What’s really behind Trump’s laptop ban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Qaeda has deep roots inside Yemen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also see:

The Truth Behind Media’s New Favorite Euphemism: ‘Muslim-Majority Countries’

Breitbart, by John Hayward, March 9, 2017:

Both versions of President Trump’s executive order have been caricatured as a “Muslim ban,” even though they applied to only six or seven specific countries, leaving 90 percent of the world’s population out of the mix.

The fallback euphemism is to say that Trump is “banning” immigration (they never say it is conditional and temporary) from several “Muslim-majority” countries. This is also misleading because those countries are not merely inhabited by a majority of Muslims. They are Muslim countries, period. They all have some form of Islamic law written into their legal codes.

With Iraq removed from the equation, the remaining nations affected by the order are Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia. The original executive order did not list the affected nations; it merely referred to Obama-era legislation that named them as nations of particular concern. The revised version of the order does name the affected nations because it explains why each of them is on the list.

The first version of the order did not mention Islam at all. The revised version does, but only to explain why the first order did not because this is not a “Muslim ban”:

Executive Order 13769 did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion. While that order allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups, that priority applied to refugees from every nation, including those in which Islam is a minority religion, and it applied to minority sects within a religion. That order was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities — whoever they are and wherever they reside — to avail themselves of the USRAP in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.

Islam is not a “minority religion” in any of the six countries named by the order. In fact, all six of them officially incorporate Islamic sharia law into their legal codes.

Of the six, Iran is an outright Islamic theocracy. Its Supreme Leader is the Ayatollah, a top-ranking Muslim cleric. Iran’s legal code is explicitly based on sharia, with a smattering of civil ordinances thrown in. Iranian courts have been known to invoke sharia for such judgments as requiring a woman to be blinded in retribution for throwing acid in a victim’s face.

Iranian law nominally has some protections for religious minorities, but the absolute supremacy of Islam is not questioned. Observers have reported that religious freedom is growing steadily worse in the theocracy.

Libya is the most complex of the six nations to classify, because it does not have a functioning central government at all, following Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s disastrous intervention – a fact the mainstream media prefers not to dwell on. “Libya’s post-revolution legal system is in flux and driven by state and non-state entities,” as the CIA World Factbook tactfully puts it.

The capital city of Tripoli was seized by an Islamist coalition, with the Muslim Brotherhood a major player. Another is Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafist Islamic militia. The presence of “sharia” in its name is not a coincidence; they declared Libya an Islamic “caliphate” in 2014.

There has been success in the battle against Libyan ISIS, but al-Qaeda is still a major player. U.N.-backed unity governments tend to include a lot of people from the more extreme wings of Libyan politics. They have to because Islamists are a powerful political force in the country.

Another major force in chaotic Libya is widely described as a “secularist,” General Khalifa Haftar. Some observers wonder just how “secularist” he really is, especially if he gains control of the country and has to make deals with the powerful Islamist elements he is currently fighting.

Haftar is an old Qaddafi hand, and while the late dictator is remembered as a brutal and mercurial secularist loathed by hardline Islamists in Libya, he was sometimes given to Islamist sentiments of his own. For instance, Qaddafi once declared Islam was the only universal human religion and said, “all those believers who do not follow Islam are losers.” He named his son and once-presumed successor Saif al-Islam.

Libya’s future is a question mark, but it is highly disingenuous to describe even its present state as merely “Muslim-majority.” The interim Libyan constitution of 2011 begins with the invocation of “Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” states that Islam is the official religion of the country, and declares “sharia shall be the main source of legislation.” Until and unless a different constitution is put into effect by an internationally-recognized national government, Libya is a Muslim nation.

Somalia officially imposed sharia law through its Cabinet in 2009. “Islamic Sharia is the only option to get solutions for the problems in this country,” one minister declared. Less than 0.1% of the population follows a religion other than Islam.

The Somali government banned Christmas celebrations in December 2015, because “having Muslims celebrate Christmas is not the right thing,” as a top official put it. He likened Christmas celebrations to apostasy and said they are “not in any way related to Islam.” Foreigners were graciously allowed to celebrate Christmas in their homes, but even hotels were instructed to prevent guests from holding celebrations.

The al-Shabaab terrorist organization thinks the central government is not Islamist enough and imposes an even harsher sharia code on the sizable portions of the country it effectively controls. Many of the people living under al-Shabaab control have told interviewers they support its legal code.

Sudan is officially an Islamic state with a sharia legal code. Even the leaders of breakaway South Sudan, which want to return to a common-law system on the British model, have been struggling to purge sharia from the legal system.

Sudan, like Somalia, is not “majority Muslim” – it is about 96% Muslim, and the 3% Christian minority is brutally persecuted, despite some nominal legal protection for other religions. World Atlas notes that “some interpretations of the Muslim Law in the country fail to recognize or accept apostasy and marriages to non-Muslims,” and concludes that “Sudan leads the world as the most difficult country for Christians since freedom of religion or belief is systematically ignored.”

