What’s really behind Trump’s laptop ban

Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, detonated a laptop bomb on this Daallo Airlines aircraft in February 2016.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, March 23, 2017:

More than 15 years after the September 11 hijackings, the U.S. government has issued yet another warning about airline security. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced new restrictions on electronics brought on board certain U.S.-bound flights. Passengers on planes leaving from 10 airports throughout the Middle East and North Africa will no longer be able to carry laptops or similar electronics with them into the cabin of the plane. Cell phones and smaller electronics are unaffected by the new measures, but computers will have to be checked in luggage.

The move instantly generated controversy and questions. Namely, why now? Some dismissed the DHS announcement as a protectionist move aimed at boosting the futures of U.S. carriers, who have complained of unfair competition from Gulf airlines for years. Twitter wags called it a “Muslim laptop ban,” whose secret aim was to discourage travel from the Arab world. But by now it should be clear that the new restrictions are deadly serious, even if there are legitimate questions about how it is being implemented.

Initial press reports, including by the New York Times, cited anonymous officials as saying that the restrictions were not a response to new intelligence. But the DHS announcement implies otherwise. One question on the DHS web site reads, “Did new intelligence drive a decision to modify security procedures?” The answer: “Yes, intelligence is one aspect of every security-related decision.” The British government’s quick decision to follow suit also suggests that something new is afoot here.

Subsequent reports from CNN and The Daily Beast indicate that intelligence collected during a U.S. Special Forces raid in Yemen in January led to the restrictions. That is possible. The raid was highly controversial, but the Trump administration argues the costs were worth it because the U.S. learned key details about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) plotting. A Navy SEAL perished during the operation, as did a number of women and children. Within hours, jihadists began circulating a photo of an adorable little girl who died in the crossfire. The girl was the daughter of Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemeni-American al Qaeda ideologue killed in a September 2011 drone strike. Al Qaeda immediately called for revenge in her name.

Whether new intelligence led to the decision or not, we already know for certain that al Qaeda has continued to think up ways to terrorize the skies. For years, Al Qaeda operatives in Somalia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have been experimenting with sophisticated explosives that can be smuggled onto planes.

DHS points to the “attempted airliner downing in Somalia” in February 2016 as one reason for ongoing concerns. That bombing was carried out by al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in Somalia. Al Shabaab attempted to justify the failed attack by claiming “Western intelligence officials” were on board the flight, but that excuse may be a cover for something more sinister.

Some U.S. officials suspect that al Qaeda’s elite bomb makers wanted to test one of their newest inventions, a lightweight explosive disguised as a laptop that is difficult to detect with normal security procedures. At the very least, Shabaab’s attack demonstrated that al Qaeda has gotten closer to deploying a laptop-sized explosive that can blow a hole in jetliners. While no one other than the terrorist who detonated the bomb was killed, the plane was left with a gaping hole in its side.

Al Qaeda-linked terrorists have tested their contraptions before. In December 1994, a bomb was detonated on board a Philippine Airlines flight, killing one of the passengers and severely damaging the plane. The device was implanted by Ramzi Yousef, the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Yousef planned to blow up several airliners at once as part of “Project Bojinka” and he wanted to try out his invention beforehand. Authorities ultimately scuttled his plot, but al Qaeda didn’t forget Yousef’s idea. Instead, the terrorist organization returned to it again in 2006, when a similar plan targeting jets leaving London’s Heathrow Airport was foiled.

Al Qaeda’s failure in 2006 didn’t dissuade the group from pressing forward with a version of Yousef’s original concept, either.

In September 2014, the U.S. began launching airstrikes against an al Qaeda cadre in Syria described by the Obama administration as the “Khorasan Group.” There was some initial confusion over what the Khorasan Group really is, with some opining that it was simply invented by American officials to justify bombings, or a separate terror entity altogether. In reality, it was simply a collection of al Qaeda veterans and specialists who were ordered by the group’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, to begin laying the groundwork in Syria for operations against the West.

As far as we know, the Khorasan Group never did attempt to strike the U.S. or Europe. Perhaps this is because a number of its leaders and members were killed in the drone campaign. But there is an additional wrinkle in the story: Zawahiri didn’t give his men the final green light for an operation. Instead, Zawahiri wanted the Khorasan cohort to be ready when called upon. In the meantime, al Qaeda didn’t want an attack inside the West to jeopardize its primary goal in Syria, which is toppling Bashar al Assad’s regime.

The Islamic State gets all the headlines, but Al Qaeda has quietly built its largest guerrilla army ever in Syria, with upwards of 10,000 or more men under its direct command. The group formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra merged with four other organizations to form Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of Syria”) in January. Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee months earlier, in June 2016, that Nusra was already al Qaeda’s “largest formal affiliate in history” with “direct ties” to Zawahiri. The merger gives al Qaeda control over an even larger force.

Al Qaeda could easily repurpose some of these jihadists for an assault in Europe, or possibly the U.S., but has chosen not to thus far. That is telling. Zawahiri and his lieutenants calculated that if Syria was turned into a launching pad for anti-Western terrorism, then their efforts would draw even more scrutiny. At a time when the U.S. and its allies were mainly focused on ISIS, al Qaeda’s potent rival, Zawahiri determined the West could wait.

But Zawahiri’s calculation with respect to Syria could change at any time. And the organization maintains cadres elsewhere that are still plotting against the U.S. and its interests.

The Khorasan Group included jihadists from around the globe, including men trained by AQAP’s most senior bomb maker, a Saudi known as Ibrahim al Asiri. U.S. officials have fingered al Asiri as the chief designer of especially devious explosive devices. Al Asiri has survived multiple attempts to kill him. But even if the U.S. did catch up with al Asiri tomorrow, his expertise would live on. Some of his deputies have trained still others in Syria.

Al Qaeda now has units deployed in several countries that are involved in anti-Western plotting. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2016, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.”

The Pentagon regularly announces airstrikes targeting al Qaeda operatives, some of whom, identified as “external” plotters, have an eye on the West. Incredibly, more than a decade and a half after the 9/11 hijackings, al Qaeda members in Afghanistan are still involved in efforts to hit the U.S. In October 2016, for instance, the U.S. struck down Farouq al Qahtani in eastern Afghanistan. The Defense Department explained that Qahtani was “one of the terrorist group’s senior plotters of attacks against the United States.”

Meanwhile, ISIS has also proven it is capable of downing an airliner. Thus far, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men have used low-tech means. In October 2015, the so-called caliphate’s Sinai province claimed the bombing of a Russian airliner. If the group’s propaganda is accurate, then a Schweppes Gold soft drink can filled with explosives and equipped with a detonator led to the deaths of all 224 people on board. This beverage bomb was a far cry from the sleek explosives al Qaeda’s bomb makers have been experimenting with, but it was effective nonetheless. All it required was proper placement next to a fuel line or some other sensitive point in the airliner’s infrastructure. ISIS could have more sophisticated bomb designs in the pipeline as well.

The truth is that the threat to airliners isn’t going away any time soon. However, this doesn’t mean that every counterterrorism measure intended to protect passengers is the right one. Some quickly questioned the Trump administration’s policy. Why does it impact only flight carriers in some countries? Were security measures found to be lax in some airports, but not others? Why is the threat of a laptop bomb mitigated if it is in checked luggage, as opposed to on board the plane? And what about the possibility of al Qaeda or ISIS slipping a bomb onto connecting flights, before the planes head for the U.S. homeland?

These are all good questions that should be asked. And the Trump administration should answer them.

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

Also see:

Report: Intel for Carry-on Electronics Ban Came from Yemen Raid

Islamic State Expands Into North Africa

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

Attacks by new terror group threaten Western interests in region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also see:

Resolving the Conflict in Yemen: U.S. Interests, Risks, and Policy

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, March 10, 2017

Editor’s note: On March 9, Thomas Joscelyn testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The hearing, “Resolving the Conflict in Yemen: U.S. Interests, Risks, and Policy,” was called to explore the political dynamics of the ongoing war in Yemen, as well as the roles played by foreign actors and al Qaeda. His written testimony can be read below. A version of Mr. Joscelyn’s testimony with footnotes can be found here.

Senator Corker and other members of the committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the ongoing war in Yemen. Unfortunately, I do not see a way that this conflict can be resolved any time soon. Yemen is rife with internal divisions, which are exacerbated by the proxy war being waged by several actors. Arab states, Iran, and others see Yemen as a key battleground in their contest for regional power. In addition, al Qaeda has taken advantage of the crisis to pursue its chief objective, which is seizing territory and building an emirate inside the country.

I discuss these various actors in my written testimony below and look forward to answering your questions.

The Iranian-backed Houthi offensive has significantly undermined U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

Governance in Yemen has been a longstanding problem. But the Houthi offensive in late 2014 knocked President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi from power at a time when the U.S. was counting on his government to act as a vital counterterrorism partner.

There is a debate over how close the Houthis and Iran really are. Some have argued that the Houthis should not be thought of as an Iranian terror proxy, such as Hezbollah. While this accurate – the Houthis have their own culture and traditions – there is no question that Iran and the Houthis are allies. And it is in Iran’s interest to work with the Houthis against Saudi-backed forces in Yemen, while also encouraging Houthi incursions into the Saudi kingdom.

The U.S. government has long recognized Iran as one of the Houthis’ two key backers. (The other being former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his network, which is discussed below.) In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, the State Department noted:

Iran actively supported members of the Houthi tribe in northern Yemen, including activities intended to build military capabilities, which could pose a greater threat to security and stability in Yemen and the surrounding region. In July 2012, the Yemeni Interior Ministry arrested members of an alleged Iranian spy ring, headed by a former member of the IRGC.

That warning proved to be accurate, as the Houthis made significant gains just over two years later. The U.S. and its allies have intercepted multiple Iranian arms shipments reportedly intended for the Houthis. And senior U.S. officials have repeatedly referenced Iran’s ongoing assistance. Late last year, Reuters reported that “Iran has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis,” including “missiles and small arms.”

