Archive for the ‘Terrorism Monitor’ Category

A new piece for an outlet I have not contributed to in a while, Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor, this time looking at the brewing trouble there has been in Mombasa, Kenya and more generally the spread of Shabaab from Somalia into that country. The initial nub of this came from looking more at the cases of Germaine Grant and Samantha Lewthwaite, both significant British figures who have featured in this network. More broadly than them it is clear that the trends in Mombasa are going in a negative direction.

Beyond al Shabaab, Syria continues to be a major focus of people’s attention.  I have longer work coming on this, but in the meantime did interviews on the foreign fighter question with the Sunday Independent and Guardian as well as a more longer-term piece with BBC on the Return to Londonistan. You can also see me talking about foreign fighters and the link to Europe at Chatham House.

Terrorist Campaign Strikes Mombasa as Somali Conflict Spreads South

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 8

April 18, 2014 08:04 PM Age: 4 hrs
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Kenyan authorities in the coastal city of Mombasa arrested two individuals on March 17 as they drove a vehicle laden with explosives into the city. Authorities believed that the two men were part of a larger cell of 11 who were planning a campaign of terror that would have culminated in the deployment of a “massive” VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) against “shopping malls, beaches or tourist hotels” (Capital FM [Nairobi], March 17; Standard [Nairobi], March 17; March 20). A day later, Ugandan authorities announced they had heightened their security in response to a threat from al-Shabaab aimed at fuel plants in the country (Africa Report, March 19).

The VBIED was built into the car, with ball bearings and other shrapnel welded into its sides and a mobile phone detonator wired to the device (Standard [Nairobi], March 20). The men were also caught with an AK-47, 270 rounds of ammunition, six grenades and five detonators (Capital FM [Nairobi], March 18). The suspects, Abdiaziz Abdillahi Abdi and Isaak Noor Ibrahim, were both born in 1988, with Abdiaziz allegedly “a cattle trader and renowned navigator of old caravan trade routes based in Garissa town,” while Noor was described as “a long distance truck driver or conductor who often travelled to South Sudan through Uganda” (Standard [Nairobi], March 23). Their ethnicity was unclear with conflicting reports in the press, though the names suggest a Somali heritage, with Abdiaziz in particular being identified as a member of the Degodia, a sub-clan of the Hawiye of Somalia (Standard [Nairobi], March 23).

Later leaked reports indicated that another possible target was the Mombasa International Airport (Standard [Nairobi], March 23). On January 16, a bomb went off at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. Initially dismissed as a light bulb blowing up, authorities later admitted an IED had caused the explosion in a bin in the airport and reported capturing a car with further explosives onboard after a shootout near the airport. One man was killed in the gunfire and four others were subsequently charged in connection to the plot. One of those charged, Ilyas Yusuf Warsame, was identified by his lawyers as being accredited as a third secretary at the Somali Embassy in Nairobi (AP, February 4).

Authorities claimed to have been tracking a larger cell of individuals targeting Mombasa for around a month prior to the arrests with international assistance. One senior intelligence officer told the Kenyan press that five of the group had gone to Nairobi and the rest to Mombasa. The group allegedly included “foreign fighters” described as members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) by the Kenyan press (Standard [Nairobi], March 23). Official accounts around the plot were somewhat undermined by a report that Kenyan police had initially kept the VBIED parked outside their headquarters after seizing the vehicle without realizing it had a live device wired up within it (Daily Telegraph [London], March 19).

There is little independent corroboration of the international connection to the plot, though one name to appear repeatedly in the press was Fuad Abubakar Manswab, a Nairobi-born man connected by authorities to a number of plots in the past. Most notably, Manswab was arrested and charged alongside Briton Germaine Grant in Mombasa in December 2011. The two were accused of being involved in a bombing campaign in the city that was directed by Ikrima al-Muhajir, a Somalia-based al-Shabaab leader with close ties to al-Qaeda (for Ikrima, see Militant Leadership Monitor, November 2013). Manswab jumped bail in that case and a year later was almost killed in a shootout with Kenyan authorities in the Majengo neighborhood of Mombasa. Two others were killed in the confrontation with authorities and a cache of weapons uncovered, though Manswab managed to escape by jumping out a window with bullet wounds in his shoulder (Star [Nairobi], June 12, 2013). The group was alleged by prosecutors to have been plotting to free other al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab prisoners being held in Mombasa, as well as launching a series of assassinations of security officials and grenade attacks on bars (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 30, 2012). Manswab was later reported to have joined al-Shabaab in Somalia (Star [Nairobi], June 12, 2013).

