Columbia/Revolutionary Forces of Columbia (FARC) – Colombia’s FARC rebel group said on the 14 Jun 17 it has handed over 60 percent of its weapons to the United Nations as part of a deal to end the half-century war with government forces. The rest of the group’s weapons are due to be surrendered on the 20 Jun 17.
United States/Ukraine – An explosion has rocked the US embassy compound in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, with no immediate reports of casualties or damage. Police said on the 8 Jun 17 the blast occurred in Shevchenkovsky district in central Kiev early after an attacker threw the device over the embassy's fence. “Investigators found that an unknown person threw an unidentified explosive device on the territory of the diplomatic mission,” security sources said, adding that the investigators were working on the scene. Oksana Blischik, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian police, said that “the explosion on the territory of the US embassy in Kiev is treated as an act of terrorism.” The US embassy could not be reached for comment but a diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “The embassy will continue to function normally.” The development comes amid a deadly conflict gripping Ukraine’s east since 2014.
United States/Da’esh/Homeland Security Report (8 Jun 17) – Scholars of terrorism found that only one in seven terror attacks is actually claimed by the terrorist group responsible. They argue that groups like IS are composed of two kinds of agents. One is rational leaders with strategic, political objectives. The other is operational foot soldiers, some of whom are not rational. IS’ leaders claim responsibility only when they calculate a political benefit; they refuse to claim responsibility when an attack might hurt the group’s objectives. If this theory is correct, IS claimed responsibility for both the recent Manchester bombing and the London Bridge assaults because its leaders calculated that it would result in a net benefit – like cash from its sympathizers or overreaction from its targets. News outlets have reported that the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack on a London Bridge 3 Jun 17. But how do they know? And how reliable are such claims? The Conversation asked Monica Duffy Toft, an international security expert and director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Tufts Fletcher School to explain.
How does media know when IS is behind an attack?
IS generally claims responsibility in one of two ways. First, IS has its own Amaq News Agency. Amaq acts like an official state news agency, similar to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. It pushes out breaking news reports, both text and video, through an encrypted mobile Android app. You must be invited or know someone in the network to be able to download it. Its reports are then tweeted by people interested in IS like supporters, the media and analysts. The second route is less common: IS issues a statement directly via its official channel, the Nashir Media Foundation. While Amaq also publishes statements and stories by Islamists and jihadists other than IS, Nashir is considered the direct voice of IS leadership. IS’ use of limited and strictly controlled outlets for claims of responsibility for its operations allows it to stop rivals from faking claims of responsibility on IS’ behalf.
What does a claim of responsibility mean?
IS claims responsibility both for attacks it deliberately planned and executed, and also those inspired by its propaganda. According to the Long War Journal’s Thomas Jocelyn, IS calls formal members of the group “soldiers of the caliphate.” They also use that term for lone wolves such as the San Bernardino, California and Orlando, Florida attackers. When IS is directly responsible for a planned attack, a claim of responsibility tends to mention specifics about the attacker and to be released in about twenty-four hours, according to Jocelyn. If the claim takes longer to appear and offers no details about the attacker, the attack was likely not known to IS in advance. Rita Katz of SITE Intelligence Group says her group has yet to catch IS claiming responsibility for attacks they had no part in, although they frequently exaggerate the number of casualties.
Why does IS bother to claim responsibility?
