Al Qaeda and ISIS’ Jihad for the Long Haul

ISIS killers in Syria.

ISIS killers in Syria.

By Andrew Harrod, PhD. exclusive to the Religious Freedom Coalition, Oct 13th, 2016

Al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State in Iraq and (Greater) Syria (ISIS) have troubling potentials to withstand recent significant defeats and conduct long-term jihad campaigns, particularly absent any political stabilization greater Mesopotamia.   So analyzed policy experts before an audience of about 60 at the Hudson Institute’s September 13 panel “ISIS:  On the Verge of Defeat or Transforming Itself for the Long Haul?” in Washington, DC.

Hudson Institute Adjunct Fellow Michael Pregent noted that ISIS is “quickly learning, if you don’t have the ability to shoot down an American aircraft, you shouldn’t plant a black flag, because you are likely to lose territory.”  If ISIS’ ambition to maintain a caliphate state within a certain territory became untenable, ISIS could then emulate AQ as a covert jihadist terrorist organization.  Foreign Policy Research Institute Senior Fellow Nada Bakos stated that ISIS has “already metamorphosed into another type of organization where they are inciting and directing attacks outside the territory they control.”

ISIS’ caliphate currently crumbling in the face of conventional military assault appeared to validate the strategy of AQ, a jihadist group “in this for the long haul” and “still there as a long-term threat” for the West, Bokos stated.  AQ “is still very focused on the West and the United States.  They are still very focused on various stages before they get to a caliphate” while ISIS “jumped about six of those steps.”  AQ founder Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri evinced such a strategy in AQ documents recovered during the May 1, 2011, killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  The AQ leaders had argued “don’t establish a caliphate until you can pay everybody in the caliphate and you can give them a job and you can feed them,” Pregent noted.

In an “obvious competition between the two organizations,” AQ “has a much more sophisticated and coherent ideology” and a “much more sophisticated structure” than ISIS, Bokos noted.  Pregent noted that AQ’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, was much more selective in recruitment than ISIS, placing higher ideological and military training demands upon inductees.  Similarly, Zawahiri had previously advocated making Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist group, currently an ISIS affiliate, an AQ affiliate, but met opposition from bin Laden, who distrusted Boko Haram’s discipline and qualifications.

Bokos suggested that AQ could eventually absorb an ISIS bereft of its caliphate territory and lacking AQ’s covert expertise.  Although tempted to go covert, ISIS’ “central effort is still holding the caliphate together.  That is what they centered and built this whole organization around.  They lose face if they lose that territory.”  Yet extortion, now a leading ISIS revenue source, alienates ISIS’ subject population of Sunni Muslims, recalling a similar alienation under ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  Pregent noted speculation that bin Laden had tolerated lax communication security with AQI’s leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in order to allow his 2006 killing by American troops in Iraq given his refusal to heed bin Laden’s opposition to AQI’s brutality.

Nonetheless, Pregent worried that current strategy against ISIS affiliates from Libya to Iraq is “simply resetting the conditions that led to ISIS to begin with” and allowing for a future iteration of the organization.  Anti-ISIS coalition nations are “willing to commit an air force, commit a fighter jet, maybe commit some special operators on the ground, some snipers, but the default has been to use a proxy force.”  Often distrusted by local Sunnis, such proxies “depopulate a Sunni area that ISIS controls, disperse ISIS, replace the ISIS flag with an Iraqi flag, a Syrian flag, a Libyan flag, whatever flag that may be,” then “call it a PR event.”  Yet in Iraq ISIS cells have continued to operate in towns taken from ISIS such as Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit, while ISIS attacks have plagued Iraq’s capital Baghdad itself.

Considering Iraq’s Shiite militias and Shiite-dominated central government, both supported by Iran, the “last thing the United States should do is provide air cover to Iranian Shia proxies as they take back these towns from ISIS,” Pregent stated.  Northwestern Iraq’s “Sunni population is more distrustful than ever of Baghdad, now more distrustful of us” after the United States’ 2011 Iraq troop withdrawal left Iraqi Sunnis alone amidst sectarian repression under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.   Continuing Shiite-Sunni animosity therefore provides fertile soil for ISIS to reestablish itself as a defender of Sunnis, meaning that after ISIS’ impending loss of Mosul “June 2017 will be June 2014 all over again,” he fears.

nazarene_pin_ad_300pxPregent’s alternative strategy is an “intelligence-driven operation where we decapitate ISIS key leaders, bring in Sunni recruits, put pressure on Baghdad to basically bring back the US-trained Sunnis that Malik purged” from Iraqi security forces.  While the CIA has estimated that ISIS has 8,000 fighters, most of them foreigners, 350,000 military-age Sunni males in Mosul have not joined ISIS, allowing for an operation in which “Mosul turns on ISIS.”  Beyond Mosul, Iraq’s lasting pacification requires getting “Baghdad to be a government Sunnis trust” while Bokos noted the need to replace Jabhat al-Nusra’s provision of municipal services, a key element of its popularity among Sunnis.

Pregent’s strategy necessitated renewed American leverage in Iraq’s region, something desired by many Sunni refugees he had met in camps in Iraq and Turkey.  Yet Sunni tribes who had helped defeat AQI during the Iraq War’s Anbar Awakening were weary of renewed alliance with America after facing both Baghdad’s repression and retaliation from AQI members who later joined ISIS.  “Our strategy is based on hope, and the tribal strategy is based on pragmatism,” he noted, while Bokos warned that ISIS had co-opted many Sunnis who once served Iraqi security forces.

Lack of a political settlement in Iraq would only give rise to future, greater dangers, Pregent worried.  The fall of ISIS’ caliphate would lead to an ISIS “2.0, Al Qaeda version, in the interim.”  Then “ISIS 3.0 comes back with an ability to shoot down an American aircraft.”

Andrew E. Harrod is a researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. He can be followed on twitter at @AEHarrod.

‘Join the Revolution’: Al-Qaeda Makes Populist Pitch to Millennials

Osama bin Laden and Hamza bin Laden

Osama bin Laden and Hamza bin Laden

PJ Media, by Bridget Johnson, October 12, 2016:

Al-Qaeda is appealing to millennials with a cocktail of populism and Islam and directives to not admire grown “kids” in professional sports but “men… with their AK aimed at the enemy” — and to follow the latter into jihad.

The outreach was detailed in Al-Balagh, a recent magazine issued by al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a successful chapter announced by core leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2014 that has conducted a spree of machete assassinations against individuals deemed to have insulted Islam. One of the group’s earlier victims was an Atlanta couple who were secular writers visiting Bangladesh; Avijit Roy was hacked to death, while his wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed was seriously injured.

The 53-page inaugural issue of the magazine was printed in English and Bengali. The editor’s note at the beginning first details and slams the “criminal demon-crazy nexus which is known as democracy.”

“Thus, while the anti-Islamic bigots and hate-breeders are hailed as heroes by the rulers and the media, the Tawheed [monotheism]-loving Muslims who came out in the streets to protest the defamation of their beloved prophet are humiliated and massacred,” the column states in apparent reference to the bloggers, professors and journalists who have been hacked to death by AQIS.

The appeal to youth first uses the politics of Bangladesh as a backdrop, arguing that “the criminals siphon billions of dollars from the share market with ease and immersed in mirth, with no accountability whatsoever, while the devastated, burdened youth faced with unrelenting poverty and debt are forced to commit suicide.”

“Domestic maids succumb to death after enduring barbaric torture at the hands of distinguished citizens, while the killers are showered with flowers and garlands. Our mothers and sisters are abused in broad daylight, yet the criminals roam free,” the piece continues. “Every moment a new tragedy is born. It is impossible to keep track of the disasters plaguing this nation. So which one of these can one speak about? Such is the state of the country.”

“And what about the Muslim Ummah [community]? It seems no one even cares to inquire about the Muslims in Palestine anymore, although the criminal Zionist Israel is still surrounded by Muslim countries. I think it was Ali Tantawi who once said, ‘If Muslims can’t learn to resist Israel with weapons then they should learn how to die. You will see Israel be wiped off of the map with a flood of Muslim blood.'”

The article laments that in “Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, China, Myanmar, India, Pakistan — nowhere have the Muslims been able to be liberated.”

“I am not merely talking about the Western concept of ‘independence’ or ‘self-determination,’ but I am talking about true liberation, which can only come through the victory of the deen [religion]. I am talking about making Islam victorious,” the write continues.

“But the good news is a new wave, a reversal of the world order has started all over the world. A wave of Muslim youth is returning to Tawheed. A wave of the youth is returning to Islam. It is a return to the roots in order to bring back the glory and reclaim the honor, and to destroy the satanic civilization and establish the reign of the divine Shariah.”

“The Muslim youth,” argues the AQIS piece, “have started to realize that they have to rise up and join the caravan.”

“They have to join the resistance and the revolution. They have to conquer fear and walk on the same road on which the Salaf stepped upon. Only then true liberation and true victory will come. The Muslims have recognized the reality of the system of kufr [disbelief] imposed by the global kuffar. The magic of the magician has finally come undone,” continues the recruiting pitch.

Would-be jihadists are told that “with our backs to the wall, now is the time to fight back.”

“It is now or never. The Muslims all over the world are witnessing the help of Allah granted to the Mujahideen.” A few operations are mentioned, including “the beginning of the Third Intifada” in the Middle East.

“Oh youth! Tie your shroud around your head and join the golden caravan! The grown men who spend their times playing like kids in the fields of cricket are not your role models. Rather, your role models are men, firm in speech and in action. Men who lived with their head high and with their AK aimed at the enemy. Your role models are the lions of the Ummah, such as Umar and Usama – may Allah have mercy upon them,” states the piece.

“Yes, your role models are the likes of the reviving Imam, the hero of the afflicted Ummah, Shaykh Usama bin Ladin, who boldly stated, ‘I swear by Allah who has raised the heavens without any pillars, America and those living in America will not even dream of peace until we live it in Filisteen, and until all the kufr armies are expelled from the land of Muhammad.'”

