‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Commander Admits Alliance with ISIS, Confirms PJ Media Reporting

As-Iraq-Burns-US-Plans-500-Million-to-Terrorists-in-Syria-610x400

This is what the D.C. foreign policy establishment has reduced itself to when it comes to Syria — cozying up to al-Qaeda (or Iran and Assad) in the name of “countering violent extremism,” namely ISIS, and entertaining each other with cocktail party talk of “moderate wings” of al-Qaeda. As my colleague Stephen Coughlin observes, our bipartisan foreign policy establishment has created a bizarre language about Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the stark reality that we lost both wars. This is the state American foreign policy finds itself in on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda.

PJ Media, By Patrick Poole, September 10, 2014:

As President Obama laid out his “strategy” last night for dealing with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and as bipartisan leadership in Congress push to approve as much as $4 billion to arm the Syrian “rebels,” it should be noted that the keystone to his anti-Assad policy — the “vetted moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA) — is now admitting that they, too, are working with the Islamic State.

This confirms our reporting about the FSA’s alliances with Syrian terrorist groups here at PJ Media last week.

On Monday, the Daily Star in Lebanon quoted a FSA brigade commander saying that his forces were working with the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate — both U.S.-designated terrorist organizations — near the Syrian/Lebanon border.

“We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in … Qalamoun,” said Bassel Idriss, the commander of an FSA-aligned rebel brigade.

“We have reached a point where we have to collaborate with anyone against unfairness and injustice,” confirmed Abu Khaled, another FSA commander who lives in Arsal.

“Let’s face it: The Nusra Front is the biggest power present right now in Qalamoun and we as FSA would collaborate on any mission they launch as long as it coincides with our values,” he added.

In my report last week I noted that buried in a New York Times article last month was a Syrian “rebel” commander quoted as saying that his forces were working with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in raids along the border with Lebanon, including attacks on Lebanese forces. The Times article quickly tried to dismiss the commander’s statements, but theDaily Star article now confirms this alliance.

Among the other pertinent points from that PJ Media article last week was that this time last year the bipartisan conventional wisdom amongst the foreign policy establishment was that the bulk of the Syrian rebel forces were moderates, a fiction refuted by a Rand Corporation study published last September that found nearly half of the Syrian “rebels” were jihadists or hard-core Islamists.

Another relevant phenomenon I noted was that multiple arms shipments from the U.S. to the “vetted moderate” FSA were suspiciously raided and confiscated by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, prompting the Obama administration and the UK to suspend weapons shipments to the FSA last December.

In April, the Obama administration again turned on the CIA weapons spigot to the FSA, and Obama began calling for an additional $500 million for the “vetted moderate” rebels, but by July the weapons provided to the FSA were yet again being raided and captured by ISIS and other terrorist groups. Remarkably, one Syrian dissident leader reportedly told Al-Quds al-Arabi that the FSA had lost $500 million worth of arms to rival “rebel” groups, much of which ended up being sold to unknown parties in Turkey and Iraq.

At the same time U.S.-provided FSA weapons caches were being mysteriously raided by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the senior FSA commanders in Eastern Syria, Saddam al-Jamal, defected to ISIS. In March, Jabhat al-Nusra joined forces with the FSA Liwa al-Ummah brigade to capture a Syrian army outpost in Idlib. Then in early July I reported on FSA brigades that had pledged allegiance to ISIS and surrendered their weapons after their announcement of the reestablishment of the caliphate. More recently, the FSA and Jabhat al-Nusra teamed up last month to capture the UN Golan Heights border crossing in Quneitra on the Syria/Israel border, taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

But the Free Syrian Army is not the only U.S.-armed and trained “rebel” force in Syria that the Obama administration is having serious trouble keeping in the “vetted moderate” column.

Earlier this week I reported on Harakat al-Hazm, which was the first of the “vetted moderates” to receive U.S. anti-tank weaponry earlier this year. Harakat al-Hazm isreportedly a front for the Muslim Brotherhood as well as  Turkey and Qatar, its Islamist state sponsors.

An LA Times article published this past Sunday from the battle lines in Syria where their reporter recounted a discussion with two Harakat al-Hazm fighters who admitted, “But Nusra doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra.”

Despite a claim by the L.A. Times that Harakat al-Hazm had released a statement of “rejection of all forms of cooperation and coordination” with al-Nusra Front, I published in my article earlier this week an alliance statement signed by both Jabhat al-Nusra and Harkat al-Hazm forging a joint front in Aleppo to prevent pro-Assad forces from retaking the town.

As the Obama administration began to provide heavy weaponry to Harakat al-Hazm, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published an analysis hailing Harakat Hazm as “rebels worth supporting,” going so far as to say that the group was “a model candidate for greater U.S. and allied support, including lethal military assistance.”

That error was not as egregious as the appeal by three members of the DC foreign policy establishment “smart set” (including one former senior Bush administration National Security Council official) who argued in the pages of the January issue of Foreign Affairs for U.S. engagement with another Syrian “rebel” group, Ahrar al-Sham.

