Middle East Terror: Iran’s influence grows after Yemen’s political collapse

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CSP, by Fred Fleitz, Jan. 30, 2015:

The international community is starting to realize the seriousness of the political chaos in Yemen, which has expanded Iranian influence in the region, bolstered Al Qaeda and could lead to the secession of the southern part of the country. This situation may also result in a political realignment that puts the family of the former autocratic president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, back in power in an alliance with the Iranian-backed Houthis, a Shiite insurgent group in northern Yemen that forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his cabinet to resign last week.

The political deterioration in Yemen might have been prevented if the United States had fully backed Hadi and not gone along with a transition plan that removed Saleh from power in 2012 but did not force him from Yemen’s political scene.

Saleh used his influence to undermine the Hadi government through army units and tribes loyal to him. While Hadi closely cooperated with U.S. counterterror operations against Al Qaeda, the Obama administration did nothing to prop him up. Unaware of the how fragile the Hadi government was, the Obama administration as recently as last September claimed Yemen was a success story for U.S. Middle East policy.

On Sept. 10, President Obama said in a speech, “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Two weeks later, the United States recommended U.S. citizens leave Yemen after Houthi rebels occupied Sanaa, the capital, and Al Qaeda fired a rocket at the U.S. embassy.

Massive Arab Spring protests in 2011 led to Saleh’s resignation in February 2012 after more than 33 years in power. Having been granted immunity from prosecution in a deal that handed power to Hadi, Saleh’s main objective since he left office reportedly has been to propel his son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, to the Yemeni presidency.

Even though his government persecuted the Houthis and they were part of the Arab Spring demonstrations that drove him from office, Saleh struck an alliance with Houthi leaders that allowed them to occupy Sanaa last September. Because of recent demonstrations in Sanaa by its Sunni majority against the resignation of the Hadi government and the occupation of the city by the Shiite Houthis, Houthi leaders may be considering restoring the corrupt Saleh family to power or installing a Saleh family ally. According to Yemeni law, Parliament Speaker Yahia al-Rai, a close ally of Saleh, is next in line to assume the presidency.

The return of the Saleh family to power would be a step backward for Yemen and could pose significant security implications for the region and the United States. If the Saleh family or a Saleh ally assumes the presidency, the new government probably would abandon Hadi’s power-sharing and political reform efforts, most of which were opposed by the Houthis. Such a transition would bring back the corruption and probably the oppression of the Saleh regime.

A new Yemeni government, whether it is headed by the Saleh family or not, will be controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis. This deeply worries the Saudis, who regard the Houthis as an Iranian proxy and last year declared them a terrorist organization. Although the U.S. might be able to buy off a new Yemeni government to get it to continue to participate in counterterrorism efforts, the Iran angle, the Houthis’ hatred of the United States and Saleh’s possible anger over being removed from power could make this difficult to achieve.

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the world’s most dangerous Al Qaeda franchise, and the separatist Southern Movement, which wants southern Yemen to secede, are poised to exploit Yemen’s political chaos and may be collaborating. AQAP has tried to take advantage of the chaos of the last few months by staging suicide attacks in Sanaa.

Further complicating this situation, ISIS reportedly has entered the scene in Yemen and is competing with AQAP for recruits. Saudi leaders also are worried about Islah, a growing Muslim Brotherhood party in Yemen.

Although the Houthis are enemies of the Southern Movement and AQAP, they are looking for autonomy for their area in the north and probably have no plans to invade the south to battle these groups. This could lead to the secession of parts of southern Yemen (which had been a separate state until 1990) and a stronger, more consolidated AQAP.

The Obama administration needs to work with regional states, Europe and the United Nations to come up with a comprehensive strategy to promote stability, power sharing among regional groups and a new constitution in Yemen. Though there are currently many unknowns as to how the political crisis there will play out, given the country’s reliance on Saudi financial aid to run the government — aid that Riyadh cut off in December — and the Houthis’ hostility toward AQAP, an agreement between the international community and the Houthis to implement such a strategy may eventually be possible.

But even if such an agreement is reached, Iran’s increased influence in Yemen through the Houthis is unlikely to be reversed and will pose new security concerns for Saudi Arabia, the United States and the region.

Al Qaeda Members List Recalls Inter-connectedness of Jihad

CSP, by Kyle Shideler, Jan. 29, 2015:

JustSecurity reports that Federal prosecutors have unveiled an Al Qaeda “members list” in the trial of Khaled al-Fawwaz, an Al Qaeda facilitator who dealt with the media, helping to facilitate fatwas, and arrange interviews, including the famous Bin Laden interview with Peter Arnett. The list has been in the hands of Law enforcement since 2001, but only recently made public.

Khalid al-Fawaaz

Khalid al-Fawaaz

Al-Fawwaz, who appears on the list under the alias Hamad al-Kuwaiti, played a role in acquiring the satellite phone used by Bin Laden during the African Embassy Bombings. That phone was in turn acquired for Al-Fawwaz by Tarik Hamdi. Hamdi was employed by World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), a front for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad run by convicted PIJ leader Sami Al-Arian, and seconded to the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a Muslim Brotherhood front.

Al-Fawwaz and Hamdi’s history reminds us that the tendency of counterterrorism analysts has been to focus on the differences between terrorist organizations, which can often be limiting, and separating violent jihadists from political islamists is a recipe for confusion. The reality is that individuals flow back and forth through groups associated with Islamic political activity and jihad terrorism, and frequently support or associate with multiple organizations even while their primary orientation of supporting what they describe as “The Islamic Movement” goes unchanged.

Wadih el-Hage

Wadih el-Hage

Another name on the Al Qaeda list which reminds of this reality is Wadih El-Hage. El-Hage served as an Al Qaeda facilitator and Bin Laden’s personal secretary. El-Hage was also implicated in the assassination of Imam Rashid Khalifa, in Tuscon, Arizona. Prosecutors connected El-Hage to the killing but he was never charged. The hit was carried out by home-grown jihad organization Jamaat Al-Fuqra. Al-Fuqra began as a Sufi Islamic offshoot of the African American Muslim group Darul-Islam, before breaking off and swearing allegiance to Sheik Mubarak Jilani. Jilani’s group was present in Sudan during the Pan-Arab and Islamic Congress meetings of the 1990s where Al Qaeda mingled with Hezbollah, the Iranian IRGC, the Muslim Brotherhood and others. Two Jamaat Al-Fuqra members would convicted for their involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing.

Ultimately, until we view the global jihad holistically, rather than as separate segments we are denying ourselves the whole picture of the threat. Al-Fawwaz and El-Hage are reminders that the focus of the administration that “We are at war with Al Qaeda…” and only Al Qaeda, is strategic blindness.