According to recent research by terrorism experts Justin Conrad and Max Abrahms, only one in seven terror attacks is actually claimed by the terrorist group responsible. Given that the act of violence itself is meant as a performance – a way to remind the apathetic or ignorant of a group’s grievances and the costs of ignoring them – that number is surprisingly high. Conrad and Abrahms argue that groups like IS are composed of two kinds of agents. One is rational leaders with strategic, political objectives. The other is operational foot soldiers, some of whom are not rational. IS’ leaders claim responsibility only when they calculate a political benefit; they refuse to claim responsibility when an attack might hurt the group’s objectives. Conrad and Abrahms analyzed hundreds of cases and conclude that this method is true not just for IS, but for other terrorist groups too. If this theory is correct, IS claimed responsibility for both the recent Manchester bombing and the London Bridge assaults because its leaders calculated that it would result in a net benefit – like cash from its sympathizers or overreaction from its targets. Such thinking might explain why no one, including the Taliban, has yet to claim last week’s attack in Kabul, which is believed to have claimed at least 150 lives and wounded another 300 people. We can speculate that something about the victims caused the perpetrators to calculate that it would be too politically costly for them to claim responsibility. When would IS choose not to claim credit? When an attack results in heavy non-combatant casualties. For example, when Osama Bin Laden – whose group al-Qaida is considered by some to be less radical than IS – was interviewed by Pakistani journalist Taysir Alluni, he was challenged on the legitimacy of killing faithful Muslims who were in New York’s World Trade Centre when it was destroyed on 9/11. He responded that these could not have been non-combatants because “Islamic law says that Muslims should not stay long in the land of infidels.” This exchange shows that the meaning of “non-combatant” is not universal. Even nominal IS supporters may disagree with the group about who is a legitimate “combatant.”
Aren’t we giving IS too much credit? Do they really think strategically?
One of the most important insights to emerge in social science research on ethnic, religious and terrorist violence since the early 1990s, including my own, has been the recognition that groups representing hyper-violent operators do tend to act rationally and strategically. That means their actions and interests can be judged, patterned and predicted.
Monica Duffy Toft is Professor of International Politics, Tufts University. This article is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution / No derivative).
United States/Africa/Homeland Security Report (9 Jun 17) – At Baledogle, an old Soviet airport seventy miles northwest of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, about thirty to forty U.S. operatives are managing an undercover drone operation. Somali commandos are also being trained at the base. Early last month, it was used for launching a joint strike against al-Shabaab, the Somali terror group. The joint strike was carried out by Somalia’s Danab commando team and a team of Navy SEALS, who were officially in an “advise and assist” role. The strike’s target was an al-Shabaab’s radio station, Andalus Radio, which broadcasts Islamist propaganda. Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed in the incident, becoming the first U.S. service member to die in Somalia since the deaths of nineteen U.S. Rangers and Delta Force special operators in 1993. Two other American soldiers were wounded. The Trump administration regards the 4 May 17 operation as an example of a renewed U.S. focus on the region aiming to create a more stable situation in which radical Islamist terrorism will it more difficult to operate. Severe drought, which has been ravaging East Africa for years, is making securing Somalia more complicated, but the U.S. military believes it has strategic advantage in the region. Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said the famine is the biggest challenge for the new Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his national government. “They have to do well in this,” he said. “‘cause if they can’t provide for this famine then Somalia, which has been without a national government for over 20 years, [the Somali people are] going to question the purpose” of that new government. Critics of U.S. strategy in Somalia, and in Africa more generally, express their concern that, in its campaign against radical Islamist groups like al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the United States has relied too heavily on inexperienced or corruptible military partners. “You can watch in Mali and Somalia, the local militaries have swept through populated areas and cleared them,” says Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute, arguing that the United States has not paid enough attention to the methods used by the indigenous governments fighting terror. “For example, the methods that the Nigerian government used to fight Boko Haram stoked the insurgency,” she said. “We’ve convinced ourselves that working by and through a partner is going to solve the problem,” she told Fox News. “But in many cases, it’s making the problem we’re trying to solve worse.” The administration’s senior members have been grappling with the issue of Somalia. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon were in London on 11 May 17 for a conference on how militarily and diplomatically resolve the Somali problem. The plan they worked out, according to Mattis, “includes on the security side both a continued maturation of their security forces in the defences against al-Shabaab, but it also includes a reconciliation program designed to pull the fence-sitters and the middle-of-the-roaders away from al-Shabaab.” “Our intent is to train and assist the African armies as much as possible, let them have the lead in fighting radical Islamist terrorists,” retired four-star Army Gen. Jack Keane said. He noted that President Trump, unlike former President Barack Obama, has given more authority to U.S. operational commanders to determine when to use force. Trump signed an order late March, valid until late September, allowing the U.S. military to conduct precision air strikes in a designated southern part of the country in support of partner forces. According to Fox News investigation, however, the new military authority is rarely used, if at all, since the 4 May 17 raid. According to experts, the new objective appears to be on gathering intel on al-Shabaab and other groups before conducting new strikes. There are at least three drone bases in Africa – Djibouti, Cameroon, and Niger; and a rumoured one in Tunisia, to help achieve this. Comparing Trump and Obama administrations, Dan Gettinger of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, told Fox News that recent events show that pace of operations has increased and there are “more permissive rules of engagement for drone operations in Yemen and Somalia. Operations in West Africa do not appear to be affected by the change in administrations as yet.” Mattis said the United States is “accelerating the tempo” in the war on terror. It is too early to assess Trump’s Africa strategy, but the contours of the administration’s approach are beginning to emerge.
