Pentagon spokesman portrays Guantanamo recidivism as a good thing

February 11, 2015 7:57 AM
By Bill Roggio

Yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby cast a positive light on jihadists from the Taliban and al Qaeda who have been released from Guantanamo and have returned to wage jihad. The topic came up in the discussion of an airstrike that killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a senior Taliban commander who was detained at Guantanamo from 2001 to 2007, released to Afghan custody and freed in 2009, and returned to the Taliban shortly afterward to assume the role of a senior military commander up until his defection to the Islamic State earlier this year. Below is the exchange, from the Pentagon's transcript:

Q: Why was he released?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Joe, I don't have the records on this guy from -- from Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, he was a detainee. He was released in 2007. He was released to Kabul.

The other thing that we've said -- and this is another great example, because we had a long, you know, discussion not too long ago about the -- the recidivism and particularly the issue of this -- this one individual who reengaged there in Qatar, and we said that they return to the battlefield and to the fight at their own peril. Mr. Kadim is proof of that.

Kirby's statement that Khadim's death should be viewed as a positive is cold comfort to the hundreds of Afghans, Americans, and Coalition personnel who were killed while Khadim commanded forces in southern Afghanistan. The jihadist was able to operate for more than six years as a top level Taliban commander and has the blood of thousands on his hands.

Khadim and Mullah Zakir, another Guantanamo alum (who is still alive; he "resigned due to ill health," according to the Taliban) were responsible for implementing the Taliban's counter-surge strategy. While the the jihadist group failed to halt Coalition and Afghan forces' gains in the south from 2009 to 2011 (gains which are now melting away), at least 875 Coalition members were killed during the fighting in Kandahar (273 killed) and Helmand (602 killed) during that time period, according to iCasualties (note, data on Coalition members killed by province after 2011 is not available on the iCasualties website). The number of Afghan security personnel and civilians killed in Kandahar and Helmand by the Taliban during that timeframe is not available, but is likely in the thousands.

Despite this, Kirby doubles down and says Guantanamo should be closed, which means even more jihadists will be freed.

Q: After seeing such example, like former Guantanamo detainee who was released and went back to the -- to work with the Taliban, is the Pentagon still convinced that Guantanamo should be closed?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. The Pentagon's position is that the detainee facility should be closed. Secretary Hagel has made that clear on any number of occasions. There's no change to that.


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Iyad Ag Ghaly reportedly in the Kidal region of Mali

February 10, 2015 5:38 PM
By Caleb Weiss

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Iyad Ag Ghaly situated before the flag of al Qaeda.

Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of the Malian jihadist group Ansar Dine, is reportedly in the Kidal region of Mali, according to Der Spiegel. Paul Hyacinthe Mben, a journalist for the German magazine, reportedly traveled to the Kidal region of Mali and met with the jihadist leader. "Two years after the military intervention of the French, Ag Ghaly walks freely in Kidal and feels safe," Mben reports. While it is likely that Ag Ghaly is indeed in northern Mali, the events told in the Der Spiegel report cannot be independently verified.

Mben says that Ag Ghaly met him at a tent camp "65km from the town of Kidal." Mben goes on to say that the jihadist leader showed him a Sharia school run by the group for young boys. "Two days later," Malian media has reported, "the leader of Ansar Dine presents the reporter one of his lieutenants, Rhissa ag Bounounou." Ag Bounounou is reportedly one of Ag Ghaly's men tasked with smuggling weapons from the chaos in Libya into northern Mali.

Mben purportedly then visited one of the group's weapon caches, where he saw "rifles, grenades, explosives, mines, and rocket launchers." Ag Bounounou then allegedly taunted the French-led counterterrorism mission by saying, "Europeans can send as many drones they want. They will not find us."

Ansar Dine was formed in 2011 and throughout 2012 the group worked with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Tuareg separatist groups to take over Mali's north. Ansar Dine acts as the local wing of AQIM. A confidential letter written by AQIM's emir Abdelmalek Droukdel was found stating that the group's fighters in Mali should hide their activities under the banner of Ansar Dine. By doing so, AQIM was considered less likely draw unwanted attention from the international community and thus avoid a military intervention.

However, after the various jihadist groups implemented their strict form of Sharia, France launched an intervention in Mali to help regain control of the north in January 2013. In February of 2013, Ag Ghaly was designated a terrorist by the US State Department. In their designation, State noted that Ag Ghaly "cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb." [For more on Ag Ghaly's designation, see LWJ report Emir of Ansar Dine added to US, UN's terrorist lists]

Ag Ghaly went off the radar shortly thereafter, only to periodically resurface. Despite the French intervention, which has now become a region-wide counterterrorism mission, jihadists in northern Mali continue to pose a serious threat.


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Boko Haram brings war to Niger, senior Chadian general wounded

February 8, 2015 9:37 AM
By LWJ Staff

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Map of conflict zone between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Source: BBC


Fierce battles between Boko Haram and a growing coalition of Nigeria's neighboring states has left hundreds dead this week. Swarms of the group's jihadists launched a series of attacks inside Niger on February 6, marking the first time that Boko Haram has penetrated into that country. The attacks, which reportedly left over 100 Boko Haram fighters dead, also injured a senior Chadian army general.

Details on the clashes were reported by the AFP:

Boko Haram launched its first major attack in Niger on Friday, triggering a forceful response from regional troops who claimed to have killed more than a hundred of the Islamists.

The clashes in Bosso and Diffa, along the border with Nigeria, marked yet another expansion of violence attributed to Boko Haram, but it seemed to have come at a heavy cost.

Niger's defence minister reported that 109 of the Islamists were killed, along with four soldiers and a civilian. Seventeen other troops were wounded.