There are also articles in the magazine geared toward a millennial audience, including age-oriented marriage guidelines. Al-Qaeda publications have often tried to include women writers to reach out to that demographic as well, and Al-Balagh includes a “Sisters’ Column: How I Came to Love the Niqab.”

The State Department designated AQIS as a foreign terrorist organization in June, 16 months after Roy’s murder.

The Treasury Department noted that younger leaders — “part of a new generation of al-Qaeda operatives” — have been quietly building up al-Qaeda in its July sanctions against three members of the terror group sheltering in Iran.

Osama bin Laden’s 11th son, Hamza, now in his mid-20s, has also been rallying millennials to jihad in audio messages over the past 14 months.

“The followers of the thought of Sheikh Osama, may Allah have mercy on him, which is represented by targeting the head of global disbelief that supports the Jews, have increased in number within a decade and a half, and became double in number,” Hamza bin Laden said in a July message.

“If you think that your sinful crime that you committed in Abbottabad has passed without punishment, then you thought wrong,” he added, referring to the U.S. raid in which his father was killed. “What is correct is coming to you, and its punishment is severe.”


What makes someone become an Islamic extremist? Is it poverty? Lack of education? A search for meaning? Haroon Ullah, a senior State Department advisor and a foreign policy professor at Georgetown University, shares what he discovered while living in Pakistan.

EXCLUSIVE: Federal complaint against bombing suspect omits journal’s ISIS references

Fox News, by Catherine Herridge, Pamela K. Browne, September 21, 2016

Pages from the bloody journal of the New York and New Jersey bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami show he was a follower of Al Qaeda as well as the Islamic State terror group, yet federal investigators made no reference to ISIS in their complaint charging him on Tuesday.

At least two pages include references to Anwar al-Awlaki — the American-born Muslim cleric who was killed in a 2011 drone strike and whose preaching has inspired acts of terror linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda. Federal investigators mentioned Awlaki in the complaints.

However, the journal also appears to reference Abu Muhammad al Adnani — the ISIS spokesman killed by coalition forces in August after he called his followers to attack non-believers in their homelands.

“I looked for guidance came Sheikh Anwar, Brother Adnani, Dawla. Said it clearly – Attack the kuffar (non-believer) in the back yard,” one section read. Page 12 of the indictment references this section without naming Adnani.

Rahami’s screed also praised 9/11 mastermind Usama bin Laden and Nidal Hasan, the former Army officer who went on a deadly shooting rampage in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas.  Hasan was also a follower of Awlaki. The Counter Extremism Project’s research counted 77 extremists — 43 U.S. extremists and 34 European extremists — with ties to Anwar al-Awlaki. They include the Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen in June, as well as Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino massacre in December 2015.

In addition, the journal included rantings plotting revenge against the U.S. government for slaughtering Muslim holy warriors. In one section, the Afghan-born Rahami suggested he was worried police or the feds would capture him before he could carry out a suicide attack, becoming a martyr. “The sounds of bombs will be heard in the streets,” the journal declared.

Another section included a reference to “pipe bombs” and a “pressure cooker bomb” and declared: “In the streets they plan to run a mile,” an apparent reference to one of the blast sites, a charity run in Seaside Park. The feds said the journal ended with the words: “Death to your oppression.”

The pages appeared to be pierced by a bullet from the shootout that ended with Rahami in handcuffs on Monday. He’s suspected of planting bombs in Seaside Park and Elizabeth, New Jersey, as well as New York City, where the feds said at least 31 people were wounded after an explosion Saturday night.

Fox News has asked the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice to explain why Rahami wrote about ISIS in his journal, but unlike the other terrorists he cited, there was no reference to ISIS in the charging documents.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Also see:

Bomb suspect praised Osama bin Laden, Anwar al Awlaki in notebook

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn,  September 21, 2016

The Department of Justice has charged Ahmad Khan Rahami with the bombings in New York and New Jersey on Sept. 17, as well as other planned attacks. The charges include Rahami’s use of “weapons of mass destruction,” meaning the pipe bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) he planted in Seaside Park, NJ, the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, and in Elizabeth, NJ.

ahmad-khan-rahami-captured-768x981The most damaging bomb was detonated near 135 West 23rd Street (the “Chelsea bomb”). According to the Complaint filed in Rahami’s case, 31 people were wounded in the blast, which also caused millions of dollars in property damage. The bomb, which used a pressure cooker, was “comprised of a high-explosive main charge” and “packed with ball bearings and steel nuts, hundreds of which were recovered from the blast site.”

The Chelsea bomb was placed in a dumpster, which likely limited the efficacy of the shrapnel packed in it. But the impact on the dumpster and the surrounding area demonstrates that it could have been deadly. The dumpster, which was more than 100 pounds, was “propelled…more than 120 feet.” Windows 400 feet away from the detonation site and up to three stories high were shattered.

A second bomb recovered on 27th street was apparently constructed in a similar fashion.

Rahami allegedly acquired many of the bomb components via eBay in the months leading up to the attacks. And he apparently didn’t do much to cover his tracks. Not only were Rahami’s fingerprints found on some of the unexploded bombs, according to the Complaint, he also reused cell phones that were previously subscribed to members of his family. The cell phones served as triggering devices for the bombs. In addition, Rahami’s face was clearly visible on surveillance video near where the bombs were placed.

Still another cell phone belonging to one of Rahami’s family members was recovered by officials. It allegedly included a video, recorded on Sept. 15, of Rahami detonating a “small, black cylindrical object” in a backyard near his residence in Elizabeth.

Jihadi references found in notebook and on social media account

During the course of the arrest, authorities recovered a handwritten journal from Rahami. The notebook was damaged during Rahami’s shootout with the police. It included a number of jihadi-related thoughts and comments, including praise for Osama bin Laden and Anwar al Awlaki.

One passage reads: “You (USA Government) continue your [unintelligible] slaught[er] against the mujahidean [sic] be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Sham [Syria], Palestine…”

Another entry, according to the Complaint, expressed concern that the author (presumably Rahami) may be caught before he was able “to carry out a suicide attack.” The handwritten note references the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security “looking for me,” and then includes what appears to be a prayer to Allah “[t]o not take Jihad away from [me].” The comment continues: “I beg [unintelligible] shahadat [martyrdom] & Inshallah [God willing] this call will be” answered.

The Complaint cites a passage in the notebook that contains a “reference to the instructions of terrorist leaders that, if travel is infeasible, to attack nonbelievers where they live.” This has been a consistent theme in the Islamic State’s messaging over the past several months. Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the deceased Islamic State spokesman who also oversaw the organization’s anti-Western plotting, told followers to attack in their home countries if they couldn’t travel to the lands of the so-called caliphate. The Complaint doesn’t cite Adnani, however, and instead focuses on Anwar al Awlaki, who helped pioneer the idea of individual jihadist attacks in the West. Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike in 2011, was an al Qaeda ideologue and his teachings have been marketed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He is frequently referenced by both al Qaeda and the Islamic State to this day.

The passage is written in broken English but includes the phrase “back to sham [Syria].” The Complaint continues with additional lines from the notebook: “But [unintelligible] this incident show the risk are [unintelligible] of getting caught under [unintelligible] I looked for guidance and…Guidance came from Sheikh Anwar…Said it clearly attack the Kuffar [non-believers] in their backyard.”

A footnote says that “Sheikh Anwar” is a reference to Awlaki.

Indeed, according to the Complaint, the notebook includes praise for Awlaki, Nidal Hasan (an Awlaki follower who killed 13 people during a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas in Nov. 2009) and “Brother Osama bin Laden.”

Awlaki has inspired multiple plots in the West. In December 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife killed 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. Farook had studied Awlaki’s teachings years beforehand. Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. in June, also listened Awlaki’s lectures. Both the San Bernardino shooters and Mateen pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The Islamic State claimed that they acted on its behalf.

On the same day that Rahami allegedly detonated bombs in NY and NJ, a Somali man stabbed nine people at the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, Minn. The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq News Agency, which is one of the group’s main propaganda arms.

But the Islamic State has not claimed the bombings Rahami is charged with carrying out. Thus far, no group has claimed Rahami as its own.

Regardless, the Complaint makes it clear that Rahami was drawn to the jihadist ideology. A social media account with the user name Yaafghankid78, which is connected to Rahami, favorited jihadi anthems.

And one part of the recovered notebook reads: “Inshallah [God willing] the sounds of the bombs will be heard in the streets. Gun shots to your police. Death To Your OPPRESSION.”

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


NY Suspect’s Mosque Linked to Subversive Islamist Group


Just to clarify: Rahami’s parents were asylum seekers from Afghanistan, not refugees. Ann Corcoran explains the difference here.


Ignore what Maajid Nawaz says about Trump helping jihadist recruitment – hogwash. But he certainly knows a lot about the jihadist scene in Quetta:

Also see:

The Connection between Al-Qaeda and Black Lives Matter


Front Page Magazine, by Raymond Ibrahim, Sept. 15, 2016:

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri made a new video that appeared on September 9.  It offers little that is new:  9/11 is again praised and portrayed as a product of Muslim grievances and payback for Western crimes; he vows a “thousand more” 9/11s; and warns against apostates being more dangerous than original infidels.

Only one angle stands out—again, not because it is new, but because it sheds light on a growing phenomenon: black violence against police in general, in the context of Black Lives Matter in particular.   In last week’s video, Zawahiri called on American blacks to convert to Islam, asserting that they will never receive justice and will always live in “humiliation” until they convert to Islam and rebel against the “white majority.”  He even showed footage of the Nation of Islam’s Malcolm X preaching.

While many conclude that al-Qaeda is opportunistically trying to exploit groups like BLM, the reality may be that BLM has from the start long been influenced by al-Qaeda’s rhetoric and propaganda (which, as usual, is quietly disseminated on the ground, not by al-Qaeda, but by its many Muslim sympathizers in America).  For Zawahiri has in fact for years been calling on American blacks to turn against whites and quoting Malcolm X.