At the time their article appeared, however, Ahrar al-Sham was led by one of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s top lieutenants and former Bin Laden courier, Mohamed Bahaiah (aka Abu Khaled al-Suri). This is why the article was originally subtitled “An Al-Qaeda affiliate worth befriending.” Giving too much of the game away for non-Beltway types, that subtitle was quickly changed on the website to “An Al-Qaeda-linked group worth befriending.”

That dream of “befriending al-Qaeda” was dealt a major blow earlier this week when a blast of unknown origin killed most of Ahrar al-Sham’s senior leadership. Bereft of leadership, many analysts have rightly expressed concern that the bulk of Ahrar al-Sham’s forces will now gravitate towards ISIS and other terrorist groups.

While a McClatchy article on the explosion laughably claimed that the dead Ahrar al-Sham’s leaders represented the group’s “moderate wing” who were trying to come under another fictional “vetted moderate” alliance to obtain the next anticipated flood of U.S. weapons, others have observed that tributes to the dead leaders have poured in from al-Qaeda leaders for their “moderate wing” allies.

This is what the D.C. foreign policy establishment has reduced itself to when it comes to Syria — cozying up to al-Qaeda (or Iran and Assad) in the name of “countering violent extremism,” namely ISIS, and entertaining each other with cocktail party talk of “moderate wings” of al-Qaeda. As my colleague Stephen Coughlin observes, our bipartisan foreign policy establishment has created a bizarre language about Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the stark reality that we lost both wars. This is the state American foreign policy finds itself in on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda.

As congressional Republicans and Democrats alike will undoubtedly rush in coming days to throw money at anyone the Obama administration deems “vetted moderates” to give the appearance of doing something in the absence of a sensible, reality-based strategy for understanding the actual dynamics at work in Syria and Iraq, an urgent reexamination of who the “vetted moderates” we’ve been financing, training and arming is long overdue. It is also essential to know to whom the State Department hascontracted the “vetting.” This is especially true as ISIS leaders are openly bragging about widespread defections amongst FSA forces that have been trained and armed by the U.S. to ISIS.

Predictably, the usual suspects (John McCain and Lindsey Graham) who have been led wide-eyed around Syria by the “vetted moderate” merchants and have played the administration’s “yes men” for a fictional narrative that has never had any basis in reality will undoubtedly hector critics for not listening to their calls to back the “vetted moderate” rebels last year when they could have contained ISIS — an inherently false assumption. These usual suspects should be ashamed of their role in helping sell a fiction that has cost 200,000 Syrians their lives and millions more their homes while destabilizing the entire region. Shame, sadly, is a rare commodity in Washington, D.C.

Notwithstanding Obama’s siren call for immediate action, Congress should think long and hard before continuing to play along with the administration and D.C. foreign policy establishment’s “vetted moderate” fairy tale and devote themselves to some serious reflection and discussion on how we’ve arrived at this juncture where we are faced with nothing but horribly bad choices and how to start walking back from the precipice. As we remember the thousands lost on that terrible day thirteen years ago, truly honoring their memory deserves nothing less.

Fighter With ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Tells L.A. Times They Fight Alongside Al-Qaeda

cid_image004_jpg01cf1b3cBy Patrick Poole:

Last week here at PJ Media, I reported on the ongoing relations between the U.S.-backed “vetted moderate” Free Syrian Army and ISIS. I also noted that, at this time last year, the received wisdom of the Washington, D.C. foreign policy establishment was that the Syrian rebels were largely moderate.

Now, a report in this past Sunday’s L.A. Times from the frontlines in Syria finds that another “vetted moderate” rebel group, Harakat Hazm – which has received anti-tank missiles from the U.S. — has been working with al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra: a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. (HT: Tim Furnish and Tom Joscelyn.)

As Al-Akhbar reported back in May, in addition to having U.S. backing, Harakat Hazm is also backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, and Qatar.

As the L.A. Times reporter rides with two U.S.-backed and armed Harakat Hazm fighters, the topic of conversation turns to Jabhat al-Nusra:

Harakat Hazm, for example, has struggled with being regarded as a U.S. pawn and labeled as secular in the midst of an opposition movement that has grown increasingly Islamist.

“Inside Syria we became labeled as secularists and feared Nusra Front was going to battle us,” Zeidan said, referring to an Al Qaeda-linked rebel group that has been designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. Then he smiled and added, “But Nusra doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra.”

But the L.A. Times reporter then immediately adds:

In July, eight West-backed rebel brigades — all recipients of military aid — released a statement of “rejection of all forms of cooperation and coordination” with Al Nusra Front.

But at the same time Harakat Hazm was supposedly releasing a statement of “rejection of all forms of cooperation and coordination” with Nusra, it signed a statement of alliance with Nusra to prevent the Assad regime from advancing into Aleppo. The alliance statement was published on Twitter:

What the statement and the Aleppo alliance demonstrate is something that I and others have been contending all along: the so-called Syrian rebels given the State Department’s “vetted moderate” imprimatur have been playing a double-game. And the Obama administration, the foreign policy establishment and the establishment media have all gladly played along with our “vetted moderate” Syrian rebel allies.