Da’esh/Chemical Weapons/United States – The US government has designated two Islamic State figures involved in the group’s chemical weapons program it was reported on the 12 Jun 17. Both of the men have helped produce chemical-laced explosives, likely using sulphur mustard, in Iraq. The first of the two, Attallah Salman ‘Abd Kafi al-Jaburi, is a 44-year-old Iraqi who was designated by the Treasury Department. He is described as the “chemical weapons and explosives manager” in Iraq’s Kirkuk Province as of mid-2016. Treasury explains that al-Jaburi first joined al Qaeda in 2003 and “he received his knowledge and expertise in developing and fabricating IEDs” beginning around that time. Although the designation page doesn’t specify which part of al Qaeda he joined, it is likely that al-Jaburi first became a member of the predecessor to al Qaeda in Iraq and stayed with the organization as it evolved into Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate. At some point, he supplemented his early training with expertise in chemical weapons, which he acquired while stationed in Syria. Al-Jaburi returned to Iraq in 2015 and quickly got to work, according to Treasury. While posted in Kirkuk in Jan 16, al-Jaburi worked “on a chemical weapons project that would be used against Peshmerga” fighters. The Kurdish Peshmerga have been engaged in heavy fighting against the jihadists in northern Iraq for years. Treasury says Al-Jaburi was also part of an Islamic State “group that ran a factory” for “manufacturing IEDs, mines, and up-armoured VBIEDs” in Hawijah, Iraq. By late 2016, he was a “senior leader in charge of an ISIS IED and explosives factory, in addition to a technical workshop located in a hospital in the Hawijah District of Kirkuk Province.” The jihadists developed rockets at the facility, in addition to other munitions. Separately, the State Department designated Marwan Ibrahim Hussayn Tah al-Azawi, describing him as “an Iraqi ISIS leader connected to ISIS’s development of chemical weapons for use in ongoing combat against Iraqi Security Forces.” Foggy Bottom notes that “ISIS has repeatedly used sulphur mustard in chemical weapons attacks in Syria as well as in Iraq.” Indeed, there have been multiple reports indicating that the Islamic State has used a “mustard agent” in its operations. Colonel John Dorrian, who was the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, was asked about such attacks during a press briefing in April. “As far as the types of materials that the enemy used they have low grade capabilities…representative of chlorine and mustard agent,” Dorrian explained. “Sometimes I see that reported as mustard gas, that’s not correct. It’s mustard agent.” Dorrian explained that the agent is “dispersed into a very small area whenever these munitions go off” and they “are not especially effective about anything except creating a public narrative.” While they are “not as effective even as explosive rounds…they do get some attention.” Nevertheless, the US military has also repeatedly highlighted the Islamic State’s use of low-grade chemical weapons. In Jul 16, for instance, the Defence Department announced the killing of Basim Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al-Bajari, who served as the Islamic State’s “deputy minister of war.” Al-Bajari originally joined al Qaeda (again, perhaps meaning al Qaeda in Iraq) and then rose through the ranks of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise. He “oversaw” the “Jun 14 offensive to capture Mosul” and also led the Islamic State’s “Jaysh al-Dabiq battalion,” which was “known for using vehicle-borne IEDs, suicide bombers and mustard gas in its attacks.” In December, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti, an Islamic State leader, was “killed by a coalition airstrike near Tabqa Dam, Syria.” Abu Jandal had been a member of the group’s war committee and also helped retake Palmyra, Syria from Bashar al Assad’s forces. He was then redeployed to Tabqa, which fell to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) earlier this year. “Abu Jandal was involved in the use of suicide vehicles, IEDs and chemical weapons against the SDF,” CENTCOM stated.