Chadian forces, who have taken a lead role in battling Boko Haram in recent days, fought alongside Niger's troops on Friday. Chad's commander in Niger, General Yaya Daoud, was also wounded with a gunshot to the stomach, a security source said.

Niger's Defence Minister Mahamadou Karidjo said calm had been restored to both Bosso and Diffa.

Chadian forces have been stationed in Bosso since Monday, a humanitarian worker said, adding that Boko Haram "took the municipality" for a time before being "driven back to Nigeria".

Other clashes broke out some 10 kilometres (six miles) from Niger's Diffa, which is on the border with Nigeria near a bridge that links the two countries. Its control is essential for transporting troops and supplies.

Little more than a stream, the Komadougou Yobe marks the frontier between Niger and Nigeria, and the water level has recently dropped considerably, making it easy to cross.

Earlier this week, Boko Haram counterattacked Chadian forces staging in the strategic village of Fotokol located in Cameroon, killing at least 70 people and destroying many homes as well as the central mosque, according to the BBC.

Unnamed US intelligence officials estimated this week that Boko Haram has about 4,000-6,000 "hardcore" fighters. The Islamist force has long occupied large swathes of territory in northeastern Nigeria and over 1.5 million Nigerians have been displaced by the violence. On February 7, the Nigerian electoral commission announced it will postpone the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for February 14 for six weeks, allowing for more time to secure the volatile northeastern areas, according to the AFP.


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AQAP releases audio message featuring Ibrahim al-Rubaysh

February 5, 2015 11:51 AM
By Oren Adaki


"Allah Will Be Sufficient For You Against Them" (Source: Al Malahem Media Foundation)

The media wing of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Malahem Media Foundation, released an audio message on Twitter in late January featuring AQAP ideologue Ibrahim al-Rubaysh titled "Allah Will Be Sufficient For You Against Them." In this most recent eight and a half minute message, Rubaysh addresses the surge in solidarity for the victims of January's attack on the satirical French Charlie Hebdo magazine, an operation which AQAP has since claimed.

Rubaysh begins his audio message by claiming an infidel's inherent hostility towards Islam and the Muslim community, an argument buttressed by Qur'anic verses cited by the AQAP ideologue. He claims that, "Allah has made clear to us that they [the infidels] will not spare a thing in hurting the Muslims." Rubaysh then goes farther, declaring that "[the infidels] war against us will not cease until they force us to leave Islam."

The jihadist ideologue suggests that Western offenses against the Prophet are part of the broader infidel war against Islam. He says that Western nations have intervened in Muslim countries and killed Muslims, and then completed this aggression through mockery of the Prophet. "Do we not have a right to respond to the aggression of the aggressors?" asks Rubaysh.

Rubaysh then turns to the widespread demonstrations in support of freedom of speech and the victims of the Paris attacks last month, which AQAP claimed shortly after. "What is amazing," says Rubaysh, "is that you see infidels standing with each other and supporting each other in their aggression against the Muslims and their offending of the Prophet (PBUH). They go out raising the slogan of 'We are Charlie' in solidarity with their fools."

Even more shocking to Rubaysh is the fact that some Muslims appear to have supported such demonstrations of solidarity. "Solidarity with anyone who has offended the Messenger (PBUH) and supporting them ... is an offense that ejects its perpetrator from the circle of Islam," he flatly announces. "What is left for a Muslim of his Islam," questions Rubaysh, "if he were to support the infidels in their offense of the Messenger of Islam (PBUH)?"

He goes on to say that defending the Prophet's honor as well as "disciplining anyone who blasphemes against him" is a duty incumbent on every capable Muslim. "And as much as the servant is more capable," stipulates Rubaysh, "his duty is even greater."

Rubaysh declares that those who have shown solidarity with offenses against the Prophet must "pay a high price, the greater share of which should be borne by France." France's culpability in this matter lies in the fact that it has galvanized the world in support of the Charlie Hebdo magazine staff who had offended Muslim sensibilities, according to Rubyash.

The AQAP ideologue claims that "recent years have witnessed a retreat in the American leadership role in the war against Islam," so that France is attempting to posit itself as the new leader of this religious war. Rubaysh concludes that, "the infidels must pay the price of their aggression upon our countries and for offending our Messenger (PBUH) - a costly price from their security and economy." According to Rubaysh, any Muslim who has expressed solidarity with the offense of the Prophet "will bear what he receives as the result of the actions of the courageous who seek martyrdom in support of the Messenger (PBUH)."

Rubaysh calls for even more attacks against France and any Western journalist who disrepects the Prophet. "The work must continue," he says, "and every raid must be followed by another, till every journalist knows that if he aggressors against the religion of Islam, no newspaper will accept him, and no hotel will shelter him, and he will not find any patch of land upon which to sleep soundly."

He advocates increased attacks as a way to push Westerners to abandon their faith in freedom of speech "if that means offense of the Muslims." He suggests that if Western countries truly understood that such offenses against Islam would cost them a heavy price, they "would legislate laws" to prevent and deter people from offending Muslims.

Rubaysh concludes his audio message with a general call for attacks against anyone disrespectful of Islam. "Oh Muslim, oh you who loves the Messenger of Allah (PBUH): set forth to Allah's blessing," he says, a clear invitation to jihad. He adds that Muslims should "not consult anyone about killing one who mocks the Messenger of Allah (PBUH)" and not heed the words of Muslim clerics who do the bidding of earthly rulers.