Read more at PJ Media

***********

Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form by Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—After announcing, on Thursday, that it would seek $500 million to help “train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition,” the White House today posted the following Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form:

Welcome to the United States’ Moderate Syrian Rebel Vetting Process. To see if you qualify for $500 million in American weapons, please choose an answer to the following questions:

As a Syrian rebel, I think the word or phrase that best describes me is:

A) Moderate
B) Very moderate
C) Crazy moderate
D) Other

I became a Syrian rebel because I believe in:

A) Truth
B) Justice
C) The American Way
D) Creating an Islamic caliphate

If I were given a highly lethal automatic weapon by the United States, I would:
A) Only kill exactly the people that the United States wanted me to kill
B) Try to kill the right people, with the caveat that I have never used an automatic weapon before
C) Kill people only after submitting them to a rigorous vetting process
D) Immediately let the weapon fall into the wrong hands

I have previously received weapons from:
A) Al Qaeda
B) The Taliban
C) North Korea
D) I did not receive weapons from any of them because after they vetted me I was deemed way too moderate

I consider ISIS:
A) An existential threat to Iraq
B) An existential threat to Syria
C) An existential threat to Iraq and Syria
D) The people who will pick up my American weapon after I drop it and run away

Complete the following sentence. “American weapons are…”
A) Always a good thing to randomly add to any international hot spot
B) Exactly what this raging civil war has been missing for the past three years
C) Best when used moderately
D) Super easy to resell online

Thank you for completing the Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form. We will process your application in the next one to two business days. Please indicate a current mailing address where you would like your weapons to be sent. If there is no one to sign for them we will leave them outside the front door.

(H/T Andrew Bostom)

US-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly With ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra

640x392_25455_221535By Patrick Poole:

As the Obama administration struggles to address the threat from ISIS and plans to go to Congress in coming weeks to up its commitment against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, multiple media reports indicate that the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) is operating openly with ISIS and other designated terrorist groups. And yet financial and military support for the FSA is the keystone to the administration’s policy in Syria.

Some background is essential.

It was just over a year ago that the Institute for the Study of War’s Liz O’Bagy was opining in the Wall Street Journal about her travels to Syria and purported discovery that the Syrian ‘rebels’ really weren’t bloodthirsty jihadists, but moderates worthy of US financial and military support – in particular, heavy weapons. Her claims about the Syrian rebels, particularly the FSA, were cited and praised by Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain.

That view, of course, quickly came crashing down as O’Bagy came under fire for failing to disclose that she was also a paid agent of a Syrian rebel front, but also that she had lied about her academic credentials. Within two weeks of her oped appearing, she was fired from the Institute for the Study of War, though she was hired two weeks later by Senator McCain as a Senate staffer.

At the same time that O’Bagy’s career was taking a hit, the narrative that the Syrian ‘rebels’ were all secular moderates was quickly collapsing. A Rand Corporation study appeared two weeks after O’Bagy’s oped saying that nearly half of the Syrian ‘rebels’ were jihadists or hardline Islamists (as if there were a discernible difference). Meanwhile, the FSA was under serious pressure from the very jihadist groups that Ms O’Bagy had assured were not a problem.

Another practical problem developed with providing weapons to the FSA. As soon as weapons shipments from the CIA were arriving in Syria, the FSA weapons caches were being raided by jihadist groups, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, under very suspicious circumstances. The problem got so bad that by last December, both the US and the UK had stopped weapons shipments to the FSA.

But by April of this year, the Obama adminstration’s CIA weapons spigot was turned back on, with the FSA now receiving heavy weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. And in late June, President Obama asked Congress for $500 million to arm and train the FSA.

This move was not without controversy as the Syrian Military Council chief-of-staff warned that the US was circumventing the SMC and providing weapons directly to FSA units that could end up creating Afghan/Somali-style warlords in Syria. The State Department responded to that criticism assuring that the weapons were going to “moderate, vetted groups” (because, of course, the State Department has such a long illustrious history in vetting Islamic “moderates”).

The ISIS announcement of the reestablishment of the caliphate and their subsequent push further into Iraq has considerably changed the playing field and revealed the true nature of the US-backed “moderate, vetted” FSA.

Last week the Washington Post reported on the Syrian ‘rebel’ takeover of the Golan Heights Quneitra border crossing with Israel (where I reported from last year), with the ‘rebels’ capturing the UN peacekeepers stationed at the crossing. The Post noted:

The United Nations gave no further details, but an Israeli military spokesman told CNN that the captors are suspected to be members of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting alongside more-moderate, Western-backed rebels for control of the area.

The “more-moderate, Western-backed rebels” fighting alongside with Jabhat al-Nusra the Post was referring to, but didn’t dare name, was none other than the FSA.

Read more at PJ Media

Inside the Mind of the Western Jihadist

Shiraz Maher

Shiraz Maher

Shiraz Maher, a British citizen who lived the experience, describes the allure of the Islamic State for young Westerners and the deadly peril it poses.

