Tag Archives: ayman al zawahiri

ISIS+ Al-Nusra Front? Islamists reportedly join forces, new threat against West issued

Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra members gesture while posing on a tank on Al-Khazan frontline of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province.

Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front has issued a new threatening audio message featuring its leader warning the West “will pay the heaviest price” for its actions. The Syrian group is reportedly now joining up with the estranged Islamic State militants.

The leader of Syria’s most prominent terrorist group, Abu Mohamad al-Golani, in denouncing the US-led air strike campaign, has urged Westerners everywhere to do the same “by standing against the decisions of your rulers,” otherwise bloodshed would be brought to their soil.

“Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price,” Reuters cited him as saying. He threatened viewers that the fight would be brought “to the hearts of your homes.”

The US-led coalition has been involved in airstrikes against what until lately it thought was the most dangerous group in the Middle East – the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

However, recent intelligence has pointed to the danger of avoiding other groups whose modus operandi involves carrying out attacks on American and European targets. The IS’s so far has not.

READ MORE: US admits there is a much scarier terrorist group than ISIS

The US has opened two airstrike fronts in its war against the IS: Iraq, since August 8, and Syria since September 23.

The promise was to “degrade and destroy” the terrorist group, while Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda were reduced in importance.

Indeed, for the past year, the IS had fallen out of favor with the likes of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al-Qaeda leader who tried to keep the militants in check. The reason was the group’s unwillingness to operate only in Iraq.

Now, however, the American airstrike campaign appears to have brought the two back together again: Al-Nusra Front has come under pressure from its own members to make good with the IS and embark on a mission to repel the “crusader” assault on Islam.

Although the two groups had fought a bitter battle on the sidelines of the broader Syrian conflict against President Bashar Assad’s forces, a senior Al-Nusra Front source has confirmed to the Guardian that a series of war planning meetings is underway.

While there’s still no word of a deal, any potential unity could be seen as a reason to worry. The Western airstrike campaign has been aiming to cripple the IS’s funding sources in order to slow its progress in Syria and Iraq. The addition of at least some elements of the Syria-based Al-Nusra Front to IS ranks would be a counter-balancing factor. In fact, 73 members had already reportedly defected to IS last Friday, according to an Al-Nusra Front source speaking to the Guardian.

The official Al-Nusra Front spokesman paraphrased in another message the earlier words of Al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri, that this is now a full-on “war.” And as Zawahiri said, “this war will not end in months nor years, this war could last for decades.”

With the Islamic State rampaging across northern Syria and Iraq during the past year, Al-Nusra Front was in relative obscurity. In Tuesday’s strikes by the US, however, 50 of its fighters were killed, including the leader of Al-Nusra-linked Khorasan – the group reportedly tasked with carrying out Al-Nusra’s attacks abroad.

Gholani made sure to mention that losses by all said groups make an imprint on the entire campaign, and will provoke retaliation, adding that in the end “even if we suffer some pain during it,” the war will be won.

Most importantly, he urged all Middle Eastern groups who had suffered at the hands of the IS to not use the opportunity to strike back at them, and instead unite to fight the West.

“[IS injustice] should not push any of you to be driven behind the West and take part in the alliance which they want to use to end jihad,” he said.

He further appealed to Sunni Muslims in Lebanon to leave the army and rise up against Hezbollah – the Shiite militia – in order to also fight the Shiite-aligned Assad in Syria.

Some Islamist elements of Syria’s three-year-long opposition are also visibly angry that the airstrike campaign is going nothing to offset the gain of the Syrian government.

“We have been calling for these sorts of attacks for three years and when they finally come they don’t help us,” said the leader of the Qatar-sponsored Islamic Front.

Airstrikes, however, also kill civilians. One such strike killed 31 civilians, when a school near the Iraqi city of Tikrit was hit on September 1. This included 24 children and a further 41 wounded civilians.

In the meantime, US President Barack Obama has in a CBS interview blamed intelligence for “underestimating” the threat posed by Islamic State in Syria, adding also that the fall of Iraq’s army in the north was likewise unexpected and is allowing the terrorist group to “reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”

 

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Material Support to Terrorism : The Case of Libya

Libya in 2011 marks the place and the time that the United States (U.S.) and the Obama administration formally switched sides in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). A mere 10 years after al-Qa’eda (supported by Hizballah and Iran) attacked the American homeland in the worst act of terrorism ever suffered by this country, U.S. leadership decided to facilitate the provision of weapons to jihadist militias known to be affiliated with al-Qa’eda and the Muslim Brotherhood in order to bring down a brutal dictator who also just happened to be a U.S. ally in the GWOT at the time.

And the U.S. media were silent. The major broadcast, print, and Internet outlets said not a word about this astonishing turnabout in American foreign policy. To this day, they have not seemed even to recognize that the pivot to support al-Qa’eda took place. But it needs to be said. The American people deserve to understand that their most senior leaders, both elected and appointed, have violated their oaths to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

United States law is quite explicit about providing material support to terrorists: it’s prohibited. Period. 18 U.S. Code § 2339A and 18 U.S. Code § 2339B address Providing Material Support to Terrorists or Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Together, these two sections outlaw the actions of any U.S. person who attempts or conspires to provide, or actually does provide, material support to a foreign terrorist organization knowing that it has been designated a foreign terrorist organization or engages, or has engaged, in “terrorism” or “terrorist activity.” Conspiracy means agreeing or planning to provide such support, whether or not such support ever is actually delivered. Penalties for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism are stiff: imprisonment for up to 15 years and/or a fine of not more than $250,000. Penalties for actually providing or attempting to provide material support to terrorism are even harsher: imprisonment from 15 years to life, with a life sentence applicable if the death of any person results from such crime. Aiding, abetting, counseling, or procuring in support of a violation of Section 2339B is punishable by the same penalties as for the offense itself.

The Arms Export Control Act is another law that makes it illegal for the U.S. government to export “munitions” to any country determined by the Secretary of State to have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” While this provision applies specifically to those countries—Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria—that are designated as state sponsors of terrorism, the case of Libya stands out nevertheless. Removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006, Libya by early 2011 was swarming with al-Qa’eda and Muslim Brotherhood militias and affiliates fighting to overthrow Muamar Qaddafi’s regime.