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Hundreds killed as Chadian military overruns Boko Haram strongholds

February 4, 2015 10:45 AM
By LWJ Staff


Hundreds of suspected Boko Haram fighters have been killed since January 31 as Chadian forces, backed by Nigerian and French aircraft, overran the jihadist group's strongholds in northern Nigeria. The latest outbreak of fighting occurred after members of Boko Haram ambushed Chadian forces who had been staging in nearby Cameroon.

The Chadian military has liberated the Nigerian towns of Baga, Dikwa, Malam Fatori, Damasak, Ngala and parts of Bama in the past four days, according to a spokesman for a Nigerian militia group and reported by Bloomberg.

Details of the fighting were also reported by the Globe and Mail:

"Chad's army said its troops were attacked Tuesday [February 3] in Cameroon by Boko Haram...

'Our valiant forces responded vigorously, a chase was immediately instituted all the way to their base at Gamboru and Ngala [in Nigeria], where they were completely wiped out,' spokesman Col. Azem Bermendoa said on national television Tuesday night.

More than 200 extremists and nine Chadian troops were killed, he said.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Boko Haram fighters driven out of Gamboru crossed the border and attacked Chadian military posts in Fotokol, in far northern Cameroon, residents and military officers said.

This week's military actions mark the biggest offensive against Boko Haram in its more than five-year history.

Cameroonian forces are assisting Chadian forces in countering the Boko Haram assault in Fotokol, and fighting remains ongoing. In Nigeria, Chadian and Nigerian attack jets and helicopters continue to assault jihadist positions in and around the strategic town of Gamboru, which Boko Haram has occupied since last year.

In late January, Chadian forces countered a Boko Haram ambush near Malam Fatori and reportedly killed 120 insurgents, according to regional reports. Three Chadian soldiers were also reported killed in the fighting.

The African Union (AU) has authorized a Multinational Joint Task Force [MJTF] of 7,500 troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin to wage war against Boko Haram, although further meetings this week are expected to refine the MJTF's mandate. Currently, there are approximately 2,000 Chadian personnel operating in and around the Boko Haram-occupied border area of northern Nigeria. France, a key ally of Niger, Chad and Cameroon, has also announced its participation in the offensive against the jihadist group, and confirmed supplying surveillance aircraft to assist the Chadian assault against Gamboru.

More details were provided by Newsweek:

Despite French president Francois Hollande's previous claims that French warplanes were operating in Nigerian airspace, French officials have since confirmed that French operations are limited to the airspace of Nigeria's neighbours, Chad and Niger.

"Our air force is carrying out reconnaissance missions, but not over Nigeria," a French defence ministry source told Reuters today. "Our support is limited to neighbouring countries such as Chad and Niger," the source added.

Fighting is expected to increase as the MJTF eventually pierces deeper into Boko Haram occupied territories in northern Nigeria.


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Islamic State launched attack near Amiriyat al Fallujah

February 3, 2015 1:57 PM
By Caleb Weiss

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An Islamic State sniper using the US-made Mk. 14 EBR designated marksman rifle.

The Islamic State recently published a photo report from battles near Zawbaa in Iraq's Anbar province. Zawbaa is to the east of the town of Amiriyat al Fallujah and is close to Abu Ghraib, which is just west of Baghdad.

The photos bear the title of the Islamic State's Wilayat Junub, or its Southern Province. This administrative division is comprised of areas south of Baghdad and parts of northern Babil province. The fact that these photos were published by Wilayat Junub and not Wilayat al Fallujah more than likely represents operational overlap between the two divisions. These images have been disseminated on Twitter by its supporters after being posted elsewhere online.

The photos show Islamic State fighters targeting Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) personnel and their Sunni tribal allies in the vicinity of Zawbaa. The Islamic State used mortars, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and sniper fire in its assault in the town. Several photos show Islamic State snipers with the US-made Mk. 14 EBR designated marksman rifle, which is currently in use by the Iraqi special forces. At least four Humvees are shown to have been destroyed or damaged in the attack, as well as several ISF buildings.

Other photos appear to show the capture and beheading of ISF members or tribal fighters near the area. The Islamic State was also able to capture a large cache of weapons, including M-16's, AK-47's, RPG's, and PK machine guns. One photo also purports to show the identification badges and personal cell phones of the captured or killed ISF members.

Several Arabic-language news site indicate that the Islamic State is launching a new campaign to take Amiriyat al Fallujah. On Jan. 31, it was reported that a renewed offensive was launched on the town with four of its members being killed by Iraqi police and tribal fighters. Additional reporting also indicated that the town has been encircled and the group is firing mortar rounds into the town. The Islamic State has released pictures showing its fighters firing 120mm mortars on Amiriyat al Fallujah in recent days. Other photos released by the group also show a Russian suicide bomber detonating within an M113 armored personnel carrier near the town.

Today's reporting still indicates Amiriyat al Fallujah is under siege, however Baghdad is said to be sending reinforcements to the area. Clashes are still ongoing in the Zawbaa area and north of the town. Al Jazeera has also reported that Islamic State fighters in the Owesat area of northern Babil province, which is just south of Amiriyat al Fallujah, are also engaging ISF personnel near the town.

Amiriyat al Fallujah is a strategic locale in western Iraq as it links up with Jurf al Sakhar in Babil province. Control of both towns would allow the Islamic State to put significant pressure on Baghdad, as well as Karbala and Najaf. Jurf al Sakhar was previously held by the Islamic State, but was recaptured by ISF and Shia militias in October 2014. That same month, Amiriyat al Fallujah became under siege by the Islamic State before being beaten back by the ISF and its Sunni tribal allies.

Patrick Megahan assisted in identifying weapons used by the Islamic State in this report.