How to Lose Friends and Empower Radicals: The Peace Prize President’s More Dangerous World

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Breitbart, by Sebastian Gorka, Jan. 29, 2015:

Since 2008, the world has become a significantly more dangerous place. In every region, new threats have emerged or old ones have reasserted them. The scorecard is clear: the bad guys are winning and America’s interests are being undermined daily.

As a nation, America has yet to recover from the experience of September 11th, 2001. Public opinion on our national response to the attacks against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 is today divided. On one side we have the “Bush lied, People Died!” crowd who portray President George W. Bush’s response in terms of a conspiracy, despite the fact that we now know Saddam Hussein indeed possessed thousands of WMD warheads (and had used them in the past).

On the other, we have conservatives who are themselves split between the unsophisticated isolationists/non-interventionists who believe that an American withdrawal from the world will make us safe, and the quietly resurgent neoconservatives who see in the rise of ISIS/The Islamic State a justification for more foreign engagements.

For a moment, let us put Operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF), to one side. Instead, let us take an unemotional snap-shot of the global geostrategic situation to see whether the administration whose head was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize during his first year in office has indeed make the world a safer and more peaceful place.

Europe: During most of the last century, American security was tied directly to the continent of Europe. Whether it was the generational genocide of World War One, the racial genocide of WWII, or the class-based totalitarianism of the Cold War, Europe was the source of strategic, and at times existential, threats to America.

During the first Obama Administration, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared a “Pivot to Asia” which would deemphasize Europe’s importance and see Washington focus more on our Pacific partners than on old Atlantic Allies.

Since that announcement, an emboldened Vladimir Putin has seen fit to break an almost 70-year-old international taboo by using force to redraw national borders with his annexation of Crimea. This includes, incredibly, the shooting down of a civilian jet-liner by forces armed by Moscow.

At the same time, we have seen the European Union become evermore centralizing and undemocratic as untenable economic and fiscal policies are propped up by a Brussels bureaucracy in the name of “broader and deeper union.” This has naturally led to two types of responses: the unprecedented success of a paleo-conservative backlash, best typified by the insurgent victories of UKIP in Great Britain, as well the reverse: Utopian socialist populists such as the victorious Syriza party of Greece.

Then there are Europe’s ties to the Global Jihadist Movement. The recent slaughter in Paris, the beheading of a British serviceman on the streets of the UK, and Spanish and Belgian terror-related arrests all attest to the failure of the current international campaign against Islamist terrorism.

The flawed immigration policies of many EU nations have also facilitated the establishment of literally hundreds of ethnic and religious enclaves across the continent where integration is seen as a bad thing and where radical talentspotters for groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS/IS identify, indoctrinate and recruit murderers such as the Charlie Hebdo killers, as well as thousands of fighters for The Islamic State.

This has led to a grass-roots response from Europeans afraid of the future survival of their countries embodied in the ever-broadening PEGIDA movement that Breitbart London has covered in great detail. The failure of multiculturalist immigration policies has not only encouraged the enclave phenomenon, but is also clearly linked to the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism on the continent which has led to unprecedented numbers of European jews deciding to leave the nations of their birth for good.

If we include Turkey in our European snapshot, the situation is even worse, as we have seen the one viable example of a secular Muslim state slip even deeper into the corruption-ridden maelstrom of Islamic fundamentalism under the Erdogan government which is either incapable or unwilling to prevent Turkey becoming a pre-deployment site for jihadist fighters traveling into Syria and Iraq. All this from a formal NATO ally of the US.

Asia: The much-vaunted Pivot to Asia has clearly not worked. China has, over the last several years, openly challenged the post-Cold War peace in the region with a commitment to its own military build-up coupled with a concerted campaign of intimidation against its smaller and weaker neighbors.

While challenging and intimidating our regional partners, China has continued to grow economically at such a rate that the nation which was once universally ridiculed as the maker of plastic toys for McDonalds Happy Meals has now surpassed the US economy in terms of gross output.  At the same time, China is waging a covert war against America in the cyber domain, stealing not only state secrets for use in developing its new weapons systems, but also billions of dollars worth of intellectual property and commercial secrets from American businesses. See the remarkable report from Mandiant on scale of the threat.

North Korea has also used the internet to assault American interests as the Sony hacking attack attests, while Washington has proven totally ineffective in undermining the world’s last truly fully-fledged Stalinist regime, or its regionally destabilizing nuclear weapons capabilities.

Africa: A giant continent, with threats as bad as they were in 2008, or in several cases much worse. The Global Jihadist Movement continues to consolidate its control in Nigeria through the horrific attacks of Boko Haram, the group made famous for the kidnapping of the girls from Chibok, an attack which is just one part of a vast campaign targeting Christians and anyone who does not want to live under a theocratically run system based upon sharia and 7th century interpretation of the Koran.

In addition to the insurgent-like threat of Boko Haram, we have also witnessed horrific hit and run terrorist tactics used by other African jihadists, as in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi by Al Shabaab. At the same time, China proceeds to build its vast network of economic interests in the continent in ways that far outstrip American geostrategic investment in Africa.

Australasia: Of course, the Pivot to Asia should have pleased our Antipodean allies. But the concrete consequences of the declarations and speeches by Secretary Clinton and the White House have amounted to little more than the deployment of a handful of US Marines from Camp Pendleton to Australia. Instead of the security situation improving, Australia faced its own Jihadist attack just before Christmas last year as a self-styled imam took hostages and brought the violent jihad so familiar to New York, London, Madrid, and Paris, to the streets of Sydney.

The Americas: Canada likewise became a direct victim of the Global Jihadist Movement after a spate of attacks against its armed forces and even its parliament which was only stopped when a brave sergeant-at-arms applied deadly force in the face of a rampaging jihadi.

Those who like illicit quality cigars may be celebrating the White House’s “normalization” of relations with Communist Cuba, but if statements by the Castro regime are to be credited as expressing Havana’s true intentions, then the deal was good for the dictatorship and bad for America. And despite the US government’s historic decision, conditions inside Cuba have remained the same, or in many case deteriorated, with last year seeing record-breaking numbers of political arrests on the island nation. And Cuba’s anti-democratic influence is a problem for the region, not just its wretched population, with Raul Castro’s secret police providing aid and expertise in the oppression of dissidentsto the government of Venezuela.

The Middle East and North Africa: Leaving the worst for last we have, of course, the Middle East, and North Africa. The highs hopes for the Arab Spring turned very rapidly into a “Christian Winter” and a victory for the fundamentalist and anti-Democratic forces of the Muslim Brotherhood. One after another, one-man authoritarian regimes fell to Islamist MB governments, or collapsed into deadly civil wars which are still being fought in places like Syria and Libya. Throughout the region, proto-democrats and vulnerable minorities, especially ancient Christian communities, have been targeted for death or persecution, or have been forced to flee.

The one ray of hope, the people’s revolt in Egypt against the Brotherhood government of Mohammad Morsi, which led to his being ousted by a secular military, was rejected by the US administration as a coup, despite the fact that General, now President, Sisi, has been fighting his own war against Jihadi fundamentalists since he was the Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces.