In September 2015, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter listed America’s “core interests in the region.” Among them, according to Carter, was “supporting Saudi Arabia in protecting its territory and people from Houthi attacks, and supporting international efforts to prevent Iranian shipments of lethal equipment from reaching Houthi and Saleh-affiliated forces in Yemen.” The Houthis have responded by launching missiles at American ships, as well as ships operated by other countries.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters have worked to undermine President Hadi’s’s government.

Former President Saleh and his son have allied with the Houthis to thwart any chance of having a stable political process inside Yemen. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Saleh and two Houthi military commanders in 2014, describing them as “political spoilers.” Saleh became “one of the primary supporters of violence perpetrated by” the Houthis as of the fall of 2012, and has provided them with “funds and political support.” Then, in April 2015, Treasury sanctioned Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Saleh. The junior Saleh was commander of Yemen’s Republican Guard, but was removed from that post by Hadi. Still, Ahmed Ali Saleh “retained significant influence within the Yemeni military, even after he was removed from command.” And he has “played a key role in facilitating the Houthi military expansion.”

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is attempting to build an Islamic state in Yemen.

Al Qaeda is working to build Islamic emirates in several countries and regions, including Afghanistan, North and West Africa, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Unlike its rivals in the Islamic State (or ISIS), al Qaeda has adopted a long-term approach for state-building. While AQAP has begun to implement its version of sharia law in Yemen, it has not advertised the most gruesome aspects of its draconian code for fear of alienating the population. Still, AQAP controlled much of southern Yemen from April 2015 to April 2016, including the port city of Mukallah, where it reportedly earned substantial revenues via taxes. AQAP’s forces simply melted away when the Arab-led coalition entered Mukallah and other areas. By doing so, AQAP presented itself as a protector of the local population and lived to fight another day. The group is capable of seizing more territory at any time.

AQAP isn’t just an “affiliate” of al Qaeda; it is al Qaeda.

In addition to being a regional branch of al Qaeda’s international organization, AQAP has housed senior al Qaeda managers who are tasked with responsibilities far outside of Yemen. For example, Nasir al Wuhayshi (who was killed in 2015) served as both AQAP’s emir and as al Qaeda’s general manager. At the time of his death, Wuhayshi was the deputy emir of al Qaeda’s global operations.

Beginning in 2014, the Islamic State (or ISIS), mushroomed in size after declaring the establishment of its so-called caliphate across a large part of Iraq and Syria. Some predicted, erroneously, that AQAP would defect to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s cause in the event that Wuhayshi was killed. That prediction was based on a stunning ignorance of AQAP’s organization and implicitly assumed that AQAP’s loyalty to al Qaeda was embodied in a single man. Wuhayshi’s successor, Qasim al Raymi, quickly reaffirmed his and AQAP’s allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri. Al Qaeda veterans and loyalists from a new generation of jihadists are peppered throughout AQAP’s ranks.

The U.S. has killed a number of top AQAP leaders, but the group has effectively replaced them and likely retains a bench of capable fill-ins.

Wuhayshi was one of several senior AQAP leaders killed in the drone campaign in 2015. Others have perished since. But AQAP has quickly filled their positions with other al Qaeda veterans, including Raymi, Ibrahim al Qosi (a former Guantanamo detainee), Ibrahim al Banna (discussed below), and others. Most of AQAP’s insurgency organization, including its middle management, has not been systematically targeted. Therefore, the organization as a whole has not been systematically degraded. AQAP still threatens the West, but most of its resources are devoted to waging the insurgency and building a state inside Yemen. Recently, the U.S. has stepped up its air campaign, launching 40 or more airstrikes against AQAP this month. Those airstrikes are intended, in part, to weaken AQAP’s guerrilla army. But it will require more than bombings to do that. Without an effective government representing most of the Sunni tribes and people, AQAP will continue to position itself as the legitimate ruler in many areas of Yemen.

Al Qaeda has deep roots inside Yemen.

Osama bin Laden’s and Ayman al Zawahiri’s men first began to lay the groundwork for al Qaeda’s organization inside Yemen in the early 1990s, if not earlier. Zawahiri himself spent time in Yemen alongside his comrades in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which effectively merged with bin Laden’s operation in the 1990s. Zawahiri, his brother, and their fellow EIJ jihadists established a base of operations in Yemen. One of these EIJ veterans, Ibrahim al Banna, was designated as a senior AQAP leader by the U.S. government late last year. In 1992 or 1993, Zawahiri ordered al Banna to oversee “the administration” of al Qaeda’s “affairs” in Yemen, “opening public relationships with all the students of knowledge and the notables and the tribal sheikhs.” That was more than a quarter of a century ago. Yet al Banna, a co-founder of AQAP, continues to command jihadists inside the country to this day.

Al Qaeda has suffered multiple setbacks inside Yemen since al Banna was first dispatched to the country in the early 1990s. But the jihadists’ patient approach has clearly borne fruit. An unnamed U.S. military official recently explained that AQAP has “skillfully exploited the disorder in Yemen to build its strength and reinvigorate its membership and training.” This same official estimated that AQAP’s total group strength is in the “low thousands,” but warned that because many of its members are Yemeni “they can blend in with the tribes there.”

This assessment of AQAP’s overall strength may or may not be accurate with respect to the total number of deployed fighters. But the U.S. has underestimated the size of jihadist organizations in the past, including the Islamic State (ISIS) and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. AQAP maintains a deep support network within Yemeni society that allows it to regenerate its forces and continue waging jihad despite fighting on multiple fronts for many years.

The U.S. Treasury Department has outlined parts of AQAP’s fundraising apparatus in a series of terrorist designations. Treasury’s work has highlighted the mix of tribal politics, Gulf fundraising, and local banking that has helped fuel AQAP’s war in Yemen.

Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound reveal that al Qaeda has sought to maintain friendly tribal relations and avoid the mistakes made in Iraq, where the predecessor to the current Islamic State alienated tribal leaders. It is difficult to gauge the extent of ideological support for AQAP’s cause within Yemen’s tribes, but the jihadists do not need key tribes to be completely committed to their cause. While there have been tensions at times, AQAP benefits from the tribes’ frequent unwillingness to back government forces against the jihadists.

Some tribal leaders are closely allied with AQAP, so much so that they have been integrated into the organization’s infrastructure. This has led to an awkward situation in which some of AQAP’s leaders are also partnered with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Hadi’s government in the war against the Houthis. For instance, during a raid against AQAP in January, U.S. forces killed a prominent tribal leader named Sheikh Abdel-Raouf al-Dhahab. The Associated Press (AP), citing “military officials, tribal figures and relatives,” reported that Dhahab met “with the military chief of staff in Hadi’s government” shortly “before the raid.” Fahd al-Qasi, Dhahab’s “top aide,” accompanied Dhahab to the meeting and subsequently confirmed that it took place. “During five days of talks with the military, al-Dhahab — who commands a force of some 800 tribal fighters — was given around 15 million Yemeni riyals ($60,000) to pay his men in the fight against the rebels, al-Qasi and the two officials said,” according to the AP. Al-Qasi “distributed the money to the fighters” just hours before the raid.

AQAP has also benefitted from its longstanding relationship with Shaykh Abd-al-Majid al-Zindani and his network. The U.S. Treasury Department first designated Zindani as a terrorist in 2004, describing him as a “loyalist to Usama bin Laden and supporter of al-Qaeda.” In 2013, Treasury said that Zindani was providing “religious guidance” for AQAP’s operations. Zindani has been a prominent leader in Islah, which is a Yemeni political party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and Islah have a lengthy history of relations, which had cooled in the not-so-distant past. However, as a result of the Houthis’ successful push across Yemen, Saudi Arabia has embraced Islah once again. Zindani himself has maintained friendly relations with the Saudis.

Zindani is the founder of Al-Iman University, which has served as a jihadist recruiting hub. Some al Qaeda leaders have not always been happy with the elderly ideologue. But one letter recovered in bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound demonstrates why al Qaeda would not publicly criticize him. “To be fair, a significant number of al-Mujahidin who reach the jihadi arena here were instructed or prepared by him, especially the new Russian converts to Islam who moved from Russia to Yemen and stayed for a while at al-Iman University and then moved with their families to the field of Jihad,” a senior al Qaeda leader wrote in March 2008. Whatever disagreements al Qaeda may have had with Zindani at times, he and his broad network have provided valuable support for AQAP’s operations.

The preceding paragraphs above give a brief overview of AQAP’s deep network inside Yemen, demonstrating why it remains a potent force. The Islamic State has also established a much smaller presence inside Yemen. The Islamic State’s men are capable of carrying out large attacks, particularly against soft targets such as funerals and markets. AQAP avoids such operations, seeing them as detrimental to its cause, which is based on building more popular support for the jihadist group.

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

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Watch the Senate hearing, “Resolving the Conflict in Yemen: U.S. Interests, Risks, and Policy”

Also see:

Trump to Disclose Intel From Yemen Raid

AP

AP

Islamic terrorism a central topic of remarks to Congress

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, Feb. 28, 2017:

President Donald Trump will outline plans for stepped-up operations against Islamic terrorism in his speech to Congress tonight, and is expected to disclose newly obtained intelligence gathered during a recent commando raid in Yemen.

Trump administration national security officials said the new information, which was not revealed prior to the speech, was discussed during a Tuesday meeting between Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the White House.

The officials cautioned that as of Tuesday afternoon the final speech containing the new intelligence was still being worked on.

The White House and Pentagon are pushing back against what officials said are inaccurate news reports claiming the Yemen raid did not produce very valuable intelligence.

The Jan. 29 commando raid in Yakla village in central Yemen targeted a group of terrorists belonging to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda branch that has been linked to several terrorist attacks in the United States, including the 2015 San Bernardino and 2016 Orlando attacks. Fourteen people were killed in the San Bernardino shootings, and 49 people were shot at a night club in Orlando.

In both attacks, the terrorists who carried out the shootings had been inspired by Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born al Qaeda terrorist who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011 in Yemen but whose English-language lectures on jihad are available on the Internet.

U.S. Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed and six others wounded in the Yemen raid. Unconfirmed reports from Yemen said 25 civilians also were killed in the commando raid, including the daughter of Awlaki.

Officials said the covert military operation produced a large volume of valuable intelligence information on the group and its activities.

