House Witnesses: Al-Qaeda ‘Strongest in Syria’ Where It Could ‘Incorporate’ Failing Islamic State

AFP PHOTO / OMAR HAJ KADOUR

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, uly 13, 2017:

WASHINGTON, DC — Al-Qaeda, the primary target of the U.S. war on terror that followed the 9/11 attacks, has evolved and grown stronger mainly in Syria where it has set the conditions to establish an Islamic emirate while America primarily focuses on defeating the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), some analysts tell House lawmakers.

“ISIS has strengthened al Qaeda,” argued Katherine Zimmerman from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in written testimony, adding, “Should ISIS’s global network collapse, al Qaeda will be able to capture the remnants and incorporate ISIS’s capabilities into its own organization.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Seth Jones, the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation, argued in his prepared remarks that al-Qaeda “has been in decline,” failing to “conduct or inspire many attacks in the U.S. homeland.”

The al-Qaeda experts testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence during a hearing Thursday titled, “The Persistent Threat: Al Qaeda’s Evolution and Resilience.”

Zimmerman and Jennifer Cafarella from the Institute for the Study of War agreed that Syria serves as al-Qaeda’s primary base.

They pointed out that the group has capitalized on the international community’s single-minded focus against ISIS to grow stronger and remain a prominent threat to the United States.

ISIS has suffered significant losses in Iraq and Syria at the hands of the coalition and its local partners.

Zimmerman testified:

US strategy is setting the stage for al Qaeda to lead the Salafi-jihadi movement again when that movement is the strongest it has ever been globally. Al Qaeda has adapted and evolved as America focused myopically on retaking two cities [Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria] from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). Al Qaeda has become more resilient and ready to exploit our own strategic weaknesses.

Amid the ongoing U.S.-led efforts to defeat ISIS, some analysts and news reports predicted that al-Qaeda would eventually be positioned to establish its own Islamic state in Syria.

Cafarella explained in her written testimony:

Al Qaeda’s main effort is in Syria, which has become the world’s largest jihadist incubator. Al Qaeda’s intent in Syria is to embed within the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and to transform that uprising into a global religious insurgency… Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra, announced its formation in a video on January 2012 but did not state its goal to establish an al Qaeda emirate in Syria that could become a future component of a global al Qaeda caliphate.

Although Jabhat al-Nusra claimed in July 2016 it was no longer al-Qaeda’s affiliate, Voice of America (VOA) reported that most Western experts had dismissed the offshoot’s break with the jihadist organization as deceptive.

“Al Qaeda is strongest in Syria, where it has used the conditions created by the Syrian civil war and [the U.S.-led coalition’s] Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS to establish deep sanctuary in the northwest and position itself to expand farther into the Syrian theater,” Zimmerman told lawmakers.

“Al Qaeda has set conditions for the future establishment of an Islamic emirate—not necessarily under al Qaeda’s name—that will secure al Qaeda’s objective to build an Islamic polity in Syria,” she reiterated, adding, “The Syrian al Qaeda network is one of the best-resourced nodes in al Qaeda because of Syria’s primacy in the global theaters for jihad. Syria remains a top destination for al Qaeda’s foreign-fighter flow, creating a large foreign recruitment base.”

Zimmerman accused both Qatar and Turkey of lending support to al-Qaeda, noting that the jihadist group also generates funds from kidnappings for ransom, taxation, and commercial enterprise.

Contradicting the assessments from Zimmerman and Cafarella, Jones from the Rand Corporation testified:

Al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Algeria, and Mali also consistently failed to hold territory because of poor leadership, incompetent governance, limited local support, excessive violence, internal tensions, and other factors. Another problem has been a lack of overall Muslim support.

Nevertheless, he conceded that “the Islamic extremism that al-Qaida represents will not go away soon.”

Zimmerman notes that al-Qaeda has intentionally avoided attacks against Western targets to fuel the “false narrative that it was weak.”

