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Jihad Intel: Vital Intelligence on Designated Islamic Terrorist Organizations

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham: Initial Statements and Translations

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Sat, 28 Jan 2017, 12:40 PM

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For a profile entry of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, see this entry in the Jihad-Intel database.

Praise be to God who said: Indeed, God loves those who fight in His cause in a row as though they are a [single] structure joined firmly [61:4], and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God. As for what follows:

In view of what the Syrian revolution is undergoing today from plots that plague it and internal conflict that threatens its presence and with great effort on our part to join forces and close ranks, we- the factions whose signature is present below- announce that all our factions will cease to exist and a complete merger within the new entity under the name: "Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham" under the leadership of the engineer Abu Jaber Hashim Al-Shakh,

And we call on the factions in the arena to fulfill this covenant and to join this new entity in order to unify our forces and to preserve the gains of the revolution and the jihad - so that this project may be the nucleus of gathering the capacities of this revolution, as well as to preserve its course and so that its desired objectives may be reached in overthrowing the criminal regime. And we ask the Lord to grant us victory and the clear conquest.

Signatures of the factions invovled:

Jabhat Fath Al-Sham

Harakat Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki

Liwa Al-Haq

Jabhat Ansar Al-Din

Jaysh Al-Sunna

[Translation provided on jihadi outlet al-Fustaat, revised slightly for clarity].

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Jabhat Fatah al-Sham removes Jund al-Aqsa from its ranks

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Mon, 23 Jan 2017, 1:08 PM

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Jund al-Aqsa ("Soldiers of al-Aqsa," referring to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem) is a jihadi group that was first set up in 2013 and primarily operates in Idlib and Hama provinces in northwestern Syria. Though it has publicly made clear its ideological alignment with al-Qa'ida, its hardline conduct in dealing with other Syrian rebel factions means that it is often accused of being secretly in league with the Islamic State. It is certainly true that the rank and file has had Islamic State sympathizers, at least some of whom have formally joined the Islamic State. Once a valued member of the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition set up in 2015 that drove out the regime from most of Idlib province, Jund al-Aqsa finds itself widely disliked among the Syrian insurgency, most notably clashing with Ahrar al-Sham, with a round of clashes occurring in October 2016 and now this month again.

The last time the clashes happened, Jund al-Aqsa appeared to have sought protection through pledging allegiance to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded Jabhat al-Nusra that has ostensibly dropped ties with al-Qa'ida. Yet it seems that the renewal of clashes and pressure on Jabhat Fatah al-Sham to disown Jund al-Aqsa have led to a new statement from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham disavowing the group and issuing a clarification on that apparent allegiance pledge, affirming that it was actually rejected at the time by many people in Jund al-Aqsa, but for reasons of fear of a renewal of clashes and hope that the group could be controlled by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, it was decided until now not to make an announcement about the matter.

This statement comes amid much upheaval in the Syrian insurgency, with the unsurprising failure of grand merger talks despite the loss of Aleppo city in its entirety to the regime. U.S. airstrikes and drone attacks targeting Jabhat Fatah al-Sham have also increased, leading to concerns of rising tensions as many more 'mainstream' Syrian rebel factions are suspected of being afraid to pay condolences to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in the fear that they will be targeted too (and of course, isolating Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in this way is undoubtedly a U.S. calculation here).

The clashes have been an important aspect in the upheaval, undoubtedly playing a part alongside the failure of merger talks in the decision of Abu Jaber to dissolve his Jaysh al-Ahrar subset of Ahrar al-Sham, the principal aim of which had been to pressure Ahrar al-Sham for a merger of some kind with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

Below is the statement translated by me.

"Clarification on the reasons for the joining and separation of the 'Jund al-Aqsa' group

Praise be to God, and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God, his family, companions and whoso is loyal to him. As for what follows:

In October 2016, during preparation for the second battle to break the siege of Aleppo, and amid a clear advance for the forces of the mujahideen in the north Hama countryside, a clash arose between the Ahrar al-Sham movement and Jund al-Aqsa, with the matter extending to the stance of many of the factions in the rank of Ahrar against Jund, and the clashes led at the same time to the fall of many people from the liberated areas at the hands of the regime again, in addition to hundreds of prisoners being taken by both of the two conflicting sides, as well as many killed between the two sides.

We intervened at that time to convince the two sides to agree to a ceasefire through recourse to a Shari'i court, and the matter led to the agreement on the following points:

1. Immediate ceasefire.
2. Releasing prisoners from the two sides.
3. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham would receive the points of the clash.
4. Forming a Shari'i court.

That happened amid an announcement by a delegation from Jund al-Aqsa- at whose head was their amir- declaring its allegiance on behalf of the whole group to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham according to the prior facts. As we set out to apply the terms of the agreement with Ahrar on the one hand and the terms of the allegiance with Jund on the other, we noticed the two sides were delaying in applying the court proceedings, and we received a number of affirmations from Jund on the lack of their acceptance of that allegiance pledge, indicating rather that the amir had pledged allegiance on his own behalf and whoso wished from their members, not the faction in its entirety. Thus it seemed clear that the Jund al-Aqsa group would not deal with the Jabha on the basis of hearing and obeying: the main pillar for the allegiance pledge.