“The raid did achieve its objectives even if it did so at a significant cost,” said one official familiar with details of the raid. “And it did produce a lot of intelligence—terabytes of information and multiple devices along with information on hundreds of people.”

The official said the raid was likely the “most significant AQAP haul in recent years.” AQAP is the acronym for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The massive amount of information from the raid is still under review by intelligence officials.

The official said an NBC News report from Monday asserting the Yemen raid produced no significant intelligence was wrong.

NBC quoted “multiple senior officials” as saying they were unaware of valuable intelligence taken from the raid.

A second official said Trump will speak forcefully in his speech on the need to defeat what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism.” There is no plan for the president to back off on use of the term, this official said.

News reports published this week stated that the new White House national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has sought to play down use of the term radical Islamic terrorism.

The second official said Trump remains firmly committed to using the term, an issue Trump raised extensively during the 2016 presidential campaign.

According to White House officials, Trump in his speech to a joint session of Congress will seek to assure lawmakers about his administration’s plans on tax reform, federal deregulation, infrastructure repair, and military spending.

The president, who is expected to read his speech on a teleprompter rather than deliver it in his usual impromptu speaking style, also is expected to make some gestures aimed at unifying a politically divided country.

Trump is proposing a $54 billion increase in defense spending offset by similar cuts in foreign aid and other federal spending.

The future of counterterrorism: Addressing the evolving threat to domestic security

joscelynLONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN | February 28, 2017 | tjoscelyn@gmail.com | @thomasjoscelyn

Editor’s note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee Counterterrorism and Intelligence, on the future of counterterrorism and addressing the evolving threat to domestic security.

Chairman King, Ranking Member Rice, and other members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. The terrorist threat has evolved greatly since the September 11, 2001 hijackings. The U.S. arguably faces a more diverse set of threats today than ever. In my written and oral testimony, I intend to highlight both the scope of these threats, as well as some of what I think are the underappreciated risks.

My key points are as follows:

– The U.S. military and intelligence services have waged a prolific counterterrorism campaign to suppress threats to America. It is often argued that because no large-scale plot has been successful in the U.S. since 9/11 that the risk of such an attack is overblown. This argument ignores the fact that numerous plots, in various stages of development, have been thwarted since 2001. Meanwhile, Europe has been hit with larger-scale operations. In addition, the U.S. and its allies frequently target jihadists who are suspected of plotting against the West. America’s counterterrorism strategy is mainly intended to disrupt potentially significant operations that are in the pipeline.

-Over the past several years, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies claim to have struck numerous Islamic State (or ISIS) and al Qaeda “external operatives” in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. These so-called “external operatives” are involved in anti-Western plotting. Had they not been targeted, it is likely that at least some of their plans would have come to fruition. Importantly, it is likely that many “external operatives” remain in the game, and are still laying the groundwork for attacks in the U.S. and the West.

-In addition, the Islamic State and al Qaeda continue to adapt new messages in an attempt to inspire attacks abroad. U.S. law enforcement has been forced to spend significant resources to stop “inspired” plots. As we all know, some of them have not been thwarted. The Islamic State’s caliphate declaration in 2014 heightened the threat of inspired attacks, as would-be jihadists were lured to the false promises of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s cause.

-The Islamic State also developed a system for “remote-controlling” attacks in the West and elsewhere. This system relies on digital operatives who connect with aspiring jihadis via social media applications. The Islamic State has had more success with these types of small-scale operations in Europe. But as I explain in my written testimony, the FBI has uncovered a string of plots inside the U.S. involving these same virtual planners.

-The refugee crisis is predominately a humanitarian concern. The Islamic State has used migrant and refugee flows to infiltrate terrorists into Europe. Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda could seek to do the same with respect to the U.S., however, they have other means for sneaking jihadists into the country as well. While some terrorists have slipped into the West alongside refugees, the U.S. should remain focused on identifying specific threats.

-More than 15 years after 9/11, al Qaeda remains poorly understood. Most of al Qaeda’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in several countries. But as al Qaeda’s insurgency footprint has spread, so has the organization’s capacity for plotting against the West. On 9/11, al Qaeda’s anti-Western plotting was primarily confined to Afghanistan, with logistical support networks in Pakistan, Iran, and other countries. Testifying before the Senate in February 2016, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper warned that the al Qaeda threat to the West now emanates from multiple countries. Clapper testified that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” To this list we can add Yemen. And jihadists from Africa have been involved in anti-Western plotting as well. Incredibly, al Qaeda is still plotting against the U.S. from Afghanistan.

Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda continue to seek ways to inspire terrorism inside the U.S. and they are using both new and old messages in pursuit of this goal.

The jihadists have long sought to inspire individuals or small groups of people to commit acts of terrorism for their cause. Individual terrorists are often described as “lone wolves,” but that term is misleading. If a person is acting in the name of a global, ideological cause, then he or she cannot be considered a “lone wolf,” even if the individual in question has zero contact with others. In fact, single attackers often express their support for the jihadists’ cause in ways that show the clear influence of propaganda.

Indeed, al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) first began to aggressively market the idea of “individual” or “lone” operations years ago. AQAP’s Inspire magazine is intended to provide would-be jihadists with everything they could need to commit an attack without professional training or contact. Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue who was fluent in English, was an especially effective advocate for these types of plots. Despite the fact that Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike in September 2011, his teachings remain widely available on the internet.

The Islamic State capitalized on the groundwork laid by Awlaki and AQAP. In fact, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s operation took these ideas and aggressively marketed them with an added incentive. Al Qaeda has told its followers that it wants to eventually resurrect an Islamic caliphate. Beginning in mid-2014, the Islamic State began to tell its followers that it had already done so in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate has also instructed followers that it would be better for them to strike inside their home countries in the West, rather than migrate abroad for jihad. The Islamic State has consistently marketed this message.

In May 2016, for instance, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani told followers that if foreign governments “have shut the door of hijrah [migration] in your faces,” then they should “open the door of jihad in theirs,” meaning in the West. “Make your deed a source of their regret,” Adnani continued. “Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them.”

“If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State,” Adnani told his audience, “then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor.” Adnani told jihadists that they should “not make light of throwing a stone at a crusader in his land,” nor should they “underestimate any deed, as its consequences are great for the mujahidin and its effect is noxious to the disbelievers.”

The Islamic State continued to push this message after Adnani’s death in August 2016.

In at least several cases, we have seen individual jihadists who were first influenced by Awlaki and AQAP gravitate to the Islamic State’s cause. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife were responsible for the December 2, 2015 San Bernardino massacre. They pledged allegiance to Baghdadi on social media, but Farook had drawn inspiration from Awlaki and AQAP’s Inspire years earlier.

Omar Mateen swore allegiance to Baghdadi repeatedly on the night of his assault on a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. However, a Muslim who knew Mateen previously reported to the FBI that Mateen was going down the extremist path. He told the FBI in 2014 that Mateen was watching Awlaki’s videos. It was not until approximately two years later, in early June 2016, that Mateen killed 49 people and wounded dozens more in the name of the supposed caliphate.

Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man who allegedly planted bombs throughout New York and New Jersey in September 2016, left behind a notebook. In it, Rahami mentioned Osama bin Laden, “guidance” from Awlaki, an also referenced Islamic State spokesman Adnani. Federal prosecutors wrote in the complaint that Rahami specifically wrote about “the instructions of terrorist leaders that, if travel is infeasible, to attack nonbelievers where they live.” This was Adnani’s key message, and remains a theme in Islamic State propaganda.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has alleged that other individuals who sought to support the Islamic State were first exposed to Awlaki’s teachings as well.

These cases demonstrate that the jihadis have developed a well of ideas from which individual adherents can draw, but it may take years for them to act on these beliefs, if they ever act on them at all. There is no question that the Islamic State has had greater success of late in influencing people to act in its name. But al Qaeda continues to produce recruiting materials and to experiment with new concepts for individual attacks as well.

Al Qaeda and its branches have recently called for revenge for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who died in a U.S. prison earlier this month. Rahman was convicted by a U.S. court for his involvement in plots against New York City landmarks in the mid-1990s. Since then, al Qaeda has used Rahman’s “will” to prophesize his death and to proactively blame the U.S. for it. Approximately 20 years after al Qaeda first started pushing this theme, Rahman finally died. Al Qaeda’s continued use of Rahman’s prediction, which is really just jihadist propaganda, demonstrates how these groups can use the same concepts for years, whether or not the facts are consistent with their messaging. Al Qaeda also recently published a kidnapping guide based on old lectures by Saif al Adel, a senior figure in the group. Al Adel may or may not be currently in Syria. Al Qaeda is using his lectures on kidnappings and hostage operations as a way to potentially teach others how to carry them out. The guide was published in both Arabic and English, meaning that al Qaeda seeks an audience in the West for al Adel’s designs.

Both the Islamic State and AQAP also continue to produce English-language magazines for online audiences. The 15th issue of Inspire, which was released last year, provided instructions for carrying out “professional assassinations.” AQAP has been creating lists of high-profile targets in the U.S. and elsewhere that they hope supporters will use in selecting potential victims. AQAP’s idea is to maximize the impact of “lone” attacks by focusing on wealthy businessmen or other well-known individuals. AQAP has advocated for, and praised, indiscriminate attacks as well. But the group has critiqued some attacks (such as the Orlando massacre at a LGBT nightclub) for supposedly muddying the jihadists’ message. AQAP is trying to lay the groundwork for more targeted operations. For example, the January 2015 assault on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris was set in motion by al Qaeda and AQAP. Inspire even specifically identified the intended victims beforehand. Al Qaeda would like individual actors, with no foreign ties, to emulate such precise hits.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State has lowered the bar for what is considered a successful attack, pushing people to use cars, knives, or whatever weapons they can get in their hands. The Islamic State claimed that both the September 2016 mall stabbings in Minnesota and the vehicular assault at Ohio State University in November 2016 were the work of its “soldiers.” It may be the case that there were no digital ties between these attackers and the Islamic State. However, there is often more to the story of how the Islamic State guides such small-scale operations.

The Islamic State has sought to carry out attacks inside the U.S. via “remote-controlled” terrorists.

