CTC: JIHADI BIOS PROJECT

Introduction

In the tradition of post-9/11 senior Arab militant figures operating in Khurasan (the Afghanistan-Pakistan region), there is little doubt as to the standing of Libyan jihadi commander Abu al-Layth al-Libi. If Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri came to be the most prominent Arab-Afghan leaders in the wake of the so-called “War on Terror,” these two were largely absent from the field command in Afghanistan and Pakistan, instead confining their role to strategic guidance by defining the parameters of the global jihad. When it came to leading combat on the front lines, it was al-Libi, a longtime leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who rapidly established himself as the champion of the Arab-Afghan milieu after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Just like the Saudi jihadi commander Khattab (Samir al-Suwaylim) in Chechnya, al-Libi became the public face of the Arab field command in Afghanistan, personally training and directing his fighters on the battlefield. Coupled with his pioneering role in publicizing the activities of the insurgency, his strong dedication and involvement in the day-to-day armed jihad in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region earned him popularity and respect in jihadi circles. Thus, his name still largely dominates the jihadi literature covering key Arab commanders who fought and died in Khurasan. Al-Libi’s stardom is even more remarkable given that he did not submit to the authority of al-Qa`ida, the dominant organization in the Arab-Afghan landscape, until the last year of his life. Before that, he commanded his own fighting force and functioned as an essential magnet for jihadi volunteers; indeed, as many Arab volunteers arriving in Khurasan discovered, all roads lead to al-Libi.

This paper draws together the details of al-Libi’s rich career, from his early years in militancy in Afghanistan in the late 1980s to his leading duties in the post-9/11 insurgency against Coalition forces and their regional partners. It also situates the slain Libyan commander in the broader spectrum of Arab-Afghan and militant foreigners, outlining the nature of his relationships with a variety of jihadi groups and figures. This profile is mostly based on primary sources, including accounts of jihadis who personally interacted with al-Libi, as well as on materials that contextualize the different stages of his life.1

Notwithstanding the value of these sources, the limitations of this research must be acknowledged. The reader has to take into account that owing to the lack of detailed sources on al-Libi, part of his trajectory is at best murky and remains to be satisfactorily addressed. Also, it is important to remind the reader of the possible biases, approximations or inaccuracies conveyed by the sources. Whenever possible, the information contained in this paper have been cross-checked for corroboration.

From Libya to Afghanistan

Abu al-Layth al-Libi (also known as Abu al-Layth al-Qasimi and `Abd al-`Adhim al- Muhajir) was born as `Ali `Ammar al-Ruqay`i in approximately 1972 in Abu Salim, a southern district of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where he spent his childhood and

adolescence.2 At a relatively young age, he appears to have become increasingly devout and began to immerse himself in religious knowledge.3 Additional information about this period of his life is scarce, as primary sources reviewed for this research focus on al-Libi’s militant path.4

During the 1980s, the young al-Libi grew enthusiastic about waging jihad against the Soviets as a result of the appeal of the lectures of the Palestinian scholar `Abdullah `Azzam, who played a major part in the mobilization of a whole generation of would-be mujahidin.5 Around 1989 or 1990, al-Libi left his home country and headed to Khurasan, where he joined the exiled Arab jihadi community, at a time when the number of foreign volunteers in Peshawar was steadily increasing.6 In the Peshawar milieu, `Ali `Ammar al- Ruqay`i adopted his nom de guerre, Abu al-Layth al-Libi, which literally translates as “the Libyan Father of the Lion.”7 Military preparation (i`dad) being a mandatory step in the jihadi doctrine, al-Libi enrolled himself in the recently erected and highly popular al-Faruq camp, located in the Zhawara Valley of Khost Province in southeastern Afghanistan.8 Established by Usama bin Ladin and his Egyptian-dominated entourage, al-Faruq was one of the three main training facilities run by al-Qa`ida, the others being the al-Siddiq and Jihad Wal camps, based in the same area. Although the author was unable to come across sources detailing al-Libi’s sojourn at al-Faruq, it is easily imaginable to establish what kind of courses he went through based on the accounts of other alumni from al-Faruq who were also trained in the early 1990s. The two-month-long training at al-Faruq offered new recruits disciplined physical exercises to harden their endurance; theoretical and practical lessons on a variety of weapons (pistols, machine guns, antitank weaponry, antiaircraft missiles) and explosives, first aid, topography; and lectures by jihadi preachers.9

Given that al-Libi was originally groomed in the most notorious camp of al-Qa`ida, one may be tempted to assume that he began his jihadi career as an official member of the Bin Ladin–led organization. However, the fact that he graduated from al-Faruq does not necessarily mean that his loyalty was formally owed to al-Qa`ida. In contrast with nationally oriented Arab militant groups, al-Qa`ida distinguished itself as an inclusive organization that trained a wide array of volunteers in its camps.10 Many of these did not become sworn members of the organization and were merely trained before leaving  without any form of commitment. This explains why the number of al-Qa`ida’s trainees has always been much higher than the number of its core members. In the absence of any source pointing out a bay`a (oath) to the amir of al-Qa`ida, it is impossible to prove that al- Libi started his jihadi trajectory as a member of the organization.11 Apart from his time at al-Faruq, the robustness of al-Libi’s ties with al-Qa`ida are unclear.

In any case, once he completed his training, al-Libi began putting his recently learned warfare skills into practice by joining his fellow Arab mujahidin on the front lines. He got his first taste of armed jihad during the siege of the city of Khost in southeastern Afghanistan, most likely in 1990.12 During this period, major engagements for the conquest of the city occurred under the leadership of the legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Battle of Khost holds a particularly prestigious status in the Arab-Afghan literature, as significant number of Arab fighters participated, with some of the most senior ones leading the fight, like the Jordanian Abu al-Harith al-Urduni and the Egyptian Abu al-Walid al-Misri, under the overall command of Haqqani.13 As al-Misri once put it, “The Arabs were the stars of that conquest.”14 Given his junior status, al-Libi is likely to have fought as a regular fighter under the command of his Arab elders. He participated in the efforts to rout out the forces of the government of Muhammad Najibullah until the end of combat, which resulted in the victory of the mujahidin on 31 March 1991 and marked a major step toward the end of the Afghan communist’s rule. The additional fronts in which al-Libi was engaged remain unknown to the author.

Rallying the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group

The early 1990s marked a shift in Abu al-Layth al-Libi’s rationale with his enrolment in the LIFG.15 Although he had arrived in Afghanistan to fight a classical jihad against an external aggressor, his joining the LIFG indicates that al-Libi’s activism would then incline toward that of socio-revolutionaries who, as Thomas Hegghammer contends, “fight for a state power against a Muslim regime perceived as illegitimate.”16 Indeed, the LIFG was a Salafi jihadi organization that managed to tie together disparate militant factions under a common umbrella and that coalesced in Pakistan with the aim of overthrowing Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi’s rule through armed action.17 As noted by an eulogy provided by al-Qa`ida, once al-Libi joined this newly founded group, he was rapidly chosen to be integrated in its legal committee (al-lajna al-shar`iyya).18 This promotion can be explained by the fact that, besides having been battle-hardened on the Afghan front lines, al-Libi was also keen to acquire religious knowledge (`ilm). He came to study under scholars teaching in the region and apparently “showed brilliance in this regard through his perfect memorization, clever understanding, persistence, and patience,” making him a valuable asset for the position.19 Headed by Abu al-Mundhir al-Sa`idi, the legal committee was designed for devising the lawful framework for disciplining the LIFG’s ranks. To do so, the organ set up departments dedicated to study and research, the publication of legal opinions (fatawa) and guidance and counseling.20 After this assignment, al-Libi retook his military preparation, this time under the shade of the LIFG at its Salman al-Farisi camp, located in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.21

In the face of the Afghan civil war in 1992, Abu al-Layth al-Libi and the senior leadership of the LIFG refused to be drawn into the internecine conflict and thus decided to relocate to Sudan in 1993. From there, al-Libi participated in the efforts of the LIFG to “[create] the right condition . . . to kindle the firebrand of jihad and to fight the regime of apostasy in Libya,” according to his friend Abu Yahya al-Libi.22 At that time, the group focused on quietly building cells across Libya, collecting weapons and recruiting new members to pave the way for the confrontation with the regime.23 Abu al-Layth al-Libi was deputized by his superiors to be sent to his home country, along with a group of other LIFG representatives, in order to prepare the necessary arrangements for a full-scale war against al-Qadhafi. His new mission almost immediately failed, as he was arrested by a Libyan police patrol while crossing the border. Detained at a station in the arid area of Misa`id, al-

Libi managed to escape at night, allegedly owing to the inattention of his guards.24 Afterward, he joined the rest of the operatives of the LIFG in Libya, and together they laid the groundwork for launching jihad in their country. `Abdallah Sa`id al-Libi, a senior figure of the LIFG, states that this preparatory stage carried out by al-Libi involved a military (`askariyya), a missionary (da`wiyya) and even a social (ijtima`iyya) dimension, all aimed at crafting a “solid base” (qa`idat salba) inside Libya.25 For example, al-Libi was busy preaching the mandatory status of jihad and “[inciting] fighting al-Qadhafi’s regime, [exposing] its true nature, and [exposing] its crimes,” activism that created a backlash against his family.26

About a year after the beginning of his task, Abu al-Layth al-Libi was summoned back to Sudan by his leadership, who then entrusted him with a new mission. This time, al-Libi was to act as the representative of the LIFG in Saudi Arabia and would solicit support from Saudi scholars (`ulama’) to strengthen the Islamic legal credentials of the group.27 Once in the kingdom, al-Libi reached out to religious authorities and described to them the plight of Libyans under the rule of al-Qadhafi. Apparently al-Libi’s meeting with a number of prestigious scholars, including grand mufti `Abd al-`Aziz bin Baz, generated a successful outcome, as all of them are reported to have sanctioned the fight (qital) against the Libyan regime, which they deemed to be apostate (murtad). Furthermore, these clerics also provided al-Libi with guidance that he passed along to his command.28 This attempt by the LIFG to garner theological legitimacy can be seen in the light of the criticism generally aimed at militant groups that they lack the necessary authority to declare a lawful jihad. When confronted with these objections during an interview, Abu al-Mundhir al-Sa`idi claimed that the LIFG had capable students of knowledge and Shuyukh (shaykhs), and that the group maintained communications with scholars from several countries who proved to be supportive to their cause, while evoking security reasons for remaining laconic on the subject.29

In the course of their stay in the kingdom, al-Libi and other Libyan jihadis saw their mission hindered by the November 1995 Riyadh bombing. Lacking clear information on the identity of the culprits, Saudi authorities decided to conduct a massive crackdown on the Islamist community as a whole by launching mass arrests and conducting brutal interrogations.30 After this turning point, al-Libi was arrested at a safe house while he was trying to erase sensitive materials that could have incriminated a comrade who had been recently detained by the Saudi authorities after a car accident.31 Al-Libi was taken to al- Ruways prison, in Jeddah, where detainees were routinely tortured. In an interview with al-Fajr magazine, the official mouthpiece of the LIFG, al-Libi provided an extensive account of his two-year detention, which constituted another watershed moment in his career. As a Libyan, he explains that he was of particular interest to the police, as some Saudi detainees speculated that the Riyadh bombing might have been the work of foreigners. He recounts that he was tortured even before any question was asked.32 The main figure behind his torment appears to have been the director general of the prison, ’Amin Zaqzuq, who headed a “committee of investigators” in charge of gaining information from the detainees. His interrogators wanted to obtain confessions at any price, and al-Libi recounted that he was severely tortured through various methods, including physical beatings and the use of hallucinogenic drugs, for about a month and a half, and later in 1996, in the aftermath of the Khobar bombing.33 These techniques were so harsh that al-Libi temporarily suffered the loss of sense in some of his body parts for a while.34 He has described at length the various methods to which the prisoners were subjected, including sleep depravation, nudity and the use of electrodes, adding that “we were experiencing the worst kinds of torture during that period.”35

