Posts Tagged ‘AQ’

More catch-up posting, this time a piece for my institutional home RUSI’s magazine Newsbrief, looking at how the threat from ISIS/Daesh may evolve over the next few years.

Daesh: What Happens Next?

May 24, 2017

As the battle for Mosul rages on and Daesh is put under increasing pressure in other parts of Iraq and Syria, how will the threat from the group evolve? Will Daesh end up following the path of Al-Qa’ida, with regional affiliates becoming more prominent? 

In the wake of 9/11, Al-Qa’ida was sharply ejected from its base in Afghanistan. Re-establishing itself in Pakistan’s border areas, the leadership continued their bitter struggle against the world, launching and coordinating a series of attacks. Most immediately these included: an attempt on transatlantic airlines using British shoe bombers; an attack on the Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, Tunisia; the bombing of a nightclub in Bali; a rocket attack on an Israeli passenger aircraft leaving Mombasa, Kenya; and ship-borne suicide bombers targeting the French-flagged Petronas oil tanker MV Limburg off the coast of Yemen. Scattered around the world, these plots included a mix of local Al-Qa’ida affiliates and people who had trained at camps in Afghanistan, but all showed a clear link to the group’s leadership.

This set a pattern for the next few years, where the group continued to manipulate its networks from a distance, as well as send out cells of plotters to launch attacks around the world. In some cases, largely autonomous local networks took some seed support (or had a few key individuals return from the training camps), leading to a spate of attacks.

A good example of this was in Indonesia, where Jemaah Islamiah, the Southeast Asian Al-Qa’ida affiliate, launched a series of attacks in Bali and Jakarta. In other cases, such as the UK, the group had a steady supply of radicalised young men travel to its camps in Pakistan where they were indoctrinated and then directed to commit atrocities back home. This pipeline generated a string of plots directed from the core with escalating ambition that culminated in the August 2006 plot to bring down eight transatlantic flights with liquid bombs. This ideology received a boost from the invasion of Iraq, with random individuals seeking to launch attacks to advance the group with little evidence of a clear link to the leadership.

This pattern really started to change only in 2008–2010, when an extensive drone and Special Forces campaign was launched against the Al-Qa’ida leadership in Pakistan. This persistent hammering had an effect and led to a noticeable drop in Al-Qa’ida’s capacity to train and send out jihadis, as well as communicate with its international network. A Birmingham network, disrupted in 2011, was overheard talking about how the extent of their training camp was hanging about indoors hiding from drones and watching extremist videos. In 2010, French jihadist Mohammed Merah sought out training camps in Pakistan and appeared only able to spend a day at one before being sent quickly back on his way. The Birmingham cell was disrupted while Merah went on to launch a campaign in southern France, murdering off-duty soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren. Bin Laden senior was able to issue only occasional messages to his network and the world, leading to growing strategic stagnation.

But as the leadership took a beating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al-Qa’ida’s regional affiliates assumed a more prominent role in launching attacks. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) raised its profile, becoming a greater draw to the community of radicalised young westerners seeking to connect with jihadist groups. This brought a new wave of young aspiring Western warriors to Yemen, in particular through the attraction of its American-Yemeni preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki. These warriors were further indoctrinated, trained and then dispatched to launch attacks back home. This led to repeated attempts on international aviation, including: the ‘underwear bomber’; the printer cartridge bombs; concerns over an attempt to launch an attack with surgically implanted explosives: and a threat from a radicalised IT worker at British Airways. AQAP became the standard bearer for Al-Qa’ida globally, continuing the international struggle as the core lost its capacity to manage such attacks.

But the core organisation continued to exist and exert influence and direction over the network. As was evidenced by the many letters to have leaked from the correspondence seized in Abbottabad, Osama was a controlling leader. In one letter, for example, he expressed disappointment and disapproval of methods of attacks advocated by AQAP in its influential English-language magazine Inspire. Elsewhere, it seems clear that he was responsible for the continuing refusal to formally recognise Somali affiliate Al-Shabaab as part of the global organisation. However, his ability to control the group was weakening and as regional affiliates became more prominent or others developed, the nature of the ideology that Osama had launched changed. His death at the hands of US Special Forces at his Abbottabad compound in 2011 changed the group, with his successor Ayman Al-Zawahiri offering a different style of leadership and direction.

The result of this was a clear shift towards regionalisation by the group. Attacks and campaigns became much more localised. The 2013 attacks at In Amenas in Algeria and Al-Shabaab’s assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi are the best examples of this. In both cases, the attackers were linked to Al-Qa’ida, but there was a mix of local dynamics and new leadership figures establishing themselves at play in both cases. Despite Al-Qa’ida’s celebrations and announcements, it was not clear the degree to which the attacks were directed from Afghanistan or Pakistan, if at all. The incident advanced the global cause, although appeared much more about local than international dynamics. The regional affiliates still used Al-Qa’ida’s rhetoric and ideology, though their motivations appeared to be driven by a different set of drivers than the core leadership or ideology would necessarily advocate. More focused on local enemies, they were retreating to confront the ‘near enemy’ rather than the ‘far enemy’.

Daesh appears to be undergoing the same process, albeit in a more compressed timeframe than the decade or so it has taken Al-Qa’ida. Plots linked to the Daesh’s core continue to show up around the world, with some evidence of individual former fighters returning home to plant the seeds of a network. There is also evidence of attackers being directed, instigated or inspired by the group’s core in Syria and Iraq.

At the same time, Daesh’s regional affiliates – for instance, its groups in Afghanistan, Egypt, Nigeria or Libya – are taking a much more forward and aggressive position. The core group claims responsibility for these attacks and releases images through formal information channels linked to its Amaq or Nashir news agencies. The attacks themselves, however, often appear to be far more locally oriented and directed. That is to say, they are focused on striking enemies in their immediate environments, rather than using their bases to launch the large-scale attacks on the West that the core seems interested in wanting to do. Daesh’s Afghan affiliate, for example, has repeatedly launched attacks against Shia or government targets in Kabul. The group’s Egyptian affiliate continues to strike against minorities or the state in Egypt. Libya is possibly the exception to this rule, given the disorder in the state, the group has often used its training camps or footprint there to launch attacks or attempted plots in nearby North African countries such as Morocco or Tunisia.

This local focus suggests a far looser network of groups whose allegiance may be more limited, or at the very least a narrative by the core organisation that allows for far greater autonomy by regional affiliates. But this strategy carries with it risks for the core. If a regional affiliate has been operating autonomously for some time and is merely carrying the banner locally, then its loyalty may over time become frayed. Members of the leadership with personal links to the affiliate may get killed off, leading to the rise of new individuals whose ties may lie elsewhere. This will change the power dynamic between the core and the affiliate as the historical kinship links which tie the groups together get lost and new ones are harder to develop over long distances. This is a dynamic that has already played out to some degree with Al-Qa’ida, but it is happening with Daesh over a much shorter timeline as the core organisation continues to hold territory in the Levant and directs, instigates and inspires terrorist plots around the world.

Therefore, the potential threat from Daesh is one that is an enhanced version of what was seen with Al-Qa’ida. And the dangers from these patterns are similar to those seen with Al-Qa’ida. The growing prominence of affiliates is something that became a threat not only to Western countries or their nationals abroad, but also means that the core ideology and threat from the group is transferred from the core to affiliates at moments when the former comes under particular stress. The rise of AQAP to prominence in the late 2000s is a reflection of this, and it is possible that we could see a similar displacing as Daesh comes under greater pressure in the Levant.