For more on the US military targeting the Islamic State’s chemical weapons program, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: US military hits another Islamic State chemical weapons facility in Iraq.
United States/Iran/Qatar/Afghanistan/How Iran, Qatar and Taliban links threaten the US mission in Afghanistan (12 Jun 17) – During the recent weeks, many reports have emerged that accuse Iran of boosting its engagement with the Taliban in the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan. Historically, the Taliban had vowed and worked on cleansing northern Afghanistan from the Shiite tribe of Hazaras. To reinforce the main principles that shape Taliban’s ideology against Shi’iters, Taliban militants killed nine Iranian diplomats during the late 1990’s which prompted Tehran to post tens of thousands of its soldiers along its border with Afghanistan. These developments resulted in giving Tehran a big presence as a main player in this region, which saw the recent dropping of the “mother-of-all-bombs” by the United States under President Donald Trump. Northern and eastern Afghanistan has also recently seen the rise of ISIS, an enemy arrayed against many players, including US, Iran and the Taliban as well. An example of this clearly came to light early last month when many fighters were killed in clashes between ISIS and Taliban in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Unlike the Taliban, ISIS’ ideology is transnational and can be used to stir up Iran’s restive Sunni populations, the Middle East Institute observed in one of its recent reports titled “Iran’s Taliban Gamble in Afghanistan” by Joshua Levkowitz. Levkowitz, as well as many analysts, said that 2014 represents the critical juncture in Iran’s policy shift with regard to the Taliban.
This year, when most of the international coalition troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan, Iran moved to formalize its relationship with the Taliban by allowing it open a foreign office in Mashhad, giving an impetus to the banned organization’s international presence, the report said. It also added that ISIS gained strength in Nangarhar province after several regional groups, including Al Tawhid Brigade and Ansar Al-Khilafat Wal-Jihad, pledged formal allegiance to ISIS. These events too have served to push Iran and the Taliban closer together. Last December, Voice of America (VOA) reported that the Afghan parliament opened an investigation over military ties between Taliban insurgents and Iran and Russia. Iran stands accused by Afghan officials of harbouring Taliban fighters from Afghanistan in cross-border areas.
Taliban Families in Iran
“Families of a number of high ranking Taliban leaders reside in Iran,” Asif Nang, the governor of western Farah province, recently told Radio Liberty. “They live in cities such as Yazd, Kerman, and Mashhad, and come back to Afghanistan for subversive activities.” The governor said bodies of Taliban fighters who were killed in recent clashes in the provincial capital have been transported to their families in Iran. Nang told Afghan media that over 5,000 Taliban militants are present in the province. Locals say they often see Taliban crossing borders into Iran. “More new faces are seen these days coming from Afghanistan,” Jamaluddin, an Afghan refugee in Taybad city which lies close to the border with Afghanistan, told VOA. “They are barely seen in public places as they try to keep themselves away from other Afghans. Some Afghans say they are Taliban members.” Afghan lawmakers say Tehran is also supplying sophisticated weapons to the Taliban. “Iran not only has hosted Taliban families, it has supplied the group with weapons that could target and damage tanks and planes,” lawmaker Jumadin Gayanwal from south-eastern Paktika province said. The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2015 that Iran sent cash and weapons to the Taliban. In May 16, Al Arabiya reported that Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike as he returned to Afghanistan from Iran where he has been staying. In early February, a top US commander in Afghanistan said that Russia and Iran were supporting the Taliban in part to undermine US and NATO missions to bring stability to Afghanistan. Army Gen. John Nicholson told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran is providing the Taliban in western Afghanistan with military and logistical support. Thus in the short term, the Taliban is furthering Iranian interests via its insurgency against the US-backed government and by providing support, Iran is preventing the United States from bringing stability to Afghanistan.