We were keen more than once to clarify these circumstances, but our fear of the renewal of clashes by a side and our hope that the Jund would comply with their allegiance pledge meant that the choice not to clarify the matter got the better of us. And amid the clashes that have renewed between the two sides and the lack of the Jund's submission to any of the clauses of the allegiance pledge- we (even as the two sides have agreed to resolve the matter through a judicial committee) declare that Jund al-Aqsa is not affiliated with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham- organizationally that is- even as the bond of Islam remains, and we all hope that the recent agreement between Ahrar and Jund succeeds.

And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.

25 Rabi' al-Akhir 1438 AH
23 January 2017 CE."


The Jerusalem Attack: Palestinian Group Claims Responsibility

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Mon, 9 Jan 2017, 9:28 PM

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The attack in Jerusalem yesterday that killed four young Israeli soldiers has been claimed in a circulated statement by a Palestinian group calling itself "The Martyr Baha' Alyan Groups." Its statement of responsibility can be read below, with brief explanatory notes in square brackets:

"The Martyr Baha' Alyan Groups

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful:

'Fight them: God will torment them at your hands and ruin them, giving you victory over them and healing the hearts of believing people' [Qur'an 9:14].

Masses of our defiant people, our people on ribat in Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem]. With all pride and honour, in the highest signs of glory and greatness, from the pure land of Palestine, where al-Faruq Omar [Omar bin al-Khattab, the second Caliph after the Prophet's death] cried Allahu Akbar, we present to you in the Martyr Baha' Alyan Groups:

Our martyrdom operative commando son Fadi Ahmad al-Qanbar, son of Jabal al-Mukaber, who carried out the major truck operation that brought down by God's help and power more than 30 Zionist soldiers among the killed and wounded, and prompted 300 others to flee like frightened rats. This operation that came as an extension of the heroic acts of the commando sons of al-Quds [Jerusalem] in the al-Quds Intifada, the last of whom was the martyr hero Masbah Abu Sabih the lion of al-Aqsa who brought down the occupying Zionists.

Indeed we in the Martyr Baha' Alyan Groups, as we pledge to our people to move forward on the path of the martyrs and prisoners, affirm the following:

1. This operation is not the first our groups have carried out, and a powerful stream of major operations will follow it, supporting our Quds, in revenge for our noble [/free] people, and as a promise to our martyrs and prisoners.

2. The Martyr Baha' Alyan Groups is a contingent of the youth heroes of Palestine, who have arisen heeding the call of their Aqsa and land, and they are not affiliated to any groups outside Palestine, and indeed the lies of the occupation are nothing but a failing attempt to distort the resistance of our intrepid people.

3. We call on our people and Ummah to gather around the choice of resistance, and rise up to support al-Aqsa, the holy sites and the noble [/free] people of Palestine.

4. The occupation must wait for surprises, and let it look for its weak flanks and await the coming knight of Palestine.

al-Quds is free for us...The resistance is our right
At your service al-Aqsa...At your service Palestine.

The Martyr Baha' Alyan Groups
Bayt al-Maqdis- Palestine
Monday, corresponding to 9 January 2016 CE."

For context, Baha' Alyan is a Palestinian who carried out a stabbing and shooting operation on an Israeli bus in October 2015 alongside one Bilal Ghanem. Alyan was killed by Israeli security forces, thus the widespread commemoration of him as a 'martyr' in Palestinian discourse. Masbah Abu Sabih, referenced in the statement, was an East Jerusalem resident who killed two Israelis in a shooting spree in October 2016.

Ideologically, there is nothing particularly new or unusual about this claim of responsibility from an otherwise previously unknown group. It fits in with standard Palestinian discourse about 'resistance' with some Islamic flavouring. The reference in particular to "lies of the occupation" attempting to "distort the resistance of our intrepid people" most likely alludes to some quick Israeli attempts to pin this attack on the Islamic State or characterize it as somehow being inspired by/in support of the Islamic State, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather confidently asserted in the aftermath of the attack. No meaningful evidence has been brought up to support these assertions. Netanyahu may simply be exploiting the opportunity to pin it on the Islamic State in some way in an attempt to gain more international sympathy at a time of anxiety on account of the UN Security Council Resolution against Israeli settlements that the U.S. failed to veto.

To be sure, Islamic State supporters do exist in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, but the most reliable indicator of an Islamic State role in some way is a claim of responsibility, particularly in light of this claim circulated in the name of a different group. None has been forthcoming. Of course, the Islamic State has almost certainly carried out operations it has not officially claimed, but sound reasons for the lack of a claim can usually be identified. For example, the recent bombing in the north Aleppo countryside town of Azaz that killed dozens of people has not been claimed, even as the Islamic State is the only reasonable suspect in this case. It is likely for the Azaz incident that claiming the operation would not suit its propaganda purposes, considering that it simply involved the clear mass killing of ordinary Sunni Muslim civilians.

