeda official more commonly known as Sheikh Issa al Masri, but it is not clear if AQAP was referring to Sheikh Issa or some other jihadist. There have been conflicting reports about Sheikh Issa's status, with some accounts placing him in custody. Sheikh Issa was operational throughout much of Mustafa Ali's time in Egyptian custody.
Drone strike in Hadramout on Nov. 19, 2013
AQAP did not specify which US air strike killed Mustafa Ali, but indicated that the bombing took place sometime in late 2013. It is likely that Ali was killed in the Nov. 19, 2013 drone strike in Hadramout. Reports at the time indicated that 3 AQAP fighters had been killed, but the slain jihadists were not publicly identified. [See LWJ report, US drones kill 3 AQAP fighters in Yemen airstrike.]
It is not known if the US was targeting AQAP media operatives, military figures within the group, or both. While AQAP's biography indicates that Ali had worked for the Al Malahem Media Foundation, the group's propaganda arm, it also says that he had moved on to the "military department."
Drone strikes in Yemen have killed both AQAP military commanders as well as media operatives. In September 2011, for instance, the US killed Anwar al Awlaki, the American propagandist, ideologue, recruiter, and operational commander, and Samir Khan, an American who ran Inspire Magazine, in an airstrike in Al Jawf province.
Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, as pictured on his Twitter feed.
The ability of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's Islamic State to garner new recruits has become such a problem that one of Baghdadi's most influential critics has been forced to weigh in.
Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular al Qaeda-linked cleric from Saudi Arabia, has criticized the leadership of the Islamic State's jihadist rivals in Syria for failing to provide a unified plan. Muhaysini argues that because of the "disorder" in the jihadists' ranks, young recruits have been forced into the arms of Baghdadi's Islamic State.
The Saudi sheikh, who relocated to Syria in 2013, is no fan of Baghdadi or the Islamic State, which he has criticized for following the "wrong" jihadist program. Muhaysini has been closely allied with the leaders of the Islamic State's jihadist opponents in Syria, including the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's official branch in the country. But this hasn't stopped Muhaysini from publicly criticizing those same leaders for failing to prevent the "youth" from falling under the Islamic State's sway.
Muhaysini's critique, therefore, provides an interesting look at the jihadists' shortcomings in Syria, from the perspective of an ideologue associated with al Qaeda.
Muhaysini's criticisms were first published on his Twitter feed, which has more than 330,000 followers, on Oct. 20. The tweets were then collated into a single statement that was distributed online.
The ideologue begins by saying that he is providing a comment "on some of our beloved ones pledging allegiance to the State Organization," meaning Baghdadi's group. Muhaysini writes that he is still "determined to distance" himself from discussing the Islamic State. This is not because its jihadist program is the right one. Instead, Muhaysini says, he doesn't want to address the Islamic State's deficiencies right now because all of the jihadists in Syria are "in defiance of the Crusaders and their Arab agents," who are bombing targets in the country.
Regardless, Muhaysini writes that he is compelled to address the defections to the Islamic State because it is his "duty" to clarify the situation.
Muhaysini does not name any specific jihadists who have joined the Islamic State, but it is clear that he is primarily talking about foreign fighters. He says the Islamic State's recruits "emigrated from their homelands" intending to "establish" Allah's sharia law and restore "the lost caliphate."
The Islamic State's messaging has focused unambiguously on these themes. The entire purpose behind the rebranding of Baghdadi's organization from the Islamic State of Iraq, to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), to simply the Islamic State, was to capitalize on the claim that the organization has resurrected the caliphate.
Still, according to Muhaysini, some withheld their allegiance to the Islamic State after hearing experienced jihadists "speak against it," "criticize" it, and "warn against pledging allegiance" to Baghdadi. So, the emigrants waited, especially after seeing the Islamic State's spilling of Muslim blood.
It is at this point that the Islamic State's rivals failed, according to Muhaysini. The foreigners "expected" groups such as the Ansar al Din Front (which includes foreign contingents), Ahrar al Sham, and Al Jund al Sham, as well as others, "to launch the project for which they emigrated." But all the emigrants found was "disarray, dissent," "selfishness," and poor conditions among the alternatives to the Islamic State.
The jihadists who emigrated to Syria compared these groups to the Islamic State and chose "the order" of the latter.
Muhaysini says that Abu Muhammad al Julani (Al Nusrah Front's emir), Abu Jabir (the leader of Ahrar al Sham), and the leaders of Ansar al Din and Al Jund al Sham all "need to understand this."
Specifically addressing these leaders, Muhaysini warns they "must understand that they will be accountable before Allah for these young men who had to choose between a rock and a hard place." That is, the new recruits had to pick between the Islamic State, with its "order" and "wrong program," and the other factions' "disorder" and "correct program."
Muhaysini blames the jihadist leaders' "disorder and failure to launch" their project for problems among the youth, and warns the leaders that they "will be questioned on Judgment Day" about it. He claims that although the youth do not agree with the Islamic State's decision to deem its fellow jihadists as un-Islamic, they have had no choice.
And, in what appears to be a critique of the Al Nusrah Front, Muhaysini says that he repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, appealed to the group's leadership to reform its media arm and regional management. This is an implicit acknowledgment that the Islamic State has advantages in both regards.
If his problems with the Islamic State were merely administrative, Muhaysini says, he would have joined the organization long ago. But his disagreements with Baghdadi and his subordinates go well beyond management issues. The Islamic State declares Muslims "to be infidels," spills their blood, rejects arbitration with other groups in a common sharia court, and unilaterally decided to declare a caliphate "without consultation" among Muslims. For all of these reasons, Muhaysini says, the Islamic State adheres to the wrong jihadist program.
Muhaysini pleads with the "brothers" who joined the Islamic State to attempt to reform it from within. He warns them not to be silent when it comes to the Islamic State's violence towards Muslims. And he says they should listen to what established jihadist authorities have to say, listing 11 influential scholars as righteous guides. The scholars include well-known critics of the Islamic State, such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, Abu Qatada, and Hani al Sibai.
The Saudi says that nothing would make him happier than if the Islamic State reformed its ways, not even the deaths of one million Alawites [Bashar al Assad and his followers] and Crusaders.
In separate tweets and statements in the days that followed his critique of the Islamic State's rivals, Muhaysini said that he would again visit all of the top jihadist leaders in Syria. Muhaysini says he wants to unify the jihadists' ranks against their common enemies.
But he has attempted, and failed, to bring about a reconciliation on multiple occasions in the past.
The Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga said their forces have driven the Islamic State from Jurf al Sahkar south of Baghdad and the town of Zumar northwest of Mosul over the weekend. The two towns have changed hands several times over the past few months.
The Iraqi military, backed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias, claimed to have cleared the Islamic State from Jurf al Sahkar, a contested town in northern Babil province, on Oct. 25 after heavy fighting. Iraqi officials said that 300 Islamic State fighters and 67 soldiers and Shiite militiamen were killed, according to Reuters. Islamic State fighters are said to have withdrawn to nearby towns.
Farther north, near Mosul and Sinjar, Kurdish forces, backed by US airstrikes, wrested control of Zumar and two nearby towns from the Islamic State yesterday. US Central command launched 10 airstrikes "west of the Mosul Dam" and hit "four small ISIL [Islamic State] units, one large ISIL unit, destroyed an ISIL building, six ISIL fighting positions and four ISIL staging locations."
Kurdish and Iraqi casualties during the fighting in Zumar were not disclosed. But Islamic State fighters killed seven Peshmerga fighters in an IED attack in a nearby village, according to Reuters. Additionally, 17 Islamic State fighters were captured in another nearby town.
Two towns have changed hands several times
Control of the towns of Jurf al Sakhar and Zumar has alternated between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government or Kurdish forces over the past several months.
Jurf al Sakhar is a key piece of terrain for both the Islamic State and the Iraqi government. The Islamic State seeks to control it to facilitate the flow of fighters and weapons from Anbar to other cities and towns in northern Babil and southern Baghdad province. Additionally, control of Jurf al Sakhar allows the jihadist group to launch attacks into the Shiite holy city of Karbala and other cities and towns farther south.
In the past eight months, the Iraqi military has claimed to have liberated Jurf al Sakhar numerous times. The Iraqi military has also claimed to have killed hundreds of fighters in the town. [See LWJ report, US air campaign against Islamic State expands to southwestern Baghdad.]
Zumar has also changed hands several times since the beginning of August. The Islamic State took control of the town on Aug. 2 during an offensive in the north that put the group in control of Sinjar, the Mosul Dam, and a host of other towns north, west, and east of Mosul. On Aug. 10, the Peshmerga, backed by US airstrikes, retook Zumar. But Kurdish forces abandoned the town in September after another Islamic State offensive.
The US reportedly killed three al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters today in a province in central Yemen where the jihadist group is battling Shia Houthi rebels who have advanced southward after taking control of the capital of Sana'a last month.
The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers killed the three fighters in a strike in the Manasseh area near the city of Rada'a in Baydah province, Reuters reported. The strike targeted Ansar al Sharia, AQAP's political front in Yemen. The US State Department described Ansar al Sharia as an "alias" of AQAP in its designation of the former group in 2012.
It is unclear if any senior al Qaeda or Ansar al Sharia leaders were killed in the US drone strike. AQAP has not announced the death of any of its senior leaders or operatives.
The Manasseh area in Baydah is a known haven for AQAP fighters and leaders. The US has launched three other airstrikes in Manasseh since late December 2012. The last such attack took place on Aug. 30, 2013. The US killed Kaid al Dhabab and two fighters in a strike on a vehicle in that airstrike. Kaid served as the group's emir for Baydah.
Today's strike is the first since Oct. 15. Four AQAP operatives, including Mahdi Badas, the group's emir for Shabwa, were reported to have been killed in a strike that targeted a vehicle in the southern province of Shabwa.
