Petraeus Is Wrong: You Can’t “Peel” Jihadists Away From Jihad

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Town Hall, by Kyle Shideler, Sep 03, 2015:

The report earlier this week was that Former CIA Director and CENTCOM Commander General  was proposing to peel off “reconcilables” among Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, seeking to appeal to Al Nusra fighters who joined Al Qaeda, in the same way that Sunni tribes were convinced to join the “awakening” and oppose Al Qaeda. There’s no evidence to support the idea that Syrian rebels have flocked to Al-Nusra only because it represents the “strong horse” and not because they support Nusra and Al-Qaeda’s jihadist brand.

Al Nusra has been the lead element in numerous Syrian rebel alliances, including the Jaish-Al-Fateh (Army of Conquest), which seized control of the provincial capital of Idlib in March, and Ansar Al Sharia, a coalition of Syrian Islamist forces in Aleppo. Their allies have had little if anything to say about Jabhat Al Nusra’s repeated attacks against any U.S.-supported Syrian rebel force. Not just recently against Division 30, the unit of the sixty or so vetted Syrian rebels on which the U.S. has spent almost $500 million, but against other U.S-backed groups including the Hazm Movement and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front.

Indeed, among the Syrian rebel opposition groups as a whole, the vast majority have repeatedly shown that they prefer jihad in the name of establishing an Islamic state in Syria over any alliance with the United States. In 2012, large swathes of the Syrian opposition vowed “we are all Jabhat Al Nusra,” following the U.S. decision to designate the terror group for its ties to Al Qaeda.

Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin also reaches the conclusion that the U.S. cannot peel off Al Nusra fighters, but for the wrong reasons. He blames a lack of U.S. credibility, derived from a failure to assist “moderate” rebels in fighting the Assad regime. In his column, Rogin cites Mouaz Mustafa, from the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), who blames the U.S. lack of support for Syrian rebels leading to a credibility gap that causes them to prefer Al Qaeda to the U.S.

The reality is that SETF’s preferred rebels are the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda-linked militias who made up the Islamic Front. In 2013, the Islamic Front, led by Al Qaeda-linked Ahrar Al Sham, was approached by the Obama administration about working together to overthrow Assad, the group refused. The deal breaker? The Islamic Front would not stop working with Al Nusra. Most will not recall that it was the Islamic Front’s seizure of warehouses stocked with aid intended for U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, and not American stinginess, that led to the cut in U.S. and other Western allies aid to Northern Syria.

If the U.S. can’t convince the so-called “moderate” Islamists to break from Al Qaeda, how is it supposed to convince Al Nusra’s members to do so?

Al Nusra and the Islamist militias that make up the majority of the Syrian opposition are allies, not merely of convenience but of ideological conviction. And while they have faced setbacks in their repeated efforts to establish joint Sharia courts in rebel-occupied territory, that goal unifies them in a manner that no amount of U.S. money or influence can reverse.

The history of intervention efforts in Syria suggests instead of there being “reconcilables” inside Jabhat Al Nusra for the U.S. to co-opt, the reality is that there are not enough “reconcilables” outside of Al Nusra to co-opt either. The “Petraeus proposal” for Syria is yet another rehashing of the same tired proposal offered by elements of the U.S. foreign policy establishment who have sought to align U.S. interests with the so-called “moderate” Islamist factions in Syria, even if it means buddying up to Al Qaeda.

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Secure Freedom Radio with KYLE SHIDELER, Director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy:

  • Saudi Arabia’s role in supporting the global jihad
  • Iran’s assistance to the 9/11 hijackers
  • Petraeus’ proposal to use al Qaeda to fight ISIS
  • Existence of “No-Go Zones” in France

Petraeus: Use Al Qaeda Fighters to Beat ISIS

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The Daily Beast, by Shane Harris and Jason Reed,  Sep. 1, 2015:
To take down the so-called Islamic State in Syria, the influential former head of the CIA wants to co-opt jihadists from America’s arch foe.
Members of al Qaeda’s branch in Syria have a surprising advocate in the corridors of American power: retired Army general and former CIA Director David Petraeus.The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quietly urging U.S. officials to consider using so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria, four sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who spoke to Petraeus directly, told The Daily Beast.

The heart of the idea stems from Petraeus’s experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency the U.S. persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military.

The tactic worked, at least temporarily. But al Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, and has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy.

However, Petraeus’s play, if executed, could be enormously controversial. The American war on terror began with an al Qaeda attack on 9/11, of course. The idea that the U.S. would, 14 years later, work with elements of al Qaeda’s Syrian branch was an irony too tough to stomach for most U.S. officials interviewed by The Daily Beast. They found Petraeus’s notion politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky.

It would also face enormous legal and security obstacles. In 2012, the Obama administration designated al Nusra a foreign terrorist organization. And last year, the president ordered airstrikes on al Nusra positions housing members of the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda cadre that was trying to recruit jihadists with Western passports to smuggle bombs onto civilian airliners.

Yet Petraeus and his plan cannot be written off. He still wields considerable influence with current officials, U.S. lawmakers, and foreign leaders. The fact that he feels comfortable recruiting defectors from an organization that has declared war on the United States underscores the tenuous nature of the Obama administration’s strategy to fight ISIS, which numerous observers have said is floundering in search of a viable ground force.

According to those familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, he advocates trying to cleave off less extreme al Nusra fighters, who are battling ISIS in Syria, but who joined with al Nusra because of their shared goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Petraeus was the CIA director in early 2011 when the Syrian civil war erupted. At the time, he along with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly urged the Obama administration to work with moderate opposition forces. The U.S. didn’t, and many of those groups have since steered toward jihadist groups like the Nusra Front, which are better equipped and have had more success on the battlefield.

How precisely the U.S. would separate moderate fighters from core members and leaders of al Nusra is unclear, and Petraeus has yet to fully detail any recommendations he might have.

Petraeus declined a request to comment on his views from The Daily Beast.

“This is an acknowledgment that U.S. stated goal to degrade and destroy ISIS is not working. If it were, we would not be talking to these not quite foreign terrorist groups,” Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Beast. “Strategically, it is desperate.”

Privately, U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that any direct links with al Nusra are off the table. But working with other factions, while difficult, might not be impossible.

Still, the very forces that Petraeus envisions enlisting, and who may have once been deemed potential allies when they were fighting Assad, now may be too far gone. Moreover, there is no sign, thus far, of a group on the ground capable of countering ISIS, at least without U.S. assistance.

“As prospects for Assad dim, opposition groups not already aligned with the U.S. or our partners will face a choice,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “Groups that try to cater to both hardliners and the West could find themselves without any friends, having distanced themselves from groups like al Qaeda but still viewed as extremists by the moderate opposition and their supporters.”

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New ‘Islamic Commandos’ Terror Group Emerges in War-Torn Afghanistan

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Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, August 24, 2015:

The reported emergence of a new terror group in Afghanistan, calling itself the “Islamic Commandos,” indicates that the country remains a safe haven for terrorist organizations.

American troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to prevent terrorist groups, namely al-Qaeda, from using the war-torn country as a base for their operations.

Since then, the U.S. has spent billions of taxpayer dollars and lost at least 2,217 American lives on that effort.

Less than one year after President Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, Khaama Press reports that Afghan officials are now saying the Islamic Commandos have begun operating in their areas.

The group, which has at least 1,000 members, has begun to function in northern and southern Afghanistan—particularly in the northern provinces of Badakhshan, Kunduz, and Faryab; and the southern Zabul, Urozgan, and Kandahar provinces. This is according to Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, deputy governor of Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, who reportedly told Azadi Radio on Sunday, adding that the group is also operating in his province.

“He said [the] majority of this group is currently fighting with security forces in northern Afghanistan,” adds Khaama Press.

The deputy governor pointed out that the group broke away from the Taliban, which it now considers a rival faction.

It is unknown what brought about the division that led to the formation of the Islamic Commandos, notes Heavy.com.

A report from the Afghan Bokhdi News Agency, written in Dari, quotes Ahmadi as saying that the Islamic Commandos are linked to al-Qaeda and have entered Afghanistan from Pakistan’s restive North Waziristan tribal region located along the Afghan border, according to an English translation provided by BBC.

Breitbart News was unable to independently confirm whether or not the new terrorist group has ties to al-Qaeda. It is unclear whether or not there is a relationship between the Islamic Commandos, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), and al-Qaeda.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda share historic ties. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri pledged allegiance to the new Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, who took over the group after Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar was reported dead. Mansour has accepted the pledge.

The Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) are currently fighting a turf war in Afghanistan.

There are already at least fifteen terrorist organizations operating in the Afghan and Pakistan region, SFGate reports. The Islamic Commandos are the newest terrorist group in Afghanistan.

