Analysis: Al Qaeda attempts to undermine new Islamic State with old video of Osama bin Laden

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On July 13, Al Qaeda’s As Sahab posted this video of Osama bin Laden from the summer of 2001 on its Twitter feed.

 

On July 13, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab, tweeted a link to an old video of Osama bin Laden. Judging by markers in the video, including bin Laden’s reference to the USS Cole bombing taking place “nine months ago” (al Qaeda attacked the Cole on Oct. 12, 2000), it appears the video was recorded in the middle of 2001.

The first part of bin Laden’s lecture focuses on standard al Qaeda themes, including the war against America. In all likelihood, that is not why al Qaeda posted this particular video of bin Laden now. Instead, al Qaeda is attempting to use the video to counter the Islamic State, which has been disowned by al Qaeda’s senior leadership, and its newly announced caliphate.

“Today, with the grace of Allah, we are redrawing the map of the Islamic world to become one state under the banner of the caliphate,” bin Laden says.

The deceased al Qaeda leader goes on to explain that the Prophet Mohammed found that certain “pillars” were required to build a “strong Islamic State.”

As Sahab is advertising the video of bin Laden with this banner. A similar banner is being featured on a number of jihadist sites, including at the top of the Shumukh al Islam forum.

As Sahab is advertising the video of bin Laden with this banner. A similar banner is being featured on a number of jihadist sites, including at the top of the Shumukh al Islam forum.

“The Prophet spent 13 years in Mecca searching for these pillars: a strong group, obedience and respect, immigration, and jihad,” bin Laden says, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. Mohammed “was on a quest to find these four things,” bin Laden continues. “He wanted to find a strong group that is willing to carry our jihad — those two demands are complementary — and be obedient and respectful. He found these four pillars after 13 years.”

A few sentences later, bin Laden adds: “Those who move from east to west, claiming that they want to establish God’s sharia but do not want to establish the prerequisites and pillars and do not want to tolerate the suffering of finding a group, obeying their leaders, migrating, and carrying out jihad are ignorant and unaware of the Prophet’s doctrine.”

The implied critique of the Islamic State and its announced caliphate, which covers parts of Syria and Iraq, is obvious. When viewed through bin Laden’s testimony, the Islamic State has not built the “pillars” necessary for a caliphate, especially when it comes to “obeying their leaders.”

Indeed, bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, has covered this issue in his messages addressing the Islamic State’s history. As Sahab released two messages from Zawahiri concerning the Islamic State in May. “Listen to and obey your emir once again,” Zawahiri says when addressing Baghdadi in the first message. “Come back to what your sheikhs, emirs, and those who preceded you on the path and immigration of jihad have worked hard for.” In both of his messages in May, Zawahiri builds a case against Baghdadi, showing that the Islamic State’s self-appointed “caliph” was once Zawahiri’s subordinate. Therefore, by accusing Baghdadi of being disobedient towards his leader, Zawahiri was also accusing him of ignoring one of the “pillars” necessary for building a true Islamic State.

Al Qaeda’s charge against Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s group could extend further, given that one of the pillars mentioned by bin Laden requires a jihadist group to be “obedient and respectful.” Other jihadist groups and ideologues whose beliefs are not all that different from the Islamic State’s have repeatedly accused Baghdadi’s group of being disrespectful towards anyone who disagrees with its attempted power grab. The disagreements have even led to vicious infighting between jihadists in Syria.

Bin Laden goes on to recount, in brief, the history of al Qaeda’s relations with the Taliban. The Taliban “allowed us to establish training camps on their land, regardless of all the international pressure against them,” bin Laden says. “They are also helping us in our preparations and training although they know that we are preparing to strike the United States of America.” This statement is interesting because there has long been a debate over how the Taliban viewed such attacks. And this is further evidence that bin Laden was loose-lipped prior to the 9/11 attacks, upsetting some of his co-conspirators who wanted to maintain the utmost secrecy.

An audience member asks bin Laden about his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s emir. And bin Laden’s response likely has bearing on Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s claim to be the rightful caliph.

“My pledge of allegiance to the Emir of the Believers [Mullah Omar] is the great pledge of allegiance, which is mentioned in the chapters of the Koran and the stories of the Sunnah,” bin Laden says. “Every Muslim should set his mind and heart and pledge allegiance to the Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar for this is the great pledge.”

The Islamic State’s announced caliphate attempts to usurp the power and authority of all other jihadist groups, including the Taliban, by demanding that they swear bayat to the new caliph. This has drawn criticism from highly influential jihadist ideologues such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, as well as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Bin Laden argues that Mullah Omar was deserving of such a pledge, and the implication of his testimony is that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is not.

Bin Laden cites Muhammad Bin Abd al Wahhab, the 18th century Islamic leader, as saying: ”When a man is in charge of a country and the scholars in this country accept his ruling, then his ruling as an emir of the believers is legitimate.” Bin Laden says that Mullah Omar has satisfied this requirement, claiming that “more than 1,500 scholars [have] pledged” their allegiance to Omar. Therefore, bin Laden argues, “it is the duty of everyone to pledge allegiance to him.”

Read more at Long War Journal

ISIS Takeovers in Iraq: Biggest Islamist Victory Since 9/11

ISIS-Terrorists-HP

The West needs to understand that ISIS’ motivation is explicitly ideological, Islamist and anti-democratic.