The US has launched four drone strikes in Yemen since Shia Houthi rebels, which are backed by Iran and are enemies of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, took control of the capital of Sana'a on Sept. 22. The Houthis have since advanced southward and taken control of the port city of Hodeidah and the central Yemeni city of Dhamar. The Houthi rebels also seized areas outside of Radaa in Baydah before halting their advance.
AQAP and the Houthis have since been battling outside of Radaa and elsewhere in Yemen. AQAP has positioned itself as the defenders of Sunnis in Yemen as the government and military have collapsed in the face of the Houthi advance.
Map of known provincial locations of training camps run by the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, and allied jihadist groups since 2012. Map created by Caleb Weiss and Bill Roggio.
Since the Syrian civil war began in the spring of 2011, the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and other allied jihadist groups have operated more than 30 training camps inside Iraq and Syria. While global jihadist groups have primarily used camps to indoctrinate and train fighters for local insurgencies as part of the effort to establish a global caliphate, in the past al Qaeda has used its camps to support attacks against the West.
The Long War Journal has compiled information on the camps from jihadist videos, news accounts, and US military press releases that note airstrikes against the training facilities. It is unclear if all of the training camps are currently in operation. In addition, this analysis is compiled using publicly-available evidence. It is likely that some training camps are not advertised.
Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 38 camps have been identified as being operational. Of those camps, 28 are in Syria, and 10 are in Iraq.
The Islamic State, the al Qaeda splinter group that was disowned by al Qaeda's general command in February 2014, operates the largest number of training facilities, with nine camps in Iraq and 12 more in Syria.
In Iraq, the Islamic State has operated three camps in Anbar province, three in Salahaddin, two in Ninewa, and one more in Kirkuk.
In Syria, the Islamic State has run six facilities in Aleppo province, two in Deir al Zour, and one each in Hasakah, Raqqah, Latakia, and Damascus.
The Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, has run seven camps in the country; two each in Deir al Zour and Aleppo, and one each in Idlib, Homs, and Daraa. The camps in Deir al Zour and Raqqah are thought to be no longer operational after the Islamic State took control of the areas. The Al Nusrah Front camps are also likely the same camps used by the so-called Khorasan group, which is led by senior al Qaeda leaders and is embedded within Al Nusrah. Al Qaeda's Khorasan group seeks to conduct attacks against the West.
Ten more camps are run by jihadist groups allied with the Al Nusrah Front. Nine training facilities are in Syria, and one, run by Ansar al Islam, is in Iraq. Two of the camps in Syria are operated by Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar and Junud al Sham. In September 2014, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar was listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, and Murad Margoshvilli, the leader of the Junud al Sham, was named a global terrorist.
Training for insurgencies and for terrorist attacks
In the past, al Qaeda has used its network of camps not only to train fighters to battle in local insurgencies, but also to identify potential recruits as well as support a host of allied jihadist groups.
The 9/11 Commission Report detailed how al Qaeda used its sanctuary in Afghanistan prior to the attacks on the US to operate camps and expand its ties to jihadist groups throughout the world:The alliance with the Taliban provided al Qaeda a sanctuary in which to train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import weapons, forge ties with other jihad groups and leaders, and plot and staff terrorist schemes. While Bin Ladin maintained his own al Qaeda guesthouses and camps for vetting and training recruits, he also provided support to and benefited from the broad infrastructure of such facilities in Afghanistan made available to the global network of Islamist movements. U.S. intelligence estimates put the total number of fighters who underwent instruction in Bin Ladin-supported camps in Afghanistan from 1996 through 9/11 at 10,000 to 20,000.
In addition to training fighters and special operators, this larger network of guesthouses and camps provided a mechanism by which al Qaeda could screen and vet candidates for induction into its own organization. Thousands flowed through the camps, but no more than a few hundred seem to have become al Qaeda members. From the time of its founding, al Qaeda had employed training and indoctrination to identify "worthy" candidates.
Al Qaeda continued meanwhile to collaborate closely with the many Middle Eastern groups -- in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia, and elsewhere -- with which it had been linked when Bin Ladin was in Sudan. It also reinforced its London base and its other offices around Europe, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Bin Ladin bolstered his links to extremists in South and Southeast Asia, including the Malaysian-Indonesian JI [Jemaah Islamiyah] and several Pakistani groups engaged in the Kashmir conflict.
While al Qaeda was building its network, some senior US military leaders tasked with assessing the threat of al Qaeda dismissed its network of camps in Afghanistan as rudimentary facilities not worthy of attention. According to the 9/11 Commission Report:Members of the Small Group found themselves unpersuaded of the merits of rolling attacks. Defense Secretary William Cohen told us Bin Ladin's training camps were primitive, built with "rope ladders"; General Shelton called them "jungle gym" camps. Neither thought them worthwhile targets for very expensive missiles.
Today, US officials clearly view the camps in Iraq and Syria as a direct threat to US national security. US and allied countries have targeted this network of training camps in Iraq and Syria in air and cruise missile strikes.
Since Aug. 7, when the US air campaign against the Islamic State began, the US has targeted multiple Islamic State training centers in 11 airstrikes. Islamic State training camps were hit in US airstrikes in Mosul on Sept. 18; Raqqah, Abu Kamal, Dier al Zour, and Hasakah on Sept. 22; Raqqah on Sept. 27; Manbij on Sept. 29; again in Raqqah on Oct. 3 and Oct. 8; near Kobane on Oct. 10; and near Fallujah on Oct. 23.
The US has also targeted training camps run by the Al Nusrah Front. On Sept. 22, the opening day of US airstrikes in Syria, the US launched 46 cruise missiles at eight different targets associated with the al Qaeda branch. In a press release announcing the strikes, the US military said it targeted more than one training camp associated with the "Khorasan Group," which is merely a name for a cadre of established Al Nusrah Front leaders and al Qaeda operatives who are coordinating attacks against the West. [See LWJ reports, Senior al Qaeda strategist part of so-called 'Khorasan group' and Al Qaeda leader claims key operative in so-called 'Khorasan group' was killed.]
Abu Yusuf al Turki, an Al Nusrah Front commander with experience in Turkey and Afghanistan who trained fighters how to become snipers, was killed in the Sept. 22 airstrikes. Al Turki, whose real name is Ümit Yaşar Toprak, was involved in a 2004 plot to assassinate former President George W. Bush during a NATO summit in Istanbul. He also fought in Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front trainer suspected of plotting against 2004 NATO summit killed in US airstrikes.]
List of Islamic State training camps in Iraq:
- The Islamic State is known to operate training camps in the Hamrin Mountains. The Hamrin Mountains extend from Diyala province to Salahaddin province.
- The Islamic State operates a training camp near Haditha. On Aug. 21, 2012, the Islamic State (then known as al Qaeda in Iraq) released an extremely graphic video showing graduates from this camp killing dozens of Iraqi policemen in a nighttime raid. This camp is known as the "Sheikein Camp".
- In late 2013, an Obama administration official said that al Qaeda in Iraq (now known as the Islamic State) "has a presence in terms of camps and training facilities" in Anbar province.
- The Islamic State is also known to operate training camps in Samarra. On Feb. 10, 2014, 22 Islamic State fighters were killed in a training camp near Samarra while receiving instruction on how to make bombs for suicide attacks.
- An Islamic State training camp in Ninewa was announced on July 22, 2014. Eight squads of 11 to 13 men were shown in pictures of this camp. The Islamic State released a video of a training camp in Ninewa province on Oct. 12, 2014. The video showed over 100 recruits in the camp, but it is unclear if it is the same camp.
- On Sept. 18, 2014, US Central Command said airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp "southeast of Mosul."
- On Oct. 3, 2014, the Islamic State released photos from the "Shaykh Abu Omar al Baghdadi Camp" in Kirkuk. The pictures showcased a graduation of a cadre of fighters.
- On Oct. 23, 2014, US Central Command said it targeted an Islamic State training facility near Fallujah, Iraq.
- On Oct. 24, 2014, US Central Command said it targeted an Islamic State training facility near Baiji, Iraq.
List of Islamic State training camps in Syria:
- The Lions of the Caliphate Battalion, a group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, posted pictures of a training camp on social media in late 2013. The group was based in Latakia province and it is unclear if the camp is still operational.
- The Shaykh Abu al Nur al Maqdisi Brigade, an Islamic State group mainly comprised of Gazans, released photos of a training camp in Syria earlier this year. The camp was likely in Aleppo, but it is unclear if the camp is still operational.
- On Jan. 25, 2014, a video was released on YouTube showing a training camp belonging to Sabiri's Jamaat. This group is comprised mainly of Uzbek and Dagestani fighters and has since sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.
- On May 8, 2014, the Islamic State released a video from the "Zarqawi Camp" on the outskirts of Damascus. The camp is named after the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq (now known as the Islamic State), Abu Musab al Zarqawi. This camp also hosts a section for the "Zarqawi Cubs"; "cubs" refers to children trained to wage jihad.
- The Islamic State released pictures of a training camp in Aleppo on July 26, 2014. The pictures showed scores of fighters after graduating from the camp.
- In early September 2014, the Islamic State released photos from the "Shaddad al Tunisi camp" in Aleppo province. The camp trains children and teens.
- On Sept. 23, 2014, US Central Command said that US and coalition aircraft targeted Islamic State "training compounds" in the vicinity of Raqqah, Deir al Zour, Abu Kamal, and Hasakah.
- On Sept. 29, 2014, US Central Command said that US and coalition aircraft targeted an Islamic State training camp near Manbij in Aleppo province.
- On Oct. 10, 2014, US Central Command said that US and coalition aircraft targeted an Islamic State training camp near Kobane in Aleppo province.
List of training camps belonging to the Al Nusrah Front:
- In 2013, the Al Nusrah Front released a video showing a training camp in the Homs region. The video featured trainees learning how to fight in hand-to-hand combat. It is unclear if this camp is still operational.