A series of attacks in Europe and elsewhere around the globe have been carried out by jihadists who were in contact, via social media applications, with Islamic State handlers in Syria and Iraq. The so-called caliphate’s members have been able to remotely guide willing recruits through small-scale plots that did not require much sophistication. These plots targeted victims in France, Germany, Russia, and other countries. In some cases, terrorists have received virtual support right up until the moment of their attack. The Islamic State has had more success orchestrating “remote-controlled” plots in Europe, but the jihadist group has also tried to carry out similar plots inside the U.S.

Read more

***

Homeland Security Committee:

Multiple terrorist networks actively plot attacks against the United States, and American interests, or encourage adherents to conduct inspired attacks inside the U.S Homeland without specific direction. Though significant progress has been made in improving American counterterrorism efforts since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, challenges persist. Over the last several years, the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence (CT&I) has continually worked to identify and address these weaknesses and improve U.S. domestic security. This hearing provides an opportunity to examine the continued evolution of the terrorist threat and review recommendations for improvement from national security experts.

OPENING STATEMENTS

Rep. Pete King (R-NY), Subcommittee Chairman
Opening Statement

WITNESSES

Mr. Edward F. Davis
Chief Executive Officer
Edward Davis, LLC
Witness Testimony

Mr. Thomas Joscelyn
Senior Fellow
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracy
Witness Testimony

Mr. Robin Simcox
Margaret Thatcher Fellow
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy
The Heritage Foundation
Witness Testimony

Mr. Peter Bergen
Vice President, Director
International Security and Fellows Programs
New American
Witness Testimony

John Guandolo outlines his disagreement with Trump advisors on CT policy – plus my take

CJR: There is a fierce debate going on among counter-jihad activists right now over what the Trump administration’s official counterterrorism policy towards Islamic jihad should be. One positive development is the likely end of the disastrous Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) policy that de-linked Islam from terrorism and led to both domestic and foreign policy which placed Muslims “feelings” above the safety of our own people. Now the debate is focused on whether ISIS is Islamic. I have no doubt that both Lt General H. R. McMaster and Dr. Sebastian Gorka know that it is. I believe that they are using disinformation strategy to de-legitimize the enemy and gain Muslim allies. However, I believe that now is the time to make clear that Islamic doctrine is the enemy threat doctrine and Muslims who are not following that doctrine to the letter are technically apostates. Muslim reformers must acknowledge this. The Muslims we wish to ally with understand this very well and will not be “driven to radicalize” by an official U. S. policy that states the truth.

I would not impune the character and motives of Lt General H. R. McMaster or Dr. Sebastian Gorka as John Guandolo does in the following article but I do agree with his position that there is only one Islamic doctrine. I would just point out that Muslim belief and practice of that doctrine varies. I see no problem allying with Muslim reformers as long as we are all clear on what Islamic doctrine actually says. There needs to be a complete overhaul of CT training as well as public education on the matter so that we can begin to “orient on the enemy”.

I will continue to post opposing views on this important debate and encourage respectful comments. Perhaps Dr. Gorka should invite John Guandolo to the White House for a friendly chat over coffee like he did with that self-important, weasel attack dog Michael S. Smith II. That would probably be a much more productive meeting!

***

mcmaster-and-gorka

“Unfit for Duty” by John Guandolo at Understanding the Threat, Feb. 26, 2017:

The New York Times, Guardian, and CNN all report Lt General McMaster told members of the National Security Council Thursday he felt “radical Islamic terrorism” was an unhelpful way to describe terrorism because becoming a terrorist is actually “un-Islamic” in the first place.

In a talk he gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in May 2016, LtGen McMaster said, “There is a cycle going on where groups like ISIL, who use this irreligious ideology, you know, this perverted interpretation of religion to justify violence, they depend on ignorance and the ability to recruit vulnerable segments of populations to foment hatred, then use that hatred to justify violence against innocents.”

This is incoherent and factually wrong.  LtGen McMaster wrote a book entitled “Dereliction of Duty.”  He may want to look in the mirror to see if he is doing the same thing in this war he accused President Johnson of doing in Vietnam.

100% of all Islamic doctrine, from elementary, junior high, and high school Islamic text books as well as the highest authorities in Islamic jurisprudence, to include Al Azhar University in Egypt, all clearly and doctrinally state Islam is a “complete way of life (social, cultural, political, military, religious)” governed by sharia (Islamic Law).  100% of all sharia mandates jihad until the world is under Islamic rule, and 100% of sharia only defines “jihad” as warfare against non-Muslims.

“The duty of the Muslim citizen is to be loyal to the Islamic state.”

What Islam is All About  (most widely used junior high text book in U.S. Islamic schools)

The violence Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Boston bombers, the attackers in Paris, the Fort Lauderdale shooter, and all the jihadis we have faced over the past 20 years quote authoritative Islamic doctrine in support of what they do.  Al Qaeda and ISIS have never misquoted sharia in furtherance of their actions.

In the last 15 years it has been made clear – the more muslims study Islam and sharia, the more likely they are to support and participate in jihad.

So the questions remains…what the hell is Lieutenant General McMaster talking about because he is not talking truthfully about a real and present danger to these United States?  He is doing exactly what our enemy wants him to do – creating an imaginary target for us to chase while our real enemy prepares to defeat us.

Nearly 16 years after 9/11, the Global Islamic Movement has taken down nations, expanded its power, and defeated the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because leaders like McMaster decided they were too busy to stop and learn the enemy threat doctrine – Sharia – and instead have been given a counterfactual understanding of our enemy by Islamic advisors who are all batting for the other team.

The President’s Counterterrorism advisor, Sebastian Gorka, is “over the moon” LtGen McMaster is the new National Security Advisor.  However, Gorka’s lack of honesty about the Islamic threat raises much more serious questions.

Some have been lulled into believing he is on the right track because he uttered the word “jihad” but defeating this enemy takes more than pretending to know what you are talking about.

Speaking at CPAC this past weekend, Gorka stated:  “Zuhdi (Jasser) knows it better than anybody because he understands that this isn’t about poverty or lack of education. It’s about people who are fighting for the soul of Islam – not a war with Islam, but a war inside Islam; as King Abdullah, as General Sisi has said, for which version is going to win.”

Utter nonsense.  There is one version of Islam and one Sharia.  To say otherwise is to be factually wrong, but also dangerous when national strategies are being built off that utter nonsense.

When one’s duties include national security responsibilities, one has a professional duty to know the enemy or do due diligence to know the enemy.  To fail to do so makes one professionally negligent in one’s duties.  When people die (Ft Lauderdale, Boston, Orlando, Ft Hood…) because a person is unprofessional in his/her duties it is called “criminal negligence” and doctors and lawyers go to jail for such behavior.

Several years ago at a town hall presentation hosted by Washington, D.C. radio station WMAL, Sebastian Gorka stated “99.9% of muslims do not support terrorism (jihad)” despite a mountain of evidence and polling data proving this comment untrue, and the fact the entire purpose of Islam is to wage jihad until the world is dominated by Islamic rule (sharia).

Dr. Gorka also writes in his book, Defeating Jihad, we are not at war with Islam (p.129) but our enemy is “the ideology of takfiri jihad” (p.123).

No muslim jihadi who fought on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else, nor any of the jihadis who have died in Europe in the United States attacking us nor the jihadis we have arrested have said they are “takfiri jihadis.”  They have said they are “Muslims” waging “Jihad in the cause of Allah” to “establish a caliphate under sharia.”

This is what Islamic doctrine commands them to do.

erdogan-moderate-islam-capture

On page 144 of his book, Gorka ends with the call for the United States to spend billions of dollars supporting “Muslim reformers” in their “ideological war to delegitimize the message of holy war against the infidel and bolster modern interpretations of Islam.”  This demonstrates Sebastian Gorka is either completely free of any clue of Islamic doctrine or is intentionally lying about what Islam actually teaches.
Since these ideas and strategies to use “moderate Muslims” to ensure the “other version” of Islam wins are based in fantasy not reality, these policies will necessarily fail – and have failed the United States for 15 years.
Is that Dr. Gorka’s intention?  Does he not know that strategies to win a war must be based in the reality of who the enemy is?  Why would Sebastian Gorka put forth such and idea when he knows what he is saying is untrue?
Is it possible Dr. Gorka has remained strategically incoherent for 15 years during this global war?  Is he working on behalf of some outside entity to intentionally mislead the President of the United States, or is he is simply putting his paycheck ahead of the American people and his duty.
The United States will lose this war against the Global Islamic Movement if we do not clearly define the enemy and target the enemy.  We cannot hit a target we do not identify and cannot defeat an enemy we do not target.
Our warfighting doctrine calls for an analysis of our enemy based on how the enemy defines itself.  We begin our analysis there.  Something we have not done since 9/11/01.  If we did, our entire national security apparatus, including our military, would have been studying and teaching authoritative sharia and more of our soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen would be alive today because of it.
Keeping LtGen McMaster and Sebastian Gorka in their current positions will ensure America remains strategically incoherent and will guarantee our defeat in this war against the Global Islamic Movement.
As always, this war will be won or lost at the local level because our federal government is still failing us.

Syrian ‘Moderate’ Rebels Flocking to Al-Qaeda After CIA Halts Weapons Pipeline

jihadists-cheer-pentagon-counter-narrative-failure-1-sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, FEBRUARY 23, 2017:

A few of us have been predicting for several years now that the so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria backed by the CIA would inevitably collapse into the surging camp of Sunni extremists.

And now that is exactly what has happened, thus signaling the beginning of the end of any pretension of a “moderate opposition” to back in Syria.

In September 2013, the belief that the “moderates” vastly outnumbered the extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra was taken as gospel by the Obama administration, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the D.C. foreign policy establishment. Those of us challenging that conventional wisdom were a pretty small circle.

Now, the so-called “vetted moderates” are flocking to the banner of the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as the CIA halts their weapons pipeline while the smaller “moderate” groups fall willingly or unwillingly into the extremist camp.

So much for all that “vetting” by the CIA.

