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

Osama bin Laden and Hamza bin Laden

Osama bin Laden and Hamza bin Laden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Qaeda has grown under Zawahiri’s tenure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The threat to the West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Listen to John Batchelor interview Thomas Joscelyn:

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Fifteen Years Later, Al Qaeda Grows

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

MEMRI, Sept. 9, 2016:

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

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

Below are the main points of the message:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebranding Terror

 (Photo: Representational Image/AFP)

(Photo: Representational Image/AFP)

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

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

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

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

RETURNING TO SQUARE ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART OF THE PLAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EYES WIDE SHUT

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

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

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

Also see:

Zawahiri says jihadists should prepare for guerrilla war in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria’s Nusra Front Breaks from Al-Qaeda

AFP

AFP

Breitbart, by John Hayward, July 29, 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also see:

Once Again, Al-Qaeda Brands Itself as Social Justice Warriors

ShababFlag.svg_.sized-770x415xc

PJ Media, by Raymond Ibrahim, July 14, 2016:

After the Orlando massacre, when an armed Muslim murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub, al-Qaeda published a guide urging more such “lone wolf” attacks – with the added caveat that jihadists should exclusively target mainstream white Americans.

According to the jihadi group’s online publication “Inspire guide: Orlando operation,” killing homosexuals is “the most binding duty.” However, would-be jihadis are advised to “avoid targeting places and crowds where minorities are generally found in America,” and instead to target “areas where the Anglo-Saxon community is generally concentrated.”

In response, several pundits warned that al-Qaeda is shifting gears, somehow trying to portray itself as a “social justice warrior.”

In fact, al-Qaeda has long presented itself to the West in this manner. These latest instructions are hardly new. Further, they help explain the real differences between al-Qaeda and ISIS, and which stage of jihad they see themselves in.

Although The Al Qaeda Reader documents al-Qaeda’s dual approach — preach unrelenting jihad to Muslims, whine about grievances to Westerners — a nearly decade-old communique from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is sufficient to understand the strategy behind these latest instructions. In that letter, as-Zawahiri spoke to the many “under-privileged” of the world:

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

American blacks, however, were Zawahiri’s primary targets. Zawahiri praised and quoted from the convert to Islam, Malcolm X:

Anytime you beg another man to set you free, you will never be free. Freedom is something you have to do for yourself. The price of freedom is death.

The al-Qaeda leader also appealed to another potentially sympathetic population — environmentalists:

[The U.S.] went out and ruined for the entire world, the atmosphere and climate with the gases emitted by its factories.

Years earlier, Osama bin Laden himself complained about the U.S. not signing the Kyoto protocols:

You [the U.S.] have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history.

What does this ostensibly disparate group of people — “third-worlders,” environmentalists, and disaffected American blacks — have in common? They all harbor anti-Western sentiments that can be appealed to for purposes of exonerating al-Qaeda’s jihad.

Now, al-Qaeda is again reaffirming that killing homosexuals is “the most binding duty,” but it’s still best to continue targeting non-minorities in America — “Anglo-Saxons” — because they are so easy to demonize.

Al-Zawahiri used the same strategy in Egypt in 2014. During a particularly brutal period of Christian persecution — dozens of churches were burned — he counseled Egypt’s Muslims to stop attacking Coptic Christians. The al-Qaeda leader, who on numerous occasions had exhibited his antipathy for Christians, made clear that his directive was purely for PR purposes; he was concerned about jihad’s image in the West.

While agreeing to the most draconian of Sharia’s tenets, al-Qaeda also knows that many of these — for example, the destruction of churches and subjugation of “infidel” Christians — needs to be curtailed or hidden from the Western world.  Otherwise, al-Qaeda’s efforts of portraying jihadis as “freedom fighters” resisting an oppressive West risk being undermined.

On the other hand, ISIS represents the unapologetic jihad, indifferent to Western opinion.

By widely broadcasting its savage triumphalism in the name of Islam, ISIS forfeits the “social warrior” card and instead plays the “strength” card. In this manner ISIS has inspired hundreds of millions of Muslims, according to some disturbing polls.

Al-Qaeda was born at a time when deceiving the West about the aims of the jihad was deemed necessary; ISIS was been born at a time when deceiving an already passive West is no longer deemed important.

Time will tell which strategy works better.

Emails Show Clinton Was Told About MB-AQ Links

scafby John Rossomando
IPT News
May 2, 2016

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails suggest that she may have known about connections between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and hardcore jihadist groups such as al-Qaida early in the 2011 Arab Spring.

Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal noted in an April 7, 2011 email that Egypt’s military leaders expressed concerns about contacts between the MB and al-Qaida. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) reportedly feared that the Brotherhood would work with various violent Islamist groups, including al-Qaida affiliates.

“The main concern of the SCAF leaders is that the MB will begin working with more violent Islamist groups, including the various al Qa’ida affiliates,” Blumenthal wrote.

A source “with access to the highest levels of the MB,” including its Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, privately told Blumenthal that the relationship between the MB, al-Qaida and other radical groups was “complicated.”

“Egyptian military intelligence is aware of the fact that these contacts exist, but believe that the MB, under the influence of … [the] moderates, is carefully controlling its contacts with these radical/terrorist groups, in an effort to avoid providing the military with an excuse to move against them,” Blumenthal wrote.

Blumenthal’s source claimed that Mohamed Morsi admitted that the Brotherhood’s looming Islamist government in Egypt would find it difficult to control the rise of al-Qaida and other radical/terrorist groups, according to a Dec. 16, 2011 email. No context is provided for this statement apart from Morsi also noting that the younger generation of Egypt’s military had become Islamized and anti-American despite training by the United States. The email also notes that younger officers would support Egypt becoming an Islamist state more than the current crop of generals.

Morsi became president about six months later.

However, former CIA Director James Woolsey questions Blumenthal’s sources, telling the Investigative Project on Terrorism that he doesn’t know where Blumenthal found his information.

“This is highly speculative but interesting,” Woolsey said. “The issue with the emails is classification. What matters is the sources and methods.”

These emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server, written while she was secretary of state, were made public as a result of a Judicial Watch lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Many are alleged to contain potentially classified information, and this remains under FBI investigation.

Egyptian security sources recorded calls between Morsi and al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri while he Morsi was in power, according to a Nov. 22, 2013 article in Egypt’s El-Watan newspaper. Morsi allegedly agreed to grant a presidential pardon to 20 terrorists, including one al-Zawahiri had known since childhood, and another who ran Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – now known as ISIS’s Sinai province.

Communications between Morsi and al-Zawahiri began during the first month of his presidency. Zawahiri’s brother, Mohamed, mediated the initial contacts between them.

“Rule by God’s law for us to stand beside you, there is no so-called democracy, then get rid of your opponents,” al-Zawahiri told Morsi, according to the El-Watan transcript.

Al-Zawahiri and Morsi allegedly agreed to cooperate in establishing training camps in Sinai and near the Libyan border where they could create an army to defend the Brotherhood regime. Morsi allegedly met with an emissary of Zawahiri’s at a Pakistani hotel for two-and-a-half hours, and this reportedly resulted in the international organization of the MB giving al-Qaida $50 million.

Morsi called al-Zawahiri asking for his help soon before the military toppled him, according to the Al-Watan report.

“We will fight the military and the police, and we will set the Sinai aflame,” al-Zawahiri allegedly told Morsi.

The pro-military newspaper’s reporting has been called into question in the past. Its editor remains under investigation for falsifying a report about an Islamist terror cell.

Still, the alleged phone calls with al-Zawahiri contributed to Egyptian prosecutors seeking a death sentence against Morsi.

Attacks in the Sinai increased following Morsi’s fall. The suggestion by Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagy following Morsi’s deposition that “Attacks in Sinai would stop the second President Mohammed Morsi is reinstated,” adds to evidence of Brotherhood connections with al-Qaida, according to Michael Meunier, an Egyptian activist who previously worked closely with the Egyptian government.

“There is a clear indication of coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida in Sinai,” Meunier said.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the group responsible for most of the attacks, belonged to al-Qaida before joining the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. Reports indicate that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was “structurally” tied with the MB.

If true, the ties between the MB and al-Qaida challenge the academic contention that the two groups are mortal enemies. This contention was based upon mutual criticisms, such as al-Zawahiri’s 2006 condemnation of the MB’s participation in democratic elections.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper invoked the idea that the MB and al-Qaida were opposed to each other during February 2011 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’…is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said.

A Feb. 16, 2011 email from an unnamed State Department official who helped draft Presidential Policy Directive-13  – a document that helped frame U.S. policy surrounding Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East – echoed Clapper’s remarks. U.S. policy should not “be driven by fear,” it said, and if it didn’t distinguish the Brotherhood and al-Qaida, it wouldn’t be able to adapt to changes in the region.

Not Just Egypt

Other government documents corroborate Blumenthal’s contention that the Brotherhood and al-Qaida are linked.

The Clinton emails describe a definitive personal link between the Brotherhood and al-Qaida in Libya dating from Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state in the person of Ali al-Sallabi, who founded the al-Qaida linked Libyan National Party (LNP).

A Feb. 27, 2011 email from Clinton aide Jake Sullivan describes al-Sallabi as “a key figure in the Libyan Muslim brotherhood and [Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Yusuf] Qaradawi’s man in Libya.” Sullivan stands accused of sending Clinton top-secret emails at her private account.

Blumenthal noted in a July 3, 2011 email that the LNP was dominated by former members of the al-Qaida-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), “who, according to sensitive sources, maintained ties to al Qa’ida during their struggle with the forces of former dictator Muammar al Qaddafi.”

A March 24, 2011 Libyan intelligence document claims that al-Sallabi coordinated the effort by the international Muslim Brotherhood to assist the LIFG in its fight against Gaddafi.

Similarly, Rached al-Ghannouchi, head of Tunisia’s Brotherhood-linked Ennahda Party,attempted to work with al-Qaida linked Ansar Al-Sharia and its late leader, Abu Iyadh – a former Bin Laden ally sanctioned by the U.S. after 9/11 – during the Arab Spring. Abu Iyadh was responsible for al-Qaida’s assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood two days before the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

These examples also include connections between the Yemeni MB and al-Qaida through Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani. Treasury Department officials described al-Zindani as a “Bin Laden loyalist” in a 2004 press release. He also helped al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki, while serving on the board of the Brotherhood-linked Union of Good, which raises funds for Hamas.

Al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood have also used many of the same funding mechanisms, such as the Lugano, Switzerland based Al-Taqwa Bank.

West Supported Brotherhood Making Egypt an Islamic State

In other correspondence, Blumenthal reported that “MB leaders are also pleased with the results of discussions with the United States Government, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), both of which, in the analysis of the MB leaders, appear to accept the idea of Egypt as an Islamic state.”

Western business and diplomatic leaders at the 2012 World Economic Forum in Davos“appeared to accept” an end to Egypt’s role as a partner with Israel, Blumenthal wrote, even if the Egyptians had no desire for a military confrontation with the Jewish state.

Brotherhood members, including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, advocated an Islamic government based upon the Turkish model, in which civilians rather than clerics rule. All legislation passed by such a government must conform to the Islamic law. Egypt’s 2012 constitution included this principle, which subjected legislation for review by Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s most important academic institution. Gamal al-Banna, brother of the Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, warned prior to his death in January 2013, that religious law would always prevail in such a system.

“If nothing else, the civilian and religious outlooks will differ and will therefore surrender to the religious outlook,” al-Banna said in a 2011 interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm. “Egypt should thus become a civil state, without involving the detailed legislation of Islam.”

Despite this knowledge Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration chose to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood as just another political party.

Meunier, who helped organize the demonstrations that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, doesn’t find any of these revelations surprising.

“To have that information and to ignore it is criminal. I kind of had an idea about this way back when [Clinton] came to Egypt, and I refused to meet with her when she requested a meeting with me,” Meunier said. “We knew that she was colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood.

