5 Lessons for Us From the Manchester Bombing

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, May 30, 2017:

Suspects continue to be arrested following the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena, with 13 people arrested in the U.K. and Libya at the time of this writing. One person detonated the explosive but the attack was the product of a global Islamist insurgency—and insurgencies can be defeated if we learn from their operations.

Here are 5 lessons from the bombing and follow-up investigation, in no particular order:

  1. Manchester is a hub in the Islamist insurgency network.
    Items left in memorial for the victims of the Manchester attack.
    Items left in memorial for the victims of the Manchester attack. (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

    It was a single bomb set off by a single jihadist, but he belonged to a hub in the Islamist insurgency. Apparently, independent Islamists often exist in geographic clusters that are linked together through a multilayered infrastructure. South Manchester is one such cluster.

    Earlier this year, The Guardian found that 16 convicted or killed terrorists lived within a 2.5-mile space in southern Manchester. That was before the bombing and the subsequent arrests in the area.

    Salman Abedi is believed to have links to ISIS recruiter Raphael Hostey, who was killed in Syria. Hostey acted as a “central node” in the Manchester jihadist network; a person whom others gravitate to and are somewhat directed by.

    In 2000, Abedi also lived on the same street as Abd al-Basset Azzouz, a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), explosives expert for al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s leader of Libyan operations. After they separated from the same street in 2000, the two were never more than a mile apart in Manchester.

    Azzouz traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. Zawahiri then dispatched him to Libya. He is suspected of involvement in the 2012 Benghazi attacks. He was reportedly captured in Turkey in 2014 and then transferred to Jordan.

    The United Nations sanctioned him as a “key al-Qaeda operative” in February 2016. The U.N. says he recruited 200 terrorists in eastern Libya. Some U.S. officials put the number higher, estimating his Libyan network’s strength to be 200-300 as of 2014. It is very possible that Abedi learned how to make the bomb used at the Manchester Arena from this al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya.

    Manchester became a hub for the global Islamist insurgency because Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) members fled there to escape the wrath of then Libyan dictator Qaddafi. The LIFG developed an infrastructure in Manchester and other parts of the UK to continue the jihad away from Qaddafi’s grip.

    One such member was Ramadan Abedi, the father of the Manchester bomber, Salman. Ramadan fled Libya in 1993 to Saudi Arabia and, from there, was granted asylum by the United Kingdom. He moved to London and then southern Manchester.

    In 2011, when Salman Abedi was only 16 years old, he reportedly moved to Libya to fight against Qaddafi’s forces alongside his father. A member of the Didsbury Mosque claims he personally saw Ramadan Abedi fighting as a member of the LIFG. The associate did not say that he saw Salman.

    The mosque attendee, who claims to have known Ramadan since the early 1990s, said the LIFG had so many recruits from Manchester that their unit was known as the “Manchester fighters—we even had our own logo. Three-quarters of the fighters at the beginning of the revolution were from Manchester.”

  2. Islamists who condemn ISIS are still part of the problem—and that includes the Didsbury Mosque in Manchester.
    Didsbury Mosque, Manchester.
    Didsbury Mosque, Manchester. (Photo: OLI SCARFF / AFP / Getty Images)

    Yes, the imam of the Didsbury Mosque, also known as the Manchester Islamic Center, is said to have condemned ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia (the al-Qaeda affiliate linked to the Benghazi attacks), which enraged Salman Abedi. The mosque banned Abedi after he confronted the imam, accusing him of talking “bullocks” [sic] and says it reported him to the proper authorities.

    It’s still not good enough.

    Salman Abedi got his Islamist foundations from some place and there is nowhere more influential in his life than the mosque he and his family attended. The family is “very religious” and a member of the Libyan community in Manchester said the boys “learned the Quran by heart.”

    Salman Abedi’s father, a known member of the al-Qaeda-linked LIFG, was a long-time mosque official who led the call to prayer. Salman’s brother, who has since been arrested, is a teaching assistant for Arabic classes at the mosque’s school.

    The Islamism of the LIFG and the mosque is only a hair’s breadth away from that of the more aggressive Islamism of al-Qaeda and ISIS. They are all acting upon the same fundamental principles, albeit in different ways.

