French intelligence fears Islamist ‘missile strike on airliner’ or 9/11-style attack

French security forces are bracing for the eventuality of civil unrest (file photo) Photo: Alamy

French security forces are bracing for the eventuality of civil unrest (file photo) Photo: Alamy

Telegraph, by Henry Samuel and David Chazan, Aug. 27, 2015:

French security forces are bracing for the eventuality of civil unrest and fear there could be a missile strike on a passenger airliner or a September 11-style attack, according to sources close to French intelligence.

“Airlines have been warned of a possible attack on a plane with an anti-tank missile,” a source told The Telegraph. “But pilots are unsure how to take evasive action.”

After Friday’s thwarted attempt to massacre passengers on an Amsterdam-Paris train and a series of terrorist attacks and attempted killings in France this year, President François Hollande warned the nation to prepare for more violence, considered inevitable as the Islamist threat grows.

The army has made contingency plans for the “reappropriation of national territory”, meaning to win back control of neighbourhoods where the population become hostile to the security forces and where guns are easily obtainable, according to the source.

“There are a lot of alienated and angry fourth-generation immigrant kids in the suburbs and the prospect of radicalisation is increasingly likely,” the source said.

“The idea that attacks like the one on the train are carried out by individuals acting on their own is not credible. We’re dealing with highly-organised networks of militant Islamists embarked on a campaign of violence and determined to intensify it.”

Kalashnikov automatic rifles — used by the train gunman and Islamist terrorists who killed 17 people in Paris in January — and anti-tank missiles are now obtainable in France. Many were smuggled in from the former Yugoslavia after the Balkan wars in the 1990s. More weapons have come in from Libya, the sources said, adding that organised crime and terrorist groups were working together to procure them.

“We don’t know what happened to the arms we (France) to Libyan rebels. It’s worrying,” the source said.

In the chaos following the fall of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, French officials described the north African country as an “open-air arms market”. In 2011, France admitted to sending “light weapons” to Libyan rebels in 2011, but French media reported that consignments of heavier arms, including European-made Milan anti-tank missiles were also sent.

There were fears that Isil, al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups were procuring heavy weapons from the stocks of Gaddafi’s former army, and that rebel groups were losing control of their own arms.

As early as 2010, an anti-tank missile was seized by police along with several tons of cannabis. Since then, an unknown number of rocket-propelled grenades and missiles are believed to have been smuggled into the country.

A missile attack could be devastating for an airliner, particularly if the plane was taking off and full of fuel. The main Paris airport at Roissy is near drug-infested suburbs of the capital prone to violence.

Agents of the DGSI, France’s equivalent of MI5, warned they are powerless to improve surveillance of Islamist militants bent on losing their lives to cause maximum carnage, and have been “lucky” to have avoided far worse catastrophes since the Paris Islamist attacks in January that killed 17, Le Canard Enchaîné, the investigative and satirical weekly, reported.

An agent told the newspaper there were fears of “an upcoming 11 September à la française where (intelligence) services are mere spectators”.

Luck rather than judgment had allayed larger-scale strikes, another is cited as saying.

“We’ve been lucky. Passengers in a train who neutralise a suspect, another who shoots himself in the foot then calls the emergency services, and a third who fails to blow up a chemical factory; without these fortuitous turns of events, the human and material toll would have been much higher. And we wouldn’t have been able to change a thing,” he told the weekly.

“The truth is we’ve already tried everything. But we’ve reached the very limits of what we are able to do as much from a legislative and organisational as a financial point of view.”

European transport ministers are due to discuss more “systematic and coordinated” security checks across the continent in a meeting in Paris on Saturday, Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister announced on Wednesday.

“We must examine whether we can implement a system that allows for more systematic checks in airports, in public transport, in a more coordinated way,” he told France Inter radio.

Also see:

Explosive accusations against Turkey are exposing a major problem for Obama

REUTERS/Jason Reed

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Business Insider, by NATASHA BERTRAND AND MICHAEL B KELLEY, Aug. 25, 2015:

US-trained rebels allege that Turkish intelligence tipped off Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front and orchestrated the kidnapping of US-trained rebels entering Syria, Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy reports.