“She was encouraging and working with a terrorist organization.”

Dutch Intelligence: Competition Could Fuel Jihadi Plots

by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
April 27, 2016

tweetA “large scale, spectacular attack in Europe or the US”: this is the prediction of the Netherlands’ Intelligence Service (AIVD).  And, they say, it could happen very soon.

The AIVD’s report on 2015, released last week, analyzes the threat of terrorism, cyber-terrorism, and other national security issues based on the past year’s events and global intelligence-gathering.  The agency found that ongoing competition between jihadist groups is proving even more dangerous than the threat of continued “lone wolf” attacks and localized bombings by jihadists who have either returned from the Islamic State or were inspired by them.  That competition, particularly between al-Qaida and ISIS, is likely to lead to major attacks on the West in order to “demonstrate to one another that each is the real leader of jihadism,” the AIVD report says. This is particularly crucial for al-Qaida, which may stage an attack soon in order to re-assert its prestige and power at a time when ISIS seems to be getting the most attention.

These predictions align with similar warnings from former CIA operative Brian Fairchild,  who last fall also warned of  “another 9/11,” driven by rivalry among the terrorist groups.

That rivalry is intensifying as various factions continue to battle for power in the Levant.  Al-Qaida, for instance, recently published a statement accusing ISIS of “lies and deceit,” and describing them as “one of the biggest dangers today in the jihadi fields.”  And in a video, al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri called ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,  “illegitimate.” ISIS, according to al-Qaida, “invoked the curse of Allah” on its opponents, specifically on Jabhat al Nusra.  Al Nusra, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, is considered another powerful rival of ISIS.

Like the AIVD’s 2005 report, “From Dawa To Jihad,” now something of a classic in the literature about the radicalization of Western Muslims, many insights presented in this year’s overview are likely to be taken seriously by intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism strategists globally.  Alongside concerns about a major attack in the near-term, for instance, the AIVD report offers an analysis of the complexities of Islamic terrorism at this moment – and the vastness of its reach.

Those complexities again put the lie to notions that Islamic extremism breeds in impoverished neighborhoods, among the unemployed and disenfranchised. They defy, too, ideas that immigration is to blame, or that simply “closing the borders” will solve the threat. As the report notes:

“The attacks in Europe present a disturbing illustration of the threat Europe currently faces: people from our own homelands, who grew up here and mostly were radicalized here, stand ready and willing to take up weapons against the West [….]  So, too are jihadists who return from the battlefields of jihad prepared to perpetrate similar atrocities [at home] – and jihadists who had planned to join the foreign battle, but never succeeded [in making the trip]. Young, inexperienced jihadists can perpetrate attacks, but those jihad-veterans known to intelligence officials and who have long been quiet may also suddenly come roaring back.”

Similarly, “attacks could be planned and attackers sent from outside Europe, or they can be planned and activated from within; they could be major attacks, arranged by professionals far in advance, or relatively simple and small-scale,” the AIVD report says. “The threat can come from organized groups and networks sent in to commit attacks but also by individuals or small groups who sympathize with a certain jihadist group.”

Moreover, the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN), which often is misleadingly characterized as “moderate,” poses an additional threat. “JaN is a jihadist organization connected with al-Qaida and whose purpose, in part, is to commit attacks against the West,” the report says.

And while the death of many al-Qaida leaders may have caused some disruption, this does not mean that the organization is weakened, or that the threat of another al-Qaida attack against the West has vanished. Rather, battling for the mantle of dominant jihadi group could strengthen its determination to wage spectacular attacks.

And it isn’t just violent attacks. While the AIVD has found a rising interest among Dutch Muslims in obtaining weapons, the agency notes that in at least one case, the purpose was to perform a series of armed robberies in order to finance terrorist groups in Syria.

What is certain is that Salafism, the radical Islamic ideology that supports violent jihad, is very much on the rise in the Netherlands. Added to this development is the ISIS propaganda machine, which the report’s authors say, sends the message that terrorism is a form of heroism. Combined, the two forces stand to raise radicalization and the probable involvement in terrorism in the homeland.

For the Dutch, as for other Europeans,  the danger does not just come from jihadists at home and those in Syria. Belgium, with its many extremist and terrorist groups, is just across the Dutch border. Paris is a short, high-speed train ride away.  And as officials increasingly crack down in those two countries, the chances are great that terrorists there will travel elsewhere, looking for the nearest place to hide – and kill.  The result is a multi-pronged threat that hovers over the country, and increasingly, over Europe.

‘Islamists’ Slay US-Employed Bangladeshi Gay-Rights Activist (Update : Al Qaeda claims credit)

Roopbaan-twitter-640

Clarion Project, April 26, 2016:

So far no one has claimed responsibility for the April 25 stabbing to death of two men in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

Police officers identified the victims as USAID employee and editor of the country’s first gay-rights magazine Xulhaz Mannan and his friend and local police officer Tanay Majumder.

The incident, assumed by police to have been carried out by Islamists, follows the murder of university professor Rezaul Karim Siddique three days earlier in Rajshahi, in the country’s northwest. ISIS said it was behind that killing.

Mannan and other unnamed LGBT campaigners launched Roopbaan magazine in January 2014.

“The main reason for this publication is to promote love,” the editor said at the launch party for the magazine, “promoting love and promoting the right to love. The audience for love is huge and that’s who this is for.

“I feel that I have a relationship with every line and letter in this magazine. A relationship that has cast such an influence on me.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Muslim Bangladesh, with those arrested facing likely imprisonment.

On its website, Boys of Bangladesh urges homosexuals not to be afraid, saying it is in contact with “powerful people” to seek change in the country:

“…we envision a world free of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation enabling every LGBT individual to enjoy the blessing of life, love and companionship. …We hope Bangladesh would soon start talking about real LGBT issues and eventually take a bold positive step towards building a better society free of any kind of stigma and discrimination.”