    The Quilliam Foundation, a moderate Muslim organization, says those who originally formed the Libyan community in Manchester attended the Didsbury Mosque because it was Arab and run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The top leadership is part of the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas apparatus. Its imam and its supervisor of its Sharia Department are also officials in international Brotherhood/Hamas groups led by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential extremists in the world. His support for suicide bombing, violent jihad, theocracy, anti-Semitism and other ISIS-like beliefs are well-known.

    According to the Global Muslim Brotherhood Watch, a former trustee is a “known Hamas activist.” He was present during a pivotal secret Brotherhood/Hamas meeting in Philadelphia in 1993 to set up the U.S. branch of the Brotherhood.

    Anti-Semitic tweets from another trustee, Fawzi Haffar, have been discovered. The content is so ferocious that it would lead any Muslim who trusts his word to believe they are obligated to engage in violent jihad.

    The mosque’s imam personally engaged in violent jihad in Libya against Qaddafi’s forces in 2011. There is a video that purportedly shows him in military attire discussing plans for attack, with militants loading bombs and discussing upcoming operations. He previously claimed he was only helping his family members to escape the violence.

    In 2005, a member of the al-Qaeda-linked LIFG was arrested in Libya. He said he was granted asylum by the U.K. and moved to Manchester. He said he then began fundraising for LIFG through the Didsbury Mosque. When asked about it, a mosque spokesperson blatantly lied by saying they hadn’t even heard of the LIFG, much less the arrested individual.

    The mosque also has a history of choosing guest lecturers who spout radicalism of the vilest nature.

    One Muslim says he began attending the mosque in 1994 but left in 1999 after it repeatedly invited Abu Qatada to teach its congregants. Qatada’s extremism was well-known and present in a lecture to an audience of 300 that this Muslim says he attended. The individual confronted Qatada and had repeated arguments with other mosque members which escalated into assaults. The former attendee says his nose was broken in one fight.

    One blogger noticed at least three other extremist speakers who were brought into the Didsbury Mosque as authorities the audience should hear. Their preaching includes ferocious anti-Semitism; advocacy for Sharia-based theocracies; condemnations of secular-democracy; wild conspiracy theories; glorifying of violent jihad and executing adulterers, homosexuals, those who leave Islam and those who commit blasphemy against Islam.

    Other teachings that the preachers are known for include condemning Jewish and Christian influence on Muslims and that Muslims cannot be close friends with non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are not deserving of true respect. Jews are orchestrating the spread of homosexuality, engineering a conspiracy through the media and will be part of the Antichrist’s army.

    One speaker preached that women do not belong in the workplace and should only leave the home when it is unavoidable. Other quotes from the selected speakers include statements that Muslims cannot help those who converted to Christianity to escape from countries like Iran where apostasy is punished with death. One condemned secular and liberal Muslims as the “biggest danger” to the community.

    With this type of preaching, it isn’t hard to see how Abedi could be motivated to take that extra step to join ISIS or al-Qaeda or why at least two other ISIS recruits worshipped at the mosque.

  3. We must dismantle the Islamist ideological infrastructure that produces violent jihad and its prerequisite radicalism.
    British soldiers outside the House of Parliament in London in the wake of the May 2017 Manchester terror attack.
    British soldiers outside the House of Parliament in London in the wake of the May 2017 Manchester terror attack. (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / Getty Images)

    Notice the overlaps in membership and brands of Islamism in the above lesson. Because jihadist groups are just a manifestation of the Islamist ideology, group membership is fluid. A recent study found that half of the most prominent violent jihadists came from tamer Islamist movements not directly engaged in violence.

    A mosque operated by the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas was a centerpiece in setting up the LIFG’s network in Manchester, even though LIFG was aligned with al-Qaeda, supposedly a rival of the Brotherhood and Hamas. This same network produces ISIS recruits, even though the mosque imam condemns ISIS, as does the Brotherhood and other parts of the LIFG network.

    One possible associate of Abedi from the Manchester hub joined a Libyan Islamist group called the 17 February Martyrs’ Brigade, which was disastrously chosen to protect Americans in Benghazi. This individual later became an advocate for ISIS after returning to the UK.

    Ramadan Abedi may also have fought for an Islamist group in Libya and been injured in 2014.

    That is why the common thread—the Islamist ideology and the factories producing it—must be the focus of our efforts. As Elliot Friedland wrote about, a Muslim woman called into BBC’s Question Time program and warned that Saudi-trained clerics were coming into her community and promoting Wahhabism to children as young as seven.