Throughout the years of imprisonment, al-Libi and two of his fellow inmates, the Libyans Bashir `Abd al-Karim and Abu Muhammad al-Zawi, repeatedly tried to escape from al- Ruways. Their first three attempts failed, and one ended up with `Abd al-Karim hurting his foot badly.36 According to al-Libi, the trio developed numerous ideas as to how to end their misfortune, but these would only work for one individual, while their goal was for all three to escape simultaneously. The place where they were detained with others consisted of a dormitory with eight rooms and six bathrooms. After repetitive failures, the three Libyans eventually discovered a spot in the bathrooms from which to escape.37 The trio planned a breakout during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan; this period corresponded with the official holiday in Saudi Arabia, during which the security inside the prison was relatively relaxed. On 23 January 1998, while most of those in the prison were sleeping, al-Libi, al-Zawi and `Abd al-Karim managed to escape by jumping from the six-meter-tall wall of al-Ruways.38 Their breakout led to a national manhunt, and the Saudi authorities distributed photographs of al-Libi and his friends to border guards. Hiding in Mecca, they eluded the authorities for almost one month before leaving the country. They crossed the border with Yemen thanks to the help of Abu Turab al-Najdi (Fayhan al- `Utaybi), a seasoned Saudi jihadi veteran who notably fought in Bosnia and Tajikistan and was also involved in fighting U.S. troops in Somalia.39 Al-Libi then headed to Turkey, where the LIFG had a presence, and handled “several tasks he was assigned, mainly watching the developments in Libya,” supervising the LIFG’s activities in the country at a time when the group had been largely defeated.40 After years in the legal committee of the LIFG, al-Libi was appointed to be part of its shura council (majlis al-shura), an organ composed of the most senior leaders of the group.41

Returning to Afghanistan

During the time of Abu al-Layth al-Libi’s sojourn in Turkey in 1998, Afghanistan had witnessed the return of scores of Arab and Central Asian jihadi groups and figures who had relocated their respective infrastructures to the country to resume their militant activities under the umbrella of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. Yet in spite of these favorable conditions, al-Libi and his group were extremely reluctant to join the Afghanistan-based muhajirun (émigrés) diaspora and thus, as Abu al-Walid al-Misri observes, the LIFG remained in Pakistan to “monitor” the situation in Afghanistan.42 According to the Syrian jihadi strategist Abu Mus`ab al-Suri, one of the key reasons that they hesitated was their suspicious and distrustful views of Mullah `Umar’s regime. It seems that they did not want to be bound to the authority of a power that they deemed to be lacking the proper Islamic legitimacy. Al-Suri goes on to explain that another concern of

the LIFG lay in their fear that, once settled in Afghanistan, the group would be swept into the Taliban’s conflict with the Northern Alliance, which could divert it from its original goals.43 Hence it was only in early 1999 that the LIFG decided to move to Afghanistan, not without still having doubts. Ultimately, it was the security conditions as well as their desire to enjoy the same type of benefits as the other groups under the protection of the Taliban that prompted them to change their minds.44

Regardless of their initial concerns, al-Libi and the LIFG appear to have grown closer to the Islamic emirate’s rulers, to the point that they had “a major role in supporting the Taliban in different areas, especially in the fields of the military and the media,” al-Suri observes.45 These more comfortable relations were attested to by al-Libi’s efforts to improve and cement “the ties between the leadership of the jihadist groups and the amirs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”46 His activism was notably meant to tone down the anti-Taliban sentiment within the Arab-Afghan milieu that stemmed from a displeasure with various aspects of the policies of their hosts. The most vocal of these opponents were the stringent militants in the Khaldan camp and its Institute of the Faith Brigades (Ma`had Kata`ib al-Iman), where the virulent Egyptian ideologue Abu `Abdallah al-Muhajir gave

lectures vilifying the regime and its foreign guests, especially Bin Ladin.47 In league with other renowned Arab figures such as Abu Mus`ab al-Suri and the Egyptian `Isa al-Misri, al-Libi played an active role in convincing many of the North African students of the Institute to reconsider their radical views and see the Taliban in a different light.48 Al-Libi was also a great admirer of Shaykh Ihsanullah Ihsan, a high-ranking Taliban official who actively participated in the growth of the Afghan militant movement, especially in the southeastern Afghan provinces. Dubbed “the first enemy of America and Saudi Arabia in the Taliban” by al-Suri, he enjoyed close ties with Arab-Afghans, including Bin Ladin, who appreciated his great eloquence and erudition, his political stances and his visionary talents.49 Al-Libi considered this revered figure as “a second Sayyid Qutb,” a prestigious title given the influence of Qutb on the Islamist movement, and he “would listen to the sermons and lectures he gave in both Farsi and Pashtu.”50

In Afghanistan, al-Libi’s activities appear to have largely centered on training and preparing new recruits for the LIFG. Together with other leaders of the group, he was instrumental in setting up Shaykh al-Shahid (martyr) Abu Yahya camp, named after Salih `Abd al-Sayyid (Abu Yahya al-Libi), a senior leader of the LIFG killed during clashes with the Libyan authorities in the 1990s.51 Located to the north of Kabul, this camp was the main LIFG training facility and, as other camps used to do, it required newcomers to fill out a form with their personal information such as their education level, their religious knowledge and their skills.52 Of course, the majority of al-Libi’s trainees consisted of fellow Libyans, but the camp also schooled North African volunteers. One of those recruits was the Algerian Abu Dhakir al-Jaza’iri, who went to Afghanistan shortly before the 9/11 attacks and subsequently served under al-Libi’s command in Khost during the post-9/11 period.53 Al-Libi’s students also included Moroccans such as al-Zubayr al-Maghribi and Abu Bakr al-Maghribi, who also later came to operate under al-Libi after the fall of the Taliban regime. 54 It is worth mentioning that the LIFG and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM), led by Abu `Abdallah al-Sharif, had reached an agreement in Turkey in 1997 in which the LIFG “agreed to host weapons training and jihad indoctrination at LIFG camps in Afghanistan for Moroccans” and that, as part of this cooperation, al-Libi is reported to have later provided the GICM with $3,000 for the purchase of a Toyota.55 It seems that al-Libi’s trainees came not only from North Africa but also from the Persian Gulf. For example, the Kuwaiti Salim bin Kruz al-`Ajmi was taken in by al-Libi during his training in the Libyan camp in the late 1990s before heading off to

Chechnya, where he was killed.56 In the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul, where the LIFG managed its guesthouse next to those of other organizations such as al-Qa`ida and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Jama`at al-Jihad, al-Libi emerged as the main figure of his group, to the point that Shadi `Abdallah, a Jordanian militant who operated with Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi’s group in the early 2000s, thought that al-Libi was the leader of the LIFG.57

Because the full story of their relation remains to be written, the available evidence on the linkage between the Libyan jihadi and al-Qa`ida during Mullah `Umar’s reign is unclear. On the one hand, a clear divide separated al-Libi’s group and Bin Ladin’s men. The Sudanese interlude left bitter memories among Libyan militants, who regarded Bin Ladin’s decision to acquiesce to the Sudanese government’s pressure to expel all Libyans from his organization as a betrayal and a shameful compromise.58 Moreover, al-Qa`ida’s senior leadership opposed the socio-revolutionary agenda of the LIFG and repeatedly attempted to dissuade their Libyan counterparts from embarking on a campaign of violence against al-Qadhafi’s regime.59 Despite sustained lobbying, Bin Ladin also failed to persuade the LIFG to rally around his World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders launched in early 1998.60 These divergences exemplify a broader dynamic within the Arab- Afghan milieu, in which factions competed with each other for recruits, financing and leadership. 61

On the other hand, as divisive was this environment, interpersonal relations and interjihadi cooperation did take place, especially in the field of training. For example, Fadil Harun, a slain Comoran figure in al-Qa`ida, related in his memoirs that when al-Qa`ida began its new-recruit course in a training facility near Kabul in late 1999, it “coordinated with Shaykh Abu al-Layth al-Libi, may Allah protect him, and brother Abu Muhammad al-Sini, and the Kurdish, Tajik and Uzbek leaders to bring them to our camp and our political classes to edificate [sic] the youth.”62 The account of a member of al-Qa`ida currently in Syria also attests to this “training nexus” by revealing that al-Libi participated in the radicalization process of some of the 9/11 hijackers during their training in a house run by al-Qa`ida in Kandahar. According to him, al-Libi “made a meeting of advice to the youth” in which he promoted the themes of “sacrifice,” “cooperation” and “the meaning of altruism.”63 During this session, the Libyan instructor also tested the commitment of his audience for martyrdom by throwing a hand grenade with the pin still in it in the room, an exercise during which Hamza al-Ghamidi—referred to as Julaybib al-Ghamidi in the

account—apparently distinguished himself by his resolve to protect his fellow comrades.64 More broadly, in addition to his ties to the North African jihadi spectrum and al-Qa`ida, al- Libi also had personal contact with prominent Arab-Afghan figures like Ayman al- Zawahiri and Abu Mus`ab al-Suri, who paid tribute to al-Libi in the introduction of his 2004 magnum opus, The Global Islamic Resistance Call.65

Fighting the Far Enemy

Pieces of information about Abu al-Layth al-Libi’s position on the 9/11 attacks offer a complicated picture. As previously evoked in this paper, al-Libi personally interacted with a number of the 9/11 operatives through his involvement in their ideological training. Also, in an interview in 2007, he termed the 9/11 attacks the “blessed expedition” (al- ghazwa mubaraka).66 However, it is important to note that his group opposed Bin Ladin’s plan. Before the operations, the leaders of the LIFG, including Abu al-Mundhir al-Sa`idi, explicitly warned Bin Ladin about the dire consequences that a major strike against the United States would have on the entire militant community in Afghanistan, and also that such a strike would be an act of disobedience to the Taliban’s orders.67 Moreover, some senior militant figures on more than one instance publicly expressed their support to the

attacks while in fact being against such operations.68

In any case, al-Libi was among the Arab commanders in the aftermath of the attacks involved in the military preparation for the defense of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, and more than a thousand Arab fighters were dispatched to various fronts.69 Although some of the LIFG’s members fought in Kandahar and Helmand, the group was mainly focused on the Kabul front, where a contingent of 550 Arab fighters was stationed with 300 families.70 Al-Libi assumed a leading role in the defense of the Afghan capital, commanding a battalion of fighters operating in the area to repel the offensive by the U.S.- led coalition and the Northern Alliance.71 Notably among his fighters was Karim al- Majjati, a future senior member of al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula, who later paid homage to his “brother and commander Abu al-Layth al-Libi.”72 Under the overall command of the Taliban Ministry of the Interior, al-Libi and the other Arabs were deployed into mobile teams in different areas in and around Kabul. The front line in the north of the city was deemed a strategic location for the survival of the regime by al-Libi and the Arabs. As one Arab put it: “The downfall of Kabul would mean, God forbid, the

downfall of the [Taliban’s] Islamic emirate.”73 The foreign militants thus espoused a die- hard stance, one in which they would gain either victory or martyrdom.

Yet despite al-Libi’s conviction that holding Kabul would prevent the downfall of the emirate, the hope to conduct a steadfast resistance in the city gradually vanished as the number of fighters on the front lines decreased.74 The issue lay in the divergent approach to combat between the Arab and the Taliban fighters. The Arabs were determined to defend Kabul and to emulate the example of their foreign comrades in Kunduz, who refused to surrender to their enemies.75 Hence it is not surprising that al-Libi fought until the fall of the city on 13 November 2001.76 On the other hand, the Taliban did not agree with fighting a desperate war and were more inclined to retreat in order to avoid heavy losses.77 For example, an Arab in Kabul remembers that the “thing that astonished me in this sight is that [the Taliban] did not look like they were fighting fiercely. They looked like they were out going on a picnic.”78 Well aware that their Arab guests would not accept the abandonment of Kabul, the Taliban’s officials quietly left the capital without informing  their foreign allies, thereby leaving them on their own.79 This sudden retreat left numerous jihadis trapped in a city taken by their enemies. Along with his other comrades, al-Libi most certainly felt betrayed by the lack of commitment shown by the Taliban, which led to the death of a number of fellow Arab brothers in arms, executed by the Northern Alliance.80 While many of the survivors from Kabul made their way toward Tora Bora, al- Libi fled to Khost, traveling among a large convoy of senior Arab figures, foot soldiers and families.81 By all accounts, although the Arab retreat from Kandahar was relatively successful, those who succeeded in withdrawing from Kabul toward eastern Afghanistan suffered significant hardships during their long journey before reaching their destination, as they were chased by U.S. airplanes that killed a number of senior militant figures and members of the families as well.82