Photos released by the Islamic State showing the fighting near Zawbaa can be seen below

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Coalition kills Islamic State 'chemical weapons engineer'

January 31, 2015 12:40 PM
By Bill Roggio

US Central Command, or CENTCOM, reported yesterday that it killed Abu Malik, an Islamic State "chemical weapons engineer," in an airstrike near Mosul, Iraq. Abu Malik was associated with al Qaeda in Iraq and then the Islamic State for a decade before he was killed.

"Malik was an ISIL (Islamic State) chemical weapons engineer who worked at Saddam Hussein's Muthana chemical weapon production facility before affiliating with al Qaeda in Iraq in 2005," according to the CENTCOM press release. "He later joined ISIL and his past training and experience provided the terrorist group with expertise to pursue a chemical weapons capability."

"His death is expected to temporarily degrade and disrupt the terrorist network and diminish ISIL's ability to potentially produce and use chemical weapons against innocent people," CENTCOM concluded.

It is unclear if Abu Malik was associated with the al Qaeda in Iraq cell that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense broke up in 2013 (al Qaeda in Iraq was eventually rebranded as the Islamic State). That cell was seeking to manufacture chemical weapons, including sarin nerve gas, and plotting to conduct attacks within Iraq, Europe, and North America, according to the Iraqi government.


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Islamic State admits its forces withdrew from Kobane

January 30, 2015 5:41 PM
By Bill Roggio

The Islamic State has officially acknowledged that its forces have withdrawn from the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria. The al Qaeda offshoot admitted its retreat in a short video that was released by 'Amaq News Agency,' an official propaganda outlet.

The video, which is comprised of statements from two unidentified jihadists who fought in Kobane, was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. Both fighters credited the air campaign by the US-led Coalition with forcing their retreat.

The first fighter said that "it was fated for us to retreat from Ayn al-Islam [Ayn al Arab, or Kobane] bit by bit, because of the bombardment and because some of the brothers were killed."

The second fighter said that "the reason behind our retreat is that we did not find points in which to remain garrisoned. We stayed in garrisoned positions inside more than 70% of Ayn al-Islam, but the aircraft did not leave any buildings and destroyed everything."

"They flattened the land with their rockets, so we were forced to retreat," he continued. Later, he stated that the aircraft "bombarded day and night."

The second jihadist warned that the Islamic State would "return" to Kobane, presumably once Coalition aircraft turn their attention elsewhere.

"This is the style of hit and run since the days of the Messenger ... We will return once again and we will disperse them [the Kurds]," the second fighter said.

The Islamic State's claim that much of Kobane was difficult for the group to occupy because it was leveled is somewhat plausible. According to Al Jazeera, Kurds returning to Kobani have found "at least half of the town destroyed." However much of the city has been destroyed during fighting between the Islamic State and the YPG and its allies.

The jihadist in the video rightly notes that a considerable number of airstrikes were launched against the Islamic State in and around Kobane. The US-led Coalition has executed 606 airstrikes on the jihadist group in the area between Sept. 27, 2014 and Jan. 20, 2015, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal and Military Edge. That represents more than 71 percent of the total number of Coalition airstrikes in Syria during that timeframe. [See LWJ report, Islamic State is forced from Kobane.]


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Hezbollah kills 2 Israeli soldiers in anti-tank missile attack

January 28, 2015 2:31 PM
By Bill Roggio

Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven more in an attack on a armored unit that was patrolling near Mt. Dov at the border between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. The group has claimed credit for the attack.

"The IDF has confirmed that during today's attack, Hezbollah militants fired 5 anti-tank missiles at the patrolling force near Mt. Dov. One soldier and one officer," a company commander, "were killed," the Israeli Defense Forces stated on its blog. "Seven additional IDF soldiers were injured, two of them moderately. The injured soldiers were evacuated to a hospital."

"The IDF responded to attacks with combined aerial and ground strikes at Hezbollah operational positions," the Israeli military stated.

According to Reuters, a Spanish peacekeeper was killed during retaliatory air and artillery strikes against Hezbollah. It is unclear if any of the group's fighters were killed.

Hezbollah claimed the attack via Al Manar, the the group's official news outlet.

"At 11:25 this morning, the Quneitra Heroic Martyrs group, of the Islamic Resistance, targeted an Israeli military convoy in the Shebaa Farms composed of several vehicles transporting Zionist officers and soldiers," the statement said. "Several vehicles were destroyed, and casualties were caused among the enemy ranks."

Several senior Lebanese government officials, including the prime minister, the speaker of parliament, and the foreign affairs minister, praised the attack, according to Al Manar.

Today's assault was likely launched in retaliation for the deaths of six Hezbollah operators, including the son of slain leader Imad Mughniyah, and a Qods Force general and six other officers and advisers in an Israeli airstrike. The thirteen Hezbollah and Qods Force commanders and members were scouting the Quneitra area in Syria on Jan. 18 when Israeli aircraft launched an attack, killing them all. [See LWJ reports, Hezbollah commanders killed in suspected Israeli airstrike, and Senior Qods Force general killed in suspected Israeli airstrike.]


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Islamic State assaults Iraqi border post near Jordan

January 27, 2015 3:55 PM
By Caleb Weiss

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Islamic State fighters shown attacking the Arkaban border post near the Jordanian border.

The Islamic State has released photos showing its forces attacking Iraq's Arkaban border post near Jordan. The photos were produced by the Islamic State's Wilayat (Province) Anbar and disseminated by its supporters online.

The pictures show fighters firing on the border post with rocket propelled grenades, small arms, and with technicals (pickup trucks armed with heavy machine guns). At least seven technicals are shown in the images released by the jihadist group.