In this case, however, there should be nothing to hold the Islamic State back from claiming an operation, if this attack is actually the work of an Islamic State operative/supporter acting in the interest of the Islamic State and all signs supposedly point to that. After all, the Islamic State devoted a media campaign in late 2015- primarily in the form of a flood of videos from its various provincial media offices- to denouncing Israel and trying rather unsuccessfully to ride the wave of Palestinian rage and attacks that mostly took place in the form of stabbings. Urging foremost Palestinians themselves to take up jihad against Israel is part of the reasoning of an article in the Islamic State newsletter al-Naba', which in March 2016 argued that "God Almighty has ordered the believers to head in their jihad to the nearest of them from the disbelievers, in the framework of their fighting the mushrikeen [idolaters] the Muslims under the rule of the Jews begin by fighting them, and the people of al-Sham [Syria] begin by fighting the Nusayri taghut [Alawite regime] and others beside it from the categories of the apostates like the Sahwa forces and the PKK..."

The article itself is a broader attack on the notion of prioritizing the cause of Palestine above all others for the Muslims as Arab nationalists, leftists and others have done. Jihad against the Jews in Palestine, it argues, must aim, like all other jihad, to implement God's law and realize Islamic monotheism. The article sticks by the Islamic State's general principle that fighting apostate rulers and their ilk is more important than fighting people born as disbelievers ('original disbelievers') and asserts that should distinction of land give precedence to choice of jihad then the jihad to free Mecca and Medina (Islam's two holiest sites) from the ruling Saudi family has precedence over all other lands. Even so, the "lawful jihad" will fight the Jews in Palestine as well as fighting the idolatrous tyrants and their apostate followers at the same time, "and likewise the Crusaders and all the mushrikeen in the world. As for limiting the jihad to the Jews only, it is replacing God's law, and following the whims of the tyrants who want to prevent the Muslims from waging jihad against the mushrikeen and apostates in the lands they rule."

It could perhaps be argued that the Islamic State wants to preserve operational security in not claiming this attack, but that seems unlikely. A simple claim without too much detail can suffice, peradventure gaming the media in the form of a 'source' speaking to its auxiliary outlet Amaq News.

Overall, support for the Islamic State as an expression of Palestinian militancy remains a very minor phenomenon, primarily confined to small pro-Islamic State groups in Gaza. Another notable instance of supposed Islamic State inspiration for an attack inside Israel itself- namely, the shooting in Tel Aviv in June 2016- did not yield conclusive evidence for the assertion, with both Hamas and Islamic State being pointed to as influences in rather sketchy reporting.

None of this means that there should be complacency, but the extent to which the Islamic State and its ideology characterize Palestinian violence against Israel should not be exaggerated. Wider notions of 'resistance', a culture of glorification of 'martyrs,' Palestinian nationalism and other Islamist currents play a far more important role in the phenomenon. The most important advice for the observer is to wait and see if the Islamic State itself says anything about this particular incident or an incident in general and issues a claim, as its record of claimed responsibility for attacks in the West and other countries around the globe has proven to be remarkably reliable.

Update (10 January 2017): A colleague, Amarnath Amarasingam, also correctly points out to me that the attacker in this case and Baha' Alyan are both of the Jabal al-Mukaber area. This seems relevant in assessing the credibility of the claim put forth in the name of "The Martyr Baha' Alyan Groups."

Worth noting also (as a couple of readers have also alluded to) is that a commander in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has claimed the attacker was a member of the PFLP. The attack is portrayed in this case as revenge for a man called Omar al-Nayef, who was assassinated in the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria in 2016.

Another piece of info worth addressing is an item (see below) posted on 10 January 2017 from the Telegram channel of the pro-Islamic State Gaza activist group al-Nusra al-Maqdisia, which described the attacker as "one of the supporters of the Islamic State in Bayt al-Maqdis." It is worth noting in any case that al-Nusra al-Maqdisia is not an official channel, and as of the time of writing (evening of 10 January 2017) no official Islamic State material corroborates the claim. Again, this shows that the most reliable method for determining any kind of Islamic State role would be something from Islamic State's official outlets.


Unseen Islamic State Regulations for the Mosul Operations

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Sat, 31 Dec 2016, 1:42 PM

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The unseen documents displayed and translated below were obtained in the north Aleppo countryside from a refugee who is originally from the Tel Afar area and had resided in Mosul. Since the launching of the military campaign by Iraqi forces whose main goal is to retake Mosul, thousands of Iraqi Sunni Turkmen from the Tel Afar area have fled to the north Aleppo countryside, partly in fear of the primarily Shi'a Popular Mobilization (Hashd Sha'abi) units that are leading the drive to retake Tel Afar. The Hashd Sha'abi focus on Tel Afar is hardly surprising given that many Iraqi Shi'a Turkmen previously resided in Tel Afar and are eager to reclaim their homes taken from them by the Islamic State in its conquests of the summer of 2014.