By SOHRAB AHMARI:

London

On 9/11, Shiraz Maher thought to himself: “Yeah, you Americans deserve this. For meddling in the Arab world. For supporting Israel. You shall reap what you sow, and this is what you’ve sown for a long time.”

Within days the college student would quit alcohol, dump his girlfriend and join Hizbut Tahrir, a radical Islamist group he describes as the “political wing of the global jihad movement.” He quickly climbed the ranks before eventually leaving the U.K. Islamist movement and rededicating his life to countering it.

Mr. Maher is today a senior fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, King’s College London, where he researches Europe’s homegrown Islamist movement and profiles the droves of young Britons who are decamping for Syria and Iraq to wage jihad with ISIS, aka the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

These include Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a wannabe rapper from a posh west-London neighborhood who recently posted a Twitter selfie of himself holding a severed head. “Chillin’ with my homie,” read the caption, “or what’s left of him.” Abdel Bary is also suspected to be the terrorist who addresses the camera before beheading American journalist James Foley in a widely circulated online video, though Mr. Maher thinks the masked figure is a different British jihadist.

Abdel Bary is one of 500 to 600 British citizens who have joined the Islamic State, and Mr. Maher’s center estimates about 2,200 foreign fighters from Europe are operating in the region. “Globally we believe the number to be somewhere in excess of 12,000. We’ve counted 74 different nationalities that are represented on the ground.”

Many fighters have European passports, which means they can travel around the Continent and even enter the U.S. with relative ease. Two-hundred-fifty fighters have already returned to the U.K., according to Mr. Maher.

Not all of the foreigners in the region initially intended to join ISIS, which is only one of several groups fighting Bashar Assad’s regime. Yet in recent months the Islamic State has emerged as the most successful and prestigious outfit, while recruits to the other groups have slowed to a trickle.

ISIS proved appealing in part because it was the easiest group to join. Says Mr. Maher: “We know of a lot of people including Britons who’ve tried to join Jabhat al Nusra”—al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise—”who were turned away because Jabhat felt it didn’t know them and so couldn’t trust them. And then they went to ISIS, and ISIS welcomed them with open arms.”

Battlefield prowess was another advantage. “ISIS has been particularly successful at bringing in fighters from Bosnia and Chechnya,” Mr. Maher says. “The greatest human asset that an army can have is fighters with combat experience. And the Bosnians and Chechnyans of course have huge experience, a great deal of sophistication and knowledge about how to fight guerrilla warfare.”

Cultivating a brand helped, too. “ISIS developed a strong social-media presence,” Mr. Maher says, while “other organizations didn’t have the same glamour. And we’re dealing with young men. They want to be with a strong horse, with a winning team. At the moment, ISIS has momentum.”

Finally, the Islamic State has a veneer of authenticity. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, presides over “land that these guys regard as pure and holy,” Mr. Maher says. “There’s a lot of stuff in normative Islamic theology which talks about bilad al-Sham, the land of Syria. The Hadiths, the prophetic tradition, say that when God sends angels, they rest in Syria after their journey.”

Reverence for this angelic pit stop hasn’t stopped the Islamic State from turning it into hell on earth. “In the last 10 months we’ve seen British fighters serve as suicide bombers,” Mr. Maher says. “We’ve documented British fighters executing prisoners of war. And we have documentary evidence of British fighters torturing people in their care.”

The typical British Islamic State terrorist is male, in his 20s and from a South Asian background. “He usually has some university education and a history of Muslim activism,” Mr. Maher adds. The fighters broadly fall into three personality types.

The first is the adventure-seeker. “They’re in jihadist summer school or camp,” Mr. Maher says. “I’m with my buddies, we’re hanging out and we have these greatweapons—AK-47s, RPGs.” The adventure-seekers are often involved with U.K. gangs or drugs, and they might consult “Islam for Dummies” before traveling to Syria. They publish photos of themselves eating fast food, swimming and playing soccer in al-Sham. The message they telegraph to friends back home is: “We live better lives here than we were in London—come.”

Then there are the “really nasty guys,” Mr. Maher says, “the ones who will show off a severed head on Facebook and say, ‘Yeah, I just beheaded this son of a bitch.'” These guys, Mr. Maher adds, “should definitely never come back.'”

The third type are “what you might call idealistic or humanitarian jihadists for want of a better phrase,” Mr. Maher says. “They would say, ‘Look, haven’t you seen what’s happened to the women and children of Aleppo?’ ” Over time, they become hardened and no longer mention the innocents they came to rescue. “The land belongs to Allah,” they now say. “We’re here to impose Islam.”

Mr. Maher himself fits the third type most closely, and had he been born a decade later he might not be sitting across from me at a restaurant eating steak tartare and sipping Guinness. “If I were younger and instead of 9/11 it was the Syrian conflict,” he says, “there’s a very, very good chance I would go. Instead of studying them, I would be the one being studied.”

Read more at Wall Street Journal

See also Shiraz Maher’s latest article at ICSR. Having been deradicalized himself he makes the case for trying to rehabilitate those returning fighters who have not become hardened jihadists:

ICSR Insight – Offering Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq a Way Out

Report: 3 More Americans Killed Fighting with ISIS in Syria

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Aug. 31, 2014:

Reports this past week identified two Americans – Douglas McCain from San Diego and Abdiraaman Muhumad from Minneapolis — who were killed by Syrian rebel groups last weekend as they were fighting with ISIS.