This targeting of Mombasa comes as a popular radical preacher was mysteriously gunned down in the street. Shaykh Abubakar Shariff Ahmed (a.k.a. Makaburi) was gunned down alongside another man as he left a courtroom within the Shimo la Tewa maximum security prison (Daily Nation [Nairobi], April 1). Long reported by official and media sources to be close to al-Shabaab, Makaburi was on U.S. and UN sanctions lists for his connections via funding and support to terrorist networks in East Africa. [1] He had also been connected to the transit of over 100 British nationals to join al-Shabaab, including the elusive Samantha Lewthwaite and Germaine Grant (Daily Mail, April 2). Close to slain radical clerics Shaykh Aboud Rogo and Shaykh Ibrahim Ismael, Makaburi was the leader of the radical Masjid Shuhada (Martyrs Mosque), previously known as the Masjid Musa. Similar to events in the wake of the deaths of the other two clerics, rioting broke out in Mombasa, though local authorities repeatedly called for calm and the violence was markedly less than in the wake of the deaths of the other clerics (Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation, April 2).

Following Makaburi’s death, another controversial cleric known as Shaykh Amir (a.k.a.  Mahboob) took control of the mosque and called for “total war against non-Muslims” to a packed house (The People [Nairobi], April 8). Sectarian violence was already visible in Mombasa prior to Makaburi’s death, when gunmen tied to the Masjid Shuhada by the Kenyan press were accused of opening fire on a mass in the Joy in Jesus church in the Likoni district, killing seven (Star[Nairobi], March 23).  The attackers attempted to go on to target another local church, but dropped the necessary ammunition before they got there (Daily Nation [Nairobi], March 23). The attack on the church was believed to be a reaction to a police raid on the Masjid Musa in early February in which two youths from the mosque and a policeman were killed. Among the 129 people arrested in the raid, police claimed to have arrested an individual alleged to be close to the late al-Qaeda in East Africa leader, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. (Daily Nation [Nairobi] February 4).

At present, tensions remain high in the city and the government seemed to have responded to the recent spike in trouble with mass arrests and the threatened deportation of foreign nationals. A day prior to Makaburi’s shooting, some 657 people were arrested in sweeps in Eastleigh, a mostly Somali neighborhood in Nairobi, as part of the government’s response to grenade attacks on restaurants in the city that killed six (Daily Nation [Nairobi], April 1). A week after Makaburi’s death, some 4,000 Somalis were reportedly being held in Nairobi’s Kasarani stadium as authorities sifted through who was a Kenyan and who was not (Standard, [Nairobi], April 8). Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku stated that 3,000 had been detained, with 82 deported to Mogadishu (AFP, April 10). On April 12-13, Mombasa police rounded up 60 foreign suspects as part of an ongoing operation (KTN TV [Nairobi], April 13).

This focus on foreigners, however, may be a distraction from the larger problem of radicalization in Kenya, epitomized by the goings on around the mosques in Mombasa where there is evidence of connections to Somalia through Somali youth attending the mosque and connections through preachers like Makaburi, but it is not as clear that it is a solely foreign problem. The connection between the mosque and the community around it in Mombasa and foreign elements (including a trio of Algerian, Belgian and French nationals deported to Belgium on charges of being part of a Belgian-based network sending people to fight in Syria and Somalia) and reports of possible plotting in Uganda all highlight how these problems in Mombasa could have an international dimension (AFP, March 23; Africa Report, March 19).

Raffaello Pantucci is a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

Note

1. www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1630.aspx; https://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/sc10748.doc.htm.

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I have gone quiet for a while due to various travelling and other commitments. Written a few longer things which will eventually land, but for the time being here is my latest piece with Sayyid on al Shabaab’s internal difficulties for Jamestown.

Foreign Fighters in Somalia and al-Shabaab’s Internal Purge

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 22
December 3, 2013 11:21 AM Age: 8 hrs

Al-Shabaab (Source AFP)

The role of foreign fighters in al-Shabaab was brought to public attention once again in October with the release by al-Kata’ib (Shabaab’s media wing) of a video entitled: “It’s an eye for an eye: the Woolwich attacks.” [1] The video featured ten British jihadis who had died fighting alongside al-Shabaab as well as one Somali-Norwegian shown carrying out the massacre at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. The video appeared to confirm the prominent role of foreigners inside the East African terrorist networks (Telegraph, October 25; BBC, October 18). The reality, however, is more complicated, with evidence indicating that the size of the foreign fighter contingent in East Africa has been in flux, with a number dying in a complicated internal struggle from which Ahmad Abdi Godane (a.k.a. Abu Zubayr) has emerged victorious.

The most prominent casualty amongst this foreign fighter contingent was Omar Hammami, the American who rose within al-Shabaab to become its unofficial poster-boy. Increasingly angered by what he saw as the “authoritarian” approach adopted by Godane, he lashed out through videos and on his Twitter account, claiming he was under threat from the Shabaab leadership. Hammami survived one attempt on his life before succumbing to an assassin’s bullet on September 12. Dying alongside him was Osama al-Britani, a British-Pakistani national believed to be Habib Ghani, a long-standing British fighter in the region who was closely linked to the semi-mythical “white widow” Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of one of the July 7, 2005 bombers of London’s underground system (Daily Mail, September 13).

The deaths of the two men came as the capstone of a series of foreign fighter deaths under mysterious circumstances. One of the first to fall was Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese sub-commander within the group who was killed by a drone strike in January 22, 2012. A month later his companion Muhammad Sakr was also killed under similar circumstances. While the direct cause of death was clear, the circumstances that enabled the drones to find these individuals were not.