The route to the north Aleppo countryside is long and arduous involving smuggling through the desert regions, but may offer the best hope of getting to Turkey, where the Iraqi Turkmen have linguistic and cultural affinities. Turkey is still maintaining a tight border with Syria though, and no entry to Turkey has occurred yet. Perhaps Turkey wishes to keep them in the north Aleppo countryside- where a special camp exists for these refugees to the east of Azaz town– as part of its wider "Euphrates Shield" proxy project.

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The fitna inside Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Sun, 30 Oct 2016, 11:27 AM

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Following the assassination of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed's amir Abu Hashim al-Shami, the speculation of an inside job has given way to open infighting within the group. In terms of what has taken place on the ground, the security apparatus has arrested a number of figures within Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed, most notably Ábu Obeida Qahtan, a Palestinian-Syrian jihadi veteran who had fought in Afghanistan and connected early on/from the outset with al-Khal, the original leader of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk that is presently the largest component of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed. Qahtan was an important source of financing from the beginning for Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk, but contrary to this report in the pro-rebel outlet All4Syria, he did not come to Syria from Jordan in 2014 but was rather in Syria much earlier, even before the battles in early 2013 that culminated in the capture of the locality of Jamla near the border with the Golan Heights, from which Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk originates. He took over the leadership of the group following al-Khal's assassination in mid-November 2015, but was then replaced by the Saudi Abu Abdullah al-Madani dispatched by the Islamic State in March 2016 on account of administrative failings. More recently, Qahtan notably survived an assassination attempt in August 2016 that wounded him. The incident was reported by the Islamic State's auxiliary news outlet Amaq News, as per below.

Along with Abu Obeida Qahtan, a number of other figures involved with the original Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk appear to have been arrested as well. A detailed account is related here by a source from Shajra supportive of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed, whom I have cited previously:

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New reported leader for Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Mon, 24 Oct 2016, 6:15 AM

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To recall, Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed ('The Army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed') is an Islamic State-linked group in southwest Deraa province (the Yarmouk Valley/Basin area) on the border with the Golan Heights. Formed in late May 2016 mainly out of a merger of three groups, the most important of which was Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk , Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed came under the leadership of one Abu Hashim al-Shami, a man originally from Idlib province dispatched by the Islamic State to head the group. This followed on from the appointment of the Saudi Abu Abdullah al-Madani as head of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk in March 2016, a surprise appointment at the time that also had the hand of Islamic State involvement.

Though the above information is correct, it should be noted that the issue of leaders and their names has not been publicised on the official media channels of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk and the successor Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed. Instead, fake and/or unofficial announcements publicising this correct information sometimes appear. Since the formation of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed, the links with the Islamic State have been made more obvious through consistent advertisement of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed releases on Islamic State media aggregate channels like Nashir News on Telegram (in fact, Telegram is currently the only outlet where official Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed media exists). In addition, the Islamic State's auxiliary media wing Amaq News reports on developments concerning the group and the Yarmouk Valley area.

While the military situation is locked in a stalemate as the rebel factions supported by Jordan and the West find it difficult to penetrate the Yarmouk Basin and are largely not local to the area, Abu Hashim al-Shami (often referred to in local media as 'Abu Othman al-Idlibi', presumably based on his Idlib origins) was assassinated by the rebels. Though I have been able to confirm this information through private contact, a fake statement in the name of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed (below) was circulated regarding his death. Its lack of authenticity is demonstrated by its lack of appearance on Islamic State outlets like Nashir News on Telegram. In addition, the Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed media account 'Mohammad Daraa' on Facebook (an account overseen by multiple people in Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed media) decried the statement as a forgery (also below).

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The Islamic State leadership in Mosul

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Wed, 19 Oct 2016, 12:01 PM

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The much publicised offensive pushing towards Mosul is finally underway, involving a broad array of forces including Peshmerga, Iraqi army forces, Iraqi special forces, tribal fighters and some Shi'i militias. For its part, the Islamic State's coverage of these events takes two notable forms. First, there is heavy, granular coverage on the military frontlines via its auxiliary agency Amaq News, giving an impression of steadfast resistance. The Islamic State's defences seem to rely heavily on suicide bombers to stop the advancing forces. On the first day alone, Amaq News claimed 12 suicide bombing operations, followed by at least 4 such attacks on the second day of operations. The other strand of messaging paints a picture of normal life in Mosul city itself, which, after all, is still far removed from the actual frontlines for now.