BY RYAN MAURO:

The takeover of about one-third of Iraq by the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) terrorist group is about more than establishing a miniature caliphate and base for jihad. It is a challenge to the prestige of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri by ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to be a descendant of Islam’s holy prophet and ridicules Al-Qaeda for not enforcing sharia (Islamic) law strictly enough.

ISIS (also known as ISIL, the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”) controls significant parts of northern and eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, having taken Mosul and Tikrit. (It is now threatening Baghdad and Samarra.) This means that ISIS directlycontrols about one-third of Iraq, a proportion that increases substantially if you include Sunni areas of western Iraq that ISIS has bypassed on its dash towards the capital.

This is arguably the biggest victory for an Al-Qaeda-type group since the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the overall Islamist cause since the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of Egypt in 2012.

Over 500,000 Iraqis—Sunnis aware of ISIS’s brutality—fled the Mosul area as the security forces melted away. Another half-million civilians were displaced earlier due to fighting in the Anbar Province. Over 150,000 Iraqi security personnel abandoned their positions as the offensive began, leaving behind uniforms and weapons. This number includes about 30,000 that fled when challenged by only 800 ISIS terrorists.

The question lingers of why U.S.-trained and equipped Iraqi forces capitulated so quickly. Iraqi forces previously battled Al-Qaeda and even Iranian-backed militias successfully and U.S.-trained Afghan forces have also shown to be durable.

First, ISIS was able to creation of a safe haven for themselves in Syria from which they were able to build a formidable, organized base.

Next, ISIS allied themselves with terrorists that it would typically brand as “apostates.” This includes a network of fighters loyal to Iraq’s Baath Party, the political party of Saddam Hussein’s regime. One pivotal ally is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a Vice President under Saddam. His son was reportedly just killed in an Iraqi airstrike. In Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, posters of Al-Douri and Saddam were hoisted.

ISIS has announced that the territory it controls belongs to an Islamic state, even setting up banners to that effect. The groupdeclared the beginning of the “era of the Islamic state” in which Muslims would reject secular governance.

ISIS has offered to spare the lives of soldiers and police who end their “apostasy,” meaning their service to the government. This does not apply to Shiites, whose very faith makes them an “apostate” deserving of death in the eyes of ISIS. The group says it has executed 1,700 Shiite soldiers already.

Read more at Clarion Project for in depth analysis

Also see:

Understanding Benghazi: The Al Qaeda-Muslim Brotherhood Connection

benghazi_bloody_handprint_APBreitbart, by COUNCIL FOR GLOBAL SECURITY:

The Hague’s International Center for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) recently released a report that shatters leftist talking points on the political situation in North Africa.

The report, titled “Security in the Sinai: Present and Future,” details not only the Sinai peninsula’s decent into chaos over the last two years, but synthesizes available research on the entire Islamist/Jihadi nexus that crosses North Africa, linking the Benghazi attack, Salafist activism undertaken by the Muslim Brotherhood, and links to what the administration’s intellectual vassals refer to as “al-Qaeda core.”

Sinai has long been a problem region for the Egyptian government, with bedouin tribes often taking advantage of a lack of governance in the peninsula during Egypt’s periods of political and economic upheaval. The most recent period of unrest is no different, with bedouin bandits engaging in criminal activity as soon as Mubarak’s political future was called into question by massive protests.

This banditry was rapidly replaced by Islamist militias connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, who targeted Coptic churches as well as Egyptian state assets, including police outposts along the trans-Sinai oil pipeline. These attacks were against the Egyptian state and economy; they were not mere acts of profit-seeking criminality. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), the most prominent jihadist group in Egypt, went so far as to use suicide bombings against Korean tourists, explicitly stating that they intended to ruin Egypt’s economy by targeting its heavy reliance on tourism.

This jihadist insurgency is supported by a larger political infrastructure, organized under the moniker of Salafiya Jihadiya (SJ). SJ was responsible for the extremely well organized “spontaneous” protests over an obscure video that targeted U.S. Embassies and installations across the Muslim world and is led by none other than Ayman al-Zawahiri’s younger brother, Muhammad al-Zawahiri.

Muhammad Jamal Abd al Rahim Ahmad al Kashif (frequently referred to as just Muhammad Jamal) is a veteran jihadist closely affiliated with Zawahiri. Jamal was mistakenly released in 2011, and in the two years before his arrest in 2013 he was responsible for establishing jihadist training camps in Sinai, Libya, and Western Egypt. Jamal is also known to have been closely involved in the September 11, 2012 attack on U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya. Upon his arrest, Jamal was discovered to have been in direct contact with Ayman al-Zawahiri, requesting assistance and reporting that groundwork had been laid for an al Qaeda enterprise in Sinai. Jamal is also believed to have trained and directed Walid Badr, a former Egyptian military officer who served as a suicide bomber in an attempt on the life of the Egyptian Minister of Interior.

With Muhammad Jamal and Muhammad Zawahiri both connected to the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi (and with Zawahiri personally present at the riot outside of the US embassy in Cairo, where the American flag was torn down and replaced by the black banner of al-Qaeda), it would defy logic to remain content with the administration’s story. But the thread doesn’t end there.