A new claim was made on a Syrian rebel Twitter feed this morning saying that an additional three Americans have been killed fighting with ISIS near Ghouta.

A video purporting to show the three dead Americans was posted on Youtube (WARNING: GRAPHIC VIDEO):

 

Yet another American from Florida, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, conducted a suicide bombing for Jabhat al-Nusra — the official Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria — back in May.

An article in the current issue of The Economist reports on Western foreign fighters joining jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. The following graphic included in that article estimates that 70 Americans are currently fighting there, though other estimates have indicated that more than one hundred may be in the area.

20140830_MAC990_595

GRAPHIC: The Economist

U.S. Links Iran to Both Al-Qaeda and Taliban Terrorists

Iran Ayatollah Khamenei in front of a picture of the leader of the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Iran Ayatollah Khamenei in front of a picture of the leader of the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

By Ryan Mauro:

The U.S. Treasury Department is again linking the Iranian regime to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. On August 21-22, it sanctioned several terrorists and disclosed their Iranian ties. Yet again, it is confirmed that Shiite and Sunni terrorists are willing to cooperate against common enemies.

An August 22 press release announces the sanctioning of Abdul Mohsen Abdullah Ibrahim al-Sharikh, described as an Al-Qaeda facilitator and strategist in Syria. He is also a senior leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, and very active in social media.

The Obama Administration explains that he also played a leading role in Al-Qaeda’s pipeline in Iran that operates with the consent of the regime:

“Prior to his work in Syria with [Jabhat al-Nusra], al-Sharikh served in early 2013 as chief of al-Qaida’s Iran-based extremist and financial facilitation network before the return of already designated al-Qaida facilitator Yasin al-Suri to the position. Al-Sharikh has also previously served al-Qaida as a key financial facilitator in Pakistan.”

A press release from a day prior announced that the Treasury Department was sanctioning the Basir Zarjmil Hawala based in Chaman of Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province. Hawala networks are underground money transfer systems in the Muslim world.

The U.S. government says the Basir Zarjmil Hawala became the “principal money exchanger” for Taliban leaders in Pakistan in 2012. It provides a list of branch offices, with one being in Iran. Given the tyrannical nature of the Iranian regime and suspicion of Sunni terrorists, it is inconceivable that the regime is unaware of this major operation. Other offices are in Afghanistan and Dubai.

The Clarion Project’s fact sheet on Iranian sponsorship of terrorism details how the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations have all asserted that the Iranian regime supports Al-Qaeda, despite their intense ideological divisions.

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Iran and Al-Qaeda began collaborating in late 1991 or early 1992. Al-Qaeda operatives began receiving training, particularly in explosives, inside Iran and Lebanon.

The report leaves open the possibility that Al-Qaeda worked with Iran in carrying out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996. The attack killed 19 U.S. soldiers. The Iranians wanted to expand the relationship after Al-Qaeda’s bombing of theUSS Cole in Yemen in 2000, but Osama Bin Laden was worried about losing Saudi supporters.

“The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shi’a divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations,” the 9/11 Commission concluded.

***

Iran is offering to help the U.S. defeat the Islamic State (formerly Al-Qaeda in Iraq) if sanctions are lifted on its nuclear program. The Iranian regime is acting like a firefighter that sets blazes so it can come to the rescue.

The Shiite Iranian regime and the Sunni terrorists of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State may kill and condemn each other, but they are far closer to each other than they are to us. The history of the relationship shows that they will work together against us, even as they fight tooth-and-nail in Syria and Iraq.

At the end of the day, Islamist terrorists will always choose each other over us. We ignore that demonstrated behavior at our own cost.

Read more at Clarion Project

Armenians Flee Syrian Town Seized by Radical Islamists

Also see:

Saudi terrorism list raises question about Islamic Front

A fighter from the Islamic Front holds an assault rifle while a fellow fighter looks through a hole in a wall inside a damaged school in Idlib, Feb. 4, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Loubna Mrie)

A fighter from the Islamic Front holds an assault rifle while a fellow fighter looks through a hole in a wall inside a damaged school in Idlib, Feb. 4, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Loubna Mrie)

By Abdallah Suleiman Ali:

Yesterday [March 7], Saudi Arabia made a preliminary terrorism list that included the names of many organizations and movements inside and outside the kingdom.

Adopting that list was part of the February royal decree that criminalized anyone fighting outside Saudi Arabia. The decree ordered forming a commission to prepare a list of currents and movements that qualify as terrorist groups, thus criminalizing belonging or sympathizing with them.

The commission is composed of representatives from the ministries of interior, justice, Islamic affairs, and foreign affairs, the Council of Grievances office, the investigating committee and the prosecutor’s office. The commission explicitly named some organizations and movements — such as al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Yemen, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Hezbollah within the Kingdom, the Muslim Brotherhood organization and the Houthi group.