Reuters reported earlier this week:

CIA-coordinated military aid for rebels in northwest Syria has been frozen since they came under major Islamist attack last month, rebel sources said, raising doubts about foreign support key to their war against President Bashar al-Assad.

Rebel officials said that no official explanation had been given for the move this month following the jihadist assault, though several said they believed the main objective was to prevent arms and cash falling into Islamist militant hands. But they said they expected the aid freeze to be temporary.

The halt in assistance, which has included salaries, training, ammunition and in some cases guided anti-tank missiles, is a response to jihadist attacks and has nothing to do with U.S. President Donald Trump replacing Barack Obama in January, two U.S. officials familiar with the CIA-led program said.

As I have reported extensively here at PJ Media for several years, the “vetted moderates” have always played a double-game with jihadists groups. And now the Washington Post reports today that it has finally caught up with them.

The biggest surviving rebel stronghold in northern Syria is falling under the control of al-Qaeda-linked extremists amid a surge of rebel infighting that threatens to vanquish what is left of the moderate rebellion.

The ascent of the extremists in the northwestern province of Idlib coincides with a suspension of aid to moderate rebel groups by their international allies.

The commanders of five of the groups say they were told earlier this month by representatives of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey that they would receive no further arms or ammunition until they unite to form a coherent front against the jihadists, a goal that has eluded the fractious rebels throughout the six years of fighting.

The freeze on supplies is unrelated to the change of power in Washington, where the Trump administration is engaged in a review of U.S. policy on Syria, U.S. officials say. It also does not signal a complete rupture of support for the rebels, who are continuing to receive salaries, say diplomats and rebel commanders.

Rather, the goal is to ensure supplies do not fall into extremist hands, by putting pressure on the rebels to form a more efficient force, the rebel commanders say they have been told.

Instead it is the extremists who have closed ranks and turned against the U.S.-backed rebels, putting the al-Qaeda-linked groups with whom the moderates once uneasily coexisted effectively in charge of key swaths of territory in Idlib, the most important stronghold from which the rebels could have hoped to sustain a challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Concerns about U.S.-supplied weapons falling into the hands of jihadist groups are grounded in a long history of defections of U.S.-backed “moderates,” longstanding cooperation between “moderates” and extremists, and losses to extremist groups on the battlefield.

Read more

Al-Qaeda Claims U.S. Killed ‘Blind Sheikh’ in Prison, Calls for ‘Violent Revenge’

Relatives and friends of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted of plotting terror attacks in New York City in the decade before 9/11, carry his coffin after funeral prayers at the Grand Mosque in the Nile Delta town of Gamalia, Egypt, on Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Mostafa Albasuni)

Relatives and friends of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted of plotting terror attacks in New York City in the decade before 9/11, carry his coffin after funeral prayers at the Grand Mosque in the Nile Delta town of Gamalia, Egypt, on Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Mostafa Albasuni)

PJ MEDIA, BY BRIDGET JOHNSON, FEBRUARY 22, 2017:

Al-Qaeda accused the United States of withholding necessary medication from “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, the mastermind of the deadly 1993 World Trade Center bombing who died behind bars Saturday.

They also released a final statement from the sheikh complaining of strip searches that explored his private parts “front and back,” claiming that he could be poisoned behind bars and calling for “the most powerful and violent revenge” in the event of his demise.

Abdel-Rahman, 78, was serving a life sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Butner, in North Carolina. He had been blinded at a young age by diabetes, and reportedly passed away from complications of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

In a statement issued by their As-Sahab media, al-Qaeda’s central command grieved the sheikh “after a battle with the tyrants of the earth lasted almost six decades of his life” and winding up “in the grip of the people of the Cross.”

The terror group also noted operations that had been conducted over the years in an effort to win Abdel-Rahman’s release, including the kidnapping of westerners by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as well as al-Qaeda in Pakistan and its Yemen branch.

Citing Abdel-Rahman’s family, who first released the news of his death, al-Qaeda alleged “the Americans decided to kill him in prison” by withholding drugs.

Al-Qaeda encouraged followers to “slay” in the sheikh’s name as “Americans enjoy security and safety,” targeting U.S. interests everywhere.

Al-Qaeda also released a parting statement from Abdel-Rahman in their Al-Nafir Bulletin, in which he said the Americans were using his imprisonment to “rub the pride of the Muslims in the dirt.”

He complained of being filmed while bathing or using the toilet in solitary confinement, being strip-searched “until I am as naked as when my mother delivered me” before “they look into my private parts, from the front and the back — what are they looking for?” and of not having any fellow Arabic speakers visit. “If it were not for reciting the Quran I would have been afflicted with many psychological and mental illnesses,” he said.

The statement attributed to Abdel-Rahman also said he was prevented from Friday prayers and from celebrating Islamic holidays, or having “any contact with Muslims.”

“They are undoubtedly killing me, especially while I am isolated from the world. No one sees what they do to me in my food and drink. They may employ the method of slow killing with me, where they put poison in the food or a medicine or an injection, and may give me dangerous, bad medicine, or they may give me a quantity of lethal drugs or a madness-inducing drug,” he said. “This is in particular, while I smell strange and awful scents from the floor above me, constantly accompanied by a ‘whoosh,’ like the sound of an old air conditioner, with knocks, noise, and hammering, like the sound of grenades, which continues for hours, day and night.”

After offering several verses from the Quran, Abdel-Rahman continued, “If they kill me — and they inevitably will — publicize my funeral, and send my corpse to my family, and do not forget my blood and do not waste it.”

“Instead, avenge me with the most powerful and violent revenge,” he concluded. “Remember a brother who told you a word of truth and was killed in the way of Allah.”

Abdel-Rahman’s body was returned to his family in Egypt today via the Cairo airport. Thousands gathered in his hometown, Al-Gamaliya, for his funeral.

In an earlier issue of Al-Nafir released by their Global Islamic Media Front at the beginning of the month, al-Qaeda directly addressed President Trump, something official ISIS materials haven’t even done since Inauguration Day. Responding to the raid on an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula camp, in which CENTCOM admitted civilian casualties, the terror group claimed “Americans in this massacre intentionally killed women and children, and even an infant in the womb was not spared.”

“And on this occasion we say to the stupid President Trump: The presidency of your country has had several presidents in years past, whom all have promised the American people to kill the mujahideen and excise them. However, they all ended up leaving the White House before fulfilling their promise, despite some of them having a second term. This is undoubtedly your fate, for the flame of jihad has ignited and reached all over the world.”

Al Qaeda often agitated for Omar Abdel Rahman’s release from US prison

blind-sheikhLONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN, | February 19, 2017:

News broke yesterday that Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian jihadi ideologue, died in a US prison. Within hours of the reports, al Qaeda re-released a copy of Rahman’s last “will,” in which Rahman asked his “brothers” to exact “revenge” for his death.

The US District Court for the Southern District of New York convicted Rahman (seen on the right) on terror-related charges in 1995 and he was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. Rahman was convicted for his role in a conspiracy to launch terror attacks against several New York City landmarks, including the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the FBI’s main office in Manhattan, and the United Nations building. Investigators also found that he was involved with the jihadists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The ninth issue of al Qaeda’s Al-Nafir newsletter, which was released online after news of Rahman’s death spread, carried a version of Rahman’s “Will to the Islamic Ummah.” In the text, Rahman complained of the treatment he was allegedly subjected to in an American prison, writing that the US is purposefully “eliminating the scholars who speak the truth.” (This is a common al Qaeda talking point, as the jihadis frequently accuse the Americans of targeting their “scholars.”)

Rahman claimed that the Americans will “eventually kill me,” either through poisoning, or by giving him spoiled medicine, or with an overdose of drugs. Rahman warned that the Americans will lie about the causes of his death, so the jihadis shouldn’t believe them.

Rahman, who was 78, died of natural causes, according to American officials.

His “will” has been a piece of jihadi propaganda since the 1990s.

“My brothers, if they [the Americans] kill me, and they eventually will do so, then perform my funeral and give my corpse to my family,” Rahman wrote, according to a translation of Al-Nafir obtained by FDD’s Long War Journal. “Do not forget my blood and do not squander it, but exact a severe and fierce revenge on them for me.” Rahman called on others to remember that he was their “brother” and that he “spoke the truth” in the cause of Allah.

Al-Nafir’s version is similar to the text that was distributed in 1998. In The Osama bin Laden I Know, Peter Bergen wrote that copies of Rahman’s “will” were distributed at a press conference hosted by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri on May 26, 1998.

Rahman’s sons handed out a laminated card with their father’s will, as well as a fatwa authorizing attacks against the US, written on it. The text of Rahman’s last will described by Bergen appears to be the same as Al-Nafir’s, meaning Rahman first warned that the Americans were slowly killing him almost twenty years ago. He eventually died — and now al Qaeda is using his death to call for retribution.

According to the translation obtained by Bergen, Rahman’s fatwa read: “Cut all relations with [the Americans, Christians, and Jews], tear them to pieces, destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their peace, sink their ships, shoot down their planes and kill them on air, sea, and land. And kill them wherever you may find them, ambush them, take them hostage, and destroy their observatories. Kill these infidels.”

Rahman’s fatwa has been credited with providing theological justifications for al Qaeda’s attacks, as not many sheikhs endorsed bin Laden’s early vision of global terror. At the May 1998 conference where Rahman’s fatwa and will were handed out by his sons, bin Laden announced that he had formed the “World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.” It was this front, which Rahman’s sons supported, that brought the war to American targets in Aug. 1998, when the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed.

Al Qaeda frequently took up Rahman’s cause through the years. Bin Laden often cited Rahman’s case as an example of America’s supposed injustice towards Muslims.

In his 1996 declaration of war against America, Bin Laden portrayed Rahman’s imprisonment as part of an alleged campaign against Islamic scholars. In 1997, according to the Washington Post, bin Laden accused the US of fabricating “a baseless case against [Rahman] even though he is a blind old man.”

A Presidential Daily Brief delivered to President Bill Clinton on Dec. 4, 1998 warned that bin Laden and his men were working with Rahman’s group, Gama’at al-Islamiyya (IG), to orchestrate an “aircraft hijacking.” The intent behind the putative plot was to force the US to free Rahman and others. The plot didn’t progress, but it was later seen as an early harbinger of the 9/11 hijackings.