The period from late 2001 to early 2002 constituted the nadir of al-Libi’s career. Not only had the Afghan safe haven collapsed, but the LIFG had also suffered many casualties during the war. Many of its members and senior figures were either dead or under arrest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the remnants of the group were scattered among different areas in the region. Besides the loss of his companions, al-Libi also suffered the loss of his younger brother, `Abd al-Hakim, who was killed on the Afghan battlefield.83 Acknowledging that “our situation deteriorated,” al-Libi later went on to lament this challenging period of roving during which “we were scattered and stretched thin.”84 In and around Zurmat, a district of Paktia Province where a large number of high-ranking jihadi figures and foot soldiers stationed themselves, a debate erupted among the foreign militants about the future course of action. Most of them expressed their willingness to cross the border to Pakistan and evacuate with their families, but a small group eventually chose not to withdraw in order to contribute to “any possible resistance.”85 Among the latter group was al-Libi, who believed that remaining in Afghanistan was an individual obligation, as it was part of a defensive jihad aimed at expelling an external enemy occupying a Muslim land.86 The few other Arabs who remained also included such al-

Qa`ida figures as `Abd al-Wakil al-Misri (Mustafa Mahmud Fadil), a prominent Egyptian field commander involved in the 1998 East Africa bombings who also “vowed to fight until death and not to withdraw to Pakistan.”87 By far the largest cohort of foreign militants in the area was that of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), led by Muhammad Tahir “Faruq,” who later explained that 150 men of his group had given the “bay`a to death,” swearing to remain in Afghanistan to participate in a defensive jihad.88

In the context of this affliction, U.S. and Allied troops launched Operation Anaconda in early March 2002, aimed at routing what they perceived to be a significant al-Qa`ida presence in the mountains of Shah-i-Kot in Zurmat.89 Although the operation has been mainly portrayed as a major engagement against several hundred al-Qa`ida members, the reality is that only thirty to forty Arab fighters participated in the battle, and only some core al-Qa`ida members or commanders, like `Abd al-Wakil al-Misri and `Abd al-Hadi al- Iraqi, were among them. Rather, a large majority of the two hundred fighters involved in the battle were Uzbeks.90 Dubbed the “Shah-i-Kot battle” in jihadi circles, this confrontation under the general leadership of the Taliban commander Sayf al-Rahman Mansur represented a watershed moment for the rise of Abu al-Layth al-Libi and holds a particular status in the militant literature about post-9/11 jihad in Afghanistan. Indeed, the

Libyan field commander emerged as one of the most prominent figures within the Arab contingent, if not the most prominent, during this battle, which has been regarded by jihadis as “the first battle between the Americans and the mujahidin.”91 It is worth noting that this intense battlefield experience subsequently allowed al-Libi to tap into the pool of Arab veterans of the Shah-i-Kot battle who had served under his command. According to al-Libi, the outcome of the confrontation proved to be positive, given that it “made . . . our brothers in Afghanistan, feel that the mujahidin are able to carry out strong organized operations that are able to stop the enemy.”92 Despite this bravado, the Shah-i-Kot battle was far from being a complete success. As an Arab participant acknowledged very early on, “the situation was really harsh. All the brothers were tired,” as they lacked food and sleep and were under the permanent shelling of U.S. warplanes.93 These airstrikes provoked high casualties among fighters on the ground and also injured al-Libi, who thought that he would not survive.94 As a result, he and other senior figures rapidly reached a consensus on the urgent need for a withdrawal, which they began to undertake less than a week after the beginning of the battle.95

A Media-Savvy and Quasi-Independent Actor

Following his withdrawal from the mountains of Shah-i-Kot, Abu al-Layth al-Libi proceeded to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, joining the Arab and foreign jihadi diaspora based in the Waziristan region. This community first gained a foothold in Wana and Shikai, two areas in South Waziristan under the protection of Nik Muhammad, a senior local militant of the Wazir tribe, and al-Libi was also known to have lived in Wana for a time.96 However, most information on his hideouts indicate that he mainly operated from North Waziristan, between Mir Ali and Miran Shah, area where militants were notably hosted by the powerful Haqqani network.97 These areas provided al-Libi and the rest of the Arabs a receptive sanctuary in which to heal their wounds and reorganize their ranks. Eager to resume the fight against the “Crusader occupier,” al-Libi did not stay for long, as he was part of “one of the first Arab groups that returned to fight in Afghanistan immediately after the retreat [inhiaz],” marking the beginning of his leading role in the insurgency.98 The Libyan commander publicly announced this new stage during a phone conversation in July 2002, during which he declared, “We are now developing the fronts along all lines to make it a large-scale war—the war of ambushes, assassinations, and operations that take place in the most unexpected places for the enemy.”99

According to Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the late head of al-Qa`ida in Afghanistan, this early stage in the guerilla war was characterized by an increasing intergroup coordination.100 Al- Yazid viewed al-Libi as a staunch advocate of unity among the mujahidin, noting that he coordinated his action with the leaders of al-Qa`ida. The organization entrusted two senior Egyptian envoys, Abu al-Hasan al-Misri (the former deputy head of al-Qa`ida’s military operations in Afghanistan) and Abu Jihad al-Misri (one of al-Gama`a al-Islamiyya’s remaining figures in Waziristan) to convince al-Libi to join his forces with Bin Ladin’s. Al- Libi is said to have immediately agreed to the invitation and emphatically stated that he should now be considered “under the command [tahta imrat] of Shaykh Usama bin Ladin in Qa`idat al-Jihad organization in Afghanistan,” specifying that his decision did not engage the rest of his group.101 Circumstantial factors certainly favored the potential of a greater proximity between armed groups, since the historical enemy of al-Qa`ida was now that of the rest of the Khurasan-based jihadi factions. Furthermore, this common enemy had launched a lethal campaign against various militant outfits in Afghanistan, which in turn amplified the sense of common destiny and hardships among them. Finally, the Arab- Afghan scene had shifted toward a less structurally divided landscape, in which fighters were not as tied to their original groups as they had been before.

Yet the veracity of al-Yazid’s account of al-Libi’s early enrolment remains in doubt, especially given al-Qa`ida’s longstanding media policy of drawing upon unity while remaining silent on internal quarrels. The prospect of a union has certainly been welcomed by the organization. What matters most here is the Libyan’s own stance regarding such a step. Numerous evidence demonstrates that, despite al-Qa`ida’s lobbying, al-Libi chose to retain his autonomy between 2002 and 2006. His companion `Ata Najd al-Rawi explains that “he had his own special project, which he was pursuing in Afghanistan, following a program he had chosen for himself.”102 For his part, Abu Mus`ab al-Suri regarded al-Libi as being in “command of the anti-American resistance groups at the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”103 Even though al-Libi still nominally belonged to the LIFG, his geographical isolation and the decline and dispersal of the group meant that, for the most part, he was on his own. Judging by the primary sources reviewed for this research, al-Libi appears to have articulated a consistent agenda, geographically entrenched in the Khurasan region and prioritizing training activities and cross-border attacks against U.S. troops and its allies over the historical ambitions of the LIFG or Bin Ladin’s fixation on attacking the West. Thus, al-Libi’s profile is best understood as that of a were not as tied to their original groups as they had been before.

Yet the veracity of al-Yazid’s account of al-Libi’s early enrolment remains in doubt, especially given al-Qa`ida’s longstanding media policy of drawing upon unity while remaining silent on internal quarrels. The prospect of a union has certainly been welcomed by the organization. What matters most here is the Libyan’s own stance regarding such a step. Numerous evidence demonstrates that, despite al-Qa`ida’s lobbying, al-Libi chose to retain his autonomy between 2002 and 2006. His companion `Ata Najd al-Rawi explains that “he had his own special project, which he was pursuing in Afghanistan, following a program he had chosen for himself.”102 For his part, Abu Mus`ab al-Suri regarded al-Libi as being in “command of the anti-American resistance groups at the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”103 Even though al-Libi still nominally belonged to the LIFG, his geographical isolation and the decline and dispersal of the group meant that, for the most part, he was on his own. Judging by the primary sources reviewed for this research, al-Libi appears to have articulated a consistent agenda, geographically entrenched in the Khurasan region and prioritizing training activities and cross-border attacks against U.S. troops and its allies over the historical ambitions of the LIFG or Bin Ladin’s fixation on attacking the West. Thus, al-Libi’s profile is best understood as that of a

prominent Arab field commander in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region pursuing his own scheme but collaborating with an array of militant groups including al-Qa`ida.104

Perhaps most indicative of his status are his numerous media appearances circulating on jihadi forums and in press reports. For instance, the announcement of an interview recorded in October-November 2005 depicts him as the “commander of the Arab mujahidin in Afghanistan” (qa’id al-mujahidin al-`Arab fi Afghanistan).105 Furthermore, instead of featuring in the videos of al-Sahab, al-Libi rose to prominence outside the shadow of al-Qa`ida through a media house known as Labbayk Media Foundation (mu’assasat Labbayk al-i`lamiyya), hence impeding al-Sahab’s ability to exercise monopoly over the Arab-Afghan media production.106 Al-Libi’s efforts in publicizing military operations in Afghanistan even preceded those of al-Qa`ida’s media department, as they can be traced back to as early as 2004, whereas al-Sahab began documenting al-Qa`ida’s attacks only in August 2005.107 Overall, Labbayk established itself as a prominent media

house, disseminating its production materials through al-Fajr Media Center, running its own website, offering numerous insights into the operational work of al-Libi’s group and releasing a number of high-profile videos.108 For example, it was via Labbayk that the four Bagram escapees first shared their experience in November 2005,109 not to mention that this media house was also probably the original provider of films showing Arabs in Waziristan.110 By repeatedly urging confrontation with Afghan and international forces and providing significant glimpses of the Arab-Afghan landscape, al-Libi bolstered his credentials with the global jihadi audience while contributing to the promotion of the lifestyle of the muhajirun in Khurasan and jihad in Afghanistan.

Abu al-Layth al-Libi managed to rally around himself a core group of senior members who assisted him across a range of areas. Evidently, a number of his fellow Libyan comrades from the remnants of the LIFG came to constitute a key part of his inner circle. Abu Sahl al-Libi appears to have been among the most important of his chief lieutenants.

A discrete figure described as the “unseen man” (al-rajul al-khafi), he served as al-Libi’s deputy (na’ib) and right-hand man during their time in Waziristan.111 Al-Libi’s lifelong friends `Abdallah Sa`id al-Libi, a former al-Faruq trainee, and Abu Yahya al-Libi also facilitated his work, notably in the ideological field, both men having been members of LIFG’s legal committee.112 Another important aide was `Abdallah al-Mudir al-Libi, who played a key part in organizing attacks and training recruits, as he was well known for his skills in explosive engineering and artillery.113 In addition to this Libyan group, several other figures gravitated to al-Libi’s orbit. A Bagram escapee with field experience, the Syrian national Abu `Abdallah al-Shami closely followed his Libyan shaykh, participating along with him in battles and helping him during training courses. Although he lost a hand while planting a roadside bomb, al-Zubayr al-Maghribi emerged as a talented instructor for al-Libi’s recruits and was involved in planning operations as well as managing administrative tasks.114 It is worthwhile to note that al-Libi’s entourage was not exclusively Arab. Indeed, among his group of seasoned lieutenants was “Commandant” `Abdallah Jan al-Afghani, a senior local militant with historical ties to the Afghanistan- based Arab circles, particularly with Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubayda al-Filistini of the Khaldan camp. He began working with al-Libi after the U.S.-led invasion of

A discrete figure described as the “unseen man” (al-rajul al-khafi), he served as al-Libi’s deputy (na’ib) and right-hand man during their time in Waziristan.111 Al-Libi’s lifelong friends `Abdallah Sa`id al-Libi, a former al-Faruq trainee, and Abu Yahya al-Libi also facilitated his work, notably in the ideological field, both men having been members of LIFG’s legal committee.112 Another important aide was `Abdallah al-Mudir al-Libi, who played a key part in organizing attacks and training recruits, as he was well known for his skills in explosive engineering and artillery.113 In addition to this Libyan group, several other figures gravitated to al-Libi’s orbit. A Bagram escapee with field experience, the Syrian national Abu `Abdallah al-Shami closely followed his Libyan shaykh, participating along with him in battles and helping him during training courses. Although he lost a hand while planting a roadside bomb, al-Zubayr al-Maghribi emerged as a talented instructor for al-Libi’s recruits and was involved in planning operations as well as managing administrative tasks.114 It is worthwhile to note that al-Libi’s entourage was not exclusively Arab. Indeed, among his group of seasoned lieutenants was “Commandant” `Abdallah Jan al-Afghani, a senior local militant with historical ties to the Afghanistan- based Arab circles, particularly with Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubayda al-Filistini of the Khaldan camp. He began working with al-Libi after the U.S.-led invasion of