However, the commission’s list contained vague terms that rendered the list very hard to interpret and subject to many variations. That may have been intentional in order to leave maneuvering room and flexibility for Saudi authorities regarding some organizations with which the kingdom has strong ties, especially in the Syrian arena. Perhaps the most prominent of those is specifically the Army of Islam, and generally Jabhat al-Nusra.

It is not clear whether the terrorism list encompassed the Islamic Front. The Islamic Front was not mentioned on the list, which may suggest that it was excluded from the terrorism label and that Riyadh will continue to fund the front’s components, especially the Army of Islam, led by Zahran Alloush. But the commission asserted that the list encompasses “every organization that is similar to these organizations in thought, word, or deed” and “all organizations contained in Security Council resolutions and international bodies” and “known as terrorist and practice violence.” That indicates that the Saudi decision left room for many organizations and movements that are not mentioned on the list by name, whereby it is up to the discretion of Saudi political leadership to classify some groups as terrorist at the proper time and in the way that serves Saudi interests.

Read more at al Monitor

IDF Restructuring Syrian Border Defenses Due to Jihadi Threat

Zawahiri’s Representative in Syria Assassinated

The Rift In The Global Jihad Movement

By: R. Green, Research Fellow at MEMRI

Introduction

The global jihad movement has been experiencing a rift of unprecedented   proportions in light of the events in Syria. The rising tension between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a multitude of other rebel groups, which has escalated to the point of fierce fighting, has forced Al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan-Pakistan to publicly distance itself from ISIS. The following is a review of the events that led to this schism and the conclusions to be drawn from them.

Background

Global jihad has been involved in the war in Syria from the outset. Initially, elements associated with it began operating in Syria as part of a new organization named Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN). The organization, which officially announced its existence in early 2012, portrayed itself as a group of Syrian jihad fighters and avoided revealing that it was established by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).[1] In April 2013, ISI leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared he was eliminating JN as an independent organization and merging it with the ISI, and that the joint organization would henceforth be known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

JN commander Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani rejected this declaration and announced that he and his men would continue operating independently as part of JN. He publicly declared his association with Al-Qaeda and renewed his oath of fealty to its leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri.[2] From this point, a struggle developed between the two organizations over the leadership of the jihad in Syria, with each side attempting to recruit as many fighters as possible and as much support as possible from leading Salafi-jihadi clerics. Al-Zawahiri himself attempted to arbitrate in this matter, determining that ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi should remain in Iraq and leave the Syrian front to Al-Joulani and JN. He even appointed his confidant, Abu Khalid Al-Suri, as his personal representative in Syria. Al-Baghdadi surprisingly rejected this decision and declared that “the Islamic State remains in Syria.”[3]

Throughout the summer and fall of 2013, ISIS gathered strength in the field and became an influential element in rebel-controlled areas. Its success leaned on several foundations:

1. Quality military actions thanks to efficient organization and hierarchy.

2. Effective function on the battlefield with the use of ruthless tactics.[4]

3. An aggressive and sophisticated informational array.

4. Massive recruitment of foreign fighters, who mostly joined ISIS whether they came from Arab countries, Asia, or the West.

5. Considerable financial resources.[5]

6. The flow of manpower from Iraq thanks to successful prison breaks in the course of which many members of the organization were sprung. Yes? They were members of the organization to begin with?

7. The support of leading clerics and figures in the global Salafi-jihadi movement.

Al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan-Pakistan, which attributes supreme importance to the Syrian arena, was forced to throw in its lot with JN. It sent a delegation of advisors and instructors who were veterans of battles in Afghanistan-Pakistan to assist Al-Joulani, and upgraded JN to an official Al-Qaeda affiliate. Since several months ago the title “Al-Qaeda in Syria” appears alongside JN’s name.[6]


ISIS center in Al-Dana, near Idlib, bombed by rival rebel forces

Tension Between Rebel Groups And ISIS

ISIS has in fact been in conflict with other rebel groups ever since its establishment in April 2013 – both with groups associated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and with Islamist organizations that strive to establish an Islamic state. The struggle is for around control of territory, cities and resources, and often plays out on the local level between ISIS and local militias and bodies. In addition, there is opposition to the very existence of ISIS in Syria, since it is seen as an outside body relying on foreign fighters and as an extremist organization whose ideology and tactics harm the image of all rebels. This, on top of the organization’s tendency to spread its extremist beliefs and strictly enforce shari’a law.[7]

In November 2013, six Salafi organizations and groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood announced the establishment of the Islamic Front – a coalition estimated to include some 100,000 fighters. One of the goals of its establishment, which was clear to all even though it was not openly stated, was to reduce the power of ISIS and present an ostensibly moderate Islamic alternative to global jihad organizations. In recent month ISIS and Islamic Front officials have been exchanging recriminations and tensions have escalated to armed confrontations in several places. The Islamic Front is considered close to the Gulf states, who see it as a major role-player in the war against the Assad regime, as well as a means to reduce the danger they face from the extremist agenda of ISIS. It should be mentioned that JN and its officials hold close ties with the Islamic Front.[8]