Though experts immediately advised skepticism of the accusations, the situation typifies the contradictory priorities in the faltering partnership between the US and Turkey against ISIS in Syria.

“All of this speaks to a bigger issue of how Turkey is perceived to have been nurturing the Islamist side of the Syrian insurgency at the expense of Syrian nationalists,” Aaron Stein, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider.

The US began training a small group of Syrian rebels known as the New Syria Force, or NSF, in early May, on the condition that they focus solely on combating ISIS while refraining from going after forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his allies.

The program was intended to graduate as many as 2,000 moderate Syrian opposition forces, but only 54 have completed the program so far. In July, the Pentagon’s sent the first NSF graduates, known as Division 30, into Syria to fight ISIS.

The initiative failed spectacularly when the group was attacked by al-Nusra Front, the branch of Al Qaeda operating in Syria, immediately after it entered the country. The Division 30 Syria headquarters was subsequently bombed by Assad’s warplanes.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

The US-backed rebels now claim that Turkish intelligence leaked information about the NSF’s arrival plans in Syria to al-Nusra. And a Turkish official told McClatchy that the leak would humiliate the Obama administration and push the US to go after both ISIS and Assad’s regime.

But some analysts quickly noted that a leak wasn’t necessary.

“The group itself had advertised its entry into Syria on social media, and it was well known that they were entering through Turkey,” Stein said.

Nevertheless, the accusations underscore Turkey’s alliances with rebel groups — specifically Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra — that the US opposes.

A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

A member of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

“Our research has long pointed to a closer Turkish relationship to Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra than to IS. In that sense, this is not surprising,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider by email.

Stein has previously written about how Turkey “eventually reached out directly to al-Nusra, believing that the rebel group would be useful in achieving its ultimate goal: the overthrow of Assad.”

“Turkey also believed that it could potentially moderate the group and that al-Nusra would be good to work with as a ‘Syrian group’ fighting against the regime for the future of all Syrians,” he added.

The country has even closer ties to Ahrar, which is one of Syria’s largest rebel groups and the one with the most Turkish citizens. And although Ahrar is linked to Nusra, its stated political project is focused on toppling the Assad regime and establishing an Islamic state in Syria.

Read more 

***

FDD VP for Research Jonathan Schanzer discusses Turkey and the growing threat from ISIS. – The John Batchelor Show (Syndicated) – August 20, 2015

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

twitter

twitter

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.

ISIS ‘Mein Kampf’ Blames Israel for Global Terrorism

Islamic State promoting and "end of the world" battle. (Photo : Google Commons)

Islamic State promoting and “end of the world” battle. (Photo : Google Commons)

Experts poring over secret Islamic State dossier found in Pakistan’s tribal badlands; Arutz Sheva gains an exclusive look.

Arutz Sheva, By Sara A. Carter, American Media Institute, 8/16/15:

Intelligence officials are comparing a newly discovered secret Islamic State document to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” as it blames Israel for the rise of the Islamic State and crowns U.S. President Barack Obama as the “Mule of the Jews.”

Found in Pakistan’s remote tribal region by American Media Institute (AMI), the 32-page Urdu language document promotes an “end of the world” battle as a final solution. It argues that the Islamic leader should be recognized as the sole ruler of the world’s 1 billion Muslims, under a religious empire called a “caliphate.”

“It reads like the caliphate’s own Mein Kampf,” said a U.S. intelligence official, who reviewed the document. “While the world is watching videos of beheadings and crucifixions in Iraq and Syria the Islamic State is moving into North Africa the Middle East, and now we see it has a strategy in South Asia. It’s a magician’s trick, watch this hand and you’ll never see what the other is doing.”

Retired U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Michael Flynn and other U.S. intelligence officials confirmed the authenticity of the document based on its unique markings, specific language used to describe leaders and the writing style and religious wording that matched other Islamic State records.

Flynn said the undated document, “A Brief History of the Islamic State Caliphate (ISC), The Caliphate According to the Prophet,” is a campaign plan that “lays out their intent, their goals and objectives, a red flag to which we must pay attention.”

The document serves as a Nazi-like recruiting pitch that attempts to unite dozens of factions of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban into a single army of terror.  It includes a never-before-seen history of the Islamic State, details chilling future battle plans and urges al-Qaeda to join Islamic State.