A discrete figure described as the “unseen man” (al-rajul al-khafi), he served as al-Libi’s deputy (na’ib) and right-hand man during their time in Waziristan.111 Al-Libi’s lifelong friends `Abdallah Sa`id al-Libi, a former al-Faruq trainee, and Abu Yahya al-Libi also facilitated his work, notably in the ideological field, both men having been members of LIFG’s legal committee.112 Another important aide was `Abdallah al-Mudir al-Libi, who played a key part in organizing attacks and training recruits, as he was well known for his skills in explosive engineering and artillery.113 In addition to this Libyan group, several other figures gravitated to al-Libi’s orbit. A Bagram escapee with field experience, the Syrian national Abu `Abdallah al-Shami closely followed his Libyan shaykh, participating along with him in battles and helping him during training courses. Although he lost a hand while planting a roadside bomb, al-Zubayr al-Maghribi emerged as a talented instructor for al-Libi’s recruits and was involved in planning operations as well as managing administrative tasks.114 It is worthwhile to note that al-Libi’s entourage was not exclusively Arab. Indeed, among his group of seasoned lieutenants was “Commandant” `Abdallah Jan al-Afghani, a senior local militant with historical ties to the Afghanistan- based Arab circles, particularly with Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubayda al-Filistini of the Khaldan camp. He began working with al-Libi after the U.S.-led invasion of

Afghanistan, mostly as an administrator but also engaged in military attacks and strongly advocated suicide operations.115

Read More: https://www.ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/CTC_Abu-al-Layth-al-Libi-Jihadi-Bio-February2015.pdf

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Philadelphia terror charges highlight mall kiosks security issues

HLS

The arrest last week of Abror Habibov on terrorism finance charges has brought new scrutiny to the oversight and security of mall kiosk businesses. Habibov ran a series of largely unlicensed mall kiosks along the East Coast, where his employees sold kitchen wares and repaired cell phones. He was arrested after being caught organizing support with two other individuals for ISIS operations in Syria. Security analysts say that the qualities which make these small businesses attractive to their owners — low overhead, short-term leases, and low site maintenance — may also serve as an ideal cover for employing members of terrorist groups.

The arrest last week of Abror Habibov on terrorism finance charges has brought new scrutiny to the oversight and security of mall kiosk businesses.

As ThePhiladelphia Inquirer reports, Habibov ran a series of largely unlicensed mall kiosks along the East Coast, where his employees sold kitchen wares and repaired cell phones. He was arrested after being caught organizing support with two other individuals for ISIS operations in Syria.

Security analysts say that the qualities which make these small businesses attractive to their owners — low overhead, short-term leases, and low site maintenance — may also serve as an ideal cover for employing members of terrorist groups.

“Malls are obviously paying more attention,” said Jack Tomarchio, a formerU.S. Homeland Security official. “They’re bringing in more security guards. They’re heavily invested in technologies. In the common areas of malls, they have perimeter and indoor cameras.”

Attorney General Eric Holder also pointed to Habibov’s case as a reason to reconsider current measures.

“It would be the responsible thing for operators of these malls to increase their capabilities when it comes to keeping people safe who are just going about their everyday lives,” he said.

Prosecutors have argued that Habibov pledged to raise money to purchase plane tickets and a weapon for two associates — Akhror Saidakhmetov, another kiosk employee, and another man — both of whom were planning on going to Syria. The men were also recorded by the FBI making threats to kill President Barack Obama, bomb Coney Island, and attack security guards at airports.

Records show that Habibov set up a limited liability company in his name under the title iCell Fix & More LLC. The Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake, Virginia was the listed address. Traces of his work and registration in Philadelphia and cities such as Dover, Delaware and Jacksonville, Florida have been scarce.

Pennsylvania license and tax offices reported last week that they had no record of any business operated by Habibov, or of the LLC. Normally, Philadelphia asks individuals that apply for a tax status as an unincorporated business to provide an address and social security number. Race and gender are requested, but not required.

The arrest recalls similar investigations by the FBI and federal immigration agents of Florida-based mall kiosks in the months after the 9/11 attacks. Though roughly thirty individuals were charged with immigration violations during those operations, no terror-related charges were ever filed.

“Nobody knew what was going on then, either,” said Faruq Gadbani, a kiosk employee at the time.

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ERDOĞAN’S POLITICS AND HIS PRESIDENTIAL MISSION

Nebi Miş , Ali Aslan, 2014

The “New Turkey” project that is at the center of Erdoğan’s reform is comprised of three factors: independence, democracy and development

If we take a look at the collapse of the Western-centered world in the 1990s one can see the preceding 1945 period and onward as a sign of modern liberal political crisis wrapped around a capitalist versus communist strife which as a result created fault lines in the political atmosphere. The trauma that emerged within the groundwork of modern Turkey in its early days was so engrained that it created many political crises. To this extent the structural breaking points that were experienced in the transitional periods this opportunity laid the foundation for reformist political actors to emerge in the political scene.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was one of the reformist political actors that emerged with breakthrough developmental policies which quickly brought him to the position of one of the most influential leaders to have ever come in the history of modern Turkey. What makes him such an important figure is the fact that he played a major role during the time when Turkey was experiencing a major political crisis and Erdoğan was able to respond with a great restoration plan. This picture reveals that the political role played by Erdoğan is reconstructing the political order in the country.

Erdoğan’s leadership within the restoration period represents the struggle with a tutelage regime from the past and on the other hand there is a struggle to rebuild institutions from within politics. As a result of Erdoğan’s struggle we witness a centralization of government that is different in the sense that the people and state are brought together on a single platform which has rendered a new path towards democratization. In the same vein, the economic progress made much improvement along the lines towards better development. In tandem to these domestic improvements in Turkey, the country was ushered into the center of international arena as an active player in the field.

Erdoğan’s “constructivist” approach to executive power in the presidency will allow new institutions to be established. The “New Turkey” project that is at the center of Erdoğan’s reform is comprised of three factors: independence, democracy and development. The two goals aimed at improving the society and its institutions include local values being used to reform and rebuild society from within. At the same time, in order to achieve a democratic pluralist citizenry, it is also necessary for the reformed society to pursue a rectified political agency. These two objectives are inseparable from one.

Read More: http://file.setav.org/Files/Pdf/20141118151004_erdogan%E2%80%99s-politics-and-his-presidential-mission-pdf.pdf

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A rare glimpse inside a Saudi Arabian Prison – Where Isis Terrorists Are Showered With perks and privileges

The Saudi approach to de-radicalization:

“If you lose these inmates when they are in prison, they will come out of prison more radical,” Turki said, adding that supporting their families also helps make sure they, too, don’t “fall into the hands of the terrorists.”

Turki said that about 20 percent of those who have gone through the rehabilitation program have returned to terrorism-related activities. Many rights activists think the failure rate is higher than Saudi officials admit.

Critics often argue that Saudi Arabia, or at least many rich Saudis, supports violent Islamist radicals, and that the government’s emphasis on rehabilitation reflects a certain sympathy with terrorists.

But Saudi officials argue that no country, except for Syria and Iraq, is more directly threatened by Isis. They say their approach to convicted terrorists is more pragmatic and effective than simply throwing thousands of them in prison for decades and hoping that their friends and family don’t become radicalized.

“I don’t think we should be reflexively opposed to these programs,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. “The hard-core, wild-eyed fanatics we are never going to rehabilitate, but a solution that says they are all the same and we should lock them away forever isn’t effective, either.”

Hoffman said a 20 percent recidivism rate is far better than the 70 to 75 percent recidivism rate for violent criminals in the United States. He said prisons without rehabilitation programs can become “terrorist universities” that turn minor offenders into hardened militants. He also said that inmates who are coaxed away from radical thinking can also provide valuable intelligence about terror groups.

“Programs like this can be enormously effective,” he said.

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Qatari fatwa: Destroy Egypt’s pyramids, Sphinx!

AL-Arabiya

A fatwa from a Qatari-owned online portal has been widely circulated by Egyptian press this week after it called for the destruction of pharanoic monuments on the grounds that they are contrary to Islam.

The religious edict, issued by Islam Web, was picked up by several independent Egyptian news outlets, such as Youm 7 and al-Fagr. It suggested the destruction of the historic monuments were a “religious duty” that Egyptians must fulfill.

But Egyptian newspapers carrying the story failed to notice the fatwa was first issued in December 2012. It has nevertheless sparked prime-time talk show discussions in Egypt.

Screengrab from Egyptian news site Youm 7, covering the fatwa story this week. (Click to enlarge)

The fatwa, which had been issued in response to a user’s question to the Islam Web’s administrator, had stated: “The demolition of the pyramids and the sphinx is a religious duty,” before referring to the monuments as “idols.”

Screengrab from the Islam Web fatwa in Arabic on destroying the Sphinx and pyramids. (Click to enlarge)

It added: “(The destruction of) monuments is a duty by Sharia (Islamic) law, as many texts have stipulated … Texts on this issue are many and well-known but (implementing) them is restrained to one’s ability… And so, if it’s not possible to destroy the pyramids and the Sphinx as a result of the presence of an authority preventing that, Muslims would not be committing a sin.”

Screengrab from the Islam Web fatwa in Arabic on destroying the Sphinx and pyramids. (Click to enlarge)

In 2012, Egyptian scholars denounced any fatwa calling for the destruction of pharanoic monuments.

Under the radar

Islam Web is affiliated to the Qatari ministry of endowments, with Doha’s government website advising users seeking online fatwas to “enter the official website of Fatwa Center on Islam Web.”

Screengrab from a Qatari government website advising users seeking fatwas to write to Islam Web. (Click to enlarge)

The portal has previously been under the radar following afatwa issued in 2006 permitting the burning of people to death. The edict was titled: “The Burning of Ias bin Abdul Yalil by Abu Bakr” which visited a historic case study to conclude that burning people as a form of punishment is permissible.

But last month, the fatwa was reportedly removed from the site and retracted hours after ISIS burned Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh alive.

Islam Web has also attracted controversy for issuing a fatwa that legitimizes insulting Christianity, which was alsowidely reported on.

Relations between Qatar and Egypt have been tense since the 2013 ouster of former Islamist President Mohammad Mursi, who hails from the Doha-backed Muslim Brotherhood.

Last Update: Wednesday, 4 March 2015 KSA 10:08 – GMT 07:0
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U.S. SECRETLY MET WITH FOLLOWERS OF BLIND SHEIK OMAR ABDEL RAHMAN BEFORE CONTROVERSIAL VISA APPLICATION

Thursday, June 14, 2007

INTELWIRE,  By J.M. Berger

Followers of Omar Abdel Rahman made overtures to U.S. diplomats one year before the radical sheikh entered the United States on a visa approved by a CIA agent.

During several meetings with diplomatic officers at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, members of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Group) provided extensive details about the operations of one of Egypt’s most notorious terrorist organizations.

Initiated by al-Gama’a, the meetings were aimed at creating a dialogue with the U.S. in the hopes of eventual, unspecified cooperation. The initiative was based on a perception that the U.S. enjoyed similar cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Less than four years after the approach, an al-Gama’a terror cell led personally by Abdel-Rahman bombed the World Trade Center in New York City.

The 1989 meetings are described in secret cables from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which were declassified and released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by INTELWIRE.

THE APRIL 1989 MEETING

http://intelfiles.egoplex.com/1989-04-25-gamaat.pdf

An April 25, 1989 cable from the Cairo embassy describes several meetings between unidentified “embassy officers” and a self-proclaimed member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. The name of the member is redacted, as are several other sections of the cable.

Signed by U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, the cable is addressed to several other U.S. embassies and to U.S. intelligence services and military posts. An ambassador’s name is often used on cables written by other embassy offices. Contacted by INTELWIRE, Wisner said he was not aware that any meetings with Rahman’s people had taken place. The cable was classified as “secret.”

Known as the “blind sheik,” Rahman was considered the main spiritual guide for both al-Gama’a and al-Jihad, otherwise known as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. At the time of the meeting, Rahman was under detention in Egypt but was expected to be released shortly.

In meetings with embassy officials, the member said al-Gama’a and al-Jihad were, in fact, the same organization. Historically, the two groups have had overlapping membership and agendas. Today, they are considered separate organizations, and Al-Gama’a has renounced the use of violence.

The member estimated al-Gama’a membership as between 150,000 and 200,000, a figure which the embassy suspected was exaggerated.