At the same time, it is equally possible to draw some lessons from Al-Qa’ida’s weakening to understand how to damage Daesh and manage its growth. First, the core needs to be hammered and deprived of territory. This pressure clearly degrades capacity. Second, the West needs to be vigilant against more confident and strong affiliates as they can become the core threat. Third, it needs to understand the nature of individual links between groups. Targeting key individuals may disrupt connections between groups. However, according to the law of unintended consequences, there might be some instances of degrading, while in some other cases there may be individuals whose rise will pose a greater menace. All of this provides a pen portrait for how aggressive counterterrorism activity, as well as careful management of regional affiliates is at the core of understanding how to manage the threat from the group.

All of this is taking place as the threat from Al-Qa’ida core continues to exist. As Hamza bin Laden’s latest message illustrates, the progenitor organisation continues to want to stay relevant and is trying to re-appropriate the concept of lone-actor terrorist attacks (an attack methodology it had long advocated but was unable to weaponise as effectively as Daesh), showing the longevity of these sorts of threats. While Daesh seeks to distinguish itself in many ways from Al-Qa’ida and there are strong tensions between the two groups, their ideologies and outlooks remain similar. Daesh’s methods of attack, direction and radicalisation may have developed from Al-Qa’ida’s, but in many ways this is due to changes in the way people communicate since Al-Qa’ida’s heyday in the mid-2000s. And while Daesh’s relative youth and wanton brutality have somewhat distinguished it from Al-Qa’ida, the biggest danger in many ways is that the two threats may end up fusing.

While this may seem a far-fetched notion at the moment given the leadership tensions, it is not an outcome that can be completely discounted, especially if we see a Daesh that fragments back to its affiliates as the core becomes weakened. In this scenario, we could see enhanced affiliates drawing on both groups support to launch concerted regional campaigns both in their immediate areas, but also against the West.

The unfortunate reality is that it is likely that both threats will be with us for some time yet. While there are some clear lessons in how to manage the threat down from the struggle against Al-Qa’ida, that conflict has shown how hard it is to eradicate such groups. Patience, focus and a long-term plan will be the only way to manage the threats from such international terrorist organisations.

Raffaello Pantucci
Director, International Security Studies, RUSI.

 

 

Slightly late posting of a new piece for the Telegraph which was written a little while back and finally got up last week. I am not in total agreement with the title chosen by the editors which explicitly suggests that the sectarianism was something linked to Kashmir which was not my intent. My point, which I hope the article shows, was to say that violence and militancy in South Asia tends to resonate in the UK.

Sectarian violence in Kashmir is increasingly spilling over onto the streets of Britain

An Indian policeman fires tear gas shells towards the demonstrators during an anti-India protest in Srinagar, October 4, 2016
An Indian policeman fires tear gas shells towards the demonstrators during an anti-India protest in Srinagar, October 4, 2016 Credit: Danish Ismail/Reuters

 

Two of the world’s nuclear powers almost went to war recently to little notice in the UK. And yet the group accused of being the spark for the violence and the countries involved are ones with deep historical links to this country.

Violence in South Asia has a habit of resonating in Britain, be it in the form intra-communitarian clashes, terrorist violence or familial murder. And while it is unclear in what way the current clashes in Kashmir will resonate, Britain’s historical connection with South Asia mean that rising violence and sectarianism over there will have an impact here.

The group that stands accused of being behind the recent cross-border incursions from Pakistan into India that generated a violent ‘surgical’ response by India is Jaish-e-Mohammed (the army of Mohammed) a group established in the late 1990s by Maulana Masood Azhar. A long-standing jihadist and Kashmiri independence ideologue, Masood Azhar has a history of links to the UK.

In 1993, when he was involved in a precursor group called Hizbul Mujahedeen, he came on a fundraising tour of the UK, giving emotional speeches about jihad, raising money for training camps in Pakistan and recruiting young men to join his cause. His speeches were reportedly so stirring that women would take off their jewellery there and then to contribute to the cause. In 1999 he was released from captivity in India alongside Briton Omar Saeed Sheikh (a young man he knew from their time together in Hizbul Mujahedeen), an LSE graduate who went on to play an important role in his group and who currently sits on death row in Pakistan guilty of involvement in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Maulana Masood Azhar, Muslim cleric and leader of the militant group fighting in Indian-held Kashmir against Indian forces, arrives at Karachi airport in January, 2000, after being released by Indian authorities in a prisoner exchange
Maulana Masood Azhar, Muslim cleric and leader of the militant group fighting in Indian-held Kashmir against Indian forces, arrives at Karachi airport in January, 2000, after being released by Indian authorities in a prisoner exchange Credit: Athar Hussain/AP Photo

On Christmas Day 2000, Masood Azhar’s group Jaish-e-Mohammed (which he founded on his release from Indian jail) claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Srinagar that was undertaken by a Birmingham born 24 year-old using the name Mohammed Bilal. In 2005 Masood Azhar’s brother in law, Rashid Rauf, another Birmingham-born lad, took Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer around al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan as they learned how to make bombs, recorded suicide videos and prepared to launch the July 2005 attack on London on behalf of al Qaeda.

A year prior to launching his attack, Mohammed Siddique Khan attended a training camp in Pakistan at which a group of radicalised Brits learned how to make bombs and shoot guns. At night the young men would entertain themselves reading Masood Azhar’s tracts to each other around the campfire.

Rashid Rauf is escorted by police commandos during his appearance in court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, 2006
Rashid Rauf is escorted by police commandos during his appearance in court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, 2006 Credit: Mian Khursheed/Reuters

South Asian militancy and violence has resonated in other ways as well. In 1984 a pair of Kashmiri men living in Birmingham murdered the Indian Deputy Consul General in retaliation for the jailing of one of their leaders in India. And more recently there have been sectarian murders which have more in common with intra-ethnic hatred in South Asia than anything in the UK.

The murder of Jalal Uddin in Rochdale in February was done by a pair of angry young men, one of whom subsequently ran away to Syria to fight alongside Isil, who thought Uddin’s practice of taweez, turning pieces of the Koran into amulets, was blasphemous. A month later Bradford cab driver Tanveer Ahmed drove to Glasgow and brutally stabbed shopkeeper Asad Shah to death, apparently angered by videos he found online of Mr Shah suggesting he was the prophet.

While in the Uddin murder there was some evidence that the men had absorbed Isil ideology, it was also clear that the men’s anger against Mr Uddin’s behaviour had a deeper root. Mr Shah was a member of a minority Ahmaddiya sect, and while it seemed as though Mr Ahmed was angry about specific videos Mr Shah had put of himself online, the fact of his Ahmaddiya background played substantially into the narrative around his murder.In many ways, both the Uddin and Shah murders were a product in part of sectarian hatreds that have their roots in South Asia. The Ahmaddiya community is frequently persecuted in Pakistan, with senior figures often calling for them be declared apostates. The practice of taweez is equally controversial amongst conservative Muslims who believe the worship of amulets is a form of idolatry. Most disturbingly as Mr Ahmed was sent down to life imprisonment for the murder of Mr Shah, supporters in the public gallery chanted “god is great.” In the wake of both deaths, there were public conversations amongst Britain’s Muslim community about the practices the men were accused of being involved in, and the degree to which they might be considered properly Muslim.

Looking beyond the problem of violence and conflict with neighbouring countries, militancy and crime within the country, one of the biggest problems Pakistan currently faces is rising sectarianism. In 2010, two Ahmaddiya mosques in Lahore were targeted with bombs leading to almost 100 deaths and over a hundred injuries. On March 27 this year a suicide bomber detonated explosives at an Easter celebration in Lahore killing 75. Both attacks were claimed by militant groups and were targeting minority communities in the country. Visiting Pakistan late last year, a security official told me how one of the number one security concerns his country faced was “sectarianism.”

Seen in this light, the Shah and Uddin murders are echoes from South Asia. Narratives from the region regularly appear on Britain’s streets, be in the form of political protests marching along Whitehall, religious or political murders or terrorist plots – often linked through long-standing networks and communities that tie the UK to South Asia. Now we are seeing sectarian murders.