Nearly a decade ago, Zawahiri issued a similar message:

That’s why I want blacks in America, people of color, American Indians, Hispanics, and all the weak and oppressed in North and South America, in Africa and Asia, and all over the world, to know that when we wage jihad in Allah’s path, we aren’t waging jihad to lift oppression from Muslims only; we are waging jihad to lift oppression from all mankind, because Allah has ordered us never to accept oppression, whatever it may be…This is why I want every oppressed one on the face of the earth to know that our victory over America and the Crusading West — with Allah’s permission — is a victory for them, because they shall be freed from the most powerful tyrannical force in the history of mankind.

American blacks, however, were Zawahiri’s primary targets. He again praised and quoted from Malcolm X: “Anytime you beg another man to set you free, you will never be free. Freedom is something you have to do for yourself. The price of freedom is death.”

Surely it’s not a coincidence that, a decade after this theme started to be hammered out by al-Qaeda and America’s Nation of Islam—who are ever telling blacks that Christianity is the “white man’s religion,” made to keep blacks passive, whereas Islam is the religion of equality, strength and dignity—that blacks, many associated or even converted to Islam, have begun to engage in violence and murder, including in the context of Black Lives Matter, that is, in the so-called name of “social justice”?

Sounding like Malcolm X, just last year Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan spoke words that would make Zawahiri proud:

I’m looking for 10,000 in the midst of a million. Ten thousand fearless men who say death is sweeter than continued life under tyranny. Death is sweeter than continuing to live and bury our children while the white folks give our killers hamburgers. Death is sweeter than watching us slaughter each other to the joy of a 400-year-old enemy. Death is sweeter. The Quran teaches persecution is worse than slaughter. Then it says retaliation is prescribed in matters of the slain. Retaliation is a prescription from God to calm the breasts of those whose children have been slain. So if the federal government won’t intercede in our affairs, then we must rise up and kill those who kill us; stalk them and kill them and let them feel the pain of death that we are feeling!

Apparently police are meant by “those who kill us.”  Unsurprisingly, then, Muslims and the Nation of Islam—even ISIS apparently—were “on the Ground [in Ferguson] and Active Since Day One.”  Likewise, Gavin Eugene Long, a self-styled “social justice warrior,” who murdered three Baton Rouge police officers last July, was a member of the Nation of Islam.  Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley, the original Black Lives Matter cop killer, who gunned down two NYPD officers while eating lunch in their patrol car in December 2014 posted on his Facebook an image of Koran verse 8:60, where Allah calls on Muslims to “strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah.” Edward Archer, another black convert to Islam, shot a Philadelphia police officer and later cited “following Allah” as his motive.

The aftereffects of al-Qaeda’s propaganda—which, right after September 11, 2001, was regularly disseminated by Western media far and wide—are still with us.  Such propaganda always had several faces: if it was meant to make liberal Americans feel guilty and try to appease “aggrieved” Muslims, it was simultaneously always inciting blacks to violence against whites.  And it worked, even if its rationale is often hidden beneath the surface.

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda fights on

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn Sept. 11, 2016:

All appeared lost for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in December 2001. In the years leading up to the 9/11 hijackings, bin Laden believed that the US was a “paper tiger” and would retreat from the Muslim majority world if al Qaeda struck hard enough. The al Qaeda founder had good reasons to think this. American forces withdrew from Lebanon after a series of attacks in the early 1980s and from Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993. The US also did not respond forcefully to al Qaeda’s August 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, or the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.

But bin Laden’s strategy looked like a gross miscalculation in late 2001. An American-led invasion quickly overthrew the Taliban’s regime just weeks after 19 of bin Laden’s men hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Some of al Qaeda’s most senior figures were killed in American airstrikes. With al Qaeda’s foes closing in, bin Laden ordered his men to retreat to the remote Tora Bora Mountains. Here, bin Laden must have thought, al Qaeda would make its last stand. The end was nigh.

Except it wasn’t.

Bin Laden slithered away, eventually making his way to Abbottabad, Pakistan. When Navy SEALs came calling more than nine years later, in early May 2011, the world looked very different.

Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound reveal that he and his lieutenants were managing a cohesive global network, with subordinates everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. Some US intelligence officials assumed that bin Laden was no longer really active. But Bin Laden’s files demonstrated that this view was wrong.

Writing in The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS, former CIA official Mike Morell explains how the Abbottabad cache upended the US intelligence community’s assumptions regarding al Qaeda. “The one thing that surprised me was that the analysts made clear that our pre-raid understanding of Bin Laden’s role in the organization had been wrong,” Morell writes. “Before the raid we’d thought that Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, was running the organization on a day-to-day basis, essentially the CEO of al Qaeda, while Bin Laden was the group’s ideological leader, its chairman of the board. But the DOCEX showed something quite different. It showed that Bin Laden himself had not only been managing the organization from Abbottabad, he had been micromanaging it.”*

Consider some examples from the small set of documents released already.

During the last year and a half of his life, Osama bin Laden: oversaw al Qaeda’s “external work,” that is, its operations targeting the West; directed negotiations with the Pakistani state over a proposed ceasefire between the jihadists and parts of the government; ordered his men to evacuate northern Pakistan for safe havens in Afghanistan; instructed Shabaab to keep its role as an al Qaeda branch secret and offered advice concerning how its nascent emirate in East Africa should be run; received status reports on his fighters’ operations in at least eight different Afghan provinces; discussed al Qaeda’s war strategy in Yemen with the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other subordinates; received updates from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, including details on a proposed truce with the government of Mauritania; authorized the relocation of veteran jihadists to Libya, where they could take advantage of the uprising against Muammar al Qaddafi’s regime; corresponded with the Taliban’s leadership; and generally made decisions that impacted al Qaeda’s operations everywhere around the globe.

Again, these are just a handful of examples culled from the publicly-available files recovered in bin Laden’s compound. The overwhelming majority of these documents remain classified and, therefore, unavailable to the American public.

Al Qaeda has grown under Zawahiri’s tenure

The story of how bin Laden’s role was missed should raise a large red flag. Al Qaeda is still not well-understood and has been consistently misjudged. Not long after bin Laden was killed, a meme spread about his successor: Ayman al Zawahiri. Many ran with the idea that Zawahiri is an ineffectual and unpopular leader who lacked bin Laden’s charisma and was, therefore, incapable of guiding al Qaeda’s global network. This, too, was wrong.

There is no question that the Islamic State, which disobeyed Zawahiri’s orders and was disowned by al Qaeda’s “general command” in 2014, has cut into al Qaeda’s share of the jihadist market and undermined the group’s leadership position. But close observers will notice something interesting about al Qaeda’s response to the Islamic State’s challenge. Under Zawahiri’s stewardship, al Qaeda grew its largest paramilitary force ever.

Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, warned about the rise of Al Nusrah Front during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 28. “With direct ties to Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s successor, Nusra[h] is now al [Qaeda’s] largest formal affiliate in history,” McGurk said. US officials previously contacted by The Long War Journal said Nusrah could easily have 10,000 or more fighters in its ranks.

It is worth repeating that Nusrah grew in size and stature, while being openly loyal to Zawahiri, after the Islamic State became its own jihadist menace. Far from being irrelevant, Zawahiri ensured al Qaeda’s survival in the Levant and oversaw its growth.


On July 28, Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani announced that his organization would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or the “Conquest of the Levant Front”) and would have no “no affiliation to any external [foreign] entity.” This was widely interpreted as Al Nusrah’s “break” from al Qaeda. But Julani never actually said that and al Qaeda itself isn’t an “external entity” with respect to Syria as the group moved much of its leadership to the country long ago. Al Nusrah’s rebranding was explicitly approved by Abu Khayr al Masri, one of Zawahiri’s top deputies, in an audio message released just hours prior to Julani’s announcement. Masri was likely inside Syria at the time.

Julani, who was dressed like Osama bin Laden during his appearance (as pictured above), heaped praise on bin Laden, Zawahiri and Masri. “Their blessed leadership has, and shall continue to be, an exemplar of putting the needs of the community and their higher interests before the interest of any individual group,” Julani said of Zawahiri and Masri.

Most importantly, Al Nusrah’s relaunch as JFS is entirely consistent with al Qaeda’s longstanding strategy in Syria and elsewhere. Al Qaeda never wanted to formally announce its role in the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s regime, correctly calculating that clandestine influence is preferable to an overt presence for many reasons. This helps explain why Nusrah was never officially renamed as “Al Qaeda in the Levant” in the first place. However, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, there is such widespread ignorance of al Qaeda’s goals and strategy that Nusrah’s name change is enough to fool many.

Al Qaeda has grown in South Asia as well. In Sept. 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which brought together elements of several existing jihadist organizations. AQIS quickly got to work, attempting to execute an audacious plan that would have used Pakistani arms against American and Indian ships. The plot failed, but revealed that al Qaeda had infiltrated Pakistan’s military.

Pakistani officials recently told the Washington Post that they suspect AQIS has a few thousand members in the city of Karachi alone. And al Qaeda remains closely allied with the Taliban while maintaining a significant presence inside Afghanistan. In October 2015, for instance, Afghan and American forces conducted a massive operation against two large al Qaeda training camps in the southern part of the country. One of the camps was approximately 30 square miles in size. Gen. John F. Campbell, who oversaw the war effort in Afghanistan, explained that the camp was run by AQIS and is “probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

With Zawahiri as its emir, al Qaeda raised its “largest formal affiliate in history” in Syria and operated its “largest training” camp ever in Afghanistan. These two facts alone undermine the widely-held assumption that al Qaeda is on death’s door.

Elsewhere, al Qaeda’s other regional branches remain openly loyal to Zawahiri.