The member said he was part of al-Gama’a Shura Council while he was in prison, between September 1981 and October 1988. He said his specialty was organizing protests and demonstrations. The member disputed government characterizations of al-Gama’a as “secret” and “violent” and disavowed attacks that had been attributed to the group.

The member provided printed material concerning Rahman and al-Gama’a beliefs and goals. He said the group found the government of Saudi Arabia to be “the best Islamic government today” but faulted Saudi King Fahd for failing to take a hard line against Iran.

However, the member said, Rahman met with an Iranian delegation in Pakistan during the autumn of 1988 and was “favorably impressed.”

Rahman also traveled to the United States in 1988 to speak a conference, the member said. The “blind sheikh” traveled to the U.S. yearly, the member said, on trips supported by Saudi Arabia.

Embassy officials were skeptical about some of the claims made by the member and recorded their suspicions concerning his motives, as well as questioning whether his approach to the embassy had the blessing of his superiors in al-Gama’a.

Embassy officials noted that their skepticism “leaps instantly from the fact that he has revealed much more than we would have considered prudent.”

THE MAY 1989 MEETING

http://intelfiles.egoplex.com/1989-05-03-gamaat.pdf

In May, embassy officials met with “a young lawyer of ‘The Islamic Group’ (or Jihad as it is called by the government).” The meeting came after “repeated recent contacts” between al-Gama’a and U.S. diplomats, the cable states.

The May cable is addressed only to the Secretary of State, the consul in Alexandria and the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C. It is signed by Wisner and classified “secret” and “department only.”

The lawyer repeated the figure of 150,000 to 200,000 members and reiterated other key points from the April cable. Embassy officers believed this figure included a loose group of “sympathizers” and did not “represent an Islamic revolutionary vanguard.”

He claimed “he was informing us about his group as a result of a ‘change in thinking’ within the group.”

Al-Gama’a was “concerned about the ‘radical and violent image’ of the group presented by the government,” according to the lawyer.

The laywer said an individual, whose name was redacted, “had persuaded them that U.S. diplomats were ‘sincere,’ so they decided to present this ‘true picture’ directly to” embassy officers. It’s not clear whether this is a reference to the individual described in the April cable, or whether that individual and the lawyer are the same person.

The cable states:

“[redacted] had told us separately that [redacted] had opined that the government was not persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood because the U.S. was ‘supporting’ the Muslim Brotherhood against the more radical Islamic trends. On this widely accepted conspiratorial premise, the ‘Islamic Group’ may be making its own bid for outside support.”

An embassy officer told the lawyer that “the U.S. does not intervene in internal affairs nor support any group of any sort against the government of Egypt.”

Among the points and claims made by the lawyer:

Members of al-Gama’a are “unified in a single ideology, though there are different ‘styles’ of action from region to region.”

Members can directly contact other members across Egypt.

Omar Abdel-Rahman was described as the mufti of the group, or alternatively as its emir. The former title is a religious position, the latter implies some degree of operational control. However, a separate individual was identified as the chief operational leader. The name of that person is redacted.

The 11 members of al-Gama’a Shura Council were named by the lawyer, but the names were redacted from the cable before its release by the State Department.

The lawyer characterized other known Egyptian Islamist groups as having been disbanded or largely imprisoned, including Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Takfir Wal Hijra. Later reporting suggests this claim was significantly inflated.

The Muslim Brotherhood was seen by al-Gama’a as part of the “governing establishment.”

Al-Gama’a members “reject the concept of ‘takfir,'” i.e., condemning opponents such as the government as infidels who may be attacked with impunity.

The lawyer claimed the Egyptian government had “pinned” the name Jihad on al-Gama’a in order to blame the group for attacks on Christians. The laywer denied al-Gama’a had any role in attacking Christian interests in Egypt.

The laywer accused the Muslim Brotherhood of “playing games” and acting out of personal and property interests.

“Local groups of Islamic youth exist around the country,” according to the lawyer. “Because they lack proper religious guidance, they do crazy things” which are then blamed on al-Gama’a. However some of these youth are also members of al-Gama’a, he conceded.

Sayyid Qutb and his books are the group’s primary ideological inspiration, particularly his anti-secular (and anti-American) tract “Milestones on the Road.”

The cable concludes with a reference to a follow-up cable describing the organization’s ties to foreign governments. However, the follow-up cable was not included in this FOIA release.

THE 1990 VISA

In May 1990, approximately one year after the second meeting in Egypt, Omar Abdel Rahman obtained a visa to enter the United States (Time Magazine, May. 24, 1993). The visa was issued in by the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, Sudan.

Rahman’s name had been placed on a terrorist watchlist that should have kept him out of the United States. Embassy officials said the visa was issued in error and began an investigation of the embassy official who approved the passport.

That official turned out to be an officer of the CIA (New York Times, July 14, 1993). According to the Times, the CIA officer was working as a consular official as part of his official cover and did not act on behalf of the CIA. Officials described the event as a “coincidence,” according to the Times.

Rahman traveled from Sudan to Pakistan, then entered the U.S. in July 1990. He was subsequently indicted and convicted for leading a cell of terrorists in New York City responsible for the World Trade Center bombing and a thwarted “Day of Terror” plot in which several New York landmarks were targeted for simultaneous truck bombings.

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Post-Gadhafi Libya now a jihadist springboard backed by Iran, Qatar, Sudan and Turkey  

By Yossef Bodansky, World Tribune

The consolidation of a self-proclaimed Caliphate in eastern Libya provides the jihadist camp with springboard into Africa and southern Europe.

That strategic thrust, supported strongly by Qatar, Sudan, Iran, and Turkey, has already begun, and highlights the transformation of the takfiri jihadist movements, the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan), and many of the former Al Qaida movements.

Although jihadist forces occupied Tripoli in October 2011 — as a direct result of the Western military intervention which helped bring down the Moammar al-Gadhafi Administration in Libya — they failed to consolidate power and focus on all-Islamist causes. Subsequently, Libya sank into the still-escalating fratricidal fighting between a myriad of militias and localized forces.

Starting early 2014, the jihad-sponsoring states have capitalized on the building chaos in order to transform jihadist-held parts of Libya into secure springboards for the spread of takfiri jihadism into both western Africa and southern Europe.

By early 2015, Libya no longer existed as a viable state, having morphed, at least for the time being, into a web of small fiefdoms fighting each other.

Libyan jihadists affiliated with global entities, foreign jihadists, and jihad-sponsoring states played a decisive role in the victory of the Libyan uprising and the toppling of the Gadhafi Government in 2011.

While NATO airpower was instrumental in destroying Gadhafi’s military machine, the jihadist camp was decisive in seizing power on the ground to the detriment of Libya’s myriad of indigenous tribes and clans. These contradictions are at the crux of the fratricidal fighting throughout the area of what once was Libya, and adjacent regions.

As background Iran, Sudan, and their proxies — mainly the Hamas and the Hizbullah — were the first jihadist entities on the ground in eastern Libya in 2011, both helping the anti-Gadhafi upsurge and finding out how they could benefit from the prevailing chaos.

A few Iranian and Sudanese officers had already arrived in Benghazi from Sudan in the third week of February 2011, and met with Libyan senior officers who had defected to the rebels.

In March 2011, the IRGC established a high-level command center in Benghazi. IRGC Brig.-Gen. Mehdi Rabbani — a close confidant of Quds Forces commander Qassem Soleimani and the deputy commander of the IRGC Tharallah Base in Tehran — was nominated the commander of the Libyan operation. (In December 2012, Rabbani was promoted IRGC Deputy Chief of Operations and put in charge of such key issues as the defense of the Persian Gulf.)

The on-site senior Iranian operative was Ibrahim Muhammad Judaki of the Quds Forces contingent in Lebanon. His deputy was Khalil Harb, then the Special Advisor to the Hizbullah’s Secretary General in charge of cooperation with and support for Palestinian, Yemeni, and other sensitive groups. Another senior member of the Iranian group was Abdul Latif al-Ashkar, one of the main logistics experts of the Hamas who was target killed by Israel near Port Sudan, Sudan, on the night of April 6/7, 2011.

The initial mission was to expedite the purchase of weapons and ammunition for all anti-Western jihadist forces. The Iranians brought with them several millions in hard currency (dollars and euros). Special attention was paid to the purchase of chemical warfare (CW) munitions for Hamas and Hizbullah.

Tehran’s objective was to provide their protégés with CW capabilities from third-party sources so that Iran would not be implicated and subjected to retaliation should Hamas or Hizbullah use these weapons against Israel. In late March 2011, the first two small convoys set on their way to Sudan via Kufra. One convoy carried tactical containers and the other a few shells. This endeavor led Israel to target and kill Abdul Latif al-Ashkar as he was preparing to ship the weapons from Sudan to the Gaza Strip via the Sinai Peninsula.

The Sunni jihadists — both Libyans and foreigners — who arrived to help their LIGF (Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya: LIFG) brethren in Cyrenaica quickly consolidate a jihadist bastion under the Emirate’s banner. One of the key principles of the 2004/5 jihadist doctrine for localized jihads articulated by Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Shura Kabira is to seize foothold for jihad, and a possible base for the jihadist trend, anywhere possible and even if in cooperation or partnership with non-Islamist elements. With Cyrenaica becoming an important bastion of jihadism, as well as a gateway to Egypt, Sudan, the Sahel, and southern Europe, it was imperative to further consolidate the jihadist safe-haven the moment conducive conditions arose. The jihadists quickly ensured that no future government of Libya would be able to undermine the LIFG-dominated emirate between Darna and Baida unless they unleashed a most violent civil war.

Indeed, the jihadists immediately started to dispatch convoys of trucks full of weapons and ammunition from eastern Libya via Chad to AQIM (Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) bases in the Sahel (mainly Niger and Mali).

Meanwhile, in the Autumn of 2011, the Libyan chaos served as a cover for the consolidation of numerous jihadist entities focusing on other jihadist fronts. However, it took the intervention of various jihad-sponsoring states — mainly Qatar, Turkey, and Iran — to transform the jihadist victory in Libya into an effective springboard for the export of jihadism throughout vast regions.

The number one lesson which Doha drew from the Libya crisis — Qatar’s first real surge onto the big-power politics — was that money was not enough, and that there was no substitute to actual intervention on the ground in the subversive and military operations.

Hence, Doha embarked on the building of a “jihadist Foreign Legion” which would provide Qatar with the ability to intervene in Sunni contingencies, starting with the then-fledgling Syrian jihad.

The then-Qatari Chief of Staff, Maj.-Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, personally oversaw the military aspects of the program. The Commander in Chief was the Libyan jihadist commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj. This nomination kept him away from the turmoil in Libya and the NTC’s inability to install him as either Minister of Defense or Army Chief. Belhaj’s deputies were Al-Mahdi Hatari (the former commander of the Tripoli Brigade) and Kikli Adem (Belhaj’s loyal right-hand man from his LIFG days). The main training facilities for the Legion were in Darna, the center of the Libyan jihadist emirate.

Between early 2011 and early 2014, the Islamist jihadist world was consumed by a great theological debate about their future in view of the grassroots intifadas which shook the Middle East. Osama bin Laden’s Shura Kabira never really believed in the realistic prospects of enduring jihadist states as viable sources for the spread of jihad, and rejected the concept as a viable goal after the collapse of the Taliban’s Emirate in Afghanistan.

Although bin Laden led the campaign to help the intifadas, he did not believe the nascent Islamist states like then-President Mohammed Morsi’s Egypt would endure against a hostile world.

In contrast, a group of neo-salafi scholars considered the intifadas as the beginning of the fateful “End-of-Time Battle” for the Middle East. According to tradition, this apocalyptic battle would be waged in ash-Sham on the plain of Dabiq. The scholars defined the theological prerequisites for expediting this battle in what they called “the Khorasan Pledge”, starting with the imperative of a jihadist caliphate.

The first such Caliphate is being implemented in al-Jazira under the new “Emir of the Faithful”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurashi. Another key issue dividing the jihadist world was cooperation with Shi’ite Iran, which Zawahiri encouraged given the immense benefits derived by the jihadists, and Baghdadi initially forbade on account of Sunni orthodoxy but later slightly relaxed for pragmatic reasons.

This profound theological debate (within Sunni Islamism) slowed down the consolidation of the jihadist springboards in Libya and other jihad fronts all over the world.

The consolidation of a jihadist Caliphate in eastern Libya accelerated starting early 2014 because of the need to support the Egyptian Islamist jihadists against the growing power and popularity of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

In March, a wide coalition of jihadists — including the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, Hamas, and Al Qaida — started building a Free Egyptian Army in eastern Libya under Qatari, Turkish, and Iranian patronage.