The identities of those jihadis and their al-Qa’eda affiliations were well known to the U.S. Intelligence Community, Department of State, and Tripoli Embassy long before the 17 February 2011 revolt broke out against Muamar Qaddafi. As with other al-Qa’eda branches, the Libyan al-Qa’eda affiliates such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) trace their origins back to the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, which was founded in 1949 when Egyptian Brotherhood members “fled a crackdown in Cairo and took refuge in Benghazi,” according to a May 2012 study by the Brookings Doha Center. Colonel Muamar Qaddafi took over Libya in a 1969 coup d’état and showed little tolerance for Brotherhood activities. Brutal waves of repression kept the Brotherhood in check through the 1980s and 1990s when many Libyan fighters went to Afghanistan to join the mujahedeen in their battle against the Soviet Army. Some of those who fought there, like Abu Anas al-Libi and Abdelhakim Belhadj, would figure prominently in the revolt that ultimately ousted Qaddafi in 2011.

The LIFG was founded in 1990 by Libyan fighters returning from the Afghan jihad who were now intent on waging jihad at home. Qaddafi came down hard on the group, though, and crushed the LIFG’s 1995-1998 insurgency. Some LIFG members had moved to Sudan when Usama bin-Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri found refuge with Omar al-Bashir’s Muslim Brotherhood regime in the early 1990s and others (including Belhadj) eventually fled back to Afghanistan, where both bin-Laden and al-Zawahiri also had relocated by the mid-1990s. Abu Anas al-Libi is alleged to have taken part in the pre-attack casing and surveillance of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya a few years prior to the 1998 al-Qa’eda attack there.

By 1995, things were becoming hot for the jihadis in Sudan and while bin Laden and al-Zawahiri returned to Afghanistan about this time, others such as Anas al-Libi were offered safehaven by the British. In return for political asylum in the UK, MI 6 recruited Anas al-Libi’s support for a failed 1996 plot to assassinate Qaddafi. In all, Anas al-Libi lived in Manchester from 1995-2000—despite his known history of association with bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and other AQ leaders, as well as willingness to participate in assassination plots against national leaders, as I wrote in an October 2013 piece at The Clarion Project. The U.S.’s British partners also provided asylum to Abu Abdullah As-Sadeq, the LIFG’s top commander and allowed the LIFG to publish an Arabic language newspaper called al-Wasat in London. By 2000, though, as the FBI and other Western security services began to close in, Anas al-Libi and others were on the move again, leaving behind a 180-page al-Qa’eda terror training manual that became known as the “Manchester Document.” In the run-up to the 11 September 2001 attacks, Anas al-Libi, Abdelhakim Belhadj, Abu Sufian bin Qumu, and other known LIFG members reconnected with bin Laden in Afghanistan. As John Rosenthal points out in a 10 October 2013 posting, “The Inevitable Rise of Al-Qaeda in Libya,” in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, “the history of close cooperation between the LIFG and al-Qa’eda was so extensive that the Libyan group figured among the very first organizations to be designated as al-Qaeda affiliates by the UN Security Council.” In fact, according to Rosenthal who cites former LIFG member, Norman Benotman, Belhadj was actually present with bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001. The LIFG was formally accepted as an al-Qa’eda franchise by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the AQ deputy at the time, in 2007.

In the years following 9/11, various LIFG members were detained: Abu Sufian bin Qumu was captured in 2002 and sent to Guantanamo Bay (GITMO) and in 2004, both Abu Anas al-Libi and Abdelhakim Belhadj were captured. By the mid-2000s, GITMO detainees were being released to their home countries. Abu Sufian bin Qumu, for example, was released from GITMO and returned to Libya in 2007. Beginning about 2005, Qaddafi was under pressure from both the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and his own son, Seif, to begin what came to be known as “the reconciliation process,” in which LIFG and other jihadist prisoners were released from Libyan jails. In this process, LIFG Muslim Brotherhood cleric Ali Mohammad Al-Sallabi was a key mediator. Abdelhakim Belhadj was released in 2008 (just as Christopher Stevens was appointed Deputy Chief of Mission to Tripoli) and Abu Sufian bin Qumu in 2010, after which he returned to Derna to begin plotting the revolt against Qaddafi.

Even as this “reconciliation process” was underway and Christopher Stevens was preparing for his new posting, Libyan jihadis were flowing out of eastern Libya in droves to join the al-Qa’eda jihad against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. According to a June 2010 study compiled by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, “Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” coalition forces in Iraq captured a stash of documents in October 2007 which documented the origins of the foreign fighters who’d traveled to Iraq to join al-Qa’eda between August 2006 and August 2007. Termed the “Sinjar Records” after the nearest town where these personnel records were found, the data showed that by far the largest contingent of foreign fighters per capita came from Libya. Across the spectrum, the most common cities of origin for foreign fighters in Iraq were Darnah, Libya and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Darnah is located in the eastern Cyrenaica region of Libya, long known as an incubator of jihadist ideology and the place which would become the cradle of the 2011 Islamic uprising against Muammar Qaddafi.

Nor was the new Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) Christopher Stevens unaware of what was going on. A June 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli that went out over Stevens’ signature was obtained by the London Telegraph from Wikileaks. The report was given the name “Die Hard in Derna,” after the Bruce Willis movie, and described the determination of the young jihadis of this eastern Libyan town to bring down the Qaddafi regime. Because they believed the U.S. government supported the Qaddafi regime and would not allow it to fall after it had abandoned its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programs and begun to provide counter-terrorism support, and as documented in the West Point study of the “Sinjar Records,” the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) instead sent its fighters to confront the U.S. in Iraq, believing that was a way to strike a blow against both Qaddafi and his U.S. backers. A local Derna resident told the visiting Embassy officer that Libyan fighters who had returned from earlier battlefields in Afghanistan (1980s) and elsewhere sometimes went on for additional “religious training” in Lebanon and Syria; when they eventually returned to Libya in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they began the process of preparing the ground for “the eventual overthrow by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) of Muammar Qadhafi’s regime…”

Career Foreign Service Officer Christopher Stevens was first posted to the American Embassy in Tripoli, Libya in June 2007 as the DCM and later as charge d’affaires until 2009. For his second tour in Libya, Stevens was sent to rebel headquarters in Benghazi, Libya, to serve as special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council. He arrived on a Greek cargo ship on April 5, 2011 and stayed until November. His mission was to forge stronger links with the Interim Transitional National Council, and gain a better understanding of the various factions fighting the Qaddafi regime. His reports back to Washington were said to have encouraged the U.S. to support and recognize the rebel council, which the Obama administration did formally in July 2011.