In an apparent attempt to clarify these circumstances, al-Kata’ib made the unusual step of releasing a video which purported to be a confession by a young Somali who claimed to have helped direct the drone strikes against Bilal al-Berjawi and Muhammad Sakr. The confessional video seemed aimed at emphasizing that the two men had died as the result of offensive operations by the group’s enemies rather than executed by the group itself, suggesting there was some doubt that this was the case. [2]

Evidence of an internal dispute over the targeting of foreign fighters was found in other areas. For example, in the wake of al-Berjawi’s death, there was a reported exodus of foreigners from Somalia. In late April 2013, senior leaders within the organization published a fatwa (legal pronouncement in Islam) specifically ordering that Omar Hammami, Osama al-Britani and Egyptian Khatab al-Masri not be targeted for assassination. [3] In mid-2010 there was still strong evidence that Westerners, from the UK at least, were providing a fairly steady stream of young warriors to join the Somali group, but the indicators over time have been negative. With the rise of jihad operations in Syria and other Arab Spring countries, young Westerners no longer saw the appeal of joining Godane’s increasingly xenophobic jihad.

For its part, al-Shabaab appears more eager to reach out to the foreign community than before. The video “Woolwich Attack: It’s an Eye for an Eye” came in the wake of a YouTube video published by the group that described the journey of a group from Minneapolis who left the United States to join al-Shabaab (the video has since been removed from the Internet). The video eulogized the fallen Westerners in a manner that seemed aimed at recruiting people to come to Somalia and to illustrate how the fight that al-Shabaab was undertaking was part of a larger conflict directed by core al-Qaeda.

Close examination of the videos and the records of the fallen men illustrates that these cases are, for the most part, historical rather than current. The Minneapolis group moved from the United States to Somalia in a series of waves dating back to 2007. The known British fighters mentioned all seem to have travelled to the conflict before 2010. In some cases, court documents identify individuals who fought alongside al-Shabaab and then returned home. In others, networks back in the UK that were providing support and funding for fighters were disrupted, yielding information on when individuals left and how long they required financial support. [4] Some of those provided with support through these networks are now reported dead. One man, identified as “CF” in court documents, first tried to travel to Afghanistan to fight, but was dissuaded by the difficulties encountered in entering that country and instead settled for Somalia. [5]

Having said all of this, there is still some evidence that Godane retains the loyalty and support of some of his foreign cadres. Part of this is evidenced through various media outlets, like the pro-Godane Twitter feed @MYC_Press, which is widely speculated to be run by Samantha Lewthwaite. Whether run by Lewthwaite or not, the account is clearly written by someone whose mother tongue is colloquial British English. Similarly, all of the videos mentioned in this piece are narrated by Abu Omar, an English-speaking Shabaab fighter who has a very clear grasp of the languages and culture of the West, most likely indicating strong foreign links. In terms of the Westgate incident, the growing evidence of a strong link to Somali diaspora elements from Norway suggests the group is still able to call upon its foreign links to conduct audacious operations.

However, the dilemma remains about what role foreign fighters will have in the new organization being crafted by Godane. In April 2013, an open letter to al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri was released by Ibrahim al-Afghani (a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Zaylai), in which al-Afghani called for the al-Qaeda leader to step into an increasingly fractious battle within al-Shabaab that was threatening to tear the organization apart. At the heart of the division was a split between the local and international fighters, with the two groups divided over al-Shabaab’s direction (African Review [Nairobi], April 9, 2013). Interestingly, it seemed as though the foreign contingent was focused on consolidating power within Somalia, while the faction led by Godane was more interested in expanding al-Shabaab’s international reach, possibly to live up to its role as an al-Qaeda affiliate.

It is possibly within this split that we see the seeds of the Westgate incident as well as an explanation of the future role Godane sees for the foreign fighters in his group. While the Westgate plot clearly used assets within Kenya and is therefore in part a product of domestic radicalization issues inside Kenya, it was nevertheless directed and claimed by Godane’s al-Shabaab network. The intent was to mount a large-scale incident to attract international attention alongside other major international jihadist attacks, such as this year’s In Aménas attack, the 2008 Mumbai attack and other large-scale terrorist operations in which mass casualties have been ascribed to al-Qaeda or its affiliates.

At the same time, the group’s latest video release pointed to an eagerness to place the Somali cause within a larger ideological arc (highlighting the causes of the Uyghur and Rohignya as examples where the West was proving it did not care about Muslims) and also called upon individuals to conduct terrorist plots in the West. Al-Shabaab has previously refrained from calling openly for such terrorist operations. Delivered clearly and coherently in English, the rhetorical shift is something clearly aimed at a Western audience.

The danger for Western security officials is that the group has finally made the long-awaited strategic decision to focus efforts outside of Somalia. At the same time, the decision to make this shift seems to come at a moment when the group is having less success in attracting Western fighters to its ranks, thus depriving them of the most effective tool to launch an attack in the heart of the West. With Syria currently dominating jihadists’ attention, this dynamic is unlikely to change substantially in the near future. In the longer-term, Godane’s clear interest in living up to his group’s al-Qaeda affiliation would suggest more incidents aimed at Western targets in Africa at least are likely.

Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

A.R. Sayyid is the editor of The Somali War Monitor Blog www.somaliwarmonitor.wordpress.com. 

Notes

1. The video confession was posted in May 2013 and is available:ia600707.us.archive.org/22/items/3d-f7dhrhm-2/SoBeware2_HQ.m4v.

2. See www.aljahad.com/vb/showthread.php.

3. Regina vs Mohammed Shabir Ali and Mohammed Shakif Ali, Central Criminal Court, August 1, 2012.

4. Secretary of State for the Home Department vs CC and CF, Royal Courts of Justice, October 19, 2012, [2012] EWHC 2837.

A new article for Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, this time exploring the Chinese claim that ETIM fighters are showing up in Syria alongside a broader exploration of what the group is up to these days. More on Syria and foreigners coming soon.

China Claims Uyghur Militants Are Seeking a Syrian Battlefield

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 22
November 30, 2012 03:02 PM Age: 4 hrs

Screen shot of a TIP video (Source Sawt al-Islam)

Chinese security officials informed reporters in late October that members of the East Turkistan Islamic Party (ETIM, a name used frequently by Chinese officials to refer to the Turkistan Islamic Party – TIP) and the East Turkistan Educational and Solidarity Association (ETESA) had slipped into Syria to join anti-government forces operating there (Global Times [Beijing], October 29). The report came at the end of a month in which the TIP released a number of videos and magazines on jihadist web forums showing their forces training at camps, calling for more support and generally highlighting the group’s ongoing struggle. However, neither the videos nor reports from Syria were supported by any visible action or evidence to support the claims. Questions also continue to be raised about the group’s ability to launch effective attacks in China, Syria or elsewhere.

According to the newspaper, which is owned by the Communist Party of China, the ETIM or ETESA members slipped across the border from Turkey into Syria from May onwards. Officials talking anonymously to the Global Times indicated that people had been recruited amongst those who had fled from the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, had been trained and then re-directed by “al-Qaeda” to the frontlines in Syria. The actual number of recruits was believed to be relatively small. The story was given an official imprimatur the next day when it was mentioned during the regular press briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where emphasis was placed on the close connection between ETIM and “international terrorist organizations [that] not only seriously harm China’s national security, but also pose a threat to the peace and stability of other countries.” [1] The remarks highlighted the alleged connection between militants belonging to China’s Turkic and Muslim minority and the international terrorist threat of al-Qaeda as it is currently expressing itself in Syria; towards the end of the Global Times report, mention was made of the recent video in which al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri called for fighters to go to Syria.

What was striking about the report was the specific mention of the East Turkistan Educational and Solidarity Association (ETESA). This is the first time Chinese officials have spoken openly about the group, suggesting it is a terrorist organization along the lines of TIP/ETIM. Based in Istanbul, the group’s site proclaims that its intention is “to educate and bring up Turkistani Muslims….meeting their Islamic, social, cultural, spiritual and earthly needs” as well as to “fundamentally end the ignorance in Eastern Turkistan.” [2] The group strenuously denied the claims by the Chinese government, publishing a statement on their site in English and Turkish that rubbished the Chinese claims and accused the Chinese government of casting blame on them in an attempt to distract from Beijing’s support for the Assad regime. [3] The Turkish government also rejected claims that ETIM forces were operating outside Turkish territory and declared that it was “comprehensively” cooperating with the Chinese in handling terrorism threats (Global Times, October 29). Certainly, the broader Sino-Turkish relationship has been going relatively well of late with a successful visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Urumqi (provincial capital of Xinjiang) and Beijing in April (Hurriyet, April 9). This was followed in September by a meeting between Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and former Chinese leader Wen Jiabao in Urumqi on the fringes of the 2nd China-Eurasia Expo (Xinhua, September 2). China has actively encouraged Turkish investment in Xinjiang – the province dissident Uyghurs refer to as East Turkistan – including the establishment of a joint trade park just outside Urumqi. It would therefore seem counter-productive for Turkey to be actively supporting violent groups like the TIP.

What seems more likely is that the ETESA is falling under the same Chinese brush as the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a U.S.-based dissident group that China has in the past accused of being behind trouble in Xinjiang, including the July 2009 riots in Urumqi that claimed some 200 lives (Xinhua, July 7, 2009). Both the WUC and ETESA use bases abroad to further political efforts to “liberate” Xinjiang. So far there have been no independent links made between ETESA or the WUC and the violent terrorist groups TIP or ETIM.