In Sept. 2000, Al Jazeera’s satellite channel aired footage of a meeting of several jihadi leaders in Afghanistan. All of them, including bin Laden and Zawahiri, pledged to free Rahman from jail. “We promise to work with all our power to free our brother [Rahman],” bin Laden said, with one of Rahman’s sons by his side.

Zawahiri also spoke, asking: “Which one of us today would not sacrifice himself for this man who has supported every righteous stand and has been an unshakable leader?” Zawahiri continued: “We have a duty towards Dr. Omar Abdel Rahman, who has never abandoned a righteous stand. Do we now abandon giving him support and rewarding him?”

Al Qaeda and other actors continued to seek Rahman’s release in the years since.

After the revolution in Egypt swept Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, Rahman’s cause became even more popular. Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood figure who briefly served as Egypt’s president, promised his supporters that he would try to free the blind ideologue.

Members of Gama’at al-Islamiyya who were closely allied with al Qaeda also helped stage a protest outside the US Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. The protest was pro-al Qaeda, with the group’s black flag flying high and chants of “Obama! Obama! We are all Osama [bin Laden]!” ringing out. Some of the protesters cited Rahman in their rallying cries.

In Jan. 2013, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a notorious Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) commander, orchestrated a major raid on a natural gas field in Algeria. His men took dozens of foreign nationals hostage and demanded the release of Rahman in exchange for some of them. Authorities did not comply with the demand.

Al Qaeda still uses images and clips of Rahman in its propaganda.

On Feb. 18, the same day that Rahman’s death was announced, al Qaeda released Ayman al Zawahiri’s lengthy eulogy for one of Rahman’s longtime comrades, Rifai Ahmed Taha Musa, who was killed in an American airstrike in Apr. 2016. Taha and Rahman were both Gama’at al-Islamiyya leaders. Zawahiri praised Taha for taking part in the aforementioned Sept. 2000 conference in Kandahar, during which the jihadis called for Rahman’s release.

“Sheikh Rifai Taha, may God have mercy on him, took interest in the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman in deed, and not by merely begging America” to free him, Zawahiri said. Taha agreed with bin Laden that Rahman should be freed and said so during the conference, Zawahiri remarked.

Zawahiri’s video eulogy for Taha includes footage from the Sept. 2000 gathering, during which they praised Rahman. As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, used images of Rahman alongside Zawahiri and Taha to promote the video. (One such image can be seen above.) It may be the case that al Qaeda waited to release Zawahiri’s commemoration of Taha until Rahman died, as the timing of the video’s online distribution is especially conspicuous.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which are openly loyal to Zawahiri, released a joint eulogy for Rahman earlier today. The statement was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The al Qaeda branches specifically mentioned Rahman’s will.

“We call upon the sons of Islam and its honorable knights, who were not successful in liberating the sheikh from his imprisonment, to earnestly and honestly work hard to execute his will, and to build from his blood a lighthouse that inspires the generations…to viciously avenge the sheikh against his oppressors and his wardens,” the statement from AQAP and AQIM reads, according to SITE’s translation. “This would be the least of what his brothers in Islam and pride should do,” the statement continues, as Muslims should “rescue…our scholars and our leaders who were faithful to Allah and never deviated from his path.”

Rahman’s teachings had a significant influence on the development of al Qaeda and modern jihadism. For more than 20 years, al Qaeda’s leaders made him a central part of their cause. The jihadis will almost certainly continue to use him in their productions in the years to come.

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

Blind Sheikh Dead But His Network Lives On in America

Inset: the Blind Sheikh (Photo: Video screenshot)

Inset: the Blind Sheikh (Photo: Video screenshot)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, February 20, 2017:

The “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, best known for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, has just died in prison, but his “work” lives on. He was not only a U.S.-based leader of the Gamaa Islamiyya terrorist group, but part of the connective tissue of an interconnected jihadist network that still operates today.

The “Blind Sheikh” and his U.S.-based network were like a cornucopia of jihadist offerings. His Gamaa Islamiyya, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas, Jamaat ul-Fuqra (now known as Muslims of America) and other jihadist entities all overlapped “in a sort of terrorist ‘Internet,’” as one congressional testimony explained. It is through this “Internet” that the Blind Sheikh’s work lives on.

The best example is Jamaat ul-Fuqra, now known as Muslims of America, which is best known for its “Islamberg” headquarters in New York and its claim to having 22 such “Islamic villages” across the country. The Clarion Project has launched a comprehensive website about the organization at FuqraFiles.com.

A section of the Fuqra Files website documents the close ties between Fuqra and the Blind Sheikh. It is an odd match considering Fuqra’s ideology as a Sufi cult but was useful to the Blind Sheikh due to the group’s criminal experience and robust infrastructure including remote enclaves and jihadist training sites.

The Blind Sheikh was one of the very few Islamic preachers that Fuqra’s Pakistan-based leader, Sheikh Gilani, openly preached in support of. Despite being a cult dedicated to Gilani, authorities found posters of the Blind Sheikh when they raided Fuqra’s 101-acre terrorist training camp in Colorado in 1992.

Various law enforcement sources have told the Clarion Project that Fuqra had concrete links to the Blind Sheikh’s bombing of the World Trade Center and planned follow-up attacks. Some of the Blind Sheikh’s top operatives belonged to Fuqra’s network.

In fact, the links between Fuqra and Blind Sheikh were so strong that a 1993 intelligence report by the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare said that Fuqra’s militant operations in the U.S. were essentially under the control of the Blind Sheikh, with Sheikh Gilani acting mostly as a spiritual leader.

Fuqra still operates in the U.S. today. The Clarion Project recently published a FBI report from 2003 warning that Fuqra has links to Al-Qaeda and members go to Pakistan for guerilla warfare training and possible involvement in other jihadist groups.

The Blind Sheikh essentially contracted some of his dirty work to other groups, such as Islamist criminal gangs. For example, Marcus Robertson, who led “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves,” served as a bodyguard for the Blind Sheikh, as did jihadists associated with Hamas. Today, Robertson leads a radical Islamic seminary in Florida.

The Blind Sheikh’s jihadist collaborators continue to be active enough for the NYPD to gather intelligence on some of them. One such example was Mohammed El-Shinawy, the son of a close associate of the Blind Sheikh’s. Elshinawy preached at two major Islamist mosques in New York, Masjid at-Taqwa (whose imam was also very close to the Blind Sheikh) and Masjid al-Ansar.

Another close associate of the Blind Sheikh’s, Hesham El-Ashry, also spoke at the mosque frequently and preached that the U.S. would suffer from violent jihad if the Blind Sheikh was not released. Notably, the Blind Sheikh’s release was a top demand of the Muslim Brotherhood after it took over Egypt, again reflecting the interconnectedness of the Islamist web.

The NYPD had a wealth of information justifying its intelligence gathering on these subjects. Predictably, the Islamists sued the NYPD, accused the police of anti-Muslim discrimination, elevated the radicals as persecuted victims and won favorable media coverage.

The Blind Sheikh is dead, but his network lives on.

House Report: ‘Unprecedented Spike’ in Homegrown Terror Threat

Homeland Security Committee

Homeland Security Committee

Breitbart, by  Edwin Mora, February 9, 2017:

The 2017 terrorism forecast for the United States and the rate at which Americans are being radicalized at home is “alarming,” according to a monthly assessment by the House Homeland Security Committee.

Citing an “unprecedented spike in the homegrown terror threat, primarily driven by the rise of” the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), the House panel’s Terror Threat Snapshot for February warns that, “at this rate, the forecast for 2017 looks alarming.”

“Authorities continue to track a high number of homegrown terror plots in the United States, and the number of cases since 9/11 is nearing a historic milestone: There have been nearly 200 total homegrown jihadist cases in the United States since 9/11 (the figure currently stands at 193), a majority having taken place in just the past few years,” points out the House report.

The monthly assessment attributes the alarming rise in the terror threat to the pressure ISIS is facing “in its key safe havens,” noting that the jihadist organization’s “external operations plotting appears undiminished.”

According to the report, there have been at least 39 homegrown jihadist plots or attacks across 19 U.S. states since the beginning of 2016.

In July 2016, FBI Director James Comey predicted that, as ISIS came close to defeat in its home turf of Iraq and Syria, the number of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and other Western countries would increase.

Echoing Comey, Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement:

I am very encouraged that the Trump Administration is preparing to put greater pressure on jihadists in their safe havens throughout the world. But as they do, we can expect to see militants returning to the West to build new networks and to plot more deadly operations. I look forward to working with the new Administration on shutting down terror pathways in America. We must also remain vigilant here at home, because Americans are being radicalized at an alarming rate.

The Terror Threat Snapshot notes that the jihadist threat against Europe has also increased dramatically.

“European nations are moving forward with counterterrorism reforms designed to cope with the surging terror threat,” points out the assessment. “Yet despite improvements, the continent still suffers from major security weaknesses that make European countries more vulnerable to attack and put U.S. interests overseas at risk.”

Since 2014, there have been at least 166 ISIS-linked plots or attacks against Western targets, including 69 in Europe, 36 in the U.S., and 61 targeting Westerners outside those two regions.

The U.S.-led war against ISIS began in 2014, soon after the group announced the establishment of its now shrinking caliphate.

In the assessment, the House panel also notes that al-Qaeda and its ally the Taliban remain dangerous after more than 15 years of U.S.-led war against the terrorist groups.

“The Taliban threat has proven resilient and powerful in Afghanistan. According to an Afghan Defense Ministry official, the group is responsible for nearly 19,000 attacks throughout the country in just the past 10 months,” states the assessment. “Throughout that time, however, Afghan National Security Forces only carried out approximately 700 counter-insurgency operations.”

U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that a few thousand more U.S. troops would help break the current “stalemate” with the Taliban.

“We remain very focused on the defeat of al-Qaeda and its associates, as well as the defeat of Islamic State Khorasan Province, which is the ISIL affiliate in Afghanistan,” he added. The U.S. declared war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2001.