And now Yemen, which was lauded just a few months ago by President Obama as the poster-child of his successful counterterrorism strategy, has collapsed under insurgent attacks and the resignation of the government in Sanaa.

Then there is Iran, which, much like Cuba, has squeezed concession after concession out of the administration without either stopping its acquisition of nuclear weapons capability, or curtailing its support of Shiite terrorist fighters in either Iraq or Syria.

I said I would leave Afghanistan and Iraq of our the equation, but nevertheless, it is important to recognize that this is a new jihadist threat that is even more dangerous than Al Qaeda. ISIS, the Islamic State, is today a full-fledged insurgency, one that in four dimensions is much more of a threat that Al Qaeda ever was.

The Islamic State is more than a terrorist group, it now functions as a quasi-state and controls territory equivalent to the size of the UK. It is the richest non-state threat group in human history. It has an incredibly sophisticated understanding of information warfare and how to use social media as a propaganda platform, and lastly – and relatedly – it has recruited ten of thousands of young Muslim men from around the world, including Europe and the US, to fight for the new Caliphate of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Bin Laden dreamt of being this powerful. The Islamic State has turned his dream into a horrific reality.

There is not one area of the world of import to America in which we have either not lost friends, or failed to help our allies to defend themselves against the common enemies that threaten us all. Whatever your politics, or whomever you favor for the next Commander-in-Chief of the United States, one thing is certain: without resolute American leadership the world can become, and now is, a much more dangerous place.

Sebastian Gorka PhD. is the Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University and Associate Fellow at the Joint Special Operations University, USSOCOM. Follow him at @SebGorka.

General Tells Senators al-Qaeda Has ‘Grown Fourfold in Last Five Years’

Published on Jan 28, 2015 by One Post

Full testimony here

PJ Media, By Bridget Johnson On January 27, 2015

The former vice chief of staff of the Army warned the Senate Armed Services Committee today that al-Qaeda has “grown fourfold in the last five years.”

“AQ and its affiliates exceeds Iran in beginning to dominate multiple countries,” retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane testified.

Using a term that the Obama administration now eschews, Keane called radical Islam “the major security challenge of our generation.”

“Radical Islam, as I’m defining it for today’s discussion, consists of three distinct movements who share a radical fundamentalist ideology, use jihad or terror to achieve objectives that compete with each other for influence and power,” he said.

“In 1980, Iran declared the United States as a strategic enemy and its goal is to drive the United States out of the region, achieve regional hegemony, and destroy the state of Israel. It uses proxies, primarily as the world’s number one state sponsoring terrorism. Thirty plus years Iran has used these proxies to attack the United States. To date, the result is U.S. troops left Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, while Iran has direct influence and some control over Beirut, Lebanon, Gaza, Damascus, Syria, Baghdad, Iraq, and now Sana’a, Yemen,” the general continued.

“Is there any doubt that Iran is on the march and is systematically moving toward their regional hegemonic objective? Iran has been on a 20-year journey to acquire nuclear weapons, simply because they know it guarantees preservation of the regime and makes them, along with their partners, the dominant power in the region, thereby capable of expanding their control and influence. Add to this their ballistic missile delivery system and Iran is not only a threat to the region, but to Europe, as well. And as they increase missile range, eventually a threat to the United States. And as we know, a nuclear arms race, because of their nuclear ambition, is on the horizon for the Middle East.”

Keane detailed the growth of al-Qaeda in its quest to “eventually achieve world domination.”

“Third, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS, is an outgrowth from Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was defeated in Iraq by 2009. After U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011, ISIS reemerged as a terrorist organization in Iraq, moved into Syria in 2012, and began seizing towns and villages from the Syria-Iraq border all the way to the western Syria from Aleppo to Damascus,” he reminded the committee.

That leads to an “unmistakable” conclusion that “our policies have failed,” Keane added.

“And the unequivocal explanation is U.S. policy has focused on disengaging from the Middle East, while our stated policy is pivoting to the east,” he said. “U.S. policymakers choose to ignore the very harsh realities of the rise of radical Islam. In my view, we became paralyzed by the fear of adverse consequences in the Middle East after fighting two wars. Moreover, as we sit here this morning, in the face of radical Islam, U.S. policymakers refuse to accurately name the movement as radical Islam. We further choose not to define it, nor explain its ideology, and most critical, we have no comprehensive strategy to stop it or defeat it.”

Spy General Unloads on Obama’s ISIS War Plan

1422368403396.cachedDaily Beast, by Kimberly Dozier, Jan. 27, 2015

Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn likens the fight against Islamic militants to the Cold War and calls for an international chain of command akin to that of the Allies in World War II.
The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency slammed the Obama administration on Monday as “well intentioned” but paralyzed and playing defense inits the fight againstIslamic militancy.Recently retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn called for the U.S. to lead the charge in a sweeping, decades-long campaign against the Islamic State group, al Qaeda, and its ilk—a fight like the one against the former Soviet Union—against a new enemy he said is  “committed to the destruction of freedom and the American way of life.”

“There is no substitute, none, for American power,” the general said, to occasional cheers and ultimately a standing ovation from a crowd of special operators and intelligence officers at a Washington industry conference.

He also slammed the administration for refusing to use the term “Islamic militants” in its description of ISIS and al Qaeda.

“You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists,” Flynn said.

He said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy.

“There are many sincere people in our government who frankly are paralyzed by this complexity,” said Flynn, so they “accept a defensive posture, reasoning that passivity is less likely to provoke our enemies.”

Flynn refused to name President Obama as the focus of his ire in comments afterward to The Daily Beast, saying that he was simply “sending a message to the American people.” But the comments show the widening rift between some in the national-security community who want to see more special-operations and intelligence assets sent into the fight against ISIS and other groups in Syria and beyond.

Flynn’s comments echo calls by other former Obama administration officials like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who all say they urged more intervention earlier in the Syrian conflict.

Flynn left his DIA post in the summer of 2014, with close associates muttering about his frustration with the Obama White House’s inaction against al Qaeda, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, and more. Since his departure, he has been speaking to business executives and contemplating several offers from corporate America and academia, but has stayed mum about why he left his DIA post earlier than planned.

Within the shadowy world of special operations-driven intelligence, Flynn developed a reputation for bluntly speaking his mind, working for Gen. Stanley McChrystal at the elite Joint Special Operations Command and later serving as McChrystal’s intelligence chief in Afghanistan before McChrystal had his own run-in with the Obama administration for impolitic remarks in Rolling Stonemagazine.

Flynn caused controversy during his Afghan stint when he went outside military channels to a think tank, publishing a monograph called Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan. That broadside was maligned for the delivery method but widely praised for its message—that traditional military-intelligence practitioners were too focused on targeting the enemy rather than understanding the cultural and economic environment driving the enemy to fight.