The “emir” of the Free Egyptian Army (FEA) is Sharif al-Radwani. The Army’s liaison officer with the Qataris is Abu-Ubaida, a veteran Al Qaida commander who had worked with the Qataris in Libya, Syria, and other sensitive projects.

The initial objectives of the FEA are to target vital installations, to storm prisons to free Muslim Brothers detainees, and to make Sisi’s Egypt ungovernable. The Libyan intelligence services supported these preparations. Large quantities of weapons, vehicles and other equipment were delivered to the Egyptian groups and stored in the Darna Emirate, pending dispatch into Egypt.

Meanwhile, as of Spring 2014, the theological character of the jihadist movement in Libya had been tied intimately to the transformation of the jihadist movement in the Maghreb and the Sahel. No jihadist movement could escape the brewing schism between the traditional jihadism represented by the Al Qaida supreme leadership in Afghanistan-Pakistan and the ascent of takfiri jihadism spearheaded by the Khorasan Pledge scholars and implemented by the KHI (Al-khilafa al-Islamiya or the Islamic Caliphate) in al-Jazira.

In June 2014, AQIM leaders sought to reconcile between the Al Qaida Shura Kabira and the Khorasan Pledge scholars. In a June 22, 2014, communiqué, AQIM recognized Ayman al-Zawahiri’s preeminence as “our Sheikh and Emir”, and urged DI’ISH to reconcile. However, when AQIM’s appeals were rejected by the Al Qaida Shura Kabira, AQIM announced its support for the DI’ISH.

On July 1, 2014, Sheikh Abdullah Othman al-Assimi posted a video-message in the name of al-Qaidat Jihad in the Maghreb and Trans-Saharan Regions. Assimi, whose real name is unknown, is the organization’s leader and a prominent Islamist jurist. His home base is in the mountains and forests of Boumerdes and Tizi-Ouzou in Algeria.

“My group wants to build friendly ties with DI’ISH. You are dearer to us than our tribe and family, and you will always have our support,” Assimi said. “We are still waiting for Al Qaida branches across the world to reveal their stance and declare their support for [DI’ISH].” Assimi alluded to his support for the takfiri interpretations of the laws of jihad. “After the silence of the people concerned, we wanted to show our stance for the sake of justice so that the DI’ISH jihadists know that we will not fail them. We tell all Muslims that we have seen justice in the DI’ISH approach and they are among the most obedient of Allah’s people and the most dedicated to the Prophet.”

This was a very important endorsement of the tenets articulated in the Khorasan Pledge.

Meanwhile, a group of Libyan mujahedin, including veterans of the Syrian jihad, announced in mid-June 2014 the formation of a takfiri jihadist group in eastern Libya called the al-Battar Brigade. The Brigade was modeled after the DI’ISH and was formally affiliated with it through Libyan mujahedin in both Libya and al-Jazira. The primary objective of the Al-Battar Brigade was to establish control over the city of Darna — the heart of Libyan Islamism and jihadism — and eradicate traitors to the jihadist takfiri cause.

“We will cut off heads, slit stomachs and fill Libya with graves” in order to attain these objectives, the Al-Battar communique said. At the same time, al-Battar Brigade continued to cooperate with Al Qaida’s Ansar Al-Sharia, the jihadist primary entity expediting the movement of jihadists and weapons between the Syria-Iraq theater and local centers such as Libya.

In late-July, regional jihadist leaders met in southern Libya in order to better coordinate operations, examine the possible unification of Maghreb and Sahel groups, and agree on a common position regarding the theological dispute between Zawahiri and Baghdadi. The gathering included senior commanders from AQIM, Ansar al-Sharia (Tunisia and Libya), Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Egypt), El Mourabitounes and Ansar al-Din (northern Mali). By mid-August 2014, the presence of takfri jihadists affiliated with the KHI throughout the Maghreb and the Sahel was palpable. The takfiri jihadists vastly expanded recruitment of volunteers for fighting in the ranks of the KHI in Syria-Iraq. They also oversaw the conversion of existing networks and groups to takfiri jihadism.

The process has accelerated by the return of combat veteran jihadists to the Maghreb and the Sahel.

Some of these veterans assumed command of takfiri jihadist entities and raised the banner of the Caliphate. Led by Algerian commander Luqman Abu Sakhr, the Tunisia-based Uqba Ibn Nafi Brigade formally joined the KHI. The Brigade also claimed responsibility for the July 2014 killing of 15 Tunisian Army soldiers on the border with Algeria. In mid-September 2014, senior commander Khaled Abu Suleiman (real name Gouri Abdelmalek) noted that since “the Maghreb has deviated from the true path [of jihad]” he was pulling his men from affiliation with AQIM. He announced the establishment of the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria (Jound al-Khilafa fi Ard al-Jazayer) and swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic Caliphate. The Caliphate Soldiers kidnapped and beheaded a French national to demonstrate their adherence to the takfiri doctrine of Baghdadi’s Caliphate. Moreover, both Abu Ayaz, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia of Tunisia, and Muhammad al-Zahawi, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia of Libya, gravitated toward takfiri jihadism as a result of deep theological discussions with Luqman Abu Sakhr.

Consequently, the main regional commanders joined the preparations for the establishment of an Islamic State in the Islamic Maghreb (ISIM). Mokhtar Belmokhtar, currently the leader of the al-Murabitun in southern Libya, is the leading candidate for the post of Emir of the ISIM. In the Autumn of 2014, he oversaw the organizing of the so-called “Salvador Triangle” in the no-man’s land formed by the borders of Libya, Algeria and Niger. Cadres of al-Murabitun, al-Battar and foreign expert jihadist established three secret training camps in southern Libya. These camps serve as the center of takfiri jihadism throughout the Maghreb and the Sahel, providing expert training, organizing and equipping for several hundred jihadists at any given time.

However, the most important development affecting the jihadist trend in Libya, and the entire western Africa region, was taking place in Khartoum.

Starting in late Spring 2014, Khartoum and Tehran began to restore their surge into western Africa. It was not a simple decision for Khartoum because Sudan was by then deeply involved in sponsoring and assisting a myriad of Sunni jihadist movements throughout the Middle East. Some of these groups were vehemently anti-Shi’ite and anti-Iran takfiri jihadist groups. Moreover, Sudanese intelligence was closely cooperating with Turkish intelligence and the key conservative Sunni Gulf States led by Qatar.

In Summer 2014, Sudan President Umar al-Bashir instructed the entire national security and intelligence élite of Sudan to re-examine the country’s overall defense posture in view of the prevailing and emerging threats and opportunities.

On July 1, 2014, Bashir chaired a milestone meeting in Khartoum with the country’s most senior military and security officials in which the overall strategic posture of Sudan was assessed.

Special attention was paid to the strategic relations with Iran and their impact on the situation vis-à-vis Libya. Gen. Siddiq Amer, the Director General of Intelligence and Security, told Bashir that “Iran trained for us a hundred officers in advanced technological fields and areas like decoding, spying, in addition to MI [military intelligence] crafts, and supplied us with all the necessary equipment for [Sudan’s] information war.”

Gen. Yahia Muhammad Kheir, the Minister of State for Defense, summed up Iran’s contribution to Sudan’s strategic capabilities and particularly the transfer of weapon systems from Libya.

“Two-thirds of Gadhafi’s sophisticated armaments are in our hands,” Kheir stated. Gadhafi “didn’t use them because he lacked some technique [ie: technical expertise], but our experts in collaboration with the Iranian experts managed to develop some missiles [and make them operational].” Lt.-Gen. Ismail Breima Abdel-Samad, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, added that the Iran-built Kenana Air Base south of Khartoum was the center of the strategic program.

“Kenana Air Base is place[d] underground and designed with highly advance technologies and proper security measures. This is where we store all the cargos of weapons we receive from our friends.”

Bashir summed up the discussions by asserting Sudan’s policies and future objectives. He stressed the importance of Sudan’s continued involvement in Libya in support for the jihadist forces. He noted: “We really benefit from Gadhafi’s armaments which are in our hands, we can [further] develop them. Our allies from the Islamic movements are strong. We shall contribute in training the Libyan army. I’ve advised them to ensure that all the army and security [forces] are loyal to the Islamists. You must continue the coordination with them. Then the Libyan political decision will end up in our hands and under our control in case the Islamic movements succeeded to crush Haftar. [Tell the Libyan authorities] that we would secure the oil reserves [for them]. It is clear that the Islamists will win due to the serious support from Qatar and Iran, as you know. Today, the Libyans have joint forces with us and we are supporting them with armaments and intelligence. Tchad [Chad] is a strategic ally and we have joint forces with them. Additionally, the Chadian opposition is also under our control and we can benefit from them by keeping them as a reserve force.”

In conclusion, Bashir emphasized that Sudan’s international relations must always be second to “our relations with Iran, and the Muslim Brothers, and the salafi-jihadist movements that are financed by Iran and Qatar”. Sudan “cannot change our relations with Iran and our brothers” on account of “useless relationships” with Arab and Western states. Bashir stressed that these assertions stem from the quintessence of the government in Khartoum. “We are Islamic resistance revolutionaries, and we refuse the domination of America in the Arab world and [the] African continent. Our religion teaches us and encourages us to fight and terrorize the enemy, plus preparing force to confront him. Our martyrs [go] to heaven and their dead [go] to hell. [There is] no way to stop the jihad,” Bashir decreed.

On Aug. 31, 2014, the entire leadership met in Khartoum for a top secret strategy formulation deliberation on the basis of the July 1, 2014, meeting with Bashir. Gen. Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, the Minister of Defense, asserted that the special relations with Iran were to remain the crux of Sudan’s national security:

“I shall start with our relationship with Iran and say it is a strategic and everlasting relationship. We cannot compromise or lose it. All the advancement in our military industry is from Iran. They opened the doors of their stores of weapons for us, at a time the Arabs stood against us. The Iranian support came when we were fighting a rebellion that spread in all directions including the National Democratic Alliance. The Iranians provided us with experts and they trained our MI [Military Intelligence] and security cadres. They also trained us in weapons production and transferred to us modern technology in the military production industry. There is one full battalion of the Republican Guards still with us here and other experts who are constructing interception and spying bases in order to protect us, plus an advanced Air Defense system. They built for us Kenana and Jebel Awliya Air Force bases.”

Gen. Siddiq Amer, the Director-General of Intelligence and Security, concurred and stated that “Iran is our biggest ally in the region, in terms of cooperation in the areas of intelligence and military industrial production. We have relations with all the Islamic Movements World Wide and we represent a door for Iran to all these Islamic groups.” Amer reinforced an earlier comment by Hussein about the extent of Sudan’s reach in the jihadist circles. Hussein noted that “the ISIS and the other jihadist movements are newly formed and can move freely outside the traditional surveillance networks. Currently, there are twenty thousand (20,000) jihadists and fifteen (15) newly formed jihadist Movements who are scattered all over, from Morocco to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, all the Gulf States, a wide presence in Africa and Europe and nobody owns a database on that as the one we have.”

Gen. Yahya Muhammad Kheir, the Minister of State for Defense, raised the possibility of cooperating with the Gulf States on issues that include Africa.

The intelligence services of several Gulf States were seeking Sudan’s help with intelligence and contacts because the Gulf States did not know anything about the Islamist groups in Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, and the North African Arab Countries. Kheir recommended that Khartoum cooperated with the Gulf States to the extent that Sudanese interests were furthered and that Sudan’s vital interests were not affected. “We will not sacrifice our relations with the Islamists and Iran for a relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf States,” Kheir stated. Amer also saw no problem balancing between the Gulf States and Iran. “We are capable of misleading the Gulf States by taking open, declared steps and procedures towards improving diplomatic relations with them,” he assured.

The meeting also delved into Sudan’s relations with the jihadist forces in Libya and their impact on Sudan’s growing cooperation with Qatar and Turkey in sponsoring jihadist forces throughout Africa. Hussein explained that practical cooperation had already begun in Libya. He illustrated Sudan’s unique role as a mediator between Iran and the Sunni powers. In late July 2014, Hussein noted, “they [the Iranians] transported to us BM [anti-aircraft] missile launchers and their rockets using civil aviation planes. We stored them in Kenana and sold part of them to Qatar to support Libya fighters after they were subjected to attacks by the Egyptian and Emirates air forces. That helped them to achieve victory.”

