US soldier killed battling al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, May 5, 2017:

A US soldier was killed yesterday outside the capital of Mogadishu while fighting Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia. The casualty took place just five weeks after the Trump administration approved the expansion of military counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced the death of an American soldier “during an operation against al-Shabaab near Barii, Somalia, approximately 40 miles west of Mogadishu.” According to AFRICOM, American forces “were conducting an advise and assist mission alongside members of the Somali National Army.”

The nature of the operation against Shabaab has not be disclosed, and it is unknown how many casualties Shabaab incurred during the fighting. Previously, US forces have partnered with Somali forces to target training camps, bases, and other infrastructure used by Shabaab to launch attacks in the region.

AFRICOM described Shabaab as “a threat to Americans and American interests” and said the group “has murdered Americans; radicalizes and recruits terrorists and fighters in the United States; and attempts to conduct and inspire attacks against Americans, our allies and our interests around the world, including here at home.”

Scores of Americans are thought to have traveled to Somalia to wage jihad. Americans have served in top leadership positions in Shabaab, and three Americans are confirmed to have carried out suicide attacks in Somalia, more than in any other theater of war.

US forces are partnering with Somali and African Union forces to “to systematically dismantle this al Qaeda affiliate,” according to AFRICOM.

Shabaab has had success in disrupting one other special operations force raid in the past. In January 2013, Shabaab repelled a raid by French General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) commandos and killed one solider and captured another. The DGSE forces were attempting to free two of its members who were captured by Shabaab in Mogadishu. They were executed after the raid.

Expanding operations against Shabaab

The Trump administration has loosened the restrictions on the US military to use force against Shabaab. On March 30, the Pentagon announced that “The president has approved a Department of Defense proposal to provide additional precision fires in support of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces operations to defeat Shabaab in Somalia.”

“This authority is consistent with our approach of developing capable Somali security forces and supporting regional partners in their efforts to combat Shabaab,” the Pentagon statement continued.

The Pentagon’s desire to actively target Shabaab reflects the growing concern that al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa is gaining strength despite the presence of both AMISOM and US forces. Over the past year, Shabaab has regained control of some towns and rural areas in the south that it lost during an AMISOM offensive that began in 2011. In addition, Shabaab has stepped up suicide attacks and guerrilla operations both in and around the capital of Mogadishu. Furthermore, Shabaab used a sophisticated laptop bomb in an attempt to down a Somali airline in 2016. This attack was cited by the US government as one of the reasons that electronics have been banned in the cabins of airplanes departing from ten airports in the Middle East. [See What’s really behind Trump’s laptop ban.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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AQAP leader calls for ‘simple’ attacks in the West

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, May 8, 2017:

Qasim al Raymi, the emir of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), wants jihadists in the West to carry out “easy and simple” attacks. His message was delivered in a short video (just over 5 minutes long) that was released online yesterday by AQAP’s propaganda arm, Al Malahem Media.

Raymi addresses the “patient” jihadists “living in the Western countries” and he argues they should be viewed as part of a cohesive, global cause.

“My Mujahid brother, we do not view you as an individual – even though it is referred to as Individual Jihad,” Raymi says. “We rather view you as a group, a brigade, or even an army in itself.”

Raymi says he and others “wish” they “had an army” in the West to carry out operations, but jihadists who act on their own “are that army.”

“And it is important to view yourself from this angle, that you are part of this Ummah [community of worldwide Muslims], a part of this body,” Raymi says. “If any part of the body is not well, then the whole body shares the sleeplessness and fever with it.”

The AQAP chief continues: “We are a single united body, and today this body is in pain in many places. And you are situated in a place where you can harm our enemy. And so it is upon you to carry out that role.”

Raymi emphasizes that the actions of individual jihadists are connected to the wars being fought by their ideological brethren overseas. He notes that their enemies “continuously carry out thousands of operations on a daily basis” and invites Muslims in the West to see themselves as members of the same families struck abroad. “We are a single united body,” Raymi says. “An American Muslims is the same as a Yemeni Muslim, and a Yemeni Muslim is the same as an Australian Muslim. We do not believe in nationalism; we believe in Islam.”

In this context, Raymi mentions a series of wars and clashes that he considers to be a part of the same broader struggle, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the wars in Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Syria. Raymi then asks: “If every operation against the Muslims were to be retaliated by a single Muslim living in the West and result[ed] in the killing of many Americans, then what do you think will happen (as a result)?” The goal is to make “the enemy think twice about his actions,” Raymi says.