U.S. and international troops are already dealing with the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the entry of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), which has appeared in parts of the country, carrying out brutal executions.

Except for a small Kabul-based embassy presence, the U.S. is expected to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Obama has said.

Obama, at the request of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, already slowed down the withdrawal pace of American forces, extending the presence of nearly 10,000 troops until the end of this year.

In 2014, the U.S. president said that by the end of 2015, America would draw down its military presence to about half of the current level.

President Obama has reportedly asked U.S. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of American and international forces in Afghanistan, to reassess the situation on the ground after the 2015 fighting season, the first with the Afghan forces supposedly in the lead.

Earlier this month, The Daily Mirror reported that British special forces (SAS, SBS) were deployed back to Afghanistan to take on both ISIS and the Taliban.

“Just a year after David Cameron said the war was over, members of the SAS and SBS along with US special forces are taking part in military operations almost every night as the insurgent forces close in on the capital Kabul,” noted the article.

“British troops are supposed to be just advisers to the Afghanistan special forces, who they have spent years training,” it added. “But senior defence sources say that in reality the troops are planning and leading counter-terrorist strike operations.”

U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Afghan president have discussed the possibility of forming a ten-year regional counterterrorism effort against ISIS.

Analysis: Osama bin Laden’s son praises al Qaeda’s branches in new message

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This image appears throughout much of Hamzah bin Laden’s newly-released audio message. Hamzah’s face is not shown in the production.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, August 18, 2015:

In the months leading up to his death in early May 2011, Osama bin Laden was worried about the fate of his son Hamzah. Files recovered in the terror master’s Abbottabad compound show that he repeatedly discussed ways to prevent Hamzah from falling into the hands of al Qaeda’s enemies. Osama wanted his son to avoid Waziristan, where the drones buzzed overhead, at all costs. And he suggested that Hamzah flee to Qatar, where he could lie low for a time.

Last week, more than four years after Osama’s death, al Qaeda released a lengthy audio message by Hamzah.

Osama’s son does not show his face in the al Qaeda production. This is most likely for security purposes. Most of the videos and pictures circulated online show Hamzah as a young boy, before he could possibly understand the true extent of his father’s mission. But it is clear from his new statement to the world that Hamzah has taken up his father’s business. Hamzah’s lengthy speech has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

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Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir, offers a brief introduction for Hamzah, describing him as “a lion from the den of [al Qaeda].” A screen shot of the still image used during Zawahiri’s speech can be seen on the right.

Before turning over the mic to Hamzah, Zawahiri apparently alludes to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’soffices in Paris in January. Zawahiri asks Allah to “reward our brothers in” al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) “for they have fulfilled his promise and healed the chests of the believers.” This language is a reference to al Qaeda’s current campaign against alleged blasphemers, who have supposedly wounded “believers” with their words and images. AQAP claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo assault, saying it was carried out according to Zawahiri’s orders.

Hamzah then begins to speak about current affairs. However, an Arabic transcript posted with the message indicates his audio was recorded in May or June of this year, meaning it is somewhat dated. Indeed, Hamzah praises Taliban emir Mullah Omar, saying he is the “hidden, pious sheikh” and “the firm mountain of jihad.” Hamzah asks Allah to “preserve” Omar, indicating that he thought the Taliban chieftain was alive when his audio was recorded.

Hamzah also renews his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Omar.

“From here, in following my father, may Allah have mercy on him, I renew my pledge of allegiance to Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar, and I say to him: I pledge to you to listen and obey, in promoting virtue and waging jihad in the cause of Allah the Great and Almighty,” Hamzah says, according to SITE’s translation.

According to some sources, including Afghan intelligence, Omar passed away in April 2013, or more than two years before the Taliban officially announced his death. If true, then this means that Hamzah and al Qaeda’s senior leadership reaffirmed their loyalty to a corpse.

It is possible that Omar did die in 2013 and al Qaeda somehow did not know this. Given al Qaeda’s close relationship with the Taliban’s new leadership, including Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who served as Omar’s deputy and is now his successor, this would more than a little surprising. It is also possible that al Qaeda’s leaders knew Omar was dead and decided to pretend that he was alive for their own sake, as part of an attempt to unite the ranks in the jihadist community. Or, it could be the case that Omar finally perished more recently than the Afghan government and other sources have said.

In any event, Hamzah clearly refers to Omar as if he was alive just a few months ago.

While praising Zawahiri as a jihadist leader, Hamzah does not swear allegiance directly to him. This is different from the leaders of each regional branch of al Qaeda, all whom have sworn their fealty to Zawahiri.

While al Qaeda’s branches respected Mullah Omar as the “Emir of the Faithful,” their loyalty has always been to al Qaeda’s overall emir, who, in turn, has pledged his allegiance to Omar. Zawahiri first pledged himself to Omar and, earlier this month, to Mansour. Therefore, al Qaeda’s regional operations are loyal to Mansour through Zawahiri.

Hamzah honors the leader of each al Qaeda branch. He begins with Nasir al Wuhayshi, who led AQAP until he was killed in a US drone strike in June, just weeks after Hamzah’s recording session. Wuhayshi was succeeded by Qasim al Raymi, who quickly reaffirmed his own allegiance to Zawahiri. Interestingly, Hamzah refers to Wuhayshi as al Qaeda’s “deputy emir,” indicating that he held the same position that Zawahiri himself once did under Osama bin Laden.

In addition to being the head of AQAP, Wuhayshi’s role as al Qaeda’s global general manager from 2013 onward has been widely reported. But under bin Laden that job was separate from the deputy emir’s slot. Al Qaeda’s general manager at the time of bin Laden’s death was Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who was subsequently killed in a US drone strike. Wuhayshi’s status as deputy emir of al Qaeda was never publicly announced by the group.

Osama’s heir continues with a roll call of other al Qaeda regional emirs, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Abdulmalek Droukdel, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s (AQIS) Asim Umar,Shabaab’s Abu Obaidah Ahmed Omar, and Al Nusrah Front’s Abu Muhammad al Julani. Hamzah does not mention Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State, but he clearly had Baghdadi’s men in mind when addressing Julani, whom he describes as the “bold commander.”

“We thank your jihad, your firmness, and your great, unique sacrifices through which you have revived the feats of the ancestors of Islam,” Hamzah says to Julani, according to SITE. “But we were pained and saddened…due to the sedition that pervaded your field, and there is no power or strength but with Allah. We advise you to stay away as far as possible from this sedition.” Here, Hamzah is clearly referring to the infighting between the jihadists in Syria. The conflict has repeatedly pitted Julani’s Nusrah against Baghdadi’s Islamic State.

A standard motif in al Qaeda’s productions is to call for influential and well-known jihadists to be freed from their imprisonment. Thus, Hamzah tips his hat to  Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman (a.k.a. the “Blind Sheikh,” who is imprisoned in the US on terrorism charges), Sheikh Suleiman al Alwan (a famous al Qaeda-affiliated cleric detained in Saudi Arabia), and 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (held by the US at Guantanamo).

Hamzah spent a number of years in detention in Iran. And he calls for some of the al Qaeda leaders he was detained with there to be freed.

“And from among my sheikhs through whose hands I was educated: Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Abu al Kheir, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Masri, Sheikh Saif al Adl, and Sheikh Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, may Allah release them all,” Hamzah says. His mention of Saif al Adl, one of al Qaeda’s most senior military commanders, is especially intriguing. Hamzah indicates that al Adl is imprisoned. Various reports have claimed that al Adl was freed from Iranian custody, but his status at any given time has always been murky. Abu Ghaith, a former al Qaeda spokesman, is imprisoned in the US, but was also detained inside Iran for a time.

Much of the rest of Hamzah’s talk is devoted to the supposed Zionist-Crusader alliance that al Qaeda has made the centerpiece of its mythology. Hamzah’s words contain echoes of his father’s speeches from nearly two decades ago, when al Qaeda’s founder first declared war on America and the West. Like his father, Hamzah calls for continued attacks in the West. And he encourages so-called “lone wolf” attackers to strike.

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“One operation from a loyal knight from your knights who chose his target and did well in his selection, and did his job and did well in his job, it would shake the policy of a great nation in a dire fashion,” Hamzah says. “So then, what would tens of operations do?”

Towards the end of the video, al Qaeda includes footage of various protests from throughout the Middle East. The protesters, many of whom are young men, can be heard chanting, “Obama, Obama, We are all Osama!” (A screen shot of this video footage can be seen on the right.)

Al Qaeda clearly hopes that Hamzah will help represent this new generation of al Qaeda followers.

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YES, ISLAM IS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER RELIGIONS

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Philos Project, by Andrew Harrod, August 15, 2015:

“What are Western policymakers frequently talking about when they are talking about religion? Islam.”