In February, the Egyptian government released intercepted recordings of phone calls between then-president Muhammad Morsi and Muhammad Zawahiri. Zawahiri was formally acquitted of terrorism charges by Morsi in 2012 and was reported by CNN to be “helping” negotiations with jihadists in Sinai during Morsi’s tenure. Additional reporting, cited by the Jerusalem Post, acknowledges not only that Morsi and the younger Zawahiri were in contact, but that the Muslim Brotherhood’s original contender for the Egyptian presidency, Khariat el-Shater, was in contact with “al Qaeda core” elements in Pakistan and Palestine.

Muhammad Zawahiri’s quasi-political role in Salafiya Jihadiya, his intimate affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood’s official leadership, his association with Muhammad Jamal’s jihadist infrastructure in Sinai, and his overt and direct participation in what the administration insists was a “spontaneous protest” in Cairo and Benghazi is a damning indictment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s direct connections to al-Qaeda.

Effectively, if Muhammad Zawahiri wanted to talk to his older brother he would have had to ask Morsi if he could use his phone. In the same instance, if the “core” of al Qaeda wanted to establish contact with Muhammad Jamal, its franchise in Northern Africa, including Benghazi, it would have likely relied on the same personalities. All of the above simply reinforce the stakes of the elections today and tomorrow in Cairo. General Sisi has openly stated his commitment to crush the Brotherhood beacause of its ties to al Qaeda. A victory for Sisi would be a victory against Salafi Jihadism.

The Hague is a European institution — it is not involved in American partisan politics and has no reason to bend the facts on Benghazi and the Brotherhood to fit a partisan agenda. These are the facts of the case, and those who continue to deny that Benghazi was a result of a “larger failure of foreign policy” are finally starting to feel the heat.

The Council for Global Security is a Washington-based non-profit organization that support democracy, prosperity and the protection of minorities around the world.

 

Al Qaeda in Afghanistan And Pakistan: An enduring threat

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Editor’s note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the House Committee of Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade on al Qaeda’s network in Africa and the threat it poses to the US.

Chairman Poe, Ranking Member Sherman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the enduring threat posed by al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is widely assumed that al Qaeda’s presence in South Asia does not, in fact, pose an enduring threat to American interests. The slaying of top al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, and more than a decade of war and other counterterrorism operations have supposedly hobbled the organization. However, while I have no doubt that al Qaeda has sustained heavy losses, I do not think that bin Laden’s heirs are a spent force. On the contrary, al Qaeda lives.

In the hearing today I am going to build on my previous testimony before this subcommittee last July. During that hearing (“Global Al Qaeda: Affiliates, Objectives, and Future Challenges”), we discussed the structure of al Qaeda and the challenges we face in the future. Today, I wish to emphasize five main points:

1. Al Qaeda is an international network that is comprised of a “general command,” regional branches, as well as various other organizations and personalities.

It may seem odd, but more than a dozen years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there is no commonly accepted definition of al Qaeda. The term “core” al Qaeda is often used, but this concept is a Western invention and imprecisely defined. And the way it is employed does not accurately convey how al Qaeda is structured. When analysts and officials speak of the “core” of al Qaeda, they are generally referring to Ayman al Zawahiri and the lieutenants who surround him in South Asia. Some go even further, arguing that Zawahiri is the only “core” al Qaeda leader left. Such arguments are not based on evidence.

Al Qaeda operates what it calls a “general command,” which consists of the organization’s senior leadership and their lieutenants, several committees, a Shura (advisory) council of the group’s most trusted advisers, as well as a supporting staff that includes, for example, couriers. We regularly see statements issued by al Qaeda’s “general command,” but few stop to ask what al Qaeda means by this. The “general command” performs various administrative functions, in addition to overseeing the organization’s international operations. For instance, al Qaeda’s amniyat is part of the group’s internal security and counterintelligence apparatus. The amniyat in northern Pakistan is notorious for hunting down suspected spies.

 Nasir al Wuhayshi,

Nasir al Wuhayshi,

This cohesive organization is not confined to South Asia. Jihadists who are, by any reasonable definition, “core” al Qaeda members are dispersed throughout the world. For example, Nasir al Wuhayshi, who heads al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is as “core” as they come, having served as Osama bin Laden’s protégé and aide-de-camp. In addition to serving as the emir of AQAP, Wuhayshi is the general manager of al Qaeda, which is a “core” function in al Qaeda’s hierarchy, that is, within the “general command.” The general manager of al Qaeda is given broad powers to oversee the organization’s operations.

The “general command” of al Qaeda has designated several regions for waging jihad, and an emir is appointed to oversee the organization’s efforts in each of these regions. The emir of each region has much latitude in deciding how to organize his group’s day-to-day efforts, but he swears bayat, an oath of allegiance, to al Qaeda’s overall emir (currently Zawahiri). The emirs of each region report to al Qaeda’s senior leadership, including the general manager. What many refer to as al Qaeda’s formal “affiliates” are really branches of al Qaeda that have been assigned to fight in these regions. The formal branches of al Qaeda, each designated its own region, are: al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), AQAP, the Al Nusrah Front in Syria, and Al Shabaab. All of them have sworn loyalty to Ayman al Zawahiri. In addition to these regions, al Qaeda also maintains facilitation networks in countries such as Iran.

Thus, the brief sketch of al Qaeda I have drawn here is one of a much more cohesive international organization than is often assumed. Like all other human organizations, however, al Qaeda has faced obstacles in trying to hold this network together. For instance, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) was al Qaeda’s branch inside Iraq, but the group’s emir had repeatedly disobeyed orders from the “general command.” This led to ISIS being disowned by the group. ISIS is currently fighting the Al Nusrah Front and its allies in Syria.