The anti-Islamic State activist group and reporting team Sound and Picture, which has local sources in Mosul, has produced a list of names constituting the Islamic State leadership in the Mosul area (constituting the Islamic State's Wilayat Ninawa), more or less following the system of Islamic State administration that exists on the basis of the the various diwans (departments) and other offices and admin bodies that have been established since the announcement of the Caliphate in 2014. I have translated it in the form of the numbered list below, with some explanatory notes of my own in square brackets where necessary.

What is most apparent from the list is that the leadership is mostly Iraqi and local to Ninawa province. This fits in with the wider picture of the Islamic State organization within Iraq as showing a much greater preponderance of Iraqis in the leadership, administration and rank-and-file: something which is very clear in the documentary evidence I have looked at, whereas muhajireen- foreigners- seem to feature more prominently at least in the Islamic State administration in Syria, even if not the majority. Further, the organization has strong local roots within Ninawa province, having embedded itself as an underground mafia network for years before the fall of Mosul city in summer 2014. Indeed, it is reasonable to expect a reversion to this modus operandi if/when Mosul is retaken by Iraqi forces.

Translation with Notes

1. Abu Awf al-Maslawi- Hamad Ahmad Ibrahim al-Ta'i, the wali of Wilayat Ninawa [provincial governor], who has been living in a number of places, the last of them al-Insha'at neighbourhood.

2. Abu Faysal- Muhammad Ibrahim Abdullah Lahibi- deputy wali of Wilayat Ninawa- present in Arabi neighbourhood.

3. Abu Abdullah- Hussein Saleh al-Juburi [Juburi is a local name in Ninawa province, though notably also occurs in other parts of Iraq]- official of the security office, present in al-Muhandiseen neighbourhood [this neighbourhood, whose name means 'The Engineers', was remained 'al-Mu'mineen'- 'the believers'- by the Islamic State].

4. Abu Abdullah- Abd al-Hameed Ali Muhammad al-Sha'abani- official of military manufacturing and explosives [tied to military development department, see below]. Lives in al-Zara'i neighbourhood.

5. Abu Azzam- Abd al-Aziz Hussein Taha al-Khatuni [Khatuni is a local name]- official of the Islamic police, lives in al-Aamel neighbourhood.

6. Abu Faris- Salim Abbas al-Juburi- official of the Bayt al-Mal [financial treasury] and oil incomes- lives in al-Zara'i neighbourhood.

7. Abu Ibrahim- Muhammad Saleh al-Khatuni- the Diwan al-Jund [military department] official in Wilayat Ninawa- lives in 17 Tamuz neighbourhood [17 July neighbourhood- named for the 1968 revolution that cemented the Iraqi Ba'ath Party's control of Iraq - was renamed al-Fath- 'the conquest'- neighbourhood by Islamic State, undoubtedly celebrating the conquest of Mosul by the Islamic State].

8. Abu Muhammad 'Ilam [note nicknames of officials sometimes follow the departments they head: so here 'Abu Muhammad Media']- Falah Hassan Hussein al-Juburi- official of the media office for Wilayat Ninawa. Lives in al-Muhandiseen neighbourhood.

9. Abu Arwa- Mahmoud Fathi- the Diwan al-Zakat [Zakat taxation] official in Wilayat Ninawa. Lives in al-Muhandiseen neighbourhood.

10. Waleed/Abu Mandhar, Khalid Mo'ayyed al-Kasasbeh [names indicates he is Jordanian], the Diwan al-Ta'aleem official, lives in al-Masarif neighbourhood.

11. Abu Salah- Falah Hassan al-Daba'- the general official for Wilayat Ninawa [heading an Islamic State admin body known as al-Idarat al-Aama- 'The General Administration'], lives in 17 Tamuz neighbourhood.

12. Abu Omar- Faris Ahmad Hassan Obeid al-Mo'amari- the assistant of Abu Salah the general official- lives in al-Yarmouk neighbourhood.

13. Abu Taha- Nawaf Hassan Muhammad al-Badrani- amir of the Diwan al-Hisba [Islamic morality enforcement, closely tied to Islamic police] in the wilaya, lives in al-Nour neighbourhood.

14. Abu Anas- Hussam Salem Sultan- assistant in the Diwan al-Tatwir al-Askari [military development department], lives in al-Sadiq neighbourhood.

15. Abu Riyadh- Abd al-Hameed Ahmad al-Juburi- the Diwan al-Zara'a [agricultural department] official in Wilayat Ninawa, lives in 17 Tamuz neighbourhood.

16. Abu Aymenn- Fathi Muhammad Fathi al-Jawari- the Diwan al-Khidamat [services] official in the wilaya, lives in al-Muhandiseen neighbourhood.

17. Abu Mandhar/Haqawi- Haqi Ismail Muhammad al-Hadid- official for connection between the offices of the wilaya, lives in 17 Tamuz neighbourhood.

18. Abu Ajeel- Daham Ajeel al-Matyuti [Matyuti is a local name in the Mosul area]- the Diwan al-Asha'ir [tribal outreach department] official- lives in al-Tanak neighbourhood.