Politicians and militant leaders from the sub-continent have long noticed and profited from this proximity of the now long-settled South Asian communities in the UK and the sub-continent and used it as a source of fundraising and support. Violence over there tends to resonate here. And while it will be impossible and incorrect to try to cut this umbilical cord linking us together, greater attention needs to be paid to understanding how this connection is evolving.

The danger otherwise is the gradual importation of escalating violence from South Asia to the UK’s streets.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at RUSI and the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

A short piece (that was done in the form of an interview with Andrew Mueller who then published it) for a new site called The Question that is focused on answering key questions about specific topics of the day.

Is Islamic State losing its war?

In the short term, at least, they seem to be on the back foot. The land they control in Syria in Iraq is shrinking – and they controlled, for a time, a territory the size of the United Kingdom. Their leading people on the battlefield, quite senior people, are being killed. Their capability to launch the sort of attacks they have before is ebbing away, which suggests a period of relative decline.

Their goal was always to turn the entire planet to God’s greater glory – to bring about the end of days and the second coming of the Lord. This is a group that ultimately has a milleniarian vision of transforming the world in God’s image. That’s a very high bar to clear, but they start with what they start with, and build upwards. For IS, they were always very focused on their Levantine space, and if you read the ancient texts, you’ll see that those lands are very important, as the place where the war that will transform everything will start. So they had a vision of the world as it should be, but they’re also people who don’t much like the governments in those places, which leads to this mesh of personal angers and a bigger ideology which knit quite tightly together.

What is still going well for them is that they continue to exist, and are able to launch some quite substantial attacks, and to control a certain amount of territory. For a group like this, survival is important. And the attacks outside their territory are important, in a number of ways. They’re attacks on an enemy – you’re fighting us, so we’ll fight you. And there’s a political idea behind it as well – they’re trying to stir an ultimate clash of civilisations between the West and Islam and bring about the end of days.

With the taking out of their leaders, there’s a debate in the counter-terrorism community about what it actually means. Some people think decapitation of a terrorist organisation leads to bigger problems – what you’ll sometimes see is that after the removal of a senior figure, factions within the organisation will want to rise up and prove themselves, which they’ll do by doing something more atrocious than the last guy.

You look at al-Shabab in Somalia for example – their leader was killed, the next guy comes in, and you see the Westgate mall attack. The other model is that if you decapitate groups, they sometimes wither and die. You think of the Shining Path in Peru – their leader was taken out, and it kind of disappeared, because it turns out it was really a one-man band.

But an aggressive attrition of the middle ranks of people does have an impact on a group’s ability to function. If you keep hammering that middle level, you break the fighters away from the leadership, and that’s what we’ve seen happening to Islamic State recently. The leaders have to stay hidden, and aren’t in contact with many people. But if you take out the people around them, their ability to direct the organisation changes – if the guy who was looking after the accounts gets killed, who has that information now? Maybe there was a guy who knew where all the safe houses were. Look at Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who was very involved with Islamic State’s external operations – when he was killed, a lot of those would have been lost, or confused. A lot of these relationships are built on trust, and that doesn’t automatically transfer to the next guy.

The numbers which have been circulating recently suggest that the numbers of people from Europe going to fight with Islamic State is down to 10% of what it was last year. There are two main reasons for that. One is that security forces in Europe and elsewhere have a much better understanding of how recruitment networks function, and how to disrupt them. The other is the fact that the attraction of the group has reduced: Islamic State is no longer as powerful and successful as it was. If I’m going to go off and fight for someone, I don’t want to fight with a bunch of losers.

Raffaello Pantucci is the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists.

A late posting of a recent piece for my institutional home RUSI exploring the question of al Qaeda versus ISIS/Daesh/ISIL and the degree to which they are able to advance the lone actor strategy. Lots of longer form writing going on at the moment which is keeping me busy and will eventually land.

Why is Daesh Able to Inspire More Attacks Than Al-Qa’ida?

The fact that there are more and more Daesh-inspired lone-actor terrorist attacks may be the product of technological changes, rather than a different approach to terror.
vigil_of_solidarity_in_the_wake_of_the_orlando_pulse_shooting_27027482763

Daesh appears to have intensified its efforts to encourage individuals to carry out lone-actor terrorist attacks, as events over the weekend in the US indicate. But this trend has been observed for quite some time, and it may be the product of technological changes, rather than a different approach to terror.

The US was rocked this weekend by a series of terrorist attacks. While Daesh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS or IS) claimed responsibility for the stabbing spree in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the New York and New Jersey explosions have not yet been claimed by any terrorist group. Given the uncertainties at this stage in the investigation, it is unclear if there is any deeper meaning to this distinction, but the speed with which Daesh claimed responsibility for one terrorist attack and not the other suggests a rationale. The Minneapolis attack was an example of the lone-actor methodology that Daesh has managed to appropriate from Al-Qa’ida with a high degree of success. A key unanswered question is this: why has Daesh has proven so much more effective at delivering this sort of attack than Al-Qa’ida?

The first thing to note is that the approach which Daesh appears to be so good at promoting is not novel. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine used to advocate a similar methodological approach. It aped various prominent mainstream advertising campaigns – including Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign – and offered easily accessible attack methodologies for aspirant warriors. And there was some evidence that it worked, with the bomb recipe offered in the magazine repeatedly showing up in terrorist plots. From the limited available evidence at the moment, the latest New York bombs seem to emulate a recipe in Inspire.

Yet it was never clear that the group was able to instigate and steer such attacks. Numerous Al-Qa’ida leaders spoke of the lone-actor methodology as one that adherents in the West should copy, but very few terrorist attacks seem to have actually taken place as a result. Occasional plots seemed to hint in this direction, but it was almost impossible to draw a direct causal link between Al-Qa’ida and these attacks. And, according to one letter found in his lair in Abbottabad, Osama Bin Laden did not entirely approve of all of the various random mass murder methodologies Inspire used to offer its readers.

Fast-forward to today, and we see repeated attacks using small bombs, knives, guns and other weapons to attack innocent citizens in the West, with Daesh regularly claiming responsibility for them. And while some appear to be over-eager claims by the group – like the case of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June – in a growing number of cases there appears to be clear evidence of some sort of connection with Daesh.

Three factors appear to have changed since the heyday of Inspire magazine that may help explain Daesh’s effectiveness in inspiring lone-actor terrorist attacks.

First, the ideology that Daesh espouses comes in the wake of Al-Qa’ida and it is louder, brasher and more attractive, projecting an image of power and control of territory; markedly different to Al-Qa’ida’s image of a secretive menacing organisation.

Second, the definition of ‘terrorist attack’ has been diluted, with the range of actions that are considered terrorist attacks now broader. Whereas in the past only large-scale bomb or plane attacks would be considered terrorist attacks, now using a vehicle or knives against other citizens can constitute a terrorist attack. Furthermore, the targets have now become diffuse – cafés, churches, people’s houses,  among others, are all in the crosshairs. This means that a terror attack is no longer the complicated large-scale endeavour that it used to be. And if it is easier to carry out a terrorist attack, then there are a wider range of attacks for Daesh to be able to claim. This lower threshold is something that Daesh has eagerly embraced, in contrast to Al-Qa’ida, which has allegedly had reservations about this approach.

Third, it turns out that a number of these attacks are not actually as lone or detached as they seem prima facie. After an investigation, the German authorities uncovered clear evidence of contact with Daesh in an axe attack on a train in Wuerzburg and an attempted bombing in Ansbach in July this year. The June murder of a police officer and his girlfriend at their home in Magnaville, 55 km west of Paris, and the subsequent July murder of a priest in Rouen, as well as the attempted car bombing in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, were all linked back to the same French Daesh leader: Rachid Kassim. Previously, a network of British plotters in the Syrian city of Raqqa – Junaid Hussain, Reeyad Khan and Sally Jones – were talking and instigating various attempted attackers in the West.