In this latest critique, Flynn accused the administration of failing to understand what drives ISIS or al Qaeda.

“They want us to think that our challenge is dealing with an undefined set of violent extremists or merely lone-wolf actors with no ideology or network. But that’s just not the straight truth,” said Flynn. “Our adversaries around the world are self-described Islamic militants—they say,” he told the crowd at the annual National Defense Industry Association’s special-operations meeting. There were many nods of approval.

The current head of Special Operations Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, was more circumspect in comments to the same audience about whether or not the United States “should be” expanding the fight against Islamic militancy.

“The bigger issue is whether we are allowed to do that,” Votel said, measuring his words carefully. The famously reticent U.S. Army Ranger—who just came from leading the shadowy and elite Joint Special Operations Command—said the issue “falls into the realm of uncomfortable topics” he has to bring up with the administration.

Votel described the foreign-fighter flow into the Middle East in support of ISIS as “staggering,” adding that “over 19,000 foreign fighters from more than 90 different countries have traveled to Syria and Iraq.”

Flynn described the enemies arrayed against the U.S. as varied, but “fueled by a vision for worldwide domination, achieved through violence and bloodshed. They want to silence all opposition. They hate our ideals and they hate our way of life.”

In the fight against militant extremism, Flynn said the problem is so sweeping, the world should create a “single unified and international chain of command, probably civilian-led,” like the coalition championed by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. He made further references to former President Ronald Reagan’s all-out war against the Soviet Union, not only outfighting them in proxy wars, but outspending them and outthinking them in terms of fighting their ideology.

Flynn said that since 1960 there had been more than 30 insurgencies, conflicts, and wars, “and in two-thirds of these cases, the bad guys won.”

“A strong defense is the best deterrent,” against such fights, he said, adding that, “the dangers to the U.S. do not arise from the arrogance of American power, but from unpreparedness or an excessive unwillingness to fight when fighting is necessary.”

“Retreat, retrenchment, and disarmament are historically a recipe for disaster,” he added, making reference to budget cuts and troop drawdowns faced by the current military as the Obama administration attempts to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan, as it did in Iraq before sending small numbers of trainers and advisers to assist the government there in the current crisis brought on by the territorial gains of ISIS.

The White House did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Flynn’s remarks.

Barack Al Qaeda

Published on Jan 27, 2015 by Wild Bill for America

Who’s side is Mr. Obama on? Shameful that the evidence goes against him.

Also see:

Exclusive: Freed Al Qaeda Agent Was Part of Proposed Swap for Jailed Americans

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The Daily Beast, by Shane Harris and James Kirchick, Jan. 25, 2015
An American couple’s freedom may have come at a steep price: the release of a convicted terrorist from Supermax prison.
Before he was released from a U.S. maximum-security prison last week, a confessed al Qaeda sleeper agent was offered up in a potential prisoner swap that would have freed two Americans held abroad.

The Daily Beast has learned that the proposal was floated in July 2014 to the then-U.S. ambassador in Qatar by an individual acting on behalf of that country’s attorney general. According to two individuals with direct knowledge of the case, the proposition was made shortly after the Obama administration traded fiveTaliban fighters for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those fighters were also sent to Qatar, where they’re to remain under government watch until later this year. U.S. officials have said they’re at risk of plotting further attacks against the United States.

The proposed swap involving the al Qaeda agent, Ali Saleh Al-Marri, raises troubling questions about whether the Bergdahl trade opened a kind of Pandora’s box, signaling to foreign governments that they can pressure the United States to make concessions on terrorism by trading American prisoners abroad for dangerous extremists held in the United States.

“I believe we must examine the administration’s decision in the case of Al-Marri and determine if his release is connected to negotiations of any kind,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, a frequent critic of the Obama administration’s hostage negotiations, wrote Thursday in a letter to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the House Armed Services Committee chairman, obtained by The Daily Beast.

Governments’ hostage negotiations policies are once again taking center stage after ISIS released a photograph Saturday showing the apparent beheading of Haruna Yukawa, one of two Japanese men the group is holding. Unexpectedly, ISIS has now dropped an earlier demand of $200 million ransom and says it will free the remaining hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, in exchange for the release of Sajida Mubarak al-Rishawi, a failed suicide bomber who’s imprisoned in Jordan for her role in an attack on three hotels in Amman in 2005, which killed 60 people.
ISIS has made other demands for freeing prisoners, including a Pakistani woman held in the United Sates, Aafia Siddiqui, known in counterterrorism circles as “Lady Al Qaeda,” who was convicted in 2010 of attempting to kill Americans in Afghanistan. Siddiqui has been used as a bargaining chip in other negotiations, as well. In 2012, Pakistani officials offered to try and win the release of Bergdahl if the United States would free Siddiqui. The Obama administration quickly rejected the idea because releasing her would be seen as offering concessions to terrorist groups and put a potentially dangerous woman back on the streets, according to current and former administration officials.

In his letter, Hunter accused the administration of failing to pursue other avenues for freeing Americans abroad and relying on prisoner releases or exchanges, “which are often counter to U.S. security interests, for leverage in negotiations.” The congressman also alluded to other potential swaps, saying it’s his understanding that “other foreign nationals” who are still in U.S. custody “have also been named as potential figures of interest in other cases, with Qatar at the forefront.”

Tara Todras-Whitehill/The New York Times, via Redux

Tara Todras-Whitehill/The New York Times, via Redux

Qatar has emerged as a go-between in various hostage negotiations. It agreed to take custody of the five Taliban fighters for a period of one year after Bergdahl’s release. And sources close to efforts to free other Americans held abroad said that Qatar facilitated a ransom payment to help free journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was held for two years by al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

Hunter helped spur the administration to review its hostage negotiation policy, which is widely seen by experts and family members of Americans held abroad as dysfunctional.

Read more 

***

ISIS Demands Hostage Swap, WH CoS Assures ‘We Don’t Negotiate With Hateful Characters’

Yemen in chaos as U.S. warships move into position to evacuate embassy

American Thinker, by Rick Moran, Jan. 21, 2015:

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who overran the capital Saana three months ago, have now taken possession of the presidential residence and hold the enfeebled leader, Abd-Rabbu Mansour, a virtual hostage.

We welcome another Shia state to the Middle East, courtesy of American policy (or, in this case, a lack thereof).

Yemen?  You know, the country harboring al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  If that organization sounds vaguely familiar, could be because they were the terrorists who have claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

And now, with Yemen a failed state in all but name, AQAP will be left relatively alone – with the exception of a U.S. drone strike now and again – to carry out whatever deadly plans they’ve made to attack the west.

The situation is so bad that the U.S. has moved warships closer to Yemen in order to evacuate embassy personnel should the need arise:

So far, there has been no decision to evacuate the embassy. The USS Iwo Jima and the USS Fort McHenry were moved “because they will be in the best position if asked,” by the State Department to evacuate the embassy, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the planning tells CNN. So far there has been decision to evacuate the embassy, and no request from the State Department for military assistance.