Iraqi media reports that the Islamic State attack on the outpost was repelled by Iraqi border forces backed by airstrikes. Brigadier Saad Maan, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said that "The strength of the third regiment in the fourth border guards foiled an attempt by Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State] to attack the Iraqi Arkaban Border Station near the Iraqi-Jordanian borders and confronted the attack in coordination with the Joint Operations which provided aerial support for the Iraqi troops." Maan continued by saying that three border guards were wounded in the attack, sustaining minor injuries.

Last November, the Islamic State attacked an Iraqi military outpost near the Trebil border complex with Jordan. At least six Iraqi military personnel were killed or wounded in that attack. Iraq had recaptured the Trebil crossing just days after the Islamic State overran it in June of last year. [For more information on the attack on the Trebil crossing, as well as the brief capture of it, see LWJ report, Islamic State attacks Iraqi border crossing with Jordan.]

Photos released by the Islamic State showing the attack on the Arkaban border post with Jordan can be seen below:

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Boko Haram releases photos showing children in training

January 25, 2015 7:34 PM
By Caleb Weiss

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A media organization linked to Boko Haram, al Urwa al Wuthaqa, has released two images purporting to show children training somewhere in northeastern Nigeria.

The two photos show at least a dozen children in what appears to be a weapons training program. Several are seen holding AK-47 assault rifles, while others are seen holding cutouts of weapons. Some children appear to be girls, while the majority pictured are young boys.

Boko Haram joins several other jihadist groups around the world in showcasing training for young children. In 2013, the Turkistan Islamic Party, an al Qaeda affiliated group that operates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and Syria, released a video showing kids training in Pakistan. The Taliban are also known to operate training camps, including those for suicide bombings, for youth in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Additionally, The Long War Journal has identified several training camps for children in Iraq and Syria. These camps are run by jihadist groups such as the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, Junud al Sham, and Ahrar al Sham. [For more on training camps for children in Iraq and Syria, see LWJ report Jihadists tout training camps for children in Iraq and Syria]

Boko Haram is an al Qaeda-linked group operating in Nigeria. The group controls vast amounts of territory in the northeastern part of the country. In addition to killing countless Nigerians, the group also poses a threat to neighboring countries. [For more information on Boko Haram, see LWJ reports Boko Haram continues to slaughter Nigerians, Boko Haram overruns Multinational Joint Task Force base, and Chad joins Cameroon, Nigeria, in fight against Boko Haram]

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President Obama's 'successful' counterterrorism strategy in Yemen in limbo

January 24, 2015 11:57 AM
By Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio

When announcing the US strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, President Barack Obama said he would model it after America's counterterrorism strategy in Somalia and Yemen, "one that we have successfully pursued...for years."

Immediately after Obama's speech, we at The Long War Journal questioned the wisdom of describing Somalia and Yemen as "successfully pursued" counterterrorism operations. Al Qaeda's official branches, Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, remain entrenched in their respective countries, despite some setbacks here and there. AQAP's core leadership cadre is intact. And both al Qaeda branches continue to control territory while working to conduct attacks outside of their countries. [For details, see LWJ report, US strategy against Islamic State to mirror counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, Somalia.]

In the four plus months since Obama described Yemen as a successful engagement, things have gone from bad to worse. The Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis have broken out from the northern provinces and overran the capital. Just this week, President Hadi, who was perhaps America's greatest ally on the Arabian Peninsula as he actively endorsed and facilitated US counterterrorism operations, including controversial drone strikes against AQAP, was forced to step down. The prime minister has also resigned and the government has dissolved.

During this timeframe, the US drone program against AQAP has stalled. The last US drone strike in Yemen that has been confirmed by The Long War Journal took place on Nov. 12, 2014. This is especially remarkable given that AQAP has claimed credit for the assault on Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris, and the terrorists themselves said that AQAP sent them.

Unsurprisingly, US officials are now telling Reuters that counterterrorism operations in Yemen are "paralyzed" with the collapse of the Hadi government (the long gap in strikes in the face of the Charlie Hebdo attack is a clear indication that US CT operations are in limbo). Yemen's military is also said to be in disarray.

If US officials expect the Houthis to be willing participants against AQAP, they are mistaken. The Houthis, while enemies of AQAP, are no friends of the US. While their movement was not created by Iran, they have adopted the Iranians' motto: "Death to America." Additionally, any action against AQAP only serves to strengthen the Houthis, and by extension, Iran.

Meanwhile, without a central government and effective military, Sunnis may be tempted to back AQAP against the Shiite Houthis, thereby increasing AQAP's recruiting pool. There is already evidence that this is happening.

If this is what a successful counterterrorism strategy looks like, we'd hate to see failure.



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Haqqani Network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa: Banned or not?

January 24, 2015 11:41 AM
By Bill Roggio

It is very rare that I read an editorial on a subject that I am deeply vested in and agree with every point made. Dawn, the Pakistani newspaper, hit the nail square on the head with an editorial, titled "Banned or not?". The paper asks the hard questions about whether the Pakistani government has really banned the Haqqani Network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa. [For LWJ's analysis on this subject, see: Reported ban of Haqqani Network unlikely to end Pakistan's support of group, and Pakistan falsely claims it takes 'immediate action' against terror groups listed by the UN.]

The editorial is reproduced in full, below. Keep in mind that asking tough questions about the Pakistani state's duplicity with respect to terrorist groups requires quite a bit of courage in that country. The Long War Journal is banned in Pakistan to this day for noting Pakistan's good-vs-bad Taliban problem, as well as exposing other issues. But that is a small price to pay. Brave and insightful journalists, such as Asia Times reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, have been tortured and brutally murdered for questioning the Pakistani state and its links to the Taliban and other jihadist groups.

Kudos to Dawn for its cogent editorial.