From April 2015 to April 2016, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controlled a large swath of territory along Yemen’s southern coast, including the key port city of Mukalla. An Arab-led coalition helped reclaim some of this turf earlier this year, but AQAP’s forces simply melted away, living to fight another day. AQAP continues to wage a prolific insurgency in the country, as does Shabaab across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia. Shabaab’s leaders announced their fealty to Zawahiri in February 2012 and remain faithful to him. They have taken a number of steps to stymie the growth of the Islamic State in Somalia and neighboring countries. Shabaab also exports terrorism throughout East Africa, executing a number of high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to operate in West and North Africa, often working in conjunction with front groups. Like al Qaeda’s branches elsewhere, AQIM prefers to mask the extent of its influence, working through organizations such as Ansar al Sharia and Ansar Dine to achieve its goals. Late last year, Al Murabitoon rejoined AQIM’s ranks. Al Murabitoon is led by Mohktar Belmokhtar, who has been reportedly killed on several occasions. Al Qaeda claims that Belmokhtar is still alive and has praised him for rejoining AQIM after his contentious relations with AQIM’s hierarchy in the past. While Belmokhtar’s status cannot be confirmed, several statements have been released in his name in recent months. And Al Murabitoon’s merger with AQIM has led to an increase in high-profile attacks in West Africa.

In sum, AQAP, AQIM, AQIS and Shabaab are formal branches of al Qaeda and have made their allegiance to Zawahiri clear. Jabhat Fath al Sham, formerly known as Al Nusrah, is an obvious al Qaeda project in Syria. Other organizations continue to serve al Qaeda’s agenda as well.

Al Qaeda’s veterans and a “new generation” of jihadist leadership

As the brief summary above shows, Al Qaeda’s geographic footprint has expanded greatly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some US officials argue that al Qaeda has been “decimated” because of the drone campaign and counterterrorism raids. They narrowly focus on the leadership layer of al Qaeda, while ignoring the bigger picture. But even their analysis of al Qaeda’s managers is misleading.

Al Qaeda has lost dozens of key men, but there is no telling how many veterans remain active to this day. Experienced operatives continue to serve in key positions, often returning to the fight after being detained or only revealing their hidden hand when it becomes necessary. Moreover, al Qaeda knew it was going to lose personnel and took steps to groom a new generation of jihadists capable of filling in.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

Last year, several veterans were reportedly released from Iran, where they were held under murky circumstances. One of them was Abu Khayr al Masri, who paved the way for Al Nusrah’s rebranding in July. Another is Saif al Adel, who has long been wanted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. At least two others freed by Iran, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Khalid al Aruri, returned to al Qaeda as well.

Masri, Al Adel, and Aruri may all be based inside Syria, or move back and forth to the country from Turkey, where other senior members are based. Mohammed Islambouli is an important leader within al Qaeda. After leaving Iran several years ago, Islambouli returned to Egypt and eventually made his way to Turkey, where he lives today.

Sitting to Julani’s right during his much ballyhooed announcement was one of Islambouli’s longtime compatriots, Ahmed Salama Mabrouk. The diminutive Mabrouk is another Zawahiri subordinate. He was freed from an Egyptian prison in the wake of the 2011 uprisings.

Al Qaeda moved some of its senior leadership to Syria and several others from this cadre are easy to identify. But al Qaeda has also relied on personnel in Yemen to guide its global network. One of Zawahiri’s lieutenants, Hossam Abdul Raouf, confirmed this in an audio message last October. Raouf explained that the “weight” of al Qaeda has been shifted to Syria and Yemen, because that is where its efforts are most needed.

The American drone campaign took out several key AQAP leaders in 2015, but they were quickly replaced. Qasim al Raymi, who was trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s, succeeded Nasir al Wuhayshi as AQAP’s emir last summer. Raymi quickly renewed his allegiance to Zawahiri, whom Raymi described as the “the eminent sheikh” and “the beloved father.” Another al Qaeda lifer, Ibrahim Abu Salih, emerged from the shadows last year. Salih was not public figure beforehand, but he has been working towards al Qaeda’s goals in Yemen since the early 1990s. Ibrahim al Qosi (an ex-Guantanamo detainee) and Khalid al Batarfi have stepped forward to lead AQAP and are probably also part of al Qaeda’s management team.

This old school talent has helped buttress al Qaeda’s leadership cadre. They’ve been joined by men who signed up for al Qaeda’s cause after the 9/11 attacks as well. In July, the US Treasury Department designated three jihadists who are based in Iran. One of them, known as Abu Hamza al Khalidi, was listed in bin Laden’s files as part of a “new generation” of al Qaeda leaders. Today, he plays a crucial role as the head of al Qaeda’s military commission, meaning he is the equivalent of al Qaeda’s defense minister. Treasury has repeatedly identified other al Qaeda members based in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Some members of the “new generation” are more famous than others. Such is the case with Osama’s son,Hamzah bin Laden, who is now regularly featured in propaganda.

This brief survey of al Qaeda is not intended to be exhaustive, yet it is still sufficient to demonstrate that the organization’s bench is far from empty. Moreover, many of the men who lead al Qaeda today are probably unknown to the public.

The threat to the West

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” His statement underscored how the threats have become more geographically dispersed over time. With great success, the US worked for years to limit al Qaeda’s ability to strike the West from northern Pakistan. But today, al Qaeda’s “external operations” work is carried out across several countries.

During the past fifteen years, Al Qaeda has failed to execute another mass casualty attack in the US on the scale of the 9/11 hijackings. Its most recent attack in Europe came in January 2015, when a pair of brothers backed by AQAP conducted a military-style assault on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. AQAP made it clear that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was carried out according to Zawahiri’s orders.

Thanks to vigilance and luck, al Qaeda hasn’t been able to replicate a 9/11-style assault inside the US. Part of the reason is that America’s defenses, as well as those of its partner nations, have improved. Operations such as the 9/11 hijackings are also difficult to carry out in the first place. Even the 9/11 plan experienced interruptions despite a relatively lax security environment. (Most famously, for example, the would-be 20th hijacker was denied entry into the US at an Orlando airport in the summer of 2001.)

But there is another aspect to evaluating the al Qaeda threat that is seldom appreciated. It is widely assumed that al Qaeda is only interested in attacking the West. This is flat false. Most of the organization’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in Muslim majority countries.

The story in Syria has been telling. Although al Qaeda may have more resources in Syria than anywhere else, Zawahiri did not order his men to carry out a strike in the West. Al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group” laid the groundwork for such operations, but Zawahiri did not give this cadre the green light to actually carry them out. Zawahiri’s stand down order is well known. In an interview that aired in May 2015, for instance, Julani explained that the “directives that come to us from Dr. Ayman [al Zawahiri], may Allah protect him, are that Al Nusrah Front’s mission in Syria is to topple [Bashar al Assad’s] regime” and defeat its allies. “We have received guidance to not use Syria as a base for attacks against the West or Europe so that the real battle is not confused,” Julani said. However, he conceded that “maybe” the mother al Qaeda organization is plotting against the West, just “not from Syria.” Julani emphasized that this “directive” came from Zawahiri himself.

To date, al Qaeda has not lashed out at the West from inside Syria, even though it is certainly capable of doing so. Al Qaeda’s calculation has been that such an attack would be too costly for its strategic interests. It might get in the way of al Qaeda’s top priority in Syria, which is toppling the Assad regime. This calculation could easily change overnight and al Qaeda could use Syria as a launching pad against the West soon. But they haven’t thus far. It helps explain why there hasn’t been another 9/11-style plot by al Qaeda against the US in recent years. It also partially explains why al Qaeda hasn’t launched another large-scale operation in Europe for some time. Al Qaeda has more resources at its disposal today than ever, so the group doesn’t lack the capability. If Zawahiri and his advisors decided to make anti-Western attack planning more of a priority, then the probability of another 9/11-style event would go up. Even in that scenario, al Qaeda would have to successfully evade the West’s defenses. But the point is that al Qaeda hasn’t been attempting to hit the West nearly as much as some in the West assume.

In the meantime, it is easy to see how the al Qaeda threat has become more diverse, just as Clapper testified. AQAP has launched several thwarted plots aimed at the US, including the failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing. In 2009, al Qaeda also plotted to strike trains in the New York City area. In 2010, a Mumbai-style assault in Europe was unraveled by security services. It is not hard to imagine al Qaeda trying something along those lines once again. Other organizations tied to al Qaeda, such as the Pakistani Taliban, have plotted against the US as well.

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda lives. Fortunately, Zawahiri’s men have not replicated the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. But the al Qaeda threat looms. It would be a mistake to assume that al Qaeda won’t try a large-scale operation again.

*The spellings of al Qaeda and bin Laden are changed in this quote from Morell to make them consistent with the rest of the text.

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


Listen to John Batchelor interview Thomas Joscelyn:


Fifteen Years Later, Al Qaeda Grows

On 15th Anniversary Of 9/11, Al-Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri Urges Mujahideen To Focus On Targeting U.S., Incites Black Christians Against U.S. And Calls Them To Islam

MEMRI, Sept. 9, 2016:

On September 9, 2016, Al-Qaeda’s media wing Al-Sahab released a video message by the group’s leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, marking the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zawahiri reiterates the reasons behind the attacks and their impact on the U.S., and urges the mujahideen to focus on targeting the U.S. and its allies, and to bring the battle onto their own soil as well. Appealing to non-Muslim African-Americans, he blames their woes on the U.S. and calls to them to convert to Islam.


Most of the 20-minute video consists of Al-Zawahiri’s message, and the final several minutes feature an archival address by Osama bin Laden. Additionally, archival footage of a Malcolm X address is played as Al-Zawahiri appeals to African-Americans.

Below are the main points of the message:

Al-Zawahiri praises the “blessed raids” of 9/11, noting that they managed to strike deep within the U.S. and to attack its economic symbols, i.e. the Twin Towers. He also notes that the final and fourth hijacked airplane, United Flight 93, was heading towards “the biggest criminals in the White House or the Congress.” Al-Zawahiri boasts that 9/11 was a wakeup call to the U.S., reminding it that its crimes against Muslims won’t go unnoticed. The attacks’ impact, according to Al-Zawahiri, continues to be felt today, and its memory will forever be remembered by the Americans.