So wrote Transatlantic Academy Senior Fellow Michael Barnett in his report “Faith, Freedom and Foreign Policy: Challenges for the Transatlantic Community,” which was presented during a recent Georgetown University Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs panel that focused on Islam while unconvincingly minimizing that religion’s fundamental differences with other faiths.

Elaborating on Barnett’s report, George Mason University professor Peter Mandaville spoke about the globally popular opinion that religion is superfluous in world affairs, and pointed to a “secular bias” in modern bureaucracies, noting that the American Constitution’s establishment clause often raises questions about the government’s involvement in religion. Berkley Center Senior Fellow Jocelyne Cesari cited Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin’s famous quote, “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?”

Claiming that the common viewpoint of Islam as the “religion of the sword” stemmed from such ignorance, Cesari said that today’s global discourse on Islam resembles the historic views of the Catholic Church by emphasizing aggressive and authoritarian elements. This concept was echoed in the TA report’s repeated equivalences between Islam and other faiths. The fact that South African Muslims once argued against apartheid with Islamic texts that are now claimed by terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda supposedly indicate that societal context – not scriptural text – is the critical variable.

Mandaville questioned Islam’s current status as a violent religion and asked that a distinction be made between the “mainstream nonviolent Islamism” seen in groups like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the brutal Islamic State. He attributed the rise of ISIS in Iraq to “decades and centuries of old political and economic tensions among different demographic groups, not Islamic sectarian divisions.” He dismissively spoke about the infamous article “What ISIS Really Wants” by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic – an insightful examination of ISIS Islamic ideology – but caveated that American officials “have no standing or creditability to define Islam for Muslims.”

Evelyn Finger, the religion editor for Germany’s leading newspaper weekly Die Zeit, deviated from her fellow panelists’ discussions and called for an analysis of the Islamic sources that underlie the numerous ISIS atrocities. She even warned that – although Islam as a whole is broader than the Islamic State – it is dangerous to get stuck in politically correct discussions that defend this religion.

In his report, Barnett claimed that “the Middle East provides an object lesson of what happens when religion goes wild and spills out of the private and into the public. If peace is going to have a fighting chance, then religion needs to go back to where it belongs – in in the private realm.” He also claimed that it made no sense to speak of a “political” Islam when referencing the traditional Islamic faith, “because Islam already incorporates politics.” He then brought up what he called the “Christian definition of religion, in which religion is part of the private,” adding that the average Muslim looks at the promotion of religious freedom as a campaign against religion.

Barnett said that to call the Western liberal order a “Christian liberal order” a century ago – when “Western, liberal states wore their religions on their shirtsleeves” – would have been stating the obvious. For example, the Red Cross’s cross logo indicates that organization’s Christian roots. While he said that religious figures worldwide have led some of the great moral campaigns to counterbalance religious violence, he failed to identify most of these individuals as Christian.

Barnett’s fellow contributor, Turkish commentator Mustafa Akyol, critiqued “politically correct, but factually wrong” platitudes including the ideas that “Islam is a religion of peace” and “violent jihadists have nothing to do with Islam.” Past reformers tended to incorporate their wishful thinking into their interpretations of Islamic texts. This led to the idea that apostasy is a crime that deserves capital punishment in all classical schools of sharia, for example. He pointed out that a tension now exists between democratically elected Islamists who have intolerant goals and liberals whose views are not popular enough to win them democratic elections.

Janice Gross Stein’s chapter spoke of ISIS as part of a “long tradition of movements that seek to purify Islam.” She said that throughout Islam’s history, enemies such as the MB and Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda and ISIS have clashed about the “true voice” of Islam. To face these entities, she said that the West will need “resolve, stoicism, patience and intelligence in a struggle that will go on for generations.”

In all, the TA’s senior fellow contributors did not seem fazed by Islamic doctrine. Clifford Bob cited the discredited book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” and its thesis of undue Israeli influence on American policy, and repeated the increasingly common fallacy that “anti-Islam activism has – in recent years – joined anti-Semitism as a dangerous form of politics.” Instead of focusing on Islamic doctrine, Sir Michael Leigh asked Western schools to emphasize past Western misdeeds with an “understanding of the lasting legacy of imperial expansion, including perceptions of the role of missionaries.”

The writers in residence at the German-American TA indicated the muddled state of elite thinking regarding Islam. Almost 15 years after the Taliban’s Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, politically correct Western guilt and cultural relativism continue to cloud policy analysis. As the TA writers demonstrated, though, Islam’s stark realities are gradually becoming all too apparent.

New Taliban emir accepts al Qaeda’s oath of allegiance

Left: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, from a handout released by a Taliban spokesman. Right: Ayman al Zawahiri, from his latest tape declaring allegiance to Mansour.

Left: Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, from a handout released by a Taliban spokesman. Right: Ayman al Zawahiri, from his latest tape declaring allegiance to Mansour.

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, August 14, 2015:

The Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, has accepted the oath of allegiance (bayat) from al Qaeda emir Ayman Zawahiri, as well as the pledges to him from “Jihadi organizations spread throughout the globe.” Mansour’s statement was released just one day after al Qaeda released an audio message from Zawahiri in which he gave bayat to Mansour.

Mansour’s statement accepting Zawahiri’s pledge was released today on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban’s official website. In the statement, the Taliban emir thanked “all those respected brothers who have sympathized with us in this critical juncture of the Islamic Ummah, have sent messages of condolence about the passing away of Amir ul Mumineen [Mullah Omar] or have pledged allegiance with us as the new Amir (leader) of the Islamic Emirate and servant of the Muslims.”

Mansour places Zawahiri’s oath of fealty above all others.

“Among these respected brothers, I first and foremost accept the pledge of allegiance of the esteemed Dr. Ayman ad-Dhawahiri [al Zawahiri], the leader of international Jihadi organization (Qaedatul Jihad) and thank him for sending a message of condolence along with his pledge and pledge of all Mujahideen under him,” Mansour said.

“Similarly those Mujahideen protecting the Jihadi frontlines, Madaris (religious seminaries), teachers of universities and centers for learning, national figures and all Islamic and Jihadi personalities as well as Jihadi organizations spread throughout the globe who have sent messages of condolence or pledge allegiance with us as leader of Jihad, I reciprocally thank them and implore Allah Almighty to grant me and all our brothers success to properly serve Islam and Muslims,” he continued.

Mansour’s acceptance of Zawahiri’s oath should come as no surprise. The new Taliban emir issued a pro-al Qaeda statement in June, before Mullah Omar’s death was announced. In the statement, he described al Qaeda’s leaders as the “heroes of the current jihadist era” and bin Laden as the “leader of mujahideen.” Mansour’s statement contained parallels to al Qaeda’s messaging and he took al Qaeda’s side in its dispute with the rival Islamic State.

Mansour’s leadership team also indicates his close ties to al Qaeda. As The Long War Journal reported on July 31, Mansour appointed Siraj Haqqani, the operational leader of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, as one of his top two deputies. Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound and other evidence show that Siraj has worked closely with al Qaeda for years. [See LWJ report, The Taliban’s new leadership is allied with al Qaeda.]

The public acceptance of Zawahiri’s pledge demonstrates that Mansour has no intention of breaking with al Qaeda.

Indeed, the statement from the new Taliban emir is a dramatic gesture. Since last year, al Qaeda has repeatedly broadcast its enduring allegiance to Mansour’s predecessor, Mullah Omar. In July 2014, al Qaeda released a video from mid-2001 of Osama bin Laden explaining his loyalty to Omar. But the Taliban’s public-facing propaganda has been far less explicit about the relationship. For instance, after al Qaeda reaffirmed its allegiance to Omar on July 20, 2014, the Taliban did not publish a statement attributed to Omar acknowledging the pledge.

Therefore, while the Taliban and al Qaeda have long been closely allied, Mansour’s official statement is a bold proclamation of the relationship between the groups.

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Proposed buffer zone leads al Qaeda to withdraw fighters from northern Aleppo province

An Al Nusrah Front fighter on the lookout in Aleppo.

An Al Nusrah Front fighter on the lookout in Aleppo.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Aug. 10, 2015:

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has released a statement saying its fighters have been ordered to withdraw from their frontline positions north of Aleppo. Al Nusrah’s jihadists had been fighting against the Islamic State in the area. The move comes in response to Turkey’s attempt to establish a buffer zone for forces fighting Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization.

The statement, which was released via Twitter on August 9, does not indicate that Al Nusrah is siding with the Islamic State in the multi-sided conflict. The group makes it clear that it will continue to fight Baghdadi’s men elsewhere. Instead, Turkey’s cooperation with the US-led coalition, which has targeted veteran al Qaeda leaders in northern Syria, has forced Al Nusrah to change tactics.

