Jihadists storm Radisson hotel in Malian capital

map lwj

Long War Journal, by Caleb Weiss, Nov. 20, 2015:

Jihadist stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in downtown Bamako in the early morning today, killing at least three people and taking more than 170 hostage. Malian commandos have assaulted the hotel in an effort to end the siege. The counterattack is still underway.

The attack began when gunmen penetrated a security barrier outside the hotel. Quoting a witness, the BBC reports that “They [the jihadists] were in car with a diplomatic license plate. They were masked. At the gate of the hotel, the guard stopped them and they start firing.”

The jihadists then shot their way into the hotel. Once inside, the gunmen reportedly made their way through the hotel “floor by floor, room by room” according to Reuters. The attackers were heard yelling “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest,” in Arabic while fanning out through the hotel.

An estimated 80 hostages were freed after they were able to correctly recite verses of the Koran. The tactic of separating Muslims from other hostages is one that is often used by al Qaeda to avoid killing Muslims.

Malian special forces are reported to have assaulted the building after cordoning off the area. Additionally, the French GIGN, the elite counterterrorism unit of the National Gendarmerie, are being deployed to Bamako to assist Mali in the hostage crisis. US Special Forces are reported to have rescued six US citizens.

The exact number of gunmen involved in the attack on the Radisson Blu is unclear, with reports varying between two and 13 fighters.

The Radisson Blu Hotel, which is US-owned, is popular with foreign nationals, including French tourists and businessmen. A number of French, Chinese, and Indian citizens were staying at the hotel when the attack began.

Al Murabitoon, an al Qaeda group led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed credit for the attack and demanded the release of jihadist prisoners as well as an end to French intervention in northern Mali. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda group claims credit for attack on hotel in Mali’s capital.]

The hostage crisis is the second to occur in Mali this year. The previous hostage crisis was executed in August, when jihadists from Al Murabitoon, stormed a hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare. The siege left at least 12 people dead. Al Murabitoon also targeted a nightclub in Bamako earlier this year.

Today’s attack took place just weeks after , the leader of Ansar Dine, released an audio statement calling for attacks on the French and their interests in Mali. Ghaly called for the increased targeting of French interests to avenge French intervention in the country.

“May your explosive belts respond to them, and your directed devices, and your loud car bombs,” he said. He ends his statement by saying that the Muslims must expel the “Crusaders” to “take revenge for honor of our noble Prophet.”

Ansar Dine, a front for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has also claimed several attacks in southern Mali this year, including two near the border with the Ivory Coast. One of the those attacks targeted a police station near the border, which left at least one Malian police officer dead. Additionally, the Macina Liberation Movement, which a front for Ansar Dine, has also been behind several attacks in southern and central Mali this year. [See map above for more information.]

Assaulting hotels is a common tactic of al Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other jihadist groups. Many of the hotels targeted by jihadists are frequented by Western tourists, Western government officials, or are host to local government figures.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, has a history of kidnapping Westerners, many from Malian hotels. This includes the Swede Johan Gustofsson, South African Stephen McGowan, and the Dutchman Sjaak Rijke. The three, along with a German national, were kidnapped from a hotel in Timbuktu. Rijke has since been released, but Gustofsson and McGowan are still being held.



Al Qaeda group claims credit for attack on hotel in Mali’s capital by Bill Roggio

Al Murabitoon, an al Qaeda group that operates in West Africa, has claimed responsibility for this morning’s suicide assault on a luxury hotel in Bamako, Mali. Al Murabitoon claimed it executed the hotel siege in conjunction with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa.

The al Qaeda group claimed the Bamako attack in a statement that was sent to Al Jazeera. According to Al Murabitoon, the operation was carried “in coordination with the Sahara Emirate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

Al Murabitoon said its fighters would release hostages held at the hotel for “the liberation of the mujahideen in Bamako’s prisons.” Additionally, Al Murabitoon demanded that Malian and French forces stop “the oppression of the people of northern Mali.” The jihadists threatened to execute the hostages if its demands are not met and said it would release a complete statement on the attack at a later time.

Today’s attack began when jihadists, purportedly driving a vehicle with diplomatic plates, penetrated the Radisson Blu’s security perimeter and then shot their way into the hotel. Once inside, the gunmen are sad to have searched the hotel “floor by floor, room by room” according to Reuters. The attackers were heard yelling “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest,” in Arabic while fanning out through the hotel.

The jihadists are said to have taken 170 hostages, including number of American, French, Chinese, and Indian citizens. An estimated 80 hostages were freed after they were able to correctly recite verses of the Koran. The tactic of separating Muslims from other hostages is one that is often used by al Qaeda to avoid killing Muslims.

Malian special forces as well as US Special forces are said to have assaulted the hotel in an effort to free the hostages. Six Americans are said to have been freed by US Special Forces.