  4. The anti-Islamists are your allies, not the “moderate” Islamists.
    Police cordon off an area in Moss Side Manchester to carry out investigations.
    Police cordon off an area in Moss Side Manchester to carry out investigations. (Photo: JOHN SUPER/AFP/Getty Images)

     The investigation into the Manchester bombing is resulting in scrutiny of the LIFG network in the U.K. that spawned so many al-Qaeda and ISIS recruits. It’s worth pointing out that our Egyptian and Libyan allies are fighting that same network and have been asking for U.S. help in defeating them since the civil war began in 2011.

     After Libyan dictator Qaddafi fell, a very predictable civil war between “moderate” Islamist militias and secular-democratic forces began. ISIS gained a foothold and fought both. The civil war became a proxy war between the anti-Islamist secularists backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and a coalition of Islamists backed by Qatar, Turkey and Sudan that includes al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and the successors to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—the group whose network bred the Manchester terror hub.

     The anti-Islamist forces, spearheaded by General Khalifah Haftar’s Libyan National Army, are the most popular and strongest of the approximately 1,700 militias in Libya. It is successful, openly disdains Political Islam, vows to separate mosque and state. Haftar wants to ban the major Islamist forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, as terrorist organizations.

    There are some reports that Salman Abedi himself might have been injured in 2014 fighting as a member of an Islamist militia battling Haftar’s forces.

    “From day one, the Muslim Brotherhood has served as a Trojan horse, bringing foreign combatants into Libya after they had received training in regional and Western capitals and cities…The Muslim Brotherhood provided them with entry visas or Libyan identity papers, furnished them with weapons and offered logistical support,” Haftar says.

    They openly sought an alliance with the U.S. and Europe, only to be disappointed. The Libyan and Egyptian governments viewed the Obama Administration’s neutrality and urging of a unity government as a pro-Muslim Brotherhood position.

    Egypt and its Libyan allies continue to demand a change in policy. We should remember that they are fighting the same Islamist network whose tentacles in Manchester sparked the May 22 bombing.

  5. The Western security agencies are not on the ball.
    Police escort concert goers from the site of the Ariana Grande concert following last nights attack. (Photo: Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

    MI5 has 500 active investigations and 3,000 subjects of interest. There are reports that there’s an additional 20,000 considered to pose a “residual risk” because they were previously investigated. It appears that Abedi was considered a “residual risk.”

    Abedi was reported to the government 5 times over 5 years by people who felt he posed a serious terrorist threat. This count presumably includes two friends who separately reported him in 2012 and 2016 after he justified suicide bombings and expressed support for terrorism. Members of his own family warned he was “dangerous.”

    He was still able to travel to Libya and Turkey (where he may have entered Syria) without questioning upon his return. He also visited Germany, and the Germans say he did not appear on any watch lists.

    Now it’s being reported the U.S. government told MI5 in early January that Abedi was part of a North African cell of ISIS members plotting an attack on a political target, which was thought to be an assassination. According to the unconfirmed report, the U.S. put Abedi on a watch list in mid-2016 after intercepting some of his communications.

    In another blunder, the U.K. designated the LIFG as a terrorist group in 2005. Ramadan Abedi, a member of LIFG, didn’t move to Libya until 2008. He was never arrested. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty in proving that someone is a “member” of a terrorist group instead of just a “supporter.”

    Ramadan Abedi denies being a member of the LIFG. He says, “I condemn anyone who says I belong to the LIFG, but I praise them.”

    Terrorists are often recruited by family members or close friends. The Abedi family’s ties to LIFG, involvement with a radical mosque, location near so many other terrorists in Manchester, the father’s move to Libya and involvement in the fighting, and various tips should have put him higher up on the priority list.

    When Salman Abedi spent three weeks in Libya, it should have triggered alarm bells in the intelligence system so he’d at least be questioned upon his return to the UK. That didn’t even happen. He committed a suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena shortly thereafter.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s Shillman Fellow and national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak, please contact us.