Its tone is direct: “Accept the fact that this caliphate will survive and prosper until it takes over the entire world and beheads every last person that rebels against Allah. This is the bitter truth, swallow it.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal center for human rights who heads Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project, compares the Islamic State threats in the document to the rise of Nazism pre-World War II.

The brutal killing of a teacher and three children at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in 2012 by an Algerian Islamist was a major signal to the Jewish community that Europe was no longer safe and that not enough was being done to curtail the rise of anti-semitism, he said.

“It’s important to remember what our founder, Wiesenthal said, ‘it often starts with the Jews but it never ends with the Jews,” Cooper said. “As a matter fact [Islamic State] did not create anti-semitism but they are taking advantage of it, and they are building on it.”

The document advocates creating a new terrorist army in Afghanistan and Pakistan to trigger a war in India and provoke an Armageddon-like confrontation with the United States. It also details Islamic State’s plot to attack U.S. soldiers as they withdraw from Afghanistan and target America diplomats and Pakistani officials and blames the rise of jihadi organizations on the establishment of Israel.

“No sooner had the British government relinquished control of Israel, Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Jews, declared the independence of the State of Israel, triggering a global migration of Jews to the Jewish State, and launching the systematic persecution of Palestinian Muslims who had to abandon their homes and migrate,” the document states.

The document discloses the history of Islamic State dating back to the early 1990s and explains why in 2011 its leader, Abu Bakr al- Bagdhadi, unleashed car bombs to avenge Osama bin Laden’s death, and boasts about the suicide rates of American soldiers.

“Urban centers across Iraq exploded with car bombs and IED’s. The losses inflicted upon Americans, apostates, and heretics were unprecedented, as were the suicide rates amongst U.S soldiers,” the document states. “This state of affairs forced Mule of the Jews, U.S President Obama to announce an exit plan.”

The battle plan to “end the world” is described in six phases (three of which have already passed) – ripping pages from al-Qaeda’s original plans to defeat the west, in a graphic illustration of how ISIS sees itself as the true heirs to Osama Bin Laden’s legacy.

  • Phase 1 “Awakening” 2000-2003: Islamic State calls for “a major operation against the U.S. .. to provoke a crusade against Islam.”
  • Phase 2 “Shock and Awe” 2004 – 2006: Islamic State will lure U.S. into multiple theatres of war, including cyber-attacks and establish charities across the Muslim and Arab world to support terrorism.
  • Phase 3 “Self-reliance” 2007-2010: Islamic State will create “interference” with Iraq’s neighboring states with particular focus on Syria.
  • Phase 4 “Reaping/extortion/receiving” 2010-2013: Islamic State will attack “U.S and Western interests” to destroy their economy and replace the dollar with silver and gold and expose Muslim governments’ relations with Israel and the U.S.
  • Phase 5 Declaring the Caliphate 2013-2016: Not much details offered here. The document just says, “The Caliphate According to The Prophet.
  • Phase 6, Open Warfare 2017-2020:  Islamic State predicts faith will clash with non-believers and “Allah will grant victory to the believers after which peace will reign on earth.”

The document urges followers of al-Qaeda and the Taliban to join the Islamic State in overthrowing Arab governments who have relations with the U.S. and Israel, unlike al-Qaeda, which believed it was “important to weaken the U.S before launching an armed revolt in Arab states and establishing a caliphate.”

In response to the document, a senior ranking Israeli official said that in the Middle East the world faces two threats – from Islamic State and from Iran. “We need not strengthen one at the expense of the other. We need to weaken both and prevent the aggression and arming of both,” he warned.

Alistair Baskey, deputy spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council said Islamic State is being monitored “closely to see whether their emergence will have a meaningful impact on the threat environment in the region.”

The document builds on evidence that Islamic State is expanding into the region where the September 11 attacks were born. A united Taliban, backed by the hundreds of millions of dollars of Iraqi oil revenue now enjoyed by Islamic State, would be a “game-changer,” officials said.

The document warns that “preparations” for an attack in India are underway and predicts that an attack will provoke an apocalyptic confrontation with America: “Even if the U.S tries to attack with all its allies, which undoubtedly it will, the (entire global Muslim community) will be united, resulting in the final battle.”