IT ought to be a straightforward answer to a simple question: has the Pakistani state taken any measures in recent weeks against, among others, the Haqqani network and Jamaatud Dawa that impact on the legal and operational status of those groups on Pakistani soil?

Unhappily, even in this most straightforward of cases, the Pakistani state is being anything but direct and honest.

The Foreign Office tells the media to check with the Interior Ministry and Nacta; the otherwise voluble and media-attention-loving Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan goes silent; anonymous bureaucrats and unnamed officials give contradictory statements; parliament is given ambiguous answers to direct questions; and nowhere does anyone in any relevant public office show any inclination to inform the public of what is or is not being done in their name.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theories are growing more feverish: an outright ban, frozen bank accounts, restrictions on foreign travel of JuD leaders -- whatever new measures have been taken, it has all been done at the behest of the US to placate an angry India and assist the Afghan government.

Such conspiracy theories do more than confuse the public; they strike at the heart of the consensus this country needs, that the fight against militancy is Pakistan's own and not imposed by the outside world on a hapless nation.

All the confusion can be cleared up by a simple, authoritative statement by the interior ministry, or -- given the implications for national security policy -- by the Prime Minister's Office. But, in a way that echoes the old practice here of saying one thing (or saying nothing) and doing another, the government has chosen to remain silent -- just as the state alternates between remaining silent about drone strikes and condemning them.

Just as once upon a time the army-led security establishment cut clandestine -- sometimes, public -- deals with militant groups while claiming it was opposed to religiously inspired militant groups existing on Pakistani soil. And just as the state banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, but allowed it to first morph into Jamaatud Dawa and now, to some extent, into the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation.

A simple path towards clarity -- at least in terms of designation and profiles -- in the present instance was offered by the Supreme Court on Thursday: make public the names of proscribed groups and translate anti-terrorism laws into local languages to increase awareness.

As the Supreme Court observed, often the public is unaware that groups operating as social welfare networks or collecting charity are in fact designated by the state to be terrorist groups. That has the effect of allowing the groups to grow and even gain public affection by pretending to be something they most certainly are not.

Perhaps it will be easier to begin to believe that the era of good militants/bad militants is over if the state can bring itself to name and ban all militant groups.


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Jihadists tweet photo allegedly showing deceased Ansar al Sharia leader

January 23, 2015 9:42 PM
By Thomas Joscelyn

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.41.04 PM.png

Earlier today, published reports cited family members of Mohamed al Zahawi, the leader of Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, as saying that Zahawi had succumbed to injuries sustained during fighting last year. Zahawi's death had been rumored for months, but there was never any confirmation. His family told the press that he had been hospitalized since receiving his wounds. A Libyan military official said that Zahawi had been seriously wounded during fighting in September 2014. You can read our coverage here.

More evidence of Zahawi's demise has surfaced online. Jihadists have posted a photo, shown above, that allegedly shows Zahawi after his death.


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Cameroon strikes back after Boko Haram kidnaps 80 villagers

January 23, 2015 12:22 AM
By LWJ Staff

Cameroonian armed forces rescued approximately 24 hostages on January 19 just one day after Boko Haram terrorists raided Mabass village, located in northern Cameroon, and abducted nearly 80 villagers. Local military sources estimated that 50 children were among those abducted and scores of homes were also destroyed in the attack.

More details on the incident were reported by Reuters:

"According to our initial information, around 30 adults, most of them herders, and 50 young girls and boys aged between 10 and 15 years were abducted," a senior army officer deployed to northern Cameroon told Reuters.

He said the early-morning attack had targeted the village of Mabass and other villages along the porous border. Soldiers intervened and exchanged fire with the raiders for around two hours, he added.

Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma confirmed the attack, in which he said three people had been killed, as well as the kidnappings. He was not able to say with certainty how many people had been taken in the raid.

"There was a Boko Haram attack on several localities in the Far North region. The assailants burnt down about 80 homes and kidnapped several inhabitants including women and very young children," he said.

The attack on Sunday reportedly included hundreds of Boko Haram militants who went house to house taking women and children before attempting to flee back over the border into Nigeria.

Deutsche Welle provided some sobering claims about the challenges in securing the porous border areas between Cameroon and Nigeria:

Half of the 500 kilometer (311 miles) border that Cameroon shares with Nigeria is already occupied by Boko Haram on the Nigerian side, and DW's correspondent said it would be easy for them to cross over and kidnap more Cameroonians or send in suicide bombers.

The release of some of the hostages while Cameroon's forces were in pursuit came after Chad had begun deploying troops to the country to assist in the fight against the extremists.

Thousands of Chadian troops have arrived in Cameroon in some 400 military trucks, accompanied by military helicopters.<

The weekend clash and mass abduction by Boko Haram is setting the stage for the much touted intervention by neighboring Chad. Last week, the Chadian Parliament voted 150 to 0 to provide military assistance to both Cameroon and Nigeria to help battle Boko Haram. Chadian Government officials have since disclosed that the deployment of its forces to Cameroon includes around 2,000 soldiers, armored vehicles and attack helicopters, according to Al Jazeera America.


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Islamic State gives ultimatum to Japan

January 20, 2015 4:14 PM
By Caleb Weiss

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"Jihadi John" stands before Kenji Goto Jogo and Huruna Yukawa and threatens Japan with their lives.

In a newly released video by one of the Islamic State's media wings, Al Furqan, a familiar jihadist gives Japan an ultimatum regarding two Japanese citizens the group is holding hostage.

The short video, entitled "A Message to the Government and People of Japan," shows a jihadist, which appears to be the infamous "Jihadi John," standing before two kneeling Japanese prisoners. The hostages, which are identified as Kenji Goto Jogo and Huruna Yukawa, are set to be killed in 72 hours unless Japan pays a ransom of $200 million.