As is now known, under urging from Sen. John McCain and other Congressional members, the White House endorsed Qatar’s plan to send weapons to the Libyan rebels shortly after Yousef al-Qaradawi, the senior jurist of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a 21 February 2011 fatwa that called for the killing of Qaddafi. Seeking a “zero footprint,” no-paperwork-trail profile itself, the U.S. instead encouraged both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to arm the Libyan jihadis, according to a key New York Times article published in December 2012. Knowing full well exactly who those rebel militias and their leadership were, and how closely they were connected with al-Qa’eda (and perhaps even mindful of the legal restrictions on providing material support to terrorism), the U.S. sought to distance itself as the source of these weapons, which included small arms such as automatic rifles, machine guns, and ammunition. The NY Times piece noted that U.S. officials made sure to stipulate the weapons provided would come from elsewhere, but not from the U.S.

But the fact that from the end of March 2011 onward, U.S. and other NATO forces completely controlled Libyan air space and the sea approaches to Libya means that the cargo planes and freighters transporting the arms into Libya from Qatar and elsewhere were being waved through with full U.S. knowledge and support. The U.S. mission in Libya, and especially in Benghazi, ramped up in this period to facilitate the delivery of the weapons to the Libyan al-Qa’eda terrorists.

What followed should hardly have come as a surprise to anyone. After NATO air support cleared the way to Tripoli, the Qaddafi regime fell in October 2011 and the Muslim Brotherhood political leadership and al-Qa’eda fighters took over. Abdelhakim Belhadj was named Tripoli military commander. Chaos reigned, especially in the eastern regions, and now the weapons flow reversed—out of Libya, and into the hands of jihadis in West Africa, the Sinai, and Syria. Some of that flow was wildly disorganized and some of it was directed, with the U.S. mission in Benghazi once again playing a key role as its teams on the ground facilitated the weapons delivery, now destined for the Syrian rebels, dominated by al-Qa’eda and the Muslim Brotherhood, who were fighting to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime. In this endeavor, the U.S. was allied with its new Libyan partner, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and once again, with Qatar.

The next chapter in the U.S. jihad wars was underway, with a new Presidential Finding, and material support to terrorism firmly established as official policy. Congress and the media and the military remained silent. The American people barely noticed.

Clare Lopez
Clare M. Lopez is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy and the London Center for Policy Research. She is also a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi.

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British Syria-radicalized jihadists biggest threat to UK national security

The MI5 headquarters in central London

Radicalized UK citizens returning from Syria are the biggest threat to national security, official reports claim. With increasing access to equipment and training, there are growing fears Brits are encouraged to carry out attacks on home soil.

The 500 Britons who have gone to fight in Syria over the past three years put the Middle-Eastern country in Whitehall’s sights as a much more dangerous place for radicalization than Iraq. An assessment by the MI5 spells out how alluring Syria has become to UK jihadists.

“The nature of the conflict in Syria and the emergence of Al-Nusra Front, which has declared its allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, is leading to the country becoming an increasingly significant potential source of future threats to the UK and UK interests overseas,” the text also reads.

Concerns over the grave threat have been confirmed to the Telegraph by an unnamed Whitehall contact.

“The threat to the UK comes from a range of countries and groups but Syria is perhaps the biggest challenge right now,” they explain. The Home Office annual review likewise states that the country has been identified as “the most significant development in global terrorism.”

This is believed to be because a whole range of potentially threatening aspects to the UK’s national security is being seen emanating from one single country.

And although the recommendations keep coming in, a lot of them aren’t new. Last year as well, the director-general of the MI5, Andrew Parker, told Parliament that the Syrian conflict has become a magnet for British nationals looking to engage in jihad, many of whom come into contact with Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

The security services are said to be closely monitoring some 250 returnees, who include several veteran hardliners who have fought in Afghanistan or Pakistan, other reports have claimed. Many others have participated in combat or received training in munitions or other skills applicable to terror operations, with some exhibiting a willingness to carry out attacks in the UK, security officials cited in another, February government report said.

But unlike the terrorism hotbeds that are Afghanistan and Pakistan, Syria is much closer to Europe, making it the ideal destination to go, get radicalized and come back with deadly ideas. And because the MI5 can’t keep a watch on all of them, just around half of the British citizens who return are essentially roaming the country without any supervision.

Even before the current report and recommendations, senior security officials in February said the number of returnees is now five times the previously reported figure.

“There are a few hundred people going out there. They may be injured or killed, but our biggest worry is when they return they are radicalized, they may be militarized, they may have a network of people that train them to use weapons,” London Police Chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe explained to the Times then.

Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra

In sum, the combination of proximity to Europe, a rise in the number of extremist groups, easy availability of training and weapons and the ability to travel back and forth through badly-controlled Middle-Eastern borders, is seen as deadly.

Further to the problem, many returning jihadists don’t fit the psychological profile. Recent months have seen details released about the first suicide attack carried out by a British national in Syria. Abdul Waheed Majeed is believed to have driven an explosives-laden truck into a jail in Aleppo earlier this month, joining some 20 British citizens to have died fighting in the Syrian civil war.

Speaking to RT in February, political commentator Mohammed Ansar explained how Majeed’s attack presented a difficulty for the security services because “he does not fit the profile of a young British jihadi who has gone to Syria to fight,” adding also that “fighters from Britain have been calling others to come and join them.”

Similar troubles with profiling occur when women fighters are involved, and such cases are increasing.

And the threat is regionally contagious. Speaking to the Independent about the recommendations he would offer, Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator expressed fears that if counter-terrorism budgets across the continent don’t go up, we will be seeing an even steeper rise in foreign radicalization than presently.

“We should be investing a lot more in counter-terrorism work, including externally, if we are to prevent or mitigate future terrorist attacks,” he said, adding that “National budgets devoted to counter-terrorism are declining across the EU. Yet the threat that we face is becoming more diverse, more diffuse, and more unpredictable.”