“Al Qaeda is not in decline; it is preparing to emerge from the shadows to carry forward the Salafi-jihadi movement,” she told the Houe panel.

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

Reuters

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, April 27, 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House Report: ‘Unprecedented Spike’ in Homegrown Terror Threat

Homeland Security Committee

Homeland Security Committee

Breitbart, by  Edwin Mora, February 9, 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FBI: Islamic State Jihadis Targeting Theaters, Churches, Sports Arenas

REUTERS

REUTERS

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, Sept. 9, 2016:

The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have reportedly identified restaurants, theaters, churches, and sports arenas as possible targets of Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)-inspired jihadists and homegrown violent extremists, urging law enforcement to remain vigilant for potential attacks against civilian venues.

Both the FBI, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and DHS have learned that the extremists have shifted their focus from law enforcement, military, and government venues to civilian facilities, reports CBS News.

In a joint bulletin sent out to law enforcement agencies across the country on August 31, the two government agencies said that “analysis indicates that homegrown violent extremists, and ISIS inspired terrorists, appear to have shifted their focus to target attacks on civilian venues,” adding, “These sorts of venues include places like restaurants, theaters, churches, and sports arenas, with less focus on law enforcement, military and government facilities,” notes the news agency.

“The bulletin said that according to analysis, more than 75 percent of homegrown violent extremists disruptions and attacks over the last 12 months have focused on civilian targets,” it adds.

Citing an unnamed law enforcement source, CBS News points out that as less secure and easily accessible soft targets, terrorists prefer civilian facilities.

“Attackers may be more familiar and comfortable with those venues,” notes CBS, continuing, “The source said that this is an important distinction because it shows they may be altering their priorities.”

Nevertheless, the source highlighted the need for “continued vigilance of law enforcement and military,” noting that “the timing of the bulletin was not meant to coincide with the upcoming 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

The Islamic State has no qualms urging its followers to attack civilians. Some “kill lists” that were distributed by its supporters online earlier this year contain the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of ordinary American citizens.

More than 2,000 New Yorkers were mentioned in one list and about 1,500 Texans in another.

In anticipation of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Islamic State called on its supporters to carry out violent attacks against civilian and military targets within the United States and Europe.

The Islamic State and other jihadi groups do not distinguish between combatants and civilians when they attack. The terrorist group is responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in various countries.

During Ramadan this year, jihadists, the majority of them affiliated with the Islamic State, killed an estimated 421 people and wounded at least another 729 in nearly 15 countries. The majority of victims were civilians.

Parents of American Islamic State Sex Slave Kayla Mueller: Obama Failed Our Daughter

Screengrab

Screengrab

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, Aug. 26, 2016:

The parents of American hostage Kayla Mueller have shared with the public the 10 second “proof of life” video they received from her captors, the savage Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), in which their daughter proclaims, “It’s very terrifying here.”

Mueller’s parents — Carl and Marsha Mueller — believe the Obama administration failed their daughter.

“The president could have been a hero, but he chose not to,” Mr. Muller told ABC News.

Mr. and Mrs. Muller have provided a copy of the “proof of life” video to the news outlet.

“My name is Kayla Mueller. I need your help,” pleaded Mueller, the 25-year-old humanitarian aid worker who was kidnapped in Syria on August 4, 2013, before ISIS had gained international notoriety.

“I’ve been here too long and I’ve been very sick,” she continued. “It’s very terrifying here.”

Mueller’s parents also received a “proof of life” audio clip from ISIS on May 29, 2014, nearly a year after she was abducted.

“Goodbye,” she abruptly said at the end. That was Mueller’s last spoken word to her parents.

In in the audio, Muller said:

Mom and Dad, I still am remaining healthy. You should have already received the three answers to the proof life questions you provided. Those detaining me are demanding an exchange of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s release for my release. If this is not achievable, they are demanding 5 million euros to ensure my release.

ABC News has learned from one of the hostages who was enslaved alongside Mueller that she bravely defended her Christian faith.