Gen. Imad al-Din Adawy, the Chief of Joint Operations, elaborated on the latest developments in the cooperation with and in Libya. “Our joint forces with Tchad [Chad] are in their best state. The Libyan border is totally secured, especially after the victory of our allies (the Libya Dawn Forces) in Tripoli. We managed to deliver to them the weapons and military equipment donated by Qatar and Turkey and we formed a joint operations room with them under one of the colonels in order to coordinate and administer the military operations. Turkey and Qatar provided us with information in favor of the revolutionaries on top of the information collected by our own agents so they can control the whole country.”

Amer pointed out to the prospects for long-term relations with Libya through the professional assistance by Sudanese Intelligence. “We have intensified the work to train and graduate Libyan MI cadres. Currently, they are doing an advanced course on Internet operation, deciphering of codes, interception of telephones and wireless radios. Their leadership requested us to train and establish for them a strong MI system.” It is through the Libyan Military Intelligence that Sudan would not only dominate Islamist-jihadist Tripoli, but also open the back door for Iran.

Meanwhile, Summer 2014 saw the building of relations and cooperation between the intelligence services of Iran, Sudan, Qatar, and Turkey in Libya and the acceptance of the central and unique role of Sudan. Back in early Summer of 2014, Nouri Abusahmain — then still the Islamist president of the Libyan General National Congress (in office between June 25, 2013, and August 4, 2014) — made a secret trip to Khartoum and requested funding and arms shipments in order to sustain the hold onto power by jihadist militias affiliated with the Muslim Brothers.

The Libyans nominated Ahmad al-Zuway, an Ikhwan official with tribal links in Sudan, as the front man for the military-intelligence cooperation with Sudan. Zuway’s first task was to oversee the flow of arms and jihadists in cars and trucks from north-western Sudan to Kufra (in the southeast of Libya’s Cyrenaica region). Consequently, the Ikhwan could expand the jihadist Dawn militias with fighters, weapons and ammunition from Sudan.

During the Summer, Sudan launched supplies by air to the Tripoli-Misrata area. The coastal highway from the Benghazi-area stockpiles in the east and the Tripoli-Misrata area in the west was blocked in several sectors, so onland traffic was impossible. Consequently, Libya’s various jihadist militias became increasingly dependent on supplies flown from Sudan over the Sahara. As the jihadist forces closed on Benghazi, Sudanese transport aircraft directly supplied the forces advancing from Darna in the east and Misrata in the west. In early September 2014, Sudan began to directly supply the jihadist Dawn militias in the Tripoli area.

Transport aircraft flew from Sudan, landed and refueled in Kufra, and continued to the Tripoli airport of Mitiga, which is controlled by the Dawn militias. These supplies enabled the Dawn militias to sustain their hold over the vital Tripoli-Misruta area, forcing the Libyan politicians opposed to the Islamists to escape to Tobruk near the Egyptian border. Meanwhile, to expedite the flow of arms and ammunition, Sudan also began to supply Kufra by air in addition to the ongoing truck convoys.

By Autumn 2014, Doha decided to institutionalize and formalize the cooperation with Khartoum in order to ensure that it was not banished from Libya and other up-and-coming jihadist fronts, mainly in Africa. During October 2014, Doha and Khartoum negotiated several secret and not-secret Sudanese-Qatari agreements. In early November 2014, Qatari Minister of Defense Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah and the Sudanese Minister of Defense Gen. Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Hussein signed a comprehensive military cooperation agreement in Doha. The signing ceremony was attended by the Chief-of-Staff of the Qatari Armed Forces, Maj.-Gen. Ghanim bin Shaheen al-Ghanim, who handles the day-to-day implementation.

The agreement covers “training, formation, exchange of expertise, joint exercises, joint investments, exchange of visits, promotion of cooperation between the two armies, and the exchange of military studies on the level of military academic institutions”. The agreement also provided for “the exchange of expertise in logistics and industrial fields including detached service of officers and experts along with the military medical cooperation”; that is, Qatari participation in the Sudanese out of country endeavors. As part of the military cooperation agreement, Qatar committed to “supply Sudan with the natural gas”. In the secret agreement on intelligence cooperation, Qatar committed to sponsoring and funding a myriad of Sudanese (and Iranian) jihadist initiatives mostly throughout Africa.

It is understood in Doha that in the context of the new bilateral relations, Khartoum would intercede with Tehran not to undermine the al-Thani rule in Qatar and to continue to use Qatar as the lucrative main venue for illegal technology imports and sanctions-busting oil and gas exports.

In late-November 2014, Maj.-Gen. Ghanim bin Shaheen led a large delegation of military and intelligence officials on a followup visit to Khartoum. He was hosted by Sudan’s Gen. Hussein. The delegations discussed the further expansion and consolidation of the special relations and cooperation between the armed forces of Qatar and Sudan. Concurrently, Sudan’s Information Minister, Dr Ahmed Bilal, arrived in Doha in order to address the public political aspects of the new relations. Bilal delivered a speech praising “the relations between Qatar and Sudan” and describing them as “strong, long-standing and well-developed ties”.

Bilal was effusive in his praise of official Qatar. “The people of Sudan owe a debt of gratitude to the Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Father Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Government and people of Qatar for the support extended to Sudan in all conditions and in all fields.”

Back in September 2014, 15 Qatar-sponsored KHI operatives led by an Egyptian and a Saudi Arabian senior commanders arrived in Darna from Syria via Turkey. The delegation included top jurist Turki al-Bin’ali and Abu Nabil al-Anbari, the former “emir” of Iraq’s Anbar province. Their mission was to establish a KHI branch in Libya. By late October 2014, more than 50 Darna jihadists publicly pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and declared their commitment to establishing a Darna Caliphate in Cyrenaica. Using the weapons and funds received from Sudan, they built an 800-strong force operating at least six camps outside Darna as well as a few large training facilities in the Green Mountains for Libyan, Egyptian and foreign jihadists. By mid-November 2014, they seized control of the entire city of Darna with the KHI’s black banners flying over all government buildings.

On Dec. 12, 2014, the Mujahedin Shura Council of Cyrenaica urged all Islamist forces to join a coalition led by the Darna Caliphate, and all the Islamist militias in eastern Libya, including the Sudan-sponsored Libyan Dawn forces, recognized the new coalition.

The jihadists celebrated the announcement with a military parade in Darna led by tanks and technicals adorned with black flags. Combat proven commanders from Syria, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt arrived in Darna from the KHI to help expand the training and force building efforts. They established three major training camps in Nawfaliyah (near Sirte), Sabratha, and Darna for Libyan and African fighters. Sudanese military technicians also arrived in Darna to build communications facilities as well as maintain the combat aircraft, tanks, artillery and rockets in the jihadists’ arsenal. By month end, these Sudanese technicians were instrumental in servicing and arming the few combat aircraft seized by the Libyan Dawn, and thus enabling the Libyan pilots to bomb and set aflame several oil tanks in the Sidra port.

With the Darna Caliphate secure, Sudan and its allies — Qatar, Turkey, and, behind the scenes, Iran — could capitalize on the huge stockpiles left there by the Gadhafi Government in order to support African jihads. For example, the support for the Boko Haram was put under a single manager: a coordinator for the communications, weapons supplies and financing delivered from Libya via Sudan. Known only by nom de guerre Abu Kudes, he is an Egyptian, an Ikhwan activist and originally a “professor” from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, who was involved in earlier jihadist logistical efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Turkey-Syria.

In late 2014, Abu Kudes was coordinating the delivery of weapons from stockpiles in Cyrenaica with the assistance of logistical experts from Sudanese and Turkish intelligence. Qatari intelligence was funding all the jihadist logistical operations in Cyrenaica.

By early 2015, the uppermost leadership of the Islamic Caliphate started to openly highlight the strategic importance of Libya: that is, the Libyan Wilayat (Province) of the KHI. A clear manifestation of the trend was the publication in early January 2015 of an essay called “Libya: The Strategic Gateway for the Islamic State” in the KHI’s main electronic venue. The gist of the essay was the imperative for the KHI to expand into, and then surge from, Libya. The author identified himself as a Libyan supporter of the Caliphate.

The essay explains that “by the grace of God to Libya, God bestowed upon this country a strategic position and immense potential. These are things from which it would be possible to derive great benefits if they were efficiently exploited. Unfortunately, some supporters do not recognize the extent of the Libyan arena, the proliferation of variant weaponry within it, its geographic dimensions and its critical environs. Sufficed to say, Libya looks upon the sea, the desert, mountains, and six states: Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia.”

The author emphasizes the unique potential of Libya as a springboard for a jihadist invasion of southern Europe. Libya, he writes, “has a long coastline and looks upon the southern Crusader states, which can be reached with ease by even a rudimentary boat and note that the number of ‘illegal immigration’ trips from this coast is massive, estimated to be as high as 500 people a day, as a low estimate. According to many [of these immigrants], it is easily possible to pass through Maritime Security Checkpoints and arrive in cities. If this was even partially exploited and developed strategically, pandemonium could be wrought in the southern Europe. It is even possible that there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of Crusader ships and tankers.”

The essay concluded by reiterating the geostrategic importance of Libya to the expansion of the Caliphate in and beyond the Greater Middle East. “My brothers, Libya, by the permission of God, is the key to Egypt, the key to Tunisia, Sudan, Mali, Algeria, and Niger too. It is the anchor from which can be reached Africa and the Islamic Maghreb.”

The author urged the takfiri jihadist trend to expedite the liberation of Libya before the West realized the threat Libya constituted itself and before the West would attempt to intervene anew in Libya. “It is imperative that the mujahedin move to try to prevent the continuation of [the Crusader] plan and fix the differences between Libyans so that they may direct their energies towards the real enemy, the real tyrants, those who have as their masters the Crusaders. If that happens, which it will, if God permits it, then no force will stand in the way of the mujahedin.

Not only will pressure on the land of the Caliphate in ash-Sham be relieved, but the territories of the Caliphate in ash-Sham, Iraq, and Hijaz will be linked with those of their brothers in Libya and the Islamic Maghreb and the defeat of all regimes and tyrants in their way will be enabled. That is not difficult for God.”

In February 2015, the Caliphate in eastern Libya was ready to surge into the jihadist center stage.

The KHI uppermost leadership concurred and facilitated the dissemination of the Libyan Caliphate’s message in its primary venue, Al-Hayat Media. On February 15, 2015, the Libyan Caliphate posted a graphic five-minute video titled “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross”. The video began with the marching and beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts who had been recently kidnapped in Libya. Dressed in Guantanamo-like orange jump suits, the Copts were lined up along a beach and abruptly beheaded by black-dressed mujahedin. The camera then focused of the sea water red with blood.

A jihadist commander dressed in military fatigues delivered the message in American-accented English. “All praise is due to Allah the strong and mighty,” he declared at the start of the video. “And may blessings and peace be upon the ones sent by the sword as a mercy to all the worlds.” He connected the “End-of-Time Battle” in al-Jazira with the decisive surge on Christendom to be launched from Libya.

“Oh people, recently you have seen us on the hills of ash-Sham and Dabiq’s plain, chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time, and today, we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message.

“All Crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together. The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah, we will mix it with your blood.”

After the jihadist leader finished his declaration, the line of mujahedin commenced the beheading of the 21 Copts kneeling in front of them. Once the slaughter was over, the commander stepped forward for a final statement.

“And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him,” he declared.