AQAP forced to praise operations conducted by Islamic State supporters

AQAP was an early innovator when it comes to inspiring individual jihadists to strike on their own without formal training abroad. Other ideologues had espoused the concept previously, but Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP leader, was the chief advocate of such operations at the time of his death in a US drone strike in Sept. 2011. Awlaki and his comrades founded the English-language Inspire magazine, which is largely devoted to encouraging “lone mujahid” to lash out in the West.

As the Islamic State rose to prominence beginning in 2014, however, AQAP was eclipsed as the main instigator of “lone mujahid” attacks. Many of the small-scale terror plots carried out in recent years have involved supporters of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s caliphate, or were claimed by the Islamic State as the work of its “soldiers.” In some cases, ties to the Islamic State organization are nebulous, or non-existent, but counterterrorism officials have found connections (even if only online) or evidence of inspiration in many cases.

Therefore, Raymi’s speech could be viewed as part of AQAP’s attempt to reclaim the narrative when it comes to inspiring “lone mujahid” attacks. His talk is branded as an “Inspire” production. Still, the Islamic State’s success in amplifying AQAP’s original concept looms large.

Indeed, the only example of an individual jihadist cited by Raymi is Omar Mateen, who repeatedly swore allegiance to Baghdadi during his night of terror in June 2016. Mateen was reportedly exposed to Anwar al Awlaki’s teachings online. But like a number of other individual plotters who were first drawn to AQAP’s messaging, Mateen became infatuated with the idea of striking in the name of the so-called caliphate.

Raymi ignores Mateen’s oath of fealty to Baghdadi, as AQAP has rejected the Islamic State’s caliphate declaration.

“If you sacrifice and expect reward from Allah, then you can do great things,” Raymi says. The AQAP emir continues: “Our brother, Omar Mateen — May Allah accept him and elevate his status high — when he executed his blessed operation…how many smiles do you think he drew on the faces of the widows, orphans and Mujahideen all over? Today, the Muslim Ummah only hears of tragedy after tragedy facing it. Yet it is you who (can) draw a smile in their face. And if making a Muslim smile is a charity, then what about drawing a smile upon thousands and millions of Muslims?” Raymi points to his own smile while making this point. (See the screen shot above.)

Raymi uses the example set by Mateen to draw lessons for his listeners: “Don’t complicate matters, take it easy and simple, the same as our brother Omar Mateen did, he took an AK-47 [sic] and headed towards their gatherings and attacked them.”

“If such operations were to continue whenever there is a tragedy upon Muslims, we will be transferring the tragedy back to them, and it will be an eye for an eye,” Raymi argues.

AQAP has previously praised Omar Mateen’s shooting rampage. The group released an “Inspire Guide” explaining the supposed benefits of the massacre from the jihadists’ perspective. But AQAP also argued that Mateen’s choice of target – a LGBT nightclub in Orlando – confused matters by drawing attention away from the jihadists’ cause.

“The executor [Mateen] specifically chose a homosexual nightclub, and even though the killing of such people is the most binding duty and closer to human nature, [it is better] to avoid targeting areas where minorities are found,” AQAP’s propagandists wrote last year in their “Inspire Guide” for the Orlando attack. AQAP worried that the target took away from the “essence of the operation.” AQAP’s guide continued: “The Western media focused on the testimony by Mateen’s father who said that his son hates homosexuals and the terrorist ideas had no place in his motives. The media reiterated this, saying that Omar saw some homosexuals kissing each other and that such a scene offended him. The media tried to portray the operation motives to be against a particular group of people in order to turn the American public away from the real motives of the operation.”

AQAP also argued that Mateen erred by targeting a nightclub where “most of the individuals present…were Latino.” It “is better to avoid targeting places and crowds where minorities are generally found in America” and jihadists should instead target “areas where the Anglo-Saxon community is generally concentrated,” because this “class of the American community is the majority and it is the one that is in the American leadership.”

This critique of Mateen’s mass murder – that he should have chosen a target that didn’t muddy the jihadist motivation – is entirely missing from Raymi’s speech.