- On March 17, 2014, the Al Nusrah Front released videos from two training camps in eastern Syria. These camps were named the "Ayman al Zawahiri camp" and the "Abu Ghadiya camp." It is unclear if these camps are still operational.
- On May 27, 2014, the Al Nusrah Front released photos from a training camp in Daraa province in southern Syria. The facility, dubbed the "Ibn Taymiyyah camp," trains children.
- On Sept. 22, 2014, the US launched 46 cruise missiles at eight locations in Aleppo that included Al Nusrah training camps. These strikes also targeted camps belonging to the "Khorasan Group." It is likely that a sniper camp run by al Qaeda veteran Abu Yusuf al Turki was also targeted in these strikes.
- On Oct. 10, 2014, the Al Nusrah Front released photos from one of its training camps in Idlib. On Oct. 18, a video was released from the same camp. On Aug. 24, 2014, the Al Nusrah Front released photos from another training camp in Idlib.
- Sayfullah Shishani's Jamaat, a Chechen-led group within the Al Nusrah Front, is known to operate camps in Aleppo province to train fighters to become snipers and use other weapons.
- On July 23, 2013, the Islamic Front's Ahrar al Sham released a video of one of its training camps in Daraa province in southern Syria. The video showed dozens of recruits at the camp.
- On Sept. 7, 2013, the Islamic Front's Ahrar al Sham released a video of a training camp in Raqqah province. It is likely that this camp is no longer operational as the Islamic State controls most of Raqqah.
- On Oct. 6, 2013, the Syrian group Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiya released a video of a training camp that was presumably in Aleppo province. This group has since joined the al Muhajireen Army, Harakat Sham al Islam, and Katibat al Khadra (the Green Battalion) to form the Ansar al Din Front.
- In late December 2013 and again in March 2014, Ansar al Islam touted the "Shaykh Rashid Ghazi Camp" in northern Iraq by posting pictures and a video of the camp on Twitter. Ansar al Islam, while based in Iraq, is also known to operate in Syria.
- On March 25, 2014, the Islamic Front's Ahrar al Sham released a video of a training camp presumably in Aleppo in northern Syria. The camp is said to be a "special forces" training facility. A follow-up video was posted to YouTube on Oct. 20, 2014.
- On April 2, 2014, the Chechen group Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (the Muhajireen Army) released a video of a training camp in Aleppo. The video showed, along with traditional training, instruction in the manufacture of bombs. This group may run more than one camp in Aleppo. Al Muhajireen was designated a terrorist group by the US State Department in September 2014.
- On June 3, 2014, the Uzbek Imam Bukhari Jamaat released video of a training camp in Aleppo province. This group is allied with the Al Nusrah Front, the Muhajireen Army, and the Seyfuddin Uzbek Jamaat (a unit with ties to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) within Al Nusrah.
- In early August 2014, a Chechen-led group named the Jamaat Ahadun Ahad, or the "Group of the One and Only," released a video of a training camp in Latakia. Little is known about this group, as it apparently prefers to have a minimal social media presence so as to avoid the jihadist infighting and focus on battling the Assad regime.
- On Aug. 13, 2014, the Islamic Front's Jaish al Islam released a video of a training camp in Damascus. The video shows scores of recruits training in the camp.
- Junud al Sham, a Chechen-led group based in Latakia headed by Muslim Shishani, is known to operate training camps for foreign fighters, according to the US State Department. Junud al Sham also runs a training center for children in Latakia, according to From Chechnya to Syria.
List of training camps belonging to other jihadist groups in Syria or Iraq:
On Oct. 19, al Qaeda finally released its new English-language, online magazine "Resurgence." The organization announced the forthcoming publication in March, but the first edition was not released until seven months later.
The reasons for the delay in its release are not publicly known. At 117 pages, the magazine covers a variety of jihadist topics. But the content of the magazine is heavily focused on recent events, especially al Qaeda's activities in the Indian Subcontinent.
It was produced by As Sahab, al Qaeda's propaganda arm. However, "(Subcontinent)", has been appended to As Sahab's name, suggesting that the media wing has rebranded at least part of its operation to focus on the region.
Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and other senior jihadists announced the creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), al Qaeda's newest regional branch, in early September. Much of "Resurgence" is devoted to AQIS propaganda.
The cover story is an article by al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn titled, "Besiege Them!" Gadahn writes of the "practical steps" that must be taken to "liberate" Palestine and restore the Islamic caliphate. Gadahn's suggestions range from boycotting Western business interests to establishing an al Qaeda-style Islamic economy that is independent from the global financial system.
References to the possibility of resurrecting the caliphate are sprinkled throughout the rest of the magazine. A piece by the magazine's editor, identified as Hassaan Yusuf, argues that "the restoration of the Caliphate and the liberation of Al Aqsa is an increasingly plausible ideal."
While such standard jihadist themes are explored, "Resurgence" returns to the Indian Subcontinent as its point of reference.
"This wave of Jihad that originated in Afghanistan and has spread to Iraq, the Levant and North Africa is also the ultimate hope of the Muslims of the Subcontinent," Yusuf writes. "It was Jihad that brought Islam to the Indian Subcontinent, and it will be Jihad again that will overturn the legacy of imperialism from Pakistan to Bangladesh and beyond."
Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent
Various pieces from other authors are dedicated to waging jihad in the Indian Subcontinent.
For instance, the magazine republishes a statement by AQIS spokesman Usama Mahmood, who has explained the rationale behind the group's thwarted attack on the US Navy in September. Mahmood has previously released multiple statements concerning AQIS' attempted hijackings of two Pakistani ships that were to be used in attacks on both American and Indian ships. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claims attacks on Pakistani ships were more audacious than reported.]
An "in focus" section gives a "roundup" of news from throughout the Indian Subcontinent. The content portrays Muslims as being under siege in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma.
Although some have claimed that the establishment of AQIS is merely a reaction to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda has been attempting to woo Muslims across the Indian Subcontinent for years. Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders have repeatedly tried to position the terrorist organization as the vanguard of Muslims throughout the region. They are attempting to incite the populace against their local governments, which are allegedly puppets of the West.
In September 2012, for example, Ustadh Ahmad Farooq issued a statement denouncing the alleged genocide being committed against Muslims in Burma and India. Farooq, who is the head of al Qaeda's dawa and communications arm in Pakistan, has two articles in "Resurgence" trumpeting the jihad in South Asia. And, in January, Zawahiri issued a message focused on reported massacres in Bangladesh. Zawahiri also discussed Burma and called on Muslims to defend themselves against this "Crusader onslaught." Other al Qaeda messages have been peppered with references to events throughout the region.
Thus, al Qaeda's propaganda push in the Indian Subcontinent is not new. As can be seen in the banner to the right, "Resurgence" is yet another attempt by al Qaeda to exploit the violence in countries such as Burma.
An article by Aasim Umar, the emir of AQIS, is entitled, "The Future of Muslims in India." Umar has directed messages to Indian Muslims on a number of occasions. In his latest piece, Umar argues that India is "a slave nation" that has committed "countless massacres of Muslims...for over sixty five years" under "Hindu rule." Umar writes that Indian Muslims have "been fooled by the empty slogans" such as "'Indian democracy', 'secular state', 'the land of Gandhi', 'peace', and so on."
"We have little doubt that, sooner or later, the Muslims of India too will come to the realization that their future is inextricably linked to the success of the Afghan Jihad," Umar writes. "The Indian establishment, Brahman intellectuals, and political pundits fully appreciate this fact. They know that the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan poses a significant threat to the future of Hindu political dominance in India."
No explicit denunciation of the Islamic State
"Resurgence" republishes a statement by Mullah Omar, the Taliban's leader, from earlier this year. Omar says that all American and Western forces must be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and he calls on the entire Islamic world to denounce Israel for its supposedly "savage aggression" against "oppressed Palestinians."
In "Resurgence," as in other al Qaeda messages and statements, Omar is called "Amir ul Mominin," or the Commander of the Faithful, a title that is usually reserved for the leader of an Islamic caliphate. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, has attempted to usurp this title for himself.
In its propaganda, al Qaeda has taken a subtle approach to responding to the Islamic State's claims. The group has pushed its allegiance to Omar, and his presumed role as the rightful caliph.
"Resurgence" does not include any specific denunciations of the Islamic State. But it does reproduce a quote from Zawahiri explaining how a proper jihadist caliphate will be built. After arguing that jihadists are an inseparable part of the ummah, or community of Muslims, Zawahiri writes, "The Islamic State will be established - by the help and will of Allah -- at the hands of the free, sincere and honorable Mujahideen. It will be established with their sacrifices, generosity, consent and collective choice."
This could be read as a thinly-veiled critique of the Islamic State, as one of the pro-al Qaeda jihadists' chief criticisms of Baghdadi is that he has tried to impose his caliphate on all other Muslims, eschewing the type of consensus that al Qaeda believes is necessary to form first. In the context of their rivalry with the Islamic State, senior al Qaeda leaders have reproduced similar quotes from Zawahiri throughout the year.
Another piece in "Resurgence," written by Zawahiri's son-in-law, Muhammad bin Mahmoud Rabie al Bahtiyti (a.k.a. Abu Dujana al Basha), urges Muslims to support the mujahideen in Syria, but also says nothing about the Islamic State. Al Bahtiyti released an audio message warning against the Islamic State in late September. Even though al Bahtiyti clearly sought to undermine Baghdadi's group, he did not explicitly name the Islamic State in that message either.
"On Targeting the Achilles Heel of Western Economies"
One of the lengthier pieces in "Resurgence" is a detailed analysis by a jihadist known as Hamza Khalid, who writes that there is an "energy umbilical cord which [sic] sustains western economies" and "stretches across hundreds of miles of pipelines and sea lanes." This "represents the Achilles heel not just of the energy market, but also of western economies dependent on oil from the Muslim world."