But while Britain’s MI5 is among the agencies promising to take an ever tougher stance on nationals planning to engage in terrorism on home soil, the public is asking questions. Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, and the author of 13 books, notably on Islam and the West, asks on his website why more returnees aren’t being monitored and why they are being allowed back into the country so easily (and if they are even British citizens).

At the same time, Spencer sees that the British government knows full well who the counter-jihadists are (Spencer included) and doesn’t hesitate to turn them away at the border. He also accuses the British government of being particularly lax on the issue for fear of hurting the Muslim community’s feelings and sparking accusations of Islamophobia.

And still not all believe the jihadists to be a lost cause. In fact some, like Ansar, believe would opt for a different strategy – that of de-radicalization and reintegration into British society. It will not be easy, Ansar claims, but studying the British jihadists’ motives will enable us to better understand how to deal with this rising problem.

via British Syria-radicalized jihadists biggest threat to UK national security — RT News.

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Qaeda Militants Seek Syria Base, U.S. Officials Say

WASHINGTON — Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some midlevel planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what American intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the United States.

“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, told a House panel recently.

The extremists who concern Mr. Brennan are part of a group of Qaeda operatives in Pakistan that has been severely depleted in recent years by a decade of American drone strikes. But the fighters still bring a wide range of skills to the battlefield, such as bomb-building, small-arms tactics, logistics, religious indoctrination and planning, though they are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West.

Syria is an appealing base for these operatives because it offers them the relative sanctuary of extremist-held havens — away from drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan — as well as ready access to about 1,200 American and European Muslims who have gone there to fight and could be potential recruits to carry out attacks when they return home. Senior counterterrorism officials have voiced fears in recent months that these Western fighters could be radicalized by the country’s civil war.

New classified intelligence assessments based on information from electronic intercepts, informers and social media posts conclude that Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, including Ayman al-Zawahri, is developing a much more systematic, long-term plan than was previously known to create specific cells in Syria that would identify, recruit and train these Westerners.

Al Qaeda has in the past blessed the creation of local branches in places like Yemen, where an affiliate has tried to strike the United States. But the effort in Syria would signify the first time that senior Qaeda leaders had set up a wing of their own outside Pakistan dedicated to conducting attacks against the West, counterterrorism officials said. It also has the potential to rejuvenate Al Qaeda’s central command, which President Obama has described as being greatly diminished.

The assessment by the United States, however, has some detractors among even its staunchest counterterrorism partners, which also see an increase in Pakistan-based veterans of Al Qaeda among Syrian rebel groups but which disagree over whether they are involved in a coordinated plan to attack the West.

“At this stage, it’s a lot less organized than a directed plan,” said one Western security official. “Some fighters are going to Syria, but they’re going on an ad hoc basis, not at an organized level.”

Most of the operatives identified by intelligence officials are now focused on attacking Syrian government troops and occasionally rival rebel factions. But the fact that these kinds of operatives are showing up in Syria indicates to American officials that Mr. Zawahri is also playing a long game — counting on easy access to Iraq and Qaeda support networks there, as well as on the United States’ reluctance to carry out drone strikes or other military operations against targets in Syria.

“A key question, however, is how using Syria as a launching pad to strike the West fits into Zawahri’s overall strategy, and if he’s soft-pedaling now, hoping to consolidate Al Qaeda’s position for the future,” said one American counterterrorism official. “Clearly, there is going to be push and pull between local operatives and Al Qaeda central on attack planning. How fast the pendulum will swing toward trying something isn’t clear right now.”

The new assessment is not likely to change American policy toward Syria any time soon, but it puts pressure on the Obama administration and its allies because it raises the possibility that Syria could become the next Afghanistan.

Top officials at the F.B.I., the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security say they are working closely with European allies to track Westerners returning from Syria.

There are perhaps “a few dozen” Qaeda veterans of fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan in Syria, two top counterterrorism officials said. “What we’ve seen is a coalescence in Syria of Al Qaeda veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as extremists from other hot spots such as Libya and Iraq,” Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate panel in March. “From a terrorism perspective, the most concerning development is that Al Qaeda has declared Syria its most critical front.”

In his first speech as secretary of Homeland Security in February, Jeh C. Johnson put it even more bluntly. “Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” he said.

The Qaeda veterans have multiple missions and motivations, counterterrorism officials say. Like thousands of other foreign fighters, many have been drawn on their own to Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Many others, like Abu Khalid al-Suri, a Syrian-born veteran of Al Qaeda, were sent by the terrorist group’s central command in Pakistan first to fight Mr. Assad, but also to begin laying the groundwork to use enclaves in Syria to launch attacks against the West, American officials said.

Mr. Suri, who is believed to have been close to Osama bin Laden and to have fought against American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, was sent to mediate conflicts between Al Qaeda’s main affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, and another extremist faction, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which Al Qaeda has disavowed. He was killed in a suicide attack in February by the rival group.

Many of the Qaeda planners and operatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan have clustered in the east and northwest sections of Syria, in territory controlled or heavily influenced by the Nusra Front, intelligence officials said.

Sanafi al-Nasr, a Saudi-born extremist who is on his country’s list of most wanted terrorists, traveled to Syria from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region late last year and emerged as one of the Nusra Front’s top strategists. Jihadi forums reported that he was killed in fighting last week, but American counterterrorism officials said those reports could not be confirmed.

“Al Qaeda veterans could have a critical impact on recruitment and training,” said Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, a security consulting firm that tracks militant websites. “They would be lionized, at least within the ranks, as experienced mujahedeen.”

While these senior Qaeda envoys have been involved in the immediate fight against Syrian forces, American counterterrorism officials said they also had broader, longer-term ambitions.

Without naming Mr. Nasr, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, told a Senate panel in February that a “small nucleus” of Qaeda veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan in Syria who are “separate from al-Nusra harbor designs on attacks in Europe and the homeland.”

Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, agreed, saying, “The large majority of Al Qaeda-linked commanders now in Syria are there due to the potential for Syria to be the next jihadist safe haven.”

Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian expert on Islamist movements, said that launching attacks on Western targets did not appear to be a priority for the Nusra Front now. However, the group’s ideology, or a belief that it was under direct threat, could lead it to attack the West eventually, he said.