If an evacuation is ordered, the first option would be to have embassy personnel drive to the commercial airport in Sanaa and fly out, the official said. But in the wake of an embassy car being fired Tuesday, the safety of the roads in the capital is now being constantly evaluated, the official said. If embassy workers did drive to the airport it is likely some sort of air cover would be provided, under the current plan.

Other detailed military planning for various options has been finalized, the official said. Those options would be used if a request for military assistance were made.

What do the Houthis want?  The minority tribe wants power – and lots of it:

After clashes at the president’s office and home on Tuesday, the Houthis’ leader threatened in a speech overnight to take further “measures” unless Hadi bows to his demand for constitutional changes that would increase Houthi power.

By early morning on Wednesday, Houthi fighters, accompanied by an armored vehicle, had replaced the guards at the president’s residence. Presidential guard sentry posts were initially empty, however a few guards later appeared and were permitted to take up positions.

“President Hadi is still in his home. There is no problem, he can leave,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo, told Reuters.

Yemeni military sources said the Houthis also seized the military aviation college located close to Hadi’s home, and the main missile base in Sanaa, without a fight.

In the south of the country, Hadi’s home region, local officials denounced what they called a coup against him and shut the air and sea ports of the south’s main city, Aden.

Yemen, an impoverished nation of 25 million, has been plagued by Islamist insurgency, separatist conflict, sectarian strife and economic crisis for years. An “Arab Spring” popular uprising in 2011 led to the downfall of long-ruling President Ali Abdullah Saleh, bringing more chaos.

The Houthis, rebels from the north drawn from a large Shi’ite minority that ruled a 1,000-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, stormed into the capital in September but had mostly held back from directly challenging Hadi until last week, when they detained his chief of staff.

They accuse the president of seeking to bypass a power-sharing deal signed when they seized Sanaa in September, and say they are also working to protect state institutions from corrupt civil servants and officers trying to plunder state property.

The president couldn’t find the time in his State of the Union speech to mention Yemen – or just about any other foreign crisis precipitated by his incompetent leadership.  The liberal Guardian noticed the absence of foreign policy references, too:

Despite punishing US-led economic retaliation that Obama said left Moscow’s economy “in tatters”, Russia remains in Ukraine. Domestic opposition to closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility is growing. Congress is eager to destroy any nuclear deal Obama might reach with Iran, though a deal continues to be elusive, and Obama rejoinders with a vow to veto new sanctions. Just hours before the speech, Houthi rebels in Yemen assaulted the compound of one of Obama’s most critical counter-terrorism clients, Yemen president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, even as Obama has called Yemen a counter-terrorism model to export. Bashar al-Assad remains the dictator of Syria, though confusion reigns over whether his ouster remains US policy, and Obama’s policy of “supporting a moderate opposition” in Syria is barely off the ground. Obama barely referenced al-Qaida, even as his global counter-terrorism strikes persist. Libya, the scene of his claimed 2011 triumph, is a shambles. Notably, his speech did not unveil any new foreign initiatives.

Obama thinks that by ignoring foreign crises, people will forget how badly he’s botched things up.  There’s probably some truth to that; Americans are notoriously insular and care about foreign policy only when we have soldiers in harm’s way.

But we are likely to wake up sometime in the near future and realize that the threat against Americans is at our doorstep, and the president has done precious little to prevent that.

Also see:

Uprising in Yemen Fans U.S. Concerns

 

By MARIA ABI-HABIB and HAKIM ALMASMARI

SAN’A, Yemen—A militia group demanding a greater say over Yemen’s new constitution took over the presidential palace here Tuesday, sparking fresh concerns about a country that has become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.

The offensive in San’a by the Houthis—a group that represents the country’s Zaidi sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam—followed its capture hours earlier of the nearby headquarters of Yemen’s presidential guard. In September, it forced the government to resign after occupying the capital.

The whereabouts of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi were unknown, as was the number of casualties. The U.S. has depended upon Mr. Hadi in its efforts to keep al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, in check. While the Houthis are also battling AQAP, the instability of an increasingly important counterterror ally is stoking U.S. worries.

The Houthis’ takeover of the key government installations comes as a cease fire and talks between the government and the group over a power-sharing deal broke down on Tuesday.

The rebels took dozens of hostages among the country’s U.S.-trained special forces and seized heavy artillery and Russian-made tanks, government officials said.

WO-AV193_YEMENm_16U_20150120112114By Tuesday night, militia leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi addressed the nation in a televised speech, listing four demands that would give the Houthis more of a political voice. He also chided the U.S.-backed national security forces for their inability to counter the al Qaeda forces that are spreading across Yemen, listing as his final demand that the military step up its fight against the AQAP.

In his speech, Mr. Houthi assured the country that a coup wasn’t immediately in the works.

“Our movement is not going to uproot any political powers. We are here to serve the country and not target the Yemeni people,” Mr. Houthi said. “Our escalation will go slow if they start implementing the [unapproved] deal. If not, all options are open.…We move in studied steps. We do not want the country to collapse.”

The U.S. has provided Yemen with nearly $1 billion in economic, military and humanitarian aid since 2011, and the country has played an important role in U.S. counterterror strategy. Dozens of American airstrikes have targeted the leadership and training camps of AQAP since 2009.

Despite some early success by the U.S. campaign, Yemen-based AQAP has remained resilient and even enjoyed a resurgence across Yemen last year. Even though they are fierce enemies of AQAP’s Sunni extremists, the Houthis oppose the U.S. military program.

AQAP claimed responsibility for the attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris this month. It is considered to be the al Qaeda arm that is most capable of launching global attacks, U.S. officials say.

U.S. intelligence and other government officials on Tuesday expressed grave concern about the unfolding situation. The U.S. military is preparing for a possible evacuation of Americans from Yemen if asked by the State Department.

The U.S. has urged calm and criticized the gradual Houthi takeover of the capital. But it has also benefited from the militia’s appetite to battle AQAP. Last fall, the militia uprooted AQAP from its longtime stronghold in the southern city of Rada, in Baydah province.

The Obama administration’s primary policy in Yemen is to stabilize Mr. Hadi’s government. But there is a growing fear in Washington that his government might not be salvageable and that the U.S. could face one of two stark realities: a Houthi government closely aligned with Iran or al Qaeda gaining strength in Yemen.

Read more at WSJ

GENERALS CONCLUDE OBAMA BACKED AL-QAIDA

obama-hillary-coffins-benghazi3WND, by Jerome Corsi, Jan. 19, 2015:

NEW YORK – The Obama White House and the State Department under the management of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “changed sides in the war on terror” in 2011 by implementing a policy of facilitating the delivery of weapons to the al-Qaida-dominated rebel militias in Libya attempting to oust Moammar Gadhafi from power, the Citizens Commission on Benghazi concluded in its interim report.