Khalid argues that a strategy of "sustained disruption in this supply system would not only increase insurance costs for international shipping, but also affect the price of oil globally, making the theft of our petroleum resources an expensive venture for the West." Khalid then delves into an in-depth assessment of various "choke points," explaining the relative virtues of striking them.
"After this brief overview of the world's most critical sea lanes," Khalid writes, "one cannot fail to appreciate the strategic opportunity that geography presents for the Mujahideen." But al Qaeda's enemies know this, Khalid warns. The "US has established a network of bases that spans the Muslim world" to protect these interests.
Khalid then discusses America's military bases, and concludes that the jihadists face "challenges" but also have "opportunities." He concludes that the current environment "requires a multi-pronged strategy that focuses not only on attacking [the] American military presence in the Muslim world, but also targeting the super-extended energy supply line that fuels their economies and helps to sustain their military strength."
Khalid believes that the time is coming for a sustained campaign of "economic warfare," in which jihadists from around the world target key infrastructure points. Striking the US Navy is not a fantasy, Khalid claims.
"The recent attempt by a group of Mujahid officers of the Pakistan Navy to carry out a complex and coordinated attack on the American Navy in the Indian Ocean using warships of the Pakistan Navy aptly demonstrates this point," Khalid writes.
The attempted attacks Khalid praises are the same ones carried out by AQIS in early September. The new al Qaeda branch's terror plots tell us much about the organization's approach to waging jihad. And so does al Qaeda's "Resurgence" magazine.
The Afghan Taliban took control of three districts, one in the province of Wardak which is just south of Kabul, and the other two in the northern province of Kunduz, that were heavily contested during the US troop surge that began in 2010 and ended in 2011. One of the districts was the scene of the Taliban's shoot down of a US helicopter that resulted in the deaths of 31 special operations personnel, including 17 US Navy SEALs.
Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the district of Sayyidabad in Wardak as well as the districts of Chahar Darah and Dasht-i-Archi in Kunduz province are under the Taiban's thumb.
A reporter from the BBC recently visited the Tangi Valley in the district of Sayyidabad and noted that the Taliban fully control the district. He was given a tour by Said Rahman, the Taliban's shadow district governor who is "popularly known as Governor Badr."
Taliban fighters openly patrol the district during the daytime, while Afghan troops are confined to a small hilltop outpost. Taliban judges mediate land and other disputes. Taxes are collected. Schools, which are funded by the Afghan government, teach the Taliban's curriculum, while girls are not allowed to attend. [See BBC report, Life inside a Taliban stronghold.]
Further north, in the province of Kunduz, Afghan officials admit that "the Taliban controls virtually all of two out of seven districts in Kunduz - Chahar Darah and Dasht-i-Archi,' Reuters reports.
"It is gaining influence elsewhere, and residents say it has been able to because what little state authority exists is viewed with deep mistrust," Reuters continues.
In Kunduz, the Taliban collects a 10 percent tax from farmers and business, mediates disputes in its courts, and runs the local schools.
A senior tribal elder said that the Taliban is well armed and Afghan security forces no longer pursue the Taliban in the districts.
"The local police force, recruited and armed by Western forces, had stopped trying to fight the Taliban altogether," Reuters notes.
Sayyidabad and Chahar Darah: hotly contested districts in the past
Two of the three districts controlled by the Taliban - Sayyidabad and Chahar Darah - have been major battlegrounds in the past. US special operations forces heavily targeted the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda in the two districts between 2009 and 2012.
The Tangi Valley in Sayyidabad was the scene of one of the most deadly attacks on US forces since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001. On Aug. 6, 2011 the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter in the district, killing 38 US and Afghan forces, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (more commonly referred to as SEAL Team 6). More than one month later, the Taliban detonated a massive suicide bomb outside of Combat Outpost Sayyidabad, killing four Afghans and wounding more than 100 people, including 77 US soldiers.
In September 2011, the Taliban took control of Combat Outpost Tangi, which was abandoned by Afghan forces shortly after the massive suicide attack. The Taliban filmed its forces touring the base and released the video on its website.
Later that month, the US killed Qari Tahir, who the International Security Assistance Force described as the Taliban's commander in the Tangi Valley, in an airstrike in the Sayyidabad district. Tahir led the force that was involved in the Aug. 6, 2011 shootdown of the US Chinook.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda are also know to operate in Sayyidabad. In April 2012, the US captured an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader who was planning future large-scale attacks in Kabul, Wardak, and Logar provinces.
In November 2011, the US killed Mujib Rahman Mayar, an Afghan national who served as an al Qaeda facilitator, during a raid in Sayyidabad. Mayar is known to have trained insurgents and acted as a courier delivering messages and money for al Qaeda's network. Two suspected insurgents were also detained and multiple weapons were seized, including bomb-making materials, firearms, grenades, and ammunition.
Chahar Darah district has also been a hotbed of Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and al Qaeda activity, and is known to have been under Taliban control in the past. US special operations forces targeted the three allied jihadist groups in at least 16 raids between August 2009 and November 2012.
Among those targeted during the US raids in the district were Khadim, an IMU senior leader and Afghan national who was an explosives expert responsible for recruiting and training insurgents for suicide attacks; an unnamed senior IMU leader who facilitates suicide bombers from Pakistan; an unnamed Taliban leader who facilitates foreign suicide bombers, including Chechens and Pakistanis; Saifullah, the Taliban's shadow governor for the district who led a group of al Qaeda fighters and maintained close ties with senior Taliban and IMU leaders in northern Afghanistan and Pakistan; and an IMU foreign fighter facilitator with ties to Iran's Qods Force and local Taliban and Iranian-based Uzbek IMU facilitators.
Taliban seek to regain control of Afghanistan
The three districts in Wardak and Kunduz are the latest to fall under the Taliban's control. The district of Sangin in Helmand province, where US Marines and British troops paid a heavy price to liberate during the surge, was overrun by the Taliban in June. The Afghan military opened peace negotiations with the Taliban in August, a sure sign that it lost its grip on the district. The Afghan military has claimed it regained control of Sangin but the reports cannot be confirmed. Meanwhile, the Taliban claimed on Oct. 20 that it "dismantled" a "strategic joint ANA and police outpost" in the nearby Nawzad district.
In July, the Taliban overran the Char Sada district center in the central province of Ghor. The status of the district is unclear. On Oct. 19, the Taliban claimed that "Arbakis," or pro-government tribal militias, attacked the district, executed civilians, and burned down a village.
In August, the Taliban massed more than 700 fighters to attack Afghan security personnel in the Charkh district in Logar. The status of the district is unclear, but four soldiers and "scores" of Taliban are reported to have been killed in fighting in the district on Oct. 20.
And in early October, Junood al Fida, a group that is loyal to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, claimed it took control of the remote district of Registan in Kandahar province. The claim has not been confirmed.
The Taliban and the Haqqani Network, a subgroup that is closely tied to al Qaeda and Pakistan's military and Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, are thought to control districts in the eastern provinces of Ghazni, Zabul, Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar, and Badakhshan.
Ramzi Mawafi. Image from Al Arabiya.
The State Department today added Ramzi Mawafi, a longtime al Qaeda operative who was close to Osama bin Laden, to the US government's list of specially designated global terrorists.
Mawafi "is an Egyptian national and long-time al Qaeda member best known as the former doctor to Osama bin Laden," the State Department says in its announcement. Mawafi "also served as an explosives expert for al Qaeda."
Mawafi "escaped from an Egyptian prison in 2011, and is now believed to be in the Sinai Peninsula coordinating among militant groups and helping to arrange money and weapons to support violent extremist activity."
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal say that Mawafi rejoined al Qaeda's hierarchy after his escape from prison three years ago. Al Qaeda maintains a clandestine bureaucracy that exists above regional groups in the terrorist organization's pecking order.
This can be seen in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, where events have exposed some of the personalities in al Qaeda's senior leadership. For instance, Nasir al Wuhayshi is the emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a regional branch of al Qaeda, but also doubles as al Qaeda's global general manager, a role that gives him authority far outside of Yemen. Al Qaeda's deputy general managers serve underneath Wuhayshi in Yemen, holding positions in both AQAP and in al Qaeda's global hierarchy.
Senior al Qaeda leaders were also dispatched to Syria, where they assumed roles within the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official regional branch in the Levant. A jihadist known as Sanafi al Nasr, for instance, heads an al Qaeda strategic planning committee in addition to serving as a senior official within Al Nusrah. Seasoned al Qaeda leaders have assumed roles in other jihadist groups in Syria as well, including those that are not official branches of the organization.
US intelligence officials say that Mawafi holds a position within al Qaeda's covert international enterprise similar to his counterparts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
As recognized by the State Department, Mawafi is "coordinating among militant groups" in the Sinai. The most prolific of these is Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), also known as Ansar Jerusalem, which is connected to al Qaeda's global network. Mawafi has worked with ABM, as well as other jihadist groups, US intelligence officials say.
Al Qaeda's presence in the Sinai Peninsula
Although jihadists have announced al Qaeda's presence in the Sinai on multiple occasions, US officials say the group is hiding the full scope of its organizational ties and other details of its operations. Mawafi has been publicly identified as the head of al Qaeda in the Sinai on multiple occasions, but he does not appear in videos or claim credit for jihadist operations. [See LWJ report, Former bin Laden doctor reportedly heads al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.]
Ayman al Zawahiri has repeatedly praised the jihadists in the Sinai in al Qaeda's propaganda. And groups such as ABM have returned the favor, portraying their terrorist acts as consistent with al Qaeda's call to arms. (There are also reports that some ABM jihadists are tied to the Islamic State, a former branch of al Qaeda's organization that has been disowned by al Qaeda's general command.)
A group calling itself "Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula" distributed fliers outside of a mosque in Al Arish in the summer of 2011. The fliers called for the establishment of an Islamic state and said that the "group was planning attacks on the police stations and security forces," according to CNN.