“As soon as they get targeted, they will move the battle outside,” Mr. Hanieh said.

via Qaeda Militants Seek Syria Base, U.S. Officials Say – NYTimes.com.

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Aid to thousands of Syrians blocked as Al-Qaeda-linked rebels siege refugee camp

Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus

Humanitarian aid for thousands of civilians trapped in a Palestinian-dominated area of the Syrian capital was halted as the district came under siege by Islamist rebels despite a long-negotiated truce.

The UN has voiced its concerns over the situation in the southern Damascus district of Yarmouk, where fighting erupted on Sunday. Around 20,000 people there are suffering from widespread starvation, malnutrition, and health problems, as they have been blocked from food, drinking water, and medical help for months now.

The UN “remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk, and the fact that increasing tensions and resort to armed force have disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” UN spokesman in Damascus Chris Gunness said.

Speaking on behalf of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Gunness urged all parties to “immediately allow and facilitate the resumption of food distribution to civilians inside Yarmouk.”

On his Twitter account, Gunness said that “concerned parties” have reportedly held a ceasefire “for [the] last 48 hours” and continue “to negotiate ways to reduce tensions.”

No #UNRWA food distributions in #Yarmouk despite Security Council’s unanimous threat of further steps if non-compliance with resolution 2139

— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) March 4, 2014

The clashes, which are said to be the most serious violence to take place in the region for weeks, lasted until Monday morning and seriously undermined a tentative truce struck there in early January when limited food aid was allowed into Yarmouk, Reuters reported.

The truce took hold on February 10 in Yarmouk, after Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front withdrew fighters.

Yet on Sunday, Al-Nusra alleged that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government forces and allies of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) broke the deal, AFP reported.

Al-Nusra claimed it had stood down for humanitarian reasons, but that “a very small number of food parcels” – much less than included in the agreement – had been distributed.

Al-Nusra reentered the camp on Sunday, activists confirmed.

“I was out filming and suddenly the shelling started. You should have seen the children: they were terrified,” said activist Rami Al-Sayed.

“There are no civilians on the streets. Everyone’s afraid and hiding in their houses because of the shelling and sniping,” he continued.

Fighters of the Free Syrian Army, among other groups, were involved in Sunday’s clashes, according to an activist who uses the name Abu Akram, AP reported.

PFLP-GC blamed Al-Nusra for breaking the agreement when it reappeared at the camp.

“This morning, Al-Nusra Front returned once again to Yarmuk camp, disrupting the peace initiative whose aim was to address the tragedy of the hostage camp,” said PFLP-GC spokesman Anwar Raja.

“Reconciliation efforts have, in my opinion, reached a deadlock,” Raja added.

The clashes between groups included gun battles, sniper fire, and mortar shells, Akram said.

Al-Nusra is considered by Al-Qaeda to be its only legitimately affiliated group in Syria after repeated attempts by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri to heal rifts between the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the more moderate Al-Nusra.

ISIL “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group…does not have an organizational relationship with it and [Al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,” Al-Qaeda’s General Command said in a statement one month ago.

South of Damascus, near rebel-dominated suburbs, Yarmouk became a valuable supply line for rebel fighters while attracting government artillery shelling that has destroyed large swaths of the district.

Activist Sayed told AFP that during the truce period, “the only medical relief that made it into Yarmouk was smuggled in, and in tiny amounts.”

Since January, UNRWA has given out over 7,500 food parcels in the camp, saying the amount was “a drop in the ocean compared with the rising tide of need.”

Months of shelling and fighting in and around Yarmouk between rebel groups and Assad loyalists have caused the camp’s population to go from 150,000 to 40,000. Around 18,000 Palestinians are among the residents.

via Aid to thousands of Syrians blocked as Al-Qaeda-linked rebels siege refugee camp — RT News.

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Russia warns Saudi Arabia against giving Syria rebels missiles

Moscow ‘deeply concerned’ by reports Saudi Arabia may supply rebels with missiles and anti-tank systems

Russia on Tuesday warned Saudi Arabia against supplying Syrian rebels with shoulder-launched missile launchers, saying such a move would endanger security across the Middle East and beyond.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by news reports that Saudi Arabia was planning to buy Pakistani-made shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank systems for armed Syrian rebels based in Jordan. It said that the aim was to alter the balance of power in a planned spring offensive by rebels on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“If this sensitive weapon falls into the hands of extremists and terrorists who have flooded Syria, there is a great probability that in the end it will be used far from the borders of this Middle Eastern country,” the foreign ministry said.

Long-existing tensions between Russia and Saudi Arabia have intensified further as a result of the Syria conflict.

Russia is widely seen as Assad´s last remaining major ally in a conflict that has left an estimated 140,000 people dead since it began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011.

Five days to decide

Also Tuesday, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, a head of al-Qaida‘a Syrian arm, gave his rival jihadi group an ultimatum — accept mediation to end infighting within five days, or face a war which will “eradicate them.”

Al-Golani issued the ultimatum to the leadership of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other Islamic factions.

“We are waiting for your official answer within five days of issuing this statement,” al-Golani said in a recording posted on the Internet.

“By God, if you reject God’s judgment again, and do not stop your arrogant over-lording over the Muslim nation, then [we] will be forced to launch an assault against this aggressive, ignorant ideology and will expel it, even from Iraq.”

At the start of February, al-Qaida disavowed the ISIL, while its chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had already ordered the group in May 2013 to disband and return to Iraq, and announced that another jihadist group, the al-Nusra Front, was al-Qaida’s official branch in war-torn Syria.

Jihadists were initially welcomed by some rebels in Syria’s conflict, but allegations of brutal abuses against civilians as well as rival opposition fighters has sparked a backlash.

Russia warns Saudi Arabia against giving Syria rebels missiles | i24news – See beyond.

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Egypt – New photos of Nasr City cell members published

New photos of members of the Nasr City cell have been published in the Egyptian press. Many of the cell’s members, who are currently awaiting trial, were detained in late 2012.

The cell has multiple, direct ties to al Qaeda. In particular, Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, who has long served as a subordinate to Ayman al Zawahiri, is one of the cell’s leaders. Jamal founded his own al Qaeda network (conveniently referred to as the “Muhammad Jamal Network,” or MJN, in the West) after being released from prison in 2011. According to terrorist designations issued by both the US State Department and the United Nations, Jamal worked with al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The designations by the State Department and the UN confirmed previous reporting by The Long War Journal. We were the first to report, at least in the English-speaking press, that Jamal was in direct contact with Zawahiri in 2011 and 2012. Jamal’s letters to Zawahiri revealed his ties to AQAP and AQIM.