In WND interviews, several members of the commission have disclosed their finding that the mission of Christopher Stevens, prior to the fall of Gadhafi and during Stevens’ time as U.S. ambassador, was the management of a secret gun-running program operated out of the Benghazi compound.

The Obama administration’s gun-running project in Libya, much like the “fast and furious” program under Eric Holder’s Justice Department, operated without seeking or obtaining authorization by Congress.

WND reported Monday that in exclusive interviews conducted with 11 of the 17 members of the commission, it is clear that while the CCB is still enthusiastic to work with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and hopeful that Boehner is serious about the investigation, various members of the CCB, speaking on their own behalf and not as spokesmen for the commission, are expressing concerns, wanting to make sure the Gowdy investigation is not compromised by elements within the GOP.

The Citizen’s Commission on Benghazi’s interim report, in a paragraph titled “Changing sides in the War on Terror,” alleges “the U.S. was fully aware of and facilitating the delivery of weapons to the Al Qaeda-dominated rebel militias throughout the 2011 rebellion.”

The report asserted the jihadist agenda of AQIM, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and other Islamic terror groups represented among the rebel forces was well known to U.S. officials responsible for Libya policy.

“The rebels made no secret of their Al Qaeda affiliation, openly flying and speaking in front of the black flag of Islamic jihad, according to author John Rosenthal and multiple media reports,” the interim report said. “And yet, the White House and senior Congressional members deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress Al Qaeda.”

The report concluded: “The result in Libya, across much of North Africa, and beyond has been utter chaos, disruption of Libya’s oil industry, the spread of dangerous weapons (including surface-to-air missiles), and the empowerment of jihadist organizations like Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Christopher Stevens: ’1st U.S. envoy to al-Qaida’

In the WND interviews, several members of the citizens’ commission, speaking for themselves, not for the commission, added important background to the interim report’s conclusion.

“In early 2011, before Gadhafi was deposed, Christopher Stevens came to Benghazi in a cargo ship, and his title at the time was envoy to the Libyan rebels,’ which basically means Christopher Stevens was America’s very first envoy to al-Qaida,” explained Clare Lopez, a member of the commission who served as a career operations officer with the CIA and current is vice president for research at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy.

“At that time, Stevens was facilitating the delivery of weapons to the al-Qaida-related militia in Libya,” Lopez continued. “The weapons were produced at factories in Eastern Europe and shipped to a logistics hub in Qatar. The weapons were financed by the UAE and delivered via Qatar mostly on ships, with some possibly on airplanes, for delivery to Benghazi. The weapons were small arms, including Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and lots of ammunition.”

Lopez further explained that during the period of time when Stevens was facilitating the delivery of weapons to the al-Qaida-affiliated militia in Libya, he was living in the facility that was later designated the Special Mission Compound in Benghazi.

“This was about weapons going into Libya, and Stevens is coordinating with Abdelhakim Belhadj, the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, other al-Qaida-affiliated militia leaders and leaders of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood that directed the rebellion against Qadhafi as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,” Lopez said. “Many of the individual members of the al-Qaida-related militias, including the LIFG, and the groups that would later become Ansar Al-Sharia, were Muslim Brotherhood members first.”

According to the interim report, as detailed by Lopez, a delegation from the UAE traveled to Libya after the fall of Gadhafi to collect payment for the weapons the UAE had financed and that Qatar had delivered to the Transitional National Council in Libya during the war.

“The UAE delegation was seeking $1 billion it claimed was owed,” the interim report noted. “During their visit to Tripoli, the UAE officials discovered that half of the $1 billion worth of weapons it had financed for the rebels had, in fact, been diverted by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the Muslim Brotherhood head of the Libyan TNC, and sold to Qaddafi.”

According to information discovered during the UAE visit to Tripoli, when Jalil learned that Maj. Gen. Abdel Fatah Younis, Gadhafi’s former minister of the interior before his late February 2011 defection to the rebel forces, had found out about the weapons diversion and the $500 million payment from Gadhafi, Jalil ordered Abu Salim Abu Khattala, leader of the Abu Obeida Bin al-Jarrah brigade to kill Younis.

“Abu Khattala, later identified as a Ansar al- Shariah commander who participated in the 11 September 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, accepted the orders and directed the killing of Gen. Younis in July 2011,” the interim report noted.

Abu Khattala is currently in custody in New York awaiting trial under a Department of Justice-sealed indictment, after U.S. Delta Force special operations personnel captured him over the weekend of June 14-15, 2014, in a covert mission in Libya. Abu Khattala’s brigade merged into Ansar al-Shariah in 2012, and he was positively identified to the FBI in a cell phone photo from the scene of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

The language of the interim report made clear why the sequence of events is important.

“The key significance of this episode is the demonstration of a military chain-of-command relationship between the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood leadership of the TNC and the Al Qaeda-affiliated militia (Ansar al-Shariah) that has been named responsible for the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi,” the interim Rreport concluded.

“What we have here is the Muslim Brotherhood leadership of the revolution giving a kill order to a Muslim militia affiliated with al-Qaida, which then carried it out,” Lopez summarized. “This chain-of-command link is important even though it has not yet received enough attention in the media.

A big ‘oh no’ moment

“After Gadhafi is deposed and Stevens was appointed U.S. ambassador to Libya, the flow of weapons reverses,” Lopez noted. “Now Stevens has the job of overseeing the shipment of arms from Libya to Syria to arm the rebels fighting Assad, some of whom ultimately become al-Nusra in Syria and some become ISIS.”

Lopez distinguished that “al-Nusra in Syria still claims allegiance to al-Qaida, while ISIS has broken away from al-Qaida, not because ISIS is too violent, but out of insubordination, after Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, wanted to run his own show inside Syria as well as Iraq, thereby disobeying orders from al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri.”

She noted that in this period of time, after the fall of Gadhafi and before the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the Benghazi compound, Stevens was working with Turkey to ship weapons out of Libya into Syria for the use of the rebels fighting Assad.

According to the authors of the bestselling book “13 Hours,” on Sept. 11, 2012, before the attack on the Benghazi compound started, Stevens had dinner with Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin. Stevens reportedly escorted the Turkish diplomat outside the main gate of the Benghazi compound to say good-bye to Akin at approximately 7:40 p.m. local time, before he returned to Villa C to retire for the evening.

Kevin Shipp, a former CIA counterintelligence expert who worked on the seventh floor at Langley as protective staff to then-CIA Director William Casey, again speaking for himself in his interview with WND, agreed with Lopez that the gun-running operation Stevens managed is a secret the Obama White House and Clinton State Department have sought to suppress from the public.

“The shocking part, maybe even a violation of international law that the Obama administration has been terrified to have fully revealed, is that Stevens as part of his duties as a State Department employee was assisting in the shipment of arms first into Libya for the al-Qaida-affiliated militia, with the weapons shipped subsequently out of Libya into Syria for use by the al-Qaida-affiliated rebels fighting Assad,” Shipp told WND.