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Country Profile: U.S. Security Assistance to Yemen

Following close to eleven months of street protests calling for an end to his 33-year presidency, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a U.S.-supported transition plan on November 23, 2011. Former Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was elected president in February 2012 in a one-man election. While the new government has made progress on parts of the transition plan by beginning to restructure the security sector and completing a National Dialogue Conference (NDC), it has yet to revise the constitution or hold new elections. In late September 2014, Shiite rebels gained control over much of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, prompting a new agreement to establish a more inclusive government. At the same time, President Hadi is facing growing protests in the south for independence and continuing attacks by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Security forces and several non-state actors in Yemen have been implicated in various human rights violations. Given the unstable political and security climate, U.S. support for Yemen’s security sector remains a top priority. From Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 to 2014, the U.S. government allocated a total of $343 million in U.S. security assistance to Yemen aimed primarily at strengthening the security forces’ capacity to combat terrorism. As the Obama Administration seeks more funding for U.S. security assistance to Yemen, there are several serious challenges ranging from concern about the use of U.S. drone attacks, Houthi support for the new agreement and high levels of security force corruption and abuse of power. Main Security Challenges AL-QAEDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA (AQAP): AQAP maintains a domestic insurgency while also planning attacks against Western targets. Since President Hadi was elected, the Yemeni military has led several offensives against AQAP, including one in 2012 with assistance from local tribesmen that helped remove AQAP from controlling sections of southern Yemen.2 U.S. drone attacks have also re- moved AQAP operatives in Yemen. However, AQAP continues to regularly attack Yemeni government forces and facilities, including a Defense Ministry compound that killed at least 52 people, and has planned attacks against U.S. and other Western interests in Yemen and abroad.3 HOUTHI REBELLION: Although the Zaidi Shiite group known as the Houthis or Ansar Allah has been en- gaged in a low-level insurgency in northern Yemen since 2004, they recently took control over much of Yemen’s capital city, Sanaa, after a series of military advances in northern Yemen.4 Animated by an- ti-Western sentiment, the Houthis see themselves as defending their community from government repres- sion while Hadi’s government has considered them rebels supported by Iran. Since 2011, the Houthis have been battling Yemeni government forces, Sunni Islamists and tribal militias led by Yemeni political party Islah and former general Ali Mohsen. In response to Houthi military advancements and protests, President Hadi signed an agreement on September 21, 2014, which calls for a Houthi presidential advisor to help create a more inclusive Yemeni government within a month.5 SOUTHERN SEPARATIST MOVEMENT (HIRAAK): Since reunification in 1990, southern Yemenis have contin- ued to feel marginalized by the central government, which in the past led to a civil war in 1994 and more recently the reemergence of a separatist movement in 2007 called Hiraak.6 The movement maintains strong public support among southern Yemenis whose perceptions of second-class status led many not to participate in the NDC, rejecting it as illegit- imate. Others in the movement aligned with Presi- dent Hadi, himself a southerner, participated in the dialogue and advocated for a federalist state instead of secession. Like the Houthis, Hadi has also agreed to appoint a Hiraak presidential political advisor to help form the new government.7 HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS: According to the State Department’s human rights report in 2013, Yemen’s security forces engaged in several types of human rights violations, including arbitrary killings, kidnap- ping and politically motivated disappearances of individuals critical of the security forces or those in support of the Houthi or Hiraak movements.8 In early September 2014, Yemeni soldiers and personnel from special forces, which have received U.S. aid in the past, reportedly fired live ammunition into a crowd of peaceful protestors.9 There have also been reports of the security forces conscripting child soldiers. Several non-state actors such as AQAP, “progovernment and opposition tribal militias [and] regionally and religiously oriented insurgents” also 10 committed numerous human rights abuses. U.S. Security Assistance In response to Yemen’s security challenges, U.S. security assistance aims to build the counterter- rorism capacity of Yemeni security forces, support Yemen’s military reform and strengthen civilian law enforcement and judicial institutions, among other goals. From FY 2011 to 2014, the U.S. government allocated a total of $343 million in U.S. security assistance to Yemen through State and Defense Department-funded programs.11 Compared to other recipients of U.S. security assistance in the Middle East in FY 2013, Yemen was the fifth largest, with Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Jordon and Lebanon receiving more funding. For FY 2015, the State Department requested a total of $32 million in U.S. security assistance to Yemen. Although the Defense Depart- ment has not publicized how much it plans to spend on Yemen in FY 2015 through several of its security assistance programs, it said it may allocate $200 mil- lion to Yemen as part of the new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund over the next three years.12

The primary focus of U.S. security assistance to Yemen is on counterterrorism with what appears to be four broad goals: 1) improve Yemen’s military and special forces capabilities to conduct operations against AQAP; 2) support Yemen’s manned and unmanned capabilities for gathering intelligence; 3) increase Yemen’s airlift capabilities and 4) enhance Yemen’s law enforcement ability to detect and deter terrorist activities along and within Yemen’s bor- ders.13 Most counterterrorism assistance to Yemen goes through two Defense Department programs, namely Section 1206 and Section 1207(n) (see Fig- ure 1 below), with a heavy emphasis on providing weapons and equipment.14 Of the $46 million the Defense Department allocated under Section 1206 for Yemen in FY 2013, for instance, only $565,000 went to security force training.15 U.S. security as- sistance to Yemen through the State Department’s Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) program helps security forces detect and detain terrorists at the border, identify explosive devices and protect its national leadership.16

The primary focus of U.S. security assistance to Yemen is on counterterrorism with what appears to be four broad goals:

Read More: http://www.ciponline.org/images/uploads/publications/SAM_Yemen_Country_Profile_2014.pdf

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US OFFICIALS OUTLINE POLICY, POSTURE IN MIDDLE EAST

DoD News, By Claudette Roulo

Defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist organization and preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon are the top two issues that must be addressed in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the undersecretary of defense for policy told Congress on Tuesday.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee alongside Centcom commander Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Christine E. Wormuth said new realities have forced the Defense Department to take a hard look at its near and long-term goals for engagement in the Middle East.

Rapidly Changing Region

Centcom’s area of responsibility is today more volatile and chaotic than ever before, Austin said, “and the stakes have never been higher.”

Forces of evil thrive in the region’s poorly governed areas, the general said. “And therefore,” he added, “it is essential that we be present and engaged and that we cultivate strong partnerships and continue to do our part to address emerging threats and to move the region in the direction of greater stability and security.”

In Iraq and Syria, the department is working with partners for a whole-of-government effort toward degrading and ultimately defeating ISIL, Wormuth said.

“At the same time,” Austin said, “we’ve dealt with a number of difficult challenges in Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon and in a host of other locations throughout our area of responsibility.”

Operation Inherent Resolve

As part of Operation Inherent Resolve, more than 2,600 U.S. service members are in Iraq working with the government and training Iraqi forces, and more than 60 countries are participating in the global coalition against ISIL, Wormuth said.

“This is going to be a long-term campaign and we need to be patient, but we are making progress,” she noted.

“This barbaric organization must be defeated, and it will be defeated,” Austin said.

“Since commencing our operations in early August — just seven months ago — we’ve killed more than 8,500 ISIL fighters and we’ve destroyed hundreds of its vehicles, along with tanks and heavy weapons systems,” he said.

Coalition efforts have stalled ISIL’s momentum, degraded its ability to mass and maneuver forces, pressured or eliminated its leadership cells and disrupted its command and control and supply lines, Wormuth said.

“In short, we’ve put ISIL on the defensive,” the undersecretary said.

Partner Nations Key to Success

These successes would not have been possible without local partners in the lead, Wormuth noted. In Iraq, advise-and-assist teams began partnering with local forces last summer, and earlier this year training of these forces began at four different sites, she said.

“We are also working with our coalition partners in Syria, and we are also working to build the capabilities of the moderate Syrian opposition there,” the deputy undersecretary said. Training of the first class of vetted opposition elements is expected to begin later this month, she added.

“Our forces in the region are strengthening our partners’ ability to fight terrorism locally, but, ultimately, it’s going to be Iraq forces and Syrian fighters who will secure the gains against ISIL and inflict a lasting defeat,” Wormuth said.

Preventing a Nuclear-armed Iran

“The president has made clear his top priority is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Wormuth said.

The department hopes that continued “P5+1” discussions will result in a “comprehensive and verifiable agreement that will ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” she said. The P5+1 are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France — plus Germany.

But, the undersecretary noted, the Defense Department’s job is to remain vigilant. “And we do that by helping to underwrite negotiations with our robust posture and capabilities in the region,” Wormuth said.

“As the president has said publicly, we will do whatever’s necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon — including the use of military force if necessary. And we’re postured to do that in the region today,” she said.

Fiscal Year 2016, Return of Sequestration

The president’s budget request for 2016 supports the department’s strategy for the region and enables the services to continue to address the nation’s most critical needs, Wormuth said.

“If sequestration returns, however, in 2016 and beyond, the department’s readiness would deteriorate markedly, which would harm our ability to respond promptly and efficiently when called upon,” she said.

“We are constantly responding to unforeseen contingencies and facing multiple threats from a wide range of actors that include nation states and transnational extremist groups,” Austin said. “We cannot afford to constrict our ability to do so effectively by maintaining across-the-board spending cuts that severely limit our flexibility and authority to apply critical defense resources based on demand and the current security environment.”

“We are clear-eyed about the fiscal constraints that we’re facing, but we believe it’s necessary — even in the face of those constraints — to maintain our commitment to protect our interests in the region and to combat the threats that we face there,” Wormuth said.

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IRAN: DEAL OR NO DEAL….DEAL

Some US analysts agree with Netanyahu that Congress should reject a weak deal with Iran, while others say his speech was merely aimed at trying to win votes ahead of Israeli elections
– As negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program continued in Switzerland on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the US Congress that he feared the White House was close to striking a “very bad” deal indeed.

Netanyahu told US lawmakers that President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated bargain with Tehran and other major powers would do little to stop Iran from building doomsday weapons and turning the Middle East into a “nuclear tinderbox”.

The Israeli leader was cheered and applauded during his 39-minute speech, but the absence of as many as 59 Democrats from the joint session of Congress indicated that Netanyahu’s hard-line talk on Iran remains divisive.

As he spoke, officials from Iran, the US, and its negotiating powers met in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux to hammer out a framework deal by the end of March on curbing Iran’s nuclear activities, inspecting facilities and lifting sanctions from its battered economy.

Middle East Eye (MEE) takes a look at the main arguments over tackling Tehran:

The Israeli Leader

Netanyahu said Iran is run by wicked theocrats who arm terrorists, are hell-bent on regional domination and are building nuclear weapons to bully neighbours and threaten the US. The planned deal “all but guarantees that Iran gets those weapons,” he said.

Elements of the deal are already public, he said, and include big concessions to Tehran. Iran would retain nuclear facilities and thousands of centrifuges, which enrich uranium. It would be at a nuclear weapons threshold, with a “short break-out time” of less than a year.

Worryingly, the deal will also “expire in about a decade,” leaving Iran free to expand its atomic schemes thereafter.

“Now, I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, and this with full international legitimacy,” he said.

Instead, he called for using sanctions to wring more concessions and a “better deal” from Iran in which it abandons nuclear facilities and its “aggression ends”.

The White House

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice spelled out the administration position at the meeting of a pro-Israel lobby group on Monday, describing plans to “verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material” for weapons.

Iran has scaled back its uranium enrichment work during talks, she said. A final deal would stop Iran from producing weapons-grade plutonium at a facility at Arak, and from enriching uranium at its underground centre at Fordow.

Calling on Iran to wholesale scrap its nuclear sector is “not a viable negotiating position”, Rice added. Instead, Iran’s “breakout window” should be “at least one year” and the deal should last “more than a decade”.

On Tuesday, an Obama administration official said Netanyahu had not offered alternatives to Congress.

“Simply demanding that Iran completely capitulate is not a plan, nor would any country support us in that position,” the official said in Switzerland, speaking on background.

The Iranians

Iran says its nuclear work is for making electricity and medical isotopes – not bombs.

Obama’s demand that Tehran freeze sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years is “unacceptable”, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in Switzerland on Tuesday.

“Iran will not accept excessive and illogical demands,” he added, according to the Fars news agency.

Iran’s economy is suffering from falling oil prices and sanctions, which it wants lifted. Oil exports have dropped almost 60 percent since 2012, costing it more than $200 billion, the US says.

The Pundits

Outside of Congress, analysts debated who is right on Iran: Netanyahu or Obama. Some said the Israeli leader was persuasive and that Congress should reject a weak deal; critics said he was trying to win votes ahead of Israel’s 17 March elections.

“Netanyahu sincerely views Iran as an existential threat, but it’s largely his personality that leads him to this Manichean view of Iran,” Michael O’Hanlon, a defence expert at Brookings Institution, told MEE. “His perspective is not compatible with US interests: he’s part of the problem in the Middle East and not the solution.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby, warned of a deal that will not dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. Congress must “review any agreement, and object if a bad agreement is reached”, it said in a statement. Conversely, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said Congress scrapping the deal would be a “greater foreign policy mistake than the Iraq invasion”.

William Galston, a former White House advisor, said Netanyahu has an uphill struggle against US public opinion.

“The evidence suggests that Americans would like to see their leaders strike a deal with Iran, even if it leaves some nuclear infrastructure in place; impose the toughest possible inspection regime; and harshly punish major violations,” he told MEE. “Americans are willing to use force against Iran, but only after they have tested the consequences of a negotiated deal and found them wanting.”

For Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, a deal is better than war.

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