AQAP has, at times, encouraged followers to carry out more targeted slayings. For instance, the 15th issue of Inspire, released in the Spring of 2016, was dedicated to “Professional Assassinations.” The cover story advocated “precision in choosing the target from the beginning to the time of execution,” and the group also published a list of “economic personalities” whose murder would garner much attention. AQAP was behind the targeted strike on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris in Jan. 2015. Inspire had previously listed Charlie Hebdo’s employees as legitimate targets, because they had supposedly offended Islam.

To be sure, AQAP has promoted less precise attacks throughout its history, including first advocating the use of trucks and other vehicles in indiscriminate killings. And the “Professional Assassinations” edition of Inspire also contained an article encouraging the use of knives in attacks inside the US (“O Knife Revolution, Head Towards America”), just as they have been employed against Jews in Israel.

But AQAP has also been encouraging followers to pursue more complex operations, such as using magnetic car bombs against high-profile individuals. AQAP may very well continue to provide innovative terrorist ideas along these lines, but it is telling that Raymi avoids all of this, telling would-be followers not to “complicate matters, take it easy and simple.”

In addition to the June 2016 Orlando massacre, AQAP has praised other attacks that were inspired, or claimed by the Islamic State.

For example, in Inspire and the Inspire Guides, AQAP has lauded: the truck attack on Bastille Day in Nice, France last year; the Sept. 2016 stabbings at a mall in Minnesota; and the vehicular assault near the British parliament in March.

In another Inspire Guide, Raymi’s men decried the arrests of women who were allegedly preparing to carry out a jihadist operation in France on behalf Baghdadi’s self-declared caliphate. AQAP advised “brothers in the west not to allow our Muslim sisters to participate in any lone jihad operation” – a recommendation some in the Islamic State’s network are likely to ignore. AQAP has also endorsed the bombings in New Jersey and New York last September. The bombings were carried out by a jihadist who cited Osama bin Laden, Awlaki and the Islamic State’s spokesman in his notebook. It was that same spokesman, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, who helped the Islamic State amplify AQAP’s “lone mujahid” concept by stressing the necessity of striking in the name of the so-called caliphate.

Therefore, AQAP has been forced to praise terrorist anti-Western attacks carried out in the name of their rivals in the Islamic State. This cannot sit well with Raymi and the al Qaeda loyalists around him.

Raymi’s video is a rare, direct appeal by the AQAP leader to jihadists in the West. He clearly seeks to move AQAP back into the fore of the “lone mujahid” effort.

“If you are true to Allah and seek his assistance, then he will never neglect you,” Raymi tells his audience. “You will be greatly rewarded for [alleviating] the distrust of your Mujahideen brothers everywhere and be an example of brotherhood and the spirit of unity.”

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban rule Afghanistan, 16 years later. @SebGorka, Deputy Assistant to the President.

 

John Batchelor Show, May 4, 2017:

Al Qaeda and the Taliban rule Afghanistan, 16 years later. @sebastiangorka, Deputy Assistant to the President.

Al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has not occurred in a vacuum. It has maintained its strength in the country since the U.S. invasion, launched a new branch, AQIS, and established training camps with the help and support of the Taliban.

When Generals Campbell and Buchanan discussed al-Qaeda in the wake of the Shorabak raid, they described the group as resurgent. Campbell described the Taliban-al-Qaeda relationship as a “renewed partnership,” while Buchanan said it “has since ‘grown stronger.’”

But like the estimate that al-Qaeda maintained a small cadre of 50 to 100 operatives in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2016, the idea that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have only recently reinvigorated their relationship is incorrect. Al-Qaeda would not have been able to maintain a large cadre of fighters and leaders inside Afghanistan, conduct operations in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, establish training camps, and relocate high-level leaders from Pakistan’s tribal areas to Afghanistan without the Taliban’s long-term support.

Al-Qaeda has remained loyal to the Taliban’s leader, which it describes as the Amir al- Mumineen, or the “Commander of the Faithful,” since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Osama bin Laden maintained his oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s founder and first emir. When bin Laden died, Ayman al-Zawahiri renewed that oath. And when Mullah Omar’s death was announced in 2015, Zawahiri swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Mullah Mansour, the Taliban’s new leader. Mansour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s oath.

Photo: Long War Journal

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House Panel Expert: U.S. ‘Losing in Afghanistan’ as Al-Qaeda Grows Stronger

Reuters

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, April 27, 2017:

WASHINGTON D.C. — Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is growing stronger with the resurgence of the Taliban in recent years and “remains a direct threat” to America more than a decade and a half after the United States began targeting both terrorist groups in response to 9/11, an expert tells House lawmakers.