Some of Jamal’s fighters participated in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Jamal established training camps in both the Sinai and eastern Libya prior to the attack.

Here is one of the newly published photos of Jamal. It is almost as if he is trying to tell us something. According to my colleague Oren Adaki, the note Jamal is holding reads, “Al Qaeda is perched on the hearts of the believers.”

Jamal brandishes the photo of bin Laden in other pictures as well. We previously published another photo of Jamal at The Long War Journal.

The Nasr City cell loves the picture of bin Laden. Below is a picture of Sheikh Adel Shehato, a founding member of the cell, holding up the image. Like Jamal, Shehato was a senior member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which was led by Ayman al Zawahiri and merged with bin Laden’s venture before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Shehato was also one of the key al Qaeda ideologues who helped instigate the protest in front of the US Embassy in Cairo on the morning of Sept. 11, 2012 — just hours before the US Mission and Annex in Benghazi were overrun.

The story of the Nasr City cell and the Muhammad Jamal Network is a fascinating one. It challenges so many of the widely-held assumptions about al Qaeda’s current operations. The MJN is a good example of how various al Qaeda organizations and parties are linked in a global network, with Jamal receiving cash and assistance from AQAP while he is also working with AQIM. The story also shows that Zawahiri is still very much in the game. Jamal’s letters to the al Qaeda master in 2011 and 2012 were fawning, and clearly showed that he was seeking Zawahiri’s permission for his operations.

But sometimes a picture, or pictures, are worth a thousand words. Jamal, Shehato, and the other Nasr City cell defendants are quite proud of their al Qaeda roles.

New photos of Nasr City cell members published – Threat Matrix.

Related Link :

Egypt arrests al Qaeda-linked Benghazi suspect – The Long War Journal.

Syrian rebel leader was bin Laden’s courier, now Zawahiri’s representative

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A senior al Qaeda operative known as Abu Khalid al Suri is a leading figure in Ahrar al Sham, a Syrian extremist group that is part of the recently formed Islamic Front. Al Suri’s real name is Mohamed Bahaiah.

Bahaiah is a longtime al Qaeda operative who worked as a courier for the terror network. Spanish authorities think he may have delivered surveillance tapes of the World Trade Center and other American landmarks to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan in early 1998.

In addition to being a senior member of Ahrar al Sham, Bahaiah today serves as Ayman al Zawahiri‘s representative in the Levant.

Ahrar al Sham is not one of al Qaeda’s two official branches inside Syria, which are the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, or Levant (ISIS) . But Ahrar al Sham has closely cooperated with the al Qaeda affiliates on the battlefield even while engaging in a very public dispute with ISIS.

Bahaiah’s role in Ahrar al Sham has been confirmed by two US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal. One official noted that while Bahaiah is not the emir or overall head of Ahrar al Sham, he is considered a central figure within in its ranks and plays a significant role in guiding the group.

Other al Qaeda operatives hold key positions within the extremist organization as well, according to the US officials.

In an article earlier this month, As-Safir, a Beirut-based publication, reported that Bahaiah “has played a prominent role” in Ahrar al Sham since its founding and “has sought to to cooperate and consult with prominent al Qaeda figures regarding the best methods of jihadist work in Syria.” The publication cited a “source in the Ahrar al Sham movement.”

The Daily Beast reports that Bahaiah is “overseeing the relationship between the al Qaeda affiliates and the Islamic Front.”

Bahaiah has kept his role within Ahrar al Sham out of the spotlight. US officials say that he is part of a secretive al Qaeda cadre that has sought to influence or co-opt parts of the Syrian insurgency that are not official al Qaeda branches.

A courier for Osama bin Laden

European officials first gathered evidence connecting Bahaiah to the al Qaeda network as early as the 1990s. Spanish investigators identified Bahaiah as one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers.

Bahaiah “is the person who was totally trusted by many different people in the various countries and was able to coordinate and transmit orders from bin Laden,” a Spanish judicial official told The New York Times in December 2003. This same official said that Bahaiah “was also being investigated for helping to finance an unsuccessful plot in 1997 to kill the prime minister of Yemen.”

Spanish court records reviewed by The Long War Journal cite Bahaiah’s longstanding relationship with Imad Yarkas, a fellow Syrian who headed al Qaeda’s presence inside Spain prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Spanish officials found, for example, that Bahaiah delivered money from Yarkas to Abu Qatada, an al Qaeda-affiliated ideologue, in London.

Bahaiah’s brother-in-law is Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, a Syrian businessman who was arrested on terrorism charges in 2002. The United Nations has described Zouaydi as “a suspected financier of al Qaeda’s worldwide terrorist efforts.” Zouaydi would say, according to Spanish court documents, that Bahaiah’s “mission had been to establish contacts at the international level.”

One of Zouaydi’s employees, a fellow Syrian named Ghasoub Al Abrash Ghalyoun, traveled to the US in 1997. During his trip, Ghalyoun made suspicious videos of the World Trade Center and other American landmarks. Ghalyoun would later claim that the videos were simply the work of an eager tourist. Spanish authorities, who tied Ghalyoun to Yarkas’ operations, had a different view.

In July 2002, after arresting Ghalyoun for a second time, Spanish police released a statement regarding the videos. “The style and duration of the recordings far exceed touristic curiosity,” the statement reads, according to an account by the Associated Press. “For example, two of the tapes are like a documentary study, with innumerable takes from all distances and angles of the Twin Towers in New York.”

In addition to the World Trade Center, Ghalyoun made recordings of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sears Tower, and the Statue of Liberty, as well as theme parks. The Golden Gate Bridge’s “suspension pillar” was “given substantial attention,” according to the police statement.

Spanish investigators believed that Ghalyoun’s videos were delivered to senior al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. The allegation was contained in a Sept. 17, 2003 indictment detailing the layers of evidence amassed against Yarkas’ al Qaeda network.

“The Spanish indictment alleges that an al Qaeda courier was in Ghalyoun’s town in Spain shortly after the trip and that the courier probably delivered the tape to al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan,” the 9/11 Commission reported.