Ties with Qatar
According to many news outlets, Taliban members from their political bureau in Qatar, led by Mohammad Tayyab Agha, travelled to Iran in the spring of 2015 to discuss Afghan and regional affairs. The Taliban maintains a political office in Doha, for meetings with Afghan and foreign interlocutors after the controversial facility was formally opened in 2013. Taliban had three capitals as options, but according to reports, Mullah Omar himself preferred Qatar as the venue as he was claiming it was neutral. Some experts now link the revamped ties between Qatar and Iran, amid the GCC crisis, with the struggle in Afghanistan where US troops are now facing other enemies, and not only ISIS and Taliban.
United States/Palestine – The leadership of the Palestinian Authority has agreed to halt payments to the families of slain attackers, including suicide bombers, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on the 13 Jun 17. Compensation payments to the families of "martyrs" who die carrying out attacks on Israelis are one of the sticking points in the moribund Middle East peace process. "They have changed their policy, at least I have been informed they've changed that policy," Tillerson told US lawmakers. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed scepticism on the 14 Jun 17. "I did not see any evidence the Palestinian Authority has stopped payments for jailed terrorists and their families," Lieberman told Israeli public radio. US President Donald Trump has vowed to seek to revive peace talks, and has urged Israel to limit settlement building on Palestinian land, but many differences remain. Under questioning at a Senate hearing, Tillerson said Washington had pressed Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on the issue of payments to the families of suicide bombers and attackers killed. "It was discussed directly when president Abbas made his visit with his delegation to Washington," Tillerson said, adding that Trump had raised the issue at the White House. Just after that 3 May 17 meeting, Tillerson had a "more detailed" meeting with Abbas. "And I told him you absolutely must stop making payments to family members of quote, 'martyrs'," he said. "I said it's one thing to help orphans and children, but when you designate the payment for that act, that has to stop. "Their intent is to cease the payments to the family members of those who have committed murder or violence against others. "So, we've been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us. It is certainly not acceptable to the American people." If the change in policy is confirmed, it could be politically awkward for Abbas, who has committed himself publicly to the peace process but is wary of being seen to make concessions.
United States/Iran – An Iranian navy vessel conducted an “unsafe and unprofessional” interaction with US ships by pointing a laser at an accompanying Marine Corps helicopter, the US Navy said on the 14 Jun 17. The incident occurred on the 13 Jun 17 as amphibious assault ship the USS Bataan, the USS Cole destroyer and another American ship were sailing in formation in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz. “The Iranian vessel paralleled the US formation, shining a spotlight on Cole,” Commander Bill Urban, a spokesman for the navy’s Fifth Fleet, said in a statement. “Shortly thereafter, the Iranian vessel trained a laser on a CH-53E helicopter that accompanied the formation.” The Iranian vessel then shined a spotlight on the Bataan, scanning the ship from bow to stern before heading away. “During the interaction, the Iranian vessel came within 800 yards (meters) of Bataan,” Urban said. Naval Forces Central Command said the interaction was unsafe and unprofessional because of the laser. “Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles,” Urban said. The Pentagon periodically voices concern over incidents in waters off Iran, accusing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and naval ships of conducting risky manoeuvres around US vessels. Iran has counter claimed that US ships act provocatively.