In October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, and the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda has been raging since.

President Donald Trump inherited chaos and overall deteriorating security conditions in the war-devastated country.

Under former President Barack Obama’s watch, the Taliban seized more territory in Afghanistan than during any time since the U.S. military removed the jihadist group from power in 2001 and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) gained a foothold in the country.

The U.S. military “downplayed this problem of the Taliban” during Obama’s tenure, Bill Roggio, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and editor of the Long War Journal, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism.

“If that’s the attitude of the U.S. military towards the Taliban inside Afghanistan, we will continue to lose this war,” he later added. “We need to reassess Afghanistan… our policy in Afghanistan is a mess frankly, and the Trump administration needs to decide what to do and how to do it quickly.”

“The Taliban—al-Qaeda relationship remains strong to this day. And with the Taliban gaining control of a significant percentage of Afghanistan’s territory, al-Qaeda has more areas to plant its flag,” also said Roggio in his written testimony.

Last Friday, the Taliban carried out its deadliest-ever attack on a major military base in northern Balkh province that left as many as 250 soldiers dead.

Although the U.S. military argues the Afghan conflict is at a “stalemate,” Roggio told the House panel that America is losing the war.

“We are losing in Afghanistan… and The Taliban controls or contests at least half of Afghanistan,” Roggio told lawmakers, adding in his written testimony:

Al-Qaeda’s footprint inside Afghanistan remains a direct threat to U.S. national security and, with the resurgence of the Taliban, it is a threat that is only growing stronger. Al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has not occurred in a vacuum. It has maintained its strength in the country since the U.S. invasion, launched a new branch, AQIS [al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent], and established training camps with the help and support of the Taliban.

Roggio testified alongside Dr. Seth Jones from the RAND Corporation and Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown from the Brookings Institution.

Echoing the U.S. military, the experts told lawmakers that Russia and Afghanistan’s neighbor Iran are providing military assistance to the Taliban, adding that neighboring Pakistan provides sanctuary to the terrorist group as well as its al-Qaeda and Haqqani Network allies.

According to the Pentagon, the Haqqani Network poses the “primary threat” to the American military in Afghanistan.

The experts noted that a U.S. military withdrawal from the war-devastated country would spell trouble for America’s national security.

The United States has already invested nearly $120 billion in nation-building efforts in the country.

Despite the threat posed by the Afghan Taliban, the group is not officially listed as a terrorist group by the United States like its ally al-Qaeda and its rival ISIS.

Roggio pointed out that although ISIS’s presence in Afghanistan is a problem, the Taliban remains a bigger threat.

ISIS is considered an enemy by both the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, considered the strongest group in the country.

“The reason the Taliban matters is the Taliban and al-Qaeda, they remain tied at the hip,” testified Roggio. “The Taliban refuse to surrender al-Qaeda members — Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. They continued to fight side by side. Al-Qaeda serves as a force multiplier.”

“The Islamic State is on the fringe. It’s a small problem in Afghanistan compared to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Pakistani jihadist groups that operate there (in ISIS’ Afghan stronghold Nangarhar province),” he added. They operate primarily in four districts in Nangarhar province and have a minimal presence in the north, and it certainly is a problem.

This week, ISIS in Nangarhar killed two U.S. troops and wounded another, the Pentagon revealed.

“Our efforts seemed to be focused on the Islamic State at this point in time while largely ignoring what the Taliban is doing throughout the country and that is directly challenging the Afghan military. They’re going toe to toe; They’re raiding their bases; They’re taking control of territory,” said Roggio.

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Islamic State seeking alliance with al Qaeda, Iraqi vice president says

A member of the Iraqi rapid response forces walks past a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, at a hospital damaged by clashes during a battle between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in the Wahda district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Reuters, by Babak Dehghanpisheh, April 17, 2017:

Islamic State is talking to al Qaeda about a possible alliance as Iraqi troops close in on IS fighters in Mosul, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi said in an interview on Monday.

Allawi said he got the information on Monday from Iraqi and regional contacts knowledgeable about Iraq.

“The discussion has started now,” Allawi said. “There are discussions and dialogue between messengers representing Baghdadi and representing Zawahiri,” referring to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda.