***

(Update : Al Qaeda claims credit)

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claims killing of LGBT activist, friend in Bangladesh by Thomas Joscelyn

A team of several jihadists posing as deliverymen killed a LGBT activist, Xulhaz Mannan, and his friend in Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka yesterday. The men were reportedly hacked to death with machetes in Mannan’s flat.

Ansar al Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), quickly claimed responsibility for the slayings in a message released on Twitter and other social media sites.

Assuming AQIS’s claim is accurate, the murders are the latest in an orchestrated campaign against men accused of offending the Islamic faith and spreading supposedly immoral behaviors. More than one dozen victims have been killed or wounded in the assaults since 2013. AQIS previously said that the killings were authorized by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.

The assassinations demonstrate how al Qaeda is attempting to market its draconian version of the Islamic faith. AQIS even tries to claim the moral high ground after butchering innocent men.

Mannan was the founder of a LGBT magazine in Bangladesh and worked for the US Embassy there for eight years before joining USAID. He and his friend, Samir Mahbub Tonoy, were specifically targeted by AQIS for their LGBT activism.

16-04-26 AQIS claims killing activists

“By the grace of Almighty Allah, the mujahidin of Ansar al-Islam (AQIS, Bangladesh branch) were able to assassin [sic] Xulhaz Mannan and his associate Samir Mahbub Tonoy,” the group’s claim of responsibility reads. The English version of the message, which was released in multiple languages, can be seen on the right.

“They were pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh,” the AQIS statement continues. “Xulhaz Mannan was the director of Roopbaan (A cult comprised of the gays and the lesbians) while Samir Mahbub Tonoy was one of its most important activists. They were working day and night to promote homosexuality among the people of this land since 1998 with the help of their masters, the US crusaders and its Indian allies.”

The assassinations of Mannan and Tonoy are part of an ongoing, targeted campaign by AQIS, which selects specific men for death. AQIS deliberately contrasts its actions with indiscriminate acts of violence.

16-04-09 Killing of Nazimuddin Samad

For example, the Ansar al Islam branch of AQIS released a statement earlier this month entitled, “Who’s Next?” In it, AQIS set forth the criteria for its slayings. The message can be seen on the right.

The group identified its “next targets” as belonging to eight categories of people, ranging from those who have allegedly insulted Allah or the prophet Mohammed to those “who oppose the Islamic Shariah [law] by their talks or writings or show insolence towards it or insult it.”

Mannan and Tonoy may have been marked for death because AQIS included them in the seventh category. It reads: “Those who are engaged in spreading nudity, obscenity and shamefulness in the Muslim society. Note that, there is a huge difference in the Islamic Shariah between doing something haram (prohibited) personally and trying to spread it in the society.”

Portraying its terror as a defense of Islam

Most of the victims targeted by AQIS thus far had allegedly insulted the religion of Islam. [See LWJreport, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent leader says attacks on ‘blasphemers’ ordered by Zawahiri.]

In May 2015, AQIS leader Asim Umar, claimed responsibility for the murders of six people who were supposedly “blasphemers.” Umar claimed that his jihadists were responsible for killing Rajib Haider (a blogger murdered in February 2013), Muhammad Shakil Auj (who was the dean of Islamic Studies at the University of Karachi when he was shot in September 2014), Shafiul Islam (a professor at Rajshahi University who was killed in September 2014), Aniqa Naz (a Pakistani blogger), Avijit Roy (a prominent atheist blogger hacked to death in February 2015) and Washiqur Rahman (a blogger who was killed in March 2015).

“Praise be to Allah, these assassinations are part of a series of operations initiated by the different branches of al Qaeda on the orders of our respected leader Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri (may Allah protect him),” Umar said in the May 2015 video. “It is equally part of our commitment to fulfill the oath of Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] (may Allah have mercy on him).”

Umar connected the series of murders to other terrorist attacks, including the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris in January 2015. The jihadists “have taught a lesson to blasphemers in France, Denmark, Pakistan and now in Bangladesh,” Umar claimed. He said al Qaeda’s assassination campaign is part of the “same war…whether it is fought with drones [in northern Pakistan] or with the cursed pens of Charlie Hebdo.”

16-01-08 Timeline of Assassinations

AQIS claimed responsibility for additional killings and attempted murders in the months that followed Umar’s message. In January, the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) posted an infographic online (seen on the right) in which several other attacks were claimed.

Earlier this month, AQIS said its men were responsible for the death of Nazimuddin Samad, whom the jihadists accused of mocking Allah on Facebook.

Supporters of the Islamic State have lashed out at individuals as well. Rezaul Karim Siddique, a university professor, was hacked to death earlier this week. Amaq News Agency, a propaganda arm of the Islamic State, said Siddique was killed because he was “calling to atheism in the city of Rajshahi in Bangladesh.” However, the professor’s family denied that he was an atheist.

AQIS claims that its victims are chosen with precision. “We are not targeting every atheist bloggers [sic],” the organization’s targeting criteria reads. “We don’t have problem [sic] with other religions or beliefs but we will not tolerate anyone insulting [the] prophet Muhammad. We are targeting those who are insulting our Prophet in the name of Atheism, Free Speech or Free Thinking.”

And the jihadists are now targeting LGBT activists as well.

Police officials in Dhaka say that previous AQIS claims were proven to be fake. But if they are right, then this would mean that roving bans of murderers have randomly and repeatedly targeted prominent commentators and activists in the same manner with machetes and knives. Although some of AQIS’ statements may be inaccurate, it is reasonable to assume that the jihadists are targeting victims just as they say.

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

US transfers 2 Guantanamo detainees to the Republic of Senegal

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, April 4, 2016:

The Department of Defense and State Department announced today that two Libyans have been transferred from Guantanamo to the Republic of Senegal in West Africa.

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr Mahjour Umar and Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby allegedly belonged to the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), worked with senior al Qaeda leaders and had advanced explosives training in Afghanistan prior to their detention in Cuba.

President Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force, which reviewed the detainees’ cases between Jan. 2009 and Jan. 2010, deemed Umar “too dangerous” to free. But a Periodic Review Board subsequently approved Umar’s transfer last year.

Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention facility, assessed both of the men to be “high” risks who are “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies.”

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr Mahjour Umar (Internment Serial Number 695)

JTF-GTMO was especially concerned about Umar. In an Aug. 22, 2008 threat assessment, which was later leaked online, JTF-GTMO recommended that the Defense Department continue to hold him.

Screen-Shot-2016-04-04-at-8.38.16-PM-768x867JTF-GTMO’s analysts also issued a warning: “If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee [Umar] would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities.”

US officials found that Umar was a high-level member of the LIFG’s military committee and worked with a Who’s Who list of al Qaeda leaders and operatives.

Umar was allegedly a “long-time associate” of Osama bin Laden, worked for one of the al Qaeda founder’s companies, and flew on one of bin Laden’s planes from Sudan to Afghanistan.

Umar also reportedly had “affiliations” with: Ayman al Zawahiri (the current head of al Qaeda), Saif al Adl (a senior al Qaeda official wanted for his role in the August 1998 US Embassy bombings), Abd al Rahim al Nashiri (a current Guantanamo detainee and suspected ringleader of the USS Cole bombing in October 2000), Abu Musab al Zarqawi (who founded al Qaeda in Iraq before his demise in June 2006), Abu Laith al Libi (an al Qaeda leader who was killed in 2008), Hamza al Qaiti (who served as an al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan and Chechnya), as well as others.

Still other al Qaeda leaders, some of whom were held in the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation program, are cited as sources of intelligence on Umar throughout the leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment. One of them is Ahmed Ghailani, who was tried and convicted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings. Ghailani identified Umar as a trainer at al Qaeda’s Al Farouq training camp and told authorities that Umar “taught anti-aircraft systems and basic explosives.”

According to the intelligence included in the leaked threat assessment, Umar moved seamlessly between LIFG and al Qaeda facilities in Sudan and Afghanistan during the 1990s. He allegedly worked as an “explosives and weapons trainer at LIFG and al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” JTF-GTMO found that he also helped rebuild al Qaeda’s camps after airstrikes were launched in retaliation for the attacks on US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.

On Mar. 28, 2002, Umar was captured during raids on two suspected al Qaeda safe houses in Faisalabad, Pakistan. The counterterrorism operations targeted Abu Zubaydah’s “Martyrs Brigade,” which planned to launch improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan. JTF-GTMO’s analysts assessed that Umar was a “a participant in [Zubaydah’s] cell,” or “Martyrs Brigade.” Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda facilitator, is still detained at Guantanamo.

President Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force, which filed its final report in January 2010, shared JTF-GTMO’s security concerns about Umar.

The task force determined that Umar should be held under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) because he was one of 48 detainees “determined to be too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution.”

However, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) determined in August 2015 that Umar’s detention was “no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The PRB acknowledged Umar’s “past terrorist-related activities and connections,” but found that the “risk” he “presents” could be mitigated by his “significantly compromised health condition,” his “record of compliance” within Guantanamo, and his “recent engagement with his family illustrating his intent to move forward in a positive manner.”

Even so, the PRB couldn’t rule out the possibility that Umar would return to the jihad.

The August 2015 decision reads: “The PRB also recommends appropriate security assurances as determined by the Guantanamo Detainee Transfer Working Group, with special attention to those that would mitigate the threat the detainee [Umar] may pose with respect to propaganda, recruitment, and training of others.”

According to data compiled by The Long War Journal, Umar is the fifth detainee since September of last year to be transferred after being deemed “too dangerous to transfer” by Obama’s task force. A sixth detainee was also transferred despite being recommended for prosecution by the task force. In all six cases, President Obama’s interagency body concluded that the detainees should be held. But they were granted transfers from Guantanamo by the PRB system, which is increasingly willing to transfer higher risk detainees.

Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby (ISN 189)

Unlike Umar, Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby was approved for transfer by President Obama’s task force more than six years ago. This doesn’t mean the task force believed he was an innocent who could be freed without any security precautions. The task force recommended Ghereby for transfer “to a country outside the United States that will implement appropriate security measures.”

Screen-Shot-2016-04-04-at-8.37.52-PM-768x1083JTF-GTMO concluded that Ghereby was a “former explosives trainer and a veteran jihad fighter” in the LIFG. He was also allegedly “associated” with senior al Qaeda members, including Abdul Hadi al Iraqi (Bin Laden’s primary paramilitary commander prior to 9/11) and Ibn Shaykh al Libi. Bin Laden named al Libi as the leader of al Qaeda’s forces during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. (Al Iraqi is held at Guantanamo. Al Libi died in a Libyan prison in 2009.)

JTF-GTMO’s analysts found that Ghereby “attended multiple training camps” and “received explosives training” from a “senior al Qaeda explosives expert” known as Abu Khabab al Masri. According to the leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Ghereby, Masri’s diary describes the explosives accident that cost Ghereby his fingers and vision in one eye.

JTF-GTMO’s analysts also assessed that Ghereby participated in the Battle of Tora Bora and fled the mountain range with Ibn Shaykh al Libi and other jihadists.

LIFG and al Qaeda in North Africa

The LIFG, which Umar and Ghereby served, found new life in North Africa during the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and afterwards. In fact, Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenant believed in early 2011 that “an active Jihadist Islamic renaissance” was “underway.” Al Qaeda was encouraged by the fact that many LIFG members, some of whom also served al Qaeda, had been freed from jail. One of them was another ex-Guantanamo detainee who was a member of both al Qaeda and the LIFG: Sufian Ben Qumu. Today, Ben Qumu is best known for his putative role in the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi.

According to the terms of their transfer, it is likely that the Republic of Senegal is responsible for ensuring, at least in the short-term, that Umar and Ghereby do not rejoin their LIFG brethren elsewhere in Africa. Of course, it is possible that one or both of them will choose a different path.