A war in India would magnify Islamic State stature and threaten the stability of the region, said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution who served more than 30 years in the CIA. “Attacking in India is the Holy Grail of South Asian jihadists.”

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry denied the presence of Islamic State in the region, calling it only “a potential threat.”

Unlike al-Qaida, whose focus was the United States and other western nations, the document said Islamic State leaders believe that’s the wrong strategic goal. “Instead of wasting energy in a direct confrontation with the U.S., we should focus on an armed uprising in the Arab world for the establishment of the caliphate,” the document said.

The failure to target the radical Islamic ideas has given the group breathing room to spread throughout the world much like Hitler did.

“We did a lousy job predicting what Hitler was going to do in the 1920s, 1930s – honestly, we blew it,” Cooper said. “It’s hard to take seriously or believe that such hatred was real or would be possible. They made jokes about Jews, degraded Jews but nobody believed that they would be capable of what they were saying.  So now, when groups, like [Islamic State] come along and say they are going to do A B and C, you have to take them for their word.”

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

Screen-Shot-2015-08-14-at-7

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 7.51.07 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 8.01.49 AM

“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

mosque-is-original-place-prayer

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.

***

Also see:

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….

***

IS U.S. Going to Be Backed into Airstrikes Against Assad?

Center for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler, August 3, 2015:

The U.S. is now redefining it’s support relationship with “Division 30″, following its embarrassing launch last week.  Several of the U.S. trained Syrian rebels and their commanders were captured by Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra Front just days after the group’s entry into Syria. The U.S. has allocated $500 million for the training effort, which has so far produced approximately 60 fighters.

The attack by Nusra apparently took the U.S. completely by surprise, according to current and former officials interviewed by the New York Times:

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments. The Nusra Front said in a statement on Friday that its aim was to eliminate Division 30 before it could gain a deeper foothold in Syria.

That the attack was not anticipated is a particularly egregious failure, seeing as Al-Nusra has undertaken to co-opt or eliminate every militia in Syria which the U.S. supported. Yet somehow U.S. planners failed to foresee the obvious. Following the attack, the U.S has now announced that it will use airstrikes against any force attacking Division 30, including the Assad regime’s forces. This is a relaxation of a previous more restrictive policy, which was formed under concerns that the rebels would attempt to direct U.S. ordinance against Assad instead of the Islamic State.

The U.S.’s policy towards Islamic State in Syria fails to address the reality that Islamic State is simply not a priority for any other force operating in the Syria except the U.S., its Western allies, and perhaps the Kurdish PKK/YPG. Turkey’s entry into the conflict, celebrated by U.S. policy makers, is almost entirely directed towards damaging the Kurdish PKK and preventing an autonomous or independent Kurdistan in Syria. The Syrian rebel forces, the vast majority of whom are Islamist in orientation, if not, like al Nusra, overtly jihadist, and are focused on Assad, not Islamic State.

What does the U.S. intend to do if, as seems likely, Division 30 forces engage Assad’s forces, either alone, or in coordination with other rebels? Will the U.S. provide airstrikes if Assad’s forces launch a counter offensive? Will it provide air cover to defend Division 30 against Assad’s Air Force? As Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin noted in January, this was not an unforeseen problem.

DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE HIS BACK? PHOTOGRAPHER: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE HIS BACK? PHOTOGRAPHER: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Then consider the deal for the use of Incirlik Airbase, which reportedly required the U.S. agreeing to Turkish effort to establish a “safe zone”,  along the border for Syrian rebels and refugees.

That agreement has been a long time desire of Turkey, Syrian rebels and pro-intervention U.S. lawmakers, and efforts to agitate for a no-fly zone have stepped up again in recent days.And while U.S. sources seek to emphasize the space is intended as an “anti-ISIS” safe zone, the real goal of the Turks and their rebel allies is, and has been since at least 2012,  a zone to shield forces from  Assad, and especially his air assets. In 2013, U.S. officials reportedly could not find a compelling national interest in establishing a no-fly zone over Northern Syria, and it 2014, National Security Advisor Susan Rice described a No Fly Zone or safe zone as “premature” or “a diversion”.