Islamic State split from al Qaeda in 2014 and the two groups have since waged an acrimonious battle for recruits, funding and the mantle of global jihad. Zawahiri has publicly criticized Islamic State for its brutal methods, which have included beheadings, drownings and immolation.

It is unclear how exactly the two group may work together, Allawi said.

Islamic State blazed across large swathes of northern Iraq in 2014, leaving the Iraqi central government reeling. Baghdadi declared a caliphate over the territory the group controlled from the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul the same year, which also became a point of contention with al Qaeda.

Last October, Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite volunteer fighters, commonly referred to as the Popular Mobilization Units teamed up with an international coalition, including the United States, to drive Islamic State from of Mosul and the areas surrounding the city.

The group has been pushed out of the half of Mosul that lies east of the Tigris River, but Iraqi soldiers and their allies are now bogged down in tough fighting in the narrow streets of the Old City of Mosul, west of the river, according to Iraqi security officials .

Islamic State has used suicide bombers, snipers and armed drones to defend the territory under their control. The group has also repeatedly targeted civilians or used them as human shields during the fighting, according to Iraqi and American security officials.

The militant group has lost ground in Mosul but still controls the towns of Qaim, Hawija and Tal Afar in Iraq as well as Raqqa, their de facto capital in Syria.

Even if Islamic State loses its territory in Iraq, Allawi said, it will not simply go away.

“I can’t see ISIS disappearing into thin air,” Allawi said, referring to the group by a commonly used acronym. “They will remain covertly in sleeping cells, spreading their venom all over the world.”

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State lists 5 terrorists linked to Islamic State, al Qaeda

Anjem Choudary (right)

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, March 31, 2017:

Yesterday, the US Department of State added four jihadists linked to the Islamic State and another tied to al Qaeda to the list of specially designated global terrorists. The five terrorists come from Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The most infamous is Anjem Choudary, the British Islamist who is directly linked to Omar Bakri Muhammad, and who has formed several radical Islamist organizations, such as Al Muhajiroun, Al Ghurabaa, and Islam4UK, all which have been banned in Britain. He is currently serving a 66 month long prison sentence in Britain for providing support to the Islamic State. Choudary is one of the more prominent Islamists who operate with near-impunity in London.

Another terrorist mentioned, Sami Bouras, is very likely the same individual who, according to Mathias Vermeulen, was jailed twice in Tunisia, once in 2003 and again in 2010. Bouras is a Swedish citizen who originally is from Tunisia. He sought asylum in Sweden after being released from prison in 2006. State described him as “a member of AQ and who has been involved with planning suicide attacks.” However State did not indicate where Bouras was operating.

State’s brief descriptions of the five terrorists who were designated on March 30 is listed below.

El Shafee Elsheikh traveled to Syria in 2012, joined al-Qa’ida’s (AQ) branch in Syria, and later joined ISIS. In May 2016, Elsheikh was identified as a member of the ISIS execution cell known as “The Beatles,” a group accused of beheading more than 27 hostages and torturing many more. Elsheikh was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer.

Anjem Choudary is a British extremist with links to convicted terrorists and extremist networks in the UK, including the proscribed Al-Muhajiroun group. In September 2014, Choudary was arrested for pledging allegiance to ISIS and for acting as a key figure in ISIS’ recruitment drive. He was sentenced to prison in September 2016. Choudary has stated that he will continue his recruitment activities from prison.

Sami Bouras is a Swedish citizen of Tunisian descent who is a member of AQ and who has been involved with planning suicide attacks.

Shane Dominic Crawford is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and is currently believed to be a foreign terrorist fighter in Syria carrying out terrorist activity on behalf of ISIS, including acting as an English language propagandist for the group.

Mark John Taylor is a New Zealand national who has been fighting in Syria with ISIS since the fall of 2014. Taylor has used social media, including appearing in a 2015 ISIS propaganda video, to encourage terrorist attacks in Australia and New Zealand.

Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Elsheikh, Choudary, Bouras, Crawford, and Taylor have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism. Designations expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and result in denial of access to the U.S. financial system. Moreover, designations can assist or complement the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and other governments.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

Islamic State Expands Into North Africa

A Malian police officer stands guard after a deadly terrorist attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali in November 2015 / Getty Images

Attacks by new terror group threaten Western interests in region

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz March 15, 2017:

A new Islamic State affiliate is gaining strength in sub-Saharan Africa as part of efforts by the Syrian-based Islamist terror group to take over large parts of the continent.