Al Murabitoon is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran African jihadist who is openly loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri and has denounced the Islamic State. Belmokhtar and Al Murabitoon have been behind several spectacular attacks in West Africa over the past several years, including the January 2013 suicide assault on the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria, and the May 2013 suicide assaults in Niger that targeted a military barracks and a uranium mine. Scores of people were killed in these attacks.

Belmokhtar and his unit are listed by the US as a specially designated global terrorist and a Foreign Terrorist Organization, respectively.

The Sahara branch of AQIM is led by Yahya Abu Hammam, who is listed by the US as a specially designated global terrorist for playing a “key role in the group’s ongoing terrorist activities in North Africa and Mali.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

Paris Attack Inspires Praise and Action from Terrorist Leaders in Africa

CSP, by Nicholas Hanlon, Jan. 13, 2015:

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

The jihadist attacks in Paris by Cherif and Said Kaouchi have drawn praise and a call to arms from Africa’s top terrorists.  Former al Qaeda member Mokhtar Belmokhtar (also former leader of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat and AQIM) who now runs his own group, Signers in Blood, praised the Kaouchi brothers as the ‘best knights’ for their cause.  Belmokhtar urged Muslims everywhere to carry out similar attacks. Belmokhtar’s exploits in Algeria and far exceed the talents of the Kaouchi brothers save only the symbolic potency of Charlie Hebdo as a target.

The North African branch of al Qaeda also issued praise separately from Belmokhtar.  AQIM used it’s statements to associate the Charlie Hebdo attacks with French counter terrorism activity in Africa and particularly operations in Mali where the French have been at the forefront in the fight against al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda, erroneously declared to have been decimated by the Obama administration, does find the French to be it’s primary challenger on the continent along side Algerian and Moroccan counter terrorism efforts.   AQIM stands to gain from the U.S. administration’s chronic misreading of the capability and intentions of Islamist movements in Africa.  Their ability to capitalize on such misreads is precedent in an AQIM strategy document discovered in early 2013 where AQIM emir instructed his followers to mask their international intentions and gain ground with small insurgency movements.  In other words, the Islamist version of ‘think global act local’ will continue to act global the more they go unchallenged in Africa.

Libya: Jihadi Terror Leaders’ Safest Haven

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci:

Libya is the new jihadist front on the Mediterranean — and just a few hours away from the centers of Europe.

Several security sources have confirmed that Belmokhtar is still alive and has moved, along with his troops, from Mali to a new base in the Libyan desert.

The leading jihadist commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar — also known as Khalid Abu Al-Abbas, and by his nickname “Al-A’war” (“the one-eyed”) — is hiding in Libya. From there, according to security sources quoted in media reports, he is planning to mastermind terrorist attacks against Westerners and their interests across Africa’s Sahel region.

Belmokhtar, born in Algeria in 1972, and an Algerian citizen, was a key member of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM]. After an internal power struggle, he decided in December 2012 to form a new group, known as the Signatories in Blood.


Jihadi commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

On January 16, 2013, armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, he led an attack against a Western-owned gas processing facility of In Amenas, Algeria. In the four-day siege of the complex, 39 hostages — including U.S. citizens Frederick Buttacio, Victor Lynn Lovelady, and Gordon Lee Rowan — were killed. After the assault, the U.S. State Department put a $5 million bounty on Belmokhtar.

As a former Algerian soldier with experience from training camps in Afghanistan, and as a member of the Armed Islamic Group [GIA] in Algeria, he rose quickly to the high rank of “emir” (commander). Later, he was one of the co-founders of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which evolved into AQIM.

As a commander in AQIM, Belmokhtar conducted kidnapping operations against Westerners. Later, while in the north of Mali, fighting against Western and African military intervention in the area, he established his own group.

Although his career as a terrorist seemed to have come to an end when, in March 2013, the Chadian government announced that he had been killed in combat in Mali, U.S. intelligence and military officials were wary of confirming Belmokhtar’s death.

Several security sources have confirmed that Belmokhtar is still alive and has moved, along with his troops, from Mali to a new base in the Libyan desert. Malian security sources further say that Belmokhtar intends “to control the entire Sahel from the Libyan territory.”

In an interview to the Libyan press agency LANA, Malian President Boubaker Keita said that Belmokhtar represents a menace for the region. “If this news [that he is still alive] is true,” he said, “we are under a serious threat. Belmokhtar is a very dangerous figure. I am sorry that he was not killed in my country as previously announced and that he managed to move to Libya. There is not going to be peace in the whole region of the Sahara as long as he is alive.”

The news that he managed to escape a huge manhunt staged by the international military forces in the Sahel is doubtless helping to build him into a legend and attracting more young people to jihadism.