The al Qaeda arm says it is relinquishing control of its territory in the northern part of the Aleppo province. Other rebel groups will step into the void.

Al Nusrah criticizes the proposed buffer zone in its statement, saying it is intended to serve Turkey’s national security interests and is not part of a real effort to aid the mujahdeen’s cause. The Turkish government fears a Kurdish state on its southern border, according to Al Nusrah, and that is the real impetus behind its decision. The Kurds are one of the Islamic State’s main opponents and have gained territory at the expense of Baghdadi’s jihadists in recent months.

The al Qaeda branch also says it cannot find religious justifications for cooperating with the joint US-Turkey initiative.

There is an even simpler explanation for Al Nusrah’s rejection of Turkey’s buffer zone: the US has been striking select al Qaeda operatives in Al Nusrah’s ranks.

The Pentagon announced earlier this month that it had begun flying drones out of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Some of the air missions are reportedly backing up US-trained rebel forces on the ground. Those very same fighters have battled Al Nusrah, which has killed or captured a number of the “moderate” rebels.

In late July, for instance, Al Nusrah claimed that it had captured members of a group called Division 30, which has reportedly received American assistance. Other members of Division 30 were killed during clashes with Al Nusrah after the al Qaeda arm raided the group’s headquarters north of Aleppo. Subsequently, a statement attributed to Division 30 disavowed any role in the US-led coalition’s campaign. The statement also said that Division 30 would “not be dragged [into] any side battle with any faction, as it did not, and will not, fight against Al Nusrah Front or any other faction.”

Regardless, the Defense Department is providing air support to US-backed rebels, who have been dubbed the New Syrian Force. And Al Nusrah has made it clear that any American effort to influence the anti-Assad and anti-Islamic State insurgency will be treated as a hostile act.

Separately, the US has also repeatedly targeted senior al Qaeda leaders in Al Nusrah’s ranks. Labeled the “Khorasan Group,” this cadre of al Qaeda veterans has been plotting attacks in the West.

Al Qaeda’s view of cooperation with Turkey, independent from US-led coalition

From al Qaeda’s perspective, tactical cooperation with Turkey, or elements of the Turkish government, is one matter. Working with the US-backed coalition, which Turkey supports in some ways, is another issue altogether.

Consider what Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) official who alsoserved as al Qaeda’s deputy general manager until his death in April, said about Turkey earlier this year. In a question and answer session that was released online, al Ansi was asked how the jihadists should deal “with countries like Qatar and Turkey, whose policies tend to benefit the mujahideen.” Al Ansi replied that there “is no harm in benefiting from intersecting interests, as long as we do not have to sacrifice anything in our faith or doctrine.” However, al Ansi warned, this “does not alleviate their burden for collaborating with the Americans in their war against the mujahideen.” The jihadists “need to be attentive to this detail,” al Ansi explained.

In other words, al Qaeda’s members and like-minded jihadists can benefit from working with Turkey and Qatar, as long as those nations do not cross the line by advancing America’s “war against the mujahideen.” Given the circumstances described above, this is exactly how Al Nusrah now views Turkey’s proposed buffer zone.

However, as Al Ansi made clear, this does not preclude the possibility of tacit cooperation between al Qaeda’s Syrian branch and parts of the Turkish government on other matters. Indeed, because of their “intersecting interests” in Syria — namely, both want to see Bashar al Assad’s regime toppled — Turkey has been slow to recognize Al Nusrah as a threat in its own right.

In September 2014, Francis Ricciardone, the former US ambassador to Turkey, accused the Turks of working with Al Nusrah. “We ultimately had no choice but to agree to disagree,” Ricciardone said of his discussion with Turkish officials. “The Turks frankly worked with groups for a period, including Al Nusrah, whom we finally designated as we’re not willing to work with.”

Since early on the rebellion against the Assad regime, Turkey has permitted large numbers of foreign jihadists to travel into Syria. At various points, this benefitted not only Al Nusrah, but also al Qaeda’s rivals in the Islamic State, which Turkey now opposes.

For instance, in October 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported on meetings between US officials, Turkish authorities and others. “Turkish officials said the threat posed by [Al Nusrah], the anti-Assad group, could be dealt with later,” according to US officials and Syrian opposition leaders who spoke with the newspaper. Officials also told the publication that the US government’s decision to designate Al Nusrah as a terrorist group in December 2012 was intended “in part to send a message to Ankara about the need to more tightly control the arms flow.”

Eventually, in 2014, Turkey also designated Al Nusrah as a terrorist organization. Turkish authorities have also reportedly launched sporadic raids on al Qaeda-affiliated sites inside their country.

Still, al Qaeda has found Turkey to be a hospitable environment in the past. According to the US Treasury Department, al Qaeda has funneled cash and fighters through Turkish soil to Al Nusrah.

In October 2012, Treasury said that a network headed by al Qaeda operative Muhsin al Fadhli was moving “fighters and money through Turkey to support al Qaeda-affiliated elements in Syria.” In addition, al Fadhli leveraged “his extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.” (The Defense Department believes that al Fadhli was killed in an airstrike on July 8.)

It remains to be seen how Al Nusrah will react to Turkey’s latest moves, beyond rejecting the proposed buffer zone. In the meantime, groups allied with Al Nusrah will likely take over its turf.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracy and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

Also see:

Former DIA director: Obama White House made “willful decision” to support al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood in Syria

Mehdi Hasan goes Head to Head with Michael T. Flynn, former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, on how to deal with ISIL and Iran. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/headtohead/2015/07/blame-isil-150728080342288.html

Mehdi Hasan goes Head to Head with Michael T. Flynn, former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, on how to deal with ISIL and Iran. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/headtohead/2015/07/blame-isil-150728080342288.html


Jihad Watch, by Robert Spencer, Aug. 8, 2015:

Mehdi Hasan is a highly suspect analyst and Foreign Policy Journal appears to be a pro-jihad paleocon publication, and Al Jazeera is certainly a pro-jihad propaganda outlet. All that is noted, but if this transcript is accurate, former DIA director Michael Flynn is confirming that the Obama Administration knowingly decided to support al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and directly enabled the rise of the Islamic State. And given the Obama Administration’s general stance toward the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, what would be unbelievable about that?

In a sane political atmosphere, this would be enough to bring down the Obama presidency. Instead, it will get little notice and no action whatsoever.

“Rise of Islamic State was ‘a willful decision’: Former DIA Chief Michal [sic] Flynn,” by Brad Hoff, Foreign Policy Journal, August 7, 2015 (thanks to Joshua):

In Al Jazeera’s latest Head to Head episode, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn confirms to Mehdi Hasan that not only had he studied the DIA memo predicting the West’s backing of an Islamic State in Syria when it came across his desk in 2012, but even asserts that the White House’s sponsoring of radical jihadists (that would emerge as ISIL and Nusra) against the Syrian regime was “a willful decision.” [Lengthy discussion of the DIA memo begins at the 8:50 mark.]

Amazingly, Flynn actually took issue with the way interviewer Mehdi Hasan posed the question—Flynn seemed to want to make it clear that the policies that led to the rise of ISIL were not merely the result of ignorance or looking the other way, but the result of conscious decision making:

Hasan: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?

Flynn: I think the administration.

Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?

Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.

Hasan: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.

Hasan himself expresses surprise at Flynn’s frankness during this portion of the interview. While holding up a paper copy of the 2012 DIA report declassified through FOIA, Hasan reads aloud key passages such as, “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Rather than downplay the importance of the document and these startling passages, as did the State Department soon after its release, Flynn does the opposite: he confirms that while acting DIA chief he “paid very close attention” to this report in particular and later adds that “the intelligence was very clear.”

Lt. Gen. Flynn, speaking safely from retirement, is the highest ranking intelligence official to go on record saying the United States and other state sponsors of rebels in Syria knowingly gave political backing and shipped weapons to Al-Qaeda in order to put pressure on the Syrian regime:

Hasan: In 2012 the U.S. was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups [Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda in Iraq], why did you not stop that if you’re worried about the rise of quote-unquote Islamic extremists?

Flynn: I hate to say it’s not my job…but that…my job was to…was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be….

As Michael Flynn also previously served as director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during a time when its prime global mission was dismantling Al-Qaeda, his honest admission that the White House was in fact arming and bolstering Al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria is especially shocking given his stature….

***

Come the F*ck On: al Qaeda Is Not Our Ally!

Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Daily Beast, by Robin Simcox, July 24, 2015:
A new argument among jihad analysts has it that the makers of 9/11 are now a handy bulwark against ISIS. Um, no.
Enemies becoming friends is seemingly all the rage these days. First Cuba. Then Iran. Now, there are those arguing that al Qaeda must also be brought into the fold. That’s right: the same group which fly planes into our buildings, blows up our tube networks, embassies and longs for the return of the Caliphate.