In Dec. 2011, Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula announced its formation, vowing to "fulfill its oath" to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The following month, in Jan. 2012, Ansar al Jihad publicly swore an oath of allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri. US officials said at the time that the group was the military wing of Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, which was "seeking to coordinate operations" with other groups in the Sinai and Gaza.
Despite these overt ties between jihadists in the Sinai and al Qaeda, Mawafi has tried to remain in the shadows. Egyptian officials have highlighted his position of authority in the press, but neither Mawafi nor al Qaeda have announced his role. They prefer to work through organizations that are not explicitly branded as al Qaeda, US officials say. Mawafi's group acts as a "platform" for pooling the jihadists' resources.
In Aug. 2011, for instance, CNN first reported that Mawafi had set up shop in the Sinai following his escape from prison. Egyptian officials expressed concerned about Mawafi's role because of his expertise in bomb making. Mawafi is known as "the chemist" and, according to an Egyptian general, "had set up his own [explosives] laboratory in Tora Bora with bin Laden" prior to 9/11.
CNN also noted that Mawafi had been in contact with two already established jihadist groups: Takfir wal Hijra and the Palestinian Islamic Army.
In Sept. 2013, the Associated Press (AP) cited Egyptian military intelligence officials who said that Mawafi was working with multiple jihadist groups, and facilitating the flow of funds and weapons to them. The Egyptian officials explained that two jihadists captured in the Sinai, a Yemeni and a Palestinian, "provided information about Mawafi's role while under questioning." And an Egyptian court described Mawafi as "the secretary general of al Qaeda in Sinai."
At least one representative from al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula took part in an al Qaeda "conference call" in the summer of 2013. The communications, which were first reported by the Daily Beast, involved more than 20 al Qaeda operatives from around the world, including Zawahiri and Wuhayshi. It was during the call that Wuhayshi's appointment as al Qaeda's general manager was announced to other terrorist commanders.
The US was forced to close nearly two dozen diplomatic facilities after officials learned of the communications, which utilized a complicated Internet-based infrastructure. The al Qaeda terrorists reportedly planned to attack one or more diplomatic outposts. One of the facilities closed as a precautionary measure was the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, because authorities were concerned that al Qaeda's presence in the Sinai could be used as a staging ground for an attack.
Sajna Mehsud. Image from Dawn.
The US State Department added a Taliban leader from South Waziristan who had previously served as the deputy emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
Khan Said, the Taliban leader from the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan who is also known as Sajna Mehsud, was added to the US list of global terrorists today.
"Said has had experience fighting in Afghanistan, is believed to be involved in the attack on a Naval base in Karachi, Pakistan, and is also credited with masterminding a 2012 jailbreak in which the Taliban freed 400 inmates in the northwestern city of Bannu, Pakistan," State says in its designation.
The May 2011 assault on Naval Station Mehran in Karachi resulted in the destruction of two US-supplied P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes; another was damaged in the attack. Among those freed in the 2012 prison break in Bannu was Adnan Rasheed, who has a long history with Pakistani terrorist groups as well as al Qaeda. Rasheed is currently the emir of the Ansar al Aseer Khorasan ("Helpers of the Prisoners"), a group that includes members from both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban and was founded to free jihadists from Pakistani prisons.
Said was appointed as the deputy emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan after his boss, Waliur Rahman, was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan on May 29, 2013.
In May 2014, Said left the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan over a leadership dispute with Mullah Fazlullah, the group's emir. Said was rumored to have been appointed emir prior to Fazlullah's appointment on Nov. 7, 2013. Asmatullah Bhittani, a rival of Said who led the group's shura, or executive council, appointed Fazlullah over Said. [See LWJ reports, Pakistani Taliban name new emir after Hakeemullah killed in drone strike: report, Pakistani Taliban name interim emir, spokesman says, and Pakistani Taliban name Mullah Fazlullah as new emir.]
The appointment of Fazlullah, a controversial cleric from Swat, ultimately led to most of the factions of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan to leave the group. Fazlullah pushed for negotiations with the Pakistani government and announced a ceasefire despite the fact that many of his subordinates disagreed with this course of action.
Said's Taliban faction, which was the backbone of the group as the Mehsud tribe has led the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan since it was formed in late 2006, was the first to leave, [See LWJ report, Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition for more information.]
But leaving the Taliban didn't mean that Said and his faction abandoned the jihad.
"Said stated his continued commitment to terrorist activity," after breaking away from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in May of this year, State noted
US intelligence officials who track the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region have told The Long War Journal that Said remains a close ally of al Qaeda.
"The dispute between Said's faction and Fazlullah and the TTP [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] hasn't changed the fact that both Taliban groups remain committed to the local and global jihad," one official told The Long War Journal. "Said still supports al Qaeda and coordinates activities with the group despite the divisions within the Pakistani Taliban."
Clashes between fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Shiite Houthi rebels continued over the past several days as the two groups attempted to expand their respective advances throughout the country. After the Houthis took Yemen's capital, Sana'a, in late September, AQAP declared an open war against the rebels and increased its operations against both the Yemeni military and the Houthis, especially in the central portion of the country.
AQAP has claimed credit for 16 attacks that took place in six Yemeni provinces between Oct. 16 - Oct. 20. Many of these attacks centered around the city of Radaa in Bayda province, where fighting between AQAP and the Houthis began in earnest on Oct. 15, when the Shiite rebels initiated an eastward offensive.
Fighting in Bayda
AQAP claimed credit for a suicide attack on Oct. 16 that targeted a Houthi gathering in the Qaa' Fayd region located between the city of Radaa and Dhamar province to the west. The AQAP statement released the following day stated that the operation was carried out with a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED), or car bomb, and that "tens" of Houthis were killed and injured as a result.
A few days later, AQAP released another statement regarding fighting around the city of Radaa, specifically detailing clashes that took place in the Malah region on the outskirts of the city. The statement claimed that on Oct. 16, AQAP sent several groups of fighters to foil the Houthis' advance on the city and noted that one group of jihadists was attacked by a Houthi ambush prior to the eruption of a fierce battle. AQAP then sent reinforcements to aid its besieged fighters in Malah, and the strengthened jihadist force compelled the rebels to withdraw from the Qaa' Fayd region.
AQAP claimed that many Houthis were killed or wounded, three were taken captive, and many light and heavy weapons were looted by its fighters. Additionally, the statement clarifies that the suicide attack reported in an earlier AQAP statement on clashes in the Qaa' Fayd region (see above) occurred following the Houthis' withdrawal from the area.
Two days after the fighting in the Malah region, AQAP launched a coordinated attack in Radaa targeting Houthi positions in the city. An AQAP statement claimed that on the morning of Oct 18, two groups of its fighters simultaneously attacked a Houthi checkpoint in the city as well as a gathering of rebels at a local school. An AQAP "correspondent" in the field is quoted in the statement saying, "the two attacks resulted in the deaths and injury of the Houthis that we cannot accurately count," and added that skirmishes were still ongoing south of Radaa.
AQAP also took credit for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack against a Houthi military vehicle in Bayda on Oct. 18. In a statement released a few days later, AQAP claimed that its fighters detonated an IED at 11:00 a.m. as the Houthi vehicle was passing by the al Nisi mountain in Radaa, resulting in its complete destruction and the deaths of all who were on board.
The following day, AQAP released two brief statements claiming credit for attacks that took place on Oct. 19 in Radaa. The first of the two attacks took place at dawn in the al Arsh region of Radaa; the jihadist group claimed that an unspecified number of rebels were killed. In the second statement, AQAP announced that one of its snipers killed a Houthi fighter in the city.
Fighting in Bayda province further intensified between Oct. 19-20, and on Oct. 20 AQAP released a statement heralding an "advance" in their offensive against the Houthis. The jihadist group claimed that its fighters had passed the provincial borders of Bayda and arrived in Dhamar province. AQAP also claimed that tens of Houthis had been killed and injured in the ongoing battles in the al Arsh region of Bayda.
Arabic media sources reported that battles along the border regions between Bayda and Dhamar provinces over the past 24 hours have left around 60 dead, believed to be mostly Houthi casualties.
Today, AQAP took credit for a suicide attack near the residence of a "Houthi leader" in Radaa, Abdallah Idris, while rebels were meeting inside. In fact, Idris is the chief local official of the General People's Congress, the party of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Arabic press reports suggested that tribal representatives and Houthi fighters were meeting at Idris' house at the time of the explosion. According to local sources and eye witnesses, 15 people were killed in the bombing, most of whom were Houthis, and 12 others were wounded.
A subsequent AQAP statement claimed that the afternoon attack was carried out by Abu Aisha al Sana'ani using a car bomb and that "tens" of Houthis had been killed.
AQAP retakes al Adayn
During the night of Oct. 15, AQAP fighters carried out coordinated attacks on security, military, and governmental centers in al Adayn in southwestern Ibb province and managed to seize control of the city. After holding the city for about 9 hours, the fighters withdrew on the morning of Oct. 16. The day-long offensive came as a response to the Houthis' seizure of the entire province earlier that day.
Today, AQAP renewed its offensive in al Adayn, launching a massive attack on security locations in the city and consolidating their power over the area once again. Later in the day, AQAP released a statement claiming that the remnants of the Houthi fighters had fled the city following a joint operation carried out by AQAP and Sunni tribes in the area.
AQAP said that its fighters managed to infiltrate al Adayn at dawn, paving the way for the assault to retake the city. According to the statement, the attack began at around 10:00 a.m. when groups of jihadists began attacking locations both inside and outside the city. The homes of Houthi leaders were bombed in the assault, including the residence of Zakaria al Musawa, a military officer aligned with the Shiite rebels.