19. Abu Aymenn- Sa'ad Fathi al-Rashidi- official for taking bay'as [allegiance pledges]- lives in Arabi neighbourhood.

20. Abu Shibeeb- Ala' Mustafa Abdullah al-Mu'amari- the Diwan al-Aqarat [real estate department: sometimes comes under the judiciary Diwan al-Qada wa al-Madhalim, but sometimes classified as its own department in Islamic State admin documents] official, lives in al-Muhandiseen neighbourhood.

21. Abu Hajer/Abu Sinan- Muhammad Hazem Aziz al-Aqidi- an important man in Da'esh [derogatory for Islamic State], lives in al-Wahda neighbourhood.

22. Abu al-Waleed- Omar Ahmad Khatab al-Juburi- an important man in Da'esh, lives in Hamam al-Alil [a village in Ninawa province to the south of Mosul city].

23. Abu Mazen- Omar Saleh Khidr al-Hadid- an important man in Da'esh, lives in al-Insha'at neighbourhood.

24. Abu Akram- Ali Muhannad Ahmad- an important man in Da'esh- from the inhabitants of al-Muhandiseen neighbourhood.


Jabhat Fatah al-Sham Manifesto: Statement, Translation & Analysis

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Fri, 29 Jul 2016, 5:36 AM

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Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the successor organization to Jabhat al-Nusra following a formal renunciation of ties to al-Qaeda in a process guided by al-Qaeda, has released a manifesto outlining its goals and political program. Many of these talking points are rather standard (e.g. fighting against oppression) and in keeping with a more 'moderate' jihadist (i.e. al-Qaeda aligned) approach relative to the Islamic State: for example, the call to unity of jihadis and the insistence on holding the 'ulama (scholars) of the global Muslim community (Ummah) in high esteem and following them, while making clear they are not totally infallible. This contrasts with a recurring talking point against the Islamic State that is seen as disregarding the 'ulama. The global jihadi ambitions of the statement are also clear in the notion of establishing the reign of the religion of God on the Earth.

Below is a copy of the manifesto and a translation posted by the site Ummah Islam. I have added some explanations of terms in square brackets.

Fath Al Sham

{Victory from Allah and an imminent conquest}

1- We derive our Aqidah [creed], methodology and fiqh [jurisprudence] from the Quran and Sunnah as understood by the righteous Salaf [predecessors] from among the companions [of the Prophet Muhammad] and tabi'een [those who followed the companions], may Allah be pleased with them, as well as the devoted Imams and scholars who follow in their footsteps, such as Abu Hanifa, Al Shafi'i, Malik, Ahmad [these four individuals represent the main schools of Sunni jurisprudence] and many others, may Allah have mercy on them all.

2- We fight against the enemy who aggresses religion and the sanctities of the Muslims. We see this as one of the major Fard 'Ayn obligations [obligations incumbent on every Muslim] and one of the most obligatory forms of establishing the religion. This is not conditioned by any condition, as the enemy has to be fought by all possible means, for nothing is more important than faith and then fighting against such an enemy.

3- We perform jihad for the sake of establishing the governorship of the Shari'ah until Fitna [strife: i.e. conflict between Islam and other religions with the triumph of the former] disappears, the religion of Allah reigns supreme across the Earth and the glory and dignity of our Ummah is restored.

4- Through our jihad, we follow Islamic laws and take universal laws into consideration to reach our goal according to our understanding of Shari'ah and reality, all the while adhering to the satisfactory religious rules and the regulations of Shari'ah politics as derived from the biography of our prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

5- We strive to lift oppression from all those who are oppressed, be them people of Islam or disbelief. We strive to stop the oppressor from oppressing others by all possible means and to the utmost of our power.

6- We call to Allah with wisdom and fine admonition by being gentle to people and delivering to them the message of their Lord leniently, gently and by good words.

7- We hold the scholars of our ummah in very high esteem and recognize their rights and favors. We ally with them and follow them, though we know that no one is completely infallible. We also take their significant ijtihad in matters of fiqh into consideration.

8- We ally with the Muslims through the loyal bond of faith while we display enmity towards the disbelievers and we disown them. If one Muslim's character combines both evil and good, obedience and disobedience, Sunnah and innovations, then our loyalty to them would be in proportion to their adherence to goodness and Sunnah. Similarly, our enmity towards them would be in proportion to their involvement in evil deeds and innovations.

9- We renounce divisions and quarrels and call to unity and harmony. We regard the unity of the Ummah in general, and that of the mujahids [those who wage jihad] in particular, on righteousness and under one banner as an obligation that should be carried out in compliance with realistic and correct shari'ah principles.

10- We strive for the Word of Allah to be supreme and spend our most precious assets for its sake. We perform jihad by the hand and the tongue, as well as the money, body, heart and possessions until Allah makes it victorious or we die defending it.


Jabhat al-Nusra: Breaking ties with al-Qaeda?