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

Also see:

Al Qaeda chief calls for jihadist unity to ‘liberate Jerusalem’

Ayman al Zawahiri says the jihadists must strike the West and build states in the Levant and Egypt in order to “liberate” Jerusalem.

Ayman al Zawahiri says the jihadists must strike the West and build states in the Levant and Egypt in order to “liberate” Jerusalem.

The Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, November 2, 2015:

Al Qaeda has released a new audio message from Ayman al Zawahiri, who addresses recent events at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The audio speech is embedded in a video that is nearly 16 minutes long and features archival footage of Osama bin Laden, a still image of Zawahiri, and scrolling text throughout.

Zawahiri begins by alleging that “Muslims everywhere” are upset by the “Jews’ repeated attacks on the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque,” according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. He then praises the knife attacks that have been carried out against Jews, saying they are “a new epic of jihad,” in which people “defend Palestine and Al Aqsa with knives, cars, stones, and everything they own.” Zawahiri asks Allah “to bless these martyrdom-seekers who dare to stab the Jews even as they are almost certain that they will be killed at the Jews’ hands.”

The al Qaeda leader argues that two things are required to “liberate” Jerusalem. First, the jihadists must strike “the West, and especially America, in its heartland” and also attack Western interests everywhere they are found. Zawahiri cites a number of previous attacks in the West as part of his call for more terror, including the September 11, 2001 hijackings and the Boston Marathon bombings carried out by the “two Tsarnaev brothers.”

Second, Zawahiri says that Muslims must establish a “state” in Egypt and the Levant in order to “mobilize the ummah to liberate Palestine.” The al Qaeda chieftain uses this point to emphasize one of his key themes. Establishing such states, based on al Qaeda’s radical version of sharia law, “requires unity,” avoiding “disputes and ending “hostilities” between “the mujahideen.” This is a reference to the infighting between the Islamic State, led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and its jihadist rivals in Syria and elsewhere.

Therefore, Zawahiri once again calls for jihadist unity against the “mujahideen’s” common enemies. He does not endorse Baghdadi’s self-declared “caliphate.” He has already set forth his extensive critique of Baghdadi’s state in previous messages. And he takes a swipe against Baghdadi’s state again in his latest message, saying that al Qaeda is fighting to resurrect the caliphate based on the “prophetic method,” which requires shura (consultation). Baghdadi did not consult recognized jihadist authorities before declaring that his organization now rules over a “caliphate” covering large portions of Iraq and Syria.

But Zawahiri wants the fighters within Baghdadi’s ranks to stop fighting Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and its allies, as well as jihadists elsewhere, so that they can focus on the supposed alliance between America, Europe, Russia, the “Rejectionists” [meaning Shiites and Iran], and the Nusayri [a derogatory reference to Bashar al Assad’s Alawite regime]. Zawahiri alleges that all these parties are “coordinating their war against us” in a joint alliance. He asks why the jihadists are not able to set aside their differences and “direct” all of their “efforts” against them.

Addressing jihadists “from every group” around the world, Zawahiri says that the Levant and Egypt are the “two historical gates of Jerusalem” and the battle in those two areas is a fight against the “Crusader-Rejectionist alliance.” The ummah [community of worldwide Muslims] must support this battle however it can, Zawahiri says, because it is a battle “to show” what it means for Muslims to wage an “acceptable jihad” that elevates Allah’s sharia and does “not empower the secularist and national regimes.”

Zawahiri wants to build popular support for the jihadists’ efforts, seeing this as key to their victory. “It is a political jihad battle so we could convince the ummah that our conduct is in line with what we call for and does not contradict it and does not drive away the Muslim people from the mujahideen,” Zawahiri says. Thus, the jihadists must “hone our conduct in order to convince our Muslim people that we are really keen to be ruled over by sharia if we are called to implement it” and do not label other Muslims as non-believers. The jihadists must convince Muslims that they “are the most merciful of people toward our people” and “do not seek to oppress Muslims.”

Al Qaeda’s bottom-up approach is, therefore, very different from the Islamic State’s. While they both want to build governments based on sharia law, al Qaeda is much more focused on building legitimacy for its ideological project in the hearts and minds of Muslims. Al Qaeda and its allies want to gradually implement sharia law and eventually resurrect a caliphate. Zawahiri’s organization has adopted this strategy, in part, because it knows that most Muslims are not pining for al Qaeda-style rule.

Through its top-down authoritarianism, the Islamic State seeks to convince Muslims that it is a caliphate today and that its version of sharia law, with its graphic executions and punishments, is divinely justified. (Al Qaeda generally avoids propaganda that focuses on its implementation of sharia’s penalties, whereas the Islamic State explicitly advertises its decapitations and amputations.) From the Islamic State’s perspective, Muslims who do not accept its legitimacy as a “caliphate” are to be terrorized into submission.

Zawahiri is not only critical of the Islamic State, with its hard stance, but also other Islamist groups that have adopted softer approaches to achieving their goals.

In this “political jihad battle,” Zawahiri says, the Muslim people should be shown that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, salafists who support the Egyptian regime, and Rached Ghannouchi (a Tunisian Islamist who co-founded the Ennahda Movement in his home country) have erred by allying themselves with the secular governments and corrupt politicians who oppress Muslims. Zawahiri also accuses these Islamists of submitting themselves to agreements that recognize Israel’s legitimacy, “because they have realized that the price for reaching power is the acceptance of the secular constitutions and submission to Israel.”

The “mujahideen in Palestine” should fight to build an Islamic government, Zawahiri says, arguing that a “secular government that rejects sharia” in Jerusalem would be unacceptable.

Toward the end of his message, Zawahiri again ties Jerusalem to the jihadists’ efforts in the Levant and Egypt. “We must work to establish a Muslim government in the lands neighboring Israel,” he says, and the jihadists’ infighting distracts from this key mission.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 6.19.35 AM

Archival footage of Osama bin Laden is included at the beginning and the end of the al Qaeda production. The clip at the end is used to emphasize that al Qaeda seeks to resurrect a caliphate. A common misconception in the West is that while the Islamic State seeks to conquer territory, al Qaeda only plots terrorist attacks.