The argument seems to be catching on. The journalist Ahmed Rashid has recently taken to the pages of the New York Review of Books (“Why we need al Qaeda”) and the front cover of The Spectator (“Al Qaeda to the rescue”) to question whether al Qaeda “might be the best option left in the Middle East for the US and its allies.” The argument goes that the U.S., regional Arab powers and Turkey have a shared enemy in Bashar al-Assad, Iran and its proxies. Al Qaeda not only shares these enemies, it is at the frontline of this fight in Syria and Yemen.

Rashid also says that al Qaeda is going through “dramatic changes” and are now taking a “soft line” on certain issues. Charles Lister from Brookings has also explored potential al Qaeda moderation—with the headline used in his May article for the Huffington Post, “An Internal Struggle: Al Qaeda’s Syrian Affiliate is Grappling with its Identity,” making the group sound more like a 16 year-old goth from Portland than a murderous terrorist organization.

Other, less savory figures have spoken out on other ways in which al Qaeda may be useful. Moazzam Begg—the former Guantanamo Bay detainee—cites Rashidwhile arguing that “the most credible voices against IS have been Islamic clerics traditionally associated with al Qaeda”: Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. These two jihadist theologians’ fatwas have been used to justify barbaric violence for decades. Yet Begg laments the UK government’s reluctance to reach out to such figures, arguing that it would help avert a repeat of the massacre of British tourists that just occurred in Tunisia.

This is largely unsurprising coming from Begg, who has long argued the Islamist cause. Yet as others view al Qaeda as a potentially constructive partner, it is worth exploring this thesis on its merits.

The examples of moderation cited by the likes of Rashid are anything but. A statement from Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, the head of al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, saying that he was under instructions not to use Syria “as a base to launch attacks on the West or Europe” is highlighted as a sign of progress. However, even this concession—as deeply generous as it is—is not because of a lack of desire to kill more Westerners; it is “so as not to muddy the current war” in Syria. A change in tactics should not be confused for a change in strategy.

The al-Nusra Front also remains proud of al Qaeda’s past successes when it comes to mass murder. A propaganda video they just released is heavy on video footage from 9/11—an attack described in the video as “the most effective solution”—and speeches by Osama bin Laden.

Rashid also mischaracterizes the nature of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s behavior in Yemen. He describes AQAP’s capture of territory in Hadhramaut, southeast Yemen, as “remarkably tame,” arguing that they “inflicted little damage, executed nobody, declined to run the local government and instead installed a council of elders to govern.” The residents of Hadhramaut—especially those in Mukalla—seem to remember things differently. Last month, they saw two Saudis murdered in public by the group and then strung up from a bridge, accused of being ‘spies’. There has also been recent reports from those living under AQAP rule in Mukalla that they have burned down markets; intimidated local residents and blown up local mausoleums.

Step outside the Middle East and there are a host of other examples demonstrating that al Qaeda is as brutal as it ever was. Look at the intensity of al-Shabaab’s attacks in Somalia, or the six UN peacekeepers killed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali earlier this month. The families of the “blasphemers” murdered by al Qaeda’s newest branch in the Indian Subcontinent also probably do not see much evidence of the group’s supposed “soft line”.

After the wars we have waged against the group over the past fourteen years and the blood that has been shed across the world by al Qaeda, it is remarkable to have to argue that they are not a constructive partner in anything the U.S. would ever want to achieve in the Middle East. Then again, we live in strange times. Who would have thought that the U.S. would be willing to militarily partner with the very same Iranian militias in Iraq that were killing their soldiers in the same theater ten years ago?

Something similar cannot be allowed to happen again. Al Qaeda is not our ally. It remains as committed as ever to our destruction and we should never forget it.

Iran Is Working with al Qaeda

‘FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF, IS YOUR GOVERNMENT STILL HARBORING AL QAEDA OPERATIVES?’

‘FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF, IS YOUR GOVERNMENT STILL HARBORING AL QAEDA OPERATIVES?’

So why are we working with Iran?

Weekly Standard, by Thomas Joscelyn, August 3, 2015:

On July 21, the Pentagon announced that Muhsin al-Fadhli, an al Qaeda operative who had been wanted for more than a decade, was killed in an airstrike in Syria earlier in the month. Fadhli has been dead at least once before. In September 2014, the United States launched airstrikes against his so-called Khorasan Group (a cadre of al Qaeda veterans plotting attacks against the West), and some officials told the press that Fadhli had perished. That wasn’t true. Still, Defense Department officials are confident they got their man on July 8. The DoD doesn’t usually issue formal press releases for this sort of thing unless there is significant intelligence backing up its claims. The department wasn’t fully forthcoming, however. Its short biography of Fadhli was missing a key word: Iran.

Before relocating to Syria, Fadhli led al Qaeda’s network in Iran. The Treasury Department revealed this fact in a terrorist designation issued October 18, 2012. Fadhli, Treasury reported, “began working with al Qaeda’s Iran-based facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by the Iranians.” But he was “released by the Iranians in 2011 and went on to assume the leadership of the facilitation network.”

“In addition to providing funding for al Qaeda activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Treasury said, Fadhli’s network was “working to move fighters and money through Turkey to support al Qaeda-affiliated elements in Syria.” Fadhli leveraged “his extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.”

Iran didn’t simply turn a blind eye to Fadhli’s activities. The Treasury Department explained that a deal requires al Qaeda’s men to report to the regime. “Under the terms of the agreement between al Qaeda and Iran, al Qaeda must refrain from conducting any operations within Iranian territory and recruiting operatives inside Iran while keeping Iranian authorities informed of their activities.” Al Qaeda benefits from this relationship. “In return” for accepting Iran’s terms, Treasury continued, “the Government of Iran gave the Iran-based al Qaeda network freedom of operation and uninhibited ability to travel for extremists and their families.” Iranian authorities enforce these terms, which were negotiated “with the knowledge” of Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, by detaining al Qaeda members who do not comply.

There has been surprisingly little discussion of this during the debate over President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran, even though al Qaeda’s presence on Iranian soil greatly complicates Obama’s vision of a post-deal world.

It is no secret that the president believes the deal with Iran could open the door to a better relationship between the regime and its “Great Satan,” America. “Iran may change,” Obama told the New York Times’s Tom Friedman in an interview published in April, though he tried to tone down his optimism by “emphasizing that the nuclear deal that we’ve put together is not based on the idea that somehow the regime changes.” Still, Obama said Iran could be “an extremely successful regional power” and a “responsible international player,” as long as “it did not engage in aggressive rhetoric against its neighbors,” “didn’t express anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiment,” and “maintained a military that was sufficient to protect itself, but was not engaging in a whole bunch of proxy wars around the region.” Of course, a “responsible” Iran wouldn’t support al Qaeda either.

President Obama and his advisers like to pretend that critics of their Iran deal are warmongers who don’t want a diplomatic resolution or have otherwise been compromised by “lobbying.” But opponents of the deal are rightly concerned about Iran’s clear record of illicit nuclear activities and its decades of anti-Americanism (including killing U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan), antisemitism, and revolutionary fervor, which the regime zealously exports throughout the region. (Iran has actually increased its support for proxy wars during Obama’s tenure in office.)

Iran’s agreement with al Qaeda—exposed by Obama’s own administration, not critics of the Iran deal—puts these concerns into stark relief. It is the administration, after all, that declared Muhsin al-Fadhli a threat to Americans who needed to be killed.

Since 2011, Obama’s Treasury and State Departments have repeatedly said that Iran works with al Qaeda. On July 28, 2011, Treasury unmasked “Iran’s secret deal with al-Qaeda,” saying it allows al Qaeda “to funnel funds and operatives through [Iranian] territory” and is “another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism.” Yasin al-Suri, the head of the Iran-based network at the time, and several of his al Qaeda colleagues were designated terrorists. On December 22, 2011, the State Department offered a $10 million reward for information leading to Suri’s capture—one of the richest rewards offered for any terrorist. “Iranian authorities maintain a relationship with al-Suri and have permitted him to operate within Iran’s borders since 2005,” State said.

On February 16, 2012, the Treasury Department designated Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) for its support of al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Treasury, the “MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports.” In addition, it “provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) .  .  . and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.” (AQI evolved into the Islamic State, the al Qaeda offshoot that controls significant territory in Iraq and Syria.)

As the Obama administration continued to shed light on al Qaeda’s operations inside Iran, Suri was sidelined. The Iranians placed him under some form of arrest in late 2011. At this point, as Treasury explained in the aforementioned October 18, 2012, designation, Fadhli took over.