Far clearer than Beijing’s Syrian-related claims is the continuing presence of fighters claiming affiliation to TIP in the lawless tribal regions of northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. From this base, the group released from the middle of October onwards a series of videos displaying the group’s ongoing exploits and providing advice for other militant groups. For example, in a video released on October 17 they offered advice to their “Muslim brothers in East Turkistan,” and in an October 21 video they offered advice “for our Muslim brothers in Turkey.” [4]

What is notable is that while these videos demonstrate the group’s ongoing intent and existence, they do not seem to advance the cause in a practical way. While there continue to be sporadic incidents of violence in Xinjiang, the link to the TIP is increasingly underplayed officially and the group itself has not claimed any recent operations. An example of Beijing’s new approach is found in a report published on the fringes of early November’s 18th Party Congress that quoted both Xinjiang Communist Party chief Zhang Chunxian and chairman Nur Bekri that touched upon a number of incidents that have taken place in the province that have elsewhere been linked to the TIP/ETIM, but were cited in the report without reference to either group (China Daily, November 10). There was also no reporting in the mainland Chinese press of an alleged October 23 incident in the Xinjiang city of Korla in which a group of Uyghurs reportedly attacked police or a separate incident in Yecheng County in which a Uyghur man was claimed to have driven his motorcycle into a border post (Radio Free Asia, October 23; October 12). No independent confirmation of what took place is available in either case and neither Chinese officials nor TIP/ETIM chose to acknowledge them. Given the low level of the attacks, however, it seems unlikely that these incidents were directed by the TIP.

It seems clear that the TIP/ETIM continues to exist, that it is a concern to Chinese security officials, and that Xinjiang continues to be an ethnically troubled province that provides a motivating narrative for the group. At the same time, however, the ongoing lack of public evidence of TIP/ETIM attacks in China raises questions about what exactly they are doing. The movement does appear to be active in Waziristan, where their videos are presumably shot and where their cadres are periodically reported to have been killed in drone strikes. So far the movement has not released a video specifically praising the Syrian insurgency or encouraging their units to go there, though given their affiliation with the global jihadist movement, it would not be entirely surprising if some members had elected to join the Syrian jihad. However, in terms of advancing their core agenda of attacking China, the latest round of videos and activity does not seem to provide much evidence that the movement is moving in this direction in any effective way.

Notes:

1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Regular Press Conference on October 29, 2012,” October 30, 2012, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw/s2510/t983693.htm.

2. ETESA, “Brief Introduction to the Eastern Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association and Its Mission,” 2012, http://maarip.org/en/?p=131#more-131.

3. ETESA, “Statement of ETESA on Fake Chinese Blames,” November 1, 2012,http://maarip.org/en/?p=192.

4. Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani, “Advice to Our Muslim Brothers in Eastern Turkistan,” Sawt al-Islam, October 17, 2012

https://alfidaa.info/vb/showthread.php?t=49344; Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani, “Advice to Our Muslim Brothers in Turkey,” Sawt al-Islam, October 21, 2012,http://www.shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=181814

A new piece for Jamestown’s Militant Leadership Monitor that unfortunately lives behind a paywall so I cannot simply post it here. However, they did send it out with their daily email update about the journal, so drop me a note if you are interested and I can try to forward you that. A very difficult piece to pull together given lack of data and confusion over who is who. I would also like to thank Jake for taking the time to read a draft and giving me some thoughts, he also pointed out that apparently local analysts have stated that Yakuf was also known as Abdul Shakoor Turkistani – something that confuses matters a great deal. It is also odd to note how there has been no mention of any of these losses in the spate of recent TIP publications (that can be found at the excellent Jihadology)

A Post-Mortem Analysis of Turkestani Emir Emeti Yakuf: A Death that Sparked More Questions than Answers

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor
Volume: 3 Issue: 10
October 31, 2012 06:04 PM Age: 1 hrs

Emeti Yakuf (Ministry of Public Security, People’s Republic of China)

In late August, a series of drone strikes in Northern Waziristan were reported to have killed a number of jihadist leaders. Most media attention focused on the possible demise of Badruddin Haqqani, son of the fabled mujahedeen leader, with conflicting reports about whether he had died or not. Almost as an afterthought, some of the stories highlighted that the strikes were believed to have also killed Emeti Yakuf, the current leader of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) (Dawn, August 24). This overshadowed death reflected the generally low profile that TIP is often given amongst jihadist groups, and highlighted once again the difficulties in obtaining information about the mysterious China-focused terrorist organization.

More

I have been travelling somewhere where this site was blocked, so I am going to be catching up on old articles for a day or so. There are also new ones in the pipeline, but apologies if you have already seen them elsewhere. First up is a piece for Jamestown that builds on my work about the German jihad focusing on a pair of current trials in which individuals who first went out to Waziristan to link up with IMU or a different jihad group in the region with a German flavour, but ended up working with al Qaeda for various reasons.

German Trials Highlight the Role of the IMU as a Feeder for al-Qaeda Operations in Europe

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 9
May 4, 2012 12:28 PM Age: 14 days
Trial of German-Afghan Ahmad Wali Siddiqui – AP

Two separate trials are currently underway in Germany that have highlighted the particular role of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as a feeder group for German jihadists who end up working alongside al-Qaeda. The first is a case in Koblenz involving Ahmad Wali Siddiqui, a German-Afghan who was captured in July 2010 by American forces at a taxi stand in Kabul (Der Speigel, February 28, 2011). The second case involves Yusuf Ocak and Maqsood Lodin, German and Austrian nationals respectively who were captured after careful detective work by German forces seeking to intercept radicals they suspected were behind videos threatening Germany (Der Spiegel, June 18, 2011; AP, June 20, 2011). The three men are all standing trial accused of ties to the highest echelons of al-Qaeda and seem to have made their connections to the group through the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Their trials have cast a new light on the particular ties between Germany and the Central Asian militants.