According to the Spanish government, that courier was Bahaiah.

The story of Ghalyoun’s videos remains one of the enduring mysteries of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Spanish investigators became convinced that it was more likely than not that the videos were part of al Qaeda’s attack planning and that the Yarkas cell had supported the plot.

However, the 9/11 Commission concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to say that al Qaeda’s Spanish cell was directly involved in the attack. The commission came to this conclusion despite the fact that Yarkas apparently had some foreknowledge of the attack. In August 2001, Yarkas received a call from a fellow operative who said he had entered “the field of aviation” and would be “slitting the throat of the bird.”

In any event, the Spanish government amassed a wealth of evidence concerning Bahaiah’s al Qaeda role.

Close ally of prominent al Qaeda ideologue

Bahaiah was a close aide and ally to Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (a.k.a. Abu Musab al Suri), an influential al Qaeda ideologue whose work is regularly cited in jihadist literature, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine. In his seminal work, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, Nasar describes Bahaiah as “my brother and friend, my companion throughout my life.”

Both Bahaiah and Nasar had been imprisoned in Bashar al Assad‘s Syria and were freed in the wake of the uprisings.*

In his biography of Nasar, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Musab al Suri, Brynjar Lia summarizes Bahaiah’s relationship with Nasar and the al Qaeda network in Europe.

As Lia also recounts, Bahaiah and Nasar had their disagreements with al Qaeda’s senior leadership, including Osama bin Laden, prior to Sept. 11, 2001. But this did not stop Bahaiah from serving as a trusted al Qaeda courier. And Nasar mended his own the relationship with bin Laden after 9/11. When Nasar was designated a global terrorist in 2004, the US State Department noted that “in the wake of the [9/11] attacks [Nasar] pledged loyalty to Osama Bin Laden as a member of al Qaeda.”

Nasar had his own ties to al Qaeda operatives throughout Europe. And his name surfaced as a suspect in both the Mar. 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings and the July 7, 2005 London bombings. While Nasar certainly had ties to the networks that executed those attacks, his specific ties to the plots, if any, are uncertain. Nasar previously denied any direct role.

While it is unknown what role Nasar plays today, Bahaiah is now Zawahiri’s man in the Levant.

Zawahiri’s main representative and mediator

Earlier this year, Zawahiri named Bahaiah as his chief representative to settle an ongoing leadership disagreement between al Qaeda’s two official branches.

The dispute erupted in April when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who heads the ISIS, tried to fold al Qaeda’s operations in Iraq and Syria into a single organization. Al Baghdadi’s attempt to make the Al Nusrah Front subordinate to his command was rejected by Abu Muhammad al Julani, who heads Al Nusrah.

Zawahiri’s ruling on the disagreement came in a letter that was authored in May and published by Al Jazeera in June.

In the letter, Zawahiri appoints Bahaiah as his mediator. Zawahiri describes Bahaiah as “the best of men we had known among the Mujahidin.” Zawahiri writes that Bahaiah has been empowered to make sure that his orders are carried out and to resolve “any dispute” between the two emirs “arising from the interpretation of this ruling.” If necessary, Bahaiah can “set up a Sharia justice court for giving a ruling on the case.”

Bahaiah’s role in Ahrar al Sham is not mentioned in Zawahiri’s letter. But US offficials say it helps to explain why Zawahiri thought that Bahaiah was well-positioned to settle the dispute. Ahrar al Sham’s leaders command a large and effective fighting force that has participated in key battles alongside al Qaeda’s two official branches.

To date, Bahaiah has not been able to end the leadership dispute. Ahrar al Sham and ISIS have had their own sometimes contentious disagreements as well.

US officials point out, however, that al Qaeda’s senior leadership was clever enough to place multiple bets within the Syrian insurgency.

In late November, Ahrar al Sham was one of several groups that announced the formation of a new Islamic Front, which has been billed as an Islamist or jihadist alternative to al Qaeda. But al Qaeda’s presence within Ahrar al Sham ensures that it maintains some degree of influence within the new coalition, the US officials point out.

Ahrar al Sham holds some of the Islamic Front’s key posts.
*Note: In April 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that Nasar (Abu Musab al Suri) had been freed from prison. There are conflicting accounts about Nasar’s current status.

Syrian rebel leader was bin Laden’s courier, now Zawahiri’s representative – The Long War Journal.

 

Al-Qaeda’s Jihad Supported by Muslim Brotherhood | FrontPage Magazine

While some are convinced that the various Islamic organizations are discreet and disparate phenomena with divergent goals, once again information appears indicating that, all semantics aside, they are better viewed as branches emanating from one root — branches that complement and work with one another for the same goal: the empowerment of Islam, whether through jihad or suits and smiley faces.

Many are aware that the current al-Qaeda leader, the Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri is a former Brotherhood member (read here); yet few know that the original al-Qaeda leader, the Saudi (and “Wahhabi”) Osama bin Laden was also a Brotherhood member. While Zawahiri made as much clear in a recent video, more interestingly, he indicated that the Brotherhood also supported bin Laden’s jihad.

In Zawahiri’s words:

Sheikh Osama used to say: “I was evicted from my organization.  Although I was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, I was rejected by the organizations.”  Sheikh Osama bin Laden was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood group in the Arabian Peninsula. After the Russian invasion in Afghanistan, he immediately went to Pakistan to make the acquaintance of and work with the mujahidin. The group of Islamists gave him instructions to remain in Lahore to orchestrate aid; yet he was not to leave Lahore, but remain there and they would deliver aid and relief and he decide how to use it.

Interesting here is Zawahiri’s use of the term “the group of Islamists.”  While some may think this is a reference to al-Gam’a al-Islamiyya of Egypt — literally, “the Islamic Organization” — based on the context of his discussion, it is clear that Zawahiri is generically referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, as in that “group of Islamists.”

This only further confirms what recent events, especially in Egypt, demonstrate — that the Muslim Brotherhood is an inciter and supporter of the jihad around the world, also known in the West as “terrorism” — and that ousted president Morsi was in league with al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda’s Jihad Supported by Muslim Brotherhood | FrontPage Magazine.