United States – The US State Department is hesitant to label Tahrir al-Sham a terror group, despite the group’s link to al-Qaeda, as the US government has directly funded and armed the Zenki Brigade, one of the constituents of Tahrir al-Sham, with sophisticated weaponry including the US-made antitank TOW missiles it was reported on the 14 Jun 17. The overall military commander of Tahrir al-Sham continues to be Abu Mohammad al-Julani, whom the US has branded a Specially Designated Global Terrorist with a $10 million bounty. But for the US to designate Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organization now would mean acknowledging that it supplied sophisticated weapons to terrorists, and draw attention to the fact that the US continues to arm Islamic jihadists in Syria. In order to understand the bloody history of al-Nusra Front during the Syrian civil war, bear in mind that since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to April 2013, the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al-Nusra.” Although al-Nusra Front has been led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani but he was appointed as the emir of al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in Jan 12. Thus, al-Julani’s al-Nusra Front is only a splinter group of the Islamic State, which split from its parent organization in Apr 13 over a leadership dispute between the two organizations. In Mar 11, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarization of the conflict. In Aug 11, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was based in Iraq, began sending Syrian and Iraqi jihadists experienced in guerrilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country. Led by a Syrian known as Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 Jan 12, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra. In Apr 13, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were merging under the name “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The leader of al-Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra’s leadership had been consulted about it. Al-Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between al-Baghdadi and al-Julani but eventually, in Oct 13, he endorsed al-Nusra Front as the official franchise of al-Qaeda Central in Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, however, defied the nominal authority of al-Qaeda Central and declared himself as the caliph of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Keeping this background in mind, it becomes amply clear that a single militant organization operated in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of al-Baghdadi until Apr 13, which chose the banner of al-Nusra Front, and that the current emir of the subsequent breakaway faction of al-Nusra Front, al-Julani, was actually al-Baghdadi’s deputy in Syria. Thus, the Islamic State operated in Syria since Aug 11 under the designation of al-Nusra Front and it subsequently changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Apr 13, after which, it overran Raqqa in the summer of 2013, then it seized parts of Deir al-Zor and fought battles against the alliance of Kurds and the Syrian regime in al-Hasakah. And in Jan 14 it overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Iraq and reached the zenith of its power when it captured Mosul in Jun 14. Regarding the rebranding of al-Julani’s Nusra Front to “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” in Jul 16 and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central, it was only a nominal difference because al-Nusra Front never had any organizational and operational ties with al-Qaeda Central and even their ideologies are poles apart. Al-Qaeda Central is basically a transnational terrorist organization, while al-Nusra Front mainly has regional ambitions that are limited only to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and its ideology is anti-Shi’a and sectarian. In fact, al-Nusra Front has not only received medical aid and material support from Israel, but some of its operations against the Shi’a-dominated Assad regime in southern Syria were fully coordinated with Israel’s air force. The purpose behind the rebranding of al-Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central was to legitimize itself and to make it easier for its patrons to send money and arms. The US blacklisted al-Nusra Front in Dec 12 and pressurized Saudi Arabia and Turkey to ban it too. Although al-Nusra Front’s name has been in the list of proscribed organizations of Saudi Arabia and Turkey since 2014, but it has kept receiving money and arms from the Gulf Arab States. It should be remembered that in a May 2015 interview with al-Jazeera, Abu Mohammad al-Julani took a public pledge on the behest of his Gulf-based patrons that his organization only has local ambitions limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and that it does not intend to strike targets in the Western countries. Thus, this rebranding exercise has been going on for quite some time. Al-Julani announced the split from al-Qaeda in a video statement last year. But the persistent efforts of al-Julani’s Gulf-based patrons have only borne fruit in Jan 17, when al-Nusra Front once again rebranded itself from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which also includes “moderate” jihadists from Zenki Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham and several other militant groups, and thus, the US State Department has finally given a clean chit to the jihadist conglomerate that goes by the name of Tahrir al-Sham to pursue its ambitions of toppling the Assad regime in Syria.
United States/Indonesia/Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) – The US State Department officially designated the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) jihadist group as a foreign terrorist organization on the 14 Jun 17. The group was formed in 2000 and has ties to al Qaeda. State’s designation noted that MMI “has conducted attacks in Indonesia, including claiming responsibility for a May 2012 attack at the book launch of Canadian author Irshad Manji; the attack left three attendees hospitalized.” In addition, State explained that MMI was formed by Abu Bakar Bashir, a co-founder of Jemaah Islamiyya (JI), al Qaeda’s regional affiliate. Bashir left the group in 2008 and helped form another splinter group, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT). Shortly after Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s announcement of the caliphate in 2014, Bashir pledged allegiance to Baghdadi on behalf of himself and JAT. However, Bashir’s two sons and several other leaders left and formed their own group, Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to the Jakarta Post, more than 50 percent of Bashir’s followers abandoned him and joined Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. It is directly part of al Qaeda’s global network now, according to its leader. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Islamic State launches suicide assault in Indonesia’s capital.] Mochammad Achwan, the emir of Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah, has also said that his group receives its orders from “our respected clerics in JN [Jabhat al Nusrah, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria], and we have supported the group in many ways.” State’s designation notes that MMI also supports Al Nusrah, now part of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS). Indonesians are known to hold ranks in both HTS and Baghdadi’s Islamic State.