Al-Qaeda Guide: ‘Large and Violent Demonstrations’ Can Distract from Terror Operations

Police deploy a chemical irritant as a crowd marches through the streets of Portland, Ore., following Donald Trump's presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

Police deploy a chemical irritant as a crowd marches through the streets of Portland, Ore., following Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

PJ Media, by Bridget Johnson, Feb. 7, 2017:

A new al-Qaeda guide from one of the group’s most wanted leaders pitches the value of kidnappings to jihadists, including seizing scientists working in “sensitive” areas and politicians, and details how terrorists should map out these operations.

The 39-page guide, released by al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab media, is authored by Saif al-Adel, a senior al-Qaeda member on the FBI’s Most Wanted list in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. There’s a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of the Egyptian through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program.

Al-Adel, in his mid-50s, drew from a lecture on kidnapping he originally delivered in 2000. He’s been al-Qaeda’s planner in Iran, and is rumored to have recently spent time in Syria.

He dedicates the guide to, among others, “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence on federal conspiracy charges in North Carolina, “and his associates in America.”

Kidnapping is described as more than a ransom-generating operation, but “one of the methods …to break the will of the enemy and force him to submit to the wishes of the attackers under pressure,” as well as “one of the most serious intelligence operations and the most controversial and most difficult” in terms of the length of the many stages of the operation including negotiations.

Funding jihad is listed as the last goal for kidnappers, but the list includes angling for prisoner swaps and stoking debate in the media “to gain international sympathy.”

Jihadists are encouraged to intricately plan kidnapping operations down to a “full rehearsal” before the deed at a similar site. Al-Adel tells them to plans ops with surprise attacks, speed and stealthy withdrawal as well as concealment of the kidnapping victim.

He ranks kidnapping targets into three tiers: “money men, and senior politicians and senior military” are considered the top targets, with the second-most desirable targets being “leading scientists in sensitive sciences” as well as celebrities, media and government officials. The lowest priority is tourists and “the citizenry at large,” though al-Qaeda has been seizing tourists, particularly in North Africa, for years.

The planning tips are similar to those detailed in the assassination issue of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine last May: finding a target, becoming familiar with their residence and routines, and formulating escape routes in advance. Al-Adel encourages gathering as much information about targets as possible from open sources such as the internet as well as human intelligence, wiretaps, surveillance and “imaging.” Jihadists are told to get to know the target’s “habits” and “weaknesses,” as well as relatives and any protective detail or home security system.

For targeting tour groups, terrorists are told to observe and learn how different tour companies handle security — “Does the guard at the bus remain after the descent of tourists? Is there a time unguarded for tourists?” — along with what language the tourists on board speak and what routes they take.

Ideal locations for kidnappings are described as accessible sites that pose the “lowest possible risk” to terrorists and allow for “speed and flexibility.” Terrorists are told to budget time wisely to include the operation itself, transferring hostages and conducting negotiations, and to ask themselves questions including, “Is there a dangerous, unpredictable effect on a cell? What is the practical impact on the community?”

Distraction techniques — “a huge fire in a warehouse timber port, car explosion on a bridge, large and violent demonstrations, etc.” — are emphasized to lure security away from potential targets as well as having three plans for one kidnapping: the master plan, the Plan B, and the contingency plan. “Develop a security plan for each individual if arrested,” Al-Adel says of terrorists involved in the op.

He even includes recommendations for people kidnapped by al-Qaeda, including “remain calm and in control” of oneself “and therefore the kidnappers will be the same,” and “you must be polite with the terrorists” while speaking naturally and building “a good human relationship with the terrorists.”

“Do not refuse any service” offered by the terrorists, such as food or drink, he adds, “exercise whenever possible and keep a clean body… try to take advantage of your time so that your mind remains intact.” And, he adds, “avoid the discussion of religion and politics.”

Al-Adel gives an example of how a plan would be put into place and executed with a target of “a money man of the Jews kidnapped while attending a celebration.” The December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 is also discussed.

The guide concludes with instruction for jihadists to operate in “the spirit of brotherhood and love of self-sacrifice” with “deep and intelligent thinking,” with “a good understanding of the nature of human beings” being critical to a successful terror kidnapping.

Al Qaeda back in the crosshairs–and with good reason

map-al-qaeda-2015Terror Trends Bulletin, by Christopher W. Holton, February 5, 2017:

There is growing evidence that, not only did Barack Obama allow the Islamic State caliphate to become established and metastasize on his watch, but he also looked the other way while Al Qaeda became resurgent.

Sean Durns over at the Washington Examiner has an article that summarizes how Al Qaeda has spread in recent years…

Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the worst terrorist attack in United States history, never really left. Instead, while news media coverage inordinately focused on the Islamic State, al Qaeda re-tooled and re-established itself for a new age.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of al Qaida’s death were greatly exaggerated. Anticipatory obituaries appeared after the death of al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Then-President Barack Obama, for instance, said on Sept. 10, 2011 that al Qaeda was “on a path to defeat.” Similarly, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in July 2011 that the U.S. was “within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda.”

But as terror analysts Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Bridget Moreng pointed out in an April 2015 op-ed, “The Islamic State’s offensive through Iraq and Syria last year has dominated the headlines, but the jihadist group that has won the most territory in the Arab world over the past six months is Al Qaeda.”

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/al-qaeda-is-back/article/2613929

As a result, not only has Donald Trump inherited the Islamic State caliphate, he has also inherited an Al Qaeda that is rebounding.

As Trump promised in his campaign, he is taking the war to the enemy. U.S. Special Operations Forces carried out a raid on an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a raid that has been the subject of much partisan bickering.

The Leftist news media is predictably celebrating the raid as “botched,” which is typical of their ignorance of military operations. They have evidently grown used to drone strikes which kept national command authority’s image squeaky clean, but also failed to achieve much of anything, given the growth of both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. To put it mildly, the media is overeager to see the new administration fail and will report everything as a failure.

Nevertheless, the raid reportedly killed two senior AQAP Jihadists, Sultan al-Dhahab and Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab. It was sufficiently successful to prompt the leader of AQAP, Qasim Al-Raymi, to issue a call for revenge against the U.S.

The media is also all-too eager to buy into the enemy propaganda that the U.S. raid killed civilian women and children. There is no evidence either way and there is sufficient precedent for women and even children to act as combatants for Jihadist organizations, so if they were killed, they are simply casualties of war.

Bill Roggio at Long War Journal has a good report on the renewed campaign against Al Qaeda…

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/02/us-military-says-aqap-leaders-killed-in-raid.php

Gorka Debunks ‘Muslim Ban’: Most Populous Muslim Countries Left Out of Trump Executive Order

screen-shot-2016-09-04-at-8-48-57-am-640x480-1

Breitbart, by John Hayward, January 31, 2017:

Dr. Sebastian Gorka made his final appearance as national security editor for Breitbart News on Tuesday’s Breitbart News Daily–and his first asdeputy assistant to President Donald Trump.

In his new capacity, Dr. Gorka naturally addressed the biggest news of the day, President Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees. SiriusXM host Alex Marlow pointed to a Rasmussen poll that found 57 percent public support for the supposedly outrageous order.

“It’s quite remarkable, Alex, how the media elite – what we call the ‘chattering classes,’ or what Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser, called the ‘echo chamber’ or the ‘sounding box’ – they really still don’t understand what happened on November the 8th, and how the backbone of America, the common man, the average voter simply wants to see a return to common sense,” Gorka said.

“We are at war with global jihadism,” he continued. “We’ve arrested or killed more than 125 ISIS terrorists in America since the Caliphate was redeclared two-and-a-half years ago, from Mosul. They want things like the Berlin attack, the Nice attack, the double Paris attacks, not to happen on U.S. soil. So they understand that we need to review all our immigration policies and build a wall. It’s really that simple, Alex.”

“Your critics on the Left would say this is about seizing the moral high ground for the next terror attack. What is your response to that?” Marlow asked.

“I would say playing politics with the safety of American citizens is reprehensible,” Gorka replied. “The fact is, we know that ISIS has declared in English, in its publications, in its videos, ‘We will use the refugee streams and mass migrations to insert our jihadis into your cultures.’ We know at least one of the attacks in Europe involved an individual with refugee status, traveling on a false Syrian passport. These are not matters of opinion. These are the cold, hard facts.”

“What we need to recall is, we’ve had here, even in the United States, the Boston attack,” he said when Marlow asked about terrorist actions carried out by refugees. “I worked on the Boston attack for the Department of Justice as an expert. Remember, these individuals came from the former Soviet Union. They came as refugees or asylum seekers. They went through the system and were approved.”

“Likewise, you look at San Bernardino, another individual who went through the system and was approved. And at the time – just think about this – the federal authorities looking into her visa application couldn’t look at her public Facebook pages! That was deemed an intrusion of privacy. That by itself tells you we have to review the system,” he said.

Gorka strenuously denied allegations that Trump’s immigration policies are rooted in xenophobia.

“There’s just one argument that destroys this accusation of any kind of xenophobic intent behind this executive order,” he said. “If this had anything to do with a specific religion, if this had anything to do with Islam, how is it that the most populous Muslim nation in the world, Indonesia, is not one of the seven nations affected? How is it that the largest Arab Muslim nation in the world, Egypt, is not on the list? Surely they would have been included. No, this is about real threats from nations where groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS are active. It’s about national security, Alex.”

Marlow asked if there was “any potential for more countries to get added to the list.”

“Well, the irony is, we are using the list that was developed by the last administration because the last administration realized that these are the primary nations of concern,” Gorka replied. “Why? Because if you look at Syria, Iraq, Libya, that’s where ISIS was created. If you look at al-Qaeda that people forget is still out there, they are incredibly active in countries like Yemen and Somalia.”

“Strategy is the art of prioritization,” he explained. “We have prioritized. That’s why we started with this seven. And it is the President’s prerogative to add or remove countries from this list because the 1950s act says it is the President who decides who comes into this country, based on which standards. That is his mandate.”

Corruption, Terrorism, and Genocide: The 7 Nations Covered by Trump Executive Order

AP/Various

AP/Various

Breitbart, by John Hayward, January 31, 2017:

The media is misrepresenting President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugee admission as a “Muslim ban” – or, more cleverly, a ban on immigration from “Muslim-majority countries.”