Suri wasn’t in Iranian custody for long, however. In January 2014, State and Treasury Department officials interviewed by Al Jazeera warned that Suri was back on the street and “more active than ever.” Curiously, according to these officials, Iran allowed Suri to funnel cash and fighters to the Nusra Front, an official branch of al Qaeda that is engaged in a vicious fight against Iran’s proxies in Syria; it is not clear why. On February 6, 2014, Treasury officially confirmed that Suri had “resumed leadership of al Qaeda’s Iran-based network after being temporarily detained there in late 2011.” Treasury also designated one of Suri’s subordinates inside Iran.

Then, on August 22, 2014, the Treasury Department designated yet another al Qaeda leader who had operated in Iran, a Saudi known as Sanafi al-Nasr. Treasury said that Nasr served as the “chief of al Qaeda’s Iran-based extremist and financial facilitation network” in early 2013. (This was just after Fadhli left for Syria and before Suri resumed his leadership position.) Like Fadhli, Nasr relocated to Syria, where he became a senior member of the Nusra Front. He is also part of the Khorasan Group.

It is likely that Iran had the power to stop terrorists such as Fadhli from leaving Iranian soil. He had been imprisoned in Iran before and could have been again. The regime chose not to, for whatever reason.

Obama’s State Department has repeatedly pointed to this collusion in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism. Previous editions, such as the one published last year, referred to al Qaeda’s network inside Iran as a “core facilitation pipeline” that enables al Qaeda “to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria.” However, State’s most recent report, published earlier this year, says that Iran “previously allowed” al Qaeda to maintain this network. The implication is that Iran’s deal with al Qaeda is a thing of the past, although the department did not explicitly state this.

Has Iran changed its policy with respect to al Qaeda? There is no clear indication it has, despite the fact the two are at loggerheads in countries such as Syria and Yemen. Iran’s ally, the Assad regime, certainly wants al Qaeda terrorists like Fadhli taken out. And CNN reported last year that Syrian forces had captured Fadhli’s bodyguard, who supposedly offered up intelligence on his boss’s anti-Western plotting. But U.S. intelligence officials contacted by The Weekly Standard in recent months say they think the Iranians continue to allow al Qaeda jihadists to operate inside their country. If the Obama administration has evidence the situation has changed, they should present it.

In the meantime, congressmen and senators worried that the influx of cash Iran will receive under the nuclear deal will make it easier for the regime to sponsor terrorism should be asking some pointed questions. Do Iran and al Qaeda still have a deal in place? Is Yasin al-Suri still facilitating al Qaeda’s operations from inside Iran, as the administration itself warned just last year? Why should we trust the Iranian regime to abide by the terms of the nuclear deal if it is working with al Qaeda terrorists who threaten us?

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Why ISIS May Be More Dangerous Than al-Qaeda Ever Was

Islamic-Terrorism-Feature-edit-1250x650

Daily Signal, by Chelsea Scism, July 13, 2015:

It’s been only two years since the Islamic State began to claim territory in the Middle East, and the organization, also known as ISIS, already has become more successful and much more dangerous than al-Qaeda ever was in its 20 years of operations.

It controls more territory, has acquired more money and has recruited more people than al-Qaeda ever did. That was the conclusion of a panel of experts who gathered last week at The Heritage Foundation to discuss ISIS and what America needs to do to defeat the terrorist group.

The experts outlined four primary reasons ISIS is a more serious threat than al-Qaeda.

First, ISIS is a “self-generated, fully-fledged, transnational insurgency,” which is much more than a mere terrorist group, said Dr. Sebastian Gorka, chair of military theory at Marine Corps University. Because it views its mission as re-establishing a caliphate, it seeks to hold territory, which al-Qaeda did not. It now holds a swath of Iraq and Syria that is larger than the United Kingdom.

Second is the wealth. Gorka said ISIS raided the Iraqi National Bank a second time recently and netted an additional $823 million in cash, making it the “richest non-state threat group in modern human history.”

Considering the 9/11 attacks cost al-Qaeda just $500,000, this means ISIS is capable of more.

Members of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front walk along a street in the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province May 29, 2015. (Photo: STRINGER/REUTERS/Newscom)

Members of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front walk along a street in the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province May 29, 2015. (Photo: STRINGER/REUTERS/Newscom)

Third is the raw numbers. ISIS has recruited between 16,000 and 20,000 fighters from 90 different countries in the past nine months, numbers that al-Qaeda could only have dreamed about. It recruited 6,000 in just the month of Ramadan, according to Sara Carter, a senior reporter at the American Media Institute who has embedded with troops on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and says the organization is “working day and night” to bolster its numbers.

Finally, there is the caliphate, re-established by ISIS after a 90-year absence. Gorka called this the “pinnacle of extremist Islamist threat.”

Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow and lead analyst on al-Qaeda at the American Enterprise Institute, put the development in starker terms.

“ISIS sees itself as uniting the jihad,” she said.

And unlike al-Qaeda, whose mission is to “break the West,” Zimmerman said ISIS’ more comprehensive plan aims to break Muslim states too in order to build its own vision of the caliphate.

What should the U.S. do about this looming threat? Much more than it is doing now, the panel agreed.

“It’s not something that you can win with drone strikes alone,” Carter said.

Gorka said the U.S. also must take the fight to the ideological domain. He suggested the Pentagon learn more about Islam and work strategically against ISIS propaganda.

“You can’t defeat an ideology unless you’re able to exploit it,” Carter said in support.

Additionally, the experts agreed ISIS must be challenged on the ground by local troops under the guidance of embedded American troops as advisors.

“And it isn’t just, of course, a reality thousands of miles away,” Gorka said. “With Garland, Texas, and with all the current cases that the FBI director has admitted we are investigating in America, this is very much a threat to the United States as well.”

Chelsea Scism is a reporting intern for The Daily Signal and member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.

You can also see the C-Span recording of the event which is very nice and includes links to various segments.

Also see:

 

The Jihadist Blowback Against the Islamic State

cbc5c365-6298-4aa0-b2be-a6264acb6d49_16x9_600x338Stratfor, by Scott Stewart, July 9, 2015:

Last Ramadan saw the proclamation of the caliphate as a triumphant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in Mosul’s Great Mosque to declare himself the leader of all Muslims worldwide. This Ramadan, things have changed dramatically for the organization. Al-Baghdadi is keeping an extremely low profile because of the coalition bombing campaign over Iraq and Syria, while the Islamic State is on the strategic defensive, struggling financially and to hold the territories it conquered.

Although many often refer to the Islamic State as the wealthiest terrorist group ever, they fail to understand that the organization is really an insurgency rather than a terrorist group — and that fighting a war on several fronts and governing territory, especially large cities such as Mosul, Raqqa and Ramadi, requires an incredible amount of money, resources and manpower. The Islamic State’s resource burn rate is magnitudes larger than that of a true terrorist group or even a small insurgency. Coalition airstrikes against oil collection points, oil tankers and mobile refineries have put a serious dent in the Islamic State’s economy. Though the group does earn considerable revenue from taxation, extortion and smuggling, these revenue sources — which are obtained mostly from the people the group rules — are limited and will breed increased resentment against the group as they are ramped up.

This Ramadan also brought a new challenge to the Islamic State when the al Qaeda pole of the transnational jihadist movement launched a widespread ideological campaign to undercut the Islamic State’s support base. These ideological efforts have been impressive, at least to this middle-aged American analyst. It remains to be seen, however, if they will have the desired impact on wealthy jihadist donors and young recruits.

Resurgence

The first ideological salvo fired this Ramadan was the second issue of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s Resurgence Magazine. The 92-page publication was a “special issue” containing a lengthy interview that the publisher, Hassaan Yusuf, had conducted with Adam Gadahn, aka “Azzam the American,” an English-language spokesman for the al Qaeda core group who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan in January.

While the interview was ostensibly a biography of Gadahn, Yusuf was able to cleverly shape it into a hit piece on the Islamic State. For example, Yusuf quoted Gadahn talking about al Qaeda’s interactions with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While Gadahn discussed al Qaeda’s conflicts with al-Zarqawi, it emphasized that he was a strong proponent of jihadist unity and that he should not be held responsible for the “deviation” of those who claim to follow him today. The interview contained many scathing indictments of the Islamic State, such as:

  • Declaring Muslims to be outside the fold of Islam is not a trivial matter or something to be taken lightly.
  • Spilling the blood, taking the wealth and violating the rights of Muslims is not a trivial matter or something to be taken lightly.
  • When you declare yourselves to be “the” Islamic State, you are responsible if your actions and behavior distort the image of the Islamic system of government in the eyes of the Ummah and the world.
  • Ignorance of Sharia and misinterpretation of Islamic texts.