The news outlet notes:

American hostage Kayla Mueller was tortured, verbally abused, forced into slave labor for ISIS commanders in Syria and raped by the group’s top leader [Abu Bakr al Baghdadi], but her fellow hostages say she never surrendered hope, she selflessly put the welfare of fellow captives above her own and she even stood up to executioner ‘Jihadi John’ to defend her Christian faith.

A 13-year-old Yazidi girl who was also held hostage alongside Mueller has been identified by ABC News as Mueller’s closest friend while in captivity. Thousands of Yazidi girls have been forced into sex slavery by ISIS. She has asked ABC News to identify her only as “Julia.”

“She [Mueller] told the [fellow hostage] girls that part of surviving was being forced to pretend she had converted to Islam so the ISIS leader could sexually assault her, though she still clung secretly to her Christian faith,” recounted Julia.

Mueller “was praying for us to escape, to survive,” added the Yazidi girl. “I will never forget this sacrifice. She was very good to us. I will never forget.”

The ISIS terrorists charged with overseeing Mueller were led by British terrorist Mohammed Emwazi, who became known as “Jihadi John” when he carried out the beheadings and killings of 10 hostages. He was killed by a CIA armed drone in Syria last year.

Former hostage Daniel Rye Ottosen, a Danish freelance photographer, recalled how Mueller stood up to Jihadi John to defend her Christian faith. ISIS has committed genocide against Christians in the Middle East, crucifying, torturing, and enslaving thousands of Christians.

President Barack Obama has reportedly broken a promise to make a contribution to a charity foundation Mueller’s parents established in Kayla’s.

“I’m still waiting for that donation, Mr. President,” Carl Mueller told ABC  News.

In February 2015, ISIS claimed that American hostage Mueller was killed in Syria by a Jordanian airstrike.

Although the White House has denied that an airstrike killed her, it confirmed Muller’s death a few days after the ISIS claim without revealing the cause.

Mr. and Mrs. Mueller have indicated that “a series of missteps” by the Obama administration “failed their daughter,” reports ABC News.

“The Muellers say White House officials threatened them with criminal prosecution if they tried to pay the $6.2 million ransom ISIS had demanded for the release of their daughter,” points of the news outlet.

John Bolton: Iran Deal ‘Worst Appeasement in American History’

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Adelle Nazarian, Aug. 25, 2016:

LOS ANGELES, California — Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton declared Sunday that the Iranian nuclear deal is the “worst act of appeasement in American history.” Bolton was speaking at the Luxe Hotel on Sunday for the American Freedom Alliance‘s conference, titled “Islam and Western Civilization: Can They Coexist?”

Bolton, who is also a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, elaborated on the threat that radical Islam and political Islam pose to the United States of America, Europe and the whole of Western civilization. In doing so, he explained the propaganda inherent in the term “Islamphobia,” and dismissed the “lone-wolf” concept of radical Islamic terrorism.

Bolton said there is plenty of evidence from western intelligence, among other sources, that the Iranian regime is violating the terms of the deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “I don’t think they ever intended to comply with its central provisions. They made minimal concessions to begin with and in exchange they got over $100 billion.”

Pressing further, Bolton criticized the recent ransom paid for American captives.He joked: “The good news is: each and every one of you is worth $100 million to the Obama Administration. The bad news is: Iran understands this.”

On a serious note, Bolton said: “All of our adversaries, and even our friends, are appalled by what they’ve seen. And the abandonment of our decades-long, bipartisan policy of not negotiating with terrorists. But it was all part of the nuclear deal.” He predicted there are many more surprises that will come up.

Bolton also explained that the “nature of the threat here is extraordinarily broad” and that “it has  been growing” because in the last eight years it has faced “no effective American opposition whatsoever.” That unfettered dynamic has resulted in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. “Turkey and the Saudis and Egyptians, and likely other governments throughout the region, have also embarked on their own nuclear programs missions,” he said.