In addition to the formal branches of al Qaeda, there are other organizations that are part of al Qaeda’s international network even though they have not publicly sworn bayat to the leadership. Indeed, al Qaeda has often hidden its precise organizational relationship with groups that are being groomed for an alliance. Both the Al Nusrah Front and Al Shabaab, now formal branches of al Qaeda, did not make their operational connections to al Qaeda’s senior leadership known at first. Al Qaeda also employs multiple brands so as to obfuscate the extent of its influence. In Yemen, for instance, AQAP adopted the name “Ansar al Sharia.” This brand name was intended to convey the idea that the group is the true protector and enforcer of sharia law. Other groups calling themselves Ansar al Sharia have been established in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. There are still other groups that have adopted al Qaeda’s ideology, but are probably not operationally connected to the “general command” or al Qaeda’s branches.

I begin with this overview because the enduring threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan extends far outside of the region.

2. Al Qaeda is, at its heart, a clandestine organization, but careful analysis reveals that it has a deep bench of talent from which it draws.

Since its founding in 1988, the organization has attempted to conceal its operations. This has made it difficult to assess some very basic aspects of al Qaeda. The group does not, for instance, publish an organizational chart or make its total roster known. If you watch al Qaeda carefully enough, however, you can see that the group has consistently replaced top leaders lost in the 9/11 wars. In some cases these replacements are not as competent, while in other cases they may even surpass their fallen comrades.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, the aforementioned general manager of al Qaeda, is a seasoned veteran who replaced others in that role after they were killed or captured. Wuhayshi is, by all appearances, an all too competent leader. Still, the American-led counterterrorism effort has certainly disrupted al Qaeda’s international network, delivering severe setbacks in some areas. Al Qaeda’s problems with ISIS stem, to a large degree, from the fact that the U.S. and its allies took out its predecessor organization’s top leadership in 2010. The leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) were loyal to al Qaeda’s “general command” but were replaced with leaders who had not been vetted by al Qaeda’s senior leaders.

Read more at Long War Journal

CSP Intel Brief: helping Egyptians shut down the Muslim Brotherhood

Secure Freedom, Published on May 14, 2014

Center for Security Policy Senior Fellow Stephen Coughlin joined a delegation to Egypt for a fact-finding tour where he met prominent anti-Muslim Brotherhood figures.

Stephen discussed his findings with Senior Fellow Fred Fleitz.

 

A Failure of Policy

 

BEN RHODES, NEWSCOM

BEN RHODES, NEWSCOM

BY THOMAS JOSCELYN:

Forty-one recently declassified State Department documents obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, have reignited the controversy over the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Ben-ghazi, Libya. One document in particular, an email authored by Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and speechwriter for the president, has garnered the most attention.

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Friday, September 14, 2012, Rhodes emailed other administration officials as they prepared for U.N. ambassador Susan Rice’s upcoming appearance on the Sunday morning talk shows. Rhodes’s email set forth four goals, the second of which was “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” The video in question was an Internet trailer for Innocence of Muslims. The email from Rhodes also repeated an erroneous talking point: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Ben-ghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.”

As officials soon learned, however, there never were any “demonstrations” in Ben-ghazi—only a deadly attack launched by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. For this reason, some have viewed the protests elsewhere and the attack in Benghazi as being distinct. That is a mistake.

As the newly established House select committee investigating Ben-ghazi moves forward with its work, it should look carefully at the events that transpired in Cairo, Tunis, Yemen, and elsewhere. In each case, known al Qaeda actors or their allies helped spark the protests. And in each instance they used the anti-Islam video as a pretext for inciting anti-American, pro-al Qaeda rage.

Dissent in the Ranks

ISIL fighters / AP

ISIL fighters / AP

By Bill Gertz:

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri issued a public appeal recently urging an ultra-violent splinter faction of the terrorist group to return to Iraq and cease fighting rebels of the al Nusra Front, the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria.

In an audio statement posted to a jihadist online forum May 2, Zawahiri called for ending the “bloodshed among mujahedeen” in Syria, where rebels have been battling each other over who controls the opposition forces battling Syrian forces of the Bashar al Assad government.

The split between the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) and al Qaeda central is viewed by analysts as a result of the central leadership seeking to develop a broader appeal in seeking recruits.

The ISIL, on the other hand, has taken an ultra-fanatical approach to jihad. The group has filmed gruesome executions and beheadings of its opponents in Syria. In some cases, ISIL rebels were shown eating the organs of recently killed Syrian soldiers.

The infighting between the ISIL and the al Nusra Front for the past year appears to have achieved something that more than a decade of U.S. and allied military counterterrorism operations has been unable to do: splitting the al Qaeda terrorist group and weakening its ideological and militant appeal.

In Syria, fierce battles among the al Qaeda rebels have resulted in killings of scores of jihadists and the assassination of several of its leaders.

The Obama administration, by refusing to conduct military operations against al Qaeda in Syria, has made the embattled Middle Eastern state an al Qaeda safe haven, according to observers.

In the statement, Zawahiri called on ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to stop fighting in Syria and return to Iraq and described Baghdadi as “al Qaeda’s rebellious solider” who has caused bloodshed among the jihadist rebels in Syria.