The Unsuccessful Jihad of Ahmad Wali Siddiqui

Ahmad Wali Siddiqui’s ties to militancy go back to his time in Hamburg as an Islamist on the fringes of the community in which Mohammed Atta’s September 11 cell formed around the infamous al-Quds mosque (later renamed the Taiba Mosque) (Der Spiegel, August 9, 2010; AFP, August 9, 2010). After moving to Germany as a 16-year-old in 1990, Siddiqui achieved little in life beyond failing at business before encountering Moroccan Mounir al-Motassadeq while they both worked at Hamburg airport in 1997 (AP, October 8, 2010; Der Spiegel, February 8). Al-Motassadeq was later convicted in Germany of supporting the September 11 cell. On the stand, Siddiqui denied being close to al-Motassadeq, though it was revealed that he had driven al-Motassadeq’s father some 400km to visit his son in prison and had holidayed with al-Motassadeq and their wives in Morocco in 2002 (AP, March 19). [1] It was not until March 2009, however, that Siddiqui decided that it was time to join the fighters in Waziristan. Siddiqui joined a contingent of 11 Germans (nine men and two of their wives) that left in four separate groups starting on February 4, 2009. Along with his wife and brother, Siddiqui belonged to the second cell, which had intended to use as their guide an older member, Assadullah Muslih, an Afghan who had long been moving back and forth between Pakistan and Germany. However, Muslih seems to have disappeared soon after he took the first cell to Pakistan, leaving the aspiring jihadis to their own devices (Der Spiegel, October 18, 2010).

Those that made it re-grouped in Mir Ali in Waziristan later in 2009.  Here they were absorbed by the IMU, which had by this point established itself as a home for German jihadists. According to Siddiqui, the group had gone to the region to connect with al-Qaeda, but was instead re-directed to the IMU after they met a pair of German jihadists in the region. They were brought into the group’s trust and met leader Tahir Yuldashev at a wedding where they pledged allegiance to him (Der Spiegel, February 28). Things were not always so positive, however, as they found themselves largely unable to communicate with the Uzbek jihadists. According to Siddiqui’s account, a trainer at one point threatened to beat him after Siddiqui experienced a fall that aggravated an old injury and prevented him from training. The commander settled for firing a shot near his head. Siddiqui’s brother similarly got into a clash with another of the trainers and the brothers were able to broker their way out of the IMU camp after they agreed to produce a recruitment video for the group (AP, March 20). At this point, they found their way to al-Qaeda, though the group was initially suspicious of the men.

As with the IMU, they seem to have been brought into the group’s trust relatively quickly and were allowed to train alongside the group using heavy weapons. In the first half of 2010 they participated in a meeting at which they met a fellow German jihadist from the Hamburg cell, Said Bahaji, an individual connected to the September 11 Hamburg group who had fled to Pakistan a week prior to 9/11. However, the most significant encounter was much later with Yunis al-Mauretani, whom Siddiqui and German jihadist Rami Makanesi state they met in mid-2010. The al-Qaeda commander arrived at a camp where the Germans were staying with stories of a plot being planned with cells in Italy, France and the UK to launch Mumbai-style assaults on European cities. Al-Mauretani was apparently eager for the Germans to return home and undertake fundraising and planning in Germany (Der Spiegel, October 11, 2010). However, the plot was soon disrupted, with Rami Makanesi handing himself over to authorities, Ahmad Wali Siddiqui being captured by U.S. forces in Kabul as he plotted his trip back to Germany and the remaining members being killed by a drone strike in late 2010.

The Deutsche Taliban Mujahideen

The story of Yusuf Ocak and Maqsood Lodin is different and yet similar in many ways to that of Siddiqui. Ocak and Lodin were drawn from a group of young German extremists who went to Pakistan to join the Deutsche Taliban Mujahideen (DTM), an offshoot of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) that formed under the tutelage of the Pakistani Taliban and the IJU in response to the growing numbers of Germans coming to fight jihad. [2] Leaving months after Siddiqui’s Hamburg group, Yusuf Ocak was ensconced in Waziristan by September 2009 where he helped found the DTM (Deutsche Welle, January 25). By late December, 2009 he was videotaping missile attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan (Der Spiegel, June 19, 2011).  Ocak appeared in a video where he threatened Germany with attacks, leaving an audio trail that German investigators were able to trace, leading to his capture (Austrian Times, February 2). As well as helping establish the DTM and producing videos for the group, Ocak used the internet to reach out to prospective members and recruits in Germany. Lodin, meanwhile, was an active fundraiser for the group (Handelsblatt, January 25).