In addition, Libya is undergoing a period of uncertainty and weakness. The country is in a political vacuum and unable to pursue a war against terrorism. After gunmen recently attempted to attack family members of Libya’s interim Prime Minister, Abdullah Al-Thani, he handed in his resignation.

Read more at Gatestone Institute

Questions They Won’t Answer


“I will say, you know, the question has always been who, exactly, the attackers were, what their motivations were and how they—the attack evolved,” Psaki said. “We’ve always said that there were extremists that we felt were involved. There’s an ongoing criminal investigation, as you are very familiar with, that you just referred to, so I’d refer other questions to them.”

In a follow-up, Psaki was asked: “When you call them ‘extremists,’ will you not say ‘al Qaeda’ from that podium?”

She would not. “It’s an ongoing FBI investigation,” she said.

The reticence is odd. Reporting by The Weekly Standard, as well as by Lara Logan of 60 Minutes and Fox News’s Catherine Herridge, has uncovered multiple al Qaeda ties. The chief Benghazi suspects include men who not only have been involved with al Qaeda for years but also have direct ties to al Qaeda’s founding leaders: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. According to U.S. officials familiar with the investigation, they include an Egyptian who was trained by al Qaeda in the late 1980s, served as a terrorist commander under Zawahiri in the 1990s, and was in direct contact with Zawahiri in the months leading up to the Benghazi attack. Another is a Libyan who served as one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards and is suspected of delivering materials taken from the Benghazi compound after the attack to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan. Still another is a former Guantánamo detainee who worked for bin Laden as a driver during the 1990s, and whose alias was found on the laptop of one of the 9/11 conspirators. In addition, intelligence officials tell The Weekly Standard that a trusted al Qaeda courier was involved in the attacks.

Read more at Weekly Standard



Did the US have enough indicators and warnings for Algeria?




In the intelligence world, indicators and warnings are essential. They are key pieces of data expressing enough insight allowing an analyst to determine threats, proposed threat levels, and assist in forecasting. With the ongoing hostage situation still unfolding in Algeria (still ongoing as this is being written), it’s critical to question whether the US or our Western allies had enough indicators and warnings to caution citizens living and or working in Algeria.

In May, Homeland Security Today published a piece titled West Africa: Al Qaeda’s New Home. It revealed how Al Qaeda shifted its base from Afghanistan and Pakistan into West Africa—specifically Mali. There was enough information found within to allow any open source intelligence analyst to obtain what is known as “chatter.” That chatter could be observed as the first warning.

Then, in October, Homeland Security Today released another article title The Quint-Border Region: The World’s Most Under-Reported Terror Hot Spot. Within it, five key nations were identified in western Africa demonstrating unprecedented amounts of activities which have unfolded over the years via Al Qaeda linked terrorist groups. These incidents were sheer warnings.

The first week of December could arguably be construed as one of the biggest indicators demonstrating how austere the region has truly become. Online media outlet Magharebia divulged in an article title Belmokhtar breaksaway from AQIM. Anyone who ever worked intelligence knows when key leaders break away from a large terror group, they later form their own. And that’s exactly what Mokhtar Belmokhtar did.

Belmokhtar broke away from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magrheb and formed his own Islamist group called Al Muwaki un bi Al-Dima (Signatories of Blood). A video tape of the one eyed Islamist was created and delivered to at least one international media outlet explaining his intent.

Belmokhtar is no small fish in the Islamic terror world. He is a highly skilled and trained fighter who quickly moved up the ranks in Al Qaeda after fulfilling his mission in Afghanistan back in 1991. He eventually returned to Algeria where he was born and later assisted in a horrifically violent coup of Mali’s government.

Only a few weeks after Magharebia posted their news about Belmokhtar’s split from AQIM, the Jamestown Foundation released a very well written report on the situation in West Africa, specifically revealing Belmokhtar’s future endeavors.

With this information, why did the United States State Department’s Office of Securityand Cooperation release just two travel warnings for Algeria in 2012? Worse, why were they created in May and September having nothing more recent knowing the entire West African region was imploding?

Yes, these two travel warnings could have also sparked interest for an intelligence analyst to create something more suitable for the Western free world, specifically Americans living and working in the region.

The truth is, America and our western allies knew how volatile the entire west African region had become. Yet for some reason, similar to Benghazi, they sat on the back of their heels proving to be inept protectors of their citizens.

Now, as the tragedy in Algeria continues to unfold, reports have revealed at least 35 hostages and 15 terrorists were killed in Algerian military led airstrikes. This reporting remains extremely vague and maintains limited details.  As mentioned last night on Canadian Television News, this tragedy would end in bloodshed.

Kerry Patton, a combat disabled Veteran is author of Contracted: America’s Secret Warriors.