In many of these cases, it was subsequently discovered that the plotters on the ground were involved in quite intense conversations with Daesh handlers or directors. Apparently using apps such as WhatsApp, Kik or Telegram, the attackers were communicating with their Daesh handlers. The Ansbach bomber, for example, was quite literally directed in his attack by his handler outside Germany. So, although the perpetrators may seem to have been alone in their actions, they both had some backing and plenty of connections.

In some ways, this is likely a product of the way we communicate these days. Daesh, therefore, appears to be in part a product of its time; the communication apps that are now available were not accessible to Al-Qa’ida when it was promoting a similar message, and Daesh’s more contemporary audience is simply using the tools in everyday life. The phenomenon also builds on what came before it: Al-Qa’ida had already started to sketch out the path of lone-actor attacks that Daesh has so eagerly embraced. And in part it is a product of a leadership in Daesh that sees value and strategy in low-grade random attacks, in contrast to Al-Qa’ida, which appears fixated on more large-scale, dramatic attacks.

Daesh has not invented a new strategy of launching attacks; what we are witnessing instead seems to be an attempt on the part of Daesh to increase the incidence of a particular form of terrorism, lone-actor terrorism, an upward trajectory that was most likely to happen anyway. Daesh’s attacks seem a product of their times, rather than a completely novel strategic approach.

A new brief reaction piece for my home institute RUSI looking at some of the current trends in ISIS and jihadism. My preference is to use ISIS, but it appears as though the institutional choice is Daesh. Undoubtedly more on this topic to come. In the meantime, I have been doing book promotion events around town, thanks to those who have hosted me and am looking forward to future ones. For those interested, here is me talking to the Henry Jackson Society. I am going to be at the Bradford Literature Festival this weekend, the Hay Festival on the 31st May, and the Lewes Festival on July 18th. And hopefully more of those to come! Please also feel free to leave comments on Amazon about the book should you read it!
The Texas Attack: An Expression of Daesh’s Reach
RUSI Analysis, 11 May 2015 | By Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies
The jihadist movement known as Daesh has claimed responsibility for the aborted attack on an art contest in Texas. But other than shared motives, there are hardly anyreal  linkages. Overreaction and misreading of the threat will merely play into their hands.
Garland Shooting Perpetrators 2015

The claim by Daesh (or ISIS, as it is also known as) of some connection and responsibility for the attempted attack on Sunday 3 May 2015 in Texas is credible. While it is unlikely that the senior leadership within the group tasked the American pair or saw the event in Texas as a globally significant target, it is perfectly possible that it will emerge that the two men had at least some online connection to the group and were spurred into action by a combination of this contact and the group’s regular exhortations to its followers to launch attacks in the West.

At the same time, it is not clear that this is in any way an expression of the beginning of a campaign by the group to launch terrorist attacks outside its territory or that we need to worry about Daesh anymore now than before. Rather, Daesh continues to show itself to be an opportunistically canny organisation that is able to read global trends and stoke public debates at the right moment to maximise their apparent reach and power.

The threat picture for the immediate future is likely to be a continuing pattern of similar attacks, alongside a continuing potential menace of more classically directed terrorist cells. This seemingly enhanced threat, however, has to be kept in perspective and care needs to be paid not to overreact. A measured response will help deal with the problem in the longer term, while an exaggerated response will only fuel it.

Daesh Going Out?

Daesh remains a primarily Middle Eastern focused organisation, intent on growing and consolidating its territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, over the past few months there has been an increasing level of connectivity and interaction between its core in Mosul/Raqqa and its regional Wilayats (provincial governorates) in Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan and Yemen. The degree of strength of these regional connections is not always clear, though looking at the Libyan case in particular, it is clear that there is some strong link between the centre and what is happening in that country in terms of ideology, means and direction.

A series of attacks on foreign targets in Tripoli, grim beheading videos being done to a schedule dictated from Syria/Iraq and stories of fighters and money flowing from the Levant to Libya point to something more than just an ideological affiliation.

In Egypt, Afghanistan and Yemen at least there is some evidence of ideological and possibly individual, but less clear is the degree to which this is a strong flow with much direction, rather than exploratory links. On the purely aspirational end of the scale, there is the link to Boko Haram – an organisation that has shown itself to be even more opportunistic than Daesh and has proclaimed links to Al-Qa’ida and others repeatedly over the years with little tangible evidence of much by way of strong connections.

In parallel to this there has been the growth in inspired and instigated attacks in the lone actor model: plots undertaken by individuals or small cells lacking any clear command and control from an outside organisation. Choosing soft targets that can broadly be captured under the aegis of the global struggle between Islam and the West, these individuals get caught up in the fervour and hysteria around Daesh and launch attacks at home in the West under their own direction.

Some cases appear to demonstrate links back to Syria (like Mehdi Nemmouche in Brussels) some may be reacting to travel restrictions (like Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Ottawa), while others appear  simply to be attracted by the allure and hysteria of the group (like the spate of incidents in France late last year or Man Haroun Monis in Australia). For some of these individuals, Daesh’s narrative is simply the loudest in the public conversation for them to draw on.

Lone actor or copy-cat, whichever model it is, Daesh can subsequently claim it or praise the incident and appear as though it is somehow responsible for a global wave of terror.

Extensions of longer-term trends

In reality, both trends are extensions of what has been going on with jihadist terrorism for the past few years. Since around 2010 al Qaeda core’s capability and links globally have shrunk as the group’s ideology has increasingly found that the local causes that it would parasitically attach itself to increasingly moved towards advancing their own more local agendas rather than the group’s global directives. When launching attacks, regional affiliates would still use the jihadist rhetoric and targeting choices, but it was increasingly hard to see strong levels of command and control from the core. There were of course exceptions to this like Yemen where AQAP retains a strong core following loyal to the movement’s globalist perspective. But for the most part regional affiliate groups increasingly drifted away from the core’s orbit as Al-Qa’ida’s remnant leadership spent its time hiding from drones in Pakistan’s hinterlands.

The result has been a fracturing of the global jihadist movement operating under Al-Qa’ida’s ideological banner. As leaders have been killed, it has led to groups splintering into different factions. Furthermore, with a weakened core, regional affiliates have shifted in their targeting and intent back towards their own regions. In launching attacks they will still choose international targets as these bring attention and appear to be part of a global cause. Often, however, the degree to which they have been directed from the core is limited. Examples include the In Amenas attack in Algeria by an off-shoot of AQIM, or the al Shabaab linked attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

Into this fractured scene steps Daesh, offering a more hardline ideology, a new leader claiming to be Amir al Mu’mineen (commander of the faithful) who commands a territory he declares a Caliphate. Here is a narrative of success that stands in contrast to Al-Qa’ida’s declining fortunes. This quickly offers an appealing alternate power base that becomes the opposite pole to the current established jihadist narrative directed by Al-Qa’ida and draws in many of the disaffected and detached affiliate groups. Daesh appeal to them is not necessarily the ideology of the group, but rather the fact the group offers an alternate expression and successful banner to the status quo for them to attach themselves to.

The lone actor phenomenon is also not one that Daesh can claim stake to owning. Lone actor plots started to emerge in 2007/2008 (arguably Bilal Abdulla and Kafeel Ahmed’s attempted double bombing in London and Glasgow in 2007 was an early expression demonstrating no level of direction by a group, though some connectivity to terrorist networks in Iraq), and have been an increasingly regular feature of the terrorist threat picture since then. In 2010 Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) sought to try to harness the growing wave of such attacks and spur them further on through Inspire magazine and its ideology of ‘just do it’ attacks and ‘open source jihad’ that made jihadi terrorism accessible and actionable by everybody.