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Also see:

UK officials still investigating ‘wider conspiracy’ behind Manchester attack

LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN | May 28, 2017

Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials are still investigating the possible “wider conspiracy” behind the May 22 Manchester Arena bombing, according to a statement released by the Manchester Police. Twelve men have been arrested in connection with the investigation and remain in custody. It is not known if charges will be brought against any or all of them. Two people, including one woman, were detained earlier, but released without charge.

Authorities have released images (seen above) captured by CCTV of Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old who detonated the bomb. The images are part of an effort to obtain more evidence regarding Abedi’s movements between May 18, when he returned to the UK from his travels abroad, until his night of terror days later. Forensic experts identified Abedi as the perpetrator within two hours of the attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the act.

The Manchester police released an infographic, seen on the right, summarizing key events to date.

Officials have discovered a flat where Abedi, and possibly his co-conspirators, may have assembled the bomb.

“The investigation is making good progress and we know one of the last places Abedi went was a city centre flat and from there he left to make his way to the Manchester Arena,” Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the Senior National Coordinator for UK Counter Terrorism Policing, said in a statement released online. “The flat is highly relevant as a location which we believe may be the final assembly place for the device.”

“In the past five days we have gathered significant information about Abedi, his associates, his finances, the places he had been, how the device was built and the wider conspiracy,” Hopkins and Basu said yesterday.

Authorities have not publicly confirmed that Abedi had co-conspirators, although that is the clear implication of their statements. “This is still a live investigation which is not slowing down,” Hopkins and Basu added. “Our priorities are to understand the run up to this terrible event and to understand if more people were involved in planning this attack.”

During an interview on BBC News with Andrew Marr, British interior minister Amber Rudd was asked about members of the “large group” surrounding around Abedi who have been arrested, and whether “some” members are sill at-large.

“Potentially, I mean it’s an ongoing operation” that is still at “full tilt,” Rudd responded.

Marr asked Rudd about possible security lapses in the lead up to Abedi’s bombing, including tips that authorities reportedly received, and failed to act on, beforehand. Rudd wouldn’t comment on the specifics, but defended the UK government’s counterterrorism record in general. She said that 18 plots have been foiled since 2013 and highlighted the “scale of the problem” Britain faces, especially from the Islamic State, which is trying to “weaponize young people in our society.”

Marr also inquired how many “serious potential jihadis” there were “across the country.” Citing figures provided by MI5, Rudd responded that the security services are “looking at 500 different plots” with 3,000 possible terrorists on the “top list” and 20,000 “underneath that.”

“But that’s all different layers, different tiers, and it might be just a question mark about one of them” that leads to inclusion on the “top list,” she explained. In other words, British authorities do not think that all of the people on MI5’s lists are necessarily terrorists in waiting. But officials are having a difficult time determining which individuals will follow Abedi’s path.

The British government has previously warned that the Islamic State threat is “unprecedented.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Why the UK launched its first targeted drone strike ever.]

The Manchester investigation is massive effort, requiring significant resources all by itself. Approximately 1,000 members of the British security services and law enforcement have been involved.

Outside of the UK, officials are looking into Hashim and Ramadan Abedi (Salman’s brother and father, respectively), both of whom were detained in Libya last week. Libya’s Special Deterrence Force, Rada, alleges that Hashim Abedi has admitted foreknowledge of the plot and that he and his brother were both members of the Islamic State. The senior Abedi’s ties to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a designated terror group linked to al Qaeda, are also being explored. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Analysis: UK investigating possible ‘network’ behind Manchester attack.]

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

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Analysis: UK investigating possible ‘network’ behind Manchester attack

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, May 25, 2017:

Note: This article was first published at the Weekly Standard.

The investigation into the Manchester Arena bombing quickly turned to the possibility that the bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, had accomplices. “I think it’s very clear that this is a network that we are investigating,” Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Manchester Police told reporters yesterday. The U.K.’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office was more circumspect, cautioning that “at this stage it is still not possible to be certain if there was a wider group involved in the attack.”

But the dragnet has only widened since Monday evening, and now stretches from the U.K. to Libya.

Authorities are looking into Abedi’s travels abroad, including to his parents’ native Libya, and whether he met with terrorist operatives. The bomb he deployed was well-crafted, with shrapnel packed around a powerful explosive charge. The jihadists have disseminated literature on how to construct similar devices, but bomb experts have yet to determine if it was an exceptional home brew, or professionally built.