This ultimatum comes just days after Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, pledged $2.5 billion in non-military aid for the Middle East, including $200 million for those fighting the Islamic State. The jihadist group acknowledges this in the video by saying, "You have proudly donated 100 million to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims." The jihadist then calls on Japan to pay $100 million for each captive within three days.

In a response to the ultimatum, Shinzo Abe said "Their lives are a top priority." Abe continued with, "It is unforgivable. Extremism and Islam are completely different things. The international community will not give in to any form of terrorism and we have to make sure that we work together." Additionally, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a meeting in Tokyo that, "If true, the act of threat in exchange of people's lives is unforgivable and we feel strong indignation. We will make our utmost effort to win their release as soon as possible."

Huruna Yukawa, who was captured by the Islamic State back in August, was allegedly a security contractor before going to Syria. In a video post to social media when Yukawa was initially captured, he claimed he was a photographer according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group. The other hostage, Kenji Goto, is a freelance journalist who has worked in various hotspots throughout the Middle East. His family lost contact with him in October and his wife reportedly received ransom demands of $8.5 million in November.

"Jihadi John" is the same Islamic State militant who beheaded James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Cawthorne Haines, Alan Henning, and Peter Kassig. The most recent release marks the first time the group has asked for a ransom payment in this line of videos.


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Chad joins Cameroon, Nigeria, in fight against Boko Haram

January 18, 2015 4:11 PM
By LWJ Staff

Chad has joined neighboring states Cameroon and Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram. Chad's Parliament voted 150 to 0 on January 16 to dispatch an undisclosed number of Chadian security forces to assist Cameroon and Nigeria in the war against Boko Haram terrorists.

More details from the Wall Street Journal:

Cameroon's President Paul Biya told reporters that the Chadian army would send "an important contingent" of soldiers, without expanding further. A statement from the Chadian government confirmed as much, though it also didn't say how many soldiers Chad would send or what their role would be.

Chad's decision to send soldiers comes two weeks after Boko Haram seized a military base in Nigeria, just across Lake Chad, the shallow, desert-encroached body of water that separates the two countries. The capture of that base, in the town of Baga, saw hundreds of civilians killed and more than 3,700 buildings burned down. Some unverifiable refugee accounts said about 2,000 died.

Earlier this month, Boko Haram's purported leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video declaring war on Cameroon and calling on his followers there to rise up. "Your troops cannot do anything to us," he said, before firing an assault rifle into the sky.

Days later, the insurgents sneaked from Nigeria across the mountains into Cameroon, moving under the cover of fog, Cameroon's government said. When they reached the town of Kolofata, they ambushed a group of soldiers who, Cameroon's government said, managed to hold their position, though the result couldn't be independently confirmed.

Additional details were reported by the AFP:

"Dozens of Chadian tanks headed out of N'Djamena south towards Cameroon on 16 January to help fight Nigeria's dreaded Boko Haram insurgents.

The convoy, seen by an AFP journalist, roared out of the city after Chad's parliament voted to send armed forces to Cameroon and Nigeria to fight against the Islamists.

It is rumored to be eventually heading to Baga, the town on the shores of Lake Chad were as many as 2,000 people were massacred by the militants in a raid on January 7 described by US Secretary of State John Kerry as a "crime against humanity"."

Cameroon is now on the precipice of receiving substantial military assistance not only from Chad, but also from the US and Russia.

Of note, both the US and Russian Ambassadors to Cameroon announced on January 15 separate offers to provide equipment and training to Cameroonian soldiers.
Nikolay Ratsiborinski, the Russian Ambassador to Cameroon, pledged that Russia would provide Cameroonian Armed Forces with "the most modern and state-of-the-art Russian equipment" and offered to train Cameroonian army officers in Russia, according to CRTV. Michael Stephen Hoza, the US Ambassador to Cameroon, also pledged that the US would provide equipment and training to Cameroonian soldiers.

Boko Haram, which has substantially increased its battlefield atrocities in recent months, might finally be facing a robust regional military threat, one that will presumably soon be supported by the international community. [See Long War Journal report, Boko Haram continues to slaughter Nigerians.]


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Jihadists strike two towns in Mali, killing at least 4

January 17, 2015 10:00 AM
By Caleb Weiss

Map of al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and Niger since 2014. Map made by Caleb Weiss for The Long War Journal.

Jihadists in Mali have attacked two towns in the last 24 hours, leaving at least four dead in the restive African country. Suspected al Qaeda militants struck the United Nation's base in Kidal in the north with a complex assault. Two suicide car combs and a rocket barrage left at least one Chadian peacekeeper dead.

The second attack occurred yesterday in the central Malian town of Teninkou and left two Malian soldiers and one civilian dead, according to Reuters. The assault began when around 20 gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on Malian soldiers manning a checkpoint near the entrance of the city. The firefight lasted for about three hours before the jihadists withdrew. While most reports state that three people were killed, other sources have claimed that casualties were much higher.

No group has yet to take responsibility for the attack but al Qaeda-linked forces are suspected to be the perpetrators. On Jan. 8, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's official branch in North Africa, assaulted a military base in Teninkou. No one was injured in the attack, but it was said to have been a probing operation to test the response of the Malian military. That incident followed two other attacks in central Mali that occurred less than a week apart.

On Jan. 7, AQIM attacked the nearby town of Djoura before quickly retreating, leaving one civilian dead. And on Jan. 5, AQIM assaulted a Malian military base in the town of Nampala close to the Mauritanian border, killing seven troops. Jihadists in Mali and neighboring states have increased their operations despite an ongoing French-led counterterrorism mission. The al Qaeda groups in Mali appear to have regrouped and re-equipped in recent months.