Zawahiri, in the 24-minute message, also called on the official affiliate, al Nusra Front, to halt fighting against the ISIL rebels.

Referring to the ISIL rebels as engaging in “sedition,” Zawahiri explained that al Qaeda initially sanctioned the ISIL temporarily but sought to keep al Qaeda’s presence in Syria a secret. That was violated when the group went public with its formation in 2013.

Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, said the ISIL was set up in 2013 without permission of the central al Qaeda leadership.

Read more at Free Beacon

Al Qaeda’s general manager threatens America in video of large gathering

WuhayshiBy 

A video released by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in late March has garnered renewed attention in the media. The video, entitled “The First of the Heavy Rain,” features two AQAP leaders, as well as lower-level fighters who escaped from a Yemeni prison in February 2014.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is both the emir of AQAP and al Qaeda’s overall general manager, is shown speaking to a gathering of more than 100 people. “O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America,” Wuhayshi says, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Ibrahim al Rubaish, a Saudi who was once held at Guantanamo and now serves as a top sharia official in AQAP, is also shown speaking in the video. Rubaish praises the newfound freedom of some jihadist fighters, including those shown in the video, but he laments the fact that others remain imprisoned in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The video has sparked the media’s interest because it is a brazen display of AQAP strength inside Yemen. Wuhayshi is a hunted man and he is presumably on America’s list of potential targets for drone strikes. Yet, he felt comfortable enough in his home country to lead a large, public gathering of his followers.

“Core” al Qaeda in Yemen

Wuhayshi served as Osama bin Laden’s aide-de-camp and protégé in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. He fled to Iran, where he was detained, sometime after the Battle of Tora Bora. Wuhayshi was eventually transferred to Yemeni custody, but he escaped from prison in 2006.

Al Qaeda has long sought to wage insurgencies in Muslim countries it considers ripe for a jihadist takeover. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have been high on al Qaeda’s list of target countries. However, a fierce counterterrorism campaign in Saudi Arabia that began in 2003 quashed al Qaeda’s early efforts in the Arabian Peninsula. Al Qaeda also struggled, at first, to establish a full-scale insurgency in Yemen. But prison escapees such as Wuhayshi and Guantanamo returnees such as Rubaish have replenished al Qaeda’s leadership in the Arabian Peninsula and contributed to al Qaeda’s resurgence.

In early 2009, Wuhayshi and other jihadists announced the rebirth of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, swearing allegiance to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the process. Ayman al Zawahiri had previously recognized Wuhayshi as al Qaeda’s top man in the Arabian Peninsula.

In the summer of 2013, Zawahiri appointed Wuhayshi to the position of al Qaeda’s general manager. Wuhayshi’s appointment to the role of general manager was accompanied by a large-scale threat that forced the closing of American diplomatic facilities around the world. The US learned of this threat when intelligence officials captured video of Zawahiri communicating, via a complex Internet-based system, with more than 20 of his subordinates, including Wuhayshi.

Al Qaeda’s general manager serves a “core” function within the group. The role was previously held by senior terrorists in South Asia. According to declassified documents captured in Osama bin Laden’s compound, the duties performed by al Qaeda’s general manager include coordinating military and media activities, and communicating with al Qaeda’s “regions,” or branches, as well as with allies such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. [For a more complete discussion of the general manager's role, see LWJ report, AQAP's emir also serves as al Qaeda's general manager.]

In another recent video, Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, explains that al Qaeda also has a leader who oversees the organization’s efforts in various geographic locations, or regions. The Al Nusrah Front is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.

Al Qaeda “draws up its plans and its strategy based on what we call al Qalim, or locations,” Sulayman says in the video. And a leader, who swears bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Ayman al Zawahiri, is chosen to oversee each of these locations. In addition, Sulayman explains, al Qaeda appoints another leader who “overlooks all of these different locations,” and this position is called Masul al Qalim. [See LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front official explains al Qaeda's strategy, conflict with former branch.]

This leadership role described by Sulayman is filled by someone other than al Qaeda’s general manager, according to US intelligence officials. Both the general manager and the Masul al Qalim have deputies on their staff to support their work.

Such roles, and what they say about how al Qaeda is actually organized, are generally not reflected in the public discourse. It is commonly argued that there is a “core” of al Qaeda in South Asia and this entity is distinct from al Qaeda branches elsewhere. But Wuhayshi serves as one of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders from Yemen. And his role is part of the same leadership structure that includes Zawahiri, other deputies, and various supporting councils. These leaders are located not just in South Asia, but also elsewhere.

Read more at Long War Journal

Terrorism in the Caucasus and the threat to the US homeland

 

Salahuddin al Shishani (left), a Chechen commander who leads the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, and Abdul Karim al Ukrani (center), a Ukrainian, sitting behind an Imarat Kavkaz flag while in Syria.

Salahuddin al Shishani (left), a Chechen commander who leads the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, and Abdul Karim al Ukrani (center), a Ukrainian, sitting behind an Imarat Kavkaz flag while in Syria.

By 

Editor’s note: Below is Bill Roggio’s testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on the threat posed by the Islamic Caucasus Emirate and the implications for US homeland security. If you wish to view the testimony with footnotes included, download the PDF by clicking here.