But there was little tangible evidence the magazine did much more than stoke fires that were already burning. The magazine became a staple feature of terrorism investigations. A growing number of plotters tried to build bombs to the magazines design and in online forums extremists increasingly talked proudly of being ‘lone wolves.’ But the trend towards this type of terrorism was underway prior to the magazine and there has been little clear evidence that the magazine can be singularly blamed for any specific plot.

Daesh has merely taken this strategy to the next level through its active promotion of the idea of such attacks through speeches, magazines and increasingly through individual fighters who connect through social media to the aspirant keyboard warriors who have not chosen to make the trip to the Levant, but seek it out instead online. By creating more noise around the idea of such attacks, they become more attractive and the group creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in its narrative.

This results in more people hearing it and more disaffected folk concluding that if they want to make themselves heard (for whatever reason) then Daesh’s ideology is the one to attach themselves to. All of this needs to be borne in mind against the backdrop that the ideology of violent Islamist inspired terrorism as one of the dominant global anti-establishment ideologies of the moment. Previously disaffected folk might be drawn to other movements, Al-Qa’ida or Daesh are now the alternative global movement. Again, rather than creating something new, Daesh (and Al-Qa’ida before it), have simply harnessed and attempted to spur on a trend that was already underway.

The Danger of Over-reaction

The importance of understanding the proper roots of these trends is to mitigate against the dangers of overreaction to them. If the Western reaction to the attack in Texas (and other future possible attacks) is to attack the organisation in a large fashion involving deployed armies and forces, this will have exactly the effect the group is likely hoping for.

An overreaction draws it into more direct conflict with the West making it both seem more powerful than it is, showing it able to stand up and fight directly with the world’s superpowers. It feeds into the group’s narrative of where it stands in the world and helps it become more important than it really is.

Instead, the focus needs to be on fixing the underlying reasons behind the contexts where the group’s ideology is able to take root. In Syria this means finding ways of bringing the brutal civil war to a close. In Iraq it involves building a participatory government so that the country’s Sunni’s do not look to groups like Daesh as defenders. In Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and Egypt it involves solving local problems that will help reduce the space in which the group is able to permeate.

And in the West, it involves engaging with people who are so disaffected from societies that they feel they want to rebel violently against them. None of this is easy, and for Western government’s to succeed the reality is they need to target limited resources on specific countries abroad in a global division of labour, and at home need to find ways of developing grass roots programmes to engage with specific individuals who are drifting towards extremist ideologies. But key to making sure that we do not prolong this problem any longer than it needs to be is a clear understanding of the nature of the threat that is faced.

A new post on the eve of the Olympics for CNN. While it is a bit in contrast to the rather optimistic attitude that seems to have gripped London (and which I have to admit I am a bit caught up in from where I am!), it is intended as a horizon scanning exercise to look beyond the Olympics in security terms. For a more detailed look at Olympic security preparation, please check out my earlier longer piece for Homeland Security Today. Per a new agreement, CNN prefer I only post the first 150 odd words here, so for the whole article, please follow either the link in the title, or at the end of the section included below.

British Security Vision Needs to Extend Beyond the Games

By Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

Just one day after the 2012 Olympics were awarded to London back in 2005, the British were given a graphic and deadly display of the domestic terrorist threat that British security services faced.

On July 7, 2005, four British-born suicide bombers sent by al Qaeda blew themselves up on the London transport system. Seven years on, the threat picture to the Olympics is one of uncertainty that will keep security services alert for the duration of the Games and beyond. A high-profile opportunity like the Olympic Games might seem too good for a terrorist to miss.

Since the bombing in Bulgaria of a busload of Israeli tourists, concerns have been ramped up about the possible threat to the Israeli Olympic team and, by extension, the Games.

Closer to home, the possibility of a Northern Ireland-related attack cannot be discounted. Revitalized dissident groups have long sought to strike against the mainland (and carried out 26 attacks in Northern Ireland last year.

More

I have a piece in this month’s CTC Sentinel, the journal of the West Point Combating Terrorism Center. It focuses on Rashid Rauf, a figure that has appeared in a number of other pieces that I have written – most prominently in these two (and will feature in the book) – but to my knowledge has not been profiled in such a comprehensive way yet. My initial inspiration for this was an old academic article about Dhiren Barot, another Briton who rose up the ranks, though I think the conclusion is that Rauf was more important. I was also quoted in this Birmingham (where he was from) press story about Rauf.

One detail that my friend Paul Cruickshank has pointed out to me since publication was that in court, Bryant Neal Vinas did not recognize a picture of Rauf that was shown to him, suggesting he may not have met him. The Rotella story that I quote in the piece indicates they did encounter each other, but apparently in court Vinas denied it. I had thought they met, but maybe not. In any case, comments and more welcome.

A Biography of Rashid Rauf: Al-Qa’ida’s British Operative

Jul 24, 2012

Author: Raffaello Pantucci

Like a ghost in the machine, the figure of British jihadist Rashid Rauf is one that continues to emerge on the fringes of terrorist plots. A Kashmiri Briton whose life story epitomizes the Pakistani connection to Britain’s jihadist community, Rauf was a young man who left the United Kingdom after the 9/11 attacks to connect with extremist networks in Pakistan. Having joined Kashmiri oriented networks that increasingly became intertwined with al-Qa`ida, he rose up the ranks, featuring in the background of a number of different plots—from the July 7, 2005, attacks in London to the 2006 liquid explosives plot targeting transatlantic airliners. After a brief period in Pakistani custody, Rauf escaped and once again played a role in a number of serious al-Qa`ida attempts against the West, including the 2009 plot by Najibullah Zazi to attack New York City’s subway system.

His exact role in al-Qa`ida, however, has not been carefully explored publicly, in particular to try to assess how important the Briton was within the organization and to see whether he was merely a point of contact or a more operational leader. Given the fact that plots connected to him continued to be uncovered almost two years after his reported death in a U.S. drone strike in Waziristan in November 2008, confusion continues to dominate his narrative. In an attempt to try to pry apart the man from the myth, this article provides a detailed assessment of what is known about Rashid Rauf before drawing some conclusions about his position in al-Qa`ida.

Birmingham Youth
Rashid Rauf was born in Mirpur, Pakistan, in 1981 and moved to Birmingham as a child.[1] His father, Abdul, moved with his family in the early 1980s as part of the chain of migrations from that part of Pakistan to the United Kingdom. Living in the Alum Rock part of Birmingham, the Rauf family settled quickly into a normal life within the fiercely nationalistic Kashmiri immigrant community. In 1984, a group of men from the community calling themselves members of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Army (a previously unknown group, they named the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a known group, as their mediators) kidnapped Birmingham-based Indian Deputy Consul General Ravindra Mhatre and demanded the release of imprisoned leaders in India and £1 million sterling. When their demands were not met, they executed Mhatre and dumped his body outside a farm near the city.[2] While the murder was a shock to many, it highlighted the strength of pro-Kashmiri feeling among the community.

Throughout the 1990s, jihadist leaders from Kashmir would travel through Birmingham and other British Pakistani communities raising money. One such individual who made this journey was Maulana Masood Azhar, who in 1992-1993 was reported to have given fiery speeches in Birmingham at mosques near where Rauf was being brought up raising money for Kashmiri fighters.[3] An apparently impressive speaker, an attendee told local journalist Amardeep Bassey that they saw women taking off their jewelry after conferences and handing it over to the preacher in support of Kashmir.[4]

The Rauf family was not atypical in its activity support of the Kashmiri cause, and came from a long line of distinguished religious leadership.[5] Reports have stated Abdul Rauf was a religious judge back in Kashmir, a role he continued in Birmingham.[6] He also helped found Crescent Relief, a charitable organization that sent many thousands of British pounds to provide support in the wake of the October 2005 earthquake in Kashmir (although it is not clear Abdul Rauf was still involved then). The family’s mother apparently used a garden shed as a makeshift school in which she would give free Islamic classes to local children.[7] Rashid Rauf’s childhood home was near an Ahl-e-Hadith mosque,[8] the strict religious sect that has historically gone hand-in-hand with Lashkar-i-Tayyiba to provide religious indoctrination to their fighters.