Syria is an uncomfortable case, as some religious minorities say they fared much better under the Assad dictatorship. Some Syrian Christians bluntly refer to Bashar Assad as their “protector” and have similar hopes for the intervening Russians. Of course, critics of the brutal Syrian regime argue that Assad’s alliance with Christians is purely cynical, and even accuse him of inflaming the Christian fear of Muslims for political gain.

Assad’s government is nominally secular, while even most of the “good guy” rebels supported by Western powers practice Islamic law through sharia courts. Syrians in contested areas complain that different sharia courts loyal to various factions, from “moderates” to hardcore al-Qaeda Islamists, issue conflicting verdicts.

At the height of the rebellion, many Syrians expressed a desire to replace the Syrian Arab Republic with an Islamic state. Then they found themselves saddled with the Islamic State, which may have led some of them to reconsider. However, there are still calls to impose sharia across Syria, portraying it as an instrument of peace and justice.

Having said that, the constitution of the “secular” Syrian Arab Republic explicitly requires the president to be a Muslim, and requires that “Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation.” This was true of both the older constitution and the revised document prepared in 2012.

The same article declares “the State shall respect all religions, and ensure the freedom to perform all the rituals that do not prejudice public order,” but there is no question: Syria is a Muslim nation, not a “Muslim-majority nation.” Islam enjoys a privileged position in its legal code that Western liberals would not tolerate without comment from any other religion.

Yemen practices a mixture of sharia law and common law in what passes for its central government – which, of course, was overthrown by the Houthis, a Shiite Muslim insurgency supported by the Iranian theocracy. The internationally recognized Yemeni government has said the Houthis want to transform Yemen into a caliphate ruled by lineal descendants of Mohammed.

Even Houthi spokesmen who strongly disagree with that characterization have said they think “sharia should be one of the main sources of the law in Yemen, not the only source.”

The large portions of Yemen controlled by al-Qaeda are noted for the strict rule of Islamic law, including the oppression of women. Al-Qaeda regards the failure to strictly obey sharia as “debauchery.”

The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen explicitly declares it to be an Islamic state, and stipulates “sharia is the source of all legislation.” Islam is unambiguously named as the official state religion. Denouncing Islam is a crime punishable by death. Over 99% of the population is Muslim.

Iraq: Even though it is no longer listed in Trump’s executive order, it should be noted that Iraq is an explicitly Islamic nation, according to its 2005 constitution. “Islam is the official religion of the State and is a fundamental source of legislation,” Article 2 declares. “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”

Religious freedom is nominally protected, as long as the supremacy of Islam is acknowledged by all: “This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice such as Christians, Yazedis, and Mandi Sabeans.”

Some Iraqi clerics agitate for stricter adherence to sharia law, which introduces the dangerous question of whether Sunni or Shiite law should reign supreme.

The incorporation of Sharia law into the legal codes of these countries occurs to a degree that would revolt the American Left, if any religion except Islam was involved. Rest assured that no one in today’s mainstream media would describe, say, 15th-century Spain as a “majority Catholic” nation.

For that matter, they do not seem inclined to describe Israel as “majority Jewish”; they simply refer to it as a “Jewish state.” Israel is, in fact, only about 75% Jewish. A recent effort supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party to formally define Israel as a Jewish state failed, in part due to concerns that it could lead to discriminatory policies against the Arab population.

Its legal code includes extensive protection for religious minorities, and there are Muslim and Druze members of its parliament. Last November, one of them staged the Muslim call to prayer during a parliamentary session to protest a bill that would prevent all places of worship from using loudspeakers to summon their worshipers, because it was seen as unfairly targeting mosques.

Equivalent stunts are unwise for members of religious minorities in “Muslim-majority nations,” including the six listed in President Trump’s executive order.

In conclusion: all of the nations mentioned in both versions of President Trump’s executive order are Muslim countries, period. Every single one of them has Islam as the state religion and bases its legal code on sharia. Not a single one of these countries is a “Muslim-majority” nation that practices full and complete religious pluralism under a secular government.

Trump: Yemen Commando Raid Produced Valuable Intelligence

AP

AP

New data will produce counterterrorism ‘victories’

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, March 1, 2017:

President Trump on Tuesday told a joint session of Congress that a recent covert military operation in Yemen produced intelligence information that will be used in further efforts to counter terrorism.

Outlining his first weeks in office, Trump defended the Jan. 29 special operations raid in Yemen that led to the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and the wounding of six others.

Owens’ widow, Carryn Owens was a guest of the president for the speech.

“Ryan died as he lived: A warrior, and a hero—battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” Trump said.

Trump then said the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “reconfirmed that, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”

The Pentagon, Trump said, is developing plans to “demolish and destroy ISIS—a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs.”

“We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet,” he said.

On Iran, Trump noted that he has imposed sanctions on organizations and people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, following the recent test of an Iranian missile.

On the NATO alliance, Trump said he strongly supports NATO but urged America’s partners to “meet their financial obligations.”