Sun, 24 Jul 2016, 10:40 PM

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When it comes to the Syrian insurgency, one of the biggest dilemmas facing its backers has been the role of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Despite its affiliations, the group has been widely viewed by the insurgency as an important military partner in many (but by no means all) of the zones of conflict since it first came on the scene publicly in 2012. Jabhat al-Nusra's fortunes have varied over time- for instance, it lost all of its assets in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir az-Zor to the Islamic State by summer 2014- but it has survived notions of a total collapse. Today, its main base is in the northwestern province of Idlib, and with the breakdown of the U.S.-Russia brokered 'cessation of hostilities' this year, Jabhat al-Nusra has played a leading role in fighting in Latakia and south Aleppo countryside, spearheading alongside Salafi group Ahrar al-Sham the coalition known as Jaysh al-Fatah, which was first set up in 2015 and led the routing of the Assad regime from Idlib province.

Previous attempts have been made by the insurgency's main foreign backers- particularly Qatar, which has mediated in hostage crises- to persuade Jabhat al-Nusra to break ties with al-Qaeda, but so far they have all been rebuffed, with leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani remaining a steadfast loyalist to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This should not be surprising, as Jowlani owes his survival as the group leader to Zawahiri's mediation in his favour in 2013 when Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who helped set up Jabhat al-Nusra, tried to subsume Jowlani and the group when he unilaterally announced the expansion of what was then Islamic State of Iraq into Syria to become the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.

The latest talk of Jabhat al-Nusra breaking ties with al-Qaeda seems to be somewhat more intense this time. Though the move might be ostensibly welcomed and supported by foreign backers of the insurgency, it may actually reflect an al-Qaeda endorsed strategy of embedding Jabhat al-Nusra more deeply in the Syrian insurgency while preserving the long-term commitment to establishing an Islamic emirate in Syria as one of many stepping-stones to reviving the Caliphate. In origin, the latest round of discussions surrounding this issue partly comes from Jabhat al-Nusra dissenters who subsequently fell-out with the main leadership, such as Abu Mariyah al-Qahtani and Saleh al-Hamawi, who, it must be emphasized, do not disagree with the eventual goals but believe that at times the group has not been pragmatic enough on the ground, despite Jabhat al-Nusra's more general reputation for pragmatism in comparison with the hardline approach of the Islamic State towards rival groups. The name of Qahtani, who has also long been critical of obsessions with banners and group identity and warned against ghuluw ('extremism'), came up earlier this month in the founding statement (see below) of a new group of jihadi scholars in Syria called 'Tajammu Ahl al-'Ilm bish-Sham' (Assembly of Al-Sham Scholars), alongside Saudi-born Abdullah al-Muheisseni, who is a leading cleric in the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition.

Other context issues to consider include the recent U.S.-Russian talks of a coordinated bombing campaign to target Jabhat al-Nusra in return for Russia not striking U.S.-backed rebel groups and putting pressure on the Assad regime to ground airstrikes, and further back in the past, Ayman al-Zawahiri's speech released in May 2016 entitled "Go forth to al-Sham," which stressed the importance for the 'mujahideen' in Syria to unite, and that "if they [the people of Syria, at the heart of whom are the mujahideen] establish their Muslim government, and choose for themselves an Imam, then what they choose is what we choose. For we, by God's grace, are not seeking authority, but the rule of the Shari'a, and we do not wish to rule the Muslims, but rather we wish to be ruled as Muslims in Islam." Zawahiri thus emphasized that the long-term project, which should establish an Islamic government, 'liberate' al-Aqsa and revive the Caliphate, was more important than the notion of group affiliation, even as he made clear that he did not believe external powers would necessarily be content with Jabhat al-Nusra breaking ties with al-Qaeda, but rather they would then strive to make the group play along with their agendas and dispose of it when convenient. With so many senior al-Qaeda members having come to Syria, it is clear al-Qaeda views the area as the best hope for realizing the first steps in its project (which, contrary to popular assumption, does not simply mean a base to strike the West, but also the establishment of governance).

As with any developing story, particularly involving networks in a country where few independent reporters can provide updates, there is much fog of confusion along with rumour as to what are the exact terms being proposed for a Jabhat al-Nusra break with al-Qaeda. One line of suggestion is that there is a quid pro quo deal being put to the table whereby Jabhat al-Nusra drops the al-Qaeda affiliation in return for the formation of a larger coalition body with other insurgent factions.

One jihadi outlet reporting from Syria- known as al-Fustaat- had the following to say on the matter in the early hours of 25 July local time in Syria. Al-Fustaat claims that Jabhat al-Nusra will soon break ties with Zawahiri's permission.

A similar outlet, al-Maqalaat, elaborates on the implied reasoning, in that since Syrian opposition and insurgent factions have long called on Jabhat al-Nusra to break ties with al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra is effectively putting the ball in their court to come together, and thus those who still refuse to unite will be shown as disagreeing with the ideological program, not merely the name affiliation. In addition, the outlet asserts implications for U.S. policy in that if Jabhat al-Nusra is bombed despite the breaking of ties with al-Qaeda, then popular support will only massively increase for Jabhat al-Nusra.