Following the unification of the Islamist factions, additional coalitions were established, such as Jaysh Al-Mujahideen in the Aleppo area, whose stated purpose is to fight ISIS and remove it from Syria.[9]

*************

Conclusion

The struggle between ISIS and JN over the leadership of the jihadi arena in Syria, two jihadi organizations that share the same world view, currently encompasses all jihadi circles in the world. Clerics, preachers, activists, donors – all are compelled to take sides. Al-Qaeda central in Afghanistan-Pakistan has always seen itself as the spearhead of jihadi fighters – a kind of guiding body that remotely controls jihadi organizations around the globe. The West too sees Al-Qaeda as an octopus that guides terrorist action in various places worldwide. Now Al-Zawahiri and the few other core members who are still alive are forced to deal with an unexpected threat – a challenge by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, which essentially pulls the rug out from under the veteran leadership. Al-Baghdadi and ISIS continue to pay lip service to Al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda and maintain its honor. However, in practice, Al-Baghdadi has designated himself as a global leader of the jihad fighters in particular and of Muslims in general, and as a herald of the Caliphate. This crisis is expected to continue and rock the global jihad movement in the foreseeable future.

Read more at MEMRI

Senators: Kerry Suggested Arming Syrian Rebels

The Dawn of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Current Trends in Islamist Ideology
January 27, 2014

In the course of the Syrian Civil War, two major rebel factions have emerged who share al-Qaeda’s ideology: Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), which was founded at the beginning of 2012 by Abu Mohammed al-Jowlani, and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS). In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI—the umbrella front for al-Qaeda in Iraq), proposed that JN and ISI merge together. He thus announced the formation of a new Islamist polity, ISIS, which included territories in Iraq and Syria (ash-Sham). Baghdadi argued that Jabhat al-Nusra had been initially set-up with financial support and manpower from the ISI and therefore that the Syria-focused JN was a mere “extension” of the Iraq-based organization. Jowlani, however, rejected Baghdadi’s proposal to combine their efforts on the grounds that he was not consulted. Subsequently, he renewed JN’s bay’ah (pledge of allegiance) to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda Central.

 

ISIS militiamen pose with the organization’s flag. (Image source: hanein.info)

In June of 2013, al-Jazeera revealed a leaked letter in which Zawahiri ruled in favor of maintaining a separation between ISI and JN in Iraq and Syria respectively. The network released video footage of Zawahiri reading the letter aloud in November 2013. Many observers interpreted this televised pronouncement from al-Qaeda Central’s leader as a renewal of the call to disband ISIS, although sources within ISIS circles inform me that the video in question had, in fact, been in private circulation among their members for months. In any event, Baghdadi has personally rejected the call to disband ISIS. Similarly, ISIS’s new official spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, a Syrian veteran of the Iraq War, has also rejected the proposal in even more forceful terms, going so far as to accuse Jowlani of “defection” and affirming that ISIS would not accept geographical limitations based on “Sykes-Picot.”

There are variations in the membership composition of both JN and ISIS that are worth noting. Indeed, the differences between the two groups have national as well as ideological dimensions. JN has a greater proportion of native Syrian members in its ranks, while most foreign jihadis fighting in Syria have declared their allegiance to ISIS. The national differences between the two factions are significant; however they must not be exaggerated. Most foreign fighters in Syria are disproportionately represented among ISIS’s leadership and elite paramilitary corps. The vast majority of ISIS fighters in the rank and file, however, are Syrian nationals. Therefore, while there is a distinct national difference between the two groups, it is not the most important factor that distinguishes them from each other.

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Conclusion

ISIS in Syria embodies three important new trends in the overall development of the global jihad movement. First, the group’s existence in Syria marks an open challenge to the leadership of al-Qaeda Central, and to Zawahiri’s directives in particular. An unprecedented split in the jihadist movement in the Fertile Crescent has resulted. Though ISIS is striving to realize the same transnational political vision as al-Qaeda’s central leadership, the ISIS leader Baghdadi has been purposefully ambiguous about whether he or his group has any sort of allegiance to Zawahiri. Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seeking to establish himself as a Caliph by launching his own Islamic state-building project in Syria independent of Zawahiri’s directives? If so, then infighting with Jabhat al-Nusra, whose ultimate amir is Zawahiri, will become a logical inevitability. Will ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi eventually displace al-Qaeda Central and Zawahiri as the main figures of reverence for jihadist fighters and their supporters worldwide? This, of course, will ultimately depend on ISIS and the success of its efforts in Syria.

Second, ISIS in Syria has enjoyed a level of success in the founding of an Islamic state that is unmatched by any al-Qaeda affiliate or group sharing al-Qaeda’s ideology. Because of its efforts to design and implement a political strategy through social services, the media and educational outreach, it is likely that ISIS in Syria will become the model for current and future jihadist movements seeking to consolidate their control over territory in a lawless environment. Third, despite the disagreement among ISIS members as to whether ISIS is actually an al-Qaeda affiliate, it is ISIS in Syria that perhaps most openly expresses the global jihad movement’s true long-term goals: namely, the establishment of a Caliphate that should encompass the entire world.