Interestingly, many of the arguments directed against the Islamic State used language that was not typical for Gadahn: specifically, terms that were beyond his educational level and normal lexicon. This likely indicates that these sections were later inserted by Yusuf, who is quite erudite, eloquent and apparently very well educated. Yusuf’s writing uses advanced American idiomatic English, and it would be unsurprising to learn that he had earned an advanced degree from an American university, perhaps even an Ivy League school. Gadahn, by contrast, never attended university, and while he often sought to sound sophisticated in public statements, his efforts were transparent and his usage came across as unnatural.

Resurgence shows that in Yusuf, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent has an articulate propagandist who likely retains contacts in the United States. He is certainly a much deeper thinker than figures like Gadahn or Inspire magazine editor Samir Khan ever were. Yusuf accordingly will be an important figure to note and track.

Al Risalah Magazine

The second major ideological assault against the Islamic State was launched with the introduction of Al Risalah, a new English-language magazine by Jabhat al-Nusra. Risalah, which means “letter” in Arabic, has the stated purpose of dispelling “from the minds of
 the Muslims some of
 the mistaken notions
 and doubts promoted by the kuffar, hypocrites and deviant groups present amongst our midst, who aim to distort and destroy the clear and pure message of Islam and Jihad in the way of Allah.”

The “hypocrites and deviants” the magazine focuses most intently upon hail from the Islamic State, which the magazine refers to as the Dawlat al-Baghdadi, or state of al-Baghdadi. The publication repeatedly criticizes the Islamic State for spreading dissension and attacking Jabhat al-Nusra/al Qaeda in Syria, when the latter are genuine jihadists. It also castigates the Islamic State for dividing and attacking fellow jihadists in Yemen, the Caucasus, Afghanistan and Libya. “They have made their khilafa a sword, which splits the Ummah, and not a khilafa, which gathers the Ummah together.”

Being produced by Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Al Risalah naturally contains several articles authored by senior al-Nusra leaders, such as a eulogy for former al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasir al-Wahayshi written by al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani. The magazine also features articles from a number of other interesting figures, including a female jihadist who immigrated to Syria from the United Kingdom and an American jihadist named Abu Hudaifa al-Amreeki. Another article was written by Qaari Ikram, a senior Taliban religious authority.

The magazine devotes a great deal of space to refuting the ideology and actions of the Islamic State and argues that the Islamic State cannot be the legitimate caliphate since al-Baghdadi did not consult with the leaders of the global jihadist movement before proclaiming himself caliph. An article entitled “Khilafa One Year On” specifically noted that the caliphate had not been restored and quoted a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari that says “if any person gives the pledge of allegiance to somebody (to become a caliph) without consulting the other Muslims, then the one he has selected should not be granted allegiance, lest both of them should be killed.” The article also criticizes young Islamic State supporters for believing things posted on social media over the opinions of respected jihadist clerics, such as Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, and even of treating such scholars with contempt and disrespect.

This theme of disrespecting elder jihadists and even cursing at them was made in other articles, including an interview with Chechen jihadist Muslim Shishani and an article by Qaari Ikram titled “This is al Qaeda or Have They Forgotten.”

Ikram was particularly pointed in countering the argument repeatedly made by Islamic State figures that Ayman al-Zawahiri and the present al Qaeda leadership have strayed from the path charted by Osama bin Laden. Ikram notes that unlike the Islamic State leaders, he knew bin Laden — as well as other al Qaeda leaders — and observed his methods and beliefs in favorable conditions and under pressure. Based upon this firsthand knowledge, Ikram asserts that bin Laden and the other al Qaeda leaders would have condemned the Islamic State for attacking other jihadists, for the indiscriminate killing of non-Muslim women and children, and for the killing of Muslim women and children. He also berated them for being bloodthirsty, deceitful and divisive and for being excessive in declaring takfir (declaring a Muslim to be an unbeliever).

An article called “Halab Under Fire” by Abu Hudaifa al Amreeki specifically charged the Islamic State with helping the administration of Syrian President Bashar al Assad by attacking Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadist groups north of Aleppo (Halab is an ancient name for Aleppo). This forced other jihadists to divert forces away from their attack on loyalists in Aleppo to counter the Islamic State attack.

Turning the Tables on the Islamic State

Members and sympathizers of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have begun to use social media more aggressively. They launched a campaign on Twitter this week to criticize Abu Belal al-Harbi, the leader of the Islamic State in Yemen, accusing him of treason. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb also issued a statement this week criticizing the Islamic State’s actions in Libya. Whether such efforts will make much headway against the Islamic State’s powerful social media juggernaut, however, is not clear.

I found some compelling arguments against the Islamic State’s ideology and practices while reading these materials. But whether potential jihadist recruits and wealthy jihadist donors will take the time to read them and be swayed — or whether they will continue to feed off the Islamic State’s dramatic videos and short social media posts — remains to be seen.

Perhaps some of the more mature jihadists and foreign financiers will in fact take time to read these magazines and the reasoned arguments put forth in them. But for many of the younger recruits, the lure of bloody mayhem and Yazidi sex slaves may prove too strong for al Qaeda’s arguments to overcome.

The Life of Adam Gadahn, an American Al Qaeda Spokesman

661092076Center for Security Policy, by Jennifer Keltz, June 29, 2015:

Last week, Al Qaeda confirmed the death of Adam Gadahn, an Al Qaeda member who was killed in an airstike this past January. He was also known as Adam Pearlman or by his nom de guerre Azzam the American. Throughout his time in Al Qaeda, Gadahn maintained a high profile, appearing regularly in videos and calling for Americans to conduct attacks within the United States. The White House confirmed his death back in April.

Adam Gadhan was born on September 1, 1978 in Oregon to Philip and Jennifer Gadahn, and he died in January 2015. He was married to a Muslim woman from Afghanistan, with whom he had at least one child. He spent much of his own childhood on a goat farm in Winchester, California with his parents, who had a number of religious influences and avoided modern technology. He was homeschooled and received a strict upbringing. His father sold meat slaughtered under strict Islamic dietary rules.

At the age of 18, Gadahn moved to Orange County to live with his grandparents, who wereJewish. He began attending services at the Islamic Society of Orange County, where he fell under the influence of Khalil Deek and Hisham Diab. In 1995, Gadhan converted to Islam and became involved in Deek and Diab’s charity organization, Charity Without Borders. At the time of his conversion, he posted a testimonial on the internet explaining why he converted, citing a tense relationship with his parents and a rejection of Christianity. The witness for his conversion was the mosque chairman, Haitham Bundakji. Two years later, Gadahn was kicked out of the mosque for hitting Bundakji, to which he plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery. He was sentenced to two days in jail and 40 hours of community service.

Gadahn travelled to Pakistan in 1998 and ended up at a terrorist training camp. The last time that he contacted his parents was in 2002, and on May 26, 2004, his name was released by the FBI as being a part of a terror cell planning to disrupt the 2004 US election. In 2004 and 2005, he appeared disguised in a number of videos where he received praise from Osama Bin Laden and threatened attacks against the US and Australia, and he began to appear undisguised in 2006. Also in 2006, he was charged with treason and providing material support for terrorism; a $1 million award was announced for information leading to his capture. Throughout the rest of his life, he appeared in many more Al Qaeda videos, where he renounced his US citizenship, discussed his Jewish ancestry, praised terrorist attacks, and encouraged Muslims in the West to carry out their own attacks at home.

Gadahn never exhibited indications as a child that he would one-day become such a notorious figure, and part of his desire to join the Islamic community in Orange County likely came from his unhappiness with his parents. However, had he never attended the mosque or fallen into the wrong hands while there, he may not have become the violent terrorist that he was at the time of his death.

The Islamic Society of Orange County was founded in 1976, and is the largest Muslim community center in Southern California, serving over 10,000 Muslims. It was founded by Mahboob Khan, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official in the US until the time of his death who had invited Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri to speak at another Californian mosque that he ran, the An-Noor Mosque in Santa Clara. His son, Suhail Khan, advocates for the implementation of Sharia in America.

The current religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County is Muzammil Siddiqi, who is involved with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). Both the ISNA and NAIT were listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation trial, which found the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development guilty of providing support to Hamas. The ISNA and NAIT are also listed as friends of the Muslim Brotherhood in the US in its Explanatory Memorandum, which outlines its goals to wage “civilization jihad” against Americans. The FCNA also has ties to Islamist terrorism through its leadership, which has been involved directly and indirectly in terrorist activity. Siddiqi himself served as a chairman of the Department of Religious Affairs at the Muslim World League Office of the UN, an office created by the Saudi royal family to spread Wahhabi Islam, from 1976 to 1980. In 2000, he said that Jerusalem belonged to the Muslims, and he has expressed interest in the implementation of Sharia law and advocated for jihad. Siddiqi has been the director at the Islamic Society of Orange County since 1981, eclipsing Gadahn’s time there.