The AQAP statement emphasized the participation of local Sunni tribes who "gathered with their weapons on board twenty cars" and took part in seizing control of the city. An hour into the attack on al Adayn, AQAP fighters and Sunni tribesman coalesced at a central city square and released three soldiers who were jailed during the last AQAP offensive to take the city, on Oct. 15. The soldiers were released after they renounced their service of the Yemeni military and vowed to not return and fight in its ranks. During this gathering, "the tribesman emphasized...their firm position of uniting their ranks and their coalition with Ansar al Sharia in fighting the rafidi [Shiite] Houthis."
AQAP also claimed credit for an attack elsewhere in Ibb province on Oct. 20. At around 6:30 PM, jihadists stormed the Mashwara military checkpoint in Ibb city, described in an AQAP statement as a "joint Houthi-military military checkpoint," leading to the deaths of all the soldiers at the checkpoint along with two AQAP fighters.
Other AQAP attacks between Oct. 16 - Oct. 20
AQAP claimed credit for two attacks on Oct. 16 targeting Yemeni military personnel in Abyan and Shabwa, two southern provinces where the jihadist group has traditionally maintained a strong presence. At 10:00 a.m., AQAP fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) at the al Houta - Azzan junction, wounding several soldiers according to an AQAP statement. Later in the afternoon, jihadists shot and killed two soldiers of the 111th Brigade in the Ahwar region of Abyan province.
On Oct. 17, AQAP targeted a military convoy in Hadramout heading towards the city of Qatn. At around 10:00am, fighters detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) as the convoy passed by, killing and injuring an unspecified number of Yemeni soldiers.
Two more attacks claimed by AQAP took place on Oct. 19, in Sana'a and the northern Houthi stronghold of Amran. In Sana'a, AQAP fighters lobbed a grenade at a Houthi gatehring in the Bani Houth area of the Yemeni capital. That evening, jihadists attacked a "Houthi headquarters" in the Rayda area of Amran province with a 17 kilogram IED. The subsequent AQAP statement claimed that serious material damage was caused to the headquarters and that no reports of casualties have surfaced.
Anas Haqqani and Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari (a.k.a. Hafiz Rashid). NDS photos via Khaama Press.
The Taliban has released a statement concerning the recent capture of two Haqqani Network leaders, claiming that the Afghan government has lied about the circumstances surrounding the raid that netted them. The Taliban also claims that the pair had recently visited the senior Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo earlier this year.
The Taliban's statement could not be independently verified.
On Oct. 16, the Afghan government announced the capture of Anas Haqqani, who is the youngest son of veteran jihadist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari, the network's military commander for southeastern Afghanistan. They were detained on Oct. 14.
Omari is the younger brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari, a senior Taliban official who was held at Guantanamo from late 2002 until May when he, along four other Taliban commanders held in US custody, were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The "Taliban Five," as they've been dubbed in the US, were transferred to Qatar, where they are supposed to live for one year after their release.
The Taliban says in its statement that the younger Omari had recently met with his more infamous older brother in Qatar.
According to the Taliban, Anas Haqqani had been in Qatar as well. Anas Haqqani was captured after "he embarked on his first foreign visit to meet the freed Guantanamo detainees after an invitation by the family of Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Omari (former Guantanamo detainee)."
The Taliban claims that Omari and Haqqani were "returning home on 12th October after spending about a week." They were both allegedly "captured by the American forces in Bahrain from where they were sent back to Qatar and then handed over to Kabul via United Arab Emirates."
Relying on this version of events, the Taliban criticizes the US, arguing that it had no justification for detaining the two and that the Taliban Five were promised their family members would be allowed to visit them without interference.
The Afghan government's description of the pair's capture was entirely different, saying that the two were detained by intelligence officials in Afghanistan's national directorate of security (NDS). There was no mention of the US first detaining them.
The Taliban also seeks to downplay the significance of Anas Haqqani in its statement, whereas the Afghan government says he played a prominent role in the Haqqani Network.
Anas Haqqani was merely "a Talib-ul-ilm (student) in his last year of studies who does not have an affiliation with any current political movements," according to the Taliban.
The Afghan government describes Anas as an influential jihadist and deputy to his older brother, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the Haqqani Network. Anas has "special" computer skills and "was considered one of the masterminds of this network in making propaganda through social networks," the NDS said, according to Khaama Press. Anas "was responsible for collecting and preparing funds from Arabic countries to carry out operations of this network."
The latter accusation is especially intriguing, as Qatar is a known hotbed for jihadist fundraising.
The Afghan government says that Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari was "a shadow governor" for the Haqqanis in "the Ismailkhil district of Khost province." He also oversaw suicide bombing operations.
A Haqqani leader who served multiple roles prior to detention at Guantanamo
The Taliban says that the family of Mohammad Nabi Omari, the ex-Guantanamo detainee, invited Anas Haqqani to Qatar. US officials found that Mohammad Omari was a well-connected Haqqani leader who worked with al Qaeda prior to his detention in Sept. 2002.
In a leaked memo dated Jan. 23, 2008, JTF-GTMO analysts recommended that the older Omari brother be held in "continued detention" by the Defense Department. Omari "was a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles," according to JTF-GTMO. Omari "had strong operational ties to Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) groups including al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), some of whom remain active in ACM activities."
Intelligence reports cited by JTF-GTMO indicate that Omari was a "member of a joint al Qaeda/Taliban ACM cell in Khowst and was involved in attacks against US and Coalition forces." Omari also "maintained weapons caches and facilitated the smuggling of fighters and weapons."
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Omari worked for the Taliban's border security and in this capacity had "access to senior Taliban commander and leader of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani." Haqqani was the Taliban Minister of Frontiers and Borders at the time and this is what gave Omari the opportunity to become Haqqani's "close associate," according to JTF-GTMO.
Thus, it is entirely possible that Mohammad Nabi Omari invited Jalaluddin's son, Anas, for a visit to Qatar given the two families' historically close ties.
One "sensitive contact" told authorities that Omari was one of "three former Taliban commanders loyal to Haqqani."
A source cited in the JTF-GTMO file told authorities that Omari participated in a Jan. 26, 2002 "planning session to identify a new Governor of Khowst and to propose a list of members for the Khowst City Shura Council loyal to Haqqani." Several other high-level Taliban and Haqqani officials attended the meeting. One of them "directed the group to reconvene after members discussed names with al Qaeda members in their provinces." The leaked JTF-GTMO memo notes: "The plan was to have all personnel identified and vetted to prepare for future al Qaeda control of the area under Jalaluddin Haqqani."
Beginning in February 2002, according to another intelligence report cited by JTF-GTMO, Omari and "three al Qaeda affiliated individuals held weekly meetings to discuss ACM plans and to coordinate Haqqani loyalists."
Then, in July 2002, an "Afghan government employee" reported that Omari had joined "a new Khowst province ACM cell comprised of Taliban and al Qaeda commanders who had operated independently in the past." The list of cell members provided by this source included not only Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, but also individuals affiliated with the HIG and the Haqqani Network.
The JTF-GTMO file includes an intriguing detail about one member of Nabi's cell - a Haqqani money courier named Malik Khan. "Ayman al Zawahiri, the number two leader of al Qaeda" at the time, and now al Qaeda's emir, "has stayed at Khan's compound located outside Miram Shah," Pakistan.
In August 2002, Omari reportedly helped two al Qaeda operatives smuggle "an unknown number of missiles along the highway between Jalalabad and Peshawar," Pakistan. The missiles were smuggled in pieces, with the intent of rebuilding them for attacks near the Jalalabad airport. On Aug. 28, 2002, JTF-GTMO analysts noted, "two Americans were killed during attacks against the Khowst, Gardez, and Jalalabad airports."
Omari was captured in September 2002, detained at Bagram, and then transferred to Guantanamo. Omari was transferred to Qatar earlier this year and, if the Taliban's statement is accurate, then he has been hosting other veteran jihadists.
The US is reported to have killed a senior al Qaeda leader in an airstrike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar near the border with Pakistan's tribal agency of Khyber. Despite US military officials claims to the contrary, recent raids and airstrikes against al Qaeda show that the network is not limited to operating in the northeastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's intelligence service, reported that senior al Qaeda leader Abu Bara al Kuwaiti was killed in a US airstrike in Lal Mandi in the Nazyan district in Nangarhar, which is adjacent to the border with the Tirah Valley in Pakistan's tribal agency of Khyber, Pajhwok Afghan News reported.
The al Qaeda leader was at the home of Abdul Samad Khanjari, who is described as an al Qaeda military "commander," when he was killed, TOLONews reported. NDS officers raided Khanjari's home and seized weapons, a laptop, and documents.
Khanjari is also said to double as the Taliban's shadow governor for the Achin district in Nangarhar, according to Afghan Islamic Press. This is not uncommon, as members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are known to double as shadow governors in northern Afghan provinces. Additionally, al Qaeda leaders are also known to serve as Taliban commanders; the US military has described these commanders as "dual-hatted" leaders.
Al Qaeda has not confirmed the death of Abu Bara, nor have online jihadists known to be plugged into the network announced his martyrdom.
The NDS said that Abu Bara "had close relations with the family of Ayman al Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leader."
Abu Bara was likely a member of al Qaeda's General Command. He was known to be a "student" and "comrade" of Atiyah Abd al Rahman, al Qaeda's former general manager who was also known as Atiyah Allah and who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in August 2011. Abu Bara wrote Atiyah's eulogy, which was published in Vanguards of Khorasan, al Qaeda's official magazine.
In the eulogy, Abu Bara notes several times that he had access to Atiyah's documents and was trained by the former al Qaeda general manager.
"I was able to know things from his numerous letters in which he advises [jihadists] to be patient, seek the refuge of Almighty God in harsh times, and trust God's promise of victory even in these ruthless times we are living," Abu Bara said in the lengthy eulogy for his former boss.
"He used to treat me like he used to treat his son," Abu Bara continued. "He was like a carrying father and an older brother by guiding me in all issues and teaching and advising me whenever it is possible. I learned from him several things, which he stressed on teaching me. My brother Abu al Hasan al Wa'ili, may God protect him, saw this. He taught me things in religion and life in general."