“Very possibly, these gun-running activities could be looked at even as treasonable offenses,” he said.

Shipp further noted that in gun-running operations in which the CIA wants deniability, the CIA generally involves a third party.

“The way the CIA works is through a ‘cut-out,’ in that you get Qatar to transport the weapons and you facilitate the transport. So now the third party is to blame,” he explained.

“Qatar probably would have been able to pull this off without any attribution to the CIA if the Benghazi attack had not happened. The attack basically shed the light on this operation the White House, the State Department and the CIA were trying to keep quiet,” he said.

“The attack on Benghazi was a big ‘oh no’ moment.”

Analysis: Former al Qaeda operative freed, sent home to Qatar

By

Editor’s Note: For more on Qatar’s track record in fighting terrorism, see Dr. Weinberg’s report for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance, Qatar and Terror Finance, Part 1: Negligence.

972_ali_almarri_2050081722-7128Ali Saleh Kahlah al Marri, an admitted former al Qaeda operative, has been released from a American jail and permitted to return home to Qatar.

No formal statement has been released yet by either government, but it is being reported that al Marri’s release was the result of a bilateral agreement between the Qatari and American governments. According to the US Bureau of Prisons, a prisoner with the same name and estimated age (ID number 12194-026) was freed on Friday.

Additionally, a source from al Marri’s family told the Qatari press he was recently released and arrived in Doha Saturday. Soon afterwards, the story was confirmed by Agence France Presse (AFP), which spoke to al Marri’s nephew.

This followed statements by two of his former attorneys that he was expected to be released within days. And photographs have been posted on social media that reportedly show al Marri coming home to his children for the first time in over a decade. A Kuwaiti newspaper posted video of a man identified as al Marri at the airport in Doha bumping noses with male relatives and kissing his mother’s feet.

An al Qaeda sleeper agent

Ali Saleh Kahlah al Marri was at one point the only enemy combatant detained on US soil. According to the terms of a plea deal he accepted in 2009, al Marri “was instructed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to enter the United States no later than September 10, 2001″ and to await further instructions. Mohammed, also known as KSM, was serving at the time as the chief of al Qaeda’s external operations and is considered the mastermind of 9/11 attacks. According to the FBI in 2009, “Ali al-Marri was an al-Qaeda ‘sleeper’ operative working on U.S. soil.”

President George W. Bush indicated that the US intelligence community believes al Marri discussed various targets with KSM, including “water reservoirs, the New York Stock Exchange, and United States military academies.” Bush also described him as “a present and grave danger to US national security.”

The plea bargain accepted by al Marri acknowledged that his computer’s search history included research on “various cyanide substances” according to “the method taught by al Qaeda for manufacturing cyanide gas,” as well as research on “dams, waterways and tunnels in the United States, which is also consistent with al Qaeda attack planning regarding the use of cyanide gases”. The plea deal also noted that “between 1998 and 2001″ he “attended various training camps because he wished to engage in jihad”.

In other court documents, US officials alleged that KSM chose al Marri to be an al Qaeda sleeper agent because he had a family and would therefore be less likely to attract suspicion. He was pulled over in a routine traffic stop two days after 9/11 when a police officer saw al Marri’s son standing up in the moving car’s back seat.

Al Marri was then briefly arrested on an old warrant for driving under the influence and raised authorities’ suspicions when he paid his $300 bail out of a briefcase full of bundles of hundred dollar bills. Al Marri would later acknowledge receiving these funds from an al Qaeda financial facilitator in the United Arab Emirates, Mustafa Hawsawi, whom KSM had instructed him to visit. Soon afterwards, al Marri was detained again when law enforcement officials confirmed a telephone at his home had been used to contact Hawsawi, whom they had already connected to one of the 9/11 hijackers.

Hawsawi was captured alongside KSM in early March 2003 and then held in the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation program before being transferred to Guantanamo, where he remains in detention.

Reason for release unclear

Al Marri’s release seems to be the end result of a process set in motion by President Obama during his first month in office.

Read more at Long War Journal

Al-Qaeda – ISIS Roles in Paris Attack: A New Dangerous Trend?

Amedy Coulibaly, Islamist terrorist who carried out the attack on the kosher market in Paris

Amedy Coulibaly, Islamist terrorist who carried out the attack on the kosher market in Paris

By Ryan Mauro:

***

This is the first time that Al-Qaeda and Islamic State devotees have looked past their leader’s differences so they can work together in a terrorist attack on the West. The question is whether this can spark a trend or whether this is an anomaly attributable to these jihadists’ close relationship that predates the rivalry by years.

Al-Qaeda affiliates have tried to stake out a middle-ground where they endorse the jihad of the Islamic State but not the legitimacy of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Boko Haram in Nigeria has adopted the style of the Islamic State while remaining loyal to Al-Qaeda officially.

Other groups have also tried to position themselves into a more pragmatic grey area. The Clarion Project broke the story about the pro-Islamic State sentiment of the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a powerful Pakistani terror group affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

The leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, has not publicly endorsed the legitimacy of the Islamic State caliphate and he’s criticized the group’s massacres of Muslims. Saeed feels it should target Israel instead. Nonetheless, Saeed has more privately preached in support of the Islamic State.

This may mean that the collaboration between the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly is the actualization of a broader opinion within Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State that sees the leaderships’ rifts as unnecessarily hostile. We have seen no backlash online from the social media accounts of the groups’ supporters over the teaming-up.

The attacks in Paris were more dramatic than any single operation in the West committed by either group on its own in years. That fact will trigger a very serious rethinking among their members about the wisdom of their divisions.

The ramifications of a productive reexamination would be very dangerous.

The immediate impact would be a boost in recruitment and morale, fueled in-part by the understandable anxiety of the Western media as the cooperation is reported. Both groups will feel emboldened by the cooperation and the overall violent Salafist jihad cause they share will gain momentum.

Each side has much to offer the other.

The Islamic State, by definition, is a state with an infrastructure. It is the richest terrorist group on Earth, despite being mostly self-financed, and it is armed to the teeth. It has stronger messaging and online capabilities, exemplified in yesterday’s hackings of the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube page and publishing of American generals’ personal information.

Al-Qaeda has much more experienced operatives, a more expansive international network, relationships with other groups and more public support. Unlike the Islamic State, it has major donors and appears to have a larger network of narcotics smugglers.

Together, they would greatly increase the threat of terrorism inside the West and strengthen each other’s jihads in the Middle East.  The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda are separated geographically except for in Syria, theoretically making a resolution very possible.

Syria is at the heart of the feud between Zawahiri and Baghdadi, but this potential shift could still result in local truces between Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Syria so they can focus on their common Kurdish and Shiite enemies and destroy any Sunni rebels who stand in their way.