Regarding the threat of radical Islam, Bolton told the audience,  “I think it’s important to say, at the outset every time the subject comes up, that we are talking about politics and ideology here. This is not a question about religion. And those who say that ‘when you talk about radical Islam you are insulting Muslims all over the world,’ are simply engaged in propaganda.” Bolton added that these are “exactly Muslims, themselves, who have felt the worst effects of Islamic terrorism and who suffer under its rule in places as diverse as Iran and the caliphate that ISIS now holds.”

Bolton explained that individuals who do not wish to have a clear understanding of the true nature of radical Islam are “quick to obscure” it. “It’s a struggle for how the religion is perceived around the world,” Bolton noted.

He pointed out that Muslim leaders like King Abdullah of Jordan and Egypt’s President and former military general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have called for a transformation within Islam, going so far as pointing out that this is a civil war that must be embraced and led by the people themselves.

He also lauded al-Sisi for being “courageous enough a couple of years ago to join the Coptic Christians in their celebration of Christmas and say ‘we are all Egyptians together,’ and thus putting a target on his own back with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bolton said that to suggest phrases like “lone-wolf terrorists and self-radicalized terrorists” when explaining these attacks is like comparing them with “spontaneous combustion: they were normal people one day and then the next day they became terrorists.” The West, he said, had failed “to understand the ideological nature of this war.”

Turning the spotlight onto President Barack Obama, Bolton said “the president says his objective is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. The problem with his strategy is his first three words: ‘degrade and ultimately’. The answer to ISIS is to destroy it as rapidly as possible. The reason you want to do that is because every day that we delay allows ISIS to implement strategies in Europe.”

Bolton added: “Innocent civilians are at risk because of our unwillingness to take appropriate military action.”

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz

From Vlad Tepes:

Turkey vows to cleanse Islamic State from its border after wedding attack kills 54

AFP, Getty Images

AFP, Getty Images

Reuters, by Orhan Coskun and Daren ButlerAug. 22, 2016:

Turkey vowed on Monday to “completely cleanse” Islamic State militants from its border region, after a suspected suicide bomber with links to the group killed 54 people, including 22 children, at a Kurdish wedding.

Saturday’s attack in the southeastern city of Gaziantep is the deadliest in Turkey this year. It was carried out by a suicide bomber aged between 12 and 14, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, adding that initial evidence pointed to Islamic State.

A senior security official told Reuters the device used was the same type as those employed in the July 2015 suicide attack in the border town of Suruc and the October 2015 suicide bombing of a rally of pro-Kurdish activists in Ankara.

Both of those attacks were blamed on Islamic State. The group has targeted Kurdish gatherings in an apparent effort to further inflame ethnic tensions strained by a long Kurdish insurgency. The Ankara bombing was the deadliest of its kind in Turkey, killing more than 100 people.

“Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, using an Arabic name for the group.

A senior rebel official said Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were preparing to launch an attack to seize the Syrian town of Jarablus from Islamic State on the border with Turkey, a move that would deny control to advancing Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Turkish authorities have said a destroyed suicide vest was found at the scene of the bombing.

A second security official told Reuters that they were investigating the possibility militants could have placed the explosives on the child without his or her knowledge and detonated them remotely, or that a mentally disabled child was duped into carrying the device, a tactic seen elsewhere in the region.

“It could be that someone was loaded with explosives without even being aware of it and it may have been detonated remotely,” the official said, adding a search was underway for suspected militants who may have played a reconnaissance role.

In the latest southeast violence, two Turkish security force members and five PKK militants were killed in clashes and attacks in three areas of eastern Turkey over the last 24 hours, officials said.

Some in Turkey, particularly in the Kurdish southeast, feel the government has not done enough to protect its citizens from Islamic State.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the wedding party was for one of its members. The groom was among those injured, but the bride was not hurt.

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Jeanine Pirro interviews Brooke Goldstein on the inhumanity of using child suicide bombers:

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