As of this morning, according to Manchester police, eight men, including one of Abedi’s brothers, have been arrested in the U.K. It remains to be seen if charges are brought against any or all of them. One woman who was detained as part of the investigation has since been released.

Meanwhile, in Tripoli, another one of Abedi’s brothers and his father, Ramadan, have both been detained by Rada, Libya’s Special Deterrence Force.

Rada posted a picture of Hashim Abedi, Salman’s younger sibling (seen above), on its Facebook page along with a message saying that he had incriminated himself. Rada alleges that Hashim admitted he was aware of all of the details of the Manchester Arena plot and that the two brothers had joined the Islamic State. U.K. and U.S. officials are seeking to verify the claim.

Earlier yesterday, Ramadan Abedi insisted that his son Salman was innocent during an interview with the Associated Press. “We don’t believe in killing innocents. This is not us,” the Abedi father told the AP. “We aren’t the ones who blow up ourselves among innocents. We go to mosques. We recite Quran, but not that.” It was shortly after that that Rada detained Ramadan in Tripoli for questioning. They did not bring charges.

The Abedi family is from Libya; the 2011 uprising in that country brought the parents back to their native land. A family friend, Akram Ramadan, provided some background information to the Guardian. Akram Ramadan says that he fought alongside Ramadan Abedi during the revolution against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The senior Abedi was apparently a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which failed in its attempt to overthrow Gaddafi during the 1990s. The LIFG has been designated a terrorist organization in the U.S. because of its ties to al Qaeda. Senior LIFG figures fought alongside al Qaeda in pre-9/11 Afghanistan and a number of them merged with Osama bin Laden’s enterprise. In fact, some LIFG members went on to serve in al Qaeda’s most senior roles.

Gaddafi’s regime imprisoned numerous LIFG members through the years, but many of them were released from prison both before and during the 2011 revolution. One of them, Sufian ben Qumu, went on to lead Ansar al Sharia (an al Qaeda-affiliated group) in Derna, a city in eastern Libya, and was linked to the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi.

Other former LIFG figures decided to play politics in post-Gaddafi Libya, and this led to heated criticism from the Islamic State.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s international organization rejects any form of politics. Only the top-down, authoritarian implementation of sharia law is legitimate for governance, according to the group’s ideologues. All other forms of rule are prohibited. Thus, the Islamic State has blasted Abdelhakim Belhadj, one of the most prominent former LIFG leaders, as an apostate. Belhadj, who reportedly knew Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, has joined one of Libya’s rival governments in Tripoli. There have been erroneous reports saying that Belhadj joined the Islamic State, but this is clearly false.

The Islamic State made Libya the third most important country in its caliphate between late 2014 and 2016. The group captured the coastal city of Sirte, portraying it almost on par with Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq–the two capitals of Baghdadi’s nascent state. But the jihadists lost Sirte in December of last year, forcing them to regroup elsewhere.

In January, the U.S. bombed two Islamic State training camps south of Sirte. Importantly, the Pentagon said that the airstrikes had targeted the Islamic State’s “external plotters,” who had been tied to terrorist planning in Europe. CNN then revealed that some of these same terrorists had connections to the December 19, 2016, Christmas market attack in Berlin, which was carried out by an Islamic State member from Tunisia.

This raises the possibility that the Manchester terrorist, Salman Abedi, met with the Islamic State’s “external” operatives during his time in Libya. Authorities are still piecing together a picture of his travels, but it appears that Abedi spent time in Libya just prior to returning to Manchester. Other, unconfirmed reports say he also traveled to Syria.

The investigation has led to tensions between U.K. officials and their counterparts in the U.S. The two countries have a robust intelligence-sharing relationship, but details are being leaked to the American press shortly after being transmitted by the Brits. For instance, photos and granular details about the bomb used in the attack were published by the New York Times yesterday.

The leaking has led the U.K. government to complain at multiple levels. Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly will raise the issue with President Donald Trump during NATO meetings in Brussels later today.

The U.K. National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) issued a statement that is scathing, at least by British standards.

“We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world,” the NPCC statement reads. “These relationships enable us to collaborate and share privileged and sensitive information that allows us to defeat terrorism and protect the public at home and abroad.”

The NPCC statement continues: “When that trust is breached it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter terrorism investigation.”

That investigation is focused on Salman Abedi’s possible co-conspirators. And the leaks complicate efforts to roll up what may be a much larger network in play.