Every terrorist in Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State want to follow in the footsteps of Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers. The Paris attacks are the new benchmark. Western intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to be aware of this possible new trend of cooperation between these two lethal groups and to adjust their intelligence-gathering and preventative measures accordingly.

Read more at Clarion Project

Why Paris attacks signal collaboration not competition between Al Qaeda groups

parissuspectsCSP, by Fred Fleitz, Jan. 15, 2025:

Some experts interpreted initial reports that the attacks last week by jihadi gunmen in Paris were conducted on behalf of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as a sign of competition between officially sanctioned Al Qaeda groups and a break-away Al Qaeda franchise, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL).  A video released Wednesday, by the head of AQAP, claiming that it ordered, planned and funded the attack will be interpreted by these experts as consistent with this assessment.

However other information suggests the Paris attacks may actually represent a new and dangerous collaboration between radical Islamist groups.

Two of the gunmen were heard saying said they attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine on behalf of AQAP.  One gunman, Cherif Kouachi, told a French news network that Yemeni-American AQAP official Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011, sent him to France and financed his trip.  An AQAP official also made this claim in a video released overnight.

According to CNN, Said Kouachi, another gunman and Cherif’s brother, spent several months in Yemen in 2011 receiving training from AQAP.

The link to Awlaki is significant since he influenced or directed at least a dozen terrorist attacks and plots, including the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the 2010 printer cartridge bomb plot, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Awlaki recruited and trained terrorist operatives, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber” who attempted to blow up a civilian airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Said Kouachi befriended Abdulmutallab in Yemen and the two lived in the same dormitory.

The links between AQAP and the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office has led some experts to conclude that the Paris attacks were an attempt by Al Qaeda to reclaim the international spotlight from the Islamic State and could reflect a continuing feud between these terrorist groups.  One terrorism analyst said the Paris attacks were a sort of “jihadist olympics” in which Al Qaeda was attempting a “comeback tour” to regain recognition as the world’s radical Islamist “top dog.”

This story became more complicated late last week when one of the Paris gunmen, Amedy Coulilbaly, claimed in a video released after he was killed that he acted on behalf of the Islamic State.  Reports have also surfaced that Cherif and Said Kouachi visited Syria last summer.  Coulilbaly’s wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, who is a suspect in the Paris shootings, fled to Syria early this month.

I believe the conflicting information on the Paris assailants’ terrorist group ties confirms reports of growing collaboration between Al Qaeda groups and the Islamic State and strongly suggests the Paris attacks were not evidence of competition between these groups.

The feud that caused a break between the Islamic State and Al Qaeda began in the spring of 2013 when the al-Nusra Front (the official Al Qaeda franchise in Syria) and Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan opposed an attempt by the Islamic State to merge its organization with al-Nusra.  Some experts believe this was because Al Qaeda and al-Nusra leaders objected to the Islamic State’s brutal tactics.  There appears to be some truth to this explanation since the al-Nusra Front at the time was working closely with and trying to co-opt non-Islamist Syrian rebel fighters.  Moreover, an AQAP leader condemned Islamic State beheadings as un-Islamic.

However, the Islamic State/Al Qaeda split was also driven by personality differences and a struggle for power since Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi refused to take orders from Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.

Despite their differences, the Associated Press reported that the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State agreed during a meeting in November to stop fighting each other and work together against common enemies in Syria.  Jund al-Aqsa, an Islamic State affiliate and the Khorosan Group, an Al Qaeda affiliate, also attended the meeting.  There were some reports that the cooperation agreement was in response to U.S. airstrikes in northern Syria.

Al-Nusra attacks on moderate rebels in northern Syria last November may have been a sign of shifting alliances due to this reported Al Qaeda/Islamic State rapprochement.

I believe collaboration between the Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliated groups probably has been growing over the last year as the Islamic State became known as the world’s most effective and best funded radical Islamist group. There have been reports of Islamist groups in Syria, north Africa, Libya and other areas swearing allegiance to the Islamic State over the last year as well as probable Islamist State-inspired terrorist plots in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Algeria, Lebanon, and other countries.

So if there is cooperation between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to attack Western targets, why would AQAP claim sole responsibility for the Paris attacks?  The most likely reasons are to appeal to Gulf state donors and because Al Qaeda still has a difficult relationship with the Islamic State.

I believe this adds up to a more dangerous threat than rival radical Islamist groups striving to make headlines by staging competing terrorist attacks.  By cooperating, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State can more effectively prepare Islamist terrorists for attacks against Western targets by utilizing multiple training sites, sources of weapons and funding.  Such a wide terrorist support structure may produce better trained terrorists who will be harder to detect Western security services.

The likelihood that the Paris attacks indicate collaboration, not competition, between the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and possibly other radical Islamist groups requires an urgent and coordinated response by the United States and its allies. This response must start with President Obama acknowledging that radical Islam is at war with the West and has redoubled its efforts to use violence to impose its violent Sharia ideology worldwide.

Al Qaeda in Yemen Claims Responsibility for Charlie Hebdo Attack

BEIRUT—A senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch claimed responsibility for last week’s attacks on French weekly Charlie Hebdo in a video statement Wednesday, saying the organization financed and planned the operation.

Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi claimed al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula planned the attacks with brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi.

AQAP’s leadership had targeted Charlie Hebdo’s top editor for the magazine’s satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, publishing his name and photograph.

The leadership of AQAP “chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation,” Mr. Ansi said in the 11-minute video, adding that AQAP “claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah,” referring to the Prophet Muhammad.”

Former neighbors and Yemeni officials say Said, the older of the two Kouachi brothers,spent close to two years in Yemen. His younger brother Chérif also spent time in Yemen in 2011, according to U.S. and French officials.

In Yemen, Said befriended Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab , who was convicted in the U.S. on terrorism offenses after trying to detonate explosives given to him by AQAP and hidden in his underwear on a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day of 2009.

The AQAP statement praised the attacks on Charlie Hebdo for coinciding with a separate operation by Amedy Coulibaly that killed a policewoman and four civilians at a kosher grocery store in Paris. AQAP didn’t take responsibility for Mr. Coulibaly’s attacks.

A video circulated Sunday appeared to show Mr. Coulibaly pledging allegiance to Islamic State and its self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Bahdadi. Islamic State and al Qaeda arelocked in a battle for supremacy in the jihadist movement.

In the video, the man who appears to be Mr. Coulibaly describes Chérif Kouachi as part of the same team, and said he had lent him a few thousand euros to attack the magazine.

Last week’s attack has turned Charlie Hebdo into a world symbol of freedom of expression. Distributors said Wednesday they are expanding the print run of the first issue since the attacks to as many as 5 million copies following heavy demand.

The issue puts a caricature of Muhammad on the cover, holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” the slogan of solidarity that has spread around the world.

Write to Maria Abi-Habib at maria.habib@wsj.com