According to Malijet, AQIM is pursuing a new strategy for central Mali. The strategy includes using the Wagadou Forest as a base of operations to conduct offensives on nearby towns. The jihadist group used the forest in this manner before being forced out by Malian and Mauritanian forces in 2011.

Other jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda have also conducted attacks recently in northern Mali. Al Murabitoon, which was formed from the merger between the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Mokhtar Belmokhtar's al Mulathameen Brigade, has conducted several recent assaults near Gao and Ansongo. Ansar Dine, the local wing of AQIM, is thought to have been behind the Jan. 10 attack near Kidal that left seven Senegalese peacekeepers wounded.


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Belgian authorities launch counterterrorism raids, killing 2

January 15, 2015 6:20 PM
By Thomas Joscelyn

Two suspected terrorists have been killed by Belgian authorities, who launched a series of counterterrorism earlier today. Belgian officials have been tracking multiple people who had returned from Syria for at least a few weeks, and some of them were suspected of planning "terrorist attacks on a grand scale," according to Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman for Belgian prosecutors.

"The searches were carried out as part of an investigation into an operational cell some of whose members had returned from Syria," Van Der Sypt told the press, according to Reuters. He added that officials do not think the people targeted in the raids are connected to last week's attack on Charlie Hebdo's office, or the separate assaults on a French policewoman and a kosher market. "For the time being, there is no connection with the attacks in Paris."

Van Der Sypt went on to describe the shootout that led to two suspects being killed. "The suspects immediately and for several minutes opened fire with military weaponry and handguns on the special units of the federal police before they were neutralized," Van Der Sypt said.

Citing a "senior Belgian counterterrorism official," CNN reports that "the alleged terror cell is believed to have received instructions from ISIS," or the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that controls large portions of Iraq and Syria. The suspects' foreign ties are not confirmed.


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Afghan Taliban describe attack on Charlie Hebdo office as 'justice'

January 15, 2015 10:56 AM
By Bill Roggio

Today, the Afghan Taliban released a statement praising as "justice" the attack by two jihadists on the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 12 people including the magazine's editor, and condemning the magazine's new edition which again depicted the Prophet Mohammed.

The statement, which is reproduced in full below, was published at Voice of Jihad, the group's official website. Here is the relevant statement [emphasis mine]:

An attack was carried out last week, bringing the perpetrators of the obscene act to justice however blasphemous notions against the great Prophet of Islam - peace and blessing be upon him - were again published from the same address today, once again opening the door to provoking the sensitivities of nearly one and a half billion Muslims.

The Taliban's praise of the Paris attack, which was claimed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, should come as no surprise. But it is interesting given that in the past the Taliban have attempted to brand their jihad to regain power in Afghanistan as a legitimate struggle against "occupation," and the Taliban have claimed to seek "cordial relations" with the international community. For instance, the Taliban said the following in 2013 when the group established its "political office" in Dubai:

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to have cordial relations on basis of mutual respect with all the countries of the world including its neighbors and desires security for its nation as well as security and justice on international level.

And the Taliban claimed the political office was partially established "[t]o talk and improve relations with the international community through mutual understanding."

The reality is that the Taliban have made such statements merely to placate the international community. But the Taliban's true colors show when the group praised the Charlie Hebdo attacks, or lauded Osama bin Laden as a "great Mujahid" who was responsible for "rearing, training, enlightening and equipping Mujahideen," or nearly every day when it uses suicide bombers, often against its own people.


Statement of Islamic Emirate concerning the blasphemous action against the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) in France

A few years ago several immoral individuals in France published cartoons of the beloved Prophet of Islam - peace and blessings be upon him - and termed it as freedom of speech, aggravating the sensitivities of the Muslims worldwide while also lifting the veil from the western heretical culture.

An attack was carried out last week, bringing the perpetrators of the obscene act to justice however blasphemous notions against the great Prophet of Islam - peace and blessing be upon him - were again published from the same address today, once again opening the door to provoking the sensitivities of nearly one and a half billion Muslims.

We strongly condemn this repugnant and inhumane action and consider its perpetrators, those who allowed it and its supporters the enemies of humanity.

Profanity against religions and religious sanctities is an unforgivable crime which is loathed and hated by the entire humanity.

We sincerity believe that such immoral actions can never harm the great honorable character of the Prophet of Islam - peace and blessings be upon him - and his status as the savior of mankind rather it only exposes the true faces of the enemies of humanity.

We call on the world especially heads of all concerned states to prevent such abhorrent actions from further harming world peace, the beliefs and sacrosanctity of over a billion people is desecrated and the world is pushed further into the fire of hatred and war.

The entire Islamic and non-Islamic world, as human beings, have a responsibility to condemn and prevent every action which transgresses against religions and its sanctities, offends people and pushes nations into taking retaliatory actions.

In regards to the leaders, elite and common folk of the Islamic world we must say that such events are very extreme tests for our faith and beliefs. If the Muslims keep silent in face of such incidents due to some impediments or take a neutral stance between Kufr (disbelief) and Islam or side with Kufr instead of Islam and search for excuses for this disgusting action of the Kuffar (unbelievers) then they should fear for their Emaan (faith).

The prophet of Allah (SWT) - peace and blessings be upon him - is not only the leader of the Muslims rather he is a guide for the whole humanity, a founder of human edification, a partition line between ignorance and enlightenment and a architect of ethical, intellectual and civil progress. The smallest of blasphemy against him is not only treachery against his noble essence rather it is looking down upon humanity and civilizations therefore all who believe in humanity must renounce and stand against such repugnant lowlife deeds.


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