Addressing the U.S., Al-Zawahiri reminds it: “The events of 9/11 were a direct result of your crimes against us, your crimes in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Mali, Somalia, Yemen, Islamic Maghreb, and Egypt [and] the result of your occupation of Muslim lands, theft of their resources, and support for the murderous corrupt criminals, who rule over them.” He further threatens the U.S.: “As long as your crimes continue, the events of 9/11 will be repeated thousands of times, by the will of Allah. And we will follow you – if you don’t cease your aggression [against us] – until the Day of Judgment…”

Moving on to the subject of the mujahideen, Al-Zawahiri informs the U.S. that their strength is increasing by the day: “There it is, the jihadi awakening [movement] increasing – thanks to Allah – many times over what it used to be before the blessed raids,” he says.

Addressing the mujahideen, Al-Zawahiri urges them to focus on attacking the U.S. and its allies, and on trying as much as possible to shift the battle onto these countries’ own soil. In that regard, he notes that the defeat of the U.S. will lead to the defeat of its lackeys. He also urges the mujahideen to unite, pledge allegiance to the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan (the Taliban), support the revolutions across the Muslim world, and urge prominent Islamic leaders to form the nucleus of a future council that will be tasked with appointing an imam (leader) for all Muslims.

Speaking to the Muslims in general, Al-Zawahiri implores them to rise up against their rulers: “It has become clear to you that your rulers are tools in the hands of the secular Safavid Crusader alliance, the alliance of the devils, headed by American and the West,” he says. He also urges them to disavow these rulers, and to adopt the path of da’wa and jihad: “Your true soldiers are your mujahideen sons… who wish for you to live free and honored in the shade of the righteous caliphate, in which the ummah chooses, holds accountable, and ousts its imam.”

Al-Zawahiri also lashes out at the various Islamic movements that have emerged in the awake of the Arab Spring, calling them “sheep” and agents of the U.S. who have hijacked the sacrifices of the Muslims. He also calls on the Muslims to be the real lions – like the mujahideen – who refuse to live under these corrupt and apostate regimes.


Finally, Al-Zawahiri appeals to non-Muslims, particularly African Americans, blaming their woes on the U.S. and calling them to Islam. His message is augmented with an address by Malcolm X. Al-Zawahiri says: “We inform every weakened [person] in the world: America is the source of calamity and the head of evil in this world, and it is the thief of nations’ aliment, and it is the one who humiliate the Africans [i.e. African Americans] until this day, and no matter how much they try to reform and obtain their rights according to the law and the [U.S.] constitution, they will not attain it, for the law is in the hands of the white majority, [who] control it as they wish. And they [i.e. African Americans] will not be saved but by Islam.”

What’s Next For Al-Qaida After The Defeat Of ISIS?

Supporters of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shout anti-American slogans, after the news of his death, during a rally in Quetta May 2, 2011. Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. helicopter raid on a mansion near the Pakistani capital Islamabad early on Monday, officials said, ending a nearly 10-year worldwide hunt for the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed ∨

Supporters of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shout anti-American slogans, after the news of his death, during a rally in Quetta May 2, 2011. Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. helicopter raid on a mansion near the Pakistani capital Islamabad early on Monday, officials said, ending a nearly 10-year worldwide hunt for the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed ∨

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept. 4, 2016:

Al-Qaida’s long-term strategy to outlast the Islamic State poses a major threat to the U.S. in the years to come, experts told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Al Qaeda is intentionally operating below a threshold that would force Washington into a decision-making position,” Katherine Zimmerman, a Research Fellow and Al-Qaida expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) wrote in an email to TheDCNF. “Al Qaeda leadership most probably directed groups not to conduct directed, mass-casualty attacks against Western targets in order to prevent Washington from having to decide whether to act against al Qaeda.”

The U.S. has conducted only a few strikes against Al Qaida in recent months, and President Barack Obama has galvanized the entire U.S. government’s resources toward fighting ISIS. U.S. officials responsible for the fight in Syria hardly mention Al Qaida. The coalition the U.S. has assembled is even called the “Anti-ISIS” coalition.

“Al-Qaida has been pursuing a subversive strategy of trying to integrate itself with local groups,” Bill Roggio, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told TheDCNF. Al-Qaida’s operations in Syria exemplify the strategy Roggio discusses. The group has focused on integrating itself with existing Syrian opposition groups and building popular support among local communities.

When Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate began to draw the attention of the U.S. and Russia, it ostensibly severed its connections with the global terrorist group and rebranded itself. “The unprecedented move was formally sanctioned by al Qaeda’s senior leadership,” Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, noted in an op-ed for Foreign Policy after the separation was announced.

The move was likely an attempt to “create the image of being more moderate in an attempt to unify and galvanize and appeal to other oppositionist groups in Syria,” Director of National Intelligence Eric Clapper told an audience at the Aspen Forum in the days after the break was announced. Al-Qaida’s leadership sanctioned the break, because opposition groups inside Syria can now partner with Al-Qaida, without also taking on all the baggage an alliance with a terrorist group brings.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted that Al-Qaida’s ties to its group in Syria were the “primary source of the opposition’s resistance” to a grand merger. This grand merger has led a coalition of jihadi groups leading a massive battlefield offensive against the Assad regime in the city of Aleppo. The jihadi-led coalition achieved a major victory when it broke the siege of Aleppo city on August 7.

The U.S. has played no role in the current battle for Aleppo, and its strategy is geared to taking territory away from ISIS.

“Al Qaeda has filled the breach left by the absence of the United States,” a group of analysts from ISW, AEI, and the Center for New American Security wrote in an op-ed Thursday for Foreign Policy. The analysts warn that “the United States risks losing the war against extremism in Syria if it continues to allow Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to be seen by the Syrian people as the victors in Aleppo.” Ahrar Al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham maintain deep ties to Al-Qaida.

Syria is the most fertile battleground for al-Qaida’s vision of a truly Islamic state. Roggio explained that Al-Qaida believes ISIS declared the caliphate too early. He continued that al-Qaida’s subversive strategy is geared towards creating the preconditions necessary for the caliphates declaration.

While Syria is the most active battlefront for Al-Qaida, Zimmerman highlighted that the group is pursuing the same strategy on other battlegrounds. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commanding general of the U.S. effort against ISIS, has been trumpeting the impending defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Votel told reporters Tuesday, “We’ve got good momentum going,” elaborating “We are really into the heart of the caliphate.”

The U.S. has however made no indication of its plans to deal with al-Qaida on the Iraqi battlefield. Zimmerman cautioned “Al Qaeda is prepared for the day after ISIS in Iraq,” elaborating “Al Qaeda just called for Iraqi fighters to answer its call and for Syrians to support Iraqis to reorganize their fight.” She also pointed to continued low profile Al-Qaida insurgencies in Africa, Yemen, and Somalia.

“Al Qaeda is a greater long-term threat than ISIS because of its resiliency,” Zimmerman closed.

Follow Saagar Enjeti on Twitter

George Washington University hires Muslim convicted of soliciting jihad murder

Jihad Watch, by Robert Spencer, Aug. 30, 2016:

Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, says: “I trust him. We did our due diligence.” How did they do that? It may be that Jesse Morton is as reformed and repentant as the day is long, but when George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security has a “Program on Extremism” and not a “Program on Jihad,” how diligent could they be in vetting Morton for adherence to an ideology they don’t even admit exists?

What’s more, Morton was convicted of soliciting the jihad murder of “blasphemers.” Would George Washington University hire anyone of any other belief system if he had been convicted of soliciting the murder of those who offended against his belief system? This hire indicates how compromised the universities are: they are so anti-American and so far Left that jihadis are fashionable. Muslims are never a threat, even when they’re plotting violence and murder; they’re protected, privileged victims.

A reminder: “Leader of Revolution Muslim Pleads Guilty to Using Internet to Solicit Murder and Encourage Violent Extremism,” U.S. Attorney’s Office, February 9, 2012:

ALEXANDRIA, VA—Jesse Curtis Morton, aka Younus Abdullah Muhammed, 33, of New York City, pleaded guilty today to using his position as a leader of Revolution Muslim Organization’s Internet sites to conspire to solicit murder, make threatening communications, and use the Internet to place others in fear….

Morton faces a maximum penalty five years in prison for each of the three charges when he is sentenced on May 18, 2012.

That’s fifteen years, and he has served four, because he is “reformed.”

“Jesse Morton operated Revolution Muslim to radicalize those who saw and heard his materials online and to incite them to engage in violence against those they believed to be enemies of Islam,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “We may never know all of those who were inspired to engage in terrorism because of Revolution Muslim, but the string of recent terrorism cases with ties to Morton’s organization demonstrates the threat it posed to our national security. We’re grateful to the FBI, NYPD, and their law enforcement partners throughout the world who made today’s conviction possible.”

“Individuals such as Morton who encourage violence and create fear over the Internet are a danger to our society and to the freedoms we enjoy as citizens,” said Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin. “Today’s plea, and other recent cases of those associated with Morton’s organization, demonstrate the widespread nature of this danger. Together with our partner law enforcement agencies, and with the assistance of the community, the FBI will continue to pursue those who promulgate violent extremism and promote the radicalization of others.”…

According to a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Morton founded Revolution Muslim in December 2007 and created various online forums that contained postings and information supportive of violent extremism. Morton and his associates used the organization’s websites to encourage Muslims to engage in violence against those they believed to be enemies of Islam and to support Osama bin Laden, Anwar Al-Awlaki, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and others espousing violence. They posted messages in support of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the November 2009 killings at Ft. Hood and attacks and future threats against Jewish organizations, among others.

Through his online forums, Morton conspired with Zachary Chesser, of Fairfax County, Va., and others to solicit the murder of an artist tied to the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” movement in May 2010, including posting online a magazine that included the artist in a hit list for violent extremists to take out and a message from Anwar Al-Awlaki that explicitly called for the artist’s assassination. In justifying these actions, Morton posted online a speech of his asserting that “Islam’s position is that those that insult the Prophet may be killed” and exhorting his listeners to fight the “disbelievers near you.”