Yet it appears Turkey may now achieve this long-time objective. , thanks in part to the Islamic State.

***

Former Defense Department spokesman, JD Gordon, joins former U.S. Congressman Michael Flanagan, to discuss President Obama’s approval of airstrikes in Syria that could lead to the U.S. taking sides in the Syrian civil war:

Also see:

The funny thing is the Kurds have the numbers, capability and the tenacity needed to defeat IS. So why is it we’re not doing more to support them and why are we still trying to convince ourselves that Turkey is a legitimate “ally?”

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.

U.S.-Funded Free Syrian Army Unit Shows Off Its Kidnapping Skills in New Training Video

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, July 23, 2015:

A training video released today by Liwa Fursan al-Haqq (Knights of Justice Brigade) of the “vetted moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA) opens with the group’s special forces practicing their abduction and kidnapping skills. And yet FSA units, funded, supported and armed by the U.S., have been repeatedly implicated in the abduction and kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Syria.

Here you can see them putting their U.S.-funded training to practice:

vlcsnap-2015-07-23-18h11m41s955

Also shown are critical military skills, such as standing on the back of a motorcycle while shooting two U.S.-funded AK-47s one-handed:

vlcsnap-2015-07-23-18h27m21s069-1024x576

Of course no jihadist training video would be complete without the requisite traversing of the monkey bars:

vlcsnap-2015-07-23-18h23m52s046-1024x576

Or the “Fiery Ring of Death”:

vlcsnap-2015-07-23-18h24m37s471-1024x576

Delta Force and the Navy SEALs have nothing on Liwa Fursan al-Haqq. Yet all three elite units are funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars!

You can watch the whole 10 minute video in all of its glory:

What makes the video of U.S.-funded FSA units being trained in kidnapping and abduction so important to note is that FSA units have repeatedly been implicated in the abduction of American citizens who were later traded to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, as well as the Islamic State.

That would include American journalist James Foley, beheaded by the Islamic State last year in its first such grisly video, who reportedly came into ISIS custody when the FSA-aligned Dawud Brigade that kidnapped and held Foley pledged allegiance to ISIS and delivered him to ISIS as a token of their submission.

That, however, is not the only such documented incident of FSA units abducting Americans.

In late October, American journalist Theo Padnos — who was captured by the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and then given over to Jabhat al-Nusra — told the story of his two-year captivity in the New York Times Magazine.

At one point, Padnos says he escaped from his Al-Qaeda captors and found himself back in the hands of the FSA, who then, again, promptly turned him back over to the terror group.

Padnos also relates this exchange with some U.S.-trained FSA fighters that exposes the glaring weaknesses of the CIA’s vetting system:

I returned to the FSA troops. One told me that his unit had recently traveled to Jordan to receive training from American forces in fighting groups like the Nusra Front.

“Really?” I said. “The Americans? I hope it was good training.”

“Certainly, very,” he replied.

The fighters stared at me. I stared at them.

After a few moments, I asked, “About this business of fighting Jebhat al Nusra?”

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

An NBC News crew taken captive in Syria in December 2012, and who later repeatedly claimed they had been held by an Assad regime militia, later admitted – following a New York Times investigation – that they were in fact held by an FSA criminal network.

Also, there is evidence that NBC News executives knew from the time of the crew’s capture that they were held by U.S. allies, but allowed the blame to fall on Assad since that didn’t conflict with the Obama administration’s position at the time.

The chief Washington D.C. cheerleader for the Syrian rebels, Charles Lister of the Brookings Institution, happily announced the Liwa Fursan Al-Qaqq video release earlier today:

Lister tweet

As I noted back in April here at PJ Media, Lister finally admitted what he and most of the other Western supporters of the Syrian rebels have well known for a long time — that vast majority of Syrian rebel groups have been associated with Jabhat al-Nusra, a fact mostly concealed by the D.C. “smart set”:

This latter alliance with Jabhat al-Nusra has been a consistent facet of insurgent dynamics in Syria, but not only in terms of conservative Salafist groups like Ahrar al-Sham. In fact, while rarely acknowledged explicitly in public, the vast majority of the Syrian insurgency has coordinated closely with Al-Qaeda since mid-2012 – and to great effect on the battlefield. But while this pragmatic management of relationships may have secured opposition military victories against the regime, it has also come at an extraordinary cost. The assimilation of Al-Qaeda into the broader insurgency has discouraged the U.S. and its European allies from more definitively backing the ‘moderate’ opposition. That, by extension, has encouraged the intractability of the conflict we see today and the rise of jihadist factions like Jabhat al-Nusra, IS, and many others.