Rauf attended Washwood Heath High School that became infamous in 1996 (while Rauf was a student) when a teacher, Israr Khan, leapt up after a rendition of carol-singing shouting “Who is your God? Why are you saying Jesus and Jesus Christ? God is not your God—it is Allah.”[9] Another teacher expressed little surprise at the revelation that Rauf had been to the school, saying, “I’m not at all surprised that someone from the school has been implicated. There were some very influential radical elements there.”[10] In 1999, he was awarded a place at Portsmouth University, although it remains unclear what he was studying.[11] Alongside him at the university was another Birmingham-Pakistani named Mohammed Gulzar, who while from the same background as Rauf appears to have come from a family far less involved in local politics.[12] A student at a nearby school in Birmingham, Gulzar lived a few streets away from Rauf and the two were apparently close as children.[13] The two are believed to have been involved in Islamic societies at the university and it is thought that this may have been at the root of why they never completed their studies. Gulzar and Rauf were reported to have started attending Tablighi Jama`at sessions in 2000,[14] and a childhood friend of Gulzar’s reported that after returning from a trip to Pakistan that year, Gulzar “was much more devout. He had grown a long beard and seemed a lot quieter and more focused.”[15]

During breaks in school, Rauf was reported to have been assisting his father’s bakery business delivering cakes to local shops.[16] He was also seen at the local gym, played football with other locals and prayed relatively regularly at the mosque.[17] At the time, Birmingham had a number of gangs involved in defending local minority communities from right-wing attacks, and while it is not clear that Rauf was a member, he was reportedly close to one of the key members of the Aston Panthers.[18] He is also understood to have been close to an uncle living in East London who was involved in the Kashmiri struggle.[19] It is uncertain whether this uncle was involved in the East London charity “Crescent Relief” that Rauf’s father had helped establish and that was reported by neighbors in 2005 (after Rauf’s father had stepped down from his role) to have started to distribute flyers highlighting the plight of Kashmiris.[20]

In April 2002, Rauf and Gulzar abruptly left the country to go to Pakistan, wanted for questioning in the murder of an uncle of Rauf’s named Mohammed Saeed.[21] The exact causes of the “frenzied stabbing” are unclear, with speculation that jihadist politics[22] or an arranged marriage[23] may have been causes. A couple of months prior to the murder, Gulzar and Rauf were reportedly spotted at an internet cafe in Portsmouth where they researched a U.S. aviation firm and purchased a GPS map receiver and “various compass/map CDs” using fraudulent credit cards.[24] It is unclear if they were traveling together, but this equipment would have proved useful to Rauf who by the middle of 2002 had reached Bahawalpur, Pakistan. Gulzar was ultimately acquitted of all charges against him.

Linking to Al-Qa`ida
Once Rauf reached Bahawalpur, his links to the Kashmiri jihad became clearer. Soon after arriving, he married the daughter of Ghulam Mustafa, the founder of the Darul Uloom Madina, a famous local Deobandi madrasa.[25] According to one report, Rauf knew Mustafa from when the preacher had stayed at the family home in Birmingham.[26] Another of Mustafa’s daughters is married to Masood Azhar,[27] the jihadist leader who visited Birmingham and who had since 1992 risen to establish his own Kashmir oriented jihadist group, Jaysh-i-Muhammad.

According to Rauf’s confessions to Pakistani interrogators in 2006, his intention in 2002 was to go and fight the United States in Afghanistan.[28] Arriving in Pakistan, Rauf claimed he connected with Amjad Hussein Farooqi, a senior Pakistani member of Jaysh-i-Muhammad with close links to al-Qa`ida.[29] Rauf claimed that he first went to Afghanistan with Farooqi in mid-2002 and from there was able to establish a close connection with a number of core al-Qa`ida members.[30] When Farooqi was killed in a police raid in 2004, Rauf’s connection within al-Qa`ida seems to have shifted to Abu Faraj al-Libi,[31] a senior member of al-Qa`ida described as head of external operations, who was reportedly in regular contact with operatives in the United Kingdom. Other Britons al-Libi is believed to have been in contact with include Mohammed al-Ghabra, a Syrian still living in East London who has been identified in British court documents as having stayed with al-Libi for a week in 2002.[32] Al-Ghabra was later accused of being involved in the 2006 transatlantic airliners plot (although no specific charges were laid against him) and is listed on the UN sanctions list as being associated with al-Qa`ida and al-Libi in particular.[33]

By 2004, Rauf was still a relatively low-level player within the organization, as he does not appear much in secondary reporting. For example, in the large Operation Crevice plot (which was disrupted by authorities in March 2004)—the first large-scale British plot in which a group of mostly second-generation Pakistani-Britons from London’s environs planned to explode a large fertilizer device at a shopping mall—Rashid Rauf does not feature. Behind the scenes, however, it seems it was around this time that Rauf’s first major plot came together.

Operationalizing
According to a post-operation report that European and U.S. security services believe was written by Rauf,[34] at around this time a young Pakistani-Briton known as Umar made his way to Waziristan and connected with an individual identified in documents as Haji, but believed to be Abu Ubaydah al-Masri.[35] According to Rauf, Haji persuaded Umar to train for a martyrdom operation back in Europe and was sent to the United Kingdom in June 2004 once he had been trained in how to use hydrogen peroxide as an explosive.[36] The connection, however, seems to have been through Haji, with Rauf playing a supportive role.

While Umar failed to carry out his attack, Rauf reported that he did pass on the contacts for Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two men Umar knew and whom he trusted. Rauf waited a couple of weeks before making contact with the two men and assessed whether they seemed dedicated enough to the cause.[37] Having concluded the men were committed, he traveled with them into the tribal areas putting them in direct contact with Haji. Leaving them with the leader for a couple of days, by the time he returned Haji had persuaded them to carry out attacks in the United Kingdom.[38] Rauf then chaperoned the two men around the tribal regions to get explosives training, record their suicide videos, and instruct them on the targets they should aim for once back in the United Kingdom. At a certain point, he reported planning to travel back with the two to help them with their operation, but that he was unable to get a clean passport in time.[39] In any event, by February 8, 2005, Khan and Tanweer moved back to the United Kingdom.[40] Rauf continued to manage the plot from afar, using Yahoo messenger, e-mails and mobile phones to help them decide on targeting and helping them when they encountered problems, for example in the concentration of the hydrogen peroxide.[41]

In December 2004, Rauf reported receiving information that a new group of three Britons had arrived in the tribal areas—Muktar Said Ibrahim, Rizwan Majid and Shakeel Ismail (though they were all using cover names).[42] Ibrahim boasted to his roommate as he left that he was off to “do jihad” and that “maybe [he] wouldn’t see [Ibrahim] again, maybe [they] were going to see each other in heaven.”[43] Having waited a couple of weeks, Rauf made contact and spent some time with the men assessing their credentials and their potential use as plotters. He then dispatched them to meet with Haji who took them to be trained in explosives.[44] Likely more focused on the eventual July 7, 2005, plotters, Rauf spent less time with the men, reporting that while they were receiving their explosives training there was an accident during which Majid and Ismail were killed. When he met Ibrahim again, it was in Islamabad and the two had a short period in which to record his suicide video, arrange his return flight, organize codes and methods of communication and ensure that Ibrahim was ready for his operation.[45]