Chairman King, Ranking Member Higgins, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me here to discuss the terrorist threat emanating from the Caucasus. Unfortunately, as we saw nearly one year ago today at the Boston Marathon, the jihad in the Caucasus has already impacted lives here in the US.

There is still much we do not know for certain about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s travels in Dagestan and Chechnya, but we do know that, at a minimum, he was sympathetic to the jihadists operating there. Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother were, of course, responsible for the attacks on the Boston Marathon. As a report by the House Homeland Security Committee noted just last month, it “is reasonable to assume that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was at least inspired by” the “activity and ideology” of jihadists fighting in the Caucasus and he was “driven to take part in the vision of global jihad which they share with al Qaeda.” Indeed, the Imarat Kavkaz or “IK” (otherwise known as the Islamic Caucasus Emirate) does have links to al Qaeda. And Tsarnaev is known to have sympathized with the IK and its fighters.

The IK has openly proclaimed itself a threat to the US and the West, and we should take these threats seriously. The US State Department certainly does. In May 2011, the State Department officially designated the IK as a terrorist organization. “The designation of Caucasus Emirate is in response to the threats posed to the United States and Russia,” Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, said at the time. “The attacks perpetrated by Caucasus Emirate illustrate the global nature of the terrorist problem we face today,” Benjamin added. In June 2010, the State Department added Doku Umarov, who was then the emir of the IK, to the US government’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. And in May 2011, Foggy Bottom offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to Umarov’s location. In both its June 2010 and May 2011 announcements, the State Department noted that Umarov and the IK pose a threat to the US and other countries. Indeed, Umarov described the IK as “a part of the global Jihad” in a July 2013 statement in which he called for further attacks aimed at disrupting Russia’s plans for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Despite the fact that Umarov was recently killed, there are good reasons to suspect that the IK will continue to pose a threat to American and Western interests both in and outside of Russia. As with other al Qaeda-affiliated groups, the IK will continue to spend most of its resources waging insurgencies, both inside Russia and elsewhere. Still, in my testimony today, I will highlight several key reasons why the IK poses a terrorist threat to the West. Those reasons are:

Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda helped transform the insurgency in Chechnya from a nationalist one into part of the global jihad.

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership established its influence within the Caucasus long ago. While al Qaeda was headquartered in Sudan from 1991 to 1996, Osama bin Laden maintained a network of training camps and other facilities that shuttled fighters to several jihadist fronts, including Chechnya. During the 1990s al Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) funneled cash and other support to Muslim rebels in Chechnya through a charity in Baku, Azerbaijan. Ayman al Zawahiri himself, then the head of the EIJ, as well as second in command of al Qaeda, set out for Chechnya in late 1996. He was accompanied by other dual-hatted al Qaeda-EIJ operatives. Zawahiri was arrested in Dagestan before he reached Chechnya and spent several months in prison. Zawahiri’s trip to the region underscores, from al Qaeda’s perspective, the importance of supporting the jihad in Chechnya.

Read more at Long War Journal

Zawahiri’s longtime deputy reportedly arrested in Egypt

Thirwat Shihata

Thirwat Shihata

By 

Thirwat Salah Shehata, an Egyptian who long served as one Ayman al Zawahiri’s top deputies, has reportedly been arrested in a suburb of Cairo.

Unnamed Egyptian officials who spoke with Agence France Presse and the Associated Press say that Shehata had traveled to Libya and Turkey before returning to his home country, where he was arrested.

Shehata was among the senior al Qaeda leaders who were sheltered inside Iran for much of the post-9/11 period.

In early 2011, Shehata released a statement supporting the Egyptian uprisings. He called on the people to “remain steadfast” and reject any economic concessions from then president Hosni Mubarak. “Indeed, the Pharaoh and his rotten party must depart,” Shehata said in the statement, which he reportedly released from inside Iran. [See LWJ report, Ayman al Zawahiri's deputy releases statement in support of Egyptian opposition.]

Egyptian officials say Shehata was training militants in Libya

Sometime after his 2011 statement, Shehata left Iran. It is not clear when he left, but The Washington Post reported in February that US officials believed he had traveled to Libya. Egyptian officials have now confirmed Shehata’s previous presence in Libya.

A former US official told the Post that Shehata is suspected of meeting with other senior al Qaeda leaders inside Libya in 2013. Among them are Abu Anas al Libi, who was detained by US forces in Tripoli in early October, and Zubayr al Maghrebi. Al Libi was wanted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and had also fled to Iran following 9/11.

According to the AP, Egyptian officials say Shehata “has been training militants in eastern Libya.” These same officials say that he is currently being interrogated.

Al Qaeda has established an extensive presence in Libya.

Read more at Long War Journal

Al Qaeda spokesman convicted on terrorism charges

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al Zawahiri, from an al Qaeda propaganda tape. Image from BBC/AP

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al Zawahiri, from an al Qaeda propaganda tape. Image from BBC/AP

By 

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and spokesman after the 9/11 attacks, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, has been convicted on terrorism charges by a New York jury.

Years before his conviction for supporting al Qaeda and conspiring to kill Americans, Abu Ghaith garnered international infamy after his appearance with bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders in a video that was filmed on Sept. 12, 2001. In the weeks that followed, his threats of additional attacks were seen as an ominous indication of things to come.

Additional attacks were averted, but Abu Ghaith continued to threaten Americans.