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

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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.

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Osama Bin Laden’s Files: The Arab revolutions

Anas Al-LibiLWJ, by Thomas Joscelyn, March 3rd, 2015:

As the so-called “Arab Spring” swept through the Muslim-majority world in 2011, some US officials and counterterrorism analysts proclaimed that al Qaeda had been left “on the sidelines.” However, the limited selection of publicly-available documents captured in Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011 tell a different story. The al Qaeda chieftain and his subordinates saw an opportunity.

Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who served as al Qaeda’s general manager, discussed the political upheaval in a letter written to bin Laden just weeks before the al Qaeda CEO was killed in his Abbottabad, Pakistan safe house. Rahman’s letter was introduced as evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer, who is alleged to have taken part in al Qaeda’s plotting in Europe and New York City. Just months after penning it, Rahman was killed in a US drone strike in northern Pakistan.

“We are currently following the Arab Revolutions and the changes taking place in Arab countries,” Rahman wrote. “We praise you, almighty God, for the demise of the tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt.”

Rahman mentions the “situation” in countries such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen, explaining that he has included “some of what” he “wrote to some of my brothers concerning these revolutions.”

“In general,” Rahman argued, “we think these changes are sweeping, and there is good in them, God willing.” Rahman wondered if bin Laden had considered putting out a speech on the uprisings, noting that al Qaeda’s CEO had “not made any statements as of now,” as “hopefully” bin Laden was “waiting for these revolutions to mature and reach stability.”

Rahman wrote that “it might be good for” Yunis al Mauritani, a key figure in al Qaeda’s “external operations” (or international terrorist operations) who was subsequently captured in Pakistan, to “send his brothers to Tunisia and Syria and other places.” Bin Laden’s general manager believed that the “Syrian brothers would have to wait a little for the revolution in Syria to succeed in taking down Bashar Assad’s regime, and for the country to become degenerated and chaotic.”

His conclusion proved to be wrong. Al Qaeda groomed an official branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front, to battle Assad’s government and its allies. And al Qaeda’s senior leadership later sent a cadre of officials to Syria to help guide this effort, as well as to plot attacks in the West.

The Tunisian with Yunis “could travel straight to Tunisia now,” as “he could easily enter the country, and then some of our people could travel there and get in,” Rahman wrote. The “three Syrians” will “hopefully” be able to get into their home country.  There is no clear indication of who these Syrians and the Tunisian are, or what happened to them. Some of Yunis’ men were eventually captured alongside him, while others likely remained free.

But the bin Laden files give some details with respect to Libya.

Read more

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Charlie Hebdo Shooter Possibly Linked to Cell Tied to Terror Recruitment

terroristsCSP, by Kyle Shideler, Jan.7, 2015:

Reports are coming in that at least one of the shooters involved in the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo where ten journalists and two policemen were murdered, may have long standing jihad ties. According to reports the shooters were allegedly Said and Cherif Kouachi both with French citizenship. A third individual Hamyd Mourad, has also been arrested.  In 2008, a French court sentenced a Cherif Kouachi to 3 years in prison for attempting to travel through Syria to Iraq in order to fight U.S. and Coalition troops:

The men were accused of links to the “19th Arrondissement Network,” named for the Paris district where it was based. The district is a diverse, working-class neighborhood, home to many Muslim families with roots in former French colonies in North Africa.

The network was involved in smuggling individuals to fight alongside Al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq. AQI would eventually become the group led by Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), which declares itself to be the Islamic caliphate under AbuBakr Al-Baghdadi. But it remains unclear if Kouachi and his accomplices were working on behalf of ISIS. During the attack, the gunmen reportedly yelled, “Tell the media that this is al-Qaeda in the Yemen!” This claim would also seem logical, since it was AQAP which issues Inspire magazine, which carried the 2013 death threat against Charlie Hebdo’s editor Stéphane Charbonnier.