Gadahn’s attendance at the terror-tied mosque laid the groundwork for the violent indoctrination that was to come later through Khalil Deek and Hisham Diab. The two were neighbors in the Little Gaza section of Anaheim and were important Al Qaeda figures. They ran a sleeper cell operation in Orange County and hosted top Al Qaeda officials when they visited the US, including Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman (who is currently serving a life sentence at the Supermax penitentiary in Colorado for numerous terrorism-related convictions). With Siddiqi as translator, Abdel-Rahman gave a lecture at the mosque in December 1992, months before he was indicted for his participation in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. Should Gadahn have not become involved with Diab and Deek, he still would have been exposed to jihadist ideology at the mosque itself.

With the help of Diab’s wife, the Diab and Deek formed Charity Without Borders, which received tax-exempt status as a religious organization and a $75,000 state grant to distribute fliers about recycling, as a front to be used to funnel money to terrorist groups overseas. Gadahn was listed as a crew member in the Charity’s records in 1998, the same year that he went to Pakistan to go to a terrorist training camp. Charity Without Borders was shut down following 9/11.

Adam Gadahn provides a case study into the effects that violent ideology can have on marginalized youth. Growing up, he had very little access to the internet, so he did not become indoctrinated until he was able to begin attending a mosque that was under Muslim Brotherhood control. However, his descent into the world of Al Qaeda and terror is becoming a more common occurrence as more people have access to terrorist-run websites and then fall into the networks that terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood have created. The fact that Siddiqi, Diab, and Deek all ended up in Orange County together is no coincidence. As shown very clearly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Explanatory Memorandum, these Islamist organizations are creating grids of interconnected groups all espousing the same jihadist propaganda. Countries must expand their counterterrorism efforts to attack these networks, many of which are run by the Muslim Brotherhood, that are at the root of the spread of jihadist ideology in Western society today.

Morell: July 4th Terror Warnings Are ‘Not Routine,’ Wouldn’t Be Surprised if U.S. is Attacked

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Washington Free Beacon, by David Rutz, June 29, 2015:

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell said Monday on CBS This Morning there was “nothing routine” about July 4 terrorist attack warnings by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, adding that he would not be surprised if “we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack.”

Federal authorities issued warnings across the U.S. of potential terroristic targeting of Independence Day celebrations, USA Today reported:

While there was no specific or credible threat of attack, the official said the intelligence bulletin prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI alerted local colleagues to the ongoing threats posed by the Islamic State and other homegrown extremists. The official was not authorized to comment publicly.

The bulletins are frequently issued in advance of major U.S. holidays out of an abundance of caution and concern that operatives may exploit the timing to generate greater attention.

“This one really resonates with me for two reasons,” Morell said. “One is there’s been about 50 people in the last 12 months who have been arrested in the United States for being radicalized by ISIS, wanting to go fight there, or wanting to conduct an attack here, so there’s a lot of people out there who are seeing themselves as aligned with ISIS. Number two, you have this ISIS call to arms during Ramadan. We are right in the middle of Ramadan, call to arms, conduct attacks against our enemies, so I’m worried about this one.”

Co-host Norah O’Donnell asked what that meant for Americans over the 4th of July weekend.

“I don’t want to tell Americans what to do or what not to do, but Norah, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States,” he said. “That’s how serious this is.”

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And don’t forget the threat of Al Qaeda:

ISIS Is Following a Plan Laid Out Ten Years Ago by Al-Qaeda, and It’s All Working

-, -:  (FILES) -- A TV grab from the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel dated 17 June 2005 shows Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri delivering a speech at an undisclosed location with a machine gun next to him. Al-Zawahiri, in a video posted on the Internet 29 September 2006, called US President George W Bush a liar who had "failed in his war against Al-Qaeda", Al-Jazeera television reported. The previous day, Islamist websites on the Internet had said there would be a new video message posted by Zawahiri entitled " Bush, the pope, Darfur and the Crusades."  AFP PHOTO/AL-JAZEERA  -- QATAR OUT & INTERNET OUT --  (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

-, -: (FILES) — A TV grab from the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel dated 17 June 2005 shows Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri delivering a speech at an undisclosed location with a machine gun next to him. Al-Zawahiri, in a video posted on the Internet 29 September 2006, called US President George W Bush a liar who had “failed in his war against Al-Qaeda”, Al-Jazeera television reported. The previous day, Islamist websites on the Internet had said there would be a new video message posted by Zawahiri entitled ” Bush, the pope, Darfur and the Crusades.” AFP PHOTO/AL-JAZEERA — QATAR OUT & INTERNET OUT — (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

PJ Media, by Robert Spencer, June 19, 2015:

It has been almost a year since June 29, 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) declared the formation of a new caliphate and dropped the second half of its name, rebranding itself as simply the Islamic State. It has survived nine months since Barack Obama vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” it.

It has survived, and has continued to attract Muslims from all over the world, even after virtually every major world leader and Islamic group has condemned it as un-Islamic. And it shows no sign of going anywhere anytime soon.

All this is well-known. What is less known is that the plan for the restoration of the caliphate was sketched out ten years ago by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and has been followed out more or less exactly by the Islamic State.

The claim to reconstitute the caliphate is the key to the Islamic State’s success — the importance of this cannot be overstated.

The revival of the caliphate is, in the eyes of those who support it and have longed for it all these years, a return to the form of government of the glory days of Islam. From Muhammad’s death through Islam’s Golden Age up until the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after the end of World War I, Muslims were ruled by a caliph, the successor to Muhammad as spiritual and political leader of Islam.

And the declaration of the caliphate, and its placement in and around Syria and Iraq, was not an invention of the Islamic State, or incidental to what it perceived as its mission from the beginning. In reality, a new caliphate had long been an aspiration dear to the hearts of many jihadi terrorists, including al-Qaeda.

Bin Laden’s lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote to the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (which ultimately became the Islamic State), Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, on July 9, 2005:

It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world, specifically in the Levant, Egypt, and the neighboring states of the Peninsula and Iraq; however, the center would be in the Levant and Egypt.

Zawahiri also heaped praise on Zarqawi for helping bring that state — the revived caliphate — closer to reality:

If our intended goal in this age is the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet and if we expect to establish its state predominantly — according to how it appears to us — in the heart of the Islamic world, then your efforts and sacrifices — God permitting — are a large step directly towards that goal.

Zawahiri then offered Zarqawi his “humble opinion that the Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals,” the first of which was to “expel the Americans from Iraq.” The second stage, wrote Zarqawi, would be exactly what the Islamic State ended up doing nine years later:

The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate — over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.

Following the establishment of this state, the third stage would be to “extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq,” followed by the fourth stage, which “may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.”

Zawahiri wrote in an extremely deferential manner to Zarqawi, repeatedly assuring the Iraq commander that his analysis was not “infallible.” Nonetheless, he did not hesitate to give him direction, emphasizing that:

The mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal.

If they did that:

We will return to having the secularists and traitors holding sway over us. Instead, their ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it, and for every generation to hand over the banner to the one after it until the Hour of Resurrection.

Zawihiri summed up the “two short-term goals” as “removing the Americans and establishing an Islamic amirate in Iraq, or a caliphate if possible.” Attaining them, he wrote, would ensure possession of “the strongest weapon which the mujahedeen enjoy — after the help and granting of success by God,” which was “popular support from the Muslim masses in Iraq, and the surrounding Muslim countries.”

But al-Qaeda itself hesitated to declare a caliphate for fear that the Americans would nip it in the bud. A letter from Osama bin Laden, found in the trove of documents at the Abbottabad compound and declassified in May 2015, explained:

We should stress on the importance of timing in establishing the Islamic State. We should be aware that planning for the establishment of the state begins with exhausting the main influential power that enforced the siege on the Hamas government, and that overthrew the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan and Iraq despite the fact this power was depleted. We should keep in mind that this main power still has the capacity to lay siege on any Islamic State, and that such a siege might force the people to overthrow their duly elected governments. We have to continue with exhausting and depleting them till they become so weak that they can’t overthrow any State that we establish. That will be the time to commence with forming the Islamic state.

Bin Laden saw the restoration of the caliphate as the ultimate goal of al-Qaeda’s activities:

[T]he result that we deployed for … to reinstate the wise Caliphate and eliminate the disgrace and humiliation that our nation is suffering from.

But he argued against “insisting on the formation of an Islamic State at the time being” — and instead wanted his followers:

… to work on breaking the power of our main enemy by attacking the American embassies in the African countries, such as Sierra Leone, Togo, and mainly to attack the American oil companies.

Bin Laden was overcautious. The Islamic State established itself as the new caliphate and has thrived, and no one seems to have the will to do what is necessary to “degrade and destroy” it in any real sense. And so its first anniversary is unlikely to be its last.