Threats against America

In a June 2002 statement, Abu Ghaith argued that “Al Qaeda has the right to kill four million Americans, including one million children, displace double that figure, and injure and cripple hundreds and thousands.”

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, former CIA director George Tenet says that an alarmed US government “had to consider the possibility that Abu Ghaith was attempting to justify the future use of weapons of mass destruction that might greatly exceed the death toll of 9/11.”

In an audio recording that was also released in June 2002, Abu Ghaith claimed credit on behalf of al Qaeda for the April 11, 2002, truck bombing of a Tunisian synagogue. NBC News and the Associated Press reported that the cell responsible for the bombing had been in touch with al Qaeda leaders inside Iran.

After he was captured in 2013, Abu Ghaith told the FBI that he had been smuggled into Iran that same month.

copy of Abu Ghaith’s statement to the FBI can be found at Downrange, a publication launched by Kronos Advisory.

Between June 2002 and April 2003, when Abu Ghaith says he was placed under house arrest by the Iranians, the al Qaeda spokesman continued to make provocative statements.

In July 2002, Abu Ghaith threatened more bloodshed. “Al Qaeda will organize more attacks inside American territory and outside, at the moment we choose, at the place we choose and with the objectives that we want,” he said, according to an account published at the time by the Associated Press.

On Oct. 8, 2002, an al Qaeda cell that was reportedly recruited and indoctrinated by Abu Ghaith opened fire on US Marines stationed on Kuwait’s Faylaka Island. One Marine was killed and another was seriously wounded.

Then, in November 2002, al Qaeda terrorists attacked an Israeli hotel, killing 13 people, and tried to down an Israeli jetliner in Mombasa, Kenya. Abu Ghaith claimed credit for that operation on behalf of al Qaeda the following month.

Also in December 2002, Abu Ghaith threatened additional attacks against the United States and Israel. Bin Laden’s spokesman warned the Muslim world of the “danger of what America and its allies are preparing against Iraq and its people,” which “is not limited to overthrowing the infidel regime and its dictator but is aimed at … Balkanizing this great country.”

In his statement to the FBI, Abu Ghaith claimed that his statements in the latter half of 2002 were unconnected to al Qaeda’s operations. But his claim does not ring true.

Al Qaeda has strict protocols for claiming responsibility for its attacks. That Abu Ghaith trumpeted the organization’s culpability in Tunisia and Kenya strongly suggests he was coordinating with al Qaeda’s most senior leaders at the time.

Read more at Long War Journal

National Guardsman Arrested in Terror Plot Attended Radical Mosque

The Lodi Mosque in Lodi, Calif. / AP

The Lodi Mosque in Lodi, Calif. / AP

By :

The National Guard reservist arrested this week for planning to blow up the Los Angeles subway attended a radical California-based mosque that has been home to known terrorists and other extremist Muslims deported from the United States for their ties to terror.

The FBI on Monday charged Nicholas Teausant, a 20-year-old National Guard reservist, with attempting to help al Qaeda carry out an attack on the Los Angeles subway system.

Teausant—who was found to be in possession of “lone wolf” terror manuals that teach readers how to build and detonate bombs—was known to have attended a terror-tied mosque in Lodi, a small town east of San Francisco.

The Lodi mosque has frequently found itself at the center of FBI terrorism investigations and its former imam was arrested and deported for urging his congregation to kill Americans in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.

An Instagram account believed to be Teausant’s features several images of the mosque and comments such as, “Let’s hit dis prayer!! #muslim #prayer #alhamduilliah #mashallah #makedua #inshallah #AllahuAkbar.”

Terror mastermind Ayman Al-Zawahiri, a close friend of Osama bin Laden and current leader of al Qaeda, attended the mosque prior to 9/11, according to reports.

“Every time I would go to the mosque, [Al-Zawahiri] would be coming or going,” an FBI informant testified, according to the Sacramento Bee. “He would quietly come to the mosque and leave.”

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Terrorism analyst Patrick Poole said Teausant’s radical online interactions were likely just as important as his personal ones.

“When you look at Teausant’s social media and the Justice Department complaint, you get a picture of someone who was participating in an online community that was contributing to his radicalization,” Poole said. “But you also see that he was heavily involved in a local community already known as a hotbed of radicalization known for anti-American sentiment, extremist speakers, terrorist fundraising, and regular themes of global Islamic grievances that contributed to that process.”

“From his own Lodi mosque you already have Hamid Hayat sitting in federal prison for spending two years at an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan,” Poole said.

“It’s pretty certain that he wasn’t planning on joining the jihadist cause by getting to Syria all on his own—he was going to need financial and logistical help and contacts once he got there,” Poole added. “Historically we know those support networks already exist in the places he was hanging out regularly in Lodi and Stockton. That’s an angle that hopefully law enforcement are already looking at in this case.”

Read more at Free Beacon

Zawahiri’s Representative in Syria Assassinated

New photos of Nasr City cell members published

Long War Journal, By THOMAS JOSCELYN:

New photos of members of the Nasr City cell have been published in the Egyptian press. [See below.] Many of the cell’s members, who are currently awaiting trial, were detained in late 2012.