The DTM was a short-lived group that for a while seemed to be a new hub of German-origin terrorist networks in Afghanistan-Pakistan. However, with the April, 2010 death of their leader Ahmet Manavbasi (a former drug dealer from Lower Saxony), the group seems to have largely collapsed with Yusuf Ocak being picked up by al-Qaeda. This was around the same time that Siddiqui and Makanesi were being recruited by Yunis al-Mauretani for his European terrorist plot and the new German recruits from the old DTM would have been prime targets for recruitment as well. Ocak denies having encountered al-Mauretani, but was apparently taught to use the same encryption programs (Asrar and Camouflage) as Rami Makanesi admits to having learned in the training camps (Der Spiegel, May 9, 2011; Die Tageszeitung, January 25). More incriminating than this, however, was a series of documents found on an encrypted flash drive in Ocak’s underwear when he was captured that appear to be a series of internal al-Qaeda documents (Die Zeit, March 15). The documents are apparently a series of internal planning documents written by senior members of al-Qaeda. These include a series of reports believed to be written by British al-Qaeda member Rashid Rauf (allegedly killed by a drone strike in November, 2008). These reports appear to be post-operational assessments of the July 7, 2005 London bombings, the failed July 21, 2005 attacks on the London Underground and the 2006 “Airlines plot” to bring down around eight airliners on transatlantic routes.

Ocak and Lodin left Pakistan in early 2011, travelling via Iran and Turkey to Budapest where they were apparently tasked with raising funds and establishing networks of suicide bombers that could be used in future al-Qaeda operations (Die Tageszeitung, January 25). However, both operatives were captured together with a network of Austrian recruits, some of whom were believed to have sought flight training (Der Spiegel, June 18, 2011).

Conclusion

What is most interesting about both cases is the transfer of the German cells from the IMU and DTM to core al-Qaeda. In both cases, the German speakers seem to have first been drawn in using the IMU/DTM networks that are in themselves off-shoots of Central Asian networks, but ended up as part of the al-Qaeda network, tasked with carrying out terrorist attacks in Europe.

According to Siddiqui, however, this was contrary to their original intentions: “We wanted to fly [to Pakistan] to live life according to Shari’a law and fight jihad….we didn’t want to ever return” (AP, March 20). Similarly, Ocak seems to have enjoyed fighting the United States alongside the DTM and their Central Asian associates. However, the men were easily turned from their Central Asian focus back towards the West, al-Qaeda’s priority interest.

There are still a number of uncertainties surrounding these two cases. In particular, it is unclear whether the two groups interacted or were kept apart. Given their similar interactions with al-Mauretani and orders to head back to Europe to establish new networks, it seems as though they might have been part of a bigger scheme, explaining why al-Qaeda would have wanted to keep them apart. While a number of other cells have been disrupted in Germany of late, it remains unclear how many more might be out there. Nevertheless, these trials show that the interaction between Central Asian terror groups in Waziristan, their German recruits and al-Qaeda is somewhat less organized than it appears at the outset and is highly influenced by the actions of individual personalities on the ground.

Far from being an organized targeting of Germany by al-Qaeda, the activities of these cells was instead an opportunistic effort that reflected the presence of numerous itinerant young Germans in Waziristan in 2009. In a pattern seen previously with the British-Pakistani connection in the lead-up to the July 7, 2005 bombings, young men fired up by parochial jihadist groups are drawn towards al-Qaeda’s globalist message prior to returning home to carry out attacks there.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

Notes:

1. http://ojihad.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/why-the-hamburg-friends-matter-jihad-made-in-germany/

2. “Mein Weg nach Jannah,” by Abdul Ghaffar el Almani (Eric Breininger), released on forums May 2010. A translation summary can be found at: http://www.jihadica.com/guest-post-the-story-of-eric-breininger/

Latest for Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor, looking at a trial that is about to start in the UK. The case is going to be an interesting one, and I am hoping to be there for parts of it and will report back.

Bringing London’s “Christmas Bombers” to Trial

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 46
December 16, 2011 03:46 PM Age: 2 hrs

Double Decker Burns During August London 2011 Riots

Almost a year after their arrests just before Christmas 2010, a group of young British Muslims denied charges of “conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or damage property” (BBC, December 2, 2011). The men, described as being of South Asian origin, are alleged to be part of a plot to strike “iconic targets” in London that was disrupted before Christmas (Telegraph, December 20, 2010).

Initially, twelve individuals were arrested in connection to the case with cells identified by police in Birmingham, Cardiff, East London and Stoke-on-Trent (Guardian, December 20, 2010). However, in the end the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) chose to only proceed with charges against nine men, identified as Gurukanth Desai, 28 of Cardiff; Omar Sharif Latif, 26 of Cardiff; Abdul Malik Miah, 24 of Cardiff; Mohammed Moksudur Rahman Chowdhury, 20 of London; Shah Mohammed Luftar Rahman, 28 of London;  and Nazam Hussain, 25, Usman Khan, 19, Mohibur Rahman, 26 and Abul Bosher Mohammed Shahjahan, 26, all of Stoke-on-Trent. [1] All stand accused of conspiring to cause an explosion and preparing for acts of terrorism. Five of the men are also accused of possessing material useful in the preparation of terrorism, and four are charged with owning two editions of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine and a copy of Saudi ideologue Muhammad bin Ahmad as-Salim’s famous tract “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad (AFP, December 2).