“Today, praise be to Allah…we are redrawing the map of the Islamic world to make one state under the banner of the caliphate, Allah willing,” bin Laden says in the clip. From Zawahiri’s perspective, the jihadists’ battles in the Levant and Egypt are key to making this goal a reality.

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

Also see:

Zawahiri calls for jihadist unity, encourages attacks in West

Screen-Shot-2015-09-13-at-3Long War journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Sep. 13, 2015:

Al Qaeda has released the second installment in its “Islamic Spring” series, which features Ayman al Zawahiri delivering lectures. Zawahiri’s audio message is accompanied by a still image (seen above).

Zawahiri calls on all of the “mujahideen” in Iraq and Syria to cooperate and “help each other,” because the jihadists’ enemies are supposedly waging a vicious “crusade” against them. And he wants Muslims living in the West to help by attacking the “crusader” countries.

“I call on all Muslims who can harm the countries of the crusader coalition not to hesitate. We must now focus on moving the war to the heart of the homes and cities of the crusader West and specifically America,” Zawahiri says, according to Reuters.

Zawahiri does not offer his approval for the Islamic State’s caliphate, saying it was established in “secret” without proper consultation. (Al Qaeda and its allies frequently make this argument, which hinges on the idea that the Islamic State, by refusing to consult other recognized jihadist authorities, has not followed the appropriate “prophetic method.”)

Still, the al Qaeda leader says he cannot ignore the Islamic State’s accomplishments. He claims to support the Islamic State’s efforts when its members assist their jihadist brethren, but not when they sow discord in the “mujahideen’s” ranks. As in the first episode of the Islamic Spring series, Zawahiri says he would fight alongside Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s “faction” against the “Crusaders,” “secularists,” and “Safavids” (a derogatory term used by Sunni jihadists for Shiites).

Al Qaeda’s call for unity against the jihadists’ common enemies isn’t new or surprising, despite the enmity between the two sides. Zawahiri has repeatedly attempted to broker a peace deal. Al Qaeda’sregional branches have as well. It is likely that while al Qaeda considers Baghdadi and most of his inner circle to be a lost cause, the group still hopes that part of the Islamic State can be reconciled. At a minimum, Zawahiri hopes to limit the fitna (discord, or strife) that plagues the jihadists’ efforts, and so he hopes to convince followers of the Islamic State to avoid targeting their ideological cousins in al Qaeda-affiliated groups.

In one segment of the message, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Zawahiri calls for “Muslim youths” who want to carry “martyrdom-seeking” operations to strike inside the West instead of traveling abroad for jihad. Zawahiri repeats al Qaeda’s longstanding claim that the “Crusader West” is the ultimate power behind the jihadists’ opposition.

“Therefore, if we strike the head, then the wings and the body will fall, and if the war reaches the home of the great criminals, then they would stop the war and revise their policies, Allah permitting,” Zawahiri says, according to SITE’s translation.

Al Qaeda’s emir says that such operations do not always require explosives, and can be carried out using other weapons.

He also calls on Muslims in the West to emulate jihadists such as: Ramzi Yousef (who masterminded the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993), Mohammed Atta and “the eagles of martyrdom” (meaning Atta and his fellow 9/11 hijackers), Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer (two of the suicide bombers who struck in London on July 7, 2005), Major Nidal Malik Hasan (who carried out the Fort Hood shooting in 2009), Umar al Farouq (or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009), Tamerlan and Dzohar Tsarnaev (the brothers who bombed the Boston marathon in 2013), Mohammed Merah (who carried out three shootings in France in 2012), and “the brave knights of the Paris invasion” (a reference to the Kouachi brothers, who were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre earlier this year).

Although Zawahiri encourages young recruits to follow in these terrorists’ footsteps on their own, there is a noteworthy difference between “lone wolf” attacks and most of the operations he lists. Almost all of the jihadists mentioned by Zawahiri either received professional training, or were specifically directed to carry out the operations they executed. The one known exception is Nidal Malik Hasan, who sought approval for his attack from Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue, but does not appear to have received any direct assistance from jihadist organizations. It is not clear if the elder Tsarnaev brother received some training in the Caucasus region during his travels abroad.

Zawahiri says that Muslim recruits who want to learn more about such operations should consult As Sahab’s productions (As Sahab is al Qaeda’s official media arm) or AQAP’s Inspire magazine. The latest edition of Inspire, which also advocates attacks by “lone mujahideen,” underscores al Qaeda’s direct role in preparing Said Kouachi for the assault on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris.

The release of al Qaeda’s “Islamic Spring” series has long been delayed and, therefore, includes odd references. For example, in the first installment, Zawahiri notes that the Islamic State has caused problems by calling for jihadists to break their bayat (allegiance) to Mullah Omar. But the Taliban leader was likely dead at the time Zawahiri made the recording. The Taliban has since admitted that it covered up Omar’s death.

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Also see:

Al Qaeda Does Not Recognize IS as Legitimate

Zawahii and BaghdadiCenter for Security Policy, by Nicholas Hanlon, Sep. 11, 2015:

Seeing the IS group in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a clear and existential threat, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has revealed his true feelings about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and they are not warm.

“We preferred to respond with as little as possible, out of our concern to extinguish the fire of sedition, but Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his brothers did not leave us a choice, for they have demanded that all the mujahideen reject their confirmed pledges of allegiance, and to pledge allegiance to them for what they claim of a caliphate.”

Zawahiri apparently recorded this message before Mullah Omar died since he restated al Qaeda’s loyalty to Omar.  Just for kicks, one might draw comparisons between the handling of IS by al Qaeda and the Obama administration.  Zawahiri claims that he had avoided taking issue with al Baghdadi for fear of giving him legitimacy.  As a strategy, that turned out to be irreverent because IS has succeeded in making themselves such a problem for the Taliban and al Qaeda, they are now forced to admit as much.