The shortened timeline was due to the need to get Ibrahim out of the country before his visa expired. Rauf reported that everything came together and he received a note from Ibrahim saying he had arrived safely in the United Kingdom.[46] After this, however, there was silence with no responses using the predetermined methods. Through other contacts, Rauf was able to reach out to Ibrahim, but all he heard back was that the operation was proceeding.[47]

In the end, the first plot succeeded and the second did not. Rauf ascribed the fact that he was able to keep contact with Khan as the key behind success, since he could manage the operation and help Khan work through the technical difficulties with the hydrogen peroxide. Based on Rauf’s assessments, it is possible to see that with both cells he acted as the first point of contact for the fighters having been passed their details, vetted them for suitability and then helped them connect with more senior members of al-Qa`ida who trained and persuaded them to become willing suicide bombers back in the United Kingdom. He also helped the plotters record their martyrdom videos and arranged their communication methods.[48] Clearly a key figure in the plots, he was nevertheless a middleman, and one who to some degree must have been viewed as expendable given the fact that he claimed to have attempted to go back to operate alongside the plotters in the United Kingdom, an operationally risky move. Furthermore, the fact that he played a different role with the July 21, 2005, plotters (spending less time with them) suggests that he was not the only operator shepherding cells around at the time.

Rising in the Ranks
The success of the July 7, 2005, operation in London—in which 52 people died on London’s public transportation system—is likely to have raised Rauf’s profile within al-Qa`ida. By the time he came to the transatlantic airliners plot in his post-operation report, Rauf referred to himself and Haji as peers and co-plotters. While it is clear that Haji was still the senior organizer, Rauf had taken on a far more hands-on leadership role in the plot. He described the technical details of how they decided to come to use liquid explosives on planes and other particular aspects of the chemical composition of the devices, suggesting deep involvement in this aspect.[49]

Rauf provided a lot less detail about shepherding the key figures in the plot around the tribal regions, and instead wrote about the individuals like pawns in an operation.[50] He described using methods of communication similar to those he deployed in the earlier plots, but instead this time had a set of mobile numbers he was using for the operation, one for each contact. He described how he had three numbers for contacts in the United Kingdom and one for Pakistan.[51] Court evidence of his control over the plot was provided in the form of e-mails that were supposedly from him (using the nickname “Paps”) or someone linked to him showing Rauf directing key figures on the ground. The language deployed was colloquial British slang, and clearly delivered by someone with good command of the language.[52]

In a separate case linked to the plot, Rauf instructed via e-mail Adam Khatib, one of the younger members of the network, to behave himself after he was arrested for driving illegally.[53] Furthermore, authorities alleged that he dispatched his old Birmingham friend Mohammed Gulzar back to the United Kingdom to act as his man on the ground.[54] During the time since Gulzar had fled from the United Kingdom, the only substantial activities he is identified as doing is traveling back and forth to South Africa to obtain a passport and a wife, and meeting with Mohammed al-Ghabra (which he admitted to in court).[55] Later court documents identified Gulzar as being “in contact with Rauf and with one of the convicted plotters, Assad Sarwar.”[56] As well as being in touch with at least one key figure on the ground in the United Kingdom linked to the airliners plot, authorities alleged that Gulzar was in touch with at least one other potential cell in the United Kingdom.[57] Rauf referred to two other individuals in his report who were not detected, as well as highlighting the purpose of Assad Sarwar to act as bombmaker and to stay undetected for use after the plot.[58]

While this plot has clear evidence of Rauf having moved up the value chain in al-Qa`ida—working to establish networks in Europe for future attacks, coordinating the plot seemingly on the same level as a senior al-Qa`ida leader, involved in most aspects from managing the individuals to the technical aspects of the bomb—it ended up with him being arrested in Pakistan. Largely kept from talking to the press, when he was brought before a court in December 2006 he declared, “I have done nothing wrong but I have been framed. I am not optimistic that I will be cleared…everything against me is based on lies, lies.”[59] Oddly, however, for an innocent man, he did not appear to ask for consular assistance.[60] In fact, the Pakistani courts were forgiving and a judge declared the charges against him “flimsy” and with “no substance,” dropping all the charges.[61] Less than a year later, he had still not been extradited to the United Kingdom, and in September 2007 was ordered released by a Pakistani court.[62] Before any of this could take place, however, in December that year he managed to escape from custody in very questionable circumstances.[63]

Returning to the Fight
Whether anything can be read into his escape and Pakistani unwillingness to extradite him to the United Kingdom is unclear. From an al-Qa`ida perspective, however, Rauf’s escape from custody was a blessing, and he almost immediately started to feature in reports from foreign fighters who joined al-Qa`ida. For example, Bryant Neal Vinas, a young American who came to the tribal belt to join the fighting in Afghanistan in September 2007, claimed to have met Rauf and senior al-Qa`ida ideologue Abu Yahya al-Libi at some point in 2008.[64] In November 2008, a few days before Rauf was allegedly killed in a drone strike, Vinas was captured in Peshawar by Pakistani forces. He claimed to have met senior al-Qa`ida leaders and to have plotted with them to attack the Long Island Rail Road in the United States.[65] Whether it was Rauf who directed him is unclear, but security services in the United Kingdom believe that during 2008 Rauf devised a plan to use a group of local Pashtuns who were to infiltrate the United Kingdom using student visas and allegedly carry out an attack in a northern British city.[66] The specifics of his involvement in the plot are uncertain given the fact that no one has been convicted of the plot and one of the key alleged figures is currently fighting extradition to the United States, obstructing the release of information.

Rauf’s hand was more prominently visible in another plot linked to this group: the cell led by Najibullah Zazi that was intercepted in September 2009 during an attempt to carry out a suicide bombing on the New York City subway system. According to Zazi’s co-conspirator Zarein Ahmedzay, having made contact with al-Qa`ida in Peshawar in September 2008 they were taken by “Ahmad” to Miran Shah in the tribal belt where one day a convoy of vehicles came to meet them bearing Salah al-Somali and Rashid Rauf. Rauf is reported to have told the men that “they would be presented with a serious decision” and had to decide whether they wanted to become suicide bombers.[67] A third cell, connected through an e-mail account that was managed by “Ahmad” who was in touch with individuals from all three groups, was uncovered in Oslo. It is unclear whether Rauf met with the key plotters, although on the presumption that he was indeed killed during a drone strike on November 22, 2008, it would have been difficult for him to meet with the lead plotter Mikael Davud since it was only November 20, 2008, that Davud left Turkey for Iran to make his journey to the tribal belt.[68]

What is clear is that Rauf was no longer the contact man reaching out and vetting recruits or shuttling them around. In both Vinas’ and Ahmedzay’s accounts, he was a figure brought in to talk to the aspirant plotters and then left them to be trained and prepared by others. In this set of cells, it appears as though it was “Ahmad” acting as the courier, bringing the aspirant warriors around, acting as their first point of contact with al-Qa`ida and then later managing the e-mail account through which they could communicate with the al-Qa`ida leaders—roles that Rauf played with the July 7 plotters. His elevation to the core of al-Qa`ida seemed complete, with him now only appearing to talk to foreign recruits alongside senior al-Qa`ida members and presumably acting as an English-speaking figure of importance who could talk to foreigners in their own terms. Having met them, he seemed to slip into the background from where he directed the men immediately handling the plotters—in this case “Ahmad” who acted as the go-between to the various cells. Once established, the plots were seemingly able to run without Rauf’s leadership, something necessary given his reported death on November 22, 2008. It was another five months before the plotters in northern England were uncovered, and almost a year before Najibullah Zazi and his cell were detected in New York.