While we will simply have to wait and see what the final outcome is (e.g. perhaps all these negotiations break down, with no real changes on the ground as a result) and it is possible these sources are putting an 'anti-fitna' face to serious internal disagreements within Jabhat al-Nusra, the prospect of a formal breaking of ties with al-Qaeda and formation of a new coalition body with al-Qaeda's blessing arguably represents the worst outcome from the U.S. perspective, making targeting of terrorist figures much more difficult as they will be ever more deeply embedded in the wider insurgency. Further, in such a scenario, if the proposed U.S.-Russia coordination actually goes forward, it seems likely that a larger coalition between Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups would then quickly and easily dismantle many of the U.S.-backed groups among the Syrian rebels in the north, reducing any influence and leverage in so far as U.S. policy hopes for an eventual political transition in Syria. Or perhaps U.S.-backed groups would join this coalition. A somewhat better scenario (if there is 'anti-fitna' whitewashing in the above sources) will see a severe fragmenting of Jabhat al-Nusra as a result of the negotiations, whereby many rank-and-file members perhaps less keen on the affiliation and ideology break off from Jabhat al-Nusra and join other groups while the leadership and other known al-Qaeda members who have come from abroad remain as they are in loyalty to al-Qaeda, more easily distinguishable from the wider insurgency.

Jabhat al-Nusra has effectively exploited the breakdown of the 'cessation of hostilities': it may well outsmart the U.S. further with the supposed breaking of ties with al-Qaeda, which, far from reflecting a change in the ideological end goals, could actually embody an al-Qaeda ideal of integrating more deeply into the local environment.


The Orlando Attacks: Islamic State-Linked?

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Sun, 12 Jun 2016, 1:46 PM

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The attacks at an Orlando nightclub carried out by a man named Omar Mateen have unsurprisingly raised questions of whether the operation is linked to the Islamic State. The evidence as has emerged over time is presented below. While the initial suggestions did not conclusively show an Islamic State link, the claim issued via Islamic State's Amaq News and translated in the update at the bottom must be taken as definitive (even though it is framed in a manner that superficially does not suggest a definitive claim- i.e. citing a 'source'- it must be recognized that Amaq News is a full part of the Islamic State's media operation as detailed below, and all prior claims for terrorist attacks in the West via Amaq News in the first instance have never turned out to be false):

- Some pro-Islamic State accounts relied solely on what is already being circulated in the media to see if there is the Islamic State link they hope for. Examples are as follows:

"Allahu akbar. The one who opened fire: his name is Omar Mateen and the likelihood is that he is one of the wolves of the Caliphate" (relying on reports that authorities consider the act an incident of terrorism).

"The local police says that Omar Mateen perhaps gave allegiance during the attack on the nightclub"

- One pro-Islamic State outlet from within Islamic State territory then claimed the attack. The outlet is known as Wala and Bara Agency. Wala and Bara, for context, is a key concept in Islamic State religious doctrine (but by no means unique to the Islamic State) that teaches love of anything associated with Islam and Muslims and hatred of anything associated with the disbelievers. In some ways Wala and Bara Agency imitates the IS 'auxiliary outlet' Amaq News, in that certain terminology is used to convey a sense of objectivity (e.g. 'fighters of the Islamic State', rather than the more usual term 'mujahideen') and the outlet's emblem avoids something that can definitively connect it to the Islamic State (i.e. in the case of Wala and Bara Agency, it uses a regular black flag of jihad, not the Islamic State flag). That said, the outlet is less consistent than Amaq in following 'auxiliary outlet' guidelines, and recently opted for the use of the term 'Crusader alliance' in reference to the international coalition (Amaq News would never use such terminology). The outlet appears to be linked to a pro-Islamic State activist called Abu Emad al-Nayrabi, whose name suggests he is originally from Nayrab in the Aleppo area. At present, he seems to reside in the Islamic State-held town of al-Ra'i, on the border with Turkey. The claim was posted as follows:

"Source to Wala and Bara Agency: 150 among the killed and wounded in an inghimasi ['commando'] operation carried out by a lion from the fighters of the Islamic State (may God accept him) on a night-cafe in the U.S. city of Orlando."

To be sure of the Islamic State link, then more evidence would have needed to come out. For example, it would have needed to be shown conclusively that he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, or an outlet like Amaq News/the Islamic State's al-Naba' newsletter/the Islamic State magazine Dabiq would have needed to claim the attack, which might have happened at a much later date. In such circumstances, then it is hardly a surprise given that Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called for more attacks by Islamic State supporters in the West if the opportunity for hijra to the Islamic State territories is closed off to them, as part of a recent speech in which he acknowledged problems of territorial losses for the Islamic State though asserted that losing towns and strongholds would not be the end of the Islamic State.

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