The cell has multiple, direct ties to al Qaeda. In particular, Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, who has long served as a subordinate to Ayman al Zawahiri, is one of the cell’s leaders. Jamal founded his own al Qaeda network (conveniently referred to as the “Muhammad Jamal Network,” or MJN, in the West) after being released from prison in 2011. According to terrorist designations issued by both the US State Department and the United Nations, Jamal worked with al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The designations by the State Department and the UN confirmed previous reporting by The Long War Journal. We were the first to report, at least in the English-speaking press, that Jamal was in direct contact with Zawahiri in 2011 and 2012. Jamal’s letters to Zawahiri revealed his ties to AQAP and AQIM.

Some of Jamal’s fighters participated in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Jamal established training camps in both the Sinai and eastern Libya prior to the attack.

Here is one of the newly published photos of Jamal. It is almost as if he is trying to tell us something. According to my colleague Oren Adaki, the note Jamal is holding reads, “Al Qaeda is perched on the hearts of the believers.”

Jamal holding photo of bin Laden

Jamal brandishes the photo of bin Laden in other pictures as well. We previously published another photo of Jamal at The Long War Journal.

The Nasr City cell loves the picture of bin Laden. Below is a picture of Sheikh Adel Shehato, a founding member of the cell, holding up the image. Like Jamal, Shehato was a senior member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which was led by Ayman al Zawahiri and merged with bin Laden’s venture before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Shehato was also one of the key al Qaeda ideologues who helped instigate the protest in front of the US Embassy in Cairo on the morning of Sept. 11, 2012 — just hours before the US Mission and Annex in Benghazi were overrun.

Adel Shehato holding pic of OBL

The story of the Nasr City cell and the Muhammad Jamal Network is a fascinating one. It challenges so many of the widely-held assumptions about al Qaeda’s current operations. The MJN is a good example of how various al Qaeda organizations and parties are linked in a global network, with Jamal receiving cash and assistance from AQAP while he is also working with AQIM. The story also shows that Zawahiri is still very much in the game. Jamal’s letters to the al Qaeda master in 2011 and 2012 were fawning, and clearly showed that he was seeking Zawahiri’s permission for his operations.

But sometimes a picture, or pictures, are worth a thousand words. Jamal, Shehato, and the other Nasr City cell defendants are quite proud of their al Qaeda roles.

Also see:

CIA Files From Benghazi: Now in the Hands of Al Qaeda?

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15 individuals with information helpful to the U.S. Benghazi investigation have been killed? Did Al Qaeda find out who they were?

BY CLARE LOPEZ:

The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released its Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012 on January 15, 2014.

One of the most disturbing sections in the entire report comes on page 42, where the report cites then-FBI Director Robert Mueller in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies telling Congress that “as many as 15 individuals supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed in Benghazi since the attacks [of September 11, 2012].”

While Director Mueller rightly noted the “lawless and chaotic circumstances in eastern Libya,” the SSCI report also added that “It is unclear whether their killings were related to the Benghazi investigation.”

While calling post-Qaddafi Libya “lawless and chaotic” is something of an understatement, the SSCI’s suspicions about these particular killings and the possibility that they could be connected to the Benghazi investigation should be noted and noted carefully.

The identity of these individuals has not been revealed publicly, but it is certain that the SSCI and the Intelligence Community for which it holds oversight responsibility know who they were. And while it is certainly possible that each and every one of these 15 killings can be explained by the continuing battles among the Al Qaeda militias that led the uprising against former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the possibility that these are targeted killings – assassinations – must also be considered, even as the SSCI seems to hint that it has thought of this, too.

In an insightful early report about the Benghazi attacks, the Wall Street Journal reported on November 1, 2012 that “…the day after the attack…the CIA appears to have dispatched local Libyan agents to the annex to destroy any sensitive documents and equipment there.”

The WSJ use of the term “agents” would seem to indicate that these local Libyans were CIA recruited assets, who either were trusted enough for this assignment or perhaps were all they had to turn to at that point. They may have been Libyan officials, whether uniformed police or others such as intelligence and security officials.

We do not know and the SSCI report does not tell us. In any case, what that short section of the SSCI report does tell us, at a minimum, is that sensitive documents and equipment were believed by the CIA to have remained in the CIA Annex the day after the attack, that they had not been destroyed or removed by the fleeing Americans and were of sufficient concern to the CIA that it was willing to take a chance on tasking local Libyans to retrieve whatever was there.

What became of any such materials and whether they were successfully recovered or not is not noted in the SSCI report. Tom Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), writing in the Weekly Standard on January 7, 2014 about the Obama administration’s belated admission about the role that Abu Sufian Ben Qumu (a former GITMO detainee) and his group — the Derna, Libya branch of Ansar al-Shariah — played in the Benghazi attack provides a possible follow-up, however.

In the very last line of his piece, “Obama Administration’s Benghazi Bombshell,” Joscelyn writes that two U.S. intelligence officials say that Faraj al Chalabi, an identified Libyan jihadi, “is suspected of bringing materials from the compound in Benghazi to senior al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.”

This report begs the question: How is it possible for U.S. intelligence officials to so specifically name al-Chalabi as someone who may have taken materials from Benghazi to al-Qa’eda leadership in Pakistan?

What materials have they identified as having been removed from the CIA Annex and how do they know (or why would they suspect) such materials have been taken to Ayman al-Zawahiri in Pakistan in the first place? In fact, it doesn’t seem possible – unless U.S. intelligence officials themselves perhaps were the ones who dispatched al-Chalabi or an associate to the compound to recover those “documents and equipment.”

Read more at Clarion Project