Conclusion
Rashid Rauf’s body was never found, al-Qa`ida never officially recognized his death and plots with links to him were still being uncovered almost two years after his reported demise. His family is convinced he is alive and in the custody of Pakistani intelligence services,[69] while senior American sources are certain he is dead.[70] Whatever the case, it seems clear that Rashid Rauf was by his death a serious player in al-Qa`ida who had risen up the ranks from a British-Pakistani fixer and foot soldier to the key hub for a number of terrorist plots. His ascension was no doubt accelerated by his Kashmiri jihadist pedigree and his ability to develop close relationships with numerous senior al-Qa`ida figures. Having gained their trust, he was then used as a friendly foreign face who was able to vet and meet foreign fighters who arrived in the tribal belt seeking to connect with al-Qa`ida. For these foreigners, the contact with al-Qa`ida was likely made easier by the presence of someone like Rauf—a Westernized foreigner who could understand their backgrounds and their psychological journey. His death, if true, would have clearly been a loss to the group, although it does not seem as though it has necessarily stopped their capacity to train and dispatch fighters back to plot attacks.

Rauf’s trajectory from a Birmingham Pakistani involved in Kashmiri politics and Islamism to an al-Qa`ida militant is one that is typical of the British jihadist narrative, and one that echoes a number of other narratives. Where Rauf distinguished himself is in having survived within al-Qa`ida in the tribal belt for so long, slowly rising up to a rank of some importance within the group and not ultimately returning to the United Kingdom to attempt to carry out an attack. Instead, from his perch in the tribal belt he acted as a puppeteer to a series of plots that while only successful once, were able to strike fear and terror right into the heart of the West. The 2006 transatlantic airliners plot, with its innovative use of liquid explosives, led to the still current ban on liquids on airplanes. Rashid Rauf, dead or alive, clearly succeeded in making his mark on the world as a key al-Qa`ida figure.

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

[1] “Allegations of UK Complicity in Torture,” House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights, 23rd Report of Session 2008-2009, July 21, 2009, p. 109.

[2] Regina v. Abdul Quayyum Raja, Royal Courts of Justice, 2004.

[3]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012. A West Midlands based journalist, Bassey has done a lot of work among Birmingham’s Muslim and gang community.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cole Morton and Andrew Buncombe, “The Life and Death of Rashid Rauf,” Independent on Sunday, November 23, 2008.

[7]  Cahal Milmo, Ian Herbert, Jason Bennetto and Justin Huggler, “From Birmingham Bakery to Pakistani Prison, The Mystery of Rashid Rauf,” Independent, August 19, 2006.

[8]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012.

[9]  “Muslim Teacher in Carol Concert Tirade is Made Ofsted Inspector,” Daily Mail, September 30, 2006.

[10] Daily Mirror, August 15, 2006.

[11]  Dominic Casciani, “Profile: Rashid Rauf,” BBC, November 22, 2008.

[12] Unpublished “Special Investigation” into Gulzar for the Sunday Mercury by Ben Goldby.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Mitchell D. Silber, The Al Qaeda Factor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), p. 42.

[15]  Unpublished “Special Investigation” into Gulzar for the Sunday Mercury by Ben Goldby.

[16]  Morton and Buncombe.

[17]  Ibid.

[18] Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012. More famous to readers than the Panthers in Birmingham was the Lynx gang of which Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg was a member. A number of individuals from these groups ended up involved in jihadist activity.

[19]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012.

[20]  Ian Fisher and Serge Kovaleski, “In British Inquiry, a Family Caught in Two Worlds,” New York Times, August 20, 2006.

[21] Richard Greenberg, Paul Cruickshank and Chris Hansen, “Inside the Terror Plot that ‘Rivaled 9/11,’” Dateline NBC, September 14, 2009.

[22] Andrew Alderson, “Rashid Rauf: Profile of a Terror Mastermind,” Daily Telegraph, November 22, 2008.

[23]  Milmo et al.

[24]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AY, Royal Courts of Justice, July 26, 2010.

[25]  “The Radical with Perfect Cover,” Sunday Times, August 20, 2006.

[26]  “Rashid Rauf,” Guardian, November 22, 2008.

[27]  The Radical with Perfect Cover.”

[28]  Asif Farooqi, Carol Grisanti and Robert Windrem, “Sources: UK Terror Plot Suspect Forced to Talk,” NBC News, August 18, 2006.

[29]  Ibid.

[30]  Ibid.

[31]  Silber,  p. 50.

[32]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AY, Royal Courts of Justice, July 26, 2010.

[33]  “Security Council Committee Pursuant to Resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) Concerning Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” United Nations, October 2009.

[34]  The documents in question were found on German suspects believed linked to al-Qa`ida. They provide a post-operational assessment from al-Qa`ida’s perspective of what happened in the July 7, 2005, and July 21, 2005, plots to attack London and the 2006 transatlantic airliners plot. They were first reported by Yassin Musharbash, “In ihren eigenen worten,” Die Zeit, March 15, 2012. Subsequent quotes attributed to Rauf are drawn from author read-outs, and the following news pieces: Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Document Shows Origins of 2006 Plot for Liquid Bombs on Planes,” CNN, April 30, 2012; Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Documents Give New Details on al Qaeda’s London Bombings,” CNN, April 30, 2012; Duncan Gardham, “7/7 bombers Planned Attack on Bank of England,” Telegraph, April 30, 2012; Duncan Gardham, “Al Qaeda Commander’s Guide to Beating MI5,” Telegraph, May 1, 2012. Heretofore, all these articles are referred to as the “Rauf documents.”

[35]  Rauf documents.

[36]  Ibid.

[37]  Ibid.

[38]  Ibid.

[39]  Ibid.

[40]  “7 July Bombings,” BBC, July 8, 2008.

[41]  Rauf documents.

[42]  Ibid. “Terror: How a String of Blunders Left Bombers Free to Cause Carnage,” Daily Mail, July 10, 2007; Secretary of State for the Home Department and AH, Royal Courts of Justice, May 9, 2008.

[43]  “Profile: Muktar Said Ibrahim,” BBC, July 11, 2007.

[44]  Rauf documents.

[45]  Ibid.

[46]  Ibid.

[47]  Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] “Explosive Emails,” Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2009.

[53] Duncan Gardham, “Teenager Sentenced to 18 Years after Being Groomed as Suicide Bomber in Trans-Atlantic Airlines Plot,” Telegraph, December 10, 2009.

[54] Greenberg et al.

[55]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AY, Royal Courts of Justice, July 26, 2010; Silber, p. 42.

[56]  Secretary of State for the Home Department and AM, Royal Courts of Justice, July 6, 2012.

[57]  Ibid. Secretary of State for the Home Department and AM, Royal Courts of Justice, December 21, 2009.

[58]  Rauf documents.

[59] David Williams, “It’s All Lies, Protests Suspected Air Bomber,” Daily Mail, December 22, 2006.

[60] “UK Request Being Considered: FO: Extradition of Rashid Rauf,” Dawn, August 28, 2006.

[61]  CNN, December 13, 2006.

[62] “Release of Two Britons including Rashid Rauf Sought,” Daily Times, September 1, 2007.

[63]  Massoud Ansari and Miles Erwin, “London Airline Bomb Plot Suspect Escapes,” Daily Telegraph, December 16, 2007.

[64]  Sebastian Rotella and Josh Meyer, “A Young American’s Journey into Al Qaeda,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2009.

[65]  USA v. John Doe, Eastern District of New York, 2009.

[66] “Arrest of ‘Easter Bombers’ Led to International al Qaeda Network,” Daily Telegraph, May 18, 2010.

[67] Silber, p. 160.

[68]  “Den offentlege patalemakta mot Mikael Davud, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak Bujak, David Jakobsen,” Oslo City Court, January 30, 2012.

[69]  Personal interview, Amardeep Bassey, June 2012.

[70]  Greenberg et al.