A relatively new group known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has stepped up terrorist attacks in the swath of north Africa known as the Sahel. The Sahel is a semi-arid region that stretches from the western states of Mali and Nigeria, through Niger, Chad, and Sudan and into part of Ethiopia.

ISIS-GS, as the group is identified in U.S. intelligence reports, was formed in 2015 from al Murabitun, an Islamist terror group once linked to al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Militants from Murabitun and a second AQIM splinter group called al Mulathamun Battalion founded ISIS-GS.

According to a State Department security report, al Murabitun was “one of the more active militant groups in the Sahel” and carried out the November 2015 attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali that killed 20 people.

The March 8 report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), a State Department-private sector group, said the new ISIS-GS had been relatively quiet for about a year before reemerging with three significant terror attacks in late 2016.

The Islamic State officially recognized ISIS-GS in October in what security analysts regard as an indication the broader terror movement is stepping up operations in northern Africa.

“Since the Islamic State proclaimed its so-called caliphate in June 2014, it has expanded in both symbolic and real terms in North and West Africa,” said a report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

The OSAC report said the official ISIS recognition of the new group likely reflects “the group’s desire to strengthen its African presence after setbacks in Libya, creating a possibility that this new group could receive increased material support from ISIS in the future.”

The Islamic State suffered setbacks in Libya, where it had controlled key parts of the largely ungoverned state. ISIS in Libya had imposed its ultra-violent version of Sharia law, with sex slaves and beheadings, in the city of Sirte. It was driven out of the port city in December by Libyan government forces.

Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of Africa Command, told a Senate hearing last week that ISIS is regrouping after its expulsion from Sirte and that many of its militants were moving to southern Libya.

In prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Waldhauser said countering the ISIS threat in both the Sahel and Libya is among one of five “lines of effort” for his command.

“The instability in Libya and North Africa may be the most significant, near-term threat to U.S. and allies’ interests on the continent,” he said.

“The multiple militias and fractured relationship between factions in east and west Libya exacerbate the security situation, spilling into Tunisia and Egypt and the broader Maghreb, allowing the movement of foreign fighters, enabling the flow of migrants out of Libya to Europe and elsewhere.”

The terrorist groups are working to incorporate large areas of Africa under Islamist ideology and are networking and targeting young people for recruitment, he said.

Waldhauser also stated that Africa Command “must be ready to conduct military operations to protect U.S. interests, counter violent extremist organizations, and enable our partners’ efforts to provide security.”

Jason Warner, an assistant professor at the Combating Terrorism Center, stated in January that ISIS headquarters delayed recognizing the Sahel affiliate until after the attacks in late 2016. The attacks “signaled to the Islamic State that ISIS-GS was more than just a nominal fighting force,” he said.

Warner said ISIS-GS appears better organized than two other new ISIS affiliates in Africa: the Islamic State in Somalia, in northern Somalia, and the southern Islamic State of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

“While recent news on the Islamic State centers on the siege of Mosul in Iraq, the group’s ideological hold in sub-Saharan Africa has been quietly growing, and not simply in relation to its well-known merger with Boko Haram,” Warner wrote in the West Point journal CTC Sentinel. “Indeed, over the past year-plus, three new Islamic State affiliates have gained prominence in sub-Saharan Africa.”

ISIS-GS “is the only one of these groups to have carried out multiple attacks,” Warner said.

The Sahel affiliate of ISIS is led by al Murabitun commander Adnan al Sahrawi, who pledged his group’s loyalty to ISIS in May 2015.

ISIS-GS conducted its first attack in Burkina Faso in September on a border post. That was followed by attacks in October in Burkina Faso and an assault on a prison in Niger in an apparent bid to free jihadists that could bolster its forces.

The Islamic State conducted similar prison attacks in Iraq prior to taking over large portions of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

ISIS-GS is also suspected of carrying out the December 2016 attack on a military convoy in Burkina Faso that killed 12 soldiers.

“The emergence of an ISIS affiliate in the Sahel will likely increase the security threat to the private sector, as western interests are routinely targeted by militant groups in the Sahel,” the report said.

The Islamic terror group Boko Haram, active in Nigeria, aligned with ISIS in March 2015, another sign of the terror group’s growing influence on the continent.

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