The details of what exactly the men were planning will emerge during the course of the trial, but according to information already released the men were allegedly planning to target the London Stock Exchange, the American Embassy, the London Eye Ferris wheel and prominent religious and political leaders as well as secondary targets like restaurants, pubs and nightclubs (Channel 4, December 27, 2010; Daily Mail, December 28, 2010). The men stand accused of “igniting and testing incendiary material,” suggesting a plot in a relatively advanced state, but local sources told Jamestown that police conducted the arrests in Stoke and Birmingham unarmed, indicating they did not expect a very dangerous operation. The operation, codenamed “Guava,” was revealed to have been part of a long-term surveillance effort by Britain’s security services when the then-Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism Legislation, Lord Carlile, told a Parliamentary committee that he had been aware of the operation for some time and had been invited to participate in observing the surveillance (Telegraph, December 21, 2010).

The group’s connection with core al-Qaeda is unclear; while sources indicate that at least one of the suspects was believed to have traveled to Pakistan with the intent of connecting with the group, their connection to other radical groups in the United Kingdom is clearer. According to sources in Stoke-on-Trent, the men were known to have been active in the broader network of individuals connected to the now-banned radical group al-Muhajiroun and had attended protests organized by the group (Telegraph, December 20, 2010). [2] Locals in Cardiff identified some of the group as having attended a meeting organized around previously jailed al-Muhajiroun leader Trevor Brooks (a.k.a. Abu Izzadeen) and claimed that the men were part of a group of 15 boys that the community was aware were involved in meetings organized locally by al-Muhajiroun. They said they had mentioned their concerns to authorities, but the security services were apparently already alert to the group’s existence (Telegraph, December 22, 2010).

Another interesting detail to emerge about the Cardiff group was that the three Cardiff men had served time in prison for petty drugs and theft offenses. According to a neighbor, the men “went to prison as petty criminals and came out expressing extreme views,” suggesting some level of radicalization in prison – a problem that has long concerned British authorities (Telegraph, December 22, 2010). There was also confusion about one of the Cardiff men, Gurukanth Desai, whose name indicates an Indian origin, though it was reported that he had changed it recently by deed poll. The reason for this change was unclear, though his chosen name is the same as that of a fictional Indian character in a 2007 hit Bollywood movie (Calcutta Telegraph, December 30, 2010; Times of India, December 28, 2010).

The trial against the men is due to start in late January, 2012 and is likely to prove to be a major case in highlighting the potential danger of radical groups like al Muhajiroun providing a space for groups of radicals to congregate. In addition, much is likely to be made of the group’s use ofInspire magazine as early evidence suggests they were attempting to use the magazine’s bomb-making recipes to construct their devices. The fusion of these elements shows how the more traditional aspects of Britain’s jihad continue to have strength: A hardcore of extremists still exists in the UK, eager to try to connect with radicals abroad and interested in planning attacks on the homeland. Absolute numbers are hard to come by, but with at least two large terrorist plots (including this case) and a number of terrorist support network cases currently working their way through the British legal system, British security services will have to remain on high alert through next year’s London Olympic Games.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

Notes:

1. See: http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/press_releases/150_10/.

2. For more on the banning of al Muhajiroun and its successor groups, see: Terrorism Monitor, January 21, 2010 and November 23, 2011

This is a piece that I have been cogitating about for a while, trying to find out more information about the chap. Unfortunately, most of it is in Somali, a language I confess to not understand. Nevertheless, he struck me as interesting given his history as a Somali leader who had lived until relatively recently in London only to then reappear alongside the al Shabaab leadership at their event in May this year in honour of Osama bin Laden’s death. Luckily, I was able to connect with AR of the excellent Somali War Monitor site who was able to help me find some more sources and the two of us pulled this short bio of Abdulcaadir together. The actual article is unfortunately behind a firewall, so I cannot simply post it here. But in the meantime, here is a hint.

A Profile of Sheikh Abdulcaadir Mumin: Al-Shabaab’s Leading Guide

Publication: Volume: 2 Issue: 11

November 30, 2011 01:37 PM Age: 22 hrs

By: Raffaello Pantucci and A.R. Sayyid

Sheikh Abdulcaadir Mumin

The appearance of Sheikh Abdulcaadir Mumin, alongside al-Shabaab’s senior leadership, in May 2011 at the group’s official press conference acknowledging Osama bin Laden’s death was something of a coming out for Mumin. Largely unknown outside the Somali-speaking community, he has until now lurked in the background of overtly radical Somali circles. Previously a prominent feature on the London Somali scene, Mumin, first appointed as the head of propagation for the Banaadir administrative region and its capital Mogadishu, appears at present to have risen into a senior position as one of al-Shabaab’s key theological guides.