Additionally, Abu Bara said that Atiyah informed him that Abu Dujanah al Khurasani executed the Dec. 30, 2009, suicide attack suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province. Seven CIA officers and guards were killed in the attack.
"He [Atiyah] told me all the details regarding this operation and the plan," Abu Bara said.
The death of Abu Bara, if confirmed, is the second major blow against the terrorist network in Afghanistan and Pakistan this week. On Oct. 14, the NDS captured Anis Haqqani, the son of the Haqqani Network's leader and the brother of its operational leader, and Hafiz Rashid, the network's military commander for southeastern Afghanistan, during a special operations raid in Khost province, Afghanistan. [See Threat Matrix report, Afghan intel agency captures two senior Haqqani Network leaders.]
Al Qaeda not concentrated in Kunar and Nuristan
While US military and intelligence officials have repeatedly stated that al Qaeda is confined primarily to the northeastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, recent raids indicate that the jihadist group continues to operate in other eastern provinces.
"AQ [Al Qaeda] maintains a limited presence in the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan such as Kunar and Nuristan, and maintains a seasonal presence in other provinces," the US Department of Defense stated in the December 2013 edition of the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, US continues to claim al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan is minimal .]
Over the past year, five senior and mid-level al Qaeda leaders, in addition to Abu Bara, are reported to have been killed in Nangarhar and Paktika, and just across the border in Khyber. The jihadists were killed in December 2013, and September and October of 2014, indicating that their presence is more than just "seasonal."
Just over a week ago, the US killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi (a.k.a. Haji Shaikh Waliullah), in a drone strike in the Tirah Valley in Khyber. The strike took place right on the border with Nangarhar, and some reports indicate Imran was actually killed in Nangarhar.
Imran is a longtime jihadist who started his career with the al Qaeda-linked Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. His death was announced by Usama Mahmood, the spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). [See LWJ report, US drone strike kills veteran jihadist turned senior AQIS official.]
Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda officials announced the creation of AQIS in early September, explaining that it was two years in the making. Mahmood said in his own statement at the time that AQIS was formed by gathering together "several jihadi groups that have a long history in jihad and fighting." Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, whose leader Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil is closely tied to the group and signed the 1998 fatwa that declared war on the West, is likely one of those groups.
Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen is currently running training camps in Afghanistan, the US State Department said in a update to the group's terrorist designation in September. [See LWJ report, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen 'operates terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan'.]
In mid-September, the US killed Aqalzadin and Ikramullah, two Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen/al Qaeda commanders, in an airstrike in Paktika province. The two commanders are members of the Badr Mansoor Group. Badr Mansour, the group's former leader who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012, was identified in the documents seized at Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound as one of al Qaeda's "company" commanders. Mansour was also a Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen leader. [See LWJ reports, 2 al Qaeda commanders reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan, Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan and Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader.]
In December 2013, the US killed two al Qaeda military commanders, three members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and two members of the Afghan Taliban, in an airstrike in the Lal Pur district in Nangarhar. The seven jihadists were reported to be traveling to Kunar for a meeting. [See LWJ report, 2 al Qaeda commanders reported killed in US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.]
The two al Qaeda commanders were described as "close companions of Ilyas Kashmiri," the renowned Pakistani jihadist who was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan in June 2011. Kashmiri rose through the ranks of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, or HUJI, led Brigade 313, and ultimately served as the leader of al Qaeda's Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, and as a member of al Qaeda's military shura at the time of his death.
The al Qaeda operatives killed in December 2013 were all commanders in the Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda's paramilitary unit that fields forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and also embeds military trainers within Taliban units in both countries. These trainers provide instruction for battling security forces in local insurgencies, as well as knowledge, expertise, funding, and resources to conduct local and international attacks. [For more information on this unit, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army,' from February 2009.]
Al Qaeda and its allies have been heavily targeted by ISAF in special operations raids over the past decade. ISAF publicized 338 raids from 2007 until the summer of 2013, when it ended reporting. Many senior jihadist leaders and operatives were killed or captured during those operations. Most of those raids took place outside of Kunar and Nuristan. [See LWJ report, ISAF raids against al Qaeda and allies in Afghanistan 2007-2013.]
Ever since the head of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Hakeemullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in late 2013, the al Qaeda-linked group has been plagued by leadership disputes, infighting, and defections. Mullah Fazlullah, Mehsud's successor, has proven to be incapable of holding the coalition of jihadists together.
The latest members to leave the group are its spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, and five regional emirs: Hafiz Dolat Khan from Kurram, Hafiz Saeed Khan from Arakzai, Maulana Gul Zaman from Khyber, Mufti Hassan Swati from Peshawar, and Khalid Mansoor from Hangu. Shahid announced their defection in a video (seen above) that was released online earlier this week. The Pakistani Taliban figures are now loyal to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, which has been attempting to woo al Qaeda and Taliban leaders for months.
"I pledge allegiance to the Commander of the Faithful and the Caliph of Muslims Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Qurashi al Husayni, to obey him when we are enthusiastic and when we are halfhearted, as well as in difficulty and relief," Shahid says in the video, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.
Shahid stresses that his pledge of allegiance (bayat) is not on behalf of the "entire movement," nor has Mullah Fazlullah himself sworn an oath of fealty to Baghdadi. Instead, Shahid says, the oath is "pledged by myself as well as five other Pakistani Taliban emirs, who are the emirs of Arakzai, Kuram, Khaybar, Hangu, and Peshawar regions."
Shahid goes on to claim that this is the fourth time he has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. His claim is curious, to say the least.
The video above was disseminated online on Oct. 13. But less just one week earlier, on Oct. 6, Shahid was quoted as denying that the Pakistani Taliban had sworn allegiance to Baghdadi's group. Shahid was quoted in an account by Reuters, and there is nothing in that report about Shahid or the five other Pakistani Taliban leaders switching their allegiance to Baghdadi.
On the contrary, Shahid was quoted as saying, "We are not supporting any specific group in Syria or Iraq; all groups there are noble and they are our brothers." Shahid continued, "Mullah Omar is our head and we are following him."
In just one week, therefore, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman went from claiming that the group was entirely loyal to Mullah Omar to announcing that he and five commanders now counted themselves among the Islamic State's ranks.
Interestingly, Shahid claims in his defection notice that on a prior occasion in early July he privately swore his allegiance to Baghdadi through Abu Huda al Sudani. This has a ring of truth to it, as al Sudani is a disgruntled al Qaeda veteran who leads a faction in Afghanistan that has sided with the Islamic State. Al Sudani leads a faction that is now loyal to Baghdadi. [Note, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan later claimed that Shaykh Maqbool, its former spokesman, wrongly released the statement under Shahidullah Shahid 's name, and was releived of his position "long ago." Also the group said that the name Shahidullah Shahid is a nom de guerre is shared amongst its spokesmen. See Threat Matrix report, TTP denies its spokesman defected to Islamic State.]
It is not clear how many former Pakistani Taliban fighters the defectors command. The emirs of the five regions did have forces under their direction, but it is not publicly known how many jihadists they direct, or if all of their fighters have followed suit.
In reality, Shahid's announced defection to the Islamic State is just the latest blow to Fazlullah's group. It is clear that Fazlullah has not been able to fill Hakeemullah Mehsud's shoes.
Indeed, well before the six Pakistani Taliban leaders announced their decision to side with Baghdadi this past week most of the group had already defected. The majority of the Pakistani Taliban's leaders and fighters had already left its ranks, forming new groups. And the most prominent of these organizations are still loyal to Mullah Omar.
Pakistani Taliban coalition dissolved
The first crack in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's coalition appeared long before Shahidullah and the five commanders defected and joined the Islamic State. Divisions within the group appeared immediately after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike on Nov. 1, 2013. Initial reports indicated that Sajna Mehsud (who is also known as Khalid Mehsud) from South Waziristan, was appointed to lead the group. But one day after a the rumor of Sajna's appointment emerged, his rival, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, the head of the Taliban's shura or executive council, who was also from South Waziristan, was named the interim emir.
Instead of appointing a member of the Mehsud tribe, who traditionally have led the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the group's shura named Mullah Fazlullah, a firebrand cleric from Swat, as its emir. The appointment was controversial, and ultimately led to the group's demise. Despite serving as Hakeemullah's deputy, Fazlullah is reported to be considered an outsider in the inner circles of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Added to the unease over Fazlullah's appointment was an internal debate within the Taliban over whether to negotiate a peace agreement with the Pakistani military and government. Asmatullah, who supported peace talks, may have been been killed by his rival Sajna. Fazlullah also supported peace talks with the Pakistani state and ordered a ceasefire on March 1.
The Taliban's negotiations with the government led to the first overt rift within the group. In mid-February, a faction of the Taliban led by Maulana Umar Qasmi, broke away due to opposition to negotiations and formed Ahrar-ul-Hind. A statement by the group said that it is made up of supporters based in "the urban areas of Pakistan" and vowed to continue attacks against the state. Three weeks after its formation, the group claimed credit for a suicide assault on a courthouse in Islamabad.
Sajna Mehsud's faction was the next to break away from the Taliban alliance. In mid-May, Sajna, who is said to support peace talks, formed the Movement of the Taliban in South Waziristan. The spokesman for the new Taliban faction accused its parent organization of being "un-Islamic."
"We consider kidnapping for ransom, extortion, damage to public facilities and bombings to be un-Islamic," a statement released by the group said. "Tehreek-e-Taliban [Movement of the Taliban] Mehsud group believes in stopping the oppressor from cruelty, and supporting the oppressed."
Sajna's group is said to be allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a powerful so-called "good" Taliban commander in North Waziristan who maintains a peace agreement with the governemnt despite his overt support for al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and a host of terrorist groups in the region.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan perhaps suffered its death blow when Omar Khalid al Khorasani, the dangerous Taliban commander from the tribal agency of Mohmand, and a group of factions from the agencies of Bajaur, Khyber, and Arakzai, and the districts of Charsadda, Peshawar, and Swat, split off and formed Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. The group merged with Ahrar-ul-Hind and is now led by Qasmi.