The U.S. administration also tried to act like IS was no big deal.  Thanks to great reporting by the Daily Beast we now know that it was a policy to suppress intelligence analysis from Centcom about IS.  Despite the continual global spread of IS with propaganda upgrades on social media that can sometimes make al Qaeda look like your grandmother’s global jihadists, the U.S. administration is not likely to say ‘uncle’ no matter how hot the world burns.   The administration sees itself as having already said the final word on the matter.  In their version of history, the air strikes are the answer to IS just like the ‘deal’ is the answer to the Iranian nuclear program.  Don’t expect much more than that.

Also see:

VIDEO: Former Al-Qaeda Leader Says Obama-Aligned Muslim Brotherhood ‘Is One of the Most Dangerous Organizations’

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, September 8, 2015:

I had the opportunity to escort a U.S. congressional delegation to Egypt last week — we were sponsored by the Cairo-based Center for North Africa and Near East Security Studies.

One of the common themes we heard from senior government officials and experts was the active role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the ongoing terror campaign targeting military, police, and government officials, as well as  in the sabotage of infrastructure. I reported here at PJ Media back in June on the Brotherhood’s escalating violence.

There have been a number of signs this past year indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has effectively dropped its non-violent mask, including:

Despite media reports that the group is “divided” over the use of violence, the group has unmistakably made its position clear.

One expert very familiar with the workings and ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is the founder and former head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Sheikh Nabil Naeem. He lived with both Osama bin Laden and current al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri, and witnessed the formation of al-Qaeda. In Afghanistan, he served as bin Laden’s personal bodyguard, and was Zawahiri’s long-time “right arm.”

On my last trip to Cairo, my colleague Steve Coughlin and I had the opportunity to interview Sheikh Nabil at his office for more than nine hours over two days.

During that interview we discussed a number of topics, including the trajectory of the global jihadist movement, the development of terrorist organizations in the Sinai, and his experience with EIJ and al-Qaeda until his arrest and eventual rejection of jihadist ideology.

ShNabilNaeem2

But at the end of our interview with Sheikh Nabil, he began explaining how the Muslim Brotherhood is “one of the most dangerous organizations.”

In response to that statement, I requested that we video record Sheikh Nabil’s response to our questions on this issue as well as his previous statements on the group, which we exclusively present in translation here.

Along the way, he explodes commonly held myths among the Washington, D.C., foreign policy community, including the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence and that there are no connections between the Brotherhood and terror groups in Sinai.

Q: Why do you believe the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most dangerous organizations?

Nabil: First we accuse the Obama administration of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood to rule Egypt and supporting Morsi’s presidential campaign. Senator McCain also admitted his support to the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi.

Accordingly, it is not expected from the Obama administration to neither acknowledge Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization nor acknowledge their ties to other terrorist organizations. That would mean the Obama admin and the Democrats acknowledge and support a terrorist group.

But we know that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization and all their confessions are available at the prosecution office. And I can tell you how the prosecution process work because I have been through questioning for 35 years.

If any torture takes place it might happen in the police station, but never the prosecution and they are very careful in regards to the legal procedure. That is why any confessions at the prosecution are called the matter of all evidence.

I personally know ABM are improvised, as well as AQ too. What they use is Muslim Brotherhood money and they admitted this repeatedly.

Q: The Muslim Brotherhood present themselves in the United States as moderate Islam and the only alternative to al-Qaeda. Since you have witnessed the formation of al-Qaeda, do you believe this is true?

Nabil: First the Muslim Brotherhood presented themselves to Mubarak as the alternative to all the takfiri/terrorist groups in Egypt, but the truth is Muslim Brotherhood are the main sponsors of them alland that is the Muslim Brotherhood’s way in promoting themselves as the alternative.

Like they did with Luxor massacre, they sponsored and supported terrorist groups to attack tourism in Egypt. Back in the 1990s Abu Walid, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who used to live in Germany, traveled to Afghanistan and met with Refaie Taha and Ayman Al-Zawahiri to arrange with them what was later known as the Luxor massacre.

At the same time the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt condemned the attack to convince the audience of their moderation.

This is a simple tactic: in order for the Muslim Brotherhood to appear as moderate group, they need the terrorists to commit acts of terrorism so the people would see the difference.

However, knowing the Muslim Brotherhood means knowing they are devil’s allies.

Q: Back in the 1970s the Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence, but we still see other groups ideologically bound to them like Hamas still using violence. What do you believe?

Nabil: The Muslim Brotherhood are double-faced liars, they claim they renounced violence but I will cite a conversation between Ghassan bin Jiddo and Abdul Monem Abul Fotouh that will sum them up.

Ghassan said you (the Muslim Brotherhood) claim that you renounced violence and you said that you don’t topple regimes, although you used violence with Abdul Nasser in Egypt and when Hamas and Fatah had a disagreement, Hamas committed the Gabalya massacre and their mufti, Youssef Al-Astal, endorsed killing Fatah members and Hamas killed 700 of them in a single day.

It is their deeds versus their words, which would you believe?

The Muslim Brotherhood are terrorists and they killed too many people, even after June 30 and I myself witnessed the Al-Itehadia massacre when they killed 13 innocent citizens — one of them a child because he was carrying Sisi’s poster. They shot him in the back of his head.

Even Ibn Khaldoun Center that is sponsored by the U.S. released a report about the Rabia sit-in and documented about 44 cases of Muslim Brotherhood torturing innocent citizens, 33 of which died of torture.

Q: We are trying to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. What do you believe the Americans should know?

Nabil: I would advise the Americans to read books written by the Muslim Brotherhood about themselves. Dots on Letters by Ahmed Adel Kamal where he proudly documented the Muslim Brotherhood terror attacks calling them jihad. The other book is by Mahmoud Al-Sabbagh called The Truth About the Secret Organization where he listed all the facts about the Muslim Brotherhood militias and how they were used to attack the opposition.

For the present times, Americans should monitor the Muslim Brotherhood and what they do in Syria, Egypt, Libya and everywhere they are.

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I will be reporting more from Egypt later this week.