In addition, Morton admitted through his statement of facts that he aided Chesser in taking repeated steps in April 2010 to encourage violent extremists to attack the writers of South Park for an episode that featured Muhammad in a bear suit, including highlighting their residence and urging online readers to “pay them a visit.” Among the steps they took were posting on multiple occasions speeches by Anwar Al-Awlaki, which explained the Islamic justification for killing those who insult or defame Muhammad. Morton worked with Chesser to draft a message for the website regarding the South Park threats, including a quote from Osama bin Laden that “If there is no check in the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions.” Morton and Chesser posted the final version of this statement on various extremist online forums, and Chesser told Morton that he expected the statement would “scare the kuffar.” Kuffar is an Arabic term, referring to an unbeliever, or disbeliever, in Islam….

Now Morton is no longer in the business of trying to “scare the kuffar.” Instead, he is soothing the kuffar to sleep validating the kuffar’s fantasies about “deradicalization.” This absurd idea is based on the assumption that Islam is a Religion of Peace, and that jihad terrorists are misunderstanding and misinterpreting it. So all that needs to be done is teach them the true, peaceful Islam, and all will be well, right?

Well, let’s see. De-radicalization programs have been implemented elsewhere, notably in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Let’s look at how they fared. From the Jihad Watch archives:

11 ex-Gitmo prisoners flee the Saudi “rehabilitation program” and join up with terrorist groups

Jaw-dropper: 25 former Gitmo detainees “return to militancy” despite Saudi rehab program!

Graduate from Saudi jihadi rehab program killed in Syrian jihad: “killed a large number of Christians before his acceptance by God”

Flight 253 jihadist wasn’t cured by Saudi anti-jihad art therapy

Former Guantanamo detainee now top al-Qaeda ideologue — “He was transferred to Saudi Arabia in 2006 where he was placed in a national rehabilitation project.”

Indonesian government admits that its jihadist rehab program is a failure

Counterterror expert: “deradicalization” is “practically impossible”

Australia: Muslim teen arrested for jihad plot was in “deradicalization” program

‘Deradicalized’ Islamic State jihadists producing terror propaganda videos in Germany

But Jesse Morton has the magic key to “deradicalization” that no one else has been able to find? Color me skeptical.


“GW hires former Islamic extremist,” by Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, August 30, 2016:

George Washington University has hired a former Islamic extremist to work at its center on homeland security — a man who once denounced the United States and made threats against the creators of the TV series “South Park” for depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.

While reformed extremists have worked at universities in Europe to help fight terrorism, this is believed to be a first in the United States.

Jesse Morton, who was known as Younus Abdullah Muhammad when he was a recruiter for the al-Qaeda, brings a “unique perspective” to counter-terrorism work, said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security….

During his days as an extremist, Morton earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University.

Hughes said before making the hiring decision, he discussed Morton with the FBI, leaders in the security community and the lawyers that prosecuted Morton.

He said he’s sure Morton is completely reformed from the days he served time in federal prison after inciting people to join a terrorist organization.

“I trust him,” he said. “We did our due diligence.”

Nadia Oweidat, a fellow at the think tank New America who’s interviewed dozens of former extremists, said she doesn’t doubt Morton’s sincerity.

“People go through phases. They evolve and are finally able to see the light,” she said.

She doesn’t think Morton made up his de-radicalization to get a shorter prison sentence.

“When an extremist defects, they risk being completely targeted by their community — it’s like saying you’re gay publicly,” she said. “There are life-altering consequences and you don’t approach it lightly.”

She said other organizations should also recruit former extremists in the hopes of preventing future massacres such as the San Bernardino shooting or the November terror attack in Paris, both committed by radicalized Islamists.


Also see:

Rebranding Terror

 (Photo: Representational Image/AFP)

(Photo: Representational Image/AFP)

Foreign Affairs, By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Thomas Jocelyn, Aug. 29, 2016:

July 28, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, heretofore the emir of al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, delivered what seemed to be a major announcement. Although Julani lavished praise on both al Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri and his predecessor Osama bin Laden, he noted two apparent organizational changes. The first was that Jabhat al-Nusra was no more: Julani’s organization would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS, or, in English, Conquest of the Levant Front). Second, Julani said that the renamed organization would have “no affiliation to any external entity.”

Arab and Western media buzzed with news that Julani had announced his organization’s “split” or “break” from al Qaeda. Yet Julani never actually said that such a break was occurring, and a careful reading of his statement reveals numerous problems with this interpretation (though some JFS figures have more definitively affirmed a split in interviews). More significantly, this reading ignores what we know of al Qaeda’s long-standing strategy. In fact, al Qaeda produced its own analysis of Julani’s message to the world—in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Arabic-language newsletter Al-Masra.

Taken together, the evidence is clear: Nusra’s rebranding as JFS does not represent a genuine split from al Qaeda. Instead, it signals a return to al Qaeda’s original game plan for Syria.


To understand Nusra’s recent moves, it is important to recognize that al Qaeda never wanted to tell the world about its role in Syria’s civil war. The group’s leadership judged that accomplishing their long-term goal—replacing Bashar al-Assad’s regime with an Islamist emirate—would require strategic patience. During the first two years of the war, therefore, al Qaeda sought to minimize international scrutiny by embedding senior operatives in the ranks of Nusra and other jihadist organizations. Zawahiri and his lieutenants wanted to clandestinely guide these groups and foster their alliances with other rebels, without officially announcing al Qaeda’s involvement. Growing such alliances, Zawahiri and his cohorts believed, would be more difficult if al Qaeda had an official presence in Syria.

It was only the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State (ISIS) that led Nusra’s leader, Julani, to announce his fealty to Zawahiri. Previously—and despite Nusra’s 2012 designation by the State Department as an “alias” for Baghdadi’s organization—Julani’s group had succeeded in making itself appear to Syrians to be an organic part of their struggle. Following the State Department’s designation, for instance, TheNew York Times reported that demonstrators in various Syrian cities hefted banners with slogans such as “No to American intervention, for we are all Jabhat al-Nusra.” Put simply, Nusra had gained the respect of Syrians due to its ability to take the fight to Assad.

But on April 8, 2013, Baghdadi released an audio message demanding that the name Jabhat al-Nusra be abolished, because Nusra was “but an extension of the Islamic State of Iraq” (as his group was then known). Baghdadi said that Julani was merely “one of our soldiers,” and that Nusra owed its very existence to Baghdadi’s men and financial support. From that day forward, Baghdadi decreed, the Islamic State of Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra would be a single entity known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Two days later, on April 10, Julani refused Baghdadi’s order. In an audio message of his own, Julani said that Nusra would continue to fight under its own banner. More important, Julani explained that he and his men owed their fealty directly to Zawahiri, thereby bypassing Baghdadi in the chain of command. “This is a pledge of allegiance from the sons of Jabhat al-Nusra and their supervisor general that we renew to the Sheikh of Jihad, Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may Allah preserve him,” Julani said, indicating by his use of the word “renew” that he had already privately pledged his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri. This was Nusra’s first public acknowledgement that it was a part of al Qaeda. In the months that followed, it became clear that al Qaeda had sent some of its most seasoned operatives, including veteran jihadists such as Abu Firas al-Suri, to Syria to lead Nusra.

A few weeks later, Zawahiri ruled on the dispute between Baghdadi and Julani in a letter dated May 23, 2013, and subsequently posted online by Al Jazeera. Zawahiri held that ISIS should be “dissolved” and that Baghdadi’s men should return to Iraq, where they would again operate as the Islamic State of Iraq. Jabhat al-Nusra was to be “an independent entity,” meaning its own regional branch of al Qaeda in Syria, and would answer to al Qaeda’s general command. Though Zawahiri’s decision was mainly a rebuke of Baghdadi, he also chastised Julani for “showing his links to al Qaeda without having our permission or advice, even without notifying us.” That is, Julani was not supposed to reveal his relationship to al Qaeda.

Baghdadi, of course, disobeyed Zawahiri’s order, and ISIS seized control of Raqqa from Nusra and other rebel groups in the summer of 2013. This led to the greatest jihadi rivalry in history, as ISIS went on to conquer territory in Iraq and Syria and win adherents elsewhere around the globe. For al Qaeda, ISIS’ success caused problems everywhere from West Africa to South Asia, as the self-proclaimed caliphate wooed fighters, and occasionally whole affiliates, away from its erstwhile parent organization. But the worst damage to al Qaeda’s strategic interests was arguably in Syria. Instead of covert influence, al Qaeda now had an official branch—Nusra—as well as a rogue jihadist rival in ISIS that was committed to al Qaeda’s destruction. This was the opposite of what Zawahiri and his fellow strategists had wanted.

Nusra fighters release prisoners in Lebanon, December 2015.  Stringer/Reuters

Nusra fighters release prisoners in Lebanon, December 2015. Stringer/Reuters


Al Qaeda’s strategy, then, has long been to maintain public distance from Nusra when possible. That this strategy is behind Nusra’s rebrand is further suggested by a recent article in Al-Masra, a weekly newsletter published by AQAP that is a key source for understanding the group’s thinking. The August 9 edition of Al-Masra includes a lengthy article entitled “A Letter Regarding Jabhat al-Nusra Disassociating From al Qaeda.” The piece’s author is identified as Osama bin Saleh (likely a pseudonym), who uses statements made by al Qaeda’s senior leaders, as well as al Qaeda documents, to explain the group’s designs on Syria.

In a section of his letter aptly titled “Not Standing Out,” Saleh reiterates that al Qaeda never wanted a formal entity in Syria. He includes a passage from a May 2014 video in which Zawahiri said that the “general leadership’s direction is that we should not declare any open presence” in Syria, and that this “matter was agreed upon even with the brothers in Iraq,” meaning Baghdadi’s group. “We were surprised,” Zawahiri continued, “by the declaration that gave the Syrian regime and the United States an opportunity they were hoping for.” The declaration he is referring to is Baghdadi’s formation of ISIS, which Zawahiri claimed made Syrians wonder: “Why is al Qaeda bringing disasters upon us? Isn’t Bashar enough? They also want to bring in America against us?”

Bin Saleh also points to an August 2010 letter (previously released by the U.S. government) from bin Laden to Ahmed Godane, the emir of the Somali jihadist group al Shabab. Bin Laden told Godane that Shabab’s “unity” with al Qaeda “should be carried out … through unannounced secret messaging.” Godane and his men could spread the news of Shabab’s unification with al Qaeda “among the people of Somalia,” but they should not make “any official declaration” of their allegiance. If asked about their “relationship with al Qaeda,” Shabab’s leaders were to say it was “simply a brotherly Islamic connection and nothing more, which would neither deny nor prove” the connection.