In mid-September, another faction in North Waziristan led by Sheheryar Mehsud, who was loyal to Hakeemullah and Baitullah Mehsud, also broke away from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The group "declared extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and bombing public places as 'Haram,' (forbidden by Islam)" according to Pakistan Today.
The defections of the various Taliban factions have led to a virtual dissolution of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan long before Shahidullah and the five commanders joined the Islamic State.
Negotiations in Saudi Arabia between Boko Haram and the government of Nigeria have reportedly reached a ceasefire agreement. While the exact terms of the ceasefire have yet to be fully disclosed, it does appear that the 219 school girls kidnapped by the terrorist group in April are a part of the bargain.
According to Nigerian presidential aide Hassan Tukur, Boko Haram "assured us they have the girls and they will release them." He further noted that he was "cautiously optimistic."
In a conversation with VOA, a man calling himself the secretary-general of Boko Haram, Danladi Ahmadu, said he was located along the Nigerian-Chadian border and that the girls were "in good condition and unharmed." He did not specify the terms under which the hostages were to be freed. There is scant information available publicly on Danladi Ahmadu, and there has been no previous mention of a secretary-general within the structure of the jihadist group.
On Oct. 16, Boko Haram announced a unilateral ceasefire.
After the conclusion of recent negotiations, Nigeria's Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh, reportedly ordered all service chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram in all theaters of operations."
Late on the night of April 14, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from their school in Chibok. Since then, 57 of the girls have escaped, but 219 remain in the terrorist group's control. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau menacingly stated in video released in May, "I abducted your girls ... I will sell them in the market, by Allah."
Shortly afterward, Boko Haram released a video that showed the kidnap victims. Stoically seated outside, the girls were dressed in traditional Islamic garb as they recited a statement in Hausa followed by excerpts of the Koran.
Weeks after the girls were abducted, a social media campaign erupted to help #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign included prominent figures such as Michele Obama and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. While the efforts did not obtain the release of the hostages, they elicited a response from Boko Haram. In July, Abubakar Shekau fired back at the campaign in yet another video, remarking that "Nigerians are saying BringBackOurGirls, and we are telling Jonathan [Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan] to bring back our arrested warriors, our army."
It is unknown whether the idea of a prisoner swap played into the recent negotiations that were aided by Chadian President Idriss Deby and officials from Cameroon. Although the negotiations reportedly occurred in Saudi Arabia over the last month, Saudi officials did not participate in the talks themselves.
In recent months, Boko Haram has stepped up its campaign, particularly in the country's northeast, to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. The group's tactics evolved from traditional guerrilla attacks to attempts to grab and hold territory. In September, it was reported that the group controlled 25 towns in the northeastern Nigeria states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. The Nigerian armed forces have been attempting to wrest control of these areas from Boko Haram. They have achieved only limited success, and Boko Haram appears to hold many towns.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a branch of al Qaeda's international organization, has issued another statement denouncing the US-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. The group once again calls on rival jihadist factions, including the Islamic State and its rivals, to come together against their common enemies in the West.
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.
AQAP and other al Qaeda-allied ideologues are portraying the air strikes as part of a "Crusade" against Islam and, therefore, they argue that the jihadists must set aside their differences for now. They are pushing this theme on social media and in their official messaging.
The AQAP message, a "Statement Regarding the Crusader Coalition," was posted on Twitter earlier today and first translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
"Within the Crusader war on Islam, the global coalition waged a fierce campaign on the mujahideen in Iraq and Sham [Syria], and especially our brothers in the Islamic State, where there was bombardment and killing without respect for sanctities," AQAP's message reads. Now that "the enemy" knows that the airstrikes won't work, AQAP argues, the West is beginning to "talk about ground campaigns."
"And on this occasion, we assert our support to our brothers against the global Crusader campaign, and we are with their enmity against this campaign," AQAP's jihadists write.
The group goes on to argue "that it is forbidden to participate in their war [referring to the campaign of the West and its allies in the Middle East] under the pretext that they [the Islamic State] are Kharijites [extremists], and they are not that." AQAP means that it is impermissible for jihadists to fight Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's Islamic State on behalf of the Western-led coalition, even if the Islamic State's rivals believe that Baghdadi and his subordinates have attacked their fellow Muslims and rejected other widely-recognized jihadist authorities.
"We advise all the mujahideen to forget their disputes and to stop the infighting among them, and to be diligent in pushing away the Crusader campaign that targets all," AQAP's jihadists write, according to SITE's translation.
AQAP concludes by calling on anyone who can to strike the US "militarily," "economically," or in the media because the Americans are the "leaders of this war and the foundation of this campaign."
Since the beginning of the US-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria this past summer, al Qaeda has attempted to use the intervention as a cause for reconciling the opposing jihadist factions. Even if a full reconciliation is not possible, al Qaeda's branches and closely allied ideologues argue that the strikes should at least serve as the basis for a truce.
AQAP and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released a joint statement in mid-September urging the jihadists in Iraq and Syria to unite against their common enemy, America, "the head of infidelity."
Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, an AQAP official, released a video on Sept. 30 urging unity against the "Crusader coalition."
Some of the Islamic State's harshest critics are also attempting to use the bombings as an opening for reconciliation. The same day that al Ansi's video was distributed online, a group of jihadist ideologues proposed a truce in a statement titled, "An Initiative and Call for a Ceasefire Between Factions in Syria."
One of the proposed truce's key signatories is Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, who is closely tied to the Al Nusrah Front.
Muhaysini has pushed for a truce on multiple occasions. In late September he released a message, "A Statement Regarding the Crusader War on Islam," via a video posted on his popular Twitter feed, which has 330,000 followers. Muhaysini's message included the same themes as AQAP's missives.
And Muhaysini has since launched a web site with both his twitter handle and the word "crusade" in the url address. The site contains a petition denouncing the bombings as part of a campaign "against Islam" and highlights America's alleged "crimes" against Muslims. Various photos of American soldiers supposedly mistreating Muslims are used on the site.
AQAP fighters set fire to a military vehicle at the Qasimiya checkpoint in al Adayn directorate, Ibb province, Yemen (Source: Twitter)
As the Houthi rebels continue their military advance throughout much of northern and central Yemen without any indication of resistance from the Yemeni authorities, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has increasingly clashed with the Shi'ite rebels that it deems "apostates."
A day following their seizure of the port city of Hodeidah and the central Yemeni city of Dhamar, on Oct. 15 Houthi rebels attempted to expand the area under their control further east to the city of Radaa in Bayda province, the site of increased AQAP activity in recent months. As the Houthis began taking control of the areas surrounding Radaa, clashes broke out between the rebels and AQAP fighters, killing at least 10 people. The Houthis already have a growing presence in Bayda province, but their advance on Radaa, in western Bayda, seemed to be halted by the AQAP defensive.
AQAP also claimed credit for the assassination of a Houthi colonel in Sana'a on Oct. 15. In a statement released the same day, AQAP said that its fighters targeted Colonel Ali Zayd al Dhari with no less than 13 bullets in the Sa'awan district of Sana'a during the afternoon hours. The AQAP statement clarified that in addition his military role, al Dhari was a prominent Houthi leader.
Earlier in the day, Houthi fighters were seen amassing further west in the city of Ibb, about 150 kilometers south of the capital Sana'a. Reports claimed that the city's governor and his aides received the Houthi rebels, yet another indication that the Yemeni government is incapable of slowing the Houthi advance. Following an agreement with the governor, the Houthis began consolidating their power by setting up checkpoints in the city on Oct. 15 and were seen in large numbers throughout Ibb. Later in the day, Houthi fighters were seen on the outskirts of the city of Taiz, even further south than Ibb, apparently preparing for a further military expansion.
However, the next day reports emerged of an agreement reached between the Houthis and the Security Council in Yemen temporarily delaying the rebel advance on Taiz city. Despite this agreement holding off the Houthi's southern expansion, the rebels continued to expand their territory in the north. Authorities in Hajjah province bordering Saudi Arabia met with a Houthi delegation and agreed to hand over the entire province to its fighters. Subsequently, Houthis increased their presence throughout the province and even began manning the Harad border crossing with Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis' arrival in Ibb brings the Houthi advance extremely close to Yemen's southern provinces which have long served as AQAP strongholds in the country. In response to the Houthi's seizure of Ibb, AQAP launched an offensive in the al Adayan directorate in southwestern Ibb province during the night of Oct. 15. According to an AQAP statement, the jihadists carried out coordinated attacks on security, military, and governmental centers in the al Adayn region and reports indicated that AQAP fighters managed to seize control of the area temporarily.
On Oct. 16, AQAP released another statement claiming that its fighters had withdrawn from the al Adayn directorate after holding the city for about 9 hours. The statement clarified that the intention of the attack on al Adayn was to "foil the Houthi plan to control it." AQAP claimed that the attack was launched after the terrorist group received confirmed reports that local authorities were planning to hand over the city to the Houthis, as had occurred earlier in the day in the city of Ibb.
During the operation, jihadists stormed the city from four directions and carried out various attacks on targets throughout al Adayn. AQAP claims its fighters attacked the security directorate in the city, killing 3 soldiers and wounding others, including the security director, Abdallah al Halimi, and his son. The AQAP statement also mentions that fighters launched an attack on the al Qasimiya checkpoint and succeeded in seizing various weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, after soldiers fled the scene.
The Houthi military campaign in Yemen and AQAP's response have gained momentum following the rebels' sweep of Sana'a on Sept. 22. A day later, AQAP declared an open war against the Houthis and called on fellow Sunnis to take up arms. These latest developments point to the possibility of increased clashes between AQAP and the Houthis and add to the growing concerns of the possibility of an all out sectarian war between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Yemen.