Yet another member of the “19th Arrondissement Network”, Boubakeur Hakim, was linked by French and Tunisian intelligence to Ansar al-Sharia in 2013, for his role in the assassinations of Tunisian politicians Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, both of whom were gunned down outside their homes by teams of gunmen. Hakim was also believed to be involved in weapon smuggling from Libya to Tunisia on behalf of Ansar al-Sharia. Belaid supporters would later express a belief that Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, the head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which would form the backbone of the Libyan rebels who overthrow Qaddafi, played a key role in training Ansar Al-Sharia to carry out the attack.  And while Hakim may have been the Ansar Al-Sharia triggerman, the killings were allegedly at the behest of the Tunisian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ennahada party, as the late Middle East Specialist Barry Rubin noted at the time:

“While Tunisia is being run by a coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and two secular parties, the Brotherhood’s power is growing, while Salafist groups are free to intimidate people. The most vocal opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated; indications are that this killing was backed and even organized by the ruling Islamists. [Emphasis added]”

Whether Hakim and Kouachi remained in touch (which is unknown), it’s clear that the 19th Arrondissement Cell apparently graduated serious terrorist operatives undeterred by prison. Food for thought as the Obama Administration continues to release Guantanamo detainees.

If Cherif Kouachi is indeed the same one linked to the “19th Arrondissement” Cell, more than identifying a particular responsible terror group as the responsible party, it informs us that what unifies jihadists is their motivation. Members of a given cell may head off in different directions and joint new organizations, but the requirement to wage jihad to impose Islamic law, remains the same regardless. In understanding that, the attacker’s cry, “we have avenged the prophet!” may be more notable than any other declaration of responsibility.

Cherif Kouachi, left, 32, and his brother, Said Kouachi, 34, who are suspected in a deadly attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris. Credit French Police

Cherif Kouachi, left, 32, and his brother, Said Kouachi, 34, who are suspected in a deadly attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris. Credit French Police

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Libya: The Islamization of Universities

Gatestone Institute, by Anna Mahjar-Barducci, May 14, 2014:

The new prime minister of Libya, Ahmed Maiteeg, is supported not only by the Muslim Brotherhood, but also by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State.

Islamist militias are now dictating their agenda to the academic authorities in Libya.

Under the monarchy and the former Gaddafi regime, university courses were attended jointly by male and female students. Now, however, things are changing, as the “new Libya” moves backwards.

Recently, the academic authorities of the University of Omar al-Mokhtar, in Derna, a terrorist stronghold in eastern Libya, signed an agreement with a local Islamist militia aimed at the construction of a wall meant to segregate male from female students within the campus. The agreement also calls for the introduction of a strict dress code for female students, including the loose abaya over-garment and the hijab, covering the head and chest.

 

A section of the gender-segregation wall being built at the University of Omar al-Mokhtar, in Derna, Libya.

Building the wall at the University comes after two years of pressure by Islamist militias in the city of Derna: extremists denounced the University, weapons were introduced inside the campus and death threats were made to professors and students. Many professors have consequently, left Derna and are looking for jobs in Benghazi or Tripoli.

The Islamist Abu Saleem Brigade eventually offered the university administration a deal: the Islamist group would provide security on campus in exchange for the introduction of an “Islamic” dress code for female students and the construction of a wall to separate women from men. To stop the harassment, the university’s president, as well as Derna’s local council, accepted this proposal.

In 2013, the highest Islamic authority in Libya, Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani, himself launched a call for the separation of sexes in all workplaces, classrooms and government offices.

In a communiqué to the Libya’s parliament, the government and to the leaders of different militias, the Grand Mufti asked for quick measures aimed at “moralizing” public life, saying that he received complaints about “the deterioration of morals and the widespread phenomena of free mixing between sexes, with no restrictions or regulations, in all state institutions.” In the communiqué, he stated that the mixing of sexes is “immoral.”

The Grand Mufti is evidently trying to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the country and to make radical Islam the mainstream Islam in Libya. The Islamist groups clearly share his views and seem to feel supported by the Grand Mufti in the Islamization of the education system.

The new prime minister of Libya, Ahmed Maiteeg, whose support from Islamic extremists launched him to power, will doubtlessly not stop them from trying to achieve their goal.

In an interview with the Saudi-owned channel, Al-Arabiya, Libyan writer Mohammed El-Houni said that Maiteeg is supported not only by the Muslim Brotherhood, but also by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, listed as Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State.

In the meantime, other Universities in Libya are also being Islamized. The Libyan Herald reports that gender segregation and strict dress codes are to be implemented at Sirte University, halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi. The Islamist movements seem to understand that the education system should be the first institution to be changed to shape a future Libyan Islamist society.