In fact, it was just a year ago yesterday that Liwa Fursan Al-Haqq announced they were separating from Jabhat al-Nusra. Nusra had been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. in December 2012.

As a result of that separation, that gave the U.S. the go-ahead to begin supplying them with heavy weaponry, such as TOW anti-tank missiles, which you can see them using in the video below:

So the next time that an American citizen finds himself kidnapped by a FSA unit, possibly ending up starring in the Islamic State’s latest beheading video, he can take comfort that his captors have received the best training and received the most advanced weaponry courtesy of his own country’s support.

Your U.S. taxpayer dollars hard at work!

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.

Brookings Goes to Bat for Al Qaeda-linked Group…Again

1720491514 (1)Center for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler, July 15, 2015:

Fresh off their annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum that proved to be a who’s who meeting of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, The Qatari-funded Brookings Institute is once again going to bat for an Al Qaeda-linked group of militants known as Ahrar Al Sham. Author Charles Lister takes the occasion of the publication of an Op-Ed in the Washington Post by Ahrar Al-Sham’s “head of foreign political relations” Labib  al-Nahhas to laud recent Ahrar Al Sham statements of “moderation”:

While clearly being sharply critical of current U.S. policy, Nahhas’ most powerful message was a genuine call for political engagement—“we remain committed to dialogue,” he said. Coming from an armed Islamist group that came close to being designated and whose facilities have been targeted by U.S. aircraft at least once, this call does show an extent of political pragmatism. Ahrar al-Sham has not called for American support one key Ahrar al-Sham decision-maker told me, but instead desires “the chance for a new start, in which we acknowledge the mistakes of the past and make it clear that a political track is possible, but with the right players and the right principles.”

Such engagement in any form does not have to be a prerequisite for the provision of support, but can be merely of value in and of itself. In the case of Ahrar al-Sham specifically, such engagement would not come without its inherent risks, but it may also prove practical in ensuring at the very least that al-Qaida does not come out on top in Syria.

For this reason and others, Ahrar al-Sham’s senior leadership has been managing a gradual process of external political moderation—or some might say maturity—for at least the last 18 months.

That Ahrar Al-Sham is some how moderating, maturing, or distancing itself from Al Qaeda is a bag of goods that Brookings authors have been attempting to sell for some time. In January of last year, Brookings authors Michael Doran and William McCants, together with co-author Clint Watts, published an article calling Ahrar al Sham the “Al Qaeda-linked Group Worth Befriending”.

Lister denigrates evidence that Ahrar Al-Sham was led by an Al Qaeda leader and confidante of Ayman Al-Zawahiri as “a popular claim”, and attempts to pass along the claim by Ahrar Al Sham and other Islamist groups that they only fight alongside the Al Qaeda linked group in order to provide a “subtle counterbalance”.

Lister also quotes one local Syrian rebel describing Ahrar Al Sham  as “too “intellectually close” to the Muslim Brotherhood”, a description which ironically seems to fit Brookings Institute just as well.

Yet even while reminding us that “actions speak louder than words,” Lister doesn’t find fit to mention that Ahrar Al Sham has recently joined yet another coalition together with Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra and other AQ-linked outfits in Syria in order to form Ansar Al Sharia, coincidentally (or not) the same cover name used by Al Qaeda in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

Perhaps the last word on whether or not to take Ahrar Al Sham’s statements of moderation seriously comes from the Al-Qaeda linked group themselves. The group’s military commander Abu Saleh Tahhan recently tweeted in reference to their association with Al Nusra,

“Anyone who thinks we would sell out those close to us in exchange for the approval of strangers is an idiot, anyone who imagines that we would privilege a neighbor over someone from our own home is a fool…”

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

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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.

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