Nevertheless, the future viability of ISIS’s “state-building” and its political outreach is in serious doubt. The situation in Syria is simply far too fragmented to allow ISIS to unite the country as a whole under its rule. Indeed, for ISIS to achieve such a goal requires opening up too many fighting fronts, an approach that has already cost ISIS some significant territorial control within Syria. Such is evident in ISIS’s open conflict with the Kurdish YPG militias following its expulsion from the northern border town of Ras al-Ayn in July 2013. While ISIS quickly countered by expelling pockets of YPG militias from multiple locations in the Raqqa and Aleppo governorates (such as the Jarabulus area in July 2013, and Tel Abyaḍ in August), the group has suffered serious setbacks in the far northeast at the hands of the YPG. As a result, ISIS commanders have had to rely on reinforcements from the Ninawa province in Iraq. This diversion of manpower to the northeast has resulted in weaknesses along the Aleppo front against regime forces. Consequently, the Assad regime has managed to exploit rebel infighting in the Aleppo area and to retake some territory.

Moreover, despite ISIS’s political outreach, the group faces a fundamental problem in dealing with other rebel factions and thus in consolidating political control. This is partly because ISIS already sees itself not merely as a “group” or “faction” like the other rebels but as a “state” that has the prerogative to rule over all others. Therefore, ISIS is inherently unwilling to share power, and often adopts a particularly brutal approach to dealing with other rebel factions. In fact, insurgent groups in Iraq, like Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, and also in Syria, like Ahrar ash-Sham, have all complained about ISIS’ intractability. Tensions between ISIS and other rebel groups are likely to grow, as the serious infighting between ISIS and other rebel groups in Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa and Deir az-Zor governorates suggests. In January 2014, ISIS killed a leading figure in Ahrar ash-Sham, Abu Rayyan, who had attempted to mediate a dispute between Ahrar ash-Sham and ISIS over the latter’s seizure of an Aleppo town called Maskanah.

In all likelihood, the murder will exacerbate existing tensions among the Islamist rebel factions. At present, two rebel coalitions—the Jaysh al-Mujahideen of Aleppo and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama—are committed to evicting ISIS out of Syria. A third coalition that formed in November 2013, the Islamic Front, has been more ambiguous with respect to ISIS. While some of its fighters have battled with ISIS, the Islamic Front’s leaders do not indicate a desire to destroy ISIS per se, but rather lack the ability to restrain their fighters in various localities.

ISIS has weakened itself by fighting along too many battlefronts; it has spread itself too thinly in various towns where it has sought to consolidate political control. On January 10, 2014, rival factions evicted ISIS from almost all Idlib localities except the town of Saraqeb. In Aleppo, Azaz remains the only substantial ISIS stronghold in the Raqqa province. Even there, however, ISIS must continually fight with FSA-banner militants who pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra in the city of Raqqa. In Deir az-Zor province, fighting broke out in the town of Mayadeen between Ahrar ash-Sham and ISIS, culminating in a suicide car bombing by the latter against the former’s local headquarters in the town.

It is worth noting that the rebel groups that have emerged in opposition to ISIS differ from the ones which ultimately became the Iraq “Sahwa” movement in three important ways. First, Islamic Front fighters generally decline to have any kind of Western support in the fight with ISIS. Second, this fighting has been spontaneous and opportunistic, rather than a pre-planned initiative against ISIS. For example, the murder of Abu Rayyan provoked widespread demonstrations in northern Syrian towns against ISIS, thereby allowing members of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Jaysh al-Mujahideen to exploit the opportunity to attack ISIS. The squabbling that ensued dragged Islamic Front fighters into the conflict. Third, there is a degree of localization to these clashes: Ahrar ash-Sham fighters still collaborate with ISIS on the Qamishli front against the YPG, and some Ahrar ash-Sham affiliates (e.g. in Tel Abyad) refuse to fight ISIS. Likewise, Jabhat al-Nusra tries to play a mediating role in Damascus and Idlib provinces and to protect ISIS fighters in Qalamoun.

So far, ISIS’s loss of territory has been substantial, but the infighting among these rebel Islamist groups should not be construed as the beginning of the end of ISIS in Syria. The group can still retreat into the shadows in its all out-war against the “Sahwa” among the rebels (to quote ISIS’s spokesman in a recent speech on the clashes), and it can pursue clandestine sabotage attacks in an attempt to undermine its rivals within the rebel ranks. Thus, the ISIS bombings and assassinations targeting Sahwa militiamen that we observe in Iraq with regularity today may well become the new norm in Syria.

Since January 2014, however, ISIS’s brutal conduct toward rival rebel groups has drawn strong condemnation from central figures in al-Qaeda. In one instance in Jarabulus, an ISIS suicide car bomb targeting other rebels killed 33 people. Abu Khalid al-Suri, the man appointed by Zawahiri to mediate between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, has since released a statement distancing bin Laden, Zawahiri, and even Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from ISIS’s recent “crimes.” He called on ISIS members to repent. It now appears the gap between al-Qaeda Central and ISIS will continue to grow.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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