As the letter to Godane made clear, Shabab was already part of al Qaeda at the time. But bin Laden believed ambiguity was a strategic advantage. Saleh quotes at length from bin Laden’s letter to Godane to illustrate why. “If the matter becomes declared and out in the open, it would have the enemies escalate their anger and mobilize against you,” bin Laden wrote. Although bin Laden conceded that “enemies will find out inevitably” because “this matter cannot be hidden,” he argued that “an official declaration remains to be the master of all proof,” and it would be easier for “Muslims in the region” to support Shabab without it.

Shabab and al Qaeda did not announce their formal union until 18 months later, in February 2012—after bin Laden had been killed. But al Qaeda’s secretive handling of its arm in East Africa set a clear precedent for how it would groom its newer branch in the Levant. Bin Saleh underlines the point: “Notice that the leadership of the organization [al Qaeda] was not passionate about declaring their relationship with other factions, in order to avoid confrontation with the enemies and … denying them excuses.”

Nusra’s relaunch as JFS should be viewed in this light. Al Qaeda does not expect the U.S. government to remove JFS from its terrorism list or to stop bombing its members. Rather, the rebranding is intended to eliminate America’s “excuse” for bombing the group by removing its formal link to al Qaeda. This message is aimed primarily at Syrians, and secondarily at the broader Middle East. According to bin Saleh, Nusra’s “disassociation” will further unification and cooperation between militants in Syria, as other groups will no longer have the excuse that they do not want be seen as supportive of all of al Qaeda’s actions.

Bin Saleh’s letter provides other insights into al Qaeda’s thinking as well. He suggests Julani’s move was stage-managed by al Qaeda’s senior leaders, writing that the group’s “leadership paved the way before Nusra declared disassociation.” He also points to the message Nusra released from Zawahiri’s deputy, a veteran jihadist known as Abu Khayr al-Masri, just hours before announcing the relaunch. Masri gave his blessing to Nusra “to proceed with that which safeguards the interests of Islam and Muslims, and protects the jihad of the people of the Levant.” JFS’ goals are no different from Jabhat al-Nusra’s, which were no different from al Qaeda’s.

Perhaps most important, Saleh stresses that JFS’ goals are no different from Jabhat al-Nusra’s, which were no different from al Qaeda’s. As Julani himself said at a press conference last year, “we, whether we are with al Qaeda or not, will not abandon our principles and stances. We will continue to say that we want to establish the sharia and … continue in jihad.”


It is vital for Western governments, especially the United States, to expose al Qaeda’s strategy. This, however, is unlikely to happen—the United States has, for years, been exceedingly slow to recognize al Qaeda’s intentions, let alone respond to them. In the past, the U.S. government overlooked al Qaeda’s maneuvering because it believed the organization was on the verge of “strategic defeat”; today, the perception that al Qaeda does not threaten the West has led to a more generalized disinterest.

Yet the danger is growing. In addition to the additional leverage al Qaeda could gain over other militant groups in Syria, JFS may be positioned to receive even more outside support. Before renaming itself, Nusra had received support from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, despite its open affiliation with al Qaeda. (Among other concerns, these Sunni countries are all eager to unseat Bashar al-Assad, a staunch ally of their Shiite rival Iran.) Now that JFS has shed the al Qaeda label, these states may begin to scale up support for the group with little objection from Western governments.

Most important, Nusra’s rebranding should be understood in light of al Qaeda’s history of trying to obscure its role in Syria. The group’s senior leaders are now attempting to return to their original Syria strategy. If the West and its allies do not actively oppose them, they may get away with it.

Also see:

Zawahiri says jihadists should prepare for guerrilla war in Iraq

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn,  August 26, 2016

ZawahiriAs Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the third episode of Ayman al Zawahiri’s “Brief Messages to a Victorious Ummah” series on Aug. 25. The latest installment is subtitled “Fear Allah in Iraq.” The al Qaeda leader clearly expects the Islamic State to continue to lose ground, arguing that the Sunnis of Iraq should “reorganize themselves” for a “protracted guerrilla war to defeat the neo-Safavid [Iranian]-Crusader occupation of their regions as they did before.”

Zawahiri critiques the Islamic State’s approach to waging jihad in Iraq in his brief message, which is just over four minutes long. His arguments further highlight how al Qaeda and the Islamic State have evolved very different strategies for waging jihad. Whereas al Qaeda wants to be viewed as a popular revolutionary force, serving the interests of Muslims, the Islamic State deliberately markets itself as a top-down authoritarian regime that seeks to overtly impose its will on the populace. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State share the same long-term goal, as they both want to resurrect an Islamic caliphate. But they diverge on the steps that should be taken to achieve this goal.

Al Qaeda’s senior leaders think that the Islamic State’s methodology for waging jihad alienates the Muslim population and therefore makes it easier for the Sunni jihadists’ enemies to defeat them.

Zawahiri lays out a way forward for the jihadists in Iraq should the Islamic State’s caliphate continue to crumble.

Zawahiri says the jihadists in Iraq “must review their prior experiences to save them from the mistakes that led to their separation” from the Muslim community. These mistakes caused the jihadists to fall into “the abyss of extremism” and “takfir” (the practice of declaring other Muslims to be nonbelievers). They are also guilty of the “spilling forbidden [Muslim] blood,” Zawahiri says, and this path only serves the “proxies of America.”

In a telling passage, Zawahiri calls on “our brethren, the heroes of Islam, the mujahideen of the Levant” to assist “their brethren in Iraq in reorganizing themselves.”

Zawahiri famously sought to keep Al Nusrah Front in Syria, which was recently rebranded as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or Conquest of the Levant Front), separate from Baghdadi’s Islamic State. Zawahiri ruled that Baghdadi’s organization should be confined to Iraq, but the Islamic State refused to comply with his order.

Zawahiri now says the “battle is one,” with the Levant being “an extension of Iraq” and Iraq serving as “the depth of the Levant.”

That is, Zawahiri wants the jihadists in Iraq to follow the same strategy employed by al Qaeda in Syria. Under Zawahiri’s guidance, the group formerly known as Al Nusrah deeply embedded itself within the anti-Assad opposition and cultivated roots within the Syrian society.

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership publicly approved of Al Nusrah Front’s recent rebranding as JFS. This rebranding was spun as a clear “break” between Al Nusrah and al Qaeda. But Zawahiri’s own deputy, Abu Khayr al Masri, blessed the move shortly beforehand.

There is no hint in Zawahiri’s message that he feels betrayed by the jihadists in Syria. On the contrary, he wants the jihadists in Iraq to follow their model. When Zawahiri asks the “mujahideen of the Levant” to help their “brethren” in Iraq, he is clearly referring to JFS and others who have been following al Qaeda’s strategy.

The al Qaeda master further connects the jihad in Iraq to Syria by pointing out that Iranian-backed “militias and mercenaries” fight in both countries. Zawahiri says this is because Iran and its allies seek to annihilate Sunnis across the Middle East. He claims that Sunnis are being tortured and slaughtered in Iraq under the “pretext” of fighting Baghdadi’s Islamic State, but the supposed real reason for this can be found in the Iran’s expansionist goals. Zawahiri claims that the Iranians and the Americans have reached an “accord” that will allow a Crusader-Iranian-Alawite coalition (meaning an alliance of Western, Iranian and Assad regime forces) to swallow the whole region.

Even as Zawahiri rails against Iran, however, some of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders are stationed inside the country today.

All three episodes of Zawahiri’s “Brief Messages to a Victorious Ummah” series have been released this month. As Sahab has suffered production delays over the past two years, but the current pace of releases indicates that the official media shop for al Qaeda’s senior leadership is able to regularly churn out content once again. In the first episode of the new series, Zawahiri blasted the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In the second, he called on Muslims to support the Afghan Taliban and reject the Islamic State’s upstart presence in Afghanistan.

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

Tom Joscelyn discusses Trump’s ISIS speech on Happening Now


FDD senior fellow Tom Joscelyn discusses the facts behind Trump’s ISIS speech – Happening Now (Fox News) – August 16, 2016

Fact Check: Were Obama and Hillary Founders of ISIS? You Bet



Breitbart, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Aug. 12, 2016:

Even the left-stream media is now acknowledging that Donald Trump “has a point” when he blasts Hilary and Obama for creating ISIS.

“Hillary Clinton is vulnerable. ISIS did gain strength during her time as Secretary of State,” said ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz.

Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt tried to give Mr. Trump an out. “I know what you meant,” he suggested. “You meant that he [Obama] created the vacuum, he lost the peace.”

“No,” Trump replied. “I meant, he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”

Trump is correct – and quite literally, so.

First, a document. Then some history.

Thanks to Judicial Watch, we now have an August 2012 defense intelligence report on the civil war in Syria and the situation in Iraq that openly states that the policy of the United States and its allies was to support the Salafist opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

That opposition, at the time spearheaded by Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), soon morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS.

The report appears to have originated from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Iraq, well before their intelligence product was tarnished by political interference from top commanders in 2014 aimed at diminishing the threat from ISIS.

Here’s what the report, originally stamped SECRET, actually says:

 AQI, through the spokesman of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu Muhammad al- Adnani… is calling on the Sunnis in Iraq, especially the tribes in the border regions (between Iraq and Syria), to wage war against the Syrian regime…

Opposition forces are trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor) adjacent to the Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar), in addition to neighboring Turkish borders. Western countries, the Gulf States and Turkey are supporting these efforts… [emphasis mine]

There is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasak and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want…

It is no secret that the United States was supporting the Syrian opposition in 2012 and even until very recently. In December 2012, thanks in large measure to the active lobbying of Mrs. Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Obama declared that the United States considered the opposition as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

What was secret until the release of this August 2012 defense intelligence report is that the United States knew that the Syrian opposition was dominated by al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq, groups that merged and morphed into what today we call ISIS.