Ansar Jerusalem releases video of assassination attempt on Egypt’s interior minister – The Long War Journal

Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) today released a 31-minute video detailing its Sept. 5 assassination attempt on Egypt’s interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim. The Sinai-based Salafi jihadist group had taken responsibility for the failed assassination in a statement posted to jihadist forums on Sept. 8.

In the video, the suicide bomber in the attack is identified as Walid Badr, a former military officer. He is shown reading his will and denouncing the Egyptian army for waging war against Islam.

According to a narrator, Badr was forced out of the Egyptian army after he criticized officers for not being religious enough. He subsequently traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight and was eventually arrested and spent a year in jail in Iran. Upon release, he allegedly traveled to Syria to fight against the regime of Bashar al Assad before returning to Egypt.

“No time frame was given for Badr’s travels,” Reuters reported.

Badr, who denounced the Muslim Brotherhood, called on Egyptians Muslims “to sacrifice your lives through the explosive devices and the explosive belts and to kill in the same way they kill,” the Associated Press reported.

The release of today’s video comes five days after Ansar Jerusalem claimed responsibility for the Oct. 19 car bombing in Ismailia. The attack on the military intelligence building in Ismailia took place 12 days after Ansar Jerusalem carried out a suicide attack on the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, which killed three people and injured more than 45.

Since the ouster of Mohammed Morsi on July 3, there have been at least 196 reported attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, most of which were against Egyptian security forces and assets, according to data maintained by The Long War Journal. On Aug. 23, the Egyptian army claimed that operations by Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula had led to the deaths of 78 militants; 32 of those killed were said to be non-Egyptians. On Sept. 15, an Egyptian army spokesman claimed that over 300 Islamist militants had been arrested in the Sinai since July. He also said that Egyptian forces have raided hundreds of homes, taken control of a number of weapon caches, and seized a variety of weaponry including RPGs, mortars, and antiaircraft missiles.

Bomber reportedly tied to Muhammad Jamal al Kashef

Judicial sources confirmed that Walid Badr was the suicide bomber, al Masry al Youm reported. The sources added that Badr was aided by three Egyptians, two Palestinians, and possibly one Afghan. Following the attack, those who aided Badr returned to the Sinai, the sources said.

Additionally, according to al Masry al Youm, authorities concluded that Badr was the bomber from the interrogation of Jamal Abdu, also known as Muhammad Jamal al Kashef. The United Nations added Jamal, a longtime subordinate to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, as well as Jamal’s network to its sanctions list on Oct. 18. Eleven days prior, Jamal and his network were added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists.

Jamal claimed that Ansar Jerusalem is linked to al Qaeda and said he had helped train Walid Badr more than a year ago in the Sinai, the al Masry al Youm report stated.

Jamal, a former commander in Egyptian Islamic Jihad, “has developed connections” with al Qaeda affiliates, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), according to the State Department. Jamal also has ties to Nasir al Wuhayshi, AQAP’s emir and the newly appointed general manager of al Qaeda, and Qasim al Raymi, AQAP’s senior military commander.

When Jamal was arrested by Egyptian authorities in November 2012, Cairo uncovered communications between him and al Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al Zawahiri. In one letter, Jamal told Zawahiri that he believed “in the necessity of establishing a jihadist entity in Egypt” and that he had taken steps to establish “groups for us inside Sinai.” According to Jamal, who had petitioned Zawahiri for consent to start al Qaeda in Egypt, the Sinai is “the next frontier of conflict with the Zionists and Americans.”

Jamal, whose fighters have been linked to the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi terror attack, is also said to have established “several terrorist training camps in Egypt and Libya” with funding from AQAP. In addition, “Jamal [has] established links with terrorists in Europe,” according to the State Department.

Ansar Jerusalem

Ansar Jerusalem is thought to be behind most of the recent attacks originating from the Sinai, according to Israeli intelligence. The group, which is said to recruit within Egypt and abroad, has claimed credit for a number of attacks against Israel over the past year, including an attack on Sept. 21, 2012.

The deadliest attack was the Aug. 18, 2011 assault on a bus traveling near the border with Egypt in Eilat, which resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis and at least seven terrorists. Three Egyptian security personnel were also accidentally killed in the crossfire. In addition, Ansar Jerusalem has taken credit for a number of attacks against the Arish-Ashkelon natural gas pipeline as well as a number of rocket attacks against Israel.

On Oct. 15, 2012, the group threatened to attack Israel for the targeted killing of Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former emir of Ansar al Sunnah. The two men were said to be leaders of the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem.

On Jan. 11, a video released by Ansar Jerusalem stated: “Here in Egypt, the fortress of the Ummah, the light of victory has begun to shine, and the light of dawn has appeared in the horizon. The Ummah has begun preparing for the moment to attack the occupying entity and get rid of its evil.”

In March, the group issued a statement during President Obama’s visit to Israel, which it called a “cancerous tumor.” The jihadist group said that the visit’s timing “has important implications” and accused “America and the Crusader West” of intervening in the so-called Arab Spring “to change the natural direction of these blessed revolutions, and prevent[ing] the Muslim peoples from achieving their true freedom and implementing their Islamic Shariah.”

More recently, on Aug. 9, four members of Ansar Jerusalem who were preparing to fire rockets towards Israel were targeted and killed. On Aug. 10, Hussein Ibrahim Salem al Tihi, from the Tiyaaha tribe, and Yusri Muhaareb al Saraarkah, Ibrahim Khalaf al Munei’i, and Muhammad Hussein al Munei’i, all from the Sawaarkah tribe, were buried following an extensive funeral procession. Some of the slain jihadists were wrapped in al Qaeda flags, while vehicles in the procession had the black flags attached as well.

On Sept. 10, Ansar Jerusalem declared that “it is obligatory to repulse them [the Egyptian army] and fight them until the command of Allah is fulfilled.” In the same statement, the group took credit for a number of attacks on Egyptian security personnel in the Sinai Peninsula. Similarly, on Sept. 15, the Salafi jihadist group declared: “We in Ansar Jerusalem and all the mujahideen in Sinai in Egypt as a whole stress that the blood of innocent Muslims will not go in vain.” And on Sept. 28, Ansar Jerusalem released a video that included footage from some of its recent attacks on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.

Ansar Jerusalem releases video of assassination attempt on Egypt’s interior minister – The Long War Journal.