In truth, the ban applies to everyone from seven specific countries. In fact, one of the first families caught at the airport when the executive order went into effect was a Christian family from Syria.

These seven nations were not chosen at random. They were all singled out as exceptional security risks in the Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015 and its 2016 extension. In fact, President Trump’s order does not even name the seven countries. It merely refers to the sections of U.S. Code that were changed by the Terrorist Prevention Act:

I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order.

A different section of the executive order does refer to Syria specifically, because it calls for the indefinite suspension of Syrian refugee admissions, until such time as the President believes security concerns have been adequately addressed.

The list of seven nations affected by Trump’s executive order was, therefore, compiled by President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security, in a series of judgments that actually goes back to Obama’s first term, circa 2011. Barack Obama made this list, not Donald Trump, and there was very little resistance from congressional Democrats at any step in the process of arriving at the final list of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Nor should there have been congressional resistance, because that list is eminently sensible. Several of these countries are disasters because of Obama foreign policy, while others were security nightmares long before he took office. Here is a review of current conditions in those nations:

Iraq: Of course, Iraq is currently fighting the Islamic State for control of Mosul and other captured territories. This is creating a flow of both retreating ISIS fighters and refugees from contested areas.

ABC News notes that while some Iraqi soldiers fighting in Mosul “feel a little bad” about Trump’s exec order, as one of them put it, others understand his reasoning. “We don’t want our doctors and professors to keep going to another country and make it greater than our own,” said one Iraqi soldier, who punctuated his comment by exclaiming, “Honestly, I love Trump!”

Many of the Iraqi refugees have been mistreated by local forces, which could easily make them targets for radicalization. The UK Guardian reported on Sunday that human rights groups are processing complaints about the outright torture of children suspected of connections to the Islamic State, which in turn has an extensive program for radicalizing children and turning them into brainwashed jihadi killers.

Shiite militia groups backed by Iran, some of which were murdering U.S. soldiers just a few years ago, are heavily involved in the fighting. There are concerns these emboldened, battle-tested, heavily armed militias will move into Syria and cause a new sectarian crisis. Many of these groups are units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, for all intents and purposes, and would become shock troops for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad as he finishes off the last elements of the rebellion against him.

The Iraqi government, it must be said, does not have the most sterling record for honesty and efficiency. Transparency International recently rated Iraq’s government as one of the most corrupt in the entire world. The Iraqi parliament reflexively responded to Trump’s executive order with an ill-considered “reciprocity ban” that will do significant damage to the Iraqi nation if enacted, at the very moment it is fighting a desperate battle to drive out ISIS. That is not the kind of government that can be readily trusted to provide the data needed for “enhanced vetting.”

Iran: Contrary to the fictions peddled by the Obama Administration, Iran is still very much an enemy of the United States. Its government is actively involved in subversive efforts across the Middle East, and around the world.

Even in the last months of the Obama administration, long after Obama’s huge economic concessions and cash payments to Tehran, the State Department continues to classify Iran as the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism. The State Department remains concerned about “a wide range of Iranian activities to destabilize the region.”

The Iranians are still taking hostages, including U.S. citizens. They put their hostages through sham “legal proceedings” involving secret courts and lawyers who are not always permitted to speak with their clients. They store their hostages in hideous prisons that would pass inspection in no civilized country.

On Sunday, Iran continued its defiance of Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with yet another secret test of a banned ballistic missile.

Syria: It is astonishing that anyone thinks “vetting” is possible for many refugees from war-torn Syria, whose sinister central government still does not control many parts of the country.

ISIS, of course, is headquartered in Syria, and al-Qaeda is one of the strongest military forces in the rebellion. Syrian resistance groups are so difficult to screen that the Obama administration could only find tiny handfuls of reliable “moderate” fighters to arm and train; they were promptly kidnapped, killed, or co-opted by terrorist groups after Obama deployed them. The “white hat rebel” program ended as a laughingstock across the Middle East.

Terrorist groups are still hunting down and destroying “moderate” rebel units to this very day, even during the “ceasefire” brokered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Worse, Syria has become a pressure-cooker for jihad, with groups once regarded as moderate becoming unmistakably radical over the past five years.

ISIS militants fleeing the battlefields of Iraq have been falling back into Syria, while Syrian ISIS fighters have been fleeing from their own battlefield reversals. The return of Islamic State militants, and other battle-hardened jihadis, from Syria to Western nations has long been seen as a major security concern.

The Syrian civil war is universally regarded as one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. Every party to the conflict has been blamed for causing civilian casualties, while some of them deliberately target civilians. The Assad regime has used indiscriminate conventional weapons, and weapons of mass destruction, against rebel-held districts. Civilians have been deprived of food, power, sanitation, and medicine in besieged areas for months, sometimes for years. This will create a huge population that is susceptible to radicalization by terrorists who blame Western powers for either inflicting horror upon civilians, or failing to prevent it.

Libya: Due to the U.S. media’s poor reporting on the continuing disaster of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya, most Americans probably do not realize Libya still lacks a functioning central government. The brief spate of coverage after the rise of Libyan ISIS ended with reports that a “Government of National Accord” had been installed, but in truth it only controls a portion of the country, and some observers believe it is on the verge of collapse. A Qaddafi-era general named Khalifa Haftar is working to seize power, and the Russians have been cozying up to him. The end result of Obama policy in Libya could very well be another Russian client state in the Middle East.

Haftar currently controls the government that used to be recognized by the international community as Libya’s legitimate administration. That government was chased out of the national capital, Tripoli, by a coalition of Islamist militias, widely known as Libya Dawn. They are still a force to be reckoned with, and constitute the third major Libyan government.

ISIS is still a serious problem in Libya, as demonstrated by U.S. air raids against Islamic State positions on President Obama’s very last day in office. “They have been largely marginalized but I am hesitant to say they’ve been completely eliminated in Libya,” a U.S. defense official said at the time.

Somalia: Somalia has been fighting a vicious insurgency from an Islamist terror organization called al-Shabaab, whose name means “The Youth.” It aggressively recruits young Muslims, including young Somalis living in the United States.

The group has links to both al-Qaeda and ISIS. The primary leadership decided not to swear fealty to the Islamic State, leading to something of a schism between different factions of al-Shabaab.

Al-Shabaab is not just a gang of furtive terrorists lurking in the shadows – it effectively controls large portions of rural Somalia, and has been waging war against neighboring Kenya. An attack launched just this weekend killed dozens of Kenyan troops, according to al-Shabaab claims disputed by the Kenyan government.

Al-Shabaab is one of the most savage Islamist terror organizations in the world, responsible for horrific massacres like the slaughter of 150 students at Garissa University College in April 2015, and 67 murdered at the Westgate shopping center in the Kenyan capital. An attack on the Dayah hotel in Mogadishu killed eight people just last week.

Al-Shabaab killers are notorious for asking potential victims to prove they are devout Muslims in order to spare their lives.

Somalia’s government was ranked the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International, in the same study that named Iraq one of the worst. That is not exactly news, because Somalia’s government has been listed as the most corrupt on Earth for ten years straight. For the sake of comparison, the Number Two and Three worst governments on Transparency International’s list are South Sudan and North Korea.

Somalia’s most recent elections were an absurd carnival of bribes and voter intimidation, even with U.N. oversight. The BBC declared the country “has not had a functional national government since the ousting of its former leader Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.”

Sudan: As mentioned above, the Sudanese government is a corrupt disaster. The country actually split in half in 2011. Over 1.5 million people have been killed in the Sudanese civil war, while 2 million refugees have been displaced from the Darfur region.

The president of the Republic of Sudan is an iron-fisted Islamist dictator named Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been in power for over 25 years, after seizing power in a 1989 coup that came after two decades of civil war.

Bashir is wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Those charges have been pending since 2009. There are actually three counts of genocide against him. He is supposedly under an international travel ban, but he travels anyway, occasionally cutting his trips short when he thinks he might be arrested.

The Sudanese government imposed sharia law on its provinces in the Nineties. Bashir has been linked to Janjaweed militias, which serve as his own personal storm troopers, noted for their scorched-earth tactics and indiscriminate use of mass-casualty weapons against civilians. Some observers fear the Janjaweed will eventually ship Bashir’s leash and overthrow the government in Khartoum.

Sudan is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism and, until recently, it was politically aligned with Iran. Sudan has proven to be friendly terrain for all sorts of gangsters and terrorists, although its political realignment over the past few years reportedly included more cooperation on counter-terrorism, in a bid to get off the American list of terrorist sponsors. Even after that realignment, Hamas terrorists seemed to have little trouble traveling through Sudan, or raising money there.

Yemen: Yemen is a horrifying bloodbath of civil war and terrorist insurrection, which ties many of the other nations on this list together. Sudan, for example, has been part of Saudi Arabia’s coalition in Yemen, ever since it turned away from Iranian patronage.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting a proxy war in Yemen, where there have been over 10,000 civilian casualties. The U.S. has been providing weapons to Saudi Arabia, whose coalition is blamed for many of the civilian deaths, so Yemeni resentment of the United States is a very real factor to consider when estimating the dangers of radicalization.

The U.S. blocked an arms sale to the Saudis in December 2016 after a Saudi coalition airstrike hit a funeral in the capital of Sana’a, leading to 140 deaths. The Saudi coalition has also been criticized for bombing Doctors Without Borders hospitals.

The internationally-recognized government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi was displaced by an Iran-backed Shiite insurgency from the Houthi minority, aided by forces loyal to the previous president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Describing the state of Yemeni government as “chaotic” would be a vast understatement. Major cities like Sana’a have been subjected to violent takeovers and sieges, while the Yemeni wilderness is largely controlled by al-Qaeda.

On Sunday, a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed, and three others wounded, in a firefight with al-Qaeda forces in central Yemen. Fourteen al-Qaeda fighters were reportedly killed, including the brother-in-law of the late al-Qaeda guru, Anwar al-Awlaki. It was the first counterterrorism operation authorized by President Trump.

In October, the U.S. Navy was obliged to strike ground targets in Yemen, after missiles were fired at American ships stationed off the coast.