So Donald Trump is literally correct. Obama and Hillary created ISIS. They figure among the founding fathers of the world’s most brutal terrorist organization. They deserve ISIS Most Valuable Player awards for their efforts.

Some of America’s enemies, such as Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran, have also accused the United States of creating ISIS – but as a tool for encroaching on Iran’s efforts to dominate the Muslim world. In fact, Obama and Hillary’s policies have simultaneously favored Iran and its rise to regional dominance, standing aside as Iran filled the vacuum in Iraq with its own militias and allowing Iranian troops and weapons to flow onto battlefields in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and beyond.

Other documents obtained by Judicial Watch show that the United States was also complicit with arms shipments from Benghazi to the jihadi rebel groups in Syria.

These particular shipments were distinct from the more publicized case of al Entisar, a Libyan fishing vessel that arrived in Iskanderiyah, Turkey, crammed with weapons in late August 2012.

The shipments described in this recently declassified document were sent directly to small Syrian ports under rebel control and included RPG grenade-launchers, sniper rifles, and ammunition for 125mm and 155mm howitzers.

As I revealed two years ago, the U.S. backed arms shipments to ISIS and its allies in Syria appear to have been run out of the White House by then-counterterrorism advisor (and current CIA director) John Brennan. Running the clandestine arms shipments outside official channels allowed Obama and his allies – including Mrs. Clinton, who supported the arms shipments – to withhold that information from Congress.

Deflecting attention from these arms shipments is precisely why Obama and Hillary hatched their “blame-it-on-a-YouTube-video” narrative as the cause of the Benghazi attacks. It was a deliberate deception to trick the American people and cover-up their misdeeds.

Obama’s disastrous withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq in December 2011 clearly enhanced the ability of AQI and ISI to seize control of large portions of Iraqi territory and certainly contributed to the birth of ISIS. It also opened the door for Iran to fill the vacuum.

But as the August 2012 defense intelligence report states, that was the plan all along. Obama and Hillary wanted to create an ISIS-controlled enclave in Syria, “in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

Donald Trump was right. Again.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Deception: the Making of the YouTube Video Hillary and Obama Blamed for Benghazi, released on July 19 and is now in its 4thprinting.

Also see:

Syria’s Nusra Front Breaks from Al-Qaeda



Breitbart, by John Hayward, July 29, 2016:

The Nusra Front, formally known as Jabhat al-Nusra, has been al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria since late 2011. The Syrian group’s leader has announced it will now cut its ties with al-Qaeda and become independent, with al-Qaeda’s blessing.

The announcement came from Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani in his first video statement. As the BBC reports, Julani announced that his group would be renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which translates to “Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant,” and will have “no affiliation to any external entity.”

The reason for the split, and the reason al-Qaeda endorsed it, was to “remove the pretext used by powers, including the U.S. and Russia, to bomb Syrians.” In other words, Julani thinks his group has been unfairly targeted because it was linked to al-Qaeda, and now that it has been formally rebranded as an independent entity, foreign powers will no longer have an excuse to bomb them.

Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr said Nusra’s leadership had been instructed to “go ahead with what protects the interests of Islam and Muslims and what protects jihad.”

“The brotherhood of Islam is stronger than any organisational links that change and go away,” declared al-Qaeda’s number one, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Russians do not need much of a pretext to bomb enemies of the Assad regime, and the U.S. clearly is not buying this “rebranding” strategy.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, not even troubling himself to use the Nusra Front’s new name, said:

The United States continues to assess that Nusra Front leaders maintain the intent to conduct eventual attacks in and against the West and there continues to be increasing concern about Nusra Front’s growing capacity for external operations that could threaten both the United States and Europe.

In fact, a report earlier this year from the Institute for the Study of War, and American Enterprise Institute, portrayed the Nusra Front as “much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run.”

“We judge any organization, including this one, much more by its actions, its ideology, its goals,” added State Department spokesman John Kirby. “Thus far, there’s no change to our views about this particular group. We certainly see no reasons to believe that their actions or their objectives are any different. And they are still considered a foreign terrorist organization.”

Perhaps it would have been more crafty for the al-Qaeda bosses to avoid admitting they ordered the “breakaway” as a propaganda ploy to “protect jihad.” Also, they are making the charade much less convincing by actively seeking closer ties with other Islamist groups in Syria.

CNN notes that just two weeks ago, the United States announced closer cooperation with Russia against the Nusra Front to “restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce the violence and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition” in Syria. Nusra is one of the groups excluded from the cessation of hostilities agreement, along with ISIS.

Of course, it is unlikely that anyone in the Nusra Front or al-Qaeda expected the Western world to accept this “rebranding” effort and let them go on their merry way. The goal is to create propaganda opportunities with other Islamist groups, who can be nudged into the al-Qaeda umbrella by Nusra leaders who are supposedly no longer al-Qaeda operatives, but share their “core ideology.” There will be much caterwauling about how the Americans and Russians are still unfairly bombing “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.”

CNN quoted analysts who also made an interesting case that the Nusra “rebranding” and the involvement of al-Qaeda second-in-command Masri are an indication Masri – supposedly “under arrest” in Iran, with the details rather murky, until recently – is actually in Syria, and may be preparing to take charge of al-Qaeda from Zawahiri.

This would enable Masri to continue Zawahiri’s strategy of spreading jihadi ideology without explicit connections to al-Qaeda at present, with an eye toward reasserting al-Qaeda as the Wal-Mart of jihad once ISIS has been defeated.

The report by the Institute for the Study of War/AEI, mentioned above, made the case that Nusra was “quietly entwining itself with the Syrian population and Syrian opposition,” and was “waiting in the wings to pick up the mantle of global jihad once ISIS falls,” as ISW president Kim Kagan put it.

This would make Nusra much more difficult to target than ISIS, which is not exactly easy to target, once it sinks roots into urban conquests, lines up human shields, and positions them to keep Syria in a state of war for years to come, no matter what political deals might be struck with other insurgent factions. From that constant turmoil, they could supply al-Qaeda with weapons and trained fighters to strike targets across the world.

Speaking in January, Kagan observed that the Nusra Front chose not to overtly attack the West “because the al-Qaeda leadership’s priority is preserving success in Syria and avoiding being targeted by the U.S.” This “rebranding” maneuver fits neatly into the strategy she described.

Also see:

Al Qaeda in Iran

(Credit: Newscom)

(Credit: Newscom)

Weekly Standard, by Stephan F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn, THE MAGAZINE: From the August 1 Issue:

Last week, President Barack Obama’s administration dismissed reports of Iranian support for al Qaeda as the product of fevered minds. Claims of collaboration between the Islamic regime and the terrorist organization are little more than “baseless conspiracy theories,” an Obama administration official told The Weekly Standard. “Anyone who thinks Iran was or is in bed with al Qaeda doesn’t know much about either.”

That group of ignoramuses apparently includes the Obama administration’s top official on terror financing. Adam J. Szubin, the Treasury Department’s acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, this week designated three senior al Qaeda officials operating in Iran. A statement explaining the designations says Treasury “took action to disrupt the operations, fundraising, and support networks that help al-Qaida move money and operatives from South Asia and across the Middle East by imposing sanctions on three al-Qaida senior members located in Iran.”

One of the three operatives is part of a “new generation” of al Qaeda leaders, replenishing the ranks of those who have been killed by the United States and its allies. Treasury identifies that man, Faisal Jassim Mohammed al-Amri al-Khalidi, as the chief of al Qaeda’s Military Commission and a key operative in al Qaeda’s global network, responsible for weapons acquisition and a liaison between al Qaeda leaders and associated groups.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has targeted the Iran-al Qaeda relationship. The Treasury and State Departments publicly accused the Iranian regime of allowing al Qaeda to operate inside Iran at least 10 times between July 2011 and August 2014. Testifying before Congress in February 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described the relationship as a “marriage of convenience.”

There is considerably more evidence of Iran’s support for al Qaeda in the collection of documents captured during the raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound on Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have told The Weekly Standard that the document collection includes letters describing the nature of the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda and specific ways in which Iran has aided al Qaeda’s network and operations. The Obama administration has refused to release the documents to the public and fought to keep them hidden during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal.

The Weekly Standard contacted the Obama administration official who last week dismissed Iran-al Qaeda cooperation to see if the new designations changed his view that claims of Iranian support for al Qaeda are “baseless conspiracy theories.” He replied: “Al Qaeda has long used Iran as a transit and facilitation point between South Asia and the Middle East, sometimes with the knowledge of some Iranian authorities. At the same time, the Iranian government has imprisoned some al Qaeda operatives, and we believe today’s action provides another opportunity for Iran to take action against al Qaeda.”

Think about that for a moment. The Obama administration accuses Iran of harboring senior al Qaeda operatives and sanctions those operatives in an effort to prevent them from hurting America and its interests. But rather than scold Iran for continuing to provide safe haven to terrorists devoted to killing Americans, the administration spins the move as an “opportunity” for Iran.

An opportunity? Why would the Iranian regime need the U.S. government to provide an “opportunity” to take action against the very terrorists it has been supporting for more than a decade? This is illogical, insulting, and dangerous. But it is consistent with the kind of irresponsible whitewashing of the radical regime that has become a trademark of the Obama administration’s approach to Iran.

The Obama administration provided Iran with billions of dollars through the nuclear deal despite having evidence in its possession that the country was providing safe haven to senior al Qaeda terrorists and despite acknowledging, publicly, that some of those funds would be used for terror. The administration kept secret crucial details of the agreement from Congress, concessions that the Iranians are now citing, convincingly, as evidence that they fleeced the United States and its partners. The administration withheld from the public and from Congress documents from the bin Laden raid that make clear the extent of the support Iran has provided al Qaeda over the years.

And now the Obama administration pretends that another public accusation of Iran’s complicity in al Qaeda’s terror is just an “opportunity” for the terror-sponsoring regime to stop doing what it is committed to doing?

Iran’s support for al Qaeda is not a “baseless conspiracy theory.” It’s a dangerous reality.