“And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that,” he said. “We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific—to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost.”

Much of the speech was focused on how the Trump administration would seek to solve American problems and lessen involvement in foreign affairs and overseas conflicts.

“We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit—and so many other places throughout our land,” he said. “We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross—and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.”

Trump said he has ordered government agencies to engage in an aggressive campaign to shut drug networks operating in the United States.

Trillions of dollars have been spent overseas while American infrastructure has not been modernized, he said.

Trump promised to bring dying U.S. industries back to life and provide more resources to the U.S. military. New roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways will be built and the drug epidemic will be curbed and “ultimately stop,” he said.

American urban areas will be provided with a “rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity,” the president added.

Trump also stated that he is moving ahead with building a wall along the United States’ southern border to prevent terrorists from entering the country and to block the flow of illegal drugs into the country.

“We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America—we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists,” the president said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump to Disclose Intel From Yemen Raid

AP

AP

Islamic terrorism a central topic of remarks to Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My key points are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more

***

Homeland Security Committee:

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

OPENING STATEMENTS

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

WITNESSES

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

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

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

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

Why the first US military raid under Trump was in Yemen

Getmilitaryphotos | Shutterstock

Getmilitaryphotos | Shutterstock

Conservative Review, by Jordan Schachtel, January 31, 2017:

Decorated U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was tragically killed this weekend in Yemen. The first publicly acknowledged U.S. raid under President Donald Trump did not go as smoothly as planned, though the Pentagon labelled the mission — which reportedly killed 14 militants — a success. According to Reuters, the U.S. special ops mission targeted Abdulrauf al Dhabab, a senior al Qaeda leader.

The mission hit a snag when the SEAL team’s V-22 Osprey endured a “hard landing,” injuring at least three service members. Additionally, the SEAL Team 6 crew unexpectedly faced resistance from multiple female jihadis, which vastly complicated the mission and may have resulted in the deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire. However, according to U.S. Central Command, the SEALs secured “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”

So, was it all worth it? And what brought the nation’s most decorated warriors into Yemen in the first place?

The continuing destabilization of the Middle East nation has created a void filled by the world’s most dangerous terrorists, who use the state to plan missions both domestically and abroad.

Civil War

There is an ongoing civil war in Yemen that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers, militants, and civilians. Much of the country has become a battleground between a Saudi-led coalition (which includes the United States) and Iran-backed Houthi insurgents. Amidst the chaos, a vacuum has been created that has allowed the local Islamic State and al Qaeda branches to flourish, leaving only the U.S. and its allies to check their vast expansion.

AQAP

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is headquartered in Yemen, is without a doubt the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate worldwide. The group has managed to control swaths of territory in Yemen and has a global reach that extends to the United States and Europe.

AQAP, which is tasked with coordinating overseas attacks against America and its allies, was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. in 2010. It has on several occasions managed to infiltrate and carry out terror plots in Western countries. The group urges recruits inside America to “strike at home,” as damaging the U.S. is their most important duty.

Many of AQAP’s devotees are inspired by the late al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the deceased imam who left America after 9/11 to became the leader of the al Qaeda Yemen branch. Several U.S.-based terrorists, including the shooters at Ft. Hood and Chattanooga drew motivation from Awlaki.

The 2009 Christmas Day “Underwear Bomber” — a Nigerian native who planned on bringing down a commercial jet — carried out his orders directly from AQAP. Thankfully, he failed to detonate his explosives.

Additionally, the tragic 2015 mass killings at the “Charlie Hebdo” offices in Paris was the work of AQAP jihadis.

Islamic State-Yemen

ISIS, like AQAP, also controls territory in Yemen, under the name Wilayat Sanaaor, the Sanaa Province (of the Islamic State). The group, which seeks to impose a worldwide caliphate under its rule, has successfully conducted massive suicide missions, which have killed hundreds and wounded countless more. Islamic State operations in Yemeni provinces are a relatively new phenomenon, but the terror outfit has shown that it can operate and plan major attacks in the country.

U.S. counterterrorism efforts

America’s counterterrorism strategy in Yemen during the Obama administration relied on drone strikes and small, specialized military raids on jihadi compounds inside the country. In 2015, a U.S. drone strike killed AQAP’s No. 2 in charge. As previously mentioned, al-Awlaki was also taken out thanks to a U.S. drone strike.

Whether the strategy has been a success is a matter of debate. Experts have pointed out that targeted killings of AQAP leaders may temporarily weaken the group, but new leaders will emerge as long as the group has a safe haven in Yemen. Therefore, U.S. officials have expanded the mission to, at times, deploy special ops on the ground for aggressive missions on AQAP strongholds.

As details unfold pertaining to the past weekend’s raid in Yemen, what’s clear is that the country has become the perfect environment to plot jihadi terror against the United States. It appears that President Trump has recognized the threat and dedicated his first mission toward helping to eradicate the menace in the Gulf.